Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 05 – Golf Eve Online: Aoization

After that doomed mad dash to the golf course in a poorly chosen classic car driven by Tinarina from Raw Time, Aoi feels betrayed…until she sees Eve’s ball soaring through the sky as the plane takes off. Once back in Japan Aoi tries to get back on the first flight to Nafrece, and she’s only stopped by Shinjou.

Aoi is feenin’ for Eve so hard, she barely manages a shrug at the appearance of her top amateur rival Himekwa Mizuho, and even lets slip to her mom/sponsor Seira that she met someone amazing at the tournament. Seira immediately launches an investigation into this “Eve Aleon”.

Meanwhile, Eve can think of nothing more than getting back on the course with Aoi. She’s listless, and needs to get the doe eyes from her three kid siblings to get off her ass and hustle Mr. Kevin a sixth or seventh time. She ultimately wins, since Lily buys pizza to celebrate, but it’s touch and go at the beginning of the three-hole game.

Eve just isn’t feeling the “heat” she felt at the tournament playing Eve, and worse still, thinks she may never feel that heat playing golf again. I mean, if you can’t play with your soul mate, what’s the point of anything? I be she wishes she’d gotten Aoi’s contact info, huh?

While Aoi and Eve struggle with being apart, Rose stops by Cathy’s HQ to collect the not inconsiderable payout she got when Eve beat Dollar Tree Morticia. Cathy wants to hire Eve to work exclusively, envisioning she can “service” fans even if she loses. Rose says that sounds like a great idea but probably wouldn’t fly.

Mind you, Rose most assuredly doesn’t discourage Cathy for Eve’s sake; Eve is a tool she wants to use to make money. Cathy knows this too, and so her pursuit of Eve has probably only just begun. As for Seira’s investigation, when she learns Eve is an “illegal golfer with mafia ties” she stops worrying about Aoi having a genuine rival.

To Seira, Eve is just a “pebble” on Aoi’s otherwise smooth road to success (and succession), but to Aoi, Eve is everything. When Clara introduces Eve to the concept of VR golf and how it’s particularly popular in Japan, Eve decides to try it out, presumably in the astronomically small chance she’ll run into Aoi virtually.

I love the whole VR setup, which is the kind of advanced SAO-style full-dive tech our world has a long way to go to achieving. The details are great, from how she’s so focused on golfing she lets the attendant dress her up as a techno cat maid, to the way the course uncannily moves so she doesn’t have to.

Rose’s manipulation of Eve’s motivation is so unyielding, she not only sends a message to Aoi in the middle of the night masked as a message from Eve, and shows Eve rankings that indicate there’s one player in all of VR-dom better than her…she listens in on the two when they inevitably reunite on the course, albeit a fake one.

And what a reunion it is, what with how wildly the two are dressed and how much they missed each other after such a short time. It’s clear even seeing virtual versions of each other (which aren’t that different from their real selves) really puts a spark back into both of them after how down they felt in each other’s absences.

Still, Eve is frustrated that she can’t play Aoi on a real golf course, so Aoi gets her to promise to meet her one one someday soon. That means getting on the youth golf tour for real—without “special invitations”, but if it’s to play golf with Aoi, Eve is ready to pinky swear. She would have, too, if she wasn’t suddenly logged off.

A tearful Lily is the one who logged her off, and she has terrible news…they’re about to lose their home. Is this more Rose fuckery, as in they can buy the place from whoever is taking it if Eve wins another match for her? I wouldn’t put it past her. Either way, if there’s a way out of this crisis, I’m sure it will be golf-related. Hell, it had better be…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo 24th Ward – 07 – Thinker, Baker, Ogler, Guy

It’s an old axiom that absence makes the heart grow fonder—after a week off for “quality control” purposes, Tokyo 24th Ward fields my favorite episode to date; an episode that could only work now that all the myriad characters in this community have been introduced and fleshed out.

It’s a brisk, pleasant, stripped down episode that mostly dispenses with the Big Picture plotlines and sci-fi, focusing almost entirely on Aoi Shuuta, the biggest, dumbest, and to date least explored member of RGB. That means lots of good honest slice-of-life that really brings the 24th Ward setting to life.

Shuuta’s hulking dad Louis is away in Paris, so it’s up to him to bake the family’s signature “Golden Sunrise” bread for the regularly scheduled food bank drive in Shantytown—where the KANAE bandwagon onto which Kouki has so enthusiastically hopped serves as a boot gradually pushing down.

In an instance of her husband not doing her any favors by naming an Orwellian technological abomination after her, it was Suidou Kanae who first came up with the idea of combining a hero show and the baked goods of Aoi bakery to fill the bellies of Shantytown’s at-risk youth. That’s also how Shuuta met Asumi, and the idea of blending heroism and bakery came about.

But it’s not the same as it was. Kanae and Asumi have passed away; the hero show fizzled out; and one pint-sized Shantytown gourmand can tell something is lacking in Shuuta’s version of his dad’s Golden Sunrise. He decides to ask his dad for some pointers, and only gets one word in response: Chest.

Shuuta, never the sharpest knife in the drawer, becomes fixated on the word and what it might mean, focusing first on the literal interpretation: how a chest feels. This leads to some hilariously awkward moments between him and, in order of instance, Mari, Tsuzuragawa, and Kozue—all of whom agree something’s off about him when they all meet at the bathhouse.

That bathhouse is also where Kinako is back to work, having essentially been jettisoned from DoRed since the authorities don’t suspect her as a member. Two months have passed since the Kunai incident resulted in the implementation of KANAE, and in that time Shuuta hasn’t been able to reach either Ran or Kouki.

Instead he must try getting to them through secondary channels: Kinako for Ran; Tsuzuragawa for Kouki. In Kinako’s case, she’s as in the dark as he is vis-a-vis Ran, no doubt for her own good. That said, I really enjoyed watching Shuuta’s interactions with both Kinako and Tsuzuragawa, who get a little more fleshed out in the absence of the other two RGB members.

In the absence of his colorful old comrades, Shuuta takes it upon himself to investigate Carneades, who seems to have begun a campaign of painting over DoRed’s works, in particular those depicting Kozue’s late father.

Sherlock or Poirot may not have to worry about Shuuta in the investigative department, but I’m amazed how each and every person in the 24th Shuuta interacts with this week lends him a piece of the puzzle he’s trying to solve—not just the Carneades puzzle, but the Shuuta Aoi puzzle.

As Shuuta sees it, Ran with his now-underground mobile guerrilla art movement and Kouki with his dad’s creepy Orwellian nightmare, have transcended childhood and entered adulthood. They each chose a side and committed to it; as Chikuwa tells him, becoming an adult is “getting rid of possibilities”—a subtractive process.

It isn’t until the exhaustion he’s built up nearly results in his drowning that Shuuta realizes that Chikuwa is wrong: being an adult can also be a process of addition. And might I say, in addition to Kinako’s laid back after hours look being absolute fire, her asking forgiveness of both Mari and Ran before going in for the kiss of life, then being bailed out by Shuuta’s dad, was a breathtaking sequence both awesome and side-splitting in nature.

Shuuta’s dad revives him with a very precise thump to the chest. That’s when it dawns on Shuuta: “chest” meant the gradual working of his own pecs kneading the dough. Golden Sunrise is as good as it is because of the strength required to knead it; strength that only comes with years of kneading…of baking.

If baking is going to make you swole, well shit, you might as well be a hero while you’re at it, right? It was Asumi who first told Shuuta he could be both, and in fact being both would be more awesome than being either. He didn’t, and doesn’t have to limit himself. He can talk to everyone, laugh with everyone, feed everyone…and save everyone. Chest.

Then, almost regrettably, considering what a wonderful portrait of Shuuta and love story to the Ward I just experienced, we get back to the meat of the plot. That said, I love how it required being buff enough to make bread the Shantytown kid who’s a food critic would acknowledge resulted in said kid showing Shuuta the studio of the guy covering up the Kaba murals.

That guy turns out to be Zeroth (or 0th, if you’re into that whole brevity thing), who I imagine is being set up not necessarily as a big bad (that’s Mayor Suido, obviously) but as a kind of Extreme Ran, back from the shadows vowing to “set the 24th Ward right”. Carneades has by far been the weakest part of this story, so hopefully connecting it with Ran’s mentor will spark some interest.

Vanitas no Carte – 10 – Into the Maw

Upon entering Dr. Moreau’s laboratory of torture and death, Vanitas makes sure to play nice, pretending to be reuniting with his old pal. As long as they’re chatting all friendly-like, Moreau is no threat. The good doctor recalls that unlike the other children, Vanitas (or rather “69” never cried no matter how cut up or battered he got, but he’s probably got a selective memory.

Soon, the casual conversation over coffee becomes a bit too much for Noé, who slams Moreau against the table once he’s heard enough, ruining Vanitas’ plan to keep things nice and copacetic. Then again, Moreau wanted to gouge out one of Van’s eyes so he could study it, so you can’t blame Noé or Roland for wanting to mop the floor with the guy.

Unfortunately, Moreau slips away before he can divulge the “exalted one” with whom he’s currently collaborating. Spider, one of the members of Charlatan, drops in to whisk Moreau away, while one of Moreau’s most deadly experiments breaks out of its cell, looking every bit like Spirited Away’s No-Name, and with just as big an appetite.

Because this Prédateur is a monster made of shadow, Roland and his underlings’ weapons have no lasting effect. Vanitas gets slammed hard against a wall and starts to give up hope, but Noé, who doesn’t know as much about the beast as Vanitas apparently does, insists they can defeat from the inside it if they work together.

Sure enough, Noé provides cover with his fists and legs while Vanitas uses the Memoir to heal and release the child from his curse. The Prédateur turns to stone and crumbles, leaving only Vanitas, Noé, and the rescued child. After Noé admits he grossly underestimated how close they were to dying, he and Vanitas break out in spirited laughter.

Hearing a human and a vampire charms Roland so much, he decides to let Noé and Vanitas escape, using his authority as Paladin. He admits that vampires had nothing to do with this incident, and if anything, it was the Chasseur’s mess for letting Moreau operated under their noses. But more than anything, befriending Noé has turned everything Rolly believed about vampire relations on its head. No doubt he can be a valuable ally in the future.

When Vanitas and Noé finally make it back to the surface, they take a few minutes to rest, with Vanitas leaning against Noé unexpectedly. Noé wonders if it was Vanitas’ duty as a doctor and the presence of a curse-bearer that kept him involved with this incident, of if he uses his crusade to save all the vampires whether they hate him or not as a crutch to get through his days.

Clearly Vanitas suffered a good deal of trauma by Moreau’s hand; I just with Moreau wasn’t such a goofy caricature of a mad scientist. But Vanitas also seems to bear a good deal of guilt for what happened to his white-haired little brother, “Number 71”. Noé notes that while Vanitas is hell-bent on delivering salvation unto every cursed vampire, he may just be the one who needs salvation most of all.

As for Lord Ruthven apparently putting out a hit on Noé for what happened to Moreau’s lab, well…I guess I should have known a dude that powerful and mysterious was up to no good.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 09 – Qui Chasse Les Chasseurs?

As soon as Noé blurts out Vanitas’ name, Roland Fortis not only treats Vanitas gently and warmly, but with pity. Roland is as immune to Vanitas’ barbs as he is to the idea that a vampire who trespassed in these catacombs shouldn’t be slain. And while Roland proves he’s a tough opponent in a battle thanks to his ability-enhancing drugs and a Durandal that’s full of tricks, he’s no match for the duo of Vanitas and Noé.

Even when they’re almost constantly bickering like an old married couple, the two manage to slip away from one of the church’s most powerful chasseurs. But it isn’t Roland’s power, but his personality that rubs Vanitas entirely the wrong way. Noé can see why: Vanitas has met his match: someone who will not for one second stop being the person they are. The only difference is Roland still works within the structure of the church while Vanitas is his own master.

As they evade Roland and his underlings, Vanitas reveals why he knows his way around the labyrinthine catacombs: he basically grew up there after vampires killed his parents and the Chasseurs took him in. While they intended to train him, he caught the eye of one Doctor Moreau—yeah, that one—and became his guinea pig.

That’s a pretty dark past for our boy, and explains a lot about his reluctance to get to close to anyone, Noé included. But when Vanitas keeps making “that face”, and then decides to take one of the Chasseurs hostage, Noé objects, the two have a fight, Vanitas says more than he should, gets Noé angry enough to use him as a hostage.

Noé’s plan, while hastily hatched, ends up working perfectly, as tossing Vanitas into the air for Roland to catch ensures Roland is exactly where he wants him when he wants him there. But rather than deal a potentially killing blow, Noé holds back: and not just so he doesn’t kill Vanitas.

As Noé said before, he kinda liked the cut of Roland’s jib. So do I, now that I know his airhead act wasn’t really an act, but that he can flip a switch and enter Serious Badass Mode whenever he feels like it. Noé intentionally doesn’t seriously injure Roland because he’s hoping he can be reasoned with and a truce can be struck…and he’s right!

Despite his underlings’ objections, Roland not only decides to sit down and listen to Noé and Vanitas, but even agrees to be friends with Noé. After a lifetime of hunting and killing dangerous, insane, or downright evil vampires, Noé is a breath of fresh air, so much so that Roland can’t believe he’s really a vampire.

As for the reason Vanitas is there in the first place, Dr. Moreau is up to his old tricks, operating right under the Chasseurs who cast him out. Moreau himself seems to have a screw or two loose, and looks like Dr. Robotnik’s cousin to boot. It’s an odd choice to introduce someone who clearly traumatized Vanitas as a goofy eccentric, but that kinda also adds a layer of menace to the guy. Hes so caught up in his experimentation he’s long ago abandoned all notions of human morality.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 08 – The Lord’s Eternal Blade

When they’re in the royal castle where the Queen herself dwells as a guest of Lord Ruthven, Noé is like a giddy kid, while Vanitas is all business. Indeed, he wears out their welcome right fast when he insinuates that Her Majesty could be the cause of the curse-bearers. He even goes so far as to question why she’s become a hermit, and even ask if she yet lives!

This almost gets him killed by Ruthven—with Noé and Jeanne almost dying simply by being in the same room as Ruthven’s wrath—but Lucius, whom we learn is one of the highest ranking members of the court, is the only vamp who doesn’t become overly enraged. Indeed, Luca acts as though Vanitas stumbled upon the truth…because he kinda did: the Queen is not doing so hot!

Vanitas and Noé are kicked out of Altus and suddenly we’re back in Paris, with Vanitas wrapping up his report to Count Orlok and his servants (who also lose it when they learn how rude he was to Her Majesty). It’s a neat way to transition to the Next Case, which involves missing vampires.

Noé’s dhampir (half-vampire) associates Dante, Johanna and Riche report that it’s the doing of the church’s anti-vampire army, the Chasseurs. They all take a trip into the famous and haunting Paris catacombs hoping to find the captured vamps, but they find nothing but a tourist trap. We also meet one of those chasseurs, who seems to have a soft spot for Vanitas, considering him a victim being hounded by the vile vampires.

However, the only vamp hounding Vanitas is Noé, who decides of his own volition to accompany him on his investigation. Noé is amazed that Vanitas knows his way around the super-secret catacombs beneath the Cathedral of Notre Dame. This is a wonderful adventure deep into the bowels of the ancient city, eventually ending up in a special fancy ossuary containing the remains of slewn vampires.

It’s there where they meet Sixth Paladin Roland Fortis, who is initially a big dumb happy puppy, like the male version of Sarasa in Kageki Shoujo!! He takes Vanita’s quickly improvised story about getting lost, and Roland says he himself is lost, adding to his dopey cred. I myself was fooled until Roland very emphatically asks Vanitas to come over and take a look at something.

Roland ends up shoving him into a cell, then unleashes a flash grenade that renders Noé blind and nauseous. He declares that no vampire who walks through these hallowed halls can leave alive. Will Roland stand down when he learns he’s in the presence of Vanitas, and hear him out regarding not killing Noé? We’ll have wait until next week to find out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SSSS.Dynazenon – 09 – Teamwork Makes the BEAM Work

This week’s Dynazenon has a little bit of everything, which is only fitting because it’s about the merits of simply jumbling everything together. It begins with a much-anticipated laser focus on Chise, who has a surreal dream that perfectly visualized how she felt when she attended school—she was off, lost in her gorgeous, intricate doodles.

She wakes up in her cavernous, modern bedroom as an Alice stand-in, finding all of her possessions are either far bigger or far smaller than they should be. Turns out that’s the handiwork of a little golden kaiju born from the growth she found and carried with her all this time. Because the kaiju has imprinted upon her and has come to know her heart, it obeys her wishes. She names it Goldburn, after a band.

There’s a fireworks festival soon, and while neither Yomogi or any of his friends are that interested, Yume wants to give it a go, so Yomogi is in too. Chise is trying to tell Koyomi about the “hypothetical” good kaiju in her suitcase, but he’s distracted by Yomogi’s call inviting them to join them. When Chise then tries Gauma, he’s firm in his belief all kaiju must be defeated.

As she wavers over what to do, her friend suddenly grows in size, scooping her up and taking her on a ride through the skies over the city. It’s fun until it suddenly isn’t—when Chise spots her school. Goldburn almost obeys the momentary emotions in her heart wishing the school wouldn’t exist, but she’s able to steer Goldburn out of a potentially destructive dive.

Yume is walking home with her friend, who is curious whether she and Yomogi are dating, when Yomogi calls her back to school, reporting that Kano’s ex-boyfriend Futaba has arrived to talk to them. If Yume was hoping for some kind of groundbreaking revelation from him, then she’s bitterly disappointed by the resulting talk.

Futaba claims that while he heard about Kano being bullied in the chorus club, he never witnessed it first hand. When Yume asks then why Kano committed suicide, Futaba repeats the official line that it was merely an accident, and that “Kano wasn’t like that”, offering no further explanation. His answers not only don’t impress Yume, they downright upset her.

But just when she is overcome by emotion, they get a call from Gauma about a new kaiju, and she clams up for a moment to assure Yomogi that she’s fine, they should go, and she’ll be right behind him. Meanwhile, Chise is considering what to do with her enormous friend when Goldburn suddenly flies off on his own.

Yomogi arrives to find Gauma, Koyomi, and Gridknight in dire need of someone with wings to lift them off the suddenly soft and undulating ground (due to Juuga’s kaiju’s power) Yomogi ain’t that. When he tells Gauma what went down with Yume, the captain orders him to go back and get Yume, you jackass, because you’re the only one who can bring her back.

With Goldburn off on his own, a lonely, left-out looking Chise locates Yume perched atop the tower where her sister died. When Chise asks what’s wrong, Yume tosses out her boilerplate “it has nothing to do with you”, adding that “nothing good” comes of it whenever she fights. But Chise has tried to fight hard alongside everyone all this time, so she does not want to hear that it’s nothing to do with her.

Right on cue, Goldburn arrives, but of course both Yume and a quickly approaching Yomogi assume its foe, not friend, and Chise doesn’t have time to properly explain, because Yomogi is coming in hot to save Yume. Chise asks Yume who else would fly in to save her like this, and tells her she “doesn’t know what she’s got.”

But the wind from Dyna Soldier blows Yume’s ankh puzzle out of her hand and over the edge, and she dives off the tower after it with no regard for her safety. Yomogi lunges toward her to catch her in midair, but just misses. Fortunately, Goldburn is listening to Chise’s heart in this moment, and pluck Yume up by her cardigan mere feet from the water.

Chise, Yume, and Yomogi arrive at the scene of the battle where Gauma, Koyomi, and Gridknight are getting their asses beat by Juuga’s kaiju. Fortunately, with the aid of flight, a lot of the enemy’s advantage is lost.

More to the point, the minute Gauma, Yomogi, Yume, Koyomi, Chise, and Gridknight decide to all join forces into one big, beautiful kaiju-mecha melange, it spelled the beginning of the end for the Eugenicists’ chances of victory.

In an absolutely bonkers, virtuoso combination sequence paired with the most lavishly bombastic orchestral accompanied yet, Dynazenon merges with both Gridknight and Goldburn to create a big, brash, bulky and beautiful Super Dragon King Kaiser Gridknight, which is a mouthful of name for a framefull of robot. He’s even got a sheer purple cape, the better to dazzle the stage.

There’s nothing Juuga can do once all of his adversaries got “all lumped up”, which makes them stronger and faster and able to counter any attack thrown its way with tenfold force. After doing a little parkour off flying skyscrapers, Yomogi’s Dynamic Cannon delivers the beam-de-grace, and the team victory is immediately celebrated by the fireworks display amazingly not cancelled by the kaiju attack.

The ending scene is the perfect cool-down sequence after all that high-octane mecha madness. Much to Chise’s delight, Gauma accepts Goldburn as an ally despite being a kaiju, and while the whole team—including Gridknight and Second—make a run for it, they still miss the entirety of the festival. No matter; they all buy fireworks and have their own festival on the waterfront.

Yume takes her leave, promising she’ll be back, but I already knew exactly what she was up to, so there was no need to be wary. Sure enough, she returns resplendent in her gorgeous yukata, which understandably took a while to put on, but was worth it. While she plumbed the depths of despair after interviewing Futaba, here Yume rises to new heights of joy as she and Yomogi and everyone else enjoy each other’s company, all lumped together, and all the better for it.

SSSS.Dynazenon – 08 – Anywhere Is Fine

Shizumu immediately identifies this week’s Kaiju as “failed” and leaves it be while kids poke at it. Then Gauma wakes up from a nap and he’s the kaiju equivalent of “slimed”.

He calls an emergency meeting just as Yume is contemplating whether to answer Yomogi, who had just asked if she wanted to go somewhere—anywhere is fine—to hang out together.

Yomogi and Yume go into work mode, as they and the others search for the kaiju that’s…painting things in bright cheerful colors. Then they find it, and when they give chase it just…falls over. 

This, small, weird, harmless kaiju is their weakest “adversary” yet, so much so that even Gauma, who got painted, stays his makeshift weapon when the others say they shouldn’t kill a kaiju that’s not going berserk due to the Eugenicists’ Instance Domination.

Gauma, technically being a kaiju user himself, tries to control it by flashing the Vulcan salute, to no avail. Then Chise gives it a try, followed by Koyomi. Yomogi doesn’t want to do it, but then Yume does it, so of course he does it…and it works. Sort of? Maybe it was just lucky timing that the kaiju reacted to him?

But no, it wasn’t just a coincidence. Something happened. Yomogi caught a glimpse of…something for an instant—a weird network of colorful lines and a white, fibrous growth. Knight (AKA Anti) and Second stop by to impress upon the Dynas the importance of keeping a close eye on it, but when Gauma falls asleep at his post, it escapes its cage.

Interestingly, the Eugenicists don’t really do anything other than something the Dyna-pilots have yet to do—hang out and have fun just for the f**k of it, not because they work together. Bowling, tennis, hoverboards, and pool…they’re just living life.

The Dynas, meanwhile are all business on a Sunday trying to find the kaiju Gauma lost track of. Yomogi pairs up with Anti, who has absolutely no gray area about his role should a kaiju pose a threat to others: kill without hesitation. This, despite the fact that Kaiju are born of human emotions, so its not 100% clear they don’t have human emotions as well.

When the kaiju surfaces, it has grown to a far more kaiju-esque size, and indeed begins to threaten the city, specifically the mall where Yume and Chise were searching. Koyomi stops Gauma from launching a reckless missile attack, and proposes instead that they lure it to a safer place to do battle.

It seems to be working until the kaiju seemingly gets upset with the beckoning Koyomi and tosses him like a ragdoll. The kaiju then gloms onto the glass facade at the mall, causing a panic and stampede; Chise and Yume are separated, and Yume drops her Dyna Wing off a high ledge.

When Chise reports Yume’s predicament to the others, Yomogi panics; he doesn’t want to kill the kaiju, but he doesn’t want Yume hurt or worse. So he tries Instance Domination once more, and once more it has the same momentary effect, only this time the kaiju sprouts an eye and seems to stare directly at Yomogi.

When it becomes clear he has to choose between killing the kaiju and saving Yume, Yomogi pulls the trigger. But he doesn’t feel good about it; not when he does it, and not afterward during the team debrief. Chise also notices that the weird white growth she picked up a few weeks ago is becoming larger and more complex…and we see that it looks just like the white thing Yomogi saw in his flash of Instance Domination. That also isn’t a coincidence.

Yet as these weird, potentially show-shattering revelations are quietly revealed, the ending is perhaps the most heartwarming part of the episode. It’s a repeat of Yomogi and Yumes ride in the back of the bus, but the lighting is a lot warmer and more cheerful, and this time it’s Yume who gives Yomogi a playful little chop to the ribs, asks if he’s hungry, and whether he wants to go somewhere…anywhere will do. That may be true, but I’m glad their friendship is going where it is.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SSSS.Dynazenon – 07 – Mending Dyna-Fences

Out from under the Nihonbashi Bridge comes a pair of newcomers, a cheerful woman and a serious man with silver hair she calls Knight. She says Kaiju appearing in a world “weakens the barrier”, and tells Knight to do his best. He transforms into Gridknight, forces the Eugenicists to withdraw their Kaiju, and for good measure gives Dynazenon a kick for putting on such a pathetic display of ineptitude.

Next time we see the mysterious pair, they’re back on their little boat. Koyomi broke off from the others when he spots Inamoto’s husband among the wreckage and gets him some help, all while Chise is trying to find him. You can cut the moroseness between Yomogi and Yume with a knife, but Gauma still tries to dispel it with some dinner, to no avail.

Knight and his chipper companion then introduce themselves to the Dyna-pilots as the Gridknight Alliance, voicing their intention to collaborate since they have the same mission: protect the world from Kaiju. Gauma dismisses them for suddenly showing up (just like he did). The pilots stay out late in case the Kaiju reppears.

Gauma tells Koyomi someone told him it’s best to “live honestly with one’s feelings” when he hears he saved a man he hates. The person who told Gauma was the woman he’s looking for, whom he also mentions was at “total beauty.” Koyomi and Gauma not even aware Chise is nearby.

With enough time for their lengthy silences in between words to fully play out, Yume and Yomogi finally get around to “making up”. Yomogi asks about Yume’s ankh puzzle, which Kano wouldn’t let her have, but was also in her cold, dead hand. Then Yume opens up about how she and Kano were once close, but drifted apart, and how she can’t stop wondering what her sister’s smile meant the last time she saw her.

Yomogi tears up at the story as superbly delivered by Wakamiya Shion, and tells Yume there’s a lot they don’t know yet, from whether it was suicide to what that parting smile meant. That’s exactly why she shouldn’t give up the investigation, and he’ll stay by her side. When she says Kano was a stranger to him, he responds “if she was a part of you, she’s not some stranger.”

Yume can’t help but giggle at Yomogi’s red, raw eyes and nose, but she also thanks him sincerely, for being by her side, and for shedding tears for her sister.

The next morning, the Kaiju Mujina and Onija were working on all night returns, floating along the surface of the bay like a psychedelic Trojan Horse. With Yomogi, Yume, and Koyomi feeling better after talking things through, Dynazenon has more of a spring in its step in the ensuing battle…if only its ankle weren’t damaged from the previous scrap.

No worries, as Gridknight rejoins the fight and his companion uses the “Fixer Beam” (deployed with a baton, calling to mind Cardcaptor Sakura) to repair Dynazenon so it can fight at 100%. Dyna and Knight put aside their initial hostility and deliver a tag-team beatdown on the Kaiju.

At the end of the battle, Mujina and Onija aren’t discouraged; far from it. Instead, they’re excited for the next battle, when they’ll be able to build on what they learned and perform even better. The Dynas learn Gridknight and Second’s names, and Gauma learns that Second is not to be touched…ever.

After hanging up on Inamoto thanking him for saving her hubby (to whom she vows to be closer than ever after his brush with death), Koyomi rejoins Chise on a bench, where she has a lollipop with his name on it. When he just crunches that bad boy in one defiant bite, Chise smiles and follows suit, glad her senpai is beside her again.

As for Yomogi and Yume, they’re not only talking together, but staning a little closer together on the rooftop, planning their next meeting in the investigation. None of these people are fully “healed” yet, but the difference between how they looked, sounded, and interacted in the depths of last week’s episode and at the end of this one was like night and day.

For all the miracles that take place in their world every day now, getting over their problems isn’t going to happen overnight. But as with the Eugenicists, there’s been an, incremental improvement in attitude and understanding that keeps me optimistic.

SSSS.Dynazenon – 06 – It’s Nothing

While things seemed to be okay with Team Dynazenon, there were still a number of indicators it might not remain that way for long. The first is Yume learning her sister may not have died in a freak accident, but committed suicide after being bullied by her friends. Yomogi is there for her, but simply doesn’t have the emotional tools to properly help her…plus he’s harboring a crush on her.

Having lost four battles in a row, the Eugenicists are starting to consider other options. Juuga is starting to think killing Gauma’s co-pilots may be a viable one, Onija has been all for killing from the start, and Mujina will be fine with whatever. Shizumu, whom you could argue has spent the most time with their enemies at school, doesn’t see the rush; he wants to meet more kaiju.

Koyomi has another quasi-date with Inamoto, but is crestfallen when she also invites her husband, who for good measure gets his name wrong despite his wife “always” talking about him. It’s awkward, and Koyomi is not into it. He’s drunk before the husband arrives due to learning more from Yume about her sister’s death. Could his and Inamoto’s little secret have something to do with that?

Even Chise can’t escape the blues this week, as thanks to Inamoto Koyomi is late for…whatever it is they do, which I’m assuming is nothing. But the bottom line is she’s lonely. Koyomi forgets his umbrella and encounters Mujina while waiting out the rain. They end up having a drink together (wine for her, water for him, and she pays).

Koyomi starts ranting bitterly about his issues with Inamoto, but Mujina truthfully declares she can’t possibly know what he’s on about, because she doesn’t really know him. She doesn’t even know herself, and declares that “unlike other people” she has nothing she wants to do. Koyomi can relate to that, and Mujina suggests that maybe they’re the same. But eventually Koyomi succumbs to the night’s imbibing, and when Mujina spots his Dyna Striker unprotected, she decides to nab it.

As Chise continues to wait for Koyomi and Yomogi has another awkward dinner with his mom and her boyfriend, Yume finally gets access to the other private videos still online, which document pranks played on Kano, including stealing her ankh puzzle. From the almost creepy off-camera voices and snickering to the mocking graphics and sound effects, it’s clear the videos could be construed as a campaign of bullying, though whether it led to Kano’s suicide is not clear.

The next day, Yume, already clearly down in the dumps from watching those awful videos, has to witness two of Yomogi’s friends flirting with and glomming on him. When Yomogi approaches her later that day, unaware she was watching before, she gives him the cold shoulder, saying her problems have “nothing to do” with him. Ouch…

Koyomi, with Chise in tow as emotional support, informs Gauma that he lost Dyna Striker while drunk, though he eventually remembers that Mujina stole it. Gauma uses his Diver to track Striker, and Koyomi and Chise accompany him to the “enemy base.” At that base—which is just an abandoned warehouse—the Eugenicists are again deadlocked when it comes to what to do with the Striker Mujina stole on a whim.

Onija wants to fuck shit up with it, Juuga wants to use it to negotiate with Gauma, Shizumu wants to give it back. Mujina doesn’t care, as long as she doesn’t have to decide, eventually regretting even stealing the damn thing. It’s clear that the four Eugenicists represent four distinct personalities: Juuga is analytical and pragmatic, Shizumu peaceable and principled, Onija aggressive and rash, and Mujina passive and indifferent.

As they quarrel over what to do, they are ambushed by Koyomi following Gauma’s order to create a diversion by “doing something crazy”—in this case throwing his umbrella through a window, then pouncing on Mujina and forcing her to the ground (further irking Chise). Striker flies out of her hand, Gauma picks it up and activates it. But in his haste to get rid of the Eugenicists once and for all, he compromises the warehouse, which collapses and allows the enemy to flee.

Back at school, Yume continues to watch the videos and Yomogi continues to struggle with how to reach out to her. Shizumu ends up coming up to the rooftop first to talk to her, saying he won’t pry, but getting Yume to admit she wishes “life were easier.” Shizumu tells Yume he thinks she’s fine just as she is, and when Yume again says it’s not that simple, he says, actually, it is. Yomogi is headed up to the roof when he encounters Shizumu headed back down without speaking to him.

Before Yomogi can say much of anything to Yume, there’s a fresh Kaiju Alert…at the absolute worst time for the Dyna co-pilots. Onija initially cannot use Instance Domination on this new kaiju, but they soon learn that it requires two of them to operate. Mujina is chosed to join Onija, and as soon as the kaiju powers up, it’s like a switch flipped in her head…she’s suddenly into something.

Meanwhile, the Dyna co-pilots assemble, and even Gauma can tell everyone is depressed, but all they say, in unison, is “it’s nothing.” Then they go through with half-hearted and out-of-sync callouts as they transform into Combine Dragon. It’s another excellent twist on the familiar excited callout method previously tweaked when Yomogi was sick.

From the get-go, you know this new dual-pilot kaiju is a different breed from Dynazenon’s past opponents. For one thing, it’s a whole lot more destructive, and has a number of terrifying, city-leveling weapons at its disposal. As Dynazenon charges it, Onija notes that Mujina has become a completely different person, shouting for the enemy to “bring it on!”.

But with snapshots of what’s troubling everyone flashing by in everyone’s heads—Inamoto’s husband for Koyomi, Kano’s prank videos for Yume, Yume’s sudden coldness and Shizumu for Yomogi—only Gauma has his heart in this battle, and that’s not nearly enough. The other three aren’t bringing anything to the table. It’s not just that this new kaiju is the most powerful yet…but that Dynazenon’s power is severely lacking.

Mujina takes full advantage by delivering a beatdown. Even when they get off a Saber attack and transform into Dyna Rex—previously the first sign they were about to defeat the kaiju—this time that doesn’t work either, and if there’s a more new powerful Dyna form to take, they’re in no shape to take it. Heck, even if Chise swapped out with someone, she’s pissed at Koyomi, and so would only contribute to the dysfunction.

Our down-in-the-dumps Dyna-pilots are only saved by the sudden appearance of a third giant combatant who flies in from a red flash high in the sky, right between the other two. My first thought was it was Gridman, but the details don’t match: this mecha has horns, fangs, and an unfamiliar paint job.

I’m reminded (thanks, ruicarlov) that this guy bears quite a strong resemblance to Gridknight, the Gridman clone Anti transforms into late in that series, but considering the true nature of the world of that series, is it really? All I can do for now is wait until next week to find out who this really is, whose side they’re on, and whether their arrival was…triggered by the Dyna-pilots falling apart.

SSSS.Dynazenon – 05 – Hurry Up, But Don’t Run

Chise is honing her piloting skills while suggesting Yomogi and Koyomi combine Soldier and Striker, which turns out to be too top-heavy. There isn’t time for further training, as everyone has plans. Yomogi accompanies Yume to the next choral alumnus, who shows them video of Kano. Yomogi is glad to be by her side, but as she investigates her sister, he’s more intent on learning more about her.

Koyomi takes Inamoto up on her offer to have a drink together, even if he’s weary of drinking with a married woman. She doesn’t seem to see the harm, but she’s clearly always been less inhibited, as evidenced by a flashback from the two in middle school with Inamoto making Koyomi promise not to tell anyone about the window she broke, before offering to show him…something.

After their meet-up, Chise is there to warn Koyomi about past women, and informs him and everyone else that she won tickets to a water park. Yomogi had just been thinking about trying to maybe ask Yume out on a date, so Chise inadvertently does Yomogi a solid here. Thus begins Dynazenon’s pool / beach episode, with Gauma having the ulterior motive of capturing Shizumu.

This means more skin, as well as the opportunity to shed inhibitions, but Yume takes a long look at the black sleeve Chise keeps on her arm, perhaps wondering if Chise is hiding the marks of self-harm. Once everyone is in their swimsuits, Gauma urges Yomogi and Yume to pretend to be lovers, and even at first when she’s munching on a churro and he’s not sure what to do or say, they really do pull it off! It’s not always non-stop excitement for couples, after all.

Once she has some food in her stomach, Yume cuts loose as Yomogi and Shizumi keep her company. There’s a particularly sweet moment when Yomogi grasps Yume’s inner tube to keep them close in the wave pool.

But Yume’s mood sours when she hears a surprised woman scream after her boyfriend accidentally knocks her into the water. Dark images of her sister’s fate flash in her eyes, and she just can’t continue the fun.

That’s fine with Yomogi, who stays with her as she recovers in a kind of calming grotto. He’s not sure quite what she’s feeling, but knows it’s not the best, and simply wants to be there for her. Shizumu also turns up there, unfazed by Gauma’s half-assed attempts to grab him.

He asks Yomogi if he and Yume are dating, then mentions he considers it “sad” that people seek freedom by “constraining themselves” with labels like dating, influencing and being influcence by others. None of that sounds that bad to Yomogi, however.

Unfortunately, there’s a kaiju on the way, and it’s Shizumu’s turn to pilot. Amusingly, his comrade Mujina would prefer to just stay at the water park; naturally the Eugenicists are also in their swimsuits. This new kaiju can melt metal, and also has a nasty laser beam that threatens Yume’s Dyna Wing.

With Chise joining Yomogi in Soldier, they combine with Koyomi to form Soldier Striker, then everyone eventually merges into Dyna Rex and blast the shit out of the kaiju.

I loved the souped-up Inky-from-Pac-Man look of this week’s kaiju, and the fact he can flip upside down into a more menacing form. But as with previous battles, the Dyna Team doesn’t really run into that many problems, while Shizumu isn’t that miffed about losing, and joins the other Eugenicists at the water park.

After the battle, Yume thanks Yomogi for “back there”, which I took to mean him being there for her in the grotto when she was feeling blue, not just dealing with the green laser attacks. I love all these little interactions between the two, punctuated as they are with little silences.

But before she can join the others in diving off the cliff into the water, she gets another message from Kano’s club-mate saying he’s gotten ahold of Fuuma, the club president. Yume and Yomogi meet with Fuuma, who starts off with something that’s hard to say, especially with Kano’s sister present: there’s a rumor that what happened to Kano wasn’t an accident, but suicide.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SSSS.Dynazenon – 04 – Dyna Dizzy Fever Day

Wrested from her previously stagnant state by her new Dyna-duties and co-pilot comrades, Yume commences her investigation into her sister Kano in earnest. She meets with a member of the chorus club during Dyna-training, and Yomogi is distracted because he’s developed a little thing for her.

His boss Inamoto teases him about it, while that same Inamoto reaches out to Koyomi for dinner. Yume and Mei lie on the Karaoke couches cheek to cheek, posed like stylish Monogatari characters but simply living their ordinary lives and basking in their deep friendship. I like how we see parts of Yume with Mei we see nowhere else. But Mei can tell Yume has changed, and wants to know what caused it.

Compounding Yomogi’s sudden heartsickness is a steadily developing cold, as well as one of the Eugenicists—the pretty boy Shizumu—enrolled in their class as an “exchange student” and is give the seat right behind Yume. However, like Juuga, he’s not looking for a fight; rather trying to get a read on Gauma’s new co-pilots. Gauma attacks Shizumu on school campus, which gets him fired from his job.

The next day, Cardcaptor Sakura Yomogi’s fever worsens and his mom deems him unfit for school. When he doesn’t show for training, Gauma sends Yume to check on him, unwittingly bestowing upon Yomogi a great gift: having the girl he likes visit him when he’s sick. A warm, cozy, earnest little scene between Yomogi and Yume follows, in which Yomogi realizes he doesn’t know Yume that well at all, but wants to.

Meanwhile, the sole female Eugenicist Mujina takes command of a new Kaiju with a very Kaiju-power: it can change objects from three to two dimensions, rendering them inert in the three-dimensional world. I like to think there’s a little symbolic parallel between that ability and Yomogi’s skin-deep understanding of Yume, but there’s a more pressing matter: Dynazenon can’t combine without Soldier.

Yume takes Yomogi’s Soldier toy and joins Gauma and Koyomi in battle. Unbeknownst to Koyomi, Chise stowed away his Striker, and when Yume arrives she volunteers to pilot Soldier. All the while the ill Yomogi looks left out and lonely, especially knowing Yume will be meeting with another chorus club member…this time a guy.

Chise’s avid video game skills serve her well at first, but she’s soon overwhelmed as she just doesn’t have the same rapport with Soldier as Yomogi, who calls Yume to get a progress report. Things aren’t good, so Yume has to fly back to Yomogi and pick him up, fever and all. Even if he feels like shit physically, he’s gotta feel good she came back for him.

Yomogi, all coughs, sniffles, and sneezes, joins the others and they combine into Dragon Dynazenon to soften the kaiju up, then upgrades to Super Dragon Dyna Rex for the coup-de-grace. It’s another loss for the Eugenicists, but other than Onija none of them are that miffed about it, probably because they gained more info on Dynazenon.

Chise apologizes to Yomogi and promises to train to become a better backup Soldier pilot, which Yomogi says isn’t necessary. I’d honestly wondered why Chise alone didn’t have a Dyna-toy to pilot, and I’m still not quite sure she’s not hiding something big. But while it’s fun to theorize on what twists are yet to come, it’s honestly just as good to watch Yomogi and Yume’s delicate dance as it unfolds onscreen.

While Yume is giving him a ride home in Wing, Yomogi asks if he can come with her when she meets the chorus guy. Notably she doesn’t respond by asking why he’d want to, but says “sure” first, then asks “but why”. Yomogi says it’s because we wants to know more about her, but unfortunately she sneezes just as he’s saying it, and he’s too bashful to repeat it.

Sure enough, Yume is absent for the next Dyna-training session, as she’s caught Yomogi’s cold, and we’re treated to a parting sight of her curled up under thick covers, her face surrounded by all manner of stuffed animals. As crazy and otherworldly as the Dyna/Kaiju battles get, SSSS always returns to the familiar and relatable realism of the characters and the lived-in places they inhabit. It continues to be an irresistible combination, impeccably produced by Trigger.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vlad Love – 03 – Quite Unconcerned by Crosses

The zoo fiasco forgotten (like all things from episode to episode), Mitsugu and Mai catch a vampire flick at the movies…and Mai is so inspired she can’t help but bite the head of the man sitting in front of her. I like the idea of Mitsugu and Mai just going out and the former having to deal with the unpredictability (and volatility) of the latter. My Girlfriend’s a Vamp! kinda stuff.

This episode features a brand-new OP which may not slap quite as hard as the first, but is beautiful in its own right, both in visuals and music.

After the movie the couple bump into Watabe Maki (Hayami Saori), president of the Cinema Club at Mitsugu’s school, who is curious about Mitsugu’s new, very pretty and photogenic (and out-of-her-league) companion. Mitsugu says she’s a relative, and when pressed, Mai simply states they’re “connected by blood”—which is true!

Maki takes them to a good restaurant for dinner, where Mai consumes a generous amount of garlic gyoza. Rather than kill her, the garlic seems to have an intoxicating effect, and the restaurant is demolished. The papers cover the incident as some kind of “mass hallucination”, which seems to be a recurring theme…along with the frankly lame fourth-wall breaking when Maki can hear Mitsugu’s thoughts or points out when she’s spewing exposition.

Mai’s unforeseen reaction to garlic leads Mitsugu and Dr. Chihiro to undertake a more thorough investigation of how Mai fits into common vampire knowledge. She drinks blood, and can sprout fangs and wings out of her head, but UV light doesn’t bother her, garlic turns her into a boisterous drunk, and crosses don’t affect her in the least.

While testing the UV bit, Mitsugu runs into another classmate, the Type-B (i.e. eccentric) Konno Kaoru, prez of the Cosplay Club. She mistakes Mai’s get-up for Invisible (Wo)man cosplay, and invites her and Mitsugu to the Cosplay Club so they can get their ‘cos on. Mai nails all the classics, from maid to bunny and magical girls. Mitsugu is more niche, pulling off a researcher from a 1970s sci-fi movie with aplomb.

Kaoru invites the pair to an Akiba Halloween party, the location of which is established with the show’s signature live-action drone footage of the city. Mai’s vamp-girl costume proves too hot to handle, causing a near-riot amongst the horny guys in the audience and forcing the karate club to lay down the law while keeping their school’s Disciplinary Officer Jinko at bay.

Mitsugu seems to sense when she and Mai should start heading home, but before that can happen the commotion knocks out the lights at the venue. Mai emerges from the darkness then transforms into a swarm of bats, making one hell of an exit from the party that is once again written off as a mass hallucination.

To quote Homer Simpson, each episode of Vlad Love has been little more than “a bunch of stuff that happened”. That doesn’t mean that stuff doesn’t look great and a ton of fun to boot, but there’s just no depth to the stuff, and everything resets from episode to episode, so nothing really means anything. Their movie date aside, Mai and Mitsugu aren’t really progressing as a couple so much as treading water.

The episode is also stuffed with overindulgent moments like the whole minute of needlessly describing in great detail the British bomber inexplicably flying in the air over the gyozu restaurant. Stuff like that engenders far more ¯\_(ツ)_/¯’s than LOL’s.

Kemono Jihen – 02 – The Strong, Sad Type

Inugami introduces Kabane to his new roommates and colleagues at the “kemonoist” agency: Shiki, a fellow hanyo one year older than Kabane who adopts a hostile attitude towards him early on, and the beautiful Akira, who looks like (but isn’t yet confirmed to be) a yuki-onna with one key difference: he’s a boy, and Kabane gets off on the wrong foot by mistaking him for a girl.

Last week Kabane was surrounded by people who hated him and wished he’d go away until Inugami showed up. But neither Shiki nor Akira hate him, nor treat him as badly as the humans in his village treated him. Shiki even offers him pizza, which he’s shocked to learn Kabane has never tried, which means he’s never really lived. He’s also intrigued when his flesh-rending silk cuts Kabane’s ankle, but it heals immediately.

Before the new home dynamic of Kabane, Shiki and Akira can be further explored, Inugami gets a call and it’s off to the next case. The police let the “specialists” get through simply because they’re stumped about what to do about a woman and her child being completely engulfed by swarms of bloodthirsty bugs…beyond burning the whole house down and leaving the other two kids orphans.

That’s…obviously not ideal! Inugami prepares to harden his skin in order to go in the room and deal with the bugs, and it seems like the only other choice when Shiki’s silk is just eaten by said bugs. But then Kabane volunteers to head in, and while the bugs swarm and crawl all over him, he has no blood for them to drink, and he feels neither pain nor revulsion after a life of ostracism.

As Inugami tells Shiki and Akira, Kabane’s unflappable nature means he never wavers, which combined with his immortality makes him plenty strong…but it’s also sad that living with humans has sapped much of the boy in him. That said, Kabane gets the job done, separating the item causing guilt that summoned the bugs: a pair of new shoes shoplifted by one of the mom’s sons because he felt bad about her worn ones.

After being thanked for saving his mom and sibling, Kabane is officially accepted by Shiki, who was only putting him through his paces to learn more about him. Kabane gets a hammock in the bedroom with Shiki and Akira, while Inugami calls a fellow kemono colleague about having found an immortal half-demon hanyo—who could be a threat, but could also be all their salvation.

While the departure from the sleepy village sapped a bit of this episode’s lush natural beauty, the bright and straightforward personalities of Akira and Shiki, along with Tokyo’s endless lights, helped illuminate Kabane’s world, while the first case-of-the-week was an appropriately creepy intro into the kind of work the agency does on the regular. Surely more challenging cases lie ahead, and we’ll meet more kemono, but as an establishment of Kabane’s new life, this episode got the job done.

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