Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 07 – We’ve Got a Live One

This week’s opening minutes are very familiar, because they unfold very similarly to the very first episode of ZLS, when a super-chipper Minamoto Sakura’s life was unfairly snatched away by a passing car.

In the case of Yuzuriha Maimai (Hanazawa Kana!), she trips and falls on the way to the bathhouse, smashing her glasses. Undeterred, she accidentally walks into the men’s bath, then slips on a bar of soap that happened to slip out of a bathing Koutarou’s hands.

Cue the death metal and multiple camera angles that, in its first ever episode, made clear that this wasn’t going to be quite like other idol series.

We quickly cut to the briefing basement, where Koutarou, Maimai’s wrapped corpse behind him, announces they have a new member! There’s no doubt that among the many thoughts going through the girls’ heads is Did Koutarou finally go too far and murder someone??

Fortunately, the “corpse” comes to—apparently, Maimai is too dumb to die (either that, or the blow to the back of her head wasn’t as bad as it looked). In any case, Maimai’s series of errors led to Koutarou panicking and not confirming she was actually dead before exposing the rest of Franchouchou to a living person.

Fortunately, Maimai is a good girl, and also a huge fan of Franchouchou and Number One in particular. She has no intention of telling anyone their secret, but since she’s there anyway, she asks if she could join the group anyway! Koutarou, thanking his lucky stars he didn’t accidentally kidnap someone brighter, agrees, and Maimai is christened Number Seven.

While Maimai knows all the words to their songs and all the moves to their dances, her brain and body rarely operate in concert. As a result, her training does not go smoothly at first, but Ai, consummate professional that she is, never loses her patience, and Maimai eventually starts to improve.

When her school’s cultural festival committee is deadlocked on what the big act should be, she says she can get the Franchouchou. The girls are excited to perform there, particularly since they either didn’t spend much time in high school or, in Lily’s case, never made it there. It’s also slightly implied that Koutarou seduces the principal to get approval.

The girls stop by for a pre-festival tour of the festival, and when Maimai tells Sakura how she thought Saga was “done for” until she heard Franchouchou, Sakura can’t help but remember how negative her outlook was until she first heard Ai and Iron Frill. Maimai is shocked to learn of the group’s intention to have a “revenge” show at EFS, but Sakura tells her that’s what Franchouchou is: they never give up.

The big day arrives, and wouldn’t you know it, Maimai doesn’t screw up once! Instead, she totally surprises her friends and classmates by appearing on stage and performing with Franchouchou, announcing after their first song that she’s the newest member…only to then immediately announce she’ll be “graduating” from the group as soon as she leaves the stage.

Her reasoning is solid: while she initially thought she was “one of” them, and they welcomed her with open, caring, and encouraging arms, the bottom line is that other seven have no choice but to do what they do, because they’re zombies. Maimai reckons she needs to live out her life in Saga first in this new Reiwa era, inspired by their dedication to continue rising up and living life to the fullest despite being dead.

After giving a giddy Saki a parting gift of a 20th-anniversary color Tamagotchi, Maimai parts ways with Franchouchou. Part of me is sad Hana-Kana’s time with the group was so brief, but I absolutely understand, respect, and even admire Maimai’s choice.

And while she’ll absolutely never spill the beans about Franchouchou’s true undead nature, reporter Ookuba Shinta has now matched all seven members except Yuugiri to their living counterparts.

Whether he’ll put this scoop on the front page immediately, or go to Franchouchou first for further explanation, I don’t know the guy well enough to say for sure. All I know is, the preview for next week confirms that Yuugiri, the only member on which he has no info, will finally get her own focus episode, which looks to be a period piece. It’s about time!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Irina and Crow’s discussion of this episode here!

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 04 – Curry and Rain

This episode starts with Hana paying Shinichi an unannounced visit to his apartment. It’s Golden Week, and she had a reasonable expectation he’d be home and wouldn’t have anything going on. She gets him to join her on a Doraemon Go! trip outdoors, but his eyes are bothering him from all the gaming, so she takes him shopping for glasses. That’s where they encounter Ami, who is back from her family.

The two proceed to gang up on Shinichi, having him wear increasingly ridiculous glasses and then laughing at him. Considering Shinichi is not an M, he’s not really having fun, and the scene gets a bit uncomfortable, especially when Ami lies about having a serious pair for him, only for them to be over-the-top aviators. Shinichi has had his fill of this, so when Hana finally tries on a pair, he insults her and the two dive into a spirited bickering session.

It’s not a particularly good start for two people who are presumably eventually going to click as a couple, but when the train they’re on gets increasingly crowded, their dynamic morphs from aggressively adversarial to protective, as Shinichi’s relatively large body shields her from the crush of new passengers. Eventually the chests of the two are pressed together, Shinichi’s heart rate increases, and both he and Hana start to blush.

She remarks that they’re in a “wall slam” like situation, without getting into how she feels about that, though she admits there’s not much to be done about it; there’s no space. Rather than reckon with the present situation, Shinichi withdraws within himself, trying to block out all sight and sound, only for the smell of Hana’s hair to become more prominent. He ends up passing out standing up, and gets separated from Hana when the doors close between them.

When he comes to form his mini fugue state at the end of the train line, he sees missed calls from an obviously worried Hana, and feels bad. Back at the cafe, Ami suggests the best way forward is to simply reach out to her. At the college common room Hana is down in the dumps because it’s so gray and dreary and “there are no holidays in June”.

So Shinichi, unbidden, takes the initiative and suggests they hang out together to at least make the free time they have worthwhile, and also to make up for leaving her in the lurch on the train. The day they’re to hang out there’s even more rain, and Hana is soaked on her way to his place.

No matter; she simply showers (after playfully asking if he’d join her), borrows his much larger clothes, and cooks up some tasty curry. They spend the day playing Meowcraft, building a ridiculous structure together. Shinichi’s got his new glasses to cut down on blue light, and in general the atmosphere is so much more pleasant and comfortable than the glasses store debacle.

Aside from a brief vertical pan on a showering Hana there’s minimal fanservice and more importantly, no teasing or bickering. Between the close quarters, the shared clothes and cooking together, there’s a lovely domestic intimacy to their day, and even if it never veers into overt romance there’s definitely ample chemistry and amity we frankly needed to see after Glassesgate.

When Shinichi walks Hana to the station, the rain has stopped, and it feels like they’ve reached a milestone in their relationship. Not only did Shinichi suggest they hang out; not only did they thoroughly enjoy themselves, but he suggests she come by another time, something Hana thought wouldn’t happen so fast. She throws caution to the wind and proposes tomorrow, and Shinichi is fine with it!

Now Shinichi knows what it’s like to hang out with Hana on a rainy day, without Ami or any other bystanders to provoke any sniping or misbehavior. The two end up getting along famously. While Shinichi will probably always value his solitude, it’s clear he no longer sees hanging out with Hana to be a hassle or a chore, and something to which he can actually look forward rather than dread. It’s very promising development!

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 02 – A Beautiful Nightmare

Rent-a-Girlfriend is an absolute shitshow, and I mean that in the best way. Two episodes in a row, Kazuya and Chizuru dig themselves into deep holes and then, rather than climb out when it’s possible, decide at the last second to just keep digging.

This isn’t 100% their fault; part of it is the universe’s. Not only do the two attend the same college, they’re effing next-door neighbors! Do I buy that Kazuya never once saw Chizuru enter or exit her apartment? I do not, but who cares—it ups the absurdity wonderfully!

I will never tire of these crazy kids’ primary motivation for engaging in these ridiculous rom-com roleplaying scenarios (rather than digging themselves out of the holes they’ve dug) is…the desire not to hurt their grandmothers’ feelings. That tells you right there that both Kazuya and Chizuru are fundamentally good people. Stupid, stupid good people! XD

That’s also why despite putting up a hard line against further unsanctioned interactions with Kazuya, in violation of the terms and conditions of their Diamond contract, Chizuru still stops by his place to say hi to his gran, even bringing food she made to wow her even more. And this is after Gran already assumed Chizuru dumped Kazuya!

Had she just stayed in her apartment for ten more seconds it would have been over; she’d have been in the clear. And yet, for all the inconvenience and irritation it causes her, Chizuru isn’t the kind of person to hurt an old woman’s feelings. Even if that’s no fault of her own, she has the power to prevent it and uses it, to the tune of agreeing to visiting Kazuya’s gran with him for an hour every Wednesday.

Once again, I thought 24 minutes had passed and we’d come to the end—such is the amount of detail Rent-a-Girlfriend packs into its A-part. B-part brings Kazuya’s ex Nanami Mami into the picture with a vengeance, as he bumps into her on campus and has a not entirely torturous interaction with her. Just like that he has Mami on the brain, and is about to go for the tissues when his doorbell rings.

It’s Chizuru, ready for their trip to see his Gran. The moment money is exchanged, a switch flips and she’s in Girlfriend Mode. After the visit, they’re walking home when Kazuya’s two buddies spot him. They hilariously assume someone as attractive as Chizuru is a cult member trying to recruit or scame Kazuya, and beg her to release them.

Kazuya, digging the hole deeper, tells them she’s his girlfriend, and Chizuru has no choice but to play along. Then the two get pulled into group drinks, something they definitely could have politely refused and called it a day. What Kazuya couldn’t do is say he was merely renting Chizuru, since his best friend is close to his Gran, who is close to Chizuru’s Gran, and Chizuru wants to keep her job secret.

So they’re stuck! And as luck would have it, Mami is among the others in the group at the group drinks, and even though she masks it well, it’s clear she has feelings about Kazuya suddenly dating someone. For a minute I thought Mami might be another rent-a-girlfriend with Diamond and recognize Chizuru that way.

Instead, things go south in a hurry, as Mami switches seats so she’s across from Chizuru and proceeds to loudly run Kazuya down, describing him as pathetically horny. Seiyu Yuuki Aoi can pull off bitchy and manipulative as well as she can pull off sweet and innocent (i.e. Madoka), and puts on a tonal clinic here.

Kazuya simply sits and simmers as Mami goes off, so when he won’t defend himself, Chizuru does, and Mami is ready to counter, shrugging off her words as “part of the group dynamic” a stranger wouldn’t understand before finally turning to Kazuya himself with a cutesy-voice and asking him to stand up to her, which he does, leading a rightfully disgusted Chizuru to leave.

It’s an instance where Mami, who almost seems to revel in stirring up shit like this (or possibly punish Kazuya for having the audacity to date someone else) has way too much leverage on Kazuya. Nothing of what she says is actually strictly untrue, so Kazuya hesitates to dispute it. But he’s already sitting on a throne of lies with his fake girlfriend, so suddenly hewing to the truth here is counterproductive.

When it’s time to head home, Mami flags Kazuya down, telling him her “awkward side” got the best of her and she’s happy he “stood up” for her. She even tells him her place is close by, if he’s interested. Again Yuuki Aoi shines, portraying Mami as a cat with a mouse in its jaws, content to play around with him before making the kill.

Kazuya comes to think maybe this is okay; Chizuru was only a rental, after all. Not only did he and Mami really date, but from his perspective Mami seems interested in possibly maybe rekindling something, like she’d made a mistake in dumping him. As long as he has a girlfriend, his gran won’t be sad.

All of that is almost certainly not the case, but regardless Kazuya is overlooking one important thing: Chizuru is an unassailably good, kind person, while the jury’s very much still out on Mami. I forsee more wonderful cringeiness in the near future!

The God of High School – 01 (First Impressions) – Stand Tall, Smile Big, Strike Hard

Fresh off the heels of Tower of God—which Hannah enjoyed, though admitted frustration that it was essentially just an extended prologue—comes The God of High School, another Korean webtoon-based anime with “God” in the title and an appealing blend of action, comedy and drama.

After a ominous, cryptic cold open that doesn’t even pretend to explain what’s going on (suffice it to say some guy on an island with designs on blackmailing the prime minister is literally wiped off the map), we dive straight into one of three main would-be Gods of High School, Jin Mori, resident of Seoul.

Waking up from a dream in which he was encouraged by his gramps, Mori realizes he smashed his alarm in his sleep, and must race to the GoHS preliminaries at KORG Arena. He takes a shortcut by riding his bike off a cliff, and immediately it’s apparent that these are no normal humans.

There’s a lot of influence from Durarara!! in the ensuing action, and not just because there’s a purse thief on a motorcycle whom Mori feels compelled to chase (he makes up a sob story about the elderly woman who needs the cash for her grandson’s surgery or some such). The mere fact Mori can keep up with a motorcycle on his bike, and the reasons for doing so, are great shorthand for the kind of character he is: as relentless as he is just.

His first encounter with fellow GoHS contestant Yu Mira is kinetic, to say the least: while she’s admiring the ample muscles of some martial artists who failed to make the cut, she’s absolutely obliterated by Mori (accidentally, of course). Mori attempts a quick apology, but Mira uses her trusty wooden sword to stop him in his tracks.

When she hears he’s chasing a thief, Mira tags along, and provides more offense against the biker as Mori keeps up. She’s about to deliver a decisive blow to the baddie when a road sign jumps out at her and her face is driven so deeply into the metal it creates a ghoulish mask.

The cartoonish amount of punishment these characters can take is matched by the utter hilarity of the way the violence and various acrobatics are rendered. I suddenly realized the episode was almost half-over, but things were so non-stop from the moment Mori jumps on his bike, events fly by effortlessly and breathlessly, evoking shades of Mad Max: Fury Road.

While Mira and Mori fall behind, the motorcyclist’s face ends up meeting the fist of a third GoHS contestant in part-time convenience store employee Han Daewi, and the impact of his punch is akin to the superhuman strikes of Durarara!!’s Shizuo. Daewi knows who to punch and why thanks to a roving rapper live-streaming the chase online.

With the chase finally complete, the three contestants head to the locker rooms of the arena and formally introduce each other, having already demonstrated from their actions in the streets that they’ll be tough competition in the prelims—and perhaps useful allies as well.

The preliminary is wonderfully simple: a battle royale of all the assembled fighters, and the last people standing move on to the tournament proper. There isn’t really any doubt that Mori, Mira, and Daewi will advance, but when a convict with the title “King” enters the battle late, the three seem to meet their match, with Mira giving her best shot and Mori answering the challenge.

This is a show that is deliciously simple in premise, wonderfully energetic with its trademark Studio Mappa action, and as moves along at a rapid clip without causing whiplash. The three main characters look poised to complement one another, while the way the episode ends in mid-fight guarantees I’ll be back for more rock-em, sock-em madness.

All that said, I do find it odd how red everyone’s noses and ears are in closeups…it’s like they’re all suffering from colds!

BokuBen OVA 01 – Unusual Situations

This is one of two extra episodes included with the BokuBen limited edition volume 14 and volume 16. As such, it is not must-watch TV in terms of plot. Instead, thanks to the beach setting, it’s an opportunity for all of the fanservice. Nariyuki and Asumi have been taking various lovey-dovey selfies for the benefit of her father, but when he presses them to go to the beach lest he start to develop doubts they’re really dating, well…what else can they do?

The thing is, Nariyuki can’t swim, so when a wave knocks them off their dinghy, he has to grab Asumi, and in the confusion her bikini top washes away. She wears his wet shirt until they find it washed up on rocks, along with a second, bigger bikini top, but it’s stolen by a dolphin.

Obviously, that top belongs to Kirisu-sensei, who is at that same beach with her fellow teachers at a BBQ. She had retreated from the unpleasant social situation and, well, lost her bikini top. Nariyuki knows her top is gone for good, so stays with her until the changing area clears out. When she trips on a sea cucumber and freaks out, she leaps at him, and he smashes his glasses.

Now Nariyuki truly finds himself in the “unusual situation” his sister could detect with her brocon-spidey-sense—virtually blind and having to be led through the rocks by his topless teacher. They find a shop where the only remaining swimsuit choices are an micro bikini and a school swimsuit. Nariyuki goes for the coverage.

When the other teachers (who are dogs, BTW) spot Nariyuki and ask about Kirisu, he lies and says he hasn’t seen her. Kirisu explains her reluctance to large social events to her past as a solo competitor, viewing everyone as her enemy. Having both covered her (both literally and figuratively), Nariyuki briefly loses himself and comes out and says she’d be in big trouble were it not for him on numerous occasions.

He was trying to make a point on the benefits, and often necessity of occasionally relying on others, as she most certainly has with him, but it came out wrong. To his surprise, he doesn’t get socked for his comments; Kirisu agrees. In a way, he’s kind of a tutor for her, only on matters like this (it’s unlikely she’ll ever learn to clean properly).

Finally, the episode closes on Fumino, Uruka, Rizu and Sawako wearing swimsuits while they study, since they’re not able to go to the beach. Uh huh. Surrre, why not?!

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 10 – Let’s Play Together

Naoya is about to go on break when he spots a student studying. Upon closer inspection, they’re playing a handheld game, the one Hirotaka happens to also play. When Nao approaches the student they run away and say “I’m sorry” way more than necessary, but he eventually gets a name—Sakuragi Kou—and an invitation to game with them.

I say “them”, as Nao may well assume Kou is a guy from their deep voice and short hair. But through his college classmates we learn Kou is actually a woman…a very introverted one, but one who’s open to being friends with Nao. In Kou, Nao has a gaming companion who will never get mad or frustrated due to his ineptitude.

Still, Nao feels he’s holding Kou back, so arranges to join a party with Narumi, Kabakura and Koyanagi to tackle a high-level quest in hopes he can level up enough to play beside Kou properly.

Hirotaka was supposed to join the party, but only shows up late, after the rest of them find themselves in a big spot. The one who ends up saving them with overpowered attackes is Kou, who darts in and out of the game so quickly hardly anyone notices…except Nao, who later thanks her for saving them.

Back IRL, both Narumi and Hirotaka are on the verge of being late for work. In Hirotaka’s case, it’s because he stepped on and broke his glasses (this is a bad week for characters’ glasses!)  and can’t see a damn thing. This affects his productivity at work because he has to come within inches of a screen or a face to see it, and it affects Narumi’s productivity because she’s distracted by and concerned for his predicament.

Kabakura (who’s a bit of a strict taskmaster this week…can’t workers take their eyes off the monitor for two seconds?) sends both of them off on break early so Hirotaka can acquire new glasses. Before then, rumors were starting to spread at the office that Hirotaka without glasses was “pretty hot.” When Narumi notices he’s not squinting or drawing close to notice her, his response is surprisingly romantic: “I know it’s you, even if I can’t see you.” Dokidoki!

In the final segment we’re back to the game, where Kou (who has a very cool avatar) is trying to support Nao in developing his solo game before doing multiplayer quests. Nao fails again and again, and apologizes for it, but Kou never loses patience; she’s just having fun playing the game with him.

That applies even when Nao IRL leaves the computer to take a phone call and Hirotaka takes over his avatar and completely obliterates a group of baddies even Kou had trouble with. Once Nao takes back control, he prepares to log out so Kou can take care of business on her own, but Kou stops him by grabbing his sleeve, saying she doesn’t mind him sticking around.  When Nao agrees to stay, Kou IRL cracks a smile. Kou so cute!

Re-Kan! – 07

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Hibiki’s ridiculous generosity and utter inability to say no to a ghost is taking its toll and  burning her out, so her friends stage an intervention on the streets, insisting she needs a break from her supernatural drudgery. They head over to her house, which while not a Gothic haunted mansion, could certainly pass for that house in Kwaidan with a few minor tweaks.

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Hibiki’s dad concurs, and produces a pair of sixth-sense-sealing glasses her mother used to wear when she needed a break from ghosts to, ya know, eat or sleep. I like how this story subverts the standard anime glasses girl trope. Sure, they make her look even more adorable (and more bookish), but they also fundamentally change how she interacts with the world. Simply put: all contact with that which most people cannot see or hear ceases. It really is like a vacation.

But the urge to take them off and sense of who’s floating around her—and more importantly, the urge help them—is strong. So Inoue makes a very childish threat: if she takes off the glasses, they won’t be friends any more, and it works; Hibiki keeps those puppies on like her life depends on it.

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Her sidekicks Roll Call Samurai and Kogal don’t like it, but they’re big enough to realize Hibiki could use a break. But when the little sister of a boy Hibiki is playing with goes missing and it starts to get dark, Hibiki desperately needs more sets of eyes to search for her.

Hibiki makes a very difficult phone call to Inoue, who is studying and absolutely scared shitless by Hibiki’s foreboding ringtone. Hibiki seems ready to accept the end of their friendship, but Inoue assures her not to worry. If it’s an emergency, it’s fine to take the glasses off. Hibiki does, and show us yet again how handy it is to have an army of the dead at one’s disposal.

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The balance of the episode is a New Year’s shrine visit by the whole gang. While I miss Glasses Hibiki, I loved how she lets spirits vote on what she wears, and the fact Inoue got drunk and loose-lipped on Amazake, and her friends decided to get her to open up.

To their disappointment, her response to almost every question is “Nana!”, so ingrained is her love for her late gran. Hibiki, not wanting to do anything untoward, simply asks Inoue if she’ll be friends with her in the next year, for which Inoue offers a more sober tsundere response of “I suppose.”

We finish things off with a fun little brawl between the incorrigible Ero-Neko versus Samurai and the Killer, who are sick of the cat’s sexual harrassment, as Kogal watches with enthusiasm.

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P.S. Like Hannah with Food Wars, I’ve taken over Re-Kan reviews from Zane in order to even out our workloads. -Preston

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 06

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An ongoing theme in Tomoya and Utaha’s friendship has been mutual inspiration. In their first encounter (they’re classmates, but hadn’t interacted before) Tomoya expresses how much Utaha’s work inspires him the moment he steps up to her table at her book signing. His remarks leave an instant and lasting impression. Fast forward to that “fateful” snowy day when Tomoya declines to read her latest manuscript.

Utaha, you see, never come out and told Tomoya he inspires her as she did him. Offering him the manuscript is her way of showing it. But he rejects that approach, and even though it’s for perfectly understandable reasons—he’s a fan, and doesn’t want to influence her creative process any more than he wants a sneak peak at an unfinished work—it still feels to Utaha that he’s rejecting her, which wounds her deeply.

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Utaha had never quite forgiven him for that…until this week, which is another showcase of Saekano’s knack for placing its characters in relatively confined, intimate places. Even Tomoya’s date with Megumi at the mall felt like it, since the crush of people made them have to stick that much closer together, and the mutual fun they were having made that crush blur and fade into the background, until it was just them.

The confined space here is more concrete: a hotel room, where Utaha was going to spend the night, but invites Tomoya in when he drenches himself in the rain in the act of what she deemed as chasing after her. It’s an assertion he can’t and won’t deny, though he wasn’t expecting to end up on a bed with Utaha, both of them in bathrobes and nothing underneath. The optics are a constant source of nervous titillation, but I frankly like how it puts the two on the spot.

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Bathrobes concealing nakedness and nervous joking aside, Tomoya cut his date with Megumi short because he now knows what doesn’t sit right with him about her first scenario draft. He didn’t like how they left things in the club room, but at the same time, were it not for his date with Megumi, he wouldn’t have been able to express his reservations anyway, which ironically reflect the positions Megumi and Utaha occupy with regards to Tomoya’s life.

Utaha’s plot is much like her plot with Tomoya thus far: seemingly bound by fate, or from a past life; something sprawling and dramatic and epic, like spending the night in a hotel room (but this is all-ages, so…) And Tomoya likes that, but he’s found he also likes what Megumi brings to the table: a steadfast decency wrapped in utter normality; the beauty of the mundane; the way a flat character can draw a reader when suddenly big suddenly happens. Megumi isn’t bland; she’s universally relatable.

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God, the timing, framing, and sound effects of this little sequence were so deliciously awesome. Utaha types away in this new direction, but she’s clearly upset by it; it’s as if the romantic ideal she represents has been suddenly usurped by Megumi. Both reality and the fiction being discussed and created are inextricably linked in this show. But Utaha and Tomoya do work all night, and the fact that she was able to summon this much passion and belt out something both of them can be proud of is a testament to the mutual inspiration I mentioned earlier.

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When Utaha gets dressed and prepares to set out for her busy day, she doesn’t hesitate to make a joke about post-evening afterglow, not to mention the fact she wickedly took a picture of her in bed with Tomoya while he was asleep and made it his background.

But while there wasn’t any of that kind of action last night, it was still a night Utaha will cherish, because it showed her, just as it showed us, that Tomoya isn’t just her muse, but has the makings of a great creator in his own right. She leaves that hotel room feeling a lot better about the two of them, but not just because of the progress they made with the plot, but in the battle for Tomoya himself.

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Rewinding to yesterday, Eriri “bumps into” Megumi at the mall and sketches her, which is clearly her way of commiserating over the fact that Utaha is off somewhere with her Tomoya. Misery loves company, so it gives her great solace to see that when properly stimulated, she’s able to pull back Megumi’s stoic mask just that little bit.

Like Utaha’s “coup” this week, this not only makes Eriri optimistic about developing a good heroine from Megumi, but also that she’s still in the running for Tomoya. Megumi is adorable, but she’s not invincible.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 05

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Tomoya’s promising dating sim circle is in place and hard at work, but progress is slow. Eriri is frustrated by Kato’s noncommittal expressions (noting that if she was expressionless, they could pass her off as an Ayanami Rei-type), while the only things Utaha types are orders for Tomoya to feed her Pocky sticks.

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What ironically (but also very fittingly) gets things going are Tomoya’s off-the-cuff prods to Eriri regarding what she’d do in a “hypothetical” situation where she’d be on a shopping date. Eriri offers advice—very good advice—and when Tomoya says it sounds boring, it’s because she offered advice for an “away game”, that is, an otaku on a date in the normal world.

When Tomoya inadvertently lets on that the date in question isn’t really hypothetical after all, it’s a creative spark for Utaha, borne out of her intolerance of any such non-hypothetical date not involving her. She begins to fill the white space with words.

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But even as Utaha found inspiration in an unexpected place, Eriri notes how difficult a subject Kato is; perhaps her toughest yet. But it’s precisely because she is a challenge that Eriri won’t give up, especially when it’s looking more and more like her beloved Tomoya is taking a liking to this Kato girl.

In a quiet but extremely sweet scene on the rooftop at night, Kato shows that despite the seeming noncommittalness in her words or expressions, she’s as serious as the other two, and practicing to be the best heroine she can be.

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Tomoya betrays something else when Utaha arrives at school with a thick scenario drawn up, the product of an all-nighter for the sake of the circle. When Utaha falls asleep as soon as her head hits the desk, Tomoya gives her a lingering look of pride and affection the other two girls pick up on: Eriri is suspicious, while Kato is bemused.

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The scenario itself is full of exciting twists, turns, and tropes, and it’s presented exquisitely in a slideshow-and-commentary format. I especially liked when Tomoya would periodically call for Kato to pipe up and say the heroine’s lines, which actually don’t sound half-bad even in her dry-run deadpan.

Also note that the handsomest guy Eriri could think of closely resembles Tomoya, but isn’t quite him, while Kato is Kato even in the scenario, because she is the heroine. It’s as if Utaha and Eriri applied their respective crafts to the basic template that was Kato Megumi to create “Kano Meguri”, through which Kato still manages to shine.

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And yet…while he can’t explain why, Tomoya’s not quite satisfied with the draft, to Eriri and Utaha’s consternation. (Eriri: “Subjective, feelings-based criticism like that doesn’t get us anywhere!” That should be RABUJOI’s slogan!) Utaha’s is deeper, seeing this as another case of indecision and inability to give her a straight answer.

On that note, the show helpfully flashes back to a moment still fresh in Utaha and Tomoya’s memory. If what I think happened happened, “no straight answer” is as good (or bad) as “rejection.” But Utaha seems to be hovering around Tomoya to this day, waiting for a straight answer anyway.

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Tomoya actually seems to become rather down by Utaha making that indecision connection to their past, to the point Kato tells him it’s okay if they postpone their date to the mall, but Tomoya isn’t having it; the date is on, and it’s yet another case of Kato really shining once out of the shadow of the other girls.

The huge, unruly crowds of “normals” throw Tomoya off, especially the proportion of couples (even though like it or not, he and Kato are one of them). In a brilliant turnaround, he decides to treat the shopping trip like a visit to Comiket: he plots the most efficient route to Kato’s stores, avoiding the longer-wait ones until things die down. When the crush of people grows thicker, Tomoya keeps Kato from falling and takes her hand without a second thought.

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While his otaku approach is hardly “normal”, it’s actually a boon to the otherwise normal date. Kato is duly impressed with Tomoya’s ingenuity, and decides to buy him a pair of glasses she thinks he looks good in (she thinks). 

Here, with her tender and very girlfriend-like gestures, all pretense of any kind of “practical experiment for research” falls away. This was a date, plain and simple, and a damn good one. Both parties had far more fun than they’d bargained for, and neither had to be anything other than themselves.

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Somewhat distressingly, the episode doesn’t end there, but pulls the plug on the good vibes when Tomoya laments he must ditch Kato without seeing her home, saying “there’s something he has to do” as we see Utaha waiting along, presumably for him. But whatever could he be leaving Kato for Utaha mean here? I think it’s a matter of obligation. It comes back to him not having an answer for her again.

Even in the midst of his lovely date (which he may or may not have gone into as an empirical and dispassionate exercise but definitely ended up falling for Kato’s charms once again…and who the hell wouldn’t?) perhaps Tomoya found an answer. Not to the past question Utaha asked, but to her scenario proposal. He owes her at least that much for her hard work.

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Blood-C 1 – First Impressions

I have never watched any of the Blood franchise before this new series by CLAMP and Production I.G., so I know nothing about it. But after watching a recently-released extra episode of Shiki (review pending), I was looking forward to another summer horror series to sink my teeth into. Little did I know that the horror came in the form of twin gingers who say everything at the same time!

No, I’m not talking about the Weasleys, and no, it wasn’t really any big deal. The twins in question are just classmates of the protagonist, a bespectacled girl named Saya Kisaragi. She’s kind, bubbly, easily distracted, a bit of a klutz, and not punctual. She sings to the beat of her footsteps, and is generally very upbeat. But she’s also extremely athletic and a shrine maiden. Her duty requires her to go out in the night and slay things; presumably evil things. It isn’t pretty, but she manages to get the job done. She leads a complicated life. I like ‘er!

I actually enjoyed the contrast between her sugary-sweet day life and the malice that lurks beneath – and that between the no-nonsense Slayer Saya and the full-of-nonsense School Saya. Obviously she can’t let others know about her duties; they might end up in danger, or at the very least think she has a screw loose. But I can’t help but expect her two worlds to come crashing together, and there will probably be some of that titular blood.

Her battle in a shallow lake with an “elder bairn” was really nicely orchestrated and was also built up very nicely, both by all the lightheartedness of the first half, and numerous long pauses of pregnant silence. These moments of unease come at perfect times. The stylized character design, with long legs and small heads, took a bit of getting used to, but its not nearly as strange as Shiki, which also grew on me gradually. Even though I’m a Blood newbie, this wasn’t hard to follow, and I’m looking forward to how it progresses. Rating: 3.5