A Couple of Cuckoos – 10 – Cup Ramen and Foie Gras

When Erika takes off to hang out with her mom (the one who raised her) Sachi doesn’t waste the sudden opportunity to hang out with her Onii. She ostensibly wants to buy a gift for their mom, but both of seem to agree their mom isn’t much of a gift receiver, so you have to think part of her just wants to see what it’s like to go on something like a date with Nagi.

The two settle on an apron (and sure enough, their mom could take or leave it) but when Sachi comes upon the idea, Nagi rewards her with a head pat, which pisses her off to no end. As much as she pretends not to stand him, Sachi wants Nagi to see her as a girl, not an imouto. Alas, he’s utterly oblivious. He just wants to study and win Hiro, which is why he’s probably none too pleased about suddenly being yanked out of the house by Erika.

Erika, who herself was blissfully reveling in her first cup ramen, got a text from her dad saying he’s coming—no discussion, not argument, he’s just coming and that’s that—so she ditches both wallet and phone, grabs Nagi, and heads out. Where doesn’t matter; that even she’s not sure is the point. No GPS or purchase history means even someone as rich and powerful as her dad can’t find her if she doesn’t want to see him.

Instead, Sachi is person who encounters her dad making himself at home in the house. She initially thinks he’s a burglar, but she should have called the cops anyway, considering he later lures her out and plys her with foie gras. I’m with the wait staff of his restaurant: it’s weird that he suddenly takes Sachi out to dinner.

Sachi is there for the foie gras, and also considers it equitable to tell Erika’s father about how she and Nagi are getting along. She probably doesn’t realize she’s being a snitch, because she’s distracted by the fact this is another opportunity for her: if she says they’re terrible together, she could potentially be able to swoop in and have Nagi to herself (again).

But Sachi is not a bad person, so she tells Erika’s father the truth: as mismatched as their personalities seem, Erika and Nagi definitely have a spark—je ne fois gras, if you will. Their chat is interposed between scenes of Nagi showing Erika a good time with zero yen thanks to a steep hill and a piece of cardboard.

As for Erika’s increasingly creepy dad, he heads into his office to admire a framed photo of him and Erika’s dad with Erika…and Nagi, looking like older toddlers. This is strange, as my understanding is they were separated at birth; this suggests they were reunited at some point. It also gives credence to the fact the “certain someone” Erika is trying to reach through SM is, in fact, Nagi, and the two of them simply somehow forgot they knew each other as kids.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fabiniku – 03 – No One’s Watching

Jinguugi learns that the beast he slew was a guardian deity, just not the one the villagers worship. Tachibana learns that having long, lustrous hair means it takes forever to dry, and looks a lot better when dried properly. After walking in on her half-naked (which was inevitable with the two of them living together), he does the drying, but wishes Tachibana would hurry up and “return to being a man.”

Regarding the previous night’s forest fire, it was put out by rain, but the damage was done, and the Elf Premier and her two attendants visits the village with hell to pay. Rather than apologize, Jinguugi adopts an arrogant and combative attitude with the Premier, who has a tendency to throw off her cloak to reveal a skimpy outfit, mimicking her naked goddess.

After a battle of words, the Premier, enraged by the destruction of the forest and slaughter of her guardian deity, breaks out the magic arrows bestowed upon her by the Goddess of Love and Beauty. Jinguugi has to grab Tachibana by her scruff to keep her from buying it. She objects to being handled roughly, but the alternative was death. Jinguugi promises her that he’d die to protect her, but she points out that if he died, she wouldn’t last long.

Jinguugi returns fire by launching a rock in the Premier’s direction, which snips of her braid, her mark of elvenhood. After a sobbing session, she vows to her attendants that she won’t return to the village until she’s gotten justice. Meanwhile, Jinguugi and Tachibana head to the nearest big town, about three days’ walk away.

Tachibana soon succumbs to exhaustion, so they stop for the night and enter the apartment. She comes out of her bath to find Jinguuji has prepared a proper dinner, the centerpiece of which is a delectable-looking meat he learned to prepare from the village huntsmen. It turns out to be deity meat, but it’s tasty, so whatevs! The two have a grand old time enjoynig their meal al fresco under the stars, but they soon learn Tachibana’s tolerance for alcohol is as diminutive as her new stature.

As one with a skill called “Troublemaker” is wont to do, the drunk Tachibana runs off into the forest. By the time Jinguuji finds her, she’s restrained by tendrils, hanging upside down over a carnivorous plant…and far more of her skin is showing than Jinguuji is comfortable with. His resulting “Charmed” status paralyzes him, but Tachibana manages to shock him out of it by declaring that, even at 32, he still doesn’t like green bell peppers.

Jinguuji destroys the plant and frees Tachibana, who launches into a drunken rant decrying why she and she alone became a woman, when, for instance, both of them have cute girly names (Hinata and Tsukasa). While helping her walk back to the apartment, Tachibana steals a lingering look at Jinguuji and asks “between body and spirit, where do you think gender lies?”

Jinguuji’s reply is “I think whichever you think is right, is right.” It’s a good answer, and one that clarifies the mission statement of Fabiniku, that no matter whether they’re both guys, both girls, or one of each, these two old friends love and care for each other more than they love anyone else. No exhibitionist goddess or elf premier can take that away!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Senpai is Annoying – 03 – The Neckties that Bind

We learn two things when Futaba gives her scarf to a nursery school kid who lost her own: one, Futaba is bigger than some people, and Futaba has a kind heart. Takeda just happens to witness this good deed, and Futaba shivering afterwards, so he makes the obvious move: giving Futaba his scarf. Futaba is embarrassed, but also happy.

It’s cold because Christmas is almost here. Futaba and Sakurai end up the Office Santas this year, but after mulling it over in her mind and talking to Harumi about it, she only wants to be Santa for one person: her senpai, as thanks for all he’s done for her since she started. A necktie is the appropriate gift, but Futaba is quickly overwhelmed by the variety.

Thanks to a sales rep’s assistance, Futaba finds the right tie, though I think she should have gone with the flowers or pandas…the better to mark her man with something cute! The problem is, between her and Sakurai’s Santa duties and the extremely busy day at the office on Christmas itself, Futaba just can’t fund the right time to give Takeda the gift. Granted, her standards for “the right time” might be a bit too high!

After wrapping up a meeting at another office for a meeting, Futaba believes she’s found the perfect time, only for her stomach to growl, which to Takeda indicates they should go to dinner. She suggests Christmas chicken, even though it’s not Christmas—a decision neither she nor Takeda regret and had me salivating for some chicken myself.

Back at the office, Kazama is waiting outside for Sakurai, who sees him looking at photos not of herself, not Futaba, in her Santa outfit. She teases Kazama a little, to the point he pulls his scarf up and gently asks if she wouldn’t tease him quite so much. After walking her close to her home, he finally works up the courage to ask her to a belated Christmas dinner. Sakurai is overjoyed and immediately accepts.

Between this immensely cute “normal” couple and the slighly more unique dynamic of the tiny kouhai and her immense senpai, we’ve got two wonderful romances in the making, and I can’t take my eyes off either. When Futaba finally gives Takeda his gift, he takes the opportunity to give her his gift to her: a big fluffy scarf to replace the one she gave the little girl.

While Futaba is exasperated the next day when it’s clear Takeda thinks the tie she gave him is “too nice to wear”, instead proposing he put it “on display”, there’s no denying that receiving a new scarf from him the previous night totally made her end of year.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 12 (Fin) – Spring at the Latest

Not entirely surprisingly considering the pace of the storytelling so far, there is no miracle insta-cure for Bocchan’s curse this week. Instead, he heeds his mother’s summons and comes home for the first time in years. Upon meeting with his mother after all that time, she simply tells him it’s too late and they’ll talk tomorrow. Viola and Walter assure their bro that Mom was actually being “kind” tonight.

Thankfully for Bocchan, Alice tags along for his awkward trip to the main house, and is an immediate hit with the house staff, who are amazed what a spitting image of her dearly departed mother Sharon she’s become. Bocchan’s mom even mistakes Alice for Sharon, with whom she was very close and was never the same after her death by as-yet unexplained circumstances.

Bocchan’s mom may be too tired to talk late at night, but Alice is delighted when Bocchan stops by to chat. Alice assures him the staff treated her kindly, and she’s very happy to hear Bocchan was able to speak to his mother normally, even if briefly. When it looks like Alice is dangerously close to touching his lips with her own, Bocchan retires for the night, and Alice lies in the warm spot he left.

The next day, Viola takes Bocchan to the grave where he was cursed by a woman in white. They cross paths with their mom, who tells Viola not to stand so close to her brother and again insists she start dressing like a proper lady; Viola pays her no mind.

The night of the big dinner, Bocchan’s mom has him seated at the far end of the table. Turns out she only summoned him there to inform him that due to his father’s deteriorating health (oddly we never see him) Bocchan must break the curse by Spring or Walter will be named the family head.

When Bocchan insists on discussing another matter and brings up Alice, his mom thinks he’s joking if he thinks he’ll be able to marry the one he loves. But Bocchan won’t stand for her calling Alice a “lowly maid”, nor will he have what he’s talking about mistaken for japes. He forcefully tells her that Alice was the one who pulled him out of the abyss, and he’d be dead were it not for her.

Further, he, Walter and Viola aren’t her things, they’re her children, and sometimes there are things more important than wheeling and dealing. He storms out of the room without finishing the soup course, and Viola and Walter also excuse themselves to show him out. None of them see their mother smile, as she’s impressed and proud that Bocchan has grown into a strong young man who can talk back to her.

There’s a sense of triumph in seeing Bocchan flanked by his siblings in the hall. Unlike their mother, they no longer see him as a freak or monster, but simply as their brother, who had some misfortune. At the same time, they also envy him for having been able to live outside of the harsh stern structure of the main residence. He’s been able to live his own life with Alice and Rob.

That said, the curse remains, and Bocchan is still determined to get rid of it, hopefully by his mom’s Spring deadline. As they play cards by the fire, Bocchan tells Alice that she’ll always have all of his love, even if he doesn’t come right out and say he told his mother he’d be marrying her. When he later falls asleep at the card table, Alice lays a blanket over him and says “I love you.”

So we’ve reached the end of the first part of Bocchan and the Black Maid’s story of finding light, hope, and love in the darkness…but only for now. With the promise of a sequel at the conclusion of the episode, I’ll surely be watching when its pure, sweet, charming central couple returns.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 09 – Secondborns Roasting on an Open Fire

It’s Christmas, and for the first time, Bocchan is going to host a party. Caph and Zain are coming, and so is Viola with the gift of a handkerchief for Rob. When their mom insists that Viola spend Christmas with “family” she does just that: by spending it with her dear brother. Strangely enough, Walter ends up doing so as well, as he replaces Viola’s driver in order to get a better idea of who he’s dealing with in Bocchan.

Zain ends up finally telling Caph she’s pretty while she’s apparently napping, but she was actually awake and heard his words. In her haste to see Rob, Viola drops her gift, which is picked up by Walter, who then finds a Santa costume in the hall and puts it on just as Caph crosses paths with him. Since Caph still believes in Santa she assumes the gift is for her.

As Caph and Viola bicker over the gift, Walter comes down the chimney in a cloud of soot and issues a challenge his older brother: the first one to discover the secret of the curse will become the new head of the family. As for their mother, well, she gets to eat dinner alone, because she’s an awful bitch who tried and failed to ruin at least two of her three kids!

As the new prologue to episodes states, Bocchan is never lonely, ever since he decided not to give up, and to instead spend his days together with Alice, whom he loves and who loves him in return. Alice very much wants a kiss under the mistletoe, and part of me thought this was the moment they learned the curse didn’t affect her…but she settles for sharing the “coldness” of the snow by lying down next to Bocchan after he trips and falls.

It’s a pleasant if somewhat static episode. I couldn’t care less about Walter and his challenge, but it was sweet to see Zain and Caph’s relationship take a baby step forward. As for the curse, there’s still three episodes to break it. Better get cracking, Bocchan!

Higehiro – 04 – Protective Lies and Different Smiles

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I Shaved. Then I Brought a High School Girl Home. is a crap title. It reads more like a cheap hook for what this show isn’t, and so does the show it’s attached to a grave disservice. Hell, it’s not even accurate; his grooming habits didn’t improve until after he invites Sayu into her home. Basically any title would have been better than this. Fortunately, we can abbreviate the Japanese title to Higehiro, which at least rolls of the tongue, and leave it at that.

[Long Title Rant Over]

This week begins with Sayu begging Yoshida to let her get a job, then learning she never had to beg: he’s fully on board with her getting out of the apartment, keeping busy, and meeting new friends. Sayu gets a job at the local konbini, and immediately hits it off with her work senpai Yuuki Asami, who becomes the latest in this show’s much-appreciated procession of kind, thoughtful decent characters who feel and act like real people.

When talk of Sayu’s place comes up, Asami learns that Sayu is living with a man who isn’t her boyfriend, and invites herself over to check the guy out. When Yoshida gets Sayu’s text about her guest, Hashimoto learns Yuzuha also knows about Sayu, while on the other end of the office Gotou looks at the downward slope of the graph on her monitor also serving as a graph for her increasingly left-out mood.

Yoshida’s cramped apartment becomes even more so with the bold and expressive Asami there, but she’s immediately relieved that he seems like a good guy. And as an attractive high school girl, with all the unique experiences they face, her assessment, while quick, doesn’t seem rushed or half-assed. Both at school and work, she’s surely interacted with enough guys to know Yoshida is different.

As she stays for dinner, she also learns that Yoshida is incredibly lucky to share his home with a cute girl who is also a great cook. Asami has Yoshida walk her home, where she reveals she knew he and Sayu were lying about being old childhood friends, and asks him what the truth of their relationship is. Yoshida says not going to lie more, but he’s also not going to talk about things Sayu still wants to hide.

Hearing Yoshida be so considerate of Sayu’s feelings earns him more high marks in good-dudeness from Asami, who agrees to drop the matter and bring it up with Sayu when she thinks she’s more ready. She understands that while you choose who you get involved with, you can’t choose who you can meet, so it’s lucky when you meet a good one.

She’s certain both Yoshida and Sayu are good people, and looks forward to seeing more of them. Yoshida, in turn, asks Asami to be Sayu’s friend, just like a good dad. Asami’s only warning to Yoshida is to be careful, as “Sayu-chiso”, as she nicknamed her, is “really good at using different smiles.” Of course, we’re already aware Yoshida is aware of this, as he was able to see through some of Sayu’s smiles last week.

Sayu has a safe, comfortable, and supportive home, a new job and a new friend. The second half of the episode opens new opportunities for Yoshida, and I’m not talking about advancement at work. At the end of the day, Gotou approaches him, draws a bit closer than workplace sexual harrassment rules would probably be okay with, and takes him out for yakiniku.

They leave Yuzuha alone holding two cups of coffee; suddenly she’s the left-out one. Gotou doesn’t beat around the bush: she wants to know what’s been up with Yoshida, between all the time he’s spent with Yuzuha, passing up a work trip, and checking his phone all the time. While he’s under no obligation to answer any of that, he agrees to do so if, and only if, she answers his question: why is she so fixated on him?

That’s when, in between a lot of nervous fidgeting, that she actually likes him. When she said she had a long-term boyfriend, she was lying. Stating she (like Asami) has good intuition, she lied because while she was happy enough to jump for joy upon hearing he liked her, she didn’t think it was time, and was scared it wouldn’t go well.

Yoshida, who actually doesn’t have any reason to trust what Gotou is saying now, oversteps a boundary by saying she can prove she’s not lying about liking him…by sleeping with him. It oversteps because he’s not 100% lying. Only when he sees how flustered this makes her does he say he was only kidding. But she also admits the reason she was worried it wouldn’t work out: she’s a virgin.

Gotou’s behavior, from lying about having a boyfriend and confessing her feelings to revealing her virginity, could all feel like a goofy soap opera if handled improperly. But here’s the thing, it isn’t. None of it is out of left field or simply for the sake of increased romantic drama. It absolutely tracks that Gotou’s lack of experience with sex would make her reluctant to rush into something with a guy she really likes.

Gotou truly did wound Yoshida’s heart with her false rejection, because at the end of the day if she’d explained her true intent he’d have understood; we know that much about him from his interactions with Sayu and Yuzuha. And to their credit neither the show nor Yoshida let her off the hook without a penalty, as Yoshida vows never to ask her out.

Instead, he’ll wait until the time comes when she can ask him out on a date, and he’ll look forward to it. So yes, Gotou initially made a big mess of things and hurt the guy she liked. But it wasn’t the end of the world with him, and he’s happy to forgive her as long as their interactions going forward are open and honest. Both Yoshida and Gotou are able to leave that yakiniku restaurant feeling a lot better about things, and it all feels earned.

But wait: their agreement is only half-complete: Now that Gotou has answered his question—and he learns that Sayu has more sexual experience than the adult woman he likes—it’s time for him to return the favor. Instead of sticking with Yoshida and Gotou as he answers, we return to his apartment, where Sayu is eating some pretty bangin’ looking beef stew.

It doesn’t taste “as good as it should” because food always tastes better when you’re eating it with others (that’s an unwavering truth). But especially after experiencing the apartment with both Yoshida and Asami around, being alone still feels lonely. It also gives Sayu’s trauma-addled brain a chance to leak glimpses from her past.

These glimpses include what could be her first sexual encounter along with a very stark POV image of her on a bed with what looks like ejaculate in her hand—and an unidentified crying girl. Sayu starts to blame Yoshida for not coming home and heading off these painful, unwanted thoughts, but she scolds herself for “blaming it on someone else,” not yet ready to assign blame only to those who exploited her. It’s in this state of mind that she receives a text from Yoshida saying he’s bringing Gotou home.

This is it, Sayu laments, this is when I’m abandoned again. She texts back she’ll stay somewhere else (and thank goodness she knows Asami now, as she could stay there if she needed to), but Yoshida texts back that it’s not like that: Gotou wants to meet her. It’s a great way to reveal that, like Yuzuha, Gotou learned the truth from Yoshida, and because she knows him to be a good guy (and no one on this show has watched him closer or longer), is ready, willing, and eager to know more about it, not less.

Yoshida, in turn, is learning like Gotou that lies (and omissions!) can only hurt more than they can help. The only way forward is in the light of the truth. And I never thought I’d say this, but I can’t wait for Gotou to meet Sayu. I think she’ll not only be impressed by what a nice girl she is, but understand completely how Sayu and Yoshida ended up in this scenario. I officially love this show. Even at its messiest, it’s brimming with good faith and empathy and I am here for it.

 

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 12 – Crossing the Rubi-tombolo

Yuru Camp takes a quick look back at when Nadeshiko was saying a tearful goodbye to her best friend Ayano; and I agree with the commenter that Kurosawa Tomoyo is a perfect voice to match Aya-chan’s personality—I just wish Kurosawa voiced a main character! Aya assures Nadeshiko that she’ll make new friends (which she does) and says that once she’s in a new place, she should try a new thing.

That new thing turns out to be camping up an absolute storm, culminating in this latest group trip to the geospot and lookout-packed Izu peninsula. After a refreshing breakfast of sashimi rice bowls, the group heads to Dougashima and the famed tombolo of Sanshiroujima. Akari is heartbroken to learn, her big sis was having her on; “tombolo” isn’t food, but the sandy bridge between islands that appears during low tide.

Removing their boots and braving the frigid waters, the group crosses the shallows and explores the island before the tide comes in. Nadeshiko thinks this would be a perfect spot to visit in the summer when the water is warm enough to swim in, leading to what I believe is the series’ very first cutaway to the girls in swimsuits.

From there, Rin takes point in her 30km/h moped for the drive along the glorious Nishiizu Skyline to their campsite. I can’t help but recall a similar drive I took up Mount Evans, on the highest paved road in North America. Evans is 2km taller than Fuji-san, so you can imagine words will hardly do the majesty of the scenery justice. It truly is, as Rin says, like driving in the sky.

Once they arrive at the Daruma Forest Campsite on the Darumayama highland, Aki, Rin and Ena start prepping for dinner early, while Akari leads the birthday girls Nadeshiko and Aoi away to check out the baths near Cape Mihama (which is sometimes mistaken for Cape Ose). To Akari’s shock, they already know a birthday meal is being prepared, since Aki specifically told Aoi that back at school, and their grocery shopping included things like whipped cream.

But even though it’s not a complete surprise, Nadeshiko and Aoi are still delighted by the celebration prepared by the others, who go all-out with decorations, a (pancake-based) cake, and the gift of durable and easy-to-maintain wooden cooking pans.

A suitably sumptuous feast of shrimp and tomato risotto awaits, made with spiny lobster broth and made extra-shrimpy by the addition of a highly-concentrated shrimp sauce. While Toba-sensei is enjoying the snacks the girls prepared to go with her booze, she gets a call from her Ryouko, who is herself solo camping much closer to Fuji-san out of her sister’s Suzuki Hustler.

Ryouko can tell her sister isn’t that drunk (yet) and congratulates her for being a good advisor. Minami admits she “wasn’t too keen” on becoming one at first due to the time it took up, but watching her students growing up before her eyes, she totally gets the appeal now!

With everyone now on the same sleep clock, the girls eschew movies and head to bed early so they can get up in time to watch the sun rise from the peak of Duramayama. The extra 500-meter climb nearly kills Aki all over again, but Rin and Nadeshiko reach the top first with time to spare, and Nade prepares instant miso soup with more of the spiny lobster broth, telling Rin the shell can be used more than once and even ground down into powder for future use.

While Toba-sensei stays in the van with a still-sleeping Akari, Aki, Aoi and Ena join Nadeshiko and Rin at the top, and the three formally bow and thank Rin for saving them. They also intend to visit the Iidas to properly thank them (and play with their adorable Corgi, Choko).

Then that sun rises and begins to bathe the landscape in its warm, silky light, rewarding the girls for their effort. Did I mention that shortly after starting this show I’ve started getting up early to watch the sunrise? There’s really nothing quite like that light. Yuru Camp isn’t just about immersing yourself in its warm and fuzzy therapeutic goodness, but inspiring you to get out there and give something new a try, as Aya urged Nadeshiko to do.

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 11 – Mamashiko Ajiii!

As expected, the highest point of Hosono Plateau offers a view that’s well worth the climb…or the race to the top if you’re Nadeshiko, Akari, or Chiaki. Also as expected, Nadeshiko won, securing her revenge for Akari telling her the camping was over when she woke up. Part of the reward is seeing the Izu Islands, technically part of Tokyo Prefecture and potential island camping location.

But Izu is vast—thanks to all the volcanic activity inthe last 20 million or so years—and the hour grows late, so the van-and-moped convoy leaves Hosono in search of a hot spring near the campsite. Once they find a suitable one, Nadeshiko relays it to Rin, who lets out a BIG ol’ yawn in response. She’s been riding since three in the morning, after all!

After Akari imagines a hilarious TV commercial for a Rin-themed frozen treat, the group has a sunset-lit soak at the Dougashima hot springs, which almost claim the increasingly drowsy Rin. Then Toba-sensei makes the mistake of chugging a post-bath beer, and has to call in a replacement driver, which is apparently a thing in Japan!

Still, bathing at Dougashima was the lemonade they made from the lemons of being turned away from their original campsite, and getting to their new site in Nishiizu a little late doesn’t faze the group in the slightest. Rin is too sleepy to be fazed anyway!

When it’s time to start a fire, Rin wakes up and teaches Akari how it’s done. You can tell Rin hearing it’s Akari’s first real campfire takes her back to her first campfire…which didn’t go nearly as well but was salvaged thanks to an experienced helping hand. With the tents and camp galley set up, a very well-rested Chef Nadeshiko enters Yuru Cookin’ Mode.

She first prepare a Spanish-style chunky Ajillo in an earthenware pot, while Ena and Chiaki grill some spiny lobster. Toba-sensei learned from her Christmas Camping error and brought the perfect booze for every possible meal. Her sister Ryouko texts her a quick reminder not to overdo it as she’s gotta drive tomorrow. I kinda wish Ryouko had joined them!

Having chosen meals as much for their ease of preparation and clean-up as their deliciousness, Nadeshiko innovatively uses the leftover juices from the Ajillo to make a totally different one-pot dish: alfonsino acqua pazza pasta. Yuru Camp does a good job giving you the gist of the recipes without turning this into a full-on cooking show…but as I’m a huge fan of both Great Chefs and Food Wars, that wouldn’t have been the worst thing either!

One thing’s for sure, Nadeshiko upped her game considerably, and her friends can be certain that going forward camping with her means rib-sticking gourmet-quality meals that take full advantage of the local ingredients to the max. But the  umami and sleepiness double-whammy finally does Rin in, which is when Nadeshiko becomes Mamashiko, ensuring Rin brushes her teeth and uses lotion before retiring to her tent.

The fact that Nadeshiko, Rin, and the others are all on totally different sleep cycles works in the episode’s favor. When Ena can’t sleep, she encounters Nadeshiko is also still up, enjoying a dramatic view from the picnic area. The two have proceed to have a wonderful little low-key heart-to-heart. Nadeshiko mentions how the relaxing waves remind her of her hometown, admits she knows about Ena’s konbini job.

Ena says it’s not just for camping expenses, but because she wants to get her drivers license at eighteen so she can take Chikuwa camping. Ena then remarks how much things have changed since Nadeshiko moved to Minobu, and Nadeshiko says a lot’s changed for her since meeting them. They head to bed, as it’s past three, and at four on the dot Rin wakes up totally rested…and all alone.

This is no problem for Rin, who takes the opportunity to get a little Me Time in before the others wake up. She hops on her moped to check out some local geospots, from Cape Kogane to Sawada Park, which she learns has an open-air hot spring right beside the sea.

Ena and Aoi are the next to wake up, but when they see Rin’s text they retreat back to their sleeping bags, joining the still-dozing Nadeshiko. Then a panicked Chiaki shows them Rin’s message “Please don’t come looking for me” and assumes Rin’s run away from “home”. The other two understood: Rin just wants some solo time. Here’s hoping getting up so early doesn’t render her too sleepy for the group’s adventures later that day!

Vlad Love – 03 – Quite Unconcerned by Crosses

The zoo fiasco forgotten (like all things from episode to episode), Mitsugu and Mai catch a vampire flick at the movies…and Mai is so inspired she can’t help but bite the head of the man sitting in front of her. I like the idea of Mitsugu and Mai just going out and the former having to deal with the unpredictability (and volatility) of the latter. My Girlfriend’s a Vamp! kinda stuff.

This episode features a brand-new OP which may not slap quite as hard as the first, but is beautiful in its own right, both in visuals and music.

After the movie the couple bump into Watabe Maki (Hayami Saori), president of the Cinema Club at Mitsugu’s school, who is curious about Mitsugu’s new, very pretty and photogenic (and out-of-her-league) companion. Mitsugu says she’s a relative, and when pressed, Mai simply states they’re “connected by blood”—which is true!

Maki takes them to a good restaurant for dinner, where Mai consumes a generous amount of garlic gyoza. Rather than kill her, the garlic seems to have an intoxicating effect, and the restaurant is demolished. The papers cover the incident as some kind of “mass hallucination”, which seems to be a recurring theme…along with the frankly lame fourth-wall breaking when Maki can hear Mitsugu’s thoughts or points out when she’s spewing exposition.

Mai’s unforeseen reaction to garlic leads Mitsugu and Dr. Chihiro to undertake a more thorough investigation of how Mai fits into common vampire knowledge. She drinks blood, and can sprout fangs and wings out of her head, but UV light doesn’t bother her, garlic turns her into a boisterous drunk, and crosses don’t affect her in the least.

While testing the UV bit, Mitsugu runs into another classmate, the Type-B (i.e. eccentric) Konno Kaoru, prez of the Cosplay Club. She mistakes Mai’s get-up for Invisible (Wo)man cosplay, and invites her and Mitsugu to the Cosplay Club so they can get their ‘cos on. Mai nails all the classics, from maid to bunny and magical girls. Mitsugu is more niche, pulling off a researcher from a 1970s sci-fi movie with aplomb.

Kaoru invites the pair to an Akiba Halloween party, the location of which is established with the show’s signature live-action drone footage of the city. Mai’s vamp-girl costume proves too hot to handle, causing a near-riot amongst the horny guys in the audience and forcing the karate club to lay down the law while keeping their school’s Disciplinary Officer Jinko at bay.

Mitsugu seems to sense when she and Mai should start heading home, but before that can happen the commotion knocks out the lights at the venue. Mai emerges from the darkness then transforms into a swarm of bats, making one hell of an exit from the party that is once again written off as a mass hallucination.

To quote Homer Simpson, each episode of Vlad Love has been little more than “a bunch of stuff that happened”. That doesn’t mean that stuff doesn’t look great and a ton of fun to boot, but there’s just no depth to the stuff, and everything resets from episode to episode, so nothing really means anything. Their movie date aside, Mai and Mitsugu aren’t really progressing as a couple so much as treading water.

The episode is also stuffed with overindulgent moments like the whole minute of needlessly describing in great detail the British bomber inexplicably flying in the air over the gyozu restaurant. Stuff like that engenders far more ¯\_(ツ)_/¯’s than LOL’s.

Otherside Picnic – 05 – Pale Horse

After treating Kozakura to well over $100 worth of dinner as an apology for her unwanted excursion to the Otherside, Toriko and Sorao complete their making-up by ordering another $100 worth of grub and drinks. During the meal, Toriko whips out Lady Hasshaku’s hat, which turns out to be much more than bad table manners.

After the waiter starts acting very strange (muttering about “sublance” and “abardmont”), Sorao leads a tipsy Toriko out of the oddly empty café and to the station, but something is off about Ikebukuro: all the lights are out and there isn’t another soul in sight. Before long the pair find themselves in an unfamiliar field, and encounter a bizarre two-headed robot horse-like monster, carrying several hanging bound bodies.

Neither brought guns to dinner, so they have to make a run for it, with Sorao doing her best to scope out potential Glitches. They reach a train track, which they believe will eventually lead to a station (i.e. shelter), but they’re then chased by a frightening mass of glowing purple faces.

Suddenly, Toriko hits the deck and has Sorao do the same, and bullets fly over their heads—bullets from the guns of soldiers. Their leader identifies the girls as human in Japanese, but his men chatter in English. The bullets aren’t meant for the girls, but for a third monster: a towering Groot-like hulk with branches for antlers.

Eventually the tree man wanders off, while the robotic horse doesn’t continue its pursuit. The lead soldier introduces himself as U.S. Marine Corp Lieutenant Will Drake, commander of the Pale Horse Battalion, Charlie Company 1/2 out of Okinawa. (“Pale Horse” is a reference to Death, the fourth Horse of the Apocalypse.) He and his unit have been trapped in the Otherside for over a month, while their robotic pack mule was transformed into a monster that has claimed a number of his men.

Lt. Drake & Co. lead Sorao and Toriko to “February Station”, which Sorao identifies as Kisaragi Station from the real world, but the group keeps moving until they reach the company’s well-equipped base camp. The thing is, a lot of Drake’s men distrust the girls and aren’t convinced they’re not monsters in disguise. They obeyed his orders to stand down this time, but what if fear of the unknown, or additional illusions, cause them to lash out?

The introduction of American marines from Okinawa to the Otherside, as well as the new manner in which the girls ended up their themselves, brings a fresh new dynamic to their adventures. Toriko may have been joking about marine basic training, but now they find themselves unarmed and exposed in a potentially paranoid hornets’ nest. As Toriko is also fond of saying, as long as they stick together, things will work out. Here’s hoping.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Appare-Ranman! – 06 – Outside the Box

At the start of the rave, favorites Dylan, TJ and Al are in the front, with Appare’s thrown-together contraption just barely keeping up with the second group of Xialian and Richard Riesman. Al stops at a railroad crossing, but daredevils Dylan and TJ jump the track a moment before the train crosses, showing they’re willing to put their lives on the line for this race. Since they’re the first into the first supply town of Lancaster, they’ll be the first allowed to leave.

As teams rest and resupply, Al finds himself feeling discouraged and insecure. He wonders if it would be better for Sofia to go ahead by train and meet him in New York, since the race will only get hairier.

Sofia reminds him that he’s not supposed to be putting his life on the line for the race; he has a future with her and the company to think of. After Kosame spars with Al (and continues to exhibit a kind of “block” keeping him from his best swordsmanship) he buys Appare, Hototo and Xialian a nice dinner.

Appare’s team is scheduled for a 12:07 am departure from Lancaster, but Hototo, having seen Gil’s henchmen all over town, decides to split off in order to “take care of something.” He overhears Gil’s team planning to sabotage the entrance to Death Valley via the Valley of Despair and dynamite the entrance behind them.

Hototo doesn’t do a great job of staying hidden, and one of those henchmen finds him. They tie him up and stuff him in a box. When the start time arrives, Appare pretends the car needs more work to buy Kosame more time to find Hototo.

Hototo finally breaks out of his box prison by the side of the road and runs back into town to reunite with Kosame. Appare betrays a brief smile at the sight of their return, and off they go. Fortunately, all the cars that left ahead of them were stopped in their tracks by Gil’s men blocking the entrance with junk, so the delay doesn’t hurt them.

Appare is confident his newly “reborn” engine, improved during the downtime in Lancaster, can catch up to the group, overcome the junk and the dynamite, and remain in the running for the win. He’s tired of relying on shortcuts; he wants to win with his machine, not in spite of it, or all of this is for nothing.

Appare-Ranman! – 05 – Jockeying for Position

Kosame gathers up a sleeping Appare and Hototo for the pre-race banquet, where they are immediately turned away for not abiding by the dress code—something Xialian is doing thanks to her classy new dress. The code suddenly becomes more flexible when Thousand Three member TJ arrives in an outfit even more outlandish than Appare’s, carrying a turntable boombox playing anachronistic music.

Thanks to TJ the others gain entry (once Kosame puts on a necktie), and we soon learn that when it comes to fashion, Thousand Three members are extremely extra, judging by the arrival of the ruthless Gil and his lieutenant Chase. Hototo only came in order to ask Dylan about a snake tattoo. Dylan tells him it’s worn by Gil’s henchmen, but suggests that if he wants revenge (and not to die), he’ll have to be patient.

There are introductions of the B.I.G. BOSS car companies, the race cars, and their drivers (Kosame’s name is mispronounced and they’re given number 0), and then the pre-race lottery for pole position begins. TJ breaks up the ceremony by shooting the raffle box and declaring pole position for himself, which leads Dylan to challenge him. That sparks a very weird pistol duel, complete with unlimited ammo and acrobatic bullet-dodging moves.

The other drivers hash it out with duels ranging from kicking  to cucumber slicing. It’s all a little nutty and arbitrary, and it’s a miracle not one person was shot or even wounded by all the stray gunfire (though if the show takes such liberties with tech and fashion, it tracks that it doesn’t have a problem taking them with normal human ability and gun lethality as well).

That brings us to the next day and the start of the race, which we first saw in the first episode back in April. After five episodes of setup, the race has finally begun, and Appare has a steam-powered car in a race that favors gasoline-powered cars. No matter; he declares the car will never be finished because it will always be evolving, including during the race.

With Hototo as a guide and Kosame as…er, captain, they’ll no doubt take routes and make moves other racers are either too afraid or too sane—or both—to attempt. But even as the racers speed off into the wild, there are conspiratorial elements committed to turning the race into a “tragedy”.

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