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.

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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!

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 21 – On Private Time

From the Pope about to be replaced conversing with the nun Vasilissa who is already in Russia, to Aiwass asking none other than Kazakiri Hyouka to head there to deal with Sasha’s situation, the first two scenes in this episode establish an ever more widely-sprawling cast in what had begun as a much more characterly austere arc. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Hyouka, but in seeking assurances from Aiwass that her friends won’t be harmed, I assume she’s more good guy than bad.

Once all the Russian privateers are dealt with by Acqua, Hamazura suggests they move on, allowing Academy City to protect the village from further slaughter even if it means occupying that village. He and Takitsubo head to the border in a Lada Niva, but are quickly chased by Academy City powered suits.

Accelerator arrives in the knick of time—albeit pissed that complications are being added to his mission—but once Elizalina has had a look at both Last Order and Takitsubo, she determines it’s possible to save both (though Last Order will be trickier).

Accelerator starts to head out to “do what must be done”, which will entail veering off the rails of villainy Academy City laid out for him, and which he followed without protest. He suggests Misaka Worst do the same thing: “stumble upon a route other than the one where” she’ll “only get used up”. Worst seems game, even if she can’t help but laugh at Accelerator’s expressions and words.

Someone currently being used, and utterly powerless to sever that control, is poor Index, who is in England with Stiyl and Laura Stuart. Turns out there are two remote control magical items: the one Fiamma stole and the one the she possesses. She intends to use her item to interrupt Fiamma’s and foil his plans. Stiyl notes how no part of her plan is looking out for Index’s well-being, but that’s par for the course with Laura.

Fiamma’s plan, meanwhile, proceeds as he planned, with Touma and Lessar arriving exactly where and when he wanted, and in time to demonstrate the scale and scope of his power by extracting an absolutely gargantuan cross (or sword?…Cross-sword?) out of the ground.

All this happens just as the stealth plane Misaka hijacked arrives in Russia. An angel descends from the sky and slices the plane in half, but Biribiri safely lands with no issues, as does the pilot. Immediately upon soft-landing in a little spot where her electricity melted the snow, she’s approached by Misaka 10777, apparently of an Academy City Russian co-op outfit that has just finished withdrawing.

10777 must have detected Big Sis and went to her location to share in her “private time”, implying Misaka is not here on any kind of official business, Academy City-affiliated or otherwise. And she’s absolutely right: Misaka has given herself quite the limited mandate: Save that good-for-nothin’, two-timin’, run-of-the-mill Level 0 high schooler with the spiky hair and a tiny Engish nun for a roommate. We’ll see how successful she is in not getting involved with anything else!

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 20 – No Excuses

The Russia arc reaches a satisfying turning point as allies start to join our over-matched heroes. Accelerator may have spared Misaka Worst’s life, but it’s not in Worst’s programming to be grateful for it; in fact, she’s quite pissed! But Accelerator has bigger problems: he’s seemingly out of control, letting the evil destructive side take over while lil’ Last Order slowly freezes in the snow.

As Touma and Lessar head towards Fiamma’s location, his words about Touma’s deceiving of Index weigh on his mind. Lessar reassures him he’s done—and is doing—the right thing: moving forward, helping where he can, and saving lives, both there and in Britain. Hamazura’s attempting to do the same thing, without the benefit of Imagine Breaker.

As Carissa and the British armies continue their advance across the channel, they bring the Mobile Fortress Glastonbury looms overhead, providing a mobile bastion of British soil that will allow Curtana’s power to be used anywhere.

They are met by the Holy Maiden of Versailles, a Joan d’Arc-looking warrior who crosses swords with the second princess. This part of the Russia arc is the least interesting to me so far, especially since it hasn’t yet really gotten anywhere (the channel isn’t that vast) and involves too many players to focus on any of them for long.

Far more engaging is the totally epic duel in the tundra between a Touma and Accelerator. One is pissed about being overpowered by Fiamma so easily; the other is pissed that Last Order continues to suffer. Their battle is accompanied by suitably badass battle music, and the two lads trade blows, but ultimately it’s Touma who gets the upper hand.

If Touma had any serious doubts about how he’s dealt with Index before, he certainly doesn’t after seeing an alternative scenario in Accelerator has dealt with Last Order. He’s so angry over the fact so many people have allowed her to suffer, and that his evil villain persona doesn’t seem to be enough to protect her.

Touma basically tells Accelerator to get over himself: he doesn’t need any reason or excuse to step up and protect Last Order, nor is there any reason for him not to rely on others to help if he feels he alone isn’t enough. Touma releases whatever magic had been applied to Last Order, and Accelerator betrays a smile of relief. These two together; they’ve got a change against Fiamma.

Hamazura doesn’t have any luck with a relative pea-shooter against an incoming privateer tank, but decides to repurpose one of the mines the villagers have collected as an anti-tank grenade. He stops the tank in its tracks, but then an attack helicopter buzzes overhead and prepares to take him out. Very well-supplied privateers, these guys!

The chopper is taken out by none other than Acqua, admiring Hamazura’s dedication to protecting the innocent villagers from massacre. So now Hamazura has a powerful ally in his goal to save Takitsubo, who still isn’t looking so great.

Back in the channel, Carissa ceases her duel with the French Maiden, blaming Fiamma for this war, and warns that if Russia’s mainland is invaded and its nuke facilities under threat of being taken over, an airborne killer virus wall will be dispersed, a scorched-earth directive that will result in appalling casualties.

Carissa admits she needs French soil to continue her advance, but at the moment the two countries have a mutual enemy: Fiamma. Rather than fight each other, they’ll need to join forces to stop him.

And just in case Accelerator+Touma, Hamazura+Acqua, and Britain+France aren’t enough against Fiamma, who is preparing to use Sasha to do…something bad, Misaka and Shirai finally learn of Touma’s whereabouts, and Misaka hastily begins packing for a trip to Russia.

Perhaps, finally, hopefully, she’ll be able to contribute something concrete and meaningful this season! Unfortunately, the plane it looks like she’s taking has a stowaway: Mugino, She Who Will Never Die, who isn’t done with Hamazura.

When Accelerator wakes up, he’s in Elizalina, and wouldn’t you know it, someone finally gave Last Order some climate-appropriate clothes and shoes! Thank goodness for that; I was worried she’d get frostbite and hypothermia. Touma and Lessar (who is glad he’s looking more confident and resolved) continue heading to Fiamma for Round Two.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 03 – An Honest Girl Magnet

“Something about changing and getting so happy is scary,” Hikari tells Itou. So much so it makes him overly self-conscious and embarrassed about how intensely his heart beats whenever Iroha is near. Unfortunately Hikari still has much to learn about communicating his feelings good or bad, so he ends up ignoring Iroha and even pushing her hand away.

The only answers he can give her are “sorry” and “it’s nothing”, as if she wouldn’t understand. He’s still too stuck inside himself to trust someone else, especially with emotions he’s never had and can’t begin to explain. So it causes a rift.

Almost simultaneously, a girl slips on a banana peel and Hikari helps her up. It’s his classmate Ishino Arisa, whose first instinct upon realizing who helped her is to call him “gross” like all the others do. But later, she doesn’t run away or dismiss him when he tries to seek advice from someone who doesn’t make his heart pound.

Because Ishino also likes someone, their common ground on which to lay the foundation for a conversation. Part of her is worried this gloomy dude will commit suicide if she leaves him alone, but part is just as receptive to talking about the strange feelings people get for one another, and because neither of them share those feelings for each other, there’s no pressure.

Ishino decides a good step to take is for Hikari to lose the bangs as part of a larger effort to look more presentable (and less gloomy), but she can’t take a single snip of hair (with craft scissors) when Iroha arrives and declares that Hikari “belongs to her.”

Hikari thought she hated him for how he snubbed her, but her rudeness with Ishino is ample proof that’s not the case. Nor does Hikari hate her; they’re merely misunderstanding each others’ discomfort with the new and complicated emotions they’re feeling, as just about anything new makes people uncomfortable.

Speaking of comfort, on both the advice of his mom and the fact Iroha likes the same show, Hikari gets into baking as a means of both expressing his affection for Iroha and releasing pent-up stress (with which, as we all know, eating sweets can help).

Iroha is contrite towards Ishino and before long, Hikari is one of a circle of four. Iroha may claim to “not need” friends, but what else do you call four kids at school sharing each others company (and cookies) and talking to one another about themselves?

When asked, Ishino mentions things are going okay with her boy Shun, but the others soon learn he finds Ishino “convenient” in the way she lends him money and doesn’t mind the sight of other girls’ clothes in his room. He’s a cad, but Iroha doesn’t feel its quite their place to intervene, and Hikari and Itou aren’t about to disagree.

However, Iroha breaks her own rules and pummels Shun with her bookbag, not necessarily to defend a friend (she’d still say Ishino wasn’t one), but because he was pissing her off by calling Ishino stupid within earshot of Ishino. Ultimately Ishino decides to break up with Shun, but her stoic face is quickly soaked in tears; she’s not happy about it, even though she thinks it was the right thing to do.

To help dry his new friend’s tears and reduce her stress levels, Hikari suggests they head to the roof and eat the cheesecake and donuts he made. When Iroha gets some chocolate on her face he wipes it off with his hand, and Ishino declares that while she wan’t jealous of them before, she is now.

Hikari marvels at how there are only honest girls around him, but he doesn’t know how lucky he is. It’s up to him to be just as honest with them, as well as Itou. I’m not saying fake or deceptive people are lame, but I don’t think Hikari is compatible with them at all. He’s someone who needs things said to him straight, and hopefully he’ll pick up the habit.

And so, up there on the roof, trying not to worry too much about what the future might bring, Hikari is simply happy he can be a “normie”, and interact with these very exotic creatures called 3D human friends. It might feel weird, but he’ll surely get used to it.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 02 – Half a Year Won’t Be Enough

Last week I noted how 3DK succeeded because it was committed to depicting a relationship of equals from the start, and that continues early this week when Iroha immediately challenges those who whisper unkind things about her new boyfriend.

Hikari doesn’t mind—he thinks he is gloomy, at least at school—but would rather she didn’t call attention to him. But at this stage Hikari is also still weary of getting to deeply into a relationship that will probably end in half a year when she moves (let’s face it, long-distance sucks).

His inexperience in 3D girl relationships rears its ugly head when Iroha gives him a clear invitation to go on a date Sunday, but he doesn’t get the hint at the time, and sticks to his original plan of waiting in line, buying a game, and playing it. But when he sees Iroha with another man, he’s both hurt and angry (and likely calling to mind her rep at school, threatening to  fall into the classthink trap once more).

But suddenly Iroha is throwing stones at his window because she missed him, and assuming the other guy was a misunderstanding, had no reason to doubt her sincerity. Then he babbles about “not having the patience” of
those other guys” and doesn’t know how to find out whether he and she are seriously dating.

Iroha has an idea: take him to a hotel where they can sleep together. She says it’s her first time—another way they’re on the same level—but he feels like she’s “undervaluing herself” by consenting to sex when they still barely know each other.

Then…he runs out, just leaving her there, presumably to pay for the room. Sorry, but that’s just bad form. I understand not being ready for sex and This All Happening So Fast and not seeming as “special” as you thought, but you could, you know, stay and talk with her. Maybe he still had that other guy in his head…or maybe he just panicked.

The next day, Hikari encounters that other guy, who tells them he’s not dating Iroha, and Hikari takes that to mean there’s some other kind of relationship in play, and that Iroha would be better off with a normie than the gloomy likes of him.

The doc, for his part, is a wonderful neutral observer of Hikari, and takes note of Hikari’s lack of backbone. Even if he’s not really involved with Iroha, he would hope someone who is would fight for her rather than scurry off.

The situation is resolved when Hikari calls Iroha to the school roof and tells her about the other guy. Iroha in turn spits out a sequence of lies about the doc being her boyfriend and having a serious illness. But she cops to the lies almost immediately.

There’s a wonderful disarming vulnerability to those short-lived lies of hers, like she’s putting out feelers to test Hikari’s reactions. Eventually, the air is fully cleared (she only visits the doc for her asthma), after Hikari is inspired by his favorite magical girl anime and vows to protect her, which Iroha rightly points out is a bit narcissistic.

Still, she’s happy Hikari is thinking of her (in his own way). She also invites herself to his house, nearly causing his mom and little brother to lose their shit with vicarious excitement. Having a girl who likes you and who like in your room seems to simple in concept, but it’s momentous in practice.

In the process, Iroha has the same reaction to his anime as he had when he first watched it, and he realizes her open-mindedness has always been a reliable constant since they started interacting. That helps put him further at ease, and the two almost kiss, but are interrupted.

In any case, Hikari learns from the doc that Iroha’s birthday is imminent, and his mom rustles up some amusement park tickets, because she knows damn well how useless her son is with cultivating romance. With help from Hikari’s trusty friend Itou, he creates a clay figurine of Iroha-as-magical girl to give her after a fun-filled day at the park.

This could have easily been weird and a little creepy, so I’m glad it turned out to be a very sweet and heartfelt gesture. He worked long nights during which he’d otherwise have been gaming to craft something of sufficient quality, then offered it at precisely the perfect time as a surprise, complete with a pretty good line if you’re in high school: “You also use magic. When I’m with you, amazing things constantly happen.” For that, he gets a kiss, and since they’re in a Ferris Wheel, there are no interruptions.

Hikari and Iroha made a lot of progress this week towards learning more about and understanding one another. But the fact remains she’ll be out of his life again in less than half a year, and it’s already tearing him apart inside. But if it’s truly love between these two, I’m sure a way can be found to avoid permanent separation.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 01 – Sudden Romantic Adventures in the Third Dimension! (First Impressions)

Having watched my fare share of anime romances (and being in a couple of actual ones), if I’ve learned one thing it’s that balance appeals to me. One-sided relationships can evolve over time into mutual enthusiasm, but more often than not simply fizzle out, so it’s best when both parties—girl-guy, guy-guy, girl-girl, whatever—have an equal stake a prospective relationship.

That’s what we get with 3D Kanojo: two people who on the surface couldn’t be more different (gal and otaku) but who are both fundamentally good people, yet also lonely due to their personalities and mannerisms falling outside the social mainstream. This is the story of them coming together due to a realization that there’s more alike than different about them, especially in the places where it really matters.

Tsutsui Hikari is an otaku, and a middle school of being ostracized and mocked for it has hardened his heart, particularly against real girls. He brings that baggage and buys into the classthink about Igarashi Iroha being bad news, “gaudy, sleazy, and disliked by girls” as she is.

Already, a similarity: both are disliked by “normal” girls. He also latches onto a perceived insult from Iroha when the two have to clean the pool: she uses the word “gross”, which is clearly a trigger for the long-suffering Hikari. Nothing else about their early interactions suggests Iroha harbors any particular malice towards Hikari. In fact, she tells him she should “fall in love” or something.

That Sunday we witness the banality of malice Hikari and his only friend and fellow otaku Itou Yuuto endured when his former middle school classmate Mika recognizes him and continues treating him like a big gross joke. When he stands up for himself, Mika doubles down.

Then Iroha appears, in her Sunday Most Glamorous, acts as if she and Hikari are a couple, then shoos off  the “fugly” girls who were needlessly going after Iroha. She even clarifies “gross” remark she made was merely about how he might feel about his bangs in his eyes, not directed at him, while admitting that with Itou, Hikari has one more friend than she does.

Both Hikari and Itou have no choice but to consider that perhaps Iroha—someone they did not know—is actually a good person, now that they know a little more about her.

Back at school, Iroha finds herself in the middle of an unwanted love triangle, and the boy who believes she belongs to him yells at her and slaps her. After momentarily standing aside and allowing her to “get what she deserves”, Hikari thankfully and quickly corrects his assessment, and puts himself between Iroha and further physical danger.

The values of standing up for what’s right and not backing down are among the advantages of his anime fandom, if not his self-preservation. He may be far weaker than this karate captain guy, but it doesn’t matter, he’s in the right.

Boy or girl, preying on the weak is wrong, at least in human society. It may still go on all the damn time, but Hikari found himself in a position to stop an instance of it, so he did…even if people thinks he’s being “gross” for trying to be a hero.

Iroha doesn’t think it’s gross. She stays with the injured Hikari until he insists she let him be, giving him a kiss as thanks for his help. But when she approaches him in class and very publicly asks him out, Hikari panics and rejects her out of hand.

In doing so he again lets himself get taken in by the classthink, despite having a better, more nuanced idea of who Iroha is. Despite being saved by her, and despite saving her, Hikari’s lack of trust in girls remains a powerful, almost reflexive force in his psyche.

It’s a good thing Hikari has the one friend, because it’s Itou who repeats the words of their favorite magical girl, Ezomichi: “You call yourself a man? You Coward!” in assessing Hikari’s reluctance to trust or respond to Iroha’s feelings. But forget masculine conventions: any relationship means bearing a part of yourself.

Hikari will have to fight against the shell of distrust he’s created to do so. To his credit, he attempts to do so, first by gathering more information about Iroha. His method for doing so—doing a terrible job stalking her—isn’t ideal, but we’re dealing with someone not well-versed in social skills.

Iroha can be a bit of a trouble magnet, such as when she’s suddenly wrongfully accused of shoplifting at a bookstore. But Hikari steps between Iroha and her accuser before Iroha strips to prove her innocence, intricately detailing Iroha’s activities since he left the hospital.

When it’s time to part, and it’s raining, Hikari lends Iroha his umbrella, and she tells him she didn’t ask him out as a whim, or out of pity: but because of how he made her feel after he stopped the karate boy. She felt it again when he saved her from injustice.

Predictably, Hikari catches cold, but refuses to break his perfect attendance record, and is soon back at school with a mask. He’s late, and has to clean the pool again…but Iroha is late too…on purpose. The cleaning duty, as well as his cold, is partially her fault (she’s willing to share the blame with him), so she removes his mask and kisses him, before going to clean the pool herself

By now, Hikari knows how he feels for this real girl, but remains apprehensive to the point of inaction. Itou reminds him of the “unconquerable resilience” they’ve both developed after years of people being cruel to them.

It’s time to re-purpose that resilience by going out on a limb and trusting somebody. Being played with or manipulated; losing his pride or dignity…that may well happen anyway. There will always be some who deem him gross out of hand. He can’t worry about that, and in any case, he’s prepared to weather it.

So he runs to the pool, asks Iroha out, and they embrace, with the caveat that she’ll be transferring schools in half a year. Hikari’s first romance may well be short, but there’s every possibility in the world it can be a sweet and rewarding one…as long as it’s a relationship of equals.

Between Tada-kun and 3D Kanojo, week one is a clear win for 3D. It was more than a collection of happy coincidences and provided far more detail and nuance in its leads, making me more emotionally invested and excited for what comes next. Also, Hikari’s timid sidekick is a lot more tolerable than Mitsuyoshi’s brash one.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 09

Ice is broken on two different fronts this week. Crew member Zaizen Toshio is in love with Team Captain Toudou, and needs all the help he can get, so he seeks intel from Shirase, who has known her for ten years.

While that’s a long time, Shirase claims she and Toudou didn’t ever speak that much on the occasions Shirase’s mom wasn’t around. Speaking with Kanae, Gin backs that up; there’s a distance between them.

The girls’ social media views are tanking, so they decide to use Toshio’s crush as an angle to interview the captain on her love life in order to lure followers back. But you have to think they’re also trying to get Gin and Shirase talking.

Since they haven’t talked, Gin has to assume that Shirase hates her and has never forgiven her for not coming back with her mom. As the girls (sans Shirase) ambush Gin about her love life (with Kanae’s help), they don’t come up with much, but we also get little flashbacks to mundane yet meaningful little moments between Gin and Shirase.

When Shirase’s mom says such encounters were very much planned, it confirms that she always intended for Gin to be on good terms with Shirase if anything ever happened to her, which it did. Even back then, the two eventually break the ice over their mutual love of penguins and jumping rope (at which Shirase is presently very adept).

It’s another simultaneous penguin spotting that draws the two together on the deck, and Gin simply comes out and asks Shirase what’s up. Shirase says all the mature things—she doesn’t hate Gin; her mom often stated the dangers of her job; Gin is not to blame—but when Gin asks if that’s how she really feels, Shirase breaks down.

The truth is, Shirase doesn’t know how she really feels, which is why she didn’t want to discuss it. She spent a long time after her mother’s death waiting for her to come home, until she decided the only way forward was to go where she went, “to the place further than the universe,” to grasp what the hell it was her mom was prepared to die—and did die—to brave.

It’s another marvelous, moving monologue from Hanazawa Kana, rudely interrupted by the icebreaker slamming into a sheet of “fast ice”, which was expected by the crew. We watch as the ship repeatedly backs up and rams the ice until it breaks up, which is what icebreakers do.

The procedure underscores just how uninviting Antarctica is—it won’t let you even get close without a fight—while also serving as a handy metaphor for hard the crew of the Penguin Manju, and Japan itself, has had and has to work to get to where they want to be.

As the ship crunches a path in the ice, Gin regails Shirase about how the rest of the world basically gave postwar Japan the most challenging slice of Antarctica and said “if you want to try, go right ahead.” They did go ahead, and they did try, and were successful, just as the crew of the Penguin Manju does, and just as the four girls do when they touch down on ice for a brief spell.

Shirase tears up upon standing there, and goes into a rant encapsulated by the phrase “in your face!” referring to everyone who mocked her for saying she was going to Antarctica. Not only do the other girls join her in a hearty “in your face”; Gin and the entire crew do so as well. No doubt Shirase’s mom would be proud of them both.

Little Witch Academia – 20

Despite Akko’s protesting (with backup from Andrew) Diana insists she has no choice but to perform the ritual before the transit of Venus behind the moon is complete. She goes into the ritual chambers alone, but is immediately impeded in her mission by Aunt Daryl, who wraps her in one of her many giant magic snake familiars.

No matter how much logic he tosses at Akko, she knows it’s not right for Diana to be dropping out; she’s clearly putting her own dreams aside for the good of her family. When they eavesdrop on Daryl and her twin daughters talking about how she had no problem stopping Diana, Akko has all the moral capital she needs to break with sacred Cavendish custom and enter the sanctum to rescue her.

Andrew helps, convinced that Akko is right. He remembers how passionate Diana became years ago when talk flew around she wouldn’t be able to perform magic. We know the spark of inspiration was the twin pillars of her mother and Shiny Chariot. But to her credit, Akko keeps Andrew out of the sanctum: she’ll bring back Diana on her own…all the way back the academy.

Akko proves she can mostly take care of herself, using her patented partial-transformation magic in rapid-fire mode to lure the snakes away from Diana and stay one step ahead until she regains consciousness and saves her.

With Akko bitten and poisoned, Diana sacrifices her chance to complete the ritual by healing and staying with Akko, who wakes up, then scolds Diana for staying there with her instead of continuing on with the ritual. But this is just Diana being Diana: kind, caring, and healing, just like her mother and the centuries of Cavandishes who came before her.

It’s no coincidence their conversation is held in a facility borne of that family “affection”, a secret hospital where Diana’s ancestors used their considerable magical knowledge to heal the wounded from conflicts that plagued history, without regard to whose side they were on.

Diana’s confession of her lifelong dream (to protect and preserve her family’s and mother’s names and the home they left behind) moves Akko to assure her she can still achieve that dream, restoring her family and complete her education at Luna Nova, as long as she…you guessed it, believes in her heart.

In this manner, two Chariot superfans—one current, one lapsed—come together to realize her credo that a believing heart can make anything possible. To that end, traditional and modern powers mingle, and Diana realizes the fifth word is Akko’s for the taking.

Reciting it summons Chariot’s broom, which they ride together to reach the site where the ritual is to be completed…only to find Aunt Beryl and her daughters waiting to disrupt Diana once more.

For this latest act of treachery, Diana’s relations are punished not by her or Akko, but by the system itself, and are quickly encased in trees. As she did with Akko, Diana stays true to her family’s legacy again by putting judgement aside and helping others before herself.

By the time she’s saved Daryl and the twins, the Venusian eclipse is over, but Diana still gets a momentary nod of approval, so to speak, from her family’s founder, Lady Beatrix. She may not have quite completed the ritual, but it’s clear to all who will lead the Cavendish family’s future.

Until that time, Diana is free to return to Luna Nova, much to Akko’s delight. She also gives Akko a ride home on her broom, which is the perfect time for her to express her gratitude for what Akko did…softly, and only once. Still, Akko heard her, and after their shared experiences this week their bond has never been tighter.

After charming and fun but inconsequential episodes involving the B-characters, this Diana-focused two-parter was a welcome and worthwhile outing that brought two rivals closer together and brought Akko one word closer to potentially changing the world.

I also appreciated the bonhomie that’s gradually developed between Akko and Andrew (who will be back, at least to give Akko her hat back). While I would have preferred if Diana’s full fleshing-out arc had come sooner, it’s better late than never, and well worth the wait.