Kageki Shoujo!! – 09 – A Beautiful Frame

Even Kouka has a sports festival, and every ten years it’s a grand sports festival; since this will be the centennial festival it’s even more significant. For instance, Kouka’s “Superiors” will be heavily involved in the festivities.

Since Ai, like us, has no idea what that meants, Sawa helpfully explains they’re venerable veteran actresses who don’t belong to any one troupe and enjoy a higher rank than top stars and troupe leads. They are the creme de la creme, and the episode really sells that fact.

That said, the four top otoko-yaku in one room is a pretty awe-inspiring sight too. These ladies are very, very good at portraying men and boys, and the first years are understandably starstruck; Sawa even bleeds from the nose at the sight of them.

The four are not just there to look handsome and get fawned upon. Just as their individual troupes compete for the most and most passionate fanbases, they’re equally passionate rivals in the sports festival. Each of them intends to win and beat the others.

At one point Sawa needs some scissors, so Sarasa voluntters to grab some from the faculty lounge. There, she encounters Andou-sensei for the first time since he basically told her to forget everything she knew about acting to that point and start over.

I love how Sarasa shows Andou what he was hoping for: that she wasn’t going to let harsh but true criticism keep her down in the dumps forever. After summer break that fleeting disappointment is in her rearview mirror. She’s back and ready to put in the work.

Back in episode 6 I mentioned my wish to learn more about the Sawada Twins, Chika and Chiaki. The remainder of this episode grants my wish and then some, delivering what I believe to be one of the most beautiful and realistic depictions of the unique issues that befall twins; namely the realization they’re not the same.

Chika, the “darker” twin, resents when Chiaki easily befriends one of the Superiors, Mirai—whom we later learn was the top star that inspired them as children to become Kouka actresses. When Mirai mistakes Chika for Chiaki and calls her “Juliet”, Chika ignores her and walks away.

It’s Chiaki who later gets in trouble with Mirai when she next sees her, ruining the good vibes of the rehearsals….but Chika, the real culprit, keeps quiet. Ultimately it’s Sarasa and her good hearing who clears up the mix-up.

That night, the twin sisters have a fight that quickly grows in nastiness, with Chika spewing most of the venom. Later we’ll learn it’s the first time they’ve fought. Now Chiaki moves out of the dorm room they share, switching places with Sarasa.

As we’d expect, Ai neither knows how nor tries to get Chiaki to open up, but Sarasa and Chika are a different story. We learn that the two did everything together and even walked in lockstep, but when they both applied for Kouka and only Chika got in, that suddenly ended their run of identicalness.

Rather than attend as was her right, Chika felt bad for Chiaki, who wasn’t eating or sleeping and didn’t leave their room, and as her twin knew the only way to console her was to turn down her acceptance and try again with her sister next year.

That pulled Chiaki out of her emotional nosedive, but it came as a cost: the twins were always going to be out of balance due to Chika’s sacrifice, which is both something she decided on her own to do and something she felt she was obligated to do, out of loyalty to her twin. She chose blood over fame.

But that resentment lingered, and festered, and caused Chika to become someone who’d pass up opportunities again and again for Chiaki’s sake. She felt she couldn’t do things for her sake and eventually came to hate Chiaki for it.

When Chika gets the opportunity to apologize to Mirai for her rudeness, she explains the dark thoughts that had overcome her, and Mirai understands. Jealous befalls us all, but the key is to turn it into ambition, and not let it twist us into self-destructive choices.

Rather than be a haughty Superior, Mirai comforts her junior like a mother would comfort a daughter, assuring her that her desire to apologize and make up with Chika means she’s a good person, and this bad experience will ultimately make her stronger person.

I’m not an identical twin, so I can’t imagine how scary and lonely it feels to them when they come upon a “fork in the road” past which they won’t be the same in everything. That fork came earlier than they expected; the mere fact they had to expect it would happen really speaks to that unique turmoil.

Part of Chika was just as apprehensive about taking off ahead of Chiaki on her side that fork in the road as Chiaki was about getting left behind. The two have accepted that they can’t be the same anymore, but they’re not ready to drift apart forever, either.

There’s potential in the Kouka Revue for twin roles, and Mirai, now friends with both twins, tells them they can realize that potential if they become popular enough. Nothing in Kouka comes easily; it takes blood, sweat, and tears. But the Superiors, and the Top Stars below them, embody what you get for all that hard work: a kind of apotheosis and immortality. Chika and Chiaki could be Kouka’s Apollo and Artemis…or twin Juliets.

Kageki Shoujo!! – 08 – The Bus Stop by the Sea

Back at school after summer break, Hoshino Kaoru is sporting a new super-short hairstyle, in keeping with her goal to become an otoko-yaku, but soon  scolds Sarasa and Ai for allowing themselves to get a tan. Flashback to a formative summer in Kaoru’s life: the summer before her third year of high school, her last chance to get into Kouka…and when she fell in love for the first time.

Kaoru walking on sunny days with an umbrella was derided by some, not only was it odd behavior, but also presumptuous to those who knew her pedigree. While using a bus stop to the hospital to visit her gran (recovering from surgery), she encounters Tsuji Rikuto, the younger brother of a famous rising star of baseball.

Since his gran is so into the Kouka Revue and he overheard from mean girls of Kaoru’s relation, Rikuto works up the courage to ask her about the troupe, but is interrupted by another girl in love with his brother to give him her love letter. He refuses, and shortly thereafter, Kaoru tells him her name.

At first, Rikuto thinks she’s another girl trying to get closer to his bro through him, but she quickly clears that up by telling him about the expectations being the daughter of a Kouka actress and granddaughter of a top star, and he gets it; they’re like kindred spirits.

Of the two, Kaoru is the one more keen to fight against those who would define them by their more accomplished relations, and it’s her texts to him encouraging him to be himself and not worry about being compared that causes an uptick in Rikuto’s baseball play.

Their bus stop encounters and bus rides soon become something both look forward to, such that Kaoru starts visiting her gran more so she can also see Rikuto. She confides in him how she’d never be somebody to say “I’m getting in” knowing how hard it really is (Sarasa doesn’t have that problem). Kaoru is all about the hard work, right down to covering up in the sun to avoid getting tanned.

When she shows off the skirt she’s wearing, eager to wear as many as she can before she gets into wearing men’s clothes when she’s an otoko-yaku, Rikuto is sure that even if she had a mustache she’d be pretty. It’s the first time a boy ever called her pretty, and she wasn’t prepared for how happy it made her.

Rikuto eventually asks Kaoru out to the fireworks festival marking the end of summer; unaware that it would also mark the end of their brief, cozy romance. Before meeting him there, his grandmother assures her she doesn’t have to keep trying to become a Kouka actress if she doesn’t want to.

Kaoru isn’t about to tell her still-recovering gran that she’s full of shit, but she’s still down in the dumps when she meets Rikuto. For a time, him complimenting her yukata catching her when she’s pushed by some kids, and holding her hand is enough to soothe her troubled heart.

But then she asks why Rikuto seems so down, and he tells her that he’s questioning what the point of forcing himself to follow in his brother’s footsteps and fulfill everyone’s expectations of him…then he says he’s sure Kaoru thinks the same way all the time.

Kaoru…does not. Like her gran, and practically everyone else in her life, Rikuto doesn’t understand her after all; that this is precisely the path she chose to walk and she’s never questioned why she was walking it. She’s not trying to get into Kouka for anyone other than herself.

As she runs away from Rikuto in tears, she calls herself stupid for feeling jealous of the “typical high school girl’s life”, including having a boy worry about her and cheer her up. She runs along the beach singing a song, her voice wavering from her flowing tears, but eventually her voice clears as heartbreak turns into iron determination.

She swears to herself she’s going to make it. The normal life isn’t for her. She’s bound for the world of dreams and glamour.

While she intends to make a clean break by blocking Rikuto on her phone, his team actually makes it to the Koshien prelim final, and he just so happens to hit a game-winning pinch-hit home run as Kaoru is walking past a TV in the window broadcasting his game.

Despite knowing nothing about baseball (except what he taught her), and how things turned out at the fireworks festival, Kaoru is still happy Rikuto got to play, and win. Seeing him succeed on TV showed her that he didn’t give up on his path after questioning the point of it all, and after he incorrectly assumed her motives for walking hers.

She still never went back to that seaside bus stop, but it reappears again at Kouka of all places, when Sarasa sees it going viral on social media. Some mystery person left a note on the wall of the stop saying he didn’t give up and thanking another mystery person. Being a hopeless romantic, this kind of thing is right up Sarasa’s alley.

As the newly-shorn Kaoru examines the picture, she smiles knowingly and blushes ever so slightly. Of the thousands sharing that picture, only she and Rikuto know who it’s for and what it means, just like only they know what they want to do in life and are going to go after it with everything they can.

Hoshino Kaoru closes this incredibly moving portrait of her character the way one would close an epic romantic movie: by saying that when she gets to walk out on that Silver Bridge, she’ll save Rikuto “a primo seat in the SS section”…and maybe even say she was in love with him one bright, beautiful summer.

The perfect parting shot of the two having fun at the bus stop by the sea, at the height of that summer and the height of their love, was a thing of exquisite bittersweet beauty—as was the closing theme as sung by Kaoru ‘s seiyu Taichi You. And just like that, I’m in love with yet another character in this show, along with Sarasa, Ai, and Ayako.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

The Detective Is Already Dead – 02 – Heart of the Matter

Sometimes I pick up on the mystery at the beginning. From the moment Natsunagi Nagisa told Kimihiko she was the recipient of a heart transplant a year ago—the same year Siesta died—I knew it was Siesta’s heart she had. It’s, as Nagisa later remarks, why she’s so forward with him at first, and also so weird, sticking her hand in his mouth and threatening to touch his uvula before giving him a comforting hug.

It’s partly so he can hear the heart, but also because it’s the closest he can get to Siesta now that she’s gone. Never mind that “memory transference” is pseudoscience. I believe there are documented instances of people suddenly yearning for things or people connected to the donor. There’s a reason for the popular belief the heart is the domain of the soul and not the brain.

The thing is, it didn’t matter that I immediately figured out the “mystery”, because that wasn’t the point. The point was the emotional fallout of such a reunion. Kimihiko had returned to his lukewarm ordinary life of high school and was fine with it, but he later admits he “couldn’t go on” without some form of closure.

Of course, that’s before he himself figures out what the heck is going on. I’m sure he had some suspicions—you’re not a legendary detective’s sidekick for three years without absorbing some deductive wisdom—prior to taking Nagisa to meet the very person who could not cannot under any circumstances harm Siesta, and so cannot harm Nagisa, the new owner of her heart.

While lacking anything in the way of action like the first episode (which feels more like a prologue to this series), the fact this second outing half the length means a more satisfyingly taut story can be told. It doesn’t waste any time, yet doesn’t feel rushed. Your mileage may vary, but I derived a great deal of emotional impact from the reunion of Siesta’s heart and her clearly bored and listless assistant.

A lot of the resonance is due to some particularly decent dialogue towards the end, when Kimihiko realizes that Siesta’s heart (and Nagisa along with it) needs both a hug and reassurance. Taketatsu Ayana, one of the best in the business, voices Nagisa pitch-perfect with a cool effortlessness.

Even if Siesta is no longer in Kimihiko’s life, I hope we get more Nagisa. As for the Chuunibyou-looking girl who shows up at the very end looking for the Legendary Detective, well…we’ll see, won’t we?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Crow’s watching this too! Read his review here.

The Detective Is Already Dead – 01 (First Impressions) – To Have and to Hold

Kimihiko Kimizuka just wants to live a normal dull life. But like Kamijou Touma’s tendency towards misfortune (if being surrounded by poweful cute girls all the time is somehow unfortunate) Kimi is a trouble magnet. It’s how he found himself being forced to carry a mysterious attaché case on a jumbo jet flight carrying 600 passengers.

Then a flight attendant asks not if there’s a doctor on the plane, but a detective, and the blue-eyed, silver-haired young woman sitting next to him not only declares that she’s a detective, but that Kimi (which in Japanese also means “you”) is her sidekick. Her name is Siesta—Spanish for a midday nap—and she’s the best trouble Kimi could as for.

He joins Siesta in the cockpit where a battle of wits with a hijacker ensues. Siesta manages to provoke him into revealing his identity as part-“android” created by the secret organization SPES. She also reveals she was the one who arranged for Kimi to board the plane with an attaché case, which contains a silver rifle loaded with bullets containing her blood. When the hijacker is shot, he can no longer do her any harm.

With their first “case” closed, Siesta suddenly disappears from Kimi’s life as soon as she enters it, only to show back up in his apartment, making herself at home by wearing his leisurewear, ordering pizza, and even walking in on him while bathing. Since Kimi’s dream is to live a life that’s the equivalent of a relaxing warm bath, this is particularly egregious to him.

But Kimi can complain all he wants about Siesta; the fact of the matter is she’s effortlessly capable, charming, beautiful, and assertive. Kimi spends so much of the episode profusely rejecting Siesta’s assertions he is her sidekick, when he should really be asking himself why living a life with her would really be so bad?

His regular life and “Siesta Life” cross over at his cultural festival, the preparations for which he completely missed owing to the many past incidents into which he’s gotten tangled. Siesta shows up in his school’s uniform, and the two proceed to go on a date. All the while, Siesta is also investigating the Toilet-bound Hanako-san case, which she discovers to be a performance-enhancing drug dealing ring using the urban legend (and the festival) as cover.

She solves that case too, though the last we see of it is her jumping out a window carrying Kimi in her arms, both of them in wedding cosplay. She can survive for the same reason she was able to neutralize the hijacker: she possesses seven special items (you could call them magical) that enable her to achieve similarly special feats; in this case shoes with the ability to fly.

Kimi eventually deduces that Siesta doesn’t so much want a sidekick, but someone with his inscrutable ability to attract trouble, which she can then investigate and resolve. But he still gives in and agrees to become her “assistant” when she gives him a forthright pledge to protect him with her life whenever the trouble he attracts threatens him.

From what we’ve seen so far from Siesta, that sounds like a promise she can keep. So it’s both intriguing and a little sad when we learn from a final Kimi voiceover that, as the title goes, the Detective is already dead. Does this mean the Siesta we saw died, and is now a ghost? A vampire or other undead entity?

It’s the kind of WTF twist that was hanging out in plain sight (in the title) the whole time, but even in forty-six minutes, there’s no explicit answer to what that title means…only clues and theories. And after all those affable interactions between Kimi and Siesta, I am fully invested in learning what’s become of her. I’m also hoping this isn’t the last we’ll see her for a while.

At any rate, if you liked In/Spectre, you’ll probably like this too.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Crow’s watching this too! Read his review here.

Gleipnir – 01 (First Impressions) – The Minx and the Mascot

Kagaya Shuuichi is ordinary, or rather wants to be perceived as ordinary, and takes great pains to maintain that ordinariness. He lets cute girls borrow his work, sneaks a peek up a girls skirt when opportunity knocks, and continues wearing glasses even though he doesn’t need them.

He also turned down a decent college recommendation to pursue … something else. A girl who seems to like him gets it instead, but knows he was the first choice. Unfortunately, what this poor girl doesn’t know about Shuuichi could fill volumes.

I guess it’s not so much what Shuuichi is pursuing that made him turn down college, but what he is enduring. He’s suddenly been granted a highly elevated sense of smell, like a dog, and when certain conditions are met (which I’m sure he takes pains to avoid) he transforms into a giant cartoon mascot dog.

One night he smells fire, and finds a pretty girl passed out in a burning garage. He transforms and rescues her, but seemingly enchanted by her smell, starts pulling her underwear down before stopping himself, transforming back to a human, and fleeing in a panic…without his phone.

Having potentially set back his program of maintaining normality for years, Shuuichi plays dumb at school until he comes face to face with the girl, his phone in her hand. Considering his refusal to own up to sexual assault on an unconscious woman, and that he considers gaslighting her, I’m not that sympathetic with his predicament!

The girl, first-year student Claire Aoki (Touyama Nao), has no intention of letting Shuuichi off lightly. The underwear aside, she was trying to kill herself in that garage (or so she says), and he ruined her plans. After kicking him off the roof to watch him transform, she indicates her intention to blackmail him.

Claire also seems committed to making Shuuichi uncomfortable as possible whenever possible, as exhibited when she takes him to her apartment and strips down to change right in front of him, threatening death if he moves. They’re interrupted by the invasion of a mysterious woman who is after the weird gold coin Claire possesses. The attacker can also transform into a part-woman, part-beast, and proceeds to kick Shuuichi’s inexperienced-in-combat ass.

Gleipnir is the name of a delicate yet immensely strong dwarven-made chain that holds Fenrir back until Ragnarok, when he’s free to devour Odin. If Shuuichi’s mascot mode represents Fenrir, his human form is that chain. But unlike its Norse namesake it’s quickly fraying, thanks in part to Claire helping it along. Or Maybe, ironically, maybe it’s Claire who is the true Fenrir here, a wolf in model’s clothing. Shuuichi broke the chain and unleashed her by getting rescuing (and assaulting) her. There’s no going back now!

Gleipnir looks and sounds great (thanks to composer Sakata Ryouhei and a great Mili ED), with a taut, tense and gripping story. The dread of Shuuichi’s misfortunes is weighed against the reality of Claire having a legit beef with him. The cuteness of his mascot form contrasts with the horrifying nature of his transition. We’ll see what hell she puts him through, and if it ever rises to the level of Aku no Hana pitch-blackness.

Ao no Exorcist 12

The gang of esquires is given a seemingly innocuous mission to extract a harmless ghost from the ridiculous “MepphyLand” amusement park, in which the most dramatic development could be Shiemi switching from her bulky kimono to an ordinary school uniform, complete with short skirt; but it turns into far more than that quite quickly. One of Mephisto’s brothers, Amaimon, shows up, takes Rin’s sword, and unsheaths it, releasing Rin’s demon side. Then he proceeds to mop the floor with him.

This underscores just how vulnerable not only Rin is, but also how fragile his grip on (relatively) ordinary life is. One minute, he’s arranging a date with Shiemi, the next, he’s transformed into a vicious monster through no fault of his own, and almost loses himself in the process. It’s only through the intervention of Shura – a “High Inspector, Upper First Class Exorcist” – that he’s able regain his humanity. Shura was disguised as the member of the gang always obscured by his hoodie. “He” is also a she.

My immediate first impression of Shura is, sadly, “stupid-looking”; Yoruichi-san looked sexy enough in a glorified tracksuit; why this person has to walk around in a tiny bikini top is beyond me. Still, it opens up a new can of worms regarding Rin: his identity as a son of satan is revealed to a very high-ranking exorcist, and that can’t be good. Not only that, but Amaimon will be back, and he may not be as playful next time. Are Rin’s hopes of living a normal life as a human exorcist toast? Rating: 3.5

The World God Only Knows II 5

Good to see TWGON2 return to some sense of normalcy – I’m just not as interested in the hierarchy and mechanics of the demon world as I am in Keima hunting real girls. The newest girl, Chihiro, is a bit of a doozy, perhaps his greatest challenge yet. The reason is as hilarious as it is ironic: his illustrious repertoire of simulated dating experience will be utterly useless on her.

Chihiro doesn’t have any qualities that make her stand out. She’s just an ordinary girl. Ordinary girls are never heroines, they only fill up the background. First she flummoxes Keima by liking another guy, to whom she confesses and is rejected. Keima is even more frustrated when she gets over the grief instantly, just as he’s about to comfort her with a clever, ice-breaking line.

No, Keima is out of his element, off the radar, in unknown territory, bereft of his bag o’tricks. Chihiro has the upper hand; her bland, unpredictable nature will make her a tough nut to crack indeed. Watching Keima squirm and think on his feet  to conquer her should prove entertaining, and may yet redeem what so far has been RABUJOI’s lowest-rated spring series. Rating: 3