Spy x Family – 04 – True Elegance

From the moment the Forgers enter the gates of Eden College, they know they’re being observed. Loid and Yor’s respective special sets of skills tell them that Eden instructors are watching from every angle, failing families just for walking or looking sub-elegant. Loid leads the way in putting on as elegant a show as possible, while warning Yor and Anya to keep their guard up.

The pre-interview trials continue with a plump Eden student stuck in a muddy drainage canal. If the Forgers help the kid they’ll get their clothes soiled and won’t be admitted inside the school. But Loid prepared for a number of contingencies, and the three of them have a change of clothes ready once the planted fatty has been extracted.

After that, the Forgers face an even more ridiculous test when the school’s farm animals escape from their enclosures en masse. Once Loid identifies the lead cow, Yor springs into action, leaping over the charging animal and hitting its pressure points to stop it dead in its tracks. Anya then notices the cow is scared, and uses her esper powers to comfort it and send it on its way.

These feats of heroism move one of the housemasters watching the Forgers, a walrus-bearded, monocled gentleman obsessed with elegance. He’s doubly impressed by the fact that the farm animal escape was not intentional, but a legit accident, and that a number of important people were among those the Forgers saved. He rushes out and declares the Forgers have earned the right to interview for Eden.

After Loid and Yor change their clothes a second time, the interview commences. Loid remarks that even though he’s dealt with infiltrating terrorist groups and deactivating nuclear bombs, by far the most nervous he’s been is this pauncy school interview. But the Forgers have practiced this ad nauseum, and both Loid and Yor are ready with detailed, elegant answers to the three housemasters’ questions.

Anya, being a little kid, is the weak link in the family, partly because she only barely passed the written exam, but also flubs her words and makes some questionable improvisational choices when unexpected follow-up questions are asked.

I love the detail that goes into their responses, and how the three very different interviewers react, how Yor reacts to Loid’s praise, and how both of them react to how Anya wants to be with them forever. Anya’s ability to read Loid’s mind also gives her access to quick (if out-of-context) answers that the interviewers accept…but only to a point.

The Forgers are undone by the Eden housemasters’ Good Cop-Bad Cop-Elegant Cop strategy. The kindly housemaster and the elegant housemaster are all but won over, but the third is Murdoch Swan, arrogant, callous, and recently divorced  son of the former housemaster.

He has an axe to grind, and does everything he can to trip up this disgustingly perfect family. And he succeeds, asking Anya whether she loves her old or new mamas more. Yor almost kills him, and Loid smashes a table and storms out.

It looks like everything’s over, but with Anya clearly in Eden uniform in the end credits, Swan probably wasn’t going to have his way. In fact, Mr. Elegant, Henry Henderson, does what Loid wanted to do and punches him for disgracing the school.

Back home, the Forgers are in a funereal mood, certain that not only did they fail the mission, but apprehensive that it could spell the end of their family. It’s ultimately Yor who pulls Loid out of his funk. The three will leave it in the hands of the two good housemasters. Hopefully fate will smile on these three beautiful people.

Shin no Nakama – 13 (Fin) – Warm Milk with Honey

Last week certainly ended about as distressingly as it could, what with a sword-hypnotized Ruti having just gravely, possibly mortally wounded Tisse and looking for her next target. So I was both surprised and satisfied with Red’s elegant solution: getting Ruti’s sword caught in his butter-soft bronze sword and flinging it away, thus snapping his sister out of it.

Could the solution have been more difficult and drawn out? Absolutely, but more action would have taken time away from the emotional fallout of what had just transpired. Instead, the awakened Ruti sees her only real friend with a gaping wound and can’t do anything about it; her Hero’s Blessing ignoring her call. Thankfully, Theodora has the power to heal Tisse.

Theodora doesn’t ask Ruti or anyone else for forgiveness, because she was doing both what she thought was right and what her own blessing demanded. However, recent events opened her eyes to the cruelty and crushing loneliness of an unwilling Ruti’s Hero Blessing, and she that even if Red hadn’t left, she simply didn’t need a party anymore. I have to concur with everyone else that Theodora would make a better hero, because it’s what she wants.

Turns out Ruti’s new Blessing is called “New Truth”, with a skill called “Ruler” she’s using to suppress the Hero’s Blessing, losing its boons along with its burdens but in the exchange, becoming the ordinary girl with free will to choose her own future. Feeling the cold and sneezing from it is an amazing new experience; Ruti even looks forward to her first cold! I can’t tell you how cute that is, or how lovely it is to see her finally enjoy being able to taste food again.

After so much excitement earlier in her life, she seems to want the same thing as her brother: a slow, quiet life. In her case, that means starting a farm that grows medicinal herbs, thereby not only doing what she wants, but doing it in part to help contribute to Red and Rit’s business. Naturally, Tisse will be by her side the whole way, supporting her, because Tisse is unassailably The Best…as is Mr. Crawly Wawly.

Before heading off with Tisse to find some suitable farmland, Ruti joins the others at Ares’ funeral. It’s to the credit of this mild-mannered and decent series that he doesn’t suffer eternal agony; indeed he is someone to be pitied and not hated, for his plight wasn’t much different from Ruti’s. The fact the First Hero had six swords lends credence to the possibility they were an Asura Demon—with no blessing, which means they were a hero by their own free will.

The episode’s title is “Guide”, referring to Red’s Blessing, which I’d honestly forgotten until it was brought up several times this week. After Gonz and Mido help Red and Rit fix and clean up their shop and home, Rit confesses to often freaking out at night, worried Red won’t be by her side when she wakes up, because he’s the Guide, and one day he may have to guide someone else. Red assures her that won’t happen; that his journey has ended, and that she is his one, only, final destination, because he needs and loves her as much as she does him.

“Really? Then prove it!”, one might ask. Well, they proceed to do just that. After some adorable awkward fumbling attempts at foreplay, Red and Rit disrobe, hop into their big, newly-repaired bed, and make love for the first time. As one would expect of this show, it’s handled gently and tastefully. They even have a bit of profound post-coitus pillow talk, as Red admits his previous journey may be over, but he’s looking forward to a new one with Rit and the family they’ll have in the future.

Such is the narrative efficiency of this episode (without feeling rushed at all like a couple of previous episodes), we still have time for Red to take Ruti on a tour of Zoltan’s sights, sounds, and tastes. Thanks to New Truth she’s able to experience so much that feels like the first time, and is simply grateful she can be with her brother like old times…and sleep! Red promises he’ll always be there for her.

This leads to a potentially cliché scene where Ruti sits down next to Red at the shop (because she’s tired…and appreciates how good it feels to sit down when you’re tired!) and gloms onto her dear brother. Rit, suddenly jealous, proceeds to grab Red’s other arm. The two glare and growl at each other…and then break into laughter, all while a bemused Tisse watches.

Suddenly, the guild girl arrives at the shop to report an emergency: some demons have captured the adventurers sent to deal with them. She doesn’t need the Hero, just a hero, which Ruti proves she is regardless of Blessing when she picks up her sword and goes with the guild girl…because it’s what she wants to do.

This was pretty much a pitch perfect finale and the perfect way to end the series: by giving me what brought me to keep watching in the first place: a warm, cozy, almost iyashikei atmosphere to an isekai setting. I now appreciate the more action and plot-oriented penultimate episodes more knowing they were meant to make us long for the slow life, just like Red, Rit, Ruti, Tisse, and Mr. Crawly Wawly.

If they make another season of this mug of warm milk with honey in anime form, I’ll watch it in a slow heartbeat. The post-credit scene with Yarandrala and Godwin hints that that’s the plan.

Shin no Nakama – 12 – Life Comes at You Fast

Even in his twisted current state, Ares believes what he is doing is both right and righteous. He was born to serve the Hero, but to do so, there must be a Hero, and it’s Ruti. He and Shisandan defeat Danan and make it to the chamber deep in the futuristic/ancient ruins where five of the six “Sacred Avenger” blades reside. They only need Ruti to touch one in order for the Hero’s Blessing to take hold once more.

But Shisandan, who like Ares wants nothing more than for Ruti to return to being the Hero, knows that won’t be enough; they’ll have to kill the one thing making Ruti not want to be the Hero most: her brother Gideon/Red. Neither Red, Rit, nor Ruti make it easy, as the three have no intention of letting Ares or Shisandan get their way, but those two find an odd ally in Theodora, who likewise defers to the Almighty’s Will.

A wyvern or two show up in the ensuing battle, and a magically-chained Rit rejects Theodora’s strict dogma that places so heavy a burden on unwilling shoulders. Ares, becoming more undone by the minute, conjures a giant iron cube that sends Red and Rit flying down the elevator shaft to their deaths, causing the biggest emotional outburst from Ruti yet.

Danan, who has recovered from his fight with Shisandan and Ares, uses “Rising Dragon’s Roar” to halt their fall and fly them back up to where Ares is. Ares, meanwhile, turns his attention to Tisse, and even squashes Mr. Crawly Wawly! Fortunately he’s fine, and he manages to clandestinely bind Ares’ hands with his spider silk, allowing Red to chop off his hands and deliver a near-fatal blow to his former comrade.

Ruti and Shisandan, who at some point fell down a level or two, continue to battle each other. The angrier Ruti gets, the more powerful she becomes, until she wrests one of Shisandan’s swords from him, slices him to bits, and beheads him. The animation and lighting here really bring the scene to life and lend it an epic quality.

Of course, it wasn’t Shisandan’s intention to win a fight against Ruti, but to get her to touch one of the Sacred Avenger blades. She does so, and almost immediately, it re-takes a hold over her mind and stifles both emotion and free will. After watching a Ruti enjoy her independence, it’s a gut-wrenching moment seeing it all snatched away in an instant.

Things get even worse when she ascends to where Red and Rit are, he greets her warmly, and without warning she lunges at him, sword drawn. It’s only thanks to Show MVP Tisse Garland (never thought I’d write that!) putting herself between Ruti and Red that he’s not killed right then and there. But things don’t look good for Tisse, while nobody who tried to wrest Ruti from her blessing is safe now that she’s been re-brainwashed by the sword.

This is all very intense and dramatic and I’m not sure how our happy couple (or poor Tisse!) is going to get out of it alive, let alone content to return to their slow life. There’s only one more episode to sort it all out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 11 – Our Own to Live

Tisse’s first act as savior and protector of Ruti is to go to those who care about her—Red and Rit—and let them know what’s going on: how a contract demon met with Ruti, gave her a drug that weakens her Hero’s Blessing, and broke Godwin out of jail to make her more of it.

Meanwhile Ares, Theodora, and Albert have returned to Zoltan, presumably to retrieve their wayward hero. Ares and Albert make themselves invisible (which is something you’d think Red could detect) as Red chats with a one-handed Danan. It doesn’t take long for Red to make clear that a.) he left the party of his own free will, and b.) he’s now found where he truly belongs.

Ares ends up tangled up with a second Danan, this one with both hands, who seems a bit too sharp to be the real Danan. It’s also pretty clear Danan wouldn’t lead Ares right into Red and Rit’s unattended apothecary so he can wreck up the place. He even ruins their big bed! All while “Danan” kinda looks on and scoffs. He’s clearly got plans for Ares.

Red and Rit are out, because they decided together that they can’t continue their quiet life while Ruti is in turmoil, and if Shisandan is still alive and assuming the form of Danan and others, they can’t stand by and do nothing. Red rushes ahead to the ancient elven ruins where Godwin is being held, and lures Ruti stright to him by threatening to harm the alchemist.

Now that Red is no longer ignorant to her situation, Ruti is prepared for her brother to hate her, and demand she return to her duties as Hero. Naturally, Red doesn’t do this; if he did anything like that, he’d be a real hypocrite! On the contrary, he’s been studying ways to lesson her Blessing’s effects for years, for a time when she wants to go on her own journey. It seems that time has come. As far as Red’s concerned, just as his and Rit’s lives are theirs to live as they please, so too is Ruti’s.

Ares…doesn’t believe this, and when he arrives at the ruins and tries to order Ruti around, Red can’t hold his tongue. This makes the already unstable Ares go a bit nuts, casting a spell that slams Red into a stone wall hard. Ruti responds by stabbing Ares with her sword, but missing his vitals, assuring him that if he hurt or tries to seriously hurt Red, she’ll slay him and not bring him back.

In a show full of complex personalities and motivations, Ares is probably the least interesting character—even moreso than Theodora and Danan, since at least they have honor. This guy is just a pathetic brat, and now it seems Shisandan (in the guise of the adventurer Bui) wants to make a new party with him to search the ruins for a relic of the First Hero.

Bui is certain Ruti will return to being the hero if Ares gives this relic to her, which makes me think it’s the kind of relic that messes with  free will. In any case, I hope Ruti doesn’t regret not finishing Ares off when she had the chance…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 10 – It’s Nobody’s Fault

Like last week, this episode featured a lot of what I love about Shin no Nakama—Red, Rit, Ruti, Tisse, Mr. Crawly Wawly, and more of the slow quiet life. But it also came with a near-constant tension over Ruti’s present drug problem.

Surprisingly, that’s not revealed to Red yet, and he doesn’t infer it on his own, but to be fair, he’s a little overwhelmed to suddenly have Ruti back in his life saying the party’s adventures haven’t gone smoothly, and she wants to move to Zoltan to be near him.

In his new world where he’s chosen free will over his Blessing (and Rit has done the same), who is Red to tell Ruti she can’t do as she pleases? Eventually she’s going to run out of drug and the Blessing will once again assert control, but even as the Hero, Ruti would be happier with Red back in the party. In fact, she believes they can’t defeat the Demon Lord without him.

Red makes it clear very early in his reunion with Ruti that he doesn’t intend to rejoin, which would suggest he’s made his choice between the slow life with Rit and the fast one with the Hero. But it’s not that clear-cut. I think a lot of the reason Red doesn’t ask any questions about Ruti’s sudden change is that as the person who loves her most in this world, he’s just so glad to see Ruti like this.

Red and Rit put their blooming romance aside this week, and to the episode’s credit, it doesn’t go off-character with Rit and Ruti at each other’s throats. Tisse can still feel the tension, and fears the worst could happen if she’s not vigilant, but just as Mr. Crawly Wawly asked her to “look closer” when Ruti tried to pet him, he also shows Tisse a way forward.

As the title of this post says, it’s nobody’s fault Ruti became the Hero, but when she reminisces about her first battle against a giant owlbear—a battle she had to fight because her Blessing compel her—it kinda makes me wish the Almighty who bestows Blessings were a character in this show, so Red  could slug them in the face.

What Mr. Crawly Wawly and then Tisse discover is that it may be up to them to keep Ruti on the straight and narrow. Ruti is in love with her past when she could feel heat and cold and taste honeyed milk better and could sleep and be with her brother. But as much as Red loves Ruti, he also loves Rit, and he can’t live both lives with both of them at once.

It’s nobody’s fault things got this way (well, maybe Ares), but Tisse believes if anyone can save the Hero by helping her to move forward with her life and her destiny, it’s her. In that regard, the fate of the world may rest on the tiny silver-haired soft-spoken assassin…well, the shoulder that isn’t occupied by The Mister Crawly Wawly.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 09 – Warm Hands, Full Hearts

Ruti takes Tisse and their Fisher-Price airship and head for Zoltan to break an alchemist out of jail. Why is the Hero abandoning the rest of her party to do crimes? Because the goatman gave her a sample of the Devil’s Blessing, which weakens her Hero’s Blessing and makes her more human.

She wants a steady supply of the drug, and she trusts Tisse. We get more time with the tiny assassin than all previous episodes combined, and thanks to the legendary Kugimiya Rie (Tisse’s seiyu) and the adorable Crawly Wawly, all of that time is a delight. This is an episode full of jokes that keep things light, unlike the last two weeks where all the self-serious plotting got on my nerves.

I also said the last two weeks that all I really care about is the main couple, but that’s not true; I always cared about Ruti and was fascinated by the curse of her Blessing, and now I care about her and Tisse, who hides the fact that she’s a sweaty bundle of nerves beneath her cool exterior.

Speaking of cool, Winter has come to Zoltan, and business at Red and Rit’s is slow since people don’t want to leave their homes. Rit suggests Red craft a hand warmer similar to the ones form Loggervia, and they’re a big hit in town. Rit saves one warmer for her and Red to share, strolling until they find a private park bench where they  can cuddle and smooch.

That’s the good stuff right there: the Quiet Life of the show’s very long title that both OP and ED promise and that drew me to this show to begin with. That said, that coziness blends well with the gently building tension as Ruti and Tisse get closer to Zoltan, but don’t run into Red and Rit immediately.

In fact, both Ruti and Red end up dealing with the same bridge knight seeking to challenge anyone who crosses. Ruti easily dispatches him into the river where he loses all of his possession. When he challenges Red in nothing but his bear boxers, Red does the same thing, and he loses he boxers too.

Tisse encounters Red first, not knowing who he is when they’re sitting beside each other at a very chill udon stand. As both are seasoned professionals, they quickly but discreetly size one another up and determine that they could be trouble; Tisse because she’s a capable assassin, and Red because Tisse can tell he’s a far stronger knight than the one who lost his drawers.

As expected, Ruti has no trouble at all executing a prison break and extracting Godwin, the alchemist, who will make as much of whatever Ruti wants if she just stops staring at him. The next morning Tisse wakes up to find Ruti didn’t sleep…but you get the feeling if she had enough Devil’s Blessing, she could, and she wants to.

What leads Ruti and Red to finally cross paths at the very end of the episode is nothing contrived, but a practical matter of Ruti not wanting to heal Godwin’s wounds with her Hero’s magic lest her cover be blown. For that, she needs an apothecary, and Tisse, who had already scouted the whole place, knows where the best one is.

What Ruti didn’t know is that the apothecary is the same guy who she met at the udon stand. Fresh from a fairy hamlet on Zoltan’s outskirts where he healed a very blue, very pretty, very naked undine from a cold-like curse that seems to be going around, there he is, welcoming new customers. When Ruti and Red lock eyes and realize that fate has brought them together, Ruti can’t conceal her overflowing happiness.

With tears of joy in her eyes and a huge smile, she pounces on her onii-chan with abandon. I suspect the beautiful reunion will be somewhat marred once Red learns Ruti is in Zoltan to procure drugs that make her a weaker hero. In any case, this week was a marked improvement on the previous two.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Those Snow White Notes – 10 – A Little Longer

Sakura has made a special bento for Setsu on the day he’s to perform in the individual competition. Of forty entrants, he’s to perform 36th, meaning he’s been given a place reserved for competitors with proven skills. While set up to be bitter rivals Souichi continues to treat Setsu as a friend, sitting close beside him while eating his red bean rice.

We then learn something of a bombshell: Setsu’s dad is also Mai and Souichi’s dad! In fact Setsu is the only child related to Kamiki Ryuugen by blood, as Souichi and Mai are adopted. Kamiki has come to “ascertain his son’s skills”, clearly not ashamed even in his wife’s presence of his love child with Umeko.

As Yui thinks impure thoughts about Setsu and Mai (quickly shot down by Kouta, Sakura delivers her special lunch to Setsu, along with the best wishes from the entire shopping district. This seems to be the first time Sakura and Shuri encounter one another, and each regards the other as incredibly cute.

Umeko has her hired goons escort Kamiki to her, where she declares her father’s sound to belong to her, and as such she’ll never let him take Setsu and train him. Kamiki, on the other hand, has the opposite goal: he wishes Setsu to inherit his title. He and Umeko have a spirited argument, and neither is particularly interested in Setsu, only how he can help either of them expand their power.

After that, that’s pretty much it for Setsu & Co., as the episode shifts to the individual performances of Arakawa Ushio and Kaji Takaomi. Ushio is naturally daring and rebellious, and while his super-twangy performance isn’t enough to win, the sheer fun he was having playing rubs off on the audience in a big way.

Knowing if he sticks to what he did in the group stage, he won’t be able to summon the full measure of his musical potential, Takaomi is forced by Arakawa’s brash performance to swing for the fences himself. All who know him in the crowd can tell hes fiercer than usual.

Through Takaomi’s sound, Setsu envisions a fierce gale blowing down from the mountain peaks. But he’s also described as “a good kid trying to be rebellious.” Then his frikkin’ string snaps, and since a shamisen only has three, I imagine that’s enough to keep Takaomi out of the running.

But we knew from the get-go that neither Ushio nor Takaomi were going to win. That’s why we’re getting their performances now, rather than at the end when they’d have more of an impact. This somewhat lessons my interest in the episode, as neither of these kids makes much of an impression besides “confident brat” and “meek puppy dog.”

Like his birth father, I’m waiting for Setsu, and to see how he compares to Souichi. But I’m also as disappointed as Mai herself that she’s not able to compete in the individual, and thus diurectly against Setsu.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 10 – Looking for a Hint

When Diva’s code degraded into oblivion and Vivy re-awakened and took her place on the stage, Diva’s final song was already over. Ever since then, Vivy has been unable to sing, still unable to find the answer of what it means to “sing from the heart”.

So she retired to much fanfare and took up residence as an exhibit at the AI Museum. Decades passed, and humans and their children gradually forgot about her and her contributions. But not all: Osamu, a young lad on a field trip, knows full well who Diva was, and is.

Osamu wants to hear Diva sing live, but she tells him that’s not possible. When Matsumoto shows up after a good number of years, Vivy is eager for their next mission together, as it’s not “all she has.” But Matsumoto tells her the Singularity Project is over; the double suicide of Ophelia and Antonio didn’t lead to any copycat incidents; a positive revision to the timeline.

Yet despite the fact they’ve seemingly achieved victory it preventing the AI uprising, something Kakitani said still haunts Matsumoto: “through a revelation from the heavens.” That led him to meet Vivy now, sixty-five years from when they first met. He proposes a “race”: whoever finds their answer first wins.

Vivy goes into the archive and dredges up her first memory, when her creator (a female researcher) gave her her mission to sing from the heart, hoping it would “offer a hint” as to what a heart is, at least as it applies to humans.

Osamu visits Diva again, saying it’s “messed up” his classmates don’t know her. Inspired by Matsumoto, she proposes a race, with him bringing friends to meet her while she searches for the answer her creator knew full well she might struggle with her entire life.

As one year, then five, then ten, then twenty pass by, Vivy writes a song in the Archive, which if completed would be the first instance of a song written by an AI of their own pure free will (all previous songs were written by humans). Her progress is glacial; unable to come up with more than a couple of phrases and constantly erasing notes she’s put down.

Meanwhile, Osamu has quite a bit more progress in those years, making friends, making a career for himself in research, and eventually meeting and marrying his wife Nana. While Osamu and Nana are able to conceive, she dies of an illness shortly after giving birth, leaving Osamu both a father and a widower.

He visits Diva with his daughter Luna in his arms, and asks if she would like to hold her. Diva asks why Nana was able to smile despite knowing she wouldn’t live to see her daughter grow up. Osamu tells her that all humans die, but they always remain inside someone or many people without fail. Such is the case for him with Nana and, as Vivy realizes, it’s true of her and Diva as well. As little Luna grasps her hand, Vivy is hit by a sudden spark of inspiration.

She dives into the construct and belts out a completed song, written about her and Matsumoto’s journey in the Singularity Project, and of all the people she’s met. When an impressed Matsumoto shows up and asks who she wrote it for, Vivy says it’s for Diva, who remains inside her even though she’s gone.

After twenty years, she was finally able to finish her task…yet she still cannot even contemplate singing it, so her struggle continues. Before that, though, Vivy goes into hibernation mode, resting her circuits after accomplishing her singular feat.

Her friend Osamu, who along with his wife and daughter inspired Vivy to do what no other AI has, can see that his friend Diva is in deep sleep crunching music data. He leaves her to her creative slumber, assured that when she wakes up he’ll finally be able to hear her voice. Then someone off-camera calls Osamu by his last name…Matsumoto.

Unfortunately, the joy that comes with the revelation Vivy’s cubic partner was a friend and admirer from her future all along is soon overshadowed when Vivy wakes up to find the museum in burning ruins. She runs outside, where the AI apocalypse is in full swing, with one key, horrifying, heartbreaking new wrinkle: as they murder every human in sight, all of the AIs are singing in sinister, dissonant unison. They’re singing Vivy’s song.

Those Snow White Notes – 09 – You Got Me All Excited

This week’s Captivating Shamisen Performance is the longest yet, clocking in at over seven minutes, but it also features the most shounen battle-style crosstalk by the most characters yet as well. I have to admit, there were times when I wished everyone would stop blabbering (in their heads or otherwise) so I could just listen properly!

Even so, since this is as much a shounen anime as a music one, especially during a fierce competition, there were just as many times when I appreciated the commentary. It turns out Setsu talked with Rai about employing Nagauta-style techniques normally reserved for theatre in their arrangement.

That’s the kind of simultaneously smart and bold tactic that makes Setsu a great leader of his group despite his staunchly soloist background. Having spent so much time with the other four, he knows their strengths and weaknesses and how to best harness the former while minimizing the latter.

For most of their piece, this angers Mai to no end, because it means Setsu is “playing in the shadows” by using his sound to support Kaito and the others. Compare that to her, who didn’t give a damn about the rest of her group and simply dared them to try to keep up.

After helping to make his team’s “ordinary” sound still sound better than all the other ordinary groups that came before, Setsu does eventually bring out his own cold, quiet, snowy sound, a sound that indeed captivates the crowd. It’s quite a journey, from cheering during their playing to being awed into silence by the end. Least impressed in the crowd is Umeko, who only set up this whole tournament to hear her father through her son.

After leaving the stage to raucous ovation, the groups’s very first post-performance high is exhilarating, only to be interrupted by Mai glaring ruefully at Setsu. She’s about to turn about and leave without saying a word, so Setsu speaks up instead, telling her her shamisen was “really stimulating” and “got me all excited.”

Mai’s (and Yui’s) faces go neon pink, but Mai shakes it off and is back to Miss Competitive. She won’t ever utter a compliment about Setsu’s playing, and vows never to forgive him for running away from Aomori. It’s all about winning and being the best for her; the opposite of her brother Souichi, who set aside their impending individual competition and enjoyed his new friend’s sound.

Similar to Souichi and with the additional quality of being far more of a normal young man is Kaji, who praises Setsu’s sound like an eager puppy. Contrast that to loud brash guy (Arakawa-something), who gave Setsu his life story unbidden and eliciting little more than a “huh?” from Setsu. Honestly, it’s an absolute crime that this guy (name forgotten) is in the Individuals while Mai isn’t.

The episode really nails the intense anxiety and tension that comes in the moments before the winners are announced. Only six of the 22 teams get an award and the rest leave with nothing but competition XP. While Setsu’s team initially worries they failed to place, they’re somehow even more crestfallen when they come in third.

Mai’s team beats them, but they still only place second to Kaji’s team. While Setsu and Rai were carrying Kaito, Shuri and Yui on their shoulders and Mai and her teammates basically fought each other, Kaji’s teammates complemented each other perfectly. They truly were the best all-round ensemble.

Setsu & Co. get a brief respite from their third-place despair when they’re awarded the Judges’ Special Award for having the greatest effect on the crowd. But once they’re again off the stage and preparing to leave, their spirits have fallen again. Neither Koyabu-sensei nor Oodawara can shake their blues over losing to Mai’s team by just one point and Kaji’s by only three—that’s a close freakin’ margin!

But the adults in the room are right: Kaito, Shuri, and Yui in particular should be extremely proud of themselves, while Setsu should be commended for helping such green players place third in the entire dang country. Back home at the tenement house while having an understated celebration with his brother and his friend, Setsu lets Sakura know he appreciates how much she’s always doing for him.

At this point, I wanted him to invite her to join them—not as the daughter of the landlord, but as a friend—but instead they part ways, with Sakura quietly wishing him luck in the Individuals. Here’s hoping he doesn’t screw it up!

SSSS.Dynazenon – 09 – Teamwork Makes the BEAM Work

This week’s Dynazenon has a little bit of everything, which is only fitting because it’s about the merits of simply jumbling everything together. It begins with a much-anticipated laser focus on Chise, who has a surreal dream that perfectly visualized how she felt when she attended school—she was off, lost in her gorgeous, intricate doodles.

She wakes up in her cavernous, modern bedroom as an Alice stand-in, finding all of her possessions are either far bigger or far smaller than they should be. Turns out that’s the handiwork of a little golden kaiju born from the growth she found and carried with her all this time. Because the kaiju has imprinted upon her and has come to know her heart, it obeys her wishes. She names it Goldburn, after a band.

There’s a fireworks festival soon, and while neither Yomogi or any of his friends are that interested, Yume wants to give it a go, so Yomogi is in too. Chise is trying to tell Koyomi about the “hypothetical” good kaiju in her suitcase, but he’s distracted by Yomogi’s call inviting them to join them. When Chise then tries Gauma, he’s firm in his belief all kaiju must be defeated.

As she wavers over what to do, her friend suddenly grows in size, scooping her up and taking her on a ride through the skies over the city. It’s fun until it suddenly isn’t—when Chise spots her school. Goldburn almost obeys the momentary emotions in her heart wishing the school wouldn’t exist, but she’s able to steer Goldburn out of a potentially destructive dive.

Yume is walking home with her friend, who is curious whether she and Yomogi are dating, when Yomogi calls her back to school, reporting that Kano’s ex-boyfriend Futaba has arrived to talk to them. If Yume was hoping for some kind of groundbreaking revelation from him, then she’s bitterly disappointed by the resulting talk.

Futaba claims that while he heard about Kano being bullied in the chorus club, he never witnessed it first hand. When Yume asks then why Kano committed suicide, Futaba repeats the official line that it was merely an accident, and that “Kano wasn’t like that”, offering no further explanation. His answers not only don’t impress Yume, they downright upset her.

But just when she is overcome by emotion, they get a call from Gauma about a new kaiju, and she clams up for a moment to assure Yomogi that she’s fine, they should go, and she’ll be right behind him. Meanwhile, Chise is considering what to do with her enormous friend when Goldburn suddenly flies off on his own.

Yomogi arrives to find Gauma, Koyomi, and Gridknight in dire need of someone with wings to lift them off the suddenly soft and undulating ground (due to Juuga’s kaiju’s power) Yomogi ain’t that. When he tells Gauma what went down with Yume, the captain orders him to go back and get Yume, you jackass, because you’re the only one who can bring her back.

With Goldburn off on his own, a lonely, left-out looking Chise locates Yume perched atop the tower where her sister died. When Chise asks what’s wrong, Yume tosses out her boilerplate “it has nothing to do with you”, adding that “nothing good” comes of it whenever she fights. But Chise has tried to fight hard alongside everyone all this time, so she does not want to hear that it’s nothing to do with her.

Right on cue, Goldburn arrives, but of course both Yume and a quickly approaching Yomogi assume its foe, not friend, and Chise doesn’t have time to properly explain, because Yomogi is coming in hot to save Yume. Chise asks Yume who else would fly in to save her like this, and tells her she “doesn’t know what she’s got.”

But the wind from Dyna Soldier blows Yume’s ankh puzzle out of her hand and over the edge, and she dives off the tower after it with no regard for her safety. Yomogi lunges toward her to catch her in midair, but just misses. Fortunately, Goldburn is listening to Chise’s heart in this moment, and pluck Yume up by her cardigan mere feet from the water.

Chise, Yume, and Yomogi arrive at the scene of the battle where Gauma, Koyomi, and Gridknight are getting their asses beat by Juuga’s kaiju. Fortunately, with the aid of flight, a lot of the enemy’s advantage is lost.

More to the point, the minute Gauma, Yomogi, Yume, Koyomi, Chise, and Gridknight decide to all join forces into one big, beautiful kaiju-mecha melange, it spelled the beginning of the end for the Eugenicists’ chances of victory.

In an absolutely bonkers, virtuoso combination sequence paired with the most lavishly bombastic orchestral accompanied yet, Dynazenon merges with both Gridknight and Goldburn to create a big, brash, bulky and beautiful Super Dragon King Kaiser Gridknight, which is a mouthful of name for a framefull of robot. He’s even got a sheer purple cape, the better to dazzle the stage.

There’s nothing Juuga can do once all of his adversaries got “all lumped up”, which makes them stronger and faster and able to counter any attack thrown its way with tenfold force. After doing a little parkour off flying skyscrapers, Yomogi’s Dynamic Cannon delivers the beam-de-grace, and the team victory is immediately celebrated by the fireworks display amazingly not cancelled by the kaiju attack.

The ending scene is the perfect cool-down sequence after all that high-octane mecha madness. Much to Chise’s delight, Gauma accepts Goldburn as an ally despite being a kaiju, and while the whole team—including Gridknight and Second—make a run for it, they still miss the entirety of the festival. No matter; they all buy fireworks and have their own festival on the waterfront.

Yume takes her leave, promising she’ll be back, but I already knew exactly what she was up to, so there was no need to be wary. Sure enough, she returns resplendent in her gorgeous yukata, which understandably took a while to put on, but was worth it. While she plumbed the depths of despair after interviewing Futaba, here Yume rises to new heights of joy as she and Yomogi and everyone else enjoy each other’s company, all lumped together, and all the better for it.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 09 – Diva’s Final Curtain

Matsumoto, always entertaining when thrown for a loop, finds himself speaking to Antonio through Ophelia, as he decides the best way to fulfill his mission to support her was to become her, sparing her the burden of fame and the pursuit of perfection, but also sparing her an independent existence. He considers his mission far more noble than Matsumoto’s designs to prevent her suicide, though he might not say that if he knew the bigger picture.

Speaking of that, Kakitani’s youth is promptly explained: he’s an AI copy of the human, and his mission is to get an answer he couldn’t from his teacher, which only Vivy could provide. That means infecting the captured Diva with a custom logic palette that “doesn’t belong in this era” which, throughout the episode, slowly erases Diva’s personality, eventually leaving only Vivy behind to answer him.

Thankfully, it’s a slow countdown, and while it is technically a ticking clock, because it’s only one of several spinning plates in this arc finale, it feels earned rather than cliched. That it is an inevitability even Matsumoto’s hacking skillz cannot override also adds gravitas to every moment Diva is on screen, because they’ll be her last.

It also assures that the titular Vivy we know and love, who can neither act like a human nor sing half as well as Diva, will ultimately return. It occurs to me that at the conclusion of every previous arc, we didn’t just say goodbye to one of Vivy’s sisters, but a part of Vivy as well, as her interactions with them helped her grow, both as a songstress and a person.

This time we don’t just say goodbye to a part of Vivy, but an entire alternate version of her, who lived for sixty years. It’s a tough loss…but before she goes Diva makes sure she puts absolutely everything she’s got in all the time she has left to be the best temporary partner to Matsumoto he could ask for…and vice versa.

While packed with drama, pathos, tragedy and romance, Wit Studio flexes its muscles like never before in this episode, as we cut between the parallel battles, one of the more abstract electronic variety, one more down-and-dirty hand-to-hand combat, but both equally gorgeous an awesome to watch unfold.

That Kakitani is also an AI means both he and Diva can take the fight to levels humans would not be able to survive, while Matsumoto manages to copy himself into enough cubes to fight his battle with Antonio while supporting Diva. Compare this to Antonio, who happily accepted Kakitani’s help but is otherwise not working towards the same mission, making them inherently weaker against a united front.

Among other Kakitani’s surprises is an elaborate arm cannon (always a sharp feature when going on a timeline-bending crusade to avenge his mentor—and a special knife that seems to act as an EMP, deactivating the Matsumoto cubes aiding Diva.

All the while, Diva tries to impress upon Kakitani the fact that she’s not Vivy, and has no answers for him he’ll find satisfying. When she says she puts everything she has into her singing to make people happy, that includes everything about Vivy, despite her knowing next to nothing about her.

On the Antonio side of things, Matsumoto says he almost turned into him, discarding his partner as part of his “perfect calculations”. Looking at what’s become of Antonio, he’s not glad he didn’t eliminate her. As for his mission, it was never specifically to stop Ophelia’s suicide; it was to carry out the Singularity Project with his partner.

Even taking over Ophelia couldn’t satisfy Antonio, because no matter how happy the crowds were with his performances, he always knew he wouldn’t be able to match the power of the true Ophelia’s singing. In fact, it irked him that their standards for excellence were so low, resenting the very people it was Ophelia’s mission to make happy.

The Matsumoto cubes manage to hack both Antonio and Kakitani and disable both, and transfers Antonio back into his own clunky body. It’s only then in his last moments that he admits that all he really wanted was for Ophelia to sing for him and no one else. Ophelia, regaining consciousness before shutting down, admits she only wanted to sing for him; to make him smile.

In the end, their mutual love and devotion to each other corrupted their missions. In true Shakespearian tragic fashion, it was a love that could never be. In that same vein, the moment Kakitani uploaded that logic palette, Diva was a version of Vivy that could never be, even though she did a bang-up job serving as Matsumoto’s partner. Before Kakitani shuts down, he tries to twist the knife once more, telling Diva “there were humans who suffered because you existed!”

That line might’ve worked on Vivy, but it doesn’t faze Diva that much. And in true Diva fashion, she gives one last snap and tells Matsumoto she’s going to use her last five or so minutes of existence doing what she was built to do: dazzle the stage, put her heart into her singing, and make everyone in attendance happy to be there. As she performs, she simultaneously opens a dialogue with Vivy within the Construct.

In this lovely parallel scene, their positions couldn’t be better illustrated, as Diva is both on stage and in the brightly lit classroom, while Vivy is relegated to a dark, shadowy, morose office. The pair lean against the same door, and Diva says she hears how Vivy had been struggling with putting her heart into her singing. She says the answer is to simply to hear the song she’s singing now, in her final performance, as in the Construct she slowly dissolves away into cybernetic oblivion.

And yet, as Vivy opens the door and steps into the light, then wakes up on stage to a deliriously ecstatic crowd cheering the song Diva just sang, Vivy still doesn’t understand. Then again, she only just woke back up; maybe she needs a few decades to process what she heard and what it means. Thanks to Diva, she has her existence back, which means anything is possible for her. As long as she sticks with her partner Matsumoto, who promised Diva he’d take care of her.

Those Snow White Notes – 08 – Modern Maimai and Her Fantastic Friends

The Matsugorou Cup’s team division marches on, Team Umezono’s time on stage grows near, and Shuri is scared. Yui encourages her to focus on getting the first notes right and the rest will fall into place, but only adds to her anxieties by announcing this will be the one and only time she plays on stage.

While Mai waits her turn in the green room, and a braggadocious Arakawa Ushio blows past the rest of his team with his signature twang, the sheer audacity of his performance makes Rai jealous, angry, and fired up, spooking Shuri and Yui upon returning to them. Let’s just say everyone’s face game is in top form this week.

I’ll just get this out of the way: our Power Rangers-colored team doesn’t take the stage this week, which after not doing so last week feels at times like the show is intentionally stalling. It nearly overplays its hand, were it not for some great character development that goes on in between the other performances.

For one thing, we finally get a look back at how the dynamic between Yui, Kaito, and Shuri began, with Yui taking responsibility for protecting the “idiotically kind” and guileless Shuri from the real world (and Kaito’s teasing). Back in the present, when Shuri sees that Yui is just as nervous as her, she curses herself for only thinking about herself.

She believes Yui has every right to hate her for that, but of course Yui doesn’t feel that way at all. She’s angry at herself for talking so big only to be terrified of taking the stage out there, and if she fails, she knows everyone will hate her for the “mean-spirited, ugly woman” she is. Shuri shuts down that kind of talk with a big hug and she won’t let go until Yui lets herself cry, promising to help share her worries from now on.

Meanwhile, as soon as Mai hears where Setsu’s team is prepping, she storms there to “declare war” before her performance, only to walk in on him and the others striking energy-releasing (read: goofy) poses, and slinks away. Honestly I wished she had gotten to actually speak to Setsu there.

That’s because when she takes the stage, she puts on nothing less than the best performance yet in the competition. Her sound is alluring, charming, powerful, and wonderfully modern without coming off as tacky or gimmicky like many of the other groups.

Additionally, while her group is called “Her Fantastic Friends”, there’s a much more cutthroat dynamic in her group where she goes off and does her thing and dares her teammates to try to keep up. It’s at this point that I’m starting to seriously consider Mai to be the show’s Best Girl, though she continues to face stiff competition from Shuri and especially Yui!

Mai’s performance also sinks Kaito, Yui, and Shuri’s motivation to new lows, only for Setsu to stand up tall and proud and say his motivation is at its max after hearing Mai. As they prepare to take the stage, Yui notices Kaito’s parents have turned out to see him, and assures him no one (aside from her perhaps) worried about him more after his soccer career-ending injury.

She gives him an encouraging punch to the face, for which he thanks her by patting her head and assuring her that she’s kind and not ugly. This turns her face as red as her samue. After placing a calming hand on Shuri’s shoulder, Setsu smacks both Kaito and Yui on the back and tells everyone to go out there and do it, after having consulted with Rai in secret about doing “something unorthodox” in response to Mai’s performance.

I can’t wait to see what he came up with, and I know the show isn’t going to be so cruel as to let them make fools of themselves out there. With Setsu leading the way and having had more than adequate time to sort through all their smoldering emotions, it’s finally time to play…next week!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 08 – Get Thee to a Nunnery

We, along with Diva, learn via Matsumoto of Ophelia’s beloved partner and support AI Antonio, who despite a propensity for crankiness always had her back. He always said there was nothing wrong with her singing, she just needed the right stage to perform it. His mission was only ever to help her achieve hers.

But before he could do this, he mysteriously shut down five years before the present day. Ophelia lost her primary sound and lighting guy along with the only person she trusted with his rough-edged praise and encouragement. As such she was never the same, and eventually committed suicide or “self-destruct”, lending credence to the growing belief that AIs had souls, the same as humans.

Matsumoto’s plan of action feels too much like a “stopgap” measure for Diva—especially this evolved, more human than ever version of her. She wants to get to the root of Ophelia’s distress so she won’t even have to talk her off the ledge, because she’ll never climb onto it in the first place.

Diva finds Ophelia in the concert hall’s museum, where she’s watching Diva’s early days. Diva asks her upfront (and rather clumsily for this Diva) whether there’s anything troubling her to the point she might want to die. Ophelia leads Diva to the Antonio exhibit, where Antonio’s actual body is on display in a box of lilies.

It’s clear from the way she was watching other songstress sisters that Ophelia is seeking the answer to how they all sing, and for what purpose. But while Ophelia grieves for Antonio, her one and only partner, she’s not in any hurry to join him, as she knows he’d be the first to say she has to do better. Diva puts a lily in Ophelia’s hair, hoping it will be a talisman of protection, and sends her on her way.

Ophelia (performed by the always adorable Hidaka Rina) puts on a wonderful, spellbinding show as expected, but afterwards Diva is troubled when she sees “that look again” on Ophelia’s face. Still, she’s determined that it’s probably not Antonio’s loss that led the near-future Ophelia to suicide; or at least not all it was.

After showing Matsumoto the image of a young Kakitani (whom he insists shoudn’t exist in this timeline), he warns Diva to ditch her sympathy and empathy she’s developed over the years and stick to the mission. Then she insists he tell her more about Vivy and their relationship, which she imagines must be substantial considering he rescued her from falling without hesitation.

Matsumoto decribes Vivy as we watch a montage of her in action, and while the words describe an unpredictable pain in his cubic ass, there’s also a hint of reluctant pride in his telling. He even admits there was a point when he thought he could “look to her with confidence” (as a reliable partner in the Singularity Project), but then Saeki killed himself and she froze.

When Ophelia’s show is over, Diva and Matsumoto keep an eye on her via the cameras, but then Diva spots Kakitani, and goes chasing after him, promising to tell Matsumoto about Vivy’s “basic distress.” But because Diva rushes headlong to Kakitani without all the info—just as Vivy often did—he ends up captured by him. All of her memories of him in past timelines wash over her just before he zaps her with a gun that paralyzes her.

Meanwhile, Matsumoto realizes the camera footage has been faked (since Ophelia in the green room has no lily in her hair) and someone other than him is doing some hacking. He races to Ophelia as fast as his little flight servos can carry him, but is met with another bombshell: Ophelia isn’t Ophelia anymore, but Antonio in Ophelia’s body. It seems, then, that when Antonio shut down, it was because he either merged with Ophelia or took over her body. In any case, he says Matsumoto is “fatally too late” to save her. To be continued…

Post-credits we find ourselves hearing Kakitani (or whoever he is)’s story, as he yearned to be a pianist and to catch up to his talented teacher. When he and that teacher are in a horrific multi-car accident (which…how do these keep happening even in the future?) the teacher saves his life and then goes back into the inferno to save others.

Like Vivy, he extended his mission to “make people happy with his piano playing” to keeping those people alive. Unfortunately, the gas of the cars ignited and blew him up before his protégé’s (presumably non-fluorite) eyes. That brings us back to the “present”, where Diva is bound to a chair and Kakitani greets her…as Vivy. How he knows that, and how his actions related to Ophelia/Antonio, are questions for next week.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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