Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 26 (Fin) – Catching the Evening Train

After semi-binging this series to the tune of 26 episodes in 30 days, I can’t help but feeling now that I’ve arrived at the end that this first season was nothing but a prologue for the real story to come.  Heck, It wasn’t until last week that Tanjirou was able to use Constant Total Concentration—an absolute necessity when fighting elite demons.

Mind you, I am not complaining. If this is a prologue, it’s one of the best I’ve seen, and instantly makes any future adventures with Tanjirou, Nezuko & Co. more meaningful because we know how hard everyone’s worked to get this far—and how far we have yet to go.

The end of this epic beginning starts with a meeting similar to that held by the Demon Slayer Corps commander with the Hashira, only it’s Kibutsuji Muzan and the five surviving Lower Six of the Twelve Kizuki. The meeting takes place in a gorgeous, trippy, Relativity-style space of his own making. Unlike the Corps commander, Muzan doesn’t lead with a serene, considered manner, he rules by absolute fear.

With the loss of Rui, he’s decided the Lower Six aren’t even worth his effort anymore, and he executes them all except for one: the Lower One. Unlike the others, this one tells Muzan what he wants to hear, and is rewarded not only with his life, but Muzan’s blood, and a mission: defeat a Hashira and Kamado Tanjirou.

Just before dawn a Kasugai Crow wakes Tanjirou, Zenitsu and Inosuke, informing them of their new mission to join the Flame Hashira Rengoku Kyoujurou on the Mugen Train, a crisis that has already claimed forty lives. The balance of the episode consists of Tanjirou preparing to depart and saying his goodbyes.

Tanjirou’s sweet nature and pure heart reassure Aoi, who feels like she’s a coward for not fighting on the front lines, that he’ll carry her emotions on the battlefield in her place, and should he hurt himself again, he’ll be relying on her care once more. Say what you want about his idealism, but our boy possesses emotional intelligence in spades.

But the true highlight of the episode is his parting interaction with Tsuyuri Kanao, who flips a coin to decide whether to talk to him, and then does. Tanjirou asks her about the coin, and when he learn she basically takes orders from chance, he suspects it’s because the voice in her heart is soft.

He asks her to make a deal with him: He’ll flip the coin, and if it comes up Heads, she’ll try listening to her heart more, even if she has to strain to hear its whispering. She watches carefully as he flips it and notes he does not cheat, and it comes up Heads. He returns the coin to her and takes hands in his as a sign of heartfelt optimism, promising they’ll see each other again.

As he runs off, she raises her voice in asking why it landed on Heads, to which he replies that it was only chance, but had it been Tails he would have kept flipping it until he got Heads. If Tanjirou, who bears his heart on his sleeve, and Kanao, whose heart was buried deep in her chest by her past, eventually become a romantic couple, I will be 100% and fully Here for it. They are surpassingly adorable.

Tanjirou, Zenitsu, and Inousuke pass Naho, Kiyo, and Sumi’s Giant Gourd Test, meaning they now possess the breathing to fight some serious demons. Giyuu stops buy for a quick, stoic goodbye, telling Tanjirou he can thank him for vouching for Nezuko by “doing good work.”

With that, the trio set off West to the train station, and we realize that neither Tanjirou nor Inosuke have ever seen a train. Inosuke believes it’s some great sleeping god; Tanjirou speculates it may be an benign deity. It’s here where Zenitsu’s city smarts shine as he castigates his “country bumpkin” comrades for making a scene.

We also learn that Demon Slayers are not officially recognized by the Japanese government, and so they’re not legally allowed to carry swords in public. They hide their swords—well, Inosuke tries but also insists on going shirtless, so it doesn’t go well—and wait for nightfall to board the train while avoiding the police.

As they leap onto the departing train and it begins to steam into the night, we get a great closing shot of the three slayers on the caboose, ready and excited for their new mission, while Tanjirou tells Zenitsu that the safest place for Nezuko is together with him, in the box on his back.

We spot Rengoku Kyoujurou in one of the passenger cars, as well as the Lower One Kizuki standing atop the engine. The stage is now set for the Mugen Train arc, which is covered in the film that premiered in Japan October 2020, which surpassed Spirited Away as Japan’s all-time highest grossing film. I look forward to watching it as soon as it’s available in the states, as well as the second season that will air at some point in 2021.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 25 – Chestnut Flower Drop

Tanjirou intensifies his Constant Concentration Breathing, asking the three little girls (named Naho, Kiyo, and Sumi) to slap him with carpet beaters if he breaks the breathing in his sleep. I love how the girls are rooting for him all the way, and will gladly do what appears to Zenitsu and Inosuke to be straight-up torture.

It may be torturous, but it goes a long way toward Tanjirou making progress. He’s definitely getting closer and closer to tagging Tsuyuri Kanao, who we can be quite sure isn’t going easy on him, while he’s eventually able to break the Lv. 1 Gourd with his breath.

Soon Inosuke and Zenitsu grow weary of falling too far behind. Also, Shinobu knows exactly how to motivate each of them: in Inosuke’s case, talking down to him and saying it’s okay to be weak; in Zenitsu’s case, batting her lovely eyelashes and saying she believes in him.

Shinobu also asks Kanao to get more involved in the boys’ intensifying training, but seems weary of approaching them, leading to her taking out a coin to flip. We learn how she came to rely on that coin for most of her decisions, but first we learn where she came from: nothing. She was dirt-poor and horribly abused by her parents until she one day just snapped and couldn’t feel pain—or anything—anymore.

One day her parents sold her off, and her buyer is preparing to sell her into slavery when they cross paths with Shinobu and her big sister Kanae (Kayano Ai). Disturbed by the sight of the young girl bound by rope, Shinobu tosses all of the cash she’s carrying up in the air and runs off with the unnamed girl.

Eventually Shinobu learns that Kanao was so horrifically traumatized by her life so far that she’s unable to do anything without being told to do it, even eat, resulting in her stomach grumbling far longer than it should. Kanae gives the newly-named Kanao a coin so she can make decisions for herself. Kanae also hopes that one day she’ll fall in love with someone, which will further help her understand her own agency and will. Back in the present, she gets tails, and doesn’t join the boys.

However, as a result of Tanjirou’s intensive training, one day he’s finally able to not only grab Kanao’s hand during tag, but win the cup game, all without splashing tea on her. It’s a stunning victory, and while Kanao never actually speaks to Tanjirou, you can tell she’s impressed by his progress.

After Haganezuka and Kanamori arrive at the mansion with Tanjirou and Inosuke’s reforged swords (and Inosuke re-chips his up with a rock, enraging the swordsmiths), Shinobu declares Tanjirou’s jaw healed and training complete. All that’s left is actual combat, and she tells him she’s expecting great things. As we saw back when she rescued Kanao to how she’s guided Tanjirou, it’s clear by now that Shinobu is definitely one of the good ones.

Interesting, she doesn’t know anything about the “fire breathing” Tanjirou brings up, only the distinct flame breathing in which Master Rengoku specializes, though he’s away on a mission, so more info on that will have to wait. Meanwhile, we see a Twelve Kizuki demon aboard a train eating its occupants—an apparent preview of the hugely popular October 2020 feature film Mugen Train.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 24 – Getting Back in the Game

While rest and recovery are the order of most days at the Butterfly Mansion, relaxation is most certainly not. That’s not just because of Zenitsu’s constant bellyaching, but the fact that Shinobu wants to begin their rehabilitation training ASAP, starting with Tanjirou and Inosuke. The training is handled by Kanzaki Aoi, Tsuyuri Kanao, and three pint-sized masseuses.

Zenitsu is perturbed when he sees the two returning from their first session as if they had just been beaten to a pulp, but Zenitsu soon finds out the score for himself, and he’s very disappointed in his companions. Why, he raves like a madman after taking them aside, are the complaining about getting massages, playing cup games, and light sparring, all with cute girls?

Zenitsu has no trouble with the massages or with beating Aoi at cups or tag, but Kanao is another story. She beats them at everything, and handily, as befits Shinobu’s apprentice. Zentisu and Inosuke are so frustrated that they stop showing up, but Tanjirou is determined to become strong enough to beat her.

The three little lady masseuses, who have really taken a shine to the sweet, wholesome Tanjirou (let’s be honest, Zenitsu’s a creep and Inosuke’s a forlorn beast) offer him some key advice. Kanao, along with Shinobu and all the other Hashira, are practicing Total Concentration Breathing … continuously. That is, every breath, morning, noon, and night.

The girls present him with a small, extra-hard beginners gourd he’s expected to break with nothing but his breath; Kanao can break a gourd over ten times its size. But while he clearly has a lot of grueling work to do (even short bursts of breathing wear him down), Tanjirou knows he can’t save Nezuko unless he’s stronger, so he puts the work in.

His efforts don’t go unnoticed by the lady of the mansion, Shinobu, who visits him on a rooftop while he’s practicing and even getting him to blush due to her close proximity and striking beauty. Shinobu is rooting for him because she too would like to live in a world where humans and demons got along.

It’s just, unlike him, she’s growing tired of believing that will ever be possible, having been ground down by battle after battle with lying, deceiving demon opponents. Tanjirou can smell anger behind her smile, which surprises Shinobu, causing that smile to briefly fade.

She tells him how her older sister, pure of heart like him, fought for peace with demons even when they ended up killing her. Due to her love and admiration of her sister, Shinobu promised to always carry the smile her sister loved, no matter how much she might want to frown or cry.

Knowing how much it sucks to lose a sister, she implores Tanjirou to keep Nezuko safe with everything he’s got—and there’s no reason to think he won’t. While I enjoyed this episode and the added depth given to Shinobu, Nezuko’s total absence is both conspicuous and disappointing—especially with only two episodes remaining.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 04 – Standing Up to the Queen

Tomozaki just landed a lucky break. If there was no reason for Izumi Yuzu to approach him, he’d been making his presence known to the point that when he approached her, she felt she could come to him with her TackFam problem, which is really a Nakamura Shuuji problem. Bottom line: Izumi likes Shuuji, and wants to get good enough at the game to take him on. We also learn Shuuji recently turned down the Konno Erika, leader of the Neckties to which Yuzu belongs.

Yuzu invites Tomozaki to her place so he can teach her, and after one match he knows exactly what she needs to get better, starting with learning how to execute a short jump, which is simply a matter of practice and muscle memory. Yuzu is grateful for Tomozaki’s advice but wonders what the deal is with his various poses and gestures…turns out he’s mimicking Hinami’s teaching style without knowing it!

By the time Tomozaki is drawing detailed diagrams of all the moves Yuzu will have to memorize, she asks him: What is all the intense effort even for? He tells her what it’s not for: making friends or winning praise. When Yuzu claims she can’t ever change from her current status of superficially laughing with her necktie-wearing friends, he assures her he is proof that anyone can change; they just need to commit themselves and put in the effort.

While Hinami calls Tomozaki’s break with Yuzu pretty “miraculous” when they meet up for a debrief, she can’t deny he properly capitalized, using what he knows best (TackFam) to really connect with someone. That said, she still wants him to ask Fuuka out on a date, even producing movie tickets for them to use.

The night before, Tomozaki practices asking Fuuka out on the recorder Hinami gave her, showing how he’s learning how to listen to himself and adjust. But he also accidentally opens a folder of recordings Hinami didn’t delete: ones in which she too practices talking. He already considers it amazing she’s so good at the Game of Life; to hear the process firsthand is even more amazing.

Like him with TackFam, no matter how high a level you achieve, you can never stop practicing. But with practice comes the realization that sometimes circumstances won’t always accommodate your plans, nor will practice always inform what to do when it’s go time. To whit: Tomozaki calls an laudable audible: coming clean to Fuuka about having not read any of her favorite author, and thus not yet being ready to read her own novel.

This could have turned out disastrously, but the risk was well worth the reward of starting fresh from a position of honesty. A white lie or misunderstanding rarely forms a strong foundation for a relationship. While there’s clear and justifiable disappointment in Fuuka’s reaction, there’s also the sense she’s happy he’s being so honest. He’s also able to break the news naturally and casually enough not to come off as dismissive or cruel.

Working entirely outside the letter of Hinami’s plan while hewing to the spirit of her training, Tomozaki shows great growth here, while rejecting her “an in is an in” mentality. Yes, the author misunderstanding, got Fuuka talking to him, but so did simply asking Yuzu for a tissue.

He also wisely realizes that to ask her out on a date so soon after basically restarting their friendship from a place of honesty would be overdoing it, so he withholds the tickets for now. If he gets any flak from Hinami, he’ll be ready with a pretty good explanation. However, their next meeting is preempted by Shuuji’s two mates: he wants a TackFam rematch, now.

In the AV room, Tomozaki plays Shuuji while Shuuji’s mates, Yuzu, and Erika and her two Necktie acolytes watch. Tomozaki proceeds to beat Shuuji handily in match after match, but Shuuji keeps asking to play again. He grows more frustrated, even as he starts to improve slightly, to the point he’s able to take out one of Tomozaki’s health stocks.

That frustration creates an increasingly unpleasant tension and aura of desperation around Shuuji, to the point Erika begins to mock him as “weak”, his obsession with a “stupid game” as “creepy”, and that she dodged a bullet when he turned her down. The “stupid game” comment draws the ire of Tomozaki, as does her assertion that all of Shuuji’s hard work and practice amounts to nothing.

The old Tomozaki would have muttered something and not followed through, but this newly Hinami-trained Tomozaki is at least adept enough at the Game of Life to call Erika out for the haughty tourist she is. Shuuji may have been a dick to him all this time, but at least he’s committed to improving and keeps fighting no matter how much he loses. All Erika can do is mock someone else’s effort when she (at least as far as Tomozaki knows) puts in none at all.

Yuzu even has the courage to chime in and call Shuuji’s efforts “beautiful in a boyish way”, despite the fact doing so is contradicting the vaunted Queen of the Neckties. But I have no doubt it was Tomozaki’s earlier words about her ability to change that helped her summon the courage to speak up. Erika slinks away, pretending not to have learned anything, but she did. So did Shuuji, who probably resents Tomozaki defending him but also appreciated it.

Notable for her silence during all this is Hinami, which was no accident. The thing is, while she observed that Tomozaki had things well in hand, I also think she stayed above the fray in order to avoid needlessly upsetting the apple cart with Erika & Co., who would have likely felt ganged up on if she’d joined Tomozaki and Yuzu—an example of maintaining balance through inaction. Regardless, both Erika and Shuuji stop giving Tomozaki a hard time, now knowing better what he’s made of.

At their next meeting over lunch, Hinami asks how things are going with Fuuka, wondering if he’s lost motivation. He assures her he hasn’t, but without explaining the whole situation with coming clean and not wanting to pile on with a date request, Tomozaki pulls another laudable audible: whipping out the very tickets she gave him and asking Hinami if she’ll join him instead.

Hinami’s look of surprise is followed by the kind of proud face a master makes when their student has just done something good. Unfortunately, she’s not free tomorrow (what do you know, she does have other obligations!), but she is free for a movie now. Is it just me, or do these two just make a good couple, full stop?

It’s too early to tell, but I appreciate that Hinami doesn’t go all cliché blushy or tsundere at the prospect of Tomozaki asking her out. Maybe she gets that it’s for more “training”, or as thanks for her help so far. But at some point all these times they’re meeting up one-on-one and having fun will start painting the picture of two people…going out. We’ll see if anything comes of their consistently pleasant proximity, and more importantly, if more people start noticing them together all the damn time!

Crucially, this outing proved Tomozaki isn’t just some automaton carrying out Hinami’s directives, nor does she want him to be. She’s taught him the basics, and it’s up to him to experience how to properly use them and switch things up when warranted. The recording of Hinami also shows that her life game is an ongoing work in progress. I know it’s Tomozaki’s name in the title, but I would love to delve more into Hinami’s growth, and if Tomozaki has anything to teach her—something his recent shrewd freestyling might portend.

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 03 – Character Creation, Phase 2

While a plethora of new characters were introduced last week, this episode keeps things simple by narrowing down the ones with whom Fumiya interacts to three: Aoi, Fuuka, and Yuzu. That not only keeps things from getting too scattered but is in keeping with Aoi’s desire to figure out who is best worth Fumiya’s time and effort.

Of course, first thing’s first: making him sufficiently presentable to converse with people. That means a trip to the mall for some new threads, a new haircut, and some lunch conversation practice. Fumiya has learned from the tapes that he has a tendency to mutter; Aoi tells him to use fewer words and rely more on gestures and tone to convey his emotions.

Quite by surprise, Fuuka is a waitress at the restaurant where they have lunch. Refreshingly, Fuuka doesn’t seem necessarily threatened by seeing them together, nor does she assume they’re on a date—she simply hadn’t pegged them as being friends material. Based on little details she noticed during their encounter, Aoi is convinced that Fuuka should be the “first heroine” Fumiya should pursue in his “playthrough.”

At their next meeting, Fumiya proudly reports that one of his small goals was achieved: his sister noticed he was putting more effort into his appearance. While Fumiya feels like he’s relying on “cheats” like dressing like the store mannquin or getting his hair done, Aoi insists that because he’s trusting in her and doing as she says, he deserves at least some of the credit for his success.

That said, Aoi isn’t going to start going easy on him. His next goal is to go somewhere alone with a girl who isn’t her. His related task for the week is to talk to Izumi Yuzu at least twice a day. Why Yuzu and not Fuuka? Because, as Aoi points out, real life isn’t a dating sim. Raising “affection levels” of one girl can raise them for all, along with increasing their innate possessiveness.

Fumiya is still weary that he’s not being “sincere”, but Aoi tells him it’s too early in his progress to worry about that. He’ll cross that bridge when he’s in a more serious relationship. For now, he needs “ins”, however he can get them. Things don’t go too smoothly with Yuzu at first; topics he chooses tend to lead to awkward conversational dead ends. But he keeps at it, and his quota for the week is eventually filled.

While in the library pretending to read a random book while coming up with TackFam strategies, Fumiya is approached by Fuuka, who notices the author he’s pretending to read is her favorite. Fumiya doesn’t correct her, and Fuuka ends up confessing something she’s never told anyone: she’s working on a novel, and would love it if he (and only he) read it sometime.

It’s a lovely little exchange because it’s the first of its kind fo Fuuka as well as Fumiya. Kayano Ai really sells Fuuka’s warmth and quiet enthusiasm, and Fuuka really does seem like a suitable person for Fumiya to pursue, and he has the perfect “in”.

As Aoi reiterates, it’s still too early to worry about “sincerity”; she can tell he’ll use it as an excuse to run away if she lets him. While he filled his quota in talking to Yuzu twice a day for a week, he may feel like he failed, like a battle he loses that results in KO and Game Over.

But unlike games of that kind, in the game of life you gain as much if not more XP by losing than by winning, so you’re better off keeping up the fight than starting over from scratch. That assertion really speaks to the gamer in Fumiya. The losses he tallied against Yuzu weren’t in vain; they got him to at least Level 3, and he can use what he learned from those failures to succeed with Fuuka.

But then life throws him for a loop when he spots Yuzu sitting alone and looking somewhat down. Remembering Aoi’s advice for him to mention something about her clothes or face, Fumiya tactlessly tells Yuzu she looks “gloomy”, but she doesn’t storm off. In fact, she just keeps looking gloomy, and even gets to the point that tears are welling in her eyes when she comes right out and asks him to teach her how to play TackFam.

I don’t believe this is the same kind of “in” as Fuuka’s secret novel reading—it’s possible Yuzu wants to learn to play so she can play with another boy she’s interested in, or maybe she just wants to learn TackFam, period. But the fact Fumiya reached out to her so much in the last week made him a viable person for Yuzu approach with such a request. So it could be an overture for a friendship. We shall see!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 02 – Boosting Social XP

With Fumiya’s goals laid out, it’s time to grind! Talking to three different girls is a steep task for someone who virtually never speaks to any, but Aoi has a detailed plan for  him. First, she’s already chosen to whom he should speak from her circle of friends—a measure of quality control. But she notably doesn’t hold his hand the whole way. He has to get out there and execute on his own.

An added wrinkle is the the fact girls at their school have a choice of wearing either a bow or necktie, and the custom of only the popular girls wearing the latter. Two of the girls he must speak to are with the “necktie team,” which feels like an added level of difficulty. But in his very first exchange with necktier Izumi Yuzu, simply asking her for a tissue, Fumiya does fine; he even interacts with a second girl in bow-tier Kikuchi Fuuka.

Fumiya hesitates in his next interaction during home ec, with the lively Nanami Minami (AKA Mimimi), because the plan said Aoi would be present to have his back, but this also seems like Aoi putting him on the deeper end of the pool to see what he’s got when faced with the unexpected. He ends up lauding Minami for her “empathy” when she says “I get that”, sounding like an old man and eliciting genuine, non-mocking laughter from her.

So far so good, but what happens when the social situation—or “battle”—is complicated by additional “combatants”? First, Natsubayashi Hanabi (AKA Tama) arrives, adding a completely different vibe to the conversation as Mimimi affectionately gloms onto her and tells her “Fumiya is funny!”

Before Mimimi or Fumiya can explain it to Tama so she doesn’t feel out of the loop, the three main “in-crowd” dudes arrive. They’re led by Nakamura Shuuji, whom we know to still be sore over his TackFam loss to Fumiya. Mimimi explains Fumiya’s “joke”, Shuuji dismisses it as no joke at all, and Mimimi puts it to a vote.

Fumiya notices that Tama doesn’t vote, so he also abstains so as not to keep her feeling left out. Finally, Aoi arrives and votes for Fumiya, giving both him and Tama the cover they needed to vote for him. She even uses the opportunity to bring up the fact Shuuji lost to Fumiya, and how his resultant sour attitude may be why he was dumped.

If all this sounds extremely complex, it’s because we’re watching all of the intricacy that lies behind seemingly mundane or effortless high school social interactions through Fumiya’s eyes: as a novice trying to familiarize himself with the game’s  mechanics and and pitfalls.

In their afterschool debriefing in the sewing room, Aoi explains how she wasted no time broached the topic of Shuuji’s TackFam loss as part of a larger effort to avoid Shuuji—who like her has considerable social clout—from being rude to Fumiya and hurting his progress (since it would give others permission to be rude).

Aoi believes that on balance, Fumiya’s first “field practice” was a huge success. He was a little shaky out there, but the conditions were met without cheating. She also has him rely on his own instincts by garnering comments form him. For instance, he noticed Tama seemed “a bit off”, which Aoi chalks up to Tama’s strong will and hesitance to “go along to get along”

Between the vote and debriefing, Fumiya witnesses the interactions between just the trio of Aoi, Mimimi and Tama, and learns why Hanabi is nicknamed Tama (b/c “hanabi” means fireworks, and you traditionally say “tamaya!” when they explode…pretty clever!) We also learn that Mimimi is not afraid of showing affection for her friends, whether it’s glomming on Tama or tickling Aoi’s navel.

Aoi “returns fire” by going in for a kiss—which seems to throw Mimimi off balance—only to gently blow on her lips. Both this incident and the fact Aoi being the only one in class with the “guts” to tease Shuuji further reinforce the reality that Aoi is an elite, “utterly terrifying” player of this game. Like Fumiya in TackFam, if you’re coming at Aoi IRL, you best come correct!

Now that Fumiya has familiarized himself with conversation somewhat, the next step is to get better at it by continuing to recognize the reactions of the girls he talks to, the shifts in mood those conversations take, and become comfortable with adjusting on the fly.

Being able to join in conversations with girls multiple times per day (no one-and-dones here) will also help him make progress towards his medium goal of getting a girlfriend. The more girls Fumiya converses with, the more reactions Aoi will have to gauge whom he should be talking to more. It’s like researching a boss before entering battle to ensure victory!

While becoming more agile in conversation through the accumulation of XP, Fumiya will simultaneously be practicing proper posture. A stronger posture will result in a stronger state of mind, just as confidence can be boosted by drawing on the positive reactions better posture will engender. Aoi clutches Fumiya’s buttock, but not as a flirtation. It’s merely a clinical check to ensure he’s using those muscles properly.

That afternoon, Aoi says she’ll be heading home with two of the three in guys (not Shuuji) and Mimimi, that he’ll be accompanying them, taking mental notes and honing his conversational skills. With Aoi with him this time, she’s able to support him with his “butt exercise” comment, which might’ve clanged to the floor without her seconding its efficacy.

Aoi then throws Fumiya a curveball mid-trip home: he and Mimimi are getting off early, since they live in the same area, so he’ll be interacting one-on-one with her, just like in home ec. Fortunately, Mimimi has no problem with his. On the contrary, she seems eager to help Fumiya come out of his shell even thought she’s unaware of his training, giving him an encouraging pat on the back.

Fumiya and Mimimi casually discuss his glumness and her liveliness, and when he asks if there’s ever times she’s not “all smiling and bubbly”, she says those times are when it’s most important to be that way. He then recalls what Aoi said about the body and mind being liked, and Mimimi can’t help but bring up the fact he and Aoi have been awfully buddy-buddy of late.

Fumiya sidesteps that by declaring Aoi out of his league, though that matter is far from closed. Mimimi maintains he should “let his fun side shine” more often, since he’s shown he’s actually pretty funny when he wants to be. Fumiya explains that fun isn’t the end-all-be-all for him; in TackFam, for instance, he plays because he loves it, and the fun is a bonus.

Mimimi also shows quite a bit of self-reflection when the subject turns to Tama, comparing her “won’t bend or be bent” nature to her “always be bending” attitude. It’s another great success for Fumiya, as he and Mimimi never had so much as an awkward silence while walking together.

As for determining who might be girlfriend material, that remains to be seen, but in their next debriefing Aoi has Fumiya acknowledge that his tendency to speak his mind regardless of the mood of the conversation makes him similar to Tama, who isn’t afraid to speak hers. Aoi believes that’s a strength in both, and Fumiya shouldn’t be afraid to use it.

Like the previous meeting, Aoi asks Fumiya to bring up anything else he learned, and he says he’s become aware that any productive conversation requires specific roles be filled, like different jobs in an RPG party: someone who introduces new topics (like Mimimi) and one who expands on existing ones (like Aoi).

Aoi is glad he’s picked up on this organically, and directs him to practice playing both roles. She expresses her joy with the phrase “HEXactly!”, which she finally explains was the catchphrase of a retro game she loved. She’s so delighted he’s heard of it she breaks out of teaching mode…but only momentarily!

To that end, Aoi has prepared flash cards of conversation topics for Fumiya to practice, and also recorded their meeting so he can listen to the sound of his voice. She also arranges their first Saturday meet-up. The fact she’s spending a day she’s free of club work on Fumiya means Aoi is determined to make her reclamation project a resounding success.

It’s great to see Fumiya not just making steady progress, but for the difficulty level not to be artificially heightened by, say, cartoonishly intractable personalities. At the end of the day these aren’t tough “bosses” Fumiya is being made to fight: Mimimi, Tama, Yuzu, and Fuuka are all nice people who aren’t hard to get along with, and all seem willing in one way or another to give him the benefit of the doubt despite his reputation.

At the same time, I’m thoroughly pleased Fumiya doesn’t need to be dragged kicking and screaming from his morose philosophy. While understandably a bit reticent at times, he’s neither resistant nor stubborn about submitting to Aoi’s prescribed plan. The best way he can show respect to her not inconsiderable efforts is by being a model trainee; a veritable sponge absorbing as much as he can, while not forgetting to have fun. So far, so good!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 01 (First Impressions) – Don’t Blame the Game

“You cannot lose if you do not play.”—Marla Daniels, The Wire

“I’m not fucking crazy … I’m just goal-oriented.”—Annie Landsberg, Maniac

Our protagonist Tomozaki Fumiya (handle nanashi) is teen with a dearth of social skills and friends and seeks solace and contentment in the world of gaming. In the first of a veritable festival of metaphors this show dishes out, he’s a god-tier player of the popular fighting game Tackfam, but a bottom-tier player in the Game of Life. As such, even though he splashes the popular Nakamura Shuuji in Tackfam, it’s Shuuji who leaves school flanked by two pretty girls.

This leads Fumiya—who is not a refugee from a war-torn nation—to declare “The game of life is garbage”, followed immediately by an establishing shot of his family’s above average-sized detached home in a quiet neighborhood, thence to his spacious bedroom with hardwood floors, a Mr. Slim, and his own entertainment center.

I actually laughed out loud at this juxtaposition, even if it wasn’t quite the show’s intention. Then I couldn’t help but think: This guy is a whiny loser and I don’t like him. But hey, that’s the point: I’m not supposed to! In stories like this, something or someone becomes a catalyst for positive change.

In this case, it’s a someone—a fellow gamer (handle NO NAME) who is second only to Fumiya in the Tackfam national rankings. Fumiya respects NO NAME a great deal, and when he plays him he can tell how much effort and dedication he puts into training. When NO NAME suggests they meet up IRL, Fumiya doesn’t hesitate.

Little does Fumiya know that not only is NO NAME not a guy, but she’s someone he already interacted with at school prior to their meet-up, as she extended him some obligatory class-rep friendliness upon learning he and Shuuji played. NO NAME is Hinami Aoi, the “it” girl at his school: top grades, top athletes, loved by all. He considers Aoi a god-tier player of the game of life, like Shuuji.

Thankfully, Aoi’s reaction to Fumiya being nanashi is spot-on: “This sucks,” she declares, quickly losing her interest in further interaction. Her reason is plain: just as Fumiya is in awe of her as a player of life, she was in awe of nanashi as a player of Tackfam. To learn the real nanashi is a “rock-bottom loser” who has “given up on life” is deflating, and in turn reflects poorly on her, since she pegged nanashi to be a better person IRL.

Voiced by the wonderful Kanemoto Hisako, in with a feminine strictness that had me wondering if Aoi was really Nakiri Erina with dyed hair and contacts, Aoi brings legitimacy to “polite rudeness”—a term I may have just made up—in her takedown of Fumiya. She also has just the right response when Fumiya protests that the game of life is unbalanced, and her “high initial stats” imbue her and those like her with baseless confidence.

What’s so satisfying about her response, and can be tied to the tightness and cleverness of the dialogue throughout the episode, is that she repeats to Fumiya the very same words Fumiya said to Shuuji when he called Tackfam trash: There’s nothing more shameful than blaming the game, especially when you’d barely played. Fumiya goes on to argue that you can’t change characters IRL…and that’s when Aoi takes his hand, and before he knows it, he’s sitting in her bedroom.

It’s at this point in the ep when I began to develop a measure of concern about the emergence of a somewhat unpleasant subtext: Aoi seemed to be going extremely out of her way to be this dude’s archetypal “guardian angel”. After all, what does she get out of helping him? You can say she’s simply being every bit the “good person” and “perfect heroine” Fumiya saw her as to this point: helping those in need help themselves.

But there’s more to it than that, which justifies the extent of her effort vis-a-vis Fumiya, which we learn when she invites him to her room…her very similarly-sized and appointed room:

They’re practically mirror images of each other! Whether this was intentional or the creator/producers simply drew up some normal high school kid rooms, I appreciated the symbolism. There’s common ground between Aoi and Fumiya: their passion for the games at which they excel. Aoi happens to be good at both Tackfam and life, but she shows Fumiya the latter success isn’t due to high base stats.

She does this simply by being who she is—someone Fumiya didn’t know—by appearing before him in cozier clothes and without makeup. She assures him he can attain normie-level looks just fine by practicing better expressions and proper posture. When Aoi watched Fumiya play as nanashi, she saw the same serious effort she applied IRL—in fact, she thought him more capable of effort than she!

So yeah, from where Aoi stands and how hard she’s worked, Fumiya doesn’t get to say the game of life is unbalanced garbage. He just needs to start applying the same effort of which he’s already proven more than capable in Tackfam. She’ll prove he can—and validate her ideals—by helping him out. Fumiya is initially dubious because he assumes Aoi ranks life higher than Tackfam, but when she reveals her belief that life is tied for first with Tackfam, he’s moved.

He’s moved because while he’s always gotten online recognition for his online efforts, those same efforts have netted him precisely zero friends and recognition…until he met NO NAME/Aoi, who bridged the divide between games. In Aoi he finally has someone IRL who recognizes and moreover values his efforts.

As flawed as Fumiya is, he still recognizes his own hypocrisy and has a sense of honor, and is thus motivated to put more effort into “playing” life as Aoi suggests, so he can find out for himself if the game is actually good. This, along with Aoi using the Fumiya Reclamation Project as a means of continuing to grow herself, goes a long way towards making their budding relationship both balanced and compelling.

As for what form Fumiya’s training will take, well here’s where we must suspend disbelief in Aoi having a half-hour to spare in her clearly packed academic, athletic, and social schedule. They meet at the school’s deserted sewing room (where I thought for a moment she’d teach him how to make better clothes, LOL) and Aoi lays out an aggressive plan composed of large, medium, and small goals. The primary goal is “to be as satisfied with offline life” as she is.

Fumiya can see by the structure of the plan that it’s not all that different from how he trains for Tackfam, a realization Aoi was both counting on and appreciates as it will save some explanation time. She’s already given him a facemask behind which he must constantly smile behind in order to improve his expression (this leads to an awkward scene with his imouto, who asks him not to be more creepy than he already is).

But like Nakiri Erina, Aoi has no intention of going easy on Fumiya offline, considering she knows the effort he’s capable of online. He must acquire a girlfriend before starting his third year. Before that, he must get a third party to notice his appearance/vibe has improved, which has already started with the smiling training, but also means he must actually talk to at least three girls at school.

That’s no mean feat for a bottom-tier character in a game he’s barely played to this point, but part of improving one’s character involves occasional stumbling and getting ones ass kicked (figuratively, of course). I notice there are four girls in the middle ground of the promo art, so I imagine Fumiya will start with one of them. So begins a long, fraught, but hopefully rewarding journey towards not thinking life is a garbage game. And as you can tell by how many damn words I’ve written about it, I’m game!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Deca-Dence – 04 – Changing the World That Is Yourself

Natsume happens to be thrust into her first battle by no fault of her own, but there’s no way she’s just going to stand around and watch. She borrows some tank gear and runs into the thick of it. Even when a Gadoll impales one of her fellow fighters and blood splatters everywhere, she heads towards the danger. Like a soldier. This is your place and time, a voice must be saying in her head. Don’t let it go to waste.

Natsume darts around the battlefield with aplomb, Taking every single stitch of training from Kaburagi and making full use of her brand-new arm cannon. She’s too busy to be afraid to die; she can die when the battle’s over; when her time is up, something she’s always known is something she can’t control, only maintain.

She really shows something out there, such that the other Tanker fighters and their illustrious leader Kurenai takes notice. When Natsume tells her she’s not technically “in” the Power because she’s a “bug”, Kurenai laughs off the self-deprication. If Natsume’s a bug, her two lieutenants are boogers.

Kurenai warmly welcomes Natsume to join the Power and her unit if she so wishes, and of course Natsume very much wishes, being sure to thank her boss, without whom she wouldn’t be there. Kaburagi, who is just trying to keep Pipe out of sight, gets accosted by Kurenai, who remembers “Kabu-san” when he was on the front lines and has a huge crush on him.

Natsume would seem to have joined the fight at an auspicious time, when the largest battle in Deca-Dence history is about to take place. Gear scouts have discovered the main Gadoll nest, and Kurenai’s Tanker squad is being given the toughest and most important job. They’re to defeat “Gadoll alpha”, a monster creating a cloud of fog across the nest. With the fog gone, the Gears will be able to easily mop up.

While touted in-game as the ultimate epic final battle that, when won, will finally enable humanity to live in peace, back at Solid Quake Kaburagi learns from a friend that the arc will result in a crushing defeat for Deca-Dence and massive losses. Those tragic developments will pave the way for the return of “legendary heroes” to save Deca-Dence in its hour of need.

One of those heroes is Kaburagi himself, who is being pulled out of his chip-collecting retirement as a result of rave reviews of his unplanned return to the battlefield back in the first episode. When Kaburagi told Natsume to “make sure not to die”, he was telling her to be careful. But now, if she participates in the battle she’ll die for sure. And since she’s human, she won’t come back.

Natsume meets Mindy, Mundy and Mendy, triplets who are, other than her, the youngest members of Kurenai’s unit. She makes a bad first impression when Mindy tries to shake Natsume’s artificial right hand and it accidentally transforms into a spear launcher.

Mindy is livid, warning Natsume that going into battle with a weapon you haven’t mastered is no different than begging for death (her siblings think she was too harsh.) Back in her neck of the woods, Natsume sees her friend Fei, who has decided to wash her hands of Natsume. Like Mindy, Fei sees Natsume’s disability as a disqualifying attribute. If she tries to be a soldier, she’ll just die.

Having had those encounters, you can imagine Natsume is decidedly not in the mood to have someone else tell her she can’t do what she wants to do, and is pleasantly surprised when Kaburagi knocks on her door for a change. She offers him milk (no doubt a rare delicacy), but he’s come to warn her not to join the battle tomorrow.

While we know full well Kaburagi is dissuading her for the right reason (she may well be ready, but the battle is literally rigged), Natsume assumes he’s once again joined the ranks of the naysayers. He can’t tell her the truth about why he knows, because that would be opening a whole other can of worms. So Kaburagi goes full “bad guy” and breaks her Tank. She may live to hate him, but she’ll live, and that’s what matters.

The spilled milk and oxyone pooling together on the floor was a really cool and effective symbol for the split worlds of Kaburagi and Natsume, as well as their oil-and-water difference of positions.

Natsume approaches Kurenai to tell her she’s sitting the battle out. Kurenai is understanding, but wants Natsume to be sure it’s what she wants. When asked why she fights, Kurenai states worthiness of Kaburagi  to be one reason, but also because living her days aimlessly in a cramped dirty metal box just isn’t for her.

As she skulks home, Natsume remembers feeling the same way as Kurenai, even as an adorable little kid. Her father would show her amazing sights of the outside world, and told her they’d be able to visit them when peace was achieved. She came to believe she’d be the hero to end the war, but after she lost her arm, and got told all the things she couldn’t do, that belief waned.

As Natsume tells Kurenai after changing her mind and declaring she’ll join them after all, she doesn’t like the way she is right now, and wants to change it. She wants to change into the fighter and the hero her younger self dreamed of being. She just needs to borrow some money to replace her tank! And then, of course, not die.

But hell, even if Natsume knew and believed everything Kaburagi knew—about cyborgs usurping humanity as the dominant species on earth, about how every aspect of her and every human’s life is manipulated by a corporation—she may well still decide to fight. This week’s episode made it clear this is her story, and her choice. And if she existed outside the system as a “bug” this long, not even Kabu-san knows how far she’s capable of defying that system.

Deca-Dence – 03 – Riding the Wave

Now that we, the audience, generally know the score in terms of the cyborg and human worlds, this episode is free to spend most of its runtime on Natsme’s Gadoll-hunting training. That’s fine with me, as I’m a big fan of Natsume, and this episode doesn’t sugar-coat the difficulty of fighting Gadoll.

It’s hard, brutal work that can turn you into hamburger. It’s also extremely a good move for us learn the mechanics of variable-gravity battle by having Kaburagi toss Natsume right into the shit—or in this case, a tutorial zone that’s still incredibly grueling for her. Her Tanker friend is worried about her going out into battle zones, especially with that arm.

Natsume isn’t going to let failure after failure or naysaying peers keep her from learning how to “ride the wave” of Gadoll zones. Kabu attaches her to a kite to learn how to fly, and tosses her into the drink to learn how to catch fish with a spear. Both are essential foundational skills for a Gear or fighting Tanker (a group of merely 200, compared to 50,000 Gears).

Preston didn’t mind Bofuri’s many Maple montages, and I feel similarly positive about the use of montage here. It accelerates the pace of Natsume getting knocked down and getting back up again until she gradually gets better and better, and even impresses Kabu. You can tell she’s working her bum off, and it’s paying off because she has a good, patient teacher.

Kaburagi even goes over film of Natsume’s training, and notices her crude artificial arm is taking too long adjusting her Tank (flying device), which could prove fatal in a real battle against tougher Gadoll. In the middle of film review, he’s contacted by Hugin, who wonders why he hasn’t processed a Bug in 13 days, 7 hours, and 28 minutes. I had to take a deep breath after hearing those precise time figures, for I qas initially worried Hugin was on to Kaburagi training a human Bug.

I guess he’s not all-knowing and all-seeing, merely extremely rigid in his belief all bugs must be eliminated. Both Hugin and a corporate presentation of world history, in which cyborgs eventually supplanted humans as the dominant species on Earth, implies that not keeping bugs in check led to the humans’ downfall.

When Kabu dives back into his human avatar, Natsume is at his door with an outfit for Pipe so he can run around outside. I’m not sure how Pipe’s wearing anything would make him less conspicuous to others, but never mind. When Natsume tells Kabu that she’s aware her old arm is a problem, he takes her to a weapons shop and outfits her with a new five-fingered model.

She’s already over the moon to have fine control in both hands now, but Wait…There’s More: her arm can transform into a spear-gun, which should improve her fighting speed considerably. She’s eager to test it out in the field, but a Gadoll alarm sounds, Deca-Dence hits some kind of sinkhole and stops, and the resulting earthquake sends Natsume, Kabu, and Pipe flying.

When Pipe falls into one of the cracks in the earth, Kaburagi follows after him, and requests location support from Commander Minato. We quickly flash back to six years ago when he found Pipe in a glob of Gadoll guts. Rather than kill or report the bug, he bought a trailer in Tanker Town and kept it as a pet. Both Pipe and now Natsume are products of his desire—his need—to rebel against Hugin and The System…at least a little.

Meanwhile Natsume runs down and through the underground passage until she comes upon an absolutely massive cavern where she can watch the battle between medium-sized Gadoll and Gears unfolding. The scale of the sight is awesome to behold. If only she had her gear, she could join in the battle. Then again, the size of the cavern and possibility it was made suggests that a much, much larger Gadoll may be lurking deeper in the earth. I’m not sure she’s ready for that quite yet.

Arte – 12 (Fin) – The Firenze She Made Along the Way

Matei pays a visit to Arte to apologize for his rude comments. Especially once he sees her gorgeous portrait of Lady Sofia, he admits to harboring an “ugly jealousy.” Arte replies that if his jealousy is ugly, the jealousy she’s had for male artisans is ugly too. He urges her to always treasure the talent that comes from her unique position, and to continue to cultivate it.

Matei helps Arte realize that she has unique talent and value as a female noble artist, and she doesn’t want to become tied down by a patron just yet. On top of that there’s much she still wants to learn from Leo, so she turns Yuri down and prepares to return to Florence. Yuri respects and even admires her decision; she and Katarina leave on good terms as well, committing to being friends from now on and vowing to write one another.

Upon returning to Florence, Arte finds Leo’s workshop empty. Darcia informs her that he’s come down with a fever and is resting at Ubertino’s house. Ubertino believes Leo will be fine, but is more concerned with the fact the ceiling mural he started won’t be finished by the Easter deadline. As a member of Leo’s workship and with Ubertino’s approval, Arte rolls up her sleeves and vows to complete the ceiling herself.

When the timeline proves impossible for any one person and Arte nearly collapses from exhaustion, Angelo steps in to assist with the painting while Darcia resolves to keep them fed and healthy. Eventually a group of other apprentices Arte has met and befriended join the team. With all the extra manpower the ceiling is completed on time.

Leo and Arte don’t end up meeting until the mural is unveiled, and while her “light calculations” are still in need of some seasoning, he’s nevertheless grateful for her help. When he asks why she came back, Arte says she wants to paint paintings that encourage people, like the triptych of the Virgin Mary encouraged her while she was in Venice. Leo’s glad to have her back, even if he’ll have to get used to the extra noise and energy all over again.

Finally, Arte’s mother accepts an invitation to the unveiling, and shows that she’s big enough to admit when she was wrong. She was sure that despite her late husband’s encouragement, a woman only had two paths: marriage or the convent. Arte proved she could forge her own path, but she didn’t do it alone, and made sure to honor everyone in her life—including her parents—who aided her in her journey by painting them into the mural (in heroic garb, of course).

It’s a touching gesture, and a fitting end for an anime with a lovable heroine in a very unconventional time period and setting, but a timeless message: Believe in yourself and your abilities, work your ass off, rely on friends and allies when needed, and you’ll eventually convince the skeptics and soar to success. Brava, Arte!

Arte – 11 – Crossroads

Having made excellent progress with Katarina, Arte gets back to the official reason for coming to Venice: Lady Sofia’s portrait. Arte also paints a portrait of Katarina, and accompanies her to the workshop to learn more about artisans first-hand.

While there, the apprentice Matei states that he “envies” Arte for being an educated noblewoman and an artist, and when she sees his battered hands, this compels her to step up her work considerably. Aside from her modeling sessions during her portrait, Katarina never sees Arte.

She stays up all night sketching and studying, not eating any the food Daphne brings. After being told she was the wrong gender for the world of artisans, suddenly hearing the opposite lights a fire under her.

As one would imagine, this eventually catches up to Arte, and sure enough Daphne and Katarina find her passed out from overwork and exhaustion. For this, Yuri gives her a very stern, businesslike talking-to that amounts to “I don’t care about your problems, don’t make my niece cry again.”

She eventually recovers and finishes Katarina’s portrait, and Kat is so bowled over by its quality she rushes back to the workshop to show Matei that Arte isn’t just an educated noblewoman who paints, but an immensely talented artist in her own right.

After meeting with Matei Arte must’ve thought she wasn’t dedicating enough time to art and was wasting her privilege. Of course, that’s rubbish! We’ve seen Arte work till she literally vomits; no one, including herself, can call her a loafer or coaster.

Both Arte and Leo also have moments this week when they truly miss each other (though Leo puts up a stoic front as always). Presumably Arte will return to Venice, but then again, perhaps not: Yuri offers to be her full-time patron going forward if she remains in Venice permanently.

That means a steady wage and a comfortable life, neither of which any woman of any station can take for granted in these times. If Yuri and his sister-in-law are satisfied with her portraits, perhaps there’s nothing more Leo can teach her she hasn’t already learned during her solo time in Venice.

We know Katarina doesn’t want her to go, but what does Arte want? Is her personal and professional bond with Leo worth declining a potentially once-in-a-lifetime offer? (Leo would probably say no way.) Yuri gives her until she finishes Sofia’s portrait to decide. I wonder which path she’ll choose!

Arte – 10 – For Her Sake

When Katarina invites Arte to a meal, it’s more than just servants preparing everything for them. Katarina is in the middle of everything, working hard with the help, and not thinking of them as mere servants. Arte’s never seen her more happy. What gets Katarina down is the prospect of returning home to her parents’ house, which has never felt like home to her, so how can she be happy there?

A large part of that unhappiness stems from Katarina’s disgust for the nobility’s inclination towards always wanting there to be a clear difference between themselves and poorer levels of society. Her egalitarian attitude was developed by osmosis when she was raised far from Venice by her wet nurse Buona, who had a son Gimo with whom Katarina was close. When Buona suddenly died (as people did with far more regularity back then) she was thrust back to Venice, separated from the only home and family she knew to that point.

Yuri tells her about Katarina’s past in order to contextualize his opinion on the matter: Katarina finding her happiness depends on her ability to accept that she’s in the place she’s supposed to be, where that happiness is to be found, and that moving forward is the only way to find it. Even so, Arte can tell there’s a serious lack of closure, so she offers to take Katarina to see Gimo.

As Arte observes how both Katarina’s parents and servants act around her, it becomes clear that no one is really looking at the girl. When she overhears Malta complaining about how expensive her dowry’s going to be, and Sofia not challenging him, Arte recalls how her own parents argued spiritedly about her. The difference is, while they disagreed on the details, they were arguing for her sake.

Yuri tells Arte that Gimo is on Murano Island, and maintains his utmost faith not in her, but in his decision to choose her. It’s an interesting distinction, but Yuri didn’t become the rich and successful person he is by doubting his instincts.

On the island, Gimo regards Katarina coldly, but mostly out of deference to his mother Buona, who told him he couldn’t have any more contact with Katarina, since she was a noble. Their being a family was a beautiful dream, but that’s over.

Gimo tells her that there are times when he has to do things he doesn’t like, but because he was able to face forward properly and move on, he knows Katarina can do the same. When she does, he’ll look forward to welcoming her back with a smile.

Upon returning to Venice, Katarina ends up in bed sick for three days, and Arte is dismissed by Malta for failing to live up to her expectations. However, Katarina appears before her parents, performs all the requisite aristocratic gestures perfectly, and begs them not to fire Arte.

While Malta and Sofia are shocked to see their daughter behaving so properly, Malta still bristles at the idea of changing his mind, until Sofia, her hands trembling, speaks up and offers her opinion to her husband for the first time, agreeing that for Katarina’s sake, keeping Arte around is best.

Katarina’s home was a house of closed hearts, but thanks to Arte’s sentiments on doing things for someone’s sake, Sofia and Katarina’s hearts are now open. Like Arte, Katarina is a modern young woman with modern ideas, and they’re steadily learning together the ways to strike a balance between their modern values and the customs and obligations of their class.

Arte – 09 – The Tiny Gourmet

Katarina proves to be a handful to Arte, who is still disoriented by Venice, where not only do people dress differently but the very air she breathes smells different. While Arte received a crash course in Venetian etiquette from Yuri, to her shock Katarina is actually exemplary at etiquette; she simply chooses not to demonstrate it in public—or to her parents—because it’s “such a pain” and she’d rather spend her time napping.

Arte’s new servant friend Daphne tells her all the other tutors quit because of Katarina’s lousy attitude. Yuri admitted to Arte that painters are “a dime a dozen” in Venice, so she must assume he hired her more for her potential as a tutor to Katarina. But what does she, Arte, bring to the table that’s new?

Arte finds herself thinking and worrying so much about her fitness as a tutor that she gets pains in her stomach. But when Daphne takes her to a church so she can see and sketch the wonderful works housed therein, she’s approached by a couple men who praise her work then mock Florence for stooping to letting girls be artisans.

Much to Daphne’s shock, Arte not only takes their mocking in stride, but laughs about it. Those misogynist pricks showed her that not everything in Venice is different, and she’s not any different than the young woman who overcame overwhelming odds in Florence. She just needs to do her best here, like she’s always done. Doubt and anxiety won’t serve her.

The next day, Arte dithes the local garb and dons her workshop frock, which itself surprises Katarina. But part of Arte’s new wardrobe also meant removing the kid gloves: when Katarina tries to nod off, Arte plucks her out of bed and parks her in a chair, and in that chair she stays until she explains why she won’t practice the etiquette she knows in public.

She refuses, but Arte isn’t about to be discouraged now that she’s regained her confidence. She’s dealt with greater challenges in the past, and in a battle of wills between Arte and Katarina, I simply can’t bet against Arte.

That night, Arte makes a crude dress for Katarina to play in, and destroys a barrel so that they can go hoop rolling together, something at which Katarina is already an old hand. While this shows the girl that Arte can let loose and have fun, she can still smell her ulterior motive, and so her lips remain tight despite having had a genuinely good time.

Katarina’s mother Sofia tells Arte how her husband never wanted a daughter, and how all of her upbringing was to ensure she wouldn’t embarrass the family prior to being married off. Sofia believes that’s the reason Katarina hasn’t opened her heart to anyone in the house.

That night Arte visits Katarina’s room, having seen her light on late at night, and discovers her deep, dark secret, hinted at before: Katarina has a passion for cooking, deemed a job for lowly servants. Arte tries to reach out, but Katarina assumes she’ll rat her out, and demands that she leave at once.

The next day we see that Katarina has opened her heart to someone; namely her uncle Yuri, who unlike her father doesn’t see her as a burden to be married off, but a treasure whose passions should be nurtured. You can tell how close they are by the fact they’re cooking together without a care in the world…only Katarina is certain this will be the last time they do so.

Alas, when she returns home and her parents don’t broach the sore subject, it’s clear Arte didn’t snitch. Arte assures her she didn’t come to take what she likes away from her. Hell, she can relate to how Katarina feels, since her own mother burned her drawings.

Now that Katarina knows Arte is Good People, she’s willing to open her heart a bit when Arte joins her for dinner, when we’ll surely learn more about her “complicated past.” Until then, Arte’s basic decency, kindness, empathy, and determination—not to mention brute strength—contributed to coax Katarina into lowering her defenses. I came away from this episode liking both of them more!