Heroines Run the Show – 07 – Always My Heroine

Nagisa knows who LIPxLIP is, and it doesn’t take long to get Hiyori to admit that she’s working as their manager-in-training.  It still doesn’t explain why they accompanied her to the station, however. Of course, Hiyori has her revenge for having her secret job so easily revealed. When Nagisa says she seems “different”, she gets him to admit she’s cute just as easily!

I had my reservations about the sudden arrival of Nagisa, but these two are basically the cutest; they’re just such a good fit together…nice and balanced! It’s crystal clear to Aizou and Yuujirou that Nagisa is in love with Hiyori, and only a couple of minutes of riling him up has him standing up like a shounen hero saying “She’s the only girl for me!” Unfortunately for him, when Hiyori tells Nagisa he can stay at her place, it’s just as clear to LIPxLIP that she has no earthly idea Nagisa has those kinds of feelings for her.

Nagisa, being so in love with Hiyori, warns LIPxLIP that he won’t give up on her, even to an idol, and that they “can’t have her.” This comes as a surprise to them, but Nagisa has a point: as someone who once teased Hiyori because he liked her, our idols can’t pretend that there’s something about Hiyori they value above other girls, even as they endlessly say she doesn’t act like a girl most of the time.

As for Nagisa, his stature, good looks, and instant likability have Uchida-san trying to recruit him as an idol. He respectfully declines, as he already has a dream in place: taking over the family restaurant, the fish for which Hiyori’s family provides, making their coupling that much more inevitable.

The actual FT4 show is a lot less built up and laid-back than I expected, but there are some very good reasons for that. True, Aizou and Yuujirou are stewing in the front row as their rivals play with the crowd like putty in their hands, but Nagisa and Hiyori are an island of serenity by comparison.

You can tell he’s super chuffed that Hiyori’s attending a show with him. His favorite member of FT4 is all too fitting: the glue guy who hangs out in the background and lets the others hog the spotlight, but without whom there’d be no music. He doesn’t come out and say it—he may not even be aware—but that’s what Hiyori is becoming to LIPxLIP—increasingly indispensable.

Nagisa has a plan. He never had any designs on staying at Hiyori’s place overnight, but he did bring all the gear he needed to cook her a gourmet meal as thanks for attending FT4 with him. But the sumptuous feast is only a prelude…a way of preparing the ground for a confession of love.

Earlier at the station, Nagisa played dumb when she mentioned how he said she looked weird in a dress, which we know has informed her personal style ever since. But not only does Nagisa remember, but he’s mature enough now to admit why he teased her at the time: because she was too cute, and he was worried someone else would take her away.

No sooner does he say “I love ya” does he stand up and walk out of the apartment, saying he’s leaving on the shinkansen tomorrow. He doesn’t want to pressure her into an answer; a text or call sometime will suffice.

A good word for Hiyori after hearing Nagisa’s confession: befuddled. It never once occured to her that her best friend forever felt…that way. Hell, she never thought anyone would ever say they loved her. Fortunately, she remembers she has two girlfriends and calls them up for their help over hamburgers.

Juri is happy for Hiyori, and when asked, is extremely genuine and eloquent when she tells Hiyori when she started liking the guy who became her bae. He wasn’t even her type at first, but he gradually became so. As for Chizuru, she won’t brook any hesitation on Hiyori’s part: a confession from a hot childhood friend is both a rare treasure and a cliché…and Chizuru has no problem with clichés.

Juri brings things back down to earth a bit, and assures Hiyori that Nagisa is probably just as worried as she is about their relationship possibly changing for the worst. But as he was brave enough to tell her how he really felt, all Hiyori can do is return the favor.

Hiyori may not know what she wants when it comes to romance, but she does know what she doesn’t want: anything that will negatively affect what she’s got going on now: school, track and managing. She’s going all out with all three, and there just isn’t time for romance right now…not until she’s seen those things through.

Nagisa is surely a bit disappointed, but probably also relieved that it’s not a hard no, just a “not just now”. He even admits he jumped the gun. He tussles her hair, tells her she looked good when she dressed up but also thinks she looks good when she’s running around and covered in sweat, which is just beautifully heartwarming. Hiyori thanks Nagisa for telling her how he feels, as it gives her confidence she can become a heroine.

Nagisa tells her the truth: to him she already is one, and always will be. He promises he’ll be back in Tokyo after graduation to take business courses in college and train in restaurants. He’ll be working hard too, and hopefully, they can work hard along side one another soon. Their parting is such sweet sorrow, but they’ll surely remain in each other’s hearts as they go after their dreams with everything they have.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 05 – River Dance

Exams are over and summer break is here, so the gang takes the train to the river for a day of sun and fun…but not too much sun, since they don’t want their boy Izumi to die. Shikimori and Izumi are their cute selves throughout, while Neko and Inu continue to put out good vibes with the ever-sardonic Hachimitsu in the center.

The quintet preps food for some barbecue, and everyone is shocked by Izumi’s impressive knife skills. When Shikimori makes some ajillo (Spanish garlic shrimp) just for her him, Izumi learns she’s not perfect at everything … but he still eats as much as he can like a good bae because he knows how much heart she put into it.

After Izumi makes everyone S’mores the gang hits the river…though Shikimori briefly holds Izumi back to say they should have them again just the two of them some time. They test the water, which is nice and cool, then Shikimori lets Izumi out of her sight for just a moment, during which time he rescues a little girl being carried off by the current.

Once the girl is safe, Izumi’s foot cramps up, and then he is carried away. Shikimori spots him, and while everyone else panics she dives straight into the water and fishes him out. She’s furious he didn’t call for him to help, but can’t stay mad at him considering he may have saved a little girl’s life, for which she later thanks him with a kiss on the cheek.

Despite the girl being in grade school, Shikimori is still jealous, so when the gang gets gelato, she makes sure she at least gets an indirect kiss when Izumi tastes her cone. She’s about to taste his when Inu comes out of nowhere and gobbles it up. She in turn houses his gelato, and then gets horrible brain freeze, yet still claims victory in her agony.

On the train ride home, one by one everyone falls asleep…except for Izumi. Even Shikimori nods off and rests her head on his shoulder. Izumi reflects on how much fun he had, specifically because he was with Shikimori his friends. He doesn’t take any of it for granted. And when he nods off and Shikimori comes to, she places his head on her shoulder.

Aside from the near-drowning, it was just about as a perfect day by the river as the gang could ask for. Watching them goofing off, having fun, and being just great kids in general really brings all the warm feels.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 04 – Anywhere is Fine

Izumi, always sensitive to the heat and sun, is struggling on the roof where his friends have gathered to discuss plans for summer break. Not only do I salute these kids for being on top of things—how many times are anime are summer breaks wasted due to lack of communication? Enter Shikimori, who surprises him by touching his face with a cold sports drink.

Hachimitsu also offers him some space under her parasol. This notably doesn’t worry Shikimori, as “it’s just Hachimitsu”, i.e. not someone trying to steal her Izumi! As for where they’re going for break, they decide on the river, as the beach would prove too much for Izumi. They make it clear they’re not compromising on his account; they want to go somewhere where everyone will have fun.

Nekozaki Kyou, the energetic heart of the friend group whom I find myself loving more and more as the series progresses, decides that despite it just being the river, everyone should wear swimsuits. So instead of studying for upcoming final exams, she brings everyone out shopping. When Izumi says he probably won’t be swimming, she says she’s fine not buying a swimsuit.

…That is until she spots Izumi gazing a tad too intently on a poster of a swimsuit model in a skimpy black bikini. While Izumi is simply admiring her muscles (confirming that Izumi has a type) Shikimori races to the swimsuit store and finds the same bikini…but is hesitant to purchase it. Nekozaki seconds that, and assure her she and Hachimitsu will find her one that suits her.

Nekozaki can tlel when Shikimori’s fiery competitive spirit and hatred of losing rears its head; it’s what ended up being the icing on the cake for why she made it a point to become friends with Shikimori. She already had a girl-crush on her for being her idea of a perfect, pure, ideal woman, and then they played one hell of a passionate basketball game, and Nekozaki simply couldn’t stay on the friendship sideline a second longer.

I’m of the mind that Nekozaki is selling herself far too short, and that Inuzuka would be lucky to have her as a girlfriend. I know “Inu”zuka and “Neko”zaki indicate an incompatible dynamic (cats and dogs, oil and vinegar), I think if they’re honest with each other they’d make a good couple. Their sniping at each other feels like a practiced act.

Once the girls rejoin the guys in the food court, Izumi notices how excited Shikimori looks and asks her what she bought. When Shikimori says nothing, he knows she’s lying. Nekozaki saw Shikimori have Izumi in the palm of her hand earlier, but here the tides have turned; there are plenty times when she’s in his palm. It’s why they work so well as a couple.

The first day of finals arrives, and Izumi has a particularly cursed day, even for him; ending with Shikimori is pulling him away from an angry (tiny) dog (shades of the excellent video gamey ED). Later, Izumi is lamenting being unable to study properly when Shikimori gives him a call simply to hear his voice.

Night calls between girlfriend and boyfriend are often veritable fonts of big time feels, but this scene is the cream of the crop. The two sitting in their rooms in the dark, connected by the starry night sky. Izumi tells her about his love of the stars, but how he never got a chance to stargaze as a kid due to it always being cloudy when he wanted to.

When Shikimori assures him she’ll take him somewhere to see the stars, Izumi brings up the fact she lobbied for them to go to the river rather than the beach, and states his desire to take her somewhere she wants to go. The thing is, Shikimori is fine with anywhere as long as he’s there.

The two spout so many sweet somethings to each other, and they both want to desperately see each other’s faces—completely forgetting the fact that video calls are a thing. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most adorable and heartwarming moments yet between these two desperately beautiful, loving souls.

In the after-credit omake, Shikimori is at a cooking class with Izumi’s beautiful but accident-prone mom. She’s naturally nervous around Izumi’s mom, considering looks-and-kindness-wise she’s basically an older female version Izumi.

As such, the scene is humming with romantic tension, especially when Izumi’s trips while bringing Shikimori a left-handed knife, and Shikimori catches the knife with one hand and Izumi’s mom with the other. If mama didn’t already know Shikimori is far more than just a cutie, she sure as heck knows now!

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 01 (First Impressions) – My Shield and Defender

So many rom-coms play will-they-won’t-they for the entire season (or three!) before the couple officially exchanges confessions or starts dating, making shows like this almost a novelty. Izumi Yuu and Shikimori Micchon are already an established couple out of the gate. Izumi is an incredibly unlucky and accident-prone fellow, but Shikimori is up to the task of protecting him—and flashing a “cool, dark side” while doing it.

Izumi has a touch of that urge to protect rather than be protected, but circumstances never turn out that way, so he takes it in stride, just as Shikimori takes the occasional chalkboard eraser to the head in defense of her beloved. When she overhears other boys wonder out loud why she’s with someone so dull, she makes sure they know she overheard and isn’t happy about it.

The show has a nice compact core of five friends: our couple, Hachimitsu, Nekozaki, and Inuzuka, the latter two seem like a potential second couple-in-the-works. Notably, while Izumi is always in danger of tripping on a rock or getting hit by some flying projectile, he’s never in danger of losing Shikimori, or her devotion to him.

While Izumi occasionally wishes he could do more for Shikimori, he’s never in doubt about how cute she is, and how it’s even more exciting when she flashes her cool side. For her part, Shikimori wants to be thought of as cute above all, but that doesn’t stop her from going all out when the friends go bowling, resulting in a perfect game.

On the way home, the largest and most dangerous threat to Izumi’s person comes in the form of a hanging sign. Izumi whining about how he “feels pathetic” when she “has to” protect him all the time, but she kicks the sign out of the way, along with his misconceptions about the balance of their relationship.

Taking his hand and making a face that is equal parts cool and cute, she makes clear all he needs to do for her is stay by her side. She doesn’t care what people say, and doesn’t want Izumi to care either. It’s none of their business why she loves Izumi, nor is it their responsibility to decide who is most deserving of her affections.

With its seemingly grossly unbalanced couple, this show subtly encourages us to challenge established ideas about the transactional nature of relationships. As Shikimori says, it’s enough for Izumi to be by her side. It’s her choice to determine the value of that; no one else’s—even Izumi’s. He may be unlucky in the pratfall department, but he’s extremely lucky in the romantic one.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. They really went the extra mile with the orthogonal video game-style ED in which Shikimori protects Izumi from an increasingly ridiculous volume of threats!

To Your Eternity – 19 – Killing With Kindness

We begin the penultimate episode of To Your Eternity with Hayase…doing a good deed?! That’s right, she’s using her not inconsiderable combat prowess to defeat the Nokker Zombies before they can kill innocent men, women or children. When a Nokker tries to infect her, she flexes—both literally and figuratively.

The Nokker stops in Hayase’s arm and seems to listen when she tells it that appearing before Hoshi in such a gross, unpleasant form is Doing It All Wrong; if it wants Fushi as she does, it will have to treat it with kindness. Their little confab is broken up when Oniguma!Fushi steps on Hayase…but once again stops short of killing her.

While Fushi doesn’t kill her, he’ll wish he had restrained her in some way before the day is out. Perhaps he’s distracted by the fact Tonari and Sander are in mortal danger. He bails them out of a bad way by using his Gugu form to burn the entire corpse pit. But while the bulk of the immediate Nokker threat is neutralized in those flames, his Creator tells him three Nokkers still remain on the island.

Those Nokkers were once Oopa, Uroy, and Mia, but you can’t really say it’s them anymore, as we already saw them chilling in Paradise last week. Nevertheless, it won’t be easy for Fushi to put their overthrown bodies out of their misery.

That’s when Hayase, who as I said wasn’t sufficiently neutralized, scoops up both Tonari and Sander, drugs them both, and threatens to toss them into the flaming corpse pit…unless Fushi accepts her offer. You see, she wants to keep him “clean” and “pure” as a being who can neither kill nor be killed. She’ll gladly kill and sully herself for him.

But Hayase never picked up on the fact that her go-to sedative doesn’t work on Tonari for long, and Tonari decides to pull Hayase down into the flames with her. With three of her friends dead and what she perceives as a lifetime of missteps to answer for, ridding Fushi of his greatest adversary in exchange for her life seems like a square deal.

Fushi disagrees, swooping out to save both Tonari and Hayase from certain death. And for once, he’s the one to knock out Hayase with the same poison he once accidentally knocked out the others.

Speaking of the others, when Tonari gingerly picks up a sword with tears streaming down her eyes, ready to put down the husks that were once Oopa, Uroy and Mia, Fushi steps in to do it, having both summoned the courage and not wanting Tonari to have to do the deed.

During a solemn private memorial, one of the elder islanders asks their ostensible leader if she has any words for the people. Tonari says to stop the killing…especially after everyone saw what became of them making piles of corpses.

After wandering the island offering foot and supplies to anyone who needs them, Fushi takes his leave from the island, knowing it’s only a matter of time before the Nokkers return again. He bids Tonari and Sander an very understated farewell, if you consider how many pitched emotional moments they shared previously. Maybe that’s the point; they’ve been through, and lost, a lot. They’re tired.

One person who is tireless in her obsession with Fushi is Hayase, who wakes up elated to find she’s sharing a boat with Fushi. She confesses to Fushi how much she loves him and has always loved him ever since she first saw him, and offers to show him what that love means.

Fushi is understandably repulsed by Hayase and her offer, and pulls a trick I’d say would be cruel for anyone other than Hayase, considering the shit she’s pulled these last nineteen episodes. Fushi clones the rowboat and paddles away, leaving a tied-up Hayase stranded in a becalmed sea nowhere near land.

But as he returns to the mainland (and to Pioran) guided by Tonari’s owl, a Nokker core—perhaps the very one who spent some very formative minutes inside her arm—hops onto her boat and attacks her. Is this finally the end of Hayase? I’m loath to predict that, but the preview suggests the fighting may be over, even if the dying isn’t. But then death, like pain, breeds growth.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 07 – What Is Love? Oh Domi Don’t Hurt Me…

While not a lot happens from a plot perspective this week, quite a bit of the steadily simmering love rhombus that is Jeanne, Vanitas, Domi and Noé comes into focus. This rude, selfish, annoying human has caused quite a stir in these three vampires’ hearts.

When Luca treats Noé and the others to tarte tatin at a fancy restaurant Vanitas reveals that Jeanne has “marked” him—imbuing him with some of her power while also leaving a literal rose-shaped mark on his neck. While he initially jokes that she couldn’t contain her lust for him, he then admits that the screams of the curse-bearers caused her to lose control.

Jeanne lifts him up and jumps out the window with him, landing in a dark alley demanding to know why he lied. The reality is that she is a curse-bearer who keeps herself under control with a medicine. She begs Vanitas not to tell anyone, and he gives her two conditions that underscore his genuine affection for her.

First, he insists that henceforth she drink no one’s blood but his. Second, he insists she stop calling him “Human” and start calling him by his name. Pulling his collar open to reveal her mark, she says his name as she digs her fangs back into his neck, unable to resist his sweet, sweet blood—even if the vessel of that blood’s a complete cad.

Noé, who felt compelled to chase after them, watches Jeanne bicker with Vanitas from the rooftops; it’s quite evident that he’s jealous of her closeness to him, even if he himself is to inexperienced in such things to realize this. One person who does realize it is Domi, who catches up to her Mon Chéri, but is clearly distressed when he mentions how troubled he was to hear that Jeanne sucked Vanitas’ blood.

He later elaborates that he just wanted to taste that sweet blood first, and Domi works out her frustration with him by gnawing on him, but their embrace gradually becomes more intimate when she drinks from his neck, only for him to gently slip off her glove and drink from her hand, noting that her blood is delectable. So is this scene, gorgeously lit as it is by the setting sun.

Since both guy-gal pairs had their steamy scenes, it’s only fair that the two pairs switch off for the final act, in which the dashing Domi leads Jeanne in a courtyard dance while Noé leads Vanitas in another. It’s here where Noé asks Vanitas “what in the devil is love”, to which Vanitas replies he has no idea.

All Vanitas knows is that when he thinks of Jeanne, his heart races and his body trembles. He lists all the reasons he believes those bodily reactions mean love, and none of them are more important than the fact that Jeanne will never love him, as he has “zero interest” in the sort of person who would love him. I guess that doesn’t bode well for Noé then, huh?!

As it stands, Vanitas loves Jeanne, Noé is growing to love Vanitas, Domi loves Noé, and Jeanne is strangely drawn to Vanitas. All these beautiful sexy people are all stirred up in a big romantic goulash. It’s sublime. It’s even enough for me to not particularly care how the plot progresses—except insofar as how it affects these four characters’ relationships.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 11 – That Time I Got Ambushed by a Slime

With Sei off on an expedition with Al, Yuri takes a shine to Aira. Sei confirms that the best way of summoning her saintly power is to think of Al, the man she loves. The thing is, she’s in no particular hurry to confess to him or start any kind of official relationship, despite the fact she’s already saved the guy’s life and they have superb chemistry. Meanwhile, the hulking Leonhart (no relation to Annie) thinks he might have a chance at Sei, but he’d only be setting himself up for Leonhartbreak—if Al doesn’t kill him first!

With the newfound realization of her feelings for Al, Sei has taken to blushing so much he asks if she’s ill…thought that might be less him being dense and more being courteous or playful. He’s not one to talk about blushing around someone, as he does it a lot around Sei. But besides the insertion of Leonhart, who is shaping up to be more of a big (or big little) brother to Sei than the vertex of a love triangle, there’s not much movement in the Sei x Al romance, which at least for Sei is the way she wants it, at least for now.

When the expeditionary group enters the deep forest, they come afoul of several nasty dark slimes, not at all like our pal Rimuru Tempest from TenSura. Sei is able to purify a bunch and shield herself, Al and others, but they’re soon pinned down by superior numbers. That’s when a column of flame heralds the arrival of Yuri…and Aira, who I’m glad to see in the field. It seems likely she and Sei will be fighting side by side next week, which is something I’ve been waiting for since they were first summoned!

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 07 – Opening the Lid

This week, Diva is an entirely new person. She has a much more lively personality befitting an idol. She’s almost always smiling, and talks with as much emotion as a human now. She’s breaking attendance records on NiaLand’s Main Stage, yet isn’t so aloof she won’t encourage nervous new employees with one of her “pet theories”: if you want people to smile, you have to smile yourself.

She still chats with her support AI, but now she’s the more natural-sounding one as she stretches between performances. Hanging on the wall is a sequence photos with her human colleagues, who age and turn gray as she remains eternal. She’s a living legend, and everyone loves her. She’s fulfilling her mission as Diva.

We learn that Diva went through a “major freeze” at some point in the past, but was rebooted and has been stable ever since. This tracks, since the last time we saw her, her tenuous balance between her Diva and Vivy personas was shattered when Dr. Saeki killed himself. That even indeed killed her, and upon reboot she returned to being Diva and Diva only.

And I’ll level with you: That doesn’t seem so bad! It gives me great joy to see how much Diva has grown and evolved as a person in the years that followed that fatal system error. She’s at the top of her game, and she’s endured long bough to be able to perform at the same festival as her youngest Sister, Ophelia (Hidaka Rina). Ophelia seems to have replicated a human idol so perfectly she comes with built-in humanlike qualities like clumsiness, lack of confidence…and other issues.

Ophelia has always idolized Diva, who is now 61. But while she’ll occasionally fall into a fountain, requiring a good amount of time to dry her flowing black hair, and seems to have all the stability of a baby deer on stage, when the music starts, there’s no doubting her ability to inspire and enthrall all who hear her, human and AI alike.

Diva is impressed, and ready for her own rehearsal when she spots someone out by the exits: a young man who looks just like Kakitani when she first met him (and first saved his life). The thing is, Diva isn’t sure who this is, only that he looks like someone from her memory. This realization is punctuated by the first close-up of Diva in the episode that accentuates her artificiality.

Diva leaves the stage early to chase the man into a warehouse, where a giant piece of machinery almost falls on her. Without thinking, her Combat Program activates, allowing her to avoid being crushed, while Matsumoto comes out of nowhere to shut down the bot that was about to charge her.

Like Kakitani, this version of Diva doesn’t recognize Matsumoto…and yet she also can’t leave him alone. When running after him, she accidentally collides with Ophelia, who was looking for her. She ends up soaked again, but as it was Diva’s fault she happily dries her off again. Ophelia mentions how she draws her power from her precious memories with a “partner”—a sound AI she used to travel everywhere with.

Later that day, just as the Zodiac Festival is about to begin and not long before she’s needed on stage, Diva goes up to the top of a tower to call out the AI cube she met, threatening to call the cops if he doesn’t show himself. She knows he’s hiding something and demands to know what he’s up to and why he saved her. When Matsumoto clams up, she throws herself off the building, forcing him to save her once more.

With the cube firmly in her arms, she asks him if he knows “the person inside her” she doesn’t know…the person who for all intents and purposes died when she froze and rebooted. She’s always harbored faint shadows of that other person, but she stuffed all the misgivings stemming from those shadows into a virtual box in order to focus everything on her singing.

Now that Matsumoto is there, the lid to that box is open and there’s no closing it again. She doesn’t even think she can take the stage until he tells her what she needs to know. Matsumoto gives in, telling her they used to work together saving the future when she went by the name Vivy.

To hear Matsumoto list all the crazy things they did, Diva is well within her rights to write him off as insane. But Matsumoto doesn’t really care about convincing her; in fact, he’s content to carry out his latest mission without involving an unstable variable such as her .

In response, Diva warns Matsumoto not to underestimate her ability to change someone’s life in five minutes or less. When it’s clear Diva won’t let him go on alone, Matsumoto informs her of his—of their—latest mission: to prevent the tragedy about to befall young Ophelia. That tragedy? The first incidence of suicide in AI history.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 06 – Grace Under Fire

Vivy once again saves Kakitani along with a handful of Toak operatives, but Kakitani is once again ungrateful and Matsumoto determines it will be hard to conceal the fact that the AIs of Metal Float killed a fair number of humans, all thanks to Dr. Saeki’s apparent “shutdown” program caused all of the AIs to rampage, like antibodies fighting off an infection.

Saeki’s personal stake is put into context as we learn he was once a patient at the facility where he’d eventually work. As a child, it fell to the nursing AI Grace, descendant and Sister of Diva, to tell him his parents abandoned him, and to comfort him.

When he returned as a researcher, he fell in love and proposed to Grace, and they became the first official human-AI couple, with Grace considering marriage to be a logical step in her attempt to better understand humans as part of her mission to save and protect human lives.

When Vivy confronts him, he reveals his true plan, which at first he believed aligned with her and Matsumoto’s goals: like them he intended to shut down Metal Float, but he also intended to retrieve the data comprising the “soul” of the real Grace, who had been forcefully appointed the island’s control AI, and her mission rewritten.

Saeki tries to prove to Vivy that the Grace he knew and loved is still imprisoned in the core, singing Diva’s song (and incidentally, the opening theme) on a loop as a kind of distress call. But both she and Matsumoto hear the “singing” for what it is, nothing more than “tone data”. The Grace Saeki had hoped to download into his replica Grace no longer exists.

After Vivy makes clear to Saeki that in her current form she is not Diva, but Vivy, “an AI who will destroy AIs to change the destructive future”, he siccs his Grace replacement on her, but she’s able to easily defeat her thanks to her combat program. Matsumoto then determines the best place to look for the Grace core is the island’s main tower.

He proceeds to hack the production facility to quickly manufacture dozens of Matsumoto cubes, which coalesce into a kind of flying mecha Vivy uses to fight her way through the waves of defense AIs to reach the tower. Trippy Tron-y baroque neon spectacle set to the theme song ensues, to the point it’s hard to tell what’s going on at times, but it’s definitely cool-looking.

Vivy’s final obstacle is M205, who attempts one last surprise to detonate in her proximity in order to neutralize her, but Matsumoto mecha shields her from the explosion. While her face is damaged, Vivy enters Combat Mode and puts her arm through Grace’s chest. The island shuts down, making the operation a success. But it’s also framed as a death of honor and mercy, freeing Grace from a mission she never wanted.

But this success has immediate consequences. Despite Vivy’s hope and desire that Saeki be able to find happiness elsewhere in the wake of the loss of his love, Saeki instead chooses suicide by putting a bullet in his head, thus joining his lost love. As a result, in this instance, Diva failed in her mission to make people happy with her singing.

With one hand drenched in Saeki’s red human blood and the other in Grace’s blue AI blood, Vivy has a bit of an existential crisis. While Grace accepted the mission rewrite and assumed her new role as control AI of Metal Float, Diva/Vivy has maintained all along that her mission has not changed.

But one cannot deny that she’s suffered quite a bit of mission creep, and the resulting complications in her new dual role as savior of humanity is having a deleterious effect on her sense of being, and possibly her very sanity. We’ll see how this carries over into her next operation, whenever in the future that might be. But I imagine her condition will continue to worsen before it improves.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Horimiya – 13 (Fin) – Gifting the Sky

Like Yuru Camp, Horimiya ends with an ending, namely high school graduation, and all the bitter-sweetness that comes with such an event. Kyouko and Shuu had been gradually emptying out their lockers day by day, but no one else thought to do so, which means they’re forced by default to help Yuki, Izumi, and Tooru with her much larger loads.

While cleaning up the StuCo office, Remi, Kakeru, Sakura, and Akane all agree to go on a post-graduation trip once one of them gets a driver’s license. Remi momentarily feels a bit lonely about the prospect of her boyfriend being able to drive far away from her, but…he’d never actually do that!

Speaking of hypotheticals, while Kyouko is napping in Izumi’s lap (a cute quiet couple moment I wish there’d been more of), he ponders what might have been were it not for all of the little coincidences—like saving Souta—that led to him not only befriending and falling for Kyouko, but everyone else in their circle of friends.

He imagines an alternate reality in which no one ever approached him or interacted with him, but things simply happened around him. Remi has shorter hair for some reason, Sakura doesn’t know Tooru, while Kyouko and an unnamed friend ogle Akane.

Kyouko wakes up, snaps him out of his daydream, sits in his lap, and says it must be fate that brought them together. But even if fate didn’t exist, Izumi likes to think the world would gradually move in the direction he wanted.

Graduation Day arrives, and as StuCo president and class rep, Kakeru is ready to give his big speech, only for Izumi to sneeze loudly before he can get a full word out, causing the entire class to start snickering. After the speech, Kakeru chases a contrite Izumi, who hides up on the roof.

There, he encounters his old, lonely self, tells him how well things have gone and how happy he is, and then looks at his old self for the first time, promising he won’t look away again. The old Izumi, in turn, decides he’ll “disappear” for him, no longer needed.

A parade of farewells and see-you-laters ensue. Tooru stumbles over a goodbye with Sakura before she holds her hand out for him to shake, and tells him she genuinely had the most fun ever this year, and he was a part of that. Awww. Similarly, Akane tells Yuki how he wants to join everyone on a post-graduation trip, and Yuki preemptively thanks him for doing the driving.

Kyousuke arrives after school to see Izumi, much to Hori’s chagrin, and is momentarily mistaken for Izumi’s dad (as opposed to future dad-in-law). Finally, Motoko gets a taste of Iura’s loud, peppy high school persona, and it’s a shock to say the least, though no doubt she’s happy to see that side of her brother.

Finally, our cozy lovey-dovey titular couple walk together to get some sushi with Kyouko’s fam, hand-in-hand. Izumi remarks how he once feared all the boundaries between him and Kyouko, but no longer. The two are so close, they might as well share the name Horimiya…and that’s fine with him, because wherever she goes, sunny days follow.

The spring sky looks bluer and more beautiful than he’s ever seen—so much so that he wishes he could repay Kyouko for shattering his old reality and wanting a future with him…by gifting her that sky. The vivid colors, soft focus, and dancing sakura petals add to the sense that Kyouko and Izumi are on cloud nine. If this ends up being the last we see them in anime form, I couldn’t ask for a lovelier parting shot!

Horimiya was by no means perfect. I didn’t always agree with some of the narrative choices made after the couple slept together, and there were ultimately a few too many characters to juggle (with Shuu, Akane, and Sawada getting particularly short shrift) but at its best the central romance was as fun and electric as anything I’ve seen in the genre. It certainly won’t be a series I’ll be forgetting anytime soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Horimiya – 12 – The Mantis

This week it’s Christmas in Horimiyaland, and everyone is figuring out how—and with whom—they want to spend their holiday. It’s just too perfect that Yuki fell in love with Tooru having absolutely no clue that the boy’s family was freakin’ loaded. Money can’t buy you love! If anything, it intimidates a girl of more modest means like Yuki.

At a time when everyone needs Christmas cake, Izumi is scheduled to work through the holidays at the bakery, meaning he won’t be able to join Kyouko and her family. While she’s understanding—her boy’s fam gotta earn, nothing you can do about it—her dad, mom, and Souta are less forgiving. Never mind if it’s Kyouko’s the one technically dating him. They want Izumi!

Shuu and Sengoku were both convinced Tooru and Yuki were already an item, but by saying he only “recently” harbored a crush on Kyouko, Tooru he reveals he’s still in a transitory place: not yet far enough removed from the pain of not having those feelings returned, and thus not quite ready to look for love elsewhere. Compounding matters is that he likely considers Yuki his best mates.

Why else would he so helplessly waver when she asks if she can come to his place to play video games? Or sneak in the house like something elicit is afoot? Or so determined to keep the family’s statuesque personal assistant Yashiro’s nose out of his business? Like his other friends, Tooru likely doesn’t want Yashiro or his family to get the wrong idea in the present—even if it may well turn out to be the right idea in the future.

After they both calm down after tea and cake (from Izumi’s bakery!) and fire up the video games, Tooru lets slip that he’s “happy with the way things are.” And honestly, I really don’t see Yuki disagreeing with that. As they watch that loading screen, they both seem content and comfortable. No need to rush things.

There’s a bit of drama at school when Sengoku doesn’t immediately agree to spend Christmas with Remi at Remi’s, and for a very bizarre reason: her dad is into catching bugs and putting them in boxes. When it’s trifling things like this that come between lovers, you know it’s true love. Sengoku simply has to grow a pair. The bugs are DEAD, dude!

When Kyouko shows her parents her superlative marks (all A’s save gym and art…kinda the opposite of me!) her mom remarks how there will only be one more report card, and then she’ll graduate. As her parents bicker and Souta asks her to look at his marks, Kyouko gets lost in thought: What will her life be like after graduation?

But before that, it’s Christmas, and the episode doesn’t want to leave anyone out as it checks in on just about everyone, starting with a contact-wearing Yanagi and Yuki’s big sister, who have a cute little exchange by a big outdoor Christmas tree. Tanihara and his brother wrestle over a clear view of the TV.

In what is a promising development, Yuki and Tooru are hanging out together for Christmas. I’m rooting for you two tentative bastards….take all the time you need!

Motoko is studying hard even the night before Christmas, but Shuu makes sure she takes a fried chicken and cake break. Sakura urges Sengoku to stop being a goddamn wimp and go hang out with his adorable girlfriend on one of (if not the) most important nights for couples both potential and extant. On the latter front, Shindou asks his girlfriend to wait one more year for him to graduate, and she agrees.

The entire Hori residence—including Souta’s cute friend Yura—is united in their elation when Izumi stops by to drop off their cake. When he says he can’t stay, Kyouko is again understanding, but her family won’t let him leave without a hot drink, eventually stealing a whole hour of his shift at the bakery.

When they finally allow him to leave, Kyouko walks him home, despite not being dressed for the chilly night; she’s in slippers, for goodness sake! But there’s something she wants to say to Izumi, and mercifully it’s not to ask him to berate or hit her; that particular pothole on their relationship road seems to have smoothed out off-camera…and that’s fine.

No, Kyouko tells him the same thing he told her back when they first started going out: she still doesn’t know very much about him. But due in part to that and other factors, she wants to be with him even after they graduate. Izumi goes quite a few steps beyond agreeing, and proposes marriage! Whoa, boy! Immediately embarrassed by blurting out what is surely deep-seated but still premature desire, he shuffles off.

But Kyouko promises she’ll “make him happy”, something Izumi says is usually what the guy is supposed to say in such a situation—which ironically is the kind of cisnormative comment you’d expect from Kyouko! She insists she should be the one to say it, as she admits she’s self-centered and “only good at studying and chores” though she’s selling herself short.

These two lovable dorks then bow to each other, expressing how they’re looking forward to their future together. All I can really say to that is BAAAAAWWWW.

After the credits, we fast-forward to New Year’s, which Kyouko and Izumi are spending together at a festival. They get their fortunes, but they hardly matter, since they both agree that as long as the other person is smiling, it’s all gravy. They grab some amazake and reflect how they were the last people they saw at the end of the previous year and the first people they saw at the beginning of the new one.

Izumi wants every year to be like that. Izumi walks Kyouko home hand-in-hand, assuring her that they can and will indeed be together forever. And damnit, I believe him. And like them, I’m happy just seeing the two smiling together, shrugging off the anxiety around what would happen after high school, laying out their future, and sharing in the warmth, relief, and elation of knowing graduation will only be the end of their beginning.

Kemono Jihen – 04 – The Iceboy Cometh

The next case with Kabane and now Kon on board involves Yoruno, a young man who has fallen in love with a woman who is actually a nekomata or cat youkai/kemono. In addition to learning the basic concept of love, Kabane also learns that Inugami’s former partner once ran the bar, and that it’s a somewhat sensitive subject. Inugami has Akira sit this one out, knowing he’ll have trouble with the dirty alleys and rodents.

Kabane and Shiki soon track down Mao-chan in her cat form, and learn she’s transformed other men into her cat servants. Kon ends up pouncing on Mao and neutralizing her, Mao ends up releasing the servants and starting a new life with Yoruno, and Kon leaves with Kabane’s head as payment from Inugami—or rather an orange given the appearance of Kabane’s head. Let it never be said Kon isn’t a good girl.

After Kabane rescues Akira from a roach in the bath, he decides to start serving as Kabane’s apprentice. Inugami doesn’t hesitate to give them a case with the potential to be far more disgusting than the first, but Akira is insistent. This leads to him suiting up in full hazmat gear for the trip into the sewers below Shibuya, though later downgrading to a chic mac and wellies.

There, where the original river is being broken up and diverted, various frog kemono have forgotten reason and become feral, monstrous man-eaters. A tanuki appears to lend a helping paw, but once dozens of the frogs appear, Kabane has his hands full while Akira is overwhelmed and freezes up…until he freezes OUT.

We learn officially that Akira is a yuki-otoko, the incredibly rare male version of the yuki-onna tribe who live in the snowy mountains of Aomori. We also learn Akira came to Inugami searching for his twin brother, who always told him to leave things to others because he’s so weak.

Akira is tired of being the weak one who only screams kya while the others do something, so with a sudden summoning of his powers of ice, he ends up taking out all of the rabid frog kemono at once. The tanuki turns out to be Inugami, who is thanked by the super-chill frog elder, while the social media-obsessed Akira celebrates his first great success with, what else, a selfie.

So far I’m digging the case(s)-of-the-week interspersed with downtime that shows us a wide variety of critters while also providing the opportunity to learn more about the cast, in this case Inugami and the always-adorable Akira. While not as battle-oriented as Jujutsu Kaisen or epic as Demon SlayerKemono Jihen is the cozier, comfier, more mellow of the three monster shows I’m watching. Its understated charm and likeable cast keeps me coming back.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 09 – Fuel to the Fire

Last week Kazuya acted like a heinous criminal but suffered zero consequences and was actually rewarded with a phone case because Chizuru conveniently ceased to remotely resemble the character we’d known up to that point, while Ruka fell of the face of the earth. How do you come back from such a fiasco?

First, by bursting Kazuya’s bubble: he didn’t get a gift from Chizuru because he’s special, but because it’s a common rental girlfriend practice. And Chizuru still considers their relationship strictly business. When she straight-up asks if Kaz has fallen for her, he lies and denies it. But you can’t help but think she’s lying too.

Second, by welcoming Ruka back to the show, and with a vengeance! Devastated that he blew her off to go on a date with his rental, Ruka demands to immediately go on another date with him that same day, and it’s well within her rights as his GF to do so. When it’s clear to her his mind is elsewhere, she blindfolds him and spirits him away to a love hotel room.

There, she removes her socks (to get comfy) and Kazuya tells her about the situation with his and Chizuru’s grans. Ruka tells him straight up there’s no future for him and Chizuru, who can only ever be platonic, while his gran is very likely looking at the future in the form of a great-grandchild, which Ruka is ready and willing to provide when the time comes.

That time isn’t now, however. Kazuya is overwhelmed and retreats to the bathroom, which gives Ruka the opportunity to slow things down a bit. Her heart rate has never been faster but she knows she shouldn’t rush into sex.

When he fled to the toilet, however, Kazuya left his phone with Ruka, who sees a notification on his lock screen that tells her where and when he’s attending a New Year’s shrine visit with his family and Chizuru. She then decides to crash said visit…and good for her!

I for one have had enough of Kazuya and Chizuru comfortably maintaining a charade when the bottom line is they’re lying to their families. So I was elated to see Ruka invite herself and make them squirm. Kazuya agreed to be her boyfriend, after all; by rights, she should be there, and Chizuru should be off on some other rental date or acting shoot.

Ruka even comes right out and states the truth to Kazuya’s family that she’s his girlfriend, leading Kazuya to tell his grandmother that she’s a pathological liar. Kazuya, you absolute scumbag. Lowest of the low. Die in the garbage fire to which you and Chizuru keep adding fuel!

Ruka then confronts Chizuru in private, telling her Kazuya told him what the score is, and that she’s grossly overstepping her rental GF bounds. When Chizuru pleads “it’s complicated”, Ruka rightly responds that’s because they’re making it complicated.

Ruka suspects that’s intentional, perceiving that Chizuru has fallen for Kazuya and wants to stay on as his “girlfriend” indefinitely. She gives Chizuru an ultimatum: if she doesn’t love Kazuya, then walk away. It’s the right, fair thing to do. Shit or get off the pot, Chizu-chan!

At the shrine, Ruka takes Chizuru’s gran aside, and learns that it’s not just a great-grandchild she’s after. All Gran wants to do is ask Ruka—who in addition to being a “pathological liar” is also Chizuru’s “nearest, dearest friend”—all about her future granddaughter-in-law. It’s clear to Ruka that Gran loves Chizuru and wants her to be family. So it really is more complicated.

That doesn’t change the fact that as long as Chizuru and Kazuya only see themselves as a rental arrangement, it is wrong to keep leading Gran on. So after Kazuya earnestly apologizes to Ruka for the terrible things he told his fam, she makes it clear to him that she’s not giving up on winning both him and his Gran over, no matter how long it takes.

To that end, she gets a job at the same karaoke parlor where he’s working. He has to learn that further ghosting and two-timing of his real girlfriend will not be tolerated. Kazuya doesn’t deserve Ruka—honestly, Kazuya doesn’t deserve a quick death—but he’s got her.

The question is, will he be won over by her, or will she be the catalyst that forces him and Chizuru to abandon their ridiculous current arrangement for something—anything—real? My guess is the latter. Hopefully we’ll know the answer in three weeks’ time.

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