Spy x Family – 21 – Not My Mama

WISE agent Fiona Frost, AKA Nightfall (voiced by Sakura Ayane in her lower meter) could just as easily be named Snowfall, seeing as she’s outwardly as chilly as Yor is warm. When Handler tells her she’ll be working on a joint mission with Twilight, Fiona jumps at the chance.

She considers it an opportunity to speed up and improve Operation Strix by getting rid of his fake wife, a position she would have occupied had she not been busy on another mission when Strix began. Fiona is met at the door by guileless Yor, who apparently doesn’t feel any killing intent in Loid’s co-worker from the hospital, even as Fiona’s resting face is a piecing dagger stare

When she realizes that Yor considers being Anya’s mom to be fun, she changes her tack, ready to exploit Yor’s feelings of being a subpar wife, but Loid and Anya return home from walking Bond. No matter how good Fiona’s poker face is, Anya can read her mind, and she’s petrified to learn the extent of Fiona’s infatuation with her Papa. It’s way worse than Becky!

The contrast between the lovey-dovey Inner and frigid Outer Fionas makes for good laughs, as does the secret conversation-via-mouth-movements that she and Loid make while sounding like they’re exchanging mindless small talk. As Loid, Yor, and Anya interact, Fiona is constantly demanding that she and Yor switch in her head, and Anya can hear her.

Turns out Yor was paying attention to Fiona talking about Loid complaining at work, and even though Fiona didn’t get to actually specify anything, the mere mention of him complaining has Yor acrobatically leaping to the conclusion that Fiona is a potential replacement wife, no mind-reading necessary.

It’s when Anya semi-accidentally spills cocoa, and she hears Inner Fiona talking about how ruthlessly she’d whip Anya into an efficiently Stella-winning machine, that Anya runs tearfully to Yor’s side, asserting that she is the one, only, and best Mama she could have. This in turn spurs Yor to promising to Loid that she’ll do better, even though from his perspective she’s already been doing fine.

When she sees Loid’s fake smile, Fiona is heartened, as it means that at the end of the day this is all an act. And yet, at the same time, she can see some of the truth leaking through that fake smile, and the genuine peace and happiness Loid is experiencing with Yor and Anya is just too much, and Fiona takes her leave.

Loid chases her down with an umbrella, which she declines, while thanking the heavy rain for hiding her face full of heartbreak and anguish. Inside, she maintains that she’s the only wife worthy of her beloved senpai, while outside she negs Loid, telling him the new “softer” Twilight better not impede their joint mission.

Fiona is a stylish and welcome addition to the cast; someone who is actively trying to steal Loid while having no idea how to do so, someone with contrasting inner-outer personalities off which Anya can bounce, and a hint of genuine pathos for someone whose fated role by Loid’s side was usurped due to bad timing.

The final fifth of the episode is a little vignette in which Bond is suddenly jealous of her stuffed Mr. Penguin, and assaults it in the night. Loid eventually mends the doll (after Yor utterly failed) and notes that his “scars” are badges of honor for a veteran penguin spy.

A contrite bond offers peace peanuts to Anya, who forgives him, apologizes for saying she hated him, and enacts a peace treaty between him and Mr. Penguin. It’s slight and sweet—almost to the point of cloying—but does make for a nice parallel for the East-West conflict (would that it could be solved so easily) and reminds us that even precognitive flooffers can get jealous.

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 09 – Bittersweet Symphony

This episode, which finally fully chronicles the height and eventual fall of Mizuto and Yume, begins simply, with the two sharing a tender kiss without fanfare during the golden hour on a quiet street. The look they share after said kiss may just be the only time in the entire episode that they are truly on the same wavelength with one another.

When Yume is invited to Mizuto’s house, room, and bed (to sit on) when his parents aren’t home, she gets understandably excited, only for the two to spend hours reading a book together. It’s pleasant, but it’s less than Mizuto hoped for; she was ready to take the next step. So was Mizuto. But it just…didn’t happen. And it never would.

The first sign of the couple drifting apart is when they find themselves in separate classes for the third year of middle school. They still meet in their treasured library after school, and make a pinky promise to make wonderful memories for Christmas and Valentine’s. But then Yume gradually opens up and makes friends in her class.

Mizuto is irked by her newfound popularity, and when they are together, all she talks about is her friends this or her friends that. Feeling like they’re drifting away from each other hurts, so he hurts her back by snapping at her. He fully prepares to apologize the next day, but when Yume first sees him in the library, he’s chatting with another girl…in her chair.

His apology goes right through her, as she feels he betrayed her in the special place where they met and shared so many memories. And that bitter memory of seeing him with that other girl haunts him. It’s just a fight couples always have, but they let it fester and see less and less of each other.

When they finally encounter one another, it’s by chance at a bookstore, and Mizuto suggests, and Yume agrees, that they should make up and put the rancor behind them. But it’s just words. Mizuto is still hung up on being accused of cheating, while Yume is vexed by how far ahead he’s walking.

Once inseparable, the two fall completely out of sync, and their relationship falls off the rails. Yume thinks of inviting Mizuto to the festival where he found her, but fails to send the invite text and goes alone, hoping things will just work out like they did a year ago, even though she knows they won’t. Then their one-year anniversary comes and goes with nary a text from him.

The Christmas and Valentine’s memories they promised to share become exercises in bitter solitude, as both Mizuto and Yume remain incommunicado for those holidays. Finally, when graduation comes along, Mizuto quietly suggests, and Yume agrees, that they should break up.

At that point it felt less like and end and more like a “liberation.” He couldn’t deny his affection for Yume, but couldn’t deny the building resentment either. Little things turned into big things and finally the only thing: pain and anguish. The rest, we know: their parents get married a few months later, and they are introduced to each other as stepsiblings.

Fast-forward back to the present, where Yume is helping herself to one of Mizuto’s many many books, and happens to land on the same one they read together the first time she entered that room. The two reveal to one another in reminiscing that they both had the same intentions that day: to take their relationship to the next step.

You could say that day was really the beginning of the end, since it led to “aged plagued with regret” for Mizuto and “wasted time feeling she was undesirable” for Yume. And yet, thanks to their parents, a new beginning was written; one that allows them to reflect on their past missteps while seeing each other in a new light.

It was powerful and affecting watching their bittersweet first relationship crash and burn so utterly. From the cozy warmth of their (presumably) first kiss to the stark chill of their breakup scene, it was a harrowing roller coaster of a tale that added fresh context, richness, and gravitas to their present-day dynamic.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 19 – Thing of the Past

Kazuya wakes up with the mother of all hangovers, but also an odd fuzzy memory of Chizuru having taken care of him last night. He’s not sure if it’s just a fantasy, but what is real is that he was invited to a chat group that includes Chizuru’s private contact (not the Rental GF one he has and cannot use when not renting her).

He stops himself from adding her as a friend as it would send her a notification, but fantasy and reality once again collide in his booze-addled brain when he finds an energy drink in his fridge with a hand-written note from Chizuru (reading “Drunkard!”) that proves she was indeed there. We also cut to Chizuru also contemplating hitting the “add a friend” button for Kazuya.

To me, all this means that Kazuya and Chizuru want to and probably should start acting like the neighbors and good friends they so clearly are, only their personal hangups and the fact Kazuya is always renting her services keep things cloudy and complicated. This week also reminds us that Ruka is technically his actual girlfriend, and at work she checks in with him on whether he’s ready to make them “official.”

Kazuya is saved by a customer arriving at the otherwise-deserted parlor, but that customer turns out to be Mami, who heard from Kibe that he was working here and decided to stop by and mess with him (she says she’s kidding, but she isn’t). Her plans are utterly stymied by the presence of Ruka.

After Kazuya tries to sidestep Mami’s and Ruka’s curiosity towards one another, Mami is simply too friendly to Kazuya for Ruka to remain silent and professional. She grabs Kazuya and makes it clear that they’re dating, then embellishes things by claiming they’ve gone all the way, and basically condemns Mami as his ex for coming by his work at all.

Mami has her knowledge of Chizuru as a rental girlfriend loaded, and decides to use it, but it misfires, as Ruka is not only aware but seemingly okay with it? Mami retreats for now, if not defeated, utterly bewildered by what the heck is going on with her ex. Ruka ends up in tears over the ordeal, and Kazuya can only sit and wait for her to cry it out.

Note, Kazuya is not to be sympathized with here—all of this is his doing, and if he were honest to Ruka about not having feelings for her, they wouldn’t be in this unsustainable “half-relationship” that is so easily threatened by a passing ex. If anything, I sympathize with Mami, who on one occasion asks herself why she’s wasting her time even thinking about Kazuya and his palace of lies.

The answer the show implies is that as much as she doesn’t want to admit it, she’s not over the guy. I prefer the interpretation that she’s infected by the same brain worms as Chizuru and Ruka, which beyond all logic and reason render Kazuya a halfway tolerable presence. (Sumi, the best girl, is either immune or not infected due to how rarely she and Kazuya interact.)

Speaking of Chizuru, she returns at the end of the episode boarding the same train as Mami, and a deeply awkward train ride ensues, with Mami being not subtle at all about the concept of obtaining items while they’re as new as possible lest they fall out of fashion. On the surface, she’s talking about Chizuru’s bag, which Mami identifies as having been in Kazuya’s apartment that one night.

Because Mami cannot for whatever reason stop thinking about Kazuya, the gears in her brain continue to churn late into the night, as she attempts, like a private eye, to piece together Kazuya’s intricate galaxy of stupidity. While Ruka’s account is locked, Mami finds Kazuya’s grandma, and decides to follow her in hopes of gathering more intel.

From Yuuki Aoi’s half-bored, half-threatening, alway mocking sing-song lilt to the design of her disheveled hair and dead eyes, Mami is always portrayed as a potential chaos-spreading force, and the show seems more often than not to side with Kazuya and the others over her, as if she were reaping what she sowed by dumping Kazuya before fully realizing how she felt about him.

But I don’t see Mami as a villain. What Kazuya is doing is far more villainous. Mami may be looking to score points or exact some kind of vengeance, but she’s also trying to get at the truth of matters, and the truth is Kazuya’s relationships with Chizuru and Ruka are fundamentally flawed and require serious work.

Kazuya should have dumped Ruka, confessed to Chizuru and been rejected, get over it, then asked out Sumi, with whom he is the best version of himself, long ago. The excuse of not wanting to disappoint his grandma has long since ceased holding water. If he insists on maintaining the status quo, stringing Ruka along while he and Chizuru push and pull towards and away from one another, I welcome Mami’s efforts to break that status quo.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 02 – Fifth Wheel

Shuuta, Ran, Kouki, Mari, and Asumi have been friends since they were little, but in a flashback to those halcyon days, we see that even then Mari was in a state of turmoil rising out of the fact that…well, she wasn’t Asumi. Asumi was the glue that kept them all together; indeed, she was the one who declared RGB was a thing. And now she’s gone.

After years of being a kind of fifth wheel, Mari suddenly found herself one of four, and the estrangement of RGB resulted. That said, she’s still close to all three, especially Shuu, who is her neighbor. Their rooms are even across from one another, so she can leap between their houses to hang out—an arrangement I’ve always longed for. But Shuu is still convinced Asumi could still be alive, shuttering a window Mari can’t leap through.

As Mari meets with each of the members of RGB currently having a post-memorial fight, we also get flashbacks centered on each member. Asumi, who established RGB, deploys them where she believes their skills are most needed—even if it’s conscripting Shuu for goalkeeper duty on the sports field. As a grade schooler Mari joked that she “just can’t win” against Asumi…and that’s seemingly borne out in both past and present.

When Mari checks in on Ran and DoRed, he shows her a mural honoring Asumi while also depicting her as a badass avenging angel, a glimpse of a possible Asumi that never was since her life was snatched away so early. This mural reminds Mari of the time Asumi had Ran paint a mural in the bathhouse. Asumi was always taking the initiative and inspiring action; Mari was always in the background smiling.

Last but not least is Asumi’s actual big brother Kouki. She’s ostensibly there to gather info on a restaurant at the big modern mall administered by Suidou’s family’s Zaibatsu, which is not only her home shopping district’s main rival for the upcoming Gourmet Festival, but also a threat to her district’s very survival. But she’s also kinda sorta there to mediate RGB’s latest  tiff.

Her meeting with Kouki coincides with a Kouki-centric flashback, in which he is utterly failing to hand out flyers for a previous GourFes. Asumi, assigned to another section and having already passed out all of her flyers, urges her brother to wear a smile and appear more friendly if he wants to pass his flyers out. Before long, all the major players in the district are out to help market the Festival. Asumi, bursting with energy and charisma, simply drew everyone towards her, like a magnet-girl.

Back in the present, while walking the dog that got her in so much trouble last week, Mari ends up overhearing a conversation between her old teacher Mr. Shirakaba and SARG officer Chikushi. She learns that Mon Jungle, her family’s restaurant Itadaki’s rival at the new mall, is run by a shady quasi-gang called Yabusame. She emerges from her hiding spot after Chikushi leaves, and Shirakaba assures her the GourFes won’t be rigged.

This leads to a flashback involving Shirakaba, whose students (RGB, Asumi, and Mari) want to keep the old elementary school they attended from being demolished. Mari may not be the nucleus of their group, but it’s clear Itadaki is the group’s base of operations.

It’s there where Mari’s creative okonomiyaki depiction of a blank chalkboard gives Asumi the idea to cover the school in graffiti and spread the word of its historical, cultural, and sentimental importance to the 24th Ward. Of course, as soon as the school and the graffiti idea came up, I thought of the cold open to the first episode and I was suddenly filled with dread.

That’s because Asumi’s idea, unwittingly sparked by Mari, ended up being the death of her. As an old building in disrepair, the school was vulnerable to fire. When that fire finally happened, Mari had Asumi by the arm, outside. All she has to do is not let go and insist they wait for the firefighters. But Asumi insists on being a hero, lets go of Mari, runs into the school to try to save others…and ends up perishing in Shuu’s arms.

The flashbacks make it feel like so long ago, and yet it was so not long ago Mari still has a video on her phone of the aftermath of the fire, admonishing her future self to never forget what happened that night. Even since then, Mari has kept striving to keep up with Asumi, trying to fulfill that role as glue and nucleus, and has found herself sorely lacking. She looks up at the night sky and tells Asumi she can’t handle RGB…not on her own.

However, Mari’s three meetings with the three members of RGB inadvertently bear fruit: they’ve all gathered at Itadaki…for her sake; to make GourFes a success. They snipe at each other a bit, but they still gathered at that same table they always gathered, even though Asumi isn’t there anymore. As different as they all are, and as deep as their wounds are, they still love Mari, and want to support her.

The strategy meeting itself isn’t all that productive as Mari manages to get the boys so stuff on okonomiyaki they get food comas, but it doesn’t matter. Mari managed to get RGB back together, through their stomachs. It’s then when Asumi appears before Mari as she’s washing dishes, offering her blessing going forward while also affirming how important Mari and Itadaki are to the circle of friends.

After one week, I was a little miffed that this show seemingly focused on three dudes. But this week Sakuragi Mari was the undisputed protagonist. Forget tough; Mari felt like Asumi was an impossible act to follow, but she ended up surprising herself, as much as this episode surprised me with its ability to plumb the depths of envy, love, longing, yearning, loss, grief, regret…and redemption. It didn’t feature a single moment of madcap superpower action. It didn’t need to.

Komi Can’t Communicate – 10 – 200 Degrees

It’s Sports Day, which means a good half of the episode is spend outdoors, rain or shine. Komi meets the fiery upperclassman Netsuno Chika, who assigns specific temperatures to people. Netsuno regards Komi as “chilly” and hopes she won’t hurt her class’s chances, but as we know, Chika is misjudging a book by its cover.

Komi’s austere beauty is intimidating and aloof, but beneath that exterior is one of the warmest and kindest souls you’d ever want to meet. That soul yearns to break free of her social anxiety, and on some brief occasions, succeeds…like when Komi verbally cheers Tadano on from the crowd, giving him the boost he needs to place third in his race.

When there’s a sudden rainstorm and Komi’s class meets her mom Shuko, she’s understandably embarrassed, especially since her classmates initially mistake her mom for her and are amazed she’s talking. When the rain stops and the big relay race completes the day, Komi slips and gets covered in mud, but responds to her classmates cheering her on and completes the race, finishing second only to Netsuno, who admits she misjudged her.

The next segment involves another new character, Onemine, seemingly moving in on Komi’s man. The narrator says people with social anxiety tend to get jealous when one of their friends talks to another they don’t know, but add to the fact Komi likes Tadano, and the effortlessness with which Onemine interacts with him, and it’s doubly troubling to her.

The thing is, other than Tadano, Onemine seems like one of the most normal characters in the school. She’s a genuinely kind, decent, nice person with absolutely no ulterior motives. But like Netsuno she’s only seen Komi from afar, and worries that Tadano is stressed out by being with Komi all the time. Tadano assures her that’s not the case, and if she spoke to Komi she’d feel the same way…but when Onemine tries, Komi runs away.

Later, when Onemine is settling in to help Tadano with more class rep paperwork, Komi is more assertive and communicates via notebook that she wants to help too. This is when Onemine gets to watch Tadano and Komi interact naturally, then reads the room and makes up an excuse to leave the two lovebirds alone, later telling Komi she’s rooting for her. As I said, she’s just a nice girl!

We close out the episode with another hanging-out segment, this time with Komi, Tadano, Najimi and Ren going to a photo booth and taking some adorable photos. I particularly like how Komi is “filterproof”—any supposedly appearance-enhancing filters would only make her look less perfect than she already does. But on two occasions, Tadano notices Komi gazing at a crane game.

The next day at school, Tadano surprises Komi with the gift of a kitty keychain he won (on the first try!) at that crane game. Turns out Komi already played the game and won a kitty keychain of her own, but the two then decide to trade, so they’re giving gifts to each other. After school, Komi is so happy with Tadanos gift, she rolls around her bed and kicks her feet in the air in pure unbridled joy—a moment her mother dare not interrupt with a dinner announcement!

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.

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