Bocchi the Rock! – 03 – Extroversion Abounds

Bocchi recovers from her self-inflicted fever after a couple days, and while brushing her ahoge tells her little sister it’s important for “people like her” to attend class lest her classmates forget she exists. Her little sister says her sister is “a pain in her own ass” and she’s not wrong! That said, Bocchi is still feeling confident now that she’s made two friends, joined a band, and gotten a part-time job.

That confidence evaporates when yet again no one approaches her in class, and when she hears two girls engaging in band talk, she loudly yelps to get their attention. Not only do they know her name, but they seem open to hearing her out, but poor Bocchi can’t get any words out. She didn’t prepare adequately! So she retreats to a dark corner of the school to eat lunch in tears.

When she encounters Kita Ikuyo, a red-haired girl that everyone says is great at karaoke, Bocchi observes her from afar, but is too intimidated by how much of an extrovert the girl is to get any closer. When the girl notices her anyway and also knows her name, Bocchi once again can’t say any words—she can only beatbox!

When Ikuyo beatboxes back, Bocchi shouts an apology, bolts, then returns to her hiding spot to serenade us with a ballad of melancholy. However only we hear the lyrics; Ikuyo followed Bocchi there, heard her playing, and thinks she’s awesome!

Bocchi, unaccustomed to praise, laps it up like honey and instantly deems Ikuyo a good person. Bocchi finally manages to blurt out the reason she’s been wanting to approach Ikuyo, and Ikuyo tells her she’s sorry, but she can’t join her band. Bocchi assumes she’s the reason and makes up all kinds of things to make her bandmates sound cool as hell (and they look kinda like Panty & Stocking in her mental image!) … to no avail.

Ikuyo says she can’t join a band for the same reason she flaked out on the band she joined to be closer to her senpai: she can’t actually play the guitar. Hearing her say she thought the neck was “for decoration” astonishes Bocchi, but despite her inner voice telling her “say no girl!”, she agrees to teach Ikuyo how to play in between school, band, and work.

After texting Nijika and Ryou to bring lots of energy drinks and blast EDM when they next meet, Bocchi takes Ikuyo to Shimo-Kita, and ends up having Ikuyo lead the way, using her as a shield to avoid the stares of others (while actually attracting more staring in the process).

When Bocchi mentions STARRY, Nijika and Ryou, Ikuyo tries to back out, saying she can’t go back there, but Nijika and Ryou arrive, arms bursting with energy drinks, and she can no longer run away. Once inside, Bocchi can tell how uncomfortable Ikuyo seems and wants to say something nice, but Ryou beats her to it.

Ikuyo wants to make it up to Nijika and Ryou for ditching them, and Nijika’s sister suggests she work a shift with the others. No doubt recognizing her talent for public relations, Seika dresses Ikuyo up in a maid outfit and has her handle admissions and drink tickets.

Bocchi immediately starts feeling inadequate and redundant, “losing her identity” and turning into a mist that rises up the club stairs as Ryou looks on. A “Thanks for Watching!” card flashes as if to herald yet another premature end to the series, but she snaps out of it when she’s asked to show Ikuyo how to serve drinks.

Unfortunately, being watched makes Bocchi so nervous she burns herself with coffee. Ikuyo wraps her hand in a handkerchief, and Bocchi notices something about Ikuyo’s hand. When Ikuyo asks why Bocchi joined a band, Bocchi lies and says “world peace” because she’s self-conscious about having “impure” motives like wanting fame and popularity.

But then Ikuyo turns around and admits her motives are impure (too): she joined to be closer to her senpai, Ryou, whom she once watched performing on the streets and fell head-over-heels in love. Honestly, I can’t blame her; of the four leads, three are extremely high-strung, while Ryou’s never not an island of cool tranquility.

When the music’s over and the house lights are back up, Ikuyo prepares to depart from her first and only shift at STARRY. But even earlier, Bocchi had been building up the determination to say something to Ikuyo to make her stay. Unfortunately, her body moves before her mind can get all its ducks in a row, and she ends up tripping, ripping down a black curtain, and smacking her noggin on the wall.

While it’s not how she wanted to do it, it does keep Ikuyo there, if only because she’s concerned about Bocchi. She even gleans that Bocchi was going to try to say something to convince her it was okay to stay, but says she can’t join a band she already flaked out on once, especially when she can’t really play the guitar.

Bocchi tells Ikuyo that she ran away before the concert too, and threw herself in a trash can. But she also felt Ikuyo’s hands when she was treating her burn, and she felt the calluses one only gets by working their butt off practicing. That is all Bocchi needs to know that Ikuyo is committed enough to join, or rather re-join Kessoku Band.

Nijika and Ryou agree with Bocchi: Ikuyo should join them. They’re not even mad that she flaked out the first time, because if she hadn’t they wouldn’t have meet Bocchi! But the fact remains, Ikuyo’s guitar ignorance is such that she’d been practicing on a six-string bass all this time without knowing it, attributing the bomm-bomm sound it made to her being terrible.

Ryou buys her bass (and ending up broke and eating weeds) and lends her an actual guitar to practice with as Bocchi teaches her in STARRY’s back room. Ikuyo’s progress is slow and she’s easily frustrated and whines a lot, but Bocchi recognizes all of the ways she gets frustrated because that was her three years ago. Now she has the skills to not only play, but teach.

Bocchi was right about Ikuyo, she’s a very nice person. She’s so nice, she almost deprived herself of her dream of playing with her beloved senpai because she thought her misdeeds were too serious to be forgiven. But Bocchi, Nijika, and Ryou are also good kids, and knew the band would be better with her than without.

That Bocchi worked so hard in recruiting Ikuyo speaks to how she continues to make progress interacting with people. Her anxiety and myriad neuroses were likely remain a part of her for a good long time (if not forever) but she’s gradually learning that she, like everyone else, deserves a happy life and friends to rock out with.

Bocchi the Rock! – 02 – Welcome to the Workforce

The stinger consists of Bocchi filling up the tub with ice and slipping in, which I initially took to mean she had just gone through some intense physical exertion. Rewind a few days to the band’s first meeting, and Bocchi is too scared to go inside alone. Nijika and Ryou eventually arrive, and they use a giant thrown die to pick conversation topics.

If the goal is to learn more about Bocchi, then mission accomplished, as each question offers her bandmates new insights into the depths of her social anxiety, from the tragic story of her school life to this point to avoiding music with lyrics that refer to happier school lives.

When the discussion shifts to the business side of things, Nijika concisely explains ticket quotas, and how they’ll have to pay Starry if they can’t meet said quotas. That’ll require cash, which means jobs. And people, Bocchi is not into a job. Not beause she’s lazy, but because it would just be too much.

Unfortunately, her anxiety is such that she’s unable to refuse (we also learn she considers Ryou a loner who likes being lonely while she’s lonely, and doesn’t) which brings us to the ice bath. She’s not icing her worn muscles, but intentionally trying to catch a cold.

Alas, her good health prevails so she heads to Starry after school. Again she’s paralyzed by the prospect of entering alone, but that’s how she meets Seika, the manager, whom she quickly labels as someone “scary” that she can’t deal with. She also forgot that Seika is Nijika’s big sister.

Nijika gives her a tour and quick overview of the process of serving drinks, and Bocchi, who has never had a job before, is quickly overwhelmed and whips out her Gibson to play a song with lyrics to remember everything. Seika notes that Bocchi is playing is much better than when she was in a box on stage, and it reminds her of someone (probably guitarhero).

Before Bocchi knows it, the doors are open and the customers start to flow in. She initially does not fare well, hiding under the counter and slapping drinks on it for customers to take without looking at her. This is obviously not optimal customer service!

But they get through the initial drink run, and when the band that’s playing takes the stage and starts their patter, Ryou takes a break from the ticket desk and joins Bocchi and Nijika to watch the band play … and learn from the experience.

When Bocchi sees how much both the band and the concertgoers are enjoying themselves once the music starts, and compares it to her first show, she resolves to put on a better performance, to honor both the venue and the people who paid money to see her.

When a girl orders an orange juice, Bocchi decides to start now, giving the customer eye contact and smiling (after a fashion). It’s a creepy smile, and Bocchi nearly passes out, but it’s undoubtedly progress, and Nijika gives her the praise she deserves.

She takes another important step forward when she says “see you tomorrow” to Nijika and Ryou when heading home, which she does at full speed and with a big smile on her face. Starry, a place that she was too scared to even enter on her own a few hours earlier, is now a place she can’t wait to get back to so she can continue with her progress in both working and performing.

So it’s legit heartbreaking that it’s only then that she comes down with a bad fever and has to skip her second day of work. But hey, that’s what comes of soaking in icy water for too long then sitting in front of fans. She’ll get better and go back to work, so that’s one hurdle out of the band’s way. The next one is finding a fourth member and vocalist, and the one we cut to doing karaoke looks to be the one.

Bocchi the Rock!’s magic formula so far is Bocchi’s inner turmoil, outer face game, and her friends’ reactions to it. My middle school life wasn’t as tragic but it was close, while it took me a while to find my people in high school. The show strikes the perfect balance of mining comedy from this scenario while giving us room to sympathize and empathize with Bocchi. It helps that it’s a great-looking show, too! Forget the 3-episode rule—I’m in now!

Bocchi the Rock! – 01 (First Impressions) – Guitar Heroine

I never did replace Renai Flops after dropping it, and I’ve heard and read good things about Bocchi the Rock!, so I thought better to check it out late than never! Reviews to come as I find time to watch back episodes.—Zane

First-year middle schooler Gotou Hitori describes herself as an “archetypal introvert”, but when she learns from TV that even introverts can become cool and popular if they join bands, she borrows her dad’s guitar and starts practicing, with the plan to create a band and perform at the cultural festival.

Those plans would prove … optimistic. Three years pass, and while she never puts the guitar down, gets quite good at it, and posts covers on YouTube and gets good feedback, she never made a band, never performed, and never even made a friend. She aims to change all that in her first year of high school.

But despite psyching herself up and decking herself out in Rocker Chick garb and accessories, no one approaches Hitori in the first month of the school year. Granted, she’s just passively waiting for people to approach her. She has social anxiety, stammers, and has trouble making eye contact.

But even if Hitori can’t communicate externally, her colorful, dynamic inner voice is a genuine delight. Props to Aoyama Yoshino for nailing both sides of Hitori, which make her an instantly likeable protagonist you want to see succeed.

Sure enough, when hanging out on a swing a girl with red boots and a blonde sidetail approaches her while yelling “Guitar!” Ijichi Nijika is her name, and a guitarist is what she needs for a show … today.

After a quick train to the stylish Shimo-Kitagawa district, Nijika leads Hitori to the basement club called Starry. Immediately Hitori is encouraged by the darkness and stuffiness, reminding her of the closet where she spent most of the last three years. She also meets Yamada Ryou, a cool beauty and bassist.

A quick scan of the sheet music for the set reveals nothing Hitori can’t handle musically, but after her first-ever practice with other human beings, they’re unable to hold back the hard honest truth: she sucks. Or, rather, she sucks staying in synch in a band. But that’s what you’d you expect … she’s never been in one!

After curling up into the fetal position, the “sub-water flea” Hitori jumps into a garbage can, and even considers committing guitar hara-kiri on stage. But Nijika and Ryou insist she’s being too hard on herself, and everything will be fine. When she mentions she uploads covers, she learns that not only to both girls know about her (through her YT handle “guitarhero”), but think she’s awesome.

While this revitalizes her, Hitori still has legitimate concerns about being able to stand on a stage and play (this is someone who only recently became capable of speaking to Nijika) so her bandmates produce a big mango box she can play inside. They immediately notice the change in her personality once she feels safe and secure.

Nijika and Ryou tell Hitori that their band is called Kessoku Band (as in zip-tie band), and then give her an appropriate nickname: “Bocchi”, as in hitoribocchi (“all alone”).

With that, it is time to rock, and while we don’t get to hear most of the set, all we need to know is that it wasn’t that great, at least by the standards the band is trying to meet. That’s not just on Hitori, mind you: Nijika and Ryou know they have flaws too. They’re grateful Bocchi was able to play with them, and look forward to playing with her again.

Nijika wants to take Bocchi out to celebrate her first ever set in her first ever band, but all this social interaction has exhausted Hitori to the point she simply has to head home for the night, so she takes a rain check (Ryou also falls asleep on her feet).

Honestly, I would have been disappointed if Bocchi and Kessoku Band kicked ass right out of the gate. Rather, it will be fun to watch Bocchi grow more comfortable talking to her new bandmates, meeting the fourth member who appears in both OP and ED, and watching the band learn from and get better together. It’s a very solid, fun start to a show I wish I’d picked up eight weeks ago!

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 08 – Lost in the forest of decision

This week was difficult at times, but also necessary in a satisfying way. We start with Shiori, Mei, Jirou, and Akari all alone, wondering how long things will stay “this way”, in a state of confusion, frustration, and longing. Not forever, surely!

Even Jirou’s video game is asking him to make a choice between two princesses, warning him the wrong one would “destroy the kingdom”. That’s not far off! Suffice it to say, the current state of things is becoming untenable for everyone.

When the new monthly rankings come out, Jirou and Akari only make it to thirteenth place, which means they still lack the mechanism to enact a decision regarding whom they wish to truly be with. Even so, the marriage practical is a false obstacle. They really don’t need to make it to the Top 10 to sort this out!

In the meantime, Jirou and Akari’s marriage continues apace. Akari’s arachnophobia supplants any modesty about running in on Jirou when he’s nakked in the bath, and in her state of fear and vulnerability she’s never squeezed him tighter. Since the 2mm spider has disappeared, Akari insists on Jirou staying by her side all day, even as she does her nails.

Jirou can shrug off all this sudden intimacy with Akari as a product of her fear of spiders and need for someone by her side to protect her, not necessarily a romantic partner. Since they’re still playing the marriage game to make the Top 10 and swap for their crushes, he remains convinced Akari isn’t interested in him in any other way.

Of course, she is, and she wouldn’t bring up “what ifs” like asking what would’ve happened if they’d met outside the bounds of the compulsory marriage practical. Nor would she ask if they should try dating, like the fifth-ranked couple apparently has started to do. She only says “just kidding” because the silence grows too long, while Jirou wonders why he thought seriously about it for a second. Dude, because she was serious.

This is not the first, nor will it be the last time Akari says something straight-up only to amend it or dismiss it as messing around. The beautifully staged and lit overhead shot of the two alone in their bed that night says still more than her overt words. That thick, dark wall is doing a lot of work, visually and thematically.

Over at Casa de Sakurazawa-Tenjin, Minami can tell something’s troubling Shiori and offers to help, even if he’s not confident he’ll be able to. Shiori confides in him her “friend’s” situation, in which she’s kissed the person they like and now can’t think of anything else. Minami picks up pretty easily that Shiori is talking about herself, but steadfastly doesn’t break the charade.

We finally learn something interesting about Minami in that he apparently missed his chance to confess to the person he loved, and urges Shiori’s “friend” to have confidence and keep trying if there’s a possibility it will work out. We knew that he and Shiori had nothing going on romantically, but this proves it. Also, pretty rich telling her to be confident when he apparently has so little of his own!

As for the true third vertex in the Shiori-Jirou love triangle, Hamano Mei and Shiori have a deeply romantic little scene in the classroom after school, even if Shiori isn’t at all aware of  how her compliments truly affect Mei. Even Mei’s husband Shuu is aware of how much she loves Shiori, and arranges to go out with Minami on a karaoke all-nighter so the two girls can have a sleepover.

Shuu learns another nugget about Minami when he hangs out with him and their café boss that night: Minami has an older brother, and their boss says since it’s a family of “ikemen” even siblings are rivals. Sounds like his bro might’ve stolen his true love? As for the boss, he’s Sadaharu’s older brother.

When Shiori and Mei are planning sleeping arrangements, talk turns to looking at old photos. Mei looks forward to seeing lil’ Shiori … right up until Shiori bashfully says most of the photos contain Jirou as well. Mei checks her phone and heads off on a family errand, abandoning the sleepover plan because she knows who Shiori really loves.

Sadaharu ends up at a restaurant with Jirou, and despite not drinking like his big bro, comes up with the hair-brained idea that he needs to bring his new accidentally lecherous friend back down to his level … by kissing him. While he’s leaning in for that smooch, Shiori, now alone, just happens to pass by, and seemingly gets a look at them, and walks off with no reaction.

Jirou chases after her to explain things, but as she didn’t actually see him and Sadaharu, she assumes he’s talking about their accidental kiss. She was looking at the restaurant sign that contained the symbol for “kiss”. When they thankfully clear up this misunderstanding, they each take one of the handles of the bag and walk together.

When conversation turns back to their kiss, Shiori insists that Jirou hear her out. He doesn’t have to apologize for the kiss, because she asked him to kiss her for practice, and she admits she learned a lot, so she earnestly thanks him. Jirou is confused, since he still thinks she wants to be “friends (and only friends) forever”, but he can’t deny that she sets up another potential kiss for them right then and there.

Sadly, when two cats interrupt their moment Shiori quickly shifts to small talk, but hey, at least these two are talking again, and Jirou understands that Shiori doesn’t feel bad about their kiss.

Jirou’s video game princess warned that the kingdom will be destroyed if he makes the wrong choice. The “kingdom” in this case could be his friendship with Shiori, whether they take it to the next level or if he chooses Akari. The same scenarios apply to Mei: confessing to Shiori means possibly abandoning regular friendship in the future.

In either case, the old has to be torn down before something new can be built in its place. The fear and hesitance of doing so is all too understandable and relatable—as is the result of not making choices: the aforementioned increasingly untenable purgatory. Something’s gotta give, and hopefully something will!

I’ve watched many a frustrating-as-hell rom-rom in which characters didn’t make what I felt to be the obvious, easy choice. This show is doing a great job really putting us in each character’s shoes and explaining why they’re having so much difficulty, and making clear that there are no easy choices.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 07 – Okaeri, Akari

I just want to express my surprise and gratitude that Akari’s gyaru-friends Sachi and Natsumi are actually good people too! When they see Shiori with too many bags of garbage (a powerful metaphor for how accommodating and self-subordinating she is), they offer to help, even conscripting Jirou and Sadaharu when they slouch past.

When Shiori declines to carry a bag with Jirou, it’s a critical hit to his heart, but also shows their accidental kiss has left the two more awkward and distant than ever. Sachi and Natsumi can also tell that Akari must feel something for Jirou at this point, and she doesn’t deny it.

They’re not pushing her towards Jirou or Minami—in fact, they say those aren’t the only two guys in the world. They want her to be happy, and to settle on her own choice on her terms. Opportunity knocks when the girls see a poster for an upcoming fireworks festival.

Naturally, dressing Akari in her yukata is a job for her “husband”, and while her talk with her friends leads to her mentioning Minami more as she teases Jirou, the fact of the matter is, having Jirou dress her is as big a deal for her as it is for him; he just can’t see her red face since he’s behind her. It’s also telling that she says a bow-style obi tie is too “childish”—again assuming Minami only likes mature things.

Akari meets Sachi and Natsumi at the festival with her head held high, ready to take a step forward in figuring (gestures everywhere) all this out. Of course, it’s not that easy, as she’s trying to go back to a place where she’s comfortable play-acting as a wife to Jirou and she’s back to thinking only of Minami in a romantic capacity. In effect, she’s trying to go back to a place that no longer exists.

Even if spending the evening with Minami cleared things up, that opportunity is torn away from her at the last minuite, as his friends arrive Minami-less and contrite; he had to take an extra shift at work due to the festival, and was too nice to turn it down.

Sachi tries to salvage the night by having the boys buy them a bunch of snacks and sweets as penance, but after psyching herself up, Akari is rightfully deflated. To add insult to injury, she spots Minami at the festival after all, in street clothes with Shiori and in what looks like pleasant conversation.

It turns out they’re just taking the shortest route to a point where he’ll go off to work while she’ll head home. They’re not on a date, and from their scene together, there’s still no actual romantic chemistry between them. They’re simply both doing their part as partners in a practical exercise.

Of course, that’s not what it looked liked to Akari, and that’s all that matters. Her friends see her turn pale and assume she’s disappointed in not getting to be with Minami. In reality, she’s that way because she did see him. When the other boys said he wouldn’t be coming, a part of her even felt relieved.

Jirou doesn’t have to spend this night alone at home. He could have called Shiori and taken a step towards that route had he wanted; I doubt she would have refused judging from her look back after she and Minami parted. I wouldn’t really have felt bad for him if his self-imposed loneliness had endured.

However, I do feel bad that, like Akari, he’s simply not sure of anything anymore. If he and Akari are a functional and happy fake couple, he knows one day they won’t be, like when it comes time to swap partners. He worries about what they’ll be after that, and even if they’ll be anything at all.

But when he gets a call from Akari and there are only tears on the other side of the line, if he’s paying attention he’s answering his own question with his reaction: slipping on his coat and running to wherever she is. Luckily for him, that turns out to be right outside their door. As Akari sobs into her hands, she apologizes to Jirou, and by extention, everyone who worked so hard to create an opportunity for her to move forward.

She also worked hard herself, taking extra time to make her hair, nails, and makeup perfect for Minami. And yet, at the end, she just came home. Jirou dries her eyes with his sleeve, then offers a hand up, saying “Welcome home”. Akari collapses into his arms, saying “I’m home”, and has the big, wet, cathartic cry she needs to have. And only Jirou’s arms will do.

Once the tears have passed, the two stand on the balcony as the fireworks start in the distance. When she teases him more and accuses him of being jealous, he doesn’t deny it, which surprises her, but she likes it. Then she takes his hands, puts them on her obi, and asks him to make the bow he wants to make.

When he gets to a step he can’t do, she takes out her phone to find the instructional video. When it slips out of her hands, it falls into his, and she puts her hands over his and draws them close, asking him to simply hold her and say her name, again and again. If he does, she thinks she can “try again”.

Jirou remembers Akari saying how she loses her confidence sometimes, and this is definitely one of those times. In this moment, and while upside-down heart-shaped fireworks start to explode above them, Jirou does as he’s told. She thanks him for not asking what happened, but simply being there for her.

In his mind, Jirou admits he didn’t ask because he didn’t want to know. Just as Akari felt relieved when she heard Minami wouldn’t be coming, Jirou felt relieved when she came home. While he still considers their happiness in this moment to be fleeting, perhaps both he and Akari would be better-served listening to those little pangs of relief and what that means not for Minami, or Shiori, but the two of them.

This episode surpassed the previous racy couch scenes because this felt a lot more overtly romantic. The two have identified those moments of relief and want to understand them better, even as they are still on some level committed to rooting for each other with their other potential partners. Combine the beautiful visuals, lighting, and colors of these scenes with Akari’s friends being The Best and we have the best Fuukoi outing yet.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 03 – Starting over from zero

Akari knows Jirou is in love with Shiori, but wants to know specifically why he’s drawn to an earnest, family-oriented girl, and what he wants such a girl to do for him. He wisely says “lunch”, which sets Akari off on a homemade bento kick.

She proves to be a very good bento cook, and they gain lots of points as cook and taste-tester, but one little detail—a lack of sugar in the rolled omelet—reminds Jirou that she’s doing all of this for Minami, not him. That shouldn’t bother him, as he’s into Shiori…and yet.

Jirou also can’t help but feel a little…left out when Akari goes all out to look as cute as possible to deliver a bento to Minami at his part-time job. But then Akari asks him for another goodbye kiss as a reward for her hard work, and tells him she only wants his kiss, since it made her feel safe.

Before he can summon the guts to kiss her again, Shiori shows up with extra apple pies she made for Minami, citing his sweet tooth. When she sees Akari with Jirou and a box lunch for an apparent picnic, she leaves feeling lonely. Little does she know she caused Akari’s confidence to absolutely plummet.

She never delivers the bento, and sits on the couch with her head in her knees. Jirou tries to cheer her up, but the bottom line is, she though she could appeal to Minami with cooking, but was wrong about him not liking sweet things, and now doesn’t know what to do.

Jirou tells her she has “tons more good points”, but when put on the spot, the only things he lists are related to her looks, body, and sex appeal. When she asks if he’s ever though about her that way, he says no, but she knows he’s lying. Then she jumps on top of him.

The animation and Oonishi Saori’s voice acting do a lot of strong, heavy lifting here, as the scene strides the line between being amorous and a little forced. You can see in Akari’s face and hear in her voice that she’s just as unsure about this as Jirou is, and yet she’s trying to press forward.

Jirou pushes through his body’s urge to “graduate” from virginity and rejects Akari’s advances, saying it’s only something you do with someone you love. Leaving aside that this is false, this results in Akari getting off him and saying they should stop this whole fake marriage thing.

That’s just what they do, and at the next month-end eval, Shiori sees that they’ve fallen to 75th place while she and Minami are up to 8th. She knows something’s wrong; Jirou knows it too, and knows that he erred. When he felt Akari’s cold trembling hand, he knew that he was wrong about her: what they were doing on that couch was just as new to her as it was to him.

Shiori invites Jirou onto the school roof to talk to him about things, and really does yeoman’s work as his trusty childhood friend, albeit by subordinating her own feelings. She promises him that no matter how much he screwed up with Akari, he can make things right.

Shiori’s pep talk is just what Jirou needs to break the awkwardness stalemate and give him the courage to knock on his fake wife’s door. To his shock, she not only answers but invites him into her uber-girly room, where he proceeds to apologize, but also provides a lot of real, honest talk.

He admits the obvious, that he’s fantasized about her, but also that it wasn’t like he didn’t want to do it with her, only that he wanted to do it with more care than the spur-the-moment scenario they found themselves in when she was discouraged about cooking for Minami.

He doesn’t go so far as to “out” Akari as just as much a virgin as she is, but he almost doesn’t have to, as hearing him come out and say all these things makes her face red as a beet and has her retreating into her bedsheet. But Jirou also asserts that he doesn’t like it when things are awkward between them.

Pulling back the sheet from her head like a bride’s vail, he declares that he wants them to be a married couple again. When he realizes he left out “for the practical” and stumbles all over his words, it evokes a hearty laugh from Akari, who attempts to save face by mocking him for being so desperate.

But she also ends up telling him—in just as disarmed a way as he just said all those embarrassing but true things—that she “likes him quite a lot”, even calling him by his first name. She laughs it off, but later on her balcony she covers her mouth with her hands in shock over having “said it.”

She says it in a way that could mean she’s been meaning to say it for a while. In any case, they’re giving this marriage another go, but this time they both have a deeper understanding of the kind of people the two of them actually are. That new understanding definitely has the potential to make them more attracted to one another as partners.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 07 – Making It Work With Less Than Ideal

“I’m sorry I’m bad at school”, a still-drowsy Anya says to Loid and Yor. “The peace of the world rests on you making amends”, she hears Loid thinking. It’s a lot of pressure for a little girl on her second day of school, but she’s resolved to apologize to Damian. The problem is, both his toadies and her her rich girl friend Becky make that almost impossible.

Reading minds clearly takes a lot out of Anya, so between hearing the inner voices of all her classmates and probably not sleeping much last night, she nods off in first period. But when Loid sees Becky working against the apology plan, he starts disguising himself as school staff to make it clear to Anya that the apology must happen, the sooner the better.

It takes Loid calling Becky away on the PA for Anya to finally get her shot, and Damian’s toadies bully her so much in their minds they make her start bawling as she apologizes. As I’d suspected, Damian has confusing new feelings about Anya, the girl who was the first to “defy” him. When she sobs during her apology, making clear she only wanted to be friends, the resulting shot to his heart is so much he has no choice but to run away.

While Loid witnesses all this unfold and concludes that the Friendship Plan may be doomed, I’d say he’s making far too quick an assessment of the situation. Sure, on the surface Damian hates her, but he actually likes her; his behavior is the result of simply not knowing what to do about it. This is 100% classic little kid (and some times bigger kid) behavior.

That said, Loid is new to this, and Twilight didn’t get where he is by taking risks or operating under less-than-ideal circumstances. But there’s so much not in his control here and the circumstances couldn’t be less ideal, so he’s trying to overcompensate. Today Damian ran away from Anya, so he has to try to get her those eight Stella. That night Loid has an intense study session with Anya, but his anxious thoughts and calculations flood into her head and overwhelm her, and she runs into her room to sulk.

Here is where Yor’s lighter touch (if only where Anya is concerned) comes in. At first Yor feels she’s being presumptuous in offering Loid advice and insisting they not be to hard on themselves. But by doing so she reminds Loid that he’s not alone in this parenting business.

He and Yor are legally husband and wife and parents to Anya. They’re in this together, through thick and thin. They need to be patient, but also confident. All parents go through this; that this one was constructed for a spy mission doesn’t change that in the slightest.

I loved how much simpler and more macabre Yor’s inner thoughts are compared to Loid’s during the study session, but I also love how Anya truly wants to do her best, which is why Loid finds her asleep at her desk. She stopped sulking and started studying all on her own.

She’s a good girl, Yor’s a good mom, and he’s a good dad for caring about all of Anya—not just how she figures into the mission. They’ll get through this…even if Yor’s brother Yuri is only now finding out Yor has a husband and daughter.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 01 (First Impressions) – Clothes Maketh Girl

From the opening moments that linger on rice paddies shimmering in the sunlight, Akebi-chan no Sailor-fuku makes it clear it is not fuckin’ around in the animation department. It also establishes right from the get-go that our heroine, Akebi Komichi, has got the moves, running across the countryside and pulling off near-perfect gymnastic moves that reminded me of the famously spry Kinomoto Sakura.

That’s not the only thing that reminded me of the Cardcaptor. Like Sakura’s show, Akebi places family, and familial love, at the forefront. Amazingly, both of Komichi’s parents are living and while her father is away for work, he makes sure to congratulate his daughter’s acceptance to the private middle school of choice, the illustrious Roubai Academy.

Komichi’s dream was to attend school in a lovely sailor fuku, and so her mom, who also attended Roubai, takes it upon herself to maker her one, from scratch. I appreciated the episode taking its time and sweating the details when it came to the making of the uniform, from choosing the cloth to preparing the tacking.

The episode also takes care to show that while Komichi’s little sister Kaois proud of her for getting into such a fancy school, she’s also sad that they won’t get to attend the same little country school anymore.

In a touching bath scene that’s brimming with sisterly love, Komichi tells Kao that she’s nervous too, especially about getting alone with the rich Tokyo girls at the school. Kao then turns around and assures her big sis she won’t have any trouble making friends, because she’s really cool.

The day the sailor fuku is completed, it feels like a combination of  Christmas morning, a wedding day, and the dawn before a battle. Komichi carefully puts on the brand new uni like she’s donning armor, and when she shows the completed look off to her mom and sister, they’re struck by the sheer beauty of it.

Alas…it’s the wrong uniform!

Komichi doesn’t learn until she arrives at Roubai for the opening ceremony and find all the other girls in charcoal blazers. Turns out that while her mom and her classmates wore sailor fukus in her day, the academy has since revamped their uniforms.

That said, the headmistress remembers Komichi telling them at her interview that it was her dream to wear the fuku, and since it is still technically Roubai issue, and Komichi’s mom put so much love into it, she decides to allow Komichi to wear it…if she so chooses.

Choosing to do so means standing out far more than she thought, and combined with her “simple country girl” background, could potentially make things that more difficult for her socially. Komichi is crestfallen upon coming home, but Kao has zero tolerance for her pity party, and gives her big sis a big ol’ spank on her bum, as if to say Snap out of your funk this instant…you’re cooler than this!

The next morning, Komichi leaves for her first day super-early, but not too early that Kao isn’t awake to see her big sis chose to keep wearing the uniform their mom made for her. She’s going to rely on “confidence and a smile” to make friends, whether her clothes match theirs or not.

When she arrives at school (after running through several gorgeous painterly scenes of her idyllic, almost Kincaid-ian setting), she finds she’s almost the first person there. The first person there is Kizaku Erika, who is introduced very carefully clipping her toenails at her desk…and then smelling the clippers. What does Komichi do to break the ice? Why, smell her own feet, of course!

That gesture, earnest and not at all mocking, helps save what could have been a disastrous first meeting. Komichi learns that Erika was so nervous about her first day she couldn’t sleep and arrived way too early, and is comforted to know she wasn’t alone in her nervousness.

The two take their assigned seats right next to each other, having calmed each other down. And at seat number one, Komichi is positioned to greet everyone else who enters. I suspect she’ll have no trouble making more friends.

As I said in the first ‘graph, CloverWorks really outdid themselves; this is a surpassingly beautiful episode of anime, so much so that my main concern is whether they can keep up this level of quality for an entire cour. Murakami Manatsu is another great new voice as Komichi, while vets Kuno Misaki and Hana-Kana anchor the fam as her sister and mom. In all, a very impressive opening salvo to a gentle, heartwarming slice-of-life.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 11 – The Other Side of the Coin

At the start of this outing, everything’s coming up Maryblood, as he, Menel, Anna, Reystov, and his merry band of adventurers march throughout the Beast Woods, clearing them of demons. With help from Bee and Tonio, the newly-safe villages are gradually revitalized. When Will returns to places he’d seen at their lowest point, he can see firsthand what his good works have wrought.

Then one grey day Reystov reports that one of the more talented adventuring parties is two days late from a scouting mission. Will rolls out with Menel, Reystov, and two capable parties in search of them, and eventually find their corpses. They’re then led into a ravine and surrounded by demon beasts, led by a particularly ferocious chimaera.

Will & Co. put up a stout front, but the bottom line is they’re very nearly outmatched, which comes down to a lack of caution and preparation. When Menel is severely injured by the chimaera’s dragon breath, Will flies into a panic. He tries to cast lightning on all of the beasts, but is interrupted and hits himself, a rare unforced error. He has to resort to pure adrenaline and matching the beasts in viciousness with his demonblade to survive the day.

When he wakes up, he learns from Reystov that he and Menel were carried out after the Chimaera fled, and that he burned himself out fighting too hard. Even so, Will doesn’t see this as an inevitable occasional slip-up. Rather, he suffers a total and complete crisis of confidence, cursing himself for believing he could treat Menel and the others as equals despite being so much stronger than them.

We even get the first glimpse of Will in his previous life before coming to this world, just when I’d come to grips with the fact the show didn’t care about that part of Will’s story at all. But the person he was is crucial to how he’s feeling now: full of guilt and regret for expecting too much of his comrades because he doesn’t want to be lonely. He doesn’t have to say anyting to Bee and Tonio for them to know something’s very off about him.

Will decides he’ll never let something like this happen again, visiting the still-unconscious Menel and healing him a bit more before going off on his own. However lonely he might feel, he’ll feel even worse if he ends up killing those who have stood beside him. Still being an impressionable young whelp, he instantly agrees with the chatter of passing soldiers referring to him as a “monster”, and concludes that he must walk his path alone.

You can tell from Gracefeel’s expression that Will is off-base here. He never forced Menel or anyone else to stand beside him or be his friend. It’s pretty clear Menel, and Bee and Tonio, and Reystov and Anna, are with Will because they believe in him and his strength and want to do everything they can to make a difference in this world with him. The question is, will they be able to bring Will out of these doldrums, or does his new self-imposed isolation represent the new normal?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 11 – Art Is Thus To Pursue

The girls try to encourage Senpai by laying into the President and her scolding, scripted manner of speaking, but Naoto doesn’t want them talking shit about her, from whom he’s learned so much about art and still deeply respects.

He’s also dubious about a cosplay art cafe being sufficient to beat the Prez, who helped the Art Club nab sixth place last year—out of over sixty presentations—with a bold, provocative nude self portrait.

Gamo points out what she believes to be a simple fact: when it comes to mass appeal, Senpai and Hayacchi don’t have “the goods” with which to compete with the Prez’s Kardashian-esque proportions. Nagatoro takes it as being dissed—but Gamo still has a point; a lot of horny guys are going to be voting for the better club.

But there’s one horny guy—Naoto—who tells Gamo and the others that he doesn’t think any less of Nagatoro than the President. Both have their charms, and he wants to try to win by depicting Nagatoro as she normally is. Even though he imagines President as a Titan swallowing him whole, he’s still feeling positive.

Nagatoro is determined to ensure he wins, and when her swimsuit isn’t motivating enough, she dons nothing but a white sheet. But in doing so, and with the constant interruptions of the other girls, Naoto becomes increasingly iffy in his drawing, and grows frustrated with the whole venture, deeming any attempt to beat the Prez as futile.

Finally, as the show takes on a de-saturated palette akin to Super Cub, Naoto says this isn’t going to work. He doesn’t want to draw Nagatoro, because if he fails, he’ll drag her down with him. She says she doesn’t care about that, but Naoto insists this is between him and the President. A genuinely angry and hurt Nagatoro storms off in her sheet. The others call Senpai a loser…and in that moment, he absolutely is!

Alone again in his club room (well, half the club room; in an amazingly petty gesture President has cordoned off the other half for third years only!) he gets back to his bread-and-butter: dull still-lifes. President pays him a visit —also wearing only a sheet, as she was taking pictures for her next piece, and tells him it’s dull and no good.

She’s not just being a bitch; she’s right! Naoto’s painting is technically fine, but lacks any kind of passion, other than the desire to be neat and tidy. Prez tells him the most important aspect of a piece isn’t its theme, but love. And when she witnesses Nagatoro peek in and promptly run away after she sees Senpai with her, Prez orders Naoto to pursue her with all due haste.

He does, but when he catches up to her in the hall he blanks on what to say, and the moment is spoiled by two other girls who think he’s stalking Nagatoro. The chase continues until the sun starts to go down, ending at the swimming pool. As he runs after her, he summons all his favorite memories of her, which aren’t of her teasing him, but revealing her genuine self to him.

As she hops from starting block to another away from him, Naoto tells her he wants her to model for him. When she tells him to go back to his precious president, she slips off a block, but before she can go into the pool he grabs her, both demonstrating he does have some strength. When he repeats his desire to draw her the way she usually is, she asks him why, and this time he doesn’t waver: because she’s more attractive to him.

Nagatoro is so shocked by this declaration, and turns so red, she kinda almost has to jump into the pool, taking Senpai with her. They end up walking home soaked, but Naoto’s honesty and the quick plunge into the pool washed away their fight and brought them back together. When he lets slip that he often notices how cute she in ordinary times (as opposed to wearing cosplay) it’s another blushfest for both of them.

Senpai walks right up to the line of confession this week, while Nagatoro leaves no doubt about how she feels when he keeps defending her nemesis. But while she’s scheming something with who I presume to be the StuCo President, the President came off as less of a villain (or Titan) this week.

Instead, she’s issued this challenge to push Naoto out of his comfort zone so he can be the best artist he can be. You can only do that by pursuing your passions—and when it comes to his passions, there’s no beating Nagatoro. Even if he and Nagatoro do lose to her voluptuous magnificence, they’ll lose together, having fought their hardest!

Episode 11 “Senpai” Count: 14 (+3 “Paisens”)—the fewest yet!
Total: 380

Those Snow White Notes – 06 – Everyone’s an Apprentice

Yui lights a fire under the ass of the Shamisen Club when she learns her gamer friend from Aomori is also participating in the group division of the Matsugoro Cup. Her name is “Maimai”—could it be Setsu’s self-appointed rival Tanuma Mai? Whoever it is, Yui doesn’t want to lose to them!

She zealously pushes the others to memorize and practice “Shinbushi” for a month, then Koyabu-sensei and the instrument shop owner Oodawara-san arrange a training camp…in Aomori. When they arrive, Setsu still isn’t sure whether he’ll enter the individual division, while Shuri is struggling with her timing.

In the throes of a full-on slump, Shuri reaches out for advice from Setsu, who is too preoccupied with his own stuff to give her anything other than “just keep doing what you’re doing”. This angers Kaito mightily, but not just because he’s in love with Shuri and Setsu is being a condescending jerk. He’s mostly mad—just as practically everyone else he knows is disappointed—that Setsu isn’t making full use of his talents.

Earlier at school, Kaito was a soccer star with a realistic shot at the pros until he blew his knee out, closing the door on his preferred future forever. He then overheard his father say the injury was a “good thing” because it meant he could focus on his studies and follow in daddy’s footsteps. As such, Kaito considers himself “perfectly set on the rails” his parents laid down.

Rai tells Setsu this, providing context for why Kaito blew his stack, and in the baths, Setsu comes to Kaito to apologize. Kaito apologizes too, and then the two of them and Rai start horseplaying, which Yui and Shuri can overhear from the girl’s bath, indicating the boys made up.

The next morning, super-early, Oodawara-san takes the club up to a vantage point overlooking the Tsugaru Strait and offers a history lesson that proves instrumental in Setsu reorganizing his thoughts about finding his sound and participating in the individuals. The first Tsugaru shamisen players were blind and living hand to mouth. Oodawara wonders what the hearts of people looked like to those who never saw the natural beauty of Tsugaru around them.

Oodawara goes on to say rules and traditions only go so far when it comes to Tsugaru Shamisen, since the circumstances and experiences of the first players were so very different from their successors, who weren’t blind. The past is not simply endlessly repeated; there is a conversation between the past and present, meaning change and boundary-pushing is not only inevitable, but crucial to its survival.

Setsu, grasping better how to find his sound, has Rai and Kaito switch shamisens to better match their playing styles and personalities. Shuri keeps struggling, but is determined not to give up. Wakana and family friend Kouta pay him a visit, and it’s clear to Setsu they’re both trying to light a fire under him.

Talk turns to gramps, who never took on any apprentices because he believed anyone who truly listened to him would be able to learn his sound. But more importantly is what Wakana says before parting: gramps also said that the reactions of the people listening were the most important lessons. In other words, Setsu will never find his sound if there’s no one listening.

Setting up atop the vantage point overlooking Cape Tappimi (or “Dragonsflight”), Setsu starts to play, and at the base of the hill, Shuri hears him and comes running as fast as she can. She can hear Setsu’s sound, and when she reaches the top that sound is so powerful, a feeling rose up in her chest that made her suddenly shout “Wa!”

Turns out that while “Wa” isn’t one of the kakegoe shouts, she shouted it precisely when she should have, because she was riding the sound, not chasing it as she had been throughout her slump. Setsu’s sound was “leaping so freely” it not only felt amazing, but helped her leap right out of that slump with a new understanding of what she was doing and how to fix it, all through the power of his sound.

Setsu, in turn, thanks Shuri for giving him the final little push he needed to decide he’s going to enter the individuals after all. That’s right: IT IS ON.

In their final “Shinbushi” practice of training camp, the club gets through the piece without a single mistake. Everyone’s feeling good, and Oodawara suggests they celebrate their success by attending Nebuta, one of the “three great festivals of Tohoku” according to Yui, and something hard to argue with what with the excellent music, dancing, and food.

All the while, the tiny obaasan who hosted the club at the guest house clandestinely shows off her god-level texting skills, revealing that she was one of Umeko’s spies all along. She informs Umeko that Setsu has indeed agreed to enter the individual division, just as Umeko is promoting the Matsugoro Cup. She got what she wanted yet again, but in this case it’s because Setsu wants it too.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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!

Re: Zero – 47 – Seeing the Job Through

There’s action on all fronts, such that we don’t even check in on Ram and Puck’s fight with Roswaal. What we do see is that for once, an opponent—in this case Gar—is giving Elsa a challenge, even blocking her razor-sharp blades with his pearly whites! Gar’s confidence is buoyed both by his reunion with his big sister (who is free to retrieve the sleeping Rem) and “Boss” Subaru’s heroic example.

Gar and Fred give Subie the time he needs to at least try to make a case for Beako to come with him. She remains weighed down by the pain of 400 years of solitude; a “pure white life” due to the blank pages of the tome her mother gave to her. But it’s because she’s kept her promise for that long that she’s not about to break it now, even if it means her death.

Subie feels the opposite: four centuries is long enough, especially when nobody’s even sure Beako was given the right book! He’d rather she break the promise to keep her alive. Negotiations break down when Beatrice asks with all earnestness if Subaru can be “that person” for her. He says no way, and she ejects him from her library, where he encounters Otto and Petra, cornered by Mabeasts.

Meili (or Maylie if you prefer) is indeed on the scene, riding a giant “Rock Piggie” or Hippo. After grabbing Subie, Otto, and Petra (with Rem on her back) getting them out of the mansion, Frederica vows to hold Maylie off while Subaru and Otto get Rem and Petra to safety.

Unlike last time she fought, Fred’s not prepared to die so soon after meeting seeing her brother again, so she promises Petra she’ll take care not to let herself get killed. Unfortunately, Subaru and Otto have another obstacle: the Guiltylowe, who is immune to the mabeast ward. With both Tinzel siblings occupied, can these two lads handle this boss? To be continued.

The episode makes a clean break from the events at the mansion and returns to Emilia tackling the second trial. I appreciated this as Subie’s side of the story already has a lot of moving parts and cutting back and forth between him and Emilia would have added needless complexity and hampered the flow of both.

Instead, we stick with Emilia to the end of the episode, bearing witness to the entirety of her second trial. While she confronted her past in the first trial, the second is all about an “unthinkable”, i.e. alternate present (or at least near-present, as Emilia still seems slightly younger than her true present form). But the bottom line is this: she’s grown into a lovely young lady under the continued care of Mother Fortuna, who is still alive.

On an absolutely perfect day, an alive and non-crazed Betelgeuse comes calling, and the three set out for a picnic by the lake. Fortuna is dressed up for the occasion and Geuse cannot help but compliment her, which only makes her embarrassed and self-conscious. On their way to the lake, they pass by three other inhabitants of Elior, for whom Fortuna, Lia, and Geuse look like a tight-knit family.

Emilia uses the picnic to bring up the prospect of no longer beating around the bush and making their little family unit an official thing. While Geuse is worried that rumors about him and Fortuna could affect her very important job, but Lia believes it’s too late to worry about others’ opinions, and in any case those opinions are wholly positive, so why not become a family?

Saying she has something in her eye and having said what she wanted to say, Emilia leaves “the rest” to the two “young kids”, tearfully saying “I love you both” as she walks away. She climbs a hill that overlooks the idyllic scene, and is soon joined by Archi. He agrees the two make a good match and Fortuna should “give more thought to her own happiness.”

But, Emilia remarks, clutching Fortuna’s hairpiece that is now in her hair. this world doesn’t exist anymore. Archi confirms it is the unthinkable present, and asks her if she wants to live there in happiness. But Emilia has already committed to the real world outside of this. She’s done being hidden and protected, and wants to be an admirable person, listing off everyone dead and alive who were also admirable in how they helped and indeed are still doing so as she speaks.

Archi turns into a thoroughly disgusted Echidna, but it was she who said that the other two trials would be a piece of cake after how Emilia acquitted herself in the first. And so it was! She was never seriously tempted to remain in a dream world that she knew could never truly be. Rather, she was simply grateful for the opportunity to see her family once more.

To complete the trial, she leaps off the bluff and straight into the water, briefly catching a glimpse of her face and noting that she looks less like Fortuna than she thought. From the depths of the lake, Emilia emerges from the Graveyard, and is surprised to find the village refugees are all there to greet her and celebrate her latest victory.

It’s not just the villagers, either: Ryuzu has come with all of the beast people from the Sanctuary. While some of them still don’t 100% trust her, they’ve seen how hard Garfiel worked, and they’re willing to stand and bear witness to her efforts. Just one more trial to go, which will doubtless be focused on the future, or the possible versions thereof. Emilia promises they’ll all have a nice talk once she’s come through the final trial in one piece.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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