TenSura – 42 – The Gods Stir

Rimuru starts to head to Walpurgis (though with his teleportation magic one would think there’d be no further need to “head out” anywhere; he can go wherever he wants instantly and can take whoever he wants with him. But this episode isn’t about Rimuru; it’s about Clayman, his plans, and the elite Demon Lords know and think about all these goings-on leading to the Walpurgis.

Clayman is being set up for an epic downfall. For one thing, he wrongly assumes it was Veldora and not Rimuru who destroyed Falmuth’s army. Second, he still believes his former tool Mjurran to be dead. Thirdly, he took the frankly suicidal step of turning Milim into his doll and puppet by having Sky Queen Frey place an enchanting pendant around her neck. Just to up his evil cred, he beats the everloving shit out of the defenseless Milim. There’s no way he doesn’t pay for all of this somewhere down the line!

Meanwhile, Demon Lords who consider the likes of Clayman naught but a whelp confer before the Walpurgis. Demon Lord Guy Crimson, one of the oldest and strongest lords along with Milim, summons the less powerful but still really really powerful Demon Lord Leon Cromwell to his ice palace to discuss things. While Guy seems content to lounge around his ice palace, a merchant spy (I think we all know who) has been steadily feeding Leon intelligence about Clayman, Rimuru, and Velora.

It isn’t long before Guy’s paramour, White Ice Dragon Velzard, who just happens to be Veldora’s big sister, joins the discussion. These three just emanate power, dignity, and above all shrewdness. They don’t come off as villains, either, but well-rounded people, albeit people who can rend the earth asunder with a snap. By comparison, Clayman and his pack of clowns seem like…well, a bunch of pathetic clowns.

While he could probably only defeat Guy one out of a million or so times, Leon may be the smartest demon lord of them all (most certainly brighter than our dumb blue protagonist), able to see through both Clayman’s lies and the cover story Rimuru put out there. He suspects that rather than being the recipient of tremendous luck, Rimuru could’ve been the one who broke Veldora’s seal, which would put him on their level.

Leon’s even learned that it was Rimuru who cured the summoned children before he could take them in. This makes Leon very excited for the upcoming Walpurgis, though Velzard pointedly declines to accompany him there. No doubt she’s going to go look up her brother in Tempest.

All this lends credence to the fact that Clayman isn’t really someone Rimuru needs to worry about. I mean for gosh sakes, Clayman isn’t even a real Demon Lord yet, while Rimuru is! ‘Nuff said! But it’s not, because as long as people like Guy and Leon are around, Rimuru can’t really take it easy. Aw, who am I kidding, he’s going to keep taking it easy!

Meikyuu Black Company – 03 – Chekhov’s Confusion Grass

Ninomiya was hoping he and Wanibe would have more freedom once they joined Exploration Division Group 3, but instead they find themselves at a corporate training retreat on Pig Pen Island, where an orc drill sergeant makes them do backbreaking labor without food or water, all while audio discs and black mages brainwash them into buying into total devotion to The Company. Even Ninomiya falls under their insidious hyper-capitalist spell.

It’s only when Ninomiya discovers some confusion grass (thanks to Wanibe’s horticultural expertise) that the pair are able to turn the tables. By microdosing the grass, they’re able to break free of the brainwashing, which had the retreat participants emptying their wallets to buy overpriced idols of the CEO. Ninomiya gets back at them by sneaking the grass in the mages’ food, leading to Pig Pen Island’s…explosion.

After the retreat, the pair are assigned to Exploration Division HQ and introduced to their new supervisor, Kinou Shia. Between her diamond highlights and starry eyes, she’s a shoo-in for a Kill la Kill character, but while she appears to be (and fights like) your standard OP onna-kishi, she was handpicked by the CEO to whip rookies like Ninomiya and Wanibe into shape. Instead, she manages to put Wanibe in the hospital with a playful shove.

Shia shrugs off the workplace injury she caused and gives Ninomiya a tour of HQ. She’s particularly proud of the corporate store, but Ninomiya is #Unimpressed, and lets her know it. Shia is clearly a Raiza’ha True Believer, and has the brawn to back up her zealotry. All Ninomiya can do is go along for the ride when she throws him over her shoulder.

Their next destination is the third floor of the dungeon—where Ninomiya had already visited thanks to the shortcut portal he found. There, they encounter a middle-level monster whom Shia orders Ninomiya to attack. When the beast charges her instead she demonstrates her awesome power, arresting its advance dead with her blade and then cleaving it in two.

When one of Ninomiya’s communist ant drone friends appears, Shia orders him to kill it—especially if it’s lost the will to fight—but Ninomiya won’t obey. When Shia insists, and then attacks him when she believes he’s in cahoots with the monsters, he summons a very well-fed Rimu. Shia bonks her on the head with her sword, and Rimu grows into her adult form and blasts Shia several feet into a rock wall with a single fist.

Having met her match, Shia is tied up and, once Wanibe provides a Polaroid camera with which to snap a photo of her consorting with monsters for blackmail purposes, Shia is officially welcomed into the Meikyuu Black Company. Despite being far weaker than Rimu (but on the other hand, less hungry), Shia should make a fine new member. The company’s mettle shall be tested when a dragon-like eye lurking in the darkness suddenly opens…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kageki Shoujo!! – 03 – Toughing it Out

Ai is aloof, standoffish and antisocial, and makes it crystal clear even to a lunkhead like Sarasa that she doesn’t want to be friends with her or anyone else, despite the fact they live and learn together. Sarasa is flummoxed by this declaration, but before they properly discuss it, Ai is whisked off by her big sister, Hijiri.

This week Kageki Shoujo! takes a long, hard, and sometimes downright distressing look back at how and why Narata Ai became the way she is. She always lied about being a perfect loving daughter to her glamorous actress mother, but the lying became harder as she grew older and more beautiful.

I can’t imagine the torment of men both young and old ogling you left and right, and What a cutie being akin to Hello for her, but that’s what Ai endured. When her mother shacked up with one of those older men, that constant public torment became private. She’d always been creeped out by Seiji, but then one day he was alone wither her and kissed her with his tongue.

After such a horrific assault, Ai no longer felt safe anywhere or with anyone…except her uncle, Taichi. And thank God for Taichi, because he was at least able to give her a measure of peace and security by installing a lock on her door and giving her a key to his place should she need to run away. But before he did that, she had already been assaulted, vomited, cut her hair, and tore apart her big teddy.

Considering her interactions with men who weren’t her uncle up to the point she became an idol, it’s not surprising that one day she’d say or do something to break the façade she’d created. Now that very scruffy dude whom she called a creep at a fan event has stalked her all the way to her school. Again, Ai is fortunate Taichi isn’t far, and she runs headlong into his arms. He’s the brother and dad, the family she never had.

Taichi will always be there for his niece, but he knows she can’t go on with no friends of any gender. Kouka is a chance for her to form new bonds with peers, and Sarasa, as bombastic and annoying as she is, really is a good person who would make a great friend. Sarasa is ready to accept Ai’s rejection, but Taichi insists she keep trying with Ai.

Sarasa does so, by escorting Ai home, which leads to the scene I was hoping for: the gigantic Sarasa spreading that massive wingspan to form an impenetrable shield for Ai against the smelly stalker.

Never mind if he’s not there to “get back” at Ai like she fears, but just wanted to return her bookbag and talk to her. The fact is he had absolutely ZERO right to meet with or speak to her after following her there.

Ai may have been rude to him at the fan event, but being rude isn’t a crime, and he doesn’t get to play the victim after committing the actual crime of stalking. While it wasn’t always easy to watch, I’m glad we gained new insight into Ai’s twisted childhood and coming of age, which only makes someone like Sarasa seem more, not less, suitable to be her friend.

My only gripe is that we’ve still gotten very little actual musical theatre education in, with the exception of a brief tap class in which the teacher berated the objectively scrawny Yamada a “fattie” and all but ordered her to give up food. Fuckin’ yikes! I also wish the stalker situation had been fully resolved, instead of us being left hanging.

Even Sarasa looked a little uncomfortable confronting the guy, and no single high school girl, no matter how big or small, should have to go up against someone like that alone. I just hope that as we learned a lot about Ai, Ai also learned more about Sarasa, and how she’s someone she can lean on in times of strife.

Meikyuu Black Company – 02 – Workers of Another World, Unite!

Taking in a pet behemoth wasn’t all it was choked up to be, but now both Ninomiya and Wanibe are reassigned to Raiza’ha Mining Corp.’s Exploration Division, Group 8, performing menial support duties to the elite front-line groups like Group 3. No sooner does he discover that excellently marbled beef is dirt-cheap in this world than a hungry Rimu snatches it and gulps it down after stoving his head in the wall.

The job soon wears down Ninomiya’s spirit, to the point he’s sheepishly obedient. He doesn’t like it, but fate smiles upon him when he crosses paths with a member of that elite Group 3, separated from his companions. He’s being chased by a swarm of giant ants, but armed with various potions for stocking treasure chests (someone has to do it), he mixes some ant leg shavings one of those potions, turning himself, his elderly supervisor, and the Group 3 kid into ants.

For a large portion of this episode, it’s all ants, all the time, which is just so refreshingly weird to behold. Ant!Ninomiya has the same gestures as regular Ninomiya, and even a shock of blue hair. What’s even better is that he’s not a totally self-serving asshole this week! Now, I’m not going to say convincing the ants to join his cause doesn’t benefit him, but the entire enterprise was born out of empathy he felt for the endlessly toiling ant drones.

Of course, it isn’t long before the rabble-rousing Comr-ant Ninomiya (who has turned back into a human) encounters Management, AKA the Ant Queen. When Ninomiya accuses her of simply lounging around while her subjects work themselves to death, she responds by demonstrating her brute strength, molting to become thrice her original size. Even then, the timely arrival of Rimu spooks the queen into submission; she who knows exactly what Rimu is.

Ninomiya than earns the queen’s esteem by taming Rimu with what I’ll call “Chekhov’s Marbled Steak”. Once Wanibe, who had been laid up with a injury throughout the ant-venture, returns to work, the fire is fully back in Ninomiya’s belly, and he has a proposition for Wanibe: join his new organization for bringing down the corrupt oppression of Raiza’ha Mining Corporation: the titular Meikyuu Black Company. 

With both Rimu, the Ant Queen and her army as his allies, he’s very quickly become someone to be taken seriously; an Ant of the Peopl, if you will. And while I got a kick out of watching Ninomiya be an asshole and get punished for it, it’s even more rewarding to see him seemingly learn from the mistakes of the past and attempt to be a better man, lifting others up along with himself and reaping the rewards of loyalty and fellowship.

I must say really didn’t expect this isekai show about an arrogant NEET layabout to become so…socialist so fast, but now that it has, I find it delightful, and can’t wait to see what craziness is in store next week—or who of the five main characters in the OP and ED we’ll meet next.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kageki Shoujo!! – 02 – Sink or Swim

The morning before their first day of actual classes, Ai deigns to attempt to wake Sarasa up…in the gentlest and most ineffectual way possible. But their class rep Sawa personally wakes Sarasa the hell up, because the people they’re facing this morning are far more fearsome than the JSDF: their second-year advisors, AKA “Big Sisters”.

The students of the centennial class have already demonstrated their capacity for ill-natured backbiting, but it’s the same way in the classes above them. We learn that Risa and Hijiri, Sarasa and Ai’s Big Sisters, are bitter rivals who usually hide their contempt for each other behind smiles and niceties.

When Risa flat-out tells Sarasa she’ll never be Lady Oscar, she makes the poor tall girl sob into the floorboards. When she asks why not through the tears, Risa mentions the curse of the tree, and in doing so gives Sarasa all the ammo she needs. If everyone believes the tree is cursed, she’ll just have to prove the curse is fake!

While Risa admires Sarasa’s innocence and drive (as does Sarasa’s childhood friend and kabuki actor-in-training, Akiya), Hijiri reports that “Naracchi” has “zero motivation” for Kouka. But just as Hijiri’s barbs about Risa only being suited for villainess roles have led her to strive towards greatness, she tells Hijiri they can’t know what future winds may lift Ai’s sails.

I can take a stab at the identity of that wind: she’s somewhere around 5’10” with green-tipped twin tails! But it won’t just be Sarasa’s bottomless confidence and enthusiasm gradually wearing down Ai’s apathy: she also isn’t just gong to sit back and take abuse, passive-aggressive or otherwise, from her classmates.

During class introductions (which are wonderful shorthand for the various girls’ personalities) Ai at first gives a curt description of herself, but Kaoru, the big shot legacy musume-yaku-in-waiting says everyone knows “that’s not all”. So Ai stands back up and says she’s there because she was forced to quit JPX48. It’s an important step for Ai standing up for herself against damn fools.

During a tour of backstage, Sarasa sees a dramaticaly-lit door and goes through it, leading to the main stage of the Kouka Revue. Andou-sensei warns her to get off the stage and under no circumstances walk out onto the “Silver Bridge”, the part of the stage where only Kouka’s top stars are permitted to stand.

Sarasa doesn’t break that taboo, but she also takes her sweet time leaving that stage! That’s because as soon as she stands on it, it’s clear she feels she’s where she’s supposed to be. As if by divine providence, a spotlight is cast upon her. Ai can feel that belonging too, dazzled as she is by Sarasa’s stage presence.

Incremental progress is made on several fronts. We’ve got a huge cast of young women, some sympathetic, some clearly villains, and some who are just kind of there. But as long as the spotlight stays on Sarasa and Ai most of the time, I’ll be a happy camper. As Ai’s stalker arrives in Kobe, we’ll likely learn next week how close he ends up getting to Ai, how she deals with that, and where Sarasa (or other classmates) might factor into the forthcoming confrontation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kageki Shoujo!! – 01 (First Impressions) – The Immovable Beanpole vs the Unmovable Idol

The apathetic, androphobic, recently canceled idol Narata Ai (Hanamori Numiri in top form) enrolls and is accepted into the exclusive Kouka School for Musical and Theatrical Arts, which is the training stable for the even more exclusive all-women’s Kouka Revue, a stand-in for the real-world Takarazuka Revue.

Her opening scene is a harrowing one, as she attempts to escape one pushy fawning fan only to nearly end up in the clutches of another. Considering she had to “graduate” from her idol group (an AKB48 stand-in) due to publicly calling a male fan “creepy”, the inherent unfairness of that industry has followed her to the outside.

Like Chihayafuru, Rakugo Shinjuu, 3-gatsu no Lion, and Snow White Notes, this is an anime about a very specific-to-Japan thing, which means we’re sure to get an education on the cutthroat world of elite all-women musical theater while reveling in the absolutely wonderful odd-couple pairing of Ai and Watanabe Sarasa, who is fleet, fearless, and five-foot-frikkin-ten. Ai’s quiet jadedness and practiced apathy pairs perfectly with her bold, loud skyscraper of a roomie.

The animators clearly have a lot of fun both with the size comparison and the confident ease with which Sarasa moves those impossibly long limbs. She simply moves differently from everyone else. We’ve yet to see what Sarasa can do on the stage, but it’s great to see how much chaos her huge frame and loud voice causes during ordinary life, as no bed—or hastily-built privacy curtain—can hold her.

Where the two women are similar, however, is that neither intends to play The Game of catty whispers, rumors, gossip, and bullying in which nearly all the other girls on their periphery seem to engage. Ai, because she’s trained herself not to care (though it’s clear she Idoes care); Sarasa because her head is literally in the clouds. Neither of them care what others think. In that regard, they’re two peas in a pod. They can, in theory, support one another in this hostile environment.

When a positively delightful JSDF captain drills the new students on moving in sync, he singles out both Ai and Sarasa. He tells Ai to improve her core and posture, as iodl “cutesiness” has no place in Kouka. As for Sarasa, he just reminds her to be mindful of her limbs, but is impressed when he shoves her back and she keeps her balance.

This in turn leads Sarasa to cheerfully challenge him to shove her again when she’s in a special stance that keeps her firmly grounded. It’s later revealed she used a stance taught by her grandfather, a former kabuki actor (lest we forget, there are no women in kabuki).

While she’s being a lot less aggressive about it, Sarasa is employing a similar stance with regards to Ai, insisting that as roomies they should be friends and support one another. It’s only fitting that Sarasa’s the only girl at school who doesn’t know about Ai’s dark idol past. But even if she did, I seriously doubt she’d turn on her!

Kageki Shoujo!! is off to a strong start, packed with colorful personalities and potential for some pretty cool musical and theatrical performances, which the first episode only hints at. Sarasa has also loudly proclaims she intends to be the school’s top star, and I dare anyone to try to move her from that position.

I’m totally psyched to watch the girl who won’t let herself be emotionally moved live and work with a girl who won’t let herself be physically moved unless she allows it. I imagine Ai will eventually thaw a bit in the searing sunshine of Sarasa’s personality. That stalker coming for Ai better watch out—he wants no part of that Watanabe Sequoia smoke!

86 – 02 – The Two Decisions

Aldrecht, Spearhead’s Juggernaut engineer and mechanic, scolds Shin once again for being so reckless with a piece of equipment for which there are no spare parts…except those from the Juggernauts of fallen soldiers. But relying on such parts isn’t a problem for someone with the callsign Undertaker, who has an entire chest full of names of the dead under his command.

In this 86th district where Shin and his comrades are stuck having to fight for an uncaring republic and oblivious public, the skies are blue and bright, and the grass and trees as green and lush as the other 85 districts of Magnolia, but all that matters is fighting the next battle and coming out of it in one piece.

No doubt used to taking the initiative due to incompetent or disinterested Handlers, Shin deploys Spearhead well before Lena gives the initial order to sortie, and establishes a different kill zone different from the one she chose. Lena trusts an elite processor’s instincts, and the battle commences as a cloud of tiny radar-jamming machines darken the sky.

They provide cover to a host of menacing, gleaming chrome Legion machines, a stark contrast to the rusty, old-fashioned, and very manned—Republic Juggernauts. Honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people inside the Legion machines too, but I don’t think 86 is going in that particular direction.

Instead we get a bad-ass battle sequence scored by the Sawano Hiroyuki, whose reliably epic orchestral bombast calls to mind both greats like Attack on Titan and not-so-greats like Aldnoah.Zero. I’m on record as being down with anything for which this guy does the music; he always elevates it.

That said, the battle is more than awesome music. Despite being outnumbered, outgunned, and outteched, Shin and Spearhead prove to be a formidable match for the contingent of unfeeling autonomous machines. The battle is won without any casualties.

86 establishes its structural template of spending one half with Lena and half with Shin, only the reverse of the first episode. Lena’s half follows Shin’s, and we see how calm, quiet, and sterile her experience of the battle is compared to Shin and the other soldiers.

It’s also nice to see her exchange with Shin repeated so we can catch her facial expressions; particularly her reaction to her data transmission snafu she made. By not cutting back and forth between the two in real time, the distance between their experiences is amplified. Pressing the point that Lena’s experience is all theory and Shin’s is all practical, Lena pays a visit to a lecture hall at the academy.

Lena explicitly asked to address the future Handlers, and she starts by debunking many of the lies their professor was spouting. To her, the 86 are in fact human, even if they don’t have silver hair and blue eyes—the Alba clearly being an analogue to the “superior” Aryan race espoused by the Nazis.

Lena is confident her uncle will bail her out of any potential punishment for speaking the truth, but more troubling is that none of the youths seems to share her concerns, while Annette would clearly prefer her friend keep her head down. Lena is spitting in the wind.

She returns to her room and engages in enthusiastic conversation with Shin, and later his entire unit. Many of them still aren’t quite sure what to make of this Handler with a conscience, only that despite being the same age she seems hopelessly young and naïve.

Judging from some of their downcast expressions, it’s almost rubbing salt in the wound that she’s being so nice to them, considering she’s working for the system forcing them to fight and die while denying their status as human beings.

Still…Lena is nice, and kind, and wants to understand and help in any way she can. Just as her nation made the two decisions to create 85 districts for the Alba and one for the 86, she made two decisions as well: first, to be Spearhead’s Handler, and second, to treat them like human beings. She even hopes Shin reaches his combat term limit so he can regain his citizenship and get to do something or go somewhere fun.

I don’t know if Shin smirks because what she said genuinely raised his spirits, or if it’s a grim scoff, as if to say “would you listen to this kid?” All I know is he’s already more interesting than Inaho, and any dialogue with a Handler with ideals and morals must be a pleasant surprise in a world where most surprises aren’t.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 06 – The Dead Are Coming

The Takeyama Four + Amatsuka Yayoi arrive at Iruma Air Base, the staging area for what is to be the decisive battle against the Fuji Primary Pillar. They are joined by Valkyries and elite Named from around the world, including Claudia’s former comrades Lizbet and Leyli. Lizbet pouts over the fact Claudy has found both peace and friends at her new posting, but that’s probably because she misses Claudy.

Among the Named present for the battle are the “Dancing Goddess” and the “Maid from Hell”. These are unassailably good nicknames for ace pilots, but the show is all too cognizant of the fact they’re all teenage girls and that is, regardless of their willingness to fight for the sake of humanity, bad and wrong. None of the adults seem comfortable or happy about having to rely on them.

Nevertheless, rely for them they must, and on Odin as well. At the end of this episode, I was left wondering Whose side is Odin even on? I’m left with the theory that He is only on His own side, and as much as he lauds his “daughters”, it’s clear they are disposable tools with which to execute his will—with varying degrees of success. They die; he keeps smirking.

I liked how it is established that Major General Okita has a unique and singular duty beyond simply bossing everyone below him around: it’s his job to rally the troops, be the Valkyries or their manly escort pilots. He gets the job done with a rousing speech with lots of call and response from those troops, but Odin just can’t let him get the last word in, taking over the stage at the end and infecting the occasion with his creepy inscrutability. It makes Yayoi click her tongue, and I can’t blame her.

Odin bestow his “blessing” all he wants, the fact is that blessing meant jack shit when it came to so many young Valkyries who are no longer around to fight his latest battle for him, like Jinguuji AKA Sakura, Yayoi and Sonoka’s former squad-mate. We also learn that in the same battle in which Jinguuji was KIA, Yayoi sabotaged Sonoka’s Hero Wing so she couldn’t fly.

This info helps us further understand the rift between Sono and Yayoi. It’s about more than just Yayoi screwing up on the field of battle two years ago. It was about her not even letting Sono take that field, despite her prodigal status.

Sonoka probably blames herself as much as Yayoi for the death of Sakura, but Yayoi was trying to answer the question of “How young is just too goddamn young to fight and die for the sake humanity?” She deemed Sonoka to be too young. She probably was. It was a question that needed to be explored. It still is!

The huge decisive battle I knew was coming only takes up the last seven or so minutes of the episode, but the establishment of the emotional stakes and character work that went into the previous seventeen minutes was well worth it. Watching cute girls in vintage planes kick some Pillar ass is fun, but is much more satisfying for having the stakes laid out in advance.

The Dancing Goddess is able to blast a hole in the dormant Pillar with a ten-ton bomb from her hulking Lancaster, which enables the other Valkyries to fly into the Pillar to find and destory its core. But instead they find themselves in a TARDIS-like trans-dimensional situation where there’s a lot more space within the Pillar that there should be.

Within that Pillar, the Valkyries find a graveyard of all those who died fighting the Pillar in the past. Back at the base, Odin ominously declares “The dead are coming.” Again I ask: Whose side is he on??? Because within the Pillar is his son (at least according to the mythology), Thor, a giant mecha-like final boss to be defeated.

But that’s not all…among the “dead” Odin warned about is Jinguuji, whose plane comes alongside Yayoi’s. Yayoi is thoroughly spooked. Sonoka is thoroughly spooked. Everyone is in uncharted territory. Just what the hell is going on in this Pillar, and why is Odin being such a creepy mysterious nonchalant jerk about everything? Warlords of Sigrdrifa has my full attention.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Talentless Nana – 01 (First Impressions) – Song of Ice, Fire, and Wits

Major plot spoilers follow. Proceed with caution!

“Watch Talentless Nana blind”, said ANN in their Fall 2020 Preview. I didn’t read any further than that, and followed that advice—and boy am I glad I did! We start with the introduction of protagonist Nakajima Nanao, who in a remote island school full of students with elite superpowers, he apparently has none. He is bullied and mocked by boorish fire-user and elegant ice-user alike…but if he is truly “Talentless”, then why is he on the island?

Some of the students believe he could be one of the dreaded “Enemies of Humanity” who have threatened mankind for fifty years (which seems like a really long time for neither side to have decisively won, by the way). Enter two new transfer students, the shifty, hostile Onodera Kyouya and his exact opposite, the ridiculously pink and adorable Hiiragi Nana.

Kyouya won’t reveal what his talent is, but Nana is immediately forthcoming: she can read minds. Upon being assigned the desk next to Nakajima, she senses he’s being bullied, but her mind-reading soon becomes a nuisance to Nanao, who’d rather simply fade into the background. Even so, she follows him after school and has him give her a tour of the island.

During an unexpectedly deep discussion of his past over lunch, Nanao tells Nana how he was the “dullest member of his family” but his father still urged him to “aim for the top” and seek leadership wherever he ended up. He was disillusioned when doing so in class made him an object of mockery.

On a dramatic cliff at sunset, Nana confesses to having had similar trouble making friends due to her mind-reading. No sooner are the Enemies of Humanity brought up than a mysterious gust of wind nearly pushes Nana off the edge. At the same time, Onodera is searching the student records.

Nanao rescues Nana, but later that night he pushes her away, calling her constant mind-reading “violating”. Even so, Nana believes that he should be the leader of the class. Alas, he’s shoved to the sidelines in the inevitable superpower duel between the Fire and Ice guys, and when the latter wins Nana seems to accept him and Nanao is disheartened.

The Fire guy is pissed that he wasn’t able to go all out to prove himself, and ends up going a bit too far, launching a huge fireball at the rest of the class, including Nana. That’s when Nanao springs into action and reveals his true power for the first time: the ability to neutralize anyone else’s power, much like Kamijou Touma’s Imagine Breaker.

After his triumphant coming-out party, Nanao goes up to the cliff with Nana at sunset, where she takes his hand and declares that she can’t hear his inner voice anymore, and it’s wonderful. Even so, she can still tell what he’s thinking: he’s so glad they’re friends.

Then she pulls his hands away so he’s off-balance and shoves him off the goddamn cliff.

The entire palette of the scene darkens, Nana’s eyes glow red, and Ookubo Rumi’s voice drops at least an octave. As Nanao hangs on to deal life to a frayed rope, she reveals that she never had mind-reading powers; and details all the ways she made him think she did by simply making deductions from his appearance and behavior. If she has a “power”, it’s her wits.

Just when Nanao is declaring that she’s an Enemy of Humanity, Nana flips the script once more: he is the true Enemy, and for humanity’s sake, she asks that he please die, and he falls. She checks her phone, which tells her Nakajima Nanao could have potentially been responsible for over a million deaths.

I love shows that seem like one thing (initially a fun cross between My Hero Academia and Assassination Classroom) and turns out to be something else entirely. This was such a well-constructed and executed fake-out. Your enjoyment may well depend on your level of gullibility, but the fact is even I knew something/someone was “off”, it was just a matter of not knowing exactly when and how that other shoe would drop. That tension and atmosphere was delicious.

Even better, the dull boy protagonist ended up not being the protagonist at all, but the unwitting enemy (if Nana is to be believed); the clue was right in the title: it’s Talentless Nana, not Nanao, after all. Nana’s early performance manipulated me just as masterfully as she manipulated her quarry, along with the rest of the class (except for Onodera, who is clearly suspicious about something).

Is he Nana’s ally, enemy, or a little of both? That’s just one of dozens of questions floating around in my thoroughly, beautifully blown mind. Unlike Higarashi and its gory cold open, Talentless Nana held its sinister cards close until the very end, and both methods worked. Here’s hoping it has more fun surprising twists in store.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. After remembering we first saw the phone instructing someone to “kill the Enemies of Humanity” and “save 10 million lives”, I believe both Nana and Kyouya are engaged in a competition to see who can save those lives fastest. Which means so far Nana has the early lead.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 10

Entering this shokugeki, I was a little dubious: I generally dig the concept of Kurokiba Ryo’s dual identity, but in execution, while cooking Okamoto Nobuhiko yells a lot in that very annoying Okamoto Nobuhiko way (though it has its uses). Meanwhile, this new baddie Kusunoki Rentaro, not only sounds a lot like angry Ryo, he also looks stupid with all his fussy accessories, and his haughty attitude is poised to wear faster than clothes during a foodgasm.

Still, by the time he’s completed his salmon confit flamme, I gotta hand it to Rentaro—the kid knows what he’s doing and he’s supremely confident in victory in a way every chef must be. While I came to love a good many of Food Wars many characters, this episode gets back to the show’s roots, and the thing that got be hooked early on before I knew anyone—the process of creating a dish.

Rentaro is a veritable culinary Radio Shack, employing many of the same innovative gadgets that Alice uses in her molecular gastronomy. And I can tell ya first hand it’s no gimmick—some of the moistest, most flavorful turkey I’ve ever tasted came from the sous-vide water bath method. Rentaro’s “elegant” use of heat (cooking the fish through steam convection) and cold (salmon ice cream from the cryomill) lends his dish a thermal interplay that knocks even Momo’s clothes off.

But while we were hearing all about Rentaro’s dish and how great it is, all we saw at the beginning of the battle was Ryo sauteeing rice and prepping bread dough. The final product is a total surprise: a french dish of Russian royal origin called coulibiac, and it looks every bit as succulent as the confit flamme.

I’m one of those people whose enjoyment of a food—any food, even highly processed—is only enhanced by learning more about it, particularly while eating it. So I can relate to the judges seeming to enjoy the dish even more once they unpack how it was prepared. Like Ryo’s cartoccio in the Autumn Elections, the brioche crust serves as a container for pure, intense umami that causes a brain jolt (and the loss of Megumi’s clothes, sneaking a bite from a portion Alice stole).

So, who’s the winner, eh? Rentaro and his elite colleagues believe the tie will be broken by his dish, because he was able to maintain moisture without drying out the fish. But it isn’t moisture that tips the scales, nor is it Rentaro’s dish that wins—it’s Ryo’s coulibiac.

How did he nab victory after Rentaro’s nearly-perfect dish? With imperfection. His umami was superior due to the use of an outside factor—spinach in the crepe, while his own original blend of spices (using a skill learned at the Indian restaurant where he interned) are unevenly distributed throughout that crepe, a non-homogenous tactic that enables the palates of all who taste it to sense the richness and flavor with greater acuity.

The use and distribution of spices was born out of the guy who ultimately won the Autumn Elections, Akira, as well as Ryo’s circumstance of ending up in the very kind of restaurant where he can bone up on a field he may have neglected in the past.

Then you have Alice supporting him as always (these two should really just get married at this point), and it all adds up to a Ryo who is not the chef who distinguished himself at the Autumn Elections: he’s better. And he gets a sweep and the first blow to the arrogant Central-picked elites.

Nice ep; its main demerit is that it checked in on Erina.

Why is that bad? Because it’s a reminder that, so far, Erina has had next to nothing to do but sit around the dorm. Granted, her movements are limited due to her runaway status, but that amplifies the Princess Toadstool(or Kuchiki Rukia)-esque quality of her arc thus far. But she’s just not the factor I’d hoped her to be so far.

Here’s hoping the series can get her more involved before this Third Plate is finished.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 09

After all the upheaval of Nakiri Azami’s oppressive new regime, the good guys really needed a win badly, and Souma put himself out there, took a chance, and won against an ill-prepared and overconfident Eizan. To the show’s credit, the good guys are actually allowed to revel in this victory, as Souma soaks in his triumphant return to Polar Star, greeted with hugs, tears, and warm smiles…even from Erina!

But as Isshiki Satoshi told Rindou before Souma’s match, he had every confidence in his kohai’s ability to beat Eizan, while being focused on what’s to come afterwards. While Souma loudly and brazenly stood up against the oppression, he provided time and cover for Satoshi to do some behind-the-scenes legal wrangling. As such, now every club slated for disbanding has the right to challenge via Shokugeki…and a fairly-judged one at that.

Souma may have won a Shokugeki, and Satoshi may have set a precedent that must be followed, but it isn’t long before Azami kicks Satoshi off the Elite Ten (along with Eighth Seat Kuga and Third Seat Megishima), both for voting against Azami’s installation and for not being “team players.”

Only Rindou protested the oustings, but ultimately falls in line. If Souma has an ally in her, she’s one who seems poised to play both sides to the end. As for the other Elite Tens, they and their “Elite reserve troops” knock off one research club after another, as those clubs are unable to put up as much of a fight as Souma.

One of these “elites”, hand-picked by Azami, is Kusunoki Rentaro, who has a very fussy and cliche-packed style and a haughty, abrasive attitude, and neither Souma nor Takumi (both of whom attended the Shokugekis for scouting purposes) are able to take his trash-talking lying down.

Ultimately, Kuzunoki’s next opponent is neither Souma nor Takumi, but Kurokiba Ryo. Alice has unknowingly been the chief of the “Cutting Edge Cuisine RS” for a while now, and Ryo aims to defend her title and the club.

Like the other guys, he’s not about to let Kusunoki talk shit about him and his. Perhaps he can provide that crucial second victory against Azami, further legitimizing the rebel forces in this Totsuki Civil War. 

Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun – 01 (First Impressions)

Morita-san is taciturn. Tanaka-kun is listless. Sakamoto is…Sakamoto (haven’t you heard?). And Aoyama-kun…is a clean freak. He’s also a elite young soccer talent who was selected for the national team’s under-16 squad.

But unlike Tanaka in particular, there’s not much to Aoyama beyond those dual main qualities. His constant scrubbing, and the adoration of his legions of mostly-female fans, becomes tedious pretty fast.

His soccer senpai (and advantaged rich kid) Zaizen also grows weary of Aoyama’s shtick pretty quickly. We get it; dude’s a germophobe…though even that’s arguable, since he doesn’t wear surgical masks everywhere and doesn’t seem to have much of a problem being outside.

We learn in the cold open, and it is confirmed when the team practices against a rival elite team led by the washboard abs-bearing Takechi (who is trying to poach Aoyama) that Aoyama is indeed a singular, if bizarre, soccer talent; applying his obsessive “cleanliness” with a gameplan completely devoid of physical contact, combined with sharpshooter precision on passes and shots. But look to someone else for checks and headers.

Admiring Aoyama from afar (and possibly content to keep it that way) is the very cute but also clearly fixated Gotou Moka, who would like to think she’s locked in on what Aoyama thinks and does, since they’re soulmates or something.

But ostensible side characters like Zaizen, Takechi, and even Moka herself are all more dimensional characters than Aoyama, simply because they have more to say and we see things from their perspective.

Don’t get me wrong: Studio Hibari has rolled out a very good-looking anime in Keppeki Danshi; many of Aoyama’s moves in slow motion are cinematic in their presentation. The character design is clean and crisp. Overall the production is competent. The comedy is well-timed if unexceptional so far (the abs-bearing guy is particularly lame). Colorful—if still shallow—personalities abound.

But the main problem so far is the titular character. Aoyama is little more than cleanliness and soccer ability, and he’s always observed from a distance. He has to develop as more of an actual human being if the audience is going to be expected to connect with and keep rooting for the guy.

There’s a slight but promising glimmer of that when Aoyama suddenly comes to life with five minutes to go, even getting dirty in service of winning the game because he really hates losing.

But if we don’t see more of stuff like that, and continue in the vein of “OMG look at what clean-freak thing Aoyama’s doing now!” ad nauseum, Aoyama-kun won’t just be a “Cleanliness Boy”…he’ll be a Boy I’m Not Watching.

Attack on Titan – 29

Titan, you can only zoom in on the pained-looking eyes at some one so many times before I start thinking to my self well, she’s definitely hiding something, and in this show, ‘hiding something’ usually means ‘they’re a Titan’.

And so it’s the case with Ymir, who laughs about Conny’s report on his village a bit too much; specifically the part where the fallen Titan on his house reminded him of his mom.

But before her Ymir’s big telegraphed reveal, she, Krista, and the other gear-less rookies play a tense waiting game once the Titans show up.

The elite scouts show off their stuff, but considering the Beast Titan is arranging this siege, watching them exert so much steel, gas, and energy to what will likely be the first of many waves was a bit disheartening.

Not that the scouts have any choice but to fight, mind you—A., it’s their duty; B., they’re totally surrounded.

Inevitably, the Titans get in the castle, and the few moments before Reiner opens a cellar door to reveal a particularly creepy one are absolutely dripping with tension and dread. It’s so quiet down there, but as most Titans don’t speak, silence doesn’t mean safety.

The rookies make use of what they have—a pitchfork, an old cannon, scrap wood—to kill this Titan, but a second one shows up, one that gives Reiner a vicious arm wound before he picks him up and places him in a window so Ymir can kick him out.

Krista rips up her skirt to make Reiner bandages and a sling, and he contradicts Ymir’s claim he’s not interested in girls when he thinks “gotta marry her” (Krista, not Ymir).

But more distressingly, they’re just about out of effective makeshift weapons, and the barricade for the door into the castle seems laughably flimsy against the onslaught of Titans outside.

Those Titans just keep coming, and when the Beast tosses some horses and rocks at the castle towers, two of the four scouts are killed instantly. It turns out they were the very, very lucky ones. Titan goes Full Sadist in depicting the visceral demise of the final two elite scouts, both of them, by the end, reduced to crying and screaming like young children before being disembowled and devoured.

All the one poor guy hopes for before the end is to have a drink from the bottle of booze he found, but to add insult to fatal injury, Krista used it all up disinfecting Reiner’s wound. Titan doesn’t just drive the knife in and twist it, it pulls the knife back out, then drives it back in, twists again, then drops an anvil on you for good measure. Brutal.

In the face of all that casual brutality, the arrival of dozens more Titans, and the fact the tower they’re standing on will certainly crumble and fall within minutes it’s kind of amazing that none of the rookies want to give up yet, although Krista specifically wants weapons so she can die in battle like the four scouts. Ymir doesn’t like that attitude, so she decides: she’ll be the weapon.

She takes Conny’s dagger and leaps off the tower, confusing everyone (except Reiner, who found it odd Ymir could read the language on the canned herring label), then transforming into a wild-looking Titan. The cavalry didn’t come from without for this group of rookies, but from within. But will she be enough?

It’s another strong outing from Attack on Titan to close out its first quarter, and it’s a close call between this and the Sasha episode for best episode so far. This week the claustrophobic pressure was kept up by remaining at the castle and only at the castle for the entire duration; no cuts to see what was going on elsewhere.

That extra focus, and the increased horror elements made this a must-watch, even if there were times when it was hard to watch.