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

Cardcaptor Sakura – 10 – Flowers and Family

It’s Sports Day, which means it’s truly Sakura’s time to shine. She wows classmates and parents alike with her running speed, and while she accidentally lets a baton land on her head, she looks positively adorable while doing so.

When the time comes for the obstacle course race, Sakura and Syaoran find themselves beside each other in the starting blocks, and both are equally excited that Yukito is cheering them on. But while Sakura stays focused on winning, Syaoran looks over at Yukito one too many times and trips over his feet, letting Sakura win.

No sore winner, Sakura invites Syaoran to join her, Tomoyo, Touya, and Yukito for lunch, and Syaoran accepts when he hears Yukito is there and then marvels at the amount of food the kid can put away. Then Sakura’s dad arrives, as does Tomoyo’s mother Sonomi, who was his wife Nadeshiko’s cousin and protector.

She’s never forgiven him for stealing her away and then allowing her two die so young (sadly she was in the 27 Club). When Sonomi demands to know why he’s so cool about it, he tells her he promised his wife not to cry. Instead, he’s raised two great kids in an environment of love and happiness.

Even so, Sonomi won’t pass up another opportunity to challenge Sakura’s dad, so they both enter the parent’s 100m race. But as he’s mopping the floor with her, what had been a light dusting of flower petals becomes a veritable torrent, forming an increasingly thick carpet in the school’s main quad. Sakura and Syaoran simultaneously suspect a Clow Card, but the latter can’t leave the medical station in case there are injured.

Thankfully, this is not the toughest Clow Card. Sakura and Tomoyo learn from Kero-chan via Daidouji-brand cell phone that Flower is a fun-loving but gentle card who tends to show up around celebrations or other fun events, like sports days. When Sakura first approaches her, Flower pulls her into a joyful dance, but Sakura is eventually able to return her to card form before everyone in the quad is completely buried.

Sakura immediately puts Flower into use by giving both her father and Sonomi, who were in the midst of a quarrel, nadeshiko flowers. Nadeshiko Yamato is a Japanese term meaning “the epitome of pure, feminine beauty”; a floral metaphor for the ideal woman, whom Nadeshiko clearly was. Even Tomoyo’s long hair is a tribute to Nadeshiko’s flowing locks.

The two adults end up bonding over their shared love of her, while Sakura and Tomoyo profess their love for each other in turn. It’s all so wonderfully warm and fuzzy, there were moments I thought my heart might burst! Brimming with beautiful moments between family and friends, this was one of the most purely joyful CCS episodes yet.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 09 – Once More Unto the Brooch

Sakura is feeling low after her humbling encounter with Syaoran Li. Tomoyo assures her she’s doing her Cardcaptor duties beautifully, but Sakura isn’t entirely sure she’d have fared as well against Thunder without Syaoran’s advice.

When she inevitably has to face him in class, she thanks him for his help and also mentions that she saw his green robes in a dream. Confirming Kero-chan’s later accurate assessment of him as a “despicable brat”, Syaoran demonstrates how he can turn any nicety into an opportunity to viciously neg Sakura.

Both Tomoyo and Rika want to cheer Sakura up, so they take her to a new shop that sells all manner of cute knickknacks, and the three girls end up buying brooches before going to Sakura’s house for tea and homemade pudding (which looks delectable BTW).

The pleasant decompressing takes a turn when Rika puts on her sword-themed brooch, her eyes go blank, and the brooch turns into a rapier with which Rika starts attacking Sakura and Tomoyo. Clearly, it’s a Clow Card, and Kero confirms as much when he comes down (but is also pissed about not getting any pudding!)

Kero warns Sakura that anyone with Sword card in their possession becomes a master swordsman. Thankfully, Sakura is able to dodge her strikes with her not inconsiderable agility, but Rika’s attacks are so fast all she can really do is defend.

That’s where Syaoran comes out of nowhere to insert himself into the battle. Worried he’ll hurt Rika in pursuit of the card, Sakura grabs him and uses Jump to keep him away from her friend. Sakura has let this kid get away with a lot, but when it comes to her friends, she’s not someone to be trifled with!

All that’s needed to break Rika from Sword’s spell is for her to momentarily drop the sword. To accomplish this, Sakura employs Illusion to conjure the image of their homeroom teacher on whom Rika has a crush. While she’s distracted Sakura knocks the blade out of her hand, then successfully secures the Card…all without Syaoran’s help.

Kero-chan makes sure Syaoran doesn’t interfere by biting him repeatedly, but when Yukito suddenly appears, it isn’t Sakura’s staff or Kero or the unconscious Rika that catch his attention; it’s the bite mark on Syaoran’s finger. When Yuki asks if he’s okay, Syaoran blushes like a beet and scurries off.

When Sakura arranges to meet up with Yukito the next day to give him a thank-you gift, Syaoran is already there, and quickly produces a gift of his own. As Tomoyo makes clear to her, Sakura now not only has to deal with a rival in her Clow Card capturing, but in romance too, as Syaoran seems as smitten with Yukito as she is. Unfortunately for both of them, he’s already spoken for…

Nine episodes in CCS has proven adept at shaking up the weekly formula. Sakura may not have had a battle costume this week, but she did use Illusion for the first time. Her friend Rika had a larger role, while her multi-vector rivalry with Syaoran developed further. We’re also introduced to Yamazaki—he of elaborate invented stories.

Finally, Kero-chan’s post-credits omake segment is always a delight, with him pointing out some detail of Sakura’s costume, or in the case of this week, Syaoran’s. His justifiable hostility towards “that kid” shines through brilliantly in the terse rundown of his ceremonial garb.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 08 – Love and Thunder

Sakura has a strange dream of Tokyo Tower that’s identical to one she had in the first episode, except that the person in it isn’t her, but some boy in Chinese clothes she’s never met before. Both Kero-chan and Yukito independently surmise it might be a “foretelling” dream.

Sure enough, she meets the boy when he suddenly transfers to her class. His name is Li Syaoran, and he has absolute daggers for poor Sakura from word go, which bore into the back of her head all during class.

Since my intro to CCS was Clear Card, I’m used to Syaoran as Sakura’s mild-mannered boyfriend, so it’s a bit shocking and upsetting to see just how big a goddamn jerk he is to Sakura when they first meet. During recess he asks her to hand over the Clow Cards she has.

When she rightfully refuses, he gets physical, but thankfully Touya is nearby to help his little sister. Touya and Syaoran are about to throw down with some martial arts when Yukito adorkably breaks up the fight with what else but a big sack of food! 

That night, Kero-chan assures Sakura that because she opened the book and awakened him, she’s already proven she’s worthy of being a Cardcaptor, and shouldn’t pay the kid’s negging any mind. When a new Clow Card shows up in the form of persistent thunder and lightning, Sakura and Tomoyo leap right back into action.

Since she has a battle costume for any theme and eventuality, this week Tomoyo provides Sakura with an outfit entirely made of rubber and other insulators to prevent conduction. As for why she included cat ears? Because they’re cute, NEXT QUESTION.

Using a combo of Fly and Jump, Sakura has the altitude and agility to keep up with Thunder, but has no idea how to return it to it’s “true form.” To make matters worse, Syaoran shows up, criticizes Sakura for her ignorance, then casts some magic that turns Thunder into a beast.

While that’s a necessary step, the task of actually sealing Thunder falls to Sakura, who possesses Shadow—which unlike Windy is able to restrain Thunder—as well as the staff required to seal the card. Even so, Syaoran isn’t impressed and basically dismisses Sakura as an out-of-her-element tourist before splitting.

Obviously, Syaoran is wrong. Not only is Sakura capable of capturing Clow Cards, but has every right to do so, even if she’s not related to Clow Reed like the Li Clan. That doesn’t stop Syaoran’s words from hurting Sakura’s feelings, which is clear to both Kero and Tomoyo. IMO Syaoran owes Sakura an apology for being such an meanie right out of the gate.

It’s not her fault her dad had all the cards, and that she found them while he was off in Hong Kong. The two could work better far together as a team rather than rivals at cross purposes, but to do so Syaoran would have to cede Cardcaptor status to Sakura. Something tells me he’s too proud and arrogant for that, but the teamwork will just happen organically regardless!

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 04 – Little Girl, Big Talk

It’s been three days since the StuCo disbanded, but Kaguya and Miyuki haven’t so much as spoken. Hayasaka finds Kaguya’s lack of progress pathetic considering how many romantic events she and Miyuki have shared.

A frustrated Kaguya lashes out, challenging Hayasaka to get Miyuki to fall for her. Hayasaka accepts, breaking out an adorable new persona with which to seduce Miyuki as Kaguya jealously watches in the shadows.

Hayasaka is a pro at this (what else is new), and gets off to a great start by chatting Miyuki up in a bookstore then getting him to have a coffee with her as she considers a computer purchase. Ultimately, Hayasaka ends up the loser, even though she offers to be a “side piece” should he already like someone.

Turns out liking someone else means Miyuki’s not interested in anyone else, period. A bitter Hayasaka insists her loss was due to the need to get the job done in one day; given more time, she’s confident she would have prevailed. I believe her!

Miyuki determines there’s no one better to write his campaign speeches than Kaguya, but has trouble approaching her in her class. Enter Hayasaka in “Gal” mode (whom he can’t tell is the same person who asked him out the other day), who bursts in and makes a huge production of Miyuki coming to see Kaguya on a matter of great importance.

News that he asked to meet her behind the school causes the entire student body to convulse in anticipation that these two top students are going to become a couple. The hype takes on a mind of its own as their meeting is built up as the can’t-miss school event of the decade.

When the big moment comes, both Miyuki and Kaguya are very much aware of their huge, expectant audience. Only Kaguya says she doesn’t mind it, while Chika is completely oblivious to the vibe and complicates matters by coming off as the third side of a love triangle.

Miyuki knows he’s suffer a political price if he embarasses Kaguya with his piddling speech request, so he makes the request in a whisper, inches from her face. Similarly safe from prying ears, Kaguya tells him the answer is yes—whether it’s to write him speeches or something else entirely.

It’s a good thing Kaguya is on Miyuki’s team, because he may have some stiff competition in the election in the person of first-year Iino Miko, this season’s newest character. Miko is at the top of her class, president of the morals committee, and believes having a “commoner” like Miyuki as president is an affront.

Tomita Miyu (Made in Abyss’ Riko, BokuBen’s Rizu)’s performance is appropriate for a pint-sized character packed with power. Before he knows it, Miyuki is caught up in her competitive, adversarial spirit, seeing her as his political rival in the fight of his life.

He and Yuu even mock her for relying on her pure ideals without a track record of success to fall back on, to the point Chika tries to stop them from sounding like villains. Then Miko brings Chika over to her side by expressing her admiration for Chika’s piano prowess and other positive qualities, and offering her the vice presidency if she joins Team Iino.

Chika later reconsiders her quick turnabout, but the fact remains Miko seems to be a larger threat than Miyuki or Yuu think. When Miyuki sees her wholesome flyer his confidence in beating her only rises, when I really think he shouldn’t be listening to Yuu and be preparing for a tough campaign.

Right off the bat, Miko is thankfully presented as someone who isn’t interested in Miyuki, and not just because she doesn’t know him and he’s in her way. Rather than a rival to Kaguya, I can see Kaguya closing ranks with Miyuki even more in the face of an adversary who thinks so little of the man she loves—a catalyst for their growing closer. In any case, this should be a fun campaign!

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