Classroom of the Elite – S2 11 – Stone Cold

God, Kiyotaka sucks so much. Can’t even say “Good Morning” back to Kei. Even so, I had no idea just how deep and harmful his sudden, impulsive cutting off of communications would end up being by episode’s end. With no new tests being announced, Ryuuen strolls into Class D on a fishing expedition.

He and his crew end up following and confronting Koenji. Ryuuen’s goal is to determine if the blonde bombshell is the Class D Mastermind. You have to admit, he looks the part, and his seeming indifference and passivity to everything is the perfect cover. Of course, we know he’s way off base, but it’s still a ton of fun watching him verbally spar with Kouenji, perhaps the only student more self-involved than he is.

But hold on, here comes Arisu and her crew, who stick their noses into the confrontation. When she uses Ryuuen’s least favorite nickname “Dragon Boy” twice, he rushes her and prepares to dropkick her. It’s a testament to Arisu’s toughness and confidence in her underlings that she doesn’t flinch an inch, but lets one of those underlings block the kick.

Ryuuen may not have bagged the Mastermind, but he takes solace in knowing one less possibility is off the board. He tells Mio that he’s having a shitload of fun. His next move is to prepare bait for the Mastermind in the form of Kei, whom he knows the Mastermind protected thanks to Manabe.

Ibuki, your standard monstrous collaborator who does nothing to stop evil, instead takes part in it, sticking around as Kei is lured into a refrigerated space with no security cameras. There, Ryuuen threatens to expose her bullied past to the whole school if she doesn’t give him the name of the Mastermind.

Never has Ryuuen been more cruel and menacing than in this scene, underscored by the dramatic, theatrical lighting and intensely cold atmosphere. Like Arisu, and as we know, Kei is tougher than she looks, and refuses to give up the name, even when bound and threatened.

So Ryuuen has his underling slowly pour a bottle of water over her, and then another, then covers her head with a cloth and pours another one on. It’s essentially waterboarding, only with the added threat of hypothermia. It’s here where I throw up two big middle fingers at the show for continuing to put Kei through the ringer. This is truly sickening, to the point I needed a nice hot shower after watching this.

Worse still, we see Kiyotaka agree to hang out with his new friendly friend group to celebrate the end of their term with some karaoke. His promise to protect Kei is rendered toothless by the fact she can no longer contact him via phone. Even if somehow Kiyotaka senses something’s up, it’s way too late for him to come to her rescue, isn’t it? The damage is done, with Ryuuen dragging her deeper into the cold darkness, making a promise of his own: to utterly destroy her.

Made in Abyss – S2 10 – The Scorpion and the Frog

Belaf can sense it: the storm that is Faputa has come to finally punish him and the others for what they did to her mother. In preparation for this, he entrusts all of his memories and value to Nanachi, and then releases them. However, he warns Nanachi that once they take Mitty past the barrier of the village, she will disappear, like all things born within it.

While Nanachi loves Mitty and wants to be with her forever, they still aren’t prepared to sit by and do nothing for the rest of their life, especially if it means abandoning Riko and Reg. So Nanachi decides to say goodbye (or at least “see you later” to Mitty on their own terms, in hope that one day Mitty’s soul will return to them.

The little Hollows who had taken a liking to Nanachi and Mitty follow them outside to their doom, but not before presenting Nanachi with a new headpiece that resembles Mitty, so in a way, Nanachi can always carry her with them. This entire harrowing, heartrending, tearjerking scene takes the place of the OP, so I knew right away this episode was going to be special.

Reg wakes up to find that he, Riko, Maaa, and Moogie are being protected by the giant Interference Unit from the carnage going on inside the village proper. We aren’t spared the visuals of said carnage, as Faputa darts around like a lethal fluffy spear, making bloody mincemeat out of every hollow in sight. They try to protect one another from her wrath, but it’s abundantly clear they haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell against her.

Reg knows that he is the only person strong enough to stop the mayhem. He also understands that he might be the only person Faputa cares enough to listen to, especially in her hopped-up state. Their clash in the present is intercut with the day they met centuries ago, when Faputa was grieving the then-damaged Gaburoon (the big robot).

Eventually, Faputa came to trust Reg because he wore a helmet similar to the Gabu’s design, and protected her until Gabu self-repaired. In the present, she thrashes whales on him, trying everything to get him to remember. When she thrust her extremely malleable limbs into his mouth and began to inflate him, I feared for the worst.

All hail Kuno Misaki, who turns in a tour-de-force of a vocal performance as the two Faputas, making her a wide-eyed, bubbly, joyful figure in the past and a bitter hateful one in the present.

What she’s never not is sympathetic, both due to the circumstances that led to her birth and the life she led up to that point. So when Riko blew into Prushka, Reg transformed, and it looked like this would be over soon, I was fully prepared to weep for Faputa’s imminent demise.

That demise never comes, but the tears did. That’s because Reg never stopped being kind to the point of foolishness. It isn’t in his nature to kill anyone or anything, most especially someone who he is only still starting to learn played such a crucial role in his earlier days.

As their increasingly violent (and beautifully animated) duel continues, we witness the day Reg began the ascent from the Abyss find his “HAKU”, or “number one precious thing”, when he promises to return to her. But then, as now, Faputa wasn’t just a lonely girl who took a liking to Reg. She was rage and vengeance incarnate.

Just like the scorpion couldn’t help but sting the frog before they crossed the river, Faputa cannot help but carry out the mission she was created for: to be the feet and arms and claws and teeth her mother had lost ages ago, all of them to be turned onto those who hurt her again and again to save themselves.

Reg and Faputa both being unable to fight what they are means that at episode’s end, she has the upper hand against him, and seems poised to put him down for good. The questions that abound: Can Riko blow the whistle again to give Reg a boost? Is there any reasoning with Faputa? Will Nanachi and their new headpiece and inherited memories and value save the day? Is saving the day even an option?

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Classroom of the Elite – S2 10 – Farewell My Lovelies

“The game is rigged, but you cannot lose if you do not play.” —Marla Daniels, The Wire

Paper Shuffle came and went with no students being expelled, and thanks in no small part to Class D’s increased unity and harmony, they picked up quite a few points on Class C. Ascension seems imminent, they just need to remain focused. When Kiyotaka’s study group spots 1-A’s Sakayanaki Arisu chatting with 1-B’s Ichinose Honami, whom Haruka deems “too perfect”, as someone has to have some flaws to be likable. Kiyotaka notices someone is hiding behind a pillar eavesdropping on them.

While walking along with Maya, Kei notices she’s being tailed by a large and unpleasant Class-C student; on their nightly call Kiyotaka tells her she can safely ignore the tail as it’s unlikely to escalate further. But how can he be so sure, and will he be in a position to keep his promise to protect Kei if the harassment does get worse? Meanwhile, Kei snapped a photo of the girl stalking his study group; she’s from Class A, suggesting she was doing so on Arisu’s orders.

In class, more reports of Class-D students being messed with by Class-C, suggesting the class is desperate with D about to supplant them. Suzune asks Kiyotaka if he’ll keep helping her bring their class to Class A. In a nice bit of foreshadowing, he says “as long as it remains necessary”, and then she gives him a book called Farewell My Lovely to check out at the library, as he’d stated his interest in it.

While at the library, Kiyotaka exhibits a measure of chivalry by taking a book off a high shelf for the petite Class-C student Shiina Hiyori; the two have a pleasant little chat about books. Kiyotaka is then taken aside by Chabashira-sensei, who tells him he has a visitor: his father.

Papa Ayanokouji doesn’t mince words: the White Room has resumed, and he wants Kiyotaka, who has strayed from the path laid out for him, to sign a letter expressing his wish to withdraw from the school.

Kiyotaka refuses, Mr. Ayanokouji threatens, and their stalemate is broken by a very unexpected party: Mr. Sakayanagi, Ayanokouji’s former secretary, the current school chairman, and Arisu’s father.

He explains that this school puts a high value on the independence of its students, and he won’t allow a parent to bully one of them into withdrawing against their will. That is that, as Mr. Ayanokouji leaves, but only for now. His mission to bring Kiyotaka, his “most prized possession”, back into the fold has only begun.

Kiyotaka learns that Sakayanagi was the one who recommended him for enrollment, having had his eye on him for some time and seeing his potential (no doubt Arisu sees it too). It’s also clear that Chabashira never knew Kiyotaka’s dad. He considers this a betrayal, for now it’s clear Chabashira has only been using him to try to advance her class to Class A.

That’s something that no longer interests him. He’s content to leave Suzune, Hirata, and the others to continuing those efforts, and he won’t get in their way, but he’s personally done trying to advance the class to Class A. What he’ll do instead remains to be seen, but one of his first calls is to Kei. He apologizes for getting her mixed up in so much trouble, but when he abruptly tells her they’ll no longer be having these phone calls, she’s shocked and genuinely hurt.

Watching him interact with and even seemingly befriend other students of late might’ve softened his image, but we know this kind of brutal coldness is Kiyotaka’s normal M.O. He’s never come out and named any of the people he’s interacted with friends. He even uses the “transactional relationship” label to him and Kei.

While he might not be 100% wrong on that note, the fact is their relationship has evolved to something beyond that, and his inability to see that or act accordingly is one of the flaws that make him likable, despite him acting like such a cold jerk most of the time. I can only imagine Suzune’s outrage at his sudden decision to walk away from the game.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Lycoris Recoil – 06 – Striking a Balance

“You come at the [Lycoris Queen], you best not miss.”—Omar, Probably

When LycoReco learns that the DA’s Lycoris are being targeted by a terrorist, Takina is immediately on the phone with Chisato as she heads to her place. Takina tells Chisato they’ll be living together and switching off nights for security reasons until further notice. Chisato is not just fine with that, she’s delighted she and Takina get to work and live under one roof together, and that it was Takina’s idea.

When Takina sees the state of the place and sets up a chore chart, Chisato inceptions the idea to decide who does what with rock-paper-scisssors. Chisato proceeds to kick her ass at it and Takina gets all the chores. Takina should have known her friend’s preternatural instincts are put to use even in non-bullet-dodging scenarios.

As for Majima, whom ANN’s reviewer has called “Joker” due to his green hair, he’s not satisfied with the progress of eliminating Lycoris. He wants to bring DA down, he wants Robota to find their HQ, and isn’t above using threats and violence against the hacker to make him hack harder.

The thing is, Robota has two masters right now: Majima, and the Alan Institute, with whom he communicates with Shinji’s secretary. He tries to get Majima interested in Chisato as the “chief Lycoris”, but Majima doesn’t care about pawns. Unlike the Joker, he’s not a big fan of chaos either, but wants balance, which to him means terrorists able to operate without being disappeared by the DA.

When Robota gets help from a fellow hacker, that hacker is quickly found out and arrested for being so blatant and reckless. Robota then sends two goons to break into Chisato’s apartment, but they’re not aware she lives below the apparent apartment in a safe house, and when they trip her silent alarm, she dispatches them with ease. All is not lost though, Robota uses footage of Chisato going wild to convince a fed-up Majima she’s worth targeting.

When Kurumi suggests that the terrorists are able to target Lycoris due to their distinctive uniforms, Chisato disguises herself with a huge yellow poncho and believes she’s safe enough to do a solo LycoReco delivery job.

It isn’t until she’s off on her own that Kurumi discovers that the terrorists targeting Lycoris—who got their guns from the deal that Takina got fired—also have footage showing the faces of the Lycoris they assassinated…as well as Chisato’s.

The fact that Kurumi (as Walnut) was hired to hack the DA that day is set aside for now, as the more pressing matter is Chisato’s safety. Takina calls her just in time for Chisato to get hit by Majima’s yellow Nissan GT-R and then menacingly surrounded by his underlings.

Fortunately, Chisato’s injured state is only an act, and she plays possum right up until Majima gets in her face, whereupon she unloads with her non-lethal gun. The rubber bullets actually put her at a severe tactical disadvantage, extending the fight far longer than if she’d used lethal ammo.

Nevertheless, principles are principles, and Chisato tries her darndest to escape her attackers, and even though she’s on foot and they’re in vans chasing her, she manages to even the odds by shooting the drivers and causing them to crash, and sending Majima flying.

Majima must’ve done work as a stuntman, since he’s able to shake off getting thrown from a car and shot in the face with rubber bullets. She turns the tables on Chisato (who again screws up by getting too close to her opponent; a clear act of arrogance on her part) by spitting either blood or liquified rubber bullet (or both) in her faces, rendering those special eyes usesless.

Majima proceeds to beat the stuffing out of Chisato as his underlings circle them and cheer, and while Majima admits that Chisato is “interesting”, he still seems pretty ready to shoot her…until his gun is shot out of his hand by  Takina, who has arrived just in time (thanks to Kurumi locating Chisato with her drone) and neutralizes all of the baddies.

Mizuki and Mika arrive at the scene in the escape car, and Chisato and Takina pile in. There’s still the matter of Robota chasing them in a remotely-controlled car, but Mizuki’s driving prowess is able to shake it off. The baddies’ last gasp is an RPG, but Kurumi is able to slam her drone into the guy at the last minute.

While the RPG fires, the grenade hits not the LycoReco car, but the car Robota hacked and Majima was about to comandeer. Somewhat unplausibly, the grenade blast doesn’t kill Majima, but throws him into the nearby water. Seriously…is this guy a Terminator? If Takina were to chop him up with a sword, would the pieces just turn into little Majima clones?

That said, with the assassination of Chisato thwarted, attention turns to Kurumi, who did hack the DA the day of the arms deal, but was ignorant to the arms deal itself (I wonder if it was Shinji who hired her to hack the DA). She prostrates herself and apologizes to Takina, but Takina doesn’t blame her for getting her thrown out of the DA…she blames her own actions.

Also, if Kurumi is indirectly responsible for the arms falling into terrorists’ hands, she’s equally responsible for Takina finding a new home, new family, and growing so close to Chisato. As for whether the two girls continue living together, Takina says they’ll settle that with one more game of rock-paper-scissors.

This time, Takina takes Mika and Mizuki’s advice and skips the “rock first” part of the game. When she finally beats Chisato for the first time, her elation and giddy little celebration was one of the highlights of an episode that struck just the right balance between over-the-top cinematic spy action and cute girls with guns having each other’s backs and bums.

Lycoris Recoil – 05 – Heart of Steel

LycoReco’s next mission seems almost as innocuous as Chisato and Takina’s day off of shopping: serving as a Tokyo tour guides for Mr. Matsushita, a man with advanced ALS who wants to see the sights of his homeland one last time. The reason he’s hiring two Lycoris is that by returning to Japan he makes himself a target to the same assassin who killed his wife and daughter two years ago.

Chisato lovingly hand-crafts the best darn tour itinerary possible, only to realize once the client arrives that he’ll need it in digital format; thankfully they have Kurumi to digitize it. When he asks if Chisato thinks it’s strange that machines are keeping him alive, she says not at all, and casually drops perhaps the biggest bombshell yet about herself: she has a completely artificial heart.

While Chisato and Takina take Matsushita on a water bus to avoid Sumida Ward traffic and Chisato flashes her elite tour guide skills, Detective Abe is down in the ruins of the train station with his young partner, finding a whole mess of bullet holes evidencing a terrorist attack. The thing is, they’re not supposed to be there, and when they see flashlights they slip away.

That Chisato spots Abe and his partner on the street and greets them is one of those small-world-in-a-big-city moments that really brings the setting to life. Tokyo is as much a character this week anyone else, with its bustling streets and historic landmarks.

While taking a breather back on the water bus, Takina wants follow-up on Chisato’s claim of an artificial heart. Chisato adds it works an absolute treat despite her not having a heartbeat. Takina can’t resist trying to feel. Meanwhile, the assassin Matsushida was fearing shows up.

This whole time Kurumi has eyes on the girls and client via her trusty drone, while Mizuki is on the ground shadowing the assassin once he arrives. His nickname is “Silent Jin” and he’s a no-nonsense consummate professional Mika happened to once work with. It’s really fun watching LycoReco coordinate their efforts…until their whole system gets blown up.

Jin immediately sets about demonstrating what a badass professional he is by shooting down Kurumi’s drone and finding and neutralizing Mizuki (though not before she slaps a transmitter on his coat). Kurumi does the most physical activity she’s probably done in days by running to the window of the café and tossing out a spare drone.

But that drone will take time to get where she needs it to be, and with Mizuki temporarily off the board (she later turns up alive) Chisato and Takina are on their own. Takina acts as a lure for Jin, leading him away from Matsushita, but Matsushita then goes off on his own.

Chisato catches up to him in front of Tokyo Station, and he tells her he’s realized from their behavior that the assassin who killed his family is nearby, and intends to kill him. There’s a resignation in the way he seems to be intentionally making himself a prime target for Jin, who has a high vantage point in some scaffolding.

Takina manages to cause Jin’s killing shot to miss and then bum rushes him, and the two fall through the scaffolding. Takina fortunately lands on some soft bags of building material, but it’s another demonstration of how she acts before thinking long-term (which has its pros and cons).

An out-of-breath Mizuki finally arrives (she really had a workout this week), and Chisato leaves Matsushita in her care, worried that Takina could be in trouble. Sure enough, Takina gets grazed in the leg and her mobility is severely curtailed, leaving her a sitting duck for Jin.

Well, Chisato isn’t about to let her partner get killed, so she springs into action, firing rounds that create puffs of colored sand to blind Jin (a modern take on an ancient ninja blinding tactic metsubushi) then gets right up in Jin’s business and unloads a clip of concussive rounds that put him down without ending his life.

When Matsushita sees Jin is still alive, he insists Chisato kill him, reminding her of the mission she carries as an Alan Child. Because Chisato is Chisato, she respectfully declines to kill Jin, saying she only wants to help others, like the person who gave her her Alan pendant. With that, all of Matsushita’s machines shut down, and we get the biggest twist of the episode: Matsushita didn’t exist.

It turns out a medical patient that was missing from a facility was used as a “fake” Matsushita by a third party, who saw through the goggles on the man’s eyes, remote controled his wheelchair, and spoke via the internet. Why this person went through so much trouble to specifically try to make Chisato kill Jin, we don’t know. We only know that a woman paid Jin cash to kill “Matsushita” and he didn’t ask any more questions.

If last week’s Lycoris massacre wasn’t foreboding enough, the penultimate scene in this episode features Mashima’s grey overall-wearing associates luring the attention of a Lycoris so he can run her down with his car, and then they empty their clips into her for good measure. All of these guys have a serious hatred of the Lycoris, and they’re surely not done. Someone will have to stop them, and lethal force may be necessary.

But at least for a little while longer (probably too short a while), Chisato and Takina don’t have to worry about that. Unaware of the Lycrois killings, Chisato is more worried about whether being called an amazing tour guide was just a lie. Takina assures her that she wasn’t, and whoever was controlling that poor old man was genuine in their praise.

Then, with no one else around, Takina sees Chisato is open and lays her head upon her chest so she can hear—or rather not hear—her lack of a heartbeat. It is a beautifully animated (no surprise for this show) and incredibly heartwarming gesture that shows just how close these two have become. Unfortunately, this comes just in time for the shit to hit the fan courtesy of Mashima.

Lycoris Recoil – 04 – Lycra Regird

After having Takina practice shooting non-lethal rounds in the café’s  basement range (what a concept) Chisato, frustrated by being beaten in a VR battle game by a player called “Fuki” (who is actually Fuki), plops the headgear on Takina and lets her rip.

Takina defeates Fuki, but while doing a flip dodging virtual fire, Chisato discovers that Takina always wears tactical boxer shorts under her skirt, the result of Mika messing with her when it comes to “regulation clothing”. With no mission this week, this calls for a shopping trip.

While underwear shopping sounds like a thin premise for an episode, what this really is is an opportunity for Chisato and Takina’s galmance to continue blossoming as they hang out in less lethal or official circumstances. Takina treats the trip like another mission, even bringing her gun, but Chisato makes her promise not to take it out.

They’re not Lycoris today, just two friends hanging out, buying cute clothes, and eating beautiful delicious fancy junk food. While Chisato is helping out some tourists with the menu with her perfect French, Takina looks up at the blue sky, the wind blows her hair about, and she seems to get what Chisato was on about, and she smiles.

Their next trip on their girldate is to the aquarium, where Chisato naturally has an annual pass and mimics the movements of the various marine life. Takina also gets Chisato to open up a bit more about why she left the DA, where she probably could have gotten away with her non-lethal methods.

That’s when Chisato reveals her owl pendant signifying (whether she knows it or not) that she’s an “Alan Child”, part of the Alan Institute that either finds or produces “geniuses” such as her in all forms. Chisato says she left DA to find “someone” who also bears the pendant, who Mika knows to be Shinji, the older blonde dude always stopping by the café.

Seeing Chisato looking wistful and even a little down compels Takina to embrace her silly side, running over to the tank and mimicking a fish, inviting Chisato (and little kids watching) to join in. This cheers Chisato right up, because she knows Takina smiling and acting silly, like geniuses, are truly gifts from God.

It’s a good thing the girls aren’t Lycoris this week, because I doubt even Chisato could have dodged what happens at the Kita-Oshiage metro station. A green-haired ne’er do-well and his band of terrorists disguised as workmen whip out all manner of heavy weaponry and open fire at the next approaching train.

When they stop firing, they realize the train is empty, but for a large task force of Lycoris, who return fire and kill everyone. Green-hair is only wounded, and detonates a series of bombs he set, blasting the station, train, and Lycoris aboard it to smithereens.

When Chisato and Takina walk past the taped-off station, Takina wants to check things out, but Chisato grabs her hand and tells her if she takes out her gun she’ll be arrested. They’re not Lycoris today, so whatever went on down in that station isn’t their concern. They also have a bunch of shopping bags, so they should just head home. The news reports a train collision and derailment, but makes clear that no one was hurt or injured.

That’s because as far as the public is concerned, the Lycoris are no one. The deeds those young girls performed defending the citizenry from agents of destruction will never be heralded; they may not even receive funerals. They had no family except each other, and now they’re all dead and the incident that killed them swept under yet another rug.

That’s why it’s so important to Chisato that Takina learn to loosen up and live a little, whether it’s wearing cuter clothes or less tactical underwear, spending too much money on too many calories or carbs, or being goofballs beside the fish tanks. Because people out there like the green-haired guy (Majima) and Robota (who makes contact with him and proposes a partnership) want to destroy the Lycoris and what they represent.

Chisato and Takina could be killed in the line of duty any day, at any moment, and their deeds and sacrifice forgotten. So it behooves them to look up at the blue sky, feel the wind in their hair, and laugh when they can.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Call of the Night – 03 – Night Fight

While I could absolutely keep watching just Kou, Nazuna, and the night for ten or eleven more episodes, the introduction of Asai Akira doesn’t ruin the vibes. In fact, she brings a unique dynamic: Kou’s only human friend, something he didn’t think he had in her. When he placed the blue watch on the mailboxes, he didn’t mean to place it right above Akira’s, but that’s how she took it.

When Kou was an aloof kid off on his own in the playground, only Akira went to him to see what he was up to. When he said he was fine not joining the others, she joined him instead, and declared them friends. He didn’t object, but he probably forgot that exchange that Akira dutifully maintained. She still considers him a friend, and is glad he’s doing okay.

So Kou begins leaving ever-so-early from his nightly visits to Nazuna’s for some bed-lying and blood-sucking so he can meet up with Akira (who is an early bird to his night owl). Nazuna jokes that he’s going off to see another woman, and immediately senses from his expression that she’d accidentally nailed it. That said, Kou admits in voiceover that he and Akira don’t do much other than exchange inoffensive small talk.

On one such occasion in the park, he asks if Akira is having fun. She puts the question to him, and he says he isn’t not having fun, so she replies that she is. Just as Kou, extremely inexperienced in such things, starts wondering if Akira likes him, Nazuna menacingly emerges from the shadows only to give Kou a friendly pat on the shoulder and congratulate him for doing “hanky-panky”.

She tells Akira her and Kou’s relationship is “purely physical”, and while Akira’s mention of romance (upon hearing Kou call her “Nazuna-chan) once again makes Nazuna blush, she shakes that off by basically marking her territory, sucking Kou’s neck right in front of Akira and announcing she’s a vampire.

At a 24-hour café, the three sit, and Akira tries to grasp the situation. She asks Kou if he’s skipping out on school because of Nazuna. While she may kind of be the reason now, she wasn’t the original reason, which was that he simply couldn’t be bothered with it anymore. Akira feels the same way, especially with Kou gone, but didn’t ditch because she thought she had to go.

She thinks she’d have more fun if Kou were around, so she asks him to come back to school. When Kou doesn’t immediately refuse and seems to hesitate, Nazuna seemingly gets miffed and suddenly splits. Kou follows after her, asking if she’s angry and why, but Nazuna doesn’t feel like spilling it out, and is clearly still mad, so she flips him off and does her vampire warpspeed thing. Kou looks for her all night, without success.

Finally, in that magical in-between time just before sunrise, Kou falls on his face while climbing some stairs, then uses his receiver watch to call Nazuna. She responds, and he proceeds to tell her that while he doesn’t really “get” fights like the one they’re apparently in, but he wants to make up with her. With that, Nazuna suddenly appears, and is once again as honest with him as he was with her, saying she was “ticked off” by him hesitating after Akira asked him to come back to school.

Turns out she misunderstood; Kou hesitated because he wasn’t sure how to tell a human friend that couldn’t go back to school because he wanted to become a vampire. With that cleared up and the two well and truly made up, Nazuna notices the blood from Kou’s tumble, and proceeds to kiss him in order to drink it, remarking that “a lot came out”. She liked how he said human friend, and that it suggested he had a vampire friend too. Kou may not know this since she’s his first, but vampire friends do kiss.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 11 – The Prince

Before Shikimori, Izumi was in a dark place. He tried to keep a brave face, but his propensity for misfortune isolated him. He prayed to God, asking if things would ever get better, and if not, if God could give him the strength to endure the pain and sadness, adding that he wished a hero would appear before him.

It’s as morose and heartbreaking as the show has ever gotten with Izumi’s condition, which has evolved from a joke to something more akin to a legitimate curse without cause. But if there’s no cure, there is a hero, and she comes with pink hair and the best Face Game this side of FLCL.

Shikimori and Izumi haven’t been able to hang out as a couple what with all the festivals, so Izumi suggests an amusement park. The ad he shows Shikimori shows a couple leaning in for a passionate kiss, so she’s in, in the worst way.

The question is, what to wear? Not that it matters; Izumi would think Shikimori was cute no matter what she wore. Shikimori’s older brother Fuji drives her to the mall, but doesn’t accompany her shopping. Indecisive about what to buy, she leaves the stores empty-handed and finds Fuji nervously sandwiched between two interested women.

She reluctantly rescues him from the situation, noting how he’s much shyer than he looks, and how maybe he’s the one who needs his hand held, after he teased her about when she needed to hold his. We’re then treated to some lovely Shikimori backstory, with a short-haired Micchon kicking older boys’ asses at karate.

Back home there’s an unnerving tension between her and her strict-seeming mother about whether she’ll be continuing with karate in middle school, even though she only started it because her brother did. Shikimori decides she’ll stick with it and lists the pros, and her mom smiles approvingly.

Shikimori starts being referred to as the “Prince” by boys who know they’d better not mess with her or the other girls. She rises to the top of the karate rankings, and even has the potential for the nationals come high school, but the one opponent she can never come close to beating is Fuji, who one rainy day suddenly announces he’s quitting.

Her karate friends are excited for her high school karate future, but she tells them she’s quitting too. Not because Fuji quit before, but because she discovered the magic of love through shoujo romance manga, and has decided to stop following others and choose for herself who she should be, which is a cute girl who will fall in love with a kind, handsome boy.

AND SO IT CAME TO PASS…but obviously not right away. First, Shikimori applies the same ferocious, focused work ethic to becoming a cute girl that she applied to become good at everything else she’s ever tried—she’s an extraordinary person—and is prepared to completely rebrand herself at high school, starting with entrance exams.

It is here where she and Izumi first meet, the latter’s exam ticket having been caught by the wind and lodged on a high tree branch. Shikimori was worried about mussing her hair not 30 seconds before, but when she sees Izumi’s distraught face (similar to the face he wore while praying for a hero) she climbs that tree and gets him the ticket. He expresses his heartfelt gratitude, but she’s too worried he thinks she’s weird to accept it.

The two meet again on the first day of high school, having both passed the exams. He thanks her again, and proceeds to explain why what she did mattered so much to him, explaining how he’s always been unlucky. He also says he’s glad he got to see her again just as the sunlight and wind and cherry blossoms make him look extra kind and handsome, and Shikimori asks for his name with a face so intense it kinda frightens him.

Of course, Izumi come to love those faces of hers, to the extent that he’ll feel a little jealous when others get to see them. But it’s so nice to finally see what Shikimori was like in her earlier years, how she and Izumi met, and how they were so perfect for one another right from the start. Fuji surprising her with the lipstick she liked was a perfectly heartwarming closing note. She’ll wear it to look cute, but also to give her courage.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 10 – Cup Ramen and Foie Gras

When Erika takes off to hang out with her mom (the one who raised her) Sachi doesn’t waste the sudden opportunity to hang out with her Onii. She ostensibly wants to buy a gift for their mom, but both of seem to agree their mom isn’t much of a gift receiver, so you have to think part of her just wants to see what it’s like to go on something like a date with Nagi.

The two settle on an apron (and sure enough, their mom could take or leave it) but when Sachi comes upon the idea, Nagi rewards her with a head pat, which pisses her off to no end. As much as she pretends not to stand him, Sachi wants Nagi to see her as a girl, not an imouto. Alas, he’s utterly oblivious. He just wants to study and win Hiro, which is why he’s probably none too pleased about suddenly being yanked out of the house by Erika.

Erika, who herself was blissfully reveling in her first cup ramen, got a text from her dad saying he’s coming—no discussion, not argument, he’s just coming and that’s that—so she ditches both wallet and phone, grabs Nagi, and heads out. Where doesn’t matter; that even she’s not sure is the point. No GPS or purchase history means even someone as rich and powerful as her dad can’t find her if she doesn’t want to see him.

Instead, Sachi is person who encounters her dad making himself at home in the house. She initially thinks he’s a burglar, but she should have called the cops anyway, considering he later lures her out and plys her with foie gras. I’m with the wait staff of his restaurant: it’s weird that he suddenly takes Sachi out to dinner.

Sachi is there for the foie gras, and also considers it equitable to tell Erika’s father about how she and Nagi are getting along. She probably doesn’t realize she’s being a snitch, because she’s distracted by the fact this is another opportunity for her: if she says they’re terrible together, she could potentially be able to swoop in and have Nagi to herself (again).

But Sachi is not a bad person, so she tells Erika’s father the truth: as mismatched as their personalities seem, Erika and Nagi definitely have a spark—je ne fois gras, if you will. Their chat is interposed between scenes of Nagi showing Erika a good time with zero yen thanks to a steep hill and a piece of cardboard.

As for Erika’s increasingly creepy dad, he heads into his office to admire a framed photo of him and Erika’s dad with Erika…and Nagi, looking like older toddlers. This is strange, as my understanding is they were separated at birth; this suggests they were reunited at some point. It also gives credence to the fact the “certain someone” Erika is trying to reach through SM is, in fact, Nagi, and the two of them simply somehow forgot they knew each other as kids.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 10 – So Cute, So Cool

Hot on the heels of the cultural festival is the athletics festival, and while I was fully ready to throw my hands up and shout “no more festivals”, this episode soon convinced me otherwise. That’s entirely because the five-person mixed relay team is none other than our five friends Shikimori, Izumi, Nekozaki, Inuzuka…and Hachimitsu.

The three jocks of the group help train the fast but mishap-prone Izumi and the slow, indoorsy, generally reluctant Hachimitsu. Both are amazed and heartened by how kind and patient Shikimori, Nekozaki, and Inuzuka are. Hachimitsu has the most athletic ground to cover, but she has the right teachers.

In fact, both she and Izumi are sufficiently inspired to keep training together even when their sporty friends have to head off to practice for their other events. Izumi wonders why Hachimitsu is working herself to the bone for running, something she’s never been a fan of.

As she zips her jacket over half her face, Hachimitsu’s answer is simple; if it makes everyone happy, then she’s happy. On the day of the festival, the girls watch the guys do the human cavalry thing, and Hachimitsu notices Shikimori ogling Izumi, looks a little jealous for a moment, then tells a joke. It’s a nifty little exchange that really deepens the complexity of this group’s bond.

When Hachimitsu participates in the bag toss, she turns out to be quite exemplary at it. No doubt she was motivated by watching the boys working hard, and by the warm and enthusiastic support of all of them. Her reward for her near-victory is one of Shikimori’s biggest smiles, and Hachimitsu can’t help but beam back in pride and satisfaction.

With the mixed relay approaching, Hachitmitsu can’t help but feel nervous. Shikimori, who looks so calm and cool, takes her hand in hers, revealing it’s ice cold because she’s nervous too. But nervousness and lack of confidence are two very different things. Shikimori says that having fun is most important, but if it’s all the same, she’s going to have fun winning. Hachimitsu can’t repel competitive fire of that magnitude.

Nekozaki gets their team into first place in the first leg, then hands it off to Hachimitsu. She’s moving so much faster than she’s used to she gets disoriented and trips herself. She falls on her face and skins her knee, but the baton never left her hand; they’re still in it. She gets back up and keeps running, handing the baton off to Izumi cleanly.

Izumi loses a shoe, but simply loses the other and keeps running in his stocking feet, and does not trip and fall, or fall further behind. He hands it off to Shikimori, who singlehandedly gets the team from the rear back into second place with acceleration that uniformly shocks all in attendance.

Just before Inuzuka receives the baton from her, he gets one good look at her intense face and knows that he just can’t let her or the others down. He only has one man to beat, and he beats him to the finish. Izumi is the first to tackle him into a celebratory hug, followed closely by Nekozaki.

Izumi is so high on their upset victory, he exhibits absolutely no propriety by taking Shikimori into his arms and holding her close, very nearly causing her to overheat. Then Hachimitsu—indoorsy, wisecrakin’ ol’ Hachimitsu—smiles a genuine smile of glee as she thanks everyone for working hard, shocking her friends.

The victorious quintet then poses for a beautiful Postcard Memory as Hachimitsu reiterates how happy and proud she is to have such fine friends. I tell you, it’s legit goddamn tearjerker material, and it’s also one of Shikimori’s best episodes. Just five incredibly cute, cool friends, supporting each other, making each other better, and having a blast. Who could ask for more?

Heroines Run the Show – 12 (Fin) – Feeling the Love

A little while after punching Hiyori, Chizuru starts eating alone. The feelings that led to her taking photos and causing a scandal have subsided, but she feels both her relationship to Hiyori and LIPxLIP have been irreparably shattered. But Juri knows Chizuru still cares, because she was genuinely worried about Hiyori after the punch.

Despite what she did, Chizuru is still deserving of redemption, but knows she has to change. The boys, meanwhile, are prepping for their Countdown Live performance, but when Uchida gives them comp tickets, they hesitate to give them to their former manager-in-training, and settle for their respective brothers.

In the midst of kicking her LIP fandom entirely, Chizuru is surprised when Hiyori pops by her place with the ticket Chizuru had bought and then left with Juri. Chizuru maintains she doesn’t deserve to be a fan anymore, and in any case won’t listen to Hiyori and promptly kicks her out.

Things seem grim, until Uchida does what the boys couldn’t and stop by her place to personally deliver not just a comp ticket, but an all-areas staff pass: they won’t admit it, but they need her to be their manager-in-training for this one. Now that both she and Chizuru have he means to go, Hiyori returns to Chizuru’s house, reveals she knows she’s Chutan, and finally tells her the truth about being their manager-in-training.

Chizuru accepts this truth, and understands why Hiyori had to keep it secret. With that, Hiyori leads the two on a mad dash to make the concert on time. Yuujirou and Aizou scold Hiyori for being late but are clearly glad she’s here, while Chizuru finds her seat among all their other classmates and their friends/dates also in attendance.

Invigorated by the sounds of their awaiting Julietas, Yuujirou and Aizou put all the pieces together and deliver perhaps their best performance, one that’s not about advancing to the top of the idol mountain, but performing for the fans and showing their love for them.

AT4 praises them for this, as they finally seem to “get” what being an idol on stage is about. Chizuru is moved to tears by their passion, and Hiyori also feels that this concert hit different, likely because she’s happy to be back by their side as manager-in-training.

After the show, the managers offer Hiyori her old job back, which she accepts with her usual enthusiasm. After AT4 counts down the new year, things go back to normal with Hiyori both on the track, with her two besties, and back at work with LIPxLIP. Presumably Hiyori also told Juri about her job, while Chizuru openly shares her Chutan persona with her friends.

Whether LIPxLIP could actually get away with having Hiyori fill in as a backup dancer with absolutely no training is a little doubtful, but it’s fun to finally see the Heroine take the stage, if only under a mascot costume. No doubt the boys wanted to share with their future full manager what it felt like up there, to be cheered and adored by the masses.

Is this also a bit of a neat and tidy conclusion, what with Hiyori and Chizuru mostly making up off-camera? Are a lot of the issues about parasocial relationships, stalking, and other obsessive behavior mostly tabled in favor of Chizuru’s personal redemption story? Perhaps, but on the other side, I never liked Hiyori’s decision to quit, and I’m glad she’s back on the job. In the end, she really did run the show.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 09 – Batting Off Steam

While informing Nagi the bath is free, Sachi’s towel slips off, but in a nice subversion of the trope, Nagi isn’t awake to see anything. Sachi, however, sees one of Hiro’s texts on his phone, referencing a d-d-d-date. The next morning, Erika finds Nagi all dressed up and ready to go. Nagi meets Hiro resplendent in comfy casual clothes, and is excited for their date, but also expects it to be another shrine stamp-collecting affair.

So he’s surprised to find Hiro has taken them to an amusement park. She usually goes alone, so it’s significant she’s bringing him along. Yes, she is doing it in part for the couples discount, but also because she believes Nagi can “keep up” with her. That proves mostly true, as Nagi accompanies her on every heart-racing ride again and again, and even accidentally kisses a reflection of her in the hall of mirrors.

Back home Erika finds Sachi texting curses to her brother and confirms that he’s on a date with a Hiro-chan, appreciating that Sachi feels like the other girl is taking her brother away. Sachi is also upset he’s out on a date when he’s engaged, calling it “indecent”—something Erika never considered as she never planned to actually marry the guy. No Nagi around affords the biological sisters another opportunity to hang out, as Erika tags along when Sachi goes on her usual de-stressing trip to the batting cages and public bath.

Nagi returns home having felt like his date with Hiro was a “disaster”, but he’s way overreacting. There’s nothing wrong with a girl saying she thinks you’re “cute”, and it’s obvious she had a lot of fun by the way she was humming when they parted ways. A few hours later, at three in he morning, Nagi and Sachi’s dad (and Erika’s biological dad) arrives at their door, saying they’re all going fishing.

Turns out this is a tradition for both Nagi and Nagi’s dad, though Nagi always gets seasick and always says he has a terrible time. His dad though, has always picked times when he knew Nagi was down, and there’s nothing like fishing to take you out of a bad place and into a better one. While Erika and Sachi compete for the biggest catch, Nagi admits to his dad that he “doesn’t hate” his life right now.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 09 – All Aboard the Friend-Ship

Don’t get me wrong: I like Izumi, and feel he’s both delighted and transcended his male damsel-in-distress archetype. That said, it’s not his name on he show, so to have a whole episode where he’s basically in bed sick is a great opportunity to explore Shikimori’s other relationships, starting with Inuzuka.

Inuzuka has known Izumi far longer than Shikimori, and so when you factor Shikimori’s need to compete in everything, that disadvanage is a sore spot. Thankfully, by spending some time with her (and due to the sleuthing of Hachimitsu) he learns she doesn’t just see him as some kind of rival, but that she often projects her big brother on him.

It’s gratifying that while Shikimori is initially competitive and pouty, she ultimately chooses not to usurp Izumi’s wishes for Inuzuka, not her, to take his notes and visit him while he’s sick. She can rise above those more possessive aspects of her personality.

After the Inuzuka segment, the episode becomes a tribute to girlfriends, i.e. girls who are friends. Nekozaki shines as she and Shikimori spot Kamiya at the bookstore. She invites Kamiya to join them in hanging out and Kamiya accepts, which makes Nekozaki’s day as she’s always wanted to get closer.

Little does she know how close Shikimori and Kamiya already are thanks to their shared adoration for Izumi and their intense rooftop encounter, and after returning from the bathroom she assumes the two became instant best buds in her brief absence.

The truth is that they’d already become closer on that rooftop, but hadn’t quite had the opportunity to build upon that moment to expand a relationship for which there was no reason not to become more of a friendship. Nekozaki is a useful facilitator for that purpose here.

In a wonderful segment, Shikimori and Kamiya team up against two aggressive but also highly virtuous gyarus on the basketball court, mopping the floor with the former high school champs with ease thanks to some baller teamwork. The power of friendship is on full display, but since it’s two-on-two Nekozaki is the odd woman out, and plays referee.

The girls’ bond is revealed to Nekozaki first by watching the two interact at the mall and now play together on the court. Nekozaki heard the chatter from other classmates establishing Kamiya as either a stuck-up/aloof cool beauty or a tragic loner, but the Kamiya she watched today seemed nothing like that externally-manufactured concept.

Later, when Nekozaki is walking with Kamiya, she wonders what or who brought about this change, because from Nekozaki’s perspective, it looked like Kamiya was carrying some pain. Kamiya isn’t quite ready to say who, but she will say that that person told her to treasure what she feels.

Kamiya apologizes for never saying yes to Nekozaki’s many offers to hang out in the past. But being the sweetheart she is, Nekozaki apologies right back for coming off as a little pushy about it. Nekozaki did it not just because she sensed Kamiya’s hurt, but also because she recognized Kamiya was a person it would be an honor being friends with.

Nekozaki is perfectly fine letting Kamiya take her time discovering more of her feelings, and when she’s ready, Nekozaki will be there to hear her or be a shoulder to cry on. Nekozaki wants nothing more than for Kamiya to smile from the bottom of her heart. That desire is at the heart of friendship … where everyone is welcome aboard and no one goes overboard.

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