Steins;Gate 0 – 14 – The Voice of God Can Be a Real Pain in the Ass Sometimes

Steins;Gate 0 comes out of its one-week break between Spring and Summer with authority, delivering a tantalizing blend of drama, tension, and purpose. Roughly half a year has passed since a brainwashed Kagari was taken by forces unknown, which means we’re already at a point where the likes of Rintarou and Mayuri have reached the “acceptance” phase of loss. There was a time when he’d search endlessly and fruitlessly, but absent clues or recourse…life goes on.

In Rintarou’s case, “life going on” means continuing not to pursue any kind of objectives relating to time travel, which means Suzuha and Daru are on their own. While Daru has made some progress, he’s still far from restoring the Phone Microwave, which prompts Suzu to reach out to Maho (back in America) for her assistance and scientific know-how.

The only problem is, a sleep-deprived Maho continues to suffer from her Salieri complex: even if she has the ability to repeat what “Mozart” accomplished in another world line, she lacks the confidence to implement it. She doesn’t agree to assist Suzu because she’s afraid she’ll fail; she’ll let everyone down where Kurisu wouldn’t.

Word comes that Fubuki is in the hospital again; Suzu makes her dad Daru use it as another opportunity to interact with her mother (worried she may never be born in the future). Thankfully, it’s a false alarm; the doctors simply wanted to run more tests on Fubuki…though I wonder whether this is some kind of foreshadowing for further ill effects of time travel.

While at the hospital, Rintarou meets Dr. Leskinen, who doesn’t hesitate to take several pictures of their encounter for the benefit of Maho. Daru learns for the first time that Rintarou may be bound for America to study and eventually join Leskinen’s research group, but Leskinen made sure not to set a concrete date for Rintarou to do so.

Suzuha finds Kagari’s metal opa in the hallway outside the lab, which is strange, because there’s no way she nor anyone else wouldn’t have noticed it for half a year; it must have been left there on purpose. Sure enough, Suzu pretends to be in the shower when an uninvited guest helps herself inside the lab.

Suzu, unquestionably the most militarily capable of Rintarou’s circle of friends (not counting Tennouji) gets the jump on the helmeted intruder in black, and when she forces her to take off her helmet, it’s revealed to be Kagari, or rather a fully-brainwashed Kagari in “Bureau Mode.” She’s come for her Opa, and when Suzu doesn’t produce it, Kagari goes mad and attacks.

Kagari isn’t too much of a challenge to Suzu, until Daru shows up and Kagari slashes Suzu across the abdomen. Kagari snatches up the Opa and flees, and Suzu isn’t able to catch up to her. But as she fled, Daru noticed Kagari was crying. Their Kagari is still in there, somewhere, and she needs their help. But if what Suzu suspects is true, they can’t help her without a time machine.

Suzu also notes that Kagari mentioned she “heard the voice of God” both in the present and twelve years ago when she held her up with a gun. She goes on to believe Kagari, like so many of her “Valkyrie comrades”, is the victim of the “Bureau’s Professor,” who thankfully doesn’t look much like Leskinen (from what little we see of him).

Suzu and Daru beseech Maho via “Skipe” one more time to assist them in building a time leap machine; Maho can tell they’re more desperate than before, yet still doubts herself. But after looking at Amakurisu, something clicks in her head, and she starts packing for Japan.

Rather than searching Kurisu’s work for all the answers, Maho intends to go down the same path and reach the answers herself. After all, no one acknowledged and valued Mozart’s talent more than Salieri. If anyone can do what Kurisu did when it comes to time travel technology, it’s Maho. I’m glad she finally realizes that.

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Steins;Gate 0 – 13 – Dark is Dangerous

The near-miss with the car brought back Kagari’s memories, but only some of them. She’s still missing a 12-year gap between 10 and 22. As a result, Kagari acts a lot more like a child than she used to, and treats a somewhat bemused Mayuri (who is mostly going with the flow) like her beloved “mommy.”

Watching a 22-year-old woman act so spoiled around her parents irks Suzuha, to the point they have a yelling match in the TV repair shop. Both sides regret the fight and plan to apologize, but Suzu learns something crucial from it: her and Kagari’s memories of how they became separated are very different.

After conferring with Tennouji, Rintarou begins to suspect Kagari’s strange memory gap is the result of foul play: brainwashing and mind control, just as Kiryuu discovers…something less than 5km from where Kagari collapsed. It’s a clue, but it requires they take a long drive.

Mayuri decides to celebrate the restoration of at least some of Kagari’s memories by throwing one of her patented parties, which she tries to make a surprise, but with her early memories restored Kagari knows when her Mommy is trying to keep a surprise party secret.

All the while, this ominous van drives around Akiba playing seemingly innocuous Mozart, and it’s clear the van is Bad News, whether it’s a van for kidnapping or simply for triggering Shiina Kagari. That perilous van hangs there, like Damocles’ Sword, over the remainder of the episode, as Mayuri & Co. prepare the party.

If the argument got the ball rolling on a theory about mind control, Kagari’s desire to properly apologize to Suzuha is the unfortunate side-effect. Kagari’s trip to the sweet shop isolates her from everyone else, who in hindsight are wayyy to loosy-goosy with her security at this point.

Indeed, in his desire for more clear answers about what’s going on, Rintarou is far, far away; in no position to keep her safe.

She hears the Mozart from the van (which is either planted there by “Them” to play specifically for her, or sheer coincidence) and more memories flow into her head: memories of being left with “doctors” by Mayuri, ostensibly to cure her PTSD, but the visits really comprise a kind of human experiment called the “Amadeus System”, of which Kagari is Sample #K6205.

The shock of this influx of memory sends Kagari into a trancelike state, and she drops the cake for Suzuha and her cell phone and wanders off who-knows-where, believing she’s hearing “the voice of God.” More likely, it’s the voice of those who did this to her to begin with.

Combined with Rintarou and Kiryuu discovering the facility, where Kagari was held in a cell for who knows how long, scrawling “Mommy” on the walls, Kagari’s vanishing from everyone’s sight (again) forms one hell of a thrilling cliffhanger for the second half of Steins;Gate 0.

While we may now know mostly what’s been done to Kagari, it remains to be seen who did it, why, and most important, how Kagari is linked to Maho and Leskinen’s Amadeus System. Was Kagari even a war orphan from the future? Will there really be enough cups and plates? We shall see…

Macross Delta – 10

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Walkure/Delta earned themselves a little respite, and so their mission pivots this week to cultural interaction on Ragna in the form of participating in the Jellyfish Festival, which is a big draw for lovers, which of course makes the likes of Mirage very nervous, but also brings to the forefront a potential Kaname/Messer pairing.

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Maki and Reina aren’t trying to be matchmakers per se; they just want Messer to have at least one more happy memory with Kaname, since who knows what tomorrow will bring. Well, we can kinda guess it will bring hard times and tragedy, since Messer is surrounded by death flags before his sendoff, after being reassigned from Delta following his escapades last week.

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Perhaps to the disappointment of the colleagues who brought them together, Messer only manages a heartfelt thank you to Kaname—no confessions and no kiss, just gratitude—and the next morning, he’s off to his new assignment. While he’ll probably never be allowed to fly combat missions, he’s being allowed to keep his plane. Hmmmmm.

Meanwhile in Windermere, Roid tries to stop Keith from using his little brother’s song when he needs rest. An ally of Keith’s has come up with a way to amplify the power of the song, at the cost of more strain on the little prince. But after Keith beats Roid in a duel (for the first time), Heinz insists both but their swords down: he’s made his decision: he’ll sing, and die, for his people.

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The song that follows resonates in the ruins across several planets, including one where it wasn’t known there were ruins. Walkure and Delta quickly scramble, and Mikumo sings like a songstress possessed in order to counter Heinz. What results is an unprecedented “clashing of winds”, which puts both Mikumo and Freyja out of commission at a crucial time.

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The Aerial Knights also harass Delta, who immediately miss Messer…only for Messer to show up in the nick of time to protect Kaname from a direct attack from the Knights. He’s Var-ing again, and begs Kaname to sing. With two of her girls down and seeing the protruding veins on Messer’s face, Kaname does the only thing she can do: belt out “Axia.”

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With Kaname’s song, Messer is able to not only stay in control, but ride the wind, garnering impressed comments from both Keith and the older Windermereans. But then all those foreboding lines about living the life you have to the fullest (since you never know how long that life will be) come home to roost, Keith looses a single shot that goes straight through Messer’s canopy, filling the cockpit with blood.

In short: shit’s in a bad way for Walkure and Delta. Offing Messer was all but inevitable, but the death still stings, as this episode let him be less hardass training officer and more nice guy with bad luck and a special place in his heart for a certain someone. Kaname’s crestfallen look to close the episode had real impact. She sang as hard as she could; he fought as hard as he could; yet it just wasn’t enough.

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Macross Delta – 09

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This week Hayate officially learns (in a noxious cloud of technobabble) that he possesses fold receptors just like Freyja and the other members of Walkure. Specifically, he “resonates” with Freyja; something that causes Freyja to blush when she hears about it. Poor girl doesn’t realize she’s in a love triangle the show probably isn’t that concerned with resolving, like the one in Frontier.

Also this week, Messer puts his own pride and personal desire to “repay” his savior Kaname (the one who first saved him from the Var) above his safety and the safety of Delta Platoon and Walkure.

Hayate and Mirage follow the chain of command and honor their colleagues wishes, but insofar as their overarching duty, it seems like a very bad idea to put a ticking time bomb like Messer in a Valkyrie and hope for the best.

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For their part, Hayate and Mirage are conflicted over how to do with what they know about Messer, and try to put their heads together to come up with a solution throughout the episode.

Of course, because they’re largely doing this alone, in front of a romantic sunset, everyone, including Freyja, thinks these two are going out now, or something. Freyja is overcome by a combination of jealousy and FOMO, but is too timid to interfere, so she doesn’t, and thus never finds out the truth until the end of the episode, after much emotional stress.

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She didn’t happen to stalk Mirage while she was talking with Kaname, for instance, about how Kaname used to be the lead vocalist of Walkure before Mikumo joined, and before that, she was a solo idol.

Kaname is very harsh and frank in her assessment of herself, and flat out believes she doesn’t have the talent to be lead vocalist, and has to be content with leading them in every other way. But as far as Messer is concerned, hers is the only voice that can save him.

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That’s pretty strongly demonstrated when the Aerial Knights arrive to do some scans on Ragna’s Protoculture ruins. The camera focuses on Kaname both singing and talking Messer through his Var flare-up as he duels with the White Knight, Keith. Meanwhile, Hayate and Mirage protect Walkure from Bogue’s bold but ultimately fruitless attack.

The Knights retreat almost as soon as they arrive, but not before learning they can use Ragna’s ruins, and Keith is impressed enough with Messer to want another rematch in the near future.

But let’s be honest here: Delta Platoon dodged a bullet here. Had their ace Messer gone fully berserk, he would have fallen under enemy control, and as we saw in training, it wouldn’t take long for him to waste the rest of the platoon.

That being said, Freyja’s misunderstanding is cleared up, though she’s already shown her hand, Hayate-wise, and has to bug out to scream at the night to relieve the embarrassment, in the same place where Messer is alone, thanking his own personal god things didn’t get too out of hand due to his own selfishness.

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Macross Delta – 08

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Like Kabaneri last week overcoming the Fused Colony boss, this week’s Macross Delta seems to let its heroes off a little bit easy, considering the hole they dug themselves in. I’d also question why so many high-ranking Windermereans not only end up on Vordor, but end up cornering Hayate, Mirage and Freyja…only to bascially quarrel with each other about what to do with them (kill or capture to interrogate).

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Let’s be honest here: Hayate and Mirage are no match for these guys in hand-to-hand combat. Bogue alone mopped the floor with them in the blink of an eye. And yet despite having our heroes right where they want them, the Windermereans muck it up, giving Walkure time to launch a counterattack, aided at least in part by the ruins.

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As a result, our triangle is freed, Hayate, Mirage and Messer hop aboard their Seigfrieds, and the battle moves to the air, as Walkure counters the sad wind song of Prince Heinz. That song actually infects Messer, who’s already sustained a bullet wound, and Hayate comes very close to having to kill the father of those kids he and Freyja saw (another odd coindence), but Freyja steps up to the plate and gives a solo performance that cures the pilot.

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Hayate’s flying actually resonates with Freyja’s song, and he’s able to shoot Bogue out of the sky without killing him, but keeping a guy that dangerous alive is probably going to come back to bite him. Meanwhile, Lord Roid is fascinated by Freyja’s song, and will surely try to capture her again, Mikumo is both proud and impressed by Freyja’s newfound voice and reason for singing (to end wars), and Messer, poor dude, still has the Var. All in all, another serviceable but not particularly exceptional outing.

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Macross Delta – 07

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It’s Hacking Time on Macross Delta, with Mechanical Makina and CyberReina combining their talents to break through Windermerean orbital security, using a little bit of song to help things along. The good guys get an undercover team down to the surface, composed of Walkure, Hayate, Mirage and Messer. They have to disguise themselves as cat-people, which I guess is cute?

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On Vordor, they learn a great deal: the minds of everyone in the military and police are being controlled by the Var. Even an elite pilot is in the thrall of the Var, unable to hear the cries of his own children. Freyja wants to help in addition to being useful, but Mikumo pulls her back; they’ll only be able to fix this planet if they find out what’s going on. Vordor would seem to be a stategically middling world, but it does have one thing: ruins from the Protoculture.

Walkure surmises that the Windermereans are interested in the secrets the ruins may provide, including on dimensional weapons, a form of WMD that caused the “wound” on Windermere, but which Mirage insists was detonated by the Windermerans themselves, then passed off as an attack from offworlders in propaganda (which Freyja consumed).

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Even Prince Heinz would seem to be under the impression the wound he saw wasn’t self-inflicted, but an act that must be avenged using the Song of the Wind as his weapon, even if it kills him. As the show darts from one exotic locale to another, we’re treated to awfully gorgeous establishing shots that would look great framed and hung on my walls. Also Freyja continues to be not-that-useful on this trip.

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The rest of Walkure, on the other hand, prove they’re far more than just var-nullifying songstresses. Mikumo does her surveillance with robotic cicadas, Kaname leads the operation, and Reina and Makina, who were once so repelled by one another early shows with them had to be cancelled, are in perfect sync now, in addition to being something between BFFs and sisters.

They get the rest of the team down to the bowels of the ruins, where they find…bottle water and apples.

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Mikumo goes off on her own—as is her wont—drawn by a song that seems to be calling her; perhaps the Protoculture? As for the others, Hayate makes the connection between the apples and water, which when ingested together create the conditions for var infection.

Now they know how Windermere is infecting and conquering worlds, now they have to find a way to stop them. But first, they have to book it out of there, and once alerts are raised, that becomes more difficult.

Hayate, Mirage, and Freyja fall behind and are caught in a trap set by Bogue, who is looking forward to dealing with two “NUG dogs” and a “Windermerean traitor”. Our main triangle finds themselves in quite a bit of hot bottled water…

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Joukamachi no Dandelion – 09

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This week Aoi discovers the perfect way for Akane to be able to be more assertive and comfortable with helping people without being crippled by her shyness: become someone else. Kanade supposedly creates a set of “jamming glasses”, but as the cold open indicated, they don’t actually work; rather, both Akane’s siblings and the general public are well aware she’s Akane, they just don’t want to let on that they know, lest she revert to her painfully shy state. A nice case of mind over matter.

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Even when Akane saves someone without her glasses or cosplay, she simply concludes it’s because “Scarlet Bloom” has become so popular, they’re mistaking her for Akane. Meanwhile, the superhero act works wonders, propelling her from fifth place to second, even beating out Kanade, who along with Aoi perpetuated the tapestry of lies that facilitated their younger sister’s rise.

Meanwhile, Sad, Insecure Misaki is sad and insecure again, and needs Haruka to cheer her up and tell her she’s the best sibling to be king, because she has the perspective of the masses, what with being average and all. That only holds water, if you set aside the fact she can make highly-talented clones of herself, and that’s not something so easily set aside!

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Finally, Aoi, architect of Akane’s rise, feels bad about the way her friends are mistaken as her entourage of attendants by onlookers. They also mysteriously abandon her one after the other, with flimsy excuses. Alone, Aoi starts to rethink socializing with her friends so much, since she’ll only become more of a burden to them as King, or something.

Of course, she’s quite mistaken; her friends only went off to set up a surprise birthday party for her, confirming the value they place in their friendship with her. While still leading in the polls, Aoi still doesn’t want to be king. She’d rather help her siblings reach that goal, while in the meantime enjoying the friendships she forged on her own, without any mind control.

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Joukamachi no Dandelion – 08

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JnD may be based on a 4-koma, but that doesn’t mean it can’t carry on compelling, moving serialized stories, including in the romance department.

It’s even a bit coy about it, starting off with all the Sakurada siblings’ powers going berserk in an occasional phase called “Break Out.” I’m assuming this only happens in adolescence, as it would be pretty inconvenient for the king to be so compromised at regular intervals. That being said, seeing everyone’s  power going haywire in one place makes for some good visual comedy.

Shuu isn’t immune to Break Out, and inadvertently teleports away as he’s walking Satou Hana (the girl who confessed to him a few eps back) home. Hana panics—not unreasonably—and calls Akane for help. Akane uses this as an excuse to practice hanging out in big crowds, and promptly assuages Hana’s fears about Shuu teleporting away intentionally.

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Hana and Akane have some great comedic exchanges in which one is weirding out the other, and the balance is pretty good. Akane completing her inner monologue by yelling “I’ll do it”, or Hana loudly ruling out marriage without context to the crowds around them. I also like Akane’s two-birds-with-one-stone plan to offer advice to Hana while enduring crowds.

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But her Break Out isn’t gone, and crazy, scary things start happening, Hana doesn’t panic, but covers Akane up just as her clothes are being torn up by berserk gravity manipulation (the show avoids fanservice, since this is a serious moment). Hana then goes the extra mile, covering Akane’s escape indoors by loudly, proudly confessing her love for Shuu and her intention to go out with him with marriage in mind for the future, to great applause.

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Shuu seems pretty okay with Hana’s announcement when he sees it on TV (and would probably be even more okay if he knew she was making the announcement to save his sister undue embarrassment), but Kanade is concerned about his indifference, both about how Hana is taking charge of their relationship and, perhaps, also how little he seems to be interested in becoming king.

That’s a perfect segue to a flashback segment that serves as a How I Met Your Mother for the Sakurada parents, King Souichirou and his consort Satsuki. Unlike his kids, Sou spend much of his school years alone, constantly accompanied by his guardian/maid Sowa. He could see the discomfort in people, because reading auras is his superpower.

One day, while escaping from Sowa’s gaze for the seventeenth time, he explores the roof of the school and finds a coral-haired girl sleeping in the sun like a cat, with a petal on her nose. He gets close enough to make her think he’s up to no good (and she tells him it could be construed as an insult if he wasn’t, demonstrating the complicated nature of girls) and conscripts him as her pack-horse for grocery shopping (blowing off class in the process).

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After his face is called dull by the grocer, he and the girl head to her home, where four hungry mouths are waiting for her to make dinner (her parents are working late, not deceased). She makes dinner and Sou joins them, and it’s a transformative experience for him, whose parents have both passed and has no siblings.

The warmth and happiness exuding from the girl’s family puts a kind of spell on him. This girl, Satsuki, will be the girl he ends up marrying. Someone who makes him a better person; brings out new parts of him he didn’t know he had. She helped him become a better king, who can connect with the people in spite of his dull face It’s a lovely, funny, and incredibly efficient love story.

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Fast-forward to the present, and Satsuki remains a strong force, not letting the fact her husband is king let him get away with slacking around the house. When Shuu, presently considering a relationship of his own, seeks advice from his dad, Sou tells him the duty of a king is to make sure his family is living happily. In other words, a king must “rule” his house first, otherwise, why should he be fit to rule anything else?

Shuu takes that advice to heart when meeting with Hana on the same rooftop where Sou met Satsuki (a nice touch there!), but Hana is worried her antics at the cafe crossed the line, and Shuu is about to dump her. She maintains that fear when he accidentally teleports them both to an arctic range, even going so far as to fear he’s going to leave her there after dumping her!

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Of course, she’s got it all wrong: Shuu was glad and inspired by her courageous, confident announcement, and far from thinking she’s not a good match for her, he was worried he wasn’t a good enough match for her. But he wants to be, and he’s going to work to become just that, if Hana would stay by his side even after the elections.

It’s a lovely romantic moment and a happy ending that’s about to be punctuated by a kiss…but the episode reminds us they are in Antarctica (or Nepal)…and Shuu need to get them somewhere warmer pronto!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, completes and episode full of wit and heart; funny images and touching moments and connections. In other words, the best JnD yet.

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Joukamachi no Dandelion – 07

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It’s a strict two-parter this week, with stories so different, the siblings at the focus of the first half barely appear in the second. First, Akane has a fever and the King and Queen are going out, leaving Kanade in charge. (Where’s Aoi? Who knows?) When cold compresses and porridge can’t get Akane’s temperature down (and dare not use her powers to conjure the undiscovered cure), Shiori risks catching Akane’s cold by giving her a kiss. The King is also a bit of a worrywart, and so kept a team of special forces on alert. Their accidental storming of the house is nicely handled by Kanade, and Akane and Shiori aren’t the worse for wear.

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The second half is dominated by Hikari, whom I’m on record as not being the biggest fan of because I’m not the biggest fan of Ogura Yui’s squeaky voice. Fortunately, Hikari is aged up to idol-age, and her conflict arises when she’s paired with the super hard-working, no-nonsense veteran idol she admires, Sachiko, who resents Hikari for being talented but sloppy. When Sacchy is asked to play second fiddle in a double concert, she’s a pro about it, but she won’t acknowledge Hikari until she shows she can work hard too.

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Sacchy not only inspires Hikari to ace a test in school after failing a previous one, but to also train harder in preparation for the concert. When it arrives, the two perform well, but Sacchy meets with a spot of bad luck and twists her ankle on stage. Hikari goes out there alone and finishes the show, with Sacchy watching from the dressing room, impressed and realizing she misjudged Hikari. In all, the segment is an interesting study of the different worlds Hikari can inhabit when she ages herself up.

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Joukamachi no Dandelion – 06

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J-Dan has become a surprisingly rich and complex tapestry of sibling dynamics, not hesitating to jump back in time to show us how they struggled with their powers in one way or another while making their place in the world, and how they continue to work hard and grow as they compete for the Kingship. It’s a big family but the show has proven surprisingly deft at juggling them, even as it tends to play favorites (i.e. Akane).

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I for one was greatly entertained by the unveiling of Misaki and her seven deadly clones, so I was happy to see them back this week, especially since this “Misaki Summit” is really just Misaki herself going over something in her own head; only the individual emotional parts of her head are manifested as physical clones.

It’s a weighty metaphysical concept made incredibly simple and easy to digest, as Misaki laments all her siblings campaigning so hard for themselves while she puts “country first.” But with some well-timed advice from Haruka, she realizes her position is just another kind of selfishness. Anyone who runs for King must be a little selfish, after all.

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What’s cuter than Akane? LIL’ AKANE. Just look at that mischievous little squirt! We see her in one of the episode’s many flashbacks, as Kanade takes her out to the park to play even though Shuu warned them not to. Kanade tries to keep Akane on her side by conjuring up that hero outfit for her, followed by a giant castle, but it materializes incompletely because she’s run out of funds.

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When she tries to force-conjure a staircase, the columns holding the castle up disappear. Shuu pushes Akane to safety, but his legs are crushed by the rubble, and right up to the present, he can’t participate in strenuous sports, even though he dreamed of becoming a soccer star. It’s a pretty dark and intense memory Kanade bears every day, and while none of her siblings are sure why she wants to be King, we learn why here: she’ll do everything in her power to help Shuu fully recover.

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Kanade’s determination to win makes her frustrated with her near-perfect older sister Aoi, who seems to achieve or gain everything so easily while Kanade must pay, either in hard lessons like Shuu or currency. But Aoi has her story to tell as well, and it’s just as dark and brooding.

As it turns out, Aoi has a power beyond simply remembering everything she studies and everyone she meets: she can also, if she chooses, make someone do whatever she wants, no matter how ridiculous. When she first gained the power, she used it inadvertently, but gradually figured out she was manipulating people.

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Even though she learned not to carelessly issue direct commands to people, a part of her still felt she gained her three friends by “cheating” with that power. But when in the present the three say “no” to her offer to buy them tea for helping her hang posters, they qualify it by saying they’ll share the bill.

Before her powers fully manifested, she had to go out on a limb and ask them to be her friends, and they agreed of their own free will, just as they continue to want to be her friends because that’s what they are, not because they have to.

And who is it who makes this observation that sets Aoi’s mind at ease, and possibly opens the way for Aoi to consider running more seriously for King despite her secret power? Akane, of course.

She may be painfully shy, but she can also be mighty perceptive and supportive to those she cares about. She, and all the other siblings in this show, have most definitely made me care about them.

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