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.”

Citrus – 04

After what went down in the chairman’s office, Yuzu is now afraid to even face Mei, and so retreats to the safety of Harumin’s traditional house, where she lives with her grandmother. Harumin really shines as Yuzu’s dependable and caring friend, while professing she doesn’t mind because Yuzu is so fun to hang out with. But in the night, Yuzu is wide awake, and her mind is racing. So is Mei’s, as she lies alone back home.

Vice president Momokino Himeko is an apparent witness to Yuzu and Mei’s little tryst, and when Yuzu spots her heading her way, she bolts. When she finally stops, Himeko asks her about the chairman’s office, and Yuzu agrees to meet her outside of school to discuss it.

The meeting spot is a very hoity-toity tea room where Himeko is all dolled up like, well, a doll, and she doesn’t mince words: she wants to know what happened in that office. Himeko, you see, has known “Mei-mei” for ten years, and is her closest and most loyal and dedicated friend. She was by Mei’s side when her father left her.

Translation: she has, and has always had, the hots for Mei, big time, and Yuzu is in the effing way, and needs to eff off, though she frames it as not wanting Yuzu to continue hurting Mei. However, when Yuzu leaves the tea room and bumps into Mei by chance, Mei calls her “Yuzu” and asks when she’s returning home.

Himeko thus learns for the first time that the two are sisters and living together—everything she probably wanted and believes she deserves—and she’s devastated.

Yuzu has trouble reading Mei on their trip home (as usual) but presumes she’s not too mad, and asserts that her usual quietness is actually comforting. When Mei senses Yuzu wants some kind of closure, she kisses Yuzu back, but that one kiss is all Yuzu gets; Mei goes straight to sleep.

The next day, Himeko, feeling threatened further when Yuzu intrudes on her “commute time” with Mei, makes a drastic move, assaulting Mei in the student council office by biting her ear, groping her above and below, and kissing her.

It’s harsh, callous betrayal, reinforced by what we know of “Hime” thus far: she pretends to care about Mei, but really only cares about herself, and wants to ensure Mei remains “hers.” She reports her line-crossing to Yuzu, and when Yuzu feigns ignorance of her feelings for Mei, Himeko asks her for her blessing, calling her “onee-sama.”

Himeko may be a stickler for the rules at school, but when it comes to Mei, she’ll do ruthlessly whatever it takes to keep hold of her prize. Yuzu must either fight back or get left in the dust. There’s also the matter of protecting her emotionally vulnerable little sister from a friend who has turned predatory.

Why do I regard Himeko’s jumping of Mei so differently from Yuzu’s? Two reasons: First, Mei started this…thing with Yuzu; Mei admitted as much to Yuzu. She did no such thing with Himeko.

Second, Yuzu regrets jumping Mei, and knows it was a moment of weakness; Himeko has so far shown no remorse; only contempt for Yuzu, intense possessiveness of “Mei-mei”, and utter disregard for her feelings I’m hoping her transgressions don’t go unpunished.

Citrus – 03

Yuzu doesn’t understand why she has such a crush on Mei, just that she does, but she knows the only way to move forward is to make those feelings known. To do that, she needs to be on better terms with her, and the universe provides. When the chairman collapses in his office, the first person to find him and call an ambulance isn’t Mei, it’s Yuzu.

Mei is grateful, and lets Yuzu call her by her first name (even if she doesn’t reciprocate), and Gramps even reverses his decision to expel Yuzu. His health scare has made him re-evaluate a lot of things he’d taken hard lines on, be it the new granddaughter he never asked for in Yuzu, or the decision to make Mei live with him.

Mei then returns to Yuzu and her mom’s house, but it couldn’t come at a worse time, considering Yuzu’s feelings for her aren’t very sisterly. Yuzu seeks clarity in a yuri manga (which Harumin sees and jokingly pretends to reinact the action within its pages), while Yuzu’s mom makes things worse by buying a double bed for the sisters.

Obviously, living with one’s (presumably unrequited) crush is not easy, and I can’t help but feel for Yuzu here.

That’s not the end of her torment, as when bedtime comes and she finds herself unable to sleep, she tries to steal a touch of Mei’s hair or skin, and Mei gets out of bed and unrolls a futon, claiming it’s too hot with both of them under the covers.

When Yuzu brings up Mei kissing her, Mei coldly dismisses it as merely a tactic to shut her up, demonstrating its effectiveness by coming in oh-so-close only to withhold a kiss. She states she has “no interest” in Yuzu, or in getting closer, hence her unwillingness to call her by her first name. Yuzu goes to sleep in the bed alone, angry, and in tears.

Adding insult to injury, since Mei is the rule-obsessed class president, Yuzu is unable to hang out with Harumi after school without both of them getting punished by having to clean the bathroom. When that’s done, Yuzu finds a note from Mei calling her to the chairman’s office.

Yuzu is excited by the note, but when she arrives, Mei has her yuri manga, and warns her to dispose of it lest rumors crop up. Yuzu snaps, pushes Mei onto the desk, kisses her, then breaks into tears.

If Mei is uncomfortable here, but the fact is she kissed Yuzu first, and that’s how Yuzu’s crush on her developed; they wouldn’t be on that desk without Mei’s earlier antics. Yuzu knows she can’t go back now that what’s done has been done, but gets off Mei, apologizes for being such a bad sister, and runs off.

Her running off, and Mei lingering in the office, doesn’t go unnoticed by Mei’s friend, right-hand woman, and enforcer Himeko, who immediately suspects something is very amiss. Just as Yuzu and Mei are trying to sort things out, Himeko will no doubt insinuate herself into the situation.

My Girlfriend Is ShoBitch – 01 (First Impressions)

Shinozuki Haruka finally summons the guts to confess to the beautiful class rep Kousaka Akiho (an excellent Yuuki Aoi). To his surprise, Akiho immediately consents to be his girlfriend. So this is going to be one of those romantic comedies where the MCs are already a couple, not trying to be one.

Comedy, then, will arise out of the contrasts in how they view one another as people, as well what they each regard as a “normal” romantic relationship to be. It’s both their first romance, but while Haruka is fine with taking things nice and slow, Akiho…well, it’s not that she doesn’t as well, it’s just that she assumes that as her boyfriend Haruka will want more.

I mean, she’s not wrong: we’re introduced to Haruka fantasizing about Akiho lifting her skirt to reveal she’s going commando. It’s just that her matter-of-fact assertions of her awareness to Haruka’s more carnal nature subverts instilled romantic mores that promote a careful and deliberate courtship, thus delaying immediate carnal gratification.

It’s just that Kousaka Akiho has clearly taken to the role of girlfriend with the same care and fastidiousness that net her the class’s highest test scores. She’s done her homework…but her self-training needs to be adjusted from “TV-MA” to “TV-PG”.

That being said, I enjoyed her deadpan delivery of all sorts of sordid things—as well as Haruka’s reactions, which range from bashful to exasperated. The bits are quick come in quick succession in a satisfying rhythm, whether it’s between Haruka and Akiho, Haruka and his childhood friend and “big sis” Shizuku, or all three.

Shizuku has a lot of fun teasing Haruka by not leaving him alone, and one would that by getting himself a girlfriend he’d have to endure a little less of her teasing, but for the moment her primary goal is to get the two a little bit closer.

Unfortunately for Haruka, Shizuku only reinforces Akiho’s inaccurate assumption that she must be always think of ways to maker her and Haruka’s relationship more “extreme.” Haruka manages to get through her head that he’s not like that, and that the two of them get to choose the pace, not Shizuku.

That’s a triumphant moment, because it reveals (if it wasn’t already apparent) that Akiho herself would prefer a less “extreme” pace to their courtship—though she’s sure to keep surprising him with the things she’s researched about romance.

I’m not 100% sure what “ShoBitch” means, but it sounds like too harsh a term to describe the docile, intelligent, thoughtful Akiho. In keeping with its off-putting title, My Girlfriend is ShoBitch toes the line between charming and overly indulgent.

While unlikely, it’s not preposterous that a studious, socially awkward class rep like Akiho could develop an “advanced” (i.e. more adult) ideal of romance (to match her advanced academic facility), and the one guy bold enough to ask her out would be both rewarded and tested. This is worth another look.

Owarimonogatari S2 – 02

Those ‘battles to come’ Izuko mentioned at the end of “Mayoi Hell”? They weren’t fought or shown in Part Two, “Hitagi Rendezvous”. Instead they remain just over the horizon, foreboding in their present invisibility.

“Rendezvous” is instead primarily interested in re-introducing Senjougahara Hitagi as a prominent figure in Koyomi’s life. Even though she’s kinda always been prominent in his heart and thoughts, we’ve seen so little of her since Koimonogatari that even she seems to be struggling with her character…which is pretty hilarious.

In any case, she’s saved up a ton of “points” that she intends to cash in on with a day-long date with her boyfriend (ending promptly by 7pm so she can have dinner with her father.) It’s also White Day, and they both graduate the day after tomorrow, so now’s the time to enjoy one last gasp of high school romance (before it becomes a college romance).

Ononoki is still hanging out in Koyomi’s house, given the mission by Kagenui to keep an eye on him until ordered to stop (and implying if Kagenui never returns to recind the order, she’ll stay by Koyomi’s side the rest of her life). Tsukihi’s cameo consists of her grabbing and walking off with Ononoki, claiming she’s her favorite plushie.

From then, it’s on to the date! Senjougahara has adopted a Hanekawa-style hairdo, and also acquired a driver’s license having aced her driving test on the first try. She also points out that until very recently (since his “return”) Koyomi has been unable to acquire a license, since as a vampire he wouldn’t show up in photos.

Senjougahara is not your cliched bad driving anime woman; she simply drives Koyomi safely and well without any drama to the first stop on their date: the planetarium. We and Koyomi first learn of her dream to draw the “perfect space map” of the celestial bodies that surround earth on all sides; such maps are shaped like a hand fan, which is also called…an ougi.

Having recently experienced string of action-packed days—dying, travelling to the depths of hell, exams—one can forgive Koyomi for nodding off while lying on the comfy beds below the planetarium dome. When he does, he dreams of Ougi, and Dream Ougi seems to be just as “real” as her physical version.

Instead of Senjougahara, it’s Ougi who shows Koyomi various constellations which match the animals that have represented the oddities/apparitions of his exploits. Shinobu is depicted as a Hydra, Hitagi a Crab; Nadeko the serpent.

Ougi also tells Koyomi she represents “the principles of the universe”, further tying into the fan-shaped map of the cosmos, and tells him of her duty to “eject” those who “break the rules.” They include Izuko, Shinobu, and the newly-resurrected Mayoi. And she hopes, for Koyomi’s sake, he “forsakes” them, thereby assisting her in correcting the mistakes of the universe.

With that, Koyomi wakes up beside Senjougahara (who also nodded off), and from there, they jump from place to place on their date, following up the educational planetarium and science museum with lunch, bowling, and karaoke, with Koyomi unexpectedly beating her in the latter two categories. As “punishment” for losing, Senjougahara walks arm-in-arm and even lets him princess-carry her back to the car.

Finally, after Koyomi admits he hasn’t been able to get Senjougahara a White Day gift, she parks the car by the waterfront and scolds him. But he can make it up to her by taking her hand in his and calling her by her first name, Hitagi, which he does, in one of the most genuinely moving romantic scenes in the entire Monogatari series—and they don’t even kiss! It’s all in the signature closeups and Saito Chiwa’s delivery.

After the credits, Koyomi finds himself alone in another dreamlike dark space with Ougi, who implies his date with Senjougahara was his “last”, or might well be, depending on the choices he makes. If he wants to be Ougi’s ally, he’ll have to help her fight Izuko, “the big sister who knows everything”, and avoid her apparent traps.

Koyomi begain Part Two with a monologue about how his story so far was one of self-preservation; preserving not only one’s life, but prioritizing his love for himself, to the point love with anyone else wasn’t possible. But since he fell for Senjougahara, he feels he’s been gradually losing his narcissism. So has that part of him taken the shape of Oshino Ougi, and is now fighting the “New Koyomi” who has come to love Hitagi more than himself?

Sadly, those questions, and the battles for which Koyomi must choose a side, will not be covered here; this is the end of Owarimonogatari after just two episodes (Edit: apparently not)! But we can be fairly certain Koyomi won’t forsake Shinobu or Mayoi…and we’ll also see one of Koyomi’s inner thoughts—“to win there is an absolute need to lose somewhere along the way”—put to the test. Koyomi’s already lost his vampirism, for good and ill. Who or what will he lose in the final battle(s)?

Musaigen no Phantom World – 05

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This week focuses on MPW’s member of the team who isn’t really a member yet, the aloof, distant Minase Koito. We learn she gained her powers at a young age, and at the cost of never being close to friends or family ever again. A chimera-like beast who loves preying on animals is the phantom that first awakened her powers, and she wants payback. Only she has two problems: she can’t take the phantom on alone, and Haruhiko won’t leave her alone.

It starts with one of Haruhiko’s friends saying something mean about Koito with Koito right behind him. Haruhiko means to apologize, but ends up caught up in the fight with the phantom. Koito saves Haruhiko from the brunt of its attack, but gets a face full of voice-nullifying gas, and without her voice, Koito can’t do squat.

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The episode is basically a progression of Koito realizing again and again that the phantom is too much for her to take on alone, as Haruhiko, Mai, Reina, and newcomer Kumamakura Kurumi (the girl who was observing the group from afar last week). Turns out Kurumi’s teddy bear Albrecht can balloon into a huge golem who fights for her

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Koito doesn’t take kindly to having her personal affairs intruded upon by meddlers like Haruhiko and Mai, but Haruhiko, feeling responsible for her voice getting damaged, can’t help but stay near her side as she tries in vain to take out the phantom. Mai, meanwhile, is very obviously miffed by Haruhiko’s sudden obsession with Koito, a classic childhood friend reaction.

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Koito’s voice heals enough for her to go at the phantom one more time, but it isn’t long before it breaks out the gas and she finds herself in a tough spot. But thanks to Ruru, Haruhiko was able to locate her. He summons Marchosias to distract the phantom while Kurumi uses Albrecht to pummel him into submission.

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From there, it becomes a group affair, with Reina healing Koito, Mai employing her elemental magic, and Haruhiko sketch-sealing the phantom. Himeno-sensei then notes that the phantom isn’t the same one that awakened Koito’s powers years ago after all; Koito was chasing after the wrong phantom.

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After Haruhiko & Co. went the extra mile for her sake without claiming the quarry she meant to claim, Koito can’t help but ask Himeno for Haruhiko’s address so she can wait outside his place as he waited outside hers, in order to apologize and thank him for his help. Which for someone as introverted as Koito, is real progress.

This episode got repetitive at times – Koito faces off against the phantom; loses; gets bailed out; then protests the others’ interference – but it was a decent enough fleshing out of the heretofore least fleshed-out member of the team…aside from Kurumi, who seems to exist in the show for “cuteness (as opposed to comic) relief.”

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Nisekoi – 11

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Jeez-o-Pete…is it really that common for five-year-old Japanese kids to make these kinds of promises? At least two girls seem to be convinced (or hopeful, in Kosaki’s case), that Raku is the one they made the promise to ten years ago. But of course, it can’t be both of them.

The sorting out once-and-for-all is put off though, due to two big events: first, Chitoge’s sixteenth birthday, and second, Ruri’s pairing up of Kosaki and Raku to go out together to find gifts for her. About the first part: the first sorta-not-really date between them is lovely to behold, the starting with Kosaki making sure she looks correct in the reflection of the same cafe window Raku is sitting behind.

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The two are still under the mistaken impression that neither is interested in the other, until Kosaki finally exhibits some initiative, first by showing Raku her secret vantage point of the city (which is gorgeous and calls to mind the end of Whisper of the Heart, of all things), but also calls him by name. Flustered by all this sudden affection, rather than ask what Kosaki’s birthday is, Raku accidentally asks if she was the girl from ten years ago.

Her affirmative response shocks him even more, along with us: we don’t know what’s gotten into Kosaki, but we like it: no longer mincing words or hiding her feelings. She and Raku come so close to embracing when Raku’s phone rings, which is incredibly lame, but that’s okay; some progress has been made. Not as much as we (or Ruri) would hope for, but some.

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That brings us to the ridiculous party Claude and the rest of Chitoge’s yakuza family have prepared, complete with Claude’s Claudey, gaudy gift of a Maybach Excelro, which is indeed quite exclusive; we love how the license-less Chitoge could care less. We also like how Raku’s gift of a gorilla doll that looks kinda like Chitoge moved her much more.

When the two end up on her balcony, she asks if he still likes the girl he made the promise to, thinking it was her, and he says yes, thinking it was Kosaki. But it isn’t as if he doesn’t like Chitoge too. Slowly, information is being distributed to various parties, but the matter of who made a promise to whom back then remains a vexing mystery.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Nisekoi – 10

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If we had to choose a girl we wanted Raku to choose, we’d have to say we’d still choose Kosaki, even though she’s unfathomably inept at expressing her feelings for him as he is, and even though she may not even be the girl he made a pact with when younger. It’s hard not to root for any Hana-Kana-voiced character—unless she’s trying to kill all the other characters, or is simply annoying.

However, we have to say Chitoge probably won this week’s round. All Raku wanted was to be paired with Kosaki for the test of courage, during which they’d have to hold hands the whole time. As it happens, all Kosaki wants is to be paired with Raku. When the show decides not to pull a fast one and actually pair them up, it’s almost too good to be true; and it’s another case of the two being virtually paralyzed by their mutual (but oddly not fully mutually detected) attraction.

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But the moment Raku learns that Chitoge is lost and alone in the dark woods with a broken flashlight, he grudgingly abandons Kosaki’s soft, warm, possibly nervous hand and goes to his fake girlfriend’s aid. Kosaki loses, but nevertheless Raku’s actions reinforce why she loves him: he won’t stand by while a friend is in trouble. Raku can deny caring or worrying about Chitoge all he wants, but we know better, and so should he.

And just as Kosaki was as enthusiastic about being with Raku as he with her, Chitoge is just as hopeful the boy who loves her will come to her rescue. Raku arrives on cue, and while the two exchange forced gestures of indifference towards each other, the fact Chitoge insists she and Raku start addressing each other by first name is less about being seen as a more convincing fake couple, and more about unwittingly becoming a real one.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)