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

Oregairu 3 – 10 – One Word Isn’t Enough

Prom Night is upon us, and everyone is markedly calm. Yui will be helping at the reception desk while Hikki will be up in the sound booth assisting Iroha. His conversation with Yukino is both natural and a little stiff at the same time; but still little more than cordial pleasantries.

In the booth, Iroha gets up quite close to Hikki after suggesting he, Yukino and Yui all simply join the student council so the four of them can continue helping each other help others. Hikki regards it as an enticing offer but is politely noncommittal.

As the prom unfolds, everything goes swimmingly, as expected from an organizing team at the top of their game. Hikki gets to share a dance with Yui as per her latest of many small wishes, but she assures him after this she’ll only have one more.

Up in the booth, Hikki chats with Yukino via headset, and from this greater physical distance they’re able to cleverly verbally spar like they always used to. She pretends to forget he’s up in the booth because she’s not used to looking up at him (rather than down on him). Yukino tells him she expects him to grant her wish—which is to grant Yui’s.

After the prom concludes, Yukino’s mom arrives with Haruno in tow to congratulate her daughter on a job well done. When Haruno mentions that Yukino is considering the position in the family company Haruno herself has been groomed to take, their mom can’t quite hide her pause before telling Yukino if she’s serious about it than she’ll support her.

Before Haruno leaves, she tells Yukino, Hikki and Yui that she won’t yield her position easily or nonchalantly, even if she doesn’t really care who’s ultimately in what position. She doesn’t believe the year Yukino has spent growing into a more complete person can compare to Haruno’s twenty years of grooming. Bottom line: she’s not satisfied with the outcome of the three as it stands.

That’s because Haruno has a keen nose for deception, being a skilled lifelong practitioner herself. After she leaves, Yukino declares this to be the time and place to end things. Ever the go-alonger to get-alonger, Yui concurs, though she’d also be fine with continuing. The two turn to Hikki for what they expect to be a consensus…and he wavers. He lets the fortuitous bell that is Iroha save him and leaves without answering, but Yukino follows him and grabs his sleeve.

She’s not there to get an answer out of him, but to thank him for his help tonight and throughout their time together. Whatever else she’s holding back, in this Yukino is completely earnest and genuine. She almost looks like she expects…something from Hikki in response (like a kiss, perhaps?) but Hikki only slowly, tenderly removes her grip, gives a curt goodbye and walks away. Yukino looks…dissatisfied.

He bumps into Haruno, who insists on him and the others properly satisfying her by giving her some kind of ending—one that isn’t coated in a thick layer of artifice and cordiality; something genuine for someone who believes there’s no such thing. She tells Hikki that Yukino’s wish was “an act of compensation” and not what she truly, genuinely desires.

And yet there were Yukino and Yui, ready to accept the “outrageous lie” that this is the best time and place and way to end things, when it is really none of those things. Haruno offers her advice as someone who feels like Hikki is going down the same road: don’t let it end that way…even if you can’t get “drunk”.

Thankfully, neither we nor Hikki are left only with Haruno’s skepticism and cynicism to chew on until next week. That’s because Shizuka offers to drive Hikki home, but only after a stop at the batting cages where she shows off her talent for dingers.

It’s the hopeful, optimistic Shizuka who tells Hikki what he really needs to hear from someone with authority: that he, Yukino, and Yui do not have a codependent relationship. They don’t have it because what they have, and how they feel, cannot be condensed down to that word, or any one word. From where she’s sitting, if there’s any end happening between them, it is only the end of a beginning.

DanMachi II – 12 (Fin) – A Goddess’ Love

While last week’s cliffhanger, in which Bell, Hestia, and Ais literally fell off a cliff, hinted at more action and peril in the finale, we end up with no such thing. My expectations were duly subverted; thank you, DanMachi! The episode skips to the part where Ais has already effortlessly saved everyone, and Hestia is in bed recovering from a fever.

They end up in a gorgeous mountain village, whose mayor Karm and daughter Rina are more than happy to host a goddess. When Rina proves more than capable of taking care of her, Hestia puts Bell to work helping the villagers prepare for their harvest festival. Ais joins him, donning some very fetching village garb.

So…what’s the twist? Isn’t everyone in this village a bit too kind? When does the other shoe drop? Well, it doesn’t. Bell and Ais never encounter any more enemies, be they Ares’ children or anyone else. The village doesn’t even have a dark secret; the scales of the legendary Black Dragon are on proud display for all to see, their mere presence keeping monsters away and enabling the village to prosper. Ais gives them the stink-eye, but that’s all.

The lack of any classic conflict allows the episode to be a meditation on the goddess-child relationship, represented in the present by Hestia and Bell, and in the past by Karm and his goddess Brigid. Once a brash young adventurer himself, he and Brigid loved one another, so much so that she saved his life at the cost of returning to heaven.

Filled with grief and regret, he swore never to take a wife and instead adopted Rina, who keeps him going. But as his life continues to wind down, he impresses upon Bell the importance of honoring and protecting his goddess at all costs.

Bell takes that to heart when a recovered Hestia joins him and Ais at the festival. Rather than bookending DanMachi with Bell-Ais dances, Bell remembers Karm’s words and how he spurned Hestia last week by saying the wrong thing, and formally asks her for a dance.

The fun is interrupted by Rina, who brings Hestia back to speak to Karm, who is very near death. While everyone around her is weeping, Hestia maintains an ethereal calm about the whole thing, keeping things light and upbeat as she speaks to Karm.

Turns out she and Brigid were best friends (though, like Loki she used to call her a shrimp), and she lets her hair down so Karm can see her as Brigid with his failing eyes, calling him to join her in heaven. Bell can’t help but weep as Hestia shuts the departed Karm’s eyes—he can’t help but see his own future in the scene.

Bell wanders off on his own, but is soon found by Hestia, who suspects he’s worried about their very lifespans and resultant perspectives on time. But she tells him not to overthink things. If he wants to be with her—and he very much does—then there’s nothing to worry about. She’ll be with him, all throughout his life, even when he grows old.

Even when his soul rises to heaven, is wiped clean, and returns to earth as someone else. She’ll simply find that person and ask them to be in her Familia. There’s no need to fear their love for each other, because even if his body isn’t eternal, she, and that love, most certainly are.

With that, Bell, Hestia, and Ais return to Orario. They vow to return to the village—I can’t blame them, place was super-cozy—and Ais has Bell promise to bring her along, inviting Hestia’s ire. Haruhime invites it too when she welcomes bell home with a big hug.

As action-packed, world-changing finales go, this…wasn’t that. In a way, it was something better—or at least far truer to what a goddess like Hestia is all about: the warmth and comfort of the hearth, and the kindness and love of a happy home.

Carole & Tuesday – 04 – Caveat Emptor Robotus

Unsuccessful in collabing with DJ Ertegun, Gus presents his second idea for Carole & Tuesday making it big: a music video. Despite my initial suspicion that they’d try to make it big without AI, they end up buying a 19-Woolong robot who will direct, film, and edit.

The low, low price immediately threw up a red flag for me, but the crew presses forward, throwing out a king’s ransom in pop culture references from Thriller to The Avengers, which the robot somehow manages to make sense of, and then provides a list of required things.

Gus meets with his stylish ex-wife Marie for her know-how with hair, makeup, and wardrobe. Perhaps impressed he’s off the bottle and serious about helping some new talent soar, Marie agrees, despite no upfront payment.

The SpielbergBot, AKA IDEA, turns out to be a beer fanatic in the vein of Futurama’s Bender, and mostly lazes around watching TV as C&T write a new song for the video (incidently, the one that plays over the end credits).

Meanwhile, Roddy manages to score an expensive car courtesy of DJ Ertegun. When Roddy is initially dishonest about knowing the girls, Ertegun flashes a number of looks at him—accompanied by hilarious EDM sounds—but ultimately helps his young friend out.

C&T meet Marie’s wardrobe friend and lover, then try on a number of outfits in another montage as Roddy practices his dance moves. When he shows up in the car all debonair an’ shit, the girls aren’t interested in him at all, only the car itself. Roddy also provides the “giant robot” in his ultra-rare limited-edition resin models, which IDEA will scale up in post.

The day of filming begins, and it’s a bit chaotic; befitting all the myriad ideas everyone threw out at the beginning. C&T jump from setting to setting and costume to costume with no real consistent narrative or theme, and from the look of Roddy by the end, something terrible happened to Ertegun’s car.

We then learn while IDEA is having a bath back at Carole’s place that he’s running some kind of scam on the humans, insulting their intelligence and threatening Carole’s owl alarm clock not to snitch.

Gus and Marie have a drink to celebrate the wrap of the video, and both admit to how much goshdarn fun they had getting back in the game like that. Marie even wonders what went wrong with their marriage, insinuating it wasn’t all Gus’ fault, then tells him she’s getting remarried to an amazing woman.

When IDEA is done editing, Carole, Tuesday and Gus prepare to watch with baited breath, while Roddy stays home and finds out on the news that IDEA is an AI scammer. It’s news delivered far too late, as after they watch his train wreck of a video (most of which isn’t even in focus), C, T, and G all glare menacingly at IDEA before boxing him up and sending him back to the fulfillment center.

After two episodes of relative realism (aided by coincidence and fate, but still realistic), C&T gets a little more madcap and cartoonish, and everyone is a little dumber for one episode as they put their complete trust, time, and effort in a totally dubious mechanism. Their “guerrilla” performances at the music hall and laundromat feel at once more effective and more sincere than any cut-rate video production anyway. When you’re broke, elegant minimalism is key. This was all too baroque.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 03 – Sex Ed, Ten Questions, and the Joy of Not Being Driven

When inappropriate literature is confiscated by the headmaster and given to Miyuki to dispose of, Chika takes one look and is scandalized, emphatically challenging fact about 1 in 3 high schoolers having “done it.” That means 1 in three in that very room could have already had an “experience”.

It’s Kaguya who comes right out and said she’s had one, shocking Chika and Miyuki and putting the latter in a bind: if asked if he’s done it, he knows Kaguya will sniff out a lie and likely respond with a devastating “that’s cute.”

Miyuki is defined by being extremely well-liked by the opposite sex (he’s even been given homemade chocolate…full of hair?!?) but utterly inexperienced with same (not counting his non-romantic interactions with Kaguya and Chika). Boundless confidence and pure chastity are a weird combo, but they take a back seat to Kaguya’s situation.

You see, Miyuki is bailed out from having to answer whether he’s “done it” after Kaguya says several things that paint the picture of an extremely perverse upbringing, having “done it” with a “newborn on videotape” and assuming Chika’s “done it” with her dog many times.

He finally asks Kaguya what she thinks “doing it” refers to, and she replies that it means “kissing.” It’s an answer someone who’s been boxed up and protected from any and all sexual education for all of her sixteen years. When Chika finally explains what “doing it” really means (a 15-minute process!), her faces says it all: she’s lost this round.

In the middle segment Miyuki notes how much Kaguya has mellowed, and how in the half-year they’ve worked together he’s come to understand her better. She decides to put him to the test with a game of “20 Questions”, only he limits him to just ten, since he claims to know her so well.

She writes something on a piece of paper, and he’ll have ten questions to figure out what it is. Miyuki is game, while Kaguya senses an opportunity.

Her “yes” and “no” questions take a turn when Miyuki asks “is it something you like” and she suddenly gets all bashful and flustered. He comes to think the thing she wrote down was him, as all the responses fit that conclusion so far.

Miyuki himself is so flustered by the end of the sequence, he blows his ninth question by providing a non-yes/no query. But after thinking about it more (or rather thinking about the other side of Kaguya he knows; the one that plots) He eventually guesses “dog”, and he’s correct.

Kaguya was probably trying to lead him to reveal his feelings by getting him to suggest she was talking about him, but he doesn’t go for it, and in the process proves that he indeed understands her. A win for Miyuki!

The rubber match…isn’t even a match between Kaguya and Miyuki, and Chika’s not even in the sequence. Intead, with a cat holed up in the engine compartment of the car that drives her to school, she decides to walk to school for the very first time, having watched other kids do it thousands of times from the car window.

It’s a beautiful sequence that underscores just how rare an experience this is for the sheltered princess, and knowing Miyuki’s bike route, attempts to “surreptitiously” cross paths so he’ll give her a ride to school. Her plan is seemingly foiled by a crying, scared middle schooler who can’t cross the street without a buddy.

As Kaguya stays with her for all the crosswalks that lead to her school, she learns that like she herself, this girl doesn’t want to walk alone. When Kaguya suggests she just arrange to walk with her friend, independent of official group walking, the girl labels her a genius before meeting up with her friend (who has the colorful nickname “Yeti”).

At this point, Kaguya knows she’ll be late to school, but as she’s coming to terms with that, the crossing sign flashes “stop” and none other than Miyuki screeches to a halt on his bike right beside her. After he gets over the shock of Kaguya being there, he instructs her to get on and ride with him, as it would be a black mark for the StuCo if she were late.

There’s no hesitation or embarrassment in what Miyuki does, and he even puts school rules ahead of traffic rules prohibiting two people on a bike. Logic is on Kaguya’s side today, and you can sense her joy as she rides with the furiously pedaling Miyuki, keeping her skirt down, her hair flowing in the wind.

Even though the next day she’s back in the car, she’ll always look fondly at the one exciting day she set out on foot and got picked up by the boy she likes. Kaguya wins without anyone losing—a marvelous example of the show balancing its usual cynicism with lovely, joyful segments like this.

Other Stuff:

  • The two cats in this episode looked really good. It’s like they were drawn by people who have actually seen cats before! :-)
  • Slight continuity error: In one shot, the Audi A8L in which the cat has taken up residence has a prop shaft holding open the hood, but in the next scene the shaft is gone. In real life the A8 hood has hydraulic struts.
  • Moments after the middle schooler mentions her friend “Yeti”, a real Yeti appears in the edge of the frame, using the crosswalk, as one does.
  • I couldn’t close without mentioning Chika’s absolutely adorable song-and-dance during the credits. Just tremendous animation that has the look of motion capture but without that fake smooth CGI look that plagued Zombieland Saga. A welcome surprise after an episode that was otherwise light on Chika.

Tokyo Ghoul:re – 03

Urie lies and gets his enhancement, confident he can become stronger than Haise and remain in control. Something tells me his internal isolation from his Quinx-mates and massive chip on his shoulder suggest he’ll probably fall flat on his ass again and need bailing out from the people he’s constantly looking down upon in his thoughts.

But meanwhile, there’s an op, and Quinx Squad needs to be at full strength. That means Shirazu, Mutsuki and Urie must join forces to draw Saiko out of her physical isolation, both from them and the rest of the world. Urie ends up convincing Saiko that she’ll be fired and thrown out on the street if she doesn’t do her job.

This is another lie; even if she retired tomorrow the fact she agreed to be in the Quinx squad means the CCG will always look after her…she just doesn’t know that because she didn’t read the handbook!

Regardless, while Urie and his aloofness are kinda bumming me out, I kinda love Saiko. She’s got a great energy…or I should say lack of energy to her, and is utterly unapologetic in her desire to live the NEET’s life of leisure. Whether she’s still hiding heretofore unseen wondrous powers or talents as an investigator or is simply meant to be comic relief…we shall see.

In any event, the whole Quinx Squad is mustered for the briefing about the Nutcracker. Specifically, Haise’s Squad will join two others and Division II in raiding an underground auction for young women the Nutcracker collects at clubs. While Urie goes off for some “tests”, Haise, Mutsuki, Shirazu and Saiko hit up the club, the former three posing as women.

It’s ultimately Mutsuki who manages to make contact and get on the auction list (after a little—or a lot—of liquid courage), so they have their in. Our old weird friend Suzuya Juuzou is also involved in the operation, and will pose as a woman for sale at the auction beside Mutsuki—no doubt to back up the far less-experienced investigator if things go pear-shaped.

After about a week of training (which Urie mostly stays out of), Haise’s squad and the others are all ready to execute the plan, and move in. Meanwhile, Ayato is tasked with bodyguard duty for the Class AA Ghoul “Big Mama”, who will also attend the auction, and has a very Mutsuki-obsessed Torso tag along.

Did I mention our other old friend Tsukiyama Shuu is gravely ill and no longer seems to have any “gourmet” sense, much to his servant’s distress? Well, he doesn’t, so I guess he won’t be at the auction. But with all the parties who are involved, plus a few who may not have shown their faces, it’s shaping up to be quite an op.

3-gatsu no Lion – 35 – Cookie Burn

Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Kobuku, the bullying in Hina’s class has ceased. The ringleader Takagi Megumi and her five co-conspirators were exposed for all to see and made to apologize to the class for their actions. Yet Kobuku remains unconvinced that Takagi in particular shows any remorse for what she’s done.

In an interrogation-style scene, he tries to get past Takagi’s limp excuses (“it’s society’s fault”) to get to the root of her troubles. Takagi, we learn, is deeply frustrated with always being told to study and work hard by people who won’t take responsibility if all that studying and working amounts to nothing.

That’s a valid frustration! More importantly, as all those people were dishing out those platitudes, they never made any real effort to ask Takagi how she feels and what she wants. But now that she has Mr. Koboku’s undivided attention, she no longer has any excuses.

Whether Takagi’s apology was hollow or not, Hina is happy the darkness in her class has been excised, even if she remains terribly hurt by the actions of Takagi and her henchwomen. That especially applies where poor Sakura Chiho is concerned, which is why Hina is so overjoyed when she finally receives a letter from her.

In it, Chiho tells Hina that after initially being a bit lonely, she’s made friends and found peace at the remote farm surrounded by mountains and forests and full of animals and kind people. Tears well up in Hina’s eyes as she reads, tears of both enduring heartbreak over what went down in their class, and relief that Chiho is okay and wants Hina to visit sometime.

Rei, perhaps feeling like Hina is slowly stealing his show (he’s not wrong!), arrives at the Kawamoto residence to find Hina lying supine and fast asleep in the sun. She has an ethereal, almost angelic aura about her that makes him feel extra self-conscious about entering the room. So he waits in the genkan, only to be woken up by Hina when he nods off.

Hina tells him, simply, that “it’s over”, and eagerly describes the day her classmates cried and apologized to her, then invited her over to make cookies. These were the same classmates who, with the threat of retribution from Takagi and her ilk removed, finally felt safe enough to tell the teacher what happened and talk to and hang out with Hina again.

Later, Hina opens her mouth wide to show Rei the minor burn caused by a freshly baked cookie bitten into too quickly, Rei lamely decides to make this about himself: Woe is he, who wasn’t able to do anything to help Hina in her time of need. Oh wait, he didn’t do “nothing” during that time…he did a lot!

Hina sets him straight on this point by listing everything he’s done for her, then adorably doles out punishment in the form of several love bites. Then she starts to dance and twirl under his arm as they walk briskly beside the river, happy as you please. Which begs the question: Is Hina merely the Best Girl in the galaxy, or the entire universe? I’m gonna go with the latter.