Heroines Run the Show – 05 – Their Juliet

Hiyori’s foot injury isn’t something that goes away overnight. Like Embiid being out with a fractured orbital, it ruins any chance of coming close to touching her goal. It only takes one race and a few hurdles before her foot barks at her and she’s suddenly washed out of prelims. She got hurt doing a job she took to help pay to live in Tokyo so she could run, and now she can’t run.

It hurts to see our typically chipper chipmunk suddenly brought so low, and struggling to hide it from the ones she cares about. She puts on a brave face for her family over the phone, but I bet her mom can imagine her daughter’s distraught face as she says everything is fine, unconvincingly. She stares at the ceiling at night and almost gets lost up there.

Aizou and Yuujirou have been around Hiyori long enough to know something’s not right, and even come right out and ask her what’s up; why she’s suddenly so much less dashy. As you’d expect, Hiyori doesn’t want to burden them with her troubles when they have a huge concert coming up, so she does her job with a smile. But they know she’s hiding something.

They learn from Uchida how Hiyori’s dream to make the nationals was deferred by her injury, and Aizou remembers when she seemed to look hurt after delivering their swag to the venue. Add to that the fact that this latest show is the last day Hiyori is contracted to work as LIPxLIP’s manager, and there’s a distinct pall over what should be joyful festivities as the duo takes another step forward in their idol careers.

Aizou and Yuujirou decide to do something for Hiyori to cheer her up. They ask her to make sure she finishes all her backstage duties before their scheduled encore, then switch the final song from “Nonfantasy” to “Dream Fanfare”, the lyrics to which almost seem like they were written specifically for Hiyori, the “Julieta” to whom they dedicate the song.

That tribute and the lyrics are not lost on Hiyori, who for thew first time isn’t on the sidelines but has a primo seat in the center of the front row of the second deck. From that vantage point she can’t not realize for the first time the true power of idols, and how they’e not just scary or two-faced, bt truly amazing in what they can do and how they can inspire a crowd.

Despite the song being meant as an encouraging sendoff for Hiyori to commit fuly to her track dreams, it actually inspires her to stay on as their manager-in-training, indefinitely. It’s true, she could dedicate more time to track if she wasn’t working, but Hiyori doesn’t want to compromise…she wants it all. She’s not ready to say goodbye to LIPxLIP, and while they react with characteristic haughty apathy at her announcement, I have no doubt they’re glad she’ll sticking around.

But what’s this? Nagisa is coming to Tokyo? Who’s Nagisa? Hiyori’s would-be fiancé? Maybe! In any case, I can’t wait to see what Hiyori’s iconic eyebrows do when this bumpkin surprise her…not to mention how he and the idols will clash! Until then, this was a beautiful capper to a mini-arc in which Hiyori apparently took too much on and stumbled, only to dust herself off and keep going. Hurdles are meant to be cleared!

Heroines Run the Show – 04 – Two Grooms

Clearly more moved than she expected by their princely defense of her against the vile Yumeru, Hiyori has a dream about marrying Aizou and Yuujirou, and the two of them almost kissing her. Naturally, the first time she sees the two she can’t quite look them in the eye. They seem genuinely miffed by this, as who averts their eyes from an idol? But it’s also because they know something’s up with her.

While Yumeru was thoroughly unpleasant, the result of their collab is a lot more fangirls flocking to the boy’s desks at school. Aizou is so overwhelmed he seemingly passes out, and Yuujirou makes mention of some “trauma” that makes Aizou especially lady-averse. While grabbing lunch for herself and Aizou, she meets his big brother Ken, who assumes Hiyori is Aizou’s GF and explains that both he and their mom are super-comfortable with the opposite sex, which might contribute to the straight-laced Aizou.

Hiyori proves her manager mettle by securing the counseling room for Aizou and Yuujirou to hide out whenever things get too hot. Aizou is clearly still a little off after being so surrounded by fans, and clearly loathing leaving the room to buy lunch, so it’s a good thing Hiyori bought him a cutlet sandwich! Yuujirou shares some of the massive lunch his mom made with Hiyori.

The day somehow gets worse for LIPxLIP when an article comes out exposing Yuujirou as the heir to a famous kabuki actor and living national treasure. Hiyori volunteers to shoo away the reporters, but Yuujirou decides to face and fight them head-on with his famous smile and politeness. Hiyori is literally moved to tears when she watches Aizou come in at just the right time to have his partner’s back.

Yuujirou and Aizou come up with a piece of rosette ribbon swag for their fans at their next outdoor concert, and were clearly inspired by their track-running manager-in-training; a way of making every fan “1st Place in their hearts”. But when it’s time for the show, the staffers forgot the ribbons. No matter, Hiyori uses those track legs to race to the nearest taxi, and when the taxi gets stuck in traffic on the way back, runs the rest of the way and gets the swag there in time for the boys to distribute it.

Yuujirou and Aizou can’t help but be impressed by Hiyori going the extra mile for her. They all exchange “good works” and are ready to part ways, but the boys notice that Hiyori is reacting like she’s in pain. Indeed, she sprained her ankle while racing there in time, and now that her adrenaline levels are dropping, she’s feeling the pain even more. So she’s working so she can run track in Tokyo, but now she can’t run. Hiyori doesn’t deserve such misfortune. Maybe the boys can carry her around like the queen she is on a palanquin until she recovers!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 03 – Princely When it Counts

It was only a matter of time before LIPxLIP warmed up to Hiyori’s wholesome country charm. Yuujirou and Aizou were hostile towards her initially simply because they didn’t know her. That’s rectified by Uchida, who tells Yuujirou (who then tells Aizou) that Hiyori came to Tokyo to run, and took a job to live.

The boys call each other out on being okay with this girl among all the others (in Aizou’s case) and having no qualms about showing his true self (in Yuujirou’s). Knowing how hard she works, they can’t help but show grudging respect; at least from afar.

Closer in, they’re much more comfortable messing with her, though when they learn that she failed her midterms and is desperately crunching for the finals so she can compete in athletics, they eventually close the distance and give her some pointers on what to study for in the little time she has left.

What good boys! And here I was calling them assholes last week. They were, and often still are, but it’s goot to see their sharp edges softening due to Hiyori not only being someone you want to support and protect, but also someone you admire for not giving up no matter how high the hurdles.

Going to school together and working together, these three high school-age people were always going to gradually become friends, I just didn’t expect it to come so fast and yet so organically. But that rapidity is facilitated by a catalyst when the three are on a music video shoot for their song “Nonfantasy”.

Their co-star in the video is the up-and-coming amateur model Yumeru-chan, whom we meet in an elegant red dress. She’s a big fan of LIPxLIP, so when she spots the boys goofing around with Hiyori, she gets right pissed off. She wants to be their clothing tree, dagnabit!

Fishing for juicy rumors and looking to put a rival in their place, Yumeru takes Hiyori aside and asks her straight-up what her relationship to the others is. Hiyori deflects and is clearly uncomfortable, and why wouldn’t she be? This world of desperately beautiful people dressed like royalty isn’t her world; they’re stars, and she’s just a bit player.

And while yes, Yumeru is meant to be more “classically pretty”, Hiyori is a far more beautiful person, because she’s not looking to put others down to lift herself up. She just wants to run, and make her friends and family happy they gave her their support.

During a dinner break, Yuujirou and Aizou laugh when Hiyori’s stomach grumbles, and happily offer her some of what looks like an epic craft services spread. Yumeru, again both mystified and enraged, trips Hiyori while she’s walking away, and coffee spills on her dress. The boys apologize profusely for their “staff member.”

Hiyori hides under the lectern of a wedding chapel, but the boys soon track her down, clearly concerned with her. Yumeru shows up and asks for their numbers, but they don’t give them out; company policy. Then Yumeru spots Hiyori in the shadows and asks why they’re fine with her?

Yumeru has the nerve to warn them that Hiyori may have just taken the job to get closer to them—right after she took this job tried to get closer to them. Aizou—not Yuujirou—drops the idol mask and points out this hypocrisy. Yuujirou then adds that he saw Yumeru trip Hiyori.

When she claims she didn’t, he says they can check the security cameras to be sure. He then praises her fake crying but suggests she doesn’t take up acting as she “lacks imagination” to realize messing with their staff would piss them off. After Yumeru storms off, Aizou tells Yuu he might’ve gone too far, but Yu isn’t concerned. If Yumeru wants to start a shit fight, he can sling it with the best of them.

The bottom line is, the risk of exposing their mean sides was worth it if it meant telling someone that Hiyori may be a somewhat plain, simple country girl staff member, she’s also not someone they’ll tolerate being abused. Yumeru made Hiyori an enemy for no reason, and when the boys saw that, it likely reminded them of their shitty attitudes when Hiyori was first hired, thus compounding their irritation.

I’m happy to report that while they will likely continue to mess with Hiyori because she’s such an easy target, they’re also doing it good-naturedly, because they’ve come to like her, and anyway wouldn’t mess with someone they didn’t. They’re also genuinely concerned about how her exams turns out, and flash their best idol smiles upon learning she barely passed.

The power of those idol smiles is enough  to make even Hiyori blush. After all, even after they took off their prince costumes for the music video, they still looked pretty damn princely to Hiyori, because they defended her against someone who didn’t know her. Now that they do, they’ll slay any dragon for her.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 04 – Shots, Socks, and Sweets

Every day Akebi runs to school and waves good morning to the bus. Tanigawa is on that bus, and gets Akebi to agree to be her model for a photo shoot with the theme of “Friends”. Tanigawa chooses the tea ceremony’s classy clubhouse, and when she manages to capture some candid (rather than posed) shots of Akebi, it helps to capture what makes Akebi Akebi.

Akebi is dubious about how helpful a model she’s being (unaware of how much Tanigawa already adores her) and wonders what her “image” is, if she even has one; she started the shoot imitating her favorite idol. Her question is largely answered thanks to an errant baseball that lands in a puddle and splashes mud on Akebi’s prized fuku.

Her friend Usagihara Touko invites her to her dorm, where there are laundry facilities. It’s the first time either Akebi or Tanigawa haven’t gone straight home after school, and they’re both moved by Usagihara’s hospitality. Usagihara also uses the opportunity to dress Akebi up in a cute dress she bought impulsively, making her look even more like an idol.

Usagihara also shows off her baking skills by whipping up some delicious, professional-quality treats for her guests. Turns out her family is in the sweets business, but it wasn’t until she came to the academy that she really wanted to get into the baking part. She saw a demand for sweets among her fellow classmates who give her pocket change for ingredients and get treats in exchange.

Akebi and Tanigawa are impressed by Usagihara’s talent and enterprising nature, but she says anyone can do it, and proceeds to learn that, well, not everyone can. Akebi, who warns her ahead of time she’s not big on the whole “cooking” thing, makes a nigh-inedible “crepe”. It actually makes Usagihara relieved, since she thought Akebi was perfect and could do anything.

Now that she knows Akebi is not only a bad cook, but also has holes in her socks(!), she’s a little less intimidated, and I’m sure will feel comfortable growing closer to her as a friend. Thanks to the community of the dorm, Usagihara found a niche, something she can do better than anyone else, and in turn gets to reap the benefits of everyone else’s myriad talents and quirks.

After their fun first day at a friend’s place after school, Tanigawa looks through all the photos she took of Akebi, and believes she’s finally gotten a better idea of her image. Like Usagihara, spending time with Akebi and getting to see her goofy and clumsy sides helped her understand her better, which in turn leads to her adoring her that much more as a friend.

You can see that adoration in her completed photo series, which Akebi shares with a delighted Kao. The most powerful image graces the cover, which Tanigawa shot from the bus, shows Akebi running and waving good morning from afar. Tanigawa tells Akebi that she’s on the bus she waves to every morning.

The photo is a perfect encapsulation of who Akebi is: always dashing forward, full of energy and love. The beauty of both the image and the emotions behind it brought a genuine tear to my eye, which made it an ideal parting shot for the episode.

The World’s Finest Assassin – 11 – The Ultimate Tool

I’ll start with the only flaw of this episode, which is that it takes a while to get out of that drab brown room where Lugh’s dad explains…a lot. Turns out thee client for killing Dia is Dia’s father, but he only wants everyone else, including the enemy forces besieging Viekone Castle, to believe she’s been assassinated.

Lugh has the choice to turn down this job, as it involves getting mixed up in the affairs of kingdoms other than the Alvan royal family. But of course Lugh takes the job, because he owes Dia for teaching him magic, loves Dia, and promised he’d run to her if she ever asked for help, which he believes she did…just without words.

Lugh’s dad, who similarly only broke his oath of loyalty to Alvan for the sake of his wife Esri (also a daughter of House Viekone, by the way) is both proud and amused his son turned out to choose his love from the same family.

Lugh’s dad also chose him because he’s probably the only one who can pull this off; his pops knows that with the mana it will take to reach the castle in time, he’ll be too depleted to be effective. Tarte also knows she can’t go with him because she won’t be able to keep up with him, but she does offer to “carry him” at least partway there.

Tarte does so by creating a wind cowl and running just ahead of Lugh. These things in concert greatly reduce the physical and magical strain on Lugh, allowing him to conserve his strength for the trials that await at his destination. I frankly love how Tarte has scienced the shit out of this; it’s a brilliant, elegant, and very cool-looking solution.

As the pair pick up speed and scream across huge vistas that give the episode a Lord of the Rings-like epic, sprawling vibe, Tarte’s inner monologue reiterates that she knew all along Lugh didn’t save her life for her sake, but so he could make her into a tool. She hastens to add that while many might be saddened by that, it made her happy.

She’d been discarded by her family as a useless extra mouth, but he gave her a use, a purpose, a reason to keep breathing. And if Lugh so thoroughly rejects the idea of becoming a tool, Tarte is resolved to become the ultmate tool for him, doing whatever needs to be done, whenever it needs to be done for him.

When Tarte tuns out of mana, her wind cowl shatters, and she’s sent flying by the sudden burst of unshielded wind, Lugh catches her in his arms and keeps her from injuring herself. Lugh thanks her for helping him conserve, and marvels at how far he’s come in so little time.

Tarte asks Lugh if he really loves Dia like he says; Lugh answers in the affirmative. So Dia asks Lugh to promise he’ll return with Dia. He does, then dashes off, leaving Tarte alone in a vast field of grass, bathed in the gorgeous sunset, with a majestic mountain backdrop, and Tarte begins to weep…because Lugh, whom she loves so much, didn’t choose her.

We still get our goddess moment-of-the-week, but like previous ones it’s more of a brief and well-timed interstitial that doesn’t break the episode’s momentum. It is odd how all of a sudden the Goddess is talking like a robot, but one thing is clear: as of 14 years ago, she found a soul suitable for stopping the Hero’s rampage, and awaits his death.

Lugh arrives to find 1,500 enemy troops besieging a Viekone Castle with less than 200, but they seem to be holding the enemy off, thanks in large part to the “metal pellets” of Dia’s magic rifle. Lugh’s first task is to ensure the Castle isn’t sacked before he can fake Dia’s assassination, and he does so by wrecking the enemy forces’ shit.

Identifying all of the high-ranking magic users with his eyes of appraisal, he takes them out first. When the troops start huddling together for defense, he uses a Fahr stone to replicate the power of a grenade launcher, taking out large groups of the enemy at once. With the enemy in disarray, the Viekone forces use the opportunity to exit the castle to mop up.

After having used wind magic to listen in on the besieging army’s communications, he uses that same magic to detect a path devoid of sound, where he knows he won’t run into anyone. That path leads him all the way to Dia, who almost seems to sense he’s watching when she says “It’s all right. I trust you.”

Lugh reaches her and her father Count Viekone without being detected, and Dia rushes to hug him, absolutely overjoyed to see he actually came. But there’s still hard work ahead, including “killing” Dia and getting both her vassals and the army to believe she’s really dead, all without killing her. I hope he can keep his promise to return to Tuatha Dé together with Dia.

Sonny Boy – 12 (Fin) – Don’t Say Goodbye…

Sonny Boy’s finale begins boldly, with what amounts to a stirring five-minute music video. We follow Nagara, who has slipped right back into his usual existence. Things are so normal, he sometimes wonders if he was ever really adrift in the first place.

Notably absent from Nagara’s high school is Mizuho, whom Nagara looks up and waits outside her school’s gates, only for her to not have any idea who he is. You and I know how much Nagara grew while adrift with Mizuho, Nozomi, and Asakaze, and yet this world seems almost cruelly intent on keeping him isolated and alone.

His present existence back in his original world lies in stark contrast to the surreal, beautiful, and fantastical journey he and Mizuho undertake to get back to a world they’re certain hasn’t changed, even if they have. They tie themselves together, run out of the space elevator, and keep running, even when God tries to stop them. Asakaze bids them farewell, unable to follow even though there’s nothing left for him there.

The flashback to Nagara and Mizuho’s escape serves as a bridge between Nagara’s post-return life and Mizuho’s. Mizuho notes that “everything is gone” from the two-years-plus they were drifting. While Nagara has a part-time job, Mizuho spends her evenings sneaking into their old school and breaking a glass. But a cat doesn’t come delivering a new one; it just stays broken. That’s as it should be…so why is it so sad?

At least we learn that Mizuho was simply messing with Nagara when she pretended not to know him; maybe it was just that seeing him again got her old defenses up. And yet these two people who suddenly find themselves strangers in a simultaneously recognizable and unrecognizable world can’t help but spend time together, basking in both that contradiction and in the knowledge that the two of them are different from everyone else in terms of where they’ve been and what they’ve seen.

There’s a elegiac quality to their interaction, like they were the last surviving members of their unit in some long-finished war. Yet Nagara can’t help but worry that one day he’ll forget what he and Mizuho are feeling right now, and go adrift all over again. Before they part, possibly for good, Mizuho tells him as long as a part of him is still on that island, he’ll be fine. They’ll both be fine.

The episode ends with a third music video, focusing on Nozomi, but wordlessly, until we cut to Nagara preparing to inspect a bird’s nest at the station, only to find Nozomi has already rescued a surviving chick. Nozomi recognizes Nagara from middle school, but unlike him and Mizuho seems to have no other memories of their time in those other dimensions.

Ultimately, Nagara seems fine with that, and fine with the fact Nozomi quickly runs to another guy who I believe is Asakaze. It would seem that by dying in that world, Nozomi’s existence transferred to this one…or something. No matter; I too am glad she’s still alive, bringing light and energy to dark and sullen places.

What I’m not glad about is that this spells the end of Sonny Boy…or at least it should. This just felt like such a wonderfully self-contained and authoritative twelve episodes, my urge for a sequel is tempered. Like Nagara back in his home dimension, everything that should happen will happen.

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 10 – Taking It Seriously

A day after feeding Senpai “steamy snaps” (of chicken, not her), Nagatoro watches him lollygagging during a marathon, and makes her displeasure with his performance plain. He tries to say he’s good at nothing but drawing and practicing is only for talented people, but Nagatoro knows better on both counts.

She’s not about to let her Senpai get off with such a lousy defeatist attitude, and orders him to show up at the park bright and early, where she meets him in a skintight two-piece track suit and ponytail, ready to run with him and show him he can do it if he tries.

While I’m sure on some level Nagatoro understands her attire turns Senpai on, to the point he tries to overtake her because he’s too embarrassed to watch her running from behind, that’s just the icing on the cake for her. She wants Senpai to see her and thouroughly enjoys his reactions, but she’s just as invested in helping him improve himself and to dispossess him of the notion it’s okay to just give up because something is hard.

Speaking of hard, Naoto is revealed is extremely inflexible during the crucial post-run stretching, so after putting herself into some teasing poses to get him all red, Nagatoro helps him stretch properly, which gives her an excuse to get as close and physical and sweaty with him as she dares. This culminates in the two doing a side-stretch together when Yosshi stops by with her dog…though at this point it should come as no surprise to her with whom Nagatoro is spending her weekend.

The Cultural Festival is approaching, and Naoto needs to start putting out some work worthy of the Art Club exhibition. He wants to have a male model so he doesn’t get embarrassed looking closely at them, but Nagatoro insists on modelling for him, showing him the sketch of her as a catgirl as proof of where his true artistic desires lie.

When he gives her the condition that she has to model in catgirl cosplay, he feels bad about it later, as he assumes she’d never be able to find such a costume, much less wear it for him. I don’t know why he thought this, considering the clothes she’s worn (or not worn) for him so far, but the next day she shows up in the literal costume of his dreams, courtesy of the needlecraft club.

She is playfully beating him with her big paws for not having complimented her enough when Gamo, Yosshi and Sakura come in, wondering if they interrupted something they shouldn’t have. But eventually the whole group is there hanging out and Naoto settles down and starts drawing Nagatoro.

The girls even offer to help Senpai make his exhibit more “hype”, not because they’re keen to use that scenario to torment him (well, not only because), but because they’re all friends now, and friends help each other out. This is in stark contrast to his relationship to the estranged Art Club President, whose stern, purposeful footsteps Naoto hears approaching and has the girls hide in the prep room.

When the unnamed President (voiced by the effortlessly imperious Mizuki Nana) enters, it’s clear from the couch and the snacks that she believes the “unsavory rumors” she’s heard about the club room becoming a gathering place for some “nasty characters”. At no point in this scene or Naoto’s flashback of her does the President treat Naoto as anyone other than an employee, at an emotional remove but also exerting absolute control.

There’s no give-and-take in their exchange, and both Nagatoro and the others feel bad for Senpai getting reamed out due in large part to their entering his world. When the President asserts that the club room is “no place for merrymaking”—as if you can’t do good work and have fun doing it—and threatens to turn a termination form for the art club into the faculty office, Naoto is unable to speak up for himself.

But before President leaves, Nagatoro emerges from the prep room with the others, having heard quite enough. She calls the President selfish for having been AWOL so long and leaving Senpai all alone only to come back out of nowhere to shut it down. The President doesn’t flinch in her assertion that the club shouldn’t exist if its members won’t take it seriously.

Surely Nagatoro also must realize how unserious she looks in her getup, but it doesn’t matter; she’s going to stand up for her Senpai! She draws upon her amassed wealth of knowledge about Senpai to declare that President simply can’t make that assertion. After all, she hasn’t been watching Senpai off by himself drawing like a man possessed. She has, and she knows he takes it seriously—so seriously, in fact, he wrongly believes he isn’t good at anything else!

The President accepts this challenge to her judgment, and decides to settle the fate of the art club with a festival competition. She will run the art club’s exhibit, while Naoto will have to run his own separate exhibit, and whoever gets more votes will be the victor; in his case, the art club will survive. If she wins it gets shut down.

Naoto can’t even fathom taking on the President all by himself…but he doesn’t have to. Nagatoro puts her hand on Senpai’s shoulder, just like the President did after last year’s successful exhibit. The President said “they made a good memory” but otherwise didn’t him much of anything emotionally, and since then has left him completely alone.

If President hadn’t done this, Nagatoro would have never had the opening she needed to begin her relationship with Senpai, so it’s not all bad. But she, and her girlfriends who were clearly moved by her passionate defense of her boyfriend Senpai, will surely help him do whatever it takes to beat the President. And even if he can’t, who’s to say they can’t start a new club; one will art and fun are allowed?

Episode 10 “Senpai” Count: 29 (+3 “Paisens”)
Total: 363

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle – 10 – Demons in Humanland

Princess Sya has her most far-flung adventure yet, though it begins with a false start as she attempts to travel to the Human Realm on her own to purchase a state-of-the-art massage pillow. She puts her hear up and dons a gym uniform to enter ALL OUT MODE, then demonstrates her speed and agility as she outruns the Demons and eludes their attempts to stop her. Twilight, Siberian and Cleric are transfixed by her surprising athleticism, noting she’s like a football player out there.

When she starts getting perilously close to the poison swamp on the extreme edge of Demon Castle grounds, Twilight sets a trap with a bed in a cage. Nobody thinks it has a chance of working…until it works perfectly! They return Sya (cage and all) to the castle, where she tells them she won’t try to go alone if they accompany her, remarking that she knows they’re kind deep down.

The flattery works, and the next day Twilight, Siberian and Cleric accompany Syalis to the Human city of Endopolis. Sya is resplendent in her tidy traveler’s garb, but the demons’ disguises are so abysmal she resorts to pinning large notes on their backs reading “Practicing for Halloween.” Once in town, she spots a new Deluxe version of the pillow she covets on sale. All they have to do is wait in line…for three hours. Sya falls asleep on Siberian’s shoulders, but eventually the pillow is purchased.

By then it’s nighttime, and the anti-demon festival fireworks begin. When getting in the wrong line earlier, Twilight secured a VIP lottery ticket, and ends up winning a primo private viewing spot complete with snacks and cocktails (I’m really not sure about banana milk tea flavored popcorn though!) Just when the Demons start to think Sya is simply stalling because she doesn’t want to leave her own realm, she draws them a “grinning demon” symbol and suggests they head home—home, of course being the Demon Castle.

Once there, what becomes of the expensive massage pillow they went all that way and went through all that guff to get her? She pawns it off on the Teddy Demons. Hey, at least someone will enjoy it! Every episode of Sleepy Princess is an absolute hoot, but this was even more fun and hilarious than usual, all while deepening the bond of friendship between a human hostage and her gold-hearted captors—which is starting to bode well for future peace between their realms.

Fruits Basket – 46 – More than Just Darkness

Technically, things stay still this week, as Yuki takes a deep dive back down memory lane as he sits with Kakeru. But while the vice president gets the Cliff Notes at the end about Yuki’s devotion to Tooru (who goes unnamed), we get the full and devastating play-by-play, starting with Yuki’s first meeting with a younger, less evil Akito and culminating in the full retelling of the “baseball cap” incident.

Yuki was so young when he first met Souma Akito, he didn’t question the fact his parents were basically selling him to the Zodiac god as a goddamn human sacrifice. But in their first meeting, Yuki does suddenly tear up. One of the household women states that other Zodiac members did the same upon meeting Akito and that’s it’s a sign of their powerful, inscrutable “bond.”

In reality, the tears were the response to the “shouting” of two opposing voices in his chest, both wanting and not wanting to meet Akito, both wanting to embrace and escape, beloved and repulsing. It’s a lot for anyone, let alone a sickly little kid who has yet to grasp just how much his life has changed.

Yuki admits that Akito was indeed less sadistic once and his tantrums far more tame. But one day Akito became twisted, without any precise cause of explanation. He just…snapped, and Yuki became a canvas much like the walls and floor Akito covered in pitch-black ink (like the ink he saw in the StuCo storage room). The black ink of constant verbal and emotional abuse, liberally, chaotically thrown about like a supernatural Jackson Pollack.

Akito never let Yuki forget for a single day how useless and hated he was by everyone, and how he what little worth he has is entirely dependent on Akito’s benevolence. Such sentiments were borne out in the rare instances Yuki interacted with other Zodiac members. When he meets Kyou, the first thing he thinks is how pretty his hair is, while Kyou, who blames the Rat for his mother’s suicide, vows never to forgive Yuki and wish he would simply disappear. Those are Kyou’s first words to Yuki, who he’d never met!

Yuki does to a fancier school than the other members, despite Kyou, Haru, Kagura and Momiji all being of similar age. The dissonance between all the household talk of how important and venerable and “close to God” the Rat is, and the way he is universally resented and loathed, causes Yuki’s heart to wither…a person can only take so much!

Yuki actually does make some friends organically at his school, but the first time a girl accidentally hugs him and he transforms into a rat, all of those friends’ memories are deleted by Hatori, and he’s suddenly alone in the dark again.

Akito has no words of comfort for him, only of scolding: this is the result of you deluding yourself. For hoping. For believing there is anything bright in this world. Here I was thinking Rin got the very worst of treatment from Akito, but it was almost a mercy that she was so much less coveted a member of the Zodiac than the Rat, constantly suffering under Akito’s foot.

Yuki and Kyou cross paths once more, and Kyou loses his blue baseball cap—that’s right, that cap—but when Yuki offers to hand it back to him, Kyou runs away, and into the arms of Kazuma. That sight makes Yuki yearn for parents who would embrace rather than discard him, as well as a home to which he wanted to return, where everyone could smile and no one would keep their distance.

Yuki becomes ill (well, more ill), and with an apathetic “poor Yuki” Akito is his only visitor as he’s confined to a chair. Akito decides this is the best time to explain why Kyou hates him so much sight unseen, while asking mockingly if he’s going to die. Yuki gets to the point that he’d rather die and disappear, as he believes it would be the first and last time he’ll ever “be useful”.

But as those suicidal thoughts swirl in his head, the mirror in his hands shatters. Rather than cut himself, Yuki puts the baseball cap on and runs. Runs out of the compound to no destination and for no reason other than to simply run.

And run he does…right past a crying little girl (Tooru) and, a little further on, a young mother (Kyouko) chewing out police for asking her for a more detailed description than “cute in every way”. Yuki backtracks, makes eye contact with the girl, and before he knows it, she’s following his every move. Every time he turns a corner he hesitates a bit until she locks back onto him.

From that point on, the girl was relying on him for everything. He wasn’t just useful…he was absolutely needed. Once the two are in front of her house, he places the cap on her head, says “well done,” and runs off, without even asking for her name.

Despite the brevity of their interaction, Yuki’s hopes were buoyed for quite a long time…until he again descended into the darkness of Akito’s abuse and slow torture. Then he met Tooru again without even realizing she was the girl who saved him the first time, and let her save him all over again. The rest we know!

Even though much of what Yuki recalls isn’t relayed to Kakeru out loud, it is still important that Yuki has found someone in Kakeru—a non-Zodiac—whom he can trust and in whom he can confide. He may still not fully grasp what exactly Tooru is for him, he knows for sure that she is beloved, “like a mother.”

The loving, caring, smiling, nurturing mother Tooru herself had all too brief a time, and whom Yuki never, ever had. Thanks to Tooru, he knows Akito was wrong about the world. It’s not all light, but it’s not all pitch-black either.

Check out Crow’s review here!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 30 – The Cardcaptor’s Dilemma

This week CCS switches things up a bit, dropping us in right in the middle of a card-capturing mission. Sakura’s in a gaudy new battle costume, Tomoyo is recording with her camcorder, God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world. The target is Dash, a card that specializes in sprinting. When Sakura uses Windy to restrain it, Dash breaks free, injuring itself and landing in the yard of a girl named Rei. She dresses its wound and the two form an immediate bond.

Tomoyo dresses Sakura in a baseball uniform in order to create an excuse to enter Rei’s yard, but at school they later learn Rei is their senpai, and the ace track runner. It’s clear that Dash has a profound effect on her performance, as she shaves a full second from her personal best. Sakura and Tomoyo pay her a visit with the intention of sealing the Dash card, but when the opportunity arises, Sakura hesitates.

You see, Rei is a nice, good girl, like Sakura, simply trying her best. Sakura doesn’t want to seal Dash until after her track meet. Kero-chan basically tells her that as a Cardcaptor she can’t concern herself with emotional entanglements like this, but the bottom line is Sakura just doesn’t feel right taking Dash from Rei just yet. Unfortunately, before the meet Syaoran catches wind of the card and his compass leads him to Rei’s house.

Sakura tries to intervene, but Syaoran is in full cardcapturing mode, summoning lightning in order to corner Dash once it leaves Rei’s yard. When it appears before Sakura, Kero-chan again makes the argument that any victories Rei achieves with Dash’s magical help won’t be legitimate, and that Sakura won’t be able to cheer for her with all her heart.

So Sakura has no choice but to seal the card, which then flies into Syaoran’s hand. He’s confused as to why Sakura didn’t seal it herself much earlier, but learns the reason when Rei runs into the forest calling out desperately for her pet. Poor Rei!

Syaoran shows he’s not only a clever kid, but a kind one, as he summons Dash at the finish line to provide Rei the motivation she needs to win the track meet. He does not use Dash’s power to give her extra speed; she won through her own efforts.

Rei can celebrate her victory, Sakura was able to cheer for her whole heartedly, and Syoran scores some good guy points…not to mention style points—nice jacket! In fact, the animators were quite busy this week with the sheer volume of different outfits Sakura & Co. ended up wearing.

Railgun T Episode 13 Delayed Indefinitely (Updating)

Bummer…

Who’s going to step up and stop the out-of-control Mikoto from becoming a supernova (or white dwarf)? Who is going to punch Gensei in his smug cyborg face and foil his plans? Will Kuroko ever get her memories of onee-sama back?

Uh…dunno. We’re seemingly almost at the end of what has so far been the best Toaru arc yet (only five chapters remain to be adapted, apparently), but this week’s episode has been postponed.

UPDATE: Episode 13 will air May 1. We’ll have a review soon after we’ve watched it!

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 12 – A Star is (Being) Born

Misaki hoped that Touma would be able to keep Mikoto under some measure of control with his Imagine Breaker, but that possibility went south almost immediately. Touma finds himself staring down an inability to do anything other than slow Mikoto down a little, and even that largely depends on properly utilizing Gunha’s One Punch Man-style strength.

Meanwhile, Misaki shadows Gensei until she can’t conceal herself anymore, and learns he’s using Multiskill to borrow powers from espers he’s “acquired” (i.e. abducted). He needs the code embedded in her brain (and located nowhere else) in order to release the limiter on Exterior, allowing him to control Mikoto better.

Gensei also deduces that around the halfway point of her transformation to Level 6, she’ll attain other-dimensional entity status. She’ll touch godhood for only an instant, then “come apart” as an individual. And like a dying star, she’ll either end up a withering white dwarf or an explosive supernova—in either case it’s probably curtains for Academy City.

Misaki believes the fact she’s on her home turf, a place full of traps she control, gives her an edge, but it’s not long before Gensei pins her shirt to the wall with ice crystals. Luckily he misses her vitals (and incidentally, her body), but his ability to manipulate air means he can remove all the air from her immediate vicinity, and choke the code out of her.

Fortunately for Misaki, Ginsei’s penchant for theatricality and tendency to get carried away works to her advantage, as she sacrifices a bit of her shirt to slip away while he’s lost in momentary megalomaniacal rapture. A recurring gag throughout the ensuing cat-and-mouse chase is that the un-athletic Misaki is running at, shall we say…a leisurely pace? More moseying than running, really. Just a momentous little nugget of continuity, that.

Meanwhile, Kuroko continues her search for puppetmaster Kozaku Mitori, as she systematically deprives the puppet of sight (destroying the auxiliary camera) and sound (using anti-eavesdropping devices to nullify its echolocation). Her secret agent gadgets and ability to teleport keep Kuroko safe, right up until Ruiko and Uiharu find the building where Mitori is holed up.

Once in that building’s lobby, Kuroko screws up by not assuming Mitori could have a Mk.1 Eyeball on her. She gets grazed in the side and a deep cut to the arm, but she’s still standing, while Uiharu has trained all surveillance cameras on the building, so there’s no escape for Mitori. That’s when Kuroko starts to feel that something is off…is this just an elaborate exercise to keep her busy and out of the way? Is there still something else going on?

Back at Exterior HQ Misaki does her very best to stay one step ahead of Gensei, but while she’s an extremely shrewd and capable (if physically slow) chess player, she’s hamstrung by a much weaker poker game. With his superior years and experience, Gensei can sense when the tables are about to be turned against him through Misaki’s body language, and thus formulate a quick counter.

Misaki’s trump card is the “gravitron panels” that appear to use nanotechnology to build structures and supports. Developed both for scaffolding and making shortcuts for Misaki, she employs them to restrain Gensei by the wrist…only for him to painlessly pop his hand off and cackle in response. Not only does he possess a wide range of esper abilities he can use at will, but his body is more machine than man, a result of a long life of near-death incidents.

There’s seemingly nothing left in Misaki’s bag of tricks, and Gensei can sense that too, so he again sucks the very air from her lungs, and uses the resulting mental weakness to steal the limiter codes from her mind. Things look very dire for Misaki—and Kuroko, if she gets injured any worse. More troubling is that unlike Touma with Gunha, neither Misaki nor Kuroko have any backup (other than the latter’s open comm link to Uiharu and Ruiko).

This episode was a great collection of isolated standoffs and chases, but Mikoto doesn’t have a chance of ever returning to her normal adorable self—nor does Academy City have a chance of remaining standing—if there isn’t some kind of consolidation of good guys, and soon. It makes me wonder if there aren’t more players destined to join the fight.

Bofuri – 03 – No More Maples!

As expected, the admins at NWO reign in Maple’s invincibility somewhat, as she’s now only able to use her Devour skill ten times a day and can now take a degree of damage. Maple isn’t happy, but Sally reminds her of all the damage based effects now available to her.

Before heading to the dungeon that leads to the second level, the pair do some sightseeing. They spot a pair of newbie sisters just starting out, visit a cafe where they meet others who ranked high in the first event, and get a lead on a sidequest in the North Forest.

We learn Sally is super afraid of any kind of ghosts, making Maple the steady party member for this particular quest. They locate a cabin with a hatch that leads an underground passage. There, a man in apparent constant pain is tied to a chair.

Maple’s potion has no effect, but Sally casts a string healing spells, exhausting her MP, and he’s finally healed. Their prize for completing the quest is a Super Speed Skill. Sally celebrates by showing Maple a “never-ending sunset area” where they can just relax and soak in the gorgeous view.

The next day they tackle the dungeon to the second level, which contains a formidable boss: a humongous stag that forms from a tangle of huge vines. Maple’s Hydra attacks have no effect, and the stag launches an earth-shattering counterattack. With no agility, Maple has to be yanked to safety by Sally, and she lands awkwardly, resulting in a brief K.O.

Sally, on the other hand, sticks her superhero landing perfectly and presses her attack on the stag, using her high speed and evasion traits to deliver a death by a hundred slashes followed by an authoritative coup-de-grace. It’s the second straight episode with an exciting, kinetic Sally battle.

With the boss defeated, a disappointed Maple comes to, and the pair continue to the second level’s gathering area, where Iz presents Maple her new white shield, which Maple calls Shirayuki (nice name). The chibi dragon MC then appears to announce the start of the second event: this time, it’s a treasure hunt, and Maple and Sally are able to form a party together.

Since players are allowed to kill other players for their medals, and Maple not only already has a gold medal but has only ten Devours per day, she’ll be even more of a target for opportunistic opponents, so both she and Sally will need to be on their guard. It’s the end of Easy Street…so much the better!

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