Inuyashiki – 06

Hiro manages to escape the cops without killing anybody, but the damage is done: his mother has seen him treated the way a terrorist would be treated, and that’s going to be hard to explain, especially when his face and deeds are all over TV, the internet, and word-of-mouth.

Hiro lands nowhere in particular, but it isn’t long before he comes across Watanabe Shion, who is willing to harbor him in the cramped apartment where she and her grandmother live. Shion, the poor lass, doesn’t believe the news…except the part about his “complicated” family situation.

This served to endear him even more to her; she’s an orphan. Both her parents died of cancer, and she believes she won’t live long either. Her classmates may ultimately conclude Hiro was a bad egg despite being cute and nice, but Shion can’t do that. And you really feel for her and yes, worry about something on the TV or internet setting Hiro off on another rampage.

After a quiet, polite dinner, and in a scene reminiscent of Leon, Hiro gets up and points his finger at the heads of Shion and her grandmother…but in a genius bit of cutting that leaves you hanging for just a moment…we see he didn’t go through with it, as he’s having a nice breakfast with them the next morning.

This is an 80-90% Hiro episode, but the bit with Ichirou and Andou serves as a nice, lightweight intermission from the tense and emotional goings-on with Hiro. Very lightweight, as it happens. Andou, being very scientific in helping Ichirou maximize his powers, has Ichirou interface with is phone so that he can communicate hands-free at any time, like an iPhone in his brain.

Ichirou’s bewilderment and panicky reactions are always a great source of laughs, and this is no exception, as Andou recommends Ichirou test the range of their comms, which he does by launching himself into orbit. An spacewalking astronaut spots him; whether this will be trouble later depends on whether there was any kind of video feed.

Back to Hiro, who doesn’t have much to do besides “watch” TV and surf the internet, specifically chat rooms like “2chan”. He gets sucked in and is unable to “turn off”. The online dialogue is naturally quite vicious, and in his absence, it turns against his mother, who is so upset and ashamed she commits suicide.

Hiro learns this on a breaking news graphic during a comedy show he was actually managing to laugh at. Turns out there’s no escape from his torment, even when he launches himself high into the sky to scream. As I said last week, losing his mother would mean losing the one thing keeping him tethered to a degree of humanity—though we’ll see if Shion steps in to fill that role.

My only nit to pick this week: Why didn’t Hiro locate and rush to his mother the moment the news dropped she’d committed suicide? You’d think he would have at least tried to resurrect her. Then again, if she was totally dead at that point, perhaps even Ichirou and Hiro’s healing powers can only go so far.

Hiro intends to take revenge on those who caused and celebrated the death of his mother. He slaughters a media circus outside his father’s house, sparing his father, despite his role in abandoning his mother for another woman. I guess he still has some boundaries.

However, there are certainly some boundaries that he can easily break through—like the boundary between the legion of trolls and real-life, real-time consequences for their words and attitudes.

Targeting a particularly nasty chatroom, a member of which gave the media his address and name, he first hacks in and tells them that he’ll kill them all. Then he kills the one who ratted him out (even though he insists he was only trolling), then systematically kills each and every member of the room.

The nature of their real-life isolation from each other made it impossible for anyone to credibly warn anyone else, and the speed with which Hiro works makes it impossible for anyone to even process what the hell is happening, let alone defend themselves.

While these trolls were undeniably assholes, they didn’t really deserve to be executed, and Hiro certainly wasn’t the one to pass judgment on them, considering the extent of his own crimes. The grand irony of it all is that if only he hadn’t been caught, Hiro might’ve actually stopped killing; and redirected his life to protecting and providing for the mother who bore him.

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Inuyashiki – 05

Ando may have ended his friendship with Hiro, but in the eyes of the school, the two of them killed the guys who were bullying them, despite the absence of any physical evidence. The rumors take Hiro and Ando’s motives, the fact that just the right people died, and connect the dots. Of course, they’re only half-right. Ando had nothing to do with the killings, and he certainly didn’t ask Hiro to go so far to protect him.

After some aimless searching on the internet, Ando finds an uptick in “medical miracles” nearby, and remembers Hiro can heal people. At first he wonders if Hiro is the one both killing and saving people, but then considers that maybe there’s someone else out there with his abilities, only doing good instead of evil.

Remembering Hiro mention his superhuman hearing, Ando cries out for help…and a shirtless Ichirou is at his door in moments. It clearly relieves Ando to no end that Ichirou can do what he does. It means that perhaps they have a fighting chance of stopping Hiro – something both agree must happen.

Perhaps sensing that viewers needed a bit of a break from the hard stuff, this Inuyashiki doesn’t have any home invasion, grisly murders, or sexual assaults. Instead, much of the episode focuses back on Hiro, who seems to be taking a break from the home invasions as it’s all over the news.

His classmate Shion confesses to him, even after he calls her “pube-head”, and he thanks her and walks away. But I imagine Shion isn’t going anywhere.

We also get a closer look at his family life. Specifically, the fact his father and mother are divorced, and his father has a big fancy house and a whole other family. He attends his stepbrother’s birthday, then goes back to the tiny, drab apartment he and his mom share.

ne night, Hiro wakes from a dream that he gets a papercut, indicating he’s human again—something he dearly wants—his mom tells him she has terminal cancer and a month to live, so suddenly it’s a good thing he’s not human.

Ichirou insists to Ando that he’s no true hero; he does the heroic things he does like saving people because he’s afraid that his ability to do that is secondary to the overarching reality: that he is a machine built for killing and destruction.

Ando doesn’t agree with that assessment. He’s certain—as we are—that Ichirou is a true hero (the humbler the better), and they fly to a dump where Ando has Ichirou practice using his physical abilities, which certainly require fine-tuning after he makes a giant crater. (I loved the little chat the two were having on the way; with Ando complimenting Ichirou’s daughter.) Later, Ando accompanies him to a hospital and witnesses him saving a boy’s life firsthand, further galvanizing his opinion that he’s a hero.

While consoling his mom with a hug, Hiro succeeds in totally curing her cancer, and decides he’ll use his abilities to support her from now on. He lies about having invested his part-time job pay and made 3 million yen, and uses that cash to get them a new, fancy apartment with a view. His mom is grateful…but also a little scared. She should be.

After all, I can’t forgive Hiro for the crimes he’s already committed any more than Ando or Ichirou can. They are quite literally unforgivable, which means Hiro tries to skip ahead to redemption way too early.

When he hears his mother condemn the monster being reported on the news, he tries to come clean, only to find his mother incapable of understanding what he’s talking about. But it does fill him with guilt, to the point he resolves to stop killing.

That’s great to hear, but it doesn’t change the fact he’s already killed…a lot, and horribly. He must answer for that, which is why I was happy the cops showed up in force to arrest him. With his mother standing right there watching, there’s no way he could unleash his abilities on them. If he did, he would likely lose her (even if she isn’t killed in the fracas) the last person tethering him to his humanity.

As for who the “material witness” is, it’s strongly implied to be Ando, again doing what he can to help Ichirou stop him, but I wouldn’t rule out Shion, the girl he scorned, either. Whoever it was, Hiro is in deep shit…all of his own making.

Just Because! – 05

It’s a new year and a new semester; the last for all of our main characters (save Komiya). So why is everyone so bent out of shape (save Komiya)? Well, the events of last weeK—Natsume and Izumi having a fight and leaving on bad terms, and Morikawa shooting Souma down—had lasting repercussions.

Neither Izumi nor Souma want to go to school, and who can blame them? But now that Izumi and Natsume had time to cool down, both realize the error of their ways and wish to apologize to one another, because they really do care about each other. If anything, the fight demonstrated to both of them that they cared more than they knew.

Unfortunately, the reconciliation isn’t prompt; Natsume finally finds Izumi (who studies by himself in his own room…?), but Komiya is already there, monopolizing him, so Natsume bails with Morikawa and Noriko, and she ends up telling them what transpired with Izumi, and how she wants to fix it.

Morikawa also wants to fix things with Souma. Even if her rejection would ultimately stand (nothing’s 100% certain), in hindsight she believes she brought the hammer down too hard; it was her first confession, and one could say she panicked. It’s not that she dislikes Souma, she just doesn’t think she knows him well enough to start dating.

Natsume, putting Morikawa’s feelings ahead of her own in this matter, encourages her to talk it out with Souma; he’ll probably be happy for increased dialogue, and come to understand Morikawa’s position as more nuanced than “you’re trash.”

It’s not just Morikawa’s rejection that has Souma down in the dumps. This is his last semester, then it’s off to the factory, where he thinks he won’t be able to have fun anymore. A senpai invites him to a factory baseball game, and he’s shocked to see how into it the old fogies are.

Thanks to Izumi being in the right place at the right time, he’s able to produce the glove Souma tossed in the dumpster (the incorrect dumpster, mind you!), and Souma immediately makes an impact on the game that endears him to his future comrades.

On his way home, Souma runs into his mom, also on her way home. We see that Souma has been looked after by his grandparents, as his mom is really frikkin’ busy at work. But in a really sweet scene between the two, she tells him it’s worth it.

In a day’s time, Souma is feeling much better about himself, life, and the future…and that’s before Morikawa reaches out to him so they can talk more.

Having given Morikawa advice that talking things out properly is best, Natsume can’t very well not practice what she preaches! In a particularly romcom-ish coincidence, she and Izumi encounter each other at the monorail stop, and have the whole train to themselves.

Natsume tries to break the ice by joking about what book he bought (he says it’s manga, but it’s really a college prep book), but it backfires, so she says sorry, and then says she’s sorry about the other night as well. Izumi, in turn, apologizes back.

And while she says it’s not because of him or anything, she’s going to make a concerted effort to make her feelings clear to Souma, and face whatever’s to come after that. However, they part ways before it’s clear to Natsume why Izumi said what he said, nor is it clear to Izumi if Natsume realized how he actually felt about her.

There’s still lots of work to do…but everyone’s either talking again or about to talk again, so there’s hope that more will become clear in time.

Aho Girl – 10

First up, Eimura again demonstrates that she’s the Worst Gal Ever by the fact she hasn’t had her ears pierced yet, and makes a tremendously dramatic meal over the fact that she’s about to.

Enter our Aho Girl, who at first has no idea why Eimura wants to pierce her ears, then lays out in great detail the very worst-case scenario, before offering her hands to steady Eimura’s. She manages to pierce one ear…I think? But Eimura decides to postpone the piercing of the other one indefinitely.

The next segment is Aho Girl in top form, as Yoshiko takes Dog for a ride and ends up in a manga-style race on a mountain road with a super-competitive motorcyclist who ends up lost in their dust. His serious commentary of the race is hilarious and the art is fantastic in its starkness and illusion of motion.

Yoshiko has both feet on the ground, in a sandbox, in the next segment, where she bothers the little kids again, this time by playing dolls with them. Yoshiko betrays her older years by making things between “Michael” and “Micca” get way too dark and real, but the girl runs with it and has Michael come back to life and live happily ever after, further baffling the lads.

Finally, Fuuki tries to get closer to A-kun by befriending his lil’ sister Ruri, who is upset over having scored another zero on a test (further indicating Yoshiko’s influence on her). Fuuki is thwarted by Yoshiko’s mom Yoshie, who obviously has the inside track, having known Ruri and A-kun for years.

Before long, Ruri completely fades away in the midst of an increasingly heated battle between Yoshie and Fuuki, in which Yoshie unhooks Fuuki’s bra, then steals her panties to show Ruri that she’s a pervert; when Fuuki tries and fails to steal Yoshie’s panties, she ends up stealing Ruri’s, so quickly neither Ruri nor Yoshie noticed, and puts them on herself before Yoshie can expose her to Ruri.

It’s a very, er, wrong sequence, but in the end, Yoshie is humbled and decides she needs more “training”, giving their ridiculous exchange the air of a sincere martial arts duel. I sincerely hope another round is in the cards!

Sagrada Reset – 20

Urachi strikes the first blow, and as soon as Kei commits to preserving the abilities in Sakurada, all the abilities in Sakurada go bye-bye in an instant. After some momentary disorientation from the memories clashing in his head, Kei finds himself in a new world.

But from the moment this world “begins”, Kei doesn’t seem comfortable in it. How can he, when he has all his memories from the previous one? And how can he live life here knowing there’s a chance he can reverse Urachi’s handiwork and bring abilities back? If he can make it so Haruki’s last text to him isn’t an unnecessary apology?

In this world, Souma Sumire attends his high school and is an ordinary girl who likes him. But she notices something’s ‘off’ about him and through some discussions about the fallacy of memory, the five-minute hypothesis and being happy with the simple, unflashy life one has been given, Souma can help but feel rejected.

But it’s not just her: it’s this entire world. Kei can’t stay; not as long as he has those memories. And due to his ability, his memories will never go away.

In this world, Kei was born in Sakurada, while in reality he was born elsewhere and only moved to Sakurada in the sixth grade. In this world, his parents are dead and he is adopted. But he remembers the apartment he grew up in, and also remembers the taste of his mother’s curry. So he pays a visit to that hometown.

What I didn’t expect was that he would meet his mother, and the sister he never knew he had, whose name, Megumi, shares the same kanji has his name, Kei: both represent deep love, as their mother says to them; since names are what others use to call you.

Of course, Kei’s mother has no idea Kei is her son, so when he brings up something horrible he did to his parents and doesn’t think he has the right to seek forgiveness, she firmly corrects him. She may not know who his parents are, but they surely love him, even if they can’t forgive him, so he should apologize.

Of course, he can’t. Leaving his family was the price of remaining in Sakurada.

Little did I know (and possible little did Kei know himself) that his visit with his mother and sister would be crucial in his plans to undo what Urachi has done. When he visits Haruki, she’s back to her robotic, emotionless self of two years ago, and does not remember or trust him.

What she does do is humor Kei quite a bit, coming along on a bus ride, conceding a text was sent from her phone, proving they are acquaintances, than helping him hold a Polaroid of the cherry tree they’re standing in front of.

That photo, which was in Haruki’s hidden diary, turns out to be Kei’s key to getting back in the fight, as it transports him and Haruki to the time the photo was taken, back when she had the reset ability. All her memories rush back, but they’re a jumble, and she struggles to stand from the stress.

For whatever reason, she still can’t quite remember him, and when he tells her she should Reset, she tells him she can’t, because it “doesn’t feel like the right time.” That time comes almost immediately, however, thanks, again, to Kei’s experiences earlier in the day.

He thinks about the home and family he can never go back to, and the true meaning of his name, and dearly wishes for one last chance to undo some of the things he’s done. He didn’t cry over his past experiences on this day, but he does cry here, and Haruki remembers that that is her cue to Reset: when she sees someone crying. So she Resets.

And what do you know, Sumire Souma is also crying, by the water, in that very moment, upset that even after everything that happened, she’s not the one.

Back on the evening of October 22nd, Kei and Haruki are outside her house, and he can’t help but steal a big hug, so happy he is that his Haruki is ‘back.’ She can tell a lot has happened, and is worried about him. Kei tells her what’s going to happen the night after tomorrow unless they do something…they, not just him.

Haruki asks if abilities are really necessary, and Kei says no…the town would be fine without them, but he likes them, so he’ll do everything he can to protect them. With her help, he’ll attain the MacGuffin.

Sagrada Reset – 19

This week, in the “Boy, Girl and —” arc finale, Souma Sumire comes to Kei’s place, makes chicken curry, telling him about how Urachi grew up while she cooks. Urachi is basically Kei’s opposite: he wants all abilities to be wiped out, because he believes they’ll hurt, rather than help, the weak in the world (though we’re just talking about one small town here).

Then Souma takes a shower, because, as Kei presumes, she knows she’s going to cry. She tells Kei that Souma Sumire died so that when she was ultimately brought back by Kei’s efforts, she wouldn’t really be Souma Sumire anymore, which allowed her to pass Sakuin’s lie detection.

This “artifact”, as she calls herself, still intends to hinder Urachi, and so did everything possible to give Kei a chance to thwart his plans—except tell him everything before she set her plan into motion.

The fault for this lies in the Souma of two years ago who no longer exists, and though “Souma II” admits she and her are pretty much the same, it was that first Souma who acted “foolishly”, letting Kei get stolen away by Haruki, then forcing all of the “hard parts” onto her replacement. She can’t forgive her, but like her, Kei’s happiness comes first.

Kei expresses his gratitude to both Past Souma and Souma II, and as they eat the curry, he notes how the flavor is “oddly nostalgic.” Souma used her ability to draw from his mother’s know-how, but just as she’s not 100% the Souma Sumire she used to be, something made with “a mother’s love” cannot be 100% replicated.

Kei commits to beating Urachi, which he intends to do by claiming all of the abilities in Sakurada, as the MacGuffin promised to do. The miracles they’ll create will be happy, not a danger or nuisance as Urachi so strongly believes.

Kei made sure to warn Haruki that Oka Eri may pay her a visit, and to let him know if she takes her Reset ability (again). Sure enough, Urachi arrives with Oka, and instead of having Oka take her Reset right there, he uses his own ability on her, “rewinding” her to two-plus-years ago, before she met Asai Kei (and when she had really long hair.)

He leaves the sleeping Haruki with Oka, telling her to take her Reset once she wakes up in the hospital.

Oka Eri wants to beat Senpai, but a part of her still admires, looks up to, and loves Kei, and so when she heard his voice message in her head, telling her he’s been “backed into a corner”, and asks if when the time comes she won’t take Haruki’s reset…it puts Oka in a moral bind.

Just as Souma got around Urachi’s lie detector through rather desperate measures, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kei has to make similar sacrifices in order to succeed in his mission.

The stakes couldn’t be higher: his relationship to Haruki and the abilities of the town hang in the balance, and Urachi, preparing to wake up his “petrified” mother after 20 years, is playing for keeps.

Aho Girl – 06

Aho Girl was just ‘okay’ this week, as it relied more heavily on boobs-and-dick-style comedy as the gang goes on a beach/hot spring vacation. Fuuki tries a bit too hard to get A-kun to look at her boobs, and is punished by Yoshiko by being buried in the sand and given a sand schlong.

Later, Yoshiko gets to talking about A-kun’s tiny weewee when they used to bathe together as little kids, but when Fuuki tells her he’s probably not that way anymore due to puberty, it only makes Yoshiko want to peek at A-kun even more. She gets a mace-like weapon to the face for her trouble.

The strangest skit involves A-kun on his own with Yoshiko’s dog while she’s away, and he finds that not only can the dog understand what he’s saying, he also loves his favorite movie. Yoshiko accuses A-kun of “having an affair” with a dog, but he won’t forget how much more pleasant communicating with the dog was than with Yoshiko.

Things are wrapped up with a festival in which the Neighborhood Association attempts to stop Yoshiko from ruining their Bon Dance. However, her sexy Brazilian Carnival get-up lowers their guards, and before they know it, they’re her backup dancers.

Made in Abyss – 03

I’ll just come out and say it: three episodes in, and of all the anime we’ve watched this Summer at RABUJOI, Made in Abyss is the best. It effortlessly grounds a fantastical world (primed to become more wondrous still) with deeply human characterization, in particular the bottomless (no pun intended) curiosity and stubbornness of kids.

Riko’s friend of many years Nat is against her going down the Abyss. He stays against it for the entire episode, right up to the moment she actually descends. He doesn’t change his mind. He’s worried she won’t come back. He’s angry she won’t listen to him when he’s trying to keep her safe. And he’s scared of being alone after she leaves.

Nat’s objections aside, Riko still plans to go first thing tomorrow. And after his very first cave-raiding, Reg decides he’ll accompany her, now that he knows the curse doesn’t affect him (at least not as bad as humans). Riko needs to find her mom. Reg wants to find out what he is and why he was made, and what he was meant for.

Against these lures, Nat doesn’t have a chance, even after Siggy unfurls a gorgeous map of the Abyss and describes all of the exotic hazards and trials that await Riko and Reg (while the Abyss’ equally gorgeous xylophone leitmotif plays). Even though Sigy is merely describing the levels while pointing to illustrations on the map, the limitless grandeur and wonder of the Abyss comes through crystal clear.

Nat finally goes to far trying to dissuade Riko by telling her the most likely possibility is that her mother died long ago, and there’s nothing for her down there. It’s a horribly mean thing to say, and Riko runs off, but Nat immediately regrets hurting his friend.

Sigy and Reg get it, and neither of them want Riko and Nat to part ways without making up. So when dawn breaks, Sigy enlists the help of none other than Nat to lead them to the rarely-used entrance to the netherworld in the slums where he grew up collecting rags before he was admitted to the orphanage. He says he’s sorry and Riko immediately forgives him.

The slums become denser, darker, and dingier, until they finally reach a rickety wooden platform extending over the Abyss. Below them is only inky blackness. It might as well be the end of the world. It is, quite simply, terrifying.

But it’s also tremendously exciting, with a momentous, THIS IS IT kind of vibe. After a thoroughly tearful farewell to Nat and Sigy, the 12-year-old Riko, possibly braver than I could ever be, grabs hold of Reg; he lowers them into the void, and they’re gone, just like that.

How long will that darker-than-darkness last? How accurate is that map? What wonders—or horrors—will await them down there? I won’t speculate—I’ll just keep watching.

Made in Abyss – 02

Wherever he came from—Riko believes he’s from the furthest depths of the Abyss…in a nice way!—she along with her friends Sigy and Nat, know that the arrival Reg is huge. Bigger than the discovery of any other relic in the Abyss to date. He’s like ten relics in one, and more importantly, he walks, talks, and even blushes when Riko gets too close.

Her hilariously embarrassing report on the results of her very thorough examination of Reg’s every nook and cranny notwithstanding, they determine the safest place for him to hide is in plain sight, so they give him a whole backstory and Leader accepts him to the Orphanage, and eventually a job cave-raiding.

The ruse goes swimmingly, with Reg fitting in nicely at the orphanage, and growing close to Riko, who sees him not as some relic, but a friend and member of their big family. Then news comes that some elite cave raiders—among them Black Whistles—have completed their descent from the place where Lyza the Annihilator fell.

Who is Lyza, you ask? Only one of the most famous and distinguished explorers of her age…and yeah, Riko’s MOM. Leader was old enough to remember what a drunken, short-tempered mess Lyza was…but also reveals to Riko that she was born on that expedition, deep in the Abyss, protected by a relic that minimized the effects of the Abyss’ “Curse.”

Lyza also abandoned the expedition to recover a prime relic—The Unheard Bell—to ensure baby Riko got back to the surface and survived. So she has, albeit with an eye condition that requires crystal lenses to avoid headaches. Oh, and some rather large shoes to fill!

Riko being presented with Lyza’s ornate White Whistle caused all the reminiscing, and gaining new insight into her mom (and her own beginnings) from Leader only increased her desire to become a White Whistle of her own. It feels like destiny.

That feeling likely isn’t diminished when Riko is brought before unsealed documents that were with Lyza’s White Whistle. Among them is a sketch of a robot boy just like Reg, as well as a note saying “At the netherworld’s bottom, I’ll be waiting.” That there’s no mention of Lyza’s body ever being recovered only increases the likelihood she may still be alive somewhere down there.

Maybe Lyza sent Reg up to the surface to protect Riko and help her reach the depths of the Abyss where she was, in a way, made (i.e. born). Is she ready to descend that deep? The grown-ups think not. We’ll see.

Aho Girl – 05

Summer Vacation is here. A-kun wants to study. Yoshiko wants to play. For once, I’m on her side (wait…when am I ever not?). Ruri has recovered from last week’s unintentional assault. Yoshiko invites her to go see a new magical girl anime movie. A-kun tells her that stuff’s for kids, and Ruri starts to cry…so A-kun agrees they’ll all go to the movies.

BIG mistake. Neither Yoshiko nor Ruri can keep it down, making such a disturbance A-kun has to smack them both and carry them out with apologies to the rest of the audience. Though I must say, Yoshiko breaking out of her tape binds, magical girl transformation-style, was pretty nifty.

Next, Yoshiko wants to go to the beach. She’s not alone; Sayaka thinks it’ll be fun times as well. Fuuki Iinchou and Ryuuichi happen to be in the neighborhood (stalking A-kun in various ways) so they want in as well. Suddenly A-kun is all alone on an island of people who don’t want to go to the beach.

While everyone is shopping for swimsuits (don’t they own any?) he mentions he won’t be joining them on the trip. Then Sayaka pulls out all the stops to guilt trip A-kun into coming along, by calling him a weirdo who draws other weirdos, like Yoshiko and Ryuuichi and Fuuki Iinchou…and yes, even Sayaka. But she bets—correctly—that even if she is a weirdo, A-kun will still be her friend.

The morning of the trip arrives, and Fuuki ends up facing off against Yoshiko’s mom, who smells an “A-kun-stealing homewrecker” and a “sow”. Neither Fuuki nor Ryuuichi are a match for Yoshiko’s mom’s extensive cat fight experience…but A-kun is, and warns her to knock off the violent behavior and leave them in peace.

She does, but not before slipping A-kun her still-warm bra (for some reason) before scampering off while laughing maniacally. I think I’m realizing where Yoshiko got a lot of her brash theatricality…

Tsuki ga Kirei – 11

Sooo…this episode was just about perfect, which doesn’t really surprise me at this point. Kotarou and Akane are on splendid terms, so Kotarou faces two new conflicts this week, which prove more complex and challenging than winning Akane’s heart. Gaining the approval of his parents, and being accepted into Koumei.

We know Akane’s grades are great and her family is the reason she’s changing schools, so there’s not much tension on her end; just whether or not Kotarou will like her hand-knit scarf (which…DUH of course he will).  So instead we delve deep into Kotarou’s small, quiet family, and navigate the treacherous waters with him.

Like Kotarou and Akane’s romance, Kotarou’s problems with his folks are portrayed with a heightened sense of realism and equilibrium. His mom may sound worse than nails on a chalkboard when nagging Kotarou, but she’s only nagging because she cares so fiercely about her son’s future.

That being said, I don’t decry Kotarou pushing back against the path she’s already laid out in her head for him. It is HIS future, after all. But just as Kotarou was initially so bad at communicating his feelings (or anything else) with Akane, he’s equally bad at explaining why he’s so hellbent on attending Koumei.

Hell, he never even seems to try, which works against him early on as his mother quickly dismisses his intention to follow a “girl he likes” as teenage caprice. We know better—Kotarou near-as-makes-no-difference loves Akane, and she loves him, but his folks have no choice but to work with the information they have, which is scanty.

Rather than hearing it from him, Kotarou’s mother comes to gather more information on her own, as she watches her son furiously studying late into the night. She can tell he’s working hard for something he believes in, so obviously she’s not going to come in and crush his dreams by forcing him into a municipal school. Instead, she adopts a wait-and-see approach, putting her faith in her son by letting him hold the keys to his future.

The constant studying wears Kotarou down, and his mock exams are, uh, nothing special, so it’s great to see Akane spearhead a Christmas meetup that serves as a much-needed break for both of them, as well as an opportunity to exchange presents.

It’s lovely to watch the couple so comfortable and warm around each other, especially the lack of hesitation when they lean in for another kiss. You really get the feeling, both here and after all we’ve seen, that this isn’t mere puppy love; these kids have a future together…even if they don’t end up in the same school.

One night, Kotarou’s father lays it out: they’ll let him apply for Koumei, but if he fails, he’s going to a public school. Kotarou accepts the fair conditions, then stands slack-jawed when his dad tells him when his homeroom teacher told his mom Koumei wasn’t a realistic choice for Kotarou, she fought back, leading to an awesome thunderbolt of a quintessential Dad Line: “She can be naggy, but…Well, there you have it.”

Sure enough, when heading downstairs at 1 am for a snack, Kotarou finds his mother there, making some fresh onigiri; forming the balls with love, care, and gentleness before heading off to bed. His mom is no longer an impediment to his dreams of attending school with Akane. She never was. She saw the effort he was putting in, and decided to support and even fight for him.

The morning of his big, decisive exam—the last true impediment to his happiness (though not really since as I said their love seems likely to endure the lengthy but non-permanent distance)—both Kotarou’s mom and dad are up to make sure he has everything he needs, to wish him luck, and to see him off. And Kotarou does something he hadn’t done all episode, but sorely needed to do: he thanks his mom.

These family interactions are so understated and relatable, and really form a nice little arc within the episode as understanding is achieved between the parties and the conflict is revealed only as a measure of concern. Kotarou puts in the work to assure them they needn’t worry, and they show him that they are and always will be on his side.

Now he just needs to pass that goddamn exam!

Renai Boukun – 08

Yuzu and Guri mount a daring rescue of Akane (armed with cosplay and retro dramatic music), only to find she doesn’t want to be rescued… naturally. The story is very standard issue, and on paper sounds like dozens of such rescue episodes. What makes Renai Boukun’s take on it fresh and watchable (if not outstanding) is its commitment to inserting punchy, often self-referential comedy wherever it can.

As the subtitle above demonstrates, Renai Boukun will often go to the trouble of pointing out the cliches it’s using, because characters like Guri are themselves knowledgable students of anime like the one they’re in. Guri’s status as a cupid, with her “love detection” ability, easily cuts through the stoic masks both Akane and her mother are wearing.

Akane’s mom may not ever break her stern, Vulcan calm, but when Akane herself has her blade pressed to Seiji’s neck, and he tells her he’d never be able to hate her no matter what, her eye highlights come back, and then some: shimmer, tears; the lot!

Renai is also shameless in its portrayal of Akane and Yuzu’s moms as aged-up versions of their daughters: they loved the same man, bearing the girls who now both love Seiji. Akane’s mom left her dad when her family calling beckoned, but she has to deal with the fact her daughter might not go down that very same path.

The moms are also even more powerful than their daughters, and their unhinged battle on the roof of Akane’s house surprises Seiji, even though at this point he’s used to getting stabbed (but likes the pain from Akane’s stabbing more than Shikimi’s).

As expected, by the end of the episode everything is back to the way it was, relationship-wise, only now Akane has the implicit approval to “do as she likes”, which is to keep loving Seiji. Seiji also feels closer to her now that he knows the whole truth about Akane and Yuzu’s family.

Akua got to fight some goons in suits. Coraly got to scare Akua shitless. Shikimi got to stab Seiji a bunch. Everybody’s happy! Well, until the very end, when Guri sees how close Seiji and Akane have grown, and no doubt ponders what, if anything, she can do to get Seiji to look at her the way he looks at Akane.

Little Witch Academia – 20

Despite Akko’s protesting (with backup from Andrew) Diana insists she has no choice but to perform the ritual before the transit of Venus behind the moon is complete. She goes into the ritual chambers alone, but is immediately impeded in her mission by Aunt Daryl, who wraps her in one of her many giant magic snake familiars.

No matter how much logic he tosses at Akko, she knows it’s not right for Diana to be dropping out; she’s clearly putting her own dreams aside for the good of her family. When they eavesdrop on Daryl and her twin daughters talking about how she had no problem stopping Diana, Akko has all the moral capital she needs to break with sacred Cavendish custom and enter the sanctum to rescue her.

Andrew helps, convinced that Akko is right. He remembers how passionate Diana became years ago when talk flew around she wouldn’t be able to perform magic. We know the spark of inspiration was the twin pillars of her mother and Shiny Chariot. But to her credit, Akko keeps Andrew out of the sanctum: she’ll bring back Diana on her own…all the way back the academy.

Akko proves she can mostly take care of herself, using her patented partial-transformation magic in rapid-fire mode to lure the snakes away from Diana and stay one step ahead until she regains consciousness and saves her.

With Akko bitten and poisoned, Diana sacrifices her chance to complete the ritual by healing and staying with Akko, who wakes up, then scolds Diana for staying there with her instead of continuing on with the ritual. But this is just Diana being Diana: kind, caring, and healing, just like her mother and the centuries of Cavandishes who came before her.

It’s no coincidence their conversation is held in a facility borne of that family “affection”, a secret hospital where Diana’s ancestors used their considerable magical knowledge to heal the wounded from conflicts that plagued history, without regard to whose side they were on.

Diana’s confession of her lifelong dream (to protect and preserve her family’s and mother’s names and the home they left behind) moves Akko to assure her she can still achieve that dream, restoring her family and complete her education at Luna Nova, as long as she…you guessed it, believes in her heart.

In this manner, two Chariot superfans—one current, one lapsed—come together to realize her credo that a believing heart can make anything possible. To that end, traditional and modern powers mingle, and Diana realizes the fifth word is Akko’s for the taking.

Reciting it summons Chariot’s broom, which they ride together to reach the site where the ritual is to be completed…only to find Aunt Beryl and her daughters waiting to disrupt Diana once more.

For this latest act of treachery, Diana’s relations are punished not by her or Akko, but by the system itself, and are quickly encased in trees. As she did with Akko, Diana stays true to her family’s legacy again by putting judgement aside and helping others before herself.

By the time she’s saved Daryl and the twins, the Venusian eclipse is over, but Diana still gets a momentary nod of approval, so to speak, from her family’s founder, Lady Beatrix. She may not have quite completed the ritual, but it’s clear to all who will lead the Cavendish family’s future.

Until that time, Diana is free to return to Luna Nova, much to Akko’s delight. She also gives Akko a ride home on her broom, which is the perfect time for her to express her gratitude for what Akko did…softly, and only once. Still, Akko heard her, and after their shared experiences this week their bond has never been tighter.

After charming and fun but inconsequential episodes involving the B-characters, this Diana-focused two-parter was a welcome and worthwhile outing that brought two rivals closer together and brought Akko one word closer to potentially changing the world.

I also appreciated the bonhomie that’s gradually developed between Akko and Andrew (who will be back, at least to give Akko her hat back). While I would have preferred if Diana’s full fleshing-out arc had come sooner, it’s better late than never, and well worth the wait.