Kageki Shoujo!! – 09 – A Beautiful Frame

Even Kouka has a sports festival, and every ten years it’s a grand sports festival; since this will be the centennial festival it’s even more significant. For instance, Kouka’s “Superiors” will be heavily involved in the festivities.

Since Ai, like us, has no idea what that meants, Sawa helpfully explains they’re venerable veteran actresses who don’t belong to any one troupe and enjoy a higher rank than top stars and troupe leads. They are the creme de la creme, and the episode really sells that fact.

That said, the four top otoko-yaku in one room is a pretty awe-inspiring sight too. These ladies are very, very good at portraying men and boys, and the first years are understandably starstruck; Sawa even bleeds from the nose at the sight of them.

The four are not just there to look handsome and get fawned upon. Just as their individual troupes compete for the most and most passionate fanbases, they’re equally passionate rivals in the sports festival. Each of them intends to win and beat the others.

At one point Sawa needs some scissors, so Sarasa voluntters to grab some from the faculty lounge. There, she encounters Andou-sensei for the first time since he basically told her to forget everything she knew about acting to that point and start over.

I love how Sarasa shows Andou what he was hoping for: that she wasn’t going to let harsh but true criticism keep her down in the dumps forever. After summer break that fleeting disappointment is in her rearview mirror. She’s back and ready to put in the work.

Back in episode 6 I mentioned my wish to learn more about the Sawada Twins, Chika and Chiaki. The remainder of this episode grants my wish and then some, delivering what I believe to be one of the most beautiful and realistic depictions of the unique issues that befall twins; namely the realization they’re not the same.

Chika, the “darker” twin, resents when Chiaki easily befriends one of the Superiors, Mirai—whom we later learn was the top star that inspired them as children to become Kouka actresses. When Mirai mistakes Chika for Chiaki and calls her “Juliet”, Chika ignores her and walks away.

It’s Chiaki who later gets in trouble with Mirai when she next sees her, ruining the good vibes of the rehearsals….but Chika, the real culprit, keeps quiet. Ultimately it’s Sarasa and her good hearing who clears up the mix-up.

That night, the twin sisters have a fight that quickly grows in nastiness, with Chika spewing most of the venom. Later we’ll learn it’s the first time they’ve fought. Now Chiaki moves out of the dorm room they share, switching places with Sarasa.

As we’d expect, Ai neither knows how nor tries to get Chiaki to open up, but Sarasa and Chika are a different story. We learn that the two did everything together and even walked in lockstep, but when they both applied for Kouka and only Chika got in, that suddenly ended their run of identicalness.

Rather than attend as was her right, Chika felt bad for Chiaki, who wasn’t eating or sleeping and didn’t leave their room, and as her twin knew the only way to console her was to turn down her acceptance and try again with her sister next year.

That pulled Chiaki out of her emotional nosedive, but it came as a cost: the twins were always going to be out of balance due to Chika’s sacrifice, which is both something she decided on her own to do and something she felt she was obligated to do, out of loyalty to her twin. She chose blood over fame.

But that resentment lingered, and festered, and caused Chika to become someone who’d pass up opportunities again and again for Chiaki’s sake. She felt she couldn’t do things for her sake and eventually came to hate Chiaki for it.

When Chika gets the opportunity to apologize to Mirai for her rudeness, she explains the dark thoughts that had overcome her, and Mirai understands. Jealous befalls us all, but the key is to turn it into ambition, and not let it twist us into self-destructive choices.

Rather than be a haughty Superior, Mirai comforts her junior like a mother would comfort a daughter, assuring her that her desire to apologize and make up with Chika means she’s a good person, and this bad experience will ultimately make her stronger person.

I’m not an identical twin, so I can’t imagine how scary and lonely it feels to them when they come upon a “fork in the road” past which they won’t be the same in everything. That fork came earlier than they expected; the mere fact they had to expect it would happen really speaks to that unique turmoil.

Part of Chika was just as apprehensive about taking off ahead of Chiaki on her side that fork in the road as Chiaki was about getting left behind. The two have accepted that they can’t be the same anymore, but they’re not ready to drift apart forever, either.

There’s potential in the Kouka Revue for twin roles, and Mirai, now friends with both twins, tells them they can realize that potential if they become popular enough. Nothing in Kouka comes easily; it takes blood, sweat, and tears. But the Superiors, and the Top Stars below them, embody what you get for all that hard work: a kind of apotheosis and immortality. Chika and Chiaki could be Kouka’s Apollo and Artemis…or twin Juliets.

Vanitas no Carte – 07 – What Is Love? Oh Domi Don’t Hurt Me…

While not a lot happens from a plot perspective this week, quite a bit of the steadily simmering love rhombus that is Jeanne, Vanitas, Domi and Noé comes into focus. This rude, selfish, annoying human has caused quite a stir in these three vampires’ hearts.

When Luca treats Noé and the others to tarte tatin at a fancy restaurant Vanitas reveals that Jeanne has “marked” him—imbuing him with some of her power while also leaving a literal rose-shaped mark on his neck. While he initially jokes that she couldn’t contain her lust for him, he then admits that the screams of the curse-bearers caused her to lose control.

Jeanne lifts him up and jumps out the window with him, landing in a dark alley demanding to know why he lied. The reality is that she is a curse-bearer who keeps herself under control with a medicine. She begs Vanitas not to tell anyone, and he gives her two conditions that underscore his genuine affection for her.

First, he insists that henceforth she drink no one’s blood but his. Second, he insists she stop calling him “Human” and start calling him by his name. Pulling his collar open to reveal her mark, she says his name as she digs her fangs back into his neck, unable to resist his sweet, sweet blood—even if the vessel of that blood’s a complete cad.

Noé, who felt compelled to chase after them, watches Jeanne bicker with Vanitas from the rooftops; it’s quite evident that he’s jealous of her closeness to him, even if he himself is to inexperienced in such things to realize this. One person who does realize it is Domi, who catches up to her Mon Chéri, but is clearly distressed when he mentions how troubled he was to hear that Jeanne sucked Vanitas’ blood.

He later elaborates that he just wanted to taste that sweet blood first, and Domi works out her frustration with him by gnawing on him, but their embrace gradually becomes more intimate when she drinks from his neck, only for him to gently slip off her glove and drink from her hand, noting that her blood is delectable. So is this scene, gorgeously lit as it is by the setting sun.

Since both guy-gal pairs had their steamy scenes, it’s only fair that the two pairs switch off for the final act, in which the dashing Domi leads Jeanne in a courtyard dance while Noé leads Vanitas in another. It’s here where Noé asks Vanitas “what in the devil is love”, to which Vanitas replies he has no idea.

All Vanitas knows is that when he thinks of Jeanne, his heart races and his body trembles. He lists all the reasons he believes those bodily reactions mean love, and none of them are more important than the fact that Jeanne will never love him, as he has “zero interest” in the sort of person who would love him. I guess that doesn’t bode well for Noé then, huh?!

As it stands, Vanitas loves Jeanne, Noé is growing to love Vanitas, Domi loves Noé, and Jeanne is strangely drawn to Vanitas. All these beautiful sexy people are all stirred up in a big romantic goulash. It’s sublime. It’s even enough for me to not particularly care how the plot progresses—except insofar as how it affects these four characters’ relationships.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 06 – His Lordship’s Guests

We learn the amorphous distorted-voiced monster isn’t named Charlatan, but is someone named Naenia who is merely part of Charlatan, when Noé is broken out of his jam by Vanitas, while Luca is protected by a no-longer-thirsty Jeanne.

The three-monster team of Charlatan decides to skedaddle before “The Queen’s Fangs” show up, and Domi rips her dress to provide protection for Vanitas while he deals with the remaining curse-bearers in the palace. One of them, a young girl, is to far gone, and Vanitas has to turn her to ash.

Here little old me I thought Domi was flamboyant; turns out she’s scared shitless of her big sister Veronica, who is the aforementioned Queen’s Fangs. Easily wearing three times her mass in fabric and a black fox mask, she unilaterally decides that the stinky mortal Vanitas is responsible for this fiasco, and decides to literally put him on ice.

Nothing and nobody can stop her and her crazy eyes…except the timely arrival of one Lord Ruthven, who cracks her mask with one tap of his pimp cane, then chides her for such an “unbecoming show of power.” Just like there’s always a bigger fish, there’s always a stronger vampire, huh?

Ruthven is ready to dispense some quick justice upon the on-ice Vanitas for turning the little girl into ash, but Noé comes between them and calls Ruthven out for not knowing remotely the whole story. Rather than angry, Ruthven is amused, but also chastened by the young buck.

He introduces himself a a member of the Senate in service of the Queen, then melts the ice to free Vanitas. But after his ordeal with Naenia and the attack from a Veronica who was not holding back, Noé finally collapses from exhaustion.

In his dream Noé’s tucked into bed, holding the hand of his Teacher, and curses himself for forcing his hopes and ideals upon Vanitas and feeling betrayed when he didn’t live up to them. The Teacher clarifies the mission he bestowed upon his student: not to determine if the book of Vanitas is a threat, but to meet those whose paths cross it, and judge it on his own terms—terms in which the Teacher clearly trusts.

When Noé wakes up he finds Vanitas perched atop a clock tower like a gargoyle, sulking. When Noé mentions how sometimes Vanitas looks like he’s “given up on something”, Vanny pulls a knife on him and says he wants nothing to do with him. Noé comes back by saying he’s never remotely liked him.

But as the sun rises between them, Vanita’s anger turns to more brooding, and Noé, feeling like he just might understand his companion a bit more, gives Vanitas a cool smile and says he’ll be remaining by his side for the time being. This comes as no surprise, as we know someday Noé will kill Vanitas…or will he?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kageki Shoujo!! – 04 – Opening of Borders

I was both fully expecting and looking forward to Sarasa either scaring Mr. Stalker away with her imposing stature or showing off her jujitsu moves if he persisted. Thankfully something completely unexpected and much better happens. Truly great art tends to challenge the viewer in some way, rather than giving them what they expect or predict.

That kind of narrative and thematic creativity really suffuses this, the best episode yet of Kageki Shoujo and the one that finally had me coming around hoping there’d continue to be less actual on-stage performance and more human drama. Like last week, there are some tough-to-watch moments, but also moments of great joy, goofiness, and redemption.

Mr. Gross Otaku, one of Sarasa’s many hilarious, unintentionally insulting nicknames for the guy, didn’t come to exact “revenge” on Ai; he came to apologize for being the one who ruined her career. He was a shut-in NEET who had lost hope until he first saw Naracchi on-screen, and it fascinated him how she was trying so hard never to smile.

In one unguarded moment, Naracchi does smile, and there’s video evidence, but that little smirk at the sight of her favorite mascot shattered Mr. Gross Otaku’s hermitic existence, inspiring him to get a job and make friends (naturally, other admirers of Naracchi). At the in-person event, he was so nervous about properly thanking her for helping save his life, he held on her her hands too long, leading to her making the remark that ended her idol career.

Taichi, who had been observing from a close distance in case Mr. Gross Otaku was a Mr. Total Perv, tells the guy that it wasn’t anything personal; in fact, it was likely only the straw that broke the camel’s back. Like Otaku Guy once did, Ai has given up on the world, and it led her to shut off her emotions. And yet, running away and leaving Sarasa alone invokes very strong emotions indeed, to the point Ai works up the courage to go back.

Naturally, her timing is terrible, and when she sees Sarasa doing goofy dance moves with the would-be tormentor while Taichi watches, Ai’s concern immediately curdles into something resembling hatred, and she storms off once again. The only problem is, poor Sarasa doesn’t know what she did to engender such hate!

Sarasa is persistent, and Ai finally makes a deal: she’ll tell her why she’s mad if she leaves her alone from now on. But when she does, Sarasa still doesn’t get it: if she came back out of worry for her, she should’ve been happy she was alright! As usual, Sarasa is right, but too blunt, and Ai retreats behind her curtain. Both girls seem incredibly unsatisfied where things end.

Sarasa, understandably getting a little fed up with being treated like this, declares that they’re “through”, though later confesses that might’ve been too harsh via Twitter to her friend Akiya—whose fellow Kabuki actor-in-training is tweeting more profound responses on his behalf. He tells Sarasa not to rush until they know each other, to be prepared for her feelings to be entirely one-sided, and appreciate that that’s beautiful in its own way.

The next day, Hijiri, Kouka’s Shit-Stirrer-in-Residence, confronts Sarasa with the pic she snapped of her with a guy (Mr. Gross Otaku), but Sarasa doesn’t have any time for this nonsense, as Ai is skipping classes and Taichi is worried about where she ended up. Sure enough, while staring at the sea, Ai is harassed by a couple of guys who recognized her, and one of them grabs her arm.

I have scarcely felt more fear and apprehension for a character than I did for Ai in this moment, but that was tempered by the knowledge that somehow in short order, Ai would be rescued. I just didn’t know it would happen by Sarasa calling Mr. Gross Otaku, who predicted Ai would go to the ocean to calm down (as she once stated in an interview) then run a social media search and locate her .

From there, all Mr. Gross Otaku has to do is buy a little time by haplessly trying to attack Ai’s harassers. He fails, faceplants, and gets a bloody nose, but still wins, as Taichi and Sarasa arrive and the latter screams for the police, who come running. There are no words for Sarasa’s transformation above as she voices satisfaction for scaring off the jerks.

What’s even more heartwarming about this entire scene that lets me forgive its many contrivances—as well as the entire premise of using stalking methods to save the target of stalkers—is that at this point, Sarasa is sticking to her guns when she said they were “through.” Yet even if she’s uncertain Ai will ever want to be her friend, she rescued her anyway, because it was the right thing to do.

When Sarasa explains to Ai how they found her and the role Mr. Gross Otaku —real name Kitaouji Mikiya—played, it’s Ai’s turn to do something completely unexpected: offer her handkerchief for Mikiya’s bloody nose. During the hand-off she drops the cloth on the ground, but it wasn’t intentional or meant as a slight.

As Ai says with tears welling up in her eyes, “this is the best I can do right now.” But Mikiya, being uncharacteristically cool, tells her to dry her eyes; all he and her other fans wanted was to see those rare and amazing moments when Naracchi genuinely smiled. Because that meant their idol was happy. He promises to return to see her perform on the Kouka stage.

Ai and Sarasa take the long walk back to their dorms, where they’ll face consequences for the incidents that transpired. While they walk, Ai opens up to Sarasa, asking her what she should do about something she wants to forget but can’t (though not going into detail). All Sarasa can tell her is to keep having good memories that will eventually cause the bad to fade from prominence.

Notably, Ai can’t see Sarasa’s face when she says this, but it sounds like a new invitation to make some of those memories with her, if she’ll have her. At this point, it’s safe to say the cat-and-mouse game between these two girls will continue, but they’ve definitely already made one of those memories Sarasa speaks of, and I’m looking forward to them making more.

As for poor, Yamada Ayako, who is now purging regularly and barely has the energy to sing, all I have to say is that every one of her upperclassmen and every adult on the faculty are totally failing her, and I’m terribly worried about how bad things will get until someone helps her. It shouldn’t have to fall to someone like Sarasa and/or Ai, but if it does I won’t complain. I just want Ayako to be happy and healthy!

Fruits Basket – 62 – Parting Gifts

Fruits Basket continues its crowd-pleasing Farewell to the Curse tour by checking in on Yuki—Remember Yuki?and Machi, picking right back up on his sudden and intent desire to see her as soon as possible. They meet in a plaza, surrounded by enthralled strangers, and she gives him a recovery gift for Tooru—some bath stuff.

Really, the gift is a thank you to Tooru for taking care of Yuki back when he was “weak as a baby deer.” Of course, she thinks it’s because of that that he noticed her at all. Yuki ends up being the last one to be broken from the Zodiac curse, but while he feels that same pang of unbearable loneliness and sadness, Machi is right there to comfort him, and show a new way forward.

The ancient, forced bonds of yore now gone, left and right people are strengthening the other, unforced bonds they developed towards the end of the curse’s reign. Perhaps none of the relationships have been as long or mercurial as the one between Shigure and Akito. Akito meets the other eleven members as her true female self, but doesn’t go so far as to ask for forgiveness.

She’s decided she’ll stay put and remain head of the Souma family, but other than that, everything changes. Shigure, who comes from not-so-behind to take the Fruits Basket crown of “Most Hated Non-Parent Character”, promises to stay by Akito’s side as long as she never stops wanting him. Hey, you can’t say they don’t deserve each other!

Finally, Tooru and Kyou have settled in to their new status quo with an easy aplomb, visiting her parents’ grave together. It’s here where Kyou announces he’ll be going away to work and train at a dojo run by a friend of Shisho’s…but he wants her to come with him. Her answer, obviously, is yes, and she’s not going to budge on it, as we know Tooru can indeed be quite stubborn when she wants to be.

We see through her eyes a scenario of her exiting the shade of the trees into the blinding light of the dojo courtyard, and Kyou warmly welcoming her, perhaps followed by them having a picnic or something. As soon as the image enters Tooru’s head, she’s in. It will be sad to leave the other people who love her, but she’d be even sadder without Kyou. She’s waited long enough for him; she’s not leaving his side again.

Before departing from the grave together, Kyou asks for Kyouko’s blessing, as he’s fulfilling his promise to protect her girl forever. That’s when it’s revealed that, as expected, Kyou misunderstood Kyouko when he found her dying in the street that day. She had a whole monologue going on in her head, and the “I’ll never forgive you” was only the very end of it and the only bit she actually got out.

She meant to say she’d never forgive him if he didn’t keep his promise, so since he is, there’s no problem! Tooru was right about her mom. Of course she was; she was the one she loved most until Kyou came into her life. As for Kyouko, she learned when she died that leaving someone you love hurts every bit as much as being left, but one is that much happier upon being reunited, as she is with Katsuya in the afterlife.

Just all around good feels this week, with the possible exception of the scenes featuring Shigure. Even so, I have to admit the kimono he gave to Akito absolutely slew. With everyone where, and with whom, they were always meant to be, all that’s left to wonder is if the final episode will be another ensemble effort, or focus only on Tooru and Kyou.

Or maybe it will focus exclusively on Ritsu, the forgotten Zodiac member! Hahaha…sometimes I crack myself up…

 

Slime 300 – 03 – The Elf and the Fly

Just as Shalsha and Falfa are reading about the Elves of Hrant, one arrives at the door in a state of anxiety, demanding to be let in.

Her name is Halkara, and she’s a very successful apothecary and energy drink entrepreneur who happened to make a demon named Beelzebub mad when that drink caused an adverse effect. She also has a killer bod!

While her extra witch outfit is far too tight for Halkara’s three sizes, Azusa agrees to keep the elf under her protection, casting a barrier over the house and inviting the elf to join her foraging for medicinal herbs.

Azusa ends up learning a lot about the mushrooms of the forest, as well as the existence of a condiment very much like soy sauce. Halkara also accidentally eats an aphrodisiac mushroom (due to poor sorting methods) and starts involuntarily making advances on Azusa, who isn’t interested in a drug-addled tryst!

Halkara eventually recovers, and the matter is not spoken of. Then they find that there’s a huge reward poster at the guild for anyone who can locate Halkara. Azusa preps for a potential confrontation by having Laika take her daughters to safety, but Beelzebub was there all along in the form of a bee.

Beelzebub attempts to seize Halkara, abut Azusa won’t hear of it, and the two agree to take it outside and settle it with a fair fight. Beelzebub immediately makes use of her ability to fly, but ends up hitting the inside of the barrier and gets zapped. Azusa takes her in and heals her with magic.

After recovering, Beelzebub reveals that it wasn’t Halkara’s energy drink that made her sick, but overwork. She and the other demons actually love her product and only came to meet her in person and procure more. With the misunderstanding cleared up, Laika and the kids return.

Beelzebub still wants to have that fair fight sometime, while Halkara wants to move her production to Azusa’s province for tax purposes, so Azusa’s family swells by two. Her peaceful life is as lively and fun as ever, but the episode ends on a cliffhanger as Laika declares she’ll be returning to her own home.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 08 – Growing Up Fast

Two years have passed since Eris’ tenth birthday, which means Rudeus’s tenth birthday has arrived. He can sense scurryings and murmurings around the Boreas mansion, but he doesn’t expect much in the way of a celebration. For one, he’s a member of the Notos branch of the Greyrats, one of four main families.

For him to be under Boreas protection invites “unwelcome misunderstandings”, so they’ve kept it quiet. But when the day arrives, after discovering Ghislaine’s rock-hard glutes (she takes her diversionary role very seriously) while inspecting her tail, Rudy is shown to the main banquet hall where the entire Boreas household is gathered to celebrate his birthday.

Eris presents him with a bouquet, and Rudy reacts with tears he had practiced, leading an overly-moved Lord Sauros to start an inter-Greyrat war for his sake. Even Eris’ mom Hilda is moved, first offering to adopt Rudy, then insisting he marry Eris! The big secret Eris and Ghislaine were concealing from Rudy is Aqua Heartia, a superb magical staff made in Asura that must’ve cost a fortune.

As the party winds down and a tuckered-out Eris is carried to bed, Phillip explains why Hilda has been so cold to him these past years: his brother in the capital took Eris’ older and younger brothers, as all male Boreas are raised in the main household.

He makes a seemingly serious proposal for Rudy to marry Eris and take over the Boreas household, offering to handle the coup. Rudy, wanting no part of power struggles, leaves their discussion as idle chitchat over wine and retires for the night.

To Rudy’s surprise, Eris is waiting in his bed wearing a nightie and with silkier-than-usual hair, worried he’d be lonely the night of his birthday and offering to share the bed with him. So begins the most uncomfortable scene in the whole series, which begins with Rudy imagining doing something to Eris. The Eris in his head yells “no” and he ends his fantasy immediately.

Then Rudy warns the Eris outside his head that if she stays with him he might “try something dirty (ecchi)“, to which she replies that “just a little” is fine with her. Alas, Rudy goes way too far, attempting to do far more than “just a little” and immediately receiving a beatdown for it. Lying on the floor, Rudy is filled with regret for forgetting himself in the moment. Eris ends up coming right back, and he prostrates himself in apology.

She forgives him because it’s a “special day,” but warns him it’s far too soon for such things, urging him to “control himself” for five more years when he’ll be a proper adult —at least in this renaissance-analogous  timeline. Taking her words as a promise that they’ll be properly together one day, Rudy swears off “indulgences”, only to remember that Sylphie is no doubt waiting for him…

Back at his home, Sylphie visits the Greyrats, and we see that Norn and Aisha have grown into adorable toddlers. Sylphie has an item she wants send to Rudy, and Lilia promises to send it, along with a box which most likely contains the “holy relic”—payback for saving her from having to leave the home.

Paul, meanwhile, has been inordinately busy hunting an increased number of monsters in the forest, which kept him from attending Rudy’s party in Roa. The double-ringed red orb in the sky has grown, and seems to be responsible for an unusual accumulation of mana which even Roxy can see in the sky from her royal post.

She’s not the only one who notices this. There’s a very badass-looking guy on a mountain who is able to tame dragons; the much goofier-looking, Zvezda-esque “Great Emperor of the Demon World” with the Japanese name Kishirika Kishirisu; and of course, Lord Perugius in his ornate flying castle. Sensing someone could be trying to undo the seal on the Demon-God Laplace, he dispatches his lieutenant Almanfi to investigate.

The looks in on these colorful previously unseen characters greatly expand the world of Mushoku Tensei in a matter of minutes, but they are only teases; it will be up to the show to flesh out these new players and whatever factions or masters they serve. No doubt this convergence of mana will bring them all crashing together…and who else would be in the direct center of it than Rudeus Greyrat?

He’s come to a large open field with Eris and Ghislaine to test out his new staff and show them Cumulonimbus for the first time. But before he can complete the spell, the sky becomes sickly and miasmic in color and pocked with vortices and eddies. Almanfi teleports, and Ghislaine crosses swords with him. He believes Rudy to be the source of the “disturbance”, but Ghislaine rightly tells him he’s mistaken.

Because she is a true Sword King, Almanfi stays his sword. But who or whatever is causing the disturbance takes things to the next level, as a column of blinding blue light starts to expand across the landscape, swallowing up Ghislaine as she orders Rudy to take Eris and go. Eris loses her footing and Rudy shields her with his body just as the light washes over them, leaving us to ponder what the heck is in store for them next.

While I’m sure the series always intended to end this episode on a cliffhanger, the fact that the bedroom scene lingered on so long and past its welcome had the effect of compressing those glimpses of the bigger picture. Not that Rudy and Eris one day tying the knot isn’t critical importance…but they can’t marry if Laplace wakes up and destroys the world!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review of episode 8 here!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 03 – Childhood Friend

Thanks to Roxy, Rudy is no longer a shut-in, which means he can now freely explore the boundless natural beauty beyond the Greyrat residence. Paul tells his son that a man’s strength isn’t for pushing people around, but protecting and befriending the weak—and if some girls are impressed in the process, it’s all gravy.

It’s the first of several moments Paul talks to his son as if he were much older, even though he tells him he worries about the ways he doesn’t act like the kid he is. This only makes sense: Rudy is Paul’s first kid, while Rudy’s emotional and social development was profoundly stunted by bullying and harassment. They both have plenty to teach each other.

As for making friends, the first three kids his age Rudy meets are bullying a weaker boy, and uses his water magic to disinterest them off. He learns they were picking on the boy for having green hair and thus resembling the hated Superd. In reality, he’s the son of a human and half-elf; the green hair is just a harmless genetic trait.

At first glance it’s clear to Rudy that Sylph (delicately voiced by Kayano Ai) is a drop-dead gorgeous bishounen. Having acted on his father’s advice to be a friend to the weak, his decision is also routed in his baser desire to meet hot babes, who will surely flock to this prettyboy. Sylph is delighted to have a friend, as Rudy is his first as well. They agree to meet up soon so he can teach him how to use the magic that got rid of the bullies.

But Rudy comes home late to find an angry Paul at the front door. He heard from the mother of one of the bullies that Rudy punched him. Rudy tries to explain the way an adult would to another, but Paul doesn’t want to hear excuses. When Rudy is insolent, he’s slapped, but instead of crying, Rudy becomes even more adult and logical.

He tells Paul how he’s worked hard to earn his father’s trust, and had hoped that would have in turn earned him the chance to explain his actions. He then assures Paul that next time he sees three boys picking on another, he’ll either ignore it or join in, as befits the “Greyrat Family Way.” Paul, knowing he’s been rhetorically beaten, apologizes and asks Rudy to tell him what happened.

Like I said, Paul is as new to being a dad as Rudy is to being a kid in this world. Both are going to make mistakes. What’s so wonderful about the exchange here is that virtually equal time is given to their respective analyses and growth as a father and a son. Paul thought he needed to be hard on a son who is already a saint-level mage, even though part of him was glad he finally did something childish.

Paul knows he wasn’t practicing what he preached and furthermore, Rudy was fully capable of exposing that hypocrisy. That said, their “fight” expand beyond the night, as Paul is contrite and reflects not only upon how he’ll parent going forward, but whether his own father felt the things he’s feeling. That he does this while nestling his head in Zenith’s shoulders also underscores that he’s not walking this path of parenthood alone.

Six months pass, and it’s summertime. Rudy and Sylph are still targeted by the bullies, but Rudy fights back every time. He gets the distinct impression that one of the bullies’ moms is using her son as an excuse to see Paul, whom she fancies. Rudy has also been training Sylph in magic, and he turns out to be an excellent student.

When Sylph asks Rudy to teach him how to cast a spell without incantation, Rudy wonders if, like the public myth about set mana levels, it’s easier to do than people let on. As someone in a new world, Rudy wants to be special in at least one or two things, but either it is indeed relatively easy to do incantation-less casting, or Sylph is pretty special himself.

The moment he pulls it off, Sylph practically blooms with joy, dancing and spinning with the water he conjured, then running as fast as his fair legs can carry him through golden fields. Rudy can only keep up and share in the pure, unadulterated joy. As they lie together in the reeds, catching their breath, Rudy reiterates how goddamn pretty Sylph is.

Then a pop-up storm starts to drench them, and they make haste for shelter at Rudy’s house. Rudy leads Sylph to the bath that Lilia already prepared, strips down to his birthday suit, and sets to work stripping an extremely reluctant Sylph down as well, urging him not to be bashful—they’re both boys!

Only…they’re not. As was fairly evident from the start, Sylph is a girl, and was never able to get out her full name: Sylphiette. For once, Rudy isn’t turned on by a naked girl. In fact, he feels awful, as well as stupid for not realizing sooner. As he bathes with his dad, Paul makes sure that even as his son starts getting more interested in girls that kind of thing, he needs to listen and heed them when they say “no”.

Again, Paul is glad his son is acting like the kid he appears to be—and emotionally, still is—in this situation. He knows his son will “make good use” of his failure, only to watch Rudy “apologize” by saying he honestly thought she was a boy the whole six months they’ve hung out, causing her to cry even more. At that, Paul wonders if his son is dumber than he thought!

A day or a few pass, Rudy can’t concentrate on sparring with Paul, and Paul knows exactly why. What he doesn’t know is that the 30-year-old in Rudy is similarly depressed about having seemingly pushed away the lovely childhood friend was hoping to meet someday. Rudy showed his whole ass (literally!), Paul is certain they’ll make up. He assures Rudy that women love men’s strengths and weaknesses, and showing your vulnerable side can help mend fences.

His dad later admits he’s getting into some pretty advanced romantic advice for his still-very-young son, but it’s all good advice, from someone who is clearly a good man who, while hella strong, understands his own weaknesses and flaws, be it as a father, a husband, or a man.

Sylphiette shows up right after Rudy and Paul talk, and Rudy approaches her weary and contrite. He tries a dating sim line about “missing her beauty”, all while on the verge of tears, fearing permanent rejection. Instead, Sylphiette tenderly takes his hands in hers, tells him she “doesn’t hate him or anything”, and asks him to just “act normal,” giving him a pat on the head for good measure.

That she’s forgiven him so easily baffles Rudy, but he’s also obviously relieved beyond belief. He admits to not knowing how to get along with her, even though that’s what he’s been doing the last six months. His adult brain looks outward into the future when he’s a man in need of a good woman, but for now, the gender of the first friend his age shouldn’t matter. They’re still young, and have all the time in the world.

Rudy and Sylphiette will learn together how to continue get along with each other. There will be times they’ll make each other angry, get into fights, and maybe not talk or want to look in each other’ faces. But they’ll also run through golden fields together, laughing, playing, doing magic, and simply reveling in each other’s proximity. They’ll falter and forgive together—that’s what friendship is all about.

P.S. Read Crow’s write-up here!

Horimiya – 02 – Your (First) Name.

The first Horimiya was so nice I watched it twice, and if anything it was even better because I didn’t have to take mental notes for a review, I just slipped into it like a warm cozy blanket and enjoyed. I enjoyed so much, in fact, at no point during the two viewings did I realize that Hori didn’t know Miyamura’s first name!

But before that, Hori and Miyamura are strolling along the shopping district when she overhears the theme song of an anime Souta likes, and starts singing along. In addition to showing off Tomatsu Haruka’s lovely singing voice, she also charms Miyamura to no end, even though she herself is embarrassed.

It’s such a gorgeous and realistic little moment in these two’s normal lives, not just because she felt so carefree with Miyamura she sang in front of him without thinking. Memorizing songs your kid siblings (or kids, if you’re a parent) is just a thing that happens IRL. You think I care about “Let it Go” enough to memorize the lyrics? Doesn’t matter, because my nieces watched Frozen literally hundreds of times!

Back to first names: Hori suddenly realizes she doesn’t know Miyamura’s when her perpetually busy mom stops by the house unannounced. Voiced by Kayano Ai in Full Mischievous Mom Mode, Hori can’t conceal how much Miyamura has been over of late since Souta is right there to fact-check. That said, Hori’s description of him as “dark villain in a detective movie”? *Chef’s kiss*

While a more structurally complex episode than the first, Horimiya hews to storytelling best practices. A “what’s your first name” scenario could be drawn out across a whole episode, but it manages to resolve things in just a third of one. Hori’s Wile E. Coyote-like attempts to learn without asking fail hilariously, particularly when she has the gall to ask Tooru, the guy she just rejected, about Miyamura!

With her mom around, Hori has a surefire way of hearing Miyamura introduce himself, but her mom seems to sense she’s trying to take a shortcut and save face, so she diabolically sends Hori off on an errand when Miyamura stops by. Finally, with Miyamura directly asking if something’s bothering her, and if it’s because she has a crush on someone, she has no choice but to come clean.

Miyamura Izumi has a good laugh at her expense. Souta calls her lame, and Miyamura has known her first name was Kyouko all along. But at the end of the segment, she’s able to cast aside the histrionics and laugh about it with them. The bit doesn’t go on any longer than it needs to, and now Hori has a piece of paper with Miyamura’s name, so she has no excuse to forget it!

The next segment introduces three new classmates, bringing the total to seven. All three are in the Student Council, and include President, Top-Ranked student, and Hori’s childhood friend Sengoku Kakeru, his gorgeous girlfriend/StuCo mascot Ayasaki Remi (M · A · O), and the VP, Kouno Sakura.

The StuCo and Kakeru in particular seem to have no qualms pushing huge heaps of StuCo paperwork on Hori, despite her not being a member. Worse still, much of the work she’s tasked with doing should be Remi’s responsibility. Hori’s friends can tell all the extra work is weighing on her, but she seems stubbornly determined—and oddly obligated—to do it anyway.

Later that afternoon, while Miyamura is minding his own business in the hall, thinking about whether to bake Hori a cake to cheer her up, Remi races past and barrels into him, spilling a huge box of papers everywhere. Then Remi has the temerity to ask him to watch where he’s going. Dude was stationary, kid! When he notices she left a stack of papers behind, she says it’s cool to just toss them.

The next day, Miyamura arrives to find a potential dust-up in the hallway, as Kakeru accuses Hori of losing track of the budget papers. She rightfully pleads innocence, and while Kakeru admits both sides share some responsibility, he still demands an apology. Hori seems on the verge of tears as the crowd around them prepares to make their own conclusions.

From then, it’s Miyamura to the rescue, handing his bag and glasses to Tooru for safekeeping, pushing through the crush, and delivering a swift headbutt to Kakeru, then producing the missing budget papers. Remi is revealed as the party responsible for their being misplaced, and turns on the waterworks.

But like Miyamura lying to Tooru last week, or the first-name thing this week, this is just another thing, and all parties are able move past it. The StuCo bow in apologetic unison, Yuki gives Hori a relieved hug, and Hori thanks her pierced knight in tattooed armor.

As for why he headbutted Kakeru, well…the guy was simply pissing him off. Me too, Miyamura! But we also learn the reason why Kakeru and Hori’s dynamic is the way it is. It reveals that ever since they were little tykes and through grade and middle school, Hori consistently bullied and messed with Kakeru.

I for one am glad Kakeru isn’t just a one-dimensional bad guy, but something more nuanced, and with reason and history behind his manner. He vowed to Hori that he’d make something of himself in high school and she’d no longer be able to mess with him, and so he has; he’s the academic top dog and loved by virtually everyone.

Miyamura is a new wrinkle in their long-standing relationship, and even though Miyamura has no intention of delivering any further headbutting, Kakeru still shrinks into a anxious ball when Miyamura greets him in the morning. Maybe Kakeru, like his childhood friend, also sees the detective movie villain in him!

The third and final segment (lotta bang for the buck this week!) could also have been stretched into an entire episode, but Horimiya’s writing is tight and efficient enough that it’s able to basically tell three episodes worth of story in one. This one focuses on the fact Hori’s birthday is coming up, concurrent with spring break.

Souta asks Hori if Miyamura (whom he thinks of as a brother now) will be over every day; Hori gently warns her little bro that the day may come when Miyamura won’t come over anymore. That could be for a variety of reasons, from the two of them drifting apart, to him finding a girl(or boy)friend, to them simply graduating and ending up in different places afterwards.

The bottom line is, Hori is as sad as Souta about the prospect of Miyamura not coming around anymore. Fortunately, that prospect should be a ways off, if it ever comes. Miyamura comes by with a cake (natch) as well as a very personalized and thoughful gift: a CD of “all the popular music young people like right now” (I love how she phrases it as if she were some old lady).

Between school, housework, and caring for Souta, Hori confessed to have fallen behind on musical trends. She told Miyamura this back when she was singing the anime theme. He not only remembered, but got her exactly what she wanted. She’s amazed he did this, but she shouldn’t be. As Souta tells her earlier, exhibiting quite the precociousness, she should be more honest with herself.

Both express their happiness in that moment with wide but also tentative smiles, as they both look outside the window and watch the sakura petals falling. If it’s Hori’s birthday, it means spring break is almost over, and they’ll be in their third and final year of high school soon.

For such an ostensibly jam-packed episode, the fact this moment is given such time to breathe and fill the space says a lot about the deftness of Horimiya’s direction. It also says a lot about the writing in terms of what isn’t said in this closing scene, simply letting the joy of being together in the present become tempered by the uncertainty of future. Frankly, Miyamura and Hori should stop worrying so much about the future and try to enjoy life in the present!

Yes, it’s something to think about, but it cannot dominate their thoughts, nor always mar otherwise happy times. Heck, the fact they’re so apprehensive about a future in which they’re not together should be an obvious sign of their feelings for one another. If they’re so concerned about time, then they should get a move on with acknowledging those feelings and making them known to one another.

TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You – 03 – Not Your Usual Bath Episode

Tsukasa is impressed to find Nasa has a fully-stocked fridge, but her opinion goes down a peg when she learns he cooks only for optimal nutrition and minimal waste, and after exhaustive research determined the only thing he should ever make is hot pot!

She remedies that monotony by using the same ingredients to whip up an eclectic feast that shows her hubby that cooking can and should be as much art as science. Nasa even references Food Wars while watching his wife work her culinary magic!


After breakfast, it’s time to hit the bathhouse, but Nasa’s taste in toiletries (i.e. the bare necessities) again fall short, necessitating a quick stop to the store for skin toner, serum, and lotion. Nasa is amazed at the complexity of a woman’s skin grooming routine, as it explains both why her skin is so beautiful and why she smells so nice.

The extra characters dam finally opens this week as we’re introduced first to Kaname, who despite being a year younger than Tsukasa practically runs the family bathhouse with her sister (who is Nasa’s age). Naturally, someone who’s known Nasa for years is shocked that he’s suddenly married, but even more upset that he hasn’t properly proposed, or bought Tsukasa a ring, or planned a ceremony!

When Nasa brings up the fact all of those things are wasteful and inefficient, Kaname, wise beyond her years, responds that’s irrelevant. No one will hold him to account if he doesn’t make those gestures, but he still has a primary responsibility to make his wife happy however he can.

Nasa assures Kaname he’ll do just that, because, and he proclaims this loud enough for all to hear, he loves Tsukasa. She comes back to grab the toiletries from him just as he’s saying this, and while she tells him it’s embarrassing, it also makes her happy. Her delivery and face are enough to make both Nasa and Kaname blush!

Once in the bath, Nasa is soon further teasted by Kaname, who for some reason has to clean the part of the bath where he is. She overheard his childhish monologue about this being a “bath episode”, but thankfully that’s not what he or we get. Sure, Kaname gets a good look at Nasa, but that’s nothing new; they go way back.

While there are subtle shots of legs and cleavage, the fan service is kept to a minimum, and instead Tsukasa is introduced to Kaname’s older sister Aya, who is gorgeous but easily mistaken and confused, and has a low opinion of herself, as she repeatedly promises to kill herself for walking in on Tsukasa’s bath.

She ultimately offers to make up for it by washing Tsukasa’s back, during which time she likens her skin to “silk” before questioning why the secretion of a worm is appropriate compliment, then goes too far in the other direction by saying her skin is like “an IPhone X,” which I’ll just say is a really good joke!

Nasa dreams of when he was laid out on the pavement bleeding to death in the cold when he suddenly wakes up in a massage chair to the cold feeling of a bottle of milk on his cheek, put there by his wife. Then Tsukasa watches Nasa and Aya interact, and witnesses the blatantly easy chemistry and bonhomie between the two.

Aya, for her part, isn’t aware they’re married; she just knows they’re “family”, but Tsukasa understandably gets a little self-conscious, as despite her quirks Aya is a true beauty. When she mentions Aya’s looks, Nasa proceeds to gush about Aya. He noticed the change in mood, which he chalks up to the fact he and Tsukasa just walked past a church where a wedding is taking place.

Because of this, when Tsukasa comes right out and says it would be nice if “he called her pretty”, he mistakes it as being in the context of being a bridge in a wedding gown at a ceremony. That means Tsukasa doesn’t understand his response—that he needs to think about it, and even runs off to do some research and “make the impossible possible!”

It’s the first misunderstanding between the two, and yet nothing that should cause bad vibes going into next week. Instead, there will be bigger fish to fry, as a straw-blonde girl in a huge limo has found Tsukasa, someone she’s apparently been seeking. Marriage is all about balance, so after Tsukasa met Nasa’s people it’s only fair for him to meet Tsukasa’s!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 08 – Out of the Space Loop

Hoo boy, this was one extra-stuffed, extra-caffeinated episode of Lower Decks! We begin by being thrown into an unknown situation with the core quartet: a sinister dungeon, then an alien trial on K’Tuevon Prime in which they are apparently being forced to testify against the senior staff.

One by one, they must speak into a Horn of Truth about the events of a specific stardate, starting with Mariner, who regales the court of a day when she and Boimler are late for bridge duty and have no idea what’s going on, only that the aliens they’re dealing with consider gratitude an insult.

Unsatisfied with her testimony, the aliens suspend Mariner over a vat of eels. Rutherford is next, and one would think his cybernetically-enhanced memory would be perfect, that is not the case as on that particular stardate his implants were undergoing constant system updates that caused multiple blackouts.

Everytime he comes to, it’s in a totally different situation. One minute he’s in a Cerritos corridor, then on a stolan Vulcan warp shuttle, then a kind of starship museum, then in outer space clinging to the hull of a cloaked Romulan Bird-of-Prey, and finally at a Gorn wedding.

Needless to say, Rutherford gets suspended over the eels along with Mariner, and it’s up to Tendi to tell her story. She was the assigned cleaner of the conference room when Ransom and a team of handpicked commandoes are briefed on a top secret mission. Ransom wrongly assumes Tendi is a cleaner cleaner, as in part of their covert operation.

The op unfolds as follows: they use the stolen Bird-of Prey acquired by Rutherford & Co. to slip past Warbird patrols, transport down to Romulus, and retrieve a secret “package”. Tendi shows off some Trek Fu on some Romulan guards, and the team manages to get out without detection.

Having failed to get what he wants, the alien consigns Tendi to the vat and all three are dumped in. That’s when Boimler saves them by telling the court that they are Lower Decks, the senior officers almost never fill them in on what’s going on, so they truthfully don’t have the info he wants.

Boimler goes even further to state that oftentimes even the senior staff doesn’t know what’s going on, such as whenever Q(!) shows up. But that’s okay, part of Starfleet’s mission of exploration is facing the unknown and…muddling through.

But it turns out this isn’t an alien trial at all…but a party, held by Magistrate Klar to honor the senior staff for rescuing him from Romulan captivity. As is the case with all Lower Decks episodes, it’s a subversion of the old Trek trope. Back on the Cerritos, Freeman promises to do a better job of briefing the Lower Decks, but as Mariner aptly puts it, “knowing things means more work”, so it’s probably better to keep things need-to-know!

So yeah, there was a lot going on this week—almost too much for 24 minutes—but it was still a hell of a fun ride, and the trial/party conceit held together all the loosely connected vignettes well enough.

Stray Observations:

  • The design of the “party silo” is heavily influenced by the Klingon courtroom in Star Trek VI.
  • There’s a mention of Roga Danar, a supersoldier from the TNG episode “The Hunted.”
  • Mariner warns Boimler if they wash out of Starfleet they’ll end up on Earth where all there is to do is drink wine (at Chateau Picard) and eat soul food (at Sisko’s dad’s New Orleans bistro).
  • Boimler suggests a Crazy Ivan, which is really more of a Submarine thing.
  • Shaxs warns about a Denobulan parasite that infects the peen from the same planet as Dr. Phlox on Star Trek Enterprise.
  • Tons of Trek ship references this week. The Vulcan museum contains Starfleet shuttles from both TOS and TNG, the Vulcan ship from First Contact, the timeship Aeon from the 29th century, a Klingon battlecruiser, a yellow Work Bee, a Ferengi shuttle, and a Jem’hadar attack ship.
  • The shuttle they use to airdrop into the museum is a Vulcan Warp Shuttle of the exact kind that transported Spock to the Enterprise in The Motion Picture.
  • Rutherford is asked to distract the guards with the “fan dance”, last performed on screen by Uhura on Nimbus III in Star Trek V. He really should be nude when he’s doing it.
  • The eels in the vat sound just like the Ceti Eels Khan uses to control minds in The Wrath of Khan.
  • Dr. Crusher’s ghost lamp pertains to the very bad TNG episode “Sub Rosa”.
  • Q shows up! Voiced by the inimitable John de Lancie. Love how he adds a little more floridness to his animated Q.
  • Klar is voiced by another Trek guest star, Kurtwood Smith. Known primarily for That 70s Show, he was the Federation President in Star Trek VI and Annorax in “Year of Hell”, my personal favorite Voyager two-parter. If he was going to yell “DUMBASS!” in a Trek episode, this would have been it. Alas…
  • When the guy tells Klar he only paid for the party silo for 22 minutes, exactly 22 minutes of time had passed in the episode.

The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED – 09 – Old Tricks Are the Best Tricks

This episode begins encouragingly, with Haru and Daisuke in the same room together. Unfortunately, they’re soon separated again, as Daisuke refuses to return to the station and tosses his badge, telling Haru the case is a personal family matter he’ll be handling in his own way, i.e. ostensibly alone, but really with the help of Suzue and his bottomless purse.

Back at the station, the Second Division is on the job, even as the First Division now led by Hoshino takes Haru in for questioning. No doubt awakened by his old friends’ deaths, Kiyomizu shows his underlings that the dice Cho-san always had on him were in fact a nifty transmitter-receiver set, and Cho-san’s last act before being killed was planting the transmitter on Shigemaru. Natural Po-lice to the end.

After mostly goofing off for most of the show, it’s awesome to see the Second Division misfits pull off through pure pluck and resourcefulness what it costs Daisuke hundreds of millions of yen to achieve. Even deprived of official cars, under the pretense of “going out for lunch” they slip out one by one to the “kabob truck”, actually an old surveillance van with an antenna.

As the lanky Kamei contorts himself on the van’s roof to get the antenna into position, Saeki works her computer mojo to attain a clear enough signal to hear. It’s the boat-loving Yumoto who first recognizes a marine motor, and then they hear sweagulls and a huge steam whistle. That means in the 10km-range of the die, the Oura Wharf is the only place Shigemaru could be.

Haru isn’t able to participate in this awesomeness, but he tells Hoshino the whole truth and nothing but the truth, which Hoshino can’t really believe because he still resents Haru for washing out of the First Division. However, upon searching Takei’s desk, he find’s Haru’s letter of resignation from two years ago; after killing the bank robber’s accomplice he’d become unable to fire his weapon. Thanks to Takei, he remained a detective with the Second Division.

Daisuke’s much more expensive solo investigation bears fruit when Suzue finds Shigemaru’s car, but assumes it’s a trap…and it is. Upon entering the car to read a letter bearing his name Daisuke is hit by nerve gas; thankfully he was wearing a protective mask.

As Suzue tracks surveillance footage of Shigemaru, HEUSC starts painstakingly deleting all the camera data in the city. With their video trail suddenly dried up, Daisuke suggests they create their own surveillance network with the power of Balance: UNLIMITED.

As Haru and a newly convinced and contrite Hoshino head to the wharf, he gets a video message offering cash prizes to anyone who turns on their video camera and spins around in place. In addition to reminding be of the excellent Gatchaman:Crowds in clever hijacking of mass technology, it’s a wonderfully whimsical workaround.

But the fact is, it is almost totally unnecessary. Had Daisuke kept in touch with Haru and his police colleagues he would have learned the position of his father a little bit quicker and with none of the cost. Haru actually beats Daisuke aboard the huge cargo ship in the wharf where Shigemaru’s signal is located.

Hoshino is there to tell Daisuke Haru is aboard, much to Daisuke’s surprise. He also tells Daisuke about Haru’s past, and that while he’d “stopped being a hero” after the bank incident, thanks to Daisuke he seems to have gotten his spark back. Daisuke listens as he puts on a Black Panther-like nanotech suit Suzue calls an “Active Support Veil”, one of the highest-tech toys we’ve yet seen.

Plunging his apparently amphibious Bentley Continental into the sea, he catches up to the ship and stows aboard, using his suit as camouflage until he locates Frantz Weinski, bodyguard of an international arms dealer and apparent accomplice of his not-dead dad.

But while Daisuke gets the jump on Frantz, upon confronting his dad, who stares down at his son from the bridge, an “Allodium antenna” is activated that causes EMP-like burst, deactivating Daisuke’s suit and thus his tactical advantage. Frantz smashes his earring and Suzue loses all contact; I wonder if she’ll stay away or take a helicopter out to sea.

Before his phone is fried by the Allodium burst, Haru gets a text from Suzue asking him to look after Daisuke. Just like that, the two detectives are back together, having chased the same trail by very different means. I liken those differing means to two very different consecutive James Bond films.

In Die Another Day the spy tech reached its peak of goofiness with the cloaking device-equipped Aston Martin “Vanish” (a pun on the car’s real name, Vanquish). Casino Royale, on the other hand, was a return to basics, and Bond’s “toys” were similarly stripped down, until by Skyfall he had the same old DB5 with an ejector seat.

If Daisuke was Die Another Day Bond when he boarded the ship, now he’s just a well-dressed man with no tech at all. Haru is unable to immediately rescue him from Frantz because he still can’t fire his gun. But he’s there, and Shigemaru pointedly says his son is not to be killed. It’s a big ship, and if there’s a way to save his partner that doesn’t involve cloaking suits or revolvers, I’m confident Haru will find it.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 06 – Doubling Down

Despite her strict warning that any attempt at hanky-panky and Chizuru will see him in court, Kazuya can’t sleep in the same room as her. Not sure whether she’s still awake, he starts talking about how while he’s ready to tell the truth to their grans, he likes the person he’s becoming with her, and doesn’t want to stop renting quite yet. To his surprise, she agrees but “ending the lies” must remain a top priority. If he doesn’t want to hurt his gran, he’ll need to find a real girlfriend.

Unfortunately, since Kibe is close to his gran, Kazuya and Chizuru have to maintain the lie for now. That means his friend Kuri also believes Chizuru is for real, and invites the two to a double date with his new girlfriend. While walking by himself, wondering how Kuri could score a girlfriend, he bumps into a girl who I was sure from the start was that girlfriend. Of course Kazuya accidentally gets a peek at her underwear, so her first impression of him is that he’s a perv.

The next day it’s confirmed: Kuri’s girlfriend is Sarashina Ruka. Kuri’s date involves a rock-climbing session that enables him to show off his skills—he believes manliness is key to winning a woman’s heart). The climbing also has the side-effect of having the girls in unconventional positions while wearing tight pants, something Kazuya doesn’t think was accidental on Kuri’s part.

At one point Ruka asks for Chizuru to go with her, and she comes right out and accuses Chizuru of being a rental girlfriend. Chizuru dismisses the idea, and later even demonstrates they’re a real couple by “kissing” in front of Ruka (in reality her hand kept their lips apart). But Ruka ain’t buying it, and when Kazuya later tails her in an attempt to explain matters, she’s buying it even less.

And then of course, there’s the suspicion I harbored since learning Ruka and Kuri were dating: that she is also a rental girlfriend. The question is, if she is indeed a fellow rental, why is she so determined to ascertain the truth about Chizuru and Kazuya? Does she not want Chizuru on her terf…or is she vexed by the sense the two are something more than a rental and a client?