Engage Kiss – 05 – Not Done Being Down Bad

An unarmed and out-of-sorts Ayano is a sitting duck against Maria Swordhands, but thankfully Kisara is able to catch up and save her life. They end up losing the Demon in a convace mirror in front of a konbini, and when Kisara tries to follow she gets most inelegantly stuck halfway. That said, the gun she tossed Ayano was delivered C.O.D.

The police and AAA get Ayano to a secure location where she can dress down and snack to her hearts content. Detective Mikami buys Shuu a katsu bowl and fills him in on at least part of the true story behind the accident that led to his parents dying and being vilifed as traitors. Ayano’s mom tells her the same story, making sure not to make eye contact since Maria can travel through reflections.

In reality, Ogata Isamu was actually trying to get word out that mining the Orgonium that would eventually give Bayron City its wealth would eventually turn it into a haven for demons and the demonically possessed. The actual cause of the accident remains unknown even to the sole survivor (Shuu) but it sure seems like his dad was silenced.

Hearing about this injustice, and how Shuu resorted to consorting with a demon and shaving his memories and life away for answers, eats Ayano up to no end. She’s in a sympathetic mood when Shuu surprises her with a visit to her little quarantine warehouse (which inexplicably has lots of glass windows and puddles of water from which Maria could emerge any moment).

While she can’t abide him seeing her in her leisurewear, he stays with her through the night and the two get cozy. When she brings up the possibility he only dated her so he could get what he wanted with AAA—then dumped them both when he did—he retorts that dating her almost got him fired by her mom. There was no ulterior motive to being with her…just love.

Ayano is understandably happy to hear this, and laments that the two of them could have started a company together if he had been fired. Later that night, Shuu reveals the true reason he’s going so far to discover the truth of that day: his dreams are telling him his sister Kanna is still alive.

Ayano relents, telling him that she won’t try to interfere or stop him from his work anymore, then leans in for “one last kiss” before leaving him alone forever. She covers his eyes so their eyes meeting won’t create a conduit for Maria, and then things start getting more hot and heavy.

It’s only a bit after their liaison that Maria finally makes her appearance, emerging from Chekhov’s Warehouse Puddle (seriously, there could have been a place to stow Ayano with no reflections at all).

Kisara has once again arrived to take care of the Demon, but you can tell from the tears in her eyes she’s not happy about what Shuu and Ayano were up to. She, in turn, tells Shuu she’s going to go full strength to defeat Maria, and then makes out with him, and transforms into Hot Topic Girl.

A dazzling fight in the dark ensues, with Maria more than holding her own. When Ayano brings up what just happened between her and Shuu, Shuu doesn’t know what she’s talking about, indicating Kisara took his most recent memories of what they did on the couch.

Whether Kisara is flailing due to being upset about those memories, or simply because she needs her usual backup from Shuu, he rolls in all shirtless and elbows Maria in the side just as she’s about to deliver a critical blow. He then disrupts her travel by splashing a puddle and tosses the fang into her heart, which Kisara then uses to pierce her through and destory her.

In the aftermath, Detective Mikami, our infodump cop, tells Shuu that the murder of Hanamura Junya wasn’t by the possessed Maria; he was killed, silenced by humans. He also believes that whoever’s been informing Shuu is working based on a demon’s will. From now on Mikami hopes Shuu will trust him going forward, as they want the same thing: to clear his family name by finding out the truth.

As for Ayano, it’s her win this week, as Kisara took the very memory she intended her to take. Since Ayano told Shuu she was done with him permanently in the same memory where they fooled around, Ayano is now free to go back on that since Shuu doesn’t remember. She’s going to keep “interfering” i.e. supporting Shuu whenever she can—whether Kisara likes it or not.

This has me feeling slightly better about the situation than last week’s gloomfest, as Ayano has resolved not to wallow in despair over losing Shuu, but is focused on doing what she can. After all, if he loses his memories of her from the past, they can just make new ones, and maybe there’s a way he can find Kanna and stay himself.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Engage Kiss – 04 – The Last Girl

Ayano and her AAA strike force go in guns blazing to deal with a D-level Demon Hazard, but she recognizes one of the men tangled up in the incident, who is then carted off to the hospital as his lover cries out in the crowd. Ayano then meets with Linfa to again ask for her help out with the police, and we learn that they’re old friends to the extent Linfa can tease her about dating the “younger” Shuu, literally tripping Ayano up.

The next day, Kisara snaps a picture of what looks like Ayano meeting some dude at a love hotel, but she and Shuu learn that Ayano is working with an Anti-Demon Bureau detective to learn more about the whereabouts of the mafia member Tony Rossi, who then ended up murdered in his bed in an apparent gang war retribution.

That night, Shuu tracks down Ayano and suggests they pool resources and work together, apologizing when it seems she’s pissed about something, but that’s the straw that breaks the camels back. Ayano unloads about how Shuu is always apologizing without compromising or listening to her opinions or feelings, and only seems to trust the demon girl.

Ayano also brings up the night of his birthday when she was preparing a party but waited all night and he never showed, eventually doing his apology schtick when he finally did. When Shuu apparently can’t recall this clearly important memory, an exasperated Ayano runs off in tears.

It isn’t Shuu who tracks her down, but Kisara, who has decided it’s time to tell Ayano that Shuu is the way he is now because those precious memories only exist in her head due to his contract with her. During a sober but cordial meal, Ayano laments how Shuu is now someone without a past or a future, and if he keeps this up, he won’t be Shuu anymore.

Indeed, that’s already happening, as he has lost the memories that tied him more closely to Ayano, and is stuck having to apologize for things he can’t remember, all due to the supernatural factor of his new “relationship.” Ayano is committed to not letting Shuu die (either in body or soul) while Kisara is not only fine having a partner who will never love her like he loved Ayano, but fine being his “last girl” at the end, when Shuu can no longer even be called Shuu.

The main draw this week isn’t the gang war between the Italian and Hispanic mafia, both of whom seem to be using demons in their scuffles and causing even more chaos than they normally would…although it’s a good story with lots of clues and twists, especially when it turns into something totally different, stemming back to that woman crying out for Tony in the cold open.

Instead, it’s the dynamic between Shuu and his “first” and “last” women in his life, the impossible choices he made to fulfill his dream of avenging his parents, and the present and future fallout of those choices. He, Ayano, and Kisara form a truly tragic trio where no one will really come out 100% happy.

To add insult to injury, the fact that Tony’s lover Maria has become a demon with blades for arms and is looking to murder everyone involved in Tony’s death creates a parallel tragic romantic route between our protagonists and the ostensible antagonist. The show also makes excellent use of mirrors and reflections to highlight how there are multiple perspectives in play and no one is 100% right or wrong (it also looks cool, especially in the mirror-filled bathroom).

Ayano and Shuu’s work and life are now colliding rapidly, as Ayano is Maria’s next target for elimination. In a testament to the complex yet tight writing, it makes thematic sense that an Ayano distraught over hearing the horrible truth about a man for whom she still cares a great deal, has isolated herself and is thus more vulnerable to attack than she otherwise would be.

While Ayano is clearly in a pickle here, I don’t expect the show to take her off the board just five episodes in. That said, Shuu may well have to give up even more of himself (and memories of her) to save her next week. It continues to be a shitty deal for all involved. This is a much darker and more brooding series than I thought it would be (especially with the upbeat OP and ED) but I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fabiniku – 10 – It’s Only Natural to Help

Without having really thought through a promise like “I’ll do anything for you!”, Tachibana proceeds to serve as Yugrain’s sister-in-arms in the burgeoning rebellion against her father. Men loyal to the king proceed to list the particular type of woman who would sway him to their side, and when Yugrain can’t be that girl, Tachibana picks up the slack. Before you know it, they have a huge army!

Just as Tachibana and Jinguuji stumbled upon a captive Premier a couple episodes back, Tachibana just happens to encounter Maria, whom we know failed her intelligence mission, tied up knots that are almost too specific, like someone well-versed in rope play was simply showing off. Tachibana is distracted and only makes the knots worse rather than loosen them…which kind of describes her and Jinguuji’s fight this week!

Yugrain’s Head Maid, who on the one hand crafted both the cute idol costumes and strategy for the princess’ rebellion, seems to be hiding contempt for Yugrain, and is revealed to be an agent (if not general) of the Demon Lord when she gives Tachibana an otherworldly massage after a tough day of rabblerousing and worried about people seeing up her way-too-short skirt.

Clearly the Head Maid intends to turn the power of Tachibana, the hero of the Goddess of Love and Beauty, to the Demon Lord’s advantage. While working on Tachibana, she falls asleep and dreams of the day she first met Jinguuji. Tachibana was the victim of bullying, but Jinguuji put a stop to it with his overwhelming strength and sense of honor. Tachibana wonders if all along she was simply causing more trouble for him.

Back at the palace, Jinguuji is distracted from being worried about Tachibana for at least a little while by the arrival of Schwartz, who Lucius has taken under her wing. Schwartz may not know much about court etiquette, but he and Lucius are there to help the king put down his daughter’s rebellion, preferably without bloodshed.

Schwartz ends up harnessing the newly-recovered holy sword Gram by slicing through not only the rebels’ weapons and memories, but their clothes as well, sending them into confused retreat. Lucius only lets him bask in the light of his own magnificence for so long before giving him a punch back down to earth.

Schwartz may also still be a bit high on his victory when he teases Jinguuji, saying he’s this out of sorts after Tachibana “cheated on him” just a little. Even a joking implication sends Jinguuji into a heretofore unseen bloodlust as he tries to extract further intent from a terrified Schwartz’s jibes. However, this interaction is interrupted by an earthquake felt by all…are the demon lord’s minions making their move?

Fabiniku – 09 – Royal Rebel

After saving Tachibana and Jinguuji from the pool party, royal intelligence officer Maria gives them a tour of the palace before an audience with the king. When Jinguuji is rightly suspicious about how well-timed Maria’s arrival was and how quickly an audience was arranged, Shen emerges from beneath the floor, having alerted Maria to the presence of the Hero.

The king and his advisors, while dressed only in loincloths, give Tachibana a warm greeting befitting a hero. The king himself belts out the prophecy they’ve been after since arriving in the capital, and it turns out to sound a lot like a gyaru wrote it in the age of TikTok. However, they translated it to mean someone like Tachibana would one day arrive to defeat the Demon Lord.

Our pair are given all the resources at the kingdom’s disposal, which Tachibana chalks up to her Charm effect working on the king and his advisors in a subtle but powerful way. At a formal ball to celebrate her arrival, Tachibana’s dress causes Jinguuji to imagine them marrying and growing old together.

Tachibana is then banished from the ballroom. She wants to drink and be merry, but when she insists, Jinguuji goes so far as to grab her by the arm and give her a serious scolding for acting so recklessly. While Tachibana does have a penchant for getting into trouble, I do think he’s being too harsh on her here.

She runs off, and encounters a beautiful young woman sitting at a window. When this woman prepares to jump outsaid window, Tachibana has to stop her, and does so by asking for advice. While Tachibana tries to put things as unromantically as she can, the woman sees right through the word-mincing.

She can tell Tachibana is depressed that “the gentleman” she’s thinking of won’t look her way or praise her. As Tachibana goes on both inside and outside her head, the woman concludes that Tachibana must love him very much. This is spot-on, though that love isn’t as necessarily romantic in nature as the woman must suspect.

In any case, Tachibana’s talk with her leads her to cancelling her suicide for the time being. She introduces herself as Yugrain, the first princess of the kingdom. She then stops by as Tachibana and Jinguuji are having a meal to anounce her intention to accompany them on their quest.

Yugrain and Jinguuji develop as instant a disdain for each other as she and Tachibana developed a rapport. The two verbally spar, but Jinguuji doesn’t want another hanger-on, and is willing to leave it to her father the king to “smoothly, efficiently crush” her heart.

Sure enough, Yugrain storms off in an adolescent rage in response to her father forbidding her from going. Tachibana follows her, and pointedly tells Jinguuji not to follow her. She gets Yugrain to cheer up by saying that she’ll do anything she can to turn that frown upside down. In Yugrain’s case, that’s starting a rebellion in her own kingdom to spite her baka dad.

The king’s council debates how to handle this rebellion, and when the king rules out any military action, everyone turns to Maria to handle the princess carefully and quietly. Alas, she fails and is captured by the rebels off-camera.

All the while Jinguuji goes over Tachibana’s words to him—don’t follow me—as he sits stoically on a balcony, wondering what she wants him to do. Maybe don’t be so dang cold to her all the time and not shit all over her new friend!

Hamefura – 05 – A Town Where She Lives

Catarina is on great terms with Maria—better even than any of the conquerable guys—and yet the heroine still feels…distant. Cat’s inner council determines the best way to keep the doom flags at bay is to spend even more time with Maria outside of the StuCo offices.

This leads to Cat encountering Maria once again being bullied, by characters who in the game are working under Catarina herself! Cat shifting from chief tormentor to chief defender of Maria has left these bullies leaderless, and they’re easily dealt with.

Little does Catarina know that she just stole another event from a conquerable guy; in this case her own brother Keith, who in the game was the one who saved Maria from Cat and the bullies. The council determines this is no big deal, since only bad things can happen to her if Maria falls for any of the guys.

As things stand, it’s not only Maria who likes Catarina best, but Mary and Sophia feel the same way. In her relentless quest to eliminate any and all death flags, Cat still seems reluctant to rest on her laurels, despite how safe and favorable a situation she’s created for herself.

Cat’s relationship with Maria shifts into overdrive when, after spending the day in the fields learning more about farming (something else Game Cat would never ever do) she pays an impromptu visit to Maria’s hometown and house with Keith in tow. It should be an encouraging sign to her that she can bring one of the main love interests along without worrying about him and Maria falling for each other.

While Catarina makes use of her farming skills to shape up Maria’s family’s little field, Maria starts to bake more sweets to fill her stomach. All the while, Maria’s mother is dumbfounded by the sudden and dramatic positive change in her daughter’s demeanor.

You see, when Maria’s light power awakened (she used it to heal a friend’s leg injury), her fellow commoners in her hometown started to spread rumors that she was the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman. Even if it wasn’t true, it tore through her family until her father left and she became a pariah at school.

Remembering how happy she and her mom and dad were when making sweets, she decides to learn how to bake for herself. But when she presents the product of her hard work, her classmates turn their backs in unison and leave her alone, refusing to even look at her.

With Catarina in her life, Maria seems to have left that pain in the past. Her mother is so surprised because Maria stopped baking after being rejected at school. Cat may have done a lot for Maria to get her to like her, but it was enough for Maria just to be seen, not as a bastard daughter or bad news, but as a normal, kind, and generous girl who deserves all the friends in the world.

Her mother realizes how cruel she was to get lost in her own troubles and stop looking at Maria. So she dusts off the old cookie cutters and bakes with her daughter, and starts to feel better herself. It’s a beautiful moment of catharsis when Cat and Keith depart and Maria and her mom exchange gazes. It’s like they’re looking at one another for the first time, recalling the warmth of better times, and realizing they can get that warmth back.

All thanks to Catarina, who has now gone way past preserving her own life and staving off potential exile. She’s making the lives of everyone around her better day by day. Now all she has to worry about is her sinister dirt-hating mother!

Hamefura – 04 – Breaking Flags and Taking Names

Now that Catarina is a teen attending magic academy, the game as it unfolded in Fortune Lover truly begins. Yet as the Inner Claes Council reports, she’s made progress changing some of the characters. Nevertheless, Gerald still meets the heroine Maria Campbell by chance, making Catarina nervous about the doom flags that will sprout should the wrong love triangle form.

Keith is no longer a affection-starved playboy, which means he’s turned into a “nice young man” (AKA goody-goody), so when he tells Catarina he picked up Maria’s handkerchief, he doesn’t use it to hit on the heroine. Still, Catarina is worried about inadvertently coming between Keith and Maria should he fall for her, and assures a very confused Keith that such a thing won’t occur.

With both Gerald and Keith encounter Maria before Catarina, and first steps on conquest routes may have been officially started, her inner council decides that she should continue developing her farming skills so in any scenario in which she’s exiled she’ll have a marketable skill (and won’t go hungry). But when she finally does meet Maria at the Student Council office, she proceeds to have a far more consequential first encounter than either of the boys.

It all comes down to Catarina’s sweet tooth, and the fact the otaku within makes no distinction between commoner or noble when it comes to tasty treats. She kindly asks Maria if she’ll bake something for her, but while Maria is on her way with said treats, she’s intercepted by three bullies. Catarina leaps out of the bushes to rescue Maria, then eats her delicious sweets even though they’d fallen on the ground.

While Catarina was just trying to be nice, her actions resulted in her stealing an event from Gerald. In the game, Catarina was one of the bullies, and she was run off by Gerald. Without that opportunity for Gerald and Maria to get closer, Catarina successfully broke a doom flag. Nice!

Also, most importantly, while there was no possible Catarina X Maria route, that looks to have already gotten started. Gerald catches a glimpse of that route when he sees the two hand-in-hand. It’s definitely a route I’d like to see explored, even if it ends up creating new doom flags!

Hamefura – 03 – Catarina Claes and the Cursed Child

Lil’ Catarina has just discovered the romance novels of her world and has become hooked, just as she was hooked on manga and otome in her world. All she hopes for is someone she can converse with on these books, and she finds that someone quite by chance at the Stuarts’ tea party. Her name is Sophia Ascart, and due to her white hair and red eyes she’s a pariah among most of their peers. Obviously, Catarina sees things differently.

After rescuing her from verbal barbs of other nobles, Catarina becomes fast friends with Sophia, and they geek out on romance novels. Catarina could see her and Sophia being friends in the other world too. She also learns that befriending Sophia won’t throw up any additional doom flags, though Sophia’s taciturn older brother Nicol is quite the looker, attracting women and men alike.

I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop with her friendship to Sophia, but…it never happens. In this manner, Hamefura subverts expectations by playing things straight. They become good friends without any problems, and all of a sudden seven years have passed and Catarina is now fifteen years old. Now all the characters look like they do in the otome.

That means the prologue is officially over. The time jump was abrupt but well-timed: watching lil’ Catarina dart from party to party was growing stale. She’s done her best to avoid the things that kill or exile her in the game, from remaining close and kind to Keith to honing her combat skills.

She also remains good friends with Sophia and Mary, with no messy love triangles with the guys (so far). Gerald is still committed to marrying her (and plants a hickey on her neck, demonstrating his covert sadism). We’ll see how things unfold as she pursues the route of survival in earnest!

Tower of God – 03 – Any Door Will Do

As his party waits for the latest test, Aguero (who I’ll call Khun going forward since that’s what Bam calls him) recalls some sore memories about his sister Maria, who was basically his version of Bam’s Rachel. Maria betrayed Khun once she became a Princess of Jahad, and he was exiled. Rachel’s sudden abandonment of Bam could also be called a betrayal, but for the fact Bam doesn’t consider it that.

Instead, he saw it as the ultimate motivator: If you want to follow me, there’s some shit you gotta do without me. As for Khun, his mind sometimes fills with the murmurs of those who mock his failure and foolishness, and a “Plastic Bag person” is able to provoke him with that same kind of talk. However, the Bag person isn’t trying to start a fight, but deliver a hint for the next test.

That test involves ten doors, one of which must be opened within ten minutes to avoid elimination. The Bag guy tells them that no one who has opened the door within five minutes has lost. Once the clock has started, the lack of further hints by the administrator Hansung Yu serves as a hint in and of itself.

Sure enough, as Khun’s head fills with doubt and more mocking murmurs, it’s Rak who takes decisive action, opening a door just before the five-minute mark. The test isn’t a matter of choosing the right door—any door will do—but trusting in one’s instincts enough to open any door fast enough. If Khun can’t be certain about his actions, it’s good that he has Rak on his team.

This otherwise clever, elegant test is somewhat undermined by the sheer amount of explanation that takes place before, during, and after the test—a full ten minutes of this episode. I realize there’s a lot of source material to work with but this test still felt padded.

The next yest is described as a voluntary “bonus” test, but the team who wins it won’t have to take any more tests and be granted permission to climb the Tower. It’s a five-round “crown game” in which one member of a team must wear a crown and sit in a throne while the other two fight off challengers.

Again, there’s a lot of explanation of this test, which is necessary to know what’s going on, but that means there’s only time for the first round of that test, which is undertaken by Anaak, Hatz and Shibisu (who earlier befriends Bam). The ridiculously competent Anaak absolutely ruins the first team of competitors and claims the crown herself, promising her teammates she won’t let anyone have it.

Had the relatively simple door test been pared down to a more economic length, we could have gotten more of this more complicated test. While I enjoyed some of the moments of Bam’s team just chillaxing between tests, during which it’s revealed the sky above them is fake and the real one might not exist, the pacing of the episode as a whole still felt sub-optimal.

And is that a cloaked Rachel, descended from the top of the Tower to check on Bam’s progress? Will he be able to flag down and talk to his idol, or will she vanish in the shadows? We’ll have to find out next week.

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.

Violet Evergarden – 11

As a civil war rages in the frigid north, Claudia decides to decline a doll request from a soldier in the war zone; it’s just too dangerous. However, Violet overhears him, snatches up the request when no one’s looking, and takes a ship to the war-torn country. After all, there’s no place too dangerous for Violet.

When no ground route can be taken, Violet suggests they drop her into the camp via airplane; the pilot likes her moxie and goes along with it, possibly seeing the iron resolve in her eyes. When she says there’s nowhere she won’t go for her clients, she means it, damnit.

Looking outside my window, I don’t see a scene all that different from the snow-covered woods of the camp outskirts…at least in terms of looks. Thankfully, I don’t have snipers lurking in the distance trying to pick me off, which is the case with the unit Aiden is in. Everyone is killed but him and a younger colleague. Aiden tries to carry him with him, but it slows him down, and he’s shot too.

Not long after the enemy arrives to finish the job, Violet’s plane appears in the air and she leaps out and soars through the sky like a missle before pulling her chute and landing. She takes out a number of the enemy troops with ease until their leader trains his gun on her.

This leader knows who she is (and what she was), and so orders his men to retreat, leaving Violet with Aiden, who is most likely a goner. After so many jobs in the lands where there is peace, this is the first time she merges her past and present worlds.

When he wakes up in a cabin, Aiden tells Violet he can’t hold out long, and would like her to write his letters immediately. With neither a typewriter nor writing pad on hand, Violet simply uses her hands to air-type the worlds Aiden is saying, which she says she’ll memorize; another heretofore unknown talent.

At first Aiden only asks her to write a letter thanking his parents and hoping that if they ever reincarnate and marry again, he would love to be their son again. Then he drops a photo of his sweetheart Maria, and Violet asks if he wants her to write her a letter as well.

When Aiden went off to war, it was before he and Maria—childhood friends—had truly started acting like a couple. He never even got to kiss her, and when he closes his eyes in these, his final hours, Maria is foremost in the imagery, smiling in the fields of their home. He tells her how happy he was she confessed, and his desire to be by her side.

Then, as Aiden starts to fade, he asks Violet to her to put her hands on his, he tells Maria he loves her, and as he kisses Maria in his mind, for the first and last time, Violet kisses him on the forehead before promising the letters will be delivered.

There are no more dealings with the war-mongering extremists, and Violet is safely taken out of the zone, but before returning home, she visits Aiden’s family to deliver the letters and his bloody kerchief in person. When she sees the anguish and grief well up in Aiden’s parents and Maria, Violet cannot hold back her own anguish, and turns to leave before she makes an undue scene. But Aiden’s mother stops her and gives her a hug.

Thinking she caused so much pain by delivering the news of Aiden’s death, Violet is taken aback when they thank her for bringing him back to them. So many other families will never know what happened to their sons, brothers, fathers who went off and never returned.

But Aiden’s family not only knows, and have closure, but they were able to read the feelings in his heart in his last moments, and know he wasn’t alone…all thanks to Violet.

No other Auto Memoir Doll could have done what she did to fulfill Aiden’s request. She suffered a horrible past as a fearless weapon, but at least in this mission, those skills served a good cause. She should take solace in that.

Pupa – 07

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While the last episode was a terrifyingly mundane study in flesh-eating, there’s more plot and exposition to this one. After some narration by Utsutsu about how he knows his sister takes no joy in eating him, we switch to Maria and her pal Hotoki. Maria takes the sperm of the brother and the eggs of the sister and impregnates herself with the resulting devilspawn, which…yikes. Just yikes. Talk about scientific curiosity!


Rating: 5 (Average)

Pupa – 04

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Introducing Maria: the viral researcher who dresses like a witch and has no qualms about her entire staff being killed when Utsutsu, who had been eaten by Yume, wakes up in one piece, alive and not well. Maria confirms that the siblings’ affliction is a virus called Pupa, and she’s eager to continue “researching” them. With this tidbit-episode, the world of Pupa expands to include science, conspiracy, and potential persecution from the likes of Maria.

Utsutsu has vowed not to repeat his father’s sins and protect Yume, but preserving their “normal life” will require him to resort to abnormal measures, namely let Yume feed off him and only him. But even if they manage to make it work, they’re only upholding the illusion of normalcy. In reality, there’s absolutely nothing normal about them, nor will there be unless they can find the cure. Something tells us Maria isn’t in a hurry to find one.


Rating: 6 (Good)

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