Golden Kamuy – 07 – #NotExtinctYet

Sugimoto, Asirpa, and Shiraishi end up in a good old-fashioned standoff with Nihei and Tanigaki, ending with Tanigaki racing off with Asirpa so she won’t hear the screams of Sugimoto and Shiraishi’s deaths. But because Shiraishi is an escape artist, he and Sugimoto are able to slip out of their paltry binds and pursue Tanigaki.

Nihei underestimated Shiraishi, and Tanigaki underestimates his surroundings, tripping a deer trap that puts a wolfsbane-dipped arrow in his leg. He has no choice but to release Asirpa so she can cut the poisoned flesh out (gross), but when she’s done Nihei catches up with them and uses Asirpa as bait for Retar.

However, Retar was simply no match for Nihei, because Retar had backup, in the person (well, in the wolf) of his mate, who delivers the fatal bite to Nihei’s jugular. When Sugimoto and Shiraishi arrive, Nihei has basically bled out, while Retar rejoins his family, something Asirpa (not to mention nobody else) had any idea he had.

So, reports of the Ezo Wolf’s extinction were grossly exaggerated. Seeing Retar with his family brought tears to my eyes. I also felt for poor Ryuu, who lost his master, but thankfully Asirpa insists on taking Tanigaki to the village, lest the loyal-to-a-fault Ryuu stay with him until he dies then starve to death.

In the village, the young Ainu get another good look at a Japanese fellow with weird ears in Shiraishi, while he and Sugimoto tuck into some deer stew and something I’m going to call “salmonsicles”. When the village elder speaks of how the gold sullied the rivers that brought them fish, she mentions how Ainu from all over Hokkaido squirreled away a hoard of gold far larger than even the prisoners know about.

Tanigaki, wounded but conscious, basically corroborates the old woman, and adds the story of his commander, Lt. Tsurumi, who had to lead a forward advance that led to the deaths of half the 7th. The chief of staff committed suicide in disgrace and left the entire division in disgrace, unpaid and unawarded for their valor. From there, Tsurumi vowed to seize Hokkaido for the 7th and open a weapons factory so that their families could work and be provided for.

Tanigaki’s story paints Tsurumi in a more sympathetic light, but it doesn’t sway Sugimoto from his goal to find the gold and keep it away from Tsurumi and men like him.

Speaking of ‘men like him’, the group led by Hijikata goes into town, mostly so that Ushiyama, a raging hulk of a man, can sleep with some women lest he go even more berserk than he usually is. Then Shiraishi, in his infinite bad luck (why else would he be so good at escaping?), ends up face to face with the man-beast, and unwisely tries to run from him.

Ushiyama will have his “little chat” with Shiraishi, and he bowls through four people like they’re ninepins, shakes off being buried by rocks, tosses a horse-and-sleigh aside like they were nothing, and is generally an cartoonishly unstoppable monster of a man. Shiraishi finally finds some soldiers of the 7th—four of them—but what are a few bullets to Ushiyama? We’ll have to wait until next week to find out.

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Hinamatsuri – 07 – Take a Deep Breath Here and Hold it

Despite being introduced as the girl from the same “realm” as Hina come to eliminate her, Anzu’s stories since have tugged hardest on the heartstrings due to the circumstances in which she ends up, and this week is no different.

We start off with her learning the ropes of the restaurant owned by the couple who took her in, and she’s constantly saying and doing things that remind them of her destitute recent past, and thus make them tear up.

Those things include her clothes always being too big, 800 yen being a king’s ransom, and using only cold water for her shower. However, her time among the homeless made her a hard worker and a quick study, and by the time her first day is over, she has time to soak in her warm and comfy new home. Dawww.

From the sweetness of Anzu getting acclimated to her new life, we shift to Hina getting chewed out by a teacher for constantly sleeping (guilty as charged), and what do you know, Hina actually uses her powers!

Not to do anything to the teacher, mind you; she merely manipulates her desk neighbor Hitomi into pocking out a pointillist sketch of a knife-wielding oni, which Hitomi would surely get in trouble for if teach saw it!

Hina isn’t just sleeping at school because she’s tired; she’s also bored. Nitta tells her to figure out on her own how to make things more fun. When she hears some somewhat exaggerated claims about how much power a student council president has, Hina mixes it with stuff she saw on TV and announces her candidacy, to the dubiousness of all.

When Hina tells her homeroom teacher “I’ve got this”, he’s never been less convinced, and scoffs at a fellow teacher praising his ambitious kids. The only one who takes Hina seriously is someone who barely knows her; Nitta’s boss, who instructs the company lawyer to draft a proper speech for her.

When that suggestion was first made, I knew it would result in some comedy gold, and readers, I was not disappointed. After ignoring a teacher’s insistance first-years can’t run for president (causing the whole auditorium to note her ignoring him, in unison!) Hina starts out strong, as her speech is a reasonable argument for a competitive bidding process for a new lunch supplier.

Things go off the rails once Hina simply recites even the parts she’s not supposed to read (‘take a deep breath here’) and even the lawyer-speak can’t hide the fact that a school-mandated afternoon nap for middle schoolers is…a bit silly.

Nevertheless, Hina wins secretary, a job for which she’s a no-show for the first few council meetings. When a member pays a visit to her classroom, only Hitomi is there to receive her, and Hitomi being Hitomi, gets roped into yet more work as she inadvertently fills in for Hina and is appointed “stand-in secretary.” Guys…Hitomi’s got a bar to tend!

The third segment finds the middle ground between Anzu’s poignant introduction to homed life and Hina’s comedic presidential campaign, as Nitta once again fails to secure a date with Utako, and Hina urges him to talk about it with her so he’ll feel better (having learned this on TV, of course).

When Hitomi gets word Hina’s “dad” wants to date her boss, she thinks of how hard it must’ve been for Hina losing her mother (whom she envisions also had blue hair, since Nitta doesn’t), and vows to help get Nitta that date in any way she can so Hina can one day have a new mom.

Her efforts don’t go so swell at first, as Hina’s hamfisted act makes it seem as though Nitta put her up to asking Utako on his behalf. Hitomi persists, and Utako relents, agreeing to go on the dang date.

Upon learning Hina got him said date, Nitta picks her up and spins her around the room in elation…until she smacks her foot on the doorway and breaks it. In the hospital room Hina insists Nitta carry on with the date, which he does…but on that date—the audio for which we never hear—he apparently never stops talking about Hina.

Utako takes that, and Hina’s closeness to Nitta, to mean that she’d only come between them if she continued dating them, not at all perceiving the fact that they’d both welcome her as part of the family if things progressed that far (and there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t).

And so Nitta essentially strikes out for being too good a fake dad, and has to resort to using a hand puppet to represent Hina’s new mom, which even Hina isn’t buying!

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 07 – Iroha and Hikari Grow Closer as Triangles Form

When Iroha sees Hikari with Ayado after telling her to stay away from him, Iroha is jealous. While she almost immediately regrets asking Ishino for advice, Ishino makes some good points.

Just because Iroha may not have ever told someone “the way she wants it to be” doesn’t mean she “has no right” to do so. In this case, it’s not imposing her will on Hikari so much as expressing how she feels to him, considering he’s not the world’s most perceptive man.

The situation resolves itself in a satisfying way, when Iroha witnesses Ayado being accidentally soaked then openly mocked by classmates, but turning the other cheek. She sees a lot of Hikari in her, someone who is kind and gentle, but also someone who perhaps gives too much without asking for anything in return. Hey, Ayado has a lot of Iroha in her too!

Iroha’s jealousy dissipates as she learns Ayado is a good person, while feeling regret for insisting Hikari trust her while initially doubting him a bit in this case. Iroha also seems worried about coming off as overly hostile or angry all the time, but Hikari doesn’t mind; he wants her to feel she can talk to him about anything bothering her.

The next day Ishino acts as Iroha’s attack dog unbidden, but they’re interrupted by Ayado herself, who wins Ishino over as quickly as Iroha (noting how Hikari surrounds himself with such beauties). With both Iroha and Ishino thus approving of her, Ayado seems poised to join their circle of friends.

Itou, on the other hand, bolts upon being introduced, but that turns out simply to be his shyness, and once he learns what a nice person Ayado is, before long he’s offering her a handkerchief to wipe away the tears of joy she sheds upon being invited to a picnic with the others.

Later, Hikari touches Ayado’s hair while trying to pluck something out of it (it turns out to be a caterpillar, which he’s not into). But unbeknownst to Hikari, his careless gesture of intimacy has Ayado’s heart racing.

When the weekend arrives, Hikari spends some quality guy time with Itou in Akiba, after Iroha politely declines to join them, insisting “she’ll be fine.” Hikari’s been given significant funds to spend on making himself look less scruffy-looking, and who should appear but the stylish Takanashi, who is apparently only in Akiba for a “computer part” (the district’s original claim to fame).

Takanashi reluctantly tags along and offers Hikari tips, all the while wondering “why am I doing this?” It’s not that complicated: Takanashi is not a complete asshole; as such, he feels bad about what he did to Hikari at school, and this is an act of penance.

He is rewarded when he’s able to witness Hikari being a badass when Ayado—handing out tissues in a maid costume for a new cafe to earn money to buy a figure she wants—is harassed by young men who find her irresistible.

Hikari isn’t overly judgy or aggressive—he merely puts himself between Ayado and the lads and firmly informs them of proper Akiba etiquette regarding maids, and encouraging them to come back once they’ve done more research. This performance causes Ayado to swoon once more.

Hikari meets up with Iroha that evening to apologize for not hanging out with her, and Iroha reiterates that it’s fine, and they have a nice chat (and he shows her his new fashionably short pants). The next morning Ayado races past them, and while it’s plain she has a crush on Hikari, it’s not plain to him.

When Ishino suggests, no, assigns the group of friends to a camping trip at her relative’s cabin in the woods, Hikari is firmly against such a “normie” activity—until both Itou and Iroha express genuine interest. Ishino is entrusting Hikari with inviting her crush Takanashi, while Itou is considering inviting his new crush Ayado.

So Ishino likes Takanashi, who like(d) Iroha; Iroha and Hikari like each other, Ayado likes Hikari, and Itou likes Ayado. Should be an interesting camping trip!

Hinamatsuri – 06 – All She Remembers is the Chili Shrimp

The moment his mother calls and Hina answers, Nitta has to figure out a way to explain why a 13-year-old girl is living with him, so he crafts an intricate story, the gist of which is that Hina is the orphan of a couple who were killed in a feud.

Hina’s robotic delivery may be unconvincing, but Nitta explains it away by noting that the girl was traumatized by the experience, and all she remembers of it is “the chili shrimp” (though he should have said ikura, since Hina knows what that is).

Nitta eventually comes clean to his mother and his alcoholic kid sister, though he replaces one lie with another: Hina is his daughter. But is it a lie? I mean, obviously not biologically, but in practically every other way, that’s what he is. His fam doesn’t object, and welcome her with enthusiastic open arms.

Watching Nitta knit his web of lies had lots of comedic value, as did Hina’s inept attempts to stick to their story. But the second half of this episode barely makes any effort to be funny. Instead, it goes for straight drama, as new municipal statues mean the homeless people Anzu lives with are going to be kicked out of the park where they live.

While all the old men go their separate ways, Utako (their friend and vocal advocate) has found a husband and wife willing to take Anzu in. Anzu doesn’t want to stop fighting, but this is a battle she can’t win, and the old men are not only resigned to their fate and fully prepared to move on, but are likely relieved this young kid won’t have to live on the streets collecting cans anymore.

Anzu is anything but celebratory. Upon suddenly finding herself in the relative lap of luxury, with delicious food, clean clothes, and a warm bed—none of it costing her anything—all Anzu can do is worry about how she doesn’t deserve any of it, as well as worry about her friends like Yassan who are still out there on the streets.

Anzu thinks this way because she has an enormous heart and a strong moral compass. But she’s being far too hard on herself; no one of her age (or at least the age she appears to be in the form she’s taken in this world) should have to worry about working for food; she should have adults who care for her, as Nitta cares for Hina.

Sure, Hina helps him out occasionally (though certainly not lately), and when Anzu learns he new guardians run a Chinese restaurant, she is eager to help out in any way she can (again, because she’s a super-good person). But one thing she’ll hopefully learn is that her work isn’t an requisite of food, shelter, and care.

Her new guardians just want her to be happy and safe. Still, they tell her the people she’s worried about will always be a part of her, and her a part of them, so she needn’t ever feel alone.

I tellsya, it was a goddamn tearjerker; Anzu’s tears of joy wouldn’t be out of place in 3-gatsu no Lion, while seiyu Murakawa Rie does a marvelous job voicing Anzu. I’m mostly just glad she’s no longer homeless!

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 06 – Isn’t This Kinda Nintendo Hard?

Hikari seriously needs to get up out of his head, for real. He also needs to RELAX. Iroha is upset because she’s worried he still doesn’t trust her. He uses his “I’m a stupid antisocial otaku who can’t read the atmosphere” card as an excuse for not understanding her anger/concern.

Meanwhile, Ayado Sumie is the easiest person in the world to talk with, and gives thanks and praise to Hikari, along with a batch of fresh potatoes, for helping her “live on with pride in her body” and simply “talking to somebody.”

Between having Iroha as a girlfriend and Ayado as, well, an admirer (if not more), Hikari’s grows a big head without even noticing it, and when he spots Itou talking to a cat, he assumes it’s out of loneliness because he isn’t hanging out with him enough.

Itou rebuffs Hikari’s angle with extreme prejudice, and before he knows it, Hikari is alone, like he was before, only now it’s unbearable, even when he’s cooking. He recalls how he and Itou met, back when it was not only bearable, but natural.

Itou was constantly taken advantage of by the class thugs, and Hikari won’t give him the time of day, but when he recovers Hikari’s earbuds after said thugs threw them out the window, Hikari pays him back by not flaking out on an after-school art project foisted upon them.

When the thugs try to destroy Hikari’s 800-yen magazine he just bought, Itou snaps into action, “making his kindness into something that can be properly returned.” Itou gets slugged, but he gains Hikari as a friend.

After apologizing and making up with Itou, Hikari considers doing the same with Iroha…but chickens out. Still, he can’t bear her angry face, and so waits quietly outside her house like a stalker until he realizes how stalkery this all is and prepares to leave, but Iroha answers the door.

He gives her a peace offering of potato dumplings, and she invites him in, finally admitting she’s tired of being angry, as well as explaining why she was. Hikari responds that there’s no way he wouldn’t trust her; it’s just that he can’t believe how happy he is because of her.

After they kiss and hug, that feeling intensifies, and curdles into distrust not in Iroha, but his own animal urges, which he assumes are not wanted. He promptly—probably too promptly—flees, and the next day he’s incredibly awkward with Iroha once more, and warns her to stay away from him.

Once again, he finds it much easier to interact with his kohai Ayado than Hikari, and finds comfort in sitting beside her. He also gives her some potato dumplings, since she gave him the potatoes. This would all be fine if Iroha couldn’t watch them being so friendly from the windows.

When Arisa sees Iroha and asks what’s up, Iroha can only run into her arms, clearly distraught, and wonder “why it has to be this way”. Hikari isn’t trying to hurt her—in fact, he’s trying to do the opposite—but he needs to learn about boundaries with other girls while he’s dating one…especially if he’s going to run out on her when he’s at her house and run away from her at school.

Dude seriously needs to relax and stop committing unforced errors.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 05 – When Life Throws Hard-Boiled Eggs at Your Face, Eat Them

Despite being caught by both Iroha and his little sister Anzu, Takanashi is to prideful and egotistic to apologize to Hikari so easily, and so the abuse at school continues.

Hikari is resigned to the fact that even the garbage perpetrator of the nasty lolicon rumors won’t be able to credibly recant his lies, and takes solace in the fact he’s flanked by a good friend in Itou on one side and a loving girlfriend on the other.

Indeed, when he tells Iroha that it doesn’t matter if most of the school has the wrong idea about him, as long as she doesn’t. Those are words from Hikari’s heart, that he said without difficulty, and they elicit an “I love you” from his girlfriend.

He’ll wish he had so much ease in communicating his feelings later on.

While at Hikari’s house, Iroha tries to get the measure of his little brother Kaoru, and mentions that she’s met Anzu. She learns that he’s very much like his brother, as he’s more concerned with protecting Anzu than himself, even if he’s hellbent on making it clear to the world that he’s way cooler than his older bro.

Back at school, Hikari’s turn-the-other-cheek mentality wears on Takanashi, to the point he confronts him and demands he say or do something, anything back in response to defend himself. Hikari tells the guy to stay in his lane; someone who started this whole mess doesn’t have the right to dictate how he should handle it.

Just talking to Hikari draws attention from Takanashi’s friends, and while he’s not immediately willing to set the record straight, he still lashes out at them when they’re harsh with Hikari right in front of him. Later, in private, Hikari tells Takanashi he’s actually incredibly happy despite the hardship the lies have caused.

Hikari’s even willing to let Takanashi keep up appearances for the sake of his ego; all he asks is that he make the truth known to his mother, brother, and only female friend, Arisa. Of course, before Takahashi can tell Arisa the truth, she’s macking on him, poor judge of character that she is.

The result of the little summit is that all of the people who actually matter to Hikari now know the truth, which is more than enough for him. When next we see him, he’s sleep-deprived from binging Ezomichi-san all night, and suddenly collides with a first-year girl who also wears glasses and also loves anime, which is why she’s eager to return the anime magazine Hikari dropped when they collided.

Ayado (voiced wonderfully by Ueda Reina), as socially awkward as Hikari if not moreso, tracks him down and returns the book, then proceeds to talk his ear off, but when Iroha (whom she calls “the perfect 3D girl”) shows up she assumes she mistook a normie for a fellow otaku, and races off before Hikari can say a word.

Hikari shrugs off the encounter and agrees to go to a festival with Iroha. He turns up in an ill-fitting frumpy yukata, while she arrives in modern clothes. He has fun, she has fun watching him have fun, and when he can’t find the right words to express how he’s feeling, he simply holds her hand.

When they spot Takanashi and his sister, Hikari asks Iroha how she handled him trying to ask her out, wondering if it was hard to turn down a “hot guy.” It’s a big miss for a guy who’s said the right words often to this point.

Iroha is rightfully angered, not just because Hikari once again shows how he thinks he’s inferior to others, but also because he would think she’s the kind of person who gives a shit about hot guys after everything she’s said to him. She storms off, and the next day, Hikari doesn’t get a response to his texts.

In the midst of this silent fight, Hikari encounters Ayado gardening, and talks with her a bit about anime before continuing his search for Iroha. He also encounters Arisa, who demands he put in a good word for her with Takanashi.

Later, in the hall Hikari overhears students talking shit about Ayado, then comes face-to-face with Ayado herself, who surely heard the insults. His good heart kicks in and he enters into a lively conversation about anime with her.

Ayado is very moved by Hikari’s ignoring of the other boys, as well as his clearly genuine interest in anime, which very much mirrors her own. Indeed, she’s moved to tears, which leads Hikari to give her the bouquet of  funereal flowers left on his desk, while insisting he’s not a normie at all.

Arisa witnesses him cheering up Ayado and smacks him for being such a shameless “player” while he’s in hot water with Iroha. He finally does locate his girlfriend and apologize for being so “comfortable feeling inferior”, but because that’s only half of the reason Iroha is upset, and Hikari doesn’t understand what he “should try not to say”, their impasse continues.

And it continues at a very interesting time. His name has been cleared with all who really matter in his life, and he’s stumbled upon a girl who could well be a good match, if only he didn’t already have a girlfriend. Sure she’s a bit of a stereotypical nerd girl, but I like her a lot, she’s got a great easy chemistry with Hikari, and unlike Iroha, she’s not poised to move away in a few months’ time. Very interesting indeed…

AICO – 12 (Fin) – A World for Both Aikos

AICO ends by having its cake and eating it too, with only Isazu suffering long-term ill effects from the events of the finale. In the last couple episodes he’d devolved into a raving, maniacal villain, but at least it was presumably out of his Papa-Grizzly desire to protect his cub, Yuzuha. However it’s clear he’s willing to use Yuzuha to manipulate the matter to his whims and gets drunk off the power, ignoring her pleas for her to stop.

Isazu presents a persistent threat to Kanzaki’s attempt to perform extremely sensitive “brain transfer surgery”, the science of which neither the show nor I will bother getting into; suffice it to say Yura is one of the greatest medical and scientific minds in human history, which is frankly…a bit much.

But with the other Divers arriving at Primary Point, and Kurose successfully infiltrating the hospital and disconnecting Yuzuha from her duplicate bodies (ending the threat Isazu presented), Kanzaki/Yura has just enough time to pull it off. When the procedure is complete, The “Real” Tachibana Aiko emerges from the surgical capsule safe and sound, if a little out of it.

However, Yura’s intention wasn’t just to revive Aiko, but save the other Aiko who had spent the last eleven episodes proving that she was just as real. He didn’t want either Aiko to die. Yet once the “fake” Aico has confirmed Aiko is alright, she seems ready to do just that, as her head retreats into the mass of Matter, which starts to turn green, as if decomposing.

But just when everyone is lamenting the loss of a person they’d become quite fond of, the dying matter spits out a strange fetus-like thing, which then spits out a fully alive (and naked) Aiko. Turns out Gummi, whom her father gave her, was meant to serve a far more important role than just that of a pet and companion.  Gummi also contained the sum total of data for Aico’s body, such that once the brain transfer was complete, Gummi was able to surround and regenerate her body.

Aiko invites Aico to join her family (her mom and brother are released and soon up and about), but while she’s grateful for her conterpart’s kindness, she respectfully declines.

Aiko at least insists she meet at least once with her Mom and Ryouta before going off and doing her own thing, and the resulting reunion is every bit as powerful and earned-feeling as when she first arrived at their cocoon, particularly when she starts to tear up immediately after turning her back on them.

From there, everyone returns to their lives, and the Area, now free of malignant Matter, begins to rebuild. As for Aico, she starts on her own path at a new school as a transfer student, but her name probably isn’t Aico.

As for what it is, we never find out, and I enjoyed the ending that cut off her introduction. All that matters is she is a different person. She’s the girl in loafers walking into a classroom in the ED. Most importantly, she’s the one we’ve been watching and following all this time. I wish her well.

Nil Admirari no Tenbin – Teito Genwaku Kitan – 02 – Welcome to Fukurou

NAT continues to be watchable if unexceptional in its second episode, which is largely an introduction to Fukurou’s facilities and the attractive yet often eccentric men who live and/or work there.

They include a former houseboy of the Kuze family with whom Tsugumi is acquainted, a mask-wearing researcher, and an odd-eyed kid who likes to hang out up in trees. She also sees the repository of cursed tomes, which is, from her perspective, lit up like Christmas from the various auras.

Tsugumi is also shown her own apartment, a first for her, and is also chatted up in the alley by someone who turns out to be her brother’s favorite author, Migawa Shizuru, who lives at Fukurou.

He joins Tokimiya, Hayato, Akira, and Hisui for a welcome banquet of sushi, and immediately Hayato and Shizuru start making preparations to stake their claim on the right to woo the newbie, with Hisui in the middle trying to keep things calm.

The next day Tsugumi heads out for her first patrol with Hayato, Akira, and Hisui, donning her Fukurou uniform which features a skirt of a short length she’s not used to. She’s also not used to walking beside unmarried men, and so almost instinctively keeps her distance.

They visit bookstore after bookstore, but none of the old Japanese-style books they encounter has any aura, which disappoints Tsugumi, who hoped to make more of an immediate difference.

One bookstore tender even calls her “another useless good-for-nothing,” while another asks if she wants to be his lover “or sweetheart”, to which she states, for the record, she’s not interested in men or marriage at the moment. (She also meets the living stuffed animal Perry, whose reason for existing other than being the show’s mascot escapes me).

At one bookstore run by a particularly panicky and paranoid owner, Tsugumi’s failure to find a cursed tome actually makes the poor guy’s year, and Hayato points out to her that doing her job isn’t just about finding books, but putting people at ease when they learn they’re not in possession of them. So it was a good day’s work.

Nil Admirari no Tenbin – Teito Genwaku Kitan – 01 – A Cursed Tome Frees a Caged Bird (First Impressions)

The intense first cold open of Nil Admirari no Tenbin, depicting people committing suicide while cops chase down a guy with a book, did not impress me as much as the opening sequence, with its catchy club beat and stage show extravaganza milieu.

I have a soft spot for OPs and EDs in which the cast “puts on a show” (see also Soremachi and the ending of Kekkai Sensen’s first season). But I’ll admit I also worried this was one of those shows whose OP writes checks the show itself can’t cash (DRAMAtical Murder’s Goatbed-led OP was outstanding; the show was a snooze).

Fortunately, after getting pumped up by the OP, I wasn’t let down by the briskly moving story centered on Kuze Tsugumi, the eldest daughter in an aristocratic Taishou Era family in dire financial straits. Tsugumi has known for a while that in order to save her family she must marry whomever her father can scrounge up. Her little brother Hitaki echoes the suppressed voice in her head saying “what about what you want?”

Tsugumi is short with Hitaki, whom she admits she’s spoiled too much anyway, but when she returns from town with olive branches including a new book and eclairs, she and the family butler find him doused in oil, lighting himself on fire while holding a book.

Fortunately, Hitaki isn’t killed, but his burns require isolation to heal (considering the era, I’m somewhat surprised he survived). Tsugumi and her butler are approached by two hotties in unusual uniforms, which is because the’re from an unusual bureau:  the Imperial Library Intelligence Asset Management Bureau, or simply Fukurou (though I personally kinda like “ILIAMB”.

The men from Fukurou explain that Tsugumi’s brother likely fell victim to a “cursed tome”, a handwritten Japanese-style book containing the emotions—in this case suicidal-by-fire—of its author. When the butler brings the men the book Hitaki was holding when he self-immolated, Tsugumi is shocked to find it has flames emanating from it…but no one else can see them.

The more forward of the two guys, Ozaki Hayato, tells Tsugumi that she’s one of a very rare number of people who can see the “auras” around cursed books, and begs her to join Fukurou right then and there. After the incident with Hitaki her father postpones her marriage, so Tsugumi decides to take the job, essentially being freed from the birdcage of her destiny by cursed tome that nearly killed her brother. She also aims to help stop further incidents form occurring to others.

As the sultry parade-of-shirtless-dudes ED suggests, Tsugumi is not only pivoting from family bargaining chip to empowered modern working woman—an interesting premise in and of itself—but is also an unmarried woman joining a bureau staffed by mostly unmarried men. So we’ve got ourselves an otome anime with a reverse harem. I’m willing to see where this goes for the time being.

AICO – 07 – The Truth Carbon Nano-Hurts

When we last left our friends they were between a rock and a hard place—or rather between a Matter-clogged tunnel and a CAAC assault squad. They’ve come for Aiko, and when Yuuya refuses, saying he has to keep going and that they would never understand, they fire shots at the Matter.

That turns out to be a bad move, as the squad leader is nabbed by some human-form Matter, throwing the rest of the squad into chaos as they try in vain to retreat. Our team learns from their sacrifice that the Matter is attracted to light, and uses flares to draw the Matter out of the tunnel, clearing their path forward.

That’s far from the only danger the team faces, as the Beetle is nearly swallowed up and the Evidence system proves too far behind the curve to keep up with the new Matter forms they encounter. It’s straight-up dicey out there, leaving Aiko to voice her concerns about putting the Divers in further danger for her sake and her family’s.

In a slight change from his colder manner towards her back at the rest stop, Yuuya assures her that compared to her, everyone else is expendable. But he’s wrong that they knew what they signed up for, because they don’t know Aiko is walking talking Matter bait. Thanks to a hot mic, one of them learns this, but keeps it to herself.

There’s a brief check-in with the three college friends. Nanbara loses contact with her squad, Isazu once again commits to saving his daughter, and Kurose learns with the help of a hacker friend that Isazu’s daughter is somehow connected to the Matter.

The Team gets through another guillotine gate by the skin of their teeth, but it isn’t long before they’re under attack, and as Yuuya is delivering ammo to the Divers, the Matter seeps into the Beetle, nabs Aiko, and places her in a fluid-filled cocoon.

Thankfully, it took a weapon with her, and she uses it to bust out, but she’s buried by the crystallized matter that trapped her, and by the time she’s dug out, all of the Divers see her for what she is: a composite being: human in mind, but artificial in body.

They’ve been traveling deeper into more and more hazardous territory with Matter bait. Will this revelation give them second thoughts about supporting her and Yuuya’s cockamamie plan? I doubt it. I don’t see Kazuki abandoning her, while Kaede is just happy to have the opportunity to fight in a place few humans have been.

AICO – 06 – 99 Problems and a Burst Ain’t One

The closer the team gets to Primary Point, the more tricky it is to predict how the Matter will react, and what will work against it. Kaede’s recklessness puts the entire operation in danger when the Beetle is damaged and they lose precious time.

Maybe it’s the stress of their environment, but all of a sudden the Divers I touted as consummate professionals are bickering like siblings in the back seat. Ah well, Kaede gonna Kaede, I guess.

Back at Kiryu Hospital, Isazu and Nanbara complete their plot to edge Kurose out in order to maintain control of the Area situation. As villains go, these two are pretty dang dull, sitting in cars and offices and calmly betraying their college friend.

While I understand Isazu’s intense desire to save his daughter, what good will reviving her, or the Japanese economy, do if there’s no Japan, or world, in which to live or prosper? If he’s obsessed to the point of madness, he hides it well.

One thing made clear six episodes in is that AICO’s forte is clearly not characters. Nearly everyone is either derivative, generic, annoying, or a combination of same. Take Kanzaki. We still know almost nothing about him (though I somewhat suspect he may be artificial too), except that he loves bossing Aiko around and otherwise treating her like dirt.

The person he’s dealing with is Aiko’s real brain in a fake body, yet he treats her like she’s a full-on robot without a shred of humanity. He’s also oddly petty in that treatment, even scolding her for trying to make the Divers’ rations more palatable. Maybe he’s curt because time is an issue; maybe he’s an artificial dude who resents Aiko’s emotions…or maybe he’s just a dick.

The show’s saving grace continues to be its action and the heightened peril the nearly omnipresent Malignant Matter presents. Our infiltration team is a bunch of tiny, puny humans who are only kept alive by highly sophisticated technology, the proper training and experience to utilize it, nerves of steel, and a disturbingly high amount of luck.

This particular episode also benefits from having Aiko actually defy Kanzaki, not only by making a tasty meal for her protectors, but serving an ultimately decisive role as resident Matter Detector. If she’d listened to Kanzaki, and sat back and done nothing, the mission would have surely failed. Nice to finally see some agency from her.

Their successful passage through a devilish gauntlet of active Matter from above, below, and all sides, the Divers also manage to work out their interpersonal issues, particularly when it comes to Kaede being a loose cannon. Kaede almost runs out of her famous luck, but is saved by the same guy who grabbed her by the neck and chewed her out earlier, while the rich kid loses an arm, but it’s artificial and easily replaced.

Some may actually be disappointed by the show’s unwillingness to pare down the admittedly quite large Diver crew; losing some players would certainly raise the stakes. Perhaps it’s holding its powder until they get closer to Primary Point…and even then, mission success is not assured.

Aiko may have saved the day, but attacking Matter has a deleterious effect on her, and the surgery can’t proceed if she’s knocked out and can’t be revived. More pressing is the fact their way forward is blocked by more Matter, while a CAAC team is hot on their heels.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 24 (Fin)

Cartaphilus and Chise are both what one could call “suffering junkies”, but where they differ is the former’s willingness to make everyone around him suffer as much as possible. Chise really just causes trouble for people; there’s no malice.

She tries to take Carty down, but let’s face it, she’s not that experienced in magical combat, and Ashen Eye intervenes. That’s when the cavalry arrives in the form of Elias, Ariel, and Ruth. Ashen Eye is dispersed and Chise manages to pin Carty, but her attempted sleep spell fails (he’s immune) and he stabs her through the midsection.

Though relieved of several organs, bones and much of her blood, Chise then smiles, because this was part of the plan. She and Elias were “bound” together, so that when Carty contacts Chise by stabbing her, he opens himself up to an attack from Elias, who surrounds both Carty and Chise in thorns and removes Carty’s eye (the one he got from Chise).

Chise then puts Carty to sleep with a pretty lullaby before passing out herself from her injuries. While unconscious, she’s visited by Carty’s curse, who tells her both he and the dragon are fighting it out in her body. It will keep her alive, but one day she’ll die. So, not that much different from anyone else.

She awakens back in her bed at home, and after hugging Elias, makes him explain why he used Stella for such a nefarious purpose.

That spurs an argument between the two, but they eventually hammer out an agreement. From now on, when he’s not with her, she won’t put herself in danger, will back down if about to get hurt, and will talk to someone before she takes action.

Thankfully, Chise doesn’t find herself in danger for the rest of the finale. After checking in on a slumbering Carty (who Ashen Eye now finds boring) she takes the train to London, visits Angelica and Stella, and receives gifts from both.

Those gifts are wedding rings (which will alert their wearers when the other is in trouble), a wedding dress and veil. Chise completes her look with penny loafers for some reason (no white pumps?) but I kinda like that choice, and in any case she looks absolutely gorgeous in the sylvan glade where she awaits the arrival of Elias.

There, they both promise to share each others paths, Elias sweeps her off her feet and gives her a skull-nuzzle, and she kisses and embraces him, now married (ceremonially, if not legally under the laws of the United Kingdom). But just because she’s his bride doesn’t mean she won’t continue her mage apprenticeship.

Overall, a pleasant, if tidy, end to a series for which there were great expectations. I would say there were many times when those expectations were exceeded or met, but there were also times that could be narratively meandering or tonally muddled. Inconsistency aside, it was a fun, sometimes intense, and almost always enchanting ride.

Now…Who’s up for a Chise/Shirayuki crossover?

AICO – 05 – I’m Not a Thing, I’m a Person and My Name is Aiko

After a harrowing trip through Area One, the group rests and resupplies at the facilities near the guillotine dam, a place of relative safety with all of the nearby Matter either destroyed or paralyzed. The respite also means a slowing of the brisk and satisfying pace AICO had maintained until now.

Outside the area, Kurose decides to give Director Nanbara a ride to CAAC headquarters. She and Kurose happened to date in college, but Nanbara dumped him, and while the two are on cordial terms, neither comes away with much information from the other about the situation with Aiko. Nanbara also warns Kurose to stay out of the affairs in the Area altogether—apparently unaware he’s already very much involved, and indeed facilitated Aiko’s escape.

While on watch duty, Kazuki and Kaede learn a bit more about their client, who remembers fishing with her family on the river now overrun by Matter, and the events that lead to her not getting tangled up with Yuya, Kurose, and eventually them. In the process, we also learn that Kazuki is a spoiled rich kid who joined the Divers to chart his own course, while Kaede came from a broken family and enjoys her new solitude and independence.

We also learn that the translucent blue ball Aiko has is actually a very valuable prototype for a mouse-like artificial life form. Yuya’s comparisons between it, the Live Suits, and Aiko bother her quite a bit, seeing as how she feels like a person and doesn’t appreciate being treated and talked about like an object, even if Yuya is correct that she, or at least her body, is just that.

Not five minutes after discovering her blue ball was really a pet, Aiko loses it as it runs outside. She puts on a suit and chases after it, slipping, falling, and getting lost in the woods. This would have been a perfect time for the drug that keeps her from attracting Matter to wear off, at least from an urgency perspective…but Daisuke finds her and a very worried Yuya finds her pet, whom Kaede names “Gummi.”

With their client retrieved and the “Beetle” Tank loaded up, the team piles in, leaves their safe place, and heads to Area Two, just as a CAAC team enters Area One. Isazu and Nanbara agree that Kurose succeeds Dr. Yura as head of Kiryu Research, he’ll stop research Nanbara believes is crucial to the Japanese economy, and Isazu believes is crucial to saving his daughter. As such, he prepares to oust Kurose from Kiryu with trumped-up corruption charges.