Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 10 – He Carries All Our Hopes With Him

BINAURAL ASMR – 👻 Horror House Experience 👻 (Wear Headphones)

Before Yuu and Tsubame head to the Horror House, we get to experience it along with Kaguya, Maki, Nagisa and Tsubasa, and also found out how both Yuu and Miko contributed to making it the unique and terrifying success it clearly is.

Mind you in Miko’s case that success wasn’t intentional, but her classmate and president of Tabletop Game Club Makihara Kozue has a sadistic streak and pretty much tortures Miko with scissors, feathers, and even dang ear nibbling in order to record (with binaural mics in Miko’s ears) the perfect immersive experience for the house.

It looks like the perfect venue for Yuu and Tsubame to get a little closer; heck, even Kaguya and Maki hold hands for support in there! But when Miko finds Nagisa and Tsubasa making out in their locker, she decides visitors to the horror house shall forthwith be segregated by gender.

This, of course, ruins the whole purpose of Yuu taking Tsubame to a haunted house, since they won’t get to, ya know, experience it together. While a setback, it’s not a terminal one, and more importantly isn’t due to anything Yuu said or did.

Hell Is About to Start Now

Moving on, it’s always been clear Chika has no particular romantic designs or even prospects; I imagine her “type” is a man so beautiful and perfect that he might not exist, at least not at Shuchiin. He might be somewhere in Lichtenstein. Her lil’ sis Moeha, on the other hand? She has a crush on President Shirogane, specifically thanks to being friends with his sister Kei, and accurately interpreting her tsundere barbs towards him as the praise and admiration it actually is.

Chika tries to warn Moeha that Miyuki is not who she thinks he is, then proceeds to list off all the things he’s bad at. Of course, she has to include the disclaimers that Miyuki worked his ass off until he got the hang of those things, which endears him to Miyuki even more. Chika believes the only way to “cure” her sister of this curse is to allow her to witness Miyuki juggling.

Like a host of other skills requiring either talent or hard work, Chika assumes Miyuki will be terrible at it and turn Moeha off him like a cat on a hot tin roof. She assumed wrong; Miyuki is quite good at juggling, thanks to her grandma. He’s also good at cup-and-ball, top-spinning, and yo-yo. Chika breaks down in a floor kicking-and-pounding tantrum, while Moeha is as enamored of him as ever.

Of course, the real reason Chika should give for why Moeha shouldn’t be pursuing the President is because of the Vice President, i.e. Kaguya, who appears behind Moeha like a glowing specter in an unsettling jump cut. Moeha then proceeds to list all of the legitimate reasons she likes Miyuki, which are the same reasons Kaguya loves him, and the two bond over their shared subject of affection. Kaguya just loves that she can talk about Miyuki with someone who understands!

If He Goes Down, We Go Down

Back to Yuu and Tsubame, as Tsubame invites Yuu to her class presentation, a kind of festival games set-up. Yuu can feel the momentum in his favor, and while he’d shrink, hesitate, or turn tail in the past, here he rides that momentum like a wave.

He wins a giant heart-shaped cookie, then offers it to Tsubame in the middle of a crowded classroom where 90% of them know what that means. He then makes it clear to those who don’t: the gift is an expression of how he feels about her.

It is indeed a 100% Public Confession, and while Tsubame has a good reaction and does not summarily reject him, she does suddenly run off asking for “time to think about it”, leaving Yuu in an uncomfortable limbo.

As Yuu’s success hangs in the balance, Miyuki contemplates the cost of failure: blanket Self-Imposed Restraint on Romance. Like a stone in a pond, Tsubame’s rejection of Yuu will have ripple effects for all the other would-be couples in the blast radius. Miyuki and Kaguya would have to put their romantic plans on hold to comfort Yuu. A confession in such an atmosphere would be romantic suicide!

Miyuki (and Kaguya) are invested in Yuu’s success, because if he goes down, they go down, and with no time left before he heads to Stanford. He asks Chika if Yuu has a chance, but her answer is biased against both Yuu and Miyuki, whom she’s long thought of as garbage men (not sanitation engineers, mind you). 

Still, even Chika can admit that over time she’s come to find both guys as “pretty decent men”; high praise for someone with her standards. If Tsubame takes the “point-addition approach” with Yuu, the kid has a chance. The most and best they can do is watch over him.

Of course, the stakes are much higher for Miyuki. Will he be able to keep his hands off the scenario and let the cards fall where they may? Will a Yuu defeat really spell as much doom for him and Kaguya as he assumes? We’re close approaching the endgame here, folks. You can tell from the surging notes of some of the absolute best musical scoring in the business.

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 05 – The Truth Is Revealed

Smells Like Teen Spirit of Expression

Oh, my sweet summer child…you didn’t perchance think Miyuki’s rapping was never going to addressed, did you? It all starts when Kei calls Chika asking her big sis to murder her brother. Turns out he’s been practicing at home. When Miyuki tells her there’s no other way to convey his feelings to a certain someone, she’s eager to help him out, just as she did with his anthem singing.

Alas, not only is Chika not remotely inoculated against the scourge of Miyuki’s sea sluggish rhymes, she’s not that strong a rapper herself in the first place, having never really done it before. Still, she stands by the axiom that it’s not how you express something that’s important, it’s what and to whom. Miyuki sets her straight: rap is both a sport and an art, but most of all, it’s a conversation.

Chika’s first attempt at rapping is like watching a baby deer take its first wobbly tentative steps. But once she locks in on the fact that rapping and piano are not that different, she starts to put out something that does more than just bear a passing resemblance to rap. No sooner does Miyuki tell her he has nothing left to teach her, he proceeds to ask her to teach him how to rap. The teacher hath become the student…

Straight Outta Chiba

It isn’t until their training is nearly complete that Chika bothers to ask whether the person Miyuki needs to rap to is someone she knows. He says she does, and we flash back to that karaoke box, where we learn Ai actually opened up to him (presumably before the rapping) about who she is, what she does, and who she works for.

As a fellow commoner who can empathize with what Ai must be going through, Miyuki embraces her as a friend and gives her his number. He uses it to invite Ai to Chiba Park where he has something he wants to tell her. As Kaguya eavesdrops on her employee-sister’s call, she tags along, while Chika is eager for some BL action, believing Herthaka to be a male butler.

With Chika backing him up, Miyuki spits out his feelings, which challenge Ai’s belief that one needs to put on an act in order to be loved. This rapping Miyuki is being his own best self, and sees no reason why she can’t be hers too.

When Kaguya feels confused, lost, and left out, she eventually cut loose with the illest rhymes of the group, on her first try no less! Then she gets cocky and puts Ai on blast, provoking Ai into delivering her own freestyle rap. As with Miyuki and Chika’s raps, Ai’s is accompanied by music-video style dramatizations.

Ai finally comes out as being jealous of Kaguya enjoying her life as a teenager, with all its highs and lows. She wants a friend in Miyuki…with the option to possibly steal him from Kaguya in the future.

They’re in Nirvana…Never Mind

The final segment somewhat surprisingly does not involve rapping, but is the second of Shijou Maki’s visits that put the council in “student” council. She’s joined the volunteer club at Nagisa’s behest…a club that includes just her, Nagisa, and Nagisa’s boyfriend, whom we finally learn after three seasons is named Tsubasa.

Unaware of Maki’s feelings for Tsubasa, Nagisa is transparently lovey-dovey with him around her. As such, she’s come to think of Nagisa as the devil. Yuu and Miyuki warn her that as the couple is in “nirvana”, breaking them up will be nigh impossible. Maki, as innocent as her cousin, is unaware that the Nirvana they speak of pertains to Nagisa and Tsubasa having knocked boots.

In the end, Maki doesn’t get any useful advice other than the kind that is no longer useful: love is all about speed. Once you know you love someone, it’s imperative to confess to them ASAP, lest they get stolen away, as Tsubasa was. Miyuki, exhibiting the same self-awareness as Kaguya did last week, warns her waiting for the other person to confess is just a passive way to save face.

But Maki’s visit isn’t a waste. She can take some solace in commiserating with and warning these boys not to follow her down the path of inaction. Miyuki envisions Yuu with Kaguya and Yuu envisions Miyuki with Tsubame, and they can feel a glimmer of what Maki feels in reality. So the StuCo office will always be open to her, whenever it gets too hard watching Nirvana from the outside.

P.S. There’s a new ED involving the gang rapping and breakdancing on stage. It’s awesome and features some pretty slick animation (as well as more “serious” character design of the characters) and better rapping than any of the raps in the actual episode. Like the Starship Troopers ED, it also ends with a sweet moment of togetherness with Miyuki and Kaguya.

 

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 04 – The Eyes that Propelled Him

YUU CAN’T DIE

No sooner is Yuu shooting death lasers at Kashiwagi and her bae once they leave the office and talking about how students should be focused on their studies (stated while playing video games) than he’s melting into a puddle of goo when his crush, third-year Koyasu Tsubame stops by to drop off some foreshadowing…er, an application for the upcoming cultural festival.

I’m pleased as punch Tsubame is back, she and Yuu had great chemistry, and it was only near the end of that momentous sports fest arc that we even saw her eyes. But is Yuu simply infatuated with her because she’s nice to him, or does he have an actual chance? Ever the pessimist, he’s certain it’s the latter.

Kaguya won’t suffer Yuu’s moping about what can and can’t be done; she’s been in a slog of a romantic stalemate with her crush for over two damn cours, it’s as much sage advice as a warning that it’s best to come out and confess sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, Yuu’s “innate creepiness” has him imagining a flower-a-day at Tsubame’s desk or an album of himself with a note are good ways to do it.

Kaguya, as inept as she’d been with her own romance, continues to prove her value as an advisor to Yuu, steering him away from certain disaster and putting him on a long but doable path to not only making his feelings known to Tsubame, but realizing his potential to be someone Tsubame likes.

Since Yuu is neither strong, rich, or popular, Kaguya sends him on the path of academic achievement, assisting him in studying for the lofty goal of scoring in the top 50 of his grade in the upcoming exams. The next segment is tied to the first, as each of the other four StuCo members agree with Miyuki’s suggestion that they go on hiatus so that everyone can study from home.

Everyone is hiding ulterior motives (and A-1 faces): Miyuki can’t study in the office because he’s too distracted by Kaguya’s beauty; Kaguya can’t study at home because she’s too distracted by her new smartphone; Iino, like Miyuki, wants to keep her #1 ranking, and Chika…Chika already gets double allowance so she stands to lose the least here.

As for Yuu? No lies and no face; he’s already hard at work studying at home. But when the exams come and go and the rankings are posted, he doesn’t make it to the Top 50. Kaguya suspects he rose about 20 spots from his  previous position near the bottom of his class. A tremendous improvement, but also a crushing defeat too.

Yuu pretends he’s not bitter about it to Kaguya and shuffles off to the boy’s room to stew in abject bitterness. Fortunately, Kaguya didn’t buy his act, and brazenly violates the bathroom rule to confirm that, indeed, Yuu is super pissed-off, and that he’ll take this small step forward as merely the loss of a battle for which expectations were naturally high. If love is war, losing this first battle can, and must, motivate him to keep fighting on.

Super Butler Herthaka-kun

With the show showering so much darma and character love on Yuu, who now has two potential love interests (like Miyuki with Kaguya and Ai), Chika is now, by default, the least developed and most mysterious member of the StuCo. Maybe that’s on purpose due to her simplistic nature, but one wonders if there will be room for her to have a major character-defining arc this season.

For now, she presents an open dinner invitation to Kaguya, Miyuki, and Kei in appreciation for their help and friendship. With exams out of the way, Kaguya is pumped up for a dinner party and sleepover, if for no other reason than the opportunity for Miyuki to nod off on her shoulder. She wants to do it that night, but Chika’s dad is out of town.

Chika suggests an alternate site for the sleepover: Kaguya’s place! There, Chika is met by “Herthaka-kun”, Ai’s…(deep breath) gay-male-crybaby-war orphan-Harvard graduate butler persona. While Kaguya scolds Ai for weaving such rococo lies, Chika simply stands in awe of “Super Butler Herthaka-kun”…yet another potentially awesome Kaguya spin-off.

Kaguya and Chika proceed to have a lovely girls night together, and while Miyuki and Kei can’t make it to the sleepover, they are offered a window into it when Chika calls him up. She’s able to do this not only without Kaguya’s objection but her encouragement because Kaguya rarely stays up past 11, and Chika’s prattle has now kept her up past midnight.

This has the effect of rendering Kaguya into a state not dissimilar from drunkenness, where her usual inhibitions drop and her judgment is compromised. She’s in full Go-with-the-Flow Mode, so Chika FaceTimes Miyuki and asks him straight-up if he’s in love with someone.

Kei happens to be in the room when Miyuki receives the call, and becomes fully engaged in the conversation when she spots Kaguya and Chika-nee on his screen. After adorably picking up the place even though they’re not there, Kei confirms to Chika that her brother is definitely in love, because he’s always LINEing with “someone named “Herthaka.”

When Chika hears this name, and she turns to face Herthaka-kun the butler, who is presently texting, her nose bleeds and she excuses herself from the segment.

That leaves Kaguya and Miyuki on the call together. Kaguya sleepily declares her furiousness at him right now for sending texts to someone else, but says she’ll forgive him if he tells her who he’s in love with. When he hesitates, she says she’ll go first…only to fall asleep before saying the name.

Miyuki is left with female Herthaka on his screen telling him Kaguya is asleep and she’s hanging up, but not before Kei gets a good look at the girl her bro is apparently courting. Kaguya wins the round because despite her fatigue she doesn’t let slip who she loves, but in my book both she and Miyuki lose the round because they’re still stuck in an endless slog.

Maybe the cultural festival will progress things further. I’m not saying I need a confession from either or both of them for this season to be a success—it’s the ride, not the destination that counts, and this is the Rolls-Royce of rides—but it would be nice for these two to join Takagi and Nishikata in the “Official-At-Last” corner.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 03 – Free as a Cloud

Akebi Komichi isn’t trying to stand out, she’s just being the best damn Akebi Komichi she can be. That Akebi is bereft of guile, devoid of ego…and runs fastest while barefoot. So fast, in fact, she posts the best time in P.E., and attracts three upperclassmen who want her to join their sports clubs.

Those upperclassmen burst in on Akebi’s class just before the bell, and have to be set straight by the class president, Tanigawa Kei. When she comes over to thank her, Akebi mentions how beautiful Tanigawa’s legs and skin are. Tanigawa isn’t sure what to make of Akebi quite yet, but she knows one thing: Akebi keeps talking to her.

After Akebi’s other three friends head home, she runs into Tanigawa again, and shares her earbuds with her as they listen to her favorite idol’s music, music Tanigawa is amazed Akebi can dance to. But Akebi doesn’t think anything she does is amazing; just the product of hard work, practice, and love of Fukumoto Miki-chan.

Tanigawa is amazed though, by how easily Akebi can do things she wants to do. It makes her want to come out of her shell a little, if only for Akebi. When they exchange numbers, Tanigawa even considers sending her new friend a selfie of her legs…and torso. She even ends up sending this rather risqué pic, albeit accidentally when her mom startles her. But Akebi is ecstatic to receive it, and believes Tanigawa has a real talent for photos. It’s another lovely new friendship forged.

Due to Akebi’s considerable athletic attributes, a sports club seems like a no-brainer. But after spending the day with Kojou checking out all the clubs,  she’s still not able to pick one.

She and Kojou are caught in the rain, and upon finding shelter, Kojou gives Akebi her warm blazer, which her thin sailor uniform lacks. Akebi finds one of Kojou’s book in a pocket, and decides to read to Kojou like she does to her little sister as they wait out the rain.

Kojou is impressed with Akebi’s ability to bring the characters in the book to life—she even does all the distinct voices like a rakugo performer—but it’s been a long day and she eventually nods off. She wakes up with her head resting in Akebi’s lap, looks up and sees Akebi wearing her glasses, and for a moment thinks it’s her mom.

The next day, Akebi learns Tanigawa has chosen the photography club, while Akebi announces that she’s joined the drama club. It’s a place where she’ll be free to employ all of her acquired talents, while utilizing her innate ability to draw attention and admiration.

Just about every frame of Akebi is a joy to watch, and not just due to the intense love, care, and detail put into the production by Cloverworks. I can’t stop watching because Akebi is such a gregarious, magnetic presence. She really is Cardcaptor Sakura without the card capturing!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kageki Shoujo!! – 12 – Secret Weapons and the Stingray of Kouka

It’s Yamada Ayako’s turn to audition as Juliet, and especially after Naracchi’s performance she’s bereft of confidence. What can she contribute to her performance to stand out? From where can she draw inspiration? Gradually, as we take a trip down memory lane to her first 3D crush Hirayama, and through a sweet and caring pep talk from Sawa, Aya discovers these things.

There was a girl named Yanou Asuka who seemed to dart from boy to boy, even dating all the members of a band, who then broke up. Despite that rep, Aya wanted to know more about Asuka beneath the surface. So too did Hirayama, becoming the first boy Asuka ever turned down after he friendzoned Aya into oblivion.

Aya later learns that Asuka considers her her only girl friend, and could tell Aya had a crush on Hirayama, hence turning him down for her sake. Asuka doesn’t see anything wrong with Aya swooping in to ask out Hiragama after his heartbreak. But in re=examining their talk on that rooftop before Kouka, Aya comes to realize that at the end of the day, perhaps it was Aya whom Asuka truly loved.

In the present, Sawa’s pep talk about Aya having something special to contribute and being a singularly cute and likable young woman, make her a perefect Juliet; she just needs to stop worrying about failure or coming up short of expectations. Sawa certainly doesn’t do that, as her performance of Tybalt is a masterpiece of bitter rage.

Aya intentionally pauses when it’s Juliet’s turn to react to Tybalt’s death, and Aya breaks out the “secret weapon” her supportive teacher knew she had within her: the ability to sway the audience completely with her warm aura and dynamic voice. It’s jut a powerful and unique performance, Naracchi later walks up and declares her a “worthy rival”…and there’s no higher praise from that one!

That brings us to the last of our main circle of friends’ auditions: Sarasa giving Tybalt another shot, having grown and learned a lot since merely copying a Top Star’s performance previously. Sarasa goes off on her own during lunch, but not to sulk; to drawfrom her life experience, the same way as the other performers.

Sarasa remembers the day after her big Kouka acceptance party being invited to the aquarium by Akiya. She’s so excited she tries to meet up with him early, only for him to text her that he needs another hour. Sarasa ends up eavesdropping on at least part of a conversation between Akiya and Kouzaburou (whom she’s probably not aware is her biological dad).

It’s Kouzaburou who suggests that Akiya make the tranition from childhood friends to dating, in order to better weather the distance between Asakusa and Kobe. Of course, Sarasa’s dad just wants someone to keep in touch with Sarasa and make sure she’s doing okay at Kouka, and he isn’t subtle in warning Akiya that refusing to date Sarasa may affect Kouzaburou’s willingness to influence Kaoh-san’s decision to pick his successor.

When Akiya meets Sarasa at the aquarium, the scene, while beautiful, bathed as it is in blue light, is alos a bit gloomy. Sarasa brightens the scene by describing the sea life before them as reminding her of the Kouka Grand Parade, with the fluttering Stingray as the clear Top Star. That’s who Sarasa is going to strive to be. She declines to go see Akiya perform—her gramps said no mor kabuki—but she’s resolved to make a name for herself in that Grand Parade.

We also learn it’s Sarasa who asks Akiya out, not the other way around, which we should have known considering his tendency to become tentative and get lost in his head, and her forthrightness and ability to break through barriers. Back in the present, she’s where she needs to be emotionally, just in time for Andou-sensei to declare that he will be playing Romeo in her audition as Tybalt. It’s time for the stingray to unfurl its wings.

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 06 – Knight in a Top Hat

By introducing the overgrown conservatory this week the show finally acknowledges that it’s hella hard to maintain a vast mansion with just two servants, one of whom has a bad back! But should Bocchan never lift his curse and his younger brother becomes the head of the family, he always has a lucrative future in landscaping, as his curse becomes an effective brush-clearing blessing.

After losing himself a bit in the satisfaction of clearing away all the excess greenery, Bocchan checks in on Alice to find her admiring some purple flowers. Rather than wither them, he manages to dry them and make a charming garland headpiece for Alice, who promises to treasure it along with the rose he gave her. If you can’t touch the one you love, at least make yourself useful!

One night, Bocchan can’t sleep and hears Alice call out. He inadvertently catches her naked, and she puts on a towel reports that a black cat has run off with her dressing gown. Bocchan gallantly offers to track down the cat and retrieve the gown, but Alice accompanies him. I mean, I know Bocchan wasn’t going to accidentally murder the cat, but there’s still that edge to his interactions, especially with animals that move unpredictably.

With Alice donning Bocchan’s coat so she won’t catch a chill (and absolutely loving the opportunity to smell his scent), the two eventually find the cat, and discover the gown is not in recoverable shape. Since the cat took it to make a warm nest for her litter of kittens, neither Alice nor Bocchan feel that bad about letting the gown go. As Alice demonstrated earlier in the episode, she has a pretty extensive wardrobe.

After these two cute little “home” segments during which Alice and Bocchan putter around the mansion, we get to the meat of the episode: the long-awaited Witches’ Sabbath. Caph and Zain arrive, repurpose a mirror in a storeroom into a portal to the meeting spot, and give Bocchan and Alice robes that will mask their scent so the witches won’t, ya know, murder them or feed them to their carnivorous plant.

As soon as they arrive, Bocchan is on edge; while there are some witches with human form (and who are dressed like they’re ready for the club/beach/beach club) there are many more witches who appear to Bocchan to be nothing but monsters. While the sheltered Bocchan shouldn’t be judging books by their covers, since he’s been judged by his curse for most of his life I suppose it’s easy for the pot to call the kettle black.

The witches’ leader, Daleth, runs the Sabbath like high school homeroom, with the stand-and-bow, roll call, and mundane announcements. It’s actually pretty funny how laid back it all this, especially considering how wound-up Bocchan got; he intended to bring along a suitcase full of weapons, but Caph burned it to ash.

Alice actually already crossed paths with the skull-masked Daleth when she and Bocchan went on their little town date, and Daleth recognizes her too, seeing right past her and Bocchan’s frankly half-assed disguises. She also happens to know—and hate the fucking guts of—the witch who gave Bocchan his curse. The bad news? That witch is dead, and even Daleth has no idea how to lift the curse.

She recommends Bocchan give up now rather than later for his sake. When he protests, she deems the conversation over, then covers her withdrawal by burning away Bocchan’s robe. With his human stench exposed, the witches chase him en masse.

When the club/beach chicks sic their carnivorous plant on Alice, Bocchan need only touch one of the tendrils to kil the whole damn thing. Still, Alice does not understate the fact that Bocchan risked his life to save hers, doubtless causing her love for him to only grow.

Bocchan, Alice, Caph, and Zain make it back to their mirror portal, which closes before any of the witches can press their pursuit. After a short stint in a most magical and whimsical land, they’re back in the relative normalcy of Bocchan’s huge mansion. Bocchan isn’t about to let himself be discouraged by Daleth’s words, and continuing to believe there is a way to break the curse is crucial to breaking it.

As for Caph and Zain, he thanks them profusely for all of their help. Caph again explains that seeing him go all out inspired her to take a chance with a human, and she didn’t regret it. She assures him that the next time she and Zain return to his mansion, it will be as friends, not merely magical facilitators. As for the curse, well…who’s to say it’ll take a witch to break it?

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 05 – The Viola Method

Viola is back, ostensibly to visit her dear old brother—who let it be said she does actually care about—but mostly to be in the presence of her beloved Rob. This may make Viola a “panther”, but she doesn’t care; men her age act like children and she has no use for them.

Viola also offers some unsolicited advice to Alice about having more charm and human appeal which…fine. Alice humors her by going along with her “Viola Method” of training, if for no other reason than it offers her yet another avenue to tease Bocchan, by talking and acting in a more cutesy manner than he’s accustomed to.

Rob later leads Viola to the kitchen to help bake, and the two find Alice and Bocchan already there making a stew. Rob is flattered by Viola’s feelings, but as she’s the age of her granddaugher (if he ever had any), nothing will ever come of it. Nevertheless, Viola likes being with Rob and Alice, and is glad her brother has them in his life.

For the next segment Viola heads home and Bocchan and Alice head to the frozen lake for some ice skating. Bocchan ends up encountering Caph’s old friend Zain (voiced by Kamiya Hiroshi), who is a magic user and bird-man, while Alice finds Caph on the ice and warms her up in her bosom. Bocchan doesn’t like how forward Zain is with Alice…and neither does Caph!

The four eventually link up (with Bocchan gingerly holding Alice’s sleeve) and skate/walk across the lake as a unit, looking very much like two couples on a double date. Just as Bocchan envies how physically close Zain and Caph can get, Zain envies how open Bocchan and Alice are with their feelings.

Caph and Zain have such a good time, they decide to invite Bocchan to the next Witches’ Sabbath. While they’re bound by oaths not to say anything that might help him, there’s nothing saying he can’t try to investigate on his own and possibly track down the witch who cursed him. And if he runs into trouble, Caph and Zain will help him out. Could some actual progress on the curse-breaking front be in the offing?

However it happens, I’m hoping breaking of the curse is definitely something I hope happens, period. Who knows, maybe due to their love for each other, Bocchan and Alice are already able to touch without her coming to harm…but it’s not exactly something they can test out, considering what would happen if they were wrong!

Instead, it’s Viola who ends up cozying up to Alice in the last segment. Kept away from Rob’s room by Bocchan, she decides to have a sleepover in Alice’s cottage, where they can engage in girl talk. Alice isn’t accustomed to bonding with other women, while Viola always wanted a big sister to pamper her, so it’s win-win for the pair.

Finally, while it’s a bit silly I haven’t mentioned it yet in five episodes, super kudos go to Mano Ayumi as the prim, silky, calm and alluring voice of Alice, particularly in her vocal performance of the ED, which is a bittersweet banger.

86 – 06 – Just a Question of When

Now that the ghostly, ghastly sci-fi horror elements of 86 have been introduced, we look back to worse times when Shin found the headless  corpse of his brother in a once-grand bombed-out city (shades of Osgilliath) four years ago.

Then we look back to better times four months ago, when the ranks of Spearhead were a lot larger and livelier. Anju and Daiya began a kind of tender courtship while Shin lets it all soak in, perhaps knowing full well that it isn’t a matter of if things will go to shit, but when, and for whom.

In the present day it’s a hot July day, and everyone is baking in their metal coffins. They engage in a battle in which they are at a distinct disadvantage without mortar support, which the Republic hasn’t and won’t ever provide. The lighter mood caused by reminiscing about four months ago is shattered when Rikka gets into trouble and Daiya tries to rescue her.

Rikka’s mech is wrecked, and a Legion mech approaches her, she shoots herself in the head, her final words hoping Shin will “take care of things” from there. Daiya is surrounded by horrifying suicide bomber bots, and his last word is Anju who must quickly get over the shock of his loss and continue the battle.

Later, Shin ensures for Daiya what Rikka ensured with her self-inflicted headshot: that neither of them will join the ranks of the undead Legion. He gives Lena the opportunity to shut off the Para-Raid, but she considers it her duty to hear the shot being fired.

Down another two soldiers, Spearhead now has only sixteen soldiers left, and those lost will not be replaced before the next battle. Both the grieving Anju and the others try to hide how much this sucks with protective smiles and cheerfulness. Shin collects two more metal shards to remember Daiya and Rikka, then recalls how his brother hasn’t forgiven him for getting him and their parents killed. His search for his brother’s head continues.

Unlike past episodes that better mixed up Lena and Shin’s experiences, we’re back to one section being all Spearhead and the other being all Lena. It’s Lena’s birthday when Daiya and Rikka die, and Annette makes her a cake and gives her a present. She also casually talks about how 86 are dissected like lab animals if there’s a problem with the Para-Raid, while of  course Republic soldiers are treated far more humanely.

There’s been a tension building for some time between these two between idle chatter about Annette’s suitors and cake ingredients. It doesn’t seem the thoroughly jaded and complacent Annette will ever come around to Lena’s increased empathy for the 86.

Lena’s isolation is further reinforced in her briefing with her uncle. She suggests the Republic deploy the mortars in order to protect the lives of the 86. He responds by again warning her not to “side with the 86”, and that under no circumstances would Republic soldiers ore resources be spent to aid them. As Handler she’s merely responsible for making sure they follow their orders.

But Lena has obviously started to do far more than that. Unlike her uncle and Annette, whom I’m sure believe are “doing all they can”, her threshold for what “what she can” entails continues to expand. She has a corkboard with hand-drawn sketches of the remaining Spearhead soldiers on her desk, while by the window is a crystal case containing those who have been lost.

After signing off with everyone else, Lena is kept on the line by Shin, who voices concern for her because sounds on edge. He suggests she eat some sweets and use the evening to take a break from all these troubles. To Lena, he sounds just like his brother, who gave her chocolate when things were bad. She remarks on how important she regards her memories of him, while also letting slip how important she considers her time talking with with Shin.

When she realizes how that sounds, she turns red as a beet, a color that intensifies when she unwraps the fortune chocolate to reveal a heart. Of course, as she’s an Alba and a Republic Handler while he’s an 86 Processor and it’s a very bad idea to fall in love with him, I won’t go so far as to say nothing good can come of it.

One day, he’ll be the only member of Spearhead left, and then he’ll die. But Shinei Nouzen still won’t die alone, and he won’t be forgotten. It’s not nearly enough, but we can be assured, when that time comes, Lena will do everything she possibly can, even if it makes her a pariah in her world. There’s no going back.

SSSS.Dynazenon – 05 – Hurry Up, But Don’t Run

Chise is honing her piloting skills while suggesting Yomogi and Koyomi combine Soldier and Striker, which turns out to be too top-heavy. There isn’t time for further training, as everyone has plans. Yomogi accompanies Yume to the next choral alumnus, who shows them video of Kano. Yomogi is glad to be by her side, but as she investigates her sister, he’s more intent on learning more about her.

Koyomi takes Inamoto up on her offer to have a drink together, even if he’s weary of drinking with a married woman. She doesn’t seem to see the harm, but she’s clearly always been less inhibited, as evidenced by a flashback from the two in middle school with Inamoto making Koyomi promise not to tell anyone about the window she broke, before offering to show him…something.

After their meet-up, Chise is there to warn Koyomi about past women, and informs him and everyone else that she won tickets to a water park. Yomogi had just been thinking about trying to maybe ask Yume out on a date, so Chise inadvertently does Yomogi a solid here. Thus begins Dynazenon’s pool / beach episode, with Gauma having the ulterior motive of capturing Shizumu.

This means more skin, as well as the opportunity to shed inhibitions, but Yume takes a long look at the black sleeve Chise keeps on her arm, perhaps wondering if Chise is hiding the marks of self-harm. Once everyone is in their swimsuits, Gauma urges Yomogi and Yume to pretend to be lovers, and even at first when she’s munching on a churro and he’s not sure what to do or say, they really do pull it off! It’s not always non-stop excitement for couples, after all.

Once she has some food in her stomach, Yume cuts loose as Yomogi and Shizumi keep her company. There’s a particularly sweet moment when Yomogi grasps Yume’s inner tube to keep them close in the wave pool.

But Yume’s mood sours when she hears a surprised woman scream after her boyfriend accidentally knocks her into the water. Dark images of her sister’s fate flash in her eyes, and she just can’t continue the fun.

That’s fine with Yomogi, who stays with her as she recovers in a kind of calming grotto. He’s not sure quite what she’s feeling, but knows it’s not the best, and simply wants to be there for her. Shizumu also turns up there, unfazed by Gauma’s half-assed attempts to grab him.

He asks Yomogi if he and Yume are dating, then mentions he considers it “sad” that people seek freedom by “constraining themselves” with labels like dating, influencing and being influcence by others. None of that sounds that bad to Yomogi, however.

Unfortunately, there’s a kaiju on the way, and it’s Shizumu’s turn to pilot. Amusingly, his comrade Mujina would prefer to just stay at the water park; naturally the Eugenicists are also in their swimsuits. This new kaiju can melt metal, and also has a nasty laser beam that threatens Yume’s Dyna Wing.

With Chise joining Yomogi in Soldier, they combine with Koyomi to form Soldier Striker, then everyone eventually merges into Dyna Rex and blast the shit out of the kaiju.

I loved the souped-up Inky-from-Pac-Man look of this week’s kaiju, and the fact he can flip upside down into a more menacing form. But as with previous battles, the Dyna Team doesn’t really run into that many problems, while Shizumu isn’t that miffed about losing, and joins the other Eugenicists at the water park.

After the battle, Yume thanks Yomogi for “back there”, which I took to mean him being there for her in the grotto when she was feeling blue, not just dealing with the green laser attacks. I love all these little interactions between the two, punctuated as they are with little silences.

But before she can join the others in diving off the cliff into the water, she gets another message from Kano’s club-mate saying he’s gotten ahold of Fuuma, the club president. Yume and Yomogi meet with Fuuma, who starts off with something that’s hard to say, especially with Kano’s sister present: there’s a rumor that what happened to Kano wasn’t an accident, but suicide.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SSSS.Dynazenon – 04 – Dyna Dizzy Fever Day

Wrested from her previously stagnant state by her new Dyna-duties and co-pilot comrades, Yume commences her investigation into her sister Kano in earnest. She meets with a member of the chorus club during Dyna-training, and Yomogi is distracted because he’s developed a little thing for her.

His boss Inamoto teases him about it, while that same Inamoto reaches out to Koyomi for dinner. Yume and Mei lie on the Karaoke couches cheek to cheek, posed like stylish Monogatari characters but simply living their ordinary lives and basking in their deep friendship. I like how we see parts of Yume with Mei we see nowhere else. But Mei can tell Yume has changed, and wants to know what caused it.

Compounding Yomogi’s sudden heartsickness is a steadily developing cold, as well as one of the Eugenicists—the pretty boy Shizumu—enrolled in their class as an “exchange student” and is give the seat right behind Yume. However, like Juuga, he’s not looking for a fight; rather trying to get a read on Gauma’s new co-pilots. Gauma attacks Shizumu on school campus, which gets him fired from his job.

The next day, Cardcaptor Sakura Yomogi’s fever worsens and his mom deems him unfit for school. When he doesn’t show for training, Gauma sends Yume to check on him, unwittingly bestowing upon Yomogi a great gift: having the girl he likes visit him when he’s sick. A warm, cozy, earnest little scene between Yomogi and Yume follows, in which Yomogi realizes he doesn’t know Yume that well at all, but wants to.

Meanwhile, the sole female Eugenicist Mujina takes command of a new Kaiju with a very Kaiju-power: it can change objects from three to two dimensions, rendering them inert in the three-dimensional world. I like to think there’s a little symbolic parallel between that ability and Yomogi’s skin-deep understanding of Yume, but there’s a more pressing matter: Dynazenon can’t combine without Soldier.

Yume takes Yomogi’s Soldier toy and joins Gauma and Koyomi in battle. Unbeknownst to Koyomi, Chise stowed away his Striker, and when Yume arrives she volunteers to pilot Soldier. All the while the ill Yomogi looks left out and lonely, especially knowing Yume will be meeting with another chorus club member…this time a guy.

Chise’s avid video game skills serve her well at first, but she’s soon overwhelmed as she just doesn’t have the same rapport with Soldier as Yomogi, who calls Yume to get a progress report. Things aren’t good, so Yume has to fly back to Yomogi and pick him up, fever and all. Even if he feels like shit physically, he’s gotta feel good she came back for him.

Yomogi, all coughs, sniffles, and sneezes, joins the others and they combine into Dragon Dynazenon to soften the kaiju up, then upgrades to Super Dragon Dyna Rex for the coup-de-grace. It’s another loss for the Eugenicists, but other than Onija none of them are that miffed about it, probably because they gained more info on Dynazenon.

Chise apologizes to Yomogi and promises to train to become a better backup Soldier pilot, which Yomogi says isn’t necessary. I’d honestly wondered why Chise alone didn’t have a Dyna-toy to pilot, and I’m still not quite sure she’s not hiding something big. But while it’s fun to theorize on what twists are yet to come, it’s honestly just as good to watch Yomogi and Yume’s delicate dance as it unfolds onscreen.

While Yume is giving him a ride home in Wing, Yomogi asks if he can come with her when she meets the chorus guy. Notably she doesn’t respond by asking why he’d want to, but says “sure” first, then asks “but why”. Yomogi says it’s because we wants to know more about her, but unfortunately she sneezes just as he’s saying it, and he’s too bashful to repeat it.

Sure enough, Yume is absent for the next Dyna-training session, as she’s caught Yomogi’s cold, and we’re treated to a parting sight of her curled up under thick covers, her face surrounded by all manner of stuffed animals. As crazy and otherworldly as the Dyna/Kaiju battles get, SSSS always returns to the familiar and relatable realism of the characters and the lived-in places they inhabit. It continues to be an irresistible combination, impeccably produced by Trigger.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Horimiya – 10 – Pure White Snow

First of all, I’d like to simply make the observation that for a show called Horimiya, which is short for Hori-san to Miyamura-kun, there sure hasn’t been a lot of the title characters! They show up in the beginning for a brief comedy bit in which Hori is more worried about Miyamura being stolen from her not by girls, but guys like Tanihara and Shindo.

Miyamura’s growing discomfort with Hori’s kink isn’t addressed, and so simply continues to hang there in the background without a satisfying resolution. Hori simply hasn’t been a very likable character lately, and doesn’t help her case with her biphobia this week. Instead, the episode is dominated by Yoshikawa Yuki, who for me was always a character best enjoyed in small portions.

To be frank, Yuki’s crisis isn’t compelling enough to me to carry a whole episode, and starts to grow repetitive as she continues her M.O. of running away from her problems. Unlike her sister, I don’t mind her turning down Yanagi, as she barely knows the guy, and likes Tooru. What I do mind is just about everything else she does and says.

While we don’t hear her say the actual words, it’s later clear Yoshikawa comes clean to Remi about her feelings for Tooru at least to some degree, and in exchange Remi agrees not to correct Kouno’s misunderstanding about Tooru and Yuki dating. Yuki doesn’t like lying or pretending, and wants the lie to be real. She’s just too scared to put herself on the line.

As such, she runs away from the problem, staying home from school for four whole days and stewing in her present state of frustration simply because she fears feeling something far worse if she were to take action: the sting of knowing for sure that Tooru doesn’t like her “that way”, shattering the limbo in which she resided all this time.

Yuki’s sister points out something it’s logical for a big sister to know, but which we already knew from watching Yuki: she never tells anyone what she wants, and almost always regrets it. Yuki is also hung up symbolism surrounding her name, which means “snow”, while “sakura” means the beautiful things that bloom after the snow melts.

Still, when her sister requests she make more of the “snow white” cookies she baked, Yuki at least finds the courage to turn her phone back on. As she suspected, she’s confronted with hard truths, as one of the dozen texts she got is from Tooru telling her that Sakura told him she likes him.

Yuki returns to school but pretends like nothing is wrong, but Tooru wants to talk about it. Yuki assumes he said yes, and that this is the end of their game of pretend, but Tooru surprises her when he says Sakura didn’t ask for a response; she just wanted to get it off her chest. More to the point, Tooru considers Sakura way out of his league, and is certain she’ll find someone better than him.

Yuki ponders the effort Sakura must’ve mustered to bake cookies for Tooru everyday, and the courage she amassed to tell him how she felt. Meanwhile, she just runs, at all times terrified of rejection. Sakura is warm cherry blossoms in the spring while she’s “gross, muddy, freezing” snow, like her name.

Then Yuki exhales, and Tooru notes he can see her breath, and says if it’s going to be this cold it could at least snow, as he was bummed it didn’t snow as much as usual this year. Yuki lists all of the negative aspects of snow and why no one wants it, particularly the part where it ends up melting in the spring.

Tooru surprises her again, saying the snow doesn’t melt because it’s spring, but because it decides to melt…to recede…to run, even when there are some (cough) who want it to stick around. It doesn’t melt because the cherry blossoms ask it to. Hearing all this from Tooru makes Yuki happy, as does when he gently takes her index finger in his hand and leads her back inside where it’s warmer.

For the first time, Yuki hopes it will snow…the pure-white kind. And then it does. Sengoku doesn’t make the symbolic connection, instead asking Remi what’s up with Sakura, as she seems to be acting especially happy. All Remi says is that it’s “the exact opposite” and heads out for tutoring. Sakura arrives in the office, notices Remi didn’t open the window.

She walks over to open it and spots Yuki and Tooru together outside, clearly enjoying each other’s company. Suddenly Sakura has to go, but Sengoku stops her to ask what’s wrong. Going by what Remi agreed to do for Yuki, we can assume Sakura believes Yuki and Tooru are dating, which means she was rejected before she had a chance to ask the guy out.

Sengoku calls this guy a complete idiot and moron who should be expelled—who wouldn’t want to be with her? I’m sure he considers this the right thing to say, and Sakura is grateful for his compliments, but there’s really nothing he can say to stop her from dropping to the ground and sobbing, because her heart was just recently broken. She’ll get over it, but right now it sucks.

That said, if Yuki and Tooru have come to an understanding, they never did come right out and say it. Does Tooru know how Yuki feels about him? Does she know he feels the same way? The next time we see them will they be the way they always are, with neither having explicitly confessed to the other? Can they graduate from pretend dating to the real thing? I hope so, considering all the time we’ve spent on this triangle—and not spent on Hori and Miyamura!

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