Classroom of the Elite – S2 09 – Relationship of Convenience

Ryuuen agrees to feed Kikyou with the questions he wrote for Class D, which she’ll use to win the bet and get Suzune and Kiyotaka expelled. In exchange, Kikyou will help make sure Class C wins Paper Shuffle. Ryuuen then takes his gang to go investigate the study group with Kiyotaka and Yukimura, bringing along Shiina Hiyori to try to determine if the Class D Mastermind is among them.

While the experience shakes the group, Haruka likes the vibes they’ve created and decides to formally make them a group, complete with everyone in it being on a first-name basis Airi suddenly inserts herself into the group and asks to join in, presumably to be close to Kiyotaka, and the group agrees.

That night, Kiyotaka calls Kei, but not to invite her to the movie his study group is going to tomorrow. Instead, he has a favor to ask of her. Kei, who wants to become closer to Kiyotaka, has a birthday gift wrapped and ready for him, but has to settle for a LINE sticker, to which he reacts with his usual Ayanokouji stoicism.

The next day when the study group heads meet at karaoke to discuss progress, it becomes clear what Kiyotaka asked Kei to do. She confronts Kikyou for her unrelentingly sweet good girl attitude and accuses her of looking down on her, even tossing a drink on her uniform. Yousuke scolds her and she apologizes, tearfully asking if she can get Kikyou’s uniform washed; Kikyou agrees.

The big day of the Math test that will determine both Suzune and Kiyotaka’s fates arrives, and Maya makes it a point to greet Kiyotaka, only to be shuffled off by a clearly jealous Kei. Yousuke can tell how she’s taken a liking to Kiyotaka, and suggests that having a non-fake boyfriend would probably be best for her.

Before pencils up, Kiyotaka and Suzune revel in the class unity that’s been created through their efforts. Then the test begins, and Kikyou immediately realizes that the test questions she gave Ms. Chabashira are nowhere to be found. Just like that, she’s lost the bet, and she knows it.

Kikyou can’t even pretend to hide her rage when she slams her hands on the desk and then storms out of the classroom. While she’s been a lot more bluster than bite as a villainess, it was still satisfying to see her brought low after she thought she had the Shuffle in the bag.

She meets Ryuuen to voice her anger, but Ryuuen tells her he doesn’t owe her his loyalty, since she couldn’t deliver what she promised him. The bottom line is that before she even made a deal with him, Suzune already had her beat, by going to Chabashira before her and getting her to agree to only accept questions from her, the official class rep.

Kiyotaka explains this to Kei, who then wonders why he had her plant a cheat sheet on Kikyou’s uni. That was only meant to be insurance in case Suzune’s gambit failed. But Kiyotaka has to hand it to Suzune, she achieved this victory all by herself, proving she’s grown as a person and and operator.

Considering the witness, Kikyou has no choice but to abide by the promise she made should she lose to Suzune. Suzune reaches out her hand as a gesture of trust, and is determined to get Kikyou to like her, but Kikyou assures her that will never happen. She also makes clear that while she promised not to try to sabotage her, their deal didn’t say anything about Kiyotaka.

Still, I have to think that the fact that Kikyou and Ryuuen sever their brief alliance can only hurt both parties and help Kiyotaka. He probably knows that too, which is why he presented Ryuuen with the facts on the ground; that Suzune already had Kikyou beat, and got him to agree to a deal to alter Class C’s questions.

Ryuuen doesn’t like one bit that the Mastermind used him the way he so easily uses others, so he plans a bit of revenge in the form of destroying Kei, sending Kiyotaka a photo of her to make it plain. Combined with Kikyou preparing to focus all of her efforts on getting him expelled, Kiyotaka now finds himself in the crosshairs of two adversaries at the same time.

Is that just fine with him? You bet. He welcomes both Ryuuen and Kikyou coming at him with everything they’ve got. It will only make his victories over them that much sweeter. And as huge a prick as Kiyotaka usually is, his commitment to protecting Kei, like his pride over Suzune’s growth, is genuine and admirable. I’m not about to bet against him now.

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 06 – Arbitrary with the Friend Bar

Yume was always at the top of her class until one day her position was usurped by Mizuto. She was devastated, and studied without sleep to beat him at the next round of exams—only for it to look like he couldn’t care less when she did. But when they met in the library, she learned that the rivalry wasn’t in her head; that he was only pretending not to care, and he really was watching her. That was when she fell in love with him.

It’s a desperately sweet story, just the latest in a string of them that make one wonder what was really so bad about these two dating (though to be fair we haven’t seen much of the “dark times” that ultimately led to their breakup). In any case, Yume is reminiscing about class rankings because she and Mizuto find themselves locked in a new battle as high schoolers for the top spot. When she sees him taking it easy in the living room, she assumes he’s taking her lightly.

Then the first day of exams passes. With her self-grading she determines she probably got a 96, which is good but still leaves the window open for Mizuto. She sneaks into his room to try to find out how he did, and is so outraged that he left the last few questions blank that she abandons all pretense and angrily confronts him in front of their mom, who has to stop her from striking Mizuto.

Mizuto tells her that yes, he did skip those questions, because as she’s so fond of saying, he doesn’t care what anyone says or thinks, so it’s fine if she has the top spot. Of course, Yume doesn’t want it that way, and storms out of the room in tears. The next two days of exams pass with her trying to focus on her studies and not her jerk of a “little” brother.

When the scores are revealed, Yume finds she’s ranked second below Mizuto, and momentarily has an existential crisis. After all, she’s believed up until now that a key facet of her high school “rebirth” is maintaining that top spot, and anything less would be failure.

But when her friends treat her no differently, and in fact congratulate her for almost beating Mizuto, she realizes that the top spot wasn’t a defining characteristic upon which her entire high school life relied. In short: she’s going to be fine.

Yume assumes that Mizuto beat her to send her that message, and she’s grateful for it, and for his ability to understand her when no one else does. That said, when she races to the library to talk to him, he’s already in a conversation with another girl, one very much like the kind they’d engage in in middle school.

This girl is Higashira Isana, voiced by Tomita Miyu, and she and Mizuto get along like lobster and garlic butter. Even Mizuto is somewhat astounded by just how beautifully the two of them click, completely comfortable being themselves around one another. Isana, who prefers to read barefoot, even asks Mizuto to put her socks on her, and he does it, because what are friends for?!

Foot play aside, Isana is as uncomfortable around others as she is comfortable around Mizuto, as evidenced when the two of them encounter Yume and Akatsuki after school. Isana reverts to a six-year-old hiding behind her dad, but Mizuto, irked by this whole enterprise, heads home without comment.

Yume figures she must be jealous, but considers that wrong now that they’re no longer dating and stepsiblings. So she pretends everything’s fine, and then over-compensates by being friendly, kind, and thoughtful to him at every turn. This, of course, vexes Mizuto to no end.

He brings it up to his new bestie Isana, who suggests that everyone a set of criteria for how they think their life should go, and when that’s threatened, some, like her, get up in arms. When she admits she’s never been one to go with the flow, that triggers in Mizuto the problem: he’s been going with the flow too much around Yume. He needs to be more active and sincere in their interactions.

That said, he doesn’t miss an opportunity to tease Yume by arriving in her room in a fetching vest, drawing near, feeling her pulse, and noting how it’s double the normal heart rate. Yume was just talking about how forgetting about Mizuto made her life easier, only for that house of cards to come crashing down.

Instead of continuing to go along with her “unreasonably calm, sincere, and understanding” attitude, Mizuto asks her what’s up. To her credit, Yume tells the truth: she thinks she feels a little jealous of Isana. When she in turn asks why he was bothered by her not acting snide and sarcastic, he tells her it felt as if what they went through in the past didn’t happen.

Being honest with each other helps Yume and Mizuto make up, and the next time Yume meets Isana, she greets her as if she was Mizuto’s big sister. Isana comes out of her shell a little and shakes her hand, and the air is cleared vis-a-vis Mizuto and Isana, namely that they’re just friends. That said, the more Yume and Akatsuki see them interact, the closer they seem.

At the halfway point of the series, I’m happy about the introduction of Isana. I like her; she’s weird and cool, Tomita gives her a husky lilt that’s a nice contrast to the squeakier girls, and her chemistry with Mizuto is sublime. I’m looking forward to their future interactions.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Call of the Night – 05 – Feel Them for Me

This week starts off with a day/night in the life of Nanakusa Nazuna…at least before the sun goes down. It’s not even 17:00 when she sun wakes her (but notably does not burn her). The ensuing events are a glorious festival of boredom as she tries to fill time she’d normally be asleep.

When she’s sick of video games and TV and considering cleaning, she heads out into the night (at just 20:00), plays with a kitty, then hits up a not-busy-at-all bathhouse where she finally releases her lilac locks from her trademark braid loops and laments her inability to see her reflection.

While she asks the desk guy to tell her when her watch beeps, his reflexes are no match for hers (though for a split second when she threw open the bath door he saw her nude, the next split second she’d wrapped herself in a towel). Her coat, sneakers, and long hair make for an entirely new, cute look Kou isn’t ready for.

They head back into the bath (on separate sides, natch) and an inner monologue from Kou ensues. His nights of late have been fun and amazing, but his “heart is always busy” with thoughts good and bad, conflicting and confusing. He’s so busy sifting through those emotions he completely blanks out…until Nazuna gets right in his face.

That’s when he asks her to drink his blood. Because as it turns out, when she does, it clears his head, calms him down, and allows him time to assess the feelings he normally couldn’t untangle. He gets his blood sucked to know his own feelings. But precisely because he’s so riled up, his blood tastes so good Nazuna drinks more than usual.

Not in a discriminating mood due to his fatigue, Kou suggests they rest as the nearest place that says it’s for “rest”…which turns out to be a love hotel. The pink neon lights were a dead giveaway to me, but I didn’t just get my neck drained, now did I? That said, once they’re in the room, the fact Nazuna is jumping on the bed like a kid makes things a little less tense.

Nazuna then reveals to Kou that when she drinks his blood, she can also get an idea of what he’s thinking and feeling from the taste, including the desires he has when he looks at her, a woman. Kou tells her it feels “immoral” to feel that way with a “friend”, but she retorts that enjoying the night the way they are is immoral to most.

Nazuna reminds them they have a deal because his blood tastes so good, and now he knows why: because of the intensity and diversity of emotions hanging out with her creates. She wants to taste all of his fun, pain, joy, sadness, and everything in between.

Another night, Kou’s mind starts churning again, deducing that because she finds his blood so tasty, it means she’s drunk the blood of others in order to compare. Even if he weren’t an open book, Nazuna knows his feelings through his blood, so she teases him for being jealous, but also makes it clear it’s a much more businesslike affair for other men and women since she makes her living…as a professional snuggler.

The whole idea of this is super raunchy, but that’s reductive thinking for someone who has only begun to enjoy the call of the night. She offers a friend’s discount for her services, and he orders the massage course. Not only does he learn something new about Nazuna, which he’s always eager to do, but he learns she’s actually quite good at massage, and using various pressure points to redirect blood and oxygen flow.

Nazuna is about to transition from massage to blood drinking (and the lights in the room suddenly go dark and everything is suffused with that intense, intimate red light) when there’s an unexpected ring of the doorbell: one of her clients. Nazuna has not been working since she met Kou (resulting in her being a little light on funds, but after working on Kou, she’s tired, so she asks him to take care of the client.

…The twenty-four-year-old, raven-haired, stressed office worker client Shirakawa Kiyosumi, that is. Kou is worried about not knowing what to do (among other things), but Nazuna tells him just to emulate what she did to him and he’ll be fine. Also, since she knows a healthy measure of his thoughts and feelings every time she goes to the red well, she offers him the reward of another kiss if he does this for her.

Kiyosumi may ether be throwing her money away tonight, or Kou may be a natural at massage and just not know it. The bottom line is that both the night and Nazuna are opening new doors and new experiences for Kou.

The Devil is a Part Timer!! – S2 E03 – Family Matters

With the mission of keeping a smile on Alas Ramus’ face, Maou and Emi play the roles (in Emi’s case, reluctant role) of mama and papa for the mysterious child. They buy her a hat to keep the sun off her face, one of the countless things parents must think about when caring for their child.

Unbeknownst to either Maou or Emi is the fact that Suzuki, Chiho, and Ashiya are tailing them. Suzuki wants to see Emi’s face while she’s on a date with a man, Chiho is curious and a little worried, and Ashiya just wants to make sure Maou doesn’t spend too much.

Alas seems particularly drawn to bright colors, such that watching a colorful power ranger show suddenly activates a purple crest on her forehead and makes her drowsy. Maou and Emi take her out of the show, and while Maou goes to obtain a cold drink, a mysterious woman in white appears, seemingly heals Alas, and disappears before Maou returns.

With Alas feeling better, Maou and Emi take her up into the Ferris Wheel. Suzuki and Ashiya follow, but Chiho is held up when she helps an old lady with the ticket machine, so the other two end up nice and cozy in what Suzuki describes as “a private room in the sky”. Suzuki x Ashiya shippers: it’s time to eat!

When Emi tells Maou to spill the beans about what’s going on with Alas, he tells her how the day his clan and parents were slaughtered, a passing angel took pity on him and saved his life. To Emi, this means an angel was indirectly responsible for letting the Demon Lord rise to power and conquer Ente Isla.

Alas, he surmises, could be an incarnation of Yesod, one of the sephiroth, or cosmoplastic orbs of the Tree of Life. That means Alas is beyond angels and demons, but in her own special category. Whatever she is, she needs to be cared for, and Maou and Emi do a good job throughout the day.

However, that day is interrupted by unwanted visitors: Urushihara and Suzuno are captured by Gabriel and his heavenly regiment. Gabe has a simple ultimatum for Maou and Emi: hand over both Alas Ramus and the sacred sword. Neither are interested in handing over either.

When Gabe resorts to brute force, Chiho appears and shields Maou from further harm, bowing and shedding tears on his and Alas’ behalf. Disinclined to look or sound like the “bad guy” (he is an angel after all), Gabriel decides to withdraw for the time being.

However, he promises he and his heavily heavies will be back first thing in the morning to collect the child and the sword. With that threat looming, Maou asks Emi to stay at their place tonight, an offer that flusters both her and Chiho. Time for a sleepover!

Call of the Night – 03 – Night Fight

While I could absolutely keep watching just Kou, Nazuna, and the night for ten or eleven more episodes, the introduction of Asai Akira doesn’t ruin the vibes. In fact, she brings a unique dynamic: Kou’s only human friend, something he didn’t think he had in her. When he placed the blue watch on the mailboxes, he didn’t mean to place it right above Akira’s, but that’s how she took it.

When Kou was an aloof kid off on his own in the playground, only Akira went to him to see what he was up to. When he said he was fine not joining the others, she joined him instead, and declared them friends. He didn’t object, but he probably forgot that exchange that Akira dutifully maintained. She still considers him a friend, and is glad he’s doing okay.

So Kou begins leaving ever-so-early from his nightly visits to Nazuna’s for some bed-lying and blood-sucking so he can meet up with Akira (who is an early bird to his night owl). Nazuna jokes that he’s going off to see another woman, and immediately senses from his expression that she’d accidentally nailed it. That said, Kou admits in voiceover that he and Akira don’t do much other than exchange inoffensive small talk.

On one such occasion in the park, he asks if Akira is having fun. She puts the question to him, and he says he isn’t not having fun, so she replies that she is. Just as Kou, extremely inexperienced in such things, starts wondering if Akira likes him, Nazuna menacingly emerges from the shadows only to give Kou a friendly pat on the shoulder and congratulate him for doing “hanky-panky”.

She tells Akira her and Kou’s relationship is “purely physical”, and while Akira’s mention of romance (upon hearing Kou call her “Nazuna-chan) once again makes Nazuna blush, she shakes that off by basically marking her territory, sucking Kou’s neck right in front of Akira and announcing she’s a vampire.

At a 24-hour café, the three sit, and Akira tries to grasp the situation. She asks Kou if he’s skipping out on school because of Nazuna. While she may kind of be the reason now, she wasn’t the original reason, which was that he simply couldn’t be bothered with it anymore. Akira feels the same way, especially with Kou gone, but didn’t ditch because she thought she had to go.

She thinks she’d have more fun if Kou were around, so she asks him to come back to school. When Kou doesn’t immediately refuse and seems to hesitate, Nazuna seemingly gets miffed and suddenly splits. Kou follows after her, asking if she’s angry and why, but Nazuna doesn’t feel like spilling it out, and is clearly still mad, so she flips him off and does her vampire warpspeed thing. Kou looks for her all night, without success.

Finally, in that magical in-between time just before sunrise, Kou falls on his face while climbing some stairs, then uses his receiver watch to call Nazuna. She responds, and he proceeds to tell her that while he doesn’t really “get” fights like the one they’re apparently in, but he wants to make up with her. With that, Nazuna suddenly appears, and is once again as honest with him as he was with her, saying she was “ticked off” by him hesitating after Akira asked him to come back to school.

Turns out she misunderstood; Kou hesitated because he wasn’t sure how to tell a human friend that couldn’t go back to school because he wanted to become a vampire. With that cleared up and the two well and truly made up, Nazuna notices the blood from Kou’s tumble, and proceeds to kiss him in order to drink it, remarking that “a lot came out”. She liked how he said human friend, and that it suggested he had a vampire friend too. Kou may not know this since she’s his first, but vampire friends do kiss.

Heroines Run the Show – 11 – The Mask Falls

Our episode opens on someone we haven’t met before: an extremely enthusiastic café maid adding her love to her customer’s omurice. When she removes her wig and puts on those distinctive glasses, we discover it’s Chizuru, who it would seem we still haven’t met…not for real, at least.

Chizuru doesn’t seem to like working her ass off at this job, but she apparently needs to so she can keep making money to send…to LIPxLIP, and Aizou in particular, with whom she is particularly smitten. She has hidden that intense infatuation from both the boys and her friends…but one day she’s sloppy, and Yuujirou hears her phone when she snaps multi-burst shots of them playing basketball.

Back at work and as popular as ever, and with the scandal well behind them, the boys have a new problem: Hiyori isn’t around anymore. Their new old manager mixes up their drinks. It’s a little thing, but after Hiyori made that mistake she never made it again; it speaks to what a dedicated, detail-oriented hard worker she was, and what a void she leaves. Hiyori has done her best to forget about her old job and focuses on track, but her times are slower and she’s clearly eating more at lunchtime.

When Juri notes that the harassment of her has mercifully ceased, Hiyori says she’s most sorry about “hurting the fans”, and as Chizuru is one of them, she has to quickly excuse herself so she can drop the friend facade, whip out one of the photos she took of Hiyori with LIPxLIP, and curse her as she blots her out with a Sharpie. Yuujirou witnesses the entire tirade.

Juri invites herself and Chizuru over to Hiyori’s for a pizza sleepover, but the discussion becomes awkward when Chizuru answers that yes, she does have a crush. That’s when Yuujirou strategically side-checks her in such a way that her bag goes flying…and the incriminating photos fly out too.

Juri’s cavalier reaction—almost as if a part of her she expected something like this, is contrasted by Hiyori’s sheer bewilderment. She’s genuinely unsure of what’s going on, until Chizuru makes it nice and sparkling clear: she fucking hates her guts!

The sleepover obviously cancelled due to the death of good vibes, Hiyori instead runs all night, only to replenish all the calories she burned with another crepe sesh with Mona-chan. Mona draws from her own experience “hating” her sister to tell Hiyori that “hate” is often just an easy label for more complex feelings buried beneath all the bluster.

Hiyori is all aboard with the idea of reaching out to Chizuru and asking her how she really feels, but Chizuru doesn’t want to talk, and avoids her at every turn the next day. I thought at first Hiyori’s superior speed would have the advantage in the ensuing cat-and-mouse, but lest we forget, Chizuru snapped those photos while remaining totally undetected. It’s like trying to corner a ninja!

When Hiyori finally does tackle Chizuru, none of Chizuru’s hostility has dissipated. If anything, she’s even more annoyed that Hiyori won’t leave her the ef alone. But when pressed, Chizuru maintains that she did nothing wrong, and that it’s the “nobody” Hiyori’s fault for getting so close to the idols and not “knowing her place” like Chizuru.

In the rancor she dispenses, Hayami Saori brings back shades of Hatoko’s Rant and demonstrates once more why she’s among the best in the business. When given dramatic meat, she leaves nothing on the bone. The tussling gets more and more physical until the two are literally throwing right crosses at one another, but only Chizuru’s lands, knocking Hiyori clean out with a fountain of blood.

When Hiyori wakes up in the nurse’s, Yuujirou and Aizou are with her…and so is Chizuru, asleep by her bed, clutching her hand, her eyes raw from tears. Seeing her there, one can’t help but forgive her, because she wouldn’t be there if she didn’t actually care about Hiyori. Perhaps she can ditch the easy, safe hatred and explore the true feelings beneath, but the episode wisely doesn’t wake her, leaving us to wonder until next week.

Love After World Domination – 04 – Can’t Take Me Home

This week showed that while many of the characters play rather cartoonish heroes or villains, at the end of the day everyone’s a normal human being. Desumi even attends high school and has normal friends while she’s not “at work”. But while hanging out after school, she spots Fudou with the new Pink Gelato, and her reaction—running away in tears—is as intense as her friends are confused.

Pink, AKA Haru, is also confused…by the photo of Fudou with what looks an awful lot like a girlfriend. She and Fudou aren’t on a date; she needs to ask him about the photo. But instead he intuits the reason for their meet-up is that she’s interested in upping her physical training regimen. Haru is helpless to stop him from going off on his favorite topic, and she ends up relieved, as there’s simply no way Fudou would have a girlfriend.

But he does, and she’s pissed. When Fudou and Haru’s coffee is interrupted by a call of duty, Fudou finds and engages with Desumi expecting them to go through their usual dance, only this time Desumi’s dropkick lands. He thinks it’s an accident, or they’re just a little out of sync today, but eventually he realizes Desumi is hitting him on purpose.

The two end up in a secluded warehouse, where Desumi admits that even though her brain didn’t really think Fudou was cheating on her, the sight of him with Haru sent her heart into such turmoil she didn’t know what to do with herself. In fact, she started to think maybe someone “girly” like Haru would be better for him than a jealous, violent, loathsome outcast like her.

Fudou is swift in both his comforting hug and his rebuttal: he will only love her, with everything he’s got, as long as he lives. With her totally undeserved self-loathing out of her system, she and Fudou simply exist together for a bit, hand in hand, planning an afterschool date in their school uniforms…when all of a sudden they notice that Pink Gelato is sitting right next to them.

Fudou and Desumi are certain they’re 100% busted and doomed. But the thing is…they aren’t, at least not for the time being. They both believe Haru is planning something, and simply biding her time before she drops the hammer. But Haru is conspicuous in not only not telling anyone what she saw, but acting like she never saw it; like everything’s normal.

That is, until Fudou and Desumi’s after-school date. After a civet(!)-based false alarm, Desumi realizes Haru is lying in wait, and sends Fudou off on an interminable and ultimately doomed Starbucks run. Haru doesn’t mince words, challenging Desumi to a duel. Despite her transforming into Pink Gelato, Desumi handles her easily even in her school uniform. After all, Pink’s only been at this six months; Desumi’s a veteran enemy commander.

Desumi puts the end to the fight by knocking Haru out, but Haru is shocked to find that when she wakes up, Desumi is still there beside her. She admits that she joined Gelato 5 because she was in love with Fudou. She always suspected someone so amazing would have a girlfriend, but never expected it to be someone else she knew. Turns out Desumi rescued her from some thugs in an alley…and inspired her to become stronger.

Haru heard everything Desumi said to Fudou in the warehouse about how “love was making her weak”, but after fighting her, Haru assures her she’s as strong as ever. As for why she didn’t snitch on them, well…as much as she wanted Fudou to be hers, it just wasn’t in her to steal happiness from Fudou or Desumi. When Haru says this her eyes well up with big soppy tears. Desumi can’t help but hug her, and then she starts crying too.

When a very confused Fudou sees Haru’s head in Desumi’s lap and asks what’s going on, Desumi simply shushes him; let Pink Gelato rest a little more. Once she’s awake and back in her uniform, the three walk a bit together. Having experienced a catharsis, Haru is now rooting for Fudou and Desumi…but playfully won’t rule out stealing Fudou if given the chance.

It’s amazing how quickly this love triangle came together this week, and how affecting it was throughout its progression. From Desumi’s early jealous spiraling and Fudou’s stalwart vow he’ll never leave her side, to Haru’s discovery of their tryst and how she handles it, this was Koiseka at its best and most heartwarming.

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 03 – Heads Up, Tails Down Bad

Kashiwagi P.I.

Kaguya-sama is to my mind never a show that has to scape the bottom of a barrel, because it has a whole cellar full of barrels that are always full. Take the oft-sampled scenario of the romantically inept Student Council having to give advice to the far more experienced Kashiwagi Nagisa. In this case, Nagisa has come suspecting her boyfriend of cheating on her with her friend.

Nagisa proceeds to confess to a number of actual crimes of privacy invasion before making the ludicrous statement of hiring a P.I. because she trusts her man, but every time Miko tries to point out how rashly Nagisa is acting, Kaguya steps in to support Nagisa’s theories. When Miko says going to karaoke with someone is cheating does Kaguya say it isn’t (due to what happened with Miyuki and Hayasaka). Miko is feeling so bad she has to listen to her self-affirmation audio.

Ultimately by talking things through with Kaguya and Miko, Nagisa works up the courage to confront her boyfriend directly. When he reiterates that he likes her and gives her a gold heart necklace, all is forgiven. Miyuki and Yuu believe the guy made a slick move, while Kaguya, Miko and Chika all agree the necklace is lame as hell! Then Nagisa and her bae start making out, and we’re reminded that it’s the student council that’s lame to cast aspersions about gifts when none of them are officially dating.

Lovesick Heart of the Nation

The second segment involves the other side of the love triangle: Nagisa’s old friend Shijou Maki (a dynamic Ichinose Kana). After pretending not to care about Nagisa telling her not to hang out with her BF so much, she walks home slumped over like Charlie Brown (or George Michael Bluth). Yuu and Miyuki are chatting spiritedly when the latter suddenly steps on the prone Maki’s head, accompanied by a sound effect for the ages.

Just as Kaguya and Miko had to counsel (i.e. endure) Nagisa, Miyuki and Yuu are pressed into service as advisors to Maki, who is a particularly haughty member of a Shinomiya branch family, is possessed of incurable tsundere-ness, and can flip the cuteness on and off like a plasma globe. She goes to some dark places but you can tell it helps just to have someone to listen to, even if she deems them (mostly Yuu) an ignoramus.

The two boys agree to help her steal Nagisa’s boyfriend in large part due to this ability to come across as unbelievably cute and sympathetic. Yuu also admires her unvarnished honesty about everything but her love of Nagisa’s bae (finally admitting she does after denying it ten straight times).

After a tense, hostile interaction with her “auntie” Kaguya, Maki says both boys said she was cute, which has Kaguya in Miyuki’s face like stink on shit. But Miyuki can’t very well say he finds Maki cute because she reminds him of Kaguya, not can he?!

Polygraph-Enhanced Fun

In the final segment, Kaguya, still curious about what exactly happened at that group date, asks Chika what goes on at such functions. Chika hasn’t been to one either, but is aware of group date games like one played with 10-yen coins and revealing yes-or-no answers that are kept anonymous by a handkerchief.

Like most seemingly innocuous little games Chika suggests the council plays, this one becomes a battle of wits between everyone to get the others to admit to something they wouldn’t normally admit to. Chika naturally wants to know who is currently in love (three of the five of them…but who’s the third?).

Yuu wants to know who hates him (only one…but it might not be Miko?) Miko wants to know that she’s necessary and wanted (five yesses…even from Yuu). When Kaguya notices that you can tell whose answers are whose by the mint date of the coins, she tries to trap Miyuki into a confession, with the added protection of Chika insisting on a polygraph if any lying is suspected.

Of course, she’s giving Miyuki too little credit not assuming he’d have a defense—in this case a second coin in his pocket that has the same mint date as two others. Unfortunately, his counterattack, to reveal Kaguya has been using the mint numbers to get a leg up, fails when two others admit to doing the same.

When Miyuki and Kaguya are alone in the more dramatically-lit office after school (one of my favorite kinds of Kaguya-sama scenes), Miyuki asks Kaguya if she had group dates on her mind because she heard he went on one. He then clears the air by admitting he did, but didn’t do anything frivolous, and says he wants “at least her” to believe her. When he asks if she does, she doesn’t answer verbally, but sneakily leaves her answer—yes—in coin form on the desk.

While this didn’t pack the emotional or dramatic punch of last week’s masterpiece, it was still a strong episode that followed up on the aftermath of that group date while bringing back Nagisa, a model of romantic honesty, and introducing the intriguing, imperious Maki as a kind of “Kaguya-Lite”. It also looks like the Starship Troopers ending wasn’t a one-off…Good!

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 02 – Better to Not Put on an Act

The Ishigami-Iino Accords

Kaguya-sama is about far more than two goofs who won’t admit their love out of pride and fear. It has the ammo to provide a veritable kaleidoscope of spinoff stories about its other characters. Ishigami and Iino Don’t Get Along could not only be a decent series unto itself, but has an incredibly catchy English title!

That Ishi-Iino isn’t a spinoff from the Kaguya-sama: Love Is War Cinematic Universe is a shame, but it’s also the mark of a great series that it keeps you wanting to see more of its greatness. Also, it’s good enough that it doesn’t have to spin things off. Sometimes a small taste is enough.

So we’ve known for a while now that Ishigami and Iino hate each other…but do they? Sure, they seem to inhabit opposite ends of the Discipline-Rebellion Spectrum, but we know better. Ishigami has as strong a sense of justice as Iino, especially where Iino herself is concerned. He just chooses to conceal it behind an outer crust she loathes.

By the same token, Ishigami obviously respects Iino’s honesty and diligence, or he wouldn’t stand to defend her from embarrassment. The thing is, their practiced hostility has escalated to a level neither Miyuki nor Iino’s friend Osaragi can suffer. Hence, the Ishigami-Iino Friendship Plan.

After an exchange of compliments turns into a hatefest, ear-cleaning becomes awkward contortionism, and Pocky-eating leads to aggressively gnashing teeth, Osaragi ditches Miyuki’s plan and pulls out the big guns, telling the two what a good match they are, and how it’s “typical teen behavior” to not be able to stop yourself from being mean to the one you like.

Ishigami and Iino are so shocked by the checkmate they relent on the spot, then devolve into an automated, emotionless, auto-tuned exchange of Iino saying “I like you quite a lot” and Ishigami returning the sentiment. It’s very far from normal human interaction, but by the letter of what the segment victor Osaragi and Miyuki set out to do, it gets the job done.

Play Along, All Right?

Of course, simply getting the job done on paper is not Kaguya-sama’s M.O., as evidenced by the epic two-parter that closes the episode. This might also just be my favorite segment of all the shows two-plus seasons. After declining several times in the past, Miyuki finally accepts an invite from classmates to go out for karaoke and “networking” with kids from other schools, unaware that it’s really going to be a group date.

Hayasaka can’t help but point this out to Kaguya, but Hayasaka ends up being inconvenienced, as Kaguya orders her to attend the group date and make sure no girls get near the President. Hayasaka is so good at getting herself mixed up in Kaguya’s man mess that one frankly can’t rule out that she does it on purpose, for sport or personal achievement.

This scenario marks the return of Hayasaka’s alter-ego “Miss Herthaka”, and when Miyuki recognizes her, she’s grumpy enough with her plight that she decides to take the fact that he dumped her like a bag of sand when last they met and run with it like Marshawn Lynch in Beast Mode.

After making clear to Miyuki’s pals that he dumped her, she takes the stage and belts out a stirring, pitch-perfect rendition of “My Feelings” by Akasaka Saka/Giorgio Giorgio. If there’s such a thing as anime nirvana, it’s this.

What makes this performance so powerful is that it’s not played 100% as a joke. Hayasaka is legitimately frustrated both by her past failure to seduce Miyuki and Kaguya’s continued taking of the President for granted as someone who will always be available to her.

After the song, Hayasaka and Miyuki have a serious discussion about putting on acts. When she rants about her “little sister” forcing her to come to this to get over being dumped, he feels like he’s talking to the something like the “real her” … which of course she is, since she’s voicing real frustrations! Miyuki, always forthright in everything but his love of Kaguya, feels he can relate to her better, and you get the feeling he likes this “Herthaka” more than the obviously fake one from their first encounter.

Hayasaka then reveals her position on the matter, which is that “no one will ever love you unless you’re acting”, and that weakness and ugliness must be hidden by that acting. He then puts it to him whether he’s actually the real Shirogane Miyuki, or if he overreaches and bluffs. He thinks on this and decides it would probably be best to call it a night.

Hurt You Just a Little

When some rando tries to put the moves on Hayasaka the moment she’s alone, Miyuki returns, takes her by the hand, and leads her to safety, telling her to “play along”. She’s so moved by the gesture, she reserves a room just for her and Miyuki, where she plans to succeed in Kaguya’s dare for her to seduce him.

Hayasaka reports this to Kaguya via earpiece, who is in her covert ops outfit on a rooftop. And again, this is all played straight. We have a legit love triangle here! There’s a part of Hayasaka who likes Shirogane and a part of her that wants to win, and when opportunity like this knocks she’s not going to ignore it. What started as a playful dare is no longer just a game. When Hayasaka cuts off communication, Kaguya panics.

She knows that normally Hayasaka operates within the bounds of common sense. But she also knows that Hayasaka was furious for having to go to the group date to begin with, so who knows what she’s capable of. Kaguya finds the door of the booth where they are, but there she’s paralyzed from further action.

The window is covered by Hayasaka’s coat, rendering it a Schrödinger’s Shirogane scenario. Whatever is or isn’t happening in there, Kaguya’s imagining of what it might be is far worse. And she knows she can’t just barge in without “losing”, i.e. revealing she cares so much about Miyuki that she’ll stalk him when he’s hanging out with friends (which, yes, she does, and is!).

Her solution? Invite Chika to karaoke, being sure to give her the number of the booth. But before Chika can arrive to open the box, Kaguya starts hearing suggestive noises and a flurry of double entendres. When Miyuki exits the booth to go to the bathroom, Kaguya slips in and learns the truth: Hayasaka’s strange utterings were reactions to Miyuki’s rapping.

While I saw this coming, it’s still an excellent callback to Chika’s attempts to improve Miyuki’s vocal skills. But I don’t believe rapping lessons were part of her curriculum judging by the state of Hayasaka. When Chika finally arrives and hears Hayasaka describe what she heard, it immediately puts her off karaoke and the three take off, leaving Miyuki all alone.

On the ride home, Hayasaka admits to Kaguya that she had become somewhat jealous of how happy and carefree she’s been of late, and selfishly wanted to take her down a peg, or as she puts it wanted her to “hurt just a little.”

She accomplished that mission admirably thanks to her intimate knowledge of Kaguya, but Kaguya already knew it must’ve been something like that thanks to her intimate knowledge of Hayasaka; specifically, how twisted her personality is. Hayasaka shoots back that Kaguya’s no different than her, and Kaguya doesn’t argue that fact.

While Hayasaka might have started out as Kaguya’s maid and attendant, the fact of the matter is in the ensuing years they’ve grown into something far more like sisters. Siblings love each other, but they can also irritate or hurt each other like no one else. I really loved this sprawling segment’s ability to balance humor and character drama so perfectly.

Mind you, the credits could have rolled during this last exchange between Kaguya and Hayasaka, but that would simply be “getting the job done.” Instead, the end credits roll over an lovingly, amazingly detailed intro for a Starship Troopers anime adaptation, with Miyuki, Kaguya and Hayasaka reflecting that film’s triangle of Rico, Carmen, and Dizzy.

Again, this ED could be a whole show, and it would be incredible. But here it’s just a fun throwaway gag. We live in rare and tremendous times that anime like this is still made.

RWHL

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 10 – A Better Snowman

Dang photo bombers…your ruining the shot!

Knowing it would be hard-pressed to top last week’s full-length Takagi x Nishikata wonder-date, this week’s episode doesn’t bother; instead it returns to the warm, cozy, less dramatic flow of the couple’s interactions. Last week wasn’t an official acknowledgment that they’re dating now, but such a formality isn’t needed with these two. They’re fine just existing beside one another, fitting like, well, gloves!

To whit: the two didn’t plan to meet at the shrine visit; their families just happened to come at the same time. It sure looks like those two married couples were their parents, doesn’t it? I feel like at some point they’ll have to meet each other’s parents, but that they don’t mean we get more time with these two. hen Takagi is called back to her folks, Nishikata says they should do it again next year…which she says happened to be her shrine wish. Who’s to say it wasn’t?

Yes, that’s right…make that ball bigger…

The next segment is classic Master Teaser, with Takagi up to her old tricks in cornering Nishikata into a snowman-building contest knowing full well that he’ll get to ambitious. While he’s sweatily rolling dirty lumpen mounds trying to build a Snow Titan, Takagi puts a lot of time and care and quite effortlessly builds the cutest lil’ snowman in all the land…so cute Nishikata doubts he’d have won. even if he’d finished…which Takagi helps him do.

NGL, from a distance this looks like a confession…

After Nishikata’s friends and the three girls have their little mini-scenes talking about the new year, we come to “Advice”, when Houjou takes Nishikata aside and asks him what he thinks Hamaguchi might like for his birthday. Yuuki Aoi is masterful at sounding both mature and incredibly hot-and-cold. For his part, Nishikata is both thoughtful and helpful. Then Houjou asks him to keep their chat a secret.

Little did Nishikata know that Takagi spotted him talking with Houjou, and asks him what about. When Nishikata demurs, she guesses correctly on the first guess, and pretty much knows, but Nishikata still won’t break his secret. Takagi’s facial expressions are so subtle here, but you can tell she’s a little mad Nishikata is keeping something from her…even if she knows what it is with 99.99% certainty!

Takagi expresses her jealousy by trying to stoke Nishikata’s, saying she wants to know what to get a “15-year-old boy”—not a Chihuahua, but a third-year middle schooler. This does affect Nishikata, who doesn’t want to give advice for some other guy…even though these two spend so much time together he would know of such a guy!

Of course, this time, Takagi is referring to Nishikata on his next birthday. He’s quite relieved, and apologizes for not being able to break his promise. Takagi apologizes too, owning up to the fact she did do something a little mean. When Nishikata asks her why she doesn’t always think that, she says this and her usual gentle teasing are two different things!

When Nishikata flat-out asks Takagi why she teases him, her answer is as expected…“Who knows?” But she knows, and so does Nishikata, and it’s the same reason they’re already making plans for spending next year together.

Vanitas no Carte – 17 – Voler Trop Près du Soleil

With her fully operational Alteration Engine, Chloé is able to give Naenia a physical form…so she can choke the bitch out for what she did to her beloved Jean-Jacques. As she says, she’s a terribly jealous woman, to the point she’ll change the rules of space and time just so she can get her hands around a solid neck of the non-corporeal devil dwelling on her shoulder for so long.

Naturally, this backfires, when Chloé, in her desperate desire to uncover who Naenia truly is, ends up awakening Naenia’s memories of who she is: the first vampire of the crimson moon, Queen Faustina. The tables are suddenly turned, as Chloé is overpowered, the Beast tamed, her Engine stalled, and her castle and the lands around it shattering into shards floating in a purple void.

In the midst of this chaos, Vanitas falls, and Noé leaps after him, something Jeanne didn’t do when Chloé leapt off the cliff. Naenia’s voice tells him he’ll “never reach” Vanitas and that there’s no hope, but Noé does his best to ignore it, and ends up beside Vanitas once more. They’re soon joined by Roland, who comes out of nowhere with other Chasseurs to protect the unwitting townsfolk.

Speaking of Jeanne, the final act of the episode centers exclusively on her journey from vampire whose loving parents were beheaded as traitors to her conversion into a Bourreau—an unthinking, unfeeling tool. The only problem is, when sent to kill Chloé those thought sand feelings all flood back. When she fails, she’s sent into a long slumber until “the war ends and all can live in peace”.

Jeanne laments that all she can do now is her duty as a bourreau, finishing what she couldn’t finish by offing Chloé. But awakening her from her forced stoic trance is Vanitas, who stands before her and says it’s not too late, either to save Chloé or herself. By restoring Faustina’s body Chloé rent the very fabric of the world. Now it falls to others to try to piece that world back together.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Senpai is Annoying – 10 – Buns, Basketball, and Baths

The most inscrutable character in Senpai has to be the eccentric, mischievous Tsukishiro Mona. She’s such a mystery I kinda want a segment that explains her more, though like the alien in Alien (or the Cylons in Battlestar) perhaps the less known, the better. All we know is, she can get away with grabbing a dieting Sakurai without fear of HR reprimand, inadvertently shoving Sakurai chest-first into Kazama, an innocent bystander.

The next segment threw me off a bit because Takeda seemed not to recognize Tsukishiro outside of work. Turns out she loves pork buns, and accepts his challenge in an eating contest at his favorite hole-in-the-wall eatery. It also turns out she’s only ever eaten them cold, so not long after biting into one of those steaming beauties, she resigns. When the two talk about it at work, Futaba is left out and feels a little jealous, but Takeda can read her like a book and offers to take her out for more buns.

Kazama is proving quite the catch for Sakurai as it’s revealed he was once quite the basketballer, and so makes the perfect tutor for her brother Yuuto. She arranges to watch the two practice and even makes a lunch, but doesn’t count on Natsumi, Takeda, and Futaba showing up, resulting in a game of Horse that merely turns into a two-hour-long duel between the two basketball aces of the group: Kazama and Natsumi.

Making it clear that she didn’t get to spend as much time alone with Kazama as she wanted, Sakurai orders an end to the contest. Reading the room, Natsumi departs for the bathhouse with Yuuto (whom she’s taken under her wing as a protégé), Takeda, and a sleeping Futaba. That frees Sakurai and Kazama to have an adorable little private dinner of vending machine hot dogs. Honestly these two could read the phone book together and it would be lovely to behold.

In the meantime, Natsumi remarks on the fact that Futaba hasn’t really grown much since middle school (though isn’t trying to be mean about it), while Yuuto gets some seemingly valuable tips from Takeda on getting bigger (eat a lot, rest a lot), only to learn that Futaba does all the things Takeda recommended to him, and yet remains wee. But as Takeda says quite correctly, she’s fine the way she is!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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