Kageki Shoujo!! – 10 – Give the People What They Want

Due to various circumstances, a member of one of the four troupe relay race teams cannot run, so the Superiors assign a member of the 100th class as a sub. That class member is Watanabe Sarasa, who at first glance is a ringer due to her impressive height and gait. But as large an honor as the assignment is, Sarasa suddenly becomes a magnet for resentment and envy,

This comes most strongly from Hijiri, from whose 99th class Sarasa leapfrogged over with her ridiculously long legs. Hijiri not only tells Sarasa she’s only special for her height, then insists she “become nothingness itself” to allow the top stars to shine.

Ai, like everyone else, is surprised by how much Hijiri’s ill advice trips up Sarasa, who is downright nervous the night before the festival. Ai tells Sarasa her own lack of nerves in JPX was due to being the center of attention (and particularly male attention) from a young age, and basically developing an A.T. Field to deflect it.

But Ai, already a veteran stage performer, tells Sarasa that what Hijiri proposed isn’t the best method. You can’t be up there pretending to pay attention to the audience, just as you can’t be nothingness itself. Instead, one must always be conscious of what the audience wants, and then find a way to give it to them. That’s what makes top stars. That’s what makes legends.

The day of the festival at Hakusen Grand Hall, the students participate in the opening ceremony, but Hijiri’s shit-stirring campaign has twisted Sarasa up so bad she mimes playing her recorder. Her designated senpai Risa, whom we’ve seen far too little of in recent weeks, knows exactly what that bitch Hijiri is doing and doesn’t like it one bit.

Taking Sarasa aside, Risa spares no measure of cage-rattling, and tells Sarasa to get out of her head and remember the fact that the Superiors picked her. If she can’t understand why, that’s fine, but she at least has to accept that they did it because she was someone worth believing in. Giving up without putting herself out there and doing her absolute best will only make her naysayers angrier…and in any case, fuck the naysayers!

Risa’s own strong big sis pep talk gets an unexpected boost from Winter Top Star Satomi Sei, who gives Sarara a wall slam. Having overheard that Sarasa is most nervous about “being herself”, she invites her to imagine she’s playing the role of herself instead. Sei also delivers a bouquet of roses to the kabuki actor and senpai to Akiya we can be reasonably certain is Sarasa’s biological father.

While the pep talk by Risa and Sei works, Sarasa still overthinks things by getting all caught up in whether playing the role of herself and being herself is different or better. Here Ai comes to the rescue with more sage advice, following up on what she said the night before: be the person you want the audience to think you are: your ideal self.

Hilariously, for Sarasa “ideal” means an E-cup bust so she can properly fit into an Eva-style plug suit (between this and the A.T. Field, KS had some Eva nostalgia this week!). Ai is mortified, but whatever gives Sarasa the confidence to perform—and releases her from Hijiri’s psychological black magic—is just fine!

Unfortunately, in the actual relay race in which Sarasa and Sei are in the same leg, Sei’s teammate loses her grip on the baton and sends it flying. While leaping out to catch it, Sei collides with Sarasa and they both end up on the ground. Suddenly it seems like even if the Superiors didn’t make a mistake by putting a rangy first year on a relay team, the end effect was a fiasco.

Only…that doesn’t happen. In the few seconds she’s on the ground, Sarasa considers the best action to take: get up, run, and win it for her Summer team, or lend a helping hand to Sei. In the end, she gauges what the audience at Hakusen Grand Hall wants, then gives it to them, by staying laid out flat on the floor and letting Winter’s Top Star give her a helping hand up.

The choice proves to be the correct one, as the crowd goes wild watching Sei and Sarasa run their leg while holding hands, and their anchors also finishing the race together. Summer and Winter may have lost the festival, but they won the crowd. That’s the kind of instincts Sarasa naturally possesses; Ai just needed to give her a little push.

While I wish we could have seen a cutaway to Hijiri stewing over Sarasa’s win, it seems her efforts were successfully countered by Risa, Sei, and Ai. I still worry about how Sarasa’s guilelessness will hold up against someone even more obnoxiously evil than Hijiri (if such a human exists), but for now, as long as she has that safety net of people who genuinely love and care for her, Sarasa will be fine. No one needs to fight their fight alone.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 11 – The Other Side of the Story

The Cheer Squad’s cross-dressing skit goes off without a hitch, pleasing Yuu, who feared everyone would think he was gross. He starts to finally think about enjoying life more instead of dwelling on past regrets and failures…only for the greatest regret of his life to show up to anti-cheer him.

Just as Yuu is drafted to fill in for an injured Kazeno as anchor on the club relay race, all of the past unpleasantness rushes back into the forefront of his mind. All his ears hear around him are the discouraged and annoyed voices of the crowd cursing his name and everything about him.

The mystery girl who arrives is Otomo Kyouko, who was neither a crush nor a friend in middle school. She was just a kind classmate who’d look out for him whenever she could. She was a good person. Then she started dating Ogino Kou, whom Yuu soon learns is cheating on Kyouko with other girls.

Honestly I don’t remember middle school being this sexed up, but Kou further demonstrates how pure a scum he truly is by refusing to stop cheating, then using footage of Kyouko on his phone to threaten Yuu into silence.

Not about to let a good person, even someone who’s barely an acquaintance get hurt by a bad one, Yuu’s sense of justice curdles into rage before the despicable Kou, and he punches the shit out of him in the middle of class. He aimed to ruin his face so no girl would approach it again, but Kou quietly threatens to abuse Kyouko if Yuu doesn’t stand down.

If that wasn’t enough, Kou also loudly professes that Yuu is a stalker. To both her and everyone else around, it looks like a crazed Yuu is beating up her boyfriend because he’s jealous and obsessed, and he’s too shocked by how badly things are going for him to defend himself, though I doubt it would have helped.

For the assault, Yuu is suspended for a month and ordered to write a letter of apology to Kou, but despite writing and erasing over the paper hundreds of times, he’s unable to write a single word of anything; neither a false apology nor an indictment of Kou’s own misdeeds. In his absence at school his reputation as a creep crystallizes.

Back in the present, the relay anchors are ordered to their marks, but Yuu is so out of it he forgets what color team he’s on…until Miyuki puts his red headband on his head and offers him words of encouragement and a pat on the back. This mirrors Miyuki’s eventual visit to Yuu’s house to present the “Student Council Secret Report” he prepared with Miyuki and Chika.

While Miyuki doesn’t judge whether Yuu’s actions were right or wrong (merely that they could have been better), he cannot deny that Yuu’s ultimate objective was to protect Otomo Kyouko, and that objective was achieved when Kou broke up with her days after the beating. Turns out all those months of refusing to apologize made Kou paranoid, and he released his grip on the poor girl.

However, Kyouko never saw this report, and still has the same idea of what went down. She still believes Kou to be a good guy and blames Yuu for their breakup. She came to the festival specifically to “unload” on Yuu, but rather than continue to wallow in despair, Yuu draws strength from the knowledge someone—specifically Miyuki, Kaguya and Chika—learned his side of the story and supported him.

So before running his leg of the relay, Yuu responds to Kyouko’s heckling with the same words Miyuki wrote in thick black permanent marker way outside the gridlines of the apology letter stock…so hard that to this day the ink residue is embedded in the desk: GO TO HELL, DUMBASS.

As the race progresses, Yuu is determined to win. He believes he has to win to prove he truly “shake Kyouko off” and move on with his life. Kaguya and Miyuki and Chika cheer him on, hoping the good person they know can overcome adversity. Kobachi loudly cheers him on, while Miko, who helped get Yuu reinstated, cheers for him almost under her breath—but with no less conviction.

Yuu ends up losing by a hair. Like the lack of a forced reconciliation with Kyouko, the defeat is an excellent subversion of how these races usually go. But the fact is, he still tried his best and his cheer squad comrades appreciate that. Koyasu, the pink-haired girl, even tears up, so moved by his genuine frustration. Rather than calling him a loser and failure and weirdo like he feared, they tell him he did good.

Suddenly, as his tears give way and his field of vision clears, he can finally see the EYES of the cheer squad members, a pack of Normies with whom he thought he’d never get along and inherently distrusted due to past traumas. But there they are in all their glory. We’d never seen their eyes either because Yuu never looked at them properly. Now he does, and he’s elated to discover they’re all good people.

As Kyouko departs, she tells her former classmates she was glad to be able to give Yuu a piece of her mind, and leaves Shuchiin with fun memories despite how things turned out. As Kaguya and Ai observe, she’s blissfully ignorant, but the smile she wears as she leaves is the very thing Yuu worked and suffered to protect, and he succeeded.

That Yuu would do that for a classmate he barely knew, at the cost of so much personal turmoil and with no reward, then he must be the very best quality of person. It’s no wonder he was recruited into the StuCo. This episode of Love is War had virtually no jokes or gags, but it didn’t matter. What it offered instead was masterful character drama, further cementing its status as Anime of the Year.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 10 – How A Net Feels

Just as it excels when it focuses on just one or two segments, Love is War is arguably even better at juggling a grab bag of stories in one episode. We get the latter this week and it’s all amazing, starting with Miyuki’s mistaken belief that Kaguya is avoiding him because she doesn’t like him. Kei wants to ask about his romance problems, but because she’s in her teenage rebellious phase, talking to him would mean losing face.

When their father comes home and asks Miyuki what’s up, Kei thinks she’s in the clear, but her father only makes Miyuki more tight-lipped and mad, so Kei has no choice but to offer a piece of advice: a girl can still like you even if it seems like they’re avoiding you. Sure enough, when Miyuki and Kaguya cross paths, she uses her calming ritual and the two walk side-by-side to the office. Miyuki had no reason to despair.

The next segment is the latest installment of the “Chika Teaches Miyuki Things He Sucks At” series, and, clocking in at around six miuntes, one of the quickest and most efficient. This time she’s trying to teach him the Soran dance his class will perform, but his idea of dancing looks more like an exorcism. When she finally loses her patience and storms out, Miyuki ends up relying on an Kaguya for pointers (Kaguya is more than happy for an opportunity to touch his body, the lecher!)

As Chika observes Kaguya’s strategy of simply getting Miyuki to replicate the moves irrespective of heart or passion, her honor as an artist must stand and protest, leading to a literal tug-of-war between the two girls. This mimics how historical Edo magistrate Ooka Echizen ordered two women resolve a custody battle for a child, with the winner being the first one to release the child when he was in pain.

In this case, no one’s letting go, but being pulled back and forth is exactly what Miyuki needed to learn what it was like to be the fishermens’ net, and performs a Soran dance that impresses both Kaguya and Chika.

Following two straight victories by Miyuki, we get a segment from the POV of Kobachi as she and Miko go on their DC rounds. Chika and the board game club doing something akin to LARPing, while they find Yuu playing video games at school. When he points out he’s in territory technically outside their jurisdiction, Miko ropes him and pulls him into it.

Kobachi can tell that while Miko and Yuu don’t get along, they’re a lot more alike than they realize. She knows about the rumors of how Yuu stalked a girl in their class in middle school, fought another boy over her, and got suspended, but notes that Yuu never told his side of the story. And because she knows he has a strong sense of justice and distaste for “irrational things” like Miko, his story is likely more complicated.

I’m sure Kobachi is as eager as me to hear that story someday, but for now, she’s impressed with the strides he’s made, including his participation in the Cheer squad, who unlike the majority of first-years were willing to bring him into the fold and give him a chance, as long as he was applying himself seriously, which he is.

The balance of the episode takes place during the vaunted sports festival. Miyuki and his class perform the Soran dance perfectly, but he’s discouraged to find his dad there rather than at work somewhere, snapping pics of Chika (though that was a request from Chika’s hot-shot dad).

What Miyuki wants to avoid at all costs is his dad getting anywhere near Kaguya, sure that nothing good could come with it. And yet his dad’s advice in the first segment for Miyuki to be the fastest runner, which he dismissed as grade school stuff, actually works like a charm on Kaguya, who despite being on the White team is passionately rooting for the President all the way!

That’s when Miyuki’s dad sidles up to Kaguya without introducing himself and belittles Miyki’s efforts. Kaguya, never one to let people cast aspersions on her beloved Miyuki, offers up all the ways Miyuki is actually a terrific person. When his dad shoots those down one by one, she gets increasingly flustered and annoyed, which leads him to ask not who Miyuki is, but who he is to her.

Kaguya responds with a beautiful monologue from the heart about how Miyuki showed her that not only to kind and wonderful people like him truly exist, but that there are others among her with those qualities (Chika and Yuu, for instance). Miyuki’s dad asks if she’s “romantically interested” just as Miyuki arrives, to which Kaguya compliments Miyuki on having such a “delightfully mischievous” father.

The Cheer squad leader ends up picking Yuu to be his partner in the final relay, and when they win, we cut to the brown-haired girl in the dark flashbacks in which Yuu was accused of stalking and assault.

This certainly lends credence to the theory that not only was Yuu not really stalking her, but that there might even have been mutual affection between them. Will we ever meet this mystery person, and if so, how will this “New Yuu” react? I can’t say, but I’d love to see it.

As it stands, Love is War has deftly and painstakingly painted fully-realized portraits of all four of its main characters plus Miko. It just happens to be both one of the most hilarious comedies in years and a riveting, heartfelt character drama. Shows this unassailably superb don’t come around often. It’s hard to not sound like I’m mindlessly gushing about it, but the excellence is there for all to see.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 03

I said last week that Akane and Kotarou aren’t in a hurry, but I guess I have to take that back now. Between all the pairing off going on in the run-up to the class trip, and the fact that at some point everyone will be heading off to various high schools, the two can’t sit on their hands forever. That being said, neither has any experience with courtship, so much of their nascent relationship is sustained through the messenger app LINE, as they remain painfully unable to talk to one another in school.

They also have a lot going on, what with Kotarou’s literature club and local festival activities and Akane’s track meet. This eats up the time they could be spending hanging out. Akane’s track buddy Nishio (who tended Kotarou’s wounds) considers him a friend now, and she’s serious about surpassing Akane, at least in track. Akane, meanwhile gets perilously close to being asked out by Hira; it’s only a random exclamation from a nearby party that makes him think better of it.

Kotarou can’t attend Akane’s meet due to his drumming practice, and the show really excels both at capturing the tension involved in waiting for someone you like to text you, and showing just how torturous it can be to have to carry on with your plans that don’t include that person.

Fortunately, fate smiles upon the couple, or rather, volition does. Kotarou isn’t in a hurry to leave the shrine, while Akane, whose phone died, decides to check out said shrine on the off-chance Kotarou is still there. He is, and they have a lovely, if at times understandably awkward, encounter under the beautiful moon.

And feeling both the pressure of time and the auspiciousness of another meeting with the lovely, warm, kind Akane, Kotarou manages to finally ask her out—not with Line, but with words. Not with chance, but with choice. Naturally, we don’t hear her reply, but their once tentative dynamic has already entered a new phase.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 02

This week’s episode is dominated by an interminable sports festival, during which the students, split into four groups of different colors, compete in various physical activities.

But those activities, and the final scores of the teams, don’t end up meaning much. Instead, due to circumstances that occurred during the festival, Kotarou and Akane were able to grow just a little bit closer together.

Much to Kotarou’s surprise, he couldn’t help but be influenced by her to do what he likes and not worry about being embarrassed. Akane doesn’t like being in front of big crowds, but she loves to run, so she runs. Kotarou likes to write, so he might as well show off his work.

Maybe he’ll be teased or mocked by some, but he’s just as likely to be celebrated and cheered on by others. And his dad insinuates that your youth is the time to do what you like—since you may not be able to when that youth is gone!

As for Kotarou and Akane, they play a quiet game of cat and mouse, with Akane often interacting with a potential rival for Kotarou in Hira, another track club member. But it sure seems like he has to be told to go talk to Akane, while Kotarou tracks down Akane and returns her lost, beloved stress “imo” to her, then tells her he thinks she’s fine the way she is, and shouldn’t get embarrassed by running (very well-timed remarks, considering she overheard girls in the bathroom making fun of her).

That night the two fumble with their phones for the right words and stickers to send to one another via LINE, and have a pleasant little virtual chat; one that would have seemed inconceivable just last week. They’re both growing more comfortable with each other little by little. And unlike most of the events in the festival, it’s not a race!

Little Witch Academia – 03

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The heart-pounding and heartwarming fun of LWA continues as its third episode is all about broom flight, or, for the first two-thirds of it, about how totally unable to fly Akko is. No matter how hard she “focuses” or how loudly she says the magic words, gravity won’t release her from the ground.

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She’s wanted to fly her whole life, and proudly bears the scars that prove it. As Akko fails and fails again, you can feel her frustration mounting, especially once she learns there’s to be a broom relay and Diana is the favorite to win. There’s the sense Akko is right on the cusp of a magical breakthrough, but just needs something to go her way and complement her boundless passion.

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After some last-ditch “training” that seems more designed to amuse Sucy than help Akko, the relay begins, and thanks to some magical trickery and research on the competition, Sucy is able to get Lotte out to a sizable lead that she then extends. Then it’s Akko’s turn, and Sucy lends her a potion that turns her broom into a ribbiting pogo stick. As Diana says with disgust, it ain’t pretty.

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Then, the feral broom in the magical items cafe Akko wanted to try out rejects the one who stole/purchased it (Amanda) and takes an interest in Akko. It makes her fight tooth and nail to stay on, and tries to throw her off many times, but Akko won’t let go, and it takes her on a magical ride through homes, under oceans, and through the sky at jetliner speeds.

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LWA truly brings the fun and the wonder, whether it’s the sweeping sights of Akko’s detour or her veritable galaxy of inventive acrobatics and contortions. She doesn’t win – the broom handles break off and the broom turns into a bird and flies off – but she comes in a close second, once again commanding Diana’s grudging respect.

As Diana says, Akko’s got passion. I daresay she’s brimming with moxie as well. Will it be enough? Ursula looks at her younger self in the trophy case, and maybe sees Akko going down a similar path. And she seems worried. But I wouldn’t rule out Akko continuing to surprise everyone—even her apparently disillusioned idol.

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Prince of Stride: Alternative – 03

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With my enthusiasm for this Tuesday night (for me) sports anime waning fast, this was exactly the episode I needed: one that brought us the show’s first real race against an elite opponent in Saisei’s Stride Club, who double as a dance and vocal unit and are known and adored as Galaxy Standard AKA Gal-Stan, which sounds like some kind of American industrial conglomerate that manufactures nuclear reactors for aircraft carriers…but whatever!

What matters is, these guys are tough…but they’re not the haughty assholes I thought they’d be, which made watching their interactions with our boys in blue a lot more pleasant. Only one of them, Takusu, could be classified as a jerk, but Takeru is just as fiercely competitive to the point of rudeness.

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As the two teams line up for the race, it occurs how closely the five Honan runners resemble their Saisei counterparts. You have the guys with the dark hair, the greenish hair, the prettyboys, the tough guys, and the goofy guys.

I also liked the little pre-start conversations between the five pairs, though the simultaneous drawing out of their route legs made for a somewhat busy presentation; I had to rewind a couple of times to catch what they were saying because the graphics distracted me. But they’re cool graphics, so no biggie.

But then just like that chatting time is over and it’s time for a muthafuckin’ race, ya’ll. And I’ll tellya, it was a fun one to watch, from the whooshing sound of a runner blasting off the line to the uncertainty of who will have the upper hand in each leg.

And then there’s Nana, clearly nervous in her first true race, but never failing to connect her runners, once the Saisei relationer puts her at ease by making her listen on her headset to how much goddamn fun her boys are having.

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And it does look like fun, unless you’re Heath, or Ayumu, who are totally outclassed by their Saisei opponents. Heath takes it in…ahem…stride, but Ayumu gets so pissed off with the ability gap that he slows way down. And the Saiei guys aren’t just faster, they’re flashier crowd pleasers as well.

Takeru, who’s last in the order, has over fours seconds to make up against the Saisei captain and anchor, Suwa Reiji. Reiji, for his part, looks like he feels kinda bad his team’s going to beat Takeru’s so handily…right up until the moment his relationer tells him Takeru is right on his ass.

Saisei wins—it would have been ridiculous for them not to—but it’s only by .42 seconds, thanks to Fujiwara’s scary closing speed, which winds him considerably. And Reiji is happy it’s close. He likes a strong challenge and he got one.

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As for Honan, they did end up losing, which they thought meant losing Heath’s sis as a sponsor, but she was watching with Saisei’s sponsor, and was so pissed off she had a new line of sportswear custom-made for the guys and Hana: sharp-looking crisp white unis to replace their dour ld blue gym suits.  But she makes it clear she won’t accept further failure.

The next big even coming up is ominously called the End of Summer, AKA EoS, and the ridiculously unbalanced Honan has a lot of work to do. But after this week, I’m looking more forward to watching their progress than I was at this point last week, so Prinstride can log that as a victory on its little iPad.

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Prince of Stride: Alternative – 02

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So I’m apparently not that into sports anime. I never took a look at Haikyuu!!, Kuroko’s Basketball, Ookiku Furikabutte or even Free!’s sequel; they just weren’t calling to me. Now weird sports, like Shokugeki no Souma, Chihayafuru, or even Genesis from SKET Dance? Now we’re talking!

So I’ll admit, I’m craning my neck a bit into this genre I rarely enter, and struggling a bit with the premise of the central sport, which—not to at all belittle those who actually participate in this kind of thing—seems a little on the thin side. Despite all that, I am legitimately enjoying Prince of Stride….promise!

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It doesn’t really matter that I’d rather cook or play Genesis than run a lot; what matters is that these guys do want to run, and their passion and energy is infectious. They’re also all a diverse collection of personalities, united by their love of Stride (even those who prefer Shogi).

But to become a proper Stride Club (again), Honan needs to make…ahem…strides in the “relationing” department (still don’t like the use of that word). Fujiwara and Riku are out of sync due to the latter’s slowing down before the crucial high-five.

The team also needs a sponsor, but Heath has them covered thanks to his sister Diane, who owns a department chain and asks for just two things in exchange for her patronage: that they win, and that all these lovely young men model her wares, in an extended scene that does not over-indulge.

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The modelling turns out to be mostly harmless (though the girliest of them would disagree after being forced to dress in drag for Diane’s delight); as for the winning, Both Sakurai and Yuki decide to trust in Fujiwara’s speed. Yuki does as Fujiwara urges him to do and stops slowing down, instead going full-out, and from the reactions of everyone, it goes very well.

There’s still room for improvement all ’round, but there’s not going to be much time for it; their first match is coming against the famous elite Saisei Academy’s Stride Team. I’d call Honan underdogs due to their accomplishment and publicity deficit, but then again, some of their shots will end up in D’s catalogs…and Fujiwara is pretty confident they’ll be able to beat the favorites.

As for their faculty advisor…he really needs to knock it off with those invented sayings every five seconds. It’s also a little disappointing to see the only female main character boxed into a non-running support role, vital though it might be. Hana-Kana simply doesn’t have much to do here.

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