Spy x Family – 23 – The Flames of War

The Campbell siblings have no shortage of dirty tricks to try to stop the Phonys, from a net that moves up and down, a wind machine that affects trajectories, to a hidden sniper firing court-colored rubber bullets. But even they couldn’t have known they’d be up against a couple of elite spies.

Throw adversity at a couple of lunatics like Twilight and Nightfall, and they’re going to keep finding a way around it. Once they’re both in rhythm making impossibly acrobatic yet precise moves, it’s game, set, and match. The Campbells poked a couple of bears, and simply got mauled.

Whether it was Cloverworks or Wit Studio that animated this episode (or both), the “tennis” action was never not fantastic looking, adding a sense of legitimacy to a thoroughly farcical game. When it comes time to claim the painting, Cavi suddenly says it’s the one piece he can’t part with.

But Loid and Fiona prepared for the possibility the secret police would get to Campbell before they got to the painting, so Loid simply disguises himself as Campbell’s valet and pulls the ol’ painting switcheroo, Thomas Crown Affair-style. The mission is a complete success, and the two spies high-five.

Fiona drops Loid off to find Yor in the park with Anya, and decides she needs to challenge and defeat Twilight’s Strix wife right then and there … in a game of tennis. Thanks to Anya, we can witness Fiona’s ridiculous thought about how it’ll go down, as well as Yor’s worry about Fiona replacing her.

Yor also plays the bumbling novice perfectly when she whiffs on what starts off as a badass assassin’s serve. But the thing is, she didn’t whiff; she simply hit the ball so hard it went through the strings of the racket like Play-Doh through an extruder (or human beings in Cube). The concassé’d ball is a little masterpiece of comic timing and trick animation.

Even when Yor holds back on her serve, she hits the ball so hard it goes faster than sound, creates a shock wave that digs into the ground, and lights up like a comet. Fiona tries her best to absorb the serve and volley it back, but her racket simply isn’t up to it, smashing to bits.

Fiona, defeated utterly, runs to her Trabant and races off, not letting Loid or Yor see her mask crack to reveal the seething, churning tempest of emotion within. Yor, who is simply relieved she fought Fiona off this time, very empatically tells Loid that she Won, leaving out the “for Us.”

The punchline of this two-parter is that while the code hidden in the painting indeed leads to finding Zacharis’ Dossier, but it turns out to be a diary filled with photos of pretty young actresses. These are the “dark secrets” that could “re-ignite a war”, not between East and West, but between Zacharis and his wife. I also loved the uncommented-upon sight of the gaudy rings Fiona took from Campbell on Handler’s hand.

But after the punchline comes a moment of realization for Loid when he sees that Zacharis managed to maintain a happy marriage and family after burying away his creepy dossier. Keeping a marriage and family happy isn’t easy, as evidenced by a clearly frustrated-looking Yor at the end.

I imagine she was underwhelmed by Loid’s reaction to her win over Fiona, and still worried about Fiona continuing to try to usurp her. Sure enough, the episode wraps up with Fiona in the mountains strengthening her serve with a racket made from a boulder as the wildlife watches in morbid curiosity.

Spy x Family – 22 – Love Means Nothing

A painting in the possession of the wealthy tycoon Cavi Campbell is believed to contain a code that, if unlocked, could reveal dark secrets about the East or West that could reignite a war. It’s up to Twilight and Nightfall to retrieve the painting. But Fiona doesn’t intend to steal it, she intends to win it.

Cavi runs an underground no-rules, anything-goes tennis tournament called Campbelldon. Fiona dons ojou ringlets and Loid a sporty headband as they pose as an amateur husband and wife team, the Phonys. Secretly, Fiona hopes to show Loid that she’s the only one worthy to be his fake wife.

The crowd bets heavily against them as their first opponents are former pros who went into the mountains to train and are here to seek tougher foes. They get their wish, as both Loid and Fiona mop the floor with them. Despite only “dabbling” in tennis, every one of Loid’s serves is a devastating ace.

Fiona goes above and beyond in trying to look as cool and amazing as possible, her resting stoic face belying the colorful imagery of Loid being so impressed he sweeps her off her feet and proposes they enter the “doubles game of life.”

Loid had previously practiced a bit with Yor and Anya, and I kinda wish we could have seen more of that, especially considering Yor rarely knows how to hold back when it comes to physical exertion. Still, Yor is anxious about the possibility Loid is with Fiona. Anya offers her mom words of comfort … that don’t give away the fact she can read her mind.

Loid and Fiona’s next opponents are a pair of brothers who injected themselves with a new experimental doping cocktail (again, anything goes in Campbelldom). But they are undone by their insistence on trash-talking, which quickly gets under Fiona’s skin and leads her to literally beat them into submission with a flurry of smashes.

Before the final, the spies are taken to a waiting room, where they discuss strategy against their opponents: the son and daughter of Cavi Campbell himself. They’re sure to have more than a few tricks up their sleeve. As Fiona resolves to go even harder for the sake of impressing Loid, he takes her hand.

She initially mistakes him for making a move, unable to restrain himself from her magnificence. But he’s really looking at the cuts, sores, and blisters on Fiona’s hand, and tells her to stop pushing herself so hard, as spies who lose their cool don’t live long.

Fiona pulls her hand away and appears to stare daggers at Loid, but in reality, she’s elated beyond reason that Loid, who once treated other spies as disposable, is so concerned with her well-being. Swooning and slightly risqué sounds ensue.

But then both Fiona and Loid notice that a colorless, odorless gas is filling the locker room. They hold their breath, but some damage has already been done, just when they need all their strength, speed, and stamina.

In addition to not being 100%, Carrol and Kim Campbell have totally legal modified racquets: Carrol’s is jet-assisted, while Kim’s has an extending head that greatly extends her return radius. The Campbell kids ambitions may not extend further than wanting daddy to buy them another yacht, but they win the first set 6-3.

Loid and Fiona regroup and come up with a workable counter to their opponents superior equipment, but then another curveball is lobbed their way when bits of the very court beneath their feet start to shift, causing their shots to veer off-target.

This surely isn’t the last of the dirty tricks they’ll face, but Loid is determined to win that painting for the sake of world peace, and Fiona is just as determined to crush the Campbell kids by his side, and convince him to dump Yor and marry her, both for Strix and for real. To be continued…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 21 – Not My Mama

WISE agent Fiona Frost, AKA Nightfall (voiced by Sakura Ayane in her lower meter) could just as easily be named Snowfall, seeing as she’s outwardly as chilly as Yor is warm. When Handler tells her she’ll be working on a joint mission with Twilight, Fiona jumps at the chance.

She considers it an opportunity to speed up and improve Operation Strix by getting rid of his fake wife, a position she would have occupied had she not been busy on another mission when Strix began. Fiona is met at the door by guileless Yor, who apparently doesn’t feel any killing intent in Loid’s co-worker from the hospital, even as Fiona’s resting face is a piecing dagger stare

When she realizes that Yor considers being Anya’s mom to be fun, she changes her tack, ready to exploit Yor’s feelings of being a subpar wife, but Loid and Anya return home from walking Bond. No matter how good Fiona’s poker face is, Anya can read her mind, and she’s petrified to learn the extent of Fiona’s infatuation with her Papa. It’s way worse than Becky!

The contrast between the lovey-dovey Inner and frigid Outer Fionas makes for good laughs, as does the secret conversation-via-mouth-movements that she and Loid make while sounding like they’re exchanging mindless small talk. As Loid, Yor, and Anya interact, Fiona is constantly demanding that she and Yor switch in her head, and Anya can hear her.

Turns out Yor was paying attention to Fiona talking about Loid complaining at work, and even though Fiona didn’t get to actually specify anything, the mere mention of him complaining has Yor acrobatically leaping to the conclusion that Fiona is a potential replacement wife, no mind-reading necessary.

It’s when Anya semi-accidentally spills cocoa, and she hears Inner Fiona talking about how ruthlessly she’d whip Anya into an efficiently Stella-winning machine, that Anya runs tearfully to Yor’s side, asserting that she is the one, only, and best Mama she could have. This in turn spurs Yor to promising to Loid that she’ll do better, even though from his perspective she’s already been doing fine.

When she sees Loid’s fake smile, Fiona is heartened, as it means that at the end of the day this is all an act. And yet, at the same time, she can see some of the truth leaking through that fake smile, and the genuine peace and happiness Loid is experiencing with Yor and Anya is just too much, and Fiona takes her leave.

Loid chases her down with an umbrella, which she declines, while thanking the heavy rain for hiding her face full of heartbreak and anguish. Inside, she maintains that she’s the only wife worthy of her beloved senpai, while outside she negs Loid, telling him the new “softer” Twilight better not impede their joint mission.

Fiona is a stylish and welcome addition to the cast; someone who is actively trying to steal Loid while having no idea how to do so, someone with contrasting inner-outer personalities off which Anya can bounce, and a hint of genuine pathos for someone whose fated role by Loid’s side was usurped due to bad timing.

The final fifth of the episode is a little vignette in which Bond is suddenly jealous of her stuffed Mr. Penguin, and assaults it in the night. Loid eventually mends the doll (after Yor utterly failed) and notes that his “scars” are badges of honor for a veteran penguin spy.

A contrite bond offers peace peanuts to Anya, who forgives him, apologizes for saying she hated him, and enacts a peace treaty between him and Mr. Penguin. It’s slight and sweet—almost to the point of cloying—but does make for a nice parallel for the East-West conflict (would that it could be solved so easily) and reminds us that even precognitive flooffers can get jealous.

Love After World Domination – 08 – The Heat Is On

Fudou and Desumi have a problem: someone not named Haru knows about them and, unlike Haru, is not rooting for them. I thought that someone might be Misaki, judging from that tiny glimpse last week. But when we’re introduced to Desumi’s gyaru classmate Houjou, it’s clear who the true culprit is.

Fudou meets her at the park, where Houjou proceeds to try and utterly fail to blackmail him in various ways. She threatens to make the photo public; he’s fine with that as long as she blacks out Desumi’s face. She tells him to break up with her; he refuses. She tells him to say he loves her; he won’t. She tries to get him to kiss his hand, only to pull it back, unable to go through with it herself.

At their next clandestine meet-up, Fudou tells Desumi the situation, and while her first impulse is to “silence” the girl “permanently”, she thinks she knows what’s going on: this girl must be in love. Fudou promises Desumi that she doesn’t have to worry, and that he’ll handle it.

At their next meeting, Fudou politely but firmly acknowledges the girl’s feelings for him and expresses his gratitude for them, but before he can turn her down, she clears up a misunderstanding: she’s in love with Desumi, not him.

Ostracized at school for her personal style and a false rep for looseness, Desumi was the only one to approach and befriend her. Houjou inspired Desumi to do her nails. Oh yeah, and she’s been under Desumi’s nose all along as Gekko’s own Princess Heat!

Houjou Anna is a solid addition to the quirky cast and Sakura Ayane brings plenty of sassy vim and vigor to the role. It’s a shame she’s not in the remainder of the episode, but in her place is Haru, whom we learn isn’t the best at school and needs help studying for the finals. Desumi also confesses to being bad at studies, so the two of them and Fudou decide to have a study session.

The smart and obvious choice of venue for said session would be a neutral location, such as a library, but instead Desumi has Fudou and Haru dress up like Gekko minions (who all have an identical build) and sneak into her room. But once there, Fudou and Haru soon discover Desumi’s perfect test scores. Turns out Desumi isn’t bad at school and just didn’t want to be left out.

One would think that having two school-smart people tutor her would be a boon for Haru, but it turns out both Fudou and Desumi suck at teaching in different ways. Haru tries to put everything in the context of musculature, while Desumi is all about meaningless motivational slogans. Haru takes her leave, confident that studying alone would serve her better than remaining with these two kooky lovebirds.

Haru leaving means Fudou is alone in his girlfriend’s bedroom for the first time, and I love how he just lets it wash over him. Desumi, on the other hand, is distracted by Haru mentioning universities. Fudou tells Desumi his goal is to go on to university and study education so he can teach elementary school.

Desumi has no such long term goals other than wanting to remain by Fudou’s side…even if her dad expects her to work at Gekko full time after high school. Speaking of Desumi’s dad, both he and Desumi’s little sister arrive at her door quite unexpectedly, leaving Fudou trapped and with very few viable hiding spots, considering his build. Will next week be a “meet her family” scenario?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 01 – (First Impressions) – Clearing Every Hurdle

Who doesn’t love can-do country bumpkins? I for one can’t help but be endlessly charmed by them as I vicariously watch them navigate the Big City for the first time, full of gumption and moxie. Suzumi Hiyori is a bushy-eybrowed ball of energy brought to life by the ubiquitous Minase Inori (though if you’re not a fan of her louder, higher-pitched characters, you probably won’t enjoy this).

Her little hometown high school doesn’t have a track team, but Hiyori wants to one day be a national finalist, so to Tokyo she goes, with the full support of her huge and adorable family. Little did she know that she’d end up seated between the two ruinously popular male idols Shibasaki Aizou and Someya Yuujirou. Most of the other girls in her class swoon over them, but she experiences them with their nice faces off, and is t barely-concealed concept for each other.

While searching for the front gate of her massive (for her) new school, she overhears a heated argument, and finds Aizou taking Yuujirou by the scruff. She tries to play peacemaker, but only ends up soaking the three of them by stepping on a high-pressure hose. She says classmates shouldn’t fight; they tell her to stay away from her…but she sits between them, she she can’t!

Fortunately, Hiyori makes fast friends with two other girls in her class: the slightly gyaru-y Hattori Juri (Sakura Ayane) and the more reserved, bespectacled Nakamura Chizuru (Hayami Saori). Together, these three are among my favorite seiyuu, and combined with Uchiyama Kouki and Shimazaki Nobunaga, we’ve got ourselves an all-star cast.

In one of the more touching scenes of the episode, Hiyori is on the call with her mom, and learns her dad, a fisherman, hurt his back and may be laid up for a bit. With four younger siblings, she worries she’s being a financial burden for her family by going to school in Tokyo. Her mom says it will be fine, but Hiyori takes another bold step into adulthood by deciding to get a part-time job to pay her living expenses.

Her first round of interviews don’t go well, as her already busy high school and track schedule simply does not mesh with your typical restaurant or café work schedule. But she ends up hitting paydirt with a 1500 yen/hr (or $12/hr, not chump change for a high schooler) opportunity, and after some early nerves, manages to make a strong case for herself as someone who will overcome any obstacle and get the job done.

While Hiyori is one of dozens of applicants, the clincher for her recruiter Uchida (not Maaya) is that she’s in the same class as the idol duo LIPxLIP, AKA Aizou and Yuujirou, which makes her the perfect fitr for their new rookie manager-in-training. Both she and the boys are taken completely by surprise with this development, and I doubt any of them are happy with it.

But hey, Hiyori did say she’d leap over any hurdle to service of her dream, didn’t she? She’ll never make the nationals if the hurdles are only a foot tall! Uchida did her a big favor, giving her a foot in the door of a hugely popular enterprise and giving her a personal and professional challenge. If she’s to be their manager, they’ll all have to get to know and learn to trust each other. I can’t wait to see how it goes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Osamake – 03 – Flipping a Switch

The day of the cultural festival and its all-important confession session have arrived, and Sueharu is ready to do battle with Mitsuru for Kachi’s heart. But just as Sueharu is causing Kuro to blush by complimenting her cute café outfit, he gets an unexpected visitor: Shirou, the kid he hung out with when he was little.

Of course, we know it’s just Kachi, with her seiyu Sakura Ayane only making her voice a little more boyish. To her surprise and delight, not only does Sueharu remember who she is, but remembers the promise he made to appear in something she wrote. Shirou reveals she is and was Kachi all along, and asks that he call her Shiro, and she’ll start calling him Su-chan again.

Kuro overhears this all, and isn’t ready to give Sueharu up just yet. Sueharu may not have known until now that Shirou was Kachi, but he knows Kuro well enough to know when she’s seeking attention, since she goes off on frustrated rants to him and only him. Everytime Kuro and Sueharu share the screen, you know you’re in for some wonderful character work.

Unfortunately their time together leading up to his big performance ends on a bitter note, as Kuro decides it’s necessary to “hit the reset button” on her and Sueharu’s relationship. She commemorates the moment with a slap, saying whatever he does with Kachi isn’t her concern. Though she runs off, she can’t help but turn back when Sueharu calls her name, and gives him just the saddest, loneliest smile as she wishes him luck on stage.

With that, the confession festival begins, and by God what a cur-sed exercise. Sure, it works out for one guy confessing his love to a girl who feels the same way, but seriously, if this is a real thing in schools these days I’m glad I’m not in high school anymore. I’ll confess to someone in private, thaaaaaanks.

The resulting song-and-dance-off between Mitsuru and Sueharu is suitably anticlimactic. I’m no dance instructor, but it looks like they’re both dancing like Elaine from Seinfeld, and their mouths rarely, if ever, move while they’re supposedly singing. Still, the scene is notable for not going the way I thought, with Sueharu suffering a sudden bout of stage fright and ruining his big chance, as several flags set earlier suggested.

I made special mention of Kuro’s parting smile immediately before his performance because that’s what I believe caused Sueharu to flip a switch of his own, and I’m not talking about going into stage mode. While he woke up that morning intending to confess to Shiro, his interactions with Kuro before and since have finally gelled into the realization that she is the one most important to him.

When Sueharu confesses to Kuro instead of Shiro, it’s a tremendous shock for both girls. Shiro is shook, while Kuro is caught so off guard she impulsively and very publically turns him down, still sore from when he turned her down.

As we learn in the aftermath of this total romantic fiasco when he and Tetsuhiko do the postgame show, Mitsuru wasn’t an asshole after all! Shiro was never dating him; he simply went along with it when she lied and then was too proud to take it back. Mitsuru intentionally chose a song that Sueharu was far better at performing, because he selfishly wanted to see Mitsuru back on stage.

Both Mitsuru and Tetsuhiko did all they could for Shiro and Sueharu, respectively. But when Sueharu changed on a dime who he’d be confessing to, he sealed his fate; Haru was under no obligation to say yes, due to a part of her wanting revenge against him for taking her for granted and pining for Shiro. Shiro, in turn, could have gotten Sueharu if she hadn’t lied about Mitsuru, which caused him and Haru to plot revenge against her.

Finally, Kuro played herself, because in hindsight the satisfaction she got from rejecting Sueharu simply wasn’t worth it. Now she regrets rejecting him, just as Shiro did after learning him quitting acting wasn’t his fault. The timing of all three sucked, resulting in all of them being alone and miserable.

And as complicated as this whole business felt, this is the last time it’s just Sueharu, Kuro, and Shiro, as a third girl is introduced post-credits, discovering her “Onii-chan” has returned to the stage. The messiness has just begun!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Osamake – 02 – The Cost of Assumptions

Maru Sueharu was indeed a famous and talented child actor, while his dad was a stuntman and his mother an “unsuccessful” actress. Abe Mitsuru asks why Sueharu suddenly quit acting six years ago, but I doubt the answer matters much to him, as once Mitsuru found out Sueharu liked Shirokusa, he decided to date her for the express purpose of humiliating him and proving that he “won”. I take it back; this guy’s a dick!

Mitsuru also makes clear his intentions to officially confess to Shirokusa at the confession festival, in hopes of squashing Suehar’s first love for good. Why he cares so much about Sueharu is anyone’s guess, but the bottom line is that if Sueharu will need to make a big splash at the festival to foil his scheme.

Despite Kuroha loudly proclaiming she and Sueharu are now dating, Shirokusa still agrees to write a script for a play Sueharu will perform for the festival—provided he’s the star and she gets properly compensated. She then contributes to his persona non grata status with the boys by exchanging NINE info with him.

Kuroha, who we learn is one of four beautiful Shida sisters who live next door to Sueharu, stops by to check on him. Once again the two exhibit a warm, lovely lived in chemistry. While she’s organizing his books, a photo slips out of one of them: a photo of him as a kid with someone who is clearly Shirokusa.

Sueharu, who calls Shirokusa Kachi, doesn’t make the connection to his old friend “Shiro”, because he is very dumb and possibly face-blind. Right on cue, Shirokusa then calls Sueharu up, and they have a playful little chat to arrange a place and time to meet and talk about the play. After the call, Kuroha knows it was Shirokusa on the line, and is worried about Sueharu jumping back into acting after so long.

She also makes clear that even if it doesn’t go well it doesn’t matter, because he has other qualities besides acting ability, and she reiterates that she likes him. When she teases his red face, he raises a mirror to show her hers, then tries to go further by taking her by the chin and teasing a kiss, only to chicken out when she was ready to go.

I realize I said this last week, but it sure would be a lot easier if he got over Shirokusa and dated Kuroha for real! I know, I know, love polygon romcoms need these kinds of bumps to provide drama. Speaking of drama, on the day Sueharu practices on stage with Tetsuhiko, he suddenly suffers what I’d describe as a panic attack and passes out.

He wakes up in the nurse’s office, with Shirokusa by his side, ready to begin their meeting when he’s ready. She admits she decided to write the script for him because she’s supporting him getting back into acting. As far as payment goes, she wants neither cash nor groveling, but an explanation for what happened to his acting career. Sueharu proceeds to tell a sad tale of his mother getting the role of his mother in the second season of Child Star, the show that made him famous.

But his mom put so much into her role, she ended up hitting her head while filming a scene where her character was to be hit by a car. The show was going to be cancelled, but Sueharu insisted the show go on. But after that second season it went on indefinite hiatus, along with his career. He couldn’t tell anyone at the time what happened due to a gag order.

Sueharu’s story moves Shirokusa to tears, and not just because it’s a sad story, but because it throws off her whole revenge plot against him—which predates his by six years! As expected, the “Shiro” Sueharu and Kuroha saw in the photo was her. She was spellbound by his performances on TV, and had him invited to her house to hang out. I particularly love how in this flashback her younger self looked his way with her head sideways on the desk, just like she did in the present when he asked her to write him a script.

Back then, she asks if she could write something for him to act in, and he was enthusiastic about it. He thus became her muse, as she began to write prolifically. But when he stopped coming by without explanation and his show ended, Shirokusa took it as a personal affront. She dedicated to becoming stronger, prettier, and famous to get back at him for leaving her.

As she walks home after their meeting, Shirokusa is in tears, because he’d gone from her first love to her hating him, and now she’s back to loving him, especially knowing what happened wasn’t her fault, or anyone’s. My questions are, is she in cahoots with Mitsuru or are they using each other to make Sueharu envious, and will this revelation lead to her cancelling her vendetta?

Whatever path she takes, Sueharu and Kuroha are proceeding with the play in which he upstages Mitsuru and confesses to Shirokusa. But Kuroha doesn’t trust Shirokusa and worries that this is a trap by her and Mitsuru to kick him as low as he can go just when he’s riding high. Nevertheless, Sueharu wants to give it a try.

While Kuroha is worried about him, as a childhood friend would, she’s also supportive, telling him that even after all this time his natural talent is still there, and he’s a better actor than he gives himself credit for. As long as he’s acting for someone, she knows he’ll do great. Ideally, that someone is her!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Osamake – 01 (First Impressions) – The Romcom Where The Childhood Friend Won’t Lose!

When Maru Sueharu (melodic name, that) encounters his classmate and the school’s vaunted idol, Kachi Shirokusa, he’s honored she knows his name, and says her first novel moved his heart. His praise moves her to tears as she thanks him, showing a side no one at school had ever seen, and that was that: Sueharu “fell victim to love’s poison”, as for him love isn’t something you fall into, but rather eats away at you.

It’s eleven days until the cultural festival, on the second day of which is the “confession festival”. While on friendly speaking terms with Kachi, Sueharu made no further progress with courting her. His mate Tetsuhiko isn’t surprised. She’s smart, athletic, an award-winning novelist and model—way out of the league of Sueharu…who just seems to be…some guy?

Sueharu watches Kachi (imperiously voiced by Sakura Ayane) tearing her own notes rather than letting a girl copy them. Then he catches Kachi in the library, either writing fresh notes or re-writing the ones she tore, all with tears in her eyes. If ever there was an chance to approach her, it’s here, but Sueharu chickens out. Tetsuhiko suggests Sueharu ask his childhood friend Shida Kuroha out instead of tilting at windmills.

She’s out of his league to, but due to their osananajimi status, she might actually say yes. Sueharu admits that Kuroha is cute, all the guys like her, she’s good at communicating, and he respects her a lot. Just then, Kuroha announces her presence, bending her diminutive frame to face him while he sits on the floor. Sueharu gets all shy, something Kuroha mentions is something she likes about him.

As other boys in class curse Sueharu and plan his death with startling detail for daring to have an “older loli” as a childhood friend, Kuroha makes no effort to lower her voice when she asks if Sueharu regrets rejecting her when she asked him out. Even Kachi and her friend Maiko take notice.

Sueharu prostrates himself and admits that yes, he’s grateful to have Kuroha. Then Maiko accidentally blurts out that Kachi is dating actor Abe Mitsuru, himself the son of a famous actor. Sueharu’s heart drops out of his chest, and he flees the classroom in a cloud of despair.

Naturally, because they’ve known each other since they were little Kuroha knows just where to find him sulking: on the riverbank. She repeats that her asking him out was only because “she lost a game” but he knows that while she acts like an older sister, she likes to be doted on. Because he’s spot-on about that, she cradles his head in her chest as a reward.

Kuroha reiterates her affection for Sueharu, for being nice to her even when he’s hurting himself. She also says that despite the fact he rejected her, her feelings are still there, which is why she can relate to how he’s feeling having been passively rejected by Kachi.

It was in this scene where Kuroha and Sueharu won me over. For one thing, both the characters and their seiyuu Minase Inori and Matsuoka Yoshitsugu have properly gorgeous chemistry that oozes from the screen. They feel so comfortable and sweet together, it’s a crying shame they don’t just date each other…but then there wouldn’t be a show, would there?!

Instead of taking the easy route of going out for real, Kuroha offers to help Sueharu get revenge on Kachi, for stringing him along out of a desire to “keep him around” despite having a boyfriend; the proverbial cake and eating it. It would also be revenge for Kuroha, who is insulted by Kachi’s implied rejection of her friend. As far as she’s concerned it’s Sueharu who’s out of Kachi’s league.

It’s here where Sueharu mentions in VO that Kuroha’s name is based on “clover”, which is not just a symbol of luck, but promises, thinking of her, and…revenge. And at their first meeting to plan this revenge, Kuroha makes no secret of her preferred method: Sueharu and her pretending to be boyfriend and girlfriend, thus depriving Kachi of the buddy she friendzoned.

Before Sueharu fully agrees to this method, Kuroha immediately settles into the role, which she made quite clear would be “all profit” to her, as she’d get to go out with the guy she loves. She gets close to Sueharu, runs her hand down his arm and weaves her fingers into his, whispers in his ear, and eventually gets him on his back, hoping to commence their “fake” dating plan with a real kiss.

Just before their lips touch, Sueharu thinks of Kachi crying on the bridge and wigs out, leaving an upset and unsatisfied Kuroha alone. After trying and failing to get dirt on Abe Mitsuru—he’s perfect!—he flees to the roof to basically monologue in a very dramatic, theatrical way—one instance of many in the episode that allow Matsuoka Yoshitsugu to have some fun with his performance.

Turns out it’s no accident that Sueharu is often performative like this, as we learn when Abe Mitsuru appears on the roof, having heard Sueharu was asking around about him. When Sueharu expresses surprise a famous guy like Abe knows him, Abe says he doesn’t so much know him, but remember him…as the “former genius child actor” Maru Sueharu! This is the first sign that Abe isn’t going to be just some faceless baddie gumming up the gears of Sueharu and Kachi’s romance. Hell, it’s possible Sueharu inspired Mitsuru to follow his dad and become the actor he is!

As it is, Osamake takes the tried-and-true formula of a two-girl, two-boy love polygon, but flips the script of the classic childhood friend character, so often portrayed as meek, supportive, and ultimately content with an unrequited love.

Kuroha may be supportive, but she’s neither meek nor content. Confident and assertive, she knows exactly what she wants and isn’t going to give up trying to get it. And hopefully, for once, the childhood friend won’t lose, as the title suggests (it could be lying). Sueharu came off a bit dull at first, but through his interactions with Kuroha we see what she sees in him. I just hope he doesn’t have amnesia about child acting…that would be one romcom cliché too many!

Vlad Love – 03 – Quite Unconcerned by Crosses

The zoo fiasco forgotten (like all things from episode to episode), Mitsugu and Mai catch a vampire flick at the movies…and Mai is so inspired she can’t help but bite the head of the man sitting in front of her. I like the idea of Mitsugu and Mai just going out and the former having to deal with the unpredictability (and volatility) of the latter. My Girlfriend’s a Vamp! kinda stuff.

This episode features a brand-new OP which may not slap quite as hard as the first, but is beautiful in its own right, both in visuals and music.

After the movie the couple bump into Watabe Maki (Hayami Saori), president of the Cinema Club at Mitsugu’s school, who is curious about Mitsugu’s new, very pretty and photogenic (and out-of-her-league) companion. Mitsugu says she’s a relative, and when pressed, Mai simply states they’re “connected by blood”—which is true!

Maki takes them to a good restaurant for dinner, where Mai consumes a generous amount of garlic gyoza. Rather than kill her, the garlic seems to have an intoxicating effect, and the restaurant is demolished. The papers cover the incident as some kind of “mass hallucination”, which seems to be a recurring theme…along with the frankly lame fourth-wall breaking when Maki can hear Mitsugu’s thoughts or points out when she’s spewing exposition.

Mai’s unforeseen reaction to garlic leads Mitsugu and Dr. Chihiro to undertake a more thorough investigation of how Mai fits into common vampire knowledge. She drinks blood, and can sprout fangs and wings out of her head, but UV light doesn’t bother her, garlic turns her into a boisterous drunk, and crosses don’t affect her in the least.

While testing the UV bit, Mitsugu runs into another classmate, the Type-B (i.e. eccentric) Konno Kaoru, prez of the Cosplay Club. She mistakes Mai’s get-up for Invisible (Wo)man cosplay, and invites her and Mitsugu to the Cosplay Club so they can get their ‘cos on. Mai nails all the classics, from maid to bunny and magical girls. Mitsugu is more niche, pulling off a researcher from a 1970s sci-fi movie with aplomb.

Kaoru invites the pair to an Akiba Halloween party, the location of which is established with the show’s signature live-action drone footage of the city. Mai’s vamp-girl costume proves too hot to handle, causing a near-riot amongst the horny guys in the audience and forcing the karate club to lay down the law while keeping their school’s Disciplinary Officer Jinko at bay.

Mitsugu seems to sense when she and Mai should start heading home, but before that can happen the commotion knocks out the lights at the venue. Mai emerges from the darkness then transforms into a swarm of bats, making one hell of an exit from the party that is once again written off as a mass hallucination.

To quote Homer Simpson, each episode of Vlad Love has been little more than “a bunch of stuff that happened”. That doesn’t mean that stuff doesn’t look great and a ton of fun to boot, but there’s just no depth to the stuff, and everything resets from episode to episode, so nothing really means anything. Their movie date aside, Mai and Mitsugu aren’t really progressing as a couple so much as treading water.

The episode is also stuffed with overindulgent moments like the whole minute of needlessly describing in great detail the British bomber inexplicably flying in the air over the gyozu restaurant. Stuff like that engenders far more ¯\_(ツ)_/¯’s than LOL’s.

Vlad Love – 02 – The Blood Defines the Drinker

It’s been over a month since the first episode of Vlad Love,but five more episodes have arrived just in time for Valentine’s Day. I just wish the episode had a little more vlad and love and less of Mitsugu’s classmates. The opening act takes place entirely within the confines of the nurse’s office, which grows both stale and claustrophobic after a while.

She’s been able to recruit a fair number of students to donate blood, but the vast majority are horny boys. Mitsugu makes it known she doens’t want Mai to drink boys’ blood, as it could adversely affect her loveliness. Only three girls end up donating, each representing a different blood type that reflects their personalities—though Nurse Chihiro insists there’s no scientific proof of that.

Mitsugu takes the three girls’ blood to Mai, and much to her consternation, Mai can’t help but drink all three bottles, perhaps due to pent-up hunger. Sure enough, with each blood type she drinks she exhibits the same characteristics of the donor, thus proving Nurse Chihiro wrong. The only apparent side effect of mixing the blood types is that Mai jumps from one personality to the next.

Hidaka Rina clearly has a ton of fun voicing all these different Mais, culminating in her singing karaoke on the table before collapsing from overexersion. She begs her host for more blood, but as Mitsugu is thawing her last pouch, Mai finds and drinks the blood of a 2,000 year old Mesopotamian demon, which had resided in one of the archaeological artifacts in Mitsugu’s house. Mai starts “buzzing” and eventually fires eye lasers at a wall, busting out to go on an evening “stroll”.

The stroll consists of Mai using her vampire umbrella to fly across the nightscape as the morning sun begins to rise. Mitsugu grabs on for dear life and is initially terrified, but eventually calms down, as she is, after all, in the arms of a surpassingly cute girl.  Mai eventually “runs out of gas”, sending the two plummeting back to the earth, and because this is a show where physical harm has no lasting effect on anyone, Mitsug survives the fall, though she and Mai end up in the literal lion’s den of the local zoo.

Much to Mitsugu’s surprise, Mai is able to talk to the lion and other animals (likely due to the demon blood), and she releases them to join her on her stroll, resulting in a rampage that makes the newspapers. As Mitsugu celebrates the fact she can create “the ideal girl” by tailoring Mai’s blood diet, Mai sleeps one off on a pile of zoo animals in the kitchen.

While it has some pacing issues and much of its comedy is trying too hard to be zany, I can’t deny I’m glad Vlad Love is back, from the moment I saw it’s OP, which is the season’s best by far. The show doesn’t look or sound or act like any other show airing, which is enough to celebrate its existence, while the winning central queer romance is as rare and refreshing as, well, a donation-addicted chimera-blooded protagonist!

Vlad Love – 01 (First Impressions) – Not-So-Fresh Blood

I tend to be drawn to simple anime premises. Takagi teases Nishikata, Tanaka is listless, Titans Attack, etc. Along comes Vlad Love, which immediately impresses with its gritty retro visual splendor and also delivers a devilishly-simple premise: Girl who loves donating blood meets a vampire.

The Girl is Banba Mitsugu, a refreshingly quirky female protagonist in a role where a horny guy is the norm. Sakura Ayane voices Mitsugu with gusto and dynamism, as does Hidaka Rina, whose performance of the vampiress Mai Vlad Transylvania runs the gamut from cutesy and formal to yakuza bombastic.

The stinger starts like a Hollywood action movie: a SWAT team opens up a cargo container to find a creepy doll. Mitsugu’s first scene ends like one too, as she “rescues” Mai from surly nurses in a bloodmobile that then promptly explodes for no reason.

Upon learning Mai is a hungry young vampire who left Transylvania due to clashing with her father’s 49th wife, Mitsugu takes her home and feeds her the bag of her blood she had in the fridge (Mitsugu really likes having blood drawn).

Mitsugu becomes entirely smitten with the beautiful foreign princess, and can’t help but leer when Mai quickly strips for a shower, or peek when she curls up in the closet to sleep. With her dad at work abroad, no mom mentioned, and no friends introduced, it seems Mitsugu is lonely and eager to share her home with someone anyway.

The question of how she’ll keep Mai fed is equally simple: Mai simply has to take it easy with the blood-drinking (enough to survive, not enough to kill Mitsugu). Mitsugu’s character design, with her wan complexion and bags under her eyes, as well as Mai’s blood-high attitude, suggest this won’t be easy.

Mitsugu visits her high school’s nurse Chihiro—who is not only totally inappropriately dressed for the job, but also has a side-hustle collecting rare blood. She also slaps the shit out of Mitsugu on multiple occasions, which is played for comedy, as is an instance where she’s just suddenly naked. While I appreciated the body diversity on display, it was still more random than funny.

We learn Mitsugu has neither A nor B nor O blood, but is a “chimera” with blood that contains qualities of all three types (a real life thing). That makes her unsuitable for donating blood (cruel irony) but perfect for, say, a thirsty vamp. Nurse Chihiro suggests Mitsugu start a “blood donation club” to collect blood not just for Mai’s consumption, but for her collection.

There were quite a few attempts at comedy that somewhat inelegantly clanged to the ground without their intended effect. The dearth of smart comedy isn’t a dealbreaker (especially for a show that looks this good), but was definitely distracting and affected my score.

It’s at this point that I should probably mention for those who don’t know: Vlad Love is written, created, and directed by thee Oshii Mamoru of Ghost in the Shell fame.  On the one hand, there’s no doubting his bonafides when it comes to anime production.

On the other, he’s older than my dad, and I say this with nothing but love in my heart: My dad’s jokes are laaame. So is a lot of the comedy and various attempts to “shock” in Vlad Love. There’s a tryhard quality to the writing and directing that spoils an otherwise gorgeous production.

For good or worse, this is Oshii’s show, and there’s no reason to think he didn’t have complete creative control. Vlad Love doesn’t resume until February 14th—Vladentines Day!—so we’ll have to wait a while to determine if it’s a show I’ll hang on to this Winter.

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