3-gatsu no Lion – 25

After Matsumoto and Smith mess around with the towering Kumakura’s huge shoes, we see a shogi den settled down for lunch in June…when I guess it’s to hot to eat outside? As he munches on his healthy yet high-class meal, Nikaidou rants about how Rei must get to the finals of the Newcomer Tournament so they can face one another, then proceeds to analyze Rei in a manner that’s far too accurate for Rei’s taste.

When Nikaidou tells him it stands to reason he’d know his deepest depths like no one else, because they’re not just rivals but best friends, Rei, a paragon of stoicism to that point, freaks out and books it out of the room. “Leave him be,” an older player says, “it’s funnier that way.” And to a geezer like him who was one, teenagers are funny, with their needless emotional outbursts and poor organization of priorities.

But what I took out of the first half of “June” is that Hey, Rei is his Nikaidou and Nikaidou is Rei’s. Rei has a friend. Not the only one, either! That fact might embarrass him, but that’s progress, and it took a lot for him to get to that point.

In the second half of “June” we get a welcome cut to the Kawamoto residence, where Grampa makes his first appearance this season (his love of and fawning over Momo will never get old, because let’s face it, Momo deserves all the love). He’s holding a brainstorming session for new sweets after the success of the last one.

When Momo is asked what goes in the water, she first says “duck”, but a duck on top of an agar sweet could easily fall off, while a duck encased in that agar would look like a dead one. Then Momo suggests a sandal, recalling a time she lost one while Akari was walking with her near the water. Gramps instantly declares her a genius and a prodigy.

But there’s something off about this scene: Hinata. She doesn’t say a word, and has her head down as she scribbles into a notebook. At bathtime, Akari finds her sitting alone on the stoop, and when asks what’s wrong, Hina says “nothing” and shows her sister a smile that’s probably forced, because it’s gone again when she’s alone in the bath, looking up at the moon.

So what’s up with Hina? I can guess, considering she’s entering adolescence, but little did I know the next segment would serve as a dark preface to that question’s answer. In the present day Rei notices a plant with the same leaves as a “ladybug bush” he noticed when he was a little kid being teased, bullied, and ostracized at school.

As we know, Rei chose shogi to please his stepfather, willing to endure the hate from the man’s biological children because he had no choice. Now we know to the extent Rei, Shogi Prodigy is not the product of a nature or nurture, but pure, elemental survival.

Rei had no safe haven from the hatred of classmates or stepsiblings. He made himself more invisible and indifferent to prevent escalation at school, but trying to ingratiate himself with his stepparents and not feel like a burden only intensified his siblings’ resentment towards him.

As much as Kyouko’s been humanized in the present, the villainous version reappears in these flashbacks, as someone who couldn’t give a shit Rei’s problems, either the loss of his family or the continued abuse he faces at school. He’s a creepy eyesore to her. No wonder it’s still hard for him to talk to her today!

Shogi wasn’t a dream or aspiration, it was a life raft. Instead of reacting to the horrible things in his life, he buried his nose in shogi books, studied feverishly, and played like his life depended on it, because he thought it did. A perfect and devastating visual is of him desperately treading water in a dark sea, with nothing to cling to but a floating shogi board.

Things are much better for Rei now; he has friends, a surrogate family that loves him unconditionally, and even a place to hang out at school—but though he still carries wounds and scars that may never heal. More importantly to the closing act, a product of his ordeal is that he can spot the warning signs of others enduring the same from a mile away, as he instantly does when Hina enters the room.

She’s missing her left shoe (in a weird, prophetic echo of the shoe Momo suggested for the dessert), the sock is filthy, and her face is a raw mess of tears. For the show to so quickly and concisely reassert all the crap Rei had to go through, only to visit it upon one of the kindlest, gentlest souls in the show in Hina, is almost too much to bear, especially when the episode ends before we’re able to learn the details or see her be comforted.

I guess the details don’t matter; it would seem she’s now going through the same thing Rei did. I can only hope that if she cannot find a solution at school, at least going home won’t just add to her shit sandwich. Unlike Rei, who only had shogi, she has Rei, Akari, Momo, and Gramps. Being a teenager is usually terrible for everyone, but it’s still worse for some than others.

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Tsuki ga Kirei – 03

I said last week that Akane and Kotarou aren’t in a hurry, but I guess I have to take that back now. Between all the pairing off going on in the run-up to the class trip, and the fact that at some point everyone will be heading off to various high schools, the two can’t sit on their hands forever. That being said, neither has any experience with courtship, so much of their nascent relationship is sustained through the messenger app LINE, as they remain painfully unable to talk to one another in school.

They also have a lot going on, what with Kotarou’s literature club and local festival activities and Akane’s track meet. This eats up the time they could be spending hanging out. Akane’s track buddy Nishio (who tended Kotarou’s wounds) considers him a friend now, and she’s serious about surpassing Akane, at least in track. Akane, meanwhile gets perilously close to being asked out by Hira; it’s only a random exclamation from a nearby party that makes him think better of it.

Kotarou can’t attend Akane’s meet due to his drumming practice, and the show really excels both at capturing the tension involved in waiting for someone you like to text you, and showing just how torturous it can be to have to carry on with your plans that don’t include that person.

Fortunately, fate smiles upon the couple, or rather, volition does. Kotarou isn’t in a hurry to leave the shrine, while Akane, whose phone died, decides to check out said shrine on the off-chance Kotarou is still there. He is, and they have a lovely, if at times understandably awkward, encounter under the beautiful moon.

And feeling both the pressure of time and the auspiciousness of another meeting with the lovely, warm, kind Akane, Kotarou manages to finally ask her out—not with Line, but with words. Not with chance, but with choice. Naturally, we don’t hear her reply, but their once tentative dynamic has already entered a new phase.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 02

This week’s episode is dominated by an interminable sports festival, during which the students, split into four groups of different colors, compete in various physical activities.

But those activities, and the final scores of the teams, don’t end up meaning much. Instead, due to circumstances that occurred during the festival, Kotarou and Akane were able to grow just a little bit closer together.

Much to Kotarou’s surprise, he couldn’t help but be influenced by her to do what he likes and not worry about being embarrassed. Akane doesn’t like being in front of big crowds, but she loves to run, so she runs. Kotarou likes to write, so he might as well show off his work.

Maybe he’ll be teased or mocked by some, but he’s just as likely to be celebrated and cheered on by others. And his dad insinuates that your youth is the time to do what you like—since you may not be able to when that youth is gone!

As for Kotarou and Akane, they play a quiet game of cat and mouse, with Akane often interacting with a potential rival for Kotarou in Hira, another track club member. But it sure seems like he has to be told to go talk to Akane, while Kotarou tracks down Akane and returns her lost, beloved stress “imo” to her, then tells her he thinks she’s fine the way she is, and shouldn’t get embarrassed by running (very well-timed remarks, considering she overheard girls in the bathroom making fun of her).

That night the two fumble with their phones for the right words and stickers to send to one another via LINE, and have a pleasant little virtual chat; one that would have seemed inconceivable just last week. They’re both growing more comfortable with each other little by little. And unlike most of the events in the festival, it’s not a race!

KonoSuba – 07

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This week starts off cryptically, with Kazuma back in his green tracksuit in the place where he first met Aqua after dying in Japan. The basic takeaway is that Kazuma died again, meaning at some point we’ll find out how.

Meanwhile, it’s now winter, which means sleeping in the stables is a one-way ticket to frozen eyelashes, and because of the reward for defeating Verdia being spread out amongst the adventurers, there’s a glut of quests, just none of them the right fit for Kazuma’s party.

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He eventually settles on adorable snow-sprite hunting, but after killing nine, they incur the wrath of the sprites’ guardian, the “Winter Shogun” (a creation of another dead guy formerly of Japan, to Kazuma’s chagrin). When the shogun slices Darkness’ sword like it was butter, Aqua insists everyone disarm and prostrate themselves so he’ll forgive them. But Kazuma doesn’t quite drop his sword soon enough, and is killed.

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Back in that limbo-like void, he meets a new goddess, Eris (whom I believe is voiced by Kitamura Eri) who proves a lot nicer and less arrogant and mocking thatn Aqua was. When Kazuma lists all of the misfortunes he’s endured since ending up in the fantasy world, she maintains a caring attitude, to his surprise and mine; I thought she’d show her true colors after some extended time with her, but she seems to be a legitimatly nice goddess.

She informs Kazuma that since he died in the fantasy world, she can now send him back to Japan, this time as a member of an affluent family. She can’t change himin any particular way, but it still sounds like a sweet deal for him, he’s going home!

Only, when he actually stops and thinks about Aqua and Megumin and Darkness, he starts shedding tears, and realizes he was a lot fonder of that life than he thought when he was living it. Only now, when he’s being offered a chance to abandon that life, does he realize he didn’t actually hate it.

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Then, just as Eris is about to send Kazuma back to Japan, Aqua’s voice blasts through the limbo from above, informing Kazuma she’s restored his body and he can come back to their world now. Eris considers this a breach of protocol and the “laws of heaven” which dictate Kazuma is to be sent back to Japan, but the “elite” Aqua pulls rank on the “backwater newbie” Eris, even revealing her dirty little secret (breast pads) and compelling Eris to make Kazuma an exception.

However, Eris remains kind to Kazuma till the end, when Kazuma wakes up on his back in the wintry landscape with his worried-sick party-mates looming over him. For a moment, he seems happy.

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Then they all glom on him and he gets embarrassed, and Aqua demands an apology and gratitude and nearly comes to blows with Kazuma, and they have to retreat without any reward. Turns out Aqua kept one sprite, intending to use it as a refrigerant for when it gets warmer, and resisting Kazuma’s intentions to kill it for the cash (named after Aqua’s counterpart, by the way).

Aqua, Megumin and Darkness then spend an inordinate amount of money on a huge feast, even though the party scarcely has enough cash on hand to last the winter. Basically, within ten minutes of being back in this “wonderful world” after lamenting never being able to go on adventures with these girls ever again, Kazuma is back to hating everything and everyone.

The only thing he learned from his existential ordeal is that there’s a nicer, kinder, more competent goddess out there somewhere, but he’s stuck with his pack of weirdos. And he’s totally fine with her pads.

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KonoSuba – 06

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This week lampoons the “Epic Boss Rematch” common to fantasy anime, inverting it in numerous, hilarious ways. First, the Dullahan Verdia has to come to town to confront Team Kazuma and complain about how they haven’t come to his castle yet.

Unbeknownst to Kazuma, Megumin has continued her bombardment of that castle, while Aqua assisted by carrying her home each day. You didn’t think she stopped blowing the joint up just because she didn’t appear on camera doing so, did ya?

Verdia then attempts to look down on the party (having formerly been a noble knight) for not avenging their fallen comrade, only to see Darkness is alive and well and appreciates his praise. It’s only when a fed-up Verdia threatens to slaughter the town that Aqua switches from mocking mode to attack mode.

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Her impressive Holy-based magic proves painful against Verdia, but doesn’t have the effect she intended (utter decimation). Now that she’s shown she’s not the magic novice he assumed, the gloves come off as he summons an undead army to, well, chase Aqua, then Aqua and Kazuma around.

Kazuma gets the idea to lead the army and Verdia into a trap with Aqua so that Megumin can blast them – and she does blast them, creating a giant crater in the earth – but while Megumin is out for the count, her efforts only made Verdia even madder.

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When other adventurers attack him, he uses more of his own magic to apparently kill them, and for a few moments, the show almost seems to enter serious territory, as Darkness is visibly horrified by this turn of events. It’s her turn to take on Verdia, to avenge those dead men, so she leaps into action.

Only problem is, as awesome as she appears as she’s fighting him, her “finishing blow” completely misses, turning her pink with embarrassment. Even so, she wields an effective weapon against Verdia: her ability to weird him out with her masochistic ranting. This is a chaotic party that can keep any foe off balance enough for one of them to discover a weakness, which Kazuma does…and it’s water.

The whole town starts firing water spells at Verdia, turning the battle into a kind of aquatic dodgeball. Amusingly, Aqua wasn’t paying attention this whole time, and when Kazuma insults her, she makes the prevailing issue herself rather than the battle at hand.

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When she finally unleashes her high-level water spell on Verdia, she exhibits the same profound lack of subtlety that is Megumin’s specialty, only with water instead of fire. A vast column of the wet stuff comes crashing down on Verdia, dousing him but also wrecking the city walls. Oops.

Greatly weakened by the torrent, Kazuma is able to steal Verdia’s head, and Aqua finishes him off with Holy magic. Victory is theirs! But Darkness knows that victory came at a cost: she reminisces on her interactions with the three fighters who Verdia killed (another funny send-up of an activity common to the genre), only to turn around to find them alive and well, thanks to Aqua’s resurrection magic, leaving her with egg on her face.

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After a job – well, not well done, but done, the party celebrates at the guild hall (with Aqua getting toasted pretty quickly). Kazuma, to his surprise, his praised by everyone in the hall for his party’s deeds, and they’re awarded a cool 300 million Eris for taking out a General of the Devil King.

With this new fortune, Kazuma announces he’s going to retire and live a simple, quiet life henceforth, abandoning his plans to defeat the Devil King himself. This disappoints his three party-mates, but he doesn’t care. But when the guild official comes back with the bill for all the damage Aqua’s flood did to the city, they end up 40 million Eris in the hole, and Kazuma ends up having to cancel his retirement before he was even finished announcing it.

It’s the very end, when Kazuma laments the possibility of spending the rest of his life fighting battles with this inept party that will often cost more than they’ll make them in profit, that rings a bit false. This life looks like a shitload of fun, with minimal risk. I know Kazuma and I are different personalities, but I don’t see why he’s in such a hurry to leave this world. Methinks he doth protest too much!

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