Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 01 (First Impressions) – The First Ragged Cry of Rebirth

After their miraculous show in the snow at Arpino, Franchouchou’s first CD sold like hotcakes, but then Koutarou booked them for the 30,000-seat Ekimae Fudosan Stadium (EFS)…and only 500 fans attended, or 1.66% capacity. They failed to get even a single encore, and ended up in humongous debt.

That would’ve been the end of the road for most idol groups, but the Franchouchou girls weren’t ready to throw in the towel. Sakura, Ai, Saki, Junko, Lily, and Yuugiri all secured jobs with which to gradually pay off that debt, and are working towards a comeback show at the metal club where it all began a year ago. But even a month after EFS, Koutarou remains a drunken, disheveled, distraught, and infuriating mess.

He’s convinced it’s all over for Franchouchou and his Saga project, even dramatically standing on the edge of the water during a horrific storm and ranting incoherently. The girls start to consider that it may not be just about the money, because there’s no way he could’ve reasonably thought they could have sold out a stadium show. They break into his office and find a demo tape of the song they were going to perform as an encore but never did.

After Yuugiri, working at a fancier bar using the skills learned in her past life, encounters a horrendously drunk Koutarou mistakenly sticking his head in, then going outside to vomit. He’s in a very bad way!

The day of their concert arrives, and Sakura tries one more time to get through to him, but ultimately loses her patience. She returns to the others, and they go forward with the metal show, despite the fact almost no one in the crowd wants to see an idol group aside from their handful of hardcore fans.

The girls are confident if they can just take a step in the right direction they can begin the hard climb back to recognition, but the crowd is, to say the least, impatient and hostile. Their performance suffers due to Koutarou not being there, but a grizzled bartender eventually guilt-trips him into running to the venue, where he yells for an encore from the back and starts a huge brawl.

Re-energized by the timely arrival of their eccentric producer, Franchouchou slaps their collective cheeks, bears down, and belts out the encore song with power and confidence. As with the last season, the group is CGI, but I wasn’t bothered.

On the contrary, the performance really packed a punch, especially since the CG looks like an improvement on the first season. Even after that, they only get mild applause, but they managed to pull it off. The zombie idols clawed their way back from the dead…again!

A bit later, the girls assemble in the basement and are further heartened to find that Koutarou, still bearing the scars of the concert brawl, has shaved, cut his hair, and dried himself out. Recognizing how they’ve been able to pull off everything he’s asked for (aside from the totally unreasonable EFS gig). With their producer’s head back—and pocket squid—in the game, the Zombie Land Saga Project continues apace.

Zombieland Saga picks its zany story back up nicely without missing a beat, offering the same wonderful blend of weirdness (the foley on their undead body movements is always great), charming camaraderie, heartfelt drama, and of course, Miyano Mamoru being a completely unhinged lunatic! I for one am overjoyed the zombie idols are back!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

You can read Irina and Crow’s discussion of Zombieland Saga: Revenge’s first episode here!

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 05 – Chiaki’s Perfect Plan

Rin has her bookstore job and Nadeshiko has her new gig at the restaurant, so for the first time in a while we’ve got a camping trip involving neither of them. The entire episode is carried by Chiaki, Aoi, and an Ena who is suddenly just as crazy about camping as the others. It’s a combo we haven’t seen before and it’s refreshing, fun, and usually hilarious!

Their destination is Lake Yamanaka, the southeastern-most and highest of the five lakes around Fujiyama. After a roundabout route after Kofu and Ohtsuki, they arrive at Mt. Fuji Station, and purchase two-day passes just in time to catch the bus that will take them to the campsite on the lake.

Chiaki touts her “perfect plan” which starts with a trip to the Caribou in Fujiyoshida. There, we learn the ultimate fate of Chiaki’s infamous wooden bowl (it’s a cactus pot now) when she takes a look at plastic cookware, then Aoi ponders whether to buy a high or low chair. Chiaki wants a hammock, but can’t find one light enough, so a store rep demonstrates a hammock “hack”, the nature of which we’ll have to wait until it’s implemented at the campsite.

From the store (which features the eminently huggable Caribou-san) the girls head to a Lake Yamanaka Hot Spring, where they bask in 38°C water while out in 1.4°C weather. Chiaki counts down from three for everyone to get out at once, but she’s the only one who leaves.

After the bath Ena joins Chiaki and Aoi for their traditional pre-camping ice cream, and Aoi has to literally pick both Aoi and Ena off the ground to avoid another Hottokeya incident, when they all overslept.

From the Hot Spring the girls hit up a supermarket to buy all the food they’ll need. Chiaki will be making homemade kiritanpo hot pot, following a lot of suggestions by Hot Pot (nabe) Master Nadeshiko, AKA Nabeshiko, whom all three girls promise to marry some day. They also decide to pick up some local lake smelts for tempura.

While on the way to the campsite, the girls notice a lot of foreigners on the bus, as they’re technically near some major tourist traps. Chiaki annoys Aoi when she uses a broken Japanese accent to direct one such foreigner to his proper right stop. When Chiaki continues the accent, Aoi simply says “Stop.”

Chiaki’s seiyu Hara Sayuri is the only member of the voice cast with whom I wasn’t familiar until Yuru Camp, but she’s done nothing but put on a clinic this whole time. This week in particular is a showcase for her goofy, emphatic style that’s seemingly always “on”—much to the chagrin of Aoi (Toyosaki Aki), who plays the perfect straight girl in their comedy duo.

When they finally reach the campsite, Aoi and Ena are a little skeptical of Chiaki’s choice of picking a spot on the cape, on the other side of the lake from all of its attractions. But they get it when they arrive at the cape, which is its own attraction. Sadly, the clerk won’t allow them to pitch their tents directly on the cape as they’d hoped—it’s too dangerous—but there’s nothing stopping them from pitching them next to the cape!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 04 – One Step Closer to Fancy Camping

This week there’s no camping, but plenty of Outclub hijinx, starting with Chiaki buying a new tarp for their next trip only to forget to bring the posts. She and Aoi have a tree serve as one temporary post, and Nadeshiko as the second. The moment Nadeshiko wordlessly just stops holding the tarp up had me rolling!

Chiaki bought the tarp with her New Years pay, while Aoi is planning on buying a comfy low chair like Rin’s. Nadeshiko, of course, is just counting down the days until her temp job pay is deposited so she can buy her beloved Coleman retro lantern, which she visits at the Caribou store several times simply to bask in its beauty.

Nade sends Rin a photo of her holding up the tarp, to which Rin says the Outclub girls sure are “free spirits.” Rin doesn’t really want to buy anything in particular, so she’s probably just going to save it for her next trip. As for Ena, she spent her money not on a tent for herself, but a dog tent for Chikuma—one that is nicer than many human tents!

When Ena asks what Rin would do with 100 million yen (i.e. a million dollars), Rin says she’d “start by putting a sleeping bag on top and sleeping on it”. Toba-sensei only has one scene in the faculty lounge, but it’s a sweet one, as she finds some local treats at her desk and a thank-you note from her Outclub girls.

Back at Caribou, the employees there are fascinated by Nadeshiko’s fascination with the lantern. It takes one of them back to the excitement of spending her first paycheck—even though she doesn’t remember what she even bought! I doubt that will be a problem for Nadeshiko; she’ll never forget this lamp!

While at Minobu station waiting for her train home, Nadeshiko finds herself on a completely empty platform. It’s just her, the mumbling of the PA and the buzzing of the lights. There’s quite a long stretch where nothing happens…and that’s the point: Nadeshiko has been thinking long and hard about what Rin said about solo camping being an opportunity to contemplate and embrace solitude. As we saw in the first season’s epilogue, at some point she’ll solo at Lake Motosu only to run into Rin.

Of course, with no costs to share with others, soloing can be pricey, and Rin saved a lot by inheriting a lot her her gear from her gramps. That means Nadeshiko has to find a new job. Unfortunately, that proves difficult. She imagines herself playing a Chihayafuru-style game of karuta and slapping a card that says “Minobu” among scores of cards marked “Kofu” (she says Kofu so mournfully!)—only to find it’s a full-time position requiring experience.

Aoi suggests looking into working at a camp or a resort, although those don’t really start until it gets warmer. Chiaki breaks out the latest issue of Bivouac magazine, the cover of which depicts a solo winter camper not unlike one Shima Rin. In it, Nadeshiko discovers that reusable hand warmers using warmed oil exist. That night, Sakura invites her out to dinner at a tempura bowl shop in Minobu, and Nadeshiko races there with all due haste.

It’s only when their jumbo head-on shrimp tempura boxes arrive that Sakura says she’d hope Nade would treat her for once, using her newly-earned holiday pay. Nade freezes and all color fades from her, but her sister is only joking. The real reason Sakura asked her to come to this particular restaurant is because they happen to have just started hiring part-timers.

The next day after school is THE day Nade finally purchases her lantern, one of which the employees kept on hold for her just in case the ones on the shelves were all sold. Nadeshiko poses for a photo with sparkly eyes and an ojousama laugh, and just after being told to be careful, she trips on a box and nearly drops her treasure, catching it at the last second.

One step closer to “fancy camping”, Nadeshiko trys the lantern out at home. Her folks praise her purchase and the three gather around the warm cozy light it provides. The credits roll with her lantern still glowing in the living room, and Nadeshiko sneaks outside to Sakura’s car before going up to her room to enjoy the lantern’s light a bit more.

Early in the morning, Sakura is the first to leave the house. Upon entering her car she finds a gift-wrapped box on the dashboard with a note: it’s a reusable hand-warmer, purchased by Nadeshiko as thanks for being such an awesome big sister. You’d better believe I got a little choked up at the surpassing sweetness of the gift, and Sakura’s warm reaction to it, ending with a shot of Nadeshiko curled up in bed, sleeping soundly…and deservedly!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 01 – The Power of Curry Cup Ramen

In its first season Shima Rin mentioned she first started camping in her first year of middle school. The second season opens by saying “You don’t have to take her word for it; we’ll show you!”

Rin’s passion for camping began when her grandfather mailed her a package containing camping gear. Then, as now, she was a voracious reader, but used to simply read in the front room of her family’s super-awesome house. She takes a long look outdoors and decides to figure out how the tent gramps gave her goes together.

Before long, the day has come for Rin’s very first camping trip, a day trip to—where else—Lake Motosu. Her dad, whom we see for the first time, drives her there and walks with her to the lakeside where she’ll set up camp on her own. He’ll be chilling in the lodge while she’s camping, in case she needs help. The striking view of Fuji-san fills Rin with awe.

That awe soon turns to frustration as Rin proves absolutely terrible at camping, but in her defense, it’s her first time, she’s only 11 or 12, and most everyone is crap at doing something the first time!

She bends one of the tent spikes when hitting it too hard with a rock. She doesn’t have a chair so her butt hurts. She tries to start a fire with no kindling and enormous branches. She ruins the pot in which she tried—and failed—to cook rice.

It’s cold, and she’s hungry, and she’s been so busy trying and failing things that she hasn’t able to read a single page of her OOPArts book! Then her mom gives her a call, and tells her she slipped some “emergency food” in her backpack: a cup of curry ramen. Aw, mom! Rin boils some water on the fire the camp admin helped her build, and she digs in.

She can’t recall curry cup ramen ever tasting so good, but when you’re enjoying nature’s majesty, once-ordinary foods just taste better. In a lovely little closing touch, Rin is admiring Fuji-san close up, and we cut to a sixth-grade Nadeshiko in her hometown, gazing happily at a much smaller Fuji-san.

Fast-forward to the present: with New Year’s fast approaching, Nadeshiko is working hard at a job perfectly suited to her energy levels: bicycle mail delivery. She finishes her route and has lunch with Ena, whom she shows the retro lantern she wants to buy. Then they get into a text exchange with Aoi, Chiaki, and Rin regarding their New Years plans.

Chiaki doesn’t get any time off, but everyone vows to bring back something for her, so she’s fine “holding the fort”. Rin will be soloing for New Year’s, preferably by the ocean, somewhere like Izu. Both her parents prefer that she chose a campsite that doesn’t involve heavy traffic, as she’s still a relatively new rider.

Rin settles on Iwata in Shizuoka, not least because it has another dog shrine like the one she visited on her impromptu solo trip—and this shrine features a living descendent of Shippeitaoru AKA Hayatarou. I wouldn’t pass up meeting a holy dog either! She loads her trusty moped up with her gear and sets off before the sun comes up, her mom sending her off.

While at a stop light, Rin hears someone calling her name from a konbini…It’s Nadeshiko, who is buying snacks before starting her early workday! Nadeshiko runs up to chat with Rin and gives her something to eat and stay warm once she’s at her campsite: a cup of curry ramen.

Not only is it the same kind Rin shared with Nadeshiko when they first met, but it’s the same kind Rin’s  mom packed for her on her first ever trip, and thus always had deep sentimental value. Emphasizing the two girls’ warm, sweet, enduring friendship no matter how apart they are…Yuru Camp 2 is off to a great start!

Yuru Camp△ – 03 – Return of the Favor

We watch the day Rin goes camping from Nadeshiko’s perspective, as she searches the family storage shed for a tent only to find it’s a canopy tent; useless for cold nights. When she gets word Rin is at Fumoto, Nadeshiko has her very cool sister Sakura drive her there—in her extremely cool Nissan Rasheen.

That’s how Nadeshiko comes to surprise Rin with hot pot ingredients. Last time she intruded on Rin’s camping, it was unintentional, and she mooched off of her; this time she wants to pay her back by preparing a home-cooked meal for her. Who’s going to refuse that?!

By the time it’s ready, night has fallen, and Rin has learned that Nadeshiko is fond of doing a “country granny bit”. Still, upon tasting the dish, both Rin and Nadeshiko are overcome by warmth and coziness, so much so in fact that they must shed some layers even in the cold night!

Rin also observes that Nadeshiko is an absolute pro at making food look really, really good…and is also fond of eating a lot of it! After dinner, Rin apologizes for coming off as annoyed at school, while Nadeshiko apologizes for being too imposing. Rin agrees to go camping with her and maybe others in the future.

With that Rin, retires to her tent, while Nadeshiko sleeps in the car with her sister. Sakura has to force the issue when the alarm goes off and Nadeshiko insists she’s awake even though she’s still horizontal. As Sakura drives off to buy breakfast, Nadeshiko makes good on her plan to be up at dawn.

Watching the night sky gradually brighten as the sun rises from behind Fuji-san is a gorgeous, majestic sight to behold. As someone who is rarely up for sunrises, whenever I am by choice it’s definitely a warm, empowering feeling…the feeling of accomplishment, and the feeling that everything is just beginning.

Eventually, the sun proves too bright for the still very drowsy Nadeshiko, so she curls up inside Rin’s tent. When Rin wakes up and notices her, it’s time to wake up, but she can’t rouse her, so she goes back to sleep too. The next day at school, Rin looks through all the pics she took on her phone, including with Nadeshiko.

Her friend Saitou Ena (Takahashi Rie!) is glad the two are getting along, mentioning she too would consider camping once it gets warmer in six months or so. The main takeaway is that there’s nothing wrong with camping solo, but camping with someone also has its appeal, just as sharing a meal with someone usually makes that meal taste better.

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 18 – The Taught Become the Teachers

Last Chance Time! Fuutarou fires up the quints, assuring them he’ll do as he pleases, and what he pleases is for them to pass their exams. But in the middle of his pep talk, his nose bleeds—an apparent symptom of being force-fed chocolate by Miku, who is trying to ascertain what kind he likes. One day Itsuki is missing from the study group, and the others inform Fuutarou that she visits their mother’s grave on the 14th of every month.

Itsuki ends up encountering Shimoda, who was taught by their mom. Shimoda describes her sensei as serious, strict, and quick to smack them, but to be fair, she was a delinquent. Itsuki’s mom set her on the right track, and now she herself is a teacher. Itsuki says she wants to follow in her mom’s footsteps, and Shimoda thinks that’s fine, but not if the sole reason is simply wanting to become her mother.

The theme of making use of one’s talents to teach others is present in every one of the smaller side-stories involving each quint. First Itsuki gets some insight into the kind of teacher her mom was, then Ichika notices Miku is making no progress in improving her cooking, and sends Nino to help teach her. When Miku tears up with frustration, even Nino can’t withhold advice.

Ichika keeps Fuu from interrupting by going to the store with him to buy a book they already had. Ichika also buys a book Fuu wanted about how to be a better teacher. A gift every once in a while is fine, but she doesn’t want to become Fuu’s sugar mama, so she resolves to give up on him. Even so, it only takes one smile and kind word from him to make her fall for him all over again!

With the finals fast approaching, the quints hit a wall. Fuu consults his book, which says excessive cramming can be counterproductive, so he sanctions an afternoon off, which they decide to spend at an amusement park. Everyone’s having fun, but at some point Yotsuba sneaks off with a “stomachache”.

Fuu senses something’s off, and eventually spots her bunny ribbon from the window of a Ferris Wheel pod. He joins her for the next revolution and learns she’s studying on her own, worried that failing will hold her sisters back. The five once attended a fancier school, but when she alone failed the exams there, they transferred as a group.

With this in mind, Fuu decides to allow for studying even on their afternoon off, but to his surprise, she’d already completed her Japanese assignment. It dawns on him that she’s better than any of her sisters at Japanese, and thus could assist him in teaching them, just as Miku could help him teach them social studies, or Itsuki science. Yotsuba is encouraged…and dare I say bashful!

Another 14th arrives and Itsuki visits her mom’s grave again, only this time Fuu tags along. She notes how making everyone a tutor is working, and it’s also helping her decide that she wants to pursue a future in educating others.

The next morning, Miku emerges from her bedroom with pajamas askew to find that Fuutarou has already eaten the chocolates she stayed up late to make, and he earnestly liked them! He then announces that she’s “number one”—words she takes precisely the way someone who liked Fuu would take them—only for him to clarify she was first in the latest mock exam.

Out on the balcony, Miku asks Ichika why she didn’t buy Fuu chocolates, knowing full well Ichika likes him too. After all their time together, Miku laments that Fuu doesn’t yet see them as girls, only students. She wants to pass her exams, graduate from being a student, and tell him how she feels.

Miku makes clear she won’t hold back on Ichika’s account; this is a race, so if Ichika slacks off she only has herself to blame. It’s clear Ichika would rather not have to compete with a sister for Fuu, but isn’t so averse that she’s going to give up altogether.

The day of the finals arrives with little fanfare—though the episode’s cold open depicts the five sisters heading into battle, and in the final scene we gradually learn how each sister faired. Yotsuba got the lowest total score of the quints, but more importantly didn’t fail. Itsuki is third, while Miku is second; Ichika claims the prize for the highest score. If she can win at exams, maybe she has a shot at being Fuu’s Number One too, eh?

I was worried for a second when Nino wasn’t present that she somehow managed to fail, which would have been a disaster, but she too passes, albeit with only a slightly higher total than Yotsuba. She left a note with Fuu’s boss saying she “has no further use for him”, but he’s not about to let her off that easily, and heads out to track her down so they can all celebrate together. After all, they did it by tutoring one another. Teamwork made the dream work.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode Six Quintuplet Ranking:

  1. Yotsuba: She may be the “dumbest”, but she’s the best at Japanese…and she won the Fuutarou Ferris Wheel sweepstakes! Total Points: 17 (3rd)
  2. Miku: Just misses winning the week with her most assertive performance of the season. She didn’t score the highest on the exams, but she finally won at cooking, and had some great reaction faces to boot. Total Points: 14 (5th)
  3. Ichika: I don’t expect Ichika to be the woman Fuu marries, and that’s a cryin’ shame, because there’s no denying how much she likes him and how well they go together. I wish she’d do more to help her own cause, even though she’s to be commended for helping Miku out. Total Points: 16 (4th)
  4. Itsuki: Didn’t have a terrible showing; her placing fourth is more about everyone above her having such a good week. She’ll make a great teacher one day! Total Points: 20 (2nd)
  5. Nino: Even a super-passive episode can’t knock the odds-on favorite from her overall top spot. Total Points: 23 (1st)

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 17 – Working Five to Five

The New Year is here, and Fuutarou and Raiha spot the Quints at the local shrine positively resplendent in their kimonos. I don’t often comment on the wardrobe of the sisters, but it is never not 100% on point, whether it’s modern or traditional garb. From there, Raiha invites herself to their new place, which means Fuutarou comes too.

The Quints’ new apartment is far more modest and normal than their previous spacious penthouse, and while, say, even Nino is fine with sharing the warmth of the kotatsu, the sisters simply aren’t used to the close quarters (Itsuki excepted, as she lived with the Uesugis for a while).

Newly reunited and empowered, the sisters are on a blessedly united front on the subject of Uesugi continuing to tutor them…they just don’t know how to pay him back! Ichika is the only one working, and is falling asleep during their first study session of the year, which isn’t a good sign! Because they’re watching a romantic TV show, there’s talk of a “peck on the cheek”, which is carried out by Yotsuba when she nonchalantly eats cream off his face.

Realizing having only Ichika pay their way isn’t tenable, the other sisters consider other jobs, which is really an excuse for the show to have sumptuous pans of them in various career outfits: Ichika as a tutor, Yotsuba as a grocery clerk, Miku as a café maid, and Nino as a dominatrix!

Speaking of cafés, Fuutarou is trying to advance at the one he works at, but while the apple pie he bakes looks identical, it is underdone. His boss then tells him they’re closing at noon to allow a film crew to shoot there, and who should Fuu encounter but Ichika—in full horror movie ditzy high school girl costume.

“Tamako-chan” wall-slams Fuu in a very romantically lit back room scene, voicing her embarassment with him watching her perform such a silly role. She feels she has no choice but to take any and all acting work she can, since rent, food, and utilities are proving more expensive than she thought. Nevertheless, the eldest sister will be strong for the other girls, and won’t let Fuu try to convince her otherwise.

To her surprise Fuu doesn’t scold her; in fact, he’s proud of how hard she’s working and grateful she’s making it possible for him to keep tutoring them. Once her scenes are filmed, Fuu catches her studying on her own, only to nod off from fatigue. Fuu provides a shoulder for her to nap upon and he says “good work”. Little does Fuu know she’s only pretending to sleep…she can’t let him see her blushing face!

While on a shopping trip in which she and Fuu are being used as Nino’s pack mules, Nino almost drops a bag of rice Yotsuba gives her to tie her shoe, but Fuu catches her, causing her to blush and her heart to beat faster. Having just gotten over his blonde alter ego, Nino simply isn’t ready to accept that Fuu is her “prince.”

While heading home, Yotsuba spots Ichika at a Starbucks with their dad. Believing her to be the most “amenable” (read: malleable) daughter, he insists that she and the other sisters return home immediately. When Ichika mentions Fuu, her dad says he’ll be welcomed back too…but as an aide to a professional tutor of his choosing.

When Ichika bristles at that, he asks her if she really believes Yotsuba can earn a passing grade with Fuu’s continued tutoring. Fuu, Nino, and Yotsuba are listening in from the bar, and Fuu cannot stand to hear the sisters run down by their own father, but Nino takes his hand and asks him to hold off.

Instead, Yotsuba approaches the table and tells their dad they’ll be continuing with Fuu and Fuu alone. Her Dad’s fine with that, but on the condition that this is collectively their last chance to pass. If they fail again under Fuu’s tutoring, he’ll transfer them to a different school for their third year—one that will accept them regardless of their scores.

Papa Nakano is an odd duck. One can’t overlook his resemblance to Fuutarou, nor his cold manner to match his wan complexion. He loves his daughters in his own way, but like most dads with daughters their age, he’s loath to let any man have them. He comes right out and tells Itsuki he “hates” Fuu. Part of that could be that Fuu chewed him out when he resigned, telling him to be more of an active father and calling him an asshole.

But another part of him could simply be envious that Fuu is able to spend so much time with them. Like Ichika, her dad works alone to pay the bills that come with raising five girls at once. I wonder if he regrets the sacrifice he made so they could live in luxury, seeing as how the result of never being around was that they moved out.

In any case, the Quints have really put themselves and Fuutarou on the spot. If Dad is to be believed, this is their last shot. They’ll have to improve their scores considerably, or they’ll end up at different schools next year. I wish that felt more threatening, but they spend so little time actually in school—it’s more that Fuutarou truly does want to help them. If they fail again, he’s failed again That can’t happen.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode Five Quintuplet Ranking:

  1. Ichika: Between being surprised by almost bumping into Fuu in the new place (so he can examine her mouth) to the whole Tamako-chan performance and their quality time “backstage”, Ichika takes her first win of the season. It was only a matter of time! Total Points: 13 (3rd)
  2. Yotsuba: The other girls are all talk and blushing, but only she actually puts her mouth on Fuu’s face, so she wins on that front. Combine that with the fact she carries a bag of rice for Fuu and stands up to their dad with conviction, and #4 had her best episode yet. Total Points: 12 (4th)
  3. Nino: For once Nino wasn’t in the spotlight, but her feelings for Fuu continue to simmer at key points this week. Her inviting him to sit under the kotatsu and taking his hand at the café were both nice moments.  Total Points: 22 (1st)
  4. Itsuki: I’m not saying she would have folded without backup, but I’m glad Yotsuba was there to back her up against their manipulative papa. Total Points: 18 (2nd)
  5. Miku: That Miku has yet to even slightly improve her culinary skills stretches credulity at this point—the joke is officially stale. There’s no doubt that she’d be a popular café maid, though. Total Points: 10 (5th)

Tower of God – 06 – Real Night, Fake Princess

Rachel visits Bam while he’s still unconscious, but doesn’t wait for him to wake up. In fact, she asks Khun to lie that Bam he mistook her for someone else. She fears that she and Bam are each other’s greatest weaknesses, and the best way to avoid becoming burdens for each other is to remain apart.

I’m not quite convinced of Rachel’s assessment of the situation, but Khun acquiesces, no doubt to protect Bam from the same misfortune-via-sister figure that befell him. Bam doesn’t buy it, and almost visits Rachel (AKA “Michelle Light”), but agrees with Khun that all he can do for now is get stronger. Then, perhaps, his “burden” status might be lifted. In any case, there’s gotta be more to this than a clear view of the starry sky.

Bam then comes to, but learns he wasn’t disqualified because his instructor is running two days late. We learn about the five positions in a Tower-climbing party (Fisherman, Spear Bearer, Light Bearer, Scout, Wave Controller) and that Bam is one of the latter, responsible for supporting his team with shinsu.

We then learn that Scouts like Shibisu must make nine friends, leading to a congenial scene in the cafeteria with former foes lunching together, a sight Bam can’t help but want to be a part of. Rachel skulks on the margins and in her dark room, only able to afford a bruised apple and eating chocolate bars stolen from Rak’s stash.

Two people its clear are never going to get along are Anaak and Endorsi, despite both being princesses of Jahad. Endorsi earlier called Anaak an “impostor”, while Anaak has no qualms about making off with Black March, even though Yuri is its rightful owner.

Anaak has also separated herself from Hatz and Shibisu, and seems to be going it alone, damn the consequences. Meanwhile the outgoing Endorsi is happy to sit with the new group of friends, but doesn’t believe men and women can be friends, and like Jedi, as a princess of Jahad isn’t allowed to love.

Endorsi and Anaak’s discord comes to a head during a Fisherman (close-range fighter) training test. It’s a neatly-designed test, with multiple sparring circles perched atop ridiculously-high towers, and the promise of very long (but non-lethal) falls for the losers. Throughout the session Anaak has eyes only for Endorsi, who is more than willing to rise to her provocations.

Endorsi proves she deserves to be a princess of Jahad by dodging all of Anaak’s attacks (except for one slick surprise shinsu-aided baseball slide). When Anaak tries to deliver a kick to Endorsi’s beloved face (which for the record is pretty lovely), Endorsi catches her foot and drives her into the ground.

That’s when her suspicions are confirmed: Anaak reveals she’s the daughter of the real Princess Anaak. When her mother was murdered (apparently by other princesses), Anaak assumed her name and title, and is on a single-minded quest of vengeance. Her target is no less than every other princess named Jahad.

This week disclosed Anaak’s backstory and motivations, accentuated Endorsi’s general badassdom, and taught noobs like me more about the different “jobs” various Tower-climbers are assigned based on their specialty. As usual everything was elevated by the bold, bright palette, lively, inventive action, and more righteous musical ownage courtesy of Kevin Penkin.

Hinamatsuri – 10 – Hitomi Just Can’t Say No

No Hina or Mao this week, which means it’s a Hitomi and Anzu episode, which is by no means a bad thing. Hitomi’s petite mom finally catches her coming home late, and even though Hitomi tells her the truth—she’s moonlighting as a bartender—Mama assumes something depraved is going on.

Hurt by and resentful of her mom’s lack of trust in her (and egged on by Utako), Hitomi decides to leave home. Nitta the cheapest apartment his real estate company offers (normally $2800 a month, but she only has to pay half that), and Utako literally strong-arms her into signing the lease.

Just like that, has her own place, and has to make over $300 per week to afford it. Fortunately (or rather unfortunately) every single person at the bar is so impressed with her bartending work that they have jobs to offer her.

She can’t turn down any of them, and so just like that Hitomi is washing skyscraper windows, waiting tables at fancy restaurants, selling concessions at baseball games, and even dressing up as the evil bear in a live hero show.

Another job she takes basically puts her in the office world of Aggretsuko, and it certainly seems like Hitomi needs someplace to blow off steam. Mostly, she just needs sleep; her classmates are shocked to find her dozing off right next to Hina.

Meanwhile, at the office, her co-workers see her as a suck-up using her babyface as a meal ticket for advancement, but their bullying has little to no effect; Hitomi just keeps working hard, and eventually wins them over.

Hitomi is a girl cursed with such preternatural capability that if she’s not careful, she can slide right into the life of an adult many years before she should. But it’s not an issue of being careful; it’s an issue of saying no; and she’s biologically incapable of doing so, however much she might want to.

She basically hits rock bottom when she passes out on the floor just after coming home, and before tossing the half-off assorted side dishes in the fridge (and let’s be honest, they’re always half-off, amirite?). She wants to be a normal girl again, and thinks she might have a way out when Utako insists she throw a housewarming party at her apartment.

Hitomi invites her mom in hopes she’ll make a huge scene and shut everything down. Naturally, her plan backfires when her mom sees all of the major corporate connections her daughter (whose capable-ness has always scared her a bit)  has already made, and decides she’ll trust her to do as she pleases from now on.

So Hitomi stays put in her classy apartment, her side hustles no longer a secret from her mother, but with no one left to turn to and tell her it’s okay to be a normal girl.

On to Anzu, who receives what she deems a windfall allowance of 5000 yen (about $45). She seeks Hitomi’s aid in spending it properly, but Anzu, a survivor of the streets part-raised by the homeless, considers all of Hitomi’s suggestions superfluous wastes of money, from bowling to karaoke to clothes shopping.

What does pique Anzu’s interest is the idea of buying her new mom and dad a present to express her gratitude. Hitomi privately lauds what a good girl Anzu is, and when Anzu finds a shoulder massage thingy that would be perfect for her folks, Hitomi offers to help pay for it.

Unfortunately, Sabu overhears their conversation, and says there’s a way Anzu can pay for it all by herself: by going to a racetrack and betting on horses. Hitomi laments how she knows not one responsible adult. She can handle that, but Anzu is too guileless to be left alone.

Anzu ends up picking a horse with a 1-in-90 chance of winning, and it wins thanks to a freak fall from the favored winner. With a cool 400 bucks, Sabu urges her to keep going. Her luck runs out and she loses everything. Dejected that she can’t buy any gift for her folks, Hitomi tells her it’s the thought that counts.

To that end, Anzu issues some shoulder massage coupons in order to help some of the pains of old age. As Hitomi assured her, they didn’t need an expensive gift any more than Anzu needed bowling, karaoke, or fancy clothes. As long as her folks are happy, she’s happy.

Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 02

hai21

HGG makes another strong case for continued viewing, in an episode that chronicles the trainees’ first kill, what they went through to get it, and what it does to them. Yet we’re not thrown into the heat of an ultimately futile battle like last week. Instead, we get an wonderful scene of Haruhiro and Manato having some tea in the middle of the night, just shooting the breeze.

In the morning, their task would seem easy: for the six of them to take out a single, isolated goblin unaware of their presence. They got the tip about the location thanks to Manato frequenting a tavern (and drinking to make friends and gather intel). What we quickly learn, however, is that even with superior numbers, it isn’t easy to kill the goblin…because as much as they all look the part, nobody has ever killed anything before.

hai22

The goblin isn’t some gamehen or rat, it’s a humanoid biped with clothes, weapons, and formidable combat and survival skills. The long range girls miss their marks while the short-range guys don’t cut deep enough when they get the chance. They only do real damage to the goblin when he stabs Haru in the shoulder and pins him down.

Just when the gang thinks they’ve got the goblin beat, he gets back up and doesn’t stop fighting, despite his injuries. Finally Ranta has to go a little nuts and continually stab the shit out of the goblin until it stopped moving. It’s a gorey, nasty business that has everyone shaking, crying, even fainting, in Shihoru’s case.

This is the gritty realism HGG brings that sets it apart from similar recent fantasy rpg-style anime. There are no gimmies, no lightweight foes, and no victory fanfare. There’s only physical and emotional trauma, along with a wolf fang and a silver coin, enough to keep everyone fed a little while longer.

hai23

Not only that, HGG deals fully with the consequences of the ordeal the trainees had to endure, along with the weight of the knowledge that while it may get easier, this is how it’s always going to be, and it will change them.

After the battle everyone breaks off and simply relaxes in town. There’s no dialogue for the better part of five minutes, only a soothingly bittersweet insert serenade about how it’s going to be alright. As Haru walks about on his own, he sees both joy and despair, and it makes him go check on a brooding Ranta.

Yume has fun shopping with Shihoru, but later she catches Shihoru and Manato looking like the perfect couple, and her face is a mixture of sadness and acceptance. Finally, once Moguzo finishes repairing and cleaning his gear, he whittles an airplane—something from his past life that doesn’t exist in this world—out of wood. That gave me goosebumps.

hai24

The gorgeous, painterly fantasy setting and the bustling town are beautiful and engrossing because they’re basically the same kind of things we can see everyday in our own world, which makes them resonate more. And the day of wandering around, observing others, and pretty much doing and thinking about anything other than slaughtering other living things, has a healing effect on the group.

We return to the straw beds of the guys in the last scene, as it turns out no one is really sleeping. Haruhiro has so many questions for Manato, but nothing comes out, and once Ranta announces he’s going to crash the girl’s bath session (an action that gets him tossed and yelled at by a furious Yume) Haru realizes he doesn’t really need answers from Manato just now, even if he actually had any.

He doesn’t know what will happen tomorrow—it could be better or worse than today—but he and his five companions will learn and draw strength from one another, and face it together. That’s sufficient comfort for him to look forward to tomorrow.

8_mag

Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 01 (First Impressions)

hai11

This is a tale of six young people who suddenly find themselves in an RPG fantasy world with no other memories other than their own names. It’s a gorgeous, painterly RPG fantasy world, by the way, rougher in texture but just as lush as Norn9’s setting.

The show quickly separates itself from both SAO and OverLord by maintaining the mystery of what exactly the world of Grimgar is and how everyone got there. It could be an elaborate game or a world as real as the one everyone presumably came from, judging from their normal clothes at the outset.

hai12

There were actually twelve “new entrants” to this world in the beginning, as protagonist (and our guide to what’s going on) Haruhiro harkens back to a couple days ago. Once they learned the rules—join the Volunteer Soldier Squad for Ortana’s Borderland Brigade, and basically root out baddies for cash—the strongest of them, Renji, took the next-five strongest and went their own way, leaving the six least-strongest.

But while the focus is on the “misfit” party, the show doesn’t cartoonishly overplay their incompetence as anything that wouldn’t be natural for any group of kids in their situation. They’re not that good, but they’ve only been at it a few days; they just need to get their bearings.

hai13

The party consists of Haruhiro, who has chosen the role of thief; Ranta, a dark knight who, appropriately, goes on the most rants and is a bit of a self-involved jerk; Yume, an athletic hunter; Moguzo, a big brawny warrior with a gentle, polite personality; Shihoru, a warm but shy mage with a negative body image; and the priest/white mage Manato, who seems the oldest and most mature of the six and their de facto leader.

While it’s a party of clashing personalities (with much of the clashing being done by Ranta) the show is also very delicate and understated (again, aside from Ranta) in how it portrays the little interpersonal conflicts they have. Their mutual amnesia, shared plight and need to work together to maximize resource income, serves as an equalizer.

hai14

Despite each character’s well-worn archetype, the character interaction is this show’s quieter secret weapon, as is its overall restraint. Nobody is too good too fast at what they’re supposed to do, but nor do things get too dangerous too fast. The goblins that are supposedly the weakest enemies to hunt aren’t hunting them.

No one is utterly overwhelmed by the weight of their situation. Everyone tries to keep a cool head and make the best of a very odd but unavoidable situation. The show also uses music and silence effectively. It’s definitely a less-is-more treatment to this kind of show (aside, perhaps from ample fanservice), which serves it well in terms of gently guiding its viewers into its milieu. I’m in, and I like what I see!

8_mag

Denki-gai no Honya-san – 08

dgnhs81

Denki-gai no Honya-san 8 is another Sensei-focused, breaking into the manga industry episode and… well it’s not very interesting. There’s no way this show can sell me on the struggles of an artist’s struggle to become a professional in a show this intentionally goofy. More importantly, while DgnHs is actually very funny, it’s jokes about making manga aren’t the funny part and it can not and will not ever escape the long shadow of Nozaki-kun’s humor about the same topic last season.

Fortunately, DgnHs gets me laughing in other areas and the episode wasn’t an entire wash.

dgnhs82

For one thing, we got TWO black and white Lime Cat movies this week. I have no idea what they are parodying, unless DgnHs is just making fun of art house movies in general, but these are just bizarrely funny.

This week’s Lime Cat is from Fu-chan’s perspective. Except there is no cat… that cat is a zombie! Obviously Fu slaughters it with the full length baseball bat she hides in her brazier. The second episode sees Fu following a lone zombie to a grave yard where a host of zombies try to scare her dressed up as ghosts. Obviously Fu slaughters them too.

dgnhs83

The real meat and potatoes of this week’s episode happened in the final arc where Sensei accidentally invites Umio-kun on a movie date and then completely freaks out over what to wear, her lack of girl power, etc.

With the not very helpful help of Hiotan and the girls, it’s ultimately decided that none of them know, at all, what boys want other than big boobs and that the only way they will make any head way is to invite an actual boy over and ask him.

dgnhs85

This being Hiotan that is helping, she invites none other than Umio-kun himself. Sensei is terrified since none of this was ever meant to be brought to his attention. However, the results are positive: after a lengthy rant about glasses, Umio admits he doesn’t care how she’s dressed, since her glasses make her cute, and thus he thinks she’s cute all the time.

D’awwwwwww!

dgnhs84

Some of this week’s best moments were during the ‘what do boys want, anyway’ scenes. My personal favorite was Sensei-chan stepping into her manga mind to pretend to be a guy. She evaluates each of her friends in a hilarious way and ends up getting all weird with Fu-chan before giving up.

dgnhs86

Laughter aside, this scene reinforces my opinion that DgnHs is a show for girls and about girls in fandom, rather than a typical will he like me? slice of life romcom. We spend so much time with their perspectives, seeing how they see us and our wants and when we do actually see a guy and hear his feedback, it’s all affirmative: nerd girls are desirable for their nerdiness — for the sincerity of their part in fandom — as much if not more than for their looks.

I mean, Umio fell for Sensei over Hiotan (the girls with the biggest boobs) as soon as he learned that Sensei creates manga.

7_ogk

Denki-gai no Honya-san – 07

dgnhs73

Denki-Gai no Honya-san 7 is a ‘hot spring’ (onsen) episode and, as you would imagine, that means we got skin, boob grabbing and some embarrassing moments. We also got some decent character development and a few inches of plot advancement.

Did DGnHs do anything interesting with this cliché of a clichéd setting or was it all just more fan service?

dgnhs74

I’m not sure, in all honesty?

DGnHs is always knowingly funny and this week pinned that on Sensei and Hiotan, who’ve never been to hot springs before. DGnHs very aggressively shows that their expectations, based on manage and anime, are way off. So off that they end up happily running into a co-ed waiting area, totally naked.

Even though the facial expressions, the long pause, slow reverse zoom shot is hilarious AND is the source for the show’s best joke via a call-back later in the episode,  Director, Ex-chan, and Hiotan could’ve exposed their true romantic feelings for each other anywhere.

dgnhs71

Likewise, Umi-kun and Sensei-chan’s romance goes nowhere, which is odd since Sensei received extensive screen time early in the episode. The result was… repetitive: She’s embarrassed and doesn’t know how to act feminine. We get it!

And yeah… yeah I’m trying to avoid talking about the “Now it’s time to feel your breasts” scene. I can’t think of a reason why that’s in there for anything other than fan service.

dgnhs75

The best scene, and most representative of DGnHs’ knowing, genre-poking style, came at the end, when Hiotan ineffectively confronts director about his feelings for her. In it, he admits to not having seen her boobs very clearly, because of some very awkward lighting.

Hence, the very strange ‘light line’ that censored her boobs in the first place.

It’s clever, pokes fun at convention, Has lots of energy. (both characters are standing on the back room tables, they are so wrapped up in what they are saying)

dgnhs72

But was it good?

Welllllll… a little more plot development would have been desirable. Additionally, ep 7 gave us some great laughs, it strangely didn’t give many.

So I can’t help but feel like this is exactly what it seems like it is: mid season ‘filler,’ to designed to give us just enough to hang on to the big relationship push, failure, and bounce back cycle that usually develops around episode 9.

I guess that’s what a hot spring episode is for. So its successful enough, which is good enough for me.

7_ogk