Spy x Family – 09 – Best Selves

When Loid moves in for that kiss to prove he and Yor are in love, both Yor and Yuri panic; Yor because she’s never been kissed, and Yuri because he always dreamed of marrying Yor and doesn’t want to see her kiss anyone else. Yor chugs the rest of the wine to build up the courage to kiss Loid.

The very moment she can’t go through with it is the same moment Yuri tries to stop her, resulting in Yor slapping the absolute shit out of Yuri. He flies right into his ridiculous bouquet, resulting in a cloud of rose petals that in any other situation would be romantic.

Yor helps Yuri up, Yuri helps Yor stay vertical, and Loid helps keep both of them vertical. He tells them what lovely siblings they are (even with Yuri bleeding profusely) and privately feels envy for their familial bond, as he’s never had that. Unaware that even 2D-chess eludes the Briars, he starts to suspect that Yor might’ve married him at Yuri’s behest to get closer to him.

Yuri is too goofy and his blind spot vis-a-vis Yor is too large for him to feel like any threat to the mission to me, but Twilight is a spy; it’s his job not to trust anyone, even Yor. At the same time, Yor’s inability to kiss Loid or cook has her worried she’s not acting like a proper wife should.

Anya, who slept through the excitement (and really wants to meet her secret police uncle) picks up on these bad vibes, but can’t reassure either parent as it might give away her ability. So as she boards the school bus, she simply tells them they “need to get along”. Loid chalks it up to how “curously observant” kids can be.

Then, he plants a damned bug on Yor in order to listen in on her day, and while she’s out on an errand for her boss, he and Franky stop her while disguised as Secret Police.

If it were anyone other than someone like Loid in the situation he’s in, I would call this obsessive behavior. But if his gut can’t 100% discount that Yor isn’t secretly working with her brother, this is all he can do to assuage his suspicions. Franky predictably buries himself in the part of bad cop, quickly accusing Yor of leaking state secrets.

Throughout her day to that point, Loid had listened in and gotten nothing, and even when Yor’s back is literally against the wall in front of two secret policemen, her “story” doesn’t change, because it isn’t a story: she’s a good citizen (other than the assassinations) who loves her family and country and would never engage in espionage.

When Frankie tries to touch her, Yor restrains him with ease and warns both him and Loid that she doesn’t care who they are or who they work for; she’ll show them no mercy if they hurt her family. Loid takes another look at the letter Yor was mailing and says they made a mistake, and let her go.

Loid won’t admit it, but his relief is soured by guilt he felt going to such lengths to try to catch Yor in a lie. Ironically, she’s able to successfully preserve the actual secret she’s been keeping from Loid all along (that she’s a ruthless super-assassin).

When he meets up with Yor later, she apologizes for not being a proper wife, but Loid comforts her by saying she’s fine the way she is, always striving to be her best self. Everyone puts on acts to some degree, and it grows tiring and eventually intolerable. Better to not put on an act when one is neither desired or needed.

They buy cake to celebrate a year of marriage, and when Anya comes home (her “I HAVE RETURNED” is a great kid greeting), reads their minds, and finds the bad vibes have vanished, her face brightens—Mama and Papa are getting along.

While I’m not the biggest fan of Yuri, I’m glad his antics indirectly led to Loid and Yor clearing the air and growing a little closer. Next week, we return to Eden, and Anya’s solemn mission to befriend a little jerk.

Spy x Family – 05 – Loidman Saves the Princess

The Forgers seem to be encountering every omen of bad luck on their way to view the posted lists of those admitted to Eden College. And while Loid doesn’t buy into any f that superstition—even Anya stepping in poop—Anya’s name is nowhere to be found. The mission then, has failed before it could truly get off the ground, hasn’t it?

Not so fast…Henderson takes the Forgers aside and shows them that Anya happens to be at the top of the waiting list, which means once there’s a withdrawal—and there are several every year for myriad reasons—she’ll be officially admitted. Yor has to fight back designs to murder the father of a student who got in, while Henderson isn’t sure he’ll be around to teach after slugging his colleague.

The waiting list turns out to be nothing but a formality for creating extra tension leading up to the phone call that comes in announcing that Anya has indeed been admitted to Eden. Loid is ready to celebrate with a party popper in his pocket. His colleague Franky joins them for a feast, Yor gets her drink on, and Loid is backed into a corner after promising to do “anything that is doable” for Anya as a reward for getting into Eden.

That something turns out to be the family and Franky acting out an episode of her favorite TV show Spy Wars at the castle where it was filmed, which is now a theme park. Loid borrows a floatplane and pilots them there himself, making for a thrilling arrival. However, after running around the castle a little, Anya is suddenly sad, because aside from them the joint is deserted.

That’s soon remedied thanks to a call to Loid’s agency, who puts out an APB calling for every agent in the vicinity to descend upon the castle for a Rank SS mission for Twilight. Most of the agents either idolize (in the case of the younger agents) or respect (in the case of the older ones) him as one of their country’s best spies. And so the stage is set.

Franky continues to enable Anya’s increasingly ambitious plans, as Loid becomes “Loidman” who must save “Princess” Anya from Franky, AKA Baron Scruffy. Loid has to wear the mask and gloves and run through a number of obstacles complete with colorful non-lethal weapons, Hollywood-quality pyro, and last but not least, Yor’s literally drunken combat style.

Loid isn’t sure he can keep up with her, but fortunately she breaks a heel and falls asleep. With one swift knockout punch to the villain, Loidman rescues Princess Anya and receives a rousing applause from his fellow agents and a DisneyWorld-scale fireworks show to cap it all off.

You could say the plot of this Spy x Family episode pretty much ends once the Forgers get the call that Anya has gotten into Eden. But the ensuing celebration and lengths to which Loid goes make Anya happy is crucial to the Family part of the show, while the role-playing conceit makes full use of both Loid’s abilities and the resources of his agency.

There’s every indication school life at Eden is going to be tough sledding, so I’m glad Anya got to have a little…hell, a lot of fun for fun’s sake before commencing the next stage of Operation Strix.

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

Fabiniku – 01 (First Impressions) – Old Pal-idigm Shift

Life with an Ordinary Guy Who Reincarnated into a Total Fantasy Knockout is a stupendously ludicrous title; honestly, even my horribly punny title would be better. Fortunately, the show seems to be far more clever and engaging than its name, and it all comes down to its nucleus of two old friends.

Ordinary but horny Tachibana Hinata and hot but woman-averse Jinguugi Tsukasa aren’t friends because they’re similar—they couldn’t be more different—but the fact of the matter is they’ve been friends for 25 of their 32 years, and you can feel that history in the way they act.

A combination of a typical night of drinking and the classic tongue-in-cheek serious-voiced narrator gives us the skinny on their attributes and internal thoughts about one another. Tachibana is trying to get Jinguuji married off, while Jinguuji is fine being with Tachibana forever.

The mixer they attend goes poorly for Tachibana as usual (all the women gave Jinguuji their contact info) and he gets so drunk he’s face down in the park wishing he could be a beautiful woman whom everyone fawned over. Then an exhibitionist goddess makes it happen!

Just like that, Tachibana and Jinguuji find themselves in a strange forest in the daytime. More concerning, Tachibana’s body melts into green goo than reconstitutes into the body of a petite blonde beauty (with very sharp teeth!) voiced by MAO.

As Tachibana so eloquently puts it, she’s gained stuff up top and lost stuff down below, but her speech patterns and mannerisms are still the same old Tachibana Jinguuji knows…and she’s honest, loves, either in the same way as the friends played by Jonah Hill and Michael Cera in Superbad, or something more romantic in nature.

It’s not even that much in doubt that at least part of Tachibana feels the same way…and that’s before they insult and anger the naked Goddess of Love and Beauty while she’s trying to give them their mission to save the world that she casts some kind of mysterious curse on them.

The immediate effect of this curse seems to be that Tachibana and Jinguuji suddenly find each other even more attractive, something neither one wants the other to get wind of. Their brains simply are too used to each other as best mates to properly process what their hearts are doing.

To their credit, neither one immediately dismisses their feelings as a direct result of the curse. Maybe the curse increased their affection for one another, but it was always there. Only now Tachibana is a woman, and because she is still fundamentally Tachibana, she also happens to be the only woman the distrustful-of-women Tachibana could ever fall for.

This results in a Love is War style battle of wills, with the two trying to get the other to admit their attraction. As the the one with the cute girl’s body, Tachibana goes on the offensive, only to find Jinguuji irresistible simply by being Jinguuji.

Meanwhile, Jinguuji hides his outsized reactions behind his usual stoic calm—a skill well-honed throughout the years staving off all those women who fancied him. He’s never thought about his type, but now he knows it, and it’s his best friend in a girl’s body.

As the two struggle with their new reality, a seemingly harmless and cute-looking fluffy white bunny thing interrupts. No sooner do they call it cute than its face unfurls reveal a grotesque monster. Suddenly survival mode overrides scoring flirting points against one another.

Jinguuji instinctively gathers his suddenly much smaller, lighter, and pleasant-smelling best friend in a princess cary and shows off the fruits of leg day. The two fall down a cliff, enabling the monster to catch up, but rather than continue running, Jinguuji decides to make a stand. He never let some woman take away his best friend, and he’s certainly not about to let some nightmare-faced Gossamer do it!

That’s when he punches the monster right in its core, quite unexpectedly creating a huge hole in said monster’s body. Turns out while he doesn’t look any different, Jinguuji is actually a Level 70 badass. Yes, it’s revealed this world has RPG-style menu screens that pop up in front of one’s face.

Tachibana is a Level 1 Hero, by the way, making Jinguuji her ideal trusty knight. As for their castle, Jinguuji is able to summon what looks like the door to a modern Japanese apartment with one of his active skills; the proverbial rest and save point.

While all the isekai and RPG trappings and their quest to defeat the Demon Lord are sure to play a larger role as our two best friends continue to explore their new lives (and meet more people), I hope the focus remains on how the bond between those two old friends continues to morph and evolve due to a very new and unexpected development.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 03 – Guardians of the Seal

Last week I was just complimenting Paladin for not wandering down the same seedy allies as Mushoku Tensei, but as Will is growing closer to adulthood, Blood decides to get him drunk and then try to spy on Mary undressing. There are a lot of problems with this—mostly that Mary is for all intents and purposes Will’s mom—but thankfully they fail, Will gets a swift slap in the face, and it’s over.

The next day is the day of the big duel between Will and Blood, and the combat animation and modeling was, if I’m being generous, a little rough. The surroundings at least were pretty, but the duel was not. It was also over seemingly as soon as it began, with Will figuring out that he has to bounce off Blood’s sword to get close. I will say Will’s trick of getting his opponent’s blade stuck in his ribs is a clever one…it just makes no sense that there’s black between those ribs.

The remainder of the episode has Blood and Mary basicaly giving Will a big old infodump of all the things they kept from him until he was old enough to hear and understand it. The two of them plus Gus were once humans, but in order to rid the city of demons loyal to the High King of the Eternals, they made a deal with the evil god Stagnate, and became undead guards of the seal keeping the High King at bay.

That was 200 years ago. At some point Will appeared in their lives, and Mary and Blood decided to raise him like a son. But now it’s time to say goodbye, and not just because Will is of age. Stagnate, it seems has come to take what’s left of the three in exchange for the peace they’ve enjoyed. He also probably wouldn’t mind having Will too.

Then Gus arrives and tells Will to take Mary and Blood and get out of there, presumably so he can engage in epic battle with Stagnate without worrying about collateral. I gotta say I’m not optimistic about that battle being any more impressive than this week’s duel, but I do care about what happens to this family.

Slime 300 – 05 – Who Ya Gonna Call?

Azusa and the others get the wrong idea that Halkara is preparing to move out, so they arrange a surprise party, only to learn she was only looking for a new location for her energy drink factory. The fact remains, she’s working long nights and Azusa is concerned. Turns out the reason is that there’s a ghost at the new factory that has scared away all of Halkara’s local employees.

In order for Halkara to start coming home at a reasonable time, the “bound spirit” must be dealt with. Azusa summons Beelzebub for this purpose, though because her incantation is a little off, Beelz ends up in the bathtub full of cold water (for the crops…it’s eco-friendly!) As Azusa and Halkara cower and tremble behind her, Beelz quickly finds the ghost and makes her visible.

Her name is Rosalie (voiced by Sugiyama Riho, Minare from Wave, Listen to Me!), and she’s the ghost of a girl who took her own life centuries ago after her parents were preparing to sell her off for “chump change”. In the ensuing years, she “went bad”, which explains her rudeness (and makes Sugiyama a great choice).

Rosalie has wanted to leave the factory for a while, but without success. After her offer to erase her without a trace is shot down, Beelzebub suggests that if she possess one of them, she’ll be able to relocate. Halkara seem the most suitable vessel as she has the most “weak points.” The possession is successful, and Rosalie!Halkara strikes a samurai pose as she accepts Azusa’s kind offer to live in her house.

A problem arises when Rosalie arrives at Azusa’s to find she isn’t able to separate from Halkara’s body; apparently they were ridiculously compatible! After a number of attempts to shake, shock, and spook Rosalie out of Halkara’s body, Azusa gets the idea to make her drunk (easily done with Halkara’s tolerance). When Rosalie passes out, Halkara’s personality surfaces.

That just leaves the matter of how to exorcise the dormant ghost from her body. Beelzebub has a solution: toss her into that eco-friendly cold bath water. Rosalie pops right out from the shock, and is now successfully separated from the location of her death.

With that, Azusa arranges for Rosalie to meet the townsfolk to prove she’s a friendly ghost, and she’s happy to use her ghostly telekinesis to do chores for people to build goodwill. Rosalie announces she’s Halkara’s newest employee at the factory, and nobody needs to fear her. And that’s how Azusa’s family grows by one once more.

SSSS.Dynazenon – 06 – It’s Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 01 (First Impressions) – The First Ragged Cry of Rebirth

After their miraculous show in the snow at Arpino, Franchouchou’s first CD sold like hotcakes, but then Koutarou booked them for the 30,000-seat Ekimae Fudosan Stadium (EFS)…and only 500 fans attended, or 1.66% capacity. They failed to get even a single encore, and ended up in humongous debt.

That would’ve been the end of the road for most idol groups, but the Franchouchou girls weren’t ready to throw in the towel. Sakura, Ai, Saki, Junko, Lily, and Yuugiri all secured jobs with which to gradually pay off that debt, and are working towards a comeback show at the metal club where it all began a year ago. But even a month after EFS, Koutarou remains a drunken, disheveled, distraught, and infuriating mess.

He’s convinced it’s all over for Franchouchou and his Saga project, even dramatically standing on the edge of the water during a horrific storm and ranting incoherently. The girls start to consider that it may not be just about the money, because there’s no way he could’ve reasonably thought they could have sold out a stadium show. They break into his office and find a demo tape of the song they were going to perform as an encore but never did.

After Yuugiri, working at a fancier bar using the skills learned in her past life, encounters a horrendously drunk Koutarou mistakenly sticking his head in, then going outside to vomit. He’s in a very bad way!

The day of their concert arrives, and Sakura tries one more time to get through to him, but ultimately loses her patience. She returns to the others, and they go forward with the metal show, despite the fact almost no one in the crowd wants to see an idol group aside from their handful of hardcore fans.

The girls are confident if they can just take a step in the right direction they can begin the hard climb back to recognition, but the crowd is, to say the least, impatient and hostile. Their performance suffers due to Koutarou not being there, but a grizzled bartender eventually guilt-trips him into running to the venue, where he yells for an encore from the back and starts a huge brawl.

Re-energized by the timely arrival of their eccentric producer, Franchouchou slaps their collective cheeks, bears down, and belts out the encore song with power and confidence. As with the last season, the group is CGI, but I wasn’t bothered.

On the contrary, the performance really packed a punch, especially since the CG looks like an improvement on the first season. Even after that, they only get mild applause, but they managed to pull it off. The zombie idols clawed their way back from the dead…again!

A bit later, the girls assemble in the basement and are further heartened to find that Koutarou, still bearing the scars of the concert brawl, has shaved, cut his hair, and dried himself out. Recognizing how they’ve been able to pull off everything he’s asked for (aside from the totally unreasonable EFS gig). With their producer’s head back—and pocket squid—in the game, the Zombie Land Saga Project continues apace.

Zombieland Saga picks its zany story back up nicely without missing a beat, offering the same wonderful blend of weirdness (the foley on their undead body movements is always great), charming camaraderie, heartfelt drama, and of course, Miyano Mamoru being a completely unhinged lunatic! I for one am overjoyed the zombie idols are back!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

You can read Irina and Crow’s discussion of Zombieland Saga: Revenge’s first episode here!

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 07 – Walls Were Meant to Fall

Elaina fondly remembers a story from the Travels of Niké about a country separated into two halves by a wall. She shows the chiefs on both sides how to market themselves as the superior side: by having tourists and visitors etch their praise into the wall with blades.

Seeing Niké in this flashback resembles Elaina, I’m inclined to consider it further evidence her mom and Niké were one and the same, especially as her mom encourages Elaina to visit the country to find out who won the contest.

The thing is, over a decade later it’s Saya who makes it to this split country before Elaina. By then the outer coating of the wall has been weathered away by tourist praise, but the chiefs want to shake things up. Saya ends up etching her undying love for Elaina into the wall, and suggests that the townsfolk on both sides should do the same…it’s their wall, after all!

A little later, Elaina finally arrives, eager to see the wall and the results of the ongoing contest of the two sides…only to find a giant heap of rubble where the wall was. Turns out all that etching and erasing of messages by the townsfolk on both sides eventually causes the two sides to break through and meet each other.

By then no one remembered the source of enmity, and so decided to finish demolishing the wall.. This is great, right? Witches of two different generations (Niké and Saya) ended up being the catalyst for reunifying the country. The wall may be in ruins, but everyone looks happy. The sole exception is Elaina, who is disappointed she never got to see the wall, and also that the final score was an exact tie.

In a way, you could say Saya ruined Elaina’s childhood dreams. And in a final mark that the two are fated to reunite someday, the piece of rubble Elaina claims as a souvenir just happens to be a piece Saya etched “ELAINA” into!

A community separated by enmity is the basis of the second story, though instead of tracing history back to Niké, Elaina’s story is being told by a village chief who met her to his young son, while his wife stomps grapes in the background. Back when Elaina visited, the village was split into two: This and That. A bit on the nose, but fine!

Now of legal age, Elaina visited to sample the area’s famously delicious wine, but learns that That has begun dominating sales with a new label featuring Rosemary, a beautiful, buxom Grape-Stomping Maiden, and declaring the wine in the bottle to be made from grapes “lovingly stomped” by her.

Simply put, the villagers (or rather the male villagers) of This wish to recruit Elaina as a rival Grape-Stomping Maiden. Why don’t they just pick one of their own maidens? That’s never explained, though the women of the village are always in the background stewing ruefully (I imagine if they all agreed to withhold sex from their men, this childish nonsense would stop pretty quick!)

Elaina is given a charming red outfit to counter the green of Rosemary’s, but when she stops by the This side with a retinue of loyal That men carrying her on a litter, she most heartily laughs at Elaina’s “childish”, “thin” figure, deeming her unsuitable to lovingly stomp on grapes. That’s when Elaina’s confidence and competitive spirit kick into gear.

Technically, Rosemary is right: Elaina doesn’t lovingly stomp on the grapes…she hatefully stomps on them while screaming “DIE!”, as if she were stomping on Rosemary’s head. After a whole day of stomping, Elaina’s legs and feet are a wreck, but she only stomped enough grapes for maybe half a cask.

That’s when she becomes Witch Detective Elaina, thinking it fishy that That’s wine sells in so much higher numbers. Even if Rosemary stomped all day, every day (and she clearly doesn’t, since she had time to stop by This and trash talk them) she wouldn’t be able to stomp enough grapes. Elaina and the This Chief discover she’s sitting back and relaxing while all the men stomp the grapes at factory scale.

With Rosemary’s verbal barbs still stinging in Elaina’s side, she has a little revenge by tying up Rosemary and exposing the scam. But as she samples That’s wine for the first time, she admits it is indeed delicious. Then has another glass…then another, and before long, she’s drunk.

By this point the villagers of This and That have begun a grape-tossing fight, and when she’s hit in the grapey crossfire, she responds by launching a magical counterattack. Surely there are regulations against witching-while-intoxicated, but thankfully Elaina’s “grape bullets” only knock everyone out; no one is killed!

The morning after the grape fight, Elaina is gone, but the villagers of This and That eventually reconcile. The chief of This and Rosemary fall in love and marry. In the present-day where he’s telling the story to a kid, Rosemary is still stomping grapes, as beautiful as ever, and the grape-tossing festival is a tradition.

While Saya ended up essentially tearing down walls with her intense and heavy love, Elaina does so by getting lit and escalating an epic food fight. The grape maiden fetishism aspect is pretty gross all round, but both tales are lightweight, fun, and the visuals, as always, were beautifully executed, earning the episode an extra half-star.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Crow’s Episode 7 review is here!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 56 – Kero-chan v Suppie: Dawn of Plushtice

In a tale of two teams, Kero-chan is excited about Sakura’s upcoming bazaar, because it means a good deal of tasty sweets will be on hand, while Spinel Sun is far less enthusiastic, as Eriol hints that “something” happens when he eats sweets. Spinel is as calm and subdued as Kero-chan (not to mention Nakuru) is brash and excitable. His voice is very soothing, without a hint of a dialect.

The day of the bazaar arrives, and Sakura is cute as always in her handmade outfit (a Tomoyo original, natch). Tomoyo is nearby with her camera, Eriol beats Syaoran to complimenting Sakura, Yamazaki goes off on a string of rambling lies, Rika has a nice moment with Terada-sensei, and Touya tries to fight off Nakuru as Yukito eats a lot. Pretty standard CCS stuff, really.

What this episode offers that is unique and thus more compelling is the first meeting of Spinel and Kero-chan, though due to Spinel’s ability to completely mask his magic, Kero-chan doesn’t quite know what to make of the guy, but in any case doesn’t consider “Suppie” a threat…especially when he learns his name is “Suppie”.

We then learn why Spinel avoids sweets: they make him drunk, alternating between happy, goofy, crying, and vacuuming up all of the sweets in the school with no regard for whether he or Kero-chan are seen by witnesses. Spinel’s seiyu makes the necessary changes in their delivery for a convincing transformation.

Kero-chan decides to go to Sakura and implores her to convert Sleep and cast it in order to prevent exposure. Sakura is confused, but does so, and Kero eventually finds Spinel, who is now started “vomiting” his red laser beam. Kero counters with his fire breath and Spinel flees, essentially framing Kero-chan for the sweet-stealing spree, which Sakura assumes was his fault.

It was a close call for Spinel, but he was saved by Kero’s cluelessness. It’s also somewhat frustrating that Sakura and Kero still have no idea they’re being targeted by Eriol, Spinel and Ruby, and this episode failed to move that needle.

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 08 – Beautiful from Any Angle

Ever since she got wasted and threw up on his futon, Uzaki has been out of sorts. While apologizing in public and offering money for the futon, bystanders get the wrong idea thanks to a lot of unfortunate phrasing. But at the cafe, Ami has the antidote for Uzaki’s recent blues. Sakurai will take Uzaki out to the fireworks festival, and if he’s nice and compliments the hell out of her yukata, she’ll cheer up: Ami guarantees it.

The night of the festival Ami is proven right; Uzaki is still down and things are awkward, and despite how annoying he’s typically found her, Sakurai just thinks it’s wrong for Uzaki to be so down. His steady stream of compliments eventually bring out the usual energetic Uzaki-chan, but also results in her accidentally hitting him too hard in the head with her purse.

Even before the blow, Uzaki’s quiet-and-meek disposition reminded him of her when they were still in high school, and while he’s out cold, he remembers one evening she was practicing alone (which is dangerous) and he jumped in the pool to help guide her. That night they came across the fireworks festival, he bought them grilled corn (perfect after all that swimming), and he watched Uzaki’s subdued face brighten up for the first time.

When Sakurai comes to, he’s in Uzaki’s lap, not quite able to see her face, but he can tell she’s back to being meek and contrite over braining him. So Sakurai does what a good guy would do: look back on their time together since reuniting at college and admitting it’s all been pretty fun. He’s been able to see and do so many things he otherwise wouldn’t, so he tells her not to be so down, and invites her to hang out more before summer is over.

Sakurai may not be able to see the reaction in Uzaki’s face either to his words or the fireworks, but it doesn’t matter; “the view is fine” from where he is. While last week’s interactions were lubricated by alcohol and looser inhibitions, this was the true romantic standout episode thus far, when Sakurai is open and honest about how he feels about their time together, and Uzaki shows more than her usual quasi-loner-bullying default mode. Nice work, all!

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 07 – The Cause and the Solution

“Please be with me. I need you.” These are the words that cause Uzaki to rush to Sakurai’s side, only to be disappointed: he couldn’t go into a cat cafe without someone with him.

I realize he probably didn’t consider how his words over the phone sounded, but he’s gotta be more careful with his words as he spends more time with Uzaki! Sakurai, who loves cute things, is over the moon to be surrounded by friendly cats; Uzaki is both charmed and creeped out by this side of him.

But for briefly leading her on, she punishes him by poking his foot with hers while his legs are asleep from being folded too long. The barista tosses them out for unauthorized “play”, but both Sakurai and Uzaki had a good time.

Because he owes her for “being with him”, he offers to do something for her. In response, she just says her 20th birthday is coming up (the age Japanese can legally purchase alcohol), and expects “great things”.

While racking his brain for a gift she won’t reject or mock him for, he gets the same kind of misleadingly amorous call he gave her, though apparently she’s not getting back at him on purpose; she just doesn’t want to go into a pub alone. So her birthday plan is sorted: Sakurai guides her through the world of alcohol and its role in heightening enjoyment of food, the night…and company.

Homer Simpson once toasted alcohol as “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” Now that Uzaki is a part of that world (and loving every minute of it) one wonders if a little of it (or in her case, a lot) would grease the wheels of romantic progress with these two (along with the actual grease of the fried food they eat with their drinks).

Alas, Uzaki isnt the heavyweight she thinks she is, and it all hits her at once by the time they leave the pub. It shouldn’t be a surprise that her drunk self is simply a less restrained, more wobbly version of her sober self, but Sakurai wonders if she planned for them to be out until the trains stop running and when he’s out of cash for taxi fare.

Grudgingly letting her stay over at his place, she tries to stay up playing games, and when he apparently falls asleep she leans in to kiss him, proving that he was only pretending and delighted by his bashful reaction. But a near-kiss is all that happens, as Uzaki soon passes out, enabling Sakurai to finally get some sleep.

Uzaki experienced the joys of alcohol, and in the morning come the horrors in the form of a five-alarm hangover; her very first but probably not her last. Sakurai watches over her as she prays empathically to the porcelain god, and puts her up in bed.

Before he leaves for the store, Uzaki earnestly thanks him for sharing her first pub visit, saying she had fun. Sakurai feels likewise…but the lovely moment is ruined when Uzaki vomits all over herself and the futon! Ah well, a ruined futon and steep pub check are a small price to pay for making Uzaki happy on her birthday.

Oregairu 3 – 02 – This Has to Be Done Now

The tipsy Haruno invites everyone upstairs so Yukino can say what she wants to say, and even pops out some solo champagne as she listens. The  operative word there is listen: she actually does so, now that she can tell Yukino has something to clearly say.

Haruno says she’ll support Yukino in her efforts as a big sis should, but warns that if she goes back home, she may not be able to leave for a while. Yukino already knows the difficulty of what she’s doing, but she can’t win (her independence) if she doesn’t play, so she’s decided to finally take the field.

As Yui stays over to help Yukino pack her things, Haruno walks with Hikigaya, and expresses her astonishment over her little sis finally making herself clear. The ol’ Haruno cynicism is still there, citing that “nothing will change” whether thing works out Yukino or not, but that giving up on “various things” is part of becoming an adult, and it’s good to see Yukino take those first steps.

She also confides in Hikki that she’s not actually drunk, even though her face is flush and she’s favoring his shoulder. The flushness suddenly fades and she stands straighter, and her demeanor and voice suddenly more closely resemble Yukino’s.

No matter how much Haruno has drunk, a part of her has always been able to stay calm and observe and temper herself. And she has a sneaking suspicion Hikki is the same, whispering “you can’t get drunk” in his ear.  Whether it’s alcohol…or love.

The next day at school, after a slight problem unlocking the club room, the trio are back at their places sipping tea when Isshiki Iroha makes her first appearance this season. She hooks up a portable projector and plays a TV drama, but not to just goof off. Instead of the end-of-year “thank you” party for grads, she wants to throw a prom, like Western high schools.

With so little time to prepare, it’s going to be a close call whether Iroha can actually get such an undertaking off the ground, and it wouldn’t even be for her class, but she’s determined to make it happen, stating her desire to be Prom Queen to be her primary motivator.

When Yukino tells her she’ll be queen for her own prom in two years even if she doesn’t “lay the groundwork”, Iroha stands her ground, insisting the prep is crucial to achieving her goals. Left unsaid is that within her selfish motivation there likely lies a desire to see Hikki, Yukino and Yui have a prom.

Yukino can probably sense this, and considering she has a lofty goal of her own, she’d be hypocritical if she pooh-pooh’s Iroha’s. So she agrees to help Iroha, but as an individual, not a Service Club member. She also tells Yui and Hikki they’re under no obligation to help her since it’s not an official request, but a personal one.

While they realize she wants to try to do this on her own, they’ll always be around to help out when needed (which is certain to be the case).

When Yui comes home and sees the photo of her between Yukino and Hikki, she frowns, and tells herself to forget the thing she saw while helping Yukino move: a photo of Yukino holding Hikki’s arm on the water ride, hidden behind the stuffed animals on her bed. Of course, Yui can’t forget what she saw, because it’s just another confirmation of the “place she can’t get into”, no matter how many times she stands in front of the door.

She interprets Yukino’s treasuring of that photo as further evidence she has feelings for Hikki. Yui has feelings for Hikki, but also loves Yukino, thus leaving her perpetually on the outside looking in. She’s had to be content with that limbo, in which her and Yukino and Hikki’s genuine feelings—and the conflicts they create—have been left unsaid, clearly or otherwise.

But with Yukino starting to speak clearly, that’s coming to an end. There’s an unavoidable element of destruction inherent in all acts of creation—in this case Yukino’s New Start, but also the overarching physical and psychological transition into adulthood. Yui sees that on the horizon and fears she’s unprepared…but isn’t everybody?

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