Golden Kamuy – 40 – His Mother’s Eyebrows

If you told me we’d be getting a Lt. Koito origin story this week, I would have been dubious, but, well, here we are, and while it’s completely divorced from the present day story and our core couple of Sugimoto and Asirpa, it’s still a ton of fun, blending geopolitical history, family strife, and the usual Kamuy zaniness.

At fourteen, Koito Otonoshin is an aimless, willful 14-year-old, a spoiled rich kid whose father has basically washed his hands of him. But when he runs a man down with his mini-motorcycle, he gets more than he bargained with, as that man turns out to be Lt. Tsurumi, in full possession of all of his skin.

Tsurumi can tell young Koito has skill and potential, but needs direction. He also learns—or rather already knew—that Koito has a complex about his 13-years-older brother who died valiantly in battle. Basically, he wishes he was the son to die. Tsurumi tells Koito he’ll enjoy his move to Hakodate, and that if they meet again, it will mean the heavens want them to be friends.

Two years later, Koito is still a rich little shit put-putting around town, but is suddenly kidnapped by Russians. Tsurumi arrives as a representative of the army to deal with the hostage situation, meeting with the grizzled Captain Koito and his wife. Finding his son will involve using the telephone exchange to trace the kidnapper’s call—the town only has 50 or so non-public phones, but that’s still too many to go door-to-door.

On one of many hunches, Tsurumi and Koito stake out the abandoned Russian embassy and await a phone call. But Captain Koito makes clear that if the Russians want him to dismantle his fleet in exchange for his son’s life, that’s not going to happen. Yet when the kidnappers call and put the captain’s son on, Koito is already prepared to die, tells his father to forget he was born, and starts fighting with his captives over the phone.

Papa Koito may be stern and honorable, but he’s not heartless, and his son’s gesture propels him to go after his son once the location of the phone—an abandoned fort six klicks away—is found. The horses are too scared of the steep hills, so Koito races off on his son’s motorcycle, with Tsurumi catching up with his Terminator speed and hopping on.

A thrilling little chase ensues, with one of the kidnappers pursuing the motorcycle. Tsurumi helps them get around corners by leaning to the side, surprising a couple of local townswomen and giving them a wink. He then swings around so he’s facing the captain and shoots and kills their pursuer.

However, Captain Koito ends up crashing the bike into a trolley and sending them both flying, losing just enough clothing to look like they’re members of a queer bike gang. They arrive at the old fort, the Captain distracts the kidnappers by striking a rock star pose, but he’s knocked out, and his son is tied up to a post again.

Koito hears gunshots behind the closed door and fears the worst, but when the door opens it’s not his captors, but Lt. Tsurumi, in all his sexy masculine glory. Koito’s dad comes to, and the three enjoy a good laugh while Tsurumi’s underlings—a younger Kikuta, Tsukishima, and Ogata—deal with the bodies of the dead kidnappers.

Clearly smitten with the always-charming Lt. Tsurumi, and also finally possessed of a sense of duty to both father and country, Koito takes the army officer test and passes, and even though his father is a naval man, he’s proud of his son whether he fights on land or sea. Tsurumi takes him under his wing, and Koito and Ogata exchange glares, the start of their long and colorful history together.

Left ambiguous is whether Tsurumi planned all of this: meeting the young Koito in Kagoshima to get the measure of him, arranging the kidnapping, facilitating a reconciliation between him and his dad, and eventually claiming him as one of his loyal 7th division officers. Or was it simply fate that brought them together?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 02 – Toiling in Obscurity

Kagenou Minoru is hit by Truck-kun, then resurrects as Cid, the infant son of a noble family, while maintaining all the intelligence and awareness of his 18-year-old self. When his parents are puzzled that he doesn’t cry, Cid simply fakes it. As the second-born, he plays second fiddle to his supremely talented sister Claire, but that’s the way he likes it.

In the day he’s content to be “Background Character A”, but at night, in the shadows, he practices his magic on the bandits and baddies of this world as a vigilante. He’s partial to using magical slime to create weapons and even disguises, and is a one-boy wrecking crew; even seasoned warriors can’t last more than a minute before being eviscerated.

While inspecting the bandits’ loot Cid hears sounds coming from a wagon and assumes it’s a slave, but it’s…well, it’s basically MittyHe experiments thoroughly and exhaustively on the amorphous blob of overloaded magic, until one day he’s finally able to purify and stabilize it, resulting in the coalescence of a beautiful blonde elf girl.

Assuming she’s a tabula rasa he decides to try out his Eminence-in-Shadow act for the first time, ad-libbing tall tales about her origin as one of the original heroes and the identity of a great foe, the Cult of Diabolos. The girl buys it all, and in exchange for having saved her life, agrees to join Cid in his quest. He names her Alpha, and Shadow Garden is born.

Three years later, to Claire’s eyes Cid hasn’t improved as a dark knight at all, but she still spars with him—and beats him—every day. There’s a neat little moment when Cid sees all of the movements that would defeat Claire, but instead he takes her strike and ends up in the drink. Claire then touches her neck, where he had placed his blade for the tiniest fraction of a moment. I wonder if any part of her wonders if her little brother is holding back?

The day she’s supposed to start attending Midgar Academy for Dark Knights, Claire is kidnapped. Cid’s mom lashes out at his dad demanding to know what the plan is, but Cid and Shadow Garden—now seven Greek letters strong—is already on it. They’ve narrowed down the hideouts where Claire was taken, and a rescue op commences with all due haste.

Claire is the captive of a Viscount Grease, but isn’t that worried about it. Indeed, she breaks her magic bonds when Grease even mentions the possibility of harming her dear little brother. Just as the bandits in her home village were no match whatsoever for Cid’s magic, the seven members of Shadow Garden make quick work of Grease’s small fry. Grease himself has to take a strength-enhancing drug in order to keep up with Alpha.

But Alpha isn’t going all out; she doesn’t want to kill Grease, she wants him to talk. When he goes to ground, she’s not concerned, because he ends up right in Cid’s clutches. Grease takes more drugs, and tries to intimidate Cid with his talk of “the depths of true darkness”, but Cid just vows to dig deeper still.

There’s actually a measure of pathos in Grease’s depiction as we see how his own daughter suffered from a curse similar to Alpha’s before Cid saved her. But at the end of the day, Grease is no more than another bandit to Cid, who ends “playtime”, powers up, and kills Grease with a flashy coup-de-grace.

Cid doesn’t let Claire know who saved her, but simply withdraws from the Viscount’s castle, enabling her to escape on her own. It only takes her a day to recover from the ordeal, and then she’s off to academy, her little brother happily waiving goodbye. Cid himself is still two years away from Midgar, but he intends to make full use of those years honing his skills and sharpening the seven-pointed sword that is Shadow Garden.

But Alpha & Co. apparently have other plans, and suddenly tell Cid that it’s time to leave him. My first guess would be that they’re going off to hone their skills independently, possibly to make themselves more “worthy” of Cid’s leadership, but we’ll have to wait until next week to test that theory. Until then, for the first time in this new world, Cid is genuinely flummoxed.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 01 (First Impressions) – Bringing a Crowbar to a Gun Fight

After being kidnapped by a stalker, Nishino Akane is chaffeured to school and back, and maintains an eager-to-please mask for both her teachers and peers. There’s just one kid at school who doesn’t remember her name or look her way: Kagenou. That kinda pisses her off. Kagenou doesn’t seem to care.

One night Akane must walk home when her chaffeur doesn’t answer, and she’s swiftly kidnapped again by a pair of bad dudes bent on holding her for random. One of them isn’t even above assaulting her, but thankfully for Akane, Kagenou saw her be abducted, and has come to rescue her. Before he does he removes several extremely heavy weights he’d been wearing all day like they were nothing.

He smashes through the warehouse skylight and announces himself as the “Stylish Ruffian Slayer”, dispatching the gangster-style baddie with ease, then going to town on an ex-military connoisseur of violence. While fighting him, Kagenou goes into great detail about how great crowbars are as a weapon, then demonstrates it by whaling on the guy before untying Akane and vanishing.

Akane realizes that Kagenou, like her, was also wearing a mask around others. She never gets a chance to confirm if he was her savior, however, as he falls victim to Truck-kun and gets—you guessed it—reincarnated in another world full of magic and fantasy.

While in his old world and life there was only so much building muscle and martial arts training could achieve, but here he’s shed those limits, determined not to be the Hero or the Villain of the world, but rather the mastermind behind the scenes controlling everything—the titular Eminence in Shadow, flanked by seven female assassins.

This week is a succinct if somewhat tonally ambiguous prologue for the “fantasy action comedy” to come. Some isekai start with the lad already having been in the new world for a while, others spend several episodes getting him there. I daresay including a scene of attempted sexual assault probably isn’t a great idea if you’re trying to be tongue-in-cheek.

That said, next week we’re surely in for something completely different, as Kagenou’s chuuni tendencies are now perfectly at home in the new world he inhabits. So I’d say it’s worth at least one more look.

DanMachi IV – 05 – Gong of Ice and Fire

Without Bell, the party finds itself well and truly against the wall, to the point both Lili and Aisha decide it’s time to bring out their fox in the hole, Haruhime. Thanks to her study of the grimoires, she’s now able to summon five tails from a fox spirit that bestow Level Boost on Welf, Daphne, Aisha, Ouka, and Mikoto. Suddenly, fighting back the monsters is easier.

But there are so many, and even when they’ve slaughtered them all, the Moss Huge eats all the crystals they dropped and becomes even stronger. I don’t know if it knew the party had someone like Haruhime, but it was counting on using their power and effort to increase its own.

The last couple episodes have really built up the fact that this is a smug, ugly brute of a monster whom I simply could not wait to see ethered by Bell.  But before that happens his party has to endure more setbacks. It takes a huge bite out of Aisha’s shoulder with its toothed trunk.

Aisha then proceeds to demonstrate just how tough she is by continuing to try to fight off the Huge, since she’s the only one who can, even with vines growing out of her gaping wound. Meanwhile, her and everyone else’s level boost fades as the monsters continue to swarm around her.

It’s at this point the injured party they found can’t sit around and do nothing anymore. They decide as a group to make their last stand here, to give Hestia Familia a chance to escape and spread the vital news of the Moss Huge. And Lili knows that a Strategist must sometimes be coldhearted and underhanded.

But she doesn’t leave the injured allies behind. She can’t, and still live with herself or look Bell in the eye. She uses her lightning blade to push back the monsters and save those who were about to give their lives for her. And just then, Haruhime’s fox ears hear a tolling bell, signifying that they just managed to hold out long enough for the one-man cavalry.

Everyone finds cover so Bell can unleash a Firebolt that blasts the Moss Huge clean out of and about a hundred meters below the cavern they’re in. There, in a much larger space, Bell, demonstrates how being on these Lower Floors have helped his mana and physique synchronize better. In short, he’s figured shit out.

As a result, he’s able to observe his opponent rationally, and revels in the fact that it’s neither as fast as the Iguazu nor nearly as strong as Minotaur. The rest of the party is relegated to the grandstands, but that’s fine; at this point both they and we the viewers have earned the right to sit back and enjoy this decisive battle.

DanMachi brings out all its most epic and bombastic battle music for this one. When all of Bell’s melee attacks amount to nothing due to Moss’ ridiculous regenerative abilities, he takes off the kid gloves, imbues his black dagger with Firebolt and awakens its runes, naming the attack “Argo Vesta” after an alternate name of his goddess.

This finally does the trick, and if I have any complaint about the Moss Huge’s demise, it’s that it doesn’t suffer nearly as much or as long as it made so many others suffer. For a being of such obvious intelligence to use it purely to hurt and kill and make itself stronger…it was a bad dude and I won’t miss it!

With the defeat of the Moss Huge, the parasitic vines growing in Chigusa and everyone else vanish, restoring them back to normal. Marie, not interested in meeting his friends, thanks Bell, says she loves him, then waves goodbye. I was hoping for more Marie Time!

But that’s okay, there’s no shortage of allies and hugs waiting for Bell after his impressive feat. But the members of Hestia Familia and their colleagues must understand that their role wasn’t simply to await rescue. Everything they did bought them and Bell crucial minutes he needed to get to where they were.

Everyone contributed, from Cassandra’s well-timed heals to Haruhime’s clutch five-fold boost. And conducting it all was Liliruca, who like Bell learned a lot from being down here. For her, that meant learning that a Strategist doesn’t have to be coldhearted or underhanded, and sometimes luck will reward them.

Spy x Family – 11 – A Dog Will Bring Peace

The agency expects Anya to earn eight Stella in four months, but it’s becoming apparent to Loid (thanks to Anya’s test scores) that academics might not be the way. Fortunately, there are other ways to earn Stella. Unfortunately, Anya is also not great at those other ways either.

Loid thinks her drawing of a moo cow is a cheetah or a panda; Anya plays the violin like a cello and breaks all the strings; she can’t hit a tennis ball she tosses in the air (I felt seen). There’s also volunteer work, but no sooner do Loid and Anya show up eager to work that the kindly head nurse loses her cool and tells them to clear out.

It’s important to Loid/Twilight that Anya earn these stars without any undue “outside assistance”, but with even a volunteer Stella feeling as far away as an actual star, he may have to ask his agency for that assistance in order to get Desmond in a room. Then Anya hears a boy’s thoughts: he’s fallen into the pool and he can’t move his legs.

Without any regard for her secret, Anya tells her dad that there’s a boy drowning in the pool, before taking advantage of Loid’s confusion to walk it back and come up with a (slightly) more plausible reason for racing to the pool. She dives in and swims with all her might, but soon tires out. Loid, having seen where Anya went, jumps in and pulls both her and the boy out.

Loid is too proud of his daughter to think too much about how she knew what she knew. There’s also the matter of Anya literally putting her life on the line to save a little boy’s life. It’s an act of heroism that earns her a Stella, the first in her class and the fastest ever to earn one at Eden.

While Anya’s legend grows among her peers, Loid and Handler meet in disguises that make them unrecognizable. Handler asks if any agency resources could be used to help quicken Anya’s rise to Imperial Scholar, but again Loid declines. He doesn’t want to put anyone else at risk. If Anya won one Stella on her own, she can win another. That may not be Twilight’s cold logic and practicality, but Loid Forger’s pride, trust, and love.

The dangers of Anya rising to far too fast are evident at her return to normal classes. While she earns the esteem of some classmates, rumors start to swirl about the legitimacy of her Stella. But when Damian is asked by a couple of girls to add his two cents, they get more than they bargained for: he scolds them for besmirching Eden’s good name with such spurious accusations.

He’d never admit he was standing up for Anya, but he is standing up for truth and justice, which make him good and cool. When Becky brings up Anya’s new opportunity to ask her parents for a reward, Anya tables her desire for a large amount of peanuts and decides that the right way to befriend Damian is by getting a dog.

When she makes the request at home, Loid is open to the idea for its security benefits, while Yor can’t help but imagine the ways dogs big and small might kill Anya if given the chance. All the while, we get a little closing sequence of what I presume to be the Forger’s future dog, currently in a cruel, dark kennel where experiments are being run on the dogs

Summertime Render – 09 – A Tale of Two Ushios

The video on Ushio’s unlocked phone shows both the original Ushio and her Shadow delivering a joint message to Shinpei. The original assures him her Shadow isn’t evil like the others, but an ally, then proceeds to tell the story of how she ended up dying, and why that’s not the end of her story, because ultimately she is her Shadow and her Shadow is her.

It started with Shiori telling Ushio about seeing her own Shadow and asking her for help, since no one else will listen to her. Then, while Ushio and Mio were cleaning up the beach, there was a flash from above and just like that there was a second Ushio, who runs away before she can learn anything more.

Ushio comes home for a bath to find the other Ushio is already in the tub; she went home because it’s her home, same as Ushio’s. Once she determines that this other Ushio isn’t a threat, the two join forces to seek out Shiori’s Shadow on Mt. Takanosu, the locaiton of Sou’s family’s old clinic, believed by most of the island to now be haunted. It is haunted, but not by ghosts…by a monster.

A Shadow in its black goo form copies Ushio’s copy and tries to kill her, but Shadow Ushio figures out on accident that the copy’s weakness is not its body, but its shadow, and that she can use her own body—like her hair—as a weapon to slice through that Shadow. She can also repair her physical body, and tells Ushio that the instinct to kill her original “fills her brain”, even though she has no intention of doing so.

The two Ushios return to the beach to record a message for Shinpei, and after the present-day Shadow Ushio watches it with Shinpei and Sou, she suddenly regains her memories and knowledge of her power. She uses that power and her phone to “transport” the three of them into a recording of the tragic events of July 21st on the private beach where original Ushio breathed her last.

Original Ushio had Shadow Ushio turn into a seashell necklace and wore her, so that when Shiori was washed out to sea, not one but two Ushios were there to rescue her. However, under those waves Shadow Shiori kills her original and drowns the original Ushio—the one Sou was unable to revive and ended up being cremated.

Struck by her original’s sacrifice for both Shiori’s sake and her own, Shadow Ushio vowed to help Shinpei wipe out the Shadows when he returned to the island. As Sou and Shinpei weep over what they witnessed, Shadow Shiori suddenly grabs Shin’s arm and transforms into Haine, who promises he won’t escape her next time.

Shadow Ushio switches of the recording so she, Shin and Sou are back in the present, but Shin now has a sinister black mark on his arm where Haine touched him, proving that it wasn’t just part of the recording, and that Haine is apparently capable of transcending time and space like he can.

That adds an extra layer of difficulty and dread to Shinpei’s task, but the recordings he and Sou watched proved one thing: Shadow Ushio is indeed their ally, and they need all the allies they can get against an increasingly menacing enemy.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 10 – The Rising of the Katana Hero

As Raph-chan is led to her cell in a giant snowy prison, she is worried that Naofumi-sama will be angry at her for staying behind, even though it wasn’t her fault. But she still vows not to die until she sees him again.

Fortunately, dying isn’t in the cards this week, as no sooner does she find herself in the very same cell as L’Arc, Therese, and Glass do the four escape the “Prison of Exhaustion”, thanks to Raph’s low-level but still effective illusion magic.

Once out, they head to Sikul, dress like locals (which is to say, like Japanese), and grind. Raph-chan fights, levels up, and eats, and starts to rapidly grow, as demi-humans tend to do.

We’re introduced to Glass’ softer side, not only when she thanks Raph for helping free her beloved Kizuna from the Infinite Labyrinth, but also helps tailor Raph’s clothes when she starts to grow out of them. These three may have fought her, Filo, and Naofumi in the past, but they’re not bad people.

Kazuki, on the other hand, most certainly is bad, and in a second-string, B-teamy kind of way, as he’s basically a Kyou wannabe. To that end, he intends to draw the Katana Vassal Weapon and become a legit Hero. Unfortunately for him, the sword has other ideas.

The weapon instead wills itself into the hands of Raphtalia, and proceeds to burn away her Slav-erServant Crest that has bonded her to Naofumi all this time. She separates from the others as she breaks into a run, pursued by police and other officials for “stealing” Kazuki’s katana.

Either fate or the sword itself lead Raphtalia to the Temple of the Katana Hero, where a kindly shrine maiden risrobes her and dresses her in a Hero’s Regalia. Then Kazuki and his aides show up, insisting that she return what is rightfully his and he’ll give her a painless death.

Raphtalia, who is now back to her full size and can feel the power of the Katana coursing through her, warns Kazuki many times to simply leave, but he doesn’t listen. He siccs two replicas of a holy white tiger at her, but she dispatches them with ease.

When Kazuki still insists on going toe-to-toe with her, she delivers a strike that will only kill him if he moves. This is it: it’s happening; Raphtalia is no longer Naofumi’s servant or his sword. As she revealed when she first attained the Katana and was on the run, she wants to stand by his side as more of an equal, and has gotten her wish.

That said, even after defeating Kazuki, one more giant white tiger prepares to pounce on her, and she’s used up a lot of her strength on the previous attacks, all of which she used for the first time. Her expression is one of wisful regret and resignation as she wishes she could see Naofumi one last time before she dies.

But she gets her wish again: Naofumi shields her from the tiger, Filo kicks it, and Kizuna finishes it off with her hunting blade. Just like that, the band is back together, complete with newcomer Kizuna. Like the escape from the Labyrinth and Filo’s rescue, it feels a little rushed and easy, but it’s also a credit to this more episodic arc that keep things moving at a good clip and outings have satisfying beginnings, middles and ends.

With the party reunited and the number of Heroes tripled, I’m hoping they can avoid Kyou’s traps and put the jerk in his place soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 09 – A Whole Different Animal

The moment Naofumi materializes in Sikul, he wants to go right back to Mikakage. Where Raphtalia is concerned, all self-preservation goes out the window. Fortunately, Kizuna can’t send them back, as the hourglass on the other side was shut off. But she can introduce Naofumi to a very useful friend.

Kizuna was trapped in the labyrinth for years, right? Because the reactions to her return make it seem like she was only gone for a few weeks or months, tops. Her peers are also weary of a hero from another world, fearing he’s come to destroy their world.

Oh and Kizuna has a blue penguin shikigami named Chris because…why not, I guess??

Back to Kizuna’s useful friend, Ethnobalt…which is a naaaaame. With a drop of Naofumi’s blood and a catalyst (some of Raphtalia’s hair), he can help him create his own shikigami—one that like Raphtalia is a raccoon, but frankly isn’t as cute as the genuine article to these eyes.

Have I mentioned that Ethnobalt (sigh) is the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland? And that instead of the wielder of a pocket watch, he has a “boat” that can grow to the size of a Final Fantasy-style airship (indeed, it looks inspired by the Fahrenheit).

Ethnobalt helps Naofumi out and asks nothing in return; he’s just happy to be useful to his friend Kizuna and her friends. That makes him more of a device than a character, but no matter; he’s able to warp them to Raybul, where both Filo and Glass are currently located.

They soon find Filo, who is being held captive by a disreputable showman along with scores of other magical animals. Filo is notably also not a filolial in this world, because that creature doesn’t exist here. Naofumi initially wants to kill her captor on the spot, but Rishia’s cooler head prevails, and they free Filo without incident that night.

Filo is clearly traumatized by the situation, though when her captor first said she was going to “make a lot of money” for him I immediately assumed he was going to prostitute her out to customers. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, but there was a distinct lack of peril and suspense to her rescue.

Despite camping in the forest for the night, Naofumi, Filo, Rishia and Kizuna return to town and immediately find wanted posters of themselves. Fortunately, the likenesses are vague at best. Then Naofumi feels what I’ll describe as a “disturbance in the force”, and suddenly Raphtalia’s stats disappear from his HUD.

The raccoon shikigami Filo names “Raph-chan” is still kicking, however, so the real Raph should be fine. That doesn’t mean she’s comfortable, however, as after the credits we see she’s in chains and has been taken to what I’m assuming to be the arctic stronghold of the Katana Hero, since that’s the name of the next episode.

Komi Can’t Communicate S2 – 07 – …But Sometimes She Can

Komi is haunted by the possibility Najimi saw her holding Tadano’s hand as he slept. She spends all night trying to word a letter of explanation, but because she’s not 100% sure Najimi did see it, she doesn’t want to write anything to make Najimi suspicious. Meanwhile, Tadano wants to thank Komi for coming by, but isn’t 100% sure whether she was actually there or if she was just part of his fever dreams.

In their efforts to not say something that will give the other party the wrong idea, the misunderstandings only mount. Ironically, this is a sign that Komi is indeed becoming better at communicating. She is not just thinking internally and freezing up like the past, but trying to figure out what someone else is thinking or intended. That said, Komi was most certainly not just “checking his pulse!”

The last few episodes have shown an incremental uptick in the Komi x Tadano romance angle, but there are always new weirdo friends to meet, and this week’s is Naruse, whom I honestly can’t remember even in the background of previous episodes, but maybe that’s the point. As invisible as he’s been to me (and the rest of the gang), he is absolutely in love with himself.

Nine months into the school year, Naruse finally decides now is the time to approach Komi. One interesting bit of possibly accidental perceptiveness on his part? He assumes Komi has never spoken to him due to a communication disorder, for which he doesn’t judge her. But he clearly has a blind spot when it comes to the protective wall of secondary friends surrounding Komi, Tadano, and Najimi; he assumes they’re all his fans even if that’s a very big delusional reach.

When Komi returns his hanky that he saw him drop, he assumes it’s a sign she’s in love with him. Because of this, he’s a bit too forward in asking for her contact info, and gets Tadano’s instead. Naruse also has a constant deadpan translator/commentator in Chuushaku Kometani, who I wished would have gotten in a narration fight with the usual female narrator; to no avail.

The third and final segment returns us to the central romance as groups are to be formed for the upcoming class trip to Kyoto. When Tadano asks where she went for middle school, she says Kyoto, but after that she starts acting squirrelly even for her. Tadano correctly assumes she’s not feeling okay. After what may be the first instance I can recall of Najimi getting the eff out of the way, Tadano asks her about it, and she initially says it’s nothing, she’s fine, and they part ways.

But then, when they’re still only about ten feet away, she calls him, and tells him what’s been eating her: she lied about going to Kyoto. Her class went to Kyoto, but she was the last person chosen for a group, which picked her by playing jankenpon. She’ll never know whether the other members of her group welcomed her with a smile, were offended by her presence, or didn’t care one way or another…because she couldn’t raise her head.

It’s Komi’s most extensive and most heartbreaking sharing of her bad old days before she met Tadano (and Najimi), and Koga Aoi does the lord’s work infusing Komi’s tiny voice with meloncholy and longing. It’s also probably the most she’s spoken continuously yet; another sign that things aren’t the same as they were then, and never will be.

Tadano tells her she has friends now. Even if some of the others would “rather be with someone else” (highly arguable), Tadano would rather be with her than anyone else. He adds Najimi in there in case he sounds too forward, but I think Komi gets the idea as she hangs up and finishes their talk in person.

After talking with Tadano, Komi feels a lot better and is actually looking forward to the trip. The next day, in a complete inversion of her traumatic middle school experience, every single girl in the class wants to be in the same group as Komi, so the teacher has to employ a lottery system. To them, being able to spend time with her isn’t a burden; it’s a prize.

Komi Can’t Communicate S2 – 06 – Tadano’s Dizzy Fever Day

While Komi spent New Year’s Eve with her extended family, Tadano spends it at home playing video games until midnight with Najimi. The next morning Najimi is still there, and suggests they call as many friends as they can to go on their first shrine visit. But between Komi not picking up, Ren in Hawaii, Agari almost choking on mochi, Inaka not in cell range, Nakanaka playing a crucial mobile game, Yadano playing battledore, and Katai doing pushups, it seems like it might be a bust.

However, they still manage to organize a huge group, including Komi, who calls Najimi back after the initial missed call. Najimi leads the charge up the steps to the shrine, leaving her and Tadano in the dust. As we know, this is Komi’s second shrine visit of the day, but it doesn’t matter, because she’s happy to be invited and to spend time with her friends…and Tadano. She also flashes a cheeky streak by withholding her fortune from him (which is excellent).

In the middle segment Katai continues his elaborate plan to make Tadano his best friend (or possibly boyfriend?) by inviting him ice skating. Tadano asks if he can invite someone else, and to my delight Najimi wasn’t his first call and isn’t around to suck up all the oxygen. Instead, Katai sees Komi’s presence as a sign she’s worried about her “student”; in reality, Komi is still weary of Kati, but also isn’t opposed to trying to bond as friends some more.

Turns out Tadano is the only one of the trio who know how to ice skate, which means he gets to teach them both, starting with Komi. Before you know it the two are skating together hand in hand, but because Komi over-corrects on her braking step, she spins around to face Tadano, and they both realize how this must look. Katai also eventually lets go of the fence and, with Tadano taking his hand and eventually letting go, the big guy is able to get the hang of it as well.

Possibly due to being out in the cold, Tadano comes down with a fever. He stays home alone, promising his little sis he won’t die, but in an extended scene, this cold gets worse and worse and he starts to get delirious and worry about actually dying. It doesn’t help that his bottle of sports drink is empty and he doesn’t have the strength to get out of bed. What he does have is a charged phone, which he uses to call Najimi…or at least he thought he called them, but ends up calling Komi instead.

The doorbell rings, and who should be at the door but Nurse Komi to the rescue. She bears hot ginger tea and ingredients for rice porridge, which she expertly and lovingly prepares in the Tadano kitchen. While I’m sure she’s upset that Tadano isn’t feeling so swell, you can tell she’s absolutely reveling in the opportunity to take care of the boy she cares for, especially after all that he’s done for her. That said, her enthusiasm for the job of nursing him to health results in her trying to feed him, perhaps out of habit from doing the same for, say, her brother.

When Komi comes back from washing the dishes, Tadano is out like a light, and she can’t help but draw near to him, watch his sleeping face, tuck him in so he doesn’t get a chill, and in perhaps one of the most touching moments of the entire series, slides her hand into his. Unfortunately Najimi mucks up the moment by bursting in unannounced, but it was still a beautiful moment. Her increasing number of colorful friends are fun, but her quiet little interactions with Tadano—ones she’d never have with anyone else—will always be my favorite part of this series.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 12 (Fin) – Gochisousama

I love the battle music in PriConne not just because it’s tremendous in its own right, but reminds me of other great battle themes, like this one from early in Final Fantasy XIII-2, which gets me in the mood to write about this fantastic finale.

The final feast of PriConne 2 is a sumptuous multi-course smorgasbord comprised of myriad shapes, sizes and colors. Yuuki not only powers up Pecorine, but everyone, and the townsfolk rally for the sake of their princess. Kaiser is wrong; they’re not useless in just being able to yell. It’s because of them Peco and the others are able to fight and break through.

When Kaiser decides “screw it, I’m going to destroy this cursed world”, she brings up her two aces in the hole, Neneka and Labyrista, whose minds she’s overthrown. But their combined attack (which resembles the bankai Senbonzakura Kageyoshi) is blocked and nullified…by a reinvigorated Karyl, choosing the right side and sticking with it.

As the battle progresses, Kaiser (AKA Mana) longs to be reunited with someone named “Minerva”, without whom she’s endured crushing loneliness for countless time loops. Yuuki is able to release Kaiser’s hold on Labyrista’s avatar, and Labyrista quickly releases Neneka. Having lost her two most powerful weapons, Kaiser doubles down on her recklessness by letting the shadows envelop and overthrow her.

As final bosses tend to do, this turns her into a colossal slime monster, but thanks to the other guilds showing up to support them, the Gourmet Guild are able to leap inside the mass of goo, and Yuuki, Kokkoro and Pecorine are able to clear the way for Karyl to reach her majesty and try to save her.

In a gray morose world on the brink of destruction, Karyl, Kaiser’s Princess Knight, won’t let her body and soul vanish into the abyss. Even when the structure around them crumbles, Karyl doesn’t let go, and even though geting her there mortally wounded Yuuki, he chooses to go back and reach out to Karyl, pulling both her and Kaiser out of sure oblivion and back into the world.

The townsfolk rejoice as the Gourmet Guild emerge unharmed and victorious. Kaiser, either no longer a threat or unwilling to fight any further, accepts her loss and is arrested. Her spell on Peco’s parents is lifted, and they remember their daughter and embrace her.

Her friends look on with full hearts as she weeps buckets of tears of joy into the bosom of her mother the queen. And then she takes her rightful place back at Landosol Castle, addressing her adoring people.

Back at the Gourmet Guild, Karyl is the new chef, and assures the others that her meal might not look like much but it tastes great. Yuuki and Kokkoro praise her, but Kokkoro makes the mistake of serving tea to their fourth member, and all three of them suddenly feel her absence.

That is, until they hear her voice and see her in the doorway. While she’s glad her parents remember her and she’s a princess again, she still has a long way to go before she’s ready to rule the kingdom she just took back. So she re-joins Gourmet Guild as Pecorine, primed to go on a lot more adventures and gain the experience she’ll need once she comes into her throne.

This was a breathless banger from start to finish; an episode with a whole lot to do that managed to pull it off with a brilliant flourish before returning to the warm and peaceful Gourmet Guild house. It’s pretty much exactly what I was hoping for in a finale…I just wish we could spend a little more quiet time with the guild now that there are no more secrets or divided loyalties…just food, fun, and family!

P.S. While it’s a totally different an much older game, I feel compelled to end this write-up with one of my favorite victory themes, from Star Ocean: Till the End of Time:

Vanitas no Carte – 14 – Nu au Coin du Feu

Jeanne’s complex relationship with Vanitas gains a new layer as she rescues him from dying of exposure, finds a cabin, and orders him to disrobe. The two sit by the fire together, naked under a blanket. While she’s most often disgusted by his usual arrogance and terseness, she can’t help but find this vulnerable side of him refreshing…even cute.

On the surface, nothing she does for Vanitas is with romantic or amorous intent—even feeding him water with her mouth—she’s just helping to save someone who helped her. But it’s impossible to ignore their history together thus far—all their scenes here are sexy as hell. Vanitas even tells her that they want different things: he wants to save the Beast and she’s been ordered to execute it.

That makes them foes in this enterprise, and she’d be better off letting him die. Of course, Jeanne isn’t going to do that. Instead, she tells Vanitas why she feels responsible not just for getting Vanita’s wounded by a poisoned blade, but for the whole Beast of Gevaudan affair. When she was a little girl, she met the vampire Chloé d’Apchier while left in the care of the Marquis d’Aphcier. Chloé was like a big sister and Jeanne loved her, but that no longer matters: she’s killed scores of people, and must now answer for it.

The reason Jeanne is here is that she failed the first time, but Ruthven gave her a second (and probably last) chance to do it. The next morning, when Jeanne is far more flustered than the fully-recovered Vanitas by the previous evening’s activities, she finds him speaking with Johan, and eventually Dante shows up as well. After threatening both Dhams to tell him everything about this Beast situation, he bids the four of them make haste to the castle to retrieve Noé.

Vanitas is right to worry—Noé wakes up in an unfamiliar bed with the tiny vampire lying on top of him sucking his blood. Despite Chloé being tiny, Noé is so weakened from the battle that he can barely move, leaving him completely at her mercy. If she wants another taste of his blood (and the memories it reveals—though that’s not touched upon here), there’s nothing stopping her…

Except for her attendant, Jean-Jacques, who scolds her for sucking someone’s blood without their consent while also expressing deep loathing for the owner of the other neck she bit. That said, JJ presents Noé with a safe-and-sound Murr and his freshly cleaned and mended clothes. When Noé meets Chloé and JJ in the banquet hall, they’re accompanied by a troupe of musical automatons…along with Naenia.

It addition to being its usual sexy self, this episode of Vanitas added texture to what had initially been labeled a simple mission of kill-or-save the Beast. Chloé is an intriguing potential antagonist, but despite her apparent alliance to Naenia doesn’t come off as pure evil; she was kind to Jeanne, after all.

Instead, as is typical of ancient vampires, she seems to float over everything and everyone, seeking nothing but entertainment and satisfaction out of this scenario…a balm for the ennui of the centuries.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 12 (FIN) – THICKER THAN BLOOD

The Big Twist that starts the SAKUGAN finale is that Memenpu actually is a “Rainbow Child”, a child with an exceptionally advanced brain. This not only explains why she’s a genius, but what the “place in her dream” is all about: it was never a dream, it was a memory. Rainbow Children retain vivid memories even from their infancy. As Rainbow Children were bred to be the guardians of the Labyrinth, they are anathema to Shibito, who want them all dead.

Fortunately, Muro’s boss doesn’t let her kill Memenpu right away, even though it’s debatable what if anything he intends to do with her before killing her. This gives the remaining members of Team Memenpu the time they need to zero in on her location and rescue her. It’s definitely a team effort, with Yuri using a second-hand computer in a store to guide Gagumber and Zackletu, then Zack distracting both Shibito and the Bureau with sheer ballistic chaos.

Gagumber locates Memenpu, but by then she’s been placed in a bell jar, which soon shatters due to the Animus dripping on top of it. Memenpu seems to be immune to its deleterious effects due to her Rainbow-ness. But by the time her pops arrives, Muro’s boss (I don’t believe we got his name) has convinced Memenpu that she has no father. Whether their surroundings were meant to evoke that same father-y scene from Empire, I don’t know.

All’s I know is, this Shibito guy is a huge prick for messing with Memenpu’s head, and for all her advanced intellect, Memenpu betrays just how sensitive and naïve she his, simply accepting the guy’s words about Gagumber not being her father. She even puts herself between the guy and Gagumber, offering up herself in exchange for her not-dad’s safety.

Gagumber, rightfully so, says fuck that, treading through the shallow pool of Animus to reach Memenpu, melting away his boots and burning his feet. He tells her he is, always was, and always will be her father, and she is, always was, and always will be his daughter. Whatever she wants to do and wherever it leads them, he’ll be by her side on her journey. Memenpu, realizing she does have a dad in Gagumber after all, has herself a good cry in his arms.

Seemingly moved by this dramatic and cathartic exchange, the Shibito boss decides to let Memenpu and Gagumber go…for now. Gagumber recharges Big Tony and they take the shortest route back to Dream Colony proper—by drilling through the colony’s retaining wall. There, Gagumber zeroes in on Muro and blasts her through a hole in the floor for making his daughter cry.

There’s a ceremony honoring Team Memenpu hosted by Merooro, but when he produces arrest warrants and the team is surrounded by Bureau cops and bots, Memenpu unleashes a cloud of purple smoke from Tony and the quartet escapes with the Bureau in hot pursuit. Not sure why Merooro held a ceremony just to arrest them, but whatevs.

Back on the Labyrinth “road”, Memenpu leads her team on their original mission: to find the place in her dreams, come what may. It’s what she truly wants to do, and that’s more than enough for Gagumber to accompany her, and by extension Zack and Yuri. It’s been fun watching this found family iron out their warts and beat the bad guys…fun enough that I’ll likely give the expected second season a watch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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