My Senpai is Annoying – 05 – Heartfelt or Courtesy?

Valentines Day is drawing near, and for the first time Futaba has someone to make chocolate for besides Natsumi. The question is, will she have the guts to both make and offer homemade chocolate to her senpai? My friends, she will. But first, we meet Sakurai’s little brother, who Futaba and Natsumi first help when he’s lost, then Takeda helps by beating up some punks trying to shake him down.

This is all before either Futaba or Natsumi even know Sakurai is his big sister. When there’s the option to all have ramen together for dinner, Sakurai reads the room and heads off with her brother…she can tell Futaba was hoping to eat with just Takeda on that particular evening.

Sakurai ain’t no fool. While she may come off to some as oblivious to all of the attention she receives from men—both at work and back in high school—in reality that’s a kind of defense mechanism. Other girls resented her for being so effortlessly popular, overlooking the fact that Sakurai was (and is) a sweet and gentle young woman who never freaking asked for all that attention.

By grabbing some ramen with Takeda at an intimate little spot he’s been going to since high school, Futaba learns a little bit more about her senpai. It’s a simple, no-nonsense place…right up until the chef brings out some nonsense about a “chocolate ramen bowl.” That’s when Futaba learns he’s not a big fan of sweets, which is a good thing to know this time of year!

When the big day arrives, Futaba uses her resourcefulness to craft a chocolate with matcha powder that’s less sweet and thus more appealing for someone with Takeda’s palate. He’s charmed by the presentation with the little bear drawing, and when Takeda praises the taste, Futaba flashes the biggest, stupidest, most wonderful smile you could ask for. If she’s trying to hide her true feelings, she does a terrible job!

Meanwhile, Kazama retreats into his own little world of binge-drinking Monster and the resulting partial catatonia that comes with it, all because he saw Sakurai walking with and laughing with a tall guy with blonde hair…who was actually just her little brother walking on a ledge to appear taller.

After giving courtesy chocolate to the other guys, Sakurai seeks Kazama out and legitimately wants to know what’s been up with him. Then she gives him a simple Meiji bar (the equivalent of a Hershey bar, only better), which he interprets as “courtesy” chocolate.

This angers Sakurai, who says chocolate is chocolate and it’s te thought that counts. The reality is that it is heartfelt chocolate, even if she bought it at a konbini around the corner. Compare that to the expensive Godiva chocolates Takeda got from a client simply as a thanks for his and Futaba’s hard work.

For Sakura, the bar for Kazama means more than the chocolates she gave to the others out of courtesy. It’s a gesture of affection, but also of thanks for his being different from the others in a way that appeals to her. You get the feeling they’re just both on the same wavelength, and when she hears about his misunderstanding, Sakurai has a good laugh, and Kazama is so relieved Futaba catches him wearing the biggest grin she’s ever seen on him.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Komi Can’t Communicate – 04 – Yamai Ren is Obsessed

This week’s first segment centers on Yadano Makeru, an extremely competitive girl who tries to “beat” Komi at the school physicals. She loses to Komi in height and vision tests, but wins in weight and “seated height”, which seems like an odd thing to measure, but whatever! In any case, Makeru’s mild eccentricity doesn’t prepares us for the horrors to come.

That’s because the rest of the episode is pretty much All Yamai Ren, All The Time. Ren doesn’t want to compete with Komi…she wants her. It’s all she can do to prevent herself from shouting in ecstacy as her body contorts in excitement at the mere sight of Komi walking down the hall. The girl is straight-up obsessed, wants to get closer, and will do so by any means necessary.

At first things seem innocent enough, as she makes too much Hamburg steak (albeit purposefully) as an excuse to share some with Komi at lunch time. Ren is sitting in Tadano’s seat when she asks Komi if she wants to eat with her, and Komi, seeing a vision of an encouraging miniature Tadano in his desk, gives the slightest of nods, and it’s off to the races, with Ren absolute heaven.

But this begs the question: Where is Tadano? Turns out Ren has taken him out of the picture, tying him to a chair with a lot of rope (her knot game is suspiciously elite) in her room, the walls of which are plastered with candid photos of Komi, some of them combined via collage with pictures of her in romantic (or lewd) positions.

Najimi, who is just trying to give Komi another nudge in her quest for 100 friends, invites themselves and Komi to Ren’s place, and Ren can’t resist the prospect of Komi rubbing her scent on her bed or leaving stray hairs around, so she agrees. She stuffs Tadano in her closet, promising she won’t bury him if he doesn’t scream, but eventually Najimi discovers him, and Ren drops the cute innocent act and goes Full Yandere.

It backfires spectacularly, as the moment Komi sees Tadano tied up, she’s ready to leave. She writes a polite “Thanks for having us” note, then leaves with Tadano. When Ren tells her that she was trying to do her a favor by getting rid of the trashboy so totally unworthy of her attention. Komi’s note in response is suitably devastating: “I choose my own friends.”

That said, the next day Komi is distraught and shaken by the experience, and asks Tadano to join her somewhere private to “talk”. She writes in her notebook how it might be best if they weren’t friends. Of course, this isn’t because she doesn’t like Tadano or thinks he’s beneath him; quite the contrary. She fears for his safety. What if something like yesterday happens again, and they don’t find him in time?

To this, Tadano responds that he also chooses his friends. Getting tied up and threatened by a yandere is a small price to pay for being Komi’s friend. Heartened by his response, as she definitely didn’t want their friendship to end, Komi voices it to him…literally…by saying she wants to be his friend in her teeny tiny adorable voice.

In the drama of Komi and Tadano leaving Ren’s, they left Najimi behind. Fortunately, Ren didn’t kill them, and instead Najimi assured her that if she apologized properly for what she did, Komi wouldn’t hate her. Ren does just that, apologizing to both Tadano and Komi for her actions (though as Tadano observes, she kinda sucks at apologies!)

Then Tadano and Najimi thoroughly explain how Komi is bad at communicating and wants to make 100 friends, and Ren is even more enamored of her, having now discovered her new cute quality. That’s how Ren becomes Komi’s fourth official—and most demented!—friend. Ren’s seiyu Hidaka Rina gets MVP honors this week for her deliciously shifty and layered performance.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Komi Can’t Communicate – 03 – God’s in Her Classroom, All’s Right in the World

When Agari Himiko, the shy school librarian who is afraid of being looked at, is stared at by Komi, who can’t communicate that she just wants to be friends, she jumps to the wrong conclusion and believes she either offended Komi in some way or is simply being messed with by the popular beauty for sport.

That said, Himiko’s fear of Komi staring at her helps her overcome her lesser fear of talking to the class, as she’s able to bravely relay to them where gym class is being held. She thanks Komi on the steps for scaring her into being brave. Tadano proposes the two become friends, but Himiko settles rather quickly for being Komi’s “dog.”

With Komi making friends left and right, she asks for and receives a cell phone from her folks—an old-style flip phone from simpler times. Now she can text her friends…if she had their number. She manages to get both Himiko and Najimi’s, but pointedly has them write them down on paper, because she wants to enter Tadano’s number first.

When it comes time to decide who will be class president, everyone nominates Komi, who seems poised for a position way beyond her current communication abilities. Najimi bails her out by opposing her, but when they’re surrounded by roughs, they declare that “president” is far too puny a title for someone like Komi! So everyone declares her Class God, and leave the thankless presidency to Tadano.

That night, Komi is giddily futzing around with her new phone when she accidentally calls Tadano (falling victim to a horrifying feature where simply putting your ear to the phone calls someone). As a result, both we and Tadano hear Komi talk more in a few moments than she has in the entire preivious two and three-fifths episodes. Koga Aoi, so expressive as Kaguya-sama, shows how much she can do with so little, from her little squeaks and screams to fractured sentences.

Finally, Komi is feeling bold, and wants to join the Cool Kids for some pre-class traditional games which go as completely over my head as they do her. Of course, I have an excuse having not grown up in Japan; Komi has never played any of the games the others grew up with because she could never communicate.

But that’s primed to change, as baby step by baby step she gets better at interacting with people and letting her will be known. The words will come in time…and even if they don’t, everyone will still worship her and the ground she stands on.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 16 – Son, I Am Disappoint

After a beautiful sequence showing the quartet journeying by horse and wagon, Rudy, Eris, Ruijerd and Geese arrive at Millishion, capital of the Holy Country of Millis. And it’s quite a city; between the white stone of the buildings and the very religious sounding leitmotif, I was reminded of the Holy City of Aquaria from Star Ocean: Till the End of Time.

Once there, Rudy proposes the three take a day off. Eris is off to hunt goblins, Ruijerd will tag along just in case she’s in over her head, and Rudy wants to produce more Ruijerd statuettes for sale in the human city, as well as write his first letter to his family in over a year and a half. But Dead End’s mandate to save any and all children in need results in him running into a group of kidnappers led by none other than his dad, Paul.

Paul is still a formidable opponent, despite being drunk and desperate. This reunion of father and son is not a happy one, and only gets worse when Rudy regales the entire tavern with the story of his adventures since being teleported to the Demon Continent, adding enough flourish to make it sound like he was having fun with his cute rich girl…when both he and Paul know he could have been doing so much more.

The thing is, Rudy, and we as extension, thought he was doing everything he could with the cards he’d been dealt; keep Eris safe and get her home. But Paul knows the power his son possesses, and doesn’t understand why Rudy didn’t try reaching out sooner (indeed, he never ends up writing that belated letter). As Rudy says, it just never occurred to him all this time that anyone other than him and Eris were teleported.

Being berated by Paul throws Rudy into a rage, and he starts beating up on his father until his little sister Norn, who doesn’t remember him, bravely puts herself between them. It turns out the entire tavern is occupied by a search-and-rescue party dedicated to finding the missing people of Buena Village, including Rudy’s mom, Lilia, and Aisha. The only bully here…is Rudy.

In light of all this, Rudy finds himself ostracized by the entire place, and there’s nothing to do but stalk away. He tries to put a brave, optimistic face on things (and also, ahem, whacks off) but only ends up vomiting as the weight of everything his father said—everything he overlooked all this time washes over him. When Eris and Ruijerd return and see what a mess he is, and he tells them why, Eris wants to murder Paul.

But Ruijerd tells her to comfort Rudy instead. And even though it’s not something she says she’s very good at, all Rudy really needs is a hug, so when Eris gives him one (after some adorable hesitation), he immediately cheers up. He remembers he’s not all alone, and he has a family in her and Ruijerd.

Can he make amends with his father and join him in locating the rest of his other family?  Considering everything he and his party of three have been through and overcome thus far, I’m not about to bet against them now.

Komi Can’t Communicate – 02 – Everyone’s Old Friend

Komi is the kind of popular in her class where everyone will put her on a pedestal and admire her from afar (and snap photos), but are too much in awe of her to approach her. If she wants to make friends with any of them, she’ll either have to approach them, or Tadano will have to introduce her to some.

We soon learn this isn’t so easy, since Tadano himself is not exactly popular. In this school full of strong personalities, Tadano is an eyesore to some. Take the normally sweet and cheerful Yamai, who clutches Tadano’s shoulders when he approaches her and utters curses through his ears for daring to speak Komi’s name with his scummy mouth.

Tadano had hoped he didn’t have to resort to her, but he approaches his friend from middle school, Osana Najimi (a play on words, as osananajimi means “childhood friend”). Not only is Najimi of indeterminate gender (she typically goes by “she” but occasionally says she’s male), she’s also childhood friends with everyone. She’s voiced by Murakawa Rie, perhaps best known to me as the voice of Re:Zero’s Ram.

Everyone, that is, but Komi, whom she also knew from second grade. Najimi was always a gregarious sort, but when she first approached Komi, she took her lack of communication as ignoring what she was saying, or acting cold and aloof. Not being able to make friends with Komi actually traumatized Najimi, to the point she’s not sure she can be friends with her now.

Even so, Tadano’s Serious Look at Najimi convinces her to at least give it another shot for her old friend’s sake. So she and Komi walk home together. Komi’s usual nervousness and Najimi’s unusual nervousness make things awkward from the start.

We then get two different perspectives of the same interaction: first Najimi’s, then Tadano’s. To Najimi, Komi is doing all the same things that put her off trying to be friends with her years ago, while Tadano is able to interpret Komi’s reactions properly from his stalkery hiding spot.

Najimi is ready to throw in the towel when two more old friends of hers interrupt the experiment. The much larger, burlier of the two has come to ask her out, and even her saying she’s a guy doesn’t dissuade him. When he removes his jacket in a dramatic flourish, his house key flies out of a pocket. He grabs Najimi, not taking no for an answer, but Komi basically rescues her by approaching the brute with the key he dropped.

She actually talks to him, but so softly and in such broken rhythm, he thinks she’s saying she’s going to kill him with the key, which combined with her focused stare causes him to beat a hasty retreat with his toady. Najimi decides to befriend Komi on the spot, and Komi, adorable lass that she is, expresses her elation with a giddy bunny hop.

Najimi wants to help Komi communicate better, so sends her off on an errand, which is more of an ultimatum: Go to Starbucks Standbakes and order a Non-fat milk Pistachio Deep Mocha Dipped Cream Frappaccino with chocolate drizzle and lots of whipped cream…or they won’t be friends anymore. Terrified of losing her second-ever friend so soon, Komi gives it a college try, but is ultimately unable to speak to the barista.

The barista, an elite “Black Apron”, tries to divine from her silence exactly what she wants, but ends up making a Noir Fantastique Valencia Orange Bitter Chocolate Brownie with Nutty Flavor Pistachio Sauce on Walnut Chip Chocolate Chip Cookie Chip Soy Milk Creamy Frappaccino with lots of sauce and lots of whipped Cream and lots of chips…which is not right.

When she delivers the accursed drink, Najimi says it’s not right, and Komi starts to cry. Najimi realizes the difficulty level of her test was way too high (just ordering a coffee would have ben tough enough!), and she and Tadano prostrate themselves before her, then marvel at how cute Komi is when she’s mad.

While overly complex Starbucks drink jokes are a tad old-hat, I found Najimi immediately charming and likable, just like Komi and Tadano, only a completely different personality in terms of her immense popularity and tremendous knack for befriending. No doubt her skills and experience (combined with Tadano’s Komitranslation skills) should help Komi make 98 more friends.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 15 – Sisters Big and Small

As the seasonal rains soak Dedoldia Village, Rudy and Mushoku Tensei get his pervy antics out of the way quickly, with Gyes warning Rudy he’ll kill him if he messes with his daughter Tona. Rudy is either off to the side or in the background of this whole episode. Instead, it’s an almost wholly Eris episode, one I’ve been looking forward to and one that does not disappoint.

Eris, now and forever the true MVP of Mushoku, really gets to shine as she takes a shine to Tona and her friend Tersena. While a noble only child, you can tell Eris just fits better in this kind of environment. She quickly adopts the adorable local dress (the wardrobe design is strong as usual on this show), and looks after the beastgirls as her younger sisters.

But when the subject of Ghislaine comes up, Gyes’ mood suddenly darkens, and he dismisses her as a “disgrace” who betrayed the village by shirking her duty, and expected her to be dead in a ditch. Eris doesn’t care how big and strong Gyes is, she will not let that slander of her master, friend, and surrogate big sister stand, and lets Gyes have it. Rudy confirms to Gyes that Ghislaine indeed became a far more admirable person than the sis he knew.

As you’d expect, Tona and Tersena are eager to learn more about the kind, strong Ghislaine who taught Eris everything she knows and was always there to save her…not to mention helped her develop her rock-hard abs. Tona, who has always hated her father’s insistence on her sword training, changes her tune when Eris offers to teach her the way Ghislaine taught her.

There’s a beautiful poetry to an outsider and the student of Ghislaine, all but disowned by his big brother, finally getting his daughter excited about swordsmanship. Eris is no easier on Tona than Ghislaine was on her, but there’s still that underlying care, affection, and kindness in the way Eris always helps Tona up after besting her. Two weeks pass and the tough training pays off, with Tona showing marked improvement and ferocity.

The three girls also continue to grow closer as friends and surrogate sisters, until word comes that the rains will soon subside and Eris and her party will be on their way. Tona doesn’t want Eris to go, but Eris says she has a home to go to. Tona reacts by lashing out at Eris, who understandably holds back. That night, Gyes tells a sulking Tona how he doesn’t feel great about how he and Ghislaine parted ways, and doesn’t want her and Eris to go through the same.

Rudy wisely takes the Sacred Beast for a walk to get out of the way so Tona, with Tersena as moral support, approaches Eris and apologizes. The girls make up, and spend their last night together having fun and laughing. There’s so much love and strength in these scenes, especially when you remember what they’ve all been through, with Eris so far from the only home she ever knew and the beastgirls narrowly escaping slavery and death.

After a tearful goodbye to her new sisters, Eris indulges Gyes’ request to spar, so he can get a taste of how Ghislaine now fights through her student. It’s an unexpected but welcome and very awesome demonstration of how far Eris has come, even though she narrowly loses.

Of course we, like Rudy, didn’t get a great look at what actually happened, just Eris cursing when it did. Still, losing to Ghislain’s big brother is nothing to be ashamed of, and she isn’t—instead, she’s motivated to beat him when she inevitably returns to the village.

As they’re departing the village, Geese hops aboard the wagon and joins the party, at least as far as the Holy Country of Millis. On the way, the party passes a memorial to the Seven Great Powers, the legendary strongest fighters in the world, with whom even Ruijerd says he might have trouble.

The fact Rudy is committed to avoiding such dangerous people by “living quietly” almost assures that they’ll run into at least one of these Powers, and possibly more. Whether they’re friend and/or foe will be fun to discover, hard as it will be to top this week’s wonderful Eris-centric story.

Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai! – 12 – All Dogs Go to the Dark Realm

This fun grab-bag of Jahy-sama situations begins with the most Wile E. Coyote-ish: Jahy finding a big mana crystal but assuming it’s a Magical Girl trap. While she analyzes all the ways she could be done in, the manager shows up and prepares to pick it up.

That’s when we see how much living among humans has made Jahy a better person: she dives at the rock to save the manager at the potential cost of her own life. She was scared to grab it before, but when her friend is in danger, she didn’t hesitate.

That acquired Jahy-sama goodness shows up again when she’s surveying the upgraded playground. While she’s trying to focus on looking for crystals, she can’t help but think of how to make Kokoro happy by going on the slide, the wobbly bridge (a favorite of wee me) or picking a flower for her. Then she spots Kokoro being accosted by two men, and again springs into action.

Turns out one of the men was just helping her up after she tripped, and Jahy committed unnecessary assault. When she spots the police, she runs for it, as she abhors any authority other than her own, and the police, with nothing better to do, give chase. Jahy ends up back at the station for questioning. Perhaps she shouldn’t have kicked that guy, but in the heat of the moment she put her beloved Kokoro’s safety first, so I can’t fault her.

Our next segment is another welcome Saurva-centric one. This time she’s completed “Woof Woof DX”, a potion that will transform Jahy into a subservient pup and give Saurva the second-in-command mantle she desires above all else.

Making the potion took many sleepless nights, and in her fatigue, Saurva accidentally drinks the potion instead of her matcha, and transforms into the very dog she intended Jahy to become. Not just physically, mind you…but mentally, Saurva starts acting more like a dog, despite herself.

This results in her running around outside instead of staying home and waiting for the potion to wear off. She encounters the white dog who chased her as a human, then encounters Jahy, and learns the unparalleled joys of having your tummy rubbed and playing fetch.

Later, when Dog!Saurva encounters the landlady she fears so much, she recoils, but soon learns the lady’s kinder side, as she leaves her umbrella behind to keep Saurva out of the rain. She concludes that people are nicer to dogs than her, and just when she gets used to the idea of being a dog a little longer, she turns back into a human…a naked human. This begs the question: she were arrested, who would she call?

The final segment post-credits is about the dangers of gambling. Jahy just wants to take Kokoro out for a shopping trip to the mall for snacks, but gets overly competitive over a crane game, and soon spends all of her money trying to get a big bag of snacks that costs far less than she put into the game.

It matters not in the end, as Jahy gets a lucky roll and wins the snacks with her last 100-yen coin. The taste of the steak and strawberry snacks is enhanced by the taste of victory, and having again proven her greatness to her dear Kokoro. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-Gambler!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 14 – The Dedoldia Redemption

Rudeus begins this episode by giving us a wonderfully sarcastic tour of his not-so-luxurious, insect-infested accommodations in the Ewok demihuman village in the trees. It’s yet another gorgeous, awe-inspiring environment where he is content to sit tight and wait for rescue, but then one, two, three days pass , and he soon grows bored…and a little worried (mostly for Eris).

Did I mention he’s totally naked for the extent of his incarceration? Well, he is. But despite this, he manages to bring his new cellmate Geese to heel with the force of his confidence. Geese’s crime is a lot less severe than “attacking the Sacred Beast”. The two quickly bond, but the days still pass, and there’s no Ruijerd, no Eris, and no rescue.

Just when Rudeus is ready to burn the whole forest down, a band of smugglers end up doing it for him. He drops the helpless act, uses magic to fashion a key to escape. The smugglers are there to capture beast children to sell to the rich; Geese is not okay with this, but unlike Ruijerd, Rudy isn’t automatically inclined to help them.

For one thing, part of him is glad to see those who wrongly accused and imprisoned him getting their comeuppance. For another, getting back to Eris is paramount. But when one of the beast children captured by the leader of the smugglers—Gallus, “The Cleaner”, who also happens to be a “North Saint”—cries out for help, Rudy can’t just ignore it. With crucial assists from Geese and the Sacred Beast, he’s able to best Gallus and save the beast children…though he passes out in the process.

He comes to Dorothy-style, surrounded by friends both old and new. Eris and Ruijerd were delayed (in much the same way Gandalf was, as it wasn’t that bit of a deal for them), but now she’s heard of his heroics, Eris is as enamored of the little brat as ever. Those who captured him, now known to be members of Dedoldia Village, apologize for how he was treated.

Eris looks forward to telling her gramps of their exploits, but we cut back to her home continent, where Sauros Boreas Greyrat is relieved of command of Fittoa and summarily executed for allowing the mana disaster. Looks like returning home will only open a new can of geopolitical worms…

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…

 

%d bloggers like this: