Rent-a-Girlfriend – 13 (S1 E01) – The Play’s the Thing

After an efficient recap of where the four girls currently stand in the story, we return to Kazuya’s filthy flat (seriously dude, clean it the fuck up!), lamenting the “countdown to ruin”—Chizuru’s big acting break that will lead to her being discovered by a big-deal director and quitting her rental girlfriend gig.

He decides to buy a ticket to Chizuru’s play as “moral support”, but also wonders if he simply wants to watch the beginning of the end of his relationship with her. Sumi spots him, but before she can say anything the lights go down, the curtain comes up, and Kazuya gets a lot more than he bargained for.

Watching Chizuru perform as a completely different person—in this case a puckish kunoichi—is a revelation for Kazuya. He’s taken on an emotional roller coaster as Chizuru grabs the entire audience in her hand and doesn’t let go. She’s magnetic, clearly the “MVP” of the play. He’s so stunned by the end he doesn’t move from his seat for a while. Sumi, who can probably tell why, leaves him be.

But while he, Sumi, and indeed I truly thought Chizuru stole the show in which she wasn’t even the lead, her performance doesn’t lead to the opportunity she’d planned. Turns out the famous director is basically the lead actress’ damn uncle, and gives her the role. Even though she was a victim of nepotism, Chizuru thinks she wasn’t good enough.

Kazuya leaving the theater in no particular hurry combined with an upset Chizuru skipping the wrap party means the two inevitably bump into each other on the streets. Kazuya quickly owns up to coming to see her perform, and is extremely effluent in his praise. He also accepts the fact that this probably means the end of their rental dating.

When Chizuru explains that things didn’t work out and then puts on a brave happy face, Kazuya at least realizes that she’s trying to keep her frustration bottled up. But he’s not going to let her say she’s “just like him” in getting “too worked up” about acting, because her rental girlfriend gig is proof she does have talent, and plenty of it.

Chizuru’s attitude suggests she’s ready to throw in the towel and face reality, but Kazuya suspect she doesn’t want to, and also doesn’t think she should. If she needs to keep funding her dream of acting, then he’s going to keep hiring her to be his rental girlfriend, getting a job to pay the fees.

Chizuru is recalling Kazuya’s words when she comes home and sits in the dark, and then she gets a call from the lead actress who got the role thanking her for “warming up the crowd”, twisting the dagger and sending the cork on the bottle of her tears shooting across the room.

That said, her tear-filled eyes are suddenly reflecting the light of her phone, which just alerted her to a whole slew of new bookings from Kazuya, putting his money where his mouth is and adding financial support to his moral support. While she calls him a dumbass as usual for going to such lengths for her sake, the gesture doesn’t fail to bring a smile to her face and color to her cheeks.

I said in my review of the first season finale that if a sequel of RaG was made, it would be the girls who’d bring me back, since Kazuya was mostly an infuriating pest of an MC. Well, that sequel has now arrived two years later, and while Kazuya continues to keep a pigsty of a place and harbor a lot of misunderstandings, he’s…not that bad in this episode!

Ruka would probably disagree, seeing as how he continues to utterly ignore her, but that’s for another episode. Here Chizuru clearly stole the show, and Kazuya did what he could to make her feel better and encouraged her not to stop dreaming after one setback. He was a pretty good fake boyfriend! Now, keep it up!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Love After World Domination – 04 – Can’t Take Me Home

This week showed that while many of the characters play rather cartoonish heroes or villains, at the end of the day everyone’s a normal human being. Desumi even attends high school and has normal friends while she’s not “at work”. But while hanging out after school, she spots Fudou with the new Pink Gelato, and her reaction—running away in tears—is as intense as her friends are confused.

Pink, AKA Haru, is also confused…by the photo of Fudou with what looks an awful lot like a girlfriend. She and Fudou aren’t on a date; she needs to ask him about the photo. But instead he intuits the reason for their meet-up is that she’s interested in upping her physical training regimen. Haru is helpless to stop him from going off on his favorite topic, and she ends up relieved, as there’s simply no way Fudou would have a girlfriend.

But he does, and she’s pissed. When Fudou and Haru’s coffee is interrupted by a call of duty, Fudou finds and engages with Desumi expecting them to go through their usual dance, only this time Desumi’s dropkick lands. He thinks it’s an accident, or they’re just a little out of sync today, but eventually he realizes Desumi is hitting him on purpose.

The two end up in a secluded warehouse, where Desumi admits that even though her brain didn’t really think Fudou was cheating on her, the sight of him with Haru sent her heart into such turmoil she didn’t know what to do with herself. In fact, she started to think maybe someone “girly” like Haru would be better for him than a jealous, violent, loathsome outcast like her.

Fudou is swift in both his comforting hug and his rebuttal: he will only love her, with everything he’s got, as long as he lives. With her totally undeserved self-loathing out of her system, she and Fudou simply exist together for a bit, hand in hand, planning an afterschool date in their school uniforms…when all of a sudden they notice that Pink Gelato is sitting right next to them.

Fudou and Desumi are certain they’re 100% busted and doomed. But the thing is…they aren’t, at least not for the time being. They both believe Haru is planning something, and simply biding her time before she drops the hammer. But Haru is conspicuous in not only not telling anyone what she saw, but acting like she never saw it; like everything’s normal.

That is, until Fudou and Desumi’s after-school date. After a civet(!)-based false alarm, Desumi realizes Haru is lying in wait, and sends Fudou off on an interminable and ultimately doomed Starbucks run. Haru doesn’t mince words, challenging Desumi to a duel. Despite her transforming into Pink Gelato, Desumi handles her easily even in her school uniform. After all, Pink’s only been at this six months; Desumi’s a veteran enemy commander.

Desumi puts the end to the fight by knocking Haru out, but Haru is shocked to find that when she wakes up, Desumi is still there beside her. She admits that she joined Gelato 5 because she was in love with Fudou. She always suspected someone so amazing would have a girlfriend, but never expected it to be someone else she knew. Turns out Desumi rescued her from some thugs in an alley…and inspired her to become stronger.

Haru heard everything Desumi said to Fudou in the warehouse about how “love was making her weak”, but after fighting her, Haru assures her she’s as strong as ever. As for why she didn’t snitch on them, well…as much as she wanted Fudou to be hers, it just wasn’t in her to steal happiness from Fudou or Desumi. When Haru says this her eyes well up with big soppy tears. Desumi can’t help but hug her, and then she starts crying too.

When a very confused Fudou sees Haru’s head in Desumi’s lap and asks what’s going on, Desumi simply shushes him; let Pink Gelato rest a little more. Once she’s awake and back in her uniform, the three walk a bit together. Having experienced a catharsis, Haru is now rooting for Fudou and Desumi…but playfully won’t rule out stealing Fudou if given the chance.

It’s amazing how quickly this love triangle came together this week, and how affecting it was throughout its progression. From Desumi’s early jealous spiraling and Fudou’s stalwart vow he’ll never leave her side, to Haru’s discovery of their tryst and how she handles it, this was Koiseka at its best and most heartwarming.

Love After World Domination – 03 – Never Want to Touch the Ground

There haven’t been any battles between Gelato 5 and Gecko for two weeks, and both Fudou and Desumi are missing each other something fierce. So when Gelato detects a new weapon at Gecko HQ, Fudou impresses both Misaki and the Professor by valiantly volunteering to undertake a potential suicide mission alone.

Naturally, his comrades are unaware he just needs to see Desumi really bad. Dropping in suddenly makes her happy, but she has to use her lightning speed on more than one occasion to keep him from being spotted by her comrades. This results in her sitting on his face, then getting smushed into her locker with him and her bras.

When Culverin Bear comes in her dressing room, it looks like the discovery of their secret forbidden love is imminent…until Desumi lashes out in embarrassment, sending Fudou flying out of the locker, knocking Bear unconscious and activating his new weapon, which then self-destructs. Fudou gives Desumi his phone number, only for her to learn it’s the land line of his family home.

Fudou’s drop-in is followed up by a meeting of colorful, eccentric Gecko baddies, naturally led by a boss named…Bosslar. The various villains try to come up with the manner and location of the next battle against Gelato, and all Desumi comes up with are fun date locations, because she wants to see Fudou again. Bear actually backs her on the suggestion of an amusement park.

Misaki, suspicious of Fudou’s new smartphone, decides to stalk Fudou when he heads to the amusement park, dragging Haru with her. While Misaki clearly has a tendency towards sisterly meddlesomeness, Haru is more trusting of Fudou, and also seems to be hiding a hidden crush on the big lug.

When Fudou and Desumi meet as planned and begin to grapple, they are both surprised by the sudden arrival of Yellow and Pink Gelato. No matter; they speed away to fight a duel as in previous battles, only here they change into street clothes and ride a series of fun amusement park rides. All the while, both Misaki and Haru are convinced that Fudou is just his usual good hero self and nothing is up.

Despite being a superhero, Fudou gets motion sickness form the rides, including the intimate Ferris Wheel. Desumi no doubt finds this cute about him, and is happy to learn something about her sweetheart she didn’t know. But she also uses it as an opportunity to take Fudou’s hand, which causes his sickness to subside, replaced by warm, happy vibes.

Those vibes may not last much longer, however, as Haru has a quick passing glance at photos of people on rides and spots Fudou riding a roller coaster with some woman. If we’re going by anime logic Haru can’t recognize the Reaper Princess unmasked, but the fact Fudou is with a girl at all is a huge shock for Haru, and will likely have far-reaching repercussions. One thing I’m sure of is that the added stakes won’t detract from the snappy comedy or the sweet romance.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo 24th Ward Dropped

Somewhere between the far-fetched lightning episode, the flashback episode that didn’t move the story forward, and the show not airing at all last week, I lost interest in this show. The first half of this episode did nothing to re-spark that interest.

The ham-fisted political commentary now dominates everything, leaving our characters nothing but pawns darting across a breakneck plot while two bad guys on opposite ends of the spectrum weave their respective webs. I’d have preferred more of RGB solving trolley dilemmas interspersed with slice-of-city-life moments of earlier episodes.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 11 – Merry Dried Sardine Day

Last week might’ve been the last “standard” episode of Takagi-san,  because this week is anything but normal. It’s suddenly Valentine’s Day, and for much as Takagi and Nishikata interact, there’s hardly any teasing. It’s pretty clear why from the moment Nishikata opens his locker and finds three boxes of chocolates from three different kouhai. For as predictable as Nishikata is, we’ve known Takagi long enough to know what’s up.

Major Kudos to both the animation team and Takahashi Rie for making it plain that Takagi is just a little “off” this week. She came to school early so she could put chocolates in Nishikata’s shoe locker, only to find three girls had beaten her to the punch. That Nishikata tries to hide the fact he got chocolates only makes things more awkward, even though he tries to find the right opportunity to tell her.

Meanwhile, Houjou interrupts Hamaguchi talking with the boys to nonchalantly hand him a bar of store-bought chocolate before sauntering off. Hamaguchi assumes the worst, since he spotted her at the grocery store buying ingredients for homemade chocolate. If he gets a Meiji bar, that means she doesn’t love him! Of course, even here, I knew Houjou must’ve just screwed up the homemade chocolate.

Oftentimes predictability can make a show boring or unengaging, but the opposite was true here. As we watch Nishikata struggle to tell Takagi about the other girls’ chocolate, even trying to intentionally lose a contest to cheer her up, it is wonderfully, heartwarmingly plain that winning and losing those little games doesn’t matter to him nearly as much as wanting to turn Takagi’s frown upside-down. And hey, he does—albeit accidentally when the teacher catches him goofing off.

Fortune favors Nishikata, as Takagi just happens to be walking down the hall when she sees him respectfully return the chocolate to the three girls who gave it to him. Takagi knows why. It doesn’t matter whether the girls made a mistake and meant to put it in another boy’s locker (the one who played the dog at the culture fest). Nishikata takes this entirely in stride, because he’s not interested in those three girls. He never was.

Their innocent mistake may have screwed up Takagi and Nishikata’s February 14th, but after school the universe rights that wrong by once again having the two cross paths by chance. Their timing is so precise, the moment Takagi finally decides on a text to send him, she hears the alert on his phone as he’s already arrived. It’s kismet!

What follows is one of the most serious, dramatic, honest, and beautifulest exchanges between these two in all these three seasons. Takagi admits she was bummed out all day because when she saw those three boxes of chocolates, she was worried Nishikata would mention them, and that she’d respond by “acting mean” again.

Takagi doesn’t like the part of her that’s mean when she’s jealous. I adore the empathy they express for each other in this scene; how awful even the thought of hurting each other makes them feel. That said, all’s well that ends well, and Takagi manages to give Nishikata a box of chocolates. Only the first box she gives him is actually full of dried sardines.

She just happened to prepare that little prank before he mentioned it being “National Dried Sardine Day” (because of how the numbers “214” resemble the Japanese word for dried sardines). That their two adorkable minds thought alike—and are thinking alike more and more—delights Takagi to no end.

The next day, Nishikata sees Hamaguchi sitting in the hall looking super-cool. Since the store-bought/homemade chocolate mixup was all cleared up, he’s resolved to confess his love to Houjou on White Day. Not only that, he tells Nishikata that’d he’d better confess to Takagi on that day too.

And I fuly agree with Hamaguchi…he sure as shit better! Or, if it’s Takagi who confesses to him, he’d better accept his damn destiny. I don’t want any cliffhangers for a fourth season…let’s get this done!

Tokyo 24th Ward – 09 – Sowing and Reaping

You said it, Cowboy Man. Nothing like a prequel three quarters into a show to kill the momentum. RGB, who flailed around independently last week during an improbably destructive thunderstorm. Rather than follow up on those events, we flash back to 1999, when Kanae was still working on autonomous driving tech with her colleague Kuchikiri.

When a car drives into their lane, the AI overrides Kanae’s steering so that Kuchikiri is seriously injured while Kanae and a pedestrian, a young Tsuzuragawa, are spared. When Kuchikiri comes to he finds himself unable to read words or numbers properly, and decides to reinvent himself with the name “Kuchikiri” now looks like to his eyes: 0th.

Kanae, who had just struck a business deal with Suidou Gouri, eventually becomes his wife and the mother of his kids…but the episode isn’t interested in explaining exactly how these two people with zero chemistry fell in love. But hey, Tsuzuragawa, guilty over what happened with 0th, decides to follow in Kanae’s footsteps even as Kanae abandons her research. Tsuzuragawa also meets Chikushi at college, where he once exhibited the same wannabe hero qualities as Shuuta (which explains his present-day cynicism).

Kanae also sets up the Takara Food Bank with the shopping district, which is how her kids Asumi and Kouki meet Shuuta and Ran. But while she’s chasing after someone asking if they need help, she ends up robbed and stabbed to death. Chikushi came between her and the first slash, but couldn’t stop the second. Gouri’s kids watch their dad break down for the first time in their lives, and I daresay he transformed into a different person in that hospital that night.

Determined to prevent crimes like the one that claimed his wife, Gouri turns to Tsuzuragawa to dust off Kanae’s research and complete it; the beginnings of what would become the KANAE System in the present. Tsuzuragawa probably knows right then and there that if Kanae couldn’t perfect the tech, she doesn’t have a prayer, but presses on anyway out of guilt and obligation.

Where Tsuzuragawa finds time to do this research while acting as chauffeur and personal assistant to the Suidou family is unclear, but as the years pass Gouri turns the resurrected Cornucopia Project as the cornerstone of both his mayoral campaign and his bid for the 24th Ward to join Tokyo. When 0th hears about this, he wants to fight Gouri, and I can’t blame him. Kanae’s tech was flawed and she knew it, but he’s going to use it anyway?

Perhaps too conveniently for the completion of Gouri’s descent, Tsuzuragawa is unable to make the system work without a human brain at its core, and as you’d expect, you can’t buy living brains on Rakuten. But when Asumi is severely injured at the school fire, Gouri decides to turn her into the 24th Ward’s “Guardian Angel”, which even for him feels like too large a leap to Super-villainy.

Ultimately, while this flashback episode colored in some of the broad strokes and made some connections regarding the adult characters of the show, the fact remains RGB are still flailing about in the present day, with one less episode for them to figure shit out. Meanwhile, Gouri’s monstrous decision was decidedly not justified here, while Tsuzuragawa comes off as the misguided protégé. The grown-ups have left a big mess for the kids to clean up!

P.S. Episode 10 is delayed; a recap episode is airing this week.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 10 – A Better Snowman

Dang photo bombers…your ruining the shot!

Knowing it would be hard-pressed to top last week’s full-length Takagi x Nishikata wonder-date, this week’s episode doesn’t bother; instead it returns to the warm, cozy, less dramatic flow of the couple’s interactions. Last week wasn’t an official acknowledgment that they’re dating now, but such a formality isn’t needed with these two. They’re fine just existing beside one another, fitting like, well, gloves!

To whit: the two didn’t plan to meet at the shrine visit; their families just happened to come at the same time. It sure looks like those two married couples were their parents, doesn’t it? I feel like at some point they’ll have to meet each other’s parents, but that they don’t mean we get more time with these two. hen Takagi is called back to her folks, Nishikata says they should do it again next year…which she says happened to be her shrine wish. Who’s to say it wasn’t?

Yes, that’s right…make that ball bigger…

The next segment is classic Master Teaser, with Takagi up to her old tricks in cornering Nishikata into a snowman-building contest knowing full well that he’ll get to ambitious. While he’s sweatily rolling dirty lumpen mounds trying to build a Snow Titan, Takagi puts a lot of time and care and quite effortlessly builds the cutest lil’ snowman in all the land…so cute Nishikata doubts he’d have won. even if he’d finished…which Takagi helps him do.

NGL, from a distance this looks like a confession…

After Nishikata’s friends and the three girls have their little mini-scenes talking about the new year, we come to “Advice”, when Houjou takes Nishikata aside and asks him what he thinks Hamaguchi might like for his birthday. Yuuki Aoi is masterful at sounding both mature and incredibly hot-and-cold. For his part, Nishikata is both thoughtful and helpful. Then Houjou asks him to keep their chat a secret.

Little did Nishikata know that Takagi spotted him talking with Houjou, and asks him what about. When Nishikata demurs, she guesses correctly on the first guess, and pretty much knows, but Nishikata still won’t break his secret. Takagi’s facial expressions are so subtle here, but you can tell she’s a little mad Nishikata is keeping something from her…even if she knows what it is with 99.99% certainty!

Takagi expresses her jealousy by trying to stoke Nishikata’s, saying she wants to know what to get a “15-year-old boy”—not a Chihuahua, but a third-year middle schooler. This does affect Nishikata, who doesn’t want to give advice for some other guy…even though these two spend so much time together he would know of such a guy!

Of course, this time, Takagi is referring to Nishikata on his next birthday. He’s quite relieved, and apologizes for not being able to break his promise. Takagi apologizes too, owning up to the fact she did do something a little mean. When Nishikata asks her why she doesn’t always think that, she says this and her usual gentle teasing are two different things!

When Nishikata flat-out asks Takagi why she teases him, her answer is as expected…“Who knows?” But she knows, and so does Nishikata, and it’s the same reason they’re already making plans for spending next year together.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 08 – Crane Game

Managing to bake a Golden Sunrise comparable to his dad’s nets Shuuta the location of the guy painting over Ran’s Kaba tags. Zeroth tells Shuuta that while he’s not Carneades, he is “acquainted” with them, and knows that right now they’re atop the Cornucopia arcology that houses the KANAE System.

No sooner does Shuuta head that way, stopping by Mari and his mom on the way, do he, Ran, and Kouki all receive the latest call from “Asumi”, with a new Trolley Problem. Three giant cranes atop the Cornucopia will get struck by lightning. They can choose to either call the one person atop the tower and save his life, or sacrifice that person while saving all of the people who would be killed or wounded by the cranes.

Seems simple enough (though I question how lightning, a fairly common phenomenon, would be such a huge threat here), but while Ran and Kouki are united in choosing the option that saves more people, Shuuta won’ be satisfied unless he can save everyone. Ran is also approached by Zeroth and asked to hack into the KANAE System to access some data for him. He won’t say why just yet, nor does Ran know how…but he likes a challenge.

Kouki, while the most passive this week, still makes a call to Tsuzuragawa that he later believes would lead to her death. That’s because, as Shuuta learns when she’s struck by lightning and almost killed, Tsuzuragawa is Carneades. Dun dun dunnn. As she told Kouki (and only Kouki), it was a character she assumed in order to cover for a horrible flaw in the Kanae System: Asumi is still conscious in there.

Shuuta is only witness to one of those two bombshells, and gives Tsuzuragawa CPR until she starts breathing again, then basically jumps off the Cornucopia while carrying her in his arms. As for the cranes going haywire? Not much is said but I assume there were no serious casualties. He got himself pretty banged up in the process, but Shuuta prevailed: get got the third outcome.

After a brief virtual dip into the KANAE System to retrieve what Zeroth wanted, on Ran’s way out he hears what sounds like Asumi calling for help. He’s not wrong, but unlike Kouki doesn’t realize it’s the real Asumi, just in a virtual form. But Zeroth says the heart of KANAE is a “demon”, and he’s going to use the data Ran got him to hack back in and destroy it. What that means for Asumi, and how RGB will respond to his plans, remains to be seen.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 07 – Thinker, Baker, Ogler, Guy

It’s an old axiom that absence makes the heart grow fonder—after a week off for “quality control” purposes, Tokyo 24th Ward fields my favorite episode to date; an episode that could only work now that all the myriad characters in this community have been introduced and fleshed out.

It’s a brisk, pleasant, stripped down episode that mostly dispenses with the Big Picture plotlines and sci-fi, focusing almost entirely on Aoi Shuuta, the biggest, dumbest, and to date least explored member of RGB. That means lots of good honest slice-of-life that really brings the 24th Ward setting to life.

Shuuta’s hulking dad Louis is away in Paris, so it’s up to him to bake the family’s signature “Golden Sunrise” bread for the regularly scheduled food bank drive in Shantytown—where the KANAE bandwagon onto which Kouki has so enthusiastically hopped serves as a boot gradually pushing down.

In an instance of her husband not doing her any favors by naming an Orwellian technological abomination after her, it was Suidou Kanae who first came up with the idea of combining a hero show and the baked goods of Aoi bakery to fill the bellies of Shantytown’s at-risk youth. That’s also how Shuuta met Asumi, and the idea of blending heroism and bakery came about.

But it’s not the same as it was. Kanae and Asumi have passed away; the hero show fizzled out; and one pint-sized Shantytown gourmand can tell something is lacking in Shuuta’s version of his dad’s Golden Sunrise. He decides to ask his dad for some pointers, and only gets one word in response: Chest.

Shuuta, never the sharpest knife in the drawer, becomes fixated on the word and what it might mean, focusing first on the literal interpretation: how a chest feels. This leads to some hilariously awkward moments between him and, in order of instance, Mari, Tsuzuragawa, and Kozue—all of whom agree something’s off about him when they all meet at the bathhouse.

That bathhouse is also where Kinako is back to work, having essentially been jettisoned from DoRed since the authorities don’t suspect her as a member. Two months have passed since the Kunai incident resulted in the implementation of KANAE, and in that time Shuuta hasn’t been able to reach either Ran or Kouki.

Instead he must try getting to them through secondary channels: Kinako for Ran; Tsuzuragawa for Kouki. In Kinako’s case, she’s as in the dark as he is vis-a-vis Ran, no doubt for her own good. That said, I really enjoyed watching Shuuta’s interactions with both Kinako and Tsuzuragawa, who get a little more fleshed out in the absence of the other two RGB members.

In the absence of his colorful old comrades, Shuuta takes it upon himself to investigate Carneades, who seems to have begun a campaign of painting over DoRed’s works, in particular those depicting Kozue’s late father.

Sherlock or Poirot may not have to worry about Shuuta in the investigative department, but I’m amazed how each and every person in the 24th Shuuta interacts with this week lends him a piece of the puzzle he’s trying to solve—not just the Carneades puzzle, but the Shuuta Aoi puzzle.

As Shuuta sees it, Ran with his now-underground mobile guerrilla art movement and Kouki with his dad’s creepy Orwellian nightmare, have transcended childhood and entered adulthood. They each chose a side and committed to it; as Chikuwa tells him, becoming an adult is “getting rid of possibilities”—a subtractive process.

It isn’t until the exhaustion he’s built up nearly results in his drowning that Shuuta realizes that Chikuwa is wrong: being an adult can also be a process of addition. And might I say, in addition to Kinako’s laid back after hours look being absolute fire, her asking forgiveness of both Mari and Ran before going in for the kiss of life, then being bailed out by Shuuta’s dad, was a breathtaking sequence both awesome and side-splitting in nature.

Shuuta’s dad revives him with a very precise thump to the chest. That’s when it dawns on Shuuta: “chest” meant the gradual working of his own pecs kneading the dough. Golden Sunrise is as good as it is because of the strength required to knead it; strength that only comes with years of kneading…of baking.

If baking is going to make you swole, well shit, you might as well be a hero while you’re at it, right? It was Asumi who first told Shuuta he could be both, and in fact being both would be more awesome than being either. He didn’t, and doesn’t have to limit himself. He can talk to everyone, laugh with everyone, feed everyone…and save everyone. Chest.

Then, almost regrettably, considering what a wonderful portrait of Shuuta and love story to the Ward I just experienced, we get back to the meat of the plot. That said, I love how it required being buff enough to make bread the Shantytown kid who’s a food critic would acknowledge resulted in said kid showing Shuuta the studio of the guy covering up the Kaba murals.

That guy turns out to be Zeroth (or 0th, if you’re into that whole brevity thing), who I imagine is being set up not necessarily as a big bad (that’s Mayor Suido, obviously) but as a kind of Extreme Ran, back from the shadows vowing to “set the 24th Ward right”. Carneades has by far been the weakest part of this story, so hopefully connecting it with Ran’s mentor will spark some interest.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 03 – Seeking the Truth of the Forest

While Peco and Karyl clean the house, Yuuki and Kokkoro do the shopping, and encounter an old friend in the eccentric forest elf Aoi (Hanazawa Kana), first introduced back in the sixth episode. She wrangles her fellow “Team B-B”-mates into lending her some emotional support as she answers the summons of a fellow student at the fancy St. Theresa’s Academy for Girls.

The three enter the awesome Beauty and the Beast-esque library, and Yuuki happens upon a pile of books on the floor, under which lies Yuni, a student and scholar who has a very poor memory, but uses a memo book to keep track of her thesis on “The Fundamental Falsehoods that Lurk in Our World.”

Yuni and her fellow “Best Friends Club” members Chieru and Chloe don’t come from money, so the three allied together to win it by achieving a great feat for the sake of the school. There’s a rumored threat in the woods near the academy of “Green Guardians”, so Yuni calls on Aoi and her knowledge of said woods to aid them in getting to the bottom of things. Aoi, in turn, invites the Gourmet Guild to accompany them.

Once in the woods, the party of eight soon learns that they’re walking in circles and soon become lost; not even Yuni’s semi-sentient pet rock can guide them. Then Aoi gets separated, the team splits up, and one by one vanish into the eerie, thick fog, until only poor Karyl is left to run through the woods in a panic. For a show that leans into goofy comedy, it gets the creepy atmosphere and Karyl’s fear of being alone just right.

It’s an incredible development, then, when we learn that the members of the party were being picked off one by one by none other than Aoi, who had constructed the “Green Guardians” out of wood to be her friends away from the academy. When Peco, Yuuki, and Yuni catch her red-handed, the gig is up. But…as hilarious as this is, it doesn’t solve the underlying mystery.

Graveyards mentioning kings and kingdoms that never existed are then joined by a whole mess of undead skeletons as the forest turns into flaming ruins. There’s also a weird pixelated glitching going on. Something completely unrelated to Aoi’s larger-than-life wooden friends is going on, and it gets right to the heart of Yuni’s hypothesis about a “great deception” in the world.

Everyone is then transported into the memories of the head crowed skeleton, who it appears was once a jolly king beloved by his subjects and in particular one joyful little girl…only for it to all go literally to hell. Something happened to the king, be it some curse or dark corruption, and it sure looks like he presided over the destruction of everything and everyone in his kingdom.

While everyone else is (not wrongly!) wigging out over the scary skeletons with glowing red eyes surrounded by flames, it takes a fellow royal in Peco to notice that they mean them no harm. Like the adventurers in the first episode, the king and the other skeletons simply want to pass on. With a big empathetic hug, Peco does just that.

Many mysteries remain from this very intense quest: why is there no record of the king, his kingdom, or its downfall in any of the books of their world? Yuni apparently already came oh-so-close to unlocking the great overarching secret of her world, only for her memory to fail her and for the academic society to decry her research as pure fiction.

It’s heavily implied, especially from the pixelated glitches, that this world is one of many, just like the one Yuuki came from. But as Yuni joins the others at a tea party at Aoi’s charming home in the woods, she isn’t frustrated or defeated. For her, finding “the truth” has always been secondary to simply learning and absorbing knowledge around her. It’s the intellectual journey, not the destination, that matters most.

I really liked Yuni, and Kohara Konomi does a great deadpan reminiscent of Minore Inase’s Sleepy Princess. She fills the role of “brainy scholar” quite well amongst the band of well-meaning weirdoes and airheads, questioning this world rather than taking it at face value, but ultimately not stressing that much over it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 02 – Smiles and Shadows

Last week showed off Priconne’s impressive aural, visual, and comic chops when it comes to epic fantasy adventure, along with the sweet, lived-in chemistry of the main quartet. But I count myself among the many who were surprised without strong its dramatic chops could be. Last week we only got a slight glimpse of that as Pecorine looked at the palace where she should rightfully rule.

But this week is all about Karyl and her unique position in the Gourmet Guild as a spy and “princess knight” with divided loyalties. Her small act of rebellion against her majesty is forgiven, but with that clemency comes the threat that it better not happen again. And so just like last season, Karyl is torn between her love of her guild-mates and doing her royal duty.

Speaking of royals, Pecorine’s longing look at the palace is followed up upon this week when Kokkoro mentions that Peco still hasn’t told Karyl or Yuuki about her true identity. While she can’t do anything about Kokkoro knowing, she’s not ready to tell the others.

Peco asks Kokkoro to keep the secret a little while longer so she can tell them herself when the time is right. For now, as long as she’s able to keep the people of Landosol safe and smiles on their faces, she’s mostly content to maintain the status quo.

Both Peco and Karyl’s internal strife is briefly soothed by a visit to the clothing store owned by Carmina, a three-member idol group that sings, dances, and fights to put smiles on the faces of their fans. Their goals are thus aligned with Pecorine’s and the Gourmet Guilds.

This act introduces Tsumugi, Nozomi, and Chika, and also provides an opportunity to dress everyone (including Yuuki) like cute idols. To the show’s credit, however, our Gourmet Guilders’s idol cosplay doesn’t extend to actually taking the stage; that’s left to the professional performers.

When everyone is getting a good night’s sleep before Carmina’s next big concert (Yuuki having been warmly initiated as an official member of the Carmina Fan Club), Karyl slips out on her own as she tends to do. In the palace she meets Christina, who relays to her a mission for the two of them involving Shadows.

Before heading home, Karyl sits on a vantage point offering a gorgeous nighttime vista of the city…including the outdoor concert venue, where Karyl finds Tsumugi rehearsing on her own. When asks why she’s up so late without the others, Tsumugi says she doesn’t have the natural talent of Nozomi or Chika, but still wants to help them shine, hence the outfits and extra practice.

The big day of the concert arrives, and Karyl heads off on her own, telling the others she has something she needs to do. That something turns out to be fighting off all of the stray Shadows in the nearby woods that Carmina’s performances (and the crowds they bring) seem to lure out of their hiding spots.

There’s a contrast between Karyl and Christina’s “dirty work” in and with the shadows while Carmina shines brighter than ever on stage and make everyone who showed up to the concert smile. While the crowds are CGI, the three idols are smoothly animated in 2D; it’s a very nice-looking concert.

After her shadow-hunting duties are complete, Karyl is so physically and emotionally drained, she’s ready to pass out under a bridge in the dark. But her three guildmates, feeling it not proper to start dinner without their fourth member, head back into town to look for her, calling her name until she finally emerges.

Karyl tells the others their calling her name embarrassing her, but you can see in her wonderfully subtle facial expressions that she was also extremely happy they came out looking for her. It might mean there are no easy answers for her

Karyl’s problems aren’t solved this week, nor should they have been. I’m hoping that sometime before this season ends she’ll be able to pick a side and find happiness and peace—and hopefully it’s the Gourmet Guild’s side—but that’s far from certain right now. Even so, all Priconne, Peco, and Karyl can do is take things one day, and one family meal, at a time.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. The OP is back, and the same theme song is used as last season…which is just fine with me! If it ain’t broke…Having recently watched Twin Peaks: The Return, I’m struck by how similar Yuuki is to Coop-as-Dougie Jones…The new ED is a stunningly beautiful sequence of Kokkoro staying up late looking at photos from the guild album, followed by Peco and Karyl putting a blanket over her when she nods off, then Yuuki putting a blanket on all three of them. So simple, and yet so full of heart-bursting love…

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