Jujutsu Kaisen – 21 – Naisupitchi!

Guy with the sword with a hand for the grip—who I’ll just call “Guy”—is retreating from the academy through an underground tunnel when a severely injured Hanami smashes through the walls. Guy is ready to put Hanami out of his misery when Mahito appears, telling him that as a human he shouldn’t act alone.

Back on the beach, Hanami and Mahito rejoin Jougo and Getou (and … er … Zoidberg? is still swimming in the ocean). Getou explains to Jougo how Mahito was able to get past the academy barrier maintained by a sorcerer named Tengen: by placing a charm made of Mahito’s Cursed Energy on the finger of Sukuna they collected.

Suffice it to say, thanks to the successful raid on Jujutsu High, their plan is right on track, with Getou setting October 31 and Shibuya as the day and the place they want to unleash the “bomb” that is Sukuna. Meanwhile, the higher-ups of Tokyo and Kyoto meet and agree to keep the theft of the special-grade objects a secret among them, still unsure what the enemy is about to achieve.

We then shift to the infirmary where Yuuji and Nobara are visiting Megumi and eating pizza. This is a momentous occasion, because it’s the first time since Yuuji came “back from the dead” that the three friends have been able to simply kick back! So of course “Big Bro Aoi” has to muscle his way in, leading to him chasing Yuuji around the academy campus.

That brings us to the question: What of the Exchange Event? Rather than be cancelled, everyone agrees it should continue, though with the group event of the first day over, most expect the second day to take its typical form: individual battles. However, when the form of competition is drawn from a box, it’s baseball, so we get a baseball game!

I love baseball, particularly the unique style Japan brings to the game, so I was fine with this! Maki, as you’d expect, can both pitch and hit at an elite level, while Nobara can man the hot corner and beat out a grounder. Kamo Noritoshi (who really should be wearing a helmet) uses the opportunity to speak to Yuuji, who until a few hours ago he was trying to murder.

When Nori hears that the reason Yuuji became a sorcerer, he’s surprised to find it largely matches what his own ostracized mother said to him before they parted ways: save a lot of people so they’ll help you in turn, or even just be with you at your end. After a Nobara hit (off a Mechamaru pitching machine) and a perfect sacrifice bunt from Megumi, Maki socks one out of the park, only for the flying Momo to catch it—which is allowed because they’re short on players.

Maki gets her revenge when Aoi steps to the plate, beaning him as he’s telling Yuuji how he hopes he’ll pitch to him someday, which…there’s just no way to say that without it sounding like something else entirely. (Everyone casually saying “Nice Pitch!” when Maki plunks Aoi is *chefs kiss*.) When Yuuji comes to the plate, the two principals discuss the Yuuji conundrum. The strict interpretation of their laws says he shouldn’t exist, and Gojou’s selfishness kept him alive at the cost of many lives.

At the same time, there’s no denying that Yuuji’s being alive has saved lives that would have otherwise been lost. They tentatively agree to simply continue watching him as they weigh the pros and cons. After all, if they kill him for good they can’t undo it…again…I presume! It’s fitting that Yuuji is the one to hit the homer that puts Tokyo up 2-0, which ends up being the final score thanks to Maki’s lights-out pitching.

The show proved that it can animate baseball (or at least baseball-ish) action just as impressively as it does its battle scenes, while the on-screen graphics were full of great jokes, like the fact that Mei totally stole the ripe mango Kasumi was saving from the fridge…and that despite being able to actually say the word “rice”, Inumaki prefers bread for breakfast.

If there’s one mild complaint I have about Jujutsu Kaisen, it’s that the main trio have been apart more than they haven’t. The preview indicates Yuuji, Nobara and Megumi will be working next case together, which is just what I was hoping for as this second cour starts to wind down.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jujutsu Kaisen – 20 – Purple Boogie Woogie

In a brief but gorgeously lit and colored flashback, Toudou Aoi, only in third grade, is beating the shit out of a high schooler who mocked him. He catches the eye of a blonde sorcerer with a skeletal shikigami, and she asks him what type of woman he likes. Fast forward to the battle with Hanami, Toudou laments that while it’s time to unleash his technique, there’s no time to explain it.

That said, it doesn’t take long for him to demonstrate that technique, known as Boogie Woogie, in which he swaps positions with someone with the clap of his hands. He swaps with Hanami just as he’s about to land in a mass of spiked roots, so Hanami takes the damage. Yuuji was about to punch Hanami, but is about to punch Aoi instead.

Aoi uses Boogie Woogie with great effectiveness, swapping with Yuuji every few seconds to keep Hanami off balance, unsure which of them—with their, let’s say widely varying builds—to prepare for. We briefly check in with Nanami, who holds the record of most Black Flashes in one battle with four, including two consecutive.

As expected, thanks to Aoi’s tutelage, Yuuji’s able to easily break both of Nanami’s personal records, popping off three straight Black Flashe then a couple more for good measure. Hanami then unleashes an attack consisting of a enormous mass of cursed buds, too many of which could put either sorcerer out of commission (as they did Megumi).

Aoi, who claims to have an IQ over 500,000 (which, okay) retreats into his mind palace for a fraction of a second, which takes the form of the same high school drama where he and Yuuji became best brahs, and where Takada-chan is a classmate who turned him down flat. While Aoi initially prepares to defend the onslaught of buds with cursed energy, Takada helps him realize that’s exactly what Hanami is hoping for, so he reverses the energy and the buds bounce harmlessly off of him.

We also learn that Aoi has been strategically moving the battle back to the riverbed where Megumi went down, as before being carried away he told Aoi the three-part cursed staff is still lying the water. Since Aoi’s Boogie Woogie works on anything with cursed energy, he swaps Yuuji for the staff, infuses it with his own cursed energy, and smacks the shit out of Hanami, who suddenly has to resort to their version of Brazo Izquierdo del Diablo.

Just as Hanami’s arm collects all of the life energy of the surrounding forest in preparation for a Doman Expansion, the veil suddenly falls, and Gojou Satoru is floating up in the sky, mask off, ready to rumble.We cut to the other two battles going on just before the veil goes down, as Gakuganji shows Juuzou (the guy obsessed with turning Satoru into a coat rack) how his body serves as an amp for his guitar shredding.

We also catch Utahime about to square off with some cocky human who brandishes a sword with a hand for a grip, as made for him by Juuzou (which is how we learn the prolific cursed craftsman’s name). Utahime proves too quick for him, while Nobara and Mai soon arrive to back her up.

I’d have loved to watch them fight the hand-sword dude three-on-one, but then the veil goes down, and he skedaddles like his life depends on it…because it probably does. Juuzou doesn’t fare as well, as Satoru determines that he should be his first target to obliterate. While he “holds back” he still makes mincemeat out of Juuzou’s arms and legs, keeping him alive for interrogation.

Satoru then sets his sights on the retreating Hanami, determining he’ll have to launch a long-range attack mixing orbs of red and blue cursed energy(?) into one big mean purple blast that almost swallows up Yuuji and Aoi, but doesn’t. It looks like the sorcerers have won the day, but they don’t even know why these bad guys showed up in the first place.

Turns out the anti-Satoru veil and everything else about the attack amounted to one great big diversion, enabling Mahito to steal one of Ryoumen Sukuna’s fingers that was being held on Jujutsu Tech grounds. But assuming the Exchange Event is now over and won’t be started back up, hopefully the Kyoto kids will put their Yuuji knives away, as they all just went though some shit at the hands of their mutual enemies.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 19 – Let’s Get Cooking

Kamo, Megumi, and Toge are just treading water against a charging Hanami thanks to Toge’s cursed speech, but when his voice gives out, it’s up to Maki to save their lives by entering the battle with a cursed sansetsukon. She and Megumi go toe-to-toe with Hanami for a time, but they’re eventually overpowered—such is the might of a Special-Grade. Fortunately, that’s when the cavalry shows up: Best Pals Yuuji and Aoi.

At first, Aoi has Yuuji face Hanami alone, and won’t help until Yuuji executes a “Black Flash”. Yuuji is initially trying to let his anger fuel his strength, but Aoi warns him that won’t work, and slaps any and all unhelpful thoughts out of his head. Yuuji’s able to pull off the Black Flash, tearing Hanami’s arms off.

Aoi proudly declares that after simply throwing ingredients he’s never tasted into a pot and boiling them away, Yuuji is now tasting cursed energy and making haute cuisine with it. Whether or not it’s meant as a nod to Food Wars, it’s a pretty apt analogy. With Aoi joining Yuuji in the fight, Hanami decides to remove the bandage on their left arm.

The fight that ensues is a dizzily marvelous display of smooth yet breakneck combat animation, with Aoi and Yuuji bobbing and weaving through Hanami’s tangle of roots and branches and synchronizing their strikes.

Hanami recalls a time on the beach when Mahito accused them of holding back their full strength and not “enjoying” the fights the way curses should. Mahito likens tricking, deceiving, and murdering to be analogous to humans’ eating, sleeping, and screwing, defining instincts that are blended with—but never wholly suppressed by—reason.

It’s clear Aoi and Yuuji are having a blast working together, and Hanami also realizes they’re enjoying this battle to the fullest precisely because there’s no holding back. Of course, we know Aoi is holding back a cursed technique, but with Hanami still coming on strong, that’ll change starting next week.

Wonder Egg Priority – 05 – Scrambled

We hadn’t been privy to Aonuma Neiru’s Egg missions until this week; only the interludes between recovering from battles and purchasing new Eggs to protect. Her dream-battlefield is a majestic suspension bridge with a huge city nightscape as the backdrop; as bold and dramatic as Neiru herself is modest and unflappable.

Her egg this time is a runaway dealing with an abused, but Neiru has it covered, darting around the bridge like she’s in FLCL and defeating it with her compass-turned-gun with action movie fluorish, complete with the catchphrase “I’m going to blow your mind.” She means the words literally.

The runaway thanks her savior, but Neiru remains businesslike and aloof. She’s not doing this for her. She’s merely completing objectives, like a good operative. In a thematic transition only a eclectic show like WEP can pull off, we shift to real life, with Ai welcoming Neiru, Rika, and Momoe to her home.

Ai can’t contain how happy she is to have friends over, and neither can her adorable mom, who recognizes Momoe as Sawaki-sensei’s niece. Ai mentions that Koito seemed to have a thing for Sawaki. Rika, in true Rika form, stirs up a conspiracy that’s plausible enough to give Ai pause: What if Koito was dating Sawaki? What if she got pregnant? What if Sawaki only visits Ai regularly because he suspects she has proof of the affair?

The talk of Koito and Sawaki leads Ai to remember when Sawaki was sketching her for a portrait as his means of entry to a life of painting. In the memories Koito seems to be projecting envy in the way she tells Ai that if her heart isn’t in being Sawaki’s subject, she’d better bow out, as his “future is on the line”…as if an adult man’s future should be anyone’s responsibility but his own!

The messy can of worms Rika opens and stirs threatens to curdle the vibe of Ai’s friends’ visit. It also reinforces the fact that a great deal of mystery surrounds Koito’s death. When Rika asks why she doesn’t just ask her mom, who seems to be close to Sawaki, Ai voices her reluctance to make her mom worry more than she clearly already is about her string of recent unexplained injuries, which…fair enough!

Rika gets that. So do the other girls. No matter how nice and understanding her mom is, nothing good can come of Ai telling her she sneaks out at night to fight monsters in her sleep on behalf of youth suicides…it will only worry her more! That’s what re-knits the tentative bonds Rika’s speculation briefly frayed and lightens a conversation that had turned dark: the four of them can’t tell anyone.

It’s their story that no one else knows about. While before they were toiling alone, not even sure what the fuck was going on, now they have context through each others’ shared burden. They are seen by one another; they recognize the pain, guilt, and curiosity in one another. Then Rika and Ai compare mothers: Rika took one look after being born and thought “this lady wants to stay a woman her whole life and never be a parent.” Ai wonders if her perfect, imminently capable mom drove her dad away.

There’s an excellent exchange in which Rika looks Neiru’s way after stating that capable women can spoil men, both because she sees Neiru as capable, and because it’s her turn. They’re playing Jenga, and the way Rika steers the convo throughout makes the group dynamic almost feel like a Jenga game in and of itself: gradually removing blocks while maintaining integrity. In a similar fashion, Rika pounces on Neiru and tickles her. She doesn’t get the right spot at first, but when she finds it, Neiru can’t help but burst into laughter, while Ai and Momoe note how well the two opposites get along.

We can’t be sure if her battles on the bridge take place before or after the friends meet at Ai’s, but her latest egg is a real piece of work, criticizing Neiru’s hair while going off unbidden about the ephemeral nature of a girl’s beauty, and how dying while at one’s most beautiful is preferable to becoming an “ugly hag” in a pointless adult life.

The four girls meet up and break into a shuttered bowling alley and arcade. Acca tells them to get out of there and buy some damned eggs already, but they push back, declaring what they’re doing to be necessary “group therapy”. Ura-Acca lets them have a little fun, declaring that “soldiers” need R&R.

For a few blissful hours, four girls who have been battling monsters in their dreams get to live their lives as ordinary girls. Momoe talks about how at least six people have confessed to her—all girls—but only Haruka saw her as a girl. Remembering how she handled Haruka stripping before her, she wonders if she could have done things differently.

While Rika and Ai are off playing a different game, Momoe and Neiru have a chat while playing a racing game. Neiru points out that Momoe doesn’t necessarily hate being popular, even with girls. Neiru concedes that, adding that “sometimes you end up enjoying something even though you didn’t mean to.” That’s something Neiru needs to hear, especially as she’s enjoying hanging out with the others despite herself.

Later, in Acca and Ura-Acca’s garden, the four exchange contact info for future hangouts together, and Rika lies on her back, looks up at the sky, and asks a very fair question: Why don’t they stop buying eggs? Rika admits she got caught up in her mission, but at the end of the day Chiemi “died on her own”, and dying isn’t “playing fair”, so why should she bear responsibility? She asks the same questions of Ai, as Koito died without ever talking to her, and may not even want to come back to life.

What if their egg-protecting missions led to them meeting each other in real life, and now that they have new friends, they can ditch the eggs and dreams, move forward together, and live their lives? Again, this is all fair, and I’m glad Rika goes with her instinct to probe and prod and bring up hard truths regardless of how she’ll be seen by the group. It means she feels safe enough with them to to do.

The problem is, this isn’t just about bringing their respective friends back to life. That was never the case with Neiru, because her statue is of her sister. Her sister ran away and jumped off a bridge, but only after stabbing Neiru in the back, quite literally. To this day, the scar aches and keeps her awake, especially when she tries to forget her. It’s like a curse she’s trying to exorcise from her body. As she tells the eggs she protects, she’s not doing it for them…she’s doing it for herself.

In a similar way, Ai’s desire to keep going isn’t only couched in saving Koito or righting any wrong she might have done. It’s to crack the mystery; to feed her insatiable curiosity, like a splinter in her brain that won’t let up until she has the answers. As Ura-Acca puts it to the stricter Acca, the girls are in a state of teenage rebellion: they’ll stop if told not to stop, and will keep pushing boundaries to build up their own identities.

Back in the battle protecting the girl obsessed with the pure, inimitable beauty of youth, Neiru realizes the three pompom-like monsters aren’t the Wonder Killer’s true form, it’s the girl’s hair. After shooting it, Neiru notes that her sister (whose statue stands on the edge of the bridge) “tempted” her to die by stabbing her, before ending her own life.

Was her sister’s rejection of reaching adulthood an ultimate act of rebellion against What Is and What Should Be? As with Ai’s inquiries into Koito, it’s a question that may only be answered if they keep fighting—egged on by the Accas all the way. I just hope that the fact the four girls are not alone in this business will make their struggles a little easier to bear.

TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You – 12 (Fin) – I Want You to Live

In the first half, Nasa lets his tendency to get really involved in something get the best of him, and he works on a computer project all day and through the night. When he’s done, he has a fever, and Tsukasa is committed to being the “cute newlywed wife” who sees to his every need until he’s better.

That includes making him food and administering medicine, but also more intimate things like having him strip (as much as he dares to) so she can wipe down his sweat. By the end of the day, he’s feeling much better…better enough to get frisky in bed.

But Tsukasa again warns him to know when to “apply the brakes”—she’ knows he’s still not fully recovered enough for strenuous activity. As for Tsukasa, she drops one last hint about her mysterious origins by declaring she “can’t get sick or hurt”.

The remainder of the episode is actually the reason Nasa worked so hard he got sick: he wanted to be able to go to the summer festival with Tsukasa. He makes what he believes is not an unreasonable request to watch Tsukasa change into the yukata Kaname lent her, and doesn’t forget his camera—mostly to take pictures of his cute wife, not fireworks.

Nasa shows he’s not good at everything when he instantly fails at goldfish scooping, and Tsukasa confesses that the way they made takoyaki at their party is not her favorite way, and she’s super stoked to get the traditional kind at a food stall. Finally the two make and offering and pray for a long and happy marriage, for their health, and for better luck scooping fish in the future.

Then they join the others to watch the fireworks, Nasa looks forward to going to next year’s festival with his wife, and they return home together, husband and wife. Nothing too fancy! Certainly no other further revelations about Tsukasa’s possibly immortal status are revealed.

In this regard, TONIKAWA ends just the way it should have, with the lovely status quo of a happy Nasa and Tsukasa continuing to enjoy their lives with one another and their little circle of friends. It’s simple and mundane, but in the very best way, and I wouldn’t mind more heartwarming comfort food of this kind at some point in the future.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You – 11 – Perfect T.A.K.O.

Chitose is about to drop in on Tsukasa when she discovers her apartment is gone. She spots Tsukasa passing by, and Tsukasa tells her she’s living in the park now, lures Chitose into one of those big plastic domes with holes, and leaves her there.

Back home, Nasa has found a pan for grilling takoyaki, and suggests they have a takoyaki party (or Takopa), since that’s what the young people are into these days. Tsukasa isn’t sure where Nasa learned that, but thinks a party will be a good opportunity to get to know Aya. I’m also reminded of the similar fondue parties that were so popular in America back in to 60s.

Chitose and her maids track Tsukasa to the bathhouse, where Kaname tells them to have a nice refreshing bath to cool their jets. Chitose and Aya clash over the worthiness of Nasa to be with Tsukasa and vice versa, respectively. Chitose very nearly insults the bath, but insists to Kaname she wasn’t.

Tsukasa and Nasa decide to invite everyone to their little home for the Takopa, and the maids have helpfully done the extra shopping needed. Tsukasa proves she’s prime wife material to Aya when every single thing she makes is delicious.

But culinary skills aren’t all it takes, so Aya decides to test Tsukasa another way: with video games, specifically Street Fighter V: Champion Edition. Not a parody, mind you: the actual real-life game, released back in February.

I’m not sure if Capcom provided promotional consideration, but the episode is able to avoid feeling like a commercial because it’s the personalities of the characters, not the game, that take center stage, especially when the maids propose a competition among the girls with the prize of having Nasa do any one thing they ask.

Kaname backs out due to her inexperience, and while Chitose is game, she is quickly torched by Aya. Tsukasa puts up a better fight but ultimately Aya beats her too, and Tsukasa hates losing so she keeps playing. Soon, the contest format is forgotten.

Once it’s clear she can’t beat Aya at SFV she whips out the original game, for which she had Nasa use his electronics expertise to create the necessary retro proprietary controllers. Tsukasa gets a lot of early wins, but Aya is a natural gamer and soon figures out the controls, resulting in a Double K.O. in their final game.

Tsukasa and Aya do a fist-bump to express their mutual respect, and Kaname reminds them that, as it’s a takoyaki party, perhaps they should start making some takoyaki? Chitose watches as Tsukasa shows Nasa the proper way to turn them, sees how much fun they’re having and how happy she is, and decides to more or less drop her disapproval of the marriage.

A good time is had by all, and once everyone is gone, and Tsukasa and Nasa clean up in the kitchen, Nasa asks Tsukasa what she would have done if she’d won the video game contest. Rather than tell him, she just does it: she leans in and kisses him.

Stating that she can do that whenever she wants, she responds “Sometimes, then…”, and the two shift a little bit closer to each other and lean on one another. They’re in an adorable state of true spousal bliss, brought on by the fact they were able to pull off one hell of a lively party—an indication of further growth in an otherwise slice-of-life episode. After all, entertaining isn’t just about having fun with friends, but showing yourselves off as a couple.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 04 – Seeing the Sea…and a Whole Lot More

The Pillars seem to have a new trick up their sleeve: attacking in a group of four, each time one of them is splashed by the Valkyries, it is almost immediately revived by the other three. All the while, a terrible high-pitched whine is emitted from the Pillars, distracting Azu enough to get hit and have to make an emergency landing, where the Pillars’ signal eventually knocks her out.

But thanks to some rest, a tasty meal provided by the grateful civilians of Tateyama, and some video footage from three kids, Azu is able to determine that the high-pitched signal is what the Pillars use to communicate their need to regenerate when destroyed. If the Pillars can make that signal, then they can disrupt it.

The problem is, they won’t have the element of surprise if they just fly in, because the Pillars are strategically positioned so that one is far from the others, as well as widening their effective search range. The three-man support wing devises a solution for the Valkyries: taking a detour to base by sea. And because they’ll be at sea, everyone will have to dress accordingly. That’s right, folks: it’s a swimsuit episode.

Last week Sigrdrifa successfully engendered genuine and profound drama pathos when Miko and Claudy performed their Valkyrial duty to help a soldier pass on. This week it switches gears entirely, declining to build on that drama and instead dispensing with both peril and seriousness in favor of a gonzo fanservice bonanza.

Mind you: this isn’t only about putting our main quartet of ace pilots in skimpy swimsuits—there’s ample beefcake (and buttcheek-slapping) to go along with the bikinis (or in Sono’s case, a standard-issue school one-piece). The Valks’ support crew consider it an honor to guid their idols through an Abyss-like vertical labyrinth, even locking their bodies together to form a bridge.

By the time the four emerge from a swimming pool and Claudy sneezes, the Pillars are on their tail, but fortunately they’re able to run to their Hero Wings and take to the skies, thanks in part to well-timed backup by a fifth Valkyrie, whom we’re sure to be introduced to next week. Was this a shameless expedition in conspicuous exhibition? Hell yeah it was. Was it also a ton of fun as long as you kept your brain switched off? Also yes.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 03 – The Secret to Strength

Move over Claudia—Miyako has quickly risen to my favorite of the four Tateyama Valkyries, and it really isn’t much of a contest. Early in the morning, after a vision-like meeting with Odin during which he warns Claudia not to get her new friends killed (what a dick), Claudia meets up with Miko, as they’re the only two who use the dojo.

Claudia used it because her father lived in Japan and imparted a lot of its culture into her upbringing, while Miyako grew up in a dojo. It was a stern and structured childhood, and her mom told her “she’s cute, but dumb, so learn housework”. Miyako took that to heart, and can now cook breakfast for the entire base.

But it’s more than cooking for Miyako, as we’ve seen in past episodes and reinforced this week. She’s basically both wife and mother to Azuzu, who doesn’t function well outside the cockpit (or in the morning). Of course, Miko doesn’t mind taking care of her, while Azu tries not to take it for granted.

After breakfast, the sleepy commander (a lot of people are yawning around the base) issues Claudia, Miko and Sono a special mission: a “Disaster Recovery Assessment” of Umihotaru, the shopping and entertainment isle they successfully defended last week. Miko is initially hesitant to agree to go, but when Azu (staying behind for maintenance meetings) reassures her, she’s in.

The “assessment” that follows is totally unlike the official military operation Claudia expected. Instead, the three girls (with three very happy and lucky escorts from among the guys) have was amounts to a day full of fun and diversion. They hit up the arcades. No one lets them pay for anything, because the Valkyries are their idols and saviors.

When Claudia finally asks when the actual assessment will happen, Miko tells her, simply, they’re doing it. It’s enough for them to avail themselves of Umihotaru’s facilities and witness all of the people happy and smiling. Miko runs out into the middle of a crowd to yell out “How’s everyone doing?” and sure enough, everyone’s super.

On the way home, the girls stop for ice cream, but Miko gets a call from Azu and immediately returns to base on the back of a motorcycle. When Claudia and Sono catch up, Claudia learns why Miko had to go so suddenly, why she was weary of going on the trip at all, and why everyone is so sleepy. Turns out a member of the recon team is in critical condition and near death.

Miyako takes her additional Valkyrie role of sending off soldiers as seriously as Azu scornfully shirks that duty entirely. It’s clear this is not the first soldier she’s been with when they die, nor will it be the last, but no one will ever tell her it’s stupid or a superstition.

If, as Azu says, only “idiots” do it, then Claudia would rather be an idiot too, joining Miko for the solemn task, and aiding the soldier’s passing by singing a soulful song. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking, poignant scene I didn’t think this show had in it, but I was mistaken.

A few hours later, Miyako is back in the dojo training vigorously, tears mixing with her sweat as she goes through her practiced combat motions. Claudia, who arrives in time to train with Miko, doesn’t feel worthy. After watching the soldier pass away and thinking of Odin’s words and all the others who died while she piloted her plane, Claudia is feeling weak and ashamed what she feels to be an unearned reputation for strength.

When Miko finds her outside, Clau asks her, “How are you so strong?” To her surprise, Miko answers that she doesn’t think she’s strong at all. Claudia isn’t alone in never thinking she’s doing enough, that everything she doesn’t do will hurt others. But Miko adds, if Clau insists she’s strong, she’ll let her in on the secret to that strength: Don’t be a picky eater! So Claudia tries the sashimi for breakfast, and finds it delicious.

That Miyako is always trying to keep everyone smiling and positive, whether they’re going through the daily grind, in the heat of battle, or on death’s door. Her generosity and emotional intelligence is unmatched among the characters of Sigrdrifa, which when paired with Odin’s warning of something big on the horizon gives me terrible pause. Could this episode have been one big Miyako Death Flag? I sure hope not.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – 01 (First Impressions) – Moe Horror Done Right

Higurashi: When They Cry wastes no time establishing that this story will not have a pleasant ending, as it opens on a boy beating a girl to death with a bat with at least one other corpse in the room. It’s not played off as a nightmare, either, as protagonist Maebara Keiichi wakes up in that same room some time before that bloody spectacle takes place.

While some horror anime that hold their powder until the end of the first episode (Gakkou Gurashi! comes to mind) Higurashi isn’t interested in keeping you in suspense about whether shit will hit the fan in this suspiciously idyllic village, but rather when, how, and why, and how bad…I’m guessing pretty bad!

We haven’t had much good horror on RABUJOI lately aside from Hannah’s great retro reviews of 2004’s Elfen Lied, but that same cute girl horror DNA is evident in Higurashi. This is actually a reimagining of an identically-titled series from 2006. I’ve personally only seen half of When the Seagulls Cry, a family murder mystery, but never finished, so consider me a Higurashi Novice.

That said, one of the changes that’s quite evident in the remake is the new character design by Watanabe Akio of Monogatari fame. The way he draws eyebrows and mouths in particular were a dead giveaway, and I’m a big fan of Watanabe-san’s work here. “Easy on the eyes” is an apt description; “as pleasant as the ending won’t be” is another.

We’re gradually introduced to Keiichi’s friends, starting with the meek but extremely good cook Rena, the green-haired “big-sis”-type Mion, and a pair of younger girls in the mischievous Satoko and adorable Rika. They’re all so cute and have such great chemistry with Keiichi and each other, you almost want to forget that things will go sideways without fail.

It’s a testament to Watanabe’s designs, the veteran voice talent, and the beautiful setting of Hinamizawa village that despite the bloody cold open we’re invited to enjoy some good times with this group first, and are thus lulled into a false sense of security and safety. The multilayered traps Satoko sets at school are a useful metaphor for what Higurashi does in this episode: the first trap you see is merely a decoy.

Case in point: As soon as the sun started to set and the crisp blue sky turned a simultaneously gorgeous and menacing orange and red, dread started to amass around me, even as Rena kept things light and breezy. She leads Keiichi to a sinister-looking junkyard and climbs over the junk with zero regard for tetanus, looking for treasure and finding it in a buried Kenta-san.

While Rena is scrounging around, Keiichi meets a photographer who comes out of nowhere, identifying himself as Tomitake. The fact he’s the first adult we see other than Keiichi’s mom is disorienting, but then he mentions an unpleasant “incident” involving the loss of someone’s arm in the area. When Keiichi askes Rena about it later, her cutesy voice immediately shifts to a curt and dead serious “I don’t know.”

While I was certain something awful was going to happen in that junkyard (and the show most certainly wanted me to think that), Keiichi and Rena come out unscathed, though you could say Keiichi has now been “marked” by suspicion over surroundings that must now feel a tinge more threatening.

The next day after school, Keiichi asks Mion about the aborted dam construction project, and Mion offers him some information: the developers tried to ram the project through, but the village was spared from flooding and relocation thanks to some help from politicians in Tokyo. That said, when Keiichi asks about any violence, Mion has the same curt response as Rena.

Keiichi heads back to the junkyard as the sun once again falls, but Rena forgot he offered to help her unearth the statue. It’s clear she wasn’t prepared for him to show up, and heads home to grab them some tea. While waiting, darkness falls, in more ways then one, and Keiichi finds an old magazine detailing the story of a dam construction worker who was lynched, murdered, and dismembered.

As he reads, Rena creeps up on him, wielding a huge, curved, and very sharp-looking blade, while cute lil’ Rika stands behind Rena with glowing red eyes, suggesting she might be controlling Rena’s body. Roll credits, complete with an ending theme that absolutely slaps. Now that got dark quick, didn’t it?!

Higurashi is not for everyone, as those without the stomach for bloody horror will be joined by those who insist the franchise didn’t need rebooting. That said, had it not been rebooted, I would never have checked this out, and then find it right up my alley as a casual (and sufficiently-desensitized) horror fan. I’m looking forward to watching Keiichi and the town’s slow descent into madness and murder.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Cardcaptor Sakura – 57 – Going Up…

This will probably go down in the annals of CCS as a landmark episode in the development of Sakura x Syaoran. Specifically, the latter’s feelings for the former begin to boil over to such an extent that he can no longer lie or obfuscate to himself about what she means to him.

While he occasionally asks either out loud while alone or in his thoughts something along the lines of “What’s wrong with me?”, much of his realization comes wordlessly as he watches Sakura both close up and from afar, be it during class, gym, music, or recess.

When Sakura invites Syaoran to join her, Tomoyo and Eriol at a teddy bear exhibit, he’s reminded of the bear he made but has yet to give to anyone. As he wrestles with his feelings after school he bumps into Yukito, who can quickly tell that Syaoran cares for Sakura very much, even if he won’t admit it.

Try as he might to shake off or run away from his feelings, they’re there, and they’re only growing the more time he spends with her. In fact, when he hears her voice on the answering machine (she had to leave two separate messages thanks to her tripping on Kero-chan’s video games), he listens to her a second time, just to hear her lovely voice.

Syaoran decides to play it cool the next day when the four of them hang out, keeping his hands behind his head most of the time as he watches Sakura having fun. The sequence is one of two montages that place Sakura and Syaoran in interesting visual framing devices decorated with autumn leaves signifying change on the horizon.

However, when Eriol brings up Syaoran’s homemade bear and Sakura asks if he’s given it to anyone, he becomes embarrassed again and runs off. Sakura chases him down as he enters the elevator, but then, as seemingly both another test for Sakura and a chance for Syaoran to be alone with her, Eriol locks them in the elevator.

After a period of awkward silence in the dark, Sakura starts to cry, so Syaoran cheers her up with a flame taliasman. She lays out her handkerchief and invites him to sit beside her so they’ll be more comfortable.

But then Eriol activates the next stage of the test, which involves the walls of the elevator falling away and Sakura plummeting down a deep, dark pit. Panicking, Syaoran calls out to Sakura using her first name for the first time.

Sakura rises up out of the darkness, having converted and used the Float card, and Syaoran simply gathers her into a hug, overcome with relief and joy she’s okay. Eriol ends his spell, the elevator returns to working order, and Sakura and Syaoran are rejoined by Tomoyo and Eriol.

That evening, Syaoran gets another call from Sakura thanking him for being with her during the elevator incident, as well as expressing how happy she was to hear him call her Sakura. In exchange, Syaoran gives her the okay to call him by his first name.

This is a big deal! Syaoran has finally stopped running and accepted that Sakura is special to him. It’s another crucial step towards a Clear Card future in which they’re officially a couple.

Oregairu 3 – 10 – One Word Isn’t Enough

Prom Night is upon us, and everyone is markedly calm. Yui will be helping at the reception desk while Hikki will be up in the sound booth assisting Iroha. His conversation with Yukino is both natural and a little stiff at the same time; but still little more than cordial pleasantries.

In the booth, Iroha gets up quite close to Hikki after suggesting he, Yukino and Yui all simply join the student council so the four of them can continue helping each other help others. Hikki regards it as an enticing offer but is politely noncommittal.

As the prom unfolds, everything goes swimmingly, as expected from an organizing team at the top of their game. Hikki gets to share a dance with Yui as per her latest of many small wishes, but she assures him after this she’ll only have one more.

Up in the booth, Hikki chats with Yukino via headset, and from this greater physical distance they’re able to cleverly verbally spar like they always used to. She pretends to forget he’s up in the booth because she’s not used to looking up at him (rather than down on him). Yukino tells him she expects him to grant her wish—which is to grant Yui’s.

After the prom concludes, Yukino’s mom arrives with Haruno in tow to congratulate her daughter on a job well done. When Haruno mentions that Yukino is considering the position in the family company Haruno herself has been groomed to take, their mom can’t quite hide her pause before telling Yukino if she’s serious about it than she’ll support her.

Before Haruno leaves, she tells Yukino, Hikki and Yui that she won’t yield her position easily or nonchalantly, even if she doesn’t really care who’s ultimately in what position. She doesn’t believe the year Yukino has spent growing into a more complete person can compare to Haruno’s twenty years of grooming. Bottom line: she’s not satisfied with the outcome of the three as it stands.

That’s because Haruno has a keen nose for deception, being a skilled lifelong practitioner herself. After she leaves, Yukino declares this to be the time and place to end things. Ever the go-alonger to get-alonger, Yui concurs, though she’d also be fine with continuing. The two turn to Hikki for what they expect to be a consensus…and he wavers. He lets the fortuitous bell that is Iroha save him and leaves without answering, but Yukino follows him and grabs his sleeve.

She’s not there to get an answer out of him, but to thank him for his help tonight and throughout their time together. Whatever else she’s holding back, in this Yukino is completely earnest and genuine. She almost looks like she expects…something from Hikki in response (like a kiss, perhaps?) but Hikki only slowly, tenderly removes her grip, gives a curt goodbye and walks away. Yukino looks…dissatisfied.

He bumps into Haruno, who insists on him and the others properly satisfying her by giving her some kind of ending—one that isn’t coated in a thick layer of artifice and cordiality; something genuine for someone who believes there’s no such thing. She tells Hikki that Yukino’s wish was “an act of compensation” and not what she truly, genuinely desires.

And yet there were Yukino and Yui, ready to accept the “outrageous lie” that this is the best time and place and way to end things, when it is really none of those things. Haruno offers her advice as someone who feels like Hikki is going down the same road: don’t let it end that way…even if you can’t get “drunk”.

Thankfully, neither we nor Hikki are left only with Haruno’s skepticism and cynicism to chew on until next week. That’s because Shizuka offers to drive Hikki home, but only after a stop at the batting cages where she shows off her talent for dingers.

It’s the hopeful, optimistic Shizuka who tells Hikki what he really needs to hear from someone with authority: that he, Yukino, and Yui do not have a codependent relationship. They don’t have it because what they have, and how they feel, cannot be condensed down to that word, or any one word. From where she’s sitting, if there’s any end happening between them, it is only the end of a beginning.

Oregairu 3 – 09 – The Secret Ingredient

One morning over coffee Hikki is so honest and upfront with Komachi, she’s a little creeped out. It’s just not like him…only now, it kinda is. Bottom line: things happened. A lot of things. Komachi asks for details, and he promises to tell her everything “when it’s all over”. Until then, their celebration will be small and family-only, to avoid awkwardness.

Hikki’s awkwardness with Yui only lasts as long as she allows it, which is not long at all! She scolds Hikki for communicating through LINE messages rather than just talking. Her breaking the ice helps make Hikki more comfortable for when he takes her aside, by the swings, to ask her what her wish is.

Before that though, Hikki simply revels in being able to pleasantly chat with Yui like this, saying “nothing of importance” and pretending everything is normal…but considers simply going on doing that to be betraying himself. So he asks her something important, and Yui takes advantage of the request to basically stall, asking for a number of little things while she thinks about the main thing.

We’re already well aware of what Yui wants: she wants it all—And frankly, she deserves it! She wants Hikki, romantically. She wants to remain best friends with Yukino. And she wants the three of them to continue to be together. All of those things at once aren’t possible, and yet one cannot separate one part of that wish from the others and still have it be her wish…any more than you can pull the sugar and flour out of a baked cake.

Throughout the episode, Touyama Nao’s voice acting is phenomenal in its bittersweetness, and Yui’s face game is truly god-level. The next morning, at the shoe lockers, Hikki is confronted by Yumiko, who is direct in her intentions: Yui is a friend mine, so don’t be half-assed about this” or I’ll be royally pissed. Hikki is heartened by the gesture; Yumiko really is a good person!

Hikki also runs into Yukino and Iroha while he’s walking with Yui (a fact Iroha is quick to point out), and some extremely cordial chit-chat about how they’re doing ensues. Yukino labors to find the words for their situation, which is neither peachy nor dire, but waves off any attempts for Hikki to help; later Iroha tells him he’s free to do so whenever he wants as far as she’s concerned.

After that almost painfully diplomatic exchange, Yui takes Hikki aside and invites him to her house on Saturday…to make a cake for Komachi, like they’d planned earlier. Yui informs him her mom will be joining them to offer pointers.

Hikki expects the ensuing visit to be awkward, and it kinda is, especially when Yui’s mom isn’t around when he first arrives, and he and Yui simply sit close together while she looks over recipes. Then Yui’s mom pops up like a shinobi, the trio is off to the grocery store and from there, Hikki is in Yuigahama Heaven.

For one lovely evening the awkwardness generally melts away and Hikki and Yui go about making cute little fruit tarts with and without chocolate, one of which he feeds him by having him say “ahh”. When her mom brings up the absolutely crucial “secret ingredient” and asks Hikki to guess what it is, instead of saying the obvious “love” he says “devotion”…which is very on point for Hikki.

As Yui walks Hikki home, they both agree that making things together was and is a lot of fun. Hikki gives Yui the gift of cookies to repay her for those she made him (another Hikki trait: never taking a gift without offering renumeration) He again wishes he could continue living his days granting all of Yui’s wishes one by one, but dismisses that as “impossible fantasy”.

Speaking of awkward, with all the Hikki-and-Yui quality time this week, the shift to the seniors’ farewell ceremony, including emotional speeches from Iroha and Meguri-senpai, felt a little out of place, as if it was tacked on to the end of the episode because there was extra time left.

That said, Iroha uses the opportunity to tell Hikki she has a little job for him to “throw his back into” with his usual vim and vigor. Her impending request and some scenes from the preview suggest that despite Yukino’s insistence on it not being necessary, Hikki will be lending a hand with the prom after all.

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 08 – Beautiful from Any Angle

Ever since she got wasted and threw up on his futon, Uzaki has been out of sorts. While apologizing in public and offering money for the futon, bystanders get the wrong idea thanks to a lot of unfortunate phrasing. But at the cafe, Ami has the antidote for Uzaki’s recent blues. Sakurai will take Uzaki out to the fireworks festival, and if he’s nice and compliments the hell out of her yukata, she’ll cheer up: Ami guarantees it.

The night of the festival Ami is proven right; Uzaki is still down and things are awkward, and despite how annoying he’s typically found her, Sakurai just thinks it’s wrong for Uzaki to be so down. His steady stream of compliments eventually bring out the usual energetic Uzaki-chan, but also results in her accidentally hitting him too hard in the head with her purse.

Even before the blow, Uzaki’s quiet-and-meek disposition reminded him of her when they were still in high school, and while he’s out cold, he remembers one evening she was practicing alone (which is dangerous) and he jumped in the pool to help guide her. That night they came across the fireworks festival, he bought them grilled corn (perfect after all that swimming), and he watched Uzaki’s subdued face brighten up for the first time.

When Sakurai comes to, he’s in Uzaki’s lap, not quite able to see her face, but he can tell she’s back to being meek and contrite over braining him. So Sakurai does what a good guy would do: look back on their time together since reuniting at college and admitting it’s all been pretty fun. He’s been able to see and do so many things he otherwise wouldn’t, so he tells her not to be so down, and invites her to hang out more before summer is over.

Sakurai may not be able to see the reaction in Uzaki’s face either to his words or the fireworks, but it doesn’t matter; “the view is fine” from where he is. While last week’s interactions were lubricated by alcohol and looser inhibitions, this was the true romantic standout episode thus far, when Sakurai is open and honest about how he feels about their time together, and Uzaki shows more than her usual quasi-loner-bullying default mode. Nice work, all!