Sonny Boy – 05 – The Creator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wonder Egg Priority – 09 – Meringue

Wonder Egg Priority is back after an recap week, and everyone is wondering if Neiru is sick or something, because she’s inviting everyone to her place. The other three girls soon learn that her “place” isn’t remotely like any of theirs, and not because it’s a mansion.

In fact, Neiru seems to live at work. When the others arrive they sit in a theater and watch a video presentation of technology the Aonuma group is working on that can convert people’s dreams to video, enabling them to watch Neiru’s egg battle on the bridge.

The question rattling around everyone’s heads is “who is Neiru?” and her invitation to her home and workplace seem aimed at attempting to answer that question. Her assistant tells them she’s a literal genius and member of the Japanese branch of Plati, a MENSA-like genius organization.

We also learn that Neiru doesn’t know her parents because as far as she’s concerned, she doesn’t have any. She was born via artificial insemination of a member; a planned pairing with no emotional connection between the egg and sperm donors. Is it any wonder she’s such a logical person, in addition to being a genius?

The girls take an elevator to level B9 (presumably deep underground) where Neiru takes them to her habitation area, which is full of books and strewn with papers. There, Momo breaks out the takoyaki grill, and after they eat, she and Rika paint Momo and Neiru’s nails, with everyone getting the same purple accent on one finger so they match.

Momo is very skilled at painting nails, which leads to discussion of everyone’s futures. Momo wants to be a dietician; Rika wants to live abroad and marry a foreigner; Ai wants to try living alone. When they turn to Neiru, she changes the subject, and then leads them behind a curtain to show them the reason she invited them.

In the next room is a capsule containing a an albino girl. She’s Kotobuki Awano who like Neiru was a genius born at Japan Plati. She became a doctor of psychiatry, and in order to attempt to analyze “the mysteries of life” she conducted near-death experiences on herself. After one of these, she didn’t come back, leading to her present persistent vegetative state.

Neiru reunites with Kotobuki in an Egg Dream, on the bridge, when she’s being pursued by a Wonder Killer based upon a jealous rival scientist whose job he believes she stole. Neiru just wants to know why Kotobuki didn’t come back, and her friend’s response is poetic: it’s said you see a field of flowers in the moment before death; she wanted to pick one and bring it back to her.

Kotobuki levels with Neiru: the her in the normal world is already dead; her body is simply a container. But in exchange, she was able to confirm that parallel worlds do exist, like the ones in the fantasy stories she loved. She likens what happened to her as having her mind and body abducted by “innocent sorrow”.

Neiru is determined to go to the place where Kotobuki died and bring her statue back to life, but she’s not listening. Kotobuki died in an abstract place Neiru cannot go. Meanwhile, the government will soon come for her physical body, and she “doesn’t want adults touching it.” So she’s asking Neiru to do the thing she can’t do herself, now that her body and soul are separate: disconnect the life support.

Neiru really doesn’t want to do this, but Kotobuki says it will be fine; after all, Neiru made new friends, and she can tell they’ve already “softened” her a bit. Kotobuki wants Neiru to enjoy her life with those girls, while she’ll befriend them in another “world-line”.

Their talk is interrupted by the Wonder Killer, Dr. Seki, who’d always wanted to dissect Kotobuki, underscoring the importance of keeping her body out of adult hands. When he nabs Kotobuki, Neiru powers up her weapon and uses it to fly to where Kotobuki is and snatch her. Then Seki gives them a math question of all things that turns out to be a trick question.

After that, Kotobuki bids Neiru farewell, asking her to take care of her body in reality, and Neiru agrees. We pull back and see that Neiru’s assistant is watching the video of Neiru’s dream. Back in the present, as Neiru prepares to switch off Kotobuki’s respirator, she gets strong pushback from both Rika and Momoe, who think it’s “too much” to kill a person in the real world.

Neiru maintains her logical perspective, which is that Kotobuki is already effectively dead, and when Momoe pushes back by saying that as her friends they’re worried about the trauma or baggage she might incur. Neiru says she won’t get “sentimental” about stopping “a dead person’s respiration”.

At an impasse, Rika and Momoe storm out.  Ai, stuffing her face in her hood, follows them at first, then turns back. Momoe and Rika agree that perhaps Ai can get through to Neiru on her own, since she’s closest to her of the three of them.

Then Momoe and Rika walk in on a conversation between the Accas and Neiru’s assistant discussing how Neiru has gotten closest to “the truth behind the temptation of death,” and how they are the “root cause” of why they’re fighting. It’s not as if didn’t think the Accas were up to something underhanded, but it’s particularly chilling to hear them discuss it openly.

When Ai returns to Neiru, she’s sitting in the dark with a compact planetarium projecting stars on the walls and her body. Ai, armed with ample emotional intelligence in this instance, says she’s not there to convince Neiru to do or not do anything. She’s there to hear more about Kotobuki. Neiru says she didn’t want adults to touch her; Ai says if only she’d said that, Momoe and Rika would have better understood her.

Ai then recalls when she and Koito tried fortune-telling using Kokkuri. They asked if Koito’s crush (whom Ai assumed to be Sawaki-sensei) liked her back, and the coin said yes. Ai didn’t think she’d moved the coin, but when she saw how happy Koito looked, she couldn’t have moved it either. Ai wonders if she actually did move it without knowing to make her friend happy. That, she says, is fantasy.

Ai applies that same principle to Kotobuki’s life support system. She brings her finger right beside Neiru’s on the Shutdown button—their purple nails matching—and the button is pressed like the coin was moved: by one of them, by both of them…and by neither of them. Kotobuki in voiceover then recites famous quote by Baudelaire:

“It is the hour to be drunken! To escape being the martyred slaves of time, be ceaselessly drunk. On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you wish.”

Kotobuki Awano’s death wasn’t the result of contempt for her life or a desire to end it, but pursuit of the ultimate truth for which all people of science strive. She escaped her physical bonds and the yoke of the waking world, freeing herself to explore other worlds.

That said, Kotobuki was still sentimental about and protective of her physical body, and while she knew it was selfish and painful to ask her friend to stop that empty body’s functions, she also knew Neiru would do what she asked, then go on living and getting “ceaselessly drunk” on the enjoyment of that life with Ai, Rika, and Momoe.

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 09 – Nobody Is Perfect

Matters isolate quickly this week, as Chairman Takamatsu concedes that according to GEHENA and Grand Guignol, Yuri is a Huge, not a human or a Lily, and thus not under the academy’s protection. The StuCo brass goes to Riri just as she’s about to trim Yuri’s bangs, but thankfully Yuyu backs them up, giving them cover to escape.

Whatever she was to GEHENA and Grand Guignol, Yuri is clearly something else entirely now, thanks to Riri and the Legion. Yuri has also demonstrated free will, and it’s her wish to stay with everyone. Still, the government doesn’t see it that way, and orders all available Lilies to capture Yuri and arrest Riri.

Yuyu insists to Takamatsu that Yuri couldn’t possibly by a dangerous entity. The Legion sans Yuyu and Kaede makes a collective effort to support Riri and Yuri, and Yuyu soon joins them to declare that as vice commander she is going against the government’s orders. They’ll pursue Riri and Yuri and be the first to find them, and when they do, they’ll protect them from anyone who tries to take Yuri.

Kaede, whom it was hinted at could be a Guignol mole, ends up not betraying Riri and the Legion. Quite the contrary, her call to her father is to tell him she won’t soon (if ever) forgive him for getting in bed with GEHENA and causing this mess, before joining Yuyu and the others. Meanwhile Riri and Yuri find refuge in an abandoned, Huge-ravaged town.

It isn’t just Riri’s Legion who question the justifications of the government’s pursuit of Yuri. All over the search radius, groups of Lilies from Yurigaoka and other academies are all wondering the same thing: “Is Yuri a person or a Huge?” Their answer determines how they should proceed, and whether they should disobey orders. In the case of three Yurigaoka rank-in-files, the answer is obvious and unanimous: Yuri is a person.

But the government won’t take their word, nor Riri’s, nor even Chairman Takamatsu’s at face value. Their belief must be proven, and that’s what brings us to a surprisingly excellent mini-“courtroom drama” as Takamatsu is grilled before arrogant government representatives. As always, Takamatsu’s position is that the young girls who must bear the burden of combat should be afforded as much free will as possible, and Yuri is no different.

That assertion is proven beyond doubt by the absolutely clutch and badass Moshima “Weekly” Moyu, who just finished science-ing the FUCK out of this issue, and has come to the conclusion that Yuri is not a Huge; she’s Human. 99.9% human. Why not 100? Because no one is 100% human, or we’d all be exactly the same and evolution would never occur.

With the matter of what Yuri is settled, the question becomes a matter of jurisdiction and precedent. Moyu demonstrates how prepared she was for this presentation by citing a treaty their nation’s government ratified last year affording “genetically human” individuals like Yuri the same human rights as naturally born ones.

Takamatsu completes the absolute ruination of the pencil pushers by concluding that the order to arrest Riri and capture Yuri were baseless and illegitimate, and thus should be rescinded. As for Riri and Yuri, as Lilies, their punishment is his responsibility.

Riri and Yuri have some tough conversations about where Yuri belongs and what will happen if things don’t go their way, but thankfully all of that is moot when Yuyu and the rest of the Legion arrives in force, and Yuyu declares the crisis resolved. Yuri has been proven to be human, and thus is now safe. The episode could have ended here…All’s well that ends well…Let’s all celebrate over ice cream!

Well, hold on…not so fast.

Their reunion is interrupted by the emergence of the biggest, baddest, most destructive mega-Huge yet encountered, an Evangelion Angel by any other name that is not only able to control Magie, but draws a continuously replenishing supply from its nest. It demonstrates its power by focusing nine energy fields into one and condensing it into a particle beam that utterly destroys everything in its path.

The Lilies amass on the beach, and the moment Yuri understands the situation, she’s off, on her own, at blinding speed over the water, while effortlessly using a combination of Thi Mai and Gropi’s Rare Skills.

One by one she takes out the nine fields while dodging the Huge’s counterattacks, in another sequence lush with awesome sakuga. When Yuri delivers the coup-de-grace, the resulting explosion is massive and, she smiles a sad but determined smile…as it seems to consume her.

As the remains of the Huge burn offshore, Yuri’s ruined CHARM washes ashore, and Riri takes hold of it as she grieves for her sister who sacrificed herself to save everyone who fought to save her. She bitterly remarks how the day started so innocently—with her giving Yuri he first haircut. How that same day end like this?

This is without doubt the finest bloom yet in Assault Lily’s bouquet. It upended the status quo, raised the stakes to the rafters, and put all the pieces together. It employed its reliably-strong eye candy not as a crutch but to back up some truly superb character work, badass scientific research, and some smart, electric conference room sparring.

As for whether Yuri is really dead, that’s something I’m not yet ready to concede with a certainty. It depends on several factors. Will Assault Lily get a second season? After all those lengthy introductions and lighter, quieter early episodes, I truly hope so…I’ve finally memorized everyone in Riri’s Legion!

Second cour or no, it isn’t even about Assault Lily’s “courage” or “guts” to keep an apparently killed key character dead. If it can come up with a good reason to bring her back, I’m all for it. Like she was for Riri and everyone else, Yuri was taken away far too soon.

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 01 (First Impressions) – An Astral Meet Cute

In a premise last encountered as recently as Spring’s KURONEKO Project: Zero Chronicle, the two most powerful young members of their respective warring nations want the same thing: to end the war and attain balance. They are Saint Desciple Iska of the science-oriented Empire and Princess Aliceliese Lou Nebulis IX of the magic-oriented Nebulis Sovereignty.

When we meet Iska, he is freeing a Nebulis witch from an Empire prison, presumably as a show of good faith to her and her nation. For his crime, Iska is himself is imprisoned for a year, after which his bosses the Eight Great Apostles assign him a redemptive mission: defeat the purebred “Ice Witch of Calamity”.

Iska gets his old team together, the Special Defense for Humankind Third Division, Unit N07. It is composed of the cheerful redheaded engineer Nene, the silver-haired stoic Jihn, and their petite scaredy-cat Captain, Mismis. All are happy to see their friend free and back in the mix, but Mismis warns him that either the Great Apostles have set Iska up for failure, or he’s their very last path to victory.

That’s because the Ice Calamity Witch is one tough customer, capable of dominating a battlefield all on her own. After reaching their lightly-guarded base and heading to the front, Iska’s unit’s humvee is upturned and they are ambushed by astral mages (AKA witches).

Iska is a little rusty after a year in jail, but he’s got the skills, the tools, and the teammates to make quick work of what turns out to be a group of low-level Nebulis grunts, whose flame magic doesn’t even singe his ahoge.

Turns out the Ice Calamity Witch is in the vicinity observing the fight, and her maid-uniformed attendant leaps out of their tree perch to join the fray, summoning an earth golem to overwhelm Iska. However, her mistake is believing these are mere Empire grunts.

Iska quickly shows this sub-boss otherwise, handling everything she throws at him with only a few scratches in exchange. It’s our first taste of extended combat in Kimisen, and it’s not bad: quick, precise, exciting, and dynamic.

Ultimately Iska proves he’s no grunt by handily defeating the maid, whom her mistress the Ice Calamity Witch Alice calls Rin upon arriving to save her. She’s already frozen the Empire base and its reactor and shatters them, revealing Rin and the grunts were a diversion.

Alice and Iska order each other to surrender simultaneously, but when they do battle they are pretty much equally matched. Both are also determined never to back down or retreat until the war is over and the nations are united. This gives the Ice Witch pause, as she expected an Empire soldier to threaten her, not have the same geopolitical outlook!

Once Iska’s attacks make Alice step back—apparently that something rarely if ever happens—the icy earthen back upon which she lands gives way and she starts to topple to the ground. Iska catches her and holds her in a princess carry, and the two…just kind of freeze like that for a moment.

When she protests to having been caught by the enemy, Iska says it was just reflex. In any case neither has the will to fight any further, and so Alice and Rin retreat on her giant eagle-like bird, and Iska doesn’t stop her. The battle basically ends with both thinking “Well, that was weird…”

Back home, Alice attempts to wash away the strange feelings she got from her encounter with Iska with a long bath, to no avail. Eventually she convinces Rin to attend her favorite opera in Neutral City, which just happens to be a tragedy about two lovers from nations that are bitter enemies. Alice cries easily and profusely during the opera, to the point she has to borrow a handkerchief from someone behind her.

When the lights come up, that someone is revealed to be…Iska. Assuming he wasn’t stalking her and this is a coincidental meet-cute…what are the odds? And so, her favorite opera begins to play itself out in real life, only it hopefully has a happier ending. Magic Romeo & Juliet, anyone?

Kimisen is already better than Kuroneko Project. Iska, Alice, and their friends are broad strokes, but share great chemistry, and Iska’s unit has a pleasant lived-in family dynamic. The show also looks much better, with decent character design and combat animation. Finally, there’s no messing around…the two potential future lovebirds meet immediately, with instantly charming results.

I’m definitely in for now. I imagine next week will have a bit less expositional lifting to do, which will only work in its favor as we get to know Iska and Alice and they hopefully get to know each other. After all, if the two most OP’ed warriors in their respective nations can get along and they’re supported by their friends, then peace has a chance!

Rating: 3/5

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 07 – Boim Us Outta Here!

Tendi has science’d-up the ultimate dog that is more than a dog (a la The Thing and with shades of TNG’s “Aquiel”). Captain Freeman, Ransom and Shaxs go on a super-covert mission (a la “Chain of Command”). Rutherford’s experiments in raising the ship’s transport speed results in Boimler shifting out of phase (like Geordi and Ro in “The Next Phase”).

Star Trek: Lower Decks is proud of its encyclopedic knowledge of the franchise, and not afraid of mixing and matching a variety of references to past series and films and putting just enough of a twist on them different and say something new about the characters of this show, while crafting a story that, while ridiculous and weird, probably works even for those uninitiated in All [Good] Things Trek.

Fellow Trek maniacs Mike and Rich Evans over at RedLetterMedia recently listed their favorite TNG episodes, and “Chain of Command” is one of them because, in part, it totally subverts the “crew having to pull together to foil the evil outsider captain” trope. Captain Jellico isn’t a bad captain, he just does things differently than Picard. It ends up painting Riker in a particularly bad light—a pretty bold move for TNG!

Anywho, in “Much Ado About Boimler” the replacement captain is Ramsay, a good friend and academy classmate of Mariner’s. Seeing those four pips on young Ramsay’s collar is a wonderfully simple and effective symbol of Mariner’s wasted potential—she really should be a captain by now!

Meanwhile Boimler, so eager to impress the new captain, ends up being ordered off the bridge since a side-effect of his phasing issue is an extremely loud transporter droning sound. In a break from usual Trek routine of the ship’s doctor finding a cure to a crewman’s unusual malady, Boimler is transferred to Division 14, a shadowy Section 31-like Starfleet org focused on, among other things, medical oddities.

Mariner and Ramsay are super chummy at first, but as Ramsay witnesses Mariner continually slacking off or performing simple duties sloppily, the act gets old fast. That applies when they’re on a second-contact mission to fix some alien water filtration system, and when they encounter their sister ship Rebidoux to be infected by some kind of parasitic alien.

Since The Dog Tendi made is also of interest to Division 14, Tendi accompanies Boimler aboard the division’s super-sleek experimental ship en route to a facility ominously called “The Farm.” Once aboard they encounter a veritable freakshow of Starfleet officers having suffered all manner of space diseases and mishaps.

When power is restored to the derelict Rebidoux, the alien awakens and the very seams of the ship start coming apart. Mariner drops her slacker act and suddenly becomes competent, which irks Ramsay even more because it’s clear now that Mariner was looking bad on purpose so Ramsay wouldn’t recommend her for a transfer and promotion to the Oakland.

While Ramsay is understandably pissed by seeing how low her former elite classmate, the one everyone thought would make captain first, has fallen, Mariner also doesn’t like how captaincy has changed her friend. Both have valid points, though it’s really hard to argue Mariner shouldn’t still be an ensign!

While the other Starfleet officers aboard the Division 14 ship are convinced the ship itself is “The Farm” and they’re being held there because they’re “inconvenient” to Starfleet’s veneer of perfection, the truth is “The Farm” is a real paradise planet, and it’s spectacular, while the division chief is just a little eccentric and has a sinister laugh you shouldn’t read too much into.

Tendi says goodbye to The Dog, who gets up on hind legs, says goodbye back, then flies away. Turns out Tendi, who after all isn’t human, had a lot of misconceptions about what a dog could and should do. As for Boimler, the phasing issue wears off, so he is no longer welcome at The Farm and its sensual massages.

Mariner and Ramsay may not be the happiest about how their friend turned out, but the two work together to save the Rebidoux crew as well as their away team. That said, they’re ultimately saved by Rutherford’s upgraded transporter. Everyone ends up suffering the same phasing issue as Boimler, but they don’t care; they’re alive, and it will wear off.

Finally, the alien itself doesn’t kill anyone, and isn’t evil at all! Indeed, it emerges from the absorbed matter of the Rebidoux as a jellyfish-like space-dwelling alien very similar to those first discovered in the TNG pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint”.

Harkening back to a 90-minute episode that aired back in 1987, it’s amazing to see how Star Trek has evolved with the times. By modern standards, quite a few episodes of the previous series (particularly the original) feel glacially long and stretched out. In contrast, I honestly don’t think I’d be able to tolerate an entire hour of Lower Deck’s energy and pace. Twenty-five minutes is the ideal length.

After Mariner showed what’s she’s truly made of on the Rebidoux, Ramsay’s promotion and transfer offer are still on the table. Mariner is flattered and grateful, but ultimately declines. She may have the ability to be a captain someday, but right now she’s happy where she is, where she can still figure out what she wants. In this regard she’s much like Riker, who passed up many a command because he loved the Enterprise and his family.

Stray Observations:

  • Mariner mentions “phase coils” as the kind of nonsense Captains often mention to their subordinates. Coils of one kind or another are omnipresent in Trek technobabble.
  • Tendi calling her dog “The Dog” may be a reference to people often calling Wesley Crusher “The Boy” on TNG.
  • It’s always fun to see alternate Starfleet uniforms broken out, and here we see Starfleet waders for the first time!
  • The Division 14 ship is a veritable smorgasbord of references, none more iconic than the crewman in the same beeping wheelchair as Captain Pike in TOS’s “The Menagerie”.
  • I love how the senior officers’ secret covert mission involves…planting a plant, when given the go-ahead.

Dropped: RikeKoi

I couldn’t even get through the sixth episode, so it’s time to cut bait on this one. Himuro can be cute at times, but she and Yukimura are almost too (romantically) dumb to live, the art sucks, the science is very shaky and the show has become a repetitive snooze-fest.

RikeKoi – 05 – Experiments in Tedium

Meetings tend to be boring, and the first meeting we witness of the researchers and their professor, Ikeda, is no different. For one thing, Ikeda’s frequent “muscling up” routine isn’t particularly compelling.

For another, in reporting the results of their experimentation thus far to their professor, Himuro and Yukimura don’t add anything new for us, the audience. It feels like a recap, with further romantic progress halted so a heretofore unseen character can get brought up to speed.

Ikeda is intrigued by the research, but suggests that his students branch out to other subjects in order to amass more useful and accurate data. This is interpreted as branching out to the lab as a whole, which is only six people, only one of whom is remotely “normal” (Kanade).

The resulting experiments, in which Yukimura and Kanade share a straw (which is blocked by Himuro) and Ibarada and Inukai (childhood friends who know each other extremely well) have a competition to see who can raise the other’s heart rate the most, carry little scientific or comedic value. Frankly, the whole exercise felt like a drag.

RikeKoi is starting reveal the overarching flaw in its premise: Not whether two scientists can determine through science whether they love each other, but whether they should, and if that results in worthwhile entertainment. In the case of this episode, the answer is a firm “yah, no.”

RikeKoi – 04 – A Date Packed with Data

When Himuro and Yukimura show up to their first date in their normal lab outfits disputing the arrival time within hundredths of a second, things seem destined to go pear-shaped from there. Fortunately, Kanade and Kousuke are there to observe, document, and course-correct, so Kanade helps Himuro pick out more suitable garb.

The two also have a data-collecting app with which they can tally various reactions during the date, from a racing heart to uncertain thoughts. Yukimura is almost ready to hit the latter button when Himuro appears in a cute outfit, whereupon he spams the former button.

Things go pretty smoothly from there, until Yukimura hesitates when the itinerary calls for them to hold hands. Himuro decides to wait for the bus while he settles up the bill, but she’s confronted by a pickup artist who was just caught two-timing his girlfriend and ended up with no one.

Himuro skillfully, hilariously rejects this guy like he’s never been rejected before, providing a damn PowerPoint—magically created for just this instance!—illustrating the reasons why she won’t accept his invitation. When he forces the issue, Yukimura steps in, takes her hand from the guy.

He then makes an impassioned speech about how neither he nor Himuro have time to waste on “animals who have abandoned all reason” and storms away. He worries he made an ass of himself, but Himuro is duly impressed.

Yukimura proves a scaredy-cat in all things amusement park ride, but obviously Himuro doesn’t mind whenever he takes her hand for support, and is afraid of a couple rides herself, culminating in the two huddling together on the Ferris Wheel. Yukimura presents the gift of earrings, chosen using a mathematical formula created just for that decision.

Himuro is touched, and when Yukimura apologizes if they didn’t meet the “base conditions of a date”, Himuro presents the data collected thus far indicating her happiness increased exponentially. Furthermore, even if this data isn’t sufficient to prove their hypothesis, it invites the collection of more data, ergo more dates in the future.

RikeKoi – 03 – Just Get Married Already!

Fourth-year undergrad Inukai Kousuke takes the stage, and at least momentarily gives Ayano a crisis in confidence, since he mentions how he holds his current lover in his arms twice a day and has spent over 227,000 yen on her.

Then we learn he’s talking about 2D girls in dating sims. When Yukimura tells Kousuke he has nothing to be ashamed of Ayano again begins to doubt whether she’s really in love.

When Kanade reaches out during a break, Ayano regales her with a story from her past. When she was in elementary school she was bullied for loving pillbugs. One day, while in the woods, she’s approached by a boy who not only knows what she’s up to, but voices his respect for it.

When she blames the pillbugs, he tells her she’s ostracized not for her hobby, but for having a negative “halo effect” due to her unkempt appearance and standoffish body language.

His call for her to keep her head up and move forward boldly “with beauty and dignity” is something she’s taken to heart, and indeed inspired her not only to pursue a career in science, but as Kanade says, became the cool, beautiful egghead she strove for.

Yet Ayano still feels she’s only partway there as long as she’s unsure of her love. Kanade figures out pretty quickly that the boy Ayano met and was so inspired by and smitted with thirteen years ago was none other than Yukimura. Naturally, the two don’t realize they met each other so long ago.

Rather than try to convince them then and there that they’re soulmates who should by rights be married already were it not for their scientific stubbornness and romantic cluelessness. Better to give them a chance to figure it out for themselves by going on a date.

Neither of them has any problem with this. The problem is, they don’t know the first thing about dates. Enter their three lab-mates, who offer three different versions of how their ideal date would go.

Kanade’s, naturally, involves the teacher she adored in high school, and quickly turns into a sugary shoujo scenario. Kousuke’s involves his tsundere 2D sweetheart, who looks an awful lot like his real-life childhood friend Ibarada. Ibarada’s involves a BL version in which Ayano is a dude with a very detailed backstory.

Eventually they settle on an amusement park date, and calculate the most efficient route to access all 22 attractions. It’s clear they’re overthinking things, but when it comes to actually asking the other out, Yukimura initially pooh-poohs the idea, before asking Ayano out, resulting in her most adorable reaction yet.

RikeKoi – 02 – Love is the Secret Ingredient

This episode is told mostly from the point of view of Himuro and Yukimura’s kohai Kanade, who takes us through a typical day for a fourth-year undergrad at Saitama National University’s department of Information and Computer Science. The two lovebirds continue their dubious research into love, with Himuro calculating their hear rates while she sits on his lap and when he pets her head, activating her prehensile hair.

Then their senpai Ibarada Ena wakes up from her long slumber (she’s up all night playing up to three games at once) and tears down their experiment by pointing out it lacks a control. Who is to say anyone would raise Yukimura’s heart rate when they sit on his lap? When Ibarada sits on his lap and Yukimura pats Kanade’s head, very similar data is returned. Himuro is not happy, but I fear she’s too focused on one particular biological reaction.

Changing course, Himuro and Yukimura use the lab’s communal kitchen to test the theory that food made with love will taste better to the person eating it. Himuro cheats by writing a love message on one omelette but not the other, and Yukimura takes the hint and picks the “correct” dish, thus re-entering Himuro’s good graces. For putting up with their nonsense, Kanade is rewarded with a home-cooked hot meal to accompany the piles of papers she must read.

RikeKoi No. 2 lacks the novelty and energy of the first episode, and the show’s insistence on teaching us scientific jargon while rarely hewing to scientific accuracy is counterproductive (and occasionally patronizing). If you’re going to do a silly love story about two clueless science nerds, don’t bother trying to educate the audience—just go all out and have fun with it!

RikeKoi – 01 (First Impressions) – Science Fell in Love, So I Tried to Prove It

One morning, right in the midst of what is clearly their typical playfully adversarial tete-a-tete, grad student researcher Himuro Ayano tells her colleague Yukimura Shinya that she may be in love with him. Shinya replies that he “couldn’t say he harbors no affection” for her. Both are “science-types”—True Nerds—with zero romantic experience, so they decide to attempt to use their beloved scientific method to prove if “Himuro’s Love” is the same as love.

Thus two people who are geniuses in their particular fields undertake a fool’s errand, trying to quantify and analyze something as unscientific and inscrutable as love, stalwart in their absolute faith that everything can be expressed in data; in numbers.

While they may be correct that love and other emotions boil down to electrical signals in the brain, science is still a long way from interpreting them to the point of a surefire formula for what is or isn’t love. For one thing, it’s different from person to person!

Of course, that doesn’t stop the two lovebirds from trying via “experimentation”, i.e. wall slams and other close contact that increases heart rate. Much science-y bickering ensues, with their more normal kohai Kotonoha Kanade (an audience surrogate) stuck in the middle.

In many ways, this show echoes Kaguya-sama: Love is War, which also features to surpassingly competent and upstanding people who are utterly incompetent when it comes to matters of love. Yukimura and Himuro are similarly their own worst enemy by insisting on such a high and ultimately impossible standard for what love is rather than simply starting a relationship like normal people.

There’s a level of suspension of disbelief that two grad students as attractive as these two have never experienced romance until now, such late-blooming is far from inconceivable. I also felt the bear mascot explaining math brought the episode to a screeching halt, though I suspect he’ll appear in every episode.

There are also additional characters yet to be introduced who may make things more complicated, but with the unreliable sample size of one episode, I am willing to put forth the hypothesis that I like this show and its quirky couple and it’s worth watching! We’ll see if I’m proven right.

P.S. Like ReLIFE, another rom-com about late bloomers, RikeKoi is being released all at once, Netflix-style. I won’t binge it, but depending on if I stick with it (likely at this point) I’ll probably be watching/reviewing more than one episode per week.

Fire Force – 06 – Wherein Opposite Paths Converge

As shounen heroes tend to do, Shinra struts into Princess Hibana’s lair and prepares to go a second round, despite having learned nothing about how to defeat her ability that had him flat on the ground. He’s confident that between his talents and determination he’ll figure something out and rescue Iris. Hibana is ready for him, but because she’s a shounen villain, she explains what her ability does, which enables Shinra to resist it.

Of course, heating up her opponents so they become lightheaded ragdolls isn’t Hibana’s only trick. She conjures up scores of flowers to launch at Shinra, and finally releases her featured attack, which bears more than a passing similarity to Captain Kuchiki’s Senbonzakura.

Hibana is convinced that the world is made up of the burned and those who burn, and ever since all the sisters but her burned in the convent, she’s dedicated herself to…herself. Burning whoever and whatever she needs to to get ahead. It’s how she became a successful researcher, and it’s how she became Captain of the 5th.

But here’s the thing: Iris survived too, and Iris is still around and kicking despite not becoming “the devil” to the god Sol everyone prays to. Which means there were obviously more than just the single evil path Hibana took. Iris continued her sister training and became a good and caring person who helps comfort people both during and at the end of their lives.

As we see in the expanded flashback, Hibana was unique among the other sisters in her ability to manipulate flames into beautiful flowers, and change their colors with chemicals. Iris and the others loved her flowers, but the nuns in charge discouraged her, warning that she was, well, playing with fire.

But Iris never forgot their promise: that if she overcame her shyness, Hibana would show her her flame flowers once more. This time, defeated by the flames she believed only served her, and by someone she deemed just more “gravel” to be trod upon, the hard crust that those old flames created around her heart shattered, revealing her heart wasn’t hardened to the core.

Princess Hibana is redeemed, the 5th and 8th cease hostilities, and she even develops a little crush on Shinra, who after all managed to defeat her, making her reconsider whether his prattle about heroes and saving people without getting anything in return was just empty BS.

As for Captain Oubi, after the credits he calls Hinawa, announcing he’s finally ready to join the fray, only to be told that it’s already over, and the dramatic battle music stops abruptly.

BokuBen – 01 (First Impressions) – Don’t Forget the Frustration

BokuBen or We Never Learn pulls off a fine trick; one so admirable knowing the potential underlying cynicism for its formula doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the show. First, it draws you in with its catchy, vibrant OP, two girls as lovably drawn and animated as Trigger or Shaft fare, and brings three consummate-professional seiyuu in Shiraishi Haruka (wonderful as Asirpa in Golden Kamuy), Tomita Miyu (excellent as Abyss’ Riku) and Osaka Ryouta (from everything) to the party.

Then, once you’re at that party, you learn that the beauty is more than skin deep, and that the three main characters presented so far are richly detailed and both their dreams and motivations are clearly and strongly defined. More to the point, all three are extremely likable rootable characters, so let’s meet ’em!

Osaka’s Yuiga Nariyuki is your standard hard-working kid with a good heart. We learn his family is poor, his father deceased, and later, that he’s the man of a dilapidated house, desperate to help hold both it and the family within it together. And there’s your motivation for why he’d accept almost any condition in exchange for getting a free ride at the college affiliated with his high school.

That condition involves him having to tutor the two school geniuses, Furuhashi Fumino (Shiraishi), the “Sleeping Beauty of the Literary Forest”, and Ogata Rizu (Tomita), the “Thumbelina Supercomputer.” Those amazing nicknames are incredibly accurate in describing the two girls’ strengths, but fall far short of describing the full measure of their respective characters.

That is because Furuhashi, a genius in liberal arts, wants to go to college for science, while Rizu, a genius in science, wants to go to college for liberal arts. The scenario almost too deliciously perfect, right down to their hair and eye color resembling Eva’s Rei and Asuka.

Yuiga quickly learns that Furuhashi is as hopeless at math as Rizu is hopeless at literature, and that this will be no easy task. But the reward will be getting into college without burdening his family, which makes it worth the challenge.

At first, his frustration with their ineptitude in the fields they wish to pursue, and suggestion that they simply tutor one another, lead the girls to suspect that he’ll abandon them just like all the (numerous!) previous tutors. I mean, he’s saying the same thing they all did: stick with what you know, you’re both geniuses in that! Let your talent take you as far as it can! USE YOUR GIFTS.

But like any gift someone didn’t specifically ask for (nor had the opportunity to do so) if it’s not something they wanted, they should be free to pursue something they do.

The polite, apologetic, self-berating Furuhashi and fiery, direct, and suspicious Rizu may differ in many ways but one way in which they do not is in their steadfast determination not to take the paths of least resistance, nor let a consensus of outside voices they had no control over determine what they should be.

In their haste to take their leave of yet another tutor who doesn’t understand where they’re coming from, the girls leave their practice books behind with Yuiga, and when he finds them packed with notes proving how hard the two of them worked to understand, Yuiga proceeds to understand where they’re coming from, because it’s a place he’s been to too.

Yuiga used to suck in school, and remembered the pain and frustration of simply not understanding something, not matter how hard he tried. He’s able to empathize with them not possibly being happy if they gave up on what they wanted to do simply because what they could do was easy.

So he supplies them with advisory notes and suggests they study in the library together. I loved how he got so into his explanation of how he got them and relates to them, it sounded at first to both of them that he was confessing his love for them at the same time! Thankfully, he’s able to quickly diffuse that misunderstanding and they head to the library.

There, Yuiga learns another layer of difficulty beyond the practical matter of getting these two into the colleges of their choice—the fact that he’s a high school guy, and they’re both insanely cute high school girls. Getting his VIP recommendation and free ride doesn’t just mean making sure they succeed; he has to continue keeping his grades up.

But it’s hard to focus when, for instance, Furuhashi nods off and rests her head on his shoulder, during which he gets a whiff of her hair, or when Rizu draws in so close to show him a problem that her chest brushes against his side. Yuiga’s romantic history isn’t mentioned here (it’s likely he’s devoted all his time to studying and improving his grades), but it’s clear both of those events were probably firsts for him.

Meanwhile, Fusuhashi and Rizu remain charmingly unaware of the effect they’re inadvertently having on Yuiga. I appreciate this distinction: they’re not intentionally flirting with him, nor are they in conscious competition for him. This is all in Yuiga’s head right now. They’re both there to study. So when he starts blushing and breathing heavily, they assume he’s not feeling well due to a fever.

Yuiga’s interactions with Furuhashi and Rizu post-“confession” plumb satisfying new depths in both their character stories, both for Yuiga and me. Those new layers further explain why Furuhashi and Rizu are pursuing fields opposite their strengths, and it isn’t just for the sheer challenge.

Furuhashi wants to pursue a career in astronomy because she loves the stars and wants to have a closer connection to them, especially as one of them might be her late mother’s star. Meanwhile, Rizu’s family owns an udon restaurant, but while on break between deliveries she is playing a card game for 2-10 players…by herself. Yuiga plays her learns she sucks at it, but she still loves board and card games, and wants a career that will help her understand more about the human emotions that blend with the math to make those games special.

In both cases, Yuiga promises both he’ll support them, and again, their conversations take a turn that could be construed as romantic, only this time he isn’t being supportive to them both at the same time, like his “confession,” so each girl has more cover to express their gratitude for his continued support.

The episode closes by putting faces on the family Yuiga wants to protect: his mother, two younger sisters, and younger brother. But he’s no mercenary in this effort; and his family is no longer the one and only reason. He seems genuinely invested in working to help secure Furuhashi and Rizu’s happiness, as someone whose late father urged him to value failure, and the pain and frustration that result form it, as among the most important teachers in life.

When he’s approached by both Furuhashi and Rizu at school in front of his friends, and both of them whisper in his ear not to mention to anyone what they talked about last night, it creates a third layer to Yuiga’s increasingly complicated mission: the social aspect outside the trio’s dynamic. This is high school; rumors will spread and misconceptions will develop. How will the three of them deal? Not to mention there’s a third girl on the horizon: one who may be a genius in swimming.

I’m over 1200 words here, so I should wrap this sucker up—BokuBen had a very strong start, as I’m invested in everyone I’ve met so far. It’s a great-looking show with great-sounding seiyuu and has a very promising premise. If it can maintain the quality of its premiere, I’ll have no problem tuning in.