Spy x Family – 23 – The Flames of War

The Campbell siblings have no shortage of dirty tricks to try to stop the Phonys, from a net that moves up and down, a wind machine that affects trajectories, to a hidden sniper firing court-colored rubber bullets. But even they couldn’t have known they’d be up against a couple of elite spies.

Throw adversity at a couple of lunatics like Twilight and Nightfall, and they’re going to keep finding a way around it. Once they’re both in rhythm making impossibly acrobatic yet precise moves, it’s game, set, and match. The Campbells poked a couple of bears, and simply got mauled.

Whether it was Cloverworks or Wit Studio that animated this episode (or both), the “tennis” action was never not fantastic looking, adding a sense of legitimacy to a thoroughly farcical game. When it comes time to claim the painting, Cavi suddenly says it’s the one piece he can’t part with.

But Loid and Fiona prepared for the possibility the secret police would get to Campbell before they got to the painting, so Loid simply disguises himself as Campbell’s valet and pulls the ol’ painting switcheroo, Thomas Crown Affair-style. The mission is a complete success, and the two spies high-five.

Fiona drops Loid off to find Yor in the park with Anya, and decides she needs to challenge and defeat Twilight’s Strix wife right then and there … in a game of tennis. Thanks to Anya, we can witness Fiona’s ridiculous thought about how it’ll go down, as well as Yor’s worry about Fiona replacing her.

Yor also plays the bumbling novice perfectly when she whiffs on what starts off as a badass assassin’s serve. But the thing is, she didn’t whiff; she simply hit the ball so hard it went through the strings of the racket like Play-Doh through an extruder (or human beings in Cube). The concassé’d ball is a little masterpiece of comic timing and trick animation.

Even when Yor holds back on her serve, she hits the ball so hard it goes faster than sound, creates a shock wave that digs into the ground, and lights up like a comet. Fiona tries her best to absorb the serve and volley it back, but her racket simply isn’t up to it, smashing to bits.

Fiona, defeated utterly, runs to her Trabant and races off, not letting Loid or Yor see her mask crack to reveal the seething, churning tempest of emotion within. Yor, who is simply relieved she fought Fiona off this time, very empatically tells Loid that she Won, leaving out the “for Us.”

The punchline of this two-parter is that while the code hidden in the painting indeed leads to finding Zacharis’ Dossier, but it turns out to be a diary filled with photos of pretty young actresses. These are the “dark secrets” that could “re-ignite a war”, not between East and West, but between Zacharis and his wife. I also loved the uncommented-upon sight of the gaudy rings Fiona took from Campbell on Handler’s hand.

But after the punchline comes a moment of realization for Loid when he sees that Zacharis managed to maintain a happy marriage and family after burying away his creepy dossier. Keeping a marriage and family happy isn’t easy, as evidenced by a clearly frustrated-looking Yor at the end.

I imagine she was underwhelmed by Loid’s reaction to her win over Fiona, and still worried about Fiona continuing to try to usurp her. Sure enough, the episode wraps up with Fiona in the mountains strengthening her serve with a racket made from a boulder as the wildlife watches in morbid curiosity.

Urusei Yatsura – 08 – A Ran for Her Money

After seven episodes of floating around class causing a commotion, Lum officially enrolls at the school, surprising Ataru so much he nearly chokes to death. He insists Lum attending school will “cramp his style” but I know not of what style he speaks.

Lum isn’t the only transfer student either: the other is the newest addition to this boisterous and chaotic bunch: Ran, Lum’s childhood friend. Ataru starts hitting on her immediately, which is when Lum recognizes her and asks for a talk behind the school.

Once there, Lum and Ran greet each other like the old friends they are, and Ran says she’s disguised herself as a human so she could see Lum. But when reminiscing about old times brings up the boy they both fell for—Rei. who looks like a complete bore—Ran’s personality suddenly curdles into that of an enraged ogre.

Ran hasn’t forgotten how Lum stole Rei from her, and has come to earth to take revenge on her. Specifically, she intends to use her succubus-like ability to suck the life out of people with her mouth on an unwitting, two-timing Ataru who will be all too eager to kiss.

Lum tries her best to stick close to Ataru, committed to protecting her darling despite the fact he’d still cheat on her in front of her face without batting an eye. This episode does not show Ataru at his best, but I suppose it shows him at his most libido-first Ataru-ness.

Ran manages to get Ataru alone under a tree, but is unable to apply a smooch due to Lum flattening Ataru at the last minute with a tatami mat. I guess the injuries he receives as she keeps him away from Ran’s mouth aren’t as bad as what would happen if she kissed him.

During the cavalry clash, Ataru gets the chance to witness what happens as Ran accidentally kisses another boy, who ends up transforming into a feeble old bansai-watering fogey. And yet, Ataru doesn’t care in the slightest. He’s always been about the hunt. If capturing the hot babe of his dreams will result in his death, it will have been worth it.

Yet the day passes with Lum successfully defending her baka-darling from Ran’s lips. Ran slips back into her more mild-mannered mode, only to get all worked up again when she remembers the wedge that split the two of them apart: her would-be darling Rei—whom I must point out chose Lum over her.

The second segment involves Ran saying, Poochie-style, that she’ll be returning to her home planet shortly, but wants to spend one more day of tea and cookies with her best friend and her darling. Why she chooses to relay this message via self-destructing Ran doll is a mystery I fear we’ll never solve.

Ditto Ran’s insistence on passing as human while her house is very clearly an alien spacecraft. Ran makes sure she looks her cutest and most innocent, as she tries to convince Lum that 1.) she’s really leaving and 2.) she’s given up on stealing Ataru from her. That fiction evaporates when Lum feeds her drugged cookies to a sentient vase that then falls fast asleep.

But Ran has more than one trick up her lavender sleeve, as she’s preparing a copy of Ataru in her oven, identical in every way except for an apostrophe near his head (looking like a kind of floating ahoge). That apostrophe is actually one of the first things the real Ataru notices, and he snatches it just as Ran grabs him and returns him to Lum, thinking he’s the copy.

Ataru doesn’t know it, but he accidentally saved his ass by grabbing that little thingy. As Lum forces him to leave with her, Ran storms out holding a wholly deflated Ataru clone, madder than ever. That night, Lum, ever the optimist, wishes she’d tried to get along better with Ran before she returned to her home planet.

Of course, Ran doesn’t return to her home planet, but back to Ataru and Lum’s school the next morning, still maniacally determined to steal Ataru from Lum and suck the vitality out of him. So for all intents and purposes, she’s here to stay … and I’m fine with that! The more intensely-haired shiny alien beauties, the better, I say. I’m simple like that!

Ran is, you’d probably guessed voiced by the incomparable Hanazawa Kana, and I’m glad Urusei Yatsura saved one of the biggest guns in its massive seiyuu arsenal for a character with a split personality; the better to utilize Hanazawa’s fantastic vocal range. She has the ability to jump from syrupy-sweet to pure venom on a dime.

She also makes Ran, for all her flaws, a lot more likable than if someone else voiced her. The episode also wisely kept Shinobu, Mendou, and all the other characters out to the periphery so it could focus on the Ran-Ataru-Lum triangle at hand. I’m sure it won’t be long before Rei arrives on Earth to try to reclaim Lum’s heart. His efforts are sure to be met with failure, since Lum only has eyes for Darling now.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 18 – No Leash is Power

Anya attends a school, so it’s not all arts and crafts. There are quiz and test scores, and even though Anya was confident she scored well, she ends up with supplemental lessons—and having to see her smug “friendly” face perfectly imitated by the high-scoring Damian. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Anya decides she’ll simply read Damian’s mind to attain a good score on the upcoming midterm exams—for which the highest scores get Stella and the failing ones get Bolts. But there’s a snag: Anya’s telepathy doesn’t work on the New Moon. To it’s credit, SxF doesn’t bother explaining why. What matters is that Anya will have to study for real.

Enter “Uncle” Yuri as a tutor. Yuri is immediately childishly envious of Loid’s “gremlin” of a spawn for getting to live with his dear sister, but when Yor give him her biggest smile, he resolves to tutor Anya gently but firmly. They study all day, and end up exhausted on the floor.

When Yuri asks Anya how she think she did on the grammar lessons and Anya asks what grammar is, his patience is exhausted and he leaves … but not before sampling some of Yor’s freshly-baked treats, which he chomps down on and then joy-vomits in the hall. When Loid comes home, he’s dismayed to learn that the whole time he was there Yuri tutored Anya in language arts, which are not even on the midterms.

This leads to the second segment of the episode, as he takes drastic measure to ensure Anya doesn’t get expelled due to failing grades. The high security North Tower of the school contains a vault where all the students’ exams are stored. Loid disguises as an instructor to infiltrate the vault and alter Anya’s scores.

However, someone had the same idea, and hired “Daybreak”, Twilight’s self-professed Number One Rival. His methods for infiltrating the tower and vault are about as thoughtful, subtle, and discreet as smashing cans of tomato soup with a sledgehammer at a funeral. And yet somehow he avoids the watching eye of guards and makes it inside without getting arrested.

Loid decides to help Daybreak get in so that his loud boorish actions will mask his own infiltration efforts. Once he opens the vault, Daybreak bonks him on the head and drags him in. Because Daybreak had his spy notes written on his hand, he knows he’s there to alter the Desmond brothers’ exams.

Once he’s done, Daybreak launches into a celebratory monologue, and when he prepares to leave an “autograph” among the scores, Loid can no longer pretend to be passed out and protests against Daybreak’s ridiculously un-spy-like behavior. To this, Daybreak simply asks Loid to tell everyone about how awesome he is.

Upon inspecting the exams, Loid sees that Daybreak doctored the Desmonds’ answers so they’d fail, an assumes one of their father’s business rivals hired the buffoon. He reverts the answers to what they were before moving on to Anya’s exam.

When she passes and ends up ranked 213th (compared to 46th for Becky and 11th for Damian), I assumed Loid only altered her scores a little so as no to rouse suspicion. But while it takes all four of her exam scores combined to exceed 100, the fact is she passed all four on her own; Loid didn’t have to alter anything. So no Stella, but no Bolts either. Meanwhile, Daybreak is fired for failing his mission. I wonder if he’ll cross Twilight’s path again …

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – 05 – A Patch of Black Ice

For those girls (and guys) for whom the fiery Guel Jetark isn’t their cup of tea, they have the apparent opposite in Elan Ceres. They call him the “ice prince”, and long to melt his icy heart. If they only knew. Elan rarely duels, but he’s 7-0 after winning a 3-on-1 affair that was never close.

Elan is also working on behalf of Piel Technologies, but unlike Guel, he’s treated more employee than son to their four-woman leadership group. After winning, he surprises Suletta with a phone call … and asks her out on a date. Her Earth House girls go giddy (Chuchu excepted).

In another demonstration of how different she and Elan are, Suletta calls her mom, who is supportive of her daughter branching out and getting to know others better—the move forward, gain two ethos. But after getting off the phone with her daughter, Lady Prospera gets a report about Peil “making its move”—faster than anticipated.

Meanwhile, Elan hasn’t been talking to Suletta because she’s a friend; indeed, I do not believe he understands such a concept. He’s been pumping her for information and context on Aerial on behalf of the company he serves. We also see that he’s an “enhanced person” created for the sole purpose of piloting a Gundam.

This culminates in Suletta letting Elan into Aerial’s cockpit for a routine survey of the testing area (which is definitely an idea for a date). He observes how easily she pilots Aerial, and she says she’s never felt suffering doing so, but actually always feels at ease.

Elan then asks to pilot Aerial on his own—an astonishing ask but one Suletta happily grants because she thinks Elan’s a friend. Piloting it convinces him that Aerial is the key to “breaking the curse” of the suffering he feels every time he takes the controls of his mobile suits.

When he returns to Suletta, the kindly mask has dropped. Her usefulness to him and the faux friendship he fostered is no longer needed. Now he has the information he needs, and she’s just an annoyance, especially with her entitled belief that Aerial is “family.”

Seeing this honest side of Elan upsets Suletta, and his cold words cause her to cry. That’s just when Guel arrives, sees Suletta’s eyes, and demands to know what Elan is doing, with the answer determining whether they duel. That’s just fine with Elan. Whether he intended to use Suletta as bait or not, Guel’s timing works out perfectly.

While it’s good of Guel to stand up for Suletta, she hasn’t quite turned against the hope that Elan is a good person and a friend, so she objects to the duel, but it’s not her call: Shaddiq tells her if she doesn’t like current conditions, she’s welcome to change them in a subsequent duel.

The stakes are set: if Guel wins, Elan will stay away from Suletta from now on. If Elan wins—and I had a feeling he was going to win easily—he gets to duel Suletta. Guel’s red mobile suit is out of commission, he uses his brother Lauda’s Dilanza, even though their father forbade him from dueling.

That Guel is willing to incur more of his dear father’s wrath speaks to the genuine affection he’s gained for Suletta and his desire to keep others from making her cry. Underneath the bluster he’s an honorable guy.

But honor, like smiling, laughing, birthdays or family, is not something in Elan’s programming. Suletta’s been interacting with a doll designed to learn as much about her for his employers’ sake, as well as his own (lifting the aforementioned curse). Elan surprises all when he arrives at the duel in a new suit—the Pharact. It’s a menacing, bat-like suit with its own drone swarm system.

It looks every bit like the dark sibling of Suletta’s Aerial. Guel is mad as hell, and kicks up a lot of dust in the dueling ground. This unwittingly creates the conditions by which he is defeated: the dust, charged with static electricity, gets into the gaps and joints in Dilanza’s armor.

Elan’s drones create laser-like webs that in concert with the dust Guel himself kicked up, has the effect of an EMP, shutting down Dilanza’s systems and leaving him immobilized. Elan takes an easy win, and the Peil Group’s engineer (and Elan’s minder) confronts Lady Prospera, who concludes there was “another witch all along.” The Peil woman addresses her as senpai, suggesting she was part of the same research group that developed Aerial.

Elan again makes a prompt phone call to Suletta, to arrange another “date.” This time, it will take the form of an official school duel, and if he wins, he will claim Aerial for himself. And this, folks, is why Suletta should have probably listened to everyone telling her to stay away from people from the three branches—including Guel, someone from those branches.

Now, I can’t imagine Suletta will lose to Elan next week—especially if Miorine lends a hand, nor to I believe Aerial will fall into the hands of a rival company. The only question is whether Suletta, who is no doubt still confused and hurt by Elan’s treatment of her, can switch gears and do what needs to be done to defeat her most implacable enemy yet.

As for Elan? I’ll admit to hating him more than Guel now, but I also understand the kid has suffered his whole life, is looking for release, and the only thing in his way is a silly girl who calls a Gundam “family”, a word that’s meaningless to him since he never had one.

In Elan Ceres, Peil created an organic machine to pilot their metal one. But Suletta is, if nothing else, an ordinary human fueled her whole life by love and support. That should prove the edge in this duel.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 09 – All Aboard the Friend-Ship

Don’t get me wrong: I like Izumi, and feel he’s both delighted and transcended his male damsel-in-distress archetype. That said, it’s not his name on he show, so to have a whole episode where he’s basically in bed sick is a great opportunity to explore Shikimori’s other relationships, starting with Inuzuka.

Inuzuka has known Izumi far longer than Shikimori, and so when you factor Shikimori’s need to compete in everything, that disadvanage is a sore spot. Thankfully, by spending some time with her (and due to the sleuthing of Hachimitsu) he learns she doesn’t just see him as some kind of rival, but that she often projects her big brother on him.

It’s gratifying that while Shikimori is initially competitive and pouty, she ultimately chooses not to usurp Izumi’s wishes for Inuzuka, not her, to take his notes and visit him while he’s sick. She can rise above those more possessive aspects of her personality.

After the Inuzuka segment, the episode becomes a tribute to girlfriends, i.e. girls who are friends. Nekozaki shines as she and Shikimori spot Kamiya at the bookstore. She invites Kamiya to join them in hanging out and Kamiya accepts, which makes Nekozaki’s day as she’s always wanted to get closer.

Little does she know how close Shikimori and Kamiya already are thanks to their shared adoration for Izumi and their intense rooftop encounter, and after returning from the bathroom she assumes the two became instant best buds in her brief absence.

The truth is that they’d already become closer on that rooftop, but hadn’t quite had the opportunity to build upon that moment to expand a relationship for which there was no reason not to become more of a friendship. Nekozaki is a useful facilitator for that purpose here.

In a wonderful segment, Shikimori and Kamiya team up against two aggressive but also highly virtuous gyarus on the basketball court, mopping the floor with the former high school champs with ease thanks to some baller teamwork. The power of friendship is on full display, but since it’s two-on-two Nekozaki is the odd woman out, and plays referee.

The girls’ bond is revealed to Nekozaki first by watching the two interact at the mall and now play together on the court. Nekozaki heard the chatter from other classmates establishing Kamiya as either a stuck-up/aloof cool beauty or a tragic loner, but the Kamiya she watched today seemed nothing like that externally-manufactured concept.

Later, when Nekozaki is walking with Kamiya, she wonders what or who brought about this change, because from Nekozaki’s perspective, it looked like Kamiya was carrying some pain. Kamiya isn’t quite ready to say who, but she will say that that person told her to treasure what she feels.

Kamiya apologizes for never saying yes to Nekozaki’s many offers to hang out in the past. But being the sweetheart she is, Nekozaki apologies right back for coming off as a little pushy about it. Nekozaki did it not just because she sensed Kamiya’s hurt, but also because she recognized Kamiya was a person it would be an honor being friends with.

Nekozaki is perfectly fine letting Kamiya take her time discovering more of her feelings, and when she’s ready, Nekozaki will be there to hear her or be a shoulder to cry on. Nekozaki wants nothing more than for Kamiya to smile from the bottom of her heart. That desire is at the heart of friendship … where everyone is welcome aboard and no one goes overboard.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 01 (First Impressions) – Family Knots

Umino Nagi is a straight-A student at a good school who spends most of his time studying and battling his academic rival. He was also accidentally switched at birth. Now that he’s sixteen, he’s going to meet his birth parents. While his sister Sachi, who has been his sister for those sixteen years, decries her brother as an egg-headed loner, her tough act quickly falls when faced with the possibility of losing her brother.

Nagi pats her head and assures Sachi he has no intention of changing his family this late in the game. On his way to the meeting, he encounters a beautiful young woman with twin tails in a frilly dress, seemingly about to jump to her death. Nagi leaps into action, but inadvertently gropes the girl while trying to keep her from jumping. And she wasn’t going to really jump, she was just recording something for her Insta.

While not the most auspicious (or original) manner of meeting, the two soon bond over a common problem: family issues. The girl, one Amano Erika, is trying to start drama in order to convince her mom that she’s not getting married, while Nagi is a mix-up baby. When he learns what school he attends, she decides that he will be her fake boyfriend so she can gt the wedding called off.

When Nagi bristles at this plan and tries to walk away, she holds up very crisp 8K video of him groping her. While I wish there had been one of those *ding-dong* sounds accompanied by a PSA saying “Let’s not blackmail people”, this puts Nagi in a bind, and surrenders. The speed with which Erika resorts to an underhanded tactic is later revealed to be a clue about who she really is and where she comes from.

Despite having the wherewithal to blackmail and mocking Nagi for having never dated anyone, Erika has to google what boyfriends and girlfriends do. Both agree “doin’ it” isn’t a viable option, so she settles for photos of her with her bae. She gets it in her head that if they wear matching badass outfits and he looks tough, her parents will be more inclined to back down. Thus in the middle of this fake boyfriend ploy, they have a dress-up date.

Despite Erika blowing over $3,800 (on her limitless credit card, confirming she’s a rich girl in net worth) none of the photos they take look genuine, but rather look exactly like what they are: staged. Erika ends up going with their first photo, which was taken on accident and thus totally candid and natural, giving you “a sense of the air of the moment,” as she rather poetically put it. Alas, it doesn’t work, and her parents urge her to stop messing around and head home before curfew.

Before she can, Nagi enters another very well-worn but in this case nicely-executed trope of accidental romance anime: revealing surprising toughness when the girl is threatened by three stalkers. This happens very suddenly after an episode that had a nice steady flow, and I feel like another comic disclaimer not to commit assault should have popped up, but I still like how it revealed a new side to Erika: that Nagi’s former delinquent parents brought him up to win any fight he found himself in.

Erika genuinely appreciates his chivalrous behavior, and when her car shows up to take her home, lets him know she’ll delete the blackmail video, something I appreciated being resolved here and now rather than continue to loom over Nagi. Erika reveals that because she’s “like this” she has no friends, but that she and Nagi felt like friends for a day and it was fun. She also says, claiming to be joking later, that if it were him she had to marry, she might not have as much of a problem with it.

Naturally, when Nagi arrives to meet his birth parents, he learns both they and his own parents have arranged for their two kids to marry, so that they can all be one happy family. They just assumed the photo meant they’d already met and were dating!

Tha means his birth parents’ kid, the one he was switched with, is Erika, which explains why she has more of a delinquent streak in her (and sense of street fashion!) than a hoity-toity rich princess. In keeping with the nature she inherited form her birth parents, she follows through on her promise to punch her fiancé the way Nagi punched those punks.

That is one hell of a conceit, and once you suspend your disbelief such a ridiculous arrangement would ever be made between two very different pairs of parents without any input from their children, it looks to be an extremely fun one too. A Couple of Cuckoos arrives fashionably late but looks great and has a goofy but engaging concept, while the 24-episode run means we’ll have ample time to dig into who Nagi and Erika are and how they handle this arrangement.

The two cours also means there’ll be ample time to tell three parallel relationships: between Nagi and Erika, the kids switched at birth, between Nagi and Sachi, siblings not related by blood, and finally the surprise reveal of Nagi’s aforementioned academic rival, who is also his crush, Segawa Hiro (Touyama Nao), whom he’s vowed to confess to once he’s usurped her class ranking throne. Did I mention she can’t remember his name? It’s all a big, beautiful mess!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo 24th Ward – 02 – Fifth Wheel

Shuuta, Ran, Kouki, Mari, and Asumi have been friends since they were little, but in a flashback to those halcyon days, we see that even then Mari was in a state of turmoil rising out of the fact that…well, she wasn’t Asumi. Asumi was the glue that kept them all together; indeed, she was the one who declared RGB was a thing. And now she’s gone.

After years of being a kind of fifth wheel, Mari suddenly found herself one of four, and the estrangement of RGB resulted. That said, she’s still close to all three, especially Shuu, who is her neighbor. Their rooms are even across from one another, so she can leap between their houses to hang out—an arrangement I’ve always longed for. But Shuu is still convinced Asumi could still be alive, shuttering a window Mari can’t leap through.

As Mari meets with each of the members of RGB currently having a post-memorial fight, we also get flashbacks centered on each member. Asumi, who established RGB, deploys them where she believes their skills are most needed—even if it’s conscripting Shuu for goalkeeper duty on the sports field. As a grade schooler Mari joked that she “just can’t win” against Asumi…and that’s seemingly borne out in both past and present.

When Mari checks in on Ran and DoRed, he shows her a mural honoring Asumi while also depicting her as a badass avenging angel, a glimpse of a possible Asumi that never was since her life was snatched away so early. This mural reminds Mari of the time Asumi had Ran paint a mural in the bathhouse. Asumi was always taking the initiative and inspiring action; Mari was always in the background smiling.

Last but not least is Asumi’s actual big brother Kouki. She’s ostensibly there to gather info on a restaurant at the big modern mall administered by Suidou’s family’s Zaibatsu, which is not only her home shopping district’s main rival for the upcoming Gourmet Festival, but also a threat to her district’s very survival. But she’s also kinda sorta there to mediate RGB’s latest  tiff.

Her meeting with Kouki coincides with a Kouki-centric flashback, in which he is utterly failing to hand out flyers for a previous GourFes. Asumi, assigned to another section and having already passed out all of her flyers, urges her brother to wear a smile and appear more friendly if he wants to pass his flyers out. Before long, all the major players in the district are out to help market the Festival. Asumi, bursting with energy and charisma, simply drew everyone towards her, like a magnet-girl.

Back in the present, while walking the dog that got her in so much trouble last week, Mari ends up overhearing a conversation between her old teacher Mr. Shirakaba and SARG officer Chikushi. She learns that Mon Jungle, her family’s restaurant Itadaki’s rival at the new mall, is run by a shady quasi-gang called Yabusame. She emerges from her hiding spot after Chikushi leaves, and Shirakaba assures her the GourFes won’t be rigged.

This leads to a flashback involving Shirakaba, whose students (RGB, Asumi, and Mari) want to keep the old elementary school they attended from being demolished. Mari may not be the nucleus of their group, but it’s clear Itadaki is the group’s base of operations.

It’s there where Mari’s creative okonomiyaki depiction of a blank chalkboard gives Asumi the idea to cover the school in graffiti and spread the word of its historical, cultural, and sentimental importance to the 24th Ward. Of course, as soon as the school and the graffiti idea came up, I thought of the cold open to the first episode and I was suddenly filled with dread.

That’s because Asumi’s idea, unwittingly sparked by Mari, ended up being the death of her. As an old building in disrepair, the school was vulnerable to fire. When that fire finally happened, Mari had Asumi by the arm, outside. All she has to do is not let go and insist they wait for the firefighters. But Asumi insists on being a hero, lets go of Mari, runs into the school to try to save others…and ends up perishing in Shuu’s arms.

The flashbacks make it feel like so long ago, and yet it was so not long ago Mari still has a video on her phone of the aftermath of the fire, admonishing her future self to never forget what happened that night. Even since then, Mari has kept striving to keep up with Asumi, trying to fulfill that role as glue and nucleus, and has found herself sorely lacking. She looks up at the night sky and tells Asumi she can’t handle RGB…not on her own.

However, Mari’s three meetings with the three members of RGB inadvertently bear fruit: they’ve all gathered at Itadaki…for her sake; to make GourFes a success. They snipe at each other a bit, but they still gathered at that same table they always gathered, even though Asumi isn’t there anymore. As different as they all are, and as deep as their wounds are, they still love Mari, and want to support her.

The strategy meeting itself isn’t all that productive as Mari manages to get the boys so stuff on okonomiyaki they get food comas, but it doesn’t matter. Mari managed to get RGB back together, through their stomachs. It’s then when Asumi appears before Mari as she’s washing dishes, offering her blessing going forward while also affirming how important Mari and Itadaki are to the circle of friends.

After one week, I was a little miffed that this show seemingly focused on three dudes. But this week Sakuragi Mari was the undisputed protagonist. Forget tough; Mari felt like Asumi was an impossible act to follow, but she ended up surprising herself, as much as this episode surprised me with its ability to plumb the depths of envy, love, longing, yearning, loss, grief, regret…and redemption. It didn’t feature a single moment of madcap superpower action. It didn’t need to.

Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai! – 04 – Living A Day In Her Shoes

This week marks the introduction of The Magnificent Salwa (also spelled Saurva), Jahy’s self-professed rival for the Number Two spot in the Dark Realm pre-ruin. Now that Salwa has found Jahy and spent three months working on a potion that will increase her power thirtyfold, she’s determined to bring Jahy down, steal her mana crystal, restore the Dark Realm and rule it as its new leader. Things don’t go as planned, as she runs into Jahy way too easily, drops her potion, and then a puppy laps it up and grows thirty feet tall.

After Salwa is rescued by regular folk from that giant puppy’s jaws, she changes up her tactics, Wile E. Coyote-style. She downs a pill that lets her transform into Jahy, so she can ruin Jahy’s reputation with her “associates.” Unfortunately for Salwa, the landlady already holds Jahy in particularly low esteem, and is so intimidating that Jahy!Salwa cowers and pays up.

Jahy!Salwa also predictably ends up slinging drinks at the izakaya (while the real Jahy in child form oversleeps back home). In Jahy’s stead Salwa gets really into the work and goes above and beyond, impressing the manager. Salwa is so proud she can’t help but fall into the manager’s bosom and weep tears of joy over a job well done. In this display and the one with the landlady, Salwa seems totally ill-equipped to supplant Jahy.

…That is, until the next segment, when Jahy, in child form, has only 306 yen to her name. She confidently strikes out for the nearest shopping district to make more money…somehow. Instead, she ends up spending 300 of the 306 yen on tasty street food; the vendors happily taking her for literally all she’s got.

Jahy goes to work as usual, but the manager can tell she’s off. For one thing, she’s serving empty glasses of beer to customers who didn’t order beer; for another, her face is gaunt, indicating malnutrition. Back in the break room Jahy confesses to having less yen to her name than fingers on her hands, and the manager offers to give her an advance on her pay just this once.

Jahy knows she didn’t save every yen she had, but thanks to the manager, she won’t starve, and has hopefully learned a lesson not to splurge too much. She also ends up sobbing into manager’s bosom just one segment after Jahy!Salwa did the same. We should all be so lucky to have such a kind and caring boss.

The aquatope on white sand – 09 – Compassion for the unfamiliar

Two very common ways anime deal with an interlopers is by either turning them into friends or putting them in their place. Aquatope does neither, opting for a far more nuanced, multifaceted, and ultimately more satisfying and enriching experience. In the complexity of emotions it expresses (and elicits), Aquatope is as diverse and colorful as its sea life.

Haebaru Chiyu is the interloper, and immediately an interesting choice was made to have Ishikawa Yui voice her. Ishikawa has one of the most charming and likable voices around, even as she voiced Mikasa Ackerman, one of the toughest motherfuckers in all animedom. I automatically like everyone she voices, even if they’re not easy to like otherwise.

Despite the only reason Chiyu agreed to go to Gama Gama for training was because of the “Legendary Aquarium Keeper”, Gramps pairs her up with Kukuru. Kukuru doesn’t know Chiyu, but hates everything she represents, and cannot mask her disdain and hostility.

It quickly becomes clear that beneath her polite façade Chiyu masks a similar contempt, but for an aquarium she believes (not without good reason!) to be a failure. The place is mostly empty and the equipment is falling apart. Not only is it a depressing place with which she has no emotional ties, it is to her the antithesis of a properly run aquarium.

Gramps and Fuuka are in the middle of the ensuing rivalry of passive aggression and pointed barbs; Gramps tells Kukuru it doesn’t matter what building an aquarium occupies; what matters is that people get to enjoy and come to love the creatures of the sea. Gran backs him up by telling Kukuru it would do her well to occasionally think outside her proverbial seashell.

To her credit, Kukuru does take a look at why exactly she’s trying so hard to save Gama Gama, and if she’s just selfishly clinging to her memories rather than facing reality and coming to terms with it. Fuuka tells Kukuru that she’s chasing her dream, and she’ll keep supporting her.

In response to this loving gesture, Kukuru brings up the possibility of having a sibling to someone for the first time. As the omniscient audience we’ve seen her look at those two maternity books, but now we know why: they’re in her parents’ shrine, but she’s never had the courage to ask Gran why there’s a second one.

Before going to sleep while holding hands, Kukuru promises she’ll be more civil to Chiyu tomorrow, but Chiyu has already had her fill of a teenaged assistant director, and basically demands that Gramps train her from now on. Gramps does his rounds, and Chiyu is suitably unimpressed with the “Legendary Aquarium Keeper.”

And why is that? Because with her outsider’s perspective she can’t quite see what he’s doing, and what he’s done, with Gama Gama. To him, an aquarium is more than just the building, but also more than just the fish. He knows and greets everyone, asks them how they’re doing. It’s a vibrant community of people young and old.

One could castigate Chiyu for so thoroughly missing the forest for the trees, but as we learn in her private moments, she has a dream too, and she’s not going to let what she regards to be a half-assed failing aquarium to hurt her chances at gainful employment.

That night in her Western-style hotel room—another sign she’s not interested in straying too far from her established world—she demands that her boss assign her somewhere else, and he agrees. She can’t afford to waste time…not when she’s come so far on her own.

Honestly, as much as she clashes with Kukuru and simply doesn’t “get” the appeal and value of Gama Gama, I can’t fault Chiyu for feeling or acting as she does. When Kukuru asks her what deficiencies she found there, Chiyu doesn’t hold back, and also makes the very good point that at the end of the day, Kukuru isn’t doing this for a living.

She may be slacking in her studies, but Kukuru is still young enough to do anything with her life. That’s less true for Chiyu, and because she desperately wants to work at an aquarium, she has to work that much harder in a country of 126 million with only about 100 aquariums.

Kukuru needs to use an unwitting Kai as a stress-relieving punching bag (a wonderful moment between the two old friends) not only because Chiyu pisses her off royally, but because Chiyu is right about a lot of what she said. For someone who earlier questioned her motives about saving Gama Gama, Chiyu adds salt to that wound.

The previous day, Fuuka overheard Chiyu remarking how no one at Gama Gama is actually looking at the fish. But as Fuuka learns, Chiyu was wrong: theyu have looked at the fish, over and over, with their cheap annual passes they’ve memorized most of them. They’re past that “tourist” phase of aquarium visitor. Now, Gama Gama is their living room, their lounge, their game room, their parlor….their home away from home.

Oh, and one of the kids mentioned he once say his dead dog, which means there’s something even more inscrutable and intangible about Gama Gama at which Ciyu turned her nose up. Between that kid’s comment and the brief look at Fijimunaa, the show wants to make it clear it hasn’t forgotten its magical realism elements.

Lest we forget Fuuka has her own baggage, she finally picks up when her old group-mate Ruka calls her. She eventually had to face her mom, and so it only made sense she’d have to face her very different past life as well. Unfortunately we don’t get to learn what exactly Ruka has to say to Fuuka, but it’s a great hook for next week.

Fuuka only gets this chance in part because Kukuru doesn’t go home with her, instead riding out to the big city to see the great nemesis itself. And just as her nighttime ride reminded me of Akira, seeing her behold and be dwarfed by the towering behemoth, still under construction and looking like a great sleeping beast.

This episode defly introduced a new character who was both likable in her own right while also providing a welcome thorn in the whole Gama Gama kubaya environment. Not everyone needs to be friends, and sometimes that makes for great, sometimes downright thrilling  anime, as it did here.

It also marked what looks like the beginning of some significant growth and soul-searching for Kukuru. She’s faced the beast…but what does she make of it, and what will she do next?

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 09 – Officially Rivals

The battle between Iska and Salinger commences, and Kimisen goes full Shounen Battle Mode, complete with the arrogant opponent’s high-and-mighty speeches. It basically boils down to Ichigo—er, Iska fighting a shinigami captain—er, Salinger and weathering his attacks, with some light but welcome support from Rin.

Down on ground level, Alice is attacked by Nameless, but only very briefly, as if he was once again merely testing her defenses. It isn’t long before she spots Iska and realizes he did what she’d hoped he’d do: help her out rather than simply running when free of the cuffs.

Honestly, while Salinger was amusingly smug at times, he’s also pretty much a cookie-cutter haughty boss, and thus not that interesting. Adding to the lack of suspense is the fact Iska already defeated the Nebulis Founder, whom Salinger considers an equal. Salinger also expresses surprise at Iska’s abilities a bit too much to be a credible big bad.

I had expected Alice to join Iska in the fighting, as they’d also joined forces to beat back the Founder, but Iska has this well in hand, and manages to force Salinger to retreat. All Alice has to do is comfort the wounded Rin and serve as a reminder to Salinger that even if he defeated Iska, he’d have to deal with her.

The fires are extinguished, the prisoners recovered, and the dust cleared in Alcatroz. Alice urges a suddenly adorable Rin to be honest about her various cuts and bruises she suffered, while Alice snaps herself out of swooning over Iska by telling herself he only did what he was supposed to do as part of their temporary alliance.

The Nameless who was at Alcatroz returns to the Empire, then removes his helmet to reveal she was Risya all along; the real Nameless was off ensuring their special forces infiltrated the Central Province. It’s almost as if Risya and N07 were merely an elaborate distraction. We also catch a glimpse of some kind of giant mecha thingy that just might be the next boss against which Iska and/or Alice must face off.

As for Iska, he joins N07 on the car ride home. As she’d been worried about Iska for virtually the entire mission, Mismis reveals she hasn’t yet fully processed the fact she’s an astral mage, nor what to do about it, but since she helped save Iska, it’s his pleasure to help her out in devising a plan to keep her out of Imperial prison or worse. Who better than a former inmate like him?

Back on the royal palace grounds, Alice gazes up at the stars and utters the name “Iska”, irking Rin, who warns her master that she’ll tell the Queen if Alice keeps this up. Little to they know they’re being watched by Alice’s little sister Sisbell. We’ve already met her, as she was the mage Iska broke out of prison. Sis doesn’t want to believe it, but we know it to be true. It’s looking like she’ll be calling on him to help her out again soon.

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 08 – Demon Ascending

Alice is always referring to Iska as her “enemy”, but with Risya releasing another agent of chaos in Salinger the Demon/Transcendant, she doesn’t have the luxury of rejecting the aid of an enemy like Iska whom she’s come to trust, and who shares her dream of peace.

When the prison tower housing Salinger starts to burn, Alice and Rin must hurry to put out those fires. Before leaving, Alice quietly asks if Iska will help her, but he doesn’t quite hear. She drops the matter, but not before leaving a fresh new handkerchief to replace the one he gave her.

Unit N07 finally hears from their CO Risya, who tells them that the Princess Iska is in Another Castle, leading them to wonder if they were merely bait for Risya to attain a different, secret goal (they were). But the fact remains they have to get the hell out of the tower, so Mismis bears her genuine crest and serves as bait once more, this time so Nene and Jhin can take out their pursuers.

Iska, handcuffed in his hotel room, hears ringing in Alice’s room and discovers she had his Imperial phone. He makes contact with Unit N07 and arranges to meet them at the very prison tower where Alice and Rin went. When he considers how to remove his cuffs, he suddenly remembers the handkerchief Alice left, and sure enough, it contains the key. This is what she meant by requesting his help—she couldn’t do it overtly, so left the key in hope he would agree.

Alice and Rin’s car is bombed before they reach the prison, but that’s of no consequence; the site is a mess of Imperial forces and various sovereignty forces from within the prison, so Alice takes command as Second Princess. Iska meets with Unit N07, but before anything else he asks for his two swords back, urges them to take the civilian onlookers to safety of the hotel, and he’ll meet them there in fifteen minutes or so.

Alice leaves Rin to deal with Salinger, and while Rin talks a big game and impresses him for a brief time, once Salinger gets serious Rin is no more than a “cat or dog” he has no further interest in torturing. Much of the astral magic he’s “collected” came from purebred sources far superior to Rin’s, after all.

Rin is overmatched; she knows it, and Salinger knows it, but it doesn’t matter: her only goal is to fight him and buy time until she can’t fight anymore. That turns out to not be very long, but it’s long enough that by the time Salinger is bored and ready to finish her, Iska arrives just in time to block his killing blow and save Rin.

Rin’s long-standing suspicion of and enmity towards Iska didn’t matter; Rin is Alice’s cherished friend, while Salinger is Alice’s enemy, so he’ll save Rin and defeat Salinger. If Risya gets wind of either Iska messing up her plan or of Mismis being a real astral mage, things will get far more complicated, but for now, it’s as simple as this: The enemy (Salinger) of his “enemy” (Alice) is his enemy. After all that lounging around in the hotel, it’s time to get to work!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 07 – Stuck On You

Rin and Alice are in full improv mode, as neither expected to have Iska in their custody at the end of the day at Neutral City. But they do, so they have to deal with it. Even Alice may not be able to protect him from his doom in the Sovereignty’s capital, so they head for Nebulis Province 13, Alcatroz, also known as the Prison Sector.

Risya orders Unit N07 to infiltrate the Sovereignty and rescue Iska as part of the larger plan to capture the Queen. They’ll pass through the border with fake Astral Crests prepared by the research unit. Jhin deftly pantomimes placing a fake crest on Mismis’ hidden real one, hopefully allying suspicion that she’s a real witch…for now.

Once Alice and Rin arrive at Alcatroz’ designated hotel for royals, Rin recommends she stay with the handcuffed prisoner at all times while Alice stays in an adjacent suite. When Iska woke up in the car, he voiced his “disappointment” in Alice, who is clearly hurt by the breach of trust caused by Rin’s meddling.

Rin breaches that trust again, twisting her master’s orders to “take good care” of Iska by cutting her own hand with a fruit knife to serve as an excuse for self-defense when she kills him. It’s clear at this point Rin has gone rogue, believing Alice no longer capable of objectivity. Unfortunately, even a cuffed Iska is able to defend himself from her attacks, and Alice re-enters the room to find the two grappling on the couch and puts an immediate stop to it.

Mismis, Jhin, and Nene successfully pass the border and enter the Prison Sector, where Risya briefly meets up to indicate their next destination, the offshore Ollelugan Prison Tower. But she’s hiding the true nature of her mission when she splits back off from N07. Jhin eventually catches on that their unit may not be here for the explicit reasons Risya stated.

Alice decides to chain herself to Iska (unlike with Rin he’ll be hard-pressed to stop her attacks without his swords), but also turns into a complete airhead when Iska brings up the blatantly glaring question of how the two of them will use the toilet, bathe, and sleep while so connected.

Alice has Rin temporarily disconnect them so she can take a bath, only for that bath to kill even more of her brain cells, such that she comes out of the bathroom butt naked but for a loosely hanging towel. As such, Iska sees the positively massive astral crest on her back, and Alice forgets her modesty altogether, as she’s suddenly primarily concerned with what Iska thinks of both her crest—and her in general.

Iska tells Alice about Mismis (without using her name): his captain and an Imperial soldier who is now a “witch” due to gaining a crest, and how he still respects her regardless of whether she’s a witch or has a crest. He doesn’t place the blame for a century of war on the crests, but due to the ideas and positions that divide them due to their opposite nations of origin.

He’s basically saying he doesn’t consider the crest to be the mark of a witch or devil, and doesn’t fight because of them. As for how he regards Alice, he considers her a “rival on the battlefield”, which is precisely what she wanted to hear: that the two of them are equals in his eyes. Now all she needs to do is strip him down so she can see him naked, and they’ll be even for the night!

As N07 continues their separate infiltration, Risya reaches her destination as laid out by the council: the special cell of Salinger, AKA “The Transcendent Demon”—a ripped but bored-looking bishounen who may just be itching for some action, any action. And since it’s Risya releasing him, he just might fight on her side…for a time. As for me, I’m designating both him and Risya wild cards for now.

TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You – 04 – Never Gonna Let You Down

After a haunting cold open in which Tsukasa is staring at the moon and seeking a warm home, she comes home to an empty apartment. While she’s waiting for Nasa to come home she decides to pass the time with domestic chores. The place is already spotless, so she prepares to cook something.

That’s when the doorbell rings. Tsukasa assumes it’s her husband, but it’s Kaginoji Chitose, her “little sister” from her previous home, who has come to bring her back. The only problem is, Tsukasa has no intention of going back. Also, she’s married!

Chitose is crying on the steps to Nasa’s apartment when he arrives, and offers her a hanky like a gentleman. Chitose mentions the person she’s looking for as a “glass butterfly”; so delicate and fleeting you might lose her if you blink.

As we’ve seen, Nasa understands that, which is why he had Tsukasa spend their first wedded night together. Despite his kindness, once Chitose learns he is the person Tsukasa married, she becomes engulfed in flames of outrage. Simply put, Chitose won’t let Nasa have her Tsukasa.

Tsukasa watches in amazement as Nasa takes total command of the conversation, having clearly studied conflict resolution and mediation among his many other interests. He puts on a high-level rhetoric clinic by not refuting what Chitose says, objectively address her concerns, and propose a practical solution.

Alas, Chitose isn’t interested in discourse, and has her chauffeur pull up, tie Nasa up, and drive them to her mansion, leaving Tsukasa in the dust. Nothing like a spot of abduction to spice up a dull afternoon, eh?

At said mansion, Chitose tasks her two maids, Charlotte and Aurora, to scrape up some tabloid photography of Nasa she can use to convince Tsukasa to divorce him immediately. Charlotte initially takes the request literally and strips; while Chitose covers her back up, Nasa flees.

He comes across a room that smells vaguely of his wife, and there he finds something not just special, but otherworldly: a genuine moon rock, displayed within a nitrogen-filled case to prevent oxidation. Charlotte finds him and swings a huge RPG sword at him, damaging the case and causing a leak. What a klutz!

Fortunately, Nasa is also well-versed in nitrogen museum cases, and is able to repair it, MacGyver-style as Chitose and the maids watch in amazement. Chitose explains that her great-grandmother acquired the rock to “soothe Tsukasa’s heart”—another new hint that could suggest Tsukasa is actually Princess Kaguya from the moon.

Charlotte offers her thanks by pressing Nasa into her bust, and Aurora snaps pictures and rapidly ‘shops them to look like compromising photos, just in time for Tsukasa to arrive. While her voice is calm and controlled, Nasa detects a threatening aura. Did Chitose succeed in torpedoing their union?

Uh, no…duh! Chitose pretends to be mad and takes Tsukasa somewhere private to talk, but in reality she’s giving Chitose the slip. She shows Nasa a secret passage and leads him by the hand to a beautiful but defunct church atop a hill. It’s there where Nasa realizes that while he knows next to nothing about his new wife’s past, it’s their future that matters.

To that end, he makes use of the gorgeously-lit church setting to make a formal proposal to Tsukasa, complete with a kiss. He’ll promise to share everything happy that happens to him with her, and also share in her sadness when applicable. Nasa may be a studied guy, but it’s clear his words come from the heart—and he can be counted on to keep his promises.

I was worried when Tsukasa and Nasa were apart for most of the episode and the focus was once more on new characters. But the madcap comedy of Chitose and the maids was surprisingly decent, and the episode finished strong when Tsukasa rescued Nasa and he proposed.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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