Heroines Run the Show – 05 – Their Juliet

Hiyori’s foot injury isn’t something that goes away overnight. Like Embiid being out with a fractured orbital, it ruins any chance of coming close to touching her goal. It only takes one race and a few hurdles before her foot barks at her and she’s suddenly washed out of prelims. She got hurt doing a job she took to help pay to live in Tokyo so she could run, and now she can’t run.

It hurts to see our typically chipper chipmunk suddenly brought so low, and struggling to hide it from the ones she cares about. She puts on a brave face for her family over the phone, but I bet her mom can imagine her daughter’s distraught face as she says everything is fine, unconvincingly. She stares at the ceiling at night and almost gets lost up there.

Aizou and Yuujirou have been around Hiyori long enough to know something’s not right, and even come right out and ask her what’s up; why she’s suddenly so much less dashy. As you’d expect, Hiyori doesn’t want to burden them with her troubles when they have a huge concert coming up, so she does her job with a smile. But they know she’s hiding something.

They learn from Uchida how Hiyori’s dream to make the nationals was deferred by her injury, and Aizou remembers when she seemed to look hurt after delivering their swag to the venue. Add to that the fact that this latest show is the last day Hiyori is contracted to work as LIPxLIP’s manager, and there’s a distinct pall over what should be joyful festivities as the duo takes another step forward in their idol careers.

Aizou and Yuujirou decide to do something for Hiyori to cheer her up. They ask her to make sure she finishes all her backstage duties before their scheduled encore, then switch the final song from “Nonfantasy” to “Dream Fanfare”, the lyrics to which almost seem like they were written specifically for Hiyori, the “Julieta” to whom they dedicate the song.

That tribute and the lyrics are not lost on Hiyori, who for thew first time isn’t on the sidelines but has a primo seat in the center of the front row of the second deck. From that vantage point she can’t not realize for the first time the true power of idols, and how they’e not just scary or two-faced, bt truly amazing in what they can do and how they can inspire a crowd.

Despite the song being meant as an encouraging sendoff for Hiyori to commit fuly to her track dreams, it actually inspires her to stay on as their manager-in-training, indefinitely. It’s true, she could dedicate more time to track if she wasn’t working, but Hiyori doesn’t want to compromise…she wants it all. She’s not ready to say goodbye to LIPxLIP, and while they react with characteristic haughty apathy at her announcement, I have no doubt they’re glad she’ll sticking around.

But what’s this? Nagisa is coming to Tokyo? Who’s Nagisa? Hiyori’s would-be fiancé? Maybe! In any case, I can’t wait to see what Hiyori’s iconic eyebrows do when this bumpkin surprise her…not to mention how he and the idols will clash! Until then, this was a beautiful capper to a mini-arc in which Hiyori apparently took too much on and stumbled, only to dust herself off and keep going. Hurdles are meant to be cleared!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 23 (Part 2 Fin) – Be Strong and Wait

My interpretation of Eris’s reasons for deciding to sleep with Rudy and then run off with Ghislaine is twofold: First, she wanted her first time to be with Rudy, whom she loves more than anyone else. Second, her note about not being “well matched” should be taken literally: she is overmatched by him. Their encounter with Orsted proved it. So off she goes.

She couldn’t have imagined this would cause Rudy to revert to his old self, the one who, once shamed at school in one of the worst ways possible, could no longer leave his room, despite being surrounded by love, understanding, and kindness—first his parents, and later his neighbors. He rejected them out of paranoia they were all laughing at him. So in he stays.

This episode seems to hint that the isekai world is merely in Rudy’s head, and that he wasn’t actually hit by a car as he would have us believe. If that’s the case—I have no idea, and I’m also fine if it’s meant to be ambiguous—the isekai world is no longer an escape. He may have been reincarnated and given a second chance, but he’s the same depressed, paranoid, emotionally stunted man he was in the old world. Eris leaving him and him not being able to understand why was the straw that broke the ground dragon’s back.

He may not be surrounded by the same support system as the old world, but things are definitely looking up in Fittoa. I realize that part of why it looked so wasted and bleak last week was because Rudy and Eris (and we) were comparing it to how it once looked before the disaster. But also the bleak washed-out look reflected Rudy’s post-Eris leaving mood. But color is slowly returning to the land, and there’s hope in the voices of the survivors as they plant new crops.

As they  toil and sweat, the people of Fittoa long for a “return to normal”, but the old normal is gone and never coming back. That’s true for everyone, as Ruijerd confirms that the curse that makes humans afraid of him is gone. I’m so glad we got to see the big guy one more time, and his exchange with the three friendly townsfolk is one of som many scenes this week that moved me to tears.

Another one of those scenes is where Eris confirms my interpretation of why she left Rudy (not that it was very much in doubt), with touching details like observing how the hands of the one she relied on for so long were smaller than his. The wind blows her cat-hood off her freshly short-cropped hair as she climbs atop a rock to shout out her love of Rudy to the mountaintops, and her resolve to become strong enough to protect him when next they meet.

We also get brief check-ins with Tona, Zoruba, Geese, and the young adventurers they met in the Demon Continent. Everyone is moving forward, with their experience with Rudy and Dead End being something they’ll always treasure, even if they never see them again. Roxy, meanwhile, inadvertently becomes Kishirisu Kishirika’s newest savior when she pays the tiny troublemaker’s bar tab from the rowdy night before.

love how we get the briefest peeks of that party that pack a punch when we see how drunk Roxy got and how bad her hangover must be. But she’s rewarded for her generosity to Kishirika by learning that Paul, Lilia, Norn and Aisha are safe and sound and reunited in Millishion. We get to see—and cry from—this reunion scene. But Norn still wants to know where her mama is, and we learn that Zenith is alive somewhere in the Labyrinth City of Rapan on the Begaritt Continent.

Roxy also learns from Kishirika that Rudy is in emotional turmoil, but rather than go to his student, she trusts that he’ll pick himself off and be able to move forward without her assistance. She and her party are headed to Begaritt. At the same time, it’s a beautiful memory of Rudy, taking over the end-of-the-evening chores for Zenith when he sees she’s tired, that finally gets Rudy to sit up, get out of bed, and step outside his tent with his cloak and spear.

He’s able to push past the fear of everyone laughing and mocking him, because Zenith is family, alone, and in need of help. Unaware that Roxy is also headed there, almost ensuring a reunion, he has to go find her. For that, he has to get up and take one step, and then another, past the pain of being left alone.

In the real world, Rudy does the same thing, and while it’s a mystery whether this is symbolic look back at his past life or his actual life running parallel to his fantasy life, it’s a major breakthrough for our protagonist. Like the people of Fittoa planting new crops, Rudy doesn’t give in, stays strong, and looks toward a future where his family is reunited.

Meanwhile, at Ranoa Magic Academy, Sylphiette, sporting Oakleys and whose hair is now white, makes the case for the academy recruiting Rudy. It’s clear he too will need to be stronger if he’s going to defeat the Dragon God. But with Sylphy here and Eris working to become stronger, he won’t be alone in that effort. He just doesn’t know it yet, but hopefully he can follow the advice of his original parents and continue to be strong and wait, just as we must all be strong and wait for Part 3.

My Senpai is Annoying – 05 – Heartfelt or Courtesy?

Valentines Day is drawing near, and for the first time Futaba has someone to make chocolate for besides Natsumi. The question is, will she have the guts to both make and offer homemade chocolate to her senpai? My friends, she will. But first, we meet Sakurai’s little brother, who Futaba and Natsumi first help when he’s lost, then Takeda helps by beating up some punks trying to shake him down.

This is all before either Futaba or Natsumi even know Sakurai is his big sister. When there’s the option to all have ramen together for dinner, Sakurai reads the room and heads off with her brother…she can tell Futaba was hoping to eat with just Takeda on that particular evening.

Sakurai ain’t no fool. While she may come off to some as oblivious to all of the attention she receives from men—both at work and back in high school—in reality that’s a kind of defense mechanism. Other girls resented her for being so effortlessly popular, overlooking the fact that Sakurai was (and is) a sweet and gentle young woman who never freaking asked for all that attention.

By grabbing some ramen with Takeda at an intimate little spot he’s been going to since high school, Futaba learns a little bit more about her senpai. It’s a simple, no-nonsense place…right up until the chef brings out some nonsense about a “chocolate ramen bowl.” That’s when Futaba learns he’s not a big fan of sweets, which is a good thing to know this time of year!

When the big day arrives, Futaba uses her resourcefulness to craft a chocolate with matcha powder that’s less sweet and thus more appealing for someone with Takeda’s palate. He’s charmed by the presentation with the little bear drawing, and when Takeda praises the taste, Futaba flashes the biggest, stupidest, most wonderful smile you could ask for. If she’s trying to hide her true feelings, she does a terrible job!

Meanwhile, Kazama retreats into his own little world of binge-drinking Monster and the resulting partial catatonia that comes with it, all because he saw Sakurai walking with and laughing with a tall guy with blonde hair…who was actually just her little brother walking on a ledge to appear taller.

After giving courtesy chocolate to the other guys, Sakurai seeks Kazama out and legitimately wants to know what’s been up with him. Then she gives him a simple Meiji bar (the equivalent of a Hershey bar, only better), which he interprets as “courtesy” chocolate.

This angers Sakurai, who says chocolate is chocolate and it’s te thought that counts. The reality is that it is heartfelt chocolate, even if she bought it at a konbini around the corner. Compare that to the expensive Godiva chocolates Takeda got from a client simply as a thanks for his and Futaba’s hard work.

For Sakura, the bar for Kazama means more than the chocolates she gave to the others out of courtesy. It’s a gesture of affection, but also of thanks for his being different from the others in a way that appeals to her. You get the feeling they’re just both on the same wavelength, and when she hears about his misunderstanding, Sakurai has a good laugh, and Kazama is so relieved Futaba catches him wearing the biggest grin she’s ever seen on him.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bokutachi no Remake – 11 – You’re Amazing, I Promise!

After having to watch Eiko endure their boss’s sustained verbal abuse, Kyouya storms up to him and tells him How Things Are Going To Be if Eiko’s team, and the company, are going to get out of the hole into which they’ve dug themselves. Each time Kyouya says something the boss objects to or is taken aback by, he has an answer that pacifies him. In the end, he’s able to give Eiko’s team the time, the resources, and the goals they need to start crawling out.

You’ll notice I didn’t get too granular with regards to all the things Kyouya said, and in fact, it’s almost a little unbelievable that he’d have quite so many moves and countermoves all lined up to convince a boss who had seemed quite unmovable from his positions just last week.

But hey, this is Kyouya; this is what he does. As a kind of curtain call, he stops by Minori Ayaka and manages to inspire her into illustrating again by showing her some original art from HaruSora, the game that got her excited about creating to begin with.

It’s the second time HaruSora saved Ayaka from abandoning her life of art, which means if Kyouya hadn’t worked so hard to make it the success it was, Ayaka wouldn’t be an illustrator and this new company wouldn’t have her talent to draw upon. And yet, when Kyouya hears that Eiko is getting on the next flight to Okinawa, he fears he’s Done It Again—pushed someone into giving up their “proper” futures in his desperate efforts to remake his own.

When Eiko finds him quite by chance, she insists she’s not running away, just going on a little trip. But when she hears from Kyouya how he regrets what happened with the other creators, Eiko hastens to tell him none of that is really his fault…after smacking him with her purse a couple of times.

Eiko questions all of the things Kyouya has been feeling so depressed about, telling him he’s done nothing wrong. Eiko is so fired up she even lets slip that she loved him in addition to looking up to him for his steadfast ability to get things done, causing quite a scene in the airport and cementing her position as Best Woman in this series.

Eiko takes a trip to Okinawa anyway, but promises she’ll be back, just as she promised Kyouya that he’s amazing, and doesn’t have to feel bad about how the futures of others have turned out. That said, as her plane departs Kyouya can’t help but pine for the “good old days” of the share house where he resolved and succeeded in remaking his life.

That’s when Tomioka Keiko, who it’s been clear for a while now wasn’t just a short-statured senpai from his school, appears before him, looking the same as she did a decade ago. If she isn’t “God”, she seems to be the entity who has either sent Kyouya back and forth through time or is there to observe and guide him.

Honestly, however the mechanics of his time jumping are explained, I hope it doesn’t take up the majority of the final episode. For me, Bokutachi no Remake was far less about the sci-fi elements and more about the interaction of its characters. I want to at least see some version of the original gang plus Eiko hanging out once more, making creating something new and exciting.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 08 – Attack of the xanthid crab

Thanks to tireless work on the phones from Karin, Gama Gama finally gets to go on the road. Specifically, they’re bringing a little bit of the aquarium to Nanjo General Clinic’s pediatric ward. The ward’s kabourophobic director, Dr. Kinjou, has only one non-negotiable condition: no crabs.

So as chance should have it, one of the Gama Gama’s Xanthid crabs stows away in one of the traveling aquarium’s tank, and is discovered by Fuuka, who is left alone to set things up the common room when Kukuru, Karin, and Umi-yam are busy with other matters. Predictably, one of Fuuka’s fingers gets snapped and the crab is free to roam the hospital.

Meanwhile, Kukuru presents Dr. Kinjou with some stuffed sea life for the kids and goes off on a tangent about eels, and the doctor ends up making a comment about how nice it is they’re keeping busy before Gama Gama closes.

Karin later tells Kukuru that due to her job with the Tourism Association, she hears things, like that the new aquarium being built at the civic center will sap Gama Gama of what little tourist traffic it enjoys, spelling its doom. Kukuru doesn’t want to hear it, a skulks away to the roof.

She’s eventually joined by Umi-yan, who primarily came to the clinic to visit his young friend Airi, who was a regular visitor to Gama Gama before her hospitalization. Airi gives Umi-yan and sea life the cold shoulder.

She’s drawn back into the world beneath the waves when the xanthid crab climbs Dr. Kinjou and threatens to snap at her neck! Airi, the only one close enough to help the paralyzed-with-fear Kinjou, reaches out and carefully grabs the crab, marveling at how it’s alive.

Newly charmed by the sea, Airi joins the other kids in the common room, and the crab is safely stowed in a bucket for the return trip. Airi finally gets to interact with the theraputic doctorfish Umi-yan promised, and a huge smile returns to her face. Like the other kids, the aquarium is a welcome distraction from their health issues.

Dr. Kinjou initially seems ready to lodge formal complaints left and right, but lets the crab incident slide out of appreciation for the sparkly eyes and smiles the traveling aquarium gave the kids.

On the elevator ride down to the exit, Karin confesses that it was once her dream to be an aquarium attendant like Kukuru, but had to choose more stable employment due to her family situation.

When she watches Kukuru rush headlong towards her dream, Karin can’t help but feel a little envious. This makes me wonder if there’s a potential future where Karin makes her dream come true at a revitalized Gama Gama. But with news of a shiny new rival aquarium and a new face who has come to train at Gama Gama for that aquarium, Kukuru faces a very uphill climb.

It’s here where I must admit I found this to be the weakest episode of Aquatope yet, even though I still enjoyed it. Some of its strongest moments felt like variations on very similar, stronger moments from past episodes. It wavered between a Karin-centric episode, keeping the pressure on Kukuru, and Umi-yan being the nicest big guy in the world.

Most importantly, it had precious little Kukuru-Fuuka interaction. Whether you see their relationship as sisterly or romantic, it’s the beating heart of this show, and without it the episode felt underweight and hollow—like a crab you caught that’s too small to eat.

Magia Record – 15 – Sakura Forever

Sorry to go right into a metaphor, but Magia Record reminds me of a traditional American fruitcake. Incredibly dense and rich, and beautiful with its golden brown color and speckled with red and green fruits like gems.

Like most Shaft works, Magia Record delves into extremely complex narratives but does so while serving up a sumptuously baroque visual and aural banquet. But as episode two marks a return to the “standard” world and vast ensemble of the Madoka spinoff, the bottom line is pretty simple: Nanami Yachiyo is too strong to escape her despair.

In the original wish that made her a magical girl, to survive, all of the members of her idol unit were sacrificed. Like countless other magical girls, she was duped by Kyuubey, never reading the fine print because she never asked to see it and Kyoobs didn’t bother to disclose it.

Yachiyo really is a great magical girl. She’s clearly one of the strongest ever. But that is the underlying tragedy of her existence: her strength thus far has only allowed her to survive, to endure, like Arwen in Elrond’s story about how she would linger long after Aragorn died; utterly alone. What good is surviving if you’re always the only one left?

Yachiyo didn’t wish for anything every other magical girl wished for to become what they now are. The difference is, a good number of them ended up becoming witches, or out of fear of becoming one, joined the monolithic, cultish Wings of Magius. Yachiyo didn’t wish for anything more or less than they did, but she’s so goddamn strong she’s been able to weather them…despite not really wanting too?

She believes her latest victim to be Iroha, but a part of her still clings to that friendship and to Iroha’s promise that she’d be the exception to the rule: she’d survive beside Yachiyo; she’d prove that being Yachiyo’s friend isn’t a death sentence. Yachiyo is not above blaming herself, but there’s plenty of blame to go around, and a good portion of it belongs to Magius, whom she’ll never forgive for their role in the sacrifice of Iroha.

Meanwhile, Satomi Touka has Big Plans for Magius, and isn’t about to allow Yachiyo’s destruction of rumor after rumor delay those plans. The bedridden Hiiragi Nemu, who creates all the Rumors, assigns Magius rank-and-file Kuroe (from the very first episode of Record) to find one of them, called The Eternal Sakura. It isn’t long before Kuroe encounters a Little Kyuubey…as she was clearly meant to.

Meanwhile, Yachiyo waits in the dark for the Coordinator Yakumo Mitama at her awesome elaborate office, and after receiving a mini-lecture about the nature of Doppel Witches (as much for our benefit as hers) demands that Mitama tell her where Magius HQ is so she can go wreck up the place.

Mitama insists her neutrality precludes her from disclosing that information, but in any case the entrance to Hotel Faint Hope is ever-changing and only accessible if escorted by a Magius member…which she isn’t.

Turns out Little Kyuubey leads Kuroe right to Yachiyo, just when Yachiyo is looking for a member of Magius and in a particularly sour mood. Kuroe doesn’t help her case by running from her, and when Yachiyo catches up and corners her, it looks very much like Yachiyo’s going to do whatever is necessary to gain access to Magius HQ.

That’s when Kuroe is rescued by Mifuyu, who tries to deescalate matters but only makes things worse with her defense of an organization Yachiyo has already decided to be unforgivable. Mifuyu says Iroha’s death was an accident, but Yachiyo isn’t ready to accept Iroha even is dead, even as she’s harboring a vendetta towards the group she believes had a hand in killing her. In short, Yachiyo isn’t thinking straight.

When Yachiyo and Mifuyu fight, it demonstrates just how overwhelming Yachiyo’s power is, and why Mifuyu and so many other magical girls like her sought safety and salvation in Magius, formed of, by, and for weak girls who may well have otherwise died or become witches. Yachiyo can’t empathize with them because she has no idea what it is to be weak.

Another case in point: rather than give into her anger, frustration, and despair, Yachiyo is able to suppress her own ridiculously powerful Doppel Witch mode and stop herself from killing Mifuyu in that fit of rage. Just as very few magical girls would even be able to summon such power, not letting oneself get completely consumed by that power makes Yachiyo rarer still.

Mifuyu lauds Yachiyo for that strength, but there’s also pity in her voice, because she knows her old friend will never understand what the girls of Magius are trying to do. Since there can be no understanding, she withdraws. Kuroe is in the teleportation bubble with her until Little Kyuubey runs off and Kuroe steps out of it, leaving her alone with Yachiyo again.

The chase continues as if Mifuyu had never intervened, but this time Kuroe follows Little Kyuubey into an Uwasa Barrier. Yachiyo follows her in, and within that psychedelic realm lies the very Rumor Nemu instructed Kuroe to find: The Eternal Sakura, Laputa-esque great tree that will bloom only when the three girls (herself, Ui, and Touka) leave the hospital and reunite with the “older girl” who’d visit them, and the cherry blossoms that bloom shall never fall from the branches.

Naturally, that older girl is Iroha, and Yachiyo and Kuroe find her there in some kind of doppelly-witchey form. Now that she’s finally found Iroha in some form, can Yachiyo summon that lingering faint hope that Iroha was telling the truth, that she can and will survive beside her, and not leave her alone like everyone else?

I have no idea, because this show is all over the place! But it’s still impressively compelling, and achingly stylish and beautiful to boot. Did I mention…I freaking love fruitcake!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Magia Record – 14 (S02 E01) – Don’t Let Go

We begin this second season of the Madoka spinof in media res with what else, a battle against a weird and unsettling witch. This one has a general spider form, only her legs are human limbs and her web in the sky is made up of clotheslines stocked with sailor fuku shirts. The combatants are a trio of familiar faces: Kaname Madoka, Homura Akemi, and eventually, my avatar, Miki Sayaka, who saves the other two from getting wasted.

Of course, this isn’t the timeline or story we know from the original series; this is an alternate timeline, one of countless Akemi has traveled through in a so-far-vain effort to save Madoka. This episode is the equivalent of the original episode where the girls learned The Truth from the famously blunt and unsympathetic Kyuubey, who will only ever insist that magical girls are getting a fair deal. The Mami Sayaka saw is no longer the Mami they knew.

Sayaka, classically one of the moodiest of the girls, goes home and sits on her bed, depressed, while Akemi prepares to take a train to Kamihara City, where magical girls—and thus Madoka—can purportedly be saved. Before she can depart, the spider laundry witch returns. Madoka, sensing Akemi went off on her own, soon joins the battle, and through telepathy urges Sayaka to join her, with Madoka saying “she wont be coming back”.

Sayaka can’t exactly keep sitting at home when Madoka says this, so she once again arrives just in time to save Madoka, who along with Akemi had been just barely holding serve against the quick and crafty witch. Now that Madoka knows the witch was once a magical girl like them, all she can do is apologize before firing her pink laser arrows.

With the battle stalled, Akemi calls a timeout with her escutcheon, and because she’s touching Sayaka, she can move along with her even though time is stopped. They collect Madoka, touch her so she can move, and then the three magical girls operate as a single entity bound by their arms, with Sayaka in the middle providing transportation around the frozen witch as Madoka looses arrows from all sides.

When time starts back up, the hundreds of arrows find their target, and Sayaka delivers an excellent coup-de-grace with her sword, leading to that ever-so-satisfying sound of the witch’s domain fading away and reality returning. Sayaka, Madoka, and Akemi won the day, but there are no promises for tomorrow, especially in Kamihara, where the witches are much stronger.

While I went into the first season of Magia Record with a healthy dollop of tempered expectations and was ultimately frustrated with how few questions it answered (and how many new magical girls it introduced), I also made clear the original masterpiece bought more than enough goodwill for me to not dismiss the second season out of hand.

I was rewarded for my loyalty to the franchise with a stunning barn-burner, but as with the OG magical girl trio this episode focused on, there are no guarantees for the future. Will we even see these three next week, or will we shift back to Iroha, Yachiyo & Co.? I don’t know, but I also know I want to find out.

Armed with the knowledge there will also be a third and final season in December means there is ample time to set up and execute a satisfying, coherent conclusion. Like Sayaka and Madoka held on to Akemi in the timeless zone, I’ll hold on to hope this is building to something. And if it isn’t, at least it looks and sounds like no other anime currently airing.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SSSS.Dynazenon – 08 – Anywhere Is Fine

Shizumu immediately identifies this week’s Kaiju as “failed” and leaves it be while kids poke at it. Then Gauma wakes up from a nap and he’s the kaiju equivalent of “slimed”.

He calls an emergency meeting just as Yume is contemplating whether to answer Yomogi, who had just asked if she wanted to go somewhere—anywhere is fine—to hang out together.

Yomogi and Yume go into work mode, as they and the others search for the kaiju that’s…painting things in bright cheerful colors. Then they find it, and when they give chase it just…falls over. 

This, small, weird, harmless kaiju is their weakest “adversary” yet, so much so that even Gauma, who got painted, stays his makeshift weapon when the others say they shouldn’t kill a kaiju that’s not going berserk due to the Eugenicists’ Instance Domination.

Gauma, technically being a kaiju user himself, tries to control it by flashing the Vulcan salute, to no avail. Then Chise gives it a try, followed by Koyomi. Yomogi doesn’t want to do it, but then Yume does it, so of course he does it…and it works. Sort of? Maybe it was just lucky timing that the kaiju reacted to him?

But no, it wasn’t just a coincidence. Something happened. Yomogi caught a glimpse of…something for an instant—a weird network of colorful lines and a white, fibrous growth. Knight (AKA Anti) and Second stop by to impress upon the Dynas the importance of keeping a close eye on it, but when Gauma falls asleep at his post, it escapes its cage.

Interestingly, the Eugenicists don’t really do anything other than something the Dyna-pilots have yet to do—hang out and have fun just for the f**k of it, not because they work together. Bowling, tennis, hoverboards, and pool…they’re just living life.

The Dynas, meanwhile are all business on a Sunday trying to find the kaiju Gauma lost track of. Yomogi pairs up with Anti, who has absolutely no gray area about his role should a kaiju pose a threat to others: kill without hesitation. This, despite the fact that Kaiju are born of human emotions, so its not 100% clear they don’t have human emotions as well.

When the kaiju surfaces, it has grown to a far more kaiju-esque size, and indeed begins to threaten the city, specifically the mall where Yume and Chise were searching. Koyomi stops Gauma from launching a reckless missile attack, and proposes instead that they lure it to a safer place to do battle.

It seems to be working until the kaiju seemingly gets upset with the beckoning Koyomi and tosses him like a ragdoll. The kaiju then gloms onto the glass facade at the mall, causing a panic and stampede; Chise and Yume are separated, and Yume drops her Dyna Wing off a high ledge.

When Chise reports Yume’s predicament to the others, Yomogi panics; he doesn’t want to kill the kaiju, but he doesn’t want Yume hurt or worse. So he tries Instance Domination once more, and once more it has the same momentary effect, only this time the kaiju sprouts an eye and seems to stare directly at Yomogi.

When it becomes clear he has to choose between killing the kaiju and saving Yume, Yomogi pulls the trigger. But he doesn’t feel good about it; not when he does it, and not afterward during the team debrief. Chise also notices that the weird white growth she picked up a few weeks ago is becoming larger and more complex…and we see that it looks just like the white thing Yomogi saw in his flash of Instance Domination. That also isn’t a coincidence.

Yet as these weird, potentially show-shattering revelations are quietly revealed, the ending is perhaps the most heartwarming part of the episode. It’s a repeat of Yomogi and Yumes ride in the back of the bus, but the lighting is a lot warmer and more cheerful, and this time it’s Yume who gives Yomogi a playful little chop to the ribs, asks if he’s hungry, and whether he wants to go somewhere…anywhere will do. That may be true, but I’m glad their friendship is going where it is.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SSSS.Dynazenon – 07 – Mending Dyna-Fences

Out from under the Nihonbashi Bridge comes a pair of newcomers, a cheerful woman and a serious man with silver hair she calls Knight. She says Kaiju appearing in a world “weakens the barrier”, and tells Knight to do his best. He transforms into Gridknight, forces the Eugenicists to withdraw their Kaiju, and for good measure gives Dynazenon a kick for putting on such a pathetic display of ineptitude.

Next time we see the mysterious pair, they’re back on their little boat. Koyomi broke off from the others when he spots Inamoto’s husband among the wreckage and gets him some help, all while Chise is trying to find him. You can cut the moroseness between Yomogi and Yume with a knife, but Gauma still tries to dispel it with some dinner, to no avail.

Knight and his chipper companion then introduce themselves to the Dyna-pilots as the Gridknight Alliance, voicing their intention to collaborate since they have the same mission: protect the world from Kaiju. Gauma dismisses them for suddenly showing up (just like he did). The pilots stay out late in case the Kaiju reppears.

Gauma tells Koyomi someone told him it’s best to “live honestly with one’s feelings” when he hears he saved a man he hates. The person who told Gauma was the woman he’s looking for, whom he also mentions was at “total beauty.” Koyomi and Gauma not even aware Chise is nearby.

With enough time for their lengthy silences in between words to fully play out, Yume and Yomogi finally get around to “making up”. Yomogi asks about Yume’s ankh puzzle, which Kano wouldn’t let her have, but was also in her cold, dead hand. Then Yume opens up about how she and Kano were once close, but drifted apart, and how she can’t stop wondering what her sister’s smile meant the last time she saw her.

Yomogi tears up at the story as superbly delivered by Wakamiya Shion, and tells Yume there’s a lot they don’t know yet, from whether it was suicide to what that parting smile meant. That’s exactly why she shouldn’t give up the investigation, and he’ll stay by her side. When she says Kano was a stranger to him, he responds “if she was a part of you, she’s not some stranger.”

Yume can’t help but giggle at Yomogi’s red, raw eyes and nose, but she also thanks him sincerely, for being by her side, and for shedding tears for her sister.

The next morning, the Kaiju Mujina and Onija were working on all night returns, floating along the surface of the bay like a psychedelic Trojan Horse. With Yomogi, Yume, and Koyomi feeling better after talking things through, Dynazenon has more of a spring in its step in the ensuing battle…if only its ankle weren’t damaged from the previous scrap.

No worries, as Gridknight rejoins the fight and his companion uses the “Fixer Beam” (deployed with a baton, calling to mind Cardcaptor Sakura) to repair Dynazenon so it can fight at 100%. Dyna and Knight put aside their initial hostility and deliver a tag-team beatdown on the Kaiju.

At the end of the battle, Mujina and Onija aren’t discouraged; far from it. Instead, they’re excited for the next battle, when they’ll be able to build on what they learned and perform even better. The Dynas learn Gridknight and Second’s names, and Gauma learns that Second is not to be touched…ever.

After hanging up on Inamoto thanking him for saving her hubby (to whom she vows to be closer than ever after his brush with death), Koyomi rejoins Chise on a bench, where she has a lollipop with his name on it. When he just crunches that bad boy in one defiant bite, Chise smiles and follows suit, glad her senpai is beside her again.

As for Yomogi and Yume, they’re not only talking together, but staning a little closer together on the rooftop, planning their next meeting in the investigation. None of these people are fully “healed” yet, but the difference between how they looked, sounded, and interacted in the depths of last week’s episode and at the end of this one was like night and day.

For all the miracles that take place in their world every day now, getting over their problems isn’t going to happen overnight. But as with the Eugenicists, there’s been an, incremental improvement in attitude and understanding that keeps me optimistic.

SSSS.Dynazenon – 06 – It’s Nothing

While things seemed to be okay with Team Dynazenon, there were still a number of indicators it might not remain that way for long. The first is Yume learning her sister may not have died in a freak accident, but committed suicide after being bullied by her friends. Yomogi is there for her, but simply doesn’t have the emotional tools to properly help her…plus he’s harboring a crush on her.

Having lost four battles in a row, the Eugenicists are starting to consider other options. Juuga is starting to think killing Gauma’s co-pilots may be a viable one, Onija has been all for killing from the start, and Mujina will be fine with whatever. Shizumu, whom you could argue has spent the most time with their enemies at school, doesn’t see the rush; he wants to meet more kaiju.

Koyomi has another quasi-date with Inamoto, but is crestfallen when she also invites her husband, who for good measure gets his name wrong despite his wife “always” talking about him. It’s awkward, and Koyomi is not into it. He’s drunk before the husband arrives due to learning more from Yume about her sister’s death. Could his and Inamoto’s little secret have something to do with that?

Even Chise can’t escape the blues this week, as thanks to Inamoto Koyomi is late for…whatever it is they do, which I’m assuming is nothing. But the bottom line is she’s lonely. Koyomi forgets his umbrella and encounters Mujina while waiting out the rain. They end up having a drink together (wine for her, water for him, and she pays).

Koyomi starts ranting bitterly about his issues with Inamoto, but Mujina truthfully declares she can’t possibly know what he’s on about, because she doesn’t really know him. She doesn’t even know herself, and declares that “unlike other people” she has nothing she wants to do. Koyomi can relate to that, and Mujina suggests that maybe they’re the same. But eventually Koyomi succumbs to the night’s imbibing, and when Mujina spots his Dyna Striker unprotected, she decides to nab it.

As Chise continues to wait for Koyomi and Yomogi has another awkward dinner with his mom and her boyfriend, Yume finally gets access to the other private videos still online, which document pranks played on Kano, including stealing her ankh puzzle. From the almost creepy off-camera voices and snickering to the mocking graphics and sound effects, it’s clear the videos could be construed as a campaign of bullying, though whether it led to Kano’s suicide is not clear.

The next day, Yume, already clearly down in the dumps from watching those awful videos, has to witness two of Yomogi’s friends flirting with and glomming on him. When Yomogi approaches her later that day, unaware she was watching before, she gives him the cold shoulder, saying her problems have “nothing to do” with him. Ouch…

Koyomi, with Chise in tow as emotional support, informs Gauma that he lost Dyna Striker while drunk, though he eventually remembers that Mujina stole it. Gauma uses his Diver to track Striker, and Koyomi and Chise accompany him to the “enemy base.” At that base—which is just an abandoned warehouse—the Eugenicists are again deadlocked when it comes to what to do with the Striker Mujina stole on a whim.

Onija wants to fuck shit up with it, Juuga wants to use it to negotiate with Gauma, Shizumu wants to give it back. Mujina doesn’t care, as long as she doesn’t have to decide, eventually regretting even stealing the damn thing. It’s clear that the four Eugenicists represent four distinct personalities: Juuga is analytical and pragmatic, Shizumu peaceable and principled, Onija aggressive and rash, and Mujina passive and indifferent.

As they quarrel over what to do, they are ambushed by Koyomi following Gauma’s order to create a diversion by “doing something crazy”—in this case throwing his umbrella through a window, then pouncing on Mujina and forcing her to the ground (further irking Chise). Striker flies out of her hand, Gauma picks it up and activates it. But in his haste to get rid of the Eugenicists once and for all, he compromises the warehouse, which collapses and allows the enemy to flee.

Back at school, Yume continues to watch the videos and Yomogi continues to struggle with how to reach out to her. Shizumu ends up coming up to the rooftop first to talk to her, saying he won’t pry, but getting Yume to admit she wishes “life were easier.” Shizumu tells Yume he thinks she’s fine just as she is, and when Yume again says it’s not that simple, he says, actually, it is. Yomogi is headed up to the roof when he encounters Shizumu headed back down without speaking to him.

Before Yomogi can say much of anything to Yume, there’s a fresh Kaiju Alert…at the absolute worst time for the Dyna co-pilots. Onija initially cannot use Instance Domination on this new kaiju, but they soon learn that it requires two of them to operate. Mujina is chosed to join Onija, and as soon as the kaiju powers up, it’s like a switch flipped in her head…she’s suddenly into something.

Meanwhile, the Dyna co-pilots assemble, and even Gauma can tell everyone is depressed, but all they say, in unison, is “it’s nothing.” Then they go through with half-hearted and out-of-sync callouts as they transform into Combine Dragon. It’s another excellent twist on the familiar excited callout method previously tweaked when Yomogi was sick.

From the get-go, you know this new dual-pilot kaiju is a different breed from Dynazenon’s past opponents. For one thing, it’s a whole lot more destructive, and has a number of terrifying, city-leveling weapons at its disposal. As Dynazenon charges it, Onija notes that Mujina has become a completely different person, shouting for the enemy to “bring it on!”.

But with snapshots of what’s troubling everyone flashing by in everyone’s heads—Inamoto’s husband for Koyomi, Kano’s prank videos for Yume, Yume’s sudden coldness and Shizumu for Yomogi—only Gauma has his heart in this battle, and that’s not nearly enough. The other three aren’t bringing anything to the table. It’s not just that this new kaiju is the most powerful yet…but that Dynazenon’s power is severely lacking.

Mujina takes full advantage by delivering a beatdown. Even when they get off a Saber attack and transform into Dyna Rex—previously the first sign they were about to defeat the kaiju—this time that doesn’t work either, and if there’s a more new powerful Dyna form to take, they’re in no shape to take it. Heck, even if Chise swapped out with someone, she’s pissed at Koyomi, and so would only contribute to the dysfunction.

Our down-in-the-dumps Dyna-pilots are only saved by the sudden appearance of a third giant combatant who flies in from a red flash high in the sky, right between the other two. My first thought was it was Gridman, but the details don’t match: this mecha has horns, fangs, and an unfamiliar paint job.

I’m reminded (thanks, ruicarlov) that this guy bears quite a strong resemblance to Gridknight, the Gridman clone Anti transforms into late in that series, but considering the true nature of the world of that series, is it really? All I can do for now is wait until next week to find out who this really is, whose side they’re on, and whether their arrival was…triggered by the Dyna-pilots falling apart.

Chihayafuru 3 – 22 – Smile, Everyone!

There’s a Taichi-shaped pall hanging over the karuta club, and Chihaya, Oe and Sumire agree it can’t go on like this. Since it’s February, Oe proposes the three of them raise Taichi’s—and the club’s—spirits by doing something fun and not karuta-related: making Valentines chocolate. That means it’s time for Sumire to shine!

Sumire may be one of the least experienced karuta players in the club, but she’s by far the most practiced chocolatier. She’s made a lot of chocolate for a lot of people since the second grade, and to quote the Architect, she’s become “exceedingly efficient at it.” She helps chocolate novices Oe and Chihaya through the process, in the midst of which Chihaya tears up because she’s having so much fun.

Chihaya wants Taichi to smile and have fun too, and obviously Sumire can relate, being in love with him and all. When Sumire and Oe head home, the latter notices Sumire has procured Coverture chocolates, which people say have a “100% chance of success.” Sumire is no longer that naive, but also think she’s being too pessimistic when she says she has “zero” chance. So does Oe.

It doesn’t matter where the chocolates are from or when she gives them to Taichi, as long as she realizes she can get her feelings across whenever and however she wants. So, the next day at school, she does just that. When she spots Taichi jogging with other guys outside, she tosses the bag out the window for him to catch, tells him how she feels, and also tells him he should tell the person how he feels.

In a nice touch, it’s not fancy chocolate after all, but fermented squid guts Chihaya joked about him being happier about (after all, the guy gets a lot of chocolate from admirers). It’s a beautiful, cathartic moment, but it’s also bittersweet (see what I did there) because the chances of Sumire’s feelings reaching him are still so slim.

Part of that is, Chihaya aside, Taichi still feels awful about losing to Arata. As he explains to Hiroshi, who drags him to a bar after they bump into each other fortuitously, playing Arata made him feel how dedicated to the game and to becoming Master Arata has been all his life, while making Taichi feel like a tourist and a dabbler all over again.

Before they part, Hiroshi admits that Chihaya asked him to talk with him, to try to get him to talk about what specifically was eating him. I’m sure Taichi would prefer if Chihaya simply talked to him upfront, but considering his aura the last few weeks that just wasn’t realistic.

When White Day comes along, Taichi has a dutiful gift for Sumire, but it comes with the dagger to the heart: he’s going to tell the one he loves how he feels after all. Again, I feel horrible for poor Sumire—whom I never thought I’d care so much about when we first met her so long ago!—but she has my everlasting thanks for finallying compelling Taichi to act. Only…she wants him to wait two more weeks before doing so, which…confuses him.

Eventually, when his birthday comes along and he’s on a Chihaya-mandated cherry blossom viewing, the truth becomes clear: all this time, Chihaya & Co. have been scheming behind his back to give him a birthday present for the ages. That gift? A wholly volunteer-organized and operated “Taichi Cup”. 

Chihaya tried to get him to smile by making chocolate, but her dad ended up eating everything and ruining their clubhouse party. This time, she’s going to try to make karuta a fun and happy experience for him again. Little does she know he’s sitting on a much-belated confession of love that burns red as the Tatsuta river in autumn. Will he manage to do so before this third season concludes?

Honestly, these characters make it way too hard for themselves. It’s really quite simple:

Chihaya x Arata
Sumire x Taichi
Oe x Desktomu
Porky x His Next Meal
Shinobu x Snowmaru

There. Everybody’s happy. WAS THAT SO HARD?!!

Carole & Tuesday – 08 – Standing Out the Least

On the first day of the Mars Brightest #0049 competition, Angela is introduced to her new manager, the young, eager-to-please Katie Kimura, whose only role throughout the episode seems to be servile minion and target for Angela’s generally mild abuse. There are celebrities far more spoiled and mercurial than Angela.

This also marks the first time Carole & Tuesday are in the same room with Angela, officially bringing their stories together…though Angela breezes right past the duo without talking or even noticing them. Tuesday later learns a valuable lesson about not so carelessly giving her contact info to a stan so obsessed they decided to compete in the same contest and actually made it to the final eight.

With introductions out of the way, we’re treated—or more accurately subjected—to the first four performances. We begin with two really old brothers playing death metal until they literally drop—a joke eliciting perhaps half a chuckle and absolutely nothing more—and Pyotr with a competent but utterly generic pop song with what sounds like auto-tuning, which you’d think wouldn’t be allowed in a singing competition.

Pyotr beats the old dudes, so we move on to the next faceoff: C&T versus “OG Bulldog”, a horribly uncool hardcore gangsta rap cliche who ends up singing opera-style, which…I’m sorry, is just really fucking stupid. Carole & Tuesday follow, and reliably serve up their unique(?) blend of aggressively pedestrian soft rock, forgoing lyrics for half of the song and instead making “oooh-oooh” and “la la laaa” sounds. Real groundbreaking.

When it comes time for the three judges (a female Simon Cowell, a gay dude, an an AI dog) to make their decision, OG Bulldog is essentially disqualified when his mother takes the stage and attests that he was never a gangster or drug dealer, just a timid young man who worked at a drug store. 

The lady Simon tears into C&T, calling them the “most normal”, “plain”, and saying they “stood out the least,” but they didn’t lie about who they were, and they somehow managed not to be worse than whatever “opera rap” is, so they win round one!

It was good to hear one of the judges say what I’ve thought all along about C&T’s amateurish, empty, Diet Coke-sweet music, but then along comes Angela to back it up with some strong negative opinions of her own, and I am here for it! (Katie Kimura also comes by, but as with the rest of the episode, she’s utterly useless.)

‘Granted, she confronts C&T because she identified them as rivals, and despite hating their music, probably realizes the competition could easily come down to the two of them. Last week I suggested that maybe the perennially alone Angela might befriend the same-aged C&T, but rivals will have to do. As the reality TV adage goes, “I’m not here to make friends.”

So, as usual, low marks for the musical numbers and tired reality TV tropes, but decent marks for finally bringing the three heroines together by pitting them against each other.

Carole & Tuesday – 07 – Whatever Happens, Happens!

C&T rebounds nicely this week, thanks in part to a new, more proportionate opportunity for the girls: this time, instead of playing in front of 100,000 people, they join the 200,000 who want to be contestants on the popular Mars Brightest talent competition, a sure way to jump-start their careers.

This week also marks the first real connection between C&T and Angela’s storylines, as Tao has Angela entered as a “special guest” contestant on MB, putting her in competition with the other two protagonists. This could mean the three could be in the same room together, or maybe even talk to each other!

The main issue is Tuesday, or rather Tuesday’s status as a runaway, which she doesn’t realize until they’re already in line for the auditions (which are about as weird and woolly as one would expect from such a large pool of potentials). If her family catches her on camera, she’ll be made, and they’ll come for her. Mind you, Tues doesn’t know her bro already found her, but chose to leave her alone.

This brings us to the best part of this episode, and why it was so much better than last week’s: We don’t actually hear Carole & Tuesday sing anything. This might sound counterintuitive, but the worst element of this show about a musical duo getting their start is their music—their first guerrilla performance at the music hall being the sole exception.

Mind you, just because the songs stink doesn’t mean all the music of C&T is bad. On the contrary, the incidental score is above average, and we get a particularly nice melancholy synth suite that plays along as we watch Angela decline to move back in with her Mama (who was her Papa before gender reassignment).

Instead, Angie chooses to live alone in her sparse, modern place where she can breathe, away both from Mama and all the trappings of her past that threatened to “suffocate” her. Her annoying AI only gets four “ANGELA!s” in before she shuts him up. Somebody needs friends, and I can think of no one better suited than Carole & Tuesday, even if they’re artistic and professional rivals.

As if hearing me say “your songs are bad and you should feel bad,” after auditions Tuesday slides into a slump, brought on in part by learning more of Carole’s story as an Earth refugee and orphan who had to survive on her own.

Tuesday’s family may be loaded (with cash) but she’s also loaded—with all the problems being the daughter of an important politician and little sister of a Harvard elite. She admits she’s a little jealous of Carole’s lifelong independence and self-sufficiency.

In light of her new friend, who has helped her in this new world, Tuesday resolves to hold her head up and stop cowering in front of the cameras. If her mom finds her, so what! She’s going for it, side-by-side with Carole.

After learning that Gus spent all their modest Cydonia earnings (980 Woolong) on gambling (not a good look Gus!), he, or rather Roddy, give them the good news: They’re among the eight contestants for Mars’ Brightest! As we saw, a good portion of the competition were horrendous, but considering there were 200,000 of them to contend with, this feels a bit neat, tidy, and easily done.

But it’s not like they weren’t going to get in, because this means they’ll be facing off against Angela and Tao. Even if I’m not particularly looking forward to hearing what new syrupy-sweet drivel they’ll sing next, I think I can tolerate it for the sake of watching those four characters, who have been kept apart thus far, finally collide.

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