Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 06

This was a calm-before-the-storm episode where not much happened, but what did transpire, and what I learned, was of great significance. It also underscored the fact that the female gaze as represented by Nina is not only present but prevailing in Bahamut.

Case in point, while running an errand for Rita on the eve of the great Anatae festival, Nina comes afoul of the Pimp whose slaves Mugaro released, only this time he’s armed with ridiculously handsome henchmen that make it tough for her to fight back.

It’s an ingenious way to place her in a state of vulnerability and in need of rescuing by the dreamy aloof vagabond. As thanks for his assistance, she asks him to stop by Bacchus’ hot wings stand, and he says he’ll be there.

Nina’s resulting bubbly high from the gruff yes lasts her for much of the episode, as her facial expressions reach new heights of contortion and she wanders through her festival duties in a haze. She’s got the hots for the stranger, and bad…but I wonder how she’d fell if she knew that stranger was none other than King Charioce XVII, walking among his people in disguise.

Meanwhile, Azazel’s imminent plans cast a pall over the big festival—plans that heavily rely on a very large assumption that Nina will side with him and the demons, transform into a red dragon, and help his cause; none of these things are certain, but he’s moving forward regardless.

The night of the festival, Charioce keeps his promise and stops by, and Bacchus asks him to take Nina and show her around. A lovely montage ensues, with an initially just-as-bashful-as-ever Nina gradually becoming more comfortable beside the pretty man as they engage in all manner of festival-related activities.

Those activities culminate in a folk dance, which is as carefully and lovingly animated as the scenes of action, violence, and destruction in previous episodes. Nina’s face is typically a kaleidoscope of emotions, but the dance takes her expressiveness to a new level.

When the time comes to bid farewell, Nina asks the king-in-disguise his name: he gives the name “Chris.” She wants to see and dance with him again, and he hopes they will, a line that echos in Nina’s head and almost turns her into a dragon right there, which is her cue to speed off, Road Runner-style.

While running, she fortuitously collides with Azazel, who has returned to Anatae after his long absence. Azazel has no time to chat, and sternly instructs Nina what to do. Notably, despite the fact he squeezes her cheeks and her eyes meet his, Nina does not blush or react strongly at all to the contact.

This, and her blissful letter to her mom, not only suggest that Nina now only has eyes for “Chris”, but that Charioce may have successfully accomplished what he set out to do: “disarm” Nina and remove her as a potential trump card for Azazel.

Was Charioce only playing Nina, or does a part of him get a thrill from being out in the world without the crown on his head; holding the warm hand of a lovely woman, rather than cold steel, in his own.

We’ll soon see. Azazel Comin’.

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Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 05

It’s an incremental episode with little action, but I can hardly complain when it’s also stuffed full of nice character beats from everyone. Take Nina, going shopping with Mugaro and naturally assuming he’s a girl because he’s so pretty, and dressing him accordingly. Nina cleans up pretty well herself, not that her standard, practical outfit isn’t nice in its own way.

Nina uses her super-strength to negotiate discounts, but it also allows her to stand up against a pimp-like human for torturing his slaves. Brand-new frilly dress or no, she’s ready to rumble with him and his bodyguards when Mugaro uses his red eye to vaporize all of the demon slaves’ collars, causing their former owner and his goons to flee.

Meanwhile, Kaisar is having a crisis of confidence, unsure if he’s worthy of captaining the Orleans Knights in Jeanne d’Arc’s stead. What’s so wonderful is how he expresses this frustration, inviting Rita to lunch, then sounding an awful lot like he’s about to confess to her. Rita is understandably miffed that Kaisar only wants to rant, and punishes him accordingly, while also telling him the old Kaisar of ten years ago may have been useless, but he was better than this Kaisar.

Bacchus’s moral dilemma intensifies when Sofiel pays him a visit complaining that he’s not doing enough to secure the “child;” but it’s only when Nina returns with Mugaro that he starts to suspect Mugaro is the very child he’s looking for. Sofiel thinks Bacchus is pathetic for not caring about staying in the human world forever, and it’s clear at least a part of Bacchus wants to obey her and produce the child…but another part of him doesn’t.

Getting punched by Rita motivates Kaisar to confront the King once more, and gives some very reasoned arguments, but Charioce argues his position well, too, even if he’s a bit overconfident he can become powerful enough to overcome the hatred his hatred will beget. Kaisar rightly believes Charioce’s way of doing things simply isn’t sustainable, and it’s only a matter of time before a large scale demon uprising is upon them (as we see earlier, Azazel is well on his way to starting it). But Charioce says he’s got it. To his credit, he doesn’t begrudge Kaisar living his life the way he chooses, as long as he doesn’t interfere with him.

One of Bahamut’s strengths is its ability to be so stern and serious in one scene, and so lighthearted and comical in the next—and sometimes both in the same scene. So it’s nice to see Kaisar and Charioce’s political debate followed by Bacchus and Hamsa’s ham-fisted attempt to see if Mugaro has two different-colored eyes, only to wake up and creep out Nina, who delivers swift justice and tosses them out of their own wagon.

No huge movement here, but still plenty of solidly entertaining scenes. Nina in particular continues to be a magnetic presence. I could honestly watch and listen to her read the phone book—which makes me that much more excited to see how she’ll fit into the coming confrontation.

Sidonia no Kishi 2 – 08

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First of all, a hearty bravo is in order for the show’s opening, in which we see a totally different character battle some kind of cyborg in a Sidonia-style setting. From last week’s cliffhanger, I imagined we were suddenly thrown into the events on Planet Seven, so I was pleasantly surprised when it was revealed Nagate, Izana, Yuhata and Tsumugi were merely watching a very well-produced TV show.

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The fact they’re gathered ’round the tube after a hard day’s hull reconstruction, and that Tsumugi is getting more playful and spontaneous (sometimes leading to non-lethal accidents) all contributes to the family atmosphere in Nagate and Izana’s new home.

When Yuhata moves in and she and Tsumugi turn Izana’s room into a communal space with a kotatsu, it’s disrupting Izana’s ideal living situation with Nagate and Nagate alone, but at least in Tsumugi’s case, she means well. In Yuhata’s case, she uses her rank and the need for further conservation of resources to move in, but we know she has the sorta-hots for Nagate.

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Her increasingly lively household, paired with the strenuous labor of reconstruction, and the fact she’s dealing with fundamental changes to her body (both her mechanical and female parts), all contribute to make Izana look like a person who needs to relax and take a break.

Her ageless grandma Yure notices this, and also notices how Izana is starting to blossom into a younger version of herself. To that end, she requests that Izana wear one of her fetching old dresses and the two Shinatoses go out on the town. Those outfits strike the right balance of revealing (with that nice back latticing) and practicality (they still have carabiners in case of gravity fluctuations). Even Izana’s clear weariness with being dolled up like this doesn’t change the fact that she looks fantastic.

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Naturally, she runs into Nagate while trying to hurry home without being seen, and since their home is the same now, it makes for an awkward walk, but also a flattering one. Like myself, Nagate has always found Izana cute, but now that she’s more overtly feminine, he can’t help but blush in her presence, and whenever they accidentally touch, neither quite knows what to do with themselves.

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Nagate takes the route of passivity, but when he straight-up fails to notice Izana is behind him while he’s headed back to base in formation with the Tsumugi, Izana gets upset with him. Again, Yure takes notice, and decides to take matters into her own hands, knowing she’s witnessing a romantic stalemate in progress.

Nagate is never going to ask Izana out, or vice versa, so Yure puts it into terms he can understand: duty and orders; life and death. She suddenly summons him to her presence, timing how long he takes to get there, then starts to tell—not ask—him to go on a top secret snap “Cultural Properties Inspection” of the Thousand Year Village, and telling him to ask Izana to accompany him.

Yure gives him the distinct impression—in surely the funniest use of the show’s omnipresent schematics yet—that if he in any way fails to complete his mission to her satisfaction, she may sever his head with an explosive she planted in his neck vertebrae. What’s so great is that you can’t be sure at all whether she’s serious. This is how you move things forward.

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When Nagate comes home and discusses their “mission” with all that official-sounding terminology, Izana picks up on what’s going on, accepts that this is the only way Nagate can ask her to go on a vacation with him, and says yes. The couple’s body language here, and throughout the episode, really, is really well done.

All the while, their privacy is violated by a too-curious-not-to-look Tsumugi, who suspends Yuhata in the air so she can peek too. In the morning, they’re both kind of put off by Nagate and Izana’s not-too-subtle subterfuge as they sneak out one at a time.

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When they arrive at the entrance to the Thousand Year Village, and the doors open to reveal a gorgeous traditional building amongst a grove of cherry blossoms, it’s like they’re walking into another dimension. The metal and concrete walls of Sidonia are still there, but this place is a warm rejection of that cold science.

Izana is so bowled over by the sights, she doesn’t even realize she’s taken Nagate by the hand. But in a nice change of  pace, they don’t both turn beet red, quickly let go and back away. They continue holding hands, look into each others’ eyes, and say each others’ names. How romantic is that?

While I’m sure there are detractors to this kind of character-focused “Sidonia Lite”, I’m loving and savoring every minute of it. The next horrific threat could pop up at any time, and with the likes of Kobayashi in charge, it certainly will; but in the meantime I’m perfectly happy watching Nagate and Izana live their lives and draw closer to one another.

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Sidonia no Kishi 2 – 07

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Of the four people in this shot, I only trust the ones sitting down, which is troubling, because she’s the one with by far the least power aboard Sidonia, despite her formidable scientific prowess. Heck, I even have a problem with Yure, who seems to have cultivated a kind of scientific tunnel vision, realizing the wild dreams of her superiors without regard for the consequences.

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We watch in horror the fruits of this dream team’s labor this week: the Graviton Beam Emitter goes berserk when they try to shut it down, and it starts acting like a wounded Gauna, extending its tentacles out across Sidonia’s hull. The familiar blue and green computer displays turn a alarming red hue, and the Kubrickesque neatly-framed control tower contrasts nicely with the unhinged chaos taking place outside its windows.

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Worse still, the head, at least the substitute head in XO Yuhata, has no idea what the body is doing. When you stop and consider for all they know they’re all that’s left of humanity, Captain Kobayashi testing highly dangerous experimental weapons without informing the bridge crew is a bridge—or rather space elevator—too far. It’s a testament to Yuhata’s confidence, decisiveness, and calm under fire that things don’t spiral completely out of control.

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Watching the emitter continue to swell until collapsing on itself like a miniature supernova, leaving a huge gaping hole in the ship, made for a very disturbing, visceral sight, especially considering how many people either got gobbled up in the implosion or were left floating free in the vacuum of space.

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Goshdarnit, there are enough perils in space without the Hubristic Triumvirate of Kobayashi, Kunato, Ochiai serving up new ones from within! Yet in the aftermath of a very close call, Kobayashi is so seduced by the “weapon of wonder” that she orders Yure to keep trying until she gets it right, despite the fact Yure, a gifted scientist, just told her it was a failure.

I’m telling you, if Kobayashi retains power much longer, it’ll be a miracle if Sidonia doesn’t end up a fine cloud of dust in the inky black vastness. At least Yure has the common sense to talk with her old friend Sasaki about her predicament. “My boss is a megalomaniac who’s finally gone off the deep end. Any advice?”

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Meanwhile, down on the flight deck, the Gardes and their pilots continue to get upgrades, like an armor that links up four frames into one with an artificial kabi hull well-suited to ramming Gauna. The leftover kabi was used to make katana for the pilots, to serve as combination low-tech last-resort sidearms and good luck charms. But Samari doesn’t see good fortune in her new blade; she sees that things are only going to get hairier. She can feel the “Rumbling” that is the title of this episode.

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Speaking of rumblings, there are some about the prospect of a full-on Tanikaze Nagate harem, what with Ren convincing her sister En to stop by Nagate’s post to deliver some food, only to find Samari of all people has beaten her to the punch. I for one dig the Sidonia hoodies, not to mention En’s acrobatics.

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Turns out Samari wanted a drinking buddy to vent to, and it may as well be the person who, along with Tsugumi, seems to be leaving her in the dust with all the new weapons, and in the midst of all the recent bloodshed. Samari is doubting her abilities—never a good thing for a group leader—and not looking forward to sending more comrades to their deaths. It’s a welcome look into another underling struggling as a result of the callous actions of the powers that be.

When she apologizes for whining, Nagate cheers her up, saying he believes she’s saved more pilots than lost, and that she has his ear anytime. Her lips loosened by many cups of sake, she proposes “photosynthesis”, perhaps to see if she can claim more than his ear—but he takes one swig of the booze and passes out, ruining her tentative plans to conquer the young hotshot—and blow of steam in the process.

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For an episode with so much dark stuff going on, there was also a fair amount of comedy, most of which I can report actually laughing at, a rarity in a show where appeals for laughs can feel as mechanical as the vivid computer schematics. In fact, Sidonia’s comedy has never felt as well-timed and confident as this week.

The centerpiece, in which Izana’s suit rejects her because it has detected “modifications” that turn out to be her sudden development of female physical attributes (i.e. boobs), telegraphs its impending joke with the glitch she can’t clear, without spoiling the shock of the suit suddenly “ejecting” her, giving Nagate a show that shocks his head right into a bulkhead.

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Izana’s sudden but not unexpected transformation into a woman services both fan (at least in my case), plot, and character. Nagate had always been more comfortable around Izana in part because she wasn’t quite female or male. But she’s been emotionally female for a while now, and now her body’s caught up, it should change their dynamic drastically. That frontrunner status is confirmed by Yuhata, who already has boob envy.

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That’s not even the whole joke of the bath scene, though. When Izana retreats from the an uncomfortable situation, Tsugumi and Yuhata continue talking and playing in the bath as Izana joins Nagate on the floor below…and learns that he could hear everything they were talking about.

Watching this realization gradually wash over Izana’s always expressive face is delightful to behold, matched only by Nagate’s innocent look and meek “What’s up?” before she drives her bionic arm into the table, splattering his scalding-hot ramen broth all over him in a nice moment of Physics.

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The cold close focuses on a team of astronauts surveying Planet 7 in the Lem System (likely named for Stanislaw Lem, author of Solaris), about to have a Very Bad Day, as their comrades suddenly start screaming until drowned out by alien sounds and static. This, just after they mocked Sidonia’s obsession with weapons.

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Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo – 05

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I had my doubts about what would happen to my lovely body-swapping comedy when more of the titular seven witches entered the fray: would the balance be upset? Would the extra characters just make things more muddled and unfocused, killing the crispness I’ve enjoyed so much? Well, if Odagiri Nene is any indicator, my reservations were unnecessary. Nene is far more than a school villain, Y7 is about far more than body-swapping, and it knows exactly what it’s doing.

It’s just Ryuu’s luck that Urara wants to kiss him just when he’s off to go see Nene to resolve his current “charming” problem. Urara is the last person he wants to fall in love with him through some kind of kissing spell because, well, he’s falling in love with her for real, and wants the real thing in return. So he tries to keep his problem a secret from Urara.

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That doesn’t last long, however, as he’s unable to find Nene and the time he agreed to kiss Yamada comes and goes. Where a lesser show wouldn’t have him telling Urara the truth until the very end of the episode, Y7 has a lot more ground to cover, and covers it deftly and efficiently.

And it’s actually good for Yamada to tell Urara wha’ts happened, because now they’ve determined that body-swapping isn’t Yamada’s power, but Urara’s; Yamada’s power is copying others’ powers, while making his host susceptible to their own. The body-swapping Urara swaps bodies…and Nene has fallen in love with Yamada.

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As it happens, as Yamada and Urara kiss and figure this out, Nene is watching from the bushes with her lieutenant, Igarashi Ushio (Ono Daisuke), who is upset that Nene has been overcome by unrequited love for Yamada, because, well, it’s pretty obvious that he likes Nene.

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At first, Ushio lashes out at Yamada with a vicious kick. We learn that the two were old friends and fellow n’er-do-wells who sought the same thing by transferring to Suzaku High: fresh starts. But neither of them were able to find any guys they could tolerate, let alone befriend. But an incident caused them to drift apart, leaving Yamada essentially alone until he met (or rather fell on) Urara.

Ushio calms himself and takes a more contrite attitude, getting on his knees, promising he’ll destroy the incriminating photos of Yamada and even make Nene drop out of the election, if only he’ll change Nene, the person most important to him, back to normal.

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Yamada refuses, but Urara agrees on his behalf. This angers him, but in a moment of emphatic (and admirable) assertiveness, Urara gives him a sharp, brutal SLAP and orders him to knock it off. Just as he did with his predicament and the start of this episode, he’s being stubborn and holding back information form her that could help her understand his situation better. They’ve switched bodies numerous times; this is not the time to be tight-lipped, especially when Urara assumed from his standoffishness that he’d gotten sick of her, which is so not the case.

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Grudgingly, Yamada agrees to kiss Nene, satisfying Ushio. When Yamada asks him if he kissed Nene, he says he did, but he likes the person he became because of it. We learn why when Yamada gives Urara the rest of their story. While in an alley they came upon some roughs picking on a girl from their school. Ushio instigates a brawl and the girl is able to run off, and Yamada backs him up, because he’s not about to watch his friend take on four guys by himself. It’s good to see Yamada in Full Delinquent Mode, even if it’s a flashback.

Back at school though, Ushio throws Yamada under the bus. Not only does he get suspended for a week, but the entire school becomes afraid of him, the very thing he hoped to avoid by transferring there in the first place. Ushio, meanwhile, washes his hands of Yamada and takes his place beside the classmate they rescued from the roughs: Nene.

Had Ushio met Nene before, kissed her, and become infatuated to the point of not only starting a fight for her, but framing Yamada so he took the heat? Or had Ushio and Nene never met, and it was Nene who kissed Ushio out of appreciation for saving her? The possibilities are intriguing.

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In any case, Ushio’s betrayal was the reason Yamada hesitated in turning Nene back to normal. But when he meets Nene in private at her hideout in the old school building, he gets fresh insight into her power, and why he can’t possibly allow Nene to stay in a state of unrequited love forever.

Nene seems eager to get this whole thing over with when everyone else is around, but when they leave the two alone, she asks him not to kiss her. You see, she never knew how happy her power could make people until she herself experienced it, something Yamada made possible. And whatever else being in love with Yamada is—unintended, artificial, futile—it isn’t BORING. As we saw with Ito and Miyamura last week after Yamada kissed them, being in love is awesome.

Yamada now understands why Ushio doesn’t mind being under Nene’s spell. But Ushio has a shot at Nene; Yamada makes it clear he’d never fall for Nene, either naturally (as Ushio might have with her) or due to her power (which is reflected by his copying power). Urara is right; Yamada can’t let Nene pine for him forever, and at the end of the day Nene isn’t of sound mind. So he kisses her.

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As if the resolution of this situation wasn’t enough, Ushio produces an incomplete journal from a past Supernatural Studies Club, documenting the Seven “Witches”, or girls with supernatural powers, who attend Sazaku High. Two have now been identified by the club: Urara and Nene, but the other five are a mystery, and the new club is going to find them, because Urara, being one herself, is confident that they want to be found.

Yamada is their Witch Detector, and so grudgingly goes along with this plan. And he can’t really complain, as both he and Ushio got what they wanted: new and exciting school lives that aren’t defined by their violent pasts, and interesting friends. I look forward to new witches being discovered and even more tantalizingly complex character dynamics to sprout up.

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Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo – 04

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What keeps every minute of Yamada 7 compelling is the cast’s ability to not simply explore and investigate Yamada’s strange power, but also use it to their advantage. Urara has been the most stealthy yet most prolific in that regard, especially this week, when she swaps bodies with Yamada just before going on a school onsen trip.

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In this case, swapping bodies isn’t about experimenting on the nature of the power. Urara is ostensibly using it so she can study as Yamada while Yamada mingles with the other girls. But because he’s doing it in Urara’s body, he’s able to effect a change in how they regard her; that is, as one of their own rather than an outsider.

Yamada storms into Urara’s room demanding his body back out of exhaustion from spending all day and potentially all night with the super-hyper girls, but it’s also an opportunity for Urara to admit she’s left too much to him, so it’s her turn to take over in her own body. Their perpendicular kiss, followed by a shot of Urara from Yamada’s POV, is pretty darned sexy, to boot.

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But Urara was reckless, and went through her own belongings—including admiring her own panties—while in Yamada’s body, and Vice President Odagiri Nene snaps incriminating pictures. Now, we know from the OP that Nene is most likely one of the seven witches (along with Urara herself), so we know she’s aware of what really happened in those photos. But she wants the presidency, and if Urara skips out on a mock exam, it will hurt Miyamura’s chances and help her own.

A flustered Yamada seeks counsel from Itou and Miyamura, who are more interested in playing cards; this is their first of several great exchanges for what’s turning out to be an awesome supporting duo. They’re not cool with him using Urara to explain away the photos, as it would hurt her reputation. As for switching bodies with Nene, they’re not sure he’s thought it all through.

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Still, he has little other options, so he calls Salia Nene out later that night in her jammies and kisses her—or rather, she kisses him…which is an important distinction, because not only do they fail to switch bodies, but when Miyamura and Itou kiss him, he fails to switch bodies with them as well, meaning his ability is gone.

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Everyone agrees the best thing to do is sleep on it—Yamada’s had a long, exhausting day—but the next day at the barbecue Urara makes him yakisoba in gratitude for helping her get along with the other girls, who all love her. She also wants to go on a trip over Summer break with the Supernatural Club. As Yamada is a member of said club, and he likes Urara, this is an enticing prospect.

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Which gives him a quandary: Urara joined the club so she could switch bodies with Yamada in a safe, private place. If he doesn’t have that ability anymore, will she leave the club, and abandon him? I doubt it, but Yamada has bigger problems upon returning to school: Itou and Miyamura are infatuated with him.

This is a bold move for Y7, having not even fully explored all the possibilities of his body-swapping abilities, to give him the power to make whoever he kisses fall in love with him. Not only that, when he kisses them again to take away the love, they still feel a sense of loss, and only want to get that feeling back.

Masuda Toshiki and Uchida Maaya put on a comic clinic portraying Miyamura and Itou as not only all hot and bothered and competitive with each other while under the spell, to their excitement and desire about being put back under the spell when they’re not on it.

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My theory for what’s going on? Urara and Nene are two of the Seven Witches. When Yamada kisses Urara, he gains the power to swap bodies. When he kisses Nene, he gains the power to charm others. Worried about what Urara would do if she found out he lost the former power, he tries to keep it a secret from her as he heads to Nenes’ to “resolve everything”…but Urara’s right outside the door.

Would kissing Nene or Urara get him his body-swapping power back? What powers do the other five witches have in store? And who’s aware that they’re a witch and who isn’t—I’d guess Urara’s the former and Nene’s the latter, but who knows? All I know is, this is some entertaining supernatural romantic comedy right here.

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Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo – 03

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In addition to its ability to smartly construct episodes that go off in interesting and unexpected directions, 7-nin also does quite a good job balancing comedy and poignancy without coming off as sappy. It reminds me a lot of Majimoji Rurumo, only with far more refined character design.

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It’s also clever in the way it brings up situations in which one’s gender makes a difference, such as dealing with the President, Yamazaki Haruma, who doesn’t give men the time of day, which turns out to be a red herring. The Prez can tell from their smell that he’s talking to Yamada and Miyamura, not Urara and Itou. But that’s fine, because he has a job for Yamada: convince Urara to apply to college. Then he’ll get his club budget.

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Yamada, Miyamura, and Itou are then confronted in an outdoor corridor by Vice Prez Odagiri Nene (Kitamura Eri) and Igarashi Ushio, the latter of whom seems to have some kind of undisclosed history with Yamada. Ushio mocks Yamada for being Miyamura’s “dog” now, while Nene warns Miyamura that she, not he, will be the next President.

Turns out Miyamura has more banking on their deal with Yamazaki than Yamada and Itou realized. But Miyamura assures them it’s not just about him anymore; he honestly wants to see the club succeed. He also warns Yamada that if they fail, Yamazaki might shut down the club altogether.

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The interesting mechanics of the body-swapping play a crucial role in Yamada’s ultimate success, though it doesn’t seem like that at first, what with Urara suddenly swapping bodies with Yamada, who not only gets Urara’s body, but her nasty cold as well. Assuming she tricked him so she could study at school, she goes home…to Urara’s house, with Miyamura and Itou tagging along.

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What I love about where this mission takes the three is, despite his delinquent rep, Yamada’s the most not-okay with snooping around Urara’s place, even if it could reveal clues about why she doesn’t want to apply to college. But Yamada finds something else out about the home and Urara’s life; something not immediately apparent to the others: the home may appear “normal”, but it’s also an oppressively lonely place. Even her photo albums are full of forced smiles.

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Not coincidentally, when Urara comes home in Yamada’s body, angry as hell he ditched her (even though Yamada was sure the opposite was the case), we see that what truly hurt her was opening the clubroom to find no one there. When she remarks how it’s lonely whether she’s at school or at home and tells him to go home, Yamada gets the picture and decides he’s not going anywhere.

Even though her face is turned, her memory of the empty clubroom made it clear she wished Yamada had disobeyed her, so she’s elated when he comes back with a damp washcloth. Then he proceeds to shock her and me by making a deal with her: he’ll make a serious run at getting into college, if she comes with him.

With the prospect of college no longer just another setting in which to be alone, she accepts, just as the sun comes out. It may seem fast, but let’s not forget these two have shared bodies, kissed several times, and come to learn a lot about one another, including sides of them no one else knows about.

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That would have made a fine ending, but 7-nin wasn’t quite done. Why close on a poignant moment when you can close with the realization of Yamada’s precious dream of having a microwave in the clubroom, which was his initial motivation, after all.

Only it doesn’t turn out quite as wonderfully as he’d dreamt: not only does Itou microwave his prized yakisoba bread too long while still its plastic wrapping, Yamada’s own body has caught Urara’s cold, which makes sense, as he kissed her twice. You know you’ve got your Couple Card when you’re making each other sick!

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Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo – 02

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While last week was an exploration of two very different people finding common ground in each others bodies (that sounds kinda wrong, but bear with me), while a third supports them, while this week explored the ironies and misunderstandings inherent in suddenly throwing a fourth member into the club, Ito Miyabi, complete with her own set of charms, and neuroses. She’s voiced by Uchida Maaya, no stranger to playing weirdos.

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Itou joins and proceeds to thoroughly clean the supernatural club room. The others don’t tell her they’re in the room because it’s a safe place to switch bodies—which is far more supernatural than materia stones and UFO photos. Instead, they simply accept her intermittent existence in the room without explaining anything.

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So when she inevitably walks in on Ryuu and Urara kissing, she gets the very reasonable impression that the others never intended to start the supernatural club back up, but only wanted a place to make out. Slowing her roll and telling her the truth from the start might have been tricky, but now they have a scorned Itou out for revenge, which is worse.

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Itou’s campaign of vengeance consists of distributing posters, fliers, and rumors about how Yamada and Shiraishi are an item. When Yamada sees that the rumors are isolating Shiraishi again, he takes the rash step of cornering a hostile Itou in the clubroom and coming clean the quickest way he can: by kissing her.

This is actually played as a pretty uncomfortable scene, with Itou’s face a flurry of expressions from fear, nervousness, bashfulness, to acceptance, and then the face of Itou (in-Yamada’s body) before Yamada (in-Itou’s body) clocks her.

Chalk the discomfort to Yamada feeling he neither has time or the wherewithal to properly explain, and Itou her hostile state wasn’t going to listen.

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After the obligatory check of Itou’s body, Yamada proceeds to try to undo all the harm Itou’s rumors caused, only to find no one took them seriously, because she’s known around school for making stuff up, like UFOs and such. Shiraishi even admits she was alone because it’s close to exams and she asked not to be disturbed!

So Yamada’s desperate measure turned out to be completely unnecessary, while switching bodies had far greater consequences, as Itou (in Yamada’s body) disappears after being spotted posing in the mirror, striking poses, and performing finishing moves.

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A search of Itou’s phone reveals she was being hustled for supernatural objects by some thugs, and decided to go after them in Yamada’s body. She gets her ass kicked, but Yamada (in Itou’s body) shows up and takes the thug trio out, introducing us to the idea that Yamada’s stronger body wasn’t enough to fight her enemies; Yamada fights with his spirit, so even in Itou’s body, he kicks ass. I really like this concept.

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After switching back to their own bodies, Itou is content to withdraw with dignity, but Yamada shows her her completed club application, re-welcoming her into the supernatural club. At the end of the day, Itou was lonely and looking to become more popular at school, and while the path to get there had a few corkscrews and switchbacks, she’s now in a club with far better caliber people than she first imagined when she saw them kissing.

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Itou also puts the possibilities of the body-swapping into high gear, testing out every possible combination between the four of them. I’ll admit I lost track watching the scene the first way through (which I think was kinda the point), but the order goes like this:

  1. Yamada switches with Shiraishi (when Itou shoves him into her).
  2. Miyamura kisses Yamada (in Shiraishi’s body).
  3. Itou kisses Yamada (in Miyamura’s body).
  4. Miyamura (in Shiraishi’s body) kisses Yamada (in Itou’s body).

That right there is some big-league comedic complexity. It’s a wonderfully absurd sequence and all the voice actors do a great job imitating each other’s voice patterns and modulations.

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In the end, we finally meet more witches, though they’re not identified as such. I’m not sure where this whole power struggle for class president between Miyamura and Odagiri Nene (Kitamura Eri) is going, but nor do I really care…yet. 7-nin will have its work cut out for it integrating stodgy politics into the far more fun body-swapping narrative.

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Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo – 01 (First Impressions)

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Franklin has had a ridiculous schedule these days, so while he had first dibs on Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, he passed it to me. Lucky me! Yamada-kun is a fast-paced, nice-looking, tightly-constructed supernatural comedy backed by some truly inspired voice performances, and a helpful dose of always-welcome heart.

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Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches’ first episode interestingly has no witches in it, at least not any who identify themselves. But I didn’t miss them. Instead we have your typical unmotivated n’er-do-well Yamada Ryou who falls down some steps with perfect honor student Shiraishi Urara…and they switch bodies.

While Yamada does the obligatory pat-down of his new female body, resulting in the classic bloody nose, he also learns that Shiraishi is the unresistant victim of persistent bullying, as well as the victim of hassling by a trio of smitten geeks.

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Yamada may be a delinquent, he still has a sense of honor and justice, but when he offers to help Shiraishi with her problems, she outright refuses, even coming between a punch from Yamada (in her body) which was meant to stop just short of hitting the bully, but hits Shiraishi (in Yamada’s body) instead.

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The two try to return to their own bodies by falling down the stairs again—several times (don’t try this at home…or at school, kids!) to no avail—Shiraishi suggests they kiss, since they inadvertantly kissed on the first fall. Lo and behold, it works. I liked how straightforward Shiraishi was about kissing Yamada…after all, they’ve already shared each other’s bodies; and from her POV she’s essentially kissing herself. Tough-guy Yamada’s a lot more bashful.

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I can’t go on in this review without first giving serious props to Osaka Ryota and Hayami Saori, who have to pull double duty and absolutely nail it. When Shiraishi is in Yamada’s body, and Yamada in Shiraishi’s, Osaka and Hayami do a superb job inhabiting the other’s unique vocal patterns.

Kudos to the animation team as well, which gives Yamada a much more serene look when Shiraishi’s in him, while Shiraishi’s facial expressions and limbs are all over the place when Yamada’s in her.

On the flip side, both the seiyus and animators also understand that two people who suddenly switched bodies still wouldn’t be able to impersonate one another that well, thus the actual person within the body shines through loud and clear, even when they’re trying to hide it.

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This means anyone looking for something fishy about the couple is going to catch on pretty quickly, and that’s just what happens with StuCo VP Miyamura Toranosuke (Masuda Toshiki), who sets up a nifty trap that confirms his suspicions, getting beaten up by the geeks (a hilarious bit of classic comic turnabout) so “Shiraishi” has to defend herself, using an unmistakably Yamada roundhouse kick (Yamada also isn’t used to fighting in a skirt, hence the pantyshot).

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Some interesting comedic touches: Miyamura and Shiraishi checking out Yamada’s junk, and Yamada suddenly sitting down on a chair covered with cobwebs.

Their secret is out, but while Miyamura has intentions, they’re more opportunistic than sinister: he wants Yamada and Shiraishi to join the dormant Supernatural Club so he can start it back up. He also wants to see how far the body-swapping-by-kiss goes, and quickly determines Yamada can swap with anyone by kissing them.

Thus the two-person body-swapping act is expanded to three, and then four when an eavesdropping classmate (Uchida Maaya) enters the club with the intention to join. I really like where this first episode went, even before we’ve even seen any titular witches. I just hope where it’s going is as good, and with a lot more seiyu star power behind it, I doesn’t seem likely to disappoint.

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Steins Gate – 13

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How to follow up a cliffhanger that belongs in the pantheon of cliffhangers (along with “Mr. Worf, Fire” and “Boomer Shoots Adama”)? The same way those were followed up: by dropping us right back into the same moment it left us; in this case, with Moeka shooting Mayuri in the head. Moeka is aiming at Rintarou when Suzuha bursts back into the lab and takes out all of the other gunmen.

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She left to go turn on the 42″ CRT downstairs, and then returns to buy Rintarou and Kurisu just enough time to activate the time leaping machine, during which Kurisu too is shot right in front of Rintarou. Right after Steins;Gate’s best ending to date, we get its best cold open. The adrenaline was pumping from start to finish, even though I was reasonably certain Rintarou would get away.

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He ends up in the memory of the cemetery where Mayuri is looking up at a grave, and we learn the significance of that memory. The grave is Mayuri’s grandmother’s, and she’d visit it every day. One day, Rintarou watched as she became bathed in Rembrandt Lighting he feared would lift her up and away, so he ran to her, embraced her, and told her she can’t go anywhere, because she’s his “hostage” now.

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The cemetery is only a temporary stop, however, as Rintarou wakes up just before 5:00 PM the same evening Mayuri gets killed. Without stopping to explain anything, he cancels the party and runs out to look for Mayuri.

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Of course, Kurisu, being a genius, figures out pretty quickly that Rintarou used the time leap machine, it worked, and now has memories of the, or rather a future. But he’s in too much of a hurry and can only promise to tell everyone everything later, even Mayuri herself; his curtness frightens her. Of course, considering he just watched her die, I can’t expect him to have acted any more calmly.

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It’s that emotional trauma he carries that makes him slip up, realizing too late the trains were stopped by a bomb threat, likely for this purpose. The Mad Scientist finally has The Organization after him, and always seems to be one step ahead. A chase, a take-down, and Rintarou and Mayuri separate. He tells her to run, and she does, right into an alley where a waiting car runs her over.

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Rintarou is close to home, so he’s able to use the time leap machine again, but at this point I’m starting to think about Waremete, a Fall 2014 show I watched but left the reviewing duties to Zane. Turns out the visual novel it’s based upon was released a year after Steins;Gate. 

Here, as in WareMete, a protagonist tries multiple times to save someone, but no matter how they change the events of the day that someone dies, the person always finds a way to die, as if the timeline is attempting to balance itself. That’s what seems to be happening here.

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I say that because the first two times Mayuri is killed, it’s due to SERN’s actions, but SERN couldn’t have made Nae run up to Mayuri, trip, and accidentally shove her onto the subway track. That’s not outside interference; that’s…something else. Breaking the pattern of Mayuri’s deaths isn’t as simple as isolating her. Maybe it’s the watch?

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And then, there’s the possibility that Mayuri simply can’t be saved, no matter how many times Rintarou is able to go back. Pair that with the fact the trauma of watching her die is cumulative, and it won’t be long before Rintarou is simply too emotionally broken to have the necessary wits about him, which is all the more reason to tell the others what’s going on.

It all comes back to the cemetery memory. Was Rintarou only reacting to the strange light, or was there really something to his fear Mayuri was about to disappear? When he embraced her, was he only delaying the inevitable? SERN and time seem to be conspiring against him, and he is in way over his head.

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S;G reviews are back!…but only once a week.

Steins Gate – 12

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Steins;Gate reaches its halfway mark with a disappointingly uneventful outing, as–oh, God, what am I saying? I’ll be serious, as Okabe Rintarou has started to become by necessity: this was an effing classic. It was the choice of Steins Gate that the wool be fully pulled from my eyes…and my heart be ripped out of my chest.

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For all its humble looks and composition, this thing is lit like a terrible world-upending weapon

 

Rintarou had already drastically cut down on his chuunibyou mad scientist silliness last week, when he was too damned shaken by the threatening text messages to be embarrassed about walking in on the girls in the bath.

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It’s a sudden change in his demeanor not lost on Kurisu. Even if Rintarou hasn’t told her anything, she knows. After fully explaining the completed Time Leap Machine, including the need for a living human subject—no more bananas—she turns to Rintarou for the Lab’s next move.

No maniacal laugh, no fake cell phone call: his decision is this: they’re backing out of this. They’ll announce their discovery and leave the rest to the ‘appropriate’ entities.

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It’s a tough call, and a very un-Hououin Kyouma call, but it’s the right call. Itaru agrees. On a grocery run, Kurisu sees Rintarou’s relief and admits to being a little disappointed, but she agrees too. Mayuri definitely agrees. Mayuri, whom they both agree has seen more than either one of them, and probably wanted them to stop a long time ago.

Things will be different, that’s for sure. The Future Gadget Lab accomplished something momentous. Kurisu fears her father’s reaction to her latest and greatest success; Rintarou assures her they’ll be able to visit him and work things out, because he takes care of his lab members. In this beautiful exchange, Kurisu refers to herself as his assistant, and he shoots back that she’s his dear companion. These two really were meant for each other.

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Rintarou’s decision calls for a party, and a party is what they have. Suzuha even comes along, and after some posturing and growling between her and Kurisu, Mayuri defuses the situation with her usual eloquence: “Mayushii…doesn’t like fighting…when we’re all together, I think it’d be more fun if we were all friends!”

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And so they are friends this night, as Kurisu helps Suzuha beat Rintarou at Rai-Net Battler, simply by knowing the kind of personality Rintarou has. When Rintarou skulks away in defeat, Kurisu has Mayuri go after him, telling her how both she and Rintarou believe she’s always had the clearest view of the lab.

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Mayushii approaches Rintarou on the roof armed with a lightsaber Cyalume Saber. They talk about how much fun everyone is having, and about all the things they’ll be able to buy once they go public with the discovery (Chairs! Utensils!).

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Then Mayushii brings up the Spring (it’s August at this point), when it was just the two of them, but Rintarou seemed really lonely to her, and how the club has grown so much that it’s okay now, even if she isn’t his ‘hostage’ anymore.

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As Mayuri is saying this last bit, he has a flash of his daydream from the cold open, which may well have been far more than a mere daydream: 70 million years in the future, he and Mayuri are alone in the middle of a wasteland, about to die. She tells him they’re the originals, but there are infinite other Rintarous and Mayuris in other world lines that will carry on their legacy even if they crumbled to dust then and there.

So…it’s okay. It’s all okay. Until it isn’t.

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Itaru dashes up to the roof (yes I used dash and Itaru in the same sentence): there’s a bomb threat; all trains in and out of Akiba are stopped. So the party becomes a sleepover now…Yay, right? Nay. When Itaru confirms he’s deep into SERN, Suzuha seems on the cusp of telling them to do something very important, but instead she bolts out of the lab without an explanation. That’s not good. There’s no way that’s a good sign.

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Then Rintarou notices sand has stopped flowing down an hourglass. Mayuri’s recently-wound pocketwatch stops. Something is extremely wrong.

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A group of masked gunmen in casualwear race up the stairs and bust into the lab. If they didn’t have the guns and masks, they’d look like ordinary people. Is this SERN? Was Rintarou too late in giving up the game?

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It’s a volatile situation, made even more surreal by the arrival of the apparent leader of the gunmen: Kiryuu Moeka, donning black leather from neck to toe, stylish as always, as Mayuri once remarked. “SERN will take the time machine”, she mutters softly. She’s taking Kurisu, Rintarou, and Itaru as well.

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As for Mayuri? She’s…”not needed.” Shining Finger puts her finger on the trigger, muttering “For FB…FB…FB…” and puts a bullet in Mayuri’s head. Just like that, the beating heart and warm, fuzzy soul of the lab, Rintarou’s dear childhood friend, is gone, and the fun and games are over.

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I expected something to happen in that standoff, but for the life of me I didn’t expect that. But why the hell didn’t I? It was all here, in previous episodes and all over this one: she was pulling out death flags like there was no tomorrow, because for her, there wouldn’t be.

And what’s so crushing about this is that in a twisted way, Moeka was right: Mayuri was no longer needed. As Mayuri said, “it’s okay”: now that he has friends, he’ll be alright, even if she isn’t by his side anymore. The close-ups of Mayuri in her last moments are painted with neither shock nor fear, but expectation; of inevitability. 

This is the closing of a chapter and a time of new and terrifying trials for Okabe Rintarou and the rest of the lab. But perhaps, with Kurisu by his side, he’ll be okay. But I just can’t see it yet. No one could ever see as clearly as Shiina Mayuri.

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P.S. With twelve episodes down, twelve to go, and Winter season starting to pick up steam, now is as good a time as any to exhale and take a break from the show. How long a break? I won’t be sure until Winter settles down and I have a better idea of which parts of the week are the slowest…but probably not long. In any case, I have yet to watch anything after this, so spoilers in the comments are strictly prohibited. Finally, it cannot be said enough, thanks for reading as I play catch-up with a classic—H.B.

Steins Gate – 10

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This episode gets off to a rather…ahem…inauspicious start, with Okarin, still convinced Ruka is a guy, does terrible things to her to prove that fact, only to cower in terror at the fact that yup, she is, in point of fact, a girl, then accept whatever off-camera punishment Kurisu arranges for him, because frankly, he’s lucky he gets to keep that hand.

In his defense, Okarin is understandably having increasing difficulty keeping track of all the changes, and while Akiba’s flavor has fundamentally changed, his relationships seem to be pretty much the same, so he must have assumed their genders stayed the same as well.

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It’s not surprising then, for Okarin to take up Suzuha’s offer of a bike ride, even if he’s to do the pedaling: some fresh air will do him good. But instead of clearing his head, it introduces a fresh dilemma which his D-mail technology may be able to solve: Suzuha’s absent father.

His mad scientist schtick is fooling no one: Okarin is a nice guywho will do everything in his power to help his friends, and Suzuha is one of them. So he makes her Member #008 and orders her to come to the lab and text her father not to leave. Sure, her dad may not have had a cell phone back when he left, but maybe he has a pager.

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Suzuha is touched by Okarin’s offer, but departs on her own, in a gorgeously-composed shot that just screams “Sayonara.”

Okarin musters the rest of the lab to arrange a party for Suzuha. He gets a troubling text from an unknown sender saying he’s being watched, with a photo of red jello attached (apparently aware of Okarin’s experience with green jello). But he can’t be troubled too long, since he has a feeling Suzuha won’t come back unless he follows her. Kurisu forbids him to do this, and sends him out to the stores with Mayushii.

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While on the way home, Mayushii reminisces about a time years ago when Okarin had a fever so bad she feared he’d die. She believes her prayers to the sky saved his life (though he gives Steins Gate credit). Is it just me, or are Okarin and Mayushii’s one-on-ones are getting more and more…wistful? It almost feels like she’s trying to remind Okarin how important he is to her, so he’d better not leave her behind.

But it’s more than that: Okarin’s behavior right after Feyris sent her D-mail reminded Mayushii of when he had the fever. Okarin takes that to mean that time he had the fever must have been when his “Reading Steiner” ability first awakened.

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Back in the lab, we get some lovely slice-of-lify dinner prep, with the implication that Kurisu isn’t the best cook despite her scientific genius. It’s fluffy, but it’s good fluff that reminds us how tight-knit a family the Future Gadget Lab has become.

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When futzing some of the lab’s other invented gadgets, the power goes out, which nets us a very intimate exchange between Okarin and Kurisu. It’s as if the darkness has given her cover to say things she wouldn’t say in the light. Again, the camerawork excels, as we get awesome closeups Okarin and Kurisu’s barely lit faces.

When the lights come on we see that for a lot of that time, their faces were merely inches apart, and those shots of them were from their own points of view. For all we know, Kurisu could have been leaning in for a kiss; really nice stuff. Okarin said his relationships have remained the same through all these world lines…but I’d argue that his relationship Kurisu is steadily growing.

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I also find Okarin’s rationale for continuing the D-mail experiments even in the face of all the risks: He’s a mad scientist, dammit, and he’s not going to let Ruka becoming a girl, Akiba ceasing to be an otaku haven, or even threatening red jello texts stop his march to destiny. But really, as I said, he wants to help his friends out, and more to the point, simply wants those friends around, and happy.

To that end, when Suzu is a no-show, he D-mails himself to keep tabs on her, and the next morning learns she attended the party after all. Even though she doesn’t know her dad’s phone number, she had a lot of fun. But what did this latest favor to a friend cost him? The beauty of S;G is that changes need not be immediately apparent; indeed, it’s more fun when they sneak up when least expected.

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Steins Gate – 08

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As S;G is a slow-burn sci-fi mystery with an absolutely kick-ass cast and world-class dialogue, I’m quite content with only incremental changes to the status quo. Big changes too soon mean we risk losing the people we’ve come to know and love. But as the rabbit hole widens, it seems more and more likely that we’re working towards that kind of result. After all, the changes the D-mails have been cumulative…at least so far.

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While John Titor’s words about powers and messiahs unsettled Okarin, it’s still way too soon to start confronting something of that magnitude yet. He sticks with science, which is repeating a process over and over, observing and recording the changes, and forming a theories around that data. In other words, we’re still in trial-and-error mode.

To her credit, the Kurisu of this new world line Okarin finds himself in doesn’t doubt what he says about the D-mail already being sent. One thing that can often bog down time travel themed shows is when the time traveler has to continually explain and re-explain to others what is going on, without being dismissed as crazy.

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Kurisu may think Okarin is crazy anyway—among other things—but she trusts him in this, especially because there’s concrete proof. So they press on with the experiments, with Moeka enthusiastically volunteering to send a D-mail to herself, warning her not to buy the new phone she presently wishes she hadn’t bought. Just before they begin, Ruka stops by with a watermelon to apologize for screwing up the lotto numbers.

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Once the phone microwave is activated and the d-mail sent, Okarin ‘travels’ yet again, to a world line where Moeka is absent from the lab and no one’s ever heard of her.

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Okarin is initially worried she ceased to exist, but the change was far more minor: she’s still around and still knows him, she just never visited the lab and thus never became Member 005 or met the others.

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Kurisu picks up on his behavior quicker this time, suspecting another d-mail was sent and puts the pieces together. But she’s still incredulous about whether his power to retain memories across world lines “Reading Steiner”, is real. Okarin himself can’t be sure yet, nor can he take everything Titor says as the gospel. More experimentation is needed.

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Ruka does come by in this timeline, having actually come by before with the watermelon, but turned back home when he accidentally eavesdropped on Okarin’s outburst about Moeka being missing (accidental eavesdropping seems to be a common thing on this show).

Mayushii pounces on him and makes him try on cosplay outfits, but Ruka is eventually able to tell Okarin his real reason for coming: he wants to send a d-mail. Specifically, one that will make him a girl.

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Kurisu is confused by his request, because all this time she thought Ruka was a girl, and was the only lab member still in the dark. Her reaction to learning the truth is suitably priceless, with simple yet effective comic timing.

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Okarin isn’t opposed to sending a text to Ruka’s mother asking her to eat more vegetables (which some believe increases the chances of having a girl), and officially recruits him Member #006, but they run into an interesting technological hitch: Ruka was born in 1993, three years before cell phones took off in Japan, making a typical d-mail impossible.

The gang arrives at a very elegant and clever solution on the fly: paring down the message so it can be sent as a sequence of numbers to his mom’s pocket pager.

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The D-mail is sent, and the world line changes (a previous mail Daru sent to himself doesn’t cause this effect). For a moment, Okarin appears alone in the dark lab. Did Ruka’s D-mail end up negating all of Okarin’s relationships as well as the Future Gadget Lab itself? 

Then he turns around, and no, they’re all still there, just in different positions. Whew. Ruka is still wearing androgynous clothes, too, so he can’t discern whether his gender changed to female (and Kurisu scolds him for starting). But if he asks them, it’s a good bet they’ve still never met Moeka, and Daru still lost the Feyris cup, and Ruka still lost the lottery by one number.

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So far, the effects seem to be cumulative, though I may be grossly oversimplifying things. The bottom line is, D-mails sent for one specific purpose end up causing totally unpredictable side effects. Okarin can’t even immediately detect what changed, only that something must have changed.

If the timeline he’s familiar with is a sheet of ice he’s treading upon, the D-mails are creating small cracks. How many more will that sheet bear before it collapses under his weight? Or are D-mails just as likely to seal cracks as create them?

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