Cop Craft – 09 – The Cat’s Out of the (Garbage) Bag

As silly as I thought the Tilarna-Kuroi body swap is, if you ever find yourself in such a pinch, it helps to have a competent friend in Cecil Epps. Having missed the trash pickup, she calls the waste management company, and when they stonewall her, she plays the police card to get access.

Once at the processing center they find the exact truck that took the bag containing the crossbow, but they’re a little too late and it ends up the proverbial needle in a trash mountain. Still, they’ve narrowed down the location enough for Tilarna to go in and attempt to sense the crossbow’s latena, which she does.

Unfortunately, Tilarna-cat’s lack of thumbs means the crossbow ends up destroyed on the trash conveyor. But the good news is, destroying the artifact reverses the spell, and Tilarna returns to her own body, right when the smuggler has broken in and is trying to get her to cough up the crossbow.

Tilarna allows herself a few moments to jump for joy over getting her body back (as we all would), but the intruder saw her butt and everything else below the waist, so she beats the crap out of him, only sparing his life when Kei arrives, having been briefed by Cecil.

All’s well that ends well, though Tilarna would prefer if Kei were a little more upset about another man seeing her naked, again underscoring their…complex relationship.

With the body swap reversed, the episode trades Tilarna’s lack of pants for a school swimsuit, as Zimmer’s entire unit has a summer cookout at his place. It’s nice to see everyone unwinding after some hard cases—and for Kei’s extreme food snobbishness and bossiness exposed…honestly, he’s almost as bad as Zane!

The fun and relaxation is cut short when there’s breaking news report on the TV: mayoral candidate Nathan Kahns has been shot and killed. They determine the culprit, who had no criminal record, was being controlled by a wizard, possibly Zelada. With the “compromise” candidate in Kahns out, that leaves the Semanian Mozeleemay and the far-right Tourte, who wants to banish all Semanians.

That means this case will have long-term ramifications for all of San Teresa that could threaten the future of human-Semanian coexistance. There’s a small but telling example of the insidious ethnic strife inherent in this case when a beat cop calls a passing Tilarna a “damn alien” under his breath.

Kei hears that, and aggressively defends Tilarna, who is both embarrassed and grateful that Kei did it. Kei’s explanation about how it’s not the same when he uses slurs like “alien” (because it comes from familiarity and not hate) isn’t the strongest, but it is realistic behavior. But Tilarna may find herself turning the other cheek a lot more as they dig into this sensitive case.

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Astra Lost in Space – 09 – Beyond Vicarious

Before announcing Zack’s findings to Quitterie, Funi, and the rest of the crew, Kanata dreams about a training session with his father, who was also an athlete but was denied by injuries the opportunity to attain greatness. Kanata knew his father was trying to realize his own dream through Kanata; attempting to live vicariously through his healthy young son.

But knowing what he knows now, Kanata now realizes why his father was so intent on training him to become virtually the same person he wanted to be: because when it comes to DNA, they are the same person. That’s right: It isn’t just Quitterie and Funi who are clones of their mother; everyone on the ship is a clone of their parents.

Needless to say, this explains quite a bit: Why most of them had distant or loveless parents who drove them to follow in their footsteps, but also, more importantly, why they’re titularly lost in space: cloning is a felony, and a new law mandating the collection of everyone’s DNA would expose their clones—and thus, their crime.

If the theory sounds thin aboard the Astra, it’s confirmed by the parents themselves back home, as they all commiserate about how their dreams of extending their lives was thwarted. They bicker quite a bit more than their younger clones and don’t seem to have any remorse in sending them off to their deaths to save themselves.

Back on the Astra, everyone is in shock, and for some like Quitterie, it turns to despair. As for Aries, she learns she was almost certainly adopted by her loving mother, as they don’t look alike and, well, her adoptive mother actually loved her. Kanata, good captain that he is, tells them to lift their heads, and revises their mission: not just to get home, but get home and put their rotten folks in prison for what they’ve done.

After that, everyone gradually processes the news that they’re a clone in their own ways. On the whole, once calmed down from the initial horribleness, the overarching emotion is that of relief: that there was a reason they ended up in space, or that their parents were the way they were.

Charce left his family long ago so he wasn’t that messed up by the news. Luca is proud of who and what she is, and is determined to move forward as an individual beholden to nobody. Yunhua is happy she can now step out of the shadows and do what she loves. Aries loves her mother and knows her mother loves her, regardless of what person she was cloned from.

Finally, even Quitterie and Funi find comfort in the knowledge that nature and nurture essentially play a 50/50 role in determining a person. Quitterie, Funi, and their mother are three different people with distinct personalities based on their experiences, not just their DNA. The two of them are good people; their mom’s a goddamn monster.

And that’s what truly underscores the nefariousness, the straight-up evil of their parents for marooning them in space. Cloning yourself is one thing; to deny those clones their individuality and even their humanity by discarding them like used tissues is quite another, and the ultimate in delusion. Did they think they made clones so perfect, their experiences wouldn’t make them different people? If that’s the case they’re as stupid as they are evil.

In any case, kudos for the crew members to get over the pain of their asshole parents’ deep, profound betrayal, and their ability to come together as the new and loving family they are. Case in point: Quitterie and Zack announce their wedding plans to an ecstatic crew that’s also a bit flabbergasted in the wake of Zack’s talent for hiding his true emotions behind a granite facade.

After their party celebrating their escape from Icriss, the discovery of Polina, and congratulating the soon-to-be newlyweds, Zack activates the Astra’s long-range telescope, which he repaired using parts from the Ark VI, and for the first time in three months, the crew lays eyes on their home planet: a planet of blue oceans, white clouds, and green land.

But here’s the thing, and it’s not revealed until Polina notices the landmasses are all wrong: the crew’s home planet isn’t Earth. It is Polina’s home, but none of the crew have ever heard of “Earth,” and look at her like she’s either crazy or still suffering the effects of her long slumber. In any case, their home planet is called Astra, which means Polina didn’t just lose twelve years, but perhaps her entire universe.


Cop Craft – 08 – Meow What?!

After a really heartfelt and powerful episode in which Tilarna made and then promptly lost a friend, Cop Craft takes a week off—to be charitable—with an episode that’s little more than a vehicle for showing as much Tilarna fanservice as possible.

After Tilarna fells a small prop plane, scoring them a crate full of junk that vaguely smells of latena, Kei uses the bath first, then leaves Tilly to analyze the trinkets on her own, with only Kuroi to keep her company.

Kuroi gets a little crazy and starts running around, Tilarna gets stuck by a tiny crossbow bolt, and she and the cat switch bodies. Kei doesn’t pick up on this, only that Tilarna must be sick or something since he wakes up with her in his bed, scantily clad, and about to rub her face against his when the cat—actually Tilarna—comes between them. Kei lets who he thinks is Tilarna to sleep in, but he’s got shit to do, so heads off.

Tilarna manages to text Cecil, who arrives to find a huge mess, Tilarna missing pants, and a cat nodding and texting her. The crossbow just happened to slide into a trash can, and Kei is fastidious enough to take out said trash, so Cecil and Tilarna have to chase it down, but not before Tilkuroi tackles Cecil and knocks her out, further slowing them down.

Meanwhile Kei, seeking O’Neill, walks in on the aftermath of an epic party involving prostitutes, a goat, and habanero sauce, but which is neither here nor there. Honestly, this entire episode felt like it was on hallucinogens and a sedative that ground every action to a halt in an effort to make this a two-parter for some reason. That’s what’s most frustrating: shows can have the odd bad week, but this tomfoolery isn’t even over yet…

Okaa-san Online – 01 (First Impressions) – ZOMRPG, MOM!!!

One night, Oosuki is filling out a survey heavy on questions about his relationship to his mother, and the next morning a government official informs him that he’s been selected to enter a video game world. But he doesn’t go alone. His mom follows him in, and will be joining him on his full-dive fantasy adventure!

That’s the high concept, broad-strokes premise to an episode that then proceeds to take its sweet old time immersing Masato and his mom into this new world, an as-yet-unnamed MMO that’s still in beta. Their role is to play the game so that the producers can gather data.

Masato already has reservations about his mom following him along for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, but they turn to downright frustration when she demonstrates she can dual-wield legendary weapons and decimate multiple targets at once. His basic attack is pathetic by comparison.

So, of course, he lashes out, threatening to “disown” his mom in a moment of unguarded rage. That’s when his mom (named Mamako) starts to cry, telling him no one has ever said anything so mean and sad to her. He quickly backtracks, apologizing profusely, and his mom, being a very nice mom, easily forgives him.

They teleport into a town to gather a party at the Adventurer’s Guild, but after pulling the game guide out of her bust, Mamako decides to make a strong first impression by smashing a giant hole into the guild hall, much to Masato’s dismay.

Shirase, the woman who sent them into the game, is there to greet them, bleeding from the head (turns out she’s a game object and the blood is just an effect). And naturally, as they look over party members, Mamako is thinking about finding a nice young woman to team up with him.

Okaa-san Online takes the opposite approach of Arifureta and starts us off at the very beginning of Masato and Mamako’s story, but I still felt an inescapable impatience with the slow pace and the episode’s need to explain terms like “PK”, as if this was someone’s first isekai rodeo.

There’s also the little matter of the show looking pretty atrocious. Like the game in which mother and son find themselves (though I don’t mind their white pupils, like Moriko’s in MMO Junkie), the show just feels sparse and incomplete, both visually and conceptually, what with its lazy, unimaginative hand-waving.

The music has its epic moments, but can be too assertive during quieter scenes. And while the underlying premise is pretty funny at first blush, the comedic dialogue and pacing is iffy at best. With execution lacking in effort and attention to detail, I can’t see myself sticking with this for long. After all, Mama didn’t raise no fool.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 23 – Island Grind

Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo meet their cabin-mates L’Arc Berg and Therese Alexanderite (Hayami Saori), neither of whom will believe he’s the Shield Hero. Not because he doesn’t look the part, but because they deem themselves good enough judges of character to conclude he’s not “that scumbag,” not realizing that his scumbag reputation is largely fiction.

In a wonderful bit of karmic justice, the other three heroes who took all the private cabins end up horribly seasick for the duration of the voyage to Cal Mira, and Filo doesn’t make it any better by violently catching strong-smelling shark-fish for dinner.

Once they arrive at the island and get out into the field, they find even small fry net huge amounts EXP…until all four heroes end up in the same spot. Rather than bicker with the others, Naofumi & Co. take a boat to another island, where the monsters are tougher the EXP greater, and the enemy drops both epic and timely, as the weapons Raphtalia and Filo started needed replacing from overuse.

After a day of gaining two dozen-plus levels, the party makes camp, but L’Arc and Therese arrive, responding to their ferryman who was worried they were killed. These are the kind of guys who won’t let acquaintances die out in the field if they can help it…but I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of dread about them. After all, “Myne” seemed like a nice partner at first too.

The five head back to an inn for food and drink, and we see that Cal Mira is as much about pleasure and fun as it is grinding for levels and loot. Kevin Penkin rolls out another beautiful orchestral theme over the carousing scene, which includes Raph getting drunk on wine and beating the racist knight at arm wrestling, as well as Naofumi not getting drunk at all on the same intoxicating fruit that knocks Motoyasu to the floor.

The next morning, Raph seems to have suffered no hangover, and L’Arc and Therese join Naofumi’s party for the day’s grind. Naofumi also presents Therese with the accessory she commissioned, and its power and craftsmanship quite literally move her to tears as she hands Naofumi all the gold she has.

Naofumi, Raph and Filo learn that L’Arc and Therese are very good to have on your side in a fight, as the former is another trusty swordsman while the latter has powerful offensive magic of a style none of them ever heard of. Naofumi even cracks a smile or two; while L’Arcs type usually rubs him the wrong way (See: Motoyasu) they get along just fine.

After a somewhat awkward farewell where L’Arc and Therese decline Naofumi’s invitation to join them tomorrow, they part ways. I’d like to see the duo again, even if they turn out to be plotting against him. Naofumi decides to take the next day off, which means both Filo and Raphtalia get to show off the very stylish swimsuits they bought at the market. Sadly for Raph, Naofumi still doesn’t see her as a potential love interest, and never will.

The lightweight atmosphere of sun and fun is interrupted by Filo’s discovery of underwater ruins (incidentally one of my favorite levels in FFX), which contain a Dragon Hourglass. That’s bad news because it means Cal Mira is a target for the next Wave of Catastrophe, which is just 48 hours and change away. With that, the stage is set for the final battle of Shield Hero‘s first season, as well as the possibility it will end with a bang rather than a whimper.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 10 – Growing The Party

Naofumi has been scarred by the injustices he has suffered throughout his time in this world. And since a large quantity of those injustices were perpetrated by the Melromarc royal family, he’s instinctively distrustful of any Melromarcs, even Melty, who has shown him nothing but kindness.

As a result, he turns Melty away, despite the fact the Queen sent her to him explicitly to reconcile and undo the harm the King and Malty have done to him. It’s in Naofumi’s best interests to actually trust Melty and allow her to help him, but he just can’t, due to his history and stewing resentment.

But as the next Wave approaches, Naofumi still manages to run into a bit of good karma, as three warriors and two mages whose families he saved in Lute Village offer to join his party and fight beside him. He’ll only trust them if they cough up 150 silver pieces; hardly chump change.

He’s not the only one stiffing people: the cathedral charges fifteen gold pieces per person for the “class upgrades” he, Raphtalia and Filo will require in order to continue efficiently leveling up. When he produces enough for just Raph to be upgraded, an elder sister steps in presenting a decree from the king prohibiting them from providing any upgrades at any price.

If only Naofumi had heard Melty out rather than turn her away, he might’ve found an easier way around the king’s decree. Instead, he has to seek an upgrade through the slave dealer, who doesn’t provide that service but does offer to relieve Naofumi of five gold pieces in exchange for wyvern talons for Filo’s feet.

Filo’s new talons, combined with Raphtalia’s sharp new sword, make quick work of a job request to defeat a monster in the capital’s sewers. That night, as Naofumi dresses Raph’s wounds with holy water, Raphtalia worries about Naofumi’s vow that once all of the Waves are dealt with, he’ll return to his world, leaving her and Filo alone. The discussion is sidetracked when Filo wakes up and accuses Raph of getting “lovey-dovey.”

The next day they head out, encountering a village whose scant inhabitants are starving to death thanks in no small part to the actions of the Bow Hero Kawasumi Itsuki. Once again, the supposed heroic actions of a hero who isn’t Naofumi has appalling side effects.

Naofumi gets to finally confront both Kawasumi for what he did to the starving village, and Amaki Ren for the plague he caused by slaying the dragon. For their part, neither of them stuck around those places long enough to witness the consequences of their actions, and while Ren believes Naofumi, Itsuki doesn’t.

Naofumi’s distrust for everybody that isn’t Raph or Filo is matched only by the other heros’ continued animosity towards him. It’s a vicious cycle, and so far only Ren has taken a logical approach resembling reconciliation. The other two seem like lost causes in terms of ever seeing Naofumi as anything other than bad news.

We’ll see if despite that there will be any improved collaboration between the four heroes when the second Wave appears, which it does by episode’s end. By this time, the five Lute villagers scounge together the silver for Naofumi, who gives them the accessory they thought they were buying without taking their silver.

He tells them instead to use the cash to buy better equipment. They’ll need it in the battles to come. Naofumi doesn’t even trust these people, who owe their lives and those of their families to his heroics. But maybe, in time, he can, and that will lead to him trusting others who mean him no harm, like Melty and her mother the Queen.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 04 – Cat Ears, Banned Words, The First Text, French Invective

Citing that France is second only to Japan in cosplay popularity, Chika insists the StuCo welcome their new French exchange students while cosplaying. But when Kaguya and Miyuki put on cat ears, neither of them can resist smiling at the intolerable cuteness of the other.

Regardless, both don’t want the other knowing they find them cute, so they try to tough it out by grotesquely contorting their expressions in a futile effort to hide their mutual delight. To an outside observer like Chika, this looks like they’re glaring at each other with looks that could kill. Loser? Chika…for once!

The StuCo must organize a welcome party for the French, and two of them are needed to do all the necessary shopping, so Chika suggests the two losers of a “banned word” game will do the honors. This is a case of both Kaguya and Miyuki actually wanting to go shopping together, so it behooves them to let Chika win.

That suits Chika just fine, since she wants to win and pulls out all the stops to do so, demonstrating that while the Prez and Veep might look down on her as a second-rate intellect and airhead, she can more than handle herself in a banned-word game. She switches up her manner of speaking by rapping, and has the perfect words she knows Kaguya and Miyuki will readily say if properly stimulated: “love”, and “serious”, respectively.

With Kaguya and Miyuki both losing, their shopping date is set; they just have to agree when and where to meet, which requires one of them text the other for the first time. Kaguya’s maid (and audience surrogate) is somewhat exhausted by her charge’s beating around the bush (as are we all!) so she puts Kaguya in a corner by calling Miyuki then tossing the phone to her.

Miyuki’s extremely stern-sounding father answers, and eventually hands the phone over to his son, who is in the bathtub but doesn’t mind talking since his phone is waterproof. Once they’re talking, the tension fades away, but Kaguya makes the mistake of hanging up when Miyuki was in the middle of saying something else.

Kaguya curses herself while kicking in bed, but the result of her error is that Miyuki ends up being the one to text her first, telling her to stay warm and have a good night. Winner: Kaguya. Unfortunately, it pours so hard Shibuya Station floods, and the shopping trip is cancelled before it can begin. Still, Kaguya’s instinct to go regardless was correct: Miyuki was waiting for her, in the rain, by Hachiko…with his waterproof phone.

Thankfully, Miyuki doesn’t catch cold just in time for the French exchange students’ welcome party, so we get to watch him try to bluff about speaking French when he only skimmed a guidebook. Meanwhile, Kaguya merely pretended not to know French, only to turn around and speak fluently with one of the students. Even Chika, daughter of a diplomat, speaks French and other languages. Just full of surprises!

Little does Miyuki know the headmaster intended the party to be an important test to determine whether he’s truly worthy of leading the school. Betsy, the French StuCo veep and notoriously foul-mouthed master of verbal invective is sicced on Miyuki, and she proceeds to absolutely enrobe him in nasty French insults. Since Miyuki doesn’t speak a lick of French, it all bounces off!

The thing that isolated him ends up convincing the headmaster he does have what it takes, by enduring everything Betsy could through at him with placid “oui, ouis” in response. Even better, when Kaguya overhears Betsy, she comes to Miyuki’s defense, all while showing Betsy is no match for a properly scary Japanese high school girl.

Once the party has ended, Kaguya is ashamed of her nasty word-using, but Miyuki reminds her, he doesn’t speak French, so he didn’t hear any particulars of what she said. All he knows is she didn’t like how Betsy was talking to him, and fought on his behalf. For that, she has his gratitude. And so the episode closes with a win for both Kaguya and Miyuki.

Steins;Gate 0 – 13 – Dark is Dangerous

The near-miss with the car brought back Kagari’s memories, but only some of them. She’s still missing a 12-year gap between 10 and 22. As a result, Kagari acts a lot more like a child than she used to, and treats a somewhat bemused Mayuri (who is mostly going with the flow) like her beloved “mommy.”

Watching a 22-year-old woman act so spoiled around her parents irks Suzuha, to the point they have a yelling match in the TV repair shop. Both sides regret the fight and plan to apologize, but Suzu learns something crucial from it: her and Kagari’s memories of how they became separated are very different.

After conferring with Tennouji, Rintarou begins to suspect Kagari’s strange memory gap is the result of foul play: brainwashing and mind control, just as Kiryuu discovers…something less than 5km from where Kagari collapsed. It’s a clue, but it requires they take a long drive.

Mayuri decides to celebrate the restoration of at least some of Kagari’s memories by throwing one of her patented parties, which she tries to make a surprise, but with her early memories restored Kagari knows when her Mommy is trying to keep a surprise party secret.

All the while, this ominous van drives around Akiba playing seemingly innocuous Mozart, and it’s clear the van is Bad News, whether it’s a van for kidnapping or simply for triggering Shiina Kagari. That perilous van hangs there, like Damocles’ Sword, over the remainder of the episode, as Mayuri & Co. prepare the party.

If the argument got the ball rolling on a theory about mind control, Kagari’s desire to properly apologize to Suzuha is the unfortunate side-effect. Kagari’s trip to the sweet shop isolates her from everyone else, who in hindsight are wayyy to loosy-goosy with her security at this point.

Indeed, in his desire for more clear answers about what’s going on, Rintarou is far, far away; in no position to keep her safe.

She hears the Mozart from the van (which is either planted there by “Them” to play specifically for her, or sheer coincidence) and more memories flow into her head: memories of being left with “doctors” by Mayuri, ostensibly to cure her PTSD, but the visits really comprise a kind of human experiment called the “Amadeus System”, of which Kagari is Sample #K6205.

The shock of this influx of memory sends Kagari into a trancelike state, and she drops the cake for Suzuha and her cell phone and wanders off who-knows-where, believing she’s hearing “the voice of God.” More likely, it’s the voice of those who did this to her to begin with.

Combined with Rintarou and Kiryuu discovering the facility, where Kagari was held in a cell for who knows how long, scrawling “Mommy” on the walls, Kagari’s vanishing from everyone’s sight (again) forms one hell of a thrilling cliffhanger for the second half of Steins;Gate 0.

While we may now know mostly what’s been done to Kagari, it remains to be seen who did it, why, and most important, how Kagari is linked to Maho and Leskinen’s Amadeus System. Was Kagari even a war orphan from the future? Will there really be enough cups and plates? We shall see…

Hinamatsuri – 09 – A Tropical Vacay, a Promotion…and a Funeral

If Hina had simply been sent home via orb, none of the hilarity this week would have transpired. Chalk that up to an “organization” that is way more incompetent than you’d expect of an entity that deals with girls with terrifying telekinetic abilities. You’d think there’d have been some kind of revolt at this point.

Consider Mao: the “shy but capable” courier meant to deliver a new orb to Kei for Hina to use to return home (so that’s not off the table like it is for the officially-dead Anzu). Only Mao is transported to a remote tropical island just north of Indonesia, and both her orb and the spare for Hina are washed away within moments of arriving.

From there, the first act is a one-woman homage to Cast Away starring Ozawa Ari as Mao. She certainly is capable, able to survive just fine for days thanks to her ability (though why’d it take twelve days to make clothes?) Like Tom Hanks, she makes a friend—two friends, Anzu and Hina—out of coconuts. Unlike Tom Hanks, she voices both of them.

Weeks pass, and like Hanks, her hair gets longer and she develops a more stoicly intense look, while her “friends” have grown bodies. But eventually she snaps, tosses the coconuts—which are not her real friends, but just, well coconuts—off a cliff, and does what she should have done weeks ago: builds a raft and sails for the mainland (though ends up in Thailand, not Japan).

With Hina’s departure again indefinitely on hold, we move on to Nitta. He and Sabu have been ordered to pick up Nitta’s former brother Naito “The Slayer” from prison. With the president in a coma prior to naming a successor, an idiotic little power struggle plays out, thanks in equal part to Hina and Sabu.

Nitta manages to convince Naito not to challenge the lieutenant, but when Gramps wakes up and names Nitta his successor (to placate Hina, to whom he’s taken a shine), Sabu has too quick a text trigger. Both the lieutenant and Naito believe Nitta played them to steal the throne. Nitta sets the old man straight and the lieutenant is reinstalled two minutes later, but Sabu never texts this to the still-enraged lieutenant.

Before he knows it, Nitta is encased in an oil drum full of hardened concrete, with the LT and Naito ready to make him swim with the fishes. But Sabu’s chronic nausea is the first sign something is amiss. Nita’s failure to “nut up and go out like a villain” is another.

The president arrives just in time to corroborate Nitta’s defense. Once the LT and Naito realize they jumped the gun (with Sabu continuing to vomit but not own up to causing this) it’s needless to say an awkward situation. The LT decides to promote Nita to replace him on the spot, and everyone cheers him…but he just wants to be let out of the damn concrete. Where’s Hina when you need her?

Well, she and Nitta are apparently fine now after she walked in on his “one-man party.” We know this because there’s a helpful side note at the bottom of the screen. And that’s fine with me; that shortcut enables us to move on to something funnier: Hina planning a celebration for Nitta’s promotion.

She reaches out to virtually all of her amassed acquaintances, who all have different suggestions. I particularly liked Mika’s suggestion of booze…while drinking booze, stating she’s always celebrating the fact she was born, which is a slick way to excuse her alcoholism! A woman after my heart…

Hina can’t decide which persons advice to use, so she combines them. However, she isn’t able to procure booze, and spends so much on flowers she cans afford a cake, so makes one out of salt

Hinamatsuri – 08 – Getting Angry at Balls

When a serious-looking woman with black boots and gloves arrives in town (fully-clothed-Terminator-style) asking Anzu for Hina’s whereabouts, it felt like the beginning of the end for Hina’s stay with Nitta…for about five minutes.

Then we learn that while Ikaruga Kei looks the part of a badass punative field officer, Anzu has to keep her from constantly taking shortcuts in her duties, and she’s terrified of clashing with Hina, who apparently destroyed a city when she lost control one day.

Ikaruga’s duties aren’t even that involved or complicated; as Anzu says, anyone could follow Hina and check off boxes that determine whether she’s still out of control (she isn’t). As for Anzu herself? When she never returned due to her travel orb getting ruined in the wash, she was declared KIA and is now free to live her best life.

Ikaruga ultimately gives up when both the novice and advanced-level questionnaires reveal Hina has changed and grown, but later reads an addendum that stipulates if she gets over a 90% score, it means she can, and should, return “home”, wherever that is; thankfully the show never says. Ikaruga also has a dog, thanks to a failed gambit to get Hina to fail a question about caring for animals.

Meanwhile, Hina continues going to school where she mostly eats and sleeps. However, despite having a broken leg she still has cleaning duty, and a classmate witnesses her using telekinesis to toss out the garbage. Not just any classmate, but Shinjou Mami, who is obsessed with magic and the occult.

Mami believes she’s made a monumental discovery, but has heard what the ominous “Organization” did to the last person to speak out about it, and so intends to tread carefully. At the end of the day, however, she just comes right out and directly confronts Hina, who does not deny her powers.

Mami quickly befriends Hina and decides to become the disciple to the master, even though Hina’s powers are non-transferrable. Watching Mami try all day to lift a rock on her own, Hina lifts it for her out of a desire to leave the riverbank since it’s getting late.

That only makes things worse for Mami, who believes she lifted the rock (and later rocks), and despite not being able to lift anything when Hina’s not around, she quickly gets full enough of herself to make a big show of her powers in class, which ends in abject failure and humiliation.

Eventually Ikaruga confronts Hina, who is celebrating her leg being healed with a big chocolate parfait, and tells her she has to go home. Hina doesn’t want to, but she’s grown to the point where she knows the value of orders, and will obey them in this case, to Ikaruga’s shock.

That means she has to drop the news to Nitta that she’s leaving, and the novelty tees she wears that say “BYEBYE” and “SAYONARA” don’t do the trick. She levitates and flies around in place until she’s nauseous trying to think of the best way.

After a brace of medical tests comes up, Nitta finally demands she tell him what’s up. He responds by taking her out for one last ikura bowl before driving her to the spot where she’ll meet with Ikaruga. Nitta is honest in his parting words, telling Hina she’s been a royal pain in the ass, but he nevertheless really enjoyed the time they had together.

That puts a rare joyful smile on Hina’s face…but she’s obviously not going anywhere. After all, the “Orb” in which she arrived at Nitta’s apartment—and in which he got stuck and had to stew in his own urine all night—was discarded (with other non-burnable trash) and is now lost and possibly destroyed. No orb, no return home.

Hina’s, and the episode’s, return to the status quo is marked when she reappears at Nitta’s to learn that he is holding a New Year “Without Hina” Party…all by himself. She interrupts the start of his explanation with a grave “NOT COOL.”

Between the sometimes lazy security chief Ikaruga and the would-be disciple Mami, we got two solid new players in this world of complex characters who each command their share of laughs with both their actions and their inner thoughts.

I also enjoyed little moments like when Anzu and Ikaruga muse on what should be done with the dog, or Mami’s mom standing in the hall. While it might well have been interesting for Hina to actually go home, by not doing so the show preserves the mystery of that place and the organization that administrates it.

I don’t mind learning how “powered” girls need the Orbs to travel…but I don’t really need to get too deep into the workings of the other world. I dig the mystique. Plus, there’s plenty to do right here on Earth.

Steins;Gate 0 – 02 – Okabe Chooses Not to Run While He Still Can

When Dr. Leskinen (through Hiyajou Maho) announces he’s about to demonstrate an AI developed from memories stored as data, and there’s a bit of a delay before the Amadeus program starts up, a skeptic stands up and deems such a venture “insanity,” calling into question the research of a 17-year-old like the late Makise Kurisu.

He’s quickly rebuffed, not by Leskinen or Hiyajou, but by Okabe, who won’t stand by silently and let such slander pass. All scientific advances are borne from a desire to make the impossible possible, after all. With his outburst he gains the attention and applause of Leskinen.

Then the Amadeus demonstration proceeds, with an AI version of Hiyajou using her memories from four days ago splashes across the screen, making discreet observations about the room around her and also forgetting certain information. It really is Hiyajou from four days in the past…sort of.

At the social event that follows the seminar, Okabe and Hiyajou both end up in an isolate corner together, neither very good at such functions…and they find an easy, casual chemistry together. Hiyajou is an adult, and thus able to overlook Okabe’s initial misunderstanding about her age due to her stature.

When she discusses some of the problems she and Leskinen are still having with Amadeus, Okabe is reminded of Kurisu’s lecture about Top-down memory search signals, impressing Hiyajou. He then admits he can converse about such things because he was a friend of Kurisu’s.

She was more of a kohai to Hiyajou, but when they discuss her at length she can’t help but tear up, as it’s clear she cherished her kohai deeply; Okabe doesn’t look far behind with the tears, but manages to maintain his composure.

Leskinen then cuts into the conversation, and when he learns Okabe was a friend of Kurisu, he suggests to Hiyajou that they should introduce him to another Amadeus AI program they’re working on…using the eight month-old memories and taking the form of none other than Makise Kurisu.

Okabe thought he’d never see or hear Kurisu ever again, but after seeing how closely Hiyajou’s version of Amadeus emulated her living counterpart, it’s a stunning proposition. Hiyajou warns that the closer he was to Kurisu, the crueler meeting her Amadeus version will be.

Still, Okabe can’t resist accepting the invitation to the Brain Science Institute, where Hiyajou is waiting outside for him and guides him inside, all the while continuing to warn him that he may be in for a thoroughly heartbreaking experience—especially if he knew her better than Hiyajou.

The venue in which Okabe is poised to meet the digital “ghost” of Kurisu couldn’t be more spartan: a drab room empty save for an unassuming PC station with a single shortcut on the desktop. Hiyajou clicks on the application and steps aside for Okabe to behold.

Okabe reacts how one expected him to, and how anyone who’d just seen a ghost of a loved one might react. Part shock and despair, but also part wonder and relief. Leskinen and Hiyajou really did make the impossible possible; at least what Okabe had concluded would be impossible.

However, this Kurisu of the Beta World Line of eight months ago does not remember Okabe. Considering Miyajou’s Amadeus counterpart couldn’t remember the pajamas she wore a week ago, perhaps that’s part of the human flaws inherent in the program? Then again, perhaps not; it’s likelier the Kurisu whose data they used simply hadn’t met him yet—to say nothing of falling in love.

Speaking of love, “Amakurisu” is sharp enough to sense the nice vibes coming off of Hiyajou and Okabe, and briefly takes Hiyajou aside to address that observation, much to Hiyajou’s chagrin. Her blushing at the party and here suggest she has at least a passing affinity for the former Mad Scientist, something Amakurisu picked up on almost immediately; a testament to the program’s sophistication.

Amakurisu’s response to Okabe’s first question put to her—about what she thinks about the possibility of constructing a time machine—is actually different from the answer he got from the real Kurisu. The late Kurisu dismissed such machines as impossible, but Amakurisu adds the caveat that her belief in their impossibility doesn’t mean they actually are impossible, just that the crucial discovery that would make them possible has yet to be found.

Were she willing to dismiss the possibility of such a discovery, she’d be scarcely better than the skeptic Okabe took down back at the seminar. Okabe wonders if the difference in views is a matter of the difference between world lines, but it could also be a product of Amadeus having learned through conversations with Leskinen and Hiyajou, thus making her a being distinct from the person whose memories form her foundation.

When Leskinen makes an appearance and greets Okabe in English, Okabe’s attempt to respond in English nets him criticism from Amakurisu, causing him to instinctively call her “Christina”, something he does a couple more times, confusing everyone around them but also piquing their curiosity.

Ultimately, Leskinen wants Okabe to be a “tester”, talking with Amadeus on a semi-regular basis so they can collect more data than if just he and Hiyajou continued chatting with her (plus they’re running out of things to talk about, so “fresh blood” is crucial to the program). To that end, they give him an app that not only allows him to contact Amakurisu, but allows her to call him whenever “she” likes.

And she does just that…calling him eight times; the last few attempts occurring while Okabe is on a walk with Mayushii, who is planning a Christmas party to cheer Suzuha up and thinks Okabe should attend so he and Suzuha can make up. Mayushii notices someone calling him repeatedly and steps aside to let him address it.

When Okabe finally answers her call, Amakurisu is not pleased, and Okabe can’t help but admit that she really is Makise Kurisu, all stubborn and moody and spunky and wonderful. Sure, it’s not really her, but it’s most definitely a version of her, and having lived the last few months with a grey cloud over his head, there’s surely overwhelming comfort in the “next best thing”.

I’m frankly bowled over by the amount of material just the first two episodes of Steins;Gate 0 has managed to cover, and how deeply involved and invested I already am in this very bittersweet story. Yahagi Sayuri does some really fine work as Hiyajou, and just hearing Imai Asami’s voice again nearly brought tears to my eyes. We’re off to a stirring start.

Overlord II – 09

While Sebas, Brain and Climb agree to take on the brothel together, they take different entrances, with Sebas going right in the front door, tearing through any hapless resistance, and delivering swift justice to the fat bastard whose name isn’t worth remembering. Epsilon might not care what pitiful humans do to other pitiful humans, but Sebas definitely has a soft spot for the weak and helpless.

Meanwhile, it isn’t long before Brain and Climb split up, and Climb happens to end up in the very room where Succulent (one of the Six Arms) and Cocco Doll (human slavery extraordinaire) happen to emerge from a secret entrance. Climb figures out Succulent’s trick, combining swordsmanship, invisibility, and illusion to show his opponent a fake arm, a fake sword, and even fake clones of himself.

Succulent’s just a half-step ahead of Climb, and delivers what should be a fatal wound, but like his encounter with Sebas’ killing strike, Climb summons the power of his love and devotion to Princess Renner to stand up and hold out just long enough until Brain arrives. Brain has the boy heal himself while he takes care of Sucky with one strike, showing just how far ahead of Climb he is in pure swordsmanship.

With that, Sebas appears and the three celebrate the apprehension of Succulent and Cocco and the taking down of a truly awful brothel. It’s all in a day’s work for Sebas, but he still has to come home to learn Solution has tattled on him; Lord Ains is waiting for him (though no doubt Ains will be proud of what Sebas did). Back at the palace, Climb gives a full report to a worried-sick Renner.

Brain celebrates by having drinks and a meal with his new best bud Gazef, telling him that despite Climb’s obvious lack of talent, he might just exceed his own pure will to live and fight, judging both from his scrapes with Sebas and Succulent.

As for Renner, after she sees Climb off, she summons a maid she suspects “made fun” of Climb with the intent to kill her and anyone else who would do such a thing, revealing a heretofore unseen sinister side. I kinda like how she’s not some pure naive princess, but has her own dark side…it makes me worry a lot less about the five remaining Six Arms we meet. If they want a knock-down, drag-0ut fight, Renner is most definitely game.

Overlord II – 08

Climb and Blue Rose prepare to go to battle with Eight Fingers, and Climb mentions his little sparring session with the great Stronoff. He wants Evileye to train him in magic, but she doesn’t think he’s ready or talented enough; Gagaran notes that Evileye is simply worried about Climb.

Evileye also mentions the fact that their colleague Lakyus may be having trouble controlling the cursed sword in her possession, and that leads to the mention of Momon and a quick overview of their great deeds. While they may be rivals, Evileye might also see them as potential allies in the fight against the Fingers.

Meanwhile, Sebas walks the city streets thinking about the position he’s in, and more specifically what needs to be done to keep Tsuare safe from her former tormentors. A haughty jackass happens to be stomping on a poor kid who happened to bump into him when Sebas arrives to put the bully in his place. Not only does climb witness Sebas’ good deed (and his fancy moves), but so does Brain Unglaus.

Climb tracks Sebas down and begs him to teach him the move he saw. Sebas does a quick character survey of Climb, learning from his hands, his sword, and his words that he’s a decent chap, then warning him that the move he shows him could kill him if he has no one he cherishes and vows to protect.

Climb has Princess Renner, so there should be no problem, but still…damn, Sebas is scary when you’re his target, even in a supposed training session. Climb manages not to die of shock, and proves he’s a loyal and true servant to his mistress. Brain witnesses all of this and introduces himself to Sebas and Climb…just as five assassins from Eight Fingers come for Sebas.

Now, I have no doubt that Sebas could have easily taken all five attackers on his own, but one doesn’t turn down an extra pair of hands, so he lets Brain and Climb take on two of the five. They handle themselves pretty well despite Climb’s greenness and Brain’s rust.

Sebas then decides to head to the brothel where he rescued Tsuare and nip things in the bud, and Climb and Brain join him. I must say, it’s an inspired party, and I look forward to seeing what they can do. I just wish this show didn’t look so dang rough.