To Your Eternity – 10 – The Grand Gugupest Hotel

When the Enemy is about to attack Gugu, Fushi springs into action and shields his brother from the twisting branches by creating a number of spears to parry them. I guess he has learned a few things since his last battle! Gugu wants fight beside him, but is very lucky to survive when the Enemy throws him across the forest.

It may just be the still Booze Man installed in his stomach that saves him, as he proceeds to barf out all of the liquor stored there. When his torch ignites the liquor-vomit, Gugu gets an idea for how he can help Fushi, and races home. On the way, he turns completely red, drunk off the liquor that escaped the still, while Rean is about to be carried off by her helicopter parents.

Drunk Gugu is naturally a less inhibited Gugu, so he doesn’t mince words about loving Rean more than anyone, no matter to whom she’s betrothed. In any case, he’s not there to solve her family drama, but to get a refill of Booze Man’s best booze.

Pioran, the only other person to have witnessed the terrifying power of Fushi’s Enemy, insists that Booze Man do as Gugu says. The old man fills Gugu up with his strongest stuff and sends him on his way, while Pioran stops Rean’s parents from taking her and leaving…because it’s not safe out there.

Gugu, having sobered up, arrives to find the Enemy has absorbed Fushi’s Giant Bear form, and there is no sign of Fushi. But it’s soon apparent that the Enemy, essentially being made of wood, is vulnerable to fire, and Gugu has a fresh bellyful of fuel to play with.

Using his boozy fire breah, Gugu burns the Enemy to the ground, freeing Fushi, who is only flowing light and energy before transforming into a rock, his first form. When Gugu picks him up, he transforms into a wolf dog, and the two tussle mirthfully…though Fushi keeps his promise to bite Gugu if he came back!

The next morning Gugu and Fushi return to the Booze Man’s house where everyone is very confused about what happened (though Pioran probably has a pretty good idea). Gugu celebrates his return by cooking up a feast so delicious, Rean’s parents deem him better than their professional chef.

Fushi, back in the same clothes and with the same rope as the boy when he died since he “reset”, greets his maker, whom no one else can see or hear, outside. The creator tells him in order to become stronger, he cannot be sedentary, but like Rean with her parents, Fushi protests. He wants to stay. The creator tells him that’s also an option.

Back inside, Rean prepares to leave with her folks, and Gugu dispenses some precocious wisdom: The people who keep us alive aren’t necessarily good people, but we aren’t so weak that we can’t endure it. Granted, he’s had to endure a lot more than Rean, but it’s all relative!

Fast forward…four years. Gugu is no longer a pot-bellied boy, but a swole young man, having never stopped his fitness regimen. He continues to assist the Booze Man and feed him and Pioran (who still starts eating before everyone comes to the table). Rean still “runs away” from home on the regular, to see Gugu and Fushi.

And Fushi, having watched Gugu and Rean grow, has himself grown “older”; his hair growing longer and even gaining a slight stubble on his face. He also speaks a lot more naturally, which isn’t surprising considering his teachers and how long he’s been with them. The tenth episode of a planned twenty ends on Fushi’s new family happily enjoying a meal together. If only that happiness could last…

To Your Eternity – 09 – Gugunrise Kingdom

Fushi has rescued, reunited and made up with Gugu, and for the first time he uses his powers…strictly for fun. For the sheer thrill of scaring the shit out of random townsfolk or thrill-seeking teenagers. Gugu has no intention of going back to the house of a man who put a still in his body without his consent, and Fushi doesn’t care either way s long as he’s with Gugu.

As time passes, the penniless Gugu grows hungrier and weaker. Fushi, obviously, needs no sustenance other than stimulation. But his stimulation thus far has prepared him for this eventuality, as he is able to create the pear-like fruit March fed him, along with dango and fish, thus saving Gugu from starvation.

When Meer, who obviously knows Gugu’s scent at this point, shows up at his tent, Fushi calls the sickeningly cute and good boy Joaan, the name the boy gave to his wolf-dog. Fushi describes to Gugu how “his first person” stopped moving and “became empty”, so he “became” him. Gugu hypothesizes that both physical and emotional pain affect his bizarre friend.

He posits that if he were to die and Fushi became upset, he would become him. Gugu thinks this is seriously cool…because, well, it is. But for him specifically, it would mean even if he died, Fushi would still think of him. Gugu describes a life where he had three square meals a day, a soft bed, twin older siblings to play with, a mother and father to care for him, and an older brother to look up to.

Gugu is describing his early childhood, when, for at least a few beautiful, fleeting years, he thought he was part of just such a family and living that kind of life, where a lot of people were thinking of him. As he grew older, he began to realize he and his brother were merely the children of servants to that family. When those servants moved on to a new job, they didn’t take Gugu or his brother with them.

Gugu asks Fushi, the only one who came for him and the only one he can call family, to become him if he dies, then passes out and stops moving. For a second there, I thought that was well and truly the end of Gugu—perhaps succumbing to the nasty side effects of having a still in your gut. Fushi even seems to contemplate absorbing Gugu’s form for a hot second.

For a certainty, To Your Eternity wanted you to think Gugu had died. Then Rean pokes her head into the tent, having finally found the two runaways, and Gugu springs back to life, blushing. Turns out Fushi wasn’t the only one thinking about him or the only one who came for him. Rean tries to drag Gugu out of his ragged tent and back to the Booze Man’s house, but Gugu doesn’t wanna.

Of course, Rean’s motivations aren’t 100%honorable. She says she, Pioran and Booze Man love Gugu, but really they need to bring someone back who knows what they’re doing in the kitchen. But you know what? As someone who likes to cook for my friends and family, I’m fine with part of the reason people love me is that I cook them good food. It makes me happy when they like my food!

Rean is also unconcerned with Gugu’s appearance, and insists that he show her what he really looks like. Gugu doesn’t acquiesce to this, which means Rean doesn’t get a real look at him. It may be because of this she can reveal her own horrible disfigurement and declare with a straight face that if he casts his gaze upon it he’ll see that his own wound isn’t that bad.

The thing is, Rean’s horrible wound is nothing more but a tiny, fading scratch on her arm no more than three inches long.

It is a rare show indeed that makes me laugh and cry with such intensity, but this might just have been the funniest episode of To Your Eternity yet. Of course, tragedy and comedy have gone hand-in-hand since the dawn of storytelling itself, it’s just gratifying to see it so effortlessly pulled off here. Just like Fushi, the stronger and more diverse the viewer’s stimulation, the more is learned.

Rean goes on to tell a story that, for her, is a tragic tale of a girl who was never given agency or independence; a girl assigned a role and personality for which no expense was spared to maintain, despite the fact she had zero say in it. It is an obvious mirror image of Gugu’s sob story, told from the POV of the child of the employer, not the employee.

Even so, I do not doubt that from Rean’s perspective, she has suffered, because just like Gugu but through very different (and cushier) circumstances, she was denied the chance to be the best her she could be, which is the one she wanted to be. The grass is always greener, etc.

When Rean tells Gugu how she got her wound—saying that someone pushed her from behind out of malice—Gugu is crestfallen, as this girl misinterpreted him rescuing her from a runaway log as having assaulted her to get back at her family—simply because she never saw the log.

But just as Rean doesn’t care how it looks that someone as rtich and privileged as her is complaining that her life is too comfortable, she also doesn’t gcare whether Gugu is a monster or a human. To her, he’s just Gugu, a weird little boy she’s taken a liking to, so he should come out of the tent and enjoy the wind with her. And if he wants to cover his face, she brought him a pot with eye-holes to wear.

With Fushi having run off to find Gugu’s original mask, he and Rean agree to go looking for him. Their search takes them into town, where Rean is promptly snatched up by a goon hired by her family to retrieve her. Gugu, who later states he doesn’t care about his “circumstances” anymore, commits to simply being himself.

That happens to be someone who will barrel into someone twice his size, catch the falling Rean, and lead her by the hand to safety. As he does, Rean smiles, not just because Gugu is being Gugu, but because she’s living precisely the dream she hoped to live after running away from home. I am seriously loving this tender story of young love, which reminds me of Moonrise Kingdom, itself likely inspired by rom-com anime.

Fushi ends up finding them after retrieving Gugu’s old mask (it’s nice when you can transform into a wolf-dog, complete with a wolf-dog’s sense of smell) and locates Gugu and Rean, who is now wearing the pot to hide her identity from those sent to find her. It isn’t long before they come across a maid who is most definitely not fooled by Rean’s disguise.

It’s here where Gugu and Rean rely on Fushi to cover their retreat, which he does non-lethally by assuming the form of March and writhing on the ground before the maid, who sees the little girl’s arrow wound and has no choice but to tend to her before going after Rean.

While searching for Gugu’s mask, Fushi’s creator paid him a brief visit, warning him to keep his guard up. As the maid carries March!Fushi, he’s suddenly snatched up by a tentacle of the “unspeakable” enemy he was warned about. His creator even narrates that this was bound to happen, as Fushi has failed to gain any sophisticated tactical skills since his last scrape with the enemy, and thus the enemy was always going to strike first.

Even so, something happens that neither the enemy nor indeed the creator might have foreseen: Gugu coming to his rescue. I’m not sure what he can possibly do when he’s just a small human boy and even Fushi seems helpless before the enemy’s power. Indeed, as we’re reaching the halfway point of the 20-episode series, Gugu’s days are surely numbered. But even if resistance is futile, I’m glad he’s there for his friend and brother.

Higehiro – 03 – Fated Encounters

Sayu has a dream about a past night she spent with a man in exchange for a place to stay. She lies under him passively, her eyes devoid of their usual glimmer, making no noise except to say “yeah” when he asks if it feels good. It’s not a love scene; it’s a transaction scene, depicted in all its awkward frankness. Sayu wakes up in her own bed as Yoshida dozes away in his. The glimmer is back in her eyes, but there’s also worry.

When Yoshida heads off to work, all Sayu has are household chores and her thoughts. And her thoughts are constantly asking why Yoshida won’t touch her. Shouldn’t he want to, at least a little? All the other men did, and took what they could. We learn Yoshida turned down a business trip, and his male co-worker assumes it’s because he has a girlfriend.

That prospect upsets Mishima, who asks him out to a movie after work. On the way out he and Gotou nearly walk into each other. Seeing him leave with Mishima, Gotou wears a look I’d describe as…left out?

Long before Yoshida returns home, Sayu is simply out of things to do around the house, so she has nothing but those lingering, worrying thoughts. Even though Yoshida hasn’t touched her like all the other men, she still believes he’ll kick her out when he doesn’t want her anymore.

When he texts her that he’s going out for a movie with a colleague, Sayu decides to stalk him…just a little. She happens to be watching just as Mishima finished talking to Yoshida about fated encounters, both the ones in the sad movie and ones in reality. Mishima is certain it’s better to realize that it’s fate the moment it happens, rather than months or years later.

While Yoshida isn’t 100% with her on this line of thinking (one, because he considers her a co-worker and friend first; two, he’s a bit dense), Mishima thinks she’s having such an encounter with him now, and doesn’t want to let it go. He’s taken aback when she hugs him, but the hug is all Sayu sees when she rushes off.

She doesn’t see Yoshida rebuff Mishima; not that she’s going to give up on him anytime soon. When Yoshida comes home to find Sayu’s phone but no Sayu, his first worry is that she was kidnapped, not that she ran away because she saw him with Mishima.

Even though I knew her running away would be a distinct possibility, I was still hugely relieved to see she didn’t go far; just to a nearby park to think. Heavy on her thoughts is how Yoshida looked when Mishima hugged him, how different it was from how he is with her. It made her jealous, but also reinforces her worry that once a guy as kind as him finds a girlfriend, she’ll be abandoned.

But this episode deals with three fated encounters: Yoshida and Sayu, Yoshida and Mishima…and Sayu and Mishima, who happens to find Sayu in the park looking forlorn (and out of place!) before Yoshida does. She sits with her so she can think without being bothered by a cop, and asks what’s troubling her. She’s not in a fight with her “parents”—i.e. Yoshida—as “they’re unbelievably nice”.

Rather, there’s something Sayu can’t tell “them”, or they might abandon her. Mishima tells her that fear can freeze you in place, but it can also spur forward action. In her book, the latter way is the better one. From what she’s heard, Mishima thinks whoever this is believes in Sayu, so she should believe in them and say This is who I am! This is part of me! Will you stay with me anyway?

Of course, Mishima is speaking from her experiences with Yoshida, who just happens to be the same person Sayu is talking about. Mishima learns this when Yoshida arrives at the park. And from the way he treats Sayu—like a worried-sick guardian would treat his lost kid—it’s clear Sayu and Yoshida have some “family stuff” to discuss. So she takes her leave, but insists that Yoshida explain himself later.

I love how low-key and empathetic Mishima’s reaction is to learning Yoshida is looking after a teenage runaway. She knows she doesn’t have the whole story, and while she very much wants to hear it, it’s not the time or place, so she’ll wait until it is. She doesn’t jump to conclusions or express premature outrage.

When Yoshida and Sayu comes home, Sayu takes Mishima’s advice, stops standing in place, and steps forward … in her black underwear … towards Yoshida. She refuses to dress before they talk. She again mentions how her breasts are big for someone in high school. She presses against Yoshida, and asks again if he wants to have sex her, like all the other men wanted to.

When pressed (literally) by Sayu, Yoshida admits that of course he finds her extremely cute and attractive. Sayu is flattered by his praise, and explains that this is the way she decided on to be able to live without going back home. She knows there are disadvantages to an adult having a teenage girl around, and so thought there must be some kind of advantage way to make up for that.

At first, she hated using her body in that way. But while she was doing it with someone she also felt she could be herself; that she was needed. The advantage she provided to the other men made her feel fulfilled. Maybe in her dream, when she said ‘yeah’ when asked if it felt good, she wasn’t lying. It felt good emotionally for there to be what she saw as a balanced give-and-take; something for something.

But ultimately the disadvantages would win out, and she’d get kicked out. However many times this happened to Sayu, she’s now of the mind that her crushing uneasiness won’t be quelled unless Yoshida sleeps with her. So she asks once more, if it won’t upset him, if he’ll do so. Yoshida gathers Sayu into a solid but thoroughly platonic hug, and make it clear that sleeping with someone he’s not in love with would upset her, so the answer is no.

Once she’s dressed again and they’re seated at the table, Yoshida calmly rejects Sayu’s assertion that she “hasn’t done anything” for him in return to justify keeping her around. Again, he tries to reorient her belief that only sex can pay for the roof under her head and make up for the disadvantages of having her there.

He admits he’s changed since she came. He takes better care of himself. They eat and talk about nothing special. His apartment feels like a real home with her there, and a place he wants to hurry back to after work. Just having her there has made his life more fun and more rewarding. She doesn’t have to do or say anything special to maintain that atmosphere; she just has to be there. That’s it.

Saying this moves Sayu to tears. Yoshida realizes that he wasn’t doing himself or Sayu any favors by thinking he could change her back into a “normal teenage girl”, and that there was nothing more to it than that. Denying her transactional mindset and sexuality only heightened her anxiety about properly paying him back for his kindness.

Acknowledging the role of sex in Sayu’s life up to this point was a crucial step in acknowledging Sayu herself, just as making it clear that sex with her is neither wanted nor required establishes firm boundaries. It sets him apart from all the other men, thank goodness.

Thanks to Mishima, Sayu was able to break their stalemate of unspoken tension, and was able to learn from Yoshida not only why he didn’t want to sleep with her, but why just being there was enough for him. Now that they’ve bared their hearts and cleared the air, they can begin truly living together, like a family. It’s an honest, beautiful, and heartwarming catharsis between two lonely souls who claim to be pathetic, but are actually inspiring!

Higehiro – 02 – Freedom and Choices

A princess raised in castles is going to act like royalty, like Queen Elizabeth. A princess raised by wolves is going to act like a wolf, like San, AKA Princess Mononoke. Behaviors are learned through social interactions and time. Sayu has apparently lived a life where her choices were few and her freedom nonexistent.

Leaving home only gave her a fleeting freedom, and she eventually had to do what conditions at the time demanded her of her to survive. As a result, she still behaves around Yoshida the way she had to behave around other men with whom she treated her body for shelter. He notes that the smiles she flashes often feel forced, strange, and wrong.

It’s doubly frustrating to him that someone so young had been forced into a situation where she didn’t feel safe not smiling when she didn’t feel like it. He calls her out on it with what I’d call “harsh kindness”, assuring her that even if his home isn’t hers, she’s allowed to be there, and doesn’t have to be “weird” or “lie to him” with those smiles.

Sayu understands what Yoshida is on about, and so tells him that she was thinking to herself why he’s so nice. He reiterates that he’s not being overly nice at all; he’s just being decent, the way everyone should be to each other. She says she’ll try her best not to refuse when he offers her things, or smile when she doesn’t mean it.

But she also points out that those smiles and refusals are habits that will be hard to break, since she’s still not quite used to the unprecedented freedom and choices Yoshida has given her. But through her attitude and the housework she does for him, she hopes to make him think he’s glad she came into his life. Despite everything that’s happened to her, Sayu remains a kind and decent person herself.

While last week focused on the establishment of Yoshida’s new normal at home, here we get a look into his work environment, where his crisper shirts, enhanced hygiene, and shorter-than-usual work days have led to rumors he has a girlfriend. But when his immediate underling Mishima’s code has some bugs in it, and she’s forced to work late, he works late with her, and even gets takeout.

Mishima takes their ensuing alone time to learn that Yoshida doens’t have a girlfriend, and was recently rejected by Gotou. Mishima considers herself “lucky” Gotou rejected him, and wouldn’t mind going out for a beer sometime. Like Sayu, she tells him he’s kinder than most by not simply giving up on her, but as with Sayu, he doesn’t think he’s any nicer than everyone should be.

When he gets home, Sayu is wrapped in her blanket like a Yuru Camp character, apparently angry he’s home late after she cooked dinner. But she follows her annoyed tone with genuine giggling, as she was just messing with him. As she reads manga and he has an after-work beer, he realizes that he really should have a way to get a hold of her.

Sayu threw her old phone in the ocean, and while at the mall she refuses to let him buy a new one, so he does so when she’s not around. Hashimoto, the only other person who knows about Sayu, can tell that Yoshida likes Sayu by the care he’s putting into choosing a case for her. Hashimoto gently warns him that it’s fine to be nice, but he should start thinking about how things are going to go, before she settles in too much, or she falls for him, or he falls for her.

Yoshida assures Hashimoto that that won’t happen, but while romance is out of the question, there are already glimmers of familial and paternal love. Hashimoto didn’t go so far as to say “she’s not a lost puppy”, but he’s right that Yoshida needs to come up with some kind of plan beyond keeping her off the streets.

One day at work, Gotou approaches Yoshida and they end up going out for yakiniku and beer, which she confesses she can only go out for with him, since all other men expect her to be a “sweet, proper lady.” That’s now three women who consider him to be uncommonly kind and understanding to them. One wonders why she’s with the man she’s with if she can’t be herself with him!

Gotou commences an anything-goes Q-&-A between them, starting first by asking if he’s dating someone. When he refuses, she lists all the evidence that he is—leaving work on time, cleaning himself up better—and mentions how Mishima seems to have a thing for him. He repeats that there’s nothing there, because in his give years at the office he’s always been in love with her.

When Gotou caught wind of the rumors, she was bothered by the fact he’d immediately been “taken in by another younger girl.” With the rumor staunched, Yoshida loses some points by asking Gotou what cup size she is. I know she said “ask me anything”, but c’mon, man!

When Yoshida comes home, late again, and not eating the dinner Sayu made again, she can tell he’s feeling down and needs a hug, so she hugs him. Like when she put her hand on his earlier, she does it because she wants to, and because she thinks it will make him feel better. And while in the bath he laments being a grown man cheered up by a teenage girl, it shouldn’t be anything to be ashamed of…ask any dad!

When he presents Sayu with a new phone, we learn he chose the white case for her over the black. White, the color of purity and chastity, yes, but also, Sayu just happens to like white! In that same vein, he didn’t buy it for her as a gift or a sign of his affection, but as a practical means of communication when they’re not both home.

Of course, he also doesn’t want her to worry if he is late. He doesn’t want to do or say anything to make her feel bad. He wants her to have every choice and opportunity someone her age should have. In this and in basically everything he’s done for her thus far, he’s acted like a father.

Yoshida acknowledges that Sayu is a woman, but to him, she’s a little kid. Someone to protect unconditionally. Someone who doesn’t have to force herself to smile to make him feel better. Maybe the endgame, then, is to simply adopt her.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 01 (First Impressions) – Inadvertent Guardian

Yoshida had the evening with his attractive co-worker Gotou all planned out in his head. They’d have a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant, and if things went well, he’d ask if she wanted to come home with him. He hadn’t banked on the possibility Gotou was already seeing someone for years, and simply never mentioned it at work because she wanted to keep life and work separate—which is perfectly reasonable.

Thus rejected, Yoshida goes and gets drunk with a friend until that friend has to head back home to his wife. Yoshida blabbers about how Gotou “tricked” him, and stole his heart and won’t give it back, but I’ll forgive his attitude as he’s allowed to wallow in defeat, drunk and horny as he is. The bottom line is Yoshida didn’t want to look past sleeping Gotou, and now he’s a little lost at sea.

He most certainly didn’t plan to encounter a runaway teenage girl (voiced by Ichinose Kana) outside his apartment, nor for this girl to offer to let him sleep with her in exchange for a roof over her head for the night. But even when her other options are seemingly ruled out, Yoshida makes it quite clear that he’s not sleeping with a “little kid”, nor is he prepared to leave her to the tender mercies of the night.

So, in his drunk and staggering state, he invites her in, then collapses into his bed to pass out. The girl, no stranger to crashing at men’s houses in exchange for sex (though she is thankfully not shamed for this), sits on the bed and asks matter-of-factly “Hey, are you sure you don’t want to do me?” He’s sure. When asked if there’s anything else he wants, before passing out he mumbles “miso soup.” The next morning, that’s what he gets: miso soup, made by the girl he flat-out forgot he invited in last night!

When he hears how he rejected her offer of sex, he salutes his last-night self, relieved nothing sordid happened. She also mentions how he mumbled about being rejected by someone named Gotou, and whether he wanted her to make him “feel better”. Once again, he declines, saying he’s not so far-gone he needs “a tiny little teenage girl” to do that.

When she points out that her breasts are quite big and asks “aren’t F-cups you can touch better than H-cups you can’t?” he flat-out asks why she’s trying to seduce him…and if she even wants to sleep with him. She says she doesn’t, but then embraces him and says she’s never met a man willing to let her stay for nothing in return, so maybe he’s the “abnormal” one. That’s when Yoshida, God bless him, asks for her ID, a gesture that again makes clear he’s not interested in her in that way.

He learns her name is Ogiwara Sayu, that she ran away from high school in Hokkaido six months ago. When he tells her to go home already, she says she’s sure they’re happy she’s gone, Ichinose Kana’s voice breaking ever-so-slightly. The more Yoshida thinks about Sayu, the worse he feels about it. He takes it out on her to a degree by calling her “stupid”, “dumb as a rock”, and “a spoiled brat”.

But beneath those harsh barbs, he understands that Sayu is not “fine” as she says in the slightest; that what she’s had to do to survive since leaving home is not right or okay. More than she’s an idiot, she’s a victim: both of a home that she felt she had to leave, and to a world apparently full of men who taught her all the wrong lessons and twisted values and standards. He’s also angry that such a kind and sweet young woman couldn’t have a “normal life” and a “normal love”.

Obviously, Yoshida’s positions are showing both his privilege and paternalism. The former was a result of his own upbringing and life experience; the latter was learned through both, just as Sayu learned a certain way of living the last six months. But I can forgive the motives behind his fundamentally principled choice to stop this child from being harmed anymore by offering her a safe, clean place to stay.

I’m not going to pretend that in the real world this isn’t his choice to make. As a matter of law, he should probably go to the police, right? And yet who’s to say Sayu wouldn’t be harmed anyway if he took that route? Considering what she’s been doing to stay away from her home, it’s clear going back there isn’t what’s best for her. Being placed into an overworked and uncaring social services system also wouldn’t be much better.

The fact there are no easy answers or cut-and-dried solutions add a lot of welcome emotional heft to the whole scenario. Yoshida, whom I mentioned is somewhat lost at sea, has encountered a fellow castaway adrift and rudderless, who has the added disadvantage of being far too young to have to endure the waves. So for now, he decides to lash their ramshackle rafts together and chart the course of least harm.

The more time he spends with Sayu, the more disappointed in his fellow man he becomes. When he heads out to the patio to smoke, she calls him “nice”, but our boy Yoshida is not so deluded to think he’s some saint, and makes it clear to her in perhaps his best line of the episode: “Listen up! I’m not nice. They were shit.” He contemplates the environment that put Sayu in such an unfairly precarious situation, and even implicates himself for “letting her stay spoiled” by giving her a place to run to.

But even as he checks headlines about an unrelated case of a man arrested for kidnapping a teenager, and Sayu walks over him, inadvertently giving him a look up her skirt, Yoshida isn’t about to cut the ropes of her raft free. He found her on those waves, which means he feels responsible for her well-being. That doesn’t just mean a roof under her head, but more appropriate clothes, pajamas, and a futon to sleep on.

Sayu isn’t ready to accept all this without worrying about not being able to repay him in some way. Yoshida is again disheartened by the fact a kid has to think that way, but indulges her by insisting that the cooking and cleaning she’s done constitute more than adequate payment, and that arrangement will serve for the time being.

The next morning over breakfast, Yoshida explains to Sayu that it isn’t the act of shaving that makes him feel old, but becoming too lazy to shave every day. Sayu spares no tact in saying he doesn’t look good with stubble, so he decides to shave after all. The exchange indicates this won’t be a one-way street. Perhaps in helping keep this lonely damaged girl safe, Yoshida can find a new course in life post-Gotou rejection.

Higehiro is fraught with potential problems, as all series involving an adult and a child always are. And yet unlike the horrifically skeevy KoikimoHigehiro presents its situation, questions and arguments in good faith, and from a place of human decency and empathy. It’s a compelling, hopeful tale of an imperfect person trying to do the right thing for someone who has already been wronged far too much. Unlike Koikimo, I don’t feel like I need a shower after what I saw, but rather want to see what happens next!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Elfen Lied – 05 – Good People are Hard to Come By

Kurama looks out at the ocean, perhaps grieving the loss of Nana, while Kouta and Yuka wake up to find Mayu has run away. The episode delves into her past, and not surprisingly for this show, it’s horrific. Habitually sexually abused by her stepdad and shunned by her mother, one night she refuses to undress, and runs.

She doesn’t stop until she reaches the ocean, and seems poised to walk in and not come back. She’s stopped only by the dog Wanta, whom she assumes was discarded like her. Back in the present, Wanta (AKA James) is claimed by his owner, leaving Mayu alone again. She hides among crates in the cold, dark night, utterly miserable.

Some cops find her, but thankfully so do Yuka and Kouta, who remembered she hung around the beach a lot. They bring her back to the house, but she’s not sure why, because no one in her life has ever given a damn about her except to use her. It never occurred to her that good people existed.

While his penchant for “collecting girls” continues to irk Yuka, she doesn’t protest when he decides to let Mayu stay with them indefinitely. Mayu’s mother all too easily signs away guardianship to him. Wanta comes back to her (his old owner was not a good person, it seems) and she returns to school with a smile on her face, now in a much better place.

Kouta and Yuka return to college classes too, but inexplicably take Nyu with them. I understand how they might be worried about her wandering off again, but it just seems like a really, really bad idea considering how much they don’t know about her situation.

Sure enough, the professor of their new class is Dr. Kakuzawa, son of the head of the research facility where Lucy was being held. He takes Kouta and Yuka aside, warns them of the laws they’re breaking by having the girl in their custody, and makes Kouta agree to leave Nyu with with him.

Fearing the consequences and cowed by an authority figure, Kouta ignores Nyu crying out his name (she’s learning more words than just “nyu”), and later can’t help but shed tears over their separation. Yuka reproaches him for crying (“You’re a man!”) but then starts crying herself.

They get home and tell Mayu, who plants the seed in Kouta’s head that maybe the professor wasn’t telling the truth when he said Nyu’s family was worried and wanted her back. Gee, ya THINK?

Sure enough, Kakuzawa’s intentions with Nyu are anything but honorable. He strips her down, ties her up, and injects her with drugs. But while he’s still undressing in preparation to rape her, Nyu wakes up as Lucy, and plainly asks him who he is and what he wants.

Kakuzawa tries to give her his spiel about replacing the human race with superior Dicloniï, revealing his own sorry horns. Lucy plainly ain’t buyin’ it, and helpfully relieves him of his head, causing a fountain of blood and saying she doesn’t need someone like him.

Truer words have never been spoken. Like Mayu, she needs good people like Kouta and Yuka, particularly when she reverts to Nyu. It’s just a shame those good people aren’t the brightest…

Working!!! 3 – 09

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Working!!! starts off with a typical scene—Yachiyo talking about Kyouko to Satou while Souma smirks—with the added element of a rapt Popura. Turns out she’s noticing something different about the two, surprising Inami, who assumed Popura already knew Satou was in love with Yachiyo.

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One person who barely gets noticed ever is Otoo’s wife Haruna. Her almost nonexistent presence, and the fact she needs to be chained up in order to avoid losing her again, remains one of the more entertaining teritary characters in the show. Even better, ever since Otoo married her, his own presence has gradually diminished, making them a “stealth couple”, which considering how rarely they show up in the show, makes perfect sense.

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Another tertiary character who hasn’t appeared in a while is Minegishi, who comes to Wagnaria to report Yamada’s mom is “back on track” as one of Takenashi’s mom’s executive assistants (a job he lets slide involves assassination, among other things).

Souma sent a vague report about Takenashi and Inami to her, but Takenashi sends him away before he can mention something important to him. When he comes back to try again, he encounters Inami out back, and when he touches her to get her attention, something happens that hasn’t happened seemingly all season: she slugs someone.

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Minegishi runs off, and Inami is mortified and ashamed, but Takenashi is there to assure her that not only did Minegishi of all people deserve to be punched (and he actually enjoyed it due to his masochism) but it inspired Minegishi to seek out a punch he had missed: that of his ex-wife, Takenashi’s oldest sister Kozue. He rather embarrassingly re-proposes to her at work, and she says yes!

Besides all that, Takenashi takes Inami’s hands in hers, and when she doesn’t feel the compulsion to punch him, he takes it as evidence she’s still cured of her androphobia, and her fists merely struck someone who both deserved and didn’t mind being struck. It’s a nice acknowledgement of the progress she’s made personally, and in her relationship with Takenashi, even though neither of them have yet to be clear about their mutual feelings.

Minegishi comes back not to scold Inami, but to thank her, as well as to tell Takenashi that his mother, a powerful politician and VIP who is on the news (his co-workers never watch), is returning home, much to his consternation. Considering the myriad personalities of her kids, Mama Katanashi could be literally anyone…I look forward to meeting her and watching everyone I know bounce off of her!

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Working!!! 3 – 08

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Yamada may have moved back home, but she remains at Wagnaria after Otoo and Kyouko allowed her to keep coming in like Takanashi’s little sister to help out, and spending the night there when her mother isn’t home. So in a way, there hasn’t been a major change in the status quo, aside from the fact Yamada is usually going home and is now on better terms with her mom—though not her brother Kirio.

After that Aoicentric episode, this one is more of a grab bag, with a little story involving just about everyone from Otoo reuniting with his wife to Souta having to get a birthday present for Yachiyo (he actually gives her four for the four years he’s liked her).

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Many of these stories involve a Yamato in one way or another. Takanashi is annoyed that Kirio is talking so pleasantly with Inami, because he likes Inami, but won’t acknowledge that. He ends up beating Kirio up too much, and must recite a long-winded compliment that Takanashi thinks sounds like a joke, and it’s also how Inami interprets it, embarrassing her. So no real movement there.

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In another non-Yamada-related tidbit, Takanashi notices Popura may have shrunk, and Souma confirms she’s lost around 2cm, causing her to become depressed, because as much as she likes being pet by Katanashi, she also wants to grow more, not less. Turns out she actually did grow a centimeter, only because Takanashi grew three, she didn’t gain any ground, causing her to become depressed again.

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Back to Aoi, who convinces her mom over a period of six weeks to buy her a cell phone, then sends her mom a text, waits 30 minutes, and gets a blank reply back. Kirio, full of hidden talents, interprets the blank text as a long-winded inner monologue going on in their mother’s head about what Aoi’s original text meant and how best to respond.

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Finally, Kirio is sick of Aoi not acknowledging him as her true big brother (thanks to that natto theft incident), so he tries to become her big brother by becoming Souma’s little brother, which he attempts in the most ridiculous, true-to-the-Yamadas manner possible.

It’s actually Souta, whom Kirio asks for advice, who tells Kirio to take this route, in order to best annoy Souma as payback. But it isn’t long before the plan backfires and Kirio is annoying Souta to the point he must retreat from his own kitchen. Don’t get involved with Kirio; it isn’t worth it!

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Working!!! 3 – 07

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A lot of the interpersonal conflicts that arise in Working!! come down to people interpreting each others actions, words, or lack of words incorrectly; making the wrong assumptions. So it’s no surprise that the core conflict of Yamada Aoi—that she’s run away from home—comes down to such misinterpretations. After all, she’s one of the strangest communicators out there, having a running third-person commentary of her life as she lives it.

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Aoi is also bright and friendly and warm and cute—when she’s not being impetuous, cocky, or a huge hassle to others. Her mom is not any of those things. She comes off to many like a robot, and Kirio and Aoi were even furnished with “mom manuals” in order to interpret her subtle facial expressions, since she speaks so little. Aoi is in conflict with her mom because she never RTFM.

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As such, Aoi interpreted her mother foisting huge books on her to mean she was coldly forcing her to cram, even though her mother inside was simply worried about Aoi’s future. And Kirio eating her special natto (which he didn’t think was so great) is the last straw (or natto strand). Aoi tries to form a new family in Wagnaria, then Takanashi’s house, but her proper place is with her family; it’s just a matter of being convinced.

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The issue is brought to the forefront, and resolved, by two side characters. Aoi’s mom happens to be Takanashi’s eldest sister’s masochistic ex-husband, and Otoo’s often-lost wife Haruna convinces Aoi to go back home based on the principle of “ships passing in the night”, or family members and friends who may have wildly different ways of looking at and interacting with the world can still bump into each other on occasion, which is something to be celebrated.

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Aoi thus learns the conciliatory, re-connecting value of a hug from her mother (who tracked her down, ninja-style), and returns home, even though she still considers Souma a better big brother than Kirio. But while this means Aoi will no longer be living either at the restaurant or Takanashi’s, I’m sure she’ll still be “working” there on occasion; as long as it doesn’t interfere with her studies.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 11

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It sounds like Hannah was pretty disappointed about her show squandering its promise…though that’s partly on her for even remotely thinking that show was going anywhere daring or compelling.

Not to be smug, but didn’t have that problem with this latest Saekano. Last week focused heavily on the wild card Machiru, setting her up as someone who could genuinely challenge Tomoya, who was in need of some challenging in the midst of all his ladykillin’.

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What last week failed to do was show us what would happen when his harem came into direct contact with his purple-haired, skantily-clad cousin. The results were momentous; everything I hoped for and more. Utaha hawkishly defends otaku culture, while an initially flabberghasted Eriri even finds some common ground when Machiru mentions that, on some rare occasion, Tomoya can be cool and come through for you.

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We also find that exposing oneself to Michiru isn’t enough to convince her to compose your dating sim’s soundtrack; far from it. In fact, part of what gets Utaha so steamed is Michiru’s outsider-looking-in perspective of Tomoya, and his obsession with otaku culture, is something to mature out of rather than cultivate. When Michiru disses Tomo, she disses everyone in that room. Except for Kato…who is definitely in that room…watching and waiting.

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Michiru’s reasons for not jumping into Tomoya’s project go beyond her semi-maternal dubiousness with his present course in life. She’s got her own dream of being in a band, after all. When she says she needs a manager to appease her dad, Tomoya is eager to step in, but when she tells him it won’t be a part-time job, it becomes her dream versus his. That’s right: Michiru isn’t perfect; she’s selfish too.

What’s so awesome is how much sense her selfishness makes. She’s known Tomoya all their lives; and she has an idea what he could and should be that just doesn’t jibe with what he is and wants to be. But it’s her affection and concern for him, not merely her own self-interest, that comes through when she says this manager job could be just the excuse he needs to drop this whole gamemaker charade.

And she calls it a charade because she had a good look at his fellow circle members. While she’s well aware that they all have their reasons for being in that circle (calling Tomoya a sly dog in the process), she doubts their commitment to making the game is anywhere near Tomoya’s level.

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Of course, we know better, and so should Tomoya, but Michiru’s words create genuine conflict in his heart. Suddenly he’s not just the fumbling leader of a haremy doujin circle, but a guy trying to find out whether his dream is really as quixotic as she says. But Kato is up all night at Eriri’s working on the game, knowing Tomoya is a week behind; and Utaha is up too. They’re all working their pants off while he worries.

He then makes the best decision of this episode and calls Kato early in the morning, and they have this lovely, natural boyfriend-girlfriend phone conversation, in which he voices his anxieties.

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Yet again, Tomoya luxuriates in the very thing he has no idea he has with Kato, yet simultaneously must know on some level he has. Kato gets him out of his house, where he’d been worrying all night rather than working, and gets some breakfast into him, ever the practical mind. But in an ingenious gambit, she talks through the game prototype to comfort and reassure him.

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And in an even more ingenious and somewhat diabolical scheme, she keeps her hand firmly planted on Tomoya’s and the mouse as the dialogue starts going to places Tomoya rather wouldn’t; things about having feelings for attractive cousins, something to which she can relate.

While Kato claims the dialogue was simply random, let’s get real: there’s no way it was random. This was calculated payback for Tomoya “steppin’ out” on Kato, and it was absolutely glorious. For the first time in a while, she’s able to make Tomoya squirm as much as Michiru.

At the same time, she proves how good she is for him by picking up his slack without even being asked to, and not feeling forced or obligated to. It’s a brilliant dynamic.

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His confidence in the project thus restored, and his apology delivered, he shares an earbud with Kato so she can hear Michiru’s music, and she agrees that she’d be perfect for the soundtrack. And it could be that Kato’s little piece of mischievousness also inspired Tomoya to come up with a plan to snag his cousin.

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As he is a man of wide-ranging otaku means and connections, he’s able to get Michiru’s band a slot at a live performance, a gesture he uses to prove to her he can be an effective manager. In turn, Michiru lets him see her get teary-eyed for the first time since he carried her on his back when she twisted her ankle years and years ago. She also apologizes, admitting she was being selfish.

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Thus, Tomoya has his cousin right where he wants her: in his debt. Tomoya looks awfully proud of himself as the episode cuts to black, but I’m certain more compromises are in store for him, and managing both Michiru’s band and a circle full of girls competing against each other won’t be a cakewalk either.

Still, I’m willing to come out and say these past two episodes cemented Michiru’s place as my second-favorite girl after Kato. As she demonstrated quite emphatically, there’s simply no beating Kato!

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P.S. I’ll be watching Saekano’s final (for now) episode later tonight and hopefully have a review of it up not long thereafter.

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 10

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AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR. Or FIVE, if you count IZUMI. OMG, WHY AM I SHOUTING AT YOU WHERE ARE MY MANNERS?!

Anywho, everyone’s favorite purple-haired tomboy Hyoudou Michiru is here, and her timing couldn’t have been better. Why? Because after a seemingly long string of episodes in which Tomoya is fawned over by one girl after another for various reasons, this week Tomoya is the fawner—perhaps not by choice, at least at first—and not the fawnee.

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Tomoya is content to bury himself in Blessing Software, as he holds teleconferences with his staff and make progress on the dating sim (though Kato’s line deliveries either need more work or none at all, bwahahaha). Then his only cousin Michiru appears, topless, in his bathroom, having run away from home after the latest disagreement with her dad (Tomoya’s uncle).

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Whether she is oblivious to her power over her cousin of the same age (who was born on the same day in the same hospital as her!) is having fun torturing a horny teenage boy, or is herself into Tomoya (the truth is likely a combination of the three) calling Michiru a disruptive force in Tomoya’s little otaku world would be a grim understatement.

The sudden 3D onslaught nearly drives Tomoya to insanity. The camera reflects his uneasy but utterly-unable-to-avert gaze, and it’s all over the voluptuous, scantily-clad Michiru. This episode features the most fanservice since the prologue; possibly more.

But like that promising if totally out of chronological order start, the fanservice is never tiresome because a.) it’s also character-service and plot-service, and b.) it’s very well-done, right up there with Monogatari. For example, animators are notoriously bad at feet, but not here.

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For one reason or another it’s a long night for Tomoya, so in the A.V. clubroom, he’s all but asleep at the laptop, causing him to spout supportive dialogue that gets Utaha all hot and bothered—and forces Eriri to quarantine her in the broadcast booth, where she nonetheless continues to participate in the discussion via the P.A. system.

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I like how the show clearly isn’t interested in such tedious minutiae as why Tomoya’s circle has such unfettered access to such slick digs. You’d think the A.V. Club would be in there, or at the very least some paperwork and lobbying would be required to gain access to the facilities. But this isn’t that kind of show. Saekano doesn’t care, and nor do we. They’ve got a place at school to work, and that’s all we need or care to know.

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Just as the circle’s topic of discussion turns to determining who will score the game, a very big oversight to this point, considering the awesome power of music (cough-Violin Girl-cough), Tomoya gets a cheerful text from Michiru asking when he’s coming home and stating she’s ordering pizza (or possibly four pizzas in one).

It’s innocent enough, reflecting Michiru’s unique position as friend, family, and love interest. Kato, possibly exercising Stealth Mode, “can’t help” but glance at Tomoya’s phone and read every word.

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That maks Eriri curious, which in tern makes Utaha curious, and Tomoya has a full-scale riot on his hands. He’s tied up in caution tape and interrogated, and each girl stays true to character: Utaha remains her seductive self, but is clearly annoyed and maintains a certain intentional unpredictability to put Tomoya that much more on edge.

Meanwhile, Eriri recedes to the very edge of the room, flustered and on the brink of panic. Kato is just Kato; meaning she kinda stays in the background and lets the two heavies do all the outragin’.

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When Tomoya tells them who Michiru is and why she’s in his house, it hardly assuages their anxiety. On the contrary, it sets these two creatives types’ imaginations ablaze, as Utaha writes a scenario about the cousins on the spot, one so troubling it just about does Eriri in, which may have been Utaha’s intent all along.

But it’s true that while Utaha teases, often very seductively so, she can’t touch the inherent intimacy of Michiru, nor her fearlessness and utter lack of inhibition regarding Tomoya. Eriri, meanwhile, may be a childhood friend, but Michiru, who was present at Tomoya’s birth, is the Ultimate Childhood Friend.

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What I didn’t think I’d see was so much of the family side of Michiru. I’d thought all along that she was at least a little older than Tomoya rather than the same age, but even so Michiru lives in a more “normal” world than Tomoya, and takes immediate (and unsolicited) attempts to make him grow up, first by tossing all his otaku crap and replacing it with her own, more sober musically-themed room decorations.

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This means that in addition to having Utaha’s seduction and Eriri’s longevity beat, she also gives Kato’s domesticity and practicality a run for their money. Keep in mind Michiru is not being mocking, but giving her honest opinion as someone who’s known Tomoya longer than anyone, when she tells him he could easily get a girlfriend if he stopped acting like a weirdo. The fact that Tomoya wouldn’t be interested in that kind of girl is irrelevant; Michiru is looking out for a family member. One has to think about marriage at some point!

Similarly, when Tomoya is finally able to segue into telling Michiru his dream of creating the ultimate dating sim, Michiru couldn’t be less impressed. In fact, she finds it ridiculous that Tomoya would try to make a living off his childish hobbies. She even strikes a concerned parent/wife pose…which wouldn’t look bad painted on the fuselage of a P-51.

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Tomoya has always had a blind spot for the non-otaku Michiru, who has flitted from passion to passion, always abandoning something when she’s bored, while it’s in his nature to stick to one thing like stink in a Basset Hound’s un-groomed ear. But here’s the thing: Michiru is really good at everything she tries. Of late, she’s been in an all-girl band, which was the cause of her argument with her dad. So we know she’s good at that too.

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So good, in fact, that when she decides to defy Tomoya while he’s taking a bath by plugging her guitar into an amp and playing a piece she’s working on, Tomoya sees the same cherry blossom petals that flew by his face when he first saw Kato on that hill. Not only that, he sees the entire dating sim story unfold to Michiru’s stirring tunes.

He’s so spellbound, he forgets he’s in nothing but a towel when he enters the room, a reversal of their first encounter this week. Michiru is about to apologize, but Tomoya isn’t there to hear one. He’s there to ask her to join his circle as composer.

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Then his towel slips off, and Michiru gets the Full Aki. She neither accepts nor declines. She simply stares. Having been built up so much recently by the fawning of Utaha and Izumi and Eriri, Tomoya has come back down to earth and stands before Michiru, as naked as the day they were both born in the same hospital.

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Sekai Seifuku: Bouryaku no Zvezda – 01

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There’s something highly amusing (and cool) about a well-dressed, lost-looking young lass on a pink bike (with training wheels) spouting off about world conquest and not only meaning it, but being able to back it up with zeal. With an already full Winter season, we were kinda hoping to fly under Sekai Seifuku: Bouryaku no Zvezda (which we’ll shorten to SSBZ henceforth), possibly saving it for marathoning later on (like we did with Sunday Without God, or what we’re going to do with Nagi no Asukara‘s second half).

Alas, it’s first episode was, like that out-of-place girl on her bike, too conspicuous to ignore, and too absorbing to put off. The premise of the show that neither tanks nor law and order are enough to protect the world; only “Conquest” will do the trick. For the purposes of this episode, “Conquest” means being soundly beaten and having “Conquered” branded on you. They  could be dismissed as inane ramblings of a petulant waif, were she not capable of actually supporting those ramblings with real tank-busting power, and supported by a very stylishly-attired retinue of loyal followers.

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Hoshimiya Kate (Kuno Misaki), is alone on her bike during martial law because she’s starting to question whether there’ll still be a place for her in the world once she conquers it. This is how she meets middle schooler Jimon Asuta, who’s trying to conquer a different kind of world (his life) by running away from the parts he can’t control. He’s a decent lad who offers Kate food and later catches her when she falls from her bike, and for his kindness, she recruits him as part of her world-conquering organization, Zvezda, immediately making his life far more interesting and fun than it had been earlier that evening.

We like the idea of Zvezda fighting against the same forces the Gatchamen would fight alongside; there’s a plucky, impish appeal to their selfish (not selfless) mission. Like Jormungand or The Unlimited, we’re watching things from the perspective of the bad guys, who can often be more fun to watch than the good. And like the dual-identity characters of Star Driver, Kate and her officers have no shortage of charisma, infusing every line and action with maximum panache. Finally, we appreciated that the momentum was never arrested with in-depth explanations of the nature or origin of Zvezda’s awesome powers.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Usagi Drop 7

The calm, placid little world of Daikichi and Rin is suddenly interrupted this week by Dai’s cousin Haruka and her loud daughter Reina. Haruka has left home, leaving her husband and his parents behind. She needs a break. She’s considering divorce. Can she and Reina stay at Dai-chan’s for a spell, onegaishimasu?

Daikichi is suitibly hospitable, and Rin and Reina continue to hit it off. Add Kouki into the mix and you’ve got quite a collection of rugrats. I love how Dai’s daily life changes when there’s suddenly two more women in the house, for a total of three. I especially like how he sheepishly explains to Yukari that Haruka “isn’t what it looks like.” He continues to tread very carefully regarding courting Yukari. Of course Haruka was the focus here, and we get a little insight into her not-so-happy marriage.

Like Dai and Rin, she’s perfectly content with just her and Reina; she sees the rest of the people in her home enemies. But after a couple days to cool down and reflect, Haruka goes back home. It’s what’s best for Reina, and even if it’s tough for her, it’s tougher still being a single parent. Dai admires the strength he sees in Haruka that he didn’t when she was a kid. Great characterization all around this week, and a bunch of funny little lines from the kids are thrown in for good measure.


Rating: 3.5