Kageki Shoujo!! – 11 – Twas Your Face the Light Endow’d

Kouka goes straight from sports festival to cultural festival, and this year the Centennial first-years are once again getting special treatment, as they’ll be taking fifteen minutes of the second-years’ time for the performance of a scene from Romeo & Juliet—the same one Sarasa famously bombed. Andou-sensei says there will be auditions, so the girls will be rivaling one another as they vote for each other.

It’s another one of the unique ways Kouka instructs its young performers-to-be in the theory of their craft as well as encouraging a degree of the toughening needed to survive on the Kouka stage. Everyone up there has to believe they’re the very best. But even though everyone wants to see Sarasa’s Romeo, and Ai points out why she’s perfect for it (while implying she’s “simple”)…Sarasa wants to give Tybalt another try.

Hijiri insists that Ai play the role of Juliet. Even if she rightfully says it’s not a spotlight she’s earned, Hijiri insists that as someone “born pretty” and thus closer to the finish line than others, Ai cannot slack off; she must run as fast as possible to that line, no matter how close it may seem. Her mother also imparted her the wisdom of figuring out how to lose yourself in the role.

One way is by applying some part of your life experience that connects with the role in some way. But Tybalt, whose role comes down to unrequited love of Juliet and jealousy and hatred of Romeo, is proving difficult for Sarasa, who claims (credibly!) to have never hated or held a grudge on anyone, ever. Even so, she starts with the basics of how Tybalt must go through his daily life, and how that life led to his obsession with anger and hatred.

It isn’t working, until that very connection to Sarasa’s life comes into focus and clicks as crisply as a camera shutter. In the common room she and Ai happen to catch a TV interview with Akiya talking about his kabuki and how he was thrust into it by dint of his blood. Seeing Akiya takes Sarasa back to when she was a little kid, and for a moment, she was as jealous of Akiya as Tybalt was jealous of Romeo.

Akiya basically achieved without effort or even passion something she’d always dreamed of achieving. But while Sarasa finally discovers a part of herself she can use to lose herself in the role of Tybalt, it’s Ai’s performance that anchors the final act of the episode.

Everyone thinks she’s being her usual calm, collected, unflappable self when called to be the first Juliet in the auditions (presided upon by the rest of the faculty, not just Andou—a cruel surprise for the girls!) Sarasa, her best friend, knows better, and that Ai’s calm exterior conceals an ever churning storm.

The key is focusing that storm. Fortunately, the Romeo in Ai’s group flubs her lines and has to start from the top, so Ai gets a little extra time in her Space Mind Palace. She’s convinced she’s never known what love is, any more than Sarasa has ever known hatred or jealousy. But we all know one very important exception for Ai, and that’ Sarasa herself.

Romeo was “love at first sight” for Juliet, just as Ai was “friends at first sight” for Sarasa. It took a little longer for AI, but when Sarasa told her about overwriting bad old memories with good new ones, she too knew she had to be friends with this tall girl. Once the joy of becoming friends with her swell up, Ai embodies Juliet herself in the “wherefore” speech, giving her peers, teachers, and me some serious goosebumps.

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 10 – Not Weird at All

While sleeping in her little cabin, Alice dreams of when she was a little girl, hiding behind her mother Sharon’s skirts at the sight of Rob but always waving to young Bocchan, who always waved to her. Even back then, he didn’t see her as a servant, but a normal girl he wanted to befriend. We’re not talking about Prince Joffery here!

After that dream, there’s a sequence involving Caph going food shopping for the first time while Zain keeps an eye on her. Once she figures out what it means to “pay” people “money” for things, she gets the hang of it, and even stops a boy that was trying to pickpocket her from getting impaled on a sharp cast iron railing. Zain only comes in to “bail her out” insofar as he helps her pick up the dropped groceries.

When Bocchan can’t sleep, Alice offers to sleep in his bed with him until he can, then runs off to change into her pajamas without waiting to hear if he was okay with that. Having Alice next to him is stressful at first, but when he sees her beauty up close and how calm and relaxed she is, he manages to calm down. Granted, that would have happened faster if she hadn’t tried to strip out of her PJs more than once!

The meat of this mostly slice-of-life episode involves what should happen if Bocchan lifts the curse. Yes, he’ll presumably return home and take his place as the next family head. But what of Alice? While Bocchan professes his love for her and assures her if his family objects to their marriage, he’ll cut ties with them. That is the last thing Alice wants, but believing his future to be more important than hers is the last thing he wants.


After singing a lovely, pure duet of the nursury rhyme “The Owl and the Pussycat” together, Bocchan ends up insisting on escorting her back to her cabin, armed with the scarf and gloves she lovingly knit for him.

Assuming the curse will end some point before the end of the show’s run, Alice seems convinced she and Bocchan won’t be able to see each other anymore, at least not they way they currently do. But who says that’s the way it has to be? Doesn’t Bocchan get a say?

Sonny Boy – 08 – Canis Dei

What if you befriended God? Yamabiko pretty much did, as he tells the tale of how he became a dog to Nagara and Mizuho as they sit beside campfires in wastelands and traverse various gorgeous landscapes. Kodama was special. She could “direct” all things, and so quickly became worshipped by all her classmates. She became their “whole world.”

Then, out of nowhere, their world became something else: a pandemic struck the class. Horrible red tumors grew on their bodies, including Kodama’s. But Yamabiko, ever her loyal subject, refused to say she was ugly. In fact, he felt very much the opposite: she was hard to look at because she had become too brilliant. When one of her tumors burst and her blood flowed, he lapped it up, and transformed into a dog.

Yamabiko never thought he did much with his human form, an ill-natured youth wandering the worlds alone and bitter. But one night he was pulled out of the literal muck by Kodama. He found himself in a “peaceful, easy world” where she and the others lived contentedly. But she admits it’s dull, as living their cut them off from new information.

Yamabiko couldn’t understand why anyone, much less someone akin to a god as Kodama, would be kind to him. It disturbed him, so he attempted to flee. Remind you of anyone Yamabiko is currently traveling with? Naga-er, Yamabiko tried to sail a raft across the sea, only for Kodama to catch up to him with a hot meal. When he tosses it over the side, she dives in and makes a giant goddamn soup fountain that Yamabiko couldn’t help but lap up.

The more time he spent with Kodama, the more he thought he had come to the end of his once endless wandering, to his destination. But then the pandemic struck, and a man appeared who seemed to fare worse than any of them. This man was the first and only person to call Kodama “ugly”. It both shocked and pleased her, that someone would tell her the truth. That was the whole point.

This mysterious man, named “War” (which…okay) indicated he was not the sole cause of the pandemic, but a side effect of the otherworld in which everyone dwelled. In this world, mental wounds became physical tumors. As for who made this world, well…when Yamabiko was pulled out of that muck, he was being pulled into a world of his own making, which is why Kodama’s godlike powers could not stop the pandemic.

Yamabiko learns to late that had he “changed” himself and flown voluntarily out of the shell he had created around himself, he could have saved Kodama and everyone else; even met them on the other side, in another world where the pandemic didn’t exist. But he couldn’t. Even when Kodama was the last one alive and all but consumed by the red crystal-like tumors, he stayed by her side like the dog he was…loyal to a fault.

Then Kodama died, and Yamabiko finally fulfilled his promise to Kodama by flying out. He’d stayed there till the end because he feared losing the light that she represented. As for actually flying out, it took him five thousand years to do so.

As Yamabiko completes his tale, he, Nagara, and Mizuho reunite with Nozomi, and learn that while they believe they arrived precisely on the day agreed upon, time moves two weeks faster for her. No matter; Nagara takes her phone and re-syncs their times.

That night, beside another fire, Nozomi catches up on what Yamabiko has told the others. He also tells them that this “War” fellow was trying to kill God. Nagara wonders whether it would make a difference even if such a thing could be done while roasting a marshmallow.

So yeah…Yamabiko’s been through some shit. Kodama immediatley asserted herself as one of the most impactful characters of the series in just one episode, and much of that is due to Taketatsu Ayana’s virtuoso performance.

Combined with Tsuda Kenjirou’s dulcet tones, a lush, moody futuristic soundtrack, all those gorgeous, painterly vistas, and some truly gut-wrenching moments, this Sonny Boy stands as the most raw, unrelenting, and personal outing yet. I’ll be watching this many more times in the future, no doubt gleaning new insights or noticing new details each time.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 09 – Secondborns Roasting on an Open Fire

It’s Christmas, and for the first time, Bocchan is going to host a party. Caph and Zain are coming, and so is Viola with the gift of a handkerchief for Rob. When their mom insists that Viola spend Christmas with “family” she does just that: by spending it with her dear brother. Strangely enough, Walter ends up doing so as well, as he replaces Viola’s driver in order to get a better idea of who he’s dealing with in Bocchan.

Zain ends up finally telling Caph she’s pretty while she’s apparently napping, but she was actually awake and heard his words. In her haste to see Rob, Viola drops her gift, which is picked up by Walter, who then finds a Santa costume in the hall and puts it on just as Caph crosses paths with him. Since Caph still believes in Santa she assumes the gift is for her.

As Caph and Viola bicker over the gift, Walter comes down the chimney in a cloud of soot and issues a challenge his older brother: the first one to discover the secret of the curse will become the new head of the family. As for their mother, well, she gets to eat dinner alone, because she’s an awful bitch who tried and failed to ruin at least two of her three kids!

As the new prologue to episodes states, Bocchan is never lonely, ever since he decided not to give up, and to instead spend his days together with Alice, whom he loves and who loves him in return. Alice very much wants a kiss under the mistletoe, and part of me thought this was the moment they learned the curse didn’t affect her…but she settles for sharing the “coldness” of the snow by lying down next to Bocchan after he trips and falls.

It’s a pleasant if somewhat static episode. I couldn’t care less about Walter and his challenge, but it was sweet to see Zain and Caph’s relationship take a baby step forward. As for the curse, there’s still three episodes to break it. Better get cracking, Bocchan!

TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You – 13 – Love In the Time of LINE

It’s been over eight months since the last TONIKAWA but this extra OVA episode doesn’t skip a beat, delivering all of the notes that made the first twelve episodes so endearing and comforting, especially at the end of one of the worst years of many peoples’ lives. Things are going a bit better now, so it’s especially nice to check in on these two sweet young lovebirds in that context.

Tsukasa’s smartphone finally arrives, which means she’s finally arrived in the 21st century (though she still contemplates how much one could accomplish with a smartphone in the Sengoku era, one more hint that she’s either lived a very long time or carries the memories of past lives).

Something as simple as adding contacts is made much more profound as only one person in their address books can occupy the “spouse” category. But no sooner does she gain a smartphone (and LINE app) than she loses Nasa…if only for the day, as he’s summoned to his old work for a last-minute project.

Tsukasa goes in to work at the bathhouse, only to get bored and start wavering over whether to send Nasa a text or sticker. Aya doesn’t help matters by saying she’s sure he’ll message Tsukasa, since when he doesn’t do so all day, it only adds to her loneliness and anxiety.

While sitting out on the back patio after dark, she tries and fails to hold back tears despite knowing how ridiculous it is to be crying. But is it so ridiculous? Tsukasa and Nasa have been together—and close—for most of their married lives, and love each other dearly. So it’s no surprise that they both feel lonely.

That intensity of their love also makes it that much more satisfying and relieving when we finally hear that little alert sound and Nasa confirms he couldn’t use his phone while working. He misses her every bit as much as she misses him; smartphones or no, their hearts remain tightly connected.

When Nasa shambles home at four in the morning, he fully expects Tsukasa to be asleep, but she’s wide awake, having not been able to sleep “for some reason”. His futon is out, so they lie down together, and Tsukasa, still out of sorts from being without her darling for so long, takes the initiative for the first time by giving him a passionate goodnight kiss.

Nasa is wide awake at this point, contemplating how his wife suddenly seems more aggressive, only for Tsukasa to visit his futon and insist that he hold her tight. Now, I’m not saying they go on to make full-on love for the first time in that early morn, nor am I saying they don’t, but this is definitely the most hot and heavy we’ve seen them.

Even in the morning, with the couple’s faces beet red and smoking it’s not clear exactly how far the two went a few hours prior, but it is clear from Kaname that they “had fun” in the early morn. She’d love the details (as someone with a “sexy radish” as her LINE picture), but also knows these two well and how easily they’re embarrassed whenever they contemplate the prerogatives of their status as husband and wife.

Because this is a check-in OVA, we also check in on Chitose and her maids Aurora and Charlotte, the latter of whom was at the bathhouse and overheard about Tsukasa’s potentially fun night. Charlotte, despite being an adult, has no idea what that “fun” entailed.

After doing a coffee spit take Chitose tells her it’s “far more intense” than the horseplay she and Char get up to. Chitose demonstrates her growth from last season as she doesn’t immediately head to Tsukasa’s house to investigate/put a stop to it. After all, Tsukasa is married; it’s perfectly normal for things to get intense.

After a parting scene of Char teasing Aurora, who actualy would like to hold hands in bed, the standard credits roll. While a couple of decent romances like Horimiya showed up in Tonikawa’s wake, that series grew more scattered and disinterested in its main couple down the stretch. It was nice to be reminded how good, steady, and consistent Tonikawa always was, and how deftly it portrayed young love—or in Tsukasa’s case, very very old young love! XD

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 08 – Beauty and the Grouch

This week’s first segment introduces us to Bocchan’s younger brother Walter, and…he’s a lot. First and foremost, he’s a bit of an arrogant prick, already measuring the drapes for his ascension to head of the family. He’s also got a complex about being called the secondborn son…even though that’s what he is. His goofy antics and physical comedy aside, Walter is not a good guy. At least Viola visits her big brother and treats him like a person!

While her official stance is neutral, I imagine Viola prefers Bocchan to Walter, and hopes he’ll break the curse. During her latest visit, she meets Caph, initially assumes she’s a burglar (not a bad instinct!) and attempts to tackle her, only to bounce off her bust. Then she sits on Caph and ties her up by the fire, which is the scene Rob walks in on, much to Viola’s dismay.

While Viola is charming, cute and fun to watch, the real meat of the episode comes in the final extended segment, during which both Bocchan and Alice play a game of chess during a snowy winter night and reminisce about a similar night years ago, when Alice was appointed Bocchan’s maid. Bocchan was in a much darker, more nihilistic emotional place then, and his first instincts were to dismiss Alice and suspect she’s laughing at him on the inside.

This is because, no doubt due in part to the trauma of suffering the witch’s curse, he doesn’t remember Alice. He certainly isn’t aware of just how momentous him taking her hand and helping her off the ground meant to her at that difficult time in her life. That’s right: the kid who now kills anything he touches once essentially saved Alice’s life…with his touch.

No matter how many insults Bocchan flings Alice’s way or derides her mere presence, or tells her he flat out hates her, Alice does not bend, at least not in front of him; we see a rare moment of her vulnerability after he leaves his room and sighs. When he gives her an ultimatum of cleaning his rock starred-up room in three days or she’s fired, she does it in one night, even though she cuts up her fingers picking up shards of glass.

When Bocchan sees Alice isn’t leaving, he decides to leave instead, trudging out into a winter storm until he’s lost and freezing. It’s then that he decides it would be better to just die than continue living the joke of a life he’s endured thus far, unable to touch or be touched.

But it’s while lying in the snow that he finally remembers who Alice was. That’s when Alice arrives to help him up the way he helped her up years ago. The only difference is there’s an umbrella between their hands this time. Alice fell for Bocchan that day, and never stopped falling for him since.

The Witch told Bocchan “No one shall love you, and you shall love no one. You will live a life of misery.” But that’s no longer true once the two come in from the cold and warm themselves by the fire. Alice does love and care for Bocchan, then and always, and Bocchan soon comes to love her right back as the misery in his life gives way to that love and the joy it brings.

Could it be that ever since that snowy night, the witch’s curse has been broken all this time, except that he can only touch Alice? If Bocchan can touch Alice, could it be long before he can safely touch Viola, or Rob, or Caph and Zain, or Walter…or even his mother? Maybe it will all come down to loving and being loved. We shall see in the final third of Duke of Death and His Maid

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 07 – Suspension Bridge Effect

Not about to be discouraged by Daleth’s insistence they give up, Alice spends much of the episode trying to find alternative methods of lifting Bocchan’s curse. She begins by procuring a second-hand witch’s cauldron complete with a book containing recipes for curse-lifting brews. Unfortunately it’s unsuccessful, but it as worth a try.

In the next segment, Alice finds some odd sheet music from a composer named MacFarlane (not Seth) who wrote the music in white ink on black paper because it looked cool, which also makes it hard to read. That said, it’s believed if you play his piece perfectly it can lift a curse, so Bocchan does just that, powering through both the distracting ghost of MacFarlane and Alice’s usual flirting. Turns out the curse that is lifted is…the curse of MacFarlane’s ghost.

When Bocchan accidentally breaks a flowerpot, he runs and hides from the wrath of Rob, and Alice tags along. While he started out the segment wanting to create the “suspension bridge effect” in her by scaring her and causing her heart to race, the fact of the matter is there’s no need to scare her. Alice’s heart is always racing when Bocchan is around, racing all the faster the closer in proximity they are. She’s long since established she’s not scared of dying, she just loves the guy.

The final sequence, which takes place after the credits, involves Bocchan and Alice sharing an Alice in Wonderland-themed dream in which they must secure the White Rabbit in order to exact a wish from Alice (the book version).

Their mission is derailed by the fact they can touch one another in the dream, with Bocchan waking up just before committing to kissing his Alice. The book Alice is mad for them totally slacking off, but Bocchan is content to fall back asleep, hoping to pick up his dream with Alice where he left off.

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 06 – Knight in a Top Hat

By introducing the overgrown conservatory this week the show finally acknowledges that it’s hella hard to maintain a vast mansion with just two servants, one of whom has a bad back! But should Bocchan never lift his curse and his younger brother becomes the head of the family, he always has a lucrative future in landscaping, as his curse becomes an effective brush-clearing blessing.

After losing himself a bit in the satisfaction of clearing away all the excess greenery, Bocchan checks in on Alice to find her admiring some purple flowers. Rather than wither them, he manages to dry them and make a charming garland headpiece for Alice, who promises to treasure it along with the rose he gave her. If you can’t touch the one you love, at least make yourself useful!

One night, Bocchan can’t sleep and hears Alice call out. He inadvertently catches her naked, and she puts on a towel reports that a black cat has run off with her dressing gown. Bocchan gallantly offers to track down the cat and retrieve the gown, but Alice accompanies him. I mean, I know Bocchan wasn’t going to accidentally murder the cat, but there’s still that edge to his interactions, especially with animals that move unpredictably.

With Alice donning Bocchan’s coat so she won’t catch a chill (and absolutely loving the opportunity to smell his scent), the two eventually find the cat, and discover the gown is not in recoverable shape. Since the cat took it to make a warm nest for her litter of kittens, neither Alice nor Bocchan feel that bad about letting the gown go. As Alice demonstrated earlier in the episode, she has a pretty extensive wardrobe.

After these two cute little “home” segments during which Alice and Bocchan putter around the mansion, we get to the meat of the episode: the long-awaited Witches’ Sabbath. Caph and Zain arrive, repurpose a mirror in a storeroom into a portal to the meeting spot, and give Bocchan and Alice robes that will mask their scent so the witches won’t, ya know, murder them or feed them to their carnivorous plant.

As soon as they arrive, Bocchan is on edge; while there are some witches with human form (and who are dressed like they’re ready for the club/beach/beach club) there are many more witches who appear to Bocchan to be nothing but monsters. While the sheltered Bocchan shouldn’t be judging books by their covers, since he’s been judged by his curse for most of his life I suppose it’s easy for the pot to call the kettle black.

The witches’ leader, Daleth, runs the Sabbath like high school homeroom, with the stand-and-bow, roll call, and mundane announcements. It’s actually pretty funny how laid back it all this, especially considering how wound-up Bocchan got; he intended to bring along a suitcase full of weapons, but Caph burned it to ash.

Alice actually already crossed paths with the skull-masked Daleth when she and Bocchan went on their little town date, and Daleth recognizes her too, seeing right past her and Bocchan’s frankly half-assed disguises. She also happens to know—and hate the fucking guts of—the witch who gave Bocchan his curse. The bad news? That witch is dead, and even Daleth has no idea how to lift the curse.

She recommends Bocchan give up now rather than later for his sake. When he protests, she deems the conversation over, then covers her withdrawal by burning away Bocchan’s robe. With his human stench exposed, the witches chase him en masse.

When the club/beach chicks sic their carnivorous plant on Alice, Bocchan need only touch one of the tendrils to kil the whole damn thing. Still, Alice does not understate the fact that Bocchan risked his life to save hers, doubtless causing her love for him to only grow.

Bocchan, Alice, Caph, and Zain make it back to their mirror portal, which closes before any of the witches can press their pursuit. After a short stint in a most magical and whimsical land, they’re back in the relative normalcy of Bocchan’s huge mansion. Bocchan isn’t about to let himself be discouraged by Daleth’s words, and continuing to believe there is a way to break the curse is crucial to breaking it.

As for Caph and Zain, he thanks them profusely for all of their help. Caph again explains that seeing him go all out inspired her to take a chance with a human, and she didn’t regret it. She assures him that the next time she and Zain return to his mansion, it will be as friends, not merely magical facilitators. As for the curse, well…who’s to say it’ll take a witch to break it?

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 05 – The Viola Method

Viola is back, ostensibly to visit her dear old brother—who let it be said she does actually care about—but mostly to be in the presence of her beloved Rob. This may make Viola a “panther”, but she doesn’t care; men her age act like children and she has no use for them.

Viola also offers some unsolicited advice to Alice about having more charm and human appeal which…fine. Alice humors her by going along with her “Viola Method” of training, if for no other reason than it offers her yet another avenue to tease Bocchan, by talking and acting in a more cutesy manner than he’s accustomed to.

Rob later leads Viola to the kitchen to help bake, and the two find Alice and Bocchan already there making a stew. Rob is flattered by Viola’s feelings, but as she’s the age of her granddaugher (if he ever had any), nothing will ever come of it. Nevertheless, Viola likes being with Rob and Alice, and is glad her brother has them in his life.

For the next segment Viola heads home and Bocchan and Alice head to the frozen lake for some ice skating. Bocchan ends up encountering Caph’s old friend Zain (voiced by Kamiya Hiroshi), who is a magic user and bird-man, while Alice finds Caph on the ice and warms her up in her bosom. Bocchan doesn’t like how forward Zain is with Alice…and neither does Caph!

The four eventually link up (with Bocchan gingerly holding Alice’s sleeve) and skate/walk across the lake as a unit, looking very much like two couples on a double date. Just as Bocchan envies how physically close Zain and Caph can get, Zain envies how open Bocchan and Alice are with their feelings.

Caph and Zain have such a good time, they decide to invite Bocchan to the next Witches’ Sabbath. While they’re bound by oaths not to say anything that might help him, there’s nothing saying he can’t try to investigate on his own and possibly track down the witch who cursed him. And if he runs into trouble, Caph and Zain will help him out. Could some actual progress on the curse-breaking front be in the offing?

However it happens, I’m hoping breaking of the curse is definitely something I hope happens, period. Who knows, maybe due to their love for each other, Bocchan and Alice are already able to touch without her coming to harm…but it’s not exactly something they can test out, considering what would happen if they were wrong!

Instead, it’s Viola who ends up cozying up to Alice in the last segment. Kept away from Rob’s room by Bocchan, she decides to have a sleepover in Alice’s cottage, where they can engage in girl talk. Alice isn’t accustomed to bonding with other women, while Viola always wanted a big sister to pamper her, so it’s win-win for the pair.

Finally, while it’s a bit silly I haven’t mentioned it yet in five episodes, super kudos go to Mano Ayumi as the prim, silky, calm and alluring voice of Alice, particularly in her vocal performance of the ED, which is a bittersweet banger.

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 04 – The Witch and the Snow Fairy

After three weeks of chiding her for getting so close to him, one day Alice is keeping her distance, seemingly avoiding Bocchan. When he tries to approach her, she Shunpos away like a Shinigami out of Bleach. But he soon deduces that she’s caught a cold and doesn’t want to give it to him.

Defying her caution, he tucks her into bed in her cottage and vows to stay by her side until she’s better. It’s a lovely inversion of their usual dynamic, with Alice seeminly capable of anything while Bocchan is weak an ineffectual.

Winter has come to Bocchan’s villa, and with it a fresh blanket of morning snow. The episode really captures the childlike glee that comes with the first sight of such a snowfall (assuming you’re not trying to drive to work that morning).

Bocchan is similarly elated to get to see Alice set against the pure white backdrop, accentuating her loveliness. The two and Rob build a snowman and have a spirited snowball fight, with Alice demonstrating she also has Matrix-like powers of evasion.

In the midst of all the wintry fun, Alice loses one of her earrings, which belonged to her mother and is thus precious and irreplaceable. By the time she realizes it’s gone it’s nighttime and snowing harder, but Bocchan goes out unbidden to dig through the snow looking for it.

The conditions quickly sap his energy, and he’s soon lying in the snow, exhausted. This is how the witch Caph finds him, and when she hears what hes doing, for whom, and why, and that he won’t give up, her initially hostile stance softens, and she decides to help him with her fire magic.

The earring thus found, Bocchan and Caph go in and the witch is introduced to Alice. A lazier or more obvious choice would be to make Alice jealous of Caph for vice versa, but the two women get along famously, and in any case, Caph apparently has her own guy friend whom she admires and adores the similar to how Bocchan and Alice adore each other.

What she doesn’t have is any concrete answers for Bocchan about his curse or how to break it, no matter how much Alice plies her with food, tea, and dessert. Caph is sympathetic to Bocchan’s plight and has even taken a shine to the guy, but she doesn’t consider herself anywhere near the league of the witch who did this to him.

Caph flies off in her bat form, but I’m sure she’ll be back. The next day while outside touching up the Bocchan snowman, Alice recalls a memory from when she was bullied by the rich kids for not being rich, even though she was adorable. Only Bocchan was kind to her, dusting the snow off of her (he could touch people at the time) and saying she looks like a beautiful snow fairy when set against the white powder.

It really brings into focus Alice’s love and devotion to Bocchan, and when he says the same thing he said back then—that she’s like a snow fairy—Alice can’t help but chortle gleefully, for her beloved Bocchan has scarcely changed in all these years. Indeed, the main change is the curse, about which hopefully something will be done before this series concludes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 02 – Moonlight Waltz

The third member of Bocchan’s family, Rob, makes his first appearance, and proves to be your typical jovial, dependable old butler who might just be a bit long in the tooth for the strenuous work of maintaining a mansion. Even so, he gives it the old college try, which incidentally leaves Alice with little to do but toy with her beloved duke.

She eventually agrees to behave herself and sit quietly as Bocchan plays some of the new piano piece he’s working on, which is indeed both somber and beautiful. Alice’s rush of emotion during the piece precedes the good duke telling her he composed the piece for her; as a reward she leans in to kiss him, her lips stopping only an inch from his.

Bocchan may be relatively content with Alice and Rob, but a member of his original family does come to visit him now and again, treating it like a special service and act of welfare on her part, but visiting him nonetheless.

Viola (Minase Inori in Adorable Squeaky Mode) may not be as overtly honest as Alice about how she feels about her brother—she wants him to break the curse so he can return home—but it’s clear that unlike her mother she does care.

When a black cat appears in the mansion, Bocchan is terrified, not because he’s scared of cats but because he’s scared of killing it if it touches him. So he runs from the cat, Rob mistakes him for the cat, and Alice makes much of the fact the cat tore her dress in just such a way.

They find a note with that cat—”Forgive Me”—that Bocchan takes to mean it was abandoned, as he was. As for me, I wondered if that black cat wasn’t sent by the witch as a messenger; maybe the curse wasn’t intentional? It would explain why it was cast upon a five-year-old boy who no one had reason to curse.

The pièce de résistance of the outing is the ending, as Alice finds Bocchan in the deserted ballroom and the two dance inches from one another under the gorgeous, massive full moon, a scene lifted from a storybook. Like the music Bocchan composes, it’s sad, beautiful, and with just enough of a touch of hopefulness.

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 01 (First Impressions) – Ducal Distancing

An young duke (or Bocchan) is cursed by a witch at age five to bring death to any living thing he touches, like the Grim Reaper, AKA Death. He is shunned by his family and exiled to a villa in the woods. His only companion is Alice, the daughter of the head maid who grew up with Bocchan. There’s also a butler, he doesn’t show up in this first episode—bad back!

While everyone is scared of Bocchan and thinks him a monster, only Alice (and presumably the butler) treats him like an ordinary guy. She is absolutely fearless in how close she gets to him, and loves to toy with him by presenting her ample bust or garterbelts because of his innocent reactions.

But behind the playful and occasionally raunchy teasing, there’s genuine affection and devotion behind everything Alice says and does that has nothing to due with the fact she’s a family employee. She is happy when their old childhood friend Phillip shows up, but even when it goes predictably pear-shaped, Alice flatly refuses Philips’s offer to get her a “safer” job, while Bocchan forbids Phillip to disrespect her.

Bocchan has his issues—he’s a little traumatized during every meal due to the unpleasantness of meals with his family between getting the curse and being exiled—but a monster he is not; he really is just an ordinary young man who cannot be touched. Alice is hoping by being with him and treating him with love, kindness, and occasional sexual harassment, they can break his curse together, and he can do what it’s clear from the outset they both want: for him to put a ring on her finger.

As is typical of first episodes of new series that don’t introduce the whole cast at once, I enjoyed the elegance of following just Bocchan and Alice. Phillip and his four(!) bodyguards were a well-timed break from their routine, and while it wasn’t a fun experience, Phillip isn’t an altogether bad person, as he is capable of pitying Bocchan even as he fears his curse.

If you’re not a fan of CGI or canvas-textured backgrounds then this show will not be your visual cup of tea! I’ll admit the characters are a bit stiff and uncanny as they tend to be with this animation method, but like most things it grows on you. One advantage, however, is that the models remain perfectly consistent from shot to shot, and some very subtle hand gestures, body movements, and facial expressions are possible.

These subtleties are crucial in a show all about how close Alice is willing to get to Bocchan without actually touching him, and her acceptance of his wilted white rose—interpreting it through the language of flowers as swearing his whole life to her—was genuinely moving and gorgeously shot to boot. Also, Alice’s azure eyes of deepest summer are mesmerizing to the point you can see why Bocchan cherishes her so.

Hanae Natsuki and Mano Ayumi get the lion’s share of credit for bringing the characters to life and making me care about them right from the get-go. The classy Victorian aesthetic and classical score also heighten the material, while both OP and ED go pleasantly against the grain with more contemporary music and visuals.

I may have just finished a show about a girl teasing a guy, but that turned out to be way more heartwarming and profound than I expected, and I foresee enjoying this new take on the formula as well.

Rating: 4/5 Stars