Fruits Basket – 43 – Having Nothing in the End

Hiro is talking with Kisa about his yet-to-be-born sibling, whose gender will be a surprise, and with his klutz of a mom when he spots Rin in her school uniform. He’s concerned about her ashen appearance, but she gives him basically the same treatment as everyone else who tries to reach out: Buzz off. Go have your happy life with your nice parents and leave me alone with my misery.

The episode then revisits the time Rin approached Shigure, we learn that she seeks a means of lifting the Zodiac curse, just like Tooru. She’s willing to give him her body for the info, but Shigure—in a rare instance of not being a total piece of filth—rejects her offer. But he also refuses to help in any way, while stating he’ll enjoy the benefits Rin’s and others’ efforts, because, as he says, he is the worst.

Spurned by Shigure, who may or may not have the answers she seeks, she goes through a Souma storage room in hopes of finding something, anything related to the curse and a way to lift it. Exhausted and nauseous, she collapses on the ground, and remembers one of the happiest moments in her life—in bed with Hatsu post-coitus, wishing she could be his heart—followed by one of the worst—her parents telling her they “don’t want her”.

Around dusk, she returns to Shigure’s house, strung-out almost beyond belief, but nobody’s home…until Tooru comes through the door. Even the act of opening a door on her sends Rin into a hysterical fit, repeatedly begging Tooru not to yell at her. Tooru being Tooru, she does the only thing the situation calls for in that moment: giving Rin a warm, gentle hug to try to calm her down.

Shigure may believe he’s the worst, but delving into Rin’s horrific childhood gives new dimension to the title. By all accounts, Rin’s parents tried for years to put on a happy, fun facade as they raised her. It wasn’t until it started to feel like a performance to her, and she asked them why that was, that they snapped.

(This is not at all to blame Rin for breaking the facade; it was doomed no matter what she said or did. But it’s clear she blames herself.)

Verbal and physical abuse followed, until one day Rin collapsed from the injuries that were hidden by her clothes. Kazuma and Haruhatsu are with her in the hospital, and that’s when her parents tell her they no longer want her. Hatsu responds not by turning into Dark Hatsu, but simply by getting extremely pissed off with the parents, and lays into them, getting no response in return.

From then on, Rin lived with Kagura’s family, and the mere fact it was a genuinely happy household caused her intense emotional and physical pain, since she wonders “what she did wrong” to cause her to lose her own home. The only person in whom she found comfort was her white-haired knight Haruhatsu, who eventually confesses his love, and she reciprocates.

For the only person with whom spending time was not painful to be another Zodiac member only adds further fuel to the all-consuming flame of misfortune that is Rin’s life. Akito finds out, and when Hatori’s eye is brought up, Rin declares that she was the one who seduced Haru.

Akito doesn’t hold back on the verbal or physical wrath, calling Rin wicked and devious (“like all women”) and calling her flowing black hair “repulsive”. Seemingly feeding off Rin’s fear by grabbing her, telling her she has no value other than “filling one of the [Zodiac] slots” before tossing her out the window. This “incident” is witnessed by Hiro, without whom Rin might well have bled out. Instead, she’s still alive—and wishes she wasn’t.

For all of those times I misinterpreted Rin’s standoffish, quick-to-anger nature in the few scenes in which she interacted with others, I can only beg for the character’s forgiveness. She’s had every right to actthe way she has. It’s now crystal clear she broke up with Hatsu in order to save him from Akito’s wrath, as well as her own belief her love for him would be so heavy it would one day crush him.

I can only breathe a sigh of relief that Rin is now in the safest possible place: in Shigure’s house and in Tooru’s care. She may act like every bit the wounded horse upon coming to, and stubbornly reject any and all offer of help from Tooru, but the fact is the two share the same goal, and they’ll need each other if they’re going to make any progress.

So ends the darkest and most devastating episode of Fruits Basket to date, an absolutely unrelenting look at the destructive effects of the Zodiac curse on its members. Few episodes of anime hit me as hard as this one. Rin is at absolute rock bottom, neither wanting nor feeling she is deserving of love, happiness, or anything at all. If anyone can help her, it’s Tooru. As long as Rin is alive, there is still hope. And I hope to hell she gets the redemption she needs and deserves.

Great Pretender – 14 – Fake is in the Eye of the Beholder

Laurent goes all out renting out a damn castle for his intentionally over-the-top art auction for the ages that James Coleman has no choice but to attend. Despite his wounded sensibilities in the face of such crassness, Snow in London is on the block, and he’s prepared to bid as much money as his partner Farrah has.

Abby, who has nicely inserted herself in Coleman’s affairs and earned his trust, proceeds to warn Farrah’s butler Tim of Coleman’s intentions to squeeze her dry.

This gaudy charade is not at all the stodgy auction atmospheres Coleman is used to, but he chalks it up not to authenticity of the auctioneers, but the crassness of its clients, namely members of the seedy underworld (aided by Fudou and Kim posing as mob kingpins from their respective nations).

Just as the surroundings and people disgust Coleman, so too do the ridiculously overblown sums of money being spent on paintings that in a respectable auctioneer would get less than half what they end up get here. Even that prepares him to bid way too much for the Montoya, a painting he’s personally invested in.

When the big moment comes, Farrah is nowhere to be found, having been confronted by Abby during intermission. Coleman is all alone, and Cynthia takes Farrah’s seat and proceeds to bait him into not only spending all £70 million Farrah has (after liquidating her land holdings), but an additional £30 million since Cynthia doesn’t stop until £99, leaving Coleman with the painting and a very, very large bill.

Not one pence of that £100 million ends up coming from Farrah. Abby gave her a recording of Coleman gleefully playing her for the fool, but she gets the last laugh, locking him out of her estate and donating her entire art collection to the museum so everyone can enjoy and be inspired by their greatness. Farrah owes a lot to her loyal butler and friend Tim, who assures her that while she may feel alone, he’ll always be by her side (and she’s better off without James Coleman).

The final twist? Makoto switched the real and fake paintings before the auction, meaning Laurent, Cynthia & Co. weren’t actually con artists on this job, but legit art dealers (tax issues aside, of course).  That said, Makoto actually wanted the dad and daughter in Nice to have Thomas’ version of the painting, which he doesn’t consider a mere copy due to the hard work, talent, and passion that went into it.

Copying Snow of London was Thomas’ first new painting in years, but it rekindled his love of art. Marie agrees with Makoto, and comes to see Thomas’ version as more warm and kind. As for Cynthia, she and Thomas get to have one more late afternoon coffee at the cafe where they met, and have closure.

Back in Nice, Cynthia wonders out loud, somewhat bitterly, whether Laurent arranged for Makoto and Coleman to cross paths, knowing both Makoto’s moral compass would come into play and her sad past would be dredged up “for [Laurent’s] entertainment.” As always, Laurent is coy and noncommittal in his response.

Stripping away the Breaking Bad-style drug hijinx and the high-flying, high-rolling Singapore racing set to tell a rich, bittersweet story of love and art made this my favorite of the three Great Pretender arcs so far. Makoto has vowed to get out of the game for good yet again, but I’m sure he’ll get tangled up in something soon. Whether it will surpass Snow of London remains to be seen.

Great Pretender – 13 – Same As They Used to Be

When a hungry Makoto finds a toffee tin in the fridge, Cynthia quickly snatches it away, declaring that the toffees aren’t on the menu. Back in the past, Coleman makes a deal with Thomas: all he wants are ten forgeries he can pass off as “miraculous discoveries” of masterworks, and in return he’ll make Thomas a Big Deal.

The Faustian deal gives Thomas what he always wanted—financial stability and a measure of luxury—but he knows it’s wrong, and whenever Cynthia mentions that it’s wrong, it shatters the veneer of success he’s trying to maintain, thus straining their relationship. Back in the present, Abby reports her findings on her investigation of Laurent, and shows she’s not above using her “vivaciousness” to gain the older man’s confidence.

Makoto eventually makes contact with present-day Thomas Mayer, whose life took a turn after breaking up with Cynthia. That said, his two million pounds in debt isn’t due to gambling or addiction problems, but a pure and just heart. When he saw a kid sketching one of his forgeries in a museum, he vowed to quit painting forever and borrowed heavily in order to buy back the three paintings he’d forged.

This us why he initially turned down Cynthia: why would he paint a forgery to make back the money he spent removing his forgeries from the art world? But then Makoto remembers the toffee tin and presents it to Thomas. It contains a detailed drawing of a wedding ring he drew for Cynthia in better days. That she kept it all these years means she must still feel something for him.

That proves to be the spark Thomas needs to come out of retirement—that, and Makoto telling him she needs his talent in order to settle the score with Coleman. It probably takes more than one all-nighter, but he manages to pull off a very impressive forgery of Snow of London.

When Cynthia stops by to inspect the work, Thomas is asleep in bed, but Makoto tells her that he was only able to create the forgery because of her. Trying to play matchmaker, he thinks that despite everything that’s happened, the two of them still bring out the best in each other, and that deep down they’re both the same people they were back then.

Great Pretender – 12 – The Unfathomable Subtleties of a Woman’s Heart

The con moves to London, with Makoto spearheading a revenge scam against art appraiser James Coleman. It starts with Abby approaching him and asking to be his protege, while Makoto and Kudou bug the house of Farrah Brown, a wealthy woman who buys the art he doesn’t want to sell at auction, and is also Coleman’s lover. That they’re able to plant bugs under the pretense of checking Farrah’s house for literal bugs is a nice touch.

When the team hears the recording of Farrah and James in bed, Abby concludes that Farrah is simply “a stupid woman”, but Laurent corrects her: she probably does know she’s being used, but “tells herself she doesn’t notice”—either because she genuinely values James’ companionship and attention or for some other reason only she knows.

In any case, this is an episode that may have more Cynthia than any other, and that’s a very good thing, as we see her separate from everyone else working a con of her own…or is it a con? This arc is called Snow of London after the Montoya piece, but the card used for the arc features the silhouettes of a couple I initially thought it was Cynthia and Laurent.

Turns out the man in the silhouette is Thomas, a starving London artist in the throes of painter’s block when he meets Cynthia, who is, presumably years ago, working at the cafe by his flat. The two have an instant easy chemistry, and eventually Thomas goes for broke and asks Cynthia to model for him.

In between taking dance classes and auditioning for acting roles, Cynthia ends up hitting it off with Thomas and becomes his muse. He paints gorgeous portraits of her that are filled with obvious love for the subject. Her stolen glances of the painter show that a part of her seems to be falling for him.

For all its lack of drug lab shootouts and planes threading through skyscrapers, this might just be my favorite episode of Great Pretender yet. It’s certainly the most human and intimate-feeling, with the coldness of London in winter creating a warm cozy atmosphere to the scenes with Cynthia and Thomas.

As this understated romance is taking place in the past, back in the present the gang scores a major victory. Snow of London comes up for auction and Laurent manages to outbid Farrah to get the painting back—for £30 million!—which Cynthia must liquidate some real estate to secure. It’s a slick case of Coleman’s greed (in this case having to accept the highest bid) undermining his own artwork-hoarding operation.

Still, Coleman thinks it could one day be worth ten times that, so he’s furious Farrah gave up. Knowing how Farrah operates, the team knows they can use her doghouse status with Coleman to compel her to buy back the painting in order to get back into his good graces. But the Snow of London they sell her won’t be the one Cynthia bought, but a fake.

Makoto gives forgery the ol’ college try, but he can only do so much with no experience, little practice and scant time. But as we know, Cynthia already knows an artist with the talent to reproduce Montoya’s masterpiece.

Back in the past, Coleman happens by Thomas’ painting stall and is duly impressed by the man’s reproductions, telling him straight-up that he’d do very well indeed in the world of forgery. This may be the genesis for the reasoning behind Cynthia’s present beef with Coleman, and why she wants to bilk him for as much as she can.

Arte – 05 – Art as Capital

This week Arte meets Leo’s oldest patron with whom he shares “an inescapable bond” despite not being able to stand the guy. Ubertino is a hugely wealthy merchant who presents a detailed order to Leo.

With the work and expensive media required there’s no way he’ll make a profit. Not eager to negotiate, Leo accepts Arte’s offer to go in his stead, hoping a pretty young girl might warm the old coot’s frigid heart.

Arte ends up failing completely, but asks Leo to give her another chance. Seeing that this is a valuable opportunity for someone who wants to someday go independent, Leo lets Arte keep trying. She first seeks advice in how to get what you want out of a negotiation from her new friend Veronica.

In normal circumstances an artisan’s apprentice would never dream of seeking help from a courtesan, but as we’ve seen Arte is hardly normal! Veronica’s advice helps Arte in Round Two, even though Ubertino immediately detects a courtesan’s manners in her constant smile, straight posture, and slow, steady manner with him.

The most important advice Veronica offers is for Arte to show Ubertino that’s she’s worth paying a high price for her work. Arte doesn’t use her noble status to demand a higher payout, but cites the crochet skills she learned as a noble as evidence of her value to him as an artisan.

Ubertino claims not to care about art in the least, but understands its value as capital; that is, as gifts to rich business partners or donations to the church. Thus, Arte must come to terms with the fact that not all of her future customers commission work out of a love for art, but out of an appreciation for its monetary value.

Arte also learns Ubertino’s salon is full not just of Leo’s work, but that of his master’s, then learns that Leo was a beggar whose natural talent and hard work was nurtured by that master. When the master passed, Ubertino’s patronage passed to Leo (hence the inescapable bond).

Learning about Leo’s modest past excites Arte, since as we’ve discussed, she’s in a similar underdog situation, and like Leo must reach out and take what she wants from life; it will never be given to her. She’s also amused that while Leo and Ubertino claim to not stand each other, they’re a lot alike—especially when it comes to never spending money on themselves.

Arte – 04 – The First Step to Hell

When Arte first experiences heartache, she has no idea what it is, just that it is negatively affecting her work and making her absent-minded. All of that makes Leo annoyed with her. Fortunately, his regular patron Veronica, who requests that Arte paint her portrait, is a font of wisdom in matters of love.

Arte comes right out and says she doesn’t necessarily respect Veronica’s profession, but does respect the hard work and resolve Veronica puts into it. Veronica is flattered, but makes it clear that her job and success is only possible because she avoids falling in love. If she falls for one of the men she entertains, she could end up ruined and in the gutter like one of her former contemporaries.

When Arte learn part of Veronica’s routine with men is to play hard-to-get and intentionally make them wait for days so they’ll be more devoted when they do see her. This angers Arte because she knows what heartache feels like and can’t imagine someone being okay with causing suffering on purpose.

While Arte was initially smitten with Veronica’s smile and charms, she soon see’s it’s to a large degree by design. Veronica and her manner is a brand, and the portrait is part of that—posing in a library with a book to evoke intellectualism). But Arte’s condemnation of how she manipulates men doesn’t preclude their becoming friends who can talk to one another anytime.

As for avoiding love, Arte tries to bury herself in her work and not let Leo distract her. It may seem like cynical advice from Veronica, but in their day and age women who want to live by their own power must fiercely maintain that power, and not cede it to others. Of course, in Leo’s case, maybe clearing the air could be advantageous?

Arte – 03 – Different Kind of Animal

It’s Carnival in Florence, and Leo has Arte dress like a boy so they can sit in on a hospital dissection. On the way, Arte meets one of Leo’s patrons—a courtesan—and sees him smiling in a way she’s never seen before. While normally forbidden by the church, Carnival time is an exception. Some guys go pale or faint from the sight of a cadaver being carved up, but Arte is just fine…she truly has the guts to draw guts!

What the church apparently will not abide is to have a woman at a dissection, so when Arte loses her hat and lets out a very feminine yelp, Leo has to get them both out of there lest they get into some serious legal trouble. It ain’t fair, but that was the time. In the process of running and hiding from their pursuers, Leo draws Arte so close that she notices for the first time how a man’s bone structure and skin differ greatly from a woman’s. She also feels an unpleasant pain in her chest that she’s never felt before. Hmmmmm…I wonder what that could be?????

Arte dismisses such sensations as temporary illness and moves on. She also moves up, as Leo is willing to accelerate her progression through the artisan ranks by assigning her the task of a journeyman: creating a background for a real commissioned painting. Arte sets out and braves the cold, comes back with a fine sketch of a cityscape, and it’s rejected.

She goes back out and does it again, and again…and many more times before Leo has her look at the painting and discern what it is the client truly wants. The woman subject should be the focus, which means the background should have less detail.

That Leo doesn’t spell it out for her, but lets things dawn on her naturally, speaks to his growing respect not just for her work ethic, but artistic instincts. It’s why he’s drawn up a new contract that gives her both a promotion and a raise, and why he rejects her feeling that in obsessing with art she neglected her womanlike charms. Like her father, Leo is one who prefers an independent woman with a strong will and drive to the period’s ideal of a woman: quiet, complacent, and above all idle.

That’s why I’m not the most enthusiastic about Arte suddenly developing a crush on Leo. In her defense, she’s been so absorbed in art in her life she’d never felt romantic feelings for anyone before. The only other person who didn’t look at her like something was wrong with her was her dad. It makes sense that the first man not related to her not to treat her like “just a woman” would make her heart beat a little faster.

KonoSuba Movie: Legend of Crimson – Megumin’s Homecoming

First of all, it’s been some time since I’ve seen Kazuma, Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness in their original non-chibified form, so it’s a rare pleasure to see them in their regular proportions and setting. KonoSuba’s twenty episodes proved you can make an often over-the-top isekai comedy with genuine heart.

If you liked the TV show, you’ll love the movie (as I did), which delivers more of everything. Though it contains roughly a half-cour’s worth of story, the ninety minutes just breeze by. Officially a sequel to KonoSuba 2, we return to Kazuma’s party’s mansion, where notoriously involuntary loner Yunyun has an unusual request: she wants—nay, must—make a baby with Kazuma. She comes to this belief upon receiving a letter from her father, Chief of the Crimson Demon Village.

While that letter turns out to be a work of fiction written by one of her academy classmates, Yunyun is nevertheless compelled to return to her hometown to help fight the forces of the Demon King. Megumin and the others decide to follow her, and rely on Iz to teleport them there.

Unfortunately, they end up far from the village, and in the midst of a stampede of rabidly horny she-orcs (there are no more male orcs) after Kazuma. After Yunyun’s request, this marks the second instance of Kazuma being entangled in romance (for good or ill) which he comes to call his “popular phase.”

What better way to learn more about Megumin than to visit her home? Turns out she’s hardly an anomoly, the town is nothing but overly-dramatic chuuni dressed in cool outfits with an emphasis on reds and blacks. The orcs are scattered by their overwhelming offensive magical power, a quality Megumin also shares with her clan.

Megumin’s parents are each eccentric in their own ways, while her little sister Komekko is adorable as all-get-out. Her family is poor, so the moment her parents smell money on Kazuma (he’s in the process of a 300m-Eris deal with Vanir to sell his memoirs), Kazuma finds himself at the mercy of a mother who wants to pair him with Megumin with all due haste.

To this end, she locks Kazuma and Megumin (sleeping due to a recent Explosion) in a room together. She comes to when he’s about to kiss her after much hand-wringing about how to proceed, and she escapes through the window to spend the night at Yunyun’s, fearing further lecherous advances.

The next day, Megumin shows her friends around the village, including to her and Yunyun’s (very Hogwarts-y) magical academy. We learn that when goblins attacked Komekko, Yunyun sacrificed her amassed skill points to repel the enemy. Because Megumin hesitated, that meant she was able to preserve her points and attain Explosion magic she cultivates to this day.

Megumin finds herself locked in her room with Kazuma again, this time by ice. Kazuma assures her that he won’t do anything, and offers his apologies as well as thanks for all the things she and the others have gone through with and for him.

It’s a very nice heartfelt scene, and Megumin even ends up clinging to Kazuma under the covers, commenting on how he’s really a “wimp” when it comes to making a move. Unfortunately, their tender moment is interrupted by the return of Sylvia, the voluptuous Demon King who leads the attack on the village.

Kazuma managed to scare her and her goblin army off with bluster earlier, but when she learns he’s not really Mitsurugi of the Cursed Sword, she takes him hostage…and Kazuma lets it happen. First, because it’s more proof of his Popular Phase; second, because it’s comfy between Sylvia’s boobs; and third, he has an ax to grind with his comrades regarding his treatment.

Kazuma accompanies Sylvia to the Crimson Demon Village’s underground storage facility, and inadvertently unlocks the chamber where Mage Killer, the one weapon he can’t let a demon king get ahold of, is stored. While he doesn’t intend to make things worse for the village, Kazuma’s so out of it he doesn’t realize punching in the classic cheat code on the Nintendo-style control pad would unlock the weapon.

He manages to lock Sylvia in the chamber, but once she has the Mage Killer and absorbs it into her artificial body, she blows the entire facility to kingdom come, then heads to the village to start blowing it up. Megumin leads Kazuma & Co. to more underground caverns, where they find Japanese carvings that explain the origin of the Crimson Demons, and why they’re so “pretentious yet nerdy”

Turns out their culture was basically created by another Japanese man sent there by the goddesses. He also built the Mage Killer, but also created a countermeasure for it: something he tentatively called “Railgun” that Kazuma previously noticed being used as a backyard clothesline in the village.

When Crimson Demons march out to defend their town, Sylvia engulfs them in an “Ancient Dispel” field that nullifies all of their magical power. They’re “saved” by a suddenly cool and confident Yunyun, finally taking up the mantle of her father the chief and luring Sylvia away.

Turns out she’s acting as a lure to bring Sylvia in firing range of the Railgun. Aqua fills it with magial energy, but it still fails to fire. That’s when Megumin unleashes an Explosion meant to his Sylvia directly, but is instead shunted into the rifle, which her little sister Komekko then fires.

Sylvia is killed, and ends up in the same place as fellow defeated Demon Kings Verdia and Hans. She merges with them an is resurrected into a huge, bizarre four-legged beast. Turns out her old comrades Wiz and Vanir have arrived in the village on an unrelated errand, and join in the fight, but even they are barely able to keep Sylvia at bay.

That’s when Kazuma decides to use his Popular Phase for good; by appealing to Sylvia’s innate need to be loved and wanted by somebody other than her adoring hordes of goblins. Kazuma, his luck boosted by Aqua’s blessings, is that person, and stands before her unarmed and ready to be taken into her arms…or tentacles…or whatever.

I never thought I’d empathize with a Konosuba villain so much, but Sylvia turns out to be one of the most dynamic and sympathetic of Demon Kings KonoSuba has served up. Her feelings, and specifically her romantic longing, isn’t entirely played for jokes, but portrayed as a very human side of her that turns out to be the Achilles Heel Kazuma must betray her heart to exploit.

He succeeds in gaining her trust and becomes one with her as Wiz gathers the magical energy from all of the villagers and transfers it to Megumin and Yunyun, who combine their powers to unleash a gargantuan Explosion beam that, combined with Kazuma breaking her heart, destroys Sylvia and ends the threat to the village for good.

Back home in Axel, Kazuma receives a hero’s welcome, proving his Popular Phase still has a bit left in the tank. While having a picnic with Aqua and Darkness, Megumin asks Kazuma to allow her to learn advanced magic, setting aside her Explosion magic so she can be of greater use to the party.

Kazuma may have long railed against her utter lack of versatility and durability in battle, but spending so much time in close quarters with her and meeting both her family and the villagers who shaped her, Kazuma suddenly isn’t so quick to deprive her of her “Explosiveness”. Whatever he does to her skill card, she’s still able to cast a beautiful Explosion that creates a heart-shaped cloud. And for that, Megumin is happy.

Did Aqua and Darkness get the short end of the stick in this movie? Perhaps, but that meant a lot of great development for Megumin, Kazuma, and their unique bond. They may get on each others nerves at times, but at the end of the day they’ll always be there for each other: Megumin blowing up something that needs blowing up, and Kazuma carrying her home on his back.

It’s quite simply KonoSuba at its absolute best, firing on all cylinders with confidence, comedy, and chemistry. My main gripe with this movie is that it makes me long that much more for KonoSuba 3!

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 07 – See No Evil, Hear No Evil

Biribiri scored her first big win of the arc against Shokuhou and whatever shadowy organization (*cough*MEMBER*cough*) she’s working for, but could she build on the momentum gained by sending Baba packing? Thankfully, her friends are helping connect the dots, even if in Saten’s case she doesn’t know they’re friends! The psychometric girl gleans a clue from reading MISAKA’s cat’s mind.

Saten is also the first to consider that Shokuhou may have altered her, Uiharu, and Kuroko’s memories, which would explain why she has Misaka’s number on her phone. Uiharu is still in the dark, and yet she knows Misaka’s Mama, and explains to her how everyone with an entrance pass also has a GPS so Judgment and Antiskill can keep tabs on them. Little do the two know they’re being stalked by Baba’s mysterious contact, a girl in purple (I went to the wiki to learn her name is Kouzaku Mitori).

In the middle of arranging to meet with Saten and Kuroko, Misaka’s phone call is interrupted by Kouzaku, who threatens Uiharu and Mama with a knife (in two different spots) unless Misaka tells her the locations of the Sisters clones. Likely still humming from her ownage of Baba, Misaka defiantly clams up, justifiably confident her currents are faster than Kouzaku’s knives.

Misaka saves Uiharu in a novel, very Railgun way: by launching her to safety using the metal supports of the bench, then disarming and neutralizing Kouzaku. This leaves Mama unprotected, but Kuroko teleports to her location and tosses her wheelchair at the second Kouzaku. Misaka has Kuroko teleport Uiharu and Mama to a safer place, but Kouzaku’s liquid metal puppet eventually melts, its operator apparently out of range.

When Kuroko asks Misaka why she chose Uiharu over Mama, Misaka tells her her Mama wouldn’t be happy to hear her daughter saved her before someone else. Misaka also knew Kuroko knew her location would be able to teleport there in under ten seconds, and had faith in Kuroko’s ability to save Mama.

This praise makes Kuroko blush despite herself, and she blushes more when Misaka insists on drawing close to help her walk. It’s immensely fun and hilarious to watch “Tsundere Kuroko” squirm with discomfort in the same situation where she’d normally shudder with bliss. It’s as if she’s falling in love with Onee-sama all over again! Arai Satomi is killing it.

With everyone safe for the time being (except of course for MISAKA), Misaka, Saten and Kuroko continue to try to piece things together at the Judgment office. There, Saten brings up the urban legends website that she and Uiharu were using to try to track the Shadow Metal. They discover that Shokuhou Misaki likely used her power to make Uiharu tamper with the site and alter her memories.

When Misaka reactivates Uiharu’s computer, the data on the site has been reconstructed, revealing a particularly inflammatory urban legend about a “DNA computer” that “generates abilities”, and a prominent photo of Misaki in a garage with men in white coats. Perhaps that’s where MISAKA is being held? If not, at least it’s a new lead, and more evidence with which to implicate Misaki.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 09 – What Now?

At least, for a little while, we get to experience the pure initial jubilation of Kazusa and Izumi being a couple, meeting outside their adjoining houses, and walking to and from school together. Everything looks brighter and shinier, food smells and tastes better, and Izumi looks cuter to Kazusa’s eyes. They’re very much on cloud nine, but throughout it all there’s the underlying knowledge that it just can’t last.

Rika, too, admits she has changed, as a “victim of love”, but has also learned that boys are far more sensitive and nuanced than she thought, and tells the rest of the club to value them as humans—something only she didn’t do before.

While all five girls were in one way or another “losers,” now suddenly Kazusa and Rika are “winners,” having broken the plane of boy-girl romance, and their subsequent floating on clouds does not go unnoticed by those left behind. As a self-proclaimed “loser” himself, it’s Milo-sensei’s experience that winning stifles the imagination, which suits Hitoha just fine.

You could also say that winners are so busy winning their guards are down. Kazusa buys Niina’s half-hearted congratulations, but what Niina doesn’t tell her is that she’s still considering whether to steal Izumi from her, and if so, how. Momo isn’t okay with that, and promises Niina that losing two friends (her and Kazusa) for one boy isn’t worth it.

Niina begs to differ: after all, saying she can’t have sex with mere friends—something Momo doesn’t seem that sure about.

So as their destruction is plotted, Kazusa and Izumi go about their wonderful glittery romance…only the glitter gives way to awkwardness when they find themselves alone in Izumi’s house together. What’s the next step for them? They have no idea, not just what they want to do, but what the other person wants to do.

They aren’t communicating properly yet, nor have they set boundaries or lack thereof, so they make assumptions, some of which are right, like Izumi sitting beside her. They hold hands together, but they both get hung up on how sweaty their hands are, and then Izumi’s mom comes in and suddenly they’re six feet apart.

Ultimately, they won’t know what they want to do until they try something, and they won’t know what to try with each other until they discuss it. Right now, their deep, ten-year familiarity is clashing with the newness of their boyfriend-girlfriend status, and resulting in a bit of a short-circuit.

Meanwhile, the fact Kasuza is with Izumi and Rika is with Amagi means the lit club is suddenly taking a break, giving the recent festival as an excuse, but let’s not fool ourselves: Momo and Hitoha and especially Niina are only going to sit and listen to Rika and Kazusa talk about how great it is to be dating boys for so long.

So Momo goes home alone, not knowing quite what to do about the rift between Niina and Kazusa. Niina invites Izumi to “ride the train” with him assuming she’s willing to offer advice as a friend. Hitoha ambushes Milo-sensei in the clubroom with an “expose,” and give him an ultimatum: sleep with her, just once, or everyone, including his beloved Tomita-sensei, will find out about all the things he’s said to a high school girl.

While I doubt Hitoha was simply bluffing here, the fact remains, she wasn’t 100% prepared for him to not only say “okay” to an offer of sex, but set a time and place for him to pick her up. Milo is quickly approaching the point of no return, but his feelings for Tomita, and the threat of her knowing how deviant he’s been, are clearly clouding his judgment.

Later, Hitoha waits at the agreed-upon time and place, and gets in when Milo-sensei stops and tells her to, tossing her underwear into a nearby garbage can. No good can come of this!

In a nice bit of synergy, the same book that Rika and her new gal friend Sonoe (with whom she now interacts far more comfortably) bond over in the library is the book Niina presents to Izumi on the train, describing his relationship with Kazusa to the The Little Prince and the one rose on his planet. When he went to earth, he found that roses were commonplace, but a fox told him that the sum of his time and experiences with that first rose make it unique.

Saegusa tells Niina that she’s the fox, saying the words that will lead to the Prince living the rest of his days with that one special rose, while the fox itself is never mentioned again once they part ways. To not be forgotten like the fox in the story, Niina has to make a bold move.

Whether someone was actually touching her bottom on the train once it gets crowded is immaterial; the point is, Niina wanted a situation in which she could tell Izumi to place his hand on her bottom. Not only that, there’s now a record of their exchange on their phones she could potentially use against Kazusa.

So one of Izumi’s hands is sweatily, awkwardly clutching Kazusa’s as the ticking of the clock grows louder and louder, and the other hand is resting on Niina’s bottom, with Niina’s hand guiding and keeping it there. So, as is asked many times in the heads of the characters this week, What Now?

Trouble…that’s what!

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 08 – Where Legends are Made

This week, with the cultural festival as the backdrop, every O Maiden decides they’re going to make a choice that will hopefully ensure them happiness and stability as they move forward.  Naturally, things don’t start out smoothly for anyone.

For Kazusa, it’s deciding to tell Izumi upfront how she feels. As her performance with Niina looms, Kazusa is mindul, and nervous, of the fact that Izumi is about to witness her essentially rehearse her confession to him with Niina on stage.

Momo decides she’s not going to entertain Sugimoto’s vapid attention any longer, something she’s even more sure of when he shows up with two of his friends. When Rika sees another girl flirting with Amagi, she starts to realize they can’t have relationship if she insists on keeping it secret from the world.

Then there’s Niina. She seems the most lost out of everyone, caught between feelings for Saegusa and Izumi, but neither sure what those feelings are or how to act on them. For his part, Izumi is taken aback when she puts her hand on his face, leading to her scurrying off while he struggles to hold three teapots—which I’m sure is a metaphor for something.

Hongou finds her encounters with Milo-sensei almost completely dominated by the presence of the modern Japanese teacher Tomita-sensei, who has clearly taken a liking to Milo. Tomita doesn’t see Hongou as a threat, she sees her as a child and a student, and there’s clearly the sense Milo appreciates having Tomita around, almost as a shield from Hongou’s potential mischief. But any discomfort he has comes out of his refusal thus far to set clear boundaries, a responsibility that’s his and his alone.

While wallowing in the rest area, Rika is joined by Sonoe, and the two get to talking about the latter’s boyfriend. Sonoe, who it should be said is clearly ready to move on from bullying Rika to a conventional friendship between hotties, tells Rika how her thing with her boyfriend was physical at first, but became romantic when she learned he was a nice guy. Also, that it’s only natural to want to show off and be proud of the person they like. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Izumi in the audience would be awkward enough, but Saegusa also joins the crowd, sitting right beside Izumi. Suddenly, it’s a rehearsal for Niina as well as Kazusa, in which to somehow prove to Saegusa that she’s not boring, that despite having become a woman, she can still be unpredictable like a child.

When nobody expects it, and just when Kazusa is starting to get into rhythm with Izumi less of a source of stress and more of a calming presence, Niina flips the script, walks out into the crowd, and puts her hand on Izumi’s chest, shocking everyone there (and no one more than Kazusa), but eliciting an impressed smirk from Saegusa.

Izumi takes Niina by the wrist to talk in private, whipping the crowd into a frenzy as they hoot and applaud what looks to all the world like two lovers shuffling off to be alone. In the moment, it looks like a heel turn for Niina (if you’re an KaZumi shipper, like me).

Izumi is surprised when Niina tells him even she didn’t really know what she was doing, he surmises that it may have been to make Saegusa jealous, and that if she still wants to do that kind of stuff because she still likes Saegusa, he’s willing to help her. The key is, she should focus on what she wants, not how others will see it. A tall task for someone all but defined by observers. But the one thing Izumi can’t see is the real reason Niina reached out to him: she likes him.

As for Kazusa, she also considered the fact that it may be game over for her and Izumi before she even took her shot, but she’s determined to take that shot anyway. Seeing how Niina looked when she touched Izumi clinched it for her: for someone who clearly likes him that much to still support Kazusa, who only ever thought about herself…that’s the person she’d want to be with Izumi, rather than some rando.

Everything comes to a head at the bonfire that concludes the festival. Due to the buzz caused by the performances—no doubt supercharged by Niina’s improvisation—the whole school is aware of the urban legend about standing in the shadow of the one you love, and people are trying it out.

It’s the first time Hongou’s work has reached an audience so large, and the pride in her accomplishment fuels her confidence in wanting to try it out on Milo-sensei. Unfortunately she doesn’t come close to getting a chance; Milo is well away from the bonfire’s flames, chatting with Tomita-sensei.

Rika fares better. Turns out Amagi wasn’t as close to giving up on them as it seemed last week, but Rika goes for broke and confesses to him in front of everyone, telling him she can now see the difference between romance and sexual desire, but more to the point, she doesn’t care anymore about anything other than Amagi knowing she’s in love with him. He responds by hugging her, telling her he’s never been so happy.

Momo was successful in getting Sugimoto to take a hike, but that leaves her alone at the bonfire when everyone else is busy with their respective love interests. Still, you get the feeling she’d rather be alone than have those annoying dudes buzzing around her, so it’s a win for her.

Niina tells Saegusa that she’s decided to let herself “obsess” over someone for the first time, and see where it goes, after a lifetime of keeping her distance. She’s pretty much asserting she has to look out for herself, even if it hurts Kazusa and ends up fruitless, as Izumi just doesn’t see her that way, and has—has always had—someone closer to him.

That brings us to Izumi, who beats Kazusa to the punch and and confesses to her first, moving her to tears of joy and relief. He references that day years ago when he first saw her as a girl, and after all those years of her protecting him, he decided he wanted to protect her too. Big sister, little sister, good friend…she’s been all of those things to him, but now he knows all of those characterizations are reflections of the love he’s always had for her.

The two walk to the riverfront hand-in-hand to admire the cityscape, at peace and happy as clams. So many weights have been lifted on this night, but the smooth sailing will only last so long with four episodes left. Storms lie ahead, and the strength of all of the night’s confessions and rejections place will be vigorously tested. I’m fist-pumpingly happy for Kazusa and Rika, but love and pain do go hand in hand!

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 07 – You Mustn’t Become Boring

At the inn where he was extorted by Hitoha to take the Lit Club, Yamagishi-sensei is perfectly content to spend the evening with his folks, until he’s confronted by Hitoha in a particularly frisky mood. Forget her literary ambitions, she just wants to get with Milo-sensei, period. But thank goodness, he says four words that start to restore my faith in him: “Will you please stop?”

Sure, he’s pretty mean when he laughs at her inability to handle an imminent (but ultimately aborted) kiss when she was talking big about letting him lift her up by her thong and toss her to the floor. And when he tells her not to “bite off more than you can chew.” Hitoha may consider herself “a wretched sight,” but the alternative—if Milo-sensei had given in—would have been far, far worse.

As Momo withdraws from the baths, she can’t get the image of a totally naked and uninhibited Niina out of her mind, eliminating any doubt that she has a crush on her. Not only that, when Sugimoto RINEs her with a number of in-your-face stamps enthusiastically inquiring about how she’s doing, Momo almost seems resentful—how dare you, vapid boy, try to occupy headspace I’d rather have occupied by the fair Miss Sugawara?

Just before Momo returns to the bedroom, Rika is also exchanging innocuous texts with a boy—Amagi—the difference being Rika is loving every moment of it. Still, not so much that she’d let Momo know, as she rushes back to the brainstorming table. Momo muses that the idea of guys being simple and shallow is “an urban legend in itself,” and wonders why girls are supposed to couple with them instead of what she deems to be simpler girls she finds cuter.

Rika initially believes the two of them are far apart when it comes to how they feel, but in reality, they both liken how they feel to the bittersweet taste of a dark chocolate Pocky. They’re both interrupted by a rejected and thoroughly pissed-off Hitoha, who barges in with an urban legend about sweethearts wearing matching thongs…not knowing that might actually work for someone like Momo!

While the nature of the distance may vary, the love interests of all five girls are far away. Niina and Kazusa are unique in that they likely share the same love interest. It’s Niina who is there when Kazusa comes out of her overheated state, which is really for the best, as Niina gets to instigate the fight they really need to have in order to move forward, either as friends or something else.

The other three interrupt the fight, in part deeming it unfair due to Kazusa’s heat-fatigued state, but the five come up with a solution that serves everyone: a lively, no-holds-barred pillow fight. It’s a wonderful, semi-cathartic release, and thankfully Yamagishi-sensei has precisely no part in it whatsoever, keeping a distance and letting these girls in their savage season have it out with one another in an aggressive (fight) yet gentle (pillows) way.

The night Kazusa returns, she has dinner with Izumi’s family, but Izumi himself isn’t present. In another beautiful sequence, the two end up encountering one another from the windows of their respective bedrooms—a cliche to be sure, but an effective one in this case, especially as both had just been thinking of one another; specifically the fact they like one another.

Having learned a lot from her trip and gained quite a bit of confidence and courage, Kazusa draws on what she and only she knows—that Izumi is particularly into retro trains—and tosses him one in the form of a keychain. Izumi first thought of Kazusa as a girl when he could throw a baseball further than her. But this time, both the keychain and her feelings make it to him. It’s a small step, but definitely one in the right direction.

Back at school, Kazusa makes sure to apologize to Niina for being presumptuous about her stealing Izumi, but does so under the impression Niina has no interest in Izumi, which is actually just another presumption on her part! Ironically, Kazusa takes another confident step in volunteering to be the role of the girl to Niina’s boy in the lit club’s cultural festival performance.

As Momo adjusts Niina’s costume and blushes at the sight of her nape, and Rika continues to flush her relationship with Amagi down the toilet, Kazusa continues to reiterate in her head how she loves Izumi, and has always loved and treasured him back when she was his big-sister figure. But while Kazusa has probably never been more at peace, that peace is built on shaky ground.

As Kazusa confides to Niina that she’s just about ready to confess her feelings to Izumi, Niina is not quite ready to concede Izumi to her so easily, though she might ultimately do so out of respect for their friendship. Where she goes wrong is seeking advice from her middle-aged pedophile former acting coach Saegusa, whom she visits just as he’s calling his latest prized talent “boring”…apparently for being so obedient.

Saegusa doesn’t want to witness obedience, on the stage or off it; he wants to see rapture; the explosive moment when a girl spreads her wings and takes off, transforming into a woman, even if that woman holds no interest for him beyond the “final moment” of transition.

With that in mind, and considering his loyalties lie nowhere else, he urges Niina not to be boring like his young student, but rather to damn the torpedoes. It’s a heartbreaking scene, not least because it’s quite likely Niina will do whatever her old mentor says, no matter how much it might hurt her and/or Kazusa.

But like Momo’s near-total disinterest in boys, Rika’s near-total inability to be the girlfriend Amagi wants, Hitoha’s near-total commitment to pursuing a forbidden affair, and Kazusa’s near-total confidence in her love for Izumi, Sugawara Niina is beholden to the road paved by the sum total of her life experiences thus far.

As much as she might want to, she has yet to escape Saegusa’s influence, and can no more turn off that road than Momo can start liking boys. And so, it seems a war with Izumi is inevitable—and no longer the kind with mere pillows.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 06 – Solo Sumo

The cultural festival committee, wanting to boost outside attendance this year, come to the lit club requesting they come up with a romantic urban legend. Little do they know how sensitive a subject romance is for all five of the girls, for very different reasons. And yet, just when the other four are ready for a vehement refusal from Rika, she quietly agrees to take the job.

Hitoha, meanwhile, feels like she’s in a sumo match all by herself, as she’s walking around in a cold, uncomfortable black thong, part of another example of her dangerous “indirect play” with Milo-sensei. It’s all about the fact she’s wearing it, he knows she’s wearing it, and she know he knows she’s wearing it, but he doesn’t seem that excited.

Instead, when the pretty (and age-appropriate) Tomita-sensei shows up, he leaves with her, and while flirting lets loose an important nugget Hitoha will use later. I still hold out hope Milo, the adult, will stop this before things go too far.

There’s a different match going on between Niina and Kazusa, and Momo is ill-equipped to referee. The problem is, the Niina and Kazusa girl are playing with different sets of rules. When Niina tells Kazusa to imagine how she’d want her love story with Izumi to start, Kazusa brings up how beautiful Niina is and how she lacks the same confidence over her looks.

When Niina presses, saying Kazusa is cute and in any case a relationship isn’t all about looking perfect, Kazusa flees. Momo tells Niina that she should clear it up with Kazusa that there’s nothing going on with Izumi, but Niina would rather exercise some “tough love.” For one thing, if there’s nothing to spur Kazusa or Izumi on, they’ll remain in limbo forever. Not to mention Niina is (rightfully!) mad at one of her supposed best friends Kazusa for assuming what so many others have—that she’s out to “steal their man.”

Rika, the one lit club member who has “won” her match and now has a boyfriend, has no idea what to do next. Amagi is eager to sing out their relationship from the rooftops, but she’d rather find a way to hide it in a forest. She wants to ask Amagi for a little more time to do so, but going public seems like something very important to him. This couple will need to learn to find a middle ground, lest it wither like an unpicked fruit on the vine.

Bereft of good ideas, Hitoha suggests a club field trip to an inn…the inn run by Milo-sensei’s family which she heard about while he was flirting with Tomita-sensei. Hitoha has since been given the run-around by her “editor,” saying erotica is no good and purer “young love” pieces are what’s hot now (the girl who published erotica ahead of her didn’t fare so well). Hitoha now finds herself perfectly positioned to draw from her own life for this new literary direction. She promises Milo she’ll thank him “with her body.”

The change of scenery doesn’t do much to get the creative juices flowing, particularly for Kazusa due to an incident on the train when Niina mentioned she had tea with Izumi. While Niina hoped being aggressive would spur Kazusa to action, it’s having an unexpected effect of making Kazusa retreat ever further into her burrow of self-loathing.

A break for baths is called when in the brainstorming session Kazusa suggests an urban legend about blowing up the school so you can be with the one you love in heaven forever. Dark. Shit. But even in the baths, Kazusa can’t escape her worsening inferiority complex, as Niina walks in without even trying to cover herself, showing off a body against which Kazusa doesn’t think she has any chance.

Niina is right to think neither Kazusa or Izumi will come out of their shells without external action. She’s also right to be hurt by Kazusa assuming she’s trying to steal Izumi, as well as the fact she believes Niina is the better choice because of her looks. But the difficulty level is way too high, and by episode’s end Kazusa has literally burned out in the bath. Whether Niina takes it down a notch for Kazusa’s sake depends on whether she honestly has zero interest in Izumi—the jury’s still out on that.

As for Momo, she’s mostly caught in between other conflicts this week. While there’s not much additional evidence this week to support viewers’ growing opinion that she’s into girls—and has a crush on Niina in particular—I would definitely welcome further exploration of that development. For now, she’s trying her best to keep the peace, because Niina vs. Kazusa could get ugly, fast.