Tokyo 24th Ward – 02 – Fifth Wheel

Shuuta, Ran, Kouki, Mari, and Asumi have been friends since they were little, but in a flashback to those halcyon days, we see that even then Mari was in a state of turmoil rising out of the fact that…well, she wasn’t Asumi. Asumi was the glue that kept them all together; indeed, she was the one who declared RGB was a thing. And now she’s gone.

After years of being a kind of fifth wheel, Mari suddenly found herself one of four, and the estrangement of RGB resulted. That said, she’s still close to all three, especially Shuu, who is her neighbor. Their rooms are even across from one another, so she can leap between their houses to hang out—an arrangement I’ve always longed for. But Shuu is still convinced Asumi could still be alive, shuttering a window Mari can’t leap through.

As Mari meets with each of the members of RGB currently having a post-memorial fight, we also get flashbacks centered on each member. Asumi, who established RGB, deploys them where she believes their skills are most needed—even if it’s conscripting Shuu for goalkeeper duty on the sports field. As a grade schooler Mari joked that she “just can’t win” against Asumi…and that’s seemingly borne out in both past and present.

When Mari checks in on Ran and DoRed, he shows her a mural honoring Asumi while also depicting her as a badass avenging angel, a glimpse of a possible Asumi that never was since her life was snatched away so early. This mural reminds Mari of the time Asumi had Ran paint a mural in the bathhouse. Asumi was always taking the initiative and inspiring action; Mari was always in the background smiling.

Last but not least is Asumi’s actual big brother Kouki. She’s ostensibly there to gather info on a restaurant at the big modern mall administered by Suidou’s family’s Zaibatsu, which is not only her home shopping district’s main rival for the upcoming Gourmet Festival, but also a threat to her district’s very survival. But she’s also kinda sorta there to mediate RGB’s latest  tiff.

Her meeting with Kouki coincides with a Kouki-centric flashback, in which he is utterly failing to hand out flyers for a previous GourFes. Asumi, assigned to another section and having already passed out all of her flyers, urges her brother to wear a smile and appear more friendly if he wants to pass his flyers out. Before long, all the major players in the district are out to help market the Festival. Asumi, bursting with energy and charisma, simply drew everyone towards her, like a magnet-girl.

Back in the present, while walking the dog that got her in so much trouble last week, Mari ends up overhearing a conversation between her old teacher Mr. Shirakaba and SARG officer Chikushi. She learns that Mon Jungle, her family’s restaurant Itadaki’s rival at the new mall, is run by a shady quasi-gang called Yabusame. She emerges from her hiding spot after Chikushi leaves, and Shirakaba assures her the GourFes won’t be rigged.

This leads to a flashback involving Shirakaba, whose students (RGB, Asumi, and Mari) want to keep the old elementary school they attended from being demolished. Mari may not be the nucleus of their group, but it’s clear Itadaki is the group’s base of operations.

It’s there where Mari’s creative okonomiyaki depiction of a blank chalkboard gives Asumi the idea to cover the school in graffiti and spread the word of its historical, cultural, and sentimental importance to the 24th Ward. Of course, as soon as the school and the graffiti idea came up, I thought of the cold open to the first episode and I was suddenly filled with dread.

That’s because Asumi’s idea, unwittingly sparked by Mari, ended up being the death of her. As an old building in disrepair, the school was vulnerable to fire. When that fire finally happened, Mari had Asumi by the arm, outside. All she has to do is not let go and insist they wait for the firefighters. But Asumi insists on being a hero, lets go of Mari, runs into the school to try to save others…and ends up perishing in Shuu’s arms.

The flashbacks make it feel like so long ago, and yet it was so not long ago Mari still has a video on her phone of the aftermath of the fire, admonishing her future self to never forget what happened that night. Even since then, Mari has kept striving to keep up with Asumi, trying to fulfill that role as glue and nucleus, and has found herself sorely lacking. She looks up at the night sky and tells Asumi she can’t handle RGB…not on her own.

However, Mari’s three meetings with the three members of RGB inadvertently bear fruit: they’ve all gathered at Itadaki…for her sake; to make GourFes a success. They snipe at each other a bit, but they still gathered at that same table they always gathered, even though Asumi isn’t there anymore. As different as they all are, and as deep as their wounds are, they still love Mari, and want to support her.

The strategy meeting itself isn’t all that productive as Mari manages to get the boys so stuff on okonomiyaki they get food comas, but it doesn’t matter. Mari managed to get RGB back together, through their stomachs. It’s then when Asumi appears before Mari as she’s washing dishes, offering her blessing going forward while also affirming how important Mari and Itadaki are to the circle of friends.

After one week, I was a little miffed that this show seemingly focused on three dudes. But this week Sakuragi Mari was the undisputed protagonist. Forget tough; Mari felt like Asumi was an impossible act to follow, but she ended up surprising herself, as much as this episode surprised me with its ability to plumb the depths of envy, love, longing, yearning, loss, grief, regret…and redemption. It didn’t feature a single moment of madcap superpower action. It didn’t need to.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 01 (First Impressions) – The Third Way

Aoi Shuuta, Suidou Kouki, and Akagi Ran were once-inseperable childhood friends, with Shuuta in particular training to one day become a “hero”. Then one horrible night the school burned down, and Kouki’s sister Asumi died saving the life of a classmate. When he most needed to be a hero, Shuuta was too late to save her.

Fast-forward a year, and RGB have graduated and gone their separate ways, only to reunite for the memorial held at the one-year anniversary of the fire. We learn Ran leads a guerilla multimedia group, standing in cheeky defiance of the cold order represented by Kouki’s wealthy businessman and politician father, the 24th Ward’s mayor. Shuuta…helps out at his folks’ bakery, but is otherwise listless.

When the three end up convening by chance at their mutual friend Mari’s for okonomiyaki, the three lads’ phones suddenly ring at the same time. It’s no ordinary call, traveling up into their ear canals and “hacking” their brains with the voice and image of the dearly departed Asumi, who tells them to “guide the future”, showing them two scenarios: allowing a runaway train to kill someone caught on the tracks, or switch the track and derail the train, killing 150 people. Classic Trolley Problem.

In an added instance of the universe being particularly cruel, the person who ends up caught on the tracks is Mari, who was taking her puppy to the vet when she got caught up in the crowds surrounding the ceremony celebrating the new fully-automated train. The pup got free and ran straight onto the tracks, and Mari loses her phone while pursuing it.

Suddenly realizing they feel lighter and tasks come easier to them, the team of RGB pools their skills and resources to avoid either of the futures not-Asumi presented, and instead create a third in which no one is hurt. Suidou, the politician’s son and intern for the 24th’s emergency service SARG, relies on his dad’s trusty underling Tsuzuragawa to track him down and give him a motorcycle so he can rush to his father and make sure he decides not to risk derailing the train.

Ran, the hacker of the trio, chugs a dozen energy drinks and manages to activate the train’s emergency brakes, which are designed to stop in 600 meters no matter what—an instance of the artist actually saluting government efficiency and rules. He’s helped by Kinako, a chipper member of his guerilla art/media team.

Finally, there’s Shuuta, who is simply extremely fast and strong; the muscle of the group. Whatever not-Asumi’s call did to them, it enhanced his already considerable athletic ability, enabling him to basically Spider-Mans/Neos his way to the train long before anyone else can. Kouki and Ran know this of their friend, and after they do everything they can, they leave the rest to him.

Shuuta is very nearly derailed form his mission himself when he’s suddenly dropped back in the middle of that hellish night when he was too late to save Asumi. But he shakes it off, accelerates ahead of the train, then kicks off and launches himself at Mari, plucking both her and her dog out of harms way. Before Mari even knows what the heck is going on, Shuuta runs off, asking her not to tell anyone he was there.

After this first heroic mission dropped in their hands by the mysterious not-Asumi, the three visit the real Asumi’s grave to pay their respects, only to end up in an argument that highlights how far apart they’ve become in the ensuing year. Shuuta wants to believe Asumi is still alive, but just saying that makes Asumi’s brother Kouki want to punch him. Ran, the artist who nevertheless isn’t about to believe in magic, agrees with Kouki; Asumi is gone. But then…what the heck was that call?

We return to the opening moments of the double-length episode, where something is going on involving the somehow-preserved brain or soul of Asumi … or something. The framing device with the strange, fantastical machinery appeals to me less than the prospect of watching three scarred old friends who couldn’t be more different come together to make their beloved 24th Ward a better place…and possibly solve the Asumi mystery. This was a strong start to an intriguing new winter series.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 03 – The Detective Is Already Snarky

Nozomi, Nagara, and Asakaze have turned out to be a pretty good survey team, with Nozomi locating new worlds with her Compass, Nagara being able to access them, and Asakaze bailing them out with his powers of flight.

When we check in they’ve already found thirteen new worlds, and Rajdhani is soaking up the data like a sponge at his beachfront laboratory. Their survey work is interrupted by an unsettling trend of students starting to freeze in place and turn pitch black, like voids in human form.

Since she’s the one with the most time on her hands owing to the immense wealth her power provides, Mizuho is put on the case, and she chooses Nagara as her Watson, partly to share what sounds like a hassle of a case, but also because Nagara…was nice to her previously, and she enjoys his company.

That said, she still initially treats him as a rank servant, making it clear that this isn’t a collaboration of equals. That said, she still orders a gaudy couch big enough for both of them, and even gets Nagara the same fast food order she got. When it comes to sharing the wealth, she’s fine sharing it with Nagara.

The uniting quality of the two students (who later become three, then four) who fell victim to the freezing phenomenon is that they kept to themselves, hardly anyone noticed them when they were around, and no one noticed when they suddenly vanished.

While Nagara is busy with Mizuho, Nozomi and Asakaze fail to find any new worlds. Despite this, Asakaze drops in specifically to tell Nagara that he’s not needed and that Nozomi doesn’t care if he doesn’t come back. Nagara brushes this off, and that ineffectual passivity irks Mizuko.

Eventually, Mizuho and Nagara break the case wide open when, no doubt due to Nagara’s unspoken power even he may not even be aware he has, they discover a portal to the space where the four students ended up.

They walk through a honeycomb of blackout curtain walls separating the four spaces of the students, all of whom are content to stay right where they are and keep doing what they’re doing indefinitely. It becomes evident that while they may be content, this wasn’t originally their doing, but another rule of the world, separating those no one else wants around or cares about.

After Nagara and Mizuho’s nightly debriefing with Cap and Pony, a minor disagreement causes simmering underlying resentment to boil over for both of them. Mizuho points how how watching Nozomi follow him around like a puppy grosses her out; Nagara accuses Mizuho of lying to show off and being “ill-natured” because she’s just another recluse; Mizuho tells Nagara to die and storms off.

It’s a testament to how much these two have come to know each other that they each know the precise buttons to press to sting hardest.

But because the two really do care what the other thinks of them despite words to the contrary, both of them feel bad about the spat. Fortunately, back at Rajdhani’s lab, Nozomi offers a clue Nagara hadn’t considered, and he texts an apology to Mizuho, along with a promise to be waiting by the blackout curtains tomorrow.

Armed with Rajdhani’s bizarre, whimsical instruments, the two get down to business lifting the blackout curtains and freeing the students. This is Sonny Boy at its most Eizouken, particularly with the fantastical machinery and Yuuki Aoi lending Mizuho such a wonderfully husky, distinctive voice.

With the case solved and the afflicted students retrieved, Nagara and Mizuho make up with a handshake; what was said when heads were less cool and frustration was mounting is water under the bridge.

As much if not more than their surreal surroundings, what I enjoyed most about this episode was just reveling in this nascent friendship between two people who don’t normally do so well around others doing just fine around one another. I daresay I wouldn’t even mind a whole cour of these two solving cases together.

On the periphery were some interesting inroads into the larget questions about this place, with Hoshi admitting a voice told him this would all happen, and Nozomi being the first to suggest that while she can spot new worlds, Nagara alone has the power to create portals between them.

Sonny Boy – 02 – Kindle Blue Fire

While technically a beach episode, there’s not a ball or a bikini to be found. There are crabs—you gotta love crab—as well as a makeshift open-air classroom with rows of desks and a chalkboard, but otherwise the sand is just another flat surface for Nagara to lie on and wile away the hours.

When Nozomi catches a crab, it cuts her hand up pretty badly with its claw, but she soon heals; just another one of the rules of this “This World”, as the egghead Rajdhani calls it while explaining the situation.

While most of the class is in tents on the beach, Mizuho has, presumably through the three cat Amazon power called Nyamazaon, built a Disney princess castle full of stuff, but otherwise isn’t that different from Nagara in her fondness for straight chillin’.

Another girl steals makeup from Mizuho’s vast collection of things with impunity, but that and other items acquired from Nyamazon start to burst into blue flames, rumors spread that Mizuho is doing it intentionally.

Mizuho doesn’t help matters by stirring the shit on social media that the recent election was rigged in Michi’s (AKA Pony’s) favor—which is the truth; the extremely Kyuubey-like Hoshi helped rig it. Pony and Hoshi learn Mizuho is behind it and try to exact an apology, but Mizuho is stubbornly refuses.

When they confront her at the front gate, Hoshi uses his power of showing everyone potential futures to depict the entire island covered in blue flame; everything destroyed. On top of it all, Mizuho is exhausted and filthy from looking for one of her cats, who has gone missing.

While the rumor may have well gotten started since Mizuho is a natural target for envy and resentment among the other students due to her extremely cool power, Nagara still blames himself for blabbing about Mizuho knowing something about the flames, which got twisted into “Mizuho is responsible for the flames.”

But thanks to Rajdhani’s research and a retro Game Boy, it is determined that the blue flames appear every time someone receives something without a fair exchange. Among the things that burned-up, only Raj’s Game Boy was exchanged for some toys he made with his power, and only it escaped those flames. Therefore, it isn’t Mizuho’s doing, but the Rules of the World.

Among the students, most of whom end up in the “Punish Mizuho” camp/mob, only Nagara and Nozomi want to help her. They both know she’s not doing this, but also know that she hasn’t explicitly defended herself, which isn’t doing her any favors. Nagara also finds the missing cat, and unlike two previous instances of letting birds die, this time he takes care of the animal like the non-heartless person he is.

The two decides to go to her—nay, run to her, just as she’s literally making it rain fat stacks of cash, which soon burn up and set fire to the whole island. Mizuho, overcome with relief her kitty is safe, admits that she should have simply stated her innocence from the beginning. It’s an all-around wonderful performance by Mizuho’s seiyu Yuuki Aoi—which comes as no surprise as she’s one of the best in the business.

Nagara, Nozomi, and Mizuho oversee the ruined island—the realization of Hoshi’s vision—and concede the fact that they can’t live there any more. But then something happens: as the sun rises over the ocean, the island essentially resets itself to before everything burned up.

It’s as if the island, which set the rule of fair exchange, is forgiving all of the students for their stumblings as they learn of those rules and correct their misunderstandings. Mizuho comes down from her castle and apologizes, but only for making it rain flammable money…not the stuff she was accused of doing but didn’t really do.

Mizuho also stops by the beach where Nagara is lying to give him a token of her appreciation for finding her cat: a hat to keep his face out of the sun. When he asks if he needs to give her anything in return for it, she says with a gentle smile that it’s “her treat” before walking away.

This episode was significantly less weird and frightening than the first, but that tends to happen when you take the inscrutable black void out of the equation. What it was was another relatively straightforward exploration of how the court of public opinion can be wrong—in school or life—and it’s up to those who know it’s wrong to speak up. Nagara grew as a person in this episode, as did Mizuho, and they each gained a friend in the process.

Credit also goes to Rajdhani for not giving up on trying to make sense of the place, thus confirming the injustice being done to Mizuho, as well as Nozomi, for lending Nagara the encouragement to correct the injustice. Just as she’s the “Compass” who can see the ways out of these other worlds, she’s also a moral compass; a check against both rampant authority and rampant apathy.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 01 (First Impressions) – Rules are Rules

Welcome to RABUJOI’s belated reviews of Sonny Boy! I will try to catch up before the end of the cour, but no promises—Braverade

More than anything else, this episode is full of uncertainty. Why is this school suddenly in a black void? Why do only some students have superpowers? Who did this, if anyone? What exactly is happening, and how is it happening? Will it stop, and when? Nothing is certain…hey, kinda like the times we live in. But enough about reality, let’s step into the land of surreality.

The void is intentionally creepy, both in its impenetrable darkness and its haunting stillness. I’ve always been drawn to voids in fiction, because they typically have a way of simplifying the universe down to…the contents within the void that are not the void.

While one egg-headed student is asking these questions, everyone else is going full Lord of the Flies (or at least that’s the vibe I’m getting; I only skimmed the book but I watched the Simpsons episode that references it). The approaches to coping with their new abnormal are as diverse as the personalities of the 36 students.

The three-person StuCo doesn’t have time to ponder the big questions; they were the authorities before the void, and if they don’t claim some degree of power and control everything will soon devolve into pure chaos. The little guy Hoshi may already have some answers, but he’s also shrewd enough to capitalize on the asset that is the class’s popular, if oafish, baseball star in Cap.

It isn’t long before the order that is established (through social media, natch) is challenged by some of the power-havers, who are already well on their way to drunk on that power, like Asakaze. He’s not about that with great power axiom; for him, if he has a power, he should be able to use it to his heart’s content.

If he’s drunk on his trippy glass-shattering power, Cap delivers the hangover in the form of a PENALTY, which asserts itself as a frighteningly sudden big black X on the faces of those who receive them. They are then forced to do something—in his case, long division of pi all night.

Hovering around the periphery of all this political push-and-pull are two outcasts in Nagara and Nozomi. Nagara would rather stay out of sight and out of mind; Nozomi would rather do what she wants when she wants to. She doesn’t have the power of the others but they share a distaste of authority.

When she politely declines the smartphone Cap offers her, then takes it and smashes it on the gym floor, she’s not immune to the PENALTY: a hundred laps around the school that leave her flat on her back on the homeroom floor—Nagara’s usual position as he apparently yearns to be one with said floor.

After a very unsettling shot of the school apparently very slowly sinking into the inky void, we get a flashback of sorts to just before the school went into the void.  Nagara finds Nozomi tearing up some workbook she got from the faculty office, and invites him to join her. Not eager to do anything with anyone, he turns to leave, saying he has stuff to do.

But he’s pressed by Nozomi about whether he actually wants to go somewhere and do something else other than where he is and what he’s doing. All the while, storm clouds obscure the blue skies. When Nozomi puts her hands on Nagara as he’s trying to leave, a lightning bolt flashes and just like that, the school is in the void.

Whether Nagara caused this on accident or not (and whether Nozomi was the catalyst for him doing it, making them partners in crime, like Flowers of Evil), it’s certainly not something in his control, nor was it ever. The StuCo is suddenly ambushed by power-havers who twist the school into either an Escherian nightmare…or a Katamari.

They declare that they’re in charge now, but Hoshi is unimpressed. Cap PENALTYs Asakaze’s two associates, but as he hasn’t broken one of the agreed-upon school rules, the PENALTY “power” doesn’t work on him.

Still, Cap uses brute force by hitting Asakaze with a baseball bat. Since that breaks the rules, it’s Hoshi who PENALTYs Cap into stripping naked and hopping around. Hoshi then drops another hint that he knows a lot more than everyone else, including the egghead (who is probably not on the right track trying to apply things like physics to this predicament).

When Asakaze won’t stand down, Hoshi demonstrates his apparent power: showing everyone a future where no one ever escapes the school and eventually become desiccated corpses seated beside each other. It’s the most overtly spooky and unnerving sequence in an episode full of weird shit.

Once again on their own wavelength, Nozomi takes Nagara by the hand, avoids all of the StuCo versus Supes drama, and seeks out that bright spot in the void she saw before. It turns out to be the same white feather she plucked from Nagara’s face in the episode’s opening moments.

She then decides to put her life in the hands of fate by performing an experiment to see what happens when you leap from the physical school into that endless black nightmare. In a show with 36 characters, I wasn’t 100% sure this wasn’t the end for Nozomi just as soon as we met her.

Instead, Nagara grabs her arm just in time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter, as the rusty railing breaks, sending them plummeting down the void until, suddenly, it’s not a void anymore. Their bodies and the piece of railing must’ve “popped” the void, revealing that the school is sinking into an unknown ocean, just off the coast of an unknown island with both lush green jungle and a slim, jagged alpine mountain peak, like the Matterhorn stretched vertically.

It’s probably simplistic to say this episode was a trip, but it was a welcome and thrilling one. Even at its most quiet and mundane, primal dread emanated from every nook and cranny. Nagara is somewhat of a nullity so far, but Nozomi, the StuCo, and the bristling supes are all fun to watch. I’m eagerly awaiting the next episode; whether it delivers answers or more questions, I know it’ll be another weird trip presented with a strikingly austere beauty.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 11 – Someday Is Here

This week begins with Sayu saying goodbye to Asami and Tokyo and taking a plane to Hokkaido with her brother and Yoshida, and ends with her returning home after more than a half a year of running away. If that sounds to you like not enough material to fill a whole episode, well, that’s when I must bring up one of the major cons of this penultimate outing: it’s padded within an inch of its life.

Whether its on the oddly-proportioned plane and its odd-looking seats, or during the two to three hours when Issa is off doing business and Yoshida and Sayu hang out in a café, scenes just feel artificially far longer than they either need to be or should. Granted, it’s Sayu’s first time on a plane or in a café with a friend, but when she held up an hourglass, I couldn’t help but think Can we maybe get a move on?

While a detriment early on, I’ll fully admit that Sayu’s trip to her school, which neither Yoshida nor Issa knew she’d request, is actually very effectively paced, as we feel with her the precise and growing dread of drawing closer and closer to the spot on that damned rooftop where her only friend’s life ended—and her life changed forever.

Honestly, I don’t know if or how she’d have been able to do this without Yoshida, so it’s very much a good thing he came along. Even an adult would have a hard time returning to the spot where their friend died for any reason. Add to that the fact Sayu witnessed Yuuko jump and blames herself for it, and you have yourself a brutal veritable trifecta of trauma.

When Sayu blames herself for Yuuko jumping, Yoshida had to be there to tell her she was wrong, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t that she didn’t really care about Yuuko, but cared too much. Her desire to help her fight the bullies wasn’t a bad instinct, even though things went terribly wrong. And frankly, Sayu wasn’t Yuuko’s entire life and can’t be expected to be such…she had her own life, and problems.

Thanks to Yoshida’s support, Sayu is able to wail with grief, letting it all out, until a stiff wind reveals the nearly-full moon and seemingly blows away the ghost of Yuuko that was haunting her. On their way back to the car, Yoshida asks if she’s okay now, and she answers quite correctly “not at all”…but she will be. She’s going to work towards the time when she can remember Yuuko and smile, rather than cry.

After such an emotionally draining experience at school, it almost seems cruel to then drive Sayu back home, even though she says she’s ready to go. After all, nothing in that house is worse than what happened on that rooftop, except for her mother’s last words to her before she ran away, which was to ask if Sayu killed her friend.

For all of the learning and growing up Sayu has done in the last few months, at least at first blush it looks like her mother has learned absolutely nothing. Issa tries to stand purposefully in front of both Sayu and Yoshida, but their mom pushes him out of the way to give Sayu a vicious slap to the face. That’s how she chooses to greet her. Not a great start!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SSSS.Dynazenon – 09 – Teamwork Makes the BEAM Work

This week’s Dynazenon has a little bit of everything, which is only fitting because it’s about the merits of simply jumbling everything together. It begins with a much-anticipated laser focus on Chise, who has a surreal dream that perfectly visualized how she felt when she attended school—she was off, lost in her gorgeous, intricate doodles.

She wakes up in her cavernous, modern bedroom as an Alice stand-in, finding all of her possessions are either far bigger or far smaller than they should be. Turns out that’s the handiwork of a little golden kaiju born from the growth she found and carried with her all this time. Because the kaiju has imprinted upon her and has come to know her heart, it obeys her wishes. She names it Goldburn, after a band.

There’s a fireworks festival soon, and while neither Yomogi or any of his friends are that interested, Yume wants to give it a go, so Yomogi is in too. Chise is trying to tell Koyomi about the “hypothetical” good kaiju in her suitcase, but he’s distracted by Yomogi’s call inviting them to join them. When Chise then tries Gauma, he’s firm in his belief all kaiju must be defeated.

As she wavers over what to do, her friend suddenly grows in size, scooping her up and taking her on a ride through the skies over the city. It’s fun until it suddenly isn’t—when Chise spots her school. Goldburn almost obeys the momentary emotions in her heart wishing the school wouldn’t exist, but she’s able to steer Goldburn out of a potentially destructive dive.

Yume is walking home with her friend, who is curious whether she and Yomogi are dating, when Yomogi calls her back to school, reporting that Kano’s ex-boyfriend Futaba has arrived to talk to them. If Yume was hoping for some kind of groundbreaking revelation from him, then she’s bitterly disappointed by the resulting talk.

Futaba claims that while he heard about Kano being bullied in the chorus club, he never witnessed it first hand. When Yume asks then why Kano committed suicide, Futaba repeats the official line that it was merely an accident, and that “Kano wasn’t like that”, offering no further explanation. His answers not only don’t impress Yume, they downright upset her.

But just when she is overcome by emotion, they get a call from Gauma about a new kaiju, and she clams up for a moment to assure Yomogi that she’s fine, they should go, and she’ll be right behind him. Meanwhile, Chise is considering what to do with her enormous friend when Goldburn suddenly flies off on his own.

Yomogi arrives to find Gauma, Koyomi, and Gridknight in dire need of someone with wings to lift them off the suddenly soft and undulating ground (due to Juuga’s kaiju’s power) Yomogi ain’t that. When he tells Gauma what went down with Yume, the captain orders him to go back and get Yume, you jackass, because you’re the only one who can bring her back.

With Goldburn off on his own, a lonely, left-out looking Chise locates Yume perched atop the tower where her sister died. When Chise asks what’s wrong, Yume tosses out her boilerplate “it has nothing to do with you”, adding that “nothing good” comes of it whenever she fights. But Chise has tried to fight hard alongside everyone all this time, so she does not want to hear that it’s nothing to do with her.

Right on cue, Goldburn arrives, but of course both Yume and a quickly approaching Yomogi assume its foe, not friend, and Chise doesn’t have time to properly explain, because Yomogi is coming in hot to save Yume. Chise asks Yume who else would fly in to save her like this, and tells her she “doesn’t know what she’s got.”

But the wind from Dyna Soldier blows Yume’s ankh puzzle out of her hand and over the edge, and she dives off the tower after it with no regard for her safety. Yomogi lunges toward her to catch her in midair, but just misses. Fortunately, Goldburn is listening to Chise’s heart in this moment, and pluck Yume up by her cardigan mere feet from the water.

Chise, Yume, and Yomogi arrive at the scene of the battle where Gauma, Koyomi, and Gridknight are getting their asses beat by Juuga’s kaiju. Fortunately, with the aid of flight, a lot of the enemy’s advantage is lost.

More to the point, the minute Gauma, Yomogi, Yume, Koyomi, Chise, and Gridknight decide to all join forces into one big, beautiful kaiju-mecha melange, it spelled the beginning of the end for the Eugenicists’ chances of victory.

In an absolutely bonkers, virtuoso combination sequence paired with the most lavishly bombastic orchestral accompanied yet, Dynazenon merges with both Gridknight and Goldburn to create a big, brash, bulky and beautiful Super Dragon King Kaiser Gridknight, which is a mouthful of name for a framefull of robot. He’s even got a sheer purple cape, the better to dazzle the stage.

There’s nothing Juuga can do once all of his adversaries got “all lumped up”, which makes them stronger and faster and able to counter any attack thrown its way with tenfold force. After doing a little parkour off flying skyscrapers, Yomogi’s Dynamic Cannon delivers the beam-de-grace, and the team victory is immediately celebrated by the fireworks display amazingly not cancelled by the kaiju attack.

The ending scene is the perfect cool-down sequence after all that high-octane mecha madness. Much to Chise’s delight, Gauma accepts Goldburn as an ally despite being a kaiju, and while the whole team—including Gridknight and Second—make a run for it, they still miss the entirety of the festival. No matter; they all buy fireworks and have their own festival on the waterfront.

Yume takes her leave, promising she’ll be back, but I already knew exactly what she was up to, so there was no need to be wary. Sure enough, she returns resplendent in her gorgeous yukata, which understandably took a while to put on, but was worth it. While she plumbed the depths of despair after interviewing Futaba, here Yume rises to new heights of joy as she and Yomogi and everyone else enjoy each other’s company, all lumped together, and all the better for it.

Super Cub – 07 – La Vita in Moto

Koguma has owned her Cub for half a year, while Reiko bought a new Hunter Cub. Not only do they carry themselves like the motorbiking equivalent of old salts, they  come off as old, close friends. They hang out a lot more, their earlier clipped greetings replaced by more consistent banter. Koguma even messes with Reiko, fining her for saying it’s cold, then accepting a ginkgo leaf plucked from her hair.

Everyone is saying its cold because autumn has arrived, and with it the school’s cultural festival. Koguma and Reiko’s tiny classmate Shii leads the executive committee, who have decided on an Italian-style coffee bar. Reiko knows Shii since her family runs a bakery she frequents, but when Shii asks for after school volunteers, Koguma puts Reiko’s dire need for new riding gloves first.

Why Reiko’s wealthy parents would let her go around with holes in her gloves, I can hazard a guess: they don’t know what shes up to and are too busy with their own stuff to ask. I love how Koguma keeps their shopping trip focused by taking Reiko by the arm; it’s so nice to see her being so assertive!

Koguma’s dry but fertile sense of humor continues when the two head to Reiko’s cabin to hang out, as Koguma has little patience for Reiko’s waxing poetic about non-slip work gloves. The next day, quite by accident, Koguma and Reiko end up drawn into Shii’s café plan.

When the teacher flakes out on transporting the equipment they need from the Kofu school, and Koguma overhears the committee pooh-pooh a motorbike’s cargo-carrying abilities, she steps in and volunteers to assist: partly to uphold her Cub Pride, but also because she and Reiko have the means to help.

Those means include a trailer from the gym and a frankly ingenious damped rig for carrying delicate cargo (including soba in breakable bowls!) The bike wives don their jackets in the autumn chill and get to wrenching on each others’ rides, until they have themselves a pair of pack Cubs.

When Shii comes out to see them off, Koguma and Reiko give her some percolators and tell her where she can find everything else she needs for an “classic American saloon”-themed café, in case they fail to get the equipment back in one piece. Showing her true biker-girl colors, she says you should always have a backup plan.

The resulting ride is all too familiar to Koguma, who rode to and from Kofu dozens of times for her summer job. Her teacher friend greets her with a handshake, and when she sees the girls’ bikes, she’s impressed and even inspired to procure a relative’s used Cub. When Koguma says she should get a new one and Reiko adds that old ones are “nothing but trouble”, the teacher says she “wouldn’t mind that kind of trouble.”

Thanks to Koguma and Reiko’s motorized heroics, Shii and the class’s Italian cafe is a resounding success. More importantly, a great weight of anxiety has been lifted from Shii’s slight shoulders as she pulls off her plan with aplomb. As she switches on the espresso machine and it starts to make those satisfying brewing sounds, she unleashes a beautiful smile very similar to those Koguma flashes when things go her way.

Koguma and Reiko are ready to make an Irish exit when Shii comes out and offers them some Italian coffees, a humble token of her gratitude for everything they did for her. The biker wives chortle together and gladly accept the warm drinks. Then Shii compliments their bikes as “terrific”—an adjective Koguma had never thought to assign to them.

Shii says she wants to right one someday, but is afraid she’d fall off like she often does on her regular bike. Koguma tells her Cubs are made so that “you have to want to ride them, or they won’t let you,” saying a spooked rider will spook the Cub. I don’t doubt her, as she’s logged a good many kilometers.

Still, I hope that Shii, this “delicate young lady” of whom Koguma once had a “washed-out light blue” impression, but now sees in her the bright sunny azure of a summer sky, comes to befriend our Cub Girls…She couldn’t ask for cooler people to befriend, and maybe she’ll muster the courage to join the club!

Super Cub – 04 – Summer Courier

Some of my favorite moments of Yuru Camp involved Shima Rin on her own, setting things up, figuring things out, or on the road in harsh weather with the knowledge a soothing hot spring wasn’t far away. I could watch her do stuff alone without saying anything all day, just like I could watch Super Cub’s Koguma do the same.

Super Cub, I’ve been remiss in mentioning, distinguishes itself in the musical department by employing a lot of soaring classical piano pieces that really match the moods of the montages with which they’re paired as well as lend a sense of added majesty. Plus, it just makes the show that much more classy.

Anywho, this week is full of Koguma taking care of business as she takes on a challenging summer job as a document courier between her school and a high school in Kofu (also a Yuru Camp locale). Pre-job preparations include buying some sturdy new boots, a dependable Casio watch, and getting a 100-km oil change at Shino’s.

Her first trip to Kofu High is full of suspense; she really doesn’t want to screw up, and even declines the Kofu teacher’s invitation to stop and have some tea just so she can remain ahead of schedule.

Just as she got comfortable with operating her Cub and interacting with Reiko (who is spending her summer touring “somewhere close yet far away”), Koguma gets used to the daily trips back and forth. Eventually loosens up and derives more joy from the new routine.

Before she knows it, she’s put 500km on her Cub, and so takes it back to Shino. He tells her she might be riding her Cub a bit too gentlyleading her to give it the beans at her next green light.

One day Koguma is caught in a summer shower, and arrives at Kofu High looking like a half-drowned cat. The teacher makes sure she’s dried off and has her wait out the rain with a cup of tea.

Not wanting to endure another soaking, Koguma heads to the store to buy a waterproof rainsuit. It costs nearly as much as three round trips, but the next time it rains it pays for itself, as Koguma can ride dry and comfortably, looking up at the sky and saying “take that” upon arriving at Kofu High.

The days and weeks go by, and soon Koguma has reached 1000km. She takes Shino’s advice and gives changing the oil a try. While at first she can’t loosen the bolt that releases the spent oil, she watches a bicyclist ride by and it gives her the idea to use her foot to move the wrench, which does the trick.

In addition to yet again gaining inspiration from observing life around her (as with the goggles), the colors of the episode become more lush and vivid, matching the dopamine high that comes from having cleared what is the toughest hurdle in changing oil—getting that damn bolt off without making a mess or hurting yourself.

The rest of the change goes smoothly, and while Koguma probably should have worn gloves, there’s something to be said for getting a little oil under your fingernails after your very first wrenching job. Go Koguma!

After a month and a half of round trips at ¥2,000 a pop minus fuel and expenses, Koguma has a nice chunk of change squirreled away, with which she can use to further expand the world she’s started to grow with this job, both as a matter of geographic distance, and overcoming her shy, reserved nature.

Even betterm she’s rewarded for a summer job well done by a call from Reiko, who returned home the same day Koguma’s job concluded and invites Koguma over to her place. After a beat, Koguma asks Reiko where to go, and pulls up in front of an absolutely gorgeous log cabin in the forest at dusk. Reiko invites Koguma inside so they can talk about their summer adventures. It’s a cozy, warm, and above all triumphant way to end the episode.

Super Cub – 03 – Calling Out to the Universe

Koguma notes how it’s been a few days since her “life of emptiness” was suddenly filled by her Cub, and then by a fellow Cub rider. She acquired the Cub by actively visiting a dealership, while befriending Reiko happened more by chance when Reiko approached her. Koguma is gradually getting more comfortable with both of these things.

During lunch (the running gag of Koguma never being able to microwave her meals is great and very relatable) Reiko announces her intention to go touring during summer vacation, and is glad to have the big luggage box that comes with the Postal Cub. Koguma would like one too, so Reiko reaches out to a fellow Cubber and finds another box within walking distance.

Reiko has Koguma remove the box from the worn-out Cub, and using tools on a Cub for the first time must feel satisfying. That feeling is repeated when a teacher gives her a free front basket from his Cub he doesn’t need anymore. As she vicariously revels in Koguma grinning like a goofball, Reiko tells Koguma that whenever she needs a part of something, the universe will provide if you “call out” to it.

As Koguma tries opening up the pipes on her Cub, she learns she’ll have to call out for something else: a means of blocking the wind from hitting her face. I must say these three episodes have been an absolute face clinic, and Koguma’s wind-in-her-face face is as priceless as her satisfied grins. It’s great watching Koguma discover the simple but powerful joy of upgrades.

That night, Koguma considers how to solve this problem as she cooks a dinner of fried rice—not a microwave packet—perhaps indicating she’s taking more pride in the process and effort of all things, not just her Cub. Reiko takes Koguma to the library to search the web for a face shield, but even the cheapest are around $40.

Then, as if the universe were answering Koguma’s call for an alternative, she spots a custodian wearing safety goggles, which are both cheaper than a mask and tough enough to withstand the rigors of riding. Koguma had to go to the hardware store to buy a chain lock anyway, so kills two birds with one stone. Goofy grinning ensues, and that night Koguma dreams of riding her Cub on a road through a flower-strewn meadow. She’s officially got the Cub Bug.

Koguma’s mood extends into the morning, and Reiko notices her friend’s extra pep. After school, both of them want to go riding, so they do, although I was a little confused when Reiko left first, because I thought they intended to ride together. Another time, perhaps. In the meantime, Reiko gives Koguma her cell number, tells her to call if she needs anything, and to be careful on the road.

Koguma admits that getting her licesne wasn’t a particularly emotional moment, but getting Reiko’s number was another thing entirely. She isn’t sure yet if she and Reiko could be classified as friends, but that doesn’t matter, because they’re something she considers deeper and more profound: they’re both members of that ancient and noble tribe of Honda Cub owners, and they are legion!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 02 – Two-Wheeled Freedom

Koguma discovers how to hang her helmet off her Cub after seeing her classmate stow his under the seat of his scooter. Once in class, she daydreams about suddenly blurting out that she came to school on a motorbike and suddenly becoming Miss Popular. Thankfully, she chooses a much more natural time to mention her new scooter—in Home Ec class when they’re making drawstring bags. Her mention leads to a classmate asking if she can see her Cub after school.

While last week Koguma was thoroughly in her own little world, directly interacting only with Shino, this week we see just how socially awkward she is, first by only tentatively agreeing to meet up and then trying to make an Irish exit, only to forget her newly-made bag.

Fortunately, the other girl doesn’t hold it against her, and reveals she’s something of a motorbike otaku in her appraisal of Koguma’s Super Cub. She also makes plain her biker girl bonafides by presenting her own steed: a red MD4=90 Postal Cub, she’s souped up with aftermarket and bespoke parts.

Their interaction kind of trails off when the girl, named Reiko, has to head out, but Koguma privately hopes they’ll get to talk more tomorrow. Even so, when tomorrow arrives, it takes everything she has to let out a hushed good morning that Reiko only acknowledges with a curt “Mmm.”

Koguma’s fear that their interactions are at an end are alleviated when Reiko takes her arm and leads her to their bikes where they eat lunch together, explicitly mentioning they’re friends now. Yet even here, when Reiko tells her they can go anywhere they want with their Cubs, Koguma seems held back by a lack of imagination.

But once she’s riding home after school, Koguma starts to feel what Reiko was talking about, and instead of going straight through her usual intersection, she takes a right turn. That leads to a supermarket with much better prices on her lunch packets, and she even saves a few yen by using the drawstring bag she made the other day.

You could say that inspiration fueled Koguma’s imagination, allowing her to make a different turn than usual and find a new an unknown place. It’s her first small step to realizing the boundless potential for freedom her new ride represents. As we see Reiko taking full advantage of her Cub to find a gorgeous Yuru Camp-esque vista featuring Fuji-san, Koguma looks forward to her next after-school side trip. So am I!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 01 (Belated First Impressions) – Kickstarting a New Journey

Koguma has no family, no friends, no goals or hobbies, and not much in the way of money. She gets by living on her own in a near-monastic existence, and the first four minutes of this episode are spent in silence as the sun comes up and we witness each step of her morning routine from waking up to heading to school on her bike. If you love anime that portray real life without any embellishment, as I do, you’ll have already been pulled willingly into Koguma’s life, as I was.

But after watching the better part of one day in that quiet, lonely little life, we watch as she’s easily overtaken by a classmate on a motor scooter, and she decides to head to Shino’s motorcycle shop where she’s in luck: a used Honda Super Cub (the most-produced motorized vehicle in history) is available for just ¥10,000 (around $91). Immediately upon hopping on, the bike literally adds color to her life.

We watch the painstaking but also rather simple process of acquiring a license and tag for her bike as well as a helmet and gloves, as well as the always initially tricky starting protocol. But once all that’s squared away Koguma hits the road (calling to mind Yuru Camp’s Rin on her scooter), and regularly flashing a warm smile simply at the sight of her new Cub sitting in the paddock. It’s not exaggerating to say it saved her from what was a tedious, mundane, aimless existence.

Koguma realizes she’s still shaky on the road, so unable to sleep anyway, she gets up for a midnight ride to practice when the roads are all but deserted. Again, the Rin is strong in Koguma, right down to the occasional relieved sigh and assured yosh after a notable achievement. When she stops at a konbini and can’t get the Cub started, she simply consults the owner’s manual and switches to her reserve tank.

After refueling, Koguma heads home, plops down in her genkan relieved and exhausted, and falls asleep right there, waking up only when her alarm goes off. Already, her crushingly drab routine has been upended by her new mechanical companion. As she confidently rides to school, she starts to think of new adventures to go on with her new ride, like Kofu, well-known to all Yuru Campers. But the point is, she’s finally found an interest and has gained a measure of ambition.

I initially passed on Super Cub worried that it was going to be nothing but a glorified ad for the Honda Super Cub. I reconsidered when I saw it had a decent MAL score and glowing reviews on ANN, and noted that I was missing a iyashikei-style slice-of-life anime this season. So while it’s adding a sixth show to my schedule, it should feel far more like a treat than a chore.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wonder Egg Priority – 07 – Oyakodon (Parent-Child Bowl)

“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”—The Dread Pirate Roberts

It’s Rika’s birthday. On one level, that’s a good thing: a cause to celebrate with her new friends, while also celebrating Ai’s retirement from shut-in-dom. Ai describes her sudden change of heart as having realized beating herself up at home wouldn’t solve anything.

On another level, Rika’s birthday also a reminder that she is one year older, one year closer to possibly becoming her lonely, alcoholic mom, and no closer to learning who her father was. Her mom agreed to tell her when she got into middle school, but she doesn’t know herself, and gives her five possible candidates. It could be one of them or none of them.

It’s instructive that Rika lives above a bar her mom owns. That bar has not only been the place where her mom no doubt met these many men over the years to try to quell her loneliness (and drown it in booze when she failed) but before Rika could enter her home she always had to walk past a gauntlet of drunk men.

Rika takes her birthday celebration as a chance to air some grievances, albeit with her usual irreverent tone that implies she doesn’t care. In truth, meeting her real dad is almost all she cares about. She believes her mother never wants her to meet him, since they might get along.

She calls her mom a “tragic heroine with a persecution complex” who has never apologized for anything and has nothing but her own pride. She thinks her mom believes she could have been happy if only she didn’t have her. Neiru, ever calm and logical and correct, asks rather tactlessly if Rika hates her mom too, and if “that’s what they call co-dependence.”

This angers Rika, who storms off, but she fully expects Ai to chase her, and she does. Ai is ready to continue the mom-insulting session, calling the two of them the “Single-Mother Girls”. As they wander the abandoned entertainment center and Rika swings and misses at the batting cages, “Serious Rika” comes out of her shell to talk about all the bad stuff that she remembered at once. As Ai listens, Rika wonders what the hell is even up with adults, who presumably bang and marry because they like it, yet end up like her mom.

Neiru and Momoe are worried about Rika, but when they hear her yell they’re confident she’s okay. Neiru wonders whether she’s too honest and direct for “female society”, but Momoe tells her she’s fine that way, as she hates when everyone pretends to agree. Neiru cops to being a straight-up orphan who never knew either parent, and notes it seems to have spared her “a lot of trouble.”

On the rooftop, Rika asks Ai about her dad, who she sees at least once a month, and thus is still her daddy even though her parents broke up. Rika can’t even remember her dad’s face—only his gentle voice when he once told her “a beautiful woman never needs a wallet.” After shedding a few tears of frustration from wanting to see him and not being able to, Rika declares “Moping Time” over and takes off.

The episode then shifts between Rika’s latest Wonder Egg battle and the battle she fights every day by having to cross a gauntlet of drunk men and her mom to gain access to her home. This Egg Girl and her family were members of a suicide cult, but still loves her Wonder Killer and wants Rika to join them in cosmic bliss.

She gives Rika the hard sell, telling her how her family was cursed by karma from their past lives, so they abandoned their attachments to the physical world. The Wonder Killer, whom the girl calls “the teacher”, talks of a flawed world “fixated on worthless appearances and hierarchies” in which the haves grow arrogant and the have-nots envious.

Once up in her dark room, Rika pulls out her box-cutter and draws it close to her arm. In the battle, the Egg Girl notices the sleeve on Rika’s arm covering her scars and tells her to “erase herself”, revealing more of the same scars on her own arm as a show of solidarity. The Egg Girl was once like her, hating, envying, and drowning in pain and despair, before becoming one with the teacher and becoming part of a “vast energy.”

Normally Rika might not be so easily taken in by this new age gobbledygook from the child of parents who bought into what someone was selling, but it’s her birthday, and “all the bad stuff” is still foremost on her mind. The pain of still not knowing her dad, the fear of becoming just like her mom; they weigh on her, and the Egg Girl and teacher’s offer to “erase her karma” sounds like a good one in the there and then.

In this psychologically vulnerable state, the Egg Girl and Wonder Killer are tag teaming her towards her doom. Aca and Ura-Aca even worry that they could lose her. Ai, Momoe and Neiru, sensing she’s in trouble, use their pendants to snap Rika out of it, but their voices fade out as the Wonder Killer tells her to relax and surrender herself to his “hug of life.”

The only thing that saves Rika from oblivion is the fact she too is a mother; a fact she’d forgotten in the haze of the cult proselytization. Her turtle guardian-child, Mannen, grows to full size and blocks the Killer’s hug, saving Rika. She realizes because he imprinted on her, he thinks she’s his mom, and that she almost turned into a “selfish, piece-of-shit” mother by giving up and abandoning her child.

Declaring death to all fake men who ask women for money, and partners with Mannen to give the teacher the “slice of death.” The Egg Girl is devastated, asking why Rika, who like her cut her own arm to endure the pain of life, turned down a chance at sweet release. But Rika wasn’t buying what the teacher was selling. Dying isn’t the answer; not for her. Even if it means hurting herself, she’s going to live.

Rika reunites with her extremely worried and relieved friends. Neiru doesn’t join in the group hug but makes it clear she’s glad Rika is okay. Later that night Rika goes downstairs, after the bar has closed, where her mom is where she always is, drinking herself to sleep. Rika takes the cake out of the fridge and has a bite, confirming her mom’s worry the cream has dried out.

Her mom laments having gotten “old” before she knew it. Rika points out she’s only 40, and her mom corrects her; she’s 38. She says she’s sure Rika will abandon her, too. Rika concurs, but after a pause, sais “…but not now.”

* * * * *

This episode shines as a heartwrenchingly sober examination of the duality of parents and children as both curse and blessing to one another, how they hate, blame, and envy or resent one another, and how society only seems to make things worse. And yet, life and all its pain is presented as preferable to the bleak, defeatist alternative rapacious charlatans have offered since time immemorial.

Rika may not know how to win, if winning is possible, or even what victory looks like in this painful, fucked-up world. But no matter how many cuts she receives—by her own hand or otherwise—or batting cage balls she swings through, one thing she won’t do is stop playing. If she does, she knows she’ll lose, and she wouldn’t be the only one losing.

If this is all feels a bit heavy and complex for a cold cloudy Tuesday afternoon…well, I can’t blame you. I’m just glad a show like this exists, frankly presenting such ideas about these girls’ lives juxtaposed with the mundane heartaching beauty of the world in which it’s lived. It’s the kind of breathless ambition and thematic richness all too many anime would rather not adopt, instead pursuing the easy buck and assured popularity.

Don’t get me wrong—there’s a time and a place for that stuff too!—but it’s shows like Wonder Egg Priority that confirm that murmurs regarding the decline of anime are grossly exaggerated. This isn’t just the best anime on the air. It’s the best television show, period.

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