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!

In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki – 02 – Three Dogs, Three Sheep, a Duel and Double Meat

The repetitive conjecture about otoko (i.e., males) so prevalent in the opener is entirely absent here, with one half focusing on a Dog v. Sheep combat training. Tachiaoi invited Tsubaki to join them first, but cocky Team Sheep leader Benisumomo insists on taking Team Dog on. But Sheep member Touwata, obsessed with hard work and willpower, thinks her leader Beni is relying to much on her talen

Her concern leads her to parlay with Team Dog for Tsubaki to give Beni a “good thrashing” in hopes it will convince her to start working harder. Tsubaki agrees, and in the meantime Sazanka and Asagao break the parlay by capturing Touwata, only for both of them to get caught in Sheep’s trap expert Mizubahou’s rope net (a net she’d only set up due to habit!).

You immediately get the feeling Tsubaki is only humoring the younger Touwata, and sure enough, Tsubaki is one of the only people who knows that Benisumomo’s cool lazy act is just that: an act. In reality, Beni works her ass off and always has. She just worries that if anyone else knew her secret it would harm her carefully maintained rep.

After a friendly greeting, Tsubaki and Beni get down to business. It’s clear from their sparring that these are indeed two of the most talented kunoichi in the village, and their jumps, flips, feints, kicks, and punches comprise a beautiful, deadly dance. The two flow like water until breathing flame one another, creating a big boom that draws their kohai rush to the scene. Tsubaki and Beni say they came to a draw, but Beni promises Touwata that she’ll win next time.

In the second segment, Sazanka wants more of Tsubaki’s attention but the two are in different huts for their respective classes. But Tsubaki has apparently been more distracted because of otoko of late (though you wouldn’t know it from this episode). So Tsubaki sneaks out of class through the bathroom, telling Asagao to stay put and cover for her. Before long Asagao is threatened with no dinner and instructed to catch Sazanka at all costs.

While glancing out the window in class, Tsubaki spots her kohais playing hooky and intercepts them. I love how Sazanka rushes at her big sis only to catch nothing but air as Tsubaki flips over her while tying her up in one lovely acrobatic flourish. But when asked directly why she snuck out of class, Sazanka surprises Asagao by not giving the true reason, not wanting Tsubaki to feel like this was her fault for neglecting her kohai.

Tsubaki, however, is as wise as she is strong, and knows Sazanka was lying about simply wanting to go for a walk in the nice weather. So she keeps the camellias Sazanka picked for her (symbolizing love, natch), and makes sure to give her some love later. Sazanka makes good on her promise to give Asagao all of her meat, and Tsubaki shares half of hers with Sazanka.

From the friendly but intense competition between Tsubaki and Benisumomo, to the similar dynamic between the two older girls’ eager kohais, to the sisterly affection that surrounds both Team Dog and the Akane community as a whole, this episode was a compelling slice of kunoichi life.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 02 – Better to Not Put on an Act

The Ishigami-Iino Accords

Kaguya-sama is about far more than two goofs who won’t admit their love out of pride and fear. It has the ammo to provide a veritable kaleidoscope of spinoff stories about its other characters. Ishigami and Iino Don’t Get Along could not only be a decent series unto itself, but has an incredibly catchy English title!

That Ishi-Iino isn’t a spinoff from the Kaguya-sama: Love Is War Cinematic Universe is a shame, but it’s also the mark of a great series that it keeps you wanting to see more of its greatness. Also, it’s good enough that it doesn’t have to spin things off. Sometimes a small taste is enough.

So we’ve known for a while now that Ishigami and Iino hate each other…but do they? Sure, they seem to inhabit opposite ends of the Discipline-Rebellion Spectrum, but we know better. Ishigami has as strong a sense of justice as Iino, especially where Iino herself is concerned. He just chooses to conceal it behind an outer crust she loathes.

By the same token, Ishigami obviously respects Iino’s honesty and diligence, or he wouldn’t stand to defend her from embarrassment. The thing is, their practiced hostility has escalated to a level neither Miyuki nor Iino’s friend Osaragi can suffer. Hence, the Ishigami-Iino Friendship Plan.

After an exchange of compliments turns into a hatefest, ear-cleaning becomes awkward contortionism, and Pocky-eating leads to aggressively gnashing teeth, Osaragi ditches Miyuki’s plan and pulls out the big guns, telling the two what a good match they are, and how it’s “typical teen behavior” to not be able to stop yourself from being mean to the one you like.

Ishigami and Iino are so shocked by the checkmate they relent on the spot, then devolve into an automated, emotionless, auto-tuned exchange of Iino saying “I like you quite a lot” and Ishigami returning the sentiment. It’s very far from normal human interaction, but by the letter of what the segment victor Osaragi and Miyuki set out to do, it gets the job done.

Play Along, All Right?

Of course, simply getting the job done on paper is not Kaguya-sama’s M.O., as evidenced by the epic two-parter that closes the episode. This might also just be my favorite segment of all the shows two-plus seasons. After declining several times in the past, Miyuki finally accepts an invite from classmates to go out for karaoke and “networking” with kids from other schools, unaware that it’s really going to be a group date.

Hayasaka can’t help but point this out to Kaguya, but Hayasaka ends up being inconvenienced, as Kaguya orders her to attend the group date and make sure no girls get near the President. Hayasaka is so good at getting herself mixed up in Kaguya’s man mess that one frankly can’t rule out that she does it on purpose, for sport or personal achievement.

This scenario marks the return of Hayasaka’s alter-ego “Miss Herthaka”, and when Miyuki recognizes her, she’s grumpy enough with her plight that she decides to take the fact that he dumped her like a bag of sand when last they met and run with it like Marshawn Lynch in Beast Mode.

After making clear to Miyuki’s pals that he dumped her, she takes the stage and belts out a stirring, pitch-perfect rendition of “My Feelings” by Akasaka Saka/Giorgio Giorgio. If there’s such a thing as anime nirvana, it’s this.

What makes this performance so powerful is that it’s not played 100% as a joke. Hayasaka is legitimately frustrated both by her past failure to seduce Miyuki and Kaguya’s continued taking of the President for granted as someone who will always be available to her.

After the song, Hayasaka and Miyuki have a serious discussion about putting on acts. When she rants about her “little sister” forcing her to come to this to get over being dumped, he feels like he’s talking to the something like the “real her” … which of course she is, since she’s voicing real frustrations! Miyuki, always forthright in everything but his love of Kaguya, feels he can relate to her better, and you get the feeling he likes this “Herthaka” more than the obviously fake one from their first encounter.

Hayasaka then reveals her position on the matter, which is that “no one will ever love you unless you’re acting”, and that weakness and ugliness must be hidden by that acting. He then puts it to him whether he’s actually the real Shirogane Miyuki, or if he overreaches and bluffs. He thinks on this and decides it would probably be best to call it a night.

Hurt You Just a Little

When some rando tries to put the moves on Hayasaka the moment she’s alone, Miyuki returns, takes her by the hand, and leads her to safety, telling her to “play along”. She’s so moved by the gesture, she reserves a room just for her and Miyuki, where she plans to succeed in Kaguya’s dare for her to seduce him.

Hayasaka reports this to Kaguya via earpiece, who is in her covert ops outfit on a rooftop. And again, this is all played straight. We have a legit love triangle here! There’s a part of Hayasaka who likes Shirogane and a part of her that wants to win, and when opportunity like this knocks she’s not going to ignore it. What started as a playful dare is no longer just a game. When Hayasaka cuts off communication, Kaguya panics.

She knows that normally Hayasaka operates within the bounds of common sense. But she also knows that Hayasaka was furious for having to go to the group date to begin with, so who knows what she’s capable of. Kaguya finds the door of the booth where they are, but there she’s paralyzed from further action.

The window is covered by Hayasaka’s coat, rendering it a Schrödinger’s Shirogane scenario. Whatever is or isn’t happening in there, Kaguya’s imagining of what it might be is far worse. And she knows she can’t just barge in without “losing”, i.e. revealing she cares so much about Miyuki that she’ll stalk him when he’s hanging out with friends (which, yes, she does, and is!).

Her solution? Invite Chika to karaoke, being sure to give her the number of the booth. But before Chika can arrive to open the box, Kaguya starts hearing suggestive noises and a flurry of double entendres. When Miyuki exits the booth to go to the bathroom, Kaguya slips in and learns the truth: Hayasaka’s strange utterings were reactions to Miyuki’s rapping.

While I saw this coming, it’s still an excellent callback to Chika’s attempts to improve Miyuki’s vocal skills. But I don’t believe rapping lessons were part of her curriculum judging by the state of Hayasaka. When Chika finally arrives and hears Hayasaka describe what she heard, it immediately puts her off karaoke and the three take off, leaving Miyuki all alone.

On the ride home, Hayasaka admits to Kaguya that she had become somewhat jealous of how happy and carefree she’s been of late, and selfishly wanted to take her down a peg, or as she puts it wanted her to “hurt just a little.”

She accomplished that mission admirably thanks to her intimate knowledge of Kaguya, but Kaguya already knew it must’ve been something like that thanks to her intimate knowledge of Hayasaka; specifically, how twisted her personality is. Hayasaka shoots back that Kaguya’s no different than her, and Kaguya doesn’t argue that fact.

While Hayasaka might have started out as Kaguya’s maid and attendant, the fact of the matter is in the ensuing years they’ve grown into something far more like sisters. Siblings love each other, but they can also irritate or hurt each other like no one else. I really loved this sprawling segment’s ability to balance humor and character drama so perfectly.

Mind you, the credits could have rolled during this last exchange between Kaguya and Hayasaka, but that would simply be “getting the job done.” Instead, the end credits roll over an lovingly, amazingly detailed intro for a Starship Troopers anime adaptation, with Miyuki, Kaguya and Hayasaka reflecting that film’s triangle of Rico, Carmen, and Dizzy.

Again, this ED could be a whole show, and it would be incredible. But here it’s just a fun throwaway gag. We live in rare and tremendous times that anime like this is still made.

RWHL

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 07 – Foggy Memories

On their way to the tavern for a meal after tending some fields for a job, the Gourmet Guild encounter Ayane and Kurumi, who live at Sarens orphanage. Kurumi is extremely cute and shy, while Ayane carries around a staff with a seemingly sentient bear named Pikuchi on the end of it (though Karyl suspects ventriloquism).

The Serendia girls join the guild, but they soon encounter Chika of Carmina looking very much the worse for wear. Kokkoro heals her in the tavern, but she seems to have lost her memories and forgotten who she is. This tracks with the cold open of her running through the forest from what sounds like a laughing spirit, cursing herself for unsealing it.

Chaos reigns in the tavern when Kurumi’s memories are manipulated, turning her into a girlfriend who slaps the shit out of Charlie and demands he leave his (nonexistent) wife. Then Chika’s memories change again, and she starts to exhibit animal-like behaviors like licking and biting. But she also saves Ayane from getting hit by an errant bottle.

This clues Ayane in to the fact that somehow her beary good friend Pikuchi is inhabiting Chika, and helps the real Chika to surface so she can explain what’s going on. Her, Ayane, and the tavern owner’s strange behavior is due to memory manipulation by Foggy, the great trickster spirit of memories. Chika was trying to help Yuuki get his memories back, but instead all this happens.

Peco and Karyl are dispatched to the spring where Foggy’s seal lies; on the way Karyl twists her ankle, but Peco is happy to carry her the rest of the way. Its nice in the midst of an episode packed with so many characters that these two get a little alone time; their first since the two found themselves at the bottom of that pile of golem wreckage. As Karyl picks burrs out of Peco’s locks, Peco likens her to a big sister, with Kokkoro as their mom and Yuuki as their litle bro.

A helpful bird points them to the location of Foggy’s seal, and soon they’re back in town, revealing Foggy’s true form. When Peco slices Foggy in to, it splits into four Foggys, but Chika, who is herself again, sings her signature song of spirits, and Nozomi backs her up in taking care of the trickster spirit.

Before that happens, however, Foogy launches an attack at Peco, whose Princess Strike split it into four. When Yuuki shields her, he’s hit by a sudden rush of memories of a previous life he shared with a totally different family-like guild, led by a girl named Yui. The five-person party is preparing to go to the Sol Tower. Just the latest chapter in Yuuki’s mysterious and complex backstory.

With Foggy dealt with and everyone back to normal, Ayane and Kurumi set up a lemonade wagon, treating their new friends and local kids alike and showing that Saren really is the best orphanage mama. That said, it was some kind of tawdry romance novel Kurumi found at Saren’s orphanage that was the source of her switched out memories, so…maybe hide those from the kids!

As everyone enjoys their lemonade, Yuuki keeps looking up at the Sol Tower that looms high in the sky over Landosol, as if looking at it long enough may help him to remember more of that life. Kokkoro, who’s always been most attuned to Yuuki’s behavior, can sense something’s wrong, but even Yuuki probably couldn’t tell her exactly what. Perhaps more answers will come in time, but even if they don’t, there’s plenty to love about the family he has here and now.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 01 – Quest for the Legendary Seasoning

Every single one of PriConne’s season two premiere’s 23 minutes is used to pull us straight into its lush, expansive world and not let us go, like those mangy purple dogs that keep nomming on Yuuki. It offers both epic fantasy thrills and comfy cozy little pleasures that come between those big moments, and I absolutely love it to bits.

As thanks for sharing her mushroom harvest, Kokkoro was given a map by Karin at the Guild which leads to a “Legendary Seasoning”. After a tasty breakfast of egg sandwiches, the quartet heads out into the big, beautiful world. The first season was always easy on the eyes, but PriConne pulls out all the visual stops as Peco, Yuki, Kokkoro and Karyl strike out on an adventure.

The four soon find themselves gleefully lost in a vast above-water coral forest. Along with all the eye candy comes top notch chemistry between the disparate characters, the same classy orchestral score, and superb sound design. It also features some great comic timing, with quick cuts that had me laughing on more than one occasion.

They’re stuck in the forest for what seems to be several days, such that when Karyl is sick of fish, Peco and Yuuki trap one of the furry beasties that roam the area. Their meat is juicy and delicious…but ultimately poisonous. The four find out the hard way one by one when they vomit rainbows. The friends and family of the beast they ate surround the paralyzed party. Karyl had me howling when she exclaimed “I don’t want to die in such a stupid way!”

Fortunately, te four are saved by a grizzled old man who has lived in the coral forest for years. In fact, he and his party made the original map the copy of which Kokkoro obtained. He serves as their guide, and Kokkoro learns from his locket that he’s the last living member of a adventurer’s party of four…whose souls happen to still be stuck here in the form of spectres.

The quartet readies for battle, but when physical attacks prove worthless, Kokkoro works off a hunch and initiates a healing spell to help the ghosts pass on peacefully. Turns out that’s what the old man wanted all along, and he too is a ghost. That said, Peco asks the four of them to join them on their search for that legendary seasoning, “Drops of the Sea.”

The ghosts agree, and procure transport to the location in the form of a dang airship that soars through achingly gorgeous landscapes and cloudscapes. This is all happening during the end credits, and it’s a credit to the show that it packs as much as it can into its running time. It’s only fitting that a series in part about food that it offers such heaping helpings of visual bliss right out of the gate.

Alas, they’re never able to procure the Drops of the Sea from the eggs of the giant turtle who supposedly lays them…because the only turtle they find is a male. That said, this was always about the journey and about sharing new sights, sounds, and tastes along the way…even if they were briefly poisoned!

The episode fittingly ends with a meal. Returning home after to long, there isn’t much in the way of food to prepare, but Kokkoro makes it work, whipping up a quick and tasty fried rice-like concoction. When Karyl, a famously picky eater who hates vegetables, spots bits of them in her food, she is weary, but when she works up the courage to take a bite she learns it’s much better with veggies than without.

Everyone scarfs down their dinner and puts their hands together in thanks: thanks for the food, and thanks for each other. Then it’s off to warm beds, restful sleep, another gorgeous dawn, and another fun adventure.

Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai! – 01 (First Impressions) – Great Things, Small Packages

Last month a latecomer arrived to the Summer 2021 slate, and one of us has finally come around to checking it out. Comedies aren’t normally my focus, but as Sonny Boy is the only Summer show I’ve stuck with, Jahy-sama Will Not Be Defeated! fell to me.

The premise is blessedly simple: Jahy (Oozora Naomi), once the Demon Lord’s right-hand vixen and second-in-command of the Dark Realm, finds herself on earth in child form after a mysterious magical girl laid waste to her giant Mana Crystal holding the realm together.

Suddenly brought low, Jahy’s diet now consists on bean sprouts (with either mayo or salt) in her unfurnished 4.5 tatami apartment. She’s able to transform back into her adult form thanks to a mana crystal pendant, but she’s too busy making ends meet at a restaurant to search for other shards.

Ultimately her goal is to collect enough of the shattered crystal to restore her realm, but this seems woefully shortsighted, as what’s to stop that magical girl from simply destroying it once again?

Jahy, once an immensely powerful individual who literally walked all over her underlings, does not take to poverty and servitude naturally. Most of the time, she’s an arrogant brat, threatening to smite the kindly restaurant manager (Kayano Ai) if only she didn’t rely on her for her job.

However, even when Jahy reverts to child form in the middle of a shift, the manager repays Jahy’s spite and vitriol with affection and moral and monetary support, upping her pay for working so hard and even giving her karaage to take home; the first meat Jahy’s eaten in the human world.

Jahy hates having to rely on lowly humans, but that’s exactly what she must do. That doesn’t mean she’s going to take it lying down; the Manager’s younger sister happens to be her landlady, and even when she’s paid Jahy makes it a point not to pay the landlady (Hikasa Youko) simply because she doesn’t like her.

When this results in a wrestling match in the apartment and a high-speed chase and yelling match outside of it, it falls to the manager/big sis to be the moderator in their dispute. She tells Jahy to pay her sister, and tells her sister to be nicer to her tenant. Still, their dispute picks up immediately thereafter.

In the final segment (the episode is broken up into loosely connected vignettes) Jahy can’t find her mana crystal pendant, and goes to the restaurant on her day off in search of it. Turns out her manager found it in the break room and has been wearing it for safekeeping ever since.

This should have resulted in grave misfortune and ruin in the hands of a human. Instead, the manager’s sis walks in on her striking a magical girl pose, she bumps her knee. Not being able to find the remote and having split ends are probably not the fault of the stone, however.

Once again demonstrating her unconditional kindness and generosity no matter how nasty Jahy gets with her, the manager puts the pendant back on the (adult) Jahy, who refuses to thank her explicitly, but we later find crying out of relief in the bathroom.

With its all-star voice cast, competent character designs, easy-to-follow premise, peppy comedic dialogue and timing, and surprisingly likeable and rootable protagonist, Jahy-sama is a welcome new addition to my suddenly bare shelf of Summer series, in the best tradition of The Devil is a Part-Timer! and Zvezda.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tsukimichi: Moonlit Fantasy – 07 – Incidental Income

Makoto brings to Rembrandt a talented alchemist in Hazal, but he’s super-nervous, which makes him clumsy. Fortunately, Makoto is able to parkour himself into a position to catch the precious vials of ambrosia medicine. When it comes time to administer them to Rembrandt’s wife and daughters, Makoto employs the same Judo his sisters used on him to put the women into restraining holds without injuring them.

Makoto leaves the Rembrandt manor having cured his beloved family, and Tomoe and Mio are waiting for him. Unfortunately, so is a band of adventurer assassins. Makoto dodges, but Tomoe and Mio intentionally don’t, so as to gauge their adversaries’ power. Turns out it’s nothing to worry about. That’s when we learn that Makoto now has a system for employing his ultra-powerful retainers.

In this situation, that system involves Mio pretending to take the gold of the lead adventurer—named Lime Latte, which does sound like a gross Starbucks drink—and simply sitting this one out. She, Tomoe, and Makoto coordinate via telepathy, making it look like Mio is betraying Makoto for a quick buck. In reality, she has every confidence Tomoe and/or her Young Master can handle Lime and his crew without her.

And they do—obviously—but while there’s no tension about who will emerge victorious, some actual nuance emerges with regards to their adversary. While Lime and his crew agreed that Rembrandt needed to be taught a lesson, he just thought they’d be putting his wife and daughter into a harmless deep sleep. The witch doctor who approached him duped him into something far more sinister.

Our of gratitude and respect for Makoto, Rembrandt spares Lime’s life when he profusely apologizes. Later, Tomoe even gives Lime the katana the dwarves made her—which she deems “imperfect” but is without doubt the most valuable thing Lime has ever touched—and even takes him on as a squire of sorts. Looks like we’ll be seeing more of Lime.

Lime, who unlike the baddies in the previous town is not a manifestly bad guy, but Tomoe, who Sees All, eavesdrops on Rembrandt and his trusty butler Morris talking about the possibility of taking hostile action against the Young Master should his trading company continue to prosper.

This week, the bad guy turned out to be not that bad, while the apparently good guy with the recently cured wife and daughters may not be too good after all. I for one welcome this infusion of shades of grey!

Tsukimichi: Moonlit Fantasy – 06 – Gettin’ Tsige With It

Tsukimichi starts out rather dry with some TenSura-style sitting around talking, but last week’s cliffhanger is nicely solved as Rembrandt gravely underestimates Makoto. But even here Tsukimichi pulls off a nice trick, as Rembrandt isnt a haughty blowhard but just a guy who is desperate for the materials to make the Ambrosia that aids his cursed wife and daughters. When his employees hear that Makoto has enough Ruby Eyes for all three, they all rush in to tearfully congratulate him.

Makoto’s productive visit to Rembrandt leads to him officially signing up for the Merchant’s Guild, for which there is both a written and practical exam. Fortunately, the education in this isekai is far below the modern Japanese standard, so Makoto aces the written exam with ease. He also has no problem producing the rare items he’s tasked with procuring in the practical exam, thanks to his high-level wagon fellowship.

Just as Makoto is trying out what looks like a beer but turns out to be…banana, we abruptly cut to Tomoe’s little excursion in errantry, exposing her bandaged bosom as she poses over a massive Gain Crab she slaughtered with as much ease as Makoto slaughtered the Merchant’s Guild tests. It’s good to see that she’s not always thinking about where Makoto is or what he’s doing, but perfectly happy doing her own thing out in the isekai.

Tomoe is vibeing so hard on her historical drama reenactment, she returns to the Demiplane without so much of an “FYI” message to Makoto—who is telepathically linked, after all. Her giant crab feast is interrupted by a summons to the library from Emma, who wants her and Mio to work on translating Makoto’s many memories. In doing so, Mio becomes an anime and tokusatsu otaku, just as Tomoe became a historical drama otaku.

But despite Tomoe and Mio being like oil and water, they both agree on one key thing: the Young Master needs to get laid. Makoto is resolutely disinterested, averting his eyes from the two loosening their robes on the two inn beds and content with sleeping on what looks like Fushi’s chair from To Your Eternity. Perhaps it’s because, as the ED seems to indicate, they remind him so much of his sisters back home.

Osamake DROPPED

It was a real struggle to get through this episode. As soon as Momo proposes a contest to see who can make the better sports drink commercial—a bunch of high school kids or a professional agency—complete with all kinds of rules and small print and secret conditions and hidden motives…I was pretty much checked out.

The completely irrational amounts of plot layered on top of plot absolutely suffocated the outing, and that’s before we get into Kuro’s half-assed fake amnesia, or Momo and Tetsuhiko’s convoluted plots, or the fact Shun is Tetsuhiko’s father, or Momo’s inevitable transfer to Haru’s class.

There was a time I was enjoying a show that promised in the title that the childhood friend would win. But as the show completely lost interest in its characters and tangled them up in a grotesque mess of plot points and twisted motivations, I’m afraid that time has now passed.

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