Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 11 – The Prince

Before Shikimori, Izumi was in a dark place. He tried to keep a brave face, but his propensity for misfortune isolated him. He prayed to God, asking if things would ever get better, and if not, if God could give him the strength to endure the pain and sadness, adding that he wished a hero would appear before him.

It’s as morose and heartbreaking as the show has ever gotten with Izumi’s condition, which has evolved from a joke to something more akin to a legitimate curse without cause. But if there’s no cure, there is a hero, and she comes with pink hair and the best Face Game this side of FLCL.

Shikimori and Izumi haven’t been able to hang out as a couple what with all the festivals, so Izumi suggests an amusement park. The ad he shows Shikimori shows a couple leaning in for a passionate kiss, so she’s in, in the worst way.

The question is, what to wear? Not that it matters; Izumi would think Shikimori was cute no matter what she wore. Shikimori’s older brother Fuji drives her to the mall, but doesn’t accompany her shopping. Indecisive about what to buy, she leaves the stores empty-handed and finds Fuji nervously sandwiched between two interested women.

She reluctantly rescues him from the situation, noting how he’s much shyer than he looks, and how maybe he’s the one who needs his hand held, after he teased her about when she needed to hold his. We’re then treated to some lovely Shikimori backstory, with a short-haired Micchon kicking older boys’ asses at karate.

Back home there’s an unnerving tension between her and her strict-seeming mother about whether she’ll be continuing with karate in middle school, even though she only started it because her brother did. Shikimori decides she’ll stick with it and lists the pros, and her mom smiles approvingly.

Shikimori starts being referred to as the “Prince” by boys who know they’d better not mess with her or the other girls. She rises to the top of the karate rankings, and even has the potential for the nationals come high school, but the one opponent she can never come close to beating is Fuji, who one rainy day suddenly announces he’s quitting.

Her karate friends are excited for her high school karate future, but she tells them she’s quitting too. Not because Fuji quit before, but because she discovered the magic of love through shoujo romance manga, and has decided to stop following others and choose for herself who she should be, which is a cute girl who will fall in love with a kind, handsome boy.

AND SO IT CAME TO PASS…but obviously not right away. First, Shikimori applies the same ferocious, focused work ethic to becoming a cute girl that she applied to become good at everything else she’s ever tried—she’s an extraordinary person—and is prepared to completely rebrand herself at high school, starting with entrance exams.

It is here where she and Izumi first meet, the latter’s exam ticket having been caught by the wind and lodged on a high tree branch. Shikimori was worried about mussing her hair not 30 seconds before, but when she sees Izumi’s distraught face (similar to the face he wore while praying for a hero) she climbs that tree and gets him the ticket. He expresses his heartfelt gratitude, but she’s too worried he thinks she’s weird to accept it.

The two meet again on the first day of high school, having both passed the exams. He thanks her again, and proceeds to explain why what she did mattered so much to him, explaining how he’s always been unlucky. He also says he’s glad he got to see her again just as the sunlight and wind and cherry blossoms make him look extra kind and handsome, and Shikimori asks for his name with a face so intense it kinda frightens him.

Of course, Izumi come to love those faces of hers, to the extent that he’ll feel a little jealous when others get to see them. But it’s so nice to finally see what Shikimori was like in her earlier years, how she and Izumi met, and how they were so perfect for one another right from the start. Fuji surprising her with the lipstick she liked was a perfectly heartwarming closing note. She’ll wear it to look cute, but also to give her courage.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 10 – Cup Ramen and Foie Gras

When Erika takes off to hang out with her mom (the one who raised her) Sachi doesn’t waste the sudden opportunity to hang out with her Onii. She ostensibly wants to buy a gift for their mom, but both of seem to agree their mom isn’t much of a gift receiver, so you have to think part of her just wants to see what it’s like to go on something like a date with Nagi.

The two settle on an apron (and sure enough, their mom could take or leave it) but when Sachi comes upon the idea, Nagi rewards her with a head pat, which pisses her off to no end. As much as she pretends not to stand him, Sachi wants Nagi to see her as a girl, not an imouto. Alas, he’s utterly oblivious. He just wants to study and win Hiro, which is why he’s probably none too pleased about suddenly being yanked out of the house by Erika.

Erika, who herself was blissfully reveling in her first cup ramen, got a text from her dad saying he’s coming—no discussion, not argument, he’s just coming and that’s that—so she ditches both wallet and phone, grabs Nagi, and heads out. Where doesn’t matter; that even she’s not sure is the point. No GPS or purchase history means even someone as rich and powerful as her dad can’t find her if she doesn’t want to see him.

Instead, Sachi is person who encounters her dad making himself at home in the house. She initially thinks he’s a burglar, but she should have called the cops anyway, considering he later lures her out and plys her with foie gras. I’m with the wait staff of his restaurant: it’s weird that he suddenly takes Sachi out to dinner.

Sachi is there for the foie gras, and also considers it equitable to tell Erika’s father about how she and Nagi are getting along. She probably doesn’t realize she’s being a snitch, because she’s distracted by the fact this is another opportunity for her: if she says they’re terrible together, she could potentially be able to swoop in and have Nagi to herself (again).

But Sachi is not a bad person, so she tells Erika’s father the truth: as mismatched as their personalities seem, Erika and Nagi definitely have a spark—je ne fois gras, if you will. Their chat is interposed between scenes of Nagi showing Erika a good time with zero yen thanks to a steep hill and a piece of cardboard.

As for Erika’s increasingly creepy dad, he heads into his office to admire a framed photo of him and Erika’s dad with Erika…and Nagi, looking like older toddlers. This is strange, as my understanding is they were separated at birth; this suggests they were reunited at some point. It also gives credence to the fact the “certain someone” Erika is trying to reach through SM is, in fact, Nagi, and the two of them simply somehow forgot they knew each other as kids.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 09 – Batting Off Steam

While informing Nagi the bath is free, Sachi’s towel slips off, but in a nice subversion of the trope, Nagi isn’t awake to see anything. Sachi, however, sees one of Hiro’s texts on his phone, referencing a d-d-d-date. The next morning, Erika finds Nagi all dressed up and ready to go. Nagi meets Hiro resplendent in comfy casual clothes, and is excited for their date, but also expects it to be another shrine stamp-collecting affair.

So he’s surprised to find Hiro has taken them to an amusement park. She usually goes alone, so it’s significant she’s bringing him along. Yes, she is doing it in part for the couples discount, but also because she believes Nagi can “keep up” with her. That proves mostly true, as Nagi accompanies her on every heart-racing ride again and again, and even accidentally kisses a reflection of her in the hall of mirrors.

Back home Erika finds Sachi texting curses to her brother and confirms that he’s on a date with a Hiro-chan, appreciating that Sachi feels like the other girl is taking her brother away. Sachi is also upset he’s out on a date when he’s engaged, calling it “indecent”—something Erika never considered as she never planned to actually marry the guy. No Nagi around affords the biological sisters another opportunity to hang out, as Erika tags along when Sachi goes on her usual de-stressing trip to the batting cages and public bath.

Nagi returns home having felt like his date with Hiro was a “disaster”, but he’s way overreacting. There’s nothing wrong with a girl saying she thinks you’re “cute”, and it’s obvious she had a lot of fun by the way she was humming when they parted ways. A few hours later, at three in he morning, Nagi and Sachi’s dad (and Erika’s biological dad) arrives at their door, saying they’re all going fishing.

Turns out this is a tradition for both Nagi and Nagi’s dad, though Nagi always gets seasick and always says he has a terrible time. His dad though, has always picked times when he knew Nagi was down, and there’s nothing like fishing to take you out of a bad place and into a better one. While Erika and Sachi compete for the biggest catch, Nagi admits to his dad that he “doesn’t hate” his life right now.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 09 – Best Selves

When Loid moves in for that kiss to prove he and Yor are in love, both Yor and Yuri panic; Yor because she’s never been kissed, and Yuri because he always dreamed of marrying Yor and doesn’t want to see her kiss anyone else. Yor chugs the rest of the wine to build up the courage to kiss Loid.

The very moment she can’t go through with it is the same moment Yuri tries to stop her, resulting in Yor slapping the absolute shit out of Yuri. He flies right into his ridiculous bouquet, resulting in a cloud of rose petals that in any other situation would be romantic.

Yor helps Yuri up, Yuri helps Yor stay vertical, and Loid helps keep both of them vertical. He tells them what lovely siblings they are (even with Yuri bleeding profusely) and privately feels envy for their familial bond, as he’s never had that. Unaware that even 2D-chess eludes the Briars, he starts to suspect that Yor might’ve married him at Yuri’s behest to get closer to him.

Yuri is too goofy and his blind spot vis-a-vis Yor is too large for him to feel like any threat to the mission to me, but Twilight is a spy; it’s his job not to trust anyone, even Yor. At the same time, Yor’s inability to kiss Loid or cook has her worried she’s not acting like a proper wife should.

Anya, who slept through the excitement (and really wants to meet her secret police uncle) picks up on these bad vibes, but can’t reassure either parent as it might give away her ability. So as she boards the school bus, she simply tells them they “need to get along”. Loid chalks it up to how “curously observant” kids can be.

Then, he plants a damned bug on Yor in order to listen in on her day, and while she’s out on an errand for her boss, he and Franky stop her while disguised as Secret Police.

If it were anyone other than someone like Loid in the situation he’s in, I would call this obsessive behavior. But if his gut can’t 100% discount that Yor isn’t secretly working with her brother, this is all he can do to assuage his suspicions. Franky predictably buries himself in the part of bad cop, quickly accusing Yor of leaking state secrets.

Throughout her day to that point, Loid had listened in and gotten nothing, and even when Yor’s back is literally against the wall in front of two secret policemen, her “story” doesn’t change, because it isn’t a story: she’s a good citizen (other than the assassinations) who loves her family and country and would never engage in espionage.

When Frankie tries to touch her, Yor restrains him with ease and warns both him and Loid that she doesn’t care who they are or who they work for; she’ll show them no mercy if they hurt her family. Loid takes another look at the letter Yor was mailing and says they made a mistake, and let her go.

Loid won’t admit it, but his relief is soured by guilt he felt going to such lengths to try to catch Yor in a lie. Ironically, she’s able to successfully preserve the actual secret she’s been keeping from Loid all along (that she’s a ruthless super-assassin).

When he meets up with Yor later, she apologizes for not being a proper wife, but Loid comforts her by saying she’s fine the way she is, always striving to be her best self. Everyone puts on acts to some degree, and it grows tiring and eventually intolerable. Better to not put on an act when one is neither desired or needed.

They buy cake to celebrate a year of marriage, and when Anya comes home (her “I HAVE RETURNED” is a great kid greeting), reads their minds, and finds the bad vibes have vanished, her face brightens—Mama and Papa are getting along.

While I’m not the biggest fan of Yuri, I’m glad his antics indirectly led to Loid and Yor clearing the air and growing a little closer. Next week, we return to Eden, and Anya’s solemn mission to befriend a little jerk.

Spy x Family – 08 – Into the Briar Patch

Anya’s adventures at Eden are placed on hold this week as the adults navigate various difficulties. Miss Handler warns Twilight that the enemy is stepping up their game, which is to say they’re intensifying their investigation of suspected spies and rounding them up wherever they are, including at city hall where Yor works.

Yor’s brother Yuri, whom she believes is working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has actually been working as a Second Lieutenant with the State Security Service, AKA Secret Police for about the same amount of time Yor and Loid have been married.

Just like Yor’s co-workers, the SSS’s chief thinks he’s adorable, but like Yor, he’s definitely got a mean streak, as we see when he interrogates Yor’s boss after he’s caught passing documents to an enemy agent. Let us just revel in the delicious fact that both Briar siblings secret unpleasant jobs they are keeping from one another.

But for as competent as Yuri is, all logic and moderation go out the window where his sister is concerned. He is obsessed with her, to the point he likes how his ribs still hurt after she broke them while hugging him as a child. He also brings what looks like four dozen red roses to his first time meeting Your’s new husband.

Loid knows that close relationships like family can cause trip-ups, so he and Yor have practiced being a lovey-dovey couple…to an extent. In a hilarious sequence, Yuri and Loid and Yuri and Yor interact and speak to each other out loud, then we hear their inner monologue overlapping.

When Yor explains to Yuri that she simply forgot to tell him she got married, and then forgot that she forgot, that seems to be enough for him. But when talk turns to how they met, Yuri instinctively enters interrogation mode, for which Loid and Yor are fairly well prepared.

Loid, in turn, did some digging on Yuri and learned he’s in the secret police, confirmed when he starts telling a story about going abroad that’s straight out of his agency’s deception manual. Still, he plays along, since someone like Yuri could be a valuable source of intel if a cordial relationship was forged.

As Yuri drinks more wine he gets a bit looser and more honest, and while can’t deny that Loid is tall, handsome, a good cook, a doctor, and has good manners, he still can’t accept the marriage, or “Loidy” as a brother. Yor is his only family, and she provided for him when he was young and helpless.

We see this in the form of a flashback where a young Yor arrives at home covered in blood and not even trying to hide it from Yuri. But whenever she came through that door, it was with something Yuri either needed or wanted. Ever since, Yuri has strived to not only be someone worthy of that devotion, but someone able to protect her, as she did him.

When Yuri accidentaly knocks over a glass, Yor and Loid start cleaning it up and their hands touch, and they both recoil and blush like teenagers. This would be suspicious behavior from a couple married for a year even for someone who wasn’t a trained, ruthless spy-hunter.

So Yuri gives the two an ultimatum: either they kiss, or he has their marriage license revoked. All of a sudden the stakes are ratcheted up to eleven and the whole game is on the line, and all for something as innocuous as a kiss. Such is the spectacular unpredictability of a Briar.

While Loid has extensive experience seducing women, it’s different for Yor. Unlike those past women, I believe he actually cares about her, hence the blushing. And Yor? I’m certain she’s never kissed a guy. Combine that with the fact Yuri is tipsy and probably doesn’t want to see his sister kiss someone, and next week’s cliffhanger resolution should be interesting.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 07 – Making It Work With Less Than Ideal

“I’m sorry I’m bad at school”, a still-drowsy Anya says to Loid and Yor. “The peace of the world rests on you making amends”, she hears Loid thinking. It’s a lot of pressure for a little girl on her second day of school, but she’s resolved to apologize to Damian. The problem is, both his toadies and her her rich girl friend Becky make that almost impossible.

Reading minds clearly takes a lot out of Anya, so between hearing the inner voices of all her classmates and probably not sleeping much last night, she nods off in first period. But when Loid sees Becky working against the apology plan, he starts disguising himself as school staff to make it clear to Anya that the apology must happen, the sooner the better.

It takes Loid calling Becky away on the PA for Anya to finally get her shot, and Damian’s toadies bully her so much in their minds they make her start bawling as she apologizes. As I’d suspected, Damian has confusing new feelings about Anya, the girl who was the first to “defy” him. When she sobs during her apology, making clear she only wanted to be friends, the resulting shot to his heart is so much he has no choice but to run away.

While Loid witnesses all this unfold and concludes that the Friendship Plan may be doomed, I’d say he’s making far too quick an assessment of the situation. Sure, on the surface Damian hates her, but he actually likes her; his behavior is the result of simply not knowing what to do about it. This is 100% classic little kid (and some times bigger kid) behavior.

That said, Loid is new to this, and Twilight didn’t get where he is by taking risks or operating under less-than-ideal circumstances. But there’s so much not in his control here and the circumstances couldn’t be less ideal, so he’s trying to overcompensate. Today Damian ran away from Anya, so he has to try to get her those eight Stella. That night Loid has an intense study session with Anya, but his anxious thoughts and calculations flood into her head and overwhelm her, and she runs into her room to sulk.

Here is where Yor’s lighter touch (if only where Anya is concerned) comes in. At first Yor feels she’s being presumptuous in offering Loid advice and insisting they not be to hard on themselves. But by doing so she reminds Loid that he’s not alone in this parenting business.

He and Yor are legally husband and wife and parents to Anya. They’re in this together, through thick and thin. They need to be patient, but also confident. All parents go through this; that this one was constructed for a spy mission doesn’t change that in the slightest.

I loved how much simpler and more macabre Yor’s inner thoughts are compared to Loid’s during the study session, but I also love how Anya truly wants to do her best, which is why Loid finds her asleep at her desk. She stopped sulking and started studying all on her own.

She’s a good girl, Yor’s a good mom, and he’s a good dad for caring about all of Anya—not just how she figures into the mission. They’ll get through this…even if Yor’s brother Yuri is only now finding out Yor has a husband and daughter.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 04 – Sister Act

Within the two weeks he and Erika are living together, Nagi apparently is able to study enough to ace the exams and conquer the legend that is Segawa Hiro. Both the nerds and normies salute him following through on his boasts. When Hiro again invites him to the rooftop, he should have known beating her at one exam wasn’t going to cut it as far as winning her over.

As far as she’s concerned, she’s still beating him in exams, 10-1, so his confession “will not be processed”. When she declares all the other ways she surpasses him when it comes to both studies and life, the two end up chasing each other around the school and messing up a classroom and panting on the ground. Hiro had fun, but she makes it clear there’s no way she and Nagi can go out. You see, she’s engaged too!

He has had so much fun, in fact, he’s surprised to learn that his time playing Erika has already come to an end. He says he appreciated having a place to “let off steam” and how it was fun overall; Erika said it was the worst, but he can probably tell she’s not being entirely sincere. But once he packs up his stuff and bows to the house, suddenly it’s all over, and they go their separate ways…

…Except Nagi returns home to find it dark and locked; turns out his family is temporarily staying at an inn while the plumbing is fixed. There’s no room for him at said inn, so it’s back to his birth father’s house…where Erika is still making herself at home. Turns out she wanted to have a go at living on her own without help. Nagi is surprised she wants to improve herself, and vows to help her become a “professionally independent person” like him.

When Sachi comes by to drop off some of Nagi’s stuff, she finally gets to meet her biological big sister, something both she and Erika are understandably nervous about. Despite Nagi saying how friendly Sachi is and how easily she warms up to people, their first encounter is extremely stif and awkward. Sachi later confides in Nagi that she’d looked up Erika on IG before, and finding out she’s even cuter in person threw her off.

Nagi commences “Operation Sister Besties” by getting the two to cook some karaage together. While Erika is a nightmare chopping cabbage, she gets to see Nagi and Sachi interact like a real brother and sister that they are, while Nagi gets to see Sachi and Erika very much acting similar…they even eat the same way. When he points this out, they protest his assertion…by heaping praise on one another.

Erika decides to interrupt dinner by having Sachi try on some of her clothes. With Nagi not around, Erika makes clear she has no intention of marrying Sachi’s brother, something that seems like a load of Sachi’s mind. They also exchange contact info. Back home, Sachi’s folks are irked that she went and hung out with Erika. This is rich for people who went behind both Nagi and Erika’s backs to set them up to be married!

Whatever Hiro’s deal is with her engagement, it seems like a hard stop in Nagi’s quest to win her heart. Nagi and Erika are living together again, this time indefinitely. Sachi has finally met her sister and Nagi’s fiancée and can’t help but like her, but how long these good vibes last is anyone’s guess. I’m surprised how much has happened just four episodes into a twenty-four episode series. Things have moved very swiftly, but there’s clearly a lot more in store for our cuckoos.

Spy x Family – 06 – Smiling Doesn’t Help at All

At the fitting for her new Eden uniform, the seamstress warns both Anya and her parents of all of the pitfalls of student and parent life. There are all of these ongoing overlapping battles—between the richer kids and less rich kids, between children of Eden alumni and non-alumni, between boarders and commuters. Oh, and the kidnappers. Anya isn’t sure she wants to go to school anymore.

But the must, as she’s the lynchpin of Operation Strix. Loid visits a secret installation beneath a photo booth where his Handler gives him the details of Strix Phase Two. Anya simply attending Eden won’t be enough for Loid to get to Desmond, whose son is sure to be an honor student, called an Imperial Scholar. Students must earn eight “Stella” merits to become one. Alternatively, earning eight “Tonitrus Bolts” or demerits will result in immediate expulsion.

With the new information that Anya must not just be an Eden student but an elite one, Loid is no doubt headed to the drugstore to purchase a couple bottles of Mylanta to deal with his stress. Meanwhile while he’s out late for work, Yor takes Anya to get her newly-completed uniform, which she then shows off to everyone in the park.

When they go to the supermarket to buy stuff to cook (Yor wants to give cooking the old Eden college try), some n’er-do-wells attempt to kidnap Anya to extort Yor for cash, thinking she’s the maid. She puts them in her place, ruining the groceries, but Anya pats her head in praise. She likes her cool, strong mama, and asks her to train her so she can be strong and cool to. Despite believing otherwise, Yor is being a good mother to Anya.

Considering the cutthroat atmosphere of Eden College the next day, I would think that basic martial arts training would be a requisite of every new student. Yor also teaches Anya some important social skills, but one kid is so nasty, she eventually cant help but punch him using what she learned from mom.

The kid who gets punched just happens to be Damian, the second son of Donovan Desmond. But if she doesn’t get off on the right foot with befriending him, at least she earns a new best friend in Becky Blackbell.

Post-punch, Henderson has no choice but to give Anya at least one Tonitrus Bolt, though the usual punishment is three. There hasn’t been a single day of actual classes and already Anya is negative-one Stella star from being an Imperial Scholar and has made an enemy of the boy she was supposed to befriend.

It’s here where I must comment that Loid really did take a gamble simply throwing Anya into the fray having nothing but a little basic combat and social training from Yor. Granted he doesn’t know Yor is a socially awkward assassin, but he knows what he is: a master spy, and thus a master of human behavior.

I get he needed that briefing from Handler, but he should have taken the lead with teaching Anya more about how to act arond others and how to properly react to adversity. Her bolt is as much his fault as hers. Still, I’m not as pessimisstic as all three families look in the photo taken at the end of orientation.

For one thing, I suspect being punched by Anya might endear her to Damian, considering she did something no one ever did. For another, Anya’s ability to read the minds of her classmates can be an enormous boon…once she learns how to use use it properly.

Komi Can’t Communicate S2 – 05 – Hanafuda Komi-Komi

Our cold open is also a silent one, as the first 3+ minutes of the episode progress with neary a line of dialogue, only the cozy soundtrack and a number of the series’ trademark signs. Najimi has gotten both Tadano and Komi up at the break of dawn because it snowed overnight. After admiring the pristine unblemished whiteness, the thre build a gigantic snowman, while Komi makes a tiny one to match with Tadano’s.

After that, Ren, Yadano, and Agari join Tadano and Najimi on one team in a grand snowball fight. The elementary school team is short one person, so Komi joins them. There’s a great sight gag of her four teammates looking as tall as her, but she’s actually standing far behind them. A furious and dramatic battle ensues, eventually leaving Komi the only one on her team left standing. Ren, who has her best (and least problematic) appearance thus far this season, takes Yadano and Najimi out, leaving Komi to take her out and claim victory…as it should be.

When Komi visits her extended family over the New Year’s holiday, she reunites with her initially timid Akira, who slowly warms up to her older cousin and invites her to join her in a game of Hanafuda Koi-Koi. Komi sits out the first game where her granny eviscerates Akira, but Komi ends up getting one of the best combos in the game to erase her cousin’s debt.

No doubt impressed and proud of her granddaughter’s performance, Komi’s Gran lends her an absolutely stunning kimono for their first shrine visit of the year. Gran notes how “convenient” Komi is to have around as she literally parts the waves of people, and after making her offering and New Year’s wish, the amassed crowds feel like a goddess is in their midst.

The last segment throws Komi into the frying pan, as she’s put to work as a substitute shrine maiden making transactions for visitors. While initially overwhelmed, her colleague Inaka helps calm her down and reminds her that instead of talking she need only write everything down. Komi does a bang-up job, and then reveals she knew Inaka was Inaka all along in a sweet note hoping they’ll have a fun new year together. Needless to say, Komi doesn’t mind in the least that Inaka is a country girl!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

A Couple of Cuckoos – 03 – Too Close to the Sun on Wings of Okonomiyaki

Just like that, Erika and Nagi are living alone together under the same roof. A text from Nagi’s mom and birth dad seals their fate: they’re stuck here for two weeks. They also both acknowledge that if they don’t go on defense, they’re going to end up married before they know it. So before heading to their separate rooms, they agree not to interact with each other in any way for  the duration of their stay.

AS. FRIKKIN’. IF. Moments after waking up later than he ever has (a product of not being slapped awake by his mom or Sachi) he hears a scream and comes to Erika’s rescue, only to get even more freaked out by the gecko in the bath than she is. A scenario like this begs for a bathroom walk-in, and while switching the roles would have been more refreshing, the execution get is both funny and tasteful.

Their pact last night has Nagi excited for a weekend of uninterrupted studying in his room, but he is betrayed by the nature of his arrival here: he doesn’t have his charger or textbooks. When they’re delivered, Erika takes delivery, and won’t give them up unless Nagi helps her with her Insta photo shoot of the day. This, in turn, leads to him tripping and falling into another romantic pose on her bed that’s caught on camera.

Erika doesn’t know what it is, but her pics just come out better when Nagi takes them, so she borrows him for the rest of the day, which leads to a water fight. While Nagi just wants to study, and Erika just wants to go viral, those more cynical motivations get pushed to the background as the two simply have a fun day in each other’s company. They’re in violation of their pact, but neither of them does anything about it.

Instead, Erika finds herself wanting to know more about Nagi, like why he loves studying so much. It’s a fair question from someone who is already financially set for life, and Nagi’s answer, while only a half-truth, about wanting to provide for his family of modest means gets through to her.

Erika’s reason for wanting to be popular on SM goes beyond “just ’cause” and into her desire to connect with “someone” out there—whether this someone is literal or figurative remains to be seen.

As for the other, and arguable more immediately important half of Nagi’s motivation, the challenge he issued to Segawa Hiro the other day has circled the school several times and he receives the expected extra attention and ribbing.

I like how Nagi’s a tough kid and doesn’t let any of this get him down, and even mistakes three guy’s genuine desire for him to win for teasing (if only because they’re betting on him…26-to-1 odds!). He gets it from the normies and the nerds, one of whom declares him Icarus and Hiro the sun. Nagi’s response to this guy is perfect: “Who the hell was that?”

Nagi gets a rooftop invite from Hiro that he’s sure is a prank, but when he learns that he, not her, is currently the top-ranked student prior to the upcoming waves of exams, he realizes it’s genuine. Sure enough, Hiro meets him on the rooftop, but not to confess her love to him, but to declare to him that she won’t lose to him…not in exams, class ranking, sports, cleaning and eating speed…she won’t give up a millimeter of ground anything.

This is a side of Hiro Nagi has never seen, and it only endears her to him more, and now both of them are each other’s prime motivating factors for pursuing greatness. We’ll see if one’s bitter rival really makes for a better match than a fiancée raised by your birth parents. I also imagine Hiro will cross Erika’s path eventually, and the two will have some thoughts about things.

But first things first: Nagi really does need to study. Unfortunately, not only did hanging out with Erika cost him the weekend, but the water fight gives him a cold. Erika dresses up like a nurse to take care of him, but he tries to power through, and ends up passing out. Erika, in turn, cancels her plans for the day to tend to him, and when he comes to, admits she’s duly impressed by how hard he works to achieve his goals.

This doesn’t just affect Nagi because a cutey is saying it, but because literally no one has ever said they’re impressed with his academic work ethic. His birth parents might’ve had they raised him, so it’s apropos that Erika, who was raised by them, is the first to do so.

It’s the kind of unforced gesture that should sow doubt in Nagi’s mind that he should choose Hiro (who let’s not forget could well reject him anyway) over Erika. Unless he and Hiro hang out more, that soil of doubt will only grow more fertile as he and Erika continue to interact and learn about each other. Those parents might’ve been on to something.

Three episodes in, A Couple of Cuckoos is a solid textbook rom-com that succeeds in making all parties (save Sachi) dynamic and likeable—not just cogs—while finding ways to ground the chaotic premise. This is not the car wreck in slow motion I thought it’d be. It’s just a good, fun, and engaging show, full-stop.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 05 – Loidman Saves the Princess

The Forgers seem to be encountering every omen of bad luck on their way to view the posted lists of those admitted to Eden College. And while Loid doesn’t buy into any f that superstition—even Anya stepping in poop—Anya’s name is nowhere to be found. The mission then, has failed before it could truly get off the ground, hasn’t it?

Not so fast…Henderson takes the Forgers aside and shows them that Anya happens to be at the top of the waiting list, which means once there’s a withdrawal—and there are several every year for myriad reasons—she’ll be officially admitted. Yor has to fight back designs to murder the father of a student who got in, while Henderson isn’t sure he’ll be around to teach after slugging his colleague.

The waiting list turns out to be nothing but a formality for creating extra tension leading up to the phone call that comes in announcing that Anya has indeed been admitted to Eden. Loid is ready to celebrate with a party popper in his pocket. His colleague Franky joins them for a feast, Yor gets her drink on, and Loid is backed into a corner after promising to do “anything that is doable” for Anya as a reward for getting into Eden.

That something turns out to be the family and Franky acting out an episode of her favorite TV show Spy Wars at the castle where it was filmed, which is now a theme park. Loid borrows a floatplane and pilots them there himself, making for a thrilling arrival. However, after running around the castle a little, Anya is suddenly sad, because aside from them the joint is deserted.

That’s soon remedied thanks to a call to Loid’s agency, who puts out an APB calling for every agent in the vicinity to descend upon the castle for a Rank SS mission for Twilight. Most of the agents either idolize (in the case of the younger agents) or respect (in the case of the older ones) him as one of their country’s best spies. And so the stage is set.

Franky continues to enable Anya’s increasingly ambitious plans, as Loid becomes “Loidman” who must save “Princess” Anya from Franky, AKA Baron Scruffy. Loid has to wear the mask and gloves and run through a number of obstacles complete with colorful non-lethal weapons, Hollywood-quality pyro, and last but not least, Yor’s literally drunken combat style.

Loid isn’t sure he can keep up with her, but fortunately she breaks a heel and falls asleep. With one swift knockout punch to the villain, Loidman rescues Princess Anya and receives a rousing applause from his fellow agents and a DisneyWorld-scale fireworks show to cap it all off.

You could say the plot of this Spy x Family episode pretty much ends once the Forgers get the call that Anya has gotten into Eden. But the ensuing celebration and lengths to which Loid goes make Anya happy is crucial to the Family part of the show, while the role-playing conceit makes full use of both Loid’s abilities and the resources of his agency.

There’s every indication school life at Eden is going to be tough sledding, so I’m glad Anya got to have a little…hell, a lot of fun for fun’s sake before commencing the next stage of Operation Strix.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

A Couple of Cuckoos – 02 – A Princess in a Doghouse

At the breakfast table, Nagi is adamant that he’s not going through with the marriage, but his parents, who very much still possess delinquent streak, will book no insolence. His mom asks if there’s any reason he can’t marry Erika, but Nagi can’t exactly tell her he’s in love with someone who doesn’t know his name! Sachi, meanwhile, wants nothing to do with this whole situation, even though Erika is her big sister…and soon to be sister-in-law.

Nagi’s folks head off to work, telling him to keep Erika company when she visits. He cleans up the place, but when she’s an hour late he looks outside the door to see she’s been sitting there the whole time, apparently unaware of doorbells. She also finds his modest Japanese home confusing, what with its tiny size and lack of chairs. She actually assumed they were in a tool shed!

After Nagi gives her a grudging tour of the house (which doesn’t take long), Erika takes him on a tour of her palatial mansion, where the damn doghouse is larger and fancier than Nagi’s whole house. The thing is, there isn’t the slightest inkling that Erika is showing off…this is just how her life is. Nagi, who wanted to tell her he has feelings for someone else, now sees that even if he wanted to marry her, reconciling their wildly different lifestyles seems impossible.

So it comes as a shock to him when Erika interrupts him to say she won’t be marrying him, which is exactly what he wanted to tell her but couldn’t find the right time. Like him, it simply comes down to her wanting to choose who she marries. She can tell Nagi is a nice guy, just like he can tell she’s a nice gal, but they’re also modern young people who don’t like things being arrange.

She didn’t even go to Nagi’s to see him, but to talk about this with his…with her birth parents. When Nagi says they’re working at the family diner until midnight, Erika has him take her there. While at first things are cordial, the Umino in Erika comes out as she gets into a heated standoff with Nagi’s folks. Hikasa Youko and Kimura Ryuuhei are pitch-perfect in their respective Delinquent Modes, telling Erika she’ll do what they say and like it, damn it!

But once everyone’s hackles are lowered and hot tempers cool, Nagi’s parents boast to a couple of regulars that the beauty before tham is Nagi’s fiancée. Then they whip up their special ginger pork, which Erika has never had before but loves instantly, then her biological folks get in close and start comparing her face and hair to their own and Sachi’s. They invite her to spend the night, and Nagi’s mom wants to have a bath with her. Nagi has the feeling his folks are manhandling a bomb that’s about to go off.

Instead, she suddenly excuses herself and runs out of the diner. Nagi gives chase, and learns he grossly misunderstood her feelings at the time. She wasn’t a bomb about to explode…she was simply overwhelmed by how warm and welcoming her birth parents were, and overcome by apprehension over whether they’d like her if she stuck around. She wants nothing more than to be closer to them, but doesn’t know how to tell them that. Nagi assures her no such formalities are necessary.

His folks are “really dense” former delinquents, and thus she doesn’t have to be so considerate with them. It’s enough to just be there and be herself, and they’ll love her all the same. Sure enough, when Nagi and Erika return to the diner, his mom gives Erika a big hug, while his dad wipes away a tear reacting to the heartfelt reunion. They have a big meal together, but Erika takes a raincheck on a sleepover.

While Nagi walks her to the main streets, Erika tells him she had fun and was glad she got to get closer to her birth parents. Sachi, who still has complicated feelings about all this, is left unmentioned. Erika also asks what Nagi was so anxious to talk to her about all day, and Nagi can’t say it. He thought it would get easier with time to say he loved someone else, but instead it got harder.

It gets harder still when Erika’s dad rolls up in his Lexus. He reveals that he knew they weren’t really dating (a dude that rich has a head on his shoulders), and also gives them both a ride…to a large house set up specifically for them to live in together as a couple. Their names are even on the engraved doorplate.

If Nagi’s folks knew about this, they kept it to themselves. But hey, this premise is already freakin’ absurd, so I am completely on board with this escalation. Domestic bliss awaits our beloved cuckoos!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 03 – Mesopotamian Culture

Having watched footage of her own shadow on Shin’s phone, Mio believes the next step should be to help Kobayakawa Shiori. But when Shin goes to Shiori’s house, he finds only piles of black powder where Shiori’s parents once were, and deduces that the Shiori he saw at the funeral was actually her shadow, and the real Shiori is really dead.

After unsuccessful attempts to locate the woman in glasses from the ferry, Shin is heartened that at least the island cop Tetsu survived in this loop. He tells Shin and Mio that a detective from the mainland is on his way to investigate, and also gives Shin Ushio’s phone, saying she said he’d know what to do if he got it…but Shin can’t unlock it.

Shin shares everything he knows so far with his old friend Sou, who believes that since the shadows can be photographed, they are real and thus can be killed like normal people (might be a stretch). Mio thinks they should go to Hiruko (like the previous loop) for answers, but knowing what became of Mio there (being killed by her shadow) Shin hesitates at this suggestion.

After getting caught in the rain together, Mio gives Shin Ushio’s shell necklace, just like the previous loop, saying she wishes he’d stay on the island forever. Later, Sou shows up at Shin’s with both Mio and their mutual friend Yukiko in yukata for the annual island festival, which they attend together.

While there, Shin deduces that Sou is harboring a crush on Mio, while Toki asks Shin flat-out about his feelings for Mio. He responds that he of course cares or her…as family. That answer doesn’t seem to make Mio particularly happy, but Shin is distracted by the sudden sight of what looks like Ushio in the festival crowd.

His pursuit leads him to the beach, where he sees an apparent ghost—or possibly the shadow—of Ushio, backlit by the festival fireworks. Shinpei may have survived this loop—so far—but while it has resulted in some answers, a lot more questions have surfaced. At least he’s not alone in being aware of the general situation…but what’s up with this Ushio on the beach, and how can he be certain at this point that his friends Sou and Toki aren’t shadows?

While I’m enjoying the atmosphere and sense of dread lurking just beyond the corner, and the fact Shin and Mio survive to the end of the episode having learned more about the situation, this episode lacked the punch and the drive of the earlier two episodes, and featured some iffy animation to boot. I’m hoping for a rebound next week with the arrival of “Ushio”.

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