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

The aquatope on white sand – 24 (fin) – Fishness as usual

The eight-word review? It stuck the landing with heart and soul. Aquatope wraps with three big events, the first of which is the most workmanlike. The entire staff is mustered to stock the new White Sand Dome, and it unfolds mostly without dialogue, just showing us just how complex such an operation is, and how speed and efficiency is balanced with the utmost care and delicacy with the living things they’re welcoming to Tingarla.

The second big event is the first wedding ceremony. We start with Kaoru and Chiyu joining Kukuru, Fuuka, and Karin in preparing the little personal touches that make the ceremony special and memorable, like name cards that feature a sea creature that matches the personality of the named. The barefoot magical affair goes off without a hitch; even Suwa can’t help but smile at the success, both in terms of getting a couple married and getting their family and friends interested in aquariums.

The third big event is the Grand Opening of the White Sand Dome, for which there’s a line going out the door and all the staff are out on the floor to greet them. Karin is now an attendant, and Kukuru’s grandparents attend and are proud of the growth they see in Kukuru. That said, she still wonders if she made the right choice to stay in PR and asks her gramps what she should do. His wise-as-usual advice: do yourself the favor of turning the path you chose into the correct one.

Kukuru and Fuuka take a break at the White Sand Dome, and Fuuka recalls how when she first got to Gama Gama she felt like she was drowning in a dark sea, which is just how Kukuru felt after Gama Gama was razed. But neither of them feel that way anymore. They love Tingarla, and right on cue, the same “effect” once thought to only occur at Gama Gama happens in the White Sand Dome, as Kukuru’s parents and twin sister join her and Fuuka in reveling in the sea life.

The fourth and final big event is, of course, Fuuka departing for Hawaii (specifically Oahu, as we later catch a glimpse of Honolulu). The difference between their last airport farewell and this one is like night and day. There’s no frowns or tears, all smiles and heads held high. Kukuru says “off you go” to Fuuka like she’s leaving for school for the day, not two years. “I’ll be back,” Fuuka replies in the same casual way. By the time Fuuka is in the air, Kukuru is already back to work at Tingarla.

As I suspected, the two years practically fly by, both in that we get a time jump to Tingarla’s third anniversary and the day Fuuka and Kaoru return home. There are a lot of subtle changes you’d expect, both in Kukuru’s hairstyle to her more confident demeanor at her desk. You can tell she’s taken on what’s in front of her with all her heart, and thrived.

She’s not alone: Kuuya has embraced his role as chief attendant and senpai to his old friend Karin. Udon-chan is now Tingarla’s chef. Kai is back as an attendant, and Choko has found a pretty young mate. Suwa has promoted her from Plankton to Nekton…though honestly I would have been a lot happier if he just called her by her damn name.

While in the taxi back to Tingarla with Kaoru, Fuuka gets out to stop by the shrine to Kijimunaa that she and Kukuru set up in a little wooded area not far from the aquarium. Fuuka gives the deity an offering of Hawaiian Macadamia nuts. These last two years, she and Kukuru have continued to do what’s right, and everything has worked out.

In scene where the two run straight at each other and embrace, I had all the feels. I could feel the love between these two young women; I could feel the relief they were back on the same island together; and I could feel the strength and wisdom they’ve both amassed, finding and nurturing their new dreams. The spirit of Gama Gama lives on in both of them, and as Gramps said, the hardships they both endured eventually led to wondferful rewards.

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 11 – The Second Ever Cosmonaut

On the bus ride to the launch pad, Lev suddenly asks the driver to stop, and makes a face that wouldn’t look out of place on Irina. Everyone is worried until he says he just needs to take a leak, and the bus erupts in laughter and relief. Mikhail joins him outside, and offers Lev congratulations, now that he knows why Lev was chosen over him: because Lev is an everyman.

The launch goes off without a hitch; it’s almost too problem-free. Then again, the team learned a lot from the problems that occured during Irina’s test flight, and it looks like they were able to use her data to solve those problems.

While in orbit, Lev borrows Irina’s words to describe what he sees, and then uses kholodets as a code word to let her know, wherever she is, that he’s thinking of her.

The launch occurs in the middle of the day, when Irina is still in bed. Anya lets her know Lev made it to space, and the throngs of celebrating Zirnitrans outside confirm the success.

The radio relays Lev’s words to the masses, which Irina recognizes as her own, then hears about the kholodets and weeps in happiness. The effect of her going out into the sunlight is very well-done, evoking pain and disorientation.

Lev feels a bit disoriented after returning to Earth too. He’s been promoted several spots to Major and has immediately a world historical figure and national hero and celebrity.

For someone as honest and unassuming as Lev, it’s hard to keep up, especially when his post-launch job is all about schmoozing, marketing, and propaganda. Harlova even tells him he now has the power to start a revolution…if he so chooses.

Harlova seems to want Lev to go down this road, but he’s still preoccupied with Irina, who lied to him about joining the design bureau. It gives him further pause when Harlova tells him that anything that no longer has a use is disposed of as a matter of course.

Anya is reassigned, which means Irina will soon be all alone. But when she gives Anya her jewel necklace to give to Lev, Anya presses it back in Irina’s hand. She’s resolved to help Irina see Lev again, and won’t let Irina give up so easily.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 23 – Big sisterhood

This episode began with Kukuru at a crossroads: does she fill the attendant spot being left by Kai, or does she stick with marketing, where she could inarguably play a larger role in helping far more animals for longer. But thanks to Tingarla’s director announcing the “Aquatope Project”, which will focus on environmental research and conservation, Fuuka is also at a crossroads.

The difference is, one of Fuuka’s two directions leads all the way to Hawaii for two years of training. No matter which job Kukuru picks, she’ll remain where she is. Both are hesitant for being tempted—not without good reason—to go in opposite directions: Fuuka going forth  to expand her horizons; Kukuru back to where she feels safe…but unchallenged.

The Aquatope Project seems perfectly timed to match with Fuuka’s recent come-to-Fish-Jesus moment regarding the harsh reality of mankind’s effect on sea life. Similarly, the return of Choko seems perfectly timed to match with Kukuru’s return to attending. Choko and the other penguins remember her! More to the point, they just know instinctively she’s a good human! Oh, hey Kai! Bye Kai.

Their big decisions are given further context by the state of Kukuru and Fuuka’s present day-to-day lives. When their schedules match up, Fuuka cooks for Kukuru, and they walk to or from the aquarium. But more often than not their schedules aren’t in synch, which means Kukuru and Fuuka are alone, but doing just fine. Kukuru overhears Fuuka telling Chiyu she can’t go to Hawaii because she “doesn’t want to leave Kukuru”, which makes Kukuru feel like she’s holding her friend back.

Just as Kukuru withholds her decision about what she’ll do as long as possible for dramatic effect, Fuuka goes through the candidate process (there are five vying for just two slots) while contemplating whether she can or should actually go if chosen. And while I predicted she would go, and Kukuru would stay in marketing, knowing so before it was official did not lesson my enjoyment of watching things play out.

What really made me very confident in my prediction was Fuuka’s final  presentation to the Aquarium’s brass and her fellow candidates. While everyone else gave perfectly nice and well-researched lectures at Tingarla, Fuuka takes everyone to Ban’s cove, dresses in a dolphin costume, and introduces the audience—which includes a bunch of kids and their parents on the beach—to Ban, and in doing so revealed her passion both for sea life and desire to learn more about them…which means making sure they don’t disappear.

While the panel deliberates over which two candidates will go to Hawaii, the grouchiest of them says Fuuka put on a “kid’s show”, while another points out that appealing to children early on will get them to care about the ocean. After all, they’re inhereting the future. Director Akira follows that up with an impassioned speech about the possibilities of the future that would make his shisho Gramps proud.

Later that night, Kukuru meets up with Fuuka at Ban’s beach to congratulate her for getting one of the spots. Kukuru also announces she’ll be staying in marketing, to gain the skills needed to protect the animals on a macro scale. She also admits that she turned Fuuka into her big sister, but has to learn to stand on her own two feet, which is why it’s okay for Fuuka to go.

But for Fuuka, it isn’t about big sister obligation, or Kukuru needing her. It’s about her needing Kukuru. Kukuru pats Fuuka on the head and says she’ll just have to be her big sister, seeing Fuuka off on an exciting adventure. While it’s sad to see these two parting, it’s also gratifying to to see them choosing paths that will help them grow as both people and professionals.

Not to mention, if these two take their jobs seriously, they’ll be too busy to miss each other; those two years should fly by! The question is, will we get to see any of those two years in the final episode, or will jump forward to beyond them? Either way, it’s sure to be a joyful tearjerker.

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 10 – That Sweet Pain

Parting is sweet sorrow, but before that, Irina and Lev’s first and last official date is just plain sweet. Their usual bar is closed, so they go see a movie instead—one about traveling to the moon, natch. Her theater etiquette leads much to be desired, but as Lev learns during their night picnic under the aurora, her kholodets game is pretty solid.

When the time comes for what would normally be a gradual lean in for a kiss, Lev instead remembers the weakened Irina sucking his blood from his arm, and decides to bear his neck to her. She almost digs in, but for the sound of the approaching bus, so the two settle for a significantly less intimate but still sweet, and for Irina, tearful, hug.

Unfortunately, that’s the last we see of these two together this week, which makes the rest of the episode a bit of a drag and a downer. Much is made of Lev and Mikhail being the final two candidates for the first human spaceflight, but there’s no real reason to ever think it won’t be Lev. Still, the two are the subjects of a photo session in the capital of Sangrad to make it look like they live and have always lived there, for the benefit of the public.

As for Irina, she and Anya just happen to be in Not-Red Square when Irina spots Lev and rushes towards him, only to be stopped by suited security goons. Anya has ice creams slapped out of her hands and is scolded for letting Irina out of her sight. Turns out there is no “Design Bureau”, Irina continues to undergo tests and counts down the days down until the launch, when she suspects she’ll be of no further use and disposed of.

Little does she know the saucy Comrade-Secretary Ludmila Harlova does have plans for Irina as some kind of weapon, and besides that considers her too cute to eliminate. Since she’s essentially Gergiev’s right hand (and may be eyeing his job for all her talk of “revolution”), that means Irina will almost certainly live.

As for Lev, he is chosen to be the first human in space, basically because he’s less of an arrogant prick than Mikhail, which…sure, fine! He reunites with the Chief at the flight center, and names his capsule Aster, which in the language of flowers (in Zirnitra at least) represents hoping someone far away is safe.

Irina has to settle for seeing Lev as a constellation in the sky, or mistaking Anya for him. I (1.) hope she’s not slowly going mad and (2.) sincerely hope that she and Lev can meet again, because when the two of them aren’t sharing the screen together, everything—even the first human spaceflight—feels a little less special.

The aquatope on white sand – 05 – We only have august

Fuuka’s mom arrives, but she’s not a bitch, nor a force of nature. If anything, she’s apologetic towards Kukuru’s gramps for making him board a stranger for so long, and ashamed by how long she didn’t know where her child was. Despite her stern look that served as last week’s cliffhanger, she is someone whose position you can totally understand and respect. there’s no “bad guy” here.

That being said, Fuuka’s mom’s initial position is quite clear-cut: Fuuka is to come home to Iwate with her at once. Fuuka isn’t ready, so Kukuru and Kai aid her escape. Her mom could turn the corner at any moment, so they have to act fast—so fast, there’s no time for a proper goodbye between two friends who have only just begun to know each other.

Fuuka replicates the long, hot, sweaty walk she made upon first arriving there, making her wonder if she’s ended up right where she started. The major difference is, a friendly stranger in Karin saved her the first time; this time, she seeks refuge at Udon-chan’s family diner. Udon serves her up a quick and tasty lunch, along with this excellent nugget. When you’re busy, you don’t have time to think about things that don’t matter

Also, Udon’s mom is the fortune teller who told Fuuka she’d make a fated encounter. But that can be said not just of Kukuru, but the Gama Gama Aquarium, as well as the first creature she connected with: the shy little coral blinny. Udon’s mom offers to drive Fuuka to a free room in Haha, but when she remembers the blinny wasn’t looking so swell last time she saw it, she suddenly asks Udon’s mom to turn around and head back.

Unfortunately, Fuuka is too late, and Kukuru admits that when you’re dealing with living things every day, eventually you’re going to have to deal with death. As soon as she first remembered the little guy while in the car, I was just as emotionally invested in the poor doomed blinny as Fuuka was, resulting in this episode’s Goddamn Tearjerker status.

Fuuka’s mom happens to come into the back room just as her daughter is cleaning out the blinny’s tank, looking both pained and diligent. Kukuru steps up to the plate to tell Fuuka’s mom how much Fuuka means to her and the aquarium, but Fuuka stops her, and tells her mother directly that she wants to stay. Having been charmed by this place and its warm and generous people and seeing that Fuuka is serious, her mom agrees…but only until the school year starts in September.

Fuuka’s mom spends the night, lamenting at dinner to Kukuru’s grandparents how between Fuuka going off to be an idol and now, she’s barely been able to be a mother. Udon’s mom says letting a child go when they’re old enough is part of a parent’s job, while Kukuru’s grandparents assure her that everything will work out…even as the shrine of their daughter, Kukuru’s mother, sits in the corner.

Fuuka and her mom end up having a nice mother-daughter moment later that night as they sleep in adjacent futons, with her mom admitting she looked pretty good in those red boots. So the immediate threat of Fuuka and Kukuru being separated has passed, but they only have one month to achieve Kukuru’s dream (not to mention be together). I wonder if the remaining nineteen episodes will cover only that August, or the months of separation that follow.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

Horimiya – 07 – Downpour

I. The Coffee Stain

Yuki would never say so, but Hori falling for Miyamura worked in her favor. It meant Tooru would have to give up on Hori and look for love elsewhere. Yuki makes an effort to hang out with Tooru more frequently, in hopes they’ll grow closer. She doesn’t let little opportunities like carrying the class trash out together slip away.

Unfortunately for Yuki, this backfires when, while she’s teasing Tooru, he bumps stright into Kouno Sakura, who is presently crushing on him hard. Coffee from the trash spills on Sakura’s top, and when Tooru runs off to grab his gym jacket for her to wear, Sakura asks Yuki if she and Tooru are dating. Yuki tells the truth: they’re not. But she also leaves out the truth: she’d like to.

Sakura takes Yuki’s reply as cause for relief. In the StuCo office she asks Kakeru about why he likes Remi. He gives a very heartfelt response about how despite him not being that strong, he feels compelled to protect Remi, which inspires him to become stronger, so Remi really protects him too…and Sakura.

Buoyed by these words of support, Sakura returns Tooru’s washed jacket and gives him a bag of homemade cookies. He genuinely loves them, especially the sakura colored ones, so Sakura gets him to repeat “I love Sakura”, which is wonderfully devious on her part!

II. Smiles and Cupcakes

Hori watches something play out in the bookstore that’s a microcosm of Yuki’s tendency to withhold how she really feels or what she wants: she reaches for the last issue of something just as someone else is, and lets that person take it. “The things she loves or wants tend to escape her.”

The more upset she is, the more she’ll smile to hide it. So Yuki is beaming when Tooru goes out to the hall to talk with Sakura, and smiles even wider when Sakua offers her cookies, after initially refusing them under her breath. The trash is right there in which to toss them, but they’re too damn good to waste.

Not wanting to give up on what—on who she wants, Yuki reaches out to Miyamura for cake-baking advice. He assures her he wasn’t born a baker, and nobody’s good at anything when they first start out. If she messes up, she should just give it another shot.

Yuki takes that advice to heart in both baking and Tooru. She has Horimiya try her first (failed) attempt, but to her horror Tooru joins them, eats an entire burnt cupcake, and smiles his big smile saying that while it was utter crap, he looks forward to the next batch. The Yuki-Tooru-Sakura love triangle is official!

III. FIVE DAYS

After two very strong segments focused on secondary characters, this felt like it would be an entire episode in which Horimiya’s romance would be placed on the back burner. O me of little faith! On the contrary, the latter two segments are all Horimiya, All the time, and greatly advance their relationship.

This segment is the epitome of the adage absence makes the heart grow fonder, as Hori and Miyamura are separated almost the whole time. Miyamura is away with family in Hokkaido for five days (a funeral from the looks of it). It’s he longest period they’ve been apart since they became a couple, and to make matters worse, Miyamura’s phone dies and he left his charger back home!

While those sound like the ingredients for another rom-com cliché, in which a lesser show would milk the misunderstanding around his lack of replies, by now we know better. Hori never feels like Miyamura is avoiding her, it just sucks ass that he’s away. She also carries out functions as if he were there, like getting him a drink at school or setting a place for him at the table at home. She counts the days off on her hand.

Five Days is a little masterpiece of brooding atmosphere and steady crescendo-ing anticipation of Horimiya’s eventual reunion; anyone who’s had to endure time alone with a new love knows full well what they’re feeling.

When Miyamura finally gets home and plugs his phone in. we don’t get to see the message that greets him, only his reaction: to run to Hori’s. Hori, meanwhile, can’t wait any longer, and rushes to Miyamura, and the two end up meeting in the elevator.

I breathed a sigh of relief, having been conditioned by countless other anime for the two to just miss one another another couple times. Hori’s tearful look of elation really is a sight to behold, and as she steps back to welcome him back, we see the message on Miyamura’s fallen phone: “Hurry up and get back here, dummy.”

IV. FEELING THE HEAT

That brings us to the final most stunning segment of the entire series. It starts out so simply, innocently, and comically, with Yuki, Sakura, and Remi taking Hori to task for loving horror and slasher movies and making Miyamura watch them. They insist that’s weird and could even push him away.

The next time Horimiya watch a scary movie, Hori tries to follow his friends’ advice, first by pretending to act scared as an excuse to draw closer, which scares the bijeezus out of him. Then she tries to surreptitiously take his hand, only causing him to recoil in terror. He apologetically goe off to be alone for a minute, and Hori retires to her room, devastated that what Yuki said has come true, and he wants nothing more to do with her.

Naturally, nothing could be further from the truth, and before long Miyamura joins Hori in her room where she’s sulking about “not being cute”, because she doesn’t and can’t get scared. Miyamura realizes she was doing that stuff for him, and reminds her he didn’t fall for a “normal girl”, but for “her”, just like she fell for him and all his quirks, among them his tendency to be a scaredy-cat.

Miyamura suggests they go back and watch the rest of the movie, but instead Hori calls him Izumi and slides off the bed and into his arms. She puts her ear to his chest to listen to his heart; he does the same. As the rain continues to fall in sheets outside, they move to the bed. Hori notes Miyamura’s cold ears and hands, says he can’t go home in such a downpour.

In her head Hori says “There was a heat within me, and I wanted Miyamura to feel it too.” And so Hori and Miyamura make love for the first time.

At some point after that, Miyamura has some real talk with Souta, who is worried about losing his big sister. Miyamura assures him he won’t take his big sister away, but asks if he can have Kyouko, to which Souta assents. Poor Souta! Still, he’s really not losing anyone; he’s gaining a big brother.

In a post-credit, post-coital sequence, the two are naked together and Hori proudly declares she’s bitten Miyamura on the neck, so he’d better grow his hair back to hide it. So there you have it! Going from a stolen candy kiss and a make-out session interrupted by Hori’s dad, to going all the way.

There’s no doubt that being apart for five days, and the joy they felt upon reuniting, was another milestone in their relationship, something they couldn’t reach without experiencing being apart. But it was also a matter of it simply happening—effortlessly, organically, just like so many other important moments in this series. Nothing is forced; everything just makes sense.

By being in Hori’s room they had the privacy; by reiterating that why they love each other has nothing to do with anyone else, they had the intimacy; and heck, the fact it was cold out, and there was the soothing sound of that rain…I can’t stress enough how simply, beautifully and tastefully this scene was composed. It’s rare for an anime to depict a loving couple earnestly taking the next step—one of the best, Kare Kano, is twenty-two years old—but if any contemporary series could do it, it’s Horimiya, and it did.

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 16 – A Pretty Fun Hell

While Fuutarou, Itsuki and Ichika try to bail Yotsuba out of her track training camp, Miku stops by Nino’s for tea. She saw Nino stomp out of her previous hotel, and wonders what went on with Fuutarou. Nino is still fuming about Kintarou always being Fuu in disguise, but that’s tabled for now in favor of discussing Nino’s return home.

For all Nino thinks all of her sisters have changed, she’s changed too. They remain five sisters in completely different directions, but that just means they continue to complement each other by exposing them to things they normally wouldn’t…even something as mundane as the different teas they drink, which they learn come from the same leaf!

Operation Spring Yotsuba doesn’t get off to a great start, owing to how well the track captain knows Yotsuba, Itsuki’s less-than-stellar impression, and the simple fact her hair is too damn long! The real Yotsuba returns after having tackled the “groper” (a Fuutarou invention), but then it soon becomes obvious she isn’t Yotsuba either…she’s Nino!

That’s right, the scissors Nino produces at the end of her scene with Miku were meant for her own hair. Whether in order to confront the track people for Yotsuba’s sake, or because her heart was broken by a boy who never existed, or a little of both, Nino now sports the same cropped locks as Yotsuba, though she retains her signature butterfly ribbons and flat bangs.

With Yotsuba agreeing to help with the most recent meet and then quit the team—which is what she wants, but simply needed a nudge to do—Nino and Itsuki adorably make up, each apologizing for their role. Itsuki, the youngest of the quints, tears up despite having played the role of mom when she slapped Nino way too hard, and the fact they both buy tickets to the movie the other sister liked completes the reconciliation.

With the quints reunited, they soon complete their problem sets, and Fuutarou has them go over them again as they enter the home stretch till the exams. He shows deference to Nino by asking her if it’s okay to proceed in this manner…she can’t help but blush and fight back a smile at his polite attentiveness. The day of the exams arrives, and the quints stride confidently into the schook. Fuutarou hangs back, borrowing Itsuki’s phone to call his sister…but we see he was actually on the phone with the quints’ dad.

The exam scores come in, and out of 500 possible points from the five subjects tested, none of them scored higher than 206. While discouraged by these underwhelming results considering how hard they worked, the sisters actually seem to be looking forward to Fuutarou scolding them and pushing them to do better…which is why they’re shocked to learn from their father’s butler Ebata that Fuutarou has resigned as their tutor.

The sisters can’t even go to Fuutarou immediately, as Ebata has been ordered to tutor them on an interim basis. The problem sets Ebata gives them seem so easy, which they attribute to Fuutarou’s diligent tutoring. Then they break out the rolled crib notes he gave them in case of emergency and discover they don’t contain notes at all, but a message meant for all five sisters to read off in order.

It concludes, “I’m glad I finally done with this hell job…but it was a pretty fun hell. Later.” But the sisters are in agreement: they want Fuutarou to continue tutoring them. So they devise a plan. On Christmas Eve, while Fuu is acting as a crier for a cake shop, the five sisters approach him and ask if he’ll deliver a cake to their place. His clearly awesome boss lets him off work early, urging him to have a Merry Christmas.

When they ask him back, he says he already blew his second chance, and now believes it was only his “selfish ends” that held them back, to which he can no longer in good conscience subject them. The newly short-haired Nino gets in Fuu’s face, telling him they’ve only made it this far because of that selfishness, and he can’t stop being selfish now.

When he reminds them that their father has forbidden him from entering their house again, they direct his gaze to the building behind them: with Ichika’s new acting salary, they’ve rented a new place where he’ll always be welcome. Yotsuba inexplicably tosses the five keycards into the air, and in trying to catch them, Fuu slips and falls into the water. To his shock, all five quints jump in after him. All for one and one for all, to be sure!

After surfacing, he spots the rolled fortune Rena gave him, to open once he “learned to accept himself”. But at the same time, Nino cramps up and can’t swim, and Fuutarou abandons the fortune to rescue her, obviously. But maybe he never needed to read the fortune, because when everyone is out of the river, he rips up the résumé of his replacement and decides he’ll stay on as their tutor after all. As for Nino, her heart is beating like a jackrabbit and it may well have less to do with almost drowning and more to do with who saved her.

QQ started out totally scattering the quints, but it’s clear that besides the fact they complement each other and make up for their shortcomings, the one thing that brings them back together this week is the desire to keep Fuutarou in their life, as the one who will help them realize their best selves.

While him calling their dad was an obvious clue, his sudden resignation still felt abrupt, and hit me as hard as the sisters, so I tip my cap to the show for keeping me off balance. It was also a wonderfully brisk affair, with resolutions to this arc coming fast and furious without feeling rushed or inorganic (though part of me was hoping they’d address the whole “jumping into freezing water” thing). I’m looking forward to their next tutoring session in their new, less snazzy digs!

Episode Four Quintuplet Ranking:

  1. Nino: Between her lovely sisterly tea time with Miku, to her portrayal of “Cranky Yotsuba”; from making up with Itsuki to her efforts to get Fuu back; from being the only quint who Fuu needed to rescue to her cute new ‘do, it’s another easy win for Best Girl Nino.  Total Points: 19 (1st)
  2. Itsuki: No Itsuki-at-the-Uesugis this week, but she was as wonderful in her making-up scene with Nino as she was wonderfully terrible at impersonating Yotsuba. She also had a moment where she channeled Fuutarou. She and Nino are pulling away from the pack. Total Points: 16 (2nd)
  3. Miku: Came close to tying Itsuki this week. She was so damn cool in that tea scene, describing to Nino why they belong together. She also had the highest test scores of all the quints! Total Points: 9 (3rd)
  4. Yotsuba: Glad her track crisis didn’t drag on any longer, as it felt like a rehash of something not that engaging to begin with. Nice tackle of that creepy groper, but otherwise didn’t distinguish herself. Total Points: 8 (Tied for 4th)
  5. Ichika: I hate to rank her last when she’s footing the bulk of the rent for the quints’ new place, but yeah…she didn’t do much this week! Total Points: 8 (5rd)
%d bloggers like this: