Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 09 – Gettin’ Fishy With It

When Kokkoro wins a raffle for a beach tip, the Gourmet Guild don their tropical best and head out to the surf and sands. Kokkoro is particularly nervous about how cute she looks in her swimsuit, but a thumbs-up from Yuuki allays her fears. Peco also reveals that her armor gives her extensive attribute boosts at the cost of becoming hungrier more easily. Among friends it’s no big deal, but it’s also vital intel Karyl may feel she has to pass on to her master.

This is a beach episode that doesn’t really subvert any expectations; suffice it to say there’s no shortage of stylish swimwear and skin, and everyone looks great. Its middle section is essentially the first episode of Food Wars’ now-postponed fifth season: a battle of seaside food stands. Saren and Suzume run a stand that’s deserted due to their rivals the Mercurius Foundation, led by Akito, Saren’s childhood friend. Her underling Tamaki has devised a taiyaki that’s irresistible to the beach crowds.

Thus the Gourmet Guild actually have a quest that fits with their mission: to seek out, explore, and create new tastes. This starts by gathering as much fresh seafood as they can, but Peco’s “ice sushi” isn’t going to cut it. At the same time, another member of Mercurius, Yukari, gets depressed about all the lovey-dovey couples around and hits the bottle hard. Tamaki tosses her into a section of beach where a kraken was sighted, and it’s ultimately up to the Gourmet Guild to vanquish the monster and rescue the loaded Yukari.

Peco proves more than capable of handling the beast even without her armor. The defeated kraken is split up and grilled, become Saren’s hot new specialty dish that restores the balance between food stands. Saren and Akito share a moment of mutual respect and admiration, with Saren thanking her old friend for offering her a job, but preferring theirs to be a dynamic of equals.

To reward her comrades for a job well done, Karyl (clearly putting her darker mission out of her head) casts an underwater breathing spell on everyone, and they take a plunge beneath the waves. There, Kokkoro has an almost spiritual experience, remembering the vast expanses of the universe she used to daydream about, and now finding that real life can be just as exciting and rewarding.

It’s a surprisingly poignant (not to mention beautiful) closing scene that bumps this episode from a 7 to an 8 in my books, and further cements PriConne as the feel-good comfort food show of the Spring. It also makes any possible future betrayal by Karyl that much more heartbreaking.

Fruits Basket – 33 (S2 08) – Quiet Voices

In summoning the Zodiac members to the annex, Akito intends to gradually isolate Tooru, the “Ugly Girl” with whom Akito locked is in a one-sided competition. Tooru isn’t trying to take anyone from him, just get along and help out with their problems if she can.

Of course, simply by existing and being kind-hearted and caring, Tooru is an affront to Akito’s authority as “god” of the Zodiac. The members and their souls are Akito’s property. To put it crudely, Tooru is fuckin’ with Akito’s shit, and he will only tolerate it so far.

All we know is, none of the Zodiac members dare oppose Akito…except for Yuki, who thanks to Tooru has developed a more rigid spine and thicker skin. Tooru is worried about what Yuki said to her on the beach, especially the part spoken in such a “quiet voice” she couldn’t hear it even when she strained to do so.

The next day Yuki apologizes for making her worry, but won’t apologize for the kiss. In exchange, he’s fine with her forgetting everything he said, but she won’t. What was said (what she heard anyway) was important, after all.

Kyou is a little different in that he’s no so much in open rebellion against Akito as simply not worth his time or trouble, being the Cat and all. It’s because of this Akito doesn’t summon him, allowing him to continue hanging out with Tooru. What Akito doesn’t realize (at least until witnessing the two having fun on the beach) is that as long as Tooru has Kyou, she won’t be lonely and miserable, which is what Akito wants.

Previously, Akito assumed Kyou was a monster who even Tooru couldn’t have fun with, but he is ignorant to just how much growth Kyou has gone through. Rather than be tight-lipped about his rosary, for instance, Kyou tells Tooru how it’s made of bone and blood of “some great monk”, making it a constant reminder that someone was sacrificed so that his true form could be controlled. Just telling Tooru this, and letting her comfort him, is immense growth.

Meanwhile, someone who is clearly not only an emotional prisoner of Akito but of her own emotional complexes is Isuzu AKA Rin, whom Tooru finally meets by chance while chasing down a sheet.

She meets Rin in her Horse form, as Rin is exhausted from walking to the beach. In the cold open we see she’s crashing at Kagura’s house, but like virtually everyone else she has no intention of letting anyone know about her desires or problems.

Despite being exhausted, Rin transforms back into human form through sheer willpower after nearly kicking Tooru’s head in as a horse. She takes Tooru’s change of clothes, but otherwise doesn’t give her the time of day, and not-so-kindly asks Yuki to butt the hell out of her business. Seeing her as she is now reminds me of much earlier versions of Yuki and Kyou, but without the slightest interest in knowing Tooru.

When Rin calls Yuki Akito’s toy and Yuki doesn’t so much as flinch, it angers her even more, and she storms off in a rage, later stomping the sand castle Tooru and Kyou built. Yuki assures Tooru he’ll take care of Rin, but for now has to return to the annex from which he snuck out. He’s continuing to play Akito’s game, even as his hold on him is diminishing by the day.

But now that Akito has seen how well Kyou and Tooru have gotten on, which means a new avenue for antagonism. Thus he finally orders Hatori and Shigure to summon Kyou, in an effort to complete her isolation. Shigure is excited at this development as it no doubt fits within whatever twisted scheme he has, while Hatori is not amused.

As for Kyou, he has no idea what’s coming down the pike. Yuki warned him not to risk hurting Tooru by being too impertinent if and when Akito summoned him. Hopefully he got the message even though he hates the messenger…

Fruits Basket – 32 (S2 07) – So Hard Because It’s So Simple

This week’s cold open features Akito, who has followed Shigure’s advice and arrived at the seaside, confronting Yuki and whispering something in his ear. While we can’t hear what hesays, Akito is likely using the exact same ammunition he’s used in the past—trying to cover Yuki in a hopeless pitch black, warning him any glimmers of happiness or warmth are mere delusions.

But there’s something different about Yuki here from previous confrontations with Akito, and the fact Yuki’s voiceover is all we here is key to that. First of all, he’s not having a goddamn panic attack, so that’s good! While Akito approaches and launches his attack, Yuki is testing a new “armor” he has developed as a result of “opening the lid”—the armor of his memory of saving Tooru.

When Momiji proposes a watermelon splitting contest, Tooru starts to bring up her mother, but stops herself, awkwardly saying “gumshoe” instead of “mom”. She doesn’t want to trouble people with stories of her mom when she knows nothing about their own.

Hiro, who learned that morning that his mom is pregnant, can now see the effect of his harsh words to her, while Kyou can again sense something off in Tooru, and suspects it’s Hiro’s fault.

While Momiji, Hiro and Kisa are napping, Kyou asks Tooru about it, and she in turn asks Kyou about his parents. As expected, there’s not much to say: his mom was killed in an “accident” (holding back that it was suicide) when he was very small and he and his biological dad are estranged.

Tooru then shares the details of her watermelon splitting contest with her mom. Neither of them had any aim to speak of, as her mom smashed both a flowerpot and Tooru’s dad’s shrine, but they still had a lot of fun, and the warmth and love of that memory brings a smile to Kyou’s face.

But amidst all these happy feels, you can’t help but wonder: what is missing from Tooru’s almost impossibly ideal childhood with her mom prior to her death? Why doesn’t she remember (or claims not to remember) anything about her dad, from whom she inherited not only her kindness but her very manner of speaking?

Akito, Kureno, and Hattori arrive, and arrangements are made for the Zodiac members to formally greet her at the annex. Before that, Akito spends some time by the ocean, with Kureno not far away. Yuki encounters them while on a walk, and we’ve now reached the events of the cold open.

Predictably, Akito fires shoots some lies Yuki’s way—telling him he’s “all alone as usual” and “such a lonely boy.” Akito’s idea of Yuki as an individual might as well be frozen in amber. That’s who Yuki was, and those barbs don’t cut nearly as deep as they once did, when Akito’s influence on him was stronger.

Shigure rounds up Momiji, Hatsu, Kisa and Hiro, and all of them are gloomy because none of them are in a particular hurry to meet with Akito, especially if it means leaving Tooru behind (not to mention Kyou, who never sees Akito). Momiji in particular seems at peace with the fact he’s “disliked” by Akito, but he can deal with that if he can continue having fun with Tooru.

Back at the beach house, Tooru is determined not to be glum, and stirs into action making pancakes with Kyou, who’s never had them before. Kyou can sense Akito’s reason for coming as putting a damper on their good times.

When Shigure arrives with the Zodiac members, he’s received by Akito, Kureno, and Hattori. Akito sends Kureno away without meeting with anyone (deeming it “unnecessary”) and proceeds to launch into a villainous rant, boasting about how she discouraged Yuki and laughing about his attempts to separate from her.

Shigure takes all this in stride, and is his usual polite self as Akito goes to receive the others. While Hattori isn’t pleased with Shigure’s methods (i.e. “scheming” and “shaking things up”) he lauds him for at least trying to do something to exact change.

I may not know exactly what Shigure is up to, but I do know that Akito is more a means and not an end to his plans. That Akito doesn’t seem aware he’s being manipulated seems to be working in Shigure’s favor.

While Yuki weathered his latest confrontation with Akito well, it still left him feeling as gloomy as everyone else who has dealings with the pale little shit this week. So it’s fortuitous that he and Tooru meet on the beach at dusk, just when he’s feeling his most alone.

Just then, there’s a beautiful meteor shower in the sky above them. They’re only visible to Yuki because he was able to survive dark clouds and pelting rain of Akito’s bitter mind games, which in turn was possible due to both his memory of and friendship with Tooru, twin totems in his efforts to cast away the darkness.

Akito tried so hard to make Yuki think he was useless, but when Yuki encountered Tooru and helped her out, it was the first time he felt needed. In that regard, she saved him just as much as he saved her, because it turned his world upside-down and let him dream of a better one, of which he’s now privileged to be a part.

Akito’s dark clouds never stood a chance against the dazzling showers of kindness, warmth and joy that Tooru so generously shares with him every day. They’re why he won’t lose to Akito. When Tooru asks why he looks sad, Yuki tenderly takes her shoulders, kisses her forehead, and tells her she’s “so dear” to him. So it’s official: Tooru is the Dear of the Zodiac!

Puns aside, Yuki compares Tooru to the sky: i.e. something he’ll never reach. It’s clear Kyou is making more progress with Tooru, and Yuki knows if he becomes bitter or possessive about it, he’s no better than Akito. Just as he’s liberated himself from Akito’s now-hollow lies an manipulations, he must move past the memory that helped him do so, and shrug off the comfy blanket that is Tooru in order to keep moving forward.

Fruits Basket – 31 (S2 06) – It’s NOT Okay!

In the midst of a bad storm, Momiji announces that he’s secured a Souma beach house for everyone to stay during summer break. He’s invited everyone but the Horse, the Rooster, and Rin. Tooru wants to go, but she hasn’t yet finished her summer homework. One wonders why she can’t just take it with her and finish it there…though I imagine with all those Soumas there will be too many distractions.

Leave it to Yuki, who is happy to help Tooru out. While in her room, he notices the old cap again and finally asks her about it. She keeps it because it represents a happy memory when a boy helped her out when she was lost. That she doesn’t remember what the boy looked like doesn’t change the fact that it’s a cherished memory, and why she still has the hat. That seems to comfort Yuki, who is on the cusp of discussing it more when Momiji interrupts.

The next day everyone clears out of Shigure’s house, and he prepares to join them after taking care of some “work” first. It seems Rin has paid him a visit, and wants…something from him. As tends to be the case when Shigure meets with someone in secret, the words spoken don’t always reveal what’s truly being said.

While what that “something” is isn’t 100% clear, one can make an educated guess from the way she kneels and draws closer to him, and Shigure’s gaze lingers on her low-cut blouse. Her addressing him as Gure-nii suggests they’re brother and sister, but this is the Soumas we’re talking about…so who the heck knows!

Down by the sea, Tooru revels in the sun, sand, and water, showing off her swimming skills (though she needs to learn how to breathe while doing so!) and playing with Momiji and Kisa. Kyou and Yuki eventually join in the fun, with Yuki even complimenting Tooru on the adorable swimsuit they all picked out for her.

He does so after remembering Akito’s past words about having to live a “pitch black path without potential or hope.” Rather than despair from those words, Yuki rejects them. He believes he can walk in the light, and that light is Tooru.

It looks like the summer fun will never end until Hiro ends it like a needle scratch after picking up Tooru’s wallet with her mom’s picture in it. He calls her out for not having a photo of her dad, and for always going on about her mom like she’s got some kind of complex.

If Hiro expected Tooru to come up with a retort or to defend herself, he doesn’t know Tooru! Instead she smiles a sad, defeated smile and gets saved by the Momiji bell. But Kisa can and will defend her friend, and asks why Hiro even came if he was just going to shit on poor Tooru!

That night Hiro apologizes to Kisa for being so harsh, and she apologizes for getting angry with him and questioning his motives for coming. Both these cute kids have grown quite a bit; I know that because time was it would take a whole episode to make up, now it’s adjacent scenes.

Meanwhile, Hiro’s words still ring in Tooru’s head, as do images from her memory: her mom at her dad’s shrine, a cup with two toothbrushes, suddenly finding herself with neither parent. They flash by so fast and yet carry so much seering sorrow and longing, and Tooru can only tell herself again and again that “it’s okay”, even if how she’s choosing to handle this isn’t particularly okay.

The next day Momiji’s regimen of summer fun continues with a beetle hunt, and Tooru is hiding behind a mask of cheer and enthusiasm, letting herself get swept up in Momiji’s flowery energy…anything to avoid burdening others with her grief. While Hiro initially sees her smiles and thinks all must be well, Kyou can tell she’s down, because he knows by now that sometimes it’s when Tooru looks most happy that she’s really the most depressed.

Meanwhile, Shigure stops by Akito’s before joining the others at the beach. Akito hates everything about the summer and curses the “ugly girl” and the others for getting cocky and deluding themselves. Akito wants to “teach them a lesson”, to which Shigure suggests Akito accompany him to the vacation house so the lesson can be taught in person.

Whether Shigure is plotting against Tooru and the others or merely being deferential to remain on Akito’s “good” side (as if such a thing existed), these interactions always makes my skin crawl and fill my heart with dread.

It’s a good thing, then, that the episode ends by replacing some of that dread with tenderness. Yuki comes down with a low-grade fever, but he is notably smiling the whole time. When Hatsu leaves him with Tooru, he takes a bit of her hair in his hands and gently, lovingly twirls it about as he tells her that one day he’ll have something important to tell her, and hopes she’ll listen when that day comes. It’s the day he plans to “open the lid” on a shut box.

That’s both the pitch black box Akito stuffed him in, and the boy-with-the-cap mystery box. Will Yuki’s avowal here spur Tooru to explore opening the lids on her own boxes containing the painful things she’s ashamed to share? Will she tire of carrying those burdens alone? Will she be a match for Akito’s curelty and scorn…or will her light get snuffed out like so many others in this wretched family’s history?

Vinland Saga – 06 – Engulfed by the Quarrels of Men

On November 13, 1002, King Æthelred II of orders all Danish immigrants in England killed. The Danish respond by sending troops across the sea, and the Vikings—Danish pirates—serve as the “army’s army.” Askeladd’s crew are right in the middle of this.

When English archers ambush their camp, Thorfinn gets a crash course in mass death, killing, and living with it, taking his first life and letting out a cry of vicious despair that carries through the forest, while Askeladd observes in quiet approval.

The battles with the English continue, and Thorfinn continues to kill and gets better at it, with his enemies continually underestimating him due to his size and youth. Askeladd starts using him as a scout, and he manages to kill two foes who come at him, gaining a second dagger with which he dual-wields henceforth.

While on another scouting mission he takes an arrow to the shoulder and washes up on a branch in a river in East Anglia. A kindly, God-fearing mother and her daughter take him in, clean him up, and feed him. The daughter worries (rightfully) that he’s a Dane, their enemy; but her mom doesn’t think any women or children should be bothered with the quarrels of men.

The mother even combs the fleas and lice from Thorfinn’s unruly hair, with the same comb she used to use on her son, who died of a cold two years ago. An English soldier arrives looking for a pint-sized scout, but the mother covers for Finn.

That night, while the daughter continues to argue with her mother about harboring him, Finn abruptly takes his leave, saying just one word to them in English: Run. He then sets a cottage on the beach aflame; the signal to Askeladd to make his landing.

The mother doesn’t run as Finn urged her; she comes to the beach and sees for herself the boy she nursed back to health and harbored: a rabid killing machine. When Finn spots her among the crowd, tears streaming down her cheeks, guilt momentarily washes across his face, as he remembers his own mother and older sister.

Then the mother is simply gobbled up by the charging viking horde, Finn takes a deep breath, and the guilt is replaced by cold detachment as he too gets lost in the crush, joining his fellow fighters in the latest retaliatory raid on a relatively well-off English village. The comb the mother used on him is trod upon and broken, and perhaps with it any possible chance of Thorfinn turning back from his current, blood-soaked path.

Vinland Saga – 05 – A Duel Deferred

Despite Askeladd and his crew being sure Thorfinn would eventually die of hunger, thirst, and/or exposure on the captured ship, he survives long enough for them to sail into the Humber for a brief stint in England. At first his thirst for revenge outweighs everything, but he slips on some moss and gets knocked out by a tree trunk. Defeated by his surroundings before he’s anywhere near the enemy.

He awakes in a gorgeously lit forest and finally drinks some fresh water. He’s so surprised to still be alive he even manages to smile and laugh, but that cheerful mood doesn’t last when he starts to hear screams and spots flames in the distance. Askeladd’s men have decided to spend their “resting time” doing what they apparently do best: rape, burn, and pillage.

Once things die down Finn sneaks into the village and finds the hut where Askeladd is sleeping, unprotected. Eschewing his dagger for an unwieldy longsword, he raises it in preparation to behead his father’s murderer, but stops and retreats, much to the surprise of Askeladd (who was briefly roused before going back to sleep.

In the morning, it’s confirmed why Finn stayed his hand: he’s his’ father’s son. Stabbing a sleeping man in the back isn’t his style; he wants a proper duel with Askeladd. Unfortunately Finn is absolutely no match for Askeladd, especially when he’s letting his sword swing him. He gets a brutal kick to the gut, but that’s all he gets.

Back in Iceland, Leif and the rest of the crew return and inform Helga and Ylva of Thors’ honorable death, and promise to not rest until they’ve found Thorfinn. Ylva, bypassing several stages of grief, flies straight to detatched acceptance and gets back to work, reacting to the news with little more than a shrug and by admitting she figured he’d get killed one of these days.

Neither Ylva’s friends nor her mother are buying what she’s selling—that she feels nothing for what has happened and merely wants to move on—and this is most powerfully illustrated when Ylva is working on a loom late into the night and Helga puts her hands on hers to stop her.

Only then, when Ylva stops—working, busying her mind, simply stops—do tears start to flow, almost despite herself, from her crystal blue eyes. Then Helga draws her into an embrace of shared grief and comfort. Will Ylva stay with her mother, perhaps the only family she has left, or join Leif on the search for her kid brother?

As we know, she still has a brother, who simply refuses to die. While Thorfinn won’t accept scraps from Askeladd’s men when they’re offered, he comes back later to eat what little meat is left and suck out the marrow. He has a chance encounter with Bjorn (collecting mushrooms), who treats him as little more than an irritant, but tells him that while his father was indeed strong, he was also naive. Finn isn’t even strong, not yet, which means he doesn’t have a chance.

Taking that to heart, Thorfinn continues training in the forest, and one night encounters a hungry wolf. Remembering Askeladd’s words about being swung by his own sword, Finn ditches the huge weapon for something much more suited to his size: the dagger Thors gave him. He then kills his first wolf, learns to throw a dagger, kills his first rabbit, feeds himself, recovers some strength.

As Askeladd and his men prepare to depart, having stayed longer than originally planned, Thorfinn confronts him one last time with yet another duel challenge. This time, he shows Askeladd a lot more, and even surprises him with the thrown dagger, but Finn is still nowhere close to being a threat.

Demonstrating he has at least some heart and empathy for the kid’s plight, Askeladd refuses to kill him, and instead makes a promise: if Finn becomes stronger and distinguishes himself in battle, he will honor the duel at a later date. The implication is, he must first join Askeladd’s crew. Knowing that as much as he might want to avenge his father, he’s still too young and weak, Finn agrees, and a truce is struck.

Attack on Titan – 59 (S3 Fin) – Finally, A Beach Episode

After hearing testimony from the surviving scouts and the opinions of the brass, Queen Historia decides to make the truth public. It’s feared doing so will sow chaos, but as Pyxis puts with his usual elegant bluntness, if they’re going to keep lying or hiding the truth, then why even bother ousting the last king?

Once the people are told what they really are and what was done to them, there is indeed a measure of heightened chaos, but public reaction runs the gamut from belief to disbelief, resignation to outrage, relief to rage. That’s a as good a sign as any that they made the right choice. The massive lie was another prison, but Eren & Co. found the key, and Historia used it to thrust open the gates. People are now free to leave…or stay.

Of course, after the trauma of the battle that claimed Commander Erwin Smith and most of the scout “fodder,” that group’s sole survivor in Floch can’t escape the prison, even with the open door right in front of him. He can’t see the door.

Floch is chained down by the belief that Armin was the wrong person to revive, and it was a decision born of emotion by Eren and Levi. He tells this to Armin’s face, and stands his ground when Eren gets in his face, because he believes has nothing left to lose. He already lost it all, and believes winning is no longer possible

The conviction of his words shakes Armin to the core; he can’t help but agree with Floch that he shouldn’t have been the one saved; that he has no idea how to turn things around. Armin is about to walk right back into the prison when Eren tries to encourage him that it’s too early to say, at least until they finally see what’s beyond the wall.

Since they were kids, Eren and Armin believed freedom was beyond the wall. But now that Eren has been beyond it, though his father’s memories and those of Kruger before him, of which he is now privy, but is being very careful about revealing what he knows to anyone else. In trying to comfort Armin, Eren only ends up bumming himself out when he dredges up the horrible scene of Faye torn to shreds by Marley dogs.

At the award ceremony, a fully decked-out Queen Historia presents the nine surviving scouts with medals of valor. Eren will do anything, including casting his life aside, to prevent a repeat of Faye’s fate. Anything except sacrificing Historia. And yet, upon taking her hand and kissing it, he pauses, leading Historia to wonder what is amiss.

Eren is remembering the day Grisha stormed into the Reiss chapel, before defeating Freida and eating her. He wears a subtler version of the same crazed, horror-filled face his father wore. Is there really hope beyond the walls, or only despair, and can freedom even be achieved without hurting Historia, or is Eren as much of a slave to this “cycle” as all who came before him?

Following that ceremony and Eren’s look of horror, a year passes. Wall Maria is purged of all Titans. Refugees return to their homes and begin to rebuild. And the Scout Regiment rides again, beyond Maria, into the great frontier. A year older yet somehow much cooler-looking Eren, Mikasa and Armin are among them.

After finding a particularly unfortunate Titan whom Eren identifies as a “fellow patriot” sent to Paradis transformed, and left to crawl along the earth at an infinitesimal pace, he and the scouts simply leave it behind and continue pushing forward, through valleys and sands that were once only illustrations in Eren and Armin’s book.

And then, just like that, they arrive at the edge of the island of Paradis and lay eyes on the sea for the very first time. It is one of the most epic moments of the entire series, and it’s sold quite well. Everyone is in a giddy sort of shock about it, like it doesn’t quite feel real. They taste the water, splash around, have fun. And why not? It’s a gorgeous day and they’re at the beach!  The kind of day dreams are made of.

As Armin dredges up a distinctive shell (notably empty), the breakers cause Mikasa, standing beside him, to stumble, but she manages to regain her balance. After a beat, Mikasa’s face shifts from surprise to sheepishness, before flashing perhaps her first genuine smile in six years; a smile which Armin returns. Honestly, her sequence of expressions was almost as momentous as the initial sight of the ocean.

Eren, who gesturally speaking is apparently still in that “phase” Levi mentioned to Hange, points dramatically to the horizon, to Marley, and tells his friends for the first time that he was wrong: freedom didn’t lie beyond the sea, enemies did.

But as for whether killing all of their enemies will free them once and for all…that remains a question to hopefully be answered in the fourth—and most likely final—season of Shingeki no Kyojin, to air in 2020. Until then, we are all of us trapped in a new prison…of waiting.

Grand Blue – 03 – Stepping into a New World

Diving involves a lot of equipment in good order, which means it’s quite a costly activity for a college club to be involved in; far costlier than, say, the tiddly winks club or the pogo stick club. Iori and Kouhei are informed of this in a matter-of-fact way, meaning they will have to help contribute to club funds.

They already have a way for them to contribute right away: by participating in the Izu Spring Festival’s Inter-Club Men’s Beauty Pageant. But before that, Ryuu takes Iori out for his very first scuba-diving lesson. Before he departs, he gets words from encouragement from Chisa.

Chisa is clearly excited that her old friend is about to experience something she’s already familiar with—and which she loves. Things start out a bit rough, as Iori isn’t used to the kind of breathing one does in scuba gear, and when his mask floods he panics.

But once everything is readjusted, he remembers what Chisa showed him at the aquarium, and it’s like stepping through the doorway into a new world. You can see the switch flip in Iori’s head from panic to nirvana, and the look of joy and wonder on his face is plain to see—and something that delights Chisa. “Good, he gets it now,” she seems to be thinking.

The wonder and joy lead to excessive celebration, which is nothing new to Iori and Kouhei, but what is new is the manner in which Iori finds himself waking up: beside a buxom half-naked woman a couple years her senior. This is how he meets third-year student and fellow diving club member Hamaoka Azusa.

Azusa is the kind of girl who doesn’t mind sleeping in the same room with a bunch of guys, but she’s also a good cook, and teaches Iori, Kouhei and Chisa how to make okonomiyaki to raise more funds for the club at the festival. The festival where, in exchange for not having to compete in the boy’s pageant, the boys must convince Chisa to compete in the girls’ pageant.

The lads, likely still hungover, decide the best way to convince Chisa is to liquor her up so she’ll be more open to the pageant. However, each time they try to slip her a spiked drink, she either already has one, politely declines, it’s taken by Azusa, or one or both of them have to take the drink. Before long, they’re drunk as skunks.

Azusa also reveals she knows what they’re up to—to the heretofore unaware but now horrified Chisa—and forces them to confess their true goal. They ask Chisa to enter the pageant; she refuses; and they reveal that they’re trying to get her to enter so they don’t have to.

That night, the lads play naked rock-paper-scissors, which Azusa joins in but doesn’t have to shed a single article of clothing as she whoops everyone. She gets Chisa to admit that it’s not that she doesn’t want to enter, but more that she doesn’t want to bear the embarrassment of the pageant all alone. Azusa also points out that the only reason they asked her at all is because they were supremely confident all she’d have to do is enter and her victory would be assured.

So Chisa agrees to enter…but only if Iori and Kouhei enter too. Thus the embarrassment is shared, if one loses one of the other two could still win, and if all three win, the club funds are tripled, so everyone wins. When the means with which to enter a new world are so expensive, sometimes you just gotta shake what your mama gave ya…proverbially!

Grand Blue – 02 – Underwater Isn’t So Bad

Iori continues to contend with the constant nudity of his male peers, but everyone dresses for dinner, which is when Nanaka observes he’s gone out every day he’s been in Izu, and doesn’t even know where his room is!

Nanaka forcefully forbids him from spending a third night out, but when the boys say they’ll be having drinks with students at a women’s university, Iori begs Nanaka to let him go. She refuses.

Iori doesn’t give up there, an decides he’ll unpack his stuff and set his room up in a way that will convince Nanaka to change her mind. Kotobuki and Tokita volunteer to help, and eventually Imamura is also involved in various ill-conceived makeovers.

They festoon his room in porn, then lolis, then BL, and finally, in order to sway Nanaka most powerfully, slap Chisa’s face on everything. In the last case, Chisa ends up seeing their handiwork before her sister.

It’s a competent example of the “best laid plans” comedy trope, in which Iori keeps trusting his friends, things just keep getting worse, and he just grows more angry and frustrated. His own idea is worse still, suggesting the entire venture was doomed from the start!

Chisa banishes him to an isolated room that also happens to be the meeting room for the diving club; Iori only learns this when he wakes up to find a meeting taking place in the room, and the club ain’t vacating!

Kotobuki and Tokita decide to give the three freshmen—Iori, Imamura, and Chisa—some basic lessons. Chisa is forced to participate despite already being well-versed in said basics.

The swimming lesson goes south when Iori is treated to the sight of way more underwater manhood than with he’s comfortable. The senpais even trick him into totally disrobing just when Chisa emerges from the changing room in her orange bikini.

Iori just can’t seem to prevent Chisa from seeing him in almost exclusively embarrassing and shameful situations!

But when Iori idly says he’s not interested in underwater—something she’s painfully passionate about—Chisa has Nanaka take Iori to the aquarium after-hours.

This visit and the majesty of the underwater to which divers have access doubtlessly inspires Iori, but so does video he sees of an entirely different side of Chisa; one he never sees because he always looks like a jackass around her.

Nanaka is honest about Chisa telling her to take him and why, and the next time Iori sees Chisa, he makes sure to express his gratitude, both by being fully clothed, and by giving her a souvenir. Chisa would’ve preferred a cuter trinket, but she clearly appreciates the gesture.

This was by far the least cringe-worthy interactions between the two childhood friends, and hopefully the start of a trend of more cordial encounters. Still, I also hope the show doesn’t stop mining Iori’s embarrassment/jackassery around Chisa for comedy…it’s still a rich mine!

Grand Blue – 01 (First Impressions) – Learning to Swim

Kitahara Iori moves back to the seaside town of Izu where he grew up in order to attend university. He’ll be living with his uncle, who runs the Grand Blue Diving Shop. Upon entering, Iori is met with a scene he never thought he’d see: a huge group of naked burly guys playing rock-paper-scissors.

Iori flees the site, but is quickly caught by two of the dudes, and learns they’re juniors at Izu University, making them his senpais. They were playing a game to determine who would fill their scuba tanks; they’re in a diving club and want to recruit Iori, who declines as he can’t swim.

Iori won’t just be living with his uncle, but his two female cousins as well, Nanaka and Chisa, both of whom have grown quite beautiful in the ten years since he’s seen them. There’s a particular aura around Chisa that suggests she’s looking forward to seeing Iori, or at the very least will give him a chance.

Iori blows that chance without even realizing he had one, because just as he walked in to a debaucherous display, so too does she, with him at its center, half-naked, drinking, shouting, and generally acting a damn fool (i.e., a college freshman). His attempt to smooth things over fails specatularly; Chisa’s first impression of him is that anything he touches must be thrown away.

His senpais Shinji and Ryuu demand he party with them that night, assuring him they’ll get him to orientation on-time. They do, but with two caveats: he’s hungover six ways from Sunday, and he’s in nothing but his boxers. That is how the whole of his freshman class meets him.

Iori has been swept up in the waves of college life, and it feels like his seniors are giving him a “swimming” lesson of sorts. The only way to learn is to jump in and start paddling, but Iori’s attempts to do so only invite more scorn, not just from Chisa, but from a hot blonde guy named Imamura Kouhei, who wears a t-shirt declaring his otaku-ism.

He also gets plenty of attention from the cops for continuing to ask people for their clothes. He finally gets a shirt by recruiting Kouhei to the Diving Club, which is called “Peek-a-Boo.”

Iori is inevitably thrown into more situations of cavorting and heavy drinking, and both he and Kouhei prove ill-equipped to resist the temptation to overdo things. To be fair, the peer pressure to drink as much strong liquor as possible is extremely high…though we see that Chisa is able to sip responsibly and stay above the fray.

The morning after their latest college party experience (involving a staring contest in which one person tries to get the other to spray their drink) both Iori and Kouhei arrive at class in their underwear. Clearly more swimming lessons will be needed…but despite Iori’s insistence the Diving Club is not for him….c’maaahn. You know that cat’s joining.

Grand Blue looks great and is a lot of fun, effectively capturing the raw energy and abandon of early adulthood. Those who have attended college know that it isn’t just about studies, but the experience; the change in one’s lifestyle to something more independent than one’s home. It’s about making a new home, and making a new family.

Most importantly, it’s about trying new things (and yes, sometimes failing and/or suffering). But as Yoda said in The Last Jedi: “The greatest teacher, failure is.”

Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 06

The people—specifically the youth—of Falaina prepare for battle. After a certain age even the Marked can’t use Thymia, so they’ll be depending on children to fight, many of them quite small, and like everyone else, tought their entire lives not to use their power to hurt people.

They must unlearn all that pacifist conditioning and learn to kill, which is what their enemies will be experts at right out of the gate. A seldom-seen elder makes sure Suou understands what leadership is: he’ll be sending children to kill and die. Suou seems to. I mean, what’s the alternative; just sit around and wait to be killed?

One Falainan who’s never had trouble hurting people with his Thymia is Ouni, and he mentally prepares for the task ahead with his old friend Nibi, who welcomed him into his gang when they were kids when Ouni showed him that things like the Bowels weren’t really that scary.

There are scary times ahead, but it certainly seems that Nibi will be by Ouni’s side for them. Whether that spells the end for him when they infiltrate Skylos and try to kill its Nous…this isn’t the episode about that fight, but the final build-up to it. And at that, it works generally well.

As one of the people going on the infiltration mission, Chakuro will be doing more than simply witnessing events, he’ll be a direct participant in them; forced to use his infamous “destroyer” powers for actual destroying; maybe of the Nous, maybe of fellow humans, maybe both. It’s uncharted territory.

Fortunately, Lykos will be by his side, and while her gradual falling for Chakuro was both inevitable and predictable, it sure beats her having no emotions at all, even if, as she says, “feelings get in the way.” It’s true! But without feelings, would life really be worth living? I mean, what are we doin’ here, trying to win a stoicism contest, or LIVING?!

While preparing for the battle that may decide the fate of many a person, as well as that of the entire Mud Whale, the show remains content to keep us in the dark about Neri and her apparent twin, Ema, or what is up with her angel wings of light.

Suffice it to say, she’ll play a more satisfying role educating Chakuro on the secrets of the Mud Whale perhaps nobody knows besides the elders; and some stuff that even they might not know. But for Ema to start spilling the beans, Chakuro has to come out of this in one piece.

The villagers throw sand at each other in a tradition called the “sand returning” which kicks up those who have been lost into the air. In a touching scene Lykos witnesses Chakuro doing this for the late, dearly departed Sami.

After that calm comes the storm—a sandstorm, of course! Skylos can be heard before its red lights can be seen, but the great battleship doesn’t fully emerge quite yet; we get the credits. That means next week will be the battle – no more procrastinating!

Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 05

This week Chakuro and his friends locate the nous at the core of Falaina that apparently every sand ship has, are interrupted by three elders who bring archers to kill the nous, thus sinking the Mud Whale, but Chakuro manages to convince them not to, though they do manage to shoot Lykos in the leg.

After that, Suou is freed and Taisha’s aides gather to his side, he meets with Lykos, who tells everyone about the eight ships the empire has and how there could be other countries out there, and Suou gives a speech to the rest of the Whale’s population that they’re going to fight and defend until they can find allies.

That’s a good amount of material in one episode…so why the heck did it feel to me like virtually nothing happened? I suspect it’s at least in part due to the overall presentation, which has felt lacking in urgency and peril since the surprise attack that ended episode two.

There’s also the fact that the Mud Whale feels like such a small and static setting whose leadership seems to change on a dime with little to no repercussions. The rest of the population is treated like one united faceless entity that cheers at the prospect of Ouni joining the defense force.

Perhaps most troubling—and contributory to my waning interest in this show—is the protagonist Chakuro, whose defining character trait is a guy who says a lot—both to others and through narration—but does very little, while Lykos’ is simply “girl who developed emotions” and little else.

As a result, it feels like I’m watching a set of thin and fairly generic characters caught up in a world that’s groaning under the weight of its convoluted (and at times, random-feeling) mythology.

Right now, that’s just not grabbing and holding my attention as much as the other Fall shows I’m watching. Maybe next week, when the defense of the whale begins in earnest, I’ll be able to muster more enthusiasm.

Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 04

Suou is brought before the council of elders, named the new Chief of the Mud Whale, and given his first and last orders: to prepare the people to “return to the sea of sand” from whence they came; in other words, they want the entire remaining population to commit suicide en masse.

Wait, why are these clowns in charge again? Even Suou can’t accept that fate, and while trying to talk to the eldest elder of them all (who seems senile but seems to speak the truth nonetheless), gets knocked out by the captain of the guard and thrown into the Bowels.

Meanwhile, Chakuro is carving words into a cliff face when approached by Ginshu, who seems to be moving quickly after Sami’s demise, offering to help “Cha-kki” learn to use his Thymia better for the next defense of the Whale, obviously unaware of the elders’ decision.

While gazing out into the sea, Nelli comes to Chakuro, and transports him into a series of visions involving those who have passed away, including Sami and Taisha, both of whom make clear that it’s not time for Chakuro to give up hope and join them; nor is it time for the Mud Whale to vanish.

It’s heartbreaking to see Sami anew, especially as she says she wanted to be Chakuro’s wife. She was never able to say this while alive, and so Chakuro never got to return her feelings.

These visions fly in the face of the elders’ wishes, but they—with the exception of one of them to whom the others no longer listen—have lost hope, and want only to give their people honorable deaths rather than let them be needlessly slaughtered.

Newly invigorated by the visions from Nelli (who seemed oddly possessed by someone else afterwards until snapping back into regular Nelli), Chakuro learns what happened to Suou, and seeks help from Lykos, Ouni, and Ouni’s gang (what’s left of it).

They come afoul of the guards, but Chakki is able to seduce Ginshu into letting them pass. They descend into the deepest parts of the Mud Whale where they’ve never been before, until they find Nelli with what looks like a Nous sitting in a giant…rocking chair?

I’l say this: with his primary role as one who must bear witness, Chakuro isn’t the most thrilling protagonist, but at least he’s working to save the Mud Whale and its people. He hasn’t given up. And whatever the heck is going on at the end, I’m definitely intrigued and want to see where this is going.