Akiba Maid War – 04 – Full Metal Piglet

It’s a blessing that there are no previews for this show because I have no earthly idea what this show is going to throw at me from week to week. When the 9-second cold open consisted of a very confused Nagomi being thrown off a building, I was still stumped, but that was a hell of a start…pigs are flying!

The Oinky-Doink Café’s parent company Creatureland comes into focus this week as there’s the maid yakuza equivalent of a corporate summit. The leader brings three managers up, including Tenchou (the only non-maid in the room aside from Otakuza), and shoots someone skimming sweets money in the stomach.

The message is clear: clean it up. Oinky-Doink doesn’t skim, but despite having a capable star in Yumechi and two heavies in Ranko and Zoya, they’re not earning as much as Creatureland would like. So they send Drillmaster Sano to whip them into shape. Her first act is to kick Tenchou and Panda out of the café.

The multi-day boot camp starts at 5:00 AM with Ranko calmly slapping Nagomi awake. The five maids go through a number of grueling drills and are constantly verbally and physically abused by Sano. Anyone who’s watched any show or movie with boot camp can see the pattern here.

Sano’s goal as representative of Creatureland is to increase the Oinky-Doink’s revenue, which means breaking down what she perceives as a bunch of undisciplined slackers and building them back up into frilly money-making machines. We also know that Sano isn’t just being a sadist dick; her own life depends on her results.

That threat gives the conflict between the Oinky-Doink maids and the corporate stooge Sano more dimension, to the point Sano almost seems to panic when the maids collectively decide to boycott day two of boot camp. She only asks to speak with each of them alone on the roof before she leaves them.

When it’s Nagomi’s turn, we know she’s being thrown off the building. What we didn’t know is that Sano catches her before she falls to her death. While she has Nagomi suspended, Sano tells her their two arms that are keeping her alive represent the relationship between the group and its maids.

Sano also shows her how scraped up and bloody her arm got when she caught Nagomi, showing her the depths the group will go to protect its maids. Nagomi is a crying mess, but returns to the cafe a changed person. Shiipon is the last of the maids to get “thrown” off the roof but shrugs it off, but the others have already fallen in line, and decide that Sano can stay and teach them.

The montage that follows consists of the maids gradually being shaped into the obedient automatons Creatureland intends them to be. There’s no more hesitation in their responses to Sano, and now that they know what’s expected of all of them, they’re quick to point out one another’s flaws throughout the day, and just as quick to accept criticism from each other.

The exception is Shiipon, who doesn’t like what’s happening to her colleagues or her café. The last straw is when Sano demands she stop doing her ganguro makeup. One night she tries to sneak out, but Sano is lying in wait and sounds the alarm, and all the other girls chase after her with rope and handcuffs.

When Ranko corners her in the kitchen with a screwdriver, Shiipon thinks it’s all over, but to her surprise Ranko unscrews the exhaust fan to let her escape, “if that’s what she wants.” When Shiipon asks Ranko what she wants, it’s to protect the café. Shiipon looks out the opening, sees Tenchou and Panda scrounging for trash in the alley below, and decides to stay after all.

The next morning, Shiipon shocks everyone by showing up sans blond hair dye and gaudy makeup. She applies herself and becomes one of the worker bees, earning not only Sano’s trust, but her affection. Sano, whose life is on the line here, is clearly relieved that the one bad apple in this Oinky-Doink group has fallen in line.

On the day Sano leaves, she unleashes a torrent of critical vitriol at her grunts calling them the worst maids ever, but finishes it up by saying they’re also the best, and they all pass. Nagomi, Yumechi, and Zoya all burst into tears, Ranko is her usual stoic self, and while Shiipon puts her face in her hands, it’s clear she’s not as affected as the others.

The Oinky-Doink resumes normal operations, only now the maids are wound up so tight by Sano’s training there’s no fun or joy in their work. Nagomi looms in on her master trying to upsell him; Yumechi’s face is gaunt and her eyes baggy from overwork.

But then Tenchou returns, flanked by Panda…and Shiipon. Notably, Tenchou is brandishing a bazooka, and declares that she’s taking back her café. She and Panda are quickly taken down, and Ranko neutralize Zoya, but Shiipon takes the bazooka Tenchou drops and races to the roof where the giant wood “Creatureland” carving they worked on all week.

To her, that carved sign represents everything wrong that’s happened to the café, and blowing it up is the only way to bring back the joy and the fun of their work. When she blows it up real good Nagomi screams with agony, but the spell—or rather her indoctrination—is eventually broken.

Life returns to normal at Oinky-Doink, only with Nagomi having gained some useful skills during the boot camp. Shiipon is back to her normal hair color and makeup, and when Sano shows up to check on their progress and protests how everything is back to the way it was, Shiipon answers her with a devastating takedown punch.

While not all of what Sano instilled in the maids was bad—see Nagomi leveling up—she took things way too far. Being a maid is the only thing the noncommittal Shiipon has ever stuck with, and it became something worth fighting to preserve. Ranko played a key role as Shiipon’s silent ally, while Tenchou also established the limits to Creatureland’s oppression she’s willing to endure. Panda…was just kinda Panda.

Lycoris Recoil – 03 – Moving on for Now

When Takina was tossed out of the DA, it packed way more of a punch than her colleague Harukawa Fuki’s actual punch. Now that her face is fully healed, it’s only natural someone as dedicated to the DA as Takina would immediately try to heal the figurative punch by making her case to the boss.

That means when LycoReco has an after-hours game party, Takina doesn’t participate, because doing so won’t help her get back into the DA’s good graces. But when Mika tells Chisato that she needs to head to DA HQ for fitness tests to get her license renewed, Takina insists on tagging along.

True to Chisato’s general Fuck-the-DA attitude, she leaves the renewal tests to the very last possible day, and also eats candy on the train. Takina remains all business. DA Commander Kusunoki is indisposed when they arrive at the sprawling and heavily-guarded HQ.

Takina passes the time with target practice, ignoring all the whispers from other Lycoris about the “friend-killer” who shot at a friendly. Erika, the girl she saved by disobeying orders (but also could have killed) clearly feels responsible for what happened to Takina.

As for Takina’s old partner Fuki, Chisato ends up meeting her in the locker room, as she’s having her fitness tests at the same time. Considering how calculating Kusunoki is, that can’t be a coincidence.

I’m not doubting that company girl Fuki is capable and likely one of the best Lycoris the DA have, but as the two chat, it’s clear that Chiasto is far superior in every way, and without even seeming to try. Running, hand-eye coordination, vertical leaps; she obliterates Fuki in everything without breaking a sweat.

When Chisato encounters Kusunoki after the tests, she pleads her case on Takina’s behalf, pointing out that not only was Fuki partially responsible for what happened as Takina’s First, but so was the DA itself for somehow letting their AI system get hacked at a crucial moment.

The thing is, Kusunoki is under no obligation to admit the truth about anything that day. Takina acted out of turn, and was thus made the scapegoat for everything else that went wrong. She’s also already been replaced as Fuki’s Second by the cocky go-getter Otome Sakura, who really rubs salt in the wound when she meets Takina.

Ever since she was banished from the DA, Takina was under the impression she’d be welcomed back in the fold if she performed well in the missions she did with Chisato. But if Kusunoki ever promised that, she denies it now. Takina does not take this well, and runs off.

Chisato finds her by a fountain that’s a popular spot for all Lycoris, and tells Takina that she’s still needed. But Takina can’t fathom being useful to anyone if she’s not allowed to be where she’s always dreamt of being—there in the DA—where she belongs.

When Chisato’s explanations of how the devious DA operates doesn’t help, she instead draws Takina into a hug, telling her the only thing she can do for now is move forward. Sometimes there are things you gain by losing something. When onlookers mock their embrace, Chisato doubles down, lifting Takina into the air affectionately and telling her she’s glad they met.

She leaves Takina to consider embracing her new home at LycoReco, then returns to Fuki and Sakura to accept their challenge of a mock battle. Word gets around of the exercise, and Erika is excited at the possibility of Takina getting to redeem herself.

As you’d expect form how Chisato performed in the fitness tests, she’s perfectly capable of taking on both Fuki and her rookie Second with one hand tied behind her back. Sure enough, she toys with Sakura by “killing” her twice in quick succession, without shooting any paintballs at her. The message is clear: “look to your own self before looking down on others, young scamp!”

Fuki knows she’s no match for Chisato, so she uses Sakura as a sacrifice to swing around and try to catch Chisato from behind. That’s when Takina appears, having made her choice to move on for now as Chisato suggested. Before pelting Fuki wth paintballs, she punches her in the same place Fuki punched her, making them even.

Erika is delighted by Takina and Chisato’s overwhelming victory, while Sakura is freaked out by the prospect that Chisato can literally dodge bullets like a manga character. Takina already knows this all to well, which is why she intentionally aimed at Chisato when she arrived at the mock battle, knowing she’d definitely dodge.

Not only does this underscore how much she’s learned about Chisato and come to trust her despite her chaotic quirks, it also highlights Takina’s penchant for risky decisive moves, which the DA forbade. At the end of the day, Takina may want to return to the DA, but it wasn’t the right place (nor Fuki the right person) for her to fully explore her potential.

Chisato and LycoReco are, and she’s finally starting to recognize that. It’s why she takes the candy Chisato offers on the train back to her new home, and why she agrees to join the rest of the LycoReco staff for some after-hours games.

The first two episodes were largely mission-based, but this one focused on what Takina had been carrying, revealed the cold hard truth of her situation, and offered her a kind warm hand of support on a new path. It was an extraordinarily satisfying character piece with some truly righteous score-settling.

Fabiniku – 10 – It’s Only Natural to Help

Without having really thought through a promise like “I’ll do anything for you!”, Tachibana proceeds to serve as Yugrain’s sister-in-arms in the burgeoning rebellion against her father. Men loyal to the king proceed to list the particular type of woman who would sway him to their side, and when Yugrain can’t be that girl, Tachibana picks up the slack. Before you know it, they have a huge army!

Just as Tachibana and Jinguuji stumbled upon a captive Premier a couple episodes back, Tachibana just happens to encounter Maria, whom we know failed her intelligence mission, tied up knots that are almost too specific, like someone well-versed in rope play was simply showing off. Tachibana is distracted and only makes the knots worse rather than loosen them…which kind of describes her and Jinguuji’s fight this week!

Yugrain’s Head Maid, who on the one hand crafted both the cute idol costumes and strategy for the princess’ rebellion, seems to be hiding contempt for Yugrain, and is revealed to be an agent (if not general) of the Demon Lord when she gives Tachibana an otherworldly massage after a tough day of rabblerousing and worried about people seeing up her way-too-short skirt.

Clearly the Head Maid intends to turn the power of Tachibana, the hero of the Goddess of Love and Beauty, to the Demon Lord’s advantage. While working on Tachibana, she falls asleep and dreams of the day she first met Jinguuji. Tachibana was the victim of bullying, but Jinguuji put a stop to it with his overwhelming strength and sense of honor. Tachibana wonders if all along she was simply causing more trouble for him.

Back at the palace, Jinguuji is distracted from being worried about Tachibana for at least a little while by the arrival of Schwartz, who Lucius has taken under her wing. Schwartz may not know much about court etiquette, but he and Lucius are there to help the king put down his daughter’s rebellion, preferably without bloodshed.

Schwartz ends up harnessing the newly-recovered holy sword Gram by slicing through not only the rebels’ weapons and memories, but their clothes as well, sending them into confused retreat. Lucius only lets him bask in the light of his own magnificence for so long before giving him a punch back down to earth.

Schwartz may also still be a bit high on his victory when he teases Jinguuji, saying he’s this out of sorts after Tachibana “cheated on him” just a little. Even a joking implication sends Jinguuji into a heretofore unseen bloodlust as he tries to extract further intent from a terrified Schwartz’s jibes. However, this interaction is interrupted by an earthquake felt by all…are the demon lord’s minions making their move?

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 07 – Creative Differences

Whelp, color me surprised the Festival of the Chosen-whatsit never took place! Prince Wein is beset by a plethora of challenges both in Cavarin and Natra, but manages to overcome them all by the end by following his own advice: “trust gains value when there is the potential for treachery.”

King Ordalasse didn’t expect Natra to defeat Marden, but now seeks to bring Wein to heel via the lucrative Holy Elite nomination. Zeno asks Wein if she can accompany him to the meeting, promising she won’t assassinate him…and using his own words to convince him.

King Ordalasse’s “right of blood” policy is gaining disfavor in Cavarin, and he’s gradually losing support, which could eventually lead to a coup. I like how the show makes us aware of this before Wein greatly accelerates the natural course of events by slaying the king with his own damn hand. Yes, Wein becomes the “uncultured barbarian” he warned Zeno about, after hearing how Ordalasse killed his consort and disowned his only daughter.

But the real kicker is when the king asks Wein to loan him some Flahms to hunt for sport. Wein’s barely-masked contempt is plain to see to all but Ordalasse and Holonyeh. After Wein kicks Ordalasse in the face and stabs him in the heart, he gives Zeno leave to kill Holonyeh, traitor to Marden.

It isn’t until Wein, Ninym, and Zeno have fled the capital that word comes of the noble rebellion back in Natra. But Wein is confident that with Zeno and Marden’s freedom forces on their side, they’ll have a fighting chance to quash the attempted coup.

Sitting by a campfire, Ninym playfully kicks Wein, asking him to confirm he devised this plan before killing the King of Cavarin, saying killing him and then coming up with a plan is the same as having no plan at all. Wein isn’t going to say he did it to rid the world of another Flahm-hater…but he didn’t need to. Ninym knows he did what he did, in part, for her sake.

General Levert’s cavalry forces give chase, but Wein arranges things so they meet the Natran rebels at the border before they encounter Wein’s traveling party, then pincers them with a combination of Marden freedom fighters and a loyalist Natran contingent led by General Hagal—at the sight of whom I’ll admit I pumped my fist!

Hagal pulling a Jordan was Wein’s plan all along: make the rebellious Natran rebels think Hagal retired, thus bringing them out of the woodwork. In the ensuing melee both the Natran rebels and Levert’s cavalry are annihilated, taking troublesome pieces off the board and truly killing two birds with one stone.

“Prince Helmut” eventually pays a visit to Wein in Natra, and quickly reveals herself to actually be comely Crown Princess Zenovia of Marden, who’d assumed the alias of Zeno during her time with Wein.

Ninym’s lovely blend of protectiveness and jealousy is plain to see, especially when she wordlessly refuses to help Wein when Zenovia offers to swear allegiance to Natra, thus making Marden a vassal state. Once again, Wein loses by winning, more than doubling his kingdom’s lands while also butting them up against a fresh western enemy.

Last week’s density of political entanglements made me weary, but this week resolved most of them in thoroughly satisfying fashion. That said, the fact Ibis (the woman who helped stoke the Natran rebellion)  is working for Caldmellia—who wants nothing more than bloody chaos to reign—means Wein’s troubles are far from over.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 06 – Little Fish in a Big Pond

Prince Wein heads to the western kingdom of Cavarin, whose king has invited him to the Festival of the Spirit. Naturally Ninym is by his side, but has dyed her hair black, as there’s little tolerance for Flahms in the west. She uses their journey to flirt with and tease Wein over which hair color he prefers.

Between the news that one of Natra’s greatest generals has retired and Wein and Ninym crossing lands where remnants of Marden’s armies still lurk, the time is ripe for some kind of unpleasantness. Sure enough, soldiers disguised as brigands (an important distinction) wreck Wein’s coach. The “brigands” are chased off by members of the Free Mardenian Forces.

Wein wishes to speak to their Prince Helmut, but he’s met by Zeno, Helmut’s Ninym. When Wein tells her he’s headed to Cavarin for the festival, she takes the very words as a provocative act and threatens to cut him down. But the silver-tongued Wein manages to forge a temporary alliance with Zeno and her scant but disciplined forces.

A central pillar of the Levetian faith that holds sway in Cavarin consists of the Holy Elites, and Wein convinces Zeno to accompany him to the gorgeous of Tristoria for the chance to meet with them, and perhaps sway one or two them to her cause (or kill them). In any case, it feels like Wein and Ninym are about to enter a very pretty hornet’s nest.

While Wein meets with Cavarin’s boisterous King Ordalasse, Ninym and Zeno go scouting, and when the latter encounters former Mardenian advisor and possible traitor Holonyeh (the Wormtongue-looking guy), Ninym has to pull a knife on Zeno to stop her from assassinating him and blowing what’s meant to be as low-profile a visit as possible.

Unfortunately for Wein, King Ordalasse has much bigger plans for him. Specifically, he takes him to a meeting area where the Holy Elites are already assembled, and declares his intention to recommend he become their newest member. The Arbalasts of Natra carry the blood of Levetia, but he’d be the easternmost of the elites if his nomination succeeded.

Wein ultimately decides the pros of such a position outweigh the cons, so he decides to meet with the Elites one by one with Zeno by his side. The first of them is the femme fatale Lady Caldmellia, a ruthless operator who, despite her priestly garb, makes no qualms about proposing Wein prove himself by wiping out the Mardenian forces and displaying their corpses to sent a message.

While Wein is away, a rebellion of sinister cloaked nobles, led in part by Lady Ibis, begins to make their move in Natra. In Cavarin, Ninym learns that Holonyeh is conspiring with Levert, a distinguished general, to get rid of Wein.

There are a lot of faces to remember and a lot of turning cogs to consider, but my main takeaway this week is a sense of gathering dread, for even Wein admits he has very little control over anything in this scenario, and while he has few but quality allies, he seems beset by a vast quantity of foes from all sides.

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 05 – All Out in Antgadull

Lord Geralt’s untimely demise threw a wrench into Wein and Lowa’s plans, but they waste no time pivoting to an alternate gambit, aiming above else to claim the initiative from both the rest of the empire and the nascent rebellion against it.

This results in Wein brazenly arriving at Marquess Grinahae Antgadull’s front door and trying to sell him a rather dastardly fiction of Geralt being the mastermind behind the rebellion, giving Grinahae the option to throw himself at the mercy of the empire (i.e. Lowa) for a relative slap on the wrist in exchange for revealing all about the rebellion.

Grinahae has Wein depart his manor believing he’s agreed to the proposal, but Wein knew there was a 50-50 shot of doing so. When he and his handful of guards are ambushed by the leader of the rebels, Wein quickly pivots once again, managing to best their leader (whom he believes to be a spy from the west) by taking his sword arm and forcing them to retreat.

Back at the manor, the rebels execute their plan to assassinated Grinahae and burn his manor down, along with all evidence of the rebellion. This plan fails thanks to the skill of Nanaki, Falanya’s bodyguard whom Wein borrowed to ensure the rebellion couldn’t cover their tracks.

By then, Grinahae is already in hot pursuit of Wein with a speedy mounted force of around 100, with plans to eventually seize the princess. Wein seems hopelessly outnumbered—which is exactly what he wants Grinahae to think as they crest a hill.

Wein knows Grinahae knows his own lands, and that the speed of his force will be able to overtake and defeat Wein’s once they’re out on the wide plains beyond. But Grinahae didn’t consider that Wein brought a Natra force that is puny compared to Antgadull’s combined forces, but in this instance outnumbers Grinahae’s host.

Then Grinahae’s escape route is blocked by another large force, this time of Imperial and Provincial forces. When brought before Princess Lowa, the only defense Grinahae can think of is to condemn Wein for bringing an invading force into Antgadull.

However, Lowa and Wein have this covered too: Wein’s Natran force is part of a joint military exercise, made possible thanks to one Ambassador Tallum, who didn’t want Geralt’s sudden death ruin the meeting of Wein and Lowa. Grinahae has no choice but to surrender.

Back in Natra, Lowa enjoys a cup of tea with Ninym, with everything in Antgadull having worked itself out to both her and Wein’s benefit—or at least to neither of their detriments. It certainly could have gone worse, but the quick and careful planning and adaptability they were famous for at the academy helped them win the day.

Lowa confirms that she’s called off the marriage proposal for now, citing the advantage of remaining unwed when it comes to expanding the empire’s influence, and the fact the empire remains in a state of instability. But Lowa’s cup suddenly gets unstable when Ninym brazenly points out that Lowa has feelings for Wein!

We see that Lowa has a blind spot when it comes to this, as she didn’t think anyone knew when it was blatantly obvious to Ninym (and others) for years. What’s great about this show is there’s an actual good reason she likes him, beyong his looks and brains.

That reason is demonstrated when Lowa asks Wein why he didn’t play things differently in Antgadull. Basically, he broke Grinaahae so he’d be easier for Lowa to control. He promised to help her if she ever got them in a mess, and he kept that promise.

As she returns to the empire, she not only admits she likes Wein, but also yearns to have a relationship like Wein and Ninym: one of absolute mutual trust despite their vast differences. For Lowa, becoming empress means being able to stand proudly beside her two old friends.

It’s a noble, nuanced, and very satisfying mindset that eschews the obvious love triangle dynamic for something less zero-sum. And while I’m sure the show will keep its focus on Wein and Ninym as he resumes his efforts to raise Natra out of debt, I hope we get more Lowa again soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 04 – Lord Gerard the Airborne

Whew…I must confess my head is spinning a bit after all that political ballet, which basically proceeds from the opening minutes (after the newly finished OP airs) to the final ones (there’s no ED this week). It begins with Wein revealing that he knows Lowa’s real real reason for being in Natra.

First, the weapons shipments meant to bolster the empire against civil war are distributed evenly among the three princes, to maintain the three-way stalemate. Their resulting collective weakness will lead to rebellions, but Lowa’s warnings fell on deaf ears, so her plan is to control which nation rebels first so her brothers would be persuaded to take the rebellion seriously.

Mind you, Lowa doesn’t want the rebellion to succeed, but she wishes both for the peace and security of the empire and to ascend as its empress. The nation she’s chosen to bait with an offer of marriage is Marquess Antgatal, who has a dimwitted boor of a son, Lord Gerard.

Lowa had hoped Antgatal would invate Natra to claim her hand, then have Wein and Natra thwart them to protect the throne. But then Lord Gerard arrives, apparently uninvited but lured by a letter to meet with and propose to Lowa in person.

Wein remains friendly and polite despite Gerard looking down on him, which makes Ninym so upset she has to calm herself by enjoying a brief spell sitting in Wein’s lap. As Wein unravels what he believes to be Lowa’s scheme with Gerard, we cut to Lowa discussing these same matters with her retainer Fisch.

The two have a little battle of wits in separate rooms, each tipping their caps to their respective geniuses. Wein intends to support Lowa in her manipulation of Gerard, but won’t go so far as to lend military support in the crushing of the rebellion.

At that evening’s banquet, even Lord Gerard can tell that Wein and Lowa go way back from their glances at each other. But he cannot possibly fathom how many intricate gears are turning in his host’s nor his would-be-fiancée’s pretty heads. He plays every bit the predictable pawn, putty in their collective hands…until he hears that Wein can handle himself with a sword.

Wein and Lowa’s internal duel of wits is totally usurped by Gerard’s desire to put the prince in his place and impress his future bride with a mock duel of wooden swords. Wein has to delicately balance not totally whooping Gerard’s ass but also not losing so blatantly he either comes off as taking a fall, or just plain weak.

I love how he only has moments to consider what amount of force and skill he should employ against his opponent, and the long and wide-ranging ramifications of such a seemingly innocuous activity. I also love how Lowa reacts to him having to duel someone well beneath his ability.

It’s just that neither one of these schemers could have predicted in a thousand years how the mock duel would end: with the drunken Gerard charging Wein, missing, and then crashing through the window of the banquet hall, and over the damn balcony, breaking his neck. It’s an expertly delivered and timed bit of absurd slapstick that also happens to instantly blast all of Wein and Lowa’s carefully laid schemes into smithereens.

Gerard’s father, Marquess of Antgatal, soon becomes convinced his son was lurder to Natra to be assassinated, and that the princess must’ve had a hand in it. War between Antgatal and Natra seems certain. Wein wants to be the first of the three parties to take the initiative in this newly swept-clean game board, but Lowa beats him to it by visiting his office…to surrender.

She’s decided that preventing the rebellion and saving her empire is more important than claiming the throne—for now—so that’s what she’ll focus her efforts on from now on. Wein has bad news for her if she was planning to borrow Natra’s armies: his kingdom can only afford to deploy 500 troops against Antgatal’s 4,000+.

With a military solution untenable, Wein seeks a political one, in which he and Lowa get Antgatal to confess to his knowledge of the brewing rebellion before a mass uprising occurs. Wein, Ninym, Lowa, and Fisch hole themselves up in the parlor for a long night of planning all new devious schemes. I can’t wait to see what they come up with!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 15 – Tines Falling from a Comb

Shinei’s cordial, by-the-book adjutant is giving him a  report in the hallway of their base when a half-dressed Frederica half-sleepwalks right into Shin and calls him “Kiri”, short for Kiriya, her knight who she believes became a Legion because of her. Once she’s fully awake she’s mortified; a proper lady should never find herself in such a situation.

Of course, when we later learn she’s running around the barracks doing all the odd jobs the soldiers have no time to do, it tracks that she’d be exhausted. Meanwhile, the old Spearhead gang is back, but aside from some momentary cheeriness from Kurena, it’s a particularly dour affair. Frederica chalks it up to them getting worn down by their roles as lackeys of the army.

The start of the episode was the least interesting, with their unit commander Colonel Wenzel trying to make the strategic case for putting the 86 to “proper” use in her new prototype Reginsleifs. She seemingly gets her wish on the eve of a forecasted large-scale Legion attack that Shin knows is far, far larger than the conscientious federacy’s analysts predict.

After the briefing, Shin returns to his quarters to find Frederica there. He prepares coffee as she criticizes how empty his quarters are, comparing them unfavorably to those of Eugene, which she cleaned out after he died. Shin tells her she could have spared herself some pain by never getting to know Eugene, but Frederica doesn’t roll like that.

Some of Misaki Kuno’s best voice work is done as Frederica regales Shinei with the story of the siege that ended the empire, and Kiri’s fall as well. Even so, to her it’s always better to meet, know, love, and remember. If freeing Kiri of the Legion means losing Shinei or anyone else, she won’t have it.

Those connections are what make life living for most people, but Shinei has been living without a single thought about his future for so long, he’s never properly grasped that…until perhaps he met Lena and now Frederica. Just as the Shinei’s resemblance to Kiriya was a catalyst for her getting close to him, Frederica is like a subsitute Lena for Shinei right now, trying to keep him aware of the things in life other than war.

Frederica tells Shinei like Lena did to start thinking about his future; even if it’s just his next leave, that’s a start. As for Raiden, he’s a bit irked that Shinei unilaterally revealed to the military that he can hear the voices of the Legion, something they all agreed to keep secret lest it make things unpleasant for all of them.

Raiden and Shinei don’t feel like friends here, because they’re really more like brothers. Strained brothers, due to Shinei being his usual mostly opaque self and Raiden actually starting to think about a future himself. He’s worried for Shinei like a brother too, not due to the coming Legion threat, but becaue the Giadians are “no saints”.

The credits end with the first Lena sighting in what seems like forever. Whether this harkens a Lena-centric (or even half-Lena) episode next week obviously remains to be seen, but it’s clear the calm before the next coming storm is just about over.

Sonny Boy – 01 (First Impressions) – Rules are Rules

Welcome to RABUJOI’s belated reviews of Sonny Boy! I will try to catch up before the end of the cour, but no promises—Braverade

More than anything else, this episode is full of uncertainty. Why is this school suddenly in a black void? Why do only some students have superpowers? Who did this, if anyone? What exactly is happening, and how is it happening? Will it stop, and when? Nothing is certain…hey, kinda like the times we live in. But enough about reality, let’s step into the land of surreality.

The void is intentionally creepy, both in its impenetrable darkness and its haunting stillness. I’ve always been drawn to voids in fiction, because they typically have a way of simplifying the universe down to…the contents within the void that are not the void.

While one egg-headed student is asking these questions, everyone else is going full Lord of the Flies (or at least that’s the vibe I’m getting; I only skimmed the book but I watched the Simpsons episode that references it). The approaches to coping with their new abnormal are as diverse as the personalities of the 36 students.

The three-person StuCo doesn’t have time to ponder the big questions; they were the authorities before the void, and if they don’t claim some degree of power and control everything will soon devolve into pure chaos. The little guy Hoshi may already have some answers, but he’s also shrewd enough to capitalize on the asset that is the class’s popular, if oafish, baseball star in Cap.

It isn’t long before the order that is established (through social media, natch) is challenged by some of the power-havers, who are already well on their way to drunk on that power, like Asakaze. He’s not about that with great power axiom; for him, if he has a power, he should be able to use it to his heart’s content.

If he’s drunk on his trippy glass-shattering power, Cap delivers the hangover in the form of a PENALTY, which asserts itself as a frighteningly sudden big black X on the faces of those who receive them. They are then forced to do something—in his case, long division of pi all night.

Hovering around the periphery of all this political push-and-pull are two outcasts in Nagara and Nozomi. Nagara would rather stay out of sight and out of mind; Nozomi would rather do what she wants when she wants to. She doesn’t have the power of the others but they share a distaste of authority.

When she politely declines the smartphone Cap offers her, then takes it and smashes it on the gym floor, she’s not immune to the PENALTY: a hundred laps around the school that leave her flat on her back on the homeroom floor—Nagara’s usual position as he apparently yearns to be one with said floor.

After a very unsettling shot of the school apparently very slowly sinking into the inky void, we get a flashback of sorts to just before the school went into the void.  Nagara finds Nozomi tearing up some workbook she got from the faculty office, and invites him to join her. Not eager to do anything with anyone, he turns to leave, saying he has stuff to do.

But he’s pressed by Nozomi about whether he actually wants to go somewhere and do something else other than where he is and what he’s doing. All the while, storm clouds obscure the blue skies. When Nozomi puts her hands on Nagara as he’s trying to leave, a lightning bolt flashes and just like that, the school is in the void.

Whether Nagara caused this on accident or not (and whether Nozomi was the catalyst for him doing it, making them partners in crime, like Flowers of Evil), it’s certainly not something in his control, nor was it ever. The StuCo is suddenly ambushed by power-havers who twist the school into either an Escherian nightmare…or a Katamari.

They declare that they’re in charge now, but Hoshi is unimpressed. Cap PENALTYs Asakaze’s two associates, but as he hasn’t broken one of the agreed-upon school rules, the PENALTY “power” doesn’t work on him.

Still, Cap uses brute force by hitting Asakaze with a baseball bat. Since that breaks the rules, it’s Hoshi who PENALTYs Cap into stripping naked and hopping around. Hoshi then drops another hint that he knows a lot more than everyone else, including the egghead (who is probably not on the right track trying to apply things like physics to this predicament).

When Asakaze won’t stand down, Hoshi demonstrates his apparent power: showing everyone a future where no one ever escapes the school and eventually become desiccated corpses seated beside each other. It’s the most overtly spooky and unnerving sequence in an episode full of weird shit.

Once again on their own wavelength, Nozomi takes Nagara by the hand, avoids all of the StuCo versus Supes drama, and seeks out that bright spot in the void she saw before. It turns out to be the same white feather she plucked from Nagara’s face in the episode’s opening moments.

She then decides to put her life in the hands of fate by performing an experiment to see what happens when you leap from the physical school into that endless black nightmare. In a show with 36 characters, I wasn’t 100% sure this wasn’t the end for Nozomi just as soon as we met her.

Instead, Nagara grabs her arm just in time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter, as the rusty railing breaks, sending them plummeting down the void until, suddenly, it’s not a void anymore. Their bodies and the piece of railing must’ve “popped” the void, revealing that the school is sinking into an unknown ocean, just off the coast of an unknown island with both lush green jungle and a slim, jagged alpine mountain peak, like the Matterhorn stretched vertically.

It’s probably simplistic to say this episode was a trip, but it was a welcome and thrilling one. Even at its most quiet and mundane, primal dread emanated from every nook and cranny. Nagara is somewhat of a nullity so far, but Nozomi, the StuCo, and the bristling supes are all fun to watch. I’m eagerly awaiting the next episode; whether it delivers answers or more questions, I know it’ll be another weird trip presented with a strikingly austere beauty.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 10 – How It Started / How It’s Going

After spending two weeks in the Meiji era with the exception of the final act of last week, when Yuugiri led Franchouchou in one of their best performances yet—and oh yeah, Saga is apparently an extremely long-lived person—we find ourselves a mere year in the past, before the EFS fiasco.

The idols are riding high on their success in the snow at Arpino, but that was only a crowd of five hundred people. But Koutarou, no less high on success, decides that Franchouchou have proven themselves legendary enough to fill the same stadium where Ai died. Her feelings about performing there aside, Ai knows right from the get-go it will be nigh impossible for them to scale up so much so fast.

Despite that, the girls put their faith in their manager and in their own considerable abilities, and even pros like Ai and Junko are swept up in the boundless optimism. Then, as we know, it all goes completely and utterly to shit. Because Koutarou didn’t bother to pre-sell any tickets, the amount of concert-goers who show up manage to fit what would be the soccer field’s penalty area.

While we’ve already been told this tale of woe before in super-abbreviated form, there’s something to be said for watching the disaster unfold in real time. Not even Saki can fight through the sheer dread of playing before a mostly empty venue, while their top fans decide not to call for an encore after the girls shamble off the stage, as it would be just too cruel.

You can really feel the pain of being on that stage in that stadium. They would never have been able to put on their best performance there. Koutarou really screwed the pooch on this one, and he initially reacts to the disaster by going on a weeks-long bender.

During these dark times, Franchouchou are splintered, then exchanged some recriminations, before Yamada Tae comes in and shocks everyone by not only buying her own dried squid with Koutarou’s cash, but doing her own makeup. Just by being Tae, she shows the others that they’ve been relying on Koutarou on everything for too long, and if they have to do non-idolly work to get out of their immense debt, then so be it.

That brings us up to speed. Fast forward nearly a year, and Koutarou announces to the girls that they will once again be performing at EFS for their revenge show. This time, they’re in a far better position to command a larger crowd: there’s the audience of Saki’s radio show, Lily’s inroads with the younger kids, Yamada’s legion of fans, Maimai’s high school, and the fact Iron Frill considers them rivals.

It almost feels like history repeating, but Koutarou is determined to properly promote the concert (and hopefully allowing pre-sales of tickets, for gosh sakes), and gives the others a pep talk worthy of Gurren Lagann. Unfortunately, there’s a huge potential snag in this plan: the reporter Ookuba knows he’s somehow revived seven dead girls and is profiting off their performances. When he learns of the revenge show he’s determiend to stop it.

Frankly, this feels like a little bit of eleventh-hour antagonism for its own sake, and I’m more than a little disappointed that Ookuba is taking such a hard stance rather than letting the idols whose unlives he’s trying to upheave have their say in the matter. By going straight to Koutarou he’s stripping them of their agency. Considering how much they’ve achieved, they’ve earned the right to decide to perform, not for Koutarou, but for each other and for Saga.

That brings us back to the bar where Old Man Saga works. Years ago, Koutarou was “gloomy and half-crazed”—instead of full-crazed like he is now—and thus bought into Saga’s claims that he was an immortal being who can revive the dead and has been fighting a curse that’s been at work in Saga for thousands of years.

Turns out everything that Koutarou has done with Franchouchou has been to prevent Saga’s prophesy—of a cataclysm that will make everyone forget Saga—from coming true. It’s why he flew to close to the sun with EFS the first time, but it’s also why he’s determined to make EFS II a success that no one will ever forget, weaving their past failure into the narrative.

But as the idols prepare for their show tomorrow, Saga is pelted with increasingly harsh rains, and the wind eventually knocks out power throughout the prefecture, just as Ookoba is about to publish his exposé.

But, of course, there are larger problems than whether he saved a copy; a building that looks like Koutarou’s run-down mansion seems to sink into the saturated earth, presumably with our zombie idols inside. While I’m sure they’re safe—they’re zombies—Saga is another question entirely. Are we past the point of singing and dancing  being able to save Saga, or will we simply not see them at their most legendary until the shit has truly hit the fan?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 09 – The Legend Continues

As those who share Kiichi’s views grow in number, he still finds time for tea with Yuugiri, who whips up a medicine for his ailing grandfather. Kiichi and Itou pose with Yuugiri for a photograph, which for me meant that somewhere in the present day there’s a very old black-and-white photo of the Legendary Courtesan out there—assuming it survived the war.

However, those who have joined Kiichi don’t necessarily want a new Saga for all; they want their old Saga back, and as many of them are veterans of the war lost eight years ago, they’re willing to take up arms and spill blood to do it, which is far beyond the peaceful return of Saga of which the idealistic Kiichi dreams.

Itou, in between ripping down Kiichi’s flyers and passing messengers disguised as vagrants, gives his friend one final warning to give up his crusade now that it is poised to become a violent one beyond his control. But Kiichi isn’t quite ready to give up on Saga, either for himself or the comrades he’s gathered.

Unfortunately, those comrades armed themselves and planned an armed rebellion behind Kiichi’s back. On the snowy night when they spring into action, Itou meets them in a quiet street…and cuts them all down on orders from the government.

By the time Kiichi catches up to his comrades, Itou has already slaughtered them all. It turns out he was watching out for spies all along, and while he knew Kiichi didn’t mean for things to turn out this way, he’s crossed a line he can’t un-cross, and now it’s Itou’s duty to kill him.

Yuugiri doesn’t let him, whipping a katana out of her shamisen to meet his, saving Kiichi’s life. When the local police approach with whistles blaring, Itou flees one way while Yuugiri and Kiichi go another. All the while, Kiichi’s gramps is having some kind of attack and collapses before he can reach the medicine.

After losing the fuzz, Kiichi starts to sob and whine, and Yuugiri slaps him, telling him he’s come this far for Saga’s sake and can’t give up now. As we saw in a previous scene, she’s already written to some of her many powerful friends who have sworn to protect Kiichi until things cool down. Kiichi doesn’t want to leave the Saga he loves, but he listens to the legendary savior whom he loves.

By the time Itou finds a casually smoking Yuugiri, Kiichi is long gone. Yuugiri forewarns that she was trained by someone called the “Sheathed Kichiemon”, whom Itou knows as “The Demon of Hibiya,” and thus knows he can’t go easy on her. In the ensuing one-slash duel, Yuugiri bests Itou, killing him, but is shocked that he let himself be killed.

No doubt if Itou failed to kill Kiichi, he was as good as dead anyway; he simply let Yuugiri take care of him for him. And with the snow ceasing and the clouds opening up to reveal a majestic full moon, Yuugiri accepts her fate. The next morning, Gramps wakes up and finds a letter from Yuugiri amongst the medicine.

In it, she says by the time he reads it she’ll likely be dead; beheaded by the military in a unilateral execution for killing Itou, a government official. Interspersed with her beautifully lit and solemn execution scene, she tells Gramps that if he’s truly “Saga” (as in, the human embodiment of Saga) as claimed, he’ll guide the new Saga Kiichi creates.

The following spring, May 1883, Saga re-gains independence from Nagasaki thanks to a peaceful appeal from supporters in the prefecture, and by August, unilateral execution was banned, and just nine days after that, Kiichi’s dream officially came true, as the first Saga prefectural assembly is held. Yuugiri’s death, and that of Kiichi’s comrades, weren’t in vain.

With that, we find ourselves back in the present, as Yuugiri takes center stage in a bopping swing-style concert, resplendent in period-inspired garb as her fellow idols support her. This particular concert hits different now that we’ve seen everything Yuugiri’s been through to come to this part of her (after)life.

In a very cheeky epilogue, she has some very nice whiskey in a very classy bar tended by a man who looks and sounds like a younger version of Kiichi’s gramps. He is aware that Yuugiri was alive in the Meiji era, and the black-and-white photo of her with Kiichi and Itou is behind the bar, so this guy must really be the immortal Saga.

Not only did this two-parter give the legendary Yuugiri the epic backstory he deserved, in which she was revealed a hero, martyr, and unsung founding mother to the new Saga—it also expands the mythos of the show by introducing an undying character who has been on the margins of this whole story all along, and may well be behind the necromancy that brought Yuugiri and the other idols back. In any case, I’m eager to see where this goes!

Crow and Irina talk episode 9 here!

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 15 – Maximizing the Value of the Humble Potato

The Central-loyalist instructor for Stage Two makes it even tougher for the rebels to succeed this week than last. By calling their names and hall designations last, their task of securing the missing ingredient in their noodle dish becomes all but impossible, as all the noodles, and ingredients for making scratch noodles, are already been exhausted. Worse still, there’s a severe blizzard outside, so can’t get to Sapporo in order to buy ingredients.

But the tighter Central turns the screws, the more the rebels huddle together and dig deep. Armed with their talent, as well as Erina’s invaluable Hokkaido seminar, they manage to make noodles for their dishes using one ingredient the instructors neglected to deprive them of: the potato. Specifically, the Irish Cobbler cultivar Hokkaido is famous for.

Megumi, Takumi, and Souma share raw ingredients so that there’s enough for each of them to make a “single serving”—another requisite for the stage the instructor laid out—and not only to they have no problem making noodle dishes that tear his clothes off, but all of the other rebels pass easily as well.

Almost too easily, if you ask me: I mean, if this instructor (and the one before him) were willing to stoop to dirty tricks, why not just lie and say the dishes sucked? Perhaps, subconsciously, “having no choice” but to pass the rebels is their own way of rebelling against Central. For them, unlike Azami, good food is good food. Their first loyalty will always be to their taste buds.

When the instructor hears word that Erina has coached them, he concludes that their passing the second stage is all thanks to her “mercy”, but Erina quickly chimes in and tells him he’s wrong. All she did was teach them about potatoes, everything else that led to them crafting gourmet-quality dishes came from their own innate talent as chefs. Truly, Erina is their gleaming knight, Joanne d’Arc.

She wouldn’t have wasted her time lecturing them if she didn’t think they were worthy. All she did was give a little nudge. And that night, when the students are allowed to sight-see in Sapporo, Erina joins her fellow rebels, and sees the city in a whole new light because of it.

Erina laments to the others that all the other times she’d been to Sapporo, she didn’t get much of an impression from it, since she was so busy in her duty as Nakiri heir and God Tongue tasting dishes. But someone who was able to watch her from a younger age disputes her: Nikumi, the one she shunned after she lost a Shokugeki to Souma.

Not only does Nikumi not harbor any hard feelings for being cut off by Erina-sama, but she humbly comments that she too might just know a tiny bit of the pressure to succeed for the sake of one’s family, and how she always looked up to Erina as a paragon of culinary excellence, and she’s glad she’s able to spend time with her once again. Erina is humbled by Nikumi’s words, and even feels shame for having treated her so badly in the past.

When Souma and Takumi meet up with Erina and Megumi, they all head to a restaurant for a big dinner in which to sample all that Sapporo has to offer. Those previous times Erina was there, she was alone, and all business. Now that she’s socializing with friends, her horizons have expanded…and she’s loving it.

Unfortunately, there are many more stages to come, and even though the four arrive at the train station at the designated time, they learn from Hisako that their train already left 30 minutes ago! Indeed, the rebels have now been split into four groups and diverted to four different venues for the third stage.

Oh, and the third stage will pit each rebel against a member of the Elite Ten. I’m not quite sure how that will work, as there are more than ten rebels who aren’t Erina…but perhaps it will be the trio of Takumi, Megumi and Souma working together against their Elite Ten opponent, whom Kobayashi Rindou presents to them as the newest member of the Ten: Hayama Akira. Oh, shit!

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 14 – An Unlikely Team-up Gets the Rebels on the Train

Erina has decided she’s going to do what she wants…which just so happens to be the right thing and benefits the Totsuki rebels AND means she’s bound to spend more time with Souma.

The structure of the advancement exams are laid out by Hisako and it feels more like a military campaign against Hokkaido, and for that, Polar Star needs a drill sargeant to train them up. Erina lands on a sexy teacher look instead, and nobody complains.

During the week in which Erina whips Polar Star into shape, Nikumi and the Aldini Bros. listen in, and Erina ends up pulling them into the Hokkaido seminar as well. They have nothing to lose; they’re rebels too.

On two separate occasions, Erina makes sure to remove her glasses before talking to Souma. She puts her faith in his ability to come up with a solution to whatever they throw at them, and later she tells him whatever she might have said in the past about wanting him to fail, she doesn’t feel that way anymore.

Naturally she frames it in terms of not wanting anyone to be expelled…but Souma is part of that “anyone”, and he appreciates it.

The class is bussed to the first of many examination venue (Totsuki’s resources really are formidable), and the rebels are all grouped together among the 5-person teams—all but Erina, who is intentionally placed in a group of faceless classmates who have abandoned their own cooking for Central’s orthodoxy. Azami can’t be losing his God Tongue, after all.

Not only are the rebels isolated, but the salmon they’re given is subpar. Fortunately, they’re given from roughly noon till sundown to come up with a dish, and the group, made up of Souma, Megumi, Alice, Ryo, and Yuuki, have more than enough skills and resourcefulness between them to come up with something. Erina allows a wry grin of understanding. She’s taught them all up, now it’s time to see if they can fly.

Her faith in them is matched only by her clear disgust for the other kids’ blindl following of the step-by-step instructions to creating Central mandated salmon dishes. Only the steps matter, and the only answer to “Why” is “because Azami wishes it.” That’s not cooking. That’s cynical mass production of one and only one way of cooking.

After facing off against Alice and Ryo in the past, it’s great to see them on the same side as Souma, working to their strengths with the precision and speed they’ve come to expect of one another. Of course, it’s not 100% smooth, as Alice constantly takes exception to Souma asserting himself as the leader…as well she should!

While they arrived in the kitchen with their salmon less than a half hour before time expires, it’s such a quality fish (brine-frozen at its peak of freshness), a half-hour is all they need to put their instructor on her back, leaving her no choice but to pass them.

I’m appreciative that at least at this first stage of the exams, despite all of the roadblocks Central puts in their way, when it comes time to judge their cooking the clearly-biased instructor cannot deny what her taste buds are telling her—that the rebels made the best dish in the room.

Indeed, Azami and Central are actually helping the rebels to become better chefs by piling so many challenges ahead of them. If they can overcome them and advance to the second year, it won’t just be a repudiation of Central orthodoxy, but a back-door defense of it as a tool with which to forge great chefs from the crucible of adversity.

With the first hurdle cleared, the rebels join the rest of the advancees aboard Totsuki’s grand luxury sleeper train, the Tsukikage, which brought back memories of Rail Wars! and explains the OP’s train imagery. While Hisako continues drilling some Polar Stars, others take the opportunity to avail themselves of the sumptuous train’s many features.

Erina, meanwhile, holes up in her personal compartment, but is visited many times by Fat Aldini, Ryouko, Megumi, and finally Souma. She doesn’t realize they’re coming to express their appreciation for all she’s done. Of course, she was never after gratitude, nor did she expect it; Erina is doing what she wants…and loving it.

Souma joins her just as the train leaves the forest, revealing a sky packed with twinkling stars that remind Souma of salmon roe, and he even gets her to drop her guard and laugh at him (rather than scoff or harrumph). Then Erina takes note in her head that Souma’s face, the mere mental image of which used to annoy her to no end, is something she’s come not to mind so much. Baaaaaaaaw. Erina’s the best.

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