Engage Kiss – 01 (First Impressions) – A Spare Key for Victory

From the fact his apartment lacks gas and electric when his pink-haired companion lets herself in to try to make dinner, to the fact his ex-partner Ayano foots the bill for his first meal in three days, Ogata Shuu is what is known in Japan as binbou—destitute. Regardless, he seems adamant about living his own life his way, even if his new independent business is not off to a strong start.

His companion, Kisara waits for him in the dark back home, having prepared a pretty impressive feast despite the lack of utilities. When he says he already ate, and vaguely smells of another woman, Kisara goes down a spiral of self-deprecation until he eats the cold repast. When he asks Kisara for the last of her savings for a cash-on-delivery, she posts an Insta of the two of them about to send themselves to heaven with sleeping pills.

But all is not lost. Poor as he is, Shuu still has a seat at the table of companies who bid over contracts to rid their floating city (in the water, not air) spelled either Veyron or Bayron of “Demon Hazards.” There’s a mid-level one wreaking havoc in a central casino, and Shuu ends up with the lowest dollar amount by far (less than $40K, vs. the second-lowest being $112).

The other bidders leave the virtual meeting in disgust, but Ayano’s mom’s company agrees to support him (with Ayano herself) in exchange for a hefty share of the extermination fee. Shuu shows up late for his own operation, but Ayano and her soldiers are consummate professionals as they mow down the demon’s minions.

The demon turns out to be tougher than its estimated C-Class level, putting Shuu’s back against the wall, but then Kisara, having forgiven him, arrives by passing through the floor. The only problem is, while her sword packs a punch, she only gets one good swing, which is deflected by the demon.

Kisara tells Shuu she’s out of power, and needs to recharge. The way she does that is by making out with Shuu, something he both seems to find uncomfortable and enjoys, but also causes him to pass out due to the exchange of energy. During their kissing, Kisara not only shows tongue, but fangs.

If passing through floors wasn’t enough of a giveaway, Kisara isn’t human; she’s a demoness who happens to be a higher level than the opponent in the casino. But initially she’s angry at Ayano for being another woman that exists in Shuu’s world and the two constantly launch attacks at each other that only hit the demon’s multiplying minions.

Their battle is the best part of the episode, but Shuu gets between the two, and Kisara declares she’ll finish his job if Shuu gives her an important token of their contract: his spare key. It doesn’t matter if she can walk right through his door; she wants to be able to unlock and open it whenever she wants, as a sign of his love and his trust in her.

Shuu relents, and upon receipt of the key, Kisara’s attack power reaches 11. The two count down together from ten, with Kisara blasting through the demon hazard’s shields and Kisara delivering the final coup-de-grace with a shot from his pistol. Their mission accomplished, Kisara ends up on top of Shuu and leans in for a celebratory kiss…

But unfortunately both of them went a little too far with the power, compromising the structural integrity of the entire skyscraper, which is actually crucial to keeping the entire city afloat. While I’m sure Veyron City is in no danger of sinking, Kisara flies around the skyscraper, apparently trying to keep it level, while Ayano remarks that B-Class or C-Class, the Demon Hazard they fought never had a chance against Kisara, who is a Super A-Class who happens to be on their side, possibly only due to her liking Shuu.

Part badass demon-hunting, part workplace romantic comedy, and part abject lesson in proper budgeting, Engage Kiss’ first episode is nothing if not…ahem…engaging. Shuu comes off as a useless mooch most of the time but comes through when it matters, while Kisara and Ayano should prove to be strong clashing personalities for Shuu’s attention and the spoils of demon-hunting victory. All in all, a fun and energetic start, but we’ll see if it will make the final Summer cut.

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 13 (Final Hole) – Killing You, In Golf

As Birdie Wing outings go, this last one was a bit tame; I’d almost go so far as to say leisurely. But I went in almost certain the entire All-Japan Girl’s Tournament wouldn’t get wrapped up in one episode; if it had, it would have surely sucked.

While expectations were lower, I still looked forward to lots of Eve and Aoi flirting, and in this I was not disappointed. Eve even starts things off frisky by giving Aoi a Nafrecian peck on the cheek and then claiming Ichina as her personal body pillow for the night, while Coach Reiya rightfully shoots Kinue down.


It’s a good thing Ichina shared a room with Eve too, as neither Eve nor Aoi would have slept a wink and not been ready for the golf. That said, due to their high qualifying rank they get a fairly late tee time, giving them time to good off more.

As Kuyou and Kaoruko do battle against another pair, their coach Date gets trash-talked by Reiya, who is confident his two first years will win decisively, seeing as how Aoi is golf royalty and Eve is the apprentice of the legendary Leo Millafoden.

This wouldn’t be much fun if Eve and Aoi didn’t run into a little adversity, as Eve’s worst enemy turns out not to be Himekawa Mizuho, but her own over-aggressiveness. She puts a ball into the bunker, and Aoi, perhaps a little too wound up about getting to play beside Eve, misses getting the ball out. That said, the two win their first round comfortably.

The thing is, Eve wanted to defeat their opponents to a pulp—kill them, with golf—as funny a collection of four words as I’ve heard spoken in an anime (I particularly love that comma in there). Their win, while easy, is also much closer than either of their elite rival pairs from Kouran and Nada.

We also learn that while Aoi is the daughter of Hodaka Kazuhiko, Himeko seems to have inherited his brand of golf, so much so that Aoi recognizes it instantly. Himeko and Kaede destroy their opponents in their two rounds, an impressive response to Eve and Aoi’s superior score in the qualifiers.

Eve’s usual mind games won’t work on the Kouran or Nada girls, but Ichina feels it’s actually good for her to be experimenting with her aggressiveness in earlier matches where it’s safe to do so. Eve and Aoi will have to take every risk they can to defeat Kaoruko and Himeko, to say nothing of killing them, in golf.

Naturally, this ends before those key duels take place, and a second season of Birdie Wing in Winter 2023 has restored my faith in both anime and humanity. As far as I’m concerned, the golf flirting and murder can go on indefinitely; a veritable Hole in One Piece.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 12 (Fin) – Blossoms That Never Scatter

When Miyuki tells Kaguya how he’s been accepted to Harvard and will be gone this time next year, she pretty much turns to stone and then shatters into pieces. But she drags Ai out from whatever she’s doing to update her on where things stand. They both know that the basic plan hasn’t changed—confess to Miyuki—it’s just a matter of how.

Kaguya tries a number of methods, but all are pooh-poohed by Ai in various ways. That is, until Kaguya digs deep, describes all the unique ways she loves the president, including his drive to move forward, and starts to cry as she notes how cruel it would be to ask him not to go overseas. Ai, realizing she went too far, draws Kaguya into a hug and assures her that they’ll get her confession to Miyuki without fail.

In Yuu/Tsubame land, things seem to be going swimmingly. Yuu prepared a hella warm coat for Tsubame to wear when the evening chill came around, and even impresses her with his knowledge of flower language and a red cherry blossom tree in the spot where she wishes to give him an update on her answer to his confession.

Her answer, while not no, is that she doesn’t yet have an answer. That’s fair enough; Tsubame only just realized when Yuu gave her that heart how he truly feels about her, and she’s still getting used to seeing him like that. As for Yuu, he isn’t even aware he did confess with that heart until he watches her perform in the play about the Hoshin legend.

Thanks in part to Ai, Kaguya is poised to have a perfect opportunity to confess to Miyuki: when she’s resplendent in her archer’s garb and lit by the burning flame of her arrow, and Miyuki is completely captivated by her beauty. Unfortunately, Miyuki is nowhere to be found when the time comes to light the campfire!

Instead, shortly after the fire is lit, it suddenly rains cards signed by “Arsene”, the Phantom Thief Chika has been chasing throughout the festival. The jewel from the dragon’s mouth is also missing. Kaguya can’t believe her terrible luck; for all this nonsense to be happening when she’s supposed to be confessing. But the thing is, the Phantom Thief is none other than Miyuki.

When Chika runs off with Erika to further investigate, Kaguya already puts two and two and four together and realizes this is one big scheme by Miyuki, and that she’s going to catch him and then confess to him. That involves sipping canned coffee together, but the machine won’t accept the lowest-denomination bills she has (10,000 yen).

But hey, at least she has the heart trinket to give him, right? Well, no…she managed to lose that when she changed in and out of her archery garb. At the same time, the narrator explains how Miyuki, while initially in a kind of whimsical enthusiasm fugue state, is starting to come to his senses and feel embarrassment for his current situation (and goofy master thief getup).

As Kaguya ascends the clock tower to meet Miyuki, they both find themselves bereft of their usual arsenals of weapons in their long war game of love. There’s nothing left but their feelings, their words, and the months before Miyuki heads to California.

This would make for an infuriatingly frustrating end to the third season…if this were the final episode in its entirety. Thankfully, this is not the end, and as soon as I realized I’d only watched the first of a two-part double episode, I regained my composure and kept watching.

When Kaguya reaches the top, the narrator repeats his spiel from the very first episodes, about how love is war, those in love live in terror, etc. But Miyuki and Kaguya go on that they must convey their feelings for the one they love, even if it means they “lose”, or they’ll never move forward.

While donning his ridiculous top hat, Miyuki tells Kaguya having her beside him for this, his big final culture festival moment, and Kaguya goes through all the things in her head she should say to him out loud. That she wants him to stay by her side forever, and that even if she’s not sure he would ever like a “cold, hateful woman”, but if he confessed to her right then and there, she’d 100% accept it.

Miyuki doesn’t confess with words, but he does confess by unleashing the jewel of the dragon—which turned out to be a weather balloon—with an app, and has it drift over the campfire until it pops, revealing a massive swarm of heart-shaped balloons that float up to their vantage point atop the tower.

He and the narrator recount Miyuki’s efforts for the “Ultra Romantic Campaign” that culminated in this heart balloon blizzard; a plan he first set into motion the same day he applied to Stanford. He planned every last detail, including ensuring Chika, Yuu, and Miko didn’t interfere at the proper time.

Just like Kaguya, Miyuki launches into a self-deprecating inner monologue about how he worked his goddamn tail off to become her equal, and explains that if he overtly confessed or ask her out in words, he’d be confirming the fact they weren’t equals. No, he needed to do something that would make her confess to him.

But what’s most important to Miyuki isn’t that she confess, or that they go out…it’s that they are able to remain together. To that end, he got the principal to agree to write a second letter of recommendation for Kaguya, and atop that tower, as he holds a blue balloon heart and she holds a red one, he asks her to apply to Stanford and go with him to the U.S.

It’s not a confession, but despite what a shock it brings to Kaguya, she’s so happy to hear these words that she agrees on the spot, so quickly that it weird Miyuki out a little. And now that Miyuki has expressed how he feels and what he wants, Kaguya can do the same, and does so with a passionate kiss that is witnessed but notably and mercifully not interrupted by Chika’s Scooby Gang.

In between these stunningly epic scenes of some of the most gratifying payoffs in anime rom-comdom, the rest of the cast get their curtain calls for the season. Nagisa dances with Maki, assuring her that she likes her more than Tsubasa; Kobachi admits to her bae it’s time to stop being so overprotective of Miko; Yuu deems it unkind to steal Tsubame away from her adoring fans and classmates and instead tracks down Miko, shows her footage of the campfire she made happen, and tells her to go enjoy it already.

Later that night, Kaguya recounts her Ultra Romantic evening with the President to Ai in a voice best described as … “giddysmug”. She gleefully describes the kiss as tasting like ketchup (since Miyuki had just eaten a corn dog) and goes on to decribe how she used her tongue during the kiss, which we see made a lasting impact on Miyuki.

Mind you, neither Miyuki nor Kaguya actually verbally confessed … but c’maaaahn. Even these two clueless doofuses cannot deny what they are to one another, and while there’s certainly a lot to think about and plan (including how to get the other to verbally confess to them!), the fact that their future is secure together is a great weight lifted from their shoulders.

Student Council antics continue as usual, with Chika coming up with a game that will start some shit, and Yuu and Miko sparring like siblings. Kaguya and Miyuki look on with pride and contentment, the Miyuki’s desk hiding the fact that they’re holding hands. It was definitely touch-and-go throughout this stressful closing culture festival arc, but Love is War nailed the landing, and I never should have doubted it would.

If a fourth season comes around—and apparently there’s an enormous amount of source material left to adapt—it will be icing on an already perfect cake. But when we’re talking about icing this well made, there’s no such thing as too much. Keep making this show until these dweebs are old and gray with grandchildren running around in California; I wouldn’t need any other anime to sustain me!

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 10 – Reina’d-Back Camp

When Ishikawa and Satou suggests that their group of friends go on a camping trip, Reina is as excited-looking as Raidou can remember seeing her. Miyahara-sensei is happy to transport them to the campground and pick them up at the end of the trip, drifting her minivan along the way just for shits and giggles. Reina offered to bring all the ingredients for dinner and comes with an overstuffed backpack that turns out to contain no food.

No matter; the group fishes and forages for their supper, making sure to check with the campground manager that everything is safe to eat (nobody wants to go on a camping trip). Reina whips up a sumptuous feast that’s probably all the more satisfying because all of the ingredients were procured with their own hands. When Ooshiro turns in early, keeping to her sleep schedule, the others go on a bit of a test of courage.

Ishikawa and Satou, revealing that they are as invested in Aharen x Raidou as the audience, strategically withdraw to leave the lovebirds alone together. The two stargaze, and Reina is on the cusp of saying something important when a beast rushes them; it turns out to be Nui with the food she forgot.

Later that night Ooshiro wakes up to find Reina hasn’t slept a wink. Reina wants advice on how to tell Raidou how she feels without ruining what they have. Ooshiro has watched Reina and Raidou long enough to confidently assure her that everything will work out fine.

When Raidou emerges from his tent for some midnight ramen, Reina follows Ooshiro’s advice and joins him. After they split the cup ramen, Reina says…something that is obscured by a sudden breeze, which also keeps us from hearing Raidou’s response. All we see is Reina leaning in to kiss Raidou, her eyes filling with tears, and running back to her tent.

While we’re left to ponder what was said and the meaning of Reina’s tears, things more or less return to normal, which is probably what Ishikawa, Satou, and Ooshiro should have expected. These two have never made a big deal about being the couple they so clearly have been for some time; it stands to reason they wouldn’t make a big deal out of making it official (if that’s indeed what happened).

One thing’s for sure: the two are as close as ever, and possibly even closer, as observed by master esteem detector Toubaru-sensei, whose throes of esteem overload twist her into increasingly romantic positions with her friend and colleague Miyahara-sensei, further adding fuel to their side-ship. Will the remaining episodes address what was said under the stars that night, or the kiss and tears that followed? I sure hope so!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 09 – Best Selves

When Loid moves in for that kiss to prove he and Yor are in love, both Yor and Yuri panic; Yor because she’s never been kissed, and Yuri because he always dreamed of marrying Yor and doesn’t want to see her kiss anyone else. Yor chugs the rest of the wine to build up the courage to kiss Loid.

The very moment she can’t go through with it is the same moment Yuri tries to stop her, resulting in Yor slapping the absolute shit out of Yuri. He flies right into his ridiculous bouquet, resulting in a cloud of rose petals that in any other situation would be romantic.

Yor helps Yuri up, Yuri helps Yor stay vertical, and Loid helps keep both of them vertical. He tells them what lovely siblings they are (even with Yuri bleeding profusely) and privately feels envy for their familial bond, as he’s never had that. Unaware that even 2D-chess eludes the Briars, he starts to suspect that Yor might’ve married him at Yuri’s behest to get closer to him.

Yuri is too goofy and his blind spot vis-a-vis Yor is too large for him to feel like any threat to the mission to me, but Twilight is a spy; it’s his job not to trust anyone, even Yor. At the same time, Yor’s inability to kiss Loid or cook has her worried she’s not acting like a proper wife should.

Anya, who slept through the excitement (and really wants to meet her secret police uncle) picks up on these bad vibes, but can’t reassure either parent as it might give away her ability. So as she boards the school bus, she simply tells them they “need to get along”. Loid chalks it up to how “curously observant” kids can be.

Then, he plants a damned bug on Yor in order to listen in on her day, and while she’s out on an errand for her boss, he and Franky stop her while disguised as Secret Police.

If it were anyone other than someone like Loid in the situation he’s in, I would call this obsessive behavior. But if his gut can’t 100% discount that Yor isn’t secretly working with her brother, this is all he can do to assuage his suspicions. Franky predictably buries himself in the part of bad cop, quickly accusing Yor of leaking state secrets.

Throughout her day to that point, Loid had listened in and gotten nothing, and even when Yor’s back is literally against the wall in front of two secret policemen, her “story” doesn’t change, because it isn’t a story: she’s a good citizen (other than the assassinations) who loves her family and country and would never engage in espionage.

When Frankie tries to touch her, Yor restrains him with ease and warns both him and Loid that she doesn’t care who they are or who they work for; she’ll show them no mercy if they hurt her family. Loid takes another look at the letter Yor was mailing and says they made a mistake, and let her go.

Loid won’t admit it, but his relief is soured by guilt he felt going to such lengths to try to catch Yor in a lie. Ironically, she’s able to successfully preserve the actual secret she’s been keeping from Loid all along (that she’s a ruthless super-assassin).

When he meets up with Yor later, she apologizes for not being a proper wife, but Loid comforts her by saying she’s fine the way she is, always striving to be her best self. Everyone puts on acts to some degree, and it grows tiring and eventually intolerable. Better to not put on an act when one is neither desired or needed.

They buy cake to celebrate a year of marriage, and when Anya comes home (her “I HAVE RETURNED” is a great kid greeting), reads their minds, and finds the bad vibes have vanished, her face brightens—Mama and Papa are getting along.

While I’m not the biggest fan of Yuri, I’m glad his antics indirectly led to Loid and Yor clearing the air and growing a little closer. Next week, we return to Eden, and Anya’s solemn mission to befriend a little jerk.

Spy x Family – 08 – Into the Briar Patch

Anya’s adventures at Eden are placed on hold this week as the adults navigate various difficulties. Miss Handler warns Twilight that the enemy is stepping up their game, which is to say they’re intensifying their investigation of suspected spies and rounding them up wherever they are, including at city hall where Yor works.

Yor’s brother Yuri, whom she believes is working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has actually been working as a Second Lieutenant with the State Security Service, AKA Secret Police for about the same amount of time Yor and Loid have been married.

Just like Yor’s co-workers, the SSS’s chief thinks he’s adorable, but like Yor, he’s definitely got a mean streak, as we see when he interrogates Yor’s boss after he’s caught passing documents to an enemy agent. Let us just revel in the delicious fact that both Briar siblings secret unpleasant jobs they are keeping from one another.

But for as competent as Yuri is, all logic and moderation go out the window where his sister is concerned. He is obsessed with her, to the point he likes how his ribs still hurt after she broke them while hugging him as a child. He also brings what looks like four dozen red roses to his first time meeting Your’s new husband.

Loid knows that close relationships like family can cause trip-ups, so he and Yor have practiced being a lovey-dovey couple…to an extent. In a hilarious sequence, Yuri and Loid and Yuri and Yor interact and speak to each other out loud, then we hear their inner monologue overlapping.

When Yor explains to Yuri that she simply forgot to tell him she got married, and then forgot that she forgot, that seems to be enough for him. But when talk turns to how they met, Yuri instinctively enters interrogation mode, for which Loid and Yor are fairly well prepared.

Loid, in turn, did some digging on Yuri and learned he’s in the secret police, confirmed when he starts telling a story about going abroad that’s straight out of his agency’s deception manual. Still, he plays along, since someone like Yuri could be a valuable source of intel if a cordial relationship was forged.

As Yuri drinks more wine he gets a bit looser and more honest, and while can’t deny that Loid is tall, handsome, a good cook, a doctor, and has good manners, he still can’t accept the marriage, or “Loidy” as a brother. Yor is his only family, and she provided for him when he was young and helpless.

We see this in the form of a flashback where a young Yor arrives at home covered in blood and not even trying to hide it from Yuri. But whenever she came through that door, it was with something Yuri either needed or wanted. Ever since, Yuri has strived to not only be someone worthy of that devotion, but someone able to protect her, as she did him.

When Yuri accidentaly knocks over a glass, Yor and Loid start cleaning it up and their hands touch, and they both recoil and blush like teenagers. This would be suspicious behavior from a couple married for a year even for someone who wasn’t a trained, ruthless spy-hunter.

So Yuri gives the two an ultimatum: either they kiss, or he has their marriage license revoked. All of a sudden the stakes are ratcheted up to eleven and the whole game is on the line, and all for something as innocuous as a kiss. Such is the spectacular unpredictability of a Briar.

While Loid has extensive experience seducing women, it’s different for Yor. Unlike those past women, I believe he actually cares about her, hence the blushing. And Yor? I’m certain she’s never kissed a guy. Combine that with the fact Yuri is tipsy and probably doesn’t want to see his sister kiss someone, and next week’s cliffhanger resolution should be interesting.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The World’s Finest Assassin – 12 (Fin) – Gungnir Big or Gae Bolg Home

We know it’s going to be a different kind of episode when we begin with the Robo-Goddess in her realm, which has taken on the stark monochromatic aesthetic of the OP (which remains my favorite of the Fall). It seems the World’s Finest Assassin is her latest and possibly last best hope against the Hero ending the world.

Back on that world, her champion Lugh is ready to burn Dia’s house down and whisk her away with the story that she committed suicide so that none of the sides in the war could have her. There’s just one problem: Setanta MacNess has arrived with Gae Bolg, and partially demolishes the castle before Lugh can implement his plan.

Lugh deflects Gae Bolg’s attack with one of his “grenades”, then launches the biggest cannon attack he has. Setanta survives the blast with some superficial wounds that soon heal, but the knight is amazed at having finally seen and tasted his own blood, goes into Berserk mode while maintaining his sense, and challenges Lugh to a duel.

Suspecting Setanta is indeed the Hero as Maha’s intelligence suggested, Lugh makes it clear to Dia that he can’t run from Setanta’s challenge, nor can he have a hope of winning a duel against him. That said, Lugh also reminds Dia he’s neither knight nor hero, but an assassin. Assassinating’s all he can do, and it’s all he will do against Setanta.

After a little trash talking and negotiating of the terms of the duel, Lugh gets Setanta to agree that the duel will begin when a coin he flips into the air hits the ground. This essentially locks Setanta’s gaze on the coin, so he doesn’t look up when a solid tungsten missile comes crashing down on top of him, causing an enormous explosion and shock wave.

That solid tungsten missle was initially casually launched into orbit while Lugh was still in Dia’s castle, but is the culmination of months of careful preparation and collaboration. He and Dia designed the spells to launch it, and he and Tarte scouted the island Maha found to test it. It even employes the same shielding Tarte used to help Lugh conserve his energy on the way to Dia. The name of the spell is Gungnir, which is fitting as Odin’s spear is believed to be the prototype of Cúchulainn’s Gae Bolg.

Lugh’s extremely aerospace-y and not necessarily assassin-y or knightly gambit pays off. He takes a considerable lick himself, but soon awakens to a concerned Dia, whom he’s so relieved is okay he kisses her just as the sun rises over the mountains. When Dia asks why he agreed to take on a non-Tuatha Dé matter, Lugh tells her he never forgot his promise to always come running.

As he promised Tarte, Lugh arrives home having failed his first assassination job ever yet still triumphant, because he brought Dia with him. Cian decides its best for now for Dia’s identity to be concealed; she’s to live with them in Tuatha Dé as Lugh’s younger sister, with her shared bloodlines with Esri making it a believable lie.

With that settled, Cian brings up another order of business: the Hero has apparently arrived in the Alvan Kingdom. Lugh’s confused by that, since he assumed Setanta was the Hero. Alas, he apparently wasn’t; the actual Hero, whose presence closely precedes the certain arrival of the Demon Lord, is one Lord Epona Rhiannon, and the close-up on his alternate-Lugh like visage is the last image we see in The World’s Finest Assassin.

Despite the fact there’s no immediate news of a second season, I can’t believe we won’t be getting one sometime down the road. There’s a lot of story left to tell and a lot of cute moments between Lugh/Dia, Lugh/Tarte, Lugh/Maha, or any other combinations therein. Not to mention…what if this Epona lad is just like Lugh: originally from another world?

That’s one of dozens of questions I’m hoping a sequel would explore. Until then, this was a bold ending to a thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing isekai series.

Takt Op. Destiny – 12 (Coda) – Addio, Signor Disperazione

After one more look at the OP, beautifully animated but for the fact Anna and Cosette lack toes (that always bothered me), we go right into the final boss battle. Orpheus packs a punch and has a suitably calm yet menacing voice, but by making it a two-against-one fight, she allows herself to be distracted by a kick to the fact from Takt, allowing Destiny to blast the top half of her away.

She eventually regenerates, but it takes enough time that Takt is able to continue on to Sagan. It then becomes a duel between Destiny and Orpheus, and the lack of a frail human in their midst means they can really let their bedazzled hair down and have a proper brawl, captured with all the requisite concussive Mappa/Madhouse sakuga.

Turns out Orpheus really is the final true boss; Sagan can’t do anything but try to convince Takt that his cause is right and just. Oh, and the show finally lets us in on the secret of why exactly he’s doing all this: he wants to lure all of the D2s in the world to a sacrificial North America so he can take them all out at once, thereby saving the remaining six populated continents. Uh, my dude … Antarctica was right there!

Turns out both Heaven and Hell, and thus Orpheus, aren’t really trying to save the world so much as save their Conductor, whom they love despite his fatal flaw of choosing the wrong continent to sacrifice. Just as Takt isn’t hearing Sagan’s excuses, Destiny most emphatically Does Not Care what Orpheus says or thinks, and somehow powering up, manages to pummel the hell (and heaven!) out of her. Destiny just wanted it more, I guess!

Destiny joins Takt, cementing Sagan’s defeat, as Takt uses her sword to kill him, which shuts down all of the D2s running amok in the crippled Symphonica. Sayonara Sagan…you were never much of a character, and the little bit of pathos the episode tries to squeeze out of your situation in the eleventh hour didn’t really work. You were just another of the dime-a-dozen villains populating lesser anime. Takt Op. Destiny deserved a better baddie.

It’s main duo won me over, however. Destiny has been showing more and more emotion as she’s come into her own as an individual and not just an musical alien inhabiting Takt’s dead soul mate. She basically becomes another soul mate to Takt, staying beside him, holding his non-existent right hand as they lay on the beach, then giving him a farewell kiss before vanishing in a cloud of rose petals. It’s a beautiful scene filled with bittersweet love.

That brings us to the brief epilogue, which indicates Takt made it into suspended animation alive. Anna has joined the Symphonica, trading her belly-bearing tops for the organization’s marching band-y uniform. She also looks after a gold trinket with red trim, the only thing Destiny left behind, and which seems to allow Anna to transform into the next Destiny. As her out-of-left-field kiss hinted, she’s dedicated herself for being there for Takt when—not if—he wakes up. There’s still a lot of D2s out there.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Takt Op. Destiny – 11 – Con Molta Forza

Lotte tells Anna that the last best chance of saving both Takt and Destiny is to put them in cryogenic stasis in order to buy time to counteract the effects of their contract. It could be years or decades before a cure is found, but if they do nothing, Takt may not last the month.

With Takt in such a precarious state, the last thing you want to see is Sagan causing the Symphonica to be completely overrun with D2-spawning giant purple crystals. Why, do you ask? Because Sagan = Bad Guy. It looks like the crystals engulf and kill him, which I guess makes this his magnum opus…?

Whatever his motivations to destroy everything he’s built and off himself(?), Sagan’s actions are the perfect excuse for some serious Musicart ass-kicking. We get glimpses of various other heretofore unseen Musicarts, but the only three who can truly save the day are Takt and Destiny, backed up by the now Maestro-less Titan, who has more of a sharp edge to her now.

Anna and Lotte end up trapped deep in the Symphonica’s labs by the crystals, and here Anna shows how awesome she is by carrying her paralyzed big sister on her back in order to find a way out. It isn’t long until they encounter a D2, but they’re saved in the nick of time by Walküre.

Eventually Anna, Lotte, and Walküre end up in the same mezzanine as Takt, Destiny, and Titan. The Musicarts successfully defeat all of the D2s in the immediate vicinity, but at a seemingly heavy cost: Takt can barely stand, and the battle has surely shortened his life from a month to mere days, if not hours. Even so, he orders Titan to take Anna, Lotte, and Walküre to safety while he and Destiny press on to Sagan—whom they assume is still alive.

When Anna tells him it’s a suicide mission, he says he knows, but he’s got his mentor Lenny’s work to complete along with his own music, none of which can exist as long as Sagan and his machinations are still going on. Somewhat curiously, Anna gives Takt a big old smooch, then makes it clear she has no idea why. I can’t say I can either, aside from the fact that the big sister act was to hide her feelings for him? This development has come far too late in the game!

On their way deeper into the Symphonica, Destiny notes how quiet Takt has become post-kiss, and even seems to display a slight measure of jealousy about it. That’s the last bit of comedy in the episode, however, as they soon enter a huge area absolutely crawling with D2s. Hell is waiting for them there, holding Heaven in a princess carry, and Heaven then stabs both of them with her tuning fork.

They both turn into a puddle of black goo, which then turns into several floating machine gun emplacements that destroy all of the D2. Then the guns transform into a new Musicart boss Orpheus: an unholy merging combination of Heaven, Hell, and the crystals. Considering how strong she’s likely to be, I suppose we’ll have to suspend our disbelief Takt has enough left in the tank. The question is, win or lose, will the show really kill him and/or Destiny off?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 04 – No Time to Be Choosy

After a pretty but clinical infodump about how the exploration of “World Formula Theory” led to the alternate coal known as astermite, the alternate Paris known as Altus, and the alternate humans known as vampires, we get something a lot hotter and heavier, as Domi offers Noé the blood in her neck and Noé does not refuse it with a boyish blush, but goes in and drunks deep.

Domi probably preferred that Vanitas was on the other side of the wagon door when Noé fed on her, as in the middle of the masquerade ball, she manages to separate Vanitas from Noé and locks him in her sadist torture chamber. She wants to know what he’s really doing with her Noé. Far from frightened by all the spikes and chains, Vanitas is wearing his usual fox-like smirk, loving every minute of this.

Rather than spook him, Domi’s heavy handed tactics inspire him to declare who he is, what he is, and what he plans to do with all the vampire bigwigs at the ball, adding that he looks forward to them experiencing the humiliation of being saved by a human who inherited the name and book of the Blue Moon vampire.

His impromptu speech does not go over well, with Domi’s sister Veronica ordering him killed. But in just an instant the chandelier upon which he was perched falls to the dance floor, and Vanitas is whisked away in a princess carry by Jeanne, following her master Luca’s wishes to meet Vanitas and Noé again.

Unfortunately neither Vanitas doesn’t just have angry, rich, murderous vamps to worry about: Charlatan has crashed the ball in tripartite form, turning numerous vamps into curse-bearers and basically setting up a gift-wrapped scenario in which Vanitas can prove his haughty boasts by healing the bearers. With Noé busy protecting Luca from Charlatan, Vanitas has a little room to work.

He also has Jeanne, who is extremely hungry, and acting suspiciously like a curse-bearer, though not all veiny and demonic like the others. Needing muscle to back him up in Noé’s absence and with no other convenient necks around, Vanitas decides to conduct a new experiment on himself by allowing Jeanne to suck his blood.

She warns him her fangs may be the death of him, but he repeats his claim to have fallen for her, and bids her bon appetit. If Noé drinking Domi’s blood was steamy, Jeanne drinking Vanita’s is downright smoldering, aided by the otherworldly pinks, purples, and reds of Altus.

Jeanne takes a brief pause, but then goes back to Vanitas’ neck for seconds, and he declares that “this isn’t half bad.” Let it never be said Vanitas can’t be sexy as hell right after being goofy as hell!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 03 – A Distant Kiss

Bocchan loses a game of pool to Alice, and so cannot refuse when she asks if he’ll accompany her into town for a festival. Because many will be in costume, he’s able to wear a steel-framed suit to avoid contact with both Alice and bystanders. It’s a way for him and Alice to feel like they’re on an actual date out in the world for the first time, even if they still can’t touch.

When they become separated by the crowd, Bocchan demonstrates how despite the rumors around town about a monstrous shinigami, the actual person of whom they speak is actually a kind and gentle young man. When a lost boy clings to his coat, he cheers him up by playing a song on the piano set up in the town square.

Bocchan sheds his heavy disguise to join Alice atop the clock tower, where they gaze at the moon and she tells him the story of another couple separated by a witch’s interference. In the case of the story, the man is on the moon while the woman is on earth.

But the man could be on Pluto and the basic tragedy would be the same as Bocchan and Alice’s; they are together in their hearts, but can never actually touch as long as the curse remains in force.

One night Bocchan gets a note from Alice to meet her in her bedroom (set off from the mansion) if he has trouble sleeping. When he enters to find her brushing her hair while nude, he assumes she has naughty plans for him. In the end, however, between a calming scented candle and cammomile tea, she really was simply trying to help him sleep…though it’s clear she was also hoping he’d get the wrong idea so she could gleefully watch his reactions.

Another night, when a once-in-a-decade meteor shower is to occur, Bocchan is the one to invite Alice to an intimate boat ride on the lake. His true intention is to properly confess his feelings—as opposed to the offhanded ways he’s told her he loves her. Things go pear-shaped when the wind snatches his hat, Alice leaps into the drink to grab it, and he can neither stop her nor help her out of the water due to the curse.

When she tells him straight-up that she’d be fine dying by his kiss, he leans as close as he dares before backing off, not willing to sacrifice Alice for just that one kiss. Alice, knowing he wouldn’t do it, tips the boat so he falls in the water with her. Thankfully, the water doesn’t conduct his curse like it does electricity!

In all the excitement, they missed the meteor shower, but as they both dry off by the fire, Alice says she’ll accompany him to the next one, in ten years. Bocchan is constantly worried that he’s not properly expressing how he feels, but Alice already knows, and feels the same way about him. It’s why she’s stayed with him this long; it’s why she has every intention of being with him in a decade, curse or no curse…but hopefully no curse!

Vanitas no Carte – 03 – Blood Laid Bare

Vanitas looks like he was in trouble when he was up against Jeanne the Hellfire Witch, but he employs his usual boisterousness to buy sufficient time for Thomas Berneux paralysis to wear off so he attacks Jeanne for him. Then, with his associates and a neutralized Jeanne, and Orlok’s butler and maid bearing witness, transforms Berneux back into a human.

After that Vanitas turns his attention to Jeanne, who insists she can still fight. He then employs another gambit: having Noé nab Luca and cover his mouth, making it look like he’s a hostage. Vanitas revels in his correct assessment that Luca is Jeanne’s weakness, then wall-slams and kisses her in her weakened state which, well…kissing people who can’t physically resist you ain’t cool!

At least it’s not supposed to be cool; everyone makes it plain Vanitas is a big ol’ jerk. He’s definitely a rascal; you could also call him a scoundrel and I doubt anyone would complain. As for Berneux, he doesn’t last long in his restored human state, as he’s seemingly killed by the one who turned him into a curse bearer to begin with.

Back at Orloks, Amelia’s execution is “postponed” for the time being, on the condition that she works, and Noé and Vanitas live, at a hotel he owns in the city so he can keep an eye on the three of them. Now that he knows the Vanitas no Carte isn’t bunk, he’s loath to let go of such a valuable curse-bearer-exorcising resource.

As for Berneux’s demise, Vanitas chalks it up to “Charlatan”, a monster (possibly a vampire) of dubious corporealness who has been going around town creating curse-bearers to expand his whimsical parade of death and destruction. Noé, revealed by Orlok as a member of the Archiviste Clan, has the ability to read the memories of those whose blood he drinks.

He does just that with Amelia to confirm how she was changed into a curse-bearer, and…goddamn, is it an unsettling, fucked-up little sequence. He wakes up screaming from watching Amelia’s memory of Charlatan glomping her head. But now that he knows who’s responsible, Noé isn’t going to rest until the shithead’s dust.

If that means having to continue to put up with a jerk like Vanitas, so be it. Not long after his memory-reading session with Amelia, his betrothed childhood friend Dominique de Sade struts in, dazzling the stage like a Kill la Kill character. Kayano Ai gives a playful arrogance to the role, and her little steampunk droid Kreisler (or Chrysler, if you prefer) provides a steady cloud of rose petals for added effect.

We learn that “Domi’s” gramps is Noé’s teacher, and that the House of de Sade is known for its rude behavior, but also the power and wealth to back it up. Domi wants Noé to be her escort for a masquerade ball in Altus, the city ruled by the de Sades. No doubt she wants more than just a date; she overheard the situation with Charlatan, and there’s people she wants Noé and Vanitas to meet.

Noé, Vanitas, and Domi reach “the barrier”—elegantly and ominously described as “the product of an experiment gone wrong long ago, or so it’s said”—the bridge between regular, mostly-human Paris and “Altus Paris”, which is frankly way more badass looking with its blood red sky lined with spider web-like lines and towering castle (no doubt the domain of the de Sades).

Humans cannot cross the barrier, but Vanitas is different. He can make the crossing as long as he’s touching a vampire while he’s doing so. He actually took quite a risk in simply leaping into the barrier without telling anyone. Noé just so happened to be close enough to take his hand and catch him, and Vanitas probably expected him to do that.

These three colorful characters in an even more colorful setting should make for an excellent, intrigue-filled fourth episode. Until then, this outing very successfully established the threat (and creepiness) of the Parade of Charlatan, as well as Domi de Sade’s general awesomeness.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 12 (Fin) – The Exhibition

With the cultural festival fast approaching, Naoto has managed to belt out a whole series of Nagatoro Being Nagatoro, and her friends are impressed. Hayacchi herself is happy they turned out well, even if they give off “creepy virgin vibes”—though it’s obvious by now she’s a virgin too.

When the others go to the other side of the clubroom to spy on the President’s progress, Naoto doesn’t go with them, and Nagatoro tells him even if the Prez is “Queen of the Lewds”, he can still beat her. That is, until she sees the Prez’s piece and passes out. Gamo assures the two that she, Yosshi and Sakura will figure something out to help them.

Naoto and Prez have a slightly tense but also very honest little scene together, with the Prez making it clear this is less about winning and losing and more about tapping into the artistic potential she knows Naoto has within him. She’s not holding back, so she urges him to “hit her with a soulful work of passion.”

She then produces a “Torocat” strap that closely resembles Nagatoro, and the next day Naoto learns what that’s all about: Yosshi and Sakura are in costume as Torocats to support Nagatoro in her now familiar catgirl cosplay—though it’s clear Nagatoro is not at all into having to “toy with” all the guys who come to visit Senpai’s exhibition.

That said, as the day goes on, she becomes less stiff and starts to have more fun. When Naoto sees her basically flirting with other guys the same way she does with him, it’s hard for him to hide his jealousy.

The reverse occurs when other girls approach Naoto, express how impressed they are with his work, and ask him to teach them how to draw. Nagatoro doesn’t like that one bit!

That said, when Naoto asks her to join him for lunch, she still comes along. She calls him out for suddenly being so popular with the ladies now, and he chalks that up to the paintings turning out so well, for which he credits her. This causes a rapid succession of Nagatoro faces, and ends with her toying with him, but unlike with the other guys, she genuinely enjoys it.

When they return from their break, which essentially serves as a little mini-date during the festival, they find a huge commotion outside the Prez’s side of the club: the Disciplinary Committee is censoring her super-provocative painting, citing it a threat to “moral order” after hearing rumors it was being used to “play with the male students’ lust”.

While I initially thought we saw the Prez meeting with the committee last week to set this whole thing up in order to create more buzz and win the competition, it seems that isn’t the case, and she’s not in on anything. In fact, she’s outraged her art is being censored.

That’s when her kohai Naoto comes in to defend her, stating that her amazing art has inspired him to find the subject he wanted to draw the most: Nagatoro. Gamo and Sakua push Nagatoro in to back Paisen up, and even she admits that Prez’s art is amazing. Yosshi even produces video footage that proves that there were more people were taking the art seriously than horny boys leering at it.

This might’ve been one of my favorite scenes not involving just Naoto and Nagatoro, because it subverts the “competition with the club on the line” trope in favor of something more interesting: doing the right thing, even if the person you’re doing it for is a rival. It’s not just Nagatoro; Yosshi, Sakura, and Gamo are good people at heart!

When the Prez returns, tells the others she worked out a compromise, and voices her appreciation for their support with her very first expression resembling a smile, the girls can’t help but gloat over the fact that she lost. That said, the Prez isn’t a sore loser, and even takes their chosen punishment: that she dress up as a bunny girl to help sell Torocat merch. Naturally, it all sells out.

With the festival in the rearview mirror, Prez pays Naoto a visit on his side, explaining her getup as “the fate of the defeated.” She admits it’s humiliating, but also “a new form of oppression” to “stimulate her creative desire” and bring her “unprecedented deliverance.” Let it never be said Prez doesn’t have a way with words, but Naoto’s reply—“Just get changed already!”—is equally sublime!

When Nagatoro, eager to see Naoto, leaves her friends and enters the club room to find the Prez seemingly about to undress, she nearly flips her shit…but the Prez is only joking. She has a sense of humor! She also admits she likes Naoto’s paintings of Nagatoro, which not only contain “a definite passsion”, but love as well.

She may have lost the competition, but the fact her underclassman learned a valuable lesson about art and vastly improved his work renders that competition moot. As a senpai, the President actually won. When Naoto is hesitant to admit his pieces contain his love for Nagatoro, he’s mercifully saved by the bell for the festival’s closing concert.

Remembering Nagatoro’s words at the summer festival, Naoto meekly comes out and asks her if she’d like to go together. Nagatoro, happy beyond words, asks him to ask again, only louder, then takes him by the hand and off they go!

After the credits, we see Nagatoro and Naoto alone again in the clubroom they won back together. Nagatoro is resting her eyes, but looks up to flash a soft smile before returning to her catnap. When Naoto’s drawing is complete, she tells him to close his eyes and accept his reward, which this time is a real kiss on the cheek.

Even this chaste peck proves too much for Nagatoro, who runs out of the club room after pulling down an eyelid and sticking out her tongue. But she can’t undo that kiss, nor does she want to. This has been a relationship of small but meaningful steps forward all along, and I have no reason to think that slow but steady progress won’t continue.

And that’s a wrap! Don’t Toy with Me may have started out with a sharp edge of kinkiness, but turned out to be one of the sweeter loves stories of the last couple years. We watched both Naoto and Nagatoro come into their own as two people who found each other, navigated the often stormy waters, and found happiness and inspiration in one another. We should all be so lucky!

Episode 12 “Senpai” Count: 9 (+2 “Paisens”)—hardly any at all!
Final Count: 391

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