Sonny Boy – 05 – The Creator

If you thought Sonny Boy was going to pick up right where it left off with the Bond Girl-like arrival of a teacher (like ahem me) well…you haven’t been paying proper attention. Sonny Boy, you see, picks up where and when it feels like it: in this case, a 2D Pac-Man-like world that Nagara, Nozomi, Asakaze and Mizuho manipulate in order to “liberate” all of the digital mice.

Their “reward” for “conquering” (i.e. clearing) this world is a corded desktop mouse with the power to unravel things, from computer code to sweaters. Turns out each time a world is conquered, a new power is “unlocked”. Back at Rajdhani’s lab on the beach, he’s recording and cataloguing all of the team’s successes and failures, gradually narrowing down what can and can’t be done…slowly unraveling the big tangle that is their predicament.

The rest of the class probably would have tolerated this as long as they were kept fed and busy, but along came that Aki-sensei, who claims to have been sent by “God” and only seems to be their to stir up some shit. She immediately plays favorites with Asakaze, and encourages him to take up the mantle of the class’s savior. With him, she’s less Swiss Family Robinson and more Mrs. Robinson.

She also insists that no matter what they do, none of the students will ever be able to return home. She also assigns a scapegoat in Nagara, cultivating the idea that the only one of them with the power to teleport was trying to escape the world they came from, and happened to drag them all along with him. The StuCo brings Nagara before the class, but due to his social anxiety and ineloquence, his answers only make them more suspicious and angry, and even Hoshi can’t sway them to take it easy.

Happily, Nagara at least gets a small respite from all the finger-pointing when he joins Nozomi for some nighttime fishing. When she spots “guardian angels” in the otherwise inky black water, she dives in without hesitation, and pulls Nagara in with her. Under the water they soon become surrounded by a shimmering silver school of minnows, a wondrous and beautiful moment in an episode full of bleak cynicism. Nagara is glad he jumped in. He’s also glad he met Nozomi.

Things go south when Nagara is again confronted by the class, with Aki-sensei apparently trying to get everyone to turn against him as the one villain on whom they can pin all their blames. One student even shoves Nagara to the ground, causing him to run away once again. As she pulls Nagara down she builds Asakaze up, as he demonstrates he can cut through the world Nagara teleported them to and return to the island.

But that’s the first clue that Nagara’s power isn’t actually teleportation. He ends up escaping to a burned version of the island from before they set up a barter system that obeyed the world’s rules of fair exchange. Nozomi, Mizuho, and Rajdhani end up being able to travel to this burned island where they find Nagara. Mizuho in particular masks her genuine concern for him by being super prickly with him upon their reunion.

But the fact that the burned island wasn’t healed, but a second island created, seals one of the many theories Rajdhani’s simmering in his head: Nagara isn’t a teleporter…he’s a creator. Each and every one of the worlds they’ve visited was made from his power.

With Aki-sensei grooming Asakaze into Nagara’s nemesis, destroyer of those worlds, and savior of the class, all while painting Nagara as the devil, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before things boil over into something ugly.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 04 – Monkey League

While cliff-jumping into a pool of…voidness, Nagara is almost dashed on the rocks, but his latent power kicks in, transporting him and everyone else seemingly back home, if only for a moment. Everyone, especially Asakaze, is convinced that Nagara can get them home if he would just give a shit and try. The thing is, I’m not sure Nagara cares what world he’s in. He’s just not tied to the world he came from like some.

But enough about that; let’s play some baseball. Yep, after Nagara and Mizuho’s friendship was forged in last week’s buddy detective story, this week is a straight-up sports episode. Turns out there’s a baseball diamond on the island, which is used by a league of mysterious invisble monkeys who were taught the rules of baseball. Cap bends everyone’s ears off singing the praises of that noble league.

Nozomi and Mizuho, who settle into a nice rapport this week, are eager to see these monkeys, requiring a special flashlight only Ace, the pitching star, possesses. His girlfriend, however, doesn’t like Mizuho or Nozomi, so no dice. Ace decides to challenge the two girls and Nagara to a one-inning game. If they win, they get the flashlight. If he wins, well…he only whispers to Nagara whe he gets in return.

The ensuring three-batter game starts as you’d expect, with Mizuho wildly whiffing far too late to catch up to Ace’s fastballs, followed by a more capable but still outmatched Nozomi striking out. It’s all up to Nagara, who at no point throughout their rigorous practices had any confidence whatsoever he’d ever be able to hit one of Ace’s pitches.

Even so, the story of the Monkey League umpire who ruined an immaculate game for the pitcher, his team, and all of the amassed spectators resonates as Nagara prepares for the third pitch. That monkey umpire did not bend to the will of the people, but held fast tot he rules of the game as they stood.

His call was correct and just, but it didn’t matter; he was killed by the mob. Nagara ends up using his warp in the middle of his at bat and adopting a more assured stance, but still swings and misses for strike three.

That means Nagara has to do what Ace asked of him: use his power to warp him and everyone else home without delay. Ace, you see, wishes more than anything to return to the place where he’s “properly appreciated.” But since Nagara doesn’t share that wish, he’s unable to warp them back home. Indeed, he confirms he has little to no control over where he warps.

Just when Nagara was being primned to be the savior of the class, he lets most everyone down when they all return to the beach, having gotten all their hopes up and then dashed them. But just when they return, they spot a woman coming out of the surf: one of their teachers, Aki-sensei, who declares that the “fun and games” are over.

This was an episode that really got lost in its invented Monkey League lore and quick-and-dirty underdog sports story, but also managed to develop Nagara’s ability while giving us some fun Mizuho-Nozomi camaraderie. Still, Cap’s elaborate stories did go on a bit long, and if they referenced real-world Japanese baseball history, it went entirely over my head.

Bokutachi no Remake – 05 – Wings of Song

I know I almost always rag on a series doing a cultural festival episode, as they typically end up pretty formulaic. But at the same time, there’s a reason that formula often works so well: it raises the stakes for all the characters by making them do things outside their routines or comfort zones. Remake’s art festival gives us a ton of wonderful little moments, plus a couple of big ones with lasting ramifications.

Things start out in Nanako’s favor, as Kyouya is so supportive of her honing her singing, she instinctively falls into his arms—though she warn him later not to get “the wrong idea.” She’s similarly flustered when Kyouya first sees her in her outfit for the maid cafe, with her, Shinoaki, and Keiko each donning different styles. The cafe is such a success, they actually poach people who were going to watch the films.

One of those who came for the films but also stopped by the cafe is Eiko, whom Kyouya can’t quite mask his surprise for showing up to something that fundamentally doesn’t seem to be her thing. I really enjoy the interaction of Eiko and Kyouya as two people who did interact in Kyouya’s initial future (unlike the others)—I just wish she had more to do than try to apologize to Nanako, only for Kyouya to say theres no need, as her stern lecture helped Nanako more than it hurt her.

On the last day, Kyouya attends the visual art exhibition with Shinoaki, spots a painting that looks familiar, and when he studies the name tag he recognizes the name, then gets all dizzy and faints. Whether due to overwork, a side effect of his time travel, or a little of both, he wakes up in Shinoaki’s lap in a quite, private back room. It’s here where Shinoaki tells Kyouya how much his care and support and praise has helped her, and leans in for a kiss, only to be stopped an inch from Kyouya’s lips by a phone call.

There’s an emergency on the main stage, as the “secret guest” band got double-booked and will be a no-show. Keiko suggests they just ask around; it’s an art school, there are plenty of people who will want to perform on stage. But both Kyouya and the music professor believe Nanako can and should do it. Nanako disagrees, feels the pressure of all those people rejecting her, and flees the tent.

Kyouya chases after her while Tsurayuki keps the crowd busy with some clown tricks. Nanako expresses how terrified she is; he tells her she’s scared because she’s serious about doing a good job. And to assuage her fear about the crowd of hundreds, she shows her the YouTube page of her singing videos, which have quickly garnered tens of thousands of views and spirited discussion about the unique appeal of her voice.

Of course, we don’t learn that this is what Kyouya showed Nanako until after we see her take the stage in her maid outfit, give a meek introductory speech, and then kick into full Performance Mode. It only taks a couple of bars for the crowd to get drawn in, and before long, they’re dancing and swaying and fully on board. Nanako, in turn, feeds off their energy and truly shines. Kyouya knew she would, because she’s the famous N@NA from his time.

After her encore, a winded but joyful Nanako rushes to the tent to see Kyouya, who among the crowd of hundreds was likely the one person she was singing for, in addition to herself. But the others tell her Kyouya went off somewhere. We then see him with Shinoaki, who mustve gotten a little lightheaded as a result of all the hard work she’s done and the size and heat from the crowd. Shinoaki stands up so she and the seated Kyouya are of a height, and then leans in and finishes the first kiss they started earlier.

Nanako is just in time to witness this kiss, and watches Kyouya and Shinoaki looking every bit like a couple through the light of a fountain, holding crepes for her and Kyouya. You can see her post-performance high evaporate from her face, and her reflection in the babbling fountain is a nice visualization of how all of a sudden everything is out of sorts again, just when things seemed to be on the right track.

And all because despite herself she’s developed feelings for Kyouya, who let it be said is fully deserving of those feelings. It’s just, Shinoaki likes him too, and unlike Nanako she’s never tried to qualify or deny it. We’ll certainly see how this incident affects the group dynamic, and whether the official establishment of this love triangle will destroy what Kyouya believes he was brought back in time to do.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 11 – Beauty and the Least

After a TV-style cold open intro to Sakurasawa Sumi and her morning routine, which is the most we ever hear her talk, Kazuya meets her for their date, and he’s equally astonished by her innocent beauty and her social awkwardness. Seiyu Takahashi Rie does a great job with all of Sumi’s various flustered peeps.

What Kazuya soon learns (besides confirming the fact he really wants a real girlfriend) is that Sumi is working extremely hard to have as much fun doing things on their date as possible. It turns into a sports extravaganza, with Sumi giving her all (and mostly failing) at bowling, batting, soccer, rollerblading, etc.

Kazuya himself feels pretty useless and inept at helping Sumi with her problem, but he at least has the sack to rescue her from some leering punks, and she rewards him by holding hands and sharing her ice cream. When he comes back from a bathroom break, he’s shocked to find Mami sitting across from Sumi.

Mami spotted Kazuya with Sumi earlier in the date, and has been observing them ever since, much like Kazuya followed Mizuhara. He has to walk an extremely fine line with Mami since as far as she knows he’s with Mizuhara and this looks like two-timing, especially when Sumi clings to him as if defending her real boyfriend from a rival.

At least a partial truth would have probably sufficed: he’s helping Mizuhara’s friend, who is a rental girlfriend. But even that isn’t quite bulletproof, as it plants the idea that Mizuhara is also a rental, and if she were Kazuya’s real GF she wouldn’t have him going on dates with other girls, even for practice.

Kazuya’s date with Sumi ends well despite Mami’s interruption, and while Mami’s brother implies she’s messing around with another guy at college, she’s still fixated on Kazuya, and frustrated by that fact). Then it dawns on her: is he really dating Sumi? A quick search of Sumi’s name turns up her rental profile.

Just like that, the one person Kazuya wants to know about the truth the least has a pretty good idea anyway. He and Kuri are able to keep the secret about their respective GFs from Kibe, but with Mizuhara out on rental dates in the same place they’re hanging out, that too is a tenuous fiction.

Bottom line, something’s got to give, and with only one episode left after this one, something will! That night Kazuya gets another impromptu balcony meeting with Mizuhara, which I believe to be their best and most genuine interactions, because they don’t put on airs. She thanks him for helping Sumi, who was over the moon from their date, but also tells Kazuya she’s thinking about quitting the rental biz once her acting career picks up some momentum.

That said, she’s not in a hurry to quit yet, and will be honoring the promise she made to him to be his girlfriend a bit longer. She even has a date in the morning, and so turns in early, only to discover that her date, one “Maya”, is actually Mami! The jig is now well and truly up—unless Mizuhara insists to Mami that despite her rental job, she’s Kazuya’s real girlfriend, or something to that effect.

I for one am hoping that most if not all of the lies stop next week (if Mami fails to secure a second season, that is), no matter the consequences. Kazuya and Mizuhara have been shuffling their feet all this time, and it’s time to put up or shut up. And then there’s Ruka…

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 10 – Who Rents the Rented?

Ruka got a job at the same karaoke parlor as Kazuya, and the boss loves her so she’s not going anywhere. Ruka believes she can “close the gap” if she’s in close proximity to him in a “Chizuru-free zone” unlike his apartment where she’s right next door.

Having Ruka around reminds him of how he aided in the breaking of Kuri’s heart when Ruka Kuri him to date him. Whether it was right for Kuri to pretend Ruka was his real girlfriend, the fact is he really liked her, and Kazuya is worried the heartbreak will make him distrust or even hate women the rest of his life.

That’s probably selling Kuri too short, but Kuri’s creepy private Twitter account and Kibe’s worries suggest he’s in a deep slump. Flush with cash from his job (and not wanting to anger Ruka by going on a rental date with Chizuru), Kazuya decides to do something he hopes will help cheer his friend up: he pays for Chizuru to go on a rental date…with Kuri.

At first Kuri is simply confused: why would his friend’s girlfriend be going on a date with him? Then he sees how perfect and accommodating Chizuru is and gets self-conscious, to the point he considers Kazuya is playing an elaborate (and cruel) prank. But at some point he realizes he’s having so much fun, it doesn’t matter whether Chizuru is a real or rental date.

Being with someone as lovely as Chizuru restores his faith in women and makes him want a real girlfriend of his own again. That evening Kazuya pops out of the bushes, not to break up the date, but to apologize to Kuri for how things went down with Ruka. He also owns up the fact that he was lying too: Chizuru isn’t his real girlfriend.

While this puts him and Kuri on the same level, that doesn’t stop Kuri from laughing at him and mocking him all the same, which leads to some playful mutual ribbing. However, more than anything Kuri is relieved, and Kazuya’s plan worked, he’s genuinely cheered up. Such is the power of Chizuru. As fo Kuri’s parting question to her—about whether she’d fall for a rental date—Chizuru simply beams as Asakusa glows behind her and says “Who knows?”

Chizuru’s opinion of Kazuya must have improved upon being asked to help him cheer Kuri up. Not only is it proof he doesn’t only ever think of himself and his own gratification, but also that he’s willing to risk embarassing himself if it means owning up to the truth. In this regard, telling Kuri was a practice run for telling their grandmothers, which is still presumably going to happen at some point.

Finally, his request confirms to Chizuru that Kazuya is a guy she can trust to go on a different kind of practice run: Her rental girlfriend colleague Sakurasawa Sumi is just starting out in the business, but has received complaints (and likely poor ratings) for being far too shy.

On their adjacent balconies the next night, she asks him to go on a date with Sumi, trusting he’ll be both kind and impartial. In addition her request, which Kazuya accepts, Chizuru asks about how things are going in his love life completely unbidden, which takes him aback.

All this time she’s been keeping him at arms length, but their talk about his (lack of) progress with Mami looks and awful lot like a legitimate friendship between two people, romance aside. And while it’s late in the game to introduce a fourth girl, I’m looking forward to Takahashi Rie’s take on Sumi.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 29 – The Great Japanese Baking Show

Sakura is on a cake-baking kick since learning she’ll be baking them in home-ec class. One of the many many things her dad is good at is baking cakes, so he gives her a few pointers. Sakura especially wants to bake a cake for Yukito to try, while Meiling simply wants a wedding cake for her and Syaoran to share. Since they’re definitely getting married. For sure.

Syaoran and Sakura actually have the same idea to observe professional cake-makers at one of the local bakeries, and happen upon Yukito, who lets them know that he’s down for any cake, any time. I must admit it’s been a little disheartening to see Sakura and Syaoran both expend so much energy trying to woo someone who isn’t interested in either of them. Meanwhile poor Meiling is so eager to have a cake ready for Syaoran when he comes home she ends up burning it, earning nothing but his ire.

When the big baking day comes, everyone seemingly brings their A-game…only when everything comes out of the oven and is ready to taste, it’s all way too sweet. Sakura doesn’t understand how she and Tomoyo screwed up, or how everyone could have screwed up at once. Back at Chez Li, Syaoran finally gives Meiling some kind words, telling her it’s not her fault the cake was too sweet.

He’s not just saying that; he sensed a Clow Card in operation, and eventually so does Sakura—and Mizuki-sensei for that matter. When their home-ec class bakes another round of cakes, the Sakura and Syaoran hang back, and eventually get a glimpse of the Sweet card.

She may just be the most adorable card yet, tiny and fairy-like, and able to not just turn cakes sweeter, but turn anything into sweets, from the chalkboard to the stools. Sakura devises a plan with a trail of salt in order to trap Sweet without hurting her and then sealing her back into card form. To her and everyone’s delight, everyone’s cake turns out great as a result.

Sakura also ends up winning the Yukitostakes-of-the-Week by getting her cake to Yukito first, causing Syaoran to glare ruefully at the two through a fence. It’s a shame, because Yukito would have likely accepted cake from him and enjoyed it just fine. We’ve seen how the kid can pack it away!

Meiling comes to comfort him, but he’s got a one-track mind, and that track is Yukito. Honestly I felt pretty bad for Meiling. Granted, Syaoran never asked her to follow him to Japan, and she can be a haughty pest, but his aggressive indifference towards her borders on cruel here. Despite being an episode full of sweets, that fact left a rather bitter taste in my mouth.

Oregairu 3 – 03 – Prommin’ It Up Like “Yay!”

Before Yukino and Yui and Iroha, there was Totsuka Saika and Hiratsuka-sensei. Oregairu finally gets around to having some sustained scenes between these two and Hikki, but the fact they’re in the margins is proof that Hiratsuka-sensei’s gambit paid off, and Hikki has truly branched out socially. To that end, Hiratsuka-sensei seems poised to leave the school, while Hikki is disappointed Saika can’t find an opening in his schedule for a long-belated date.

Their chat is interrupted by Saki suddenly running out, and the two boys run after her. As expected, Komachi has passed her entry exam, and she collapses into her big bro’s bosom with tears of joy and relief. Saki is also pleased that Taichi passed, though she initially acts like she can’t believe it. When Taichi (re-)introduces himself, Hikki promptly tells him not to call him “onii-chan.”

The subject being a big brother (and having little sisters) is something on which Hikki has very strong and unwavering opinions. When Iroha comes to him hoping to get him to help her out with the prom preparations, he warns Iroha not to rely on Yukino, who doesn’t have the stamina for her workaholic pretensions.

Iroha labels Hikki as overprotective, like a big bro or even dad would be, but notes that no girl is “happy being treated like a little sister.” To Hikki, there is only one woman for whom he is a big brother, and that’s Komachi, because she literally is his little sister. Anyone who uses those terms for anything else needs to “repent”.

Hikki dispenses with Iroha’s notion that he’d one day try to flirt with her by stating “I can’t think of you as a little sister anymore”, and Iroha acknowledges it, albeit not with a little bit of her usual “polite-rejection” act. Iroha gets Hikki to help her out, but not because she’s his little sister.

It’s clear Hikki kept his distance from prom prep in part because Yukino really wanted to pull this off on her own, but there’s another more practical reason: he was out of the comms loop due to his virtual non-participation in social media. No matter; if he’s not clear what a “prom” is, Yukino, Yui, and Iroha are fully prepared to show him.

Yukino wants to film some marketing materials for the prom to be used both on social and the official school website. To that end, she’s fitted out the gym/auditorium in full prom regalia, while various boys and girls have been recruited to portray prom-goers dancing and having fun.

This also means dressing the part, and Yukino, not wanting to tax a potential prom king, decides to portray the king herself, in an a suit and tailcoat that’s dapper all get out! I LOL’d at Hikki describing his reflection as a washed-up pianist, but Yukino’s adjustments of his cufflinks and handkerchief make a big difference.

And then there’s Yui, whose gorgeous black-and-white dress is being adjusted by Saki and who does her makeup like this is the real thing. She even feels too self-conscious when Hikki is staring at her intently, but once they’re out on the floor, the lights go down and the music comes up, Yui gets some genuine giddy joy out of this dry-run practice prom, because at least for a few lovely moments, she’s in the arms of the man she likes.

As for Hikki, when the lights turn from blue to red, the music bpms go up and the dancing get more playful and primal, he stands off from the crowd. Now he gets the gist of the prom…and that it’s just not his thing at all! I don’t know how or even if the real prom will resolve the Hikki-Yukino-Yui triangle, but on the matter of Yukino Gettin’ Shit Done, it’s mission accomplished so far!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 12 – Endless HOEEEight

A decade before “Endless Eight” there was “Sakura’s Never-Ending Day”. The episode starts out normally enough, with Sakua’s dad being a guest teacher. Some shows (Including The Simpsons) would play “parent teaching kid’s class” for embarassment, but this isn’t your typical show, and Sakura beams with pride at her dad’s academic prowess. He also enthralls Syaoran with his lecture on ancient Egypt—only for Syaoran to learn whose dad he is!

The next day, Sakura has a recorder test for which she didn’t prepare. She messes up a bit but Tomoyo  encourages her and she gets through it without being expelled or barred from future employment. While she celebrates that night with her dad and brother (who also had an exam that day) she’s frustrated when she goes to bed, only to be awoken at midnight by the bell of the school’s clock tower—unheard of at such an hour.

The next day, the events of the previous day repeat, and the only she seems to notice. Since she practiced the part she messed up on, she does better at the recorder test, but having to take the test again still sucks. Syaoran ends up kicking an errant soccer ball into goal from fifty yards away, but in a different way, as he too notices things are repeating and concludes it’s a Clow Card.

That night, donning a the green and yellow fairy-style battle costume (which we first saw at Tomoyo’s house in the previous episode) Sakura takes flight and heads to the bell to secure the card, only for it to slow her and Kero-chan down to a claw (resulting in some distorted voices). When midnight strikes the day rewinds once more.

After living the same day a third time, Sakura, Kero and Tomoyo return again that night and encounter Syaoran there, who suggests a stealthier approach. I figured Shadow would come into play, but instead Sakura sneaks closer to Time and casts Shield to protect her from its time magic.

After a short chase, it’s Syaoran who manages to trap Time from escaping with his lightning magic, so that even when Sakura secures the Clow Card, it passes her over and flies into the hand of a very smug Syaoran, it’s new rightful owner due to a technicality.

Frankly, Syaoran needed a win in order to remain credible as, you know, an actual rival to Sakura as opposed to a guy who always gets the short end of the stick as comeuppance for his Sakura-negging. On the other hand, Time seems like a pretty powerful card that Sakura doesn’t have, and one he could use to collect more cards.

All that said, there can only be one Cardcaptor, and Sakura is the one with the staff. That, combined with the fact Sakura has a huge lead and many powerful cards at her disposal, means the two had better get used to cooperating in order to collect all the cards in an efficient manner.

On that note, as day-repetition episodes go, this was efficient yet satisfying, providing just enough of the temporal weirdness without overplaying the gimmick. It helped that Sakura understood what was happening pretty quickly and didn’t have to convince Tomoyo or anyone else. Sure, it could have been stretched across eight episodes and over 15,000 repetitions…but there’s other cards to capture!

Chihayafuru 3 – 16 – Karuta in the Streaming Age

No sooner does Chihaya lose to Suo (and be told the simple yet devastating two words “you can’t”) than Taichi is challenging him for a match of his own. Suo refuses until Taichi bribes him with sweets, and then Suo proceeds to beat him by fourteen cards. But Unlike Chihaya and most of Suo’s opponents, Taichi didn’t commit a single fault. That’s because Taichi is starting to want to play his karuta the same way: through the mistakes of his opponents.

Taichi also tells Suo that Chihaya isn’t really his boyfriend, which means now Suo thinks he has a chance with her. I’m sorry but I could not care less about this creep’s further attempts to woo someone who is already thoroughly in love with someone/thing (more on that later). What I do like? Chihaya wasting no time reporting to Harada about a possible weakness in Suo’s game.

Christmas Eve arrives, and the karuta club celebrates at the Tsukaba residence. This party feels like it could have been a lot longer and probably should have been. Not a whole episode, mind you, but at least half of one. Chihaya’s appearance as Santa comes and goes so fast there’s barely any time to process it.

But more than the hasty Chihaya-as-Santa cameo, the party just isn’t given any time to breathe the way slice-of-life scenes should, especially when Desktomu tells Chihaya how he considers the club a family, and they all consider Tsukaba’s little brothers their own little brothers.

When Christmas arrives, Shinobu spends it practicing in her hoity-toity family’s reception room, drawing her mother’s ire. Shinobu considers karuta to be more her family than her mother, but her grandmother likely scores some family points by letting Shinobu keep practicing and even writing on the tatami with a marker!

Shinobu is desperate to practice because she missed the Fall tournaments with illnesses, and she’s rusty. She also has no choice but to look towards the future she must discuss at high school, although because it’s a school full of “rich girls” the counselor kinda half-asses it. When Shinobu said she’d have “nothing” if she loses the queen match, it made me sad, but also made me wish she had a home that accepted her foibles, and the proper guidance at school.

New Years and the next week after that pass by in a flash, and the day of the Master and Queen tournaments arrives. There’s notably less pomp and spectacle at Omi Jingu since NHK decided it would not televise the matches live on TV. Tsukaba fears it’s a sign that karuta is “in decline”, but Desktomu assures him, the opposite is true.

Karuta has found a larger, younger audience via online streaming, and there’s more interaction thanks to the live chat. The first year of this change comes with a very convincingly intimidating challenger in Harada, a shifty creeper in Master Suo, an adorable mother in Inokuma, and the ethereal-yet-also-goofy-haired Queen Shinobu—so there’s plenty to chat about besides karuta!

As for Chihaya, she’ll be watching the matches in person for the first time, and had expected/hoped Arata would be there too. Alas, he’s come down with a fever. In a way, they both have. As their mutual love of both karuta and one another ever-so-gradually untangles, it seems to be affecting both their games. Chihaya notes how warm she feels just by dialing Arata’s number and talking to him for a minute, and feels like she’d “blow up” if he were really there.

This episode’s breathless progression through the holidays made for some odd pacing I wasn’t really a fan of, while Suo continues to cast a pall on the whole show with his eccentric unpleasantness. As such, this is the first episode of Chihayafuru’s third season I cannot enthusiastically endorse. That said, if the Master and Queen challenger matches were any indication, the impending Master and Queen tournaments should be lit.

P.S. Chihaya mentions in her inner monologue that she’ll never wear earbuds lest they hurt her hearing, but does so while riding on a train. Trains, and especially subway cars, can get pretty piercingly loud. Just sayin’!

Chihayafuru 3 – 15 – Crushed Like Autumn Leaves Underfoot

Chihaya can’t concentrate on studying for final exams because she’s still stunned from Arata’s confession and news he’s planning to attend college in her neck of the woods. While Taichi may have somewhat of a clue why she’s so distracted, only Oe and Sumire heard the confession with their own ears.

Sumire insists that they not tell Taichi, but just watch things unfold. She’s glad there’s finally some movement in what had been a completely log-jammed love triangle, and is hopeful things work out with Arata and Chihaya so she can be the one to swoop in and claim Taichi.

Later, Sumire is frank in her selfishness, and in being okay with the fact dating Taichi means he first must have his heart crushed like autumn leaves. But she can’t change the fact she loves Taichi and wants to be with him, and Arata may have finally given her an assist in that department.

Alas, she and Oe are only partially interpreting the source of Chihaya’s stunned state. Yes, Arata is part of it, but so is karuta. As has always been the case, her love of both has been so intertwined as to make it hard, especially for someone with zero romantic experience, to tell the two apart.

Quite suddenly, Chihaya gets a call from Suo via Sudo Akito agreeing to have a match with her, and all of a sudden she’s broken out of one trance…and into another. She finally sees Suo in a new environment, doted upon by his fellow karuta players at the practice facility, and even occasionally yelling.

Getting to play the Master is a trip for Chihaya, and you can’t blame her. Since she’s never played him before one-on-one, she has no idea what she’s in for, and even though she mimicked him as best she could, she was not prepared for the level of psychological warfare he directs at his opponents before, during, and after a match.

She loses by fourteen cards, but by the end of the match she’s notably encouraged by the strong finish she had and the fact she never lost heart…that is until Suo throws a bevy of compliments her way before crushing that heart like autumn leaves, telling her someone like her, pretty, positive, popular, “having a boyfriend”, can’t become Queen.

Chihya’s reaction is only shown for a few frames—not even a full second. She looks like she’s in the shadow of someone’s shoe, about to be stomped into oblivion. All of the good vibes she had gathered during her visit snuffed out. One wonders how much of Suo’s assessment is based in his karuta wisdom, and how much is couched in his inability to successfully court her. Either way, she’s not shining anymore…and that’s a damn shame.

The Promised Neverland – 04 – The Merit in Betrayal

If there was any doubt that Isabella also considers this a game of chess against the smartest of her stock, she makes sure Sister Krone understands that her role doesn’t extend beyond that of her pawn. Informing her that she’s well aware of her behind-the-back plotting, Isabella  promises Krone that if she cooperates, she’ll be a Mama of her own. Predictably, Krone privately fumes and resolves to unseat Isabella rather than wait to be promoted. No doubt Isabella knows she could still be betrayed.

Meanwhile, Emma, Norman and Ray continue escape practice thinly disguised as tag, only this time in teams led by older kids rather than everyone on their own. There’s a lot of attention paid to the hierarchy of the teams and the patterns of their movement; Ray insists Emma memorize all 100 formations he’s devised, and while Emma seems initially reluctant, she responds with “Easy Peasy,” because it most certainly will be easy peasy compared to escaping the farm for real.

It’s not lost on the trio that there’s a traitor in their midst, and they’ve already cast most of their suspicions on Gilda and Don. When Ray tells Emma to go against her kinder nature and suspect them, it isn’t long before everything they do looks suspicious to her. How will the escape ever succeed if they can’t trust everyone escaping?

It’s for this reason that Norman uses one card only they can play: the element of surprise, not in that they’re escaping, but when. With the pattern of the schedule, Mama has basically dared them to use all of the month-plus they have left until the next shipment. But Norman knows they can’t go by the schedule they’ve been handed; they have to escape sooner…much sooner, in just ten days.

To achieve that, they need to start filling in the other older kids, starting with Gilda and Don. The POV animation of the three slowly climbing the stairs to the library really transported me into their shoes and added to the tension and stress with each creaky footstep.

At first Don thinks it’s a big joke, but Gilda knows Emma well enough to know she’d never joke or lie about such things. Norman lies that the kids who left were victims of human trafficking, since the cold reality might just be too much. Gilda and Don ultimately both agree that an escape attempt is the only choice.

Ray doesn’t like how Norman left out the truth to Gilda and Don about all the kids dying and being eaten, but for Norman the escape must come first; he’ll deal with the backlash from bending the truth once that objective has been completed. He’s also set traps for Gilda and Don by giving them different locations for their escape rope.

That night, Emma pretends to sleep and watches Gilda sneak out of the bedroom. What Emma can’t see through the door is that someone I initially believed to be Gilda slips a piece of paper under Isabella’s door with the location of the rope: under Norman’s bed. It must be noted that Norman told Ray that he’d tell Don it was under the bed, not Gilda.

After the paper is delivered, Gilda visits Krone’s room, and Emma listens in from behind that door. Things get a little tense in there, with evidence wavering between Gilda being Krone’s informant and not, but in the end, Gilda does what Emma hoped for and refuses to give up any information.

The next day, Norman wonders out loud why someone would betray their family; Ray tell him there must be some kind of incentive, like being promised they’ll be allowed to live and grow up to become an adult.

Later, Norman asks Emma if she’d let the traitor escape with them even if they betrayed them; Emma predictably and quickly answers that of course she would. She wouldn’t consider the traitor a bad person, because none of them are bad people. Again Emma proves she’s the emotional and moral heart of this show.

But when Norman and Ray search the two spots where the rope was hidden, Norman says there’s nothing under the bed, and Ray says that must mean Don is the traitor. Only now Norman is convinced that Ray has been the real traitor all along. There’s certainly already a wealth of evidence to support that, but we’ll see if Norman’s right, and if so, how Ray will explain himself. Until then, things just got a lot more complicated.

Zombieland Saga – 10 – Sakura, Hot Under the Collar

When Tatsumi announces Franchouchou’s biggest gig yet will take place at Karatsu’s Furusato Exhibition Hall Arpino (which is, naturally, a real place) in front of five hundred people, Sakura is stoked. Like, more stoked than usual. After seeing her fellow idols deal with their respective pasts and deaths and come out the better for it, the vibes she’s getting from Arpino make her hopeful performing there will reveal something about her own past and death, about which she still knows nothing.

She’s so excited, it affects her practicing, as her pace is way faster than the others. Tatsumi finally announces that the group will spend some time surviving as a team in the mountains to prepare for the show. While there, all Sakura wants to do is practice, but the others are busy doing all the things that are necessary to live in the mountains (if they were alive, of course). Her frustration with their lack of practicing for the Arpino show culminates in her head being ripped off by a giant boar.

Once she pops her head back on, she’s done with the mountain excursion, which Tatsumi brings to a close soonafter.

That makes things awkward when they return to the mansion to practice, and she’s still out of sync, which she lashes out and blames the others for not practicing in the mountains before storming off. Everyone is stunned; usually Sakura is the cheerful peacemaker of the group.

Yuugiri (who along with Tae are the only other two members whose deaths we haven’t explored) meets with Tatsumi at a restaurant to ask what his next move is, now that the mountain thing didn’t work out so swell. When he expresses his worry about Sakura and the others being able to surmount the increasingly high peaks, Yuugiri gives him an epic slap that we’re treated to from several angles and speeds, punishing him for lacking faith.

Before returning to the group to apologize profusely, Sakura catches a look at them in action, both practicing and going over the details of the moves and who goes where, and she’s mesmerized. Without practicing as much as she did, everyone’s in perfect sync. So she admits to herself that she’s the problem, having only thought of herself since learning of the Arpino gig. Of course, the others welcome her back with open arms.

Three days later, with just seven to go until the show, Sakura is in much better spirits. In fact, she’s so chipper she acts out the first scene we saw her in when she was still alive, ending the exact same way: getting struck by a passing Hijet. Of course, since she’s dead already the truck doesn’t kill her, but it does wipe her memory…again. Some of her memories from her life flash by, and then she passes out.

The rest of Franchouchou now has just seven days to bring Sakura back up to speed and get her ready to perform with them in their biggest show yet…provided the Sakura who wakes up agrees to participate! It looks like another tough mountain to climb.

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 06 – Riddled with Thorns

When asked about his experience with the star sand, Yuito mentions the same somewhat crazed-looking golden fish Hitomi has seen leaping in and out of his tablet. Turns out the fish was from one of his earliest drawings, one that won him an award in grade school. Shou shows Hitomi the photo to confirm it’s the same fish.

Speaking of grade school, Asagi moves the needle forward a smidge by chiding Shou when he pats her head, insisting she isn’t in grade school anymore. I’m not sure Shou gets the message—or if he’ll ever get any message—but at least Asagi is smiling as she storms off, and the two are fine the next day.

That next day Kurumi takes the club to a photo shoot where they can wear period clothing, resulting in some lovely shots of various combinations of club members…perhaps none cuter than those of Hitomi and Yuito.

After they change out of the costumes, Hitomi spots Yuito off by himself drawing…or at least struggling to draw. The golden fish leaps out once again, then swims toward Hitomi, surrounding her with a curtain of colored petals.

Hitomi has, without realizing it, used her magic to enter Yuito’s drawing. It goes from vivid to austere to dark and foreboding, and finally Hitomi sees a black shadow figure chasing the fish, which itself appears dead or dying as the scene darkens and the colors grow muddy.

Hitomi “wakes up”, back in the real world, to a worried Yuito, but when she tries to get him to open up more about the content of his drawings, he snaps at her, accusing her of basically being a busybody mage. Yuito is not the kind of guy who’ll easily share things about himself, and by essentially invading his psyche by way of his art, Hitomi has simply tried to get too close too fast.

Again, none of this was her intention, but that night she is comforted by Kohaku, who references the Hedgehog’s dilemma where Yuito is concerned, offering her sage granny advice over hot drinks. “Precious things are riddled with thorns”, and finding the right distance from, and pressure upon, those thorns is simply a matter of time and experience.

The next day Kurumi shows everyone (sans Yuito) the results of their shoot, but her favorites are the candid shots were taken after Yuito stormed off. Everyone looks awkward, uncomfortable, or just plain sad, and as Kurumi says, the images “suck”.

But just as Kohaku tells Hitomi it’s usually better have someone angry at you than be ignored, Kurumi thinks typical smiles can get boring fast. Adding her voice to Kohaku’s advice, she also tells Hitomi that giving bonds “a good whack” ultimately makes them stronger.

I think that’s true where all relationships are concerned. There’s room for time and space apart, but too much of that and you don’t really have a relationship, do you? Better to confront each other with your problems, hash it out, and move on, rather than let things fester within ones’ head.

That night Yuito goes to his friend (mentor) Asakawa Sanami’s exhibition of drawings, no doubt to find some inspiration and ask her why she draws. Sanami says that while she’ll probably always be worried about her future, all she can do is keep drawing because she likes it. And she clearly likes sharing her work, as evidenced by the care, consideration, and gratitude she shows to all who showed up to view it, including Yuito.

Yuito is sorry he snapped at Hitomi, and knows he was wrong; while his hedgehog’s thorns had stuck out in that moment, he’s willing to smooth them down a bit. He gets a kick in the pants when Hitomi and Kohaku arrive at the gallery just as he and Sanami are saying their good-byes; it looks for all the world to Hitomi like he’s simply into another girl, and she bolts.

Of course, that’s not the case, and Yuito chases after Hitomi (both of them thankfully avoid the crazy deadly traffic anime are known for). He promises he’ll draw something, taking Sanami’s own strategy to heart (just keep drawing), and when that new drawing is complete, he’ll let her see it. Not so she can counsel or analyze him, but so they can draw just a little bit closer.

Yuito’s words move Hitomi, to the point that while on the trolley home, her raw but abundant magic conjures the golden fish, alive and well, and the fish proceeds to restore color to her world. She returns home shocked and soaked, and informs her granny. It’s sure looking like the “color” that was once absent in her world, and has now suddenly come roaring back, signifies…well, love.