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.

Fire Force – 06 – Wherein Opposite Paths Converge

As shounen heroes tend to do, Shinra struts into Princess Hibana’s lair and prepares to go a second round, despite having learned nothing about how to defeat her ability that had him flat on the ground. He’s confident that between his talents and determination he’ll figure something out and rescue Iris. Hibana is ready for him, but because she’s a shounen villain, she explains what her ability does, which enables Shinra to resist it.

Of course, heating up her opponents so they become lightheaded ragdolls isn’t Hibana’s only trick. She conjures up scores of flowers to launch at Shinra, and finally releases her featured attack, which bears more than a passing similarity to Captain Kuchiki’s Senbonzakura.

Hibana is convinced that the world is made up of the burned and those who burn, and ever since all the sisters but her burned in the convent, she’s dedicated herself to…herself. Burning whoever and whatever she needs to to get ahead. It’s how she became a successful researcher, and it’s how she became Captain of the 5th.

But here’s the thing: Iris survived too, and Iris is still around and kicking despite not becoming “the devil” to the god Sol everyone prays to. Which means there were obviously more than just the single evil path Hibana took. Iris continued her sister training and became a good and caring person who helps comfort people both during and at the end of their lives.

As we see in the expanded flashback, Hibana was unique among the other sisters in her ability to manipulate flames into beautiful flowers, and change their colors with chemicals. Iris and the others loved her flowers, but the nuns in charge discouraged her, warning that she was, well, playing with fire.

But Iris never forgot their promise: that if she overcame her shyness, Hibana would show her her flame flowers once more. This time, defeated by the flames she believed only served her, and by someone she deemed just more “gravel” to be trod upon, the hard crust that those old flames created around her heart shattered, revealing her heart wasn’t hardened to the core.

Princess Hibana is redeemed, the 5th and 8th cease hostilities, and she even develops a little crush on Shinra, who after all managed to defeat her, making her reconsider whether his prattle about heroes and saving people without getting anything in return was just empty BS.

As for Captain Oubi, after the credits he calls Hinawa, announcing he’s finally ready to join the fray, only to be told that it’s already over, and the dramatic battle music stops abruptly.

Astra Lost in Space – 07 – Accepting Hopelessness

When the unsubtle episode title “PAST” appeared in the corner of the screen, and Charce was forced to bring up his own dark (and monochromatic) past, it felt like here we go, another episode that sticks to the formula of revealing a character’s backstory in order to eventually strengthen their bond with the rest of the crew.

Now, that did happen, but it didn’t take the whole episode; just five minutes. That wasn’t a lot, but Charce didn’t mince words: he’s from the only part of Mars where a (technologically stunted) kingdom was allowed to exist, he was part of a noble family, and befriended a commoner girl, who was accidentally shoved off a high wall when police caught her in restricted territory.

She didn’t die, but one day her family up and left, and Charce wasn’t far behind, leaving the noble Luddite life behind. But he never found her again. It’s for this reason, and the fact he’d just transferred into the class before space camp, that he gave off a suspicious aura. But when they learn how tragic his past was, the crew surrounds him with empathy and affection.

Strangely, the girl, Seira, sure sounded like she was voiced by Minase Inori, who also voices Aries, whom Charce remarks is “just like” Seira. Cold Aries be Seira, her lost memories of Vixia and Charce a result of her fall? Just something to chew on.

But as I said, the repeating structure of the last few episodes was completed in the first five minutes. From there, we move on to the arrival at the newest planet, Icriss, which despite the singing of the school choir members does not spin, or rather has a rotation that’s precisely in line with its orbit. One side is perpetually baked in the sun, the other frozen in the darkness.

The only safe zone where there’s water, life, and food is the narrow belt between the zones. They descend through the atmosphere and encounter a bizarre jungle of immense plants and menagerie of equally gigantic animals, with some plants preying on the animals through use of electrical charges. One of those plants reaches out and grabs the Astra. That’s when things start to get bad.

With a series of evasive maneuvers, Zack is able to wrest free from the sinewy grip of the plant…thing…but the Astra takes damage. Zack loses attitude and decel control, and the ship will no longer yaw to port. He tries to ease the ship down but a gust of wind shoves it into some canyon rock, and the ship crashes and shuts down. That’s when things get worse.

Zack’s damage report is pretty dire. The Astra can move a bit, and is still capable of supporting life, but with a key reactor destroyed and no dock or parts or skilled engineers to repair it, they will never be able to return to space, much less attain FTL speed. He thus declares their voyage over. Their only course now is to find a way to live out their lives on Icriss.

As Kanata mentions while they’re still airborne, there were simply “too many things” that went wrong to end their journey, and they were unbelievably lucky to survive as long and travel as far as they did. But being commended for their achievements thus far is of no solace whatsoever. Quitterie, true to her character, has the most trouble accepting that where they are is where they’ll stay, barring extremely unlikely possibilities.

Zack is the opposite, calming down even more in the face of Quitterie’s panic, and it takes him time to drop the Vulcan stoicism and simply comfort someone who needs more time to process everything. Kanata, noted tough son-of-a-bitch, doesn’t claim not to be ready, but as the captain he recognizes he needs to give the appearance of being ready to move forward without hesitation. For her part, Aries is fine with waiting things out there, as long as Kanata he’s around.

Then, the game changes again, when Funi finds a second wreck, of a ship nearly identical to the Astra. Kanata, Zack, and Ulgar board her, and learn that she’s not spaceworthy anymore—though she could still have viable parts the Astra needs. While there’s no sign of any crew, there’s a message reading “Help me” on the monitor, and Zack realizes there’s probably someone in the ship’s single hibernation chamber.

Just before, he was suggesting to Quitterie if she really can’t accept living on Icriss, she could enter the Astra’s chamber and wait there in deep freeze for however many years, decades, or centuries it would take for someone to find and rescue her. Quitterie refused, but here it is, that very scenario playing out on the other ship, only it “only” took twelve years for someone to find them. The chamber’s occupant is awakened and revealed to be a beautiful blonde woman with pale blue eyes. And that is unfortunately when the credits roll.

Suffice it to say, this is exactly what Astra needed: something to shatter the status quo in a big way. Real peril and the toughest problem yet. While before there always seemed to be a way to science a solution and continue the journey, now in every instance it seems to be closing the door. Despite their smarts, talent, and moxie, the inexperience of the crew, even Zack, was exposed in a big way.

Still, I seriously doubt they’ll spend the rest of the show on Icriss, so between the second ship and its no-longer-sleeping beauty, there’s still plenty of hope to go around.

Fire Force – 05 – Captured Princess

Both Iris and Princess Hibana were present for the events of the end credits sequence when someone presumably combusted and burned all of the nuns and the church—except for the two of them. But while Iris’ faith in the Church of Sol seems to have strengthened since that tragedy, Hibana has all but abandoned hers, and has pursued a life of inhumane, heretical research.

The gulf between them is weighing on Iris, who wants answers but won’t tell anyone in her company, including a curious Shinra. That means Iris leaves the safety of Company 8’s station to pay a visit to Hibana at the 5th. The mere sight of Iris’ holy raiment enrages Hibana, and she burns most of it away, mocking all FFS nuns as mere “window dressing.” Shinra, Hinawa, Maki, and Arthur are quick to mount a rescue; hey’d been planning to raid the 5th anyway; Iris simply accelerates their timeline.

Hibana’s eclectic collection of pyro-weirdos don’t really cause that much trouble for the outnumbered 8th; one 5th soldier who blows explosive gum bubbles is outdone by Hinawa’s ability to control the speed and course of bullets from his guns, the “Three 5th’s Angels” are no match for Maki, and Arthur is able to deal with the souped-up captive Infernal when he realizes he was using his wrong hand. He’s an idiot, but a strong one.

All of this allows Shinra to slip behind Hibana’s defenses and reach the front door of her central mansion. Perhaps, when she’s rescued, Iris would be so kind as to fill in those who saved her on why exactly she did something so reckless as entering enemy territory alone, as well as why her smiles look so forced. The 8th is a family, after all; there shouldn’t be secrets.

Fire Force – 02 – About All Any of Them Can Do

With the Rookie Fire Soldier Games coming up, Captain Oubi has high hopes for young Shinra. But he’s not the only rookie assigned to Company 8. That’s right, it’s the Rival/Friend His Own Age Who Is More Like Him Than Not, Arthur Boyle, the self-proclaimed “Knight King.”

Maki and Iris are enjoying the nice day on the roof when the two prepare to go at it, but Lt. Hinawa puts an end to both Maki’s idle fire manipulation (technically against regs, but he’s a stickler) and the attempted duel. Instead, he rearranges the fight so Shinra and Arthur have to go up against their senpai Maki.

While both third-gens are unconcerned about taking on a second-gen, Maki’s military training, experience, wonderful muscles, and most important, her ability to manipulate the flames of others means both guys end up taking quick losses.

Maki may be a little self conscious about her “ogre gorilla” alter-persona, but there’s no doubting her toughness despite not being the latest generation of pyrokineticist. If Shinra’s a devil and Arthur a knight, she’s a witch—and a very accomplished one, at that.

Taken down a few pegs, Shinra and Arthur shift their battle to see who can eat the ramen Oubi treated them to faster…which is not the point of eating delish ramen. There’s also a mention of how much gear a non-user like the captain has to wear (and Hinawa has to maintain) for the job, while Arthur’s Excalibur and Shinra’ feet and Type 7 ax are sufficient for them. Speaking of which, the alarm sounds and the now five-person Company 8 answers the call.

The scene is eerily quiet but the Infernal is inside, the father of a girl who already lost her mother to “infernalization,” and dreads being next as a matter of genes (though it could just be a coincidence). When Shinra and Arthur take out their weapons in public, they are scolded by Oubi. The Infernal they’re about to fight was a human, with family. It’s not a glorious battle, but a solemn funeral. If the rookies think otherwise, they can leave the 8.

Oubi is proven right when they enter the house and find the girl’s infernalized father just sitting quietly at the table, the shrine of his wife nearby. Shinra wonders why they should attack an Infernal that isn’t doing anything, but Arthur corrects him: the person sitting there is in tremendous pain, and they must put him out of his misery.

As Iris says the prayer, all it takes is a single quick strike form behind with Arthur’s plasma sword to send the father to rest. A quick and dignified end, but no consolation for his daughter as she never saw it.

Before they went in, a cloud of flames above the house formed into a smirk, and after they defeat the Infernal, the house inexplicably comes tumbling down; fortunately Oubi is tough and isn’t injured, but he and Hinawa immediately suspect a third party that’s messing with their duties. Indeed there is someone outside among the crowd, who leaves smoke letters in the sky reading “Joker.” Huh.

Meanwhile, Oubi completes his duties by doing what he can to comfort the surviving daughter in her time of greatest despair. He posits that because his parents protected her so thoroughly from the flames, she’ll be safe form now on, even if they’re gone. The fire soldiers didn’t fight a battle this week; the Infernals did, for the sake of their daughter, and they won, because she’s still alive.

Neither Shinra nor Arthur can sleep that night (obviously they were assigned the same bunk bed), realizing that the academy could not prepare them for the most terrifying part of being a fire soldier: getting accustomed to what they do. But as much as they snipe and sneer at nip at each other, they’ve perhaps started to realize that they’d rather have one another by their side than not, to help deal with those solemn times.