Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – 05 – A Patch of Black Ice

For those girls (and guys) for whom the fiery Guel Jetark isn’t their cup of tea, they have the apparent opposite in Elan Ceres. They call him the “ice prince”, and long to melt his icy heart. If they only knew. Elan rarely duels, but he’s 7-0 after winning a 3-on-1 affair that was never close.

Elan is also working on behalf of Piel Technologies, but unlike Guel, he’s treated more employee than son to their four-woman leadership group. After winning, he surprises Suletta with a phone call … and asks her out on a date. Her Earth House girls go giddy (Chuchu excepted).

In another demonstration of how different she and Elan are, Suletta calls her mom, who is supportive of her daughter branching out and getting to know others better—the move forward, gain two ethos. But after getting off the phone with her daughter, Lady Prospera gets a report about Peil “making its move”—faster than anticipated.

Meanwhile, Elan hasn’t been talking to Suletta because she’s a friend; indeed, I do not believe he understands such a concept. He’s been pumping her for information and context on Aerial on behalf of the company he serves. We also see that he’s an “enhanced person” created for the sole purpose of piloting a Gundam.

This culminates in Suletta letting Elan into Aerial’s cockpit for a routine survey of the testing area (which is definitely an idea for a date). He observes how easily she pilots Aerial, and she says she’s never felt suffering doing so, but actually always feels at ease.

Elan then asks to pilot Aerial on his own—an astonishing ask but one Suletta happily grants because she thinks Elan’s a friend. Piloting it convinces him that Aerial is the key to “breaking the curse” of the suffering he feels every time he takes the controls of his mobile suits.

When he returns to Suletta, the kindly mask has dropped. Her usefulness to him and the faux friendship he fostered is no longer needed. Now he has the information he needs, and she’s just an annoyance, especially with her entitled belief that Aerial is “family.”

Seeing this honest side of Elan upsets Suletta, and his cold words cause her to cry. That’s just when Guel arrives, sees Suletta’s eyes, and demands to know what Elan is doing, with the answer determining whether they duel. That’s just fine with Elan. Whether he intended to use Suletta as bait or not, Guel’s timing works out perfectly.

While it’s good of Guel to stand up for Suletta, she hasn’t quite turned against the hope that Elan is a good person and a friend, so she objects to the duel, but it’s not her call: Shaddiq tells her if she doesn’t like current conditions, she’s welcome to change them in a subsequent duel.

The stakes are set: if Guel wins, Elan will stay away from Suletta from now on. If Elan wins—and I had a feeling he was going to win easily—he gets to duel Suletta. Guel’s red mobile suit is out of commission, he uses his brother Lauda’s Dilanza, even though their father forbade him from dueling.

That Guel is willing to incur more of his dear father’s wrath speaks to the genuine affection he’s gained for Suletta and his desire to keep others from making her cry. Underneath the bluster he’s an honorable guy.

But honor, like smiling, laughing, birthdays or family, is not something in Elan’s programming. Suletta’s been interacting with a doll designed to learn as much about her for his employers’ sake, as well as his own (lifting the aforementioned curse). Elan surprises all when he arrives at the duel in a new suit—the Pharact. It’s a menacing, bat-like suit with its own drone swarm system.

It looks every bit like the dark sibling of Suletta’s Aerial. Guel is mad as hell, and kicks up a lot of dust in the dueling ground. This unwittingly creates the conditions by which he is defeated: the dust, charged with static electricity, gets into the gaps and joints in Dilanza’s armor.

Elan’s drones create laser-like webs that in concert with the dust Guel himself kicked up, has the effect of an EMP, shutting down Dilanza’s systems and leaving him immobilized. Elan takes an easy win, and the Peil Group’s engineer (and Elan’s minder) confronts Lady Prospera, who concludes there was “another witch all along.” The Peil woman addresses her as senpai, suggesting she was part of the same research group that developed Aerial.

Elan again makes a prompt phone call to Suletta, to arrange another “date.” This time, it will take the form of an official school duel, and if he wins, he will claim Aerial for himself. And this, folks, is why Suletta should have probably listened to everyone telling her to stay away from people from the three branches—including Guel, someone from those branches.

Now, I can’t imagine Suletta will lose to Elan next week—especially if Miorine lends a hand, nor to I believe Aerial will fall into the hands of a rival company. The only question is whether Suletta, who is no doubt still confused and hurt by Elan’s treatment of her, can switch gears and do what needs to be done to defeat her most implacable enemy yet.

As for Elan? I’ll admit to hating him more than Guel now, but I also understand the kid has suffered his whole life, is looking for release, and the only thing in his way is a silly girl who calls a Gundam “family”, a word that’s meaningless to him since he never had one.

In Elan Ceres, Peil created an organic machine to pilot their metal one. But Suletta is, if nothing else, an ordinary human fueled her whole life by love and support. That should prove the edge in this duel.

Spy x Family – 16 – The Taste of Family

This episode opens with a dead-serious face, as Yor can barely hide her assassin’s glare from her family when she arrives home late. She definitely can’t hide all the cuts on her hands, which at first I thought might be from a particularly unpleasant client. Anya sees the future through Bond: her mama crying. Alone in her room Yor laments that she could lose her family if this doesn’t succeed. So what’s ‘this’?

I really should have known from all the hand cuts that the mission had nothing to do with assassination, but secret cooking lessons from Camilla, who grudingly agrees to coach Yor when her husband Dominic blurts out at work that she’s a great cook. The bloody bag Yor was carrying was just crushed tomatoes. It’s a great heavy buildup that made you breathe a sigh of relief whenever you figure out everything will be fine.

Dominic invites Yuri to help be the taste tester, but also possibly to preserve his own life. The “smoking, oozing purple/black poison food made by the terrible chef” is an anime cliché that’s been around longer than Truck-kun, and Spy x Family leans into the disgusto-factor of her eldritch creations. It also wisely shows that Yuri’s usual way of eating his sister’s food—while vomiting part of it up—and not keeling over shows that she’s had a poor judge of taste all this time.

Yuri should be commended for basically building up a tolerance and even a love of his sister’s cooking (though part of it is the last thing he wants is for her to be unhappy, or contribute to it in any way). When Camilla suggests they think back to what kind of food the Briar siblings’ mom made, they remember a red southern stew with a fried egg. Yor starts again under Camilla’s close watch, and hey-presto, she’s able to make her first edible, tasty dish!

When Yor returns home in a much better mood, Loid and Anya are understandably worried about her handling the dinner duties. But she sticks to the recipe for her mom’s stew, and after a tentative taste, they discover it’s a really good, soothing flavor. Yor is so happy her family is acknowledging her cooking, she cries tears of joy, not sorrow, into her hands—the very future Bond foresaw.

The final gag is that the dessert she improvise does send her family to the floor. But with about a third of the runtime left, the episode doesn’t let Yor’s cooking epiphany overstay its welcome, but shifts to … Franky’s love life? Ugh…fine, I guess. Turns out Franky is as bad with women as he is good with intelligence gathering. He asks Loid to help him determine the best way to talk to Monica, the pretty woman at the cigar shop.

After Franky demonstrates stalker tendencies with the wealth of intel on Monica and scoffing at Loid’s elaborate conversational flow charts, Loid dresses as Monica, a bit that doesn’t really get any play. Similarly, we don’t get to see Franky being shot down, only the aftermath and Loid buying him a commiseratory drink. It’s a very lightweight segment, but after the excitement of the Mister Dog Trilogy I understand the need for a downshift.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

A Couple of Cuckoos – 20 – Nagi Be Shopping

If you want a perfect encapsulation of Nagi’s plight, look no further than when he comes home after a fruitless talk with his biological father, and Erika insists he snap pictures of her in a bikini…but scolds him for starting at her. Even though she told him to take photos of her in her bikini. Sachi joins in calling him a “pervert.” This guy can’t win!

Erika also basically tells him “I told you so” regarding how her dad was never going to be forthcoming with him. He’s still not even 100% sure Sosuke is a real person. This weighs on him, and Hiro can tell, so she invites him on a second date, which consists of a competitive bike ride. It’s a cute, fun outing, but IMO further shunts Hiro into the Friendzone as someone who will be there to help him unwind when he’s troubled.

Sachi ends up having a fancy sushi dinner with Mr. Amano, and learns that he’d be totally fine if she and Nagi got married. That makes things weird when Sachi comes home and Nagi is his usual big brother self. I guess he forgot that treating her like his little sister pisses her off? At any rate, the two go shopping for the first time in forever and make dinner together.

Then Sachi drops the question of whether he’d marry her if she asked. He blushes and asks her what their parents (the Uminos) would think about that, and ultimately Sachi gets the reaction she wanted, which was not outright refusal. I dunno…this episode had some pleasant moments, but it feels like we’re in a holding pattern with no real forward momentum in any direction.

Call of the Night – 09 – Who’s the Real Draggo?

Seri is being overwhelmed by notifications on her phone when she spots Kou. She rushes to pounce on him affectionately, but she’s stopped by Nazuna’s granite knee. Kou tells her Seri wasn’t going to do anything, but Nazuna assures him it’s okay; vampires are tough (as evidenced when Seri slugs Nazuna and the two tussle in the street.

The two vamps are always going to be a bit on edge around each other—especially considering Nazuna’s bond with Kou—but it’s Kou who tracks down Seri and asks her what’s troubling her, as a friend would, because that’s the kind of good kid Kou is. Seri is surprised, but rather than venting to him, they go to karaoke instead.

When Seri warns Kou that she’s super popular and that it’s just gotten to be a big boring drag (she calls all the men she meets “draggos”), and Kou kinda gets it; expressing how he’s annoyed by people believing romance is the “essence of life”. While we don’t get to hear them sing, Kou and Seri have this wonderful natural rapport.

You can tell Seri likes how Kou acts around her, since every other guy acts like the one who starts banging on the door to their room and breathing on the window like a creepy stalker. When Seri makes light of all the draggos she’s had to deal with, Kou tries to get all serious and offer proper advice, when all she wants is for him to brush it off and enjoy hanging out with her—like he does with Nazuna.

When Mr. Draggo enters the room, Seri gets fed up and decides she’s going to kill him “before things get messy”, which is vampire reasoning if I’ve ever heard it. Kou tells her to stop, and Seri asks him to spare her the “killing is wrong spiel”, as human rules and laws don’t apply to vampires. Kou admits that there are times when a vampire might have to kill, but he insists that this isn’t one of them, and protects Mr. Draggo.

The two hide in a dark alley, where Mr. Draggo, AKA Akiyama, seems to snap out of the obsessive trance he was in while near Seri. Akiyama tells Kou how he and Seri met when he fell over while drunk and just hit it off, but he was never arrogant enough to think he ranked that high in her list of people she cared about (nor does he know she’s a vampire).

That soon changes when Seri spots them in the alley, tells Akiyama she’s a vampire, and that she’s going to kill him. Kou stands between Seri and Akiyama and says that’s not happening, but Seri charges anyway, which is when Nazuna, whom Kou summoned via transmitter watch, pancakes Seri into the pavement.

Nazuna is obviously here to keep Kou from harm, but even when Seri promises she won’t hurt Kou, Nazuna asks why she suddenly decided to kill “for once”, suggesting it’s not as common an occurrence as Seri let on. That’s when Akiyama asks Nazuna to lay off Seri, because he was the one who fell in love with her, even though he wasn’t supposed to.

Just as Nazuna has done with Kou so far, Seri never intended to turn Akiyama, but simply hung out with him because they enjoyed each other’s company. The grind of getting people infatuated with her so she could create offspring got boring, and Akiyama broke that monotony. But her unconscious vampiric knack for enrapturing people ended up happening even to him.

Kou stops her right there: if she enjoys having a friend and doesn’t want to ruin that relationship, why kill him? Why not talk through it him first, like the friends they clearly still are? Seri does just that, and when she talks about the fun she had hanging out with Akiyama as a friend, her eyes fill with tears, knowing they’ll never have that again.

Akiyama knows that too, as he’s now in love with her. But that being the case, rather than kill him, he asks her to make him her offspring instead, so they can still hang out and still have that friendly rapport. She does just that, turning him right there in the alley while Nazuna and Kou look on.

Kou can’t help but feel like the situation is a little unfair, seeing as how Seri and Akiyama have what he wants…and naturally, Nazuna senses that’s what he’s feeling, but says it’s fine to take their time for now. After Akiyama is turned (and his eyesight is improved; a nice detail) all four go back for some celebratory karaoke, and Kou notes that he’s having a great time.

This might’ve been my favorite Call of the Night yet. I continue to love how warm empathetic Kou is. Seri is always an absolute delight; I love how she can turn from affable to frightening and capricious to vulnerable on a dime. I fear I’ve fallen for her and become one more draggo, and it’s not for any one quality but because she possesses so many layers.

Akiyama, voiced by the great Yoshino Hiroyuki in a rare toned-down role, is a solid introduction and the show’s first male vampire, and therefore glimpse of what Kou ultimately hopes to become. Loved the stalker fakeout. And as always, both quiet scenes of talking and raucous, concussive action are exquisitely composed and directed. The show is running on all cylinders.

Call of the Night – 08 – Date Night

Kou’s comment about falling in love with Nazuna “no matter how many years it takes” is met with the reaction it is because there’s a rule he hasn’t been told about: once their blood is sucked, a human only has one year to become a vampire. If they can’t by then, they’ll never become one.

Nazuna cheekily pretends she forgot to tell Kou this, then conveniently remembers the debt she owes him for working on Kiyosumi, and kisses him right in front of the other vamps before flying off into the sky. Kou tells Nazuna that he realizes she’s weird even for a vampire, but he’s glad he met her first.

That said, this new time limit is concerning, and it takes Akira spelling it out that after that year is up and he’s not a vampire, he’ll be killed to protect their secrets. Later, at school, Akira comes across Seki Mahiru sleeping at the top of the steps, zonked out from being, you guessed it, out all night.

We learn that Mahiru, who befriended everyone, befriended Akira and Kou when they were all little. That said, neither Kou nor Akira realized that they were actually friends with him, due to his gregarious nature. Speaking of gregarious, Kikyou Seri greets Kou again one night, and while he tries to run, she promises she won’t kill him, and only wants to start off on the right foot.

When Kou demonstrates his middle school innocence regarding romance, she can’t help but serve as his love coach, and suggests he kickstart his relationship with Nazuna by taking her on a date. Naturally, when Kou proposes this, Nazuna isn’t interested, and continues playing her video games. But Kou switches her PSOne off and insists.

The date plan Seri drew up for him would probably work for most couples, but Kou and Nazuna aren’t most couples. Nazuna won’t even pretend to be able to stand the romcom movie they go to, while at the café Kou tries to start a conversation about the movie even though he knows she hated it.

Nazuna suspects someone put an idea in his head, and after reading Seri’s list she snatched from him, decides this is all lame and goes home. Kou lies in bed forlorn, but soon Nazuna taps on his window, not liking how the evening almost ended and suggesting they at least get that bite with a night view.

Naturally, that means one of their patented late night flights, and the “meal” ends up being one-sided, as she sinks her fangs into him in midair for the first time. Nazuna tells Kou that he doesn’t need to over-plan or overthink; they’ve already been going on dates, and she’s enjoyed them. Her attitude makes me encouraged that Kou can indeed become a vampire within the time limit.

Another night becomes a reunion of Kou, Mahiru and Akira when Mahiru spots Kou while hanging out late at night with other peeps. Kou is surprised Mahiru recognized him, but Mahiru says of course he did; they’re friends. The two proceed to get very corny about their feelings when Akira joins them and asks that they please stop. It’s a fun and wholesome all-human interaction.

Mahiru bids the other two farewell as he must meet someone he’s come to like. Nazuna, while looking for Kou, happens to spot him walking hand-in-hand with a lady, and when Kou arrives, she decides that they should hold hands too, with the practical excuse of not losing track of one another.

While Kou idolizes Mahiru as a “perfect” person (his family even owns a flower shop!), it’s Kou who encourages Mahiru to continue his nightly pursuit of love with the story of how he’s been hanging out with his own late night lass. I love how the episode ends with a super wide shot looking straight down at the two couples walking in opposite directions while both experiencing happiness.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 20 – The Best Day Ever, Every Time

This episode begins, amazingly, with Kazuya talking on the phone with his actual ostensible girlfriend, Ruka, who is clearly loving every minute of their convo and would happily chat with him for hours. She also shows a bit of maturity by apologizing for her outburst towards Mami, whom we see is still trying to tweetstalk his gran.

When a day Chizuru is free for a date arrives, Kazuya decides to mix things up a bit and fulfill an adolescent dream of his: going on a date with a girl in their high school uniforms. Chizuru doesn’t know about this dream and so wonders why he’s wearing a uniform, but like so much with Kazuya, she rolls with it.

Since he insisted she act like herself for their dates, the ensuing date at TDC (Tokyo Dome City) feels considerably less forced and artificial. This is doubly true to to the fact it’s quite clear Chizuru enjoys being on a date with Kazuya under the guise of a professional transaction. It gives her cover from feelings she clearly harbors but isn’t ready to parse.

And that’s fine! After all, the guy she often finds herself blushing about is still in a state of denial himself. Such is his self-esteem, he is constantly holding Chizuru up on a pedestal she never asked for. Yes, she’s lovely, but his adoration goes way too far. Forget high school, he’s acting like a middle schooler most of the time.

Kazuya’s date plan of holding hands, sharing food, photo booth, and Ferris wheel all goes swimmingly. But he’s so worried about doing or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, he barely takes the time to simply exist and enjoy the time he’s actually having with this other human being.

As I said, besides the school uniforms, what makes this otherwise fairly rote date episode refreshing is how Chizuru isn’t being overly lovey-dovey or flowery. She knows she doesn’t need to be; that just being herself is fine with Kazuya, both as a rental customer…and as a friend. Indeed, he’s one of very few people in her life she can be herself with, and as such, his presence is comforting, even when he’s being a complete spazz.

Just as Kazuya and Ruka have some genuine conversation on the phone earlier in the episode, it’s also nice to see him and Chizuru just shooting the breeze about her job, and how she’s come to love the job she’s so good at. Since he knows about her dream of becoming an actor, she also tells him how she’s got a role in another play.

She’s clearly as happy to have someone to tell this as Kazuya is to hear it. He’s so happy for her and how her hard work is paying off, he briefly holds her hand a bit too tight. When booking the date, he discovered that Chizuru ranked up from Rookie to Regular, which not only cost more, but only increased his adoration of her.

But for as unattainable as he continues to believe her to be, and as loathsome as he considers himself to be, if I had to guess what Chizuru wanted, it isn’t someone who will worship the ground she walks on, but walks on that ground beside her as an equal. Heck, it’s pretty much what he already has with Sumi.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 17 – Sumi Can Communicate

Three days after Ruka spent the night, Kazuya shows some genuine personal growth by taking out the goddamn trashChizuru had the same idea, and their timing is so synced up he almost wallops her when he opens his door. When she brings up Ruka, he assures her nothing happened, but the fact is she did spend the night. Later, when Chizuru is reading lines, she can’t focus thanks to Ruka’s words that morning.

On top of wanting to clear up the misunderstanding, Kazuya learns from the app that Chizuru’s birthday is coming up. He wants to give her a gift that means something, and also to thank her for getting him his phone case—which as we know played a key factor in him declining Ruka’s advances. He knows he can’t ask Ruka or Mami for ideas, so on Chizuru’s birthday he books Sumi, the forgotten Rent-a-Girlfriend.

Sumi, as we know, overheard Kazuya yelling out his feelings to Chizuru in episode 1, but other than that and being at Chizuru’s performance, she’s been a ghost, which is a shame, because every time she gets the spotlight, I find myself wishing Kazuya would just open his eyes and make her his girlfriend. It’s painfully clear (to everyone but him) throughout their date that she likes him!

Not only that, while she’s quiet and shy (though very verbose via text), she’s also perhaps the most thoughtful, kind, and caring of the four girls. Despite having so much less screen time than the others (or maybe because of that) she just constantly gives off Best Girl vibes. And Kazuya notes that she’s really making progress as a rental girlfriend, which she no doubt attributes to his help.

Kazuya procrastinates to the very end of the date to ask Sumi what she thinks would make a good gift for Chizuru. And while Sumi momentarily seems gloomy being asked about another girl, she quickly gets over that and helps the boy who has helped her. In her distinctive, adorable style of communication of gestures, little noises, texts, and the occasional spoken word, she suggests various gift ideas, all of which Kazuya considers but feels none of them are quite the right fit.

Sumi seems to have a Eureka moment and takes Kazuya by the hand, out of the department store where their date took place, and onto the roof of another department store where a “Rent-a-Fighters” power rangers-style show is going on. When Kazuya hears the pink fighter talking he realizes it’s Chizuru, working her ass off at yet another job in order to make her dream to perform in front of her Gran come true.

Watching Chizuru in action and delivering rent-a-kicks and punches inspires Kazuya to a degree, as he decides to stop wallowing and power through his indecision. Before parting ways, Sumi also tells him that sentiment matters most when it comes to gifts; as long as it’s from the heart, any gift from him would make him happy. Sumi isn’t only speaking rhetorically, mind you, but Kazuya doesn’t pick up on the nuance of her text.

Even so, when Kazuya starts walking away, Sumi looks at the photos they took together, her eyes start to get glassy, and before Kazuya knows it Sumi has him by the sleeve. Having not thought this through, Sumi remains silent and blushing profusely for a good long time, but eventually asks Kazuya for his birthday. They part ways again, and Sumi immediately puts the date in her calendar—an opportunity for her to give him something from the heart. Her satisfied smile melted my already melted heart.

Chizuru comes home well after dark, on the phone with her Gran declining an offer of dinner as she’s just too wiped. She takes a shower, gets a text from her idol frenemy Chi, then goes out on her balcony and finds a bag with a “Happy Birthday” note from Kazuya, who slipped it there from his side.

It’s a heartfelt note, explaining why he’s giving her a gift and that it can alleviate fatigue, which is especially timely sentiment considering how tired Chizuru is in that moment. When she opens the box within the box and finds pickled plums, her first reaction is “…Why?” She then notices Kazuya’s postscript insisting nothing happened with Ruka, and she remembers how passionately he spoke to her about not giving up, and pops a plum in her mouth.

Now, if you’ve ever had a pickled plum (I highly recommend them) you know how powerful the flavor is. They’re sweet, salty, and above all oh so sour. It’s a flavor that brings a smile to Chizuru’s face, and it’s a good flavor to represent the complicated nature of her and Kazuya’s relationship. It’s not necessarily comfort food, but slight discomfort food, giving you the kick you need when you need it.

Poor adorable Sumi doesn’t stand a chance, does she? T_T

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Devil is a Part Timer!! – S2 E03 – Family Matters

With the mission of keeping a smile on Alas Ramus’ face, Maou and Emi play the roles (in Emi’s case, reluctant role) of mama and papa for the mysterious child. They buy her a hat to keep the sun off her face, one of the countless things parents must think about when caring for their child.

Unbeknownst to either Maou or Emi is the fact that Suzuki, Chiho, and Ashiya are tailing them. Suzuki wants to see Emi’s face while she’s on a date with a man, Chiho is curious and a little worried, and Ashiya just wants to make sure Maou doesn’t spend too much.

Alas seems particularly drawn to bright colors, such that watching a colorful power ranger show suddenly activates a purple crest on her forehead and makes her drowsy. Maou and Emi take her out of the show, and while Maou goes to obtain a cold drink, a mysterious woman in white appears, seemingly heals Alas, and disappears before Maou returns.

With Alas feeling better, Maou and Emi take her up into the Ferris Wheel. Suzuki and Ashiya follow, but Chiho is held up when she helps an old lady with the ticket machine, so the other two end up nice and cozy in what Suzuki describes as “a private room in the sky”. Suzuki x Ashiya shippers: it’s time to eat!

When Emi tells Maou to spill the beans about what’s going on with Alas, he tells her how the day his clan and parents were slaughtered, a passing angel took pity on him and saved his life. To Emi, this means an angel was indirectly responsible for letting the Demon Lord rise to power and conquer Ente Isla.

Alas, he surmises, could be an incarnation of Yesod, one of the sephiroth, or cosmoplastic orbs of the Tree of Life. That means Alas is beyond angels and demons, but in her own special category. Whatever she is, she needs to be cared for, and Maou and Emi do a good job throughout the day.

However, that day is interrupted by unwanted visitors: Urushihara and Suzuno are captured by Gabriel and his heavenly regiment. Gabe has a simple ultimatum for Maou and Emi: hand over both Alas Ramus and the sacred sword. Neither are interested in handing over either.

When Gabe resorts to brute force, Chiho appears and shields Maou from further harm, bowing and shedding tears on his and Alas’ behalf. Disinclined to look or sound like the “bad guy” (he is an angel after all), Gabriel decides to withdraw for the time being.

However, he promises he and his heavily heavies will be back first thing in the morning to collect the child and the sword. With that threat looming, Maou asks Emi to stay at their place tonight, an offer that flusters both her and Chiho. Time for a sleepover!

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 04 – Staying Put

Yume cannot possibly fathom why Mizuto asked her out on a date, but at no point does she mind that it’s happening, even telling herself it’s a healthy part of any stepsibling relationship. She’s shocked to see Mizuto in a fetching vest and with product in his hair, giving off “intellectual yet charming young man with baggage” vibes, just her type.

But while Mizuto isn’t playing a prank on Yume, his intentions aren’t romantic. Rather, Kawanami convinced him that the best way to make Minami give up her fixation on marrying into their family is to show her a couple “madly in love”. Kawanami and Minami are watching him at all times.

As the “jerk trying to win back the ex he broke up to”, Mizuto feels stiff an awkward…and why wouldn’t he? He’s being watched and all his actions and words are informed by that fact. Despite this, Kawanami assures him he and Yume look like a real couple. And while Yume is confused why Mizuto is being so nice and sweet, she knows she likes it, and it’s preferable to their more usual prickly dynamic.

But it also reminds Yume of a time she’s not proud of, when she worked up the courage to ask Mizuto out, only to get lost when they went to a festival. She also gets lost at the aquarium in the present. But while she’d never felt so low as she did that night, she also scarcely ever felt as good as she did when he arrived with a can of royal milk tea, telling her she doesn’t have to be afraid because she can always rely on him.

As they continue their date, this time acting more naturally (that is, more nerdy) towards one another, it’s Mizuto’s turn to reminisce about when things started to go so wrong in their relationship. When one by one, his love for things she’d say and do turned to hatred. He feels now that they’re freed from their romantic bond, they have no obligation to love, nor reason to hate. He believes they’re in a healthier place.

That said, the date ends with Yume heading home first still having no clue why Mizuto chose such a “punishment”, but still had a good time. As for Minami, she apologizes for sneaking into his house, but doesn’t give up on trying to marry him after all. Well, at least it was a fun date!

When Mizuto comes home, it’s Yume’s turn to issue a punishment, and he has him pose for photos (…a lot of photos) while reading one of her favorite books while still in his handsome date garb. Her final request is for him to come from behind and whisper something in her ear. He obliges, and whispers “I’ve caught you”. All she can say in return is “You’ve caught me.”

Oh, and Minami and Kawanami used to date, and he ended up hospitalized! So we’re dealing with not one but two pairs of exes. But a date that was ostensibly meant to slow Minami’s roll ended up stirring up a lot of old feelings for Yume and Mizuto. The hatred that built up before their breakup has clearly subsided a great deal.

The Devil is a Part Timer!! – S2 E02 – Bringing Up Apple Baby

Alas Ramus is an Ente Isla name, but while that’s her apparent origin, the reason for the child suddenly appearing and imprinting upon Maou and Emi as her Mama and Papa remains a mystery throughout the episode. But since this circle of frenemies is made of kind and decent people, the mystery (and the ramifications of whether she really is Maou and Emi’s offspring) are secondary to the need for Alas Ramus to be cared for.

Those unable to take the child in give good reasons, while Suzuno steps up, citing her extensive childrearing experience. But Maou decides that his “castle” will be her home, even if he isn’t sure he has what it takes to be a dad (nor Ashiya and Urushihara her uncles).

Chiho doesn’t like the prospect of Maou having a kid with someone who isn’t her (eventually, in the future, mind you) but when her friend at school asks her how her confession went and she wonders if Maou can’t see her as an equal but only someone to be protected, she takes it upon herself to be the best goshdarn auntie she can be.

When she arrives at Maou’s Ashiya is looking gaunt after Alas cried basically all night. He is also genuinely grateful from the bottom of his heart that Chiho showd up with all the necessities one needs to take care of a young toddler. At her job, Emi is pressed by Suzuki about this new child in her life, and under duress produces the line of the episode: “It’s not like that! Um, I mean, it kind of is? But it’s not!”

Rika can tell that Emi is actually fired up about hanging out with this kid and offers her some free amusement park tickets. Meanwhile, Big Sis Chi and Suzu arrive at MgRonald with Alas in Chi’s arms, it looks to everyone in the shop that she’s holding her and Maou’s love child. Kisaki effortlessly holds Alas in her arms and takes them into the back room.

She’s not mad, just concerned: she knows Maou and Chiho are good kids, but society thoughtlessly leaps to conclusions fast, so she warns against doing anything that will cause rumors that might make things unpleasant or even harmful to them. When they’re on their own, though, Maou earnestly asks Chiho if he can keep relying on her, the only human in Japan he can trust. Chiho, realizing he doesn’t just see her as a damsel, is moved to happy tears.

When Kisaki presents Maou with three amusement park tickets, he and Emi end up with six—enough that even if the two of them take Alas for a day of fun while playing the roles of her parents, others are able to tag along and observe…and they do. Emi also makes it a point to hit up the salon and dress up to the nines for the “big day.”

Ashya and Chiho encounter each other fortuitously and decide to combine their recon efforts; they’re soon joined by Suzuki, who took off work for what she expects to be one hell of a cute “family date”. But the trip to the amusement park is almost sure to be interrupted by a guy I’m assuming to be Gabriel, who heads through a gate with several guards on a mission to restore the “Tree of Life” to its “proper form”. He must be talking about Alas Ramus, whose names mean “wing” and “branch.”

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 03 – Lettuce and Cheese

Yume looks back with no small degree of unfondness upon her “old” self—from six whopping whole months ago—as an “exceptionally introverted” girl who would save everything Mizuto gave her in a small lockable treasure box. And yet here she is in the present, with Mizuto’s boxers in her hands, and she can’t help but smell them.

Knowing that if he ever caught wind of this he’d make her submit to being his little sister, she waits until the wee hours of the night for him to go to bed so she can return the drawers. But before she can open his door, he opens it…holding her bra. Looks like she wasn’t the only one charmed by the distant past.

To their credit, Yume and Mizuto have a seat in the living room and discuss things logically. They both have the exact same excuse for how they came upon each other’s undergarments, but also both agree that absconding with underwear no matter the circumstances, isn’t appropriate sibling behavior. As such, they agree that each of them gets a free demand of the other—within social norms.

Mizuto declares that within their home they’re to be perfect brother and sister, but outside said walls, they can do whatever they plase. Yume soon learns what he means when he spots him at a MgRonald chatting with a cute girl with black hair and black-framed glasses—virtually the “old her”! She goes to Akatsuki with this information, who can’t deny that Mizuto might just have what it takes to sweep a shy girl off her feet.

The plot thickens when Yume comes home to find a pair of girl’s loafers in the genkan. Assuming the girl is with Mizuto in his room, Yume calls him to ask him to run an errand—”get lettuce and cheese”—and hears footsteps leaving the house. But when she approaches his door, he’s in his room, and doesn’t know of any girl.

…Except he does. One day he was approached in the library by the black-haired girl, who immediately asked him out with the ultimate goal of marriage. She then reveals she’s actually Akatsuki in disguise, and that she wants to marry Mizuto primarily so she can become Yume’s sister, and do sisterly things with her … like bathe her and apply lotion to her body.

Honestly I had no idea Akatsuki had this in her, but when Mizuto calls her childhood friend Kawanami, he is told that this is how Akatsuki is: once she’s infatuated with something she won’t let it go. I agree with Mizuto that Kawanami saying Akatsuki doted so intensely on a previous boyfriend in middle school that he ended up hospitalized is far-fetched, the bottom line is that Mizuto doesn’t like hassles.

He wants to make it as clear as possible as soon as possible to Akatsuki that he’s not interested in marriage. To that end, he decides to cash in his demand of Yume, and asks her to accompany her on a date tomorrow. Yume is no doubt both surprised and flattered. After all, Mizuto is an idiot but he’s her idiot, and seeing him with fake old her was a blow that this invitation helps to mitigate.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 12 – Not Yet

With Nagi and Sachi successfully making up, Erika decides she wants to take Nagi shopping after school…only he already has “something important” to do. That consists of having a study session with Hiro at the library, where they spend most of the time exchanging notes.

After that, Nagi is concerned with where else they can study more, but Hiro wants to show him more about herself, so she takes him to a kickboxing studio. Nagi isn’t completely physically incompetent, and thus impresses with his punch. Erika happens to walk by and see how much fun he and Hiro are having.

The last few episodes, Erika has been pretty okay with Nagi doing his own thing, and even said she’d root for him and Hiro, whom she adores. But actually seeing the two together has an effect she didn’t anticipate. She tries to counter that effect by reasserting their technical status as fiancés by announcing they’re going on a date together.

Just as Hiro did at the theme park, Erika takes the lead, buying Nagi some expensive clothes, taking him to a pet store to hang out with some reptiles, and finally going on an exhausting evening run. After each leg of their date, she stares at Nagi and looks disappointed. She eventually tells him: she saw him smiling like a goofball with Hiro, but he never smiles at her!

Nagi takes Erika’s problem to its logical conclusion: she got jealous and pissed seeing him and Hiro together, which means she likes him. Pointing this out doesn’t help matters, but Erika doesn’t outright deny it, simply saying “It’s not that I like you!…Yet!” before storming off.

Nagi, however, remains on the park bench until well after sundown, contemplating how Erika feels and how he in turn feels about that. He can’t deny his heart is racing, which makes him wonder if he likes Erika, and whether what he’s feeling for Hiro is love.

Nagi resorts to googling “love” then going back home for the first time in forever to consult his mega dictionary, but ends up finding a box full of love letters from his dad to his mom. Like, all of them were from his dad.

The letters are dumb, sappy, embarrassing…but his dad kept writing them, and his mom kept accepting them, and eventually accepted and returned his feelings, despite being seemingly out of his league. Sensing his son is questioning his love, he tells him to close his eyes and “ask his heart”—the one he loves should show up in his mind’s eye.

Nagi does this, and for the first time, all three girls appear at the same time, albeit with Erika in the center. Naturally, this is extremely confusing for Nagi, who has operated the entire first half of this series under the impression he loved Hiro and only Hiro. But between Erika and him living together and being pretty goshdarn great together and his realignment of how he sees Sachi, Nagi is finally seeing the full, multi-girl picture.

Of course, this is just the initial awareness stage. It remains to be seen whether he accepts that he has feelings of various levels for Erika, Hiro, and Sachi, or that one day a choice will have to be made that might break two of their hearts (or all three). But it’s a satisfying development nonetheless, and I liked his text response to Erika: he doesn’t like her either…yet. For both of them, “yet” is a shield, but it’s also a kind of invitation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 12 (Fin) – Happier Than Any Dream

Shikimori closes out its 12-episode run by pulling out all the adorable romantic stops en route to one of the sweetest, most heartwarming date episodes ever animated. It’s starts off with Shikimori revealing her very cool suit and coat she wears to the date, not wanting to be hampered by a skirt.

The two totally geek out over the Disneyland-style theme park, and while other people around them start to express their impatience over a 90-minute line for a ride, the two lovebirds pass the time effortlessly by just chatting and laughing with one another.

By the time they’re almost to the end of the Sleeping Beauty-themed ride, Izumi-hime nods off, and Shikimori-ouji leans in for the kiss to wake him. She’d have done it too, if not for a spot of Izumi-style bad luck where the exit doors open at precisely the wrong moment.

From there, Izumi suggests a shorter line next, to which Shikimori says she’ll wait in any line of any length, since being with him makes everything more fun. She takes his hand and runs to the next amusements, then he runs ahead and takes the lead, and the two just generally have the absolute time of their lives, firmly ensconced atop cloud nine.

When there’s a hiccup involving Izumi’s dinner reservation, the restaurant makes it up to them by giving them a choice table with a gorgeous view of the Venice-styled cityscape and a lavish multi-course meal complete with fancy redundant cutlery.

Izumi adorably orders an orange juice, while Shikimori gets a ginger ale, and looks at Izumi through it. She notes how everything around her looks prettier when she’s with him, and makes her wonder how beautiful the world is through Izumi’s eyes. The two hold hands and just gaze at each other as the waitress looks on, no doubt amused by how goshdarn cute these kids are.

While Izumi mistakes the “thing in the commercial” Shikimori wants them to do as escorting her, by the time they’re aboard a nighttime gondola ride together, Izumi realizes she meant smoochin’. Just before they take a photo together, the entire park goes dark from a freak power outage. Izumi curses his luck…but again, it works out to their advantage here.

With nothing but darkness around them and only the light of his phone, their situation is a distillation of how they already are: they have eyes for nothing and no one but each other. If this was a dream, Shikimori wouldn’t want to wake up. For a few glorious minutes the gondola becomes their entire world. There, Shikimori plants a princely kiss upon Izumi’s hand, and then Izumi one-ups her by delivering a peck on the cheek.

I hasten to add that all of these gestures, as the interactions and expressions between these two have been throughout the show’s run, are impeccably, lovingly lit and animated. The compositions, direction, and underlying feelings are enough to carry scenes like this, but the production values really propel them to another level.

Just before the lights come back on, Izumi gets the chance to look and sound cool as he brings up how worried she was about them drifting away a while ago, but he confidently re-confesses his love to her, and promises he’ll never leave her side. The power of Izumi’s cool face and cooler words is so much for Shikimori she has to melt into him for a little while, even after the lights come back on. Forget about dreams; what she’s feeling right here and now in reality is far better than any dream.

The episode could have ended right there and still been an easy five stars, but we get curtain calls for Shuu, Kyou, and Yui as they try to suss out of Izumi and Shikimori “what happened” on their date. Izumi twists himself into a work of modern art of embarrassment, whle Shikimori’s blushing over a kiss on the cheek is not the heavy details Inspectors Nekozaki and Hachimitsu were trying to get out of the pink-haired perp.

Still, as long as Shikimori and Izumi are happy—and they sure seem to be the happiest couple around—it doesn’t matter if a kiss on the actual lips is beyond their abilities. They have all the time in the world to take little or big steps forward in the future. The episode ends on a pitch-perfect note, reiterating how Shikimori is incredibly cute and cool by spin-kicking an errant can about to hit Izumi into a garbage can twenty feet away, then continuing on her way.

I’m honestly still pretty deep into the “warm and fuzzies” after this sweet and gooey masterpiece of a finale, but that’s what a great romantic anime does: it sweeps you up completely in the same kind of feelings of love and excitement its lead couple is experiencing. It’s a cozy, comforting blanket that, like the shoujo manga that changed Shikimori’s life, reminded you how amazing love is.

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