Tenten Kakumei – 05 – A Dragon and a Dance

Before they reach the battle zone where a dragon is causing a monster stampede and overwhelming the royal defenses, Euphie is worried. Before she hopped on the broom with her, she asked Anis what she would do with the dragon’s magicite. Anis’ answer—that she’d implant it within her body—is the primary cause of her worry. She doesn’t want Anis taking her dream to become a “real” magician too far, lest it change who she is.

But something Euphie doesn’t truly learn until this week is that Anis is in it to win it; she can’t hold back, not even an inch, in the pursuit of that dream, or it won’t happen. Anis drops in just in time to slash a giant monster in two before it kills two fighters, then chats casually with the captain of the knights and tells him and his peeps, and Euphie, to deal with the small fry and leave the dragon to her.

Euphie doesn’t like the idea of Anis going it alone, but Anis makes the very reasonable argument that she’s the only flying fighter they’ve got, and Euphie is still not experienced in aerial combat. She also pops some “magic medicine” that not only heightens her speed and stamina, but also makes her somehow even more unhinged than she usually is. Drugged Anis’ faces run the gamut between badass and, well, worrying.

When Anis finds herself surrounded by hordes of monsters, Euphie bails her out with an Explosion spell, showing Anis that not only is her magic beautiful, but also highly effective in a battle. All this commotion attracts the attention of their main target, the dragon, and once more Anis flies off on her own, confident of an easy victory.

And then her mana sword bounces off the dragon’s magical barrier. Honestly, I thought this episode would be a cakewalk for Anis, but unlike Euphie I had been completely taken in by her now apparent overconfidence in both her technology and the extent of her limits. This dragon is no slouch, and after a couple more failed strikes, Anis gets a taste of its dragon’s breath.

She’s only kept from being incinerated by her wrist-shield, but when it shatters, she’s knocked from her broom. She can’t re-summon the broom, and for a moment, thinks that this might be It for her. With the ground approaching fast at fatal speed, “Euphie” may be the last word she utters.

But Euphie spots Anis falling, and rushes to catch her. She runs faster than she ever has, and perhaps for the first time, uses her magic to turn her into a human missile. She catches Anis just in time. When Anis prepares to jump right back into the battle, a distraught Anis stops her and asks why, why is she going back in the state she’s in.

Anis simply says she’d cease to be a magician if she didn’t fight with everything she had to eliminate the thing keeping people from smiling. So Euphie, her eyes welling with tears says fine, if she has to go to keep being herself, then take her with her as well. Anis gives her a warm smile and accepts, and off they go.

With Euphie aboard, the broom is a lot faster and more maneuverable. The duo determine that hacking off the dragon’s wings will bring it down, and that means slipping around and doubling back. Euphie serves as a decoy, going straight up into the night sky and distracting the dragon, who is too late to spot Euphie bringing her sword right down on the base of its wing.

But the battle is only halfway over. The dragon may be grounded, but it still has its breath, and it prepares an immense ball of incredibly dense mana that will destroy the entire area and everyone in it…if Anis and Euphie don’t stop it. Anis removes the limiter on her sword, and the strain causes her to cough up blood, but Euphie is right there to keep her steady. When the ball of pure mana comes at them, they’ll either come out of it alive or not.

They end up surviving the full force of the dragon’s Ultima, as Anis’ unlimited mana sword cuts through it and delivers a fatal blow to the dragon. Then, as if this hasn’t been awesome enough, the dragon speaks to Anis, accepting his defeat and saying she can do what she wants with his corpse. It’s only when she says he must resent her that he decides he’ll hit her with a dragon’s curse before he dies.

What that curse will mean for Anis short or long term, we’ll have to wait and see. It and the magicite may lend her incredible power—it may even let her finally achieve her dream of becoming a real magician like Euphie—but at what physical cost? Will she still be Anisphia the Maurading Princess?

In an episode so packed even a seminal scene like Anis and Euphie’s first dance together has to take place during the end credits. Fortunately, those credits are timed so we see the best shots of these two abandoning the haughty victory party, declaring their undying affection for one another and committing to be by each others’ side forevermore, and then, yes dancing together (Euphie makes clear dancing with men feels oppressive).

We now have a strong contender for best episode of the season, if not all of 2023. It is the culmination of all the careful character work done in the previous four episodes. Truly, the emotional beats here would not have hit so hard had we not gotten to know and love these two leads.

We also got to see them at their most badass, making the impossible possible. While not ufotable-level, the battle animation still shone.  We didn’t need to see the prince show up too late, so we don’t. The only minor mark against this episode is that there’s no Ilia. There are certainly things to worry about down the road, but for now, life is good.

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A Couple of Cuckoos – 03 – Too Close to the Sun on Wings of Okonomiyaki

Just like that, Erika and Nagi are living alone together under the same roof. A text from Nagi’s mom and birth dad seals their fate: they’re stuck here for two weeks. They also both acknowledge that if they don’t go on defense, they’re going to end up married before they know it. So before heading to their separate rooms, they agree not to interact with each other in any way for  the duration of their stay.

AS. FRIKKIN’. IF. Moments after waking up later than he ever has (a product of not being slapped awake by his mom or Sachi) he hears a scream and comes to Erika’s rescue, only to get even more freaked out by the gecko in the bath than she is. A scenario like this begs for a bathroom walk-in, and while switching the roles would have been more refreshing, the execution get is both funny and tasteful.

Their pact last night has Nagi excited for a weekend of uninterrupted studying in his room, but he is betrayed by the nature of his arrival here: he doesn’t have his charger or textbooks. When they’re delivered, Erika takes delivery, and won’t give them up unless Nagi helps her with her Insta photo shoot of the day. This, in turn, leads to him tripping and falling into another romantic pose on her bed that’s caught on camera.

Erika doesn’t know what it is, but her pics just come out better when Nagi takes them, so she borrows him for the rest of the day, which leads to a water fight. While Nagi just wants to study, and Erika just wants to go viral, those more cynical motivations get pushed to the background as the two simply have a fun day in each other’s company. They’re in violation of their pact, but neither of them does anything about it.

Instead, Erika finds herself wanting to know more about Nagi, like why he loves studying so much. It’s a fair question from someone who is already financially set for life, and Nagi’s answer, while only a half-truth, about wanting to provide for his family of modest means gets through to her.

Erika’s reason for wanting to be popular on SM goes beyond “just ’cause” and into her desire to connect with “someone” out there—whether this someone is literal or figurative remains to be seen.

As for the other, and arguable more immediately important half of Nagi’s motivation, the challenge he issued to Segawa Hiro the other day has circled the school several times and he receives the expected extra attention and ribbing.

I like how Nagi’s a tough kid and doesn’t let any of this get him down, and even mistakes three guy’s genuine desire for him to win for teasing (if only because they’re betting on him…26-to-1 odds!). He gets it from the normies and the nerds, one of whom declares him Icarus and Hiro the sun. Nagi’s response to this guy is perfect: “Who the hell was that?”

Nagi gets a rooftop invite from Hiro that he’s sure is a prank, but when he learns that he, not her, is currently the top-ranked student prior to the upcoming waves of exams, he realizes it’s genuine. Sure enough, Hiro meets him on the rooftop, but not to confess her love to him, but to declare to him that she won’t lose to him…not in exams, class ranking, sports, cleaning and eating speed…she won’t give up a millimeter of ground anything.

This is a side of Hiro Nagi has never seen, and it only endears her to him more, and now both of them are each other’s prime motivating factors for pursuing greatness. We’ll see if one’s bitter rival really makes for a better match than a fiancée raised by your birth parents. I also imagine Hiro will cross Erika’s path eventually, and the two will have some thoughts about things.

But first things first: Nagi really does need to study. Unfortunately, not only did hanging out with Erika cost him the weekend, but the water fight gives him a cold. Erika dresses up like a nurse to take care of him, but he tries to power through, and ends up passing out. Erika, in turn, cancels her plans for the day to tend to him, and when he comes to, admits she’s duly impressed by how hard he works to achieve his goals.

This doesn’t just affect Nagi because a cutey is saying it, but because literally no one has ever said they’re impressed with his academic work ethic. His birth parents might’ve had they raised him, so it’s apropos that Erika, who was raised by them, is the first to do so.

It’s the kind of unforced gesture that should sow doubt in Nagi’s mind that he should choose Hiro (who let’s not forget could well reject him anyway) over Erika. Unless he and Hiro hang out more, that soil of doubt will only grow more fertile as he and Erika continue to interact and learn about each other. Those parents might’ve been on to something.

Three episodes in, A Couple of Cuckoos is a solid textbook rom-com that succeeds in making all parties (save Sachi) dynamic and likeable—not just cogs—while finding ways to ground the chaotic premise. This is not the car wreck in slow motion I thought it’d be. It’s just a good, fun, and engaging show, full-stop.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 06 – It Was Spring When We Met

With the Culture Fest imminent, rehearsals for Romiya and Juliot are well under way, but when Nishikata first lays eyes on Takagi in her princess regalia, he forgets half of his lines as Dumpling A and gets an earful from Director Yukari. Nishikata knows he needs practice, so he arranges for Takagi to meet him…on a rooftop…at sunset.

It’s not until he’s almost to the top of the steps that he realized that in his absent-mindedness he set up the perfect conditions to ask Takagi out, recalling an iconic chapter of 100% Unrequited Love, in which he should know by now Takagi is also well-versed. But such is her knowledge of the workings of his mind, she knows he’s up there to practice their lines…though she’s a little disappointed it’s not for more than that.

The day of the festival arrives, and Nishikata is 5 billion percent certain he can beat Takagi in a contest of who can get out of the haunted “diner” first (can I just say how wonderfully random a haunted diner is?). Takagi gets in and out in 43 seconds, dashing his hopes of her getting freaked out. But for a moment there, he considered going in, so concerned that she’d be too scared. Sure enough, Takagi wants to go through the house with him together, not separately.

Intertwined with Nishikata and Takagi’s slow dance of love are Houjou and Hamaguchi, the latter of which initially disappoints and pisses off the former by telling her not to come to his class café. When she arrives anyway to spite him for being a jerk, she discovers why he didn’t want her there: all the guys in his class had to dress like maids!

But the big draw of the fest is the play, and things get off to a smooth and encouraging start. Even Nishikata knows all of his lines and delivers them with confidence, no doubt a product of his thorough off-camera practicing with Takagi. But when Kimura is “turned into a ham” and leaves the stage, the chestnut atop his scepter pops off. Then Kimura has digestive issues after winning the eating contest.

This leaves Nishikata to fill in for him, but things don’t go as Yukari, Sanae, or Nishikata planned. That’s because during the scene where she’s about to take her life, Takagi trips on the chestnut, and Nishikata darts onto stage to catch her so fast his pig head falls off. The crowd believes this is all intentional, so he runs with it—emphatically declaring his return to human form is a “miracle born from our love.”

Surely the adrenaline has him, but that doesn’t matter. Takagi is loving every moment of this improvisation, as it means she gets to be in the arms of the boy she loves for real, and Nishikata has nowhere to hide. It’s only when an entire gym full of eyes are on them that they’re finally able to say how they truly feel, even if Nishikata would dispute that’s what’s going on.

At the after-festival karaoke party, I was glad to see Nishikata and Takagi sitting next to each other. She praises him for the improv, and he claims not to remember any of what he said on stage. Takagi assures him she remembers “each and every second” of it, and probably will never forget it.

Then Nishikata asks why one of her improvised lines mentioned how they met in spring when Romiya and Juliot met in the fall…to which Takagi says, while looking straight into Nishikata’s eyes, that “it was spring when we met each other.” We, not the characters they played. While Nishikata’s 8-bit brain tries to process these words and their meaning, Takagi is called to the mic to sing another lovely vintage song. A perfect ending to a perfect episode.

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Komi Can’t Communicate – 12 (Fin) – …But Not Because She Doesn’t Want To

The Maid Café (and Komi) are such a smashing success for Class 1-1 that Najimi can’t suppress their enterprising spirit. They start divining new and ever-more-pricey (and niche) services for the maids to perform for the customers…until the faculty advisors shut them down. Sufficiently chastened for the time being, Najimi instead markets the café by simply having Komi walk around the school.

With Maid!Tadano by her side, Komi navigates all of the different things to see and do at the festival, from a haunted house to rooftop confessions. She rejects Ren’s confession with silence, but her own confession she’s only able to get a tiny “meow” out, which most of the crowd indicates Komi is a cat maid. As usual, most of her peers don’t really “get” her, because in a communication vacuum they divine their own interpretations.

Fortunately, there are at least four peers who more-or-less “get” Komi: her first two friends Tadano and Najimi, along with newcomers Onemine and Kaede. As Komi dons a French bun and glasses for a more sophisticated maid look, she’s both a roving advertisement for the café and soaking up the festival. Having Onemine and Kaede but no Najimi in this walkabout gives it a much more casual vibe, which I think both Komi and Tadano appreciate.

Thanks to Najimi’s racketeering, Class 1-1 is disqualified from a slam-dunk Grand Prize win in the overall class contest. Najimi’s attempts to gloss over their role in the DSQ don’t go over well, but when Komi indicates via notebook that she had fun, everyone’s on board. At the after-festival dance, the torturously-dense Tadano goes out on what he thinks is a tenuous limb in asking if Komi wants to dance, even though dancing with him is the one thing Komi wants to do most.

Tadano’s translator still has its blind spots, but at the after-dance karaoke, even he can recognize his only fan—Komi with maracas—in a crowd of otherwise distracted friends and classmates. I like how we only get the first beat of the songs everyone sings, and that Komi doesn’t suddenly show off a beautiful singing voice…sometimes it’s not about the having, but the yearning, ya know? ;)

Speaking of yearning: throughout these whole twelve episodes Komi has struggled to form connections, but not because she didn’t want them. With help from Tadano, Najimi, and the others, she’s become ever more comfortable with social interactions and communicating her thoughts. As she prepares for a much-deserved post-festival rest, she writes the names of all of the friends she’s made, then cradles the notebook with great reverence.

Not surprisingly, we’ll be getting a second season. We’ll see if Komi starts speaking more (and giving Koga Aoi more to do), if Tadano ever realizes that Komi sees him as more than a friend, and which as-of-yet not formally introduced colorful characters she’ll befriend.

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