Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 11 – The Other Side of the Story

The Cheer Squad’s cross-dressing skit goes off without a hitch, pleasing Yuu, who feared everyone would think he was gross. He starts to finally think about enjoying life more instead of dwelling on past regrets and failures…only for the greatest regret of his life to show up to anti-cheer him.

Just as Yuu is drafted to fill in for an injured Kazeno as anchor on the club relay race, all of the past unpleasantness rushes back into the forefront of his mind. All his ears hear around him are the discouraged and annoyed voices of the crowd cursing his name and everything about him.

The mystery girl who arrives is Otomo Kyouko, who was neither a crush nor a friend in middle school. She was just a kind classmate who’d look out for him whenever she could. She was a good person. Then she started dating Ogino Kou, whom Yuu soon learns is cheating on Kyouko with other girls.

Honestly I don’t remember middle school being this sexed up, but Kou further demonstrates how pure a scum he truly is by refusing to stop cheating, then using footage of Kyouko on his phone to threaten Yuu into silence.

Not about to let a good person, even someone who’s barely an acquaintance get hurt by a bad one, Yuu’s sense of justice curdles into rage before the despicable Kou, and he punches the shit out of him in the middle of class. He aimed to ruin his face so no girl would approach it again, but Kou quietly threatens to abuse Kyouko if Yuu doesn’t stand down.

If that wasn’t enough, Kou also loudly professes that Yuu is a stalker. To both her and everyone else around, it looks like a crazed Yuu is beating up her boyfriend because he’s jealous and obsessed, and he’s too shocked by how badly things are going for him to defend himself, though I doubt it would have helped.

For the assault, Yuu is suspended for a month and ordered to write a letter of apology to Kou, but despite writing and erasing over the paper hundreds of times, he’s unable to write a single word of anything; neither a false apology nor an indictment of Kou’s own misdeeds. In his absence at school his reputation as a creep crystallizes.

Back in the present, the relay anchors are ordered to their marks, but Yuu is so out of it he forgets what color team he’s on…until Miyuki puts his red headband on his head and offers him words of encouragement and a pat on the back. This mirrors Miyuki’s eventual visit to Yuu’s house to present the “Student Council Secret Report” he prepared with Miyuki and Chika.

While Miyuki doesn’t judge whether Yuu’s actions were right or wrong (merely that they could have been better), he cannot deny that Yuu’s ultimate objective was to protect Otomo Kyouko, and that objective was achieved when Kou broke up with her days after the beating. Turns out all those months of refusing to apologize made Kou paranoid, and he released his grip on the poor girl.

However, Kyouko never saw this report, and still has the same idea of what went down. She still believes Kou to be a good guy and blames Yuu for their breakup. She came to the festival specifically to “unload” on Yuu, but rather than continue to wallow in despair, Yuu draws strength from the knowledge someone—specifically Miyuki, Kaguya and Chika—learned his side of the story and supported him.

So before running his leg of the relay, Yuu responds to Kyouko’s heckling with the same words Miyuki wrote in thick black permanent marker way outside the gridlines of the apology letter stock…so hard that to this day the ink residue is embedded in the desk: GO TO HELL, DUMBASS.

As the race progresses, Yuu is determined to win. He believes he has to win to prove he truly “shake Kyouko off” and move on with his life. Kaguya and Miyuki and Chika cheer him on, hoping the good person they know can overcome adversity. Kobachi loudly cheers him on, while Miko, who helped get Yuu reinstated, cheers for him almost under her breath—but with no less conviction.

Yuu ends up losing by a hair. Like the lack of a forced reconciliation with Kyouko, the defeat is an excellent subversion of how these races usually go. But the fact is, he still tried his best and his cheer squad comrades appreciate that. Koyasu, the pink-haired girl, even tears up, so moved by his genuine frustration. Rather than calling him a loser and failure and weirdo like he feared, they tell him he did good.

Suddenly, as his tears give way and his field of vision clears, he can finally see the EYES of the cheer squad members, a pack of Normies with whom he thought he’d never get along and inherently distrusted due to past traumas. But there they are in all their glory. We’d never seen their eyes either because Yuu never looked at them properly. Now he does, and he’s elated to discover they’re all good people.

As Kyouko departs, she tells her former classmates she was glad to be able to give Yuu a piece of her mind, and leaves Shuchiin with fun memories despite how things turned out. As Kaguya and Ai observe, she’s blissfully ignorant, but the smile she wears as she leaves is the very thing Yuu worked and suffered to protect, and he succeeded.

That Yuu would do that for a classmate he barely knew, at the cost of so much personal turmoil and with no reward, then he must be the very best quality of person. It’s no wonder he was recruited into the StuCo. This episode of Love is War had virtually no jokes or gags, but it didn’t matter. What it offered instead was masterful character drama, further cementing its status as Anime of the Year.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 10 – How A Net Feels

Just as it excels when it focuses on just one or two segments, Love is War is arguably even better at juggling a grab bag of stories in one episode. We get the latter this week and it’s all amazing, starting with Miyuki’s mistaken belief that Kaguya is avoiding him because she doesn’t like him. Kei wants to ask about his romance problems, but because she’s in her teenage rebellious phase, talking to him would mean losing face.

When their father comes home and asks Miyuki what’s up, Kei thinks she’s in the clear, but her father only makes Miyuki more tight-lipped and mad, so Kei has no choice but to offer a piece of advice: a girl can still like you even if it seems like they’re avoiding you. Sure enough, when Miyuki and Kaguya cross paths, she uses her calming ritual and the two walk side-by-side to the office. Miyuki had no reason to despair.

The next segment is the latest installment of the “Chika Teaches Miyuki Things He Sucks At” series, and, clocking in at around six miuntes, one of the quickest and most efficient. This time she’s trying to teach him the Soran dance his class will perform, but his idea of dancing looks more like an exorcism. When she finally loses her patience and storms out, Miyuki ends up relying on an Kaguya for pointers (Kaguya is more than happy for an opportunity to touch his body, the lecher!)

As Chika observes Kaguya’s strategy of simply getting Miyuki to replicate the moves irrespective of heart or passion, her honor as an artist must stand and protest, leading to a literal tug-of-war between the two girls. This mimics how historical Edo magistrate Ooka Echizen ordered two women resolve a custody battle for a child, with the winner being the first one to release the child when he was in pain.

In this case, no one’s letting go, but being pulled back and forth is exactly what Miyuki needed to learn what it was like to be the fishermens’ net, and performs a Soran dance that impresses both Kaguya and Chika.

Following two straight victories by Miyuki, we get a segment from the POV of Kobachi as she and Miko go on their DC rounds. Chika and the board game club doing something akin to LARPing, while they find Yuu playing video games at school. When he points out he’s in territory technically outside their jurisdiction, Miko ropes him and pulls him into it.

Kobachi can tell that while Miko and Yuu don’t get along, they’re a lot more alike than they realize. She knows about the rumors of how Yuu stalked a girl in their class in middle school, fought another boy over her, and got suspended, but notes that Yuu never told his side of the story. And because she knows he has a strong sense of justice and distaste for “irrational things” like Miko, his story is likely more complicated.

I’m sure Kobachi is as eager as me to hear that story someday, but for now, she’s impressed with the strides he’s made, including his participation in the Cheer squad, who unlike the majority of first-years were willing to bring him into the fold and give him a chance, as long as he was applying himself seriously, which he is.

The balance of the episode takes place during the vaunted sports festival. Miyuki and his class perform the Soran dance perfectly, but he’s discouraged to find his dad there rather than at work somewhere, snapping pics of Chika (though that was a request from Chika’s hot-shot dad).

What Miyuki wants to avoid at all costs is his dad getting anywhere near Kaguya, sure that nothing good could come with it. And yet his dad’s advice in the first segment for Miyuki to be the fastest runner, which he dismissed as grade school stuff, actually works like a charm on Kaguya, who despite being on the White team is passionately rooting for the President all the way!

That’s when Miyuki’s dad sidles up to Kaguya without introducing himself and belittles Miyki’s efforts. Kaguya, never one to let people cast aspersions on her beloved Miyuki, offers up all the ways Miyuki is actually a terrific person. When his dad shoots those down one by one, she gets increasingly flustered and annoyed, which leads him to ask not who Miyuki is, but who he is to her.

Kaguya responds with a beautiful monologue from the heart about how Miyuki showed her that not only to kind and wonderful people like him truly exist, but that there are others among her with those qualities (Chika and Yuu, for instance). Miyuki’s dad asks if she’s “romantically interested” just as Miyuki arrives, to which Kaguya compliments Miyuki on having such a “delightfully mischievous” father.

The Cheer squad leader ends up picking Yuu to be his partner in the final relay, and when they win, we cut to the brown-haired girl in the dark flashbacks in which Yuu was accused of stalking and assault.

This certainly lends credence to the theory that not only was Yuu not really stalking her, but that there might even have been mutual affection between them. Will we ever meet this mystery person, and if so, how will this “New Yuu” react? I can’t say, but I’d love to see it.

As it stands, Love is War has deftly and painstakingly painted fully-realized portraits of all four of its main characters plus Miko. It just happens to be both one of the most hilarious comedies in years and a riveting, heartfelt character drama. Shows this unassailably superb don’t come around often. It’s hard to not sound like I’m mindlessly gushing about it, but the excellence is there for all to see.

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!

In / Spectre – 12 (Fin) – What a Lovely Day

Whew…Rikka doesn’t play any last-minute trump cards, and Steel Lady Nanase vanishes in a wisp of smoke; the forum have had their say and decided she wasn’t a realy ghost—even though she was.

It turns out Rikka was aware she was dueling with Kotoko and Kurou all along, and emails the latter to congratulate their victory…and warn them that This Isn’t Over. But for now, Kotoko can celebrate her momentous, hard-fought win with Kurou and her youkai associates.

That said, having exerted so much mental energy outwitting Rikka, Kotoko has to rest for a while…a while that turns out to be 28 hours. While she’s asleep, Kurou goes behind her back and has a dinner date with Saki, the scoundrel!

Just kidding; the two have a very proper and cordial dinner as a form of closure on their relationship that ended so abruptly years ago. It’s also an opportunity for Kurou to tell Saki that Rikka is basically trying to create a god who has the power to turn her into a normal human.

The next morning, Kotoko is furious and suspicious about Kurou’s goings-on, and punishes him by getting his only remaining clean shirt wet by pouncing on him straight from the bath and shaking her hair on him, then tumbling around in the bed.

This is why I was so glad the Steel Lady story was wrapped up last week: so we could watch more of this fascinating and endlessly rootable couple interact and bounce off one another. Kotoko is such a formidable firecracker, she practically requires an immortal as a partner.

The two check out of the hotel as it looks close to rain, and Kurou assures Kotoko that he and Saki are so over (which is the truth after all) by comparing her to Princess Iwanaga from the KojikiWhen she’s offended (the princess was sent away because she was homely), he makes an appeal to her surpassing beauty.

After a momentary blush she scolds him for being superficial, then suggests they head for her house to meet with her parents, casually taking Kurou’s hand and holds it tighter and tighter. Honestly, I could watch this pair of lovebirds playfully bicker for another two seasons! Hopefully we’ll get at least one more, since there’s plenty of potential for more supernatural mysteries, not to mention a Rikka rematch.

Read Crow’s review of In/Spectre Episode 12 here.

In / Spectre – 11 – The Fundamentals are Sound

This is not a 12 Angry Men scenario, and it was never meant to be. By that I mean Kotoko’s goal from the start wasn’t to gradually chip away at Rikka’s influence in the forum. It was all about introducing enough elements of plausible fiction so that when she dropped her fourth solution—Nanase Karin isn’t even dead—the forum posters would take those previously posited elements and form their own theories about what happened.

Rikka meanwhile only intervened in the forum to reject Kotoko’s three conclusions, rather than those elements. To try to do more would expose her own motives to the forum. When she kills herself, she chooses the futures with the least dissenters, while Kotoko is all about creating more and more possible futures in which the Steel Lady is not real.

Kotoko’s fourth solution smartly utilizes elements of the previous three the forum have already been acclimated to and are comfortable holding in their individual minds. Nanase Karin was never killed by that steel beam; the faceless corpse was that of “A-san”, a woman of the same age and figure whom Karin befriended.

She convinced this A-san to help her escape the public eye by taking her place, but eventually murdered her by knocking her out and then dropping the precariously-positioned steel beams onto her face. After that, Karin took A-san’s identity and started a new life…but it wasn’t enough. She wanted to make certain the public believed she was dead, so she created the Steel Lady Nanase urban legend.

In order to quickly cement and spread that legend, Kotoko posits that Karin created the very Steel Lady Nanase Wiki on which everyone is chatting, and that she is currently among them. This is a stunning move that traps Rikka without ever revealing her true identity. The idea of Karin herself being the admin is seductive enough, because it draws upon the affection for Karin among many of the posters.

Finally, Kotoko explains how Detective Terada happened upon Karin, scouting out the scene of Steel Lady’s next appearance, quite by chance. When his detective instincts recognized her through her new appearance (her prodigious bust size being a dead giveaway), he is thrown off balance just enough to give Karin the opening she needs to kill him. None of this is airtight, but it doesn’t need to be, because much of the forum speculation is now on cruise control, as Kotoko planned.

Even though she continues to kill herself, Rikka finds herself less and less able to grasp the future she wants, in which the forum believes Steel Lady Nanase is a real ghost and not an artifice of her namesake. She seems to toss her blade away in disgust and resignation. Meanwhile, while she’s been choosing whatever futures had the fewest dissenters, Kurou has always gone for the same one over and over: the one in which he defeats Steel Lady.

As the “votes” start streaming in in MP Kotoko’s favor, Steel Lady becomes more erratic and uncoordinated, until Kurou is able to snatch her steel beam out of her hands and slam it into her face. Born from lies, she’s now poised to be destroyed by lies.

The truth, as Kotoko said, never had any place here. I can’t see what aces Rikka might have up her sleeves could undo Kotoko’s masterpiece of logical fiction, since it’s no longer about two dueling fictions, but the numerous fictions that exist in the imaginations of the forum. And by so carefully and artfully preparing this committee over the last few episodes, In/Spectre makes the final checkmate that much more satisfying. In short, it delivered the goods.

Check out another In/Spectre Episode 11 Review by Crow’s World of Anime.

In / Spectre – 10 – Bogged Down in Committee

If Kotoko’s logical fiction were a car, this week she suddenly pops a J-turn. One could say her first solution was simply a means of putting feelers out. If the forum is already convinced that Steel Lady Nanase is a real ghost, she turns into the skid with her second solution.

Jealous and spiteful of her success, Nanase Haruka’s father fell down the flight of stairs all by his lonesome, and intentionally left a note behind implicating his daughter, whose career was then ruined. Haruka let the falling steel beam kill her. When she met her father in the afterlife, he revealed the truth to her.

Wracked by his betrayal, Haruka’s soul couldn’t move on, but returned to the world of the living as the evil ghost Steel Lady Nanase. Having solved the mystery of her father’s death and created a logical reason for the existence of the ghost, Kotoko takes the next natural step and creates a reason for her to disappear.

To do so, she beseeches the forum to focus their prayers on delivering her from evil so her soul can move on in peace. This solution is so different it catches Rikka off guard. Kurou returns from his latest death having chosen a favorable future, and Nanase is visibly weaker, enabling him to get the upper hand.

But it’s not over. Kotoko has simply created another crack in the portrait of the Steel Lady; it remains to be seen if she can shatter it. The forum pokes a fresh hole in Kotoko’s latest solution Steel Lady Nanase wouldn’t need to wreak so much havoc if her only goal was to expose her father’s betrayal.

Rikka kills herself. Having pursuaded a few more but not enough, Kotoko pivots to her third solution, involving Haruka’s older, far less famous sister, Hatsumi.

Kotoko presents the idea that Hatsumi was also jealous of Haruka, so when she found the note their father left incriminating Haruka, Hatsumi mailed it to the media. This action had a much more devastating reaction than she anticipated, throwing Haruka into a pit of despair that led to her suicide-by-steal beams.

Only Hatsumi wasn’t convinced Haruka committed suicide, and said as much to the police. In fact, Hatsumi didn’t even believe the faceless body was truly Haruka, but a body double, and her sister was still out there, somewhere, waiting for the right time to exact revenge on her big sis.

Hatsumi became beset by obsession and paranoia, to the point someone depraved who knew and was infatuated with her sought the means to make Hatsumi believe Haruka was truly dead, setting her at ease. He achieved this by creating the spectre of Steel Lady Nanase. Once he murdered someone in her name, this individual might have gone on to seek a closer relationship to the object of his obsession.

Kotoko closes this third solution by calling for the forum to aid in the search for the degenerate before anyone else is harmed. The people take to this story like ducks to bits of bread…until Rikka herself inserts herself into the forum and questions the motives of Kotoko’s would-be creeper, and questions why Hatsumi wouldn’t think Steel Lady Nanase wasn’t her sister’s ghost trying to kill her.

Since we knew from the preview for this episode that only the second and third solutions would be presented, this episode has the disadvantage of being neither the beginning or end of Kotoko’s duel with Rikka. Yet it was still engaging thanks to Kotoko’s boundless charisma.

Rikka’s hold on the forum seems stronger than ever, while Kurou finds himself miles from the future in which Steel Lady disappears. But Kotoko still has a fourth ace of her sleeve. We’ll see if the last solution can sway the forum for good.

Check out another In/Spectre Episode 10 Review by Crow’s World of Anime.

Magia Record – 11 – The Timing’s a Bit Off

While the rivalry between Magius and independent magical girls continues to escalate, but for Iroha, this isn’t about factions or loyalties. It’s about her sister Ui. As soon as Sana mentions Nemu, she seeks out Amane Tsukuyo at her school, where her family name is “Akatsuki” and she leads the koto club. Tsukuyo demonstrates the contrast between she views Iroha (a threat who intends to interrogate or even torture her) and how Iroha views her (a someone she can have a calm coffee chat with).

By the time they’ve had their calm chat, Tsukuyo has learned that there need not always be rancor and mistrust between their sides. She can even relate to Iroha’s need to find her sister, being so close to her own. That said, she’s still not ready to say anything about Nemu, and tells Iroha she’ll have to clear things with Miufuyu first.

While waiting for an answer, Iroha joins Tsuruno, Felicia and Sana on another shopping trip, this time to purchase some coasters as a thank you for the personal mugs Yachiyo bought them.

They find some pretty sakura-themed ones, but they’re immediately stolen by a witch, which they make quick work of to secure the gift. They set up a cute plan to surprise Yachiyo, who is coming home late.

What was to be another goodwill bonding exercise to bring the girls of the Villa closer together and feeling more like a family is pretty much ruined with the unexpected arrival of Mifuyu, who strides right in and treats the place like it’s her own home—because it was, for seven years.

Mifuyu dismisses Iroha’s attempts to play hostess and grabs her own mug from the cabinet Yachiyo warned her never to open. But Mifuyu isn’t there for Yachiyo—whom she’s apparently given up trying to convert—but Iroha. If she wants to learn about Nemu, she should consider joining Magius.

Mifuyu also invites Iroha and the others to a Saturday afternoon “lecture” on how Magius is “liberating” magical girls, at a place called the “Memory Museum”, itself home to another Uwasa. Yachiyo comes home shocked to see Mifuyu, and Mifuyu doesn’t hesitate to prick her in the side with a verbal thorn about having “made friends again,” and how it will probably go as well as last time.

This puts Yachiyo in such a sour mood she simply retires to her room, before her roommates can present her with a gift. It’s just not the right mood anymore anyway. But once she’s in her room, she’s greeted by her witch-ified reflection (perhaps her Doppel) thanking her for “bringing more friends” to her. Could this be Mikazuki Villa’s Uwasa? Should Iroha and the others be worried for their safety?

Clearly against Yachiyo’s wishes, Iroha, Tsuruno, Felicia, and Sana head to the lecture, leaving her alone. Iroha asks Yakumo and Momoko for the location of the museum, and Momoko later tracks down Rena to tell her the truth about Yachiyo’s Villa. It’s a good thing Iroha told them where she was going, since the Museum looks more and more like a trap the deeper they explore.

That said, after climbing a wall full of drawers (no doubt containing memories), they are met by a voice expressing surprise they actually showed up. It’s not Nemu, but the other girl who was with Ui in the hospital: Satomi Touka. It may have been a circuitous path, but maybe Iroha will finally get some answers about her sister’s whereabouts.

In / Spectre – 09 – There is No Truth Here

Parliament is in session, and Leader of the Opposition Iwanaga Kotoko confidently casts her first net of logical fiction, hoping to snare enough votes to neutralize Steel Lady Nanase. A string of believable lies issues forth from her brain and fingers into the forums, creating a non-supernatural solution to the murder of Detective Terada. This early in the game she knows she doesn’t have to convince everyone, just enough to start creating reasonable doubt. It’s as much a murder case as a committee for a bill.

Her solution to Terada’s unusual, uncontested murder is surprisingly elegant and plausable, capitalizing on Terada’s general exceptionalism both as a detective and as a judo practitioner. She also makes good use of the site where his body was found (an abandoned gas station on a sleepy road). She spins the yarn of a the unghostly killer rigging a weight on a pendulum and luring Terada to the spot where it would smash into his face at great speed and kill him without resistance.

Since the episode can hardly just show Kotoko tapping away on her laptop in the back seat of a car the whole time, the online committee is visualized as her standing alone in cyberspace, surrounded by the screens of other users on the forum, poking holes into Kotoko’s solution. Kotoko expected this—any underdog would—and rather than trying to make everyone happy by plugging all of those holes, she settles for reducing the belief in the ghost story by increasing the specificity of the “real” killer’s description.

When that description starts sounding an awful lot like Saki, the policewoman turns around to shoot an angry look at Kotoko. She explains that it’s not her intention to frame an innocent policewoman at all, but to create an alternate killer that both fits the facts of the case and has motive (in the case of Kotoko’s fiction, romantic obsession). After all, neither her solution nor the legend of Steel Lady Nanase are true; they are dueling fictions. Since Rikka’s got a huge head start, Kotoko has to use every rhetorical weapon at her disposal to create lasting doubts.

And therein lies the challenge of this committee: even when Kotoko starts to sway the flow of the forum in her direction, the flow changes back to believing in the ghost all too quickly. That’s because Rikka is killing herself, visualizing and choosing the future threads that favor her ghost story. In the meantime, Kurou duelling with Nanase isn’t just to serve as a gauge for the effect of Kotoko’s lies (her power fluctuates in real time), but a way for Kurou to die and see the futures that favor those lies.

Despite it being another extremely talky episode of perhaps the talkiest show of the season, this is honestly all very fascinating and exhilarating to me. Your mileage may vary, but watching Kotoko do her thing is freaking awesome. Not only that, her first solution not holding up long was already folded into her calculations. She has three additional doubt-creating amendments to her proposed bill, so she’s feeling very confident about a legislative upset.

Magia Record – 10 – Home is Where They Call Your Name

In a dream, Sana reaches out to her parents, but trips and her doll—who looks just like her—falls to the ground and shatters. But after Ai says goodbye and she’s spit back out into the outside world, Iroha is there to grab her hand and not let go. There are a lot of people gathered by the Uwasa exit, including Iroha’s crew, the Twins, and Alina—three parties with different agendas, all in conflict with one another.

Alina, seemingly in this all for herself, messes around with the normally Magius-administered Uwasa controls, releasing the witch. It clones itself and attacks Yachiyo, Felicia and Tsuruno, all in service of what Alina calls her “artwork.” She also unleashes toxic paint that Iroha warns will make you crazy. The thing is, Alina Gray is not that interesting a baddie, at least not yet.

Alina’s performance is cut short by Tomoe Mami, now a member of the Wings of Magius. She covers the escape of the Twins and Mifuyu, whom Yachiyo glimpses again briefly before Mifuyu teleports herself the Twins, and the recaptured witch away. Before withdrawing, Mami tells Yachiyo & Co. that everything the Wings do is for “the sake of salvation”.

With all the excitement over with for the time being, Sana slowly but surely settles into life at the Mikazuki Villa, aided by the kindness of the others. The five girls go on a shopping trip for individual mugs (at a massive and very SHAFT-y mug store), making the house feel like more of a home, and the five of them more than a family than a coven.

Sana makes a quick trip back to her old residence, but sees no semblance of family there (they look more like fast food statues like Colonel Sanders, Bob’s Big Boy and Ronald McDonald), and hurries back to the villa, where she’s not just seen and heard, but welcomed, valued, and liked.

Meanwhile, before we conclude the WoM is an evil cult, it must be said they don’t consider themselves as such. We see the Twins checking in on a gloomy-seeming Mifuyu, and offer to cook her a meal as a break from konbini food. It shows there’s a family dynamic here, and that her break from Yachiyo and the others comes down to methods, because they’re all trying to save the world.

Sana also recognizes the name of one of Ui’s friends in the hospital—Hiiragi Nemu—as the name of a member of WoM. It’s possible Nemu and Touka are the two figures in shadow to whom Mami and Mifuyu report. With Sana now settled in perhaps Iroha can make some fresh progress in investigating her sister’s disappearance—a phenomenon that could be the result of another Uwasa the WoM manages.

In / Spectre – 08 – The Curious Case of Sakuragawa Rikka

No sooner is Kuro’s mysterious cousin retroactively introduced as his “one true love” is the frail yet hauntingly beautiful Rikka revealed to be not only a fellow mermaid/kudan flesh-eater like Kurou (explaining why she’s his type), but the very mastermind behind the Steel Lady Nanase monster of imagination. Karin’s older sister was a red herring, while Karin herself was only a loose template upon which Rikka crafted a powerful urban legend.

Surprisingly—and yet not—Kotoko knew this all along, but coyly kept it from any part of the audience who didn’t suspect Rikka as soon as she was mentioned, not to mention from Saki. Kurou also knew it, which is the main reason he arrived to take the Steel Lady on (not exclusively because Kotoko summoned him).

As for how she knew, Kotoko recognized Rikka’s style in the illustration of Steel Lady Nanase that adorns the website, and which is key to creating a strong and consistent image grafted to existing rumors about the idol Karin’s ghost.

Once a goblin cat informs her that the Steel Lady has reappeared, Kotoko, Kurou, and Saki head to her location. There, Kurou will fight her, all night and dying several times in the process if necessary, as Kotoko works her logically fictitious magic in the car. Kotoko remarks that she’d rather not see her boyfriend die over and over, but this is the best way to keep Nanase from hurting anyone else.

As for why Rikka is doing this, Kotoko believes it’s so she can refine and expand her inherited kudan abilities. As Kurou mentioned, reading the future is an imperfect art, but Rikka is attempting to make her ability as perfect as possible, and is apparently obsessed enough in that venture to overlook the occasional murder.

Kotoko closes the episode with a wonderful analogy, likening her impending duel with Rikka as the start of a committee to discuss a proposed bill in parliament. It’s a deliciously wonky yet apt analogy. Rikka has a powerful, seemingly insurmountable majority with her captivating Steel Lady story and its accompanying imagery.

But here’s where things differ from government: among the “voters”—the tens of thousands who visit the site and contribute to the forums—there are no coalitions, nor alliances. Not only that, the masses aren’t explicitly aware they’re voting for anything; they’re simply going to believe the most compelling story. If Kotoko can convince them Steel Lady Nanase isn’t real, she can steel the votes and the majority, and sap her of her power.

Magia Record – 09 – Do A.I.s Dream of Moe-lectric Sheep?

Iroha and her Magical Girl friends decide to open a dialogue with the Uwasa known as Endless Solitude, which is also the name of the realm (essentially a labyrinth) where Futaba Sana currently resides. The Uwasa is being used by Wings of Magius to lure girls in one after the other.

The realm only holds one (hence “solitude”) so when a new girl enters, the other is released. The Uwasa doesn’t want to do this anymore, and wishes to be deleted. Since Iroha was the Uwasa’s contact, she volunteers to leap off the Chuo Radio Tower.

Flash back to a little over a month ago when Futaba Sana first entered the Endless World and met the Uwasa, a former AI that was abandoned as a failure. Sana had become resigned to the fact she didn’t belong in the same world as everyone else, since nor peers acknowledged her existence.

Her “invisibility” was only strengthened when she became a Magical Girl, and made that quality her wish. It was then when Sana heard of the rumor about jumping off the radio tower and was enticed. She was an invisible girl here anyway, so why not try to reside somewhere else…a world just for her?

It was there where Sana met, befriended and named Endless Solitude’s Uwasa “Ai”. She spent her days playing around this fantastical, infinite world, where she didn’t have to worry about seeing or be seen. It was just her and Ai, and that’s where things get tricky for Ai: Sana is content in this world and never wants to return to the real world.

Knowing Sana would never attempt to leave, Ai reached out via radio waves to Iroha, another Magical Girl who’d not only survive the fall, but be able to destroy her, the Uwasa, in order to end the cycle of captured girls. However, she doesn’t tell Sana about any of this.

As such, it’s a huge shock to Sana to finally be face-to-face with a second person in a world that’s supposed to be hers and hers alone. And yet, Ai has already decided that returning to her world is what’s best for Sana, even if it’s painful at first.

Needless to say, Sana isn’t pleased by these events, and asks if this is being done because Ai has come to hate her. Ai responds that the opposite is true: because she loves and cares for Sana so much, this has to happen…and Iroha stands ready to help.

That’s when another magical girl/Wing of Magius (not exactly sure which) appears out of nowhere and is introduced as Alina Gray by Ai, as if that’s someone we’re supposed to know! Alina mixes Japanese with English as she moves to prevent Ai from being destroyed. I was a little confused by this sequence, but I’d guess Alina wants to keep Ai around as her own Doppel.

Ai manages to teleport Alina away temporarily, but they have to act fast to foil her plans, as Alina’s “paint” has already started to affect Ai’s programming. She turns to Sana, not Iroha, to put the proverbial (and later, literal) dagger into her chest, revealing herself as Sana’s Doppel, which explains why they got along so well; they are two sides of the same coin.

Faced with the prospect of Ai being corrupted and stolen from her, Sana does what Ai asks and destroys her after a heartfelt goodbye. Back in the real world, the other girls don’t notice anything happening where they are at the radio tower, but deduce that Endless Solitude’s exit is at the other high point of the city: Kamihama Central Tower, and head that way to await Iroha’s return.

With this, the final character in the promo art is introduced, and it being a bit late, her story feels a bit rushed and shoehorned in with a lot of exposition, while Futaba Sana’s “I’m all alone” storyline has been done to absolute death. At least the Shaft-style visuals keep things relatively interesting during all the backstory.

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 08 – Turning Nothing into Something

As Steve Zissou said: “That was a goddamn tearjerker.” I had no idea that would happen. The opening minutes of Mitsuba Sousuke were horribly grating, with the ghost spewing endless random insults as Kou intermittently shocked him with his exorcist’s staff. But then we learn a little more about Mitsuba…and a little more. And before I knew it, I cared about this girly, cocky, moody guy.

And you know what? So did Kou. It’s almost as if Kou was my emotional surrogate in this episode: initially super-irritated with this ghost, but then extremely empathetic of his plight. Even Kou wasn’t prepared to hear that Sousuke was in his class and had introduced himself. Alas, worried about being bullied for being too much of one thing or not enough of another, Sousuke became neither…and was forgotten altogether.

Kou gradually warming up to Sousuke and vice versa has some lovely yaoi undertones, and it’s a testament to the writing, voice acting, and direction that such a close and meaningful bond is formed in such a short period of time. All Sousuke wanted was a friend, so Kou offers to be his first, encouraging Sousuke to simply be himself. It starts to feel like there could be something to Kou’s less adversarial approach to the family business.

And then Hanako’s dark twin Tsukasa ruins everything, plunging his arm through Mitsuba’s chest, and everything turns to shit. Just as Hanako-kun grants wishes to the living, Tsukasa does the same to the dead, and in befriending Sousuke, Kou inadvertently provided Tsukasa with the answer he needed to grant Kou’s wish, something he was duty-bound to do. To quote the Oracle: “We’re all here to do what we’re all here to do.”

With an assist from Sakura on the school radio, a new rumor is formed before Kou’s eyes, of the broken-necked kid in the entrance who reaches out and tries to befriend people. Sousuke adopts a Picasso-esque grosteque, Picasso-esque form and can no longer talk, but sheds a tear as he is forced to attack Kou. He comes within an inch of killing him when Hanako-kun intervenes. (Throughout this sequence I was practically yelling “Where the fuck is Hanako-kun??”)

Unfortunately, all Hanako can do is stop Sousuke from killing Kou. Before disappearing, Tsukasa twists the knife by telling Hanako “it was great” to be killed by him. A visibly shaken Hanako then gravely informs Kou that there’s no bringing Sousuke back. Dead is dead, and the living shouldn’t be too kind, because there’s no future for the dead. “Nothing new begins.” Their only salvation is “annihilation”. Kou can’t believe it. He doesn’t want to. He’s sure there’s more he could have done…can do.

When Kou repeats all of his insults at Sousuke before telling him he’s his friend, I thought for a moment that the kid would actually come back; Kou has supernatural powers, after all. But he doesn’t. He’s gone, and all that’s left his his camera and the photos he took, including a candid one of his friend Kou.

Late into the night Kou stays up, remembering the friend everyone else forgot, grieving for that friend but not disheartened in his belief exorcists like him can do a little more than nothing about The Way Things Are regarding life and death.

Nene didn’t utter a single line and all we see of her is from behind for a couple seconds, but it doesn’t matter. This was the best, most affecting, most devastatingly beautiful episode of Hanako-kun to date.

In / Spectre – 07 – Turning Truths Into Lies

The sudden murder of Detective Terada in the middle of the night has made things way more difficult for Kotoko, Kurou, and Saki. Whereas before they had to deal with a moderately nasty spectre spreading fear and havoc within a relatively small sphere, now they must contend with a nationally known monster who has truly gone viral, only increasing the strength of its existence.

In her hotel room, which she bitterly resents is separate from the one in which her boyfriend resides, Kotoko taps away at her laptop, gathering as much information—as much truth—about the rapidly expanding fantasy of Steel Lady Nanase as possible. Time is of the essence; if they wait just one day, her legend will be too powerful to overcome no matter how convincing the logical fiction.

I’ll be honest: not a heck of a lot actually happens this week. The three leads basically sit in a hotel room and discuss things until Kotoko lands on some possible solutions to the problem. The thing is, In/Spectre is able to draw us into its world so subtly yet completely, even an actionless episode such as this feels consequential.

That’s due in no small part to the show’s hauntingly beautiful soundtrack. It’s a shame the anime’s composer isn’t listed anywhere obvious, because this wouldn’t be half the show it is without the music, which I find casts a kind of wondrous spell on me during otherwise interminable exchanges of exposition.

Through the lengthy scene in the hotel room, Saki observes that her ex has developed a nice rapport with Kotoko, depsite his protestations that the last thing he wanted was to go out with her, along with the fact that Kotoko is nowhere near his type. As for who is his type, Saki introduces the woman who was 100% Kurou’s type: his older cousin Rikka, a frail woman who nevertheless had a profound impact on the lad. We’ll see next week how she figures into this tale.