Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 05 – Together We Will Rise: A Symphony in Three Movements

First Movement: When the Glare’s Not There

Chika is the first to behold Miyuki’s terrifying new face, or rather un-terrifying new face. As the result of his break from StuCo duties he’s been getting three extra free hours per day, giving him time to sleep more and fix his bed-head.

This has had the effect of making his eyes less heavy, so rather than glaring, his expression is bright and cheerful. This is very unsettling for both Chika and Yuu, so used to his usual scowl. But as other students greet him and invite him to hang out, it dawns on Yuu that Miyuki might have entered his Popular Phase!

Far more than make more friends, Miyuki wants to get Kaguya confess her love for him, and sees his new face as the latest weapon in that war. Unfortunately, Kaguya loves his ordinary intimidating glare, misses his “cool eyes”, and is thrown into a crisis of confidence in her love.

She goes to Nagisa for advice, mentioning a problem “her friend” is having. Nagisa instantly sees through the half-assed subterfuge, but admits she’s not nearly pure enough to endure—let alone discuss—on a topic as embarrassing as “What is true love?” Still, she tries her best, telling Kaguya she has nothing to worry about.

Chika overhears the conversation and declares love based on appearances to be fake and bad, but then Yuu pops by and argues that all love is true love if it comes from the heart, or some such. Kaguya eats it all up while Nagisa worries about losing her lunch.

Then, in a beat so unexpected and hilarious I had to pause the show to laugh, Miyuki appears looking like a dried-out demented wooden doll (exhausted from campaign work), scaring the Hell out of Nagi but delighting Kaguya, who is relieved her Miyuki’s face no longer resembles that of a stock shoujo manga love interest. Kashiwagi loses, while Hayasaka worries her mistress has adopted a particularly worrying face fetish.

Second (Bowel) Movement: Producing the Same Sound

The first movement explored the distinctive qualities that move someone to love that outsiders will never understand. This middle movement is all about a dark secret and deep yearning that dwell within Miyuki, which only comes to Chika’s attention while she’s conducting the student body in the singing of the school anthem, and notices Miyuki is lip synching. From her perspective, a former president and current candidate not knowing the words to the anthem is a scandal-in-waiting.

But Miyuki knows the words, and he wants to sing. He just doesn’t, because he’s “a little crap” at it. Despite reservations about the last time she trained him, this time Chika is right in her musical wheelhouse and wants to help him out. But when she hears him (and boy is it something to hear), she realizes she may have repeated a grave mistake and dug her own grave in the process. He’s not “a little” crap. He’s a veritable Cthulhu dump post-gorging on civilization!

No matter; Chika is a virtuoso, and if she can’t teach him he can’t be taught. She starts with the basics in a very beautifully directed sequence where she’s carrying a note and guides him to match that note using comments on the chalkboard. When they match, it’s a beautiful sound is produced, and Miyuki’s confidence is boosted.

When he tells her how his own elementary school teacher told him “you don’t have to sing” and his middle school classmates begged him to lip-sync, he stopped singing altogether and never looked back, but always felt left out and unfulfilled.

Chika displays a fierce maternal instinct in taking it upon herself to make a proper singer of Miyuki, so he no longer has to suffer in silence. A quick montage ensues with the two doing various exercises, and then the moment of truth arrives: another singing of the anthem.

To my surprise, Miyuki not only sings, but sings right on key! This show doesn’t always rip the rug out from under you! Even better, the anthem’s bittersweet lyrics very closely match the epic struggle she and Miyuki went through. By the time the anthem arrives at its coda, Chika is wading in a pool of her own tears…but they’re tears of pride and accomplishment. It’s a stirring win for both her and Miyuki.

Final Movement: Perfect Compatibility

Now we approach the end of this exquisitely crafted and performed symphony. The focus returns to the election, all-important to Kaguya in particular because the StuCo is the least suspicious means of spending time with Miyuki. The movement opens with Kaguya in Political Operator Mode, conferring with her contact Hayasaka on how oppo research on Iino Miko is going.

Hayasaka has their best internal and external people working on it, and we’re reminded of the long reach of the Shinomiya Empire, making it that much more charming that hardly any of it matters at all when it comes to Kaguya trying to get Miyuki to confess his love for her! Still, Kaguya’s not discouraged by the lack of dirt on their opponent. She simply has to turn Miko’s own pristine-ness against her.

When Kaguya meets with Miko in the darkened StuCo office in a nice bit of venue-as-posturing, we recall how when it comes to matter not related to love or Miyuki, she’s as competent and ruthless an operator as high school girls come. She’s able to assess Miko’s reliance on her strict ideals and their fragility in her moments of anxiety.

In far more words, Kaguya proposes a deal whereby she and Miyuki will support her in next year’s election if she bows out of this one. Miko can smell the dirty tricks a mile away, and proceeds to dress Kaguya down by saying she and Miyuki are “two of a kind” with “perfect compatibility.” Kaguya is delighted by her kind words, but thrown just enough off balance to be left open for Miko’s counter offer.

In President Miko and Vice President Chika’s administration, Miyuki and Kaguya will remain in their StuCo, albeit in reduced roles. Miko’s goal is to “restore order” to an academy wracked with chaos. Kaguya is instantly intrigued by this proposal, since it means she and Miyuki will still be together. It may even be preferable to him winning reelection, since he’ll have less exhausting work to do (though she doesn’t consider what that will do to his cool eyes!).

Miko may be petite, but she has big plans for the StuCo, who will act as an extention of the Morals Committee she already heads: Uniform checks in the morning, garbage pickup in the afternoon…she and Miyuki could do all of these things together! But the bubble bursts on this ideal scenario when Miko declares that the academy will be a strict No-Romance-Zone. That’s a dealbreaker for Kaguya, and so negotiations break down!

But while a soft resignation and coalition with Miko may be impossible due to her staunch morals, those same morals may well sink Miko’s chances of gaining much support beyond her loyal base. High schoolers typically like the freedom to engage in hanky-panky. It’s a school, not a church. Can Kaguya craft the narrative that exposes the disconnect between Miko’s policies and the will of the student body? I wouldn’t bet against her!

 

 

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 04 – Little Girl, Big Talk

It’s been three days since the StuCo disbanded, but Kaguya and Miyuki haven’t so much as spoken. Hayasaka finds Kaguya’s lack of progress pathetic considering how many romantic events she and Miyuki have shared.

A frustrated Kaguya lashes out, challenging Hayasaka to get Miyuki to fall for her. Hayasaka accepts, breaking out an adorable new persona with which to seduce Miyuki as Kaguya jealously watches in the shadows.

Hayasaka is a pro at this (what else is new), and gets off to a great start by chatting Miyuki up in a bookstore then getting him to have a coffee with her as she considers a computer purchase. Ultimately, Hayasaka ends up the loser, even though she offers to be a “side piece” should he already like someone.

Turns out liking someone else means Miyuki’s not interested in anyone else, period. A bitter Hayasaka insists her loss was due to the need to get the job done in one day; given more time, she’s confident she would have prevailed. I believe her!

Miyuki determines there’s no one better to write his campaign speeches than Kaguya, but has trouble approaching her in her class. Enter Hayasaka in “Gal” mode (whom he can’t tell is the same person who asked him out the other day), who bursts in and makes a huge production of Miyuki coming to see Kaguya on a matter of great importance.

News that he asked to meet her behind the school causes the entire student body to convulse in anticipation that these two top students are going to become a couple. The hype takes on a mind of its own as their meeting is built up as the can’t-miss school event of the decade.

When the big moment comes, both Miyuki and Kaguya are very much aware of their huge, expectant audience. Only Kaguya says she doesn’t mind it, while Chika is completely oblivious to the vibe and complicates matters by coming off as the third side of a love triangle.

Miyuki knows he’s suffer a political price if he embarasses Kaguya with his piddling speech request, so he makes the request in a whisper, inches from her face. Similarly safe from prying ears, Kaguya tells him the answer is yes—whether it’s to write him speeches or something else entirely.

It’s a good thing Kaguya is on Miyuki’s team, because he may have some stiff competition in the election in the person of first-year Iino Miko, this season’s newest character. Miko is at the top of her class, president of the morals committee, and believes having a “commoner” like Miyuki as president is an affront.

Tomita Miyu (Made in Abyss’ Riko, BokuBen’s Rizu)’s performance is appropriate for a pint-sized character packed with power. Before he knows it, Miyuki is caught up in her competitive, adversarial spirit, seeing her as his political rival in the fight of his life.

He and Yuu even mock her for relying on her pure ideals without a track record of success to fall back on, to the point Chika tries to stop them from sounding like villains. Then Miko brings Chika over to her side by expressing her admiration for Chika’s piano prowess and other positive qualities, and offering her the vice presidency if she joins Team Iino.

Chika later reconsiders her quick turnabout, but the fact remains Miko seems to be a larger threat than Miyuki or Yuu think. When Miyuki sees her wholesome flyer his confidence in beating her only rises, when I really think he shouldn’t be listening to Yuu and be preparing for a tough campaign.

Right off the bat, Miko is thankfully presented as someone who isn’t interested in Miyuki, and not just because she doesn’t know him and he’s in her way. Rather than a rival to Kaguya, I can see Kaguya closing ranks with Miyuki even more in the face of an adversary who thinks so little of the man she loves—a catalyst for their growing closer. In any case, this should be a fun campaign!

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 03 – Okay to Be Selfish

Kaguya and Miyuki are both dedicated combatants in their ongoing War of Love, except for certain special occasions. This week is one of those occasions: there’s a bright harvest moon and a clear sky, and Miyuki wants to gaze at it from the roof of the school.

Kaguya tries to find a way to embarrass him by getting him to lend her his jacket or share the same teacup, but Miyuki is so “moony from the moon” all pride and shame fall by the wayside. When Kaguya brings up her legendary royal namesake as the reason she hates the moon, Miyuki presents his interpretation of the tale.

To him, Princess Kaguya didn’t offer her lover on earth an immortality potion so he could find another love, but as a message that she’d one day return to him, long after a human’s normal lifespan…and he’d wait as long as it took for Kaguya to return.

He continues to wax poetic until an overheated Kaguya can’t endure anymore and flees. However, Miyuki still loses when he comes off his “moon high” the next day and realizes all the embarrassing things he said.

One reason everyone went along with Miyuki’s moongazing session was that the StuCo will be disbanding soon, so opportunities will grow less frequent and carry more weight. In the second and final segment the council members go through the accumulated items from their various adventures together—some of which Yuu is sore about not being present for.

Once everything is packed up, the lights are out, and the doors to the 67th Student Council close for the last time, Chika can’t help but start to tear up, and Kaguya can’t help but cry in response.

During a celebratory dinner at a family restaurant, Kaguya realizes that since Miyuki isn’t President anymore she has to call him something else…but just can’t because it’s too embarrassing and scandalous.

Of course, Chika inadvertently rubs Kaguya’s inability in her face by calling the former president by his first name like it’s nothing. Yuu even gives him a cute nickname “Myu.”

Once Chika and Yuu have gone home and Miyuki has walked Kaguya to her front gate, she considers how few opportunities they’ll have to see each other without the StuCo or any classes to connect them. It makes her feel lonely, but even if she became the new president and Miyuki was her veep, she knows he’d work too hard, when he already has the letter of recommendation from the Board of Trustees.

To want more would be selfish, and she tells herself she shouldn’t be selfish…but when push comes to shove she can’t give up Miyuki that easily. She grabs his arm and asks him if she can be selfish, by asking him to serve as president one more year. Turns out he’d already secretly filled out the candidate application, hoping she’d be the one to bring it up.

So, as is usually the case, Romantic Kaguya wins when Combatant Kaguya loses, as she does here. That is, if Miyuki ends up winning the election; there seems to be a new contender interested in the job!

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 08 – Forward March!

There’s a palpable sense of anticipation in the sight the Eizouken putting the finishing audio touches on the cultural festival preview of SHIBA8 vs The Pistol Crabtle, lit only by a single office lamp and the editing monitor. As director Midori displays a uncanny knack for knowing when to time music and sound effects to the visuals.

Unfortunately they didn’t have time to record the voice actors so they’ll be doing it live in the auditorium, adding another set of things that could go wrong, from both technical and personnel-wise. But the show must go on, and it will. The main challenge is to create sufficient buzz at the festival to lure a sufficiently large audience.

Throughout this episode from start to finish, Tsubame’s rich actor parents loom large, but not as villains ready to undermine the Eizouken, but rather as parents who find they’ll have time to visit their daughter’s school festival. They almost seem eager to do so, well aware of how their careers have made it tough for her to get a fair share of time with them throughout her childhood.

Like just about every shot in this episode before the festival starts, the scene of Tsubame’s mom discovering she never came home is lit so beautifully, with the light of dawn just behind the horizon but already lending a hazy blue color to the sky.

Even more magical is the scene of the Eizouken trio tucking into campfire ramen outside their ramshackle studio. The warm firelight dancing off their relaxed figures as the ethereal purple dawn rises in the background. There’s an intoxicating combination of comfort, coziness, and a sense of impending drama.

The three don’t seem to notice how gorgeous and almost iconic their surroundings are, but that goes without saying: they’ve been working without sleep for who-knows-how-long and are in strict ramen-scarfing mode. Will they remember this meager fireside feast before the premiere of their first large scale effort, or will the day’s excitement cloud these quiet, delicate, hauntingly gorgeous earlier moments? I hope not.

Just as the Eizouken’s robot project dwarfs their gas mask short in size and complexity, Shibahama’s Cultural Festival’s unrestrained chaos makes the earlier budgetary committee look quaint by comparison. Competition ferocity is on par with the Serengeti, and one could see Midori and/or Tsubame getting absolutely lost in the stampede.

Fortunately, both Sayaka and the Robot Club have taken care of everything and are prepared for virtually every eventuality. The Robot Club also breaks a few school rules, using water rockets and megaphones to amplify their cause. This draws the ire of the StuCo and Security Clubs, who initially target Tsubame as the amateur-model-ringleader for arrest.

Thanks to the expert distribution of similar-looking cardboard robot costumes and Sayaka’s birds-eye-view of the premises, Tsubame is able to take direction from Sayaka via walkie-talkie and gradually navigate her way to the designated auditorium where the screening will take place—and where her notoriety is key to drawing a big chunk of the crowd.

Sayaka also successfully blackmails the normally untouchable HVAC club (all of whom are caught wasting A/C on a hot day) into ensuring the auditorium will be enticingly cool for audience members coming in from the outside. Sure, Tsubame enough could be a good draw, but the A/C draws in even those few who don’t know her or about robots or anime.

In another impressive demonstration of intricate planning, logistics, timing, and luck, Robot Club’s Ono takes a zipline across the breadth of the campus, with a huge banner trailing behind him notifying the gawking masses of the impending screening.

Like Tsubame, the cat-and-mouse chase between him and those who would shut them down takes on the feel of a madcap video game, complete with platforms, mazes, obstacles, and end-goals. It’s just a tremendous amount of fun and imagination—and all before we see a single frame of the movie!

Everything goes off without a hitch. The auditorium is nice and cool and the crowd is huge. Even Tsubame’s parents attend, eager to see what their daughter has been up to (turns out using MIBs to discourage her from anime pursuits was her dad’s idea). There are no technical difficulties with the video or audio or the live-voicing setup.

The crowd watches the robot-crabtle battle with stunned looks, the screen glowing in their eyes. Tsubame’s parents admire the animation with prime, and are able to see Tsubame’s love of capturing motion through art in this manner. Pride washes over their faces. They realize this, not live-action acting, is what their daughter loves and excels at.

After the screening, and a brief autograph/handshake session, Tsubame is dispatched to get lunch for Midori and Sayaka, and runs into her parents. The three have a cordial mini-lunch together, and Tsubame draws upon her parents’ careers as artists for perhaps the first time, asking if they’re ever satisfied after a performance.

She’s relieved to hear neither of them are, because neither is she…and we no neither is Midori. They’re relieved Tsubame has been off doing her own thing, and it’s something they’re not going to try to hold her back from anymore. To do so would be to prevent her from “performing” the way she knows best: with pencil and paper.

Finally, her parents poke their heads in a shed where the Eizouken 3 are taking a break from all the hubbub, and about to scarf down the lunch Tsubame brought. Her parents ask if these are her friends; Midori responds that they’re comrades. The bonds of comrades, joined not by blood but by common cause and common fate, surpass mere friendship, for even the best of friends can have vastly different goals.

It’s no surprise Midori is donned in full camo combat fatigues. The cultural festival was the Eizouken’s greatest battle yet, and victory was achieved. Not flawlessly, mind you—Midori estimates she’s only 20% satisfied with the product they presented—but enough to get the job done.

The fact Tsubame’s parents can no longer be counted among their enemies is both strategically advantageous and a timely boost to unit morale. On to the next battle!

Assassins Pride – 04 – What Matters is the Way it Looks

Since they were little, Elise has always seen herself as Melida’s little sister, someone to cling to. That hasn’t changed just because Elise’s mana awoke sooner, nor since she surpassed Melida in combat prowess. That means the both of them would really prefer if they could be on the same side…a sentiment shared by Elli’s tutor Rosetta where Kufa is concerned.

Unfortunately, when the Luna Lumiere Selection Tournament kicks off, the two are unexpectedly named Cadets and the leaders of three-girl teams in direct opposition with each other, along with two similar teams from their sister school. Both Nerva and school “queen” Shenfa join Melida’s team.

Needless to say this isn’t ideal for the girls, as Melida still doesn’t think she has a hope of defeating Elli in the inevitable one-on-one matchup. She may not be wrong, but as one of the members of the other school (perhaps the “amazing first year” people were buzzing about) tells Melida to stand tall and demonstrate her power, otherwise no one will ever trust that she has it.

Kufa tells Melida that no matter what others think (and they think her and Elli’s selection was rigged), he’ll stand with her always. But he also finds out that Elli’s maid Othello rigged the stained glass window so the two would be named the school’s cadets, which he reveals to both girls and Rosetta. Still, Melida intends to carry on; beating Elli fair and square in the final trial is the only way to change the minds of people like Othello.

However, a number of obstacles to that outcome reveal themselves. First is Black Madia, an emissary from the White Night who confronts Kufa in the forest. She wonders why his report on Melida was so sparse and whether his loyalties to their order are wavering. As far as Madia’s concerned, Melida should already have been eliminated, but to do so herself, she’ll have to get past Kufa and Rosetta, and later school security.

She can’t, so she withdraws for the time being, warning through her burning cards that “the shadow is always behind you.” Kufa tells Rosetta that Madia is Flandore’s most powerful member of the Clown-class, able to mimic all the other classes. Needless to say, we haven’t seen the last of her.

The other main obstacle to Melida’s intentions is, well Elise. Elise isn’t any more confident Melida can beat her than Melida is, and so she comes to her room in the night to announce her intention to lose to her on purpose. She clarifies that she’s not doing it for Melida’s sake but for her own: she wants to remain her “little sister”, and beating her in public is the last thing she wants to do.

This doesn’t sit well with Melida, but fortunately she has a week to change Elli’s mind, either through words, or more convincingly, through her actions during the tournament.

Assassins Pride – 03 – A Fight in the Museum

What initially appeared to be a rest episode following the excitement of the tournament suddenly becomes much more in a well-structured, satisfying outing that elevates the series and makes me excited to keep watching.

The foreshadowing for what’s to come is right there at the start, as Melida echoes our curiosity about Kufa’s mysterious past. She rightly points out that there’s almost nothing he doesn’t know about her, so she wants to learn more about him. He even casually mentions he hails from “the land of eternal night”, beyond any safe human habitations.

That exploration has to wait, as Melida has a festival to attend, in which all the girls in her class wear the same dresses handed down by their senpais. Melida is looking forward to wearing the same dress as Elli, and vice versa, but Elli’s maid Othello has other ideas, and hand-makes a garment that, while gorgeous and of higher quality, brings bitter tears to Elli’s eyes as she has to run from her classmates’ harsh gazes and comments.

Melida and Elise aren’t just related, they’re the best of friends going way back, so it’s heartbreaking to see the adults (other than Kufa) treat them as if they’re enemies and pawns in the struggle for control of the Angel family. Neither of them want to fight one another; they want to support each other and have good times together. Is that so much to ask in a world of eternal darkness?

When the two are kidnapped by the Grimface Guild, their bond is tested once more when the shady man with the bandaged face announces his plan to forcibly take Elise’s Paladin Class and graft it onto Melida, overwriting her current Samurai Class. A dastardly plan, but good thing the guy isn’t too great with details.

While he sealed the mana of both girls, he failed to realize that the materials in Elli’s fancier outfit and tiara are packed with mana. Applying Kufa’s lesson about using whatever you can to survive, Melida fashions a torch with which she dispatches the low-level Lancanthropes of the kind Elli has always been afraid.

Melida’s pluck and resourcefulness buys time for the big guns to arrive and mop up, and it’s in his fight with Bandage-face that we learn that Kufa Vampir is, well, a half-vampire, or half-the strongest of Lancanthropes. It’s great to finally get a smirk out of the guy, and now I know why he had such a sedate performance in earlier episodes; he was repressing his true vampiric nature.

It could also explain why Melida is so smitten with him (since vampires can glamour humans), though I chalk that more up to the fact that among adults, he’s the only one to actually put faith in her abilities and not treat her like a pawn to be discarded if she doesn’t shape up. He’s also handsome, well-spoken, kind, and doesn’t forget that the one festival thing Melida was looking forward to most (other than being with Elli in the parade) was have a dance with him, so they do.

He also reiterates his undying commitment to her, having told the bad guy earlier that even if she ends up surpassing him and will set about hunting him, he’ll gladly stick his neck out. He’s all in on Melida, and I can’t blame him; the girl hustles and never gives up. She’s got nowhere to go but up…as long as Kufa can keep other assassins off her back!

P.S. Elli eventually changes into the same dress as Melida. Daaaaaaaaw.

Assassins Pride – 02 – The Right Time to Shine

In a welcome scene of student and teacher bonding, Melida learns that despite his stoic look and manner he’s both embarrassed to have to examine her body (her being a girl and all) but has been trained to hide his true emotions. While that was implied last week, it’s good to hear him actually voice it, as well as voice his sincere hope for her success.

While Melida’s mana has awakened, she’s not a Paladin, but a Samurai class, like Kufa. Kufa warns her to keep her awakening secret and forbids her from using mana against anyone but him. Since he estimates she’s currently only able to summon half of her mana, she’ll rely on the element of surprise to win in the school tournament.

Keeping cards close to one’s vest, and waiting for the opportune time to reveal them, are all part in parcel of what Kufa is all about. But he learns something about her too when she defends him against the mocking words of her “friend” Nerva: she’ll more readily summon what strength she has for others before herself.

When the tournament begins, even Melida’s allies aren’t aware she can use mana, and she doesn’t use it until Nerva is at the very height of her arrogance. Thankfully it’s not a one-sided affair, as there’s a lot of back-and-forth as Nerva ups her game. But in the end, there’s a card in Melida’s hand she kept even from her tutor, taking a page from his book.

That card is a phantom-blade technique he only demonstrated to her once, meaning she either learned it from that one time, or trained a bunch on her own. She thought mutliple moves ahead in her fight with Nerva, making it seem like she was totally out of mana, only to summon the rest of it when Nerva opened herself up to finish her.

In the end, Melida surprised Nerva to the point that after their match she returns the book she took from her and apologizes, apparently continue to value the “friendship” she said they’d have no matter what happens. I appreciated that extra dimension to Nerva, who isn’t just a sneering, bullying bitch after all.

Melida also addresses her father and master of the house, and as Kufa remarks, just the fact her father responded to her (by basically telling her not to get too cocky until she’s accomplished more) is another victory. If she continues to improve, it’s looking less and less likely Kufa will have to kill her, or worry about getting killed himself for failing.

But even with a chastened Nerva and an semi-acknowledging father, Melida faces a lot more adversity, both from her overachieving Paladin cousin Elsie to some unsavory lancanthropes lurking in the shadows.

Assassins Pride – 01 (First Impressions) – Change of Heart

Right away, Assassins Pride impresses with its striking setting: a world coated in unending darkness but for Flandore, a city-state in the form of a massive chandelier with city blocks within its lanterns. Even within these lanterns there’s an eerie feeling that it’s the middle of the night and always will be.

It is a world in need of a protagonist slightly more interesting than Kufa Vampir, who despite his cool name and profession (assassin), is dull as dry toast. At least he’s good at healing cats and catching clumsy young women like Melida Angel, whom he’s to serve as tutor and attendant. She’s a little more interesting thanks to her story, which is provided through Kufa’s narration as he writes in his journal.

Like him, Melida is a member of a noble family. Only nobles possess mana which is used to fight the lacanthrope hordes outside (and sometimes inside) the city. Her dream is to join the elite Crest Legion as a battle maiden, but…things are not going well.

While mana awakens in most noble children at around seven years, Melida’s has yet to awaken. As such, she’s an easy mark for mockery by her mana-using noble peers at the academy, and pity by her cousin Elise from a branch family, who has already surpassed her.

As Kufa watches Melida try in vain to best her particularly arrogant classmat Nerva and run off in tears, he considers his duty should it be determined Melida has no chance of ever awakening her mana: he’s to assassinate her. The rumors going around are that she’s not a true member of the Angel family, but the illegitimate child of her mother and a man who is not Lord Mordrew, explaining her lack of mana.

Watching Melida initially disgusts Kufa, to the point he believes offing her would be a “professional mercy” (and referencing the show’s title), since he’d be ending her suffering, knowing she’ll never be rewarded for it due to her true lineage. But when he enters her room to do the deed, she’s not there. Instead, she’s being chased through the streets by low-level Lacanthropes in what could be an attempt by her father to get her mana to awaken through combat.

But with zero mana, Melida is no match against the three pumpkin-headed scarecrow monsters. Kufa very much is, and exhibits a small measure of his power in dispatching them before they can cut her hair, which she cherishes as her mother’s legacy.

Watching her endure the beating, too proud to call for help, causes a major shift in his thinking, from pity bordering on disgust to admiration and a powerful desire to support her, even if it means hiding secrets from his bosses. He sees his own pride in her pride, and wants to validate if he can…because no one else will.

When Melida firmly agrees to do “the one thing” that could awaken her mana, but could also end up killing her, Kufa administers a dose of a potion to her (through a kiss), and for a moment, she seems to die, falling backwards into a deep, dark ocean, all of the color peeling from her body.

But after the end credits, not only is she still alive, but is impressing her maids with mana tricks. Was her mana really awakened, or did Kufa simply transfer some of his to her? Perhaps only by transferring some of his is there a chance to awaken hers? In any case, he knows he’s treading carefully, and the day may yet come when he’ll have to kill her. He just hopes it doesn’t.

Assassins Pride is…fine. It’s a no-nonsense opener that introduces the place, the players, and the stakes, but often lacked energy. The stateliness and good repair of Flandore calls into question the seriousness and urgency of the Lancanthrope threat (especially as we only see Level-1 scarecrows). The atmospheric setting and clean animation/character design did most of the heavy lifting, while Kufa and Melida felt more like archetypes than distinct characters. I’ll stick with it for now, but so far it’s nothing life-changing.

Isekai Quartet – 04 – Common Ground

Little by little the various newly-mixed characters are starting to learn more about each other. Ainz Ooal Gown and Tanya end up exchanging Evil Death Stares until they loosen up and both realize that despite their appearances they’re both men from modern Japan, which is vastly comforting considering how crazy anyone else in their respective other worlds would think they were by bringing it up.

Two women who find kinship in feeling the same way about their man (specifically, that there’s no better one)? Rem and Albedo! When Cocytus protests compulsory participation in the talent show, Ram simply tells him the teacher’s word is law.

When both Subaru and Kazuma are running late, their much more athletic female friends (Rem and Darkness, respectively) literally carry them as they run fast. Neither man feels right about this, but put an end to the carrying only when they see each other.

While serving punishment for being late as a result, the two learn that they have a lot in common, except that one of them was summoned and the other reincarnated. And one’s a shut-in and the other isn’t. But they both love tracksuits!

When Kazuma starts describing the awful situation he’s in (which honestly doesn’t sound so bad), Subaru tells him he “knows how he feels” despite the fact he lives in a mansion with the girl he’s trying to win, along with two twin maids, one of whom is in love with him. Kazuma takes particular umbrage to Subaru calling that a bad deal, and with good reason…it’s not!

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 12 (Fin) – The War Continues

Last week ended on a hopeful note, but there was still a lot that could go wrong with Kaguya and Miyuki’s big night at the fireworks festival. And what do you know, it does! Just as she’s ready to head out, one of the butlers not named Hayasaka vetoes her outing as too dangerous, so she has to text Chika that she can’t go, and she’s sorry.

Kaguya enters heretofore unplumbed depths of dejection, but Hayasaka tells her to regain her Kaguya attitude that would have normally had her trying to sneak out by now. Hayasaka aids in all the ways she can by posting a tweet to Kaguya’s feed that Miyuki picks up on, then disguising herself as Kaguya so she can swing Tarzan’s Jane-style over the wall and to a waiting taxi.

While getting out of bed and sneaking out of the house was a big win, Kaguya still has to get to the fireworks before they’re over…and she isn’t able to succeed. The taxi is stuck in traffic, and there’s only so much ground she can cover in yukata and geta. She’s able to glimpse the fireworks closer than ever before—between buildings—but by the time she reaches the meeting spot, the display has concluded and the crowds are cleaning up after themselves (what a concept!) and heading home.

Of course, all this time, we know that Miyuki has been racing around on his bike, attempting to intercept Kaguya on her ill-fated solo mission to reach the fireworks. He manages to pick the right alley where she’s chosen to cry, then takes her by the arm and tells her he’s going to make sure she sees some fireworks. He accomplishes this with help from Yuu and Chika, who are waiting with the same taxi  Kaguya took before, driven by one of the Four Ramen Kings.

The driver takes liberties with the speed limit and gets them under the Aqua Line towards Umihotaru, where the fireworks display will still be going on for another twenty minutes. There’s an action thriller flavor to their undersea tunnel trip, and an ultimate feeling of triumph when they emerge at the other side to a sky full of gorgeous fireworks. Only now, that she’s closer than ever to those fireworks, all Kaguya can watch is Miyuki’s face, and all she can hear is the beating of her own heart. Daaaaaw.

While the fireworks night turned out to be a great victory for everyone, pulled from the jaws of defeat numerous times, the real proof in the pudding of whether Kaguya and Miyuki’s relationship has grown would come in the aftermath. We get a glimpse of that as the new school term begins, and both of them are so bashful and self-conscious that every time they try to approach each other, they end up sailing by like ships in the night—or two dogfighting planes.

Again and again they swoop by, with Chika eventually getting into the spirit of things with an “asterisk” before Yuu arrives and unwittingly makes it a “triangle.” Kaguya and Miyuki then banish both Yuu and Chika (“shooting them down”, as it were) in order to get the privacy they need to finally confront each other about last night.

Kaguya just wants to thank him for everything he did, but as they finally meet and end up bumping into a kind of half-hug, her broomstick juts into his chest, and she says the very words he feared she’d say as an appraisal of his “egotistical” behavior and “cringeworthy lines” the other night: “it must be painful.” Of course, she was talking about the broomstick, not his behavior. But he runs off anyway, and Kaguya gives chase, and henceforth everything is pretty much back to normal.

Surely other situations will come in the future where the two will be able to hang out and do fun stuff and experience moments of beauty and honesty together—but due to their stubborn pride and persistent self-consciousness, any such interactions will only come after much hand-wringing and hesitation. Perhaps, given enough time, it will get easier. But as long as they think something that manifestly isn’t a war is, it’ll remain akin to pulling teeth. But hey, a romantic can hope!

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 11 – Twitter, Ramen, And Missed Connections

This week’s collection of stories vary wildly in tone from ludicrous to serious to unabashedly earnest and poignant—and that’s all fine, since it depicts the reality of high school life, it’s highs, lows, and MEHs. First, due to their stubborn refusal to make the first move, both Kaguya and Miyuki are letting the sand pour away in the hourglass of summer without meeting up.

When Kaguya learns Hayasaka is following Miyuki on Twitter, she decides to sign up to mitigate her loneliness. Her appalling lack of IT skills (beyond speed typing) mean poor Hayasaka’s much-needed replenishing bath is being constantly interrupted by Kaguya panicked cries for assistance. In the end, Kaguya runs into the same issue as texting or calling: she has to make the first move to follow Miyuki (garnering her mental image of Miyuki saing “how cute” for once).

Alas, she’s unable to do so and risk breaking the stalemate. She and Miyuki might describe the importance of to winning the “war of love” and preserving their pride through inaction, but the “war” is Pyrrhic, and their pride only a thin facade barely concealing their fear. Hayasaka muses at how happy they’d be if they simply acted on their obvious mutual feelings, and is envious of the depth of those feelings.

Part Two is from the POV of a “ramen connoisseur” who treats the acts of ordering, seasoning, and eating ramen as a kind of war all its own. When Chika enters the same shop, he assumes she’s lost, but all of her actions suggest a fellow connoisseur, one of “his people.”

Even when she seemingly makes missteps that detract from his respect for her, she surprises both him and the chef with increasingly choice moves, from choosing super-firm noodles that will withstand the “mini-ramen” method, crushing garlic into the broth, and even draining the bowl like a boss, something that makes the aging dude recall his youth when sodium intake was of no concern.

Chika is adorable and awesome throughout the segment in which she attains an easy victory, living her best summer life while her president and vice-president wallow in their dark rooms. One day it finally becomes too much, and both of them don their uniforms and go to school in hopes of possibly meeting the other there.

They both have the right idea, but the wrong timing, as Kaguya has already departed the office by the time a winded Miyuki gets there by bike. The ennui and melancholy so very palpable in this gorgeous third segment that takes its time, and in which no one wins. The solution to seeing each other (something both want very badly) is to simply shoot a quick text to each other, but because neither can do that, they fail to meet. The pointless war continues.

Post-credits we get a surprise fourth-segment, narrated entirely by Kaguya in monologue. She describes all of the things that have kept her, the privileged daughter of a very wealthy man, from living a normal girl’s life and experiencing the simple things people like Chika take for granted.

The segment makes no attempt to hide Kaguya’s ornate, grandiose lifestyle, but also never fails to make us sympathize with her. The lack of warmth, love, or even the sharing of a damn room with her father, who summoned her to the main house for a two-second exchange, causing her to abandon shopping plans with Chika, her sister, and Kei, is particularly devastating, as is Hayasaka’s holding of her hand for emotional support.

The segment thankfully ends on a triumphant note: no longer will Kaguya have to settle for the view of distant lights from her giant, lonely bedroom window; she’s going to the festival to see them up close, with people she cares about and who care about her in return. Maybe, just maybe, an armistice in the war of love can be reached…

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 23 – Joining Hands To Fight

Stiyl’s efforts to bring Index out of her trance go rather poorly (he only ends up digging a big hole for himself…literally!) But Kazakiri Hyouka is on the scene in Russia to take it to the archangel Gabriel. Their ensuing fight about the Star of Bethlehem is appropriately epic in its speed and ferocity.

When Sasha asks what’s up with Hyouka, he assures her with confidence: he may not know exactly what she’s doing there, but Hyouka’s a friend. In fact, they go back a full decade to when their character designs and color palette hadn’t yet evolved to the present 2010s style!

It’s an episode full of odd but interesting pairings, starting with the continued collaboration between Accelerator and Worst. They’ve come so far in so short a time, he’s trusting her to protect Last Order while he deals with the dueling angels. Like Touma, Accelerator doesn’t know what Hyouka is there for. Unlike Touma he has no reason to trust her, especially when he believes she was drawn there by the parchment Gabe is after.

One would think coming straight at an archangel with power on a level hard to fathom who is specifically looking for something on your person would be a bad move, and even with Hyouka also fighting, Gabriel still manages to gain ground on them. When her huge special move is done charging up, a massive “Sweep” of holy arrows rain down on both Accelerator and Hyouka.

They’re largely bailed out by an assist from another seemingly unlikely comrade in Acqua, who uses his presidential authority to draw the water-element telesma out of Gabriel, stopping her in her tracks and weakening her, but its a risky move that could kill him.

Touma figures out that the Star of Bethlehem, being a necessary element in Fiamma’s plans, must have a means of controlling Sasha somewhere among the labyrinth of structures, so he starts wrecking up the place with his Imagine Breaker.

Accelerator, remembering Touma’s words of wisdom (and punch to the face) throws everything he’s got in what he takes the most pride in: protecting Last Order at any cost, even losing. Gabriel self-destructs, but with help from Hyouka, he manages to prevent cataclysmic collateral damage.

The minimization of damage was also made possible by Acqua’s assist, and after taking most of Gabe’s power he’s prepared to pay for it by dying…but Hamazura and Takitsubo find him first, and the former straight up refuses to let him give up. Acqua gets on his feet and lets out a triumphant roar, but I wonder how much he has left in the tank after such exertion.

Once enough setbacks in his carefully-orchestrated plan have taken place and all the myriad forces suddenly united against him actually start making some progress, Fiamma decides to accelerate the part where he takes Touma’s right arm, separating him from Sasha. Turns out even though Gabriel was taken out, she managed to read the parchment and align the Star in such a way that Fiamma could start an element-re-configuring ceremony.

In the aftermath of the Gabriel battle, Accelerator is troubled to find Worst ended up crashing the Hummer she was driving, and both she and Last Order are unconscious. Hamazura and Takitsubo reach the facility where the bacteriological agent will be released, but an Academy City bomber gets there at the same time and obliterates the place, separating the lovebirds.

Our heroes have shown that by putting aside less important differences and combining their forces, they can put a dent in Fiamma’s plans, to the point where he now no longer looks invincible. But it’s taking a harsh toll with Fiamma far from beaten, which means they’re going to need backup, and soon. Thankfully, Misaka’s only 70km away, and her clone presumably knows how to drive.

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 22 – Angels And Saints Converge

We check in with pretty much everyone this week, from Stiyl trying to keep Index safe from Laura in England, to Touma and Sasha up in the giant floating fortress called the “Star of Bethlehem,” the narrative darts back and forth between all of the various forces converging both directly and indirectly towards the Star and Fiamma, who is seeking nothing less than to becoming superior to God. The ego of this guy, amirite?

You gotta admit, he’s done a lot of preparation for this; his isn’t some half-baked plot easily ended by one punch from Touma’s right hand. He’s not only controlling Index, giving him powers a Right Hand of God would normally wouldn’t have; while he’s used Sasha (via the control device) to summon the archangel Gabriel to mop up all of the “secondary players.”

As Fiamma consolidates all his power for his final push, there’s one thing for the good guys to celebrate: Thanks to Vasilissa, Takitsubo Rikou is finally healed. Naturally, she agrees with Hamazura that they must then immediately jump back into danger to protect the villagers who saved them from being wiped out by the government.

The last piece Fiamma needs is the parchment in Accelerator’s possession, which he believes can be used to save Last Order. Misaka Worst offers to retrieve the mighty mite, as well as to serve as her weapon. Over in Rome, a bishop intends to use the crisis to ascend to the papacy, but the former Pope has already given up his mantle, preferring to calm the throngs of people outside and lead them into the Vatican…for safety?

Kanzaki Kaori also prefers to offer aid those in need rather take center stage in a battle, leaving Princess Carissa and “Frenchy” to battle Gabriel with their national weapons. When Carissa’s Curtana Second fragment is shattered, she simply summons a half-dozen more, then launches a massive missile strike on the Star diverting the archangel and buying more time for the wounded.

Back up on the Star, Touma is riding a monorail with Sasha when Gabriel appears to stop the missiles. There, the archangel is met by Kazakiri Hyouka in full battle mode. Back on the ground, Misaka is watching the Star through binoculars, and figures since she’s come this far, there’s no way she’s not getting involved.

Misaka also shows her envious Clone the Gekota strap she got on her date with Touma (or as she calls him, “the idiot”). Touma just better hope Misaka doesn’t hear anything about him pawing Sasha (which got him crowbar-ed), or she’ll kill him herself!