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.

Domestic na Kanojo – 01 (First Impressions) – So That’s How It Is

One minute Fujii Natsuo is at an innocuous mixer, the next he’s sneaking out with the least enthusiastic of the girls, Tachibana Rui who asks him for a favor. She wants to have sex, so she knows what it’s like and so it won’t feel like people are talking down to her.

She correctly assessed that Natsuo was also a virgin, and so she wouldn’t be taken advantage of or anything else by a more experienced guy. They get undressed, do the deed, get dressed, and part ways. There was never supposed to be any passion or emotion of any kind, so Rui tells him that if they ever meet again, they’re strangers.

As Natsuo confides to his dorkier best friend (who make it a point to de-dorkify Natsuo before high school so at least one of them would have a chance, socially speaking), the experience doesn’t quite sit that well with him, the more time that passes after The Act.

For one thing, there’s someone he likes—a pretty young teacher at school—and while it’s most likely to remain unrequited (at least as long as he’s a minor and her student), a part of him laments that his first time was so…impersonal.

But if you think the chain of events Natsuo has experienced to this point was sudden, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! One afternoon his father announces he’s going to remarry, ten years after Natsuo’s mother passed away. And oh yeah, she’s coming over right now, with her two daughters…who just happen to be Natsuo’s teacher Hina and Rui, with whom he had sex. OH, SNAP!

Natsuo faints from the shock, but when he comes to, Hina and Rui’s mother warmly introduces herself, and when asked, tells him why she likes him. She and his father really are a good match and both seem happier than any of the kids have ever seen them. It’s for that reason that Rui, who waits for Natsuo outside the toilet, is not going to get in the way of her mom’s happiness just for “some stupid reason” (read: their having sex that one time).

Natsuo gives his dad his blessing as well, and things only accelerate from there: his dad buys a new house big enough for the newly-combined family, and adding to Natsuo’s apparent woes. Hina insists on a dropping of formalities in the house, while Rui insists that Natsuo forget they ever did it, as it’s clearly still bothering him. Naturally, that’s not so easily done; Natsuo can’t get the images of making love to Rui out of his head.

Still, This Is All Happening and everyone has to make the best of it. For Hina’s part, she forgets she’s no longer in an all-women’s household and comes out of the bath half-naked, only to put on a loose tank and short shorts before drinking herself to sleep with Asahi Super Dry (not out of depression; she just likes to drink).

As she dozes on the couch, with everyone else in bed, Natsuo decides he’ll close the book on his one-sided crush on his teacher-now-stepsister once and for all…with a first and last kiss. But before his lips meet hers, Rui enters the room, and her expression isn’t one of total contempt, but something more like…a “how could you?” face.

Your enjoyment of a show like this (or Koi to Uso, or Kuzu no Honkai) will depend entirely on your stomach for love triangles (and other polygons) as well as your ability to swallow a premise this specific and weird. To its credit, because of the central reason for the new arrangement—his dad and their mom are truly in love and deserve happiness—helps temper the ridiculousness.

Because the dynamic between Hina and Natsuo and Rui and Natsuo are so different, it will be very interesting to see how the three navigate their new normal.

Grand Blue – 11 – Advanced Adult Activities

Concerned about failing his test on account of being bad at mask clearing, Iori tries to devise a way to practice without Kouhei or Aina knowing. The gang rents a car, but it ends up being two cars since one won’t fit all eight. Turns out Aina can drive a manual truck from helping out at a rice farm.

Many a misunderstanding due to lack of proper context ensues, both at the market when Shinju and Ryuu order strangely-named fish like “Hamazaki’s Wife” or “Chubby High Schooler”, and back at the rental house.

Iori decides honesty is the best policy, so tells a weary Chisa when the two pair up to cook together. He asks her to help him practice, but when both Aina and Kouhei come into the kitchen, from what they overhear they believe Iori is asking Chisa out…and wants to be tied up and stepped on.

Aina wakes up to find Chisa’s bed empty and goes out to find Chisa holding him underwater with her foot. She fears something very strange is going on, and doesn’t believe Iori, but believes Chisa. Turns out she wouldn’t have laughed about Iori’s mask clearing, but would have helped if asked.

In fact, she joins Chisa in pressing him underwater with their feet, prompting a passerby to call the cops. Unfortunately, Chisa and Aina are already back in bed and Iori is alone and naked in the pool when an officer arrives.

Iori isn’t arrested, but he does catch cold, so he can’t participate in training exercises that day. Azusa stays behind to take care of him, using green onions as a home remedy (one ’round the neck, one where the sun don’t shine, which Iori rejects).

When Azusa learns Iori hasn’t been sleeping because he’s nervous lying beside her and Nanaka, Azusa only half-jokingly suggests they have sex so he won’t feel nervous. Iori has a legit shot at sleeping with her here, but sheepishly declines.

However, when Iori learns that Tokita of all people has a girlfriend, he ends up drinking—a lot—so by the time the others return (Kouhei and Aina with certification cards in hand), he’s passed out, naked, with Azusa’s home remedy successfully, er, deployed.

Grand Blue – 08 – Operation Blueballs

The Okinawa diving trip ends up being further off than I expected, with the tennis winnings only covering travel expenses. The rest of the trip is out of pocket, which means Iori and Kouhei need to make more money. Shinji hooks them up with a part-time moving company job, but compared to him they’re weaklings and can’t keep it up without destroying their bodies.

They assume Ryuu is selling his body in some fashion to make money, but Azusa assures them that’s far from the case, and proves it when she takes them to the very normal, classy, and surprisingly affordable bar where he works—and apparently has pretty customers falling for him almost nightly.

Iori and Kouhei want in, and the proprietor lends them some uniforms, but while they look the part, they prove absolutely inept at mixing drinks, taking their names too literally and putting actual screwdrivers in poor Aina’s drinks, then crushing all of her idealized dreams by basically being awful klutzes.

We never learn whether they make any money dicking around behind the bar, but we do know the proprietor incorrectly believes Iori and Kouhei are a couple, since the particular answers to the questions he asks Iori could apply to either Kouhei or Chisa (who unfortunately gets a real short shrift this week).

In the second segment, we’re back to the Fellowship of the Losers, who forgive Iori when he promises them he’s never touched Chisa despite presumably “dating” her. Instead, they all focus their hate on Mitarai, who hasn’t hung out or drunk with them in a while, suggesting he may be involved with a woman (and thus no longer a loser).

Iori confirms this when he calls Mitarai and hears a woman in the background Mitarai is definitely trying to have sex with. Honestly, Mitarai is an idiot, because if you want to have sex with anyone, you turn your goddamn phone off.

He doesn’t, and pays the price, as they all arrive at his house and proceed to bar his bliss with his unnamed but very pretty childhood friend. From the delivery of porn videos, to the fake LINE messages from another girl, to Kouhei using his “mixed voice” talent to sound like multiple other girls outside his door, the Losers throw everything they have at Kitarai, resulting in the girl getting dressed and leaving, telling him never to contact her again.

Despite him being thoroughly and completely cockblocked, the mere fact he was even in the position to sleep with a girl makes the lads see him as a traitor to ostracize…except for Iori, who still senses a “Loser” in him. That sense turns out to be true when Kitarai has one potential last chance to mend things with the girl, and instead asks her to introduce him to her friends.

She beats the crap out of him and sends him flying, and as his bloodied body flies across the full moon the other Losers raise their hands in the air. Iori’s trust in him is validated, while the doubts of the others is rebuked. Even if they hadn’t interfered that night, Kitarai likely would have found a way to muck up the great thing he had going on.

I may have harped on the overly amplified jealousy of Iori’s friends, but it was actually pretty fun this week since it was directed at someone who deserved it, i.e. someone who is actually with a girl, not pretending to be, like Iori is with Chisa. Mind you, that doesn’t mean I don’t want Iori to try to actually date Chisa! He just has to, for one, learn when to turn his dang phone off.

Darling in the FranXX – 17 – All the New Rules are Starting to be Scrapped

Things have gotten so blissfully domestic in the scarred remains of Mistilteinn, Zero Two files her horns like one trims their nails, and Miku makes her a tiara of flowers that give her a more regal bearing. There’s a very Garden of Eden/Earthly Delights about their home, especially with Hiro Kokoro already having met their “serpents” in Zero Two and the pregnancy book, respectively.

Both have lent knowledge “Papa” (i.e. God”) did not directly give them, and has fundamentally changed their destinies, with Kokoro gaining the drive to procreate and Hiro growing horns of his own. Once Adam and Eve Know Too Much, anyone who’s read Genesis knows what happens next—expulsion from paradise. Papa’s agents arrive almost on queue to “check on” Squad 13 and see if any “corrections” are needed.

The Nines come dripping with the smug superiority you’d expect of such agents, looking down upon the less-than-ideal living conditions. None of them seem to touch the meager repast their hosts made and caught themselves—and no doubt can’t afford to waste. They look upon Squad 13 with pity, if not outright disgust, and their honeyed words and wry grins are fooling nobody (except Zorome, of course).

Meanwhile, during their latest meeting in the “birdcage” conservatory, Kokoro finally tries to come on to Mitsuru, having read the contents of the pregnancy booklet over and over, seeing the profound difference in their bodies, and thinking how right it feels to bring them together to make a life that will carry on after they’re gone.

Unfortunately, the night before while bumping into a Nine, Kokoro lost her booklet and it fell into Alpha’s hands. That’s when the wry grin vanishes.

Mitsuru rebuffed Kokoro’s advancements, but more out of shock that she was acting on feelings he knew he had for her. It takes a bath with his old buddy Hiro to realize those are feelings of love, and he should do what his heart is telling him to do.

Before he has a chance to, the Nines confront Kokoro in front of the rest Squad 13 (who heard from Zorome that she and Mitsuru are an “item” now), and Alpha presents her baby booklet, full of straight-up taboo ideas that aren’t even supposed to be spoken of. Reproduction has been banned ever since humans “evolved past it.”

What’s interesting is how Alpha handles what could be a life-jeopardizing situation for Kokoro like a hall monitor finding contraband. He is merely an instrument of Papa speaking only with Papa’s voice. But his dispassionate tone becomes cruel when Kokoro makes her case for why humans are no different in other animals, and how there should be more to life than piloting FranXX into battle.

He calls her and her perfectly reasonable ideas utterly “disgusting”, and for that, Ikuno slaps him and has to be held back from doing more, not merely lashing out on Kokoro’s behalf, but due to her own unrequited love for Ichigo.

Hachi and Nana separate Kokoro from the others and reveals that they’ve been watching Squad 13 all along, as part of Dr. FranXX’s “final test” for them. When Nana insists that even talking about reproduction is banned, let alone doing ti, Kokoro rightfully asks why they have the organs to do so, and emotions that seem to compel them to do so.

These questions from Kokoro spark a sharp visceral reaction in Nana, leading both Hachi and Alpha to suspect that she’s “relapsed to puberty”, which is ominously referred to as “not being good” for the person to which it happens. Alpha even blithely suggests they replace her with a “new Nana,” as the current one has been rendered “useless.” Harsh shit.

Based on Dr. FranXX’s reaction to Squad 13’s developments (and absent further information) it seems his primary goal was to see how easing 13’s emotional and sexual suppression would improve their performance as weapons against the Klaxosaurs. After all, he never expected his experiments would lead 13 to develop “humanity’s original reproductive instincts.”

And yet, here we are. When two members of APE arrive at Klaxosaur Central (presumably in the Gran Crevasse), they meet the humanoid “Princess of the Klaxosaurs” and formally ask her to surrender to Humanity and end the now century-long war.

When she refuses, one of the APE members attacks her, and she slaughters him, his partner, and their three guards with ease. When she removes the mask of one of the corpses to find nothing there, she derides them as “human wannabes.”

That got the gears going in my head: what if, perhaps a century ago or more, aliens invaded earth and imposed the system they have now? What if the “humans” we’ve seen in the various plantations are the anamoly, and the Klaxosaurs are actually closer to what humans used to be?

We can’t say how far in the future this story takes place, so the fact Nana, Hachi, and the parasites we’ve watched could have tricked us into thinking they’re “real humans” with their familiar looks and ways of living. The Princess’ words throw everything into doubt…though one thing we learn from Zero Two is that she can’t reproduce like humans.

Earlier in the series I doubt anyone would have guessed that the first Squad 13 couple to jump into bed together would be Kokoro and Mitsuru, but here we are. I enjoyed the contrast between the candlelit chasteness of Zero Two and Hiro’s romance, and the more physical, primal, hot-and-heavy Kokoro+Mitsuru variety that finally crests with the two having sex.

It is an act of simple human biology, and yearning to decide one’s future with one’s own heart an act of simple human psychology. But in their artificial world, these are also acts of rebellion, as well as capital crimes for which there may well be dire consequences. After all, Dr. FranXX, Hachi, Nana, the Nines, and APE are all watching. The Garden of Eden may feel secluded, but nothing that goes on there is really private.

APE, however, have more pressing matters. The Princess has violently rebuffed their condescending “olive branch”, and so they vow the Klaxosaurs will “feel the pain of having their earth scorched by their own creation.” ‘Their?’ Scratch that about aliens: perhaps Klaxosaurs are highly-evolved humans who created the APE and their ilk; now they’re at war with them, with Zero Two, Hero, and Squad 13 stuck in the middle.

While we’re on the subject of creations coming to bite their creators in the ass, I’ll close with that iconic quote from Jurassic Park:

Ian: God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.

Ellie: Dinosaurs eat man…Woman inherits the earth.

Hey, at least Dinosaurs never destroyed God…right?

Devils Line – 01 – Back to the Well…of BLOOD (First Impressions)

“AND I’m a vampire…what a week!”

From Blood and Shiki to Dance in the Vampire Bund, Rosario + Vampire, Seraph of the End, and Help! My Little Sister is a Vampire!, there is no shortage of vampire anime out there, old and new, good and bad.

There’s so much, you might not have realized that I simply made up that last one, though for all I know it might actually exist (and Tasukete! Watashi no Imouto wa Kyuuketsuki! can be readily pared down to Tawamokyu!). 

The point is, we know all about vampires in anime. So any time a new one comes around, I ask two pretty standard questions:

#1: Does this add anything notably new to the table?
#2: If not, what makes it worth watching?

In the case of Devils Line, the answer to Question #1 is a firm “no.” Sure, the vamps’ chompers are a bit over-sized (not a great look!) and there’s an emphasis on vamps as crazed blood-and-sex addicts, but we’ve got a standard “pure maiden gets drawn into the dark side” story, which hearkens back to Lucy Westenra.

As to Question #2, I actually found a lot to like in the first 19/20ths of the episode (more on the final 20th later). First, the setting is realistic and grounded rather than surreal or baroque, and there’s a familiar Tokyo Nighttime atmosphere that pervades the episode and draws you in. I took note of the way characters were back-lit from various light sources.

In keeping with the much-like-real-life setting, the vamps, while ostensibly the “bad guys”, are also given a good degree of nuance and humanization. It’s not an accident that the blood-soaked cold open depicts a vamp tearing people apart…but not being all that happy about it! (no doubt because his fangs are so comically huge).

Finally, while it’s ultimately a red herring, the chase scene does good and efficient double duty, introducing us to the special division and their procedures for dealing with vamps in this world (a bad-ass cop lady fights on a higher footing than the vamp, probably because she too is a vamp) while also giving us a nifty Vamp-Speed chase and moonlit brawl.

So what didn’t work so well? Pretty much what the ED portends will be the entire premise of the show going forward: a Vampire Romance. College(?) student Taira Tsukasa goes with the flow, while sometimes looking off to the side like she needs new friends (or possibly very very old ones, amirite?!) but one thing I like about her is that she’s comfortable not having a boyfriend.

It doesn’t help when one of her two close friends confessed to her at school, she had to reject him, and he’s been basically tolerating the fact they’re “just friends” ever since…for now. Turns out Mr. Unrequited Love was the vampire she needed to watch her back for, and it’s to the kid’s credit that my disgust turned to pity once the Shadowy Subway Guy came between him and Tsukasa.

Subway Guy is a special division officer named Anzai, who suspected Tsukasa’s friend would soon crack from the pressure of having to hold in his vampiric nature, but concedes the kid’s desire not to hurt her was genuine…it’s just that Vamps can’t be trusted. When they see someone’s blood, they’re off to the sexy races.

And to the list of Vamps that can’t be trusted, go ahead and add Anzai in there, because once he notices Tsukasa’s scratched face, he starts French-kissing her. This burst explosion of passion might not have come out of nowhere, but it still felt sudden and oddly staged.  It looked less like the pure Tsukasa suddenly yearning and embracing a man’s touch, and more like he just jumped her.

So yes, this show has some good things going for it, but some big questions moving forward about whether and how the whole vampire romance thing will work. That she’s ostensibly dealing with a vamp who has his shit mostly under control (and is working for the “good guys” i.e. public safety) works to Anzai’s advantage, but I want to see more agency from Tsukasa, not for her to keep going with the (blood)flow.

 

Citrus – 10

Mei unblinkingly offers Yuzu her body with open arms, ostensibly out of gratitude for how Yuzu helped her with her grandfather and father. But when Yuzu finally has the object of her infatuation in her arms…she just can’t do it.

Emphasis on she; Mei looked ready to go all the way, and from the look of her reaction to Yuzu’s declining, isn’t cool with being turned down. That feeling lasts the length of the month of January, with the two stepsisters rarely talking.

When Matsuri hears the two didn’t do it on Christmas after all, she mocks Yuzu for wanting her romance to be perfect like the shoujo-ai manga she hides in her bookshelf. She also scolds Yuzu for not properly considering Mei’s feelings. Even if that’s a bit rich coming from her, she’s not wrong. Mei opened up, and Yuzu ran.

When Yuzu oversleeps the morning of their class trip to Kyoto, Mei leaves without her, and Yuzu misses her class’s train. As it would happen, another big sister from another school ends up missing her train and separated from her little sister.

That sister is Tachibana Sara, and she and Yuzu end up meeting and getting on the next train headed to Kyoto, and from there, the coincidences keep piling up. Yuzu and Sara set out to find their respective classes and learn they each have virtually the same schedule and are even staying at the same hotel.

In the process, Yuzu and Sara become friends, which I knew would make things interesting when Sara learns that the nice girl she fell for (and mentions to her sister Nina earlier in the ep) is Yuzu’s stepsister, whom Yuzu told her she fell for and is currently unable to reconcile with.

Sara and Nina reunite, and Yuzu learns Sara’s “little” sister is huge, and a gyaru to boot! But Himeko catches Yuzu and gives her the third degree, even interrupting Yuzu’s attempt to get Mei to talk.

They eventually do meet, later that night, but Mei is not in a patient mood, and when she asks Yuzu “What do you think of me?”, Yuzu has nothing but shallow answers, even if they’re the best she can come up with on short notice. Mei isn’t moved, and tells Yuzu to forget Christmas night.

In one final coincidence, Nina happens to overhear this conversation between Sara’s new friend Yuzu and the black-haired girl Nina knows her sister likes.

A coincidence or two can be perfectly fine, but when there are this many it can make the resulting drama a bit manufactured and thus less satisfying. And while I knew the Tachibana twins were coming from the promo art, and they weren’t nearly as grating as Matsuri, they were also just a bit dull.

Darling in the FranXX – 02

Last week was pretty much Hiro, his rough break-up with Naomi, meeting Zero Two, and taking care of the crisis. This week things slow down a bit as we’re introduced to the rest of the squad where Hiro once again has a home. That includes the squad leader Ichigo, very well-voiced by Ichinose Kana in her first role (and sounding a bit like another, more famous Kana).

Ichigo clearly harbors feelings for Hiro of which he’s clearly unaware, and so she sees Zero Two as an interloper. Setting aside the fact that she swooped in and snatched Hiro practically the moment Naomi peaced out, Ichigo doesn’t want to see him get hurt, and Zero Two seems like the type who will hurt. She barges into the squad’s chow and pours honey over everything like a weirdo.

Hiro is the eleventh of a squad of ten, but Zero Two isn’t the twelfth; her fate is unknown, leaving Hiro with no official partner or FranXX. Ichigo is the unquestioned elite squad leader, but one can tell the redhead Miku maintains a quiet envy for her stature (as demonstrated in the classic locker room scene with fanservice and plug-suit fitting).

Ichigo and Miku are “pistils”, and their “stamens” are the studious Gorou and wild Zorome. Gorou is very friendly with Hiro (and not threatened by Ichigo’s affection for him) and seems like a nice guy, but Zorome is your classic heel/rival character who will likely keep berating and running Hiro down until Hiro does something (not counting last week).

Rounding out the group are the pistil-stamen pairs of Kokoro/Futoshi (the lovey-doveyest) and Ikuno/Mitsuru. When the pairs enter their colorful, distinctive FranXXs, we see that the actual pistil-stamen interface is a little…suggestive, with the girl on all fours while the guy stands behind and “drives.”

Basically, the girl is an interface between the guy and the FranXX; without total synchonicity between partners, the FranXX won’t work properly. Adding to the suggestiveness is the fact that interfacing is very physically taxing and sometimes painful, so that while operating a FranXX, everyone’s breathing heavily and occasionally making weird noises.

After their first official sortie as parasites, the pairs stand down. Zero Two continues to loiter around, invoking the ire of Ichigo, who isn’t afraid to warn Zero to stay away from Hiro. Though Ichigo might wish she hadn’t, as Zero Two gives her a taste. Out in the yard, Zorome wallops Hiro with a football, and the two get into each others faces, forcing Ichigo and Gorou to be the adults in this messed-up family and restore peace.

The thing is, Hiro can understand why Zorome is so dubious of his ability: Hiro himself doesn’t actually remember what happened after entering that cockpit being kissed by Zero Two. He only remembers the feeling, and he wants to get back to it so he can prove to Zorome, Ichigo, the others, and most importantly himself that he can pilot a FranXX.

Well, Hiro promptly gets his Shot, though perhaps not quite under the circumstances he’d hoped for. The brass (led by the mysterious “Papa”) okays a FranXX mock battle to test Hiro, but Zero Two isn’t allowed to partner with him this time.

Even before that was made clear, Ichigo volunteers to partner with him, hoping she can bring out the pilot in Hiro as much as her pink-haired nemesis. Zorome volunteers to be the opponent, and eager for an opportunity to prove her worth against Ichigo, Miku agrees as well.

The second Ichigo got her wish, I knew things were not going to go well, but things start out just fine, with Hiro and Ichigo reaching 100% sync rate and activating her FranXX Delphinium, without any trouble. And then, not ten seconds into the battle, it shuts down again.

Inside the cockpit, Ichigo is on all fours, sweating and heavily breathing as she and Hiro unleash a flurry of double entendres that, taken out of context, sound like dialogue from Girls, a show renowned for its awkward sex scenes:

Ichigo: What’s wrong?
Hiro: I don’t know. It just stopped.
Ichigo: Was it my fault?
Hiro: I don’t think so.
Ichigo: What did she do differently?
Hiro: I don’t know. I don’t remember.
Ichigo: Calm down. No need to rush.

Whew. Suffice it to say, as much as she may like Hiro and want to stick it to Zero Two, Ichigo and Hiro simply aren’t a good match in a FranXX.

When Hiro remembers that Zero Two kissed him and everything went “BOOM”, and Ichigo climbs onto Hiro and kisses him as well, it felt as much like a last-ditch effort to get things moving again as Ichigo not wanting Zero Two to have something she doesn’t with Hiro, i.e. a kiss.

That her kiss does absolutely nothing for Hiro only makes things worse. I can’t help but sympathize with both of them; things are not going well at all.

When Zorome starts kicking Delphinium while its down (with Miki and their FranXX Argentea), Ichigo remembers they’re in a fight, and decides to bypass a defeated, powerless, inert Hiro and pilot the FranXX by herself, a very risky maneuver that takes a lot out of her.

The mock battle ends with Hiro having hit a new low, with all hope of ever piloting anything again in grave jeopardy, with Ichigo feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and very much taken down a notch, and Zorome emboldened. Last week was Hiro’s bad breakup and fleeting fling with Z2; this week Ichigo attempted to reassert her bond with Hiro and it went horribly, horribly wrong.

The failure she endured in front of her squad is the kind of thing that might have far-reaching impact on her confidence at precisely the wrong time in her development as one of the defenders of humanity.  Here’s hoping things start to look up for both of them, both personally and professionally.

Devilman: Crybaby – 01 (First Impressions)

So begins my foray into the venerable Devilman franchise, which dates to 1974, its latest iteration available on Netflix at the same time in America as Japan. It’s actually been available for a while now, but I didn’t get around to cracking it open until now.

The first episode of Crybaby is brisk, starting with some heady philosophizing, giving us a quick glimpse of friends Asuka Ryou (a cold realist even in his youth) and Fudou Akira (the titular crybaby, who has enough empathy for both of them).

It isn’t long before the mundaneness of P.E. (and the somewhat head-scratchiness of a random attack by beatboxing rappers) is left behind in a cloud of Ryou’s Mitsuoka Orochi exhaust and the innocent, sensitive Akira finds himself in a debaucherous orgy of hedonism in which drugs and sex reign supreme, the escape of the young, rich, and bored.

Ryou brought Akira here to pop his cherry…in a sense. Ryou’s experience abroad has led him to believe a human can merge with a devil/demon and gain its power while maintaining their humanity, and Akira is the perfect vessel to test that theory.

However, the orgy isn’t, well, bloody or gory enough to draw out any devils, so Ryou rectifies that by wrecking up the place. He and Akira are very nearly beaten to death in the fracas, and before long devils start sprouting from the orifices of women and what were once areas of pleasure become weapons of evisceration.

It’s a huge mess, but Ryou gets what he came for: the demon Amon possesses Akira and merges with him, resulting in the titular Devilman. Perhaps because of how good and pure Amon’s human vessel is, Devilman is particularly powerful, and dispatches the other nasties without too much trouble, and with quite a bit of satisfaction.

And there you have it! Oh wait, why is Ryou doing this? For SCIENCE, I suppose; humans aren’t evolving fast enough for him; perhaps he believes it’s time to shake things up by nurturing such mergings as Akira with Amon. Or maybe that one merge was all he cared about, in hopes his friend, always a crybaby, would benefit in some way.

Yuasa Masaaki’s unique style is unmistakable here, and though this is certainly more violent than the only other work of his I’ve seen. As I said, it’s a brisk and relatively straightforward episode with a decent hook: what the hell will become of Akira now that Ryou has condemned him to share his existence with a demon?

Tsurezure Children – 04

For three of the four couples, “futility” is the name of the game this week. Kana and Chiaki are now officially together, but forces conspire to keep them from taking their relationship to a more physical place.

After some initial awkwardness and another one of their little comedy bits, they’re well and truly ready to do the deed (Kana even brought protection), only to be stymied by not one but two rude interruptions by Chiaki’s curious mom. Chiaki, brah, lock your damn door.

I’m finding the more complex relationship rooted in a long-standing friendship the more interesting pairing in TC so far, as demonstrated by my lack of enthusiasm for the two skits in the middle.

Neither the painfully blunt Akagi asserting dominance on the tentative Ryouko, nor Ruruya’s inability to answer Yuki’s confession because he fears she’s just teasing him really resonated for me. Hopefully both stories will go to more interesting places at a later date.

Sugawara and Takano’s latest appearance splits the difference between the first skit I liked and the later two I didn’t. But yet again, the situation is the same for Sugawara: the onus is on him to communicate in no uncertain terms that he likes Takano, that he’s not joking around, and that he wants to be her boyfriend.

He’s worried about being friend-zoned, but at least there’ll be closure. And we know that Takano wishes she was…exactly what she is: someone Sugawara would want to date. These two simply need to get on the same page for once. I think they at least inched a little closer.

Kuzu no Honkai – 11

While on a train to a weekend hot springs getaway with Kanai (two adults! How often does that happen in anime?) Akane falls asleep (she later blames being with the younger Mugi last night). She dreams she’s in a gallery of all the men she’s had, and all the lines she supposedly crossed, while either not realizing it…or not caring.

The distinction is moot; what matters is the reason: she’s never felt truly connected with anyone. In the dream, Kanai asks her why she “keeps doing this” if, as she herself said, she’s not “suited for it.”

Like last week, there’s only one brief scene involving Hanabi, and it’s one in a situation we’ve barely seen her in: hanging out with high school peers she hasn’t laid with. They view her and Mugi as some kind of ideal couple, and we the audience, like Hanabi, can only roll our eyes and say If they only knew.

When Hanabi tells them how she thinks it’s best if she and Mugi don’t see each other, they call her “such a grownup”, and considering everything she’s been through in such a short time, and the satisfying end result of Kanai’s rejection and Mugi’s, er, “moving on,” I tend to agree.

Even the contrast between the girls’ food orders and her plain ol’ coffee seem to help her exude a wisdom beyond her years. She’s been through some stuff; they haven’t. If they actually have, this show didn’t have time to show it.

Last week Akane didn’t like her dynamic with Kanai, in which she he was occupying far too much of her thoughts for her comfort. Trying to move on by telling all, if anything only intensified Kanai’s feelings for her. She’s in a nonchalant “okay let’s see where this goes” mode when they start off on the hot springs trip, but by the end, she starts to notice her heart beating.

No one has been able to throw Akane off like Kanai throws her off here. He tells her he’s fine with her messing around because he thinks she does it because she likes it, as opposed to never having known anything else. The flaws she’s always thought kept her from connecting are of no concern to Kanai, and his love for her isn’t transactional; it’s unconditional, almost paternal.

That unconditional love, and his desire for her to live a happy life, wipes clean those portraits in her dream gallery, replacing them with the image of her and Kanai. She finally feels connected. It’s something entirely new to her, but she doesn’t dislike it, and the next morning when Kanai goes for it and asks if she’ll marry him, she decides to give it a try.

Now that she’s ready to take that step, her first date with Mugi is more about closure than anything else; even Mugi realizes this. For so long he tried to find out how he could change her, but in reality, the Akane he loved was the one who existed; not the ideal he hoped to help create.

It’s clearly shitty for Mugi to see the change in her once she announces her marriage, knowing he had nothing to do with that change. But like Kanai’s rejection of Hanabi, it’s also freeing. Mugi loved the way Akane was before she changed. But she has, and so I imagine he’ll move on. But he won’t forget her.

It will hurt for a while, but Mugi will be okay, just like Hanabi and Moca and Ecchan will be alright. With Akane and Kanai getting hitched, it will be interesting to see if Hanabi and Mugi attempt a relationship, only not as it was: rather than an pragmatic alliance of “replacements”, a genuine romantic pairing of two people who no longer consider themselves scum.

Kuzu no Honkai – 10

Mugi may have been able to sleep with Akane while Hanabi was rejected, but Mugi isn’t under any illusions the reason is anything other than Akane “just felt like it today”; that she’s role-playing, student-and-teacher; because it seemed like a lark. His connection with her matches the episode’s title: “Fragile and Empty.”

The thing is, Mugi does know Akane better than most, if far from as well as she knows herself. He knows from watching her all these years how she jumps from man to man. In her inner thoughts, she tells us how it was always like that since her first: taking all of a man’s love and giving nothing back; taking all the jealousy of the other women and wrapping herself in it. This is the process by which she assigns worth to herself, and it’s the only process she’s ever known.

She executes the same process with Mugi, “shattering his world” so that she can keep standing. But unlike other men, Mugi knows her game, and wants to change the rules. But he also knows changing her is no mean feat, as she isn’t someone who’s ever fallen for anyone, only had others fall for her.

After scores of random, inconsequential men who simply played the game her way, Akane now finds herself afoul of not one but two very different men. Even though Mugi knows what kind of person Akane is, and even when another man tells Kanai, neither of them flinch in their devotion to her. The difference is, Kanai doesn’t care, and wants her to be herself. Mugi, on the other hand, still wants to change her.

During their aquarium date, Akane racked her brain about what exactly Kanai’s deal was. She felt like she was the one pursuing him by committing so much of her thoughts to him, and didn’t like how it felt, so tried to make the date their last. She thought if she told him enough about who she is (or at least the perception of that person that had been crafted both within and without), but Kanai still stopped her from leaving.

Akane has been unique in Kuzu no Honkai as the only character not “in love” with another. Indeed, Akane may not even know what it is to love someone. She’s been loved by men many times before, and every time she shattered their worlds and danced on the ashes. Now things are different.

Neither Kanai nor Mugi will back down. Both know who and what she is, yet still yearn for something she’s never experienced: a relationship that endures, a prospect that doubtless terrifies all parties involved. But Mugi knows the only way he can change someone else is by starting with himself. That’s advice he got from his pact-mate, Hanabi.

Can Mugi actually succeed, and if he does, where does that leave Kanai? Hanabi, Ecchan, and Moca are in pretty good places emotionally right now, but it feels like Mugi’s still operating deep in that murky soup they once inhabited. Who, if not himself or Akane, will be able to help him out?

Kuzu no Honkai – 09

When this week’s Scum’s Wish starts, Hanabi is alone, and wants to die. When it ends, she still feels alone, but realizes she isn’t, and doesn’t want to die. But first thing’s first: Both Narumi and Mugi reject her on the same day (poor girl!) a trip to a forest getaway with Ecchan is a welcome distraction. Any time her mind is busy is better than not.

Ecchan is looking forward to having Hanabi all to herself, but they find her cousin Atsuya is at the cabin. Atsuya feels like an interloper the whole time, but he’s not just there to mark his territory. In his opinion, Hanabi is a dead end for Ecchan: she’ll never get her to feel how she feels about her. And he doesn’t want Hanabi continuing to string her along.

But this trip was never about “making Hanabi hers”, but about saying goodbye for good. Atsuya in the next room or no, Ecchan still gets one last night of bliss with Hanabi. But after that, she vows to be alone. Hanabi wakes up early, and on a walk with Atsuya he tells her Ecchan can’t be used as a replacement.

After they spend one last day out on the town, as the couple Ecchan had at some point hoped they could be, Ecchan expresses her pride in Hanabi for “going for it” with Kanai-sensei, even though she knew how much the rejection would hurt. She did, in effect, what Ecchan had already done, only Hanabi has been “too nice” to reject her, so she has to break it off herself.

With a heartfelt, genuine display of affection and an intense desire to keep knowing Ecchan and learning more about her, Hanabi manages to secure consideration that Ecchan may come back to her, but it may take a long time. Forgetting how to love someone after loving them for so long, takes time, if it happens at all.

Now down Narumi, Mugi, and Ecchan, Hanabi returns to school in a haze of loneliness and despair. She wouldn’t be out of place in Zetsubou-sensei‘s class. Neko spots her looking forlorn and at first appears eager to gloat about how now, finally, Hanabi is getting her comeuppance; a taste of the bitter medicine Neko’s been tasting for years.

But doesn’t gloat; not really. She also has an earnest nugget of recently-earned wisdom to deliver: being rejected is a kind of liberation. Once one starts doing things for themselves—even something as small as buying and wolfing down a danish—you can start to feel better. And having heard these words from Neko, Hanabi realizes she isn’t alone. Her pain isn’t unique, and it’s not implacable.

The episode closes with Akane at Mugi’s for a “teacher home meeting”, only with the parents not home, it’s actually a booty call. And despite Mugi’s clear discomfort with the premise, she is very insistent that he acknowledge that it is an official teacher meeting, and that he call her “teacher.” Yikes.

On the one hand, Mugi is getting something he’s wanted for years. But there’s no indication he’s succeeding in “changing” her as he vowed to do last week. Instead, he seems to be falling deeper under her control, with no discernible way out as of yet. Hanabi thinks Mugi’s being “tricked.” Akane (at least the one in her head) agrees, but adds that he wants to be tricked; that all men do.

Maybe Mugi will go on like this, content with what he has. Or maybe, in time, he’ll come to see the real Akane as nothing but a replacement for the Akane of his dreams…and that he can’t go on like this.