It didn’t take long to get on board with this episode, as the cold open shows us exactly what’s going down: Ranko in the corner of a boxing ring, looking battered but determined. Cut to a far gentler scene of Nagomi offering her roomie a cute hair tie to keep her hair out of her face while washing up.
While handing out cards on the street, Nagomi and Ranko encounter some unsavory figurine dealers (perfect for this Akiba), including one who talks to one of his treasured figurines in a cutesy voice. When this guy impugns maids, Ranko advances on him, but is stopped by an athletic woman with silver hair, who says she doesn’t acknowledge the stern Ranko as a maid.
They return to Oinky Doink to find Tenchou with the yakuza’s gun in her mouth. The café is behind on its payments, but in Ranko the guy sees a solution to that. I love how Ranko keeps pouring him water until it starts sloshing in his stomach.
Ranko is to report to the marvelously-named Akiba Fluffy n’ Sweet Club, which is actually an underground MMA club where maids beat the stuffing out of each other. It’s run by Madame Taira, who puts her cig out in Tenchou’s hand when she offers it.
Taira also happens to be an immense fan of “Gracey-poo”, AKA Inomata Grace, an obscure side character from an old anime who nevertheless inspired her to start her whole fighting enterprise. The figure of her watching from behind a tree as the protagonist trains reminds me of Nagomi: innocent and out of place in this temple of violence.
Ranko’s job isn’t to win, but to fall to Taira’s chosen champion. The only problem is, once she’s in the ring, Ranko finds it hard to hold back, and knocks the champ out with one punch. This is obviously a suboptimal result for both Taira and the Oinky Doink’s debtors.
As a naked Tenchou prostrates herself (we later learn she stripped of her own accord) she does manage to convince Taira into sparing her and Ranko’s life by proposing that Ranko win through to the finals, only to take a fall in the finals. We meet the serious silverhead, Zoya, who is Taira’s muscle. She and Ranko are at odds: Taira believes netiher of them are “true maids”, but Ranko says once one dons the uniform, anyone can be one.
Taira has Ranko dispose of the dead collector’s body (Taira killed him after Ranko won), and the genuine Gracey-poo figurine falls from his pocket (he sold Taira a fake). This episode is full of seemingly random yet ultimately extremely satisfying setups and payoffs.
Before Ranko and Zoya start tearing through one competitor after another on a collision course with one another in the final, Tenchou and Shiipon borrow betting cash from a bank that lets them put up their organs of choice as collateral, which is just…chef’s kiss. When the figuring dealer’s men come by, Taira shows them footage of Ranko disposing of the body, then promises them that her Zoya will kill her in the final bout.
The match between Ranko and Zoya arrives, with words from Ranko ringing in Zoya’s ears: “The only judge that determines whether you’re a maid or not is yourself.” Zoya, with her military training, is a far tougher opponent than the others, but Ranko is determined to last twelve rounds with her.
What follows is some truly splendid combat animation. Great care goes into depicting Zoya punching Nogami’s cherry hair tie off Ranko’s head, as well as the concussive force, bursts of air and sprays of sweat of each punch, block, and kick. Zoya talks shit not just about Ranko as a maid, but her fellow maids as well, which Ranko won’t let slide.
Borrowing a strawberry tie from her Gracey-poo Nogami to replace the cherry one, Ranko smiles and utterly rejects Zoya’s philosophy of “maidness”. As she fights Ranko Zoya looks back on the past that shaped that philosophy, from being denied cute dolls as a child in Russia, to moving to Akiba to be a café maid and giving up on it because she thought she wasn’t cute enough.
As the final round enters its climax, Ranko and Zoya come to a mutual understanding and respect, speaking telepathically with their fists and legs.
Ranko doesn’t need anyone to acknowledge her as a cute maid; she knows she’s a cute maid, especially with Nagomi-poo’s hair tie. Before Ranko lands the knockout blow to the side of her face, Zoya admits Ranko looks cute, and Ranko tells Zoya she looks cute too.
Ranko, of course, wasn’t supposed to win, which means it was only a matter of time before Taira killed her, Tenchou, and probably the other Oinky maids just for the hell of it.
But the figurine collectors come calling again, and this time they have evidence that their boss met with her: a note on the door to her office from Ranko mentioning the body she disposed of. Instead of showing us the ensuing bloody shootout and Taira’s demise, we watch only Gracey-poo watching from behind her tree, getting splattered with blood. Perfection.
But, as we know, that’s the fake Gracey-poo. The real one? Yumechi ended up with it. That’s a good thing, because it means they can sell it to recoup the cash Tenchou and Shiipon lost betting for Ranko to lose as planned. This leaves them just as deep in the hole with the yakuza guy, but as Nagomi says, at least they still have all their organs!
The cherry, strawberry, or whatever fruit you like on top of this deliciously epic sundae of an episode comes when Zoya reports for duty as the fifth Oinky-Doink maid. Freed from her previous work by Taira’s death and her dream resurrected by meeting Ranko, she’s ready to give the café game another shot, to which I can only say khorosho!