Sonny Boy – 02 – Kindle Blue Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 07 – All About Aira

SMPO pulled off a clever trick: By having Sei’s story monopolize the first six episodes, we became wholly invested in her happiness, her growth, and her success as the true Saint. Prince Kyle and Misono Aira were always off-camera, and so neither of them really had a chance against someone as charming as Sei—not to mention her seiyu Ishikawa Yui.

But while we were always pretty sure Prince Kyle was a big ol’ asshole for picking Aira and spurning Sei, there was always a lingering feeling that there was more to the story, and in any case Aira was as innocent as Sei in this whole business, having also been summoned there against her will.

The show finally rights a wrong by explicitly placing Aira front an center in her own episode, which is bookended by an instance of Aira encountering Sei in a hallway, who is too preoccupied talking to Liz to notice her. But Aira notices her, and you can’t help but feel a yearning in her; a desire to reach out and know this person.

But first, Aira’s beginning. The daughter of two busy parents, she’s about to head out for a solo dinner when she’s summoned to Salutania and quickly whisked away by Prince Kyle. Her visceral shock over the sudden change of world is beautiful and heartbreaking in its presentation

When she’s told there’s never been an instance of a Saint returning to her home world, she finally breaks down. Here’s where we learn Prince Kyle isn’t a complete shithead, as he displays genuine remorse over putting Aira in such a position. That said, he is convinced the survival of his kingdom and his people will depend on her.

Like Sei, Aira is cast into a den of maids who present her with a variety of dresses to try. Just as her parents did for their family portrait, a “cutesy” pink dress is chosen for her, rather than her being vocal about wanting the more subdued color.

When Kyle sees that Aira still can’t quite believe any of this is real, he springs her from the palace to walk among the masses in the capital. This raises her spirits, and is also when she sees that Prince Kyle is not altogether beloved by his people.

While on a balcony overlooking a gorgeous view of Salutania, Kyle’s friend anf advisor Damian confirms what Aira had suspected: to uphold the Kingdom’s peace, they must be “strict” with its people, even if it doesn’t endear them to said people. Kyle also vows to do whatever he can to find a way to send Aira home once the threat has passed.

Aira tells the “self-centered, awkward…and direct to a fault” prince that she’ll do her best. Shortly thereafter, he presents her with a wand, a robe, and all the other supplies she’ll need to attend the magic academy. There, we see she begins to thrive, all while enjoying the company of spoken-for lads.

Due to her forwardness with said lads, Aira is shunned, resented, and ostracized by the other women, who are in the margin of every shot in her training montage, visually expressing their disapproval. this whole time, I wished Sei would enroll at the academy and give poor Aira a damned hug.

There’s no more heartbreaking, lonely scene than when Aira and a classmate end up sheltering from the rain beside each other. The other girl seems receptive to talking, but before Aira can get a word out, two more girls show up and offer the girl an umbrella, completely ignoring Aira.

Thankfully, Damian shows up with an umbrella, distressed by how soaked Aira is, only for Aira to demonstrate her extremely precise magic by gathering nearly all of the rain that was on her skin and clothes into a single orb suspended over her finger.

But while watching it unfold makes Aira a much more sympathetic figure, I could have imagined this was the life Aira had been living while Sei enjoyed a comparatively easier road. The real twist of the episode concerns Prince Kyle’s decision, in light of rumors Sei is the true Saint, to accept his mistake as having been born of his stubborn pride.

Kyle took Aira’s home away from her, so he feels it is his duty to find her a new home. If it’s inevitable that Sei will supplant Aira as the Saint, he plans to continue playing the role of “incompetent, stubborn crown prince”, hoping the court will take pity on her. He’s proves he’s not just playing lip service; he truly cares about Aira and doesn’t want her to suffer because of his fuck-up.

Not every woman hates Aira’s guts, of course. That one girl in the rain would have likely talked to and even befriended her had those other girls not shown up. Likewise, Elizabeth is ready and willing to become friends with Aira, only for Kyle to step between them and forbid it, saying he alone will look after her.

It’s another misstep for Kyle, who is being overprotective in this case. He may think his fiancee is jealous of Aira, but we know that Liz isn’t that kind of perosn. One would hope the crown prince would get to know his future queen a bit better!

As for Sei, she and Aira still haven’t so much as uttered a single word to each other, nor has Sei even looked directly at Aira since the two were summoned. That remains hugely frustrating, especially when I think of how much tension could be released by their meeting and sharing of experiences. There’s no good reason for them to be on opposite sides of anything. Hopefully this wrong is righted soon!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 01 – (First Impressions) – Tokyo Dreamin’

Detective Inugami is on his way to a remote village to investigate strange instances of rotting livestock corpses. Yataro, the innkeeper’s son, is quick to show off to his friends, who all think Yatarou will be Tokyo-bound at some point.

Yatarou also warns Dorotabo—a boy working in the fields in lieu of school—not to go near the detective, lest the stench upset him. However, the detective, an eccentric sort named Inugami who wears a flashy suit and drives a vintage car, seems far more interested in Dorotabo than in Yatarou.

Yatarou plays the role of eager-to-please innkeeper’s son, hoping to make a good impression on a Tokyo resident, but soon after he talks to Inugami about Dorotabo in derisive terms, the detective dismisses him in favor of Dorotabo.

Dorotabo has always been ostracized in the village for smelling bad and being generally creepy. He also wears a strange necklace that he was wearing when he was abandoned, but Inugami identifies it as a “lifestone”, which means whatever happened to his parents, they didn’t abandon him.

Yatarou, like the spoiled haughty little shit he is, tries to steal the necklace from Dorotabo, but when he does, Dorotabo transforms into a vicious demon; he’s just barely able to regain possession of the lifestone and transforms back into human form.

He’s hiding when Inugami tacks him down, warning him that he is the cause of the dead and rotting livestock. But Inugami while already has him pegged as the child of a human and a demon—a kemono like him—he knows Dorotabo isn’t responsible. Sure enough, other demon beasts appear as corrupted dogs and deer.

Inugami and Dorotabo are in time to save Yatarou from the dogs, but a giant demon buck with weirdly human teeth appears, and is a tougher customer. Inugami is only able to shoot through half of its thick neck with his gun (which he’s able to summon out of thin air), but Yatarou rips the rest of the demon’s head off with his bare hands.

Afterwards, Inugami reveals to Dorotabo that the innkeeper brought him to the village to kill him. He asks him his real name—Kabane—and asks once more if he wants to meet his parents. Kabane says no with a bright smile, and asks Inugami to kill him. Inugami shoots him in the head, and reports the kill to the innkeeper.

Kabane wakes up in the back of Inugami’s car, having been out for a day healing. A bullet to the head can’t kill what’s already dead, after all. Kabane now finds himself in the middle of the largest metropolis in the world—where that little punk Yatarou wanted to go—and Inugami sets him up with some cool new threads at the Inugami Strangeness Counseling Office, where two other kids—presumably also kemono—show up wondering who the heck he is.

I found Kemono Jihen (literally “Beast Incidents”) to be a fresh, fun supernatural series that immediately pulled me in with its picturesque village setting, and kept me engaged by having a bake-danuki like Inugami act with more human compassion than actual humans towards a kid who didn’t deserve their ire. The beasts are legit creepy, while there’s a palpable sense of excitement and momentousness to Kabane’s arrival in the big city. This looks like a keeper so far.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 01 – The Price

When we last saw Kirito and Alice, Eugeo had just died, Administrator was defeated but not killed, and Kirito had lost his right arm and his fluctlight fried by some kind of power surge. This exemplary episode is all about the aftermath of those events, both immediately following them and some months later.

Aside from Rintarou Okabe or Natsuki Subaru, I can’t think of a protagonist in recent anime memory who has suffered as much or fallen quite as low as Kirigaya Kazuto. He was being kept alive in Underworld, devoid of memories, but after saving that world from a tyrant, he lost even more. In the present, autumn is falling on Underworld, and Kirito is a mute, emotionless husk under Alice’s care—with frequent visits from her sister Selka.

Alice is no slouch in the loss department either. She may have regained a sister and, incidentally, her freedom from the Axiom Church and Order of Integrity Knights, but she lost Eugeo, one of the best friends whom she’d forgotten, while the other of those friends in Kirito is the aforementioned husk. It’s ultimately Alice’s episode, and it’s an unyielding portrait of anguish.

Alice scratches out a meager wage felling trees with her sword skills, incomparable to anyone else in the village. The villagers need her help to make progress, but suck their teeth behind her back and even mess with the minimally-responsive Kirito and the Blue Rose Sword he inherited from Eugeo. It doesn’t matter that Alice, Kirito, and Eugeo saved them from Administrator’s evil plans; they just don’t like them.

Knowing Kirito wouldn’t be safe anywhere near the Cathedral, she tried to return to Rulid Village, but her own father shunned her, so she settled in a cabin on the town’s outskirts with Kirito and her loyal (and adorable) dragon Amayori. It would be a happy life—were it not for Kirito’s condition and the still-looming Dark Territory situation.

The tranquil, picturesque surroundings call to mind Kirito and Asuna’s cabin, once the site of so much joy. But while Alice and Selka try to make the best of things, there’s no escaping the fact this is an extremely dismal situation, with no immediate sign that things will get any better.

Quite the contrary: with Administrator off in some other dimension, the world of men has never been more vulnerable to incursions of orcs and goblins from the Dark Territory. Bercouli musters his fellow Integrity Knights and starts re-training lower-ranked forces Admin had banished, but the time of the titular War of Underworld is just over the silver mountain horizons in the background of those gorgeous vistas.

Eldrie is on a mission to confirm the various tunnels into their lands have been blasted to slow the enemy’s advance, but his dragon senses his younger sibling Amayori and thus Alice. Eldrie begs her to rejoin the knights and join the fight. Alice doesn’t tell him she won’t, but that she can’t. Even if she didn’t have to care for Kirito, she can no longer wield her sword. Eldrie reluctantly accepts this and the two part ways cordially.

As Alice turns in with Kirito, sharing his bed to keep him warm or just so she can have human contact, her remaining eye fills with tears as she asks Kirito just what the hell she should do. After all these months with no progress, I imagine she’s starting to lose hope he’ll ever recover, and in the meantime has been coping, enduring, and operating on inertia.

When Kirito suddenly moves as if reacting to something, there’s a sudden glimmer of hope that’s just as quickly snatched away—he’s only reacting reflexively, as Amayori does. You see, fires are blazing in the direction of the town and there are sounds of fighting—no doubt a Dark Territory raid. So yeah, no hope, just more awful shit to deal with.

As all this is happening in Underworld, we have no idea what is transpiring in the real world with Asuna on the Ocean Turtle. While I’m no sucker for punishment, I do appreciate the bleak depths to which our heroes have fallen, because it will make it that much more compelling if and when they manage to claw themselves out. That’s why we must watch.

Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 02

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It’s nice to see how well Stella and Ikki are already getting along even before their first day of school; it’s a testament to the equity and fairness with which they each treat each other. They’re both on first-name terms without any reservations, and Stella makes a habit of bringing up things like the possibility of indirect kisses as a big deal, but never once denies that she doesn’t mind such things, when sharing Ikki’s sports drink. She also insists on running the full 20km a day that he runs, which speaks to her competitiveness.

But this, like Asterisk War is still a harem, which means there will be plenty of competition for Ikki’s attention. The first to glom onto him is Kusakabe Kagami, who means to run the school newspaper and saw him fight. Whether you’re a boy or a girl, people dig ability, and it’s clear Ikki has skills, even if there’s no surefire way to evaluate it. Still, the way the six school reps will be chosen works in his favor: rather than assess people by their stats, everyone will be fighting for those spots.

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Kagami essentially fades into the background, however, when a petite silver-haired girl everyone calls “Lorelei” beckons to Ikki. As we gleaned from the cold open, she’s his little sister Shizuku, and the only member of his family who she believes really loves him. Because of that, on top of her sheltered, upper-crust upbringing, to her, that means she needs to show Ikki enough love to make up for all the family members who show none.

To Shizuku, that means French-kissing him in front of Stella and half the school. Now, this is some standard brocon incest ikkiness? On the surface, sure, but it’s nicely mitigated by two factors: Shizuku’s aforementioned strange upbringing, and the fact no one else, including Ikki, is okay with his sister Frenching him.

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Then a catfight breaks out between Shizuku and Stella, who draw their devices, but they get in trouble with the director and must clean all 27 of the school’s girls’ restrooms, which they do while exchanging insults about one another’s breast size and body type.

It’s petty, but it’s conflict born out of mutual misunderstanding. Shizuku doesn’t yet know the full extent of Stella’s bond with Ikki, and Stella doesn’t yet know why Shizuku is acting so possessive.

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That changes quick when Shizuku mentions that the rest of the Kurogane family has always treated Ikki like he didn’t exist, and she hates them for it. Stella, concerned and eager to learn more about her roommate (and master, a promise she hasn’t forgotten), wastes no time asking Ikki about it, and he’s very open about it: due to his lack of verifiable talent, he was shunned as the family’s black sheep. The ostracization was so bad, he once ran away from home into the brutal cold.

He was saved from death by his grandfather Ryouma—a samurai so famous even Stella knows the name—who told him to harness his frustration with being called the weakest or the worst; make that weakness a strength, and never give up or stop working to prove everyone wrong. Ikki then started to train alone—something Stella also did when she was younger. Thus Stella’s understanding of Ikki deepens, as does her affection.

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Those affections lead her to make a move on Ikki for the second week in a row, entirely on a whim while cooking. Her excuse is that a good servant must fulfill a master’s wishes before he even asks, but really, she liked what she saw and felt last week, and wants more. Ikki is understandably a bit on-edge about the whole thing—Stella is a knockout in her pink bikini (her concession to modesty and not letting things get too far too fast)—but lets Stella do what she wants to do, and tells her what she wants to hear.

A nice detail: when the newspaper girl Kagami put Ikki’s arm against her chest, Stella noticed, and so brings it up here, because it looked like Ikki liked it…and Stella wants Ikki to like when she does it. I loved the honesty and equity of this romantic encounter: both Stella and Ikki are getting something they want out of it…right up until Stella loses her top, which she didn’t want to happen. Scream; Slap; Womp-Womp.

Lastly, we come to the show’s ED, with all the girls in Ikki’s prospective harem lounging around nude in a bed of roses with their weapons, to the welcome eclectic tunes of ALI PROJECT.

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