Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 20 – Den Perfekte Soldaten

Well, what do you know, not only can Kuroko carry an episode, Ruiko can carry a pair, along with Frenda Seivelun. Most of the episode is one big shopping mall chase scene and showdown between Frenda and Yumiya Rakko, two sadistic hunters with poor Level 0 Ruiko in the middle. And yet the episode manages to infuse some humanity in both killers.

Having gone this far to save Ruiko, Frenda never quite feels right abandoning her to Yumiya, even when it seems the best shot at surviving. After all, Ruiko shared the last of her mackeral with her. As for Yumiya, she’s in full Assassin Mode until she spots some classmates from her school, and for a moment she’s reverted to her shy and lonely persona.

Yet just as Frenda gradually figures out Yumiya’s tactics as she survives one bullet wound after another, Yumiya draws on her experience with being an extreme loner to aid her assassin’s skills. When Frenda finally decides splitting up is necessary, she tries to find the right way to break it to Ruiko—who proceeds to suggest splitting up before her.

Frenda can’t help but be impressed with Ruiko’s attempt to be “a perfect soldier” despite knowing it could mean her death. Ruiko serves as a decoy with stuffed animal bombs that among everyone in the mall only one person reacts to as bombs: Yumiya. This allows Frenda to finally spot her, and when she launches herself at her with a devastating kick she doesn’t miss her face.

A thrilling two-sided beatdown ensues, with Frenda hitting the deck indicating to Yumiya that she’s won. However, Frenda is merely getting low because it’s the safest position to be in for when she detonates bombs all over the mall, sucking the oxygen out of the air and with it Yumiya’s ability to smell or breathe. It’s a very demolition expert-y way of getting the upper hand in a fight.

Yumiya tries to counter the thermobarics by rushing to the nearest broken window to take in air, but that’s just when Frenda pounces out of the smoke, stuffs mini-bombs in Yumiya’s gob, kicks her out of the building, and sets off the detonator with a particular sense of self-satisfaction followed by a huge bang. Throughout their battle, Ruiko managed to blend in with the bystanders and calmly escape the mall.

With the extent of the threats to her life still not fully known, Ruiko takes up temporary residence at an Antiskill facility, and is restless and anxious until she finally receives a message from Frenda, who asks her to have dinner ready when she stops by, a reply to Ruiko’s invitation before they split up.

As for Yumiya, she’s alive but down an eye and most of her face due to the blast, and her SCHOOL boss Kakine Teitoku isn’t in the mood to indulge her in seeking revenge. Getting ahold of the Tweezers takes precedence, and her role in the op is going to a backup.

Back home, Ruiko tries to reach back out to Frenda but doesn’t get any replies, yet still prepares dinner for two. When the doorbell rings, she’s so excited she stubs her toe on her desk (as beautifully animated as the earlier battle), and just as dejected when it turns out to be Uiharu.

The good news? Ruiko learns no one died in the mall explosions. The bad news? She’ll probably never see Frenda again. That hurts, and you can sense Ruiko’s pain. Frenda, so much more powerful an esper than her and heartless a killer to boot, and yet someone with whom Ruiko could share a can of mackerel. Ruiko may have acted like the perfect soldier that day in the mall, but at the same time, Frenda was the perfect friend.

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 19 – New Friends, Good Fish, and Foul Play

While Kuroko and Uiharu are busy using the pre-cog app to prevent accidents, Ruiko ends up making an unexpected friend at the supermarket. Due to a fad going around claiming the fish helps increase good looks, Ruiko buys the last two cans, and Frenda Seivelun hounds her until she gives her one. When she accidentally blows it up trying to open it on the spot, she worms her way into dinner.

Ruiko is initially bemused by this odd, haughty foreigner, but the two end up becoming fast friends and message each other regularly. It’s strange having Frenda show up in a mostly comedic role considering we know she died a grisly death in the Index show, but to enjoy this episode you have to put her impending doom out of your head.

Things actually take a dark turn as Ruiko’s purchasing of a Dream Poker card that makes you an expert at “picking things up with chopsticks”, raises a flag with a member of SCHOOL, who believes it relates to the “Tweezers” their underground group is trying to acquire. The hacker kid has Ruiko abducted, not knowing she has absolutely nothing to do with the Tweezers. This franchise certainly asks its audience to remember a lot of parallel storylines.

Thankfully, Frenda spotted the toughs approaching Ruiko’s position, and tossed a tracking device on their clothes. Hamazura picks her up in his Mini and they catch up to the vans. Then Frenda uses explosives to block the vans and takes out the goons, thus rescuing Ruiko. SCHOOL hacker guy then contacts sniper Yumiya Rakko, who was about to hang out with her school friends when she was called away.

Yumiya’s persona changes drastically from shy and stuttering at school to a focused, sadistic killer in hunter mode. And make no mistake, she’s going to hunt Frenda to blow off the steam from missing out on her crucial social gathering.

If you ask me, Academy City has way too many crazed teenagers working for what amount to criminal gangs, whether ITEM or SCHOOL. It’s why poor civilians like Ruiko always end up in the middle of trouble not of their making.

Hinamatsuri – 03 – Shaken AND Stirred

This week three of Hinamatsuri’s young women learn the value, rewards, and pitfalls of hard work from three very different vantage points, starting with Anzu. Anzu is unable to return to her mystery home, so she is homeless. She resorts to petty theft in Utako’s shopping district, but the constant chasing is getting exhausting, and one never knows when she might accidentally cut loose with her powers.

The hobo that once gave up her location to Sabu takes Anzu under his wing and shows her how to make honest money to pay for food. It’s a lot of work for a pittance, and even when she and Yassan show up to the hobo camp with sake to share, the mostly old men there treat her like crap…until she sings them an old nostalgic song that brings many of them to tears.

Anzu is rewarded with a canned drink and membership into the tribe, with all the benefits that entails. But the next day it’s back to the drudgery of searching for stray coins and collecting cans, during which time she runs into Nitta. Seeing her situation and seeing through her half-hearted explanations, Nitta assumes the worst and attempts to solve it with money.

The same stubborn pride that keeps Anzu on the streets also makes her angry at the handout, and she throws the 40,000 yen back in his face. However, when she remembers the hobos talking about how steel and aluminum price drops will cut deeply into their haul, she swallows her pride, chases Nitta’s car down, and accepts his gift.

When she’s immediately surrounded by Usako and the other proprietors she stole from, she loses more than 39,000 of it as repayment, and returns to camp dejected and ashamed. But Yassan assures her it’s for the best: she’s no longer wanted for theft; she has a fresh start as a “homeless girl.” If she keeps working hard as she can (and accepts gifts like Nitta’s when they come), she’ll be able to survive, as they have. Without using her powers.

Next we move on to Mishima Hitomi, who already knows the value of hard work and has applied it to studying, resulting in her position as top student in class, a position she takes great pride in. However, after her impromptu go at bartending last week, Utako wants her to keep working there, and is willing to blackmail her with an incriminating photo to make it happen.

Hitomi counters with a recording of Utako blackmailing her, and Utako takes a different tack, suggesting they both delete their data on each other…but Utako had already downloaded the photo to her PC, so it’s Game, Set, and Match Utako: Hitomi starts working at her bar for 1,500 yen an hour. She is a hit, not because she’s a middle schooler, but because she’s just too damn good at mixing drinks.

Just as at school, she works hard, takes no shortcuts, and comes to take great pride in her good work at the bar. But her two world collide when her homeroom teacher comes into the bar with the vice principal (who is already drunk), trying to nab the position of head teacher.

The teacher is not drunk, and quickly recognizes Hitomi, but decides its in both their best interests to keep the secret to himself. But he still doesn’t let Hitomi off the hook: as something of a mixology aficionado, he challenges Hitomi to make him a Million Dollar, and then a Bartender, to test her shaking and stirring skills. Hitomi passes with flying colors, and he’s duly impressed in her skills, as Usako and the other patrons knew he would be.

While a misunderstanding and her own passivity got her into the job to start, and she was blackmailed into continuing it, her natural talent for the job keeps her coming back…and the mad stacks she’s depositing into the bank account her parents don’t know about don’t hurt one bit! Not only that you watch Hitomi work behind the bar, you can tell she’s in her happy place.

Anzu expanded her world by transitioning from theft to a modest but honest living, while Hitomi expanded hers by adding paid labor to a repertoire that had once been unpaid study, though that will pay off when she needs to get in a good high school and college. And because she’s making so much bank, she needn’t worry about burdening her folks with tuition.

That brings us to the young woman at the top of the social ladder, simply by having her egg land in a rich yakuza’s apartment and that yakuza having a heart of gold…in other words, privilege and luck. Though she may have helped Nitta out off-camera, since the first episode she hasn’t really worked. Having seen Anzu surviving on the streets, Nitta wonders out loud why Hina couldn’t try to do the same thing (is he half-joking? quarter-joking?)

Hina gets the message, and after a frightening dream in which she’s filthy and destitute on the street while Nitta walks past with a glamorous Anzu on his arm, Hina adopts a more genial and eager-to-please attitude that understandably throws him off. When he goes off to work late, she attempts to work hard so he won’t throw her out.

But unlike Anzu and Hitomi, Hina’s hard work ends up working against her goals, not towards them, while her attempt to expand her skills through various household chores ends in one huge mess after another. Her comedy of errors, while predictable, is nonetheless cleverly depicted. I especially liked her attempt to air out a blanket, only for it to fly away into the Tokyo cityscape like a  magic carpet.

Worse, when things get messy, Hina simply gives up and moves on to the next chore, and when she finds a bowl of ikura in the fridge marked “rewards for Hina” she unilaterally decides she’s worked hard enough to give herself the reward.

Fittingly, as Nitta tells his associates, it’s been so long since Hina has done anything to earn a reward, the ikura in the fridge has gone bad, something Hina’s stomach suddenly realizes while she has every dish in the house levitating and dripping soapy water all over the hardwood floors. The dishes shatter, she goes down, and Nitta, who was impressed by how nice she was being before he left, is poised for a rude surprise.

Basically, Hina could learn a lot from Anzu and Hitomi about the importance of being competent at the hard work you are attempting. She did it before with the forestry (and the raid of Nitta’s rivals); she can do it again. She just needs more practice! Ultimately, everyone, even Hina, wants to feel needed, and to strike a proper balance between taking and giving.

Hinamatsuri – 02 – Savin’ the Nation, then Hittin’ the Clubs

When another telekinetic middle school-aged girl suddenly appears naked in the street at night, then promptly dispatches the entire bike gang whose path she barred, it occurred to me we could get a new super-powered egg brat every week. It also occurred to me that might be too many brats, but this episode would come to allay my fears.

This latest one, Anzu, is not only a problem because she didn’t materialize in the apartment of one a mild-mannered and reasonable yakuza, but because she is on a specific mission to find and eliminate Hina.

All Anzu says its that it’s “orders from the brass”, but the less we know about where Hina and Anzu come from, the better, I say. The whys and wherefores aren’t necessary; just the fact that they’re here, and Nitta has to deal with it in a responsible way.

Nitta first hears about a little girl taking out the bike gang from his subordinate Sabu, but it isn’t long before she’s at the same ramen shop trying to dine and dash. Nitta pays for her, again placing the responsibility for an extremely powerful and dangerous being on his admittedly broad shoulders.

Nitta realizes that by treating the arrival of Hina the way he has, he may well have saved the nation, a fact he casually remarks to Sabu (who can’t possibly know what he’s talking about). He doesn’t shrink from his duty to save it again, this time from a potentially cataclysmic battle between two unchecked adolescent espers.

Once he gets a tip about Anzu’s position from Sabu via the network of homeless they pay to keep their eyes and ears open, he brings Anzu and Hina together, but gets Anzu to agree to a game of “look-that-way” rock-paper-scissors, with the two using their powers to try to make the other look in a certain direction.

Not only does the execution of this plan eliminate the threat of cataclysm, it also results in some seriously hilarious faces from Hina and Anzu as they try to force-pull each others faces up, down, and to the side.

Ultimately, Hina defeats a frustrated Anzu with ease, but when Anzu realizes how much Hina has changed since they last met (she talks and everything!), she decides it’s enough to take a lock of her hair and tell the bosses that the deed is done.

Hina, in turn, invites Anzu to hang out a bit before she returns home (wherever that is; I don’t want to know). After some video games, dinner, and a load of laundry, Hina and Nitta send Anzu on her way…only for her red ball teleporter thingy to not function because it was in the wash, leaving Anzu stranded and homeless (again). Maybe this time gangs will keep a wider berth.

While this leaves open the possibility Hina and Anzu will cross paths again, and I wouldn’t mind such crossings, she doesn’t wear out her welcome here, and isn’t present in the episode’s second half, in which Nitta realizes that ever since he took in Hina, he’s been off his Game.

His bartender/occasional date Utako thinks he’s joking when he asks her out with Hina sitting nearby; his usual girls at the girly club have heard rumors he’s put his Don Juaning on hold in order to lavish time, love, attention and money on his “daughter.” Nitta is appalled. He’s got to get his game back.

He does so in a less-than-subtle way, essentially ripping the time-consuming Hina off like a band-aid, leaving her alone in the apartment with a cold can of mackerel while he hits the bar or club or goes out on dates. Hina finds the mackerel novel and tasty at first, but soon it gets old and tedious, and she doesn’t like the loneliness.

Hina decides to take matters into her own hands, first by insisting she get to go out with him (resulting in a hilarious chase in which she’s waiting for him on the subway at the end, and he lets the doors close without getting in) to enlisting the aid of her too-nice-for-her-own-good classmate Hitomi. Hina learned from TV it’s better to use more than one person to follow someone, but she promptly ditches Hitomi at Utako’s bar, which is closed.

There’s a distinct feeling of not belonging in such an adult place, yet when one of the regular lushes lumbers in to tie one on, he’s no so much confused as delighted that the new barkeep is so young. He doesn’t even mind she doesn’t know how to make a highball; he’ll teach her.

And thus Hitomi, who as I said is way too nice to turn down an old drunk man’s offer to teach her how to make cocktails for him, ends up tending bar all night. When Nitta finally shows up, she’s relieved, but when she calls him Hina’s “dad” he gets upset and becomes another customer (rather than rescuing her).

Meanwhile, Utako ends up crossing paths with Hina, and tells her Nitta won’t understand what she wants unless she tells him straight up. It’s a great little playground scene that’s made more “Hinamatsuri-ish” by the fact Hina levitates off the swing and does a few lazy flips in the air while Utako is dispensing advice.

By the time Utako and Hina get to the bar, Hitomi has, just, like, become a bartender. I didn’t think I’d ever come across an anime not only in which a middle schooler is ditched in a closed bar, but accidentally becomes a thoroughly competent bartender over the course of an evening, without even particularly wanting to! It is ludicrous and amazing.

And there, to a somewhat sloshed Nitta, Hina tells him straight-up what she wants: to go to a girly club with him. In’s an odd request, but Nitta gives in to the booze-lubricated mood of the room and agrees.

But rather than just Nitta and Hina, everyone comes along: Utako closes the bar and comes, the regular drunk comes, a comple random salarymen come…and Hitomi comes too. The increasingly drunk Nitta even lets Hina levitate a bottle of champagne over a tower of glasses (even though such a service has to be specially ordered).

Finally, Hitomi gets a call from her worried-sick mother, who doesn’t believe her for a second when she tells the truth about where she is so late at night. The question Hitomi wants answered is why is she there. I can think of two main reasons: Hina, and passivity.

In the morning Nitta wakes up on the couch, in his boxers, with a hangover, an invoice for 2.5 million yen ($23,000) and a Hina eager to go out that night and do it all over again. Nitta pumps the brakes; from that day until further notice it will be a frugal household. Break out the mackerel!

Barakamon – 08

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This week offers two slice-of-life stories that reinforce how nicely Seishuu has fit into the village, and how close his bond with Naru has gotten without him knowing it. In the first story, it’s Naru’s seventh birthday. After Miwa and Tama get ¥1000 out of Seishuu for a cake, he realizes he must also get her a suitable gift for Naru.

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Unsurprisingly, most gifts deemed “suitable” for a seven-year-old girl aren’t going to cut it for the precocious tomboy. His first thought is bugs, sending him on a bug-hunting adventure with the three village boys her age. This exercise backfires, since in addition to the fact the boys have already chosen to give her bugs, Seishuu is completely inept at catching them, and even when he manages to do so, falls off a ladder and kills it.

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The evening of the party arrives, and Seishuu’s last-minute half-assed gift—a hand-written, one-time “do whatever you say” ticket—ends up thrilling her immensely, to everyone else’s surprise. It just goes to show that Seishuu cares enough for Naru to want to give her a good gift, and knows her a lot better than he gives himself credit for.

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In the second story, it’s Obon, and Naru’s grandpa asks Seishuu to keep Naru company as she holds vigil over her grandma. It’s another new world for Seishuu, as he’s not used to a graveyard in the evening, lighting lanterns and setting off fireworks. He’s also mesmerized by the Onde dance performed for the recently deceased.

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Hanging out in the graveyard, and more to the point, being totally welcome there despite being an outsider, again drives home the fact that this village is becoming a home to Seishuu. Being there also makes him wonder where Naru’s parents are, and realizes that despite almost constantly being surrounded by people, Naru gets lonely too.

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In the beginning of the episode, he waters sunflowers despite not knowing who grew them and the fact they could well grow just fine without his care. Later they become a metaphor for Naru. She too could grow up just fine without him, but he wants to be there for her anyway. In an omake dream, the shopkeep’s dog joins him forfishing and asks him why he doesn’t simply settle down here. It’s a good question.

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Barakamon – 07

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On Kawafuji and Kousuke’s last day on the island, everyone Goes Fishin’ (well, almost everybody; Tama isn’t around…perhaps she’s still recovering from seeing all those men together?). Miwa teaches the city boys how to catch horse mackerel. Kousuke turns it into another competition in which he’s the best, but he only catches the shoal.

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When Kawafuji hears that Kousuke bashed Seishuu’s new work, that’s when the truth comes out: Kousuke is the one in a slump. Having virtually copied Seishuu’s old, “fundamentals-first” style, when Seishuu changed style, it was as if his fish had dropped the hook and sploshed back into the sea, leaving him with an empty line.

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Kawafuji brought Kousuke to the island not to light a fire under Seishuu’s ass, but to try to get him to look at things from a perspective other than his own. Like the Seishuu of old, he think’s he’s the best and if anyone disagrees, they’re wrong. That attitude stifles artistic growth, and Kousuke is too young to be settling into anything.

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The message coming out of this episode is that it’s up to youth not just to carry on their elders’ traditions, but to come up with some of their own, sometimes out of the most unlikely places. But one can only come up with stuff if you’re out there living and experiencing new things, meeting new people.

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Naru gets things started by creating an avant-garde line made up of dozens of hooks, which looks comical but does end up snagging a rock snapper, which is what Hiro was after all along. It breaks up in mid-air and the big catch escapes, but that’s just another symbol of how innovation doesn’t always net concrete results, but the attempt, and the momentary flash of success, still has value. “Lose the battle, win the war,” and all that.

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After five days of clashing with Kousuke, now that he knows what’s really up with him, Seishuu is no longer threatened or annoyed. When the day of fishing is over, he reports to Kousuke the periodic flashes of inspiration he’s gotten ever since coming to the island. This culminates in writing calligraphy using a mackerel as a brush, his most “unconventional” piece yet.

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Not surprisingly, Miwa and Naru think its also his best. It’s probably not exhibition-worthy, but for someone once so firmly stuck in convention, it’s another huge leap forward in his artistic growth. When Kawafuji and Kousuke leave, merely being on that plane gets Hiro and Miwa thinking about how one day that could be them; the older inspiring the younger to go forth and find their own way in the world.

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