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.

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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.

Happy Sugar Life – 03 – Escalating Bitterness

This episode operates within the same night that Mitsuboshi brings Asahi to the staff room of the cafe, and as a result, it feels a lot more claustrophobic; there’s no sunlight; only the brief but blinding light of Mitsuboshi offering to escort Asahi home.

Asahi doesn’t know he just survived a crowbar attack by Satou because she realized this was not the place to cut loose; to do so would end her Happy Sugar Life for sure. Unfortunately, that life is jeopardized anyway when Shio, scared that Satou still hasn’t come home, ventures outside the apartment to search for her.

Later, we’re reminded it isn’t just adults who are all horrible people in this show, but most people in general, as Mitsuboshi is just way too into the poster of Shio. By the time Satou gets home to find Shio gone, Shio has gotten lost, and since she’s not wearing shoes, has cut her foot.

Shio also continually has a hallucination of what I imagine to be her mother, who Asahi tried to get out of the house with Shio, and away from their abusive father (or whoever the man was who was living there). Shio only remembers bits and pieces; no doubt the memories of witnessing abuse are repressed.

Mitsuboshi finds Shio before Satou does, and that’s when things get weird. Mitsuboshi, sweating, panting, and barely able to restrain himself believes that being touched by Shio will “purify”, undoing the “corruption” of his old manager. He takes it a step further by saying that his touching her will have the same effect and…yyeeeaaah, anytime a guy is talking about touching a little kid, that’s when we have to put up our hands and say NOPE.

I hate to say it, but the return of two more awful younger dudes, the ones who beat up Asahi for no real reason, is a blessing in disguise for Shio. On the one hand, Mitsuboshi was himself the victim of sexual abuse, but that doesn’t entitle him to abuse others. It’s terrible that he gets beaten, but it does buy precious time for Satou to try to find Shio. Better the devil you know…I guess?

KonoSuba 2 – 10 (Fin)

Well, like its last season, KonoSuba only ended up lasting ten episodes, but it delivered an action-packed and generally really good-looking finale that actually covered a bit of plot to go along with its omnipresent comedy. Plus, everyone had a chance to look really cool, even if things ultimately don’t quite work out as planned, as usual.

After using Darkness’ noble status to gain access to a contaminated hot spring, the party encounters Hans, the frustrated man whom Kazuma related with so much last week. Turns out he’s a leader in the Devil King’s army, and a deadly poison slime to boot.

Wiz is content to say hi to her old comrade at first, but when she learns he’s eaten the innocent hot springs overseer, she finally shows her teeth…and Horie Yui finally gets some meaty badass lines.

When the angry mob finally catches up to the party and sees Hans’ true form, they realize Aqua wasn’t a fraud after all. They send healing magic her way as she attempts to purify the spring, while Darkness protects them from errant slime bombs (even though they still hate her for being an Eris cultist).

Kazuma buys time for everyone by serving as a diversion for the slime and getting eaten (but not fully digested, facilitating his resurrection later) so Megumin can use Explosion magic to reduce the slime’s size, allowing Wiz to encase him in a Cursed Crystal Prison.

When even that’s not enough, Aqua draws power from her wishy-washy followers and their ridiculous credo (and that old man chanting about Eris’s padded chest) to land a GOD BLOW and GOD REQUIEM on Hans, finishing him for good, probably.

It’s perhaps the coolest and most badass we’ve seen Aqua look yet, and the shortened season clearly freed up significant fundage for a dazzlingly-animated battle…though Kazuma is dead for a full half of it, the camera still cuts to his dry bones often. He did his part!

Naturally, despite all the displays of badassdom, Aqua’s magic finishing moves ended up turning all the profitable hot spring water in Arcanretia into plain ‘ol water, and she’s run out of town by her justifiably angry, ungrateful followers.

The gang heads home the same way they arrived: by wagon (Wiz was greatly weakened and almost killed, again, by Aqua’s magic), and everyone is just happy to be home. Even after all he’s been through and all the failure and destruction his party has wrought, he still feels blessed to be living in such a beautiful, if often hard, world. It’s certainly better than being cooped up in his bedroom back in Japan, right?

KonoSuba is the kind of show that could simply keep on going, and the parting message that thanks us for watching doesn’t rule out a third season. But ten is a good number for a season of KonoSuba, and a year is a good amount of time to have in between those seasons, so no rush.

KonoSuba 2 – 09

This week Aqua leans in on the job one would think she was born (in human form) to do: the job of a high priest. That means confessional duties, which she takes very seriously, to the point of stonewalling Kazuma and forcing him to “confess” to breaking her favorite cup and drinking her good hooch, at which point she gets flustered and whiny.

You can’t say Kazuma doesn’t know how to press her buttons! But she’s also cheeky enough to give an old man troubled by the temptation from Eris’ boobs a mantra to repeat whenever he feels that temptation again: Eris pads her chest. The artful way she says it really makes it sound like a mantra, too.

Kazuma, now convinced he won’t be able to get Aqua to reign in her overzealous, abusive followers (who have reduced Megumin to a crumpled ball of nerves, but continue to turn Darkness on), hits the baths. The mixed baths.

There, he sees (and sees, and sees) a buxom (and creeped out) she-elf, a man on the brink from all the proselytizing, and hears an earful of genuinely good things said about him by Megumin and Darkness, but only because they thought he wasn’t there, trying to spy on them.

Still, it’s nice to occasionally hear from the characters why they stick together.

That night at supper, Aqua is in another state, this time because she was kicked out of the very church that worships her, for accidentally purifying the hot springs.

In an ill-conceived effort to re-win the people back, she decides to blame the purification on the Devil King, and asks her party-mates for help in her crusade to save her people and their town. Darkness only agrees to help when Aqua gets up in her face (and purifies her grape juice…how rude!)

I also greatly enjoyed the running gag of Aqua’s holy-element tears of distress actually doing harm to poor, undead Wiz, to the point she’s basically on the verge of death this entire episode.

Kazuma and Megumin are out, obviously, because they have no interest in helping the townspeople, who in their opinion ruin an otherwise perfectly nice town.

In an otherwise lovely day, those people proceed to do jut that: ruin Kazuma and Megumin’s day with constant urgings to join the church, until the two are on the brink of madness.

The townsfolk may be unrelenting in their enthusiasm for aggressive recruitment practices (we witness a number of fine examples), but they’re not fools. Their golden goose is the hot springs, and when Aqua seems to be the culprit in purifying them, they’re not happy.

They also don’t believe, even for a second, that she’s actually the goddess Aqua…even though she is. These are people who live among magic, fantastic beasts, and demi-humans. But the suggestion that Aqua might be an in-the-flesh goddess elicits only stifled laughter or anger.

That anger boils over into an angry mob surrounding the gorgeous inn where Aqua and the others are staying. And all I can say is, how has it taken this long for Aqua to end up with an angry mob (with torches and everything!) eager for her blood? I guess she’s just been lucky.

In any case, the peoples’ refusal to believe their own goddess contrasts with non-Axis followers Darkness, Megumin, and Kazuma’s acceptance of Aqua in their party. They’re all misfits, after all. These guys just don’t do well in big crowds.

And while the mob doesn’t pose any danger (one EXPLOSION from Megumin could resolve the standoff) and may not even be picked back up next week. But it’s a fitting end to a visit to a city Kazuma and Megumin can’t leave soon enough, Darkness can’t help but love, and where Aqua may have lost faith in the faithful.

Tales of Zestiria the X – 20

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Both Alisha’s enemy Bartlow and her “supporter” Lunarre wrongly believe she’ll take the bait of her suffering Maltran, but they’re both wrong. Maltron knows if Alisha does as she taught, she won’t come for her.

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Instead Alisha and her people infiltrate the palace. It’s not at all certain that Alisha’s order that no one is to die is carried out in the process, as both her men and many of the palace guards are injured and shot with arrows, and it’s asking a lot to think none of them will succumb to their injuries.

In any case, Alisha gets an audience with her father at last, but he’s consumed by malevolence. Baltrow enters the room alone and attempts to take out Alisha by himself…which makes no sense. Why did he go in alone, without any backup?

What would be his killing blow to Alisha is blocked by the king in what I gather is one last act of sacrifice to make up for, charitably, over a season and a half of complete inaction.

Then, before the young, athletic Alisha or her knights can stop him, the slow old Baltrow runs outside and jumps off the balcony, spiting Alisha by not being taken alive. Um, why did everyone just stand around and let him do that?

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With the internal power struggle thus hastily ended and Alisha now the de facto ruler of Hyland, she turns to the next existential crisis: that giant tornado. There’s a dragon inside, and Sorey believes he’ll be the first shepherd to purify it, erasing the myth that such a feat is impossible.

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He manages to get the job done, thanks not only to Mikleo and Rose, but his other squire Alisha joining in to help share the burden of the dragon’s malevolence, as Lailah, Edna, and Dezel handle the small fry.

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And once the dragon is purified and the sun shines over Ladylake once more, our heroes get to enjoy the victory for all of ten seconds before Symmone appears, telling them her master will cover the entire earth in malevolence and end the world, and they don’t have what it takes to stop them.

Well, I asked for more action to masked the seemingly increasing blandness characters, and I got it. But with so much significance placed on Baltrow over the last few months, and the immediate introduction of an even bigger threat, then an even bigger one after that, it all felt rather anti-climatic.

And once more, a preview in which 2D Rose and Alisha bicker over whose late master was strongest was more far more engaging than anything either of them said in the actual episode.

I’m quickly doubting whether my master adequately trained me or if I have enough squires to help bear the burden of Zestiria. Because the eye candy isn’t nearly enough to keep me interested.

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KonoSuba – 06

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This week lampoons the “Epic Boss Rematch” common to fantasy anime, inverting it in numerous, hilarious ways. First, the Dullahan Verdia has to come to town to confront Team Kazuma and complain about how they haven’t come to his castle yet.

Unbeknownst to Kazuma, Megumin has continued her bombardment of that castle, while Aqua assisted by carrying her home each day. You didn’t think she stopped blowing the joint up just because she didn’t appear on camera doing so, did ya?

Verdia then attempts to look down on the party (having formerly been a noble knight) for not avenging their fallen comrade, only to see Darkness is alive and well and appreciates his praise. It’s only when a fed-up Verdia threatens to slaughter the town that Aqua switches from mocking mode to attack mode.

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Her impressive Holy-based magic proves painful against Verdia, but doesn’t have the effect she intended (utter decimation). Now that she’s shown she’s not the magic novice he assumed, the gloves come off as he summons an undead army to, well, chase Aqua, then Aqua and Kazuma around.

Kazuma gets the idea to lead the army and Verdia into a trap with Aqua so that Megumin can blast them – and she does blast them, creating a giant crater in the earth – but while Megumin is out for the count, her efforts only made Verdia even madder.

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When other adventurers attack him, he uses more of his own magic to apparently kill them, and for a few moments, the show almost seems to enter serious territory, as Darkness is visibly horrified by this turn of events. It’s her turn to take on Verdia, to avenge those dead men, so she leaps into action.

Only problem is, as awesome as she appears as she’s fighting him, her “finishing blow” completely misses, turning her pink with embarrassment. Even so, she wields an effective weapon against Verdia: her ability to weird him out with her masochistic ranting. This is a chaotic party that can keep any foe off balance enough for one of them to discover a weakness, which Kazuma does…and it’s water.

The whole town starts firing water spells at Verdia, turning the battle into a kind of aquatic dodgeball. Amusingly, Aqua wasn’t paying attention this whole time, and when Kazuma insults her, she makes the prevailing issue herself rather than the battle at hand.

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When she finally unleashes her high-level water spell on Verdia, she exhibits the same profound lack of subtlety that is Megumin’s specialty, only with water instead of fire. A vast column of the wet stuff comes crashing down on Verdia, dousing him but also wrecking the city walls. Oops.

Greatly weakened by the torrent, Kazuma is able to steal Verdia’s head, and Aqua finishes him off with Holy magic. Victory is theirs! But Darkness knows that victory came at a cost: she reminisces on her interactions with the three fighters who Verdia killed (another funny send-up of an activity common to the genre), only to turn around to find them alive and well, thanks to Aqua’s resurrection magic, leaving her with egg on her face.

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After a job – well, not well done, but done, the party celebrates at the guild hall (with Aqua getting toasted pretty quickly). Kazuma, to his surprise, his praised by everyone in the hall for his party’s deeds, and they’re awarded a cool 300 million Eris for taking out a General of the Devil King.

With this new fortune, Kazuma announces he’s going to retire and live a simple, quiet life henceforth, abandoning his plans to defeat the Devil King himself. This disappoints his three party-mates, but he doesn’t care. But when the guild official comes back with the bill for all the damage Aqua’s flood did to the city, they end up 40 million Eris in the hole, and Kazuma ends up having to cancel his retirement before he was even finished announcing it.

It’s the very end, when Kazuma laments the possibility of spending the rest of his life fighting battles with this inept party that will often cost more than they’ll make them in profit, that rings a bit false. This life looks like a shitload of fun, with minimal risk. I know Kazuma and I are different personalities, but I don’t see why he’s in such a hurry to leave this world. Methinks he doth protest too much!

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KonoSuba – 05

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I’m compelled to borrow my illustrious colleague Oigakkosan’s “My Goodness!”, as there’s so much good stuff to unpack in this latest  KonoSuba (the first episode I’m actually watching on time!).

First, as Kazuma is lamenting how differently the reality of his dream of cutting it up in an awesome fantasy world has turned out to be, Aqua seems to pick up on that frustration by requesting the party strike out on a new quest. The thing is, she also proves his point, because the main reason she wants a quest is money: she’s tired of working part time in the market and being in debt, not of the fact she’s not on a heroic odyssey.

Fortune would seem to smile on Aqua as she discovers a quest that is right up her water goddess’ alley: lake purification, with a chance of scattered alligators. For that latter bit, she intends to depend on Kazuma and the others, which is when Kazuma borrows from his past world by suggesting Aqua perform the purification from within a sturdy cage (a la shark researchers).

Two problems: transporting her in said cage really makes it look, as she puts it, like some rare beast taken away to be sold. And once she’s been dunked in the lake, where nothing of note happens for hours she likens the sensation to being a tea bag steeping. These are wonderful metaphors borne of a very bizarre and specific situation.

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Of course, those alligators do eventually arrive, but Kazuma, Megumin, and Darkness do nothing in response, part bored into a state of apathy, part confident the cage will hold, requiring no action from them. The cage does hold, the lake is purified, the alligators withdraw, and Aqua completes the quest all but single-handedly…

…but there’s a cost: her nerve. She’s profoundly traumatized by two-plus-hours of being harassed by the beasts as she frantically accelerated her purification. So traumatized, in fact, that she won’t leave the cage even when it’s time to do so, deeming the world “too scary” to return to just yet.

I tellya, if I’d experienced what she had for as long as she had, I’d probably be in a similar state!

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Thankfully, that state doesn’t magically disappear in the second half of the episode, 4-koma anime-style. The episode not only remembers it, but adds a fantastic new variable to the equation: the gallant Mitsurugi Kyouya, who is a veritable wellspring of fantasy tropes KonoSuba puts thoroughly through the wringer, to my surprise and delight.

Kyouya, like Kazuma, died (likely in a less hilarious fashion, though we don’t learn that), and was sent to this world by Aqua with her blessing and the mission to defeat the Devil King. Rather than bring Aqua along with him, Kyouya requested Gram, the Cursed Blade that has made him a very rich and powerful adventurer, complete with fancy armor, jewelry, and a couple of loyal groupies constantly bickering over him.

You don’t get any more cliche’d than Kyouya’s kind, but the show squeezes a lot more out of Kyouya than I expected, turning lemons into delicious lemonade. That’s because Kyouya happens to spot his goddess and muse Aqua-sama being paraded in the streets in a horse-drawn cage, which is decidedly not where he thought he’d see her, ever.

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What follows then, is a glorious clash of Kyouya and Kazuma, or rather Kazuma’s party. While Aqua snaps out of her funk when Kyouya reminds her that she is, in fact, a goddess, she wants nothing else to do with the cat. None of Kazuma’s girls do! It’s as if they’re inoculated against the fantasy hero archetype. More than that; they’re allergic to him!

When faced with his arrogance and presumptuousness for just a couple minutes, Aqua just thinks something’s off about the guy; Megumin thinks he’s rude and wants to explode him, and he evokes a rare and undesirable urge in Darkness that flies in the face of her usual instincts: she wants to hit him. She must realize that if she were in Kyouya’s party she’d never have her masochistic desires properly addressed.

Pissing them all off even more is that Kyouya won’t drop the matter and let Kazuma pass. Instead, he challenges Kazuma to a duel, one Kazuma accepts, starts, and ends in the space of a few seconds, with a few lightning-quick yet fluid moments, Kyouya is on his back.

Kazuma’s inner monologue predicted a duel would eventually take place, but I’m so used to that being a bad thing, that fact that Kazuma wasn’t the underdog here didn’t occur to me until he Stole Gram right out of Kyouya’s hands and bonked him on the head with it (great sound effect on that).

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Then, when his two groupies show up to avenge him, Kazuma continues to fly in the fact of convention by threatening to steal their panties if they press him further, really turning the sleeze up to 11 until the girls are running away crying. It’s harsh, but Kazuma didn’t approach them or their honey; they approached him. Mess with the perverted bull, you get the perverted horns.

One would think Kyouya Team would have learned its lesson, but Kyouya can’t help but be the valiant knight standing up against “Kazuma the Brute”, as he’s known in some circles for his inappropriate conduct with girls. He also seeks to “rescue” his goddess from Kazuma’s clutches, but Aqua responds to his second offer by cold-cocking him, delivering on her earlier vow to sock him if she saw him again.

But even if Kyouya is eminently punchable, Aqua’s violence isn’t senseless, it’s justified. She was looking forward to a 300,000-Eris reward for purifying the lake, but the guild deducted 200,000 for “cage repair” – a cage rendered useless when Kyouya prized the bars. Aqua also shows off her sneaky-playful shrewdness by demanding not 200K, but 300K from Kyouya, which he pays her on the spot.

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Now that she’s rolling in cash, Aqua treats herself to a feast. And as if Kyouya hadn’t been stomped on enough, when he asks for his cursed sword Gram back, Kazuma informs him that he doesn’t have it; he sold it! That’s right; “our” hero didn’t ever even want the damn thing, even though it was part of his original dreams.

I’d like to think getting a good look at the “pathetic cheat” Kyouya has changed his thinking a bit on whether or not things have turned out bad. I mean, sure, he still wants to take on the Devil King, but there are worse things than having three not unattractive women by your side, not fighting over you at all! Plus, think of what all that Gram cash could buy. He could snatch up the stables and convert them into luxury lofts, with bidets and a pot-filler…and a trash compactor!

As for Aqua’s true identity being revealed…well, it isn’t, because Megumin and Darkness simply don’t believe her (having food on her face couldn’t have helped her credibility any). The matter is interrupted by another “emergency”, but at this point I know better; there’s no real emergency. Just the Dullahan, who’s really miffed they haven’t come by his place yet. This guy’s reminding me more of the Black Knight all the time…

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Shokugeki no Souma – 21

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Sleeping Souma was a red herring! He was just nodding off a bit waiting for the perfect time to add his spices and fill the kitchen arena with a tantalizing aroma that even Hayama Akira must acknowledge has promise. But that’s pretty much it for Souma this week, as all eyes are on Megumi in much of the episode’s first half. Just when the “bumpkin” is being chastised for her lack of showmanship and clumsiness, she unveils a giant monkfish hanging from a tripod.

After remembering how hard she trained back home, under the tutelage of a big burly fisherman, she prays for Souma to lend her some of his courage, then butchers the ungainly fish like a pro, impressing everyone, even then very hard to impress Hojo Miyoko. Both girls have had to work that much harder to gain the respect of their elders due to their gender, and in Megumi’s case, her gentleness. But she’s a lot tougher thatn she looks, and proves it again here.

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With that performance, the clock runs out and the cooking is complete. Now all that’s left is for the five judges to grade the students’ dishes on a scale of 0-100 (with each judge having 20 points to award). Even though they heap praise on the first dish, they award a measly 33 points, jaded as they are by years of impeccable culinary excellence, “pretty good for a student” ain’t gonna cut it.

Student after student fails to break 40 points (50 being something to be proud of), and when Sadatsuka Nao unveils her putrid-smelling dish, I figured her to be the first chef to earn precisely zero points. And yet, she not only broke 40 point barrier, but was awarded 84 out of 100 to shoot up to the lead. Once the judges held their noses and tasted her horrifying kusaya-infused jet-black curry, they became enthralled in its bold, assertive flavors. In other words, they all fell under her curse. BDSM also comes into it, as all the judges willfully submit to Nao’s gastronomic punishment.

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With Nao having set the standard for her group thus far in the most unorthodox way possible, her arch-nemesis and rival for Erina’s heart (and verbal abuse) Arato Hisako steps to the plate with a seemingly safe-looking curry bowl made with mutton. But her approach, steeped in her family’s traditional focus on Eastern medicine and medicinal cuisine, has the opposite effect on the judges, purifying and revitalizing them rather than beating them into submission.

Hisako’s dish is essentially the antidote to Nao’s, which is apropos considering their diametrically-opposed personalities. Both are great chefs, but Nao cooks for her own sake, while Arato claims to cook for the sake of others, including Erina. She even gives Nao a bowl, destroying “Dark Nao” in a cascade of medicinal light and giving rise to a much purer “White Nao.” Nao’s defeat is so complete, her masochistic side causes her to shift her fixation from Erina to Hisako. Love is in the air!

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I’m guessing this is how the remainder of the episodes will pan out: episode 22 will cover the judging of the Aldini brothers, Alice, Megumi, and possibly a few others not seen in the preview (like Miyoko and Yuuki); episode 23 be Souma and Akira, and 24 will be the wrap up. That’s assuming this show will end at just 24 episodes…which if you ask me and Hannah, would be a crime.

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Noragami – 10

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It’s great to see the ablution worked, as Yukine is no longer a demonic bomb, and even gets a part-time job helping Daikoku in order to pay him back. There’s also a sense that Yukine is far luckier than he imagined, as Yato was being uncommonly patient with him. Around the same time, Lord Tenjin’s regalia Miyu gave him one little sting, and for that she was banished without appeal. Harsh!

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The bond between Yato, Yukine, and Hiyori has never been stronger or more stable, and yet when Yato asks Tenjin for advice on how to solve Hiyori’s problem (we were wondering when he’d get around to that!), Tenjin tells him that could be the problem: Hiyori has grown too close and familiar with Yato, and his first task in ridding her of her cord is to cut off all ties. Of course, that isn’t something any of the three friends want.

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Even though Yato never gets around to her about it, we’re sure Hiyori wouldn’t be happy about the prospect of abandoning two friends that have become just as real as her living ones at school. By now Hiyori has a pretty good (if incomplete) idea of how perilous her existential situation is, but she still seems willing to continue taking that risk if it means she can still be with them, having fun and helping each other out.

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However, it looks like the matter of whether Yato will tell her what Tenjin said (or whether it would actually work) is made moot by Nora, who is royally pissed off that Yato not only squandered the best opportunity to ditch Yukine, but that Hiyori was integral in keeping them together. In return, Nora lures her into isolation and sics masked wolves on her. The wolves disintegrate at dawn, but Nora isn’t done: she apparently wipes Hiyori’s memory, eliminating her from the equation out of the belief she makes Yato weaker.

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Meanwhile, Yato is kept busy by hordes of scorpion phantoms set up by Rabo, another calamity god, who has come to kill him. Yato and Yukine deal with them relatively easily, but by the time they meet up with Hiyori, she no longer knows who they are…which is obviously not good! This could have been a pleasant (and well-earned) festival episode for the trio, but with just two episodes left, the show wisely kept the pressure on by immediately introducing the next threat.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Noragami – 09

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As it turns out, Daikoku’s borderline was only a precautionary measure to protect Kofuku; he allows Hiyori (and only Hiyori) to enter the shrine and shower in the spring water. But there are only two ways to cure Yato: if he himself slays the increasingly corrupted Yukine (something he won’t do) or if three regalias combine their powers and initiate an ablution—the confinement and punishment of Yukine until he confesses to his sins and repents. It’s a neat concept: only regalias can fairly judge other regalias, since they were both human at one point.

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But first, three regalias are needed. Daikoku, setting aside his dislike of Yato for Kofuku and Hiyori’s sakes, visits every shrine in the area begging for volunteers. Mayu is the first who agrees to help, an interesting gesture that almost suggests a smidgen of guilt harbored due to making Yato release her from his service—or maybe just because her distance from Yato in Lord Tenjin’s employ has led to a gradual dissipation of the hatred she felt for him when they parted ways. Even regalias need a cooling-off period. That leaves one more regalia required, and while Hiyori’s pleas for Kurama were initially ignored, the debt he still owes Yato moves him to volunteer as well.

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That’s a good thing, because we were worried for a moment there that Hiyori would seek the help of Nora, which was bound to cause more trouble than it solved. So with the three unlikely regalias joined, the final piece of the puzzle is Yukine, who is steadfastly unrepentant and believes himself unworthy of the punishment they start to dole out. It’s an uphill battle, as he nearly transforms into a phantom, nearly wiping away the mark of the name Yato gave him. Yukine isn’t guilty so much as angry and resentful that he can’t interact with people of the near shore anymore. Yato knows he has to call out to him, but is weak and needs time to gather himself to say the proper words.

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He gets that time thanks to the person without whom he and Yukine (and possibly others) would have died long ago: the tough, resolute, dependable Iki Hiyori, who throws herself into danger yet again to make a personal appeal to Yukine. She snaps him out of his near-calamitous tantrum with the threat that they’ll no longer be friends if he completes his betrayal of Yato. That threat assumes Hiyori is his friend, something he’d never considered. Now that he knows he has friends, he repents and is purified. The final scene is replete with raw emotion appropriate for the aftermath of such an ordeal. When Yato and Yukine bow their heads to Hiyori in apology and gratitude, all she can do is gather them in a big ol’ hug.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)