Engage Kiss – 11 – Last Kiss Goodbye

When Kisara is stabbed with Demon Kanna’s spear and she touches it, she suddenly gets a rush of her memories, which include a young Shuu. Kisara tells Shuu to flee at once, Sharon grabs him and grabs hold of the runner of Ayano’s chopper to take them away.

Kisara charges at Kanna, but at the last minute is stopped dead by another memory of Kanna as an innocent child. In that instant of hesitation, Kanna strikes Kisara down and she falls into the sea. Kanna soon follows her down there when Mikhail fires the satellite beam at her twice.

Kanna is dormant on the sea floor, but could reawaken at any time. Meanwhile Kisara is in hospital and won’t wake up or heal at her usual speed. All Shuu and Ayano can do is sit there, wait, and contemplate what comes next. Sharon makes clear that as far as her bosses are concerned Kanna is an S-Class Demon that must be destroyed.

The problem is, none of the contractors in Bayron City are sure they can deal with an S-Class even with a united front, and instead place their hopes in Kisara, who they don’t know is in a bad way. While alone with Kisara that night, Shuu makes a heartfelt plea to her for what he should do, and she wakes up and kisses him.

Unlke previous kisses, this one seems to transfer Shuu’s memories back to him. Starting with his sudden breakup with Ayano and resignation from AAA, to teaming up with/seducing Sharon, to finding Kisara, whom we learn is a distant blood relative of his, thus making their contract possible.

Forming a more efficient and practical contact with Kisara involves a lot of trial-and-error, along with an actual paper contract that’s several hundred pages long. Before they make things official, Kisara reads the whole thing through and, unbeknownst to Shuu, makes a couple of changes.

For one, she makes a kiss the means by which the limits of her demonic power are unleashed. This wasn’t how the contract was initially written up, but the kissing gesture was inspired by how Shuu “formed contracts” (i.e., bedded) previous humans like Ayano and Sharon. And once she kisses him, there’s no going back.

That brings us to the other thing she changed: if they kiss while their hands are intertwined just so, their contract will be terminated. That’s what she seems to do in their present-day kiss in the hospital, and unless I’m totally misjudging things, this results in all of Shuu’s memories returning to him.

This also means all the memories leave Kisara (they were moved without being copied), so when their lips part and Shuu asks her what the hell she just did, her first words are “Who are you?” Kisara believes Shuu has fought enough and wants him to leave the island and live the rest of his life in peace.

Breaking their contract is how she believes that happens. How she’ll deal with Kanna without a contract remains to be seen. But if Shuu indeed has all his memories back, that means all the drive and motivation to carry out his original mission must have returned as well. In any case, I highly doubt he’s about to abandon Kisara, Ayano, and Bayron City.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 08 – Live Your Own Life, Then Die

Moments after Rose’s prosthetic hand and wrist shatters after one too many Crimson Rose Bullets, we learn how she ended up with it in the first place: she got in too deep with the underground, and one day (or probably more appropriately, night) she lost, and the price was her hand. Leo only visited her to tell her she was stupid and he was having nothing more to do with her. He found someone new.

Rose meets this someone new, watches her fire a Blue Bullet, then tries to get her to work for her, but Eve isn’t about that. In fact, she didn’t show up on Rose’s doorstep until she wanted to play against Aoi. Fast-forward to the present, and Rose is going to play golf with one arm. Yes, you heard me. And she does.

Not only that, she comes heart-crushingly close to sinking the ball on just her second shot, a perfect shot from 140 yards away. But close is no cigar, which opens the door for Eve to take the win. The episode then jumps forward, to when the construction vehicles are about to level Klein’s bar while she, Lily, and the kids watch.

That’s when Eve shows up in Vipére’s car (and Vipére does a J-turn waaaaay too close to the children) and tells them to hop in, even though the car in question is tiny. Their problems are solved. She opens her new briefcase full of cash (again, a questionable decision in an open convertible traveling at high speed). She won. Rose lost.

From there, things start flying high. Vipére, as a treat, gives Klein’s whole family new identities (a snake keeps her ear to the ground), which allows Klein to buy a new bar, Lily to help out there, and the three refugee kids (from Palestine, Syria, and Somalia, by the way) to go to school for the first time.

Vipére herself ends up on a yacht, seemingly retiring both from golf and from wearing fangs. But while her family’s future is secure, it’s not all gravy for Eve. She meets Rose’s underling Anri on a rooftop, where Anri tells her that as a result of her victory, Catherine has put hits out on both Rose and her. Anri can’t quite kill Eve herself, even though she wants to. Instead, she runs away in tears, telling her to live her life however she wants, then die…with emphasis on the “die”.

Certain for some reason that A., Catherine won’t go after her family and B., Catherine will never know to send hitmen to Japan, Eve gets on a train to the airport bound to Aoi’s homeland, to fulfill the promise she made to meet her on a legit golf course. It’s the promise that drove her stunning victory, bouncing her ball of Rose’s and landing in the cup.

Mind you, shit like that probably won’t fly in above ground golf. But knowing her best years were behind her, Rose always intended for Eve to surpass her, and is glad her ass was kicked so thoroughly. She sits by the water with a cig, having summoned Leo to ask why he gave up on Eve. He tells her because he didn’t believe he could awaken her full potential.

But that time is seemingly coming. As if to underscore the official changing of the guard, Leo’s departure is immediately followed by the arrival of Catherine’s hitman. Before he pulls the (real, not metaphorical) trigger and ends her life, Rose briefly glimpses an ideal possible life when she was on the pro tour, with Leo as her proud caddy. Maybe in another life. This tragic moment is followed up by Eve is on a plane bound for Japan and to her beloved Aoi, who just can’t believe the drinks are free.

I will savor and treasure this episode for a long time, and you should too: it’s about as good as anime can get. Engaging, deadly serious, and absolutely window-lickingly bonkers in the same breath. And with only 4-5 episodes left, I desperately hope we get a second season, as it seems Eve’s golf story is only beginning now that she has emerged from the shadows and leapt into the light. The world would be a better place with more Birdie Wing in it.

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

Vanitas no Carte – 22 – Période Bleue

And so we descend into the heretofore untold story of Vanitas, AKA Number 69. He’d already been one of Dr. Moreau’s child experiments/torture victims when poor little Misha arrived. But rather than keep his head down and endure Misha’s screams, he volunteered to undergo the procedure in Misha’s place. Moreau, the quintessential mad scientist, is moved by his gesture.

So is Misha, who is pretty well-adjusted for someone who had already endured untold sexual assaults by his mother’s wealthier clients. Despite his aloof demeanor, Vanitas becomes a reluctant protective big brother to Misha. In a first act full of darkness and unspeakable cruelty and evil, it was nice to see these two children could find a moment’s warm relief under their dingy blanket.

I’ve long not been a fan of Moreau for always looking like the extra-stylized/simplified/cartoony version that other characters sometimes slip into for moments of levity. But after watching him this week do the things he does with a smile, it absolutely adds to the terror surrounding the character. He is an unhinged Mad Hatter with a Cheshire Cat grin. To his eyes, this grim, brutal world is a magical paradise of innovation.

I also felt a deep pressure in my stomach watching the “ordinary” human researchers doing Moreau’s bidding without emotion. You get the feeling they’re not under any duress (i.e. Moreau keeping their families hostage) but simply doing their jobs and following orders like good proto-Nazis. Moreau is outwardly mad, but they must be too to be able to do what they do to Vanitas and Misha.

Fortunately, they receive swift justice when Moreau’s procedure to convert the boys into “quasi-members” of the Blue Moon Clan so he can open the two Books of Vanitas. The resulting explosions kill everyone and leave Moreau crippled, and the mysterious black-skinned, white-haired vampire who claims responsibility for the chaos is primed to leave…until Misha begs them to take them with them…and when given the choice, Vanitas agrees to go with them too.

When the mysterious person introduces themselves as the Vampire of the Blue Moon, Vanitas’ chasseur training kicks in, asking them what they’re doing. They simply reply that they are helping them, since they asked for help. All of the exhaustion and the stress of the procedure catches up to Vanitas, and he passes out.

He comes to in a comfy bed of one of the vampire’s human acquaintances. When Vanitas asks how that’s possible, the vamp makes it clear that the more occult-aligned folks have always preferred consorting with vampires than the church. When the vamp asks Vanitas why he was calling out for his mother, he tells the story of what happened to his parents.

He was the bastard child of a successful doctor who abandoned his old family for his mother, a performer at some kind of traveling show. He says his mother died giving birth to him, and when vampires attacked, his father died protecting him. When the church and then Moreau took him in, he learned that humans were far more terrifying monsters than the vampires he’d spent his life loathing.

More importantly to understanding Vanitas’ character through all that tragedy and pain is the fact that he never tried to escape Moreau’s clutches for the same reason he tried to protect Misha: because he didn’t want someone else to experience that pain and trauma in his place. He is, as the vampire says, “a truly kind child”.

And yet even in the present Vanitas believes he’s no one who should be loved. In this act, we see the vampire who will later be known as Luna, Vanitas, and Misha becoming a family. We learn that Vanitas soon surpassed cooking and cleaning skills, while they made sure Vanitas and Misha got both an education and the opportunity to be boys and have fun.

But Luna knew that it couldn’t last like this for long, as both Vanitas and Misha would one day succumb to the strains against the natural world caused by Moreau’s experiments on them. So they offered their adoptive sons a choice: die as humans when the time comes (which could be in days or years), or become official members of the Blue Moon Clan when Luna turns them.

We know that Vanitas chose to live his remaining days as a vampire, even if it meant dying tomorrow. This, despite saying humans are the ultimate monsters. It’s as if he knows he could only right the wrongs of humanity by remaining a human as he began his crusade of healing curse-bearers, thus bearing his own self-imposed curse, a product of his deep-seated kindness.

As for Misha…whether he is still human or not isn’t as important as what he’s after, and how he’s willing to hurt Vanitas to get it. Misha’s already done far more than Vanitas would typically forgive, sharing memories of their past with Noé. Noe and Vanitas’ relationship has been irrevocably altered. How will Vanitas respond to these actions by his long-lost kid brother?

Vanitas no Carte – 21 – Jetez un Coup d’oeil sous la Peau

This week segues nicely from the parting reveal of Domi as the culprit in the latest vampire attacks to the heartbreakingly tragic past events involving her, Louis, and Noé, this time from her perspective. In the aftermath of the bloodbath that claimed both Mina and Louis, Domi weeps at Noé’s bedside, blaming herself for involving Noé in trying to save Mina. Her sister Veronica lives up to the family name, pretending she never had a brother, and revealing that Domi and Louis were twins.

Veronica further twists the blade by saying the twin chosen to live was made on a whim, and thus wonders whether the right (i.e. more useful) twin was spared. Noé comes to and mistakes Domi for Louis, inadvertently compounding her belief that everyone would’ve preferred if she had died instead of Louis. She cut off all her hair and started dressing like Louis, trying to be what everyone wanted. Seeing her in this sorry state, Noé vowed to protect her at all costs from the darkness of their past.

Unfortunately, that past has re-surfaced thanks to the cheerful and mysterious white-haired lad, who introduces himself as Mikhail when Domi is out searching for Jeanne (presumably while Jeanne and the others were in Gévaudan, though I may not be right about that). Mikhail seems uniquely suited to bring out the pain in others, and uses it to take control of Domi.

Noé receives a note from Mikhail and arrives at the grounds of this world’s 1889 Exposition Universelle after dark, and finds Mikhail in front of a carousel and Domi standing atop a Ferris Wheel—two machines invented to imbue their riders with fun and joy. A third machine: a metal dog automaton, guards Mikhail, and he whips out his version of Vanitas’ book. Mikhail says if anyone harms him, Domi will jump, and introduces himself as Vanitas’ little brother, AKA Number 71.

Mikhail is here for one thing: Vanitas’ memories. He used Domi as bait to bring Noé to him, and will now use Noé to drink Vanitas’ blood and thereby gain those memories, including learning why Vanitas killed “father that day”. That Vanitas killed his dad comes as a shock to Noé; Mikhail can tell and concludes that even after all this time Noé must not know a damn thing about Vanitas. That’s hard to argue: it could be everything Noé knows is simply what Vanitas wants him to know.

Mikhail remedies that by pulling his shirt down (revealing the same spreading blue  malady that affects Vanitas) and offering his own blood for Noé to drink, making it a demand when Noé hesitates. When Jeanne learns Domi hasn’t been seen in three days she rushes to find her, but by then Noé’s fangs are already in Mikhail.

We flash back to Mikhail’s past, when she was in custody after her mother, a prostitute was found dead. Mikhail’s mom presented him as a girl and offered him to her best customers. He runs into a badly-wounded but still chipper Roland, who tells Mikhail he has a new home from this day. Roland is called away by Olivier, and Mikhail is suddenly grabbed and chloroformed.

When he comes to, he finds himself before the Marquiss Machina, and a boy he calls “Number 69″—a young Vanitas. Thus begins Noé’s long-awaited journey into his best friend’s murky past…but will they still be friends when Noé returns from that god-forsaken place? I see now why last week was so pleasant and lighthearted—it was a momentary breather the torrent of sadistic dread dished out in spades by this episode…and it’s only the beginning.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 07 – Thinker, Baker, Ogler, Guy

It’s an old axiom that absence makes the heart grow fonder—after a week off for “quality control” purposes, Tokyo 24th Ward fields my favorite episode to date; an episode that could only work now that all the myriad characters in this community have been introduced and fleshed out.

It’s a brisk, pleasant, stripped down episode that mostly dispenses with the Big Picture plotlines and sci-fi, focusing almost entirely on Aoi Shuuta, the biggest, dumbest, and to date least explored member of RGB. That means lots of good honest slice-of-life that really brings the 24th Ward setting to life.

Shuuta’s hulking dad Louis is away in Paris, so it’s up to him to bake the family’s signature “Golden Sunrise” bread for the regularly scheduled food bank drive in Shantytown—where the KANAE bandwagon onto which Kouki has so enthusiastically hopped serves as a boot gradually pushing down.

In an instance of her husband not doing her any favors by naming an Orwellian technological abomination after her, it was Suidou Kanae who first came up with the idea of combining a hero show and the baked goods of Aoi bakery to fill the bellies of Shantytown’s at-risk youth. That’s also how Shuuta met Asumi, and the idea of blending heroism and bakery came about.

But it’s not the same as it was. Kanae and Asumi have passed away; the hero show fizzled out; and one pint-sized Shantytown gourmand can tell something is lacking in Shuuta’s version of his dad’s Golden Sunrise. He decides to ask his dad for some pointers, and only gets one word in response: Chest.

Shuuta, never the sharpest knife in the drawer, becomes fixated on the word and what it might mean, focusing first on the literal interpretation: how a chest feels. This leads to some hilariously awkward moments between him and, in order of instance, Mari, Tsuzuragawa, and Kozue—all of whom agree something’s off about him when they all meet at the bathhouse.

That bathhouse is also where Kinako is back to work, having essentially been jettisoned from DoRed since the authorities don’t suspect her as a member. Two months have passed since the Kunai incident resulted in the implementation of KANAE, and in that time Shuuta hasn’t been able to reach either Ran or Kouki.

Instead he must try getting to them through secondary channels: Kinako for Ran; Tsuzuragawa for Kouki. In Kinako’s case, she’s as in the dark as he is vis-a-vis Ran, no doubt for her own good. That said, I really enjoyed watching Shuuta’s interactions with both Kinako and Tsuzuragawa, who get a little more fleshed out in the absence of the other two RGB members.

In the absence of his colorful old comrades, Shuuta takes it upon himself to investigate Carneades, who seems to have begun a campaign of painting over DoRed’s works, in particular those depicting Kozue’s late father.

Sherlock or Poirot may not have to worry about Shuuta in the investigative department, but I’m amazed how each and every person in the 24th Shuuta interacts with this week lends him a piece of the puzzle he’s trying to solve—not just the Carneades puzzle, but the Shuuta Aoi puzzle.

As Shuuta sees it, Ran with his now-underground mobile guerrilla art movement and Kouki with his dad’s creepy Orwellian nightmare, have transcended childhood and entered adulthood. They each chose a side and committed to it; as Chikuwa tells him, becoming an adult is “getting rid of possibilities”—a subtractive process.

It isn’t until the exhaustion he’s built up nearly results in his drowning that Shuuta realizes that Chikuwa is wrong: being an adult can also be a process of addition. And might I say, in addition to Kinako’s laid back after hours look being absolute fire, her asking forgiveness of both Mari and Ran before going in for the kiss of life, then being bailed out by Shuuta’s dad, was a breathtaking sequence both awesome and side-splitting in nature.

Shuuta’s dad revives him with a very precise thump to the chest. That’s when it dawns on Shuuta: “chest” meant the gradual working of his own pecs kneading the dough. Golden Sunrise is as good as it is because of the strength required to knead it; strength that only comes with years of kneading…of baking.

If baking is going to make you swole, well shit, you might as well be a hero while you’re at it, right? It was Asumi who first told Shuuta he could be both, and in fact being both would be more awesome than being either. He didn’t, and doesn’t have to limit himself. He can talk to everyone, laugh with everyone, feed everyone…and save everyone. Chest.

Then, almost regrettably, considering what a wonderful portrait of Shuuta and love story to the Ward I just experienced, we get back to the meat of the plot. That said, I love how it required being buff enough to make bread the Shantytown kid who’s a food critic would acknowledge resulted in said kid showing Shuuta the studio of the guy covering up the Kaba murals.

That guy turns out to be Zeroth (or 0th, if you’re into that whole brevity thing), who I imagine is being set up not necessarily as a big bad (that’s Mayor Suido, obviously) but as a kind of Extreme Ran, back from the shadows vowing to “set the 24th Ward right”. Carneades has by far been the weakest part of this story, so hopefully connecting it with Ran’s mentor will spark some interest.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 05 – Dark Mode


Last week we learn that among the two paths Kunai believes lie before him—art or crime—Kunai has chosen the latter. This week we learn why, starting over a decade ago when he and Ran were just kids. Ran, inspired by fellow Shantytown native Zeroth, quickly asserted his artistic talent. Kunai knew he couldn’t keep up in the realm of graffiti, so he became a hacker.

But he soon learned, to his unending despair, that despite both his best friend Ran and his eventual business partner Tarki calling his hacking ability “art”, his work could be corrupted into something awful. To whit: Drug D isn’t a physical drug at all, but the result of his theraputic music app being modified so that its users go nuts, resulting in the huge rise in Shantytown crime.

Kunai may have been shortsighted when he sold the IP of his app to the suspicious-looking businessman, but Tarki offered him everything he wanted: financial freedom and comfort for his grandmother suffering from dementia. He always admired Ran’s art’s ability to change the world, but Kunai knew that change wouldn’t come quickly enough to save Shantytown from Tarki and the developers. So he made a bomb.

Ran eventually tracks down Kunai’s hiding spot on a train car Zeroth tagged on the outside, preserved like a museum piece. It happens to be the same car where Kunai first launched a “bomb”, hacking all the video advertisement screens with DoRed tags. Ran wants to stop Kunai, but it’s too late; all of his words sound like lip service to Kunai. Ran would have been too late to stop Kunai from detonating the bomb that destoryed the cruise ship…but Kouki found the train car too, and a SARG sniper takes Kunai out before he can hit the “detonate” button.

Shuuta, who didn’t really play much of an active role in the operation (beyond almost getting shot up by Tarki and Win’s goons), learns that the terrorist was killed and the people aboard the ship saved. Yet he still feels uneasy, and he should: most of the people on that ship are bad people.

Absent any contact from Ran or Kouki, he instead hangs out with Kozue, who has posted her photos of Ran’s tags and written about her father as a means of processing her grief in a healthy way. As for the rift that the death of Kunai is sure to cause for the R and G of RGB, it will likely be up to Shuuta to bridge his old friends’ differences.

As for Shuutas father, he seems ready to put the KANAE System into “full operation”, thus creating some kind of “revolution” in the 24th Ward. Will Kouki go along with this, or will RGB be the check against his pops’ unbridled corporate and political power? And what of Carneades, who makes no appearance this week?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo 24th Ward – 02 – Fifth Wheel

Shuuta, Ran, Kouki, Mari, and Asumi have been friends since they were little, but in a flashback to those halcyon days, we see that even then Mari was in a state of turmoil rising out of the fact that…well, she wasn’t Asumi. Asumi was the glue that kept them all together; indeed, she was the one who declared RGB was a thing. And now she’s gone.

After years of being a kind of fifth wheel, Mari suddenly found herself one of four, and the estrangement of RGB resulted. That said, she’s still close to all three, especially Shuu, who is her neighbor. Their rooms are even across from one another, so she can leap between their houses to hang out—an arrangement I’ve always longed for. But Shuu is still convinced Asumi could still be alive, shuttering a window Mari can’t leap through.

As Mari meets with each of the members of RGB currently having a post-memorial fight, we also get flashbacks centered on each member. Asumi, who established RGB, deploys them where she believes their skills are most needed—even if it’s conscripting Shuu for goalkeeper duty on the sports field. As a grade schooler Mari joked that she “just can’t win” against Asumi…and that’s seemingly borne out in both past and present.

When Mari checks in on Ran and DoRed, he shows her a mural honoring Asumi while also depicting her as a badass avenging angel, a glimpse of a possible Asumi that never was since her life was snatched away so early. This mural reminds Mari of the time Asumi had Ran paint a mural in the bathhouse. Asumi was always taking the initiative and inspiring action; Mari was always in the background smiling.

Last but not least is Asumi’s actual big brother Kouki. She’s ostensibly there to gather info on a restaurant at the big modern mall administered by Suidou’s family’s Zaibatsu, which is not only her home shopping district’s main rival for the upcoming Gourmet Festival, but also a threat to her district’s very survival. But she’s also kinda sorta there to mediate RGB’s latest  tiff.

Her meeting with Kouki coincides with a Kouki-centric flashback, in which he is utterly failing to hand out flyers for a previous GourFes. Asumi, assigned to another section and having already passed out all of her flyers, urges her brother to wear a smile and appear more friendly if he wants to pass his flyers out. Before long, all the major players in the district are out to help market the Festival. Asumi, bursting with energy and charisma, simply drew everyone towards her, like a magnet-girl.

Back in the present, while walking the dog that got her in so much trouble last week, Mari ends up overhearing a conversation between her old teacher Mr. Shirakaba and SARG officer Chikushi. She learns that Mon Jungle, her family’s restaurant Itadaki’s rival at the new mall, is run by a shady quasi-gang called Yabusame. She emerges from her hiding spot after Chikushi leaves, and Shirakaba assures her the GourFes won’t be rigged.

This leads to a flashback involving Shirakaba, whose students (RGB, Asumi, and Mari) want to keep the old elementary school they attended from being demolished. Mari may not be the nucleus of their group, but it’s clear Itadaki is the group’s base of operations.

It’s there where Mari’s creative okonomiyaki depiction of a blank chalkboard gives Asumi the idea to cover the school in graffiti and spread the word of its historical, cultural, and sentimental importance to the 24th Ward. Of course, as soon as the school and the graffiti idea came up, I thought of the cold open to the first episode and I was suddenly filled with dread.

That’s because Asumi’s idea, unwittingly sparked by Mari, ended up being the death of her. As an old building in disrepair, the school was vulnerable to fire. When that fire finally happened, Mari had Asumi by the arm, outside. All she has to do is not let go and insist they wait for the firefighters. But Asumi insists on being a hero, lets go of Mari, runs into the school to try to save others…and ends up perishing in Shuu’s arms.

The flashbacks make it feel like so long ago, and yet it was so not long ago Mari still has a video on her phone of the aftermath of the fire, admonishing her future self to never forget what happened that night. Even since then, Mari has kept striving to keep up with Asumi, trying to fulfill that role as glue and nucleus, and has found herself sorely lacking. She looks up at the night sky and tells Asumi she can’t handle RGB…not on her own.

However, Mari’s three meetings with the three members of RGB inadvertently bear fruit: they’ve all gathered at Itadaki…for her sake; to make GourFes a success. They snipe at each other a bit, but they still gathered at that same table they always gathered, even though Asumi isn’t there anymore. As different as they all are, and as deep as their wounds are, they still love Mari, and want to support her.

The strategy meeting itself isn’t all that productive as Mari manages to get the boys so stuff on okonomiyaki they get food comas, but it doesn’t matter. Mari managed to get RGB back together, through their stomachs. It’s then when Asumi appears before Mari as she’s washing dishes, offering her blessing going forward while also affirming how important Mari and Itadaki are to the circle of friends.

After one week, I was a little miffed that this show seemingly focused on three dudes. But this week Sakuragi Mari was the undisputed protagonist. Forget tough; Mari felt like Asumi was an impossible act to follow, but she ended up surprising herself, as much as this episode surprised me with its ability to plumb the depths of envy, love, longing, yearning, loss, grief, regret…and redemption. It didn’t feature a single moment of madcap superpower action. It didn’t need to.

My Senpai is Annoying – 07 – Doing What You Love

This week is the Futaba-Natsumi friendship origin episode, and I’m here for it! They’re honestly such a wonderfully cozy pair of BFFs it didn’t matter if we didn’t witness them meet, but I’m so glad we did. Poor Futaba’s GPS is going haywire so she decides to follow someone in the same fuku…only for Natsumi to start running at top speed!

Despite Natsumi leading Futaba not to school but the arcade where she intends to play hooky, the two become unlikely but fast friends in the back row of the classroom. When it comes time to join clubs, Futaba expresses her wish to join the art club because she loves to draw.

Natsumi hates competition ever since a boy tripped her to win a relay on sports day in grade school, but Futaba, unaware that Natsumi is harboring that bad memory, tells her if she loves doing something—in this case running—she should do it, or she may regret it if she doesn’t.

It’s almost verbatim the advice Natsumi gives to Yuuta when the two encounter one another running in the evening. Yuuta likes basketball, so he should play, even if he’s not the best at it. You can’t get better if you don’t try! Meanwhile, Futaba and Takeda end up having a little mini-date of sorts when they’re tasked with saving a spot under one of the blooming cherry trees for an office after-hours function, which honestly looks like a ton of fun.

After complementing her hair color and her drawings, Futaba recalls how it was Natsumi who gave her the courage to join the art club. Futaba would draw between classes in her sketchbook, but one day a couple of bullies decided to mess with her, which…why would you mess with Futaba?! Why would you want to do anything but protect her with your life?

For Natsumi, the answer is she wouldn’t. For the crime of making her beloved Futaba cry, one of the bullies gets a devastating punch to the face. She then tells the boys that it doesn’t matter if she “sucks” at drawing; she’s doing what she likes to do, so lay the fuck off!

The boys wisely learn the error of their ways, and their apology isn’t forced or obligatory, as he actually explains why what he did was wrong and regretted doing it. He also realized that both they and Futaba are in the same boat, in their case joining the baseball club despite being crap at it because they like baseball, dammit!

As for Natsumi, she doesn’t get in trouble because the boys went to the teacher to explain that they were in the wrong. Futaba thanks Natsumi by telling her they should call each other by their first names only. With that, a legendary friendship was forged, which continues into their adult lives now that they both live in Tokyo.

Takeda enjoys Futaba telling the story as much as Futaba clearly enjoys telling it, as her eye shimmer with love as she described how her friend supported her in pursuing her passion. We barely set one foot in the office this week, and that’s okay, because it was simply lovely to learn more about Futaba and Natsumi. As for Futaba’s senpai, it’s pretty clear he’s not “annoying” as the show’s title says, but I guess My Senpai is Someone Who I Like Hanging Out With and Talking To would be a bit too long…

Shin no Nakama – 05 – For Their Own Sake

Red and Rit are leisurely preparing to open the shop for the day when a brace of bigwigs from different guilds arrive unannounced, demanding to see Rit. Red says “Uh, no, you can see her when we open”. Realizing there’s nothing else they can do, they agree to wait. I love this. After years of carrying the weight of a party and a kingdom, respectively, Red and Rit aren’t here for anyone but each other.

Rit eventually goes out to speak with the bigwigs, who want her to go back to adventuring, but she tells them she’s signed a lifetime employment contract with Red’s apothecary. He overhears this, and figures it’s the perfect time to give her a gift: an amber bracelet.

This is after a Thieves Guild rep offers him a valuable Elven coin in exchange for Rit, which he obviously refuses. When he asks what her favorite gemstone is, she basically says whatever gemstone he gives her. Fool, you wanna be putting a ring on it!

While minding the store, Rit just revels in the fact she had no idea she’d be working there and living with Red, whom she once knew as Gideon. That takes us to another flashback to when she first met his very good friend—his very tall, very pretty good friend—Yalandrala, and is threatened by her flirting with Gideon as they traverse a forbidden forest they can only cross with Yal and the blessing that allows her to speak to the plants.

Yal can tell what’s going on even before Rit starts with the tsundereing, so she takes her aside to a crisp, cool forest spring for some bathing and a heart-to-heart. There, Yal tells Rit that because she’s a high elf who will live a much longer life, she’s decided not to fall for any humans (a mistake she already said she made once). But it’s clear to her that Rit is crazy about Gideon, and Yal cares about him too, so she’s glad such a nice person has fallen for him.

Even then, Yalandrala wanted Gideon to live his life for his own sake, knowing as only she, Rit, and few others know how far his power goes beyond his blessing and skills. And make no mistake, he’s fully in charge of the party, how it’s going to do things and when.

Ruti may have final sway as the Hero, but she also understands her brother’s power and defers to him. And though Gideon has Rit accompany her to fight the goblins, Ruti quickly demonstrates that in such a situation she’s all she’s got, she’s all she needs.

When the party is reunited, Ruti is the first one to hug Gideon, and Rit decides that she doesn’t want to take him away from her, seeing as how she’s the Hero they’re all depending on. But as fortune would have it, Ares kicked him out of the party, which has led to her and now-Red living and working together in pure bliss.

When a sketchy adventurer who thinks he knows her “weakness” threatens to tell Loggervia she’s in this village slacking off, she basically shrugs and says “go ahead.” She doesn’t care about her social standing in Loggervia. She’s where she wants to be, doing what she wants. This guy can’t touch her.

Because she’s happy here, with Red, each living for their own and each other’s sakes. They’ve earned it! I’m happy for them, and even happier they’re able to swat away possible wrenches in their works so easily this week. That said, we get a flashback to when Ruti learned that her brother had left the party. She learns this from Ares, who intends to take Gideon’s place.

When Ruti suspects that Ares did something to Gideon to make him leave, she puts her arm through his chest, killing him in a spray of blood and gore. Of course, since she’s the Hero, she can revive him in a second, but I’d like to think this was the moment Ares realized he was way out of his depth. Not only because he’s not half the adventurer Red is, but because he tried to play fast and loose with the goddamn Hero. 

The greatest threat to Red and Rit’s blissful quiet life isn’t threats or blackmail from random adventurers or thieves, but the possibility his sister can’t be the Hero she needs to be without him in the party.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 05 – Free Falling

A military bigwig arrives to inspect the training facility, and to also tell the two dozen or so candidates that only six of them will make the cosmonaut cut. When one of those candidates screws up their parachuting drill, Lev is suddenly back on the active roster. He might end up in space after all.

Meanwhile, Irina is in the anechoic chamber, which she basically treats like her coffin, only larger and most likely quieter. While in there, she’s left alone with her awful memories of when her village was massacred and her parents torched. At one point she softly calls Lev’s name, and can’t help but grab his sleeve when he finally comes in to release her from her solitude.

Irina probably figures she can’t hide the fact that she doesn’t hate Lev’s guts, so she comes right out and says she considers him the only human who isn’t bad. I’m not sure what that pink-haired researcher did to her! All joking aside, we get another great skydiving scene with Irina ending up in the unenviable situation of having to stare at Lev to keep her head up, even if it means being unable to hide her blushing.

When the two are up in the air they can forget about all the awfulness that surrounds them, but they come back down to earth literally and figuratively when they witness an aborted space capsule flight and the corpse of one of the experiment dogs. Those horrible flashbacks come roaring back, putting Irina in a state of shock.

Lev’s superior picks them up, and tells him that no one was supposed to see that. Back in the command room, the mission commander battles both his ailing heart and the political reality of having to self-destruct Irina’s capsule should she land in another country. You can tell he’s way more in this for the science and discovery, not the patriotism.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 06 – Just a Question of When

Now that the ghostly, ghastly sci-fi horror elements of 86 have been introduced, we look back to worse times when Shin found the headless  corpse of his brother in a once-grand bombed-out city (shades of Osgilliath) four years ago.

Then we look back to better times four months ago, when the ranks of Spearhead were a lot larger and livelier. Anju and Daiya began a kind of tender courtship while Shin lets it all soak in, perhaps knowing full well that it isn’t a matter of if things will go to shit, but when, and for whom.

In the present day it’s a hot July day, and everyone is baking in their metal coffins. They engage in a battle in which they are at a distinct disadvantage without mortar support, which the Republic hasn’t and won’t ever provide. The lighter mood caused by reminiscing about four months ago is shattered when Rikka gets into trouble and Daiya tries to rescue her.

Rikka’s mech is wrecked, and a Legion mech approaches her, she shoots herself in the head, her final words hoping Shin will “take care of things” from there. Daiya is surrounded by horrifying suicide bomber bots, and his last word is Anju who must quickly get over the shock of his loss and continue the battle.

Later, Shin ensures for Daiya what Rikka ensured with her self-inflicted headshot: that neither of them will join the ranks of the undead Legion. He gives Lena the opportunity to shut off the Para-Raid, but she considers it her duty to hear the shot being fired.

Down another two soldiers, Spearhead now has only sixteen soldiers left, and those lost will not be replaced before the next battle. Both the grieving Anju and the others try to hide how much this sucks with protective smiles and cheerfulness. Shin collects two more metal shards to remember Daiya and Rikka, then recalls how his brother hasn’t forgiven him for getting him and their parents killed. His search for his brother’s head continues.

Unlike past episodes that better mixed up Lena and Shin’s experiences, we’re back to one section being all Spearhead and the other being all Lena. It’s Lena’s birthday when Daiya and Rikka die, and Annette makes her a cake and gives her a present. She also casually talks about how 86 are dissected like lab animals if there’s a problem with the Para-Raid, while of  course Republic soldiers are treated far more humanely.

There’s been a tension building for some time between these two between idle chatter about Annette’s suitors and cake ingredients. It doesn’t seem the thoroughly jaded and complacent Annette will ever come around to Lena’s increased empathy for the 86.

Lena’s isolation is further reinforced in her briefing with her uncle. She suggests the Republic deploy the mortars in order to protect the lives of the 86. He responds by again warning her not to “side with the 86”, and that under no circumstances would Republic soldiers ore resources be spent to aid them. As Handler she’s merely responsible for making sure they follow their orders.

But Lena has obviously started to do far more than that. Unlike her uncle and Annette, whom I’m sure believe are “doing all they can”, her threshold for what “what she can” entails continues to expand. She has a corkboard with hand-drawn sketches of the remaining Spearhead soldiers on her desk, while by the window is a crystal case containing those who have been lost.

After signing off with everyone else, Lena is kept on the line by Shin, who voices concern for her because sounds on edge. He suggests she eat some sweets and use the evening to take a break from all these troubles. To Lena, he sounds just like his brother, who gave her chocolate when things were bad. She remarks on how important she regards her memories of him, while also letting slip how important she considers her time talking with with Shin.

When she realizes how that sounds, she turns red as a beet, a color that intensifies when she unwraps the fortune chocolate to reveal a heart. Of course, as she’s an Alba and a Republic Handler while he’s an 86 Processor and it’s a very bad idea to fall in love with him, I won’t go so far as to say nothing good can come of it.

One day, he’ll be the only member of Spearhead left, and then he’ll die. But Shinei Nouzen still won’t die alone, and he won’t be forgotten. It’s not nearly enough, but we can be assured, when that time comes, Lena will do everything she possibly can, even if it makes her a pariah in her world. There’s no going back.

Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 02 – Nothing Else Is of Any Concern

Makoto meets with Jin on two matters: one is to be briefed on a mission to find the one within Nue who is feeding Kuchinawa assassination targets. The other is to ask about Sawa. Makoto responds to the latter by saying “it saddens me to report that she survived”.

Last week, Asahi prepared to stab Sawa in her sleep. When we see both next, the only thing Asahi is slicing is a daikon radish, and Sawa is very much un-stabbed. This week we learn more about Sawa and Asahi’s pasts, and … Spoilers: those pasts are dark and bloody. First up is Sawa, and if Black Widow has “red in her ledger”, Sawa’s got “blue in her diary.” Well, her mom’s diary.

We know how Sawa hid while her mother, father, and brother were slaughtered. But how did Sawa end up an assassin with Yue? Jin arrived at the ruins of her village as she was trying to bury the charred remains of her family. His mere presence there the morning after their deaths might’ve normally raised a red flag for Sawa, but the very light had gone out of her eyes.

It didn’t matter at the time if there was a chance Jin had something to do with the death of her family. He was offering her a chance at revenge, and that chance brought the light back to her eyes. Under his tutelage she became a graceful and efficient killing machine. Jin made a deal: he’d use her to make Nue stronger, and she’d use him to get her revenge.

Sawa puts the blank diary of dark memories away and joins Elena for their next mission: make contact with a Nue agent named “the Treasurer” and get her to safety. They identify her waiting tables at a restaurant by the fact she can memorize everyone’s orders and whisk her away, crossbowing and beheading the Kuchinawa gunmen along the way.

While Sawa escorts her through the tunnels, the Treasurer mentions how the shogunate is content to ignore the mounting opposition to their regime outside of Tokyo. She also knows a lot about Sawa, because she’s a memorization savant. Meanwhile, Makoto pays Asahi a visit at the bookstore, offering her a bottle of black pills that “kill in ten seconds.” , to use on the person who killed her parents.

That’s right: in the recent past while on a mission, Sawa murdered Sawa’s parents while she was in the next room under burning wreckage of the house they were in. Granted, Asahi’s mother was apparently dolling her up in order to serve her up to a pervert before Sawa arrived, but facts are facts.

When Asahi tried to stab Sawa in her sleep, Sawa woke up instantly (if she was even asleep) and stopped the knife, telling Asahi she needs to strike where she’ll do the most damage, and wait until she’s more vulnerable. When Asahi bursts into tears, Sawa is there to hug her. It’s a strange situation, but it’s true to Sawa’s code: she’s not about to be a hypocrite. If Asahi should exact her revenge by killing her before she can exact hers, so be it.

Sawa, now knowing of the Treasurer’s ability, decides threaten her into telling her everything she knows about the Karasumori village massacre. The Treasurer says how those responsible wanted to keep the Karasumori clan’s blue blood a secret, while Janome stole an imperfect variant of that blood’s power. But the Treasurer stops there, saying Yoshinobu doesn’t tolerate treason.

Her five-year old son is being held hostage; should she betray Yoshinobu, he will die. So Sawa offers to protect her and her son in exchange for the information she wants. When the Treasurer asks why Sawa would go so far for revenge, Sawa answers simply that her entire life is for revenge—just a stretch of borrowed time, in which she’ll either get the job done or die trying.

Sawa and the Treasurer exit the tunnel near a quiet dock where she can be smuggled to safety, but they are intercepted by Kuchinawa agents, along with a Changeling. Elena shows up, and she handles the agents while Sawa enters her blue blood trance and defeats the Changeling.

But when it’s time to put the Treasurer on the boat, Elena stabs her instead and lets her fall into the river, after telling her her son has already died. I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but either the Treasurer fed intel to Kuchinawa, or she and her intel-packed brain were simply too dangerous to be kept alive.

In any case, Sawa loses her best chance yet at learning about what happened at her village and who was responsible. I don’t think she’ll kill Elena or quit Nue, but she can’t be happy that her road to revenge just hit a detour. In any case, this was another dark, bloody, brooding episode of Jouran, packed with bursts of cool action and bookended by an OP and ED by RAISE A SUILEN that both absolutely slap.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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