Kageki Shoujo!! – 11 – Twas Your Face the Light Endow’d

Kouka goes straight from sports festival to cultural festival, and this year the Centennial first-years are once again getting special treatment, as they’ll be taking fifteen minutes of the second-years’ time for the performance of a scene from Romeo & Juliet—the same one Sarasa famously bombed. Andou-sensei says there will be auditions, so the girls will be rivaling one another as they vote for each other.

It’s another one of the unique ways Kouka instructs its young performers-to-be in the theory of their craft as well as encouraging a degree of the toughening needed to survive on the Kouka stage. Everyone up there has to believe they’re the very best. But even though everyone wants to see Sarasa’s Romeo, and Ai points out why she’s perfect for it (while implying she’s “simple”)…Sarasa wants to give Tybalt another try.

Hijiri insists that Ai play the role of Juliet. Even if she rightfully says it’s not a spotlight she’s earned, Hijiri insists that as someone “born pretty” and thus closer to the finish line than others, Ai cannot slack off; she must run as fast as possible to that line, no matter how close it may seem. Her mother also imparted her the wisdom of figuring out how to lose yourself in the role.

One way is by applying some part of your life experience that connects with the role in some way. But Tybalt, whose role comes down to unrequited love of Juliet and jealousy and hatred of Romeo, is proving difficult for Sarasa, who claims (credibly!) to have never hated or held a grudge on anyone, ever. Even so, she starts with the basics of how Tybalt must go through his daily life, and how that life led to his obsession with anger and hatred.

It isn’t working, until that very connection to Sarasa’s life comes into focus and clicks as crisply as a camera shutter. In the common room she and Ai happen to catch a TV interview with Akiya talking about his kabuki and how he was thrust into it by dint of his blood. Seeing Akiya takes Sarasa back to when she was a little kid, and for a moment, she was as jealous of Akiya as Tybalt was jealous of Romeo.

Akiya basically achieved without effort or even passion something she’d always dreamed of achieving. But while Sarasa finally discovers a part of herself she can use to lose herself in the role of Tybalt, it’s Ai’s performance that anchors the final act of the episode.

Everyone thinks she’s being her usual calm, collected, unflappable self when called to be the first Juliet in the auditions (presided upon by the rest of the faculty, not just Andou—a cruel surprise for the girls!) Sarasa, her best friend, knows better, and that Ai’s calm exterior conceals an ever churning storm.

The key is focusing that storm. Fortunately, the Romeo in Ai’s group flubs her lines and has to start from the top, so Ai gets a little extra time in her Space Mind Palace. She’s convinced she’s never known what love is, any more than Sarasa has ever known hatred or jealousy. But we all know one very important exception for Ai, and that’ Sarasa herself.

Romeo was “love at first sight” for Juliet, just as Ai was “friends at first sight” for Sarasa. It took a little longer for AI, but when Sarasa told her about overwriting bad old memories with good new ones, she too knew she had to be friends with this tall girl. Once the joy of becoming friends with her swell up, Ai embodies Juliet herself in the “wherefore” speech, giving her peers, teachers, and me some serious goosebumps.

Sonny Boy – 03 – The Detective Is Already Snarky

Nozomi, Nagara, and Asakaze have turned out to be a pretty good survey team, with Nozomi locating new worlds with her Compass, Nagara being able to access them, and Asakaze bailing them out with his powers of flight.

When we check in they’ve already found thirteen new worlds, and Rajdhani is soaking up the data like a sponge at his beachfront laboratory. Their survey work is interrupted by an unsettling trend of students starting to freeze in place and turn pitch black, like voids in human form.

Since she’s the one with the most time on her hands owing to the immense wealth her power provides, Mizuho is put on the case, and she chooses Nagara as her Watson, partly to share what sounds like a hassle of a case, but also because Nagara…was nice to her previously, and she enjoys his company.

That said, she still initially treats him as a rank servant, making it clear that this isn’t a collaboration of equals. That said, she still orders a gaudy couch big enough for both of them, and even gets Nagara the same fast food order she got. When it comes to sharing the wealth, she’s fine sharing it with Nagara.

The uniting quality of the two students (who later become three, then four) who fell victim to the freezing phenomenon is that they kept to themselves, hardly anyone noticed them when they were around, and no one noticed when they suddenly vanished.

While Nagara is busy with Mizuho, Nozomi and Asakaze fail to find any new worlds. Despite this, Asakaze drops in specifically to tell Nagara that he’s not needed and that Nozomi doesn’t care if he doesn’t come back. Nagara brushes this off, and that ineffectual passivity irks Mizuko.

Eventually, Mizuho and Nagara break the case wide open when, no doubt due to Nagara’s unspoken power even he may not even be aware he has, they discover a portal to the space where the four students ended up.

They walk through a honeycomb of blackout curtain walls separating the four spaces of the students, all of whom are content to stay right where they are and keep doing what they’re doing indefinitely. It becomes evident that while they may be content, this wasn’t originally their doing, but another rule of the world, separating those no one else wants around or cares about.

After Nagara and Mizuho’s nightly debriefing with Cap and Pony, a minor disagreement causes simmering underlying resentment to boil over for both of them. Mizuho points how how watching Nozomi follow him around like a puppy grosses her out; Nagara accuses Mizuho of lying to show off and being “ill-natured” because she’s just another recluse; Mizuho tells Nagara to die and storms off.

It’s a testament to how much these two have come to know each other that they each know the precise buttons to press to sting hardest.

But because the two really do care what the other thinks of them despite words to the contrary, both of them feel bad about the spat. Fortunately, back at Rajdhani’s lab, Nozomi offers a clue Nagara hadn’t considered, and he texts an apology to Mizuho, along with a promise to be waiting by the blackout curtains tomorrow.

Armed with Rajdhani’s bizarre, whimsical instruments, the two get down to business lifting the blackout curtains and freeing the students. This is Sonny Boy at its most Eizouken, particularly with the fantastical machinery and Yuuki Aoi lending Mizuho such a wonderfully husky, distinctive voice.

With the case solved and the afflicted students retrieved, Nagara and Mizuho make up with a handshake; what was said when heads were less cool and frustration was mounting is water under the bridge.

As much if not more than their surreal surroundings, what I enjoyed most about this episode was just reveling in this nascent friendship between two people who don’t normally do so well around others doing just fine around one another. I daresay I wouldn’t even mind a whole cour of these two solving cases together.

On the periphery were some interesting inroads into the larget questions about this place, with Hoshi admitting a voice told him this would all happen, and Nozomi being the first to suggest that while she can spot new worlds, Nagara alone has the power to create portals between them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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.

Wonder Egg Priority – 12 (Fin?) – Over Easy

Aragorn: Frodo’s fate is no longer in our hands.
Gimli: Then it has all been in vain. The fellowship has failed.
Aragorn: Not if we hold true to each other.

With Momoe and Rika seemingly completing their quests only to be met by fear and rage, respectively, Rika wants recriminations and revenge for Mannen, while Momoe simply wishes she never got involved with this business. Only Neiru and Ai remain beside each other while the other two seem lost.

Ai’s final egg is…herself. Or rather, as Acca puts it, an Ai from a parallel world who was also bullied for her eye but didn’t have a Koito, so she took her own life. Ai doesn’t judge—hell, she knows how Ai must feel, being herself and all—and doesn’t treat this other Ai any different than the other girls she’s saved from Wonder Killers.

When the Seenos chase the Ais up to the rooftop pool where the other Ai drowned, a horrifically repulsive Wonder Killer rises out of the chloronated water, and of course, it’s Sawaki-sensei, with tentacles of paint that eats away like acid on contact. Calling himself Ai’s “first love”, Sawaki says Ai was simply one more woman who was easy to fool because he’s handsome.

But Ai doesn’t see Sawaki in this monster; only the manifestation of her doubts and suspicions. She asserts the real Sawaki is “much nicer,” but the monster only says he had her completely fooled like all the rest. WEP has ensured that we can’t easily dismiss our own doubts and suspicions about Sawaki, who lest we forget, named a portrait of Ai…[Shudders] “Latent Heat”.

Ai won’t give up the fight, but between defending her doppelganger and the fact the battlefield is a pool, it isn’t long before both Ais plunge into the deep end. Much like the first episode of WEP, as we plunge deeper into dreams within dreams, the same feeling of not quite knowing what’s going on, but definitely wanting to know where the rabbit hole goes.

Our Ai, identified by her triangle hairpin (as opposed to the other Ai’s X) is pulled out of the pool by Koito in a version of the school blanketed by night. She kicks off her soggy shoes and socks and runs with Koito through the school as Sawaki Wonder Killer continues to taunt her.

On the same rooftop where Koito jumped to her death Sawaki is there, in his regular human form, but as the embodiment of the temptation of death. He tells her that her pure love for him betrays an innocence impossible for adults. Adult love is “dirty” and full of self-interest, which is why she should die before she grows up.

But as Ai stands at the edge of the roof holding hands with Koito, she remembers the words of her mom, who said ‘You only live once. Enjoy it.” The Ai who took her life expresses her regret, but our Ai smashes through the barrier between the light and dark rooftops and embraces her double.

The Sawaki Wonder Killer’s final gambit is to tell Ai how her own mother betrayed her by loving the same man she did, and “tried to put her own desires first.” But our Ai recalls to the other Ai how her mom never blamed her once when she stopped going to school, worrying about her where she couldn’t see, so she couldn’t know.

The Sawaki monster is barking up the wrong tree, because our Ai has already given her mom her blessing with the real Sawaki-sensei. When she was at her lowest, her mom supported her without judgment. Now that it’s her turn to support her mom, there’s no choice. Ai summons her multicolor pen mace and blasts the Sawaki monster into oblivion.

As Ai later tells Neiru on another rooftop, she thought she wanted to hear the truth from Koito, but maybe she didn’t need to, and she thinks she’s grateful she never did. Once the Sawaki monster is defeated, Koito is revealed and quickly vanishes, and a third AI created by Frill appears: one named Kirara Rodriguez Matured XVIII Evening Star SS Plum.

No doubt Kirara is there to kill Leon and stoke fear, rage, or something else in Ai, but Ai doesn’t rise to her provocations. As Rika is banished from the Accas’ domain as a cause lost to Frill, the other Ai basically takes a bullet for our Ai, as Kirara takes her blue eye.

Ai wakes up in her house, with both eyes intact, knowing the other Ai protected her. Unlike Momoe and Rika, she got out of her dream before Frill’s creation could cause any serious psychological damage. But before she parted with the other Ai, our Ai resolved to become a warrior of Eros, fighting Thanatos, the temptation of death.

It’s a hopeful, if somewhat confusing finish to what was for me, by far, the most visually and thematically ambitious and emotionally immersive series of Winter 2021. Rika and Momoe are in rough shape, but Ai seems to be stronger than ever, and Neiru seems…fine? Even more encouraging is that this is not the end; the story will be concluded in a special that’s scheduled to air June 30. It’s too early yet to declare the fellowship failed.

However it ends, Wonder Egg Priority was a deeply visceral, powerful, unforgettable ride that would have restored my faith in anime had I lost that faith in the first place. I’ll surely be revisiting this series somewhere down the road, and most definitely checking out whatever else director  Wakabayashi Shin and writer/creator Nojima Shinji make in the future.

Wonder Egg Priority – 11 – Deviled

Rika helps enough Egg Girls to free Chiaki, only for her to pass through her hands and vanish right after resurrecting. Rika then meets Dot, who like Hyphen is beholden to Frill. She brutally murders Mannen and destroys Rika’s weapon, causing her to cower in abject horror.

One night (or rather when the underground Wonder Egg compound is in night mode) Ai stops by Acca and Ura-Acca’s house. She finds an office filled with clippings of teenage suicides, as well as what looks like a family portrait: the two Accas in the human form, a woman…and a child whose face is concealed by black marker.

Ura-Acca, who had been waiting for Ai, proceeds to tell her a long and sorrowful tale of hubris and tragedy—to help her better understand her and the other girls’ true roles in their not-so-little game of Wonder Egg.

Some years ago when they had human form, Acca and Ura-Acca shared a living space and cloistered research facility. Constantly under surveillance, they decided to create something all their own together, “just for fun”. That something was an artificial girl of 14 who named herself Frill.

In addition to having the traits that “a father would want his daughter to have”, she also had character flaws built into her heuristic programming, as “being uncontrollable is the essence of femininity.”

The Accas and Frill became a happy family of three, and moments often happened when they forgot she was an AI. At a tech symposium, the Accas met Hoshina Azusa, whom both befriended and eventually developed feelings. Azusa ended up choosing Acca over Ura-Acca. They married and she became pregnant with a girl.

If the Accas are Dr. Frankenstein, Frill soon became their “Monster”. She didn’t take Azusa’s interloping well, hinting that she hated her for basically stealing Acca away. She also wanted a friend, and wanted to make one herself; they ended up letting her make two: Dot and Hyphen. Then one night while Azusa was in the bath, Frill switched on a hair dryer and threw it into the tub, killing Azusa.

An unspeakably bereft Acca threw Frill down the steps beats, her, and locks her in a cellar. While she exhibited no remorse for the murder, she still pleaded not to be left in the dark. But while Azusa died, her infant daughter Himari survived, and ended up “saving” Acca and Ura-Acca from the utter depths of despair as a new family unit was forged.

One day, a now middle school-aged Himari has a strange conversation with “uncle” Ura-Acca, promising to marry him  when she was old enough; a consolation for her mother choosing Acca. That night, they found Himari dead in the tub. It looked like she’d slit her wrists, but there was no suicide note.

Remembering how she popped her lips the way Frill often did, Ura-Acca goes down to the cellar to find Frill is not only still active, but surrounded by surveillance technology and whatnot.

Ura-Acca accuses her of using Dot and Hyphen to kill Himari, Frill simply replies “I’m not a monster. I’m Frill,” and asks him if he wants to know how the girl who loved her “uncle” so much died. Enraged, Ura-Acca takes her away and seemingly destroys her by burning her in a fire.

Ura-Acca concludes by telling AI that the “temptation of death” will cause more girls to “die when they don’t have to” unless it’s stopped…all because of their “mistake.” Dot and Hyphen have apparently already closed Momoe’s heart with fear and caused Rika to build walls of hatred—they both appear on monitors in a set up not unlike Frill’s—but the Ura-Acca decided to at least tell Ai the truth about everything.

Nearly smashing a Wonder Egg on the ground in anger and frustration, Ai decides against it, but clearly isn’t happy with the information she’s received. Heck, we never even found out what, if anything, Sawaki-sensei told her about Koito’s death! That egg may contain the last girl Ai needs to protect to free Koito. But if Dot and Hyphen come for her, and murder her animal friend, what will Ai do then? What can she do?

This episode pulled back the curtain on the pair of mysterious mannequins who seemingly gave up their human bodies after enduring too much tragedy while within them. No one should have to suffer what they suffered. The thing is, everything happened was their fault—the brutal consequences of playing God and rejecting their creation—and involving Ai and the others only compounded their offense.

Between the hubris they exhibited in committing the monstrously irresponsible act of creating a life for fun—who became twisted by jealousy and slipped completely out of their control—and the fact that they then deceived and used four teenage girls as tools to try to fix their mistake, I still can’t summon much sympathy for them. I just hope there’s some way Ai, maybe with Neiru’s help, can save Momoe and Rika from their respective fresh hells.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Chihayafuru 3 – 10 – The Same as Always

Aside from a minute at the women’s final (a minute so quick I wonder why it bothered) the episode is dominated by the final between Arata and his society-mate Murao. The two have played countless games together, but Arata enters the match unsettled.

He’s unsure why he sighed after learning Taichi lost, and when he tries to visualize himself in his old room playing against Chihaya, he’s suddenly replaced by Taichi. Rather than a motivating factor, Taichi becomes a distraction Arata can’t afford.

Matters are made worse by the food Yuu gave Arata, which gives him the runs in the middle of a match. By the time he returns he’s lost four more cards and Murao has built a lead of eleven. Arata also doesn’t know which cards were read and which are dead.

He eventually settles down and mounts a calm, efficient comeback, focusing on offense rather than his usual balanced game. He ends up with the victory, and will face Dr. Harada (an offensive specialist) in the match that will determine who challenges Master Suo.

Back in Kyoto, Chihaya is hanging out her girl friends, staying up past curfew playing cards and chatting. But when she goes to grab some tea, she encounters Taichi in the hall; he says he “felt better” so he rejoined the class, and tells her Dr. Harada won the qualifying final and will face Arata.

Chihaya isn’t sure quite how to react, nor does she know yet who she’ll root for in the East-West match. Taichi, meanwhile, passes out as soon as he re-enters the boy’s dorm, leaving Desktomu to tuck him into a futon. Not being able to face Arata is certainly a blow, as is knowing that if he couldn’t get to him, he wouldn’t have had much of a chance against him regardless.

Assassins Pride – 07 – The Blue-Flamed Assailant

On the eve of a training trip to her hometown of Shangarta, Rosetti begs Kufa to pretend to be her lover so she can refuse the hand of the man chosen by her father, Marquis Blossom Pricket. Judging by a cold open in which a young, lighter-haired Kufa is with an unconscious young Rose in a burning church, the two go back far further than we thought, and Kufa decides to help her out again here.

Naturally, Melida doesn’t like this one bit, as she doesn’t want her instructor to have even pretend eyes for anyone but her. Marquis Blossom arrives (and with him a very Gilderoy Lockhart vibe), but the dispute over who shall marry Rose is tabled, as prep for the trip takes precedence.

Incidentally, that cold open came in the form of one of many strange dreams Melida has been having, no doubt due to the fact Kufa transferred his mana to her in order to help her awaken hers. She continues to hear a voice no one else can (not even Black Madia AKA “Instructor Laqua”), but then hears a scream everyone hears while chasing after a troubled Kufa.

One of the students has been rendered unconscious, though shows no signs of injury (unless they didn’t check her neck carefully). Marquis Blossom whips out a magic potion that reveals the mana of the culprit: blue, male, and belonging to someone still in their teenage years. In other words, the only one around fitting that description is Kufa.

This is the second plot point (after Rosetti’s betrothal) to be tabled so the training trip can press on, which is odd because nothing comes of the potion pointing to Kufa as the culprit, he attends the rest of the group on the train as if nothing happened. I was also surprised to learn that Shangarta isn’t one of the domes that make up Flandore, but a separate bustling town in its own right, built deep into a chasm. It’s a fascinating place, made all the more bizarre by the presence of several “mystery spots” Marquis Blossom vaguely states do not follow the normal laws of nature.

There is also a raging disease in which townsfolk take leave of their senses and become mindless killers and need to be quickly put down…sounds pretty vampiric to me! The way Blossom so casually executes the afflicted man in front of all the students is quite disturbing.

Rosetti takes Kufa to the same church we saw in the cold open—thankfully not on fire in the present—and introduces him to all of the orphans her father has taken in and lies about him being her lover. I wonder how far such a fiction can be taken.

Melida certainly voices her displeasure at the existence of such a farce, to the point she forces Kufa to put her socks on, conceding that he doesn’t see her as a woman. Kufa offers to make it up to her by taking her on a late-night date, and he is immediately forgiven as her frustration turns to bubbly delight.

Specifically, Kufa takes Melida to a glowing magical cave that contains one of the “mystery spots”, where the two are able to glide across the surface of the water and fly about as if weightless in a stirring scene that further builds the chemistry between them. But once Melida is back in bed, she’s back to having weird vampirish dreams most likely involving a young Kufa, and is awakened by Elise with bad news: another student has been attacked, and Kufa is nowhere to be found.

I’m not prepared to conclude Kufa is deceiving her intentionally—these attacks could well be subconscious on his part (unless he’s being framed). The bottom line is, Kufa hasn’t told Melida enough about him for her to paint a full picture, so in a way he’s already deceiving her by omission.

Fruits Basket – 21 – Prince Yuki, The Witch, and The Demon Queen

The cold open was so different from what I’m used to with Fruits BasketI momentarily thought my fansub might be a mislabeled episode of some dark mystery or maho shoujo anime. That is, until the appearance of Hanajima Saki, just before Minagawa Motoko wakes up from her nightmare in her hair bonnet.

Motoko is the third-year rep for the Souma Yuki fan club, Prince Yuki, of which we haven’t seen much since much earlier episodes. But along with her first- and second-year counterparts Yamagishi Mio and Kinoshita Minami, Motoko is committed to “getting rid” of the vile “witch” Honda Tooru.

They believe she has stolen their beloved Yuki’s heart with an evil spell, but she’s under the protection of the “demon queen” Hanajima Saki, whom they must defeat in order to get to Tooru.

If it sounds like these three girls have a case of chuunibyou, well…it kinda is, what with the specialized jargon, military-like procedures, and serial pose-strikin’! But mostly, they’re simply jealous of Tooru and Yuki’s relationship, despite knowing next to nothing about it, and believe their numbers give them the right to determine what’s best for Yuki.

While Motoko, Minami and Mio all have the same idea of Saki’s home (a haunted western mansion surrounded by graves), they’re surprised to find it’s…just a normal house. Her room is normal too, aside from the persistent black-and-purple theme (she even has some of the same shoujo series as they do!).

They’re looking for a weakness…anything they can use. Instead, they find Saki’s little brother, Megumi, who was hiding in the closet and only comes out when Saki tells him to.

Megumi: New friends of yours?
Saki: No. They’re strangers that happen to go to the same school and be the same gender as me.

I love how Saki and Megumi never for a moment stop being the people they always are, but by doing so keep the three Prince Yuki reps in a perpetual state of unease and dread. Saki warned them not to say their names in the house, and later Megumi explains why that is: all he needs is someone’s name to put a curse on them…or to counter-curse their counter-curse.

When the youngest of the reps starts wanting to leave immediately, the three finally come out with it: they want Saki to tell Tooru to stop being so close to Yuki. Megumi immediately takes their position for what it is—jealousy—and in trying to explain that it’s not jealousy, just being mad about someone having something they don’t have, she just ends up…describing jealousy.

Both Megumi and the musical score turn serious when he gravely warns them not to assume they can do what they want just because they like someone, and that pushing such intense love as theirs on someone can burden or hurt them, not loving them back. He asks them to consider how Yuki feels and respect those feelings, before they end up making him hate them.

Then he gravely says their names, one after the other, which sends them bolting out of the house, passing by the youngest (and most normal) Hanajima sibling in the process. They clearly forgot that Megumi could hear them using their names while he was hiding.

Hopefully, Motoko, Minami and Mio learned something from their visit to Saki’s house about taking such strong and unyielding positions about things they know so little about…but I’m not going to hold my breath, because the next day they’ll still have their huge fan club with its book of rules, and their two simultaneous, contradictory believes Yuki shouldn’t belong to anyone, but also should secretly belong to each of them.

Saki, on the other hand, took Megumi’s words to heart about jealousy, because she admits that’s what she’s felt ever since Tooru started living with Yuki, Kyou, and Shigure and had many adventures with them and the other Soumas. She tells herself she mustn’t let those feelings of loneliness make her selfishly think her needs and desires vis-a-vis Tooru are any more important than those of others.

With that, her loneliness is extinguished when Arisa and Tooru arrive at her front door; turns out Tooru doesn’t have to work until later, so she can hang out with Arisa and Saki. That brings a big, bright, very ungothic smile to Saki’s face.

The next morning, Motoko again awakes from a nightmare involving the “demon queen” Saki and hell, let’s call him Saki’s “death squire” Megumi. Minami and Mio also had nightmares, even though Saki teases them that the “curse” won’t take effect for three days.

But like their vilification of Saki and Tooru, perhaps those dreams are nothing more than a manifestation of their ugly jealousy, which starts as less ugly loneliness. After all, not a single member of Prince Yuki can possibly be happy, since they all love him, yet cannot be with him.

*  *  *

After twenty-one episodes, who is my favorite Fruits Basket character? Uotani Arisa. NEXT QUESTION. Who is my second-favorite? Hanajima Saki. NO MORE QUESTIONS. 

Both women are as strong as they are because they are able to be upfront and honest about their “weaknesses,” and while they have no time for childish challenges thrown their way by their would-be, so-called “adversaries,” they’re not above putting a good ol’ scare into them—and not below delivering wise advice when it’s called for. Tooru is as blessed to have them as they are blessed to have her in their lives.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how goshdarn funny this episode was…I was laughing from start to finish at the Prince Yuki reps’ petty machinations and while watching their absolute drubbing at the hands of a young woman (and little brother) they never had any business trifling with.

Fruits Basket – 20 – Sickeningly Immature

Yes, it was wonderful that Tooru was able to become good friends with Kisa, and through that friendship, encourage her to talk and go back to school. And yes, it’s also nice that Tooru gets to meet the Sheep (Goat) of the Zodiac and assure him that with his smarts and courage to admit to his own failings and weaknesses, he will one day be a splendid “prince” to Kisa’s princess.

BUT. But but but but but. But. God DAMN is Souma Hiro an immensely annoying brat! One who comes into Tooru’s life out of nowhere and immediately starts treating her like dirt. And he never, ever, ever shuts the fuck up. While I realize his importance to the story, his presence almost always detracted from my enjoyment of the episode.

In this regard, I identified with Kyou, in that I really wanted to slug the little punk at times (though I would have probably not made that known to Hiro as Kyou did, as owning up to the deside to knock Hiro’s teeth out doesn’t make things any more pleasant for Kyou).

Yes, there’s a reason Hiro is such a little shit: he’s just in sixth grade, and while he’s an otherwise sharp kid, the fact of the matter is he’s intensely jealous of Tooru spending so much time with Kisa, even as he spend much of recent weeks ignoring Kisa and pretending he doesn’t want to hang out or watch anime with her.

We eventually learn the reason for that, as well, and suddenly Hiro’s frustration and lousy attitude come more into focus. Hiro blames himself for what happened to Kisa, because before she was bullied at school, she was badly beaten by Akito, all because Hiro told Akito he loved Kisa.

Once more Akito emerges as the bogeyman, the uber-villain of Fruits Basket: vicious, cruel, wildly unpredictable, and utterly determined going to make sure every Souma is as miserable as he is, if not moreso. As Shigure and Hatori discuss Hiro’s case and the toll of Akito’s wrath, Shigure not-so-subtly declares that one day Akito will be sorry for doing as he pleases all this time.

So yeah, it makes sense for a kid like Hiro to act out as a result of hating how helpless he was to spare Kisa, as well as how easily Tooru managed to comfort and heal her when she’s such a damn space cadet. At times, I was almost glad someone was finally calling Tooru out on her constant apologies and modesty, but at the same time, Tooru’s apologies are always genuine, as is her modesty.

She’ll never admit she’s good at sorting out Soumas. She helps them simply by existing as herself, even if that self is deeply flawed and troubled. This episode did as good a job as it could rehabilitating Hiro into someone sympathetic and understandable, but likable? He’ll never be that for me. Not until he grows up a bit more, and stops kicking Tooru! Damnit!

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 06 – Solo Sumo

The cultural festival committee, wanting to boost outside attendance this year, come to the lit club requesting they come up with a romantic urban legend. Little do they know how sensitive a subject romance is for all five of the girls, for very different reasons. And yet, just when the other four are ready for a vehement refusal from Rika, she quietly agrees to take the job.

Hitoha, meanwhile, feels like she’s in a sumo match all by herself, as she’s walking around in a cold, uncomfortable black thong, part of another example of her dangerous “indirect play” with Milo-sensei. It’s all about the fact she’s wearing it, he knows she’s wearing it, and she know he knows she’s wearing it, but he doesn’t seem that excited.

Instead, when the pretty (and age-appropriate) Tomita-sensei shows up, he leaves with her, and while flirting lets loose an important nugget Hitoha will use later. I still hold out hope Milo, the adult, will stop this before things go too far.

There’s a different match going on between Niina and Kazusa, and Momo is ill-equipped to referee. The problem is, the Niina and Kazusa girl are playing with different sets of rules. When Niina tells Kazusa to imagine how she’d want her love story with Izumi to start, Kazusa brings up how beautiful Niina is and how she lacks the same confidence over her looks.

When Niina presses, saying Kazusa is cute and in any case a relationship isn’t all about looking perfect, Kazusa flees. Momo tells Niina that she should clear it up with Kazusa that there’s nothing going on with Izumi, but Niina would rather exercise some “tough love.” For one thing, if there’s nothing to spur Kazusa or Izumi on, they’ll remain in limbo forever. Not to mention Niina is (rightfully!) mad at one of her supposed best friends Kazusa for assuming what so many others have—that she’s out to “steal their man.”

Rika, the one lit club member who has “won” her match and now has a boyfriend, has no idea what to do next. Amagi is eager to sing out their relationship from the rooftops, but she’d rather find a way to hide it in a forest. She wants to ask Amagi for a little more time to do so, but going public seems like something very important to him. This couple will need to learn to find a middle ground, lest it wither like an unpicked fruit on the vine.

Bereft of good ideas, Hitoha suggests a club field trip to an inn…the inn run by Milo-sensei’s family which she heard about while he was flirting with Tomita-sensei. Hitoha has since been given the run-around by her “editor,” saying erotica is no good and purer “young love” pieces are what’s hot now (the girl who published erotica ahead of her didn’t fare so well). Hitoha now finds herself perfectly positioned to draw from her own life for this new literary direction. She promises Milo she’ll thank him “with her body.”

The change of scenery doesn’t do much to get the creative juices flowing, particularly for Kazusa due to an incident on the train when Niina mentioned she had tea with Izumi. While Niina hoped being aggressive would spur Kazusa to action, it’s having an unexpected effect of making Kazusa retreat ever further into her burrow of self-loathing.

A break for baths is called when in the brainstorming session Kazusa suggests an urban legend about blowing up the school so you can be with the one you love in heaven forever. Dark. Shit. But even in the baths, Kazusa can’t escape her worsening inferiority complex, as Niina walks in without even trying to cover herself, showing off a body against which Kazusa doesn’t think she has any chance.

Niina is right to think neither Kazusa or Izumi will come out of their shells without external action. She’s also right to be hurt by Kazusa assuming she’s trying to steal Izumi, as well as the fact she believes Niina is the better choice because of her looks. But the difficulty level is way too high, and by episode’s end Kazusa has literally burned out in the bath. Whether Niina takes it down a notch for Kazusa’s sake depends on whether she honestly has zero interest in Izumi—the jury’s still out on that.

As for Momo, she’s mostly caught in between other conflicts this week. While there’s not much additional evidence this week to support viewers’ growing opinion that she’s into girls—and has a crush on Niina in particular—I would definitely welcome further exploration of that development. For now, she’s trying her best to keep the peace, because Niina vs. Kazusa could get ugly, fast.

Sarazanmai – 09 – Only the Bad Ones Survive

Things go from bad to worse in the Azumi Sara comedy of errors. While trying to free Prince Keppi from ice, he slides out into the street, where he’s shattered by a passing otter-aligned Dekotora truck. Not a great start! Still, with all the comedic musical stabs, it was clear Keppi was probably going to be fine in the end. After all, he’s a magical creature!

Enta, on the other hand? Not a magical creature, just a boy who was shot by the police. Since Mabo and Reo brainwashed all the other cops, they won’t listen to his story, and instead place all the blame on Chikai. Tao sees Enta on the news, he leaves Enta in Kazaki’s care. Tao, meanwhile, is the only one who can stand with his big brother. As expected, through extremely whimsical means Sara manages to reassemble and thaw Keppi.

Enta’s sister Otone eventually convinces Kazaki to finally face Enta and try to talk to him, and to his surprise, Enta is alive and well…only in Kappa form, thanks to the newly-built Keppi springing into action right away. There’s a catch, however: there’s a ticking clock on Enta’s kappa cap, indicating when he’ll die. If they’re going to save him, they’ll need dishes fast. Time is of the essence.

Once off the ferry, Chikai meets up Masa with a former little bro in his gang who knows the truth about Tao killing the boss years ago. After hanging around with him for a while, before they depart Chikai kills him because he was “to good to survive,” and when he’s confronted by another gangster, Chikai is surprised to find Tao has a pistol of his own, and is providing covering fire for his escape.

To drive home the fact that Mabo and Reo are not your conventional two-dimentional villains, the latter is excited to have been reunited with the former until he catches him being worked over by a desirous doppelganger; a mirror of the desires within Reo. The real Reo resolves to take back the real Mabu with his own strength, suggesting he’s not in lockstep with his otter kin.

When Kazaki collects a dish from his room, Haruka is awake, and asks him if he’s leaving again. Kazaki doesn’t sugar-coat things; he may be going into danger, but it’s to help Enta, whom Haruka recognizes is someone more than deserving of help from his brother for everything he did for both of them. Haruka also produces a drawing of Kazaki playing soccer that he drew with Enta, and Kazaki suddenly remembers meeting Tao when he was little.

Tao, meanwhile, follows his brother as far as he can, before he realizes that even he isn’t safe from being offed once his usefulness is at an end. That time seems to arrive when Tao catches up with Chikai, only for Chikai to pull a gun on him. Before he can kill Tao, he’s shot by the other gangster from long range, who is, in turn, shot by Chikai before he collapses.

Turns out Chikai was wrong; it’s not always the bad ones who survive. Or is he? As he lies dying and Tao weeps on the roof of the suddenly very funereal-looking ferry, memories of their brotherhood flash by, showing a loving Chikai and Tao who were always there for one another, even as Chikai grew darker and more troubled, Tao never ceased to stay beside him.

In Chikai’s pocket is a photo of their family with everyone scratched out by Sharpie except for Tao. As terrible a person as he was, Kuji Chikai wasn’t always that way, and he never stopped loving Tao. But now he’s gone, and Tao has a choice.

Fruits Basket – 05 – Rescuing the Princess

This episode’s cold open moved me to tears. Tooru’s grandfather has informed her that his house is sufficiently ready for them to move back in. Just like that, her new life with her unique new friends has been snatched away from her.

There’s a palpable atmosphere of gloom and emptiness to the scene in which she tells the others, before realizing she hasn’t started dinner. Then, while in the kitchen, her mom suddenly walks in the door, and she’s in her old kitchen, making dinner despite suffering a fever.

When she tells her mom she couldn’t just stay in bed while she’s working so hard, her mom simply hugs her, and says sometimes it’s okay to be discouraged or selfish, once in a while. It’s as if she almost did too good a job raising her daughter!

When the kettle whistles she’s brought back to the Souma house, and declares that no, she’s okay. It doesn’t matter if she can get discouraged, she won’t get discouraged. Gramps’ newly renovated house may well be fine; and definitely better than her tent!

But for someone who’s come so far in so short a time, it feels like moving backwards, and that she’s deferring her happiness in order to go with the flow. Trying to convince herself she and the Soumas can’t be family when they already are just that.

It’s heartbreaking and yes, tear-jerking. It remains so as she tells herself she was never the brightest bulb, hearkening back to grade school when she played in the “Fruits Basket” game that gives this series its name, and in which she was cruelly excluded by being declared an onigiri.

She declares it foolish to ever believe she could join the Fruits Basket group of Zodiac animals that is the Souma clan. But she’s wrong, you see. She’s foolish to think she was or is foolish. It’s when she’s welcomed “home”, where her grandfather can’t even get her fucking name right, when I thought to myself it can’t end this way.

I’m not alone, as a melancholy Yuki and Kyou recall all the good times they had with their dear friend Tooru, whom they allowed to depart without any resistance, and suddenly sport defiant looks on their faces. They’re on my side; they’re not gonna let it end this way.

Every second Tooru is in that hellish house with those trash people, it made my blood boil. Being asked to hurry up and unpack her meager two shopping bags of effects. Her mother’s older sister hiring a P.I. to investigate where Tooru was living to protect her son, who’s going to be a police officer and can’t have any bad apples in the family mucking that up. Calling her sister a bad seed and declaring “like mother, like daughter.” Tooru’s asshole of a cousin, leering at her while asking if the men she lived with did anything indecent.

Gramps may confuse Tooru with his daughter, but he’s still sharp enough to slap his would-be cop punk of a grandson for speaking to “Kyouko” that way, and condemning his family as a bunch of “unpleasant people”…which they most certainly are! Go Gramps! He concedes that he has to put up with them, but tells her that she doesn’t. Her late father said Kyouko deserved to live where she could “spread her wings,” so if there’s a place where she’s happier, she should go there.

Still, Tooru resists. She doesn’t deserve “more.” She has to be grateful with what she has. She’s “blessed”. She shouldn’t say “I want to go home,” and home not be her gramps’. She can’t say “I didn’t want to leave!” If she did, that would be selfish, and mean she’s too soft on herself? “Yes,” replies Yuki, suddenly in the living room, dazzling the stage.

Flashback to before his surprise appearance; he and Kyou are taking out their frustration on each other, as per ususal, with Shigure in the middle. Yuki notices the note with Tooru’s address on the table, and excuses himself to take a walk. Kyou has the same thought, but is just a step behind.

He catches up, and after walking around in circles, remember the exterior walls of the house aren’t finished. They knock on the door but no one answers, then watch the scene we just saw unfold and wait for the right time to swoop in. When that moment arrives, Yuki is there, followed closely by Kyou, who escorts her out while Yuki grabs her things and calls her cousin a lowlife.

Kyou tells her he’s been on edge since the moment she left, and now knows why: she didn’t want to leave. It’d piss him off to indulge someone’s daily selfishness, but in Tooru’s case, it’s okay once in a while, repeating the words her mother said to her. So she finally lets herself be selfish, and declares she wants to go home to where he and Yuki and Shigure are.

Yuki and Kyou take her hands and do just that. Finally, in the Fruits Basket game of her life, the onigiri has been chosen. Her new tribe may not be perfect, and their house always on the verge of being destroyed by familial strife, but she’s home, with her family, where she belongs. As the cameras pan up from the exterior of the house to the dusk sky, it’s never looked more beautiful.