KonoSuba – 05

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I’m compelled to borrow my illustrious colleague Oigakkosan’s “My Goodness!”, as there’s so much good stuff to unpack in this latest  KonoSuba (the first episode I’m actually watching on time!).

First, as Kazuma is lamenting how differently the reality of his dream of cutting it up in an awesome fantasy world has turned out to be, Aqua seems to pick up on that frustration by requesting the party strike out on a new quest. The thing is, she also proves his point, because the main reason she wants a quest is money: she’s tired of working part time in the market and being in debt, not of the fact she’s not on a heroic odyssey.

Fortune would seem to smile on Aqua as she discovers a quest that is right up her water goddess’ alley: lake purification, with a chance of scattered alligators. For that latter bit, she intends to depend on Kazuma and the others, which is when Kazuma borrows from his past world by suggesting Aqua perform the purification from within a sturdy cage (a la shark researchers).

Two problems: transporting her in said cage really makes it look, as she puts it, like some rare beast taken away to be sold. And once she’s been dunked in the lake, where nothing of note happens for hours she likens the sensation to being a tea bag steeping. These are wonderful metaphors borne of a very bizarre and specific situation.

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Of course, those alligators do eventually arrive, but Kazuma, Megumin, and Darkness do nothing in response, part bored into a state of apathy, part confident the cage will hold, requiring no action from them. The cage does hold, the lake is purified, the alligators withdraw, and Aqua completes the quest all but single-handedly…

…but there’s a cost: her nerve. She’s profoundly traumatized by two-plus-hours of being harassed by the beasts as she frantically accelerated her purification. So traumatized, in fact, that she won’t leave the cage even when it’s time to do so, deeming the world “too scary” to return to just yet.

I tellya, if I’d experienced what she had for as long as she had, I’d probably be in a similar state!

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Thankfully, that state doesn’t magically disappear in the second half of the episode, 4-koma anime-style. The episode not only remembers it, but adds a fantastic new variable to the equation: the gallant Mitsurugi Kyouya, who is a veritable wellspring of fantasy tropes KonoSuba puts thoroughly through the wringer, to my surprise and delight.

Kyouya, like Kazuma, died (likely in a less hilarious fashion, though we don’t learn that), and was sent to this world by Aqua with her blessing and the mission to defeat the Devil King. Rather than bring Aqua along with him, Kyouya requested Gram, the Cursed Blade that has made him a very rich and powerful adventurer, complete with fancy armor, jewelry, and a couple of loyal groupies constantly bickering over him.

You don’t get any more cliche’d than Kyouya’s kind, but the show squeezes a lot more out of Kyouya than I expected, turning lemons into delicious lemonade. That’s because Kyouya happens to spot his goddess and muse Aqua-sama being paraded in the streets in a horse-drawn cage, which is decidedly not where he thought he’d see her, ever.

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What follows then, is a glorious clash of Kyouya and Kazuma, or rather Kazuma’s party. While Aqua snaps out of her funk when Kyouya reminds her that she is, in fact, a goddess, she wants nothing else to do with the cat. None of Kazuma’s girls do! It’s as if they’re inoculated against the fantasy hero archetype. More than that; they’re allergic to him!

When faced with his arrogance and presumptuousness for just a couple minutes, Aqua just thinks something’s off about the guy; Megumin thinks he’s rude and wants to explode him, and he evokes a rare and undesirable urge in Darkness that flies in the face of her usual instincts: she wants to hit him. She must realize that if she were in Kyouya’s party she’d never have her masochistic desires properly addressed.

Pissing them all off even more is that Kyouya won’t drop the matter and let Kazuma pass. Instead, he challenges Kazuma to a duel, one Kazuma accepts, starts, and ends in the space of a few seconds, with a few lightning-quick yet fluid moments, Kyouya is on his back.

Kazuma’s inner monologue predicted a duel would eventually take place, but I’m so used to that being a bad thing, that fact that Kazuma wasn’t the underdog here didn’t occur to me until he Stole Gram right out of Kyouya’s hands and bonked him on the head with it (great sound effect on that).

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Then, when his two groupies show up to avenge him, Kazuma continues to fly in the fact of convention by threatening to steal their panties if they press him further, really turning the sleeze up to 11 until the girls are running away crying. It’s harsh, but Kazuma didn’t approach them or their honey; they approached him. Mess with the perverted bull, you get the perverted horns.

One would think Kyouya Team would have learned its lesson, but Kyouya can’t help but be the valiant knight standing up against “Kazuma the Brute”, as he’s known in some circles for his inappropriate conduct with girls. He also seeks to “rescue” his goddess from Kazuma’s clutches, but Aqua responds to his second offer by cold-cocking him, delivering on her earlier vow to sock him if she saw him again.

But even if Kyouya is eminently punchable, Aqua’s violence isn’t senseless, it’s justified. She was looking forward to a 300,000-Eris reward for purifying the lake, but the guild deducted 200,000 for “cage repair” – a cage rendered useless when Kyouya prized the bars. Aqua also shows off her sneaky-playful shrewdness by demanding not 200K, but 300K from Kyouya, which he pays her on the spot.

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Now that she’s rolling in cash, Aqua treats herself to a feast. And as if Kyouya hadn’t been stomped on enough, when he asks for his cursed sword Gram back, Kazuma informs him that he doesn’t have it; he sold it! That’s right; “our” hero didn’t ever even want the damn thing, even though it was part of his original dreams.

I’d like to think getting a good look at the “pathetic cheat” Kyouya has changed his thinking a bit on whether or not things have turned out bad. I mean, sure, he still wants to take on the Devil King, but there are worse things than having three not unattractive women by your side, not fighting over you at all! Plus, think of what all that Gram cash could buy. He could snatch up the stables and convert them into luxury lofts, with bidets and a pot-filler…and a trash compactor!

As for Aqua’s true identity being revealed…well, it isn’t, because Megumin and Darkness simply don’t believe her (having food on her face couldn’t have helped her credibility any). The matter is interrupted by another “emergency”, but at this point I know better; there’s no real emergency. Just the Dullahan, who’s really miffed they haven’t come by his place yet. This guy’s reminding me more of the Black Knight all the time…

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Oregairu 2 – 13 (Fin)

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My, how time flies when you’re engrossed in a long-standing love triangle of friends! Oregairu wisely pared down its cast to just the main three this week, and gave those three an arresting send-off in more or less the same awkward state they’ve been in for most of the season, but at least knowing where they can, if not should go, along with where they’ve been and where they shouldn’t go.

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Ah, Haruno-chan. The lighting, BGM, and close-ups always seem to cast her as the villain, an interloper who likes watching the world burn. But more than a force of malevalence, she’s an agent of change, for Yukino if not herself (her own personal and emotional issues are not a big focus of this show, which is both a shame and a relief). The time is soon coming for Yukino to make her own choices in life. If she doesn’t, her mother and Haruno will make them for her. Will she let herself be washed along in the current, or swim against it?

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For now, she seems to be caught in some netting cast out by Yui and Hikki, not to catch and eat her, but to keep her in the pleasant stasis Yui wants to keep going on forever but knows it won’t.

Outmatched outside the school, when Yukino calls Haruno, she decides not to lend her more potential ammunition, and instead parrots what Hikki told her: neither sister is thinking clearly, and a night apart is indicated.

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Throughout Oregairu Yui has indicated on numerous occasions that she wants to “make a move” vis-a-vis Hikki at some point, but this isn’t that time. Instead, she invites both Hikki and Yukino to a date at the aquarium.

Hikki isn’t the sort of guy you’d expect to be on a three-way date, but it’s not like this is going to be The Episode Where One Girl Gets Dumped so that a couple can emerge and progress into adulthood.

Rather, the aquarium trip is billed as a kind of last hurrah for the trio in their current state, a nostalgic look back before turning towards an uncertain but increasingly close future where stuff like this is not guaranteed.

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Thus follows a sequence of the three making comparisons between the traits of aquatic wildlife and themselves, with the metaphors flowing wildly. The camera’s insistence on shoving that sign with the mated pair of penguins, the fish in the muddy water, being contained, and the life-partner penguins grooming each other—all of it reminds them of what they are.

But an aquarium is a place that doesn’t exist in nature: a kind of training center where one learns about the ways of the aquatic world, the world humans left when they exchanged gills for lungs and fins for legs. The parallels are never not on-the-nose, but not obnoxiously so, and they also happen to all ring true.

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The Deadman Wonderland Ferris Wheel the three ride is one last elemental symbol that the three of them are spinning their own wheels. They feel like they’re going somewhere, but always end up at the same place in the end; the progress is an illusion—just like the “world where nobody gets hurt” Hikki believed he’d created back at the season’s start.

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Pretty soon that ride has to end. When it does, the Service Club might be toast. But if you wanna make a life omelette, you gotta break some eggs. Yui, who has thought all of this through, thinks she knows how to help Yukino with her family issues, and brings up the bet that, if she wins, she gets to “take everything.” She almost gets Yukino to go along, just as she appropriated Hikki’s words to Haruno.

What Yui seems to be suggesting is that things continue going on, finding answers for one another, like three penguins grooming one another (which I doubt happens often in the wild). But Hikki intervenes before Yukino goes along with it he thinks Yukino should find her own solutions or she’ll grow, and neither will he or Yui.

Now, I knew going in this wasn’t the kind of show that would rush into confessions. It did come close with its many confession-friendly atmospheres set up this week, but what with three people present there were never going to be any. But everyone’s eyes are open now, both to what the three of them are and that they have to choose between stepping back on the Ferris Wheel together, or starting off on a long road they won’t necessarily be able to share.

This felt like so much more emotionally complex a show than the first season, and I imagine if there’s a third it will grow even more so. But even if there isn’t one, I’ve really enjoyed the run, and content with the open ending.

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