More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 03 – Starting over from zero

Akari knows Jirou is in love with Shiori, but wants to know specifically why he’s drawn to an earnest, family-oriented girl, and what he wants such a girl to do for him. He wisely says “lunch”, which sets Akari off on a homemade bento kick.

She proves to be a very good bento cook, and they gain lots of points as cook and taste-tester, but one little detail—a lack of sugar in the rolled omelet—reminds Jirou that she’s doing all of this for Minami, not him. That shouldn’t bother him, as he’s into Shiori…and yet.

Jirou also can’t help but feel a little…left out when Akari goes all out to look as cute as possible to deliver a bento to Minami at his part-time job. But then Akari asks him for another goodbye kiss as a reward for her hard work, and tells him she only wants his kiss, since it made her feel safe.

Before he can summon the guts to kiss her again, Shiori shows up with extra apple pies she made for Minami, citing his sweet tooth. When she sees Akari with Jirou and a box lunch for an apparent picnic, she leaves feeling lonely. Little does she know she caused Akari’s confidence to absolutely plummet.

She never delivers the bento, and sits on the couch with her head in her knees. Jirou tries to cheer her up, but the bottom line is, she though she could appeal to Minami with cooking, but was wrong about him not liking sweet things, and now doesn’t know what to do.

Jirou tells her she has “tons more good points”, but when put on the spot, the only things he lists are related to her looks, body, and sex appeal. When she asks if he’s ever though about her that way, he says no, but she knows he’s lying. Then she jumps on top of him.

The animation and Oonishi Saori’s voice acting do a lot of strong, heavy lifting here, as the scene strides the line between being amorous and a little forced. You can see in Akari’s face and hear in her voice that she’s just as unsure about this as Jirou is, and yet she’s trying to press forward.

Jirou pushes through his body’s urge to “graduate” from virginity and rejects Akari’s advances, saying it’s only something you do with someone you love. Leaving aside that this is false, this results in Akari getting off him and saying they should stop this whole fake marriage thing.

That’s just what they do, and at the next month-end eval, Shiori sees that they’ve fallen to 75th place while she and Minami are up to 8th. She knows something’s wrong; Jirou knows it too, and knows that he erred. When he felt Akari’s cold trembling hand, he knew that he was wrong about her: what they were doing on that couch was just as new to her as it was to him.

Shiori invites Jirou onto the school roof to talk to him about things, and really does yeoman’s work as his trusty childhood friend, albeit by subordinating her own feelings. She promises him that no matter how much he screwed up with Akari, he can make things right.

Shiori’s pep talk is just what Jirou needs to break the awkwardness stalemate and give him the courage to knock on his fake wife’s door. To his shock, she not only answers but invites him into her uber-girly room, where he proceeds to apologize, but also provides a lot of real, honest talk.

He admits the obvious, that he’s fantasized about her, but also that it wasn’t like he didn’t want to do it with her, only that he wanted to do it with more care than the spur-the-moment scenario they found themselves in when she was discouraged about cooking for Minami.

He doesn’t go so far as to “out” Akari as just as much a virgin as she is, but he almost doesn’t have to, as hearing him come out and say all these things makes her face red as a beet and has her retreating into her bedsheet. But Jirou also asserts that he doesn’t like it when things are awkward between them.

Pulling back the sheet from her head like a bride’s vail, he declares that he wants them to be a married couple again. When he realizes he left out “for the practical” and stumbles all over his words, it evokes a hearty laugh from Akari, who attempts to save face by mocking him for being so desperate.

But she also ends up telling him—in just as disarmed a way as he just said all those embarrassing but true things—that she “likes him quite a lot”, even calling him by his first name. She laughs it off, but later on her balcony she covers her mouth with her hands in shock over having “said it.”

She says it in a way that could mean she’s been meaning to say it for a while. In any case, they’re giving this marriage another go, but this time they both have a deeper understanding of the kind of people the two of them actually are. That new understanding definitely has the potential to make them more attracted to one another as partners.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

A Couple of Cuckoos – 16 – Full Throttle Sachi

Sachi wants to know more about this Segawa Hiro girl her dear brother loves so much he’s willing to date her even while engaged to Erika. Rather than talk to Hiro, she ropes Erika into a day of stalking. Once it’s determined that Hiro is a perfect superhuman (who even delivers a 100-yen-coin she found on the street to a police box) she confronts Nagi about it, telling him he’s too good for her.

I’m not sure how Sachi’s inner logic works, but by saying this to Nagi she’s implying that she’s not too good for him. At the same time, she decides she’s going to attend the same high school as Nagi, Erika, and Hiro, presumably to become closer to her brother’s ideal of Hiro. Naturally when she shows up in her sailor uniform she creates as big a stir as Erika’s arrival.

While Hiro gives Sachi a tour of the school, Nagi and Erika follow and try to listen in. When the our ends and Sachi’s first question is about how Hiro feels about Nagi, he can sense something’s up and runs to confront them both. Only neither of them have anything to say, because apparently they’ve become friends with a shared like of…him.

Nagi, Erika, Sachi and Hiro then have lunch together, making Nagi’s friends going all meta by drawing up the diagram of relationships in their imaginations that’s pretty much spot on with that of the show, including their conclusion that Nagi isn’t exactly living an easy carefree life.

It’s one thing to want to go to Nagi’s expensive college prep school, but quite another for their family of modest means to afford for both her and Nagi to attend. Nagi and Erika accompany her to the Umino diner as moral support, but their parents are surprisingly fine with it. They’ll be able to afford for Sachi to go to Nagi’s school…if they sell the diner.

Sachi protests along with Nagi; this parent martyrdom won’t stand. Sachi and her mom then get fired up, and the men of the family back off. It ends up being the third woman in the family, Erika, who is able to quench the flames and suggest a third way: Sachi will work hard to get accepted to Nagi’s school, while the folks’ll come up with a way to pay without selling the diner.

Saying they’ll just “figure it out” seems like a cheat, especially when it’s suggested from Erika, whose monthly cosplay wardrobe probably exceeds what the entire Umino clan spends in a month. But that’s not the biggest problem with the episode, which is its central figure: Sachi.

Sachi is two basic things: a brother complex in human form, and a serial copycat. She follows through whatever she sets out to do, but has no hopes or dreams of her own. She only wants to do what her brother has done, following but never leading. It was like that when he won at swimming, reading, and running, and now she’s doing it with school.

Sachi is cute, but she’s a painfully dull and shallow character, her hot-and-cold attitude towards her brother is rote and tiresome, and there’s zero change she wins the Nagi sweepstakes. That makes any episode that focuses on her to this extent feel like a slog.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 14 – Thinking About Pi

Nagi agrees to help Erika study for her make-up exams as long as she stays focused, but let’s be honest: even he knew that wasn’t going to be easy. Erika cosplays in a military uniform (and dresses up Sachi too) and plays lip service to this studying “mission” to hold the “territory” of their house, but …she also just might have undiagnosed ADHD.

There’s also the matter of her previous rich girl’s school not being nearly as academically tough as Nagi’s, and even if it’s not Nagi’s fault her father enrolled her there, the fact it was done because they’re engaged lends him a measure of responsibility, so he tries to help her study, but she keeps getting hung up on things like why the symbol for Pi isn’t a cute emoji.

But after more than three hours of not getting through a single problem, Nagi is fed up, and reiterates that he needs to study too in order to beat Hiro. Hearing her brought up is the last straw for Erika, who gives up and skulks off to her room, apparently resigned to move back in with her parents. Nagi, too annoyed by the lack of progress, doesn’t stop her, and Sachi’s attempt at mediation fails.

Later that evening, Nagi realizes that he’s become accustomed to this place, and isn’t in a hurry to leave it, but that’s what will happen if Erika fails the make-ups. That would feel like moving backwards. When he goes downstairs for some coffee he sees Sachi crashing on the couch. She tells him that Erika is still studying, and he should help her.

When he enters her room (without knocking) Erika is sitting at her little desk lamp fighting back tears as she desperately tries to cram, so while Nagi’s sudden appearance is unexpected, it’s not unwelcome. When she asks why he’s helping her when he’s fine with her going home, he says her problems are his problems, because she’s his fiancée.

While Erika continues to prove a tough toutee, Nagi pulls two straight all-nighters with her, and he’s there in the classroom when she receives the result of their hard work and perseverance: her grade improved, and her dad calls off the summons. Erika and Nagi share both revel in their victory with wide smiles. Her text to her dad with the news, complete with eyelid-pull emoji, actually makes him happy.

As a reward for passing, Sachi invites Erika to the festival being held at the shopping district where the Uminos’ diner is. She’s late getting ready, and the folks wander off to mingle, so the family yakisoba stand is run by Nagi and Sachi. You can tell when Nagi catches her after she trips on her laces that Sachi is happy for some quality Onii time.

However, things get awkward with them again when Hiro shows up. Nagi introduces her, she remembers the text on Nagi’s phone about going on a date, and reacts coldly, turning her head and ignoring Nagi when he says she’s being rude. She’s also offended when Nagi so quickly agrees to walk around with Hiro later.

She assumed that Nagi would hang out with her and Erika, especially since this is in part a celebration of Erika passing her exams. It’s kind of cold and oblivious of Nagi too, considering Erika told him to think of Sachi as less of a little sister, and I thought it got through to him. Apparently not!

Naturally, before Nagi is done cleaning up the stand after they sell out of food, Erika arrives resplendent in a yukata lends one to Sachi, and the two head out without him and bump into Hiro, because of course they do! Not only that, Erika introduces Sachi as her sister, when Hiro had already heard that she was Hiro’s.

It’s weird to think that Hiro has never officially met Sachi, but then again she isn’t aware that Erika and Nagi (and Sachi) live in the same house, nor did she even know Nagi’s home was a diner. She and Nagi have been through a lot, but there’s still a lot she doesn’t know about him and Erika, and it looks like she’s going to learn more very soon.

Whether that new knowledge will change how she feels about Nagi “changing her fate”, or makes her feel betrayed and hurt, only time will tell. But I for one believe she’s been in the dark too long as Nagi’s “side girl”. It’s time for things to come to light and let the cards fall where they may.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 13 – It’s a New Morning

After Nagi’s realization sparked by dad that he harbors feelings for all three of Hiro, Erika, and Sachi, he realizes something else: he cannot think about anything else. This realization, combined with the reality that he hasn’t been studying nearly as much as he used to, comes crashing down on him in the middle of midterm exams. He ends up bombing, falling from first to thirteenth.

Nagi shambles home and holes up in his dark room, feeling like trash, since he believes his primary value to be studying and acing tests. Under the pretext of complaining about dinner not being ready (complete with growling stomach), Erika enters his room to tell him that’s simply not the case, and no matter his rank, he’s “just as valuable” to her.

It’s an extremely cute and bold move from Erika coming off her “not yet” amendment, and Nagi can’t help but smile when he realizes she’s both trying and succeeding to cheer him up.

Hiro is a slightly different story. Back at school, she starts blatantly avoiding him, but then leaves one of her signature not-love letters in his shoe locker. Erika suggests that Hiro feels betrayed because Nagi was on his high horse about beating her once only to fall so far on the next exam. But as we learn when Nagi meets Hiro at the beautifully lit basketball court after school, that’s only half of Hiro’s story.

After Nagi apologizes for letting his guard down and commits to doing better, Hiro passes him the rock, giving a playful rhythm to their make-up talk. But it wasn’t just her respect for him as an academic rival that made her upset; it was learning how quickly he cheered up without any input from her. She wanted to be the one to cheer him up first but Erika beat her to the punch.

Watching Hiro make a layup in dazzling slow motion, it occurs to Nagi that while things are a lot more complicated with regard to his romantic life, he still loves Hiro aplenty, and still wants to beat her enough times at exams so he can “change her fate” she’ll process his confession. But as we saw during times when he and Erika were having what amounted to lovers quarrels in earshot of both Hiro and Sachi, everyone coming out of this happy and satisfied is a tall ask.

I’m not surprised Nagi wants to try his best to simplify and work on things he knows he can by getting back to his intense studying regimen and climbing back to the top of the rankings. Even then, Erika makes it known she needs his help studying, or her folks will bring her back home.

Call of the Night – 03 – Night Fight

While I could absolutely keep watching just Kou, Nazuna, and the night for ten or eleven more episodes, the introduction of Asai Akira doesn’t ruin the vibes. In fact, she brings a unique dynamic: Kou’s only human friend, something he didn’t think he had in her. When he placed the blue watch on the mailboxes, he didn’t mean to place it right above Akira’s, but that’s how she took it.

When Kou was an aloof kid off on his own in the playground, only Akira went to him to see what he was up to. When he said he was fine not joining the others, she joined him instead, and declared them friends. He didn’t object, but he probably forgot that exchange that Akira dutifully maintained. She still considers him a friend, and is glad he’s doing okay.

So Kou begins leaving ever-so-early from his nightly visits to Nazuna’s for some bed-lying and blood-sucking so he can meet up with Akira (who is an early bird to his night owl). Nazuna jokes that he’s going off to see another woman, and immediately senses from his expression that she’d accidentally nailed it. That said, Kou admits in voiceover that he and Akira don’t do much other than exchange inoffensive small talk.

On one such occasion in the park, he asks if Akira is having fun. She puts the question to him, and he says he isn’t not having fun, so she replies that she is. Just as Kou, extremely inexperienced in such things, starts wondering if Akira likes him, Nazuna menacingly emerges from the shadows only to give Kou a friendly pat on the shoulder and congratulate him for doing “hanky-panky”.

She tells Akira her and Kou’s relationship is “purely physical”, and while Akira’s mention of romance (upon hearing Kou call her “Nazuna-chan) once again makes Nazuna blush, she shakes that off by basically marking her territory, sucking Kou’s neck right in front of Akira and announcing she’s a vampire.

At a 24-hour café, the three sit, and Akira tries to grasp the situation. She asks Kou if he’s skipping out on school because of Nazuna. While she may kind of be the reason now, she wasn’t the original reason, which was that he simply couldn’t be bothered with it anymore. Akira feels the same way, especially with Kou gone, but didn’t ditch because she thought she had to go.

She thinks she’d have more fun if Kou were around, so she asks him to come back to school. When Kou doesn’t immediately refuse and seems to hesitate, Nazuna seemingly gets miffed and suddenly splits. Kou follows after her, asking if she’s angry and why, but Nazuna doesn’t feel like spilling it out, and is clearly still mad, so she flips him off and does her vampire warpspeed thing. Kou looks for her all night, without success.

Finally, in that magical in-between time just before sunrise, Kou falls on his face while climbing some stairs, then uses his receiver watch to call Nazuna. She responds, and he proceeds to tell her that while he doesn’t really “get” fights like the one they’re apparently in, but he wants to make up with her. With that, Nazuna suddenly appears, and is once again as honest with him as he was with her, saying she was “ticked off” by him hesitating after Akira asked him to come back to school.

Turns out she misunderstood; Kou hesitated because he wasn’t sure how to tell a human friend that couldn’t go back to school because he wanted to become a vampire. With that cleared up and the two well and truly made up, Nazuna notices the blood from Kou’s tumble, and proceeds to kiss him in order to drink it, remarking that “a lot came out”. She liked how he said human friend, and that it suggested he had a vampire friend too. Kou may not know this since she’s his first, but vampire friends do kiss.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 12 – Not Yet

With Nagi and Sachi successfully making up, Erika decides she wants to take Nagi shopping after school…only he already has “something important” to do. That consists of having a study session with Hiro at the library, where they spend most of the time exchanging notes.

After that, Nagi is concerned with where else they can study more, but Hiro wants to show him more about herself, so she takes him to a kickboxing studio. Nagi isn’t completely physically incompetent, and thus impresses with his punch. Erika happens to walk by and see how much fun he and Hiro are having.

The last few episodes, Erika has been pretty okay with Nagi doing his own thing, and even said she’d root for him and Hiro, whom she adores. But actually seeing the two together has an effect she didn’t anticipate. She tries to counter that effect by reasserting their technical status as fiancés by announcing they’re going on a date together.

Just as Hiro did at the theme park, Erika takes the lead, buying Nagi some expensive clothes, taking him to a pet store to hang out with some reptiles, and finally going on an exhausting evening run. After each leg of their date, she stares at Nagi and looks disappointed. She eventually tells him: she saw him smiling like a goofball with Hiro, but he never smiles at her!

Nagi takes Erika’s problem to its logical conclusion: she got jealous and pissed seeing him and Hiro together, which means she likes him. Pointing this out doesn’t help matters, but Erika doesn’t outright deny it, simply saying “It’s not that I like you!…Yet!” before storming off.

Nagi, however, remains on the park bench until well after sundown, contemplating how Erika feels and how he in turn feels about that. He can’t deny his heart is racing, which makes him wonder if he likes Erika, and whether what he’s feeling for Hiro is love.

Nagi resorts to googling “love” then going back home for the first time in forever to consult his mega dictionary, but ends up finding a box full of love letters from his dad to his mom. Like, all of them were from his dad.

The letters are dumb, sappy, embarrassing…but his dad kept writing them, and his mom kept accepting them, and eventually accepted and returned his feelings, despite being seemingly out of his league. Sensing his son is questioning his love, he tells him to close his eyes and “ask his heart”—the one he loves should show up in his mind’s eye.

Nagi does this, and for the first time, all three girls appear at the same time, albeit with Erika in the center. Naturally, this is extremely confusing for Nagi, who has operated the entire first half of this series under the impression he loved Hiro and only Hiro. But between Erika and him living together and being pretty goshdarn great together and his realignment of how he sees Sachi, Nagi is finally seeing the full, multi-girl picture.

Of course, this is just the initial awareness stage. It remains to be seen whether he accepts that he has feelings of various levels for Erika, Hiro, and Sachi, or that one day a choice will have to be made that might break two of their hearts (or all three). But it’s a satisfying development nonetheless, and I liked his text response to Erika: he doesn’t like her either…yet. For both of them, “yet” is a shield, but it’s also a kind of invitation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Love After World Domination – 12 (Fin) – Cutting of the Cake (Baby)

Fudou and Desumi are having one of their usual mid-battle idyllic meetups when Fudou tells her he’s going to appear in a commercial…for a bridal venue…as a groom, cutting a cake with the lovely celebrity Hashimoto Anna as the bride. Desumi is understandably not okay with this, Fudou tells her it’s his job and she’s being selfish, and she runs off. Haru, always keeping watch over the couple, quickly gets Fudou to realize how badly he effed up.

While Desumi sulks over Fudou’s virtual cheating, Fudou tries to get Big Gelato to cancel the commercial gig, but the venue already provided funding to complete Gelato 5’s new combined weapon, so he instead gets to work baking a cake worthy of cutting with Desumi before he cuts one in the commercial with Hashi-An.

Unfortunately, when he calls Desumi to announce said cake is complete, she doesn’t answer, since she’s still down in the dumps. Then she and all the other Gekko members are assembled by Bosslar to behold the awakening of Ultimate Phantom, a megaboss with which he intends to take over the world.

Unfortunately, Ultimate Phantom doesn’t turn out quite like Bosslar expected. It’s a giant, ornery baby that cannot be controlled. All the Gekko members throw everything they have at it to no avail, and Culverin Bear even gets eaten and his powers absorbed by Phantom.

Desumi is still too distraught to care about all of this, but at the commercial shoot Fudou just can’t go through with cutting a wedding cake with another woman, and in any case Ultimate Phantom attacks the venue in order to defeat Red Gelato. Desumi catches the attack on the news.

Fudou is briefly distracted by the destruction of the cake he made for Desumi, but the other members of Gelato 5 assemble and fight Ultimate Phantom. But they’re no match for it either, and Gekko rolls in to try to bring it to heel. Desumi tags along, still unsure what to do until she sees the remains of Fudou’s cake.

Phantom eats the wedding cake meant for the shoot, transforming itself into a cake baby monster, which is actually a thing that exists and is the occasional mascot for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans. I also suspect the previous episode’s baby antics were setup for the reveal of this ludicrous final boss.

When all his comrades are out of commission, it’s up to Red Gelato to wield their new combined weapon, but he alone isn’t strong enough. That’s where Desumi comes in, the two quickly make up, and then combine forces to defeat Ultimate Phantom, an act that doubles as cutting a cake together.

Fully made up and back to their lovey-dovey selves, Desumi and Fudou are embarrassed to find that the baby-sized version of Ultimate Phantom that remains has seemingly imprinted on them as its mama and papa. The hero news covered this entire incident, but always remained too far away to hear what the two lovebirds were saying.

When they draw in close enough to try to get an interview, wondering if the aces of Gekko and Gelato are now allies, Desumi returns to her Reaper Princess persona and beats the stuffing out of Red Gelato, leaving no doubt as to whether there’s “mutual understanding”. Of course, Fudou tips his hat at Desumi’s efforts to keep their relationship theirs.

So ends a very bizarre but fun and entertaining finale to a show that always marched to the beat of its own drummer and exhibited both a solid knack for adorable romance and surpassing creativity with its hero/villain milieu. If it ever gets a sequel, I’ll definitely be tuning in.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 11 – The Mask Falls

Our episode opens on someone we haven’t met before: an extremely enthusiastic café maid adding her love to her customer’s omurice. When she removes her wig and puts on those distinctive glasses, we discover it’s Chizuru, who it would seem we still haven’t met…not for real, at least.

Chizuru doesn’t seem to like working her ass off at this job, but she apparently needs to so she can keep making money to send…to LIPxLIP, and Aizou in particular, with whom she is particularly smitten. She has hidden that intense infatuation from both the boys and her friends…but one day she’s sloppy, and Yuujirou hears her phone when she snaps multi-burst shots of them playing basketball.

Back at work and as popular as ever, and with the scandal well behind them, the boys have a new problem: Hiyori isn’t around anymore. Their new old manager mixes up their drinks. It’s a little thing, but after Hiyori made that mistake she never made it again; it speaks to what a dedicated, detail-oriented hard worker she was, and what a void she leaves. Hiyori has done her best to forget about her old job and focuses on track, but her times are slower and she’s clearly eating more at lunchtime.

When Juri notes that the harassment of her has mercifully ceased, Hiyori says she’s most sorry about “hurting the fans”, and as Chizuru is one of them, she has to quickly excuse herself so she can drop the friend facade, whip out one of the photos she took of Hiyori with LIPxLIP, and curse her as she blots her out with a Sharpie. Yuujirou witnesses the entire tirade.

Juri invites herself and Chizuru over to Hiyori’s for a pizza sleepover, but the discussion becomes awkward when Chizuru answers that yes, she does have a crush. That’s when Yuujirou strategically side-checks her in such a way that her bag goes flying…and the incriminating photos fly out too.

Juri’s cavalier reaction—almost as if a part of her she expected something like this, is contrasted by Hiyori’s sheer bewilderment. She’s genuinely unsure of what’s going on, until Chizuru makes it nice and sparkling clear: she fucking hates her guts!

The sleepover obviously cancelled due to the death of good vibes, Hiyori instead runs all night, only to replenish all the calories she burned with another crepe sesh with Mona-chan. Mona draws from her own experience “hating” her sister to tell Hiyori that “hate” is often just an easy label for more complex feelings buried beneath all the bluster.

Hiyori is all aboard with the idea of reaching out to Chizuru and asking her how she really feels, but Chizuru doesn’t want to talk, and avoids her at every turn the next day. I thought at first Hiyori’s superior speed would have the advantage in the ensuing cat-and-mouse, but lest we forget, Chizuru snapped those photos while remaining totally undetected. It’s like trying to corner a ninja!

When Hiyori finally does tackle Chizuru, none of Chizuru’s hostility has dissipated. If anything, she’s even more annoyed that Hiyori won’t leave her the ef alone. But when pressed, Chizuru maintains that she did nothing wrong, and that it’s the “nobody” Hiyori’s fault for getting so close to the idols and not “knowing her place” like Chizuru.

In the rancor she dispenses, Hayami Saori brings back shades of Hatoko’s Rant and demonstrates once more why she’s among the best in the business. When given dramatic meat, she leaves nothing on the bone. The tussling gets more and more physical until the two are literally throwing right crosses at one another, but only Chizuru’s lands, knocking Hiyori clean out with a fountain of blood.

When Hiyori wakes up in the nurse’s, Yuujirou and Aizou are with her…and so is Chizuru, asleep by her bed, clutching her hand, her eyes raw from tears. Seeing her there, one can’t help but forgive her, because she wouldn’t be there if she didn’t actually care about Hiyori. Perhaps she can ditch the easy, safe hatred and explore the true feelings beneath, but the episode wisely doesn’t wake her, leaving us to wonder until next week.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 04 – The Only Bad Guy

You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy’.—Tony Montana

As Akari naps on her shoulder, Menou reflects on how she got to this point, on a train to the execution of what seems like a perfectly ordinary and nice young woman but for her potential to end the world with her unchecked powers of time manipulation.

We’ve seen where Menou’s old life ended and where Flare found her; a haunting blanched world of pure white destruction. The first half of this episode expounds upon that scene, and how the landscape was very much reflecting Menou’s own state at that time: a blanched, blank slate.

Like Fushi in To Your Eternitythis Menou didn’t feel anything; she was simply there…until Orwell assigned Flare to look after her. Her first words to Flare were “who are you?” which might as well been a question to herself. Flare’s response, that she’s a “pure, just and strong” priestess, is delivered with a villainously twisted face and dripping with sarcasm Menou takes at face value.

Menou came to learn that Flare was an executioner of otherworlders and other enemies of the Faust, and is eventually taken to an entire continent of nothing but salt slowly dissolving into the sea, the result of one of the Four Human Errors. Upon learning the solemn duty of people like Flare, Menou decided on the spot that she wanted to be one of those people.

To this request, Flare warns Menou that executioners like her are little more than villains to be loathed and discarded when at the end of their usefulness, someone willing to do anything to anyone, good or bad, man or woman, in order to keep the world safe. Someone strong, but bereft of purity or justice. A tool.

When Menou says she wants to be one anyway, Flare takes her to a monastery to train with other young girls. They learn how to fight and kill, and also learn about the otherworlders and how they influenced this world and threatened its very existence at least four times in history. The iconography on display in the classroom is wonderfully dark and medieval.

It’s here where Menou learns that she must “speak of friendship, whisper words of love, be dirty and underhanded” in order to kill one’s targets. She also meets the younger Momo, who like some other girls is not taking the indoctrination into merciless killing machines smoothly. Menou comes to Flare, who seems to be sleeping uneasily in her dark and musty chambers.

There, Menou asks her to make her “the only bad person” so the girls who don’t want to don’t have to be. It’s clear their hesitance is a result of past experiences Menou no longer has due to the calamity she survived. Flare proceeds to evaulated Menou’s strengths and weaknesses, adding up to a “slightly below average” candidate for such a role.

Then Menou surprises Flare (something I’m sure doens’t happen often) by  taking her face in her little hands and asking her not to make her like her, but to make her her. A little Flare. A Flarette.

Flare, long ago resigned to her fate as a loathsome villain who will never find vindication or peace, is half-lamenting and half-admiring in stating that a “twisted personality” has emerged from Menou’s “blanched out soul”, and that one day she’ll surpass her when all of it is destroyed by happiness and she still survives.

That segues nicely into the present, with Akari waking up from her nap to see Garm growing larger through the window. She’s too distracted by the big shiny capital city to noticed Menou’s pained expressions, the result of having time to herself to reflect on her past and present. Flare knew Menou would come to this point, when happiness threatened to destroy the villain she’d become.

Menou promises to go on a sightseeing date with Akari, but they first pay a visit to the Faust cathedral (which is right next to the Noblesse’s fortress…keep your enemies close). The ceremonial hall that will “take Akari home” is there, and Akari meets Archbishop Orwell, who says the hall will be ready in two days.

Akari is apologetic and appreciative, the only person not in on what is really going on. Orwell plays the role of kindly grandmother figure to a T, while Menou does not flinch in the presence of this deeply upsetting charade. She also agres to take on a side job for Orwell investigating missing women in the city in exchange for funds for taking the pilgrimage route once her business in Garm is finished.

The fact that this job conflicts with the promise Menou made to Akari to go sightseeing together, and also looks ahead to the time when Akari is back “home”, irks Akari to no end, and she makes her anger plain once the two are set up in a fancy hotel room. She storms back inside to take a bath, slamming the door behind her.

Menou is seemingly taken aback by Akari’s anger, forgetting that while she’s always kept a professional remove due to her ultimate mission to eliminate her, Akari considers Menou a friend, and for Menou to treat her like a “stranger who will be gone soon” truly hurts, even if Akari is being a little immature about it.

While Akari bathes, she has a chance to reflect on how she reacted, and concludes she was indeed too harsh on Menou, who has many responsibilities to juggle. To whit, while she’s in the bath Menou meets with Momo on the balcony, and basically delegates the investigation job to her.

As she was on the train, Momo is obedient to the big sister she loves more than anything, but also very weary of Menou’s continued interactions with someone she deems an extremely dangerous otherworlder. Menou laments forcing “the messy stuff” on Momo’s plate, but still does it, because she needs and wants to keep Akari happy.

Upon going back into the room, Akari meets her there, having emerged from the bath in a towel, and apologizes for how she acted, saying she’ll sightsee on her own while Menou takes care of her duties. Menou in turn says their sightseeing date is back on, and Akari embraces her, loing her towel in the process.

As much as Akari may like Menou, the fact of the matter is she’s being lied to, and proverbial knives are being sharpened for her demise, not her return to Japan. Menou is using their nascent friendship to keep Akari docile and content until the knife can be slipped in. It’s heartbreaking, compelling character drama.

Next week’s episode is titled “Goodbye”. Will it mark the departure of Akari, or Menou’s departure from villainy? Judging from her past, the latter seems more likely. But then again, she’s never met an otherworlder quite like Akari.

Vanitas no Carte – 23 – La Liberté de la Solitude

We’re into Unstoppable Force vs. Unmovable Object territory, with seemingly no good outcome that can emerge from Vanitas and Noé fighting. If Vanitas gets through Noé and harms Misha, Domi will jump to her death. But Vanitas doesn’t care. Neither Noé nor Misha have the whole story, and Vanitas is resolved to keep it that way—Noé and Domi’s lives are expendable to him.

This enrages Noé, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that Vanitas is intentionally provoking him to throw him off and force him to use too much of his strength. After all, he can’t get Vanitas’ memories from his blood if Vanitas is dead. The last thing Noé wants is to kill Vanitas, but he can’t lose Domi, either. It’s just a shitty situation all around…Thanks OMisha!

Vanitas’ little brother also tells Noé that Vanitas has hypnotized himself for one purpose: killing anyone who tries to suck his blood. Whatever genuine feelings of friendship or love for anyone or anything have been temporarily taken out of the equation, which combined with his considerable Chasseur skills (not to mention the freaking Book of Vanitas) make him extremely dangerous.

Unfortunately, it also saps his agency. This isn’t the Vanitas we know doing and saying these things: he’s basically in Fail-Safe Mode; his will and ego replaced by a rigid set of directives. He did to himself what Misha did to Domi, but Inner Domi throws a little wrench in Misha’s machinations by jumping without him telling her to, in hopes taking herself out of the equation will keep Noé from getting hurt.

Physical harm aside, nothing would hurt Noé more than losing her, but fortunately she’s unable to follow through on her suicide attempt, as Jeanne arrives and snatches her out of the air. She isn’t quite sure what’s going on, but her orders from Luca are to keep Domi safe, and she’s going to do that. Even if Misha is able to nullify her main weapon and Domi is still under his spell, Jeanne’s intervention allows Noé to focus on Vanitas.

Vanitas may go on about how Noé knows nothing about him, and that might’ve been true when they first met, but Noé is confident he’s been with Vanitas long enough to know what kind of person he is. For instance, he knows Vanitas considers solitude to be freedom, which is why he vows never to set Vanitas free.

That seems to break the hypnotic hold Vanitas placed on himself, but the episode ends abruptly without revealing the result of their fall. I understand having to save something for the finale, but it felt less like a cliffhanger and more like the episode just…stopped. That said, the second half should be something.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fabiniku – 07 – A God This Delicious

When Tachibana ends up a captive of the squid worshippers, such is the Premier’s vanity that she commits herself entirely to a beauty contest between her and Tachibana regardless of the fact the winner will be sacrificed to a giant squid. Even so, she loses to Tachibana.

Jinguuji and a village trader (who develops a thing for him) soon find and free the Premier, and they discuss strategy over her first hot meal in days (she’s been through some shit). The Premier agrees to work with Jinguuji to kill the Giant Squid God and save Tachibana.

Alas, any admiration or affection she might’ve been developing for Jinguuji is dashed when he uses her as literal floating bait for the squid, whom we learn is very particular about the girls he eats. After a whole day, the squid finally takes the bait at dusk. All the while, Jinguuji has noticed his strength has been sapped of late.

As Tachibana is carried in a cage litter for the seaside sacrifice, she curses the fact she and Jinguuji chose now to have another big fight. She remembers the first one, when she (or rather he at the time) fell behind in his studies and got mad at Jinguuji for not being an easy tutor.

The “useless eggplant” moniker was born, and the two friends didn’t speak for days. However, present-day Tachibana isn’t about to die before she can make up with Jinguuji, so she busts out of the cage and manages to wrest loose her tiara, thus instantly charming the men holding her captive.

This plan backfires when the wives and lovers of those men threaten to kill Tachibana before the squid can. Jinguuji tries in vain to pull the giant squid out of the water with his diminished strength, but regains that strength and then some when he hears Tachibana give an honest and heartfelt rant to the villagers about not judging people by appearances and taking responsibility for themselves.

Jinguuji rips the giant squid out of the water and impales its head on the statue of itself where Tachibana is clinging to dear life. Wounded but still alive, the squid notices Tachibana and attempts to eat her, and the Premier, soaked in black ink, almost helps by pulling Tachibana in.

But then Jinguuji tosses her his trusty Damascus steel kitchen knife, and the Premier, who you thought could sink no lower, pulls what in Demon Slayer parlance could be called a “Sleeping Zenitsu”, which is to say that for a brief moment she does something incredibly impressive and cool—in this case lopping off the squid’s tentacles and rescuing Tachibana in style.

The timing couldn’t be better, because up until this point the Premier had been little more than a walking joke and punching bag. Here, she plays a crucial role in ensuring Tachibana is safe…and goes a step further by grilling the village’s god and having a feast. Her actions are so audacious, the villagers agree to give up their power struggle make her their new leader.

Naturally the Premier isn’t interested, and as she runs from the villagers, Jinguuji and Tachibana make up. It’s not surprising that Tachibana even forgot she was mad at him, considering how much happened to her over the course of a day.

The episode ends with them basically exchanging vows: Jinguuji is to never take his eyes off Tachibana, while Tachibana is to never leave him again. Unfortunately, the Demon Lords generals have now learned that Jinguuji’s power is diminished when he and Tachibana are separated. Their vows will be more important than ever as they draw closer to the capital.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 12 (Fin) – Illness of the Strong

Last week Will hit rock bottom as he fell into the same trap as countless other heroes, anime, isekai, or otherwise: trying to go it alone out of fear of getting others hurt. Fortunately, his beautiful first and best friend and brother Meneldor’s head is harder than it looks, and he’s not about to let Will slink off in the rainy night. Their first fight ensues, with Will even going so far as to break Menel’s arm so he can’t follow him.

He would’ve needed to break the other arm—and both legs, because Menel doesn’t give up. He employs the gnomes to knock Will on his ass so he can use his good arm to help Will up. Will surrenders. Reystov calls what befell Will to be the “illness of the strong”—an instinct to isolate oneself and take all the burdens on one’s shoulders—and knows many who succumbed to it and died.

Thanks to Menel, Will is able to realize the error of his ways. He can’t go it alone against the Chimera and demon forces trying desperately to keep the Beast Woods in chaos. He’s just one in a whole slew of variables in the equation necessary to break the demons’ hold on the region. Through careful scouting and preparation and by rallying his band of adventurers and priests, Will is able to attain a victory he’d never reach all by his lonesome.

Even the final boss chimera isn’t someone Will can take one by himself. Sure, he detects the monster using invisibility and even trying to trick them into lowering their guard, but Menel’s mastery of faeries, nymphs and gnomes provides decisive backup in the Chimera battle. With its defeat, Bee writes new songs of their heroic deeds to be spread throughout the lands.

As the party celebrates their triumph, Menel points out something that had totally escaped a naïf like Will all this time: that he is at this point the new de facto Lord of the Beast Woods. This is where Will learns another axiom common to heroes: true leaders don’t seek power, but it is thrust upon them. Will must either rule his new realm or choose some trusted people to do it for him as he continues his adventures.

And make no mistake: there will be more adventures. A second season of Paladin has already been announced, something I never felt was in doubt (though I’d also like to see second seasons of Shin no Nakama and World’s Finest Assassin). Will also has an ultimate goal: turning the City of the Dead into a City of Living—thus making Blood, Mary, and Gus proud.

SAKUGAN – 07 – FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS SUEÑAS

After the last few episodes took place in colonies or on a mission in a stationary place, this week is all about the journey. Memenpu, Gagumber, Zackletu and Yuri embark upon a road trip that soon grows monotonous in both scenery and routine. Yuri tries to spice things up a little with some lovely red flowers.

The only problem is, he picked flowers that look just like the flowers he wanted to pick, but these flowers happen to have psychotropic effects. As such, things get a little Hunter S Thompson, as the higher the rest stop numbers get, the higher Gagumber, Zackletu, and Yuri get. Memenpu, the one who is most with it, gets rid of the flowers and uses a native cactus to whip up an anecdote.

Alas, Memenpu mistakes the cactus for one that looks just like it that only makes the symptoms of the flower worse. This is hilariously depicted as everyone continues to get nuttier, with the three acting like they’re at the Mad Hatter’s tea party. They repeat the same lines but their words get more and more slurred. Their driving gets more wild and reckless. They can’t stop barfing.

Memenpu determines the only way for the other three to recover is water, rest, and luck. They do eventually find themselves (after she slaps them in the face several times) but Memenpu is having her own rough time. When under the influence of the flowers her dream got psychedelic, but when she buried the blooms they got more intense and violent, depicting Gagumber bleeding out and dying in the flower fields of her dream.

When Memenpu tries to get the others to hurry up and get to the place, Gagumber tells her to chill out and stop taking her dreams so literally, even saying “I thought you were smart.” When she tries to climb aboard their mech on her own, he pulls her knapsack and she loses her footing and falls hard, getting all scraped up.

Gagumber doesn’t apologize an the two drift apart as the trip continues, but Memenpu’s dream of him dying is obviously extremely upsetting, and she believes the only way to prevent it is to go there and check things out, and possibly meet Urorop, who always appears in the dreams. Only Urorop is already there, at their camp.

Is she just there to watch in the shadows, or will she engage with the others? The chaotic goofiness of the drug tripping combined with the dark turn Memenpu’s dreams have taken made this an edgy, unpredictable episode—befitting a proper road trip.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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