The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 04 – Part of the Gang

The night after the battle, Rishia tells the rest of the party how she and her parents lived happy unassuming lives as poor nobles until a neighboring noble abducted her as payment for debts unfairly levied against her family. She thought she was a goner, but was rescued by Itsuki, who exposed the evil noble. Ever since, Rishia has vowed to repay the Bow Hero (also, she’s probably in love with the guy…I mean look at that face.)

Naofumi’s party, along with Ost, Eclair, and Elrasla, take it upon themselves to finish off the Spirit Tortoise by traveling onto its headless body and finding its weak spot. On the way, Ost wonders why all of the soldiers are saluting and praising her when she’s technically a servant of the Tortoise. The answer is simple: because she fought alongside them, and saved their lives.

After hours of traveling through dense fog with no weak spots in sight, Naofumi decides to stop and camp for the night. While Raph and Filo sleep together, Rishia admits to Ost that she’s a little jealous of their sisterly bond as she was an only child. But throughout the episode and especially here, Ost serves as a big sister figure.

Ost assures Rishia that even though she’s no longer in the Bow Hero’s party—and maybe precisely because she isn’t—she’s able to accomplish something for his sake. The next morning, when they meet up with Queen Mirelia at a village decimated by the Tortoise awakening, Ost provides a soothing presence for Rishia, who is not used to being around such death.

After being comforted by Ost, Rishia pays it forward by telling an also-distraught Raphtalia that she doesn’t have to “get used to” death an destruction. That’s after Mirelia leads Naofumi’s gang to a large dilapidated shrine further within the Tortoise’s back, into which they all brave despite the constant risk of total collapse.

Once there, and there is an ancient language written on the wall to translate, Rishia really comes into her own, both in enthusiasm and competence. Naofumi wonders if from now on she should focus on honing her scholarly skills, but Elrasla tells Naofumi that might yet be a waste of Rishia’s potential, which remains as yet untapped. She then comes upon some writing she can’t ready easily, which Naofumi immediately identifies as Japanese.

Mirelia calls it the “hero’s alphabet”, and while some of it is worn away or obscured, he can make out something about breaking a seventh seal. When the shrine collapses, Ost finally remembers something important: the key to defeating the Tortoise is to travel within its body.

Naofumi prepares to head in with Raph, Filo, and Ost, asking Eclair and Elrasla to keep the armies together should thinkgs go sideways. He’s ready to ask Rishia to stay behind as well, but she refuses: she’s a member of his party; where he goes, she goes.

It’s a brave, bold gesture by someone who, along with Ost, have become my favorite characters in this second season. That said, when she heads into the dark and spooky “large intestine” of the Tortoise, she still needs Ost by her side to keep her wits about her.

That’s when the party suddenly encounters what appear to be three adventurers who claim to have been sent by the queen. Nobody buys that, and when Raph uses anti-mirage magic to nullify their disguises, they’re revealed to be Naofumi’s old pals L’Arc, Therese…and Glass. Now they’re not a trio you come across any ol’ day in a giant turtle colon!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 02 – Taking a Step Back

At night I’m driving in your car
Pretending that we’ll leave this town
We’re watching all the street lights fade
And now you’re just a stranger’s dream
I took your picture from the frame
And now you’re nothing like you seem
Your shadow fell like last night’s rain…
—”Shadow”, Chromatics

After he is brutally murdered by an evil copy of his adoptive sister Mio, Shin ends up back on the boat to Hitogashima, in the warm embrace of the bespectacled woman’s bosom. Back on July 22nd. The day repeats itself much the way it did before, with Mio ending up in the ocean. This time, Shin notices that her brakes were cut—likely intentionally.

After the funeral and dinner unfold much as they did the first time, Shin switches things up by staking out the front of the Kofune household. He witnesses Mio’s copy killing the cop Totsumura, then getting a glimpse of the shadowy alien/whatever that then assumes Totsumura’s form.

Thus the Totsumura we saw in the diner last week wasn’t Totsumura at all. Unfortunately, Mio spots Shin hiding, then kills him in gruesome fashion. But now we know: Mio’s copy tried to kill her by cutting her brakes, and these evil copies have plans.

…But yet again, Shin doesn’t die, and even observes his dead self before his Return by Death-style resurrection repeats. In the in-between space/time between loops, Shin both hears the voice and feels the embrace of his sister Ushio, urging him to protect Mio.

Back on the dock on July 22nd, Shin follows Ushio’s edict, putting himself between Mio and the sea to prevent her from falling ino the drink. Like Subaru, he is trying to take a long view of the situation and understand as much as he can while also trying to change enough to prevent further tragedy from befalling his family.

Meanwhile, the bespectacled lady is recording a message for someone we know not whom while inverted on a tree branch so she can maximize blood flow to her brain. Both of these odd practices and her dark suit reminded me of Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks, and indeed, the talk of “shadows” led me to go back and watch the closing minutes of the second episode of Twin Peaks’  third season, when Chromatics performs “Shadow.”

It occurs to me there’s a distinct Twin Peaks-y vibe to Summertime Render, in that an isolated, seemingly idyllic community is suddenly beset by an unspeakable, inscrutable evil force that can take the form of its inhabitants, like Ushio and Mio. Perhaps this lady was sent here to investigate.

Unfortunately, in the first loop she is killed by said evil copy of Mio. But with each loop Shin learns more and takes measures to keep both Mio and himself safe. He deletes most of the data on his phone and hooks it up to an external battery in order to record the copy of Mio outside the house without actually being outside the house, then makes sure Mio is safe by barging in on her while she’s bathing.

Smacking him with the shower wand seems to be adequate punishment, since Mio doesn’t hold a grudge against Shin the next morning when he comes in to present her with footage of her own shadow. Knowing that an evil copy of her is roaming around, and that she and Ushio both saw a copy of Ushio, it’s pretty easy to deduce that Ushio’s copy may well have murdered Ushio.

At least for the moment, Ushio seems dead for good, as Shin can only reset back to the day he arrived on the island, which was well after she died. Can he, Mio, and Dahlia Cooper collaborate to neutralize the shadow threat? Perhaps, but I imagine it will take a few more loops—and unfortunate murders—to pull that off.

Summertime Render – 01 (First Impressions) – Beware the Shadows

After a suitably creepy dream that seems to set the tone, Summertime Render then suddenly seems to stumble, with Ajiro Shinpei waking up with his face all up in a woman’s chest. Soon after arriving on his home island for the first time in over two years, his little sister Mio flashes her shimapan as she flips into the water. So what are we doing here?

It was later in the episode that I realized—and even appreciated—the earlier moments of levity. That’s because much of the rest of the episode is simply dripping with grief, regret, sadness, and longing. Shinpei’s other sister Ushio is dead, and he’s here for the funeral. She died successfully saving a little girl from drowning. Her sudden loss casts a heavy pall over the entire island.

One of Shinpei’s friends, whose father is the island’s doctor, assures him that an actual full autopsy wasn’t performed, but that his dad was brought in to examine strangulation marks on Ushio’s neck. While her death was ruled an accident, those marks loom large. But not as large as seeing Mio—seemingly a different Mio—ominously standing outside her own home.

Inside, after a dinner of curry Shinpei made—which he said he’d make for Ushio again before leaving but never got to (he also leaves a serving at her empty place at the table) and the call from his friend, Mio embraces him and starts to bawl her eyes out, though promising they’re the last tears she’ll shed, not wanting to worry Ushio.

The next day, Shinpei, Mio, and their dad Alan start the process of moving forward and getting through their grief by keeping as busy as possible at the family diner. But a drunk customer makes a strange comment about a large-chested lady looking for Shinpei, while the island’s sole cop informally reports that the girl Ushio saved and her entire family have vanished from the island.

Mio is so upset by this she runs out of the diner, and Shinpei follows. When he finds her sitting against a wall covered in shadow, she tells him that she and Ushio saw a double of Ushio, just as the little girl Ushio saved saw a double of herself. A passing old hunter tells the kids the old story about a “shadow sickness” on the island that causes people to see their shadows.

Back in the old days, people with this affliction would be cleansed at the island’s shrine, so Shinpei and Mio head there, and Mio spots someone she thinks is the little girl Ushio saved in the woods. Instead, they find the large-chested woman gravely wounded by a gunshot. Before she can tell Shinpei who did it, she’s shot through the head…by Mio’s shadow, who then headshots Mio and then Shinpei.

Cut to black, then some static, and suddenly Shinpei is back on the boat, with his face in the woman’s chest. So we have Groundhog Day with murderous doppelgangers on a sleepy island cloaked in dark old legends and mysteries. I’m in. From the depths of grief and loss to a violent bloodbath, Rendering escalates quickly and ends with an exclamation point of a reset button. However many times that button gets pressed, I’ll be here to watch what unfolds.

Mieruko-chan – 12 (Fin) – Best Butt Bun Buds Forever

The fox spirits’ initial attack doesn’t completely destroy Zen’s mother-ghoul, but their second attack does, and they mutter something in their bizarre language before skedaddling. Naturally Zen can’t see any of it. Hana and Yulia stop by just as the tormented cat demons all turn white and pass on. Whether this was due to his mom-ghoul being gone or Hana’s aura, Zen is no longer burdened by any spirits.

Once he recovers, Zen-sensei stops by Miko’s to pick up Mocha, the kitten he found that they were fostering. He dwells on the words Miko said about setting him free, and he takes it to mean he should be more honest with people. This leads to him flatly telling his neighbor he doesn’t want any leftover stew. Turns out she was putting something in it. That’s not cool…and it’s a good thing he didn’t eat any of it! He’s moving anyway, to a place that allows pets.

After the big Zen-sensei mom-ghoul dust-up, things pretty much return to normal. Hana is still constantly eating, but isn’t desperately hungry like she was before. She and Miko go out to watch the sequel to the Totoro analog while urging Yulia to watch the first; the fortune teller receives a picture of Miko and Hana at the shrine in the mail; Zen-sensei captures the animal abuser, and Arai-sensei has her baby.

Miko decides she should offer her gratitude to the fox spirits, so she visits their creepy shrine, this time going alone (and thus without Hana’s apparently built-in divine protection). She offers one stick of sweet dango and then several and then a mess of coins, but the fox spirits and their big, big brother only seem to get more and more angry with her. Things look very bad indeed until Miko wakes up in her bed. It was only a nightmare…and perhaps a message to her: just don’t go back there!

Miko continues to see ghosts, ghouls and monsters pretty much everywhere, every day, but it has become easier to ignore them…practice makes perfect! But one thing she’s learned is that when it seems like it’s in her power to help her friends or others, she should face those monsters head-on. Maybe she’s out of fox spirit bailouts, but as long as she has Hana and now Yulia by her side and a scrumptious butt bun in her hands, life is good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mieruko-chan – 06 – Aw, No…Hana!

While there’s equal or greater Miko at either end, the middle of this episode is All Hana, All The Time, starting with her waking up to find her clock stopped, eating a giant stack of pancakes for breakfast, and lights flickering and going out around her. This is because one of the bigger and more grotesque ghouls to appear in Mieruko-chan is following Hana around, even using her dazzling aura as a kind of grill to sear smaller ghouls to snack on!

I love that as sinister and deadly as this monster looks, the only thing we know for sure is that he loves barbecue…that could be the only reason he’s haunting Hana! For while he gets awfully close to Hana and messes with lights and clocks around her, he doesn’t seem capable of actually hurting Hana, even when she braves a haunted abandoned building to retrieve a crying boy’s dog.

Once both boy and dog are happily home, Hana swears she’ll never put herself through something that terrifying again. And Hana didn’t actually see any ghosts! Like most people, she was simply scared of the unknown in the darkness. It’s probably for the best she can’t see what’s actually there, like Miko.

This proves especially true when Miko takes Hana to a shrine with an ulterior motive: pray to the local deity to do something about the monster still haunting Hana’s steps. While Hana soaks in the Ghibli vibes (even humming a bit of a tune from Nausicaa), Miko watches all paranormal hell break loose…or is it heaven?

Why not both? The black shadowy monster seemingly bests the two golden fox deities, only to be destroyed by what seems to be their big, big brother.

After the shadow monster is pulverized, the golden monsters converse in a strange language neither we nor Miko understand, then the larger of the three does…something to Miko while saying the one thing we do understand: “Three times,” then vanishing with a gust of wind.

Did this deity protect Miko from three future hauntings? Both we and Miko will have to wait to find out what, if anything, these deities did. All the while, Hana grabbed some sweet Insta pics that don’t even need filters!

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 02 – Four Sunrises

Rin arrives at Iwata, and it’s everything a gal from a landlocked prefecture could hope for: crystal-clear skies and endless ocean. Riding her moped beside the sea feels great, until the cold and wind get to be too much. Fortunately her mom recommended a tea place, and who should be minding the store but the mountain climbing lady she met at the Yashajin Pass.

Yuru Camp seems to be running with the idea that Japan is just a big small town, where you’re always bumping into people you know by chance. I don’t mind, it’s fun! Rin goes to the upstairs café for a matcha tiramisu set, and suddenly wants to set up her tent right there.

Rin also visits the Mitsuki-Tenjin Shrine, but learns that Shippeitarou III passed away years ago, making Rin suddenly think about how short dogs’ lives are, even going so far as to text Ena her worries about Chikuma. Ena says she’ll be devastated when it happens, but it’s inevitable. All she can do is make sure her pup has as many good times as possible.

Rin switches gears from pondering mortality to getting a fire and dinner going. With no pine cones or twigs on the campground, Rin uses her knife to make a feather stick to start her fire, showing how there are plenty of tricks she still learning. After whipping up a duck soup nameko mushroom soba, she sends all of her pics to the gang, and Nadeshiko reports that it’s snowing back home.

After getting a few hours of sleep, Rin gets up to watch the first sunrise of the new year from Furude Beach, where many others are already gathered and a torii gate is set up for the event. Toba-sensei elects to drive Chiaki, Aoi, and Aoi’s little sister Akari to Mt. Minobu.

They take the ropeway, pray at the shrine, buy some dango, drink some amazuke, and find a good spot to watch the sun rise. In both locations, there’s a palpable electricity in the air, a sense of anticipation in the literal darkness before the dawn.

Then the sun rises in all her majesty, filling that darkness with blinding light and vivid colors. Rin aligns herself so the rising sun appears directly within the torii gate, as if a great spirit were emerging. Yuru Camp has previously displayed a gift for depicting sunrises and sunsets, but it really outdoes itself this time, showing us the same sunrise from multiple locations.

As the day goes on, Rin is looking forward to trying out Iwata’s local specialty pig’s foot curry, but is tempted by a food truck selling pizza and pot-au-feu, and decides to indulge. Chiaki gets Toba and the others to hurry off Mt. Minobu so they can try to catch a second sunrise in Fujikawa City fifty minutes after the first—and one that looks like a diamond rising over Fujiyama’s summit.

While Toba-sensei drifts her Suzuki Hustler up and around the mountain road with the skill of a rally driver, they arrive to find the sun already high above Fuji-san—Chiaki was off by a whole half-hour. The last to see a “sunrise” is Ena, once it’s already pretty high in the sky. Still, I’m sure she enjoyed the extra sleep!

While Rin is starting to think about preparing to check out, she gets a call from her mom: Yamanashi has frozen over in the night, making the roads home too dangerous to attempt, particularly on a moped. The new plan is for her grandpa to drive out in his van to get her and her bike. She just has to sit tight for two days. Considering she’s a short walk from the beach, there are far worse places to be “stuck!”

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 01 – The Power of Curry Cup Ramen

In its first season Shima Rin mentioned she first started camping in her first year of middle school. The second season opens by saying “You don’t have to take her word for it; we’ll show you!”

Rin’s passion for camping began when her grandfather mailed her a package containing camping gear. Then, as now, she was a voracious reader, but used to simply read in the front room of her family’s super-awesome house. She takes a long look outdoors and decides to figure out how the tent gramps gave her goes together.

Before long, the day has come for Rin’s very first camping trip, a day trip to—where else—Lake Motosu. Her dad, whom we see for the first time, drives her there and walks with her to the lakeside where she’ll set up camp on her own. He’ll be chilling in the lodge while she’s camping, in case she needs help. The striking view of Fuji-san fills Rin with awe.

That awe soon turns to frustration as Rin proves absolutely terrible at camping, but in her defense, it’s her first time, she’s only 11 or 12, and most everyone is crap at doing something the first time!

She bends one of the tent spikes when hitting it too hard with a rock. She doesn’t have a chair so her butt hurts. She tries to start a fire with no kindling and enormous branches. She ruins the pot in which she tried—and failed—to cook rice.

It’s cold, and she’s hungry, and she’s been so busy trying and failing things that she hasn’t able to read a single page of her OOPArts book! Then her mom gives her a call, and tells her she slipped some “emergency food” in her backpack: a cup of curry ramen. Aw, mom! Rin boils some water on the fire the camp admin helped her build, and she digs in.

She can’t recall curry cup ramen ever tasting so good, but when you’re enjoying nature’s majesty, once-ordinary foods just taste better. In a lovely little closing touch, Rin is admiring Fuji-san close up, and we cut to a sixth-grade Nadeshiko in her hometown, gazing happily at a much smaller Fuji-san.

Fast-forward to the present: with New Year’s fast approaching, Nadeshiko is working hard at a job perfectly suited to her energy levels: bicycle mail delivery. She finishes her route and has lunch with Ena, whom she shows the retro lantern she wants to buy. Then they get into a text exchange with Aoi, Chiaki, and Rin regarding their New Years plans.

Chiaki doesn’t get any time off, but everyone vows to bring back something for her, so she’s fine “holding the fort”. Rin will be soloing for New Year’s, preferably by the ocean, somewhere like Izu. Both her parents prefer that she chose a campsite that doesn’t involve heavy traffic, as she’s still a relatively new rider.

Rin settles on Iwata in Shizuoka, not least because it has another dog shrine like the one she visited on her impromptu solo trip—and this shrine features a living descendent of Shippeitaoru AKA Hayatarou. I wouldn’t pass up meeting a holy dog either! She loads her trusty moped up with her gear and sets off before the sun comes up, her mom sending her off.

While at a stop light, Rin hears someone calling her name from a konbini…It’s Nadeshiko, who is buying snacks before starting her early workday! Nadeshiko runs up to chat with Rin and gives her something to eat and stay warm once she’s at her campsite: a cup of curry ramen.

Not only is it the same kind Rin shared with Nadeshiko when they first met, but it’s the same kind Rin’s  mom packed for her on her first ever trip, and thus always had deep sentimental value. Emphasizing the two girls’ warm, sweet, enduring friendship no matter how apart they are…Yuru Camp 2 is off to a great start!

Otherside Picnic – 03 – It Takes a Village

It’s just Sorao and Toriko this week, as Otherside Picnic sticks to a simple formula: the two meet up, go to the Otherside, encounter something dangerous, then make it back safe and sound. Rinse, repeat. Throughout each of the three visits we’ve watched, Sorao wonders if she really should keep hanging out with Toriko, but hasn’t been able to keep herself from doing so—in large part because Toriko is fun and pretty.

This week while searching for the supply point where Toriko first found her gun, the two go into the nitty-gritty of how to search for glitches along their path. Wide shots of the two give a sense of scale of their surroundings, but because they’re rendered in clunky CG it pulls me out of those scenes every time.

The “Big-Heads” who inhabit the village are initially creepy, but as soon as there are dozens of them rendered in CGI, they look more goofy than anything else. And while they end up chasing the girls, one could argue they had a right to be mad about their friends getting shot by intruders.

During the ensuing chase, the girls stop numerous times while Big-Heads don’t, yet they’re never caught.  Also, both Sorao and Toriko stumble, but neither of them help the other up. They end up escaping back to their world through a miniature shrine, showing that there are many different ways in and out of the Otherside.

It’s somewhat deflating that even after Toriko expresses genuine affection for her, Sorao ends up in the precise same headspace as the beginning of the episode: wondering whether she should rethink continuing these excursions with Toriko. The kids chasing each other in masks that were the same colors as the Big-Heads was a neat little detail. Otherwise, three episodes in I must admit I’m getting a little bored with this.

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 10 – The Tasty Truth About Tottori

Last week’s lurking shadow villains turn out to be Ami and Sakaki, as expected. They’ve followed Uzaki and Sakurai and rented a car so the couple can experience everything Tottori has to offer—all while they observe from a mostly respectful distance and eat it all up. But this episode isn’t just a means of Uzaki and Sakurai becoming a little closer, it’s a full-on love letter to Tottori!

Never far from Uzaki & Co. is a uniformed tour guide describing in detail a certain lovingly-rendered Tottori point of interest, starting with the famous sand dunes to a circular school converted to museum honoring all the famous mangakas from the area.

Also always near by is a more lovey-dovey version of Uzaki and Sakurai, always providing a mirror of how the two of them look to others, especially when they do very couple-y stuff like playing together on the dunes or taking bites of the same rabbit cake.

By the time they pray at a shrine and receive a very favorable fortune regarding their coupling, Ami and Sakaki admit that Tottori is a historical Couples’ Mecca—much to this particular couple’s chagrin. They were enjoying themselves totally until their friends made the implicit explicit, but they try to fight back the blushing, relax, and enjoy hanging out nevertheless.

They couldn’t be in a better place to relax, thanks to Tottori’s famous hot springs and steam baths. When a sweaty Uzaki slips and falls chest-first on top of Sakurai and some deceptively suggestive dialogue ensues, causing an attendant to rush in assuming they’re up to things best done in the privacy of their room.

But while Ami and Sakaki came to watch a relationship blossom, they also undermine it; Uzaki ends up sharing a room with Ami and Sakura with Sakaki, eliminating what would have been the most romantic part of the trip—a night alone in a hotel room.

Ami and Sakaki get a “feast” out of watching the couple, but if their goal was to somehow jump-start their relationship into a higher gear than it was before, they come up a bit short. That’s not a bad thing; it just means that no amount of meddling will either help or hurt a slow but steadily simmering romance emerging organically from their interactions together and increased comfort with one another and their quirks.

Uzaki still teases Sakurai about being a loner, but we already seen last week that he prefers that to an artificially meek Uzaki. No doubt Uzaki likes Sakurai the way he is, and any change she causes in him will be minor and incidental.

In short, these two came together because of the kind of people they are, they like each other that way, and they’re going to be fine. Sakaki seems right on one count: Sakurai may insist he an Uzaki “aren’t like that”, but it’s all but inevitable that they soon will be, if they aren’t already!

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 03 – Having It Rough

Of the Hero Club members, the aloof and apathetic Tsukumo Rei remains the most mysterious and enigmatic. This week’s episode draws the curtain back on Rei and shows that while he may talk and act like serious or ominous things are going on or about to happen, the reality of the situation is a lot more…ordinary. In that regard, he’s not that different from the others—especially when he runs into a flock of pigeons and laughs!

After a cryptic phone call, Rei rushes off somewhere, and Mizuki and the others follow him, curious what might be up. Noda, Nakamura and Takashima all buy in to the fact that Rei can control walk signals and make merchants sell him things on sale, but Mizuki can tell the signals were a coincidence and Rei just…knows when to shop.

Then they encounter Rei with his three little siblings, who have lost their beloved pet cat in the forest, and accompany him onto the grounds of a shrine to track him down. Takashima jumps at the sight of anything from a fluttering banner to a rusty sign, but he’s so emphatic in his fear that Mizuki starts getting the creeps; it is dark after all.

After “Touga” ends up “sacrificing” himself to save the others from the “monster”, Takashima slips and falls down a hill into a ditch, leaving just Noda, Rei and Mizuki when the “monster” approaches. Turns out it’s just a very burly monk, carrying Takashima and Nakamura…and the cat. The mission is accomplished, but with a lot of completely unnecessary rigmarole along the way.

When Rei returns the cat to his little siblings, the club learns he has three older siblings—the proverbial Cerberus—who demand he make dinner immediately or else. It’s clear Rei’s too-cool demeanor at school and in club is merely a means of compensating for how trod-upon he is at home, having to shop for and feed six siblings despite three of them being older than him.

The others can’t hide their pity for Rei’s situation which is precisely the last thing Rei wants from there. Embarrassed, he’d much prefer to remain slightly threatening and inscrutable as before, but now that they know more about him and how he operates, it require “memory erasure” for that to be possible.

And there you have it: the chuuni kid who believes he’s above all the other chuuni kids, leading them on as a small escape from his put-upon position in his family.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 11 – A Big Catch

In a desperate attempt for a win, any win, Nishikata manages to find out from Takagi’s friend that she’ll be walking down a certain road at a certain time, and arranges for a game to guess the steps to a certain spot.

Thinking more than one step ahead for once, he correctly predicts she’ll call for a further target, but he’s such an open book she changes it again, demonstrating that thinking just two steps ahead won’t cut it if you want to beat Takagi!

Still Takagi had fun, and is flattered that Nishikata would go so far to win a game, and asks what he wants her to get him as a souvenir on her family vacation. Later, Takagi’s friend can tell from her face “something nice happened.”

When Takagi is back, she presents Nishikata with another great gift: a 100% Unrequited Love-themed curry kit. He also went on vacation, and surprises her with a gift of cookies. Little does she know they’re sour cookies. When she suggests they go to the shrine to enjoy their gifts together, it’s the perfect chance to see her distressed, puckered face…

…But on the way there, Takagi expresses her happiness so genuinely, Nishikata has no choice but to warn her ahead of time. Turns out the cookies are actually pretty good. Takagi also uses their shrine visit to tell him she had her family vacation shortened so she could go to the upcoming summer festival.

Nishikata isn’t planning to go with anyone, and neither is Takagi, so she tells him in no uncertain terms that if someone asked her to go, she would—someone she teases all the time, for instance. Knowing him all to well, Takagi provides him with everything he needs…all he has to do is, well, ask her out.

The subtle animation really shines in this scene, conveying Takagi’s nervousness as she adjusts her legs and stretches her trembling hands, matching Takahashi Rie’s superb voice work.

Asking Takagi out is one of the hardest things Nishikata has ever had to do, because it pretty much throws out the window the fiction that, as he’s so fond of saying, “it isn’t like that” between them. When the two run into each other on the street and he offers to carry her groceries in his bike basket, the atmosphere gets more and more awkward as he utterly fails to speak up and say the words that need to be said.

I really can’t overstate how much tension is built up as they walk up to her house and say goodbye and he starts to walk away, without asking her out. Her usual cheerful smile vanishes, replaced by a look of resignation…she tried her best. But then she hears his bike returning, and the shy sonofabitch finally, finally asks her if she wants to go to the summer festival with him.

The answer, of course, is yes, and in her elation she tosses more canned drinks into his arms before he heads off to fish with his mates. Nishikata doesn’t get to see her adorable quivering look of relief and joy as he pedals off. Now this is how you build anticipation for the twelfth and final episode!

While fishing, even when he gets a bite on his line he doesn’t notice, as he’s in a kind of trance state. Not surprising, as he’d already snagged the biggest catch of his life.

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 11 – Bridge Over Troubled Ratings

After a string of ten straight solid “8” episodes, the eleventh came off as somewhat sparse. As the teachers celebrate New Years Eve by drinking at home, the girls head to the Shrine of the Muscle God, which has a truly epic staircase for training purposes and is also maintained by none other than Machio.

After watching the sun come up and descending from the shrine, the girls still have enough energy to train. Gina suggests they use the equipment at a local park, but to her horror (and my surprise) most of the equipment on which to train has been removed from most parks in Japan, so they do a number of isometric exercises that require nothing but their own bodies. Handy if you’re training (as I plan to do upon completion of this show) but lacking in excitement.

Gina tries to spice things up by registering the group for a live TV talent show (directed by Deire Kutarou, from the idol competition) but the sum total of their performance is some poses and a perfectly-executed “Wrestler’s Bridge” from a masked Satomi. Deire is surprised to find the girls boosted his show to second-best in the time slot, and the producer and president want to see more of them.

Jason shows up and takes Deire aside to propose a “Nikunoshima Tour,” whatever that is, which will be covered in the twelfth and final episode. But I couldn’t help but feel like this was the weakest of the Dumbbell outings so far; unlike the others it felt more meandering, even listless, like it was running out of gas. Hopefully the finale can restore the lost momentum and bring things to a satisfying close.

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