Super Cub – 11 – No More Enemies to Fight

When Shii’s in big trouble, Koguma answers the call…literally! She’s able to spot a snapped twig on the cat trail and find Shii awkwardly submerged in water that must be somewhere in the forties (though the fact it’s not frozen solid indicates it’s not that cold out). Even so, Koguma took a risk she could find Shii fast enough, and that Shii—who is effin’ tiny—wouldn’t suffer hypothermia.

Everything works out, as Koguma, a picture of calm and collectedness, helps Shii out of the ravine, picks up all 70-or-so pounds of her, and plops her in her front basket for the ride to her place. That’s right, Koguma stole Reiko’s dream of carrying Shii along this way—but quite by necessity!

Once home, Koguma draws a bath and cooks a dinner of curry udon. Reiko, whom she called earlier, arrives with Shii’s ruined Alex Moulton, takes a bath of her own, and joins the other two for dinner. It’s the first time Koguma has had company, but she doesn’t make a big deal of it; but just slurps up her udon with the others, enjoying their company.

While washing the dishes, Reiko lets Shii know—quite tactlessly!—that her Mouton is donezo. Shii breaks down, cursing winter and begging Koguma to use her Super Cub to end the wretched season. Koguma deadpans that her Cub can’t do that…and seems a little sad that it can’t.

The next day, Shii’s parents thank Koguma and Reiko with a pass good for a year’s free coffee, sandwiches, and bread items, which they begin to cash in on immediately, much to Shii’s relief. If Shii ever thought they’d stop hanging out with her after her incident in the creek, then she needs to have more faith in her friends!

Shii gets what Koguma ruthlessly declares a “granny bike”, and the days of Winter continue on, only with no more preparations to make to their bikes or clothes. Then one morning Koguma hears on the radio that the cherry blossomes have bloomed early in Kagoshima. She proposes they go see them…together, escaping the winter by going where—as far as those trees are concerned—it’s already over.

It’s just what Shii needs to cheer up, and when she takes Koguma’s hands in friendship, Koguma’s world colors up bolder and faster than ever. She recounts how when it was her trudging her way uphill on her bike that she saw Shii glide past her on her Moulton, eventually inspiring her to buy her Cub, which led to her befriending Reiko.

Shii may not know it, but this all started with Koguma chasing her and her cooler, faster bike. What better way to thank her for the inspiration by giving her an early taste of spring?

Super Cub – 10 – The Girls of Winter

For me, there are few things better than waking up in a warm cozy bed, pulling open the curtains and discovering that the world has become white—or silver, as Koguma puts it—with a fresh, immaculate coat of snow. So when Koguma does just this, I can relate.

And while she prepares for a day in, as she doesn’t want to try to ride on the slick roads, Reiko gives her a call demanding she come to the cabin, and Koguma braves the suddenly very steep and terrifying hill from her apartment building. She’s rewarded with tire chains for her Cub.

Once properly affixed to the tires, Koguma and Reiko can truly go wherever the fuck they want, and they decide to head up into the mountains for a bit of mechanical horseplay. Koguma crashes her Cub for the first time ever, but thanks to the thick, soft snow, she’s able to pop right back up and remount her trusty steel steed.

She even follows Reiko in doing some jumps and then basically riding around so wildly that they both crash almost on purpose. Especially when they remove their helmets and layers, I kept waiting for a chime and message to pop up saying “Do not attempt. Messing around on motorbikes can cause serious injury or death”…but it never came!

We’ve seen Reiko continually battle Fujiyama, but this is the first time we’ve seen Koguma really cut loose and go wild, following her friend’s lead. There’s a wonderful sense of momentousness mixed with mundaneness in watching them share their usual bikeside meal with such a majestic alpine backdrop.

After lunch, it’s back to playing with their Cubs in the snow. Reiko starts a snowball fight, but Koguma escalates by peeling out her Cub so it shoots loads of snow on Reiko in retaliation. They wrap up their fun but tiring day with a relaxing cup of joe at Buerre, assuring Shii that she can join them next time, with Reiko joking that she’ll stuff her in her cargo box.

As winter goes on, Koguma and Reiko continue to augment their riding kit with ever-thicker, warmer, tougher gear. All the while, Koguma can tell Shii is working hard on converting part of Buerre to an Italian café. While having coffee there with Shii out, her dad says he’s glad she’s finally enjoying the quirky Alex Moulton bike he gave her, and that it’s as if she’s trying to catch up to Koguma and Reiko. But for the record, he’s happy the girls are insipiring Shii.

Unfortunately, while neither Koguma nor Reiko have ever suffered any serious injuries from riding, Shii isn’t so lucky on her Moulton. I’d say it was inevitable the winter would claim someone, but I figured it would be one of the girls suffering a fever or something. Certainly not the realization of a parent’s worst and most absurd fears: “What if you were in a ditch somewhere?!”

Well, Shii is in a ditch, half submerged in icy water and apparently unable to move. Thankfully she’s able to call Koguma, and Koguma answers. Hopefully she (perhaps with help from Reiko and Shii’s parents) will track her down and she’ll be okay. But that doesn’t lessen the sheer horror of seeing Shii in that position, or the audacity of the episode simply ending without getting her out of danger!

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 03 – The Legendary Center Cannot Hold

Saki may be the de facto leader of Franchouchou, but their center has always been Mizuno Ai. While the group now has a radio show and their schedule is starting to fill out, much of that remains odd jobs. Ai warns the others that they can’t be complacent just because they’ve had a little success. Watching videos of Iron Frill, Ai knows the gap between them is a yawning chasm, but the only way to close that gap is to keep grinding.

During that grind, it’s Ai who is most often called upon by the other members for her advice and guidance. Other than Junko, who performed a long time ago in what was a very different idol industry, only Ai has the pertinent experience to help the others. So it’s deeply frustrating when a Kotarou in full drill sergeant mode announces Franchouchou will be opening for Iron Frill at the newly opened Saga Arena…without Ai.

His worry is that her resemblance to Iron Frill’s former center—her—is too risky. The others push back, but he’s made his decision. Ai leaves it to Junko, the next most-experienced idol, to head up the group and whip them into shape. Ai even thinks it’s a good opportunity for Franchouchou to grow up a bit.

Koutarou books a bunch of solo gigs for Ai, while Junko expresses doubt they’ll be able to make an impression on Iron Frill fans no matter how hard they practice. After seeing Iron Frill’s new center Shiori on TV basically declaring war on the opening act, the others put together a dance with improvised instruments in order to make more of an “impact”, when just the night before Junko was trying to google “impact”.

Junko goes up to the roof to play a song to cheer herself up, during which the colors fade and the frame adjusts to 4:3 aspect ratio—a nice nod to the era she’s from. Sakura, who came up to check on her, is so moved by the song she falls off the roof, with Junko only managing to save her head from falling. As such, their lovely dramatic scene together takes place with Sakura in two separate pieces.

Junko is worried that all she can do is demonstrate her own personal appeal, without knowing how to make that performance pay off in a group. I was thinking that she should just do a guitar and vocal solo that the others can eventually join in on, but the two decide to ask Ai instead, noting that Koutarou didn’t bar them from talking. In the meantime Sakura does what she does best: praise, reassure, and encourage.

But in a bit of awkward timing, Iron Frill’s Shiori confronts Ai after one of her solo gigs before Junko and Sakura can approach her. Shiori takes her aside, and after noting how similar Ai looks to her Ai, is very blunt in her assessment of Franchouchou. Basically, she believes the others are holding Ai back, and Ai would be better served joining Iron Frill to meet her full potential.

If Koutarou won’t allow Ai to do solo gigs outside of Saga, he certainly won’t let her go to a Tokyo idol group…or will he? Was leaving Ai out of the Saga Arena show while also booking multiple solo gigs to spotlight Ai all part of a scheme to get her poached away? Has Koutarou decided that the others should no longer rely on someone who, due to her fame in her past life, simply draws too much of the wrong attention (i.e. those journalist guys, who return this week)?

It’s telling that Ai doesn’t immediately refuse Shiori’s offer, but it’s also devastating for Junko to hear what Shiori said, because it confirms her fears she doesn’t have what it takes to lead the group in Ai’s stead. Just when everything was starting to look up, Franchouchou’s two most idolly members are facing personal crises. Can Sakura and the others pull together to help both Ai and Junko find their proper places?

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 20 – Hard Time

Rika continues to bask in the spotlight of adoration at St. Lucia, to the point Satoko feels compelled to confront her in the main hall. Rika’s cronies come to her defense first, but Rika herself doesn’t suffer Satoko’s rudeness, and promises to “make time for her” later. When those cronies badmouth Satoko behind her back, Rika at least defends her friend, saying she’s in a foul mood because her grades have dropped and she’s doubting herself.

Rika believes Satoko will eventually pull out of her nosedive on her own, but that doesn’t happen. Satoko thinks implementing her metal pan prank on a grander scale will help Rika remember the past and their bond, but it all goes pear-shaped one of the pans bloodies a crony. Rika doesn’t rat Satoko out, but one of the cronies does, and Satoko is put in a orange jumpsuit and placed in solitary confinement. Yikes!

While there, all Satoko does is curse the fact she didn’t say “no” when Rika asked her to join her in attending St. Luica. She simply doesn’t fit there, and that’s reinforced when, upon being released, Satoko begins her second year in the “special class”, from which she knows there is no escape.

There’s finally a bright spot in Satoko’s dreary life when she gets a letter from Mion about having a Hinamizawa Country School Game Club Founders’ Reunion. Mion comes to pick Satoko and Rika up in a van, but if she senses the rift between them, she doesn’t mention it, nor do they.

Instead of using the trip to address or resolve that rift, Satoko uses it to forget about St. Lucia altogether. Perhaps she believes there’s no use in speaking to Rika at this point. When Rika finally lets out her trademark “Nipaaa!”, Satoko is both heartened and disheartened, as after everything that’s happened, it almost sounds mocking or patronizing.

Keiichi, Rena, and Mion seem to be exactly the same people, having simply moved their club from Hinamizawa to college they attend together. It’s clear that Satoko would have probably been much happier if she’d gone to high school with them, as she can’t be any less suited for St. Lucia.

After having fun with a card game that includes traps and pranks and penalties, the group heads to the cosplay cafe for a bite, but Satoko tells them to go ahead of her; she wants to have a walk alone in Hinamizawa. It may look pretty much the same, but so much has changed. The more she walks around, the more apparent it is that this is not quite her home anymore either.

Then Satoko comes upon the storeroom, and recalls sneaking in once and wondering if Oyashiro is still angry at her. A strange resonance starts to emanate from within, and when she touches the statue, it crumbles to reveal a broken horn, the source of the resonance.

When Satoko touches that, she’s transported to the same bizarre interdimensional plane where Rika ended up so often. She’s met by someone who looks to be a fully grown-up version of Hanyuu, who addresses Satoko as “child of man.” After punching the walls of her literal prison at St. Lucia wishing she could turn back time and do everything over, now she’ll have that chance!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 19 – A Dream that Cleaves

At the bookstore, Rika declares her dream of experiencing a new way of life she’s never known, specifically high society at the fancy St. Lucia’s Academy. She wants to live that dream with Satoko, who thinks it’s way too soon to be worried about entrance exams. But Rika is committed, and when Satoko sees how serious she is, she agrees to start studying with her at once.

Rika and Satoko inform Keiichi and Rena of their plans to attend St. Lucia’s for high school, and the two senpais help them with their studying. But even that’s not enough for Rika, who stays up late into the night working on problems. Because Rika is everything to her and she wants Rika’s dream to come true, Satoko can’t help but get swept up in Rika’s wake.

Two an a half years of vigorous studying ensues, after which both Rika and Satoko are accepted to the academy. There’s a little bit of suspense in whether their numbers appear on the board of accepted applicants, and in that brief limbo, Satoko seems to consider the unthinkable: that she and Rika would end up going their separate ways.

Instead, Satoko follows Rika to St. Lucia’s…and fucking hates it. She hates the stuffy atmosphere, the formality and strictness inherent not only the way classes are held but in how students interact. It’s just not Satoko’s scene, while Rika takes to the school and its intricate social structure like a fish to water. Before long Rika is surrounded by new admiring friends, and Satoko is left out.

When Satoko laughs her signature laugh when insisting she’s too busy to hang out with Rika and her fancy new friends, those friends call the laugh “unbecoming” and wonder how someone like Satoko was even accepted. Satoko’s grades drop, and she’s given a choice: attend an interminable study hall, or resign from the academy.

The study hall is full of girls from well-off families who are trapped: they cannot leave the school, but they can’t keep their grades up without constant study, allowing them no free time. A second-year tells Satoko “it’s not too late” for her to escape the study hall purgatory, but it’s clear Satoko has already been working as hard as she can.

As Rika glides along in her perfect fancy life, pointedly not tiring of it as Satoko predicted, Satoko begins to resent Rika dragging her along. Her precious dream has become a nightmare for Satoko. Rika wanted to experience this new life together, but they’ve never been further apart. Something’s gotta give!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Grand Blue – 12 (Fin) – The Final Binge

Grand Blue finishes up with the club traveling to Miyakojima, which despite being part of Okinawa Prefecture is a 190-mile flight away from that island. The far-flung locale is not only home to the tradition of “Otori” (endless drinking) but some great diving spots, which the gang reaches by powerboat—only Iori can’t join the others since he missed his chance to get certified with Aina and Kouhei.

Chisa can see that Iori seems down and left out, and so stays behind on the third of three dives to cheer him up. Turns out he’s not that blue; he’s green from seasickness aboard the boat. Even so, the two have a nice time together.

That night, with the planned restaurant closed, Ryuu, Shinji, and their heavy-drinking compatriots set up an impromptu Otori, with everyone adding their chosen alcohol to a huge earthenware pot to share throughout the night. Iori and Kouhei aren’t really up to this level of drinking, but their senpais emphatically insist, and won’t allow them to dilute the concoction with water.

They soon run out of booze, and so the only non-buzzed member, Aina, heads out to buy more. She conscripts Iori to help her with the load, but he hops in the van wearing nothing but boxers, which even on the tropical island elicits a stop by the police.

Upon returning to the party Aina accidentally takes the wrong cup from Azusa and downs it in one gulp. Turns out it’s the near-lethal Otori Juice, and she instantly becomes tanked, losing her inhibitions and going after Iori and Kouhei’s boxers.

While briefly escaping her clutches, Kouhei curses Iori for tricking him into joining the club, but Iori points out to him that by joining he actually got what he wanted: a fun, exciting, almost dream-like first year of college. Just before Aina leaps out from the darkness Kouhei considers it more of a nightmare.

With that, the gang heads back home, passing the time looking at photos of their time in Miyakojima, which bring smiles to all, even Chisa, for whom the antics of Iori, Kouhei & Co. have warmed to her somewhat. It’s as good a place to end as any; Grand Blue was in danger of too often repeating its themes without sufficient development of relationships to justify more episodes.

Ultimately, while the actual diving scenes were certainly beautiful and aspirational, they weren’t the most numerous, and always took a backseat to the drinking, arguing, and weird, exaggerated distorted closeups of peoples’ faces. It wasn’t without its share of laughs and heartwarming moments, including Chisa’s final smile.