Heroines Run the Show – 06 – From Crap Creeps to Cute Crêpes

If Aizou is out of shampoo, Hiyori has no problem walking into the boy’s shower to get him more. It’s steamy, and it’s not like she’s in there to sneak a peek; she’s just doing her job. She’s been acting more assertively as a manager should, but to these two old-fashioned chums, she couldn’t be acting less like a “girl” if she tried. 

When Tamura gets the three of them tickets for a FT4 show, Hiyori says she’s already going with her childhood friend Nagisa, who is an FT4 superfan. At such an affair it’s expected to “dress up”. The boys want to give her a makeover, but she demurs.

After a day of observing other girls—Hattori, Setoguchi, Narumi—Hiyori encounters perhaps the cutest girl she’s seen of the day, and she’s being harassed by a creep. Hiyori breaks his hold and runs off with the girl, and you know they’ll lose the creep because if anything, Hiyori can run.

I liked the detail of how she’s not the slightest bit out of breath once the coast is clear, while the cutie is huffing and puffing. The girl thanks her by buying her a crepe at a place she’s always wanted to try, but not alone. Before you know it they’re exchanging bites.

When the girl notices she’s staring a bit, Hiyori just mentions how she thinks she’s super cute…a heroine, not an “extra” or “bit player” like her. The girl admits to having also been insecure for a long time due to someone she knew and admired being so pretty. This girl posits that being loved, not cute, is what truly makes a heroine.

She was saved from a creep by Hiyori, and is now having fun eating crepes and talking with her. She likes Hiyori, so maybe she’s a heroine after all! The girl’s name is Narumi Mona and is, unbeknownst to Hiyori, is an up-and-coming idol, and presumably Narumi Sena’s sister.

Their talk inspires Hiyori to try researching some fashion mags, but she’s caught by Yuujirou and Aizou, who demand to know what she’s up to. She tells them how the one time she wore a cute dress and felt like a princess, Nagisa told her she looked “weird”, which led to a complex about looking too “girly”.

The boys say Nagisa sucks, but Hiyori then lists all the ways Nagisa doesn’t such and has always been there for her, especially following her dream of track. The fact remains, in no small part due to Nagisa’s teasing years ago, Hiyori doesn’t think she has what it takes to be a princess.

Yuujirou and Aizou then proceed to show her just how wrong both she and Nagisa are. They take her to their stylist who gives her an adorable new ‘do, then they take her to a classy clothier to try on a number of cozy classic looks.

I love the way the two boys fuss over Hiyori and bicker over the best way to dress her. They come off very much like two doting big brothers trying to make their sister into the princess they know she is…while also showing up the FT4 fan that gave their manager a complex.

After hair and clothes comes makeup and posture, which the boys also take care of back at the studio. It’s very My Fair Lady in the way the two cosmopolitan lads are trying to infuse some Tokyo style into their country bumpkin colleague. Hiyori has to deal with idol super-close-ups when they’re applying the makeup, which is very much a less-is-more affair.

When the time arrives to meet Nagisa at the station, Yuujirou and Aizou accompany Hiyori in her new duds, because they can’t wait to see the look on Nagisa’s face when she sees her. Ah, yes, that’s right…they think her childhood friend Nagisa is a girl. When Hiyori spots Nagisa, whom we’ve known was a boy since the end of last week, she’s so excited she runs as if not wearing a long skirt.

Nagisa catches her before she can touch the ground, and is revealed to the idols as a most strapping young lad…perhaps not as photo shoot worthy as either of them, but certainly handsome and fit nonetheless. He was also unquestionably a typical little boy who teased the girl he liked because he was an idiot.

His first reaction to Yuujirou and Aizou contains multitudes. It’s not (or it’s not just) that he may be irked by the fact Hiyori is hanging around two cute Tokyo boys who must look like nothing but trouble to a hayseed like Nagisa…it might more be the fact that he know’s they’re his beloved FT4’s rivals: LIPxLIP!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 05 – Their Juliet

Hiyori’s foot injury isn’t something that goes away overnight. Like Embiid being out with a fractured orbital, it ruins any chance of coming close to touching her goal. It only takes one race and a few hurdles before her foot barks at her and she’s suddenly washed out of prelims. She got hurt doing a job she took to help pay to live in Tokyo so she could run, and now she can’t run.

It hurts to see our typically chipper chipmunk suddenly brought so low, and struggling to hide it from the ones she cares about. She puts on a brave face for her family over the phone, but I bet her mom can imagine her daughter’s distraught face as she says everything is fine, unconvincingly. She stares at the ceiling at night and almost gets lost up there.

Aizou and Yuujirou have been around Hiyori long enough to know something’s not right, and even come right out and ask her what’s up; why she’s suddenly so much less dashy. As you’d expect, Hiyori doesn’t want to burden them with her troubles when they have a huge concert coming up, so she does her job with a smile. But they know she’s hiding something.

They learn from Uchida how Hiyori’s dream to make the nationals was deferred by her injury, and Aizou remembers when she seemed to look hurt after delivering their swag to the venue. Add to that the fact that this latest show is the last day Hiyori is contracted to work as LIPxLIP’s manager, and there’s a distinct pall over what should be joyful festivities as the duo takes another step forward in their idol careers.

Aizou and Yuujirou decide to do something for Hiyori to cheer her up. They ask her to make sure she finishes all her backstage duties before their scheduled encore, then switch the final song from “Nonfantasy” to “Dream Fanfare”, the lyrics to which almost seem like they were written specifically for Hiyori, the “Julieta” to whom they dedicate the song.

That tribute and the lyrics are not lost on Hiyori, who for thew first time isn’t on the sidelines but has a primo seat in the center of the front row of the second deck. From that vantage point she can’t not realize for the first time the true power of idols, and how they’e not just scary or two-faced, bt truly amazing in what they can do and how they can inspire a crowd.

Despite the song being meant as an encouraging sendoff for Hiyori to commit fuly to her track dreams, it actually inspires her to stay on as their manager-in-training, indefinitely. It’s true, she could dedicate more time to track if she wasn’t working, but Hiyori doesn’t want to compromise…she wants it all. She’s not ready to say goodbye to LIPxLIP, and while they react with characteristic haughty apathy at her announcement, I have no doubt they’re glad she’ll sticking around.

But what’s this? Nagisa is coming to Tokyo? Who’s Nagisa? Hiyori’s would-be fiancé? Maybe! In any case, I can’t wait to see what Hiyori’s iconic eyebrows do when this bumpkin surprise her…not to mention how he and the idols will clash! Until then, this was a beautiful capper to a mini-arc in which Hiyori apparently took too much on and stumbled, only to dust herself off and keep going. Hurdles are meant to be cleared!

Heroines Run the Show – 04 – Two Grooms

Clearly more moved than she expected by their princely defense of her against the vile Yumeru, Hiyori has a dream about marrying Aizou and Yuujirou, and the two of them almost kissing her. Naturally, the first time she sees the two she can’t quite look them in the eye. They seem genuinely miffed by this, as who averts their eyes from an idol? But it’s also because they know something’s up with her.

While Yumeru was thoroughly unpleasant, the result of their collab is a lot more fangirls flocking to the boy’s desks at school. Aizou is so overwhelmed he seemingly passes out, and Yuujirou makes mention of some “trauma” that makes Aizou especially lady-averse. While grabbing lunch for herself and Aizou, she meets his big brother Ken, who assumes Hiyori is Aizou’s GF and explains that both he and their mom are super-comfortable with the opposite sex, which might contribute to the straight-laced Aizou.

Hiyori proves her manager mettle by securing the counseling room for Aizou and Yuujirou to hide out whenever things get too hot. Aizou is clearly still a little off after being so surrounded by fans, and clearly loathing leaving the room to buy lunch, so it’s a good thing Hiyori bought him a cutlet sandwich! Yuujirou shares some of the massive lunch his mom made with Hiyori.

The day somehow gets worse for LIPxLIP when an article comes out exposing Yuujirou as the heir to a famous kabuki actor and living national treasure. Hiyori volunteers to shoo away the reporters, but Yuujirou decides to face and fight them head-on with his famous smile and politeness. Hiyori is literally moved to tears when she watches Aizou come in at just the right time to have his partner’s back.

Yuujirou and Aizou come up with a piece of rosette ribbon swag for their fans at their next outdoor concert, and were clearly inspired by their track-running manager-in-training; a way of making every fan “1st Place in their hearts”. But when it’s time for the show, the staffers forgot the ribbons. No matter, Hiyori uses those track legs to race to the nearest taxi, and when the taxi gets stuck in traffic on the way back, runs the rest of the way and gets the swag there in time for the boys to distribute it.

Yuujirou and Aizou can’t help but be impressed by Hiyori going the extra mile for her. They all exchange “good works” and are ready to part ways, but the boys notice that Hiyori is reacting like she’s in pain. Indeed, she sprained her ankle while racing there in time, and now that her adrenaline levels are dropping, she’s feeling the pain even more. So she’s working so she can run track in Tokyo, but now she can’t run. Hiyori doesn’t deserve such misfortune. Maybe the boys can carry her around like the queen she is on a palanquin until she recovers!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 03 – Princely When it Counts

It was only a matter of time before LIPxLIP warmed up to Hiyori’s wholesome country charm. Yuujirou and Aizou were hostile towards her initially simply because they didn’t know her. That’s rectified by Uchida, who tells Yuujirou (who then tells Aizou) that Hiyori came to Tokyo to run, and took a job to live.

The boys call each other out on being okay with this girl among all the others (in Aizou’s case) and having no qualms about showing his true self (in Yuujirou’s). Knowing how hard she works, they can’t help but show grudging respect; at least from afar.

Closer in, they’re much more comfortable messing with her, though when they learn that she failed her midterms and is desperately crunching for the finals so she can compete in athletics, they eventually close the distance and give her some pointers on what to study for in the little time she has left.

What good boys! And here I was calling them assholes last week. They were, and often still are, but it’s goot to see their sharp edges softening due to Hiyori not only being someone you want to support and protect, but also someone you admire for not giving up no matter how high the hurdles.

Going to school together and working together, these three high school-age people were always going to gradually become friends, I just didn’t expect it to come so fast and yet so organically. But that rapidity is facilitated by a catalyst when the three are on a music video shoot for their song “Nonfantasy”.

Their co-star in the video is the up-and-coming amateur model Yumeru-chan, whom we meet in an elegant red dress. She’s a big fan of LIPxLIP, so when she spots the boys goofing around with Hiyori, she gets right pissed off. She wants to be their clothing tree, dagnabit!

Fishing for juicy rumors and looking to put a rival in their place, Yumeru takes Hiyori aside and asks her straight-up what her relationship to the others is. Hiyori deflects and is clearly uncomfortable, and why wouldn’t she be? This world of desperately beautiful people dressed like royalty isn’t her world; they’re stars, and she’s just a bit player.

And while yes, Yumeru is meant to be more “classically pretty”, Hiyori is a far more beautiful person, because she’s not looking to put others down to lift herself up. She just wants to run, and make her friends and family happy they gave her their support.

During a dinner break, Yuujirou and Aizou laugh when Hiyori’s stomach grumbles, and happily offer her some of what looks like an epic craft services spread. Yumeru, again both mystified and enraged, trips Hiyori while she’s walking away, and coffee spills on her dress. The boys apologize profusely for their “staff member.”

Hiyori hides under the lectern of a wedding chapel, but the boys soon track her down, clearly concerned with her. Yumeru shows up and asks for their numbers, but they don’t give them out; company policy. Then Yumeru spots Hiyori in the shadows and asks why they’re fine with her?

Yumeru has the nerve to warn them that Hiyori may have just taken the job to get closer to them—right after she took this job tried to get closer to them. Aizou—not Yuujirou—drops the idol mask and points out this hypocrisy. Yuujirou then adds that he saw Yumeru trip Hiyori.

When she claims she didn’t, he says they can check the security cameras to be sure. He then praises her fake crying but suggests she doesn’t take up acting as she “lacks imagination” to realize messing with their staff would piss them off. After Yumeru storms off, Aizou tells Yuu he might’ve gone too far, but Yu isn’t concerned. If Yumeru wants to start a shit fight, he can sling it with the best of them.

The bottom line is, the risk of exposing their mean sides was worth it if it meant telling someone that Hiyori may be a somewhat plain, simple country girl staff member, she’s also not someone they’ll tolerate being abused. Yumeru made Hiyori an enemy for no reason, and when the boys saw that, it likely reminded them of their shitty attitudes when Hiyori was first hired, thus compounding their irritation.

I’m happy to report that while they will likely continue to mess with Hiyori because she’s such an easy target, they’re also doing it good-naturedly, because they’ve come to like her, and anyway wouldn’t mess with someone they didn’t. They’re also genuinely concerned about how her exams turns out, and flash their best idol smiles upon learning she barely passed.

The power of those idol smiles is enough  to make even Hiyori blush. After all, even after they took off their prince costumes for the music video, they still looked pretty damn princely to Hiyori, because they defended her against someone who didn’t know her. Now that they do, they’ll slay any dragon for her.

Heroines Run the Show – 02 – Oh My Crêpe!!

At first it looks like CEO Tamura and LIPxLIP manager Uchida have played a cruel prank on an unwitting Hiyori (whom Uchida misnames as “Hiyako”…maybe on purpose?!). Aizou and Yuujirou unleash a barrage of insults on her, but she absorbs them and fires back with some extremely rude and accurate retorts, and all three kids learn why the adults put them together: Hiyako’s got guts, and doesn’t care that they’re idols.

That she’s literally in their class is icing on the cake. In a rather oddly dimly-lit scene where her teacher Akechi-sensei offers her candy (don’t do it Hiyori!) and Hiyori climbs on top of the desk to whisper in his ear (what a dang goof!) she also gets an easy approval of her new job (thanks to Tamura) and also an assurance he’ll keep quiet about it. Hiyori, lovable hayseed that she is, is in awe of what most Tokyo kids would think was a humdrum teacher. He’s there to support her and everyone else in his class and make sure they enjoy their high school life.

She soon learns her job is to further support Aizou and Yuujirou on the idol side of their lives. This means, yes, being a personal assistant to a pair of pretty but ill-mannered cads-and-a-half. We feel every hour of Hiyori’s day that stretches out like the deserts in “Ozymandias”, waking up, studying, running, and then being a human coatrack and vending machine. Still, the pay is good, so while Hiyori hardly sails through her duties she does tough it out with a stiff upper-lip and some lovely withering inner dialogue about how much these two disagreeable fops grind her freakin’ gears.

While the idols suck, Hiyori at least initially isn’t all that good at her job, rendering some of their criticism valid, if indelicately expressed. For one thing, she simply allows girls to swarm the boys during a break, and even gets up to hang out with her friends when Yuujirou artfully reminds her it’s her job to get them out of these situations. That’s when she learns that Aizou is uncomfortable around girls, making him that much more amazing an actor. She knew Yuujirou can be apocalyptically surly, but Aizou confirms that it’s Yuujirou’s normal state.

Even so, Hiyori’s entire life, not even school life, is busied up playing LIPxLIP Service. We watch her steadfast determination to get to the lunch rush early, unto almost breaking the no-running-in-the-halls rule (a truly dastardly and prejudiced rule for, ya know, a runner!). We see her meeting up with Juri, who gives her good advice that nets her her first non-mooched lunch, which she savors accordingly. Then Chizuru casually asks Hiyori what shes been up to, and Hiyori has to lie (badly) because part of her job is keeping her job secret.

We also get a peek at Hiyori’s track life, as her senpai Hina is warm, supported, and extremely protective of her first-year, especially when her friend Koutarou narrowly keeps Hiyori from getting brained by a soccer ball. Hina quickly and expertly extorts free crêpes out of Koutarou, and by doing so inadvertently sparks one of Hiyori’s most heartfelt desires of coming to the big city. Alas, she cannot enjoy crêpes with her senpais … because she has work.

When the boys’ next gig takes them to a podcast recording by Rio and Yui, two members of an established rival idol group AT4, Aizou and Yuujirou play things safe with their sugary smiles and empty platitudes. They’re so perfect and dull that Yui goes off-script and tells them they’re lying about simply wanting to entertain people and make their fans happy. He might be on to something, but Rio stops recording and disciplines Yui. But while he apologizes to Aizou and Yuujirou, he also offers them candid advice: hollow smiles will only get them so far in this business.

Back at school, Hiyori is minding her own business when she hears hollerin’, and spots Aizou and Yuujirou at each others’ throats again. Since Uchida is paying her handsomely even while she’s at school, Hiyori comes between the two. When she stumbles on her landing, the easy play would have been for Hiyori to end up falling onto the boys, but instead she falls into them like a missle, shoving them back. When she warns them that they risk getting suspended, neither seem to care. In fact, attending school was the condition they had to agree upon in order to become idols.

Hiyori, who has always dreamed of going to a big Tokyo school, laments how it hasn’t turned out anything like she expected. That being said, she could quit anytime she wanted; her parents didn’t insist she work to pay for her living expenses (about that: let’s just assume Shibuya is far more affordable in the world of this show, shall we?). But of course, she’s not giving up, no matter how crêpe-deprived she gets.

Back at the studio, Hiyako is put to work sorting a huge box of fan mail and gifts, and she discovers cute hand-made letters from a particular fan, for both the boys and their manager. She delivers it to Uchida, who immediately identifies it as Chutan-san, one of LIPxLIP’s oldest and biggest fans…so big, she writes multi-page letters in perfect 10-point print on custom coorespondence stock for their manager. Inspiring that level passion and devotion is the power of idols, and shows Hiyori that they must have something.

As Hiyori watches the boys sweat, and fight, as they practice choreography in the next room, Uchida tells her that she’s doing fine if they show her their true selves. As to why they’re idols, Uchida tells her all they said at their audition is that they want to be on stage, with no further detail. But by watching them work their asses off in that studio, Hiyori comes to see that bein’ idols means to them what runnin’ means to her. There’s something all three of them want to do, and they’re never going to give up or back down.

Just when Hiyori is having more charitable feelings about the boys do they let her down once more by spurning her peace offering of food and their favorite drinks. But again, they’re quite correct that a manager should be offering water or sports drinks after their practice. So while Aizou and Yuujirou continue to piss Hiyori off, she at least understands them a little better, and appreciates that they’re being their true selves around her.

As for her true self…Suzumi Hiyori looks like a shoo-in for Best Girl of the Season. While I understand totally if her squeaky voice isn’t everyone’s cup of matcha, anyone who doesn’t want to protect her with their life might just be The Grinch. Just two episodes in and I’m completely in love with both her and her show, which as the title confirms, she runs.

Heroines Run the Show – 01 – (First Impressions) – Clearing Every Hurdle

Who doesn’t love can-do country bumpkins? I for one can’t help but be endlessly charmed by them as I vicariously watch them navigate the Big City for the first time, full of gumption and moxie. Suzumi Hiyori is a bushy-eybrowed ball of energy brought to life by the ubiquitous Minase Inori (though if you’re not a fan of her louder, higher-pitched characters, you probably won’t enjoy this).

Her little hometown high school doesn’t have a track team, but Hiyori wants to one day be a national finalist, so to Tokyo she goes, with the full support of her huge and adorable family. Little did she know that she’d end up seated between the two ruinously popular male idols Shibasaki Aizou and Someya Yuujirou. Most of the other girls in her class swoon over them, but she experiences them with their nice faces off, and is t barely-concealed concept for each other.

While searching for the front gate of her massive (for her) new school, she overhears a heated argument, and finds Aizou taking Yuujirou by the scruff. She tries to play peacemaker, but only ends up soaking the three of them by stepping on a high-pressure hose. She says classmates shouldn’t fight; they tell her to stay away from her…but she sits between them, she she can’t!

Fortunately, Hiyori makes fast friends with two other girls in her class: the slightly gyaru-y Hattori Juri (Sakura Ayane) and the more reserved, bespectacled Nakamura Chizuru (Hayami Saori). Together, these three are among my favorite seiyuu, and combined with Uchiyama Kouki and Shimazaki Nobunaga, we’ve got ourselves an all-star cast.

In one of the more touching scenes of the episode, Hiyori is on the call with her mom, and learns her dad, a fisherman, hurt his back and may be laid up for a bit. With four younger siblings, she worries she’s being a financial burden for her family by going to school in Tokyo. Her mom says it will be fine, but Hiyori takes another bold step into adulthood by deciding to get a part-time job to pay her living expenses.

Her first round of interviews don’t go well, as her already busy high school and track schedule simply does not mesh with your typical restaurant or café work schedule. But she ends up hitting paydirt with a 1500 yen/hr (or $12/hr, not chump change for a high schooler) opportunity, and after some early nerves, manages to make a strong case for herself as someone who will overcome any obstacle and get the job done.

While Hiyori is one of dozens of applicants, the clincher for her recruiter Uchida (not Maaya) is that she’s in the same class as the idol duo LIPxLIP, AKA Aizou and Yuujirou, which makes her the perfect fitr for their new rookie manager-in-training. Both she and the boys are taken completely by surprise with this development, and I doubt any of them are happy with it.

But hey, Hiyori did say she’d leap over any hurdle to service of her dream, didn’t she? She’ll never make the nationals if the hurdles are only a foot tall! Uchida did her a big favor, giving her a foot in the door of a hugely popular enterprise and giving her a personal and professional challenge. If she’s to be their manager, they’ll all have to get to know and learn to trust each other. I can’t wait to see how it goes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 02 – Smiles and Shadows

Last week showed off Priconne’s impressive aural, visual, and comic chops when it comes to epic fantasy adventure, along with the sweet, lived-in chemistry of the main quartet. But I count myself among the many who were surprised without strong its dramatic chops could be. Last week we only got a slight glimpse of that as Pecorine looked at the palace where she should rightfully rule.

But this week is all about Karyl and her unique position in the Gourmet Guild as a spy and “princess knight” with divided loyalties. Her small act of rebellion against her majesty is forgiven, but with that clemency comes the threat that it better not happen again. And so just like last season, Karyl is torn between her love of her guild-mates and doing her royal duty.

Speaking of royals, Pecorine’s longing look at the palace is followed up upon this week when Kokkoro mentions that Peco still hasn’t told Karyl or Yuuki about her true identity. While she can’t do anything about Kokkoro knowing, she’s not ready to tell the others.

Peco asks Kokkoro to keep the secret a little while longer so she can tell them herself when the time is right. For now, as long as she’s able to keep the people of Landosol safe and smiles on their faces, she’s mostly content to maintain the status quo.

Both Peco and Karyl’s internal strife is briefly soothed by a visit to the clothing store owned by Carmina, a three-member idol group that sings, dances, and fights to put smiles on the faces of their fans. Their goals are thus aligned with Pecorine’s and the Gourmet Guilds.

This act introduces Tsumugi, Nozomi, and Chika, and also provides an opportunity to dress everyone (including Yuuki) like cute idols. To the show’s credit, however, our Gourmet Guilders’s idol cosplay doesn’t extend to actually taking the stage; that’s left to the professional performers.

When everyone is getting a good night’s sleep before Carmina’s next big concert (Yuuki having been warmly initiated as an official member of the Carmina Fan Club), Karyl slips out on her own as she tends to do. In the palace she meets Christina, who relays to her a mission for the two of them involving Shadows.

Before heading home, Karyl sits on a vantage point offering a gorgeous nighttime vista of the city…including the outdoor concert venue, where Karyl finds Tsumugi rehearsing on her own. When asks why she’s up so late without the others, Tsumugi says she doesn’t have the natural talent of Nozomi or Chika, but still wants to help them shine, hence the outfits and extra practice.

The big day of the concert arrives, and Karyl heads off on her own, telling the others she has something she needs to do. That something turns out to be fighting off all of the stray Shadows in the nearby woods that Carmina’s performances (and the crowds they bring) seem to lure out of their hiding spots.

There’s a contrast between Karyl and Christina’s “dirty work” in and with the shadows while Carmina shines brighter than ever on stage and make everyone who showed up to the concert smile. While the crowds are CGI, the three idols are smoothly animated in 2D; it’s a very nice-looking concert.

After her shadow-hunting duties are complete, Karyl is so physically and emotionally drained, she’s ready to pass out under a bridge in the dark. But her three guildmates, feeling it not proper to start dinner without their fourth member, head back into town to look for her, calling her name until she finally emerges.

Karyl tells the others their calling her name embarrassing her, but you can see in her wonderfully subtle facial expressions that she was also extremely happy they came out looking for her. It might mean there are no easy answers for her

Karyl’s problems aren’t solved this week, nor should they have been. I’m hoping that sometime before this season ends she’ll be able to pick a side and find happiness and peace—and hopefully it’s the Gourmet Guild’s side—but that’s far from certain right now. Even so, all Priconne, Peco, and Karyl can do is take things one day, and one family meal, at a time.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. The OP is back, and the same theme song is used as last season…which is just fine with me! If it ain’t broke…Having recently watched Twin Peaks: The Return, I’m struck by how similar Yuuki is to Coop-as-Dougie Jones…The new ED is a stunningly beautiful sequence of Kokkoro staying up late looking at photos from the guild album, followed by Peco and Karyl putting a blanket over her when she nods off, then Yuuki putting a blanket on all three of them. So simple, and yet so full of heart-bursting love…

The aquatope on white sand – 19 – The white dolphin in the red pumps

Fuuka’s not-to-distant past life catches up to her, as a film crew from Yona Productions intends to film a tv show at Tingarla…with Fuuka’s idol kohai Shiori Ruka as the co-host. They’re also very keen on Fuuka being the other co-host. Fuuka’s immediate, unhesitant response? “But I’m done with TV…”

As Karin gives Ruka and the crew a tour to familiarize themselves with the aquarium, Kukuru ducks out of work (and she’s got a lot of work) to make sure Fuuka is okay having remnants of her old life around. Fuuka assures her she’s fine; she’s going to turn down the co-hosting role. She’s an attendant now.

Fuuka intends to take Ruka out for one-on-one dinner, but Udon-chan ends up inviting everyone else (except Kukuru, who is working overtime). Ruka is up for the liveliness until she isn’t, and goes out onto the deserted patio to sit and reflect.

Fuuka comes out to give her some less intense company, and truly does look like a capital-S Senpai in the way she confidently counsels Ruka. She knows Ruka is working as hard as she is in part for Fuuka’s sake, so Fuuka tells her not to forget to work for Shiori Ruka’s sake.

It’s only later Fuuka learns why Ruka is so down aside from having not “made it” yet: she’s been being harassed online by her detractors, saying she’s getting unfairly promoted relative to her talent or some such nonsense. As Umi-yan puts it, the fans don’t see how hard she’s really working.

After a few awkward moments during filming, Ruka joins Fuuka for a break where Fuuka often comes to relax and recharge during a stressful day. She offers Ruka her pair of red pumps she intended to wear on stage one day, but never did.

Fuuka no longer needs them as a talisman of encouragement, as she’s found the place where she belongs and the thing she loves to do. So she gives them to Ruka, hoping they’ll be a source of strength for her too. If nothing else, they’ll remind Ruka of her dear senpai Fuuka, whom she clearly, genuinely admires and loves.

That admiration and love only grows during the final climactic scene in the tv show, when the new baby penguin jumps into the pool for the first time and immediately takes to it like…well, a penguin to a pool! Nervous and timid, the little one needs a little push in order to make that leap into the water, and Fuuka is there to give it.

It’s such a little gesture, and yet so meaningful and affecting both for the film crew, Fuuka’s co-workers, and the huge, rapt audience. Seeing Fuuka be the best damn aquarium attendant she can be literally brings tears to Ruka’s eyes…genuine ones, not forced ones.

That unforced sincerity ends up on film, and just may be one of the things that brings Ruka more fans going forward.  Like the little push she gave the adorable baby penguin, Fuuka may have given the little push—and red pumps—Ruka needed to take the next step in her fledgling career.

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 04 – Undeath Metal Girls

Sakura does her level best to cheer Junko up, but her head is still out of it, during another musicmaking practice I can’t help but think is far too quaint against the likes of Iron Frill. She doesn’t even realize her hula hoop has fallen to the ground! Shiori’s harsh and under-informed opinions about Franchouchou build on Junko’s building lack of confidence in any scenario without Ai.

If Shiori, the center of the country’s top idol group, says they’re trash, then they must be. But in believing those words, Junko creates artificial limitations. It’s less about Ai being too good for Franchouchou than Junko not being good enough. When Junko and Ai cross paths, Junko asks if Ai enjoyed being in Iron Frill more.

The way Ai responds by asking why Junko is worried about that when she should be worried about the show just rubs Junko the wrong way. For one, Ai doesn’t even attempt to humor or reassure her she’s happy where she is. But that’s less Ai being insensitive to the moment as Junko being hyper-sensitive to anything that confirms her anxieties.

Junko runs off to cry on the beach and scares the shit out of the local cop (who is never not hilarious in his buffoonery). Koutarou, no stranger to wailing at the waves, confronts Junko back at the house, armed with his trusty old red axe. As he creates wind with some sick chords, he considers it to be his lodestar, as as long as it can keep making music, he can keep moving forward.

He sees that Junko is standing still, unsure if she can go forward, and can see the false limitations she—not Ai ort Shiori—created for herself. Handing her the guitar, he tells her if there’s something she really wants—in this case to keep performing with Ai—she has to keep shining, strumming, and moving forward.

The pep talk not only snaps Junko out of her funk, but gives her the idea Franchouchou needs to create the necessary impact tomorrow. True to their tight-knit family cohesiveness, everyone (even Tae!) waited for Junko to sit down before tucking into Yuugiri’s sumptuous pre-concert feast.

They’re all happy Junko looks more focused. The day of the show, Shiori is disappointed to learn Ai isn’t even going to be on stage, because without her Franchouchou is nothing but “a bunch of nobodies.” Of course Shiori is ignorant to the generational talent Koutarou assembled, just as she’s not aware that Number Three is the Eternal Center Mizuno Ai. Regardless, Ai warns her not to underestimate Franchouchou, a group that’s always striving and evolving.

Shiori agrees to give them a chance, and she’s probably glad she did, as we finally get to see the group’s quaint musicmaking pay off. Tae is given a high-end drum set to start things off with a sick solo, followed by Junko on Koutarou’s red Strat. As I had hoped, she decided to draw upon her talent and ability to enchant with a guitar in her hand.

The group’s top two fans are delighted that the Death Metal Girls are back with a spicy, almost Beastie Boys style rock-and-rap number (I’m told it’s more of a piece with the likes of Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park).

As usual for the Revenge sequel, both the singing and dancing animation, the lighting effects, the camerawork, and of course the song itself all look and sound fantastic—a serious upgrade over the previous season’s more-than-adequate production values.

I especially liked how Junko finishes the song by smashing Koutarou’s venerable guitar into a million pieces. How’s that for impact?! Her performance moves Ai, watching proudly in the stands, and reminds her of when she’d watch old videos of Junko performing—the very thing that got Ai into the business.

Ai, who at this point understands full well that her resemblance to Frill’s old center wasn’t why Koutarou kept her off the stage. Now that he achieved what he was hoping for, Ai runs to the stage to join her companions. Only it’s quite a leap to manage, and when Junko grabs her arm it starts to come off! When Junko corrects by leaping towards Ai, they both hit the deck hard.

No problem, this just shows Junko that, as zombies, they can deliver a performance living human group never could, by injecting themselves with electricity and literally shining. As they perform a slick autotuned techno remix of “Awaken Returner”, the girls themselves put on a beguiling Tron-like lightshow. Shiori and Yui are suitably impressed, even if they have no idea how such special effects are being done. I don’t either…but they’re cool, so who cares!!

But it’s more than that. Yui told Shiori to be weary of recruiting Number Three due to her resemblance to Mizuno Ai, because as good as Ai was, she’s the past, while Iron Frill is all about the future. But Shiori never stopped being inspired by Ai, just as Ai never stopped being inspired by Junko. Even uif they weren’t secret zombies, Ai and Junko are timeless talents, and AI’s performance transports Shiori back to when she was just a little girl watching Ai on TV.

One of the many, many things Zombieland Saga gets so right is depicting how past generations help shape us. The past isn’t something you can turn your back on and forget about. It’s always there, and it’s why Iron Frill are who they are. Even Yui has someone who inspired her. This is why I believe Shiori decided to give a very particular shout-out to Franchouchou when they appeared on TV for a post-concert interview.

Shiori considers them Iron Frill’s top rival because they let her travel back in time to the genesis of her love of song and dance. That’s hard to do, and she knows she can’t rest on her laurels if she wants to have the same effect on the kids out there who dream of becoming like her, and Ai, and Junko.

Read Crow and Irina’s discussion of episode 4 here!

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 03 – The Legendary Center Cannot Hold

Saki may be the de facto leader of Franchouchou, but their center has always been Mizuno Ai. While the group now has a radio show and their schedule is starting to fill out, much of that remains odd jobs. Ai warns the others that they can’t be complacent just because they’ve had a little success. Watching videos of Iron Frill, Ai knows the gap between them is a yawning chasm, but the only way to close that gap is to keep grinding.

During that grind, it’s Ai who is most often called upon by the other members for her advice and guidance. Other than Junko, who performed a long time ago in what was a very different idol industry, only Ai has the pertinent experience to help the others. So it’s deeply frustrating when a Kotarou in full drill sergeant mode announces Franchouchou will be opening for Iron Frill at the newly opened Saga Arena…without Ai.

His worry is that her resemblance to Iron Frill’s former center—her—is too risky. The others push back, but he’s made his decision. Ai leaves it to Junko, the next most-experienced idol, to head up the group and whip them into shape. Ai even thinks it’s a good opportunity for Franchouchou to grow up a bit.

Koutarou books a bunch of solo gigs for Ai, while Junko expresses doubt they’ll be able to make an impression on Iron Frill fans no matter how hard they practice. After seeing Iron Frill’s new center Shiori on TV basically declaring war on the opening act, the others put together a dance with improvised instruments in order to make more of an “impact”, when just the night before Junko was trying to google “impact”.

Junko goes up to the roof to play a song to cheer herself up, during which the colors fade and the frame adjusts to 4:3 aspect ratio—a nice nod to the era she’s from. Sakura, who came up to check on her, is so moved by the song she falls off the roof, with Junko only managing to save her head from falling. As such, their lovely dramatic scene together takes place with Sakura in two separate pieces.

Junko is worried that all she can do is demonstrate her own personal appeal, without knowing how to make that performance pay off in a group. I was thinking that she should just do a guitar and vocal solo that the others can eventually join in on, but the two decide to ask Ai instead, noting that Koutarou didn’t bar them from talking. In the meantime Sakura does what she does best: praise, reassure, and encourage.

But in a bit of awkward timing, Iron Frill’s Shiori confronts Ai after one of her solo gigs before Junko and Sakura can approach her. Shiori takes her aside, and after noting how similar Ai looks to her Ai, is very blunt in her assessment of Franchouchou. Basically, she believes the others are holding Ai back, and Ai would be better served joining Iron Frill to meet her full potential.

If Koutarou won’t allow Ai to do solo gigs outside of Saga, he certainly won’t let her go to a Tokyo idol group…or will he? Was leaving Ai out of the Saga Arena show while also booking multiple solo gigs to spotlight Ai all part of a scheme to get her poached away? Has Koutarou decided that the others should no longer rely on someone who, due to her fame in her past life, simply draws too much of the wrong attention (i.e. those journalist guys, who return this week)?

It’s telling that Ai doesn’t immediately refuse Shiori’s offer, but it’s also devastating for Junko to hear what Shiori said, because it confirms her fears she doesn’t have what it takes to lead the group in Ai’s stead. Just when everything was starting to look up, Franchouchou’s two most idolly members are facing personal crises. Can Sakura and the others pull together to help both Ai and Junko find their proper places?

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 02 – Blazing Souls and Beckoning Winds

Franchouchou are training with renewed confidence after Koutarou pulled himself together, with Saki deciding to work on her abs with some sit-ups. Zombieland Saga’s slice-of-life scenes are always full of great little details, from the sound of the zombies’ bodies creaking, to the sound of Saki’s giant ponytail gently whapping Sakura. Koutarou announces their next gig as co-hosts of a TV tourism segment on Saga’s Yutouku Inari Shrine.

He does so in the most obnoxious way possible—thereby proving that he’s back!—by wearing a cardboard TV on his head and aggressively interviewing the idols. The details I loved here included the different ways they reacted to having a mic shoved into a facial feature, the change in the sound of their voice when the mic is close, and Tae’s spinning her head Exorcist-style once she gets the TV box…just ‘cause. It’s also the first time I’ve heard the current Japanese era of Reiwa—which began in 2019—mentioned in an anime.

Koutarou also mentions that they’ll be joined in the segment by The White Ryuu, a pompadour-sporting rock star from Saga who has also hosted a nationally popular radio show called So Saga Can Be Saga since 1992. Of the idols, only Saki shares Koutarou’s enthusiasm, as she’s a huge fan of everything White Ryuu, who is portrayed here by the real-life Hakuryuu, himself a pretty colorful character.

A little after Franchouchou arrive at the shrine and get set up with the TV crew, Ryuu makes one hell of a cool entrance, drifting in lying semi-supine across the hood of a ’59 Cadillac Eldorado. The White Ryuu is showing his age, with deep lines in a face partly obscured by a drooping, graying pompadour. It doesn’t matter; Saki is in awe, as am I! He explains he’s late because “the wind blowing down from Kyougatake gave me pause.” It won’t be his only mention of winds, nor the last philosophical thing he says.

In a refreshing development, the TV segment goes swimmingly, with a camera-shy Sakura bailed out by the consummate professionalism and knack for spontaneity of Mizuno Ai, as well as . The idols’ bubbly happy-go-lucky energy is nicely balanced (and sometimes usurped) by White Ryuu, who is full of bemusing little asides about life, society, and freedom.

In a beautiful little moment I’m glad was captured, Sakura asks Ai while they’re praying at the shrine if “zombie prayers count”, with a smiling Ai saying she’s “sure the gods are surprised we’re even here.” It reminds us something that you sometimes forget during their “human” segments: they’re zombies covered in makeup.

The segment is ready to wrap, but Ryuu insists on a torturous climb to the inner temple, where the zombie idols are fine but he collapses from exertion at the top. Even so, he raises a defiant fist and declares that “grasping hold of something real is never easy”, engendering a primal, avenging “RYUUUUU!” from Saki.

As the TV crew packs up, completely confused by everything Ryuu said, Saki has to hold herself back from picking a fight, just as she asked Sakura if she wanted to die when she said she’d never heard of him. To her, Ryuu’s words are like “fists fulla soul”, running out to say a proper goodbye to her idol and promising to start listening to his show again.

As he climbs back on the hood of his Eldorado (the guy commits), he says won’t be on the show much longer, as the winds are blowing him elsewhere. But he tells her not to sweat it, parting with the refrain “The answers you’re looking for can still be found in Saga.”

Back home, the other idols notice Saki is down in the dumps. The question of whether Saki is in love is brought up, and again we see how the different idols regard romance for idols. Junko is scandalized, even though plenty of her era’s contemporaries had secret love lives, while Lily is all for it, as long as it makes you shine brighter.

Sakura decides to approach Saki to find out for sure what’s troubling her, finding her out on the balcony listening to Ryuu’s show. Meeting him reminded her of how she thought everyone was out to get her, and how whenever she wouldn’t bow and scrape to them, they’d try to get rid of her. Even as a middle schooler she’d get in huge brawls, her victories leaving her lost and alone.

One night while lying on a riverbank she heard So Saga Can Be Saga from a fisherman’s radio, and White Ryuu’s positive affirmations to the troubled souls of Saga and beyond soothed her smoldering heart. Now we know why he said so many offbeat things during the segment: that’s his whole thing. And doggone it, he had some really nice things to say:

“No matter who you are, it’s rough not knowing where you belong. But it’s times like that you gotta keep your eyes and ears open. You’re gonna find somebody you feels the same way you do. Even now, me talking with you like this means you’re not alone.” Ryuu was right: Saki kept her eyes and ears opened and found Kirishima Reiko, jumping into her big brawl and fighting by her side, leading to the complex and deeply heartwarming relationship covered last season.

Saki is upset because she doesn’t want Saga or Japan to lose a voice like White Ryuu’s, finding and saving wretched souls like her. She’s lost enough already, damnit! So she hops on a bike (with Sakura accompanying her) and races to the radio station—utterly destroying the bike in the process—to confront Ryuu and beg him not to quit.

Ryuu welcomes Saki and Sakura (AKA Nos. 2 and 1) into the booth to discuss it. Saki tells him Saga is still full of folks who don’t know what to do with themselves, and even Saga itself doesn’t know what to do. Without him, where will smoldering hearts turn to? But Ryuu says that’s just it: the people need a place to turn to, not him.

He never said the show would be shutting down, only that he’d be departing. But not before finding someone with the passion in their soul to take over for him, and he believes that’s Saki and Franchouchou. He says they have the spark that lights a fire in folks. Brooking no input from the suits, he bequeaths the show to the idol group right there on the air.

Before Ryuu hops on his Cadillac’s hood to be pushed by the winds of Kyougatake, Saki confesses her love for him. He’s flattered, but assures her her passion will be needed elsewhere. Then he says what might just be the saddest string fourteen words ever uttered on Zombieland Saga, knowing what we know: “Look me up when you’re a bit older and have grown into fine women.”

As they watch the sun rise on Saga together, Saki tells Sakura that no longer how much time passes, she’ll never grow up into a fine woman. At first she tries to laugh it off with a brave smirk, but her eyes become flooded with tears and she’s suddenly on her back sobbing. Then Sakura starts sobbing, and I tellya, I had to fight back tears too! Then Sakura starts drying out like a mummy, and I was laughing again.

That’s the beauty and the magic of Zombieland Saga, which is so much more than a show about down-on-their-luck idols. The futures they should’ve had taken from them, and now they must try to build new futures from whole cloth. While initially depicted as “lame” and washed up, White Ryuu was a revelation here, imbuing the episode with wisdom, gravitas and optimism.

I never, ever tired of his entrances and exits atop his ridiculous car, while the episode completely sold Saki falling for him, making his parting words all the more heartbreaking. The only thing this episode was missing was a performance, which is what we get during the end credits, and it’s appropriately a heartwarming cover of a White Ryuu song. The idols’ outfits look great, the lighting looks great, their singing sounds great and the dancing animation is fantastic.

Saki assures the rapt audience that anyone lost out there will be able to see her soul burning, just like Lake Imari’s breakwater lighthouse. Taking over the mic at So Saga Can Be Saga, joined by the rest of Franchouchou, she tells the listeners to find their way back there if they ever feel worried or alone.

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 01 (First Impressions) – The First Ragged Cry of Rebirth

After their miraculous show in the snow at Arpino, Franchouchou’s first CD sold like hotcakes, but then Koutarou booked them for the 30,000-seat Ekimae Fudosan Stadium (EFS)…and only 500 fans attended, or 1.66% capacity. They failed to get even a single encore, and ended up in humongous debt.

That would’ve been the end of the road for most idol groups, but the Franchouchou girls weren’t ready to throw in the towel. Sakura, Ai, Saki, Junko, Lily, and Yuugiri all secured jobs with which to gradually pay off that debt, and are working towards a comeback show at the metal club where it all began a year ago. But even a month after EFS, Koutarou remains a drunken, disheveled, distraught, and infuriating mess.

He’s convinced it’s all over for Franchouchou and his Saga project, even dramatically standing on the edge of the water during a horrific storm and ranting incoherently. The girls start to consider that it may not be just about the money, because there’s no way he could’ve reasonably thought they could have sold out a stadium show. They break into his office and find a demo tape of the song they were going to perform as an encore but never did.

After Yuugiri, working at a fancier bar using the skills learned in her past life, encounters a horrendously drunk Koutarou mistakenly sticking his head in, then going outside to vomit. He’s in a very bad way!

The day of their concert arrives, and Sakura tries one more time to get through to him, but ultimately loses her patience. She returns to the others, and they go forward with the metal show, despite the fact almost no one in the crowd wants to see an idol group aside from their handful of hardcore fans.

The girls are confident if they can just take a step in the right direction they can begin the hard climb back to recognition, but the crowd is, to say the least, impatient and hostile. Their performance suffers due to Koutarou not being there, but a grizzled bartender eventually guilt-trips him into running to the venue, where he yells for an encore from the back and starts a huge brawl.

Re-energized by the timely arrival of their eccentric producer, Franchouchou slaps their collective cheeks, bears down, and belts out the encore song with power and confidence. As with the last season, the group is CGI, but I wasn’t bothered.

On the contrary, the performance really packed a punch, especially since the CG looks like an improvement on the first season. Even after that, they only get mild applause, but they managed to pull it off. The zombie idols clawed their way back from the dead…again!

A bit later, the girls assemble in the basement and are further heartened to find that Koutarou, still bearing the scars of the concert brawl, has shaved, cut his hair, and dried himself out. Recognizing how they’ve been able to pull off everything he’s asked for (aside from the totally unreasonable EFS gig). With their producer’s head back—and pocket squid—in the game, the Zombie Land Saga Project continues apace.

Zombieland Saga picks its zany story back up nicely without missing a beat, offering the same wonderful blend of weirdness (the foley on their undead body movements is always great), charming camaraderie, heartfelt drama, and of course, Miyano Mamoru being a completely unhinged lunatic! I for one am overjoyed the zombie idols are back!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

You can read Irina and Crow’s discussion of Zombieland Saga: Revenge’s first episode here!

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 12 (Fin) – Sending Odin to Bed Without Supper

Looking our live Big Board, Assault Lily narrowly beats Sigrdrifa as the higher-rated of the two Top Cute Girls Doing Military Stuff shows I watched this Winter. Both shows had their flaws, and while combining the best bits of both into one show would result in a superior product, I won’t pretend either was groundbreaking or life-changing.

That said, Siggy has always been more interesting and consistent than Lily with its character work, and it also happens to deliver a more satisfying and beautifully animated finale. Our four Valkyries have never been closer or more comfortable in their own skins and cockpits, and once their sights were set on victory, their dad Odin never had a chance.

Odin’s heel turn was sudden, but actually made sense when you consider he was declaring war on a world that had forgotten him and everyone he ever loved. Odin gets the second Ragnarök he wanted, but he ends up on the losing side. Claudia may remember the words to the song of Valhalla, but she doesn’t sing it for him, or for the past.

She sings it for her friends and for herself, and this week we hear a new arrangement of the song with full orchestration that makes for some absolutely kick-ass final boss music, in addition to Claudy’s singing ending the interference and revealing the location of the Pillar’s core. She destroys Odin’s illusory ideal of the attentive daughter who will stay by his side forever.

Odin is lonely and miserable in this post-mythology era, and it’s no coincidence he’s taken the form of a small child. Letting his grief pour into the human world and wreak destruction is pure petulance; a divine temper tantrum from a petulant kid in desperate need of a time-out.

In one of the best-animated scenes of the series, Azuzu is the first to crash into his god cave. He’s able to overpower her and knock her gun out of her hand, but it was never the plan for him to shoot him, only to distract him until “her hero” Miyako arrived to cleave the Pillar’s core in two with her katana. This is after Miko had already splashed Thor with her Ultra Hero Cannon. She was busy this week!

With the core—sorry, the Vandrande destroyed, the Pillar disappears, giving the Takayama command crew an unmarred view of Fujiyama for the first time in a long while. Moe and Kurumi tow Sono (who awesomely jettisoned her floats to destroy a Dark Valkyrie), Azuzu gives Miko a lift in her Wing, and Claudia joins them in a loose formation as they head home victorious.

The battle wasn’t without cost, as the Shield Squadron sacrificed themselves to ensure Miko could take out Thor. The four Valks pay their respects after the eager younger Shield Squadron successors vow to carry on their legacy for being loud, somewhat inappropriate bros. Moe and Kurumi are subjected to Satomi’s toenail clipping (it’s been a while!) and then get an official tour from their four Valkyrie senpais.

The six young women then take flight once more, dedicated to taking out the last secondary and tertiary Pillars that still threaten humanity, but armed with the knowledge that they’ve prevailed over the worst of it. All’s well that ends well in a well-executed, action-packed, and thoroughly satisfying finale.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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