Bocchi the Rock! – 05 – Not Just for Me

Seika distributes the girls’ pay, and for a moment Bocchi dreams of all the nice things she can spend it on. Unfortunately, she forgot that every one of the 10,000 yen she received goes into the band’s quota fund.

When Nijika lists all of the bands other expenses down the road that will necessitate second jobs in the summer, Bocchi retreats to the nearest trash can, then looks for a sketchy online website that buys livers from minors.

But in addition to receiving their first pay, Ryou has big news: she’s finished their song. Once she read Bocchi’s lyrics, the music just poured out of her. As thanks, Ryou gives Bocchi a chin scratch that makes Ikuyo green with envy. All that’s left is for Nijika to ask her sister for a slot for them to play.

But what she thought was a mere formality turns out to be a firm obstacle: Seika won’t book them. She only made an exception the last time so Nijika could make a memory, but doesn’t sugarcoat things at all when she says she can’t have a repeat of “that awful May performance”, and tells Nijika to stick with it “as a hobby.”

Nijika storms out of the club, and Ikuyo insists that she and Ryou run after her. Bocchi starts to follow, but is held back by Seika. When she rejoins her bandmates, she tells them what Seika told her: if they want to perform on stage, they’ll have to audition in a week. That means Bocchi has to get better at playing in a band and Ikuyo has to get better at playing period.

Nijika and Ryou believe they’ll be fine as long as they show her sister that they’re “bank-like”, which for the whimsical Ryou means dressing up in suits and mop-top wigs. But as the week of practice proceeds, Bocchi thinks long and hard about what she’s trying to accomplish now that she’s in a band, and what “growth” means beyond simply exerting a lot of effort.

Nijika misreads Bocchi’s distraction with these big questions, and after their last practice before the audition, catches up with her at the vending machines, buys her a cola, and apologizes for roping her into a band without asking her what kind of band she wanted.

Bocchi assures her she’s not doing this against her will, but still won’t tell her that she wanted to join for fame and adoration. By the same measure, Bocchi knows Nijika wants to play at the Budokan, but Nijika has a dream beyond that, which she’s keeping secret for now.

I really liked this scene both artistically (the light of the vending machines is both dramatic and warm) and as a sign that Nijika and Bocchi are still relatively new friends, and still have a lot to learn about each other. That will happen in time as they share more experiences.

The day of the audition arrives, and I felt a pit in my stomach for the girls as they took the stage. It’s the first full song we get to watch the band play, and after four episodes and change, it feels momentous. The performance animation looks great, and more importantly the band sounds great … but crucially not too perfect. There’s plenty of room for polish.

As they play, Bocchi asserts that she’s grown from someone who wanted to become famous for herself, but now that she’s in a band and has friends, she wants to help them achieve their dreams too. Beyond personal motivation, she doesn’t want to let them down or be a weak link.

Infused with that passion to lift herself and the others, her stage play takes a noticeable step up in quality. She’s able to enter a zone where she’s comfortable enough to play almost as well as she plays when she’s recording covers in her closet. A previously private Bocchi, now performing in public and turning heads, just like she dreamed.

Granted, the heads she turns are those of Seika, P.A., and her bandmates, but you gotta start somewhere! When the song ends and everyone is catching their breath, Seika starts with criticism—the drums are too tight, the bass is too distant, etc.—before noting that she now knows what kind of band they are. That means they pass!

The ordeal is so taxing on Bocchi that the show has to cut to live-action video of various Japanese dams while she boots next to the stage. Turns out Seika is a big ol’ softie who had an open slot for her sister’s band all along, but didn’t want to make it too easy for Nijika. She challenged them to work hard and play their butts off, and they did.

Seika also wants to try to encourage Bocchi and further unlock talents being held back by lack of confidence. But in what’s looking like a penchant, Seika’s attempt is worded so that Bocchi misinterprets her “I see you, okay?” as a threat, not a supportive acknowledgement.

While Bocchi panics over having one family member short of the five-ticket quota (two, if you don’t count her dog) the bottom line is shit is starting to get real for Kessoku Band. They have a song, and another on the way, and they have a venue and slot for their first concert as a unit. It’s not “all over” at all!

Akiba Maid War – 06 – The Batmaid

Rather than a stinger that shows some kind of absurd situation our Oinky-Doink maids find themselves in, we get some narration about the delicate balance struck between the Creatureland and Maidalien groups. Ranko’s slaughter of Wuv-Wuv Moonbeam upset that balance.

When Crimson Supernova returns from seven years of prison to Maidalien’s HQ, she smells weakness and smashes it with her red bat. Whoever wiped out Wuv-Wuv will also taste that bat, which is why it’s ironic that she hits it off with Ranko at the ramen spot they both love.

Because Wuv-Wuv also wiped out Maid Sheep (never mind the sheep started it), Creatureland’s brass instructs Tenchou to take on Maidalien … all by themselves. It’s clearly meant to be a mission that will result in Oinky-Doink’s destruction, but they’ll also be destroyed if they refuse.

The increased tensions ripple through Akiba’s streets, and even Nagomi and Nerula are on edge; the distance between them symbolizing their allegiances to the opposing sides of the coming war. But when Tenchou lays out the situation, Nagomi refuses to fight Nerula.

Tenchou suggests that Nagomi and Nerula take an Oath of Sisterhood that will bind them together. For a moment I was worried Nerula would reject Nagomi’s outstretched hand, either out of loyalty to her group or fear of reprisal, but she turns out to be true blue, and before the ramen guy and Tenchou, they take their oath and exchange name cards.

When Tenchou tries to persuade Nagomi into spying on Maidalien through Nerula, Nagomi is truly disgusted … but Nerula takes the initiative, warning her new sister that her group is coming for Oinky-Doink, and even tipping off the cops to her violent new “acting” boss Manami’s plan.

Nagomi is terribly worried when Nerula goes to ground, but thanks to the ramen guy she and Ranko manage to find her hiding in an alley, not far from where her fellow Maidalien maids are hunting for her. Nerula is happy to see her sister “one last time”, a phrase Nagomi doesn’t like one bit.

But like Ranko (and unlike Nagomi), Nerula is clear-eyed about what it means to be a maid in Akiba. She betrayed her group, and is ready for the consequences when Manami and her right-hand maid show up to deal them out.

Only if Nerula is going to go down, she’s going to go down trying to take Manami with her. Manami is nothing but an agent of chaos who wants to flood Akiba’s streets with blood (never mind that Ranko kiiinda already did this in the first episode, thus creating Manami’s motivation for going after Oinky-Doink).

Nerula doesn’t let Nagomi interfere as she lunges at Manami with a dagger, hitting nothing but air. When Manami beats her down with her bat, she gets back up, which is when Manami pulls a gun and puts several bullets in Nerula’s midsection.

Ranko pulls her sidearm and reminds the Maidaliens of the code, and Manami and her colleague depart before the coppers come. But the die is cast and the war has begun, even if the first casualty is not from Creatureland. None of that matters to Nagomi in the moment; she’s just trying to stop Nerula’s bleeding.

Nagomi is heartbroken and devastated when Nerula raises her bloodied hand to her sister’s cheek before breathing her last. Ranko warned that oaths of sisterhood don’t always work out, but if there’s any consolation to Nerula’s death, it’s that she died never having to fight her sister.

AMW is no stranger to goofy, absurd, over-the-top climaxes to its episodes, but this is the first one that’s played absolutely straight for drama, and it succeeds. Could this tragedy be what finally motivates Nagomi to take up arms to prevent anyone else she cares about from being taken?

Or will Nagomi take Nerula’s last words to heart, resolving to stay the maid she is: a maid of peace and non-violence? Whatever path she takes, the goofy fun times are done.

The Eminence in Shadow – 05 – Going Nuclear

I thought last week’s outing would end with Cid completing the rescue of Alexia and the defeat of her evil fiancé. Instead, it ended with him simply showing up, which led me to wonder two things: would a lengthy battle ensue, and was Alexia still in danger? The answers turn out to be “yes” and “no”. Alexia just has to sit back and watch along with us as “Shadow” takes his time toying with Zenon like a cat with a mouse.

Zenon has no idea who he’s dealing with and is confident he’s the superior warrior. Meanwhile, the mad scientist’s giant monster starts wreaking havoc in the streets, it falls to Princess Iris to deal with it. But no matter how many times she slashes the beast, she ends up regenerating her severed limbs in seconds. That’s when Alpha shows up and tells the good princess, essentially, that she’s doing it wrong.

All Iris is doing is making the poor beast suffer; she doesn’t have the power to put her out of her misery. Alpha does, and the red light of Iris’ magic-infused attacks are replaced by a massive pillar of blue light that obliterates the beast, leaving behind the body of the girl that was its core, as well as a locket showing who she was. A flabbergasted Iris asks her what the hell is going on, but Alpha politely tells her to sit back and enjoy the show.

Shadow, and Shadow Garden, are many orders of magnitude more powerful than anyone else in the city; that’s abundantly clear by the ease with which ever Diabolos Cult base is eliminated, along with the fact Alpha just showed up Iris. Down in the sewers, Cid continues to impress upon Zenon just how overmatched he is, but as Alexia watches she notices that Shadow’s fencing style, powerful as it is, is simple, textbook…much like hers. It’s the product of obsessive hard work, not natural talent.

Having had his fill of being overpowered, Zenon gulps on some magic pills that enhance his strength, stamina, and physique. He lashes wildly at Cid but every strike is parried, blocked, or dodged altogether. Cid is disappointed with this “unsightly” display, and offended that Zenon dares call it the “power of the almighty”. It’s just borrowed strength. Cid, meanwhile creates a beautiful blue and purple field laced with intricate bands of light.

He tells Zenon (and Alexia) something they wouldn’t know about: nuclear bombs. In his home world, he could never hope to overcome the blast, but in this new world the sky’s the limit, and after years of training he’s managed to become nuclear himself. His attack detonates, turning the environment monochromatic before evaporating Zenon in a massive blast that emerges from underground and consumes dozens of city blocks. The members of Shadow Garden watch and revel in their leader’s truly almighty power.

Naturally, despite the destructive power, Cid took steps to ensure Alexia survived, but also never got to see her savior’s face. She stands within the depths of the crater his blast created, and whips out her sword and pulls off a few stances. Then, to her surprise, a worried-sick Iris arrives and gathers her in a hug, which Alexia accepts with sisterly grace and love. Watching Cid has changed her perspective on things. Now she understands her sister wasn’t patronizing her when she said she loved her style. Her style represents effort, heart, and determination.

Back at the academy, Alexia reminds Cid that he told her he liked her fencing style, which is the same thing her sister said years ago. With Zenon out of her hair permanently, she bashfully asks Cid if they could keep their relationship going “a little longer”, with the heavy implication that it would no longer be “pretend”. Cid gives a cheerful thumbs-down, and her initial shock turns to a blushing smile—and then a vicious slash from her sword.

Shadow Garden continues its plans to rid the world of Diabolos, Iris assembles a team to investigate both the Cult and the Garden, and a still-bloodied Cid accidentally collides with a pink-haired student carrying a towering stack of tomes. He offers her a hand up, which she happily accepts, and the atmosphere immediately gets all sparkly and soft-focus-y. It looks like Cid doesn’t intend to waste his springtime of youth!

A Couple of Cuckoos – 17 – Camp Confession

When Nagi and Erika inform Sachi that she’s invited to their study training camp, she’s super stoked and can’t wait to start preparing for it. But when the group arrives at Erika’s opulent lakeside vacation home in Karuizawa, Sachi isn’t there; she’s ruled out by a sudden fever. In her place is Asuma Shion, AKA Matuoka Yoshitsugu’s Energetic High School Chum #1,478. 

When I first learned of this, and how he weaseled his way into tagging along (why wouldn’t they have been able to go with no one replacing Sachi?) I let out a loud, drawn-out sigh. But Shion rather than Sachi being on this trip was actually a blessing in disguise. Instead of three girls vying for Nagi’s attention, Shion is vying for Erika’s while Nagi is stoked about being there with Hiro.

Nagi provisionally agrees to cooperate with Shion such that he lets him  be Erika’s buddy for grocery shopping. At first Hiro thinks they should study while the other two are out, but the lake and crisp air of the countryside call to her. She parks herself out at the pier and does a magazine-worthy pose, telling Nagi straight-up she came because she knew he’d be there.

At the supermarket it becomes abundantly clear Erika has no idea what to buy, so she just buys whatever. Nevertheless, Shion praises her for having it together, and when she drops something, he swoops in to catch it, and his fingers meet hers. After flirting with Nagi, Hiro heads to the bath.

When Erika and Shion return home, the groceries they bought are nowhere in sight, but Shion claims to have confessed to Erika. When he actually tells Nagi that all he did was thank her for letting him come on the trip, Nagi tells him that’s not a confession. Then he tells Shion that he did confess to Hiro, and about the academic prerequisites for dating her.

Shion is impressed, calling Nagi “next-level” (the kid throws around a lot of pseudo(?) Gen-Z slang). When Erika rushes to the bath to talk to Hiro, it’s not about Shion at all (which is pretty funny) but the fact she forgot to pack underwear…or even a change of clothes. Honestly, between that and not bringing any food, you’d think Nagi would have noticed how light they were packing and prepared accordingly. Perhaps he wanted to give Erika the chance to do those things, since she’s trying to be more independent.

In any case, there’s no further mention of whatever food she and Shion bought, and we go straight to a nighttime test of courage. Hiro and Nagi are all set to be paired up again while Shion wants to go with Erika, but Erika suddenly declares she wants to be with Nagi, grabs him by the arm, and whisks him into the night, saying she needs to tell him “something”—probably about the family photo she hid when they first stepped into the house (likely the one that shows Erika and Nagi together as little tykes).

That leaves Hiro and Shion together, and it’s wonderfully awkward. Shion tries to help his buddy Nagi out by suggesting that Hiro doesn’t have to take the top spot in class every time, but Hiro immediately shuts him down, and changes the subject to Shion, whom she knows is trying to confess to Erika…and is willing to help him out.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 16 – Full Throttle Sachi

Sachi wants to know more about this Segawa Hiro girl her dear brother loves so much he’s willing to date her even while engaged to Erika. Rather than talk to Hiro, she ropes Erika into a day of stalking. Once it’s determined that Hiro is a perfect superhuman (who even delivers a 100-yen-coin she found on the street to a police box) she confronts Nagi about it, telling him he’s too good for her.

I’m not sure how Sachi’s inner logic works, but by saying this to Nagi she’s implying that she’s not too good for him. At the same time, she decides she’s going to attend the same high school as Nagi, Erika, and Hiro, presumably to become closer to her brother’s ideal of Hiro. Naturally when she shows up in her sailor uniform she creates as big a stir as Erika’s arrival.

While Hiro gives Sachi a tour of the school, Nagi and Erika follow and try to listen in. When the our ends and Sachi’s first question is about how Hiro feels about Nagi, he can sense something’s up and runs to confront them both. Only neither of them have anything to say, because apparently they’ve become friends with a shared like of…him.

Nagi, Erika, Sachi and Hiro then have lunch together, making Nagi’s friends going all meta by drawing up the diagram of relationships in their imaginations that’s pretty much spot on with that of the show, including their conclusion that Nagi isn’t exactly living an easy carefree life.

It’s one thing to want to go to Nagi’s expensive college prep school, but quite another for their family of modest means to afford for both her and Nagi to attend. Nagi and Erika accompany her to the Umino diner as moral support, but their parents are surprisingly fine with it. They’ll be able to afford for Sachi to go to Nagi’s school…if they sell the diner.

Sachi protests along with Nagi; this parent martyrdom won’t stand. Sachi and her mom then get fired up, and the men of the family back off. It ends up being the third woman in the family, Erika, who is able to quench the flames and suggest a third way: Sachi will work hard to get accepted to Nagi’s school, while the folks’ll come up with a way to pay without selling the diner.

Saying they’ll just “figure it out” seems like a cheat, especially when it’s suggested from Erika, whose monthly cosplay wardrobe probably exceeds what the entire Umino clan spends in a month. But that’s not the biggest problem with the episode, which is its central figure: Sachi.

Sachi is two basic things: a brother complex in human form, and a serial copycat. She follows through whatever she sets out to do, but has no hopes or dreams of her own. She only wants to do what her brother has done, following but never leading. It was like that when he won at swimming, reading, and running, and now she’s doing it with school.

Sachi is cute, but she’s a painfully dull and shallow character, her hot-and-cold attitude towards her brother is rote and tiresome, and there’s zero change she wins the Nagi sweepstakes. That makes any episode that focuses on her to this extent feel like a slog.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 15 – Alliance of the Engaged

This episode sidesteps the cliffhanger of Hiro wanting to know why both Nagi and Erika called Sachi their sister, and for most of its running time focuses primarily on Nagi and Erika’s time together at the festival, which was encouraged by Nagi’s parents.

Erika’s never experienced a festival like this, and while she tries to pay for goldfish scooping with a credit card (even though she actually has a wad of cash!) it’s clear she’s having hella fun. Even if Nagi would rather be having this date with Hiro, he can’t deny he’s having fun too.

Of course, they’re not having this festival date in a vacuum. Sachi’s friends tease her for having a brother complex, since they peg Nagi as a drab studyholic (pretty close to the mark!). Erika’s InstaStans also notice her at the festival and try to chat her up again.

Nagi doesn’t want to cause a scene by beating them up again, so he grabs Erika and runs until they lose their pursuers. They happen to stop on a pedestrian bridge with a perfect view of the festival fireworks, another first for Erika.

That’s when Hiro shows up, having finally finished the work her family had her doing. She again broaches the topic of them both saying Sachi was their sister, so they take her to a family restaurant to sit her down and tell her the truth: that they were switched at birth, and that they’re now engaged.

Erika worried Hiro would hate them if they told the truth, but Nagi knows her a little better and knows Hiro wouldn’t be like that, and so she isn’t. In fact, as she’s “engaged” herself thanks to pushy parents, she feels a kinship to the two of them. If anything, they’re now closer than ever thanks to this new knowledge.

When Erika suddenly rushes off to buy a gift for Sachi at the festival like she promised, Nagi offers to walk Hiro home, but she says she’ll be fine, and they part ways for the evening…or so Nagi thinks. No sooner does he turn his back than Hiro grabs his sleeve and solemnly tells him: “No more secrets.” With the look Hiro has in her eyes, Nagi can only promise this.

Sachi happens to watch this scene unfold, and suffice it to say she’s not a fan of it. Her brother being engaged to Erika is one thing; Erika is her blood sister, and her parents arranged it. But Nagi being all lovey-dovey with this third girl? That’s something that sticks in Sachi’s craw. That sad, Erika loves Hiro too, so there’s no easy answers for how to simplify or untangle this romantic web.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 14 – Thinking About Pi

Nagi agrees to help Erika study for her make-up exams as long as she stays focused, but let’s be honest: even he knew that wasn’t going to be easy. Erika cosplays in a military uniform (and dresses up Sachi too) and plays lip service to this studying “mission” to hold the “territory” of their house, but …she also just might have undiagnosed ADHD.

There’s also the matter of her previous rich girl’s school not being nearly as academically tough as Nagi’s, and even if it’s not Nagi’s fault her father enrolled her there, the fact it was done because they’re engaged lends him a measure of responsibility, so he tries to help her study, but she keeps getting hung up on things like why the symbol for Pi isn’t a cute emoji.

But after more than three hours of not getting through a single problem, Nagi is fed up, and reiterates that he needs to study too in order to beat Hiro. Hearing her brought up is the last straw for Erika, who gives up and skulks off to her room, apparently resigned to move back in with her parents. Nagi, too annoyed by the lack of progress, doesn’t stop her, and Sachi’s attempt at mediation fails.

Later that evening, Nagi realizes that he’s become accustomed to this place, and isn’t in a hurry to leave it, but that’s what will happen if Erika fails the make-ups. That would feel like moving backwards. When he goes downstairs for some coffee he sees Sachi crashing on the couch. She tells him that Erika is still studying, and he should help her.

When he enters her room (without knocking) Erika is sitting at her little desk lamp fighting back tears as she desperately tries to cram, so while Nagi’s sudden appearance is unexpected, it’s not unwelcome. When she asks why he’s helping her when he’s fine with her going home, he says her problems are his problems, because she’s his fiancée.

While Erika continues to prove a tough toutee, Nagi pulls two straight all-nighters with her, and he’s there in the classroom when she receives the result of their hard work and perseverance: her grade improved, and her dad calls off the summons. Erika and Nagi share both revel in their victory with wide smiles. Her text to her dad with the news, complete with eyelid-pull emoji, actually makes him happy.

As a reward for passing, Sachi invites Erika to the festival being held at the shopping district where the Uminos’ diner is. She’s late getting ready, and the folks wander off to mingle, so the family yakisoba stand is run by Nagi and Sachi. You can tell when Nagi catches her after she trips on her laces that Sachi is happy for some quality Onii time.

However, things get awkward with them again when Hiro shows up. Nagi introduces her, she remembers the text on Nagi’s phone about going on a date, and reacts coldly, turning her head and ignoring Nagi when he says she’s being rude. She’s also offended when Nagi so quickly agrees to walk around with Hiro later.

She assumed that Nagi would hang out with her and Erika, especially since this is in part a celebration of Erika passing her exams. It’s kind of cold and oblivious of Nagi too, considering Erika told him to think of Sachi as less of a little sister, and I thought it got through to him. Apparently not!

Naturally, before Nagi is done cleaning up the stand after they sell out of food, Erika arrives resplendent in a yukata lends one to Sachi, and the two head out without him and bump into Hiro, because of course they do! Not only that, Erika introduces Sachi as her sister, when Hiro had already heard that she was Hiro’s.

It’s weird to think that Hiro has never officially met Sachi, but then again she isn’t aware that Erika and Nagi (and Sachi) live in the same house, nor did she even know Nagi’s home was a diner. She and Nagi have been through a lot, but there’s still a lot she doesn’t know about him and Erika, and it looks like she’s going to learn more very soon.

Whether that new knowledge will change how she feels about Nagi “changing her fate”, or makes her feel betrayed and hurt, only time will tell. But I for one believe she’s been in the dark too long as Nagi’s “side girl”. It’s time for things to come to light and let the cards fall where they may.

RWBY: Ice Queendom – 04 – Her World, Her Rules

If you’re going to go three weeks between episodes (since the first three were available in week one) following with a character-centric bottle episode is probably the way to go. We don’t see how Weiss is discovered or how the rest of her team takes her before Shion; instead we’re right beside Ruby inside Weiss’ nightmare world as she tries to find her bearings and rescue her still-new comrade.

She arrives in a harsh winter wonderland with an psychedelic sky, but at least she can use her weapon as a snowboard, and spends coins in order to communicate with Shion, create shortcut doors, and bring up the map of where she’s been. Considering she only has a finite amount of coins, I’d say she’s actually way too liberal with their use early on.

After witnessing a Schnee-brand train being attacked and derailed by White Fang, Ruby follows the tracks to an Orwellian nightmare of a city, packed with statues and portraits of Weiss’ father. The city is populated by a bunch of patrolling robots who salute with “Big Nicholas” (instead of Big Brother) and laborers who might as well be automatons with their highly structured, joyless days working to fatten their boss’ pockets.

When blending in doesn’t work (I mean look at her), Ruby tries to climb the vast walls of the city’s central tower, but is pushed back by magical brambles. She then encounters a “Silly Prison” for “dummies” depicted as members of JNPR who meow kind of like cats a a pet shop. Ruby is a little disappointed Weiss sees their comrades like this.

As for Weiss herself, she’s been given an Esdeath-like makeover. Her sister is a bat who alerts her to Ruby’s movements, while her always-looming father orders her to take care of the intruder. Wanted posters appear instantaneously, and before long Ruby is cornered and finally comes face to face with Weiss.

As you’d expect, Weiss isn’t in any hurry to go anywhere, and in any case regards Ruby with nothing but disgust and contempt. Seeing all this trippy shit inside Weiss’ head, Ruby is compelled to believe that all the time Weiss was trying to make nice, she was actually harboring hatred for everyone else, including her.

Shion tells her it’s not that easy; that the Nightmare itself casts a sinister shadow over everything. Ruby is an intruder, and so the Grimm will use everything at its disposal from Weiss’ mind to throw Ruby off her game. But it’s clear that Weiss’ existence prior to joining the rest of RWBY has been harsh, cutthroat, and above all devoid of love and warmth. Hopefully Ruby can heat things up a little and bring the ice princess back from the brink.

RWBY: Ice Queendom – 01-03 (First Impressions) – Uncut Gems

01 – Dust to Dust

Based on a popular web comic I haven’t had the pleasure of ever seeing (probably true of a lot of viewers), the charmingly vowel-less RWBY blast out of the gate with not one or two but three episodes, giving us over an hour for the titular quartet to be introduced separately, meet, clash, and learn to get along. It’s not groundbreaking stuff but it’s well-executed and excels at details.

Our cheerful, bright silver-eyed co-protagonist is Ruby Rose, who is both proud and jealous of her big sister Yang getting into the illustrious Beacon Academy, where talented youngsters who have mastered Aura and awakened their Semblances are trained into Hunters and Huntresses to fight their worlds great scourge, the Grimm. (Hope you like proper nouns because there’s lots.)

While Ruby and Yang live modestly with their pops, aristocrat and heiress Weiss Schnee longs for the same thing they do: to become a Huntress. The only problem is she has to prove to her father she can do it by defeating a Grimm in her ultra-rich family’s great hall.

This is our first taste of RWBY’s battle action, and…it’s great. No notes. Creative, lyrical, fluid, bombastic, badass, awesome…it’s all of those things, and without too much reliance on CGI. While her first round with the Grimm gives her an eye wound that leads to a scar, Weiss gets her second wind and shows her father once and for all she’s Beacon material.

Our fourth co-protagonist is a Faunus (demihuman) and part of White Fang, a group she leaves when it becomes to radicalized and bent towards exacting revenge against full humans rather than building bridges. Her One Last Job with White Fang is another excellent demonstration of RWBY’s awesome production values and ability to stir up excitement for a fight.

Perhaps the most fun sequence is when some thieves try to steal aura in a store that happens to be open late (note to store owner: have a security guy on duty). Ruby almost misses the robbery due to her blasting metal on her headphones, but when she becomes aware of their presence, she wastes no time showing off her powers, not to mention her penchant for cool poses and beautiful rose petal-filled physical fluorishes.

The thing is, while Ruby has talent, she’s not trained and lacks authority and experience. She’s able to keep up with the thieves right up until they escape in their airship, which is when Professor Glynda Goodwitch from Beacon Academy, a full-fledged Huntress, steps in.

The baddies get away, but Glynda wasn’t there for them, she was there to bring Ruby before Beacon’s headmaster, Ozpin. The good cop to Glynda’s bad, he offers Ruby tea and cookies and, oh yeah, the offer for her to skip two grades and enroll at Beacon beside her sister with immediate effect. I guess Ozpin needs Huntresses and feels Ruby, while rough, is ready to be polished.

That night, having run from White Fang, Blake gets an acceptance letter from Beacon on her tablet, setting her on her own path rather than following the one she was born into. That’s how Ruby, Yang, Blake and Weiss all end up on the same airship bound for their Beacon Academy initiation ceremony.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

02 – A Union of Colors

The first episode ably introduced our four main heroines, and the second expands the cast with four of their classmates and puts all eight into their first battle together. But first, Yang tries to heed their dad’s advice and wean Ruby off her a bit by encouraging her to make friends. Ruby and Yang first introduce themselves to Blake, who would rather read her book, and then Weiss and Blake clash over Schnee’s alleged corruption and the evilness of Faunus.

We also meet the unconfident Jaune Arc, who makes fast friends with the statuesque, famous Pyrrha Nikos, while Lie Ren and Nora Valkyrie seem to have been close friends all along. It’s trial by fire as Beacon literally puts the new students on catapults and launches them into the sky. The first person they meet is their partner, and two pairs will make a team of four for their entire four-year stay at Beacon.

The mission is simple: make their way through the forest to a temple where they’ll retrieve a chess piece. Naturally, the forest is full of Grimm. Also naturally, Ruby and Weiss end up encountering each other first, while Yang first runs into Blake.

Weiss doesn’t take Ruby seriously at first because she both seems and is younger and seems like a show-off. That said, when they start to encounter more dangerous Grimm, they have no choice but to work together. Yang and Blake don’t clash quite as much, but the former is more chipper and gung-ho while the latter more stoic and serious.

Ruby, Weiss, Blake and Yang end up working together to bring the aerial Grimm boss down—and with quite a bit of style, I might add. Jaune, Nora, Pyrrha and Ren also distinguish themselves while forming their team. Back at Beacon, the two quartets officially become RWBY, both pronounced and led by Ruby, and JNPR, pronounced “juniper” and led by Jaune.

03 – Bridges and Nightmares

With the two groups formed and enrolled, the third and final introductory episode starts throwing conflicts both internal and external at the groups. While the quartet has fun redecorating their dorm, when it comes time to class all of Ruby’s energy washes away.

Weiss is the first to volunteer to defeat a Grimm in class, and it rubs her the wrong way when Ruby, her “leader”, is cheering her on. When she skulks away and Ruby chases after her, both are found by teachers, who give both of them a pep talk. Ozpin assures Ruby that her being chosen as the leader was no accident, and that she’ll learn to grow into the role and inspire her teammates.

Even if we know Weiss doesn’t get everything she wants like the other professor presumed (she’s a middle child after all), she should worry less about who is leader and more about being the best teammate she can be, as it could make the difference between victory and defeat; life and death.

Starting with the welcoming ceremony and touched on here and there are the presence of two creepy things: weird branch-like marks on the backs of both Weiss and Jaune, and shadow-like doppelgangers of the two sneaking around, who only they can see.

Shortly after losing a battle with another dude and being shown his Aura by Pyrrha, Jaune’s condition gets worse, while after making an effort to be a good teammate to Ruby, Weiss’ marks also spread.

Jaune is the first to succumb, as one morning his teammates are unable to wake him. Shion Zaiden is brought in, since she specializes in hunting Nightmares—Grimm that take over the mind of their hosts and trap them in their dreams. She sets up an elaborate system to send the other members of JNPR into his mind to rescue him and draw the Nightmare out.

It works like a jiffy—indeed, he’s saved and the Grimm captured almost too quickly and easily. It was nice to see how well JNPR has gelled compared to the more dysfunctional RWBY. That said, I’m glad the focus wasn’t taken off of the main group of RWBY, as focus returns to them in the second half of the episode.

Jaune’s infection-by-Nightmare is foreshadowing for Weiss’, as like Jaune she’s going through some emotional conflict. While RWBY goes into town for an annual festival, it’s interrupted by news of a Faunus castaway on the run. Weiss and Blake get into it over human-Faunus relations and the nature of White Fang.

While trying to chase the castaway, Weiss bumps into Penny, a very robotic-seeming girl who is the cast’s newest member. But when Blake can’t handle Weiss’ prejudice anymore she runs off, and eventually the castaway finds her without the black bow that covers her cat ears and knows he’s with his brethren.

The thing is, Weiss isn’t a 100% racist monster, she’s just never contemplated the possibility someone like Blake could have once been in White Fang. Yang is there to see Weiss finally break down and cry over her frustration with how things have been going, but it’s a cathartic cry, not one of hopelessness.

When the same criminals who robbed the aura store in the first episode try to pull off a heist at the docks, it ends up being Penny who shuts it all down all by her lonesome, once again indicating she’s not human either. But when RWBY reunites, Weiss tells Blake she’s ready to look past her prejudices and see Blake for who she is, a classmate, a teammate, and hopefully one day soon, a friend.

But as had been heavily telegraphed, Weiss was eventually going to fall into the same briar patch as Jaune did, the product of being infected by a Nightmare. This leads to some creepy but also eerily beautiful final moments of the episode as she’s trapped in those brambles.

The big question for the fourth episode is, will Weiss allow Ruby, Blake and Yang into her mind as easily as Jaune let his teammates in, and will she prove harder to rescue from her dreams?

There’s an adage that three episodes are enough to know whether you want to continue with an anime. Honestly, it’s takes me everywhere between one and twelve, but one thing I can say for sure is that I’ll be sticking with RWBY. 

More often than not it looks and sounds fantastic, the character dynamics and conflicts sufficiently compelling, its world is elaborate and whimsical, and the Grimm are a multifaceted, credible threat. Finally, with a cliffhanger like this I await the fourth episode with great anticipation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

 

A Couple of Cuckoos – 04 – Sister Act

Within the two weeks he and Erika are living together, Nagi apparently is able to study enough to ace the exams and conquer the legend that is Segawa Hiro. Both the nerds and normies salute him following through on his boasts. When Hiro again invites him to the rooftop, he should have known beating her at one exam wasn’t going to cut it as far as winning her over.

As far as she’s concerned, she’s still beating him in exams, 10-1, so his confession “will not be processed”. When she declares all the other ways she surpasses him when it comes to both studies and life, the two end up chasing each other around the school and messing up a classroom and panting on the ground. Hiro had fun, but she makes it clear there’s no way she and Nagi can go out. You see, she’s engaged too!

He has had so much fun, in fact, he’s surprised to learn that his time playing Erika has already come to an end. He says he appreciated having a place to “let off steam” and how it was fun overall; Erika said it was the worst, but he can probably tell she’s not being entirely sincere. But once he packs up his stuff and bows to the house, suddenly it’s all over, and they go their separate ways…

…Except Nagi returns home to find it dark and locked; turns out his family is temporarily staying at an inn while the plumbing is fixed. There’s no room for him at said inn, so it’s back to his birth father’s house…where Erika is still making herself at home. Turns out she wanted to have a go at living on her own without help. Nagi is surprised she wants to improve herself, and vows to help her become a “professionally independent person” like him.

When Sachi comes by to drop off some of Nagi’s stuff, she finally gets to meet her biological big sister, something both she and Erika are understandably nervous about. Despite Nagi saying how friendly Sachi is and how easily she warms up to people, their first encounter is extremely stif and awkward. Sachi later confides in Nagi that she’d looked up Erika on IG before, and finding out she’s even cuter in person threw her off.

Nagi commences “Operation Sister Besties” by getting the two to cook some karaage together. While Erika is a nightmare chopping cabbage, she gets to see Nagi and Sachi interact like a real brother and sister that they are, while Nagi gets to see Sachi and Erika very much acting similar…they even eat the same way. When he points this out, they protest his assertion…by heaping praise on one another.

Erika decides to interrupt dinner by having Sachi try on some of her clothes. With Nagi not around, Erika makes clear she has no intention of marrying Sachi’s brother, something that seems like a load of Sachi’s mind. They also exchange contact info. Back home, Sachi’s folks are irked that she went and hung out with Erika. This is rich for people who went behind both Nagi and Erika’s backs to set them up to be married!

Whatever Hiro’s deal is with her engagement, it seems like a hard stop in Nagi’s quest to win her heart. Nagi and Erika are living together again, this time indefinitely. Sachi has finally met her sister and Nagi’s fiancée and can’t help but like her, but how long these good vibes last is anyone’s guess. I’m surprised how much has happened just four episodes into a twenty-four episode series. Things have moved very swiftly, but there’s clearly a lot more in store for our cuckoos.

Love After World Domination – 05 – Real Steel Feels

That Desumi is the happiest she’s ever been now that she’s dating her sweetheart Fudou probably goes a long way to explaining why she’s obliterating the other princesses in the Gekko rankings. But she’s not content to be happy and successful in love.

When she overhears the Steel Princess dishing with the Beast Princess about someone she loves in the cafeteria (which is not an evil cafeteria…just a cafeteria), Beast wants nothing to do with it, but Desumi is all ears.

Steel’s problem is the same as Desumi’s pre-Fudou: why would anyone love someone like her? She lacks confidence and courage to go after what she wants. Desumi determines that what Steel needs is a strict self-improvement regimen and crash course in femininity.

Beast gets pulled into this scheme with Desumi Steel, but the end result of all the pilates and cooking and makeup sessions is that Steel ends up feeling even more inadequate and worthless than before Desumi tried to help. Beast gives Desumi a distinct told ya so.

During the latest Gelato-Gekko clash, Desumi does what someone does in a stable and healthy relationship: discuss problems she’s having and those of her work associates. The thing is, Fudou doesn’t expect anything of Desumi, just to be by his side.

Desumi’s mistake was making Steel think she had to change and improve in all those areas she never delved into. In reality, if the one she loves is truly right for her, like Fudou is for Desumi, all Steel has to do is be herself.

Desumi and Beast brave Steel’s lair, where she’s erected a tangle of steel spikes to ward off intruders, but Desumi breaks through it and Beast has her back. Beneath her emotionless steel mask, Steel is crying her eyes out, because she hasn’t really given up on love; she’s just not sure how to proceed.

Desumi gives Steel the nudge she needs to cast off her armor—revealing a bust larger than Desumi’s and much larger than Beast’s, inciting the latter’s fury—and confess to the one she loves…who is, of course, Culverin Bear. I thought the joke would be he’d summarily reject her, but they turn out to be a great match in both love and evil.

Fresh off her workplace cupid duties, Desumi decides the time is right for her and Fudou to feed each other the adorable bento she made for the  occassion. The team-up of Steel and Bear proves enough of a problem for the other Gelatos that Blue goes looking for Red, but is stopped in his tracks by Haru, who is determined to protect their secret love.

Desumi is about to place her lovingly made tamago in Fudou’s waiting mouth when he suddenly has a bout of terrible stomach pain. He still tries to assume the position for Desumi to feed him, but she doesn’t want to under such unromantic circumstances, and he soon passes out anyway.

Thanks to Haru being nearby, Fudou gets to the hospital without his and Desumi’s relationship being exposed. Turns out he needed to get his appendix out, and three days later he’s on the mend and ready to be discharged. There’s a very thoughtful bouquet from Gekko’s Supreme Leader Bosslar, wishing him a speedy recovery so they can kill him.

Misaki, Haru, and Big are in his hospital room, but when Misaki tries to feed him an apple he peeled, Fudou clamps up, and Haru snatches the apple instead. After they leave, the apples stay, and after a brief fakeout involving his mom visiting, Desumi arrives to do the feeding.

I like how she goes to the trouble of taking off her shoes and joining him on the bed to feed him properly, and how the usual fake-out of coming within a hair’s breath of touching his lips with the apple is subverted. She’s able to feed him, and the two enjoy another milestone in their romance.

The mood is so nice, in fact, the two are ready to kiss when his mom returns. Rather than freak out at who the beautiful girl is, she takes her by the hand and rushes out, as her volleyball team is missing one. Desumi has no choice but to go with her, and she and Fudou will have to wait for another perfect moment to kiss.

That said, after the credits we see Desumi helping Fudou’s mom crush the competition at volleyball. While walking home at sunset, she also gets a special bonus: seeing a photo of her boyfriend as a not-so-little baby. I love how casually Fudou’s mom embraces Desumi and trusts her to take care of her son.

I’m glad there’s one more person Desumi doesn’t have to keep a secret from. I doubt Fudou’s mom would even care if she knew Desumi was Gekko’s Reaper Princess. If she cares for Fudou and makes him happy, that’s more than enough.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Love After World Domination – 04 – Can’t Take Me Home

This week showed that while many of the characters play rather cartoonish heroes or villains, at the end of the day everyone’s a normal human being. Desumi even attends high school and has normal friends while she’s not “at work”. But while hanging out after school, she spots Fudou with the new Pink Gelato, and her reaction—running away in tears—is as intense as her friends are confused.

Pink, AKA Haru, is also confused…by the photo of Fudou with what looks an awful lot like a girlfriend. She and Fudou aren’t on a date; she needs to ask him about the photo. But instead he intuits the reason for their meet-up is that she’s interested in upping her physical training regimen. Haru is helpless to stop him from going off on his favorite topic, and she ends up relieved, as there’s simply no way Fudou would have a girlfriend.

But he does, and she’s pissed. When Fudou and Haru’s coffee is interrupted by a call of duty, Fudou finds and engages with Desumi expecting them to go through their usual dance, only this time Desumi’s dropkick lands. He thinks it’s an accident, or they’re just a little out of sync today, but eventually he realizes Desumi is hitting him on purpose.

The two end up in a secluded warehouse, where Desumi admits that even though her brain didn’t really think Fudou was cheating on her, the sight of him with Haru sent her heart into such turmoil she didn’t know what to do with herself. In fact, she started to think maybe someone “girly” like Haru would be better for him than a jealous, violent, loathsome outcast like her.

Fudou is swift in both his comforting hug and his rebuttal: he will only love her, with everything he’s got, as long as he lives. With her totally undeserved self-loathing out of her system, she and Fudou simply exist together for a bit, hand in hand, planning an afterschool date in their school uniforms…when all of a sudden they notice that Pink Gelato is sitting right next to them.

Fudou and Desumi are certain they’re 100% busted and doomed. But the thing is…they aren’t, at least not for the time being. They both believe Haru is planning something, and simply biding her time before she drops the hammer. But Haru is conspicuous in not only not telling anyone what she saw, but acting like she never saw it; like everything’s normal.

That is, until Fudou and Desumi’s after-school date. After a civet(!)-based false alarm, Desumi realizes Haru is lying in wait, and sends Fudou off on an interminable and ultimately doomed Starbucks run. Haru doesn’t mince words, challenging Desumi to a duel. Despite her transforming into Pink Gelato, Desumi handles her easily even in her school uniform. After all, Pink’s only been at this six months; Desumi’s a veteran enemy commander.

Desumi puts the end to the fight by knocking Haru out, but Haru is shocked to find that when she wakes up, Desumi is still there beside her. She admits that she joined Gelato 5 because she was in love with Fudou. She always suspected someone so amazing would have a girlfriend, but never expected it to be someone else she knew. Turns out Desumi rescued her from some thugs in an alley…and inspired her to become stronger.

Haru heard everything Desumi said to Fudou in the warehouse about how “love was making her weak”, but after fighting her, Haru assures her she’s as strong as ever. As for why she didn’t snitch on them, well…as much as she wanted Fudou to be hers, it just wasn’t in her to steal happiness from Fudou or Desumi. When Haru says this her eyes well up with big soppy tears. Desumi can’t help but hug her, and then she starts crying too.

When a very confused Fudou sees Haru’s head in Desumi’s lap and asks what’s going on, Desumi simply shushes him; let Pink Gelato rest a little more. Once she’s awake and back in her uniform, the three walk a bit together. Having experienced a catharsis, Haru is now rooting for Fudou and Desumi…but playfully won’t rule out stealing Fudou if given the chance.

It’s amazing how quickly this love triangle came together this week, and how affecting it was throughout its progression. From Desumi’s early jealous spiraling and Fudou’s stalwart vow he’ll never leave her side, to Haru’s discovery of their tryst and how she handles it, this was Koiseka at its best and most heartwarming.

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 03 – Heads Up, Tails Down Bad

Kashiwagi P.I.

Kaguya-sama is to my mind never a show that has to scape the bottom of a barrel, because it has a whole cellar full of barrels that are always full. Take the oft-sampled scenario of the romantically inept Student Council having to give advice to the far more experienced Kashiwagi Nagisa. In this case, Nagisa has come suspecting her boyfriend of cheating on her with her friend.

Nagisa proceeds to confess to a number of actual crimes of privacy invasion before making the ludicrous statement of hiring a P.I. because she trusts her man, but every time Miko tries to point out how rashly Nagisa is acting, Kaguya steps in to support Nagisa’s theories. When Miko says going to karaoke with someone is cheating does Kaguya say it isn’t (due to what happened with Miyuki and Hayasaka). Miko is feeling so bad she has to listen to her self-affirmation audio.

Ultimately by talking things through with Kaguya and Miko, Nagisa works up the courage to confront her boyfriend directly. When he reiterates that he likes her and gives her a gold heart necklace, all is forgiven. Miyuki and Yuu believe the guy made a slick move, while Kaguya, Miko and Chika all agree the necklace is lame as hell! Then Nagisa and her bae start making out, and we’re reminded that it’s the student council that’s lame to cast aspersions about gifts when none of them are officially dating.

Lovesick Heart of the Nation

The second segment involves the other side of the love triangle: Nagisa’s old friend Shijou Maki (a dynamic Ichinose Kana). After pretending not to care about Nagisa telling her not to hang out with her BF so much, she walks home slumped over like Charlie Brown (or George Michael Bluth). Yuu and Miyuki are chatting spiritedly when the latter suddenly steps on the prone Maki’s head, accompanied by a sound effect for the ages.

Just as Kaguya and Miko had to counsel (i.e. endure) Nagisa, Miyuki and Yuu are pressed into service as advisors to Maki, who is a particularly haughty member of a Shinomiya branch family, is possessed of incurable tsundere-ness, and can flip the cuteness on and off like a plasma globe. She goes to some dark places but you can tell it helps just to have someone to listen to, even if she deems them (mostly Yuu) an ignoramus.

The two boys agree to help her steal Nagisa’s boyfriend in large part due to this ability to come across as unbelievably cute and sympathetic. Yuu also admires her unvarnished honesty about everything but her love of Nagisa’s bae (finally admitting she does after denying it ten straight times).

After a tense, hostile interaction with her “auntie” Kaguya, Maki says both boys said she was cute, which has Kaguya in Miyuki’s face like stink on shit. But Miyuki can’t very well say he finds Maki cute because she reminds him of Kaguya, not can he?!

Polygraph-Enhanced Fun

In the final segment, Kaguya, still curious about what exactly happened at that group date, asks Chika what goes on at such functions. Chika hasn’t been to one either, but is aware of group date games like one played with 10-yen coins and revealing yes-or-no answers that are kept anonymous by a handkerchief.

Like most seemingly innocuous little games Chika suggests the council plays, this one becomes a battle of wits between everyone to get the others to admit to something they wouldn’t normally admit to. Chika naturally wants to know who is currently in love (three of the five of them…but who’s the third?).

Yuu wants to know who hates him (only one…but it might not be Miko?) Miko wants to know that she’s necessary and wanted (five yesses…even from Yuu). When Kaguya notices that you can tell whose answers are whose by the mint date of the coins, she tries to trap Miyuki into a confession, with the added protection of Chika insisting on a polygraph if any lying is suspected.

Of course, she’s giving Miyuki too little credit not assuming he’d have a defense—in this case a second coin in his pocket that has the same mint date as two others. Unfortunately, his counterattack, to reveal Kaguya has been using the mint numbers to get a leg up, fails when two others admit to doing the same.

When Miyuki and Kaguya are alone in the more dramatically-lit office after school (one of my favorite kinds of Kaguya-sama scenes), Miyuki asks Kaguya if she had group dates on her mind because she heard he went on one. He then clears the air by admitting he did, but didn’t do anything frivolous, and says he wants “at least her” to believe her. When he asks if she does, she doesn’t answer verbally, but sneakily leaves her answer—yes—in coin form on the desk.

While this didn’t pack the emotional or dramatic punch of last week’s masterpiece, it was still a strong episode that followed up on the aftermath of that group date while bringing back Nagisa, a model of romantic honesty, and introducing the intriguing, imperious Maki as a kind of “Kaguya-Lite”. It also looks like the Starship Troopers ending wasn’t a one-off…Good!

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