Bunny Girl Senpai – 12 – Trying Your Best ‘Till You Disappear

Sakuta tells Mai and Nodoka the story of Kaede he’s never told anyone, but now that Kaede is making friends and thinking about going back to school, he can’t hold it off. It’s also the story of himself and the rest of his family. When Kaede suddenly enters a dissociative state as a result of online abuse, she loses her memories and becomes the “Kaede” we know.

Other than her outward appearance, everything about her is different, to the point she could have switched personalities with someone the way Mai and Nodoka did. She walks different, talks different, eats different. Kaede’s Mon can’t deal, and due in part to being a big brother who is utterly powerless to stop whatever Kaede’s going through, the slash marks on his chest appear one night.

The doctors believe they’re self-inflicted, as “Adolescence Syndrome” isn’t a theory they’d subscribe to. But Sakuta gets sick of the hospital and sneaks out, finds himself on the beach, and meets his “first crush”, Shouko. Shouko tells him “life is here for us to be kinder”, and she strives every day to become a little kinder than she was the day before.

Sakuta adopts that credo; one could say it’s all thanks to Shouko that he’s able to do any of the stuff he does to help his friends later on. But here, before he meets Nodoka or Tomoe or Mai, we see that the first person he helped was Kaede. He helped her simply by acknowledging that she was Kaede. She didn’t have to be the old Kaede. He was the first and only one to accept her, not as an anomaly, but a person.

Back in the present, where Kaede is on the cusp of “leaving the nest”, Sakuta gives her a book the old Kaede apparently lent to her friend. In it is a note expressing that friend’s wish to be friends with “Kae-chan” again. Tears well up, and Kaede suddenly faints.

She wakes up in the hospital, none the worse for wear, but the doctors believe that her dissociative state may be wearing off. The note was apparently the trigger. The Kaede we’ve known all this time is still there, but she overhears Sakuta reporting to Mai that he doesn’t know how long she has.

Kaede accelerates her plans to go to school, even risking her well-being to do so (the dark red bruises appear when she gets overly stressed, and rushing things when it comes to going back to school is definitely stressful. Sakuta, hoping there’s something he can do for her as her big brother, promises he’ll show her the school.

But first they go to the zoo and watch the pandas, tigers, giraffes, elephants, meerkats, and all the other animals, all just “doing their best to live their lives”. Like Pandas with their not-very-nutritious bamboo diet, Kaede—specifically this Kaede—has it rough. But all she can do is keep doing her best.

That night, before heading home, Sakuta delivers on his promise to take her to school: an empty school at night. It proves just the thing. Having seen the place in the flesh for the first time, Kaede is more optimistic and motivated than ever to go to school during the day. Not because she might be out of time in her current state, but because it’s the next natural step.

Her opportunity to go to put that optimism and motivation to the test never comes. The Kaede who wakes up is the old, pre-breakdown Kaede. You can tell, too: Kubo Yurika totally switches up her voice. She remembers Sakuta, but doesn’t remember going to the zoo, and doesn’t speak in the third person. “Kaede” is gone.

Will it be for good…and isn’t that okay? It’s not like Kaede died, after all. Sakuta may feel like he lost someone precious—and in a way, he did—but that person was never going to be around permanently. We’ll also have to see how the “original” Kaede reacts to everything in her life, from her parents, friends, even her room layout, being different from how she remembers. Will Sakuta seek to bring back a part of “Kaede” to help bridge the other Kaede’s gap of experience?

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Bunny Girl Senpai – 11 – #KaedeGoals

That little cliffhanger about Mai (actually Nodoka in Mai’s body) being seen with Sakuta by a photographer? No biggie; the director of her upcoming film decides to spin it into a marketing opportunity, while Mai admits to the relationship and is candid not only in how it occurred (a kohai confessed in front of the entire school) but why it matters (were it not for him she wouldn’t be back in show business).

Now Mai and Sakuta get to hang out without any problems, and the two are on cloud nine. Then Sakuta gets a letter from “Shouko” whom he later confirms is not the middle schooler of the same name who hasn’t come by the house in a while, but rather his “first crush.”

When he confides in Futaba seeking advice, Futaba texts everything he tells her to Mai, making her status as a confidant now somewhat suspect! It’s all good, once more: Mai is fine with him meeting Shouko, as long as he’s back by six so she can make him dinner. He doesn’t get a kiss, though.

The main dilemma this week isn’t Sakuta and Mai’s relationship or the return of “Shouko”, but Sakuta’s little sister Kaede, who’d kinda served as the show’s mascot up to this point. Still, as a victim of such intense bullying she and Sakuta had to move and she stopped going outside, it was clear the show was going to promote her to the lead in an arc at some point.

Sakuta is about to go to the beach to meet with Shouko, but he’s delayed by the sudden appearance of one of Kaede’s classmates, who saw Sakuta in a magazine tracked him down. She wants to meet with Kaede to apologize for not doing more to stop the bullying, now that the ones who bullied her were themselves bullied out of the school. Back home, the numerous visits from the other girls Sakuta has helped has convinced Kaede that she can’t remain stagnant, and begins compiling a list of goals to become more independent.

Her first small step is to answer the phone when someone other than Sakuta is on the line (in this case, Mai), but the stress of doing that for the first time in a long time causes her to nearly faint. Even more distressing, when Kaede is resting to recover from a fever, Sakuta notices a dark red blotch on her neck; no doubt another symptom of adolescence syndrome, much like his own chest slash marks.

However, Kaede recovers, the blotch disappears, and she keeps taking smal steps, aided in no small part by an extremely kind and understanding Mai, who offers a number of cute outfits she wore in magazine shoots for Kaede to wear when she goes outside.

The day finally arrives, and Sakuta comes home to a fully resolved sister. Still, it takes Sakuta lying about how far outside of the entryway they’ve strayed to get Kaede to follow through; call it one last little nudge to get her where she herself wants to be. It’s a truly triumphant, emotional moment that’s a long time coming; even Sakuta can’t help but tear up.

Kaede was scared of the outside, where the love of their home, like a security blanket, wasn’t out there to protect her. She still is. But she’s far more scared of staying inside, so even though her brother tricked her, she’s grateful.

From there, Kaede takes larger and larger steps until she’s able to roam around outside without clinging to Sakuta. He decides to surprise her by taking a trip to the beach, along with Mai and Nodoka. They have a grand old time, and Kaede is having fun…until her friend arrives, and she retreats behind Sakuta once more.

This friend doesn’t understand why Kaede doesn’t remember her, but Sakuta has an explanation, and it’s something he’s been waiting for the right moment to tell Mai too: Kaede has no memories. I suspect that is to say, no memories from after whatever psychological break she suffered as a result of her bullying.

Obviously, that’s still objectively not good, and looking back at Kaede’s behavior, it has seemed like a part of her was missing beyond the part that could go outside and interact with people. The stagnancy she fears isn’t just about remaining shut in, but about that yawning gap in her memory.

The two main questions are 1.) will and how will Sakuta & Co. help Kaede get those memories back, and 2.) where do “Shouko” and Makinohara Shouko” fit into this equation, if at all?

Bunny Girl Senpai – 05 – The Penguin that Follows the Others

I can definitely see the similarities to Bakemonogatari and Sakurada Reset here, and that, readers, is not a bad thing, at least for me. Both of those shows could subvert the concept of a Tsundere Girlfriend or Jealous Little Sister without breaking a sweat, and so too does Bunny Girl. 

In a lazier anime, agreeing to fake-date a kohai would land Sakuta in some seriously warm water, but after he explains everything properly to Mai, she withholds punishment, claiming that’s its own punishment, but really it’s a gesture of trust. Sakuta was the one and only person who never forgot her, after all (except for one brief period).

As with Araragi Koyomi, Mai can see her would-be-boyfriend is trying to help someone in need, and doesn’t judge that someone’s choices that led to them needing help. Instead she gives Sakuta her blessing, serves as the first person other than him to interact with his shut-in sister, and then bids him a good night.

However, she does warn him not to let “pretend” turn into “serious”—not to betray the trust she’s putting in him—and he laughs it off too casually for her taste, as well as mine.

The next day Sakuta is ready for his fake date with Koga Tomoe. She’s late, yawns on the train, and can’t keep her hands off her phone (he has neither smart nor flip, the damn hipster). 

When she lists the reasons for her fatigue (group chatting till 2AM; watching funny animal videos; preparing for the date “a bit”), Sakuta starts to get to the root of Koga’s frustration that led to her becoming an all-seeing, all-knowing Leplace’s Demon: She must be informed. She must join in on the conversation. She must be liked, and not seen as a loner or weirdo.

This point is driven home at the aquarium as they watch penguins: she deems Sakuta to be the penguin whom the others laugh at but doesn’t care, while she’s the penguin who follows the others in lockstep. Later, Sakuta gets more insight: Tomoe was once a “country bumpkin” from Fukuoka (hence her adorable lapses into drawl), but began a regimen of thorough reinvention and improvement to become the stylish and proper-speaking person she is.

Sakuta can surmise that she feels guilty about “abandoning” the person she is and wondering whether who she is now is who she really is, but he considers that kind of thinking “immature.” He assures her that who she is now is who she is; the culmination of choices she made and hard work she undertook. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Sakuta also shows Tomoe a few things, such as when they spot a classmate of hers from a group further down her class’ pecking order. The two of them help this classmate find a strap she lost on the beach, despite her feeling “unworthy” of someone of Tomoe’s stature wasting their time on her. Sakuta isn’t the kind of person who ranks people by their social stature; all are equal as long as they are virtuous.

When Tomoe catches a cold from falling into the water and spends a day in the nurse’s office, she asks Sakuta why he’s gone along with her “unreasonable” requests. He states it’s because she seemed desperate when she asked. Their differences in how they see the world are laid bare: she wants everyone to not hate her, while he wouldn’t mind if everyone hated him as long as there was One Person who needed him.

That one potential person Mai checks in with Sakuta on his land line phone, and he is honest about having enjoyed his “date” with Tomoe. Her nonverbal response is an enigma; is she intrigued; disappointed; neutral? She’s in Kagoshima on a TV shoot, and casually asks him to “bolt out of his house” to see her, but he doesn’t.

Futaba (who has unrequited feelings for his friend Kunimi) tells Sakuta that since Tomoe is satisfied with her current condition, there’s no need to relive it; the “demon” has found its desired path. Kunimi’s girlfriend Kamisato once again confronts him about spending time with her squeeze. Kamisato is another who only sees a ranking number hovering over someone’s head; if it’s not high enough, she wants nothing to do with them.

Sakuta tells Kunimi about the second fight picked by Kamisato, and it leads to Kunimi informing him of untoward rumors about Tomoe being loose/easy. Despite Tomoe’s efforts and veneer of satisfaction, her relationship with Sakuta has brought a different kind of unwanted attention. When Mai leaves a message on Sakuta’s phone, he moves to call her back, but stops. He has work to do.

Again, like Koyomi of the Monogatari series, Sakuta is going to perform the task he volunteered for to the best of his ability. He may not be the strongest or smartest, but that doesn’t mean he can’t outsmart someone who can easly outstrong him. As Tomoe already starts feeling the fallout by being left out of her friends’ conversation, Sakuta puts his plan into action.

That plan is nothing more than defending the honor of someone who doesn’t deserve the nasty rumors being told about her. He does so by letting the jock (who I believe originally tried to ask her out) come to him, provoking him into punching him, then getting back up, presenting himself as someone ready to throw hands, then kicks him hard in the shin.

The jock protests that Sakuta isn’t being “fair”, but…c’mon; pot, meet kettle! Sakuta ensures the exchange takes place on the train platform where the maximum number of peers watch how pathetic the jock is, giving him the negative attention he foisted upon Tomoe and then some.

In that moment, Sakuta was Tomoe’s boyfriend. She felt it; and surely he felt it too. They may not have spend much time together, but they both have a pretty good idea of who one another are. At her darkest hour, when it seemed everyone was ready to hate her (and indeed when it seemed she’d reset time to before this all happened), he was that One Person for her.

The person who’d go maybe too far to help her. The person she needed. You know…a friend! Hell, he announced in front of half the school he was a virgin for her sake. He’s a stand-up dude, and she couldn’t be blamed for falling for him right then and there.

Whether that’s precisely what happens, it’s without doubt a nudge in that direction; two people becoming a little closer through shared experiences, the most recent of which were fraught enough to require him to take her by the hand and run away, and the adrenaline of which caused them both to laugh uncontrollably as they ran.

Tomoe now understands a little more what Sakuta meant about his “One Person” position, and asks how she can repay him. Sakuta—ever classy yet also a bit arrogant—tells her she can be his friend “when all the lies are over.” The thing is, the lies may already be over, and Tomoe may just want something more than a friend. Why else would she frown at the sight of one of Mai’s TV commercials on her phone?

As for Sakuta…while he fought hard for Tomoe, there’s no overt indication he’s doing anything more or less than what he deems to be his duty, as he promised to be her boyfriend for the first term. As such, Mai may not have anything to worry about.

But he got awfully into the role on that train platform. He showed Tomoe that she only needs one person, and so far that one person is him. Can Mai—can we—trust that he’ll be able to extricate himself from a Leplace’s Demon so satisfied with him as her boyfriend?

Eromanga-sensei – 03

When Masamune investigates the abandoned, possibly haunted house next door, he’s surprised to find Yamada Elf has just moved in: and likes to play the piano naked after a shower to get inspired to write.

After the standard accusations of peeping tommery, she invites him in, and most of the episode is given over to making Elf a little more dimensional, if still grating in her intense, obnoxious arrogance.

As Sagiri’s bedroom window faces Elf’s office, you’d think it wouldn’t be long before she found out who Eromanga-sensei is, but Elf sees Masamune’s sister and thinks she’s just that: a little sister who has fun drawing, not the person whose services they’re fighting over.

It’s also a bit shitty of Masamune not to even mention to Sagiri his little wager with Elf, considering Sagiri is the ‘prize’. Then again, it’s a good thing that Masamune isn’t the perfect MC while everyone around him is flawed in some way.

Indeed, Masamune’s flaw seems to be that in spite of Elf’s toxic personality, incessant pretentiousness, and pronunciation of ahhh-neee-may, he can’t help spending time with his new neighbor, nor indeed being a fan himself, even if meeting Yamada-sensei wasn’t what he expected.

For a time, it doesn’t seem like Elf invited Masamune in just to rub his nose in her superior success, but to spend time with a fellow author. She earnestly asks why he’s a fan, and he earnestly answers: after a death in the family, her books cheered him up. They taught him that novels can “save lives” of some readers, and for that she has his heartfelt thanks, competition or no.

Elf’s reaction betrays a softer, more genuine side to her, even if it’s short-lived and she’s back to being awful the next day. But it’s also clear that she’d rather have Masamune around than not, and also strongly disagrees with his workaholic approach to authoring, as she considers her job a “hobby” and only writes if her motivation is maxed out.

Despite knowing nothing of their competition involving her, Sagiri is uneasy anyway because her big brother, who has been All Hers up to this point, is suddenly ‘in the web’ of a cute, rich next-door neighbor.

While her music and online fans keep Eromanga merry, I feel one of the factors that drives her motivation to draw is knowing Masamune will always be there in the house, serving her meals and protecting her.

Yamada throws a thorn in that arrangement, and it will be interesting to see whether that motivates Sagiri to explore beyond her room. But yeah…Masamune really should tell her about his wager with Elf.

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The beautiful girl at the door turns out to be Sagiri’s classmate and class rep at school, Jinno Megumi. After a joke about how much she loves dicks, the very flirtatious “Megumin” states her purpose for being there: she wants Sagiri to come to school so she can be friends with her, like she’s friends with everyone.

Well! That’s a strong personality to contend with, but she doesn’t get her way, at least today. Sagiri never meets her in person, but only overhears her conversation with Masamune through his phone—and later, without his knowledge, through Megumi’s, leading him to say some very nice things about his “pride and joy”, Sagiri.

After that new girl encounter, Masamune jumps into an old one, Takasago Tomoe, who seems to be a classmate and/or childhood friend whose family runs the bookstore where his manga are sold.

Well, they’re offered for sale, but to Masamune’s horror, it doesn’t look like any have actually been sold. He wants Tomoe to help him out by putting them in a more prominent spot, but she doesn’t bend: if he wants better placement and sales, he has to write better stories that touch people’s hearts.

The third girl Masamune encounters is perhaps the worst, Yamada Elf, a thoroughly unpleasant, petulant, arrogant young author who couldn’t be more different from Masamune (or Sagiri for that matter). She lets her “#1 on Oricon” standing go straight to her head, believing she isn’t just the Savior of LNs, she IS light novel. Yikes!

Masamune encounters Elf trying to poach Eromanga-sensei away, something even Masamune feels would benefit his little sister, so when he goes home he’s extremely contrite and gives an offering of not-so-tasty (according to Sagiri) snacks. I don’t see Sagiri abandoning her brother anytime soon…at least until the fourth girl arrives, whom I am predicting is another artist who tries to poach Masamune, the way Elf wants to poach Sagiri.

Until then, a tiny bit of progress seems to have been made in Sagiri; she asks if her brother’s heard back from Megumi, and also tells him she’ll wash her own underwear from now on, which means she’ll have to leave her room, however briefly.

Eromanga-sensei – 01 (First Impressions)

Izumi Masamune is a popular light novel writer despite still being in high school. He lives with his stepsister Sagiri, whose face he hasn’t seen in over a year. One day while he’s watching a livestream of Eromanga-sensei, the mysterious illustrator of his works whom he’s never met, he notices the note he left with Sagiri’s meal, proving that she is Eromanga-sensei.

She finally lets him see her face, and even invites him in her room to talk, but despite having collaborated with each other on light novels for three years, the road to re-connection won’t be a smooth one.

Eromanga-sensei’s value isn’t in the twist that the siblings are artistic collaborators. I figured that out the moment Masamune said he’d never met his illustrator. Rather, it lies in excitement bred from the sudden disruption of a long-standing status quo; a stalemate between Masamune and Sagiri that had no end in sight.

Now that they ‘know who each other are’, so to speak, they have an opening that I imagine they’ll be ever-so-slowly exploring throughout the show. A show with a crisp, clean, airy look and theme of emotionally distant siblings that viewers of he Oreimo series will find familiar, due to the two shows sharing the same character designer, Kanzaki Hiro, and writer, Fushimi Tsukasa (the two collaborated on the source novels of both shows).

The moment Sagiri finally opens her door is a momentous moment, but the Schrodinger’s Cat-style tension it releases is replaced by the long, difficult, and outright awkward road ahead.

As Sagiri says, this is all very sudden, and it’s hard for adults to wrap their heads around and process such sudden changes in life, let alone a kid who hasn’t left her room in three years.

It’s far easier for, say, Masamune to wrap his mind around this, because the mystery of who Eromanga-sensei was always irked him, and he never suspected for a minute it was his sister (Sagiri, on the other hand, seemed to harbor some vague suspicions, as his pen name is the same as his regular one, albeit in katakana).

Masamune also has the benefit of being able to leave the house at will and interact with other people face-to-face rather than exclusively through technology. Sagiri’s voice-amplifying headset is a nice touch for illustrating how ill-prepared for social interaction she really is. Even having Masamune in there is so strange, on more than one occasion she cuts off their encounters so she can return to the normalcy of solitude.

This is all to say that I really admired the way Sagiri’s condition is portrayed. She’s not slob; her room is neat and tidy, and there’s no denying she’s an immensely gifted artist, especially considering her age. She just…can’t leave her room, nor has she been able to since her mother (who encouraged her to draw) passed away. We all process grief in different ways, she did so by shutting herself off from the world that took her mom away.

Learning her brother is Izumi Masamune doesn’t change any of that. She still feels trapped in that room because of her mother’s death. And unlike Masamune, she doesn’t think they’re family just because they live in the same house and he serves her meals. It’s a combination of frustration over her self-confinement and shame that she’s been such a ‘troublesome sister’. Masamune’s unconditional love is confusing and frightening, and Masamune does come on a bit too strong with his enthusiasm over learning the truth at times.

But one thing’s for sure: Sagiri loves drawing for the enjoyment of fans and readers, just as Masamune loves writing for the same reasons. She likes the interaction her livestreams and blogging allow. She is every inch a child of the 21st Century, in which even self-imposed prisons still contain windows to the world. It will be interesting to see if, when, and how Sagiri is able to emerge from her room, and from the house to see the world again with her own senses.

…It will also be interesting to see if Masamune ever asks Sagiri where she’s been stashing the cash she’s made illustrating, and why she hasn’t contributed to living expenses!

KonoSuba – 05

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I’m compelled to borrow my illustrious colleague Oigakkosan’s “My Goodness!”, as there’s so much good stuff to unpack in this latest  KonoSuba (the first episode I’m actually watching on time!).

First, as Kazuma is lamenting how differently the reality of his dream of cutting it up in an awesome fantasy world has turned out to be, Aqua seems to pick up on that frustration by requesting the party strike out on a new quest. The thing is, she also proves his point, because the main reason she wants a quest is money: she’s tired of working part time in the market and being in debt, not of the fact she’s not on a heroic odyssey.

Fortune would seem to smile on Aqua as she discovers a quest that is right up her water goddess’ alley: lake purification, with a chance of scattered alligators. For that latter bit, she intends to depend on Kazuma and the others, which is when Kazuma borrows from his past world by suggesting Aqua perform the purification from within a sturdy cage (a la shark researchers).

Two problems: transporting her in said cage really makes it look, as she puts it, like some rare beast taken away to be sold. And once she’s been dunked in the lake, where nothing of note happens for hours she likens the sensation to being a tea bag steeping. These are wonderful metaphors borne of a very bizarre and specific situation.

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Of course, those alligators do eventually arrive, but Kazuma, Megumin, and Darkness do nothing in response, part bored into a state of apathy, part confident the cage will hold, requiring no action from them. The cage does hold, the lake is purified, the alligators withdraw, and Aqua completes the quest all but single-handedly…

…but there’s a cost: her nerve. She’s profoundly traumatized by two-plus-hours of being harassed by the beasts as she frantically accelerated her purification. So traumatized, in fact, that she won’t leave the cage even when it’s time to do so, deeming the world “too scary” to return to just yet.

I tellya, if I’d experienced what she had for as long as she had, I’d probably be in a similar state!

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Thankfully, that state doesn’t magically disappear in the second half of the episode, 4-koma anime-style. The episode not only remembers it, but adds a fantastic new variable to the equation: the gallant Mitsurugi Kyouya, who is a veritable wellspring of fantasy tropes KonoSuba puts thoroughly through the wringer, to my surprise and delight.

Kyouya, like Kazuma, died (likely in a less hilarious fashion, though we don’t learn that), and was sent to this world by Aqua with her blessing and the mission to defeat the Devil King. Rather than bring Aqua along with him, Kyouya requested Gram, the Cursed Blade that has made him a very rich and powerful adventurer, complete with fancy armor, jewelry, and a couple of loyal groupies constantly bickering over him.

You don’t get any more cliche’d than Kyouya’s kind, but the show squeezes a lot more out of Kyouya than I expected, turning lemons into delicious lemonade. That’s because Kyouya happens to spot his goddess and muse Aqua-sama being paraded in the streets in a horse-drawn cage, which is decidedly not where he thought he’d see her, ever.

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What follows then, is a glorious clash of Kyouya and Kazuma, or rather Kazuma’s party. While Aqua snaps out of her funk when Kyouya reminds her that she is, in fact, a goddess, she wants nothing else to do with the cat. None of Kazuma’s girls do! It’s as if they’re inoculated against the fantasy hero archetype. More than that; they’re allergic to him!

When faced with his arrogance and presumptuousness for just a couple minutes, Aqua just thinks something’s off about the guy; Megumin thinks he’s rude and wants to explode him, and he evokes a rare and undesirable urge in Darkness that flies in the face of her usual instincts: she wants to hit him. She must realize that if she were in Kyouya’s party she’d never have her masochistic desires properly addressed.

Pissing them all off even more is that Kyouya won’t drop the matter and let Kazuma pass. Instead, he challenges Kazuma to a duel, one Kazuma accepts, starts, and ends in the space of a few seconds, with a few lightning-quick yet fluid moments, Kyouya is on his back.

Kazuma’s inner monologue predicted a duel would eventually take place, but I’m so used to that being a bad thing, that fact that Kazuma wasn’t the underdog here didn’t occur to me until he Stole Gram right out of Kyouya’s hands and bonked him on the head with it (great sound effect on that).

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Then, when his two groupies show up to avenge him, Kazuma continues to fly in the fact of convention by threatening to steal their panties if they press him further, really turning the sleeze up to 11 until the girls are running away crying. It’s harsh, but Kazuma didn’t approach them or their honey; they approached him. Mess with the perverted bull, you get the perverted horns.

One would think Kyouya Team would have learned its lesson, but Kyouya can’t help but be the valiant knight standing up against “Kazuma the Brute”, as he’s known in some circles for his inappropriate conduct with girls. He also seeks to “rescue” his goddess from Kazuma’s clutches, but Aqua responds to his second offer by cold-cocking him, delivering on her earlier vow to sock him if she saw him again.

But even if Kyouya is eminently punchable, Aqua’s violence isn’t senseless, it’s justified. She was looking forward to a 300,000-Eris reward for purifying the lake, but the guild deducted 200,000 for “cage repair” – a cage rendered useless when Kyouya prized the bars. Aqua also shows off her sneaky-playful shrewdness by demanding not 200K, but 300K from Kyouya, which he pays her on the spot.

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Now that she’s rolling in cash, Aqua treats herself to a feast. And as if Kyouya hadn’t been stomped on enough, when he asks for his cursed sword Gram back, Kazuma informs him that he doesn’t have it; he sold it! That’s right; “our” hero didn’t ever even want the damn thing, even though it was part of his original dreams.

I’d like to think getting a good look at the “pathetic cheat” Kyouya has changed his thinking a bit on whether or not things have turned out bad. I mean, sure, he still wants to take on the Devil King, but there are worse things than having three not unattractive women by your side, not fighting over you at all! Plus, think of what all that Gram cash could buy. He could snatch up the stables and convert them into luxury lofts, with bidets and a pot-filler…and a trash compactor!

As for Aqua’s true identity being revealed…well, it isn’t, because Megumin and Darkness simply don’t believe her (having food on her face couldn’t have helped her credibility any). The matter is interrupted by another “emergency”, but at this point I know better; there’s no real emergency. Just the Dullahan, who’s really miffed they haven’t come by his place yet. This guy’s reminding me more of the Black Knight all the time…

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KonoSuba – 04

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This week’s KonoSuba felt like three separate and distinct KonoSubas in one, all coalescing at the end around a single theme: whether Aqua is any good. We begin with Darkness showing off her repaired armor (and somewhat sadly asking Kazuma to praise her sometimes) and Megumin getting really excited about her new Manatite staff.

Kazuma also isn’t wanting for anything, as he later buys clothes and equipment better suited for his environment (albeit the same green shade as his tracksuit). All three spent their cabbage spoils wisely, but Aqua didn’t. In fact, she spent all the money she had and built up a 100,000-eris bar tab, thinking she’d be good for it, only for most of her cabbages to turn out to be lettuce, which isn’t worth nearly as much.

This is ridiculous and hilarious and makes perfect sense, since Aqua has so little luck. Kazuma, meanwhile, is roling in luck and cash, and wants to move out of the stables, but instead pays Aqua’s tab, after she tries pretty much everything: flattery, begging, and finally shaking her bum.

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Part Two of the three parter is the marvelous story of how Kazuma is forced to tag along on Megumin’s practice sessions far from town (where she won’t get scolded by guards) so she has someone to carry her home (just thinking about the silliness of such arrangement would send any milk I’m drinking out my nose).

She finds an abandoned castle perched atop a cliff, and day after day, once a day, blasts it with explosion magic, and every day, Kazuma carries her home. At first, it’s a chore, but he starts to get into it in spite of himself, gradually becoming a kind of aficianado; the equivalent of an “explosion foodie.”

Every explosion has its own intensity and personality, and Megumin has good and bad days. They bond through the experience, and Kazuma’s previously dismissive attitude toward her gives way to a kind of respect and understanding.

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His attitude towards Aqua, on the other hand, remains extremely dismissive. Aqua seems happy to be bringing home free dinner (and I’d be happy too!) but Kazuma is restless. He doesn’t think they can beat the Devil King, and he thinks a lot of that has to do with Aqua not being the all-powerful goddess he thought he had.

A Megumin aptly puts it, his “verbal lashings are pretty nasty;” subjecting Darkness would bring her tears of joy, but they only bring Aqua tears of sorrow (though Aqua reacts interestingly to Darkness’ interest in being reamed by Kazuma).

Kazuma’s war with Aqua is put on hold when a Dullahan arrives in town – one of the Devil King’s top generals. Looking kinda like Ains Ooal Gown’s cousin, his main grievance is with the constant explosion spells being cast on the castle where he’s taken up residence. Heh, I knew that castle wasn’t abandoned!

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After failing to pass of blame to another town wizard, Megumin steps forward and actually takes responsibility, though she refuses to apologize for or cease doing what is, for her, as natural and necessary as breathing. If she has to fight the Dullahan into submission for him to understand, so be it. Aqua arms herself and stands beside Megumin in solidarity.

Then the Dullahan, out of patience, prepares to his Megumin with a Death curse that will kill her in one week, but Darkness races in front of her and takes the curse instead. Now, I know enough about Death spells to know they’re typically not reversible; once you get one, it’s only a matter of time. This incident actually heightened the peril dynamic of the entire show for me; it looked like it was actually going to get serious.

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Of course, this being KonoSuba, feelings like that don’t last long, but that’s just fine, because the route it takes instead is true to its mission statement to send up every fantasy trope it can find in the most creative way possible. Because the Dullahan death-cursed a masochist, he only made things weirder and more of a hassle for himself, so he retreats before Darkness jumps on his horse.

Before he does, he challenges the party to come after him, and if they can fight their way through his castle fortress and get to him, he just might lift the curse. After he leaves, Megumin again shows she has heart and guts by resolving to take that challenge. Kazuma, who as we saw bonded with her somewhat in training, declares his intent to accompany her. It looks like the party is about to embark on a grand adventure to save their selfless comrade.

But NOPE, Aqua just uses her magic to instantly lift the death curse from Darkness as easily one balls up a tissue and tosses it in a dustbin. JOB DONE. I have so say…I wasn’t expecting that at all, but again, it made perfect sense.

Aqua had been beaten down the entire episode as an underachieving, whiny, pathetic excuse for an arch priest, but ends up the heroine, gaining the adoration of the entire town while utterly sapping Kazuma and Megumin of their motivation. So going back to the question of whether Aqua is any good…well, she is, but only at very specific things at very specific times. If this bizarre party is going to thrive, it will do so mostly by threading needles.

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KonoSuba – 03

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And then there were four. Two of whom, Megumin and Darkness, are extremely eccentric individuals with no concept of personal space whom Kazuma wants nowhere near his party, even though he’s well aware he and Aqua aren’t enough to make it in this world. (It was also a little mean of him to call Megumin a “little girl”…she may just be small for her age!)

Ultimately, Darkness doesn’t endear herself to Kazuma so much as she simply doesn’t go away and refuses to take no for an answer, because for her, “no” is a pleasurable experience. The sterner and harsher the rejection, the happier she seems to get. Kazuma’s usual arsenal of repelling barbs only embolden the bombshell.

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KonoSuba enters ecchi territory when Darkness’ thief friend Chris teaches Kazuma the “Steal” ability, then challenges him to steal back his coin purse from her. Instead, he scores her panties, which distresses Chris to no end and makes Darkness jealous that she isn’t the one being humiliated in the streets.

That being said, Chris is otherwise a pretty normal and capable kinda person, one of the first to enter Kazuma’s circle. So of course he ends up doing something terrible to her, due in part because he’s an adolescent virgin shut-in. He ends up with her panties because it’s where a part of his dirty mind happens to be during the Steal process.

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Just as Megumin shamed Kazuma into surrender last week, Chris shames him in front of the entire adventurer’s guild (though it’s at least partially an act). I gotta say, while Kazuma sports the lion’s share of annoyed, exhausted, and flabbergasted expressions, he gets plenty directed at him here, even from Aqua and Megumin.

When he demonstrates his new Steal ability on Megumin, he claims her panties as well, which astounds him because he thought the loot he’d receive would be more random (not that he’s complaining). Darkness continues to make her case for joining the party, feeding off of Megumin’s energy.

Kazuma, a little thrown off what game he usually has by the craziness, ends up motivating both Darkness and Megumin by pointing out how tough his and Aqua’s quest to defeat the Devil King will be. In fact, all the talk about how tough it will be make Aqua nervous and reluctant to proceed.

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Circumstance brings this Dream Team of Ineptitude together in the form of a town-wide emergency quest alert. A swarm of…something is quickly approaching the city, and all adventurers gather at the gates to meet it.

When that something turned out to be flying cabbages, well…I nearly fell out of my chair. Yes, in this alternate world, harvesting cabbages is more of a hunting frenzy, as they don’t go gentle into that good…salad.

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After mutiple swings from her sword fail to claim any heads (of cabbage) Darkness decides to prove her worth by serving as a shield for some overwhelmed fighters, getting more and more excited as the cabbages pummel her and her armor is shed and her clothes torn, she feels the uncultured men gawking at her and feels tremendous, wonderful shame.

Megumin inadvertently causes a near-“crisis” in Darkness by launching another one of her patented one-off explosion attacks, being as unable to hold back as Darkness. But while there’s quite a bit of collateral damage, she’s able to harvest enough cabbages to give the party a very nice payday (Correction: her explosion doesn’t really help much; it’s Kazuma who collects most of their cabbages with his Lurk skill.) Aqua is able to do little things like hydrate the other adventurers and keep the cabbages cool.

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After tasting this world’s cabbage for the first time and being pleasantly surprised by its superior flavor, Kazuma looks around to see what fortune hath wrought: he is now “cursed” by not just a variably competent arch priest and unreasonably specialized arch knight, but a gorgeous but clumsy, masochistic crusader.

I placed cursed in quotes, because that’s only one limited way of looking at his situation. Sure, he may foresee hardships in the future with a party that looks a lot better on paper than in the field, but time should yield better teamwork, and even when everyone screws up it tends to turn out okay.

Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness may be as much blessings as curses in this wonderful world. And together they’re a swirling vortex of comedy gold. Which is a blessing for us.

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P.S. Tilt-shift is often over-used in live-action TV, but I love its usage in KonoSuba’s beautiful ED.

KonoSuba – 02

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That forthright pledge to strike out into the wilderness on a daring kill quest turned into an excuse to sleep in for Aqua, much to Kazuma’s chagrin. I like how the ending of the last episode was played straight, only to be flipped into another failure by the Worst Party in the World.

When they do get out into the field, Kazuma’s shortsword is no match for the giant toads they’re trying to kill. Worse, Aqua spends their first battle either laughing uncontrollably at Kazuma’s expense (she still has a mean streak!) or praising her master goddess powers, right up until she’s swallowed. That leads to the line of the episode: “Don’t get eaten!” (Akin to “Esteban was eaten!”)

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Aqua doesn’t take disappointment or defeat well, as we saw from how she reacted to Kazuma forcing her to accompany him to the alternate world in the first place, and how she cries a lot when things don’t go her way.

Still, she tries her best to do a good job; it’s just that her offensive capabilities are, shall we say, limited, even against the relatively docile giant toads. She almost gets eaten again, giving the quest a nice comic rhythm (and those legs sticking out of the toad’s mouth is a nice sight gag).

So Kazuma has to save her again, and in the process manages to kill two of the five toads necessary to complete the quest on the first of three allotted days. What’s somewhat amusing is we never see how he beats them.

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Overlooking entirely that seemingly impossible feat, Kazuma nevertheless knows if they’re ever going to make enough money to make adventuring even worth it, they need a new party member. When Aqua posts a hastily-scrawled recruitment poster, there are predictably no elite takers (despite the clout she believes she has with everyone).

Instead, a pint-sized arch priest answers the call, introducing herself as Megumin with a long-winded and elaborate chuunibyou introduction that leaves both Kazuma and Aqua a little incredulous. I’ll point out that Megumin is voiced by Takahashi Rie, one of may favorite new seiyus (who did fine work in Sore ga Seiyuu and Gakkou Gurashi).

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However, her credentials check out, so they take her out to the field, where Aqua rushes headlong towards the nearest toad without any kind of backup and promptly gets glomped up again. Megumin’s explosive magic is indeed very, very…explosive, and she takes out one toad with one blast.

The only problem is, that’s about it for her as far as battlefield presence. Her sole attack causes instant KO…which is quite the liability! After using the spell, she can’t move, and the explosion rustled a third toad from its sleep. That toad glomps the helpless Megumin up, leaving Kazuma to defeat the remaining two frogs to save his party members, again, amusingly, totally off-camera.

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It’s clear that if they face anything with claws, teeth, speed, or pretty much anything more threatening than smelly slime, this party is going to be killed very, very quickly. Adding insult to injury, Megumin proclaims she can only cast the most powerful explosion spell and nothing else, not because she’s unable to cast other magic (which might be of better help in a party), but because she doesn’t wanna.

That unreasonable attitude is enough reason for Kazuma to dump her (something all the other parties in town must have done by now), but he realizes he has a lemon too late: some townsfolk see him struggling to pry her off of him, and see all the slime, and suspect the worst. And Megumin takes immediate advantage, showing off a bit of that crimson demon intelligence.

So as useless as Megumin (and possibly Aqua) might be, Kazuma is stuck with both. He’s so down in the dumps about the prospect of making enough money to make the whole enterprise worth it, his guard is down when he encounters a stunning onna-kishi named “Darkness” who looks like a serious operator…that is until she tries to talk and things are…a little off.

No doubt her tryout period will go about as well as Megumin’s, and she’ll find some way to coerce Kazuma into letting her into the party. Or maybe Kazuma will have no choice either way. Can’t sleep in stables forever!

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KonoSuba – 01 (First Impressions)

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Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! (KonoSuba for short) is refreshing. I passed it by believing it no more than a lame SAO-or-the-like clone, but as Preston was with Grimgar, I was glad to be wrong about that. But it takes a totally different approach to its sudden fantasy RPG milieu.

For one thing, it hums along at a breakneck pace, and also provides clear (and kinda harsh!) background: protagonist Satou Kazuma finds himself in the afterlife after dying not by heroically pushing a classmate out of the way of a runaway tractor, but simply dying of shock, complete with doctors and family laughing at his passing.

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It’s also a very comedic show, unlike the shows I thought it’d be aping, it charts its own course, and that course leads to frequent laughs. The goddess assigned to guide him in the afterlife and choose what to do with himself (go to heaven or be reborn in a new, alternate world) is Aqua, and while initially serene, quickly shows her endearingly smug, haughty side (and seiyu Amamiya Sora’s great range).

Aqua reminds me a little of Hotaru in Dagashi Kashi, in that she’s a character who totally owns herself. The difference is Aqua is a little more self-aware; she knows she’s hot stuff, and she’s appropriately cocky and brusque with young Kazuma, getting digs about his “shut-in NEET” life and super-undignified end every chance she gets.

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To its credit, KonoSuba also knows the advantage of balance and restraint in a comedic presenation, which means it doesn’t simply pile harships onto Kazuma. In fact, the tables turn devastatingly quickly for Aqua when Kazuma decides the “thing” he will take with him to the next world will be her, a request another goddess accepts without complaint and sends both Kazuma and a very shocked and scared Aqua off to their new life together, in order to defeat the “Devil King”.

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The fantasy world they end up in is familiar, but I like how the two react very differently to suddenly being there. Kazuma simply goes with the flow, making use of his extensive knowledge of RPGs. Aqua…starts off by having something like a panic attack. She’s very disoriented and nervous, and assumes Kazuma is useless, but when he turns out not to be, her manner with him softens appropriately. (He then later turns out to be not very capable after all.)

Of course, when Kazuma learns they need money to register as adventurers, it falls to Aqua to try to procure some funds, which she does by essentially begging a kindly religious man; something she’s not proud of. However, they get the registration fees, and get an assessment of their stats before choosing their jobs.

Despite being average at everything (save slightly higher intelligence and extremely high luck), Kazuma insists on being an adventurer, while Aqua is amazing in everything but intelligence and luck. In other words, these two complement each other perfectly.

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With the “character creation” taken care of (both for Kazuma and Aqua and the show itself), they go on to “begin their adventures.” What follows is a wordless but wonderful montage of the two settling into a life of strenuous manual labor, digging holes, carrying loads, and building and plastering walls.

The montage progresses from the two just getting by and sleeping in hay with manure, to getting slightly better at their jobs, earning enough dough for food, baths, bedding, and eventually booze and carousing (followed by Aqua vomiting rainbows…more than once).

This sequence reminded me of the classic Shinji and Asuka training montage—not a bad thing to be reminded of, and probably not an accident. Kazuma and Aqua start out with very low opinions of each other, but the more they work together, the better they manage in this new world.

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Another choice Aqua gave Kazuma when they first met was to spend eternity in “heaven”, but only as an old man sitting around for eternity. It wouldn’t be what it’s cracked up to be in the living world, she warned. But Kazuma chose reincarnation, and now we see him reaping the benefits of that decision.

Sure, there are conflicts and hardships, but also mirth and vitality. They’re just scraping by, but they’re alive, damnit. And we’re talking about a goddess who never knew what it was like to be alive before she met Kazuma, and an otaku who had a very narrow scope and short duration to his previous life.

Then, suddenly, Kazuma jumps up out of bed, startling Aqua (who sleeps beside him, no big dealio), and realizes: this isn’t right. They fell into a comfortable rut of being day  laborers, but they came to this world to defeat the Devil King. Only then can Aqua go back to being a goddess, and can Kazuma receive a gift from the grateful gods.

So they agree to return to the original plan, starting by striking out in the wilderness on a “kill quest” to test their abilities and hopefully bag a monster or two. I can’t wait to see how they manage to muck it up!

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Charlotte – 07

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Charlotte doesn’t hold any doors open, nor does it waste any time or pull any punches: Yuu survives the injuries incurred by the debris, but Ayumi is gone. And it’s only in that moment and in the days to come that Yuu realizes how much he took her presence, and her cooking, for granted. He thought he was taking care of her, but it wasn’t a one-way street, and Ayumi’s death leaves a yawning chasm in Yuu’s heart, a stinging sense of loss and helplessness that pervades this powerful but heartbreaking episode.

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Having failed to protect or “repay” his sister, Yuu surenders and shuts down. He tries to fill the hole with cup ramen and television, and either ignores or lashes out at anyone who tries to wrest him from his self-imposed punishment, from Misa and Jou to even Yumi, whom he once worshiped. Liking and pursuing her must feel like a sad joke compared to the situation he’s in now.

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Then sketchy men in black show up, and Yuu starts to think (perhaps not wrongly) the government is about to capture him. So he gets away, where he thinks the soaked kid can’t find him, and his “home” grows even smaller as he squats in an anime cafe eating pizza and mochi balls while continuing to escape from life by playing violent video games that he probably used to not care about in the least.

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When some roughs are using that video game too long Yuu takes the bait and starts playing games with them. One gang after another, no matter how strong or numerous or feared, falls before his body-swapping ability. He creates chaos among the group, and it’s in that chaos in which he’s able to work most effectively to defeat them. He’s using his skills not to help people, but to entertain himself.

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He learns “real life”, with real bodies and real blood, is more fun than the games. The hole he’s filled becomes infected and festers. He’s becoming a villain before our eyes, and the path he’s walking looks more and more like a one-way street. When he finds some drugs on one of his victims, he’s about to take things to the next level when Nao kicks them out of his hand, appearing out of nowhere. Where is Nao in all of this, I asked myself throughout Yuu’s self-destruction kick. Was she so guilty about how she handled the Ayumi case, or so upset about what became of Yuu, that she couldn’t face him?

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No, she was right there, by his side…the whole time. Last week’s cliffhanger kept open the possibility that supernatural powers would have some role to play in the story’s resolution, but magic couldn’t save Ayumi from her own power, nor could it save Yuu from drowning in grief and despair. But with her power, Nao could stay by his side, invisible only to him, with no time limit, and wait for him to get better. When it’s clear he won’t, she makes herself visible to him, in order to make him get better.

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And why? Not just because she feels partially responsible for Ayumi’s death, but because Yuu is, at the end of the day, someone she cares about, and if she can help it, she’s not going to let him destroy himself. So she makes a deal with him: if he has one bite of the food she makes for him, he’ll never see or hear form her again. At Joujirou’s house, she painstakingly recreates the same super-sweet omelette rice Ayumi always made for him. And he can’t have just one bite. He eats every bite, and agrees to come home.

It’s not words or actions that pull him out of deep waters of despair that are all to easy to slide into following the shock of a loss. It’s food; it’s a smell and a taste, and all of the better times and happy memories tied to them. It’s a reminder that he is still alive, and there are better ways to live, and better ways to fill the holes in your heart.

Brilliant portrait of a broken Yuu, and a equally brilliant scheme to save him by Nao. I’m still drying my eyes from the heavy emotions this episode so eloquently expressed.

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Working!!! 3 – 02

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Family, vision, and dating are the three main themes of this week’s Working!!!, starting with the Takanashis who are neither royalty nor do they possess superpowers. They’re a pretty fun and eclectic bunch, however, so the occasional episode where Souta deals with his four sisters (and in his case, his masochistic former brother-in-law).

Souta’s talks with Minegishi as the authorized representative of the family, along with the sight of the somehow-still-twelve Nazuna pushing her shut-in sister Izumi along on a cart, were both highlights of this segment.

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When back at work at Wagnaria, Popura and Takanashi collide, and Popura and Yamada remark on how strong and durable Takanashi’s glasses are to have survived not only the occasional collision, but countless punches to the fact from Inami. Unfortunately, when Yamada play-taps the glasses with her stuffed animal, it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s glasses.

Takanashi’s attempts to work despite not being able to see, resulting in a very hazardous situation in which he gets far too close to Inami without warning her first; fortunately for him, she faints on her feet rather than clobbers him into the stratosphere, a nice subversion of the usual bit.

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Finally, Satou continues his meandering, half-hearted courtship with Todoroki, who mentions she’s never had alcohol but would like to try it, if only she had someone to drink with. Souma can’t believe it when Satou adds “sometime” to his offer to take her out for a drink, rather than setting a place and a time.

Unlike Minegishi, Souma isn’t the kind of masochist who likes watching this kind of persistent futility, nor am I: we need an episode/segment in which Satou and Todoroki go on a legit date. For that matter, I hope this season allows Takanashi and Inami a date, as well, building off the first two seasons of character work rather than leaving it to gather dust on the shelf.

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