Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 05 – Magical vs. Badgical

War Nurse reattaches Nozomi’s arm, heals her abdomen wound, and gets her to safety, but Abigail catches up to her and transforms into a full-fledged Badgical girl, with razor-sharp barber’s scissors.

As for Asuka, once she expends a great deal of her magic to destroy the Russians’ water spirit, the mercs are no match for her, even when she’s out of practice…which is as it should be. Asuka wouldn’t have survived this long letting herself get beaten by lightweights like these guys.

However Abigail came upon her magical gifts, she proves quite the challenge to War Nurse, especially when she summons not one but two Halloween-class Disas at her (her dominatrix getup certainly stands in stark contrast to Kurumi’s good witch garb).

Kurumi takes one of the Disas out, but Abby presses her attack with the other. Kurumi has to be bailed out by M Squad, who keep Abby occupied until Asuka can relieve them. As Iizuka says, you need a magical girl (or girls) to fight a magical girl.

Now Abby’s against the wall, until she’s rescued by her “Queen”, in masked badgical girl form, who then retreats. While Asuka couldn’t defeat Abby or the Queen, the fact they destroyed two Halloweens and recovered Nozomi makes this a victory.

But there’s a cost: Nozomi may be physically fine, but her PTSD is so bad she can’t look at Asuka or Kurumi for more than a second before going into a paroxysm of terror before passing out. But hey, it’s all good: Kurumi can heal her PTSD too—she just needs to erase all of Nozomi’s memories of the last week to do so.

With that procedure carried out, Asuka and Kurumi wait for her to rest and recover, with Asuka lamenting that she can’t protect anyone or anyting. Kurumi begs to differ, as neither she, Nozomi, or the M Squad would be breathing were it not for her, to say nothing of the bystanders saved when she stopped the terrorists. Suddenly convinced once and for all, Asuka informs Iizuka of her intent to officially join the Spec-Ops M Squad.

Iizuka reports to his superiors, who tell her the powers that be want Nozomi to stay at her current school where she’ll continue to serve as potential bait for their enemies. Kinda harsh, but they’re banking on Asuka and Kurumi continuing to protect her.

Meanwhile, Nozomi seems to be fine; she’s just forgotten their fun pool trip…not the greatest sacrifice if you ask me (Sayoko’s complete absence from this episode was puzzling…if she was there, wouldn’t she have corrected Nozomi?). Even when Asuka resolves never to go see that movie, letting the wind take her ticket, as soon as she turns around Nozomi is there to invite her all over again.

So basically, they got their first good  look at the bad guys and what they’re capable of, but the battle resulted in a draw, while hitting the reset button on Nozomi reduced her horrible suffering to a motivating cautionary memory for Asuka. It’s all rather neat-and-tidy, but at least she’s no longer in denial about having to fight in order to protect those she loves.

Advertisements

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 04 – Taking the Bait

Asuka has a recurring dream where she’s too late to save her leader Fracine from her injuries. Before she dies, she names Asuka to succeed her, and assures her that while the world has a lot of problems, it is also full of beautiful things worth protecting.

Asuka apparently needed to be taught this lesson in the worst way  possible, as one of the current problems plaguing the world (groups who wish to use magic to hurt people and gain power) takes one of the beautiful things (her friend Nozomi) hostage.

Nozomi’s father is to blame for her capture, not Asuka. It would seem that terrible things need to be done in the name of national security, but it’s clearly better if the ones doing the terrible things didn’t have such lightly-protected family.

In a further display of cynical pragmatism that borders on comical, Nozomi’s dad is told his daughter will be a “sacrifice” that will give Public Safety the budget and mandate they need to go out there and really bust some heads.

Since no police or military unit will mount a rescue, it falls to Asuka. With Francine’s words still ringing in her head she doesn’t spend much time mulling over whether going into action to save Nozomi is the right thing to do.

Considering how sweetly and adorably portrayed as Asuka’s friends were, it was fairly inevitable that one of them would end up in some real shit. But while Sayoko was merely caught in some crossfire, Abigail and her twin Russian sorcerer mercenaries spare no cruelty as they burn Nozomi’s skin off and simulate drowning, all while the cameras roll.

You get the feeling even if Kurumi can heal her many physical wounds, unless she can also remove all memory of the ordeal, Nozomi is going to be severely scarred by the torture. But first thing’s first: she has to be rescued. Asuka and Kurumi have no trouble getting past the initial waves of guards, but Abigail isn’t remotely concerned they’ve arrived. In fact, she’s delighted they took the bait. She feints “freeing” Nozomi, but slices one her arms off.

Unfortunately for her, in such close quarters Abigail has the disadvantage, which Kurumi exploits by impaling her with a giant needle, after which she and her familiar Sacchuu grab Nozomi and rush her to safety while Asuka keeps the Russians busy with a grenade.

She knows that won’t be nearly enough to kill them, but is still confident in her abilities to handle the three mages alone. But she underestimates the Russians’ magic, getting smashed into a wall and allowing Abigail to go after Kurumi (who hasn’t even started getting serious yet).

Overall, the stakes were succinctly set: poor Nozomi’s life and many other lives will be lost in gruesome fashion if Asuka and Kurumi (and whatever other magical girls/guys wish to participate) can’t get the job done. I would hope that whenever this is all over, Asuka will cool it with the “not my fight” attitude, and Nozomi’s dad will quit torturing people. Bad guys are going to do bad guy stuff regardless…so don’t give them any excuses!

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 03 – The Enemy Disagrees…Vehemently

In Tijuana, Mexico, Mia Cyrus is taking care of business with her anti-cartel unit (her magical bullets can pass through any armor or barrier) when they find an emaciated, tortured prisoner tied up, who is then compressed to death into a magical energy cube. Clearly, there’s more going on here than drug cartels, Mia worries aloud.

Back in Japan, Kurumi has transferred to Asuka’s school to remain by her side in case another threat arises, and also to see the new life and friends Asuka has abandoned Kurumi and her duty to live. Suffice it to say, Kurumi is not that impressed with Sayako’s half-hearted “I guess we’re friends” and annoyed by Nozomi’s “if anything happens the magical girls will save us.”

Still, she tries to keep up a cordial front, as she warns that despite what Asuka might think, the enemy doesn’t agree that it’s not her problem. Whenever a good guy has something to lose, they’d better be ready to fight to protect it, or the enemy will try to take it away.

Kurumi must feel doubly frustrated by Asuka, who has always been in peak physical and mental condition. Kurumi was horribly bullied as a child, came to hate that weak version of her, and has worked extremely hard to become and stay strong and dependable. She sees that Asuka is still staying in shape, in contrast to her mindset of not wanting to fight anymore.

Iitzuka tries to entice Asuka once again by showing her the headquarters for the elite M Squad of the JSDSF, disguised as a maid cafe with training facilities in the sub-basement. Between the rise of illegal magial girls and the distribution and improvement of remnants from the old war, a new, potentially worse war is just on the horizon, and they can’t afford to have someone of Asuka’s skills on the sideline. Still, Asuka insists her war is over. If only repeating it enough would make it true…

Speaking of people with something to lose, Nozomi’s dad continues his brutal torture of the terrorist leader one minute, and is admiring the phone background of his cute daughter the next. It’s admirable this guy can switch from work to family so quickly, but there’s simply no way the enemies he’s made won’t become aware of the existence of his family, if they aren’t already. His work puts a target on Nozomi’s back.

The only solace we have is that, at least for some of the day, Nozomi and Sayoko are safe when they’re hanging out with Asuka and Kurumi, as they do when they all go to a Olympic-grade swimming center together. Fanservice is kept to a minimum as everyone’s in standard issue one-pieces, but Sayoko uses the high dive as an opportunity to get over some of her paralyzing trauma.

For her  part, Nozomi is grateful that Asuka and Kurumi came, since she’s looking out for Sayoko’s well being and Sayoko loves to swim. She also plans for the four to see a movie the next day. Before parting for the night, Asuka maintains her resolve not to fight because she now has things (or rather people) she cares about, which Kurumi feels is the exact opposite of what she should be doing.

Kurumi is proven right (which probably gives her no joy) and Asuka pays for her lack of vigilance when Nozomi is confronted in the street by ominous members of the “Babel Brigade”, a group both tortured prisoners muttered about being involve in a “new, more terrible war.” As I predicted, they know who Nozomi’s father is, and that they can hurt him by hurting her.

The bad guys have a sizable head start on Asuka, who just got the text Nozomi sent about being excited for the movie just before being kidnapped, no doubt lulling her into a false sense that Nozomi is okay, when the exact opposite is true. Asuka is going to have to come to terms with the very problematic opposites that dwell her life…very soon.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 01 (First Impressions) – Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May

The first Winter 2019 anime to pop onto my screen promptly impressed with its atmosphere, economy, and a nervy Ushio Kensuke synth score that quite simply OWNS. Those elements working in concert make even the most innocuous scenario—a guy in the city apparently being stood up—feel significant.

And oh yeah, the girl who stood him up? She shows up in a witch-like getup, helps a suffering homeless man, chides the bystanders for ignoring said man, and flipping a cop for good measure.

But while the witch-looking figure may have had Miyashita Touka’s body, it wasn’t Miyashita. As Takeda (the not-stood-up-after-all lad) learns when he encounters her atop a school roof, Miyashita’s body is being used as a vessel for an entity calling itself Boogiepop. If it helps Takeda, she likens it to split personalities, and Miyashita lacks any memories of when she’s “inhabited” by Boogiepop.

Both Miyashita and Boogiepop are voiced by the wonderful Yuuki Aoi, and she voices them very differently. Boogiepop speaks more slowly, at least an octave lower, and in a tone that’s an interesting combo of aloof, playful, menacing, and slightly bored. Miyashita sounds, well, more human.

Boogiepop explains to Takeda that she automatically appears whenever a threat to the school (or humanity) arises; in this case, a monster that may be inhabiting one of his classmates. Takeda reads up on split personalities and seems to enjoy his rooftop chats.

But one day Boogiepop appears before him dressed normally, as Miyashita, and tells him their time together is at an end: the monster has already been defeated by someone other than her. Takeda protests this sudden goodbye, but the next time he sees Miyashita, she’s back to being her usual herself, and Takeda almost seems…disappointed.

Peripheral to Takeda and Boogiepop’s interactions are swirling rumors about Boogiepop (some girls think she spirits them away at the peak of their beauty so they’ll die before becoming ugly) and a delinquent among them named Kirima Nagi whom some believe is murdering the girls officially reported as runaways.

So it’s a little unsettling when Kirima pops up out of nowhere to introduce herself to Miyashita and shake her hand. The timing seems too weird considering Boogiepop just “left”…not to mention one of the creepy quick cuts of carnage that dot the episode might just confirm Kirima is indeed what some of the girls suspect:

I guess we’ll find out. I’m certainly looking forward to watching how things unfurl, and to the inevitable return of Boogiepop once things inevitably go south for Takeda and Miyashita. Until then, this was a wonderfully calm, patient, moody start. Like gradually immersing your foot into the pool rather than raucously cannonballing in, I feel successfully acclimated.

Goblin Slayer – 12 (Fin) – Not Just Another Pawn

With all those adventurers fighting together and following the Slayer’s plan, the goblin army is dispatched all too easily. Just when a goblin thinks he has the upper hand with a surprise attack, he’s met by a mailed fist, arrow, or blade. Meanwhile, Goblin Slayer himself informs the Goblin “Lord” that the home he’s trying to flee to is already gone.

That being said, the Slayer is not used to one-on-one combat out in the open, and the Lord, while cowardly, is still huge, and proceeds to stomp all over the Slayer’s head. Fortunately, the Priestess arrives, casting dual protection spell planes that immobilize and crush the lord. Slayer finishes him off, and is then healed by the Priestess, who didn’t use all three of her spells for protection.

The Priestess is cross that he pushed himself too hard once more, as she learns he was only bait, and trusted her to bail him out once the lord thought he would be victorious. When the sun rises, the Slayer needs help getting back home, but the adventurers, his party members, and Cow Girl are all elated to see him in one piece.

At the guild celebration, Goblin Slayer buys everyone a drink, as he promised. The Priestess asks if she can get an extra reward: if he’ll remove his helmet for her. He does, and it causes a right commotion in the guild, many of the members of which had a placed bids on who or what would be underneath.

But more than fascinated with his face, the Priestess, the rest of his party, the other adventurers, all share one thing in common: they now consider Goblin Slayer a friend and ally, and coming to his aid isn’t a matter of luck, but obligation. They do it gladly, because if it weren’t for him they might not have a town.

Thus ends Goblin Slayer’s saga…but only for now. A post-credits announcement promises his return. He intends to start on the path of an adventurer, but I assume that doesn’t preclude him from slaying goblins; it just means he’ll be going to more far-flung places to do it. And he won’t be doing it alone.

SSSS.Gridman – 12 (Fin) – Power of the Finite

“Anyone who can make kaiju is a kaiju themselves,” says Alexis Kerib, after transforming Akane herself into an enormous monster that wails out a terrible lament as it destroys what’s left of the city. Still temporary allies, Gridman (dwelling in Yuuta) asks Anti to deal with the Akane-kaiju, as he and Rikka have something else they need to do.

Akane isn’t feeling particularly good about herself, which is probably what enables Alexis to transform her and control her so easily: he thrives in the corruption of the heart, in hatred, disgust, and aloofness. He chortles when Rikka calls Akane “her friend” not because Rikka is only Akane’s programmed creation, but because he doesn’t believe there even is such a thing as friends.

Right on cue, Rikka’s friend Yuuta-Gridman picks her up in Sky Vitter (to Alexis’ bemusement), and they return to the hospital to snap Shou out of his funk. Regardless of how useless or normal he thinks he is, Yuuta tells him that Junk needs everyone there to work. The Gridman Alliance is more than just a cool nickname for their little circle, it’s the key to unlocking Gridman’s full power.

Anti succeeds in freeing Akane from her kaiju prison (which seemed to be filled with some kind of clear LCL), but Akane wonders why he bothered with someone as terrible as her. Anti fully owns his “failed creation,” since the fact he failed meant he’s more than just a kaiju, but a human.

Alexis makes no distinction between kaiju and human, or anything else, since to him it’s all below him. Because Akane is still in a bad state, he exploits her negative emotions and literally consumes her to become a kind of “Alexisman”—but the Alliance are back at the Junk Shop, and when they activate the new acceptors that appear on their wrists, a new, final form of Gridman appears: less armored and more like, well, a giant guy in a suit.

This new Gridman fights Alexis in order to free Akane once more, and has some success…until the halved Alexis simply auto-repairs. He is immortal and infinite, so however many times Gridman tries to destroy him, he will just keep coming back forever. Since Alexis has everything “of value” in Akane’s world—that is, Akane herself—he decides to head back to his realm…after killing Gridman.

But before he can skedaddle or kill Gridman, Gridman discovers a new power, and possibly his most important: The pink Grid Fixer Beam, which repairs not only the city Akane created and then destroyed, but succeeds in rescuing Akane’s heart from Alexis’ clutches. The Fixer Beam basically deletes him from the world.

Finally, free, Akane worries about what comes next. “A big world’s too much for me!” she laments, because she’s such a weak, pathetic coward. Rikka, Yuuta, and Shou tell her that no one’s perfect, which is why they—which is why everyone—relies on others.

Her world afforded her godhood and a kind of immortality, but it’s run it’s course, and now it’s time to return to the world of mortality and the finite. Akane’s grateful to Rikka for saving her, but also wracked with guilt over the things she’s done that cannot be undone with any Fixer Beam.

Rikka tells her not to sweat it, and gives her the gift of a wallet that matches her own (and also happens to be the same color as Akane’s hair). Rikka wants Akane to stay in the world and be together with her, but tells Akane not to let that wish come true. No one can force Akane to leave; she has to want to do it; to return to her real life.

With that, Akane disappears from Rikka’s side. Gridman & Co. say their goodbyes to Rikka and Shou before returning to the Hyper World, and not long after that Yuuta wakes up in the junk shop, the Gridman Alliance now just a friendship of three kids. The puckish humanoid kaiju who once guided Yuuta heals Anti, who is grateful, and now sports both a human and a kaiju eye—his past and present.

Finally, in the real world—as in, a live action world—a girl with long black hair much like Rikka’s slowly wakes up and rises from the bed, the Akane-colored wallet on her dresser. This, it seems, is the Real Akane, who left the world where she was a god (i.e., her dreams) and returned to the world she thought she couldn’t handle.

Now the ending with Rikka and Akane makes more sense: Akane made the purple-haired Akane to be her ideal avatar, and made Rikka, who more closely resembled her real-life self, to love her. Ergo, in her world, she loved herself. But Rikka taught her the power of friendship, and the need to wake up from dreams and not sink into Alexis-like abysses of darkness and despair.

A lot of this might sound corny, but the show expresses these well-worn ideals so earnestly and powerfully, it all comes together and works pretty well, which can be said of the show as a whole. Despite only catching a tiny portion of the references to Gridman and Gridman-esque works, SSSS was never not a pleasure to watch and listen to.

The ending could be said to be too neat and tidy, squandering a universe of potential alternate directions. But at the end of the day the lesson holds: just as friendships have value because we aren’t infinite or immortal beings, an imperfect finite ending will do just fine.

Goblin Slayer – 11 – A Home Under Siege…Again

Note: This was originally posted under the erroneous episode number 12; it is actually episode 11.

Goblin Slayer has never been one to use many words. As Cow Girl prepares breakfast, he has only one for her: “Run.” The goblins whose prints he discovdered at the boundary of the farm are too numerous in number for him to take on alone in an open field. He suspects they’re led by a shrewed Goblin Lord, and will likely have Hobs among its forces.

But Cow Girl isn’t running; not again. The farm is her home, and if it’s doomed to be destroyed, so is she. The Slayer can’t change her mind, so he tells her he’ll figure something out. That means going to the guild, helm-in-hand (figuratively), and asking for volunteers to help him slay goblins. At first, they don’t take it seriously. Then, the Lancer tells him they’re adventurers in a guild which means, post a quest and offer a reward.

The Slayer offers everything he has and everything he is, all but his life itself, which he promised Cow Girl’s father he wouldn’t give up lest his daughter cry again. Once the elite adventuers can tell how serious he is, they name the price of a drink or two down the road. The Guild Girl offers a gold piece for every goblin slain, and all of a sudden the rank-and-file adventurers are interested too.

Bit by bit, virtually the entire guild agrees to assist the Slayer, including the Priestess and his party who now all consider him a close friend. Those who either never interacted with him or found him annoying for his singlemindedness towards goblins, all agree the guild would be lonely without him.

The Goblin Lord’s army is no joke, but with so many skilled adventerers of various skill sets now committed to his side, Slayer can really open up the playbook and utilize a strategy that will exploit the strengths of his assets and the weaknesses of the enemy.

He knows, for instance, the goblin vanguard would arrive with “meat shields”—wooden boards with captured women tied to them—and leaves it to the Dwarf Shaman and Mage to stupor and put them to sleep so the hostages can be rescued and taken out of harm’s way.

From there, the close-range warriors storm the goblin small fry, aided by archers from long range and magical boundaries to repel enemy arrows. When the goblin riders advance, the adventurers are ready with sharpened stakes.

Once the first waves fail, the Lord takes the gloves off and sends in his heavy hitters, goblin champions. But while the Slayer’s party had a big problem with one, the most experienced and powerful of adventurers are actually glad slightly more worthy foes have arrived, having spent their most recent adventures fighting enemies of their skill or above.

That just leaves the increasingly panicky Goblin Lord himself, who apparently isn’t as big or tough as his Hob underlings. While everyone else fights off his army, Goblin Slayer stalks him alone, his right eye glowing red indicating Limit Break Mode. With the close quarters of the woods resembling his preferred battleground of a cave, he should do fine.

If it weren’t for everyone agreeing to fight with him, he wouldn’t have this opportunity. And so someone who had been a loner, curiosity, and eyesore to much of the rest of the guild has evolved into their general in a glorious battle against the evil cruelty of the goblins.

SSSS.Gridman – 11 – Backed Into A Corner

No matter how many kaiju Akane made and Alexis embiggened, they were never able to defeat Gridman. As a god suddenly hemmed in by the intolerable rule that her kaiju will and must always lose, she finally snapped and took matters into her own physical hands.

Rather than use her box cutter to carve a new kaiju, she stabbed Yuuta with it, then wanders away in a haze, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the torturous cycle is over.

It’s not that easy. She missed Yuuta’s vitals, so she didn’t kill him, though he seems to be in some kind of coma. With all the custodian kaiju beheaded, nothing in the city resets, and the chaos just remains. Worse still, as far as Alexis is concerned, nothing’s over.

Lex believes Anti to be the “next Gridman in line” and thus needs Akane to keep creating more kaiju for him to use. When she categorically refuses (pointedly saying she “can’t”, not “won’t”), he simply brings back all the kaiju she already made…at the same time.

A scenario entirely beyond Akane’s control and will thus unfolding, Anti arrives in the hospital room, not to apologize for what he did as a kaiju but to settle his debts as a human. He’ll fight off the kaiju as Gridknight, as Neon Genesis set to work repairing the computer so Yuuta and Gridman wake back up (they can’t sortie without Gridman).

In a brief dream sequence before he wakes up, Yuuta sees Gridman in the mirror, and it dawns on him: He’s not Yuuta; not really. Rather, he’s Gridman dwelling within Yuuta, using his body and mind as a vessel. The matter all along, then wasn’t that Yuuta had amnesia; he was never Yuuta to begin with, and thus whatever memories he had as Yuuta were as repressed as the real Yuuta himself, whom we’ve apparently never even met.

Shou is feeling particularly useless this week, and we can’t really blame him; aside from being the only person with the time to stay by Yuuta’s bedside when he wakes up, he is pretty useless this week. He can’t dissuade Gridman from a course of action that could get his friend killed.

Instead, Yuuta and Neon Genesis mobilize and fight beside a battered Anti against the kaiju “greatest hits,” destroying them all. Alexis can bring back the defeated kaiju all he wants; the fact remains they exist only to be beaten by Gridman.

Meanwhile, Rikka seeks out Akane, not to seek revenge or to give her a piece of her mind, but just to be there for her as a friend. Yes, Rikka may only think she’s Akane’s friend because Akane “set it up” that way, but Rikka doesn’t care; it doesn’t change the fact they are friends, through and through.

Before Rikka can hear what Akane thinks of her, they’re interrupted by Alexis, who labels their conversation “pointless” and tells Akane that new kaiju are needed post-haste. Again Akane tells him she can no longer make kaiju, but Alexis rephrases his position: he’s going to have a new kaiju, even if he has to transform Akane herself…which he promptly does, much to her and Rikka’s bewilderment.

Thus the downward spiral of Akane’s world reaches a new nadir: in which the creator of the world herself prepares to become just another one of the monsters programmed to fight Gridman. This seems to be breaking some fundamental rules of the “game” that’s been played so far, but Alexis doesn’t seem to mind. If Akane really does become another kaiju, isn’t she just as doomed to lose as the ones she created…or is that just another rule poised to be broken?

Goblin Slayer – 10 – No Need to Rush

After another big battle, the Goblin Slayer and his party has earned another rest, while elsewhere, the Suzumiya Haruhi-looking Hero slays the Demon Lord with her two comrades. As usual, Goblin Slayer convalesces at the dairy farm, something for which Cow Girl is very happy and relieved.

The day before she left for the city he was mean to her, but out of jealousy, not hatred. Now, as he rests and patrols the farm, he notes that he’s forgotten the taste of his favorite stew his sister use to make for him, because it’s been so long since he’s tasted it.

The two head into town for deliveries and guild and other business. GS is uncharacteristically unarmored and his pale face are exposed for all to see, though most don’t recognize him, but simply note his physique and pastiness.

After getting his repaired armor back, GS suits up and visits some fellow adventurers who are teaching some bright-eyed youths the ropes. I couldn’t help but remember the priestess’ ill-fated party. Later, the Guild Girl remarks that even when adventurers or heroes retire, they are still alive until death, so it’s good to stay busy and pass their trade onto the next generation.

Cow Girl also finally meets GS’ party, and along with the Guild Girl they all go out for a meal, where Cow Girl, Guild Girl, and Priestess all agree GS needs to take it easier if he’s going to last till retirement age.

As his party stays in town and the Dwarf and Elf start a drinking game (a lot of Legolas and Gimli in these two) GS and Cow Girl return to the farm for the night. Cow Girl joins GS under the two full moons, and when asked he tells her he’s thinking about the future, no doubt since it came up in town.

Cow Girl hopes that GS has a future beyond slaying goblins, since everyone has their limits. But few know those limits are until they’re reached, and even fewer know what should come after that.

GS’s meticulous patrols and inspections of the farm have always been seen as overkill, with the Cow Girl’s uncle even saying he doesn’t need to do it so regularly. But I saw that as a major flag, and at episode’s end, my fears are confirmed: a mess of goblin prints at the farm’s periphery.

I imagine the GS’ future quests are on hold until those goblins are taken care of. I can’t imagine him leaving Cow Girl and her uncle alone after finding those footprints. Perhaps his friends will help him root them out.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 05 – The Penguin that Follows the Others

I can definitely see the similarities to Bakemonogatari and Sakurada Reset here, and that, readers, is not a bad thing, at least for me. Both of those shows could subvert the concept of a Tsundere Girlfriend or Jealous Little Sister without breaking a sweat, and so too does Bunny Girl. 

In a lazier anime, agreeing to fake-date a kohai would land Sakuta in some seriously warm water, but after he explains everything properly to Mai, she withholds punishment, claiming that’s its own punishment, but really it’s a gesture of trust. Sakuta was the one and only person who never forgot her, after all (except for one brief period).

As with Araragi Koyomi, Mai can see her would-be-boyfriend is trying to help someone in need, and doesn’t judge that someone’s choices that led to them needing help. Instead she gives Sakuta her blessing, serves as the first person other than him to interact with his shut-in sister, and then bids him a good night.

However, she does warn him not to let “pretend” turn into “serious”—not to betray the trust she’s putting in him—and he laughs it off too casually for her taste, as well as mine.

The next day Sakuta is ready for his fake date with Koga Tomoe. She’s late, yawns on the train, and can’t keep her hands off her phone (he has neither smart nor flip, the damn hipster). 

When she lists the reasons for her fatigue (group chatting till 2AM; watching funny animal videos; preparing for the date “a bit”), Sakuta starts to get to the root of Koga’s frustration that led to her becoming an all-seeing, all-knowing Leplace’s Demon: She must be informed. She must join in on the conversation. She must be liked, and not seen as a loner or weirdo.

This point is driven home at the aquarium as they watch penguins: she deems Sakuta to be the penguin whom the others laugh at but doesn’t care, while she’s the penguin who follows the others in lockstep. Later, Sakuta gets more insight: Tomoe was once a “country bumpkin” from Fukuoka (hence her adorable lapses into drawl), but began a regimen of thorough reinvention and improvement to become the stylish and proper-speaking person she is.

Sakuta can surmise that she feels guilty about “abandoning” the person she is and wondering whether who she is now is who she really is, but he considers that kind of thinking “immature.” He assures her that who she is now is who she is; the culmination of choices she made and hard work she undertook. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Sakuta also shows Tomoe a few things, such as when they spot a classmate of hers from a group further down her class’ pecking order. The two of them help this classmate find a strap she lost on the beach, despite her feeling “unworthy” of someone of Tomoe’s stature wasting their time on her. Sakuta isn’t the kind of person who ranks people by their social stature; all are equal as long as they are virtuous.

When Tomoe catches a cold from falling into the water and spends a day in the nurse’s office, she asks Sakuta why he’s gone along with her “unreasonable” requests. He states it’s because she seemed desperate when she asked. Their differences in how they see the world are laid bare: she wants everyone to not hate her, while he wouldn’t mind if everyone hated him as long as there was One Person who needed him.

That one potential person Mai checks in with Sakuta on his land line phone, and he is honest about having enjoyed his “date” with Tomoe. Her nonverbal response is an enigma; is she intrigued; disappointed; neutral? She’s in Kagoshima on a TV shoot, and casually asks him to “bolt out of his house” to see her, but he doesn’t.

Futaba (who has unrequited feelings for his friend Kunimi) tells Sakuta that since Tomoe is satisfied with her current condition, there’s no need to relive it; the “demon” has found its desired path. Kunimi’s girlfriend Kamisato once again confronts him about spending time with her squeeze. Kamisato is another who only sees a ranking number hovering over someone’s head; if it’s not high enough, she wants nothing to do with them.

Sakuta tells Kunimi about the second fight picked by Kamisato, and it leads to Kunimi informing him of untoward rumors about Tomoe being loose/easy. Despite Tomoe’s efforts and veneer of satisfaction, her relationship with Sakuta has brought a different kind of unwanted attention. When Mai leaves a message on Sakuta’s phone, he moves to call her back, but stops. He has work to do.

Again, like Koyomi of the Monogatari series, Sakuta is going to perform the task he volunteered for to the best of his ability. He may not be the strongest or smartest, but that doesn’t mean he can’t outsmart someone who can easly outstrong him. As Tomoe already starts feeling the fallout by being left out of her friends’ conversation, Sakuta puts his plan into action.

That plan is nothing more than defending the honor of someone who doesn’t deserve the nasty rumors being told about her. He does so by letting the jock (who I believe originally tried to ask her out) come to him, provoking him into punching him, then getting back up, presenting himself as someone ready to throw hands, then kicks him hard in the shin.

The jock protests that Sakuta isn’t being “fair”, but…c’mon; pot, meet kettle! Sakuta ensures the exchange takes place on the train platform where the maximum number of peers watch how pathetic the jock is, giving him the negative attention he foisted upon Tomoe and then some.

In that moment, Sakuta was Tomoe’s boyfriend. She felt it; and surely he felt it too. They may not have spend much time together, but they both have a pretty good idea of who one another are. At her darkest hour, when it seemed everyone was ready to hate her (and indeed when it seemed she’d reset time to before this all happened), he was that One Person for her.

The person who’d go maybe too far to help her. The person she needed. You know…a friend! Hell, he announced in front of half the school he was a virgin for her sake. He’s a stand-up dude, and she couldn’t be blamed for falling for him right then and there.

Whether that’s precisely what happens, it’s without doubt a nudge in that direction; two people becoming a little closer through shared experiences, the most recent of which were fraught enough to require him to take her by the hand and run away, and the adrenaline of which caused them both to laugh uncontrollably as they ran.

Tomoe now understands a little more what Sakuta meant about his “One Person” position, and asks how she can repay him. Sakuta—ever classy yet also a bit arrogant—tells her she can be his friend “when all the lies are over.” The thing is, the lies may already be over, and Tomoe may just want something more than a friend. Why else would she frown at the sight of one of Mai’s TV commercials on her phone?

As for Sakuta…while he fought hard for Tomoe, there’s no overt indication he’s doing anything more or less than what he deems to be his duty, as he promised to be her boyfriend for the first term. As such, Mai may not have anything to worry about.

But he got awfully into the role on that train platform. He showed Tomoe that she only needs one person, and so far that one person is him. Can Mai—can we—trust that he’ll be able to extricate himself from a Leplace’s Demon so satisfied with him as her boyfriend?

Bunny Girl Senpai – 04 – Full Circle to Acceptable

Now that Mai can no longer sashay around in public as a bunny girl, what’s next for the show with the now-obsolete title? Well…

We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.

— Pierre Simon Laplace, A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities

…Oh dear. That sounds complicated! But really, it boils down to Sakuta seemingly reliving the exact same June 27th three times, similar to the plot of Endless Eight, in which some variable has to be satisfied in order to break the loop.

With Kamijou Touma-esque luck, this phenomenon occurs the day Sakuta finally gets a “sure, we can start dating now” response from Mai after a month of telling her he loves her (which she explicitly asked for). The “Leplace’s demon” turns out to be someone else who got a confession: Koga Tomoe (Touyama Nao), the first-year who kicked Sakuta’s butt (and whose butt, in turn, was kicked by him).

The problem is, Tomoe doesn’t want to be confessed to, because the boy confessing is the object of her best friend’s affections, not her own. While hiding from him with Sakuta inside a lecturn, Tomoe panics and knocks it over, and she ends up in what looks like in flagrante delicto. Not only does the guy see it, but so does Mai when she enters the room from the other side. This is the third repeat of the day, mind you, before he got her okay to start dating.

Because Tomoe is never confessed to, June 28th arrives, and Sakuta has a major misunderstanding to clear up with Mai. He returns to Futaba, who always lends him an ear, but to the show’s credit it finally gives her a chance to be more than that, as she is harboring unwanted but increasingly strong feelings towards Tomoe’s friend, who has a girlfriend.

But there’s yet another wrinkle here: Tomoe starts working at the same restaurant as Sakuta, and her three friends show up, both to support her and to warn Sakuta that he’d better not hurt Tomoe, or else. It turns out the misunderstanding that she and Sakuta are dating is something that works to her advantage, and she begs Sakuta to keep the lie going after work, at least for the rest of the school term.

It’s a twist on the usual “fake dating” angle, because Tomoe actually has a good personal reason for doing it: as someone who was uprooted after middle school (and her accent comes out whenever she’s excited), her high school friends are all she has, and she doesn’t want to lose them just because some guy one of them likes likes her instead.

Is this the best way of dealing with her predicament? I don’t know, and neither does she or Sakuta, but he is willing to help her out, at least for now, even as he wonders how the hell he’ll be able to explain all of this to Mai. To Mai’s credit, she’s willing to hear him out. He kept his distance, and then she came to him, wondering why he didn’t come to her at once. He may not have gotten her okay on the third June 27th, but she still likes him, and wants to know what the hell was up with him and that first-year girl. I recommend the plain, simple truth…even when it’s neither plain nor simple.

The show introduces a new science-y phenomenon with the same confidence and satisfying pace as the first one, and if anything, the interactions between characters have gotten even better. They’re very natural; despite their rough butt-kicking start, Sakuta and Tomoe can still be civil, cordial, even friendly to one another.

Similarly, while Mai has every reason to be mad and/or concerned, she reaches out when he doesn’t to get to the truth of matters. Everyone just seems to have a good head on their shoulders; a rarity in anime. Throw in clean, attractive character design and animation and understated yet effective soundtrack, and Bunny Girl Senpai is firing on all cylinders.

P.S., regarding the title of this post, I really Tomoe’s aside about Sakuta’s big bold public confession being the thing that brought him around “full circle” to being acceptable, at least to the first years, since such a gesture was regarded as brave and cool. Also amusing? His genuine reaction of surprise! Hang in there, Sakuta, you’re not so bad as that rep of yours.

Steins;Gate 0 – 21 – Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Lab Members

Thanks to Maho’s improvements, the time leap machine can send Rintarou back 336 hours instead of 48. It’s truly a case of Salieri surpassing Mozart. But he’ll still need to make three thousand such jumps to return to 2011 in order to foil Leskinen, Stratfor, and Durpa and get Mayuri and Suzuha safely off in the time machine on the roof.

That’s a lot of jumps, but Rintarou is committed. Nobody in 2036 particularly likes how things turned out (Rukako has bought it, and soon all of them will), so they’re all for him changing the world if he can. The first jump goes well, but it and many many more after it will require that Rintarou wake up after a long coma.

He gets better and better at convincing Amadeus that he’s indeed from the future, and each time, his friends send him on his way. He even gets to see Lil’ Suzuha! Eventually, he reaches the time where two weeks earlier he’ll no longer have Valkyrie HQ to rely on to time leap.

It’s the day he’s captured, tortured, and allegedly killed. However, things go differently this time, as Amakurisu suggests he uninstall her program and ditch all other tech the enemy is using to track him, while all of his friends act as decoys.

The Leskinen of that time knows he’s lost this round, while the Daru of that time and everyone else sees Rintarou off as he…well, he kinda runs all the way back to 2011. Not sure how that happened, actually, but I’m assuming he didn’t actually run back in time, but managed to escape the enemy and find another means of time leaping.

In any case, when he returns, he’s indistinguishable from the Rintarou of that time, so Maho and Daru think nothing of him showing up in the lab. However, he demands that one of them punch him for being such a whiny little bitch for so long, and Daru does just that.

Daru had no way of knowing what his right hook (or whatever; not a boxing expert) would lead to…the Awakening of Hououin Kyouma from a deep slumber. It took twenty and a half episodes, but we finally get to hear that ridiculous mad scientist laugh. It’s a sight for sore ears.

Not ten seconds after awakening, he’s giving Maho a nickname (“loli girl”) and a weird alternate name (“Safina”). He also dubs her Lab Member 009 and calls an all-hands meeting of the other members, who are just as happy as Daru that their Fearless Leader Kyouma is back.

Maho eventually gets it too: this “Kyouma” fellow has charisma, and rather than dragging everyone and the mood down, he’s galvanizing it. And yet, the same old Rintarou dwells within him, it’s just that he’s done running and cowering, and whining. It’s time for ACTION.

After meeting with the lab members, Kyouma talks with Ferdinand Braun downstairs and makes a number of arrangements roughly a half-hour before Akiba became a war zone in the other timelines. This time, the woman in black with the helmet isn’t Kagari, it’s Moeka, who is on Kyouma’s side in this World Line. Talk about an awesome reveal.

Yep, it sure looks like Hououin Kyouma was the missing variable in the formula to foil Leskinen’s plans and ensure Operation Arclight went off without a hitch. It’s a triumphant, righteous moment. It doesn’t last long.

Even though Mayuri and Suzuha get in the time machine and set off far earlier than previous times, that damned attack helicopter still peeks out from behind a building, launches its missile, and destroys the machine in front of Kyouma and Moeka.

Apparently, not enough conditions were met to avoid the convergence. Clearly it’s not enough to neutralize Kagari and Leskinen; something has to be done about the helicopter. I feel bad for Rintarou having to start all over again right after his grand awakening, but no one ever said changing the world was easy or pleasant.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 02 – Standing Short

GGO backtracks a few months to when Kohiruimaki Karen, an uncommonly tall college student from Hokkaido now living in Tokyo, learns about the post-SAO VRMMORPG craze in which players no longer have to worry about getting trapped in the game and dying. Karen seeks escape from her height.

Personally, I find Karen statuesque and gorgeous, but as I’m of average height IRL, I can’t really judge someone far taller or shorter than the norm for having a complex about it. In Karen’s case, she has difficulty making friends, and is constantly being gawked at.

One of the friends she does have recommends ALfheim Online, but no matter how many times she converts her avatar, she ends up with someone big, tall, or both.

She eventually ends up in Gun Gale Online, not knowing much about it, and after some rough training sessions, eventually finds out she’s proficient with a submachine gun. More importantly, she’s tiny and cute.

Karen, or rather LLENN, leans hard into the cute angle, covering herself in pink from head to toe along with her gun, and finds a sweet spot in the pink desert where she can use her small size and agility to start earning a rep as a vicious PK’er.

She also attracts the attention of one Pitohui, a seasoned GGO veteran who’s been around since the game was launched. But rather than kill her, “Pito” suggests they become friends and team up; apparently the GGO gender balance is quite lopsided in favor of men.

LLENN and Pito become fast friends and form a two-person team, and even set some conditions for meeting one another in real life. Something tells me LLENN’s mentioning of her favorite singer Kanzaki Elsa to Pito, and Pito’s lack of a response, suggests she might actually be the singer IRL, which would make their live meet-up that much more special for Karen.

And that pretty much does it for this episode. It sets up who Karen is, why she became LLENN, and how she met her first friend in GGO, leading right up to the start of the Squad Jam. We also briefly see the group of girls we saw in Karen’s living room watching her play, suggesting she eventually befriends them all, and that getting into VR MMOs was a good way to meet people without the stigma of her stature.