DanMachi II – 08 – Whatever It Takes

Mikoto arrives in the midst of Bell’s beatdown at the hands of Aisha, but the latter takes her down with one strike, then continues wailing on the Little Rookie. Turns out Haruhime, donning a red cloak, is the source of Aisha’s power boost. Phryne also gets in on the game, snatching up Bell for herself and chaining him to the wall of her secret love nest.

Bell is lucky he couldn’t manage an erection, because Phryne has to leave him to find an “enhancement” medicine, allowing the one other person who knows about the dungeon—Haruhime—to sneak in and rescue him (after slipping the keys to the captured Mikoto).

Bell mentions his and Mikoto’s present efforts to buy her, for which she’s grateful to the point of tears, but it doesn’t seem like she’s interested in going anywhere or doing anything other than what was decided for her long ago: as Take tells Hestia, she’s to be sacrificed to the Killing Stone, a magical object that optimizes Renard power.

In Haruhime’s case, she’s able to provide a level boost to Aisha, but once the ritual is complete and the stone shattered, that power can be spread to many other Ishtar Amazons, giving them the offensive edge they need in a war against the more powerful-on-paper Freya Familia.

Once Haruhime gets Bell back to the Pleasure District and urges him to flee, Mikoto meets up with them, having learned about the Killing Stone thorugh books in Ishtar’s palace. Aisha also arrives, and snatches Haruhime back up. She dares Bell to do something—anything—to try to get Haruhime back, but Bell freezes. In that moment, he wavers between the desire to save her and his reluctance to get Hestia Familia tangled up in a war they can’t win.

He’s so frozen in hesitation, Mikoto has to grab his hand and run before the other Amazons can capture him. In short, this episode was a bit of a downer, as Haruhime has seemed to be a doomed character ever since her introduction. One wonders if her fate is sealed now that Bell lost his last best chance to save her, or if he can summon the same resolve Haruhime has and risk everything to challenge her death wish.

Heck, even if Bell wasn’t particularly emotionally invested in Haruhime’s fate, it just seems like a very bad idea to let Ishtar gain such a dangerous military advantage, considering she basically screws her underlings (like Aisha) into obedience. Here’s hoping for some kind of light at the end of this tunnel.

DanMachi II – 06 – Orario Vice

When Bell, Lili and Welf are concerned about Mikoto acting weird, they follow her one night, and to her surprise she ends up meeting with Chigusa and entering Orario’s famous pleasure district, which is run by the wealthy and powerful Ishtar Familia (Ishtar is the Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of love, war, and fertility).

Turns out Mikoto and Chigusa are searching for an old friend of theirs from their original home in the Far East, where she was a noble. Chigusa spotted her in the district and came to Mikoto, who saught confirmation before coming to the rest of Hestia Familia.

Lili, and certainly Hestia, would rather the adorable Bell be anywhere but the pleasure district, where he is  almost constantly approached, accosted, and embraced by dozens of beautiful, available women, including Aisha, one of Ishtar’s higher-ups. Separated from the others, Bell never had a chance to escape their clutches.

Right before he’s surrounded and picked up and taken to Ishtar’s palace to be passed between several eager Amazonesses, he spots an ethereal, yukata-wearing fox woman in a window, who judging from the glimpse of her last week, is the person Mikoto and Chigusa were looking for.

Ishtar herself has no time for a first-timer like Bell, but her underlings are all but willing to suck him dry, so to speak. The start of their fun is interrupted by the huge and grotesque Phryne, and Bell uses the distraction caused by the Amazons’ bickering (and his adventurer’s sneaking skills and speed) to slip away.

He ends up in the courtyard of one of the district’s fancier-looking brothels, and who does he encounter within one of the rooms but the straw-haired fox woman, named Haruhime, who assumes Bell is there to buy his first sexual experience.

It seems despite being more experienced than Bell, the sight of his collarbone still overwhelms her, giving him the opportunity to tell her he’s not there for sex, just to hide from the Amazons. She can understand; it’s tough to be a first-timer in a district where it’s the occupation of so many women to kidnap and have their way with you.

As they spend the rest of the evening chatting, discovering that they share a love of stories about heroes that originally drew them to Orario, Ishtar has a meeting with Hermes, who has delivered something to her that is of importance in her ongoing rivalry with Freya. When Hermes is reluctant to tell her what other weaknesses Freya might have that she can exploit, she removes what little clothing she is wearing in order to force the issue.

Haruhime tells Bell that while she loved those heroic stories, she no longer sees herself as someone worthy of being saved or protected. Despite her noble appearance and cushy digs, she doesn’t seem to see any nobility in her profession, only filth. It really brings Bell down, who doesn’t agree that she should have to sacrifice her dreams simply because circumstances, many of them not of her making, landed her in a brothel.

Still, he runs off into the night none too soon, as Aisha shows up immediately after to escort Haruhime back to her chambers. As for Ishtar, she gets the information she wanted out of an overwhelmed Hermes in bed: Freya is obsessed with Cranel Bell, and she can hurt her by stealing him from her.

So now Bell finds himself in the sights of not one but two distinct and powerful goddesses of love, war, sex, and fertility, and almost certainly doesn’t want his first encounter with Haruhime to be his last. If he’s the hero he thinks he is, he’ll no doubt try to find a way to free her from servitude.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 05 – A Completely Different Creature Entirely

This week picks right up from the last but flips the POV, from Kazusa to Niina and Izumi. I’m not going to say they don’t flirt with each other quite a bit on their train ride, but it’s certainly not the sweaty tryst Kazusa’s out-of-control imagination makes it out to be.

While it isn’t clear whether it’s a coincidence that Niina’s old acting coach Saegusa is on the very same train, she ends up utilizing Izumi in much same way she used Kazusa a few weeks back: as a prop in a fiction. In this case, she makes a big show of being with her “boyfriend” in front of Saegusa, who nods a gentle approval before taking his leave.

As Momoko tries (mostly in vain) to reassure Kazusa that there’s probably a harmless explanation for the two on the train, Hitoha just happens to be ridden past their exact position on the bridge. She’s in Yamagishi’s car, where he continues to make it clear he’s not into high school girls, and causing Hitoha to cry, as she doesn’t know what else to do; having her authorial debut is everything to her.

Meanwhile, we and Izumi learn about Saegusa and what a phenomenally creepy dude he was, singling Niina out when she was 11, rubbing his face on her shoe, and taking her out alone to shows and meals. But Izumi is only grossed out on the most basic level of suspecting Saegusa of being a paedophile. He doesn’t realize how deep and fucked up the bond became between Saegua and Niina.

And yet Niina declares Saegusa never laid a finger on him…even when she was fourteen, starting to get that kind of attention, and the age when she decided to ask why he wouldn’t do it with her. But he told her he could never love her as a woman, only her girlish nature, and to touch her would be to instantly transform her into something else entirely—something he had no interest in.

All I can say is…Damn. Poor Niina. Unfortunately, she’s very far from the only victim of this particular brand of push/pull mind game bullshit. Niina loathes attention because the only person she wanted it from utterly rejected her. But that does make a nice segue to her original subject of conversation with Izumi: his willingness so say something so “cruel and heartless” to Kazusa—the very same thing Saegusa told her.

But the fact is, Izumi didn’t see it as cruel or heartless at the time, because didn’t even know Kazusa had a crush on him until Niina let it slip right then, assuming (reasonably, and at the same time totally unreasonably so) he did. Indeed, Niina is rather shocked (and amused!) by Izumi’s denseness, having pegged him as someone quick on the uptake. Clearly, he has a significant blind spot…which sports a bob cut.

While she keeps up a brave front in front of Momo, when left on her own in her room Kaz’s mind continues to race, as she deliberates over how impossible it would be to compete against a goddess like Niina. Kaz gets so worked up, she doesn’t realize she’s thinking out loud, talking about being way too obsessed with sex just as her mom steps into her room.

Turns out Kazusa’s and Izumi’s families go out for bowling night on occasion. That has to be the most goddamn fun thing I’ve ever heard! Sure, it’s a little awkward for Izumi and Kaz, especially when…Izumi…sticks his fingers…in the three holes of the ball…GAAAH, anyway things calm down when Kazusa goes to grab some refreshments and Izumi follows her, now knowing exactly what’s eating her.

What follows is the second most heartwarming scene of the episode (the first most comes later): the two, knowing each other so well, recall each other’s childish likes (Kaz a bit of milk in her Calpis; Izumi with melon soda). In this moment they remember how close they are and have always been, and that even with their raging hormones, they can find such moments of peace if they try.

Izumi even sets Kazusa’s mind at ease, first by almost reading it (she wants to bring up Niina, but he beats her to it), then by saying Niina is “more weird than pretty.”

Switching to Momoko, now a much more visible and compelling character, she goes on a date with Sugimoto and it’s…fine? Kinda meh? She honestly doesn’t know how to feel or act or speak, and is basically just relieved to be on the train home.

She’s surprised to find “opening up” by saying she has no dad is such a big deal to him. In any case, it’s a clear case of Momo…just not feeling it. Is it just because of the guy, or is she not into guys, or girls, or anyone? Not enough data to know yet, but I’m intrigued.

As stated last week I’m much less enamored of Yamagishi doing anything at all with Hitoha, and predictably, he decides to continue indulging Hitoha by ruling out direct eroticism and settling for indirect methods, such as Hitoha staking out a spot where he and only he can watch her show him her panties.

Hitoha is apparently getting what she wants—personal sexual experiences with which to improve her writing and hasten her debut—but without getting overbearingly paternalistic, I still fear for her. She’s doing this, at least in part, because she feels she has no other way to achieve her dreams.

That desperation, her limited years and Yamagishi’s more numerous ones all conspire to call her ability to consent into serious question. Yamagishi is the adult here. It’s completely on him to stop this, and endure the cascade of hate from Hitoha. She will get over him, in that situation. She may not get over where this is headed.

The first time Kazusa sees Niina at school, Niina calls Izumi “weird” just as Izumi used to describe her, and the wheels in Kazusa’s head start spinning all over again, helped not at all by a reading in club by Rika that describes exactly the means by which two people think and speak alike. If they both think each other are weird, that doesn’t bode well, Kazusa thinks, and she may well be right.

While we leave Kazusa trapped in a typhoon of suspicion, indecision, despair, and longing, the episode thankfully ends on that first-most heartwarming note I mentioned earlier, as Rika meets Amagi on the rooftop to deliver him his report, which she’s marked up in red to correct his errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation…oh, and on the last page where he asked her out, she wrote in tiny letters if you would be so kind. It’s a yes!

Rika had hoped not to be right there when he discovered that note, but when Amagi sees it, he starts leaping around the flying pages of the report in unabashed joy. Rika most certainly is abashed, at first covering her ears on the stairs, then chiding Amagi for being so loud about his happiness.

Rika is happy no doubt; but she’s no doubt scared shitless. The territory couldn’t be more uncharted if she started reading Shounen Jump. Not to mention, what if she ends up becoming a completely different creature entirely? Boy or girl, every single one of these kids is going to eventually become that—whether they like it or not.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 04 – Fifty Pages of Cute

When Rika maintained a practical, studious appearance, her classmates would say hateful things to her, but when she changes her look and becomes “hot” to girls and boys alike, all the attention and remarks are just as unpleasant. But when she retreats, Amagi follows her and tells her he’s falling for her. Flustered, Rika orders him to write a 50-page report on why, firmly believing he’s only been “hoodwinked” by her makeover and only likes her superficially.

Having already essentially blackmailed Yamagishi into advising the club, Hitoha confronts an inconsistency in his words and actions. If he really has “no appetite” for high school girls, why did he agree to meet one from a chatroom?

His monologue about them being “crude and unrefined,” and his assumption from her words that he was chatting with a “middle aged man,” cause Hitoha to snap. She jumps on Yamagishi, demanding to know if such conduct is “within his expectations,” but just as quickly shoves him back and flees, in part because, well…being on top of Yamagishi aroused her.

When they’re alone again, Hitoha tells Yamagishi as much. Furthermore, she grabs his hand, places it on her chest, and demands that he “teach her the reality” of the material she’s struggling to write about. Even if it’s Hitoha instigating a potential relationship, the power imbalance is clear, and the bottom line is legally she’s still a child while Yamagishi isn’t. So I can’t say I like where this is going, even if I understand it.

In other O Maidens news, Sudou Momoko actually exists as a character!! After a nice one-on-one with Sugawara (who declares Momoko and Kazusa her two best friends), she’s invited to karaoke with a mixed party, but the boys sing songs with sexually explicit lyrics.

One of the boys, Sugimoto Satoshi, can tell she’s uncomfortable, and joins her outside to talk. He reveals that for a long time he’s admired her maturity and confidence from afar, and asks if they can exchange LINE info to keep in touch. Momoko is a little relieved, a little overwhelmed, but also glad that someone out there has been thinking about her.

As she tells Kazusa, with whom she meets up to tell her about Sugimoto, Momoko says she now understands more how Kazusa must feel about Izumi…even if Kazusa hasn’t 100% figured that out.

Back to Rika, who for the second straight day is earnestly approached by Juujou, one of the class “it” gals, but refuses to have lunch with her (it is the same girl who called her names not long ago). Retreating to a thankfully unlocked rooftop, Rika is again chased down by Amagi, who presents her with his report, leaving her to read it alone.

Rika immediately starts poking holes in Amagi’s writing, using the not inconsiderable critical thinking she applies to the literature she writes. But the more she reads it, the fear it’s all skin-deep nonsense fades away when entire pages of “Rika is cute” seem to wash away the bitterness of all the bad things flung at her for so long. Amagi utilizes uses the report as a love letter, ending by asking her out. Rika has a big choice to make!

One of girls who got a lot less time this week was Niina, who as I mentioned was flattered by Momoko’s kind words about her being more than just a pretty face. She’s also the victim of some petty antagonism from Asada, who changes her tone from spiteful to innocent when Izumi shows up. Clearly she sees Niina as an impediment.

Izumi, meanwhile, continues to have cordial, friendly interactions with Niina, which, combined with his increasingly awkward (or as was the case this week, nonexistent) interactions with Kazusa, spells trouble for her. She had the least time this week, and didn’t get anywhere in patching things up.

If anything, when she spots Izumi and Niina on the train and remembers Niina’s desire to have sex before she dies, she only conceded more ground vis a vis Izumi that she simply can’t afford to lose. All the while, it’s becoming more and more impossible to escape into books.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 03 – Tough Kids Drink Milo

While Rika is checking a magazine to see how much she actually resembles Erika, Hitoha notices a new book has been published—but not her’s. Her editor says her stories aren’t “realistic” enough. For Hitoha, the message is clear: in order to break onto the young erotic fiction scene, she needs actual experience. So she arranges an IRL meet with “Milo” on the dirty chatroom.

When Izumi talks with Niina in private about the footage she shot, he doesn’t realize how much of a message he sent by taking her arm in class with everyone watching. Still, she’s impressed that he’s quicker on the uptake than she expected, taking her criticism and apologizing rather than bristling.

Even so Niina senses an “old-fashioned” quality to Izumi, and before returning to class (without saying she’d delete the footage) she assures him it’s not just boys who think about “doing it” all the time. Girls think about it too…even Kazusa. And it’s perhaps for that reason that every available male faculty member outright refuses to become the lit club’s adviser, keeping its future in jeopardy.

When Izumi’s mom drags Kazusa in to take home some meatloaf, she asks her to go up to his room to fetch the ketchup. Upon entering (again, without knocking! Girl!), she imagines him with his pants down at the desk again before it fades to an empty chair.

She gets a pang of nostalgia (which must come as a relief) when she sees the DVD for a Ghibli-like film on the desk, but when opening the case, she’s mortified to learn it’s something else entirely: a porn blu-ray, rather inartfully titled The Wheels on the Commuter Bus Go “Oh Yeah, Harder!”

Meanwhile, at the Hongou residence, Hitoha is ready to head out on her date when two misogynists on the TV talk about how mismatching underwear is a turnoff, and steals her sister’s blue bottoms to match her blue bra. As she waits until 1:00pm on the dot to leave the station and head for the statue where she’ll meet her date, she’s understandably nervous, repeating over and over to run if he looks like a shitty (or shitty-looking) guy.

So imagine her shock when “Milo” from the dirty chatroom is a handsome, glasses-less, stylishly-dressed…Yamagichi-sensei! Once he recognizes Hitoha, he bolts. I’d admire him for that, since it means he has no intention of sleeping with Hitoha, but then I wonder how he’d have reacted if it was a different girl her age, and immediately lose the ability to admire him for anything. Regardless, Hitoha follows; she can use this.

Desperate to learn something about sex, especially of the kind between the flowery literature or crass commuter bus porn (that’s quite a range), Kazusa beseeches her parents, who proceed to misunderstand her question and tell her about the day she was born, not the night they conceived her. They’re as ill-prepared to have “the talk” with their daughter as she is to ask them about it. Meanwhile, next door, Izumi panics over his lost porn…until he remembers Kazusa was in his room.

The next day, the principal and vice-principal, clearly scared of young women having a free and open forum to discuss literature of a mildly lascivious nature, are ready to pull the plug on the lit club after their unsuccessful search for an adviser, when Hitoha bursts into the office with a defeated, blackmailed Yamagishi by her side. He’ll be advising the club.

After Yamagishi eloquently analyzes Hitoha’s reading in the club, she twists the knife a little by giving him the same nickname in club (Milo-sensei)as his chatroom name, assuming it comes from Venus de Milo. Before he drives off, she thanks him for letting them continue the club, but he corrects her: he got it from something much more innocent: “Tough Kids Drink Milo,” the slogan of Nestle’s Milo chocolate drink (a personal favorite of mine…I guess I’m a tough kid!)

That evening, with the Norimotos apparently out, Kazusa uses the spare key to slip in and return Izumi’s porn DVD, but before doing so, has another ephiphany, realizing that her childhood friend, ever a lover of transportation, chose a commuter bus porn DVD rather than tarnish his even more beloved trains. Just as when she initially noticed the misleading Ghilbi case, Kazusa feels relieved, even happy that Izumi hasn’t changes as much as she thought.

It’s very sweet moment—and pretty hilarious!—moment. And then Izumi enters his room, correcting her on the format: it’s a Blu-Ray, not a DVD.

He goes on to try to explain and clarify that while he does watch porn (something now painfully clear), that doesn’t mean he’s interested in doing it with anyone; not Asada or any of the other girls at school, and not her, either. No doubt he probably doesn’t think he’s hurting Kazusa with those words, but he cuts her to the quick, and as her eyes well up she races out of the room, so fast that she stumbles down the stairs, and Izumi tumbles after her.

He lands on top of her at the bottom of the stairs, his face just an inch from her’s. How Kazusa doesn’t suffer a concussion in that fall I have no idea, but it’s a contrived-enough fall without an accidental kiss! Izumi jumps back to his feet and reiterates he doesn’t want to do it with “just anyone” and honestly isn’t even thinking about it that much. Kazusa responds by asking him to say “Willy’s Real Rear Wheel” ten times fast, while she slowly gets up and walks out.

It’s probably going to be like this for a while, as these two are nowhere near on the same wavelength and may not even want the same thing. Things will get even more dire for Kazusa if the more assertive Niina starts cultivating an interest in “Mr. Old Fashioned.”

But whatever hardship befall these five girls (well, four, anyway; Momo barely registers) and Izumi, I’m thoroughly enjoying this highly approachable, engaging, down-to-earth coming-of-age drama that reminds of my own awkward, clueless, stumbling, yearning younger self.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 02 – Holey War

After Kazusa reads about masturbation at the bookstore (no doubt learning it’s natural and healthy and thus way less of a big deal than either she or Izumi are making it out to be, even if it was super-embarrassing) she finds Niina in the clutches of some mouth-breather, and gets a text asking her to follow, along with other instructions.

When Kazusa joins them at the cafe, Niina is acting like “a different person”, talking about having to “take on three guys at once” later, then asking the dude if he’d hook up with her “super slutty friend” instead. That’s when Kazusa declares, loudly and proudly, that her crotch is really itchy. The guy flees.

Turns out it was all according to a script Niina’s friend at a theater troupe gave her to use as a defense against the many guys of all types who have projected their fantasies on her due to her ethereal, girlish good looks, and in doing so push past normal social boundaries. It’s a sad but very accurate commentary on the need to know how to deal with such men; many of whom won’t take rejection well.

Because of her looks, Niina grew up a little faster than the other girls. As for Kazusa, she really only grew up when she walked in on Izumi, who her clueless dad invites over for pizza. Izumi and Kazusa have a mature and productive chat about it briefly tries to make Kazusa forget by grabbing her head and shaking it (the childhood friend rambunctiousness coming out at the worst time) but ultimately would prefer if she just forgot it ever happened.

Later that night, in the shower, Kasuza puts herself in Izumi’s shoes, and of all the things she’d want to cover if he walked in on her, she determines she’d probably most want to hide her face, as if like an ostrich with its head in the ground, it wouldn’t be happening if she couldn’t see it.

At lit club, Rika instructs each member to come up with ten more “literary” words to use in place of the inartful English word “sex”, since it’s an otherwise unavoidable word with the works they’re reading. Then the writer among them gets a call from a potential editor, telling her she’s not quite there yet, but coming by his place will “probably help her chances.”

Then Rika gets “bothered by the chidings of lascivious beasts,” causing her to hurt her crotchal area on the vault; one of the girls doesn’t laugh and wonders out loud if she just “broke her hymen”; Rika later admits to herself she “doesn’t know how to check”.

It’s just and overall unpleasant-as-hell experience, but as she’s washing her face in the sink, Amagi comes by and calls her cute again, even comparing her to a model. There’s no reason to think the kid is messing with her, but Amagi isn’t prepared for the praise, and flees in a cloud of dust.

Then, the inevitable: the girl who boasted to her friend she’d take Izumi’s virginity makes her move. Kazusa is instinctively ready to riot, even tossing out the lame excuse of “having to keep an eye on him while his mother is busy with work!” She ends up getting to watch the meeting thanks to Niina paying her back for “having an STD for her” the other day.

Izumi ends up turning Asada down, but when she learns he doesn’t like anyone in particular, gets him to agree to “think about it,” as she’ll wait for him “forever.”

After Asada leaves, Izumi spots Niina snooping and recording, but Kasuza comes between them and tells the truth: Yes, they were snooping, but he didn’t give the girl a straight “no.” Then she asks if he just wants to “do it” with girls, and Izumi doesn’t understand, she blurts out a variant of one of the club’s euphemisms: “Ess Eee Ecks!” before running off.

The next day, with the whiteboard full of vulgar words and phrases, the principal and vice principal, both men, declare that absent a faculty advisor to keep them in line, the lit club will be dissolved. Kasuza starts weeping form the news; she doesn’t know what she’ll do if there’s no lit club (answer: they can always meet up somewhere after school and in the summer).

But Niina knows better. She knows Kasuza’s tears that just won’t stop aren’t just about the threat of the club dissolving. She gets Kasuza to admit that a “storm is raging in her heart”, and that if she absolutely had to “do it” with someone, it would be Izumi, which indicates she likes him. This may be something we’ve known for a while now, but only then, on the riverbank, does she finally have the official epiphany. She’s in luuuuuuve.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 01 (First Impressions) – Crazy Train

Onodera Kazusa is an almost aggressively normal high school girl. She doesn’t really stand out anywhere, and is part of a literature club whose members include both a budding author, a glasses-wearing prudish type, and a serene senpai who is perfectly comfortable reciting very steamy sex scenes in the book they’re all reading.

Kazusa has a best friend in fellow lit club member Sudou Momoko, and she has a childhood friend in the train-loving Norimoto Izumi. She and Momoko are each other’s main source of verbal and emotional support in these trying adolescent times. She and Izumi were once as close as brother and sister, but have drawn further apart due to his increasing popularity—particularly with other girls.

Kazusa is voiced by relative newcomer Kono Hiyori, who does a splendid job modulating her voice for Kazusa’s vulnerable and frustrated inner monologues. It also helps that she closely resembles Shizuku from Whisper of the Heart, a rare Ghibli film grounded in contemporary life and one of my favorite anime works.

It helps because Shizuku never strayed past the “pure and innocent” phase of her romance with Seiji; the film ended (spoilers!) with her suddenly proposing marriage after they bike up the highest points in West Tokyo and watch the sun rise on the city. It’s beautiful, and it marks a major milestone in their trudge toward adulthood…but it’s incomplete.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season (written by the great Okada Mari) is not incomplete. It reveals all of the insecurities and worries and downright dilemmas far beyond simply developing feelings for someone and being frustrated by one’s comparative lack of accomplishment. By the end, we have a nearly complete picture of who Kazusa is (just a kid), what she is gradually becoming mentally and physically (an adult) and how she feels about that (not so great so far!)

When Kazusa’s mom—whom she says many describe as “child-like” even though she’s most definitely not a virgin due to Kazusa’s existence—asks her to take some food to Izumi’s next door, the comfort of their familiarity is evident, but so is a growing awkwardness punctuated when Izumi asks if he should talk to her around other people.

Kazusa’s wishy-washy reply (depends on who and where) doesn’t help matters. Talking about their issues clearly would be optimal, but again…these are kids. She’s aware enough to know she didn’t handle her interaction with Izumi in a satisfying way, leaving so much up in the air and unclear, but she doesn’t yet possess the tools to do so, hence her frustration and very Shizuku-like private mope on Izumi’s front stoop.

Back in lit club, Sugawara Niina, with her confident stride, ever-calm tone, and shorter skirt, all indicate she’s more mature than the other four members. To put it far more harshly, some boys consider her a diamond atop a pile of dung. But when a story with the premise of “doing something before you die” comes up, she blurts out “have sex,” because as mature as she looks and sounds, she’s still a virgin—still in the bubble with the rest of them. Despite all the classy smut they’ve read, it’s still a totally unknown world.

But her stated desire to have sex before death brings that subject too the forefront, like poking at the bubble until it bursts. Now sex is the first thing on the minds of the four other girls, from Rika (glasses) telling some gals to shut up about sex and being verbally abused by some classmates and then complimented by another; to Kazusa overhearing two of the girls who like Izumi talk very openly about wanting to take his virginity.

The more Kazusa hears about Izumi and sex, the more those two seem like something possible and thus terrifying—a far cry from the little boy with which she used to run around, fall over, and wade in the kiddy pool. The boy who’s crazy about trains. With the bubble of obliviousness popped by Niina, Kazusa finds herself on the deep end, her surroundings growing darker and more morose. But she has to kick and swim and breathe, or she’ll drown.

Things already feel like they’re starting to spiral out of all control for Kazusa, who asserts that she doesn’t like this and isn’t ready for it at all, but she has no idea what’s coming down the track to knock her off the rails of innocence for good, where she was once only teetering and threatening to fall. In an absolutely stunning sequence that plays like, well, a train wreck, Kazusa hears music inside Izumi’s, and so enters through the unlocked front door.

She makes her way up the stairs to Izumi’s room, where the door is cracked but not closed, and lets herself in without knocking. Izumi is inside, his pants down and his feet on the desk, masturbating to porn on the internet. The director lets the two just sit there in the moment of horror, completely silent but for the (likely fake) orgasmic screams of the woman on the laptop. Izumi gives a half-hearted “Hey,” then asks if she’ll keep this a secret. Pretty smooth, considering one of every guy’s worst nightmares just came true.

Kazusa…snaps. She bolts out of the house screaming and just…keeps running and screaming (the action animation is superb) through a market district. Naturally, every food sign is a double entendre, lending credence to her lament that there’s just too much god damn sex in the world.

Worse, her pure, innocent Izumi has changed forever. The boy is dead; a man has taken his place. The last time he saw her penis it was tiny and harmless. Now, not so much. As she stops on a bridge over a train track to catch her breath, she tearfully declares out loud that “that won’t fit in there!” Then, in a moment perhaps almost too on the nose but also pretty damn effective, a train passes beneath her, lining right up between her legs, and enters a very tight tunnel. “It fit,” she says, relieved, but she soon collapses back into a heap of adolescent frustration.

O Maidens is a refreshingly bold, sincere, brutally frank depiction of sexual awakening and its maaaany pitfalls. So far the experience is largely horrifying, terrifying, and overwhelming for Kazusa, and it’s sure to continue to be so. But the show balances the drama and comedy, never letting you forget these are human beings with human being minds and parts, all of which are in a state of open rebellion, but all of which are also very complicated.

The stakes for Kazusa and her friends are far higher than looking fit in a bikini for the summer. This is for all the marbles. All we as viewers can do is ball our fists and hope she hangs on for dear life to this train ride that can’t be stopped, until the ride becomes at least little smoother, if not joyful. I’ll be in the cafe car, quietly cheering on these maidens in their savage season.

Domestic na Kanojo – 11 – There’s Always Someone Better

After lying and keeping secrets for so long, Natsuo finally tells Rui everything, from his long time love of Hina to his determination to be with her in the future. But just because it’s the truth doesn’t make the words sting any less. After sharing one last kiss and an evening of private sobbing, Rui is also determined to move on from Natsuo.

Of course, since it’s impossible for Rui to not handle such things in an odd way, she announces to Natsuo the next morning that she’s decided to “start disliking him.” I can’t say I blame her, as Natsuo has grown more selfish and insufferable with each passing week, but in her case it’s a defense mechanism. She’ll still treat him like family, but otherwise, she’s done.

At least Natsuo gets to talk to Rui; Rui freezes out Hina both on LINE and at school, where Natsuo and Hina misguidedly meet up once again to discuss it. The episode suddenly makes a hard right turn from the love triangle to…the “Natsuo Striving to be an Author” plot, when Rui wins an award instead of him (or Miu, for that matter).

This shakes Natsuo to his core, despite the fact, if he’s honest, he’s spent far more time lately being a horndog with Hina than he has crafting brilliant narratives. Still, he believes the solution is to go to Akari’s house announced and beg him to make him his apprentice. It’s not any more pleasant than Natsuo begging for sex.

His sensei turns him down in this case, because becoming his apprentice is not the way to go about becoming a good author; it takes actual struggle and hard work, not just connections. Natsuo takes this to mean writing one short story per week. Then, in another bit of whiplash, the episode makes another hard turn to School Beach Trip territory.

This means not only Rui and Miu and Momo in swimsuits, but Hina as well, and as she plays volleyball with the students, she looks more like a teacher than a student. Rui takes her aside to remark on the inappropriateness of her swimsuit, but Hina is so happy she’s not ignoring her anymore, that it leads to the two making up.

Rui isn’t interested in Hina breaking up with Natsuo if she still has real feelings for him; instead, she’s prepared to concede him to her and pursue other options. Honestly it’s probably a good move by Rui…if she can stick the landing. But Rui’s assurances don’t dissuade Hina from deciding to break up with Natsuo anyway, since it’s just not a tenable relationship.

It’s disappointing to see Hina’s position so callously overruled by Natsuo thanks to a cheap ring and a promise that he’ll make an honest woman of her for sure, even proposing marriage. Their two positions couldn’t be further apart, but there’s no compromise, Natsuo simply gets what he wants, again. 

While he may talk about caring about the future, it’s Hina who was looking out for both of them by suggesting they end things while they still can. Instead, they make out in front of an open window during a fireworks display, then have sex and apparently spend the night together.

These are not good decisions, as Hina learns on the first day back at school, when she’s summoned by the principal, who presents her a photo of her, and Natsuo, kissing by the open window, during the fireworks display.

She and Natsuo were so caught up in being together that they got sloppy, never stopping to think how others (who weren’t Rui) mind think and feel about them together. In the school’s case, it’s likely a fireable offense, and certainly a black mark on its reputation. Suffice it to say Hina is well and truly fucked.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 22 – This Is Goodbye…Or Is It?

Hikari and Iroha make good on last week’s joint declaration not to go home, but their status as minors gets them turned away at every bed-and-breakfast. They come across a charming ryokan whose surly owner says is closed, but he reconsiders when he overhears them discussing what to do now that they’ve missed the last train.

Turns out the innkeeper was loath to host guests because his better half walked out on him—apparently not an uncommon occurrence—but his spirits (and boredom) are lifted by his brief glimpse of “first love in the present progressive”, as he grammatically puts it. He naturally doesn’t see why a hottie like Iroha is doing with a dweeb like Hikari, but hey, that’s the impression most get from just looking at the surface.

When Iroha sneezes and implies she may be coming down with a cold (echoing when they first got together), Hikari makes her bed, and then joins her in it. One thing leads to another, and the next thing you know it’s morning and neither of them are wearing clothes.

That’s right, it happened! And I appreciate how low-key and understated it was. The next day, after hanging out a little more, they part ways at the train station, but not before Hikari draws her in for a farewell kiss. But when she gets home, Iroha is hounded by Chika, warning her to end things immediately, not for her sake, but for Hikari’s.

Back at school, Hikari apologizes to Itou for being so out-of-sorts, but explains that it’s because he only has a month left with Iroha before she moves. He also tells him they did it, which bowls Itou over. As for Ishino and Takanashi, they just infer Hikari did it from his complete inability to hide the fact that he had his cherry popped.

But Iroha isn’t at school that day, or the next day, and Hikari worries she’s avoiding him (I assumed she caught a cold). Turns out Iroha is taking Chika’s advice to end things with Hikari. The only thing is, Chika didn’t quite mean to cut off all contact cold turkey. Hikari ends up staking out their house, and nothing Chika can say can convince him to leave.

Finally, Chika gives in when Hikari says he’s fine with her saying she doesn’t want to see him anymore, as long as he hears the words from Iroha herself. The two go back to school together for the last time, where Iroha informs Hikari of the situation: she has a “bug in her head” (read: brain tumor) for which she’s going to have risky surgery. She may not survive the operation, and even if she does, her memories may not.

Hikari treats this information with the gravity it deserves, and he’s well within his rights to descend into a pool of darkness…but is it just me or are both Hikari and Iroha jumping to conclusions and hedging way too early with this goodbye? Sure, one can fear the worst, but whenever the word “may” is used, there can and should always be some hope that things will work out! Maybe she won’t die, and maybe she won’t lose some or all of her memories.

Hikari and Iroha may not be married (and thus never made a vow to be together in sickness and in health), but it’s clear they both love each other; far more than when they first started dating and more now than ever. I understand Iroha wanting to shelter Hikari from the worst case scenario, but the ship has definitely sailed when it comes to coming out of this without any pain or anguish. If I were Hikari, I’d certainly ask more questions about the situation before resorting to despair.

Shouldn’t the choice of whether to stay by her side be Hikari’s to make? And isn’t he giving up too easily considering all the “mays” Iroha used? Will the show really ignore those “mays” and take her away from Hikari, and from us? I don’t want to believe that. But even if it does, I don’t want either of them giving up hope prematurely. There’s two whole episodes left…stay positive!

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 21 – What About Us?

I’ve never been particularly interested in 3DK’s longstanding ticking clock on Hikari and Iroha’s relationship. It’s a two-dimensional source of drama and dread on a show that’s proven itself capable of developing nuanced solutions to conflicts that rise organically from its cast of 3D characters.

Case in point: 3DK invested so much time and loving care to bringing Ishino and Takanashi together, yet the biggest threat to Hikari and Iroha’s relationship remains frustratingly murky.

There’s nothing unclear about the statuses of their friends, however: Ishino x Takanashi is very public, while Itou confirms to Hikari that he and Ayado made love. It’s quite on point for Itou to cry tears of joy afterwards, as well as to tell Hikari that it probably has changed his world, but a lot more changes are to come as he and Ayado share more experiences.

I kinda wish we’d gotten more of Ayado’s perspective—perhaps telling Ishino or Iroha about it—but still, kudos to the show for being both unambiguous and tasteful in the portrayal of a very common milestone in young people’s lives.

As their final year in high school begins to draw to a close, Takanashi, Ishino and Itou are all thinking about their futures…while Hikari hasn’t. Why would he? The future, to him, is just a place where there’s no Iroha.

Better to make the most of the present lest he come away with regrets. For Hikari, this means blowing off career surveys, studying and even some classes to spend maximum time with Iroha.

A side-effect of all the dating is a precipitous drop in his grades, something he keeps from both Itou and Iroha until the former hears it from the teacher. Like any best friend as kind as he is, Itou is concerned about Hikari, and urges him to be mindful of finding a school/romance balance.

However, Hikari doesn’t want to tell Itou why he’s neglecting his studies. He doesn’t want to tell Itou that Iroha is moving in a month, because that will only make that move—that future without her—more real.

Instead of getting back to his studies, Hikari takes Iroha out on more and more dates, even as she gets increased pressure from Mabuchi (the doctor) to stop what she’s doing presumably due to an undisclosed medical condition…but we just don’t absolutely know for sure!

One thing’s for sure: frolicking on a frigid beach in October isn’t going to help that condition…and I’d be very surprised if one or both of them didn’t come down with a cold next week.

But fine: Hikari doesn’t know the truth, and neither do we. Iroha doesn’t know about his bad grades until Itou tells her, and when she pulls out what she thinks are his notebooks for studying, they’re filled with things he’s planned for them to do together.

Seeing this note makes Iroha cry, because Hikari is planning a future for them that may not be possible. When he comes back with warm drinks, she tells him she lied: she’s not going to transfer schools. But that still doesn’t explain if and why they’ll separated in a month’s time.

Then again, perhaps Hikari’s request to his mom to loan him a large sum of money from his mom, and both his and Iroha’s reluctance to “go home” means they’re going to run away together, finally taking charge of their future.

But if Iroha’s real circumstances are so serious she’s yet to breathe a word of them to the man she loves, out of a reluctance to hurt him, what if those circumstances worsen, and there’s no longer any way to hide them…or avoid hurting Hikari anyway?

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 19 – Tabasco In The Orange Juice

From Iroha slapping her brother with a wet towel when he accuses her geeky boyfriend of dragging her down to his level, to Hikari showing that he’s grown into a far better boyfriend than Iroha’s boyfriend could imagine, I loved every minute of this episode.

It was full of instances of friends leaning on one another in times of need, quickly sorting out misunderstandings, and, of course, Ishino gettin’ some legit attention from a guy other than Takanashi! The only major mark against this episode is that there’s no Ayado, but that allows the episode to maximize its time with everyone else.

First, a brief rift between Itou and Hikari emerges when Itou asks Takanashi for advice on how to proceed with Ayado. Hikari knows he’s not the one to go to for advice of that nature, but is still embarrassed enough to avoid Itou, until Itou himself calls him out and they sort it out together.

Itou assures him every couple goes at its own pace, and that if Hikari doesn’t even intend to go all the way with Iroha (as Itou suspects he will with Ayado, very soon), Itou respects and will support him. It’s some very mature conversation between best mates, clarifying that this isn’t a race!

Speaking of early bloomers, Kaoru comes to Takanashi’s house to apologize for keeping Anzu out late, but manages to pierce Takanashi’s innate distrust and loathing for All Things Tsutsui with a heartfelt monologue about why he loves Anzu and wants to help her big brother keep her safe. Still, Takanashi is frustrated enough with Kaoru’s shrewdness that he decides to take it out on Hikari, who after all only wants some of the same advice as Itou.

While heading back downstairs from the roof, Takanashi very clearly tries to get the attention of Ishino, and ask her if she’s free for…something. But his friend, who met Ishino at the maid cafe, asks her out first, having already gotten a half-hearted okay from Takanashi to pursue her. It’s clear despite his aloof attitude, Takanashi doesn’t like his friend spending all this time with Ishino. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve had until you’ve lost it!

Hikari and Ishino have been just humming along, but with another three-day weekend coming up Iroha wants to go on a trip…an overnight trip—to eat and see the sights in another town. But Hikari is overwhelmed by the possibility that they may end up doing it, and gets so stuck in his head he appears outwardly opposed to and stressed out about going on the trip, and Iroha drops the issue and heads home.

For her part, Ishino told Hikari before he met with Iroha to just get fucking laid already…though at the same time no one reinforces Hikari’s own insecurities and sense of non-worth than Ishino, even though she’s just messing around.

But Ishino now finds herself in a bit of a love triangle. I doubt this new guy (I didn’t even hear his name) is anything other than a means to show Takanashi that he actually does requite Ishino’s feelings, at least to some degree, whether it’s true love or he’s simply pleasantly accustomed to having her around.

Ishino assumes the worst; that he’s some kind of playboy just trying to get in her pants. I’m not 100% convinced that’s not the case either. Good luck, Ishino! As for Takanashi, he should take after his friends and reconcile his feelings.

Hikari, good man that he is, doesn’t spend days worrying about what a shit he is, and corrects himself almost immediately, actually taking the time to look at the travel books Iroha marked, then running after her, embracing her from behind, and agreeing that it will be a fun time. He just had to get out of his own head, and put himself in her shoes: she must have been excited to tell him about the trip, and was looking forward to it since the last three-day weekend.

Unfortunately, due to Iroha’s poor test scores, she has to take remedial classes over the weekend, but Hikari assures her they’ll go the next time. Here’s hoping there is one—it would be a great step forward for their relationship.

Dororo – 06 – Not Everyone Can Get It All Back

Anyone who thought things were going to work out with Mio and her group of orphans has not been paying attention: Dororo is about people losing more than they can bear and trying to press on, but not everyone gets to survive. Some, like Mio and the kids, become another loss for our protagonists, who are cursed with the luck of survival, and with bearing witness to those who aren’t so lucky.

Dororo may have stumbled upon what Mio is up to all night, but Take is still blissfully unaware, and Dororo keeps it that way. Take, like Mio, dreams of the day they have the money to plant a rice paddy that will be green in spring and golden in the autumn. It’s what keeps them going, and it no doubt prompts Dororo to wonder what keeps him going.

At Casa de Daigo, Tahomaru urges his father to let him fight in the army. His head is full of steam and dreams of making his parents proud, but both father and mother forbid his demand, because they know all too well how easy it is to lose your life, no matter how good at martial arts one may be.

Tahomaru takes out his frustrations on his mother, who he’s suspected for some time loves and cares about something more than him. He knows he was childish to guilt trip her, but he’s continually vexed by the mystery of who or what dominates his parents’ thoughts. If he and Hyakkimaru ever meet, it’s not going to be cordial.

Dororo and Mio have to watch Hyakkimaru like a hawk from going back to fight the antlion demon while his leg wound is healing. Mio is eager to hear the voice Hyakkimaru gained , but he only wants to hear her song, which she says she sings to forget the pain. She lives with the pain of both everything she’s lost and what she must deal with nightly.

She worries her soul looks “filthy” to Hyakkimaru, but we can see through his eyes and it’s not; she’s being far too harsh on herself. Dororo also admits after his initial reaction that Mio is only doing what she must to survive. He tells her his mother never did what she did, and she died for it.

But unlike Hyakkimaru and Dororo, Mio doesn’t get to survive anyway, despite going to such lengths. Daigo’s soldiers catch her working on both sides of the conflict, which was always a risk too great no matter the reward, and they punish her by killing her, slaughtering the orphans, and burning their temple shelter.

Worse still, Hyakkimaru’s need to finish his fight with the demon draws him away at the worst possible time. He successfully defeats the demon, and the leg it took from him last week is fully restored. But it wasn’t worth it. I will miss Mio terribly; Mizuki Nana really brought warmth and empathy to her role, but she was just too good for this world.

When Hyakkimaru takes out his hatred for the soldiers and anger at himself for not being there when it mattered, it is a terrifying sight to behold, and almost verbatim what Biwamaru had feared: that the beast that emerged from the cave would be a monster. He doesn’t just quickly, cleanly kill the murderous wretches, he evicerates them, ignoring their pleas for mercy.

Dororo manages to stop him from killing the last man, who escapes and will probably report Hyakkimaru to Daigo, officially ending his time in the shadows and putting him squarely in his father’s sights. That may end up being a very bad idea, but Dororo had to stop him from killing everyone, lest the darkness consume him. He shows Hyakkimaru the bag of rice seed Mio finally got for her services.

She was on the cusp of achieving her dreams and those of the orphans, but their idealized future was never going to be safe in this harsh brutal land of warring factions, whether Hyakkimaru stayed to protect them or not. He couldn’t be a hero to Mio and the kids. All he can do is accept his luck, keep surviving, keep fighting the demons both outside and within, with Dororo making sure to serve as a conscientious check when his aniki’s pain threatens to explode.

Dororo – 05 – A Beautiful Soul in an Ugly World

Hyakkimaru may have his hearing back, but at least initially it’s more of a curse than a blessing. Even in an eerily quiet forest he’s assaulted by what he perceives as an intolerable din of creature sounds, not to mention Dororo’s voice. Determining that something has to be done until he gets used to hearing, Dororo wraps his ears in several layers of fabric to lesson the suffering.

When a bird monster suddenly attacks, it’s clear that Hyakkimaru’s newfound hearing is also messing with his ability to fight. He gets a few licks in, but the bird gives as good as it gets, seriously injuring Hyakkimaru. It it isn’t for Biwamaru showing up to finish it off, it probably would have been curtains for Hyakkimaru and Dororo.

Biwamaru fixes him up as best he can, but Hyakkimaru will need medicine to recover properly. He’s also being very stubborn about accepting the fact he can now hear. Biwa compares him to a beast holed up in its cave; he’ll have to come out sooner or later. The boys have run into Biwamaru because the old priest has had to turn around after entering lands in which a war is currently being fought between the Sakai clan and the ally it betrayed.

In the morning, Hyakkimaru hears a sound he’s never heard before: a woman singing a sweet and gentle song. He follows the song and finds its owner, a beautiful young woman, washing her kimono in the river. While some might find the sight of Hyakkimaru frightening, she is concerned…especially when he nearly passes out in her arms.

The songstress, who goes by Mio, invites the three to the ruins of a village where she cares for a group of small war oprhans, most of whom are missing limbs like Hyakkimaru. Dororo meets a lad near his own age in Takebo, who serves as Mio’s second-in-command of the little ‘uns. Takebo also insists Mio get her sleep, as she works all through the night and needs to have her energy. Dororo doesn’t ask Takebo to elaborate.

Meanwhile, Lord Kagematsu’s wife Nuinokata impresses upon her husband the seriousness of recent unfortunate events that have befallen them, from landslides to drought to the betrayal of the Sakai clan. Tahoumaru overhears, and probably thinks he can do something to ease his father’s troubles. Of course, we know that as long as Hyakkimaru keeps killing the demons who stole pieces of him, the demons will continue to seek reparations from Daigo.

As Biwamaru searches for a safe path along which to continue, Mio goes to work when the sun sets. When she returns in the morning, her kimono slightly askwer, Hyakkimaru is waiting for her. She gets the feeling he can not only see her, but see deeper than most; Dororo tells her she’s right; he can see souls.

In both her selfless actions, charity towards both the orphans and her new guests, and the beauty of the song she sings, Hyakkimaru is now able to ascertain with both sight and sound that Mio is a particularly good soul. He signs that wants to hear her song again, and she obliges.

Seemingly invigorated by the song, Hyakkimaru wastes no time heading off when Biwamaru informs them all that there’s a safe area to which to relocate, provided they can defeat the tough demon that dwells there. But with his wounds still held together with hope and still dealing with his new sense of hearing, Hyakkimaru loses a step. He defeats the demon, but loses his one real leg below the knee. Defeating this demon unlocks his voice, and he uses it to cry out in what must be excruciating pain, while Biwamaru looks at him like he’s already got one foot in the grave.

Later that night, while following Mio to town where she hopes to do business with both sides of the conflict to fund her little group’s relocation, Dororo loses track of her. When he finally finds her, it’s due in part because she’s singing, but the reason she’s singing gives Dororo pause: she’s singing while being raped by three soldiers.

Once again Dororo takes a cold hard look at the casual brutality and injustice of feudal Japan. It takes a particularly dim view of lords and the samurai they wield as tools of terror and death. In this time and place wars can pop up at the drop of an obi, leaving children without their parents or even their very limbs. They are only able to survive because poor Mio sells her body every night.

I would hope that Hyakkimaru, Dororo, and Biwamaru could do something to help them, but with Hyakkimaru’s new horrifying injury, it’s hard to believe he’ll be doing anything anytime soon.