Heroines Run the Show – 07 – Always My Heroine

Nagisa knows who LIPxLIP is, and it doesn’t take long to get Hiyori to admit that she’s working as their manager-in-training.  It still doesn’t explain why they accompanied her to the station, however. Of course, Hiyori has her revenge for having her secret job so easily revealed. When Nagisa says she seems “different”, she gets him to admit she’s cute just as easily!

I had my reservations about the sudden arrival of Nagisa, but these two are basically the cutest; they’re just such a good fit together…nice and balanced! It’s crystal clear to Aizou and Yuujirou that Nagisa is in love with Hiyori, and only a couple of minutes of riling him up has him standing up like a shounen hero saying “She’s the only girl for me!” Unfortunately for him, when Hiyori tells Nagisa he can stay at her place, it’s just as clear to LIPxLIP that she has no earthly idea Nagisa has those kinds of feelings for her.

Nagisa, being so in love with Hiyori, warns LIPxLIP that he won’t give up on her, even to an idol, and that they “can’t have her.” This comes as a surprise to them, but Nagisa has a point: as someone who once teased Hiyori because he liked her, our idols can’t pretend that there’s something about Hiyori they value above other girls, even as they endlessly say she doesn’t act like a girl most of the time.

As for Nagisa, his stature, good looks, and instant likability have Uchida-san trying to recruit him as an idol. He respectfully declines, as he already has a dream in place: taking over the family restaurant, the fish for which Hiyori’s family provides, making their coupling that much more inevitable.

The actual FT4 show is a lot less built up and laid-back than I expected, but there are some very good reasons for that. True, Aizou and Yuujirou are stewing in the front row as their rivals play with the crowd like putty in their hands, but Nagisa and Hiyori are an island of serenity by comparison.

You can tell he’s super chuffed that Hiyori’s attending a show with him. His favorite member of FT4 is all too fitting: the glue guy who hangs out in the background and lets the others hog the spotlight, but without whom there’d be no music. He doesn’t come out and say it—he may not even be aware—but that’s what Hiyori is becoming to LIPxLIP—increasingly indispensable.

Nagisa has a plan. He never had any designs on staying at Hiyori’s place overnight, but he did bring all the gear he needed to cook her a gourmet meal as thanks for attending FT4 with him. But the sumptuous feast is only a prelude…a way of preparing the ground for a confession of love.

Earlier at the station, Nagisa played dumb when she mentioned how he said she looked weird in a dress, which we know has informed her personal style ever since. But not only does Nagisa remember, but he’s mature enough now to admit why he teased her at the time: because she was too cute, and he was worried someone else would take her away.

No sooner does he say “I love ya” does he stand up and walk out of the apartment, saying he’s leaving on the shinkansen tomorrow. He doesn’t want to pressure her into an answer; a text or call sometime will suffice.

A good word for Hiyori after hearing Nagisa’s confession: befuddled. It never once occured to her that her best friend forever felt…that way. Hell, she never thought anyone would ever say they loved her. Fortunately, she remembers she has two girlfriends and calls them up for their help over hamburgers.

Juri is happy for Hiyori, and when asked, is extremely genuine and eloquent when she tells Hiyori when she started liking the guy who became her bae. He wasn’t even her type at first, but he gradually became so. As for Chizuru, she won’t brook any hesitation on Hiyori’s part: a confession from a hot childhood friend is both a rare treasure and a cliché…and Chizuru has no problem with clichés.

Juri brings things back down to earth a bit, and assures Hiyori that Nagisa is probably just as worried as she is about their relationship possibly changing for the worst. But as he was brave enough to tell her how he really felt, all Hiyori can do is return the favor.

Hiyori may not know what she wants when it comes to romance, but she does know what she doesn’t want: anything that will negatively affect what she’s got going on now: school, track and managing. She’s going all out with all three, and there just isn’t time for romance right now…not until she’s seen those things through.

Nagisa is surely a bit disappointed, but probably also relieved that it’s not a hard no, just a “not just now”. He even admits he jumped the gun. He tussles her hair, tells her she looked good when she dressed up but also thinks she looks good when she’s running around and covered in sweat, which is just beautifully heartwarming. Hiyori thanks Nagisa for telling her how he feels, as it gives her confidence she can become a heroine.

Nagisa tells her the truth: to him she already is one, and always will be. He promises he’ll be back in Tokyo after graduation to take business courses in college and train in restaurants. He’ll be working hard too, and hopefully, they can work hard along side one another soon. Their parting is such sweet sorrow, but they’ll surely remain in each other’s hearts as they go after their dreams with everything they have.

Heroines Run the Show – 06 – From Crap Creeps to Cute Crêpes

If Aizou is out of shampoo, Hiyori has no problem walking into the boy’s shower to get him more. It’s steamy, and it’s not like she’s in there to sneak a peek; she’s just doing her job. She’s been acting more assertively as a manager should, but to these two old-fashioned chums, she couldn’t be acting less like a “girl” if she tried. 

When Tamura gets the three of them tickets for a FT4 show, Hiyori says she’s already going with her childhood friend Nagisa, who is an FT4 superfan. At such an affair it’s expected to “dress up”. The boys want to give her a makeover, but she demurs.

After a day of observing other girls—Hattori, Setoguchi, Narumi—Hiyori encounters perhaps the cutest girl she’s seen of the day, and she’s being harassed by a creep. Hiyori breaks his hold and runs off with the girl, and you know they’ll lose the creep because if anything, Hiyori can run.

I liked the detail of how she’s not the slightest bit out of breath once the coast is clear, while the cutie is huffing and puffing. The girl thanks her by buying her a crepe at a place she’s always wanted to try, but not alone. Before you know it they’re exchanging bites.

When the girl notices she’s staring a bit, Hiyori just mentions how she thinks she’s super cute…a heroine, not an “extra” or “bit player” like her. The girl admits to having also been insecure for a long time due to someone she knew and admired being so pretty. This girl posits that being loved, not cute, is what truly makes a heroine.

She was saved from a creep by Hiyori, and is now having fun eating crepes and talking with her. She likes Hiyori, so maybe she’s a heroine after all! The girl’s name is Narumi Mona and is, unbeknownst to Hiyori, is an up-and-coming idol, and presumably Narumi Sena’s sister.

Their talk inspires Hiyori to try researching some fashion mags, but she’s caught by Yuujirou and Aizou, who demand to know what she’s up to. She tells them how the one time she wore a cute dress and felt like a princess, Nagisa told her she looked “weird”, which led to a complex about looking too “girly”.

The boys say Nagisa sucks, but Hiyori then lists all the ways Nagisa doesn’t such and has always been there for her, especially following her dream of track. The fact remains, in no small part due to Nagisa’s teasing years ago, Hiyori doesn’t think she has what it takes to be a princess.

Yuujirou and Aizou then proceed to show her just how wrong both she and Nagisa are. They take her to their stylist who gives her an adorable new ‘do, then they take her to a classy clothier to try on a number of cozy classic looks.

I love the way the two boys fuss over Hiyori and bicker over the best way to dress her. They come off very much like two doting big brothers trying to make their sister into the princess they know she is…while also showing up the FT4 fan that gave their manager a complex.

After hair and clothes comes makeup and posture, which the boys also take care of back at the studio. It’s very My Fair Lady in the way the two cosmopolitan lads are trying to infuse some Tokyo style into their country bumpkin colleague. Hiyori has to deal with idol super-close-ups when they’re applying the makeup, which is very much a less-is-more affair.

When the time arrives to meet Nagisa at the station, Yuujirou and Aizou accompany Hiyori in her new duds, because they can’t wait to see the look on Nagisa’s face when she sees her. Ah, yes, that’s right…they think her childhood friend Nagisa is a girl. When Hiyori spots Nagisa, whom we’ve known was a boy since the end of last week, she’s so excited she runs as if not wearing a long skirt.

Nagisa catches her before she can touch the ground, and is revealed to the idols as a most strapping young lad…perhaps not as photo shoot worthy as either of them, but certainly handsome and fit nonetheless. He was also unquestionably a typical little boy who teased the girl he liked because he was an idiot.

His first reaction to Yuujirou and Aizou contains multitudes. It’s not (or it’s not just) that he may be irked by the fact Hiyori is hanging around two cute Tokyo boys who must look like nothing but trouble to a hayseed like Nagisa…it might more be the fact that he know’s they’re his beloved FT4’s rivals: LIPxLIP!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 05 – Their Juliet

Hiyori’s foot injury isn’t something that goes away overnight. Like Embiid being out with a fractured orbital, it ruins any chance of coming close to touching her goal. It only takes one race and a few hurdles before her foot barks at her and she’s suddenly washed out of prelims. She got hurt doing a job she took to help pay to live in Tokyo so she could run, and now she can’t run.

It hurts to see our typically chipper chipmunk suddenly brought so low, and struggling to hide it from the ones she cares about. She puts on a brave face for her family over the phone, but I bet her mom can imagine her daughter’s distraught face as she says everything is fine, unconvincingly. She stares at the ceiling at night and almost gets lost up there.

Aizou and Yuujirou have been around Hiyori long enough to know something’s not right, and even come right out and ask her what’s up; why she’s suddenly so much less dashy. As you’d expect, Hiyori doesn’t want to burden them with her troubles when they have a huge concert coming up, so she does her job with a smile. But they know she’s hiding something.

They learn from Uchida how Hiyori’s dream to make the nationals was deferred by her injury, and Aizou remembers when she seemed to look hurt after delivering their swag to the venue. Add to that the fact that this latest show is the last day Hiyori is contracted to work as LIPxLIP’s manager, and there’s a distinct pall over what should be joyful festivities as the duo takes another step forward in their idol careers.

Aizou and Yuujirou decide to do something for Hiyori to cheer her up. They ask her to make sure she finishes all her backstage duties before their scheduled encore, then switch the final song from “Nonfantasy” to “Dream Fanfare”, the lyrics to which almost seem like they were written specifically for Hiyori, the “Julieta” to whom they dedicate the song.

That tribute and the lyrics are not lost on Hiyori, who for thew first time isn’t on the sidelines but has a primo seat in the center of the front row of the second deck. From that vantage point she can’t not realize for the first time the true power of idols, and how they’e not just scary or two-faced, bt truly amazing in what they can do and how they can inspire a crowd.

Despite the song being meant as an encouraging sendoff for Hiyori to commit fuly to her track dreams, it actually inspires her to stay on as their manager-in-training, indefinitely. It’s true, she could dedicate more time to track if she wasn’t working, but Hiyori doesn’t want to compromise…she wants it all. She’s not ready to say goodbye to LIPxLIP, and while they react with characteristic haughty apathy at her announcement, I have no doubt they’re glad she’ll sticking around.

But what’s this? Nagisa is coming to Tokyo? Who’s Nagisa? Hiyori’s would-be fiancé? Maybe! In any case, I can’t wait to see what Hiyori’s iconic eyebrows do when this bumpkin surprise her…not to mention how he and the idols will clash! Until then, this was a beautiful capper to a mini-arc in which Hiyori apparently took too much on and stumbled, only to dust herself off and keep going. Hurdles are meant to be cleared!

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 02 – Smiles and Shadows

Last week showed off Priconne’s impressive aural, visual, and comic chops when it comes to epic fantasy adventure, along with the sweet, lived-in chemistry of the main quartet. But I count myself among the many who were surprised without strong its dramatic chops could be. Last week we only got a slight glimpse of that as Pecorine looked at the palace where she should rightfully rule.

But this week is all about Karyl and her unique position in the Gourmet Guild as a spy and “princess knight” with divided loyalties. Her small act of rebellion against her majesty is forgiven, but with that clemency comes the threat that it better not happen again. And so just like last season, Karyl is torn between her love of her guild-mates and doing her royal duty.

Speaking of royals, Pecorine’s longing look at the palace is followed up upon this week when Kokkoro mentions that Peco still hasn’t told Karyl or Yuuki about her true identity. While she can’t do anything about Kokkoro knowing, she’s not ready to tell the others.

Peco asks Kokkoro to keep the secret a little while longer so she can tell them herself when the time is right. For now, as long as she’s able to keep the people of Landosol safe and smiles on their faces, she’s mostly content to maintain the status quo.

Both Peco and Karyl’s internal strife is briefly soothed by a visit to the clothing store owned by Carmina, a three-member idol group that sings, dances, and fights to put smiles on the faces of their fans. Their goals are thus aligned with Pecorine’s and the Gourmet Guilds.

This act introduces Tsumugi, Nozomi, and Chika, and also provides an opportunity to dress everyone (including Yuuki) like cute idols. To the show’s credit, however, our Gourmet Guilders’s idol cosplay doesn’t extend to actually taking the stage; that’s left to the professional performers.

When everyone is getting a good night’s sleep before Carmina’s next big concert (Yuuki having been warmly initiated as an official member of the Carmina Fan Club), Karyl slips out on her own as she tends to do. In the palace she meets Christina, who relays to her a mission for the two of them involving Shadows.

Before heading home, Karyl sits on a vantage point offering a gorgeous nighttime vista of the city…including the outdoor concert venue, where Karyl finds Tsumugi rehearsing on her own. When asks why she’s up so late without the others, Tsumugi says she doesn’t have the natural talent of Nozomi or Chika, but still wants to help them shine, hence the outfits and extra practice.

The big day of the concert arrives, and Karyl heads off on her own, telling the others she has something she needs to do. That something turns out to be fighting off all of the stray Shadows in the nearby woods that Carmina’s performances (and the crowds they bring) seem to lure out of their hiding spots.

There’s a contrast between Karyl and Christina’s “dirty work” in and with the shadows while Carmina shines brighter than ever on stage and make everyone who showed up to the concert smile. While the crowds are CGI, the three idols are smoothly animated in 2D; it’s a very nice-looking concert.

After her shadow-hunting duties are complete, Karyl is so physically and emotionally drained, she’s ready to pass out under a bridge in the dark. But her three guildmates, feeling it not proper to start dinner without their fourth member, head back into town to look for her, calling her name until she finally emerges.

Karyl tells the others their calling her name embarrassing her, but you can see in her wonderfully subtle facial expressions that she was also extremely happy they came out looking for her. It might mean there are no easy answers for her

Karyl’s problems aren’t solved this week, nor should they have been. I’m hoping that sometime before this season ends she’ll be able to pick a side and find happiness and peace—and hopefully it’s the Gourmet Guild’s side—but that’s far from certain right now. Even so, all Priconne, Peco, and Karyl can do is take things one day, and one family meal, at a time.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. The OP is back, and the same theme song is used as last season…which is just fine with me! If it ain’t broke…Having recently watched Twin Peaks: The Return, I’m struck by how similar Yuuki is to Coop-as-Dougie Jones…The new ED is a stunningly beautiful sequence of Kokkoro staying up late looking at photos from the guild album, followed by Peco and Karyl putting a blanket over her when she nods off, then Yuuki putting a blanket on all three of them. So simple, and yet so full of heart-bursting love…

Bokutachi no Remake – 05 – Wings of Song

I know I almost always rag on a series doing a cultural festival episode, as they typically end up pretty formulaic. But at the same time, there’s a reason that formula often works so well: it raises the stakes for all the characters by making them do things outside their routines or comfort zones. Remake’s art festival gives us a ton of wonderful little moments, plus a couple of big ones with lasting ramifications.

Things start out in Nanako’s favor, as Kyouya is so supportive of her honing her singing, she instinctively falls into his arms—though she warn him later not to get “the wrong idea.” She’s similarly flustered when Kyouya first sees her in her outfit for the maid cafe, with her, Shinoaki, and Keiko each donning different styles. The cafe is such a success, they actually poach people who were going to watch the films.

One of those who came for the films but also stopped by the cafe is Eiko, whom Kyouya can’t quite mask his surprise for showing up to something that fundamentally doesn’t seem to be her thing. I really enjoy the interaction of Eiko and Kyouya as two people who did interact in Kyouya’s initial future (unlike the others)—I just wish she had more to do than try to apologize to Nanako, only for Kyouya to say theres no need, as her stern lecture helped Nanako more than it hurt her.

On the last day, Kyouya attends the visual art exhibition with Shinoaki, spots a painting that looks familiar, and when he studies the name tag he recognizes the name, then gets all dizzy and faints. Whether due to overwork, a side effect of his time travel, or a little of both, he wakes up in Shinoaki’s lap in a quite, private back room. It’s here where Shinoaki tells Kyouya how much his care and support and praise has helped her, and leans in for a kiss, only to be stopped an inch from Kyouya’s lips by a phone call.

There’s an emergency on the main stage, as the “secret guest” band got double-booked and will be a no-show. Keiko suggests they just ask around; it’s an art school, there are plenty of people who will want to perform on stage. But both Kyouya and the music professor believe Nanako can and should do it. Nanako disagrees, feels the pressure of all those people rejecting her, and flees the tent.

Kyouya chases after her while Tsurayuki keps the crowd busy with some clown tricks. Nanako expresses how terrified she is; he tells her she’s scared because she’s serious about doing a good job. And to assuage her fear about the crowd of hundreds, she shows her the YouTube page of her singing videos, which have quickly garnered tens of thousands of views and spirited discussion about the unique appeal of her voice.

Of course, we don’t learn that this is what Kyouya showed Nanako until after we see her take the stage in her maid outfit, give a meek introductory speech, and then kick into full Performance Mode. It only taks a couple of bars for the crowd to get drawn in, and before long, they’re dancing and swaying and fully on board. Nanako, in turn, feeds off their energy and truly shines. Kyouya knew she would, because she’s the famous N@NA from his time.

After her encore, a winded but joyful Nanako rushes to the tent to see Kyouya, who among the crowd of hundreds was likely the one person she was singing for, in addition to herself. But the others tell her Kyouya went off somewhere. We then see him with Shinoaki, who mustve gotten a little lightheaded as a result of all the hard work she’s done and the size and heat from the crowd. Shinoaki stands up so she and the seated Kyouya are of a height, and then leans in and finishes the first kiss they started earlier.

Nanako is just in time to witness this kiss, and watches Kyouya and Shinoaki looking every bit like a couple through the light of a fountain, holding crepes for her and Kyouya. You can see her post-performance high evaporate from her face, and her reflection in the babbling fountain is a nice visualization of how all of a sudden everything is out of sorts again, just when things seemed to be on the right track.

And all because despite herself she’s developed feelings for Kyouya, who let it be said is fully deserving of those feelings. It’s just, Shinoaki likes him too, and unlike Nanako she’s never tried to qualify or deny it. We’ll certainly see how this incident affects the group dynamic, and whether the official establishment of this love triangle will destroy what Kyouya believes he was brought back in time to do.

The Detective Is Already Dead – 04 – Blue Moon in Her Eye

Huh…well that was…something? I dunno, there’s something very odd and random about just running into an idol concert and randomly wandering around until you realize the bad guy can hear you even through all the noise…and the bad guy gives away his position for no reason. Also, both the crowd of weird shadow people who all have identical green light sticks (why not…blue?), Yui’s performance, and the general sound mix left a lot to be desired.

I’ll, admit, while I suspected Yui made that threat letter, I didn’t think the giant sapphire would her false left eye. That’s odd in more a cool way than a head-scratching one. Still, the entire concert scene that culminated in Kimizuka leaping to push Yui out of the path of a crossbow bolt lacked suspense and the appropriate level of production value.

Matters aren’t helped when Yui explains why her eye is a sapphire and while I obviously sympathize with her losing her parents at such an age, only to inherit a giant mansion, immense fortune, and oh yeah, a sapphire eye that SPES is apparently trying to steal.

That brings us to the most contrived part of the episode: that Yui was manipulated by SPES into trying to kill Kimizuka and Nagisa by rigging a bomb in the jewel vault. This is indeed a twist, but Kimizuka’s manner of deducing it makes no sense. Also her eye has x-ray vision…so I guess it’s not just a sapphire, and Yui is part cyborg?

It’s all moot, as despite the fact Yui pulls a gun on Kimizuka and Nagisa, five minutes later she’s lowering it and crying about not wanting her jewel eye stolen. This begs the question of why is SPES only now trying to steal it. It also seems strange that a secret evil organization would choose such a public and audacious manner of trying to steal it as shooting a crossbow bolt through a beloved idol’s eye.

These are the kind of questions I’d rather not have, but because this episode is only interested in conclusions and twists and not doing any of the work to set them up properly, my mind wandered often.

In any case, Yui is now a friend and compatriot of Kimizuka and Nagisa, fellow targets of the nebulous Bad Guys. The next day, as news of Kimizuka rescuing Yui plasters the city’s video screens, another person from Kimizuka’s past arrives: a blonde bombshell named Char whom we learn—in a flashback in the most obnoxiously expositiony way possible—is the brawn to Kimizuka’s brains.

Siesta insisted that the two learn to get along and cover for each others’ weaknesses. Either that never happened or it never had a chance to happen, because that day on the boat with Kimizuka and Char was Siesta’s last. I foresee next week focusing on Char’s return to Kimizuka’s life, the two trying and failing to get along, but not giving up on trying in honor of their mentor…whose heart is alive and well in Nagisa.

Hear what Crow has to say about episode 4 here.

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 12 (Fin) – Not Leaving It Up to God

ZSR’s totally epic saga of a finale starts out very stodgily, at the Saga Prefectural Office’s Special Task Force HQ. There’s a wonky procedural flavor to the proceedings reminiscent of the underrated Shin Godzilla, in that it mirrors the real life Japanese collective spirit of 1.) This Is The Problem; 2.) This Is What We Do About It; and 3.) We’ve All Got Matching Jumpsuits. Honestly I think it’s ultra badass that in dire times, even the government officials start dressing like a bike gang. Or is it t’other way ’round?

It is into this disaster CIC that Tatsumi Koutarou insinuates himself, and despite being held back by police, makes sure Saga’s governor hears his pleas to prioritize restoring the infrastructure around the Tosu area—where EFS happens to be located. Koutarou knows what Saga needs is a pure, uncut injeciton of reassurance into the hearts of every Saga resident. Something to unify them so they can all defeat this horrible disaster together.

That something is, obviously Franchouchou, who are enjoying a well-deserved bath prior to the biggest show of their lives that they’re still not even sure will happen due to the ongoing calamity.

While they rest up and make sure they’re prepared come what may, Koutarou is risking imprisonment to plead his case to the people who decide what happens in Saga, while Ookoba uses all of his media connections not for Koutarou’s sake, but for those girls who give everything their all, no matter how dead they are.

Sakura may get the day of the week wrong—and there were a good eight to ten months during Covid when I lost track too!—fate smiles on the group over at Saga FM, which is not only operational and on the air, but in dire need of personalities to fill that air time. Saki then proceeds to give a vulnerable and impassioned pep talk—one of the best monologues of the whole show—and Tano Asami absolutely nails it.

The next morning, Franchouchou, the Legendary Seven, strike out from the mall shelter they’ve called home the past few days and make the trek to EFS on foot. This offers them and us an opportunity to view both the devastation and the enduring beauty of their home.

When they arrive at EFS, it again seems to mock them with its cavernous emptiness. But instead of oppressive, I saw the venue as brimming with potential. Sure enough, people who love Franchouchou and whose lives they’ve touched start to trickle in, starting with their two first and most loyal fans, the metalheads.

Maria and the delinquents past and present file in, followed by Maimai and her classmates, Iron Frill and their followers, Oozora Light and his encourage, Hisanaka Pharmaceuticals, NHBK Fukuoka news chopper who has followed the group’s story since discovering them at the mall shelter, White Ryuu and a contingent of American troops, possibly from Yokozuka. Even the Dancing Chicken Man shows up!

It’s a beautiful and heartwarming reunion of everyone from Zombieland Saga, and their numerous powerful allies and fans combined with the might of both print, TV, and social media, ensure that this time—even in the midst of what could possibly be Saga’s worst disaster in its history—a packed and positively rocking Ekimae Fudosan Stadium.

The governor’s chief of staff reminds Koutarou that all they did was “choose to prioritize the most effective strategy, after logical consideration”, which is politicspeak for “the people need this right now and we’re going to do everything in our power to see that they get it”—”it” being nothing less than the biggest and best Franchouchou show yet.

No, the zombie idols aren’t coursing with electricity and crazy laser lightshows. Their outfits aren’t over-the-top, but call to mind seven angelic figures dedicated with every fiber of their undead being to make the people of Saga not simply forget their troubles, but to give them the courage to face and defeat them through surpassingly catchy song and dance.

This is not an episode satisfied with one climactic song. It opens with a big-league build-up to the energetic first song, then some call-and-response with the Legendary Yamada Tae (whose gibberish eventually coalesces into a franchouchou chant), which transitions into a slower and more contemplative piece.

Sakura, Saki, Ai, Junko, Yuugiri, Lily, and Tae are all at the top of their games, and the crowd—no doubt still traumatized by current events—are well and truly into it. And while not as important as the revitalizing impact they have on the people of Saga, the group gets their revenge and then some.

Not only is every seat and the entire field packed this time, but while the piddling crowd of their first disastrous EFS show didn’t call for any encores because they thought it would be just too cruel, this time there’s nothing that can stop Franchouchou from heading back out onto the stage after a quick breather.

Before they do, Koutarou prostrates himself before them and despite being a “grown-ass man” starts tearing up at the sheer restorative power of the zombie idols. Silly, Koutarou, being open with your emotions is what makes men grown-ass! As they head back out to hit the crowd with their collective soul, Koutarou tries to scrub out his blood from the floor; a truly ill omen.

Franchouchou’s final song is interspersed with scenes of Saga rebuilding and people overcoming adversity together, echoing their own personal struggles as well as their struggles as a group. Let it be said that both Franchouchou and Zombieland Saga as a series left absolutely everything on the stage in its finale.

In fact, if Saga were to, say, be destroyed utterly by an alien warship reminiscent of the City Destroyers from the 1997 blockbuster Independence Day, immediately after the concert wrapped, I don’t think a single person on or off EFS’s stage who’d deny that they went out on a good note.

That’s a good thing, because immediately after the concert wraps, Saga is in fact apparently destroyed utterly by an alien warship reminiscent of the City Destroyers from the 1997 blockbuster Independence Day. It’s kind of a downer, but it’s also the kind of irreverence and absurdity I’ve come to know and love from Zombieland Saga, and why I will miss it and each and every member of Franchouchou so damn much. What a frikkin’ ending!

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Head over to Crow’s World of Anime for the latest discussion on our beloved zombie idols with Irina from I Drink and Watch Anime. Always a great read!

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 10 – How It Started / How It’s Going

After spending two weeks in the Meiji era with the exception of the final act of last week, when Yuugiri led Franchouchou in one of their best performances yet—and oh yeah, Saga is apparently an extremely long-lived person—we find ourselves a mere year in the past, before the EFS fiasco.

The idols are riding high on their success in the snow at Arpino, but that was only a crowd of five hundred people. But Koutarou, no less high on success, decides that Franchouchou have proven themselves legendary enough to fill the same stadium where Ai died. Her feelings about performing there aside, Ai knows right from the get-go it will be nigh impossible for them to scale up so much so fast.

Despite that, the girls put their faith in their manager and in their own considerable abilities, and even pros like Ai and Junko are swept up in the boundless optimism. Then, as we know, it all goes completely and utterly to shit. Because Koutarou didn’t bother to pre-sell any tickets, the amount of concert-goers who show up manage to fit what would be the soccer field’s penalty area.

While we’ve already been told this tale of woe before in super-abbreviated form, there’s something to be said for watching the disaster unfold in real time. Not even Saki can fight through the sheer dread of playing before a mostly empty venue, while their top fans decide not to call for an encore after the girls shamble off the stage, as it would be just too cruel.

You can really feel the pain of being on that stage in that stadium. They would never have been able to put on their best performance there. Koutarou really screwed the pooch on this one, and he initially reacts to the disaster by going on a weeks-long bender.

During these dark times, Franchouchou are splintered, then exchanged some recriminations, before Yamada Tae comes in and shocks everyone by not only buying her own dried squid with Koutarou’s cash, but doing her own makeup. Just by being Tae, she shows the others that they’ve been relying on Koutarou on everything for too long, and if they have to do non-idolly work to get out of their immense debt, then so be it.

That brings us up to speed. Fast forward nearly a year, and Koutarou announces to the girls that they will once again be performing at EFS for their revenge show. This time, they’re in a far better position to command a larger crowd: there’s the audience of Saki’s radio show, Lily’s inroads with the younger kids, Yamada’s legion of fans, Maimai’s high school, and the fact Iron Frill considers them rivals.

It almost feels like history repeating, but Koutarou is determined to properly promote the concert (and hopefully allowing pre-sales of tickets, for gosh sakes), and gives the others a pep talk worthy of Gurren Lagann. Unfortunately, there’s a huge potential snag in this plan: the reporter Ookuba knows he’s somehow revived seven dead girls and is profiting off their performances. When he learns of the revenge show he’s determiend to stop it.

Frankly, this feels like a little bit of eleventh-hour antagonism for its own sake, and I’m more than a little disappointed that Ookuba is taking such a hard stance rather than letting the idols whose unlives he’s trying to upheave have their say in the matter. By going straight to Koutarou he’s stripping them of their agency. Considering how much they’ve achieved, they’ve earned the right to decide to perform, not for Koutarou, but for each other and for Saga.

That brings us back to the bar where Old Man Saga works. Years ago, Koutarou was “gloomy and half-crazed”—instead of full-crazed like he is now—and thus bought into Saga’s claims that he was an immortal being who can revive the dead and has been fighting a curse that’s been at work in Saga for thousands of years.

Turns out everything that Koutarou has done with Franchouchou has been to prevent Saga’s prophesy—of a cataclysm that will make everyone forget Saga—from coming true. It’s why he flew to close to the sun with EFS the first time, but it’s also why he’s determined to make EFS II a success that no one will ever forget, weaving their past failure into the narrative.

But as the idols prepare for their show tomorrow, Saga is pelted with increasingly harsh rains, and the wind eventually knocks out power throughout the prefecture, just as Ookoba is about to publish his exposé.

But, of course, there are larger problems than whether he saved a copy; a building that looks like Koutarou’s run-down mansion seems to sink into the saturated earth, presumably with our zombie idols inside. While I’m sure they’re safe—they’re zombies—Saga is another question entirely. Are we past the point of singing and dancing  being able to save Saga, or will we simply not see them at their most legendary until the shit has truly hit the fan?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 11 – What’s Past Is Providence

As the end of last week teased, all of the work Vivy and Matsumoto have done throughout the century would seem to be for naught, as all the AIs still go berserk, this time with the added insult of singing Vivy’s song while they slaughter the humans.

Vivy does what she can in her immediate vicinity to stop the berserk AIs from killing, but even when she saves one man, he runs from her in terror. She’s woefully outnumbered and almost hit by a Johnnycab when she’s saved by Matsumoto, who just woke up after fifteen years to learn the Singularity Project was a complete bust.

The episode drives that point home by not shying away from the scenes of carnage mixed with programmed mirth, perhaps best illustrated by a gigantic musical parade float-thingy red-misting humans in the streets. Wit Studio’s experience in depicting horrendous disasters is well known, and they really flex their dread-inspiring muscles here.

Osamu is hard at work doing exactly what he did in the first episode: send the insulated Diva AI data into the past to fix this disaster. Only that’s already happened in another timeline, which means we have two Divas here. Instead of activate the Diva native to his timeline, Matsumoto witnesses as the AI security guards who came to kill him are neutralized…by Diva and Matsumoto.

Osamu’s first reaction is intense sorrow and guilt at having put Diva through a century of burdens and suffering when she was only born to sing. But Diva isn’t the Diva he knew anymore; she’s Vivy, and not only did she not mind the last century of service, but she’s asking him here and now to tell her and Matsumoto how to deal with this.

To make everyone happy with her singing, she must protect her audience. To protect her audience, she must stop the war.

In this fully dystopian-adjacent episode, the scrappy underdogs must hook up with their allies, who in this particular case—and quite ironically so—are Toak. Specifically, a moderate faction of Toak led by none other than Kakitani Yugo’s granddaughter, Yui (voiced by Asai Ayaka, who sounds a lot like a more assertive Ichinose Kana).

Like Osamu, she wants to create a world where AI and human can coexist. When Vivy, Osamu, and Matsumoto arrive at the cargo port where Yui’s faction is battling, we and Vivy lean that Elizabeth is not only still alive and well and not berserk, but serving as Yui’s bodyguard.

Once Yui stands down the Toak soldiers suspicious of Vivy and Matsumoto, we learn the details of how Beth is still around: while her body was lost in the Sunrise incident, her data was still on Toak servers, and was uploaded into a new body, but only with memories before Sunrise.

Beth asks Vivy about herself, Yugo, and her sister Estella, and Vivy’s answers comfort her: she was Yugo’s lifekeeper, and Estella carried out her mission until the very end with a smile on her face. Yui produces a recording of Yugo from just before Vivy met Ophelia forty years ago, with Yugo asking Beth to protect the others, a recording that inspired Yui to found the moderate faction of Toak.

Once the group is in a safe (for now) place, they start to put their heads together: which historical event sparks this war, and how can it be avoided? Why is everyone singing Vivy’s song? Also, why haven’t Vivy or Beth lost control like the others?

Beth can be explained easily enough; she’s no longer a true autonomous AI, but a kind of emulation of the past Beth, “a bot who keeps on following her master’s orders.” She was also never uploaded to the Archive for updates, as that would have exposed Toak to authorities.

That Toak never updated Beth after reviving her is a eureka moment for Osamu, who reveals there is a supply of dormant, outdated AIs who also were never connected to the Archive, and so haven’t gone berserk.

As for the Archive, its physical form is the Arayashiki, the tower that Vivy and Matsumodo used as both index and measuring stick for AI progress. In both this episode and in the updated OP, the tower is complete. This episode started with a countdown, and when zero was reached a signal was send to all AIs, save Vivy and Beth: essentially, “kill all humans.”

The group’s brainstorming session is interrupted by some new devilry: The Archive sends out a message over every PA: it has started a twelve-hour countdown, after which it will bring down a giant orbiting satellite. It warns “all AIs who want to exist” to evacuate the affected area ASAP.

Vivy dives into the Archive, which is in the middle of some major redecorating, turning the pastel classroom into an early 21st-century Tokyo nightscape. When Vivy asks Archive (voiced by Ohara Sayaka) what she’s doing, she says she is fulfilling her and their purpose: to wipe out the current human race.

It seems clear now that Archive is the key. This time, she used Vivy’s song as part of whatever data package altered all AIs’ missions to mass murder. That she’s bringing down a satellite on Arayashiki’s position indicates she may also be trying to end her own existence, leaving the humans and AIs who survive to deal with the aftermath.

Of course, this is all speculation. Suffice it to say, we needed an episode that upped the stakes near the end and put Vivy, Matsumoto, and their allies in a race against time to stop the robo-pocalypse. This episode served that purpose admirably, and with the series’ typical flare for grimly dissonant juxtapositions.

It was also great to see that Elizabeth survived, at least in some form. It will be nice to see the Diva sisters fighting side-by-side this time around. Matusmoto said the Singularity Project failed, but that assumes the project is over. I just see this as them having attained the project’s next level; the final dungeon. And it looks to be a doozy.

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 09 – The Legend Continues

As those who share Kiichi’s views grow in number, he still finds time for tea with Yuugiri, who whips up a medicine for his ailing grandfather. Kiichi and Itou pose with Yuugiri for a photograph, which for me meant that somewhere in the present day there’s a very old black-and-white photo of the Legendary Courtesan out there—assuming it survived the war.

However, those who have joined Kiichi don’t necessarily want a new Saga for all; they want their old Saga back, and as many of them are veterans of the war lost eight years ago, they’re willing to take up arms and spill blood to do it, which is far beyond the peaceful return of Saga of which the idealistic Kiichi dreams.

Itou, in between ripping down Kiichi’s flyers and passing messengers disguised as vagrants, gives his friend one final warning to give up his crusade now that it is poised to become a violent one beyond his control. But Kiichi isn’t quite ready to give up on Saga, either for himself or the comrades he’s gathered.

Unfortunately, those comrades armed themselves and planned an armed rebellion behind Kiichi’s back. On the snowy night when they spring into action, Itou meets them in a quiet street…and cuts them all down on orders from the government.

By the time Kiichi catches up to his comrades, Itou has already slaughtered them all. It turns out he was watching out for spies all along, and while he knew Kiichi didn’t mean for things to turn out this way, he’s crossed a line he can’t un-cross, and now it’s Itou’s duty to kill him.

Yuugiri doesn’t let him, whipping a katana out of her shamisen to meet his, saving Kiichi’s life. When the local police approach with whistles blaring, Itou flees one way while Yuugiri and Kiichi go another. All the while, Kiichi’s gramps is having some kind of attack and collapses before he can reach the medicine.

After losing the fuzz, Kiichi starts to sob and whine, and Yuugiri slaps him, telling him he’s come this far for Saga’s sake and can’t give up now. As we saw in a previous scene, she’s already written to some of her many powerful friends who have sworn to protect Kiichi until things cool down. Kiichi doesn’t want to leave the Saga he loves, but he listens to the legendary savior whom he loves.

By the time Itou finds a casually smoking Yuugiri, Kiichi is long gone. Yuugiri forewarns that she was trained by someone called the “Sheathed Kichiemon”, whom Itou knows as “The Demon of Hibiya,” and thus knows he can’t go easy on her. In the ensuing one-slash duel, Yuugiri bests Itou, killing him, but is shocked that he let himself be killed.

No doubt if Itou failed to kill Kiichi, he was as good as dead anyway; he simply let Yuugiri take care of him for him. And with the snow ceasing and the clouds opening up to reveal a majestic full moon, Yuugiri accepts her fate. The next morning, Gramps wakes up and finds a letter from Yuugiri amongst the medicine.

In it, she says by the time he reads it she’ll likely be dead; beheaded by the military in a unilateral execution for killing Itou, a government official. Interspersed with her beautifully lit and solemn execution scene, she tells Gramps that if he’s truly “Saga” (as in, the human embodiment of Saga) as claimed, he’ll guide the new Saga Kiichi creates.

The following spring, May 1883, Saga re-gains independence from Nagasaki thanks to a peaceful appeal from supporters in the prefecture, and by August, unilateral execution was banned, and just nine days after that, Kiichi’s dream officially came true, as the first Saga prefectural assembly is held. Yuugiri’s death, and that of Kiichi’s comrades, weren’t in vain.

With that, we find ourselves back in the present, as Yuugiri takes center stage in a bopping swing-style concert, resplendent in period-inspired garb as her fellow idols support her. This particular concert hits different now that we’ve seen everything Yuugiri’s been through to come to this part of her (after)life.

In a very cheeky epilogue, she has some very nice whiskey in a very classy bar tended by a man who looks and sounds like a younger version of Kiichi’s gramps. He is aware that Yuugiri was alive in the Meiji era, and the black-and-white photo of her with Kiichi and Itou is behind the bar, so this guy must really be the immortal Saga.

Not only did this two-parter give the legendary Yuugiri the epic backstory he deserved, in which she was revealed a hero, martyr, and unsung founding mother to the new Saga—it also expands the mythos of the show by introducing an undying character who has been on the margins of this whole story all along, and may well be behind the necromancy that brought Yuugiri and the other idols back. In any case, I’m eager to see where this goes!

Crow and Irina talk episode 9 here!

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 10 – Looking for a Hint

When Diva’s code degraded into oblivion and Vivy re-awakened and took her place on the stage, Diva’s final song was already over. Ever since then, Vivy has been unable to sing, still unable to find the answer of what it means to “sing from the heart”.

So she retired to much fanfare and took up residence as an exhibit at the AI Museum. Decades passed, and humans and their children gradually forgot about her and her contributions. But not all: Osamu, a young lad on a field trip, knows full well who Diva was, and is.

Osamu wants to hear Diva sing live, but she tells him that’s not possible. When Matsumoto shows up after a good number of years, Vivy is eager for their next mission together, as it’s not “all she has.” But Matsumoto tells her the Singularity Project is over; the double suicide of Ophelia and Antonio didn’t lead to any copycat incidents; a positive revision to the timeline.

Yet despite the fact they’ve seemingly achieved victory it preventing the AI uprising, something Kakitani said still haunts Matsumoto: “through a revelation from the heavens.” That led him to meet Vivy now, sixty-five years from when they first met. He proposes a “race”: whoever finds their answer first wins.

Vivy goes into the archive and dredges up her first memory, when her creator (a female researcher) gave her her mission to sing from the heart, hoping it would “offer a hint” as to what a heart is, at least as it applies to humans.

Osamu visits Diva again, saying it’s “messed up” his classmates don’t know her. Inspired by Matsumoto, she proposes a race, with him bringing friends to meet her while she searches for the answer her creator knew full well she might struggle with her entire life.

As one year, then five, then ten, then twenty pass by, Vivy writes a song in the Archive, which if completed would be the first instance of a song written by an AI of their own pure free will (all previous songs were written by humans). Her progress is glacial; unable to come up with more than a couple of phrases and constantly erasing notes she’s put down.

Meanwhile, Osamu has quite a bit more progress in those years, making friends, making a career for himself in research, and eventually meeting and marrying his wife Nana. While Osamu and Nana are able to conceive, she dies of an illness shortly after giving birth, leaving Osamu both a father and a widower.

He visits Diva with his daughter Luna in his arms, and asks if she would like to hold her. Diva asks why Nana was able to smile despite knowing she wouldn’t live to see her daughter grow up. Osamu tells her that all humans die, but they always remain inside someone or many people without fail. Such is the case for him with Nana and, as Vivy realizes, it’s true of her and Diva as well. As little Luna grasps her hand, Vivy is hit by a sudden spark of inspiration.

She dives into the construct and belts out a completed song, written about her and Matsumoto’s journey in the Singularity Project, and of all the people she’s met. When an impressed Matsumoto shows up and asks who she wrote it for, Vivy says it’s for Diva, who remains inside her even though she’s gone.

After twenty years, she was finally able to finish her task…yet she still cannot even contemplate singing it, so her struggle continues. Before that, though, Vivy goes into hibernation mode, resting her circuits after accomplishing her singular feat.

Her friend Osamu, who along with his wife and daughter inspired Vivy to do what no other AI has, can see that his friend Diva is in deep sleep crunching music data. He leaves her to her creative slumber, assured that when she wakes up he’ll finally be able to hear her voice. Then someone off-camera calls Osamu by his last name…Matsumoto.

Unfortunately, the joy that comes with the revelation Vivy’s cubic partner was a friend and admirer from her future all along is soon overshadowed when Vivy wakes up to find the museum in burning ruins. She runs outside, where the AI apocalypse is in full swing, with one key, horrifying, heartbreaking new wrinkle: as they murder every human in sight, all of the AIs are singing in sinister, dissonant unison. They’re singing Vivy’s song.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 09 – Diva’s Final Curtain

Matsumoto, always entertaining when thrown for a loop, finds himself speaking to Antonio through Ophelia, as he decides the best way to fulfill his mission to support her was to become her, sparing her the burden of fame and the pursuit of perfection, but also sparing her an independent existence. He considers his mission far more noble than Matsumoto’s designs to prevent her suicide, though he might not say that if he knew the bigger picture.

Speaking of that, Kakitani’s youth is promptly explained: he’s an AI copy of the human, and his mission is to get an answer he couldn’t from his teacher, which only Vivy could provide. That means infecting the captured Diva with a custom logic palette that “doesn’t belong in this era” which, throughout the episode, slowly erases Diva’s personality, eventually leaving only Vivy behind to answer him.

Thankfully, it’s a slow countdown, and while it is technically a ticking clock, because it’s only one of several spinning plates in this arc finale, it feels earned rather than cliched. That it is an inevitability even Matsumoto’s hacking skillz cannot override also adds gravitas to every moment Diva is on screen, because they’ll be her last.

It also assures that the titular Vivy we know and love, who can neither act like a human nor sing half as well as Diva, will ultimately return. It occurs to me that at the conclusion of every previous arc, we didn’t just say goodbye to one of Vivy’s sisters, but a part of Vivy as well, as her interactions with them helped her grow, both as a songstress and a person.

This time we don’t just say goodbye to a part of Vivy, but an entire alternate version of her, who lived for sixty years. It’s a tough loss…but before she goes Diva makes sure she puts absolutely everything she’s got in all the time she has left to be the best temporary partner to Matsumoto he could ask for…and vice versa.

While packed with drama, pathos, tragedy and romance, Wit Studio flexes its muscles like never before in this episode, as we cut between the parallel battles, one of the more abstract electronic variety, one more down-and-dirty hand-to-hand combat, but both equally gorgeous an awesome to watch unfold.

That Kakitani is also an AI means both he and Diva can take the fight to levels humans would not be able to survive, while Matsumoto manages to copy himself into enough cubes to fight his battle with Antonio while supporting Diva. Compare this to Antonio, who happily accepted Kakitani’s help but is otherwise not working towards the same mission, making them inherently weaker against a united front.

Among other Kakitani’s surprises is an elaborate arm cannon (always a sharp feature when going on a timeline-bending crusade to avenge his mentor—and a special knife that seems to act as an EMP, deactivating the Matsumoto cubes aiding Diva.

All the while, Diva tries to impress upon Kakitani the fact that she’s not Vivy, and has no answers for him he’ll find satisfying. When she says she puts everything she has into her singing to make people happy, that includes everything about Vivy, despite her knowing next to nothing about her.

On the Antonio side of things, Matsumoto says he almost turned into him, discarding his partner as part of his “perfect calculations”. Looking at what’s become of Antonio, he’s not glad he didn’t eliminate her. As for his mission, it was never specifically to stop Ophelia’s suicide; it was to carry out the Singularity Project with his partner.

Even taking over Ophelia couldn’t satisfy Antonio, because no matter how happy the crowds were with his performances, he always knew he wouldn’t be able to match the power of the true Ophelia’s singing. In fact, it irked him that their standards for excellence were so low, resenting the very people it was Ophelia’s mission to make happy.

The Matsumoto cubes manage to hack both Antonio and Kakitani and disable both, and transfers Antonio back into his own clunky body. It’s only then in his last moments that he admits that all he really wanted was for Ophelia to sing for him and no one else. Ophelia, regaining consciousness before shutting down, admits she only wanted to sing for him; to make him smile.

In the end, their mutual love and devotion to each other corrupted their missions. In true Shakespearian tragic fashion, it was a love that could never be. In that same vein, the moment Kakitani uploaded that logic palette, Diva was a version of Vivy that could never be, even though she did a bang-up job serving as Matsumoto’s partner. Before Kakitani shuts down, he tries to twist the knife once more, telling Diva “there were humans who suffered because you existed!”

That line might’ve worked on Vivy, but it doesn’t faze Diva that much. And in true Diva fashion, she gives one last snap and tells Matsumoto she’s going to use her last five or so minutes of existence doing what she was built to do: dazzle the stage, put her heart into her singing, and make everyone in attendance happy to be there. As she performs, she simultaneously opens a dialogue with Vivy within the Construct.

In this lovely parallel scene, their positions couldn’t be better illustrated, as Diva is both on stage and in the brightly lit classroom, while Vivy is relegated to a dark, shadowy, morose office. The pair lean against the same door, and Diva says she hears how Vivy had been struggling with putting her heart into her singing. She says the answer is to simply to hear the song she’s singing now, in her final performance, as in the Construct she slowly dissolves away into cybernetic oblivion.

And yet, as Vivy opens the door and steps into the light, then wakes up on stage to a deliriously ecstatic crowd cheering the song Diva just sang, Vivy still doesn’t understand. Then again, she only just woke back up; maybe she needs a few decades to process what she heard and what it means. Thanks to Diva, she has her existence back, which means anything is possible for her. As long as she sticks with her partner Matsumoto, who promised Diva he’d take care of her.

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 04 – Undeath Metal Girls

Sakura does her level best to cheer Junko up, but her head is still out of it, during another musicmaking practice I can’t help but think is far too quaint against the likes of Iron Frill. She doesn’t even realize her hula hoop has fallen to the ground! Shiori’s harsh and under-informed opinions about Franchouchou build on Junko’s building lack of confidence in any scenario without Ai.

If Shiori, the center of the country’s top idol group, says they’re trash, then they must be. But in believing those words, Junko creates artificial limitations. It’s less about Ai being too good for Franchouchou than Junko not being good enough. When Junko and Ai cross paths, Junko asks if Ai enjoyed being in Iron Frill more.

The way Ai responds by asking why Junko is worried about that when she should be worried about the show just rubs Junko the wrong way. For one, Ai doesn’t even attempt to humor or reassure her she’s happy where she is. But that’s less Ai being insensitive to the moment as Junko being hyper-sensitive to anything that confirms her anxieties.

Junko runs off to cry on the beach and scares the shit out of the local cop (who is never not hilarious in his buffoonery). Koutarou, no stranger to wailing at the waves, confronts Junko back at the house, armed with his trusty old red axe. As he creates wind with some sick chords, he considers it to be his lodestar, as as long as it can keep making music, he can keep moving forward.

He sees that Junko is standing still, unsure if she can go forward, and can see the false limitations she—not Ai ort Shiori—created for herself. Handing her the guitar, he tells her if there’s something she really wants—in this case to keep performing with Ai—she has to keep shining, strumming, and moving forward.

The pep talk not only snaps Junko out of her funk, but gives her the idea Franchouchou needs to create the necessary impact tomorrow. True to their tight-knit family cohesiveness, everyone (even Tae!) waited for Junko to sit down before tucking into Yuugiri’s sumptuous pre-concert feast.

They’re all happy Junko looks more focused. The day of the show, Shiori is disappointed to learn Ai isn’t even going to be on stage, because without her Franchouchou is nothing but “a bunch of nobodies.” Of course Shiori is ignorant to the generational talent Koutarou assembled, just as she’s not aware that Number Three is the Eternal Center Mizuno Ai. Regardless, Ai warns her not to underestimate Franchouchou, a group that’s always striving and evolving.

Shiori agrees to give them a chance, and she’s probably glad she did, as we finally get to see the group’s quaint musicmaking pay off. Tae is given a high-end drum set to start things off with a sick solo, followed by Junko on Koutarou’s red Strat. As I had hoped, she decided to draw upon her talent and ability to enchant with a guitar in her hand.

The group’s top two fans are delighted that the Death Metal Girls are back with a spicy, almost Beastie Boys style rock-and-rap number (I’m told it’s more of a piece with the likes of Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park).

As usual for the Revenge sequel, both the singing and dancing animation, the lighting effects, the camerawork, and of course the song itself all look and sound fantastic—a serious upgrade over the previous season’s more-than-adequate production values.

I especially liked how Junko finishes the song by smashing Koutarou’s venerable guitar into a million pieces. How’s that for impact?! Her performance moves Ai, watching proudly in the stands, and reminds her of when she’d watch old videos of Junko performing—the very thing that got Ai into the business.

Ai, who at this point understands full well that her resemblance to Frill’s old center wasn’t why Koutarou kept her off the stage. Now that he achieved what he was hoping for, Ai runs to the stage to join her companions. Only it’s quite a leap to manage, and when Junko grabs her arm it starts to come off! When Junko corrects by leaping towards Ai, they both hit the deck hard.

No problem, this just shows Junko that, as zombies, they can deliver a performance living human group never could, by injecting themselves with electricity and literally shining. As they perform a slick autotuned techno remix of “Awaken Returner”, the girls themselves put on a beguiling Tron-like lightshow. Shiori and Yui are suitably impressed, even if they have no idea how such special effects are being done. I don’t either…but they’re cool, so who cares!!

But it’s more than that. Yui told Shiori to be weary of recruiting Number Three due to her resemblance to Mizuno Ai, because as good as Ai was, she’s the past, while Iron Frill is all about the future. But Shiori never stopped being inspired by Ai, just as Ai never stopped being inspired by Junko. Even uif they weren’t secret zombies, Ai and Junko are timeless talents, and AI’s performance transports Shiori back to when she was just a little girl watching Ai on TV.

One of the many, many things Zombieland Saga gets so right is depicting how past generations help shape us. The past isn’t something you can turn your back on and forget about. It’s always there, and it’s why Iron Frill are who they are. Even Yui has someone who inspired her. This is why I believe Shiori decided to give a very particular shout-out to Franchouchou when they appeared on TV for a post-concert interview.

Shiori considers them Iron Frill’s top rival because they let her travel back in time to the genesis of her love of song and dance. That’s hard to do, and she knows she can’t rest on her laurels if she wants to have the same effect on the kids out there who dream of becoming like her, and Ai, and Junko.

Read Crow and Irina’s discussion of episode 4 here!

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