A Couple of Cuckoos – 14 – Thinking About Pi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Couple of Cuckoos – 13 – It’s a New Morning

After Nagi’s realization sparked by dad that he harbors feelings for all three of Hiro, Erika, and Sachi, he realizes something else: he cannot think about anything else. This realization, combined with the reality that he hasn’t been studying nearly as much as he used to, comes crashing down on him in the middle of midterm exams. He ends up bombing, falling from first to thirteenth.

Nagi shambles home and holes up in his dark room, feeling like trash, since he believes his primary value to be studying and acing tests. Under the pretext of complaining about dinner not being ready (complete with growling stomach), Erika enters his room to tell him that’s simply not the case, and no matter his rank, he’s “just as valuable” to her.

It’s an extremely cute and bold move from Erika coming off her “not yet” amendment, and Nagi can’t help but smile when he realizes she’s both trying and succeeding to cheer him up.

Hiro is a slightly different story. Back at school, she starts blatantly avoiding him, but then leaves one of her signature not-love letters in his shoe locker. Erika suggests that Hiro feels betrayed because Nagi was on his high horse about beating her once only to fall so far on the next exam. But as we learn when Nagi meets Hiro at the beautifully lit basketball court after school, that’s only half of Hiro’s story.

After Nagi apologizes for letting his guard down and commits to doing better, Hiro passes him the rock, giving a playful rhythm to their make-up talk. But it wasn’t just her respect for him as an academic rival that made her upset; it was learning how quickly he cheered up without any input from her. She wanted to be the one to cheer him up first but Erika beat her to the punch.

Watching Hiro make a layup in dazzling slow motion, it occurs to Nagi that while things are a lot more complicated with regard to his romantic life, he still loves Hiro aplenty, and still wants to beat her enough times at exams so he can “change her fate” she’ll process his confession. But as we saw during times when he and Erika were having what amounted to lovers quarrels in earshot of both Hiro and Sachi, everyone coming out of this happy and satisfied is a tall ask.

I’m not surprised Nagi wants to try his best to simplify and work on things he knows he can by getting back to his intense studying regimen and climbing back to the top of the rankings. Even then, Erika makes it known she needs his help studying, or her folks will bring her back home.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 12 – Not Yet

With Nagi and Sachi successfully making up, Erika decides she wants to take Nagi shopping after school…only he already has “something important” to do. That consists of having a study session with Hiro at the library, where they spend most of the time exchanging notes.

After that, Nagi is concerned with where else they can study more, but Hiro wants to show him more about herself, so she takes him to a kickboxing studio. Nagi isn’t completely physically incompetent, and thus impresses with his punch. Erika happens to walk by and see how much fun he and Hiro are having.

The last few episodes, Erika has been pretty okay with Nagi doing his own thing, and even said she’d root for him and Hiro, whom she adores. But actually seeing the two together has an effect she didn’t anticipate. She tries to counter that effect by reasserting their technical status as fiancés by announcing they’re going on a date together.

Just as Hiro did at the theme park, Erika takes the lead, buying Nagi some expensive clothes, taking him to a pet store to hang out with some reptiles, and finally going on an exhausting evening run. After each leg of their date, she stares at Nagi and looks disappointed. She eventually tells him: she saw him smiling like a goofball with Hiro, but he never smiles at her!

Nagi takes Erika’s problem to its logical conclusion: she got jealous and pissed seeing him and Hiro together, which means she likes him. Pointing this out doesn’t help matters, but Erika doesn’t outright deny it, simply saying “It’s not that I like you!…Yet!” before storming off.

Nagi, however, remains on the park bench until well after sundown, contemplating how Erika feels and how he in turn feels about that. He can’t deny his heart is racing, which makes him wonder if he likes Erika, and whether what he’s feeling for Hiro is love.

Nagi resorts to googling “love” then going back home for the first time in forever to consult his mega dictionary, but ends up finding a box full of love letters from his dad to his mom. Like, all of them were from his dad.

The letters are dumb, sappy, embarrassing…but his dad kept writing them, and his mom kept accepting them, and eventually accepted and returned his feelings, despite being seemingly out of his league. Sensing his son is questioning his love, he tells him to close his eyes and “ask his heart”—the one he loves should show up in his mind’s eye.

Nagi does this, and for the first time, all three girls appear at the same time, albeit with Erika in the center. Naturally, this is extremely confusing for Nagi, who has operated the entire first half of this series under the impression he loved Hiro and only Hiro. But between Erika and him living together and being pretty goshdarn great together and his realignment of how he sees Sachi, Nagi is finally seeing the full, multi-girl picture.

Of course, this is just the initial awareness stage. It remains to be seen whether he accepts that he has feelings of various levels for Erika, Hiro, and Sachi, or that one day a choice will have to be made that might break two of their hearts (or all three). But it’s a satisfying development nonetheless, and I liked his text response to Erika: he doesn’t like her either…yet. For both of them, “yet” is a shield, but it’s also a kind of invitation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 04 – Snakebit

When Aoi missed her putt, Eve confronts her angrily, thinking she let her win. But Aoi admits the miss was “her mistake”—apparently no one noticed Anri flashing a laser into Aoi’s eye before she putted, including Aoi herself. But she wants to have another go at a real game with Eve, so they agree to meet back at the course at 5 AM so they can play until her flight back to Japan.

Normally Eve would be able to keep such an appointment, but Catherine cashes in on Rose’s favor to her for letting Eve into the tournament that very night, and Rose and Anri deliver her to a massive configurable underground golf course. This is just the window-lickin’ craziest shit.

Eve is Catherine’s golfer, while her opponent in a real estate deal, fellow mobster Mr. Nicolas, has hired the thoroughly corny Vipère, a vampy minx in a leather catsuit. In addition to their employers’ bet, Vipère makes it interesting for her and Eve by saying whoever loses becomes the personal property of the other for a day.

Eve is neither amused nor impressed by all this nouveau riche and faux-vampiric posturing, and simply wants to get on with the game. But every other shot she makes is totally off, and she has no idea why…until she notices the same thing most of the audience probably noticed immediately: Vipère stinks. Not at golf, but literally.

Every time Vipère unzipped the front of her catsuit near Eve, she messed up. Turns out her perfume is a sublt poisons that threw her game off just enough to almost lose. Not about to lose to a cheater with fangs and a way too active tongue, Eve uses her Yellow Bullet to drive her ball out of a bunker and straight into the hole, beating Vipère and fulfilling her favor to Rose and Catherine.

What follows is a lot of plot malarkey, unfortunately. First, Eve has Vipère drive her to the course to meet with Aoi…in Vipère’s slow antique car. Aside from it not being Vipère’s style at all (why is it yellow?) Anri was right there in the parking lot with a Jaguar XJS, which if I know Rose had a V12. Combined with the fact the distance from the underground course to the above-ground one wasn’t revealed until it became a problem, and my eyes were rolling like a Titleist on the green.

Just as Anri manufactured Aoi’s loss and Vipère almost manufactured Eve’s, the the plot tomfoolery ends up manufacturing the first major interpersonal conflict between Aoi and Eve, as Aoi waits as long as she can but has to board her flight before Eve gets there. She leaves her Pac-Man ball on the tee, but drew a tear in its eye and “Liar” on the other side.

As her plane takes off, Aoi spots Eve and her Blue Bullet taking flight. So, I guess the airport is right next to the golf course? What with that crazy golf bunker, I half-expected Eve’s golf ball to go into the jet engine, forcing it to land and giving the two a chance to play.

Of course, there’s a good chance that would have ended in fiery tragedy, so maybe it’s best Eve didn’t hit the plane….I just hope their budding friendship hasn’t been shattered irrevocably. After all, Aoi began the episode with a mistake caused by others; now that Eve was late, the two are even par, as they should be.

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 03 – Just Golf, Baby

Eve doesn’t half-ass anything. When given an audience with Rose’s boss, a higher-up in the Nafrece underworld, she offers up her damn body in exchange for the chance to play in the U15 Tournament. Fortunately, the boss lady rejects that offer, but I am worried about the one she accepts, which Rose brings up without Eve knowing what it is.

Whatever Faustian deal Eve is now tangled up in, all that matters is that she’s able to keep her promise to Aoi to play one round—in this case, the final round of a world tournament. Rose makes sure she looks the part, dressing her in her boss’ brand name attire and giving her a full set of clubs. After a couple episodes in street clothes, it’s great to see Eve all glowed up.

The two other girls in her team unfortunately go through hell, as Rose tells Anri, because Eve is a simple destroyer, concerned only with defeating her one opponent; Aoi, who enters the final round 9 under par. As Rose racks up a -3 in four holes Rose further describes how Eve’s style of golf methodically destroys any opponents in her vicinity, causing them to forget their own styles in a hopeless bid to keep up.

While her group mates are probably going to be feeling the negative aftereffects on their own games for many matches in the future, Aoi is spellbound by Eve’s performance. As the leader, Aoi is in the final group with the latest tee time, but she just can’t wait to get out there and play “in the same air” as Eve, who she can tell is having a blast.

Aoi begins her round knowing Eve’s score, and insists that Amane keep her updated every three holes via hand signals. Amane is fine doing this because 1.) she’ll take whatever motivation for Aoi she can get and 2.) she’s quite certain even Eve can’t hope to beat Aoi. But while Amane knows Aoi’s game like the back of her hand, she’s only seen a little bit of what Eve can do. This time, she sees more, including how accurate she can be even while driving her ball through the same woods where it got lost in her last game with Aoi.

While Eve and Aoi duel, their respective support groups watch; her classmates at the fancy Raiou Girls Academy in Japan (the architecture of which reminds me of a car dealership or auto parts store for some reason), where we meet Haruka, Aoi’s supposed rival in her homeland, and Ichina, who wants to be a caddy for someone like Aoi, not a player, and is training accordingly.

They, like Amane, and even Eve herself, believe it’s a foregone conclusion Aoi will go one point under Eve to take the win on the 18th hole. But on what should be a straightforward birdie putt misses the cup, an error so timely and uncharacteristic it makes me wonder if there’s some kind of chicanery involved. That feeling is amplified watching Rose spreading her arms at the sun like a villain about to cackle.

While I don’t forsee I’ll be the biggest fan of Eve and/or Aoi being pawns to these gangsters, this episode was 99% Eve and Aoi enjoying the absolute goddamn hell out of a match together, and however it ends, they’re going to want to play each other again as soon as possible. After all, until someone shows up who can beat either of them, they’re all they’ve got.

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 02 – Blue Bullet vs. Blue Blood

Amawashi Aoi is the daughter of two pro golfers and has been raised since she was tiny to be one of the world’s finest. But she’s not the slightest bit conceited or unpleasant as a result of this specialized and very exclusive upbringing. She’s pure, sweet, and very excited to meet someone like Eve.

Aoi wants to play a whole round with Eve, but Amane says there’s only time for one hole, so Aoi picks the toughest: a 400+ yard L-shaped Par-4 with the sea on one side and a thick forest on the other. Eve naturally smashes her ball through the woods but doesn’t quite get all the way through.

Aoi keeps her ball out of the forest by unleashing a majestic slice that turns the corner and leaves her with less than 140 yards on her second shot. Eve gets her ball out of the woods, but misses the green and a clear shot at the hole. Aoi hits a perfect strike that places the ball mere inches from the hole and a sure Eagle.

Amane’s narration of this exciting hole of golf lays it on a little thick that Aoi is the “Innocent Tyrant” whose gleaming smile will effortless crush anyone in her way. And even Eve admits that there’s something about Aoi that threw her ever so slightly off her game. That, and Aoi genuinely can’t take her eyes off Eve’s golf.

As for Eve, well, after years of simply using her talent to put food on the table, this one hole with Aoi is the most fun she’s had playing golf. Not that surprising considering how amazing Aoi is. Despite herself, Eve finds herself both charmed and inspired by Aoi, and absolutely hell-bent on beating her when next they play. And they will play again quite soon.

After easily beating a street scammer’s magnet-ridden putting green, Eve gains an audience with a mid-level figure in the mob, who wields a club like a yakuza would wield a katana. This is where I first realized that Eve is still a kid—closer to Aoi’s age than I thought. This is one reason how she’s able to convince the mobster to get her into the U-15 tournament. Another is that Eve’s heart is aching to face off against Aoi again, and while the mobster will make sure Eve owes her big for the privilege, she’s as eager as I am to see a rematch. 

But Aoi’s heart is aching too. Before meeting Eve, she seemed pretty bored by golf—and considering it’s been her whole life, who can blame her? But when you’re at the top of your game, you seek out others at the top of theirs, especially when they take such a fascinatingly different path to that top. Now that these two have found each other, they both have new fires burning in their chests…and they want nothing more than to stoke them.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 19 – Quelqu’un avec qui se Blottir

The prison Chloé has found herself in for centuries was never entirely of her own making. Its bars were forged in part by her love of her father, and his lifelong devotion to returning her to human form. As much as she loved her father, the human Chloé d’Apchier he loved was gone and could never come back. Because of this, the vampire Chloé always felt alone, even before her father and the rest of the d’Apchiers died.

Astolfo is also in a prison, albeit one that doesn’t also hold everyone else: his anger over being betrayed and grief over the slaughter of his sister and family set him on a laser-stright “Kill All Vampires” path. Noé may have suffered equal or greater torment, but has Vanitas by his side to tell him not to lose himself in that rage, even if he can’t back down.

…But back to Chloé, who only got more and more sympathetic and compelling as her arc progressed. Within the prison built in part by the loneliness of a father who couldn’t accept or love what she’d become, she chose to stay there, but now that it’s crumbling around he she has a choice: stay within its bars and vanish into oblivion, or take the hands of the two people who do love her for who she is—Jean-Jacques and Jeanne—and let them pull her to freedom. Chloé wisely chooses the latter.

As J-J and Jeanne pull her from the black cage, Vanitas uses the book—and begs for Luna’s strength—to obliterate that cage and the false world of endless winter around it, as well as reveal Chloé’s true name: Canorus, “she who makes music with snow flowers.” As the cursed world vanishes to reveal blue skies and patches of astérique flowers, Astolfo finds some relief in the arms of his senpai, Roland.

Chloé finds herself in one of these astérique patches, and her first action is one of anger, slapping and then uppercutting J-J for letting himself get so brusied and bloodied. But once that passes, her eyes fill with tears of relief and joy. The flowers remind her of when she looked up at the sky with lil’ Jeanne, thinking if she could die, it would be on that day. But now she wants to live, and J-J is there to love, accept, and be there for her, warts and all.

Seeing Chloé and J-J embrace, Jeanne’s thoughts turn to Vanitas, and when she finds him, she can’t hold back her relief, gratitude, or joy. Their relationship may have started out fraught, but all Vanitas has done since then is what he said he’d do. She thought Chloé was beyond saving, but he showed her there was another way. He also saved her from the regret of not having saved Chloé befoe. Jeanne celebrates by lustily drinking Vanitas’ blood, and then planting a pure yet passionate kiss on his cheek.

Nobody may yet live happily ever after. There’s the looming threat of Ruthven’s control over Noé to kill Vanitas, Vanita’s spreading affliction, and the consequences for Chloé, Jeanne, and others by the powers that be. But right now, none of that matters. Jeanne’s radiant smile says it all—Everyone can relax, at least for a little while, with the clear blue sky above them the pale blue flowers below, and the ones they love beside them.

When Vanitas and Misha were little, Luna told them that everyone, be they human or vampire, is alone, and most of them go their entire lives never understanding themselves. That’s why they reach out for someone to snuggle with and keep them warm in a cold world; who will accept and love them for who they are, and thus no longer feel as lonely. Chloé and Jean-Jeaques have each other, while Vanitas now has two such someones in Jeanne and Noé.

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 12 (Fin) – Spring at the Latest

Not entirely surprisingly considering the pace of the storytelling so far, there is no miracle insta-cure for Bocchan’s curse this week. Instead, he heeds his mother’s summons and comes home for the first time in years. Upon meeting with his mother after all that time, she simply tells him it’s too late and they’ll talk tomorrow. Viola and Walter assure their bro that Mom was actually being “kind” tonight.

Thankfully for Bocchan, Alice tags along for his awkward trip to the main house, and is an immediate hit with the house staff, who are amazed what a spitting image of her dearly departed mother Sharon she’s become. Bocchan’s mom even mistakes Alice for Sharon, with whom she was very close and was never the same after her death by as-yet unexplained circumstances.

Bocchan’s mom may be too tired to talk late at night, but Alice is delighted when Bocchan stops by to chat. Alice assures him the staff treated her kindly, and she’s very happy to hear Bocchan was able to speak to his mother normally, even if briefly. When it looks like Alice is dangerously close to touching his lips with her own, Bocchan retires for the night, and Alice lies in the warm spot he left.

The next day, Viola takes Bocchan to the grave where he was cursed by a woman in white. They cross paths with their mom, who tells Viola not to stand so close to her brother and again insists she start dressing like a proper lady; Viola pays her no mind.

The night of the big dinner, Bocchan’s mom has him seated at the far end of the table. Turns out she only summoned him there to inform him that due to his father’s deteriorating health (oddly we never see him) Bocchan must break the curse by Spring or Walter will be named the family head.

When Bocchan insists on discussing another matter and brings up Alice, his mom thinks he’s joking if he thinks he’ll be able to marry the one he loves. But Bocchan won’t stand for her calling Alice a “lowly maid”, nor will he have what he’s talking about mistaken for japes. He forcefully tells her that Alice was the one who pulled him out of the abyss, and he’d be dead were it not for her.

Further, he, Walter and Viola aren’t her things, they’re her children, and sometimes there are things more important than wheeling and dealing. He storms out of the room without finishing the soup course, and Viola and Walter also excuse themselves to show him out. None of them see their mother smile, as she’s impressed and proud that Bocchan has grown into a strong young man who can talk back to her.

There’s a sense of triumph in seeing Bocchan flanked by his siblings in the hall. Unlike their mother, they no longer see him as a freak or monster, but simply as their brother, who had some misfortune. At the same time, they also envy him for having been able to live outside of the harsh stern structure of the main residence. He’s been able to live his own life with Alice and Rob.

That said, the curse remains, and Bocchan is still determined to get rid of it, hopefully by his mom’s Spring deadline. As they play cards by the fire, Bocchan tells Alice that she’ll always have all of his love, even if he doesn’t come right out and say he told his mother he’d be marrying her. When he later falls asleep at the card table, Alice lays a blanket over him and says “I love you.”

So we’ve reached the end of the first part of Bocchan and the Black Maid’s story of finding light, hope, and love in the darkness…but only for now. With the promise of a sequel at the conclusion of the episode, I’ll surely be watching when its pure, sweet, charming central couple returns.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fruits Basket – 30 (S2 05) – Mystery Date

This week we learn about Arisa’s meet cute at the konbini where she works, in which a man drops a stack of bags of chips in the exact same manner Tooru dropped a stack of printouts when Arisa first met her. The similarity makes Arisa laugh, and her laugh intrigues the man, whose face we don’t see. But it’s obvious this won’t be the end of things between them.

Summer Break has begun, and Tooru is determined to spend it having as much possible with her friends as possible. So when Momiji springs a trip to a haunted house on her, she’s determined to power through the fear. Things don’t go so well at first as she screams in bloody horror over everything. Yuki and Kyou are at a loss, but Haruhatsu exploits her empathy by giving the various scary people tragic stories, and Tooru’s fear soon evaporates.

While Haru’s weirdly convincing sappy story was pretty funny, the haunted house trip is fun but not vital, unlike Arisa’s adventure in romance, which redeems what had been a meh episode (by high Furuba standards). While on break form her cafe job she spots the man from the konbini and runs him down. He buys her lunch as thanks for her help, and tells her that despite being 26 (nine years older than her) he’d never been in a konbini before.

He goes and says something about how such trips were “unnecessary”, and a pissed-off Arisa storms off, because it sure sounds like he thinks she’s unnecessary! But she openly admits she looked forward to seeing him way more than she initially thought. This time he chases her down and apologizes, telling her he feels the same way, drawing her close as if to kiss her, then pulling away and taking his leave.

It’s certainly an charming enchanting encounter…or at least it would be if I wasn’t 1000% sure from the start that Koreno is a member of the Souma clan, and thus probably not someone Arisa should get further involved with (especially when we see him meeting with Akito at episode’s end). Then again, someone could say the same of Tooru or any of her suitors!

For her part, Arisa considers the ball now fully in his court for any potential future interactions. I hope she’s not just putting up a front for Saki, but I also know that it’s highly unlikely the book on these two is closed for good. Will her heart stir her to seek him out again, or will her joyous laugh prove too captivating to avoid…even if he faces consequences?

Arte – 04 – The First Step to Hell

When Arte first experiences heartache, she has no idea what it is, just that it is negatively affecting her work and making her absent-minded. All of that makes Leo annoyed with her. Fortunately, his regular patron Veronica, who requests that Arte paint her portrait, is a font of wisdom in matters of love.

Arte comes right out and says she doesn’t necessarily respect Veronica’s profession, but does respect the hard work and resolve Veronica puts into it. Veronica is flattered, but makes it clear that her job and success is only possible because she avoids falling in love. If she falls for one of the men she entertains, she could end up ruined and in the gutter like one of her former contemporaries.

When Arte learn part of Veronica’s routine with men is to play hard-to-get and intentionally make them wait for days so they’ll be more devoted when they do see her. This angers Arte because she knows what heartache feels like and can’t imagine someone being okay with causing suffering on purpose.

While Arte was initially smitten with Veronica’s smile and charms, she soon see’s it’s to a large degree by design. Veronica and her manner is a brand, and the portrait is part of that—posing in a library with a book to evoke intellectualism). But Arte’s condemnation of how she manipulates men doesn’t preclude their becoming friends who can talk to one another anytime.

As for avoiding love, Arte tries to bury herself in her work and not let Leo distract her. It may seem like cynical advice from Veronica, but in their day and age women who want to live by their own power must fiercely maintain that power, and not cede it to others. Of course, in Leo’s case, maybe clearing the air could be advantageous?

Fire Force – 01 – (First Impressions) – Exorcising Fire Demons

The premise of Fire Force is as bizarre as it is frightening: in its timeline, the “Solar Era”, spontaneous human combustion is not only a great hazard to Tokyo, but the beings that emerge from the flames, “Infernals,” are demons who must be defeated in order to put the souls of the victims at rest.

That’s the job of Special Fire Force Company 8, of which young newcomer and third-generation pyrokineticist Kusakabe Shinra is its newest member. He just happens to be a witness to the latest emergence of an Infernal, which Company 8 is dispatched to the train station to tackle.

In this way, Shinra gets a first-row view of how the Fire Force gets things done, and it’s as much a battle with a demon as it is a religous ritual; there’s even a sister, Iris, on staff to deliver the proper prayers at the proper time. While Shinra doesn’t participate in the battle, which is another success for Company 8, his quick thinking (and literally flaming feet) manage to rescue Iris from suffering a freak accident at the hands of a falling lamp.

From there, Shinra is taken back to Co.8’s HQ, a somewhat run-down but still very cool-looking cathedral (all of the architecture and mechanical design is very quirky and cool-looking, for that matter). He already met Iris by sweeping her off her feet like a princess, but soon meets Captain Oubi, Lt. Hinawa, and the first-class fire soldier Oze Maki.

Still, while his job is ostensibly to purify fire demons, Shinra clearly has some demons of his own, something he largely gives away every time he gets nervous and his mouth tightens up into a sinister-looking crooked grin. Those demons revolve around some kind of tragedy in his past where he was blamed for his mother and little brother’s death and subsequently ostracized by most other adults in his family and among their friends.

He doesn’t have time to contemplate how he’ll wrestle with those demons for long; the alarm sounds and within minutes he’s prepped and deployed with the rest of the company aboard the armored firetruck “Matchbox” to a factory fire caused by the manager’s wife combusting.

Another firsthand look at a scene of fire and destruction triggers his worst memories of the end of his mom, brother, and home, as he insists within his thoughts that someone else was present who was the primary culprit; it wasn’t a matter of his powers going out of control but someone causing them to.

We’ll see how that pans out, but his Captain and Maki work to keep him in the here and now, focused on the not inconsiderable task before them: the Infernal is one tough cookie.

Ultimately Shinra has to put aside the fact he couldn’t keep his promise to protect his family like a hero, but he decides to make a new promise never to let that happen again, and to protect anyone else affected by the Infernals. He delivers a devastating kick to the core of the Infernal, dispersing it, and Iris says the prayer. Mission Complete.

Outside, Shinra and the rest of the Fire Force gets its due congratulations, thanks, and adulation of the assembled crowd of citizens, not just for stopping the blaze but saving the soul of the manager’s wife. And for the first time since before his mother died, Shinra finally smiles a genuine smile, not the forced smirk with which he is so often cursed at the wrong times.

Fire Force, in a couple words, is pretty damn good. Stylish, fast-paced, and uncomplicated in its presentation of its protagonist, his motivations and goals, and the introduction of his new family and life among Company 8, which is definitely not your typical fire department. It’s a fun and imaginative setting that still feels grounded in reality and modern life.

The vaunted David Production studio provides a feast for the eyes, blending the reds and oranges of the flames with the ever-glowing blue of the fire soldiers as well as the eerie green aurora above Tokyo’s skies. The orchestral score also delivers the appropriate sense of occasion, peril, and excitement, particularly during the boss fight. I’m looking forward to this one.

Attack on Titan – 59 (S3 Fin) – Finally, A Beach Episode

After hearing testimony from the surviving scouts and the opinions of the brass, Queen Historia decides to make the truth public. It’s feared doing so will sow chaos, but as Pyxis puts with his usual elegant bluntness, if they’re going to keep lying or hiding the truth, why did they even bother ousting the last king?

Once the people are told what they really are and what was done to them, there is indeed a measure of heightened chaos, but public reaction runs the gamut from belief to disbelief, resignation to outrage, relief to rage. That’s a as good a sign as any that they made the right choice. The massive lie was another prison, but Eren & Co. found the key, and Historia used it to throw open the gates. People are now free to leave…or stay.

Of course, after the trauma of the battle that claimed Commander Erwin Smith and most of the scout “fodder,” that group’s sole survivor in Floch can’t escape the prison, even with the open door right in front of him. He can’t even see the door.

Floch is chained down by the belief that Armin was the wrong person to revive, and it was a decision born of emotion by Eren and Levi. He tells this to Armin’s face, and stands his ground when Eren gets in his face, because he believes has nothing left to lose. He already lost it all, and believes winning is no longer possible.

The conviction of his words shakes Armin to the core. He can’t help but agree with Floch that he shouldn’t have been the one saved, and that he has no idea how to turn things around. Armin is about to walk right back into his prison when Eren tries to encourage him that it’s too early to say, at least until they finally see what’s beyond the wall.

Since they were kids, Eren and Armin believed freedom was beyond the wall. But now that Eren has been beyond it, though his father’s memories and those of Kruger before him, to which he is now privy, but is being very careful about revealing what he knows to anyone else. In trying to comfort Armin, Eren only ends up bumming himself out when he dredges up the horrible scene of Faye torn to shreds by Marley dogs.

At the award ceremony, a fully decked-out Queen Historia presents the nine surviving scouts with medals of valor. Eren will do anything, including casting his life aside, to prevent a repeat of Faye’s fate. Anything except sacrificing Historia. And yet, upon taking her hand and kissing it, he pauses, leading Historia to wonder what is amiss.

Eren is remembering the day Grisha stormed into the Reiss chapel, before defeating Freida and eating her. He wears a subtler version of the same crazed, horror-filled face his father wore. Is there really hope beyond the walls, or only despair? Can freedom be achieved without harming Historia, or is Eren as much of a slave to this “cycle” as all who came before him?

Following that ceremony and Eren’s look of horror, a year passes. Wall Maria is purged of all Titans. Refugees return to their homes and begin to rebuild. The Scout Regiment rides again, beyond Maria, into the great frontier. A year older yet somehow much cooler-looking Eren, Mikasa and Armin are among them.

After finding a particularly unfortunate Titan whom Eren identifies as a “fellow patriot” sent to Paradis transformed, and left to crawl along the earth at an infinitesimal pace, he and the scouts simply leave it behind and continue pushing forward, through valleys and sands that were once only illustrations in Eren and Armin’s book.

And then, just like that, they arrive at the edge of the island of Paradis and glimpse the sea for the very first time. It is one of the most epic moments of the entire series, and it’s sold quite well. Everyone is in a giddy sort of shock about it, like it doesn’t quite feel real. They taste the water, splash around, have fun. And why not? It’s a gorgeous day and they’re at the beach!  It’s the kind of day dreams are made of.

As Armin dredges up a distinctive shell (notably empty), the breakers cause Mikasa, standing beside him, to stumble, but she manages to regain her balance. After a beat, Mikasa’s face shifts from surprise to sheepishness, before flashing perhaps her first genuine smile in six years; a smile which Armin returns. Honestly, her sequence of expressions was almost as momentous as the initial sight of the ocean.

Eren, who gesturally speaking is apparently still in that “phase” Levi mentioned to Hange, points dramatically to the horizon, to Marley, and tells his friends for the first time that he was wrong: freedom didn’t lie beyond the sea, enemies did.

As for whether killing all of their enemies will free them once and for all, that remains a question to hopefully be answered in the fourth—and most likely final—season of Shingeki no Kyojin, to air in 2020. Until then, we are all of us trapped in a new prison…of waiting.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 15 – The Flag

This episode was not for the faint of heart. Once faced with her past tormentor, Lord Idol Rabier, memories and emotions from Raphtalia’s past start to flow out like water from a spigot. She remembers her village, and her best friend Rifana, as she has her sword pointed at Idol’s neck.

But Idol only cowers so long, and when he learns she’s one of the demi-humans he used to torture in his dungeon, he draws a hidden sword and puts up a fight. He ends up tripping on his own whip and falling backwards out a window to his apparent death. Raphtalia then decides to investigate the dungeon, and Naofumi, Filo, and Van accompany her.

As she walks with Raphtalia through the dungeon where she once spent an untold duration suffering pointless beatings at Idol’s hand, Melty is disgusted that such things went on in her kingdom right under her nose. Unfortunately, the truth is Idol is not the only one perpetrating such heinous acts.

Raphtalia, meanwhile, continues to dredge up memories, both of her village being raided by Idol, to being carted off to the dungeon with Rifana, to the beatings. Through it all, Raphtalia tried to obey her late father (killed in the Wave) and keep smiling, even in the hardest times. During the beatings, Raphtalia defiantly won’t cry out, but maintains a semblance of a smile.

Her friend Rifana doesn’t fare as well; she loses the will to eat and soon grows weak and feverish. While Raphtalia clings to her duty to smile in order to keep others’ spirits up, the one thing keeping Rifana going is her hope that they can return to their village and raise their flag, the flag that was proof that the demi-humans were able to build their own village.

All Raphtalia can offer her is a small flag made from a stick and scrap of cloth, but she’s grateful even for that. Then one day, the two are ripped apart, as Raphtalia is sold to a slave merchant, leading to her eventual purchase by her and Rifana’s favorite hero, that of the shield. Back in the present they find three survivors in the dungeons, the third being her old friend Keel.

After Naofumi heals him, Raph asks Keel where Rifana is, and he tells her. While she must have hoped the rest of her life that the Shield Hero would save her, he came too late; there’s nothing left of Rifana but her skeleton, still clutching the little flag Raph gave her not long before they were parted.

It’s a sickeningly awful sight to behold, and it causes Raph to break down into a fit of despair and self-hatred. She curses herself for not being able to protect anyone, and deems herself unworthy of standing beside the Shield Hero.

Of course, Naofumi has something to say about this, and assures her she did nothing wrong. On the contrary, the only reason he didn’t fall into his own pit of despair and run away from his duty as hero is because he met her, the first person he could really trust, and which led to meeting Filo and Melty.

On another plane, Raphtalia says goodbye to Rifana before gathering her earthly remains for a proper burial. Then she and the others return to the surface, where not only is Idol still alive (they really should have checked to make sure he wasn’t), but is in the process of summoning a monstrous beast sealed away by past heroes…for revenge, I guess?

Once summoned, the T.Rex-like monster promptly steps on Idol, reducing him to a flat film of pulp. It’s a fittingly unceremonious, darkly comic end for a character who was never anything more subtle than sniveling evil incarnate—good riddance! As for our dino-pal, I’m sure he’s a tough customer but likely nowhere near as formidable as, say, Glass, so I’m confident Naofumi, Raph and Filo can take care of it.

But damn, what a dark past Raphtalia had. Hopefully her unplanned trip to the site of the worst times of her life, and putting Rifana to proper rest, will give her some closure and end the nightmares. Not to mention she was able to rescue Keel and two other demi-humans, who would have certainly shared Rifana’s fate were it not for her.

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