Bocchi the Rock! – 11 – Calm Before the Concert

Thankfully, last week’s “Bocchi’s Gone Missing!” cliffhanger is resolved quickly; she wasn’t anxious about the concert, but embarrassed to be seen in a maid outfit by her bandmates. Thanks to Kita’s cheerfully withering analysis, they’re able to find her in the darkest, moistest place, like where you’d find a slug.

Once the band is together at the festival, Nijika takes the lead and it becomes not just a band wandering around before their next big show, but four friends hanging out and having tons of fun together. It’s Bocchi’s first school event, and the fact she’s with Nijika, Ryou and Kita makes it not just tolerable, but genuinely enjoyable.

Kita eventually realizes Bocchi is stalling so she doesn’t have to work at the maid café, so after several festival detours they head to her class, where she’s posted at the entrance to greet customers. When post-apocalyptic hooligans show up to intimidate her, her lack of reaction and the face she makes immediately cows them; they’re unaware she’s passed out on her feet.

When Bocchi serves her friends in all her maidly glory, they comment how how great she looks in frilly stuff, while Ryou, always the enterprising young woman, conceptualizes ways they can cash in on her cuteness by dressing her up various ways so their videos will get more views.

But while she looks the tops, her maid “deliciousness spell” is more like a curse that actually makes the omurice less appetizing. Kita shows Bocchi how it’s done, blending her usual patented Kit-aura with a borrowed maid outfit. Bocchi’s classmates notice, and before long all of Kessoku Band is working at the cafe (Ryou eventually adopting Boy Style, much to Kita’s glee).

Bocchi takes a break, but that allows her to enter her 3D CGI mind palace where a crude model of her slams into hundreds of cubes. She’s worried that the “reception gap” between her and her bandmaids will carry over to their concert.

Before heading to STARRY to practice, the band heads to the gym where they’ll be playing just to get a sense of the place (Nijika and Ryou having never been there). The size of the place gets them all fired up. At practice, Nijika and Ryou have the kind of mini-spat old friends have over the value of MCing.

Bocchi also notices…something about Kita that concerns her. My guess is Kita has been going full speed ahead in preparation for this concert and is exhausted. I worried that the next day she’d be ill. By the same measure, Kita tells Bocchi she’ll do fine because she’s so…but then she trails off without finishing her sentence. I wonder what she was going to say?

After drinking in the autumnal twilight, the girls part ways. I love the little snapshots of their individual home lives we get. The next morning, Bocchi is present and accounted for, and as a welcome change of pace, is not having any kind of meltdown or panic attack.

On the contrary, she actually dives into a positive daydream in which a big producer at the school discovers and signs them on the spot, culminating in subway column posters and  a vision of Mister Guitar driving a Kessoku Band-themed semi truck across America.

Once Bocchi has returned to the real world, the hype and anticipation reaches its peak, as Kessoku Band waits in the darkness for their turn on stage. Bocchi is clear-eyed and determined, and even if her heartbeat is so loud Ryou mistakes it for the other band’s drumming, that’s to be expected considering the magnitude of their undertaking. Nijika brings everyone’s hands together for a final confidence and togetherness-boosting cheer.

Just like that, Kessoku Band is on stage, no surprise mishaps or setbacks. Everyone is healthy, wants to be there, and is ready to go. At first Bocchi feels a little lonely when the only cheers she hears are those from Kita’s fans. But then she hears her family, who will be watching her perform for the first time. Her fans from her street concert are there, as is a sauced Kikuri, being kept in line by Seika.

Family, friends, classmates, mentor, and a whole lot of strangers who are about to find out who she is and what she’s made of … one couldn’t ask for a better setup for a show that should prove to be the culmination of all the ups and downs and all those days, weeks and months alone in her dark cramped closet practicing away. It’s all about to pay off, I hope in the best way. No bombing up there—You all got this!

Akiba Maid War – 10 – Swine and Punishment

“Romance is a no-no”, it’s right there in the opening theme. But while forbidding maids and masters from dating is a matter of professional boundaries, in this mobbed-up Akiba, a maid falling in love can lead to disownment, even death. It’s in this context that we watch Ranko, finally finding someone she likes, and who likes her, in Suehiro.

Sure that man happens to be a maid assassin, and it’s heavily implied from the start that she’s his next target, but we can’t choose who we love, can we? While Nagomi wants to cheer Ranko on, she’s opposed in principle due to the danger involved. But Tenchou is fine with Ranko going on one date—especially if it’s with a banker who might loan her money (fat chance).

The next day all the girls pitch in to help make Ranko look her best, and she wears, and what do you know, it’s the noir-y outfit she dons in her the Enko ED. The one member of Oinky-Doink resolutely opposed to the date is Okachimachi, blocking her way and even going so far as to speak up.

But Ranko wants to go on the date, and she and Suehiro have a great time in and around Ueno. They stroll the market, visit the zoo, and brings omelet rice and a ketchup bottle with which to draw on it.

The date only reinforces that the two would be quite comfortable and happy together, sharing a love of heater fans and dreaming about getting cozy under a kotatsu. He’s as upfront and earnest as she is, and loves the stoic way she talks. He had been worn out emotionally from his job (as an assassin) but at Oinky Doink Ranko gave him a place of peace and solace.

Something to look forward to. He wants to experience that every day, so he proposes that they take tomorrow’s night train and leave Akiba behind together. When the wind catches Ranko’s hat and she reaches out towards him to catch it, he instead takes her hand and shoulder and kisses her, leaving her with the train ticket in her hand.

After he leaves, Okachimachi shows up again, and speaking in Hirano Aya’s voice (such a great casting choice). She’s holding a gun, and has a story to tell about a maid who came to Akiba to be a maid and was disillusioned until she befriended one of her Masters … our trench coat-rockin’ Suehiro.

Eventually Okachimachi was ordered to assassinate a rival maid cafe’s manager—Ranko’s Miss Michiyo. She was nervous and terrified when she killed her, but Okachimachi ran away thinking she finally had it “maid” in this cuthhroat town.

She was wrong. Suehiro had only grown close to her so her guard would be down when the time came to eliminate her after she killed Michiyo. Okachimachi was lucky a cop entered the ally before Suehiro could kill her, but ended up getting hit by a car while on the run. She survived, and from that point on, decided she’d live life as a panda, eventually being brought in by Tenchou.

This is, needless to say, quite a damn twist: for the murderer of Ranko’s beloved matron to have been hiding under her nose all this time as the café mascot. Okachimachi brings Ranko a warning—that Suehiro will kill her too—as well as a pistol, so Ranko can take the revenge she’s owed. Ranko seemingly doesn’t hesitate for a moment in “sending her off.”

But as the kill happened off-camera, I wasn’t confident it was really a kill. Sure enough, we see that she only shot the panda mask in the head, no doubt correctly assessing that Michiyo wouldn’t want her to spill more blood for her sake. Ranko loves Michiyo more than she wanted revenge.

She also loves Suehiro, which is why it gives her no pleasure to wait for him at the train station with a gun in her pocket, ready to take him out before he can take her out, but perhaps also hoping against hope that no one has to be taken out; that there could be a happy ending.

Unfortunately, Ranko’s mercy has an unintended side effect: Okachimachi is still alive to take matters into her own hands and protect Ranko, both physically and emotionally, by killing Suehiro for her.

But here’s the thing: as we learn after we see Okachimachi shoot him, he called Nagi to tell her he wouldn’t be going through with killing Ranko. In fact, when Okachimachi shoots him, he’s not taking a weapon out of his coat, but a case containing a ring—a pearl ring, for his pig bride.

That’s a gut-wrenching end, especially as it unfolds while Ranko is waiting in the rain and growing more and more miserable. When she returns to the cafe drenched, she sees Okachimachi beat her there. Okachimachi tells her that Nagi isn’t just the one who ordered the hit on Ranko, but on Michiyo too.

While Okachimachi was merely a tool in Michiyo’s hit, Ranko likely won’t be so merciful of her former friend and colleague. Aside from the panda costume, this episode played everything straight, and was better for it due to the dissonance of the bizarre costumes and serious themes that make AMW so great.

While Michiyo abhorred violence—and so did Ranko—against a foe as unrelenting as Nagi, is there any choice but blood? Will Ranko have to lose another piece of her humanity to keep Nagomi and the others at Oinky Doink safe?

Akiba Maid War – 07 – RocknPorkRolla

A week has passed since Nerula was gunned down in an alley, and Nagomi has run away from the Oinky Doink. The others, particularly Ranko, are worried about her, especially since Manami and the Maidalien war hawks aren’t finished. While Ranko is out distributing flyers, she spots a pink ninja who claims not to be Nagomi, but clearly is.

Since Nagomi insist’s she’s not Nagomi, Ranko tells this “mystery ninja” the situation: she and the Oinky Doink maids are worried about her. But if Nagomi fled out of fear to the oddly safer ninja café business, it wasn’t fear of being hurt or killed. It was fear of standing by and doing nothing while another friends of her dies.

This is a typical action movie protagonist pattern: after a great defeat, the hero withdraws, suffering a crisis of purpose. But outside forces, like Nerula’s grieving fans, conspire to bring her back to where she needs to be: at Oinky Doink, as the new kind of Akiba maid Nerula knew she could be.

But how? The ramen guy gives Nagomi the other piece of the picture to bring her around. It’s something he’s learned being in the ramen business with the reputation as someone whose ramen never changes: staying the same actually requires change. So Nagomi returns to the dojo and considers what that means.

That night, Manami and over two dozen of her henchmaids advance on Oinky Doink, outnumbering them over two-to-one. I knew Ranko and Zoya were worth ten of the average maid in fighting ability, but that’s still a lot of maids and a lot of bullets. The pig maids make use of homefield advantage and the element of surprise as much as they can, diverting and splitting up Manami’s maids.

This is the first time we see Shiipon and Yumechi in sustained action (their attack on the Sheep happening off-camera) but they handle themselves well. Even so, eventually the Maidaliens surround the Pigs, and Manami’s machine gun looks like a decisive advantage.

Ranko prepares to make a desperate charge to take Manami out or die trying (as far as she’s concerned protecting the café is worth it) but suddenly the elevator opens and a cloud of smoke gets off. Dozens of smoke bombs explode and disorient both sides. And through the smoke, Nagomin appears, prepared for battle.

With her almost preposterously hastily-acquired ninja skills, within seconds she’s disarmed Manami and claimed the machine gun for their side. Manami switches to her trademark bat, but once she’s in the pigsty, the maids of Oinky Doink and their ninja maid savoir are ready for her.

True to who she is, through the ensuing chaos, many bullets fly, but none of them from a gun held by Nagomi. Instead she uses the tools of the ninja trade, like kunai and nets, which buy her co-workers time to go on the offensive.

When the dust clears it’s just a wounded Manami and her lieutenant Miyabi, surrounded by the bodies of their fallen comrades. Miyabi gets Manami to retreat before they too are killed, but after Miyabi dresses Manami’s leg, Manami dismisses her and she departs in shame.

Nagomi shows up with Ranko as backup, and despite her sorry state Manami is still ready to throw down. But Nagomi isn’t there to fight. Nor is she there as a ninja. She’s a maid, and she reminds Manami what maids are truly all about: not dying in glorious battle, but serving their masters with moe moe kyun.

When Manami rises to shut the young whippersnapper up, Nagomi again uses her new ninja skills to lay the smackdown on Manami. Again, Nagomi demands that Manami feel the moe moe kyun, and she finally relents, deciding that pig hunting time is over.

Ranko lets Manami withdraw, and welcomes Nagomi back into the pigsty. But Manami gets a rude awakening back at Maidalien HQ. Not only did the boss Ugaki refuse to commit any more forces to this silly war, but she got all the Maidalien brass to agree to a merger with Creatureland.

Manami could not change like Nagomi did, and ends up gunned down by her former allies who are sick of her bloodlust. They want to make money, and they’ll make more if she’s dead than running around shooting people. So she meets her end in a swirling puddle of her own blood. Unfortunately for Oinky Doink, their next foe looks to be their own Creatureland masters.

This was a great step forward for Nagomi, but it wasn’t perfect. I kinda wish Manami had stuck around a bit, as small a chance as redemption for someone her would have been. Also, the animation of the raid, aside from some fun moments, was also surprisingly underwhelming, considering what I know the show is capable of from the premiere and the MMA episode.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Urusei Yatsura – 02 – Ataru’s Girl

You would think that having an alien babe as a wife would be pretty sweet, but lest we forget, Moroboshi Ataru is a pathologically unlucky young feller, while Lum is either ignorant or uncaring of Earther concepts such as personal space, privacy, or not wanting to be electrocuted. Almost every waking moment involves Ataru fighting off Lum’s cuddling, getting daggers from every other girl in his life, and then getting shocked into near-oblivion.

The cold open does a very effective job portraying just how ridiculously stressful and intolerable the situation actually is, rather than it being a case of Ataru being sour despite clearly hitting the jackpot. This is legit not fun for him, so he runs away from home. But it’s not long before Lum, Shinobu, and his parents are on TV begging him to come home.

On his way out he meets Sakura (via accidentally copping a feel), a beautiful but sickly shrine maiden who immediately pegs him as the single most accurséd person she’s ever met. Sakura she invites him to her home/shrine for an exorcism, which her mom (who looks exactly like Cherry’s sister, because she is!) promises she’s very good at.

It certainly doesn’t start off good, as Sakura (Sawashiro Miyuki, clearly having a blast) enters sporting a canker sore the size of a golf ball, and then her chanting (much of it food ingredients and condiments) causes scores of tiny little demons to manifest and surround Ataru. But Sakura persists, and before long, all of the miasma in the room vanishes, and she finds herself feeling healthier than ever.

Ataru and his horrible fortune were no doubt the lure that drew them all out of Sakura, but since they all represent various maladies from which she suffered, she finishes the job and exorcises them, demonstrating that her mom wasn’t lying about her competence. That said, there’s an unexpected visit from the Grim Reaper, who seemingly comes for Ataru.

A distraught Shinobu, Lum, and his parents surround him on his apparent death bed…until a pretty nurse walks in and Ataru sits up in bed and chats her up. A moment ago they were praying for him to wake up, and now they wish he was dead all over again. Lum, one to hold a grudge, continually punishes him with electrocutions, from which there is no escape because she can fly and he can’t.

After witnessing just how bad Ataru has it, Cherry prepares a yelow ribbon for Ataru to tie around Lum’s horns. Once tied, only he can untie it, and Lum’s powers of flight and electricity are nullified. Ataru plays it off as giving her a new accessory so his wife can look her best, but when she leaps out the window and takes a tumble, he knows it really works.

The grounded Lum feels heavy and disoriented, so she grabs the first person she meets on the street—one of Ataru’s horny friends—to test her elecrocution power, only to find that’s not working either. When Shinobu catches her clinging to Ataru once more and hears about the ribbons, she charges Lum to try to get them off, but Ataru comes between her, so she takes the baked treats she made for him, kicks him in the face, and storms off.

That night, Lum wants to sleep together with Ataru, as she’s still out of sorts and wants to be close to her darling. Indeed, she wants to be by his side for life! Realizing the ribbon is a double-edged sword, he tries to remove it, but she won’t let him…until Cherry’s note is one of the things she throws at his interfering friends, and one of them reads it, revealing Ataru and Cherry conspired to ground and de-electrify Lum.

Lum proceeds to show that she doesn’t need her powers to kick Ataru’s ass, and when he removes the ribbons, she’s got a whole day of electricity stored up to discharge all at once. How this doesn’t stop Ataru’s heart or burn him to a crisp fifty times over I have no idea, but one thing’s for sure: it hurts like heck!

Ataru isn’t the typical rom-com protagonist you simply envy for lucking out on his situation. He’s a womanizing scumbag, sure, but factoring in how and swiftly and often he receives his just desserts for being said scumbag—and even for simply existing—he strikes the fine balance between loathsome and sympathetic. And he’s about to have company in the form of an ultra-rich parachuting pretty boy!

A Couple of Cuckoos – 10 – Cup Ramen and Foie Gras

When Erika takes off to hang out with her mom (the one who raised her) Sachi doesn’t waste the sudden opportunity to hang out with her Onii. She ostensibly wants to buy a gift for their mom, but both of seem to agree their mom isn’t much of a gift receiver, so you have to think part of her just wants to see what it’s like to go on something like a date with Nagi.

The two settle on an apron (and sure enough, their mom could take or leave it) but when Sachi comes upon the idea, Nagi rewards her with a head pat, which pisses her off to no end. As much as she pretends not to stand him, Sachi wants Nagi to see her as a girl, not an imouto. Alas, he’s utterly oblivious. He just wants to study and win Hiro, which is why he’s probably none too pleased about suddenly being yanked out of the house by Erika.

Erika, who herself was blissfully reveling in her first cup ramen, got a text from her dad saying he’s coming—no discussion, not argument, he’s just coming and that’s that—so she ditches both wallet and phone, grabs Nagi, and heads out. Where doesn’t matter; that even she’s not sure is the point. No GPS or purchase history means even someone as rich and powerful as her dad can’t find her if she doesn’t want to see him.

Instead, Sachi is person who encounters her dad making himself at home in the house. She initially thinks he’s a burglar, but she should have called the cops anyway, considering he later lures her out and plys her with foie gras. I’m with the wait staff of his restaurant: it’s weird that he suddenly takes Sachi out to dinner.

Sachi is there for the foie gras, and also considers it equitable to tell Erika’s father about how she and Nagi are getting along. She probably doesn’t realize she’s being a snitch, because she’s distracted by the fact this is another opportunity for her: if she says they’re terrible together, she could potentially be able to swoop in and have Nagi to herself (again).

But Sachi is not a bad person, so she tells Erika’s father the truth: as mismatched as their personalities seem, Erika and Nagi definitely have a spark—je ne fois gras, if you will. Their chat is interposed between scenes of Nagi showing Erika a good time with zero yen thanks to a steep hill and a piece of cardboard.

As for Erika’s increasingly creepy dad, he heads into his office to admire a framed photo of him and Erika’s dad with Erika…and Nagi, looking like older toddlers. This is strange, as my understanding is they were separated at birth; this suggests they were reunited at some point. It also gives credence to the fact the “certain someone” Erika is trying to reach through SM is, in fact, Nagi, and the two of them simply somehow forgot they knew each other as kids.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 08 – Family’s Complicated

While Erika is out shopping, Nagi is preoccupied with her words on the beach about his “fate changing” if he knew who she was trying to reach through social media. That’s when Sachi shows up unannounced. With Erika out, she assumes Nagi messed things up, and gets him to reveal the issue.

Spending time with Sachi for the first time in a while gives him a taste of home, so he stops moping and remembers Umino family tradition to deal with things head-on. Only Sachi slips out while he’s making dinner and returns to the family’s tiny temporary rental, only to pack her things and head right back to Nagi and Erika’s.

Nagi, who gets a call from his mom saying Sachi has to come back tomorrow, tells Sachi she can’t stay, but it’s not just his call. It’s half Erika’s place too, and she doesn’t mind if her sister wants to stay. There’s also the matter of her needing help studying for entrance exams, and Erika dresses up like a stereotypical schoolteacher for that end.

That said, once she and Sachi are alone togeher, Erika manages to suss out the true reason her sister is there. When Erika suddenly showed up at her place, Sachi panicked. Would Nagi marry her and just be gone? She thought she had more time with her onii. She wanted more time. When they were little, they were very close. She pretends he’s a pain in the ass, but that clinginess still lingers.

The next morning Sachi earns her keep by making everyone a huge breakfast, then Erika takes her and Nagi out shopping for the things that will make Sachi more at home. In the process, the sister talk about how they’re always being flirted with and turning guys down.

Sure enough, they soon attract a crowd of onlookers while hanging out at a café. Nagi rushes to them, worried they got caught up in something, but trips and makes a fool of himself. That’s when both Erika and Sachi acknowledge him and suggest they get going, and it dawns on Nagi that his fiancée and sister are “kind of a big deal”.

The three have fun making a photo board, and christen it with a cute photo of the sisters and a very blurry Nagi rushing into the frame. But through all the eating and shopping and fun, he hasn’t been able to talk to Erika about what she said that day on the beach. So when she’s out of the bath, he’s kneeling in the hall, ready to talk.

He tells her he recognizes that everyone has their problems even if they don’t talk about him, and that he doesn’t just want to pry out of curiosity. But Erika said what she said, and Nagi heard her, and he doesn’t want to pretend that exchange didn’t happen. He may have been raised to face people head-on, but he admits to her he’s not ready for an answer that may “change his fate,” so he asks her to wait until he’s ready.

Erika’s serious look is soon replaced by a hearty laugh, but she agrees, and so her mystery remains intact. While this outing brought Sachi more to the forefront and made her more of, well, a character, I could never quite shake the feeling the episode was dragging its feet. The household has grown by one, but it feels like no one is taking the situation seriously yet; it’s just three people playing house. I wonder how long that status quo can hold.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 22 – Home Alone

Following his extremely close brush with death by Orsted’s hand, Rudeus has a series of disturbing dreams while unconscious, which are something of a culmination of his journey and his yearning. All this time he’s not only sought to keep his beloved Eris safe and restore Ruijerd’s rep, but to return home to his family. These dreams give him a glimpse of what that might look like, but also show him his old reality of being alone in a dark, cluttered room, only to be impaled once more by Orsted.

He awakes to find Eris dozing peacefully beside him as usual, and Ruijerd sitting by the fire keeping watch. Ruijerd is still trying to wrap his head around a Man-God and the fact the Seven Gods of ancient times are still kickin’ it. For a second, I thought Rudy was going to tell him that he came from another world. Instead, he says the Superd curse has been fading since Ruijerd shaved his head, and is all but gone; this moves Ruijerd to tears. Ruijerd!

After many travels and trials and tribulations, Dead End have come to their destination, Rudy and Eris’ home, only to find it a grey, dreary ruin, lacking all the green vitality it had before the disaster. As Rudy walks pasts spots where he, his mom, dad, Roxy and Sylphie once shared simple moments made so much more meaningful by the fact those moments are no longer possible; only in memory. Again, it feels like the series summing things up.

Now that Rudy and Eris are home, and no longer children, Rujierd declares them them as no longer needing a babysitter. He treats them like children once more by patting them on the head, then says goodbye, hoping they’ll meet again someday. It’s a perfect farewell for Ruijerd, as there’s little more he can teach Eris. Now that she and Rudy are back home in their new, more adult-ish form, it’s time for them to stand on their own, just as Ruijerd must walk on his own, after Rudy helped him take the first step.

The good news: Ghislaine is in town, as is Alphonse, both alive and well. The bad news: Eris’ family is dead. We know her gramps was executed, but her parents passed away after being teleported. Alphonse is primarily concerned with the future of the Boreas family and the fate of their lands and people. To that end, he mentions an alliance whereby Eris becomes the concubine of a neighboring lord in order to secure that future. Ghislaine is against it. Eris needs time alone…not even Rudy can stay by her side.

Later that day Rudy learns that Sylphie is among the missing, but not confirmed dead, so she’s out there somewhere. That was the first hint that his and Eris’ paths would diverge, but it didn’t come into focus until later that night when Eris visits Rudy in his tent wearing a flowing nightie. Eris mentions that she just recently turned fifteen—of age in her society—and for her birthday she wants a family. She wants Rudy to be that family; she wants them to sleep together.

Rudy hesitates, his head swimming with all the reasons he shouldn’t; Eris is feeling hopeless and needs connection; he’s not fifteen yet…but then Eris draws closer and tells him all the reasons they should, and so they do. What ensues is one of the more tasteful lovemaking scenes you can pull off considering the ages of the participants. In any case, it’s a long, long time coming, considering how much these two have come to love each other.

Alas, that night was just another dream. In the morning, Rudy only gets a few magical moments of having “gotten it made” as a normie before he realizes Eris isn’t in the bed, has chopped off her hair, and left him a note stating “You and I aren’t well-matched right now. I’m going away.” Rudy learns from Alphonse that Eris set out on a journey with Ghislaine, and told him not to tell Rudy where.

So Rudy finds himself back home, totally alone but for Alphonse, with whom he never had the closest or warmest relationship. No more Ruijerd, and more devastatingly, no more Eris, on whose proximity day and night he’d become so accustomed. He wanders the tent city aimlessly, wondering what Eris meant in her note. I suspect she meant for it to sting so he wouldn’t follow, as she has things she needs to do without him at her side to rely on.

But Rudy doesn’t know. He’s not back in his smelly apartment in Japan, but he’s just as alone now as he was then. The question is, what will he do and where will he go next? His mother and Sylphie, for instance, are still missing; does he set out alone to search for them? Does he rejoin his dad and Norn and aid their efforts?

His possibilities are as endless as the horizons of this sprawling world, but just right now he’s paralyzed with sudden, crippling loneliness—the end of one journey marks the start of a new and far more difficult one.

Sonny Boy – 05 – The Creator

If you thought Sonny Boy was going to pick up right where it left off with the Bond Girl-like arrival of a teacher (like ahem me) well…you haven’t been paying proper attention. Sonny Boy, you see, picks up where and when it feels like it: in this case, a 2D Pac-Man-like world that Nagara, Nozomi, Asakaze and Mizuho manipulate in order to “liberate” all of the digital mice.

Their “reward” for “conquering” (i.e. clearing) this world is a corded desktop mouse with the power to unravel things, from computer code to sweaters. Turns out each time a world is conquered, a new power is “unlocked”. Back at Rajdhani’s lab on the beach, he’s recording and cataloguing all of the team’s successes and failures, gradually narrowing down what can and can’t be done…slowly unraveling the big tangle that is their predicament.

The rest of the class probably would have tolerated this as long as they were kept fed and busy, but along came that Aki-sensei, who claims to have been sent by “God” and only seems to be their to stir up some shit. She immediately plays favorites with Asakaze, and encourages him to take up the mantle of the class’s savior. With him, she’s less Swiss Family Robinson and more Mrs. Robinson.

She also insists that no matter what they do, none of the students will ever be able to return home. She also assigns a scapegoat in Nagara, cultivating the idea that the only one of them with the power to teleport was trying to escape the world they came from, and happened to drag them all along with him. The StuCo brings Nagara before the class, but due to his social anxiety and ineloquence, his answers only make them more suspicious and angry, and even Hoshi can’t sway them to take it easy.

Happily, Nagara at least gets a small respite from all the finger-pointing when he joins Nozomi for some nighttime fishing. When she spots “guardian angels” in the otherwise inky black water, she dives in without hesitation, and pulls Nagara in with her. Under the water they soon become surrounded by a shimmering silver school of minnows, a wondrous and beautiful moment in an episode full of bleak cynicism. Nagara is glad he jumped in. He’s also glad he met Nozomi.

Things go south when Nagara is again confronted by the class, with Aki-sensei apparently trying to get everyone to turn against him as the one villain on whom they can pin all their blames. One student even shoves Nagara to the ground, causing him to run away once again. As she pulls Nagara down she builds Asakaze up, as he demonstrates he can cut through the world Nagara teleported them to and return to the island.

But that’s the first clue that Nagara’s power isn’t actually teleportation. He ends up escaping to a burned version of the island from before they set up a barter system that obeyed the world’s rules of fair exchange. Nozomi, Mizuho, and Rajdhani end up being able to travel to this burned island where they find Nagara. Mizuho in particular masks her genuine concern for him by being super prickly with him upon their reunion.

But the fact that the burned island wasn’t healed, but a second island created, seals one of the many theories Rajdhani’s simmering in his head: Nagara isn’t a teleporter…he’s a creator. Each and every one of the worlds they’ve visited was made from his power.

With Aki-sensei grooming Asakaze into Nagara’s nemesis, destroyer of those worlds, and savior of the class, all while painting Nagara as the devil, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before things boil over into something ugly.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Meikyuu Black Company – 06 – Meteoric Rise, Temporary Escape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The aquatope on white sand – 05 – We only have august

Fuuka’s mom arrives, but she’s not a bitch, nor a force of nature. If anything, she’s apologetic towards Kukuru’s gramps for making him board a stranger for so long, and ashamed by how long she didn’t know where her child was. Despite her stern look that served as last week’s cliffhanger, she is someone whose position you can totally understand and respect. there’s no “bad guy” here.

That being said, Fuuka’s mom’s initial position is quite clear-cut: Fuuka is to come home to Iwate with her at once. Fuuka isn’t ready, so Kukuru and Kai aid her escape. Her mom could turn the corner at any moment, so they have to act fast—so fast, there’s no time for a proper goodbye between two friends who have only just begun to know each other.

Fuuka replicates the long, hot, sweaty walk she made upon first arriving there, making her wonder if she’s ended up right where she started. The major difference is, a friendly stranger in Karin saved her the first time; this time, she seeks refuge at Udon-chan’s family diner. Udon serves her up a quick and tasty lunch, along with this excellent nugget. When you’re busy, you don’t have time to think about things that don’t matter

Also, Udon’s mom is the fortune teller who told Fuuka she’d make a fated encounter. But that can be said not just of Kukuru, but the Gama Gama Aquarium, as well as the first creature she connected with: the shy little coral blinny. Udon’s mom offers to drive Fuuka to a free room in Haha, but when she remembers the blinny wasn’t looking so swell last time she saw it, she suddenly asks Udon’s mom to turn around and head back.

Unfortunately, Fuuka is too late, and Kukuru admits that when you’re dealing with living things every day, eventually you’re going to have to deal with death. As soon as she first remembered the little guy while in the car, I was just as emotionally invested in the poor doomed blinny as Fuuka was, resulting in this episode’s Goddamn Tearjerker status.

Fuuka’s mom happens to come into the back room just as her daughter is cleaning out the blinny’s tank, looking both pained and diligent. Kukuru steps up to the plate to tell Fuuka’s mom how much Fuuka means to her and the aquarium, but Fuuka stops her, and tells her mother directly that she wants to stay. Having been charmed by this place and its warm and generous people and seeing that Fuuka is serious, her mom agrees…but only until the school year starts in September.

Fuuka’s mom spends the night, lamenting at dinner to Kukuru’s grandparents how between Fuuka going off to be an idol and now, she’s barely been able to be a mother. Udon’s mom says letting a child go when they’re old enough is part of a parent’s job, while Kukuru’s grandparents assure her that everything will work out…even as the shrine of their daughter, Kukuru’s mother, sits in the corner.

Fuuka and her mom end up having a nice mother-daughter moment later that night as they sleep in adjacent futons, with her mom admitting she looked pretty good in those red boots. So the immediate threat of Fuuka and Kukuru being separated has passed, but they only have one month to achieve Kukuru’s dream (not to mention be together). I wonder if the remaining nineteen episodes will cover only that August, or the months of separation that follow.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

Tokyo Revengers – 10 – Stand Your Shaky Ground

Takemichi finds Draken stabbed in the kidney area by Kiyomasa, but everyone else is busy brawling, including Mikey with the surprisingly formidable Hanma. So it’s all up to Takemichi whether Draken bleeds out or gets to a hospital.

Despite being half his size, Takemichi puts the hulking Ken on his back and sloooowly trudges his way to the hospital. Thankfully, Hina and Emma catch up to him, and have already called an ambulance.

While they wait longer than usual due to the festival and the rain, Kiyomasa’s crew tracks Takemichi and Draken down. Thankfully none of them threaten to do anything to Hina or Emma, but Kiyomasa is going to have to insist that Takemichi take them and fuck right off so he can finish Draken off.

But Takemichi is done running. He doesn’t care how absurd it is to try to go up against a beast like Kiyomasa, he has to make the most of his second chance. So he rushes the guy, shrugs off a stab wound to the hand, leaps onto his back, and refuses to let go.

Eventually, Kiyomasa passes out from lack of oxygen, and comes crashing down on Takemichi like a damn felled tree. But just because Kiyomasa’s down doesn’t mean his buddies are going anywhere. They advance on Draken and Takemichi, both of whom are barely able to stand and losing lots of blood.

They’re rescued at the last moment by Akkun and the rest of Mizu Mid’s Ferocious Five, who are even goofier and more embarrassing than Takemichi…but it doesn’t matter. Victory for them is buying enough time for the ambulance to get there, and when that happens, Kiyomasa’s pals have lost. Takemichi is free to savor the win, but the work to salvage his future has still only just begun.

Fruits Basket – 60 – Moving Toward that Someone

After starting with Shigure wishing he could be less of a meddling shitstain (fat chance), we thankfully shift to two of my very favorite Fruits Basket characters in Arisa and Saki. Upon visiting Tooru in the hospital they meet Akito for the first time, who claims responsibility for Tooru’s injuries. Saki, the true God of Fruits Basket, says Tooru doesn’t believe anyone is to blame.

Then there’s the matter of Kureno, whom Akito confesses to have stabbed , after emotionally tying him down and trampling on him for years. She’s at a loss about what to do, since neither Tooru nor Kureno will blame her for anything, and that’s when all the years of being raised as a boy are shattered by Saki, who causally, correctly identifies Akito as female. Then Arisa gives Akito a hug, because Akito needed one.

It doesn’t change the sting of Arisa now knowing that she’s been nothing more than a brief blip in Kureno’s life up to this point; that she’s been “polishing a single day’s memories like they were some diamond”, which, goddamn that’s some pretty writing right there. But here’s the thing…what if they were some diamond?

When Arisa visits Kureno in the hospital room, and he says he thought she wouldn’t come because he didn’t deserve her, nothing matters to Arisa anymore but the love she’s feeling. Whatever Kureno wants to do; wherever he needs to go to “leave the sight” of Akito as one final kindness, Arisa will be by his side without fail. She’s done not being a participant in his life. The diamond is nice, but she wants the mine, and she’ll have it, because she’s Uotani Fucking Arisa.

The screen is once more soiled by Shigure’s presence as he and Yuki encounter Haru at his house. Haru notes how Rin has been “impressively worried” about her BFF Tooru, but he’s likely there because he’s worried about Kyou, who hasn’t once visited Tooru in the hospital and is rarely seen leaving his room.

Yuki admits Kyou has “his own pain and his own reasons”, but he also doesn’t give a shit about them. He’s done being Mr. Nice Ratboy, and storms upstairs, where he’s even more incensed to find Kyou packing to leave before Tooru comes home. Kyou says listlessly that his being there would hurt her, that he can’t protect her, and that she’s better off with Yuki.

Yuki then kicks Kyou through the damn door, mocking him for thinking he has to be some kind of superhero plucking Tooru out of midair or save her from getting hit from a car. Of course he’s not that—he’s just a stupid cat—but he doesn’t need to be a superhero.

Kyou admits to Yuki that he always wanted to be him, which in turn causes Yuki to admit that he always wanted to be him. Of course, neither of these facts comes as a surprise to us, but Yuki and Kyou have been so mired in playing out their respective Zodiac roles they failed to notice how much they admired and envied one another.

But here’s the thing, Kyou can’t be Yuki and Yuki can’t be Kyou; Kyou has to be Kyou and Yuki has to be Yuki (though Shigure should probably stop being Shigure). From how Yuki’s seen it, Kyou has protected Tooru just fine by being Kyou; by simply loving her being the one she loves; by being the only one of the two of them to make her truly smile.

Yuki leaves a stunned Kyou with the words “Get your damn act together!”, and Kyou is moved, though not, at first, to the hospital. He has to take care of something first, namely standing up to his grotesque, loathsome creature of an audiophile father. As he heads to his dad’s place, we get a cute little scene of Hiro and Kisa discussing how Hiro breaking the curse hasn’t changed their affection for each other.

When Kyou quietly concedes that his mom’s death was his fault as his “dad” claims, said “dad” tells his maid to call the main house to have him dragged away to the Cat’s Cottage. Kyou, tasting the stew of hatred, fear, and grief he’s got going, refuses to go there. He’ll live outside, because there’s someone he wants to be with.

While listening to his ranting, Kyou comes to recall that his dad said horrible things to his mother, so while Kyou might still claim some responsibility for her depression, it’s much more likely his dad was the one who put her into a state where she decided to “throw herself away.” Well, Kyou won’t do the same thing. He’s going to live.

Akito gets the call, but tells the long-serving attendant to ignore it. She’s decided to free Kyou of his impending sentence, tear down the cottage, and quit this wretched place forthwith (hopefully to go stay with Shigure, as the two unassailably deserve each other). The attendant laments how unlike all these young people, poor old her can’t just start over in the outside world. Oh, cry me a fucking river, you deeply despicable woman. Akito certainly won’t…and good for her!

Kyou has adopted the philosophy of continuing to stand on your own two feet, accepting what you are, and moving toward something—or in his case, someone. After his pep talk with Kyou, Yuki is sulking in the dark when he gets a call from his someone, Machi. It doesn’t matter what she wants, he just wants—needs to see her. Tooru? More like Toor-who?!

Just as Arisa’s anxious racing thoughts of how insignificant she was in Kureno’s life melted away at the sight of him, the gears of Kyou’s feline brain are also spinning furiously with questions like Will she still accept me? Do I still love her? Why? How much? The answers are: Yes (eventually), Yes, Because, and A Lot.

Those questions are meaningless as soon as he spots her leaving the hospital and thos big brown eyes. But then, because this is not a show afraid to crack a joke even in a moment like this, Tooru gets spooked and gives Kyou a taste of his own running away medicine. Unfortunately for her, Kyou can run much faster than her, and quickly gives chase as Arisa and Saki look on approvingly.

Everywhere you look, love is in the air, and I am here for it. And let me reiterate: I’ve never read the source material, so I have no problem with the direction or pace of the adaptation. The way I see it, I’ve been invested in this anime for sixty episodes totalling twenty-five hours over three years, and so far this is the ending I both want and deserve. Keep it up, Furuba!

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Higehiro – 09 – The Things She Carried

Like Sayu, I was dreading the day someone from her family finally found her and forced her to come home…but that isn’t what happens. It turns out Issa is just as decent and kind a person as Yoshida, and doesn’t jump to conclusions even when Yoshida and Sayu greet him at the door in their PJs.

Instead, he’s the latest in a long line of refreshingly reasonable, level-headed human beings that populate Higehiro and make it feel more real. He’s not simply doing their mother’s bidding; he wanted to be the one who found Sayu, because he loves her and is worried about her.

Issa is greatly relieved Sayu managed to find a good soul who took her in without asking for anything inappropriate, and takes both of them at their word when they say nothing’s happened. As a high-achieving corporate type, I imagine Issa trusts his instincts when it comes to reading people.

But that’s not all: Issa can also tell, even if Sayu can’t, that she’s taken some important steps forward as a person. He notes how she’s more able to speak her mind, as she explains why she needs a few more days to think about things. He’s proud and caring n a way only a big brother can be, and grants her one more week.

I have to say, I never imagined in a million years that Issa would be such a good guy, especially considering the uncomfortable way the series has handled the bastard who took her in for sex and ended up her co-worker. But it’s not the show’s fault I automatically expect the worst…it’s because men, and especially anime men, are so often just that…the worst.

Of course, women are the worst too, as we learn when Sayu invites Asami over and sits her and Yoshida down to finally tell them about everything that’s happened that led her to run away. In effect, she’s unloading all of the burdens she’s carried before two friends who are all too happy to help share that load. Her first step in getting ready to go back is telling the people important to her about where she came from.

Sayu and her mother never got along. Her mother put all of her hopes and aspirations into her firstborn son Issa, and never had a kind word for Sayu. Because she never received love, Sayu didn’t bother putting any effort into anything, be it academics or socializing. She was alone, emanated a “stay away” aura, and came to prefer it that way.

But along came another outcast in Yuuko, for whom Sayu’s repelling aura had the opposite effect. Yuuko always told Sayu she was pretty and cool—as pretty and cool as Yuuko claimed not to be—and the two became fast, close friends. But Sayu’s looks and unimpeachable “goodness” kept the other girls from bullying her directly when she turned down a guy one of them liked, so they started bullying Yuuko instead.

Yuuko always said Sayu looked best when she was smiling and happy. But as the bullying intensified and Sayu dug in her heels, determined to stand beside Yuuko and fight for her, she stopped smiling and laughing, and was always depressed, because she felt responsible for her friend’s suffering and felt powerless to stop it.

Yuuko, however, felt differently. When Sayu told her she’d support her and fight for her against the bullying, it hurt Yuuko more than anything, as she believed she was ruining Sayu’s happiness by deigning to become friends with her in the first place.

So one day, Sayu found Yuuko standing on the wrong side of the balcony, waiting for her. Yuuko told her what happened was her fault, but it would be better if she were no longer in her life. Before leaping to her death, Yuuko asked Sayu to keep smiling, obviously in no mental state to realize how hard that would be if she killed herself.

Witnessing her first and only friend commit suicide for her sake would have been plenty of trauma for any teenager or adult to bear, but that wassn’t the end of Sayu’s suffering. As the Ogiwara household became besieged with press and stories and rumors of the true cause of Yuuko’s death, her mother did all the exact wrong things, only exacerbating Sayu’s despair.

Rather than support her daughter and help her grief, she blamed her for their predicament, and even went so far as to ask, seriously, if Sayu really did kill Yuuko. That despicable question is the last straw for Sayu, and you really can’t blame her for not wanting to spend one more second inside that house with that despicable woman. Instead, it’s Issa who offers Sayu a shoulder to cry on as she prepares to run away on foot.

Demonstrating he was just as empathetic and kind back then as he is in the present, he actually helps his sister get the distance and time she needs, giving her $3000 for a decent hotel and food for two weeks, if she promises to call him if she ever gets into trouble. If there’s a right way to run away, this was it: acknowledging and respecting what Sayu needed, but building checks into the arrangement.

But even with those measures in place, Issa would still need Sayu to actualy call him if she got in trouble, and she never does that. As she burns through her cash, she continues to be crushed by isolation and self-loathing, with no one there to help pull her out of her downward spiral. Issa’s mistake wasn’t getting Sayu away from their mom, it was sending Sayu away all by herself when she was in no condition to be entirely alone.

The episode includes a scene we previously saw only a flash of, in which Sayu masturbates and looks down at her hand afterwards. As this happens before she first sleeps with a man, I’m not sure why such a graphic scene was included, except to underscore that there was really not much for Sayu to do during this time but sleep, eat, and pleasure herself, and none of it was helping.

When Issa calls Sayu to check on her, her battery dies, and she tosses her phone out, believing in that moment that his kindness was merely pity she didn’t want or deserve. She wanders the streets, bumps into a man, and when she explains her situation he offers her a place to stay. He eventually asks for sex in return, and Sayu gives in, though doesn’t even remember the name of her first. She then went from guy to guy, trading sex for shelter, until ending up on Yoshida’s doorstep. The rest, we know.

The first to speak after her tale of woe is Asami, who gives Sayu the affection she needs and tells her just how hard she hung in there all this time. Having gotten all of this out, Sayu breaks down, having a much-needed cathartic cry. Once she’s calmed down and in bed, Asami asks Yoshida on the balcony what he’s going to do about her.

Yoshida says it’s up to Sayu’s family to figure this out and it’s not his place to interfere. Asami points out that’s not what she asked, idiot, and again asks: what does he want to do? He may say he’s a stranger, but he’s not; he and Asami are as much family to Sayu as Issa, and certainly more than Sayu’s mom.

What they want matters too, especially if it aligns with what Sayu herself wants. But first those things must be said, just as the things Sayu carried needed to be said to fully understand where she’s been, and determine what she should do. It’s not just Sayu who needs to think about things in the week she has left.

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