Talentless Nana – 11 – Proper Ventilation

Nana arrives late to the latest murder scene with Detective Kyouya already working the case. He questions those in the adjacent room: Muguo and three acolytes, whose talents are voice mimicry, astral projection, and magnetism. They apparently didn’t hear a struggle in the Ryuuji’s room last night.

Ryuuji’s girlfriend, Sorano Fuuko, is the most suspicious to us because she’s in the opening credits and also just framed suspiciously. Fuuko demonstrates her power to focus atmosphere into a powerful weapon on a willing (and invincible) Kyouya. She does it outside because she finds it hard to focus in a closed interior space.

After the demo, Kyouya goes off to ponder, while Nana checks out the crime scene. If Fuuko needed air, that explains the open window and bugs that got in the dorm, as well as the messy state of the place. Michiru tags along, and Nana senses something has been off about her since last night.

Nana is also surprised to find she can’t hold back her emotions when Michiru thoughtlessly talks about how great her parents are when Nana told her about her parents’ fate the previous night. The fatigue could well be getting to them both, but then Nana thinks she’s figured out the reason for Nana’s off-ness when the teacher comes by with a fresh uniform.

Kyouya told him to deliver it, and Nana recalls she had a bottle of poison in it. Thus she suspects Michiru is off because she found it, and like the incriminating photo of her, is torn between their genuine friendship and suspicions of her own.

When Kyouya suddenly appears, her fears seem to be confirmed, but the detective only wants Nana to accompany him for an interview with Fuuko, hoping her mind-reading will help him determine if Fuuko is telling the truth. Interestingly, at no point during their time with Fuuko does Nana consider this is why Kyouya brought her.

When he asks about Fuuko’s thoughts, Nana tells the truth: she wasn’t focused enough, but for what it’s worth, she doesn’t think Fuuko did it…yet. But when Kyouya starts piecing together the night of the murder in intricate detail, he ends up starting to convince her that it could be Fuuko. It’s great procedural stuff.

That brings Nana back to Michiru’s, as she didn’t like where they left things the last time they were together (Nana yelled at her and stormed off). Michiru is in the shower, so Nana searches her dorm for the poison. Instead, she finds Michiru’s open journal, which is full of beautifully pure, earnest entries about how much she loves and admires Nana.

I should know better considering her conditioning prior to coming to the island and, ya know, all the people she’s murdered, but Nana seems…chastened by this journal…even a little guilty for ever suspecting Michiru? No doubt those suspicions were somewhat influenced by Jin’s fake “Dark Michiru”.

Right on cue, Jin appears. Turns out he took the potion from Nana’s clothes before Michiru or Kyouya could find it. He’s determined to allow Nana to “keep swimming”, i.e. continue her mission until he can draw out more about the people she answers to.

Jin then forebodingly mentions how Michiru has been in the shower quite a long time, and takes his leave. Nana suddenly panics and rushes in the bath, where Michiru is slumped over the side of an overflowing tub. Could this be the end of dear, sweet Michiru? Was Nana snapping at her really their last interaction?

Something else to consider: Is this the act of the one who murdered Ryuuji, or did that last terse interaction drive Michiru to kill herself? We don’t know, and at the moment neither does Nana. From the first episode she’s prided herself on being on top of things with regard to who is up to what; it’s what any serial killer needs to be to avoid ending up caught or dead.

But at the moment Nana herself is a bit “off”—both unsure of the second murderer and morally conflicted vis-a-vis Michiru. It’s an intriguingly uncertain place for her to be with just two episodes remaining.

Talentless Nana – 10 – Just Your Typical Little Girl

When Nana breaks free of her icy anklet, Jin uses Moguo’s fire Talent to stop her in her tracks, but apologizes for going too far. Still, her phone’s “potential kill count” messages cause him to suspect she’s a “crusader” like someone from his class who believed he was sent to kill the “minions of Satan.”

Jin isn’t interested in using others’ Talents to force Nana to talk. He wants to patiently build trust with her, human to human, something he wasn’t able to do with his class, whom he dehumanized all too easily when he used their own Talents to kill them.

Badly burned and about to lose consciousness, Nana gives Jin a little of what he wants: insight into who Hiiragi Nana is. She tells him she had an older brother she was too young to remember, and a mother and father who were murdered one night by an Enemy of Humanity.

Before passing out, she smiles when he asks if she sees Talented as Enemies of Humanity, then he carries her back to the dorms, warning her that now that the bodies are starting to pile up, the psychopaths among the current class will soon “come out of the woodwork”. Basically, she’s not the only murderer on this island.

When Nana comes to it’s in Michiru’s dorm; Jin left her at her dorm and Michiru did what Jin knew she’d do: take Nana in and heal her. Michiru also mentions that an impostor went to class when she was too tired to go (due to Jin drugging her). Nana realizes if she’s more open with her traumatic past, her reckless actions will be more easily explained by her “noble vendetta.”

Michiru wants Nana to know she’s always there if she wants to talk. As Nana talks to her about how her house was broken into and her parents killed, Michiru exhibits all the qualities of an empathetic, caring, even loving friend. But after revealing Yuuka’s true colors, she can’t help but still wonder if even sweet Michiru has a dark side.

In the meantime, memories of that horrible night well up and haunt Nana. As she ponders her next move in her dorm, Jin pays her a visit. He agrees to return her phone to her if she’ll “share more of her soul” with him via more information about her past. Then Michiru shows up , and Jin disguises himself as the kitty Nana saved.

Michiru and Kitty!Jin listen as Nana gives details about what kind of “typical little girl” she was. She loved games of skill like Chess, Shoji, and Go, and was so good at them that other kids didn’t want to play her. She also made a mess of all the games in her rooms, and played long into the night, often slipping out past midnight to go to the konbini to buy manga, another passion.

Her parents always told her to make sure her window was locked, but one night she fell asleep without doing so, and that was all a burglar needed to gain entry. The next morning she found her parents brutally murdered, and she carried her father’s head out in public. Nana begins to break down over the guilt of being the reason the murderer targeted their house and got inside, but Michiru offers her hand in support.

At some point, Nana falls asleep at her desk, and wakes up the next morning to find Michiru sitting on her bed, awake and oddly alert. Before she can say anything, Kyouya bursts in and asks the two girls to come with him. There’s been another murder: a male student’s throat has been slashed, apparently by a sliding dorm window.

It’s clear Nana didn’t do it this time, which means there is indeed another murderer on the island. But who? The camera lingers on a girl with bangs and a pony tail whose eyes are always shut—according to MAL, her name is Sorano Fuuko. It could be her—whoever she is—or it could be someone else.

For all we know, it could even be Michiru, who may have left Nana’s dorm to kill after Nana fell asleep. That goes against everything we’ve learned about Micchy so far, but if this show has taught me anything, it’s not to trust anyone or anything!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 03 – Always Look Your Best

Riri is elated that Yuyu is officially her new Schutzengel, but Yuyu has no intention of going easy on her Schild, delivering no shortage of tough love in the training facility and continuing to be cold and aloof.

Riri also gets to watch the Alfheim legion work. The nine-lily team who work together to bring down a low-level Huge—basically the opposite of Yuyu’s go-it-alone strategy.

While bathing with Kaede an Fumi, Riri is approached by Alfheim members, who offer some explanation for why Yuyu is the way she is: in a battle two years ago her own Schutzengel was killed. She still haunts Yuyu, noting that she’s “scared” both for and of Riri, and thus quick to turn her away.

Eventually Riri manages to focus her Magie and parry her attack. Right afterward the pair are on duty, and Yuyu makes sure to fix Riri’s tussled hair and uniform: an Assault Lily must look her best on the battlefield.

When the Huge arrives, it is a Restored, a Huge that survived previous attacks and returned to its base for repairs. Its shell is lined with the broken CHARMs of dead Lilies, and Yuyu decides that Riri will sit this one out. She says it’s because she’ll be in the way, but really it’s to avoid a repeat of what happened with her Schutzengel.

You see, Yuyu’s “Rare Skill” is Lunatic Trancer, so called because it transforms her into a white-haired berserk killing machine who will fight friend or foe until her Magie is spent. Seeing the CHARMs of fallen Lilies triggers the skill, and Yuyu goes on an unfocused rampage.

Due to the threat she poses, none of the other on-duty freelance Lilies can lend aid, but once Riri learns the rest of Yuyu’s story—that she was initially suspected of harming her own Schutzengel while in Trancer mode—she decides that she’ll be the one to break her out of it.

Riri rushes in to meet Yuyu, but when they cross CHARMs a first and then a a second time, Riri holds firm, and their Magie touches through the blades. Yuyu dismisses herself as a despicable monster consumed by hatred, but Riri tells her she doesn’t care, she’s still her sister, and gives her a hug that pulls her out of her trance.

Together they finish off the Restored, which will be restored no more. Afterward, Yuyu takes Riri to the cemetery where her Schutzengel Kawazoe Misuzu is buried. Later, in the dark of her dorm, Yuyu remembers clearly when she came out of a trance to find she’d run Misuzu through with her blade, but even then her big sister urged her to forgive herself and move forward.

Her roommate Matsuri Hata comes in, turns on the lights, mentions that she heard Yuyu sortied, and says “good work”, Yuyu thanks her, which is apparently enough of a rarity for Hata to note that she can’t recall the last time Yuyu was so nice. Clearly, the Schutzengel is working out swimmingly so far for both her and Riri.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Great Pretender – 09 – Shock & Awe

In Singapore Sky we’ve had two storylines running in parallel: the Thierry gang’s efforts to bilk the Ibrahims out of their fortune through air racing, and the slow reveal of Abby’s Dark Past and her apparent ongoing death wish. While the two plotlines bear little in common, this week it’s starting to become clearer why they occupy the same arc.

The biggest issue for Laurent and Cynthia is whether Abby can stay alive long enough for their scam to pay off. Makoto proves he’s a born con man by effortlessly luring Sam and his millions into the phony underground casino, but Abby’s continued deteroiration concerns him, and not in terms of whether she’ll cost him money. He wants to learn more about Abby’s story, and help if he can.

It’s what sets Makoto apart from his more emotionally detached partners, but they haven’t gotten as far as they have with their conning if it weren’t for that commitment to detachment, or at least compartmentalization. Laruent and Cynthia may well care a great deal about Abby, but they have a job to do, and trying to break down Abby’s walls could threaten that job and Abby herself.

Meeting Luis Muller was a catalyst for Abby’s continued descent into her traumatic memories. While she had loving parents and early success in ballet, the 2003 bombing of Baghdad claimed those parents’ lives, and Abby channeled her physical talents into what from her perspective was freedom fighting. Unfortunately, this ended in abject defeat, and while her comrades died all around her she was cursed with the good luck to survive.

Back in the present, Makoto has Sam eating out of his hand, getting him to bet 2.5 million on a race he then loses because, deliciously ironically, Cynthia is able to successfully seduce the baby-faced young pilot he bets on, which lets Abby slip a compound into the engine that causes his plane to stall out.

Since this was the first time Sam trusted Makoto to wager his cash (having been banned from the casino by Laurent after “discovering” his secret identity) you’d understand Sam suspecting Makoto of being In On It. But when he points his gun at Makoto’s head, it’s not because he suspects Makoto at all—he’s just pissed off in general.

The gang may have made millions off him already, but Makoto didn’t lose his trust, so they can still milk him for more, knowing his frustration and insatiable greed for winning and money will continue to drive his actions.

Abby, meanwhile, quietly does her job when she needs to, and one night she goes out for a walk with Luis Muller so she can confirm what she suspects: he was one of if not the fighter pilot who dropped the bombs on her hometown, killed her parents, and ruined her life. Her knife is literally out when she broaches the topic, which means whether Luis denies it or not, she’s ready to exact revenge.

Extremely strict Singaporean laws notwithstanding, murdering Luis is most definitely not on the list of things Laurent and Cynthia want to happen just as they’re ready to finish cleaning the Ibrahims out. And while we saw what she did to a dummy with her knife, I believe we’ve yet to witness Abby definitively kill anyone, even in the past where the fog of war throws all in doubt.

That would make Luis her first, and who knows how that will affect her in or out of a cockpit. As Cynthia tells Makoto, knowing someone’s story is different from understanding how they feel. Well, it looks like we’re poised to find out just how Abby feels about a great many things, and what if anything Makoto can do.

Great Pretender – 07 – Skybrawl

Team Confidence heads to Singapore, where Makoto sees the Ibrahim brothers in action for the first time. While Clark plays the flashy playboy, Sam is the ruthless wheeler-dealer. The pair bought up the struggling race and have since made it a fixed affair a la WWE—all the winners and losers are chosen ahead of time.

Watching racing planes swoop over around and through Singapore’s futuristic skyline is fun, but the pulse-heightening action is once again hurt by a lot of obvious CGI and harshly posterized photo-based scenery. It’s an aesthetic that works sometimes, but often comes off as cheap.

The night after prelims, in which Abby just manages to qualify for the race by the skin of her teeth, she and Cynthia to the brothers at the rooftop pool of the iconic Marina Bay Sands. While Abby skinny dips and plays hard to get with the already-smitten Clark, Sam proves a more stoic nut to crack, but Cynthia seemingly convinces him that she’s enough of a rising star to promote—and ensure she’ll win the next race.

While we often see Clark carousing with ladies, this is still a PG-13-equivalent anime, so it call comes of as pretty chaste, especially when he doesn’t push for a more intimate rendezvous with Abby. She retires early for the night, but probably doesn’t get much sleep, as ever since she started flying she’s been getting flashbacks from her Dark Past.

The next day, Sam doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain, and the veteran pilot steals the lead from Abby. When Cynthia gently protests, Sam drops any semblance of a nice guy act and tells her he neither promised nor owes Cynthia a damn thing, and proceeds to go into a bitter misogynist rant that you know he’ll pay for later. Abby has another flashback in the cockpit, but Makoto is able to snap her out of it via radio headset, and she ekes out a photo-finish victory.

From what I gather, Abby was at one point an award-winning ballerina whose life was suddenly turned upside down. At some point she became separated from her parents, ended up in a terrorists training facility, and got caught in a fierce battle where her comrades were cut to ribbons. When Makoto asks why Abby is in the con artist business at all, Laurent’s answer is simple and devastating: Abby is trying to find the right way to die.

We’ve seen her flashbacks and heard a bit about her from Laurent, but the fact remains Abby’s said very little herself—either about herself or anything else—in the past seven episodes. Will Makoto, con man with a conscience, seek to talk her out of her apparent death wish? Will Abby ever be in the mood to listen? All I know is, they’d better inspect her plane thoroughly for sabotage before her race against Clark.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 10 – How A Net Feels

Just as it excels when it focuses on just one or two segments, Love is War is arguably even better at juggling a grab bag of stories in one episode. We get the latter this week and it’s all amazing, starting with Miyuki’s mistaken belief that Kaguya is avoiding him because she doesn’t like him. Kei wants to ask about his romance problems, but because she’s in her teenage rebellious phase, talking to him would mean losing face.

When their father comes home and asks Miyuki what’s up, Kei thinks she’s in the clear, but her father only makes Miyuki more tight-lipped and mad, so Kei has no choice but to offer a piece of advice: a girl can still like you even if it seems like they’re avoiding you. Sure enough, when Miyuki and Kaguya cross paths, she uses her calming ritual and the two walk side-by-side to the office. Miyuki had no reason to despair.

The next segment is the latest installment of the “Chika Teaches Miyuki Things He Sucks At” series, and, clocking in at around six miuntes, one of the quickest and most efficient. This time she’s trying to teach him the Soran dance his class will perform, but his idea of dancing looks more like an exorcism. When she finally loses her patience and storms out, Miyuki ends up relying on an Kaguya for pointers (Kaguya is more than happy for an opportunity to touch his body, the lecher!)

As Chika observes Kaguya’s strategy of simply getting Miyuki to replicate the moves irrespective of heart or passion, her honor as an artist must stand and protest, leading to a literal tug-of-war between the two girls. This mimics how historical Edo magistrate Ooka Echizen ordered two women resolve a custody battle for a child, with the winner being the first one to release the child when he was in pain.

In this case, no one’s letting go, but being pulled back and forth is exactly what Miyuki needed to learn what it was like to be the fishermens’ net, and performs a Soran dance that impresses both Kaguya and Chika.

Following two straight victories by Miyuki, we get a segment from the POV of Kobachi as she and Miko go on their DC rounds. Chika and the board game club doing something akin to LARPing, while they find Yuu playing video games at school. When he points out he’s in territory technically outside their jurisdiction, Miko ropes him and pulls him into it.

Kobachi can tell that while Miko and Yuu don’t get along, they’re a lot more alike than they realize. She knows about the rumors of how Yuu stalked a girl in their class in middle school, fought another boy over her, and got suspended, but notes that Yuu never told his side of the story. And because she knows he has a strong sense of justice and distaste for “irrational things” like Miko, his story is likely more complicated.

I’m sure Kobachi is as eager as me to hear that story someday, but for now, she’s impressed with the strides he’s made, including his participation in the Cheer squad, who unlike the majority of first-years were willing to bring him into the fold and give him a chance, as long as he was applying himself seriously, which he is.

The balance of the episode takes place during the vaunted sports festival. Miyuki and his class perform the Soran dance perfectly, but he’s discouraged to find his dad there rather than at work somewhere, snapping pics of Chika (though that was a request from Chika’s hot-shot dad).

What Miyuki wants to avoid at all costs is his dad getting anywhere near Kaguya, sure that nothing good could come with it. And yet his dad’s advice in the first segment for Miyuki to be the fastest runner, which he dismissed as grade school stuff, actually works like a charm on Kaguya, who despite being on the White team is passionately rooting for the President all the way!

That’s when Miyuki’s dad sidles up to Kaguya without introducing himself and belittles Miyki’s efforts. Kaguya, never one to let people cast aspersions on her beloved Miyuki, offers up all the ways Miyuki is actually a terrific person. When his dad shoots those down one by one, she gets increasingly flustered and annoyed, which leads him to ask not who Miyuki is, but who he is to her.

Kaguya responds with a beautiful monologue from the heart about how Miyuki showed her that not only to kind and wonderful people like him truly exist, but that there are others among her with those qualities (Chika and Yuu, for instance). Miyuki’s dad asks if she’s “romantically interested” just as Miyuki arrives, to which Kaguya compliments Miyuki on having such a “delightfully mischievous” father.

The Cheer squad leader ends up picking Yuu to be his partner in the final relay, and when they win, we cut to the brown-haired girl in the dark flashbacks in which Yuu was accused of stalking and assault.

This certainly lends credence to the theory that not only was Yuu not really stalking her, but that there might even have been mutual affection between them. Will we ever meet this mystery person, and if so, how will this “New Yuu” react? I can’t say, but I’d love to see it.

As it stands, Love is War has deftly and painstakingly painted fully-realized portraits of all four of its main characters plus Miko. It just happens to be both one of the most hilarious comedies in years and a riveting, heartfelt character drama. Shows this unassailably superb don’t come around often. It’s hard to not sound like I’m mindlessly gushing about it, but the excellence is there for all to see.

Tower of God – 10 – The Light That Pierced a Dark and Lonely World

This was a transitional episode filled with several goodbyes, a check in on numerous storylines that have stayed on the margins, and the introduction of the nature of the final test, marked by a shocking revelation on Bam’s part.

Hoh is dead, and while Rachel is alive, she’s lost her ability to walk. Nevertheless, Bam vows to be her legs and climb the tower together with her. Rak says goodbye to his imposing stature thanks to a spell from Hansung Yu, making him an even more comedic presence.

As Serena prepares a quiet evening of remembering Hoh, she’s invited to join Bam, Rachel, Khun, Rak, and the others on the “friends list” for a memorial service where Hoh is interred. Afterwards when Bam is alone with Rachel, she confesses that she thought of him as a “clueless and weak” nuisance who was in her way, so she abandoned him.

That means, she says with a face soaked with tears, that he can abandon her if he likes; it’s what she feels she deserves. Obviously, Bam rejects that offer out of hand; he would still be in the dark lonely world where she found him  if he hadn’t met and come to love her. He’s not about to leave her side now.

Following this rather gratifying reconciliation between Bam and Rachel, everyone else gets the party started early with copious amounts of sake. I for one wished they’d spent a little more time on this, since it’s just as much fun (if not moreso) watching these colorful characters hanging out as it is watching them do battle.

After the party, Serena quickly sobers up and tries the old Irish goodbye, but Shibisu isn’t too shitfaced either and tracks her down to say “see ya later” properly. Serena he had a great intensity and simple but compelling backstory; if she’s truly gone, I’ll miss her.

Those marginal storylines I spoke of? They include Yuri, Evan & Co. slowly continuing their ascent, hoping to arrive before the examinees’ tests are complete. I imagine Yuri won’t be pleased that Bam lost Black March…or did he? Does Anaak still have both it and Green April? Somewhere along the line I lost track of that thing…

Speaking of the 13 Month Series, both March and April are being sought by Lo Po Bia Ren, Royal Enforcement Division Unit #67, who has been disguised as the woolly Wave Controller instructor Yuga. Honestly Yuga didn’t have enough screen time to make this revelation all that surprising, but the fact that part of his mission includes eliminating Anaak makes any potential alliance with Hansung Yu just plain bad news.

The next day, everyone gathers to hear who made the final cut prior to the final test. When one of those who washed out complains, Yu gives him a thoroughly torturous shinsu bath, leaving him a spent pile on the ground. But this doesn’t discourage Khun from also voicing a complaint.

While he, Bam, and Rak may have all passed, his quarrel (or rather his friend Bam’s, which makes it his) is with the fact Rachel is eliminated due to her injury. When Hansung Yu tells him Them’s the Rules, Khun offers to take the famously grueling Administrator’s Test, since the Administrator makes the rules, and they can be changed to accommodate Rachel.

Again Yu can’t help Khun; only an Irregular can negotiate to take the test. That’s when Bam volunteers to do it in Khun’s place, since he is, after all, an Irregular. This comes as a shock to everyone, including Khun, though frankly I always assumed everyone knew because, being a tourist to Tower of God newbie, I wasn’t aware how taboo such a status truly is, or that it’s said to bring “calamity” to the Tower.

Nevertheless, everyone in the newly advanced group of examinees agree to back Bam’s play, stopping Khun and Rak in the middle of their little manufactured spat designed to convince them of what they’re already on board with. Even someone like Anaak who doesn’t particularly care about Bam (or claims not to) wants to take the shortest, fastest route to the Tower, and that’s this.

Bam is escorted by Yu and Rachel to the door to the Administrator’s office, and upon entering he encounters a gigantic eye telling him they “meet again”. With everyone else pulling for him and Rachel’s fate in his hands, Bam’s got some serious negotiating to do.

Tower of God – 09 – Forgetting the Taste of Stale Bread

Endorsi prefaces her betrayal of her fellow Team B Fisherman by telling a little story in earshot of Bam, about how she was one of at least a dozen adopted daughters forced to fight each other for the right not just to become a Princess of Jahad, but to eat.

At first, Endorsi only ate stale bread, but she ate it all the same, maintained her strength, and defeated her competitors one after another until she could enjoy a delicious rare steak at the head of the table. She was quite literally forged in a crucible of blood.

While we know little of Bam, it’s clear he hasn’t had to betray or kill anyone to get here, so it tracks that he considers Endorsi’s treacherous methods “wrong.” But would it have been more “right” if Endorsi had let her adoptive sisters kill her? Endorsi (and surely many other competitors) didn’t enjoy the luxury of morality prior to these proceedings.

As she takes down the other Fisherman, Endorsi wants Bam to understand what is required in order to climb the Tower. Bams asks her why she mocks the fishermen for trying to fight her when she’s been where they are—the weak trying to become strong. But the past is past for her: she no longer remembers the taste of that stale bread.

In order to get what you want, Endorsi asserts, sometimes you have to do things you know are wrong. It’s what Bam must do if he wants to climb with Rachel. Still, Bam puts his foot down: he’s going to climb his way: no betrayals, no tricks. And even if Rachel hates him for it, he’ll protect her.

Rachel is actually in some need of protecting, as Hoh, overcome by the need to get Bam out of the picture, takes her hostage at knifepoint. Quant, having beaten up Hatz (whose comrades betrayed him), tries to de-escalate, but matters are complicated when Bam shows up.

In the ensuing standoff, Bam learns a shinsu paralysis trick from Quant, Rachel struggles, and Hoh accidentally stabs her in the back. Bam paralyzes him and tries to slow Rachel’s bleeding as she asks him why he followed her. Serena shows up just as Hoh stabs himself in the chest, resigning himself to “have-not” status.

Finally, Endorsi appears to fight with Quant, but gets slapped in her beautiful face by Serena, who like Hoh harbors some bitterness and resignation about being a fellow “have-not”, but doesn’t see offing herself as the solution.

Like Bam with Rachel, Endorsi has decided she wants to climb the Tower with her sister/niece Anaak—whom we see in the waiting room having her hair done in what is without question the most adorable moment of the series so far. So she took steps to make sure she and Anaak wouldn’t drop out.

But as someone who tasted as much pain as she did stale bread getting to this point, Endorsi warns Bam that he’ll have to keep tasting pain too if he keeps passing tests, whether he does it his “right way” or not. No one can have it all; everyone loses something in this game.

Endorsi shows Quant the red badge inside her vest and the two duel, with Bam deciding to back her up (they are still teammates, after all). Quant dodges Bam’s paralysis attack, swoops in, and snatches Endorsi’s vest, seemingly ending the game.

But it isn’t quite the end, as the red thing in her vest wasn’t the badge, but her red boy shorts! Endorsi shows her her real badge in one hand, and produces his badge in the other. So Team B wins and scores a heap of points.

The Tag Game turned out to be an intricately thrilling tapestry of clashing motivations, twists and tricks, and while Hoh seems to be dead, he’s still carted off by medics, so perhaps they can save him. Rachel is stabilized and rests Bam stands beside her bed. Khun’s gambit worked out and their core trio moves on to the next rounds of testing.

I appreciated the exploration of the kinship of “have-nots” like Hoh and Serena and “haves” like Endorsi and Bam, as well as how they gained those statuses. Serena led her friends to their doom because she wasn’t strong enough; everyone Hoh cared about died for the same reason. Endorsi became a Princess by killing all of her sisters while Bam largely stumbled into his good fortune.

Compelling characters, impressive action sequences, balanced pacing, and a badass soundtrack—Tower of God is truly firing on all cylinders.

Tower of God – 08 – Getting “It” Twisted

Even as Quant makes quick work of the Team A members trying to slow him down, Khun maintains an air of confidence. The show also wants to make it clear that the fiery Quant has a temper and can be very impulsive, which means a Light Bearer as shrewd as Khun can very well play him like a fiddle. But since we just met Quant, we have no way of knowing if his outward behavior, so convenient to Khun’s plans, is just an act, and he’s actually a step or more ahead of Khun. He is a Ranker, after all.

Meanwhile, Bam sits with the rest of Team B, whose mood rises and falls with Team A’s setbacks and progress, respectively. Endorsi sits beside him, giving him a chance to ask about “Michelle”, but Endorsi has little to say; she, Michelle and the giant monster guy were just the last three remaining, so they teamed up. Probably more germane to Endorsi is what does Bam care about that weird little mousey girl anyway?

Khun’s choice to use Anaak and his lighthouse as bait and compel Quant to dive off the bridge with him is both inspired and inventively composed. I love the steep drops in this show. It heightens the pace and excitement of an otherwise elegant, no-frills action scene. I love when Quant passes Anaak on his way down, while Green April arrests a smug Khun’s fall. And as usual, the music rises to the occasion.

But what I like even more is that it was understood that Khun’s line last week about Bam losing was always meant to be followed by the words “if I (Khun) don’t do something about it.” Khun decided he cared more about preventing Bam (and those on Team B on the “friends list”) from being eliminated than winning the tag game.

This tracks since, he, Lauroe, Anaak, etc. were already assured of passing regardless of the game result. So he betrays Team A to keep Bam & Co. in the running, by giving Quant a ride back up to the bridge via his lighthouse. Quant snatches Anaak’s “it” badge, and Team A loses.

Last week often cut to Hoh just barely keeping it together and stewing in resentment for Bam’s relative ease in the Wave Controller tests. This week we get a vulnerable moment from Serena, about whom we know so little. It’s only a nugget about her past, and how she was once a cat burglar whose crew was killed by a Ranker.

She approached the Tower climb with renewed energy and confidence, but now is not so sure about the prospect of eliminating people she’s come to like. Hoh tells her that’s just the way things are. Those who climb the Tower must choose what’s more important: friendships, or reaching the top.

Bam, Serena, and Hoh’s Team B is being led by Endorsi, who took advantage of the fact she’s idolized by one of three other competitors for the spot. Khun may have given Bam & Co. a chance by ensuring Team A’s loss, but Team B still has to win, using what they learned from Team A’s game. That may be difficult depending on what Endorsi’s intentions, as she betrays one of her fellow Fishermen to pursue a plan all her own.

This is, of couse, in keeping with Endorsi’s character so far. She has no connection to her two original teammates, and while may not mind Bam or others on the friend sheet she signed, but she’s not going to let that document rule her actions or dilute her ambitions. Like Hoh, she’s willing to do whatever and backstab whoever it takes to climb the Tower.

You can read Crow’s write-up of episode 8 here.

Assassins Pride – 08 – Heart of Darkness

Attacks on innocents increases, and they look a whole lot like vampire attacks, so with Kufa suddenly vanished and the blue aura a distinguishing feature of the culprit, it’s looking increasingly bad for Melida’s instructor. Rather than continue with her school’s training, she decides to sneak off and investigate matters for herself, notably leaving Elise behind.

Instructor Laqua predicted Melida’s actions and tags along, in part because Kufa told her to look after his charge if anything were to happen to him. Whether he’s responsible for the attacks or has gone dark in order to more effectively track down the true culprit, the bottom line is that he’s not around.

Melida and Laqua search the most forbidden of the “mystery spots” and learn there’s not strange phenomenon at all, just a secret dungeon where Marquis Pricket has been experimenting on townsfolk. The increased restrictions on movements were all to hide his dark operations.

Upon returning to town, Melida and Laqua find Rosetti killedapparently while protecting an injured Elise. When the Marquis himself is attacked, the townsfolk turn against Kufa and seek to use Melida as a hostage to snag him and no doubt exert mob justice.

Shenfa helps Melida escape, and suddenly she’s all on her own. She investigates another mystery spot that turns out to be the bad guy’s library and office. He sics a vampirized Rosetti at Melida, and that’s when Kufa finally shows his face to protect his student, begging Rosetti to snap out of it.

At this point it’s pretty clear Marquis Pricket is the baddie, and is trying to create his own army of lancanthrope-human hybrids. We’ll see if Melida and Kufa can foil his plans and save Rosetti from an awful fate. In any case, I imagine the fake-boyfriend angle has been shelved indefinitely!

Assassins Pride – 07 – The Blue-Flamed Assailant

On the eve of a training trip to her hometown of Shangarta, Rosetti begs Kufa to pretend to be her lover so she can refuse the hand of the man chosen by her father, Marquis Blossom Pricket. Judging by a cold open in which a young, lighter-haired Kufa is with an unconscious young Rose in a burning church, the two go back far further than we thought, and Kufa decides to help her out again here.

Naturally, Melida doesn’t like this one bit, as she doesn’t want her instructor to have even pretend eyes for anyone but her. Marquis Blossom arrives (and with him a very Gilderoy Lockhart vibe), but the dispute over who shall marry Rose is tabled, as prep for the trip takes precedence.

Incidentally, that cold open came in the form of one of many strange dreams Melida has been having, no doubt due to the fact Kufa transferred his mana to her in order to help her awaken hers. She continues to hear a voice no one else can (not even Black Madia AKA “Instructor Laqua”), but then hears a scream everyone hears while chasing after a troubled Kufa.

One of the students has been rendered unconscious, though shows no signs of injury (unless they didn’t check her neck carefully). Marquis Blossom whips out a magic potion that reveals the mana of the culprit: blue, male, and belonging to someone still in their teenage years. In other words, the only one around fitting that description is Kufa.

This is the second plot point (after Rosetti’s betrothal) to be tabled so the training trip can press on, which is odd because nothing comes of the potion pointing to Kufa as the culprit, he attends the rest of the group on the train as if nothing happened. I was also surprised to learn that Shangarta isn’t one of the domes that make up Flandore, but a separate bustling town in its own right, built deep into a chasm. It’s a fascinating place, made all the more bizarre by the presence of several “mystery spots” Marquis Blossom vaguely states do not follow the normal laws of nature.

There is also a raging disease in which townsfolk take leave of their senses and become mindless killers and need to be quickly put down…sounds pretty vampiric to me! The way Blossom so casually executes the afflicted man in front of all the students is quite disturbing.

Rosetti takes Kufa to the same church we saw in the cold open—thankfully not on fire in the present—and introduces him to all of the orphans her father has taken in and lies about him being her lover. I wonder how far such a fiction can be taken.

Melida certainly voices her displeasure at the existence of such a farce, to the point she forces Kufa to put her socks on, conceding that he doesn’t see her as a woman. Kufa offers to make it up to her by taking her on a late-night date, and he is immediately forgiven as her frustration turns to bubbly delight.

Specifically, Kufa takes Melida to a glowing magical cave that contains one of the “mystery spots”, where the two are able to glide across the surface of the water and fly about as if weightless in a stirring scene that further builds the chemistry between them. But once Melida is back in bed, she’s back to having weird vampirish dreams most likely involving a young Kufa, and is awakened by Elise with bad news: another student has been attacked, and Kufa is nowhere to be found.

I’m not prepared to conclude Kufa is deceiving her intentionally—these attacks could well be subconscious on his part (unless he’s being framed). The bottom line is, Kufa hasn’t told Melida enough about him for her to paint a full picture, so in a way he’s already deceiving her by omission.

Fruits Basket – 25 (First Season Fin) – Fighting Their Way Forward

Kyou quickly came to love Kazuma not just as a foster parent or guardian or shishou, but as a father, but because of the stigma carried by his status as the Cat, he always felt he didn’t have the right to call him one. Kazuma took Kyou in in part as an act of penance after even he treated his kind grandfather with cruelty and revulsion, only to be forgiven with a smile.

Then Kazuma began to love Kyou like a son, but found himself never quite able to say so. Matters weren’t helped when Kyou would forcefully insist he was no son of his when he (often) got into trouble. Kazuma also feels it would be too selfish to continue to see Kyou as a son after forcing him to reveal his true form to Tooru, so he leaves without saying goodbye.

But Kyou is glad what happened last week happened, and it could not have happened without Kazuma…or Tooru. After years of sparring with his shishou, the two finally connect on an emotional level and acknowledge that they are, in every way that matters, father and son. Tooru is the bridge that makes that possible…and in a neat touch, that connection happens on a bridge!

While everything is peaches in Kyou-land, and he is committed to becoming more independent and tempering his fiery nature when needed, the rancor between him and Yuki has not ceased. Judging from Yuki’s body language, part of that may be due to Kyou’s recent “monopolization” of Tooru.

In this regard he’s going through something similar to Saki, who had to fight back the notion of Tooru spending less time with her and more with the Souma’s as something bad, since constant possession isn’t love. Heck, Kagura is experiencing the same thing, only with Kyou.

While Tooru’s attention—and her heart—is split among many different parties, she’s not alone in worrying about Yuki. Haruhatsu, one of the more emotionally intelligent Soumas, also notices something’s off, and so makes sure to remind Yuki that just because Tooru’s been busy with Kyou of late doesn’t mean she’s forgotten about him or worries about him any less.

Yuki then seeks Tooru out on the stairs, thanks her for her continued worrying, and commits to spend more time outside doing things with people this summer…and with Tooru in particular, even breaking out a modified wall slam in semi-jest!

It’s clear the second season will likely involve the continued push-pull of Tooru between Yuki and Kyou, but both have become categorically better people with her in their world, so it’s all good in the Soumahood.

While the show makes it clear that it will be far from smooth sailing all the time in the second season, those hoping for the first season to end on a hopeful positive note can breathe a sigh of relief. One after another Soumas gather at Shigure’s for a big celebratory meal with Tooru; the only major players missing being the two yet-to-be-introduced Zodiac animals, and Shigure, who is meeting with Akito.

Before joining the others, Hiro meets with Rin, perhaps one of those two  animals, while the other could be the faceless guy with the faceless female friend who spots Yuki at school. But there’s no devastating cliffhanger that upends everyone’s lives or threatens Tooru’s marvelous little world.

Instead, she’s looking forward to a fun-filled Summer with everyone. I hope, after all she and the Soumas have been through, they’ll be allowed at least some of such a Summer before the next storm(s) arrive. With quite a bit of source material yet to be adapted, we can reasonably expect plenty more of this wonderful show well into 2020 and beyond. I can’t wait!

Fruits Basket – 24 – The Rosary

When Kyou’s mother committed suicide, everyone blamed him because he was cursed with the Cat spirit; everyone but Souma Kazuma, who took him under his wing and trained him without judgment. It was Kazuma’s grandfather, after all, who carried the spirit before Kyou, so even though he himself didn’t know what it was like, he was close to someone that did, and had empathy for them both.

Now Kazuma is back, and while he doesn’t show it around the others, Kyou is elated. He assumes he’s to go back to living with his shishou and continue his training. But Kazuma is there for something else. He’s seen Kyou with Tooru, and believes it’s time to tell her the truth about what Kyou is, even if Kyou would prefer to keep running away from that truth.

Kazuma doesn’t see much point in dragging things out. After informing Tooru, he takes Kyou’s arm and removes the rosary of red and white beads that never leaves his arm. Once it’s off, his true form is revealed, and it’s a truly terrifying, monstrous form with a smell to match. Throughout the transformation, Kyou recalls how Akito reacted (how you’d expect Akito to react—with utter disgust and rejection).

He expects the same reaction from Tooru, and while she’s initially frozen in shock, and later nauseous from the sight and smell of him, she still dutifully chases after him, completely forgetting that she just got over a cold!

Assuming she’s only there to have pity on him and offer hollow comfort, both things he’s sick to death of, he tosses her aside, hoping to hurt her enough so she’ll never forgive him. This strategy fails, of course, because we’re talking about Tooru here.

Kyou is weary of Tooru’s comfort (the “lukewarm bath” in which he’d gotten too pruny) because that’s what he got from his late mother: she gave him the rosary, checked his arm dozens of times a day to make sure he was wearing it, and wouldn’t let him outside. He could never trust or accept the love she insisted she had for him because she worked so tirelessly to hide his true form, sweeping it under the rug like it didn’t exist.

Even though his mother told him all the time that she’d die for him, that wasn’t what Kyou needed, or needs. What he needs, and what Tooru ultimately provides, is not an assurance she’ll die for him, but that she’ll live life with him. She doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but she won’t look away or turn away from him, even in his true form.

Tooru fears Kyou never returning to Shigure’s house more than the reality of his true form, so she takes hold of his misshapen limb and doesn’t let go, until he transforms back into human form, and then into his cute Zodiac cat form, and they return to the house together triumphant and to Kazuma’s relief.

In this regard, Tooru has emerged as his new proverbial rosary; one that doesn’t hide what he is but accepts it and is committed to living with him anyway. And however dark the future gets, he’s able to move past his dark past because she’ll be right there facing that future beside him.