Saving 80,000 Gold in Another World – 02 – Sweating the Details

Once Mitsuha determines the products from her world that would do well in the new one, and learns that the village is ruled by a local lord, she decides it’s time to move on to bigger and better things. That means saying goodbye to Colette and her bone-crushing hugs, but she promises she’ll return someday.

While aboard the horse-drawn carriage out of the village, Mitsuha realizes that not only is she not appropriately dressed to credibly pass as a merchant, she also stinks from having not bathed in while, so she returns home, washes up, slips on her business suit, and gets down to business.

Before Mitsuha even starts wheeling and dealing in another world, she’s determined to be prepared for any threat that might befall her. To be fair, that’s the right move; she’s all alone in that world, and fairly petite besides. So she uses her cash savings (which she’ll be able to replenish with gold coins) to get the best self-defense and marksmanship training money can buy.

The show really goes into intricate detail describing and animating the types of weapons she’ll be handling, which I guess speaks to the fact the original creator is a gun otaku. At no point does Mitsuha explore non-lethal forms of self-defense, and even gets into a philosophical debate with the memory of her brother, a stalwart pacifist.

After more gun training and research on feudal societies, Mitsuha procures a scooter with which to get to the village more efficiently, but is almost detected by a group of adventurers. She transports back into her room, scooter and all. I enjoyed how the episode got into the nitty gritty with details like this.

And while I wish Mitsuha weren’t so gung-ho about labeling enemies she doesn’t even have yet as less than human and vowing to eliminate them without mercy by pumping them full of lead, the fact that she’s a stranger in a strange and unpredictable land (and the last surviving member of her family) still stands.

Once she prepares a selection of goods from her world and procures a bespoke wardrobe that’s appropriate to the style of the other world, Mitsuha transports over and is finally ready to do business. So far her charm, humor, practicality, and ambition make her an appealing lead. Hopefully would-be thieves or brigands will steer clear, because they are not going to want her smoke!

Saving 80,000 Gold in Another World for My Retirement – 01 (First Impressions) – Making the Best of Things

Yamano Mitsuha’s parents and older brother were killed by means the show doesn’t get into, but suffice it to say, she’s alone. When she fights some aggressive flirting guys and is pushed off a cliff, she doesn’t want to die. But instead of landing on the rocky shore, she wakes up in a soft, sprawling grassland. The giant moon is a dead giveaway: this is another world.

She wanders across the vast plain until she reaches a forest, and there she encounters another human, and passes out from exhaustion and hunger. She comes to in the girl’s home, and while she learns her name is Colette, she speaks another language. For the time being, Mitsuha lives with Colette and her fam and helps forage for mushrooms and the like.

When Mitsuha and Colette are stalked by wolves, Mitsuha shows her mettle (partially inspired by her late, brave and confident otaku brother) by getting Colette to safety and getting the wolves to follow her. But while she’s willing to put others before her, she still doesn’t want to die, and she doesn’t: she transports back to her house. Turns out she can go back and forth at will!

Mitsuha arms herself with her brother’s slingshot, kitchen knives, and pepper, and returns to the other world, and is successful in fighting the wolves off, killing the biggest and intimidating the others before passing out again. Then she has a conversation with a “being of pure energy” taking the form of the lucky cat her brother gave her, and explains her situation.

Frankly, the explanation is fairly half-assed and played for laughs, and isn’t even necessary. All that matters is that Mitsuha can not only travel between worlds, but take items with her. Items like gold.

If she can create a lucrative market for Japanese goods in this other world (a good bet) she figures she can make enough money—roughly 2 billion yen—to retire early and comfortably in either world should she lose her power.

I’ve seen isekai series with enterprising protagonists, but I cannot recall one in which they are able to move back and forth at will, and without any apparent catch. Another factor in this show’s favor is that Mitsuha is a girl, which just makes this feel fresher than if it was another Taro-kun.

Also, while typically a sister would be embarrassed by her otaku big brother, Mitsuha remembers him fondly, and his inherited wisdom proves useful to her on multiple occasions. Mitsuha’s design is fine, but the general animation and art is uninspired and underwhelming. But the series has enough going for it so far to make up for its visual shortcomings.

Bocchi the Rock! – 12 (Fin) – Ultra Super Bocchi-chan

It’s time to play, and BtR get’s right down to it. But while I was relieved Bocchi was on the stage, but there were still things to dread. Would her dad’s old guitar break, or Kita’s voice fail, at the worst possible time? Turns out, it’s the former.

Their first song goes off without a hitch, but early in the second, a string gives out just before Bocchi’s big solo. Before it happens, everyone (especially Kikuri, who breakes out of her drunken stupor) can tell something’s off, even though Bocchi’s playing is okay.

After it happens, Bocchi is ready to spiral into a full-on meltdown, but Kita has her back, ad-libbing a  sort of rhythm solo for just enough measures to allow Bocchi to pick up one of Kikuri’s empty glass sake bottles and pull off a pretty rad bottleneck slide guitar solo.

Bocchi may be mortified, but both the adults and the kids love it. The former are super amused Bocchi thought to go bottleneck, while a lot of the latter didn’t even know what she was doing, but thought it was freaking awesome.

With their set complete, the band takes a bow, and when some in the crowd call out bottleneck Bocchi, Kita shoves the mic in her face. Bocchi locks up, unable to speak without prepared remarks, then asks herself What Would Kikuri Do? … and leaps into the crowd.

While she almost certainly would have been caught at a club where it would have been more expected, here she hits the ground with a punishing thud. Kikuri, Seika, and Ryou think it’s hilarious and Bocchi is now a rock legend while Nijika and Kita are more concerned.

When Bocchi comes to in the nurses office, Kita is by her side. Bocchi takes the time to thank Kita and to tell her how good she’s gotten in such a short time. Kita’s response is a little somber, since she’s resigned to never being good enough to be a frontman like Bocchi, Kit-aura or no. But Bocchi will happily keep teaching her.

It’s here where Kita officially starts calling Bocchi Hitori-chan, which is incredibly sweet. Bocchi delays the after-party to a date TBD, and back home apologizes to her dad for “breaking” his guitar. He tells her no such apology is necessary, but since his guitar is so old it may be time for her to buy her own. When she says all her STARRY pay goes to quotas, her dad produces a fan of 10,000 yen bills.

At first I thought he and her mom had been saving her weekly allowance for a social life she never had until now, but these are Bocchi’s legitimate hard-won advertising earnings from the clicks her videos receive. That’s right; she’s been posting to the Gotou family account, and they all know she’s guitarhero!

Suddenly having 300,000 yen burning a hole in her pocket, Bocchi gets all psyched up about quitting her job, since the cash will cover not only a guitar but her quotas. But when it comes time to actually bring it up to Seika, Bocchi folds like a cheap suit and issues a declaration of commitment to her current job.

She also considers that Seika might let her quit if she buys her a guitar, but when Nijika asks Seika what she’d want Bocchi to get her she says nothing (while privately blushing over how nice Bocchi is). With that, Kessoku Band is off to Ochanomizu, a historically musically-oriented district, to shop for a new guitar.

Once there, Ryou is annoyed when Kita and Nijika focus on the cute accessories, then unassumingly asks if she can try out a certain bass and proceeds to slap the shit out of it, impressing the store manager (and Kita).

When Bocchi spots a sleek black Yamaha, the manager approaches her and she goes to pieces, but Kita is there to operate Ventriloquist Dummy Bocchi, Oddly, even though the point of going to a physical store was to handle a guitar before buying it, Bocchi buys it without handling it. She even flees the store without the guitar, but her friends bring it out to her.

With that, Bocchi straps into her new guitar which she bought with her own hard-earned cash, and she does indeed look awesome, though her family witnesses her promising her dad’s old guitar that she won’t neglect it. Leaving her heavily bookmarked practice books and closet studio, Bocchi puts her new guitar on her back and heads out, saying Be back later not just to her family, but to us, as that’s the end of Bocchi the Rock!

While this was a pitch-perfect ending to the season, I for one hope we get an encore soon, featuring more confidence, more comedy, and more concerts! Until then, Bocchi the Rock! is a late but deserving addition to the conversation for Anime of the Year.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 08 – Your Sword Till the End

I have to say, I’m really enjoying this more semi-episodic Shield Hero. Last week’s escape from the Infinite Labyrinth was a true bottle episode, while this one expands on Kizuna’s world as well as her own abilities, that haven’t dulled a bit in the years she’s been imprisoned. This week there’s another definite goal: reach the Dragon Hourglass, which in this world serves as a warping point for Heroes.

But wisely this episode starts out with the basics: they need money for food, a roof over their heads, and supplies. Kizuna describes the various races of her world, one of which is Glass’s Spirit People. Naofumi just happens to have a supply of soul-soothing potion that doesn’t exist in this world, so he puts his merchant skills to good us and sells them off to the highest bidder.

It’s a team effort, with Naofumi, Raphtalia, Rishia and Kizuna all doing their parts to ensure they sell all the potion for as much money as possible, which they then spend on new, more location-appropriate threads and gear. I like the new classical Japanese looks. Their day is darkened by the appearance of a “genuis mage” who has figured out how to use the Dragon Hourglasses to warp even though he’s not a Hero.

This guy, Kazuki, reminds Naofumi of Kyou, and doesn’t like him one bit right off the bat. Fortune smiles on his party, however, as a blizzard gives them cover for an easy infiltration of the capital’s central fortress, which contains the Hourglass they need to warp to Sikul.

But while getting in is easy, finding the Hourglass proves difficult, and the fortress is full of dead ends, traps, and a huge number of guards. While Kizuna can’t harm anyone with her hunting sword, she can damage their surroundings that indirectly neutralize the guards.

But there are a lot of guards, which means eventually the party has to split in two groups to lessen their numbers. Turns out this is just another trap, as Naofumi and Raph walk right into the Hourglass chamber only to be quickly surrounded by guards, led by Kazuki and his two personal bodyguards. Taking after Kizuna, Naofumi uses his non-offensive shield’s ability to throw the guards aside.

Kizuna and Rishia then rendezvous with Naofumi and Raph, and Kizuna uses her Hero status to activate the warp. Everyone starts to glow yellow, and it looks like everyone is on their way to safety and the next adventure…but then Raphtalia stops glowing. Kyou, the architect of this latest trap, remotely cackles and taunts Naofumi, saying he’ll be taking Raph to his lab for experiments.

Kizuna can’t stop the warping, which means all Naofumi can do is watch and wait helplessly until he’s taken away from Raphtalia. For her part, Raph puts on a brave face, grateful that she was small so Naofumi could pat her on the head and carry her. She vows to be his sword to the end, and charges at the guards as he and the others warp out.

Filo having been separated from the party last week was one thing, but she’s always felt more like a mascot and strategic weapon than an actual character. There’s a lot more meat to Naofumi and Raphtalia’s history together, and seeing them suddenly separated like this was a true gut-punch, not to mention cementing Kyou as an uber-evil big bad.

But while losing Raph must be crushing blow to Naofumi—he may even summon that hate and anger Ost helped him let go of because of this—at the end of the day we have a satisfying, at times heartwarming and thrilling episode with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. I have no idea what comes next, but I can’t wait!

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 08 – Live Your Own Life, Then Die

Moments after Rose’s prosthetic hand and wrist shatters after one too many Crimson Rose Bullets, we learn how she ended up with it in the first place: she got in too deep with the underground, and one day (or probably more appropriately, night) she lost, and the price was her hand. Leo only visited her to tell her she was stupid and he was having nothing more to do with her. He found someone new.

Rose meets this someone new, watches her fire a Blue Bullet, then tries to get her to work for her, but Eve isn’t about that. In fact, she didn’t show up on Rose’s doorstep until she wanted to play against Aoi. Fast-forward to the present, and Rose is going to play golf with one arm. Yes, you heard me. And she does.

Not only that, she comes heart-crushingly close to sinking the ball on just her second shot, a perfect shot from 140 yards away. But close is no cigar, which opens the door for Eve to take the win. The episode then jumps forward, to when the construction vehicles are about to level Klein’s bar while she, Lily, and the kids watch.

That’s when Eve shows up in Vipére’s car (and Vipére does a J-turn waaaaay too close to the children) and tells them to hop in, even though the car in question is tiny. Their problems are solved. She opens her new briefcase full of cash (again, a questionable decision in an open convertible traveling at high speed). She won. Rose lost.

From there, things start flying high. Vipére, as a treat, gives Klein’s whole family new identities (a snake keeps her ear to the ground), which allows Klein to buy a new bar, Lily to help out there, and the three refugee kids (from Palestine, Syria, and Somalia, by the way) to go to school for the first time.

Vipére herself ends up on a yacht, seemingly retiring both from golf and from wearing fangs. But while her family’s future is secure, it’s not all gravy for Eve. She meets Rose’s underling Anri on a rooftop, where Anri tells her that as a result of her victory, Catherine has put hits out on both Rose and her. Anri can’t quite kill Eve herself, even though she wants to. Instead, she runs away in tears, telling her to live her life however she wants, then die…with emphasis on the “die”.

Certain for some reason that A., Catherine won’t go after her family and B., Catherine will never know to send hitmen to Japan, Eve gets on a train to the airport bound to Aoi’s homeland, to fulfill the promise she made to meet her on a legit golf course. It’s the promise that drove her stunning victory, bouncing her ball of Rose’s and landing in the cup.

Mind you, shit like that probably won’t fly in above ground golf. But knowing her best years were behind her, Rose always intended for Eve to surpass her, and is glad her ass was kicked so thoroughly. She sits by the water with a cig, having summoned Leo to ask why he gave up on Eve. He tells her because he didn’t believe he could awaken her full potential.

But that time is seemingly coming. As if to underscore the official changing of the guard, Leo’s departure is immediately followed by the arrival of Catherine’s hitman. Before he pulls the (real, not metaphorical) trigger and ends her life, Rose briefly glimpses an ideal possible life when she was on the pro tour, with Leo as her proud caddy. Maybe in another life. This tragic moment is followed up by Eve is on a plane bound for Japan and to her beloved Aoi, who just can’t believe the drinks are free.

I will savor and treasure this episode for a long time, and you should too: it’s about as good as anime can get. Engaging, deadly serious, and absolutely window-lickingly bonkers in the same breath. And with only 4-5 episodes left, I desperately hope we get a second season, as it seems Eve’s golf story is only beginning now that she has emerged from the shadows and leapt into the light. The world would be a better place with more Birdie Wing in it.

The Faraway Paladin – 06 – Warrior Priest

Will’s first episode On His Own is a good one. It starts out quiet and contemplative, as we just watch a tiny Will traverse grand vistas. He’s searching for humans, but finds only more dead cities and towns. He can always pray for bread and purify water, but he’ll soon need other things for sustenance. Sure enough, his patron saint provides—just not in a straightforward way.

The first person Will meets who isn’t Mary, Blood, or Gus is the extremely pretty half-elf Meneldor, an hunter who was pursuing the giant wild boar Will kills in self-defense. They agree to split the boar and share the liver, which spoils fastest. Whether Menel is Will’s age or much older, the two have an immediate easy rapport…right up until Menel says he wants nothing more to do with Will, and warns him not to follow.

Will was just going to follow the river to the nearest settlement, but he receives a divine vision in his dreams from Gracefeel which seems, at first, to depict Menel’s village being attacked. When Will arrives, it turns out Menel is doing the attacking. Here we see just how well-trained and ready for anything Will is thanks to his three parents, easily neutralizing all the bad actors.

Repeatedly addressed as a warrior poet by the grateful villagers, who are a collection of adventurers, bandits, fugitives and various outcasts, and thus always at each others’ throats. Their no-nonsense elder is barely keeping it together, but one thing everyone agrees on is that the half-elf and his five co-bandits should all be hanged.

Will, who wants to avoid any more killing due to the edicts of his goddess and teachings of his family, negotiates a fine compromise: the village will be compensated in gold, while Will hires Meneldor to help drive the demons out of his village. When Will proposes they just rush in and take care of it, Menel is skeptical, but again, this is Will, who we’ve already seen kill a god. Clearing the village should be a piece of cake…but that won’t make it any less fun to watch him do his parents proud. Who knows, maybe Menel will become his official first friend in the process.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 05 – Live Right and Die

This episode starts out with a lot. A lot of inner monologue of Will as he accelerates to the temple where he hopes he’s not too late to save Mary and Blood. For while he was able to gain the blessing of Gracefeel and hold his own against Stagnate, his lack of experience showed in his ability to be easily tricked. Then again, failure is the ultimate teacher.

It’s a very shounen-y first five minutes where everything Will is doing is explained in his head in minute detail as it’s happening. I found all the hurried narration mostly redundant and distracting, detracting rather than contributing to my immersion in the scene. But all’s well that ends well: with his training and the blessing of both Gracefeel and Mater, he defeats Stagnate.

Gus is about to break out the 200-year-old booze, and Mary and Blood try to rise from the ground, only to fall back down. With Stagnate gone, it turns out their time on this world, in this form, is up. Will doesn’t want to hear this, and thinks it’s mean and cruel to be faced with this right after killing a god, but the fact Mary and Blood are even there in physical form to say goodbye is a miracle made possible by Gracefeel.

After those heartfelt goodbyes where Mary and Blood reiterate how they consider Will their child, Will prepares to head out on his personal journey. Gus has been “hired” by Gracefeel to continue watching the seal on the High King for ten more years, then he’ll pass on as well. After that, dealing with the high king will be up to Will…or I should say, William G. Maryblood, taking the names of his parents as his last name and his gramps as his middle.

The episode ends on a bittersweet note with a flashback to the human Blood and Mary talking about settling down after all this, getting married, and having a kid—which Blood just assumes will be a boy and Mary goes along with it. Fine; not sure why a girl couldn’t be trained to be a warrior, but whatevs! It’s here where they also agree on the name of that future child: William, or “helmet of will”, knowing he’ll inheret their iron wills.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 12 (S2 E01) – Eyes Forward

After a longer-than-expected hiatus, Mushoku Tensei is back, and I’m pleased to report it’s just as good—and occasionally unnecessarily lewd—as ever. There’s a new OP, and it’s awesome. There’s a new ED, and it’s beautiful. Rudy, Eris and Ruijerd are still on the Demon Continent, and learn that largely due to Ruijerd’s Superd status, booking passage on an above-board ship back to Millis Continent will cost a literal fortune.

While Rudy is always quick to determine and execute a course of action all on his own, Dead End is a party, and both Eris and Ruijerd wish to help him share the burden of figuring out just how to make that fortune without taking their entire lives to do so. Meanwhile, training with Ruijerd is only making Eris a more formidable fighter; I don’t know if their combat animation counts as sakuga but it remains top-notch and extremely fun to watch. Ditto her wonderful expression of joy when she scores her first hit on Ruijerd (who was distracted by Roxy!)

After having another dream with the creepy smooth god dude Hitogami, Rudy learns he actually entertained the guy more by going off-script. This time he decides to do exactly as Hitogami’s advice says, and he is promptly rewarded. By feeding a starving urchin the food Hitogami told him to buy at the vendors, he ends up befriending the scantily-clad Kishirisu Kishirika, the “Great Emperor of the Demon World”, who could pass as a member of Zvezda.

As thanks for sustaining the life of her physical body for at least another year, Kishirika gives him one of her twelve Demon Eyes: the Eye of Foresight. She does so by roughly replacing his existing normal eye on the spot, which looks…painful! But upon returning to their inn he ends up saving a man he bumped into form a falling pot, and within a week he’s able to sue the eye to defeat Eris in combat. This understandably makes Eris very upset, but Rudy was too excited about his new eye to foresee that.

New eye or not, Rudy reminds himself that his mission isn’t to “power up” but to get Eris home. And even if he were to exploit the eye for profit, it would likely take too long to make the necessary cash to book passage. So he decides, on his own, again, that he’ll pawn off his staff in order to get the cash. Only when he leaves in the night to do this, Ruijerd stops him.

While the party has meshed well in the last year, seeing Rudy again try to go off on his own and solve everything frustrates Ruijerd, because it makes him feel like Rudy still doesn’t trust him. Rudy counters that he doesn’t want to do anything illegal and thus “evil” that Ruijerd would not approve of, like stowing away or smuggling, as it would likely fracture the party.

Here, Ruijerd once again exposes Rudy’s biggest blind spot—Eris—by pointing out that selling the staff she gave him (and which clearly means so much to him) would fracture the party too. So Ruijerd makes a compromise: he’ll turn a blind eye to smuggling and the like if Rudy keeps his staff and keeps him and Eris in the loop about what they should do from now on.

Right on cue, the man Rudy saved the day he got his new eye introduces himself: Gallus Cleaner. Could he be the sort of unsavory figure who can help get two noble humans and a Superd across the ocean? Are Roxy and her two Fang companions trying to avoid crossing paths with Rudy, or victims of back luck and timing? I’m excited to find out, and to watch more of Rudy, Eris, and Ruijerd’s adventures this Fall.

Sonny Boy – 02 – Kindle Blue Fire

While technically a beach episode, there’s not a ball or a bikini to be found. There are crabs—you gotta love crab—as well as a makeshift open-air classroom with rows of desks and a chalkboard, but otherwise the sand is just another flat surface for Nagara to lie on and wile away the hours.

When Nozomi catches a crab, it cuts her hand up pretty badly with its claw, but she soon heals; just another one of the rules of this “This World”, as the egghead Rajdhani calls it while explaining the situation.

While most of the class is in tents on the beach, Mizuho has, presumably through the three cat Amazon power called Nyamazaon, built a Disney princess castle full of stuff, but otherwise isn’t that different from Nagara in her fondness for straight chillin’.

Another girl steals makeup from Mizuho’s vast collection of things with impunity, but that and other items acquired from Nyamazon start to burst into blue flames, rumors spread that Mizuho is doing it intentionally.

Mizuho doesn’t help matters by stirring the shit on social media that the recent election was rigged in Michi’s (AKA Pony’s) favor—which is the truth; the extremely Kyuubey-like Hoshi helped rig it. Pony and Hoshi learn Mizuho is behind it and try to exact an apology, but Mizuho is stubbornly refuses.

When they confront her at the front gate, Hoshi uses his power of showing everyone potential futures to depict the entire island covered in blue flame; everything destroyed. On top of it all, Mizuho is exhausted and filthy from looking for one of her cats, who has gone missing.

While the rumor may have well gotten started since Mizuho is a natural target for envy and resentment among the other students due to her extremely cool power, Nagara still blames himself for blabbing about Mizuho knowing something about the flames, which got twisted into “Mizuho is responsible for the flames.”

But thanks to Rajdhani’s research and a retro Game Boy, it is determined that the blue flames appear every time someone receives something without a fair exchange. Among the things that burned-up, only Raj’s Game Boy was exchanged for some toys he made with his power, and only it escaped those flames. Therefore, it isn’t Mizuho’s doing, but the Rules of the World.

Among the students, most of whom end up in the “Punish Mizuho” camp/mob, only Nagara and Nozomi want to help her. They both know she’s not doing this, but also know that she hasn’t explicitly defended herself, which isn’t doing her any favors. Nagara also finds the missing cat, and unlike two previous instances of letting birds die, this time he takes care of the animal like the non-heartless person he is.

The two decides to go to her—nay, run to her, just as she’s literally making it rain fat stacks of cash, which soon burn up and set fire to the whole island. Mizuho, overcome with relief her kitty is safe, admits that she should have simply stated her innocence from the beginning. It’s an all-around wonderful performance by Mizuho’s seiyu Yuuki Aoi—which comes as no surprise as she’s one of the best in the business.

Nagara, Nozomi, and Mizuho oversee the ruined island—the realization of Hoshi’s vision—and concede the fact that they can’t live there any more. But then something happens: as the sun rises over the ocean, the island essentially resets itself to before everything burned up.

It’s as if the island, which set the rule of fair exchange, is forgiving all of the students for their stumblings as they learn of those rules and correct their misunderstandings. Mizuho comes down from her castle and apologizes, but only for making it rain flammable money…not the stuff she was accused of doing but didn’t really do.

Mizuho also stops by the beach where Nagara is lying to give him a token of her appreciation for finding her cat: a hat to keep his face out of the sun. When he asks if he needs to give her anything in return for it, she says with a gentle smile that it’s “her treat” before walking away.

This episode was significantly less weird and frightening than the first, but that tends to happen when you take the inscrutable black void out of the equation. What it was was another relatively straightforward exploration of how the court of public opinion can be wrong—in school or life—and it’s up to those who know it’s wrong to speak up. Nagara grew as a person in this episode, as did Mizuho, and they each gained a friend in the process.

Credit also goes to Rajdhani for not giving up on trying to make sense of the place, thus confirming the injustice being done to Mizuho, as well as Nozomi, for lending Nagara the encouragement to correct the injustice. Just as she’s the “Compass” who can see the ways out of these other worlds, she’s also a moral compass; a check against both rampant authority and rampant apathy.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 09 – The Things She Carried

Like Sayu, I was dreading the day someone from her family finally found her and forced her to come home…but that isn’t what happens. It turns out Issa is just as decent and kind a person as Yoshida, and doesn’t jump to conclusions even when Yoshida and Sayu greet him at the door in their PJs.

Instead, he’s the latest in a long line of refreshingly reasonable, level-headed human beings that populate Higehiro and make it feel more real. He’s not simply doing their mother’s bidding; he wanted to be the one who found Sayu, because he loves her and is worried about her.

Issa is greatly relieved Sayu managed to find a good soul who took her in without asking for anything inappropriate, and takes both of them at their word when they say nothing’s happened. As a high-achieving corporate type, I imagine Issa trusts his instincts when it comes to reading people.

But that’s not all: Issa can also tell, even if Sayu can’t, that she’s taken some important steps forward as a person. He notes how she’s more able to speak her mind, as she explains why she needs a few more days to think about things. He’s proud and caring n a way only a big brother can be, and grants her one more week.

I have to say, I never imagined in a million years that Issa would be such a good guy, especially considering the uncomfortable way the series has handled the bastard who took her in for sex and ended up her co-worker. But it’s not the show’s fault I automatically expect the worst…it’s because men, and especially anime men, are so often just that…the worst.

Of course, women are the worst too, as we learn when Sayu invites Asami over and sits her and Yoshida down to finally tell them about everything that’s happened that led her to run away. In effect, she’s unloading all of the burdens she’s carried before two friends who are all too happy to help share that load. Her first step in getting ready to go back is telling the people important to her about where she came from.

Sayu and her mother never got along. Her mother put all of her hopes and aspirations into her firstborn son Issa, and never had a kind word for Sayu. Because she never received love, Sayu didn’t bother putting any effort into anything, be it academics or socializing. She was alone, emanated a “stay away” aura, and came to prefer it that way.

But along came another outcast in Yuuko, for whom Sayu’s repelling aura had the opposite effect. Yuuko always told Sayu she was pretty and cool—as pretty and cool as Yuuko claimed not to be—and the two became fast, close friends. But Sayu’s looks and unimpeachable “goodness” kept the other girls from bullying her directly when she turned down a guy one of them liked, so they started bullying Yuuko instead.

Yuuko always said Sayu looked best when she was smiling and happy. But as the bullying intensified and Sayu dug in her heels, determined to stand beside Yuuko and fight for her, she stopped smiling and laughing, and was always depressed, because she felt responsible for her friend’s suffering and felt powerless to stop it.

Yuuko, however, felt differently. When Sayu told her she’d support her and fight for her against the bullying, it hurt Yuuko more than anything, as she believed she was ruining Sayu’s happiness by deigning to become friends with her in the first place.

So one day, Sayu found Yuuko standing on the wrong side of the balcony, waiting for her. Yuuko told her what happened was her fault, but it would be better if she were no longer in her life. Before leaping to her death, Yuuko asked Sayu to keep smiling, obviously in no mental state to realize how hard that would be if she killed herself.

Witnessing her first and only friend commit suicide for her sake would have been plenty of trauma for any teenager or adult to bear, but that wassn’t the end of Sayu’s suffering. As the Ogiwara household became besieged with press and stories and rumors of the true cause of Yuuko’s death, her mother did all the exact wrong things, only exacerbating Sayu’s despair.

Rather than support her daughter and help her grief, she blamed her for their predicament, and even went so far as to ask, seriously, if Sayu really did kill Yuuko. That despicable question is the last straw for Sayu, and you really can’t blame her for not wanting to spend one more second inside that house with that despicable woman. Instead, it’s Issa who offers Sayu a shoulder to cry on as she prepares to run away on foot.

Demonstrating he was just as empathetic and kind back then as he is in the present, he actually helps his sister get the distance and time she needs, giving her $3000 for a decent hotel and food for two weeks, if she promises to call him if she ever gets into trouble. If there’s a right way to run away, this was it: acknowledging and respecting what Sayu needed, but building checks into the arrangement.

But even with those measures in place, Issa would still need Sayu to actualy call him if she got in trouble, and she never does that. As she burns through her cash, she continues to be crushed by isolation and self-loathing, with no one there to help pull her out of her downward spiral. Issa’s mistake wasn’t getting Sayu away from their mom, it was sending Sayu away all by herself when she was in no condition to be entirely alone.

The episode includes a scene we previously saw only a flash of, in which Sayu masturbates and looks down at her hand afterwards. As this happens before she first sleeps with a man, I’m not sure why such a graphic scene was included, except to underscore that there was really not much for Sayu to do during this time but sleep, eat, and pleasure herself, and none of it was helping.

When Issa calls Sayu to check on her, her battery dies, and she tosses her phone out, believing in that moment that his kindness was merely pity she didn’t want or deserve. She wanders the streets, bumps into a man, and when she explains her situation he offers her a place to stay. He eventually asks for sex in return, and Sayu gives in, though doesn’t even remember the name of her first. She then went from guy to guy, trading sex for shelter, until ending up on Yoshida’s doorstep. The rest, we know.

The first to speak after her tale of woe is Asami, who gives Sayu the affection she needs and tells her just how hard she hung in there all this time. Having gotten all of this out, Sayu breaks down, having a much-needed cathartic cry. Once she’s calmed down and in bed, Asami asks Yoshida on the balcony what he’s going to do about her.

Yoshida says it’s up to Sayu’s family to figure this out and it’s not his place to interfere. Asami points out that’s not what she asked, idiot, and again asks: what does he want to do? He may say he’s a stranger, but he’s not; he and Asami are as much family to Sayu as Issa, and certainly more than Sayu’s mom.

What they want matters too, especially if it aligns with what Sayu herself wants. But first those things must be said, just as the things Sayu carried needed to be said to fully understand where she’s been, and determine what she should do. It’s not just Sayu who needs to think about things in the week she has left.

The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter – 02 – Coasting Along in Easy Mode

Noir was accepted to Hero Academy, but the 300,000-rel tuition is too-steep for his baronet father, so he has to come up with the cash by himself. At no point did I doubt he’d be able to do so by the end of the episode. Olivia suggests he becomes an adventurer, so he registers with Odin, which just happens to be Olivia’s guild.

The receptionist Lola is skeptical of Noir’s claims, even going so far as to say she’ll lift her skirt up if he’s proven right by the Discerning Tome. Of course he’s proven right, and Lola is a woman of her word…but what a weird wager! It’s almost as if she knows she’s in an ecchi harem show.

Someone who’s known all along what kind of show this is is Emma, who soon joins Noir out in the field. He successfully catches a bunch of rainbow caterpillars to the tune of 250,000 rel, and his success seems to turn Lola on, resulting in a standoff between her and Emma. Are there, like, no other men?

Noir and Emma head back out into the field to defeat a giant evil rabbit to earn the remaining 50,000 rel he needs for tuition. Since this battle takes up the most time and seems the most hazardous, you’d think the rabbit quest would be worth 250,000 and the grasshopper quest 50,000. I guess it’s best just not to think…at all.

When Emma’s attacks prove ineffective, Noir decides to the skills Olivia gave him to increase her attributes, but Noir doesn’t feel like coughing up 700 LP, so he buffs her weapon adeptness instead to the tune of 500 LP. He gets more than enough LP to cover the magic with a slobbery ear-nibbling session with Emma. Her moans end up luring the rabbit to them, and she defeats it as easily as everything has fallen into Noir’s lap so far.

He gets the 300,000 rel he needs, he gets another hug from Lola and Emma (who make up after a rough start) and thanks to a skill he created that lets him store the dead rabbit in a trans-dimensional space, he ingratiates himself with the entire guild by offering it for a feast. When pressed for a speech, he thinks of how none of this would be possible without Olivia…only to not so much as mention her to the guild of which she was a member.

Looks like the easy times and make-out sessions are only going to continue from here. As I said last week, those looking for serious conflict, adversity, or any kind of surprises are barking up the wrong tree. This week I can add “receptionists unwilling to arbitrarily debase themselves” and “thrilling battle animation” to the growing list of stuff not in this anime.

The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED – 05 – No Need to Panic

This week the Second Division of Modern Crimes goes on a field trip—er, I mean an assignment to basically be warm bodies in front of an embassy during a sensitive diplomatic visit from a South American head of state.

Daisuke is apparently out because his grandmother has taken ill, but his colleagues learn that he’s the one the president is meeting with in his gran’s stead, since the Kambe conglomerate is building the dam that will change his country.

Hoshino and the First Division never let Haru and the Seconds forget their place, including when there’s a mix-up with their fancy lunches; the second have to surrender tasty Kyoto bentos in exchange for noodle cups. Basically no one other than Haru wants to be there and isn’t taking their job seriously, but are simply happy to be outside.

Meanwhile, Daisuke and the president are ushered into a panic room, but not before Daisuke launches a tiny surveillance drone from the heel of his shoe. They eventually learn that one of the embassy’s security detail is from a fraction opposed to the dam, and is responsible for the murder of the embassy chef.

We soon learn the reason he had to kill: he smuggled a VX gas bomb through the normal kitchen deliveries, and the chef saw too much. The terrorist then placed the bomb in the panic room so it would only kill the president and Daisuke.

Haru and Co. just so happen to notice when the perp leaps over the wall and attempts to flee. Haru gives chase (his colleagues are not in good enough shape to keep up), but the perp ends up saying his piece and jumping off the roof to his death. Due to wide-scale comms jamming, Haru can’t contact Daisuke or anyone else.

Suzue, who had no doubt been monitoring Daisuke closely, is on her way via motorcycle, but swerves to avoid a cat and must continue on foot. Even more distressing, when Daisuke asks HEUSC for the specs of the bomb so he can defuse it, HEUSC…refuses, stating Daisuke lacks proper authorization to be told that info. Unlimited his balance may be, but not his security clearance.

Daisuke resorts to a last-gasp effort to mitigate the gas release, but Haru ends up opening the door and saving his partner and the president in the absolute nick of time. While the terrorist had disposed of what he thought was the only unusual star-shaped key, Haru learns through Saeki that the embassy janitor made a copy so he could use the room to…ugh…jerk off.

This is how despite doing little other than eating strangely-flavored chips and almost successfully stealing the First Division’s lunch, Saeki ends up being the X-factor in the success of the mission, simply because she noticed the janitor wearing what looked like an uncharacteristically stylish piece of jewelry.

Thus ends another case-of-the-week, with the added bonus of Haru saving Daisuke despite the latter having access to HEUSC. I’m also glad Suzue wasn’t seriously hurt in her accident; I imagine she knows how to ditch any number of vehicles in a survivable manner; she’s exceedingly capable.

I’ve actually quite enjoyed the episodic nature of Millionaire Detective, but between Daisuke’s HEUSC access block, the Kambe-based origins of the bomb that almost killed him, and the fact Daisuke doesn’t intend to take over as the family head, there’s some interesting serial elements in play.

I’m also hoping that the tension between Haru and Hoshino is relieved at some point, if for no other reason than the Haru-vs.-First Division dynamic is growing rather stale. Heck, if Haru and Daisuke were able to achieve détente, anything is possible.

The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED – 04 – Two Lost Puppies

This might be my favorite episode of Balance: UNLIMITED yet, and it only cost Daisuke a scant $500: pocket change for the moths in Daisuke’s pockets if his pants weren’t mothproof. After some kind of quarrel (thankfully left undisclosed) he leaves his family’s palatial mansion on his day off.

Haru summons him to a park, where a fourth grader has guilted him into helping him find his lost puppy. Haru figures Daisuke can just employ the “magic” of his HEUSC and unlimited balance to find the pup, but Daisuke left home in such a hurry he’s without his interface earring, and left his phone in the butler Hattori’s minitruck.

With neither his tech nor any cash on hand and out in the world of ordinary people, Daisuke makes for an amusing fish out of water. Haru initially thinks he ditched him and the kid, but finds Daisuke waiting outside the station where Haru dropped the kid off to be united with his parents.

That’s when we learn that Suzue, who ran after him as he fled in the beginning, is desperate for Daisuke to return home; so much so that she hacks every electronic sign in his vicinity in order to urge him to return home.

Due to this cyber-stalking, Daisuke is resolute in not wanting to return home quite yet. Haru assumes he had a fight with his wife, but we officially learn Suzue isn’t Daisuke’s wife, but his “relative.” A relative who dotes on him excessively.

Instead, Daisuke elects to spend the night at Haru’s modest apartment; Haru must answer the question “You really live here?” far more times than he would like. He whips up a mean curry, presents Daisuke with some 1500-yen dry-cured ham that he declares “inedible” since it’s not Jamon Iberico de Bellota, and the two get drunk and watch crime dramas together.

It’s great to see these two do nothing together for once, but Suzue is a nervous wreck with Daisuke out in the world with nary a yen to his name, and pulls an all-nighter observing the giant monitors, drinking several energy shots and developing a strung-out Wednesday Addams appearance.

Seiyu Sakamoto Maaya brings a lot of energy, passion and enthusiasm to Suzue, who loses it when HEUSC almost mockingly declares “Balance: LIMITED.”

The next day Haru wakes to find Daisuke slept in the tub. Haru takes another day off to help the kid search for the dog, but they’re unsuccessful. It’s Daisuke who arrives at dusk with the puppy, or rather a member of the same litter; he learned the kid’s dog was hit by a car, and that it would be best if he didn’t know that.

Daisuke then heads home, not wanting to worry his family “too much”, and treats Suzue to Haru’s family recipe, “The Devil’s Natto Rice”, which of course she loves. In all, an extremely fun and informative low-key outing that was all about the characters.

It’s bonding episodes like these that God of High School desperately needed to establish the three leads as friends. Now that we’ve seen them hang out and do regular stuff together, it’s fully credible that Haru and Daisuke have grown a bit closer and learned a bit more about each other.

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