Oshi no Ko – 05 – My Love With a Star Begins Now

Ruby and Kana are like two cats who for whatever reason just don’t like each other. Yet Kana is Ruby’s best chance to become an idol ASAP, so Aqua agrees to help set up a meet. Kana’s preferred junk food comes in the form of positive online buzz. When she reads a comment that, like her, has all kinds of feelings about the creepy hot guy, she can’t help but blush,

Then she gets a text from that very guy, and it sounds like he wants to confess. Kana’s disappointment over it being a meeting for Ruby’s sake is overcome by her fascination with Ruby. Kana’s been around long enough to know when someone has “It” in the way Ai did, and Ruby has that same “It”. Remember that Kana has no idea Ruby and Aqua are Ai’s kids.

That promise she sees in Ruby, combined with Aqua reading her like an open book and picking the proper method to persuade her, results in Kana signing on the dotted line to become a Strawberry idol beside Ruby. With that settled, Kana at least looks forward to having more opportunities to see and work with Aqua. Then she asks Ruby what Aqua is up to.

Ruby pulls up the reality dating show bearing the title of this article, and features six gorgeous entertainers looking for love. The Aqua who appears and introduces himself bears no resemblance to the boy Ruby and Kana know, but as Miyako points out, he’s putting on the performance he needs to in order to make the show a success.

Ruby and Kana’s reactions to Aqua flirting with other pretty girls are fun, but Miyako snaps them out of their initial resentment and gets them to remember it’s all an act. But even if that’s the case, Kana is disheartened by the prospect of Aqua actually ending up in a relationship with one of those girls…even kissing her.

But as Miyako says, that comes with the territory. Aqua is doing this for vital intel on Ai’s male companions he can’t obtain by any other means, so he’s going to give it his absolute all. Even if the bubbly YouTuber Mem-Cho is a tremendous bore, he’s going to smile feign interest.

It’s when he ends up beside the pretty first-year model Sumi Yuki that a bit of small talk ends up becoming a conversation about the complicated love he’s “trying to get over”. Sumi is intrigued and digs deeper, eventually drawing in close to say they’ll just have to get him over that old love.

It’s just ambiguous enough whether Sumi is putting on a show for the cameras she only later reveals to Aqua (a rare case of not minding his surroundings brought on by her charm), or she’s being genuinely open and friendly. It’s probably a bit of both truth and lies, like so many real interactions! In any case, Aqua scoffs internally at her self-professed timidity.

Back home, Ruby tells Aqua she’ll be choosing the girl he should go out with, and ends up picking Sumi. What a coinky-dink! As for her nascent idol group, they don’t have any songs or even a name, but Miyako jump-starts their notoriety by having them collaborate with Strawberry Productions’ top earner: a muscle man in a chick mask named Pieyon who is super popular with the kids.

I shared Kana’s bewilderment with what young people are into these days and how that reflects on how warped society has become, but when Pieyon tells her how much he rakes in a year, she immediately apologizes for negging him. Pieyon offers pointers on quick ways to gain lots of subscribers, like having him pull a prank on them. But Ruby wants their very first gig to be bereft of lies.

While she’ll soon learn that always being honest in show business is literally impossible, she and Kana do a fine job keeping up with Pieyon’s hour-long workout dance. He was fully prepared to edit the video to make it seem like they danced for the full hour, but between Kana being a regular runner and Kana being full of youth and determination, there’s no need for movie magic.

Then the big moment comes when they get to remove their chick masks and reveal true faces and names. Ruby gives the camera the old Hoshino charm, while Kana is a little more self-conscious, which is actually fine: demonstrating different personalities will help them cast a wider net of fans, the first group of which will come from Pieyon’s followers.

When Pieyon asks what the name of their unit is, Kana leaves it to Ruby, who goes with the nostalgic choice of B-Komachi. That’s right, from these humble, goofy, swole beginnings, Ruby aims resurrect her mom’s legendary group, for which Strawberry retains the rights.

Loving Yamada at Lv999 – 06 – A Weird Dance

This week dives deeper into Runa’s whole deal. Because she was raised and doted upon like a princess by her parents and brother, she comes off as haughty and hard to approach at school, even if she’s looking for connections. She also dislikes unfamiliar things and people, which is why Akane joining their guild was such a shock.

That said, as someone a little more grown up than her middle school classmates, Runa has come to like hanging out with the older Akane, essentially regarding her as the big sister she never had. When she sees her classmates doing a funny dance they found online, she can’t join them, but she is comfortable dancing with Akane.

Momo isn’t quite sure about the appeal of hanging out with a “runaway” middle schooler, and when Runa tries to give her attitude, she swats her right down with a frightening aura that will brook no insolence. When Akane suggests a super-bored Momo watch her play FOS, Akane’s laptop suddenly shuts down and starts smoking.

When Eita informs Yamada of the situation, he allows Runa to take him to Akanes to take a look at the laptop (he offers no promises of successfully fixing it). Akane is delighted he’s come, but knows from Eita that he’s generally awkward around women, so she does her best not to come on too strong while still being a welcoming host and friend.

When Runa snaps a cute picture of Akane and Yamada together and sends it to her brother, Eita suggests Runa do something to help them close the distance. Unfortunately, all Runa has are the most cliched anime scenarios: lucky perv, toast-in-mouth collision, walking-in-on-the-bath.

When it’s clear no one is bathing and Akane eats the toast shoved in her mouth, Runa resorts to shoving Akane into Yamada a bit too hard. When Akane gets up to scold Runa, her hair flies everywhere—including into Yamada’s eye. Akane gets up really close to Yamada and pushes his hair back to inspect his eye.

In doing so, Akane is following her usual code of being helpful and caring, while forgetting not to do anything to make Yamada uncomfortable. He excuses himself to return to his house to get some tools, but both Akane and Runa thought it felt like he was escaping the situation.

Just like hanging out with Runa means dealing with her princess act and being able to see through her sourpuss, pursuing any kind of relationship with Yamada means always being cognizant that he just isn’t super comfortable around girls. At the same time, he clearly cares for Akane, but just doesn’t have the experience interacting with women who aren’t Runa.

If he and Akane are to progress as friends or something more, it will take time and caution—like hunting for the hundreds of VIT or INT shards needed to synthesize a single gem.

Oshi no Ko – 01 (First Impressions) – Lies are Love

It’s late, and I just finished the epic, nearly 90-minute premiere of Oshi no Ko, and I’m convinced it’s probably one of the best works of anime I’ve ever watched. I laughed, I cried, I was lifted up and then utterly destroyed. My thoughts are similarly scattered, so let’s begin with the basics of the events of this feature-length episode.

Rural OB-GYN Dr. Amemiya Gorou is a huge fan of Hoshino Ai, transcendent center of the idol group B Komachi. He first heard about her through Sarina-chan, a terminal patient from earlier in his career. Sarina once wished she could be reborn as the child of an idol. So who should show up at his hospital but the 16-year-old Hoshino Ai herself—pregnant with twins, no less.

Despite her manager/guardian Saitou’s worries about it ruining her career (and his business), Ai is determined to carry her children to term and raise them while remaining an idol. As her physician (and biggest fan), Gorou is resolved to ensure he brings them into the world safe and healthy.

But the day she’s to give birth, Gorou is lured into the woods by Ai’s stalker and pushed off a cliff. He hears his phone ringing, calling him back to the hospital, but he dies in a pool of his own blood, having been dashed against the rock.

The next thing he knows, he’s reborn as Hoshino’s son, Aquamarine, beside his twin sister, Ruby. In order to keep her idol reputation pristine, Saitou crafts the cover story of the babes being his, and appoints his wife Miyako their mother, both in public and while Ai is working.

While just an infant, Aqua has retained his knowledge and memories of his previous life as an adult doctor. He soon learns that Ruby has as well, and concludes that she had a previous life as well. When the strain of caring for the kids gets to Miyako, she prepares to expose Ai’s secret to the world.

This is when Aqua and Ruby reveal to Miyako that they can talk and reason like much older humans, but play it as deities possessing their infant bodies. They warn Miyako not to stray from her “destiny” as their pretend mother and protecting Ai’s secret, lest she suffer “divine punishment”.

The ploy works, and henceforth Miyako isn’t weirded out by their ability to converse. The way Ruby acts and talks about Ai reminds him of Sarina, and he even uses that name to rouse her from sleep. Ruby, who actually is Sarina, dismisses it as mishearing, since there’s no way Aqua could know who she was.

As an idol suddenly going through teen motherhood, Ai notices the lightness of her monthly checks from idol work, but such is the nature of the modest agency for which she works. We get some salient details about the industry and how the profit margins are slim. Ai has to work hard just to get the $1500 a month she gets.

That includes little private shows for fans who won a lottery. Aqua and Ruby persuade Miyako to tempt fate and bring them along so they can watch their mother perform live for the first time. Ai is down in the dumps about seeing criticism online about her professional/fake smile, which is indeed a carefully calculated artifice.

That said, when Ai spots her kids in the crowd doing a coordinated idol dance with lightbars (they couldn’t help themselves), it puts a genuine smile on her face that gets her even more noticed, leading to more work. The kids also go viral online.

A year passes, and Ai has obtained an acting gig on a school drama. In the studio, the director immediately recognizes that the precocious Aqua has something and is eager to use him in a future production. He also acknowledges that despite being a sink-or-swim newcomer on set, Ai is talented and knows how to perform in front of the camera.

Alas, the realities of cold, hard business rear their ugly heads when Ai’s show airs and she’s barely in it. Aqua calls the director to complain, but his hands were tied; the higher-ups caught flak from their lead star’s people because Ai was making more of an impact. They couldn’t have that, and they’re the bigger fish in the pond, so Ai was almost entirely edited out.

That said, the director agrees to have Ai star in a small-budget film he’s writing/producing/directing … provided Aqua agree to be in it too. Aqua is paired up with one Arima Kana, a famous child actor who is not resurrected (as far as we know). She’s also a real piece of work, immediately getting on Aqua and Ruby’s nerves.

That said, it doesn’t take much shooting for Aqua to learn that Kana has tremendous acting chops for her age. It’s just that when he then says his lines, not bothering to try to compete in acting ability but simply interpreting the director’s vision, he not only wows the director and Kana, but sends Kana into a self-conscious spiral.

The film is a critical success, and it propels Ai to even greater stardom (and more work). When Aqua and Ruby are three, Ai enrolls them at preschool, where Aqua shocks the faculty by reading extremely thick, small-print literature. The kids are also tasked with putting on a dance performance for their parents.

This is where Ruby gets depressed. In her past life as Sarina, she lived most of her short life in hospitals, her frail body rarely did what she wanted, and she suffered falls and bitter frustration even as she dreamed of moving like Hoshino Ai. Even in her new, healthy body, Ruby fears she’s not coordinated enough to dance.

Ai has Ruby join her in her studio to practice dance moves, and tells her that if she’s afraid of falling she’s just going to keep falling. By standing up straight and having confidence in herself, Ruby is able to dance beautifully right beside her mom. Even Aqua notes that Ruby excels at both acting and dancing, still unaware that she was once the Sarina-chan he knew.

As Ai’s star continues to rise, she overhears her kids talking about their dad, and decides to call him to arrange to meet them, not wanting them to be in the dark about him forever. She also moves into a fancy new digs in downtown Tokyo, and celebrates with her kids, her manager, and Miyako.

As they all watch her popular TV drama, we get some internal monologue from Ai this time. She suffers impostor syndrome, because she feels she has no idea what capital-L Love really is. Her kind of “love” has always been an artfully-constructed tapestry of lies, ever since she was abandoned by her mother and put in a home.

But when she was first scouted by Saitou (and had no interest in being an idol), he told her it was okay to lie. Even if she considered herself a people-hating lier, he believed she still truly wanted to learn how to love, and so singing and dancing, pretending to love her fans and being loved by them, could help her with that.

After so many years of performing, it’s become nearly impossible for her to distinguish her lies from the truth of how she feels. So at this point, she hasn’t once told Aqua and Ruby that she loves them, because she’s terrified that it might sound like another lie. It’s a heartbreaking prospect.

Ai finally achieves the holy grail of idoldom: getting a dome show. But on the day of the show the doorbell rings, she answers the door, and the stalker is there. We had been shown the stalker still obsessing with her even after he’d killed Gorou, so in a way we I had been prepared for the other shoe to dorp, especially when Ai brought up someday possibly “paying for” all the lies she’d told throughout career.

But even though I knew the good times would not go on forever, there was simply no way to not be absolutely devastated by the sharp cut to the stalker plunging a knife in Ai’s chest, or the sheer amount of blood from her ruptured abdominal aorta, or that she’d forgive her stalker and attacker and even remember his name from handshake events (even though she’s terrible with names).

Or, of course, how she ended up saying goodbye to her children—Aqua in her blood-soaked arms and Ruby separated on the other side of the frosted glass foyer door. She’s finally able to tell them she loves them, and it’s the truth. I kept waiting for the paramedics to come and possibly save her life, but Aqua having been a doctor, I followed his lead in thinking she wouldn’t make it … goddamn it.

I was still blotting my eyes with Kleenex when the aftermath of Ai’s murder was described by Aqua. The culprit, thoroughly chastened and shamed by Ai’s heartfelt appeal to him even after he stabbed her, attempted suicide and died in the hospital. A huge outpouring of grief followed, but eventually dissipated, and within three short days, Ai’s tragic story had been buried in the news cycle by a sudden bout of unseasonable snow.

Naturally, Aqua and Ruby are absolutely ruined by the loss of the woman who wasn’t just their beloved mother, but their beloved idol. Ai’s manager and his wife Miyako adopt them, and the scandal of her having kids never comes to light. Ruby seems determined to fulfill the potential her mother believed she had to become an idol in her own right, despite knowing full well what a treacherous road she’ll walk by doing so.

As for Aqua, he determines that the stalker couldn’t have been a good enough detective to not only find his hospital and kill him, but also find Ai’s new home and kill her. Going down the list of people who could have possibly fed him this information, he determines the most logical culprit to be his and Ruby’s father, whose identity remains a mystery.

In the back of that funeral limo, just as Ruby resolves to become an idol, Aqua resolves to find and kill their father.

Fast forward about a decade or so, and Aqua and Ruby are now in high (or possibly middle) school. Her dream to become an idol is still alive, as is his determination to find their father. Ruby cheerfully tells their mom (in a photo of the three of them) that they’re heading off. In a post-credits home movie she recorded, Ai tells them her greatest wish is that they grow up happy and healthy. They both seem healthy. As for the rest … we’ll have to see.

This may have just been an extended prologue, but could easily have served as a wholly complete, joy-evoking, core-shaking, utterly heartbreaking feature film. Takahashi Rie gives the best voice acting performance of her career. It also had the look and feel of a high-budget anime film, setting a lofty standard I’m hoping Doga Kobo can maintain in the episodes to come.

My only worry, aside from the aforementioned fear of production quality dropping, is that the void left by Hoshino Ai will prove too large to fill, or the “revenge play” that follows won’t be able to match the emotional resonance. But for now, suffice it to say this is easily the anime of the season, the year, and possibly the decade, and absolute appointment viewing. That’s no lie.


Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 03 – Our Weird Dance

This week’s cavalcade of quiet, calm hijinx begins with Raidou looking like a shounen hero and Aharen looking like a toy troll. Turns out it’s just a matter of bed head, not that she’s joined a death metal band. When Raidou’s attempts to tame the hair result in a lotus-type shape, it’s up to Mitsuki, whose family happens to run a salon.

After cutting both Aharen and Raidou’s hair (the latter being a big step forward, even if her original attempt was to shave him bald), Aharen thanks her by inviting her to eat lunch with them. Unfortunately Mitsuki is too shy to sit too close, but Aharen just happens to have extendable chopsticks. Mitsuki also helps her apply toner, moisturizer, and lip balm, then give Aharen a fully body massage for good measure.

When one of their classmates who is training for baseball grows so large he blocks Aharen’s view of the chalkboard, Raidou tries to help out by going through every possible alternate position before concluding that the best one is the most normal; simply pushing their desks together and getting cozy. However, when the teacher announces that everyone is changing desks soon, Raidou is determined to make his “last days” sitting next to Aharen-san count.

In a co-ed softball game for P.E., Raidou learns throwing strikes to Aharen is nigh impossible due to her strike zone being the roughly the size of a postage stamp. He thinks she’s calling her shot, but her arm is itchy, and when she makes her stance lower, it’s simply the heat making her “all droopy”. But by walking her on four pitches, hers is the winning run for her team, so he at least is able to deliver her some glory.

In Home Ec class, Raidou, who can’t cook anything, is paired up with two other classmates whose cooking skills he’s not sure of. But Aharen is also on his team and she’s a great cook, so he knows they’ll be fine. However, after softball she has no energy, so he has to cook, with horrifying results. Thankfuly Aharen has a strong stomach and wolfs down all the food he made, giving her the energy needed to whip up a meatless four-course meal and a passing grade for the team.

Finally, Raidou tries to help Aharen with what he believes to be her dream to become a famous YouTuber,  practicing choreography for a weird dance while her phone records. Here Raidou’s imagination truly gets out of hand as he imagines the two of them becoming internet famous and filling arenas with their bizarre dancing that is reminiscent of Elaine’s from Seinfeld. Turns out she has no designs on being famous; she was just practicing dance moves for class.

As for changing desks, well…I expected them to simply switch places and remain next to each other, but even that doesn’t happen. And you’d think the teacher would realize Aharen can’t see if she’s behind another huge athletic kid! But that doesn’t matter, because the blissful days of sitting beside each other shall continue indefinitely…as will their whimsical antics.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 12 (Fin) – You’re Lithe in April

For its finale ASU takes a somewhat unique and refreshing approach to the sports festival formula: it starts at the end, with Akebi’s much-anticipated dance in front of the whole school. Before taking the stage she admits to Usagihara that she’s a little nervous.

Usagihara knows she’ll be fine, because there’s a surprise for Akebi: joining her on stage for accompaniment is Erika, who is clearly her best friend. Unsuccessfully holding back tears at this surprise, Akebi proceeds to do what she took the stage to do: dance her heart out. This is yet another opportunity for the production team to flex its animation muscles.

The dance is interspersed with scenes from the preceding festival, in which Akebi cheered on everyone in the crowd, while they cheered and supported her in her events, and now in the auditorium. It’s a nice way to break up the one weakness to the performance, which is a pretty but also somewhat bland and repetitive song, and also show all kinds of sports action.

A clever creative choice is for the assembled classmates and friends to recognize Akebi’s acrobatic dance moves in both her earlier cheer dancing and athletic feats, some of which reach incredible, lyrical heights. Then Erika switches to violin and the performance is taken to another level still. When the dancing’s over, Akebi and Erika hold hands as they bow to the crowd.

The Monday morning after the even, Akebi is naturally still fatigued from exertions both athletic and artistic. She almost can’t believe what went down during the festival and afterward, as if it were a dream. But it’s not, and she overslept so her sister made breakfast, and Akebi’s whole family is there to greet her and her bed head.

The final scenes echo the first episode, first when Akebi runs through gorgeous landscapes on her way to school, then encounters Erika alone in the classroom. This time, however, Erika isn’t smelling her nail clippers…and also, they’re the best of friends!

Akebi had once been in a class of one with no one her age to hang out with…but thanks to her joyful gregarious personality and her mom’s sewing skills, she now has not just one but at least fifteen friends in her class, and plenty more outside. They enrich her life, and she theirs—a bright and joyful balance.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 11 – Volleydaaaaaw

As soon as Erika learns the Athletic Festival after-party will include a solo dance by Akebi, she decides she wants to be the one accompanying her on the piano. Usagihara gives her the encouragement (and the Miki-chan CD) she needs to make it happen, while keeping it a pleasant surprise for Akebi when the time comes.

As for Akebi, she and her volleyball team learn, through playing against an actual volleyball player like Washio Hitomi, that they aren’t that god at volleyball. They don’t lack heart, but they need practice, and more critically a place to practice. Akebi has a tearful call with Mako-sensei, who is so happy Akebi has made friends and gives her permission to use her old school gym.

At first it looks like it’s going to be just Akebi, Usagihara, Shijou and Minakami (plus Kao, who wants to know what it’s like to not be at that school all alone), but Washio and Nawashiro, initially thought to have been indisposed that day, show up to help the novices practice. I love Kao’s reaction to seeing the statuesque Washio, as well as Washio’s response: lifting Kao as high as only she can.

I never watched Haikyuu!! but speaking as someone who has watched a bit of anime, I’m confident in saying the volleyball action animation is excellent. From the power and grace of the experienced Washio to the fumbling and incoordination of the newbies, it captures all of the beauty inherent the sport. Perhaps more importantly, it’s another opportunity for Akebi to revel in all of the friendships she’s made, working together in hopes of winning at the festival.

When Akebi shows her to the restroom, Usagihara notes just how old the school is, and learns that their little practice session is not only the most activity that gym has seen in years, but also might be the last time such a session can take place. Once Kao graduates, the school will close. So Akebi is happy she could bring friends there.

Akebi returns to the gym just as Mako-sensei decided to peek in on their practice, and is surprised to find that practically her whole class turned out to practice with her, preparations Usagihara made in case Washio and Nawashiro couldn’t make it. Mako-sensei and Akebi cant help but get emotional, while Kao leads her big sis by the hand to continue practice with everyone. Akebi shows her gratitude by giving Usagihara a big and lasting hug.

As for Erika, she’s in her own little world in her dorm room, practicing the Miki-chan piece while wearing earbuds and envisioning Akebi dancing around her in a placid ocean. Akebi truly transforms into a magical girl, gracefully darting around as Erika accompanies her. It’s another big flex from the animation staff, as the scene is simply bursting with love, tranquility, energy, and beauty.

Vanitas no Carte – 07 – What Is Love? Oh Domi Don’t Hurt Me…

While not a lot happens from a plot perspective this week, quite a bit of the steadily simmering love rhombus that is Jeanne, Vanitas, Domi and Noé comes into focus. This rude, selfish, annoying human has caused quite a stir in these three vampires’ hearts.

When Luca treats Noé and the others to tarte tatin at a fancy restaurant Vanitas reveals that Jeanne has “marked” him—imbuing him with some of her power while also leaving a literal rose-shaped mark on his neck. While he initially jokes that she couldn’t contain her lust for him, he then admits that the screams of the curse-bearers caused her to lose control.

Jeanne lifts him up and jumps out the window with him, landing in a dark alley demanding to know why he lied. The reality is that she is a curse-bearer who keeps herself under control with a medicine. She begs Vanitas not to tell anyone, and he gives her two conditions that underscore his genuine affection for her.

First, he insists that henceforth she drink no one’s blood but his. Second, he insists she stop calling him “Human” and start calling him by his name. Pulling his collar open to reveal her mark, she says his name as she digs her fangs back into his neck, unable to resist his sweet, sweet blood—even if the vessel of that blood’s a complete cad.

Noé, who felt compelled to chase after them, watches Jeanne bicker with Vanitas from the rooftops; it’s quite evident that he’s jealous of her closeness to him, even if he himself is to inexperienced in such things to realize this. One person who does realize it is Domi, who catches up to her Mon Chéri, but is clearly distressed when he mentions how troubled he was to hear that Jeanne sucked Vanitas’ blood.

He later elaborates that he just wanted to taste that sweet blood first, and Domi works out her frustration with him by gnawing on him, but their embrace gradually becomes more intimate when she drinks from his neck, only for him to gently slip off her glove and drink from her hand, noting that her blood is delectable. So is this scene, gorgeously lit as it is by the setting sun.

Since both guy-gal pairs had their steamy scenes, it’s only fair that the two pairs switch off for the final act, in which the dashing Domi leads Jeanne in a courtyard dance while Noé leads Vanitas in another. It’s here where Noé asks Vanitas “what in the devil is love”, to which Vanitas replies he has no idea.

All Vanitas knows is that when he thinks of Jeanne, his heart races and his body trembles. He lists all the reasons he believes those bodily reactions mean love, and none of them are more important than the fact that Jeanne will never love him, as he has “zero interest” in the sort of person who would love him. I guess that doesn’t bode well for Noé then, huh?!

As it stands, Vanitas loves Jeanne, Noé is growing to love Vanitas, Domi loves Noé, and Jeanne is strangely drawn to Vanitas. All these beautiful sexy people are all stirred up in a big romantic goulash. It’s sublime. It’s even enough for me to not particularly care how the plot progresses—except insofar as how it affects these four characters’ relationships.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 04 – The Witch and the Snow Fairy

After three weeks of chiding her for getting so close to him, one day Alice is keeping her distance, seemingly avoiding Bocchan. When he tries to approach her, she Shunpos away like a Shinigami out of Bleach. But he soon deduces that she’s caught a cold and doesn’t want to give it to him.

Defying her caution, he tucks her into bed in her cottage and vows to stay by her side until she’s better. It’s a lovely inversion of their usual dynamic, with Alice seeminly capable of anything while Bocchan is weak an ineffectual.

Winter has come to Bocchan’s villa, and with it a fresh blanket of morning snow. The episode really captures the childlike glee that comes with the first sight of such a snowfall (assuming you’re not trying to drive to work that morning).

Bocchan is similarly elated to get to see Alice set against the pure white backdrop, accentuating her loveliness. The two and Rob build a snowman and have a spirited snowball fight, with Alice demonstrating she also has Matrix-like powers of evasion.

In the midst of all the wintry fun, Alice loses one of her earrings, which belonged to her mother and is thus precious and irreplaceable. By the time she realizes it’s gone it’s nighttime and snowing harder, but Bocchan goes out unbidden to dig through the snow looking for it.

The conditions quickly sap his energy, and he’s soon lying in the snow, exhausted. This is how the witch Caph finds him, and when she hears what hes doing, for whom, and why, and that he won’t give up, her initially hostile stance softens, and she decides to help him with her fire magic.

The earring thus found, Bocchan and Caph go in and the witch is introduced to Alice. A lazier or more obvious choice would be to make Alice jealous of Caph for vice versa, but the two women get along famously, and in any case, Caph apparently has her own guy friend whom she admires and adores the similar to how Bocchan and Alice adore each other.

What she doesn’t have is any concrete answers for Bocchan about his curse or how to break it, no matter how much Alice plies her with food, tea, and dessert. Caph is sympathetic to Bocchan’s plight and has even taken a shine to the guy, but she doesn’t consider herself anywhere near the league of the witch who did this to him.

Caph flies off in her bat form, but I’m sure she’ll be back. The next day while outside touching up the Bocchan snowman, Alice recalls a memory from when she was bullied by the rich kids for not being rich, even though she was adorable. Only Bocchan was kind to her, dusting the snow off of her (he could touch people at the time) and saying she looks like a beautiful snow fairy when set against the white powder.

It really brings into focus Alice’s love and devotion to Bocchan, and when he says the same thing he said back then—that she’s like a snow fairy—Alice can’t help but chortle gleefully, for her beloved Bocchan has scarcely changed in all these years. Indeed, the main change is the curse, about which hopefully something will be done before this series concludes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kageki Shoujo!! – 04 – Opening of Borders

I was both fully expecting and looking forward to Sarasa either scaring Mr. Stalker away with her imposing stature or showing off her jujitsu moves if he persisted. Thankfully something completely unexpected and much better happens. Truly great art tends to challenge the viewer in some way, rather than giving them what they expect or predict.

That kind of narrative and thematic creativity really suffuses this, the best episode yet of Kageki Shoujo and the one that finally had me coming around hoping there’d continue to be less actual on-stage performance and more human drama. Like last week, there are some tough-to-watch moments, but also moments of great joy, goofiness, and redemption.

Mr. Gross Otaku, one of Sarasa’s many hilarious, unintentionally insulting nicknames for the guy, didn’t come to exact “revenge” on Ai; he came to apologize for being the one who ruined her career. He was a shut-in NEET who had lost hope until he first saw Naracchi on-screen, and it fascinated him how she was trying so hard never to smile.

In one unguarded moment, Naracchi does smile, and there’s video evidence, but that little smirk at the sight of her favorite mascot shattered Mr. Gross Otaku’s hermitic existence, inspiring him to get a job and make friends (naturally, other admirers of Naracchi). At the in-person event, he was so nervous about properly thanking her for helping save his life, he held on her her hands too long, leading to her making the remark that ended her idol career.

Taichi, who had been observing from a close distance in case Mr. Gross Otaku was a Mr. Total Perv, tells the guy that it wasn’t anything personal; in fact, it was likely only the straw that broke the camel’s back. Like Otaku Guy once did, Ai has given up on the world, and it led her to shut off her emotions. And yet, running away and leaving Sarasa alone invokes very strong emotions indeed, to the point Ai works up the courage to go back.

Naturally, her timing is terrible, and when she sees Sarasa doing goofy dance moves with the would-be tormentor while Taichi watches, Ai’s concern immediately curdles into something resembling hatred, and she storms off once again. The only problem is, poor Sarasa doesn’t know what she did to engender such hate!

Sarasa is persistent, and Ai finally makes a deal: she’ll tell her why she’s mad if she leaves her alone from now on. But when she does, Sarasa still doesn’t get it: if she came back out of worry for her, she should’ve been happy she was alright! As usual, Sarasa is right, but too blunt, and Ai retreats behind her curtain. Both girls seem incredibly unsatisfied where things end.

Sarasa, understandably getting a little fed up with being treated like this, declares that they’re “through”, though later confesses that might’ve been too harsh via Twitter to her friend Akiya—whose fellow Kabuki actor-in-training is tweeting more profound responses on his behalf. He tells Sarasa not to rush until they know each other, to be prepared for her feelings to be entirely one-sided, and appreciate that that’s beautiful in its own way.

The next day, Hijiri, Kouka’s Shit-Stirrer-in-Residence, confronts Sarasa with the pic she snapped of her with a guy (Mr. Gross Otaku), but Sarasa doesn’t have any time for this nonsense, as Ai is skipping classes and Taichi is worried about where she ended up. Sure enough, while staring at the sea, Ai is harassed by a couple of guys who recognized her, and one of them grabs her arm.

I have scarcely felt more fear and apprehension for a character than I did for Ai in this moment, but that was tempered by the knowledge that somehow in short order, Ai would be rescued. I just didn’t know it would happen by Sarasa calling Mr. Gross Otaku, who predicted Ai would go to the ocean to calm down (as she once stated in an interview) then run a social media search and locate her .

From there, all Mr. Gross Otaku has to do is buy a little time by haplessly trying to attack Ai’s harassers. He fails, faceplants, and gets a bloody nose, but still wins, as Taichi and Sarasa arrive and the latter screams for the police, who come running. There are no words for Sarasa’s transformation above as she voices satisfaction for scaring off the jerks.

What’s even more heartwarming about this entire scene that lets me forgive its many contrivances—as well as the entire premise of using stalking methods to save the target of stalkers—is that at this point, Sarasa is sticking to her guns when she said they were “through.” Yet even if she’s uncertain Ai will ever want to be her friend, she rescued her anyway, because it was the right thing to do.

When Sarasa explains to Ai how they found her and the role Mr. Gross Otaku —real name Kitaouji Mikiya—played, it’s Ai’s turn to do something completely unexpected: offer her handkerchief for Mikiya’s bloody nose. During the hand-off she drops the cloth on the ground, but it wasn’t intentional or meant as a slight.

As Ai says with tears welling up in her eyes, “this is the best I can do right now.” But Mikiya, being uncharacteristically cool, tells her to dry her eyes; all he and her other fans wanted was to see those rare and amazing moments when Naracchi genuinely smiled. Because that meant their idol was happy. He promises to return to see her perform on the Kouka stage.

Ai and Sarasa take the long walk back to their dorms, where they’ll face consequences for the incidents that transpired. While they walk, Ai opens up to Sarasa, asking her what she should do about something she wants to forget but can’t (though not going into detail). All Sarasa can tell her is to keep having good memories that will eventually cause the bad to fade from prominence.

Notably, Ai can’t see Sarasa’s face when she says this, but it sounds like a new invitation to make some of those memories with her, if she’ll have her. At this point, it’s safe to say the cat-and-mouse game between these two girls will continue, but they’ve definitely already made one of those memories Sarasa speaks of, and I’m looking forward to them making more.

As for poor, Yamada Ayako, who is now purging regularly and barely has the energy to sing, all I have to say is that every one of her upperclassmen and every adult on the faculty are totally failing her, and I’m terribly worried about how bad things will get until someone helps her. It shouldn’t have to fall to someone like Sarasa and/or Ai, but if it does I won’t complain. I just want Ayako to be happy and healthy!

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 02 – Moonlight Waltz

The third member of Bocchan’s family, Rob, makes his first appearance, and proves to be your typical jovial, dependable old butler who might just be a bit long in the tooth for the strenuous work of maintaining a mansion. Even so, he gives it the old college try, which incidentally leaves Alice with little to do but toy with her beloved duke.

She eventually agrees to behave herself and sit quietly as Bocchan plays some of the new piano piece he’s working on, which is indeed both somber and beautiful. Alice’s rush of emotion during the piece precedes the good duke telling her he composed the piece for her; as a reward she leans in to kiss him, her lips stopping only an inch from his.

Bocchan may be relatively content with Alice and Rob, but a member of his original family does come to visit him now and again, treating it like a special service and act of welfare on her part, but visiting him nonetheless.

Viola (Minase Inori in Adorable Squeaky Mode) may not be as overtly honest as Alice about how she feels about her brother—she wants him to break the curse so he can return home—but it’s clear that unlike her mother she does care.

When a black cat appears in the mansion, Bocchan is terrified, not because he’s scared of cats but because he’s scared of killing it if it touches him. So he runs from the cat, Rob mistakes him for the cat, and Alice makes much of the fact the cat tore her dress in just such a way.

They find a note with that cat—”Forgive Me”—that Bocchan takes to mean it was abandoned, as he was. As for me, I wondered if that black cat wasn’t sent by the witch as a messenger; maybe the curse wasn’t intentional? It would explain why it was cast upon a five-year-old boy who no one had reason to curse.

The pièce de résistance of the outing is the ending, as Alice finds Bocchan in the deserted ballroom and the two dance inches from one another under the gorgeous, massive full moon, a scene lifted from a storybook. Like the music Bocchan composes, it’s sad, beautiful, and with just enough of a touch of hopefulness.

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 06 – Goddess Dressing

Sei is surprised that Grand Magus Drewes deigns to serve as her tutor even in the most basic of basics until he explains why it has to be him. In addition to the Saint’s abilities being a jealously guarded state secret, Yuri is, at the end of the day, a researcher, and Sei is the most intriguing subject to come along in a good long while.

While not 100% enthused to be treated like a subject of research, Sei can’t deny that despite how hard Yuri works her he’s still going easy on her compared with the others he trains. She makes it a point to work hard and do her best to lesson the time it takes to cast her magic. Then Sei brings up expeditions with the knights, something Yuri hadn’t considered, but if and when it does happen, he’ll accompany her to ensure she’s kept safe.

Of course, Sei still sees this as Yuri preserving his prized subject, so her heart isn’t affected. Contrast this to Commander Hawke, who has missed Sei the woman, tenderly touches her face, then agrees to let her participate in the knight training exercises so she can get more practical healing experience. When she plops down on her bed, she’s exhausted but happy.

The next day is a “Lady Day”, the name Sei gives the days she’s taught how to dress, gesture, speak, and dance like a proper lady. The head maid seems to almost take a bit too much pleasure out of tightening Sei’s corset, but there’s no arguing the final result is a properly glowed-up saint.

Albert comes in before her dance lesson is complete, and her instructor suggests Sei dance with him, in order to get comfortable with another partner. Al shows he can cut quite the rug, while Sei doesn’t embarrass herself by tripping on her dress like I thought she would.

The “social season” is fast approaching, and while neither Sei nor Al are fond of them, as the Saint she won’t be able to refuse all invitations that come her way. With this in mind, Al asks if she’d let him be her date on these events to make them more palatable; after her mind wanders a bit, she blushingly accepts.

Sei’s next lady lesson involves a tea party of the daughter of a prominent marquis and the fiancée of Prince Kyle. It initially slips Sei’s mind that “Ashley” is the surname of her library friend Liz. Liz is impressed that her friend is so adept at healing she’s been called a “goddess” by knights she saved.

When talk turns to Aira and the way she’s befriended many a “taken” man—including Liz’s own Kyle—Sei explains to Liz just how much less socially strict her and Aira’s homeland of modern Japan are. She doubts Aira is acting “improperly” on purpose, and hopes she’s going okay.

I for one would sure like to hear Aira speak some time; I feel all the show has done with her so far is tease us about an imminent encounter with Sei that keeps getting pushed off. Maybe they’ll finally be able to meet at one of the upcoming soirees?

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 07 – May I Have This Dance?

Winter comes to Roa, and while Eris continues to excel in swordsmanship and earns praise from Ghislaine, she’s just as hopeless as ever with her academic studies. Nevertheless, she’s persevering. While she’d once throttle Rudeus if he told her her answers were wrong, she now simply puts her nose back to the grindstone to find the right answers.

One night, while inspecting his shamelessly realistic statuette of Roxy, Rudy gets a visit from one Edna Rayrune, who tells him about the particulars of Eris’ upcoming birthday party. She’ll be presented as a potential match for a lad form another noble family, whether she wants to be or not—it’s just the way this society works.

As such, she’ll need to perform a dance at the event, and it will have to be perfect, or she’ll bring shame on herself and the Boreas and Grayrat families. Bottom line, Edna wants to take some of Rudy’s tutoring time to spend Eris’ dancing lessons. Rudy is all too willing to get some free time, which he soon uses to explore the world’s other languages.

Winter turns to Spring, and Edna returns to Rudy, having made no progress with Lady Eris. Thus, the inevitable happens: Rudy tracks Eris down in her usual hiding spot in a barn and tells her he’ll help with her lessons by being her partner. While she reacts violently, she also accepts the offer. But in every lesson, Eris always ends up going faster than the music’s rhythm, resulting in their spinning out of control.

In between his dance lessons with Eris and brushing up on the beast god language with help from Ghislaine, Rudy finally gets a letter and package from Roxy, who is amazed he is tutoring the daughter of a lord, and also very much not appreciative of the creepily accurate statuette of her now in the possession of her perverted prince student, who she must immolate regularly.

Within the package is a hand-written textbook in the Demon God language with which Rudy is having the most trouble, despite being young and picking languages up much faster than an adult would. He says he can’t thank Roxy enough, but he could have done so easily by simply not distributing that statuette!

Eris’ big day arrives, and while she looks the part and greets her first suitor properly, their dance goes haywire fast, leaving her face down on the ground as all of the assembled nobles murmur about how the Boreas family is “doomed” with someone like her as their asset.

This is when Rudeus steps up to the plate, asks Eris for a dance, and tells her to close her eyes and not think about dancing, but to think about sparring. As we’ve seen in the past two episodes, Eris is a natural at swordsmanship, including pacing, body control, balance, and footwork. In other words, she’s already good at dancing, just not the usual kind you’d see in at a social function.

With Eris trusting in Rudy and Rudy trusting in her, the two captivate their audience with a gorgeous and lively performance. By the time Eris opens her eyes to see how well they’re moving, she can’t help but smile as widely as possible. As has been the case with their sparring scenes, the dancing is wonderfully staged and animated.

The party is more of a success than Rudy had expected; he captures the attention of several lovely single ladies, and draws the gentle ire of Philip, who’d still prefer if Rudy didn’t draw too much attention to himself—likely for political and strategic reasons.

That night, Rudy, Eris, and Ghislaine have a private after-party where he presents them with wands, as is traditional for a magic teacher to do. Eris, it should be noted, wants one of his statuettes. Ghislaine also gives Eris a gift for passing her swordsmanship lessons: a gold ring that supposedly keeps wolves from attacking you at night.

Rudy wakes up to find Eris asleep in his bed and defenseless, but before he can try anything sleezy he spots the ring and her wand, and decides not to do anything. He credits that with the ring doing it’s job, but I’d also like to think he felt a genuine pang of morality.

He then makes his way up a tower to the sound of Lord Sauros raping one of his beast-woman servants, another instance of Mushoku Tensei taking an unblinking look at the injustice, inequality, and inherent brutality of this time period, when a lord could do as he pleased with members of lower rungs of society. Rudy seems to shrug it off as just The Way Things Are.

After the servant runs off, Sauros points out a strange red orb in the sky with two sets of Saturn-like rings, telling Rudy that whatever it is, it’s not necessarily “a bad thing.” It’s a very awkward way to end the episode, but I’m sure we’ll see more of that orb next week. Until then, we continue to take the good (Rudy and Eris dancing, Ghislaine teaching Rudy) with the bad (Philip, Sauros, and Roxy’s prince)

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review of episode 7 here!

Golden Kamuy – 28 – Big Top, Big Turd

There’s no shortage of deep, dark, horrible stuff in Golden Kamuy (see: last week), but what keeps the audience from descending into despair is its well-integrated, irreverent, and sometimes gross comedy. Yet the comedy almost always serves and propels the more serious and dramatic central story, rather than simply serving as isolated points of relief.

Take Kiroranke introducing Asirpa to a opokay, a fanged deer that was her father’s first kill. He has her smell the musk glad, giving us another wonderful Asirpa Face (Ogata’s face, funnily enough, barely changes upon smelling it). Kiroranke tells the tale of how he and Wilk not just hunted this deer, but were called musk deer due to their wandering.

Our sense of smell is most closely tied to memory, so Asirpa remembers the beaded hohchiri her dad gave her to wear until her first kill (which is typically only for boys). This is how Kiroranke hopes to uncover the mysteries Wilk left in his daughter’s head: by continuing to familiarize her with the man her dad was, and that above all she can trust him, her father’s friend.

Comedy returns to the fore in a big way this week as Team Sugimoto ends up in Toyohara, the cultural capital of Karafuto, and fall victim to a circus acrobat who snatches bags in his spare time. Despite the kid’s speed and agility, Koito is up to the task of chasing him down with the Japanese equivalent of parkour.

When the circus’ ringleader Yamada hears the boy was thieving again, he whips out his sword and appears to cut his face, only for there to be no cut, only blood. Turns out the sword is part of Yamada’s show-stopping fake harakiri act, which was so good in Russia that he was declared dead in the newspapers.

This gives Sugimoto a fresh idea for reuniting with Asirpa: by performing his “Immortal Sugimoto” act in the circus, he’ll be putting himself out there in front of a huge crowd as well as the local media, meaning there’s no way Asirpa will miss him.

The other three soldiers also join the circus temporarily, as they are all united in the goal of finding Asirpa. Koito is an instant hit with Yamada and the girls for his considerable and effortless acrobatic feats. When asked what circus he came up in, he proudly proclaims “The 7th Division of the Imperial Army!”

Tsukishima and Tanigaki, who lack any acrobatic talent, are shunted off to join the dancing girls who perform between acts. Tanigaki reveals how sensitive he is to harsh criticism by the stern battleaxe of a choreographer, but is comforted by one of the older girls, Beniko, who cheers him on as she contemplates her final performance before the circus cuts her loose.

Then Sugimoto is taught the harakiri act by Yamada, who not only reveals what a good showman he is, but how damn big his nipples are! In truth, the sword has a grove containing red dye, and the water splashed on the body to “purify” it is really the liquid the dye turns red upon contact, leading the audience from afar to believe real cuts were made.

The day of the big show arrives, and the soldiers must before to a packed house, only with their natural or acquired artistic skills, not their fists. Koito performs almost perfectly until he finds a photo of his beloved Tsurumi on the tightrope.

Later, Tsukishima confesses he put it there worried Koito’s performance would overshadow Sugimoto’s, and thus their objective to find Asirpa. But Koito’s resulting improvisation ends up bringing the house down anyway. As for Tanigaki, he turns in a performance he can be proud of, and is finally acknowledged by the tough choreographer.

All that remains is the big closer: the Immortal Sugimoto Harakiri Show. His assistant Cikapasi (whom we learned received a hohchiri from Enonoka that he won’t be removing anytime soon) douses him with water in the right places, but Sugimoto soon learns that the sword he has is real—Koito switched out the fake as revenge for trying to sabotage him (before Tsukishima claimed responsibility).

Sugimoto shows he has a bit of a gift for showmanship by drawing the sword close and pulling it back with a chuckle, allowing the audience to let out the collective breath they were holding in. But this only works a couple times; they want to see blood. So after cutting his wrist, he cuts his leg, and prepares to cut his chest in a place where it will bleed a lot but not damage anything vital.

Right then, he’s bailed out from having to cut himself when one of a trio of suspicious Russians pulls a gun on him. He slices the assassin’s hand off then slashes him across the mid-section. He then takes out the other two, all to the rapturous delight of the crowd, who of course think this is all fake.

It’s delcious irony that just as Tsukishima’s attempt to sabotage Koito’s act made his act much better, the same happens when Koito tries to sabotage Sugimoto’s. More than that, if Sugimoto hadn’t had a real sword, he could have been in real trouble against those three Russians.

After the show, which was an undisputed hit, ringleader Yamada reveals that the Russians were likely hired to assassinate him, as he was an Imperial Army spy embedded in Russia before the war and provided intelligence to Japan.

Yamada’s intelligence bonafides also make him an ideal source of intel for their search for Kiroranke and Asirpa, as the newspaper only had two sentences mentioning Sugimoto. Yamada tells them about Alexandrovskaya Prison, where a large group of “eastern minorities” were recently transferred there for plotting a resistance.

As the four soldiers prepare to head further north to the prison, Sugimoto holds out hope Asirpa’s beautiful blue eyes will read those two sentences about him in the Toyohara paper, and learn that he is still indeed alive. Instead, in another irreverent comedy aside, we see that Asirpa is actually, in that moment, looking at poop she mistakes for that of big game, when it is actually the recent leavings of one Shiraishi Yoshitake.

Maybe it’s just as well she’s staring at a turd…what if the paper had erroneously reported Sugimoto’s death? In any case, the ED sequence in which both Sugimoto and Asirpa see the same snowflake glide by gives me hope that one of these days he’s going to finally catch up to her, and with some amazing new stories to tell.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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