Houseki no Kuni – 11

One of the many enduring charms of HnK is how every character’s traits are derived from their namesake gem in creative ways. Take Alexandrite, AKA Alex, AKA Lexi. The two nicknames are apropos, as Alex/Lexi has a split personality; extremely timid when green-haired; but going berserk when looking upon a Lunarian.

Real-life alexandrite changes color depending on the light; green in daylight, red in artificial light. While moonlight is reflected sunlight, there’s no doubt that the moon’s reflection adds another dimension to it; if we consider the Lunarian to represent moonlight as opposed to daylight, Alex/Lexi’s color change (and personality change to boot) makes sense.

Lexi proves handy with a sword, but only manages what Dia and Bort managed: to cleave the Lunarian into smaller and smaller clones of itself, albeit less and less threatening ones, kind of like a Matryoshka doll with its nested duplicates of reducing scale.

Before long the hulking beast is reduced to dozens of fluffy half-sheep, half-puppies, but when the gems round them all up, they merge back into that single hulking beast. Phos is ready to lure it away with another new alloy membrane trick: making an all-alloy decoy of a gem.

Phos’ vigilance proves unnecessary once Master Kongou appears. Despite its size the Lunarian is as docile as its one hundred-plus mini-clones; and even does a series of tricks at Kongou’s command. Phos finds it odd that Kongou calls the beast “Shiro” and acts very familiar towards it. It leads Phos to suspect there may be some kind of connection between the master and the enemy that he hasn’t revealed.

Phos goes out to ponder this and comes afoul of Cinnabar once more. Cinnabar bears two “gifts”: Bort’s loafers, and the last piece of the fluffy Lunarian. Cinna also has news for Phos: most of the Gems already knew about Kongou in relation to the Lunarians, but as he seems so committed to their care and safety, they’ve decided to trust him. Cinna is on the fence, and actually seems to take interest in what Pho plans to do…only to turn around before Phos can answer.

Phos has a little alloy malfunction while calculating the amount of courage needed to confront the master…but Phos wants to know the truth. When Phos returns to HQ, Kongou is asleep beside the beast (with many gems curled up asleep in its fluffy tail).

Before Phos can open her mouth, she has a vision of Antarc, who shushes Phos. The last “puppy” merges with the larger beast, which disperses in a cloud of light, having become whole and, in Kongou’s words, “found peace.”

After that, Phos gives her report on her partnering with Bort, stating that all Gems should have the opportunity to work with Bort. Phos, however, wishes to pursue another matter on their own: regarding Lunarians. Believing the only way to get answers is to ask them directly, Phos stands on guard awaiting their return.

From there, the episode shifts to something completely different, hastily introducing the new character of Padparadscha, an incomplete gem Rutile has been painstakingly reconstructing in the lab. While the prospects for this character are intriguing, especially when they open their eyes to end the episode, it feels like another episode altogether.

The awkward, arbitrary nature of the transition was almost enough for me to bump this down to a 7. However, this episode managed to earn my recommendation anyway, thanks to the interesting development of the “Shiro” incident, both with its ingrained comedy and its role in giving Phos a new goal to pursue.

Houseki no Kuni – 10

Old Phos used to cause trouble and get in the way. New Phos holds court—with Alex (AKA Lexi) over detailed descriptions of Lunarians; agreeing to take on Jade’s patrols while Kongou sleeps; and even with Bort, who wants to team up with Phos.

But always not far from Phos’ thoughts is the ghost of Antarc. While Phos might initially hesitate over teaming up with Bort (a little of the Old “what a pain” Phos seeping out), it’s a step Phos has to take in order to get stronger and learn more about how to fight properly.

Phos’ only concern is how Diamond will feel; Bort is basically dumping Dia sight unseen; Dia hears it from Phos first. But Phos has Dia’s blessing; after all, it was Dia who told Pho she needed to change back when Dia was Phos’ only advocate.

That being said, Dia still seems awfully dejected, quietly picking flowers for a lonely-looking bouquet as Bort departs with Phos. Unfortunately for the pair, their first mission as partners is not an easy one, as an entirely new and powerful Lunarian emerges from a “double sunspot.”

Bort plays right into the Lunarian’s trap. Bort’s first strike only multiplies the apertures, through which more than four limbs emerge and grab Bort. Phos delivers a gold-plated assist, but the fuzzy white many-armed beast isn’t going to go down easily.

As “recklessness is for the inept”, Bort grabs Phos and falls back to HQ, then tosses Phos at the bell to strike it six times (an order for all other Gems to hold position). Bort’s plan involves luring the Lunarian to Kongou, who will hopefully awaken in time to destroy it.

But the Lunarian doesn’t follow Bort and Phos…it goes its own way, which turns out to be where Diamond is sulking. From here until the time Dia takes the upper hand, the episode takes on the flavor of a creepy horror movie where the protagonist must quietly hide from the monster hunting them.

Dia watching the flower vase jostle from the monster’s booming steps is a neat Jurassic Park reference, and some niftily subtle animation to boot (the way Dia gently arranged the flowers earlier was also an elegant moment).

Diamond eventually gets sick of hiding and decides to do what Bort always yells at Dia for: get reckless. This is Dia in full-on Badass Mode, without a care for how much bigger or stronger their opponent is.

Dia’s first strikes don’t do much (even a diamond limb-as-a-weapon doesn’t make a major mark), but Dia only needs one leg to rush the Lunarian, dodge its swipes, and deliver a killing blow before collapsing into a half-shattered pile—just as Bort is watching from outside the window.

But even that isn’t the end of things, as Dia’s strike only managed to cut the one big enemy into two smaller ones. With Dia out of commission, it falls to Bort to face the pair, which Bort does without fear, as usual.

But as tough as Bort is (tougher than nails, literally), I’d feel a lot better if Phos, other Gems, and hell, why not, Master Kongou arrived in time to assist Bort. I tell you, these Lunarians get nastier and more devious with each passing week.

Sagrada Reset – 23

Kei is in the back of a Toyota Harrier with Urachi, with Tsushima driving and Tomoki riding shotgun; Ukawa, Murase, Sakagami and Oka Eri (I’ll say her whole name since everyone in the show always does) escape by bike (and Ukawa turning the road into a slot car track). Haruki is still at the Karaoke parlor with Sakuin and Kagaya, apparently outnumbered…but it’s all part of the plan.

I hope you don’t mind the calm, measured voice of Ishikawa Kaito, because you get a lot of it in this episode, and that’s saying something. He has an adversary with the opposite position to try to convince to his side, after all.

Kei is as persistent as he is righteous, laying out all of the alternative options to simply wiping out abilities, using the abilities of others to lighten the burden of his two “locked” parents—even transferring his father’s ability to a cat.

At the end of Kei’s spiel, Urachi is still not convinced, and Kei isn’t surprised…because Urachi isn’t the one he was trying to convince: it’s Kagaya, back at the parlor with Haruki, who heard the whole debate through Tomoki.

In light of everything that was said, Kagaya chooses to support Kei. Just like that, Urachi loses a vital team member of his crusade. He can no longer realistically carry out his plan without Kagaya’s support, so he essentially surrenders to Kei, handing him his notebook.

As for what occurs at the very end, with Souma passing thorough the boundaries of Sakurada in a train, suddenly having all her memories rush back, and lamenting that she’s “certain nothing was even” for Kei? Your guess is as good as mine. It would seem Urachi has been quite suddenly removed as an opponent, but perhaps the events of this episode were the easy part of Kei’s plan, with the true challenge coming in the finale.

Sagrada Reset – 22

Kei knows he can’t accomplish his goals alone. He needs a little help from friends, classmates, acquaintances…and even his “nemesis” Eri Oka, to whom he genuinely admits defeat for losing in the pre-reset timeline. Before long, he has Eri, Murase, Sakagami, Tomoki, Ukawa, and Haruki in a karaoke parlor, where he lays it all out and asks them for their help.

He gives them time to think it over and leave if they wish, but as he tells Haruki in the stairwell, he already knows they’ll all agree, because he looked a little deeper into the future back in the photo. He feels like he’s lying and he ran away, but Haruki is glad he did, because she knows he’ll always persevere.

Once everyone has indeed agreed, Kei sets his multifaceted plan into operation, inviting Urachi to join him at the karaoke parlor. Urachi brings Sakuin and Kagaya; Kei is all alone…or he looks alone. Perceived vulnerability is key in his gambit, for Urachi has to believe that no matter how things go in their talk, he’s in control and will get the last say.

After remarking how their mutual desire to control all abilities (Kei by keeping them, Urachi by eliminating them) makes them alike, he proposes a compromise: the abilities remain, controlled by Kei, but he won’t be a pure dictator, because people like Urachi will help him.

Urachi agrees to the plan—all to quickly, and after shaking hands with Kei, he has Kagaya shake hands with him too. Only, Kagaya forgets his locking ability because Kei utilizes the combined power of Eri, Murase, and Sakagami.

Urachi isn’t worried, however, since he can simply rewind Kagaya’s time to before he forgot his power. He’s also used their time talking to call for backup, and before long Kei is surrounded by Bureau members. But he makes the slip—and takes Urachi with him—by using Ukawa’s ability to construct whatever she wants within a minute; in this case a network of tubes.

Urachi and Kei end up in a car with Tomoki and a very confused Tsushima, meeting Urachi for the first time. When Kei says he’s kidnapped Urachi, Tsushima thinks he’s joking, but he’s not. But Urachi points out that Tsushima is now an accomplice to Kei’s crimes.

Once again Kei, has only bought time and stayed a few steps ahead, but the struggle is far from over. It very much remains to be seen if Urachi can ever be convinced to allow abilities to remain in Sakurada, or if his plans can be permanently thwarted rather than simply delayed. One thing’s for sure: Kei is not alone in this.

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 07

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A big reason why I’ve enjoyed Saekano so much isn’t just its knack for cleverly inserting commentary about the genre in which it dwells while telling a unique story all its own that benefits from that self-awareness and self-critique. It’s also the show’s knack for getting us to forget all about the future and simply focus on the now, and the wonderful dialogue and interactions between Aki Tomoya and the varied girls in his life.

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This episode was off to another great start. After spending all of his time with Utaha last week, this week it seems to be Eriri’s turn, and she makes the most of it by making Tomoya role-play a sex scene with her. Both of them are well aware they’re merely reading lines to one another, but since both of them put in such good performance., they end up arousing one another, something Eriri probably hoped for.

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I personally wouldn’t mind if that was the whole episode, but there are big changes afoot this week, and in the process of introducing those changes, the show suddenly turns its gaze away from the now and towards the horizon, which I must admit is a little unsettling.

Just as Tomoya is chastising Kato for suddenly sporting a ponytail (my take is that Tomoya really likes it, otherwise he wouldn’t notice it, but he won’t admit it). A discussion ensues, into the cultivation of well-established and time-honed “core traits”—like a blonde twin-tail or long jet-black hair—versus “cheat tricks” like the sudden change of hairstyle.

Those two core traits are brought up by Kato and clearly meant as a commentary on the two other girls chasing Tomoya around. Kato is establishing that she is unique and goes against the grain of the tropes.

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That leads to Tomoya bringing up another time-tested trope: the “little-sister-type kohai”, and hey-presto, Hashima Izumi appears on queue. Of course Tomoya also had, and now has, this kind of girl in his life as well. It’s something that was missing to this point; now all he needs is an attractive relation, which we know to be Michiru from the prologue.

Izumi was prominent in the OP and ED and had the look of a younger, devoted-kohai character, so I knew she was coming. Better yet, she’s voiced by the bright and ever-exuberant Akasaki Chinatsu. Also true to her type, a lot of what she says in praising Tomoya did for her could be taken entirely the wrong way due to her particular phrasing. But her sudden appearance, bereft of a single prior word about her existence in the show itself, is a little problematic.

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Be that as it may. Izumi is definitely a disruptive force that unsettles the status quo, and not surprisingly pisses Eriri off, since she’s already had two other stout competitors to contend with to that point, and she was the only one with a long past with Tomoya. No longer.

Speaking of a past, Izumi’s introduction is paired with her brother Iori, who is Tomoya and Eriri’s age and has a sorted and arguably more interesting history with him. Tomoya rejoiced when he learned that Izumi, the class prince, was just as much of an otaku as him. But their friendship was dashed on the rocks by a clash of otaku philosophies. Tomoya valued the sheer enjoyment and sharing of things he liked; while he saw Iori as “riding the coattails” of creators.

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But in that professing this, Tomoya exposes his hypocrisy. He’s an amateur running a doujin circle, ; by his logic, he’s also guilty of depending on two of the brightest rising stars in the industry in Eriri and Utaha; even if they are his friends.

I think the distinction lies in what Tomoya does offer his creators, though not knowing enough about Iori’s relationship with his famous circle members, these two may be peas in a pod after all. We may see Iori through Tomoya’s eyes as a greedy freeloader, but what if Iori inspires his creators the same way Tomoya inspires Utaha and Eriri?

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It’s probably a coincidence, but it looks like Iori shares a trait with one of his seiyu Kakihara Tetsuya’s more famous roles, that of Simon in Gurren Lagann. Both are good at digging and burrowing, and eventually dig themselves out of obscurity and into the spotlight.

Tomoya often conceals his true feelings about things by discussing them through a protective prism, namely his collective dealings with the girls he’s working with, but also courting, particularly Kato. By that same angle, Tomoya purports to spit upon the way Iori does things, but his own motivations and actions could be construed as just as selfish.

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More than anything, this episode makes me hope there will be a second cour of this show, and not just because I love it. I feel we’ve really only scratched the surface here. The Kato, Utaha, and (semi)Eriri-centric episodes are all to establish what Tomoya means to those girls and what they mean to him. Izumi and Iori are introduced to break up the love-in and create an external conflict that will drive the remaining story.

This is no longer simply about making a dating sim; Iori has officially declared it a battle, and he won’t hesitate to poach Tomoya’s talent, if he can. But after what’s gone down in the last seven episodes, the four remaining are not nearly long enough for a satisfying conclusion. So for the first time I can remember, I’m actually hoping for a second cour when I’m not sure if one is coming. And I’m also hoping that hot spring prologue was only the midpoint of this increasingly complex and entertaining story.

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