A Couple of Cuckoos – 09 – Batting Off Steam

While informing Nagi the bath is free, Sachi’s towel slips off, but in a nice subversion of the trope, Nagi isn’t awake to see anything. Sachi, however, sees one of Hiro’s texts on his phone, referencing a d-d-d-date. The next morning, Erika finds Nagi all dressed up and ready to go. Nagi meets Hiro resplendent in comfy casual clothes, and is excited for their date, but also expects it to be another shrine stamp-collecting affair.

So he’s surprised to find Hiro has taken them to an amusement park. She usually goes alone, so it’s significant she’s bringing him along. Yes, she is doing it in part for the couples discount, but also because she believes Nagi can “keep up” with her. That proves mostly true, as Nagi accompanies her on every heart-racing ride again and again, and even accidentally kisses a reflection of her in the hall of mirrors.

Back home Erika finds Sachi texting curses to her brother and confirms that he’s on a date with a Hiro-chan, appreciating that Sachi feels like the other girl is taking her brother away. Sachi is also upset he’s out on a date when he’s engaged, calling it “indecent”—something Erika never considered as she never planned to actually marry the guy. No Nagi around affords the biological sisters another opportunity to hang out, as Erika tags along when Sachi goes on her usual de-stressing trip to the batting cages and public bath.

Nagi returns home having felt like his date with Hiro was a “disaster”, but he’s way overreacting. There’s nothing wrong with a girl saying she thinks you’re “cute”, and it’s obvious she had a lot of fun by the way she was humming when they parted ways. A few hours later, at three in he morning, Nagi and Sachi’s dad (and Erika’s biological dad) arrives at their door, saying they’re all going fishing.

Turns out this is a tradition for both Nagi and Nagi’s dad, though Nagi always gets seasick and always says he has a terrible time. His dad though, has always picked times when he knew Nagi was down, and there’s nothing like fishing to take you out of a bad place and into a better one. While Erika and Sachi compete for the biggest catch, Nagi admits to his dad that he “doesn’t hate” his life right now.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 11 – Changing With the Colors of the Sky

It’s the final day of the festival, which means it’s the final day for Kaguya to tell the president how she feels and the final day for him to wait for her to tell him before he tells her how he feels. At first there’s that same old hesitation, as she visits Miyuki at his class’ balloon sculpture booth and wastes a perfectly good opportunity to swap hearts by meekly offering him cold hard cash for a balloon heart and running away. Frankly, it’s a wasted segment, as we knew there was no way there’d be a confession so early.

Since Yuu’s fate is so important for creating an atmosphere where romance is welcome rather than rejected (in favor of an atmosphere of commiseration should Tsubame outright reject him), not to mention this is the second-to-last episode, it’s important for this storyline to edge towards resolution. Tsubame is worried if she dates Yuu she’ll devote her entire self to him (as opposed to the countless suitors who want a casual but low-stakes good time).

When she reaches out to Kaguya for advice on how to say know, at first Kaguya gives her her boilerplate “wipe that lustful look of your face, you swine!” and tells her what won’t kill Yuu will make him stronger…but then like Miyuki last week realize the damage such a rejection would cause her chances with the president, so she backpedals, and they witness both Chika and Miko deal with offers from boys in their own ways.

Chika obviously challenges her would-be beau to a quiz and tells him she her love can’t be tied down. Miko is cornered by two dudes and seemingly gives in to their offer to hang out later before Yuu swoops in and rescues her from her own lack of composure. Tsubame watches this side of Yuu she hadn’t seen before and reconsiders an automatic rejection due simply to concerns she’ll neglect other parts of her life in favor of her boyfriend.

Finally, the time comes when Kaguya is hoping Miyuki will ask her to wander around the festival with him…and he does! So they do! And it’s adorable! She marvels at his composure while they stroll the hallways side by side, invoking awe from all their classmates, but she doesn’t know the weight of the bombshell he’s withholding from her (i.e., Stanford).

The two also take great pains to keep it together at the fortune teller as she tells them they’re basically the perfect couple for one another (and given training, could be great in bed as well). The teller calling Kaguya a “surface of pure water” influenced by changes in the color of the sky is not only a lovely way of describing her personality, but also tracks with the credit sequence where she is influenced by the evil aliens until Miyuki gets her back.

The rest of their date unfolds as you’d expect, and Kaguya is on cloud nine, the clear water glowing with happiness now that she’s finally experiencing what before she’d only been able to imagine. However, it all comes to an end when they return to the StuCo office and Miyuki presents her with his acceptance letter from Stanford, and his intent to skip a grade and study abroad there, making this his final festival at Shuchiin.

After delivering this information to Kaguya, the episode ends in dead silence, with Kaguya in shock and a note from “Arsene (Lupin)”, the “Phantom Thief” Chika has been chasing in the background, stating simply “To Be Continued.” But we still get the Starship Troopers-inspired credits, the meta-story of which is a reversal of the current situation: it’s Miyuki who is being borne to a far-flung land, and up to Kaguya to either convince him to stay or go after him and get him back.

Miyuki seems pretty intent on going through with this, and you can’t blame him with his and his family’s tenuous financial situation. People abandon their ideal romantic future for pragmatism’s sake all the time; I just hope that’s not what happens here. But now Kaguya knows what we’ve known. Miyuki was always going to present this future to her, and presumably still plans to confess if she doesn’t.

The festival is winding down, and there’s still a campfire to be lit. Perhaps that will be when something happens. It will have to be, since we’re just about out of season 3 episodes! I maintain, however, that if there’s nothing but loneliness and distance waiting for Kaguya and Miyuki, I maintain that will hate this series with the passion of a billion burning suns forevermore. That will categorically not stop me from watching that play out in a fourth season.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 11 – What Does Normal Mean?

Ever since that camp kiss I’ve been itching for some kind of confirmation of what was said between Aharen and Raidou, and why she ran to her tent in tears after kissing him. Unfortunately the show has zero interest in elucidating those matters, so the key to enjoying the episodes that follow has been tabling that curiosity and not letting it curdle into frustration.

Once that’s done, one can enjoy the first fallen snow of the season, which Aharen uses to build a giant Shirorin igloo where she dresses up as a maid and lovingly prepares a fancy marinated steak for Raidou’s breakfast. “Official” or not, it’s clear Aharen cares enough about this galoot to go to these lengths.

When she invites him back to the Café Aharen after school, they find it has collapsed, probably due to the heat of that day’s sun. Raidou comforts Aharen by waxing philosphical on the impermanence of all things and offers to help her rebuild. This results in the construction of a Godzilla igloo…for some reason.

After their efforts, Raidou notices Aharen’s hands are red and shivering, so he takes them into his and warms them up. Lest there be any doubt about Aharen’s feelings for Raidou, she warms up extremely quickly while the redness becomes localized in the facial area.

The next day Aharen greets and walks so stiffly, Raidou wonders if she’s turned into some kind of Mega Man. They go to the nurse’s office, but neither the nurse nor Ooshiro are there, so Raidou volunteers to help her stretch. Turns out she can take quite a bit more force than he expected, as his efforts to go easy on her only lead to her wanting more.

When Aharen notices Raidou is also stiff in the back and shoulders, she agrees to walk on his back. She’s worried she’s “too heavy”, but he says he’s not that delicate, and indeed she’s the perfect weight an her steps the perfect rhythm to lull him to sleep. Aharen tries to use this to steal another kiss, but the nurse arrives at just the wrong moment.

It’s comforting to know I am not the only one curious about what happened at the camping trip; audience surrogates and “normal kids” Satou and Ishikawa are trying to determine the same thing.

In the process, Satou and Ishikawa have a nice little one-on-one chat where she notes that everyone around them is so weird she wonders if she’s not normal for being normal, while Ishikawa, her childhood friend, tells her he likes the variety, and also thinks she’s interesting too. Maybe these two normies should be looking in a mirror as to who is dating whom!

The next day is the weekend, and without explanation we see Raidou in street clothes waiting for Aharen, who was up late deciding what to wear. This is clearly date stuff, but neither of them comments on it, because they probably aren’t aware.

Raidou assumed Aharen wanted to participate in the blade spinner tournament at the mall, but for much of their date she seems to be surveying all the available food, leading him to wonder if she’s secretly a hotel tycoon. Aharen clears things up; she’s going all-out for her family’s New Years dinner.

Just when Raidou is starting to realize this might be, if not a date, a very good day, Futaba and Akkun show up. Akkun sees Aharen clinging to Raidou and challenges the “junior apprentice” to a blade spinner duel at the tournament. Both lose in the first round, while Aharen wins her fifth straight Ultimate Division belt. Turns out she stayed up late customizing her spinner after choosing what to wear!

Finally, the definition of their day comes down to the mouths of babes, specifically Futaba. When Raidou describes what he and Aharen have done, she informs them that that’s, like…a damn date. With that realization, Aharen once again turns red and starts steaming.

Even if we’re not getting any straight or normal answers, it’s pretty clear these two are an inseparable pair, and actions matter more than definitions. As for why Ooshiro was absent this entire episode? She’s been training her mind and body for what seems to be a final challenge to Raidou.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 03 – Not Clowning Around

It’s been established that Yuu is accident-prone, but his misfortunate is mitigated by the fact he has a cute and amazing girlfriend in Micchon, made only cuter by the fact she frets so much about what to wear on their first movie date together. It’s as if she isn’t aware that she’d look good in anything, even her comfy home sweats. Oh, also, she has a brother.

Micchon settles on a cute collared one piece dress and Mary Janes. She’s also early, knowing Yuu might be delayed by various unlucky occurrences. When it comes time to pick a movie, she tells him whatever he likes is fine, but he wants to learn more about her, so insists that they watch what she wants. Unfortunately for him, it’s a scary clown movie!

Micchon admits that movies like this scare her, so Yuu learns that yes, she does feel fear! But Yuu is more outwardly scared by the film, so while he goes in fully prepared to comfort Micchon if she gets scared, it’s her who takes his trembling hand into hers and calms him down (and keeps him conscious).

Yuu saved up so that he could get fancy pancakes with Micchon, but then misfortune strikes when he notices the string he tied to keep from losing his wallet snapped. But then good fortune befalls them when his adorable parents invite them to a feast at home. As with the movie, Micchon is excellent at hiding her nervousness, but assures Yuu that she can’t not be when she’s in the home of the one she loves.

Micchon also learns that Yuu gets his unlucky streak in part from his mother, as she must catch an errant fork headed for Yuu’s face and then catch a wet dish his mom drops. His mom seems oblivious to where he gets it from. I love how Micchon instantly starts calling Yuu’s parents mom and dad, and how his mom gives her more insight into his unlucky past.

When she says she hopes Micchon won’t “grow impatient” with Yuu, Micchon tells her that her belief that Yuu’s unluckiness is why he’s so kind and caring, because he understands pain better than anyone. Micchon has never once felt impatient or thought that Yuu was trouble; if anything, it’s an honor to support and protect such a beautiful soul.

Her heartfelt words are enough to make Yuu’s mom blush. In an anime world where parents are either dead, off at work or at odds with their kid or their choice of partner, it’s nice to see Yuu in a loving home and to see Micchon get along famously with his parents.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Love After World Domination – 01 (First Impressions) – Opposite Factions Attract

Aikawa Fudou is Red Gelato, leader of the Freezing Sentai Gelato 5. Magahara Desumi is the Reaper Princess of Secret Society Gecko. They should be mortal enemies, but when we meet the two, they’re having an adorable third date together, and contemplating holding hands.

The prospect of holding hands seems far too advanced for these two romantically stunted people. But when Blue Gelato enters the frame, Fudou and Desumi have no trouble holding hands…as they grapple in a sudden struggle of life and death between hero and villainess. Or at least that is the illusion these two lovers must maintain.

Love After World Domination isn’t what I expected. I thought that Fudou and Desumi were simply actors in some kind of super sentai show. But there’s every indication the Gelato 5 are actual superheroes, while Desumi really is an actual villainess. They all may have their downtime in civilian clothes, but when it’s “showtime” they’re fighting an actual war against each other.

About a week before their third date, Fudou delegates the defeat of Gecko’s boss in bear form to the others Gelato rangers, while he takes on the Reaper Princess by himself. She’s impressed that he can keep up with her, while he’s astonished by her beauty, grace, and ability. In other words, it’s love at first sight for both of them, totally irrespective of their firmly opposite affiliations.

Professor Big Gelato, who is in charge of the Gelato 5, hears Fudou imply that heroes can’t fall in love and smacks him in the face, oficially ordering him to tell the woman he loves how he feels. Little doe Professor Big know that the woman in question is one of the Gelato 5’s greatest foes.

Meeting Desumi one-on-one in a particularly romantic moonlit setting, Fudou comes right out and tells her he loves her…in the first episode. Desumi tries to point out all the reasons why no one could ever love her, but Fudou is a regular on her social media accounts and thus has learned a great deal about her and has fallen for her. She’s not not open to the idea of dating, even if she knows nothing about dating.

Fortunately, Fudou knows fuck-all about dating too, which means they’ll be fumbling through it together, which will make it that much more fun to experience, as well as for us the viewers to watch. The premise of enemies falling for one another is a simple yet immensely powerful one, hearkening to Romeo & Juliet and before.

But integrating the quirky dynamics of sentai heroes vs. occult baddies is an inspired choice, and the execution is competent as it is cute. This episode got me thoroughly excited to see how far these two goofy lovebirds will go with their forbidden love.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 09 – The Thing You Wanted Most

Once, in a blue moon, an anime gives you exactly what you want. This was one of those times. All I wanted was to bask in the adorable bliss of Takagi and Nishikata’s 100% Unrequited Love: The Movie Date, and that is what I got. No school, no ancillary characters…just our main couple, together, like they were always meant to be.

The show teases us a bit by starting with Nishikata’s dream of “SanTa-kagi” visiting his home in the middle of the night and giving him a gag gift, then shows us Takagi at the ferry pier looking lonely and a little worried…until she spots Nishikata running to her, late and apologetic.

Nishikata realizes that with the year about to end he hasn’t scored a single victory against Takagi; a wrong he’s determined to right. After the ferry ride, he suggests they kill time at an arcade, and come across a new 100% crane game. His heart is set on the Kyunko+Ikeo plushie set, but tries to go for the easier score: a puzzle.

He fails, losing both to Takagi and to himself for trying for the easy win at the cost of what he really wanted. Then it’s Takagi’s turn at the controls and she quickly and effortlessly acquires the plushie set…which she can tell was the thing Nishikata really wanted, and so immediately gifts to him. She’s simply happy to have done something to make him happy.

When the two move on to the movie theater, Nishikata is very cognizant of the fact that some “couples” there might be fake couples who are only putting on airs so they can get the special gift for couples. While he considers himself and Takagi to be one of those “couples of convenience”, he’s determined to pass them off as a real couple (which of course they actually are).

This results in him strutting up to one of the attendants and declaring “two tickets for the Nishikata couple”—rather than Nishikata reservation—both surprising and delighting Takagi in the process. They also decide to go in on a “100% In Love Set”—two sodas and a large popcorn to share. Before heading into the theater, Nishikata hangs back to go to the bathroom, but he really just needs some time alone to write a Christmas card for Takagi.

When he enters the theater and spots the familiar back of Takagi’s head, he thinks to himself “I’m gonna sit…right next to her?” Yes you are, Nishikata, and you’ll like it! The two unwrap the special couple gift, which turns out to be a set of miniature figurines of a Santa Ikeo giving Shunko a Christmas gift.

The movie starts, and as the two lovebird dip into the popcorn their hands touch. As we know, the same voice actors who voice them also voice Shunko and Ikeo. The two thoroughly enjoy the movie, with Nishikata unable to hold back tears as the credits roll.

After the movie, the two stroll around town a bit, with Takagi asking Nishikata what kind of girl is his type, guessing that it’s someone like Kyunko—a bit of a klutz but also earnest and kind and always trying her best. Nishikata says he doesn’t think of Kyunko quite that way, and that’s to be expected, as he’s the Kyunko to Takagi’s Ikeo in their relationship!

Quite suddenly, Takagi challenges Nishikata to a race to an electric pole, which he wins easily, netting him his first and only “win” of the year, just what he wanted. Naturally, he gets totally full of himself and believes he simply cannot lose to Takagi, proving it by having her guess which hand he has a coin in.

Later, she bumps into him from behind, and, sensing something’s up, asks her straight-up what’s up with her. Turns out she decided to try acting like the klutzy-yet-earnest Kyunko for a little while, hoping he’d think she was cute. But Nishikata likes Takagi the way she is, teasing and all.

Takagi just happens to pose in front of the town Christmas tree as it lights up, spurning Nishikata to produce his Christmas present to her: a pair of gloves to keep her hands warm. Takagi can’t hide her surprise, nor her joy, at being given a thoughtful gift by the boy she likes. Nishikata notes that this isn’t turning out anything like his dream…which is good!

Takagi then gives Nishikata her Christmas gift to him: a scarf she made for him, partly while they were on library duty. Then they board the ferry back home, and Nishikata walks Takagi to her house, and they wave goodbye to each other. There’s no classic “confession” scene…but there doesn’t have to be one.

Nishikata walks, then runs home full of joy, having experienced perhaps the best day of his life. The Christmas card he bought and wrote for Takagi was advertised at the store as something “to someone you care about!” Turns out Takagi bought the very same card for him.

So while the actual messaging on the cards is somewhat cordial—he writes “Thanks for everything today”; she writes “Thanks for another fun year”—the more important message conveyed to one another is that they wrote those messages on a card they bought knowing it was for someone they cared about. Someone they love spending time with.

I don’t see how Nishikata can ever dare to deny who Takagi is to him anymore. Not after he, and Takagi, and all of us got everything we could have ever asked for, and more, out of the Best Date Ever.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Love of Kill – 01 (First Impressions) – With a Song in Her Heart

Bounty Hunter Chateau Dankworth (Oonishi Saori) comes afoul of a killer more skilled than she: Song Ryang-ha (Shimono Hiro). He overpowers her, but it’s not her life he wants to steal; it’s her heart. So he lets her go in exchange for her name and number.

While Chateau’s options were limited that night, she quickly comes to regret the one she chose. Song proceeds to constantly text, call, and even send her a video of a target of hers he caught first, and is willing to offer her in a trade.

They meet at a juice bar Song digs, but as you’d expect, Chateau wants to get down to cold, logical business, not juice. Her gambit involves surprising and then stunning him with a taser, but he’s to quick, and almost seems to predict her movements. It’s gotta be frustrating for a skilled killer like Chateau to more than meet her match.

Song’s terms for giving her her target are nothing monetary. Rather, he wants to go on a date with her for Christmas Eve. Chateau, who distrusts anything free but can’t pass up the opportunity to cross a name off her list, goes along with it, showing up an hour late doing the bare minimum needed for their encounter to be interpreted as a “date”.

Song takes thing to a fancy hotel room with a gorgeous city view, complete with dinner and a 1982-vintage wine. Chateau wisely remains at a remove, wondering out loud how Song plans to “use her” and why she’d be “of interest” to him. To Song’s credit, he doesn’t try anything truly vile, and when Chateau wants to leave, they check out.

Before parting ways at the station, Song does get in a quick farewell hug to “confirm” something: her “scent” doesn’t bother him, while everyone else smells “putrid”. We end with a cryptic voiceover portending a “final stop” in their romance “ending in tears”, then a flashback to a young Chateau in the back of a car, presumably her parent murdered in the driver’s seat.

Love of Kill had me feeling a lot of things. Contempt for Song, mostly, and sympathy for Chateau, who couldn’t escape his clutches if she tried. I love stoic, logical characters like Chateau; even though she doesn’t really say or do much, she exudes a wonderfully cool detached aura, which makes Song’s stalking that much more upsetting.

The thing is, as someone rather desensitized to antiheroes (Soprano, White, Draper, and Dexter to name a few), I didn’t despise Song, and even kinda sorta came to understand why he decided to pursue Chateau with such gusto. If everyone in the world “smelled” terrible to you and made you sick, what would you do if you suddenly found someone who didn’t?

So far I can’t really see Chateau falling for this guy, but at the very least they seem to be kindred spirits: killers keeping themselves at an expansive remove from the rest of humanity. Regardless, I definitely want to see where this goes.

The World’s Finest Assassin – 10 – Carpe Dia

With an opening featuring Lugh and Tarte sailing in their swimsuits to meet Maha on the beach, this week’s WFA had the makings of a dawdle before the inevitable Shit went down. But sexy as it seems, their trip to a tropical island was purely about magical training in private, while Maha provides crucial intel on the Hero, believing him to be Setanta MacNess. MacNess is a soldier in the forces rebelling against the royal family in Swoigel.

Dia’s House Viekone is in Swoigel, so the next time Lugh visits her, it’s under the assumption that he’ll swoop in to rescue her from her kingdom’s civil war. Even when he says the Hero could be among the rebels (with Gae Bolg, a Divine Treasure I’ve heard of once or twice in other properties), Dia holds firm that she’s not fleeing her home.

She laughs off their little fight and suggests that since her father and his attendants are away, the two of them should go out. To satisfy Lugh’s desire for security, she dyes her hair brown like his when they go out. What ensues is their first official date in this, the first episode in a long while to focus on Dia and Lugh exclusively.

As you’d expect of two people who love each other, they have an absolute blast, whether it’s Lugh instructing Dia on how to use a bow and arrow to win a bear, to working together to find a lost child’s mother, to enjoying lasagna on a veranda overlooking a grand mountain vista. It’s pretty much the perfect date.

It gets even perfect-er when Dia takes Lugh to a hot spring she had reserved just for the two of them. One thing Dia is not reserved about is being naked in front of Lugh, as the two end up skinny dipping in what may well be better descirbed as a heated pool.

There, as comfortably and content as they can possibly be, Dia tells Lugh that she loves her home and everyone in it, just as he loves Tuatha Dé, and she’ll serve its interests until the very end. They embrace, and kiss, and their hair changes back to normal.

From this perfect moment in the hot spring, things get a bit dark. Lugh promising to make Dia lasagna when she visits his home felt like a flag of some kind, and there’s something very iffy about Dia’s “I’ll call you” with regards to when theyll meet next, which it seems won’t be next month.

Then I remembered when they were in town and Lugh could sense a lot of strength and murderous intent around him. Turns out that’s because everyone they encountered were Viekone soldiers in disguise, carefully watching over Dia. They strip of their street clothes and stand at attention as she strides by, her chestnut hair returning to silver.

After a particularly beautiful rendition of the ending theme by Dia’s amazing seiyu Ueda Reina (seriously, this is some of her finest work yet), we get the mother of all cliffhangers: Lugh is summoned into his house by Tarte where his parents are tending to a seriously injured man. His dad tells him the man has a job for them: assassinate Dia Veikone, the woman Lugh loves.

Everything had been going Lugh’s way, so it was about time he ran into a setback. But by god what a turn. While Dia loves Lugh more than anyone else, her duty to her country comes first, hence this first and last ideal date. I’d also considered that maybe Dia is the Hero (with MacGee simply a red herring) but honestly it makes more sense if she’s the one he has to save from the hero.

To do so, he’ll have to practice what he’s preached about no longer being a tool, but choosing who he kills. And I can’t believe Lugh would ever choose to kill Dia. I guess we’re about to find out.

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 10 – That Sweet Pain

Parting is sweet sorrow, but before that, Irina and Lev’s first and last official date is just plain sweet. Their usual bar is closed, so they go see a movie instead—one about traveling to the moon, natch. Her theater etiquette leads much to be desired, but as Lev learns during their night picnic under the aurora, her kholodets game is pretty solid.

When the time comes for what would normally be a gradual lean in for a kiss, Lev instead remembers the weakened Irina sucking his blood from his arm, and decides to bear his neck to her. She almost digs in, but for the sound of the approaching bus, so the two settle for a significantly less intimate but still sweet, and for Irina, tearful, hug.

Unfortunately, that’s the last we see of these two together this week, which makes the rest of the episode a bit of a drag and a downer. Much is made of Lev and Mikhail being the final two candidates for the first human spaceflight, but there’s no real reason to ever think it won’t be Lev. Still, the two are the subjects of a photo session in the capital of Sangrad to make it look like they live and have always lived there, for the benefit of the public.

As for Irina, she and Anya just happen to be in Not-Red Square when Irina spots Lev and rushes towards him, only to be stopped by suited security goons. Anya has ice creams slapped out of her hands and is scolded for letting Irina out of her sight. Turns out there is no “Design Bureau”, Irina continues to undergo tests and counts down the days down until the launch, when she suspects she’ll be of no further use and disposed of.

Little does she know the saucy Comrade-Secretary Ludmila Harlova does have plans for Irina as some kind of weapon, and besides that considers her too cute to eliminate. Since she’s essentially Gergiev’s right hand (and may be eyeing his job for all her talk of “revolution”), that means Irina will almost certainly live.

As for Lev, he is chosen to be the first human in space, basically because he’s less of an arrogant prick than Mikhail, which…sure, fine! He reunites with the Chief at the flight center, and names his capsule Aster, which in the language of flowers (in Zirnitra at least) represents hoping someone far away is safe.

Irina has to settle for seeing Lev as a constellation in the sky, or mistaking Anya for him. I (1.) hope she’s not slowly going mad and (2.) sincerely hope that she and Lev can meet again, because when the two of them aren’t sharing the screen together, everything—even the first human spaceflight—feels a little less special.

Takt Op. Destiny – 09 – New York, Old Problems

While it’s a shame they skipped Baltimore and Philadelphia, there’s definitely a sense of sudden, profound accomplishment when we see Anna’s trusty blue 70s sedan rumble down Times Square. They’ve made it! Now Destiny can get tuned and stop sapping Takt’s life and everything’s going to be okay!

The sense of having arrived at one’s destination after a long road trip (with several exciting detours) is reinforced by the fact that Anna and Cosette’s elder sister Lotte and their parents live in NYC, which means reuniting with them feels like returning home. Anna, having finally gotten Destiny and Takt to the Symphonica, deserves a rest.

Unfortunately there’s no rest for the deserving, as Lotte’s tests on Takt and Destiny bear no promising fruit. Their contract between Conductor and Musicart, while more symbiotic than parasitic, will nonetheless soon result in both dying, confirming that Takt’s corroded arm is not only permanent, but cumulative.

Lotte tells the pair that their only hope is…to not fight. If they settle down, stop hunting D2s and live normal lives, they’ll live far longer. After a full-on New York Day of food, drink, shopping, sightseeing, and aquarium-ing, Takt and Destiny get a pretty decent taste of what that life might be like. The problem is, like everyone else in the city, their lives are constantly dependent on the Symphonica’s protection.

Neither Takt nor Destiny refuse the possibility of settling down out of hand, rather its just that Destiny still can’t imagine a life without battle, which is not only her duty, but purpose. Not to mention neither of them probably like the prospect of being “intentionally useless” by letting others fight and die for their sake. They still have the power to fight, and so they’ll keep hoping that the fighting will end and they can enjoy live music in the park together.

Except…they suddenly have to leave NYC immediately and takt Anna and Cosette’s family with them, according to Lenny sounding as grim as we’ve ever heard him. When Takt assures him he’s not an “outsider”, Lenny agrees to tell Takt the truth about everything: even the infamous incident ten years ago in Boston.

It all starts with Destiny hearing another tuning fork, which means Felix was far from the only Symphonica member using the D2 to fuel his own ambitions. From that musical stab as the camera locked on Heaven’s eyes, the trouble could go all the way to the top. Do Takt and Destiny retreat with their family as Lenny urges, or remain New York, where everything is happening, to see where the cards fall?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 09 – A Softening of Thorns

Not-Russia’s head honcho doesn’t like how the not-Americans are progressing with their space program, and the Chief promises they’ll have a human in space by Spring. That human will be one of three people: Mikhail, Roza…and Lev. As you’d expect, Lev is over the moon about getting one step closer to it, while Mikhail is more reserved and Roza downright cold, telling him his “tongue is honey” and his “heart is ice.”

While wishing Mikhail and Roza would be more friendly, Lev mostly just wants to give Irina the good news, driving home the fact he cares for her a great deal. She, in turn, can’t hide how much Irina cares for Lev, as Anya mentions to him that she even threw a pine cone on the ice to make a wish. Irina, not to mention Lev and Anya, have a lot of fun faces this week as the highly procedural show lets its hair down a bit.

We also see how much Irina and Anya have grown as friends, with the latter giving the former a full progress report on the three final candidates. Mikhail and the “White Rose” Roza are still running first and second, and Irina can’t help but tip her hat at the nickname, as Roza is certainly full of thorns. Later, after running out of her dungeon due to embarrassment over Lev, Irina asks Anya if she’s been useful and still has value. The sweet and empathetic Anya naturally reassures her with both words and a hug.

Roza’s position as Number Two among the candidates suddenly goes up in flames when she loses control during a high-speed skydive. She spins out of control, unable to move, but Lev catches up to her, steadies her, and pulls her cord. It means Lev has to pull his cord a few seconds late and ends up landing in a forest, but he saved Roza’s life, and later Roza makes no bones about knowing that.

When Roza asks Lev why he saved her, Lev simply said he moved on his own to save a pal. There was no why, only that bond he feels, which has been one-sided up to this point. Roza thanks him by smiling, buying him a soda water, and apologizing for all the nasty things she’s said both to him and Irina, who she calls by name for the first time. The face turn seems sudden but only until you remember she really thought she was going to die. I for one am delighted they found another note for Roza besides prickly bitter xenophobe!

As for Miss Luminesk, who has always been a kaleidoscopic symphony of notes, she and Anya happen to walk by while Lev and Roza seem to be enjoying each other’s company, sparking a degree of jealousy. She’s almost assassinated in the street by a car, whose driver is swiftly executed by Nataliya, who proves she’s as much Irina’s bodyguard as her dorm mother.

Laika was never going to “dispose” of its titular protagonist, but there was always the possibility she and Lev would be separated by powers outside their control. Irina puts on a brave face regarding her choice to relocate to he capital to aid in space research, because it means not being close enough to Lev to hang out whenever they want.

Still, Lev is happy the government he could take or leave is finally seeing the value in Irina, and wishes her well. Anya also arranges for the two to have one last, first date together on Armed Forces Day. Irina’s face upon seeing Lev arrive bang on time is worth a thousand bittersweet words.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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