Carole & Tuesday – 07 – Whatever Happens, Happens!

C&T rebounds nicely this week, thanks in part to a new, more proportionate opportunity for the girls: this time, instead of playing in front of 100,000 people, they join the 200,000 who want to be contestants on the popular Mars Brightest talent competition, a sure way to jump-start their careers.

This week also marks the first real connection between C&T and Angela’s storylines, as Tao has Angela entered as a “special guest” contestant on MB, putting her in competition with the other two protagonists. This could mean the three could be in the same room together, or maybe even talk to each other!

The main issue is Tuesday, or rather Tuesday’s status as a runaway, which she doesn’t realize until they’re already in line for the auditions (which are about as weird and woolly as one would expect from such a large pool of potentials). If her family catches her on camera, she’ll be made, and they’ll come for her. Mind you, Tues doesn’t know her bro already found her, but chose to leave her alone.

This brings us to the best part of this episode, and why it was so much better than last week’s: We don’t actually hear Carole & Tuesday sing anything. This might sound counterintuitive, but the worst element of this show about a musical duo getting their start is their music—their first guerrilla performance at the music hall being the sole exception.

Mind you, just because the songs stink doesn’t mean all the music of C&T is bad. On the contrary, the incidental score is above average, and we get a particularly nice melancholy synth suite that plays along as we watch Angela decline to move back in with her Mama (who was her Papa before gender reassignment).

Instead, Angie chooses to live alone in her sparse, modern place where she can breathe, away both from Mama and all the trappings of her past that threatened to “suffocate” her. Her annoying AI only gets four “ANGELA!s” in before she shuts him up. Somebody needs friends, and I can think of no one better suited than Carole & Tuesday, even if they’re artistic and professional rivals.

As if hearing me say “your songs are bad and you should feel bad,” after auditions Tuesday slides into a slump, brought on in part by learning more of Carole’s story as an Earth refugee and orphan who had to survive on her own.

Tuesday’s family may be loaded (with cash) but she’s also loaded—with all the problems being the daughter of an important politician and little sister of a Harvard elite. She admits she’s a little jealous of Carole’s lifelong independence and self-sufficiency.

In light of her new friend, who has helped her in this new world, Tuesday resolves to hold her head up and stop cowering in front of the cameras. If her mom finds her, so what! She’s going for it, side-by-side with Carole.

After learning that Gus spent all their modest Cydonia earnings (980 Woolong) on gambling (not a good look Gus!), he, or rather Roddy, give them the good news: They’re among the eight contestants for Mars’ Brightest! As we saw, a good portion of the competition were horrendous, but considering there were 200,000 of them to contend with, this feels a bit neat, tidy, and easily done.

But it’s not like they weren’t going to get in, because this means they’ll be facing off against Angela and Tao. Even if I’m not particularly looking forward to hearing what new syrupy-sweet drivel they’ll sing next, I think I can tolerate it for the sake of watching those four characters, who have been kept apart thus far, finally collide.

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One Punch Man 2 – 07 – It’s Fun Being Strong

After meeting Monster King Orochi, who leads the Monster Association, we see Class S Heroes spring into action and dispatch the latest batch of monsters with relative ease. Meanwhile, Saitama takes care of the sadistic eugenics enthusiast Choze with one punch in the semifinals, making Suiryu his final opponent.

Of course, a 13th-ranked S is still quite a bit weaker than Tornado, as we see when Flashy Flash can’t quite finish a boss monster with maximum efficiency. We check in on Atomic Samurai asking for the help of the other members of the Holy Order of the Sword to defeat Garo in case Silverfang goes soft on his former student and fails.

One of the members, Haragiri, has already been corrupted and transformed into a monster, courtesy of the Monster Association, which he helpfully describes as “a group made up of monsters.” But however much stronger becoming a monster made him, Haragiri falls to Atomic in the blink of an eye.

The balance of the episode deals with the tournament final between Suiryu of the Dark Corporeal Fist and Charanko of the Fist of Water Polo. Saitama’s main worry is whether Suiryu figures out he’s wearing a wig or, worse still, knocks it off. As a result, Saitama has to take a defensive posture.

Suiryu can tell Saitama is far stronger than he looks, and as a fellow strong person expresses his desire to have fun with that strength. If Saitama entertains him with a good fight, Suiryu will show him what martial arts truly are, which is the main reason Saitama entered in the first place.

None of Suiryu’s attacks have any effect on Saitama, but his words spitting on the Hero Association and its lofty ideals are mere “boring containments” that threaten his life of fun. Suiryu then knocks Saitama’s wig off. It’s enough to make Saitama mad enough to almost punch him, but he holds back at the last second.

The officials disqualify Saitama, making Suiryu the tournament champion, but he’s not satisfied and the fight continues, multiplying in intensity exponentially as he reduces the stone fighting platform into rubble. This leads Saitama to glean that the primary purpose of Martial Arts is to learn how to look cool while you’re fighting.

Trying to take a page from the Suiryu school, Saitama backs into him with his butt, sending him flying into the side of the arena. Rules or no, Suiryu suffers his first defeat ever—that’s sure to mess with a guy. Finally, out in the city, Genos is dealt an unprecedented defeat at the hands of a dragon-level monster named Goketsu.

One Punch Man 2 – 06 – Whittling Down the Herd

Don’t get me wrong: stuff happens this week; lots of stuff, and lots of it decent. The competition moves briskly as most matches are over in one move, as befits fighters at the top of their game. And while the monsters had free rein last week, the likes of Genos and Tornado—seriously strong heroes—evens the odds in a hurry.

So why did this feel so meh, so rote? A couple things. It felt like there was no rhyme or reason to cutting from an arena fight to a monster fight, making the episode feel unfocused. Second, there wasn’t a whole lot of comedy to be had. Aside from Saitama’s early KO of Bakuzan because he touched his wig, the episode plays like a straightforward shounen ensemble series.

And that’s fine, normally, but One Punch Man should be a cut above. A grab bag of minor skirmishes and minimal gags, along with what felt like a step down in production values, kept this episode feeling merely okay and nothing close to the excellence the OPM is known for. Halfway through the season, and the first episode is still the best, which is disappointing.

Looking beyond this episode, it seems clear Saitama is in line for a win, but if his identity is found out he will no doubt be disqualified due to breaking the rules. Other than that, I’m not sure yet what the monsters’ play is, or how they can roll in so confidently only to be slapped back by the cream of the Hero Association crop. What’s with taking that rich kid hostage? It seems like a small-fries move.

Hopefully we can cut through the chaff in the next week or two and get to the heart of what big threat, if any, Saitama & Co. will face. He may be content to spend most of the tournament on the toilet, but I guess I’m looking for the next guy who can take his punch!

One Punch Man 2 – 05 – Reverse Seeded

How long do we have to wait to get the martial arts tournament started so Saitama can start plowing through the brackets? Apparently another half-episode, as we focus on a growing preponderance of monsters and demons throughout the lettered cities.

As for Metal Bat, he seems to get more “pumped up”, and his attacks faster and stronger, the more Garo beats him up, but ultimately the fight is called on account of Bat’s brave, protective little sister Zenko. Garo may claim to be a monster, but he’s not about to hit a kid.

Shortly after taking his leave, Garo is approached by three monsters hoping to recruit him into the “Monster Association,” but he’s having none of it. Class S Rank 6 Metal Knight comes in to take care of the giant centipede, but even he just can’t summon enough firepower to dent the thing, making the battle a draw.

The jellyfish, phoenix and rhino-themed baddies make off with the rich kid, while other monsters start fighting—and beating—heroes they’ve chosen specifically because their heroic attributes favor them, the monsters. The Hero Association (still pitting their hopes that King will be a factor) are starting to panic.

Meanwhile, yes, Super Fight 22 finally commences, with the eighteen challengers being introduced; and they’re all quite the colorful characters, with equally colorful-sounding martial arts schools.

Zakkos is Saitama’s first opponent, but there’s a match before theirs. Sourface reveals he’s twenty—younger than Saitama—which explains both his pre-match nerves and his thin skin when Zakkos rips into Bang’s dojo.

Saitama, older and wiser, simply lets Zakkos say what he wants; he’s here to fight, not argue. Oh, and Saitama apparently doesn’t have to hide his face, as Sourface seems content that he is indeed Charanko and not some impostor.

When a particularly sexy monster, Super S, starts whipping heroes and making them her love slaves, it’s up to Hellish Blizzard and her crew to sort things out. As for Saitama’s first “match”, it’s a laugher; Zakkos was all talk and is in fact incredibly weak; so weak that the person he was to propose to didn’t even bother showing up to watch him. Bummer!

As for one of the higher-seeded martial artists in the fresh-faced Suiryu, he recognizes that Zakkos had some okay moves, but his opponent “Charanko” was just too strong. He looks forward to seeing him in the final.

While it’s always fun when someone comes around who can either absorb Saitama’s punch or deliver a blow that actually bothers him—wait…has that ever even happened?—I doubt he’ll meet his match here, especially considering how easily he dispatched Garo. Still, watching him effortlessly wail on guys is never not fun.

One Punch Man 2 – 04 – Dammit, I’m Busy!

As Saitama registers for the tournament posing as Charanko, Garo’s assault of an HA director leads to the HA orders all other executives to have a Class S hero escort. This means Metal Bat is forced to guard on such super-rich exec and his piss-ant son (who won’t stop putting dishes back on the conveyor) instead of going shopping with his sister. When danger strikes, it’s not Garo at all, but a pair of unrelated monsters.

As Mumen Rider assures Charanko that since he’s a hero, Saitama would never enter a tournament under a false name, Saitama meets Sourface, Charanko’s senpai who warns him about…entering the tournament under a false name and wearing a disguise, for which he could get arrested. Saitama snaps back, telling Sourface he has no right to pretend he’s better than Charanko, who went one-on-one against Garo.

Speaking of senpais, once Metal Bat easily deals with the two monsters, their much bigger, much tougher senpais show up, and give Metal Bat a beatdown. He manages to pump himself up by hitting himself in the head with his own bat, and then dispatches them both with one devastating swing each…though probably due to his head injury he forgot to ask the monsters what their motivation was.

The fight escalates in intensity once more when the senpai of the senpais appears, a dragon-class centipede monster that triggers an evacuation of City S. Metal Bat is already fired up, but this time his foe is so big and his skin so tough it’s hard to make a dent. Things get worse for Metal Bat when Garo shows up and challenges him to a fight. Talk about rude; wait your turn dude!

While I was disappointed we didn’t jump straight to Saitama kicking ass and taking names in the tournament (assuming they let him fight), it’s fairly par for the course for him to basically sit out an entire episode so it can showcase a different hero or heroes-ones far weaker than he.

I have no doubt Saitama could dispatch that giant purple centipede with…one punch. The only problem is he’s stuck in a green room, hoping to get some martial arts experience and experience a “real fight.” I don’t think he’ll find one there.

One Punch Man 2 – 03 – Icarus

The buildup to the inevitable clash with Saitama continues as Garo bags his first S-Class Hero, Tank Top Master. Tank gets a few choice shots in, but is stopped from finishing Garo when Mumen Rider intervenes on the grounds Garo is “merely” a human. Neither he nor Tank are apparently aware that this is the guy officially classified as a Monster by the HA.

Tank gets some licks in, but can’t deal with Garo’s martial arts tecnique. We also learn Garo is a former student of Bang, AKA Silverfang, through another student, Charanko.

Bang, who is going to deal with Garo himself (with help from his big bro) beat Charanko up in order to get him out of the line of fire, but Charanko ends up another one of Garo’s victims.

Who should visit all three in the hospital (with complementary bananas!) but Saitama, who is primarily there for Mumen, but ends up meeting Tank and Charanko as well. He wants to learn more about martial arts in order to take Garo on, and Charanko gives him a ticket to an upcoming tournament in which he can no longer participate due to injury.

Garo’s reign of terror continues as he borrows a unibrowed kid’s Hero Guide to learn not only who the local heroes are, but their styles and trump cards. When he challenges the slingshot-wielding Golden Ball to an alley brawl, Ball is initially confident, like Tank was, but he has to be bailed out by another Hero, the saber-wielding Spring Mustache, who gets a knuckle sandwich for his trouble.

When Ball tells Garo he “can’t keep this up forever,” as he’ll eventually encounter a hero he can’t beat, Garo scoffs. He’ll believe it when he sees it; meanwhile, he’ll continue doing what he wants—wasting heroes—until the day comes when someone can stop him.

That day comes far sooner than he expected, as after beating up a horny HA official, Garo has a chance encounter with our One Punch Man. Saitama says “I’ve been looking all over for you,” and Garo assumes he’s addressing him, and takes the first shot, a devastating chop to the shoulder that…does nothing at all to Saitama.

Saitama merely delivers the same blow to Garo, dropping him to the pavement, before continuing with what he was doing: seeking out a wig to buy so he can impersonate Charanko in the martial arts tournament.  And so, Garo ends up flying too close to the sun and gets burnt, big time. Thankfully for him, Saitama doesn’t know who he is, and lets him go free.

BokuBen – 03 – Acts of Defiance

In direct and efficient 78-second cold open, Yuiga’s mission is suddenly made tougher: Furuhashi and Ogata must receive an average score or higher on the upcoming midterms. Both the headmaster and their former tutor (pink hair) believe its in the best general interest to steer the girls towards the fields of study in which they excel, believing their desire to study elsewhere frivolous.

The ex-tutor even considers it negligent not to press more strongly for the girls to get in their lane. The adults aren’t factoring Furuhashi or Ogata’s dreams or happiness into the equation. But Yuiga has been here before himself, and so he’s uniquely equipped to empathize with and fully support them in their bold endeavor to forge their own paths based on their passions, not their natural gifts.

Of course, only Furuhashi and Ogata overhear the headmaster and tutor, and now feel the pressure to succeed lest another tutor—and their favorite by far—be relieved of his duties (though I can’t imagine that would have stopped him from tutoring them anyway). Takemoto wonders why they look so down; she can sense the sudden heightened pressure now on their shoulders, and Ogata’s commitment to get results.

Now that all parties (save Takemoto) are aware of the raised bar for those results, Ogata, whose Japanese midterms come first, asks Yuiga to come to her house to supervise her studying. The fact she’s so comfortable not only inviting him, but also interacting with him at her family’s udon restaurant, speaks to the evolution of their relationship from adversarial and suspicious to something far more like a real friendship.

Meanwhile Yuiga isn’t just doing this so he’ll get a free ride; he has a philosophical horse in this race, plus he just likes these girls and wants to help if he can…not to mention Ogata looks fantastic in her restaurant outfit. He doesn’t know he’ll be fired if they fail, so Ogata simply asks the rhetorical question of what will happen if she fails. His answer—they’ll just keep studying for the next test—is comforting…as is his patting of her head.

When the day of the test comes, Ogata is immediately fearful when she sees parts of the test are areas she didn’t study as thoroughly, but resolves to do her best, and lo and behold, she scores an above-class-average 71, to her own bewilderment and Yuiga and Takemoto’s delight. Ogata refrains from mentioning out loud that a little bit of dumb luck factored into that score, but that’s just another reason to keep at it.

That means it’s up to Furuhashi. Only problem is, she has a cough and a high fever. Yuiga suggests she delay and take the make-up test; she declines, as it would mean an automatic 20% deduction in score (which hardly seems fair). To prepare, she invites Yuiga and Takemoto to her house…which turns out to be huge, with a genkan with more square footage than Yuiga’s living room.

Being unaccustomed to visiting female classmates at home, Yuiga takes Furuhashi’s “just come on in” too literally and walks in when she’s topless. Yuiga realizes the error of his ways and stays out until needed.

Just like he saw Ogata in a new light at her home, Yuiga learns something new about his old pal Takemoto: she’s a superb cook. When he likens her appearance to that a new wife, Takemoto’s imagination conjures a scene of domestic bliss between her and a salaryman Yuiga.

Turns out Takemoto was right: some hot food and rest were just what Furuhashi needed, and she feels ready for the midterms. Like Ogata, she voices her hope that he’ll keep tutoring her, and that she trusts she’ll reach her dreams if she sticks with him. Yuiga is flattered, but urges Furuhashi, whos pajamas a a little see-through, return to bed.

Furuhashi manages a score higher than average as well, impressing the headmaster and further irking the former tutor. Yuiga and the three girls celebrate at a family restaurant. Yuiga may not know that his tutoring job and VIP consideration was just saved.

With Ogata and Furuhashi out of the woods, the second half of the episode focuses on Takemoto Uruka, and IMO reinforces her standing as Best Girl. Her swim club friends, impatient with her pureness and lack of progress in nabbing Yuiga, take matters into their own hands by taking her to a hip clothier and dressing her up all adorable-like; a way in which she can’t help but feel extremely self-conscious.

In this suddenly out-of-sorts state achieved by her caring friends, Takemoto has no idea how she’d act around Yuiga, but immediately gets her chance as the two cross paths in town. Since she’s right next to the bookstore, she tells him she’s going to buy some textbooks; he decides to join her, while failing to remark on her very different and extremely cute new look.

While initially weary, Takemoto soon finds comfort and joy in being so close to Yuiga; feeling the warmth of his shoulder and feeling his breath in her ear as he talks. A little boy points at them and declares them a couple, and when a kid does that you know you look like one.

Outside the store, they come across a store selling an accessory Yuiga’s sister wants; but the competition to win it is couples-only. Sensing another opportunity, Takemoto seizes Yuiga by the arm and leads the way.

The competition turns out to be a “princess carry” endurance contest, and Takemoto is worried she’s too heavy because she’s recently gained a lot of muscle in swim club. She soon tears up about the prospect of being too heavy for Yuiga, but he interprets those tears as abject embarrassment over having to be held by him, and he commits himself to winning the contest, which they do.

Takemoto is happy beyond words. Her friends dressed her up cute so she’d more easily “attack” Yuiga, but the fact is she’s always wanted to be a princess; people have just noted her athleticism and placed her in the “tomboy” mold, and inertia has kept her there.

It was immensely fun to watch Takemoto’s girly side openly expressed. She was the third of three girls this week defiantly moving against the grain set for them by others, and her resulting glee really emanated through the screen. She may not have confessed—and perhaps never will!—but spending a day as a couple was at least something, and seemingly enough for her for now.

BokuBen – 02 – The Third Tutee

When Yuiga reports the girls’ slow but steady progress to the headmaster, he gets a surprise: the assignment of another troubled student. This time, it’s someone he knows, and who has mooched homework and notes from him since middle school: the “Shimmering Ebony Mermaid Princess”, Takemoto Uruka.

While Furuhashi is a poet and Ogata is a scientist, Takemoto is a straight-up jock; going so full-on with swimming that she doesn’t even have time for studying. But as Yuiga informs her by the pool, colleges want more well-rounded enrollees, which means she’s going to have to study.

Takemoto reacts by physically running away, and while giving chase Yuiga falls in the pool and can’t swim. Takemoto rescues him, but he then captures her, and the first time Furuhashi and Ogata see the two together, it looks awfully like he’s assaulting her! Thankfully the misunderstanding is cleared up and the three become fast friends (or at least, Furuhashi and Takemoto do).

There’s another wrinkle to this beyond Yuiga adding to his stable of talented beauties: Takemoto likes him. She’s had feelings ever since she fortuitously overheard him say how he wouldn’t just give his homework and notes to anyone, and admires how much she sacrificed to be the best swimmer she could, and wants to help her if he can. Again, Yuiga is a nice guy, even when he thinks nobody’s watching.

He’s such a nice guy, he allows Ogata to come by his house (while his family is out) with the blatant bribe of her family’s udon (of which they’re quite proud) in exchange for help on an essay her teacher has rejected numerous times. The tutoring is interrupted by a invite to karaoke by Takemoto, but when Ogata mentions she’s at Yuiga, the ground shakes and suddenly Takemoto is there in a flash (she is a jock, after all!)

While she’s not overt about it, Takemoto probably isn’t so high on the idea of another girl spending time alone at Yuiga’s, so she invites herself to join the tutoring session. Only they get almost nowhere when the power goes out.

Ogata uncharacteristically clings to Yuiga, clearly afraid of the dark despite unconvincing claims to the contrary; Takemoto wants in on the fun too and so pretends to be afraid so she can cling to him too…only is too bashful and merely grabs some fabric.

Yuiga comforts the girls by crafting a makeshift candle that he studies by during the frequent blackouts his house experiences (another reminder of his family’s modest means). He reflects on how the lack of electricity brings people closer together, both physically and emotionally.

When Takemoto accidentally blows it out, he fumbles around in the pitch black; not a great idea when there’s two girls in close proximity. When the lights are back on both of them are scandalized and Ogata flees in a huff, but later we learn she managed to write an essay her teacher accepted, all thanks to Yuiga’s reflections on darkness and closeness.

A pink-haired teacher who will no doubt join Yuiga’s group at some point seems almost jealous of the progress he’s making with the girls no one else could successfully tutor. That brings us back to Takemoto, who cannot for the life of her memorize the meanings of any English words. She’s got swimming on the brain, at all times.

After hours of futile family restaurant studying, Yuiga gets creative: if she wants to swim, he’ll let her. With Furuhashi and Ogata’s help, he designs a studying method uniquely suited to Takemoto’s stengths, diving underwater to grab the correct meaning of 50 out of 50 English words, all because she can truly focus when she’s in the water. Perhaps she is a mermaid who one day grew legs…

Takemoto decides to thank Yuiga properly by presenting him with a gift in a bag that’s of a very similar color to Tiffany & Co., out of gratitude both for his tutoring and all the other assistance he’s rendered over the years, and as a token of her unspoken feelings for him. I personally maintain they’d make a good couple, but she’s gotta speak up and he’s gotta be made aware!

There’s also the little matter of her giving him the wrong Tiffany-colored bag, so instead of a new pencil case, he got her used swimsuit, something for which he can only scratch his head and ask why; while at home with his intended gift, her plan totally undermined, all Takemoto can do is writhe furiously on the bed, asking for someone to please kill her now…

Takemoto is a welcome addition to the cast. I have a soft spot for childhood friend-characters, especially energetic athletic types (regardless of their success in winning the guy/girl) and her feelings for him are both clear and justified, even if her refusal to ever act on them is frustrating. The easy, caring way Yuiga interacts with them makes it easy to understand why both she and others are fond of the guy. Takemoto is also, frankly, freaking adorable.

I also appreciated that the show kept Furuhashi out of Yuiga’s home study session in order to give the other two girls’ interactions room to breathe; no doubt she’ll get more attention, and Ogata or Takemoto less, in a future episode. And then there’s still two more girls yet to get their official intros, including the pink-haired teacher. Along with One Punch Man 2 and Carole & Tuesday, I think I’ve got my Top 3 Spring shows locked in!

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 01 – The First to Confess Loses!

Here it is: perhaps the romantic comedy of the Winter. All dramatic theatrical staging, lighting, and musical stabs, Kaguya-sama: Love is War elevates something as deceptively simple as mutual romantic interest between two high schoolers into a grand operatic life-and-death affair.

Part of that is because the two in question aren’t ordinary high schoolers: are the top two students at the most prestigious school in the country. StuCo Vice President Shinomiya Kaguya’s family owns a good chunk of Japan, while President Shirogane Miyuki, while a commoner by comparison, possesses unsurpassed academic prowess.

Let’s get one thing straight: these two like each other, but would never ever say as such, let alone confess it. To do so would be to surrender the upper hand, shift the power dynamic, and become the supplicant, ceding dominance to the confessee. Despite their disparate backgrounds, Kaguya and Miyuki have too much pride and dignity to let that happen.

As such, while the rest of the student body sees them as the perfect couple who may even already be secretly dating, the two exist in a constant state of war, with the StuCo office serving as the battlefield. The neutral party between them, the far less brainy secretary Fujiwara Chika, often serves as a wild card in the pair’s ensuing battles.

In the first sequence, she’s also a pawn: Kaguya planted movie tickets in Chika’s mailbox, knowing she wouldn’t be able to go and would offer them to her and Miyuki. This creates a scenario in which Miyuki asks Kaguya if she wants to know, knowing that boy-girl pairs who go to this specific movie tend to end up as couples.

Their battle of wills is a chess game of moves, counter-moves, and counter-counter-moves, but when Chika also points out the tickets are also valid for an innocuous kids movie, a chaotic element is added to the pair’s already complex calculations, overheating their brains. Worse, Chika snatches the only source of sugar in the office that they could use to recharge and rally. Thus, the first battle we witness, both Kaguya and Miyuki lose.

In battle #2, Kaguya receives an anonymous love letter, and makes it known to both Miyuki and Chika that she fully intends to go, hoping it will provoke Miyuki into slipping up and demanding she not go…because he loves her. Miyuki knows what Kaguya intends, and attempts to dissuade her not as a man, but under his authority as StuCo President to discourage illicit relationships. He even considers tattling to the teacher, a risky move, but one that won’t expose his true feelings.

Kaguya counters by declaring that if it’s true love, she will risk suspension or even expulsion to give her body and soul to the writer of the letter, which almost causes Miyuki to slip up. He turns things around by asking, very speifically for the sake of argument, if she’d still go on the date if he were to confess to her. Kaguya’s true feelings are momentarily exposed, and she admits, too easily, that she’d reconsider before coming to her senses and preparing to go through with the date.

Ultimately Chika again intervenes in the battle of minds, grabbing Kaguya and tearfully declaring she won’t let her get expelled for a date, because she loves her too much to let such a thing happen. And so, with a crucial but unintentional assist by Chika, Kaguya loses this round.

The theme of the third and final battle of the episode (which packs a lot of bang for the buck!) is lunch. Specifically, Kaguya’s desire to taste a good old-fashioned classic Japanese school lunch with all the standbys: omelettes, hamburger, white rice, miso, plum, and most important, octopus wieners. The lunches she gets are prepared by a team of professional chefs, but Miyuki’s got the stuff she wants.

Of course, she can’t simply ask for a taste. But Chika certainly can, and does, compounding Kaguya’s anguish. She brings in an extra-fancy lunch, hoping to entice Miyuki to trade, but he doesn’t bite. Miyuki even makes Chika an identical lunch just for her, and with every bite (and indirect kiss) Kaguya’s opinion of Chika gets lower and more sinister. Miyuki can sense Kaguya’s negative aura this whole time, but assumes she’s looking down on his meager commoner repast, when quite the opposite is true.

Miyuki suspects Kaguya is up to something, even though this time she just wants a taste of his lunch, and ends up retreating from the office for StuCo business rather than find out what that might be, to live another day. However, since he fled, and Chika ends up offering her a cocktail weiner unbidden, Kaguya wins this last round, bringing her and Miyuki’s week one record to 1-1-1 each (or 1-2 if the first battle is a loss for both; I consider that a draw).

And there you have it! Despite all their constant scheming and wheel-spinning, I found Kaguya and Miyuki to both be likable, rootable characters, even if they remain doomed to remain in a stalemate as long as they maintain their stubborn positions of waiting for the other party to make the first move. The closed-off, bottle-like nature of the StuCo office gives the episode a compactness and laser-focus, and while one more StuCo member has yet to be introduced, I hope the cast stays this small.

Full of lively competitive energy, but with underlying mutual affection and respect, I’m looking forward to watching Kaguya and Miyuki spar in the future, with Chika in the middle demonstrating that they could make things so much easier for themselves if they just lightened up!

Bunny Girl Senpai – 09 – Two Friendless Sisters

When the second school term begins in September, Sakuta just can’t wait to see Mai. Due to the dating ban and her busy schedule he’s seen neither hide nor tail of her, and that trend continues when she fails to show up to school.

When he finally does happen upon her on a random street, there’s something…off about her. She claims to not know who Sakuta is. Then a short blonde girl appears, telling him she’s the real Mai, and that she and her half-sister Toyohama Nodoka have swapped bodies.

This happened quite suddenly after Nodoka ran away from home and her domineering mother (she and Mai have the same dad) and spent the night at Mai’s impressive, self-bought condo. When they woke up, they were switched.

This is clearly adolescence syndrome, but while the cause becomes clear enough—Nodoka has a lot of built-up resentment for her “perfect” big sis—the means to undo the swap remain elusive, short of propelling Nodoka to the top of the idol charts (something most likely beyond Sakuta’s abilities).

So the two carry on in each others’ lives, trying not to draw to much attention. The fact that Mai’s schedule is comparatively paltry compared to Nodoka’s not only speaks to how hard Nodoka’s mom is pushing her to succeed, but Mai’s desire to have as much time to hang out with Sakuta as possible during the second term.

Despite not having a perfect big sister, Sakuta diagnoses Nodoka’s issues pretty easily, leading to Nodoka confronting Mai and telling her things she’s kept inside, hoping honesty might be a step towards undoing the swap. Instead, Mai shoots her negative emotions regarding Nodoka right back at her.

While it’s not immediately clear from the montage of Mai and Nodoka’s days as one another is just how much easier Mai is able to slip into her little sister’s life, doing the necessary singing, dancing, and training required of a rising idol and purporting herself well.

Nodoka does alright with the photo shoots and interviews—things she’s done before—but when it comes time to film a commercial and memorize lines when a camera is rolling and an entire crew is surrounding her…it’s too much. She hyperventilates and the shoot has to be cancelled. When Sakuta reports the incident, Mai is surprised; she figured Nodoka would have been able to get a good take from that particular director.

Being somewhat out of his element with regards to younger siblings, Sakuta gets some insight from the most unlikely of sources: Kunimi’s girlfriend, Kumisato, who like Nodoka, has a hardworking, overachieving, brilliant, perfect big sister (I assume she’s pretty too).

Kumisato neither likes nor hates her, because it’s nothing that simple. What she can say is that she’s always annoyed by her mom’s constant urging that she take her sister as an example and study more.

Being a middle child myself, I can state that there was always the push-pull of wanting to set a good example for my little sis while not falling too far behind my big bro (who is much more academically inclined than me…not to mention more historically and politically informed. I can paint way better though!) But my siblings and I aren’t competing in the same field, so we never really competed the way Mai and Nodoka seem to be.

More importantly, we had parents who pushed us to be the best individuals we could be; we weren’t used as pawns in a proxy war between our mothers (for one thing, we all had the same mother, but still). I have no doubt a part of Nodoka is proud of her half-sis, and a part of Mai is happy to have a younger sister to inspire and support. But their folks have not made it easy for them to interact with each other on their own terms.

Body-swap episodes seem to be a dime a dozen these days, but I’ll admit to being a big fan of them when they’re well-executed, as this one is. It’s nice to hear Seto Asami switch up her voice style to match the Nodoka in Mai’s body, not to mention Uchida Maaya’s more upright measure as Mai in Nodoka’s body. The fact they are swapped, and the novelty therein, is secondary to why the swap occurred, as well as how to undo it, which, as with the other solutions to adolescence syndrome outbreaks, will require character growth to achieve.

But my main gripe with this arc is that I found it hard to garner as much enthusiasm as I did for the previous ones. Perhaps that’s due in part to the brisk, sudden manner in which Nodoka is introduced, and the fact the only time we saw her in her own body was in that brief TV interview with her idol group. Futaba, who interacted plenty with Sakuta prior to her own arc, is thus proving a tough act to follow for Nodoka, who entered this episode a virtual unknown.

Hanebado! – 13 (Fin) – The Other Side of the Net

Hanebado! seemed to take a bit of a nosedive in critical reception as it progressed, with most of the criticism centering on writing perceived as poor and character reactions and attitudes that were too often over-the-top or unrealistic.

Frankly, neither of these things ever bothered me, because the primary draw for me was always watching two players slap the shit out of a birdie (or shuttlecock, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing). Ayano and Nagisa close out their match, and the show, doing just that.

As such, the animation of the match and of the character’s reactions grows ever more dramatic and stylized throughout the roller coaster of an episode. Ayano crawls all the way back, and Nagisa and her knee seem poised to crumble before the might of her opponent’s honed talent.

Coach Tachibana looks ready to pounce at any moment should Nagisa desire to end the match to possibly preserve her career; to lose to live to fight another day. But she doesn’t give up, nor does she let her knee stop her from hanging in there against Ayano.

After several end-of-match deuces (ties), it gets to the point that even Ayano’s body starts to give out. Indeed, when Nagisa’s winning point is scored, securing the narrowest of victories, Ayano’s racket flies right out of her hand and hits one of the net posts.

Once Nagisa realizes she’s won, she bursts into tears right there on the court, while an exhausted Ayano is helped off by her senpais, and takes that opportunity to thank them for supporting her, something that catches them off guard, since she was such an unapologetic bitch to them not too long ago!

Even though Ayano lost, she doesn’t feel like she’s going to be abandoned, nor that it’s the end of the world. Rather, both she and Nagisa realized during the match that they both love and play badminton because it’s fun; and it’s never more fun than when you’re playing such a close match against someone on or around your level.

Ayano and Nagisa might just represent the two peaks of their respective corners (talent and hard work), though it’s also clear that Nagisa has plenty of talent (otherwise she wouldn’t have beaten Ayano, period), while Ayano works plenty hard (otherwise she wouldn’t have had the stamina to almost knock Nagisa off).

Ayano also confronts her mother and states that she hated her, past-tense, because she thought she was abandoned for not having any talent. Uchika repeats her offer to bring Ayano back with her to Denmark, but Ayano wishes to remain in Japan, where she intends to keep playing and keep getting better. Uchika is impressed and moved by her daughter’s words.

As friends Riko and Nagisa share a post-victory moment of friendship, Ayano also takes the time to thank her friend Erena for always standing by her side, as well as for persuading her to get back into badminton.

When Ayano and Nagisa next meet, the latter is being told to take things easy, what with her patellar tendinitis. But Ayano immediately challenges her to a match. She quickly switches back to “Evil Ayanon”, but not out of straight-up malice; her intention to inspire Nagisa, not provoke her.

It’s also a way of acknowledging Nagisa’s skill; trash talk aside, Ayano wouldn’t play someone she believed wasn’t worth playing. And so the two arrange to practice together more and more in preparation for the inter-high tournament. After all, the person on the other side of the net is a “reflection of themselves”. Beat that, and they can beat anyone.

Hanebado! – 12 – Crossfire

Hanesaki Ayano is good, but not invincible, and while she wins the first game, it’s not a blowout but a 20-16 eke-through, because Nagisa refuses to play the game Ayano thought she’d play. Put simply, Nagisa goes on the defense, forcing Ayano to be the aggressor, which gives Nagisa time to think and keep Ayano off-balance, all while sapping her stamina.

Nagisa’s knee is a concern, but Tachibana examines it and she seems to be okay. Erena hears from Ayano’s mom that her intent, however monstrous, was to get Ayano to become a better player by playing for herself, not for the sake of her mother. Abandoning her made her hate her mother, and thus made her find a new reason to improve: revenge.

But while she won the first game and is determined to beat Nagisa in straight sets, it just doesn’t go that way. Nagisa keeps up the defense and keeps hanging in there long enough to finally release her jumping smash at the most devastating moment. It’s everything Ayano has not to completely melt down on the court.

That’s because despite her brave face and resolve to reject her mom, Ayano still fears abandonment over everything else. By losing the second set, she feels she’s on the cusp of being abandoned again; this time by everyone who isn’t her mom. She enters a tailspin, going down 0-8 in the third game, causing some to consider the match over before it officially ends.

But then something happens: despite how badly she treated her teammates, they still cheer her on and urge her to do her best, not just for her own sake, but for the sake of the team, who can say they sent two teammates to the Nationals. Erena adds her voice to a crowd that is suddenly on Ayano’s side, as if sensing the emotional turmoil in which she’s roiling.

The sudden surge of support works. No longer afraid she’ll be discarded for being useless, Ayano breaks out something new from her back of tricks: she ends Nagisa’s 8-point scoring streak by scoring a point of her own, with her right hand. Could it be she’s a natural righty even though she’s been playing lefty all this time? Or is she simply ambidextrous?

In any case, she’s back in the game. Also worth looking for in the final episode: whether Ayano’s come-from-behind win is really in the cards. Maybe Nagisa will upset her, but then again, maybe Ayano needs to learn that she doesn’t need to win all the time to avoid being abandoned.

Hanebado! – 11 – Creating a Monster

“Why do you play badminton?” That question is oft asked in Hanebado!. Characters ask other characters, and also ask themselves. “Because I love it” seems to be a pretty popular answer. I mean, why participate in a sport and work hard at it if you don’t feel a kind of affinity for it, or because it makes you feel good?

Ayano claims not to subscribe to such a glib answer. Everyone who says they play because they love it seems to get on her nerves. Perhaps it’s envy, or perhaps it’s obfuscation. Regardless, Ayano isn’t in this for the love of the game; she’s in it for revenge against the mother who abandoned her—even as that mother claims she left her so she would become stronger.

You can call Ayano’s decision to renounce her mother a kind of growth, but there’s just as much Nagisa growth on display this week. For one thing, she’s learned not to get bothered by Ayano’s haughty provocations. She’s also learned not to push herself too far.

As Ayano is trying her best not to let the sudden reappearance of her mother throw her off her game (she sees it as yet another hurdle to clear), Nagisa is trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour the night before the match; though she can’t sleep and instead studies film of Ayano, ending up with less than three hours of sleep.

The day of the match, Ayano’s “teammates” encourage her, but she rejects that encouragement as a waste of time; her performance won’t be affected either way by their words. It’s the last display of cruel pomposity Elena is willing to bear. She takes Ayano aside and learns of Ayano’s plan to abandon her mom. And Elena blames herself for making Ayano join the club.

I can’t say I disagree with that placing of blame; while Ayano was hardly in a good place emotionally prior to being forced into joining club, the fact that she had come to hate badminton meant she had find a reason other than love of the game in order to prosper in it. With the best of intentions, Elena created a monster.

When play begins, Nagisa shows growth once more by playing a different game; not relying too much on her smash, and using more deception and less aggressive bull-headedness. She’s rewarded by winning the first two points of the first set. She also has the crowd behind her.

Elena spots Uchika walking out after her daughter’s two lost points, and as the rain starts to fall, expresses her desire to talk about Ayano with her. Meanwhile, Ayano, who didn’t see Uchika leave and probably doesn’t much care anymore, is hardly fazed by Nagisa’s surprisingly strong start.

In fact, she’s mildly amused, and then blurts out the strategy Nagisa is trying to employ. Nagisa was able to use the element of surprise to steal a couple of points, but she knew it wouldn’t be long before Ayano picked up on what was going on and adjusted her game.

While it only took Ayano two points for her to analyze Nagisa’s strategy, the show seems to want to present the possibility Nagisa could beat Ayano…but we’ll have to wait at least one of the final two episodes to know the final result. All we know is that Ayano will have a counterattack…and that we’re probably in for more flashbacks next week!