Musaigen no Phantom World – 06

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Like Reina’s phantom-created illusory ideal world, this week takes place predominantly takes place in a world other than the one in which are characters usually spend time. It’s not nearly as trippy, despite the Alice & Wonderland aesthetic of the inside of Kurumi’s head.

It’s “cuter” too, and I don’t mean that in a good way. It’s very nearly too precious; too overt in its efforts to melt our hearts. Then again, this episode’s heroine is only in the fourth grade, so the more childish innocent milieu is understandable.

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Setting aside issues of why a fourth grader needs to fight beside high schoolers, the fact is Kurumi is so painfully shy and introverted and dependent on the constant presence of her “security blanket” Albrecht, when Haruhiko simply trying to keep her from falling in the street triggers a phenomenon that sends bother him and her into the depths of her mind.

There are bears everywhere because the word “bear” is present in nearly every aspect of her life, and she’s also recently read a fairy tale. Here, Albrecht is an amplified version of what he is in real life: a protector. A literal knight who walks and talks rather than a symbolic shield in her arms. With, as Ruru says, a damn smooth voice!

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Her fears are manifested in a rival clan that seeks to gain dominion over her, but when Albrecht is wounded by the clan’s archer, she must choose to either continue relying on him, which may lead to his demise, or start to stand on her own and protect him for a change.

It’s a pretty obvious choice, considering Kurumi feels indebted to Albrecht for being her bear for virtually the entirety of her life. Keeping him close, she slowly learned how to talk to others and make friends, but when the opportunity arises here to take one big next step towards facing her fears and fighting them alone, she takes it.

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When the rival clan leader (also a bear) shows up in a great big mecha, Kurumi’s rake necklace grows into a weapon she can wield, while she undergoes a classic Sailor Moon-esque transformation into a magical girl.

There’s no escaping the fact that this is all pretty derivative, but the design and animation is solid as always, and Kuno Misaki, who is one of the seiyus specializing in voicing young kids, turns in a decent enough performance.

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Kurumi fights, Kurumi wins, and Kurumi and Haruhiko exit her head and end up back in that crosswalk. Kurumi accompanies Haruhiko in joining Mai, Reina, and Koito (largely out of the picture this week), who are about to go on a phantom hunt. Haruhiko worries that Kurumi is exhausted from her ordeal, but she insists on coming, confident she can hold her own with them.

Like most of MPW, this episode is best described as generally pleasant, often adorable, occasionally chuckle-worthy…but ultimately unexceptional. I’m loath to drop now that the team has finally been fully assembled (and each girl given a focus episode, with Reina’s being the best).

But I’m under no illusions that this is a guilty pleasure. A very pretty show that’s not much deeper than the puddles on that crosswalk.

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Joukamachi no Dandelion – 09

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This week Aoi discovers the perfect way for Akane to be able to be more assertive and comfortable with helping people without being crippled by her shyness: become someone else. Kanade supposedly creates a set of “jamming glasses”, but as the cold open indicated, they don’t actually work; rather, both Akane’s siblings and the general public are well aware she’s Akane, they just don’t want to let on that they know, lest she revert to her painfully shy state. A nice case of mind over matter.

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Even when Akane saves someone without her glasses or cosplay, she simply concludes it’s because “Scarlet Bloom” has become so popular, they’re mistaking her for Akane. Meanwhile, the superhero act works wonders, propelling her from fifth place to second, even beating out Kanade, who along with Aoi perpetuated the tapestry of lies that facilitated their younger sister’s rise.

Meanwhile, Sad, Insecure Misaki is sad and insecure again, and needs Haruka to cheer her up and tell her she’s the best sibling to be king, because she has the perspective of the masses, what with being average and all. That only holds water, if you set aside the fact she can make highly-talented clones of herself, and that’s not something so easily set aside!

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Finally, Aoi, architect of Akane’s rise, feels bad about the way her friends are mistaken as her entourage of attendants by onlookers. They also mysteriously abandon her one after the other, with flimsy excuses. Alone, Aoi starts to rethink socializing with her friends so much, since she’ll only become more of a burden to them as King, or something.

Of course, she’s quite mistaken; her friends only went off to set up a surprise birthday party for her, confirming the value they place in their friendship with her. While still leading in the polls, Aoi still doesn’t want to be king. She’d rather help her siblings reach that goal, while in the meantime enjoying the friendships she forged on her own, without any mind control.

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Joukamachi no Dandelion – 08

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JnD may be based on a 4-koma, but that doesn’t mean it can’t carry on compelling, moving serialized stories, including in the romance department.

It’s even a bit coy about it, starting off with all the Sakurada siblings’ powers going berserk in an occasional phase called “Break Out.” I’m assuming this only happens in adolescence, as it would be pretty inconvenient for the king to be so compromised at regular intervals. That being said, seeing everyone’s  power going haywire in one place makes for some good visual comedy.

Shuu isn’t immune to Break Out, and inadvertently teleports away as he’s walking Satou Hana (the girl who confessed to him a few eps back) home. Hana panics—not unreasonably—and calls Akane for help. Akane uses this as an excuse to practice hanging out in big crowds, and promptly assuages Hana’s fears about Shuu teleporting away intentionally.

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Hana and Akane have some great comedic exchanges in which one is weirding out the other, and the balance is pretty good. Akane completing her inner monologue by yelling “I’ll do it”, or Hana loudly ruling out marriage without context to the crowds around them. I also like Akane’s two-birds-with-one-stone plan to offer advice to Hana while enduring crowds.

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But her Break Out isn’t gone, and crazy, scary things start happening, Hana doesn’t panic, but covers Akane up just as her clothes are being torn up by berserk gravity manipulation (the show avoids fanservice, since this is a serious moment). Hana then goes the extra mile, covering Akane’s escape indoors by loudly, proudly confessing her love for Shuu and her intention to go out with him with marriage in mind for the future, to great applause.

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Shuu seems pretty okay with Hana’s announcement when he sees it on TV (and would probably be even more okay if he knew she was making the announcement to save his sister undue embarrassment), but Kanade is concerned about his indifference, both about how Hana is taking charge of their relationship and, perhaps, also how little he seems to be interested in becoming king.

That’s a perfect segue to a flashback segment that serves as a How I Met Your Mother for the Sakurada parents, King Souichirou and his consort Satsuki. Unlike his kids, Sou spend much of his school years alone, constantly accompanied by his guardian/maid Sowa. He could see the discomfort in people, because reading auras is his superpower.

One day, while escaping from Sowa’s gaze for the seventeenth time, he explores the roof of the school and finds a coral-haired girl sleeping in the sun like a cat, with a petal on her nose. He gets close enough to make her think he’s up to no good (and she tells him it could be construed as an insult if he wasn’t, demonstrating the complicated nature of girls) and conscripts him as her pack-horse for grocery shopping (blowing off class in the process).

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After his face is called dull by the grocer, he and the girl head to her home, where four hungry mouths are waiting for her to make dinner (her parents are working late, not deceased). She makes dinner and Sou joins them, and it’s a transformative experience for him, whose parents have both passed and has no siblings.

The warmth and happiness exuding from the girl’s family puts a kind of spell on him. This girl, Satsuki, will be the girl he ends up marrying. Someone who makes him a better person; brings out new parts of him he didn’t know he had. She helped him become a better king, who can connect with the people in spite of his dull face It’s a lovely, funny, and incredibly efficient love story.

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Fast-forward to the present, and Satsuki remains a strong force, not letting the fact her husband is king let him get away with slacking around the house. When Shuu, presently considering a relationship of his own, seeks advice from his dad, Sou tells him the duty of a king is to make sure his family is living happily. In other words, a king must “rule” his house first, otherwise, why should he be fit to rule anything else?

Shuu takes that advice to heart when meeting with Hana on the same rooftop where Sou met Satsuki (a nice touch there!), but Hana is worried her antics at the cafe crossed the line, and Shuu is about to dump her. She maintains that fear when he accidentally teleports them both to an arctic range, even going so far as to fear he’s going to leave her there after dumping her!

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Of course, she’s got it all wrong: Shuu was glad and inspired by her courageous, confident announcement, and far from thinking she’s not a good match for her, he was worried he wasn’t a good enough match for her. But he wants to be, and he’s going to work to become just that, if Hana would stay by his side even after the elections.

It’s a lovely romantic moment and a happy ending that’s about to be punctuated by a kiss…but the episode reminds us they are in Antarctica (or Nepal)…and Shuu need to get them somewhere warmer pronto!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, completes and episode full of wit and heart; funny images and touching moments and connections. In other words, the best JnD yet.

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Joukamachi no Dandelion – 04

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This week was highly Akane-centric, but the episode really mixed things up by offering her story from multiple perspectives, starting with her cat Borscht, who through Shiori’s ability we know to consider plastic more fun to chew on than the substandard kibble he’s subjected to. He assumed wrongly that a royal family would serve better grub.

We also watch Akane through the eyes of her admiring best friend Karen, who seems to harbor a girl-crush on her royal friend. Because she knows Akane so well, she’s paralyzed when it comes to how to break it to her that she came to school not wearing a skirt.

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Karen knows no matter how she breaks it to her, Akane is going to die of embarrassment, so that lack of a skirt just hangs there, like a Chekhov’s Lack of a Skirt if you will, waiting for someone else to break it to her. Her classmate, “President” Fukushima, simultaneously points out to his male peers the possibility not only could there be no skirt under Akane’s long sweater, but no underwear as well. He also does nothing to stop the charge of every guy in school once they learn Akane will be climbing some steps.

It’s a little sophomoric, sure, but it’s nicely staged, and the built-up tension works right until Akane assures everyone that no, her skirt ripped so she’s wearing her gym shorts…only to lift up her skirt to reveal nothing but panties. And confirming her true feelings for Akane, Karen’s nose bleeds along with the he lads’.

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With that trauma behind her, the next day Akane learns (from StuCo Veep and older sister Kanade) that the school will participate in a town beautification mission, requiring she go out and be exposed to the world and all its cameras for far longer than she’d like. And yet, she doesn’t want preferential treatment, and is resolved to simply power through it.

That makes Fukushima change his mind about fixing things so Akane doens’t have to leave school grounds. As Kanade herself convinces him, it’s not just good for her to face such things, but he’ll get to see her get embarrassed, which is the cutest thing in the world and one of the reasons Fukushima gets up in the morning. That’s because he’s President, not of the StuCo (as Akane wondered, and goes on a failed wild goose chase to confirm), but of the Akane Fan Club.

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Pivoting the club to respecting her will to endure the clean-up day rather than simply make things easier for her gives Fukushima extra energy and motivation, which Akane is quick to pick up on, wondering if he was always so intense and commanding. When it comes to supporting her as President of a fan club devoted to her, he doesn’t mess about.

Borscht bookends the episode, first by communicating his dissatisfaction with the food (complete with flamenco guitar and a deep, passionate voice), this time he curls up on Akane, but not because she feeds him. No, her flat chest is the perfect balance of rigidity and warmth, reminding him of his bedding when he was a stray. It’s a surface that even Hikari (on a non-magic-related growth spurt, to Akane’s horror) can match.

Knowing a black and white cat who always sleeps on a slight incline, this is exactly the kind of stuff I imagine goes on in their heads.

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