Those Snow White Notes – 10 – A Little Longer

Sakura has made a special bento for Setsu on the day he’s to perform in the individual competition. Of forty entrants, he’s to perform 36th, meaning he’s been given a place reserved for competitors with proven skills. While set up to be bitter rivals Souichi continues to treat Setsu as a friend, sitting close beside him while eating his red bean rice.

We then learn something of a bombshell: Setsu’s dad is also Mai and Souichi’s dad! In fact Setsu is the only child related to Kamiki Ryuugen by blood, as Souichi and Mai are adopted. Kamiki has come to “ascertain his son’s skills”, clearly not ashamed even in his wife’s presence of his love child with Umeko.

As Yui thinks impure thoughts about Setsu and Mai (quickly shot down by Kouta, Sakura delivers her special lunch to Setsu, along with the best wishes from the entire shopping district. This seems to be the first time Sakura and Shuri encounter one another, and each regards the other as incredibly cute.

Umeko has her hired goons escort Kamiki to her, where she declares her father’s sound to belong to her, and as such she’ll never let him take Setsu and train him. Kamiki, on the other hand, has the opposite goal: he wishes Setsu to inherit his title. He and Umeko have a spirited argument, and neither is particularly interested in Setsu, only how he can help either of them expand their power.

After that, that’s pretty much it for Setsu & Co., as the episode shifts to the individual performances of Arakawa Ushio and Kaji Takaomi. Ushio is naturally daring and rebellious, and while his super-twangy performance isn’t enough to win, the sheer fun he was having playing rubs off on the audience in a big way.

Knowing if he sticks to what he did in the group stage, he won’t be able to summon the full measure of his musical potential, Takaomi is forced by Arakawa’s brash performance to swing for the fences himself. All who know him in the crowd can tell hes fiercer than usual.

Through Takaomi’s sound, Setsu envisions a fierce gale blowing down from the mountain peaks. But he’s also described as “a good kid trying to be rebellious.” Then his frikkin’ string snaps, and since a shamisen only has three, I imagine that’s enough to keep Takaomi out of the running.

But we knew from the get-go that neither Ushio nor Takaomi were going to win. That’s why we’re getting their performances now, rather than at the end when they’d have more of an impact. This somewhat lessons my interest in the episode, as neither of these kids makes much of an impression besides “confident brat” and “meek puppy dog.”

Like his birth father, I’m waiting for Setsu, and to see how he compares to Souichi. But I’m also as disappointed as Mai herself that she’s not able to compete in the individual, and thus diurectly against Setsu.

SSSS.Dynazenon – 09 – Teamwork Makes the BEAM Work

This week’s Dynazenon has a little bit of everything, which is only fitting because it’s about the merits of simply jumbling everything together. It begins with a much-anticipated laser focus on Chise, who has a surreal dream that perfectly visualized how she felt when she attended school—she was off, lost in her gorgeous, intricate doodles.

She wakes up in her cavernous, modern bedroom as an Alice stand-in, finding all of her possessions are either far bigger or far smaller than they should be. Turns out that’s the handiwork of a little golden kaiju born from the growth she found and carried with her all this time. Because the kaiju has imprinted upon her and has come to know her heart, it obeys her wishes. She names it Goldburn, after a band.

There’s a fireworks festival soon, and while neither Yomogi or any of his friends are that interested, Yume wants to give it a go, so Yomogi is in too. Chise is trying to tell Koyomi about the “hypothetical” good kaiju in her suitcase, but he’s distracted by Yomogi’s call inviting them to join them. When Chise then tries Gauma, he’s firm in his belief all kaiju must be defeated.

As she wavers over what to do, her friend suddenly grows in size, scooping her up and taking her on a ride through the skies over the city. It’s fun until it suddenly isn’t—when Chise spots her school. Goldburn almost obeys the momentary emotions in her heart wishing the school wouldn’t exist, but she’s able to steer Goldburn out of a potentially destructive dive.

Yume is walking home with her friend, who is curious whether she and Yomogi are dating, when Yomogi calls her back to school, reporting that Kano’s ex-boyfriend Futaba has arrived to talk to them. If Yume was hoping for some kind of groundbreaking revelation from him, then she’s bitterly disappointed by the resulting talk.

Futaba claims that while he heard about Kano being bullied in the chorus club, he never witnessed it first hand. When Yume asks then why Kano committed suicide, Futaba repeats the official line that it was merely an accident, and that “Kano wasn’t like that”, offering no further explanation. His answers not only don’t impress Yume, they downright upset her.

But just when she is overcome by emotion, they get a call from Gauma about a new kaiju, and she clams up for a moment to assure Yomogi that she’s fine, they should go, and she’ll be right behind him. Meanwhile, Chise is considering what to do with her enormous friend when Goldburn suddenly flies off on his own.

Yomogi arrives to find Gauma, Koyomi, and Gridknight in dire need of someone with wings to lift them off the suddenly soft and undulating ground (due to Juuga’s kaiju’s power) Yomogi ain’t that. When he tells Gauma what went down with Yume, the captain orders him to go back and get Yume, you jackass, because you’re the only one who can bring her back.

With Goldburn off on his own, a lonely, left-out looking Chise locates Yume perched atop the tower where her sister died. When Chise asks what’s wrong, Yume tosses out her boilerplate “it has nothing to do with you”, adding that “nothing good” comes of it whenever she fights. But Chise has tried to fight hard alongside everyone all this time, so she does not want to hear that it’s nothing to do with her.

Right on cue, Goldburn arrives, but of course both Yume and a quickly approaching Yomogi assume its foe, not friend, and Chise doesn’t have time to properly explain, because Yomogi is coming in hot to save Yume. Chise asks Yume who else would fly in to save her like this, and tells her she “doesn’t know what she’s got.”

But the wind from Dyna Soldier blows Yume’s ankh puzzle out of her hand and over the edge, and she dives off the tower after it with no regard for her safety. Yomogi lunges toward her to catch her in midair, but just misses. Fortunately, Goldburn is listening to Chise’s heart in this moment, and pluck Yume up by her cardigan mere feet from the water.

Chise, Yume, and Yomogi arrive at the scene of the battle where Gauma, Koyomi, and Gridknight are getting their asses beat by Juuga’s kaiju. Fortunately, with the aid of flight, a lot of the enemy’s advantage is lost.

More to the point, the minute Gauma, Yomogi, Yume, Koyomi, Chise, and Gridknight decide to all join forces into one big, beautiful kaiju-mecha melange, it spelled the beginning of the end for the Eugenicists’ chances of victory.

In an absolutely bonkers, virtuoso combination sequence paired with the most lavishly bombastic orchestral accompanied yet, Dynazenon merges with both Gridknight and Goldburn to create a big, brash, bulky and beautiful Super Dragon King Kaiser Gridknight, which is a mouthful of name for a framefull of robot. He’s even got a sheer purple cape, the better to dazzle the stage.

There’s nothing Juuga can do once all of his adversaries got “all lumped up”, which makes them stronger and faster and able to counter any attack thrown its way with tenfold force. After doing a little parkour off flying skyscrapers, Yomogi’s Dynamic Cannon delivers the beam-de-grace, and the team victory is immediately celebrated by the fireworks display amazingly not cancelled by the kaiju attack.

The ending scene is the perfect cool-down sequence after all that high-octane mecha madness. Much to Chise’s delight, Gauma accepts Goldburn as an ally despite being a kaiju, and while the whole team—including Gridknight and Second—make a run for it, they still miss the entirety of the festival. No matter; they all buy fireworks and have their own festival on the waterfront.

Yume takes her leave, promising she’ll be back, but I already knew exactly what she was up to, so there was no need to be wary. Sure enough, she returns resplendent in her gorgeous yukata, which understandably took a while to put on, but was worth it. While she plumbed the depths of despair after interviewing Futaba, here Yume rises to new heights of joy as she and Yomogi and everyone else enjoy each other’s company, all lumped together, and all the better for it.

SSSS.Dynazenon – 08 – Anywhere Is Fine

Shizumu immediately identifies this week’s Kaiju as “failed” and leaves it be while kids poke at it. Then Gauma wakes up from a nap and he’s the kaiju equivalent of “slimed”.

He calls an emergency meeting just as Yume is contemplating whether to answer Yomogi, who had just asked if she wanted to go somewhere—anywhere is fine—to hang out together.

Yomogi and Yume go into work mode, as they and the others search for the kaiju that’s…painting things in bright cheerful colors. Then they find it, and when they give chase it just…falls over. 

This, small, weird, harmless kaiju is their weakest “adversary” yet, so much so that even Gauma, who got painted, stays his makeshift weapon when the others say they shouldn’t kill a kaiju that’s not going berserk due to the Eugenicists’ Instance Domination.

Gauma, technically being a kaiju user himself, tries to control it by flashing the Vulcan salute, to no avail. Then Chise gives it a try, followed by Koyomi. Yomogi doesn’t want to do it, but then Yume does it, so of course he does it…and it works. Sort of? Maybe it was just lucky timing that the kaiju reacted to him?

But no, it wasn’t just a coincidence. Something happened. Yomogi caught a glimpse of…something for an instant—a weird network of colorful lines and a white, fibrous growth. Knight (AKA Anti) and Second stop by to impress upon the Dynas the importance of keeping a close eye on it, but when Gauma falls asleep at his post, it escapes its cage.

Interestingly, the Eugenicists don’t really do anything other than something the Dyna-pilots have yet to do—hang out and have fun just for the f**k of it, not because they work together. Bowling, tennis, hoverboards, and pool…they’re just living life.

The Dynas, meanwhile are all business on a Sunday trying to find the kaiju Gauma lost track of. Yomogi pairs up with Anti, who has absolutely no gray area about his role should a kaiju pose a threat to others: kill without hesitation. This, despite the fact that Kaiju are born of human emotions, so its not 100% clear they don’t have human emotions as well.

When the kaiju surfaces, it has grown to a far more kaiju-esque size, and indeed begins to threaten the city, specifically the mall where Yume and Chise were searching. Koyomi stops Gauma from launching a reckless missile attack, and proposes instead that they lure it to a safer place to do battle.

It seems to be working until the kaiju seemingly gets upset with the beckoning Koyomi and tosses him like a ragdoll. The kaiju then gloms onto the glass facade at the mall, causing a panic and stampede; Chise and Yume are separated, and Yume drops her Dyna Wing off a high ledge.

When Chise reports Yume’s predicament to the others, Yomogi panics; he doesn’t want to kill the kaiju, but he doesn’t want Yume hurt or worse. So he tries Instance Domination once more, and once more it has the same momentary effect, only this time the kaiju sprouts an eye and seems to stare directly at Yomogi.

When it becomes clear he has to choose between killing the kaiju and saving Yume, Yomogi pulls the trigger. But he doesn’t feel good about it; not when he does it, and not afterward during the team debrief. Chise also notices that the weird white growth she picked up a few weeks ago is becoming larger and more complex…and we see that it looks just like the white thing Yomogi saw in his flash of Instance Domination. That also isn’t a coincidence.

Yet as these weird, potentially show-shattering revelations are quietly revealed, the ending is perhaps the most heartwarming part of the episode. It’s a repeat of Yomogi and Yumes ride in the back of the bus, but the lighting is a lot warmer and more cheerful, and this time it’s Yume who gives Yomogi a playful little chop to the ribs, asks if he’s hungry, and whether he wants to go somewhere…anywhere will do. That may be true, but I’m glad their friendship is going where it is.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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.