Spy x Family – 10 – Star Seizer Anya

Professor Henderson continues to observe rancor between Damian and his lackeys and Anya and Becky, while the M.V.P. of a P.E. dodgeball tournament is rumored to be awarded a Stella. Loid steps back and leaves Anya’s intense training to Yor, and we’re awarded a lovely Rocky-style montage of Yor being her usual badass self and Anya just barely keeping up, while also learning the merits of hard work and stick-to-itiveness.

Of course, Anya isn’t the only one who wants that Stella for her dad’s mission. Damian believes he needs to be the first to earn a Stella, and Anya can read his mind as he reveals why: as the second son, if he doesn’t meet or surpass his older brother, his father won’t notice him. Damian may be a “shithead”, but he’s not iredeemable.

As for the third student rearin’ for that MVP star, we have our first exercise in Spy x Family descending into the absurd with Bill Watkins, who despite being six years old has the physique of Brock Lesnar. Just the sight of the large lad amongst all his tiny-mite classmates is enough to elicit a hearty chuckle; learning his dad is literally M. Bison kicked that up to a full belly laugh.

Against a normal human opponent, Damian’s shot and his teamwork with his lackeys would likely be enough to win the match and earn MVP (I got a kick out of the Calvin & Hobbes-style bending of reality in the glimpses of their training). Unfortunately, like being born second, Damian has he misfortune of having Watkins for an opponent.

Bill easily catches Damian’s best shot and takes out four opposing players at once. Damian’s lackeys sacrifice themselves to keep him in the game. When it’s down to Damian, Anya, and a third guy, Bill targets Anya, but thanks to a combination of knowing where he’ll throw it and Yor’s training, he just can’t hit her, and soon shows his age by getting very frustrated.

That leads to him yelling “DIE!” and forgetting all about “going easy on the women” by firing a fastball directly at Anya, who is a sitting duck when she trips and falls. This is when Damian exhibits his inherent “goodness” by sacrificing himself so Anya doesn’t take the hit. In that moment, he stopped caring about winning and status, and only cared about Anya’s safety.

After he tsunderes the heck out of his explanation for why he did it, the end result is it’s all up to Anya to bring Watkins down. Recalling Yor’s teachings in the park, Anya unleashes her killer move, “Star Catch Arrow”, and for a moment, appears to become a Powerpuff Girl.

Alas, despite perfect form and creating an intense atmosphere that has both teams and Bill in her thrall, she releases the ball so it bounces straight up into the air, then harmlessly in front of Bill, who swiftly ends the game by beaning a stunned Anya.

The consolation is that no one was ever going to win a Stella for exceling in a game of dodgeball. Henderson doesn’t know how such a silly rumor came about, but does know that anyone who yells “DIE!” in a friendly game is asking for a Tonitrus Bolt! Watkins stands chastened and rebuked.

While he praised her for her “not bad” dodging and took a direct blow for her, Damian is so disappointed in the end result of Anya’s ratcheting up of suspense that he can’t help but yell at her and call her “stubby legs”, even as he’d probably be the first to admit that until those last moments Anya was cool as hell out there. As for Henderson, observing these brats bickering, he wonders if this new class is really worthy of Stella…

This Spy x Family did not care how ridiculous Bill Watkins looked or how seriously this dodgeball game was being taken. It summoned and harnessed the outsized importance of mundane things all little kids engage in, taking after their adult counterparts while infusing the proceedings with their vivid imaginations. The result is another thrilling and hilarious outing.

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 08 – Live Your Own Life, Then Die

Moments after Rose’s prosthetic hand and wrist shatters after one too many Crimson Rose Bullets, we learn how she ended up with it in the first place: she got in too deep with the underground, and one day (or probably more appropriately, night) she lost, and the price was her hand. Leo only visited her to tell her she was stupid and he was having nothing more to do with her. He found someone new.

Rose meets this someone new, watches her fire a Blue Bullet, then tries to get her to work for her, but Eve isn’t about that. In fact, she didn’t show up on Rose’s doorstep until she wanted to play against Aoi. Fast-forward to the present, and Rose is going to play golf with one arm. Yes, you heard me. And she does.

Not only that, she comes heart-crushingly close to sinking the ball on just her second shot, a perfect shot from 140 yards away. But close is no cigar, which opens the door for Eve to take the win. The episode then jumps forward, to when the construction vehicles are about to level Klein’s bar while she, Lily, and the kids watch.

That’s when Eve shows up in Vipére’s car (and Vipére does a J-turn waaaaay too close to the children) and tells them to hop in, even though the car in question is tiny. Their problems are solved. She opens her new briefcase full of cash (again, a questionable decision in an open convertible traveling at high speed). She won. Rose lost.

From there, things start flying high. Vipére, as a treat, gives Klein’s whole family new identities (a snake keeps her ear to the ground), which allows Klein to buy a new bar, Lily to help out there, and the three refugee kids (from Palestine, Syria, and Somalia, by the way) to go to school for the first time.

Vipére herself ends up on a yacht, seemingly retiring both from golf and from wearing fangs. But while her family’s future is secure, it’s not all gravy for Eve. She meets Rose’s underling Anri on a rooftop, where Anri tells her that as a result of her victory, Catherine has put hits out on both Rose and her. Anri can’t quite kill Eve herself, even though she wants to. Instead, she runs away in tears, telling her to live her life however she wants, then die…with emphasis on the “die”.

Certain for some reason that A., Catherine won’t go after her family and B., Catherine will never know to send hitmen to Japan, Eve gets on a train to the airport bound to Aoi’s homeland, to fulfill the promise she made to meet her on a legit golf course. It’s the promise that drove her stunning victory, bouncing her ball of Rose’s and landing in the cup.

Mind you, shit like that probably won’t fly in above ground golf. But knowing her best years were behind her, Rose always intended for Eve to surpass her, and is glad her ass was kicked so thoroughly. She sits by the water with a cig, having summoned Leo to ask why he gave up on Eve. He tells her because he didn’t believe he could awaken her full potential.

But that time is seemingly coming. As if to underscore the official changing of the guard, Leo’s departure is immediately followed by the arrival of Catherine’s hitman. Before he pulls the (real, not metaphorical) trigger and ends her life, Rose briefly glimpses an ideal possible life when she was on the pro tour, with Leo as her proud caddy. Maybe in another life. This tragic moment is followed up by Eve is on a plane bound for Japan and to her beloved Aoi, who just can’t believe the drinks are free.

I will savor and treasure this episode for a long time, and you should too: it’s about as good as anime can get. Engaging, deadly serious, and absolutely window-lickingly bonkers in the same breath. And with only 4-5 episodes left, I desperately hope we get a second season, as it seems Eve’s golf story is only beginning now that she has emerged from the shadows and leapt into the light. The world would be a better place with more Birdie Wing in it.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 08 – The Kids Call It “Tsundere” These Days

When Iino Miko finally gathers the courage to enter the StuCo office and take her place as financial auditor, she immediately starts auditing the other members’ disgraceful conduct. The only one immune to her scolding is Chika, whom Miko idolizes as the perfect student.

Having the other members’ backs, Chika uses her influence to get Miko to lighten up, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a balance between good and bad cop. To that end, she must learn to let some things slide sometimes, since if those she scolds don’t feel they’re being heard, then they won’t listen in turn.

Yuu proceeds to put his feet up, break out the snacks, and play a Mario Kart-style video game with Miyuki as Kaguya watches (quietly rooting for the president). She’s soon roped into a funny face Insta session with Chika and Miko, resulting in some of the weirder faces we’ve seen in a show chock full of ’em! Since Chika gets what she wants—a new “toy” in Miko—she wins this round.

This segment finally establishes a dynamic of Miko beyond merely reacting to rule infractions, while illustrating how Kaguya and Miyuki’s love for each other has organically created an extremely casual environment, lending at least some credibility to Miko’s worries about setting a bad example for the rest of the academy.

If Kaguya and Miyuki are getting away with proverbial murder in the hallowed StuCo office, there’s no telling what they’d get up to if they found themselves locked in a storage shed. Wait; that’s exactly what the next segment tells!

When the door won’t open, both assume the other arranged it that way in order to compel the other into some kind of romantic act that exposes their feelings for them. In reality, it’s just a branch stuck in the door track. But neither knows this, and soon both fall victim to the “suspension bridge effect” neither of them actually intended.

It’s as if the universe were conspiring to not only lock these two in a dark room together, but get Miyuki on top of Kaguya on a gym mat! Soon their expectations of what the other person is trying to accomplish merge together and they come this close to a kiss.

That’s when that same universe snatches the chance away, like Lucy taking the football from Charlie Brown, and Miko opens the door. Disoriented by the sudden cessation of passion, Kaguya runs sobbing into Miko’s arms, and she declares Miyuki a scumbag. But let’s face it: both Miyuki and Kaguya lose this one, since the kiss they both wanted to experience didn’t happen.

The third and final segment takes place in the wake of that almost-kiss, as Kaguya suddenly passes out after Miyuki removes a piece of lint from her hair—gently touching her cheek in the process.

When Kaguya is rushed off in an ambulance, and the other StuCo members discuss her weak constitution around changes in season, a segment steeped in drama wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Still, just after using the storage shed bit, LIW takes things in a much different and more hilarious direction that further demonstrates just how much of a dummy falling in love has made these two.

The Shinomiya family doctor is one of the ten best physicians in the world (he even has his own awesome theme music!) yet when he determines her symptoms are the result of nothing more than lovesickness, she insists on further (and extremely expensive) tests, and still calls the guy a quack!

Hayasaka is present for all of this absurdity, and vows never to set foot in the hospital again, so embarrassed she is by her mistress’ inability to grasp reality. Still, she’s not so heartless she’ll betray Kaguya by reporting the medical results to Miyuki…

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 07 – The Aquarium

LIW’s second season continues to take anime comedy to dizzying new heights and unexpected places. There’s literally no telling what it’s going to throw at you next, and that unpredictability combined with top-notch execution at every level of production means this is a show that keeps getting better and more entertaining.

We begin with Chika and Kaguya learning that Yuu is a briefs man, followed by his passionate assertion that boxer-brief men are nothing but “man whores.” Kaguya is determined to learn what kind of underwear Miyuki wears, she formulates an entire perverted plan in her head before rejecting it, showing just how demented by love she’s become.

Naturally, that same derangement compels her to ask Miyuki the question casually while serving tea, and Miyuki naturally assumes she’s talking about his preference in girl’s underwear. Not wanting to come off like a cad, he proceeds to describe girls’ bloomers (since anything he’d pick for Kaguya would be hot), but the same traits apply to mens’ boxer briefs, Kaguya loudly proclaims Miyuki is a man whore!

Suffice it to say, this is not proper behavior in the StuCo office of a prestigious school, but this is where Kaguya, Miyuki are. So it’s most inauspicious that Iino Miko should come through the office door just as Kaguya is yelling this, and Miko runs off in fear Miyuki will attack her “next”.

In the next segment, Kaguya offers to give Miyuki a hand massage as an apology for disparaging him. Her true motive, however, is to use the pressure points in his hand to secrete “prevent-men-from-cheating” hormones of the type released during “se-“.

Note that Kaguya can never complete the word “sex”, but only utters the first half of the word in a high-pitched voice that Hayasaka can’t help but imitate while explaining sex hormones to her.

The resulting hand massage is a stirring tale of two nervous systems. While Kaguya’s hands are small and soft, they’re causing extreme pain to Miyuki’s hand, releasing stress hormones like beta-endorphins and cortisol. Simultaneously, love hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin are being secreted in Kaguya’s brain. It’s as if the StuCo office has suddenly turned into a biochemistry lab!

With all those love hormones suddenly swimming in Kaguya’s already love-addled head, she gets a little more comfortable and offers to do Miyuki’s back. She ends up on top of Miyuki on the couch, which is again the precise moment Miko decides to enter the StuCo office.

Combined with all of the misleading things she hears from them (“If I feel any better than this I’ll die!”) the mere sight of two students going at it in the sacred StuCo office is enough to cause Miko to flee in terror once more. Miko’s minimal usage in these first two segments is truly inspired.

Not only is it a means of gradually easing her into the office (if she ever manages to set foot in there, of course!), but it shows just how unprepared an outsider like her truly is for the demented antics of that room. One does not simply walk into that room!

The opening moments of Segment #3 would seem to hint at a shift to a Kei-focused story, but she’s only there in order to pass on an accursed shougo manga that is 100% guaranteed to make you weep uncontrollably no matter how much or little you like manga or the shoujo genre.

A skeptical Miyuki is converted that very night, and decides that introducing the manga to Kaguya is the perfect strategy for getting her to ask him to go out with her so they can enjoy a flowey, lovey-dovey shoujo manga-like romance.

But as has been established from her taste in eyes, Kaguya doesn’t really go for common romantic archetypes, and proves a tough nut to crack even as Miyuki has both Yuu and Chika in full agreement that the manga is a must-read tearjerker.

The trio’s enthusiasm for the story causes them to leak too many details and spoilers, and the second-hand synopses still fail to move Kaguya. Heck, she can’t even understand what they’re saying once they’ve all covered each others’ mouths to stop blabbing.

It’s at this point when Miko enters the office a third time to find something strange and horrifying waiting for her. Then as the narrator declares the result (everyone loses but Kaguya), Miko asks if this is really “what happens at the end?” of segments, in a lovely breaking of the fourth wall.

However…this is not the end.

At this point the episode had a solid-“9” in the bag, but there was still a ton of time left after the end credits, so I was curious and excited about where it would go for the finale. It turns out Kaguya did end up reading the shoujo manga the previous night, and joins the ranks of her StuCo comrades (sans Miko) in the Shoujo Manga Brain club.

The next day is presented as an entirely different anime, one that is a straight-up high school shoujo romance with Kaguya as the heroine and Miyuki and Yuu as competing love interests. It’s as ambitious as it is hilarious.

Everyone’s character design has been “beautified” and their voices either more lovey-dovey (in the case of Kaguya) or more “cool-sounding” (the boys). Heck, even the damn narrator has “gone goofy!”

Once Chika arrives at school, we learn that the change in her personality is negligible, but she interrupts what was about to become fisticuffs between Miyuki and Yuu for the right to take Kaguya to the aquarium.

In the end, Miyuki wins out by insisting on valiantly escorting Kaguya to the infirmary hand-in-hand. He then manages to ask Kaguya to go to the aquarium with him, only for her to decline since, so overcome by longing for love, she already feels like she’s at the aquarium!

So Miyuki and Yuu go instead, and end up having more fun than they thought they would! Note that at no point did Miko set foot anywhere close to the StuCo office for this latest bout of nonsense. You know what they say: “Once bitten, twice shy…thrice traumatized.”

Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro – 02 – Born to Run

I’m glad there’s an anime that shares the irreverence and absurdity of Hinamatsuri to dig into this Summer. Miyamo Chio is an ideal lens through which to provide all kinds of social commentary, while her insistence she is “below average” in society couldn’t be more wrong.

Consider when she comes afoul of a bike gang member fresh off a ride. She and a salaryman (a grunt she incorrectly pegs for a section chief) must slide through the narrow space between the bike and the wall, and she gets burned by the exhaust. The biker takes offense, grabs Chio by the scruff…and gets knocked out by a lucky Chio elbow.

Chio appeals to her better self by attempting to move the bike out of the way lest others get burned, but ends up knocking it over. Feeling she’s toast either way, she decides to draw from her badass video game world and talk a hell of good game.

Standing over the bike imperiously like it’s trash, “Bloody Butterfly” urges the biker to give up the life, lest she cease “going easy” on him. And he gives in! He only asks that she accompany him on one last ride, which ends up being a schoool run; Chio manages to sufficiently disguise herself from her peers.

As MEH as Chio might consider herself, her actions with the biker were anything but. But while she can fake being a badass, there’s no denying she and her friend Manana have zero romantic experience; though there is an absurd impressiveness to Chio’s diagram of the ideal below-average high school life, which happens to match up perfectly with a diagram of the tastiest part of the tuna!

Chio and Manana scornfully watch couples walk past them left and right, but they become enamored with Hosokawa and the basketball captain as they dart into an alley. Expecting “sexy times” to be afoot, they are surprised to learn the guy only sought a safe place to ask Hosokawa out. She respectfully declines (she’s focusing on running) and they continue being friends like nothing happened.

Chio and Manana are all caught spying, but pretend to be making out while hiding their faces until the other couple leaves. Thus the two love noobs come millimeters from sharing their first kiss…with each other.

The next day, Chio finds Manana already with Hosokawa, both waiting for her. Suddenly Chio finds herself in the perfect society of three, picturing herself as King, Manana as pauper, and Hosokawa as butler. Only Manana only used Chio as a stepping stone to climb the social ladder with Hosokawa. In any relationship between two people on a lower rung, the temptation will always be there for such stone-stepping.

Of course, Manana promptly recieves her comeuppance when she learns Hosokawa will friendily chat up anyone, including a “company president” she met while on a run, and has been informally coaching ever since. She and the old dude leave Manana in the dust, just feet from where she left Chio in the dust.

Chio and Manana may know jack about romance, but they can be keen observers of human behavior. To whit, they realize well before the kind, pure Hosokawa that the old guy obviously exaggerated his importance due to being flustered by a cute girl suddenly approaching him with running advice.

They’re right—they guy is just a grunt and lied about everything—except his love of running. And that’s why Hosokawa immediately forgives him; after all, even she sometimes acts like she’s not feeling well at meets. What’s important is the run. With that, the quartet frolick all the way to school, so joyfully that their joyless teacher can’t bear to stop them…though he does wonder who the hell the old guy is!

Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro – 01 (First Impressions) – It’s All in the Journey

Sometimes Miyamo Chio is late for school. Sometimes she’s early. The reasons for either are many: staying up late playing video games, for instance. The point is, while on her route to school, something always happens.

That could be something small, like a closed road, that then turns into something much bigger, like a rooftop adventure with old man toothpaste spit, stepping on a rich guy’s alligator suitcase, or walking boldly out of a love hotel parking garage.

Miyamo Chio is, on the outside, a fairly average, unassuming high school girl who doesn’t like standing out. But inside is a seething cauldron of emotions that conspire to create a far more over-the-top dramatic event than one would think. She even has an assassin alter-ego based on her video game chracter.

Be it one, two, or more trips per episode, Chio-Chan no Tsuugakuro isn’t about school. It’s about getting to school, and everything that happens while attempting to do so. And thanks to some diverse and vibrant voice work from Oozora Naomi and nicely animated bursts of action, the journey is probably more fun than the destination anyway.

91 Days – 12 (Fin)

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With Avilio’s grand revenge plan all but complete (but for Nero), this final episode is not a lot more than an extended epilogue in which the remainder of the Vanettis are wiped out, Avilio is captured by Nero, and the two kind of dance around each other until Nero finally does what he needs to do.

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I’ll be honest: I’ve never been fully emotionally invested in any of the characters, even Avilio, and was never all that big a fan of Nero, so watching all of the underlings, whom I often couldn’t tell apart from each other, was a bit of a bore. Not to mention the tommy guns in this show were way too reliable (not a serious criticism, just sayin’).

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I’ve also expected for a while now that Avilio would eventually end up succeeding but feeling utterly unfulfilled, in the same way Vincent was when he killed the Lagusas seven years ago, so the campfire confrontation isn’t all that impactful. These are two people who have been set up from the start to be unhappy and alone, and they’ve done too much to each other for there to be any outcome but one or both of them ending up dead.

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The bottom line: any and all hope this show had was wiped out back when Avilio killed Corteo, believing that last shedding of his humanity would be worth it, but it wasn’t. Avilio and Nero have a pleasant final road trip to the seaside, but only Nero gets back in the car and drives away, and we have no reason to believe he’ll be alive long with the new Don Strega and the long arm of the Galassias after him.

As their two pairs of footsteps are washed away by the waves, the lesson of 91 Days is clear: if you’re going to kill a family in a mafia coup, make sure you get all that family’s members. Nero can blame Avilio all he likes, but it was his nervousness/mercy that kept Angelo alive, leading to a life spent—wasted—planning only revenge.

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91 Days – 11

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Avilio’s time in Chicago was productive; he was able to strike a deal with the Galassias – just not the one Nero thought. Don Galassia takes a shine to Avilio, as the capable inside man who could help him get rid of the Vanettis.

But it’s also painfully evident that killing Corteo took a bigger chunk of Avilio’s soul than most of the killings. He’s barely keeping it together, catching glimpses of Corteo’s ghost off in the distance.

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The stage for the final act of Avilio’s revenge couldn’t be more appropriate: the grand opening of Vincent’s opera house in Lawless. One gets the feeling like Vincent is willing himself to stay alive just to get to this evening. Little does he know Avilio has been looking forward to the evening just as much, if not more.

Avilio, Ganzo, Don Galassia and his nephew Strega all know the game plan, but things don’t go according to that plan, as Del Toro takes longer to bring down and Barbero gets wise to Avilio’s treachery.

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It matters not, as Ganzo is able to free Avilio, killing Barbero in the process, and give Avilio a free path to Vincent and Don Galassia’s royal box, even as Nero is running off to stop a potential sniper all the way on the other side of the theater.

Avilio manages to do worse than simply kill Vincent: he kills Don Galassia, which is a death sentence to the entire Vanetti family. Strega takes out Ganzo, leaving Strega, Avilio, Nero…and not many others still alive.

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Avilio is pretty happy with how things worked out, as he sits in an alley as sirens blare. The Vanettis have lost everything, just as he did the night his family was taken. But the cost is high, and his decision to kill Don Galassia made him an enemy of Strega, who finds him in the alley. Is he there to thank Avilio for getting his uncle out of the way for him, or to kill him for it?

While the animation continues to be a serious liability, the overall experience this week was some thrilling and heart-wrenching mob drama. Avilio did most of what he set out to do, but he’s even more of a wreck than when he first got that letter. All of this, like Vincent’s murder of his family, might end up being for nothing.

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