The aquatope on white sand – 01 (first impressions) – A strange place still near home.

First of all, kudos to Aquatope for starting out so cleanly and crisply, with a series of shots of Misakino Kukuru’s quiet Okinawa hometown that were so summery and relaxing that they gave me goosebumps. It was literally a slice of life in this place, and this episode’s full of ’em. It seems inconceivable Kukuru would be unhappy in what looks to an outsider like paradise, but maybe paradise doesn’t feel like paradise to its embedded residents.

I’m sure at some point Miyazawa Fuuka felt she was in paradise as a member of a popular idol group in Tokyo. But then suddenly it became a dreary slog, leaving her with nothing but shit-talking co-workers and an empty apartment. Her final interaction is with one of her former groupmate, who for all we know puts on just another performance, lamenting Fuuka’s departure.

Weary of an big embarrassing welcome home party in her own sleepy rural hometown, Fuuka hops on a plane to Okinawa on a lark. The tropical heat hits her like a ton of bricks, and she’s quickly scooped up by a fortune teller who turns out to be pretty nice, following as she does the local saying “meet once, and we’re siblings.” She tells Fuuka to follow Sagittarius.

Fuuka ends up nodding off on the beach, and wakes up the next morning surrounded by neat circles of washed-up coral bits. Was this the work of the cheeky looking deity to whom Kukuru offers fish heads every morning? Speaking of, Kukuru is a total fishophile, far more interested than the creatures of the sea than humans on land or their math.

When a tour guide happens to spot Fuuka suffering the onset of heatstroke, she stops her car, offers her water, and gives her some brochures. One of them promotes the Gama Gama aquarium, to which the guide, Kudaka Karin, gives her a lift. It’s here where’s I’ll admit I’m a sucker for aquariums too.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a city with one of the best in the world, and though I don’t visit nearly as much as I should considering I’m still not far, it always felt like you were crossing a threshold into an entirely new world: a world of endless, captivating blue, where the air was water and full of creatures “flying” in it.

It’s at this aquarium, which is understaffed and suffering cratering attendance and yet still absolutely magical, where Fuuka has what you might call a spiritual experience. After spotting her undersea counterpart—a little guy who hides in the corner but works the hardest, like she did in her idol group—and Fuuka starts to cry pent-up tears.

Those tears and the accompanying despair are soon washed away when the tanks start to expand out towards her. She tries to run, but is soon surrounded by water, yet is able to breathe. She becomes one with all of the fish, turtles, and even a particularly badass whale shark. Then she snaps out of it, and suddenly there is Miyazawa Fuuka.

Our two protagonists have finally encountered one another. Their stories have intersected, thanks to the otherworldly allure of the aquarium. Kukurui has a knowing look on her face; she knows that Fuuka saw “it”, as in experienced what it means to be temporarily tricked by that local deity, Kijimunaa. Apparently Kukuru has experienced something similar.

Such strange phenomena are nothing new to the aquarium or its ancient environs. It’s called “Gama Gama” due to the coral formations that make up part of the building’s architecture; thought to be the gateway between the world and underworld. And yet, as Kukuru remarks, as strange and enchanting as it all is, it’s still close to her home. It still feels like “your grandma’s living room.”

Kukuru needs staff. Fuuka needs a fresh start in a new job. These two are perfect for one another. Perhaps it was Kijimunaa’s will, fueld as it was by offertory fish heads, to point the wayward former idol to the struggling aquarium director. I foresee great things from this auspicious meeting.

As focused as the episode is on its two leads, it’s also ever contemplative of the state of Japan’s cutthroat idol culture (where a well-meaning girl who did everything right still lost) or the worsening crisis of an aging population. And while daydreaming in class, Kukuru recalls a memory of having  a “parenting journal”.

Whether kids her age are encouraged early to have babies or she actually got pregnant and either lost it or gave it away, there was such trauma and pathos coursing through Kukuru and Fuuka’s lives. Whatever wounds they both possess, perhaps they can start healing them together at the aquarium—the gateway between worlds.

Otherside Picnic – 07 – Queens of the Seaside

Those curious about what became of the American Marines get no answers this week, as the girls are on to their next adventure, this time on a beach. Sorao wakes up in a posh hotel room, having shared the bed with a naked Toriko. She can vaguely remember going shopping and bar hopping, and is proud of her drunk self for plugging in her phone.

While taking a taxi to the beach, both Sorao and Toriko nod off, and when they come to, the taxi is derelict and covered in plants and sand, as if it had been sitting there for years. It looks like they’re still in the Otherside, though with a very Spirited Away vibe with a lush blue and green palette.

The duo do a thorough search of a long-abandoned beach shop that, while creepy, contains no active threats, so on Toriko’s urging they change into the bikinis they bought yesterday(?) and proceed to have a fun time on the beach, drinking beer and practicing shooting. The Okinawan afterlife of Narai Kanai is also referenced as the two discuss the Alcatraz-like ruin on the horizon.

Sorao’s been letting her have her way so much, Toriko is worried Sorao could get sick of her, but that’s not the case. Indeed, Sorao again tries to bring up her feelings, only to miss her chance once again. Regardless, she’s happy to be having fun on the beach, a place she never felt was her scene. It’s also a welcome deviation from the standard Otherside aesthetic.

Their solitary fun is cut short when they hear odd noises and discover zombie-like punks beating up little kids. When Sorao and Toriko are rushed, Toriko freezes up, but Sorao shoots them all down before they can get to them. Toriko is impressed: Sorao can shoot and kill to protect herself and Toriko, but she credits Toriko with helping steel her resolve.

Sorao can also see with her eye that the punks weren’t human, but reanimated piles of washed-up beach detritus. Suddenly, the skies turn blue and brooding, which Sorao remembers the captive Toriko saying was the most dangerous time to be in the Otherside. A legion of creepy child-dolls bursts out of the beach shop while huge walrus-like beasts appear on the beach. The girls are well and truly freaked out.

They also don’t have enough ammo to deal with all of these creepy monsters great and small, so Sorao arranges for their exit, using her eye, Lady Hasshaku’s hat, and Toriko’s hand to open a portal. A great light flashes from the dissolving hat, turning all of the monsters back into garbage, and the girls fall through.

They emerge back in the normal world, apparently still on the beaches of a populated, non-ruined Okinawa, and perhaps where they had their day and night of shopping and drinking. Before the portal closes, Sorao spots a woman with flowing black hair. Could it be Uruma Satsuki, mentioned by one of the monster boys as part of the “Queen of the Beach” urban legend?

If it was, Toriko didn’t see her, and Sorao doesn’t bring it up. Instead, they have some beers and enjoy the fireworks, even though they’re broke and not sure how they’ll get home. As always, because they’re living in the moment together, nothing else seems to matter as much.

With its fun girls trip to the beach-turned-freaky seaside monster convention, Urasekai Picnic again scores high marks for its mastery of mood and atmosphere, and the cozily-infectious chemistry of Sorao and Toriko.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Otherside Picnic – 06 – To the Trained Eye

Lt. Blake takes Sorao and Toriko to Major Barker, the “current” commander of the unit, implying a previous commander was among the many casualties. Barker seems nice enough, but weary of the situation, and like Blake, isn’t sure how much longer things can stay “civilized.”

They are surrounded by “bear traps” (i.e. glitches) that either kill or transform whoever or whatever touches them. They are running low on diesel fuel and will soon be out of food. The girls are offered an empty tent that’s strewn with garbage. It’s empty because its previous occupants are dead. It’s just not a place you want to be, especially after a pleasant dinner and drinks.

Blake “advises” them not to use their phones, but it should have been an explicit order and explained that making a call, as the girls do to Kozakura, has an effect on the environment. Specifically, it calls the “Meat Train” to the station, and with it a frightening train of “face dogs”, on whom the soldiers’ mortars and gunfire have no effect.

Toriko hops onto a Humvee and whips out an M14 EBR, but even though Sorao spots the proper target for her, her shots never reach them. This gives Sorao the idea that the one perceiving the targets must be the one to pull the trigger, so she has Toriko anchor her so she can take the shot, all before the soldiers can stop them.

The face dog mass dissipates, but when firing the shot Sorao lost her contact, and the soldiers wig out. She and Toriko make a run for it, and are probably lucky none of the exhausted, extremely on-edge soldiers took any shots at them. Call it a win for Major Barker in keeping discipline under suboptimal conditions.

As the Meat Train approaches, Sorao has another hunch: even though it doesn’t look like it will stop, she belives they can board the train if Toriko reaches out and touches it with her translucent hand. Sorao repeats Toriko’s line about everything working out if they’re together, and take a leap of faith.

It works, and they’re on the train, but Sorao senses a great number of unspeakable, horrifying things on that train, the collective auras of which are enough to cause her to lose consciousness. However, when she comes to, Toriko is smiling from above, and a bright blue sky indicates that they successfully returned to their world, safe and sound.

That’s not to say they returned to Ikebukuro. The beach and palm trees indicate they could be in Okinawa, having used the same entry point to the Otherside the Americans used. Further weird details include the childish drawing of a train track in the sand, and a cut to Kozakura playing back her phone call with the other two, which is distorted and full of unsettling gibberish.

If they’re now in Okinawa, I’d think the next step for Sorao and Toriko is to report the whereabouts of Pale Horse Battalion. Yet even that carries some risk: Kozakura has never heard of such a unit, though the Dark Horse Battalion is stationed in Okinawa. Just what was that unit really up to in the Otherside?

Otherside Picnic – 05 – Pale Horse

After treating Kozakura to well over $100 worth of dinner as an apology for her unwanted excursion to the Otherside, Toriko and Sorao complete their making-up by ordering another $100 worth of grub and drinks. During the meal, Toriko whips out Lady Hasshaku’s hat, which turns out to be much more than bad table manners.

After the waiter starts acting very strange (muttering about “sublance” and “abardmont”), Sorao leads a tipsy Toriko out of the oddly empty café and to the station, but something is off about Ikebukuro: all the lights are out and there isn’t another soul in sight. Before long the pair find themselves in an unfamiliar field, and encounter a bizarre two-headed robot horse-like monster, carrying several hanging bound bodies.

Neither brought guns to dinner, so they have to make a run for it, with Sorao doing her best to scope out potential Glitches. They reach a train track, which they believe will eventually lead to a station (i.e. shelter), but they’re then chased by a frightening mass of glowing purple faces.

Suddenly, Toriko hits the deck and has Sorao do the same, and bullets fly over their heads—bullets from the guns of soldiers. Their leader identifies the girls as human in Japanese, but his men chatter in English. The bullets aren’t meant for the girls, but for a third monster: a towering Groot-like hulk with branches for antlers.

Eventually the tree man wanders off, while the robotic horse doesn’t continue its pursuit. The lead soldier introduces himself as U.S. Marine Corp Lieutenant Will Drake, commander of the Pale Horse Battalion, Charlie Company 1/2 out of Okinawa. (“Pale Horse” is a reference to Death, the fourth Horse of the Apocalypse.) He and his unit have been trapped in the Otherside for over a month, while their robotic pack mule was transformed into a monster that has claimed a number of his men.

Lt. Drake & Co. lead Sorao and Toriko to “February Station”, which Sorao identifies as Kisaragi Station from the real world, but the group keeps moving until they reach the company’s well-equipped base camp. The thing is, a lot of Drake’s men distrust the girls and aren’t convinced they’re not monsters in disguise. They obeyed his orders to stand down this time, but what if fear of the unknown, or additional illusions, cause them to lash out?

The introduction of American marines from Okinawa to the Otherside, as well as the new manner in which the girls ended up their themselves, brings a fresh new dynamic to their adventures. Toriko may have been joking about marine basic training, but now they find themselves unarmed and exposed in a potentially paranoid hornets’ nest. As Toriko is also fond of saying, as long as they stick together, things will work out. Here’s hoping.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Asagao to Kase-san. (OVA) – The Sun is Always Shining Above the Clouds

Asagaro to Kase-san, an OVA released in the Summer of 2018, is a concise but solid piece of serious yuri storytelling in the vein of Aoi Hana, Sasameki Koto, and Sakura TrickIt strikes that delicate balance of covering a fair amount of material while never feeling like it’s trying to do too much. The stakes never stray from the future of a couple of young lovers who start dating in their final year of high school.

That they’re both girls, living in relatively conservative Japan, never comes up, because this isn’t about whether they can be together or not. It’s about their mutual love, plain and simple, and how they weather other challenges to remain together, a state neither of them at any point wish to leave.

Mild-mannered gardening fanatic Yamada Yui had never dated anyone before she and the athletic track star Kase Tomoka got together, but they’re together before the opening credits, which is a heck of a timesaver! Suffice it to say they liked each other to the extent they were equally enthusiastic about becoming a couple.

That mutual enthusiasm paid dividends, as before long the like turned to love. There’s never any doubt that Kase is as smitten with Yamada as vice-versa, even if the latter tends to feel inferior due to Kase’s social and literal stature at school. There are also times when she allows Kase to swept up by others, often interrupting potential time alone.

But while Yamada comes to realize she’ll have to be more assertive at times, the fact that Kase is so popular isn’t a problem for her; it serves to validate why she loves her so much in the first place: Kase’s a surpassingly kind and gregarious young woman.

In any case, in moments when Yamada might feel lonely due to indulging Kase’s natural gregariousness, Kase’s own desire to be alone with Yamada means it’s never that long before she seeks Yamada out, both grateful for her patience and relieved to have in her a kind of haven.

Time with Yamada is special to Kase; more special than time with anyone else. That’s whether they’re on an intimate nighttime phone call, alone together in Yamada’s room raising the temperature a bit, or on a beach in Okinawa making up and out after Yamada gets a bit too “surprised” seeing Kase nude.

The biggest threat to their relationship isn’t the fact that they’re both girls, which is refreshing. Instead, like any other relationship, it’s the unrelenting march of time and the changes it brings. Kase is on the fast track to Tokyo U on an athletic scholarship; Yamada’s inertia seems to be keeping her tethered to her hometown, commuting to the local college from home.

Especially when Kase calls to offer to turn down the scholarship and she essentially tells her not to, Yamada is on the cusp of relegating their relationship to a long-distance affair, with visits very few and far between. It’s only on the very day Kase leaves for Tokyo that Yamada wakes up and realizes she doesn’t want that at all. She wants as much Kase as she can get, and so she runs and keeps running until she’s in Kase’s arms aboard the Shinkansen.

How will Yamada manage to get into a Tokyo school? Ehh, she’ll figure it out! The most important thing is that they’re together, like they want to be. They’re also on the same wavelength; Kase really didn’t want to leave Yamada, but felt trapped by the circumstance of her athletic excellence. Fortunately for her, Yamada wasn’t going to let something like that cause what they had to fall apart.

Backed by gorgeous animation and superb voice work from Sakura Ayane and Takahashi Minami, Asagao to Kase-san delivers an elegant and captivating romance between two girls for whom simply no one else would do, and whose bond managed to withstand the winds of change. Give it a watch and your heart will grow at least three sizes!

Domestic na Kanojo – 11 – There’s Always Someone Better

After lying and keeping secrets for so long, Natsuo finally tells Rui everything, from his long time love of Hina to his determination to be with her in the future. But just because it’s the truth doesn’t make the words sting any less. After sharing one last kiss and an evening of private sobbing, Rui is also determined to move on from Natsuo.

Of course, since it’s impossible for Rui to not handle such things in an odd way, she announces to Natsuo the next morning that she’s decided to “start disliking him.” I can’t say I blame her, as Natsuo has grown more selfish and insufferable with each passing week, but in her case it’s a defense mechanism. She’ll still treat him like family, but otherwise, she’s done.

At least Natsuo gets to talk to Rui; Rui freezes out Hina both on LINE and at school, where Natsuo and Hina misguidedly meet up once again to discuss it. The episode suddenly makes a hard right turn from the love triangle to…the “Natsuo Striving to be an Author” plot, when Rui wins an award instead of him (or Miu, for that matter).

This shakes Natsuo to his core, despite the fact, if he’s honest, he’s spent far more time lately being a horndog with Hina than he has crafting brilliant narratives. Still, he believes the solution is to go to Akari’s house announced and beg him to make him his apprentice. It’s not any more pleasant than Natsuo begging for sex.

His sensei turns him down in this case, because becoming his apprentice is not the way to go about becoming a good author; it takes actual struggle and hard work, not just connections. Natsuo takes this to mean writing one short story per week. Then, in another bit of whiplash, the episode makes another hard turn to School Beach Trip territory.

This means not only Rui and Miu and Momo in swimsuits, but Hina as well, and as she plays volleyball with the students, she looks more like a teacher than a student. Rui takes her aside to remark on the inappropriateness of her swimsuit, but Hina is so happy she’s not ignoring her anymore, that it leads to the two making up.

Rui isn’t interested in Hina breaking up with Natsuo if she still has real feelings for him; instead, she’s prepared to concede him to her and pursue other options. Honestly it’s probably a good move by Rui…if she can stick the landing. But Rui’s assurances don’t dissuade Hina from deciding to break up with Natsuo anyway, since it’s just not a tenable relationship.

It’s disappointing to see Hina’s position so callously overruled by Natsuo thanks to a cheap ring and a promise that he’ll make an honest woman of her for sure, even proposing marriage. Their two positions couldn’t be further apart, but there’s no compromise, Natsuo simply gets what he wants, again. 

While he may talk about caring about the future, it’s Hina who was looking out for both of them by suggesting they end things while they still can. Instead, they make out in front of an open window during a fireworks display, then have sex and apparently spend the night together.

These are not good decisions, as Hina learns on the first day back at school, when she’s summoned by the principal, who presents her a photo of her, and Natsuo, kissing by the open window, during the fireworks display.

She and Natsuo were so caught up in being together that they got sloppy, never stopping to think how others (who weren’t Rui) mind think and feel about them together. In the school’s case, it’s likely a fireable offense, and certainly a black mark on its reputation. Suffice it to say Hina is well and truly fucked.

Grand Blue – 11 – Advanced Adult Activities

Concerned about failing his test on account of being bad at mask clearing, Iori tries to devise a way to practice without Kouhei or Aina knowing. The gang rents a car, but it ends up being two cars since one won’t fit all eight. Turns out Aina can drive a manual truck from helping out at a rice farm.

Many a misunderstanding due to lack of proper context ensues, both at the market when Shinju and Ryuu order strangely-named fish like “Hamazaki’s Wife” or “Chubby High Schooler”, and back at the rental house.

Iori decides honesty is the best policy, so tells a weary Chisa when the two pair up to cook together. He asks her to help him practice, but when both Aina and Kouhei come into the kitchen, from what they overhear they believe Iori is asking Chisa out…and wants to be tied up and stepped on.

Aina wakes up to find Chisa’s bed empty and goes out to find Chisa holding him underwater with her foot. She fears something very strange is going on, and doesn’t believe Iori, but believes Chisa. Turns out she wouldn’t have laughed about Iori’s mask clearing, but would have helped if asked.

In fact, she joins Chisa in pressing him underwater with their feet, prompting a passerby to call the cops. Unfortunately, Chisa and Aina are already back in bed and Iori is alone and naked in the pool when an officer arrives.

Iori isn’t arrested, but he does catch cold, so he can’t participate in training exercises that day. Azusa stays behind to take care of him, using green onions as a home remedy (one ’round the neck, one where the sun don’t shine, which Iori rejects).

When Azusa learns Iori hasn’t been sleeping because he’s nervous lying beside her and Nanaka, Azusa only half-jokingly suggests they have sex so he won’t feel nervous. Iori has a legit shot at sleeping with her here, but sheepishly declines.

However, when Iori learns that Tokita of all people has a girlfriend, he ends up drinking—a lot—so by the time the others return (Kouhei and Aina with certification cards in hand), he’s passed out, naked, with Azusa’s home remedy successfully, er, deployed.

Grand Blue – 10 – Tell No Lies in the Ocean

The club finally makes it to Okinawa for real, and while events don’t unfold much like the overly dramatized preview last week, it’s an enjoyable outing and as a complete diving noob I was also educated as I was entertained.

The beach house is short on bedrooms, so Iori and Kouhei immediately jump at the first chance to compete to see who gets a bed and who gets the floor (even though there’s an huge unused sofa in the living room).

Their constant bickering and competing mars an otherwise enjoyable day at the beach, and Grand Blue notably doesn’t employ the usual slow upward pans. Yet even though Chisa isn’t really having fun, Aina is jealous that she’s out there with Iori.

It’s not all fun and games, as the newbies Iori Kouhei and Aina have to pass a bunch of tests and exams in order to be cleared for diving. Because he’s stashed with Nanaka and Azusa overnight, Iori can’t sleep (without choking himself out) so he studies instead.

Ultimately all three pass, and the next day their practical exercises commence. Diving Time! Here Grand Blue gets super-instructional, and the hand signals are accompanied by the voices of those making them. I learned about how a diver descends and ascends, as well as the standard 60-psi limit to remaining underwater.

Not only that, I learned it only takes one diver hitting that 60-psi limit for all of the divers’ dives to ends. It’s a team exercise, and so the team ascends as one. Traumatized by the much less “team-y” tennis club that rejected her, Aina is worried about being the first to hit 60 and “causing trouble.”

But as Iori explains, she has nothing to fear or be ashamed of; their seniors aren’t the kind who will hold it against her for shortening their dives. Rather than needlessly worry about what others think, she should focus on improving her underwater breathing. As with anything, it will improve with practice, and Iori gives Aina the comfort and confidence to keep at it.

And herein lies a competition far quieter than the far more annoying ongoing one between Iori and Kouhei: that between Chisa and Aina for Iori’s attention. Whether Chisa is on the boat with him or he’s comforting Aina, the women are watching each other very closely. I wonder if anything will come of it?

Grand Blue – 09 – It’s Good to Be the King

As the only guy in their circle who (still) has a girlfriend, Iori’s classmates make him arrange another mixer so they can have girlfriends too. Seriously I just can’t with these guys this week. Thankfully we don’t spend as much time with them here, and the balance of the first half is a game of “truth or dare” involving numbered chopsticks and a “King” who gets to give orders each round.

Because the other participants have to obey the King’s Orders, Iori and Kouhei wait to become King so they can order, say, Chisa to invite her friends to a mixer. However, they get the numbers mixed up, and end up ordering Shinji, who arranges a mixer at some kind of bar for musclebound giants. All because Kouhei mistook 3 or 1 for 4.

The second half returns to the Okinawa trip story, something that’s been drawn out a lot due to the club’s lack of funds. Inexplicably, they decide to go shopping for a bunch of new diving equipment, spending all the cash they were saving up for the trip. While their reason for being there is dubious, I’m always down for an Eva reference—in this case Chisa and Aina trying on Asuka and Rei wetsuits.

It’s also always nice to see Chisa on cloud nine, geeking out over the various equipment for sale. Oddly, it’s not until they return home to Grand Blue that Nanaka reminds them that…Okinawa is expensive. Did they not know this already?! Apparently not, since not only do Iori and Kouhei have to work overtime directing foot traffic at some kind of event, but Chisa and Aina have to dress in revealing costumes to hand out fliers. Next week: The gang finally arrives in Okinawa.

Grand Blue – 08 – Operation Blueballs

The Okinawa diving trip ends up being further off than I expected, with the tennis winnings only covering travel expenses. The rest of the trip is out of pocket, which means Iori and Kouhei need to make more money. Shinji hooks them up with a part-time moving company job, but compared to him they’re weaklings and can’t keep it up without destroying their bodies.

They assume Ryuu is selling his body in some fashion to make money, but Azusa assures them that’s far from the case, and proves it when she takes them to the very normal, classy, and surprisingly affordable bar where he works—and apparently has pretty customers falling for him almost nightly.

Iori and Kouhei want in, and the proprietor lends them some uniforms, but while they look the part, they prove absolutely inept at mixing drinks, taking their names too literally and putting actual screwdrivers in poor Aina’s drinks, then crushing all of her idealized dreams by basically being awful klutzes.

We never learn whether they make any money dicking around behind the bar, but we do know the proprietor incorrectly believes Iori and Kouhei are a couple, since the particular answers to the questions he asks Iori could apply to either Kouhei or Chisa (who unfortunately gets a real short shrift this week).

In the second segment, we’re back to the Fellowship of the Losers, who forgive Iori when he promises them he’s never touched Chisa despite presumably “dating” her. Instead, they all focus their hate on Mitarai, who hasn’t hung out or drunk with them in a while, suggesting he may be involved with a woman (and thus no longer a loser).

Iori confirms this when he calls Mitarai and hears a woman in the background Mitarai is definitely trying to have sex with. Honestly, Mitarai is an idiot, because if you want to have sex with anyone, you turn your goddamn phone off.

He doesn’t, and pays the price, as they all arrive at his house and proceed to bar his bliss with his unnamed but very pretty childhood friend. From the delivery of porn videos, to the fake LINE messages from another girl, to Kouhei using his “mixed voice” talent to sound like multiple other girls outside his door, the Losers throw everything they have at Kitarai, resulting in the girl getting dressed and leaving, telling him never to contact her again.

Despite him being thoroughly and completely cockblocked, the mere fact he was even in the position to sleep with a girl makes the lads see him as a traitor to ostracize…except for Iori, who still senses a “Loser” in him. That sense turns out to be true when Kitarai has one potential last chance to mend things with the girl, and instead asks her to introduce him to her friends.

She beats the crap out of him and sends him flying, and as his bloodied body flies across the full moon the other Losers raise their hands in the air. Iori’s trust in him is validated, while the doubts of the others is rebuked. Even if they hadn’t interfered that night, Kitarai likely would have found a way to muck up the great thing he had going on.

I may have harped on the overly amplified jealousy of Iori’s friends, but it was actually pretty fun this week since it was directed at someone who deserved it, i.e. someone who is actually with a girl, not pretending to be, like Iori is with Chisa. Mind you, that doesn’t mean I don’t want Iori to try to actually date Chisa! He just has to, for one, learn when to turn his dang phone off.

Takunomi. – 10

It’s the end of the year, and Kae is going to Okinawa with a colleague, reminding Nao of the time they went together so Kae could get over a heartbreak (both have embarrassing pics of one another from that trip). Nao is too busy at work to go, and eventually becomes burnt out, so Kae, with Michiru and Makoto’s help, arranges a way restore Nao’s spirits.

That results in an Okinawan-themed dinner and drinking party, which immediately cheers Nao up. Okinawa is a relatively small island, so it stands to reason they use every possible bit of the pig in their cuisine.

In a neat fact not mentioned in the ep, some of the pork Nao and Kae ate when they went was likely descended from the pigs shipped to the island by Japanese Americans in Hawaii after WWII to help deal with the food shortage.

The perfect beer to wash down the rich, fatty pork is Orion beer, which like all beers brewed for tropical locals, has a light, clean, refreshing taste, a sensation that comes through in the precise animation of the characters drinking.

Makoto managed to find Orion beer at a store a little further out of the way, prompting Nao to embrace her sister, pronounce her love, and beg her to never find a man so they can be together forever (Makoto is understandably noncommittal).

The quartet also remarks how they’ve been together a whole half-year, and it’s been so much fun they should all go to Okinawa together next year.

As it is, Michiru is headed home to spend New Year’s with her mom, but due to all the Okinawan celebrating, she oversleeps and nearly misses her flight; another reminder that part of mastering drinking is making sure you can meet your scheduling obligations afterwards. Still, lots of good food, beer, and fellowship this week.

Koimonogatari – 02

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Kaiki agrees to do the job for ¥100,000 and travels to Naoetsu to begin his investigation, starting at Nadeko’s home. Her parents answer his questions and let him examine Nadeko’s room, but won’t let him into a closet she told them not to open. He then visits the Shrine and deposits a ¥10,000 offering, and a grateful Nadeko to burst out to greet and thank him. She cheerfully confirms her eventually intention to kill Koyomi, Shinobu, and Senjougahara, and calls Kaiki her “first adherent.” Kaiki plays along and hands her a cat’s cradle, offering to come back periodically to teach her different patterns.

In retrospect, we really liked how this arc started out so simply, taking its time with the conversation between Kaiki and Senjougahara at Okinawa airport that gets things going. From Kaiki refusing Senjougahara’s offer to sell her body to make up the difference in his fee, Senjougahara coyly asking if she can borrow plane fare home from the cash she just paid Kaiki, the funny drawings in his notebook, and his plane’s emphatic touchdown on the snowy tarmac; many details lend the start of his mission a sense of solemn occasion, and with good reason: this is for all the marbles. If he fails, most of the show’s cast is toast. Therefore every stage of his involvement in this arc is treated with deft care and contemplation. He’s Kaiki Deishu—He solves problems.

That being said Kaiki plays more the role of a detective than a cleaner, utilizing his effortless powers of deception to gather intel on the target. We’re privy to what he thinks in response to what he sees and hears around him, as is typical of the spotlight character in a Monogatari arc. Perhaps feeling the weight of his responsibility in spite of himself, he visits Nadeko almost right away, against his better judgement, to find someone who is every bit the cute airhead everyone believed her to be as a human. Only now she has creepy snakes for hair and talks about all the good times she had with Koyomi and promises to kill the shit out of him in the same breath. Kaiki gives her a cat’s cradle as he intends to build one of deception around her. But deceiving a god—even a young, spoiled, deluded one—will be no mean feat.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

 

Koimonogatari – 01

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With 74 days until Graduation Day, when Sengoku will kill her and Koyomi, Senjougahara Hitagi meets with the swindler Kaiki Deishu in Okinawa Airport to request that he make amends for the trouble he’s caused them by convincing Sengoku not to kill them, something within his abilities. Kaiki struggles to find the proper motivation to carry out the request, eventually settling on Kanbaru Suruga, the niece of his former senpai, Gaen Izuko.

Watching the Monogatari Series in the order in which it has aired requires a certain degree of patience. Gratitude is seldom instant or even timely, as resolutions to conflicts may occur in a different arc. This week is the final arc in the second season, in which the story of Otorimonogatari continues. Senjougahara, once deceived by Kaiki, now seeks out his help in deceiving Sengoku, whose curse he also caused. Her only other option is to beg, which probably won’t work. Physical attacks didn’t work either.

This introductory episode unfolds from Kaiki’s perspective, and he reiterates to the audience that we shouldn’t take anything said or done as the truth. As we learned from Nisemonogatari, this is a man who values the fake over the real, and uses his words as weapons. But the snake god is no slouch in the deception and persuasion department. If anyone can talk Sengoku out of killing everyone and everything, it’s Kaiki, but it would be nice to see him struggle a bit in his initial efforts. In any case, we always dig former enemies teaming up to fight a bigger enemy.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)