Jujutsu Kaisen – 03 – Gauging the Crazy

Here I thought we’d be spending more times in the woods of Tokyo’s outskirts, but Yuuji joins Gojou and Megumi to Harajuku to pick up Jujutsu Tech’s third first-year student, Kugisaki Nobara, voiced by Seto Asami of Chihayafuru fame.

Her first act in Tokyo is to try to browbeat a modeling scout into signing her, and her first reaction to meeting Yuuji and Megumi is to let out a blatant sigh. I immediately came to like her, and while she’s short-tempered and mercurial, she and Yuuji soon bond over love All Things Tokyo.

Unfortunately for them both, sightseeing and sushi (revolving or otherwise) will have to wait, as Gojou has the two of them enter a curse-infested, graveyard-adjacent abandoned building in Roppongi. Nobara exhibits her lack of patience with Yuuji and unwillingness to work together.

They split up, with Yuuji starting at the bottom with the miniature Buster Sword Gojou gave him. He has no problem with the Curses he encounters, but as Gojou tells Megumi (who is sitting this one out), this is more a test for Nobara anyway. She’s used to country Curses, but in the big city where there are more people and negative energy to draw on, the Curses are on a different level.

Nobara learns the hard way that “level” means more than cursed energy, but also cunning. After she uses her customized hammer and nails to defeat a mannequin Curse (using the hilariously bad catchphrase “Nailed it”), a scared child hiding behind boxes is taken hostage by another Curse.

After weighing her life and the little boy’s, Nobara tries to get the Curse to release him by dropping her weapons, but the Curse won’t bite. Fortunately Yuuji arrives in the nick of time, punching through the (unreinforced) concrete and slicing off the arm of the Curse that was holding the kid.

With the kid safe, Nobara finishes off the Curse by using a voodoo-like straw doll to hammer a cursed nail into its heart as it flees, defeating it. I hasten to add that no one has made hammering a nail into a straw doll look cooler than Jujutsu Kaisen! She then proceeds to ask Yuuji how the hell he managed to punch through solid concrete.

As the ordeal is resolved, we learn a little bit about Nobara’s reason for leaving the countryside. The brass tacks (pun intended): when she was in first grade she met Saori-chan, a beautiful girl from the city who was ostracized by the townsfolk to the point she was forced to leave. Nobara simply didn’t want to be in a place that did that to her friend.

After earnestly thanking Yuuji for his help with a bright smile, she seemingly devolves into first-grade mode, telling him they’re even now. As for her more superficial reason for joining Jujutsu Tech? She likes Tokyo, but didn’t want to deal with the considerable expense.

With that, the field test is passed, and the group escorts the kid back home and then they grab some grub, though Yuuji and and a hangry Nobara bicker over the kind of sushi place they should go to. Megumi remains aloof the whole time, giving the other two the opportunity to bond over their mutual vivaciousness.

Nobara makes for a fine addition to the Jujutsu first-year class, alternating between frolicsome fervor, coarse sullenness, and everything in between. She’s a blast, full stop, and I can’t wait to watch the full trio in action.

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle – 12 (Fin) – Back to the Way Things Were

The Sleepy Princess show, a surprise smash comedy hit of the Fall, closes out just how the title above says: with things back to where they were at the beginning. But at the episode’s start, when the demons find a letter to santa in Sya’s stocking asking to “go home”, they wonder if the princess has finally become homesick.

…She’s not, of course; she just wants to stop by Goodreste Palace to grab her special Christmas woolen undies. Rather than try to stop her (which would probably result in her going it alone), Twilight and the Cleric decide to transport straight into her palace bedroom. Predictably, Sya loses focus and has a quick nap in her lavish king-size bed.

When her mother the queen hears all the noise in her room she goes in to investigate, and lifts the covers to find…Cubey?! Yes, Cleric stowed Cubey away in case a body double was needed, and what do you know, the queen is convinced it’s her daughter! I was waiting for her to comment on how she changed her style while away.

The queen takes Cubey away, but Sya and the demons know they can’t just leave her, so the princess dresses up in one of her coolest dresses and strides down the halls without a care in the world. The three end up hiding in a giant suit of armor to avoid Paladins, but one of them, Evening Star, regales the comrade he thinks he’s talking to with super-embarrassing stories of Sya when she was little. Naturally, Twilight and Cleric can barely contain their delight.

Evening Star chases them until dawn, when he falls asleep instantly (he’s apparently a night owl). The gang regroups in Sya’s room, where she decides she’ll take responsibility as a princess and ensure things go back to the way they were.

Just as “Princess” Cubey is about to speak to the entire Kingdom of Goodreste (with TV feeds reaching to the Demon Castle), Sya cuts in with her own speech thanking her subjects for their love, which has helped her remember she is a princess, not a hostage.

Sya also speaks to how her experiences with the demons have not only helped her learn a lot about herself, but about the ways humans and demons can have better relations down the road. Then she somewhat undermines those words by accosting Cubey while wearing a hastily-scrawled Twilight mask and his cape, declaring he’s taking Sya back to his castle after all.

In short, Sya was only back for a quick Christmas drop-in and hello. In order for things to “go back to the way they were”, she needed to ensure she went back to her second home with Twilight, Cleric, and Cubey. Her mother, who recognized her voice during the speech, seems to understand her daughter’s intentions, and wishes her well on the adventures to follow. What a cool mom!

Sya & Co. return to the Demon Castle where she’s warmly welcomed, and the castle proceeds to throw one hell of a Christmas party. Twilight and Cleric than curse themselves for forgetting the main reason for going to Goodreste with Sya—to retrieve her woolen undies—but Sya seems unconcerned.

For one thing, she may have grabbed them after all before leaving, and is wearing them as they speak (though she’s thankfully grown beyond the skirt-lifting necessary to prove it). Whether she’s got them or not, she seems quite happy distributing other sets to her Teddy Demon friends as thanks for their loyal service. With that, she lets out a big ol’ yawn and drifts off to sleep with her signature “Syaaaaaa”, her final quest complete.

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle – 11 – Princess Popular

After waiting in line with the autograph-seeking Teddy Demons, Harpy invites Sya to a pajama party, somewhat disingenuously promising it will result in more cheerful sleep. Sya can’t pass that up, but she needs more information on what a pajama party is…so she hops into the Demon King’s bed to “practice” such a party.

Jumping in bed to practice is an extremely misinterpret-able scenario for, say, Cleric, who also overhears Sya talking about demons and humans falling in love. As a result, his devotion to protecting Sya’s chastity overrides his loyalty to his lord, and he attacks Twilight with lightning. The battle eventually gets too loud for Sya to sleep, but upon returning to her room she gets the cheerful sleep she sought…precluding the need to attend the real party.

Poor Harpy…she just wants to be friends with the princess! The succubus Cubey, on the other hand, has an ulterior motive: she wants to become more popular (popularity literally being the life blood of Succubi). When she learns she and Sya closely resemble one another, she seeks Sya’s tutelage on how to be more popular.

Unfortunately for Cubey and like most things regarding Sya, she isn’t popular on purpose, it just happens. Also, Sya misunderstands Cubey’s intentions from the start, believing her to be a potential body double in need of elite training. This results in Sya tying Cubey up and dragging her around the castle causing havoc, from murdering ghost shrouds to plucking Quillodillo quills to…well, actually, brushing Teddy Demons is delightful!

By the time Sya has Cubey on a cliff overlooking the lava lake impressing upon her the importance of staring death in the eye, Cubey’s struggling and yelling causes the cliff to collapse, and Sya falls into the lava and dies…again. Cubey fails to become more popular or learn anything useful from Sya, but Sya’s quest to get better “rest” succeeds.

Finally, Twilight and the Big 10 are having another important meeting when Sya again busts in like she owns the place, parks herself at the table, and tents her fingers like a petite, adorable Gendou Ikari. Whatever they’re discussing in this meeting is irrelevant: she has a task for them: to determine why the quality of her sleep has been lacking of late.

Twilight brings in Hypnos, noted sleep expert, to determine the cause. He arranges so the group can watch Sya’s dreams in real time, and the culprit to her crap sleep is revealed: “D-Whatsit”, AKA Dawner, AKA Akatsuki, the hero. Out of a desire to hang out, he is relentlessly pursuing Sya in her dreams.

While Cleric has known for a while now that Sya’s fiancée D-Whatsit and Dawner are the same person, both Sya and the rest of the Demons only come to this realization while her dreams unfold. Regardless of who he is, Sya doesn’t want anything to do with him, and shifts between attacking him and running from him. But like a chipper T-1000, he Just. Keeps. Coming.

Eventually Hypnos determines that Dawner is in Sya’s dream thanks to a letter bearing Sya’s signature…which Twilight learns he himself let fall out of his cape and into Dawner’s belt when he was redirecting the Hero’s party away from the still-under construction area of the Demon Castle grounds.

Once Twilight retrieves that slip of paper (not depicted on camera), Sya’s sleeping demeanor instantly improves dramatically to her usual tranquil “Syaaaaaa”-ing. And so, due to her acute aversion to the Hero, Sya further delayed her own rescue. But as we’ve seen, she’s not in any particular hurry to ever be rescued. She’s got the place on lock!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle – 10 – Demons in Humanland

Princess Sya has her most far-flung adventure yet, though it begins with a false start as she attempts to travel to the Human Realm on her own to purchase a state-of-the-art massage pillow. She puts her hear up and dons a gym uniform to enter ALL OUT MODE, then demonstrates her speed and agility as she outruns the Demons and eludes their attempts to stop her. Twilight, Siberian and Cleric are transfixed by her surprising athleticism, noting she’s like a football player out there.

When she starts getting perilously close to the poison swamp on the extreme edge of Demon Castle grounds, Twilight sets a trap with a bed in a cage. Nobody thinks it has a chance of working…until it works perfectly! They return Sya (cage and all) to the castle, where she tells them she won’t try to go alone if they accompany her, remarking that she knows they’re kind deep down.

The flattery works, and the next day Twilight, Siberian and Cleric accompany Syalis to the Human city of Endopolis. Sya is resplendent in her tidy traveler’s garb, but the demons’ disguises are so abysmal she resorts to pinning large notes on their backs reading “Practicing for Halloween.” Once in town, she spots a new Deluxe version of the pillow she covets on sale. All they have to do is wait in line…for three hours. Sya falls asleep on Siberian’s shoulders, but eventually the pillow is purchased.

By then it’s nighttime, and the anti-demon festival fireworks begin. When getting in the wrong line earlier, Twilight secured a VIP lottery ticket, and ends up winning a primo private viewing spot complete with snacks and cocktails (I’m really not sure about banana milk tea flavored popcorn though!) Just when the Demons start to think Sya is simply stalling because she doesn’t want to leave her own realm, she draws them a “grinning demon” symbol and suggests they head home—home, of course being the Demon Castle.

Once there, what becomes of the expensive massage pillow they went all that way and went through all that guff to get her? She pawns it off on the Teddy Demons. Hey, at least someone will enjoy it! Every episode of Sleepy Princess is an absolute hoot, but this was even more fun and hilarious than usual, all while deepening the bond of friendship between a human hostage and her gold-hearted captors—which is starting to bode well for future peace between their realms.

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle – 09 – My Uninhibited Hostage Life!

When Syalis smashes the equivalent of a phone when the “Human Shopping Channel” won’t ship a waterbed to the Demon Castle, she starts a quest to build her own. At the same time, Twilight and the Big Ten have a quest of their own: Ignore the princess so she’ll start feeling and acting like a hostage.

Naturally, this backfires. Not only does Syalis successfully collect all of the materials and tools she needs, but those items are sourced directly from the Big Ten. While they are all silent towards her, when she ties leashes to them and drags them around, they dare not resist lest they accidentally harm her.

This results in the unprecedented scene of her pulling the King, Cleric, and Siberian like she’s walking her pets. When Alraune tries to restore order, Syalis yawns and they misinterpret her tears to mean their ignoring her has harmed her emotionally, so they give up and help her build her waterbed.

The next Big Ten Demon Quest comes from a suggestion from Hades to put the princess to work. Syalis herself takes on the quest to complete all the work she is given in a single day, as she was raised to understand that she can’t sleep until her work is done!

Oddly enough, her work takes the form of summer vacation homework, with math problems, a diary in which she writes entries for every minute (instead of day), and arts and crafts. She performs all of this work in her “work clothes”, a fetching shoulderless black dress.

Once she’s done an entire month’s work in a day, the Top Ten concludes that continuing to give her that amount of work is unrealistic, and could in fact cause more harm than good. Meanwhile, Syalis plops on her bed without changing and falls asleep using her usual pink robes as a blanket, her quest complete.

0-for-2 so far, the Demons make it a trifecta with a third quest: Teach the princess how to be a proper hostage by showing her other hostages in the form of recently-captured human bandits. Syalis takes one look at the conditions of these prisoners and assumes the demons are planning to eat them.

When she’s told to react to the demons as the other hostages do—with intense fear and loathing—she does just that, with Minase Inori completely changing the usual way Syalis speaks to sound more like the classic damsel-in-distress. The demons hate this, and all of the verbal barbs she tosses their way hit their marks and leave them a defeated pile in the dungeon.

The other humans, having witnessed what the princess did to the demons, are now more afraid of her than the demons. Syalis takes the demons’ reactions to mean she should go back to acting the way she has all along, with no regard whatsoever to her hostage status. That said, she still puts on the hostage act…but only when it’s convenient to her.

Finally, while lying in bed before falling asleep, she wonders to a teddy demon that if everyone in the castle has been so kind to her thus far, why can’t humans and demons get along? Could her stay there be the impetus for her taking steps towards a peace treaty once released? Will her first order to the Hero be to stand down?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vinland Saga – 12 – The Face of a King

As Thorkell’s forces chases his, Askeladd sends a message across the Severn River, hoping for some reinforcements to even the odds. His “Ear”, an Asian-looking man with very good hearing, can tell the enemy is only a few days away, if that.

The men are worried, and Bjorn relays that worry, but Askeladd is content to leave everyone in the dark. He also hasn’t been quite the same since seeing Prince Canute’s face. It just doesn’t seem like the face of a king. To be fair, Canute is young…but so is Thorfinn.

A thick, brooding atmosphere of impending doom pervades the march of Askeladd’s men as they grow more fatigued and Thorkell draws closer, but takes on a more otherworldly hue once they arrive at the spot where Askeladd says the reinforcements will be waiting.

The rendezvous point is a Roman ruin, suffused in fog. The soundtrack starts to boom with synth bass and brash, punishing tuba as Askeladd draws near and bows in deference to the two figures in romanesque garb. Eventually, triremes come into view.

These aren’t representatives of the Roman Empire reborn, nor another world, but one of the stubbornly independent kingdoms of Wales. Any enemy of the English is a ally of theirs. Askeladd’s connections enable them to cross Wales to reach Gainsborough rather than deal with Thorkell.

It will be a long journey, and the lands of Wales are rough and unforgiving, so Askeladd appoints Thorfinn as Prince Canute’s bodyguard. Amusingly, the Welsh commander mistakes Finn as the Danish prince, and says the same thing Askeladd thought when he sees his face—just not king material…at least not yet.

Thorfinn’s job is to make sure Canute lives to fulfill his destiny, but despite being the same age the two couldn’t have more different paths to get to that age. Finn is cold to Canute, while the prince is frightened of Finn. We’ll see if putting the two together toughens Canute, softens Finn…or both. Of course, the challenge of just keeping Canute alive becomes painfully plain when their forces are lured into a trap, with archers from a neighboring Welsh kingdom raining arrows down on them.

In an odd aside, we see an aged, balding Leif Erikson arriving at a port, and spots one of the slaves being taken away. (S?)he looks a lot like Thorfinn: messy straw hair, brown eyes. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on here. Does this scene place some time after the ambush? I doubt Finn would be so easily captured. If you have any insight into that, let me know in the comments.

Otherwise, this was an interesting episode to mark the halfway point of the series. Thorfinn is protecting Canute mostly to get another duel out of Askeladd, a duel that’s sure to be the closest yet as he grows stronger and Askeladd gets older. But there’s a lot going on around him that threatens postpone or even deprive him of that duel, if for instance Askeladd doesn’t survive the ambush.

Vinland Saga – 11 – A Valkyrie in Midgard

Thorkell leads his 600 men through the forest with his new hostages: Prince Canute, his master-at-arms Ragnar, and a drunken priest, all Christians. The men start to mock the Christian faith and Jesus as a weakling with lame magic powers, but the priest starts to yell and scream about “seeing Him,” leading Ragnar to urge his captors to give the poor man more booze.

When Thorkell asks the priest which god is best, he responds “whichever god created booze!” Canute, perhaps the most passive character of the Summer 2019 season, having neither said nor done anything in any of the episodes in which he appears, simply sits in stoic silence. This suggest that his faith is so strong, if he simply lets the cards fall where they may, he’ll ultimately be saved.

Sure enough, his forces catch up to Thorkell and demand they return the prince, claiming they outnumber them nearly four-to-one. Thorkell can smell a bluff, but lets them have Canute anyway. His magnanimity is matched by his ability to effortlessly provoke Canutes men into resisting Ragnar’s orders for surrender and place their own honor above the well-being of their prince.

In the ensuing melee, Thorkell learns his opposing force numbers no more than 400. But then he smells something; something other than blood and guts: charcoal. A third party—Askeladd’s crew—has set fire to the forest in order to confuse both sides.

Askeladd, still trusting Thorfinn implicitly as long as he still owes him another future duel, soaks the kid in water and orders him to ride in and rescue Prince Canute. The confusion caused by the flame and smoke is plainly demonstrated when one of Ragnar’s own men attacks without ensuring his target is the enemy.

That soldier, in turn, is killed by Thorkell’s men, who used Ragnar’s method of communication against him by pretending to be friendlies. They never get close to the prince, however, as a flaming horse separates the two sides, and a hard-looking boy in a cloak appears between them. Thorfinn is ready to take on the whole group coming after Canute, but they are interrupted by a cheerful-as-ever Thorkell, happy to see another “true warrior.”

Thorkell knows Thorfinn is a true warrior because he is the son of Thors, whom he says is the only man stronger than him. Finn is surprised Kell not only knows his father’s name but his mother’s, Helga, but his father’s fame precedes him, even after death. Kell decides to play nice this time, letting Finn have Canute, certain they’ll meet and fight again soon.

Just as Bjorn is voicing doubts about Finn’s ability to get the job done, the kid arrives with Canute, Ragnar, and the priest in tow. Askeladd and Bjorn pledge their fealty as his new escorts, and Ragnar has no choice but to accept it.

Askeladd only asks if he can see Canue’s face, and the prince slowly removes his helmet to reveal a ethereally beautiful, feminine visage—like a Valkyrie in Midgard. With their new royal charge, Askeladd’s men are poised to rejoin King Sweyn’s main force…the same force Thorkell’s men are eager to fight, assuring them a place in Valhalla.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 12 (Fin) – Using the Same Words on a Train with No Brakes

The girls might be referring to the hostage situation, but the real train with no brakes each one of them is on is adolescence. It’s a crazy chemical, biological train where bodies take off before minds are ready; where feelings are felt before the words to express them can be found.

The reaction of Tomita-sensei, the principal and vice principal to the girl’s act of rebellion couldn’t be any appropriate: they shrug and go back home, hoping things will cool off by morning, or in about a day or so. They’re not looking down on their students or mocking their seriousness.

Instead, all they have to do is remember when they were that age to know that in this case, anything they try to do or say in this situation can only make things worse. Better to let the crazy kids work things out; to find the brakes. Also, Tomita will be by in the morning with McDonalds breakfast! She’s an angel.

What Tomita also does is call Rika, the person for whom the girls kidnapped Yamagishi-sensei, and who arrives with Amagi by her side. But this isn’t just about Rika anymore; it’s about settling things among each other, so they don’t let Rika or Amagi in.

Rika contacts Izumi, who contacts Kazusa to tell her he’s coming. He sneaks in to find Niina tangled up on the floor with Momoko as Kazusa looks on. Niina thinks it the best time to confess her feelings to Izumi, but Momoko doesn’t accept Kazusa “giving her permission”, and she sure as hell doesn’t have hers.

Izumi somehow makes things far worse by declaring he’ll clearly state how he feels about both of them, then proceeding to say that he loves Kazusa but is sexually attracted to Niina, words so lacking in nuance and open to interpretation they end up satisfying no one.

No one, that is, except Niina, who we’ve known for a while now is too far removed from traditional “love” to value it as much as the pure physical attraction she can make better sense of, since she’s experienced it herself, most powerfully on the train when, as she says “he touched her.”

Those words also lack nuance and serve to stir the shit further, until Kazusa suggests they simply dispense with further words and make it a pure neolithic fight, like their pillow war at the bathhouse. Rika, who arrived with Amagi in time to castigate Izumi for his harsh and imprecise words, laments that her girls have been “driven mad by lust” but doesn’t think abandoning language is the answer.

The only adult in the room, Yamagishi, free of his binds, suggests that they combine some kind of “fight” with language: color tag. By having those who aren’t “it” look for a color the person who is “it” describes in a very personal way, it will enable them to reach beyond mere words to find the thoughts and feelings behind them.

Momoko fails to find Hitoha’s “gray sigh,” but when she just blurts out “peach-colored Momoko” despite not knowing what it is at the time, Niina still runs at full speed to find it.  Niina wants to understand Momoko’s feelings so they can continue being friends. Happy that Niina feels that way, she embraces Niina, declaring she is now “it.”

Niina tells the others to find the “Blues of our youth,” which leads Kazusa to a dark hall, where she thinks about how she’s felt like she’s been lost in that darkness ever since Niina fist mentioned sex during club, confused about romance, sexual desire, and everything in between. But once her eyes adjust and the moon peeks out of the clouds, she and the hallway are bathed in blue light—the blues of their youth.

Izumi ends up right there with Kazusa, and manages to use the opportunity to put how he’s feeling into better, more useful words. To Kazusa’s dawning realization and delight, he’s finally using the same words she would use to describe how she feels. Now they both have a useful tool to fall back on if they ever get anxious in the future. Neither of them are experts on what they’re headed into, but they’re speaking the same language, so they won’t be walking that path alone.

On the other fronts, in addition to Niina and Momoko making up, Hitoha notes Milo-sensei’s dedication to the advisor role even in such an unusual situation. When he plays the “you’re nothing if not entertaining” card on her, she proudly warns him not to “attempt to satisfy me with half-hearted platitudes,” as that isn’t entertaining.

Finally, with things calming down around them, things aren’t as bad as Mom-Mode Rika initially feared. She’s more concerned about Amagi’s experience kissing other girls. But Amagi isn’t that experienced after all, as he’s never kissed anyone on the forehead before, as he does with Rika, and which he states makes his heart race more than any past kiss. Dawwww.

The other girls find them before they’re able to start making out, and Amagi, Izumi, and Milo are all dismissed so the five girls can finish working things out without further interruption from members of the opposite sex.

Their group catharsis takes the form of a massive poster and banner-painting project that leaves the facade of the school plastered in revolutionary slogans and the girls sleeping in their clubroom, spattered in paint of all colors.

Those literal colors represent the proverbial colors that color the blank white canvas of youth as one goes through one’s savage season. To be so colored is no curse, nor anything of which anyone need be ashamed. They are necessary and inevitable—as much as a train with no brakes will, after enough distance with the throttle pulled back, eventually slow down and become more manageable.

After some time passes, it seems all of these young women are managing fine with the bevy of new colors that have been splashed across their canvases. Jujou sends Rika a photo of her, her boyfriend, and their new baby, aged two months. Rika is on a date with Amagi. Hitoha is working on a performance for Milo and Tomita’s wedding. Niina and Momoko are hanging out and having fun.

And Kazusa and Izumi are holding hands, in public while taking a train together. In a marvelous callback to an earlier episode when their train enters a tunnel, she thinks to herself with a placid smile, “It fit.”

O Maidens satisfied my desire for a candid and genuine teen romantic drama that didn’t rely on cliches and didn’t hold back. It was packed with richly-rendered, distinctive, and ultimately lovable characters, and didn’t hesitate to put them—and us—through the wringer, but also didn’t keep us or them in that wringer, and balanced drama and comedy with aplomb. It looked great, too.

Finally, while that ship was built on stormy seas, it managed to sail the ship I wanted! It would have been a dealbreaker if it hadn’t, but that makes all the difference between simply liking or admiring a show, and actually loving it. O Maidens just…fit.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 11 – No Time to Take Things Slow

Rika truly was transformed by her love of Amagi. Far from being disappointed or feeling betrayed by Juujo for going and getting herself knocked up, Rika is firmly in her corner. When Hitoha argues the other side too far, Rika almost calls out Hitoha’s own relationship before storming off, leading Hitoha to declare it’s “wrong to stop in the middle of things”—a glorious line considering its subtext.

Kazusa and Momoko are out of the loop, and so ponder and worry together right up until Momoko asks her who’d she’d rather sleep with to keep the world blowing up: her, or Milo-sensei. When Kazusa says she’d pick Milo because she’d “have to go with a guy,” then goes in for a “best friends!” hug, Momoko dodges, warning Kazusa to watch out for Niina before storming off herself.

Hitoha has noticed her interactions with Milo have become “softer and warmer” since their semi-cathartic encounter. She believes it’s because he interpreted her childish tears as being “overwhelmed by his kindness” when in reality, she felt so pathetic it actually felt good. With that in mind, she’s not quite ready to give up on him.

Meanwhile, Niina has never felt hatred about her present self, or more determined to eliminate that self as soon as possible. With Izumi unwilling to play ball, she arranges a meeting at a hotel with Saegusa, who is, unlike Milo, perfectly willing to follow through, the pervert.

But as he starts to touch her, Niina discovers something about that self she hates so much: it won’t be killed so easily. When Saegusa’s gross face and gross mouth and gross white nose hairs get too close, she instinctively slugs him, and flees.

The next morning, the only two who show up for lit club are Kazusa…and Niina. After a beautiful monologue that begins with her being lost in the haunted forest of those nose hairs, she tells Kazusa straight up that she’s in love with Izumi and plans to confess to him, even if he loves Kazusa.

To Niina’s shock, Izumi doesn’t react in anger, but in understanding, love, and gratitude. She wouldn’t have had the courage to confess to Izumi were it not for Niina’s help, so what kind of friend would she be to deny her the opportunity to do the same?

Niina and Kazusa go into the “best friends” hug Momoko wouldn’t, and everything seems hunky-dory…until we see Kazusa racing home in an absolute panic. She’s not sure what else she could have done in that situation, but she sure as shit isn’t happy about it!

In this episode full of people who believe they’re running out of time, Kazusa believes the only thing to do to stave off the threat of Niina is to put her mark on Izumi immediately. It just so happens his folks aren’t home, and she invites herself up to his room.

Her sexy underwear didn’t arrive in time, but she intends to make do, presenting herself for him to kiss, and when he expresses confusion, she declares her desire to do it with him, straight up. He tells Kazusa he wants to “treat her right” by taking things slow, but he also brings up Niina, souring the mood and leading to Kazusa’s early exit.

To add insult to injury, the underwear arrives, but Kazusa is so flustered by their presence she quickly snips them to tiny shreds with scissors. We segue from that particularly childish display to a very mature and elegant phone conversation between Rika, who is growing increasingly weary of herself (calling herself “a shameful disgrace”, and Amagi, warning her not to badmouth the girl he likes.

Their bliss is rudely interrupted by her mother bursting in the room. The next day there’s an all-school assembly where the principal and vice-principal announce that all “non-platonic interaction between the sexes” is banned with immediate effect. Rumors fly through the student body, including that Sonezaki and Amagi were spotted outside a love hotel and will now be expelled.

The scene of Rika being guided into a cab by her mom, like some kind of criminal, possibly never to return, is witnessed by Kazusa, Niina, Momoko and Hitoha, in an unlikely but very welcome reunion. It’s the start of the girls deciding to put aside their differences for Rika’s sake, their sakes, and the sake of the entire school.

Hitoha, who (rightly) blames herself for putting Rika and Amagi in that place at that time, is ready to confess, but Milo-sensei beats her to it, albeit keeping her name out of it (though he refers to her as “someone he’s considering a future with” in his lie). But the principals won’t budge; after Juujou, they’re prepared to make an example of Rika and Amagi.

Later, in the clubroom, Milo assures Hitoha he’ll keep fighting for Rika, but also admits he doesn’t quite have a plan for doing so at the moment. That’s unfortunately not good enough for these maidens in their savage season, who must make the most of this time and can’t afford to endure the oppression of the school’s new ban.

So, after Kazusa gives Izumi a solemn call telling him she’s about to commit a “grave sin,” she joins her sisters in kidnapping Milo-sensei, beating and tying him up, and using him as a hostage. The school staff is sent their demands, and when they arrive at the school the four girls are there to repeat them: lifting of the ban, reinstating of Rika, and an apology, or else.

No negotiations, no retreat: the maidens have spoken! As amazingly awful as it was to watch them nearly destroy each others’ friendships, this latest emergency of injustice has brought them back together, at least for now. Watching them use their powers to save one of their own another is an inspiring sight to behold, though I can’t see there not being serious consequences. Still, what’s done is done—and they did it together.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 14 – Unfinished Business

Despite being aware of her elder daughter’s movements and actions through her Shadows network, the queen still sees fit to let Malty run wild—and run she does, setting a massive goddamn wildfire and informing all the local lords that the “Devil of the Shield” is responsible. I’m not sure what the queen’s game is, but she seems content to wait for Naofumi to come to her. The fire blocks him from Siltvelt, so they head the other direction.

That takes them to the domain of Seyaette once ruled by a lord who was sympathetic to the plight of the demi-humans (as well as Raphtalia’s homeland). That lord was killed in the First Wave, and his efforts went to waste. Indeed, Raphtalia and her family and friends were all victims of the resulting oppression and enslavement of demis under the orders of…Melty’s dad, the king. Again, presumably the Queen was fine with all of this…I guess?

The new lord of the domain, Van Reichnott, is thankfully a friend of Melty’s, and invites them to his mansion where he agrees to harbor them. Naofumi warns that they can’t stay more than a night lest they get sniffed out by those loyal to Malty and the king.

So they have one night of tasty meals and soft beds, taking turns keeping watch. Melty thinks she should be doing something, anything other than continuing to run and hide, but Naofumi tells her her life and safety must come before any of that, and in time she’ll do what must be done; what only she can do.

Naofumi also tries to comfort Raphtalia, who is suddenly having the nightmares she suffered when she was small. Being so close to her home where she witnessed and endured so much is affecting her on both a psychological and a visceral level.

As Naofumi feared, they are found out the next morning, as a neighboring lord, Idol Rabier, accuses and arrests Reichnott for harboring the “Devil.” Naofumi hides with Raphtalia (who has an itchy sword hand at the sight of Idol) as Melty says what needs to be said to get rid of Idol and enable Naofumi, Raph and Filo to escape.

They do so, but while Melty believes her name and title will protect her from Idol and that he’ll safely deliver her to father for a proper dialogue, her determination to clear the Shield Hero’s good name probably strikes the wrong tone with a lord who is a member of the church that considers Naofumi the Devil himself.

Naofumi wavers at the opportunity to get away thanks to Melty’s gambit, abandoning her in the process…but only for a brief moment. At the end of the day, bad rep or not he can’t call himself a hero (not to mention look Raph or Filo in the eye) if he left Melty to mercy of that lord. So the trio infiltrates his castle start methodically taking out his guards.

They arrive in the nick of time, as Idol has tired of Melty’s refusal to disclose where Naofumi is and declares her to be in league with the Devil, which makes her fair game to torture and worse, even taking a nasty pleasure in threatening her and “making her face warp.” This dude and Malty truly deserve one another.

But Melty is rescued, and despite her “plans” being “ruined”, she still thanks Naofumi for coming for her. Naofumi then leaves Lord Idol to Raphtalia to do with as she pleases. He has a lot of demi-human blood on his hands.

We’ll see if she gives in to her rage and takes revenge (for which she’d be entirely justified), or if she stays her hand out of a desire not to go down that road. Like Naofumi with his Rage Shield, there are places you can’t come back from.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 05 – Magical vs. Badgical

War Nurse reattaches Nozomi’s arm, heals her abdomen wound, and gets her to safety, but Abigail catches up to her and transforms into a full-fledged Badgical girl, with razor-sharp barber’s scissors.

As for Asuka, once she expends a great deal of her magic to destroy the Russians’ water spirit, the mercs are no match for her, even when she’s out of practice…which is as it should be. Asuka wouldn’t have survived this long letting herself get beaten by lightweights like these guys.

However Abigail came upon her magical gifts, she proves quite the challenge to War Nurse, especially when she summons not one but two Halloween-class Disas at her (her dominatrix getup certainly stands in stark contrast to Kurumi’s good witch garb).

Kurumi takes one of the Disas out, but Abby presses her attack with the other. Kurumi has to be bailed out by M Squad, who keep Abby occupied until Asuka can relieve them. As Iizuka says, you need a magical girl (or girls) to fight a magical girl.

Now Abby’s against the wall, until she’s rescued by her “Queen”, in masked badgical girl form, who then retreats. While Asuka couldn’t defeat Abby or the Queen, the fact they destroyed two Halloweens and recovered Nozomi makes this a victory.

But there’s a cost: Nozomi may be physically fine, but her PTSD is so bad she can’t look at Asuka or Kurumi for more than a second before going into a paroxysm of terror before passing out. But hey, it’s all good: Kurumi can heal her PTSD too—she just needs to erase all of Nozomi’s memories of the last week to do so.

With that procedure carried out, Asuka and Kurumi wait for her to rest and recover, with Asuka lamenting that she can’t protect anyone or anyting. Kurumi begs to differ, as neither she, Nozomi, or the M Squad would be breathing were it not for her, to say nothing of the bystanders saved when she stopped the terrorists. Suddenly convinced once and for all, Asuka informs Iizuka of her intent to officially join the Spec-Ops M Squad.

Iizuka reports to his superiors, who tell her the powers that be want Nozomi to stay at her current school where she’ll continue to serve as potential bait for their enemies. Kinda harsh, but they’re banking on Asuka and Kurumi continuing to protect her.

Meanwhile, Nozomi seems to be fine; she’s just forgotten their fun pool trip…not the greatest sacrifice if you ask me (Sayoko’s complete absence from this episode was puzzling…if she was there, wouldn’t she have corrected Nozomi?). Even when Asuka resolves never to go see that movie, letting the wind take her ticket, as soon as she turns around Nozomi is there to invite her all over again.

So basically, they got their first good  look at the bad guys and what they’re capable of, but the battle resulted in a draw, while hitting the reset button on Nozomi reduced her horrible suffering to a motivating cautionary memory for Asuka. It’s all rather neat-and-tidy, but at least she’s no longer in denial about having to fight in order to protect those she loves.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 04 – Taking the Bait

Asuka has a recurring dream where she’s too late to save her leader Fracine from her injuries. Before she dies, she names Asuka to succeed her, and assures her that while the world has a lot of problems, it is also full of beautiful things worth protecting.

Asuka apparently needed to be taught this lesson in the worst way  possible, as one of the current problems plaguing the world (groups who wish to use magic to hurt people and gain power) takes one of the beautiful things (her friend Nozomi) hostage.

Nozomi’s father is to blame for her capture, not Asuka. It would seem that terrible things need to be done in the name of national security, but it’s clearly better if the ones doing the terrible things didn’t have such lightly-protected family.

In a further display of cynical pragmatism that borders on comical, Nozomi’s dad is told his daughter will be a “sacrifice” that will give Public Safety the budget and mandate they need to go out there and really bust some heads.

Since no police or military unit will mount a rescue, it falls to Asuka. With Francine’s words still ringing in her head she doesn’t spend much time mulling over whether going into action to save Nozomi is the right thing to do.

Considering how sweetly and adorably portrayed as Asuka’s friends were, it was fairly inevitable that one of them would end up in some real shit. But while Sayoko was merely caught in some crossfire, Abigail and her twin Russian sorcerer mercenaries spare no cruelty as they burn Nozomi’s skin off and simulate drowning, all while the cameras roll.

You get the feeling even if Kurumi can heal her many physical wounds, unless she can also remove all memory of the ordeal, Nozomi is going to be severely scarred by the torture. But first thing’s first: she has to be rescued. Asuka and Kurumi have no trouble getting past the initial waves of guards, but Abigail isn’t remotely concerned they’ve arrived. In fact, she’s delighted they took the bait. She feints “freeing” Nozomi, but slices one her arms off.

Unfortunately for her, in such close quarters Abigail has the disadvantage, which Kurumi exploits by impaling her with a giant needle, after which she and her familiar Sacchuu grab Nozomi and rush her to safety while Asuka keeps the Russians busy with a grenade.

She knows that won’t be nearly enough to kill them, but is still confident in her abilities to handle the three mages alone. But she underestimates the Russians’ magic, getting smashed into a wall and allowing Abigail to go after Kurumi (who hasn’t even started getting serious yet).

Overall, the stakes were succinctly set: poor Nozomi’s life and many other lives will be lost in gruesome fashion if Asuka and Kurumi (and whatever other magical girls/guys wish to participate) can’t get the job done. I would hope that whenever this is all over, Asuka will cool it with the “not my fight” attitude, and Nozomi’s dad will quit torturing people. Bad guys are going to do bad guy stuff regardless…so don’t give them any excuses!

Banana Fish – 11 – Ashilles Heel

Turns out leading a gang is like riding a bike: you never really forget how to do it. Ash slides right back into his simpler life, and Eiji sees, for the first time, Ash the Leader, and how all his subordinates hang on his every word and breath.

They’re also impressed that Eiji isn’t scared of waking Ash up from a two-hour nap. But once Ash is up, he sends them all off on an intelligence-gathering mission, leaving him and Eiji alone to enjoy a simple meal of takeout together.

It’s there that Eiji sees yet another side of Ash, as for the first time ever in their friendship they can just relax. He also learns that Ash has cucurbitophobia (fear of pumpkins) and teases him for it, eliciting a very boyish pout.

That night we see the contrast between the two young men: Eiji sleeping soundly and Ash waking up from nightmares that will probably never go away. Ash lets himself be vulnerable with Eiji and cries into his lap; it’s how they both end up falling asleep.

Ash gets up at dawn, letting Eiji sleep in, and sets to work on his laptop. Having spent his jade earring buying guns from “The Fly” yesterday, Ash hacks into Golzine’s stocks, using the spyware he implanted on Dino’s computer while Dino was having fun with him.

So not only is Dino’s favorite mansion in ruins, but so are his finances, and those of the mafia organization he’s a part of. He’ll have to answer to the dons now, which means his life is a lot more complicated and fraught with danger. From what we know of Dino, no one deserves it more…though Arthur is trying to make a case for himself.

Ash uses his influx of cash to buy an $8 million condo right next to a building owned by the Corsican organization, showing he’s still a fan of bold moves. He has Max pretend to be his dad to cosign on the purchase. But Max is worried that for all Ash has accomplished since gaining his freedom, he still has one potentially crippling weakness: Eiji.