Tokyo Revengers – 10 – Stand Your Shaky Ground

Takemichi finds Draken stabbed in the kidney area by Kiyomasa, but everyone else is busy brawling, including Mikey with the surprisingly formidable Hanma. So it’s all up to Takemichi whether Draken bleeds out or gets to a hospital.

Despite being half his size, Takemichi puts the hulking Ken on his back and sloooowly trudges his way to the hospital. Thankfully, Hina and Emma catch up to him, and have already called an ambulance.

While they wait longer than usual due to the festival and the rain, Kiyomasa’s crew tracks Takemichi and Draken down. Thankfully none of them threaten to do anything to Hina or Emma, but Kiyomasa is going to have to insist that Takemichi take them and fuck right off so he can finish Draken off.

But Takemichi is done running. He doesn’t care how absurd it is to try to go up against a beast like Kiyomasa, he has to make the most of his second chance. So he rushes the guy, shrugs off a stab wound to the hand, leaps onto his back, and refuses to let go.

Eventually, Kiyomasa passes out from lack of oxygen, and comes crashing down on Takemichi like a damn felled tree. But just because Kiyomasa’s down doesn’t mean his buddies are going anywhere. They advance on Draken and Takemichi, both of whom are barely able to stand and losing lots of blood.

They’re rescued at the last moment by Akkun and the rest of Mizu Mid’s Ferocious Five, who are even goofier and more embarrassing than Takemichi…but it doesn’t matter. Victory for them is buying enough time for the ambulance to get there, and when that happens, Kiyomasa’s pals have lost. Takemichi is free to savor the win, but the work to salvage his future has still only just begun.

Tokyo Revengers – 09 – Let’s Do This Shit!

The tender sweetness of the summer festival gives way to the vicious smashing of fists and feet into faces this week, as Tokyo Revengers hosts its first all-out, full-on brawl between Toman and the remnants of Moebius.

Takemichi tries to get to Draken before Peh-yan or Kiyomasa can kill him, but Peh-yan finds Draken first. After telling Emma to keep her distance (thakfully nothing happens to her here), Draken is ambushed by the tried-and-true cowardly tactic of sneaking up from behind with a baseball bat.

But by the time Takemichi and Mitsuya find a bloodied Draken, he’s not only still conscious and standing, but has already amassed a pile of fallen Moebius wannabe badasses.

Peh-yan has somehow managed to muster a full one hundred members of Moebius against just Draken, Mitsuya, and Takemichi, but the distinctive exhaust sound of Mikey’s motorcycle heralds the coming of the cavalry. That’s when we meet Moebius’ new “temporary” commander, Hanma Shuuji.

Not only does Hanma come out of nowhere—Naoto never mentioned him to Takemichi in the present—he’s also able to successfully block Mikey’s kick, which is a dead giveaway that he’s not someone to be trifled with.

Fortunately, the 100-on-4 battle becomes much fairer when all the various divisions of Toman arrive en masse to back Mikey up. From there, things go full Gangs of New York, only in Tokyo, with a bunch of 13-to-15-year-olds.

Takemichi gingerly navigates the chaos of punches and kicks, trying to keep track of Draken and looking out for Kiyomasa, who stated his intention to murder Draken. He’s unsuccessful on both counts. By the time he spots Kiyomasa, the guy’s knife is already stained with blood.

By the time he finds Draken, he’s lying on the ground in a pool of his own blood. If Draken does indeed die, it will make Takemichi’s life—and his mission to save Hina and Akkun—much more difficult. I’m just surprised that expected big bad Kisaki Tetta still has yet to reveal himself.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 08 – The Ecstacy and the Agony

It’s neither Takemitchy’s rage nor passion nor pathetic attempts to score a blow that shake Mikey and Draken out of their latest spat. Nope, it’s a big ol’ turd, which ends up nested in Takemichi’s hair when he goes flying into a pile of garbage. Mikey and Draken run off laughing, scared of the shit coming to get them, and his four friends follow suit. It’s a rare reminder that despite their pretensions otherwise, these are still a bunch of stupid kids.

Takemichi’s antics may have helped Mikey and Draken forget what they were fighting about, but since he’s the only real adult among them, Takemichi realizes what the problem was: Mikey wanted to free his friend Pah, while Draken wanted to respect Pah’s wishes to turn himself in; neither felt they could budge from their positions. Thank goodness for poop!

After washing his hair, Takemichi joins the made-up pair and his four friends. Hina shows up with Emma, who has come to ensure Hina properly asks Takemichi out to the summer festival on August 3rd. As Emma predicted, of course Takemichi says yes—Hina is his girlfriend after all—while she is bowled over that Draken and Mikey are on good terms again.

Takemichi, meanwhile, seeing everything coming up aces, celebrates having changed history by stopping the Mikey/Draken feud before it got too bad. Now Draken won’t be killed and Akkun and Hina will be saved, right? Before returning to the present where he’ll surely face a rude awakening, he decides to reward himself by going on a double date with Hina, Draken and Emma.

It’s really good to see the old Hina again, and to also learn that she and Emma have become friends owing to Emma being a genuinely pure and lovely person. Hina’s forgiven her friend for “going off the deep end” due to her intense love of Draken, and while she hasn’t quite yet forgiven Takemichi, she gives him a relatively easy out: shoot the special prize.

While the game is rigged, the fact Takemichi puts in such a serious effort is more than enough for Hina, which is why when it starts to pour and they get separated from the other couple, Hina not only forgives him, but wants him to hold her and is ready for him to kiss her. Alas, Takemichi is interrupted by a phone call from Yamagishi, saying Mikey’s rank-and-file aren’t satisfied with their reconciliation and are still going after Draken.

Cursing himself for letting young love drop his guard so completely, Takemichi runs into the rain in search of Draken, since this is August 3rd, the day he’s supposed to be murdered. What seems to have changed is who exactly will do it. Kiyomasa has joined forces with Moebius with the intent to kill Draken as revenge for shutting down his fight club.

Takemichi does an awful job staying hidden, and when Kiyomasa and the others start beating on him, he realizes that despite befriending Mikey and Draken, without them around he’s just as weak and pathetic as he’s always been. They tape him up and leave him in the dirt and cold rain, but fortunately Hina finds him well after the thugs have departed (had they used him as bait to ambush her, I might well have been done with this show).

Instead, Hina removes the tape from Takemichi’s mouth, and he laments that the best he could do wasn’t good enough, and he hasn’t been able to save anyone, and is nothing but a complete and utter failure. Hina responds by giving Takemichi her first kiss. She gives it to him because he’s special to her, and because it’s because he breaks down and cries for the sake of others that no one is cooler than him in her eyes.

It’s just the motivation Takemichi needs to buck up and get back to his mission, because she reminded him that no matter how pathetic he looks, failure is not an option. So he heads back out and runs into Mikey’s driver Mitsuya, who tells Takemichi that everyone agreed to put the Pah-chin thing behind them…except for Peh-yan, on whom the episode ends as he’s about to pull a knife on Draken…with Emma right beside him.

It’s a good thing Takemichi didn’t head back to the present thinking he’d fixed everything. He can’t rest on his poopy laurels—there’s a lot more to be done before victory can be declared.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Horimiya – 07 – Downpour

I. The Coffee Stain

Yuki would never say so, but Hori falling for Miyamura worked in her favor. It meant Tooru would have to give up on Hori and look for love elsewhere. Yuki makes an effort to hang out with Tooru more frequently, in hopes they’ll grow closer. She doesn’t let little opportunities like carrying the class trash out together slip away.

Unfortunately for Yuki, this backfires when, while she’s teasing Tooru, he bumps stright into Kouno Sakura, who is presently crushing on him hard. Coffee from the trash spills on Sakura’s top, and when Tooru runs off to grab his gym jacket for her to wear, Sakura asks Yuki if she and Tooru are dating. Yuki tells the truth: they’re not. But she also leaves out the truth: she’d like to.

Sakura takes Yuki’s reply as cause for relief. In the StuCo office she asks Kakeru about why he likes Remi. He gives a very heartfelt response about how despite him not being that strong, he feels compelled to protect Remi, which inspires him to become stronger, so Remi really protects him too…and Sakura.

Buoyed by these words of support, Sakura returns Tooru’s washed jacket and gives him a bag of homemade cookies. He genuinely loves them, especially the sakura colored ones, so Sakura gets him to repeat “I love Sakura”, which is wonderfully devious on her part!

II. Smiles and Cupcakes

Hori watches something play out in the bookstore that’s a microcosm of Yuki’s tendency to withhold how she really feels or what she wants: she reaches for the last issue of something just as someone else is, and lets that person take it. “The things she loves or wants tend to escape her.”

The more upset she is, the more she’ll smile to hide it. So Yuki is beaming when Tooru goes out to the hall to talk with Sakura, and smiles even wider when Sakua offers her cookies, after initially refusing them under her breath. The trash is right there in which to toss them, but they’re too damn good to waste.

Not wanting to give up on what—on who she wants, Yuki reaches out to Miyamura for cake-baking advice. He assures her he wasn’t born a baker, and nobody’s good at anything when they first start out. If she messes up, she should just give it another shot.

Yuki takes that advice to heart in both baking and Tooru. She has Horimiya try her first (failed) attempt, but to her horror Tooru joins them, eats an entire burnt cupcake, and smiles his big smile saying that while it was utter crap, he looks forward to the next batch. The Yuki-Tooru-Sakura love triangle is official!

III. FIVE DAYS

After two very strong segments focused on secondary characters, this felt like it would be an entire episode in which Horimiya’s romance would be placed on the back burner. O me of little faith! On the contrary, the latter two segments are all Horimiya, All the time, and greatly advance their relationship.

This segment is the epitome of the adage absence makes the heart grow fonder, as Hori and Miyamura are separated almost the whole time. Miyamura is away with family in Hokkaido for five days (a funeral from the looks of it). It’s he longest period they’ve been apart since they became a couple, and to make matters worse, Miyamura’s phone dies and he left his charger back home!

While those sound like the ingredients for another rom-com cliché, in which a lesser show would milk the misunderstanding around his lack of replies, by now we know better. Hori never feels like Miyamura is avoiding her, it just sucks ass that he’s away. She also carries out functions as if he were there, like getting him a drink at school or setting a place for him at the table at home. She counts the days off on her hand.

Five Days is a little masterpiece of brooding atmosphere and steady crescendo-ing anticipation of Horimiya’s eventual reunion; anyone who’s had to endure time alone with a new love knows full well what they’re feeling.

When Miyamura finally gets home and plugs his phone in. we don’t get to see the message that greets him, only his reaction: to run to Hori’s. Hori, meanwhile, can’t wait any longer, and rushes to Miyamura, and the two end up meeting in the elevator.

I breathed a sigh of relief, having been conditioned by countless other anime for the two to just miss one another another couple times. Hori’s tearful look of elation really is a sight to behold, and as she steps back to welcome him back, we see the message on Miyamura’s fallen phone: “Hurry up and get back here, dummy.”

IV. FEELING THE HEAT

That brings us to the final most stunning segment of the entire series. It starts out so simply, innocently, and comically, with Yuki, Sakura, and Remi taking Hori to task for loving horror and slasher movies and making Miyamura watch them. They insist that’s weird and could even push him away.

The next time Horimiya watch a scary movie, Hori tries to follow his friends’ advice, first by pretending to act scared as an excuse to draw closer, which scares the bijeezus out of him. Then she tries to surreptitiously take his hand, only causing him to recoil in terror. He apologetically goe off to be alone for a minute, and Hori retires to her room, devastated that what Yuki said has come true, and he wants nothing more to do with her.

Naturally, nothing could be further from the truth, and before long Miyamura joins Hori in her room where she’s sulking about “not being cute”, because she doesn’t and can’t get scared. Miyamura realizes she was doing that stuff for him, and reminds her he didn’t fall for a “normal girl”, but for “her”, just like she fell for him and all his quirks, among them his tendency to be a scaredy-cat.

Miyamura suggests they go back and watch the rest of the movie, but instead Hori calls him Izumi and slides off the bed and into his arms. She puts her ear to his chest to listen to his heart; he does the same. As the rain continues to fall in sheets outside, they move to the bed. Hori notes Miyamura’s cold ears and hands, says he can’t go home in such a downpour.

In her head Hori says “There was a heat within me, and I wanted Miyamura to feel it too.” And so Hori and Miyamura make love for the first time.

At some point after that, Miyamura has some real talk with Souta, who is worried about losing his big sister. Miyamura assures him he won’t take his big sister away, but asks if he can have Kyouko, to which Souta assents. Poor Souta! Still, he’s really not losing anyone; he’s gaining a big brother.

In a post-credit, post-coital sequence, the two are naked together and Hori proudly declares she’s bitten Miyamura on the neck, so he’d better grow his hair back to hide it. So there you have it! Going from a stolen candy kiss and a make-out session interrupted by Hori’s dad, to going all the way.

There’s no doubt that being apart for five days, and the joy they felt upon reuniting, was another milestone in their relationship, something they couldn’t reach without experiencing being apart. But it was also a matter of it simply happening—effortlessly, organically, just like so many other important moments in this series. Nothing is forced; everything just makes sense.

By being in Hori’s room they had the privacy; by reiterating that why they love each other has nothing to do with anyone else, they had the intimacy; and heck, the fact it was cold out, and there was the soothing sound of that rain…I can’t stress enough how simply, beautifully and tastefully this scene was composed. It’s rare for an anime to depict a loving couple earnestly taking the next step—one of the best, Kare Kano, is twenty-two years old—but if any contemporary series could do it, it’s Horimiya, and it did.

Wonder Egg Priority – 06 – Omelette Rice

Now that each girl and the group as a whole have had their spotlight episodes, it’s time to return to Ohto Ai’s story. While she’s exhausted and sore from her last battle, Ai’s mom insists she get out of bed for breakfast. Her mom also made her omelette rice for lunch and they’ll be having sukiyaki for supper. Ai notes that they usually only have sukiyaki on special occasions. Then her mom asks if she’ll have a “proper talk” with Mr. Sawaki today.

When Ai joins the others, it’s clear she’s in a mood. First of all, she’s skipping emphatically, then starts kicking a traffic cone around and then a sandwich board that she accidentally shatters. The other three are understandably curious what caused this change in her. The four visit the Accas, who inform them of a new threat: Haters, who disguise themselves as Seeno Evils but are far more powerful.

Haters are the result of the four girls “standing out” by their protecting the egg girls. “Those who stand out pay for it”, Acca says, reminding me of how conformity was also the best defense in Ikuhara’s Yuri Kuma Arashi. They present the girls with a different kind of defense: cute pendants that awaken when spoken to in Latin and imprint upon their owners.

Each girl finds somewhere private to awaken their “Pomanders”. Neiru’s is a snake, Rika’s a turtle, Momo’s is an alligator, and Ai’s is a chameleon. While envy and spite birth the Haters that attack Ai and her latest egg girl, those same qualities are like “bread and butter” to her Pomander, who proceeds to gobble one up. As a big fan of beast-taming in FFXIII-2, I like the extra boost they provide to Ai as the difficulty level increases.

In life, Yoshida Yae could see dead people and “strong grudges” no one else could. Because only she could, no one believed her, and she was eventually committed. The facility was full of the very thing only Yae could see, which do doubt led to her suicide. Ai tries to keep her safe by hiding her, but this time the Wonder Killer itself is invisible.

While it’s a little confusing at first, it becomes apparent that Ai’s defense of Yae and battle against an invisible foe comes after the “special occasion” for which her mom is making sukiyaki: Mr. Sawaki is joining them for dinner…and not to talk about school. While the sukiyaki is a clue, it still feels like an ambush, especially when Ai is still drying her hair from a bath when he basically invades her safe space.

Ai’s mom and Sawaki aren’t done with the surprises, as they announce to her their intention to start dating, if it’s okay with her. YIKES. Look, I get it, her mom is divorced and ready to find love again, and Sawaki seems on the surface to be a kind and decent guy. But your daughter’s teacher, who was a major presence in both her and her only friend’s lives prior to Koito’s sudden suicide?

The cynic, i.e. the Rika in me smells something rotten in the state of Denmark. Just as she supposed Ai’s mom used Ai’s need for counseling as an excuse to make Sawaki’s visits a regular occurance, leading to their growing closer, Rika has even darker concerns based on her own mother’s relationships. In her experience, live-in boyfriends always abuse their girlfriend’s kids—violently if it’s a son, sexually if it’s a daughter.

When Ai tells the other girls about this, Momoe is giddily over the moon, as it could mean she and Ai could be family someday. She does not take Rika’s aspersion casting well, and not just because Rika makes a distinction between how a boy or girl would be abused. Momo trusts her uncle, and believes Rika is letting her perspective curdle Ai’s. For him to use Ai’s mom as a decoy to get to Ai…she just can’t believe he’d be that way.

And yet…sometimes it’s the closest friends and family members who have a blind spot where their loved one is concerned—just ask anyone who was close to someone who has been #MeToo’d in the last few years. “[What they are alleged to have done] isn’t them” is a common refrain. The bottom line is, Ai seems most troubled by the fact she still doesn’t know what caused Koito’s suicide, and as long as the mystery remains unresolved, Ai will understandably feel uneasy.

And then there’s Neiru’s input, which is to draw in so close to Ai she can’t hide her face. She brings up Occam’s Razor—the simplest theory is the best—and wonders if the bottom line is that Ai likes Mr. Sawaki. From where they each stand, Momoe, Rika, and Neiru all have valid reasons for how they feel about Ai’s predicament. There simply isn’t enough information for anyone to be proven right or wrong.

All that is certain is that the uncertainty is extremely frustrating for Ai, so much so that after getting beaten by Yae’s invisible Wonder Killer, and Yae tosses her prayer beads that enable Ai to see it, Ai wastes no time taking out those frustrations on the Killer, kicking and smashing it into oblivion.

Before Yae also vanishes, she gets to experience the release and relief of having Ai embrace her and tell her in no uncertain terms that she believes her. For Yae, Ai was the only one. Upon returning home, she decides to name her new chameleon buddy Leon. It’s a bit obvious, but it feels right.

The next day, it pours. Ai’s mom comes home while she’s still in the bad, and scolds her for leaving her dirty clothes out. When she says she’ll turn out the pockets before putting them through the wash, Ai bursts out of the bath without drying off, dresses herself, and runs out the door into the torrential rain. When her mom asks where she’s going, she defiantly yells “SCHOOL!”

Ai keeps running, and by the time she reaches her school, the rain has let up and the sky has become clear and beautiful. She spots Mr. Sawaki as two other schoolgirls are saying goodbye to him. She runs up to him takes hold of his arm, and catches her breath. It looks for all the world like she’s about to confess her love, but she doesn’t. Instead, she brightly declares that she’s going to start going to school again, purposefully brushing the hair out of her face to reveal her blue eye.

Ai doesn’t give Sawaki an answer about whether its okay for him to date her mom. She also doesn’t have any satisfying answers about Koito; at least not yet. Depsite all that, she’s emerged from her cocoon after a lengthy hibernation, and to give ordinary school life another go. Not for Koito, not for her mom, and not for Mr. Sawaki…but for herself.

Perhaps she was “egged on” (I’m so sorry) by her mom and Mr. Sawaki’s announcement, but defending all the egg girls and hearing their stories, as well as those of her fellow egg defenders, and even Leon helped her put her own situation into relief.

Avoiding school hasn’t brought her all the answers she’s sought since losing Koito. Maybe by returning to school they’ll reveal themselves…or maybe not! Either way, she’s moving forward with her her life. I just hope she didn’t catch a cold running forward through all that rain!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 03 – Childhood Friend

Thanks to Roxy, Rudy is no longer a shut-in, which means he can now freely explore the boundless natural beauty beyond the Greyrat residence. Paul tells his son that a man’s strength isn’t for pushing people around, but protecting and befriending the weak—and if some girls are impressed in the process, it’s all gravy.

It’s the first of several moments Paul talks to his son as if he were much older, even though he tells him he worries about the ways he doesn’t act like the kid he is. This only makes sense: Rudy is Paul’s first kid, while Rudy’s emotional and social development was profoundly stunted by bullying and harassment. They both have plenty to teach each other.

As for making friends, the first three kids his age Rudy meets are bullying a weaker boy, and uses his water magic to disinterest them off. He learns they were picking on the boy for having green hair and thus resembling the hated Superd. In reality, he’s the son of a human and half-elf; the green hair is just a harmless genetic trait.

At first glance it’s clear to Rudy that Sylph (delicately voiced by Kayano Ai) is a drop-dead gorgeous bishounen. Having acted on his father’s advice to be a friend to the weak, his decision is also routed in his baser desire to meet hot babes, who will surely flock to this prettyboy. Sylph is delighted to have a friend, as Rudy is his first as well. They agree to meet up soon so he can teach him how to use the magic that got rid of the bullies.

But Rudy comes home late to find an angry Paul at the front door. He heard from the mother of one of the bullies that Rudy punched him. Rudy tries to explain the way an adult would to another, but Paul doesn’t want to hear excuses. When Rudy is insolent, he’s slapped, but instead of crying, Rudy becomes even more adult and logical.

He tells Paul how he’s worked hard to earn his father’s trust, and had hoped that would have in turn earned him the chance to explain his actions. He then assures Paul that next time he sees three boys picking on another, he’ll either ignore it or join in, as befits the “Greyrat Family Way.” Paul, knowing he’s been rhetorically beaten, apologizes and asks Rudy to tell him what happened.

Like I said, Paul is as new to being a dad as Rudy is to being a kid in this world. Both are going to make mistakes. What’s so wonderful about the exchange here is that virtually equal time is given to their respective analyses and growth as a father and a son. Paul thought he needed to be hard on a son who is already a saint-level mage, even though part of him was glad he finally did something childish.

Paul knows he wasn’t practicing what he preached and furthermore, Rudy was fully capable of exposing that hypocrisy. That said, their “fight” expand beyond the night, as Paul is contrite and reflects not only upon how he’ll parent going forward, but whether his own father felt the things he’s feeling. That he does this while nestling his head in Zenith’s shoulders also underscores that he’s not walking this path of parenthood alone.

Six months pass, and it’s summertime. Rudy and Sylph are still targeted by the bullies, but Rudy fights back every time. He gets the distinct impression that one of the bullies’ moms is using her son as an excuse to see Paul, whom she fancies. Rudy has also been training Sylph in magic, and he turns out to be an excellent student.

When Sylph asks Rudy to teach him how to cast a spell without incantation, Rudy wonders if, like the public myth about set mana levels, it’s easier to do than people let on. As someone in a new world, Rudy wants to be special in at least one or two things, but either it is indeed relatively easy to do incantation-less casting, or Sylph is pretty special himself.

The moment he pulls it off, Sylph practically blooms with joy, dancing and spinning with the water he conjured, then running as fast as his fair legs can carry him through golden fields. Rudy can only keep up and share in the pure, unadulterated joy. As they lie together in the reeds, catching their breath, Rudy reiterates how goddamn pretty Sylph is.

Then a pop-up storm starts to drench them, and they make haste for shelter at Rudy’s house. Rudy leads Sylph to the bath that Lilia already prepared, strips down to his birthday suit, and sets to work stripping an extremely reluctant Sylph down as well, urging him not to be bashful—they’re both boys!

Only…they’re not. As was fairly evident from the start, Sylph is a girl, and was never able to get out her full name: Sylphiette. For once, Rudy isn’t turned on by a naked girl. In fact, he feels awful, as well as stupid for not realizing sooner. As he bathes with his dad, Paul makes sure that even as his son starts getting more interested in girls that kind of thing, he needs to listen and heed them when they say “no”.

Again, Paul is glad his son is acting like the kid he appears to be—and emotionally, still is—in this situation. He knows his son will “make good use” of his failure, only to watch Rudy “apologize” by saying he honestly thought she was a boy the whole six months they’ve hung out, causing her to cry even more. At that, Paul wonders if his son is dumber than he thought!

A day or a few pass, Rudy can’t concentrate on sparring with Paul, and Paul knows exactly why. What he doesn’t know is that the 30-year-old in Rudy is similarly depressed about having seemingly pushed away the lovely childhood friend was hoping to meet someday. Rudy showed his whole ass (literally!), Paul is certain they’ll make up. He assures Rudy that women love men’s strengths and weaknesses, and showing your vulnerable side can help mend fences.

His dad later admits he’s getting into some pretty advanced romantic advice for his still-very-young son, but it’s all good advice, from someone who is clearly a good man who, while hella strong, understands his own weaknesses and flaws, be it as a father, a husband, or a man.

Sylphiette shows up right after Rudy and Paul talk, and Rudy approaches her weary and contrite. He tries a dating sim line about “missing her beauty”, all while on the verge of tears, fearing permanent rejection. Instead, Sylphiette tenderly takes his hands in hers, tells him she “doesn’t hate him or anything”, and asks him to just “act normal,” giving him a pat on the head for good measure.

That she’s forgiven him so easily baffles Rudy, but he’s also obviously relieved beyond belief. He admits to not knowing how to get along with her, even though that’s what he’s been doing the last six months. His adult brain looks outward into the future when he’s a man in need of a good woman, but for now, the gender of the first friend his age shouldn’t matter. They’re still young, and have all the time in the world.

Rudy and Sylphiette will learn together how to continue get along with each other. There will be times they’ll make each other angry, get into fights, and maybe not talk or want to look in each other’ faces. But they’ll also run through golden fields together, laughing, playing, doing magic, and simply reveling in each other’s proximity. They’ll falter and forgive together—that’s what friendship is all about.

P.S. Read Crow’s write-up here!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 02 – Facing the Outside

Most isekai anime never return to the protagonist’s original world after the first episode, but as Rudy grows older and more accustomed to his new life as a little kid, his trauma begins manifesting as flashes of that previous life. First, we’re presented with a Rudy who skips his parents’ funeral so he can jerk off in his bedroom.

When three goons break in, he runs away, sees a truck about to hit some high school students, and runs into its path, resulting in the death we saw last week. Back in the new world, Rudy considers walking in on his parents loudly screwing when he sees Roxy masturbating outside their door. Symmetry.

As pervy as Rudy is, even he knows better than to disturb Roxy in such a vulnerable state, like the goons did to him the night he died. The empathy he displays here underscores the promise of this new life: the chance to properly develop mentally, something that wasn’t possible in his old life. It’s also an early hint of the respect he gains for Roxy, who isn’t just his master, but his first friend…in either life.

Six months, then a year pass since Roxy arrived, and Rudy is making fast progress with his magic, and no longer passing out after expending it. Roxy looks upon this progress with pride, but also a sense of sad inevitability: soon he’ll easily surpass her as a mage and she’ll have nothing left to teach him. As for the green-haired demonic “Superd” she warns him about, Rudy already knows about monsters from his past life.

In his previous life, Rudy was brutally bullied at school, regularly stripped down, tied up, and photographed by leering, laughing gawkers. Though we’re seeing things purely from his POV there’s no reason to think he’s embellishing things, and we see that this treatment led him to cease moving forward. He retreated into the safety of his room, where he remained in stasis.

Even though his two worlds couldn’t look any more different (a contrast that’s well-executed by the visuals), he feels the same fear of the outside beyond his family’s land as he did leaving his room, or even looking out his window. When Roxy recommends he attend Ranoa Magic University in the Red Dragon Mountains to further his training, he brushes it off as unnecessary; he’ll be just fine where he is, with Roxy.

Of course, Rudy is deluding himself. Roxy is a great teacher, but as he reaches five years old (the first of three 5-year intervals birthdays are celebrated in this world) they’re quickly approaching the point when Roxy has nothing left to teach him. To remain home would stunt his development, both as a mage and as a person.

For his fifth birthday Rudy receives a tome from his mom, a sword from his dad, and a wand from Roxy, along with the announcement that he’ll use the wand for his imminent graduation exam. The magic they’ll be learning is dangerous, so they must travel away from home. The prospect of going outside causes Rudy to freeze up; as Roxy aptly puts it, he’s finally “acting his age.”

Roxy assures him there’s nothing to fear, and helps him exorcise his past life’s demons simply by being her wonderful self. As they ride past other villagers, Rudy wants them to stop staring at him, but then realizes they’re staring at Roxy, who in just a year was able to win the entire village over despite the prejudice surrounding people with hair her color.

With nothing left to fear of the new land in which he finds himself, Rudy watches Roxy pull of the biggest magical spell yet, summoning a huge storm that accidentally injures the family horse, Caravaggio. Thankfully he’s easily healed up and then placed in a protective shell when it’s Rudy’s turn to cast the spell.

As with the magical trials Fran puts Elaina through in Wondering Witch, the full terrible potential of elite-level magic is fully realized by the surpassing visuals, as the idyllic landscape is entirely greyed out by blinding sheets of rain, only to emerge more beautiful than before, with tinges of pink and violet in the blue skies.

Rudy passed his first two big tests of life in his new world: stepping outside, and passing his final exam with Roxy. With that passage, there truly is nothing else Roxy can teach him. While I half-expected him to press further for her to stay—either by becoming the village’s resident mage or, say, becoming his dad’s third wife—Rudy isn’t the only one who needs to move forward, and Roxy intends to travel the world, re-hone her skills, and see what else she can learn.

So while Rudy is understandably sad to see her go (as are his folks, who fail to hold back tears for her goodbye), he lets her go, thanking her for imbuing him with knowledge, experience, and technique in magic as well as life. He will also never forget that it was Roxy who brought him outside and showed him it was nothing to fear.

While Roxy was little more than a pretty game character made flesh to Rudy when they met, she’s become someone with whom he formed a genuine human connection, learned more than he’d ever imagined, and healed him in a way he’d long thought impossible. For all of that she’ll have his everlasting gratitude and respect.

Of course, Rudy is still Rudy, as we’re reminded when Lilia discovers a pair of Roxy’s underwear he’d stashed away a few months prior to her departure…the little shit! But maybe, just maybe, he’s taken the first steps to becoming a little less of a shit. Baby steps.

Stray Observations:

  • Rudy died the same night as his parents’ funeral. Looks like they were last line of defense that kept the tormentors out of his house. We later catch them outside his door telling him not to give up.
  • While the extent of the public torture Rudy endured stretches credulity, I’m not putting anything past human beings after 2020.
  • Roxy is indeed the age where, ahem, “that kind of thing” is pretty normal, and this being a world that lacks the modern means of taking care of that, listening to two people having sex would have to suffice.
  • That said, the session she and Rudy overheard did not result in a baby sibling for Rudy. I presume he’ll get one at some point.
  • Rudy is not yet much of a swordsman despite Paul’s efforts, but in Rudy’s defense, he’s five. you gotta give the kid a sword his size!
  • Roxy brings up the Superd, who have green hair and red stones in their foreheads. They started the horrific Laplace War between humans and demons. Rudy visualizes them as similar to Sadako from The Ring.
  • Seeing the village kids leering with flip phones was hella creepy.
  • Social status, pride, and even race apparently don’t matter at Ranoa University. I imagine Rudy will be heading there as soon as he’s old enough…say seven.
  • The little aside of Zenith affectionately feeding Roxy and Lilia grapes was extremely cute.
  • Really glad Caravaggio pulled through! Poor horse looked like he was toast—literally.
  • Read Crow’s write-up here!

Akudama Drive – 07 – The Offering

As the elevator to Brother and Sister’s destination rises out of the debris, Hoodlum reunites with the others, proudly reporting to have stabbed the Apprentice to avenge his brother, Brawler, who didn’t make it. When Brother is flippant about there being casualties on the job, Hoodlum almost loses it, but Swindler once again plays the peacemaker, and his temper subsides.

At the end of the elevator’s descent they reach Expo Park, a sprawling abandoned underground amusement park. Bunny and Shark cut in to tell us it was built before the war to preserve the culture of Old Kansai, but ominously notes that “there are some things better left not known”. The siblings’ ultimate destination is a rocket that Brother says will convey him and his Sister to a base on the Moon, where they’ll be safe.

That’s when we learn from Brother that he and his sister are the result of human experiments at Kyushu Plant to create immortal humans. Between them they are the product of 5,555 other siblings who were sacrificed in one horrific way or another to make the two of them possible.

I’m reminded of any number of anime in which humans and innocent kids in particular are treated brutally by an unseen, unfeeling scientific villain. Brother wakes up in a lab in a puddle of blood that grows bigger and bigger until one day the gym once full of siblings is empty.

That’s when the “Headmaster” reports that he was a successful experiment. They go on to make one more, Sister, and the two of them will be sent to Kanto as an “offering”, with mass production to follow. But their “Professor”, an AI in an artificial cat body, took pity on them and allowed them to escape on the Shinkansen. The rest of their story we know.

With that, Brother deposits a billion yen in each of the surviving Akudama’s accounts and deactivates their bomb collars, and prepare to board the rocket. Swindler gives them a farewell hug with the wish that maybe someday they’ll see each other again and eat more yummy takoyaki together.

Then, as the siblings ascend to the rocket’s hatch, Sister is stabbed in the throat…with one of Doctor’s scalpels. She’s fine, but she grabs Brother, making her meaning plain: she’s sold them and everyone else out to the Executioners.

A huge contingent of them suddenly swarm the launch pad and surround the Akudama. When Swindler asks Doctor why, the Doctor coldly declares she doesn’t owe her or anyone a goddamn thing. In exchange for her delivering the “offerings”, Boss removes Doctor’s Akudama status; she’ll no longer be on the run. Boss also tells Brother that the “Moon” they see in the sky is a mere holo-illusion; the real moon was destroyed in the war.

Brother bites Doctors hand and breaks free, while Courier and Cutthroat fight off the swarming Executioners—the latter particularly concerned with Swindler’s safety. He gets cut up pretty bad (which spells trouble considering their medic has defected) but ultimately ends up buying time for Swindler and the siblings.

Brother takes hold of Swindler and leads her and Sister into the rocket just as the countdown reaches zero. The rocket successfully launches with Swindler and Sister inside. Brother probably feels better to have at least protected half of the 5,555 siblings who died for them than none at all.

As for where the rocket is headed, who can say? The episode ends with it trailing away from what’s left of the moon—though perhaps its course takes the earth’s rotation into account. Even if they reach the moon, there surely isn’t anything there but death…but that wouldn’t be any different from the Executioner-infested launch pad.

First Hacker split off, then Brawler died, and now Doctor has stabbed everyone in the back. It remains to be seen if the Executioners either claim or scatter the remaining team of Courier, Cutthroat, and Hoodlum. Much like the war shattered the moon, the show has blown its group dynamic to smithereens. We’ll have to wait and see where the pieces land.

Akudama Drive – 06 – Akudama Brawlliant Park

Even though the Boss has mobilized every Executioner to seek and destroy the Akudama, Master gets there first, driven by his need to redeem himself for past failure. An Executioner doesn’t execute, then what is his purpose, right?

He goes all out from the start, sending both Brawler and Cutthroat flying and tossing the police drone at Courier, knocking him and the kids off his bike. Then he slashes Doc across the belly…though I somehow knew she’d be fine.

When Hoodlum finds Brawler in a pile of rubble, he suggests they fall back and give the latter time to recover, but Brawler won’t hear of it. He’s never been in a brawl like this, and isn’t going to back down. His words and wholesome smile make Hoodlum blush…his brother is so cool!

Cutthroat ends up under rubble as well…but cuts his own legs off to continue protecting Swindler…and Swindler alone. Without any regard for the kid brother, he uses him as an (artificial?) human shield, then stabs right through him to wound Master.

Swindler laments Brother’s death, but the Sister tuges at her sleever and tells her to watch: Brother is fine; he has fully regenerative healing. He’s more miffed Cutthroat broke his backpack. Doctor, who stitched herself up, then stiches Cutthroat’s legs back on so he can fight at 100%.

It’s clear from the injuries both the Executioners and Akudama sustain that they’re something more than plain ‘ol human. Only Swindler and Hoodlum, whom we know to be “normal”, escape horrific injuries this week, likely because they wouldn’t recover from them so quickly. Everyone piles onto Couriers bike, then Brawler bursts back onto the scene like an uncaged beast.

The balance of the episode is taken up by their one-on-one decisive battle, which moves from a glitzy arcade to an old amusement park, their fighting and the lightning seemingly giving these abandoned places new life, if only for a short moment.

Here Akudama Drive really shows off its visual flair, taking the ridiculousness of the brawl the extra mile, and all the while both Master and Brawler feeding off their mutual joy over how much goddamn fun they’re both having. Before Master hid his scar with a mask; now he’s grinning like a schoolboy, just like Brawler.

The two continue to wear each other down until it comes down to one last punch that does them both in at the same time. Meanwhile, Apprentice, who had just received a somewhat momemtum-sapping infodump from Boss about why she started pairing up Executioners, arrives on the scene. Boss told her survival rates of Executioners increased dramatically when they had a “reason to live”, i.e. their partner.

But Boss is incorrect that this is what separates the Executioners from the Akudama, because this particular group, despite having been a collection of selfish loners, has also developed a sense of camaraderie, even family. Had they not, they would have surely fallen to Master one by one. Instead, he falls, while the Akudama just lose Brawler—a huge loss, to be sure, but a survivable one.

As Apprentice mourns her Master’s death, Hoodlum mourns his big bro’s…then picks up Master’s lightsaber and rushes an unready Apprentice. When next we see her she’s alive and back in the hospital; both lightsabers by her bed. Hoodlum is also alive in the preview, which means he only took her eye, not her life. But it’s a given Apprentice will seek revenge.

Meanwhile, Swindler drops the nice-girl act (as Doctor had been pleading) to slap Cutthroat across the face and call him “despicable” for valuing her “beautiful” life over that of the kid Brother. The message is clear: she won’t tolerate any more of that. No more cutting through others to protect her! Brother and Sister locate their next destination, which turns out to be the underground network where survivors of the bombing of Old Kansai still reside.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 48 – The Rain Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Time was, Sakura could solve pretty much any weird problem that arose in her life by releasing her wand and sealing a Clow Card. But now an unceasing rain pummels Tomoeda Town, and her wand won’t release. Kero needs to confer with Yue, so Sakura asks her brother if Yukito will be over.

To paraphrase Touya, if you cook a tasty dinner, Yukito will come. Meanwhile Eriol, who if I’m honest is looking a lot like the new big bad in disguise, tries to cheer Sakura up with flowers from his home garden and later invites her to his house. Syaoran is understandably concerned, as Eriol is still very much an unknown element.

That pretty much describes Akizuki Nakuru, who while cute, spunky, and flirty with Touya, treats Yukito like an oblivious rival, declaring she’ll just go ahead and “take” Touya, thank you very much. Like Eriol, Nakuru is hiding something…something big.

That night, Yukito is indeed lured to the Kinomoto residence by the promise of a good meal, and when Touya has to go off to a night job and Kero is alone with Yukito, the latter transforms into Yue. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any answers for Sakura or Kero; all he knows is that the rain is being caused by someone with immense magical power.

Yue and Kero accompany Sakura (and Tomoyo) back to Penguin Park, where a whirlpool of rain forms above them that shoots out tendrils of water. The Guardians, apparently outmatched, are paralyzed, and everyone is sucked up into water spouts. I’m not gonna lie, it’s a super-perilous situation, and I was expecting Syaoran to show up with his magic sword. Alas, he’s nowhere to be found.

No, it’s up to Sakura, for whom letting Tomoyo, Kero and Yue drown is not an option. When she remembers what Clow said about stars being the source of her power, Sakura modifies her incantation and successfully summons a new star-topped wand.

Despite this, when she tries to use a Clow Card, nothing happens. This requires her to command the card to change its form into a Sakura Card, at which time she can draw upon its power with her want.

The first Clow Card to be converted to a Sakura Card is Fiery, which Sakura deploys in order to turn the water spouts into steam and free the others—though practically speaking I’m wondering how nobody got singed or scalded!

With a new wand and new card, Sakura is finally able to end the endless rain over Tomoeda. But as a result of her exertions, she suddenly falls asleep, her magical power apparently depleted. Not far away, three ominous figures float in the sky, having observed the battle. The one in the center is impressed with Sakura’s skills so far. That probably means his next “test” for her won’t be so easy!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 16 – Light Side of the Rainbow

The Kinomotos and Yukito travel to a quaint country house for vacation, an intro that carries with it the potential for a competition between Sakura and her big brother for the silver-haired glutton’s attention—not to mention a Clow Card hunt. But CCS throws us a curveball: neither of those things happen. Sakura barely spends any time with Yukito or Touya.

Instead, while on a walk she meets a kindly old man who invites her to tea, and Sakura decides to pay him another visit the next day, with her dad’s permission. The old man shows her a room full of stuffed animals where his departed granddaughter used to stay, and where she once painted a rainbow from her veranda. Sakura really takes a shine to the lonely old man, and vice-versa.

The next thing you know, she’s playing tennis with him in a tennis outfit he must have provided, then dresses her in his dead granddaughter’s favorite dress. With these visits CCS challenges its viewers not to let cynicism or negativity get the best of them, because there are definitely some moments that feel a bit, well, creepy—despite there being precisely zero evidence the old man has any sinister motives.

When it’s time for Sakura to go home, she bids the old man farewell, but not before asking him to go out onto the veranda. Using Rain, she replicates one of the rainbows he loves so much, and which his granddaughter painted for him. It’s a lovely, heartwarming, bittersweet means of saying goodbye.

We then learn that the old man’s granddaughter was Sakura’s mother Nadeshiko, which makes him her great-grandfather, thus explaining why her dad was okay with her spending so much time with him. It turns out Sonomi, another one of his grandchildren, was at the house the whole time, stealthily ensuring Gramps and Sakura were well-supplied with tea and sweets.

While a pleasant diversion from the weekly card hunt, this outing begs the question of why all the subterfuge—Why can’t Sakura’s great-grandfather (or her dad) just come out and tell her they’re family, even if she likely sensed it on some level? And why did Sonomi have to remain hidden the whole time?

Then again, considering Sakura’s dad had the Clow Card book in their basement, and she hasn’t told her family about her new calling, I guess secrets are kind of a family specialty!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 04 – Into the Woods

Sakura is super-hyped about a Sunday picnic with Tomoyo, but that particular bubble is burst when Touya reminds her that she has to do all of the house chores on Sunday, as a result of switching days with him earlier. Still, after calling to postpone (and Tomoyo’s sumptuous basket lunch is already prepared, *sniff*!) Sakura rolls her sleeves up and gets to it, briefly transforming into Housecleaner Sakura and enlisting Kero for laundry duty.

While she first discovered the Clow Cards in the basement, up until this point none had started anything in her house. That changes when in the process of cleaning she finds not one but two cards, one of them smudged with ink. When her dad calls her to come to the bus stop to bring him a file he forgot, she leaves the cards alone briefly without writing her name on them, but that’s long enough for the woody mischief to begin!

After hearing ominous groaning sounds, Sakura opens the basement door to find a gigantic tree has sprouted. She releases her staff and seals the card, but it soon returns with a vengeance, since the card itself is still in the basement with a second card. As Tomoyo arrives to help (but mostly to dress Sakura up and film her) the tree re-sprouts with a vengeance, threatening to destroy the house…something Sakura can’t allow to happen.

Donning a super-cool pink pop costume complete with winged headband and moon boots, Sakura braves the labyrinth of branches until she reaches the basement and locates the source of all the trouble. According to Kero-chan, The Wood is a very gentle card, but the second card, Rainy, is basically The Wood’s rowdy enabling friend, raining on the tree and spurring its growth. In order to calm The Wood down, Rainy must be dealt with.

Sakura ends up fighting water with water, summoning Watery to create a feedback loop of water and rain and eventually restraining and sealing the mischievous Rainy. With the catalyst for growth gone, Kero urges patience, and after a moment the branches withdraw, leaving the structure house rather implausibly intact (though Kero said it was gentle; in this case extremely so!)

Still, the aftermath leaves the house a horrendous mess, but have no fear: Tomoyo volunteers to help Sakura and Kero set everything right, and by the time Touya and her dad come home the place is sparkling once more. The first of likely many “stay-at-home” episodes, we got a glimpse of life in the Kinomoto residence, where every family member in. We also witness Kero-chan’s lifeless “Plushie Mode” for the first time!

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 07 – Spilling Tea for Art’s Sake

Tsubame’s unyielding passion to capture the motion of the world around her through drawing started when she was in grade school, watching her grandma toss tea into the yard with a precise, practiced motion. The action fascinated her, and she yearned to master it herself so she could capture it in all its glory.

When she ended up in classes on how to stand, sit, and walk in preparation for her modeling career, Tsubame voraciously jotted down all the various motions, even discerning a better way for her infirm grandma to move and walk more comfortably. She carries that passion on in every frame of animation she’s drawing for this robot anime.

She does this in defiance of her mother’s insistence she not get involved in animation, but also in lieu of getting the proper amount of sleep or paying sufficient attention in class. Yet even if she’s sleep-deprived and her grades start to slip, there’s no alternative. Tsubame is gradually learning not to be a total perfectionist, but she’s never going to give anything less than 110% effort.

With Doumeki on board, the trio now have someone with far more audio know-how than the rest of them combined, but that just means she’s able to describe in precise demoralizing detail all of the challenges they face and the consequences of not properly harmonizing visuals and sound.

Meanwhile, Midori is presented artwork that the artists believe was following her instructions, but which she worries will fundamentally change the film they’re making. The artists need to be more flexible, but she needs to be more precise in her direction.

While I’m sure Sayaka considers it another strictly-business opportunity to give her talent a much-needed break, and it is their bathhouse visit after school is closed due to rain turns out to be a nice bonding experience. There’s a familial intimacy to bathing together that the team previously lacked.

It’s also fun to watch Midori dutifully call her very nice parents to let her know where she is and what she’s doing with whom, as well as the very rich Tsubame marveling at every aspect of the bathhouse experience, as well as insisting Sayaka douses Midori over and over so she can watch the motion of the water —much like she asked her granny to keep tossing tea.

The three then dine on crawfish after catching their fair share themselves (though they can’t eat the same fish they caught, as they must be purged of mud first, Midori points out), and Midori and Tsubame whip out their sketchbooks to capture their dinner in all its crustacean glory. Few moments of these young women’s lives seem to ever pass without them capturing it with pen or pencil on paper.

When the rain subsides, they return to their studio, and Tsubame gradually becomes frustrated with her animation of a chainsaw. After discussing possible remedies with Midori, the two bring in Sayaka, who thinks its fine and that they should watch it with sound. Sure enough, it makes more than enough impact for the quick cut…but Tsubame isn’t quite satisfied.

Both Midori and Tsubame consider anime to be the best way to appreciate movement, more so than even live action film, and that comes down to intent. The imagination, passion and effort of a great animator comes out in every frame of their work, lending it greater impact than a mere directed and photographed live-action actor.

Tsubame isn’t looking to “make people smile” with her anime. She wants to be able to wow people like her, who can’t help but spot every potential flaw or revelation; notice every triumph or defeat. By being her own harshest, uncompromising critic, an artiste like Tsubame could potentially problems for a production on a shoestring budget and tight deadline.

But doggone it, the eventual visual rewards of letting her go wild are well worth the pain. It’s why Sayaka is almost always irritated and annoyed, but she’ll gladly bear those emotions if it results in an exceptional—and profitable—final product. When you successfully harness the chaotic energy of special talents and personalities, great things can happen. And like a rocket taking off, the sky’s the limit.