Akiba Maid War – 03 – Raging Boar

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!

Summertime Render – 25 (Fin) – Good Karma

After all the trials, blood, death, loss and increasingly complicated “rules” of the Shadows that Shinpei has endured, it all culminates in a hard reset to the beginning, with him on that boat with Hizuru. From her perspective, they’ve never met, but she’s clearly intrigued (and a little disturbed) that he somehow knows her pen name.

When Shinpei arrives on the pier, he feels a sense of deja vu. When Mio comes streaming towards him on her bike, he instinctively prepares to catch her…but her brakes work fine. Mio’s fine, as are Tokiko and Sou. Shinpei knows he felt worried about them, but doesn’t quite know why; they’re understandably confused and a little hurt by him saying this!

And then there’s Ushio, who remains very much alive, because a Shadow never copied and replaced her. In this timeline there are no Shadows, and never were. He was brought back to the island by a voicemail from Ushio, which he somehow could sense had the same sense of uncanny worry he himself was experiencing.

He stops by the Kobayakawa konbini, which Shiori is minding (and yelling at the other kids to shut the dang ice cream chest). It’s just good to see her not as an instrument of dismemberment and death, ya know? She also says Ushio has been talking about him for a while now, insisting he was coming this year. The kids also note that the upcoming festival is lining up with “Haine’s” birthday.

After visiting the shrine, where an elderly (and not unnaturally youthful or evil) Karakiri is passing the role of fire-lighter to his son Yamato, Shinpei heads to the beach, where Ushio happens to be standing in a long white dress, looking lonely. When she spots him, Shinpei promptly apologizes for how he suddenly left the island.

Ushio admits that she too didn’t handle things right, and that the voicemail she sent was sent because she was suddenly desperately worried about him. Their making-up session is capped off by Shinpei fortuitously spotting her lost shell pendant in the sand. Ushio lets him tenderly tie it around her neck. All is well with the two now; water under the bridge.

At the Kofunes’ café, which is not Shinpei’s home and never was, since his parents are still alive, he discusses his “dream” with Hizuru, who is the only one on the island weird enough to think there might be something to it, like a shared memory of the island or memories from parallel worlds (in truth, it’s a little of both).

It’s here where we meet Haine, who is a grown Ryuunosuke’s daughter and friends with Shiori. Mio comes down in her yukata and Ushio in her portable shrine garb, and the whole gang poses for a photo. Many among the group throw up peace signs, but they could also be victory signs.

That night at the festival, Hizuru is typing up a storm while laughing creepily and stuffing rice into her maw; Shinpei’s regaling of his “dreams” have cleared her writer’s block; we see her writing a novel called Summertime Render. Sou works up the nerve to confess to Mio—again—while Toki watches from the shadows. This time, Mio doesn’t automatically say no?

Shinpei meets Ushio on the beach with the takoyaki she ordered him to bring. When she sees he only brought two trays for the two of them, she recalls a promise he made when they were trying to “get through the little gap in the hospital”—something that might not have even happened in this world. They recite the promise in unison, that he’d “buy her 10 or even 100 pieces”, and a galaxy of fireworks erupt around them.

Whether in that moment they suddenly remember everything they went through to get to this time and place, or they’re simply glad they’re together again after two years in this timeline, they lean into one another in elation and relief. After lifting a three hundred year curse, they goshdarn earned a happy ending as a reward. They deserve it, and I couldn’t be happier that they got it.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 15 – Hello Neighbor

Chizuru lost her key at some point during the evening, and the landlord is out, so she invites herself into Kazuya’s apartment. To do exactly what Kazuya is not sure, but as you’d expect of our horny jackass protagonist, he has a lot of thoughts on the matter, culminating in him almost asking if she wants to spend the night at his place.

He fails to realize that might not even be a last resort for Chizuru, and that there are other resorts to explore, like whether she left her back screen door open. That said, getting around to her side to look is awkward at best and dangerous at worst. Luckily Kazuya is there to keep her from falling; unluckily he grabs her bum, then they both lose their balance and he ends up on top of her again, just as Mami rings his doorbell.

This is when the potential of the classic sitcom “hide one person from the other person” scenario nearly reaches full flower, especially as Kazuya failed to lock the door after Chizuru came in. The two of them hide in the kitchen helplessly as Mami rings again, opens the door, looks in, assumes Kaz has gone shopping…and leaves.

After both Kazuya and Chizuru breath a sigh of relief, the recriminations begin: Why, Chizuru wants to know, is Mami popping by his place at 11 PM? He doesn’t know, but it may have something to do with her talk with Chizuru on that bridge, which she’s unaware he overheard. Regardless, Mami is well on her way home when she realizes she saw a fancy girl’s purse in Kazuya’s apartment, and her eyes go dead. So this isn’t over!

Kazuya and Chizuru return to where they were before Mami arrived, which is exactly how to deal with the situation of Chizuru being locked out. But then she sees the light in the landlord’s is on, so she heads down there. That’s when Kazuya remembers her gran’s words and tells her straight-up that she can always come to him, her neighbor, if she needs help and can’t ask family or friends.

That’s when Chizuru partially drops her armor and tells him that other than her hospitalized gran, she has no other family. She promised her late gramps that she’d become and actress, and so she’s following that dream with everything she can, including working as a rental girlfriend to pay for that dream. She tells Kazuya she’s “not that special”, just a normal girl chasing a childish dream.

Clearly moved by her opening up, Kazuya proceeds to let her know a little more about his family situation, and how he doesn’t really have a dream like hers, but nevertheless has a future lined up taking over the family shop. He doesn’t mean to brag, only to acknowledge that he’s lucky, and to reiterate that no matter how she might value or de-value herself, he wants to be by her side.

Adding “forever” at the end of his statement was probably not the best idea! Still, Chizuru says if he wants to stay by her side, she can’t very well refuse…amending that at the end by saying that’s a “rental girlfriend’s job.”

While pure luck brought Chizuru into his home, and their initial interactions were awkward, their evening ends having grown just a little closer to each other. Kazuya saw a little bit of the Chizuru her grandmother described, as well as the Chizuru that is receptive to being cared for. Kazuya hasn’t experienced the pain and loss she has or worked remotely as hard as she has for his future, but he can empathize. She’s not just a hottie; she’s a person he wants to support, labels be damned.

The next day at college, Kazuya crosses paths with Chizuru and is fully prepared to pretend they don’t know each other, per their agreement. But Chizuru, clutching her books, loosens one hand into subtle good morning wave, and acknowledgment that they do in fact know each other. That little gesture makes his entire day, and as he’s making copies and he imagines the copies are photos of her, it’s clear to him and us he’s “down bad” like never before.

So naturally, Mami sidles up to him from behind asking him what’s up, and his outsize reaction to her sudden appearance would automatically make anyone suspicious. Looks like we’re in for a bit of Mami and Ruka cooking time next week.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 12 (Fin) – Happier Than Any Dream

Shikimori closes out its 12-episode run by pulling out all the adorable romantic stops en route to one of the sweetest, most heartwarming date episodes ever animated. It’s starts off with Shikimori revealing her very cool suit and coat she wears to the date, not wanting to be hampered by a skirt.

The two totally geek out over the Disneyland-style theme park, and while other people around them start to express their impatience over a 90-minute line for a ride, the two lovebirds pass the time effortlessly by just chatting and laughing with one another.

By the time they’re almost to the end of the Sleeping Beauty-themed ride, Izumi-hime nods off, and Shikimori-ouji leans in for the kiss to wake him. She’d have done it too, if not for a spot of Izumi-style bad luck where the exit doors open at precisely the wrong moment.

From there, Izumi suggests a shorter line next, to which Shikimori says she’ll wait in any line of any length, since being with him makes everything more fun. She takes his hand and runs to the next amusements, then he runs ahead and takes the lead, and the two just generally have the absolute time of their lives, firmly ensconced atop cloud nine.

When there’s a hiccup involving Izumi’s dinner reservation, the restaurant makes it up to them by giving them a choice table with a gorgeous view of the Venice-styled cityscape and a lavish multi-course meal complete with fancy redundant cutlery.

Izumi adorably orders an orange juice, while Shikimori gets a ginger ale, and looks at Izumi through it. She notes how everything around her looks prettier when she’s with him, and makes her wonder how beautiful the world is through Izumi’s eyes. The two hold hands and just gaze at each other as the waitress looks on, no doubt amused by how goshdarn cute these kids are.

While Izumi mistakes the “thing in the commercial” Shikimori wants them to do as escorting her, by the time they’re aboard a nighttime gondola ride together, Izumi realizes she meant smoochin’. Just before they take a photo together, the entire park goes dark from a freak power outage. Izumi curses his luck…but again, it works out to their advantage here.

With nothing but darkness around them and only the light of his phone, their situation is a distillation of how they already are: they have eyes for nothing and no one but each other. If this was a dream, Shikimori wouldn’t want to wake up. For a few glorious minutes the gondola becomes their entire world. There, Shikimori plants a princely kiss upon Izumi’s hand, and then Izumi one-ups her by delivering a peck on the cheek.

I hasten to add that all of these gestures, as the interactions and expressions between these two have been throughout the show’s run, are impeccably, lovingly lit and animated. The compositions, direction, and underlying feelings are enough to carry scenes like this, but the production values really propel them to another level.

Just before the lights come back on, Izumi gets the chance to look and sound cool as he brings up how worried she was about them drifting away a while ago, but he confidently re-confesses his love to her, and promises he’ll never leave her side. The power of Izumi’s cool face and cooler words is so much for Shikimori she has to melt into him for a little while, even after the lights come back on. Forget about dreams; what she’s feeling right here and now in reality is far better than any dream.

The episode could have ended right there and still been an easy five stars, but we get curtain calls for Shuu, Kyou, and Yui as they try to suss out of Izumi and Shikimori “what happened” on their date. Izumi twists himself into a work of modern art of embarrassment, whle Shikimori’s blushing over a kiss on the cheek is not the heavy details Inspectors Nekozaki and Hachimitsu were trying to get out of the pink-haired perp.

Still, as long as Shikimori and Izumi are happy—and they sure seem to be the happiest couple around—it doesn’t matter if a kiss on the actual lips is beyond their abilities. They have all the time in the world to take little or big steps forward in the future. The episode ends on a pitch-perfect note, reiterating how Shikimori is incredibly cute and cool by spin-kicking an errant can about to hit Izumi into a garbage can twenty feet away, then continuing on her way.

I’m honestly still pretty deep into the “warm and fuzzies” after this sweet and gooey masterpiece of a finale, but that’s what a great romantic anime does: it sweeps you up completely in the same kind of feelings of love and excitement its lead couple is experiencing. It’s a cozy, comforting blanket that, like the shoujo manga that changed Shikimori’s life, reminded you how amazing love is.

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!

Heroines Run the Show – 04 – Two Grooms

Clearly more moved than she expected by their princely defense of her against the vile Yumeru, Hiyori has a dream about marrying Aizou and Yuujirou, and the two of them almost kissing her. Naturally, the first time she sees the two she can’t quite look them in the eye. They seem genuinely miffed by this, as who averts their eyes from an idol? But it’s also because they know something’s up with her.

While Yumeru was thoroughly unpleasant, the result of their collab is a lot more fangirls flocking to the boy’s desks at school. Aizou is so overwhelmed he seemingly passes out, and Yuujirou makes mention of some “trauma” that makes Aizou especially lady-averse. While grabbing lunch for herself and Aizou, she meets his big brother Ken, who assumes Hiyori is Aizou’s GF and explains that both he and their mom are super-comfortable with the opposite sex, which might contribute to the straight-laced Aizou.

Hiyori proves her manager mettle by securing the counseling room for Aizou and Yuujirou to hide out whenever things get too hot. Aizou is clearly still a little off after being so surrounded by fans, and clearly loathing leaving the room to buy lunch, so it’s a good thing Hiyori bought him a cutlet sandwich! Yuujirou shares some of the massive lunch his mom made with Hiyori.

The day somehow gets worse for LIPxLIP when an article comes out exposing Yuujirou as the heir to a famous kabuki actor and living national treasure. Hiyori volunteers to shoo away the reporters, but Yuujirou decides to face and fight them head-on with his famous smile and politeness. Hiyori is literally moved to tears when she watches Aizou come in at just the right time to have his partner’s back.

Yuujirou and Aizou come up with a piece of rosette ribbon swag for their fans at their next outdoor concert, and were clearly inspired by their track-running manager-in-training; a way of making every fan “1st Place in their hearts”. But when it’s time for the show, the staffers forgot the ribbons. No matter, Hiyori uses those track legs to race to the nearest taxi, and when the taxi gets stuck in traffic on the way back, runs the rest of the way and gets the swag there in time for the boys to distribute it.

Yuujirou and Aizou can’t help but be impressed by Hiyori going the extra mile for her. They all exchange “good works” and are ready to part ways, but the boys notice that Hiyori is reacting like she’s in pain. Indeed, she sprained her ankle while racing there in time, and now that her adrenaline levels are dropping, she’s feeling the pain even more. So she’s working so she can run track in Tokyo, but now she can’t run. Hiyori doesn’t deserve such misfortune. Maybe the boys can carry her around like the queen she is on a palanquin until she recovers!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 08 – The Rice Harvest

The Gourmet Guild starts this episode out split up, each member on a different errand or with a different plan for the day. Kokkoro heads into town to mail a large stack of letters when she encounters Suzuna and Misaki, two students at Lucent Academy with exceedingly bad grades. When bandits steal the guild’s treasure—and the letters—Kokkoro teams up with the busily-costumed kids to tack them down.

With help from Kokkoro’s faerie friends, locating the bandits’ hideout is no problem; the issue is getting their letters back without being detected. Misaki decides that detection is the whole point, and proceeds to attempt to use her “mature feminine pheromones” to distract the bandits. But once she starts pole-dancing on her staff, they lock her up as a little kid who is “messed up in the head.”

Meanwhile, Yuuki is wandering the capital, wondering why he forgot his old companions and couldn’t protect them. Labyrista bumps into him and provides an ear to listen, as well as some advice: he has a group of friends and companions now; he should just focus on them. Yuuki vows he won’t let Pecorine, Kokkoro, or Karyl come to harm this time. Across the city, in the palace, Karyl inadvertently snoops on Kaiser bathing.

As for Pecorine, she’s been harvesting rice all day in between catnaps, but spots “Princess Eustiana” in the field, worried that if the others know her true identity, they’ll forget her and everything about her, and she’ll lose everything all over again. She wakes up in tears.

Kokkoro and Suzuna manage to free Misaki, but not before getting spotted y the bandits, who chase them through the forest. Thankfully, the kids’ teacher Io-sensei saw the large cloud of smoke Kokkoro used and brings the city guard, led by Tomo, to arrest the bandits and recover both the treasure and the letters. But when it comes time to mail their letters of recommendation to another school, Suzuna and Misaki rip them up instead, choosing to stick with Io-sensei.

While surely unsettled by her dream, Pecorine is soon joined by Yuuki and then Karyl, who are back home and ready to pitch in. Their arrival means more to Peco than they know, considering how troubled she was, and the work goes that much faster…although there’s still a lot of rice to harvest. That’s where the purpose of Kokkoro’s many letters comes into focus.

Kokkoro arrives with dozens of friends in tow—a veritable who’s-who of PriConne characters, answering Kokkoro’s call to lend a hand (or hoof). The harvest is thus finished in no time, and a grand feast is prepared that everyone shares in, celebrating both a job well done and their friendship.

Pecorinehas a seat under a tree with Kokkoro, and sees the “ghost” of Princess Eustiana again, only she simply smiles at Peco, and Peco smiles back. She tells Kokkoro (who couldn’t see the ghost) that after losing everything she never thought she’d have a meal like this with everyone again, but is so happy she can, she starts to shed tears of joy in between bites of her onigiri.

Kokkoro can’t help but follow suit, and Peco tells her that she’s finally ready to tell Karyl and Yuuki who she really is—the true crown princess of Landosol. From seemingly innocuous errands, we arrive at the cusp of a major declaration.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Komi Can’t Communicate – 09 – Compliance-Wise That’s No Good!

This week’s wonderful and varied Komiucopia of segments starts off with a New Character Alert: Inaka Nokoko, who has a complex about being a country girl. Her “glow-up” consisted of hiking her skirt to just three centimeters below her knees instead of her usual five! No doubt she’s also self-conscious about her dialect, so she rarely speaks lest these cosmopolitan kids learn her dark secret.

Nokoko all but worships Komi-sama, the class god—though not to a creepy degree like Yamai. As she follows Komi (and Tadano follows her, wondering what’s up. Doublestalk!) into a Subway where Komi has been given another very long order from Najimi, she misinterprets Komi’s demeanor, actions and thoughts over and over, to Tadano’s amusement. In reality, she and Komi are a lot alike…I just wish they’d have actually met. Maybe next week!

Part II involves an established character in the chuunified Nakanaka, who invites Komi to her house on a whim and to her shock and amazement, Komi agrees. Before she knows it, Nakanaka is sharing her room with the Great Komi—her first guest since elementary school. The two sit in tranquil silence for a bit before Nakanaka breaks out the video games, something Komi doesn’t know a whole lot about.

Nakanaka gets so nervous about boring a “normie” like Komi such that she’d never return to her house, she invites Najimi over, who too Nakanaka’s surprise also brings Tadano over. The four end up playing a Super Smah Bros. game, with the show going into the game and giving the four characters Mario-esque identities. Watching Komi try to figure out her controller is a delight that brought back memories.

In the next segment, Najimi has conscripted both Komi and Tadano (who hides in a bear mascot) to assist with their part-time job at a Docomo analogue. Their task? Hand out 5,000 packs of tissues during their shift. It proves to be a fine science, as everyone reacts to Komi in different ways based on how they interpret her behavior and mood and whether they notice her at all.

After multiple Firings-up and Re-Firings-Up, quite possibly the person most in need of a tissue in the whole city crosses paths with Komi. At first the lady is weary of asking outright, while Komi feels weird tissuey vibes from the lady. But her first pack of tissues goes right in that lady’s hand, it the catalyst Komi needs to start handing them out to everyone who passes. Yamai even sets up a line for her! (This week I learned Yamai is best enjoyed in small, brief appearances).

The final segment starts with a harrowing dream Komi has in which one by one all of her friends show up with a black sesame seed stuck to the same part of their face, but Komi has no idea what it is, how to communicate it’s there, and even whether these are even her friends! Again, it’s only a dream, but I’m glad the show reiterated that Komi’s anxiety extends to nights alone.

Back in the waking world, Tadano actually has a sesame seed stuck to his face. Hearing Tadano call Najimi Najimi, she asks if he’d call her Shouko. Najimi urges Tadano on, but he’s utterly unable to do so. Then Najimi turns the challenge on Komi, asking her to call Tadano Hitohito.

Komi only gets a tiny “Hi-” out before she gives up as well. Like Komi meeting Nokoko, them actually saying each others’ names would have been lovely to behold, but maybe the show is saving that for later. For now, this was still an immensely fun and hilarious variety pack of segments.

SAKUGAN – 09 – GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 12 – Everything becomes the ocean

It’s the last day of Gama Gama, and admission is free. The place is packed with people, which has Kukuru asking why they didn’t come earlier. But even so, she understands that Gama Gama has gotten too old to properly care for its sea life. The logic doesn’t make the last day any less melancholy, but there’s a hint of hope, as Kukuru is offered a job at Tingaara when she’s done school.

Once the last visitors head home and the doors close for the last time, the staff plus Karin and Udon-chan have a little party celebrating 48 glorious years. When everyone learns Kukuru has a job at Tingaara if she wants it, and that Umi-yan and Kuuya are also taking jobs there, a tipsy Karin urges Kukuru to go for it. But Kukuru just isn’t sure, and that’s understandable: the offer came on the day she believes her dream to have ended.

Gramps makes a very awesome and tearjerking speech, and then Kukuru and Fuuka spend some time on the moonlit beach. After the emotional roller coaster of the typhoon, they’ve fully made up. In fact, Kukuru believes it’s now her turn to support Fuuka’s dream, by urging her to take the lead actress job in Tokyo. Fuuka books a flight there for tomorrow.

The next day, Gama Gama is “hollowed out”, as all of the sea creatures are placed in portable tanks bound for either Tingaara or other aquariums that requested them. Kukuru is shook by just how lonely it is with the lights on and the tanks empty…until she goes into the room where all the visitors left notes on the wall.

It’s a room full of warm gratitude, and Kukuru can’t help but smile and feel grateful for everyone who came to Gama Gama and were changed forever. Then, while walking past one of the empty tanks, Kukuru experiences another illusion, once again involving someone who looks like her sister, who gives her a loving pat on the head as if to say “you’ll be alright.”

Back home, during Kukuru and Fuuka’s last meal together for some time, Kukuru mentions the illusion she experienced, believing she’d met her “doppelganger”. This is when Gran finally decides to tell Kukuru something they were going to tell her when she grew up.

As she’s already been an aquarium director for a summer and then lost that aquarium, Gran decides she’s grown up enough. Kukuru had a twin sister…but only Kukuru was born.

I understand Gran not wanting to keep Kukuru in the dark any longer, but the timing couldn’t be worse when it comes to Kukuru and Fuuka having to say goodbye so soon. At the airport, Kukuru tries to put on a brave face, as she feels she owes it to Fuuka, who supported her dream for so long.

Airport goodbyes always get me, and Aquatope really nails it, from the awkwardly formal handshake to watching from Kukuru’s POV until Fuuka disappears into the terminal.

But that is not goodbye, because before she boards her plane, Fuuka thinks about how she only cried when she was alone after her dream ended. She thinks about how Kukuru must be crying alone right then, and decides she can’t board the plane; not now. She runs dramatically through the airport, calls Kukuru and asks where she is, and meets her out on a patio where she is, indeed crying alone.

The bottom line is, making sure Kukuru didn’t have to cry alone was far more important to Fuuka than a movie role in Tokyo. She had to be in the position where she had to choose to learn that the job wasn’t really a new dream. You could say she’s torpedoing her career simply because Kukuru’s gran got talkative about things past at the worst possible time.

Still, Fuuka simply couldn’t let the person who helped her find strength and happiness after losing everything cry by herself. After sharing some big ol’ sobby hugs like two close friends should (seriously, WTF was with that handshake earlier guys!) Kukuru decides she’ll work at Tingaara after all.

The aquarium and its fragile micro-ecosystems taught Kukuru over the years that life can be difficult, and being alive isn’t a given. It was basically a coin toss that Kukuru got to live and her sister didn’t, so she now feels doubly motivated to make those who love her proud; that includes Fuuka.

Fuuka ends up on a plane back home to Iwate as planned, but as she settles into the cozy night flight she reads the poem Gramps read during his farewell speech, about how everything eventually becomes the ocean, which is probably why whenever someone peers into “the ocean within”, they find peace. Kukuru joins in, and they finish the poem in one voice, telling each other see you tomorrow.

It’s a bold and gorgeous way to end the first half of Aquatope, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what new innovative ways the show will cause me to bawl my eyes out when the second half comes around.

Meikyuu Black Company – 07 – Operation Eternal Capital

Just as Preston seems to be enjoying Moonlight Fantasy more for the interaction of its endearing cast and not necessarily its world-building or plot, I too prefer when MBC keeps things simple.

That didn’t happen this week, as the meeting with the Demon Lord—who is Rimu’s twin sister—sits on her throne and delivers one long and convoluted infodump about What’s Going On, What’s At Stake, and Ninomiya’s crucial role in Saving the World.

The Demon Lord’s exposition is actually accompanied by actual imagery of a temporal war between the forces of natural order in the world and the corrupting expansion of Raiza’ha that left unchecked will render the planet incapble of supporting life.

But that conceptual ambition isn’t matched by sufficiently impressive visuals. Also, the bottom linie is Ninomiya is standing around either nodding his head or adding his two cents here and there.

Ninomiya, Rimu and Ranga actually arrive at the Demon Lord’s castle as Raiza’ha of the future is about to bring about the end of the world, so at the end of her spiel it’s time for the three to return to the past from whence they came.

Well, Ranga comes from the future, but he’s all in on going back in time with Ninomiya and Rimu. The DL does give Ninomiya a Matrix-like blue-or-red choice, but rather tan return safely to Japan, Ninomiya accepts the challenge of the mantle of savior of this world.

Upon returning, Ninomiya learns he and Rimu were gone a month, and not only is he penalized for the unapproved time off by his boss Belza, but his accommodations were assigned to another employee.

Since he arrives just in time to save Shia and Wanibe in the Dungeon, he, Rimu and Ranga take it upon himself to crash at Shia’s (admittedly pretty nice) apartment until further notice. She’s not particularly thrilled—and is perplexed by the sudden appearance of the extremely cute Ranga—but she’s also a nice person, and so accepts the freeloaders.

That night, the gang avails themselves of a rare instance of Raiza’ha footing the bill at a traditional business dinner and drinks, though Ninomiya must foot the bill for Rimu and Ranga as they are not Raiza’ha employees.

Ninomiya wants to be above socializing with the “rabble” but he knows the consequences of letting Rimu go hungry for too long, and so accepts the additional debt on top of the cost of being AWOL for a month.

In a show as irreverent towards The System as MBC, it’s not surprising that Ninomiya would be sent back to the past as the world’s only hope of salvation only to be treated like a problem employee by the very company that will be responsible for the worlds destruction in 300 years if he didn’t come back.

He also faces a rude awakening as he commences Operation Eternal Capital, as the difficulty of the Dungeon that leads to the ancient ruins has increased quite a bit since he last tackled it. That said, with the power of Rimu, Shia, Ranga, on his side (and Wanibe too, I guess), his Meikyuu Black Company is putting its best foot forward in this quest to save the world.

I just wish the production values were doing the same, but this was a distractingly janky-looking episode, especially when contrasted with the smooth CGI go-go-dancing of Rimu and the Demon Lord in the new ED.

Meikyuu Black Company – 06 – Meteoric Rise, Temporary Escape

Ninomiya celebrates his promotion to the Demon Lord Army’s Western Invasion Force Director with a trip to a hot spring with Ranga and Rimu. He revels in the fact that at this pace of advancement he’ll soon be a board member who can meet the Demon Lord face-to-face, and possibly return to Japan.

Little do the three know that they’re under surveillance from a camera owned by one of the Three Ravens, high level corporate executives who feel threatened by Ninomiya. One is an old fart who’s always spitting and wearing out the phrase “kids these days”; one is a voluptuous meatheaded amazon, and one is a four-eyed calculating perv.

Knowing what we know about Ninomiya, Rimu, and Ranga, it was a foregone conclusion that their petty schemes would fail one by one, much like Wile E. Coyote is always defeated in his efforts to capture Road Runner. Meathead unleashes a giant worm which Rimu quickly deals with; the worm even joins Ninomiya’s team!

When it’s the old fart’s turn, he challenges Ninomiya to cultivate some barren land, which is easy thanks to giant worm tilling and Ranga’s growing magic. Finally, the four-eyed perv tries to take unconsensual photos of Ranga nude, only to be defeated by the revelation he’s a boy.

If the first half is all about Ninomiya continuing to rise due to his ability to assemble a powerful and talented team, the second half is all about one of its members: Ranga. In what is clearly a dream in the style of Alice in Wonderland, Ranga witnesses the drudgery of unending labor in the form of a group of rabbits turning a wheel to power the Queen’s fountain.

When he laments that she can’t get them more tolerable hours or paid time off, he suddenly shrinks to a tiny size. While escaping the horde of evil rabbits (very Re:Zero-esque, that) he falls through a chute down into a massive underground…internet café.

If the rabbits toiling above ground represented one extreme of the labor spectrum, this café represents the other: all the mole people there have no goals other than repeating the same actions over and over again, calling into question whether life is even worth living.

From corporate grunts to NEETs, oppression and stagnation, Ranga finds himself trapped, both spiritually and physically (in a cage). His ancestor Belza, the Queen of this world, insists that he take her place by her side. That’s when the real Ninomiya stomps the White Rabbit Ninomiya and head-butts Ranga back into reality.

Apparently, the team was on a mission to defeat a Mobile Suit-like giant robot when it shot a strange beam into Ranga’s head, placing him in that dream prison that drew upon his own fears and insecurities. When he asks Ninomiya if always running away is bad, he tells him perhaps usually, but there’s always the useful phrase “strategic retreat”.

As long as Ranga’s overall goal hasn’t changed, he’s free to run away as many times as he needs to for the sake of future victory. Of course, Mobile Suit Gundam, the source of inspiration for their defeated mecha, was packed with those kinds of strategic retreats.

Defeating the mecha means Ninomiya can finally meet the Demon Lord…and she (or he) appears to be a Bahamut-like dragon in human form, like Rimu. Like Ranga last week, s/he asks Ninomiya to “save this world”. I know what he’ll probably say: Assuming he does, can he go home?

The aquatope on white sand – 06 – Sweet memories

When Kukuru finds an article in the morning paper about Gama Gama closing after 48 years of operation, it’s got to be disheartening. It’s one thing to manage the day-to-day operations of an aquarium, but to also be responsible for bringing it back from the brink? There are times it feels like Kukuru is putting way too much on her slim shoulders.

Still, one thing she doesn’t have to worry about is losing her new sister-from-another-mother Fuuka thanks to her resolving things with her mom last week, so we can move on to what I imagine will be the main thrust of the remaining half of the first cour: Saving Gama Gama.

When contemplating promotions that will increase traffic and buzz, Kukuru and Fuuka settle on cool sweets to fight the heat. They enlist Teruya Tsukimi AKA Udon-chan, who admits that her culinary upbringing by her mom Meisa (who hates sweet stuff despite being so sweet herself) is lacking in the sweets department…but Tsukimi also likes a challenge!

It’s also clear that Tsukimi feels a little stifled in a family diner that she doesn’t run, so while Kukuru and Fuuka feel like they’re asking to much with little in return, Tsukimi is eager for an outlet for her culinary creativity. She starts research immediately by taking Kukuru and Fuuka out to one of the best local ice cream spots.

It’s here where, when Kukuru picks plain but reliable vanilla and Fuuka is a little more adventurous with chocolate pineapple, Tsukimi has a triple-scoop cone piled high with all kinds of strange flavors that somehow mesh well. It’s those “infinite possibilities” with cooking that really get her juices flowing. The ice cream stop is also an opportunity for the three girls to just be three high school girls, joking around, laughing, and enjoying the beautiful summer day.

When Fuuka spots a sign pointing people to the ice cream joint’s insta page, she suggests Kukuru take a look at heightening Gama Gama’s social media presence. It’s at this point we see how old-fashioned Kukuru is when it comes to this kind of stuff; the aquarium might well have been saved years ago had it jumped on the SM bandwagon earlier.

Gama Gama is a treasure trove of content that millions of users are eager to consume and share. And not just the sea creatures, but the human creatures who keep the place running. While the episode interestingly avoids the possible side effects of Fuuka ending up on the aquarium’s Instagram, the fact is Kai and Kuuya aren’t unattractive, and when you’re in as deep trouble as Gama Gama, you use what you’ve got!

When Tsukimi, Kukuru and Fuuka reach out to Karin for an ice cream stall to borrow, she bursts their bubble by stating the difficulty and cost of obtaining the permits to serve food outside, particularly dairy. In an anime continuum full of school festival food stalls, I loved the realism Aquatope infuses into this situation.

Even without dairy, Tsukimi is determined to figure something out. She proposes shaved ice instead of ice cream, the permits for which are much easier to score. As she sits in the corner table of the diner doing research and figuring out flavors, her mom tells her she’s looking a little too serious, and her output as a result is not up to Tsukimi’s usually high standard.

That’s when Tsukimi decides to close the shop for the night, break out the colored pencils and markers, and start having fun. Only through fun can creativity happen, after all. When Kukuru and Fuuka arrive wondering why the diner isn’t open, she sits them down and enlists their help: they’ve got cups to draw on!

The next day, while Tsukimi is setting up out front with help from Kai and Kuuya and Fuuka is once again attending the touch pools, Kukuru is doing her rounds and encounters an old man with whom she’s very familiar. He visits Gama Gama once a year, every year without fail. She approaches him and thanks him for his patronage, and he brings up the newspaper article about the aquarium closing.

This man’s is a sad story about how he lost his older brother (in the war). He vowed to honor that brother by starting a business and becoming successful, but he failed. That’s when he came to the aquarium when it was new, where—and he has trouble explaining it, because it’s so hard to explain—he met his brother again. However it happened, it got him back on his feet, and he succeeded in building a new business.

It’s at that point I expected the old man to whip out his checkbook and ask Kukuru “So how much do you need to keep Gama Gama afloat?”…but of course this isn’t a show about easy or painless answers. Indeed, I was already on the verge of tears when I heard the man’s tale. What a fool I was to think that would be the most goddamn tearjerking moment of the episode.

Kukuru gazes into the tanks, and suddenly the schools of fish part to reveal her departed mother and father. At the same time, the old man sees his older brother, who used to carry him on his back, turning back and smiling before heading to the sea that would likely claim his life. Kukuru tearfully embraces her parents, and then spots a third person, who I’m guessing is her departed sister.

After Kukuru steadfastly invites the old man to “come back next year”, as there’s no way she’ll let Gama Gama close, I paused the episode briefly to blow my nose and dry my eyes enough to continue watching. Seeing that old man see his brother as she saw her lost family, reminded her that she’s not the only one for whom this place is precious, special, and irreplaceable.

From there, things get more lighthearted and fun, as Tsukimi’s shaved ice stand is up and running, and it’s revealed what she and the others were up to last night. Rather than just sell the same old familiar flavors, Tsukimi makes use of her own creativity and the unique aquarium setting to create little shaved ice masterpieces that resemble creatures at Gama Gama.

The little kids are wowed. Their parents are wowed. Older kids request a frogfish flavor and Tsukimi happily obliges. The entire enterprise catches momentum on Instagram. Tsukimi’s diligence, preparation, and artistry not only provided a much needed promotional shot in the arm for Gama Gama, but reminded her that she wants to fulfill her own dream to open her own eatery where she can do crazy fun stuff like this all she likes.

When she and the others celebrate at the diner, her mom surprises her by ordering the mango pork belly her daughter invented. And even if it’s still far too sweet for her taste, and she’s convinced Tsukimi won’t be able to run her own place, she still eats it. I’ve no doubt that beneath the criticism she’s truly proud of her daughter, and looking forward to watching her achieve her own precious dream. What a beautiful, fun, tearjerking, colorful, sweet episode. This show is too damn good.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

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