Val x Love – 06 – Victory by Sustained Frenching

Two Minutes into their fight, Futaba thinks she’s won, but Garm’s slashes carry parasitic blades. Takuma is sliced in half, but is immediately put back together by Mistilteinn, summoned from within him due to his growing will to fight. As Futaba keeps Garm busy, he bulldozes through akuma to reach Natsuki.

Once reunited, the only way to defeat the huge boss Svadilfari is to level-up through a five-minute French-kissing session without wearing “a stitch of clothes.” Takuma and Natsuki handle this about as calmly tastefully as they can, but they first have to wipe each other down, and that Natsuki is already exhausted. Much in the way he summoned the tree to save him, Takuma summons a book that warms Natsuki up and recharges her energy.

They continue going at it, and by the time the other sisters are about to get gobbled up by the boss, Natsuki rescues them and uses “Rune” to reinforce her sword, producing a single strike so devastating Svadilfari can’t devour it, leading to its destruction. The battle is over, and Garm is reprimanded by his superior, who takes the form of a grim-looking little boy.

The beauty pageant follows the sisters’ victory. Mutsumi wins, and as per the triplets’ earlier agreement, the winner gets to dance with Takuma. Even so Mutsumi lets Natsuki take her place, considering she wanted to to begin with. Takuma apologizes to Natsuki for turning her down so brusquely,and agrees to dance around other people. Takuma gradually showed more and more spine this week, which is encouraging, while he and Natsuki are growing more comfortable with the roles Odin bestowed upon them.

Kabukichou Sherlock – 05 – Straight and Narrow Lady Lu

After last week’s dullness I’ll admit I was prepared to drop Sherlock after this fifth episode, but I’m pleased to say the quality improved greatly, thanks in part to a refocusing of the narrative upon the Morstan sisters. Rather than be separated, Lucy took Mary and ran away, making Kabukichou their home. It was and is a tough life, and there’s never enough money, but in exchange they got to remain a family.

We learn that Lucy has a soft spot for a particular aging sumo wrestler named Omiyama, and delivers some daifuku for him as a token of her esteem. Later, Mary asks Lucy for help paying tuition for a cram school to the tune of 2 million yen (~$37,000), so she gets a loan for the amount from yakuza Boss Kaneko, who warns that if she doesn’t pay it back in two weeks, she’ll have to work at one of his red light district businesses.

On her way home to give her beloved little sister the cash, Lucy and Moriarty encounter a large man in pink robes seemingly ready to jump off a balcony. Turns out he’s her favorite sumo wrestler’s attendant, Bunmaru, who got drunk, passed out, and lost the money meant to repair their team’s headquarters. The amount? Two million yen. She has to go back to Boss Kaneko and doubles her debt.

When Omiyama and Bunmaru come to the Pipecat to offer their heartfelt thanks, Sherlock, sitting at the bar, notices something. Later, Kaneko has a chat with Watson about Lucy, and he drags her to Sherlock, begging him to lend her money to pay the boss back. But Sherlock says there’s no need: the one who took Bunmaru’s two million hasn’t spent it yet. He explains in rakugo form, but Lucy only has to hear the part about the daifuku putting you to sleep before running off to confront Omiyama.

Lucy’s regard for Omiyama goes back to the day she and Mary arrive in Kabukichou, when some bad men were about to abduct Mary, and Lucy was too small to fight them off. Mary is rescued by Omiyama, who leaves Lucy with a bit of advice: stay on the straight and narrow and you’ll do fine here.

Fast forward to the present, and Omiyama is facing demotion and retirement…so he drugged the daifuku Bunmaru ate so he could steal the two million repair fund and use it to fix matches.

Lucy tries to fight Omiyama to no avail, then exposes his crime, and he is contrite. Clearly moved by Lucy’s ability to stay on the straight and narrow all this time like he advised years ago, he accepts retirement and returns the cash to his attendant.

Lucy doesn’t take that cash back, even though it’s owed. Instead, she goes to work for Boss Kaneko. When Mary hears about this she’s distraught and busts her way into the business, but it turns out to be nothing too untoward: Lucy just had to dress up in drag and be a lot for the “Stud Farm” auction, where she’s naturally a sensation.

In the end, the “tuition” Mary wanted wasn’t for classes at all, but a beautiful dress she wanted and which she ends up wearing to the auction. In that regard, this episode doesn’t make Mary look that great (especially if Lucy ended up having to do something worse to pay back the boss), but demonstrates Lucy’s incurable weak spot for her little sister, and her fierce commitment to her happiness.

Val x Love – 05 – No Obedient Banquet

All nine Valkyrie sisters attend the campus festival despite knowing the chance of an attack there is high, because they have the opportunity to all level up at once. The greater the risk, the greater the reward. Takuma is his usual insufferable scaredy-cat self, but that doesn’t stop him from ending up spilling viscous white liquid all over Yakumo or having to fish an eel out of Misa’s clothes—pretty standard lucky lecher stuff.

When the enemy (whom they don’t know is Garm) strikes, he robs the women of their source of power, the Einherjar by impaling him through the stomach and locking him in the bounded cube, while all the other festival attendees are converted to akuma minions that keep the sisters plenty busy. First sister Ichika and Natsuki protect the entrance, while inside Garm toys with Takuma, counting on him to do nothing and die as he enjoys a McDonalds banquet.

Things start to get dire as Itsuya and Mutsumi end up overwhelmed by akuma army and their various appendages, providing more ecchi content. But it’s Natsuki’s earnest belief that Takuma will indeed stand and fight when the time comes (because he’s done so and saved her many times before) that holds more power than all the T, A, and ahegao. Upon standing, Takuma is swiftly taken down by Garm, but Second sister Futaba finally locates them. He held out just long enough; now a Valkyrie has access to the Einherjar, and the tables can be turned.

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 05 – Chuunibyou Brilliant Park

It’s summer vacation, and Mizuki is glad to be away from the hero club and free to work on her true love: jigsaw puzzles. I’m glad we finally get to see her be as passionate about something—she even puts her hand on her face in a chuuni-ish manner similar to the others!

She longs for a 10,000-piece puzzle she can really dive into, but they’re expensive. Enter a call from Kei, who summons the Hero Club for a job. A summer cold has created numerous absences at the theme park where Kei’s big sister works. Since she has a hold on Kei, he makes him reach out to his friends to fill in for a day.

As the Hero Club members take their positions around the park, amusing situations ensue, as expected. I don’t ask much of a comedy beyond making me laugh, and CGB did that often this week.

Whether it was watching Yamato go off-script at the “Blasto Rangers” live hero show, Touga and Futaba providing entertainment as well as food service, or Kei slowly going mad at the constant stream of “Meow Meow Trains,” everyone has something to do, and none of them compromise their quirks whilst doing the jobs they’ve been given.

Nowhere is that more evident than Tomoki’s job at the lost child center. With his encyclopedic knowledge of Sora-chan (who is, after all, an idol for kids), he’s able to put sad and crying little ones at ease while their parents are tracked down. He unexpectedly gets a shot at the Big Time when the cool grizzled vet under the Sora-chan mascot mask tweaks his back, and trusts Tomoki to take the stage in his stead.

While he makes a rookie mistake of treading on the wire providing the piped-in voice and music, one of the lost girls he interacted with (and who called him “Sora-chan-san”, which is delightful) starts to sing, and the others join in to help Sora-chan out. Everyone has fun and gets paid, which means Mizuki gets her puzzle money…but little do they know they’re being observed by a rival group of weirdos. To be continued…

Val x Love – 04 – He’s “It” (Unfortunately)

Val x Love loses the nice rhythm it had developed in which a different sister’s power was awakened to eliminate a demonic threat. Instead, it felt like nothing of consequence happened. The second daughter Futaba indeed reveals her “Castle” power, but it doesn’t quite fit in a game of tag where she’s the one who is it and thus on the offensive.

While the game of tag is meant to “refresh” Takuma after some stressful exams, thinking he’d be okay with them running around the house destroying stuff as she steals her sisters’ underwear makes Futaba look pretty dumb. The game is a transparent vehicle for incidents of accidental groping.

VxL digs deep into the cliche toy box for the second half, which has no connection to the first, combining a school festival, maid outfits, and jealousy of Takuma’s male classmates for his proximity to Natsuki. Garm ends up using this as an opportunity to transform the classmates into akuma to test a Valkyrie’s strength in human form.

He determines that Natsuki isn’t much of a match even for low-level demons, but that Takuma will spring to the rescue. And there’s the main issue with this episode. Aside from rescuing Natsuki and later telling her he thinks she’s cute, his general denseness, near-constant terrified state and dopey stammering is really starting to get old.

Val x Love – 03 – Idolization

With her two triplet sisters leveled up, it’s the turn of sixth daughter Mutsumi, proving the greatest challenge due to her occupation as a wildly popular idol. Leveling up means going on a date with Takuma and not only getting through his layers of social anxiety, but avoiding being exposed, which could cause scandal and deep-six her career. That’s tricky when Takuma inadvertently attracts all the wrong attention; he’s essentially the anti-idol to her idol, the source of all their fear and hatred rather than hope and love.

Matters are made worse by the fact the watchdog from Hel Garm is shadowing them, but rather than attack the Valkyrie directly, sends the Gjallarhorn to disrupt her leveling up. In one of the weirder and more aggravating depictions of the legendary horn, this one takes the form of a small robot with a siren on its head constantly pointing out the presence of MUTSUMI to the public. Takuma just wants to get away, but recalling how Mutsumi just wants to help her family, he takes her hand to lead her away from the gawkers.

Despite having frequented the mall since he was little, Takuma leads them not to an exit, but a dead end, and he and Mutsumi must squeeze intimately into a storage locker as their pursuers close in. Due to their positions and height difference, Mutsumi can’t kiss him on the mouth to transform instantly; she must resort to kissing his chest, which takes three minutes. They just make it thanks to a last-minute assist from the eldest daughter Ichika, and Mutsumi flies them out of there with her signature wings.

While the constant references to MUTSUMI’s ample bust (and ample close-ups of same) weren’t the most necessary, they do paint the picture of the challenges she faces every day as a cute-yet-pure idol. And yet we learn through her inner thoughts throughout the date (delivered with gusto by the squeaky but talented Hidaka Rina) that she has the same desires as anyone else.

While she thought she’d given Takuma nothing but bad memories on their date, when they’re floating in the sky watching the sunset, Takuma actually smiles, fondly remembering sunsets he watched with his mom. Garm and that horrid horn aside, the foes he and Mutsumi had to beat this week weren’t demons, but rather his fear and her fame. On to the next sister!

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 03 – Having It Rough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Val x Love – 02 – A Pat on the Head, a Peck on the Cheek

This week it’s the turn of Odin’s fifth daughter, the Student Council President Saotome Itsuya AKA Schwertleite. A raven-haired maiden beloved at school for her peerless looks and elegant ladylike aura, Itsuya has somewhat less ladylike plans for Takuma after witnessing what she deemed was a pretty chaste exchange between him and her sister Natsuki.

In her head, she’s not that interested in Takuma at all. He’s just a means to an end: if he can awaken her powers and she can save the world, she’ll get a pat on the head from Odin. It’s a simple, childish wish that she keeps entirely to herself, until a frosti shows up ahead of schedule and she suddenly has to level up with Takuma in a hurry.

The thing is, her full-speed-ahead approach doesn’t work on the nervous, petrified Takuma, and once she starts to undress and moves in on him, she suddenly loses her nerve as well, as she can no longer reconcile her mature outward manner with her inner innocence.

Seeing her freeze up in fear causes Takuma to remember what his mom did to calm him down—a good old head pat—so he gives one to Itsuya and it manages to do the trick. The extent of their hanky-panky is that head-pat and a kiss on the cheek just like Natsuki’s, but it’s enough.

With Natsuki just barely holding on against the monster (even getting all bondaged-up and getting her outfit torn), Itsuya swoops in with her chain of white crosses, enveloping the frosti so Natsuki can finish it off with a giant sword. Mission complete, and now two of Odin’s daughters have leveled up. Seven to go.

We also learn that Itsuya’s treasurer in the StuCo is actually Garm, named for Garmr, a helldog/wolf whose howling heralds the coming of Ragnarök. He’s listed as a “watchdog” and sports a level three times higher than Natsuki’s. If he starts something, head pats and cheek pecks may not be enough to beat him.

Null Peta – 02 (Second Impressions)

Null is not a morning person. Her alarm clock is a brick of C4, followed by being mechanically dumped out of bed into a shoot, and dropped onto the floor by the breakfast table.

Peta is not a breakfast person. She is in fact a robot. After projecting a fake-out holographic breakfast, complete with color control sliders, Peta offers Null deep-dark-fried-rice. Also a bamboo shoot.

For the next 3 minutes, Peta tries to feed this clearly evil slop to Null and Null tries to DESTROY HER ROBOT SISTER. There are explosions, mecha, more bamboo shoots, and another missed day of school.

Null Peta may only be 5 minutes long, and more than a minute of that is taken up by opening credits! However, the script is packed with verbal timing humor, silly ideas, and good enough visuals to make those 5 minutes enjoyable.

Val x Love – 01 (First Impressions) – Love is the Source

This is the story of Akutsu Takuma, who is huge and scary-looking and thus is always likened to an akuma or demon and ostracized. In reality, Takuma is just as scared of people as they are of him, and prefers to live and study alone.

And yet, after a discussion among class boys about the school’s three most beautiful girls, Takuma comes home to find not just those three beautiful girls (in the middle of undressing no less) but five other women of various ages, all of whom have the same last name Saotome which isn’t his. He doesn’t like this situation, but it’s been this way for some time.

Val x Love makes an interesting choice to ease us into its supernatural elements by first presenting everything mundanely, and offering only hints as to what the Saotome sisters really are, why they alone don’t fear him, and why Takuma has allowed them to take over the house he inherited from his departed parents.

What is prevalent throughout the episode are references to a spate of recent “suspicious attacks” that many attribute to akuma; but until one actually appears, one could imagine people were only being superstitious (if you didn’t watch the OP, that is). In reality the attacks are being caused by summoned demons, one of which Takuma encounters when he’s out shopping with the second-youngest sister Natsuki, on the orders of the second-oldest, Ichika.

The other sisters gather on the roof to watch the result. Turns out the nine of them are Valkyries of Valhalla, brought to Midgard by Odin to save humanity. Because “love is the source of a maiden’s power”, the more they are loved, the stronger they are. Natsuki was chosen by the others to level up first, and after Takuma is wounded saving her from falling debris (not the first time that’s happened), she disrobes, has him massage her breasts, and kisses him.

In a massive flash of heavenly flame, the giant akuma is utterly eliminated, and for a few moments we see Natsuki in her Valkyrie form as Siegrune, The Blade, before passing out in Takuma’s arms. This makes Takuma Einherjar (named after those who died in battle and go to Valhalla), here the lover of the nine Valkyries appointed by Odin to raise their levels.

If that all sounds like a lot of poppycock, I’m here to tell you…it’s not the worst? I was expecting more comedy from a show that had it among its genres, but it mostly arose from the fact such a large brute as Akuma is so intimidated by everyone, and yet has what in his case is a case of very-unlucky lechery. The akuma designs are marginally striking, while the action was brief but convincing. High marks also go to Technoboys Pulcraft Green-Fund, who composed all of the music.

For those who see the Valkyrie angle as just another excuse for a lame harem, consider that Takuma’s strong reluctance to have in one feels more genuine than most harem MCs. His introverted personality and public perception that constantly feed his self-loathing make him a sympathetic lead. As he is the source of love that powers the Valkyries, they too could fuel a transformation in him from someone who only hopes to become a quiet, respectable person to something far greater.

Null Peta – 01 (First Impressions)

A little girl builds a robot to replace her missing older sister. For some reason, she also installs weapons and a bamboo shoot. While ‘Peta’ does not boot up right away, she does eventually, before engaging rockets and blasting off to take Null to school.

Cute, charming, a little weird and well timed humor carries this short-format show across the finish line. If it were a full length episode, it could even be worth following. Who are Null and Peta? Did something tragic happen to the older sister? Will something tragic happen next because weapons?? (I probably won’t be watching)

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 03 – A Blurry Reflection

Having met nearly everyone in this “mirror world”, Koyomi takes stock of the different ways the people he knows have changed, and acknowledges that this is far from simply a matter of left becoming right, or even right becoming wrong.

Black Hanekawa is his Tsubasa’s alter ego. Rainy Devil’s hatred lurks within his Kanbaru. The happiness of her alternate dwells deep within his Sodachi. Kuchinawa is an inseparable part of Nadeko.

These seemingly different or opposite people are really much the people he knows as the people he knows, only in his world these are the sides hidden, suppressed, lurking beneath the everyday surface, for good and/or ill. As Mayoi has him consider where his alternate might be, he contemplates Oshino Ougi being in his world while he’s here.

But Mayoi also tells him to sleep on it, and take what opportunities might come. To Koyomi’s surprise, Sodachi is his bunkmate, and after lights-out offers some sleepy insight into mirrors—which typically only reflect about 80% of the light that hits them. The rest is absorbed, meaning the only way to truly see ourselves is to see a “blurry reflection”, something less than 100% the reverse of what you put into it.

That opportunity Mayoi mentioned might come comes in the form of Ononoki, but there’s something different about her, which is to say there’s something the same about the way she’s supposed to be. Her expressions and emotion and tone are all back to normal.

She reports that when she saw Koyomi’s reaction to her as she was (including not removing her “bottoms” as is supposedly his alternate’s dirty habit), she essentially rebooted and updated her personality—something among all the others she’s uniquely equipped to do.

Ononoki tells Koyomi she’s arranged to have the former Kiss-shot meet with him, and takes him on a journey to see her. I say journey when it’s more of a dazzling odyssey. As she lets the withering insults of her twisted personality fly freely, the surroundings of their trip to Shinobu fluctuate between dreamy hyper-realism to intricate 8-bit nostalgia.

Very few shows excel better at distracting you from long conversations with diverse dynamic visuals and eclectic music. This culminates in the most lavish setting yet: a classic Disney-style castle at the site where Koyomi expects the cram school to be; which he assumed might not have been destroyed by the Tiger like it was last Summer in his world.

As he and Ononoki let themselves into the magnificent edifice and walk through its vast moonlight-bathed halls, he contemplates what kind of person Shinobu might be. Did the other Koyomi never meet her bleeding to death in the subway, and never made a pact to save her life and made him a vampire? Is she Full-Power, Non-Former Kiss-shot and all the rest?

Well, once he enters her ethereal bedchamber, spots her silhouette, and hears her old-fashioned, polite salutations, it dawns on him: she’s not a vampire at all; she’s human. Judging from her castle, perhaps she still goes by the name Princess Rola?

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 02 – Relax and Enjoy

Koyomi knows the story of Kanbaru Suruga’s bath sometimes reflecting the image of the person you’ll end up with someday. He’s not sure that means he’ll be able to use it to return to his world or contact Shinobu, but he thought he’d give it a try—and meet a Suruga who might not be lewd, masochistic, or immodest.

Turns out she’s none of those things. Instead, she’s the Rainy Devil: pure rage, hatred, and pain. He can’t get anywhere near the bath, and is only rescued from the devil’s wrath by Mirror Tsubasa, who is simply Black Hanekawa. She warns him not to go back to the bath without a specialist, but that makes two consecutive friends of his who are the oddity versions of themselves in this world.

If Suruga’s Mirror self is a nightmare, Mirror Oikura Sodachi is a good dream, or rather a “good ending” version of the character, who moved in with the Araragi family when she was in grade school and is now something of a third sister to Koyomi, and thus extremely affectionate towards him. Still, as happy and blessed as she feels, a part of her can’t help but wonder…is it all a lie?

If you were to ask Mirror Nadeko, AKA Kuchinawa-san, the answer is no—and Koyomi gets to ask her, thanks to Big Sis Mayoi inviting her predecessor to the shrine to help him work through his predicament. Mayoi also tells Koyomi to loosen up and enjoy himself, and she starts imbibing bottle after bottle of sake.

Kuchinawa knows about mirrors; the root of the Japanese word for mirror is “serpent’s eye”, and mirrors were first used as a holy instrument, not to reflect an image, but to reflect its truth. Put simply, each and every person Koyomi has met so far is no less the real person as the ones he knows in his own world.

The mirror he finds himself in doesn’t just flip them left-to-right, but shows the other side of those people. That explains why Tsukihi is the same; she has no other sides. If this world is, as he previously considered, the product of an oddity that exists for a reason, perhaps the key to dealing with that oddity (if that’s what it is) is to be exposed to and accept these other sides as equally valid…