More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 05 – Sharing fabric softener

Akari’s crush continues to be supplanted by feelings for the mock husband right in front of her, and throughout the episode she expresses this though lots of teasing and physical contact, starting with a loving wife’s hug before Jirou heads off for school duties. Little does he know that Shiori has arranged to swap duties with her sporty pianist wife Hamano Mei so she can get some quality time with Jirou.

Before the arrangement, Mei is trying to get Shiori to do what needs to be done to get the man she wants—which may yet involve a giant Acme-brand mallet with which to smack him over the head. Shiori says “Jirou doesn’t think of me that way” but Mei knows better; Shiori just needs to make her feelings plain and obvious before Akari snatches him up. Akari’s galfriends only tease her about the prospect of falling for Jirou, but they’re on the right track!

Despite my increasing affinity for Akari and Akari x Jirou, being a sucker for childhood friends I relished the opportunity for Shiori and Jirou to hang out together without interruptions from Akari, Minami, or Sadaharu (who sits this episode out; I don’t mind the guy but appreciated a break from him).

The results are predictable: having class duties together reminds them of when they had them in middle school, and the two settle into that warm, happy nostalgia and familiarity. But when it comes time to leave the safety of the past and try to grasp the future with a solicited kiss, Akari thinks he’s dreaming, while Shiori withdraws at the last moment and must beat the shit out of the erasers in frustration with herself.

Unfortunately, this leaves Jirou with the same impression as the start of the day: that while there are occasional signs here and there, Shiori doesn’t like him “that way”. That leaves him gloomy on the balcony an otherwise dazzlingly starry night, and Akari joins him with mugs of hot milk in a genuinely heartwarming gesture of trying to cheer him up.

That inherent kindness in Akari’s character is at odds with a deep resentment that he’s feeling so down over another girl, which of course reflects how he feels whenever she gets riled up about Minami. Akari decides to press the teasing by insisting he start calling her by her name, and is shocked when he does it immediately, while explaining why he had trouble before.

Akari gets much more than she bargained for here, and has to retreat before Jirou sees her beet-red face and ears. Gathering her patio door curtain around her, she curses these confusing feelings. To this point she’s been in love with the idea of Minami, but that idea is losing ground to the reality of Jirou.

When their teacher announces that practical couples’ scores will be combined and everaged together, Jirou is anxious, as he’s not sure the extent of Akari’s academic prowess. But rather than simply presume she’s a dunce, he asks her about it, and her tone and body language make it clear she’s far from confident about it.

He asks her to cancel her karaoke plans so they can study together, but she says it’s “not so easy” to break said plans because she was invited by other guys, as opposed to her galfriends. To this, Akari says “I’m asking for you too here,” and she relents, but believes he’s only being this “desperate” for Shiori’s sake. Meanwhile, Mei continues to prove that she may just be the most deserving of Shiori’s hand in marriage. If nothing else, she’s trying her best to make Shiori happy and successful in love.

Jirou finds that while Akari picks things up fast, she hates the fundamental idea of studying. Her frustration from the assumption he’s only doing this for him and Shiori leads her to up her teasing and flirting game considerably, cozying up to Jirou and saying he can “do whatever he wants”.

Jirou averts his gaze, and ends up seeing that Akari figured did a challenging math problem correctly. The rest of the study session progresses and their couple score continues to go up. When they’re done, Akari isn’t ready to eat dinner yet, and would rather get Jirou to admit she makes his heart race.

She does this by jumping into his lap, but she grows more frustrated when he tries to ignore her, so she turns around so they’re front-to-front, and tells him he can look at her if he wants. When he still won’t, she grabs him even tighter, and he ends up flipping them over so she’s on her back.

At this point the two are in dangerous territory, and Akari can hear his heart pounding now. It’s here where Jirou starts to let his hormones take over, caressing her cheek. Akari says he can’t once, then twice, but then takes hold of his shoulder to pull him nearer, and closes her eyes to prepare for a kiss …

I knew amorous congress was going to be interrupted by something, be it doorbell, phone, or Sadaharu. This time, it’s Jirou’s nose, which suddenly starts bleeding. Though Jirou thanks his nose profusely for stopping him from doing something he’d regret. Once the bleeding is stemmed by a tissue, the two fold laundry together—the hot-and-heaviness replaced by a picture of domestic bliss.

Akari laughs at Jirou for getting a bloody nose in such a situation, but Jirou in turn asks her what is up with her pestering him so heavily all night. She brings up how she’s frustrated by how desperately he’s trying to prevent Shiori from leaving him behind. He, in turn, tells her he’s not just doing it for him and Shiori, but her and Minami, and further tells her he’s sure she’d reach A-rank with anyone, not just him. He simply hoped that after she’d gained so many points for them, he’d try to contribute by helping with her studies.

Jirou doesn’t know just how happy it makes Akari to hear that, because as far as he’s concerned she doesn’t feel anything serious for him, and her amorous actions have only been to tease him. But Akari is feeling less grateful that he’s doing this for her and Minami when it’s currently the two of them together that makes her heart race for real. She thinks about a future where they switch partners, and their clothes no longer smell like the same fabric softener, and … it’s not necessarily something she wants.

Fuukoi continues to do tremendous character work in the midst of what will always be a silly and contrived premise, and its deft “couch time” animation and Akari’s facial expressions in general continue to impress. There’s still a lot of confusion and awkwardness from all parties, but Shiori is gradually fumbling her way closer to Jirou, while dangerous couch session Akari’s true feelings may be coming into better focus.

Jirou’s self-loathing-fueled obliviousness can’t hold out forever. If it isn’t already, his confidence in Shiori being his one and only will surely start taking the same dents as Akari’s in Minami being hers.

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 10 – Cooperative Relationship

Princess Falanya leads the people out of Mealtars, past the armies of Lowa’s brothers, and into the waiting arms of Caldmellia and King Gruyere, who were not prepared to deal with so many refugees. The stunning move, made possible thanks to Falanya’s charisma, essentially freezes all parties and gives Wein ample room to negotiate a way out of this that’s acceptable to all, yet still takes advantage of his opponents’ disadvantage.

As the officially sanctioned negotiator for Mealtars, Wein makes use of the city’s ample treasury and offers to buy Levitian’s surplus surplies with both gold and the promise of a memorial and temple to Levetia. With the Levitian army hanging back in reserve, Wein uses the supplies to raise a militia the princes won’t want to fight.

But his true masterstroke comes when he meets with Lowa’s brothers, who like the Levetians have limited room to maneuver due to the sensistive military scenario that has been created. With a knowling Lowa present, Wein dusts off the “trial in absentia”, pinning the blame on the assassination  and the war on the absent Demetrio and forcing his younger brothers to agree, as it’s the best option they have.

As a result, the armies end their siege of Mealtars, the Levetians return home, and the people of Mealtars are cemented not only as a strong friend and ally to Natra, but in Lowa’s faction as well. The mayor tells Lowa over tea how he asked Wein “why are you doing this?”, and was charmed by his response: to gladden his little sister’s heart.

As we know, nothing is more important to Wein than his family, be it Falanya or Ninym, so we know he was being sincere. But there’s no denying siding with Mealtars in their hour of dire need paid huge dividends for Natra and Marden, as imperial exports, passed off as Marden exports, are now flowing through the vassal state and into the west.

Ninym rightly brings up the fact that the richer Marden becomes, the more likely it is they’ll desire independence again. Sure enough, Marchioness Zenovia is encouraged by her advisor to take advantage of their newfound prosperity to “extract a commitment” from Natra when Wein pays them a visit on his way to Soljest.

The advisor proposes that Zenovia ask for Wein’s hand in marriage…which is exactly what Wein thinks she’ll ask for when he visits. Only…she doesn’t? Wein is totally thrown off as they discuss only matters of state such as a conservative western nation sending a letter of protest regarding trade goods.

Wein lets his hair down and be his impetuous self in front of Ninym, as usual, assured that the next day Zenovia will broach the topic while giving them a tour of her capital. But once again, Zenovia—disguised as Zeno and fooling no one—simply gives him a tour…no proposal.

Wein is the one to broach the topic, but when they have a seat on a bench in a park, Zeno pivots by asking why Wein is so “oddly distant” from his people. Wein proceeds to give a cautionary lecture on the responsibility of nobility and royalty to maintain a certain mystique and remove from their people.

This is for a reason Zeno hadn’t considered: she, as well as Wein, Soljest, and even Lowellmina Earthwold, can trace their venerable royal and noble lines all the way to commoners. That means all of the people in one’s kingdom could one day become the first humble branch of a new royal tree…hence his vigilance. He must be the best prince he can be, because he’s surrounded by potential replacements.

Zenovia acknowledges that Wein is a great man, even greater than she initially believed, and that’s the reason she’s happy, for now, with Marden remaining a loyal vassal of Natra (also, she jests that his face isn’t her type). But as she confides to her advisor, Zenovia also feels that marriage with someone like Wein, someone she lionizes as a hero, would be impossible.

I feel she’s selling herself short here, but it’s not my place to tell her how to feel! Even the advisor concedes that she should trust her heart in this matter, and it doesn’t make her a bad leader to refuse the clever play of strategic marriage.

I’m usually not a fan of characters running themselves down to prop up ones they idolize, but considering what she’s witnessed Wein achieve in the time she’s known him, it’s hard to argue with her feelings of inadequacy. Such is the sold writing of this show that I can both disagree and respect her position. Now, what’s up with Delunio?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 09 – The Princess Pride

At first, Wein thinks he’s arrived in Mealtars at the absolute worst time: just when Falanya has insisted that Demetrio seek Wein’s approval for his marriage to her. Wein, Ninym and Lowa exchange subtle nonverbal cues as he expresses his heartfelt approval for the union. After all, it will be the second—with Wein marrying Lowa, Natra’s Imperial influence will skyrocket!

This prospect causes Demetrio to agree to discuss it another day, which buys his sister time, but Wein assures Falanya that he won’t let her be married to such a man. Later, despite showing signs of fatigue, Wein joins Lowa for a secret clock tower meeting. Things aren’t going quite as Lowa planned, but she’s in a good position to snatch the throne, and promises Wein she will get him “all mixed up” in her “epic tale”.

As we learn Prince Manfred to be an incredibly decisive and logical man, planning to assassinate someone as intelligent (and thus dangerous) as Wein, Falanya continues to spend much of her time in the Citizen’s Assembly. Not only does she soak up the discourse like a sponge, but garners the esteem and admiration for watching and listening so intently.

Demetrio welcomes Wein to further talks, but when a maid serves them tea, Wein asks, then demands the maid drink it herself. When she hesitates, Demetrio takes his cup, accuses Wein of cowardice, takes a sip…and collapses as blood trickles from his mouth. Ninym starts to chase the maid, but Wein orders her to find a doctor instead. They may never learn Manfred ordered the hit, but he’s not about to let an Imperial prince die…even the worst one.

Demetrio survives, but Wein is detained for questioning for several days, during which time Mealtars is surrounded by Bardloche and Manfred’s armies. No sooner is Wein free than news comes the Levitians, led by Caldmellia have also brought an army to the city’s doorstep. The increased strain on the besieged city will lead to unrest, riots, and eventually military intervention. But as Wein is calculating all of these variables, he suddenly passes out from exhaustion.

That means, surprisingly, that it’s once again up to Princess Falanya, and unsurprisingly, considering how much she’s learned in so short a time, she rises to the occasion and handles the shit out of it. As the Citizen’s Assembly threatens to devolve into every-man-for-himself chaos, she stands in the center of the assembly (who we already know to be enamored of her) and makes an impassioned plea for solidarity.

It works, and Mealtars manages to hold together even with three armies staring them down. Ninym scarcely leaves Wein’s bedside, so when he finally awakes, she leaps at him for a tearful hug that’s probably a little too tight for his current condition, but speaks to how he’s as much her heart as she is his.

With the entire city united behind their new idol Falanya, Wein has her lead them out of the city walls in a peaceful and orderly evacuation. Through her speeches, she’s able to convince them to leave it all behind in service of a better future for all of them. Strategically, of course, this has the effect of paralyzing all of the armies outside, who even combined are dwarfed by Mealtar’s sheer numbers.

Even Caldmellia and the Levitians weren’t prepared to take in and provide for so many, meaning whatever ulterior motives they had, they’ll have to put on hold. As Falanya tells the masses, Mealtars isn’t the walls or streets or houses; Mealtars is its people, and with the power of the people at her back, even the tiny, adorable little princess can stare down imperial armies and religious zealots alike.

I’m truly loving Falanya’s rapid ascent to greatness from her humble beginnings as the character who listens to exposition for the benefit of the audience…and if Wein is still hoping for a slow life down the road, I’m sure he is too!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 08 – Little Miss Vying for the Throne

With help from Mayor Cosimo of the merchant city of Mealtars, Princess Lowellmina has organized a Summit of Imperial Heirs, where she and her three brothers can discuss a “peaceful succession”. She made a point to invite Natra, which is to say Wein, but is surprised to discover he sent his sister Princess Falanya in his stead.

It was actually Falanya’s idea. Sure, Wein had no interest in getting tangled up in another one of Lowa’s webs, and has the excuse of dealing with the aftermath of the civil war. But as we’ve seen in what are informative but rather stiff infodumps with her tutor, she’s absorbed enough knowledge, and wants an opportunity to apply it…while helping her dear brother out.

Lowa soon pivots from her disappointment over Wein not coming, and decides to introduce Falanya to her three brothers. There’s the youngest, Prince Manfred, who seems the shrewdest of the three (though not four if you include Lowa!), the hulking military-backed Prince Bardloche, and the eldest, Demetrio, who is the eldest…and biggest jerk.

Falanya comports herself well in this deep end of the political pool; a testament to her education and diligence. When the three bros start to bicker, Ninym is there to suggest the politest possible tactical retreat: she already promised to speak to Lowa.

However, it’s Ninym who picks up on Lowa’s not-so-subtle cues she wishes to talk in private, and it’s here where the episode shines, as I love how these two drop all rank and pretense and act towards each other like the old classmates and friends (or frenemies?) they are.

As Falanya observes and learns at the banquet, Lowa proposes a deal with Ninym: inside information about the summit of heirs in exchange for Natra joining her cause (which is now a legitimate fourth faction, making up in patriotic fervor what it lacks in teeth). Ninym, who wasn’t born yesterday and understands Wein’s wishes, imitates Wein perfectly in declining Lowa.

It’s not quite as fun when Mayor Cosimo gives Falanya a tour of the city, but Falanya is suddenly inspired upon entering the “Citizen’s Assembly”, which serves as a kind of non-voting delegation of commoners who hash out various proposals and debates.

Even though they’re discussing the construction of a new aquaduct, Falanya is enthralled, and watches carefully to see who among the delegates persuades most of the others to his way of thinking (unfortunately, I didn’t see any women in the assembly).

Demetrio, who we immediately learn to be a rude petulant asshole, activates Full Skeevy Villain Mode when he decides he’ll take out his anger at Wein for sending Falanya in his stead by doing…something to Falanya. It’s clear that even in a scenario in which Lowa doesn’t win the battle of succession, it isn’t going to be this guy.

He’s just a bad seed, and when his face twisted as he knocked over his own table of food, I thought him capable of anything, up to and including kidnapping poor lil’ Falanya!

That something turns out to be initially less barbaric, as he suddenly surprises Falanya (and Lowa and Ninym) with a proposal of marriage to Falanya. He says it’s to tighten bonds with Natra, but it’s really because once Falanya marries him, he’ll consider her his property to torment as he pleases. That’ll teach Wein to slight him!

Falanya trembles a bit, but regains her cool and politely responds by saying she’ll convey his proposal to Natra. When Demetrio says he needs an answer from her now, she takes the kid gloves off and surprises everyone in the room with her directness: royal marriages are a matter of state, and she knows full well she’s still too young and inexperienced to make such a decision alone.

Wein’s brother would be so proud…so it’s a good thing he’s here, and was listening just outside the room. On the one hand I’m sure Falanya and Ninym are glad Wein’s there. I also believe that Falanya won’t see his arrival as a failure on her part; as she said, she’s too young and inexperienced for the moves that are going down in Mealtars.

Demetrio will have to tread lightly around Wein to avoid being gutted, but it’s also incumbent on Wein not to doom his country by impulsively slaying the eldest imperial prince, even if he is a prick! Finally, I’m sure Lowa is glad Wein’s there, because she wanted him there all along. Will she be able to draw him to her side, huge hassle though it may be for him?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Houseki no Kuni – 07

Phos lies prostrate before the Amethyst twins as Rutile repairs them, but once they’re whole enough to speak, it’s the twins apologizing to Phos: they were overzealous in their efforts to show Phos how badass they are and let their guard down.

Phos doesn’t feel any better about freezing up, and runs off, both to try to outrun the shame, but also because that when circumstances necessitate an immediate retreat, Phos has to be able to do it. Phos’ legs lead to Cinnabar, whom Phos still doesn’t feel right speak to quite yet.

Phos’ state of incomplete development comes at a bad time for them; Winter has come, and with it the time when all gems hibernate until Spring—and sufficient sunlight for them to function—returns.

The only two who normally stay awake while the others sleep are Master Kongou, and the heretofore-unseen Antarcticite, voiced by Ise Mariya.

Antarcticite was unseen because they only become solid when the temperatures drop enough; when it’s warm, Antarcticite occupies a vat in their room, in a liquid state. “Antarc” also has a particular like of Kongou, and cherishes the time when they patrol together.

Then, while the two are hugging, Phos emerges from behind a wall. Unable to sleep, Phos requests to be allowed to stay up and train up in these harsher-than-usual conditions rather than waste them hibernating. Kongou agrees and partners Antarc with Phos.

Antarc is initially quite annoyed by this decision, but only because they remember Phos of yore, not the present Phos, willing and able to grow. When Phos tells Antarc of the desire to become better and more useful, Antarc takes a more patient tack.

Phos is particularly sluggish in the dim winter chill, but toughs it out until the two reach their destination: a field of eerily gorgeous and hazardous ice floes that let out blood-curdling screeches when grinding together.

Like Amethyst, Antarc is quick to demonstrate their duty to Phos: cleaving the surfacing ice floes with a saw in order to stop them from disturbing the hibernating Gems. Watching Antarc spring into action, balance a high heel atop the ice, then unleash a massive blow, is really something to behold.

The spectacle, and the utterly pristine whites, blues, purples and aquas of the frigid winterscape lend this episode a unique beauty, backed up by some of the most conspicuously excellent music of the show.

I’ve always liked “ice levels” as a kind of aesthetic palate-cleanser. Winter turns the Land of the Lustrous into another world, and it’s a glorious thing to see and hear. The stark beauty is nicely complemented and warmed up by the understated Phos-Antarc buddy comedy.

Antarc shows Phos all of the various duties they must perform; some menial, others herculean, and others downright weird, like making sure to put down the sleepwalking gems—and, occasionally, cover Master Kongou when he smashes into a wall—with blankets. Phos simply tries to keep up, but it’s a lot of work and has to be done with a minimum of energy due to the low sun.

Then, just as Phos is wondering whether they bit off more than they can chew and ponders the hopelessness of achieving their goals, the ice floes seem to call out, echoing the anxieties in Phos’ head. Kongou warns Phos to ignore the voices, giving Phos yet another challenge to overcome among all the others.

It ultimately proves too much. While out on patrol, Phos considers sawing off both arms so that they be replaced with a stronger ones, as Phos’ legs were. Phos stops themselves, but slips and falls into a frigid pool. Antarc pulls Phos out, but Phos is missing both forearms—and if they can’t be retrieved, many more memories.

Antarc has been shown to be proficient in making minor repairs, but this is a job for Rutile, who is hibernating. So yeah, we close another episode with Phos’ existence at another crossroads. Here I thought Phos would find a way to attach saws to their legs and use them to cleave the floes; now I just hope the Phos I know and love can get out of yet another spot.

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