Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 02 – A Knight of the Human Empire

In the first half of an episode split right down the middle between Underworld and the real world (still a rarity in isekai anime), Alice leaves Kirito at the cottage to deal with the goblin and orc raid on Rulid. While I feared the raid was merely a diversion meant to separate the helpless Kirito from his protector, it’s much simpler than that: the goblins and orcs just want to mess shit up.

The village’s chief man-at-arms, whom Alice’s father must obey, almost lets that happen, since the richer villagers want to protect their possessions at the cost of the lives of the poor. Alice arrives in time, and with Selka’s support and by revealing her identity as an Integrity Knight of the Axiom Church, she convinces the villagers to follow her retreat plan.

While the villagers fall back, Alice stands alone between them and the massive horde, but does not falter. Naming herself a Knight of the Human Empire, she orders an air attack from her dragon, then uncovers her right eye and unleashes the power of the Fragrant Olive Sword, decimating the monsters.

After watching her uneasily live a much simpler life, Alice rises to the occasion when the stakes are raised, and watching her act as a one-woman army without a moment of uncertainty is extremely satisfying. It gives me hope that other former Integrity Knights can shrug off Admin’s residual chains of control and stand up as fellow Knights not of the Axiom Church, but of humanity itself.

She allows the remaining goblins and orcs to flee, with the warning that she won’t hesitate to finish wiping them out if they return. Confident they won’t soon bother Rulid again, she takes Kirito and leaves, until such a time that her self-appointed mandate is realized.

She hopes one day she can hang up her sword for good and return as plain old Alice Zuberg, daughter and sister. In addition to being damned fun to watch kicking ass, Alice has emerged as one of the most motivated and compelling characters in SAO. I just hope she’s not killed off needlessly.

That first half on its own scores a solid 9 in my book, as in concert with last week’s episode completes the arc of Alice returning to her role as knight for her world rather than mere caretaker to Kirito. The second half, entirely set in the real world, isn’t quite as strong due to all the exposition, but is just as necessary to watch play out, as adds an extra layer of peril and challenge.

The way SAO works is that we gradually get lost in the fantasy of the virtual worlds, thus that they feel as real as the worlds from which their “players” originate. With the added dimension of severe time disparity between the worlds, and the fact that in our own world about two years have passed, the events aboard Rath’s Ocean Turtle have felt frozen in amber.

But as soon as Asuna grabs Kikuoka by the scuff and all but promises he’ll be a dead man if he loses Kirito, I’m immediately reinvested with what’s going on here, and how it will affect life in the Underworld.

Asuna, Kikuoka, Higa and Rinko are safe for the time being in the sub control room, but a mysterious black ops outfit has successfully taken control of the main control room, STL room, and most of the lower section, and whoever sent them may have enough official sway to keep the SDF escort ship Asahi from intervening.

Whoever they are, it’s clear they’re after A.L.I.C.E., but neither side is able to extract her Fluctlight externally; it must be done within the Underworld simulation itself. Assuming they’re on their own, the mission it to retrieve Alice before the men in black. Kirito, their man on the inside, would seem to be their only hope…or would be, were it not for his present condition.

Higa learns that Kirigaya Kazuto emerged in the Underworld with his memories intact, and has been living the equivalent of two years, training, fighting, gaining and losing friends along the way. When the men in black cut main power, it fried his “self-image circuit”—the virtual equivalent of his ego—which explains his condition. Kirito can’t talk, doesn’t know who he is, what he needs to do, and only responds reflexively to “deeply ingrained memories” (which explains why he reacted to the goblin raid).

That means someone will have to head in there and either help him recover or execute the mission in his stead. Asuna is closely eyeing the spare terminal beside Kirito, so surely she’s that someone. But so are the men in black. As the combatants prepare to enter the battlefield, the true War of Underworld is about to begin, and I couldn’t be more pumped.

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Val x Love – 02 – A Pat on the Head, a Peck on the Cheek

This week it’s the turn of Odin’s fifth daughter, the Student Council President Saotome Itsuya AKA Schwertleite. A raven-haired maiden beloved at school for her peerless looks and elegant ladylike aura, Itsuya has somewhat less ladylike plans for Takuma after witnessing what she deemed was a pretty chaste exchange between him and her sister Natsuki.

In her head, she’s not that interested in Takuma at all. He’s just a means to an end: if he can awaken her powers and she can save the world, she’ll get a pat on the head from Odin. It’s a simple, childish wish that she keeps entirely to herself, until a frosti shows up ahead of schedule and she suddenly has to level up with Takuma in a hurry.

The thing is, her full-speed-ahead approach doesn’t work on the nervous, petrified Takuma, and once she starts to undress and moves in on him, she suddenly loses her nerve as well, as she can no longer reconcile her mature outward manner with her inner innocence.

Seeing her freeze up in fear causes Takuma to remember what his mom did to calm him down—a good old head pat—so he gives one to Itsuya and it manages to do the trick. The extent of their hanky-panky is that head-pat and a kiss on the cheek just like Natsuki’s, but it’s enough.

With Natsuki just barely holding on against the monster (even getting all bondaged-up and getting her outfit torn), Itsuya swoops in with her chain of white crosses, enveloping the frosti so Natsuki can finish it off with a giant sword. Mission complete, and now two of Odin’s daughters have leveled up. Seven to go.

We also learn that Itsuya’s treasurer in the StuCo is actually Garm, named for Garmr, a helldog/wolf whose howling heralds the coming of Ragnarök. He’s listed as a “watchdog” and sports a level three times higher than Natsuki’s. If he starts something, head pats and cheek pecks may not be enough to beat him.

Astra Lost in Space – 10 – Snowball’s Charce in Hell

Polina knows something’s up when the blue planet on the screen isn’t Earth, and that none of the kids know what “Earth” even is, because their home planet is Astra. Kanata jokes that Polina might be an alien, but he and the crew decide it best to compare histories.

That’s when they learn where their two histories diverged: in Polina’s, 1962 was the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis; in the crew’s, that crisis precipitated World War III, which resulted in half of humanity perishing. When it was over, countries and weapons were abolished, and a united planet rebuilt.

That brings us back to Polina’s history: there never was a World War III, but a little while before embarking on the journey that would strand her on Icriss, astronomers detected a 300-kilometer asteroid on a collision course with earth. That necessitated humanity packing up and migrating to a new world.

When Polina was on her mission aboard the Ark VI, they were still looking for planets, but six years before the present—and five years after she went into hibernation—the asteroid must have struck. By then, humanity had managed to successfully migrate…to Astra. The next generation, of which the Astra’s crew is composed, were told a vague alternate history and raised not to dwell on the past.

How, you ask, did they manage to move so many people? Why, with miniature artificial wormholes (duh), the very phenomenon that sucked up the crew in McPa and dropped them in orbit of an icy planet…a planet that turned out to be Earth itself, having gone into an ice age after the asteroid impact.

Now that they know the basic how of their predicament, Aries suggests the crew not dwell on the why, lest it bring down morale at a crucial time. Life returns to normal for the duration of the trip to the final planet, Galem. When they land on the planet to resupply one last time, Polina is duly impressed by the efficiency and know-how the crew demonstrates—this is not their first planet rodeo, after all.

Kanata and Aries reflect on everything that’s happened and how they’ve become stronger people during this whole adventure, no matter what the goal of the enemy was. Kanata also asks if he can walk Aries home to reunite with her mom; Aries accepts the offer. Maybe there’s hope for this couple after all, eh?

But while off on his own on Galem’s surface, a wormhole appears and starts chasing Kanata, who ends up finding refuge in a cave where Aries is gathering supplies. Later, Kanata confides in us, the audience, by stating he knows who the enemy is now, that the enemy doesn’t know he knows, and that he intends to make the first move before they can kill them all.

Kanata meets secretly with Charce and Zack and informs them that Ulgar is the enemy, and outlines the plan to entrap and capture him, with Charce serving as the bait. But when the plan of action is executed, Charce is alone with Ulgar, Ulgar pulls his gun but it misfires, and the wormhole is activated, it’s not Ulgar who Kanata takes down…it’s Charce.

Charce is the one who controls the wormholes. Charce is the one whose mission was, and is, to kill all the others….along with himself. It’s a thrilling, brilliant set piece of misdirection, and some impressive cunning on Kanata’s part.

The entire crew except Charce was in on the plan, and they are there when Charce is captured. A tearful Aries wants him to tell them that they’re, that she’s mistaken; earlier in the ep Kanata meets with Aries in her quarters, but he wasn’t there to confess. He wanted to know, in detail only Aries’ photographic memory could provide, who was sucked into the wormhole last. It was Charce, ensuring everyone else went in before him.

While his mission was to transport himself and everyone else from McPa to space to die, he didn’t count on everyone getting their helmets on in time to survive the transition, nor the pure dumb luck of the Astra, formerly the Ark XII, being in orbit so close to where they materialized.

As for who he really is, well, Charce is a clone too, but has always known he’s a clone…and not a clone of just anyone, but of Noah Vix, king of the Vixia Royal Quarter. Of course there could only be one king. One wonders if his friend Seira was a factor in his agreeing to complete this mission, and also make me wonder if, considering their resemblance, arieS is Seira’s clone.

Not only that, but what will happen now that his mission has failed, and the clones are returning to Astra? Not that things were ever not interesting on this show, but things are really starting to more interesting. And to think I initially thought this was a show that would kill its characters off one-by-one on a weekly basis…

Astra Lost in Space – 09 – Beyond Vicarious

Before announcing Zack’s findings to Quitterie, Funi, and the rest of the crew, Kanata dreams about a training session with his father, who was also an athlete but was denied by injuries the opportunity to attain greatness. Kanata knew his father was trying to realize his own dream through Kanata; attempting to live vicariously through his healthy young son.

But knowing what he knows now, Kanata now realizes why his father was so intent on training him to become virtually the same person he wanted to be: because when it comes to DNA, they are the same person. That’s right: It isn’t just Quitterie and Funi who are clones of their mother; everyone on the ship is a clone of their parents.

Needless to say, this explains quite a bit: Why most of them had distant or loveless parents who drove them to follow in their footsteps, but also, more importantly, why they’re titularly lost in space: cloning is a felony, and a new law mandating the collection of everyone’s DNA would expose their clones—and thus, their crime.

If the theory sounds thin aboard the Astra, it’s confirmed by the parents themselves back home, as they all commiserate about how their dreams of extending their lives was thwarted. They bicker quite a bit more than their younger clones and don’t seem to have any remorse in sending them off to their deaths to save themselves.

Back on the Astra, everyone is in shock, and for some like Quitterie, it turns to despair. As for Aries, she learns she was almost certainly adopted by her loving mother, as they don’t look alike and, well, her adoptive mother actually loved her. Kanata, good captain that he is, tells them to lift their heads, and revises their mission: not just to get home, but get home and put their rotten folks in prison for what they’ve done.

After that, everyone gradually processes the news that they’re a clone in their own ways. On the whole, once calmed down from the initial horribleness, the overarching emotion is that of relief: that there was a reason they ended up in space, or that their parents were the way they were.

Charce left his family long ago so he wasn’t that messed up by the news. Luca is proud of who and what she is, and is determined to move forward as an individual beholden to nobody. Yunhua is happy she can now step out of the shadows and do what she loves. Aries loves her mother and knows her mother loves her, regardless of what person she was cloned from.

Finally, even Quitterie and Funi find comfort in the knowledge that nature and nurture essentially play a 50/50 role in determining a person. Quitterie, Funi, and their mother are three different people with distinct personalities based on their experiences, not just their DNA. The two of them are good people; their mom’s a goddamn monster.

And that’s what truly underscores the nefariousness, the straight-up evil of their parents for marooning them in space. Cloning yourself is one thing; to deny those clones their individuality and even their humanity by discarding them like used tissues is quite another, and the ultimate in delusion. Did they think they made clones so perfect, their experiences wouldn’t make them different people? If that’s the case they’re as stupid as they are evil.

In any case, kudos for the crew members to get over the pain of their asshole parents’ deep, profound betrayal, and their ability to come together as the new and loving family they are. Case in point: Quitterie and Zack announce their wedding plans to an ecstatic crew that’s also a bit flabbergasted in the wake of Zack’s talent for hiding his true emotions behind a granite facade.

After their party celebrating their escape from Icriss, the discovery of Polina, and congratulating the soon-to-be newlyweds, Zack activates the Astra’s long-range telescope, which he repaired using parts from the Ark VI, and for the first time in three months, the crew lays eyes on their home planet: a planet of blue oceans, white clouds, and green land.

But here’s the thing, and it’s not revealed until Polina notices the landmasses are all wrong: the crew’s home planet isn’t Earth. It is Polina’s home, but none of the crew have ever heard of “Earth,” and look at her like she’s either crazy or still suffering the effects of her long slumber. In any case, their home planet is called Astra, which means Polina didn’t just lose twelve years, but perhaps her entire universe.


Astra Lost in Space – 08 – Four Funerals and a Wedding

Last week much of our gallant student crew was ready to give up on ever leaving Planet Icriss and were starting to make plans for how they’d live out the rest of their lives there. That is, until they found a second wrecked ship almost identical to theirs, with a single occupant in hibernation.

When she wakes up, she identifies herself as Polina Livinskaya, an astronaut who, along with four others, was on a planetary survey mission. There’s no good way to tell her that despite having been rescued, she’s still technically stranded with the rest of them due to the Astra’s reactor being kaput. When she learns this, it’s to much to take and she passes out.

However, when Zack uses the slices of an orange-like alien fruit to illustrate how it wasn’t that unlikely to find another ship in Icriss’ narrow safe zone, it dawns on Aries that, like two fruits sliced into equal pieces, the two Ark-class ships can be separated into three segments each.

They maneuver the Astra to the Ark VI, and replace the former’s ruined reactor section with the latter’s intact one. This process probably happens a bit too easily, but hey, when you’re in space, modularization is key, so I’m just glad it worked out.

With Yunhua, Ulgar, and Charce all but ruled out as potential traitors, Polina seems well-positioned to be the latest chaos-causing wild card, but she spends most of the episode in a daze (understandable, considering how long she’s been out) and distressed that so much time has passed.

As the crew gathers food (including very edible animal-like plants), Zack and Quitterie end up talking about their dreams. Zack admires his father, but learned long ago that his dad doesn’t actually like him very much, which he chalks up to how deep he got into human memory research. Therefore Zack is committed to not following in those particular footsteps, lest it change him too.

Zack tells Quitterie she should do as he and Kanata are doing and simply go for it, but she protests that it’s not so easy when her real dream isn’t to be a doctor, but to be Zack’s wife. Zack expresses puzzlement at that, because he’s been assuming all along that he and Quitterie were going to get married, recalling a promise they made back when they were kids, and affirms that he’s always loved her in his usual stoic Zack Walker style.

I love how matter-of-fact he is about the whole thing, and how Quitterie didn’t really ever need to worry, except about the fact that Zack is a lot like his father, and she’ll have to make sure his research doesn’t take him too far away from the person he loves.

With repairs complete and food and water gathered, the Astra is ready to depart from Icriss. But first, they make a detour to the last reported position of Polina’s four crewmates, just in case. This turns out to be a fool’s errand, as every additional second they’re on Icriss is a risk that they and/or the Astra could get damaged or destroyed by more homicidal plants.

They manage to find the Ark VI’s rover, oddly upturned in an otherwise flat landscape, as well as several suspicious mounds I initially thought were graves. Turns out they are the locations of gigantic bamboo-like shoots that rise out of the ground with tentacles that reach out for the crew.

Everyone retreats but Kanata, who uses his pole-vaulting skills to retrieve the dog tag of Glen, one of Polina’s crewmates. It’s nice she was able to secure at least something tangible to remember them, but it still wasn’t worth risking everything and everyone in my books.

With that, the Astra takes off and pulls away from Icriss, and prepares to jump to the next and final planet on the journey. Before that, Kanata suggests they throw a party to celebrate escaping Icriss and to welcome Polina. Unfortunately a comedy of antigrav-related blunders results in Charce’s freshly-baked cake ends up in Arie’s face.

Things then shift to blood; specifically, that Quitterie and Funi have the same kind, as she learns when she drew everyone’s blood to donate to Polina. Polina assumed (as I did earlier in the show) that they were blood sisters anyway due to their strikingly similar features.

Sure enough, after an exhaustive DNA analysis, Zack discovers something very strange and shocking, which he first reports only to Kanata: not only are Quitterie and Funi related…they are the same person—clones. What the heck was Quitterie’s mother up to with these two, and does this have anything to do with why they were set up to be lost in space together?

Carole & Tuesday – 13 – Army of Two Steps Back

I’m not sure why every episode of Carole & Tuesday needs to begin by reminding us about the “Miraculous Seven Minutes” that haven’t happened yet, as if we forgot. We get it: they’ll set it into motion! It will change Mars forever! Shut up about it, would ya?!

For now, all C&T get for not winning, but also not quite losing, Mars Brightest is a lot of notoriety, not all of it welcome. They muddle through talk shows and interviews, while Angela, owner of a new contract with a 20 million Woolong singing bonus, has already released her first single.

It features such stirring slogans as “breaking chains”, “keep moving”, “taking control”, “today’s a new day”, and “find my heaven,” collections of words no one has ever thought to put together before! New day, same crappy lyrics.

C&T’s new fame is earning them zero Woolongs but plenty of headaches. At a laundromat, Tuesday is surrounded by brusque gents, and is only saved further harassment by the intervention of a fellow clothes-washer who is probably Carole’s long-lost father (or at least, we’re supposed to wonder if that’s who he is).

When Gus and Dahlia cross paths, they’re all smiles and passive aggression, but Angela cuts through the crap: C&T better get their heads out of the clouds and start making hits soon, or else she’s going to leave them in the dust come Mars Grammy time. Heck, she’ll probably leave them in the dust anyway, but like Mars Brightest, she still wants a fair fight.

There’s nothing fair about the contract meeting at Brightest Records, the studio run by Catherine. As Tuesday’s suddenly very Trump-like mom starts talking about deporting illegal immigrants (which makes one ask the uncomfortable, what exactly is Carole’s official immigration status?) Gus rejects Cathy’s offer without consulting the girls, taking money out pockets and food out of their mouths without any guarantee of alternate sources of income.

Daddy Gus has simply decided, unilaterally, that C&T are going to be an indie group, selling their songs online to “boost their commercial value” and make their negotiating position better. And the girls just…allow it. It’s baffling; they’re just not developed enough as a group to be turning down reasonable offers; not when it’s really past time they started, you know, earning money to “live” and “eat”.

And don’t get me started on Gus dragging them to the rougher side of town to play an impromptu concert no one there asked for, all to lure out a “genius producer” who loves swinging a goddamned ax around. But hey, I guess it will all work out. Those Miraculous Seven Minutes are coming, or so they say! I just don’t know if I’m going to make it there…

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 11 – Takumi Can’t Get the Picture!

Takumi suggests he and Ao study together some time, but Ao is against it because she knows what such things can lead to. However, Takumi says “pretty please,” so she grudgingly agrees, and orders her first pair of silky panties so that if and when Takumi makes his move, she’ll be prepared.

Then she goes to Takumi’s and they’re both alone together, and there’s never an if or when. One, two hours pass, and Takumi only seems interested in…studying. Even when they make a wager for the loser to do whatever the winner wants, he just wants her to make her lunch again.

This steams Ao’s beans, because she went out of her way to wear sexy panties for the occasion, and Takumi is so pure and dense he can’t take the hint that it’s okay for him to make a move. It either never occurs to Ao that SHE should make the first move instead, or she, like Takumi, is too inexperienced and timid and afraid of coming on to strong.

So Takumi fails to resemble anything like the crazed sex beast of her imagination, and ends up a lot more like…well, like her. Only he likely wore comfortable boxers with the knowledge she’d never see them, while she ends up with a stomachache due to being unaccustomed to low-riding underwear. If she wants…that from Takumi, simply waiting isn’t going to cut it. She’s going to have to say or do something, and deal however he ends up responding.

BokuBen – 10 – A New Challenger Appears!

As thanks for his tutoring services, Nariyuki is able to attend classes at a prep school on the school’s dime. He incorrectly assumes his petite purple-haired desk-mate Kominami Asumi is a middle schooler, drawing her immediate ire. However, his nineteen-year-old pixie senpai actually has a kind heart, and shares her notes with Nariyuki when the teacher erases the board too fast.

After class, Nariyuki gets lost, but is picked up by a couple of heavies and tossed into a maid cafe…the very maid cafe where Kominami not only works, but is the star of the place. She makes her adorable entrance as “Pixie Maid Ashumi” before she notices, then excoriates the heavies (who look up to her as their big sis and boss) for bringing in another broke kid.

Howeva, the coincidence turns out to be a boon to “Ashumi.” While she may not admit it, when Nariyuki knocks her science mock exams over while getting up to leave, he learns that despite trying to get into med school, her science grades stink. Turns out she’s just like his other tutees: her passion doesn’t match her talent (in this case, for business and being a people person, as she cleans up doing the maid thing).

You can see where this is going: Nariyuki starts coming to the cafe to help tutor her, and she makes fast progress with her studying. Then she runs after Nariyuki with his bus pass he left behind to find that he’s collided with her father, who owns a clinic. Backed into a corner, Asumi blames her “boyfriend” Nariyuki’s “tastes” for her get-up.

Nariyuki salvages the encounter by telling Asumi’s father he’s confident she has what it takes do what she’s set out to do; that even if it seems like she can’t do it now doesn’t mean she’ll never do it. Asumi wants to take over the family clinic from her father some day; it’s not obligation, it’s what she wants!

Later, Asumi teases Nariyuki by suggesting they kiss as long as they’re pretending to be dating, but then pats his head and praises her kohai for helping her out. Another day they encounter one another at a family restaurant, where Nariyuki is with Uruka, Fumino and Rizu, all of whom are amazed by her beauty and petite-ness. She’s even smaller than Rizu!

To Nariyuki and Asumi’s surprise, the next time they’re at the prep school, the three girls have taken up supplemental classes, figuring they can’t rely exclusively on Nariyuki all the time. However, like Nariyuki they learn that prep school is no cakewalk. While Asumi finds these three girls annoying busybodies, she still helps them out by offering pointers.

Then it suddenly rains after class, and she invites them to her clinic to dry off. Super nice! Nariyuki even gets to see the bra he recommended for Uruka. She might not know it was him under that mascot costume, but the bra was bought with him in mind…not that she thought through how she’d get him to see it. Well, job done!

When Fumino hears that Asumi’s dad thinks Nariyuki is his daughter’s boyfriend, she pulls Nariyuki aside and thrusts her hand into his midsection, hard. On one level, she’s angry that Nariyuki might be off with some other girl while Uruka and Rizu continue to pine for him.

On another, and as Asumi herself brings up (after explaining the situation and clearing Nariyuki of wrongdoing), Fumino herself clearly has some kind of feelings she needs to work through.

While studying at the maid cafe, Asumi asks him who he’s crushing on. Nariyuki serves up the usual “no time for that before exams”, but Asumi follows that up with “what about after exams?” It’s a good question, and one I hold out hope will get answered, even if it probably won’t.

Asumi then serves him some omelette rice and provides some service by sitting quite close to him and adorning it with a ketchup message. Clearly already an expert in torturing the naive young scamp, and just as clearly enjoying it, she wonders what he’d do if she said their “lie” wasn’t a lie, before pointing down to the ketchup, which reads “YOU DAMN WOMANIZER.” Nice.

Kominami Asumi is certainly a latecomer to BokuBen—there are only three episodes remaining after this one—but she’s a welcome one, offering some notable and refreshing differences over the other “suitors” while effectively and efficiently positioning herself as a worthy one herself, including being the only one of them who at least jokes outwardly about being a couple. I don’t know how much of the remaining time we have will be spent on Asumi, but I liked what I saw.

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 10 – …But She CAN Run!

Ao is utterly apathetic about the upcoming sports festival, until she learns Takumi will be on the cheer squad, and dedicates herself to training hard for the 800m run so she can experience the joy of being cheered on by the guy she likes.

Kudos for the show finally portraying these two as a comfortable, easygoing couple, even if they’re not 100% officially “dating;” it’s nice to see Ao not only publicly acknowledging her interest in Takumi (already well known in her class) but contributing to him making the decision to participate.

Of course, there has to be a conflict of some kind (beyond winning the race) and it comes in the form of her father, who has embarrassed her at every level of her education during the sports festival. When she bans him from this one, he bans her from ever moving out, and the two.

Yet, despite their fight, and despite the fact Ao made sure Yabe increased his workload tenfold, her father still makes it to the festival. Ao notices him just after having a talk with Takumi, who tells her he’s probably not that upset over their fight and that she should just talk to him.

While Pops gets to apologize, and explains his presence as having done all the work put before him with maximum efficiency, all so he could watch her compete, Ao is about to apologize back, but it’s time to run. Her dad joins Takumi and the cheer squad, and Ao takes the lead, but starts flagging in the home stretch.

This is when Pops fulfills Ao’s worst fear, yelling for her to hold onto her “G-cups” so she can run faster. This embarrasses her, Takumi, the cheer squad, and also freezes the other runners, as well as energizes Ao into finding her second wind and finishing first. But her Pops doesn’t escape a beatdown for his raunchy words.

Of course all of this could have been avoided if the show remembered there are these things called sports bras, to be used while running, jumping, and doing other athletic things!

Senryuu Shoujo – 09 – Is Your Dad Okay?

Nanako’s dad, eager to assess his daughter’s “Yankee” friend (and threatened by expressions she makes when he brings him up), tells her she should invite Eiji to the house during summer vacation. When Eiji sees her text, his phone slips out of his hand and into his ramen.

While waiting for repairs at the store, he ends up having chance encounters with Koto (handing out tissues), Amane (trying/failing to look sophisticated at a cafe), Tao (dressing down for the summer) and Kino (carefully observing a mailbox but drawing a gorilla detective).

He observes that he’s managed to run into everyone today…except the one person he wants to see most. Turns out he saves his best chance encounter for last; the wind blowing her straw hat onto his head. Eiji admits he was thinking about her, missed her, and wanted to see her; Nanako admits she felt the same way about him.

With that, it’s off to Nanako’s house, where her dad is dressed in a traditional kimono and is poised to bare his chest and pounce on Eiji should he put a toe out of line. Ultimately, when he asks Nanako if she’s okay with Eiji’s affirmative answer to the question “are you just friends”, and sees her expression, all the energy drains out of him and Nanako and her brother have to help him to bed to lie down.

That’s when Nanako’s much more accepting mom has a one-on-one chat with Eiji. She explains her husband’s protectiveness as a result of how seclusive and melancholy she used to be, since she was bullied for communicating via senryuu.

That is, until one day, she came home cheerful and beaming, having met someone else who loved senryuu; the first person not in her family “she’d want by her side.” Eiji knows she’s talking about him, and Nanako is listening in the hall, but he doesn’t admit it’s him, and instead rushes off to grab his repaired phone.

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 09 – Another Goal

Ao has successfully gotten rid of Kijima. At school, he avoids her, and warns others not to interrupt “Miss Horie’s” studying. At home, she has only a super-creepy companionship doll and her dad to comfort her.

Oh, and Yabe, who is determined to assist her studying, but finds she’s far too distracted to make any progress. So he does what any tutor would do: punishes her by making her dress as a catgirl maid. AS YOU DO!

When Kijima comes calling and encounters Yabe, he’s surprised how accepting he is about letting him have one last try. But it makes perfect sense to Yabe; if Ao feels better, she’ll study better. So Kijima sneaks into Ao’s room and hears her talk to herself about having nothing but him on her mind.

A little mild friskiness ensues—Ao is a little miffed he goes for her stomach first and doesn’t touch anything else, but melts when he kisses her head—and the two have a bit of a breakthrough in their relationship, now that the cards are on the table.

Furthermore, Kijima is prepared to help Ao study, and is find holding off on dating (and other activities) until she gets into a good school and moves out of the nest. Ao’s a little disappointed Kijima is being so accommodating, but considers dating him another goal to strive for through study. In other words, welcome motivation.

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 08 – Aphrodisiacs and Brass Tacks

After beating the crap out of a metal pole (and scaring off a couple dudes who were going to chat her up) A frustrated Ao retires to her room to study. The subject: Takumi, of course! Specifically, why, despite all of the compromising times he could have made a move on her, including when they were alone in the ocean.

After imagining their roles (and genders) reversed, and breaking her mechanical pencil agonizing over it, she gets a text from Takumi inviting her to watch his soccer game. Then it dawns on her: he lacks the stamina to do what she wants him to do so she can reject him!

She accepts his invitation, and prepares a magnificent multi-level bento packed with aphrodisiacs, including oysters, truffles, and eels. The plan is, she’ll feed him the stuff that will turn him into a savage beast that can’t keep his hands off her, and she’ll reject him fair and square, leaving her free to study again.

Of course, it doesn’t go as planned. While Takumi loses the game, his spirits are immediately raised when he sees Ao’s bento. Little do either of them know that Ao’s pops spiked the eel with one of his patented “energy” elixirs.

As a result, Takumi starts feeling all hot and bothered, and before she knows it, he’s on top of her. But he still manages to hold back, telling her he’s suddenly not himself today and that she should leave before he does something. That’s when Ao asks why he won’t do it.

The answer is instructive: because he values her more than his own desires. Ao turns that around on herself: if her desire is to get into a good university, feeling the way she feels about Takumi would naturally place him above those desires. That’s just how love works; it can literally sweep you away from the best-laid plans to just…getting laid.

Unable to accept such an outcome, no matter how happy it might make her, Ao decides to leave and tells Takumi not to ask her out anymore. The more time she spends with him, the more she’ll value him over studying. Of course, she’s oversimplifying things, and there’s such a thing as work-life balance. If she just lays out her concerns, there’s no reason to think he can’t keep his distance until she’s in a good school, or assist with her studying in some way.

Carole & Tuesday – 07 – Whatever Happens, Happens!

C&T rebounds nicely this week, thanks in part to a new, more proportionate opportunity for the girls: this time, instead of playing in front of 100,000 people, they join the 200,000 who want to be contestants on the popular Mars Brightest talent competition, a sure way to jump-start their careers.

This week also marks the first real connection between C&T and Angela’s storylines, as Tao has Angela entered as a “special guest” contestant on MB, putting her in competition with the other two protagonists. This could mean the three could be in the same room together, or maybe even talk to each other!

The main issue is Tuesday, or rather Tuesday’s status as a runaway, which she doesn’t realize until they’re already in line for the auditions (which are about as weird and woolly as one would expect from such a large pool of potentials). If her family catches her on camera, she’ll be made, and they’ll come for her. Mind you, Tues doesn’t know her bro already found her, but chose to leave her alone.

This brings us to the best part of this episode, and why it was so much better than last week’s: We don’t actually hear Carole & Tuesday sing anything. This might sound counterintuitive, but the worst element of this show about a musical duo getting their start is their music—their first guerrilla performance at the music hall being the sole exception.

Mind you, just because the songs stink doesn’t mean all the music of C&T is bad. On the contrary, the incidental score is above average, and we get a particularly nice melancholy synth suite that plays along as we watch Angela decline to move back in with her Mama (who was her Papa before gender reassignment).

Instead, Angie chooses to live alone in her sparse, modern place where she can breathe, away both from Mama and all the trappings of her past that threatened to “suffocate” her. Her annoying AI only gets four “ANGELA!s” in before she shuts him up. Somebody needs friends, and I can think of no one better suited than Carole & Tuesday, even if they’re artistic and professional rivals.

As if hearing me say “your songs are bad and you should feel bad,” after auditions Tuesday slides into a slump, brought on in part by learning more of Carole’s story as an Earth refugee and orphan who had to survive on her own.

Tuesday’s family may be loaded (with cash) but she’s also loaded—with all the problems being the daughter of an important politician and little sister of a Harvard elite. She admits she’s a little jealous of Carole’s lifelong independence and self-sufficiency.

In light of her new friend, who has helped her in this new world, Tuesday resolves to hold her head up and stop cowering in front of the cameras. If her mom finds her, so what! She’s going for it, side-by-side with Carole.

After learning that Gus spent all their modest Cydonia earnings (980 Woolong) on gambling (not a good look Gus!), he, or rather Roddy, give them the good news: They’re among the eight contestants for Mars’ Brightest! As we saw, a good portion of the competition were horrendous, but considering there were 200,000 of them to contend with, this feels a bit neat, tidy, and easily done.

But it’s not like they weren’t going to get in, because this means they’ll be facing off against Angela and Tao. Even if I’m not particularly looking forward to hearing what new syrupy-sweet drivel they’ll sing next, I think I can tolerate it for the sake of watching those four characters, who have been kept apart thus far, finally collide.