HenSuki – 10 – No Looking Away

Thanks to the photo of him rummaging through her underwear, Keiki is suddenly Yuika’s willing and attentive slave…and Sayuki is hurt to see her master brought so low, especially knowing it’s due to treachery. Still, Yuika manages to maximize her time with him, dressing him up in a butler outfit of her own design, then using him as a porter during a shopping spree.

After shopping, Yuika takes a bath, but screams when she sees a spider, making Keiki come running to her rescue. Yuika sentences him to death for seeing her naked, but quickly softens when, after she steps on his head, his stroking of her head reminds her of her late grandma. After she trips onto her bed, Keiki discovers she stole a pair of his boxers, so just like that, the blackmailing ceases.

As Keiki and Shouma lament another summer without girlfriends (clearly due to their lack of effort and nothing else) the focus shifts to Nanjou Mao, who first uses Keiki as a model for her boyfriend in a shoujo one-shot she’s working on, then proposes he become her “boyfriend” for research purposes…if he’s not dating anyone else.

Considering how strong she comes on and all the blushing, I wouldn’t be surprised if she actually does like him, though like him with his whole Cinderella investigation, or Shouma with his lolicon, she’s simply hiding from the truth; in her case, behind manga-related excuses. After a recharging hug and sniff, Ayano even proposes she and Keiki start dating, but he respectfully declines. As I said, if he doesn’t have a girlfriend this summer, it’s all his stinkin’ fault.

Perhaps, with a photo taken by Koharu on the day he received a love letter from Cinderella, he’ll finally crack the case open and learn which one of the girls in his life gave him her underwear…or if it’s someone new entirely.

HenSuki – 09 – Boiling Over

In what must be a dream come true for Sayuki, Keiki takes her on a date to a theme park as his pet, and she must call him “master” and follow his commands. Of course, Keiki’s ulterior motive is to confirm whether Sayuki is Cinderella. The proof he seeks is whether she’s wearing the stolen underwear from his room originally gifted to him by Cinderella.

Sayuki wears a skirt for their date, but it’s long enough that none of the thrilling rides they take cause it to flip up in his field of vision. Like his date with Yuika earlier in the show, it actually goes quite well, aside from the investigation. After “being mean” with scary rides, he lets her decide to go on the Ferris wheel, and then he praises her shodou at an exhibition.

But while the Ferris wheel was definitely the place to do it, Keiki waits until the last second, at the end of the date, to order Sayuki to show him what’s under her skirt. As his dutiful pet she obeys, despite the embarrassment … because she’s not wearing any underwear at all. She went commando for the whole date.

In addition to neither confirming or denying whether Sayuki is Cinderella, Keiki finds that things are awkward at school the next day, with Sayuki not acting like herself. Yuika notices the change too, and the avowed sadist tries to make things worse by flirting with Keiki right in front of her.

Throughout Yuika’s initial attempts, Sayuki continues to write “patience” over and over on a parchment, until she runs off onto the table. By the time Yuika jumps into Keiki’s arms and they’re tumbling to the floor just as Mao enters, Sayuki has seemingly “hit her limit” and flees without a word.

When Keiki comes to them for advice , Ootori and Shouma can’t really say what’s bothering Sayuki, but the fact that it’s bothering Keiki means he must truly care about her, otherwise he wouldn’t be so worried about how she’s feeling.

The next day Keiki confronts Sayuki, and learns that she was acting the way she was because she thought he was playing “hard to get” after not doing anything to her after she lifted her skirt for him. She was hoping for a “healthy spanking,” and took getting nothing instead (and dealing with the rising anticipation) as a form of discipline in and of itself.

Keiki decides to ask her straight up if she stole the underwear, and she owns up to it. The only problem is, she didn’t steal Cinderella’s underwear, she stole—and is presently wearing—Keiki’s boxers. If only he’d asked the right question: Did she write him a love letter with the blue underwear?

So the mystery continues, because Keiki is an awful investigator. It’s raining after school, so he walks the umbrella-less Yuika home, but gets cold and wet so she invites him in. Rather than simply ask her directly, he rifles through her underwear drawer while she’s making tea, and gets an incriminating picture of himself snapped for his trouble.

That photo all but ensures he’ll be Yuika’s slave for as long as she has it in her possession. Why he thought the risk of getting caught in her underwear drawer was lower than the risk of alienating her for asking if she’s Cinderella, I have no idea. Keiki just can’t get out of his own way here!

HenSuki – 04 – The Desired Outcome

Last week, before I endured a week of high-altitude training, I presupposed that Nanjou Mao has a particular interest in Keiki, but considering she was neither a sadist or masochist, the particular peculiar shape that interest took remained up in the air.

Keiki gets a bit of a reprieve this week when both Yuika and Sayuki independently offer their apologies for “going too far” and urge him to “make up” with Mao. When he confronts Mao after class, she asks if he’ll hang out with her and Shouma at the arcade, like they used to.

There, we get the second hint of Mao’s interest—her first was the very characteristic Stressed Mangaka Girl Look (AKA the School Queen/Home Nerd Look popularized by Kare Kano, but I digress). When Keiki slips and is about to fall backwards, he’s caught in an inadvertent wall slam by Shouma, which excites Mao very much.

Later, while walking Mao home, Mao wonders out loud if he wants to be in a couple rather than a trio. Keiki also notices Mao staring intently at a photo of Shouma, and gets the wrong idea that she likes Shouma. But when he pries too deeply and too directly, she runs off on him, even in the pouring rain, leaving him with the rank of Sex Animal Sergeant.

Having made next to no progress, Keiki seeks advice from Mizuha, of all people, who was previously peeping at his porn stash, puts his head in her lap, and hides an annoyed look from her brother when he discusses other girls.

Still, she advises him to go all out, but act naturally, and if it doesn’t work, she’ll surely will be there to comfort him. When Keiki once more confronts a sleepy Mao after class and apologizes profusely for hurting her feelings, and unwisely offers to do “anything” to make things right.

Mao declares she wants Keiki in a relationship…not with her, but with Shouma. That’s right: Mao is a fujoshi, and her Shortcake series uses Shouma and Keiki as her character models. She wasn’t jealous that other girls were coming on to him; she was angry that they were ruining her image of Keiki as a BL model!

If he refuses to date Shouma, she threatens do everything in her power to impede all of his other romantic endeavors. So now all three of the non-sister girls in Keiki’s circle have some quirk he’s not sure he can live with. If that weren’t bad enough, someone leaves an envelope in his shoe locker containing a photo of him groping Sayuki…perhaps an prelude from one of the yet-to-be-introduced other girls?

HenSuki – 03 – The Third Way

With Sayuki and Yuika declaring themselves masochist and sadist and their intent to make Keiki their master/slave respectively, one thing becomes clear: Keiki isn’t that into this. He avoided dating girls because he felt himself to normal and boring, but now he’s having nightmares as a result of Yuika’s “punishment” last week. He doesn’t even want to go to school, but Mizuha makes him, since he’s not really ill.

Things don’t get any easier for Keiki, as he’s greeted by Yuika’s bra in his shoe locker, followed by a photo of him with his shirt open lying with Sayuki, with the implication it will be distributed if he doesn’t meet with her. When he gets there, Sayuki is dressed as a maid and handcuffed; he must fish the key out of her cleavage.

All the while, the third girl in his life (not counting his sister), Nanjou Mao, keeps watching silently from afar, her gentle blushing going completely unnoticed by Keiki. But when he tells his best mate he doesn’t believe Sayuki or Keiki are the Cinderella, that friend points out Mao’s staring, who it’s directed at, and what that entails.

Mao’s passive role thus far becomes more active by necessity when Keiki is once again summoned to the clubroom by Sayuki, but is intercepted by Yuika, who ties him up and orders him to kiss her foot or she’ll steal his first kiss on the lips. Sayuki barges in to put a stop to it, and the girls, who have known about each other’s proclivities since they met, start to bicker, with Keiki in the middle.

Enter Mao, who drags Keiki, chair, rope and all, into the hall, away from the two warring girls. He blames him for being so nice to both of them and indulging them too much, and in the process betrays that she’s been observing his interactions with them very closely (we dohear a camera click when he’s fishing out the handcuff keys…was that Mao?).

When Keiki asks why this concerns her at all, Mao has no choice but to be more direct: she just plain doesn’t like it when he’s with other girls. That could well be because she’s developed feelings for her childhood friend, but it also means a third girl has decided to try and assert control over him. Perhaps not as a formal master or slave, but it’s definitely possessive and unbidden by Keiki.

Considering how uncomfortable the other two girls’ antics have made Keiki, perhaps Mao is the “Goldilocks” answer, but first he has to determine whether her particular kink (stalking?) is more or less manageable.

HenSuki – 02 – Kohai Master

Keiki flatly turns down Sayuki’s request that he make her his pet—he’s just not sure if he’s into S&M, and probably never thought about it. But that doesn’t stop her from hanging around him, even in the library, where she gets too close and draws the ire of their mutual kohai, Koga Yuika. When Keiki admits he took Sayuki out for a parfait and performed a romantic wall slam, she’s angry, but he can cure that anger by taking her on a date.

Keiki does everything right thanks to some pointers from his little sister Mizuha: Arrive early, compliment often, go to a movie she likes, have a relaxed lunch, match her pace, let her shop till she drops. He even has the opportunity to rescue her from some leering mall trolls. Yuika gives Keiki a pat and kiss on the head as thanks and then falls asleep on his shoulder on the train home. All in all, it’s a wonderful first date for the both of them.

Yuika always kept to herself in the library and was hard to approach (which he chalks up to her mixed heritage, which…okaaay), but he was persistent in his friendliness and kindness, and her suspicion and “ice in her eyes” gradually melted away to the point they’re now much closer. But is she “Cinderella” who included a pair of underwear with her love letter? The jury’s still out.

What becomes painfully clear, however, is that Yuika is not like Sayuki, and she does not want to be his pet. In fact, when she asks him to meet her in the library storage room, she reveals that she wants to be his master, and wants him to be her slave. As an incentive, she removes her underwear and offers them to him. When he doesn’t immediately take them, she punishes him by stuffing them into his mouth. Yikes!

Suffice it to say, this development comes as something of a shock to Keiki. He was so enchanted by their conventional date, he would have been content if he died the next day. Instead, he finds himself passed out in a closet with Yuika’s underwear in his mouth, and a commando Yuika sitting astride him. They’re tricky, those tides of fortune!

Vinland Saga – 01 (First Impressions) – Hard Times in a Hard Land

Fresh off the heels of Attack on Titan’s third season, Wit Studio brings us something just as harsh and bleak and serious, but with its roots in real history; specifically, Vikings. We’re immediately thrust into a melee aboard a longship in the middle of a huge naval battle, as the stoic warrior Thors is rudely awakened from a pleasant daydream of greener pastures and his wife Helga by an attacking foe.

Thors easily defeats his opponent, then carves through dozens more in a very businesslike fasion before anyone lays a finger on him—or in this case, an arrow to his shoulder. Still, he pulls a warrior into the freezing sea with him to even the odds, kills him, and eventually comes ashore, none the worse for wear. The battle is an impressive display of mixed 2D and 3D animation, particularly the sudden storm of hail.

Fifteen years later, in the harsh colds of Iceland, Thors lives with his wife Helga, his daughter Ylva, and his young son Thorfinn, who longs to go on adventures like another village member, the gregarious Leif Erikson (who discovered North America, which he called Vinland, half a millennium before Columbus).

Donning a headpiece and smoking a pipe from the natives he met, Erikson evokes both awe and skepticism from the kids, but Thorfinn is mostly among the former. He doesn’t like Iceland, and would rather be anywhere. I can’t blame him; while an achingly gorgeous land, surviving there is a constant battle, and the spirit of a warrior like his dad Thors is paramount in such an exercise.

As Thors talks with Leif long into the night about the worsening winters in Greenland and Iceland, and how his family’s battles are only going to get tougher, Thorfinn dreams of captaining a grand longship on a westward journey.

Unfortunately they run into the legendary Jormungand, who proceeds to squeeze Thorfinn until he awakes. Turns out Jormungand was Ylva, sharing his warm bed (a “hot” commodity in such a cold land). Vinland Saga wastes no time showing that while life is hard, this family has endured by sticking together.

Ylva, it seems, would still prefer if they bought a slave, since her mother has grown weaker, something to which her dad seems morally opposed. But when she falls off the roof they’re clearing of snow (a scary moment), she lands on something strange, and after some digging, she finds a runaway slave.

Meanwhile, Thorfinn, probably not doing his fair share of chores considering he’s just hanging around Leif, wants to start adventuring at once, not waiting until he grows into a man. Leif warns him of the dangers of the sea, particularly so far north, and how he was once the only survivor out of a crew of seven whose ship was crushed by ice floes.

When Thorfinn asks why they all live in such a hard place, Leif doesn’t sugarcoat it: their forbears once lived in Norway, but when a king rose there and demanded the people choose fealty or exile, they left. Thorfinn is angered and doesn’t believe Leif, seeing this fleeing of his ancestors as cowardly.

The slave gains consciousness after Thors warms him by the fire gives him a kind of primitive CPR, and is awake long enough to tell him he doesn’t want to go back to Halfdan’s household. We soon learn why when Halfdan suddenly shows up at the village, causing a standoff. Still, the chain-obsessed Halfdan is looking for a slave, not a fight, so even when one of his own men tries to attack a villager, he flays the skin from his face himself. Talk about lawful evil…

Upon entering Thors’ house, he demands they return the slave to him. Thors offers to buy the slave instead, for more than Halfdan paid for him—over four times more, when the negotiations conclude. The whole time, Ylva can’t believe her dad is making such a deal, which isn’t a good one in any century.

Sure enough, the slave dies soon after the deal is struck, leaving Thors’ family short eight goats. But I know why Thors did it. The slave had already suffered enough, and Thors wasn’t going to be the one to return him to his earthly torments. Better to die peacefully, which is what he did. It was a bad deal, but it was the right thing to do.

That night, as the family watches the Northern Lights from a dramatic promontory (it really is a shockingly gorgeous land), presumably after burying the slave, Thorfinn asks his dad if Leif was telling the truth about their people running away. Thors quietly confirms that “that’s what they say.” To which Thorfinn asks, if one wanted to run away from here, where would they go?

The answer, it seems, will likely drive Thorfinn from this sleepy, cold, and often cruel village, no doubt after whoever is smirking in a longship attacks his village…at least that seems to be the likeliest sequence of events. Not being well-versed in Norse history (and never having read the manga), his journey will be new to me.

While a mostly quiet and understated beginning, Vinland Saga built a strong foundation for the coming twenty-three episodes (the following two of which I will review soon) by showing us Thorfinn’s roots, and why his wanderlust is so strong. I can assure you if Leif Erickson regailed us with tales of his travels every night, I’d probably want to head out too.

Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari – 02 – Surviving Together

Shunned by virtually every human in this new world, Naofumi turns to a demi-human slave in Raphtalia, sold to him by the slave merchant for 30 silvers; a bargain. The little raccoon girl is terrified with good reason: she’s been through a lot in her short life and she has no reason to believe Naofumi won’t be cruel and awful to her.

But despite his scary face and bad attitude, Naofumi isn’t awful to Raphtalia. I mean, he wouldn’t be much of a rootable MC if he did. Sure, she’s bound by her contract not to defy him and gets shocked if she does, but he makes sure she has proper clothes and a dagger. She’ll provide the offense he needs to become powerful enough for the next Wave of Catastrophe.

Raphtalia soon learns that she not only need fear Naofumi, but that it’s okay to have things she wants. He’ll take care of her, but she has to fight for him. Of nights Naofumi learns the “mental illness” her buyer warned him about: she has PTSD and nightmares from having witnessed her parents sacrifice themselves to a Cerberus so that she could live during the First Wave.

In a montage made all the more satisfying and significant (like the show itself) by the wonderful score by Kevin Pankin (Made in Abyss), Raphtalia learns to trust and even become fond of her master, who treats her more like a ward than a slave. The more monsters she defeats, the more the two of them level up, and the more money they make.

Raphtalia butts up against adversity when a rabbit attacks Naofumi and she has to draw blood, which she’s quite justifiably afraid of considering her traumatic past. But when Naofumi lays out the stakes vis-a-vis the impending Waves, Raphtalia’s resistance (which causes the shocks) fades away, and she resolves to fight and kill for Naofumi, for both their sakes.

Naofumi discovers he has a knack for medicine-making, and he and Naphtalia travel to a smaller town to sell their wares—popular due to the trying times. In a nice bit of good luck for a change, merchant he deals with apparently doesn’t know he’s the Shield Hero, and thus isn’t automatically against him like everyone in the city. He even points the pair to a mine where they’ll be able to make a lot of quick money harvesting ore.

The catch is that since the First Wave the mines are crawling with monsters, and a two-headed dog very similar to the one that killed Naphtalia’s parents attacks them, she freezes in terror. Naofumi grabs her and escape the beast, but they have to kill it if they’re going to have any chance against future foes. When things seem to be going south and he offers to buy time so she can escape, she recalls her folks doing the same thing and getting killed for it.

So rather than let Naofumi repeat their sacrifice and leave her all alone once again, she draws her sword and plunges it into the beast. When it lunges at her in response Naofumi is ready with a shield to protect her, and she’s able to finish it off. When the fight is over they’ve gained a buttload of EXP, and she collapses crying into his arms, calling him “Naofumi-sama” for the first time.

I’m glad that after a double episode’s worth of Naofumi getting beaten down, he’s found something pure and good to protect, as well as the means of progressing in this game-like world while appreciating that it isn’t really a game, it’s a matter of life and death. It doesn’t hurt that Naphtalia is adorable as all get out, but also tough and capable when she needs to be. No doubt when and if he encounters the other heroes they’ll get the wrong idea, but this looks like the beginning of a lovely partnership.

Kino no Tabi – 06

This week is spent “up in the clouds” and barely involves Kino at all—she and Hermes only bookend the episode. In their stead, we get a lovely, beautiful, and heartwrenching semi-allegorical tale up in the mountains involving a new character, an orphan girl (voiced by Minase Inori, who is everywhere), sold into servitude, constantly treated like crap by her merchant owners, adult and child alike.

The episode wastes no time portraying those owners as a complete waste of life; they never let off the gas pedal of abuse, both verbal and physical, and the girl just…takes it all. They ask if she hates them, and she says she doesn’t. She doesn’t hate, resent, or wish harm on anyone; to do so would be a sin. They mock her piety, believing only humans who act inhuman survive in this ugly world.

Of course, part of the title of this show is The Beautiful World, with the understanding that the world is beautiful because it isn’t…but the mountaintop environs are ironically utterly gorgeous. If only the girl had better company.

She realizes too late that the herbs she picked and added to the soup for dinner were poisonous, and all attempts to warn her owners fall on deaf ears. She steels herself to drink the soup and die with them rather than live as a murderer (however unintentional), but a boy seals his fate by knocking her bowl out of her hands; she’s later hit with a rock and knocked out.

When she wakes up, the merchants are still alive, and the boy has convinced his father to sell him the girl so he can take his time killing her in order to “become a man”, which is what we’d call overkill. What the hell is this kid, the Devil’s Spawn? In any case, the poison kicks in and they all die before the girl’s eyes.

The only survivor is the man who told his younger colleague, essentially, that the girl being a slave while they’re free comes down to luck; “there but for the grace of God go I” kinda deal.

He believes that until his death, which is semi-self-inflicted, as he pretends to instruct the girl on how to use his rifle to kill herself, but fixes it so she shoots him instead. Before he dies, he unchains her, and with his last breath, tells her to live her life; she’ll understand someday why things happened this way.

To the girl’s shock, there’s a voice coming from one of the wagons. It’s a talking motorrad (in the form of an adorable Honda Motocompo) who has been listening to everything going on, and congratulates the girl on her freedom.

The girl still wants to die, but in the same vein as the last man to die, the motorrad tells her the only way to die is to live life. No one knows how or when death will come, but it comes for everyone. The circumstances that led to the girl’s current position shouldn’t be considered grounds for immediate death. Indeed, it was clearly her fate to survive, escape the shackles of bondage, and strike out on her own. Why else would she meet a talking motorrad immediately after her last captor died?

We see Kino and Hermes arriving at the camp where the bodies of the merchants remain; not much time has passed since the girl and the motorrad left. But as the credits roll we learn what became of her: she was accepted as an immigrant in a new country after telling them her story, took up photography, and became successful and esteemed.

She took on the name Photo, and kept her first friend, the motorrad whose name is Sou, close by the whole time. Sou believes she’s happy. She certainly looks content. I wonder if she’ll ever meet Kino…

Kakegurui – 05

I may have bristled at least week’s structure (spend the entire first half introducing Ikishima, someone not involved in the second half’s gambling) but it was a blessing in disguise, putting a welcome kink in the gamble-a-week rhythm of the show to this point. Also, a poker game this layered with lies, deceit, and glorious twists needed more than two halves of an episode; it needed three.

Liberated from the need for setup (ably achieved in the first half) the crazy-faces showed up early and often here, as did the twists, the most important one being that the moves of the seemingly superfluous fourth player, Tsubomi, are being controlled by Kiwatari, the only non-livestock in the game.

Tsubomi and Mary are aware of this (Tsubomi isn’t so great at hiding the cheating), but in the tenth and final game, when Kiwatari tells Tsubomi she’s not allowed to beat him, Tsubomi does her stuff: painstakingly picking and peeling back the emotionless facade Tsubomi had built to repress the trauma of losing her beautiful locks of hair, roughly hacked off by Kiwatari himself once she became livestock.

Tsubomi tells her that losing intentionally here, when she has a perfect opportunity to prove she’s not “lifelong livestock”, would be like a “motionless pig in an open cage.” Unable to accept that, Tsubomi’s facade cracks, beats Kiwatari in the round, and becomes a human again.

The game would have ended with Tsubomi in first place, if the chip count, which we’d been getting from Kiwatari, was accurate. Turns out that is the last and final twist in the game: Mary and Yumeko falsified their debt reports (just like Kiwatari did), then swapped them, so the boards in front of them at the card table gave Kiwatari the wrong figures to do his math throughout the game.

It’s a total defeat brought on by Kiwatari’s confidence in his control over Tsubomi, as well as his hard-headed belief he can judge everyone as if they were cut from the same cloth. Meanwhile, Tsubomi may still technically be livestock, but regained her will to live and fight for solvency.

The council secretary Igarashi worries about what Pandora’s Box President Momobari (whom she seems to love) has opened by allowing someone as inscrutable as Jabami Yumeko to roam free. However, when Igarashi says “the usual things” that one can use to control a person don’t work on her; she’s not entirely right.

I have no doubt if Yumeko’s friends were threatened, she wouldn’t stand by and do nothing. And now Yumeko has two friends—Ryouta and Mary—who may be leveraged against her in the future. We’ll see how she deals with that as she faces off against more and stronger opponents.

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée 4

Ah, it’s time for our weekly fix of period clash-of-cultures slice-of-life, with this episode bringing the blonde and annoying Alice Blanche into the picture. She’s an aristocratic fanatic of all things Oriental; though I couldn’t call her a Japonophile like myself because she’s simply too ignorant about Japanese culture to make a determination either way.

Anyway, I may have been too harsh on Claude’s manner with Yune; at least he treats her like a human. Upon laying eyes on her, Alice treats poor Yune like a cute pet, or a doll come to life. She also treats her like a slave to be purchased, and later tries to bribe her into living at her mansion. She almost succeeds, as the deal includes her prized kimono and a private bath, something Yune has been missing since she arrived in Paris. Baths were only a daily thing for the very rich in France. They still are, too…haha I kid. Sumimasen!

Anyway I’m not that optimistic about Alice as she seems almost to selfish and stupid to live, but I still enjoyed this episode. It contained a lot more comedy than before, and also chibi cuts, which were employed liberally, though not ad nauseum. I also continue to enjoy the rich Parisian scenery, and hope that Yune – and we along with her – gets to explore more of the grand city. And Claude learns to enjoy Japanese cuisine…’cause he’s really missing out!


Rating: 3.5