Heroines Run the Show – 07 – Always My Heroine

Nagisa knows who LIPxLIP is, and it doesn’t take long to get Hiyori to admit that she’s working as their manager-in-training.  It still doesn’t explain why they accompanied her to the station, however. Of course, Hiyori has her revenge for having her secret job so easily revealed. When Nagisa says she seems “different”, she gets him to admit she’s cute just as easily!

I had my reservations about the sudden arrival of Nagisa, but these two are basically the cutest; they’re just such a good fit together…nice and balanced! It’s crystal clear to Aizou and Yuujirou that Nagisa is in love with Hiyori, and only a couple of minutes of riling him up has him standing up like a shounen hero saying “She’s the only girl for me!” Unfortunately for him, when Hiyori tells Nagisa he can stay at her place, it’s just as clear to LIPxLIP that she has no earthly idea Nagisa has those kinds of feelings for her.

Nagisa, being so in love with Hiyori, warns LIPxLIP that he won’t give up on her, even to an idol, and that they “can’t have her.” This comes as a surprise to them, but Nagisa has a point: as someone who once teased Hiyori because he liked her, our idols can’t pretend that there’s something about Hiyori they value above other girls, even as they endlessly say she doesn’t act like a girl most of the time.

As for Nagisa, his stature, good looks, and instant likability have Uchida-san trying to recruit him as an idol. He respectfully declines, as he already has a dream in place: taking over the family restaurant, the fish for which Hiyori’s family provides, making their coupling that much more inevitable.

The actual FT4 show is a lot less built up and laid-back than I expected, but there are some very good reasons for that. True, Aizou and Yuujirou are stewing in the front row as their rivals play with the crowd like putty in their hands, but Nagisa and Hiyori are an island of serenity by comparison.

You can tell he’s super chuffed that Hiyori’s attending a show with him. His favorite member of FT4 is all too fitting: the glue guy who hangs out in the background and lets the others hog the spotlight, but without whom there’d be no music. He doesn’t come out and say it—he may not even be aware—but that’s what Hiyori is becoming to LIPxLIP—increasingly indispensable.

Nagisa has a plan. He never had any designs on staying at Hiyori’s place overnight, but he did bring all the gear he needed to cook her a gourmet meal as thanks for attending FT4 with him. But the sumptuous feast is only a prelude…a way of preparing the ground for a confession of love.

Earlier at the station, Nagisa played dumb when she mentioned how he said she looked weird in a dress, which we know has informed her personal style ever since. But not only does Nagisa remember, but he’s mature enough now to admit why he teased her at the time: because she was too cute, and he was worried someone else would take her away.

No sooner does he say “I love ya” does he stand up and walk out of the apartment, saying he’s leaving on the shinkansen tomorrow. He doesn’t want to pressure her into an answer; a text or call sometime will suffice.

A good word for Hiyori after hearing Nagisa’s confession: befuddled. It never once occured to her that her best friend forever felt…that way. Hell, she never thought anyone would ever say they loved her. Fortunately, she remembers she has two girlfriends and calls them up for their help over hamburgers.

Juri is happy for Hiyori, and when asked, is extremely genuine and eloquent when she tells Hiyori when she started liking the guy who became her bae. He wasn’t even her type at first, but he gradually became so. As for Chizuru, she won’t brook any hesitation on Hiyori’s part: a confession from a hot childhood friend is both a rare treasure and a cliché…and Chizuru has no problem with clichés.

Juri brings things back down to earth a bit, and assures Hiyori that Nagisa is probably just as worried as she is about their relationship possibly changing for the worst. But as he was brave enough to tell her how he really felt, all Hiyori can do is return the favor.

Hiyori may not know what she wants when it comes to romance, but she does know what she doesn’t want: anything that will negatively affect what she’s got going on now: school, track and managing. She’s going all out with all three, and there just isn’t time for romance right now…not until she’s seen those things through.

Nagisa is surely a bit disappointed, but probably also relieved that it’s not a hard no, just a “not just now”. He even admits he jumped the gun. He tussles her hair, tells her she looked good when she dressed up but also thinks she looks good when she’s running around and covered in sweat, which is just beautifully heartwarming. Hiyori thanks Nagisa for telling her how he feels, as it gives her confidence she can become a heroine.

Nagisa tells her the truth: to him she already is one, and always will be. He promises he’ll be back in Tokyo after graduation to take business courses in college and train in restaurants. He’ll be working hard too, and hopefully, they can work hard along side one another soon. Their parting is such sweet sorrow, but they’ll surely remain in each other’s hearts as they go after their dreams with everything they have.

Heroines Run the Show – 06 – From Crap Creeps to Cute Crêpes

If Aizou is out of shampoo, Hiyori has no problem walking into the boy’s shower to get him more. It’s steamy, and it’s not like she’s in there to sneak a peek; she’s just doing her job. She’s been acting more assertively as a manager should, but to these two old-fashioned chums, she couldn’t be acting less like a “girl” if she tried. 

When Tamura gets the three of them tickets for a FT4 show, Hiyori says she’s already going with her childhood friend Nagisa, who is an FT4 superfan. At such an affair it’s expected to “dress up”. The boys want to give her a makeover, but she demurs.

After a day of observing other girls—Hattori, Setoguchi, Narumi—Hiyori encounters perhaps the cutest girl she’s seen of the day, and she’s being harassed by a creep. Hiyori breaks his hold and runs off with the girl, and you know they’ll lose the creep because if anything, Hiyori can run.

I liked the detail of how she’s not the slightest bit out of breath once the coast is clear, while the cutie is huffing and puffing. The girl thanks her by buying her a crepe at a place she’s always wanted to try, but not alone. Before you know it they’re exchanging bites.

When the girl notices she’s staring a bit, Hiyori just mentions how she thinks she’s super cute…a heroine, not an “extra” or “bit player” like her. The girl admits to having also been insecure for a long time due to someone she knew and admired being so pretty. This girl posits that being loved, not cute, is what truly makes a heroine.

She was saved from a creep by Hiyori, and is now having fun eating crepes and talking with her. She likes Hiyori, so maybe she’s a heroine after all! The girl’s name is Narumi Mona and is, unbeknownst to Hiyori, is an up-and-coming idol, and presumably Narumi Sena’s sister.

Their talk inspires Hiyori to try researching some fashion mags, but she’s caught by Yuujirou and Aizou, who demand to know what she’s up to. She tells them how the one time she wore a cute dress and felt like a princess, Nagisa told her she looked “weird”, which led to a complex about looking too “girly”.

The boys say Nagisa sucks, but Hiyori then lists all the ways Nagisa doesn’t such and has always been there for her, especially following her dream of track. The fact remains, in no small part due to Nagisa’s teasing years ago, Hiyori doesn’t think she has what it takes to be a princess.

Yuujirou and Aizou then proceed to show her just how wrong both she and Nagisa are. They take her to their stylist who gives her an adorable new ‘do, then they take her to a classy clothier to try on a number of cozy classic looks.

I love the way the two boys fuss over Hiyori and bicker over the best way to dress her. They come off very much like two doting big brothers trying to make their sister into the princess they know she is…while also showing up the FT4 fan that gave their manager a complex.

After hair and clothes comes makeup and posture, which the boys also take care of back at the studio. It’s very My Fair Lady in the way the two cosmopolitan lads are trying to infuse some Tokyo style into their country bumpkin colleague. Hiyori has to deal with idol super-close-ups when they’re applying the makeup, which is very much a less-is-more affair.

When the time arrives to meet Nagisa at the station, Yuujirou and Aizou accompany Hiyori in her new duds, because they can’t wait to see the look on Nagisa’s face when she sees her. Ah, yes, that’s right…they think her childhood friend Nagisa is a girl. When Hiyori spots Nagisa, whom we’ve known was a boy since the end of last week, she’s so excited she runs as if not wearing a long skirt.

Nagisa catches her before she can touch the ground, and is revealed to the idols as a most strapping young lad…perhaps not as photo shoot worthy as either of them, but certainly handsome and fit nonetheless. He was also unquestionably a typical little boy who teased the girl he liked because he was an idiot.

His first reaction to Yuujirou and Aizou contains multitudes. It’s not (or it’s not just) that he may be irked by the fact Hiyori is hanging around two cute Tokyo boys who must look like nothing but trouble to a hayseed like Nagisa…it might more be the fact that he know’s they’re his beloved FT4’s rivals: LIPxLIP!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 05 – Win-Win

When Aharen tells Raidou about a Pokemon Go-style mobile game that was launched seven years ago like it’s a new trend, he dusts off his maxed-out Yankee Godzilla character, believing her tiny, harmless-looking Shirorin will be no match against him. He’s eager to score a win against Aharen, but instead he gets stomped. It’s the classic Cactuar Conundrum: tiny and cute doesn’t automatically spell weak.

We’ve seen how strong Aharen is in the crane game department, so when Futaba spends almost all her pocket change in vain trying to win a Yankee Godzilla doll, Aharen proceeds to win nine of them. I don’t think she’s trying to show up a kid; merely show her how it’s done. She even leaves a gimme right near the out spout for Futaba to win with her last 100-yen coin.

The next segment is one of those that crops up often in a 4-panel comic: where one character changes dramatically—in this case Raidou becoming overweight overnight. When it dawns on Aharen it could be her fault for feeding him so much of her massive lunches, she reads up on dieting, hoping to help him.

But when Raidou spots her with the diet book, he assumes she’s trying to diet, something he doesn’t think is necessary, so he decides to lead by example and show her that exercise, not dieting, is the key to success. He loses all the weight he gained, only to learn Aharen never had any intention of dieting…but will surely consider leaner lunches in future!

The re-slimmed Raidou is in trouble; if he fails the midterms he’ll have to take supplementary classes. To avoid this, he proposes that he and Aharen study together, assuming from her serene demeanor that she’s already fully prepared to do well in the exams.

The two try a number of different venues for their studying, but be it the library, a restaurant, or the park, they find themselves distracted by something and can’t study. Ultimately, the classroom turns out to be the ideal spot for studying, with their desks pushed together as usual.

When Aharen, Raidou, and two classmates have after-school cleaning duty, Raidou marvels at how seriously Aharen takes this. She’s so professional in her cleaning, his vivid imagination starts to wonder if she’s also a cleaner, i.e. an assassin. She certainly seems to have a cool head for it…

After the other two kids leave, Aharen tries to move a dusted bookshelf back where it belongs, only to lose her balance and almost have it fall on her. Raidou exhibits catlike reflexes by rushing to Aharen’s rescue. Later, they continue studying, and Raidou thanks her for helping him with studying. Aharen’s response is so quiet even his trained ears can’t hear…

…So she draws closer to him and gathers him into a long, warm, affectionate hug. She expresses her happiness at being able to finally help Raidou, after all this time she’s caused trouble and relied upon him. Raidou’s response is as expected: he’s never once thought she was trouble, and he relies on her too, so he thanks her in return.

It’s easily the swetest and most romantic things have ever gotten between these two. So many anime couples have trouble communicating, but these two are crystal clear in how they feel about one another, and aren’t even embarrassed to walk about arm-in-arm or to share such a long hug.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 04 – Veritably Cordial

Raidou and Aharen’s closeness finally catches the attention of their poetry and prose teacher, Toubaru-sensei (Hana-Kana). But while at first glance they look like they’re flirting, upon subsequent glances she becomes entranced by their idyllic innocence as they gain her “veritable esteem”. Basically, they’re such good kids, the teacher gets a nosebleed.

When Raidou is a little slower than he’d want to be in handing Aharen a bottle of water when she’s choking on food, he decides that both of them need to be more expressive. While sharing a number of activities meant to elicit strong emotional responses means they’re growing closer as a couple, their faces remain veritable Noh masks to all but each other.

The pair transition from practicing more expressive faces to engaging in rap battles as the result of an inspirational trip to the CD store (something that I’m amazed is a thing that still exists in this age of Spotify and iTunes). Aharen is a natural, but Raidou needs to practice (which he does back at home, bemusing his sister and mom).

Raidou’s sister feels bad about being too harsh about his rapping, so gives her brother a fidget spinner as an apology. At school Aharen is oddly drawn to the device, and as soon as it’s in her tiny hand it barely stops spinning. She pulls of one slick trick after another, to the point Raidou worries she’s become addicted…only or Aharen to hand it back to him once she’s “spun it enough”.

The final segment involves Raidou and Aharen trying to relax in a park, but come afoul of a bunch of kids, including three boys who call her “King Aha” due to her spinner tricks. The girl of the group is worried about Aharen “seducing” her childhood friend, so challenges her to a Reversi duel. Raidou plays her first and loses completely, while Aharen simply lets her win. When the boys pick on the girl, she gets them to apologize.

After all that very non-relaxing excitement, Aharen looks very wan and hollowed-out by exhaustion. Luckily for her, her family dog Nui, a big Golden Retriever, doesn’t mind Aharen riding him home. It occurs to Raidou that the kids might’ve been on to something calling her “King”…she looks far more regal riding her dog than she has any right to be!

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 03 – Our Weird Dance

This week’s cavalcade of quiet, calm hijinx begins with Raidou looking like a shounen hero and Aharen looking like a toy troll. Turns out it’s just a matter of bed head, not that she’s joined a death metal band. When Raidou’s attempts to tame the hair result in a lotus-type shape, it’s up to Mitsuki, whose family happens to run a salon.

After cutting both Aharen and Raidou’s hair (the latter being a big step forward, even if her original attempt was to shave him bald), Aharen thanks her by inviting her to eat lunch with them. Unfortunately Mitsuki is too shy to sit too close, but Aharen just happens to have extendable chopsticks. Mitsuki also helps her apply toner, moisturizer, and lip balm, then give Aharen a fully body massage for good measure.

When one of their classmates who is training for baseball grows so large he blocks Aharen’s view of the chalkboard, Raidou tries to help out by going through every possible alternate position before concluding that the best one is the most normal; simply pushing their desks together and getting cozy. However, when the teacher announces that everyone is changing desks soon, Raidou is determined to make his “last days” sitting next to Aharen-san count.

In a co-ed softball game for P.E., Raidou learns throwing strikes to Aharen is nigh impossible due to her strike zone being the roughly the size of a postage stamp. He thinks she’s calling her shot, but her arm is itchy, and when she makes her stance lower, it’s simply the heat making her “all droopy”. But by walking her on four pitches, hers is the winning run for her team, so he at least is able to deliver her some glory.

In Home Ec class, Raidou, who can’t cook anything, is paired up with two other classmates whose cooking skills he’s not sure of. But Aharen is also on his team and she’s a great cook, so he knows they’ll be fine. However, after softball she has no energy, so he has to cook, with horrifying results. Thankfuly Aharen has a strong stomach and wolfs down all the food he made, giving her the energy needed to whip up a meatless four-course meal and a passing grade for the team.

Finally, Raidou tries to help Aharen with what he believes to be her dream to become a famous YouTuber,  practicing choreography for a weird dance while her phone records. Here Raidou’s imagination truly gets out of hand as he imagines the two of them becoming internet famous and filling arenas with their bizarre dancing that is reminiscent of Elaine’s from Seinfeld. Turns out she has no designs on being famous; she was just practicing dance moves for class.

As for changing desks, well…I expected them to simply switch places and remain next to each other, but even that doesn’t happen. And you’d think the teacher would realize Aharen can’t see if she’s behind another huge athletic kid! But that doesn’t matter, because the blissful days of sitting beside each other shall continue indefinitely…as will their whimsical antics.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 02 – XYZ

Raidou and Aharen’s rapport continues to be strong and easygoing, but while Aharen has distance and communication issues, Raidou has an overactive imagination. For instance, he imagines Aharen was in a street fight with some toughs, when she really just got something in her eye. I liked how difficult it was for Raidou to administer the drops, and how when he gets something in his eye, Aharen is quick to reciprocate—though like me, she sucks at administering eye drops!

Raidou’s imagination also runs wild concerning the constant feeling he and Aharen are being watched and followed. He looks back on all of the petty offenses he’s committed against people in his life (mostly against his little sister) and believes himself a “monster”, and thus deserving of a hitman after him. Dude is an absolute goof.

However, he’s downright normal compared to the one following them, Aharen’s towering childhood friend Ooshiro Mitsuki. She is protective of Aharen, whom she calls Reina, but also terrified of Raidou and so keeps her distance. Even when Aharen insists he’s neither scary nor a bad guy, Mitsuki can’t help but stick to her misconceptions. Also MAO voices Mitsuki in “Pecorine on caffeine” mode.

The next segment involves Aharen wearing a mask due to a mild cold, and thus not being able to properly notify Raidou that his fly is all the fuck open, revealing his pink strawberry print boxers. Let it be said that Aharen’s reaction to this is as amazing as her attempts to warn Raidou are ineffective. That said, she does come up with a lot of clever ways to block the sight of his crotch from others.

Even on the way home, after an exhausting day of failure, Aharen  positions herself in front of him to spare him embarrassment. When he finally determines that she’s been trying to get him to notice something, and sees the reflection of the two of them in the mirror, it seems like he finally gets it…only for him to wrongly assume Aharen got a haircut.

Next up is the first segment with just Aharen and Mitsuki. Even though Raidou is absent, Mitsuki is weary of getting too close to Aharen, since she’s worried she’ll be yelled at, scolded, or bopped on the head (again). That said, it’s raining, and Mitsuki keeps trying to clandestinely lend Aharen her umbrella, only for Aharen to believe the umbrella is cursed and locks it up in front of a hastily-built shrine. Ultimately Aharen shares her umbrella with Mitsuki, and uses the fact she’s within talking distance to thank her for watching over her.

The post-credits sequence is short but sweet, as Raidou breaks out the Reversi (AKA Othello) board and challenges Aharen to a match. He thinks he’s got a worthy opponent (he touts himself a “Raidou Family Champion”) when Aharen exerts the aura of a lion, but he ends up trouncing her. Then he gets her to admit she let him win, insists she fight him with everything he’s got, and then she trounces him…twice.

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 01 (First Impressions) – Lean on Me

In the best tradition of any number of [Character Name] is [Character Trait] comes Aharen-san is Indecipherable, with a bone-simple premise and extremely solid execution throughout. Our protagonists Raidou and Aharen are trying to start fresh in their first year in high school, and end up complementing each other perfectly by remaining who they are.

In Raidou’s case, he’s one of those “scary resting face” guys who is hard to approach, and who thinks he’s smiling when he’s not. Aharen, he learns, has trouble gauging the proper distance and intensity of social interaction. She’s either too distant (literally and/or figuratively) or waaay too close than is socially acceptable. She also speaks with an extremely tiny voice (expertly provided by Minase Inori).

After a couple of two-ships-passing-in-the-night incidents, the two eventually connect; Aharen is her usual too-close self, but Raidou doesn’t mind because he wanted to make friends and has done so. And while he notes in his inner monologue when Aharen is way too close or clingy, he’s never embarrassed or over-the-top. Everything is handled super chill fashion.

Aharen and Raidou are so immediately likeable and adorable, it’s not hard to get swept up in their everyday school lives and not particularly care about anyone else in the class, as the episode doesn’t either. They’re both kind, decent, generous people, whether it’s plushies won in a crane game or Aharen sharing half of her enormous bento…or getting up extra-early to make him a lunch all his own when his mom is on a business trip.

There’s plenty of physical comedy to be wrung out of the pair, whether its their extreme size difference or the myriad ways Aharen fits onto his lap, tucked into his shoulder, or clinging to his leg. This gets taken to an extreme when she nods off in his lap and ends up head-over-heels. This is at the very end, which marks the first time the episode focuses on a third character—in this case, a jealous redheaded girl.

My Winter 2022 trio of Takagi-san 3, Dress-Up Darling, and Akebi’s Salior Uniform was outstanding, and are a hard act to follow. But Aharen-san is just the sweet and charming slice-of-life comedy I was ready to miss when those three shows ended. Looks like the cozy good times are going to keep rolling into the Spring.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fabiniku – 12 (Fin) – From the Heart

When Tachibana’s rants and rampage convince Jinguuji that the best thing to do is to disappear from her sight, Schwartz rises as the true hero of this story by smacking Jinguuji in the face a lot harder than Will smacked Chris. Tachibana doesn’t want him gone, she’s proud to be his best friend, and now she needs the kind of praise only a best friend can give.

What snaps Jinguuji out of his long-standing stoicism isn’t just Schwartz’s smack, but him saying it’s normal (and thus totally okay) for guys to be jealous when their friend—another guy—is with someone else. He’d always been told baring his heart to another is weakness, but he can see how it’s always been Tachibana’s greatest strength.

So Jinguuji bears his heart—while parrying the berserk Mehpon’s attacks—by telling Tachibana that far from having “nothing”, she has so much that he doesn’t. Just when he’s getting through to her, Kalm intervenes, sending Mehpon into berserk mode. But with Schwartz covering him, Jinguuji manages to scamper right up to Mehpon, climb and gain acces, where he finds Tachibana lying in the dark.

He then starts praising Tachibana, but not for his appearance, but for all the things, big and little, that he loves about her. Things only an old best friend would know. They run the gamut from her always being considerate to how she kept whiskey at home even though she hated it because he liked it. Shocked by this newfound honesty, Tachibana resurfaces from his self-loathing tantrum.

The two then emerge triumphant, barely escape Mehpon’s self-destruction, and return to the capital together apologize to the king for all the trouble they caused. The king feels just as responsible since it was his daughter who started the rebellion (Yggie herself is wonderfully uncontrite). Then Tachibana and Jinguuji learn that the Demon Lord’s castle is the big white star-like thingy that’s been in the background all along!

Splitting form Schwartz and Lucius (yet not quite able to shake free of Shen) the two head towards that castle. The night before they say their goodbyes and begin their journey, they have a quiet night of relaxation back in Tachibana’s apartment, where she becomes Charmed for the first time—in this case from watching Jinguuji change.

Thus the two find themselves in a hurry. They need to defeat the demon king and restore Tachibana to her manbod pronto, lest the two of them fall in love, get married, and have a kid. But wait…would that really be so bad?!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 12 (Fin) – Gochisousama

I love the battle music in PriConne not just because it’s tremendous in its own right, but reminds me of other great battle themes, like this one from early in Final Fantasy XIII-2, which gets me in the mood to write about this fantastic finale.

The final feast of PriConne 2 is a sumptuous multi-course smorgasbord comprised of myriad shapes, sizes and colors. Yuuki not only powers up Pecorine, but everyone, and the townsfolk rally for the sake of their princess. Kaiser is wrong; they’re not useless in just being able to yell. It’s because of them Peco and the others are able to fight and break through.

When Kaiser decides “screw it, I’m going to destroy this cursed world”, she brings up her two aces in the hole, Neneka and Labyrista, whose minds she’s overthrown. But their combined attack (which resembles the bankai Senbonzakura Kageyoshi) is blocked and nullified…by a reinvigorated Karyl, choosing the right side and sticking with it.

As the battle progresses, Kaiser (AKA Mana) longs to be reunited with someone named “Minerva”, without whom she’s endured crushing loneliness for countless time loops. Yuuki is able to release Kaiser’s hold on Labyrista’s avatar, and Labyrista quickly releases Neneka. Having lost her two most powerful weapons, Kaiser doubles down on her recklessness by letting the shadows envelop and overthrow her.

As final bosses tend to do, this turns her into a colossal slime monster, but thanks to the other guilds showing up to support them, the Gourmet Guild are able to leap inside the mass of goo, and Yuuki, Kokkoro and Pecorine are able to clear the way for Karyl to reach her majesty and try to save her.

In a gray morose world on the brink of destruction, Karyl, Kaiser’s Princess Knight, won’t let her body and soul vanish into the abyss. Even when the structure around them crumbles, Karyl doesn’t let go, and even though geting her there mortally wounded Yuuki, he chooses to go back and reach out to Karyl, pulling both her and Kaiser out of sure oblivion and back into the world.

The townsfolk rejoice as the Gourmet Guild emerge unharmed and victorious. Kaiser, either no longer a threat or unwilling to fight any further, accepts her loss and is arrested. Her spell on Peco’s parents is lifted, and they remember their daughter and embrace her.

Her friends look on with full hearts as she weeps buckets of tears of joy into the bosom of her mother the queen. And then she takes her rightful place back at Landosol Castle, addressing her adoring people.

Back at the Gourmet Guild, Karyl is the new chef, and assures the others that her meal might not look like much but it tastes great. Yuuki and Kokkoro praise her, but Kokkoro makes the mistake of serving tea to their fourth member, and all three of them suddenly feel her absence.

That is, until they hear her voice and see her in the doorway. While she’s glad her parents remember her and she’s a princess again, she still has a long way to go before she’s ready to rule the kingdom she just took back. So she re-joins Gourmet Guild as Pecorine, primed to go on a lot more adventures and gain the experience she’ll need once she comes into her throne.

This was a breathless banger from start to finish; an episode with a whole lot to do that managed to pull it off with a brilliant flourish before returning to the warm and peaceful Gourmet Guild house. It’s pretty much exactly what I was hoping for in a finale…I just wish we could spend a little more quiet time with the guild now that there are no more secrets or divided loyalties…just food, fun, and family!

P.S. While it’s a totally different an much older game, I feel compelled to end this write-up with one of my favorite victory themes, from Star Ocean: Till the End of Time:

Fabiniku – 11 – Gundam Tantrum

The Head Maid Kalm’s plan to set the humans against each other fails when the entire army is converted into happy naked farmers, dispelling her mind control and replacing it with…something else entirely. Despite spending a whole year on this plan, Kalm pulls the plug and goes with Plan B: Just Blow the Whole Kingdom Up!

Do acquire the weaponry needed for such a plan, Kalm and Vizzd lead both Yggie and Tachibana to the royal armory, where two Royal Crests are needed to unlock the vault. Fortunately for the Head Maid, Tachibana’s crest serves the same purpose as a member of royalty’s, and she’s exhausted and super out-of-it thanks to her increased Charm power.

Once they’re in the vault, Vizzd boards the gigantic bunny-like Mech, Mehpon and begins a march towards the capital. While Lucius finds it quite cute and the King himself says it was a gift from their beloved Goddess, it’s clear to all when Vizzd just misses blasting the tallest clock tower in the city into smithereens (while also blasting a hole in the mountain beyond), this adorable giant robot is a serious threat (with the same freakish mouth structure as its much smaller, fuzzy counterpart).

It’s because of that—and because due to his distance from Tachibana he’s has just his usual above-average-for-a-human strength, Jinguuji leaves it to Schwartz to defend the capital and everyone in it from Mehpon’s attacks. At first Schwartz is weary of fighting alone, but when push comes to shove, he and his Holy Sword Gram are more than enough to deflect the mech’s beams.

When Vizzd announces that she has the Hero aboard, Jinguuji fairly deduces that the closer her gets to the mech, the stronger and more able to support Schwartz he’ll get. He’s also certain Tachibana would never voluntarily launch an attack that would hurt or kill others. Sure enough, Tachibana is still quite out of it, floating around Mehpon’s interior with a great view of the action but unable to affect it.

That is, until Tachibana realizes that she can indeed take control of Mehpon whenever she wants. When Vizzd loses control, all she and Kalm can do is bicker through the mech’s video communication system, and I love me a good villain bickering sesh! These two are consistently hilarious in their hubris and ineptness and I was just waiting for Jinguuji and Schwartz to make them sorry they ever took Tachibana hostage.

However, even when they finally get within spitting distance of Mehpon thanks to a trusty Crocodog, Jinguuji’s power doesn’t return. Moreover, Tachibana takes over the mech’s PA system and declares that she will defeat…Jinguuji?!?! Apparently both her time apart with Yggie and her time floating about totally out of it inside Mehpon has caused a lot of pent-up resentment to come out.

As she recounts memories of Jinguuji being excellent and her being nothing but a hanger-on, Tachibana gets more and more upset about how Jinguuji, who is constantly praised, has never once praised her. When he takes Schwartz’s advice and gives her random praise with nothing behind it, it only maker her madder, and he has to deploy the apartment door to shield himself from Mehpon’s beam.

Tachibana has felt “worthless” to Jinguuji, and feels that other than having him as a friend, she has “nothing.” Of course, neither of these things are remotely true, but it stands to reason there’d eventually be a blow-up like this regarding the two friends’ wide margin of general ability.

There are plenty of things Tachibana has, and can do, that Jinguuji doesn’t or can’t. Hopefully Jinguuji can convey what those are in a manner that calms rather than stokes his best friend’s fury.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fabiniku – 10 – It’s Only Natural to Help

Without having really thought through a promise like “I’ll do anything for you!”, Tachibana proceeds to serve as Yugrain’s sister-in-arms in the burgeoning rebellion against her father. Men loyal to the king proceed to list the particular type of woman who would sway him to their side, and when Yugrain can’t be that girl, Tachibana picks up the slack. Before you know it, they have a huge army!

Just as Tachibana and Jinguuji stumbled upon a captive Premier a couple episodes back, Tachibana just happens to encounter Maria, whom we know failed her intelligence mission, tied up knots that are almost too specific, like someone well-versed in rope play was simply showing off. Tachibana is distracted and only makes the knots worse rather than loosen them…which kind of describes her and Jinguuji’s fight this week!

Yugrain’s Head Maid, who on the one hand crafted both the cute idol costumes and strategy for the princess’ rebellion, seems to be hiding contempt for Yugrain, and is revealed to be an agent (if not general) of the Demon Lord when she gives Tachibana an otherworldly massage after a tough day of rabblerousing and worried about people seeing up her way-too-short skirt.

Clearly the Head Maid intends to turn the power of Tachibana, the hero of the Goddess of Love and Beauty, to the Demon Lord’s advantage. While working on Tachibana, she falls asleep and dreams of the day she first met Jinguuji. Tachibana was the victim of bullying, but Jinguuji put a stop to it with his overwhelming strength and sense of honor. Tachibana wonders if all along she was simply causing more trouble for him.

Back at the palace, Jinguuji is distracted from being worried about Tachibana for at least a little while by the arrival of Schwartz, who Lucius has taken under her wing. Schwartz may not know much about court etiquette, but he and Lucius are there to help the king put down his daughter’s rebellion, preferably without bloodshed.

Schwartz ends up harnessing the newly-recovered holy sword Gram by slicing through not only the rebels’ weapons and memories, but their clothes as well, sending them into confused retreat. Lucius only lets him bask in the light of his own magnificence for so long before giving him a punch back down to earth.

Schwartz may also still be a bit high on his victory when he teases Jinguuji, saying he’s this out of sorts after Tachibana “cheated on him” just a little. Even a joking implication sends Jinguuji into a heretofore unseen bloodlust as he tries to extract further intent from a terrified Schwartz’s jibes. However, this interaction is interrupted by an earthquake felt by all…are the demon lord’s minions making their move?

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 10 – Will the Real Eustiana Please Stand Up?

Well, the overarching arc of Pecorine/Eustiana stepping into the light and reclaiming her throne all comes down to this, with a newly-masked Karyl joining Kaiser as her right hand and primary weapon. It’s not clear how much of Karyl’s cooperation is forced, either by magic or deference to Kaiser, but there’s no disputing she’s in a bad way.

When Karyl attacks Diabolos and captures three of their members, Shinobu and Miyako manage to escape and head to the Gourmet Guild to give them the bad news: Karyl has turned her coat. Soon all of Landosol learns this, when Kaiser uses Labyrista’s ability to encircle the city in a shell, then project a giant Karyl who will be the instrument through which Kaiser will sacrifice its citizens.

It’s not just the Gourmet Guild that springs into action to stop Karyl and Kaiser. Doctor Yuni and the Friendship Club collaborate with Kasumi and Tamaki, and the good doctor discovers that the truth that was “out of joint” all this time was the person sitting on the throne: a false princess who has manipulated the minds of everyone in the kingdom.

By the time Yuki, Kokkoro, and Pecorine arrive in town, the place is crawling with Shadows, but adventurers, warriors, mages, and ordinary folk alike manage to hold their own, with the latter even saving Yuuki and Kokkoro when things are looking their most grim. Peco goes on ahead, and from that point on it’s really all about her and Karyl, whose attacks she either dodges or absorbs as she manages to tackle her.

When Yuni uses her “Rosetta Network” of pet rocks to broadcast the truth about the princess currently on the throne, Kaiser orders Karyl to kill everyone—and Karyl is powerful enough to make it happen. But her rain of purple magic bolts ends up hitting no one. As much as she wants to obey her majesty, she just can’t hurt anyone anymore. Kaiser doesn’t take no for an answer, and uses magic threads to manipulate Karyl like a puppet.

Karyls mask falls, she starts to cry and beg someone, anyone to destroy her so she can’t harm anyone else. Instead, her attacks, and Kaiser’s hold on her, are neutralized by a stalwart Pecorine, who finally, finally finds the proper time to tell her dear friend the truth about her true identity. While the duel this week isn’t nearly as badass as the Kaiser-Labyrista bout, it’s a hell of a lot more emotionally charged.

Pecorine does this in front of most of the town, revealing herself to be the real Eustiana von Astrea and vowing to not only save Karyl, but protect her people as well. Considering the power we saw on display from Kaiser last week and all the tricks she has up her sleeve (from Metamorregnant to Labyrista’s power), I’d say the gloves will be coming off next week, which means Pecorine…which means Eustiana will most likely need a little help from her many, many friends.

Fabiniku – 09 – Royal Rebel

After saving Tachibana and Jinguuji from the pool party, royal intelligence officer Maria gives them a tour of the palace before an audience with the king. When Jinguuji is rightly suspicious about how well-timed Maria’s arrival was and how quickly an audience was arranged, Shen emerges from beneath the floor, having alerted Maria to the presence of the Hero.

The king and his advisors, while dressed only in loincloths, give Tachibana a warm greeting befitting a hero. The king himself belts out the prophecy they’ve been after since arriving in the capital, and it turns out to sound a lot like a gyaru wrote it in the age of TikTok. However, they translated it to mean someone like Tachibana would one day arrive to defeat the Demon Lord.

Our pair are given all the resources at the kingdom’s disposal, which Tachibana chalks up to her Charm effect working on the king and his advisors in a subtle but powerful way. At a formal ball to celebrate her arrival, Tachibana’s dress causes Jinguuji to imagine them marrying and growing old together.

Tachibana is then banished from the ballroom. She wants to drink and be merry, but when she insists, Jinguuji goes so far as to grab her by the arm and give her a serious scolding for acting so recklessly. While Tachibana does have a penchant for getting into trouble, I do think he’s being too harsh on her here.

She runs off, and encounters a beautiful young woman sitting at a window. When this woman prepares to jump outsaid window, Tachibana has to stop her, and does so by asking for advice. While Tachibana tries to put things as unromantically as she can, the woman sees right through the word-mincing.

She can tell Tachibana is depressed that “the gentleman” she’s thinking of won’t look her way or praise her. As Tachibana goes on both inside and outside her head, the woman concludes that Tachibana must love him very much. This is spot-on, though that love isn’t as necessarily romantic in nature as the woman must suspect.

In any case, Tachibana’s talk with her leads her to cancelling her suicide for the time being. She introduces herself as Yugrain, the first princess of the kingdom. She then stops by as Tachibana and Jinguuji are having a meal to anounce her intention to accompany them on their quest.

Yugrain and Jinguuji develop as instant a disdain for each other as she and Tachibana developed a rapport. The two verbally spar, but Jinguuji doesn’t want another hanger-on, and is willing to leave it to her father the king to “smoothly, efficiently crush” her heart.

Sure enough, Yugrain storms off in an adolescent rage in response to her father forbidding her from going. Tachibana follows her, and pointedly tells Jinguuji not to follow her. She gets Yugrain to cheer up by saying that she’ll do anything she can to turn that frown upside down. In Yugrain’s case, that’s starting a rebellion in her own kingdom to spite her baka dad.

The king’s council debates how to handle this rebellion, and when the king rules out any military action, everyone turns to Maria to handle the princess carefully and quietly. Alas, she fails and is captured by the rebels off-camera.

All the while Jinguuji goes over Tachibana’s words to him—don’t follow me—as he sits stoically on a balcony, wondering what she wants him to do. Maybe don’t be so dang cold to her all the time and not shit all over her new friend!

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