Meikyuu Black Company – 01 (First Impressions) – Report, Remind, Review

What am I doing, reviewing a show better suited for either Preston (fantasy) or Zane (comedy)? Because I have the fewest shows so far. See, I’m not like Ninomiya Kinji, who cares nothing for the equal distribution of labor. If he can stand at the top of a mountain and profit off everyone toiling below, by golly he’s going to put all of his energy into that venture.

This is to say, Kinji is a jerk. A BIG jerk. Like, it would be tiresome being around him. He doesn’t care; in his world he’s an “Ultra-Pro NEET” who made all his money by age 26 and is now dedicating the rest of his life to kickin’ back. I can’t say I blame him, nor that I can’t relate…but it does not mean I like the guy.

Of course, we’re not supposed to like him; he’s the most transparent of antiheroes, always making the wrong choices out of his own self-interest, only to immediately pay the price. There’s definitely a Wile E. Coyote aura about him, only his Road Runner is to live in this new world like he lived in the old one.

About this new world: it’s a rare-ish modern (rather than medieval / renaissance) fantasy setting, where adventuring has been replaced by corporate culture. Kinji, who already put in all the work he ever wanted to building his Ultra-NEET lifestyle, quickly tires of the drudgery and searches for the nearest shortcut.

He finds two: a secret passage to a deeper level of the mines where the mineral Demonite is purer and thus more valuable; and meets the hulking Behemoth Rimu (Misaki Kuno), who transforms into a horned girl when Kinji makes a deal to keep her fed if she helps keep him and his grudging associate (but not friend) Wanibe safe as they mine the ore.

Part of me feels a grim respect in watching Kinji sweatily chase the dream of his old world down. If the means make his end easier, they’re always justified. That includes a magical staff once crapped up by the likes of Rimu which he uses to enslave all of his co-workers into working nonstop until they start to keel over.

Naturally, the staff eventually breaks, and Kinji receives his comeuppance in the form of a good old-fashioned beatdown by the people he mesmerized. He deserved the beating…and getting bitten in the ass by Rimu, who is always hungry. But darn it all if as loathsome as Kinji is, it was fun watching him do bad things…and then have bad things happen to him. It was like watching the universe self-correct in real time.

Kinji also happens to be the most hard-working lazy do-nothing you can imagine. Despite the beating (and ass-biting) he received, I have no doubt he’ll dust himself off and look for the next get-rich-quick scheme, only to pour all of those riches into his ravenous behemoth girl, all while Wanibe face-palms in the corner. It feels like a dynamic with potential.

Vlad Love – 12 (Fin) – Interview with Vampire Girl A

The Vlad Love finale begins with one of its typical pop culture tangents, this time with Maki talking about the 1994 film Interview With the Vampire, which not only affirmed her inherent fujoshi nature and that of countless other young women, but was about the sorrow and suffering of vampires, so often the baddies (Other contemporary works working with its themes include the anime Shiki and the Jim Jarmusch film Only Lovers Left Alive.)

Maki wants to interview her own, real-life vampire, but when she goes to Mitsugu with the idea, even promising to protect Mai’s identity, Mitsugu demurs, not wanting Maki to make waves in her “happy little life” with Mai. Maki wonders out loud if Mitsugu’s true issue is she’s scared of what she might learn about Mai. Grudingly, Mitsugu agrees to let Maki ask Mai, and Mai is excited to be interviewed.

The problem is, Maki’s non-confrontational interviewing style means she doesn’t get much from Mai, other than her insistence that she was raised not to be picky about blood and would never insist on her preference (the blood of aggressive men)—at least not until they (meaning vampires) “win the war”. During a dinner break, Chihiro-sensei drugs Mai and intends to use hypnotherapy to bring her memories to the surface.

It’s a dastardly, profoundly unethical choice, but we’re talking about Chihiro, who’s had no qualms throughout this series about drugging (and slapping!) her students and stealing the blood of all her past lovers. The truth is, Mitsugu probably is scared of learning more about Mai’s past, but she allows Chihiro and Maki to press on.

Chihiro puts Mai into a semi-conscious trance and we learn how she, her father and birth mother were driven from their home when they were attacked by humans. Mai recalls an entire world consumed by flame. They eventually arrive in a fine house in a different part of Europe, but they’re tracked down once more, and this time her mother is murdered.

Mitsugu doesn’t want to continue, but again Chihiro hits her with the fear card, and the next session begins. Mai and her father arrive in America, and settle in a plantation in the south not unlike the one in Gone with the Wind —AKA “that long-ass movie”. Her father soon introduces her to her first friend: Caroline Irene, or Carreen, and the two soon become as close as sisters.

Then one day her father announces the true reason he brought Carreen into Mai’s life: not merely for companionship, but a live human on which to practice her vampirism. Up to that point, Mai had lived off of her father’s blood, but vampires, like raptors, must learn to hunt their own prey. Hidaka Rina pulls out all the stops with the entranced Mai’s narration throughout this episode—it’s truly some of her best work.

When Mai refused to use Carreen in this way, her father punished her with fasting. Mai suffered unspeakable suffering as a result, until her hunger led her to Carreen’s room, and she ended that hunger, killing her friend in the process. The pain and shock of these resurfaced memories cause Mai to scream out, startling Mitsugu, Chihiro, and Maki, and the “interview” ends there.

The images of Mai’s memories throughout the hypnotherapy sessions are some of the most gorgeous Vlad Love has yet presented, and are given that much more weight by the fact there’s a distinct reason for showing them other than they look cool. The images, in turn, are enhanced by Kawai Kenji’s haunting score. One cannot dismiss the fact that Chihiro extracted Mai’s memories without her consent, but because she did what Mitsugu could not, Mitsugu has gained a deeper understanding of her dear friend.

Now that she has, does Mitsugu run from that knowledge? Of course not. Later that night, as Mai cheerfully leads the others in calisthenics, Maki says she won’t be using the footage she shot after all, while Mitsugu assures Chihiro that she doesn’t have to worry about Mai, because she’s not alone anymore. She has her, and her blood brothers and sisters.

Chihiro sternly tells Mitsugu that one day Mai may drink her blood, and she’d better be prepared. Mitsugu, no stranger to blood, promises she will be. The beaming smile Mai wears at the end while clutching Mitsugu’s arm is something Mitsugu will do anything and everything to protect, and she’s not alone in that commitment either.

I must say, I didn’t expect Vlad Love to get so serious and dramatic on us, but as with typically comedic show like SKET Dance, by doing so it churned out its best outing. Some of the early eps were a bit too heavy on indulgence and audience-winking and too light on substance, but that wasn’t an issue here, with gags taking a backseat to Mitsugu and Mai’s happy little life together, complementing the drama rather than drowning it out.

May their happy little life continue as long as Mitsugu lives, and then, someday before Mitsugu gets too old, perhaps Mai will turn her into a vampire so it can continue beyond that!

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 06 – Protecting Unstable Hearts

For whatever reason Orihata Aya, AKA “Camille”, is beholden to the Towa Organization’s Spooky E, and he treats her like a disposable tool, urging her to hurry up and sleep with Anou Shinjirou, as well as gather clues that will lead to finding Boogiepop. Already, we see that “Camille” is bound in chains of fear, deference, and servitude. Who will break her chains, and is that even what she wants?

At least in this instance, Masaki intervenes, “saving” Aya from Spooky, who assumes the kid is an enemy of Towa when he’s just good at martial arts. Spooky shocks Masaki unconscious, and when he comes to he doesn’t remember his assailant. She apologizes, but Masaki likes her, and wants to do anything he can for her. So she asks him if he knows anything about Boogiepop.

Back at Shinyou Academy, Asukai Jin’s cousin Kinukawa Kotoe reaches out to Suema Kazuko, the school’s resident researcher of weird tings, regarding Jin’s odd and suspicious behavior of late. Suema promises to look into it, and before you know it, she’s hiding in a classroom into which Jin invites two girls, who promptly remove their tops and undergo some kind of magical ritual.

When it’s over, they feel like all the weight of their lives has been lifted and that they can do anything…for Jin. This is how Jin and Imaginator are taking over the world: one schoolgirl—one fragile adolescent mind—at a time. At some point someone’s going to have to stop them, but I imaging Boogiepop will again only play a supporting role. Suema, for her part, has always longed to “take on the darkness [her]self.”

In an auspicious crossing of paths, Suema encounters Anou as she’s talking with Niitoki Kei. Kei has kept her distance from Suema’s friend Touka (and vice versa), but not just because Touka’s guy rejected her, but because she knows Touka’s “other side.” Anou still seems pretty out of it, unable to remember what he’s doing at the academy while feeling like something important is missing.

Scenes of Aya talking to Masaki are intercut with scenes of Suema finding Aya on the roof, ready to die. Aya wants death to free others from her, not to free herself from Spooky E and Towa. Her self seems to the least important thing to her, whether that self has been tampered with by supernatural forces, or if it was always in a troubled, fragile, easily manipulated state…as most kids entering adulthood after all.

Both Aya and Masaki have initially believed the rumors going around that Boogiepop is a reaper that takes the lives of girls at the peak of their beauty so they’ll never become ugly, but Suema corrects her: Boogiepop is there to lend the helping hand to fragile young hearts that adults won’t provide, as adults they feel adolescence is just a phase everyone goes through, and will pass.

The reality is that sometimes it doesn’t pass, and you either get kids who kill themselves rather than continue suffering, or try to make others suffer as a salve to their own. In that regard, Boogiepop is there to protect them from themselves as much as those forces that would hurt or use them.

Rather than Boogiepop, the one doing the reaping here, or rather gardening, is Jin/Imaginator, as we see him “convert” more and more willing and in some cases eager young women to “their side.” The fact that this is visualized as Jin tending the roses so that they have roots, stems, leaves, and blooms – the height of their beauty.

Their hearts may thus be said to be complete and at peace, but they’re paying for it with their free will. It’s swapping one set of chains for another. I for one hope Suema, no doubt with help from Boogiepop (and others), can manage to shine a light on that darkness.

So…everything’s starting to make a little more sense, but this still felt like yet more setup, and with so many characters shuffling around, it’s hard to find firm ground on which to plant my feet and actually care about anything consistently.

Hopefully, as with previous mini-arcs, the payoff will be satisfying enough to make it worth all the setup. This seems like a show in which the destination is better than the journeys, or at least in which the destinations must be known before the journeys can be fully understood or appreciated.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 05 – Love at First Sight

This week the POV shifts from Asukai Jin to Taniguchi Masaki, the kid he saved from bullies along with the girl he was with. We learn more about both Masaki and the girl, Orihata Aya, who had actually just met him in that alley and tried to save him by offering her body to the guys.

Masaki is a transfer student from abroad who is just trying to do well, but gains some unwanted attention. Fortunately for him he not only had Asukai on his side when things got rough, but met Aya and basically fell for her the day he met her, due to her courage in that situation.

While Masaki seems normal enough (and is apparently Kirima Nagi’s brother, another interesting connection) there’s something off about Aya, and even he, who likes her, notices it. She’s extremely eager to please, as if she has no will of her own, but is rather driven by a curious pair of edicts: no one is allowed to hate her, and she has no right to fall in love.

Shift again to Anou Shinjirou, who played along with the other classmates who eventually beat up Masaki in the alley, but didn’t get killed by Asukai because he didn’t participate. He was just putting up a front for the other guys; in reality, he fell for Masaki as quickly as Masaki fell for Aya, and wanted to get closer to him. But he found that hard due to Aya, whom he learns is famous at her school for being promiscuous.

Anou finds where Aya lives and spies on her, but is interrupted by a very large, very ugly man who looks like a roadie for Aerosmith in the 90s. The roadie, whom we later learn has the name “Spooky E”, proceeds to “reprogram” Anou’s mind, wiping all his personal desires and ordering him to attend Shinyou Academy to await further instructions.

Now Anou is a part of the Towa Organization as a sleeper agent, only with no agency…essentially a puppet (Spooky calls him a “terminal”). His change in behavior endears him to a girl, who sends him a love letter that Spooky makes him forget. But Asukai has been watching Anou since the alley incident, and intentionally or not manages to remove the Towa programming, restoring his memories and free will.

Anou re-discovers the love letter and answers it, meeting the girl in question in a dark, deserted office building. But the “girl” there is Boogiepop in disguise, and when Spooky E appears to re-reprogram Anou (he set a trap), Boogiepop stops him and decides to go on the attack. Spooky gets away, but Anou is still of sound mind…for now.

Boogiepop promises if Anou gets in trouble again, she’ll be there for him. Then she gives him the real love letter, urging him to show up on the actual meeting date the day after tomorrow. Meanwhile, Masaki asks Aya out again, and of course Aya agrees. But while apparently waiting for Masaki, she’s confronted by Spooky E, who calls her “Camile” and wonders what she’s doing there.

This episode connected a few more strings in an increasingly dense narrative web, bringing into focus players that were present in last week’s events but not given emphasis until now, and seemingly opening a third party in the present situation. You have Boogiepop, Asukai/Imaginator, and now Towa Organization.

And then there’s Aya: is she one of Towa’s terminals, whose emotional engagement with Masaki may be degrading her programming? Will she stop worrying about being hated and let herself be loved? Lots of question marks floating around.

RokuAka – 09

There’s no lengthy ER-style scene in which Albert and Sistine work to save Glenn’s life – their spell is already complete, Glenn wakes up, and Sisti is the one asleep from using so much mana. Albert is simply waiting to get going, and makes it clear to Glenn that rescuing Rumia is the priority. If Re=L gets in the way, Al won’t hesitate to eliminate her.

By the time Sisti awakens, Glenn and Albert are long gone, but she resists the urge to go running after them, and instead chooses to put her faith in their ability to bring Rumia back save. Even when some classmates want to do something, Sisti insists on sitting tight. Talented though they may be these are all young, totally inexperienced students who are unprepared for the kind of combat we’ll see Glenn and Albert face. They’ll only get in the way.

That being said, Glenn and Albert carve through the gauntlet of chimeras Director Berks, Eleanor Chalet, and Re=L’s bro have ready for them awfully easily, to the point where it starts to get a bit boring and perfunctory. As for Berks himself transforming, it feels like exactly what it is: an excuse to make Glenn rescue Rumia—and flip Re=L back to their side—all by his lonesome.

Eleanor isn’t even concerned with fighting a battle here: she gets what she needs (data on the Revive Life ritual) and skedaddles long before Glenn arrives to confront Re=L and her bro. Glenn manages to prove to Re=L through a combination of yelling and telekinetic pistol-whipping that the man standing there isn’t really her brother, because her brother’s dead.

Actually, Re=L died too—or rather the girl Re=L was modeled after. That girl, Ilushia, was disposed of along with her real brother Sion once her “replacement” was created. And when Fake Bro can’t rely on her anymore here in the present (because she still has emotions), he whips out a trio of emotionless, “perfect” Re=L clones (in skimpy S&M outfits, natch).

Far from “perfect”, are just as easy to defeat as the chimeras. They’re in the picture for so little time I’m not sure why they existed at all; it’s as if Glenn and Re=L simply blew on them and they fell over.

I’m glad Re=L’s backstory (and name) are explained, and I’m satisfied her sudden betrayal last week was due to her inherent programming, but this episode still couldn’t match the third and sixth episodes in terms of being satisfying conclusions. The bad guys were too dumb and pushover-y (or in Eleanor’s case, disinterested), and everything was rushed and wrapped up too neatly.

Not to mention, I think I’ve had my fill of Rumia-napping stories. Can we take the fight to Divine Wisdom, already…or as she demands in the preview, more Celica Time?

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When the students finally get to the White Alchemy Research Lab, the resulting tour is somewhat interminable and clunky, full of characters explaining things (or interrupting others to explain things), then discuss how dangerous it is to resurrect the dead before saying such practices would never be carried out nowadays.

It all feels like foreshadowing for what Eleanor and the RDW have up their sleeves for their next attempt to nab Rumia. And with her supposed bodyguard Re=L in an extended snit borne from her jealousy over her and Sistine’s closeness to Glenn, Rumia is particularly vulnerable, especially when Glenn goes off to find Re=L, who stormed off in a huff.

The boring lab tour nonetheless succeeded in placing me in a false sense of security, just as RokuAka’s first episode so ably did, sacrificing a consistently dark tone, but resulting in a satisfying emotional roller-coaster as shit hits the fan.

Just as Re=L is approached on the beach by her apparent brother (who I immediately assumed was RDW), Eleanor faces off with Albert, Rumia’s actual bodyguard, albeit a long-distance one. It’s time and distance that screw him over, as the increasingly unhinged Eleanor is merely creating a diversion; keeping Al away from where he should be.

Glenn leaves Sistine and Rumia alone to go look for Re=L, obviously lulled into a false sense of security. He clearly isn’t aware of how easily Re=L can be turned to the dark side by her “brother”, who uses some kind of eye-contact hypnosis/brainwashing to turn her against Glenn, running him through with her massive sword.

Another who is caught completely off guard by what the RDW has in store for them is Sistine, who cheerfully gathers food for Glenn and Re=L’s return, certain Sensei will come back and everything will be fine…until she hears glass breaking, enters the room, and finds Re=L standing over a severely wounded Rumia with blood everywhere.

As we know, Sistine is not a professional soldier or warrior. She can be a badass, as we saw at the competition, but she’s still a kid, and this week we get another realistic reaction to the horrible fucked-up shit she has to deal with: When Re=L (who is a pro) basically dares her to use offensive magic, poor Sisti, scared shitless and worried about hitting Rumia, freezes, and Re=L escapes with her captive.

When Albert comes in with the half-dead Glenn, and Sisti sees how bad his wound is, she goes into a fit of despair…also quite appropriate for an ordinary, well-adjusted young civilian. Fujita Akane has done great work with the voice of Sistine all Spring. Of course, Sisti isn’t a complete wuss either, nor is she immune to the proverbial glass of cold water, which Albert provides by starting to leave if she doesn’t buck up and help him save Glenn. While he prepares the reviving magic, Sisti must administer CPR.

It’s the old ABC method (rather than the present, AHA-prescribed CAB method), which means locking lips with Glenn. But the show doesn’t treat it as a romantic moment or a joke, but as a life-and-death necessity, which I appreciated. Where RokuAka does joke around is after the credits roll, with another pleasant palate-cleansing preview, which is the proper time to do so.

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 23

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Shirayuki has fully settled back into it’s ‘Palace Groove’ with this particularly laid-back, playful and at times goofy episode, which starts with new maid drops a carpet on a lost-in-thought Zen, mildly injuring his neck.

While looking for Garack in the Herbalists’ office, Mitsu knocks over a strange potion that has a hypnotic effect, turning the normally down-to-earth Mitsu into a hyper-loyal, rigid, dashing, doting pain-in-the-ass of an attendant.

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Oh yeah, Shirayuki gets Zen’s shirt off…but hold your horses, she’s just applying a balm for his neck. As for Mitsu, his unusually charming behavior utterly fails to charm Kiki, but her slap doesn’t snap him out of it, or out of saying things like he loves Zen.

Zen gets irritated easily with this Mitsu, and it’s primarily because the two already went through this phase in their relationship, where Mitsu acted too over-protectively and spoke more formally to his prince. Zen wants the old Mitsu—the one their years together turned from a glorified bodyguard to a dear friend and brother.

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Shirayuki, wanting to lend her strength to Zen the way Mitsu, Kiki and Obi do, works furiously to devise a cure to the hypnotic state after healing Zen’s neck. After some long nights in the library (during one of which Zen visits and the two end up too close for comfort) and a little help from the light of the full moon, she concocts an effective antidote.

But while she thought was simply preparing a medicine for her friend in her spare time, it turns out the proper treatment and reporting on Mitsu’s case was the final test Shirayuki needed to pass to be promoted to full court herbalist. She passes with flying colors, and she can scratch another dream to achieve off her list.

The next one is far bigger: marrying Zen. Could it happen, or at least progress further on the road to it happening, in the next and final episode of Shirayuki Season Two? Or was the leisurely pace and content of this episode an indication there will be a third? We’ll find out in five days.

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GOD EATER – 12

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One thing you can always be certain of in GOD EATER: things will not work out the way people hope. The best-laid plans, be they made with good or bad intentions, inevitably turn to ash in this harsh world. Heck, the show itself couldn’t even air its last four episodes in the season it meant to.

The only thing that’s really worked out so far is that Lenka’s family was successful in keeping him alive and instilling in him a desire to survive and become strong so he can protect everyone still alive (which unfortunately does not include that family).

But he does have something of a new family in his unit, and when its “father” Lindow is in a tough spot, Lenka is there, and thanks to Licca, so is his rad new god arc, which cuts through the Aragami like butter, be it slashing or blasting.

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But Operation Asteroid remains a big mess, as one of the luring devices has been sabotaged by an inside hacking source Tsubaki learns is Alisa’s personal doctor. So when Alisa arrives along with Sakuya, Soma, and that other guy, it’s nice to see the gang reunited, but I knew the happy feeling wouldn’t last becase A) Alisa is a ticking time bomb and B) the Pita Aragami isn’t going to be defeated this week.

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Sure enough, the evil doc says a few trigger words into Alisa’s earbud, and she starts firing wildly. However, she doesn’t hurt anyone, and when Sakuya tries to slap her out of whatever is going on with her, the earbud falls out, and the doc’s plan is foiled.

Alisa reverts to her useless crying state, but Lenka manages to talk her out of it, trying his hand at field psychiatry. The results are favorable, as Alisa snaps out of her funk and returns to usefulness, but it’s a little dubious that Lenka’s words about toughness and inner strength could cause such an abrupt change in the behavior of such a scarred and unstable mind.

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Once everyone is freed from the berserk trees, Lenka leads everyone to the dam town to take out the luring device and protect the people there, which Sakuya didn’t know existed until now. Lindow will stay behind and duel the Pita, but predictably, it goes pear-shaped in a hurry, as this particular Aragami possesses a keen intellect and ability to counter any tactics the wounded Lindow throws at him.

After the obligatory flashback to a younger Johannes attempting (but obviously failing) to commit suicide, overcome as he is by the loss of the mother of his child. The child remains as a painful reminder of what he cost, but Dr. Sakaki suggests that he wasn’t able to kill himself for a reason: that he was meant to stay on this world and try to save it before Aragami consume everything and reset the world.

The results of that plan are still pending, but Lindow wasn’t able to delay Pita long, and the last we see of him, his bloody arc arm is hanging out of Pita’s mouth. I honestly don’t know how they’re going to take this guy out, which should make the final episode interesting.

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 04

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It’s very appropriate that this week’s episode of Phantom World begins with a binge session at a restaurant, as it’s Restaurant Week here and I just got back from stuffing myself. The episode then transforms into an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of whimsy focused on the show’s resident eating champion, Izumi Reina.

After dinner, she splits from Haru and Mai and ends up boarding a very unusual bus that takes her…somewhere. Our first go-round with the process is very mysterious, because one minute she’s boarding the bus, the next, she’s outside the front gate of her house. The next morning, Koito (Hi Koito!) confesses to witnessing the whole thing, determining that Reina is possessed by a phantom.

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That assertion proves very true when Haruhiko boards the bus with Reina next time. She’s totally out of it, as if hypnotized, but he’s lucid as the bus transports them, in a sequence that (not accidentally) owes much to the train journey in Spirited Away, to another place; an idealized storybook home complete with adorable bunny caricatures of Reina’s parents (who are a lot stricter in real life.)

As is usually the case in scenarios such as this, eating the food is a bad idea, but Haruhiko realizes this too late, and grows his own bunny ears and a pastel texture to his character design that indicates he’s been “taken” by this place. He acts out Reina’s fantasy as his big brother, until the fantasy breaks and the two are back at the front of her real house, with her real father wanting to know who Haruhiko is. Reina sends him home, promising to explain everything later.

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Turns out Mai reminds Reina very strongly of her real big sister, who got tired of their parent’s tightassery and flew the coop. So after Haruhiko fails miserably in trying to sketch-seal the bus the next time (he’s still under the phantoms’ influence), Mai and Ruru board with Haruhiko and Reina, and end up in the fantasy world with them. Ruru, who is unaffected by the food, ends up accidentally gives Mai a taste, thus bewitching her too.

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It’s not until Haruhiko goes to the bathroom of all things, that he snaps out of it; I imagined the food he ate was the cause of the hypnosis, and when he shat it out, the effects dissipated. He refers to the bathroom as a portal between the real and unreal, or some such. In any case, he takes a chance and ends up successfully snapping Reina out of it by hugging her, a gesture that always elicits a reaction in the form of a martial arts throw.

Once she’s lucid, watching the still-bewitched Mai interact with her “phantom parents” Reina realizes the phantoms fed on her desire for her family to be whole again, creating a world where she could live happily ever after even without that sister.

When the phantoms tell her to make a choice, Haruhiko beseeches her to stay in the world in which she belongs, so she can be there if and when her sister returns home. Reina chooses to reject the phantom world and stay strong beside her senpais. All in all, a very lush, atmospheric episode with heavy Ghibli influence, which taught us a little more about Reina. Though we still don’t know where all that food she eats goes…

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GOD EATER – 09

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In the final episode before a Fall hiatus (the final four episodes will air in the Winter), GOD EATER comes to something of a logical crossroads to pause at, while looking back at one of the least-used main characters in Soma Schicksal, who up until this week we’d only gathered bits and pieces about. As it did with Alisa previously, the character is improved and made more understandable when the show looks back upon his history and how it shaped the dour, taciturn God Eater.

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This new information comes when Lenka of all people is selected to lead one of the five squads that will set up the devices for the Meteorite Project, and Soma is assigned to Lenka’s team. Lenka’s as surprised as anyone else, but Major Amamiya isn’t aware of his life-threatening situation (only Sakaki and Licca know), so she’s sending him in. He accepts the mission and leadership role, but decides to bone up on Soma’s history, and learns that he was the first God Eater.

His mother Aisha died in childbirth, and his development as a weapon against Aragami hit a number of bloody bumps in the road. As such, everyone around him has thought of him as a harbinger of death (or Shinigami); a label he may not like but certainly seems to accept, especially when his nightmares include looks of fear from injured researchers and a look of resentment and disappointment from his dad, now Fenrir’s director. The father and son share just one brief scene in an elevator, and it’s cold as ice, which isn’t that surprising considering Johann lost Aisha the day he gained a son.

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But Lenka learns an important lesson from Major Amamiya before the operation, after he asks her why she retired from being a God Eater. Rather than get the answer he expected—like him, her God Arc was going to eventually kill her—she said she simply lost hope, after watching so many Aragami emerge from the barren ground right after killing others. Rather, she lost hope that she could do anyting about them, so she decided to put her trust in the future; pass the hope onto those who haven’t been beaten down as she has.

Lenka carries those words to the battlefield where they set up the device, and when everyone, including Soma himself, tells him to run, he refuses, instead using the device to lure the Aragami and ordering Soma to aim his deadly attack directly at him. He trusts in his battered arc’s ability to shield him from the attack, and all the Aragami are wiped out.

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Lenka decided to put his trust in Soma, not as a harbinger of death, but a vessel of hope. That’s why his name is Soma in the first place; for the wine of the gods bestowing life energy to man. That hope was placed in Soma by his mother Aisha, who volunteered to sacrifice herself and her baby for the good of mankind, absent time or other viable options. And for the first time, with Lenka, Soma sees that hope, and value, in himself.

Unfortunately, Lenka doesn’t have a lot of time left; but rather than pass his hope onto others, he’s willing to bet that little time he has left is enough to make more than an impact than retiring. So he asks Sasaki and Licca to repair his God Arc, even if it accelerates his demise. Meanwhile, Johann seems miffed that Lindow has kept a secret village a secret, while an increasingly sinister doctor seems to be brainwashing a drugged/hypnotized Alisa not just to fight Aragami again, but Lindow as well.

There should be plenty of action and character drama in the final fourth of the series. We’ll just have to wait a few months to see it pan out.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 17

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With Takeo and Rinko’s relationship secure (as if there was going to be any doubt) after the Mariya Incursion, and Christmas approaching, Rinko asks Takeo if it would be okay to celebrate with her friends and his friends, and he’s find with it. After all, they’re on cloud nine, and they’re united in their desire to spread the love and happiness; paying it forward, if you will. And with one of each of their friends, Nanako and Kurihara, at the dating ten-yard line, they want to do everything they can to help.

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They end up doing just that…and it’s just too much. Combined with their own usual lovey-dovey behavior towards each other, Rinko and Takeo carefully set everything up so Nanako and Kurihara are together, and it puts a lot of pressure on both of them. Kurihara deals with that pressure by doing a lot of nervous laughing and joking, while Nanako seems to coil up into a ball of irritation, not to mention confusion over Kurihara’s words and gestures and the meaning behind them.

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She finally just leaves the karaoke booth, and as Rinko chases after her, a trio of roughs start bothering them. Kurihara does the practical thing: when he sees what happens, he runs off to get Takeo (who intimidated these same roughs in the cold open without even trying or, indeed, knowing they existed). But that makes Nanako even madder; why couldn’t he rescue her himself? She continues fleeing, and when Rinko tries to follow, she snaps at her that not everyone can be like her and Takeo.

It’s a bit harsh, but it’s also true, and Takeo and Rinko know it. They came together naturally without overt outside assistance (they both recall Suna simply sitting back and quietly supporting/rooting for them without getting too hands-on. Yet again, watching a secondary relationship in the making helps this couple grow.

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Kurihara decides to be a man and make up for his misstep with the roughs by performing a feat of manliness: climbing the giant Christmas tree to the top to grab an ornament that, it is said, will help you get the person you like to go out with you. Obviously there’s no real power in the thing; it’s just a totem, but the gesture of getting it (as Takeo spots and ultimately catches Kurihara when he falls) and the feelings behind it are what move Nanako, who returns when Rinko tells her what Kurihara’s doing. The two have a very public mutual confession, to the delight of all around them, especially Takeo and Rinko. It happened, without them having to push too hard, or at all. They just had to let it.

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The aftermath to this is fantastic, with Kurihara and Nanako starting to act totally differently, and just as lovey-dovey as Nanako poo-pooed before her own relationship bloomed. Indeed, the lovebirds were holding hands before they were a couple, and literally hours after they became one, already got their first kiss out of the way.

That gets Rinko feeling down, and all of a sudden the tables are turned as now it’s Nanako who will offer advice—but hopefully not do too much—to see to it Rinko gets her first kiss from Takeo. And just like that, we have a fun new couple different from the main one, whose portrait was very quickly and efficiently painted this week. The love is spreading. Soon no one will be safe.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 16

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—”I wonder if I can like someone again.”
—”I’m sure you can.”
—”When?”
—”Eventually.”
—”I’m sick of this! I want to now! But I can’t right now!”

That exchange between a fiercely honest, freshly-heartbroken Saijou Mariya and a savvy, supportive, tissue-providing Suna, says it all: Falling for someone who’s already firmly in love with someone else SUCKS. But it’s also a near-universal feeling we all have at some point in our lives. Even “Nature Is My Master” Takeo felt that way, when he thought Rinko liked Suna and not him.

As such, it’s a near-ubiquitous theme in romance anime. But rarely have I seen it so beautifully—and efficiently!—handled than these last two episodes. Saijou’s arc went by breathlessly quickly, yet still allowed us to get lost in it, in her head, and in all those swirling emotions people in her situation tend to have.

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When she added “…as a person” to her confession to Takeo last week, I knew she actually liked him as a man, you knew she actually liked Takeo as a man, and after a couple periods of class, Suna knew she actually liked Takeo as a man. But Takeo? Forget it. In exchange for all his wonderful qualities, he’s an appallingly oblivious fellow, and that’s okay; I don’t need a perfect protagonist.

But more to the point, he simply trusts Saijou’s words as she spoke them, because he has no reason he knows of not to. He’s convinced he’s not popular with girls…and because neither Ai nor Saijou confessed their love, he has no reason to doubt that assessment of himself, either.

Similarly, Rinko trusts Saijou, and even decides to cultivate a kind of friendship with her, as they find it easy to talk to each other. Rinko is worried about other girls falling for Takeo, but not Saijou, because she said she likes him as a PERSON. That’s enough for Takeo, and it’s enough for Rinko, and neither will be hurt by Saijou continuing this charade indefinitely.

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No, the person who will end up hurt is Saijou herself. When Suna approaches her, she expects to be castigated and comes clean to him: “Yes, I know I’m a cheat, and I’m lying about the extent of my feelings. So what?” She knows the answer: because she’ll never be happy with things like this. At the end of the day, she’s a good person, and isn’t going to try to break anyone up. To her surprise, Suna isn’t concerned with her actions thus far, but rather the emotional toll they’re having on her. He…he cares about her! AS A PERSON!!

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Thanks to Suna, Saijou decides to nip things in the bud. The limbo she’s in is untenable; she has to be honest about her feelings, because Takeo and Rinko will never accuse her of being dishonest. The scene where she finds Takeo alone in the dark classroom, which then fills with gorgeous golden light, is as good a visual metaphor for a weight being lifted as one can ask for. It’s also mighty purty.

Takeo briefly sports an appropriately stunned look, followed by a quick and categorical rejection. But he’s not saying no because he already has a girlfriend; he’s saying it because he loves Rinko with all his heart, for any, all, and no reasons at all. He’s oblivious about a lot of things, but his heart never lets him doubt his love for Rinko for a minute.

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Saijou tells Takeo she wasn’t lying when she said she liked him as a person too, and is able to withdraw with dignity, but once she hits the bench outside, the tears come hard and fast, so it’s good Suna’s there with two(!) boxes of Kleenex to help her through this trying but ultimately necessary time. She fell for the wrong person, but it will pass, and she’ll fall for someone else eventually. Hopefully Suna, AMIRITE!?!

As for Takeo, the sudden realization that there are girls besides Rinko who do like him, make him look upon his constant protestations to the contrary with contempt. All this time he was telling Rinko something he believed was true, but wasn’t. So as soon as Saijou is gone, he runs as fast as he can to Rinko to make everything sparkling clear: it doesn’t matter whether other girls like him or not (sorry Ai!); Rinko is the only girl for him.

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As they walk home hand-in-hand, tears suddenly come to Rinko; tears of happiness, which finally spur Takeo to say “I love you” out loud. Woo! And she says the same. Saijou may have felt like a rival and a possible antagonist last week, but turned out to be neither, but something much, much better: a lifting of the misconception of Takeo’s popularity with girls, a catalyst for the deepening of his relationship with Rinko, and, as we see the next day, a new friend who still wants to call him “master.” Saijou Mariya was another revelation in a show positively stacked with ’em.

Now, start falling for Suna. Immediately.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 15

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I’m not sure I’ve heard the parable about the bear who danced with the girl, but because Rinko likes big things the way Takanashi likes small things, in her version the girl who dances with the bear comes to like said bear. And so it comes to pass, when Takeo takes an athletically ungifted classmate everyone else is miffed about being in the upcoming Swedish relay under his wing. So just as the door seemed to be closed (for the time being) on Ai, it opens on one Saijou Mariya, she of short statue but ample bust.

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Saijou feels like she’s in the way and, like most people, assumes Takeo is mean, scary, and easily upset, when none of the above are the case. Gradually, as she spends more time with Takeo simply being Takeo, you can see the increased affection growing in her eyes, in the many gorgeous close-ups of her normally reserved for Rinko (and to a lesser extent, Ai). Ironically, it’s running from Takeo out of a misplaced sense of fear that motivates Mariya to run her fastest…along with his constant support.

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When the day of the relay arrives, he tells her, quite simply, just run as fast as she can and pass him the baton. Well, once everyone else passes her, she trips and drops that baton, but remembering his directives, she gets back up, keeps running, and passes that sucker off. Then Takeo does his thing and they win by a landslide. Then the kicker: he congratulates her, then asks her if she’s okay from her spill, and BOOM, without even trying, “not popular with girls” Takeo has finished unlocked Mariya’s heart.

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Let me say one thing: I like Mariya, even though she’s Rinko’s new rival. I like her a lot. She’s cute, she’s kind, and in some ways, she’s a lot more normal than the often eccentric Rinko. Not that eccentric is bad; Takeo is eccentric too (so is Suna, for that matter…and Takeo’s parents…and Ai…aw jeez, what have I done?!). But despite the fact she sees Rinko right there, and Takeo introduces her as “my girlfriend” she still has the guts to give him her gift of a towel (his first, somehow!) to him. This is a girl who knows how she feels, and is honest about her feelings, at least in this instance.

Meanwhile, because Rinko has always felt her grip on Takeo was precarious at best due to her own perceived inadequacies, she seeks advice from her girlfriends on how best to fight for Takeo. Despite Takeo’s protests he’s not popular with the girls, Rinko, to her credit, knows what she saw: Mariya danced with the bear, and liked it. (Oh God, that sounds so wrong!) 

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Mariya is also the recipient of some good luck vis-a-vis Takeo. She goes to the same school and is in his class. Even when she nervously mocks his couple background and matching straps (which IS a bit overkill, if not SO overkill)when she runs after him to apologize and trips down the stairs, she ends up in his arms, and after it’s clear the shoulder-leaning is out due to Takeo and Suna’s imposing height, she gets to choose Takeo to ride piggyback on. Suna really tried to do it so Takeo didn’t have to, but Mariya overruled him.

Unfortunately for Rinko, she chose this afternoon to wait outside Takeo’s school, though Takeo doesn’t act guilty, because he isn’t guilty, because he loves Rinko and is just giving Mariya a hand. When he runs straight back to Rinko after his errand, she can’t help but beam with glee. But in the normal universe where high schoolers of the opposite sex aren’t normally so friggin’ nice to each other—like the universe Mariya normally inhabits—Takeo with another girl riding him still looks bad.

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By the way, I’m not considering Mariya’s non-confession legit. She’s not giving up; she’s just decided to play the long game. She only tells Takeo (with Rinko eavesdropping) that she likes him “as a person”, but we know better, since we’re in her head too. Now that she’s allowed to call him “Master”, she has an excuse to stay by his side as his “student”. Rinko has been enjoying a “Pax Gouda” up until now, but love is war, and the battle has begun.

Takeo won’t be easily swayed—had Mariya had confessed for real here, I’m certain he’d have shot her down without hesitation—he does love Rinko deeply. But Mariya knows that, and I hope she’ll apply the same determination to pursuing Takeo as she did preparing for the relay with him.

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