Engage Kiss – 08 – The [REDACTED] is Already Dead

Engage Kiss does not care one single whit about your tonal or genre whiplash. After last week’s poisonous members and tentacle mech suits, we get what amounts to a hard-boiled detective procedural, and the results are…mixed.

While I appreciated the episode’s dedication to showing its work, that work is rarely glamorous. The monotony of what amounts to scene after scene of exposition as Detective Mikami, Miles, and Shuu try to piece things together is at least punctuated by the usual Kisara-Ayano sniping.

Last week’s MVP Sharon is tied to a chair behind bars this week, unable to unleash her full horny/trashy/sacred/profane shtick, but still wields power as someone who remembers crucial information Shuu forgot thanks to Kisara.

It’s pretty significant that Shuu thought Kisara would let him keep certain important memories, but Sharon says that it doesn’t work that way and he’s actually lost a lot more than he knows, and she’s not lying just for spite. All she offers “for free” about the identity of the big bad is an arsonist analogy.

Before Shuu can interpret the scant info Sharon gave him, Mikami has a eureka moment that seems primed to blow this case wide open…just as the trench-coated “Informant X” who’s been feeding Shuu shows up.

Mikami leaves a voicemail for Shuu, and during the recording he is confronted by someone and a gunshot rings out. By the time Shuu and Kisara arrive in the station lot, Mikami is dead, and Informant X tries to slink away. Shuu and Kisara show what a good pair they make by cornering and unmasking the guy…who turns out to be Mikhail.

I gotta say, that’s a pretty cheeky revelation—to dangle this oji-san like high school character who feels like he’s from another anime as the delusional third child in the family pecking order, only to reveal that he’s the mysterious General Director of Bayron City Police, from whom everyone gets their orders.

With his cover blown, Mikhail takes Shuu and Kisara down to his secret surveillance information center deep under the city hall, where he has over three million cameras going 24/7/365, (even on his sisters while they shower and sleep, an observation Shuu is quick to make and condemn).

The other fake-out in play is that Mikhail didn’t murder Mikami, and the camera footage proves it. The person who did is the one for whom Mikhail is merely a puppet, the second human agent who is coordinating the creation and destruction of demonically possessed.

Mikhail’s sudden major player turn takes a backseat to the emotional fallout from Mikami’s sudden murder, and it’s a good reminder of how good the show can be at occasionally taking the goofy/horny elements down a notch and letting these people be humans.

This culminates in Mikami’s funeral, always a solemn affair, followed by Shuu being picked up by his foster father and old pal Miles, who can’t believe Mikami is gone. When Miles talks about Mikami as the rare natural police who was also softhearted and guillible, Shuu drops the hammer: he knows Miles murdered Mikami.

Sure enough, a tattoo on Miles’ arm glows. While I’m hardly enthused by the only brother in the cast being the big bad, his villainous turn isn’t altogether unearned. Like us, Shuu’s had a huge blind spot for the guy, in his case due to the events and conversations he’s forgotten because his contract with Kisara takes away much more than he thought.

Shuu’s been trying to piece together a mystery when his own memory has been crumbling behind him in real time. Now he’s lost a true ally in Mikami and another main ally has turned out to be false. It’s safe to say things are going to get worse before they get better for Shuu.

Engage Kiss – 07 – Fullmetal Exorcist

While Shuu and Ayano were small fry to Sharon, being cornered by both Kisara, Ayano, and armored AAA units proves enough to force her to retreat, but only for the time being. Kisara and Ayano’s next priority is Shuu.

Kisara’s first instinct is to kiss him, but before their lips meet Ayano yanks her away by her hair. It’s the first indication this will be one of the hornier episodes of Engage Kiss, and I don’t mean demon horns.

While watching over a still-unconscious Shuu at the hospital, Kisara fills Ayano in on her and Shuu’s history with Sharon—using a great number of double entendres. Shuu seduced and teamed up with Sharon in order to find Kisara, but while Sharon wanted her dead, Shuu wanted her alive so he could use her power. When Shuu decided to run away with Kisara, he poisoned Sharon with a neurotoxin—through intercourse.

Sharon may say this is strictly Abbey business, but the fact we know the means by which Shuu scorned her means I’m not surprised there’s a personal element mixed in there. Of course, were their roles reversed, Sharon would have certainly done the same thing; she was just momentarily distracted by, well, sex.

The horniness continues as the detectives investigate a cargo ship that was robbed of “mechanical parts”, which we know to be a mech suit that contains demon flesh. In order to put it on, Sharon naturally has to strip in the moonlight, then allow the demon flesh tentacles to envelop her and pull her in, which results in a combination of pain and pleasure. This is pretty high-level shameless ecchi raunchiness, but it totally works.

It’s with this demon tentacle mech suit that our sexy scorned blonde battle nun intends to fight Kisara on equal terms. Kisara happily responds to Kisara’s text invitation to an abandoned warehouse for the duel. Kisara comes in her normal schoolgirl form with her sword, which is just what Sharon was hoping for.

She continues to exploit Kisara’s confidence by only showing off the suit’s conventional lead-bullet gun and tough demon sword-blocking armor, then whips out the demon flesh, which creates lasting wounds on Kisara’s body that slow her down and sap her energy.

When Kisara is impaled in the midsection by a demon tentacle, it’s looking like an upset victory for Sharon (who maintains her only objective is eliminating demons), but then Shuu manages to get Kisara away to a secluded hallway of the warehouse.

When Kisara comes to, she maintains her pouty face over what down with Shuu and Ayano—which, as we know, Shuu knows nothing about. We also know he doesn’t remember being lovers with Sharon. Kisara doesn’t want his apologies, he wants to know what she is to him.

After she rejects his request to table the issue for now, he assures her that if it wasn’t her, he’d never even think about kissing another demon. Yes, he’s deceiving and using her, but it doesn’t matter; his simple sentiment is enough to motivate her to keep fighting beside him.

After they make out, Kisara engages her Hot Topic form, which proves too much for a mere human in a suit, demon tentacles or no. As with all battles in Engage Kiss this one is thoroughly fun and, well, engaging, and you can really feel the momentum shift when Kisara ups the speed and power of her attacks.

Sharon ends up beaten unconscious at the bottom of several stories worth of warehouse rubble. She’s found by the police with her mech suit half-melted off, revealing half her naked body, because of course it does.

Shuu and Kisara end up making up, with the latter suggesting they hit up the diner without even changing her blood-soaked uniform. Ayano shows up half a beat too late with coffees, irritated that the rift between Kisara and Shuu didn’t last.

Finally, a captive (and fully clothed) Sharon tells Mikami that Celestial Abbey isn’t done in Bayron City. There’s an even larger Demon Hazard than Kisara that’s coming, and if eliminating it means destroying the city, so be it.

On paper, Bayron lacks the strength to oppose an ancient international organization of exorcists—including eleven other “Living Relics” like Sharon. They still have Kisara on their side, but will she, and what’s left of Shuu’s memories, really be enough? Also, how many other women was Shuu involved with, about whom Kisara wiped all memory?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Engage Kiss – 06 – Sixpence Nun the Richer

It was only a matter of time before an Index-style battle nun showed up on Engage Kiss, which is fortuitous because it comes at a time when there’s been a significant power shift in the Ogata Shuu love/possession triangle. Ayano is back in his home cooking and cleaning (memory loss or not you’d think dude should be able to help out with chores).

If Kisara insists on sapping Shuu of his memories of her, this is just her making more, while enjoying the time she still has with Shuu. Kisara, understandably shaken by Ayano’s manipulation of her dynamic with Shuu, is skulking in the streets, but knows she’s unable to stay mad at Shuu, who after all has no recollection of cheating on her with his ex.

Kisara remembers back to when she first met Shuu, when he had apparently traveled to an arctic wasteland to find her frozen in stone. When he pulled the demon slayer from her and she attacked him, he told her he wasn’t there to fight, but because he needed her. But does he still need her now?

Ayano twists the knife and keeps Kisara away (and into Gasai Yuno yandere mode, if only visually) with a mocking Insta post flaunting her return to domestic bliss with Shuu. I must say considering what Kisara has done to Shuu (even if he let her do it), Ayano deserves to hot-dog a little on her victory lap.

The need to enjoy oneself while one can is underscored by the arrival of Nun Lady, who immediately demonstrates her power when she gets the jump on The Justice of GUTS while they’re responding to a D-Rank Hazard. Not only did she dispatch the demon before they could with her bare hands, she’s able to toy with one of the toughest exterminators in the city with ease.

At Inspector Mikami’s urging, Shuu finally sets up a clandestine meet with his informant who must have government connects. Indeed, this unidentified person presents him with GUTS getting beaten up by the new nun in town. As Mikami and Miles listen in on Shuu’s bug, the informant nails the fact Shuu was egged on into this meet, and would rather Shuu simply continue wasting demons and not looking a gift horse in the mouth. But Shuu is warned to “be careful of the Celestial Abbey”.

After the next exterminators’ meeting, Shuu tells Akino that the a nun attacking GUTS, and she momentarily forgets that Shuu doesn’t remember the Abbey due to his contract with Kisara. So she fills him (and us) in on the fact the Celestial Abbey has been doing what their little companies in Bayron have been doing, only worldwide and for over a thousand years. They also have zero tolerance when it comes to demons—including demons that are helping humans exterminate other demons like Kisara.

That night, Akino is confronted at her office by the nun, but isn’t afraid. Instead, as she’s on the phone with Ayano when the nun appears, she keeps the line open in her pocket and stalls. The nun is clear about what she wants—info on the whereabouts of the pink demon—but Akino ain’t talking.

Before the nun resorts to the hard way, Ayano crashes through the window in full Action Daughter mode. Akino doesn’t even flinch as Ayano’s bullets search for the nun while avoiding her mom entirely. Alas, the nun soon kicks her gun out of her hand, and her hand-to-hand skills are superior to Ayano’s.

The nun also exacts psychological warfare by observing that Ayano fights like Shuu, whom she apparently knows. This gets Ayano all flustered due to her recent tumble with her ex, and once the nun accepts that neither Yuugiri will say anything, she just snatches Ayano’s phone and peaces out.

The nun uses it to spam Kisara’s phone with messages and a selfie asking if she remembers three years ago. Kisara does, and remembers her name too: Sharon.

Ayano uses her mom’s phone to warn Shuu, but he doesn’t listen when told not to go in his office. Sharon blasts through the door, shoves him out the window, and the two fight in the alley. Since Shuu indeed fights the exact same way as Ayano, Sharon makes quick work of him and is soon straddling and choking him with her garterbelt-festooned thighs.

Sharon tells them they last met three years ago and insinuates that they were lovers at some point. Naturally, Shuu doesn’t remember due to Kisara, but Sharon considers it a personal affront and starts pummeling him. That’s when Kisara swoops in to get Sharon off Shuu, thereby accomplishing what Sharon was after all along: Kisara’s location.

That’s when the arrival of Sharon has Kisara looking back to that time in the arctic cave when Shuu released her from her stone prison and asked for a contract. Turns out that wasn’t all that happened, as not long after Shuu frees her, Sharon stabs her in the back with the slayer. When Kisara fights with Sharon, Shuu shoots her, all but proving that at this point in time the two were at least partly on the same side.

From contracting with ancient demons to allying himself with international exorcists, there’s nothing old Shuu wouldn’t do to clear his family’s name and find his sister. Now that Sharon is back, I imagine it will take Shuu, Kisara, and Ayano working on the same side to neutralize the threat she presents. Considering what’s gone down between Kisara and Ayano, that’ll be no mean feat.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 10 – The Rising of the Katana Hero

As Raph-chan is led to her cell in a giant snowy prison, she is worried that Naofumi-sama will be angry at her for staying behind, even though it wasn’t her fault. But she still vows not to die until she sees him again.

Fortunately, dying isn’t in the cards this week, as no sooner does she find herself in the very same cell as L’Arc, Therese, and Glass do the four escape the “Prison of Exhaustion”, thanks to Raph’s low-level but still effective illusion magic.

Once out, they head to Sikul, dress like locals (which is to say, like Japanese), and grind. Raph-chan fights, levels up, and eats, and starts to rapidly grow, as demi-humans tend to do.

We’re introduced to Glass’ softer side, not only when she thanks Raph for helping free her beloved Kizuna from the Infinite Labyrinth, but also helps tailor Raph’s clothes when she starts to grow out of them. These three may have fought her, Filo, and Naofumi in the past, but they’re not bad people.

Kazuki, on the other hand, most certainly is bad, and in a second-string, B-teamy kind of way, as he’s basically a Kyou wannabe. To that end, he intends to draw the Katana Vassal Weapon and become a legit Hero. Unfortunately for him, the sword has other ideas.

The weapon instead wills itself into the hands of Raphtalia, and proceeds to burn away her Slav-erServant Crest that has bonded her to Naofumi all this time. She separates from the others as she breaks into a run, pursued by police and other officials for “stealing” Kazuki’s katana.

Either fate or the sword itself lead Raphtalia to the Temple of the Katana Hero, where a kindly shrine maiden risrobes her and dresses her in a Hero’s Regalia. Then Kazuki and his aides show up, insisting that she return what is rightfully his and he’ll give her a painless death.

Raphtalia, who is now back to her full size and can feel the power of the Katana coursing through her, warns Kazuki many times to simply leave, but he doesn’t listen. He siccs two replicas of a holy white tiger at her, but she dispatches them with ease.

When Kazuki still insists on going toe-to-toe with her, she delivers a strike that will only kill him if he moves. This is it: it’s happening; Raphtalia is no longer Naofumi’s servant or his sword. As she revealed when she first attained the Katana and was on the run, she wants to stand by his side as more of an equal, and has gotten her wish.

That said, even after defeating Kazuki, one more giant white tiger prepares to pounce on her, and she’s used up a lot of her strength on the previous attacks, all of which she used for the first time. Her expression is one of wisful regret and resignation as she wishes she could see Naofumi one last time before she dies.

But she gets her wish again: Naofumi shields her from the tiger, Filo kicks it, and Kizuna finishes it off with her hunting blade. Just like that, the band is back together, complete with newcomer Kizuna. Like the escape from the Labyrinth and Filo’s rescue, it feels a little rushed and easy, but it’s also a credit to this more episodic arc that keep things moving at a good clip and outings have satisfying beginnings, middles and ends.

With the party reunited and the number of Heroes tripled, I’m hoping they can avoid Kyou’s traps and put the jerk in his place soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 09 – A Whole Different Animal

The moment Naofumi materializes in Sikul, he wants to go right back to Mikakage. Where Raphtalia is concerned, all self-preservation goes out the window. Fortunately, Kizuna can’t send them back, as the hourglass on the other side was shut off. But she can introduce Naofumi to a very useful friend.

Kizuna was trapped in the labyrinth for years, right? Because the reactions to her return make it seem like she was only gone for a few weeks or months, tops. Her peers are also weary of a hero from another world, fearing he’s come to destroy their world.

Oh and Kizuna has a blue penguin shikigami named Chris because…why not, I guess??

Back to Kizuna’s useful friend, Ethnobalt…which is a naaaaame. With a drop of Naofumi’s blood and a catalyst (some of Raphtalia’s hair), he can help him create his own shikigami—one that like Raphtalia is a raccoon, but frankly isn’t as cute as the genuine article to these eyes.

Have I mentioned that Ethnobalt (sigh) is the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland? And that instead of the wielder of a pocket watch, he has a “boat” that can grow to the size of a Final Fantasy-style airship (indeed, it looks inspired by the Fahrenheit).

Ethnobalt helps Naofumi out and asks nothing in return; he’s just happy to be useful to his friend Kizuna and her friends. That makes him more of a device than a character, but no matter; he’s able to warp them to Raybul, where both Filo and Glass are currently located.

They soon find Filo, who is being held captive by a disreputable showman along with scores of other magical animals. Filo is notably also not a filolial in this world, because that creature doesn’t exist here. Naofumi initially wants to kill her captor on the spot, but Rishia’s cooler head prevails, and they free Filo without incident that night.

Filo is clearly traumatized by the situation, though when her captor first said she was going to “make a lot of money” for him I immediately assumed he was going to prostitute her out to customers. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, but there was a distinct lack of peril and suspense to her rescue.

Despite camping in the forest for the night, Naofumi, Filo, Rishia and Kizuna return to town and immediately find wanted posters of themselves. Fortunately, the likenesses are vague at best. Then Naofumi feels what I’ll describe as a “disturbance in the force”, and suddenly Raphtalia’s stats disappear from his HUD.

The raccoon shikigami Filo names “Raph-chan” is still kicking, however, so the real Raph should be fine. That doesn’t mean she’s comfortable, however, as after the credits we see she’s in chains and has been taken to what I’m assuming to be the arctic stronghold of the Katana Hero, since that’s the name of the next episode.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 07 – Kamiya-san Is Curious

The studio had an Izumi-style run of luck, enduring a Covid outbreak that delayed the episode, but Shikimori picks up without missing a beat, as the school culture fest commences. Last year Izumi and Shikimori had the same duties, but this time they’re separated as their class runs an animal-themed café.

Still, it doesn’t take long for them to come together as Izumi inevitably slips on a napkin and the Shikimori the bunny has to save Izumi the lion. While walking home after a busy first day, the two commit to spending the afternoon of the second day together.

It has to be the afternoon because both of them are busy in the morning: Shikimori with the café, and Izumi on library duty. He’s relieved to learn that his partner isn’t a stranger, but Kamiya, who has always been friendly and kind to him in their past library duty interactions.

As we enter the cultural festival stage of many anime series this season, Kamiya seems aware of the “magic” that leads to a surge of new couples. She’s uncharacteristically restless, and even delivers a wall slam to Izumi as she brings up his girlfriend Shikimori and wants to know how they met.

Izumi, who quite incorrectly assumes Kamiya likes Shikimori, obliges, telling her they got together thanks to that same culture fest magic. Last year, the numbers they got at the entrance matched, which was a rare fortunate moment for Izumi, as he had planned to ask her out during the festival.

After walking around and enjoying the festival in the clouds, when the time comes to take their photo (which legend has it bonds the matched couples together forever) Izumi loses his number. But Shikimori won’t let him give up, so they look for it. They come up empty, but put up a passionate united front in insisting the president let them have their picture taken anyway. The Prez can tell these two are keepers, and gives an exception.

The rest is history: Izumi asks Shikimori out behind the gym, and Shikimori’s response is a gorgeous, passionate embrace. Back in the library, Izumi apologizes for rambling on, but Kamiya is well and truly moved, striking an elegant pose that conceals what must be pained eyes.

While we’ve seen very little Kamiya so far, it’s been clear through her subtle glances at Izumi that she likes the guy, always has, and rues the fact she missed her chance. As amazing as Kamiya acknowledges Shikimori to be, she’s clearly frustrated Shikimori beat her to the punch.

It helps that Kamiya is an instantly likeable character, statuesque and noble and popular with both guys and girls, but not afraid to show another side to Izumi. Fukuhara Ayaka also lends her a wonderfully husky voice that’s lower than Izumi’s. We’ll see where this triangle goes as the festival continues.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 08 – Your Sword Till the End

I have to say, I’m really enjoying this more semi-episodic Shield Hero. Last week’s escape from the Infinite Labyrinth was a true bottle episode, while this one expands on Kizuna’s world as well as her own abilities, that haven’t dulled a bit in the years she’s been imprisoned. This week there’s another definite goal: reach the Dragon Hourglass, which in this world serves as a warping point for Heroes.

But wisely this episode starts out with the basics: they need money for food, a roof over their heads, and supplies. Kizuna describes the various races of her world, one of which is Glass’s Spirit People. Naofumi just happens to have a supply of soul-soothing potion that doesn’t exist in this world, so he puts his merchant skills to good us and sells them off to the highest bidder.

It’s a team effort, with Naofumi, Raphtalia, Rishia and Kizuna all doing their parts to ensure they sell all the potion for as much money as possible, which they then spend on new, more location-appropriate threads and gear. I like the new classical Japanese looks. Their day is darkened by the appearance of a “genuis mage” who has figured out how to use the Dragon Hourglasses to warp even though he’s not a Hero.

This guy, Kazuki, reminds Naofumi of Kyou, and doesn’t like him one bit right off the bat. Fortune smiles on his party, however, as a blizzard gives them cover for an easy infiltration of the capital’s central fortress, which contains the Hourglass they need to warp to Sikul.

But while getting in is easy, finding the Hourglass proves difficult, and the fortress is full of dead ends, traps, and a huge number of guards. While Kizuna can’t harm anyone with her hunting sword, she can damage their surroundings that indirectly neutralize the guards.

But there are a lot of guards, which means eventually the party has to split in two groups to lessen their numbers. Turns out this is just another trap, as Naofumi and Raph walk right into the Hourglass chamber only to be quickly surrounded by guards, led by Kazuki and his two personal bodyguards. Taking after Kizuna, Naofumi uses his non-offensive shield’s ability to throw the guards aside.

Kizuna and Rishia then rendezvous with Naofumi and Raph, and Kizuna uses her Hero status to activate the warp. Everyone starts to glow yellow, and it looks like everyone is on their way to safety and the next adventure…but then Raphtalia stops glowing. Kyou, the architect of this latest trap, remotely cackles and taunts Naofumi, saying he’ll be taking Raph to his lab for experiments.

Kizuna can’t stop the warping, which means all Naofumi can do is watch and wait helplessly until he’s taken away from Raphtalia. For her part, Raph puts on a brave face, grateful that she was small so Naofumi could pat her on the head and carry her. She vows to be his sword to the end, and charges at the guards as he and the others warp out.

Filo having been separated from the party last week was one thing, but she’s always felt more like a mascot and strategic weapon than an actual character. There’s a lot more meat to Naofumi and Raphtalia’s history together, and seeing them suddenly separated like this was a true gut-punch, not to mention cementing Kyou as an uber-evil big bad.

But while losing Raph must be crushing blow to Naofumi—he may even summon that hate and anger Ost helped him let go of because of this—at the end of the day we have a satisfying, at times heartwarming and thrilling episode with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. I have no idea what comes next, but I can’t wait!

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 08 – Esteem in the Bloodstream

Toubaru-sensei has taken note of the supreme squeeness of AhaRaidou and its deleterious effects on her health, which is why she’s made a habit of imagining the pair in all manner of adorable romantic situations while safe in her bed at night. Unfortunately, the real thing proves far more esteemed than she could imagine, as she watches the “nuclear esteemed family” dynamic of the two plus Ooshiro play out on the rooftop.

It is fortunate that Toubaru’s, or should I say Momo’s friend and fellow teacher Miyahara-sensei is well-equipped to deal with her reactions to the pure innocent romance she watches unfold. That night, she tries to imagine ever more ludicrous scenarios (with Aharen and Raidou’s characters changing completely) and almost bleeds to death in her sleep. Thankfully Miyahara had a spare key!

Ishikawa and Satou may not be the most dynamic side characters (honestly they’re bland as wallpaper paste, and probably intentionally so to serve as amiable straight men. But one thing they do do is give Aharen and Raidou an opportunity to go to a festival together, so they’re not all bad! Aharen looks appropriately angelic in her yukata.

She’s also appropriately ravenous, visiting every food stall and spending all her money before Raidou can finish explaining his grand strategic plan for “winning the festival”. Meanwhile, Toubaru and Miyahara-sensei also attend the festival, and Toubarou proceeds to lose a lot of blood for the second day in a row.

Otherwise it’s a perfect evening for our main couple, until it’s not; Raidou not only loses his phone, but Aharen, as Futaba ended up holding his hand believing him to be her dad. After taking Futaba to the lost child desk and reuniting her with said dad (after which she properly expresses her gratitude for once) the gods smile on our couple, as Aharen appears right beside him at that very lost child desk (naturally, the guy assigned to the desk assumes Raidou is her guardian.

Aharen is so happy and relieved to see Raidou, she sheds a tear. After all this dilly-dallying though, the two have to book it to get a good fireworks viewing spot. Ultimately, any spot is good for the nearly 2-meter-tall Raidou. When Aharen can’t see due to being small, he hoists her onto his shoulders, and she experiences a whole new world.

Later, after he daintily repairs her broken sandal strap, he offers his hand so they can go find the others. She hesitates, but ultimately takes it and proceeds to blush profusely. She’s grabbed him so many times, but in this time and place, it feels different. If the show is serious about progressing these feelings further, I’m looking forward to watching it happen…while making sure I’m more prepared than Toubaru-sensei was this week!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 10 – Will the Real Eustiana Please Stand Up?

Well, the overarching arc of Pecorine/Eustiana stepping into the light and reclaiming her throne all comes down to this, with a newly-masked Karyl joining Kaiser as her right hand and primary weapon. It’s not clear how much of Karyl’s cooperation is forced, either by magic or deference to Kaiser, but there’s no disputing she’s in a bad way.

When Karyl attacks Diabolos and captures three of their members, Shinobu and Miyako manage to escape and head to the Gourmet Guild to give them the bad news: Karyl has turned her coat. Soon all of Landosol learns this, when Kaiser uses Labyrista’s ability to encircle the city in a shell, then project a giant Karyl who will be the instrument through which Kaiser will sacrifice its citizens.

It’s not just the Gourmet Guild that springs into action to stop Karyl and Kaiser. Doctor Yuni and the Friendship Club collaborate with Kasumi and Tamaki, and the good doctor discovers that the truth that was “out of joint” all this time was the person sitting on the throne: a false princess who has manipulated the minds of everyone in the kingdom.

By the time Yuki, Kokkoro, and Pecorine arrive in town, the place is crawling with Shadows, but adventurers, warriors, mages, and ordinary folk alike manage to hold their own, with the latter even saving Yuuki and Kokkoro when things are looking their most grim. Peco goes on ahead, and from that point on it’s really all about her and Karyl, whose attacks she either dodges or absorbs as she manages to tackle her.

When Yuni uses her “Rosetta Network” of pet rocks to broadcast the truth about the princess currently on the throne, Kaiser orders Karyl to kill everyone—and Karyl is powerful enough to make it happen. But her rain of purple magic bolts ends up hitting no one. As much as she wants to obey her majesty, she just can’t hurt anyone anymore. Kaiser doesn’t take no for an answer, and uses magic threads to manipulate Karyl like a puppet.

Karyls mask falls, she starts to cry and beg someone, anyone to destroy her so she can’t harm anyone else. Instead, her attacks, and Kaiser’s hold on her, are neutralized by a stalwart Pecorine, who finally, finally finds the proper time to tell her dear friend the truth about her true identity. While the duel this week isn’t nearly as badass as the Kaiser-Labyrista bout, it’s a hell of a lot more emotionally charged.

Pecorine does this in front of most of the town, revealing herself to be the real Eustiana von Astrea and vowing to not only save Karyl, but protect her people as well. Considering the power we saw on display from Kaiser last week and all the tricks she has up her sleeve (from Metamorregnant to Labyrista’s power), I’d say the gloves will be coming off next week, which means Pecorine…which means Eustiana will most likely need a little help from her many, many friends.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 09 – Hasta la Vista

Pecorine is ready to tell Karyl that she’s Eustiana von Astrea, and wants to do so, but in trying to find the perfect time, she ends up missing her chance more than once. This is something for which Pecorine should really take Karyl by the shoulders and say “this can’t wait!” But Karyl is off … somewhere, and so it must wait.

That somewhere is the castle that by rights should be Pecorine’s, where Karyl finds Kaiser sleeping fitfully in her bed. When Karyl mentions she brought homemade onigiri from the princess rice harvest, Kaiser remembers Peco’s words about having a meal together, and decides to indulge Karyl by eating with her.

On her way home, Karyl is intercepted by Yuuki, Kokkoro, and Pecorine, who are on their way to a festival in the shopping district. They sample the many delicacies for sale as well as avail themselves of the festival games, like cork rifle shooting. Everyone has a wonderful time.

Kokkoro even takes Yuuki with her to give Pecorine another shot at telling Karyl, but decides instead to follow Karyl’s lead and just savor the lovely, moment they’re in … a moment Karyl wishes would last forever, but of course won’t thanks to all the other very distressing stuff going on in another dimension.

That big blue in-between space becomes the venue for the mother of all PriConne battles, as Labyrista decides the time is right to take care of Kaiser once and for all. I believe it’s the first time we’ve actually heard Kaiser Insight’s name.

A ridiculously epic battle between Seven Crown members ensues, with the two going so far as to hurl entire conjured goddamn moons at one another. I’ll be honest: this more epic, plot-heavy stuff isn’t why I watch PriConne, but I can’t deny it’s badass as all get-out.

Labyrista has a good plan, and Shizuru and Rino running Shadow interferance on her behalf, but Labyrista has the captive (and clearly immensely powerful) Metamorregnant at her disposal. She snatches victory from the jaws of defeat by teleporting Karyl to use her as a meat shield, and then stabbing Labyrista through the heart after taking advantage of her momentary hesitation.

The timing really couldn’t be worse for poor Pecorine, who was just entering Karyl’s room to talk to her when Karyl was poofed awa, leaving only her beloved stuffed animals. Will Karyl ever return to that room? Will she ever see the others again? PriConne doesn’t get much darker than this, but like Labyrista, I’m willing to trust that Yuuki saying he’ll protect everyone this time isn’t just idle talk. Maybe Kaiser shouldn’t rest on her laurels just yet…

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 08 – The Rice Harvest

The Gourmet Guild starts this episode out split up, each member on a different errand or with a different plan for the day. Kokkoro heads into town to mail a large stack of letters when she encounters Suzuna and Misaki, two students at Lucent Academy with exceedingly bad grades. When bandits steal the guild’s treasure—and the letters—Kokkoro teams up with the busily-costumed kids to tack them down.

With help from Kokkoro’s faerie friends, locating the bandits’ hideout is no problem; the issue is getting their letters back without being detected. Misaki decides that detection is the whole point, and proceeds to attempt to use her “mature feminine pheromones” to distract the bandits. But once she starts pole-dancing on her staff, they lock her up as a little kid who is “messed up in the head.”

Meanwhile, Yuuki is wandering the capital, wondering why he forgot his old companions and couldn’t protect them. Labyrista bumps into him and provides an ear to listen, as well as some advice: he has a group of friends and companions now; he should just focus on them. Yuuki vows he won’t let Pecorine, Kokkoro, or Karyl come to harm this time. Across the city, in the palace, Karyl inadvertently snoops on Kaiser bathing.

As for Pecorine, she’s been harvesting rice all day in between catnaps, but spots “Princess Eustiana” in the field, worried that if the others know her true identity, they’ll forget her and everything about her, and she’ll lose everything all over again. She wakes up in tears.

Kokkoro and Suzuna manage to free Misaki, but not before getting spotted y the bandits, who chase them through the forest. Thankfully, the kids’ teacher Io-sensei saw the large cloud of smoke Kokkoro used and brings the city guard, led by Tomo, to arrest the bandits and recover both the treasure and the letters. But when it comes time to mail their letters of recommendation to another school, Suzuna and Misaki rip them up instead, choosing to stick with Io-sensei.

While surely unsettled by her dream, Pecorine is soon joined by Yuuki and then Karyl, who are back home and ready to pitch in. Their arrival means more to Peco than they know, considering how troubled she was, and the work goes that much faster…although there’s still a lot of rice to harvest. That’s where the purpose of Kokkoro’s many letters comes into focus.

Kokkoro arrives with dozens of friends in tow—a veritable who’s-who of PriConne characters, answering Kokkoro’s call to lend a hand (or hoof). The harvest is thus finished in no time, and a grand feast is prepared that everyone shares in, celebrating both a job well done and their friendship.

Pecorinehas a seat under a tree with Kokkoro, and sees the “ghost” of Princess Eustiana again, only she simply smiles at Peco, and Peco smiles back. She tells Kokkoro (who couldn’t see the ghost) that after losing everything she never thought she’d have a meal like this with everyone again, but is so happy she can, she starts to shed tears of joy in between bites of her onigiri.

Kokkoro can’t help but follow suit, and Peco tells her that she’s finally ready to tell Karyl and Yuuki who she really is—the true crown princess of Landosol. From seemingly innocuous errands, we arrive at the cusp of a major declaration.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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

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