Engage Kiss – 11 – Last Kiss Goodbye

When Kisara is stabbed with Demon Kanna’s spear and she touches it, she suddenly gets a rush of her memories, which include a young Shuu. Kisara tells Shuu to flee at once, Sharon grabs him and grabs hold of the runner of Ayano’s chopper to take them away.

Kisara charges at Kanna, but at the last minute is stopped dead by another memory of Kanna as an innocent child. In that instant of hesitation, Kanna strikes Kisara down and she falls into the sea. Kanna soon follows her down there when Mikhail fires the satellite beam at her twice.

Kanna is dormant on the sea floor, but could reawaken at any time. Meanwhile Kisara is in hospital and won’t wake up or heal at her usual speed. All Shuu and Ayano can do is sit there, wait, and contemplate what comes next. Sharon makes clear that as far as her bosses are concerned Kanna is an S-Class Demon that must be destroyed.

The problem is, none of the contractors in Bayron City are sure they can deal with an S-Class even with a united front, and instead place their hopes in Kisara, who they don’t know is in a bad way. While alone with Kisara that night, Shuu makes a heartfelt plea to her for what he should do, and she wakes up and kisses him.

Unlke previous kisses, this one seems to transfer Shuu’s memories back to him. Starting with his sudden breakup with Ayano and resignation from AAA, to teaming up with/seducing Sharon, to finding Kisara, whom we learn is a distant blood relative of his, thus making their contract possible.

Forming a more efficient and practical contact with Kisara involves a lot of trial-and-error, along with an actual paper contract that’s several hundred pages long. Before they make things official, Kisara reads the whole thing through and, unbeknownst to Shuu, makes a couple of changes.

For one, she makes a kiss the means by which the limits of her demonic power are unleashed. This wasn’t how the contract was initially written up, but the kissing gesture was inspired by how Shuu “formed contracts” (i.e., bedded) previous humans like Ayano and Sharon. And once she kisses him, there’s no going back.

That brings us to the other thing she changed: if they kiss while their hands are intertwined just so, their contract will be terminated. That’s what she seems to do in their present-day kiss in the hospital, and unless I’m totally misjudging things, this results in all of Shuu’s memories returning to him.

This also means all the memories leave Kisara (they were moved without being copied), so when their lips part and Shuu asks her what the hell she just did, her first words are “Who are you?” Kisara believes Shuu has fought enough and wants him to leave the island and live the rest of his life in peace.

Breaking their contract is how she believes that happens. How she’ll deal with Kanna without a contract remains to be seen. But if Shuu indeed has all his memories back, that means all the drive and motivation to carry out his original mission must have returned as well. In any case, I highly doubt he’s about to abandon Kisara, Ayano, and Bayron City.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 14 – Trouble Out of the Gate

As Shinpei and Ushio continue to watch Hizuru’s past interactions with Haine unfold, it’s clear Haine was not always evil incarnate, but more of a timid, frightened little girl Hizuru just couldn’t let be. Haine’s story of how the rest of her family starved is probably a big part of that; no doubt Hiruko inherited that story from the host body.

But the more Hizuru fed her, the more hungry Haine became, and she could no longer control herself. Hiruko’s instinctive drive to devour took over just as Ryuunosuke encountered a bloody Haine while looking for his twin sister. This is the day Ryuunosuke died, then in short order became a part of Hizuru.

Hizuru’s split personality wasn’t due to emotional trauma, it was an actual thing that happened as a result of Ryuunosuke’s copy bouncing off Haine (who is momentarily her former, innocent self) and imprinting onto Hizuru. Ryuu has powers similar to Ushio in the present, but by using them in his sisters body he puts immense strain on that body.

That said, he manages to kill two shadow babies and rescue Hizuru and a younger (but still old) Nezu. But Hizuru couldn’t do anything about the loss of her brother’s body, and her family soon moves off the island, much to Asako’s distress. As her boat departed, Hizuru spotted Haine wearing a patch where her right eye had been, promising the next time they meet she’ll kill her.

The memory ends abruptly, and Shinpei and Ushio end up back with Hizuru and Nezu about to confront Shiori. Ushio uses her memory transfer ability to bring the two up to speed, and they decide to regroup for now. Shinpei has Mio, Sou, Tokiko, and Tetsu meet him, Ushio, and Hizuru at the school, where he gives a speech about not wanting to run away, but to stand and fight…and for that he’ll need all their help.

Now knowing what awaits her by dutifully continuing her family’s practice of aiding Hiruko (betrayal and grisly death) even Tokiko agrees to help fight, leaving the cowardly holdout Tetsu no choice but to also agree. Nezu, keeping watch outside, ends up like Muldoon in Jurassic Park when he looks the wrong way at the wrong time and a “clever girl” kills him.

Just as Shinpei’s new plan is about to commence with everyone filled in and on board, there’s a flash and he loops back to when he was making sandwiches in the kitchen of his house. Clearly, one of Shiori, Shadow Mio or Shide (the four-armed one, embodiment of greed) killed him with Nezu’s sniper rifle. Shiori has realized that the starting points of Shinpei’s loops are getting later and later, so the faster she and her ilk make Shinpei die and loop, the faster he’ll run out of time.

That said, his starting point here is getting very late indeed with most of a second cour left; surely something in his favor has to happen soon. That is, unless, perhaps, reaching that point where there’s no time left is his natural next step on his journey…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 13 – The Rules Have Changed

When Ushio materializes beside Shinpei, she pounces on a confused Hizuru. Nezu prepares to aim his rifle at Ushio, but Shin asks him to stand down. Then Ushio takes Hizuru’s hand, sees everything she’s seen, and knows that even though she’s a Shadow, Ushio is their ally.

She’s always been their ally, ever since she printed the looping eye and brought Shin to the island. And since she’s a novelist, she’ll consider the incredible credible, and the unreal real. Shin believes their worst mistake last loop was splitting up, and having heard she died, Hizuru concurs.

They head to the Kobayakawa home just like before, only this time they have Ushio, and after Haine tried to corrupt her, she now believes she has the ability to erase a Shadow if she wants to. Since Shiori is Haine’s way of moving about outside the cave, she’s hoping erasing Shiori will eliminate that way at worst, and destroy Haine at best.

Hizuru cedes control to Ryuunosuke, who heads into the house…and gets their ass handed to them. The “four-armed one” smashes Hizuru’s head in with her own sledge, and Haine!Shiori reveals that thanks to the brand on Shinpei’s arm, whenever he shows up in a new loop, she can find him “lickety-split”.

With Hizuru already dead and Nezu following shortly thereafter, it looks very bad for our heroes. Then the four-armed one wraps those arms around Shinpei, and PreCure Ushio swoops in and beheads him with her hair. So ends the fifth loop; we hardly knew ye! In the timeless corridor between loops, Shinpei thanks Ushio (in wristwatch form) for her quick thinking.

He laments how he let his naivete get Hizuru and Nezu killed so quickly and let another loop go to waste…but there’s no time for sulking. Ushio reports that when she tried to scan four-arms she found no data, but he “smelled” like Haine. She also believes Haine is using the brand to pull her along with him through the loops.

Both agree that in the next loop they’ll have to be a lot smarter and more careful, since they no longer have much of the element of surprise. But to their surprise, they appear not on the 22nd as usual, but in front of their family restaurant, in the rain. Two students walk past—the twins Hizuru and Ryuunosuke.

Shinpei follows them inside with Watch!Ushio and learn that this is most definitely the past; back when the restaurant was celebrating ten years, and both of Shinpei’s marine archaeologist parents were still alive. Hizuru tells Asako and Ryuu that she’s met a friend…up at the clinic on the mountain.

Shinpei/Ushio follow the three (he’s not visible to anyone in this projection, which is one of Hizuru’s memories), and when Hizuru’s friend doesn’t appear, Ryuu and Asako split. Then the light in the window comes on as usual, and Haine (with two identical red eyes) greets Hizuru.

I thought we were going to spend some time in the fifth loop, but it’s smart for the second cour to subvert expectations and up the ante when it comes to the dangers Shinpei and his family and friends face as they continue to meddle. Even more ominous, Sou’s dick of a dad is aware of Shinpei and Hizuru snooping around where they shouldn’t, and also knows Ushio’s shadow is causing trouble.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S., The new OP is…fine, and I even find myself not skipping it for future episodes, but it’s no first cour OP, which really captured the heat and bittersweet longing of summer. This new theme (and the ED, for that matter) sound a lot more generic.

Summertime Render – 12 – The Kitchen’s Closed

Tokiko reveals Hiruko no Mikoti, Mother of Shadows and God of Hitogashima, also known as Haine, the form of the first human Hiruko copied. To the outrage and disgust of her friends and brother alike, Toki also reveals her family’s solemn duty to feed Haine the bodies of the dead to restore her power.

When Sou bristles, Toki hits back, saying she had no choice; with Sou “being the way he is” he could never be told about the fam’s secret, while feeding Haine is the only way to keep their mother, now a Shadow, alive. As for Ushio, Toki says she got herself killed sticking her nose where it didn’t belong out of her own sense of justice.

Among the two bodies presented for Haine tonight by Nurse Negoro is Ushio’s original corpse; a double was cremated and the bones printed. When Ushio frees herself and snatches up her original body, she’s able to repair her arm and fight at full strength, which is good because Haine transforms Nurse Negoro into a musclebound monster.

Shinpei tries to take advantage of the chaos to shoot Haine with his nailgun, newly printed from Ushio’s hair, but before he can shoot both the gun and his fingers are sliced off by Haine’s Shadow bodyguard, who is holding an unconscious Mio by her head and threatens to crush her skull if anyone moves.

The bodyguard shoots at Tokiko, who was unaware that Haine plans to kill and eat everyone on the island, but Sou takes a bullet for his sister. It doesn’t matter; the bodyguard simply shoots her dead too, now that she and the Hishigatas have fulfilled their duties to Haine.

As Tetsu finally encounters the wounded Hizuru and agrees to carry her deeper into the cave, Haine decides not to kill Ushio, but reprogram her brain and use her as another tool. She also snatches Shin’s time-looping eye—the one in which he “renders” different realities—but it soon disappears from her hand and returns to his socket; not even a god can take away his power.

But what Haine and her hulking bodyguard can do is restrain him and keep him alive until her plans come to full fruition. The bodyguard kills Mio, and Shin’s last chance to be killed and loop seems to rest with Tetsu and Hizuru, who arrive just in time. Tetsu distracts the bad guys with his boobery, giving Hizuru a clean shot at both the bodyguard’s head and Shinpei.

Alas, the bodyguard shields Shinpei and kills Hizuru, so Shinpei uses his last resort: drinking an entire bottle of mercuric chloride from the abandoned clinic, which will most definitely kill him, albeit slowly and painfully. He uses time it takes for the poison to do him in to promise Haine that he’ll defeat her and save everyone. At the same time, Ushio’s powers have advanced to the point she can not only resist Haine’s corrosion, but reverse it and free herself.

Ushio’s final effort is to lunge to where Ushio is dying and take his hand, and she goes through the time loop with him. As long as they’re together, Ushio promises to go anywhere with him, as many times as it takes. But lest we forget, every time he returns to a new loop—this newest being the fifth—he starts a little later. He and Ushio arrive hand-in-hand just as he’s telling Hizuru and Nezu that he’s a time traveler, her book in his hand.

Shinpei now has a lot more information about the bad guys and their plans, but less time to act. The good news is Shadow Ushio is with him, along with all of the amassed memories of the previous loop. Her powers may also already surpass those of the weakened Haine. This episode at the series’ halfway point delves into the bloody depths of despair but ends on a note of hope and optimism that Shinpei and Ushio can turn this train wreck around.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 07 – Sonny Girl

Naofumi’s arrival in another another world doesn’t turn out at all like I’d thought. Instead of being a fish out of water in Glass & Co’s backyard, he ends up in a prison with just Rishia. Both their levels have been reset to 1. Later, Raphtalia jumps out of a pile of hay, revealing that she’s reverted to her previous smaller self. The three may have been tanks in their isekai, but this place seems to follow an entirely different set of rules.

That said, the cell they’re in is unlocked and they still have their weapons (Raph’s sword is way too heavy for her), so they start exploring. They soon find a portal of light that takes them to an isolated island. The sea stretches to the horizon, where it glitches in and out. Instead they head into the jungle, where they slowly start to level up by defeating easy lesser monsters. There’s a refreshing feeling to this, like just starting out on a new JPRG.

When they find a body of fresh water and are attacked by a kappa that’s way too strong for any of them, it looks like they’re about to suffer an ignominious defeat and end up God-knows-where, but they’re saved, by none other than the “Hunting” Hero, Kazayama Kizuna. She’s voiced by Tomita Miyu, who along with Penkin makes this a welcome Abyss reunion.

Before Naofumi, Raph, and Rishia arrived, Kizuna was all alone in this place, which she calls the Infinite Labyrinth. She says she was trapped there by a hostile country, and has long since lost count of how many years it’s been. At one point she even considered suicide, but that was long enough ago that she can talk about it in a cheerful tone. For someone who’s been a alone so long, she’s remarkably well-adjusted and “normal”.

Naofumi proceeds to make an absolute mockery of the untold years she spent here, as the moment she shows them what she believes to be the edge of the Labyrinth, he comes up with a plan to bust them all out. He has her cultivate a Bio Plant Seed, which he then detonates right next to the portal none of them can move through.

The plant starts to grow, and with it the portal grows. I suppose this has the effect of thinning out whatever barrier kept them out of it, because once it reaches a certain size everyone is able to go through it. Naofumi, Raph, and Rishia call out to Kizuna to come with them, and she snags them with her fishing wire, hitching a ride through the infinite.

The four are spat out in a place Kizuna recognizes as the world where she was originally summoned, and as soon as she realizes she’s finally free of the Labyrinth, she leaps on Naofumi and spins around in giddy elation.

While the Labyrinth crisis was solved way too quickly and easily, I still enjoyed this trippy, slightly unnerving, yet fun bridge between the Tortoise arc and whatever’s to come. Similarly, while Kizuna was rapidly introduced and had to spout a lot of exposition (much of it rendered moot by their escape) Tomita made her effortlessly charming and rootable throughout.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 05 – Now She Rises

The bespectacled lady with the shotgun manages to save Shinpei’s life (and her own) not by shooting Shadow Mio, but by shooting her shadow, which is its true form. Shadow Mio glitches out, allowing the lady to set his broken arm, introduce herself as Nagumo Ryuunosuke—the same name as a novelist Shin reads—and deliver some exposition.

Basically, Nagumo lifts most of the mystery of how the shadows operate: they scan humans with light, absorb their information, and feed on human data. The two of them are only survived by staying out of sight, and can discern even a shadow that’s a really good actor by stepping on their shadow, which will cause said shadow to move on its own.

Nagumo was sent to this island to save Shinpei, and seems to be doing it out of obligation for her sister. But after what happens when the two ascend the steps to the shrine grounds, Shin might just wish Nagumo had let Shadow Mio kill him. The shadows have amassed and have made a mountain of corpses out of the festival goers. Shin arrives just in time to watch both Toki and Sou get stabbed in the back of the skull.

When Nagumo shoots Shadow Sou’s arms off before he can kill the real Mio (who was being shielded by the real Sou, which, after hearing his confession and rejecting him…goddamn) but the “lead” shadow, a four-armed humanoid made of black goo, instantly copies her form and her shotgun and shoots back. Nagumo avoids the killshot, but is still gravely wounded.

The lead shadow reaches out with a stretchy arm and restrains Shin, noticing that he bears the eye of the shadows’ “mother”, enabling him to control time. But while Shin possesses the power to reset the game here and now at the moment of his defeat, what if the boss (in this case, the lead shadow) is not only aware that there’s a reset button, but that it’s attached to a console he can simply cut the power to?

We learn that the pile of corpses, and indeed every living soul on the island that is gradually swallowed up by waves of black and blue ooze, are all an offering, a meal for the shadows’ mother, Haine. A scientist at the Hishigata Clinic observes what’s happening and concludes that Haine managed to awaken by devouring a thousand human lives. Something tells me that’s just an appetizer, as shadows can reach out into the water…

The bottom line is, everything is super fuckity-fuck-fucked in this go-around. It’s a wash; by far the worst of the bad endings Shin has experienced so far, and reminds me of the things-can-and-will-always-get-worse progression of Subaru’s loops in Re:Zero. But the option to reset still exists, in the form of the dying Nagumo’s last shotgun shell.

Ushio, who it’s clear is unique among shadows in not being evil or wanting any part of helping Haine rise, punches the lead shadow in the fact, giving Nagumo time to shoot Shin in the head. She promises to save him next time no matter what if he finds her and tells her his name.

In the interstitial plane between the previous loop and a new one, Ushio can now see and hear Ushio clearly. She embraces him from behind and warns him to be careful, for his ability to reset has a limit. Shin figures out what that is soon after resetting: his start point keeps moving further forward in time, locking what came before in stone.

In this loop he has three days, but if he fails too many times, he won’t have the time he needs to save everyone, if he can, and will eventually reset to a time after everything is fucked. Meanwhile, we learn Shadow Ushio (if that’s what she even is) washes up the same day he arrives, meaning she could theoretically go to her own funeral, Huck Finn-style.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 07 – Going Fourth

With the Orwell ordeal behind them, Menou commences her pilgrimage with Akari, a two-month journey all the way to a purported “sanctuary” for Lost Ones. And if she comes up with a way to execute Akari along the way, so much the better. Akari wouldn’t have it any other way. Their first stop after two weeks is the port town of Libelle, which sits in the shadow of a perpetual curtain of fog known as Pandemonium.

Menou and Akari trade the ominous fog for the steam of a public bath, which constitutes “splurging” for someone like Menou who lives in “honorable poverty.” Notably, Akari neither tries any hanky-panky nor compares her boobs to Menou’s—both points in her favor. Instead she simply revels in being in the presence of her “emotional oasis”.

It’s not a role Menou is particularly comfortable or experienced in playing, but she continues to play it nonetheless. Momo, who arrived at Libelle sooner by a more dangerous route (and claims to have gotten Ashuna killed in the process), gives Menou a report on the “Fourth”—a terrorist group who reject the three other classes of society—in the town. She also suggests Menou try to kill Akari with the Pandemonium.

Menou didn’t even think to do such a thing until Momo brought it up, which adds fuel to the argument that she’s now actively hesitating in execution Akari in any kind of timely fashion, using what’s at hand. That’s remedied the next day, as Menou takes Akari out on a boat ride to get a closer look at the imposing Libelle Castle, home to Countess Manon Libelle.

Akari takes her “anti-nausea medicine” without question and soon passes out. Menou, in what is an oddly Wile E. Coyote-style move, tosses Akari on a rubber raft and lets her drift into the Pandemonium. There, Akari Prime revives, immediately recognizes where she is, spots an odd beam of light cast on her head that wasn’t in previous loops, and is then gobbled up by a monster. She resets right back next to Menou, reminding her that fulfilling her solemn duty isn’t going to be so easy.

Still, that odd beam of light Akari Prime did not expect is just one of many little odd things that fill the episode’s periphery. The other odd things involve the aforementioned Manon—the leader of the Fourth in Libelle—who isn’t taken seriously by her court of older adults but may well be poisoning them with spam sandwiches while paling around with a little girl with wide eyes who is always humming…even when she’s placed into an iron maiden and gooshed. I have no idea what Manon is up to, but I’m definitely intrigued…and a little weirded out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 06 – Killing Her Properly

A part of me was disappointed with how relatively cleanly Menou’s path to redemption became when Orwell went full Genie Jafar levels of evil. But I shouldn’t have worried; Virgin Road pulls off a rip-roaringly epic mid-cour finale that’s both ass-kicking and heartwarming.

While Menou fights Orwell down below, Akari’s “blanching” is interrupted by an automated time magic spell, which revives who I’ll call Akari Prime, who knows everything that has happened in all the previous time loops she’s experienced.

It’s thrilling to see this knowing Akari easily dispatch her captors, as well as to learn that she knows Menou has been trying to kill her, but she loves her so much that if she must die, she wants no one but Menou to kill her.

Akari ZAPs herself back to a simpler, earlier version of herself, but keeps a sense of deja vu and her love for Menou, which is clearly the most important part of her existence. No wonder Akari fell for Menou so hard in such a brief time together. Akari Prime also does something pretty “mean”, but also necessary to defeat Orwell.

In the bowels of the castle, Momo and Ashuna are stalemated against the demon and red dragon. But then Akari remotely ages Momo’s most prized possession: the ribbons Menou gave her when she was little. Now, we know Menou is excellent at wielding ether but has a very short supply. But her aide is no slouch in the ether-wielding department, and possesses vast stores of the stuff.

She is so freaking pissed when the dragon’s flame burns away what’s left of her ribbons, she goes absolutely ballistic, unleashing an attack that brings half of the castle down on top of her. For one terrible moment I thought she’d ethered Ashuna, but not, the swole princess not only escapes, but has never had more fun.

Following Momo’s lead, she whips out a mega-blade to defeat the demon with no regard for the corrupt castle where she was brought up. Then it’s Game Over for Orwell at the halfway point of the episode, because Akari and Menou are reunited. That means Menou’s ether supply is no longer of any concern.

That said, it’s her against Orwell and her Red Angel automaton, but the advantage doesn’t last long when Momo, still super pissed, brings down the cathedral’s barrier and beats the red angel to a pulp. Momo takes advantage of her competent aide’s distraction to create a diversion of bubbles…and etheric camouflage.

By appearing as Flare, she’s able to make Orwell hesitate for just the few moments she needs to throw a knife at her unguarded head. But it still is guarded, as the apparently not-too-judgey cathedral itself protects her simply due to her position as Archbishop. This even surprises Orwell, who thought for a second she was a goner.

She isn’t, which means she’s still quite a handful for Menou what with her RGB wand, and Menou knows it. In order to defeat her she’ll have to use Akari’s Pure Concept and delve deeper than she ever has into Akari’s subconscious.

I lit up when I heard that, because that means Menou is going to catch a glimpse of Akari Prime, who is still in there somewhere. A trippy dream sequence ensues as Menou enters Akari’s mind while dealing with her own subconscious, which admits she was never able to become the villain Flare taught her to be.

Just as Akari always has Akari Prime in the back of her mind ready to protect her, Menou always harbored a desire to be a non-sarcastically pure, just, and strong priestess. And in a way, she has remained that, as she didn’t go along with Orwell’s scheme.

Subcon Menou is ready to take her own life with her blade when she’s stopped by Akari in the classroom of her school. There, Akari tells her she’ll be her best friend, no matter what happens.

This acknowledgement of their bond allows Menou to unlock her and Akari’s combined powers, against which Orwell’s RGB wand is absolutely no match. The white beam overwhelms the rainbow beam, and rather than her planned de-aging, Orwell’s aging is ultra-accelerated to just a few moments before her death.

She almost seems to regret having cast aside all that was just and pure for her own path, and considering it led to her ruin, I can’t blame her. But this isn’t her story, it’s that of Menou and Akari, and of Momo and Ashuna, the latter of which finds the former sleeping off her berserkness. She tells the slumbering Momo that she genuinely enjoyed fighting by her side.

In the aftermath of the battles that claimed both the Noblesse’s castle and the Faust’s cathedral, the public report is that Orwell died in battle, her heretical crimes never to be revealed. She wasn’t too big to fail, but the Faust are, which means Menou still has a job, and still has values to uphold.

In a beautiful callback to last week’s shopping, which feels like a dang year ago, Menou instantly cheers a contrite, weepy Momo up with twin red scrunchies, which immediately become her new most prized possessions. Menou also explains how the Akari now among them is a regressed version of one from a distant future, but despite “resetting”, she maintained her affection for her. As we saw, that’s a feature, not a bug, of Akari’s magecraft.

Menou decides she’ll stay by Akari’s side in order to find a way to kill her. After all, Akari is still an existential threat to the world, something Prime Akari is aware of. Because of that and her love for Menou, she not only doesn’t hold it against her, but welcomes the day Akari will kill her.

We catch a glimpse of that future in the form of a nightmare non-Prime Akari has before waking up in her hotel room with Menou. It’s definitely a nightmare for Akari Prime, because it’s the day Menou dies before she can kill her, leaving the deed to Flare.

All Akari Prime can do is keep going back, making adjustments, and maintaining her faith that one of these times around, her beloved Menou will kill her properly.

SSSS.Gridman – 12 (Fin) – Power of the Finite

“Anyone who can make kaiju is a kaiju themselves,” says Alexis Kerib, after transforming Akane herself into an enormous monster that wails out a terrible lament as it destroys what’s left of the city. Still temporary allies, Gridman (dwelling in Yuuta) asks Anti to deal with the Akane-kaiju, as he and Rikka have something else they need to do.

Akane isn’t feeling particularly good about herself, which is probably what enables Alexis to transform her and control her so easily: he thrives in the corruption of the heart, in hatred, disgust, and aloofness. He chortles when Rikka calls Akane “her friend” not because Rikka is only Akane’s programmed creation, but because he doesn’t believe there even is such a thing as friends.

Right on cue, Rikka’s friend Yuuta-Gridman picks her up in Sky Vitter (to Alexis’ bemusement), and they return to the hospital to snap Shou out of his funk. Regardless of how useless or normal he thinks he is, Yuuta tells him that Junk needs everyone there to work. The Gridman Alliance is more than just a cool nickname for their little circle, it’s the key to unlocking Gridman’s full power.

Anti succeeds in freeing Akane from her kaiju prison (which seemed to be filled with some kind of clear LCL), but Akane wonders why he bothered with someone as terrible as her. Anti fully owns his “failed creation,” since the fact he failed meant he’s more than just a kaiju, but a human.

Alexis makes no distinction between kaiju and human, or anything else, since to him it’s all below him. Because Akane is still in a bad state, he exploits her negative emotions and literally consumes her to become a kind of “Alexisman”—but the Alliance are back at the Junk Shop, and when they activate the new acceptors that appear on their wrists, a new, final form of Gridman appears: less armored and more like, well, a giant guy in a suit.

This new Gridman fights Alexis in order to free Akane once more, and has some success…until the halved Alexis simply auto-repairs. He is immortal and infinite, so however many times Gridman tries to destroy him, he will just keep coming back forever. Since Alexis has everything “of value” in Akane’s world—that is, Akane herself—he decides to head back to his realm…after killing Gridman.

But before he can skedaddle or kill Gridman, Gridman discovers a new power, and possibly his most important: The pink Grid Fixer Beam, which repairs not only the city Akane created and then destroyed, but succeeds in rescuing Akane’s heart from Alexis’ clutches. The Fixer Beam basically deletes him from the world.

Finally, free, Akane worries about what comes next. “A big world’s too much for me!” she laments, because she’s such a weak, pathetic coward. Rikka, Yuuta, and Shou tell her that no one’s perfect, which is why they—which is why everyone—relies on others.

Her world afforded her godhood and a kind of immortality, but it’s run it’s course, and now it’s time to return to the world of mortality and the finite. Akane’s grateful to Rikka for saving her, but also wracked with guilt over the things she’s done that cannot be undone with any Fixer Beam.

Rikka tells her not to sweat it, and gives her the gift of a wallet that matches her own (and also happens to be the same color as Akane’s hair). Rikka wants Akane to stay in the world and be together with her, but tells Akane not to let that wish come true. No one can force Akane to leave; she has to want to do it; to return to her real life.

With that, Akane disappears from Rikka’s side. Gridman & Co. say their goodbyes to Rikka and Shou before returning to the Hyper World, and not long after that Yuuta wakes up in the junk shop, the Gridman Alliance now just a friendship of three kids. The puckish humanoid kaiju who once guided Yuuta heals Anti, who is grateful, and now sports both a human and a kaiju eye—his past and present.

Finally, in the real world—as in, a live action world—a girl with long black hair much like Rikka’s slowly wakes up and rises from the bed, the Akane-colored wallet on her dresser. This, it seems, is the Real Akane, who left the world where she was a god (i.e., her dreams) and returned to the world she thought she couldn’t handle.

Now the ending with Rikka and Akane makes more sense: Akane made the purple-haired Akane to be her ideal avatar, and made Rikka, who more closely resembled her real-life self, to love her. Ergo, in her world, she loved herself. But Rikka taught her the power of friendship, and the need to wake up from dreams and not sink into Alexis-like abysses of darkness and despair.

A lot of this might sound corny, but the show expresses these well-worn ideals so earnestly and powerfully, it all comes together and works pretty well, which can be said of the show as a whole. Despite only catching a tiny portion of the references to Gridman and Gridman-esque works, SSSS was never not a pleasure to watch and listen to.

The ending could be said to be too neat and tidy, squandering a universe of potential alternate directions. But at the end of the day the lesson holds: just as friendships have value because we aren’t infinite or immortal beings, an imperfect finite ending will do just fine.

SSSS.Gridman – 11 – Backed Into A Corner

No matter how many kaiju Akane made and Alexis embiggened, they were never able to defeat Gridman. As a god suddenly hemmed in by the intolerable rule that her kaiju will and must always lose, she finally snapped and took matters into her own physical hands.

Rather than use her box cutter to carve a new kaiju, she stabbed Yuuta with it, then wanders away in a haze, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the torturous cycle is over.

It’s not that easy. She missed Yuuta’s vitals, so she didn’t kill him, though he seems to be in some kind of coma. With all the custodian kaiju beheaded, nothing in the city resets, and the chaos just remains. Worse still, as far as Alexis is concerned, nothing’s over.

Lex believes Anti to be the “next Gridman in line” and thus needs Akane to keep creating more kaiju for him to use. When she categorically refuses (pointedly saying she “can’t”, not “won’t”), he simply brings back all the kaiju she already made…at the same time.

A scenario entirely beyond Akane’s control and will thus unfolding, Anti arrives in the hospital room, not to apologize for what he did as a kaiju but to settle his debts as a human. He’ll fight off the kaiju as Gridknight, as Neon Genesis set to work repairing the computer so Yuuta and Gridman wake back up (they can’t sortie without Gridman).

In a brief dream sequence before he wakes up, Yuuta sees Gridman in the mirror, and it dawns on him: He’s not Yuuta; not really. Rather, he’s Gridman dwelling within Yuuta, using his body and mind as a vessel. The matter all along, then wasn’t that Yuuta had amnesia; he was never Yuuta to begin with, and thus whatever memories he had as Yuuta were as repressed as the real Yuuta himself, whom we’ve apparently never even met.

Shou is feeling particularly useless this week, and we can’t really blame him; aside from being the only person with the time to stay by Yuuta’s bedside when he wakes up, he is pretty useless this week. He can’t dissuade Gridman from a course of action that could get his friend killed.

Instead, Yuuta and Neon Genesis mobilize and fight beside a battered Anti against the kaiju “greatest hits,” destroying them all. Alexis can bring back the defeated kaiju all he wants; the fact remains they exist only to be beaten by Gridman.

Meanwhile, Rikka seeks out Akane, not to seek revenge or to give her a piece of her mind, but just to be there for her as a friend. Yes, Rikka may only think she’s Akane’s friend because Akane “set it up” that way, but Rikka doesn’t care; it doesn’t change the fact they are friends, through and through.

Before Rikka can hear what Akane thinks of her, they’re interrupted by Alexis, who labels their conversation “pointless” and tells Akane that new kaiju are needed post-haste. Again Akane tells him she can no longer make kaiju, but Alexis rephrases his position: he’s going to have a new kaiju, even if he has to transform Akane herself…which he promptly does, much to her and Rikka’s bewilderment.

Thus the downward spiral of Akane’s world reaches a new nadir: in which the creator of the world herself prepares to become just another one of the monsters programmed to fight Gridman. This seems to be breaking some fundamental rules of the “game” that’s been played so far, but Alexis doesn’t seem to mind. If Akane really does become another kaiju, isn’t she just as doomed to lose as the ones she created…or is that just another rule poised to be broken?

Bunny Girl Senpai – 06 – Quantum Entanglement-by-Butt-Kickin’

On the eve of finals, Mai decides she’s used enough of the stick and whips out a carrot in the form of her bunny girl suit, which she wears while tutoring Sakuta. Why the change of pace? She witnessed him stand up for Tomoe at the station, and thinks better of him for working so hard even for a fake girlfriend. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is that Mai isn’t the slightest bit threatened by Tomoe.

The finals come and go, as does the last day of school and the start of summer break: July 18. Sakuta and Tomoe have been dating three weeks now, but Tomoe assures him she has an ironclad plan for the breakup. After a fun final date at the beach, she shakes his hand and thanks him for his help. She’ll simply tell her friends she dumped him when she realized he only had feelings for Mai—something that happens to be true.

But I knew, after that “final” date, there was no way July 19 would come. Instead, July 18 resets, as I predicted. What I didn’t expect was that Tomoe isn’t aware of the reset…or at least says she isn’t. They go on their beach date a second, then a third time.

Sakuta starts to suspect Tomoe may be lying about not knowing about the looping. It’s confirmed when she turns around and smiles at him during the principal’s address; something she hadn’t done in previous iterations. Not only does Sakuta know for sure that she’s lying, but he knows why.

On the fourth July 18 Sakuta throws Tomoe for a loop (for a change), taking her to Enoshima, the place they were originally going to go on their first date, but he’s making it their last. They climb the prodigious stairs to the shrine, and he fills out a votive tablet for good relationships. Tomoe thinks it sinful, since their relationship isn’t real, but he tells her that when they both agreed to do this, they agreed to to it all the way, even to hell.

Moreover, it isn’t sinful for Tomoe, since she’s actually in love with Sakuta. She plays dumb, but once they’re alone on the observation deck, he finally gets her to admit that she’s aware of what she’s doing, and why. Sakuta tells her flat out that whether she repeats time a hundred or a hundred million times, his feelings for Mai won’t change.

Tomoe counters that her feelings have changed. At first, she only meant for the fake relationship to help her save face. But every time she loops, her feelings for Sakuta only keep building up. A stirring monologue ensues, with Touyama Nao effortlessly bringing the feels. Finally, Tomoe does what needs to be done to move on: to stop lying to herself confess her love, clearly and loudly.

The next time Sakuta wakes up, it’s not July 18, or July 19; it’s June 27 (again). Tomoe sent them all the way back to the day she was asked out by the guy her friend likes. This time, she turns him down properly, resolved to face the social consequences…which don’t turn out to be that bad; her friends don’t end up ostracize her. Better still, she can still be good friends with Sakuta, which was always part of her plan.

As for Sakuta, he gets to redo asking Mai out, and she responds just as he’d hoped, as she steals a kiss to express how she feels about him. The next three weeks proceed as they did the last time, with the two differences being Sakuta knows what’s going to happen (even the exam questions) and he and Tomoe aren’t fake dating. They don’t have to.

It was, after all, nought but a simulation of the future, and yet still just as real as the future to come. In her traditional casual science-y explanation, Futaba surmises that Sakuta was drawn into the looping with Tomoe due to “quantum entanglement”, which happens when two particles collide. In this case, Tomoe and Sakuta kicking each other’s butts. Will this show’s delicious cleverness never cease? I for one hope not.

It certainly wastes no time getting the next arc started, as the episode closes with Sakuta meeting a middle school girl who just happens to share the name of his first crush: Makinohara Shouko.

SSSS.Gridman – 04 – Truly Vexing to Watch

Akane is pretty sure Yuuta is Girdman, but not 100% sure. She wants to investigate further, which includes questioning Rikka when the two take the bus to school on a scorcher of a day. The two also end up joining Rikka’s friends Namiko and Hass on a group date with the Youtube group of college boys called Arcadia, despite the fact neither Rikka nor Akane are really into group dating…or any dating at all.

Yuuta doesn’t really like the idea of Rikka going on any kind of date that doesn’t involve him, and Gridman can sense he’s troubled about it (though Yuuta tells him not to worry about it). Yuuta and Shou decide to basically shadow the group date, as it involves two women they’re both emotionally invested in (in Shou’s case, Akane; in Yuuta’s case Rikka).

Neither really ever had anything to worry about; the only two women remotely  interested in Arcadia are Namiko and Hass. Akane is far more interested in learning why Rikka is spending more time with the guy she suspects to be aligned with her arch-enemy Gridman.

Akane also ditches the other girls at her earliest convenience, and succeeds in killing all but one of them with a kaiju. Rikka later catches on to the fact three of the four members of the group were killed and erased from the collective memory of society (including her friends), so she meets with the last surviving member, Yamato, to warn him of his impending doom.

She’s almost too late, as the fog that serves as the precursor to the latest kaiju attack envelops Yamato. It’s Samurai Calibur who ends up saving them both from the kaiju. Yuuta and Gridman deploy, but they end up having to fight not only the insectoid kaiju that killed the other members of Arcadia, but Item as well, who is singularly interested in defeating Gridman and nothing else.

All four members of Neon Genesis decide to sortie at once, but when combined with Gridman’s deployment, the computer they’re all working through basically freezes, freezing all of them in turn. Rikka scares the shit out of Shou by unplugging the computer, then plugging it back in and rebooting it, but doing so actually solves the problem, as the whole of Neon Genesis simply isn’t able to sortie simultaneously.

Instead, only one of them, the tank from last week, sorties, combining with Gridman into Gridman Max, defeating the insectoid kaiju. Item then reaches his time limit and reverts to his human state. It’s another victory, albeit a close one.

Later, at the shop, Yuuta works up the courage to ask Rikka out to grab something to eat, but she misinterprets it as a suggestion for the whole group to have a meal together. Mind you, Yuuta could mend the misunderstanding with two words: “just us,” but of course he doesn’t, mimicking Wile E. Coyote in the “trying something only once” strategy.

This was an episode in which the large-scale battles between Gridman and kaiju took a backseat to the high school romantic drama unfolding between Yuuta, Rikka, and Akane. Yuuta has proved pretty inept at getting Rikka to notice him in the way he’d prefer, but he should have plenty more opportunities, especially since she doesn’t have the slightest interest in Arcadia’s Yamato.

SSSS.Gridman – 03 – Gridman, I Hate You!

It’s a rainy day in Tokyo when the newest kaiju appears, and this one seems different, because Akane isn’t making a model, but interacting with a small silver-haired boy named Anti who can transform into a kaiju. Why does he eat like he does, and why does hate Gridman so much? We don’t know. For that matter, we don’t know why Akane hates Gridman and wants him dead so badly, aside from having lost to him twice.

In any case, the Gridman Alliance is collected by Calibur, and before Rikka can apologize for not answering Yuuta’s phone call, Yuuta heads into action—and once again has his ass handed to him. Combined with Yuuta’s worry that he may be fighting/killing a human inside his opponent, he doesn’t fight back, even with Calibur by his side, and the two LOSE to Anti, much to Akane’s elation.

Rikka and Shou are stunned. They fear Yuuta and Calibur are dead, and in lieu of knowing what to do next, they wait in the shop and snipe at each other out of frustration. Their quarrel is broken up by the arrival of the “Neo Genesis Junior High Students” a team allied with Calibur and Gridman (and whose name is an homage to Evangelion). They tell Rikka simply to call Yuuta, and to her and Shou’s great relief, he is alive, and Gridman is simply regenerating. Before long he’s back in the fight.

One of the members of Neon Genesis joins the battle in the form of a battle tank, and combines with Gridman to form a new set of extra-chunky arms and fists with which to defeat Anti, who “runs out of time” in kaiju mode and reverts to human form, after which he’s basically disowned by a furious Akane.

Back at Junk, Rikka apologizes to Yuuta, which is something I think is way overblown in the grand scheme of things (I mean, people miss calls; she was trying to help someone she thought was in need), while her mom (who is voiced by the same actor who portrayed Haruka in FLCL) wonders where so many new people suddenly showed up in her shop.

While Gridman’s defeat was a nice change of pace, the fact it was resolved so easily—with Rikka and Shou simply sitting around until the cavalry arrived—kind of gutted the suspense. Everything is in a very bad way, and then moments later everything’s fine and dandy.

As for why Akane is doing what she’s doing, where exactly Anti came from, and other mysteries, lets just say I’m not holding my breath for satisfying explanations. Perhaps it would be best to just sit back and enjoy the action…it would just be nice if it meant more.

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