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

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 11 – Once More Unto the Breach

A haunting dream in a field with Odin transitions to Claudia waking in the morning with a gorgeous smash cut of her outstretched arm. Her eyes are full of tears, and then the camera jumps to each of the other Valkyries: Miko doing her morning dojo routine, Azu not being a morning person, and Sono watering her sunflowers as the sun that nourishes them rises like a beacon of hope for the day.

All this pure and lovely imagery is somewhat marred by some blatantly shameless fan service of the girls disrobing and changing into their flight outfits, but the mood is salvaged when the quartet proudly marches onto the tarmac, high-five their mechanics, jump into their cockpits and take flight for a parade sortie.

Like the Valkyries, the rookies, the old farts, Satomi and his CIC staff haven’t won anything yet, but they are intent on starting off the day as confident in victory as possible. For one thing, they trust in the cute genius that is Komagome Azuzu. For another, humanity is putting everything they’ve got left into this battle. This is their second shot at the Fuji Pillar, but there won’t be a third.

Odin is similarly smug in his woody god cave, sitting on his Yggdrasil La-Z-Boy while watching the battle unfold on his waterfall TV. Visiting Claudy again in a waking dream, he offers her and her alone a chance to come over to his side. She answers this offer by thrusting her katana into his throat, and he laments his beloved daughter’s foolishness.

Part of Azuzu’s strategy is to keep humanity’s most powerful weapon—the four of them—out of the fighting for as long as possible, saving them for when things get serious. Everything goes according to plan, with the rookies and fogies reaching beyond Point C before the Valkyries relieve them.

Despite the progress, and the fact his secondary pillars are being engaged all over Japan in a coordinated attack, Odin is unconcerned. He still has his wing of Zombie Valkyries and Thor and his hammer. The first hammer attack misses the base, but they can’t let it get off too many more if they want to come out of this alive.

Azuzu has been able to predict all of Odin’s moves thus far, which only inflates her ego further. Miko trusts “her Azu” from head to toe. Sono is embracing her tough side. Claudia has embraced the other three as her sisters and Tateyama as her home, and you can bet your ass she’ll fight with her last breath to protect those people and that place she’s come to love.

And while Sigrdrifa has broken our hearts a couple of times during its run, I highly doubt it will be so cruel as to withhold a victory for humanity. Especially in his gaudy new getup, Odin is a villain specially engineered to be brought low by the heroes and done in by his own smug arrogance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lapis Re:LiGHTs – 01 (First Impressions) – Color By Numbers

Tiara has traveled to the big city of Mamkestell to enroll at the prestigious Flora Girls’ Academy. To her delight she’s immediately accepted by the headmistress and placed in a group with her childhood friend (and past servant) Rosetta. This episode is a basic introduction to the characters, the academy and its rules and rankings, and the challenges that await Tiara.

Standout elements include the lovely rendering of the city at various times of day—it truly looks like a place where you’d want to live—and the grand and ornate facilities of the academy. There are also a number of magical classes that look like fun. I just wish all the characters had a little more oomph to them.

Everyone in LR:L comes off pleasantly bland. Having just come off watching PriConne—a show with no shortage of strong and clashing personalities, the bickering of Tiara’s two new teammates Ashley and Lavie feels like weak sauce. There’s also an odd visual effect of the five girls each having a different bold hair color; like a painting that contains too much of every color of paint, ultimately blending into a muddled green-gray.

The fact that Tiara’s group happens to be Lapis, the lowest of three school ranks, and all of them are on the verge of expulsion due to failing grades, present potential opportunities for interesting drama, while the class previews portend a degree of magical action. Tiara also has a nice singing voice without feeling too manufactured. I just wasn’t particularly wowed by anything, thus blunting my enthusiasm for the next episode.

BokuBen 2 – 12 – The Show Meowst Go On

The Swim Club’s Full Pure show goes off without a hitch, thanks to some unseen technological wizards who managed to build artificial clones of the club members and program them to dance and sing perfectly! Just kidding; it’s only another case of using CGI to animate their dance number.

The moves are fluid, but too precise and perfect, and while stills of the quartet look fine, in action they look too…mechanical. This is not a problem exclusive to BokuBen, but at least in the ED of Cautious Hero the CGI Rista is meant to be a figurine, not the flesh-and-blood character.

I also had a problem with Nariyuki being able to sew the cosplay outfit of an anime character introduced that morning to Uruka’s exact measurements. When the heck did he do that? The suspension of disbelief if our Mary Sue MC is strong with this episode.

It isn’t long until the Thorns have Nariyuki in their clutches, but due to yet another costume mix-up, he ends up emerging from the changing room as “Meowpoleon”, the character Kirisu’s colleagues meant for her to wear (which redeems them somewhat). The Thorn guards miss him, as do his siblings, while the teachers start chasing him around the school.

Nariyuki ends up crossing paths with a rocked-out Asumi, who came to play with her old light music club juniors. Using the school’s network of ducts, she leads Nariyuki to a shortcut to the gym (where he’s to report for the play), then distracts the teachers looking for him with her Top Maid charm.

Nariyuki ends up emerging from the ducts in the catwalks above the stage. Since he’s under the impression he’s not meant to perform in the play, he stands by while the play becomes completely undone by his absence. When a teacher declares that anyone in the crowd could be the prince who will kiss Fumino (assuming the kiss will just be pretend), chaos reigns as the Thorns fight off boys.

In the fracas, the heavy scenery is damaged and starts to fall on Fumino, but Nariyuki-as-Meowpoleon rescues her in the nick of time. Improvising for herself, and possibly aware of who might be behind those dead Hello Kittyish eyes, Fumino plants a kiss, resulting in a very close-quarters indirect kiss with Nariyuki.

I docked points from last week’s BokuBen for all but tabling the harem romance for a rote two-part school festival episode, presumably in order to run out the clock. Aside from the kiss, Uruka getting a costume hand-made by the guy she likes, and some mild flirting from Asumi, the needle doesn’t move for anyone in this episode either.

Then again, it’s probably counterproductive to think Nariyuki was going to settle on any one girl in these last episodes. With one remaining, that seems even more unlikely. After all, why satisfy or anger the fans of a particular girl if you can string everyone along for a third season?

BokuBen 2 – 11 – Festival Follies

Having helped his tutees take steps closer to their respective futures, Nariyuki starts thinking about his own future path. Then the cultural festival arrives, and all he can do is scramble to help everyone out in the present.

After a couple episodes focusing on individual love interests, this is a true ensemble affair. First, due to Rizu’s father making 1,000 bowls of udon (instead of 100; he read the order wrong), she needs help selling, so Nariyuki volunteers.

Little does he know that Fumino’s class plotted to make her the star in their Sleeping Beauty play, with Nariyuki as the Prince who will wake her up with a kiss. The class is utterly united in this decision, which if implemented will surely undermine the work Fumino had been doing to avoid getting entangled in the Rizu-Nariyuki-Uruka triangle. Unfortunately, that ship has long since sailed – and she’s in it.

Nariyuki’s third entanglement is helping Uruka locate her missing costume for her swim club’s live idol show, which just happened to be the same costume Kirisu-sensei’s male peers decided to provide for her public class lecture. Aside from those guys continuing to be straight-up creeps, Kirisu ends up unable to remove the costume without destroying it, so she takes Uruka’s place on the stage.

As all this was going on, part of me wondered how can Nariyuki actually do all of this at once? Surely, helping Rizu try to sell 1,000 bowls of udon precludes his participation in the Sleeping Beauty play, and that Rizu herself can’t afford to take a break for the idol show, right? It’s as if the episode jacked the difficulty level up to 10 in the beginning, but ratcheted it down to 4-5 by the end.

This is a two-part festival episode, which means we’ll find out about the play, and who ends up in physical contact with Nariyuki when the first firework goes off during the end celebrations. Uruka really wants to be that person, but Sawako is plotting to make it Rizu. Meanwhile, the previews promise Asumi will be joining the fray. In any case, it’ll be another busy episode for Nariyuki. With only two remaining (this season anyway), IF he’s going to choose someone, he’s running out of time.

Zombieland Saga – 12 (Fin) – We’re All Zombies, We’ve All Died

Even after Tatsumi’s big speech, Sakura remains skeptical that she’ll be able to pull off the Arpino show, believing she’ll only be a drag on the others, even as practicing reveals she still has the muscle memory of the dance moves. After those demoralizing failures in her life, she’s given up all hope of ever succeeding at anything, and would rather be left alone.

Of course, her friends don’t leave her alone, in large part because she never left them alone. That is to say, she never gave up on them when they were at their lowest. Junko, Ai, Lily, Saki—without Sakura, none of them would be where they are today, on the cusp of their biggest show yet. They fully intend to repay that debt, and a well-timed slap from Yuugiri is the sign they won’t take no for an answer.

They remind Sakura that she’s not the only one who had a rough life—they all died young and tragically—and would rather fail on stage together than have a perfect show without her. If she’s not beside them, it’s not a success, bad luck be damned.

The night before the show, Tatsumi reminisces about the past; specifically, a certain red-haired classmate at school whom he admired. That classmate turns out to be Sakura, which explains why he recruited her. She may not have been a legend in her time, but he’s determined to make her one after her time.

The day of the show, a huge winter storm approaches (thankfully isn’t named, because naming winter storms is asinine). The group rehearses, prepared to perform in an empty venue of necessary, but to their surprise and delight most of the 500 who bought tickets show up; a who’s-who of characters whose lives they touched throughout the series run.

They all go out on stage, with Sakura as the center, full of vim and vigor, and get off to a good start—only for Sakura’s bad luck to rear its ugly head in the cruelest of ways: the snow and winds crash through the windows and collapse the stage and lights, leaving Franchouchou in a pile of debris and dust.

Then Tatsumi starts slowly clapping, breaking the stunned silence of the crowd. Sakura gets up and keeps singing, and the rest of the group follows suit. The techs get enough lights and speakers working so they can continue the show (albeit under extremely hazardous conditions for the still-living crowd).

No matter, the idols dazzle the stage (what’s left of it) and earn an encore, while Sakura gets her memories back. It’s a great victory, but it’s only the beginning of Franchouchou’s quest to conquer Saga—just as the journalists start to connect the dots about their shouldn’t-be-possible resurrection.

Whether that’s a legitimate teaser for another season or these twelve are all we get, Zombieland Saga was a pleasant, at times side-splitting, at times surprisingly poignant diversion. Vibrant, rootable characters, an irreverent tone and Miyano Mamoru made for a pretty solid combo.

I’d have liked to learn more about Yuugiri and/or Tae’s past, particularly the latter’s inability to talk despite nailing all the dance moves and expressing emotion during her attempts to bring Sakura back in the fold. But I’ll settle for what we got!

Zombieland Saga – 11 – The Girl Who Tried, and Died for Her Efforts

In a nearly shot-for-shot recreation of her first night in the mansion, Sakura wakes up and discovers her fellow zombies, only they’re all “awake” now (except for Tae of course). Their roles have reversed; she’s the one with no memories of what’s happened since becoming a zombie.

Instead, she only remembers her life when she was alive. As for that life, well…let’s just say the opening minute of the first episode was not an accurate depiction, except for the getting-hit-by-a-car part.

The other idols are hoping they can get Sakura back on board with the show, but her memories of them isn’t all she’s lost; she’s also lost her will to do, well, anything. Her motivation is shot, as if that truck accident caused it to spill out onto the asphalt instead of blood (as she no longer has any).

She lacks motivation because she remembers her life, which followed a depressingly predictable pattern: she’d always try really hard and give a task or goal her all, only for all that hard work to go to waste due to a last-minute mishap or accident.

The last time she decided to give something a try one last time, it was because she was inspired by Mizuno Ai of Iron Frill, who said she doesn’t hate failures or mistakes, since they help her learn and become even better.

But Sakura was denied the opportunity to even mail her audition paperwork to the idol agency, thanks to that truck. Now she’s dead, and a zombie. Nothing ever works out for her, because, as she says, she doesn’t “have what it takes.” She says this something like ninety times.

And I guess that was part of why I felt kinda meh about this episode. I feel for someone working so hard again and again only to fall victim to impossibly bad luck, but at this point she literally has nothing to lose. I understand the “main” character getting her miniarc last before the finale, but for her dilemma to be couched in such mundane, repetitive angst kinda saps the momentum of the show.

Maybe that’s the point, and maybe Tatsumi’s speech to her about him having what it takes (something, er…”big and impressive”) so she doesn’t have to will snap her out of her malaise and get her back on track. But right now Sakura is the first of the idols I liked better before we learned more about her.

She thinks the universe is out to keep her down, despite the fact she was brought back to life to be what she dreamt to be before she died. If that’s not a sign the cycle has been broken and thus cause for optimism, I don’t know what is!

Zombieland Saga – 10 – Sakura, Hot Under the Collar

When Tatsumi announces Franchouchou’s biggest gig yet will take place at Karatsu’s Furusato Exhibition Hall Arpino (which is, naturally, a real place) in front of five hundred people, Sakura is stoked. Like, more stoked than usual. After seeing her fellow idols deal with their respective pasts and deaths and come out the better for it, the vibes she’s getting from Arpino make her hopeful performing there will reveal something about her own past and death, about which she still knows nothing.

She’s so excited, it affects her practicing, as her pace is way faster than the others. Tatsumi finally announces that the group will spend some time surviving as a team in the mountains to prepare for the show. While there, all Sakura wants to do is practice, but the others are busy doing all the things that are necessary to live in the mountains (if they were alive, of course). Her frustration with their lack of practicing for the Arpino show culminates in her head being ripped off by a giant boar.

Once she pops her head back on, she’s done with the mountain excursion, which Tatsumi brings to a close soonafter.

That makes things awkward when they return to the mansion to practice, and she’s still out of sync, which she lashes out and blames the others for not practicing in the mountains before storming off. Everyone is stunned; usually Sakura is the cheerful peacemaker of the group.

Yuugiri (who along with Tae are the only other two members whose deaths we haven’t explored) meets with Tatsumi at a restaurant to ask what his next move is, now that the mountain thing didn’t work out so swell. When he expresses his worry about Sakura and the others being able to surmount the increasingly high peaks, Yuugiri gives him an epic slap that we’re treated to from several angles and speeds, punishing him for lacking faith.

Before returning to the group to apologize profusely, Sakura catches a look at them in action, both practicing and going over the details of the moves and who goes where, and she’s mesmerized. Without practicing as much as she did, everyone’s in perfect sync. So she admits to herself that she’s the problem, having only thought of herself since learning of the Arpino gig. Of course, the others welcome her back with open arms.

Three days later, with just seven to go until the show, Sakura is in much better spirits. In fact, she’s so chipper she acts out the first scene we saw her in when she was still alive, ending the exact same way: getting struck by a passing Hijet. Of course, since she’s dead already the truck doesn’t kill her, but it does wipe her memory…again. Some of her memories from her life flash by, and then she passes out.

The rest of Franchouchou now has just seven days to bring Sakura back up to speed and get her ready to perform with them in their biggest show yet…provided the Sakura who wakes up agrees to participate! It looks like another tough mountain to climb.