Love After World Domination – 09 – Become Strong, Then Fall in Love

One minute you’re alone with your girlfriend in her dorm, the next, you’re staring down her eccentric, fanatical father and taciturn yet hostile little sister. The latter, Magahara Urami, is basically the protagonist of this episode, and she’s in crisis.

This…man, who is dressed as a common Gekko foot solider, seems to have turned her invincible sister into a weak, girly softie. The main flaw with Urami’s position is that she couldn’t be more wrong, but she has to learn that the hard way.

When Fudou, who makes up the fake name Mudou, assures Desumi’s dad that she only turned down the monster promotion after careful consideration, then insists he allow Desumi to attend college, both Urami and Pops are furious that an “outsider” is interfering in family matters.

Pops even starts a fight with Fudou, and demonstrates his carefully-honed “Art of Defeat”; i.e. the most stylish way of taking a hit. Pops leaves impressed with Fudou’s devotion to a cause and will table the university discussion, and Desumi sees him off with a smile.

Urami spends the night, presumably hiding in the closet from a big sister she no longer recognizes, thanks to “Mudou” “ruining” her. Growing up, Urami’s problems with communicating and resting emo face made her an easy target for bullies, all of whom were obliterated by Desumi. It’s no surprise Urami developed a sister complex.

When the sisters visit Gekko’s HQ and Desumi receives a royal greeting befitting her rank, Urami briefly believes that the badass sister she knows is still in there…only for Desumi to scold the foot soldiers for going out of their way, and get upset they don’t notice her new (adorable) hairdo. Urami is in awe of HQ and particularly Desumi’s co-workers and superiors, but Desumi would rather go shopping with her in Harajuku.

Urami is beside herself with frustration…how could the sister she loved and idolize become thus? She storms off in a huff and sulks in a dark alley, where she’s cornered by three lunkheads who aren’t at all concerned with age limits. She’s about to clobber them, but when they call her an “emo kid” like the bullies of her past and present, she freezes up.

That’s when Desumi appears, two delectable crepes in hand, and ignores the dopes entirely. When they warn her that they’re “bad guys”, Desumi puts on her game face and ethers all three of them so easily the show doesn’t bother showing the carnage, only the aftermath. Urami may think Desumi has “gone soft”, but the fact of the matter is she’s as strong as she’s ever been.

She realizes she once told Urami that one must become strong to survive, but now that she’s older she knows that’s not enough. If you want to survive and thrive, you have to fall in love. Urami returns home wearing the hairband her sister bought her. She hated the new version of her big sister at first, but having seen that she dole out carnage and be cute at the same time, maybe this new Desumi isn’t so bad after all.

“Mudou”, on the other hand, will be the first to be purged when she rises up in Gekko.

Love After World Domination – 08 – The Heat Is On

Fudou and Desumi have a problem: someone not named Haru knows about them and, unlike Haru, is not rooting for them. I thought that someone might be Misaki, judging from that tiny glimpse last week. But when we’re introduced to Desumi’s gyaru classmate Houjou, it’s clear who the true culprit is.

Fudou meets her at the park, where Houjou proceeds to try and utterly fail to blackmail him in various ways. She threatens to make the photo public; he’s fine with that as long as she blacks out Desumi’s face. She tells him to break up with her; he refuses. She tells him to say he loves her; he won’t. She tries to get him to kiss his hand, only to pull it back, unable to go through with it herself.

At their next clandestine meet-up, Fudou tells Desumi the situation, and while her first impulse is to “silence” the girl “permanently”, she thinks she knows what’s going on: this girl must be in love. Fudou promises Desumi that she doesn’t have to worry, and that he’ll handle it.

At their next meeting, Fudou politely but firmly acknowledges the girl’s feelings for him and expresses his gratitude for them, but before he can turn her down, she clears up a misunderstanding: she’s in love with Desumi, not him.

Ostracized at school for her personal style and a false rep for looseness, Desumi was the only one to approach and befriend her. Houjou inspired Desumi to do her nails. Oh yeah, and she’s been under Desumi’s nose all along as Gekko’s own Princess Heat!

Houjou Anna is a solid addition to the quirky cast and Sakura Ayane brings plenty of sassy vim and vigor to the role. It’s a shame she’s not in the remainder of the episode, but in her place is Haru, whom we learn isn’t the best at school and needs help studying for the finals. Desumi also confesses to being bad at studies, so the two of them and Fudou decide to have a study session.

The smart and obvious choice of venue for said session would be a neutral location, such as a library, but instead Desumi has Fudou and Haru dress up like Gekko minions (who all have an identical build) and sneak into her room. But once there, Fudou and Haru soon discover Desumi’s perfect test scores. Turns out Desumi isn’t bad at school and just didn’t want to be left out.

One would think that having two school-smart people tutor her would be a boon for Haru, but it turns out both Fudou and Desumi suck at teaching in different ways. Haru tries to put everything in the context of musculature, while Desumi is all about meaningless motivational slogans. Haru takes her leave, confident that studying alone would serve her better than remaining with these two kooky lovebirds.

Haru leaving means Fudou is alone in his girlfriend’s bedroom for the first time, and I love how he just lets it wash over him. Desumi, on the other hand, is distracted by Haru mentioning universities. Fudou tells Desumi his goal is to go on to university and study education so he can teach elementary school.

Desumi has no such long term goals other than wanting to remain by Fudou’s side…even if her dad expects her to work at Gekko full time after high school. Speaking of Desumi’s dad, both he and Desumi’s little sister arrive at her door quite unexpectedly, leaving Fudou trapped and with very few viable hiding spots, considering his build. Will next week be a “meet her family” scenario?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Love After World Domination – 07 – The Reaper of Oyafuko-dori

Green Gelato, AKA Todoroki Daigo, is regarded as the unflappable psychological rock of Gelato 5. But when he delivers a home-cooked meal to Fudou and sees he is writing an exchange diary for his girlfriend and hears her full name—Magahara Desumi—he suddenly goes into convulsions and collapses. When he comes to he tells Fudou why: Desumi was the monster he created.

So begins a tale of regret and trauma, as Daigo recounts how he regarded himself as the top karate student in the prefecture (both of them were Hataka natives). Then a pint-sized, seven-year-old Desumi showed up one day, his sensei assigned him, a middle schooler, to look after her…and she nearly killed him with one punch.

Each time she nearly one-shotted him, he refused to do anything but save face and look cool, which of course only made Desumi more enthusiastic about training. Within days, she’d defeated Daigo’s master, who closed the dojo and became a hermit. But Daigo kept training her, even as it seemed likely to shorten his life considerably. No doubt he simply couldn’t turn his back on such a talented (yet cute and innocent) fighter.

His face-saving delusions that she always bought aside, Desumi didn’t so much surpass Daigo as was always superior. She developed a reputation as “The Reaper of Oyafuko-dori” as a middle-schooler, eviscerating all challengers and developing the thick lonely, bored shell which Fudou would eventually help her break out of.

Daigo’s parents divorced and he had to move to Tokyo, he met her one last time on the riverbank, and despite going all out, was put on his back easily. Now that Young Desumi is back in his life, Daigo feels he must put his trauma aside and do his duty as Gelato 5’s recruiter by bringing Desumi into the fold. Of course, he’s still oblivious to the fact she’s already a Gekko executive.

 

Fudou can’t help but admit that having Desumi as Black Gelato would mean spending a lot more time together, so he arranges a meeting with her and Daigo. After some reminiscing, Daigo gets down to brass tacks and offers her a job with Gelato 5. Like Fudou, it’s an enticing offer, but she thinks about her family and comrades and respectfully declines.

She’s happy where she is and is worried if she was any happier she’d open herself up to karmic retribution. But seeing this older, gentler, somehow cuter Desumi flirt with Fudou like an ordinary girlfriend gives Daigo the completely wrong impression that she’s gone soft, and calls her out to a riverback to fight once again.

He sets the stake of their duel: if she wins, he’ll give up on recruiting her. If he wins, she’ll join Gelato 5 and end her relationship with Fudou, mentioning to her for the first time that Gelato forbids workplace relationships. While Desumi would have likely beaten Daigo (even in his Gelato suit, which his survival instinct activates without thinking), she gets super-fired up about winning when her relationship with Fudou is on the line.

Just as in the past when she’d very nearly killed him, Daigo plays it cool, saying he couldn’t go all out against his beloved pupil after so long, and grudgingly accepts defeat, with some final words of warning: whatever she ends up doing with her immense power, don’t go over to the dark side of Gekko. Whoops…

After parting ways with Daigo, Fudou and Desumi agree that they’ve gotten a bit too loose and comfortable being a public couple, and vow to take steps to being more careful. This includes Fudou pulling her off him should she take him by the arm in public, though that might prove both emotionally and physically impossible.

Regardless, they are still being watched and photographed in the shadows by someone I assumed at first to be Misaki, but might actually be a heretofore unseen character. Looks like Fudou and Desumi are in store for more drama and adversity…

Love After World Domination – 06 – Beauty and the Beach

Summer’s here, and Desumi wants to do summer dating stuff with Fudou. Fudou’s completely on board, but doesn’t know if he can handle Desumi in a swimsuit (even though her villainess uniform is basically occult lingerie). But if anyone can arrange it so their respective teams have a battle on the beach, it’s these two.

Back at Gekko’s cafeteria (which I stress is not an evil cafeteria, just a regular cafeteria…which is great) We get more of Beast Princess and Desumi interacting, which is never not fun times. Beast is basically an earlier version of Desumi before she found love, but while Beast thinks Desumi should mind her evil image, she also seems to idolize her from afar.

That said, they’re both the same rank of Princess, which is below the boss-level Monster rank (Culverin Bear is technically Desumi’s boss). So it comes as a great and sudden shock when Bosslar gathers both ranks together to announce the creation of a new unit: one that will be lead by Desumi once she undergoes genetic merging with a Mountain Gorilla. She’s being promited to Monster…and all Monsters were once humans.

The downright strange ramifications of these are too simply much to go into in this brief recap, but suffice it to say I love how the show went there, and simultaneously treats it as a goofy joke and also deadly serious when it comes to Desumi. We also go in-depth into her family life as they call to congratulate her. But Desumi doesn’t want to be a monster. She wants to be a girl…Fudou’s girl.

All it takes is answering her phone in her native Hakata dialect for Fudou to sense something’s up, and like the Perfect Boyfriend he is, rushes right over to meet her on her roof. She asks him what he thinks she should do, but he tells her it doesn’t matter; she should do what she wants. He’s been with her long enough to know that while there’s no one kinder than her, she needs to turn that kindness inward more.

Desumi doesn’t want to be irrevocably transformed into an eldritch abomination, and never did, so she turns it down. Instead, she informs Bear that she got a tip (from Fudou) that Gelato would be doing test runs in part of the tokusatsu mech Gelato Robo. The Bear, Steel, and Beast and their underlings thus don beachwear and stake the place out. On the Robo Submarine, Misaki and Haru are also in a beachy mood.

In a brilliant sequence of misunderstandings about what she’s watching, Beast, whose real name is Majima Kiki, witnesses Desumi emerge from their hiding spot to take Red Gelato on, bury him in the sand to torture him (actually just for fun), smash his head in (actually a watermelon), and infiltrate the enemy (going to say Hi to Haru and meet Misaki). Because she’s not wearing her usual getup, no one knows she’s Reaper Princess.

Instead, Misaki simply realizes the truth: whoever this Desumi is, she and Fudou are dating, and she’s made Fudou a better and more open person. It’s probably the first time Desumi has been told she’s had a positive impact on Fudou, since she is usually fixated on the positive impact he’s had on her.

After some barbecue, fireworks, and sparklers, Big Gelato prepares to fire the big finale, but accidentally closes one of the missile hatches. Kiki, who had been being chased by Blue Gelato (who is apparently a cad) the whole time, witnesses the resulting explosion just as Desumi is rejoining her, laughing the whole time.

Of course, Kiki mistakes Reaper’s giddy laughter over what a fun day at the beach she’s had as sadistic pleasure in the wake of the destruction of the Gelato submarine. Desumi’s true superpower seems to be tremendously good luck, such that she doesn’t even have to hide how she acts and feels; her comrades will simply assume something else entirely.

Love After World Domination – 05 – Real Steel Feels

That Desumi is the happiest she’s ever been now that she’s dating her sweetheart Fudou probably goes a long way to explaining why she’s obliterating the other princesses in the Gekko rankings. But she’s not content to be happy and successful in love.

When she overhears the Steel Princess dishing with the Beast Princess about someone she loves in the cafeteria (which is not an evil cafeteria…just a cafeteria), Beast wants nothing to do with it, but Desumi is all ears.

Steel’s problem is the same as Desumi’s pre-Fudou: why would anyone love someone like her? She lacks confidence and courage to go after what she wants. Desumi determines that what Steel needs is a strict self-improvement regimen and crash course in femininity.

Beast gets pulled into this scheme with Desumi Steel, but the end result of all the pilates and cooking and makeup sessions is that Steel ends up feeling even more inadequate and worthless than before Desumi tried to help. Beast gives Desumi a distinct told ya so.

During the latest Gelato-Gekko clash, Desumi does what someone does in a stable and healthy relationship: discuss problems she’s having and those of her work associates. The thing is, Fudou doesn’t expect anything of Desumi, just to be by his side.

Desumi’s mistake was making Steel think she had to change and improve in all those areas she never delved into. In reality, if the one she loves is truly right for her, like Fudou is for Desumi, all Steel has to do is be herself.

Desumi and Beast brave Steel’s lair, where she’s erected a tangle of steel spikes to ward off intruders, but Desumi breaks through it and Beast has her back. Beneath her emotionless steel mask, Steel is crying her eyes out, because she hasn’t really given up on love; she’s just not sure how to proceed.

Desumi gives Steel the nudge she needs to cast off her armor—revealing a bust larger than Desumi’s and much larger than Beast’s, inciting the latter’s fury—and confess to the one she loves…who is, of course, Culverin Bear. I thought the joke would be he’d summarily reject her, but they turn out to be a great match in both love and evil.

Fresh off her workplace cupid duties, Desumi decides the time is right for her and Fudou to feed each other the adorable bento she made for the  occassion. The team-up of Steel and Bear proves enough of a problem for the other Gelatos that Blue goes looking for Red, but is stopped in his tracks by Haru, who is determined to protect their secret love.

Desumi is about to place her lovingly made tamago in Fudou’s waiting mouth when he suddenly has a bout of terrible stomach pain. He still tries to assume the position for Desumi to feed him, but she doesn’t want to under such unromantic circumstances, and he soon passes out anyway.

Thanks to Haru being nearby, Fudou gets to the hospital without his and Desumi’s relationship being exposed. Turns out he needed to get his appendix out, and three days later he’s on the mend and ready to be discharged. There’s a very thoughtful bouquet from Gekko’s Supreme Leader Bosslar, wishing him a speedy recovery so they can kill him.

Misaki, Haru, and Big are in his hospital room, but when Misaki tries to feed him an apple he peeled, Fudou clamps up, and Haru snatches the apple instead. After they leave, the apples stay, and after a brief fakeout involving his mom visiting, Desumi arrives to do the feeding.

I like how she goes to the trouble of taking off her shoes and joining him on the bed to feed him properly, and how the usual fake-out of coming within a hair’s breath of touching his lips with the apple is subverted. She’s able to feed him, and the two enjoy another milestone in their romance.

The mood is so nice, in fact, the two are ready to kiss when his mom returns. Rather than freak out at who the beautiful girl is, she takes her by the hand and rushes out, as her volleyball team is missing one. Desumi has no choice but to go with her, and she and Fudou will have to wait for another perfect moment to kiss.

That said, after the credits we see Desumi helping Fudou’s mom crush the competition at volleyball. While walking home at sunset, she also gets a special bonus: seeing a photo of her boyfriend as a not-so-little baby. I love how casually Fudou’s mom embraces Desumi and trusts her to take care of her son.

I’m glad there’s one more person Desumi doesn’t have to keep a secret from. I doubt Fudou’s mom would even care if she knew Desumi was Gekko’s Reaper Princess. If she cares for Fudou and makes him happy, that’s more than enough.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Love After World Domination – 04 – Can’t Take Me Home

This week showed that while many of the characters play rather cartoonish heroes or villains, at the end of the day everyone’s a normal human being. Desumi even attends high school and has normal friends while she’s not “at work”. But while hanging out after school, she spots Fudou with the new Pink Gelato, and her reaction—running away in tears—is as intense as her friends are confused.

Pink, AKA Haru, is also confused…by the photo of Fudou with what looks an awful lot like a girlfriend. She and Fudou aren’t on a date; she needs to ask him about the photo. But instead he intuits the reason for their meet-up is that she’s interested in upping her physical training regimen. Haru is helpless to stop him from going off on his favorite topic, and she ends up relieved, as there’s simply no way Fudou would have a girlfriend.

But he does, and she’s pissed. When Fudou and Haru’s coffee is interrupted by a call of duty, Fudou finds and engages with Desumi expecting them to go through their usual dance, only this time Desumi’s dropkick lands. He thinks it’s an accident, or they’re just a little out of sync today, but eventually he realizes Desumi is hitting him on purpose.

The two end up in a secluded warehouse, where Desumi admits that even though her brain didn’t really think Fudou was cheating on her, the sight of him with Haru sent her heart into such turmoil she didn’t know what to do with herself. In fact, she started to think maybe someone “girly” like Haru would be better for him than a jealous, violent, loathsome outcast like her.

Fudou is swift in both his comforting hug and his rebuttal: he will only love her, with everything he’s got, as long as he lives. With her totally undeserved self-loathing out of her system, she and Fudou simply exist together for a bit, hand in hand, planning an afterschool date in their school uniforms…when all of a sudden they notice that Pink Gelato is sitting right next to them.

Fudou and Desumi are certain they’re 100% busted and doomed. But the thing is…they aren’t, at least not for the time being. They both believe Haru is planning something, and simply biding her time before she drops the hammer. But Haru is conspicuous in not only not telling anyone what she saw, but acting like she never saw it; like everything’s normal.

That is, until Fudou and Desumi’s after-school date. After a civet(!)-based false alarm, Desumi realizes Haru is lying in wait, and sends Fudou off on an interminable and ultimately doomed Starbucks run. Haru doesn’t mince words, challenging Desumi to a duel. Despite her transforming into Pink Gelato, Desumi handles her easily even in her school uniform. After all, Pink’s only been at this six months; Desumi’s a veteran enemy commander.

Desumi puts the end to the fight by knocking Haru out, but Haru is shocked to find that when she wakes up, Desumi is still there beside her. She admits that she joined Gelato 5 because she was in love with Fudou. She always suspected someone so amazing would have a girlfriend, but never expected it to be someone else she knew. Turns out Desumi rescued her from some thugs in an alley…and inspired her to become stronger.

Haru heard everything Desumi said to Fudou in the warehouse about how “love was making her weak”, but after fighting her, Haru assures her she’s as strong as ever. As for why she didn’t snitch on them, well…as much as she wanted Fudou to be hers, it just wasn’t in her to steal happiness from Fudou or Desumi. When Haru says this her eyes well up with big soppy tears. Desumi can’t help but hug her, and then she starts crying too.

When a very confused Fudou sees Haru’s head in Desumi’s lap and asks what’s going on, Desumi simply shushes him; let Pink Gelato rest a little more. Once she’s awake and back in her uniform, the three walk a bit together. Having experienced a catharsis, Haru is now rooting for Fudou and Desumi…but playfully won’t rule out stealing Fudou if given the chance.

It’s amazing how quickly this love triangle came together this week, and how affecting it was throughout its progression. From Desumi’s early jealous spiraling and Fudou’s stalwart vow he’ll never leave her side, to Haru’s discovery of their tryst and how she handles it, this was Koiseka at its best and most heartwarming.

Love After World Domination – 03 – Never Want to Touch the Ground

There haven’t been any battles between Gelato 5 and Gecko for two weeks, and both Fudou and Desumi are missing each other something fierce. So when Gelato detects a new weapon at Gecko HQ, Fudou impresses both Misaki and the Professor by valiantly volunteering to undertake a potential suicide mission alone.

Naturally, his comrades are unaware he just needs to see Desumi really bad. Dropping in suddenly makes her happy, but she has to use her lightning speed on more than one occasion to keep him from being spotted by her comrades. This results in her sitting on his face, then getting smushed into her locker with him and her bras.

When Culverin Bear comes in her dressing room, it looks like the discovery of their secret forbidden love is imminent…until Desumi lashes out in embarrassment, sending Fudou flying out of the locker, knocking Bear unconscious and activating his new weapon, which then self-destructs. Fudou gives Desumi his phone number, only for her to learn it’s the land line of his family home.

Fudou’s drop-in is followed up by a meeting of colorful, eccentric Gecko baddies, naturally led by a boss named…Bosslar. The various villains try to come up with the manner and location of the next battle against Gelato, and all Desumi comes up with are fun date locations, because she wants to see Fudou again. Bear actually backs her on the suggestion of an amusement park.

Misaki, suspicious of Fudou’s new smartphone, decides to stalk Fudou when he heads to the amusement park, dragging Haru with her. While Misaki clearly has a tendency towards sisterly meddlesomeness, Haru is more trusting of Fudou, and also seems to be hiding a hidden crush on the big lug.

When Fudou and Desumi meet as planned and begin to grapple, they are both surprised by the sudden arrival of Yellow and Pink Gelato. No matter; they speed away to fight a duel as in previous battles, only here they change into street clothes and ride a series of fun amusement park rides. All the while, both Misaki and Haru are convinced that Fudou is just his usual good hero self and nothing is up.

Despite being a superhero, Fudou gets motion sickness form the rides, including the intimate Ferris Wheel. Desumi no doubt finds this cute about him, and is happy to learn something about her sweetheart she didn’t know. But she also uses it as an opportunity to take Fudou’s hand, which causes his sickness to subside, replaced by warm, happy vibes.

Those vibes may not last much longer, however, as Haru has a quick passing glance at photos of people on rides and spots Fudou riding a roller coaster with some woman. If we’re going by anime logic Haru can’t recognize the Reaper Princess unmasked, but the fact Fudou is with a girl at all is a huge shock for Haru, and will likely have far-reaching repercussions. One thing I’m sure of is that the added stakes won’t detract from the snappy comedy or the sweet romance.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 08 – The Rice Harvest

The Gourmet Guild starts this episode out split up, each member on a different errand or with a different plan for the day. Kokkoro heads into town to mail a large stack of letters when she encounters Suzuna and Misaki, two students at Lucent Academy with exceedingly bad grades. When bandits steal the guild’s treasure—and the letters—Kokkoro teams up with the busily-costumed kids to tack them down.

With help from Kokkoro’s faerie friends, locating the bandits’ hideout is no problem; the issue is getting their letters back without being detected. Misaki decides that detection is the whole point, and proceeds to attempt to use her “mature feminine pheromones” to distract the bandits. But once she starts pole-dancing on her staff, they lock her up as a little kid who is “messed up in the head.”

Meanwhile, Yuuki is wandering the capital, wondering why he forgot his old companions and couldn’t protect them. Labyrista bumps into him and provides an ear to listen, as well as some advice: he has a group of friends and companions now; he should just focus on them. Yuuki vows he won’t let Pecorine, Kokkoro, or Karyl come to harm this time. Across the city, in the palace, Karyl inadvertently snoops on Kaiser bathing.

As for Pecorine, she’s been harvesting rice all day in between catnaps, but spots “Princess Eustiana” in the field, worried that if the others know her true identity, they’ll forget her and everything about her, and she’ll lose everything all over again. She wakes up in tears.

Kokkoro and Suzuna manage to free Misaki, but not before getting spotted y the bandits, who chase them through the forest. Thankfully, the kids’ teacher Io-sensei saw the large cloud of smoke Kokkoro used and brings the city guard, led by Tomo, to arrest the bandits and recover both the treasure and the letters. But when it comes time to mail their letters of recommendation to another school, Suzuna and Misaki rip them up instead, choosing to stick with Io-sensei.

While surely unsettled by her dream, Pecorine is soon joined by Yuuki and then Karyl, who are back home and ready to pitch in. Their arrival means more to Peco than they know, considering how troubled she was, and the work goes that much faster…although there’s still a lot of rice to harvest. That’s where the purpose of Kokkoro’s many letters comes into focus.

Kokkoro arrives with dozens of friends in tow—a veritable who’s-who of PriConne characters, answering Kokkoro’s call to lend a hand (or hoof). The harvest is thus finished in no time, and a grand feast is prepared that everyone shares in, celebrating both a job well done and their friendship.

Pecorinehas a seat under a tree with Kokkoro, and sees the “ghost” of Princess Eustiana again, only she simply smiles at Peco, and Peco smiles back. She tells Kokkoro (who couldn’t see the ghost) that after losing everything she never thought she’d have a meal like this with everyone again, but is so happy she can, she starts to shed tears of joy in between bites of her onigiri.

Kokkoro can’t help but follow suit, and Peco tells her that she’s finally ready to tell Karyl and Yuuki who she really is—the true crown princess of Landosol. From seemingly innocuous errands, we arrive at the cusp of a major declaration.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 22 – Dearly beloved

As last week’s transcendent finish showed, Fuuka doesn’t have to actually do anything to cheer Fuuka up, clear her head, and ultimately make her decide to return to Tingarla and get back to work. Whether it’s when Kukuru first spots her at the hatching, takes Kukuru’s hand and shakes her head when Kukuru says she’s only causing trouble for everyone, or just sleeping peacefully beside Kukuru, being there is what matters.

The next afternoon, Kukuru is with Fuuka on the ferry home, but not before thanking Misaki for taking care of her. During this time, Fuuka learns that sea turtles are endangered, in large part due to man-made harm. Considering I learned about this stuff when I was still in school, I was a little surprised by Fuuka’s ignorance, but it’s never too late to learn.

Back at the office, Kukuru’s boss Suwa responds to her deep bow of apology by thrusting the marked-up wedding proposal into her hands and telling her if she finishes this, deal or no deal, he’ll recommend her for an opening in the attendant department, allowing her to do what she’s always loved and come naturally to her. Karin wants that attendant job too, and Kukuru doesn’t really seem to dread the possibility of losing!

That’s because learning more about Misaki’s conservation efforts inspired Kukuru to do her part—not as an attendant, but as a marketer—to spread the word about how things are and what can be done about it. If she needs to make compromises to the wedding planner Miura, so be it: the more people walk through Tingarla’s doors, the more people will fall in love with it, and do more to help protect it.

That includes the curt and impatient Miura, who initially cuts Kukuru’s tour short to get down to business. Kukuru and Suwa show her the wedding venue, and this time Kukuru has more quick (and satisfying) answers to Miura’s rapid-fire questions. The first meeting wasn’t a failure, because it gave her the knowledge she needed to make the second presentation successful.

After accepting Kukuru’s “Wedding Under the Sea” proposal, Miura’s demeanor softens considerably, and she’s eager to continue the tour. She even leaves with a big jellyfish plushie, having enjoyed herself much more than she thought she would. And what do you know, Suwa finally praises Plankton! Sure, all he says is “Well done” and walks away, but for this guy, it’s huge.

Kukuru’s mood thus immensely improved and the job done, she finally gets to relax with her friends at Ohana, and is all smiles and laughs. But she has to be reminded that she’s in the running for an attendant position, because she was so focused on the wedding task before her. There’s a scene where she also makes Kai take a rain check on talking about something, and it’s here at the restaurant both we and Kukuru learn what: Kai’s dad collapsed, and the attendant opening is due to his departure.

Kukuru bails on the celebration, tries to call Kai, then lucks out to find him still at the aquarium. Kai confirms his dad needs surgery, so he won’t be able to work for a while, but doesn’t want to see Kukuru make sad faces. He’s not leaving permanently, after all; just going on leave until his family’s alright.

Ever since getting her drive back and then knocking the wedding proposal out of the park, Kukuru has no doubt considered simply staying in marketing. Will she reconsider now that she knows Kai will feel most safe knowing she’ll be tending to the animals in his place? If it’s just a temporary thing, then why not?

The aquatope on white sand – 21 – Don’t wallow…struggle!

The way Kukuru simply disappeared last week was extremely worrying, but it turns out she simply needed to get away. Asking herself over and over “What am I doing?”, the answer is clear: work got to be too much, so she needed a break. She takes the ferry to sleepy Yamenura Island, where she soon runs into Umi-yan’s wife Misaki, a professor specializing in sea turtles.

Kukuru did the right thing by eventually responding to an understandably worried Fuuka by telling her she’s safe and everything’s fine, she just needed time off. Fuuka tries to cover for Kukuru like a good friend and co-worker, but Suwa sees right through the ruse, and tells Fuuka not to interfere with matters that aren’t her job. The way Suwa phrases it makes Fuuka so mad she starts shadowboxing like Kukuru, and almost accidentally slugs Kai in the face!

While there’s always a measure of underlying worry and stress one gets while playing hooky, it’s largely neutralized by the extremely chill vibes of Yameruna. Misaki, a wise woman, tells Kukuru she’s going to get yelled at later, but no point being sad about it now. She should enjoy the time she’s taken…and she does, by sleeping in, taking a leisurely stroll to the tiny island aquarium, and watching one of her gramps’ protégés in action.

Even if she knows Kukuru is fine, a part of Fuuka still wants to be with Kukuru during this time. When she learns from Gramps that Choko will be joining Tingarla soon, she wants to text Kukuru, but hesitates, worried the timing of such a text would be wrong.

She’s distracted, and shortly afterward an overly curious penguin gets badly pecked and scratched up by territorial peers. Fuuka blames herself, but both her boss says penguins fight all the time. The vet tells Fuuka not to wallow, but struggle. There’s no time for regretting when you’re carefully watching over living things.

The night arrives when Misaki’s quarry, a huge nest of sea turtle eggs, finally hatch, and it’s probably the event of Yameruna, which I may have mentioned is usually super laid back and tranquil. Much like the baby penguin’s first dip, the tension of this event is extremely nicely built up, then released when the adorable baby turtles emerge from the sand in droves.

Kukuru looks both awed and honored to be present for such an event, then overhears someone behind her saying “It’s amazing.” She recognizes the voice, because it’s Fuuka, who learned through Umi-yan that Kukuru was on the same island as his wife.

Instead of running into each other’s arms, Kukuru and Fuuka stand apart and continue to quietly observe the magic of nature. The hugs, tears, laughter, and scolding will come later. For now, they’ll keep a close eye on the animals.

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 04 – Foxy Lady

When a beautiful woman appears she’s initially delighted to find that Nene, Kou and Hanako have constructed a human-ish body. But when she makes it move, it crumbles into a pile of parts; another “failure”she’ll add to the growing heap behind her, where Aoi and all the others who fell into her stairs lie, neither dead nor alive.

However, her scissors have the ability to turn a human (or a part of them) into a doll, so Hanako reiterates their goal of finding Misaki’s Yorishiro (or weakness). If the highest spot isn’t the deepest, then perhaps the lowest spot is…so he shoves Nene off the edge, and she falls, falls, and falls some more.

When she comes to she’s lying near the gate to a temple, surrounded by concerned Mokke. She finds a desk, an old photo, and a notebook that contains a kind of dialogue between a girl and her handwriting teacher. The handwriting gets better as the pages go on, but one day the teacher, named Misaki, doesn’t return.

Misaki, then, isn’t the woman in the kimono trying to turn everyone into dolls, but the teacher who abandoned her, likely when he died, or simply moved away. In any case, Nene now knows the woman’s weakness: a pair of haircutting scissors gifted to her by Misaki.

When the lady finds Nene and attacks her, Hanako intervenes, protecting Nene and giving her cover to make a run for the shrine containing the scissors. While the woman’s story is a sad one of unfulfilled love, she’s gone too far and way beyond her duties as a School Wonder. With her Yorishiro broken, Hanako strips her of her power.

Back in the realm of the living, Nene is safe and sound, while both a doll-ified Aoi, Kou, and all the other victims will be restored to their humanity. They were never dead, just trapped in between worlds. Then Hanako reveals the true form of the woman: an Inari statue in the form of a kitsune, or fox spirit.

In the past, Misaki-sensei befriended the ghost who inhabited the kitsune statue, name turns out to be Yako, and even included her when a photo was taken of him and his class. Yako grudingly agrees not to continue her mischief, but isn’t in a hurry to befriend Nene nor anyone else.

This latest School Wonder case thus solved, the black crane, really a black Haku-joudai  hiding in Nene’s hair, returns to its master, who then returns it to his master, a green-haired girl wearing the same uniform as Nene. She seems pleased things worked out. I assume at she’ll reveal herself and her intentions to Nene and/or Hanako at some point.

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 03 – Into the Stairs

Nene gets lost in the clouds wrestling with the knowledge that Hanako-kun was a murderer. Her BFF Akane Aoi notices, and wants to cheer her up. Knowing Nene likes scary stories, she tells her about another School Wonder, the  “Misaki Stairs” by the art room. Anyone who steps on the fourth step is dragged into the underworld and torn to bits.

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun comes in a few days later than Magia Record with its cursed school stairs. But Hanako-kun makes a great point to Nene: Apparitions need human attention to survive, and scary or unsettling stories about them are simply more memorable, because they serve both as entertainment and caution.

As soon as Aoi’s teacher came in telling her to meet him in the art room—beside which the Misaki stairs stood—I knew she’d fall victim to the very rumor she relayed to Nene. And so the next day, not only are Aoi’s plants and Aoi’s desk gone, but classmates, teachers, even her parents have never even heard of her.

The only one who remembers is Nene. The episode is very effective at building dread as Nene exhausts all possibilities and it dawns on her that her best friend has been erased. Fortunately, Nene is friendly with the Seventh School Wonder. Not only that, she’s not the only one who lost someone; Kou lost two classmates.

Nene and Kou meet in Hanako’s bathroom, and he tells them that their classmates were pulled into the Spirit World. The fourth Misaki stair is a boundary between the worlds, so the trio crosses that boundary and finds themselves in a lush, multi-leveled whimsical city populated by creepy masked dolls.

Hanako-kun warns the humans that while in the domain of a School Wonder, that Wonder holds all the cards and thus can’t be defeated by outsiders. To that end, they must play the Wonder’s game. Here, the Misaki Stairs manifest not just in the mad town, but in a woman who calls them on the phone.

We learn Misaki was a teacher who was slashed to pieces in the school years ago, so the “game” consists of Nene, Kou and Hanako finding a part of her in order to advance to the next level of the town. Hanako believes if they ascend high enough they’ll reach the location of Hanako’s Yorishiro, a precious object that serves as a Wonder’s power source.

This could all be an elaborate attempt to generate more buzz in the human world, but if that’s the case, why are Nene and Kou the only ones who notice anyone is missing? And what was up with that unusually hot guy Nene bumps into, and who leaves a black crane in her uniform?

We’ll have to wait until next week to find out, but this was a strong start to a two-parter, full of dread, atmosphere, and stakes.

Another – 06

Sakakibara gets used to being ignored along with Misaki in his class, and he uses the time to learn more about Misaki and the “curse”, which defies both memories and records and is more like a force of nature than anything overtly evil or malicious. He even learns his mother was in Class 3. He wants to know if there’s any precedent for the killing ending midyear, and if they can stop it this year, but their teacher enters class one day with a butcher’s knife…

As the pieces of the picture fall into place one by one for Sakakibara, this episode plays mostly like slice-of-life, or more accurately, slice-of-near-death, since his class now pretends he doesn’t exist. The more he talks to and learns about Misaki, the more intrigued he is by her, particularly the strength and dedication needed to accept being the pariah that she is. She says she’s glad it was her, so she didn’t have to pretend someone else didn’t exist. She says she understands that the class has to do everything it can – but we’re with Sakakibara when we say we can’t believe this is how things go down, especially when it only avoids deaths half of the time, at best.

Above all, we’re impressed with Sakakibara’s poise so far. He’s taking his situation in stride. Because hey, things could be worse, right? At least he has a pretty girl to talk to. The meat of the episode was some really nice dialogue between the two, mostly about their situation. His growing fondness for Misaki culminates in a hilarious daydream that caught us totally by surprise in which the two of them get up in the middle of a silent study session and start laughing and dancing. After all the dark, brooding atmosphere built up thus far, it was nice to know the series doesn’t completely lack a sense of humor.


Rating: 4

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