Shin no Nakama – 09 – Warm Hands, Full Hearts

Ruti takes Tisse and their Fisher-Price airship and head for Zoltan to break an alchemist out of jail. Why is the Hero abandoning the rest of her party to do crimes? Because the goatman gave her a sample of the Devil’s Blessing, which weakens her Hero’s Blessing and makes her more human.

She wants a steady supply of the drug, and she trusts Tisse. We get more time with the tiny assassin than all previous episodes combined, and thanks to the legendary Kugimiya Rie (Tisse’s seiyu) and the adorable Crawly Wawly, all of that time is a delight. This is an episode full of jokes that keep things light, unlike the last two weeks where all the self-serious plotting got on my nerves.

I also said the last two weeks that all I really care about is the main couple, but that’s not true; I always cared about Ruti and was fascinated by the curse of her Blessing, and now I care about her and Tisse, who hides the fact that she’s a sweaty bundle of nerves beneath her cool exterior.

Speaking of cool, Winter has come to Zoltan, and business at Red and Rit’s is slow since people don’t want to leave their homes. Rit suggests Red craft a hand warmer similar to the ones form Loggervia, and they’re a big hit in town. Rit saves one warmer for her and Red to share, strolling until they find a private park bench where they  can cuddle and smooch.

That’s the good stuff right there: the Quiet Life of the show’s very long title that both OP and ED promise and that drew me to this show to begin with. That said, that coziness blends well with the gently building tension as Ruti and Tisse get closer to Zoltan, but don’t run into Red and Rit immediately.

In fact, both Ruti and Red end up dealing with the same bridge knight seeking to challenge anyone who crosses. Ruti easily dispatches him into the river where he loses all of his possession. When he challenges Red in nothing but his bear boxers, Red does the same thing, and he loses he boxers too.

Tisse encounters Red first, not knowing who he is when they’re sitting beside each other at a very chill udon stand. As both are seasoned professionals, they quickly but discreetly size one another up and determine that they could be trouble; Tisse because she’s a capable assassin, and Red because Tisse can tell he’s a far stronger knight than the one who lost his drawers.

As expected, Ruti has no trouble at all executing a prison break and extracting Godwin, the alchemist, who will make as much of whatever Ruti wants if she just stops staring at him. The next morning Tisse wakes up to find Ruti didn’t sleep…but you get the feeling if she had enough Devil’s Blessing, she could, and she wants to.

What leads Ruti and Red to finally cross paths at the very end of the episode is nothing contrived, but a practical matter of Ruti not wanting to heal Godwin’s wounds with her Hero’s magic lest her cover be blown. For that, she needs an apothecary, and Tisse, who had already scouted the whole place, knows where the best one is.

What Ruti didn’t know is that the apothecary is the same guy who she met at the udon stand. Fresh from a fairy hamlet on Zoltan’s outskirts where he healed a very blue, very pretty, very naked undine from a cold-like curse that seems to be going around, there he is, welcoming new customers. When Ruti and Red lock eyes and realize that fate has brought them together, Ruti can’t conceal her overflowing happiness.

With tears of joy in her eyes and a huge smile, she pounces on her onii-chan with abandon. I suspect the beautiful reunion will be somewhat marred once Red learns Ruti is in Zoltan to procure drugs that make her a weaker hero. In any case, this week was a marked improvement on the previous two.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter – 02 – Coasting Along in Easy Mode

Noir was accepted to Hero Academy, but the 300,000-rel tuition is too-steep for his baronet father, so he has to come up with the cash by himself. At no point did I doubt he’d be able to do so by the end of the episode. Olivia suggests he becomes an adventurer, so he registers with Odin, which just happens to be Olivia’s guild.

The receptionist Lola is skeptical of Noir’s claims, even going so far as to say she’ll lift her skirt up if he’s proven right by the Discerning Tome. Of course he’s proven right, and Lola is a woman of her word…but what a weird wager! It’s almost as if she knows she’s in an ecchi harem show.

Someone who’s known all along what kind of show this is is Emma, who soon joins Noir out in the field. He successfully catches a bunch of rainbow caterpillars to the tune of 250,000 rel, and his success seems to turn Lola on, resulting in a standoff between her and Emma. Are there, like, no other men?

Noir and Emma head back out into the field to defeat a giant evil rabbit to earn the remaining 50,000 rel he needs for tuition. Since this battle takes up the most time and seems the most hazardous, you’d think the rabbit quest would be worth 250,000 and the grasshopper quest 50,000. I guess it’s best just not to think…at all.

When Emma’s attacks prove ineffective, Noir decides to the skills Olivia gave him to increase her attributes, but Noir doesn’t feel like coughing up 700 LP, so he buffs her weapon adeptness instead to the tune of 500 LP. He gets more than enough LP to cover the magic with a slobbery ear-nibbling session with Emma. Her moans end up luring the rabbit to them, and she defeats it as easily as everything has fallen into Noir’s lap so far.

He gets the 300,000 rel he needs, he gets another hug from Lola and Emma (who make up after a rough start) and thanks to a skill he created that lets him store the dead rabbit in a trans-dimensional space, he ingratiates himself with the entire guild by offering it for a feast. When pressed for a speech, he thinks of how none of this would be possible without Olivia…only to not so much as mention her to the guild of which she was a member.

Looks like the easy times and make-out sessions are only going to continue from here. As I said last week, those looking for serious conflict, adversity, or any kind of surprises are barking up the wrong tree. This week I can add “receptionists unwilling to arbitrarily debase themselves” and “thrilling battle animation” to the growing list of stuff not in this anime.

The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter – 01 (First Impressions) – Born on Third

As a “mere” baronet, Noir Starga may be at the bottom of the noble caste pyramid of his nation. His family isn’t fuck-you rich, all the higher classes look down on them, and he has to get an actual job to support himself. But while his librarian job is stolen by a higher-ranking baron the day he’s supposed to start, life seems awfully sweet for Noir!

For one thing, he has two living parents, despite being a character in a fantasy anime! He also has a cute brocon imouto in Alice and a smokin’ hot childhood friend in Emma Brightness (excellent name), whom I’m just going to pretend is the non-masochistic sister of KonoSuba’s Darkness. Noir and Emma were going to be co-workers, but she still has a solution for the migraines he suffers: swappin’ spit!

So far we’ve got a kid with a loving fam, a future wife, and oh yeah, that Great Sage skill tells him everything about the world, including the unexplained. Again, pretty sweet life. When making out with Emma cures his headaches, Noir’s free to use it to locate a hidden dungeon just 10 klicks from town. There, he hears Horie Yui’s voice and follows it to the buxom adventurer Olivia Servant.

Olivia has been chained up for two centuries, and is just happy to talk to another person. Rather than let her considerable skills go to waste, she copies and bestows them upon Noir. They are Get Creative (conjure any skill), Bestow (give any skill to anyone) and Editor (modify any skill). The only catch: the skills use a ton of Life Points (LP), gained by, well, living: essentially enjoying money, food, and sex.

Noir tries out his new OP skills in the dungeon, but the LP expenditure tires him out. He learns lying in Alice’s lap restores a bit of LP, while embracing a more daringly-dressed Emma the next day restores a lot. When she complains of shoulder pain from her rather prodigious bust, he uses Editor to temporarily shrink it; she has him undo the change immediately.

Armed with so many useful skills and numerous ready sources of LP, Noir changes course and decides to take the Hero Academy entrance exam. The exam begins with the admitees splitting off into parties of three, and members of the higher castes mock Noir for even speaking to them, but thankfully Emma joins him, as she only got a job at the library to be with him. The haughty vicountess Lenore completes the triad.

They split up looking for valuable monster loot, and Noir heads to the hidden dungeon where he encounters a Level 99 Grim Reaper. Despite only being Level 23, Noir has enough LP to Create the Heavy skill and Bestow it on the Reaper to slow it down, then creates a giant stone bullet and shoots it at the Reaper, defeating it.

The Reaper skull ends up giving Team Lenore the edge, and then some: they scored 128,000 points when the next two teams only managed 11,550 and 5,890. Noir was misled by the fact Olivia is a master of the OP skills she gave him, to the point even a Level 99 Boss is a mere scrub.

If you’re looking for complex characters, conflicts, or drama, you will find none in The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter. If you’re looking for a competently-rendered non-isekai renaissance-y setting packed with cute characters, JRPG rules, understated ecchi, and basically a lot of the hero getting his way without much effort at all (as befits his noble station), you’ve come to the right place!

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 05 – Hindrances to Her Chosen Fate Arise

Much to the surprise of the mages on guard, Alice and Rin show up at the new vortex site unannounced, and are soon joined by TuxedoLord Mask and his younger Zoa relation, Kissing, whom he considers to be on a power level close if not equal to Alice’s. He assures the princess they’ll be enough to protect the vortex from the Empire’s forces. Alice is troubled that the Zoa family seeks all-out war—and if she hadn’t come, they’d have exploited the vortex to towards that goal.

Meanwhile, Mismis locates the vortex—which wasn’t hard, as its a giant pillar of light on the horizon!—but they’re not the first on the scene. Their unit is confronted by Shanorotte’s, but when Mismis runs over to hug her, Noro-chan reveals her true colors: she and her unit are and always were loyal mages of the Sovereignty. She shocks Mismis with magic and prepares to take her away as a POW.

That’s when Nameless, who was nearby all along, de-cloaks and wounds Noro’s fellow mages. Nameless prepares to send a sword at Noro which will go through Mismis, but Iska deflects the blade. Nameless threatens to bring Iska up on charges for insubordination, but he doesn’t have time for him. He must return to the Imperial Base so he can bomb the vortex, which is a lost cause now that it’s firmly in enemy hands.

Back at the vortex, Noro presents her captive Mismis to Mask and Alice, who fears Mismis will recognize her from the Neutral City. Thankfully, Rin knocks Mismis out before she can say anything that could incriminate Alice. Mask and the Zoas are hawks, after all; the crown princess meeting with the enemy could be all the excuse they need to move against the Lous.

As it is, Alice simply asks Noro where the enemy base is, as she’s eager to meet back up with Iska as the fortune teller foretold. Only Iska has Nene and Jhin hang back while he infiltrates the enemy base, headed to the place Alice was just as she’s leaving.

Iska is able to easily wrest Mismis back from Noro’s sadistic clutches, but Noro is bailed out by Kissing, who attacks with summoned thorns that take on a variety of forms. Iska, who recognizes Kissing as a strong purebred, is able to hold out until Noro uses the thorns to destroy, then reconstruct an incoming Imperial missile.

That explosion is seen by Alice after she returns to the Imperial base. Nameless is waiting for her there, and manages to cut both Rin and Alice, but then Alice goes all out with Ice Calamity, forcing Nameless to flee. The blast in the distance convinces Alice she should never have left the vortex zone; she must’ve just missed Iska.

Iska is able to slip past Kissing’s thorny offense-defense and knock her unconscious with a non-lethal blow, but then Mask shows up to carry her away, shoving Mismis into the vortex to buy time for their escape. Iska jumps in after her and eventually grabs hold of Mismis. Alice returns just in time to watch him leap in, and she leaps in after him.

The ensuing scene is highly amusing for its informality considering the situation. Despite descending through a column of surging astral energy that apparently has no bottom, Alice blushes at the sight of Iska and treats him as if he stood her up at the base. Still, she agrees to help him and Mismis out of there if he agrees to fight her as soon as they’re back on the ground.

Iska agrees, and the two join hands just as the astral energy surges further. Suddenly they hear a fell voice in the din—an astral spirit’s chant—and the column detonates and dissipates, separating Alice and Iska and dispelling them to different remote areas of the surface. Rin meets back up with Alice, who is annoyed her next battle with Iska has again been postponed by outside forces. Nene and Jhin pull up to find Iska and Mismis, none the worse for wear all things considered.

With the vortex gone, there may be nothing left for either side to do, but more vortices are sure to crop up. We’re left wondering if it was Alice and Iska’s holding hands that caused the vortex to close, which could portend an interesting possible destiny for the pair. If astral vortices are akin to nuclear weapons, or at least sources of atomic-esque energy that can bring about great death and destruction, it falls upon these two to ensure those sources never fall into the hands of either side’s warmongering factions.

I may be off-base with that theory, but it fits with both Alice and Iska’s reluctance to escalate the conflict and desire to bring about a lasting peace. This week’s events underscored the difficulty of that goal, with players like Noro, Kissing, Mask, and Nameless all unwittingly conspiring to hinder Alice and Iska’s continued interaction. The more they fight, the more they’ll understand and trust one another, and the better positioned they’ll be to save the world.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You – 05 – Any Old Ring Will Do

Tsukasa and Nasa’s marital bliss is suddenly, sharply interrupted by Tsukasa’s realization that Nasa doesn’t own a television. On one level, that’s quite admirable for a studious young man; on the other, if he’s going to be married to Tsukasa, there’s going to have to be a TV in the house, because she’s a TV and movie buff, with particular enthusiasm for the oeuvre of one James Cameron. But like her futon, she doesn’t need the best; a god cheap TV will do just fine.

While waiting for Tsukasa at the baths, Nasa tells Kaname that he proposed, though they don’t have rings yet. Kaname stops Nasa before he spews one of the three main husband clichés she so wonderfully proceeds to recite: that their wife doesn’t care about fancy trips, going out for fancy food, or fancy jewelry. Yet when Tsukasa emerges fresh from the bath, both she and Nasa exchange looks that suggest rings really aren’t necessary.

Nasa has to go in to work, which means leaving Tsukasa alone for the day. He feels bad about this, and can sense that she’s feeling a little lonely when they stop to sit on a lakeside bench in the park. That’s when the two both lean in for a long, sweet kiss—just as Chitose’s maids are ready to pounce on them anew. Where this scene kicks so much ass is that the kiss isn’t interrupted at the last second, and the maids don’t interfere. In fact, they aren’t seen again!

Instead, the balance of the episode centers on Nasa’s insistence he procure not one or two but three rings—an engagement ring for Tsukasa and wedding bands for the two of them—to serve as reminders of one another and symbols of their enduring love. The ever-practical Tsukasa only sees it as a waste of money…but just how much money remains unknown to Nasa.

She takes him to the fanciest jewelry store in a fancy district to try to dissuade him from his crusade, but Nasa harbors the foolish belief the brilliance and cost of the diamond must be proportional to the amount of love he feels for Tsukasa. The attendant’s sales pitch is so strong he almost liquidates all his assets. Worse still, when Tsukasa takes him to a budget jewelry store, he starts to think ¥680,000 is “cheap”—which I guess it is, after seeing ¥9,000,000 rings!

When Tsukasa discovers that Tsukasa is doing this far for her, so she won’t be lonely, she kisses him and tells him, essentially, that if they absolutely must have diamond wedding rings, the cheapest ones will do. They settle on a pair costing a total of ¥32,000—which is still a lot of money for “little rocks!”

But Nasa need not despair that the rings aren’t worthy of symbolizing their love. Tsukasa tells him every time she’ll look at her new ring she’ll remember the day he bought it for her, how kind he is, and how much he takes care of her, and those thoughts will make give the ring a surpassing shine that won’t fade. Nasa never had to buy the moon for Tsukasa. It’s the thought—and his love—that counts!

Elfen Lied – 06 – Debts Paid and Unpaid

Kouta and Kakuzawa’s assistant Arakawa find the professor’s body (and head) in the basement. Arakawa isn’t particularly devastated by the sight of her lover beheaded, but perhaps she’s in shock. Not to mention she has no idea why he has horns like a Diclonius. A shaken Kouta returns home, but in the middle of talking with Yuka a switch seemingly flips in his head. He suddenly can’t remember what he was saying, and goes to bed.

Out on the street and still lucid, Lucy reaches into the head of a passing girl, either wiping her memory of seeing her…or killing her. The next day, Yuka insists on accompanying Kouta as he continues his search. The two end up taking shelter at a shrine, revealing their feelings for each other, and kissing. In a show with so much violence and cruelty, a tender scene like this is welcome, and Noto Mamiko’s voice emanates kindness and gentleness.

While walking to school, Mayu spots Bando on the beach, and makes the terrible mistake of approaching him. Mayu can’t help it; she was worried about the guy and is glad to see he’s alright, because she’s a good girl. To repay his debt, Bando gives her his number for her to call if she needs help. Ironically, when he learns she knows about Lucy, Mayu has to use that call immediately…on him. His honor forces him to let her go, but his toxic masculinity put her in that situation in the first place.

The rain stops, and Yuka’s lovey-dovey-ness turns to embarrassment, and then jealousy when she and Kouta encounter Lucy. They’re shocked to hear her form complete sentences, but when Kouta insists they return to his house, she tells him she doesn’t deserve his charity. She mentions something from the past that triggers a memory in Kouta’s head. Lucy herself remembers her and Kouta playing in the ocean as youths, before reverting to Nyu and cuddling with him.

I wonder if Kouta will continue to remember those repressed memories involving Lucy, and how he’ll respond to them. He’s thrown caution to the wind regarding “Nyu” to this point because he thought they had no prior connection. What if she killed his sister Kaede?

In the meantime, Kurama couldn’t kill Nana. We learn he’d already killed his birth daughter in the past (presumably for having horns) and lost his wife to suicide shortly thereafter. But if he wanted Nana to survive, you’d think he wouldn’t have left her on that god-forsaken beach, where Bando (who apparently lives there) can immediately find her. I’d have shipped her to the other side of the country, if not continent…

Val x Love – 06 – Victory by Sustained Frenching

Two Minutes into their fight, Futaba thinks she’s won, but Garm’s slashes carry parasitic blades. Takuma is sliced in half, but is immediately put back together by Mistilteinn, summoned from within him due to his growing will to fight. As Futaba keeps Garm busy, he bulldozes through akuma to reach Natsuki.

Once reunited, the only way to defeat the huge boss Svadilfari is to level-up through a five-minute French-kissing session without wearing “a stitch of clothes.” Takuma and Natsuki handle this about as calmly tastefully as they can, but they first have to wipe each other down, and that Natsuki is already exhausted. Much in the way he summoned the tree to save him, Takuma summons a book that warms Natsuki up and recharges her energy.

They continue going at it, and by the time the other sisters are about to get gobbled up by the boss, Natsuki rescues them and uses “Rune” to reinforce her sword, producing a single strike so devastating Svadilfari can’t devour it, leading to its destruction. The battle is over, and Garm is reprimanded by his superior, who takes the form of a grim-looking little boy.

The beauty pageant follows the sisters’ victory. Mutsumi wins, and as per the triplets’ earlier agreement, the winner gets to dance with Takuma. Even so Mutsumi lets Natsuki take her place, considering she wanted to to begin with. Takuma apologizes to Natsuki for turning her down so brusquely,and agrees to dance around other people. Takuma gradually showed more and more spine this week, which is encouraging, while he and Natsuki are growing more comfortable with the roles Odin bestowed upon them.

Val x Love – 05 – No Obedient Banquet

All nine Valkyrie sisters attend the campus festival despite knowing the chance of an attack there is high, because they have the opportunity to all level up at once. The greater the risk, the greater the reward. Takuma is his usual insufferable scaredy-cat self, but that doesn’t stop him from ending up spilling viscous white liquid all over Yakumo or having to fish an eel out of Misa’s clothes—pretty standard lucky lecher stuff.

When the enemy (whom they don’t know is Garm) strikes, he robs the women of their source of power, the Einherjar by impaling him through the stomach and locking him in the bounded cube, while all the other festival attendees are converted to akuma minions that keep the sisters plenty busy. First sister Ichika and Natsuki protect the entrance, while inside Garm toys with Takuma, counting on him to do nothing and die as he enjoys a McDonalds banquet.

Things start to get dire as Itsuya and Mutsumi end up overwhelmed by akuma army and their various appendages, providing more ecchi content. But it’s Natsuki’s earnest belief that Takuma will indeed stand and fight when the time comes (because he’s done so and saved her many times before) that holds more power than all the T, A, and ahegao. Upon standing, Takuma is swiftly taken down by Garm, but Second sister Futaba finally locates them. He held out just long enough; now a Valkyrie has access to the Einherjar, and the tables can be turned.

Val x Love – 04 – He’s “It” (Unfortunately)

Val x Love loses the nice rhythm it had developed in which a different sister’s power was awakened to eliminate a demonic threat. Instead, it felt like nothing of consequence happened. The second daughter Futaba indeed reveals her “Castle” power, but it doesn’t quite fit in a game of tag where she’s the one who is it and thus on the offensive.

While the game of tag is meant to “refresh” Takuma after some stressful exams, thinking he’d be okay with them running around the house destroying stuff as she steals her sisters’ underwear makes Futaba look pretty dumb. The game is a transparent vehicle for incidents of accidental groping.

VxL digs deep into the cliche toy box for the second half, which has no connection to the first, combining a school festival, maid outfits, and jealousy of Takuma’s male classmates for his proximity to Natsuki. Garm ends up using this as an opportunity to transform the classmates into akuma to test a Valkyrie’s strength in human form.

He determines that Natsuki isn’t much of a match even for low-level demons, but that Takuma will spring to the rescue. And there’s the main issue with this episode. Aside from rescuing Natsuki and later telling her he thinks she’s cute, his general denseness, near-constant terrified state and dopey stammering is really starting to get old.

Val x Love – 03 – Idolization

With her two triplet sisters leveled up, it’s the turn of sixth daughter Mutsumi, proving the greatest challenge due to her occupation as a wildly popular idol. Leveling up means going on a date with Takuma and not only getting through his layers of social anxiety, but avoiding being exposed, which could cause scandal and deep-six her career. That’s tricky when Takuma inadvertently attracts all the wrong attention; he’s essentially the anti-idol to her idol, the source of all their fear and hatred rather than hope and love.

Matters are made worse by the fact the watchdog from Hel Garm is shadowing them, but rather than attack the Valkyrie directly, sends the Gjallarhorn to disrupt her leveling up. In one of the weirder and more aggravating depictions of the legendary horn, this one takes the form of a small robot with a siren on its head constantly pointing out the presence of MUTSUMI to the public. Takuma just wants to get away, but recalling how Mutsumi just wants to help her family, he takes her hand to lead her away from the gawkers.

Despite having frequented the mall since he was little, Takuma leads them not to an exit, but a dead end, and he and Mutsumi must squeeze intimately into a storage locker as their pursuers close in. Due to their positions and height difference, Mutsumi can’t kiss him on the mouth to transform instantly; she must resort to kissing his chest, which takes three minutes. They just make it thanks to a last-minute assist from the eldest daughter Ichika, and Mutsumi flies them out of there with her signature wings.

While the constant references to MUTSUMI’s ample bust (and ample close-ups of same) weren’t the most necessary, they do paint the picture of the challenges she faces every day as a cute-yet-pure idol. And yet we learn through her inner thoughts throughout the date (delivered with gusto by the squeaky but talented Hidaka Rina) that she has the same desires as anyone else.

While she thought she’d given Takuma nothing but bad memories on their date, when they’re floating in the sky watching the sunset, Takuma actually smiles, fondly remembering sunsets he watched with his mom. Garm and that horrid horn aside, the foes he and Mutsumi had to beat this week weren’t demons, but rather his fear and her fame. On to the next sister!

Val x Love – 02 – A Pat on the Head, a Peck on the Cheek

This week it’s the turn of Odin’s fifth daughter, the Student Council President Saotome Itsuya AKA Schwertleite. A raven-haired maiden beloved at school for her peerless looks and elegant ladylike aura, Itsuya has somewhat less ladylike plans for Takuma after witnessing what she deemed was a pretty chaste exchange between him and her sister Natsuki.

In her head, she’s not that interested in Takuma at all. He’s just a means to an end: if he can awaken her powers and she can save the world, she’ll get a pat on the head from Odin. It’s a simple, childish wish that she keeps entirely to herself, until a frosti shows up ahead of schedule and she suddenly has to level up with Takuma in a hurry.

The thing is, her full-speed-ahead approach doesn’t work on the nervous, petrified Takuma, and once she starts to undress and moves in on him, she suddenly loses her nerve as well, as she can no longer reconcile her mature outward manner with her inner innocence.

Seeing her freeze up in fear causes Takuma to remember what his mom did to calm him down—a good old head pat—so he gives one to Itsuya and it manages to do the trick. The extent of their hanky-panky is that head-pat and a kiss on the cheek just like Natsuki’s, but it’s enough.

With Natsuki just barely holding on against the monster (even getting all bondaged-up and getting her outfit torn), Itsuya swoops in with her chain of white crosses, enveloping the frosti so Natsuki can finish it off with a giant sword. Mission complete, and now two of Odin’s daughters have leveled up. Seven to go.

We also learn that Itsuya’s treasurer in the StuCo is actually Garm, named for Garmr, a helldog/wolf whose howling heralds the coming of Ragnarök. He’s listed as a “watchdog” and sports a level three times higher than Natsuki’s. If he starts something, head pats and cheek pecks may not be enough to beat him.

Asagao to Kase-san. (OVA) – The Sun is Always Shining Above the Clouds

Asagaro to Kase-san, an OVA released in the Summer of 2018, is a concise but solid piece of serious yuri storytelling in the vein of Aoi Hana, Sasameki Koto, and Sakura TrickIt strikes that delicate balance of covering a fair amount of material while never feeling like it’s trying to do too much. The stakes never stray from the future of a couple of young lovers who start dating in their final year of high school.

That they’re both girls, living in relatively conservative Japan, never comes up, because this isn’t about whether they can be together or not. It’s about their mutual love, plain and simple, and how they weather other challenges to remain together, a state neither of them at any point wish to leave.

Mild-mannered gardening fanatic Yamada Yui had never dated anyone before she and the athletic track star Kase Tomoka got together, but they’re together before the opening credits, which is a heck of a timesaver! Suffice it to say they liked each other to the extent they were equally enthusiastic about becoming a couple.

That mutual enthusiasm paid dividends, as before long the like turned to love. There’s never any doubt that Kase is as smitten with Yamada as vice-versa, even if the latter tends to feel inferior due to Kase’s social and literal stature at school. There are also times when she allows Kase to swept up by others, often interrupting potential time alone.

But while Yamada comes to realize she’ll have to be more assertive at times, the fact that Kase is so popular isn’t a problem for her; it serves to validate why she loves her so much in the first place: Kase’s a surpassingly kind and gregarious young woman.

In any case, in moments when Yamada might feel lonely due to indulging Kase’s natural gregariousness, Kase’s own desire to be alone with Yamada means it’s never that long before she seeks Yamada out, both grateful for her patience and relieved to have in her a kind of haven.

Time with Yamada is special to Kase; more special than time with anyone else. That’s whether they’re on an intimate nighttime phone call, alone together in Yamada’s room raising the temperature a bit, or on a beach in Okinawa making up and out after Yamada gets a bit too “surprised” seeing Kase nude.

The biggest threat to their relationship isn’t the fact that they’re both girls, which is refreshing. Instead, like any other relationship, it’s the unrelenting march of time and the changes it brings. Kase is on the fast track to Tokyo U on an athletic scholarship; Yamada’s inertia seems to be keeping her tethered to her hometown, commuting to the local college from home.

Especially when Kase calls to offer to turn down the scholarship and she essentially tells her not to, Yamada is on the cusp of relegating their relationship to a long-distance affair, with visits very few and far between. It’s only on the very day Kase leaves for Tokyo that Yamada wakes up and realizes she doesn’t want that at all. She wants as much Kase as she can get, and so she runs and keeps running until she’s in Kase’s arms aboard the Shinkansen.

How will Yamada manage to get into a Tokyo school? Ehh, she’ll figure it out! The most important thing is that they’re together, like they want to be. They’re also on the same wavelength; Kase really didn’t want to leave Yamada, but felt trapped by the circumstance of her athletic excellence. Fortunately for her, Yamada wasn’t going to let something like that cause what they had to fall apart.

Backed by gorgeous animation and superb voice work from Sakura Ayane and Takahashi Minami, Asagao to Kase-san delivers an elegant and captivating romance between two girls for whom simply no one else would do, and whose bond managed to withstand the winds of change. Give it a watch and your heart will grow at least three sizes!

HenSuki – 03 – The Third Way

With Sayuki and Yuika declaring themselves masochist and sadist and their intent to make Keiki their master/slave respectively, one thing becomes clear: Keiki isn’t that into this. He avoided dating girls because he felt himself to normal and boring, but now he’s having nightmares as a result of Yuika’s “punishment” last week. He doesn’t even want to go to school, but Mizuha makes him, since he’s not really ill.

Things don’t get any easier for Keiki, as he’s greeted by Yuika’s bra in his shoe locker, followed by a photo of him with his shirt open lying with Sayuki, with the implication it will be distributed if he doesn’t meet with her. When he gets there, Sayuki is dressed as a maid and handcuffed; he must fish the key out of her cleavage.

All the while, the third girl in his life (not counting his sister), Nanjou Mao, keeps watching silently from afar, her gentle blushing going completely unnoticed by Keiki. But when he tells his best mate he doesn’t believe Sayuki or Keiki are the Cinderella, that friend points out Mao’s staring, who it’s directed at, and what that entails.

Mao’s passive role thus far becomes more active by necessity when Keiki is once again summoned to the clubroom by Sayuki, but is intercepted by Yuika, who ties him up and orders him to kiss her foot or she’ll steal his first kiss on the lips. Sayuki barges in to put a stop to it, and the girls, who have known about each other’s proclivities since they met, start to bicker, with Keiki in the middle.

Enter Mao, who drags Keiki, chair, rope and all, into the hall, away from the two warring girls. He blames him for being so nice to both of them and indulging them too much, and in the process betrays that she’s been observing his interactions with them very closely (we dohear a camera click when he’s fishing out the handcuff keys…was that Mao?).

When Keiki asks why this concerns her at all, Mao has no choice but to be more direct: she just plain doesn’t like it when he’s with other girls. That could well be because she’s developed feelings for her childhood friend, but it also means a third girl has decided to try and assert control over him. Perhaps not as a formal master or slave, but it’s definitely possessive and unbidden by Keiki.

Considering how uncomfortable the other two girls’ antics have made Keiki, perhaps Mao is the “Goldilocks” answer, but first he has to determine whether her particular kink (stalking?) is more or less manageable.

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