The Eminence in Shadow – 03 – Background Boyfriend

On their own initiative, Cid’s Shadow Garden one day decided they needed to leave him and spread out to fight against the Cult of Diablos, but he suspects they grew out of playing along with him and set themselves free.

Whatever the truth is (and it sure seems like the cult is real and they’ve gone out to fight them in his name until he’s old enough to join them) he’s not that bothered by being alone; such is the life of one who strives to become … The Eminence in Shadow.

It also sure looks like he threw himself into Truck-kun while trying to will magic into being, so there’s that!

Cid ends up attending Midgar Academy for Dark Knights like his far more famous and popular sister, but blending in will do just fine for him. He even finds himself two perfect best mates for Background Student A: Skel and Po, and fits right between them in terms of both height and unattractiveness.

When Cid loses a bet to his two friends, he must confess to the most sought-after-girl in school: Second Princess Alexia Midgar (Hanazawa Kana), who has become famous for her curt yet brutal rejections of the most elite male suitors. But where they failed, Cid succeeds … quite by accident!

Cid puts on an act to appear as loathsome and pathetic, but little did he know Alexia was waiting for a guy like him to come around, and accepts his offer. She also learns that he’s into fencing, and uses her royal clout to get him into the elite Section One class … where Cid learns that her fencing style is well-studied and practiced, but bland and utterly unexceptional.

Did I mention that like Cid, Alexia’s older sister is far more accomplished and revered? That doesn’t come up, but it’s clear from their chemistry that these two are used to toiling in the shadows. That may sound strange considering Alexia is the most popular girl at school, but compared to the greatest dark knight in the kingdom, she’s totally in a shadow.

She’s also betrothed to their fencing instructor, Zenon-sensei, whom she hates. Hanazawa Kana brings an interesting dimensionality to Alexia. She is at times incredibly cynical and even has a sadistic side, making Cid into her dog—something Cid’s all too willing to do in exchange for that sweet sweet Eminence seed money.

Cid is handsomely compensated in exchange for being a bit of unremarkable eye candy Alexia can use to try to make Zenon give up on marrying her, but two weeks pass and not much progress is made. That said, he and Alexia grow a bit closer in spite of their dispassionate relationship of convenience. Alexia prefers the company of people with flaws like him (or like the person he’s posing as).

At the same time, I wonder if she can somehow sense that there’s a lot more to him beneath the surface Cid is showing her. While on a train at sundown, she is vexed by the fact she can’t take her eyes off his fencing style, even though it’s just as ordinary as hers.

It’s apparent Alexia hates her style, and possibly herself, so when Cid challenges her by saying he likes her fencing style, and would be pissed if anyone dissed the things he likes, she draws a sword on him. When he doesn’t flinch or take back his words, she alights from the train with a final-sounding sayonara.

The next day, Cid and his pals are surrounded by knights who inform him that Alexia never came home last night, kidnapping is suspected, and the last person reported to be with her before she vanished was Cid. Fate seems to be pushing Background Character A into the foreground, and the mystery of what happened to Alexia is an enticing one to ponder.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Love Flops – 02 – Menage a Cinq

Asahi is so distracted by Aoi’s, er, display, he completely misinterprets her confession to him as a confession to going commando. When she asks him what he thinks and he says he might give it a try and isn’t one to judge others for their preferences, Aoi gets embarrassed and runs off. Not five minutes later Ilya confesses to him, Mongfa runs off and gives him hickeys when two men in black come by, and both Karin and Amelia try to ambush him with a spontaneous wedding.

After a day of absolute madness, Asahi is glad to be home…only to find it full of the mad ones. There they are, all lined up to welcome him home as if they were his five wives. His annoying robot plays a message from his father, who arranged all of this and is hoping Asahi ends up picking one of the girls (or the guy) to marry for real.

The audacity of having his house doubled in size in the few hours he was away from it is weird enough, but now we learn that his dad is undoubtedly someone of considerable means. We also learn that all five of his would-be brides (and one groom) are way too enthusiastic about asserting themselves.

They’re all over him and won’t leave him alone, and while this is clearly a fantasy for some, the episode does a good job heightening the sheer anxiety of dealing with five caffeinated wannabe waifus in a relatively small space. When Asahi escapes to the quiet blue night, it’s as much a relief for me as him!

Aoi ends up finding him at a shrine, and tells him how all of them are simply excited to finally meet their potential future husband, and it resulted in them being a little too overeager to please. With her gentle touch she’s able to convince him to come home and give this thing a try, while she and the others will “do their utmost” to tone it down a bit. Somehow I doubt that!

With that, Asahi’s wacky new home life begins. I’m honestly still not sure what to make of this, and will take at least one more episode to determine if it’s something I’ll watch to the end. So far it’s like train wreck from which I can’t quite look away!

Love Flops – 01 (First Impressions) – Five Uneasy Pieces

Kashiwagi Asahi lives in a spacious apartment with an AI assistant Lovelin (Nanachi again), and while listening to the morning news, his birthday of October 8 (just four days ago!) happens to be the luckiest for today. The mysterious fortune teller then lists off a series of “lucky words” that don’t make any sense until he starts his commute to school.

The first word, corner, refers to a rushing girl with purple hair and glasses colliding with  him when they meet at a blind corner. They end up in a risqué position, but he promises he didn’t “see anything” as a result of that position, and they part ways relatively amicably.

Then comes train, when he boards a completely empty car only for a busty green-haired woman in a chinese dress sits right next to him, falls asleep, clings to him, then nearly kicks his head off when he starts her awake.

The next “lucky” word is staircase, when a third beautiful girl stumbles down a flight of steps and she’s launched crotch-first into Asahi’s face. She mistakes the plastic banana holder in his pocket for being happy to see her, and smacks it before running off. So far, Asahi can hardly be blamed for these situations.

Next up is robotic cleaner, when he encounters said robot cleaner in a park trying to dispose of a diminutive redhead’s bra, then the girl herself. This girl accuses Asahi of hacking the robot into stealing her unmentionables. It then chases her away.

Next up is dog, as a silver-haired fellow is being humped by a very big and assertive pooch. To this, Asahi turns about and pretends not to see what is going on, rather than attempt to save the waifish lad and incur the dog’s wrath. It isn’t until he arrives in his newly reorganized class that Asahi learns that everyone he encountered is in his class.

The purple-haired girl with glasses is Izumisawa Aoi (Itou Miku), a transfer student; he short-haired girl is Karin Istel (Kouno Marika), from Germany;  the redhead is Amelia Irving (Taketatsu Ayana) from the USA; the silver-haired boy is Ilya Ilyukhin (Takahashi Rie) from Bulgaria; and the green-haired well-endowed lady from the train is his new teacher, Bai Mongfa, from China (Kanemoto Hisako).

Asahi can’t believe his rotten luck, even as he learns what the last lucky word, letter, referred to a love letter in his locker inviting him to meet after school. His contractually assigned friend Ijuuin Yoshio assures him he’s hit the jackpot; he has the pick of these three beautiful girls, one beautiful woman, and one beautiful guy. I’ll give Yoshio this: he’s refreshingly progressive!

As the rest of the episode unfolds, Asahi has second encounters with each of these potential suitors, in which he attempts to correct the misunderstandings that occurred in their first meetings. He and Aoi almost collide around a corner again, but don’t. Alas, when he fishes through his pockets for what he believed to be her dropped handkerchief, he instead produces Amelia’s bra, scandalizing Aoi and earning him a slap.

This encounter makes him late to order lunch, and there’s nothing left for sale, but he’s not alone; Karin was also too late, and is clearly very hungry. Because Asahi’s a decent guy, he offers her the banana he brought for lunch (this guy really likes bananas, having toasted one for breakfast), while also pointing out that its holder was what she mistook for his manhood. She meekly thanks him for the food.

Asahi then gets another chance to rescue Ilya from becoming unmarriable all over again, albeit not necessarily by choice. Ilya hides behind him, and the randy dog  targets him, even managing to somehow get his pants off. Asahi blacks out, but when he comes to, it’s looking up at a very grateful Ilya.

The dog also managed to bite him, which would normally mean he should probably get tested and treated for rabies, but since this is a goofy anime some alcohol and spray-on bandage will suffice. He receives this treatment from Mongfa-sensei, who doubles as school nurse, and apologizes for their earlier awkward interaction.

No sooner does she leave than Amelia Irving arrives with a very specific ailment: chafing in the chestal area. Fortunately for her, Asahi saved her bra from the trash robot. He returns it to her, and she apologizes for jumping to the earlier conclusion that he hacked the robot, having later realized that was…unlikely.

Having repaired four of the five new relationships he’s built on this most auspicious day, all that’s left is checking out what the final lucky word letter portends. Responding to the love letter, he arrives at a giant blossoming cherry tree he doesn’t remember being there (he has several memory gaps in this episode, though it’s never explained).

There, waiting for him, is none other than the first girl he ran into, Aoi. She’s there to confess her love to him, but because it’s so breezy, her skirt flips up and reveals to him that she’s been going commando ever since their first encounter. The item she dropped was not a handkerchief, but side-tying underwear. For once, Asahi is lucky here, as Aoi doesn’t realize what the wind is doing and the moment isn’t spoiled.

Love Flops thus introduces its lead and his harem of potential girlfriends by resorting to all of the shameless, risqué, fanservice-y clichés but the Bluetooth-enabled kitchen sink. While at times it seems like a very over-the-top satire of harem rom-coms, the fact that it may actually be a genuine and un-ironic contribution to the form almost makes it more amazing. It’s pure tasteless trash … and yet I couldn’t look away.

Classroom of the Elite – S2 13 (Fin) – Pax Kiyotaka

In a nice change of pace, this episode starts from Ibuki Mio’s perspective, of all things, as she visits Ryuuen’s dorm and then tracks him down. The swelling has gone down, but Ryuuen has abandoned all plans to continue the fight; he’s done. Mio doesn’t like it, and gives him a kick in frustration, but there’s no changing his mind. Clearly Kiyotaka’s beatdown had a lasting effect.

Kei wakes up realizing, in spite of knowing what kind of person he is, that she has developed feelings for him as a result of his white knight act. The cheeks don’t lie. She’s then ambushed by Maya, who like everyone else thinks she’s some expert on boys and dating due to her fake relationship with Yousuke. Maya asks for advice on her first date with Ayanokouji, even proposing a double date.

That night, Kei gets a call from Maya’s crush, but is slightly disappointed when it’s yet another business call. Still, she’s glad to be getting calls from him again, even after he’d terminated their arrangement. He wants her to investigate Maya and find out as much about her as she can.

As is appropriate for a season finale, Kiyotaka also checks in with the other major players, making an opening proposition for Suzune to join the StuCo, though he doesn’t push too hard. Kikyou spots them from a balcony above and gives them the stinkeye.

Most notably, Kiyotaka meets up with Ryuuen, who fully accepts his new role as former tyrant. He even demonstrated a measure of honor and selflessness by copping to a crime that wouldn’t get his whole crew expelled. But Kiyotaka made it so even he wouldn’t get the boot, because now that Ryuuen has been properly cowed, he is a valuable asset in his coming battle to get Kikyou expelled.

It’s not often that someone gets one over on Kiyotaka, so it’s pretty amusing that Maya turns out to be one of those people. Shortly after meeting him for their date, Kei and Hirata arrive, seemingly by coincidence, and Maya and Kei suggests the double date they wanted from the start.

Kiyotaka is a go-with-the-flow kinda guy in these situations, and so that’s just what he does as the quartet goes to see a movie and then heads to a café for some refreshment. Maya asks Kiyotaka about his future, and he says he’ll probably just go to college. Throughout the date, Kei shoots subtle little looks Kiyotaka’s way, but they either go unnoticed or ignored.

The two couples eventually split around dusk, when Maya plans to make her big confession. Kei may not be experienced in dating, but she’s 100% correct that it is both intense and a bit ludicrous to ask someone out after a first date on Christmas day. Kiyotaka turns her down how you’d expect: matter-of-factly and dispassionately, and she runs off accepting of his decision, but in tears.

That’s when Kiyotaka tells Kei to come out of her hiding spot, or she’ll catch cold. It starts to snow just as the two have a seat in the park. When she asks why he rejected Maya, Kiyotaka simply says she was a poor substitute for Kei.

Of course, he means as a pawn and informant, but Kei also happens to be a much more interesting (and after recent events, much stronger) person in general. The contrast is clear: Maya liked an idealized version of him; Kei likes the real him.

Kei casually offers Kiyotaka a Christmas gift, and is surprised when he gives her one in turn. While it’s just cold medicine, it’s the thought that counts, and she’s flattered that he worried about her to that extent, even if only in a purely practical way.

As they walk back to the dorms, Kiyotaka reveals that his abrupt termination of their arrangement, as well as rescuing her at the absolute last moment, galvanized Kei’s genuine trust in him, making her all but betrayal-proof. As he puts it, a good chunk of him has never left the White Room, where people are only tools to be used and discarded.

Those thoughts are apropos of the encounter that follows him and Kei parting ways for their respective dorms, as Sakayanaki Arisu. She greets him as if they’d known each other long ago, then references the White Room by name, notes that he, the “False Genius”, is his father’s “ultimate masterpiece”, and states that the role of “burying” him should fall to her.

So the curtain falls on a second season that ended in relative peace, with the promise of ever more intense personal battles to follow in next year’s Season 3. Whether it’s continuing his quasi-romance with Kei, making use of his new tool Ryuuen to bring Kikyou down, convincing Suzune to join the StuCo, or fending off whatever Arisu serves up, Kiyotaka will have no shortage of work to do.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

A Couple of Cuckoos – 21 – Phoenix Rising

This energetic episode of Couple of Cuckoos got a lot of previously stationary balls rolling just in time for the season’s final push and really brought the ensemble humming together for the first time. And it all comes down to scenes of directness and honesty. The first term ends with Nagi back in the #1 spot, which considering his fall to 13th (and all his life’s distractions since) is a truly impressive feat.

He not wrongly believes this feat to trigger a reassessment in Segawa Hiro’s “placing him on hold”, and sure enough, he gets that love note in his locker with her atrocious handwriting inviting him to the roof. After she uses the same “phoenix” analogy in his own head, he once again asks if she’ll go out with him. And while she once again doesn’t say no, her “yes” is filtered through a confession: she wishes she was engaged to him.

The runner’s high from exams turns into an even more potent lover’s high for Nagi, as he takes great pains to let Erika and Sachi know that Hiro confessed. While Sachi doesn’t see it as a real confession, Erika is at least well-versed enough in the language of love to know that Hiro would never just say that outright. She proposes the four of them go to her (private!) beach house to further investigate the intent of her words.

Hiro’s all in, but Sachi is out on supply shopping, so it’s Erika and Nagi this time. We missed this dynamic when Shion was the fifth wheel, but it’s another reminder of the infectious chemistry these two have, even if neither of them are comfortable seeing it as romantic affection. They’re just good buds who’ve greatly enjoyed spending time together…even on a cramped bus.

However, there is one big elephant in the room, and it’s that Hiro still doesn’t know they live together. Nagi doesn’t like the idea of keeping secrets from Hiro, but Erika thinks it could destroy their relationship with her…and also selfishly wants to have some secrets with Nagi, adding further texture to their complicated but compelling bond.

So both are saved a lot of trouble when they arrive home dressed in matching Hawaiian vacation wear to find Hiro tutoring Sachi. Also, Sachi told Hiro that Erika and Nagi (and Sachi) are living together. Hiro plays this cool in the moment, but you can tell there’s drama brewing beneath that easy smile.

Sure enough, when the four go on the trip (this time with no fifth wheel needed) there’s plenty of stuff to sift through. We naturally get to see the three girls in their swimsuits. You’d think Erika would buy Sachi a new one for the trip, but she has her school swimsuit, further increasing her kid sisterliness factor.

Erika continues to play her role as girl-pal to a T when she offers to talk to Hiro, who is clearly avoiding Nagi, on his behalf. Nagi thanks her, but knows this is something he has to talk with her about face-to-face.

The luxurious deck of Erika’s umpteenth vacation house serves as a dramatic substitute for their usual venue of real talk, the school roof. Hiro is intentionally coy, and then lays out all the ways Nagi fucked up. It’s not just that he kept a secret when they agreed not to. It’s all the opportunities he had both to tell her and to stop living there that he didn’t take.

It’s not that Nagi living with Erika is unacceptable to Hiro; it’s that he wasn’t honest about why. Hiro realizes this when the excuses about complicated family matters falls flat even as he says them. The truth is, he enjoys living there, which is why he’s stayed. And that’s fine! He just needed to tell Hiro rather than her having to infer it and Sachi confirming.

Of course, as we know, Hiro is immensely kind and magnanimous, so she forgives Nagi with a slap on the wrist…or rather, a pluck of his hair, playfully warning him she’ll use it put a curse on him should he do it again.

So finally, with what, two episodes left, everything (except the truth about Sosuke) is on the table, even Nagi being told by Hiro that Sachi has a crush on him. Again, this might not be something Sachi said to her, as she’s still figuring out her feelings, but like Nagi and Erika’s secret, it’s something Hiro inferred from Sachi’s words and actions. Let us not forget, Hiro is a smart one…but for Nagi, she’d be #1 in their grade!

Because Sachi isn’t ready for Nagi to say things like that about her, she devolves into kid-sister mode, putting him in an elaborate wrestling move. But I still feel that with all the real talk, revealing of secrets, and forgiveness in this episode, I feel like all the characters are finally ready for the cards of fate to start falling as they may.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 18 – Somebody Set Up Us the Bomb

When Sachi’s fever doesn’t go down, her mom takes her to the hospital, but Sachi insists they don’t tell Onii. When Erika hesitates to tell Nagi what she wanted to say, he scares her from the bushes, and she reveals that she’s been going commando. After purchasing some underwear at a nearby konbini, they complete the test of courage by arriving at a shrine.

There, the two have a really sweet moment, with Erika saying she’s glad she met Nagi, and Nagi concurring. He also wishes things “stay this way”, which Erika not wrongly asks him to elaborate. By “this way”, does he mean the two of them remaining engaged? On that note, Hiro learns the shrine is a marriage shrine, so she and Shion forfeit.

Dinner is finally addressed after the test, and it turns out Erika did buy enough ingredients for an eclectic barbecue. While Hiro missed out on being with Nagi for the test of courage, she still sneaks in an indirect kiss by eating Nagi’s ear of grilled corn (which is the best corn).

Once they’ve done everything else one can do at a study camp, the group considers actually studying, but Nagi surprises them all by suggesting they stargaze instead. Turns out he quickly agreed to the camp because the Capricornid meteor shower would be visible in Karuizawa the night they were there.

Everyone has a great time, but then Nagi gets a text from his mom saying Sachi’s in the hospital, and he catches the last train back home to visit her. She calls him an idiot for ditching his first camp with friends, but also thanks him for being there for her.

The next day Nagi regrets so impulsively ditching the others to see Sachi. While Erika says it’s “fantastic” that he has “someone to rally to” like that, both he and I sensed a little tinge of resentment in her words, as if she should be (and likely is) the same kind of “someone” to Nagi.

That’s doubly true if the truth of the past is that Nagi and Erika grew up together, at least for a couple of years. We learn that Hiro got a look at the photo, which Erika’s dad left in the vacation house as a kind of “bomb”. In doing so, he probably signals that he wants Erika and Nagi to quit reveling in their cozy little limbo and actually start to make some choices.

And it works! Hiro doesn’t know what to make of it, but I’m sure she’s eager to learn more, and considers an alliance with Shion so she can end up with Nagi (a plan probably doomed to failure). Then, in a gorgeously lit scene at the pool, Erika and Nagi exchange some splashes, Nagi makes it clear he wants to know the identity person Erika wants to contact—whom he assumes is someone to her who Sachi is to him.

When he splashes him again, it’s almost signaling that it’s him, and asks him solemnly if he’s truly prepared for what she’s going to say. If that person is Nagi, like I’m assuming and who seems to be the natural choice, and Nagi learns this for certain, the narrative momentum is poised to pick up fast.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 08 – Ain’t Nuthin’ but a G-Cup

Higashira Isana may have been rejected by Mizuto, but that doesn’t stop her from teasing and flirting with him. She also wants to see his book collection, ostensibly to see which light novel sparked his sexual awakening. Yume and Akatsuki take her shopping to give her a makeover from her cozy, “lame” style, but because of her killer bod everything she tries on is a bit too alluring.

Akatsuki suggests Irina adopt Yume’s more lose and flowy style to soften her silhouette. This leads Yume to try something new, and to suspect that this was Akatsuki’s intent all along. Yume also recalls that her present style was dictated by what she thought Mizuto liked when they were dating.

When Isana shows up in Yume’s old style, Yume serves as a “chaperone”, and witnesses first hand Isana and Mizuto’s usual rapport. Mizuto insists he only treats her like any guy friend, but to Yume it looks like he never actually rejected Isana and they’ve been dating all along. Isana even reveals the reason/excuse for Mizuto putting on her socks: reaching down with her bust is a pain.

When Yume shows her to the restroom, she learns Isana still very much likes Mizuto, both as a friend and as a boy, and probably always will, despite the rejection. Isana also voices her anxiety about Mizuto making other friends who might usurp her special place in his heart.

The parallel to Yume here is all too clear. Here is a girl who, like her, became close to Mizuto through books, and soon became the most important person in her life. Mizuto also notices these parallels as he sees Isana home. He remembers having as much fund with Yume back in middle school just quietly reading together as he and Isana here.

That leads him to wonder what might’ve happened if he and Yume had never become a couple, but simply close friends like him and Isana. He concludes that it’s pointless to hypothesize, since neither of them are quite like Isana.

Summertime Render – 19 – Haine-ous Affair

No sooner does Shinpei wake up in what might be his final loop does Haine swoop down on him in the form of a mocking, gloating crow. She copies the little girl, seemingly just to mess with him, then raises a whole mess of shadow minions that surround him and the kids.

But just when it seems like it’s all over…she stops the attack, and withdraws. Shinpei, who had instictively reached into his pocket, pulls out the contents: a single seashell—presumably all that’s left of Ushio. But if there’s still a shell, can she still raise hell?

Haine apparently isn’t content to simply kill and/or eat Shinpei and his friends. She insists on messing with him, which seems like a bad idea, because it raises the chances of her enemies to mount a comeback from zero to less than zero. It’s as if the number of remaining episodes, rather than logic or common sense, are driving Haine’s actions.

Nevertheless, she uses the copy of Shinpei she had stowed in her back pocket to call all his friends while the real Shinpei has no bars. Mio and Sou go to Alan’s Garden where an all-too-suspicious Karikiri is waiting for them, while Hizuru, Nezu, Tokiko and Tetsu go to a remote island accessible on foot during low tide.

The real Shinpei comes home to find Mio pinned Shadow Mio out of fear Ushio’s hack died with her, but Shadow Mio is still on his side. With her offensive power, they definitely have a chance.

Hizuru, smelling a trap, heads to the island alone with a sledgehammer after saying her maybe-goodbyes to Nezu & Co. She meets Haine!Shinpei, doesn’t fall for her charade for a second, and is then confronted by Karikiri.

Ryuunosuke and Karikiri/Shide have a little game-recognize-game moment, and then have at it there on the beach, with Haine transmitting Ryuunosuke’s two-second foresight—which was, it turns out, a glitch that occurred shortly after she copied him way back when.

Ryuunosuke still manages to put up an impressive fight, but the bottom line is Shide has an infinitely regenerative armor of corpses, while he has…his sister’s regular human body, which he knows he’s slowly tearing apart by making her fight.

Hizuru takes over and reminds him that this is probably their last stand, and there’s no reason to hold back. In fact, if he doesn’t hold back for her sake, they’ll lose. But she assures them they can still win. How exactly they’ll do that is a matter for next week.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 17 – Camp Confession

When Nagi and Erika inform Sachi that she’s invited to their study training camp, she’s super stoked and can’t wait to start preparing for it. But when the group arrives at Erika’s opulent lakeside vacation home in Karuizawa, Sachi isn’t there; she’s ruled out by a sudden fever. In her place is Asuma Shion, AKA Matuoka Yoshitsugu’s Energetic High School Chum #1,478. 

When I first learned of this, and how he weaseled his way into tagging along (why wouldn’t they have been able to go with no one replacing Sachi?) I let out a loud, drawn-out sigh. But Shion rather than Sachi being on this trip was actually a blessing in disguise. Instead of three girls vying for Nagi’s attention, Shion is vying for Erika’s while Nagi is stoked about being there with Hiro.

Nagi provisionally agrees to cooperate with Shion such that he lets him  be Erika’s buddy for grocery shopping. At first Hiro thinks they should study while the other two are out, but the lake and crisp air of the countryside call to her. She parks herself out at the pier and does a magazine-worthy pose, telling Nagi straight-up she came because she knew he’d be there.

At the supermarket it becomes abundantly clear Erika has no idea what to buy, so she just buys whatever. Nevertheless, Shion praises her for having it together, and when she drops something, he swoops in to catch it, and his fingers meet hers. After flirting with Nagi, Hiro heads to the bath.

When Erika and Shion return home, the groceries they bought are nowhere in sight, but Shion claims to have confessed to Erika. When he actually tells Nagi that all he did was thank her for letting him come on the trip, Nagi tells him that’s not a confession. Then he tells Shion that he did confess to Hiro, and about the academic prerequisites for dating her.

Shion is impressed, calling Nagi “next-level” (the kid throws around a lot of pseudo(?) Gen-Z slang). When Erika rushes to the bath to talk to Hiro, it’s not about Shion at all (which is pretty funny) but the fact she forgot to pack underwear…or even a change of clothes. Honestly, between that and not bringing any food, you’d think Nagi would have noticed how light they were packing and prepared accordingly. Perhaps he wanted to give Erika the chance to do those things, since she’s trying to be more independent.

In any case, there’s no further mention of whatever food she and Shion bought, and we go straight to a nighttime test of courage. Hiro and Nagi are all set to be paired up again while Shion wants to go with Erika, but Erika suddenly declares she wants to be with Nagi, grabs him by the arm, and whisks him into the night, saying she needs to tell him “something”—probably about the family photo she hid when they first stepped into the house (likely the one that shows Erika and Nagi together as little tykes).

That leaves Hiro and Shion together, and it’s wonderfully awkward. Shion tries to help his buddy Nagi out by suggesting that Hiro doesn’t have to take the top spot in class every time, but Hiro immediately shuts him down, and changes the subject to Shion, whom she knows is trying to confess to Erika…and is willing to help him out.

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 07 – Irido de Bergerac

In one of her many “youthful indiscretions” of her middle school years, we watch Yume twist herself into knots trying and failing to deliver a love letter to Mizuto on the last day before summer break. The more the day dwindles away, the more anxious she gets, and yet she’s unable to muster the courage, which sends her into a spiral of self-loathing.

When she is finally able to present him with the letter, in the seeming eternity it takes for him to read it she’d rather be anyone or anywhere else. But then his answer to whether he’ll be her boyfriend is an cordially enthusiastic yes, all’s right in the world again. In fact, it’s better than ever.

That Yume knows what it’s like to waver and torture oneself before confessing so someone she likes, and Akatsuki probably knows it too, they (or rather mostly Akatsuki) lure Higashira Isana into a program by which they can vicariously experience that feeling once more.

They know Isana likes Mizuto (Akatsuki demonstrates it quite efficiently with a video of him sleeping) but they also soon learn that since she’s never been in love before (something they find nostalgic) she has no idea how to proceed, even if she agrees she’d like to give it a go.

And so Yume and Akatsuki hide behind the stacks in the library while Isana tries to communicate her desire to advance beyond mere friends, only for her efforts to go completely unnoticed by Mizuto. When she tries to get closer, he shifts away, saying he likes his personal space. But when he calls him on his threat to “unleash hell” he tussles her hair, then he gets her to comb it, so she does manage to get closer.

Throughout this process, Yume is understandably a bit worried about this succeeding, because just like Isana has never had feelings for someone before Mizuto, Yume has never experienced having an ex with a new girlfriend, let alone the fact they’re now stepsiblings. While on a nighttime call, Akatsuki says something we don’t hear about why Mizuto would have a girlfriend that invokes a strong reaction from Yume.

The big day of Isana’s after-school confession comes, and Akatsuki and Yume are right there with her hiding out of sight when Mizuto arrives. Isana struggles to get the words out, but he tells her to simply go at her own pace and he’ll connect the dots.

He notably allows her to speak her entire piece rather than cut her short, but when she does say she likes him and wants to be his girlfriend, his rejection is swift and brutal, even if it’s almost as delicate and eloquent as her confession was.

He also uses a lot of words to basically say that he likes someone else, or rather that someone else occupies the one and only slot that exists beside him. As Isana confessed, you could see Yume squirming in her hiding spot, possibly letting things progress so far, but it turns out she needn’t have worried; if there’s any chance dating Isana would make Yume cry, Mizuto won’t allow it.

Yume almost feels bad for him placing someone who isn’t even his girlfriend anymore, and probably never will be again, in such a vaunted position and not entertaining any replacements. But we go back to her phone call with Akatsuki and hear what was said: Mizuto wouldn’t have a girlfriend unless they were someone he truly, deeply wanted by his side.

As we learn, Isana quickly recovers from her heartbreak and she and Mizuto go back to being library buds, which utterly shocks both of her love coaches. But while they don’t get her, a part of them probably also envies her ability to turn the page and move forward. As someone in the same family and home as her ex-boyfriend, that’s a luxury Yume doesn’t have.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 18 – Final Fantasy MDCCXXXII

Hizuru tells the story of a famine in 1732 that threatened to wipe out Hitogashima’s population, until a whale washed ashore. The whale was a shadow, and it copied the first human to come close to it: a little girl named Haine. Back in the present, Karikiri offers Shinpei some cold barley tea and conversation. While initially presented as a friendly or at worst neutral party, there’s a tension and building dread to the ensuing one-on-one chat.

The thing is, Shinpei already knows that Karakiri is really Hishigata Shidehiko, AKA Shide. He’s not a Shadow, but he’s not quite human either. In previous loops, Hizuru and Dr. Hishigata’s information paints the picture of how Haine birthed a child with Shidehiko, and the resulting child grew into a perfect clone of Shidehiko.

He then had Haine transfer all his collected memories into the clone, thus making him indistinguishable from himself and enabling him to live for over 300 years. Considering how crafty he must have grown in those years, it’s pretty impressive Shinpei and his pathetic band were able to get this far.

While in the loop flashbacks we see that Shinpei’s group gathered all the information they can and prepared the best they could for a confrontation, with Shinpei insisting that he wanted to know why Shide killed his parents before deciding whether to kill him. After all, if he’s human he can’t be reasoned with, right?

Wrong. Shin made a critical error in confronting Shide in human form, and especially in letting Ushio accompany him. Sure, he’d have easily fallen into Shide’s clutches without her protection, but when she’s had enough of Shide’s blathering and slices half his head off, Shide gets exactly what he needs, all because Ushio insists on doing the dirty work so Shin’s hands remain clean.

When Ushio is on the phone, a copy of Ushio casually plunges a spear into her shadow, and then slices upward, killing her. Shinpei empties his gun, but Shide puts up his Shadow Armor and catches the bullets, then throws the spear at Shinpei, impaling him and sending him flying out of the temple and into a tree.

Shin loops back to when he and Ushio saved the kids from the Shadow that took the form of their old teacher, only this time Ushio isn’t there. She’s gone, presumably for good. That’s a punch to the gut, but as Ushio said, she was happy for the “bonus time” after her human self was killed by Haine, and she and Shinpei got to reunite and kick some ass together.

The episode closes with Shin crying blood, wallowing in despair. But even if Ushio isn’t coming back in any form, the fact remains she’d want him and the others to finish the job and save the village. They can’t turn Shide, but they still have a Shadow Mio, two Shadow Babies, and guile. It’s not Game Over quite yet.

Summertime Render – 17 – Hands Not for Hurting

Since we’re now only 17 episodes into a 25-episode series, it was only a matter of time before the momentum slowed a bit and our intrepid band of shadow hunters took a bit of a rest. This week we get a calm-before-the-storm episode that allows for moments that deepen our understanding of these characters, as well as give them an opportunity to bond more, for better or worse.

Ushio worries she may go crazy like Haine did in the memory of Hizuru’s she saw, but Hizuru promises she’ll kill her if that happens. Shadow Mio, who knows all the little ways Mio Prime hates herself, urges her to tell Shin her feelings before it’s too late. Sou’s pops hid the truth from him because he knew his son’s heart was too good to bear the darkness. Tokiko suggests that Shin, who has developed pronounced bags under his eyes, to catch some shut-eye while he can.

That night Nezu tries to sneak out but Ushio catches him and insists on accompanying him. Turns out Nezu is putting the last of his affairs in order before shit starts going down. Ushio learns that he keeps the Shadow of his wife Kaoru pinned in his garage, having not had the heart to kill it until now.

Shadow Kaoru is beastly like so many of the Shadows, but Ushio urges Nezu to hold his fire, as her hacking might be able to restore her. Nezu’s not interested; Ushio may still be Ushio, but his wife is gone; this is his “wife’s enemy” who copied her body. So Ushio gives Nezu his privacy, and sheds tears for two more lives among the countless ruined by Haine’s appetites.

The next morning the group splits up to investigate various family homes in hopes of reducing the number of Shadows as much as possible before the festival. The two Mios are put in the same team, and Shadow tries to egg Mio on, but she clutches onto Sou as a sign she won’t let Shadow push her buttons.

Mio also has a thoughtful gift for Ushio: hairs from her original body that she found around the house. Ushio is able to use them to restore the length of her hair (adorably done with a Sailor Moon-like aesthetic) and, perhaps all too death-flaggy, tells Shin she has something to say to him when he and Ushio return.

Shinpei and Ushio end up having to kill the Shadow of their old teacher, nicknamed Bucchi, and Ushio remembers when she beat up a couple of bigger boys teasing her for her blonde hair. Bucchi, ever the gentle soul, told Ushio her hands weren’t for hurting people, but for holding hands, patting heads, and the like.

Unfortunately, Ushio doesnt’ really have a choice in her present scenario, though it’s arguable that the Shadow’s are “people” so much as unrelenting killing machines bent on wiping out the village. So she and Shin work together to save three kids from Shadow Bucchi and her two Shadow sons.

The little kids mock Ushio and Shinpei for looking like a classic couple, to which they respond in unison that it’s “not like that.” Isn’t it though?

In a creepy moment, Ushio seems to be taken over by…someone, neither Haine nor Shide, but maybe another deity observing what’s going on and briefly using her as a vessel. The two teams then regroup and report on their investigations. Turns out the Shadows don’t seem to be preparing a direct attack on them, but are primarily focused on the upcoming festival when the great slaughter and feast is to commence.

Naturally, if the festival can be cancelled, there won’t be a convenient huge group of people ripe for the picking. To that end, Shin heads to the shrine maintained by Karikiri—a place where he just happened to die the first time. Karikiri welcomes Shin warmly, but whether he’s a friend, foe, or neutral party in this struggle remains to be seen. I just hope that’s Ushio on Shin’s wrist, and he’s not really alone up there.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 15 – Hello Neighbor

Chizuru lost her key at some point during the evening, and the landlord is out, so she invites herself into Kazuya’s apartment. To do exactly what Kazuya is not sure, but as you’d expect of our horny jackass protagonist, he has a lot of thoughts on the matter, culminating in him almost asking if she wants to spend the night at his place.

He fails to realize that might not even be a last resort for Chizuru, and that there are other resorts to explore, like whether she left her back screen door open. That said, getting around to her side to look is awkward at best and dangerous at worst. Luckily Kazuya is there to keep her from falling; unluckily he grabs her bum, then they both lose their balance and he ends up on top of her again, just as Mami rings his doorbell.

This is when the potential of the classic sitcom “hide one person from the other person” scenario nearly reaches full flower, especially as Kazuya failed to lock the door after Chizuru came in. The two of them hide in the kitchen helplessly as Mami rings again, opens the door, looks in, assumes Kaz has gone shopping…and leaves.

After both Kazuya and Chizuru breath a sigh of relief, the recriminations begin: Why, Chizuru wants to know, is Mami popping by his place at 11 PM? He doesn’t know, but it may have something to do with her talk with Chizuru on that bridge, which she’s unaware he overheard. Regardless, Mami is well on her way home when she realizes she saw a fancy girl’s purse in Kazuya’s apartment, and her eyes go dead. So this isn’t over!

Kazuya and Chizuru return to where they were before Mami arrived, which is exactly how to deal with the situation of Chizuru being locked out. But then she sees the light in the landlord’s is on, so she heads down there. That’s when Kazuya remembers her gran’s words and tells her straight-up that she can always come to him, her neighbor, if she needs help and can’t ask family or friends.

That’s when Chizuru partially drops her armor and tells him that other than her hospitalized gran, she has no other family. She promised her late gramps that she’d become and actress, and so she’s following that dream with everything she can, including working as a rental girlfriend to pay for that dream. She tells Kazuya she’s “not that special”, just a normal girl chasing a childish dream.

Clearly moved by her opening up, Kazuya proceeds to let her know a little more about his family situation, and how he doesn’t really have a dream like hers, but nevertheless has a future lined up taking over the family shop. He doesn’t mean to brag, only to acknowledge that he’s lucky, and to reiterate that no matter how she might value or de-value herself, he wants to be by her side.

Adding “forever” at the end of his statement was probably not the best idea! Still, Chizuru says if he wants to stay by her side, she can’t very well refuse…amending that at the end by saying that’s a “rental girlfriend’s job.”

While pure luck brought Chizuru into his home, and their initial interactions were awkward, their evening ends having grown just a little closer to each other. Kazuya saw a little bit of the Chizuru her grandmother described, as well as the Chizuru that is receptive to being cared for. Kazuya hasn’t experienced the pain and loss she has or worked remotely as hard as she has for his future, but he can empathize. She’s not just a hottie; she’s a person he wants to support, labels be damned.

The next day at college, Kazuya crosses paths with Chizuru and is fully prepared to pretend they don’t know each other, per their agreement. But Chizuru, clutching her books, loosens one hand into subtle good morning wave, and acknowledgment that they do in fact know each other. That little gesture makes his entire day, and as he’s making copies and he imagines the copies are photos of her, it’s clear to him and us he’s “down bad” like never before.

So naturally, Mami sidles up to him from behind asking him what’s up, and his outsize reaction to her sudden appearance would automatically make anyone suspicious. Looks like we’re in for a bit of Mami and Ruka cooking time next week.

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