Classroom of the Elite – S2 12 – Introduction to Fear

I didn’t give Karuizawa Kei enough credit last week. Yes, she does come ever so close to giving up and descending into an abyss of despair. But at a certain point, she decides that no matter how much torture Ryuuen doles out, she’s not going to tell him the name of the mastermind. Period. Even soaked and freezing, the fire in her eyes mocks Ryuuen’s efforts. Fine, he says; he’ll just keep going.

Kiyotaka and his friends are about to go into the karaoke parlor, but he craps out at the last second, citing fatigue from an all-nighter. Like the ANN reviewer of this show, I was not particularly looking forward to an entire episode of Kei getting tortured (even if it wouldn’t get Ryuuen what he wanted), so I was relieved that after informing both Chabashira Sae and former StuCo President Horikita Manabe of the situation, Kiyotaka arrives in the lion’s den.

At first Ryuuen, Mio, Ishizaki and Albert are amused by the notion this guy is a.) the Class D mastermind and b.) dumb enough to come there alone. However, they are the ones who should be scared. They may think they’re lions, but Kiyotaka is a dragon, and a particularly unemotional one. Ryuuen sends Ishizaki and Albert at him to test him, and both underlings go down in seconds.

At no point does Kiyotaka raise his voice or break a sweat taking down two of the toughest motherfuckers in the school. But they’re only tough compared to everyone else. There’s no comparing anyone at the school to Kiyotaka. Kei can only sit in the corner, shiver, and enjoy the show, just as gobsmacked as her torturers by Kiyotaka’s skill.

Mio, more pissed off at the situation and by how fucked up both Ryuuen and Kiyotaka  are, does her duty as the next opponent, and while her kicks are impressive, she is absolutely no match for Kiyotaka, who knocks her out with a well placed hand to her neck.

Yet Ryuuen still doesn’t panic. Why would he? he believes himself to be the school’s foremost expert and wielder of violence. It’s likely none of his underlings would last five seconds in a fight with him, but the gap between him and them might as well be the length of a car, compared to the gap between his strength and Kiyotaka’s.

Ryuuen hangs in there only because his fighting style is unique to him, developed from a life of fighting. Unpredictability and raw talent in the place of formal training and discipline will serve you well…right up until it doesn’t. Ryuuen’s fatal flaw isn’t that he thought he could win in a fight against Kiyotaka…it’s that he could evoke any emotion at all in their fight.

Even as Kiyotaka is fighting back yawns while he meticulously bashes Ryuuen’s face into paste with his deadly fists, Ryuuen talks about how he’s never felt fear, and how even if he loses this fight, he’ll be around every corner, 24/7, waiting to spring on Kiyotaka. Instead, Kiyotaka not only gives him a much-belated introduction to fear, but shrugs off his “victory” as a “mundane task” that would never inspire the slightest bit of emotion from him.

Once Ryuuen has stopped moving, Kiyotaka covers Kei up and holds her as she shivers and weeps. When asked why she didn’t give him up, she says, simply, “for myself.” It was loyalty to Karuizawa Kei, not Ayanokouji Kiyotaka, that fueled her resolve until he arrive. That’s not to say she’s not happy he came, and that she wasn’t wrong to believe he would.

As Manabe told Chabashira, Kiyotaka went into that lion’s den to “end the war” all by himself. I can’t imagine Ryuuen will be able to hide the marks of his fight anytime soon, nor do I think he’s in any hurry to tell anyone who was able to beat him so thoroughly. Class C has been dealt a serious blow, but as he always ruled with violence, I imagine plenty of Class C would welcome his downfall.

While in general I abhor violence as a means of solving problems (it usually only begets more violence), this situation is rather unique, due to the fact that a villain like Ryuuen was never going to be defeated by any other means but superior force, and the fact that Kiyotaka took no discernable pleasure in the victory.

That said, he does express regret for making Kei suffer so much to achieve this result, and reiterates his promise that should she ever find herself in trouble again, he will rescue her without fail. After what she witnessed, I daresay Kei can trust in those words. But to answer a question she raised in her monologue, yes, Kei, you are extremely effin’ cool.

Classroom of the Elite – S2 11 – Stone Cold

God, Kiyotaka sucks so much. Can’t even say “Good Morning” back to Kei. Even so, I had no idea just how deep and harmful his sudden, impulsive cutting off of communications would end up being by episode’s end. With no new tests being announced, Ryuuen strolls into Class D on a fishing expedition.

He and his crew end up following and confronting Koenji. Ryuuen’s goal is to determine if the blonde bombshell is the Class D Mastermind. You have to admit, he looks the part, and his seeming indifference and passivity to everything is the perfect cover. Of course, we know he’s way off base, but it’s still a ton of fun watching him verbally spar with Kouenji, perhaps the only student more self-involved than he is.

But hold on, here comes Arisu and her crew, who stick their noses into the confrontation. When she uses Ryuuen’s least favorite nickname “Dragon Boy” twice, he rushes her and prepares to dropkick her. It’s a testament to Arisu’s toughness and confidence in her underlings that she doesn’t flinch an inch, but lets one of those underlings block the kick.

Ryuuen may not have bagged the Mastermind, but he takes solace in knowing one less possibility is off the board. He tells Mio that he’s having a shitload of fun. His next move is to prepare bait for the Mastermind in the form of Kei, whom he knows the Mastermind protected thanks to Manabe.

Ibuki, your standard monstrous collaborator who does nothing to stop evil, instead takes part in it, sticking around as Kei is lured into a refrigerated space with no security cameras. There, Ryuuen threatens to expose her bullied past to the whole school if she doesn’t give him the name of the Mastermind.

Never has Ryuuen been more cruel and menacing than in this scene, underscored by the dramatic, theatrical lighting and intensely cold atmosphere. Like Arisu, and as we know, Kei is tougher than she looks, and refuses to give up the name, even when bound and threatened.

So Ryuuen has his underling slowly pour a bottle of water over her, and then another, then covers her head with a cloth and pours another one on. It’s essentially waterboarding, only with the added threat of hypothermia. It’s here where I throw up two big middle fingers at the show for continuing to put Kei through the ringer. This is truly sickening, to the point I needed a nice hot shower after watching this.

Worse still, we see Kiyotaka agree to hang out with his new friendly friend group to celebrate the end of their term with some karaoke. His promise to protect Kei is rendered toothless by the fact she can no longer contact him via phone. Even if somehow Kiyotaka senses something’s up, it’s way too late for him to come to her rescue, isn’t it? The damage is done, with Ryuuen dragging her deeper into the cold darkness, making a promise of his own: to utterly destroy her.

Classroom of the Elite – S2 10 – Farewell My Lovelies

“The game is rigged, but you cannot lose if you do not play.” —Marla Daniels, The Wire

Paper Shuffle came and went with no students being expelled, and thanks in no small part to Class D’s increased unity and harmony, they picked up quite a few points on Class C. Ascension seems imminent, they just need to remain focused. When Kiyotaka’s study group spots 1-A’s Sakayanaki Arisu chatting with 1-B’s Ichinose Honami, whom Haruka deems “too perfect”, as someone has to have some flaws to be likable. Kiyotaka notices someone is hiding behind a pillar eavesdropping on them.

While walking along with Maya, Kei notices she’s being tailed by a large and unpleasant Class-C student; on their nightly call Kiyotaka tells her she can safely ignore the tail as it’s unlikely to escalate further. But how can he be so sure, and will he be in a position to keep his promise to protect Kei if the harassment does get worse? Meanwhile, Kei snapped a photo of the girl stalking his study group; she’s from Class A, suggesting she was doing so on Arisu’s orders.

In class, more reports of Class-D students being messed with by Class-C, suggesting the class is desperate with D about to supplant them. Suzune asks Kiyotaka if he’ll keep helping her bring their class to Class A. In a nice bit of foreshadowing, he says “as long as it remains necessary”, and then she gives him a book called Farewell My Lovely to check out at the library, as he’d stated his interest in it.

While at the library, Kiyotaka exhibits a measure of chivalry by taking a book off a high shelf for the petite Class-C student Shiina Hiyori; the two have a pleasant little chat about books. Kiyotaka is then taken aside by Chabashira-sensei, who tells him he has a visitor: his father.

Papa Ayanokouji doesn’t mince words: the White Room has resumed, and he wants Kiyotaka, who has strayed from the path laid out for him, to sign a letter expressing his wish to withdraw from the school.

Kiyotaka refuses, Mr. Ayanokouji threatens, and their stalemate is broken by a very unexpected party: Mr. Sakayanagi, Ayanokouji’s former secretary, the current school chairman, and Arisu’s father.

He explains that this school puts a high value on the independence of its students, and he won’t allow a parent to bully one of them into withdrawing against their will. That is that, as Mr. Ayanokouji leaves, but only for now. His mission to bring Kiyotaka, his “most prized possession”, back into the fold has only begun.

Kiyotaka learns that Sakayanagi was the one who recommended him for enrollment, having had his eye on him for some time and seeing his potential (no doubt Arisu sees it too). It’s also clear that Chabashira never knew Kiyotaka’s dad. He considers this a betrayal, for now it’s clear Chabashira has only been using him to try to advance her class to Class A.

That’s something that no longer interests him. He’s content to leave Suzune, Hirata, and the others to continuing those efforts, and he won’t get in their way, but he’s personally done trying to advance the class to Class A. What he’ll do instead remains to be seen, but one of his first calls is to Kei. He apologizes for getting her mixed up in so much trouble, but when he abruptly tells her they’ll no longer be having these phone calls, she’s shocked and genuinely hurt.

Watching him interact with and even seemingly befriend other students of late might’ve softened his image, but we know this kind of brutal coldness is Kiyotaka’s normal M.O. He’s never come out and named any of the people he’s interacted with friends. He even uses the “transactional relationship” label to him and Kei.

While he might not be 100% wrong on that note, the fact is their relationship has evolved to something beyond that, and his inability to see that or act accordingly is one of the flaws that make him likable, despite him acting like such a cold jerk most of the time. I can only imagine Suzune’s outrage at his sudden decision to walk away from the game.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Classroom of the Elite – S2 09 – Relationship of Convenience

Ryuuen agrees to feed Kikyou with the questions he wrote for Class D, which she’ll use to win the bet and get Suzune and Kiyotaka expelled. In exchange, Kikyou will help make sure Class C wins Paper Shuffle. Ryuuen then takes his gang to go investigate the study group with Kiyotaka and Yukimura, bringing along Shiina Hiyori to try to determine if the Class D Mastermind is among them.

While the experience shakes the group, Haruka likes the vibes they’ve created and decides to formally make them a group, complete with everyone in it being on a first-name basis Airi suddenly inserts herself into the group and asks to join in, presumably to be close to Kiyotaka, and the group agrees.

That night, Kiyotaka calls Kei, but not to invite her to the movie his study group is going to tomorrow. Instead, he has a favor to ask of her. Kei, who wants to become closer to Kiyotaka, has a birthday gift wrapped and ready for him, but has to settle for a LINE sticker, to which he reacts with his usual Ayanokouji stoicism.

The next day when the study group heads meet at karaoke to discuss progress, it becomes clear what Kiyotaka asked Kei to do. She confronts Kikyou for her unrelentingly sweet good girl attitude and accuses her of looking down on her, even tossing a drink on her uniform. Yousuke scolds her and she apologizes, tearfully asking if she can get Kikyou’s uniform washed; Kikyou agrees.

The big day of the Math test that will determine both Suzune and Kiyotaka’s fates arrives, and Maya makes it a point to greet Kiyotaka, only to be shuffled off by a clearly jealous Kei. Yousuke can tell how she’s taken a liking to Kiyotaka, and suggests that having a non-fake boyfriend would probably be best for her.

Before pencils up, Kiyotaka and Suzune revel in the class unity that’s been created through their efforts. Then the test begins, and Kikyou immediately realizes that the test questions she gave Ms. Chabashira are nowhere to be found. Just like that, she’s lost the bet, and she knows it.

Kikyou can’t even pretend to hide her rage when she slams her hands on the desk and then storms out of the classroom. While she’s been a lot more bluster than bite as a villainess, it was still satisfying to see her brought low after she thought she had the Shuffle in the bag.

She meets Ryuuen to voice her anger, but Ryuuen tells her he doesn’t owe her his loyalty, since she couldn’t deliver what she promised him. The bottom line is that before she even made a deal with him, Suzune already had her beat, by going to Chabashira before her and getting her to agree to only accept questions from her, the official class rep.

Kiyotaka explains this to Kei, who then wonders why he had her plant a cheat sheet on Kikyou’s uni. That was only meant to be insurance in case Suzune’s gambit failed. But Kiyotaka has to hand it to Suzune, she achieved this victory all by herself, proving she’s grown as a person and and operator.

Considering the witness, Kikyou has no choice but to abide by the promise she made should she lose to Suzune. Suzune reaches out her hand as a gesture of trust, and is determined to get Kikyou to like her, but Kikyou assures her that will never happen. She also makes clear that while she promised not to try to sabotage her, their deal didn’t say anything about Kiyotaka.

Still, I have to think that the fact that Kikyou and Ryuuen sever their brief alliance can only hurt both parties and help Kiyotaka. He probably knows that too, which is why he presented Ryuuen with the facts on the ground; that Suzune already had Kikyou beat, and got him to agree to a deal to alter Class C’s questions.

Ryuuen doesn’t like one bit that the Mastermind used him the way he so easily uses others, so he plans a bit of revenge in the form of destroying Kei, sending Kiyotaka a photo of her to make it plain. Combined with Kikyou preparing to focus all of her efforts on getting him expelled, Kiyotaka now finds himself in the crosshairs of two adversaries at the same time.

Is that just fine with him? You bet. He welcomes both Ryuuen and Kikyou coming at him with everything they’ve got. It will only make his victories over them that much sweeter. And as huge a prick as Kiyotaka usually is, his commitment to protecting Kei, like his pride over Suzune’s growth, is genuine and admirable. I’m not about to bet against him now.

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 12 (Fin) – The Troublesome Troubleshooter

With Takashi out of commssion the G-Boys are rudderless and eager for revenge, and Kyouichi isn’t above acquiring guns from the yakuza in order to gain the advantage in an otherwise bats-and-clubs fight. Meanwhile, we meet one of the usually unseen victims of the fighting, a young girl whose brother was injured who will play a larger part in the episode’s climax.

Makoto remains in the shadows, relying on his trusted friends in Saru and Lin to get a bigger picture about what’s going on. He learns the Kyougokukai Group from Kansai is trying to make a move against Ikebukuro and the Hidaka Group, providing firearms to both Red Angels and G-Boys. The kid gangs will soften each other out, and Kyougokukai, will stomp them all out and take over.

Makoto still has allies in the G-Boys, including Masaru, who owes him a debt for helping him save Mizuki, only for Mizuki to end up in trouble and missing now. When some less friendly G-Boys spot him and give chase, he’s saved by a more unlikely ally in the recently banished Hiroto.

Hiroto is setting up new turf outside Ikebukuro, but can’t stand by and let his old turf go to shit, especially if it’s due to the machinations of outside yakuza groups. We later learn he and his men, like the little girl, have a crucial role to play in the endgame.

Then there’s Isogai, quite obviously the mastermind behind everything based on clues from last week’s episode. Makoto gives him a call still believing he’s someone who can be trusted, and they meet by a secluded shrine. Isogai gives him a new phone, which Makoto quickly checks for the spying app that confirms Isogai is indeed the mastermind.

Isogai goes on to explain his motivations. A native of Ikebukuro, he was bullied in school and had to stop going to classes. He ended up joining the Kyougokukai, and knowing their interest in Ikebukuro, volunteered to serve as a sleeper agent until the conditions were right to blow everything up.

For all his hatred of punks both red and blue, Isogai still sees value in Makoto as a good guy and troubleshooter, and asks him to join him, Makoto refuses, there’s a scuffle, and Isogai ends up putting five bullets in him. At the same time, Takashi wakes up in the hospital, wondering what’s keeping Makoto.

The two sides form battle lines in West Gate Park, and Takashi not only makes a surprise appearance, but starts a fight with Kyouichi despite still bleeding through his bandages. It would seem all the pieces are arranged on the board the way Isogai and his Kyougokukai superior Yoshimatsu want (the latter, Glasses Guy from last week, even watches the battle from his car).

The G-Boys and Angels are about to slam into each other when suddenly a video starts playing on the park’s Jumbotron: a video expertly recorded by Makoto’s film director buddy, capturing Makoto’s entire incriminating conversation with Isogai, exposing him as a traitor to the Angels and Ikebukuro itself. Everyone stops fighting, takes in the scope of Isogai’s treachery…and stews.

Isogai responds by pulling out his gun and shooting Makoto again, but as with the last time he shot him, it was with harmless blood rounds (lent to him by his director friend). Makoto switched the guns out when they scuffled at the shrine. Kyouichi delivers a  devastating, balletic kick to Isogai’s head and threatening to dance on him until he’s a pile of crushed bones—but Makoto begs him not to go too far.

As Hiroto’s men deal with Kyougokukai’s Yoshimatsu, who is invited to a nice chat with Saru of Hidaka Group, Makoto tries to do what he does best: call for all the warring parties to stand down, go their separate ways and think about whether they really want to fight a battle they were manipulated into fighting. Also, the riot cops are about to come in an arrest everyone.

He urges everyone to remember that while can sometimes lie and hurt each other, they also have the capacity to forgive. Everyone stands down…except that wild card little girl whose brother was injured. She isn’t satisfied until she’s able to stab Takashi, and he lets it happen, drawing her into a hug even after she sticks him in the kidneys.

Because Takashi is so gentle with his would-be killer, the avenging girl must sense that he had forgiven her before she even stabbed him, and thus can forgive him and those who cause her brother’s injury. Before passing out, Takashi tells Makoto to take over the G-Boys if he doesn’t make it.

While that would have been an thoroughly interesting development, Takashi pulls through, and even has the sister and her recovered brother visit him, completing the cycle of forgiveness and healing. Kyouichi disbands the Red Angels and moves into a house his parents left him just outside the Yamanote Line.

Makoto’s mom re-opens the produce stand, where Guo continues to help out. And finally, Makoto sits in West Gate Park when he’s approached by someone who has a problem that needs solving. In other words, life goes on in the town he loves. It’s not often a series concludes by bringing together most of its previous narrative elements into a satisfying whole, but IWGP pulled it off beautifully.

Don’t believe the low MAL score or lack of ANN reviews: IWGP was a strong Fall 2020 dark horse candidate. ambitious in its concept, resourceful with its protagonist and setting, involving at every turn (one iffy Youtuber episode aside), and realistic in its depiction of the complex social structures that make up a town, and the importance of maintaining relationships and balance.

The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED – 11 (Fin) – The New Boss

“Final Boss” Shigemaru leads Daisuke and Haru on a wild goose chase to the bowels of the Kanbe summer home. There, they not only find the allodium lab and his father’s research data, but a secret underground tube train that shoots them all the way back to Daisuke’s house, where Shigemaru is waiting for them. That is, until Daisuke remarks that his father was left-handed and this guy is right-handed, and the gig is up.

“Shigemaru” removes his mask to reveal he was an imposter all this time. Grandma Kikuko sics the guy on Haru while she and Diasuke discuss the future of the world over a cup of tea. Gran considers Allodium too dangerous to allow in any other hands but the Kanbes; it’s why she had Daisuke’s mother killed and Shigemaru framed. Haru eventually brings down the imposter, but not before he gets a bullet in the thigh.

Haru’s victory, and the fact the imposter was not given orders to kill him, end up mattering quite a bit. Daisuke is ready to transfer the Allodium research to scientists around the world, but hesitates in the powerful presence of his grandmother. Haru ends up making the choice to transfer the data for him, but by pressing the button on accident as a result of slumping over Suzue’s control panel.

This was never about Daisuke defeating the final boss, or even taking his rightful place on the throne of the Kanbe Empire, but making that Empire his own. To that end, he rejected generations of secrecy and lets the spread of Allodium information take place…then arrests his granny.

Weeks pass, Haru recovers, but turns down a return to the First Division, citing he can be a detective and dish out justice no matter where he is. He and Daisuke then proceed to do just that, tracking down all criminal activity regarding Allodium and stopping it in its tracks, with the help of HEUSC and Daisuke’s Unlimited Balance (The Second Division misfits also get full access to HEUSC, and of course use it for silly things like porn and sweets). On Daisuke and Haru’s particular mission, Suzue is on a well-deserved vacation.

In a nice bit of series symmetry, Daisuke’s brash, expensive actions end up blowing up part of the Manhattan Bridge, and Haru, even wearing one of those ASV suits, finds himself hanging on a ledge. Last time Daisuke let him fall because he neither trusted nor thought he needed Haru. Now the two are partners and pals, so Daisuke offers his hand…only to playfully pull it back, letting Haru fall in the drink once again. Same action, completely different motivations.

Blending James Bond and Batman billionaire tech and backstory with procedural detective stories and a uniquely Japanese keiretsu element made for a sleek and entertaining eleven episodes. If you’re into any or all of those and love a good rich family drama mystery full of bodacious crime-fighting toys, Fugou Keiji is a solid viewing choice.

Season Average: 8.55

Goblin Slayer – 06 – Adventures in Water Town

Goblin Slayer ends his party’s respite by announcing a new client in the bustling city of Water Town: none other than the Archbishop of the Church of the Superior God; the Priestess’ boss’ boss.

Neither the grandiosity of the town nor the Sword Maiden’s digs faze GS in the slightest; if there are goblins to be slain, he’s in. He also learns for the first time, bless him, that if he has songs written and sung about him by bards, he’ll get more goblin slaying jobs, which is exactly what he wants.

The party heads down to the town’s sewers, where they find hordes goblins plying the various sliuceways via boat. Thanks to teamwork they’re able to defeat the first boat-full, but there are more boats—without using water, fire or poison – a handicap the High Elf Archer has imposed upon GS.

When they encounter a giant swamp dragon (alligator), GS remarks that it’s “not a goblin”, but has the Priestess spend her last miracle of the day on illuminating its tail, which lures the goblins right to it, and to the slaughter. It’s almost too easy for them.

The party seems to have things well in hand, but GS is concerned that there are so many goblins down there and that they’re so organized; so much so, in fact, that mobilizing the town guard and military would have been the best idea.

Alas, it’s up to adventurers, so GS’ next step is to find out who or what is responsible for making the goblins in the sewers such an orderly fighting force. Looks like it’s a hobgoblin, or even goblin lord.

SSSS.Gridman – 04 – Truly Vexing to Watch

Akane is pretty sure Yuuta is Girdman, but not 100% sure. She wants to investigate further, which includes questioning Rikka when the two take the bus to school on a scorcher of a day. The two also end up joining Rikka’s friends Namiko and Hass on a group date with the Youtube group of college boys called Arcadia, despite the fact neither Rikka nor Akane are really into group dating…or any dating at all.

Yuuta doesn’t really like the idea of Rikka going on any kind of date that doesn’t involve him, and Gridman can sense he’s troubled about it (though Yuuta tells him not to worry about it). Yuuta and Shou decide to basically shadow the group date, as it involves two women they’re both emotionally invested in (in Shou’s case, Akane; in Yuuta’s case Rikka).

Neither really ever had anything to worry about; the only two women remotely  interested in Arcadia are Namiko and Hass. Akane is far more interested in learning why Rikka is spending more time with the guy she suspects to be aligned with her arch-enemy Gridman.

Akane also ditches the other girls at her earliest convenience, and succeeds in killing all but one of them with a kaiju. Rikka later catches on to the fact three of the four members of the group were killed and erased from the collective memory of society (including her friends), so she meets with the last surviving member, Yamato, to warn him of his impending doom.

She’s almost too late, as the fog that serves as the precursor to the latest kaiju attack envelops Yamato. It’s Samurai Calibur who ends up saving them both from the kaiju. Yuuta and Gridman deploy, but they end up having to fight not only the insectoid kaiju that killed the other members of Arcadia, but Item as well, who is singularly interested in defeating Gridman and nothing else.

All four members of Neon Genesis decide to sortie at once, but when combined with Gridman’s deployment, the computer they’re all working through basically freezes, freezing all of them in turn. Rikka scares the shit out of Shou by unplugging the computer, then plugging it back in and rebooting it, but doing so actually solves the problem, as the whole of Neon Genesis simply isn’t able to sortie simultaneously.

Instead, only one of them, the tank from last week, sorties, combining with Gridman into Gridman Max, defeating the insectoid kaiju. Item then reaches his time limit and reverts to his human state. It’s another victory, albeit a close one.

Later, at the shop, Yuuta works up the courage to ask Rikka out to grab something to eat, but she misinterprets it as a suggestion for the whole group to have a meal together. Mind you, Yuuta could mend the misunderstanding with two words: “just us,” but of course he doesn’t, mimicking Wile E. Coyote in the “trying something only once” strategy.

This was an episode in which the large-scale battles between Gridman and kaiju took a backseat to the high school romantic drama unfolding between Yuuta, Rikka, and Akane. Yuuta has proved pretty inept at getting Rikka to notice him in the way he’d prefer, but he should have plenty more opportunities, especially since she doesn’t have the slightest interest in Arcadia’s Yamato.

SSSS.Gridman – 03 – Gridman, I Hate You!

It’s a rainy day in Tokyo when the newest kaiju appears, and this one seems different, because Akane isn’t making a model, but interacting with a small silver-haired boy named Anti who can transform into a kaiju. Why does he eat like he does, and why does hate Gridman so much? We don’t know. For that matter, we don’t know why Akane hates Gridman and wants him dead so badly, aside from having lost to him twice.

In any case, the Gridman Alliance is collected by Calibur, and before Rikka can apologize for not answering Yuuta’s phone call, Yuuta heads into action—and once again has his ass handed to him. Combined with Yuuta’s worry that he may be fighting/killing a human inside his opponent, he doesn’t fight back, even with Calibur by his side, and the two LOSE to Anti, much to Akane’s elation.

Rikka and Shou are stunned. They fear Yuuta and Calibur are dead, and in lieu of knowing what to do next, they wait in the shop and snipe at each other out of frustration. Their quarrel is broken up by the arrival of the “Neo Genesis Junior High Students” a team allied with Calibur and Gridman (and whose name is an homage to Evangelion). They tell Rikka simply to call Yuuta, and to her and Shou’s great relief, he is alive, and Gridman is simply regenerating. Before long he’s back in the fight.

One of the members of Neon Genesis joins the battle in the form of a battle tank, and combines with Gridman to form a new set of extra-chunky arms and fists with which to defeat Anti, who “runs out of time” in kaiju mode and reverts to human form, after which he’s basically disowned by a furious Akane.

Back at Junk, Rikka apologizes to Yuuta, which is something I think is way overblown in the grand scheme of things (I mean, people miss calls; she was trying to help someone she thought was in need), while her mom (who is voiced by the same actor who portrayed Haruka in FLCL) wonders where so many new people suddenly showed up in her shop.

While Gridman’s defeat was a nice change of pace, the fact it was resolved so easily—with Rikka and Shou simply sitting around until the cavalry arrived—kind of gutted the suspense. Everything is in a very bad way, and then moments later everything’s fine and dandy.

As for why Akane is doing what she’s doing, where exactly Anti came from, and other mysteries, lets just say I’m not holding my breath for satisfying explanations. Perhaps it would be best to just sit back and enjoy the action…it would just be nice if it meant more.

SSSS.Gridman – 02 – Keep Doing What You Can Do

When Yuuta, Rikka and Shou return to school, they learn that several of their classmates have disappeared and nobody has any memory that they ever existed, or of the kaiju battle. They decide to seek answers from Gridman on the computer in Rikka’s shop, which was going to be closed so Rikka could hang out with her two best friends. Meanwhile Akane takes an interest in what Yuuta is talking about and joins him on the roof for lunch, but doesn’t get far.

Turns out Shinjou Akane is very different from the perfect student Shou made her out to be. She lives in an apartment packed with trash and clay models of kaiju. Turns out she’s the one who’s made some kind of Faustian bargain with Gridman’s enemy, who turns all of her creations into full-size kaiju which then kill people she doesn’t like. She may be talented, but she’s not a good person, and must be stopped.

The suspicious-looking sleepy-eyed man eventually arrives at the junk shop, introducing himself as Samurai Calibur and failing to enter or exit a door without getting caught by his ridiculously long four katanas. He “optimizes” the computer so Rikka and Shou can hear Gridman and see the giant kaiju they’re not aware their cute classmate is making and deploying. Her latest creation is “brought to life” and starts wreaking havoc in much the same way as the first one.

As Akane watches the carnage unfold from the safety of her apartment, Yuuta, Rikka and Shou are nearly flattened by a stray steel beam, but Samurai Calibur demonstrates his prowess by slicing it in two, saving them. They rush to the computer, and because it’s now optimized, Gridman (who is nothing but energy in this universe and needs a human with which to collaborate) provides Yuuta with a “Primal Acceptor” bracelet that lets him customize Gridman to his specs and colors.

The new-and-improved Gridman is lighter and faster, but his Grid Beam is deflected; Akane makes improvements to each kaiju based on the failures of the former ones. Gridman gets beaten up again, but Samurai Calibur joins the battle in the form of a gleaming golden sword, with which Yuuta/Gridman uses to cleave the kaiju in two, destroying it and pissing Akane off royally.

Back at school, Akane’s intended target is unharmed and like everyone else, has forgotten all about the attack. But unlike when he bumped into Akane, sparking her ire, he apologizes after bumping into Yuuta, suggesting perhaps the experience unconsciously made him more courteous.

In any case, I’m sure Yuuta and Akane will be facing off a lot more with their respective weapons. The question is, will the Gridman Alliance ever find out she’s the kaiju-maker, will she reveal it to them when she’s ready to eliminate them once and for all, or can she be convinced to stop this evil, destructive venture? On I watch…

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 12 (Fin)

Leave it to ACCA to save its best episode for last. And why not? Each of the eleven preceding episodes perfectly prepared us for this finale. Everything pointed towards a smooth, peaceful, and efficient coup, and that’s what we got—only it wasn’t a coup to unseat Schwan, but a coup to secure ACCA’s future and thwart the Liliums and Furawau’s plans to snatch hegemony from the Dowa Royal Family. That, my friends, is one surprising yet completely logical and satisfying twist.

At first, things seem to be going according to Lilium’s plan: Once it’s Schwan’s turn to take to the podium and speak, he and his outnumbered guards are surrounded by ACCA officers in riot gear, and Schwan’s plans to dissolve ACCA are exposed to the throng, which quickly sides with ACCA in the matter, as expected.

But then Schwan calls Jean out, knowing exactly why he’s on the dais with the Chief Officers. Just then, Lotta (and I for that matter) are relieved to find Niino by her side. This is the moment when Director-General Mauve completely flips the script and reveals that beneath ACCA’s plan was another plan that Lilium was not made aware of.

In this plan, Mauve, rather than Jean, steps forward. She explains the theatrics were only meant to demonstrate Schwan’s need for greater then very loudly and publicly proclaims Schwan as the one and only Crown Prince of Dowa, thanks Schwan for his continued support of ACCA once he ascends to the throne and into the future, then bends the knee. Knowing how unpopular dissolving ACCA would be (and would make him), Schwan can only affirm Mauve’s words and commit to preserving ACCA.

Mauve’s speech is one of, if not the most badass moments of the series, if not the Winter season as a whole, because of how much it changes, all of the careful preparation that gives it so much power, and the jazzy soundtrack that adds a cool gravitas.

Suddenly, Lilium finds himself on the wrong side of the river with a very weak hand. He was so focused on his own machinations he failed to realize there were counter-machinations going on behind his back. Jean had been strategizing with Mauve since he learned of his lineage, and informed Grossular of what would go down the night before.

Mauve and Jean arranged things so ACCA would win before Furawau would, making the continuation of “the game” pointless. Sure enough, Lilium folds, but he also takes his ball (being Furawau) and goes home (meaning secession). I will now cease the sports metaphors.

After all the drama subsides, Jean and Lotta encounter Prince Schwan and Magie, who reveals it was the prince himself who ordered him to warn her of the attack. Between agreeing not to kill ACCA and this, Schwan turned out to be not-such-a-bad-guy after all, which is more interesting than a petulant, one-dimensional villain. And since there’s no usurping going on, Jean and Lotta’s lineage can remain secret, even as they’re allowed to meet with Schwan and King Falke.

With Lilium and Furawau leaving the Dowa Kingdom to start their own, Grossular dissolves the remaining three of the anachronistic Five Chief officers, who then go home and become chiefs of their respective districts, and seem all the happier for it, while Grossular stays on in an advisory role for the new single leader of ACCA, Mauve. She certainly earned it.

In other good (if a bit convenient) news: Just as Furawau seceded, Pranetta finally hit paydirt, and a resource (presumably oil) rush leads to the district’s revitalization, Suitsu is finally allowed to develop to the level of the other districts and its people allowed to vote.

We even find out who Niino’s secret other contact was, and it’s who I expected: Abend, the ever-loyal servant of the Dowa Family, who had colored his hair and taken on the identity of Owl to watch Jean that much closer. With the family members reunited, Niino is formally relieved of his photographing duties. Mauve and Grossular seem to be spending a lot more time together, while Jean assumes the feelings he has for Mauve are unrequited.

But that doesn’t change the fact that he and Jean are best mates, something that hasn’t changed since they met in high school (the post credits flashback to their prom, which Niino won but gave Jean the crown, was a nice touch), and won’t change now. Jean takes comfort in knowing he’s not alone. And, no doubt, in being able to stay in his old job. For all that’s changed around them, Jean, Niino, and Lotta really haven’t, and that’s for the best, as they’re perfectly happy with the lives they have.

So ends one of the most thoughtful, detailed, and elegantly beautiful looking and sounding series in recent memory, which came completely out of nowhere. Those are my favorite kind of shows: ones about which neither I nor anyone else have any potentially corrupting preconceptions.

It’s also a show with eminent rewatch value; there’s enjoyment to be found in watching the story unfold again whilst knowing its resolution. It’s also a show for which I’d happily embrace a sequel. Until then, I say goodbye to ACCA, a well-crafted and engrossing anime if ever there was one.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 11

ACCA: Jusan-ku Kansatsu-ka. I hadn’t really read the words until recently, but they roll right off the tongue in a very satisfying, elegant way, like ACCA the show itself.

I daresay ACCA is a sneaky show. It seems a bit slow and dull at first but the details keep you around. Then it becomes something you must watch at all costs. In this way, it’s like no other show airing this Winter, and its quality has been rewarded on MAL, rising from 6.97 on week one to 7.43 today, the biggest climb of any Winter ’17 show.

By the time Jean arrives in lavish, exotic Furawau for the thirteenth of thirteen district audits, nearly all pretense has fallen over his “job” as inspector, as Furawau is the district spearheading the coup.

Yet true to its name (“flower” in katakana), Furawau’s inhabitants are cheerful and elegant, and discreet in their welcoming of Jean for his true purpose.

But while it’s named for its flowers, the gleaming skyscrapers and lush palaces are paid for with oil. 90% of the entire nation of Dowa’s oil is supplied by Furawau. This makes them Arabia on steroids, which makes resource-poor Pranetta the comparatively oil-less Jordan.

When he leaves for his hotel, Jean does not give the Furawau chiefs a direct answer about whether he’ll rise up with them. But fortunately for Jean, Niino was listening in when the Princess’ assassins were loudly discussing their plan for slaying him.

When they draw their appropriately ornate golden revolver from the shadows, Niino is there not only to warn Jean, but take two bullets for him. He survives, but when he wakes up from surgery, he wonders out loud something I’ve wondered for many weeks now: whether Jean is merely being dragged into things by chance, or if he’s “prying into the whole mess” of his own accord.

Before leaving Furawau, Jean tells the chiefs he’s with them. Upon returning to Badon, he doesn’t stop by Mugimaki where Mauve continues to show up and wait. Instead, he visits Lilium as his brothers instructed, and shows him all thirteen cigarettes he’s collected.

I love how each one is  different in color and length, and how Pranetta’s is one of his own. Details that carry symbolism: Dowa is one big happy cigarette case. When Jean says anyone can ascend as long as it’s not him, Lilium counters that only he can protect both ACCA and the people.

What he isn’t telling Jean…could fill volumes. Like the fact he needs to present at least the air of proper succession, and probably needs the ACCA angle to strengthen their case. Lotta can’t fulfill either of those conditions…nor can Lilium himself.

When Rail first heard of him, he assumed Jean was an upper class snob who thought his own excrement did not emit odor. Turns out he was right about the “upper class” bit, but now that Rail knows who Jean is for sure, he thinks he’d probably be a better King than Schwan.

Rail tells Jean this while they smoke in the city night, after Jean thanks him for watching Lotta while he was away. And Jean appears to take Rail’s subtle endorsement to heart…maybe he will be better.

The next day, people from all thirteen districts start pouring into Badon for the upcoming ACCA centennial ceremony. This means we get all the ACCA agents Jean met on his travels in the same room, and of course they all know each other.

It’s a nice “lower decks” scene, watching subordinates shoot the breeze. The girls badger Eidar about her feelings for Jean, only to learn she’s dating Grus. One agent brings up the coup, and silence fills the room.

Every one of them seems generally on board with the plan…except Warbler, who, being stationed in Suitsu, is naturally the last agent to be informed of the coup. And while it’s easy to get all swept up in the excitement of dumping a harmful king for a better one, Warbler provides a much-needed voice of concern and reason.

He makes very good points about the risk ACCA’s leadership is taking by arranging such a coup. He also questions if the young, inexperienced Schwan would actually follow through on his threat to dissolve ACCA. He believes the royal family is aware that tipping the scales of power too far in their favor could break the whole system, and trusts them to be more pragmatic once Schwan ascends.

But no one can be certain Schwan won’t dissolve ACCA, and in any case, the decision has already been made by the brass, so Warbler’s protests go acknowledged but not acted upon. After Jean leaves a brief, almost curt meeting with Mauve (which has the air of a breakup), Warbler tries to tell him that this coup idea is ludicrous.

Jean responds by saying he’d really like Warbler to take his job, after “one final push”, then calls the prince a “real headache.” Could Jean be starting to get the feel for the power he’s about to attain?

Cut to the prince being a huge headache, acting petulant aboard his ornate royal plane, dismissing Magie’s advice to meet with his cousin (Jean) or get to know the people more. He’s only going to Badon to attend the ACCA ceremony, then leave.

Warbler might think Schwan’s position on ACCA is open to interpretation or subject to review by the rest of the royal family or the privy council. But Schwan probably doesn’t think any of that. When he’s king—and he’s going to be king, he tells himself—he can do as he pleases.

Lilium continues to uncork bottle after bottle of champagne in celebration of a total victory that is still yet to come. In another private one-on-one with Grossular, he lays out the plan I expected him and his district to have: install someone he can control, Jean, in order to control the nation. He hopes to act quickly and elegantly enough that by the time people notice what’s up it will be too late to do anything about it.

Now that he knows Lilium’s true intent, will Grossular continue to stand impotently by and let it happen, or is he intentionally appearing weak to lull Lilium into a false sense of security? Does Grossular have his own plans? And as Mauve asked both him and Jean before him: is he all right?

He responds the same way as Jean: with a simple ‘Yes.’ Here’s hoping that’s true, because some big things are going down next week.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 10

If it wasn’t before, it’s become plain that Lilium’s intentions with ACCA’s coup aren’t simply for the unity and good of the nation of Dowa, but for his district, Furawau, in particular. Things might even turn out to be worse with him than if Prince Schwan ascended; who knows?

Lilium seems like the kind of guy who wants more power, and being one of five head officers isn’t nearly enough. He’s already used Grossular as a pawn in his grander scheme, and installing Jean on the throne seems like more piece-moving. All I know is, the show wants me to think he’s being nefarious.

Jean, for his part, continues his auditing work. After Yakkara throws their lot in with Jean, noting they’ve always been a district of…ahem…gambling. Jean’s next stop is one of the more striking ones: Pranetta district, which is a hot and unforgiving desert on the surface, but whose population lives underground, working in the mines and kept entertained by a vibrant television industry.

This district doesn’t have much, however. They’re mining doesn’t seem to be the most fruitful, but the people seem to be living for their as-yet-unrealized dreams rather than a present rich in material things. Jean definitely seems to like the place.

These aren’t mole people, after all, and when it finally is cool enough to emerge from the caverns, it makes the evening sky seem that much more impressive and awe-inspiring. And like Yakkara and Peshi, Pranetta wants a Dowa in which ACCA is still around, so they’re with him. The chief formalizes his support by bumming a cigarette off of Jean, then giving it right back to him, in a really neat little moment that says a lot about Pranetta.

When he returns home, Jean has a chat with Lotta about her crazy day with Rail and the fact their mother was a princess, but before they can head out to eat, a special report comes in on the news: King Falke has taken a turn for the worse.

Suddenly everyone is scrambling to get their ducks in a row for what’s to come. Grossular manages to convince Mauve that the coup is what’s best for the nation and for ACCA, while the First Princess accelerates her plans to get rid of Jean and Lotta, who are nothing but usurpers in her eyes.

As for Jean, he sticks to his audit schedule, apparently unconcerned whether the king dies while he’s away. We only catch an establishing glimpse of Lilium’s home district of Furawau, but we can already discern many things from it. With gleaming skyscrapers among the sandy dunes, Furawau clearly has money, probably due to to fossil fuels. It looks like Dowa’s Dubai, so perhaps they’re also a big financial power.

In any case, Furawau is big and rich and impressive enough to be an alternate capital of the nation, should, say, the monarchy be done away with altogether or reduced in stature and importance. It also looks like a district that could take on any other district head-to-head and have the resources to come out on top (unlike poor Pranetta).

Will this be Jean’s ‘final audit’? Has he entered another friendly district, or a den of vipers? He may finally know who he truly is and what that means, but he still doesn’t know how he’ll be used…or how he’s already being used. We’re also not quite sure whether he’s actually going to claim the throne. The First Princess succeeding in offing him or Lotta, on the other hand, seems more solidly unlikely.

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