Kageki Shoujo!! – 11 – Twas Your Face the Light Endow’d

Kouka goes straight from sports festival to cultural festival, and this year the Centennial first-years are once again getting special treatment, as they’ll be taking fifteen minutes of the second-years’ time for the performance of a scene from Romeo & Juliet—the same one Sarasa famously bombed. Andou-sensei says there will be auditions, so the girls will be rivaling one another as they vote for each other.

It’s another one of the unique ways Kouka instructs its young performers-to-be in the theory of their craft as well as encouraging a degree of the toughening needed to survive on the Kouka stage. Everyone up there has to believe they’re the very best. But even though everyone wants to see Sarasa’s Romeo, and Ai points out why she’s perfect for it (while implying she’s “simple”)…Sarasa wants to give Tybalt another try.

Hijiri insists that Ai play the role of Juliet. Even if she rightfully says it’s not a spotlight she’s earned, Hijiri insists that as someone “born pretty” and thus closer to the finish line than others, Ai cannot slack off; she must run as fast as possible to that line, no matter how close it may seem. Her mother also imparted her the wisdom of figuring out how to lose yourself in the role.

One way is by applying some part of your life experience that connects with the role in some way. But Tybalt, whose role comes down to unrequited love of Juliet and jealousy and hatred of Romeo, is proving difficult for Sarasa, who claims (credibly!) to have never hated or held a grudge on anyone, ever. Even so, she starts with the basics of how Tybalt must go through his daily life, and how that life led to his obsession with anger and hatred.

It isn’t working, until that very connection to Sarasa’s life comes into focus and clicks as crisply as a camera shutter. In the common room she and Ai happen to catch a TV interview with Akiya talking about his kabuki and how he was thrust into it by dint of his blood. Seeing Akiya takes Sarasa back to when she was a little kid, and for a moment, she was as jealous of Akiya as Tybalt was jealous of Romeo.

Akiya basically achieved without effort or even passion something she’d always dreamed of achieving. But while Sarasa finally discovers a part of herself she can use to lose herself in the role of Tybalt, it’s Ai’s performance that anchors the final act of the episode.

Everyone thinks she’s being her usual calm, collected, unflappable self when called to be the first Juliet in the auditions (presided upon by the rest of the faculty, not just Andou—a cruel surprise for the girls!) Sarasa, her best friend, knows better, and that Ai’s calm exterior conceals an ever churning storm.

The key is focusing that storm. Fortunately, the Romeo in Ai’s group flubs her lines and has to start from the top, so Ai gets a little extra time in her Space Mind Palace. She’s convinced she’s never known what love is, any more than Sarasa has ever known hatred or jealousy. But we all know one very important exception for Ai, and that’ Sarasa herself.

Romeo was “love at first sight” for Juliet, just as Ai was “friends at first sight” for Sarasa. It took a little longer for AI, but when Sarasa told her about overwriting bad old memories with good new ones, she too knew she had to be friends with this tall girl. Once the joy of becoming friends with her swell up, Ai embodies Juliet herself in the “wherefore” speech, giving her peers, teachers, and me some serious goosebumps.

Kageki Shoujo!! – 07 – The Curse of “Never”

Summer Break is upon Kouka’s hundredth class, but Ai’s version of giddiness over getting to spend it at Sarasa’s is somewhat tempered by how the semester ended: with Sarasa taking a major hit from Andou-sensei. As I suspected, perfect replication of other actors isn’t going to cut it if you’re going to be a Top Star in the Kouka Revue. This doesn’t mesh with what Sarasa learned about kabuki growing up, where succeeding generations of actors do their best to embody their predecessors as closely as possible.

But that’s Kabuki; and this is Kouka. Sarasa and Ai also get a little education on Andou-sensei and why he’s nicknamed “Phantom”, courtesy of the two top Kouka stars who happened to be seated in the row ahead of them! Apparently Andou was an esteemed actor with a musical troupe, most famous for his Phantom of the Opera, but due to a stage accident he had to retire, and decided to teach instead.

I’m glad he did, because as I said, as painful as it was to see Sarasa’s reaction and ensuing gloom, she was straying from the path to Lady Oscar, and needed a course correction. Fortunately, there’s plenty of family and friends waiting for Sarasa to take her mind off being “Sara-sad”, if only temporarily.

Ai insists on sitting formally for the duration of the gathering downstairs, even though she’s mostly ignored and suffering the agony needlessly (gramps told her to sit however she likes). Then Sarasa then goes to see her grandma at her grave, suggesting Ai can hang with the cat while she’s gone.

Of course, we know even when Sarasa and Ai don’t that it’s not just the cat waiting in her room, but Akiya. Ai, who is not good with people, comes off as curt with Akiya, who misinterprets it as intentional rudeness, but when Ai profusely apologizes and hides behind a wall, Akiya’s stance softens.

When asked about his “girlfriend” Sarasa, all he’ll tell Ai is that they were childhood friends since forever, and they took traditional dance classes together. Fortunately, we get to learn a lot more about both Sarasa and Akiya’s past, and Sarasa comes out even more amazing for having enduring what she had to endure.

Basically, the famous kabuki actor Kouzaburou was always very close to Sarasa, so much so that rumors floated around of her being his illegitimate daughter. Illegitimate or not, had she been a boy, she would have been the heir apparent to the venerable Shirakawa Kaou name…which Akiya is expected to assume instead. He’s far more loosely related, but he’s a boy.

It didn’t help matters for Akiya that while he liked Sarasa a lot for her strength and cheerfulness, she also happened to be a better natural talent than him when it came to Kabuki. Unfortunately, Sarasa was never sat down and told that grown women aren’t allowed to perform Kabuki.

That said, when another actor is ill, Sarasa is chosen to fill in during a performance of Sukeroku, since she memorized all the lines and movements (even back then, she was amazing). Young girls are allowed to perform, so there was no problem.

But while performing beside her, Akiya could tell how goddamn good Sarasa was, and how goddamn unfair it was that Sarasa’s Kabuki career would reach a harsh dead end due to tradition. After the performance, he first hears the rumor that Sarasa is related to Kouzaburou, which he shares with his mom/grandma/aunt/guardian (I forget her exact relation to him).

Tossing that pebble in the pond causes all kinds of drama, including his mom* chewing out poor Sarasa at the front door, telling her for the first time she’ll “never” be able to be something—in this case, Sukeroku. As soon as Sarasa runs off crying she’s immediately ashamed and regretful, but the damage is done.

Sarasa’s gramps comes to Kouzaburou’s house and chews him out for traumatizing Sarasa, and declares that she’ll have nothing to do with him or Kabuki ever again. That said, gramps softens considerably upon seeing a scared Akiya in the hall, and asks him if he’ll continue being Sarasa’s friend. He’s only cutting her off from Kabuki, he says.

Shortly after Sarasa stopped coming to dance classes, her grandma died, and Akiya and Kaou pay their respects from a distance. When Akiya sees Sarasa’s raw eyes, he starts to cry too…and Kaou tells him to hold on to the pain…it will make him a better actor.

Fast-forward to the present, and Akiya and Sarasa remain friends despite having been kinda-sorta rivals in the past. The rivalry never happened because the institution of Kabuki never let it. I’d say it’s for the best, since I have every confidence Sarasa will be okay in Kouka, but if ever there was going to be a first woman kabuki actor, it would be her!

After giving Sarasa her present of another bizarre figurine she’s super excited about (which is also see-through, for reasons), he also invites both Sarasa and Ai to a performance of Sukeroku he’ll be in. He already got clearance from her gramps.

That night, Ai learns about Sarasa’s performance in Sukeroku when she was only six. The two girls are transported into space as Sarasa beautifully, poetically describes what it was like being on that stage, feeling the audience like heat on her skin, feeling like the stage was a different world; feeling she had transformed into someone else.

It was clearly one of the most amazing moments of her life, making it doubly tragic that she was later deprived of pursuing a future there despite how much she loved it and how good she was. Even so, hearing Sarasa’s words makes Ai want to go see Sukeroku with Sarasa all the more, if only to catch a glimpse of the stage Sarasa once stood upon.

During the performance, Ai notices Sarasa crying, and isn’t sure whether it’s due to fond memories or “something else entirely.” Uh, why not both? From there, the episode abruptly cuts to the train platform where Sarasa and Ai are heading home. Akiya gives Sarasa some words of support and assurance from his heart.

He reminds her they’ve only just started down their paths; it’s okay to lose sight of what they want sometimes; and all they can do is keep moving forward. Sarasa still wants to play Lady Oscar, and she’s going to make it happen—”nevers” be damned!

She also wants Akiya to play Sukeroku. After a firm handshake (throwing Ai off a bit, as she assumed they’d at least hug), the two part ways, both feeling better than before they’d seen each other. They may not be a lovey-dovey couple, but they’re a couple where it matters.

Meikyuu Black Company – 06 – Meteoric Rise, Temporary Escape

Ninomiya celebrates his promotion to the Demon Lord Army’s Western Invasion Force Director with a trip to a hot spring with Ranga and Rimu. He revels in the fact that at this pace of advancement he’ll soon be a board member who can meet the Demon Lord face-to-face, and possibly return to Japan.

Little do the three know that they’re under surveillance from a camera owned by one of the Three Ravens, high level corporate executives who feel threatened by Ninomiya. One is an old fart who’s always spitting and wearing out the phrase “kids these days”; one is a voluptuous meatheaded amazon, and one is a four-eyed calculating perv.

Knowing what we know about Ninomiya, Rimu, and Ranga, it was a foregone conclusion that their petty schemes would fail one by one, much like Wile E. Coyote is always defeated in his efforts to capture Road Runner. Meathead unleashes a giant worm which Rimu quickly deals with; the worm even joins Ninomiya’s team!

When it’s the old fart’s turn, he challenges Ninomiya to cultivate some barren land, which is easy thanks to giant worm tilling and Ranga’s growing magic. Finally, the four-eyed perv tries to take unconsensual photos of Ranga nude, only to be defeated by the revelation he’s a boy.

If the first half is all about Ninomiya continuing to rise due to his ability to assemble a powerful and talented team, the second half is all about one of its members: Ranga. In what is clearly a dream in the style of Alice in Wonderland, Ranga witnesses the drudgery of unending labor in the form of a group of rabbits turning a wheel to power the Queen’s fountain.

When he laments that she can’t get them more tolerable hours or paid time off, he suddenly shrinks to a tiny size. While escaping the horde of evil rabbits (very Re:Zero-esque, that) he falls through a chute down into a massive underground…internet café.

If the rabbits toiling above ground represented one extreme of the labor spectrum, this café represents the other: all the mole people there have no goals other than repeating the same actions over and over again, calling into question whether life is even worth living.

From corporate grunts to NEETs, oppression and stagnation, Ranga finds himself trapped, both spiritually and physically (in a cage). His ancestor Belza, the Queen of this world, insists that he take her place by her side. That’s when the real Ninomiya stomps the White Rabbit Ninomiya and head-butts Ranga back into reality.

Apparently, the team was on a mission to defeat a Mobile Suit-like giant robot when it shot a strange beam into Ranga’s head, placing him in that dream prison that drew upon his own fears and insecurities. When he asks Ninomiya if always running away is bad, he tells him perhaps usually, but there’s always the useful phrase “strategic retreat”.

As long as Ranga’s overall goal hasn’t changed, he’s free to run away as many times as he needs to for the sake of future victory. Of course, Mobile Suit Gundam, the source of inspiration for their defeated mecha, was packed with those kinds of strategic retreats.

Defeating the mecha means Ninomiya can finally meet the Demon Lord…and she (or he) appears to be a Bahamut-like dragon in human form, like Rimu. Like Ranga last week, s/he asks Ninomiya to “save this world”. I know what he’ll probably say: Assuming he does, can he go home?

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 08 – Number One Idiot

When Mimimi nods off while studying at home, she dreams of a middle school basketball match in which her team lost to Aoi’s. At school, Mimimi nods off and has to be woken up by the teacher. She’s overdoing it, again. Losing the election to Aoi only made Mimimi want to work harder to beat Aoi at something, anything, but what if she just…can’t?

In Fuuka’s only scene alone with Tomozaki—their movie date either hasn’t happened yet (good) already happens off-camera (not good!)—she tells him how it seems Mimimi is trying to compete with Hinami. No one told her, she can just imagine it. Because she’s a writer she can imagine all kinds of people’s feelings…and yet Hinami’s motivations are a mystery to her.

That Fuuka makes such a distinction between these two overachievers adds depth to her character as someone with unique insight, as well as underscores Tomozaki status as a perplexing outlier. I hope we get to dive into the underlying reasons for her actions, but this week focuses on the more immediate matter of Mimimi’s rapidly growing problem.

With both Fuuka and Tama agreeing that something’s not right, Tomozaki confronts Mimimi after school, making clear he’s coming to her as a friend who fought Aoi beside her. When he expresses his worry she’s overworking herself, Mimimi acknowledges that is sucks so bad she wants to quit…but will probably suck more if she does.

As a hardworking sore loser of a gamer, Tomozaki can relate to her position of not wanting to quit before putting in all the effort he can. So he says he’ll support her desire to keep going. At his next meeting with Hinami, Mimimi is the prime subject, and not in terms of a task Tomozaki is to complete. Hinami recalls the prefectural basketball game in middle school that might have started all this.

That said, Hinami doesn’t feel its her place to tell Tomozaki the details, so he relies upon Yamashita. Mimimi had put a middling team on her back to reach the prefectural final, which was mostly a battle of two aces. When they lost, Mimimi’s teammates were just glad to have gotten that far, while she was utterly crushed.

While Yamashita tells him this, we watch a montage of Mimimi continuing to come apart at the seams, studying and running so much she keeps falling asleep in class. When clouds gather and rain pelts the track, Tomozaki and Tama are relieved, because it means Mimimi can take a much-needed break. And yet who should be out there but Hinami, still practicing in raincoat, unwittingly rubbing her dedication in Mimimi’s face.

Tomozaki manages to catch up to Mimimi when she’s trying to slink home, and tells her what Yamashita told him. Mimimi tells him how she attended the nationals where Aoi came in second and couldn’t hide her bitter disappointment. The loss in itself didn’t cause Aoi to cry, but hearing the name of the school that took first place did.

While Mimimi changed her behavior to match the mood of her team, Aoi didn’t. It was then that Mimimi started to feel like “just an ordinary person”, while Aoi “shined” in a way she could never replicate, and yet could never stop trying to replicate. When Mimimi learned Aoi was her classmate in high school, it was when Aoi herself approached her, having thought a lot about their game back in middle school.

Mimimi has always been grateful for Aoi and looked up to her, but she’s also been the person she least wants to lose to, since doing so makes her feel so worthless. After all, Hinami is clearly of the opinion that if you’re not first, you might as well be last. So when Tomozaki tries to assure Mimimi she shines “pretty brightly” already, the words don’t reach her, and she makes an excuse to leave.

Turns out the timing of Tomozaki’s attempted second pep talk couldn’t have been worse, as Mimimi had already decided to resign from the track club. In their next meeting, Hinami says she and Tomozaki are the same in that they’re at the top of their respective games. But unlike Hinami, Tomozaki doesn’t see it so much as competing against the world as against himself.

After a morning in which both Hinami and Mimimi publically apologize to each other over her club resignation that seems to bring the whole class down, Tomozaki goes out on a limb and very publically asks Mimimi if they can walk home together…along with Tama. He wasn’t able to get through to Mimimi in a one-on-one matchup, but maybe Tama can, so he’ll rely on her.

Mimimi tries to keep things light by talking about how hot it is, but Tama makes things real with five simple words: “Do you hate Aoi now?” Mimimi responds by gushing over just how great and hardworking Aoi is, and how she actually loves her…or at least, she should. But with Aoi beating her at everything, Mimimi as come to feel jealous, and that Aoi’s “in the way”, and even that she wants her gone.

By thinking these awful things, Mimimi feels like she’s the worst, and if she stayed in the club, she’d keep thinking about them, including the notion that if Aoi really cared about her, she’d be the one to quit. Like Fuuka, more than anything she’s frustrated by how and why Aoi can work so hard like that. After hearing all of this, Tama bites Mimimi’s ear and takes her in her arms to comfort her.

Tama tells Mimimi that she can’t be “nothing”, because she’s her hero. Tama likes Aoi just fine, but Mimimi is her one and only hero, and if she wants to be number one, she can rest easy in the knowledge that she’s the world’s number-one idiot! Having been thoroughly cheered up, Mimimi embraces that title by sucking Tama’s outstretched finger and then pouncing on her.

All’s well that ends well, as Mimimi, realizing the error of her decision, re-joins the track club just a day after resigning. Tomozaki notes that her combination of gratitude, respect, and envy for Aoi have mellowed thanks to Tama—although Mimimi’s sexual harassment of Tama seems to have risen…

With Mimimi’s inferiority crisis more or less resolved to a point she’s no longer working herself to the bone, Tomozaki can move on to his own tasks, including giving Nakamura his birthday present and speaking to him for at least three minutes. Nakamura doesn’t make those three minutes easy, as his bemusement over Tomozaki giving him a gift at all leads to clipped, conversation-killing responses.

This leads Tomozaki to improvise in order to stretch out their talking time…by bringing up the rumor of Hinami and Mizusawa dating! This provides Hinami, Mimimi, and Tama a laugh while they’re at a café with Tomozaki after school—but it also leads to them asking Hinami straight up if the rumors are true. She starts with a fakeout, saying they are true, before revising her answer to “of course not.”

Assuming one cour of Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun is all we get, we’re now three-quarters through the series. My hopes for the final four eps include finally getting to see Tomozaki and Fuuka on that date, making more inroads with Mimimi (especially now that she’s in a healthier place), and of course gaining more insight into what Hinami tick. And hey, if a second cour is being considered, I most definitely wouldn’t mind!

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 07 – Fall Today, Rise Tomorrow

It’s time for the campaign speeches, and Hinami controls the crowd as expected. Mimimi and Tomozaki are all ready to hit their key demographics when Hinami suddenly steals all their thunder by promising not only an electric ball pump, but A/C for every classroom.

Tomozaki knows they’ve been outmaneuvered by NO NAME, but Yumi and Mimimi still head out there and do their best, with Tomozaki rigging a Siri-like digital assistant that Mimimi can riff off of in order to amuse the crowd. Mimimi steps away from the podium and leaps into her “Brain’s” arms, feeling really good about her chances.

And then, Hinami proceeds to absolutely obliterate her at the polls, 416-131. That’s like a “U.S. House vote declaring puppies are cute” kind of landslide! It again underscores the yawning chasm between first and second place. Tomozaki joins Mimimi for a commiseratory rooftop visit, but Mimimi maintains an “I’ll get her next time” attitude.

Tomozaki isn’t sure whether Mimimi’s putting on a brave face, but at their next debriefing, Hinami expresses her surprise and pride in Tomozaki’s tactics, even if they were ultimately unsuccessful. Here I was ready for Hinami to be cut down to size, but instead her arrogance is rewarded with an easy and convincing win.

She immediately shifts back into helping-Tomozaki mode, presenting him with the task of asking Fuuka (remember her?) out to a movie. It’s a brief scene, and Fuuka already knows the theater where the movie is playing, but to Tomozaki’s credit he fights through the blushing, maintains eye contact, and asks Fuuka out, and she immediately accepts.

That could be one hell of a lovely date to watch, especially as Tomozaki has found he legitimately likes the Andi novels Fuuka loves, and thus will have plenty to talk about. That is…if he doesn’t stand Fuuka up due to an issue arising with Mimimi; namely that she isn’t able to give up trying to beat Hinami.

Aside from her real talk at the playground last week, Mimimi hasn’t really expressed what she really thinks, but it’s obvious she wasn’t prepared to be beaten as soundly as she was in the election, so acting like nothing’s wrong and working herself to the bone is concerning, not just to Tomozaki, but to her friend Tama.

While they watch Hinami and Mimimi practice around the track, Tama tells Tomozaki how Mimimi went to Hinami for advice on how to best approach Tama, back in first year when Tama had no friends. Hinami’s advice was for Mimimi to approach Tama a little bit at a time, even if it was just playfully poking her face.

After school and practice Tomozaki joins the three girls for a trip to the konbini, where they enjoy their usual dynamic. But then episode ends with the foreboding words “But the next day, Mimimi wasn’t quite herself.” I’m curious to see if Tomozaki can apply what he’s learned to “rescue” Mimimi the way she rescued Tama. I’m also preemptively preparing myself emotionally for the possibility that he’ll stand up Fuuka!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Cardcaptor Sakura – 48 – The Rain Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Time was, Sakura could solve pretty much any weird problem that arose in her life by releasing her wand and sealing a Clow Card. But now an unceasing rain pummels Tomoeda Town, and her wand won’t release. Kero needs to confer with Yue, so Sakura asks her brother if Yukito will be over.

To paraphrase Touya, if you cook a tasty dinner, Yukito will come. Meanwhile Eriol, who if I’m honest is looking a lot like the new big bad in disguise, tries to cheer Sakura up with flowers from his home garden and later invites her to his house. Syaoran is understandably concerned, as Eriol is still very much an unknown element.

That pretty much describes Akizuki Nakuru, who while cute, spunky, and flirty with Touya, treats Yukito like an oblivious rival, declaring she’ll just go ahead and “take” Touya, thank you very much. Like Eriol, Nakuru is hiding something…something big.

That night, Yukito is indeed lured to the Kinomoto residence by the promise of a good meal, and when Touya has to go off to a night job and Kero is alone with Yukito, the latter transforms into Yue. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any answers for Sakura or Kero; all he knows is that the rain is being caused by someone with immense magical power.

Yue and Kero accompany Sakura (and Tomoyo) back to Penguin Park, where a whirlpool of rain forms above them that shoots out tendrils of water. The Guardians, apparently outmatched, are paralyzed, and everyone is sucked up into water spouts. I’m not gonna lie, it’s a super-perilous situation, and I was expecting Syaoran to show up with his magic sword. Alas, he’s nowhere to be found.

No, it’s up to Sakura, for whom letting Tomoyo, Kero and Yue drown is not an option. When she remembers what Clow said about stars being the source of her power, Sakura modifies her incantation and successfully summons a new star-topped wand.

Despite this, when she tries to use a Clow Card, nothing happens. This requires her to command the card to change its form into a Sakura Card, at which time she can draw upon its power with her want.

The first Clow Card to be converted to a Sakura Card is Fiery, which Sakura deploys in order to turn the water spouts into steam and free the others—though practically speaking I’m wondering how nobody got singed or scalded!

With a new wand and new card, Sakura is finally able to end the endless rain over Tomoeda. But as a result of her exertions, she suddenly falls asleep, her magical power apparently depleted. Not far away, three ominous figures float in the sky, having observed the battle. The one in the center is impressed with Sakura’s skills so far. That probably means his next “test” for her won’t be so easy!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 47 – The Popsicle Has Been Taken Away

Summer vacation is ending and school is about to start back up, but as Sakura and Kero-chan work overtime to finish all her homework, strange and powerful magical people and beings arrive in Tomoeda Town, no doubt drawn there by her own power and status as master of the Clow Cards.

Syaoran is preparing to return to Hong Kong to give a detailed report on the Clow Cards, and in all his interactions with Sakura you can sense an apprehension about that impending separation.

He’s heartened when Sakura is cheered up by the knowledge they’ll see each other again. But move over Syaoran, there’s a new transfer student in town: Hiiragizawa Eriol, from England.

In Clear Card I know Eriol as one of Sakura’s far-flung allies, but it’s clear from the sound of his aura (as heard by Sakura) that he’s bound to play a far more antagonistic role here, and is clearly intrigued by the power Sakura gives off.

The two of them both get the feeling they’ve met before. Sensing the time isn’t right to leave Sakura, Syaoran decides (likely on the spot) to remain in Japan after all for the forseeable future, and proceeds to blush at Sakura’s genuine expression of relief.

Just as Syaoran possibly has a new rival for Sakura’s heart, so too does Yukito for Touya’s: one Akizuki Nakuru, a cute transfer student in their class who immediately pounces on Touya’s back and steals his popsicle (which he himself stole from Sakura!)

Akizuki makes an immediate impression with her hyperactive playfulness and just a tinge of malice in her glare at Yukito, suggesting she knows who and what he really is.

That night, as a heavy rainstorm very narrowly localized over Tomoeda rages outside, the drawer containing the Clow Card book starts to glow. Sakura is temporarily transported to what I’ll call “Clow space”, the starry expanse where they met at the end of last season.

There Clow’s voice apologizes for the “trouble” Sakura is about to go through, but he knows she’ll be able to endure it. When she returns to regular space, she finds the book’s cover no longer reads Clow…it reads Sakura.

Before she knows it, Sakura is in a new, presumably waterproof battle costume and in front of the camcorder of a very excited (and costume/footage starved) Tomoyo. We catch a glimpse of Eriol in the area, and then the rain starts to form rings and attack Sakura and Tomoyo.

Kero transforms into his giant lion form to protect Tomoyo while Sakura prepares to release her wand…only it won’t release. It doesn’t respond at all. Sakura has lost her powers! That, and the mysterious duo of Eriol and Akizuki, combine for quite an enticing hook for the third season.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 05 – Miss Never Number One

Rikuo ends up at a new part-time job at a photography gallery, only to encounter co-worker Minato Kouichi, who was in the same third-year class as Haru before she dropped out. He joins them for lunch and exhibits how pretentious he is about photography. Rikuo takes an instant dislike to him.

That leads to yet another coincidence in which Minato is walking Haru home at the same time Rikuo is walking a slightly tipsy Shinako home. Both Haru and Rikuo are irritated by what they see. Shinako tells Rikuo that she’s done walking in circles, while Minato not to subtly hints that he had a crush in Haru in high school, only for her to be completely oblivious.

Minato visits Haru as often at the bar at least as often as Haru visits Rikuo, and eventually asks if she’ll spend a day with him. He formally asks her out, and while she replies with a rant about how much of an asshole Rikuo is, she’s not ready to give up on him, even if she’s “just the backup”, or she’d be lying to herself. Minato expected a rejection, and reveals he dropped out of college to pursue a life of freelance photojournalism.

When Haru says of her pet crow “I kept feeding him, and he got attached to me,” I couldn’t help but notice how similar that is to her approach with Rikuo, intentional or not. Rikuo so often comes off as irritated or annoyed with her (or is so often spotted with Shinako after dark), Haru’s adopted the misconception that he doesn’t care how she feels.

In reality, her reliable and persistent “feeding” of her charming personality to him has made him attached to her, to the extent he’s jealous when he sees her with Minato and even gets into an artistic competition with him. It’s fitting that while Rikuo loses, it’s because Minato’s photo was simply more compelling.

The photo depicts Haru in high school, which stands in contrast to Minato’s earlier screed against portraiture as the photographer forcing his feelings on the viewer. Sure enough, Minato’s affection for the subject suffuses the image, and even Rikuo can’t resist the portrait’s candid beauty and longing. It’s a Haru Rikuo had never seen before, and can never unsee.

One could also look at this photo as a portent for Haru’s eventual dropping out. She looks restless, and her gaze is pointed elsewhere—somewhere more painful yet more rewarding, scarier yet inevitable: adulthood and independence.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 04 – His Lingering Shadow

After three episodes Hayakawa Rou is by far the weakest of the characters, but only because all we’ve known is that Shinako loved his late older brother Yuu, and Rou loves Shinako. She tries to be a good big sis to Rou by cooking him meals, but she can’t give him the one thing he wants from her most. In his frustration, he blames it not necessarily on his faults as a person, but because she can’t let go of a dead guy.

This week we learn why Rou is the way he is. This goes a long way towards making his character more sympathetic—even if he remains the least interesting of the four leads. Since Yuu was always the center of not just Shinako’s but everyone’s attention, Rou had to seek attention elsewhere: by being “the kid who can draw” in his class. Only now he’s in a tougher class in which everyone is that person.

Hell, I was that person in high school, then went to art college and got a rude awakening. It’s an understandable hit to the ego of someone who’d taken for granted one’s superiority in a smaller pool. Still, Rou worked hard to be as good at art as he is, so he’s going to rely on that work ethic to pull him through this phase.

One thing he wants to avoid at all costs is ending up like Rikuo, whom he still can’t believe Shinako even gave the time of day to. Worse, he learns of Haru and Rikuo’s “deal” rudely labeling her a “backup” when the two meet in context at the konbini. Kinoshita insists Rikuo help out in the back, so it falls to Rou to walk the young lady home.

Haru, who it must be said still sees love as in illusion, wonders what Shinako is doing so differently that she is so beloved by both Rou and Rikuo. Ruo rebuts by pointing out how not interested in him that way Shinako really is, but Haru doesn’t want Rou discouraged.

If Rou were to find a way to win Shinako’s heart, that frees Rikuo up for Haru, so she’s firmly on team Rou X Shinako, so gives him a supportive back on the back and runs off with her pet crow, which leads Rou to call her a weirdo.

Rou returns to find his dad and Shinako have already returned to Hanazawa. Once there, his dad informs Shinako that he’ll be renting out the house where they lived with Yuu, and presents her with a box of Yuu’s assembled belongings. In the room where she tended to him until the day he died, Shinako breaks down when she finds the eraser he lent her the first day they met, with the message “baka” concealed by its sleeve.

Outside cheery blossoms glow and she catches a glimpse of Yuu as a student, and she transforms into her younger self to approach him, only for him to disappear behind the tree. In a heartwrenching scene Shinako weeps bitter tears of loss, the shadow of Yuu still looming. It may be “okay to forget” as Yuu and Rou’s dad puts it, but Shinako can probably never fully erase Yuu’s shadow—nor would she want to.

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 06 – Stick to Sports

Like a theme park, a school Sports Day provides multiple opportunities to showcase many a funny situation involving members of the Hero Club. In this case, the sports-oriented Yamato takes the lead, as he’s on the committee and thus gets to assign chuuni-like names to all of the events, as well as make the very spirited signage. He also makes sure the other members are in top shape…even for an event they’re not participating in, like tug-of-war. His enthusiasm for sitting on nothing is to be commended.

Yamato proves the fastest runner in all events, and even when he gets hung up on the “found item” part of a race, he ends up taking Mizuki by the hand, likely causing her to wonder if she’s strayed into a shoujo anime. Turns out she’s his favorite…name, as Hijiri is rare. Whether it’s Tomoki winning the bread-snatching thanks to Sora-branded bread, Futaba not having his guitar when he needs it most, or Kazuhiro getting really into the cavalry battle, everyone has something to do, and it’s all entertaining.

That brings us to the three four-eyes who have been shadowing the club all along. Turns out they’re not rivals, but the Student Council (I should have realized that), who are concerned that the Hero Club is an out-of-control public disturbance both on and off campus. Sports Day does nothing to alleviate their concerns, so you can bet the Hero Club’s existence to be threatened in due time…just when, despite herself, Mizuki is coming to enjoy being a part of it…

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 05 – Chuunibyou Brilliant Park

It’s summer vacation, and Mizuki is glad to be away from the hero club and free to work on her true love: jigsaw puzzles. I’m glad we finally get to see her be as passionate about something—she even puts her hand on her face in a chuuni-ish manner similar to the others!

She longs for a 10,000-piece puzzle she can really dive into, but they’re expensive. Enter a call from Kei, who summons the Hero Club for a job. A summer cold has created numerous absences at the theme park where Kei’s big sister works. Since she has a hold on Kei, he makes him reach out to his friends to fill in for a day.

As the Hero Club members take their positions around the park, amusing situations ensue, as expected. I don’t ask much of a comedy beyond making me laugh, and CGB did that often this week.

Whether it was watching Yamato go off-script at the “Blasto Rangers” live hero show, Touga and Futaba providing entertainment as well as food service, or Kei slowly going mad at the constant stream of “Meow Meow Trains,” everyone has something to do, and none of them compromise their quirks whilst doing the jobs they’ve been given.

Nowhere is that more evident than Tomoki’s job at the lost child center. With his encyclopedic knowledge of Sora-chan (who is, after all, an idol for kids), he’s able to put sad and crying little ones at ease while their parents are tracked down. He unexpectedly gets a shot at the Big Time when the cool grizzled vet under the Sora-chan mascot mask tweaks his back, and trusts Tomoki to take the stage in his stead.

While he makes a rookie mistake of treading on the wire providing the piped-in voice and music, one of the lost girls he interacted with (and who called him “Sora-chan-san”, which is delightful) starts to sing, and the others join in to help Sora-chan out. Everyone has fun and gets paid, which means Mizuki gets her puzzle money…but little do they know they’re being observed by a rival group of weirdos. To be continued…

Carole & Tuesday – 13 – Army of Two Steps Back

I’m not sure why every episode of Carole & Tuesday needs to begin by reminding us about the “Miraculous Seven Minutes” that haven’t happened yet, as if we forgot. We get it: they’ll set it into motion! It will change Mars forever! Shut up about it, would ya?!

For now, all C&T get for not winning, but also not quite losing, Mars Brightest is a lot of notoriety, not all of it welcome. They muddle through talk shows and interviews, while Angela, owner of a new contract with a 20 million Woolong singing bonus, has already released her first single.

It features such stirring slogans as “breaking chains”, “keep moving”, “taking control”, “today’s a new day”, and “find my heaven,” collections of words no one has ever thought to put together before! New day, same crappy lyrics.

C&T’s new fame is earning them zero Woolongs but plenty of headaches. At a laundromat, Tuesday is surrounded by brusque gents, and is only saved further harassment by the intervention of a fellow clothes-washer who is probably Carole’s long-lost father (or at least, we’re supposed to wonder if that’s who he is).

When Gus and Dahlia cross paths, they’re all smiles and passive aggression, but Angela cuts through the crap: C&T better get their heads out of the clouds and start making hits soon, or else she’s going to leave them in the dust come Mars Grammy time. Heck, she’ll probably leave them in the dust anyway, but like Mars Brightest, she still wants a fair fight.

There’s nothing fair about the contract meeting at Brightest Records, the studio run by Catherine. As Tuesday’s suddenly very Trump-like mom starts talking about deporting illegal immigrants (which makes one ask the uncomfortable, what exactly is Carole’s official immigration status?) Gus rejects Cathy’s offer without consulting the girls, taking money out pockets and food out of their mouths without any guarantee of alternate sources of income.

Daddy Gus has simply decided, unilaterally, that C&T are going to be an indie group, selling their songs online to “boost their commercial value” and make their negotiating position better. And the girls just…allow it. It’s baffling; they’re just not developed enough as a group to be turning down reasonable offers; not when it’s really past time they started, you know, earning money to “live” and “eat”.

And don’t get me started on Gus dragging them to the rougher side of town to play an impromptu concert no one there asked for, all to lure out a “genius producer” who loves swinging a goddamned ax around. But hey, I guess it will all work out. Those Miraculous Seven Minutes are coming, or so they say! I just don’t know if I’m going to make it there…

Carole & Tuesday – 12 – Setting the Stage to Stardom

As a dejected Carole tells Gus and Roddy what just happened, Tuesday is briefly scolded by her mother upon returning to her mansion. Her mom couldn’t give to shits about her beyond how her actions reflect on her, and she basically says as much before locking her daughter in her room for a week.

You’d think for a politician worried about the scandal of a runaway daughter, subjecting that daughter to solitary confinement might not be the best look! Anyway, what follows is an effective montage of the two girls suddenly ripped apart becoming more and more morose. They are both The Loneliest Girl all over again.

Gus, who had a similar falling-out with a loved one that in hindsight he believes he could have salvaged, offers some sage advice to Carole about not letting things fester too long without making amends. Carole, eating her feelings in the form of a double Whopper, is way ahead of him: She needs Tues, and she thinks Tues needs her. Gus agrees, which means it’s time to plan the rescue mission—which, yes, may technically involve kidnapping!

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s only non-robot visitor is Spencer, who is as supportive as Gus about getting the duo back together, and letting his sister pursue her dreams. He reveals to her he saw her in the club, and while he admits he never thought his sis was capable of running away to the big city or getting into music, he can relate (having once pursued music but gave up, likely under pressure from mom).

I like Spencer. He’s a good brother! He didn’t give in to their domineering mother when it mattered most. Mom’s too self-involved and distracted by politics and toy boys to realize her hold on him is not as strong as she thinks. And while he couldn’t make it, he can tell she’s got what it takes, and so will do everything to free her from her gilded prison.

That night—the night before the finals, as Carole, Gus, Roddy take the train to Tuesday’s district—Angela is at the Artience Lab with Tao, asking him why the AI lyrics seem to be almost reading her mind. His answer is that, well, the lab itself has been reading her mind all along, as well as her body. It’s been listening and watching and writing, and perhaps even drawn out words from her subconscious she’d never be able to draw out alone.

In this regard, Angela is not a solo act, despite appearing alone on stage. Tao is her collaborator, since he’s the one who developed the AI. After getting into singing to please Dahlia, she can’t sing the final song to her Mama, so she asks Tao to indulge her and look at her and only her throughout the performance.

Tao agrees, but only this once. Like Carole and Tuesday, there’s nothing overtly or explicitly romantic in play here, but it’s also not like there’s nothing there.

The next morning, the rescue attempt, in which Spencer aids Carole, Gus and Roddy without even knowing it by unlocing her door and holding back a security robot so she can run away in her very inappropriate-for-running fancy shoes. They also catch a bit of luck when a driver in a car that’s faster than the cops recognizes them and offers them a ride to the station.

Gus and Roddy are arrested, but the mission is complete: Carole & Tuesday are on their way to their destiny. On the train, Carole apologizes to Tues for the things she said, and the two make it clear to each other that they want nothing more than to by each other’s side. Carole also finally manages to give Tues her birthday gift: a shiny acoustic guitar pin.

When the two return to Alba City, the grandeur of the first episode in which Tuesday arrives for the first time returns, only now she’s not alone and unknown, but running hand-in-hand with her new bestie as the throngs of people recognize and cheer them on. The only problem is, they’re very late; the season finale of Mars Brightest has already started, and as promised, Tao is in the back of the hall, his gaze locked on Angela.

Angie takes that gaze and runs with it, turning in another lovely performance. The vocals are good, but as usual I’m just not that impressed with the lyrics. She sings two identical verses without any change, which makes me wonder, are they that deep and sophisticated as to make Angela believe the AI was reading her mind? I don’t know, but as usual I have to grade on a curve and for this show, it’s a damn good song, well performed.

The judges agree, and are ready to crown Angela a winner until the sudden belated appearance of Carole & Tuesday. Catherine whips out the rulebook and states that any performers not present at the start of the show will be disqualified. Despite this, Carole, Tuesday, Benito, the crowd, and even Angela all compel her to allow them to perform anyway.

Since they had no time to write or practice a new song, they go with their very first song, Loneliest Girl, the song that marked the beginning of their friendship, the end of their loneliness, made them a viral sensation (thanks to Roddy) and put them on the road to musical greatness.

While we’ve heard the song a few times throughout the series, it’s never been performed so powerfully as this time, and with both this and Angela’s finals performance, Mars Brightest finally sounds and feels like a genuine reality TV competition, breaking through the walls of mere imitation.

That’s carried forward with the deliberation of the judges afterwards. Even DJ Ertegun is moved to tears! Catherine initially holds her “rules are rules” ground, but allows an exception that satisfies everyone from the crowd, to Angela (who wanted a fair-and-square fight) to Gus and Roddy (still stuck in jail): Angela is the official winner, but both acts will be permitted to make their pro debuts.

They earned it, and Angela is cordial in congratulating them. She, Carole and Tuesday have come a long way, and many challenges remain. Will their continued chilly rivalry curdle into outright hostility? Will Cybelle break out of prison and finish what she started? Will Tues’ mom take harsher measures, despite the blowback from the duo’s growing legion of fans? We’ll find out in the second half of the series. I’ll be on board!