Spy x Family – 03 – A Grand Ooting

Yor arrives at her new home and the Forger family is complete. Loid is surprised by how little luggage she has and how quickly and efficiently she puts it away; Yor is surprised by how clean the place is and how good a cook Loid is. Anya almost opens up Yor’s box of death, but is warned by Yor’s own thoughts not to.

While the three get along just fine to start, once they actually have to start practicing the Eden interview, things go sideways fast. Anya’s answers are too honest (she’s ordered to stay home and watch TV all day) while Yor’s are all over the place (and strangely bloody). Loid begins to doubt if this mission can work.

That said, they all go out for the kind of outing (mispronounced “ooting” by Anya) that upper class families go on. They certainly look the part. First up is the opera, then a museum (where Anya gets a kick out of the classical nudity while Yor digs the guillotine). In the kids section Anya scribbles her parents’ true identities (which, again, they don’t know she knows), but since they’re just that—kid’s scribbles—Loid and Yor chalk it up to her vivid imagination.

When a political rally turns out to be too much for Anya (she’s overwhelmed by the combined negative thoughts of the hundreds of people assembled)  the three head to a café for some lunch. There, Loid’s doubts about the viability of the mission resurface, as Anya has terrible table manners for a purported upper class child, and Yor is again way too blissed out on cutlery.

Yor suggests they have a nice after-lunch rest at a quiet park with a great view of the city (I got a kick out of Anya saying the people look like “tiny bits of trash”—now that’s upper class thinking). But when one of those people turns out to be a thief stealing a purse from an elderly woman, Yor springs into action, though quickly loses the culprit in the crowds.

Anya scans those crowds for the thoughts of the thief, and when she finds him, rather than expose her power she simply points at a restaurant near to where the thief is, and Loid does the rest. Yor watches Anya while he chases him down and retrieves the wallet. Then they take the grandma, who has quite a strong handshake to the hospital to be checked out.

When the three start interacting naturally in front of the granny, she remarks what a lovely family they are. That’s when Loid starts to think that maybe, just maybe they can pull off this academy admission plan. That, and after a day full of upper-class activities (and one citizen’s arrest), Anya’s answers in the next mock interview are a lot more convincing.

They may be an odd family who are keeping profound secrets from one another (with only Anya knowing the truth about everyone), but they also happen to be adorable, and their interactions throughout this episode were a pure joy to watch unfold as they take their first tentative steps to being a family.

Spy x Family – 02 – Put a (Grenade) Ring on It

The world Loid and Anya live in is extremely paranoid and treacherous, with people fucking each other over as easily as breathing. Kind, innocent souls like Yor risk getting reported simply for being single, since its believed such spinsterism threatens the nation’s birth rate. So when one of her bitchy co-workers invites her to a party, she’d better have a man on her arm.

It speaks to how dark and unpleasant this world is that even otherwise decent people like Loid and Yor are spies and assasins, respectively. Yor in particular really sells the “Thorn Princess” persona with an absolutely killer costume. Indeed, Yor’s penchant for wearing elegant headbands, along with Hayami Saori’s soft, warm voice, instantly endear me to her.

Obviously, these two kids simply have to meet; their interests and departure from the norms of shitty society align too perfectly. It’s just a matter of when, and sure enough, it’s at a clothier. Loid needs to buy fancier clothes for Anya, while Yor needs her only nice dress, torn during her killings, repaired for the party.

Loid is struck by how easily Yor sneaks up on him and how she can feel his gaze, while Anya uses her mind-reading to clear Yor’s misunderstanding about Loid being married, thus facilitating an arrangement between the two. Loid will attend the party as Yor’s boyfriend, while Yor will attend the meeting at Eden as Anya’s mom.

Unfortunately, the party is on Saturday night, the same night Loid is ordered to steal art from some smugglers. He tries to fit both obligations in, which is a recipe for disaster, and while he’s able to take out 38 thugs without too much trouble, a 39th and 40th ram him with their car. Meanwhile, Yor has to endure the party all alone, exposing her to her co-worker’s scorn and mockery.

When Loid shows up at the last minute and accidentally introduces himself as Yor’s husband, he’s bloodstained from a “violent episode” from a patient, saying he’s a psychiatrist. Camilla is so pissed that Yor has such a hot partner that she tries to toss piping hot gratin on Yor, only for Yor’s catlike reflexes to kick in and not only avoid getting burned, but saves the food.

When Camilla brings up rumors about Yor going to the hotel rooms of gentlemen for “massages”, Loid simply says it’s splendid for someone to endure such trials and sacrifice for the sake of someone they love—in Yor’s case, her little brother Yuri. He may not know she’s an assassin, but she knows she’s better people than trash like Camilla and her ilk.

After taking their leave from those preening assholes, Loid ends up getting Yor tangled up in the leftovers of his art-stealing mission, as the smugglers try to kill them both. When Loid is nearly stabbed by one thug leaping down from a fire escape, Yor saves his damn life and impresses the hell out of him by kicking the baddie into the next zip code.

Reveling not only in how well they “work” together but that this Loid fellow clearly understands what it means to not be “normal” (i.e., what everyone else is and expects them to be), she ends up asking for the very thing Loid needs: marriage to a woman to seal Anya’s admission.

It truly is a mutually beneficial partnership, and it’s commemorated in the most spy/assassin-y way imaginable: the diamond ring Loid nicked fell through a hole in his pocket, so he uses the ring of a grenade on her finger instead. And just like that, we’ve got ourselves a Spy Family.

Spy x Family – 01 (First Impressions) – Toupees are a No-Go

The master spy Twilight never wanted a family. He’d sworn such emotional connections off when he decided to become a master spy. Connections would only slow him down or compromise him. But now his latest mission is to gather intel on a man who only attends school related social functions. So he crafts the name Loid Forger, gets an apartment, all-too-easily adopts a 4-to-6-year-old  girl named Anya, and begins to craft the illusion that he is a father.

As you’d expect, someone who’d sworn family off does not make the best dad out of the box, and he’s clearly thrown off by Anya’s chaotic behavior, so he raids the library for parenting books. But at the end of the day, he’s like every other new parent out there: on his own, and needing to stay on his toes. He’s now responsible for a life other than his own.

Little does he know that his secret about being a spy isn’t a secret, nor are any of his thoughts. That’s because Anya is an esper, able to effortlessly read his mind and those of anyone else she chooses. This is the result of shadowy human experimentation project from which she fled and has been in and out of foster families and orphanages ever since.

Anya’s built-in struggles with family stability create instant pathos and sympathy for her, on top of her being someone you want Loid to protect at all costs. That said, she really makes it harder than it needs to be by messing with Loid’s spy stuff while he’s out, and ends up getting kidnapped by the same people Loid worked with in his previous mission (I love their leader’s insistence politicians can pretend they’re not bald).

Loid is jumped by several thugs, but while it looks like he’s had his head stove in by a pipe, when he’s brought before the thugs’ boss, he’s not the man with the sack on his head; he switched himself out somewhere along the way. He rescues Anya in disguise and tells her to run to the nearest police station, as he’s decided his mission is to dangerous to involve a little girl. But after he deals with the boss, Anya is still there waiting for him, and makes it clear she wants to remain a family.

Loid relents, and then helps Anya study for the entrance exam needed to be accepted to the academy where his target’s kid also goes, thus giving him the access he needs. It’s a good thing he helped her memorize the answers, too, because none of the minds of the kids around her know them! When Loid finds her number on the board of accepted students, he can’t contain his genuine joy, and is suddenly hit by all the built-up exhaustion of the last few days.

He manages to get home and passes out on the couch. Anya gets the mail (telling the mailman “her mother doesn’t exist”) then sees Loid asleep and vulnerable, and decides to curl up under his arm, finally with a home and parent to her name after so much heartbreak and pain. When Loid wakes up to read the mail that arrived, he learns that having a daughter won’t be enough: he’ll need a wife in order to pass the second admission test. How hard could it be?

Spy x Family is a taut, brisk, and thoroughly charming and heartwarming story of a spy’s ice cold heart gradually melting in the presence of the world’s cutest telepathic orphan. Will he really abandon her like all those others once his mission is complete, or will the fake family he’s building (and will soon complete with a fake wife) convince him he can have “conventional happiness”?

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 05 – The Ultimate Prize Catch

We begin with a girl who looks like Takagi beside a boy who doesn’t look like Nishikata sitting in the same part of the classroom as our two lovebirds. The girl is upset about having green peppers in her lunch, so the boy eats them. Her friend tells the girl he doesn’t like peppers either, but ate hers, and teases her, because he likes her.

The girl reacts just like Nishikata would, which makes sense, as she’s his daughter. That’s right, our cold open (which is actually quite warm) takes place in the future when Takagi and Nishikata have a kid. We even see Takagi from behind hanging laundry as the scene ends. Note I didn’t say “a possible” future. I said the future—because this is a sure thing. It’s only matter of time!

Back in the present, we see where their daughter gets her dislike of green peppers. Nishikata had to eat some for breakfast, and it’s enough to let out a big sigh. Because Takagi knows him, she immediately identifies what’s eating him (or rather what he doesn’t like eating).

He, in turn, proceeds to ask her what she dislikes as a new challenge, and she even offers him a number of hints…but not too many. Here’s how she  puts it: “You’ll eventually get it right if I just keep giving you hints forever.” The same can be said of their relationship.

Nishikata guessed wrong this time, but he won’t stay wrong forever about what matters, and Takagi won’t have to keep giving him hints forever. Why am I so sure? Well, why else would we get a glimpse of their adorable daughter?

Mina, Yukari and Sanae have a similar discussion about food dislikes, with Mina eating Yukari’s carrots and offering Yukari a gyoza as thanks. While Mina and Yukari bicker, Sanae snatches it up and eats it. Rather than apologize, she walks off, but soon returns with some melon bread, which she offers to exchange for the rest of Mina’s gyoza.

After that intricate transaction, Sanae, Yukari, and Mina take center stage, as they are the writer, director, and costume designer for the play the class will perform for the culture festival. After their presentation of the story, a mélange of the Princess and the Frog and role-reversal Cinderella, they immediately appoint Takagi for the role of the princess. Naturally, there are no objections.

That leaves the crucial role of the Prince. Naturally, all eyes fall upon Nishikata, as the three girls running the play clearly have him in mind for the role, at least initially. He’d have had it, too, had the girls not been distracted from his heartfelt and very real performance that moves Takagi.

They’re distracted by Nishikata’s own friend Kimura, who is still so verklempt from the class not having a karaage café, switching “karaage” for “hime” instantly wins him the role. Nishikata is consigned to the role of “dumpling A”—unfortunate, and yet oddly appropriate.

While both Takagi and Nishikata are disappointed in their ways, it’s hardly the end of the world. In fact, they’ve shaken it off completely by the next segment, when Nishikata leads Takagi to a fishing pond for their next challenge. Nishikata went out of his way to get up early to prepare the bait and tackle, so Takagi honors that effort by giving it her all.

For some time after they both cast, they’re simply sitting by the pond together, taking it easy, something Takagi points out is super-nice. She’s clearly overjoyed that Nishikata has decided to share something he loves with her.

Then she gets a bite, catches a fish, then shows Nishikata she knows how to unhook it, tosses it back, and catches another fish! She may not have fished before, but she is comfortable handling them since she deals with fish often in the kitchen at home.

A frustrated Nishikata suddenly gets a bite—a big one—and it appears to be the prize catch of the pond: a giant koi. It pulls so hard he gets pulled forward, and would have certainly fallen in the drink…if Takagi doesn’t rescue him in the nick of time by grabbing him from behind.

She tightens her grip around his waist, his line snaps, and the two linger in this embrace for a few moments before Takagi withdraws with catlike quickness, once she realizes just how close she and Nishikata are.

She seems to shake it off and even manages to gently tease Nishikata about it as they walk home during the golden hour. But Nishikata’s heart is thumping like a death metal bass drum. When his inner voice asks “what is this?” Takagi, seemingly hearing his thoughts, says “love”. Well, she says koi, which means both love and the kind of fish that got away from him.

As for his “penalty” for losing the fishing challenge, Takagi decides that he’ll help her prepare for her role as the princess. Nishikata doesn’t protest—it’s her win, so it’s her call. So it’s settled: even if the two won’t share the stage, Takagi will ensure her prince—her koi, her dumpling—is closely involved.

Every week Nishikata seems to make another encouraging stride in the right direction: closer to Takagi. Not only will that likely culminate in their ferry date from the OP and promo art, but also in that cute daughter, carrying on her dad’s tradition of taking a while to realize someone likes them.

SAKUGAN – 12 (FIN) – THICKER THAN BLOOD

The Big Twist that starts the SAKUGAN finale is that Memenpu actually is a “Rainbow Child”, a child with an exceptionally advanced brain. This not only explains why she’s a genius, but what the “place in her dream” is all about: it was never a dream, it was a memory. Rainbow Children retain vivid memories even from their infancy. As Rainbow Children were bred to be the guardians of the Labyrinth, they are anathema to Shibito, who want them all dead.

Fortunately, Muro’s boss doesn’t let her kill Memenpu right away, even though it’s debatable what if anything he intends to do with her before killing her. This gives the remaining members of Team Memenpu the time they need to zero in on her location and rescue her. It’s definitely a team effort, with Yuri using a second-hand computer in a store to guide Gagumber and Zackletu, then Zack distracting both Shibito and the Bureau with sheer ballistic chaos.

Gagumber locates Memenpu, but by then she’s been placed in a bell jar, which soon shatters due to the Animus dripping on top of it. Memenpu seems to be immune to its deleterious effects due to her Rainbow-ness. But by the time her pops arrives, Muro’s boss (I don’t believe we got his name) has convinced Memenpu that she has no father. Whether their surroundings were meant to evoke that same father-y scene from Empire, I don’t know.

All’s I know is, this Shibito guy is a huge prick for messing with Memenpu’s head, and for all her advanced intellect, Memenpu betrays just how sensitive and naïve she his, simply accepting the guy’s words about Gagumber not being her father. She even puts herself between the guy and Gagumber, offering up herself in exchange for her not-dad’s safety.

Gagumber, rightfully so, says fuck that, treading through the shallow pool of Animus to reach Memenpu, melting away his boots and burning his feet. He tells her he is, always was, and always will be her father, and she is, always was, and always will be his daughter. Whatever she wants to do and wherever it leads them, he’ll be by her side on her journey. Memenpu, realizing she does have a dad in Gagumber after all, has herself a good cry in his arms.

Seemingly moved by this dramatic and cathartic exchange, the Shibito boss decides to let Memenpu and Gagumber go…for now. Gagumber recharges Big Tony and they take the shortest route back to Dream Colony proper—by drilling through the colony’s retaining wall. There, Gagumber zeroes in on Muro and blasts her through a hole in the floor for making his daughter cry.

There’s a ceremony honoring Team Memenpu hosted by Merooro, but when he produces arrest warrants and the team is surrounded by Bureau cops and bots, Memenpu unleashes a cloud of purple smoke from Tony and the quartet escapes with the Bureau in hot pursuit. Not sure why Merooro held a ceremony just to arrest them, but whatevs.

Back on the Labyrinth “road”, Memenpu leads her team on their original mission: to find the place in her dreams, come what may. It’s what she truly wants to do, and that’s more than enough for Gagumber to accompany her, and by extension Zack and Yuri. It’s been fun watching this found family iron out their warts and beat the bad guys…fun enough that I’ll likely give the expected second season a watch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 11 – THE PRINCESS AND THE MARKERS

Memenpu, Gagumber, Zack, Yuri and Merooro arrive in the bustling Dream City, which true to its name is apparently a place where people can live out their dreams. Merooro got everyone tickets for a recital from the Diva Sina, who is also the colony’s princess. When Memenpu catches Gagumber trying to ditch the recital for a gentleman’s club, Sina literally drops in on them and basically declares asylum from her lofty role.

Sina happens to have a stack of drawings she’s made throughout her life, her means of escaping to the world of dreams and possibilities when her actual future was fixed. But just for today, she wants to experience all of the things she dreamt of and drew. Memenpu notes how simple all of these things are, but like any member of royalty, the little things of normal life are what they often yearn for.

A sweet and lovely adventure ensues, as Memenpu secures the three of them disguises (the colony authorities and Bureau have branded the father-daughter a duo dangerous Shibito kidnappers) and Sina gets to wear regular clothes, gets a haircut to blend in, rides the packed rail transport, drinks beer in a bar, and plays video games with kids. Things take a turn when Memenpu tries to ask the kids what their dreams are and they don’t understand.

Turns out Dream Colony has a very strict system wherein your family determines your job. If your parents are electricians, that’s what you’ll become. Obviously this is anathema to Memenpu’s spirit of freedom and self-determination, and is frustrated both by the kids’ inability to get what she’s on about, and Sina’s insistence she can’t follow her dream to be an artist.

Memenpu moves heaven and earth to secure canvases and paint supplies so the two can paint together, and Sina gets into it, and starts to sing, revealing to the bystanders that she is indeed their Princess and Diva. That also attracts her secret service, who secure her and roughly arrest Gagumber and a very upset Memenpu. Sina flexes her political muscle by ordering they unhand her friends, but also agrees to return to the concert venue to perform. Her day of realizing her little dreams was fun, but it’s over.

Memenpu and Gagumber rejoin the others in their box and Diva Sina performs as planned. Sina’s seiyuu Hayami Saori sings a gorgeous song that moves Merooro to tears, but Memenpu remains upset. Even when Gagumber shows her drawings Sina made of being the very Diva she’s become, for Memenpu those only represent a small part of what Sina dreamed of. She can’t understand why Sina has to “lie” and remain in her current unfulfilled life. She may never understand.

I say that, because Memenpu might not have a lot of time left. Even though the episode seemed to end on a wonderfully bittersweet note, after the credits SAKUGAN brings down the hammer it didn’t bring down last week. Shibito attacks as everyone expected, yet still manage to get close enough to Sina to assassinate her. Even so, Muro is singularly focused on Memenpu, and this time she seems to capture her for real.

Muro also says Memenpu neither knows who and what she really is and who her real father is. Could Memenpu be a Princess like Sina? Or an even more powerful “child” that Shibito is resolved to either control or destroy? You could say Shibito is an organization takes Memenpu’s philosophy to a deadly extreme, while Dream City is the ultimate haven for people supressing their dreams in favor of maintaining the societal structure. Surely there’s a happy medium to be found…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 10 – DADDIN’ UP

Once aboard the heavily armed Bureau submarine, Yuri and Zack’s criminal records are expunged with a swipe of Merooro’s iPad, and he leads the quartet to a briefing room for a briefing. It’s an infodump that both explains and justifies the existence of the Bureau of Regulation as an entity tasked with humanity’s survival, and casts Shibito as a chaotic cabal terrorists intent on “saving” the world by destroying it.

As Merooro continues the tour, he reveals the the ship doubles as an ark for plants and animals displaced by the effects of the current “great disaster” that threatens the Labyrinth—and is indeed a greater threat than Shibito. Memenpu is impressed, and Gagumber doesn’t like how much she gets along with the “smug dandy,” whom he later learns has a wife and kid of his own, but his duties as a Regulator keep them apart.

When Memenpu half-jokingly says she wishes Merooro’d been her dad instead, Gagumber goes topside to drink a 12-pack of brewskis and sulk. Then Shubito very suddenly attacks just when Memenpu is on her own retrieving her stuffed goat Tony. Her isolation is perfectly timed with the arrival of the masked Muro, who last week resolved to kill Memenpu, whom she refers to as a “rainbow child”. Gagumber is still moping and almost leaves Memenpu to Merooro to save, but Zack says he’d better dad the fuck up or he really will lose her.

Gagumber is in time to stop Muro from killing Memenpu on the spot, but not before Muro’s boss arrives in a bot. Muro, who loses her mask and is revealed to be a young girl, incapacitates Gagumber long enough to grab Memenpu and hitch a ride on her boss’ bot. Fortunately, Merooro gets topside fast enough to delay Muro long enough for Gagumber to regroup in his bot.

A bot-on-bot battle ensues until there’s another cave-in and a Kaiju arrives, which Muro and her Boss use as cover to withdraw for now. The boss is confident they’ll get Memenpu “next time”. This leaves Gagumber and the Bureau to deal with the Kaiju, who almost stomps on Memenpu (girl just can’t stay out of mortal danger).

She’s shoved aside by Merooro, who gets seriously injured in the process, but not mortally so. As the ship dives to escape the Kaiju and Merooro is rushed to the infirmary, Gagumber holds his hand. He still hates the smug dandy’s guts, but hates those who’d hurt Memenpu a whole lot more, and is grateful Merooro, a fellow dad, saved his girl when he couldn’t. In short, Gagumber grows a little…even if he’s still mostly a big idiot.

As for why she loves Tony so much, as Merooro tells him before he heads off to find her, Tony is her “precious treasure” simply because Gagumber bought it as a birthday gift. He never really had any reason to worry about Merooro “stealing” his status as dad, as long as he actually dadded up when the time came, which he most assuredly did.

That included taking one horse-kick of a punch from Muro, both the origins and motivations of which remain a mystery, but hopefully not for long. After all, why unmask an antagonist if you’re not going to eventually let us know more about her?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 09 – GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL

Gagumber recovers from using his Gale system, and the group resumes their journey to Memenpu’s dream space like a whole lot of drama didn’t just go down in the city. Memenpu is amazed that Zack and her dad can act like everything is and always has been normal. All the while, she’s in the biggest hurry  of the four of them, trying to confirm her dreams were real.

The thing is, the road is long and the part of the Labyrinth the group enters is particularly hot and buggy. Gagumber strips to his skivvies and jumps in a river, soon followed by Yuri and Zack. Their fun is interrupted by torrential rains that cause the very ground beneath them to cave in. It’s not often characters are stranded on a remote island by falling on top of it; it’s a neat concept that draws on the unique structure of the Labyrinth.

Memenpu puts her ample noodle to work devising different ways to get everyone out of this predicament, but the lack of Animus, electricity, or internet hampers her efforts and limits them things like a giant Tony inner tube and a luxury raft…but the waters around them are filled with deadly marine kaiju. All the brain usage makes Memenpu hungry, but learns all the rations she’d stored had been pre-eaten by Gagumber.

She assumes he’s “losing himself” in the island’s deep forest because he’s goofing off as usual, but just when she’s feeling most morose about her lack of progress, Gagumber presents her with a fresh papaya, one of thousands in the forest, which was the real reason he was going there. Not only is Memenpu moved to tears—she loves papaya ever since the late Lynda first gave her one—with enough papayas she’s able to rig a battery to power their mech’s lights and radio.

As the four take turns sending out an SOS, Zackletu talks to Yuri about how she’s able to get over the drama with Gagumber, saying she had “a little tantrum” that “just felt so silly” once it was over. Gagumber similarly has no hard feelings, and tells Memenpu if she can forgive Zack, then it’s water under the cave. In this lovely breakthrough father-daughter scene, Memenpu finally tells her dad she had a dream of him dying.

She’s upset when he says he can’t believe her dream and vows not to die, and doesn’t think they can be real partners if he doesn’t believe her. But Gagumber makes clear, even when he doesn’t believe or understand her, she’s still his daughter, they’re partners till the end, and he will always care.

Later, when the papaya battery is exhausted, the group hears a ghostly voice from an unknown location, and there’s a little more caving-in of rocks. Everyone reacts differently, proving Memenpu’s comment to her Tony Journal about their “team” being composed of four wildly different individuals. Yuri thinks they’re all going to die and Zack just wants to find her gun parts…but it turns out all the commotion is from a surfacing submarine manned by Merooro, come to rescue them.

While mostly a lighthearted and intimate episode, underscored by the core group’s isolation on an island within a remote unmapped cavern, this episode was bookended by scenes of the masked terrorist group Shibito committing acts of destruction in the name of…something.

In any case, they seem to be catching up to our team, and one pint-sized member named Muro seems to be hunting the “next child”, no doubt meaning Memenpu. Judging from the power Shibito demonstrates, if and when they cross paths it’s likely to make Zack’s tantrum look like a pillow fight.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 08 – EASIER TO RUN THAN REGRET

Rufus was going to be Gagumber’s last partner. When things went sour with Memenpu last week, Gagumber remembered why he didn’t want, didn’t need, and shouldn’t have a partner, even if it’s his daughter. While Memenpu wanders off to sulk in his old hometown, Gagumber drinks with a recovered Yuri and reconnects with the old man who ran the marker shop.

Zackletu, who had been by Yuri’s bedside, tracks down Memenpu and treats her to the local specialty of tea-in-a-plastic bag. She gets Memenpu to open up about what’s troubling her: about the dream that felt like more than a dream where Gagumber died, and how she can never really hate Gagumber. But once we get a good look at Rufus’ little “brother” Zack, I felt like things were going to take a turn.

And turn they do. Turns out the tea Zackletu gave Memenpu was drugged, and she kidnaps her and uses her as bait for Gagumber. Zack was actually Rufus’ kid sister, not brother, and when she became convinced Gagumber was responsible for Rufus’ death, she spent a huge sum of money for Yuri to track him down so she could get her revenge.

What finally pushed Zackletu into carrying out her plan was seeing how blithe and callous Gagumber was being to his new partner and daughter Memenpu, after what she saw as him abandoning her after Rufus’ death. It was definitely shitty for Gagumber not to follow up with Zack. Does he deserve to die over it? Even Zackletu isn’t sure, as she fires a lot of bullets and detonates a lot of bombs in his general direction, but never seems able to deliver the killing blow.

It’s this episode where I understand why Hanazawa Kana was cast as Zackletu: in addition to being able to credibly voice a young boy, who was actually a young girl hiding her true gender to protect herself from her rough environment, Hanazawa really brings out her pathos and rage. Through all the violence she’s exacting upon Gagumber as Memenpu is forced to watch, you never get the feeling Zackletu is enjoying this.

Rather, she just doesn’t know what else to do, so she’s lashing out. It’s only when all the explosions and Memenpu’s struggling causes her rope to break, and Gagumber overrides the stopper on his “Gale” device to save her and then apologize to her, that Zackletu stops her attack. She couldn’t easily kill Gagumber knowing his daughter still loved him in spite of all his flaws; once he admitted those flaws to Memenpu, she definitely couldn’t kill him.

Instead, Gagumber is admitted and then discharged from the hospital, while Zackletu prepares to depart…only Memenpu won’t let her. She forgives her for trying to kill Gagumber, and insists she stay with the group as they head to her dream place. Memenpu just warns Zackletu, in the same way Rufus did, that next time it happens, she’ll really let her have it.

Do I buy that someone as hell-bent on getting revenge as Zackletu would not only stand down, but remain with the man she believed killed her brother for years? I do, it all comes down to buying that she tried to be a heartless avenging baddie, but couldn’t go through with it because she still had a heart, and wasn’t all bad.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 07 – FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS SUEÑAS

After the last few episodes took place in colonies or on a mission in a stationary place, this week is all about the journey. Memenpu, Gagumber, Zackletu and Yuri embark upon a road trip that soon grows monotonous in both scenery and routine. Yuri tries to spice things up a little with some lovely red flowers.

The only problem is, he picked flowers that look just like the flowers he wanted to pick, but these flowers happen to have psychotropic effects. As such, things get a little Hunter S Thompson, as the higher the rest stop numbers get, the higher Gagumber, Zackletu, and Yuri get. Memenpu, the one who is most with it, gets rid of the flowers and uses a native cactus to whip up an anecdote.

Alas, Memenpu mistakes the cactus for one that looks just like it that only makes the symptoms of the flower worse. This is hilariously depicted as everyone continues to get nuttier, with the three acting like they’re at the Mad Hatter’s tea party. They repeat the same lines but their words get more and more slurred. Their driving gets more wild and reckless. They can’t stop barfing.

Memenpu determines the only way for the other three to recover is water, rest, and luck. They do eventually find themselves (after she slaps them in the face several times) but Memenpu is having her own rough time. When under the influence of the flowers her dream got psychedelic, but when she buried the blooms they got more intense and violent, depicting Gagumber bleeding out and dying in the flower fields of her dream.

When Memenpu tries to get the others to hurry up and get to the place, Gagumber tells her to chill out and stop taking her dreams so literally, even saying “I thought you were smart.” When she tries to climb aboard their mech on her own, he pulls her knapsack and she loses her footing and falls hard, getting all scraped up.

Gagumber doesn’t apologize an the two drift apart as the trip continues, but Memenpu’s dream of him dying is obviously extremely upsetting, and she believes the only way to prevent it is to go there and check things out, and possibly meet Urorop, who always appears in the dreams. Only Urorop is already there, at their camp.

Is she just there to watch in the shadows, or will she engage with the others? The chaotic goofiness of the drug tripping combined with the dark turn Memenpu’s dreams have taken made this an edgy, unpredictable episode—befitting a proper road trip.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 18 – The Most Important Thing

After a brief scene showing a seasick Rudy and Eris (and a very unseasick Ruijerd) headed to the Central Continent by ship, the rest of the episode belongs to Roxy, who is always either a step ahead or behind her apprentice. We learn she was once in a party with Bojack…er, Nokopara, who has cleaned up his ways since getting burned by Rudy two years ago.

Nokopara, who is a bit older than Roxy, tells her to go visit her damn family already, citing his own family he built since they last met as evidence that family is the most important thing. He would do anything for his wife and three kids, and suspects Roxy’s parents would do the same for her. I must say I appreciate the softening of the initially assholeish horseman.

When Roxy arrives at her home village, she’s immediately given a painful reminder of the main reason she left: in this village, she is “deaf”, i.e. unable to hear the telepathic communication of the other villagers. When they try to greet her, she’s just hit with a static-y feedback accompanied by pops of light—which to the show’s credit is almost as unpleasant for us as it is for Roxy.

Even when she makes a connection with three kids by healing one of them, when they try to thank her telepathically and she doesn’t respond, then a parent shows up and tries to do the same, everything goes pear-shaped. This is a place where Roxy has always felt oppressed by her difference, and the reluctance of anyone there to accommodate it.

It’s a bad start to her return, made worse by a stilted reunion with her parents. Clearly still off from her previous interactions before arriving at her old home, Roxy is noncommittal about how long she’ll stay. When her parents tell her she can stay as long as she likes, then immediately settle into their usual telepathic banter, they unintentionally exclude her out of force of habit.

At this point Roxy has had about enough, and as much as I want her to reconnect with her folks, whom we know to be so loving and kind and caring of her from when Rudy visited, I can’t blame her for wanting to go. She feels like an interloper, an outsider, and always has.

But then her mother starts to cry, after Roxy agrees to visit once in the next fifty years. Even that extremely loose promise is enough to bring tears to her mother’s eyes. Then Roxy catches in the corner of her eye the doll her mother made for her, which she’d clutch while she taught her to read and write, all the while speaking verbally.

One day, lil’ Roxy encountered some kids who she would have been able to befriend, if only she could hear what they were saying telepathically. When they don’t answer her, she understandably feels like she did something wrong, that she was somehow wrong herself, and didn’t belong. That’s why she ran away: so she wouldn’t cause problems for her parents.

But remembering what Nokopara said about parents (good ones anyway) doing anything for their children, and seeing her mother weeping and her doll on the shelf, Roxy can’t help but start crying herself. Oh, she tries to stave off the tears, but that just makes them fall in a great sobbing torrent all at once, in a wonderfully beautiful moment where the camera simply rests on her contorting face.

Roxy gathers her mother into a hug, they both apologize, her dad, getting misty-eyed himself, joins that hug. You have to hand it to Mushoku Tensei, because two straight episodes with these kinds of tearful, cathartic embraces might’ve come off as repetitive and even emotionally manipulative. Instead, I felt right there in that hug, where Roxy suddenly realized this place is still her home, because the people she loves and who love her, are there.

She also learns that Rudy had visited with Eris and a Superd, which enables her to finally connect the dots: Rudy’s the one who revived the Dead End name, and if a Superd is in his party, he must be doing just fine. Roxy rejoins her own party and continues the search for the missing, buoyued by the strides she made with her family and relieved that her apprentice is fine, wherever he is.

SAKUGAN – 06 – CRIME FOR JUSTICE

For his assistance in restoring the God of Wind, Gagumber comes into some money, which he quickly turns into a lot more money at Jolly Jolly’s casino. It’s all going quite well for him (unbeknownst to Memenpu)…until he loses everything on a bum hand. Shoulda quit while he was ahead. Gagumber Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-Gagambler.

He and Memenpu then end up captured by, essentially, a band of punks, led by Yuri, who calls his crew the “Yuri team.” They’re gentlemen (and ladies) of fortune, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor like Robin Hoods in the colony of AreYaar, whose university president Trevi claims to be a colony of “equality” but is really anything but.

Because Yuri was hired by Zackletu to do a hacking job for something like a million gold, both Yuri and Zackletu want what’s owed them from Gagumber, who it’s established is broke after flying too close to the sun at the casino. So instead he and Memenpu will work off their debt doing domestic labor for the Yuri team, who lives in an undertown under the already underground colony.

Memenpu and Yuri soon form a bond as the former learns the latter is a pretty good hacker, while she may be one of the first to tell him she thinks his prosthetic hands are cool. She and Gagumber accompany the Yuri team on a number of Robin Hood heists. They’re riding high, but Yuri doesn’t want to just make money; he wants to make Trevi and all the haves of AreYarr actually hurt and hurt bad.

Not only is his right-hand man Fidelio not okay with this, who understands that becoming more extremist or violent will only have the authorities cracking down on them harder, but Gagumber sees quite a bit of his old self as having big, bold, and ultimately reckless dreams, having left his friend Rufus’ side when Rufus wasn’t prepared to go so far. It ended in tears.

Gagumber is older and wiser and doesn’t wish the same of Yuri (i.e. losing everything, like Gagumber did both years ago and again at the casino), so he and Fedelio literally hang on to Yuri’s bot as he makes an ill-advised attempt to take over AreYaar’s central tower, which is also the center of the colony’s power. Yuri wants to “change the world” like the Labyrinth-widely infamous Shibitu, but Shibitu are pretty much just terrorists.

Ultimately Gagumber, Memenpu and Fidelio succeed in keeping Yuri from doing something that could get him and all of them arrested and at worst killed. Instead, Yuri and Memenpu use their hacking skills to embarrass Trevi by broadcasting his dalliances with the casino bunny girls to the whole colony.

The episode ends by teasing a new dynamic: both Zackletu and Yuri sticking close to Gagumber and Memenpu on their travels, making it a full-on adventuring party. I can’t say yet whether Zakletu has either wife or big sister potential, but Yuri makes a good big bro for Memenpu, and it will be fun to see them interact more.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Takt Op. Destiny – 06 – Rhapsody in New Orleans

Cosette may not be Cosette anymore, but she is definitely forming a new bond with Takt, day by day. So much so, in fact, that he’s caught off guard when she understands enough about him to make a stupid joke about calling the D2 to their location. She knows he’s not restless about there being no battles (and there are no battles this week), but because he wants to play music. Tapping out notes on the window glass just ain’t cutting it.

It’s fortunate, then, that their next destination of New Orleans happens to be one of the most musical cities on Earth…or at least it was. Now it’s on the verge of being a ghost town. The entire population is senior citizens, as everyone else left long ago when they were younger, and either settled elsewhere, or were killed by the D2 attacks.

While Anna, Cosette and Takt are ostensibly here to stock up on provisions, the former two end up performing one kind task for elderly people after another, starting with delivering groceries, fixing an old front step, and rescuing a kitten. In what seemed like a barren husk of the city turns out to be full of friendly, warm souls you can’t help but want to help.

Takt elected to wait in the car, but eventually had to stretch his legs. While walking down Bourbon Street, he sees someone enter a club from which he can detect the faint sound of music. Turns out it’s an underground jazz club where a handful of cool cats drink and vibe out on the substantial tune collection.

All of them remember the conductor Asahina Kenji, “The Rooster”, who visited the city to perform only once. We learn in dribs and drabs that Kenji, Takt’s father, was also killed in some kind of calamity in Boston. When the audiophiles learn that he’s none other than the Rooster’s son, the entire place goes still…not with resentment…but with veneration.

These people assumed that the “Asahina sound” died with Kenji, so they’re eager to hear if his son can reproduce that sound. They show him to a soundproof studio/concert space where everyone gathers around tables with little lamps…reminders of a “golden age” that’s now gone.

One of the men in the club played the tuba in the orchestra when Ken visited New Orleans. But since the D2 disaster, he feels he’s done nothing but let time go by; without music, he has no purpose in life. Then Takt comes along, brings a sound everyone thought dead back to life, and instills a little hope; reminds everyone of the Pride of Bourbon Street.

As Takt found his spot and his people, Anna was flagged down in the street by another older woman who mistakes her for her daughter, Maria. Initially Anna is too nice to drop the truth on the mother, but even when she does, the mother pretends she didn’t hear anything.

As Cosette gives a very heartfelt speech in her robotic meter about how dear Anna is to her as a big sister and protector, the mother’s husband comes home, and tells Anna that their daughter left with her young family years ago and later died. Maria’s mother couldn’t accept that loss, and as her husband heartbreakingly puts it, Maria “lifes on” only in her mother’s mind. I’d like to think both Anna and Cosette enjoyed having a mom, if only for a very short time.

When it’s polite to do so, Anna and Cosette eventually take their leave of the husband and wife, having both given and received something out of the interaction. Then Cosette uses her Takt Detector (Detakter?) and they find him exactly where he belongs, doing what he loves.

Cosette says, with genuine affection behind the cold logic of her voice, that she loves when Takt gets to play music. So do I…especially when it’s Rhapsody in Blue, one of the first pieces of music I remember listening to on our baby Fisher-Price phonograph. Like Peter and the Wolf and Beethoven’s Ninth, Blue was one of the formative pieces that made me truly understand the power of music.

Because Cosette wants Takt to play more, she’ll keep fighitng until all the D2s are gone and everyone can play music. In the meantime, Takt is given some blank musical sheets with which to finally commit his window glass-tapping reveries to paper. The break from D2 battles was perfectly timed after last week’s barnburner. New Orleans wasn’t just some random stop on their journey, it felt real and alive, and as we see, it’s strength enduring in the people who remain. Their next stop will have big shoes to fill!.

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