Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible – 04 – Made With Love

When Seita has had enough TV, Junta takes him outside to play (where it’s oddly not winter despite it being Christmas last week). After watching Seita try and fail the proper sequence of movements to “Transform!”, Junta strikes the pose perfectly, inspiring his brother to do it with him. Ironically, Junta doesn’t notice Kubo is there until she’s already filmed him.

Back at school. Junta notices he’s wearing socks of two different lengths, and that there’s also something different about Kubo. When they get a chair to post up some printouts, she notices his socks, and he finally notices the difference: she’s wearing tights instead of her usual socks. Of course, that implicates Junta in having looked at Kubo’s legs all day.

Kubo then takes Junta on a little after-school date to the konbini, where she samples the instant drink machine for the first time. When Kubo suggests they buy two different drinks and split them, Kubo sees the indirect kiss trap, and gets a meat bun instead. Kubo ends up taking the first bite of that bun, but after she leaves, he’s unable to eat it as it falls to the ground when someone bumps into him.

Next up, it’s Valentine’s Day. Junta, naturally, has never gotten chocolate from anyone, even the teacher in grade school who forgot he was there while passing it out to everyone. So when he sees a heart-shaped cookie in his desk, he assumes it’s some kind of mistake. He also doesn’t have the courage to ask Kubo about it. Kubo likewise doesn’t come right out and say she made him the cookie, but tells him it was made with love so he should enjoy it.

Then we cut to the previous night, when a determined Kubo tried and utterly failed to bake edible treats. That’s when Akina decides to “bake herself” some treats, and offhandedly suggests they could work together. Because Kubo wants to make the best cookie she can, she swallows her pride and follows along with her sister, resulting in a superior final product to her first attempt, which Akina even deems better tasting than hers, since Kubo put so much love into it.

Thus the welcome trend continues of balancing Junta’s thoughts with scenes of Kubo on her own or with her sister. Junta is wise to Kubo’s desire for an indirect kiss, but dense about the Valentine, despite Kubo giving him plenty to figure out where it came from. Will he put two and two together and get her a gift in return on White Day? Only time will tell!

Tenten Kakumei – 04 – Breaking the Mold

Anisphila, clearly sleep-deprived from making Euphyllia’s new magic sword, nods off in her lap for quite some time, and thanks her for it when she awakens. Euphie is just glad to be “somewhat useful”, unaware that she’s been Anis’ magicological muse for years.

Ilia, who continues to slay in every scene she’s in, scolds Anis for leaving herself so vulnerable “to the person she likes”, then lays into the princess for stinking and having messed up hair. It’s as if Ilia isn’t a maid at all, but the big sister Anis never had.

Euphie can’t help but feel smitten by Anis, who mistakes her for having suddenly come down with a cold. Into bed Euphie goes, and Nurse Anis prepares some medicine, even patting Euphie’s head like she’s her little sister. As Anis talks spiritedly about Arc-en-Ciel, Euphie simply watches her admiringly, as a beautiful bird that flies as far as it wants. Meanwhile, Euphie feels like a bird that just can’t stop falling.

She feels empty. Anis seems to sense this, and takes Euphie’s hand. Euphie asks what she should do; Anis of course says “whatever you want”. And if she doesn’t know what that is, that’s okay, they’ll take their time looking for that together. That’s when, after weaving her fingers into Euphie’s, Anis draws closer to Euphie, who starts to panic until it’s clear Anis is just touching her forehead to check for a fever. That negative space tho…

After a few moments like this, Euphie relaxes; she likes the feel of Anis’ warmth. She nods off, and when she wakes up, Anis is still there holding her hand as she sleeps, glowing in the sunlight, so bright and beautiful it makes Euphie’s chest ache.

Anis may have minced no words about her prospective romantic intentions with Euphie, but little by little Euphie is coming around to the fact that this girl is special, and makes her feel like no one else in the world ever has. That’s powerful, and I love how gently and poignantly the girls’ love is developing.

We briefly check in with Prince Algard, who is under house arrest after his little stunt. The head of the Ministry of the Arcane pays him a clandestine visit, no doubt to inform him of the appearance of the dragon in the cold open. Then we get right back to Euphyllia secretly watching Anis practice swordsmanship.

Ilia spots Euphie and tells her that the princess has taught herself most of her skills in battle, but then changes the subject to Euphie herself. As Euphie awkwardly follows Ilia as she does chores, Ilia asks her if she finds it hard to voluntarily do things outside her given role; her mold.

Euphie then states that she’d always worked towards becoming the best duke’s daughter and future queen she could be; an ideal Ilia tells her defined her self-worth. Ilia too was once fitted into a predetermined mold, and even offered to an old, rich man for marriage.

That mold was shattered by none other than Anisphila, who took her in, and demanded not to be treated like a princess, but something like equals. Ilia adds that it’s okay for Euphie to worry, because Anis will see to it she has all the time she needs to figure things out.

This lovely heart-to-heart is interrupted by Anis boisterously rushing at them with News: there’s a stampede of monsters, caused by the appearance of a dragon—and she’s going to take it down! It’s the first Euphie is hearing that Anis is not only an adventurer, but a Gold-Ranked one at that. She’s utterly stupified that a princess, even a princess like Anis, could go off and battle monsters.

And yet, Euphie remembers that Anis is a bird who can fly as far as she wants, looks at Ilia, who wordlessly tells her there’s no talking Anis out of this, and tells Anis that she accepts her flying off into danger to battle a dragon…but she’s coming too! Considering she’s a magical genius and has Arc-en-Ciel, I have no doubt she’ll be able to contribute.

Anis and Euphie unknowingly steal a march on Prince Algard, who barges into a royal council meeting and declares to his father that he’ll slay the dragon if he can get what he wants—Lainie Cyan’s hand in marriage. He tells his father and his courtiers how he’s always heard people saying “if only” his sister was a man.

Orphans can tell that after Anis and Algard got along famously as little kids, a rift grew between them when Anis discovered magicology. The resentment and bitterness have been stewing within his only son. He also knows that Anisphila could most definitely assume the throne, and perhaps do a better job than Algard—but made a conscious choice to reject it for Algard’s sake.

But while Anis’ intentions were good and loving, a part of Algard must also feel patronized by his amazing big sister. So the king isn’t going to hold him back from trying to stand on his own two feet and prove himself. The only problem is, I seriously doubt he’ll get his chance at the dragon before Anis and Euphie take care of it.

After two episodes off it’s good to have Algard back in the mix. I still hate him for what he did to Euphyllia, but I also understand why he did it. I can also understand how he wants to be with the woman he loves, not the one chosen for him. He’s an ass, but he’s also a compelling character who wants to break out of his mold.  I can’t wait to see him, Anis, and Euphie in action—either together or at cross purposes.

Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible – 03 – You Can’t Go Wrong with Mittens

Shiraishi returns the tracksuit he borrowed from Kubo, and she asks if it was small on him. It was, but only a little, as he’s 5’4″ to Kubo’s 5’3″. She gets onto a higher step on the stairs to become 5’9″, because she heard six inch difference is ideal for couples. Then she gracefully jumps down to Shiraishi’s level and declares that she prefers it this way. Give this girl an inch…

Kubo wants to hang out after school, but Shiraishi rushes out in an apparent hurry, with plans. This turns out to be taking his baby brother Seita to the park to play in the snow. Shiraishi is no fan of the cold, so it’s fortuitous that Kubo (who lives nearby after all) spots him. She has a warm bottle of cocoa which she offers to Seita, who then offers it back to her. But when she offers it to Shiraishi, he won’t take the obvious indirect kiss bait.

Shiraishi has to go a little ways to get a limited edition manga magizine with a poster he wants, but when he finds it among the stacks, an adult magazine is laying on top of it. Assuming no one can see him due to his presence, he prepares to take a peek, but is caught red-handed. Just his luck Kubo’s sister Akina works there—and that apparently all Kubos can see him!

Akina doesn’t 100% buy his innocent explanation, but when he drops his school ID after leaving, she notices it’s the same school as her sister, and asks her to return it to its owner. When Kubo says it’s Shiraishi’s, Akina stirs the pot a bit by saying he was looking at a porno mag featuring big boobs. This leads Kubo to asking him if he likes big boobs, calls him ecchi, and flees before he can explain.

Kubo isn’t sore about it for long, as she overhears other girls hanging out with their boyfriends for Christmas, and decides to cash in Shiraishi’s promise. Only she asks if they can hang out “Saturday after next” and he agrees, and only later realizes that it’s Christmas day.

Nevertheless, he’s at the agreed-upon spot 30 minutes early, while Kubo comes 10 minutes early. She manages to deduce that he was waiting longer than a couple minutes by the coldness of his hands. She also came with a Christmas present for him, and gives him fifteen minutes to buy her one with a budget of 1000 yen.

Shiraishi draws a blank on what to get her as he mills through the mall, until he realizes that like him her hands must be getting cold as she waits, so he buys her a pair of cozy pink mittens that go well with rose sweater dress and pale pink coat. Kubo is elated to receive a gift into which he clearly put a lot of thought.

As for his gift? A highlighter yellow shirt that says “Main Character,” so he’d be more noticeable to others. Something of a gag gift, but still a thoughtful one. Put it all together, and this was another sweet, cozy, charming episode to warm the heart on a cold winter day.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 02 – Toiling in Obscurity

Kagenou Minoru is hit by Truck-kun, then resurrects as Cid, the infant son of a noble family, while maintaining all the intelligence and awareness of his 18-year-old self. When his parents are puzzled that he doesn’t cry, Cid simply fakes it. As the second-born, he plays second fiddle to his supremely talented sister Claire, but that’s the way he likes it.

In the day he’s content to be “Background Character A”, but at night, in the shadows, he practices his magic on the bandits and baddies of this world as a vigilante. He’s partial to using magical slime to create weapons and even disguises, and is a one-boy wrecking crew; even seasoned warriors can’t last more than a minute before being eviscerated.

While inspecting the bandits’ loot Cid hears sounds coming from a wagon and assumes it’s a slave, but it’s…well, it’s basically MittyHe experiments thoroughly and exhaustively on the amorphous blob of overloaded magic, until one day he’s finally able to purify and stabilize it, resulting in the coalescence of a beautiful blonde elf girl.

Assuming she’s a tabula rasa he decides to try out his Eminence-in-Shadow act for the first time, ad-libbing tall tales about her origin as one of the original heroes and the identity of a great foe, the Cult of Diabolos. The girl buys it all, and in exchange for having saved her life, agrees to join Cid in his quest. He names her Alpha, and Shadow Garden is born.

Three years later, to Claire’s eyes Cid hasn’t improved as a dark knight at all, but she still spars with him—and beats him—every day. There’s a neat little moment when Cid sees all of the movements that would defeat Claire, but instead he takes her strike and ends up in the drink. Claire then touches her neck, where he had placed his blade for the tiniest fraction of a moment. I wonder if any part of her wonders if her little brother is holding back?

The day she’s supposed to start attending Midgar Academy for Dark Knights, Claire is kidnapped. Cid’s mom lashes out at his dad demanding to know what the plan is, but Cid and Shadow Garden—now seven Greek letters strong—is already on it. They’ve narrowed down the hideouts where Claire was taken, and a rescue op commences with all due haste.

Claire is the captive of a Viscount Grease, but isn’t that worried about it. Indeed, she breaks her magic bonds when Grease even mentions the possibility of harming her dear little brother. Just as the bandits in her home village were no match whatsoever for Cid’s magic, the seven members of Shadow Garden make quick work of Grease’s small fry. Grease himself has to take a strength-enhancing drug in order to keep up with Alpha.

But Alpha isn’t going all out; she doesn’t want to kill Grease, she wants him to talk. When he goes to ground, she’s not concerned, because he ends up right in Cid’s clutches. Grease takes more drugs, and tries to intimidate Cid with his talk of “the depths of true darkness”, but Cid just vows to dig deeper still.

There’s actually a measure of pathos in Grease’s depiction as we see how his own daughter suffered from a curse similar to Alpha’s before Cid saved her. But at the end of the day, Grease is no more than another bandit to Cid, who ends “playtime”, powers up, and kills Grease with a flashy coup-de-grace.

Cid doesn’t let Claire know who saved her, but simply withdraws from the Viscount’s castle, enabling her to escape on her own. It only takes her a day to recover from the ordeal, and then she’s off to academy, her little brother happily waiving goodbye. Cid himself is still two years away from Midgar, but he intends to make full use of those years honing his skills and sharpening the seven-pointed sword that is Shadow Garden.

But Alpha & Co. apparently have other plans, and suddenly tell Cid that it’s time to leave him. My first guess would be that they’re going off to hone their skills independently, possibly to make themselves more “worthy” of Cid’s leadership, but we’ll have to wait until next week to test that theory. Until then, for the first time in this new world, Cid is genuinely flummoxed.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 06 – Raidolympic Games

This week’s grab bag of athletic segments follow a consistent pattern: Raidou and Aharen try to participate in a certain activity, Raidou initially believes Aharen is either good or sucks at said activity, Aharen and Raidou gradually get better and have a tough match, and Raidou overestimates how good they are and they both get beaten by stiffer competition.

Despite being huge and relatively fit (except for that one segment where he was tubby) Raidou isn’t that great at…much of anything. In that regard, Aharen makes for a perfect opponent for him, as she’s not that great at anyting either but when they play together, two things happen: they get a little better, and they both have fun.

After Ooshiro teaches the two how to swim, Raidou and Aharen have a half-lap race that Aharen wins by staying underwater the whole time and holding her breath. They actually play to a draw in table tennis and bowling, the former match being cut short by the bell and the latter due to a comeback from Raidou after he starts throwing underhand while Aharen’s beginner’s luck wears off.

Their fourth contest is in basketball, where usually the taller or bigger player prevails, but Aharen channels Muggsy Bogues, who played in the NBA despite being only 5’3″ (160cm) tall. Aharen, like Bogues, darts around or under the towering opponent, using her quickness to get past him. She only loses when she misses her last bucket.

After watching a violent movie together (which technically counts as a completely off-camera date?!) the two try their hand at a two-player zombie-themed first-person shooter. While Raidou initially envisions himself to Leon to Aharen’s Mathilda in The Professional (one of my favorite films), he quickly dies, and Aharen shows that her lack of judging distance means she can headshot every enemy with ease, even while dual-wielding.

When Aharen goes to the bathroom at the arcade, Raidou quickly encounters her again by the crane game, but there’s something off about her; she’s way louder and more expressive than his Aharen. Assuming (naturally) that she’s suffering a sudden bout of amnesia, he simply shows her a good time…before the real Aharen shows up and reveals that the other Aharen is actually her little brother Ren, who likes to dress in her clothes.

The final segment before credits is the shortest but sweetest, as Raidou sneezes and comments that it’s gotten cold. Aharen “runs hot” so she hugs him to warm him up. When he asks her to let go, she withdraws behind a utility pole, which is suddenly too far away. While there’s no movement on their status as a dating high school couple, they both seem happy where things are at, so it’s all good.

In the post-credits segment Ren tries on more of Aharen’s clothes, and she asks him why. His answer—because they’re cute and he loves them—is good enough for her, and when he asks if he shouldn’t, she simply gives him a hug and says it’s fine.

Aharen-oneesan unconditionally supporting her cross-dressing brother might be one of her sweetest, most heartwarming moments yet. If anyone has a problem with him, they’ll have to deal with her…and her hulking kinda-sorta boyfriend!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

 

My Senpai is Annoying – 05 – Heartfelt or Courtesy?

Valentines Day is drawing near, and for the first time Futaba has someone to make chocolate for besides Natsumi. The question is, will she have the guts to both make and offer homemade chocolate to her senpai? My friends, she will. But first, we meet Sakurai’s little brother, who Futaba and Natsumi first help when he’s lost, then Takeda helps by beating up some punks trying to shake him down.

This is all before either Futaba or Natsumi even know Sakurai is his big sister. When there’s the option to all have ramen together for dinner, Sakurai reads the room and heads off with her brother…she can tell Futaba was hoping to eat with just Takeda on that particular evening.

Sakurai ain’t no fool. While she may come off to some as oblivious to all of the attention she receives from men—both at work and back in high school—in reality that’s a kind of defense mechanism. Other girls resented her for being so effortlessly popular, overlooking the fact that Sakurai was (and is) a sweet and gentle young woman who never freaking asked for all that attention.

By grabbing some ramen with Takeda at an intimate little spot he’s been going to since high school, Futaba learns a little bit more about her senpai. It’s a simple, no-nonsense place…right up until the chef brings out some nonsense about a “chocolate ramen bowl.” That’s when Futaba learns he’s not a big fan of sweets, which is a good thing to know this time of year!

When the big day arrives, Futaba uses her resourcefulness to craft a chocolate with matcha powder that’s less sweet and thus more appealing for someone with Takeda’s palate. He’s charmed by the presentation with the little bear drawing, and when Takeda praises the taste, Futaba flashes the biggest, stupidest, most wonderful smile you could ask for. If she’s trying to hide her true feelings, she does a terrible job!

Meanwhile, Kazama retreats into his own little world of binge-drinking Monster and the resulting partial catatonia that comes with it, all because he saw Sakurai walking with and laughing with a tall guy with blonde hair…who was actually just her little brother walking on a ledge to appear taller.

After giving courtesy chocolate to the other guys, Sakurai seeks Kazama out and legitimately wants to know what’s been up with him. Then she gives him a simple Meiji bar (the equivalent of a Hershey bar, only better), which he interprets as “courtesy” chocolate.

This angers Sakurai, who says chocolate is chocolate and it’s te thought that counts. The reality is that it is heartfelt chocolate, even if she bought it at a konbini around the corner. Compare that to the expensive Godiva chocolates Takeda got from a client simply as a thanks for his and Futaba’s hard work.

For Sakura, the bar for Kazama means more than the chocolates she gave to the others out of courtesy. It’s a gesture of affection, but also of thanks for his being different from the others in a way that appeals to her. You get the feeling they’re just both on the same wavelength, and when she hears about his misunderstanding, Sakurai has a good laugh, and Kazama is so relieved Futaba catches him wearing the biggest grin she’s ever seen on him.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Hamefura – 02 – Friend of the Dregs

There’s an undeniable pattern emerging in this new-and-improved Catarina Claes: more and more, she’s siding with and befriending those in the “game” who got the short end of the stick. First Keith, in whom she cultivates trust and affection rather than bullying and disdain. Yet as a result of her “erratic” behavior her parents would prefer if her younger brother accompany her to a fancy tea party to keep her on brand. Sure enough, Catarina trades pleasantries for pastries.

After eating to much she ends up rushing to the lavatory, but afterwards meets another trod-upon character in Mary Hunt. Due to her mother being her father’s second wife, her three older stepsisters rain contempt down upon her, making her shy and skittish. And while Catarina’s brashness might seem like anathema to such a fragile soul, she ends up bonding with Mary through gardening. Mary does it as an escape, while Catarina does it because she’s not the kind of woman to be cooped up indoors all day!

Third on Catarina’s list of underdog friends is her fiancee’s twin brother Alan Stuart, who as it happens is engaged to Mary. Catarina’s inner council worries about her befriending the girl engaged to Alan considering how he’s a conquerable route in the otome. She also resents the fact that only Catarina is considered a villainess and monster while Mary, who also loved Alan but lost to the heroine, is merely a good-natured rival.

Still, Alan is not happy about Catarina’s attempts to “seduce” Mary, even using the same line about a green thumb as he was going to use (since she remembered it from the game). Alan challenges her to a number of tree climbing challenges, all of which he loses handily. But in the process of all those challenges and losses, something happens: the two become fast friends.

It gets to the point where Gerald intervenes by visiting Catarina before Alan shows up, basically claiming fiancee’s prerogative. Catarina suggests a piano recital, and Alan proves much better than her at playing, but senses she and Gerald are patronizing him and runs off. Catarina tracks him down and rejects Alan’s insistence he’s just the “dregs” left over form all of Gerald’s good qualities.

To demonstrate that everyone has good and bad qualities, Catarina reveals Gerald’s weakness: a fear of snakes! Even Alan, who had just challenged her to dozens of tree-climbing duels, notes how that’s a pretty childish weakness to dredge up.

But as far as Catarina’s concerned, having a snake on hand could make the difference between life and death should Gerald raise a sword to her. Considering he tattled to her parents about both the toy snake and the tree-climbing, she has every reason to suspect he might turn on her one day!

Hamefura – 01 (First Impressions) – Avoiding the Inevitable

I don’t mind isekai anime, as long as it’s not always the exact same thing. You don’t have to re-invent the genre to hook me, just give it a fresh twist or two. Hamefura easily meets and exceeds that modest bar, as Catarina Claes isn’t the heroine of a fantasy RPG, but the villainess of an dating sim! At least, she’s the villain in the game she played in her previous life, before dying at seventeen.

Catarina is oblivious of her real-world Japan past until she stumbles and hits her head and it all rushes back. That’s when it dawns on her that if her path follows that of the game Catarina, she’ll either be killed or exiled in every route. It’s not a matter of playing and winning the game as normal; she has to break the game to avoid certain doom. One thing in her favor: she’s only eight, the proverbial Phantom Menace Anakin: Far from too far gone, plenty of time to devise a plan.

The question, of course, is how to things from going downhill. Having been an otome otaku in her previous life, Catarina has some ideas, and her inner deliberations are given the form of a “Council of Catarinas”, consisting of four different emotional states and an administrator to gather their votes. It’s another novel idea that adds variety to the story, and lets Uchida Maaya play off five different versions of herself—six, including her standard, “unified” inner voice.

The council’s solution to avoid another early death is to develop her sword and magical skills, so that if anyone comes at her, she’ll be ready to defend herself and survive. The magic will also mean she has something to fall back on for money should she end up exiled. Both her parents, her betrothed Gerald Stuart, and her various servants don’t know quite what to make of Catarina’s suddenly odd behavior.

Before long she’s hacking at dummies with a sword and building a garden to commune with nature (and build up her earth magic). But at the end of the day, Gerald still asks for her hand in marriage and she accepts, which means she could still be on the path to doom!

To make matters worse, her parents introduce her to her new adopted brother Keith, who in the game is bullied mercilessly by Catarina, becomes a playboy to sooth his trauma, and eventually he and the heroine Maria fall in love. When Catarina interferes, she’s either exiled or killed off.

She consults her inner head council, who decides that the best way to keep Keith from falling for Maria is to not bully him or make him feel lonely. Catarina does just that, but ends up persuading Keith to use his advanced earth magic, something he promised their parents he wouldn’t.

Catarina is injured by the giant dirt doll, Keith and their parents blame him, and he ends up isolated and alone. Different cause, same effect. Desperate to take the nearest ramp off this doom-filled route, Catarina literally chops Keith’s door down and apologizes for making him break his promise.

Keith comes into the picture pre-messed up thanks to his immense magical talent but lack of control that has led to accidents. But rather than let him stay isolated (or bully him), Catarina shows him she’s not afraid, and promises him they’ll never be apart. She gets in trouble for the door, but things are looking good on at least one not-getting-killed front! Also, it’s a genuinely sweet and moving scene.

I’m well-sold on Hamefura. It places its protagonist in the rigid structure of an otome and challenges her to forge her own path, even if she has to take an ax to the occasional door! She’s fighting against fate with charisma, panache, knowing this world will offer nothing but ruin unless she works her butt off.

Those around her are straight men witnessing her comic transformation from well-bred noble to tree-climbing gardener. Uchida Maaya lays on the industrious charm the whole way through. Her inner council is wonderful. Just as Cat is finding a way not to end up dead or exiled, this is a show managing to innovate and surprise in an over-saturated genre.

Fruits Basket – 22 – An Answered Prayer

Or: Why Kids Are Total and Complete Trash, Volume #3,692

Present-day Hanejima Saki’s “Waves” aren’t just a rumor about her, or some kind of occult quality she happens to believe in. They are an actual power, like ESP. I shouldn’t be surprised—this is a world where people turn into adorable animals when hugged by the opposite sex—and seeing how much a younger Saki suffered from the inability to control those powers really puts the person she now is into perspective.

But here’s the thing: she didn’t become a different person. She’s always been the same person: quiet, kind and gentle, and loyal to those who love her. Her problem in the past was, she feared her powers, and when human laws couldn’t be employed against her, she decided that whatever horrible bullying she received was punishment she was due.

Kids bullied the hell out of Saki, and it wasn’t until two shitty boys were holding her down to make her eat a live newt that she finally thought I want this boy to die that her ability had a physical effect, knocking the kid out for hours.

While its understandable for her to fear her power and even hate herself for it, that position totally ignores the fact that the little shit instigated things, and bears most of the responsibility. If he’d simply treated her with kindness, he wouldn’t have been hurt.

This week we also learn the extent to which Hanejima’s family loves her. It would be all too realistic for her mom and dad to one day reach their breaking point, but that never happens, and their love, protection, and desire for her to be happy never fades for an instant, even when she starts considering herself nothing but a burden to be discarded.

When the environment at school gets too bad—she has to sit and be burned and fight with everything she’s got not to fight back lest she hurt her bullies—the entire family moves, and urge her not to give up. Her devoted little brother Megumi wears all black in solidarity, and prays that one day someone will come who will love Saki as he does and end her crushing loneliness.

That day comes at her new school, where there’s no black in the uniforms, so she paints her nails black as a “mark of sin”, that original sin of harming the boy that she’ll never forget or forgive herself for. While in line for lunch, Honda Tooru chats her up. Little does Saki know that Megumi’s prayer has been answered in the form of this odd, ditzy, extremely polite and upbeat girl.

Of course, back then Tooru and Arisa were already hella tight, so they invite Saki to lunch with them, and won’t hear any objections based on her low self-worth. They make it clear to her that no matter how strange she may think herself to be, they’re just as strange, and welcome her company.

For the first time, a peer tells Saki “see you tomorrow,” and to her delight, they say “good morning” to her the next day, another first. As much as Saki tries to stick with her M.O. of staying away from people, she finds herself with Tooru and Arisa all the time, until even the once-oppressive sun seems to take on a gentler color.

All her progress with her new friends is suddenly threatened when two classmates ask her about her old school, having heard nasty rumors. But while Saki isn’t the one who burned a girl’s arm, she does own up to almost killing that boy, and for that reason, she believes Tooru and Arisa should distance themselves from her before they get hurt.

Needless to say, Tooru and Arisa..don’t do that. Not two minutes go by after Saki flees that Tooru catches up and declares that no matter what she does or doesn’t know about Saki, she loves her, and doesn’t want to stay away. Arisa joins them and asks simply: Does Saki want them to stay away? Of course, she doesn’t, and so they won’t.

The rest is history! In time, and probably in large part to emotional support not just from her family and two BFFs, Saki learns how to control her power, and the voices vanish. Now, as we know, she only uses it “a bit” to teach shitty people a lesson, but isn’t in any more danger of losing control.

But even if she’s more or less cured from a malady that was as life-debilitating as it was mysterious, she still wears all black, as it keeps her calm, while Megumi keeps wearing black for the same reason. His prayer was answered, but more importantly, Saki never gave up.

Fruits Basket – 21 – Prince Yuki, The Witch, and The Demon Queen

The cold open was so different from what I’m used to with Fruits BasketI momentarily thought my fansub might be a mislabeled episode of some dark mystery or maho shoujo anime. That is, until the appearance of Hanajima Saki, just before Minagawa Motoko wakes up from her nightmare in her hair bonnet.

Motoko is the third-year rep for the Souma Yuki fan club, Prince Yuki, of which we haven’t seen much since much earlier episodes. But along with her first- and second-year counterparts Yamagishi Mio and Kinoshita Minami, Motoko is committed to “getting rid” of the vile “witch” Honda Tooru.

They believe she has stolen their beloved Yuki’s heart with an evil spell, but she’s under the protection of the “demon queen” Hanajima Saki, whom they must defeat in order to get to Tooru.

If it sounds like these three girls have a case of chuunibyou, well…it kinda is, what with the specialized jargon, military-like procedures, and serial pose-strikin’! But mostly, they’re simply jealous of Tooru and Yuki’s relationship, despite knowing next to nothing about it, and believe their numbers give them the right to determine what’s best for Yuki.

While Motoko, Minami and Mio all have the same idea of Saki’s home (a haunted western mansion surrounded by graves), they’re surprised to find it’s…just a normal house. Her room is normal too, aside from the persistent black-and-purple theme (she even has some of the same shoujo series as they do!).

They’re looking for a weakness…anything they can use. Instead, they find Saki’s little brother, Megumi, who was hiding in the closet and only comes out when Saki tells him to.

Megumi: New friends of yours?
Saki: No. They’re strangers that happen to go to the same school and be the same gender as me.

I love how Saki and Megumi never for a moment stop being the people they always are, but by doing so keep the three Prince Yuki reps in a perpetual state of unease and dread. Saki warned them not to say their names in the house, and later Megumi explains why that is: all he needs is someone’s name to put a curse on them…or to counter-curse their counter-curse.

When the youngest of the reps starts wanting to leave immediately, the three finally come out with it: they want Saki to tell Tooru to stop being so close to Yuki. Megumi immediately takes their position for what it is—jealousy—and in trying to explain that it’s not jealousy, just being mad about someone having something they don’t have, she just ends up…describing jealousy.

Both Megumi and the musical score turn serious when he gravely warns them not to assume they can do what they want just because they like someone, and that pushing such intense love as theirs on someone can burden or hurt them, not loving them back. He asks them to consider how Yuki feels and respect those feelings, before they end up making him hate them.

Then he gravely says their names, one after the other, which sends them bolting out of the house, passing by the youngest (and most normal) Hanajima sibling in the process. They clearly forgot that Megumi could hear them using their names while he was hiding.

Hopefully, Motoko, Minami and Mio learned something from their visit to Saki’s house about taking such strong and unyielding positions about things they know so little about…but I’m not going to hold my breath, because the next day they’ll still have their huge fan club with its book of rules, and their two simultaneous, contradictory believes Yuki shouldn’t belong to anyone, but also should secretly belong to each of them.

Saki, on the other hand, took Megumi’s words to heart about jealousy, because she admits that’s what she’s felt ever since Tooru started living with Yuki, Kyou, and Shigure and had many adventures with them and the other Soumas. She tells herself she mustn’t let those feelings of loneliness make her selfishly think her needs and desires vis-a-vis Tooru are any more important than those of others.

With that, her loneliness is extinguished when Arisa and Tooru arrive at her front door; turns out Tooru doesn’t have to work until later, so she can hang out with Arisa and Saki. That brings a big, bright, very ungothic smile to Saki’s face.

The next morning, Motoko again awakes from a nightmare involving the “demon queen” Saki and hell, let’s call him Saki’s “death squire” Megumi. Minami and Mio also had nightmares, even though Saki teases them that the “curse” won’t take effect for three days.

But like their vilification of Saki and Tooru, perhaps those dreams are nothing more than a manifestation of their ugly jealousy, which starts as less ugly loneliness. After all, not a single member of Prince Yuki can possibly be happy, since they all love him, yet cannot be with him.

*  *  *

After twenty-one episodes, who is my favorite Fruits Basket character? Uotani Arisa. NEXT QUESTION. Who is my second-favorite? Hanajima Saki. NO MORE QUESTIONS. 

Both women are as strong as they are because they are able to be upfront and honest about their “weaknesses,” and while they have no time for childish challenges thrown their way by their would-be, so-called “adversaries,” they’re not above putting a good ol’ scare into them—and not below delivering wise advice when it’s called for. Tooru is as blessed to have them as they are blessed to have her in their lives.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how goshdarn funny this episode was…I was laughing from start to finish at the Prince Yuki reps’ petty machinations and while watching their absolute drubbing at the hands of a young woman (and little brother) they never had any business trifling with.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 12 (Fin) – Whatever It Is Between Us, It’s Not Worthless

Igarashi Chika seems like a last-minute addition to the cast in order to create one last conflict that will test Hikari and Iroha’s bond of love and trust, but he’s a lot less of a douche than I thought he’d be. When he learns that Hikari’s glasses were a gift from his late grandmother, he promptly has them replaced. Takanashi still hasn’t publicly atoned for the shit he did to Hikari, and he’s somehow in the clear, but here’s Chika, doing the right thing without delay.

Sure, he deems Hikari too mediocre to date his sister and suggests he break up if their relationship isn’t “worth” anything, that’s typical Unbidden Brother Protection, and he doesn’t make it an order; he puts the ball in Hikari’s court by making him ask himself: what can he do for Iroha, besides the “nothing” of which he only believes himself capable?

After an advice session with Ishino that costs him the price of two big parfaits, Hikari settles on a token of his commitment to and bond with Iroha: a ring. Ishino raises the difficulty level by saying he can’t simply trade in his otaku junk for the scratch to buy one; he should work for it, and arranges a part-time job as an amusement park mascot (sadly, not at Amaburi).

However, while Hikari only has the best intentions in terms of wanting to see her smile, like she did when he made her a figurine of herself, he demonstrates that he still has a lot to learn by basically cutting Iroha entirely off without explaining why.

The desire not to spoil the surprise actually ends up hurting Iroha, especially when she doesn’t have any answers for Chika, who decides to back her against a wall while reminding her that they’re not actually related by blood. Considering how the episode ends, seems like a bit of a non sequitur. Ultimately, he lets Iroha be, hoping it all works out and she isn’t hurt by Hikari.

Professions of absolute trust notwithstanding, Iroha knows what she has to do to put her mind truly at ease: ask Hikari directly what’s going on. She gains her courage from Itou of all people, who she checks in on after he’s hit in the face with a soccer ball.

Itou was distracted and fatigued by his continued struggles trying to get Ayado to notice him like a girl notices a boy, rather than simply a messenger who relays invitations to her on behalf of his circle of friends.

I still don’t think Ayado would consider Itou completely out of the question as a partner, but Itou decides to end his particular part in the show still firmly on the fence. He’s unable to do what he inspires Iroha to do: tell the person he loves how he truly feels.

It’s not an exaggeration to say a great deal of luck is involved in lasting relationships. Like, say, the luck of having purchased a ring to gift to your girlfriend the very day she finally confronts you about what you’ve been doing after school. It’s not the best ring, but after he was able to measure her finger while she slept at his desk (which I guess isn’t creepy if you’re dating…) he couldn’t hold himself back from buying one.

He slips it on Iroha, whose tears of frustration turn to joy, they share a kiss right there in the school hallway. After the credits we see Hikari, Iroha, Itou, Ishino and Takanashi (but notably not Ayado) at Takanashi’s latest ramen find. And that about does it?

Wait: What about all that foreshadowing about Hikari and Iroha’s relationship being a ticking clock due to her having to move? It’s not addressed. Itou’s Ayado odyssey ends on an ellipsis. Takanashi still shoots down any tortured attempt from Ishino to get him to go out with her.

So, if I had the time machine from Steins;Gate (or anywhere, really) and had the chance to decide whether to watch 3D Kanojo again? Well, probably. Despite its horrrrrrible animation and many untied loose ends, I still felt like it had some interesting things to say about first love, particularly from the perspective of two “less-than-ordinary” personalities.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 11 – Just Trying to Help

With Hikari and Iroha’s problems behind them the focus turns to Itou and Ishino, both apparent victims of unrequited love (or in Ishino’s case, lust?) On Hikari’s suggestion, Itou works up the courage to ask Ayado out to a movie, without overtly labeling it a date, but her easy acceptance and lingering smile doesn’t set Itou at ease; quite the contrary.

Hikari watched Itou asking her out from the classroom, and starts to wonder if Ayado, the girl who just confessed to him, is the girl his first (and for a long time only) friend has come to like after years of saying 3D girls aren’t for him (a philosophy Hikari himself subscribed to until meeting Iroha).

As for Ishino, she sees everyone apparently pairing off and having fun, and is jelly. She’s also feeling legitimately lonely and undesirable due to Takanashi’s constant rejections, so when her objectively awful ex offers to hang out with her on the weekend, she not only accepts, but cuteifies herself up to the max. I honestly mistook Ishino for Iroha, so infrequently does she clean up thus.

Itou and Ayado’s movie date-not-date goes swimmingly, though Itou can scarely deride any enjoyment, so skittish and silent she is around the always bright and ebullient Ayado. Her enthusiasm and gratitude for being invited is all well and good, but the one thing Itou is afraid of revealing through further engaging her is the fact that she, the girl he’s come to like, doesn’t like him that way. So he keeps his feelings to himself.

The next day at school Ayado visits Hikari and Itou’s class to give Itou his ticket stub she accidentally took. Hikari, acting a lot like his mom acts toward him (proud of and excited for Itou), but one careless question has Ayado asking Hikari if he wants to see it, she’ll see it a second time.

That has the one-two punch of demonstrating to Itou that Ayado still has eyes for Hikari and devaluing their date by saying it could be so easily replicated. Mind you, neither were Ayado’s intentions, but if she still likes Hikari and has no idea how Itou feels, who can blame her?

Hikari tries to make things right with a “double date” picnic with him and Iroha and Itou and Ayado. He even grabs Iroha and runs off so the Itou can have some time alone with Ayado. When Iroha learns what he’s up to, she scolds him, because he’s taking romantic shortcuts.

That evening on the ride home, Hikari apologizes for being careless, and sees now how Itou needing so much help could make him feel pathetic. Hikari’s heart, as usual is in the right place: he just wants Itou to be happy, like he is, now that he knows how fortunate it feels not only to love someone, but to be loved by that same person.

As for Ishino, she’s stood up by her ex, but Takanashi happens to pass by, and as much of a cad as the guy is, he’s not about to walk past a crying Ishino, and takes her out for ramen.

While walking hand-in-hand, both hoping things work out for Itou and Ayado, Hikari and Iroha come across a very handsome young man in a red jacket whose immediate reaction upon seeing them holding hands is to cold-cock Iroha, breaking his glasses (and almost his jaw). It turns out not to be an ex of Iroha’s but her younger brother Chika.

Iroha is furious with Chika, but still lets herself get whisked away by him, despite the fact he just committed assault on her boyfriend. Chika’s a guy who makes judgments based on covers, and thought Hikari was a stalker and can’t understand why Iroha is dating him

Back home things get a little creepier when he caresses Iroha’s face. Possessive and possibly incestuous? Greeeaaaat. Looks like Hikari’s final trial of the show will be winning over this guy, or at least punching him back! That, and enduring the inevitable goodbye that was pre-loaded into his romance with Iroha when it began.

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