Kageki Shoujo!! – 06 – Such Sins Shall Not Be Endured

The 100th Class is restless. For four months they’ve been subjected to basics basics basics when each of them are anything but. They’re fed up of boring lessons…they want to ACT. Sarasa, never one to shy away from making her thoughts known, whatever they may be, airs the united class’s grievance to Andou-sensei.

He seems miffed by her impression of her, even though everyone agrees it’s as spot-on as her impressions of all the other teachers. They wonder if it’s because it’s so good that it struck a nerve. Such is Sarasa’s performative power.

Oh, it’s also Sarasa’s 16th birthday! Akiya’s older kabuki kolleague took the liberty of delivering sixteen roses to Sarasa under an alias, living as he is vicariously through Akiya and Sarasa’s chaste, minimalist long-distance relationship. But Ai isn’t going to lose to some “frog bot”; so she plays and plays the store lottery until she wins a figurine she knows Sarasa will cherish.

She also uses the opportunity to try to call Sarasa by her first name instead of “Sara…Watanabe-san”, and when prompted by Sarasa herself to do so, Ai is finally able to do it. More than by the figurine, Sarasa is made happiest by seeing her first name in Ai’s handwriting and hearing it in Ai’s voice. I love these two so much it hurts.

I could honestly deal quite well with a Kageki Shoujo!! that’s nothing but Sarasa and Ai hanging out and gradually becoming closer, but we’ve got a whole ensemble to cover here, and the results of spreading the love across multiple Kouka students isn’t bad either!

This week focuses on the other members of Sarasa and Ai’s Group E, who along with the other groups have two weeks to prepare to do a scene from Romeo & Juliet. Rock Paper Scissors is used to determine who plays what role, resulting in the suboptimal pairing of Hoshino Kaoru’s Romeo with Ai’s Juliet. Sarasa has to play the much darker Tybalt.

The role of Juliet was really won by Chika, one of the Sawada twins, but she decides to be the lesser role of Juliet’s nurse, later seeing her sister Chiaki claim the role with giddy elation. Is Chika less ambitious than Chiaki, or is she simply trying to differentiate herself from her sister in order to shine on her own? The twins have just been background noise until now, so I’m looking forward to them getting a bit more fleshed out.

Kaoru, whom I’d forgotten wishes to be a otoko-yaku like Sarasa, does not surrender Romeo to Sarasa. Instead, she takes Group E firmly by the reins and does not spare the whip. She harshly criticizes both Sarasa and Ai for seemingly not giving it their all, then finally snaps at Sarasa for daring to propose they practice on the sidewalk like common street performers.

As with Ayako last week, Ai sees a member of JPX in Kaoru, specifically the leader, who was always angry and never satisfied. She also learns why from the other girls; both of the previous generations of Hoshino women were Kouka performers. Ai bridges the gap between her and Kaoru by acknowledging the pressure Kaoru is under, while also admitting something she deems to be shameful and almost disqualifying for a Kouka actress.

Due to all of her years performing from a young age, she never properly learned to read kanji. Ai tells Kaoru there’s nothing wrong with her having a short fuse or being tough on them; if she’s not tough on them, Group E will fail. And if Kaoru doesn’t want to be the bad guy of the group, they’ll also fail!

Speaking of bad guys, Sarasa has zero experience embodying characters like Tybalt, but while she sucks at reading a script, watching a Blu-Ray of Romeo & Juliet is another thing entirely. She absorbs every moment of the performances on the screen, and the shape and color of every line, like a very tall, very efficient sponge. And lest you think I’m being harsh on Sarasa, I hold living sponges in high regard! We should all wish to live such an elegant existence!

When the time comes for the first-ever Great “Let First-Years Act” Experiment, Andou chooses Group E to go first. As they perform in their tracksuits on a rehearsal stage, the audience (including us) are transported to the fully-dressed performance stage, complete with lighting and costumes. This is a nice stylistic touch.

Kaoru makes a good Romeo, but Andou can see her gaze is uneven, indicating she’s distracted and letting her self intrude on her performance. Chika flubs a line by repeating it, but after a momentary breakdown, remembers Ai’s words about them continuing to the end even if they mess up, and improvises a great save. Ai isn’t bringing true love to the performance (because Sarasa is her true Romeo), and she’s also doing what she was trained to do as an idol: performing to an audience of one. A Kouka actress must perform for everyone.

Then Tybalt takes the stage, and we finally see why Kaoru said what she said earlier about people normally improving gradually. Sarasa isn’t normal. After watching the video, once, she manages to serve up a perfect performance of Tybalt, causing her classmates to audibly gasp in unison. Andou is also impressed by the way Sarasa stands, locks her gaze high as if she were performing to a packed Kouka theatre crowd of 2,500. It is stirring, but in the end, it’s too perfect.

In his critique of Group E, Andou-sensei tells Sarasa flat-out that she will never be a top star of Kouka…not unless she changes. As I am prepared to give my life to defend Sarasa’s smile (not to mention Ai’s), it’s here where I must apply Tybalt’s line “Such sins shall not be endured” and “He is naught but a villain” to Andou-sensei. He is a villain whose sin was turning Sarasa’s smile into a look of pained bewilderment. Curse him!

But here’s the thing…he’s absolutely right, and Sarasa needed to hear his harsh words sooner rather than later, because she wasn’t really acting on that rehearsal stage, she was mimicking what she saw—down to the last precise detail. That is an impressive talent, foreshadowed when she did impressions of the other teachers, but it isn’t acting. Sarasa can’t be a top star of Kouka by simply perfectly replicating what she’s seen and heard. At least, that’s what I think Andou-sensei is on about.

Sarasa will have to change. She may even have to forget everything she knows about performing and start over from scratch. Her friend Ai will be there for her, as will the other girls of Kouka. After all, if there’s one person they want to see on stage more than the Sarasa they’ve already seen, it’s the future Sarasa who has mastered how to deliver performances all her own. I know Ai wants to see that Sarasa, and I do too!

The aquatope on white sand – 04 – The girl with the red boots

Aquatope continues to meld stories of personal pain and growth, hints of romance, and slice of life in a unique setting with aplomb. This week we meet another employee of the aquarium, the gentle giant Umi-yan. He’s the first to realize that Fuuka is the Fuuka formerly of Yona Pro, and soon spreads the word to Udon-chan and Karin.

After work when Kukuru stops by Udon’s, she and Karin tell Kukuru while Fuuka sits in awkward silence with Kai, who just happens to flip to a channel on TV showing Yona Pro at an event. Just seeing the girl she let usurp her causes a visceral reaction in Fuuka, and Kai, also in on the big secret, quickly changes the channel.

The next morning, three old ladies are drawn into the aquarium before opening time to bask in Fuuka’s youthful beauty. The next day is a big one; the “Touch Pool” where kids get to touch sea creatures rather than just look at them.

Kukuru decides to give Fuuka more responsibility by being an attendant to the pools. While gathering creatures for the pool, Kai asks Kukuru whether Fuuka, who entered their lives so suddenly, will leave it just as suddenly some day.

Fuuka takes to her new job like a fish to water, taking voracious notes and adding her own cute little touches to make it a more colorful and fun experience. She even upgrades to bright red boots, surprising the rest of the staff. But considering they all knew she was an idol, should they be surprised?

When the day comes, things go swimmingly…at first. The kids love Fuuka and she crammed enough knowledge of the creatures to back her charm up with helpful knowledge. But then some older kids spot her, recognize her as the fallen idol, and prepare to snap pictures. Karin steps into their shot just in time, asking that they please not take non-consensual photos of the staff.

Umi-yan takes over the pool while a visibly shaken Fuuka, who tried so hard to buck up, is taken to the back by Kukuru to calm down. Kukuru apologizes profusely for getting so caught up in making the touch pool a success that she didn’t consider how Fuuka would feel.

But Fuuka doesn’t want her to apologize. She chose to be an attendant, and was happy when Kukuru put her to work and praised her. It’s here when Fuuka realizes that she wants to do a good job because she wanted to get to know Kukuru better and get closer to her.

Kukuru, in turn, realizes she wanted to give Fuuka more work so she’d fall in love with Gama Gama even more, so she could become closer to her. Pracicing what they preach to the kids about how touching a sea creature is worth a hundred words about it, Fuuka takes Kukuru’s hand and places it on her face, and Kukuru does the same with Fuuka’s hand.

Like Karin and Udon, I was absolutely slain by this scene, as it was surpassingly adorable and heartwarming in equal measure. It’s also to date the most overt expression of the show’s shoujo-ai overtones. Kai seems to have a thing for Kukuru but they’re old old friends; it’s different. Fuuka, on the other hand, inspires passion in Kukuru, and the feeling is mutual. They make each other better while helping each other heal from their wounds.

Fuuka returns to the touch pools with heightened confidence and poise, looking the older kids head-on and welcoming them to ask her anything…provided it’s about sea creatures. They look suitably chastened…how would they like it if someone took pictures of them when they were working?

After a long, exhausting, but ultimately successful and immensely fun day, Kukuru and Fuuka ride home, and before hitting the hay exhibit a far closer and more comfortable rapport, with lots of smiles and laughs. No doubt due to the exertions of the day, they end up oversleeping, but don’t sweat it. In fact, Kukuru decides to start the day by pouncing on Fuuka.

Naturally, someone had to piss in this blissful bowl of Cheerios, but thankfully the dread I felt as they approached the aquarium that those loan sharks had committed some kind of vandalism was mistaken. Instead, Fuuka’s stern-looking mom has arrived in Okinawa…and she doesn’t look happy.

Considering we’ve got twenty more episodes to work with, would the series dare separate Fuuka and Kukuru just when they’ve gotten so close? I dearly hope not! Instead it’s my wish that, as they pray to Kijimunaa each morning, as long as they keep doing what’s right, everything will work out.


SSSS.Dynazenon – 12 (Fin) – E Pluribus Gundum

Gauma is in a bad way and Second can only ease his pain, but with Gridknight and Goldburn losing ground to Shizumu, Yume and Yomogi know what to do. Juuga, Mujina and Onija notice the new Shizumu Kaiju, realize they can’t control it, and instead allow him to swallow them up. This makes things even more difficult for Knight-kun.

Koyomi’s Dyna-car just happens to land near enough to him that he can simply hop in and join the battle; ditto Yomogi, who gets to make a dramatic leap over a cliff of debris into his Soldier. Yume trips and falls, but Yomogi soon tracks her down and offers to take her to her Wing. Gauma even manages to pilot his Dyna-thingy with Second, so all six pieces of the puzzle are there to fight the Eugenicists.

It’s here where we get a lot of those trademark super-intense Trigger Faces, as Juuga curses (and confesses?) to Gauma (who tells him to “shaddap!”), Mujina curses Koyomi (who loudly apologizes), and Yume and Yomogi get the silent treatment from their former classmate Shizumu. But once Yomogi realizes he can Instance Dominate the enemy with his Kaiju user power, the battle is pretty much over.

There’s a number of different Dyna-combinations, all of which are great fun to watch as the pilots shout in unison. The coup-de-grace comes from the old standby Super Dragon Dyna Rex (carrying a combo of Gridknight and Goldburn on its back) firing off the most verbose attack yet: Blazing Hot Inferno Burning Grid Rex Roar.

The Eugenicists glimpse their impending deaths and accept their fate (again), but so does Gauma, who passes away shortly after claiming victory. None of them are particularly upset about this; Mujina even thinks it might be “better this way”, while Juuga is certain the time of Kaiju will still come someday. As for Gauma, he finally understands why the Princess didn’t revive with him: because she entrusted Dynazenon to him. And he did good.

Three months later, as the silent credits roll (no OP or ED in this finale, but the opening theme did make an appearance during the battle, as is its wont), we get a very wide shot of Yume and Yomogi walking slowly across a bridge, Yume stopping Yomogi going back for her, and the two continuing on. I don’t know about you, but to me this feels like Yume wordlessly giving Yomogi her answer.

The two join Chise and Koyomi to take one last look at Gauma’s home under the bridge and bid farewell to Knight and Second, who are taking the now-inert Dynazenon and Gridknight with them. It must be tough, but Chise accepts that the best and coolest friend she ever had doesn’t belong in the world of logic and reason.

Speaking of which, Chise is back in her slick street clothes, since her school was one of the casualties of the climactic battle. That’s a pretty cool touch. As for Koyomi, he looks so different three months later with his haircut and well-fitting suit, I assumed at first he was a last-minute cameo from the Gridmanverse. Chise has also ditched her sleeve, revealing a Goldburn tattoo that was there all along. Looks like her friend will always be with her after all.

That leaves the inevitable cultural festival scene. Yomogi and Yume’s class is doing a horror café, and their shift is about to start but Yume is trying to shirk her duty. After pointing his mom and new stepdad—whom he seems to have accepted and even get along with— to the tickets, he is selected by his friends to track Yume down.

After seeing Mai’s photo exhibition (she decided to use photos of Yume after all which…why would you not), Yume finds the highest place in the school and sings a song in tribute to Kano. Then, as she was probably expecting, Yomogi finds her. She reaches out her hand and, after he recalls a final convo with Shizumu about how he was rejecting a future as a fellow kaiju user, but he was okay with that, he takes her hand and helps her onto her feet.

You can really feel the weight of he characters and the touch of their hands thanks to the animation and sound. She then scolds Yomogi for using her last name Minami, Yomogi relents and calls her Yume while blushing all the way, and Yume lets out a cheekily mirthful laugh.

Once they’re done their shift (as a bloody corpse and mummy, respectively), Yume and Yomogi pose for a photo with the others, and notice they still have their scars. Yume hopes they’ll never lose them, since they’re precious reminders of how they found themselves, found other, and learned to find happiness in their lives. These crazy kids are going to be alright.

The final scene is of Knight and Second arriving back in what I’ll call Akane’s illusory world. I’ll go ahead and assume Yomogi & Co.’s world was pretty much our world. While this is pretty cool to see, it’s not as huge or goosebump-inducing as Gridman’s live action mic drop. IN fact, you could probably make a case that Yomogi’s world is also a fake, simply because everyone looks like they’re in an anime.

That’s further food for thought, but in the end, my cerebral stomach is feeling pretty satisfied already. SSSS Dynazenon was one hell of an eclectic, sumptuous meal, a brilliant and epic melding of the absurd and mundane, both impossibly fantastical and piercingly real. I’m really going to miss this gang of misfits, but assuming Trigger isn’t done with robots, kaiju, and alienated, flawed, and immensely charming characters, I look forward to the next entry in the Gridman Universe.

Horimiya – 05 – Breaking Through the Noise

I knew when Shindo was conveniently blocked out by Miyamura’s head that there would be trouble. Souta spots him with another girl and mentions it to Hori, who is already better but taking another sick day to avoid Miyamura post-his “I love you”.

To hear the words so clearly when she was meant to hear them has had a paralyzing effect, as Hori fears their relationship changing in any way from the lovely way it is. Only her inability to text or even face Miyamura for the next day and a half proves there’s no going back; the relationship has changed. There’s no putting the proverbial toothpaste back in the tube.

In a way, Souta’s extremely vague “other girl” report gives Hori leave to speculate that Miyamura is cheating, thus justifying their distance. But she can’t avoid him forever, and as soon as he has her alone by the lockers, he reiterates that he said he loved her knowing she was still awake.

Hori diverts to talk of the other girl, and Miyamura says it’s just Chika-chan, Shindo’s girlfriend, who was leaning on him because she twisted her ankle (Shindo was leaning from the other side because he too twisted his ankle, which is hilarious).

Hori buys the explanation, but is still angered. Why? Because Miyamura won’t stop saying “Chika-chan”. She throws two books in his face and runs off, but before long he’s at her place, calmly returning the books to her in case she had homework that night.

But Because this is Horimiya and not a lesser romantic show that would drag this conflict out over an episode or more for cheap drama, Hori interrupts Miyamura’s apology with her own for the misunderstanding. The awkwardness and tension fades away, and they return to being soothing presences in each other’s lives.

As they share a chair, Hori confirms she was awake when he confessed…which comes as no surprise to him. He apologizes again for springing something like that on her then running away, as he was more scared of how she’d respond than whether she would.

I wish they had more time in this moment to talk more, but they’re suddenly interrupted…by Hori’s dad, Kyousuke. She calls him by his name rather than “dad”, perhaps because he’s a total man-child, but he takes an instant liking to Miyamura, and—this is key—when he asks his daughter if he’s her boyfriend, Hori steps up to the plate and says “yeah, got a problem with that?!”

This, more than anything else Hori says or any other look she gives him, seems to affect Miyamura most powerfully. Just as he blurted out a confession not once but twice in the midst of a bunch of mundane conversation, Hori takes a page out of his book and essentially gives him a response to his confession by telling her dad he’s her boyfriend.

When their mom comes home and is worried not by Kyousuke’s presence, but the fact they won’t have enough dinner (though didn’t Hori just feed her dad?), Miyamura takes himself out of the equation so the whole Hori fam can eat together. Hori walks him home, apologizes for how annoying Kyousuke is, and casually starts holding Miyamura’s hand, blushing all the way.

Miyamura weaves his fingers into hers and they walk like this, affirming their desire to learn more about each other little by little. When they release to part ways, Miyamura takes her arm once more and thanks her, both for being her and for what she told her dad. When Miyamura texts Tooru about these developments, Tooru allows himself to despair a bit over losing to him.

The skies aren’t all cloudy for Tooru, however, as he has the normally serious and highly capable Kouno Sakura going into a daze while admiring him from inside the school. Remi notices Sakura’s uncharacteristic behavior and asks what’s up, but when Sakura sees Remi, she sees someone who is cute—unlike her—and so wouldn’t understand what’s bothering her. Remi, in turn, is bothered by that assertion.

Remi and Sakura have been nicknamed “Beauty and the Beast”, and that label has clearly affected Sakura’s self-esteem. She’s always stayed in her lane, but now that she has a crush on Tooru, she finds herself changing. It’s in the brief time after she ran away from Remi Sakura realizes that having “Beauty as a best friend” is more blessing than curse. When she next sees Remi, she tells her about her crush. Remi notes that Sakura is making a blushing face she’s never seen before…and it’s very cute.

Of course, Tooru is still 100% oblivious to Sakura’s feelings, but that’s not entirely his fault; he’s still feeling the sting of Hori’s rejection compounded with the fact that Miyamura and Hori are all but officially an couple. Still, Tooru doesn’t want things to get awkward, and insists to Miyamura not to worry about it. His pain is his to bear, and he’ll get over it.

The episode closes with another lovely cozy moment with Miyamura and Hori studying. Hori suddenly says “Izumi-kun”, and MIyamura assumes she’s calling him by his first name. Turns out it’s just Souta’s friend’s last name, but the truth is Miyamura would like her to call him by his first name.

She tries it, but amends it with a Baka, then descends into a baka spiral just as Souta comes home, causing his friend Izumi to ask if his family’s okay. Trust me, it’s just fine, kid! As for Miyamura, I’d advise him to start calling Hori Kyouko if he wants her to call him Izumi!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 60 – You’re Not The One

For Syaoran there are three constants in life: death, taxes, and Sakura not knowing he likes her unless he tells her. Tomoyo knows how hard he tried last week before Kero interrupted him, but Syaoran realizes there’s something he has to do before confessing, and that’s have an in-person chat with Meiling.

Rather than wait for him to go to Hong Kong over winter break, Meiling makes her triumphant return to Japan now. Sakura’s over the moon to see Meiling again, but her return is marred by yet more Hiiragifuckery, this time in the form of all the penguins in Penguin Park rising up and attacking Sakura, Meiling, Syaoran and Tomoyo.

Meiling puts her martial arts skills to good use, stunning the penguins and then suggesting Sakura use Freeze to freeze them all. After that, Syaoran zaps them with lightning. The group deduces that someone with immense magic power must have not only animated the penguins, but made it so no passersby would witness the lively battle.

During that battle, Syaoran calls Sakura by her first name, which is Meiling’s first hint of what’s coming. That night when he tells her he found someone he loves most, she officially breaks off the engagement, then runs to sob into the lap Tomoyo, who’d offered her lap in advance like the saint she is.

The next morning, Syaoran is there to see Meiling off, and she urges him to stop being so slow about it and confess to Sakura already; she’s not going to be pleased if things don’t go well, considering it was her heart that was broken! Later she writes to Syaoran, Tomoyo, and Sakura, declaring them all dear friends.

Meiling urges the “spacey” Sakura to stop and take a careful look around more often, lest she miss something important. Whether Sakura gleans Meiling’s true intent of that advice is, er…unlikely, but it’s not impossible Sakura takes it, and even possibly realize on her own how Syaoran feels.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 59 – Use Your Words!

Now that Sakura has converted a bunch of Clow Cards to Sakura Cards, her magic has increased and she’s a lot less fatigued by the effort. To Tomoyo that not only means she’s more powerful, but also more “beautiful, elegant, and dignified”. Sakura can nervously laugh off Tomoyo’s exuberant praise all she wants, it doesn’t change the fact that Tomoyo is right, and that her love for Sakura is pure and unceasing.

We and Tomoyo also get to witness Sakura curb-stomping her opponent in one-on-one basketball. Eriol initially does the same to Syaoran by rejecting his shot and draining from way downtown, but is then magnanimous enough to help Syaoran focus enough to nail a jumper. Yukito then spots Eriol and transforms into Yue, who recognizes him as Clow in disguise. Clow being Clow, he knocks Yue out and transforms him back into Yukito. Clearly he doesn’t want his secret out quite yet.

After school we find Syaoran at Tomoyo’s house, and Tomoyo is happy to give Syaoran advice, well aware that he’s got feelings for her. Tomoyo doesn’t consider Syaoran a rival for Sakura’s heart—in her mind, anyone who didn’t love Sakura would be a fool! Instead, Sakura’s happiness is paramount.

If Syaoran can make her Sakura happy, that frees Tomoyo to continue observe and record that happiness, which in turn makes her happy. It’s the kind of love and admiration that make Tomoyo such a strong, unique, and beautiful character, but at the same time…a teensy bit sad. Tomoyo also knows that Sakura is denser than a brick made of diamonds, and won’t know Syaoran likes her unless he tells her upfront.

His first attempt to do so, when Sakura emerges in a new battle costume, is interrupted when both of them sense Clow’s presence. It leads them to the school, where a basketball that moves on its own. They give chase, but the layout of the school becomes a warped labyrinth, and Sakura and Syaoran are separated from Tomoyo.

Sakura starts to cry, having voiced her concern for Tomoyo’s safety during her magical missions earlier that day at school. Syaoran snaps her out of it, urging Sakura to instead think of a means to get back to Tomoyo. Also notable throughout the episode is that Sakura now calls Syaoran “Syaoran” instead of “Li” following their agreement in the elevator.

Thanks to Syaoran—and Tomoyo singing to indicate her location—Sakura thinks up a plan that doesn’t involve possibly getting stuck between the walls (as is the risk of the Through card). Instead, she summons and converts Shadow, and clearly commands it to help her find Tomoyo.

Since Syaoran and Kero switched on every light in the school, the shadow is able to lead them to Tomoyo, whom Sakura gives a big hug upon their reunion. Worried Tomoyo was scared about being alone, Tomoyo tells her she was never scared, because she knew Sakura would find her.

Tomoyo’s only regret is that she wasn’t able to record Sakura at her most heroic and wonderful, whereupon Kero-chan volunteers to be her consolatory subject, striking some poses for the camera. Little does he know this gives “the kid” another opportunity alone with Sakura to tell her he likes her.

Alas, Syaoran hesitates too long, and the moment is lost when Kero-chan grabs Sakura for more footage. Will he ever explicitly tell Sakura “I like you?” I’m not sure. With eleven episodes remaining, there’s certainly time for it to happen. Then again, maybe Tomoyo will be proven wrong, and Sakura will indeed realize Syaoran’s feelings without words.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 57 – Going Up…

This will probably go down in the annals of CCS as a landmark episode in the development of Sakura x Syaoran. Specifically, the latter’s feelings for the former begin to boil over to such an extent that he can no longer lie or obfuscate to himself about what she means to him.

While he occasionally asks either out loud while alone or in his thoughts something along the lines of “What’s wrong with me?”, much of his realization comes wordlessly as he watches Sakura both close up and from afar, be it during class, gym, music, or recess.

When Sakura invites Syaoran to join her, Tomoyo and Eriol at a teddy bear exhibit, he’s reminded of the bear he made but has yet to give to anyone. As he wrestles with his feelings after school he bumps into Yukito, who can quickly tell that Syaoran cares for Sakura very much, even if he won’t admit it.

Try as he might to shake off or run away from his feelings, they’re there, and they’re only growing the more time he spends with her. In fact, when he hears her voice on the answering machine (she had to leave two separate messages thanks to her tripping on Kero-chan’s video games), he listens to her a second time, just to hear her lovely voice.

Syaoran decides to play it cool the next day when the four of them hang out, keeping his hands behind his head most of the time as he watches Sakura having fun. The sequence is one of two montages that place Sakura and Syaoran in interesting visual framing devices decorated with autumn leaves signifying change on the horizon.

However, when Eriol brings up Syaoran’s homemade bear and Sakura asks if he’s given it to anyone, he becomes embarrassed again and runs off. Sakura chases him down as he enters the elevator, but then, as seemingly both another test for Sakura and a chance for Syaoran to be alone with her, Eriol locks them in the elevator.

After a period of awkward silence in the dark, Sakura starts to cry, so Syaoran cheers her up with a flame taliasman. She lays out her handkerchief and invites him to sit beside her so they’ll be more comfortable.

But then Eriol activates the next stage of the test, which involves the walls of the elevator falling away and Sakura plummeting down a deep, dark pit. Panicking, Syaoran calls out to Sakura using her first name for the first time.

Sakura rises up out of the darkness, having converted and used the Float card, and Syaoran simply gathers her into a hug, overcome with relief and joy she’s okay. Eriol ends his spell, the elevator returns to working order, and Sakura and Syaoran are rejoined by Tomoyo and Eriol.

That evening, Syaoran gets another call from Sakura thanking him for being with her during the elevator incident, as well as expressing how happy she was to hear him call her Sakura. In exchange, Syaoran gives her the okay to call him by his first name.

This is a big deal! Syaoran has finally stopped running and accepted that Sakura is special to him. It’s another crucial step towards a Clear Card future in which they’re officially a couple.

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 03 – Slow-Roasted for Rich, Deep Flavor

This week we’re introduced to a new voice in this show’s “chorus”, the cafe owner’s daughter Asai Ami, who is also a senior and thus Sakurai’s senpai at college. Like her dad, Ami is an enthusiastic observer of people, but in her case that observation sometimes descends into ogling.

Sakurai’s tall frame and swimmer’s physique highly attractive, and can tell other women who frequent the cafe feel the same. When she meets Uzaki-chan and gets a taste of her dynamic with Sakurai, her desire to observe more of their hijinx quickly outweighs her carnal interest in his muscles.

After a frankly ridiculous instance of Sakurai spilling an entire pitcher of ice water on himself and Uzaki, he catches a bad cold and can barely move. Thankfully the cafe owner gives Uzaki his address, and she comes by to assess the situation. With no medicine or food in the house, Uzaki is eager to roll up her sleeves and show she can nurse as well as she can tease.

Between straightening out his kitchen and preparing some tasty rice porridge, wiping down his sweat, and sticking around after giving him medicine until he falls asleep, Uzaki proves quite capable of taking care of him in a pinch. As such, Sakurai’s opinion of her improves greatly…even if her frustration with a video game keeps him awake a bit.

To celebrate his quick recovery (not to mention the passing of an important step in their relationship), the cafe owner and Ami take Sakurai and Uzaki out for Korean BBQ, where Uzaki again makes sure he as many cuts of grilled meat as he can handle. While Uzaki is washing up, Sakurai assures his boss and Ami that “it’s not like that” between him and Uzaki; he values his solo lifestyle and doesn’t want to cause trouble for Uzaki vis-a-vis rumors.

The owner and Ami can communicate telepathically, so they agree that rather than meddling they should be patient and let things play out. It’s like Ami’s pops says, it’s like coffee: letting the beans slowly roast than painstakingly brewing them for the best flavor.

The next day at college, Uzaki tries to hypnotize Sakurai with a 5-yen coin to call her by her first name, like he calls his co-worker Ami by hers. She feels that considering how long they’ve known each other (regardless of how much contact they had earlier on) the least he could do is not address her with “heys” and “look heres”.

It’s one of the first times Uzaki mellows from her usual bubbly hyperactive manner, and Sakurai responds seriously, by getting down on a knee and apologizing sincerely. That said, he’s not usually comfortable calling girls by their first name.

As for not gathering a crowd hypnosis antics, he is unsuccessful, as the consensus of observers is that they’re a couple of “love dummies”. The fact he can so easily hypnotize her means she trusts him a great deal, and he no doubt trusts her more after she took care of him when he was sick. With that mutual trust established, the careful slow-roasting of their relationship can proceed.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 04 – Little Girl, Big Talk

It’s been three days since the StuCo disbanded, but Kaguya and Miyuki haven’t so much as spoken. Hayasaka finds Kaguya’s lack of progress pathetic considering how many romantic events she and Miyuki have shared.

A frustrated Kaguya lashes out, challenging Hayasaka to get Miyuki to fall for her. Hayasaka accepts, breaking out an adorable new persona with which to seduce Miyuki as Kaguya jealously watches in the shadows.

Hayasaka is a pro at this (what else is new), and gets off to a great start by chatting Miyuki up in a bookstore then getting him to have a coffee with her as she considers a computer purchase. Ultimately, Hayasaka ends up the loser, even though she offers to be a “side piece” should he already like someone.

Turns out liking someone else means Miyuki’s not interested in anyone else, period. A bitter Hayasaka insists her loss was due to the need to get the job done in one day; given more time, she’s confident she would have prevailed. I believe her!

Miyuki determines there’s no one better to write his campaign speeches than Kaguya, but has trouble approaching her in her class. Enter Hayasaka in “Gal” mode (whom he can’t tell is the same person who asked him out the other day), who bursts in and makes a huge production of Miyuki coming to see Kaguya on a matter of great importance.

News that he asked to meet her behind the school causes the entire student body to convulse in anticipation that these two top students are going to become a couple. The hype takes on a mind of its own as their meeting is built up as the can’t-miss school event of the decade.

When the big moment comes, both Miyuki and Kaguya are very much aware of their huge, expectant audience. Only Kaguya says she doesn’t mind it, while Chika is completely oblivious to the vibe and complicates matters by coming off as the third side of a love triangle.

Miyuki knows he’s suffer a political price if he embarasses Kaguya with his piddling speech request, so he makes the request in a whisper, inches from her face. Similarly safe from prying ears, Kaguya tells him the answer is yes—whether it’s to write him speeches or something else entirely.

It’s a good thing Kaguya is on Miyuki’s team, because he may have some stiff competition in the election in the person of first-year Iino Miko, this season’s newest character. Miko is at the top of her class, president of the morals committee, and believes having a “commoner” like Miyuki as president is an affront.

Tomita Miyu (Made in Abyss’ Riko, BokuBen’s Rizu)’s performance is appropriate for a pint-sized character packed with power. Before he knows it, Miyuki is caught up in her competitive, adversarial spirit, seeing her as his political rival in the fight of his life.

He and Yuu even mock her for relying on her pure ideals without a track record of success to fall back on, to the point Chika tries to stop them from sounding like villains. Then Miko brings Chika over to her side by expressing her admiration for Chika’s piano prowess and other positive qualities, and offering her the vice presidency if she joins Team Iino.

Chika later reconsiders her quick turnabout, but the fact remains Miko seems to be a larger threat than Miyuki or Yuu think. When Miyuki sees her wholesome flyer his confidence in beating her only rises, when I really think he shouldn’t be listening to Yuu and be preparing for a tough campaign.

Right off the bat, Miko is thankfully presented as someone who isn’t interested in Miyuki, and not just because she doesn’t know him and he’s in her way. Rather than a rival to Kaguya, I can see Kaguya closing ranks with Miyuki even more in the face of an adversary who thinks so little of the man she loves—a catalyst for their growing closer. In any case, this should be a fun campaign!

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 03 – Okay to Be Selfish

Kaguya and Miyuki are both dedicated combatants in their ongoing War of Love, except for certain special occasions. This week is one of those occasions: there’s a bright harvest moon and a clear sky, and Miyuki wants to gaze at it from the roof of the school.

Kaguya tries to find a way to embarrass him by getting him to lend her his jacket or share the same teacup, but Miyuki is so “moony from the moon” all pride and shame fall by the wayside. When Kaguya brings up her legendary royal namesake as the reason she hates the moon, Miyuki presents his interpretation of the tale.

To him, Princess Kaguya didn’t offer her lover on earth an immortality potion so he could find another love, but as a message that she’d one day return to him, long after a human’s normal lifespan…and he’d wait as long as it took for Kaguya to return.

He continues to wax poetic until an overheated Kaguya can’t endure anymore and flees. However, Miyuki still loses when he comes off his “moon high” the next day and realizes all the embarrassing things he said.

One reason everyone went along with Miyuki’s moongazing session was that the StuCo will be disbanding soon, so opportunities will grow less frequent and carry more weight. In the second and final segment the council members go through the accumulated items from their various adventures together—some of which Yuu is sore about not being present for.

Once everything is packed up, the lights are out, and the doors to the 67th Student Council close for the last time, Chika can’t help but start to tear up, and Kaguya can’t help but cry in response.

During a celebratory dinner at a family restaurant, Kaguya realizes that since Miyuki isn’t President anymore she has to call him something else…but just can’t because it’s too embarrassing and scandalous.

Of course, Chika inadvertently rubs Kaguya’s inability in her face by calling the former president by his first name like it’s nothing. Yuu even gives him a cute nickname “Myu.”

Once Chika and Yuu have gone home and Miyuki has walked Kaguya to her front gate, she considers how few opportunities they’ll have to see each other without the StuCo or any classes to connect them. It makes her feel lonely, but even if she became the new president and Miyuki was her veep, she knows he’d work too hard, when he already has the letter of recommendation from the Board of Trustees.

To want more would be selfish, and she tells herself she shouldn’t be selfish…but when push comes to shove she can’t give up Miyuki that easily. She grabs his arm and asks him if she can be selfish, by asking him to serve as president one more year. Turns out he’d already secretly filled out the candidate application, hoping she’d be the one to bring it up.

So, as is usually the case, Romantic Kaguya wins when Combatant Kaguya loses, as she does here. That is, if Miyuki ends up winning the election; there seems to be a new contender interested in the job!

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 13 – Malty Escalation

When one of Melty’s escorts suddenly rushes her, Naofumi acts instinctively and blocks his strike, but then the knights all suddenly adopt the notion that the Shield Hero has kidnapped the Second Princess, and they attack him in order to “rescue” her. Naofumi shields Melty while Raphtalia and Filo deal (non-lethal) blows to the other knights, but two of them aren’t fighting; they’re recording.

They magically alter that recording to make it look like the “Devil of the Shield’s” vicious slaves are massacring the knights, then present that fake footage all across the lands, making it much harder for Naofumi’s party to move about freely, keeping his reputation in the shitter (even after all the people he’s saved), and preventing him from acquiring the means to level up past 40.

It’s a dastardly plot that has Malty written all over it. While Naofumi considers the king to be involved as well, Melty vouches for her father, in whom she doesn’t want to lose hope of reconciling with the Shield Hero. When Naofumi decides his party will leave the country and head to Siltvelt, Melty offers to return home, but Naofumi, knowing Malty, warns her that will only get her killed.

So Melty joins the party, not as a hostage, but a willing companion. She learns what her father had done to Naofumi to make him hate him so, while Naofumi learns that Melromarc is a matrilineal monarchy, which means her mother the Queen is higher in rank than the King.

Those small moments of exposition aside, a good chunk of the episode is comprised of lovely sprawling vistas that dwarf the party as they trudge onward, all while Kevin Penkin’s lush, sublime score washes over it all. But they’re not alone out there in the wilderness: they’re being followed…and pursued.

Eventually Naofumi, Raphtalia, Filo and Melty are cornered at the edge of a sheer cliff, and the three heroes, all of them either willing or unwitting puppets of Malty’s treachery, descend upon Naofumi, ordering her to release Melty. Naofumi tries to talk sense to them, and even Melty makes a little headroom in calling for an end to “needless conflicts.”

But all of that progress is lost when Malty makes the supremely insidious suggestion that Naofumi has in his possession a shield that brainwashes anyone he talks to. That means not only Melty can’t be taken at her word, but Raphtalia (and more importantly for Motoyasu, Filo) are brainwashed too. Ren still has his doubts, but gives in to the inertia or Malty’s incessant scheming.

Naofumi decides retreat to be the best option, and he, Raphtalia and Melty jump onto Filo and start to fly away, but Filo is brought down and her strength sealed by a magical bangle prepared by the alchemists for Motoyasu to capture her. Melty finally whips out her own (water-based) magic in an attempt to get Filo freed, but Malty fires back with fire, ignoring Ren’s suggestion she maybe stop attacking the Crown Princess?

Malty dispenses with any pretense and unilaterally states that if Melty is brainwashed, she must die. Alright, then! I have to say, if Melty was chosen over her to be Crown Princess, you’d think the King and Queen would have done more to limit her powers and freedom of movement, because she has single-handedly really gummed up the works. Raphtalia manages to deliver some revenge when she slips in from behind stabs her with the magic sword she was gifted.

Filo regains her strength (and then some) with the gloves she got as a gift as well, while Naofumi splits the rock  formations with his Rage Shield, leaving Ren, Malty, Motoyasu and Itsuki on one side, unable to pursue for now.

They flee into the woods, where they’re approached by one of the Queen’s Shadows. The Queen summons Naofumi to her location at once, which just happens to be in the opposite direction of their original destination of Siltvelt. It also means backtracking to where they left Malty and the heroes.

With Malty burning through the forest, it’s clear that she’s not going to give up hunting for Naofumi or her sister that easily. Who knows if anyone will be able to rein her in now, as she’s really turned the villainy up to 11. As for Melty, she considers herself an official member of the party, and demands that Naofumi call her by her first name from now on, irking Raphtalia.

There was some great action, adventure, and above all music this week, but man alive does that First Princess steam my beans! My frustration might have knocked this down to an 8 if there wasn’t still hope she’ll get her just righteous comeuppance at some point.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 16 – Meiling Out

From the word go, the airborne Sakura was one busy Cardcaptor this week, pushing Siege to its limit by covering the entire Daidouji estate, stopping the burrowing Card in its tracks, then securing it before it destroyed the mansion. Flight is so happy to work with Sakura, her wings carried her so quickly Kero-chan couldn’t keep up with his head camera.

After finishing tea with Daidouji’s mom, Sakura and Meiling go one way, while Akiho goes another, with the latter encountering Yuna D. waiting for her. When he lets slip something about Sakura’s father that he shouldn’t know, he whips out his pocket watch, stops time, then rewinds it to before he slipped up.

This leaves Akiho confused but totally oblivious to what just transpired. I shudder to think how many times he’s used this magic to get Akiho to collect information, then make her forget, to say nothing of the “dreams” in which she and Sakura appear. None of this is the conduct becoming someone you can trust!

While pondering the possibilities of a future Kaito/Sakura confrontation, Sakura and Meiling end up the targets of some kind of Card in the form of a martial arts-wielding killbot in Chinese dress, who comes at the girls with extreme prejudice.

Here, we get to see Meiling’s own martial arts in practice, as well as Sakura’s natural athleticism and agility. The two are able to defeat their attacker by coordinating their counterattacks to be mirror images of each other, crystallizing the bot and giving Sakura enough time to secure the second card of the week, “Struggle.” I for one am glad this card is now  on Sakura’s side!

After the battle and later that night, Sakura is overly worried about Meiling. While appreciative that Sakura cares about her so dearly, she reminds her what she said before the killbot attacked about “good people making her sad”, because some of those good people are looking out for others so much they don’t care about themselves.

Meiling things this applies to both Sakura and Syaoran, and thinks both of them need to take a step back and think of their own happiness—at least occasionally—and not in a “seeing other people happy makes me happy” kind of way. But one thing Sakura is certainly happy about is that she finally got to fight side-by-side with Meiling. And they kicked some killbot-card ass!

Before hopping on the plane back to Hong Kong, Meiling also warns Syaoran over the phone that whatever he knows or has planned that neither she nor Sakura (with whom she’s now on first-name terms) knows about, if he gets hurt, she knows who’ll be saddest, and if he makes Sakura sad, he’ll regret it. Bottom line: Don’t mess with Meiling.

Citrus – 05

Mei has no time for Yuzu and Himeko’s little competition for her, as she’s busy with both student council duties and filling in for her grandfather, the chairman. She orders the rivals to eat lunch together instead, and neither dare disobey.

Thus starts the first of many of the kind of interactions I was hoping for between Yuzu and Himeko: ones in which they put their gloves down for a second and simply exist adjacent to one another, as they must due to their associations with Mei.

Harumin serves as a great mediator in this venture, even suggesting the three of them and Mei go to Amagi Brilliant Park (well, something like it). Both Himeko and Yuzu doubt Mei will agree, but Yuzu will give it a try.

What Yuzu does manage is to get a day alone with Mei when they’re not at school; when Yuzu lies and said Mama would also like it if she accompanies Yuzu to visit her Papa. Note that Mei probably would have refused if Yuzu hadn’t lied, but it’s a good thing she did.

At first, Yuzu treats this like her first date with Mei, and tries to “cross a line” like Himeko claims to have done, first by breathing on Mei’s ear in a packed train (at first an accident, but repeated once she notices Mei’s reaction), then licking it.

When Mei asks her what the heck is up with her, Yuzu mentions what Himeko said, and Mei sets her straight: Himeko tried to do something weird to her and she scolded her. There’s nothing between them. This really puts a spark in Yuzu’s idea of her chances.

This leads to her trying to get an indirect kiss out of Mei by having a bite of her crepe, only for Mei to have only finished it. Mei delivers revenge for the ear-licking by wiping some cream off Yuzu’s face and eating it slowly, causing Yuzu to nearly boil over.

All these sensual gestures, combined with the simple pleasure of hanging out with Mei alone, gets Yuzu all worked up; she wants to kiss Mei and shout her love from the mountaintop more than ever.

But when she’s about to ask if they can hold hands (incremental steps), Himeko pulls up in her S-Class Benz and starts attacking Yuzu.

With a cruel, icy calmness, Mei basically tells Himeko to buzz off, and beckons for Yuzu to keep going. Mei and Yuzu walk away, leaving Himeko standing there, stunned, alone, and hurt.

It’s not the first time I felt for Himeko, but I’d never felt for her more before this moment. Even Yuzu can’t help but turn back, not to gloat, but with a pained, empathetic look.

It was around the time I was thinking “when the heck are they going to meet Yuzu’s Papa” that Yuzu brings Mei to a graveyard. It never occurred to me he was deceased, as I (wrongly) assumed her mom was divorced, not widowed. Mei also seems both surprised to have been brought there, but also honored.

It’s a very solemn, touching scene when Yuzu says all the good and bad things about Mei when introducing her and Mei doesn’t challenge any of it; this isn’t the time or place. Even more touching is Yuzu’s reaction when Mei silently prays at the grave. Yuzu is about to muster the courage to say something she needs to say…but Mei beats her to it.

The letters Mei gets from her father (whom she calls “Sensei”), one of which Yuzu jokingly threatened to open? Mei has never opened any of them. She’s afraid to, because if any of them contradict her long-standing hope that he’ll come back one day and everything “will be the way it was”, she’d be crushed.

When a shaken, tearful Mei asks Yuzu if such an outcome is really possible, Yuzu says the tactful thing, even if it isn’t something she can guarantee: everything will be fine, and she’ll help her in any way she can, like a sister should. The smile Mei gives Yuzu drives the point home: Mei doesn’t need love; at least not right now. She needs family.

As Yuzu cries out of Mei’s sight, Mei seems to be laboring to maintain consciousness, and sure enough, she collapses on the stairs at school the next day, right in front of Himeko. Trying to force herself up, she runs down Himeko just as Yuzu enters earshot, and, whatever bad shape she’s in, Yuzu doesn’t let Mei’s cruelty towards Himeko go unanswered.

What she does do is order Himeko to take Mei’s place at the various meetings she meant to attend, while she takes Mei to the nurse’s office. The two drop their rivalry for Mei’s sake, because Mei has not been looking out for herself properly enough, and their childish rivalry has blinded them to the toll Mei’s overwork has taken.

In the nurse’s, there’s no makeout scene, but a scolding scene. Mei explains how driven she is to become a worthy successor to her grandfather, especially now that his health may be failing. Yuzu wonders out loud why Mei’s father doesn’t take over, and Mei, for once, agrees with Yuzu’s  “nonsense”, which she likens to a broken watch—right twice a day.

And just to bring things around, Yuzu and Himeko have a nice little scene together in which Yuzu scolds her for overwork as well, tells her to be more honest, and the two come to a kind of detente.

That detente is sealed, in a way, when while walking to school the next day, Yuzu urges Mei to go ahead when they spot Himeko. Mei apologizes for being such a bitch to her and taking her for granted, and Himeko is instantly in tears, hugging her tightly, probably telling Mei she has nothing to apologize for.

That night, Mei’s father shows up, just like that. Yuzu has no idea who he is, and gets skeeved out when he hugs her and doesn’t let go (which, yeah guy, don’t hug a girl who doesn’t know you). Mei’s reaction to seeing her father again—as well as his reaction to seeing her—tells me things aren’t going to be the same in the Aihara household…but they’re definitely not going to be boring!

In the meantime, I really enjoyed both Himeko and Yuzu’s growth in this episode, the continued casual, reliable support role Harumin plays, and how Mei and Yuzu drew closer together not in a romantic way, but as family. Most importantly, Yuzu is now consciously weighing her own desires with what is actually best for her “little sister.”