SSSS.Dynazenon – 03 – Helping People In Need

Onija, the fiery member of the Eugenicists, gets into a yelling match with Gauma, calling him a traitor and ready to kill him. The only problem, as the level-headed Juuga (a calm Kamiya Hiroshi) points out, is they have no kaiju with which to fight Dynazenon, so they’d better just split for now. But it’s clear there’s bad blood between them, and Gauma’s human co-pilots want to know what led to the rift.

In the meantime, Yomogi attempts to practice in his Dyna Soldier, and then he and Yume actually hang out during school. Specifically, they go to the chorus club advisor asking about her sister Kano, who she tells Yomogi died five years ago, just before the first recital she ever invited her to.

Yume and her sister didn’t speak much. Koyomi then runs into a classmate from middle school he once watched breaking school windows; now she’s married…and Yomogi’s boss, who gives him her contact info. Little by little, we’re being presented with bits and pieces of the Dyna-pilots’ pasts. Do their connections to each other predate their current collab?

Perhaps most mysterious is what is up with Gauma and the Eugenicists. Juuga takes the step of meeting with Yomogi after school—not to threaten, like his hotheaded comrade, but to answer what questions he can. Yomogi learns that Gauma was someone Juuga and the others looked up to 5,000 years ago, but at some point Gauma betrayed them and they all died.

Now they’ve revived…for some reason. As for how and why Gauma betrayed his kohais, he’s tight-lipped as the co-pilots visit him under the bridge, eating tiny river crabs. The next day, a new kaiju appears, and Onija uses the Vulcan Salute to activate it.

When the Dyna-pilots learn of the new kaiju sighting, they all answer the call, but remain frustrated with Gauma’s silence. When it’s clear they won’t be able to defeat Onija’s explosive-lobbing kaiju without combining, they insist he give them something so they can trust him enough to combine.

Gauma gives in, telling them he wants to meet someone, and believes he was given the power to operate Dynazenon so that he could find that person in this era. When he affirms that this “someone” is a woman, everyone understands, and are sufficiently satisfied that the combination can proceed.

The combined Dynazenon grabs the kaiju and launches it into space, where its explosion attacks won’t work in a vacuum (while proving that this world has significant differences from Akane’s “world” in Gridman). Dynazenon launches all its weapons, which apparently work just fine in space. The kaiju is blasted to pieces, one of which gets through the atmosphere and knocks Onija off his electrical pylon. But while it sure looked like he was killed, he’s actually fine.

“Kaiju defy common sense,” says Gauma. They make the impossible possible. All the pilots need to confirm this is the fact they’re floating in space. But to Yume, it means something more. If the person Gauma wants to meet revived, maybe her sister can be revived too?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SSSS.Dynazenon – 02 – What Are We Now?

The first of many wonderful decisions made in this exquisitely directed and impeccably detailed second episode is that we catch a second look at the end of last week’s kaiju battle from Yomogi’s POV. It’s great to see this confused ordinary kid simply along for the ride as Dynazenon leaps, flies, and takes its opponent down.

After that, the dino-mecha vanishes, or rather reverts to its resting form of four toys distributed among the three new co-pilots by Gauma. When Yomogi says he didn’t even do anything, Gauma says it’s possibly Dynazenon recognized his innate aptitude.

Then immediately goes back to what he was doing before the attack: castigating Yume for standing Yomogi up, leading Yomogi to ask for calm. Gauma goes on to say a group called the Kaiju Eugenicists controlled the kaiju, and they’ll be back, so the group has to train. Everyone agrees to meet up tomorrow…even Yume.

The next day at school and in Koyomi’s room, everything seemingly reverts back to normal, except for the compression of classes due to the kaiju attack. Yomogi’s friends want him to hang, but he has work. Chise points out to Koyomi that if he’s a robot co-pilot then that means he’s technically employed.

After school Yume gets a piggyback ride from her best friend Mei on a grassy hill near the flood gate. We’ve never seen her so outwardly joyful, laughing until she’s out of breath before heading to training session, this time keeping her word. Mei, a photog, notices this sudden change in Yume’s attitude and snaps some gorgeous candid shots of her as she parts.

Yomogi, who’d classically be the one most “into” this new kaiju-punching mecha scenario, has to work instead, missing the first training session. When his manager what happened on his date, he says “way too much” happened, though none of it “erotically”. He then goes home for a soak and is shocked when Gauma comes in to join him in a far-too-cramped tub.

There’s a lovely juxtaposition between Yomogi and Gauma’s bath and Yume’s. Yomogi was thinking about what having “aptitude” for Dynazenon means, while Yume is thinking about apologizing to Yomogi. Her parents are arguing on the other side of Yume’s bathroom door, one instance of many of Dynazenon’s elite sound design.

From the tinny sound of voices on radio or TV, voices muffled through walls, far away, close up, outside and on the train, we hear voices in Dynazenon just like we do in real life. Also adding to the immersive realism are the extremely lived-in interiors. Like Gauma, we feel like an honored guest in the cozy, realistically cluttered home Yomogi shares with his mom and aging granny.

It’s also clear from this scene why Yomogi is working so much he’s missing all of Gauma’s training sessions: with no siblings or father, now that he’s old enough to work he wants to help support his family as much as he can. As odd as Gauma is, he still seems to get this, and isn’t hard on Yomogi’s choice to skip training for work.

But as we’re introduced to four suspicious figures near a wrecked station, he won’t be able to ignore his Dyna-duties for long. Yume tracks him down and decides to give him a one-on-one lesson on how to access his Dyna-vehicle. She starts by accessing hers: the aerial Dyna Wing, and he accesses Dyna Soldier. Then she merges with him, giving his robot the ability to fly and giving her robot arms and legs with which to fight.

The two combine quickly and without any fanfare, but it still feels like an intimate act, and it was foreshadowed by Yume piggyback riding on Mei’s back. Now she’s piggybacking on Yomogi, and their maiden flight together results in a very sweet and simple conciliatory talk from 40,000 feet travelling at mach 0.8.

Yume is sorry, and Yomogi isn’t mad. Yomogi asked “What are we now?”, referring to their combined Wing/Soldier form. But you could just as easily answer that “what they are now” … is friends. They were able to bridge the distance between them and start fresh…all thanks to robots.

In a very slick transition, their combined “Dyna Wing Soldier” flies behind a building as the camera pans down, and once we’re at ground level we see Yume and Yomogi walking together. They visit the collateral damage the kaiju battle caused, which distresses Yomogi, but Yume assures him it would have been far worse had they not fought and defeated the kaiju. In light of the mess they made, Yomogi wonders if they should hand off their Dyna duties to someone else—perhaps someone older or more experience.

Yume’s response is instructive: If you always go by the book, there are things you can’t protect. On the train home, Yume opens up to him about how her sister died, in an accident, at the flood gate where she spends so much time. It’s another momentous moment presented with sublime mundaneness. Kudos again to the sound design, as you can hear her voice bouncing off the metal walls of the train.

Just like that, smash cut to the kaiju of the week – initially so unassuming, taking up a tiny portion of the frame as it lurks under an overpass. Then Yuuga, one of the four too-cool-for-school “Bad Guy” kaiju users in marching band uniforms (a Trigger trademark) is chosen by the others to take command, and the kaiju grows to immense size.

The psychedelic kaiju starts leveling city blocks when Dynazenon arrives, just as Yuuga & Co. predicted. Only as expected, this second kaiju is a lot trickier than the first. One can’t just punch it, because it can freakin’ teleport. Yuuga uses this ability to great effect by kicking the shit out of the comparatively sluggish Dynazenon while dodging all it’s counterattacks.

Gauma decides to audible “Disperse!”, and the four Dyna parts split, giving their opponent four targets. The only problem is, without any training Yomogi has no idea how to move his Soldier Dyna on its own, and as he wrestles with the controls his sitting duck Dyna’s arms flail around comically. If that wasn’t enough, his manager calls him from work, a fun instance of his normal life interrupting his new kaiju-bustin’ one.

When the enemy kaiju accelerates its destructo-beams and buildings start to crumble, Yomogi spots a bus full of innocent people in harm’s way, and realizes that whether he’s confident in his abilities or not, he wants to protect them. Yume suggests they do what they did before and piggyback into Dyna Soldier, and with Yume’s added agility is able to destroy the fragile wings the kaiju was using to teleport.

After that, he and Yume launch the kaiju high into the sky, where Gauma is able to finish it off with his Dyna Launcher Burst Missile. Team Dynazenon is now 2-for-2, with Dyna-teamwork making the Dyna-dream work. As they exit their robots and bask in their latest victory, Yomogi asks if Yume was close to her sister. She says they didn’t get along well, but admits that now she’s not so sure anymore.

Just as their regular lives are portrayed so simply and realistically with both sights and sounds, there’s a similar realism to the feelings Yume and Yomogi expressed here. There’s nothing over-the-top or melodramatic about their exchanges. Instead, they’re becoming closer little by little, at their own pace.

Unfortunately the pace of battles is likely to heat up, as the enemy kaiju users Gauma identifies as the “Kaiju Eugenicists” are steaming over their latest defeat. Our ragtag gang of good-hearted souls want to keep protecting what they can, they’ll need to step up their Dyna-battle game, ’cause these drum majors look serious, and the gloves are coming off.

SSSS.Dynazenon – 01 (First Impressions) – Battle, Go!!

Like its predecessor Gainax, Trigger is known for ambitious, sumptuous, stylish, and sometimes chaotic action bangers that usually pay tribute or homage to anime history in some way. Trigger’s first big hit was Kill la Kill, which approached and sometimes surpassed Gurren Lagann’s iconic escalating insanity.

Seemingly every Trigger series has been polarizing, perhaps none more than Darling in the FranXX (which I personally loved).  Even with series generally considered middling like InoBato and Kiznaiver, you’re assured a feast for the eyes and ears. There’s also a lot of love and joy in its series; they almost always reach for the skies rather than go through the motions.

Trigger’s Fall 2018 entry SSSS.Gridman revived an obscure 90s tokusatsu series and imbued it with vibrant, dynamic, flawed characters and the kind of crazy world-flipping twists that would have been unheard of in the original series. Dynazenon (which sounds like something invented by Buckminster Fuller) is the follow up to Gridman, but so far shares neither setting nor cast with its 2018 predecessor.

What is does share is a relatively mundane first couple acts, in which the kaiju and its anti-grav effects are only hinted at on the margins of the frame. We meet the four main kids: the utterly ordinary Asanaka Yomogi; the aloof Minami Yume, who serially asks boys out then stands them up and is possessed with an exceptionally icy glare; the shut-in NEET Yamanaka Koyomi; and his truant cousin Asukagawa Chise.

The fifth character is Gauma, who stands out from the others with his bizarre hair, clothes, and insistence he’s a “kaiju user”. He’s out of place in this world where the other four are just hanging around, carrying on with their normal, unexceptional lives. Still, when Yomogi hears Gauma’s stomach growling when he encounters him under a bridge, he gives him some food, and immediately gains Gauma’s gratitude and loyalty.

Yomogi’s family situation is such that his mom brings him on dates with her wealthy gentleman caller, who gives Yomogi a fat stack for his birthday to ingratiate himself. Meanwhile, we learn Yume’s sister Kano is dead her room hasn’t been repurposed yet. Yume has to ask to even enter the room, and she finds two things: a calendar with a particular date circled (a recital perhaps Yume promised to attend but didn’t) and two interlocking metal ankhs that gently clink like a rain chime and shackles in equal measure.

What I love about these establishing scenes is that they are so normal and undramatic, but also intimate. It grounds us the realism of this humdrum world and its realistic characters before things go all tokusatsu. Yomogi and Yume cross paths by accident, when the former is running away from a far-too-insistent Gauma chasing him like an eager dog.

Yume wastes no time arranging a meet-up with Yomogi when he gets off work at nine. Meanwhile, the antigrav incidents around town increase, and Chise wants to drag Koyomi out of bed so they can go investigate. As expected, she stands Yomogi up, as he waits 40 minutes in vain. Fortunately for him, Gauma’s on the case: he’ll locate Yume for him.

Turns out Yume is within eyeshot of Yomogi on a nearby bridge, and when Gauma finds her and starts yelling at her for daring to mess with his new best bro, they’re within earshot as well. Yomogi heads to the bridge, and Yume admits to him and Gauma that yes, she stood him up, because yes, there is “something wrong” with her. It’s as if her “promise-breaking affliction” is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

There’s no time to get into this further because a giant robotic dino-kaiju suddenly appears in the midst of downtown, kicking up apartment blocks and office towers like a batter kicks up dirt when stepping up to the plate. The spacial relationship between the three characters on the bridge and the kaiju is clearly established, adding to the sense of scale and realism.

Deciding this is his time to shine, Gauma pulls out a glowing package, which causes a giant purple wireframe robotic hand to coalesce above his and the other’s heads. Chise and Koyomi watch it all, and Chise snaps a pic only for the purple wire robot to glare at her.

She and Koyomi run for it, but Koyomi is caught. He finds himself in a multi-chamber cockpit already occupied by Gauma, Yomogi and Yume. Then we get the first money shot of the red-and-gold mecha Dynazenon that Gauma learns he needed a total of four people to operate.

With that quota met, Gauma takes the reins—for what he admits is his first time—flies over to where his purple-and-silver enemy is waiting, and then we get a good old-fashioned rock-’em-sock-’em mecha-vs.-mecha-kaiju fight of yore—only with far more modern and enhanced production values.

You can feel the weight of the massive metal beasts as buildings crumble around them, and the heat of their various vents and exhausts as Gauma grabs his opponent and Dynazenon transforms into Dyna Rex, complete with dragon wings with which he launches high into the sky with his opponent.

One Blazing Inferno Rex Roar later, the enemy kaiju is obliterated. Gauma celebrates, Koyomi calls a worried-sick Chise to assure her he’s just fine, and Yomogi stares at Yume while recalling her words “something is wrong with me.”

You’re not alone, sister. It’s clear there’s something a little off about all four of them, and the SSSS in the title stands for Scarred Souls Shine like Stars, their flaws are the reason they’re in that cockpit, brought together by the still-mysterious Gauma.

The first battle is typically the easiest. I’m looking forward to watching how this unlikely quartet of comrades—whom I feel we already know pretty well thanks to the quieter first acts— deal with this sudden upheaval to their ho-hum lives. We’ll see if this unexpected calling is just the thing they need to sooth those scarred souls of theirs. Until then, this was a hell of an opening salvo.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 02 – Facing the Outside

Most isekai anime never return to the protagonist’s original world after the first episode, but as Rudy grows older and more accustomed to his new life as a little kid, his trauma begins manifesting as flashes of that previous life. First, we’re presented with a Rudy who skips his parents’ funeral so he can jerk off in his bedroom.

When three goons break in, he runs away, sees a truck about to hit some high school students, and runs into its path, resulting in the death we saw last week. Back in the new world, Rudy considers walking in on his parents loudly screwing when he sees Roxy masturbating outside their door. Symmetry.

As pervy as Rudy is, even he knows better than to disturb Roxy in such a vulnerable state, like the goons did to him the night he died. The empathy he displays here underscores the promise of this new life: the chance to properly develop mentally, something that wasn’t possible in his old life. It’s also an early hint of the respect he gains for Roxy, who isn’t just his master, but his first friend…in either life.

Six months, then a year pass since Roxy arrived, and Rudy is making fast progress with his magic, and no longer passing out after expending it. Roxy looks upon this progress with pride, but also a sense of sad inevitability: soon he’ll easily surpass her as a mage and she’ll have nothing left to teach him. As for the green-haired demonic “Superd” she warns him about, Rudy already knows about monsters from his past life.

In his previous life, Rudy was brutally bullied at school, regularly stripped down, tied up, and photographed by leering, laughing gawkers. Though we’re seeing things purely from his POV there’s no reason to think he’s embellishing things, and we see that this treatment led him to cease moving forward. He retreated into the safety of his room, where he remained in stasis.

Even though his two worlds couldn’t look any more different (a contrast that’s well-executed by the visuals), he feels the same fear of the outside beyond his family’s land as he did leaving his room, or even looking out his window. When Roxy recommends he attend Ranoa Magic University in the Red Dragon Mountains to further his training, he brushes it off as unnecessary; he’ll be just fine where he is, with Roxy.

Of course, Rudy is deluding himself. Roxy is a great teacher, but as he reaches five years old (the first of three 5-year intervals birthdays are celebrated in this world) they’re quickly approaching the point when Roxy has nothing left to teach him. To remain home would stunt his development, both as a mage and as a person.

For his fifth birthday Rudy receives a tome from his mom, a sword from his dad, and a wand from Roxy, along with the announcement that he’ll use the wand for his imminent graduation exam. The magic they’ll be learning is dangerous, so they must travel away from home. The prospect of going outside causes Rudy to freeze up; as Roxy aptly puts it, he’s finally “acting his age.”

Roxy assures him there’s nothing to fear, and helps him exorcise his past life’s demons simply by being her wonderful self. As they ride past other villagers, Rudy wants them to stop staring at him, but then realizes they’re staring at Roxy, who in just a year was able to win the entire village over despite the prejudice surrounding people with hair her color.

With nothing left to fear of the new land in which he finds himself, Rudy watches Roxy pull of the biggest magical spell yet, summoning a huge storm that accidentally injures the family horse, Caravaggio. Thankfully he’s easily healed up and then placed in a protective shell when it’s Rudy’s turn to cast the spell.

As with the magical trials Fran puts Elaina through in Wondering Witch, the full terrible potential of elite-level magic is fully realized by the surpassing visuals, as the idyllic landscape is entirely greyed out by blinding sheets of rain, only to emerge more beautiful than before, with tinges of pink and violet in the blue skies.

Rudy passed his first two big tests of life in his new world: stepping outside, and passing his final exam with Roxy. With that passage, there truly is nothing else Roxy can teach him. While I half-expected him to press further for her to stay—either by becoming the village’s resident mage or, say, becoming his dad’s third wife—Rudy isn’t the only one who needs to move forward, and Roxy intends to travel the world, re-hone her skills, and see what else she can learn.

So while Rudy is understandably sad to see her go (as are his folks, who fail to hold back tears for her goodbye), he lets her go, thanking her for imbuing him with knowledge, experience, and technique in magic as well as life. He will also never forget that it was Roxy who brought him outside and showed him it was nothing to fear.

While Roxy was little more than a pretty game character made flesh to Rudy when they met, she’s become someone with whom he formed a genuine human connection, learned more than he’d ever imagined, and healed him in a way he’d long thought impossible. For all of that she’ll have his everlasting gratitude and respect.

Of course, Rudy is still Rudy, as we’re reminded when Lilia discovers a pair of Roxy’s underwear he’d stashed away a few months prior to her departure…the little shit! But maybe, just maybe, he’s taken the first steps to becoming a little less of a shit. Baby steps.

Stray Observations:

  • Rudy died the same night as his parents’ funeral. Looks like they were last line of defense that kept the tormentors out of his house. We later catch them outside his door telling him not to give up.
  • While the extent of the public torture Rudy endured stretches credulity, I’m not putting anything past human beings after 2020.
  • Roxy is indeed the age where, ahem, “that kind of thing” is pretty normal, and this being a world that lacks the modern means of taking care of that, listening to two people having sex would have to suffice.
  • That said, the session she and Rudy overheard did not result in a baby sibling for Rudy. I presume he’ll get one at some point.
  • Rudy is not yet much of a swordsman despite Paul’s efforts, but in Rudy’s defense, he’s five. you gotta give the kid a sword his size!
  • Roxy brings up the Superd, who have green hair and red stones in their foreheads. They started the horrific Laplace War between humans and demons. Rudy visualizes them as similar to Sadako from The Ring.
  • Seeing the village kids leering with flip phones was hella creepy.
  • Social status, pride, and even race apparently don’t matter at Ranoa University. I imagine Rudy will be heading there as soon as he’s old enough…say seven.
  • The little aside of Zenith affectionately feeding Roxy and Lilia grapes was extremely cute.
  • Really glad Caravaggio pulled through! Poor horse looked like he was toast—literally.
  • Read Crow’s write-up here!

Re: Zero – 29 – Take Care, Natsuki Subaru

Having episodes end with Emilia unconscious two weeks in a row was a bummer, but returning to the real world and getting to spend some time with Subaru’s remarkable parents made up for that and then some. Right from the word go, we know we’re in for a ride: Subaru’s dad executes wrestling moves to welcome him to the morning, while his mom (who shares his “scary eyes”) insists he eat a giant mountain of peas, which neither she nor his dad like.

They may have their amusing quirks, but his folks are alive, present, and relatively normal…which makes them among the rarest anime parents out there!

Subaru is a shut-in; he has been since about three months after high school began. His dad manages to coax him out for a walk, and sakura-strewn park in which they have that walk is particularly dreamlike and bright, as bright as his bedroom is dark.

Also bright, to the point of blinding: his parent’s absolute unconditional love and support, no matter how far off “the prescribed path” he’s strayed. Like so many others, Subaru’s problems weren’t caused by a rough or abusive childhood.

When periodic stabs of pain in his head resolve to the spirit of Emilia thanking him for saving her all the time, his memories from the New World flood back in, and with all that amassed experience and wisdom, is able to look at his past objectively and wrestle with it.

Subaru’s dad is a gregarious renaissance man, which put pressure on Subaru to achieve a similar level of greatness in anything and everything he did. But as he grew, he became less than the best, and eventually not that good at those things.

He tried to make up for the lack of talent and ability by acting out, gathering people around him he called friends but who ultimately were only around until he got boring. High school was the rude awakening for which he was not socially or emotionally prepared, and he gradually just stopped going.

Even so, his mom and dad treated him with the same affection and cheer as they always did, despite his desire for them to punish him or even throw him out for being such a pathetic loser. At a couple points during their talks, his dad asks if he likes someone. That’s because as his father he must sense a positive change in Subaru; that he’d figured out to get back on his own two feet.

Without naming names, Subaru admits there is a girl he likes, and a girl who loves him. Rem once told him giving up doesn’t suit him. She and Emilia saved him from his own complex because they didn’t have to pretend he wasn’t the son of the great Natsuki Kenichi—obviously neither of them know his dad. Subaru didn’t know how bad he needed to know it was okay to just be Subaru.

After a little cry and hug with dad, Subaru puts on his school uniform and prepares to return to school, Starting Over from Zero just as he did on Rem’s recommendation…only with school. His mom decides to walk him part of the way there.

She reiterates the things Subaru and his dad talked about, and when Subaru tells her he’ll never let go of people who helped him get over his troubles, and be sure to make himself worthy of them later, she declares he’s definitely “his kid”.

While those two words once caused stabs of pain (and still do one more time), his mom assures him not to worry about being “just as awesome” as his dad. After all, he’s only half his dad, and half his mom, so half as cool constitutes a “filled quota”.

Subaru, knowing he’ll leave both his parents soon and may never see them again, offers tearful apologies for not being able to do anything for them before going off to do his own thing. Again, his mom tells him not to fret; she and his father didn’t have him so he’d do something for him, but so they could do something for him. And they have, just by being there for him, loving him, and never judging him.

Subaru’s dad may have cast a shadow that inadvertently, temporarily stunted his son’s development as an individual. But because his son was half-him, he was eventually able to make it out of that shadow. It’s why when his dad says “do your best” and his mom says “take care”, he can hold his head high, smile, and go to school.

In this case, “going to school”, and specifically opening the door to his homeroom constitutes the completion of the trial, and Echidna is waiting for him (in his school’s uniform!) when he does so, remarking how he made it there faster than she expected.

As we return to his trials in the new world, it was both instructive and at times downright emotionally compelling to see of the old world from which Subaru came. The struggles he faced before arriving in the new world underscore why ending up there and meeting Emilia, Rem and the others was not only the best thing that could have happened to him, but also possibly meant to be.

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?

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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