Happy Sugar Life – 09 – Eliminating All Risks

In exchange for the change to see and be purified by Shio, Taiyo follows through with Satou’s instructions, giving Asahi Shio’s sock and telling a tale about it being found at a station some distance away. A cordial exchange quickly devolves into nastiness when Asahi smells some kind of trickery afoot, and then triggers Taiyo into a rage by calling him a “dirty adult”; pretty much the worst insult you can throw his way.

Still, Asahi regrets how things ended, and decides to take Taiyos advice and travel afar for more clues. The night before he leaves he meets Shouko in the park once more. Shouko thinks everything about Asahi is amazing, and while he’s not manly or her type at all, a part of her is jealous of Shio for having such a gallant prince willing to move forward no matter how much it may hurt or how scared he is. She bids him farewell with an exchange of contact info, and a kiss.

Satou is at the station to make sure Asahi is on his way, then returns home to 1208 to spend the whole day with Shio. It just happens to be the “anniversary” of the day she first kidnapped her. Satou celebrates by buying a bunch of fancy sweets which the two share together, and when Shio brings up the future, and securing said future together with the bonds of marriage, Satou is ready with two rings.

Both she and Shio are happy beyond words; giddy, even. And in a moment of particularly intense giddiness, Shio pounces on Satou as she’s exiting the front door…

…Where Shouko is waiting there with her cameraphone, and snaps a picture of Shio with Satou. It’s a devastating needle scratch but also a welcome glass of cold ice water on Satou’s frankly impossible (and ridiculously amoral) fantasy dream world. Her Happy Sugar Life is a sham; a mere house of cards that falls all too easily once a sliver of reality peeks in.

And yet, as evil as Satou’s actions are, Shouko comes with at least a veneer of non-judgment, acceptance, and love of and for Satou, no matter what she’s become, what she’s done. No matter how far she’s sunk into the muck, Shouko wants to pull her out and back into the light—the real light. But Shouko is doomed the moment Satou saw her on the balcony; before she even snapped that picture.

In a thoroughly unpleasant, sickeningly brutal scene, Satou grabs Shouko from behind as she’s leaving, sticks a knife in her throat, and suffocates her with her hand as she bleeds out. Another risk eliminated. She used soft power on Asahi, but had to go hard with Shouko, who kept persisting and interfering.

But Shouko’s death wasn’t in vain. The photo of Shio with Satou reaches Asahi. Will he be prudent enough to report Shio’s kidnapping to trained authorities and let them deal with Satou, or will he try to go after her alone? How will Satou deal with Shouko’s body, and will her murder spark a purge of more “risks”?

Most importantly, how will Shio respond to this once the initial shock wears off? Perhaps Shio herself could end up dealing the decisive blow to Satou’s delusional,  impossible world of sugar and happiness. The foundations of that world are as rotten as her aunt’s apartment; they’re sinking ever deeper into the earth made soft by spilled blood.

Happy Sugar Life – 08 – How We Got Here, Where We’re Going

Now the picture of Matsuzaka Satou is that much more complete. Room 1208, the cage in which she now keeps Shio, was once the apartment where a loner artist resided. He didn’t want anything from Satou except for her to pose, and let her talk about whatever she wanted.

In the minimalist first half, it’s just Hanazawa Kana as Satou talking. The artist responds, but we only hear static, and never get a good look at him. It doesn’t really matter who he is, but what he wanted. He wanted Satou to remain incomplete and unsatisfied, so he could keep drawing her.

That changed when, one day, for reasons unexplained, Satou brought Shio to 1208. Before long, she started to feel something around her she felt for no one else; she became complete; satisfied. In other words, everything the artist didn’t want.

So he tried to get rid of Shio in the most reckless fumbling way: trying to choke her to death when Satou was out of the room. Of course, she enters, and the atelier becomes a violent murder scene.

Since Shio was a witness to it—albeit likely dazed/disoriented by the choking—it sure looks like the creepy figure she’s drawn in the closet is Satou herself. Shio carries the trauma every day, and it occasionally surfaces. That’s a problem!

Taiyo comes to a kind of revelation: he needs to give up on Shio and try to become a normal guy again. He’s content to keep the wanted poster in his pocket as he puts the pieces of his past life back together, not letting the trauma of the abuse he endured further mire him.

Unfortunately, his resolve to reform is brittle, and Satou finds him at the perfect time to shatter it, offering Shio’s still-warm sock to prove she’s serious about letting the “knight” meet the “angel” and let her “purify” him. All he has to do is get rid of the person trying to take Shio away from her.

I first thought Satou wanted Taiyo to get rid of the teacher, but I rethought that conclusion when Asahi gets a call from someone offering him a clue as to Shio’s whereabouts. I immediately thought that this was the first step in the plan Taiyo is carrying out for Satou.

Complicating matters is that Asahi is the one who finds Shouko at her lowest point, cursing herself for rejecting Satou when Satou needed her most and wanting to “disappear.” Asahi assures her she’s a kind and good person—the type of person prone to always laming themselves.

Asahi comforts Shouko and cheers her up, and they now seem to be friends, since she’s still by his side when he gets that phone call. If Asahi is Satou’s target via Taiyo, I doubt Shouko will escape uninvolved.

3-gatsu no Lion – 29

This week is all about dealing with unpleasant or unreasonable people. It would be nice if such people didn’t exist in the world, but they do, hence the dealing.

Hina has to deal with a teacher who hasn’t learned anything from what happened with Chiho, only this time Hina makes her anger about the situation known.

Akari is nervous about being called in and having to face off against other parents. She’s heard horror stories about how forcefully they take their own child’s side, and wonders if she’ll need backup in the form of Grandpa or Auntie.

Rei yells, perhaps too loud, that he’s there for her too, and that’s all it takes for Akari to pull out of her worry-spiral and start thinking the right way: she’s not alone, and it will all work out. Probably!

Rei wants to help in any way he can, but is well aware of his shortcomings. His heartfelt desire is to be needed; he believes continuing to fight and win in his chosen field is the best way to do so.

He makes sure his colleague Nikaidou gets some rest before the next day’s match, assuring him he’ll do fine as long as he takes care of himself.

As for Rei, actively working to fulfill his own desires constitutes taking care of himself; always a welcome development.

In order to win, he must play—and defeat—Subaru Hachiya, an opponent he almost immediately finds offensively irritating. The 23-year-old up-and-comer stomps around, clicks his tongue, shakes his legs, taps his fingers, slams pieces onto the board with a rude force. He also plays comically fast, as if he has a bus to catch.

Rei doesn’t seem to have much trouble beating Hachiya, but he’s later blamed by the older players for “poking the hive” and allowing Hachiya’s worst behaviors to assert themselves rather than trying to “contain” him.

While far less serious, it’s the same basic situation as Hina, as Rei was a victim of Hachiya’s rudeness as Hina was a victim of the bullies, yet here they are, being blamed for their comparatively far better conduct.

Maybe Hina’s teacher sucks, but maybe she’s also seen enough Chihos and Hinas to know that the bully/victim class dynamic isn’t going away, any more than Hachiya’s buzzing can be tamed. Neither Hina nor Rei chose the easy way that would be “better for everyone”, and that’s their choice to make.

3-gatsu no Lion – 28

Hina is the focus again this week, and the show is all the better for it; it’s good to see that while he still has plenty of doubts, in this situation Rei is the one who isn’t emotionally at sea, and even has a concrete path he’s following for the sake of the girl who saved her. Hina has been all but a co-protagonist this season, giving Hanazawa Kana some really good material to work with and simply letting her do her thing.

In case her middle school life can never return to its former normalcy (and even that was a bit of a charade), Rei continues to familiarize Hina with shogi, which served Rei well in the past as an escape from unfavorable conditions, and is now the game that pays his bills. Rather hilariously, Rei proves as bad at going easy on Hina (even though he’s trying) as he is good at competing professionally.

Sitting alone with Hina in her room (for the first time), Rei feels it’s a suitable time to ask Hina to tell him, in small bits, in her own time, what’s going on at school. Hina describes, among other things, an oppressively awkward and hostile atmosphere and “an invisible hierarchy” in which “your ranking decides how loud you can laugh or how much freedom you’re allowed.” In other words, every damn middle school classroom, ever.

Of course, not all classrooms are like that, but by no means an uncommon atmosphere, and both Hina and Chiho are partly victims of bad luck, and partly victims of their own selfless personalities. While changing that atmosphere may be nigh impossible, it’s much easier to bypass it.

Takahashi asks for Hina by name and invites her to play catch with him during lunch. He tells her Rei came by his house to play shogi with his dad and granddad—a granddad usually bedridden, but a spring chicken before Rei and a shogi board.

In any case, Takahashi understands the situation, and tells Hina if the classroom is ever too much, they can simply play catch. Hina is overjoyed.

The joy—and the prudence of Rei involving Takahashi—is short-lived, and the bullies escalate by scrawling slurs on Hina’s desk (albeit in chalk; these girls aren’t yet to the point where they’re gouging the wood).

Their leader also calls Hina a bitch under her breath, but Takahashi seems to hear it, or at least can read the room, then invites the three hellions to join him and Hina in their game of catch.

Before I could ponder whether Takahashi was trying to quell the conflict through inclusion, he unleashes some game-level heat at the fawning bullies, sending them running off.

Then Takahashi tells Hina why he did what he did: Chiho once gave him half of her lunch when his bento box fell in the dirt. He knew then, as he knows now, that anyone who shares their food with you is a good person, and he doesn’t think Hina should be afraid to show she has allies in this war.

It’s sweet, sweet revenge and a wonderful sentiment, but I knew its effects would be temporary, and perhaps even cause further escalation. That night, while playing shogi with Hina, Rei apologizes for introducing another element into her problem so recklessly.

But Hina is grateful for everything Rei has done, and is happy he is always asking her what she wants. She’s just frustrated that she doesn’t know…or that she does know, but knows there’ll be no turning back if she does that, because two wrongs don’t make a right and such, right?

Rei has always felt that Hina is stronger than him, and he’ll never surpass her in that regard. The bullies may be having their fun drawing awful stuff on the chalkboard, but they’re not just causing Hina pain…they’re making her madand toughening her. Rei realizes that his pacifist nature may not apply to Hina, and that simply becoming invisible, shuffling off to stare at bushes or play shogi may not be the best options for her.

So when the teacher asks Hina for an explanation, she stands tall, proud, and tearless, and tells the truth: she doesn’t know; she didn’t write that; it was written there before she came to class. The teacher seems to remember the Chiho situation she handled so badly (Chiho is now in psychological rehab, unable to even respond to Hina’s letters). One can hope she’ll handle things a little better this time.

3-gatsu no Lion – 27

As part of repaying his debt he feels he owes her, Rei wants to help Hina in anyway he can, and that means getting a new perspective on the matter of bullying. Hayashida-sensei misunderstands at first. Rei isn’t the one being bullied. Indeed, he proudly proclaims his hard-won and long-standing invisibility at school.

When he brings up Hina, then describes her personality in such great detail and then presents his passion and motivation on the matter (“my duty as a human being” and such) Hayashida starts thinking that there is someone Rei likes. Of course, Rei isn’t thinking that way at all; Hina is not just a dear friend, but close to family, and his lifesaver to boot.

Hayashida gives Rei some good advice, including to tread carefully and not make a big fuss at school, lest it just make things worse for the victim, but to instead listen very intently to her feelings on the matter; how she’d like the matter resolved.

You know Rei is super-serious about this endeavor because he has a back-up plan: if Hina has to change schools or get a private tutor, he means to support her, not just emotionally, but financially. To that end, Hayashida spots a stack of shogi tournaments into which Rei has entered, calculating all of the winnings he’ll amass, which makes him a bit worried.

Despite saying he (literally!) can’t afford to lose again, he does inevitably lose, and is so angry he wrangles an all-to-willing Nikaidou to strenuously train with him. Nikaidou thinks Rei finally has fire in his belly and is utilizing his Best Friend; Rei just wants money to repay Hina!

The next day, Rei helps Akari lug home a whole mess of groceries she got a big sale. When Rei tells Akari his weight, she hurries home to start cooking, and won’t hear of Rei leaving.

There’s something about Rei, perhaps in part his personality; and the experiences he’s had (the loss of loved ones being something they share), that has Kawamotos pour their hearts out at him. Akari feels she can talk to him, and criticizes herself for the job she’s done as surrogate mom to Hina, lamenting she’s “no good.”

Only nineteen herself when their mother died, Akari had barely lived any life before suddenly becoming a mother of two. She did her best, but in hindsight worries she instilled “ham-fisted” ideals into Hina, which led to her predicament with her friend and the bullies.

Akari admired Gramps simply praising Hina’s courage, but she hates the part of herself for wanting Hina to simply run away rather than do something that would cause her to be unhappy or alone. This is, of course, silly; Gramps has lived a long-ass life, of course he’s going to have more wisdom on these kinds of things. Akari is too hard on herself here.

Rei reassures Akari that just as Hina did nothing wrong in fighting the good fight, neither did Akari. After all, Akari raised the girl who saved Rei’s life; that makes Akari his savior too. Had Hina been raised not to be as kind as she is, or to think of herself before others, Rei might not even be there talking to her.

His honest words cheer Akari up, and she fixes a big ‘ol pot of curry for dinner. When Gramps returns from the theme park with Hina and Momo, he complains that Rei is there “again”, but he’s only joking around, and orders him to sit, eat, and stop making him feel like the bad guy.

While stepping back into the house, Hina hands him a cartoon cat phone strap that somewhat resembles him, as thanks for everything he’s done. Hina expects Rei to think it childish, but he tells her he’s moved, and thanks her. It’s such a nice, quiet, warm moment shared between two people who will hopefully be thanking each other for being there for one another for a good long time to come.

Netsuzou TRap – 03

Another five minutes of Hotaru fooling with Yume using “practice” as an excuse. Even Yume is starting to have her doubts, and while Takeda is totally unaware, Fujiwara has now caught the two kissing on the slopes.

Rather than elucidate Takeda on the situation, he decides to take Hotaru to his room for the night, leaving Yume little choice but to invite Takeda into hers, or leave him out in the cold. Not exactly forcing a choice, but certainly limiting them.

For the record, Fujiwara and Hotaru are (separately) in agreement that Yume has the power to stop this…but she has to want to. At least she knows Hotaru has the tendency to throw her off balance.

But at some point she’ll have to decide which way to tip the scales: first boyfriend, or best friend who seems to want more…or maybe she’ll continue to be in this state of limbo for the whole run of the show! Either way, if it’s all the same to ya’ll I think I’ll be stepping back from this.

Netsuzou TRap – 02

In its latest five minutes, NTR tries to get a little more granular with the relationship between Yuma and Hotaru. They go back years, and Yuma always played the protective role of shining knight when the Hotaru was teased.

Fast-forward to the present, and Yuma is still Hotaru’s only female friend. Yuma is still a little resentful that Hotaru found a boyfriend before her, but now that Yuma has one, Hotaru is being almost clingy with her teasing, and the kissing was a big deal for Yuma.

Yuma’s boyfriend Takeda is a pretty nice guy, proposing bold sleepover but changing it to a double date out of consideration for how close Yuma and Hotaru clearly are. But Hotaru was pretty blatantly manipulative with both Yuma and Takeda.

At the amusement park, we learn possibly why that is, and why Hotaru just might prefer Yuma: her boyfriend Fujiwara, has a bit of a temper, slamming his foot on the bench she’s sitting on when she refuses his advances. He’s also already suspicious about her and Yuma, while Takeda is blissfully unaware.

It would seem then, that Hotaru yearns to maintain the knight-and-damsel dynamic Yuma and her have always had. Hotaru just doesn’t seem that interested in Fujiwara. She seems to prefer Yuma, and wants her, whether Yuma has a decent boyfriend or not.

Alderamin on the Sky – 13 (Fin)

ald131

Ikta is able to complete his mission of covering for the main Imperial forces’ retreat while besting his Kiokan rival Jean Arquinex in a match of wits, drawing deep to create a multi-layered plan to outwit the young major. Because the safety of his men is more important to outright victory, everyone is behind Ikta.

ald132

Major Jean notices the obvious fire trap in plain sight, but fails to see the larger trap hiding beneath it; Ikta’s men springing out of the straw, blinding and slaughtering their horses. Most importantly, Jean wrongly assumed his opponent would try to fight him for control of the battlefield, but Ikta’s strategy eliminated all control for everyone, creating chaos.

How Jean handles this chaos betrays his lack of experience, despite his military brilliance. He is so obsessed with control, losing it knocks him off balance. In the negotiations that ensue, he also wrongly assumes the Igsem soldier is in charge, and also wrongly assumes that he’s safe.

Ikta’s resulting bluff, placing a light target on Jean’s chest for a Torway sniper who isn’t really out there, and his explanation for why he’s not in violation of military law, works really well. Ikta is at his scrappiest, and while he does sweat, he never lets Jean see it (what with the glare from all the bright lights).

ald133

Jean knows he was bested, this time, and wants to know more about the man who did it, and what he’s fighting for. He’s outraged when Ikta tells him he cares not for protecting his country, only its people, and gets even more steamed when Ikta warns Jean if he keeps up his blind loyalty to country, that country will suck him dry and toss him aside. Definitely seems like setup for a rematch in a future season, if we get one.

Whatever may be ahead for Alderamin, I’m glad the Northern Campaign is wrapped up here, and I especially like how glad Princess Chamille is to see her knights, and Ikta in particular, return safe and sound, even compromising propriety to give him a big ol’ hug.

ald134

We also learn in this final week why it is Chamille wanted, nay needed Ikta to return so badly, which has been hinted throughout the series by her narration. Chamille has bigger plans for Ikta, and needs him to utlitze his considerable talents and the support of his comrades and friends to keep rising up in the Imperial ranks…so he can lose the war with Kioka.

Chamille is young, but not stupid, or ignorant: her empire is rotting from the inside out, and it must be purified. The mission she gives Ikta, which could consume many of the best years of his life, is to become the leader Imperial military, then lose the war “the right way”, allowing the outside influence of Kioka clean out the Empire without losing its unique culture.

“Fight until we lose!” is a novel slogan and a nice subversion of the usual notion of fighting for victory. Here, it’s almost as if we’re on the side of the bad guys, who know they’re bad and want to change for the better. If anyone enact that change, it’s Ikta, but it won’t be easy.

He worries not only about coming into conflict with Yatori, but dragging her into such a conflict in the first place; any conflict where the Empire loses. This season appropriately ends with Ikta and Yatori leaning on one another in the moonlight, and Ikta affirming their devotion to one another first and foremost.

I haven’t heard anything about a second season yet, but if it were to continue I would absolutely watch it. After all, the epic chronicle of the Invincible Lazy General, the Heir to the Twin Blades, and the Last Princess seems to be just getting started. It would be a shame if the tale ended here.

16rating_8

Qualidea Code – 12 (Fin)

qc121

Qualidea Code wasn’t always (or really ever) the prettiest, but it was the best-sounding (musically at least), and also never seemed to stand still. It improved right up until the end, at least as far as resolving a major issue early on: a mysterious, faceless, malevolent enemy.

By this final episode, the enemy is no longer faceless, or malevolent (though some mysteries about what they are or where they come from remains unknown to the end, thankfully). In fact, it seems strange to call Airi and Asanagi enemies at all; merely a party with a different agenda.

qc122

Placing them in a grayer area, and resolving their story in a more nuanced way than “kill bad guys” went a long way towards helping me mostly overlook the fact that the show seemed to have run out of budget this week, as huge swaths of animation are simply missing.

I didn’t even mind Aoi’s sudden but inevitable (and heavily telegraphed) “betrayal.” But just like Asanagi, who turns out to be her father, her decision to side with him and Airi is borne out of love, not hate, so it’s hard to condemn what she does.

qc123

That doesn’t mean I don’t want Ichiya and the others to succeeding in ridding the world of the Unknown, and watching them fight desperately, initially without their worlds, made for a thrilling final battle, despite the animation shortcomings. Asuha headbutting Aoi, and Hotaru holding her sword in her mouth were among the highlights.

In the end, everyone gets a boost in power thanks to the return of Canaria’s song, which gets a slightly different (but still very danceable) arrangement for the finale, in which Airi is killed by Hime, who remembers learning which conditions would allow Airi to die contented.

qc124

In the end, Airi does not mind leaving her mortal coil, for she achieved what she wanted: she and Asanagi were able to make another, entirely new life: Aoi. Asanagi does not die, but stays with his daughter.

The Kasumis visit their injured mom, who is ecstatic they’re safe and sound. The dimensional tear is sealed, the skies return to blue, and the heads and subheads of Kanto all vow, in their own way, to rebuild what was toppled.

While we don’t get to hear Ichiya’s answer to Canaria’s question “how do I look to you now?”, we didn’t need any words from him to know how he feels: She’s all he needs.

16rating_8

Qualidea Code – 11

qc111

Kasumi and Asuha’s mom isn’t shy about her goal: to wipe out each and every Unknown she can. In addition to being angry they kept her children captive and used them as tools for so long, she also believes there’s no reasoning with a creature so alien.

And yet, as we learn later this week as the Unknown wind down their operations on Earth, Johannes isn’t quite right about the second thing. Not only is an Unknown able to feel how a human feels, she’s also able to love, in her way. And she in turn is loved back by a human.

qc112

Aoi, who continues to be a tense wild card just waiting to go off and undermine the plans to eradicate the Unknown, seems to understand this. It’s not just that she lacks perspective due to an emotional attachment to Yunami and Asanagi…it’s that they’re worth being worried about. She can sense that the two are different from Johannes’ black-and-white, no-quarter viewpoint.

Unfortunately, a great deal of the Unknown still seem committed to attacking humans, and Johannes isn’t in the mood to carefully pick her targets. She launches a huge attack with her big cannon, but when it proves insufficient and she’s taken out of action with an injury, it provides an opportunity for the kids to keep doing what they do best: fight for themselves.

qc113

Of course, for our six peeps, fighting for themselves means fighting for those they love: Rindo and Hime, Asuha and Kasumi…and Canaria and Ichiya. Whatever other issues are at hand, they don’t want to lose each other, so they have to fight and they have to win. That means infiltrating enemy HQ and closing the dimensional gate that allowed the Unknown in to begin with.

ac114

Aoi remains the third, or rather seventh wheel, following everyone but constantly looking conflicted, and with, as I mentioned, good reason. The ones she wants to protect are the adults who cared for them so kindly all those years, making them more parents than her actual parents (which are probably gone).

As Rindo and Hime encounter what seems to be Yunami’s true form, and the others meet Asanagi, who was human all along, it will be interesting to see how the final showdown will turn out. Will there be a need for fighting? Will the Unknown, led by Yunami, peacefully return to where they came from? Are there more twists in store that will test everyone’s priorities? The endgame approaches.

16rating_8

KonoSuba – 09

ks91

KonoSuba has made it a point to never play any fantasy/adventure convention straight, but that doesn’t mean it always results in ridiculous farce. Sometimes, when it turns a quality or trope of its genre on its head, it ends up more like real life than fantasy, which actually makes the world of KonoSuba more relatable than some of the shows it lampoons.

Take the boy-girl dynamic in KonoSuba. It’s a party of one guy and three girls, but the show has always successfully resisted the urge to pit them against each other with Kazuma as the prize only one of them can claim.

This isn’t a group of love rivals, it’s a group of comrades and friends, where gender isn’t an issue so much as the strange brew of personalities, be it Aqua’s haughtiness, Megumin’s megalomania, Darkness’ eccentricity, and…all of Kazuma’s myriad issues.

Often in fantasy adventure shows, party members of the opposite sex will start off not liking each other, and end up in sexily compromising positions that nonetheless end up bringing them together in some way. Naturally, KonoSuba aims to take that convention and put its own personal twist on it, and again succeeds.

ks92

Of course, before we get to that inversion, we’re faced with another one: Kazuma follows his horny male friends into a den of succubi, where men sign contracts to be given dreams that provide “necessary release.” In exchange, the succubi get to take a small amount of the client’s vitality, though not enough to interfere with their day-to-day function.

In another show, this would be a clear racket and/or trap our horny protagonist gets tangled up in due to his inability to control his raging hormones; a predicament his female comrades would rescue him from, even as they hold their noses at the protag’s perversity.

But…this isn’t a racket, or a trap. As usual with this show, Kazuma is in no physical danger whatsoever. The succubi are simply running a business, performing mutually beneficial transactions with consenting customers. Nor is Kazuma patronizing a den of inequity where women are objectified or exploited – they’re succubi. Seducing men is what they do.

That being said, they still resemble women—shapely, sensual women—wearing next to nothing. As such, after purchasing a dream from them, Kazuma can’t help but start looking at his female comrades in a different light after all that, er, stimulation.

Kazuma starts to see Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness as the temptresses whose wiles he must withstand, since he was warned not to drink too much the night he’s to have his dream, and the girls are trying to ply him with choice crab, sake, and hot sake with crab guts. Just when his thoughts seem about to lead him to cutting loose, he calls it a night, and everyone, particularly Darkness, is disappointed.

ks93

That brings us to Kazuma’s erotic dream involving Darkness in the bath, which it’s pretty obvious from the start…isn’t a dream. Still, Kazuma is convinced this is what he ordered from the succubus, and even when Darkness acts in ways different than what he specified, he kinda just goes along with it, simply happy to be having the “dream” (while also chalking it up to mild clerical errors).

Poor Darkness is of the disposition that no matter how raunchily Kazuma acts, she still feels compelled to do what she says. The sceneis obviously played for comedy, and it works, yet I was also intrigued by how Darkness is not made the butt of the joke. In fact, as the one person in this situation who knows this is not a fantasy, we’re more on her side. Furthermore, she doesn’t just turn into a puddle of masochistic goo at Kazuma barking orders.

Rather, she expresses a wide range of understandable emotions: mostly embarrassment and bewilderment. Sure, she may talk about having things done to her, but for it to actually happen, and for Kazuma to do it? It all but switches her Masochism Chip off and snaps her into emotional coherence. Basically, ‘this is not okay’. ‘Please, Kazuma, realize this isn’t a dream before you do irreversible damage!’

ks94

Kazuma is bailed out not by sudden awareness, but by an intruder alert; Aqua and Megumin have captured a young, inexperienced succubus; the very one sent by her guild to give Kazuma his dream.

Obviously, the girls don’t know that, and as a goddess, Aqua is compelled to exorcise the succubus. But more than duty, it’s Aqua and Megumin’s loyalty to Kazuma that drive their actions. They know she’s here to drain their male friend, and they won’t let her.

The thing is, they’re operating under several understandable—but in particular case, inaccurate—assumptions: that succubi in this world are a lethal threat (they’re just running a business); that Kazuma’s a victim (he arranged for this); and that Kazuma is presently in this succubus’ thrall (when she never actually got to him).

The latter assumption is courtesy of Darkness, who just had an experience with a Kazuma that couldn’t possibly have been in his right mind. And yet, for all their good intentions, and the fact they give Kazuma the benefit of the doubt (and he knows they do), Kazuma believes his comrades are in the wrong, and won’t let them kill the succubus who was only doing her job and screwed up because she’s new.

ks95

Again, the girls see this as the succubus using Kazuma himself as her shield, and “grudingly” beat the shit out of him to try to get to her, but Kazuma stands his ground. Whatever misunderstandings the girls harbor, he’s not going to let someone get caught up in it, even if it means sacrificing himself. It all makes for a wonderfully complex and funny confrontation, that’s far more entertaining than simply making it all a dream, or having the girls rescue Kazuma.

It’s also more satisfying, because Kazuma now has to deal with the consequences of totally freaking out Darkness. In this, Kazuma exercises self-preservation by lying about not remembering any of it because of the succubus’ power, and in doing so reinforcing their original misunderstanding while avoiding undue awkwardness with Darkness.

But then he gives away details of the bath, proving to Darkness he actually did remember what he said and did last night, so the awkwardness endures. For her part, Darkness said she didn’t necessarily dislike any of it, staying true to who she is, but with a clear intention to maintain certain boundaries in their relationship.

This was a surprisngly rich, deep episode that breathed new life in the “compromising position” trope (with accompanying titillating fanservice) by making it a meaningful exploration of Kazuma’s relationships, now that they’re all living together in a huge fancy mansion with private areas where misunderstandings are inevitable, succubi or no.

Just to add one more layer to this onion, the show doesn’t make it explicit that the succubi are running a legitimate (or harmless) business, and it’s definitely within the realm of personality that Kazuma and the other males who gave them their business actually were being unfairly influenced. Caveat emptor, and all that.

Kazuma said in the beginning (while Aqua was trying to commandeer the fireside couch): they’d satisfied the essential need for shelter and protection from the bitter cold of Winter. It’s only natural other…needs be addressed in turn. And they were, just not the way Kazuma or anyone else expected.

But never mind that shitDESTROYER ALERT!!!

9_ses

Ore Monogatari!! – 19

orem191

For most of the run of this tremendously touching and often uproariously funny show, Gouda Takeo has been portrayed as both a mensch (a person of honor and integrity) and an Übermensch (a goal for humanity to set for itself, given form). Yamato certainly sees him as a virtually flawless mate.

Yet when Yamato gets to sit with Takeo’s tough (and very pregnant) mom Yuriko, she—and we—get an entirely new perspective on Takeo. His mom still sees him as a little kid who will run out in the street and get killed if you don’t stop him. She’s also pretty confident Takeo is a wimp, in that he, like his father, worries about her too much.

Yuriko is basically handing her grown son on to another woman so she can care for him. She’s teaching Yamato a valuable lesson that she already intrinsically understands: Takeo is tough and strong about some things, but not definitely not everything. That’s where she comes in: just as his mom did, Yamato needs to protect him.

orem192

In Takeo’s cool dad’s flashback, we see that Yuriko has always been tough and selfless, putting herself in danger to spare others pain, a big part of being a mom. Those qualities made her future husband fall for her right then and there. Yuriko isn’t overestimating her abilities when she keeps a fellow pregnant woman from falling down steps, she’s acting reflexively.

orem193

Yet the rescue ends up hurting Yuriko, and when Takeo has to get her in a cab to go to the hospital, we see the weakness she still sees in her boy: he kinda falls apart. It’s thanks to Suna that things don’t get worse. Takeo may be great at saving strangers, but when it’s his mom, who he’s always seen as an invincible, indomitable force of nature, in trouble, his worry overwhelms him and prevents quick and rational decisions.

orem194

When we see Yamato during these trying times for Takeo, she’s never frowning or outwardly worried, but has her usual cheerful, glowing smile. She goes to Takeo’s and cooks dinner for him. She comforts him with a simple touch of his arm, like a magical girl. She takes care of him, in a preview for how things will be for the formal hand-off (i.e. marriage one day). Yamato may be much twee-er than Takeo’s mom, but she shows she’s just as tough and able to protect Takeo.

orem195

Witnessing these strong women around him inspires Takeo to pull himself together. When his mom gives the wheelchair meant for her to another mother going into labor, Takeo picks his mom up and carries her to the delivery room, surprising her. It’s a gesture that makes her realize he’s not a dumb little kid anymore; he has grown up a little, and he’ll keep growing up into a good man, a good big brother, and if all goes well with Yamato, a good husband and father as well. I’m sure as hell pullin’ for him!

8_ses

GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 13

garo131

Prince Alfonso buries his mother and starts the long process of rebuilding his country, Herman makes a friend in the lady who was doing laundry back during his extended streak session, and Emma is the only one looking for Leon, though even Garm doesn’t know what’s become of him.

Leon, meanwhile, is lying in a riverbank, near death after his plunge into that gorge. He is no longer keeper of Garo nor Zaruba’s partner. He’s just Leon again. Having failed miserably in the world of demons and dark magic and fantasy, what he needs is a good dose of reality, which is exactly what he gets thanks to his savior, a farmgirl named Lara.

garo132

When Lara brings Leon home and nurses him back to health, his first words to her are “Why did you save me?” when they should have been “Thank you.” Lara’s dimiutive but tough-as-steel grandmother puts an end to his pity-party right then and there: if they hadn’t saved him, he would have died on their land and they’d have had to waste time tending to his body, and time is the farmers’ enemy.

garo133

This is a strange new world for Leon, whose former life had been pretty transient and action-packed. Here, it’s quiet, calm, boring, but the onions have to be planted and the firewood collected and the irrigation canal fixed before the ice comes. There are debts to be paid to the lord, and that Lara’s father was killed by wolves doesn’t change the fact they need a good harvest to pay them off.

garo134

Leon watches these farmers, and the kinda and lovely Lara in particular, as if they were some kind of exotic animal. When he asks her how she can stand this unending routine of drudgery, and whether she ever dreamt of leaving and living a different life, she states simply that this is her father’s land, and it’s up to her to keep tending it. She isn’t the kind of person to abandon her mother and grandparents for her own selfish dreams. But in any case she seems to like her life just fine, and it’s been made a lot more interesting by the traveler’s arrival.

garo135

Once Leon is strong enough, the grandpa gives him the shovel so he can take a breather (the episode is full of close-ups accentuating just how hard the elderly characters are working). Leon is understandably terrible at this non-combat manual labor, and Gramps shows him how, making it look easy. But it dawns on Leon as he sleeps beneath the full moon: nothing here is easy, but nor is it pointless, and he can be of help.

garo136

The highlight of the episode is, surprisingly, a montage, but a truly powerful one, set to a bold, epic piece of soaring orchestral music that calls to mind the work of Joe Hisaishi (the whole episode has a distinct Ghibli vibe to it, for that matter.) It sounds like a determined march to a tough battle, only the enemies are nature, the elements, and time, and the weapons shovels, hoes, axes, and elbow grease. This really is a new world for Leon, but takes up these arms all the same and fights beside Lara and her family.

garo137

And they are victorious, completing the canal before the ice comes, giving the family a chance at that good harvest. This was just one battle, but the war Lara and the farmers are fighting is unending. Now Leon can answer his own question from back when Lara first saved him: it was as if fate had brought Leon to Lara’s lands so she could restore his health, and in turn he helped them rebuild the canal and save their crops. They saved each other.

More enticing still, Leon doesn’t say farewell and leave by the end of the episode. Is Garo not quite done with this new, good-honest-labor setting for Leon? Will Lara continue to play a role in this second cour? In both cases, I hope so.

garo138

Back in Santa Bard, Nuncle Herman assists his nephew the prince with a nasty-looking leftover horror from a Giger sketchbook, before considering hitting up a brothel or two, but his “butterflies” euphamism soars right over dear sheltered Alfonso’s head. The Herman/Alfie dynamic is a nice one, and while both are worried about what’s become of Leon, they know only he can help himself now.

I kinda wish Alfie hadn’t retained Mendoza’s closest confidant, and connected the dots that she was the one keeping his father ill. But that’s a classic rookie prince mistake, and I’m sure it won’t be his first.

9_mag