Girl Friend BETA – 04

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GF Beta is a pleasant, ultra-lightweight show, but it’s also oddly ambitious; never more so than this week. Cutting us loose in a universe of roughly fourteen million characters, it appears to clearly favor quantity over quality. And yet, there’s still a quality about that quantity; with such a big, diverse cast, the possibilities for storytelling are almost endless. So far, despite pretty much switching up the order and hierarchy of the focus cast each week, its fresh stories have consistently held my interest.

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Our “anchor” this week is the school radio emcee Sakurai Akane (Satou Rina, who also voices Misaka in Railgun), who finds Shiranui Isuzu (Yuuki Aoi, also Madoka in Madoka) looking over five abandoned kittens. She decides to help Isuzu find them homes, but the students who volunteer need to get good midterm grades to earn their new pets. This is a collection of students whose lives are already packed with extracurricular activities, jobs, and housework; so their grades suffer accordingly. Only the night before do they manage to arrange an all-night study session; Isuzu offers her sprawling home to host it.

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That night, the girls do, well…pretty much everything but study. They’e in awe of their classy traditional surroundings, spend lots of time on introductions, cook dinner, go out to buy snacks, get stuck in the rain, go to a bath house, and return to Isuzu’s home to tell ghost stories.

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When Isuzu comes in to see what the screaming is about, they see the cat on her obi and are reminded of why they’re really there: For the Kittens. The studying then commences in earnest. The night is a fine depiction of the myriad forms of procrastination that can transpire in such scenarios. There’s an epic quality to it that often accompanies all-night scenes where a deadline is nigh.

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The study session proves to be more than just a means of raising the girls’ scores to win kittens (which they do); the group also gained friendships (including the shy Isuzu), and making friends (or exploring why people are friends) is what this show is all about. And everyone was united by Akane, who, wishing to help both the kittens and Isuzu, made the radio announcement.

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Girl Friend BETA – 03

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Oddly enough, we begin with Murakami Fumio examining a book of nudes by “Gilbert Royal Thorpe,” who Fumio knows is her friend Mochizuki Erena’s favorite photographer. Those who know Fumio are a bit surprised Fumio is friends with someone like Erena, and Erena’s friends are surprised she’s friends with Fumio. After all, the energetic, gregarious, impulsive Erena and the solitary, quiet, bookish Fumio look on the surface like complete opposites.

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In this case, opposites attract, as we go back and learn precisely why Fumio and Erena aren’t just friends, but good friends at that. It all started when an initial encounter on the subway got Erena to notice Fumio, who tends to keep to herself and read. Erena, a photog-in-training, is enchanted by Fumio’s quiet good looks, and appoints her as her muse.

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Erena asks Fumio to be her model for an upcoming contest, but Fumio never really gets a clear response out, and gets caught up in Erena’s rhythm. This could be construed as a form of stalking and voyeurism if it wasn’t being done by the innocent, well-meaning Erena, who’s oblivious to the possibility Fumio has something to say but just can’t say it. The communication logjam gets so back, Fumio ends up smacking Erena’s camera away and the wrong words come out.

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Things are a little awkward for a while, and Erena considers giving up on the contest  now that her muse has rejected her. But when she invites Fumio on a cake date, the truth comes out: it isn’t that Fumio didn’t want to be her model; it’s that she thought she wouldn’t be good enough, since she’s always seen herself as plain, inexpressive, cool. All Erena has to do is show her a photo she took just a moment ago to see how wrong she is. Erena isn’t interested in fake smiles or poses, but genuine, candid emotion.

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Wait…there are GUYS in this school?!

Fumio has more of that than she ever imagined, and Erena was the one who helped her clear up a misconception about herself. Fumio changes her mind about being her model, and Erena ends up wining the contest. And because the rest of the school sees a warm and joyful side of Fumio they’d never seen before, she ends up meeting more friends as a result. This isn’t exceedingly complex stuff, but it hit some solid emotional notes about art, inspiration, and friendship that resonated with me.

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Space Dandy 2 – 02

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As anyone who watches knows by now, this weeks episode of Space Dandy was always going to be absolutely nothing like the last one. Rather than explore the chaotic possibilities of Dandys from far-flung parallel universes interacting, this week’s Dandy exhibits its whimsical, free-wheeling way with cause-and-effect…or effect-and-cause, if you will.

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A seemingly innocuous argument between Dandy and Meow (on how some song went) leads to Dandy saying goodbye to his two long-time crewmates forever…before Honey can even serve him pancakes. He boards the Little Aloha and flies off to answer an invitation from a fan he believes to be a shapely rare alien girl. Of course, this is only a gross misunderstanding on Dandy’s part; something he’s so good at, QT finds and then enters him into a Misunderstanding Grand Prix, which he promptly wins in absentia.

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Much to Dandy’s dismay, the rare alien turns out not to be a hot alien chick, but “Ukeleleman” a somewhat frightening marionette-type golem with a very calm, dull voice; someone who collects smiles and wants Dandy’s for his own. While hardly the strangest Strange Alien-of-the-Week the show’s dreamed up, he’s definitely very random and more than a little offputting; not necessarily evil, but dangerously single-minded.

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In fact, Meow and QT had already met him and fallen victim to his “hypno-petrification” tune, after locating where Dandy crash-landed, then transporting from one highly hazardous area to another until coming across Ukeleleman. The sight of his friends reduced to garden statuary keeps Dandy from giving him the smile he wants, and Dandy eventually runs off with them. His plan is to throw them into the Strange Phenomenon-of-the-Week: the River of Time that rings the planet.

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First referred to by Dr. Gel as a means of capturing Dandy once and for all, the River is much like any other in that it’s made of a water-like substance, only the water represents time, its source the past, and its mouth the future. It’s also subject to the Pororoca phenomenon, meaning at times it flows backwards, returning the past to the present.

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On a show Space Dandy that hits the reset button every week, a device such as the River of Time might seem redundant. Despite that, and despite the fact the actual practical mechanics of the river are a bit loosy-goosy, the execution is entertaining, showing us ducks turning into ducklings and then eggs, or a Space Battleship turning into a Galleon, as the waves crash. Dandy also gets to break out his surfboard.

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That battleship crushes Dr. Gel’s dropship, and his latest attempt to capture Dandy along with it. The final showdown between Dandy and Ukeleleman is muted and lacking in emotional investment—frankly, we’re glad to see the weird-looking bastard go up in flames. But it’s in death that he finally achieves the smile he’d worked his whole life to achieve. And when his ukelele drops into Dandy’s hands, Dandy is able to properly remember how that song went.

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Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren – 08

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Sometimes the friendships that are the most fun to watch are the ones whose participants never overtly acknowledge they’re friends at all, and go about trying to prove they don’t like each other at all when in reality they’d be sad without one another. The unspoken friendship in Chuunibyou is obviously that of Shinka and Sanae, bourne out of the latter’s reverence for the former, but made bitter and rancorous by the former’s efforts to erase that embarrassing part of her life and move on as a normal mortal.

Her normal, flawless, overachieving high school life aside, Sanae is still tightly in the grips of Chuunibyou, and has always fostered disappointment at Shinka’s retreat from that world. She labels her as a fake, because the real Mori Summer wouldn’t be ashamed of who she is and hide that identity from everyone else. So when an impostor claiming to be the Real Mori Summer approaches Sanae, she readily embraces her. Where the episode is ultimately ambiguous is whether did Sanae do this only to make Shinka jealous.

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Whatever Sanae’s motives, the Fake Real Summer (voiced by Koshimizu Ami, no stranger to fantasy roles) makes it abundantly clear to both us and the gang: she wants Sanae. Assuming Sanae is just trying to make Shinka mad and compel her to some kind of action beyond ignoring her, she eventually learns she’s in over her head, and even if the impostor wasn’t creepy and predatory, to be blunt, Sanae doesn’t swing that way. Then Shinka comes to the rescue, as Sanae had probably hoped for. The resulting Chuunibyou battle between Shinka and the impostor is a nice piece of action, with the imposters’ attacks turning darker and more sinister as she gets angrier, overpowering Shinka in imagination and thus strength in such a battle.

Sanae has seen enough of the impostor at this point to know she’s not the real Mori Summer either, and if she has to choose between two fakes, she’s choosing Shinka. The impostor’s powers are no match for the Mjolnir Hammer, but more importantly, her wierd crush on Sanae is no match for the genuinely deep (if unspoken) bond between Sanae and Shinka. We thought we’d be a little annoyed when they went back to their usual bickering and denials of mutual affection, but it was actually oddly comforting to watch, as it was for Yuuta, Rikka, and Kumin.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Nice use of Sophia Ring SP Saturn VII as a combat coach for Shinka; she is pretty rusty, after all.
  • We’d be surprised if the animators had never heard of Inoue Naohisa, because the Mori Summers’ battlefield resembles his work. Incidently, one of his paintings also inspired scenes in Whisper of the Heart.
  • While walking home with Yuuta, Rikka realizes they’re not holding hands, and rights the wrong. Nice!
  • Kumin continues to subject everyone to her incredibly hokey wordplay humor, but she gets a pass after winning a battle that saved the club.

Nisekoi – 04

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If left to their own devices, Raku and Kosaki would remain stationary for eternity, so it’s up to their respective friends-of-the-same-sex to nudge them towards some kind of action. Enter Maiko Shuu (Kaji Yuki) and Miyamoto Ruri (Uchiyama Yumi), who immediately establish themselves as the most perceptive people in the cast by far, which is to say they’re not dense as insulation foam. Both of them see right through Raku and Chitoge’s sorry excuse for a fake relationship, and at the same time, know full well that Kosaki has the hots for Raku and vice versa. If anything, they’re a pretty annoyed the two haven’t become an item yet, and now things are complicated by Chitoge.

Realizing nothing will happen if Raku and Kosaki aren’t at least in regular contact, Ruri arranges a study group at Raku’s manor. Kosaki’s presence in Raku’s house, his room, and right beside him is more than he can take, rendering him totally unhelpful in the homework department, while Onodera is equally nervous (she really digs the fact Raku’s room smells like him). Their odd behavior is not lost on Ruri or Shuu, but the yakuzas are just upset Raku isn’t putting any moves on Chitoge, so they set a very silly and obvious trap, and the two fake lovers end up locked in the dark together. This situation essentially nullifies Ruri’s original intent to bring Raku and Onodera back together, and further muddies Raku’s romantic waters.

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That’s because Chitoge turns out to be severely nyctophobic and claustrophobic (due to a traumatic five-hour experience in a washing machine). Her harsh facade melts away, revealing her weak side. In the dark stillness, with her clutching him tightly from behind, Raku notices for the first time just how beautiful she is. When he refuses to leave her alone while he climbs a ladder out to get help, Chitoge notices that once again, Raku is being a cool, considerate gentleman, and has no choice but to add that to the growing list of positive qualities he possesses. They come very very close to kissing, thanks to her perfectly-timed trip-fall.

Then Claude bursts in, gun drawn, followed by Kosaki who both get the wrong idea about the couple being locked in the shed together, and undo whatever progress Raku had made with Kosaki, which was minimal anyway. But we don’t think Claude and Kosaki’s idea was completely wrong. After all, we hear Raku thinking to himself he can’t fall for Chitoge; he’s already promised his heart to Kosaki (despite not knowing she’s the keeper of the key). Chitoge too feels the need to ammend her own diary to admit Raku did good today, and she’s determined not to fall for him. But it’s clearly already happening. One fact that may be in Shuu and Ruri’s blind spot: it’s not necessarily the love Raku and Chitoge are faking; it’s the hate.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Another reason Chitoge has not to hate Raku: he’s helped her find her social bearings at school, and she’s smiling a lot more as a result.
  • Hiyama Nobuyuki is his exuberant best playing fiery warrior-types, and his Ryuu here is no exception, adding zest and vitality to a bit role.
  • While Shuu and Ruri know full well Raku’s feelings for Kosaki, Chitoge has no idea. But interestingly, she worships Kosaki as the Perfect Girl just as Raku does, and isn’t taken aback at all by his ebullient praise.
  • Shuu points out twice that he and Ruri should be pals because “after all, they both wear glasses.” Ruri isn’t convinced.
  • As much as we hate her doing them, Kosaki’s “crazed panic flights” are fun to watch.

AnoHana – 09 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 11 Jun 2011 – Yukiatsu and other doubters can no longer deny it: Menma is there, and only Jinta can see and hear her. She can write to them, but only on certain things (her diary, and the planks of the secret base, for instance.) This is initially a great relief for Jinta, and Menma has never been more cheerful. But when the plan to launch fireworks and send Menma to heaven are revived (thanks in part to Yukiatsu’s groveling), Jinta has to consider whether he actually wants her to leave.

The group is finally being open with each other about their feelings, but the people they want to hear them most…aren’t. Anaru likes Jintan, but he doesn’t notice her because of Menma. Yukiatsu likes Menma, but can’t see or hear her. Tsuruko likes Yukiatsu, but at the same time is disgusted by his Menma complex. Even Poppo hints that he had a crush on Menma. Apparently uninterested in Tsuruko, but now conceding he will never reach Menma, Yukiatsu reaches out to Anaru.

There are so many great, complex, weird relationships in AnoHana that we’re loath to pick favorites, but if we had to, we’d probably pick Yukiatsu and Anaru right now, the “kindred spirits” who are both tormented by unrequited love for people physically right next to them. They also seem to have evolved the most in the course of the series. As sweet as it is for Jintan to finally be acknowledging how much he loved Menma, never wanting her to go is moving backwards.

Right now he still has Anaru, a living, breathing friend who loves him. But if he continues to let the past (literally) haunt him, Anaru and everyone else may pass him by…again. At the same time, we wonder if Yukiatsu is offering Anaru a false choice by going out with him – will he ever be over Menma? Will she ever be over Jintan? Poppo’s hesitation to ask Menma anything serious is also intriguing, as well as Tsuruko discovering (or at least confirming) Yukiatsu’s manner with Anaru. Hard to believe it’s only been nine episodes.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Mirai Nikki – 08

Yuki and Yuno start their first day at their new school, and much to Yuno’s irritation, Yuki almost instantly gains new friends: Hinata, Mao, and Kousaka. They set out in a group to survey crime scenes of a serial attacker, but Hinata runs off on her own and has her arm bitten off by a pack of feral dogs with metal jaws. The rest, along with another kid, Akise, seek refuge in a glass pavilion, where Yuki directs them on which windows to lean up upon to absorb the impact of the pouncing dogs. When the dogs give up, Mao puts a knife to Yuki’s throat, and a very alive and two-armed Hinata reveals she’s the holder of the Breeder’s Diary, and she’s after Akise’s Future Diary.

This is an episode full of…interesting choices. First of all, Hinata’s scheme to corner Akise seems awfully roundabout and random; you’d think there’d be a more elegant way than pretending to get your arm munched off then setting a pack of dogs on him. We’re to understand her grandfather is actually the diary holder, but passed it to her, and we assume she’s trying to win the game that will net her godhood. Of course, before we knew this, she just seemed like a cute, friendly, outgoing girl who has a moe friend, gets away with belly-baring shirts in school, and reacts very slowly to having her panties exposed. But just ’cause somebody pretends to like him for an afternoon, Yuki reveals his deepest secret? That’s idiotic even for him.

The episode tried tossing red herrings like Akise – who’s probably also a nutso killer too, just not as immediate a threat as Hinata – and Kousaka, who somewhat inexplicably gives Yuki a hard time for running from the school bombing, then makes nice later one. But as usual, Yuno’s suspicions are our suspicions. Anyone who is friendly to this little pipsqueak probably has unsavory plans for him. That includes Yuno, but Yuno’s never done anything but protect him so far, so we’re not ready to believe smiling moe faces over her judgement. Lastly, what the heck is up with Yuki’s get-up? He’s enough of a weenie as it is without dressing  like some Oliver Twist muthaf***a…Yuno, get that boy some damn regular clothes.


Rating: 3

Tamayura ~hitotose~ – 05

Fu’s old friend Chihiro comes to Takehara to visit her and meet her new circle of friends. She finds them all warm, friendly, and energetic as they tour the town and sample the food. She’s also glad that Fu is doing so well. Kaoru’s sister invites them to an hours-long hike all the way to and up Kurotaki Hill. Chihiro comes away with many new friends and happy memories.

Everyone has their little quirk: Potte is always snapping pics; Maon is always whistling; Norie is always yelling or jumping around; Kaoru is…actually pretty normal, but she has a weird older sister. Add Chihiro – the crybaby – to the mix, and you have a veritable motley crew of quirk. But damn it all if it isn’t a charming-as-all-hell crew. The whole episode was humming with positive vibes.

Chihiro has trouble making friends, and had every reason to worry that even Fu had possibly abandoned her for new, less skittish friends. But there was no such conflict or competition to be found here. Everybody’s happy! And honestly, with all that great food and stunning scenery, how could they not be? Other nice details: Chihiro making little stuffed guys for everyone, and Potte’s mother was once in a motorcycle club – rad.


Rating: 3.5

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai – 03

(UPDATE: We’ve decided to upgrade this episode’s rating from 3 to 3.5.) Sena gets immersed in an eroge, much to the disdain of Kodaka and Yozoro. Sena then asks Kodaka to teach her to swim, and they have a de facto date at a swim park. He protects her from a group of boys, using his air of delinquency. He then dreams about his best friend from twelve years ago, and remembers something he said to him about quality being more important than quantity with friends. Unbeknownst to him, that he was actually a she…

The club remains only three this week, but we learn more about Kodaka’s past and meet his anime-obsesed sister. I’m glad she’s just cosplaying and not some kind of supernatural being, and his sister and not another harem member. She seems to be extremely dependent on him, so it doesn’t bode well for her that he’s spending more and more time with the club. (Perhaps she’ll start hanging around there?) After a first act in which Yozoro chastizes Sena and makes her read the eroge dialogue aloud, the two girls were basically seperate this week, which was refreshing.

While I find Sena’s request to Kodaka to teach her how to swim was a bit contrived, their day together itself wasn’t that bad. Lots of service, sure, but also lots of characterization and bonding. And even though he’s not the delinquent most of his school makes him out to be, he’s no weakling either, something his childhood friend from the past instilled in him. As to that: Yozoro was that best friend of his, and she’s remembered him all along. Which begs the question: will Kodaka ever figure this out? Considering he thought his friend was a boy and Yozoro is a girl…doubtful. Which is a shame.


Rating: 3.5

Tamayura ~hitotose~ – 02

Back in her hometown, Potte instantly settles into a circle of friends, and reflects on what a good idea it was to move back. They help one of their teachers with the bamboo festival, then have a sleepover in which they bond further. The older sister of Potte’s friend Kaoru notes how Potte’s sadness about her father’s passing has changed to warmth, and she can see it in her growing collection of photos.

Taking photos is tricky. You can’t take too many all the time, or you’ll miss out on real life by constantly closing one eye and looking through a viewfinder. You have to find the right balance of living and recording said life. We think Potte has a good balance going so far. She’s not the kid everyone hates who is always snapping pics of you without asking. On the contrary, everybody loves the photos, and she’s quite good at taking them.

After the dual debuts of Un-Go and Guilty Crown, this was a slow, warm and cheerful respite, serving almost as a digestif for all that intensity. Sure, the passionate teacher is a little cliche’d, and so far Potte’s friends kind of too neatly fit into molds (childhood friend, check; loud energetic pigtailed Norie, check, tranquil, quiet, whistling Maon, check) but watching them simply existing in this comely town was most enjoyable, yes it was.


Rating: 3.5

Mawaru Penguindrum 9

From the aquarium gift shop, Himari follows Threetie to a massive, bizarre library where she meets the librarian Sanetoshi, who reads from numerous books stories that reflect events in Himari’s past, focusing on her former best friends Hibari and Hikari, who she broke up with. They are now famous idols.

Well, for those who wanted a dedicated Himari episode (and I count myself among them), look no further. Beginning, middle, and end, this was all Himari. That’s because it was all a dream…but what a dream! I learned things about her I never knew. I credit the series for including so many little foreshadowing visual puzzle pieces which this episode proceeded to assemble to create a picture of her past. The fact it was all a dream allowed for some cool Willy Wonka-esque visuals.

Now I know who the girls in the subway PSAs are! Now I know the significane of the three girls in the ending sequence! Now I know that pink-haired girl in the opening…isn’t a girl! Himari was a spoiled brat who scarred her mother for life. She also could have been in a idol trio named Triple-H (seriously, does the WWE ever tour in Japan?). So much new information, so many new questions. Sanetoshi is real, despite appearing in a dream. And he calls Himari the “Bride of Fate.” Himri wakes up to the news that Shoma has been hit by a car.


Rating: 4

Usagi Drop 9

Rin and Kouki’s first week of first grade is heralded by a typhoon. Daikichi confers with other married dads at work. It sounds more complicated – and it is – but it looks like the benefits outweigh the costs. When Hitani and Kouki stay for dinner, we get a ‘what if they were one big family’ scenario. The kids get along so well, as do the parents. Things seem so much easier than two people raising their kids alone…

Usagi Drops another lovely, truly heartwarming episode on us. I have to say, Daikichi should thank his lucky stars he has Rin and not Kouki as a kid. Rin is well-behaved and wise beyond her years, but Kouki is…just a typical bratty kid. He’s always loud and dirty, has to be the center of attention, and doesn’t take direction well. But Rin’s effect on (power over?) him astounds not only his teachers, but his mom too.

This episode does a good job balancing the experiences and points-of-view of the kids and the parents, and all of their interactions together were positive. Daikichi starts to get the feeling that yeah, asking Hitani out could work. All that’s really in the way is their inability to actually test that theory, which is obviously a step requiring great courage. I almost thought he was going to ask Kouki “How would you feel if Hitani and I…” but his actual question was far vaguer. Ganbatte, Daikichi!


Rating: 4

Blood-C 3

Another easygoing first half, in which Saya sings to herself some more, is come on to by her teacher, eats lots of cake and guimauve, and bowls over her friends by confessing she doesn’t own a television! Everything is so peachy! Well, we knew that wouldn’t last in the second half; as a town baker goes missing for several days. The police warn everyone not to stay out at night. Can Saya and her dad keep this stuff secret?

I’m not sure how, as the baker meets an extremely gruesome death at the hands of a dastardly new elder bairn – taking the form of a train. I really love the duality of Saya’s character in scenes like this; not so much as flinching even in the face of absolutely horrid things, and even cracking a satisfied (sadistic?) smirk while dispatching this latest foe in a cloud of blood. I guess she should be happy she doesn’t wear a white school uniform, but still, she must be putting her dry cleaners’ kids through college!

The battles in Blood-C are the best of this season so far: quick, good old-fashioned one-on-one battles full of constant peril and lots of icky gore. No babbling at one another, no silly inner dialogue about tactics. Though before the bairn dies, it tells her to “Honor the Covenant.” Not sure what that means, but I’m sure it’ll come into play soon.


Rating: 3.5