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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tokyo 24th Ward – 03 – Cross Purposes

The Third Annual Gourmet Festival is upon us, but Shirakaba-sensei’s daughter Kozue won’t be attending. Presumably as a result of the fire that claimed Asumi’s life, she been loath to leave her room. But that doesn’t stop her dad from checking in to make sure she’s good. He says he’ll wait as long as it takes.

As for the GourGes, Mari’s family’s restaurant has a problem: their competiton at the Takara Mall has bought up all the fancy cabbage they need for their okonomiyaki. When RGB locate the vegetables, Ran is ready to take a crowbar to the storage unit and have at it. Kouki, basically a kind of cop-in-training, vetoes the idea. It’s up to Shuuta to keep the two from bickering with each other and keep them focused.

Thanks to ‘Kaba-sensei, they’re able to acquire the needed cabbage without resorting to breaking and entering. Unfortunately, that isn’t the only dirty trick the gangsters try to pull, going so far as to place weights in their box of chopsticks to ensure they’ll win GourFes. They threatened Kaba-sensei by ensuring Kozue would get kicked out of her school for not attending, but he exposes their cheating anyway.

It just so happens to be the same day Kozue decides to leave her room and go to GourFes, to see both her Dad and her friend Kinako. But after a simultaneous phone call fakeout earlier in the episode, the real thing happens to RGB again: an “Asumi” gives them a choice: lead people across the bridge when a tornado hits the island venue of the festival, or help them into cargo containers for shelter.

One plan will result in the deaths of the weak, the other in the sacrifice of the courageous. Naturally, RGB needs to find a third way that saves everyone, and there’s every indication they will…until it all goes pear-shaped. Oh, it starts out well, with both Ran and Kouki ordering Shuuta to clear the bridge of traffic by literally pushing cars into Tokyo Bay, which honestly looks like a lot of fun.

From there, however, Ran and Kouki’s plans diverge, and without proper communication, they end up working at cross purposes. Ran hacks some tractor trailers to shelter the weak, while Ran persuades those who are able to hurry across the bridge…just when the trucks arrive. Shuuta has to try to clean up the resulting mess, but ends up blocking the bridge.

As the tornado rages, RGB does what it can, but the damage caused by their lack of teamwork is done: 21 deaths, over 130 wounded. Among the presumed dead is Kaba-sensei, though Shuuta was able to rescue Kozue, now she has to deal with a fresh round of crippling trauma. Looks like the first episode’s train dilemma was just a warm-up; the difficulty level has officially been ratcheted up.

While I’ll admit I missed both Mari and Asumi as the focus of the show, I also knew that this episode was probably going to return that focus to RGB. I wrongly assumed they’d save the day without anyone getting hurt, but it wasn’t to be, and that was a particular downer, just as it’s a downer that the Asumi we met last week is gone forever, no matter who is on the other side of RGB’s phones.

As for the bizarre Danganronpa-looking Carneades taking over the television feed to declare he is the one “thrusting choices upon the world for the future”, well, his aesthetic is certainly…a choice.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 01 (First Impressions) – The Third Way

Aoi Shuuta, Suidou Kouki, and Akagi Ran were once-inseperable childhood friends, with Shuuta in particular training to one day become a “hero”. Then one horrible night the school burned down, and Kouki’s sister Asumi died saving the life of a classmate. When he most needed to be a hero, Shuuta was too late to save her.

Fast-forward a year, and RGB have graduated and gone their separate ways, only to reunite for the memorial held at the one-year anniversary of the fire. We learn Ran leads a guerilla multimedia group, standing in cheeky defiance of the cold order represented by Kouki’s wealthy businessman and politician father, the 24th Ward’s mayor. Shuuta…helps out at his folks’ bakery, but is otherwise listless.

When the three end up convening by chance at their mutual friend Mari’s for okonomiyaki, the three lads’ phones suddenly ring at the same time. It’s no ordinary call, traveling up into their ear canals and “hacking” their brains with the voice and image of the dearly departed Asumi, who tells them to “guide the future”, showing them two scenarios: allowing a runaway train to kill someone caught on the tracks, or switch the track and derail the train, killing 150 people. Classic Trolley Problem.

In an added instance of the universe being particularly cruel, the person who ends up caught on the tracks is Mari, who was taking her puppy to the vet when she got caught up in the crowds surrounding the ceremony celebrating the new fully-automated train. The pup got free and ran straight onto the tracks, and Mari loses her phone while pursuing it.

Suddenly realizing they feel lighter and tasks come easier to them, the team of RGB pools their skills and resources to avoid either of the futures not-Asumi presented, and instead create a third in which no one is hurt. Suidou, the politician’s son and intern for the 24th’s emergency service SARG, relies on his dad’s trusty underling Tsuzuragawa to track him down and give him a motorcycle so he can rush to his father and make sure he decides not to risk derailing the train.

Ran, the hacker of the trio, chugs a dozen energy drinks and manages to activate the train’s emergency brakes, which are designed to stop in 600 meters no matter what—an instance of the artist actually saluting government efficiency and rules. He’s helped by Kinako, a chipper member of his guerilla art/media team.

Finally, there’s Shuuta, who is simply extremely fast and strong; the muscle of the group. Whatever not-Asumi’s call did to them, it enhanced his already considerable athletic ability, enabling him to basically Spider-Mans/Neos his way to the train long before anyone else can. Kouki and Ran know this of their friend, and after they do everything they can, they leave the rest to him.

Shuuta is very nearly derailed form his mission himself when he’s suddenly dropped back in the middle of that hellish night when he was too late to save Asumi. But he shakes it off, accelerates ahead of the train, then kicks off and launches himself at Mari, plucking both her and her dog out of harms way. Before Mari even knows what the heck is going on, Shuuta runs off, asking her not to tell anyone he was there.

After this first heroic mission dropped in their hands by the mysterious not-Asumi, the three visit the real Asumi’s grave to pay their respects, only to end up in an argument that highlights how far apart they’ve become in the ensuing year. Shuuta wants to believe Asumi is still alive, but just saying that makes Asumi’s brother Kouki want to punch him. Ran, the artist who nevertheless isn’t about to believe in magic, agrees with Kouki; Asumi is gone. But then…what the heck was that call?

We return to the opening moments of the double-length episode, where something is going on involving the somehow-preserved brain or soul of Asumi … or something. The framing device with the strange, fantastical machinery appeals to me less than the prospect of watching three scarred old friends who couldn’t be more different come together to make their beloved 24th Ward a better place…and possibly solve the Asumi mystery. This was a strong start to an intriguing new winter series.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sousei no Onmyouji – 13

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Yes, this show is still around, and yes, I’m still watching! Who would have thought that Benio not only had an evil overpowered brother who needs to be defeated down the road sometime, but also both their parents were killed by an overpowered Kegare that’s the equivalent of an Arrancar in Bleach: a kegare with human (or humanoid) form. This girl just has the worst luck.

But hey, someone’s looking out for her, and that someone is Rokuro. After getting the lay of the land, he peaces out of Magano with Benio at his earliest convenience, since Benio is in no condition to fight.

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He uses a med-talisman on her, and she wants to head right back in there, but he tells her to eat first and cheer up, assuring her that her late parents would much rather she kept living than die trying to avenge them.

As he goes in to get a better idea of who they’re up against in Kamui, Benio actually listens to Roku and eats his stone-cold oyakodon, which actually isn’t that good at all, but Benio still scarfs it down. As she does, she really does cheer up, remembering all the positive reinforcement and support Rokuro has offered her over their time together.

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Back in Magano, Rokuro learns that Kamui is primarily concerned with being “entertained”, and with his demon gauntlet thingy, Rokuro seems able to provide the absolute minimum quantity of entertainment for Kamui to reconsider killing him quickly. Roku has potential, after all, and anyone or anything that can land a blow on Kamui is someone he isn’t in a hurry to kill. That would be boring!

Of course, it isn’t long before Kamui turns up the difficulty level a tick, and Rokuro is shot back and bloodied with ease. That’s when a reinvigorated Benio returns (albeit hopping on one leg) to relieve him.

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Benio certainly has a head full of steam, but it’s been abundantly clear for a while now that neither she nor Rokuro can accomplish much on their own; they have to combine their power in order to make progress.

And progress that make, as Rokuro catches Benio from out of the air, the two combine their spiritual energy (or whatever), her sword gets bigger and meaner, and they deliver an epically crushing blow to Kamui.

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Kamui survives, but a limb lighter, and decides he’ll withdraw for now and wait for these two to become stronger, or, if they produce a Miko, send him or her to face him. It doesn’t really matter, as long as he’s entertained.

I actually like the guy’s philosophy; it’s at least more interesting that just a mindless killing machine. Guy’s got a code, and he’s got priorities. He even remembered Benio’s ‘rents, and how they were one of his only victims who actually sacrificed themselves for someone else, namely their daughter.

Turns out the encounter between Rokruo+Benio and Kamui was all but set up by Arima, to further bring the two together, and you can hardly argue that it worked like a charm.

Benio wakes up in bed with Rokuro, in the lovenest Arima prepared for them, no more willing to follow through with the plans Arima made for them than before, but still no less grateful for Rokuro’s support. Her parents told her being scared is okay, because they’re not alone. And she’s not alone here.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 12

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Rokuro and Benio’s relatively placid domestic life continues this week, with Rokuro working hard to control his gauntlet in the cellar while Benio prepares dinner.

Only “dinner” turns out to be your classic steaming purple witch’s brew, which all bad cooks throughout anime are able to replicate exactly. It would be one thing if that was the only point of the joke – but Rokuro goes too far in asking “what kind of family” Benio had that led to her thinking ohagi and curry, and Rokuro apologizes.

He’s also grateful Benio made him some goop, even if he can barely choke it down. He decides the only way they’re going to be able to live together is if they rotate cooking duties, and he believes he’s the better cook, and aims to prove it.

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Seems like a pretty tame episode, right? Well, I thought so too at first, but as soon as Benio went out running on her own, I almost immediately assumed a kegare would appear; one powerful enough that she couldn’t take it on alone, and requiring Rokuro to step out of the kitchen and let his culinary masterpiece go cold in order to rescue her, yet again proving that neither she nor he do well taking on foes by themselves, but fare far better when working as a single unit.

And that’s exactly what happens. But you know what? I’ve never had a problem with this show’s derivative-ness or predictability, because as I’ve stated in previous reviews, I like the slow but steady growth of Rokuro and Benio as twin protagonists of equal stature that I’ve come to be emotionally invested in. That, and the aesthetic, and the awesome soundtrack.

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Before Benio runs into the Kegare-of-the-Week, while on her run the talk of proper dinner and family sticks in her head, and she recalls the day six years ago when she watched her parents fighting and purifying Kegare, a duo like her and Rokuro, only with the same masks and twin swords. We also learn where she gets her love of ohagi from (her Dad).

Unfortunately, that’s also the day her parents were killed, by a Kegare that could talk, and offered her the grim choice of which parent he’d spare from death. Obviously, she couldn’t choose in the ten seconds he gave her, and he crushed them both.

And whaddaya know, that smart Kegare, known as Kamui, just happens to be the Kegare who crosses Benio’s path here. Not only that, he’s specifically searching for the Twin Star Exorcists. That’s a lot of coincidences!

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But whatever, Rokuro and Benio were only brought together because of a prophecy, and because the head honcho believes they’re fated to be together and conceive the Miko. By fighting Kamui alone to get revenge for her parents, Benio is going against that prophecy, as well as getting into the very same situation as six years ago: with Kamui giving her ten seconds to choose—only this time, it’s how he’ll kill her.

Naturally Benio isn’t going anywhere, but she can’t do anything here, so it’s up to Rokuro, who delivers a furious punch that blasts Kamui away long enough for him to cheer Benio up and tell her everything will be okay. They’re going home; she’s getting patched up; and then he’ll wow her with his gastronomic excellence.

But, of course, that one punch doesn’t keep Kamui down long. If anything, he’s only lightly annoyed a human was able to do such a thing to him. The fight isn’t over, but with Benio in such bad shape, how on earth is Rokuro going to be able to deal with him alone? More importantly, that oyakodon has to be stone-cold by now, right?

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 11

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I’m enjoying the bold, colorful aethetic of this show. I’m enjoying the galaxy of crazy expressions being doled out by both Rokruo and Benio on a regular basis. And I’m definitely enjoying ridiculously scenarios in which Benio causes a self-upskirt by sucking at embroidery as much as Rokuro and sewing her hoop into her dress. That’s some creative flashing right there!

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Sure, this wasn’t the most serious episode, but it still had serious undertones, and the notion that Subaru isn’t going to train them the way they expected, and that inability to expect what she’ll say or do next is actually part of their training.

Most of the episode is a game of hide-and-seek, with Subaru using magic, but it isn’t an unwinnable challenge: Roku and Beni simply need to hunker down, focus, and discover the clues that will lead them to Subaru.

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Granted, Benio isn’t very practical about looking for Subaru at first, and ends up looking everywhere, including the fridge and Rokuro’s porn stash, but what’s so great about these two is that there’s a good give-and-take; push-and-pull dynamic. Benio isn’t always on Rokuro’s case or vice versa; that would be boring. Instead, both are sometimes on each others’ cases.

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The rest of the time, they’re downright normal and decent with each other, which is typically when they’re not overthinking their interactions. Rokuro praises Benio’s good guess about Subaru’s dieting, and Benio likes it. But When Rokuro goes further in trying to read her mind by guessing she wants to eat ohagi (which is probably correct, by the way), she gets cross and tries to step on his foot.

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They’re right back on the same side when they end up in Magano, and in a boss fight with a giant octopus Kegare that’s obviously been set up by Subaru. Their initial separate attacks have no effect, and when it’s Octy’s turn he unleashes a giant cloud of miasma that amounts to a “darkness” spell.

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No matter; Rokuro and Benio realize the only way they’re getting out of this is by intuiting what each other will do and when. Benio guesses that Roku will move first (not a stretch there), while Roku knows Benio will back him up.

They lay some serious slashes on the octopus, and to their and MY surprise, its dispersal isn’t prefaced by a giant pentagram. Instead, it explodes in a cloud of tiny fans, indicating it was not a Kegare at all, but a familiar cooked up by Subaru. That was a neat little “switching-up” moment that capitalized on the patterns we’d come to expect from Magano battles.

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Subaru congratulates the couple for thinking outside the box and trusting in one another. Even though her training was unorthodox to say the least, when she departs, neither Rokuro nor Benio can deny that they learned a lot. Unfortunately for Rokuro, one of the things Benio learns is the location of the rest of his girly mags!

The episode ends with a reveal of anothe rpotential antagonist, but I was far more bowled over by Tatara’s navigation face, making up for the fact that Subaru’s Talbot-Lago has no SatNav. That’s just a really neat little detail in a brisk, boisterous, cheeky, and very entertaining episode.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 10

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Remember English Tea Lady? Turns out she’s not English, and her name is Mitejima Subaru. Benio’s former master shows up unannounced and the Twin Star Exorcists wastes no time asking her to train them (since Seigen’s too busy). I for one was glad to hear Sawashiro Miyuki, and her sidekick Tatara was pretty funny with his bread crusts and emoticon face veil.

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Subaru agrees to train them…almost too easily, and we learn why pretty fast: they never stipulated HOW she should train them to become stronger, so she institutes her own regimen, one based on getting the “newlyweds” closer, from dressing them up in sharp threads to challenging Rokuro to properly compliment Benio (which he can’t).

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Subaru pulls up dangerously in her stunning Talbot-Lago to check on the non-lovebirds’ progress (or lack thereof), and before long even Benio’s blind faith that her master knows what she’s doing erodes, once she remembers Subaru mostly talked about how awful most men are, and how to defend against them. That being said, the romantic tension between Roku and Beni is wonderfully palpable, even with something as “easy” as holding hands.

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Things escalate from hand-holding to heart-pancake-feeding to flat out kissing, and Rokuro taps out, with a disillusioned Benio joining him in withdrawing from Subaru’s “training” for the day. These two just don’t do well when being forced, but their chemistry is such that they can coexist just fine on their own. Rokuro gets Benio some ohagi (on Arima’s dime), and Benio offers him one (of hundreds). Roku also seems genuinely charmed by Benio while she’s blissfully gorging.

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Naturally, some Kegare have to show up, and the effects of Rokuro’s encounter with Yuto means his gauntlet is still… a bit unruly. But rather than ignore it and fight on her own, Benio spends a good deal of her mana in order to calm his right arm.

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But because she’s so spent from the effort, Rokuro has to face the huge horde of Kegare on his own while protecting her, which means, without thinking, he draws her close and holds her. Still, things look grim, but just as naturally as Kegare always show up on SnO, someone shows up to bail out the original combatants.

This time Roku and Beni are the rescuees and Subaru showing off her impressive arsenal of spiritual firearms, a shtick that owes much to Mami from Puella Magi Madoka Magica (much like Magano’s aesthetic). “Scatter, Endless Rhapsody – Disperse beautifully” are some pretty slick callouts!

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So, lesson learned: Rokuro and Benio are closer than they normally think, depsite being standoffish towards each other most of the time, when shit hits the fan they come together, and the closer they get, the stronger they’ll become, together.

And since Arima also sent Subaru in order to help get the couple’s romance flowing a little better, they’ll be stuck in her “training sessions” – including the intriguing “nighttime marital activities” department – for the foreseeable future.

That’s fine by me; I love watching the two squirm and blush as much as I love watching them kick Kegare ass. But most of all, I like it when they simply get along; not sniping, but just enjoying each other’s company.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 09

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At the end of last week, Rokuro and Benio’s slowly burgeoning friendship looked to be in absolute tatters with the news that Rokuro indeed killed everyone at Hinatsuki Dorm, including her twin brother Ijika Yuto.

It seems like the only thing that can turn things around is if Yuto were to suddenly show up, not only not dead, but so frikking evil that Benio would be left wondering how the hell she ever cared for him in the first place.

Well…that’s pretty much exactly what happens! Though I’m sure why Yuto is showing up right here and now just as Seigen is in the middle of a story that was painting Rokuro in such a bad light, only to go “that’s not the whole story!”…except to put poor Benio through the emotional wringer.

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And speaking of emotional wringers, Rokuro certainly went through one two years ago. The night of the Hinatsuki massacre, when Yuto shows his true colors and turns all his fellow trainee exorcists into Kegare, is straight out of a horror film, complete with drab palette and grisly deaths of cute girls.

Frankly, I don’t see what Rokuro could have done in this situation. As Seigen states with certainty, the only thing for a person who’s been corrupted by Kegare is to give them a quick death before they can commit any atrocities that further mar your memory of them.

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Yuto speaks of these times with such detachment and nonchalance, grinning his stupid evil grin the whole time, to the point that Rokuro simply can’t take anymore, arms up, and starts attacking him.

A stunned Benio looks on but sees that Rokuro is only doing damage to himself (Yuto, who has a blue gauntlet to Roku’s red, parries every strike with the flick of a finger), so she stops the fight, taking a hit that Rokuro can’t hold back in time.

Then Yuto…kinda calls it a day and fucks off, hoping Rokuro will “entertain” him better next time.

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When Rokuro and Benio emerge from Magano and Seigen takes Mayura home, Benio can’t think to do anything but prostrate herself before Rokuro and ask that he forgive her for all of the pain and grief and trauma her brother caused.

Rokuro is stunned by this sight, and repeatedly tells Benio to raise her head; they were both hoodwinked by the little blue-haired bastard, all their lives, and if anything, they share the blame for being ignorant to the evil within him.

Still, I think they’re being a bit hard on themselves. These two strike me as too young to feel responsible for what happened years ago when they were still younger and less attuned to the world, let alone their own selves.

I liked their commitment to becoming stronger together at the end, but Yuto is a brutally dull and tired manic villain archetype, and a great deal of the episode was merely exposition and reaction shots.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 08

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As expected, Mayura confronts Rokuro and Benio over their sudden change in living arrangements. What I didn’t expect is that the episode didn’t go for goofy comedy in the sparring between the girls. Instead, they represent two different philosophies of life.

Mayura thinks Rokuro’s suffered enough already; Benio respects his abilities and believes he’s obligated to use them, and Rokuro, when pressed, sides with Benio, believing the benefits of being an exorcist outweighs any personal costs.

While Mayura rushes out, believing she’s been rejected all over again, the reality is both she and Benio make good points.

As for Rokuro failing to notice her feelings, well girl, that’s because you have to tell him, in no uncertain terms, about those feelings, while he has your undivided attention. Mayura should know this having spent most of her life by Rokuro’s side.

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While storming out, however, Mayura leaves her good luck charm behind, which is actually a legit charm that hides her spiritual power from hungry Kegare. Considering how important it is, I can’t imagine how she could have misplaced it so easily, unless she’s unaware of how important it is to her safety.

In any case, she gets captured and yes, tentacled, by a nasty little Kegare that becomes a nasty BIG Kegare, chortling the whole time. Of course, I never thought for a second Mayura was going to buy it (as gutsy a move as that would’ve been), and right on cue Rokuro swoops in to save her, then swears to protect her no matter what.

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Losing Mayura would have been a brutal blow to a kid who’s already received a few, but we simply didn’t know the extent of the trauma in his past…until this week, when his former master (and Mayura’s Dad!) Seigen appears to clean up Rokuro’s mess, run him down a bit, and challenge him to a duel in which he must exhibit intent to kill; a tall order for someone who’s still getting back on his exorcist feet.

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We cut away from the reunion of master and student in Magano numerous times to check in with the guys at the dorm, who prove far more useful at asking questions that lead to extensive (but unfortunately inartful) info-dumping by Jissama (Seigen’s father-in-law).

The final third of the episode suffers from being bogged down in all this exposition, but things do pay off a bit at the end, if you were someone who wanted a fresh wedge between Rokuro and Benio (for the record, I’m not that someone).

Benio learns the tragedy that killed numerous promising students at the Hinatsuki dorm was not the result of a Kegare attack, but the result of Rokuro killing them, the victim of something called “Kegare corruption.”

Since Benio’s whole reason for being is to destroy the Kegare who took away her family, learning Rokuro is to blame for the tragedy, this is definitely an, er…setback for the future parents of the Miko.

Of course, the jury’s still out about whether Rokuro chose to go berserk or if it was something outside his control—I’m guessing the latter—I’m still not convinced Benio’s twin brother is dead. Let the kid explain, Benio! Well, if he’s even willing or able to.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 07

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This episode’s Arima-heavy early scenes (and why does every show need someone dressed like a proper English lady having tea?) were a little troublesome, but I liked the end result, as well as his very serious underlying goal: he wants to bring about the prophecy of the Miko; to do that, he needs to bring Rokuro and Benio together.

So this week, the two would-be lovebirds graduate from being two roommates in a dorm of many to two occupants of palatial villa, in order to grow closer to each other. Thus continues SnO’s emphasis on character over plot or action (though the short bit of action still packs a punch)—something I’m on board with, because I happen to like both leads.

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A big part of why I like them is that while they do spar a lot of the time, they also spend a fair amount of time not sparring. They also can suck it up and work together when they have to, and the floors of their two once-separate bedrooms literally turn on an incline and create a sidescroller-style physical challenge, the two know they need each other, and as they figure out how to overcome the various obstacles involved, they find themselves thinking alike more often than not.

A challenge that could have been sigh-worthy in less careful hands also adds to the enjoyment and complexity of their trial, as Benio just happens to be going commando today on account of her panties being in the wash. This means she has to be careful what happens with her skirt, and Rokuro has to be careful where he’s looking. But when he accidentally sees something, she doesn’t go berserk and beat the shit out of him. They simply deal with it, in a reasonable fashion.

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Indeed, Arima meant for this trial to bring the two closer together in several ways, and when they do, Rokuro and Benio are what you’d expect two kids to be: embarrassed, a little excited, but also respectful. Rokuro doesn’t try to sneak another look, and Benio doesn’t hold it against him when gravity causes him to fall on her.

Because they work together, they get out of the combined room without too much trouble, and when they face another trial in the air ducts in the form of a question involving numbers of hiragana and strokes, the two put their brains together again to come up with the correct answer.

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It’s a good job they do clear the trial as quickly as they do, because their “exorcist” pals need bailing out once again. Seriously, is there ever going to be an episode where these guys can handle a Kegare on their own? Until they do, I’m putting “exorcist” in quotes when referring to them.

Rokruo and Benio work together again to bring down the giant mantis-like beast, but Benio starts to panic when she realizes her hair tie is gone, one of the two her brother gave her. Rokuro stops her desperate search and takes her back to the villa, where he finds the tie in the air duct (and I noticed the glint when they fell out of it the first time, a neat little visual detail that went unexplained at the time).

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The day over, the two have their baths (ladies first, says Rokuro, but again, no funny business with peeping), and prepare to go their respective, once-again separate rooms to turn in. But before that, Rokuro asks about Benio’s brother. She wonders why, but the amount of importance she placed on her hair tie made him curious.

She sits down with him and talks about her beloved twin brother, from whom she was separated and believes to be dead—though I think we might have caught a glimpse of him a couple episodes back. Maybe if he reappears, he’ll be Benio’s version of Mayura?

Rokuro’s desire to learn more about Benio means he’s starting to care about her, just as Benio is starting to care about Rokuro when she tells him to make sure to brush his teeth, and assures him that even if he’s not the heir to a great family, his skills are remarkable…even if he’s usually “mostly useless.”

That last jab that leads to bickering at the end wasn’t all that necessary, but it’s clear she’s half-joking, and just giving Rokuro shit. If she didn’t like or care about him, she probably wouldn’t bother. As goofy and insufferable as Arima is, he may be on to something here.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 06

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After spending much of the show on the sidelines (other than an episode alone with Rokuro that established their dynamic), Mayura officially crosses over into the Benio side of Rokuro’s life, but what’s interesting is that it happens quite by accident. Mayura isn’t prying into Rokuro’s life; she merely believes Benio is skipping out on school to hang out with delinquents.

Mayura’s vivid imagination is a constant source of amusement this week, but even more appealing is the fact she simply wants to be friends with Benio, in hope of steering her away from bad seeds; to “show her the light”, so to speak.

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Benio isn’t one for friends. She’s sworn them off as a waste of time; time that is better spent training to become the strongest exorcist. And yet…she’s witnessed firsthand the strength Rokuro is capable of…and HE certainly seems to have friends, like the other, hapless dorm-mates.

When Ryogo is back at nearly 100%, he casually mentions that it sure would be nice if someone other than Benio would accompany them on their routine trips to Magano to exorcise Kegare. Rokuro gets the hint, but is also interested, in his tsundere way, in lending a hand anyway.

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Ryougo requests Benio sit out a mission or two so he can determine how serious Rokuro is, and she does…but not without a degree of resentment: she’s serious too, dagnabbit!

It’s good then, that Mayura catches up to her while on a run (a scene reminiscent of the beginning of Winter Soldier), and provides a destraction Benio didn’t expect, but still welcomes, especially in the form of quality ohagi. I don’t know what’s more adorable: Benio’s look of blissful satisfaction, or Mayura waiting for Benio’s stoic armor to crack.

Shogo and the other two exorcists again prove that with Kegare increasing in number and strength, they simply can’t go to Magano without either Rokuro or Benio—preferably both—to bail them out. They only have Rokuro at first, but he does a fine job breaking out his demon arm to dispatch a particularly tough boss.

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I worried when a tear between reality and Magano opened in the very restaurant where Benio and Mayura were eating, but Benio slips in, takes care of business, and comes back out without any harm to either girl. Benio fully expected to return to find Mayura had run off, fearful of the supernatural phenomenon…

…Only she didn’t. Mayura rushes to Benio’s arms the second she reappears, far more concerned with her well-being than her own. Benio realizes: this is what it means to be a friend: even if Mayura couldn’t do anything, she wasn’t just going to leave Benio. That feels good, and it’s good to see Benio give in and reciprocate the hug.

Of course, in explaining how she knows about exorcists and isn’t scared of this kind of stuff while walking Benio home, Mayura discovers that her beloved Rokuro has been living with Benio all this time. Naturally, Mayura seems to blame Rokuro and only Rokuro for this situation, but while she’s angry now I’m sure she’ll listen to the full explanation, even if she won’t accept their betrothal any more than they do.

At any rate, I really enjoyed the warm Mayura-Benio interactions and their newly-formed friendship (even if it may take a hit now that the two are “rivals in love”), as well as Rokuro getting back on the exorcist bike. Mayura may have the hardest fight of all before her, even if it’s not of the world-saving kind…but she’s certainly not one to shrink from a challenge.

And she’s got bigger boobs than Benio, so there’s that!

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 05

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Like Bungou Stray DogsSnO aims to provide a combination of seriousness and levity, though Oji-san doesn’t think BSD is successful. I haven’t been keeping up with it, so I don’t know, but as relatively brainless, usually amusing, occasionally touching hump day entertainment, SnO fits the bill quite nicely, even if it isn’t blazing any trails.

A part of my enjoyment is that I’m rooting for both of the twin star Exorcists, and totally get where they’re both coming from and why they both clash and harmonize so often. I won’t say their similarities as strong,  fundamentally good-hearted people outweighs their differences, but they complement each other extremely well, and aren’t fooling anyone when they insist they hate each other (which they don’t even come out and say, it’s more of an exchange of barbs).

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Benio is stuck-up, but, well, why wouldn’t she be? She’s been the best at everything she’s ever done, and has to maintain a certain air of confidence bordering on arrogance considering the burden her slight shoulders bear.

To be paired up with someone who, while undeniably strong when he needs to be, has some serious motivational problems stemming from past trauma, and can’t just say he wants to join an exorcism mission, but comes up with a bunch of half-assed excuses to mask his enthusiasm—it’s gotta be frustrating to Benio, who knows exactly what she wants to do and is firmly on the path to making it happen.

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But like I said, Benio doesn’t hate Rokuro. He’s got his flaws, but when it counts, he’s no slouch. He puts the big Kegare boss away, motivated by a desire to stop others from getting hurt anymore for the day. He’s fed up.

So when Twelve Guardians member Ikuruga Shimon shows up to clean up, Rokuro moves and takes care of it before him, and Benio has Rokuro’s back. She wants Shimon to see what she’s seen: great potential, hampered by persistent wishy-washiness.

Shimon and Benio share a kind of monk-like calm that Rokuro sorely lacks. And while Rokuro seems to become more powerful the more up against the wall and desperate to end things he is, he could stand to learn a few things about keeping one’s cool and minding one’s surroundings, things both Benio and Shimon possess in spades, owing to their experience.

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I especially liked Benio’s little smile when Rokuro meekly accepts the heartfelt thanks of the boy’s soccer team he helped save (with Benio and Shimon’s help). Benio sees that the key to keeping Rokuro focused is a healthy awareness that his actions keep people safe; that his strength is necessary to protect the weak, and he can’t be content with the way he is now.

As such, Shimon, who was Rokuro’s age when he became one of the Twleve Guardians, should prove to be a valuable goal for Rokuro going forward; one not hampered by the whole betrothed thing, as he is with Benio. The fact they’re arranged to marry some day is kinda kept in the background, as it’s still clearly a way off, but everyone is right that the two are already bickering like an old couple.

As for Arima, he’s a guy who’s clearly powerful enough to goof off with swimsuit mags as much as he wants. You get the feeling something seriously messed-up has to go down in the world for the guy to break a sweat…especially when he has Shimon, eleven others like (or better) than him…and the Twin Stars, slowly building their sheen.

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