Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 10 – A Better Snowman

Dang photo bombers…your ruining the shot!

Knowing it would be hard-pressed to top last week’s full-length Takagi x Nishikata wonder-date, this week’s episode doesn’t bother; instead it returns to the warm, cozy, less dramatic flow of the couple’s interactions. Last week wasn’t an official acknowledgment that they’re dating now, but such a formality isn’t needed with these two. They’re fine just existing beside one another, fitting like, well, gloves!

To whit: the two didn’t plan to meet at the shrine visit; their families just happened to come at the same time. It sure looks like those two married couples were their parents, doesn’t it? I feel like at some point they’ll have to meet each other’s parents, but that they don’t mean we get more time with these two. hen Takagi is called back to her folks, Nishikata says they should do it again next year…which she says happened to be her shrine wish. Who’s to say it wasn’t?

Yes, that’s right…make that ball bigger…

The next segment is classic Master Teaser, with Takagi up to her old tricks in cornering Nishikata into a snowman-building contest knowing full well that he’ll get to ambitious. While he’s sweatily rolling dirty lumpen mounds trying to build a Snow Titan, Takagi puts a lot of time and care and quite effortlessly builds the cutest lil’ snowman in all the land…so cute Nishikata doubts he’d have won. even if he’d finished…which Takagi helps him do.

NGL, from a distance this looks like a confession…

After Nishikata’s friends and the three girls have their little mini-scenes talking about the new year, we come to “Advice”, when Houjou takes Nishikata aside and asks him what he thinks Hamaguchi might like for his birthday. Yuuki Aoi is masterful at sounding both mature and incredibly hot-and-cold. For his part, Nishikata is both thoughtful and helpful. Then Houjou asks him to keep their chat a secret.

Little did Nishikata know that Takagi spotted him talking with Houjou, and asks him what about. When Nishikata demurs, she guesses correctly on the first guess, and pretty much knows, but Nishikata still won’t break his secret. Takagi’s facial expressions are so subtle here, but you can tell she’s a little mad Nishikata is keeping something from her…even if she knows what it is with 99.99% certainty!

Takagi expresses her jealousy by trying to stoke Nishikata’s, saying she wants to know what to get a “15-year-old boy”—not a Chihuahua, but a third-year middle schooler. This does affect Nishikata, who doesn’t want to give advice for some other guy…even though these two spend so much time together he would know of such a guy!

Of course, this time, Takagi is referring to Nishikata on his next birthday. He’s quite relieved, and apologizes for not being able to break his promise. Takagi apologizes too, owning up to the fact she did do something a little mean. When Nishikata asks her why she doesn’t always think that, she says this and her usual gentle teasing are two different things!

When Nishikata flat-out asks Takagi why she teases him, her answer is as expected…“Who knows?” But she knows, and so does Nishikata, and it’s the same reason they’re already making plans for spending next year together.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 09 – The Thing You Wanted Most

Once, in a blue moon, an anime gives you exactly what you want. This was one of those times. All I wanted was to bask in the adorable bliss of Takagi and Nishikata’s 100% Unrequited Love: The Movie Date, and that is what I got. No school, no ancillary characters…just our main couple, together, like they were always meant to be.

The show teases us a bit by starting with Nishikata’s dream of “SanTa-kagi” visiting his home in the middle of the night and giving him a gag gift, then shows us Takagi at the ferry pier looking lonely and a little worried…until she spots Nishikata running to her, late and apologetic.

Nishikata realizes that with the year about to end he hasn’t scored a single victory against Takagi; a wrong he’s determined to right. After the ferry ride, he suggests they kill time at an arcade, and come across a new 100% crane game. His heart is set on the Kyunko+Ikeo plushie set, but tries to go for the easier score: a puzzle.

He fails, losing both to Takagi and to himself for trying for the easy win at the cost of what he really wanted. Then it’s Takagi’s turn at the controls and she quickly and effortlessly acquires the plushie set…which she can tell was the thing Nishikata really wanted, and so immediately gifts to him. She’s simply happy to have done something to make him happy.

When the two move on to the movie theater, Nishikata is very cognizant of the fact that some “couples” there might be fake couples who are only putting on airs so they can get the special gift for couples. While he considers himself and Takagi to be one of those “couples of convenience”, he’s determined to pass them off as a real couple (which of course they actually are).

This results in him strutting up to one of the attendants and declaring “two tickets for the Nishikata couple”—rather than Nishikata reservation—both surprising and delighting Takagi in the process. They also decide to go in on a “100% In Love Set”—two sodas and a large popcorn to share. Before heading into the theater, Nishikata hangs back to go to the bathroom, but he really just needs some time alone to write a Christmas card for Takagi.

When he enters the theater and spots the familiar back of Takagi’s head, he thinks to himself “I’m gonna sit…right next to her?” Yes you are, Nishikata, and you’ll like it! The two unwrap the special couple gift, which turns out to be a set of miniature figurines of a Santa Ikeo giving Shunko a Christmas gift.

The movie starts, and as the two lovebird dip into the popcorn their hands touch. As we know, the same voice actors who voice them also voice Shunko and Ikeo. The two thoroughly enjoy the movie, with Nishikata unable to hold back tears as the credits roll.

After the movie, the two stroll around town a bit, with Takagi asking Nishikata what kind of girl is his type, guessing that it’s someone like Kyunko—a bit of a klutz but also earnest and kind and always trying her best. Nishikata says he doesn’t think of Kyunko quite that way, and that’s to be expected, as he’s the Kyunko to Takagi’s Ikeo in their relationship!

Quite suddenly, Takagi challenges Nishikata to a race to an electric pole, which he wins easily, netting him his first and only “win” of the year, just what he wanted. Naturally, he gets totally full of himself and believes he simply cannot lose to Takagi, proving it by having her guess which hand he has a coin in.

Later, she bumps into him from behind, and, sensing something’s up, asks her straight-up what’s up with her. Turns out she decided to try acting like the klutzy-yet-earnest Kyunko for a little while, hoping he’d think she was cute. But Nishikata likes Takagi the way she is, teasing and all.

Takagi just happens to pose in front of the town Christmas tree as it lights up, spurning Nishikata to produce his Christmas present to her: a pair of gloves to keep her hands warm. Takagi can’t hide her surprise, nor her joy, at being given a thoughtful gift by the boy she likes. Nishikata notes that this isn’t turning out anything like his dream…which is good!

Takagi then gives Nishikata her Christmas gift to him: a scarf she made for him, partly while they were on library duty. Then they board the ferry back home, and Nishikata walks Takagi to her house, and they wave goodbye to each other. There’s no classic “confession” scene…but there doesn’t have to be one.

Nishikata walks, then runs home full of joy, having experienced perhaps the best day of his life. The Christmas card he bought and wrote for Takagi was advertised at the store as something “to someone you care about!” Turns out Takagi bought the very same card for him.

So while the actual messaging on the cards is somewhat cordial—he writes “Thanks for everything today”; she writes “Thanks for another fun year”—the more important message conveyed to one another is that they wrote those messages on a card they bought knowing it was for someone they cared about. Someone they love spending time with.

I don’t see how Nishikata can ever dare to deny who Takagi is to him anymore. Not after he, and Takagi, and all of us got everything we could have ever asked for, and more, out of the Best Date Ever.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Shin no Nakama – 09 – Warm Hands, Full Hearts

Ruti takes Tisse and their Fisher-Price airship and head for Zoltan to break an alchemist out of jail. Why is the Hero abandoning the rest of her party to do crimes? Because the goatman gave her a sample of the Devil’s Blessing, which weakens her Hero’s Blessing and makes her more human.

She wants a steady supply of the drug, and she trusts Tisse. We get more time with the tiny assassin than all previous episodes combined, and thanks to the legendary Kugimiya Rie (Tisse’s seiyu) and the adorable Crawly Wawly, all of that time is a delight. This is an episode full of jokes that keep things light, unlike the last two weeks where all the self-serious plotting got on my nerves.

I also said the last two weeks that all I really care about is the main couple, but that’s not true; I always cared about Ruti and was fascinated by the curse of her Blessing, and now I care about her and Tisse, who hides the fact that she’s a sweaty bundle of nerves beneath her cool exterior.

Speaking of cool, Winter has come to Zoltan, and business at Red and Rit’s is slow since people don’t want to leave their homes. Rit suggests Red craft a hand warmer similar to the ones form Loggervia, and they’re a big hit in town. Rit saves one warmer for her and Red to share, strolling until they find a private park bench where they  can cuddle and smooch.

That’s the good stuff right there: the Quiet Life of the show’s very long title that both OP and ED promise and that drew me to this show to begin with. That said, that coziness blends well with the gently building tension as Ruti and Tisse get closer to Zoltan, but don’t run into Red and Rit immediately.

In fact, both Ruti and Red end up dealing with the same bridge knight seeking to challenge anyone who crosses. Ruti easily dispatches him into the river where he loses all of his possession. When he challenges Red in nothing but his bear boxers, Red does the same thing, and he loses he boxers too.

Tisse encounters Red first, not knowing who he is when they’re sitting beside each other at a very chill udon stand. As both are seasoned professionals, they quickly but discreetly size one another up and determine that they could be trouble; Tisse because she’s a capable assassin, and Red because Tisse can tell he’s a far stronger knight than the one who lost his drawers.

As expected, Ruti has no trouble at all executing a prison break and extracting Godwin, the alchemist, who will make as much of whatever Ruti wants if she just stops staring at him. The next morning Tisse wakes up to find Ruti didn’t sleep…but you get the feeling if she had enough Devil’s Blessing, she could, and she wants to.

What leads Ruti and Red to finally cross paths at the very end of the episode is nothing contrived, but a practical matter of Ruti not wanting to heal Godwin’s wounds with her Hero’s magic lest her cover be blown. For that, she needs an apothecary, and Tisse, who had already scouted the whole place, knows where the best one is.

What Ruti didn’t know is that the apothecary is the same guy who she met at the udon stand. Fresh from a fairy hamlet on Zoltan’s outskirts where he healed a very blue, very pretty, very naked undine from a cold-like curse that seems to be going around, there he is, welcoming new customers. When Ruti and Red lock eyes and realize that fate has brought them together, Ruti can’t conceal her overflowing happiness.

With tears of joy in her eyes and a huge smile, she pounces on her onii-chan with abandon. I suspect the beautiful reunion will be somewhat marred once Red learns Ruti is in Zoltan to procure drugs that make her a weaker hero. In any case, this week was a marked improvement on the previous two.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 09 – 3 Cats and a Kotatsu

I’m still thinking about Episode 8, so I knew it would be hard to top it…for anything to top it anytime soon. Episode 9 doesn’t come close…but it does begin with the three Nyamazon cats shooting the shit like three wise old farts under a kotatsu. It’s just the latest reminder that predicting what Sonny Boy will throw at you from one week to the next is like trying to predict every move in a chess game when you’re not in the same room.

The cats, famous lovers of warmth, are under the kotatsu because outside the kotatsu is a frozen, snowy world. Nozomi, Nagara, Yamabiko, and their human Mizuho have traveled there to try to settle a thousands-of-years-old battle between two twins over who has the most hairs on their head (one claims to have one more). But it’s also a look back at Mizuho, and how the white cat Sakura believes she can’t survive without the three of them.

Honestly, the twin story is a bit dull, but it at least ties into the concept of duplication, which we learn is to be Mizuho’s true power. Everything the cats deliver to Mizuho and the others is a copy of products from the original world they came from. While Mizuho’s inner circle certainly wouldn’t hold it against her, the cats, who have been with Mizuho since she was a kid and still believe her to be one, are determined to keep it under wraps.

It’s Yamabiko who approaches Sakura with his suspicion that everything the cats deliver is copies. Sakura then admits that Rajdhani had previously figured out that Mizuho had copied everyone from the world, and now they’re drifting as copies of the people they once were, both the same and different, like the twins. Mind you, this dawned on Rajdhani when two copies of a tick dating Game Boy game(!) arrived, even though he knows there was only ever one in existence.

Yet Rajdhani didn’t tell a soul, proving to the cats he had “a fine character, for being so hairless”. Two copies were made of Sou Seiji, like someone accidentally ordering two of something on Amazon by clicking twice.

Sakura is caught in a bear trap to be a sacrifice of one of the twins, but Mizuho and Yamabiko save her. When armed with a gold ray gun by the shit-stirrer Aki-sensei, the other twin ends up with another ray gun, resulting in a duel that ends with only one twin standing, only for that surviving twin to take his own life.

Mixed in with this is how Asakaze seems to be making a habit of lashing out at Nozomi for not liking him romantically, leading to her spending the night outside sulking. One of the cats keeps her company all night, and in the blood red morning Nagara joins them, thanking her for “showing him the light”, leading him to change.

In a world full of copies and sheep, Nozomi, Nagara, Mizuho and Yamabiko (not to mention Rajdhani) stand out as one-of-a-kind souls who all thank the likes of Aki-sensei or Asakaze to let them pick their own places.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 09 – Secondborns Roasting on an Open Fire

It’s Christmas, and for the first time, Bocchan is going to host a party. Caph and Zain are coming, and so is Viola with the gift of a handkerchief for Rob. When their mom insists that Viola spend Christmas with “family” she does just that: by spending it with her dear brother. Strangely enough, Walter ends up doing so as well, as he replaces Viola’s driver in order to get a better idea of who he’s dealing with in Bocchan.

Zain ends up finally telling Caph she’s pretty while she’s apparently napping, but she was actually awake and heard his words. In her haste to see Rob, Viola drops her gift, which is picked up by Walter, who then finds a Santa costume in the hall and puts it on just as Caph crosses paths with him. Since Caph still believes in Santa she assumes the gift is for her.

As Caph and Viola bicker over the gift, Walter comes down the chimney in a cloud of soot and issues a challenge his older brother: the first one to discover the secret of the curse will become the new head of the family. As for their mother, well, she gets to eat dinner alone, because she’s an awful bitch who tried and failed to ruin at least two of her three kids!

As the new prologue to episodes states, Bocchan is never lonely, ever since he decided not to give up, and to instead spend his days together with Alice, whom he loves and who loves him in return. Alice very much wants a kiss under the mistletoe, and part of me thought this was the moment they learned the curse didn’t affect her…but she settles for sharing the “coldness” of the snow by lying down next to Bocchan after he trips and falls.

It’s a pleasant if somewhat static episode. I couldn’t care less about Walter and his challenge, but it was sweet to see Zain and Caph’s relationship take a baby step forward. As for the curse, there’s still three episodes to break it. Better get cracking, Bocchan!

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 08 – Beauty and the Grouch

This week’s first segment introduces us to Bocchan’s younger brother Walter, and…he’s a lot. First and foremost, he’s a bit of an arrogant prick, already measuring the drapes for his ascension to head of the family. He’s also got a complex about being called the secondborn son…even though that’s what he is. His goofy antics and physical comedy aside, Walter is not a good guy. At least Viola visits her big brother and treats him like a person!

While her official stance is neutral, I imagine Viola prefers Bocchan to Walter, and hopes he’ll break the curse. During her latest visit, she meets Caph, initially assumes she’s a burglar (not a bad instinct!) and attempts to tackle her, only to bounce off her bust. Then she sits on Caph and ties her up by the fire, which is the scene Rob walks in on, much to Viola’s dismay.

While Viola is charming, cute and fun to watch, the real meat of the episode comes in the final extended segment, during which both Bocchan and Alice play a game of chess during a snowy winter night and reminisce about a similar night years ago, when Alice was appointed Bocchan’s maid. Bocchan was in a much darker, more nihilistic emotional place then, and his first instincts were to dismiss Alice and suspect she’s laughing at him on the inside.

This is because, no doubt due in part to the trauma of suffering the witch’s curse, he doesn’t remember Alice. He certainly isn’t aware of just how momentous him taking her hand and helping her off the ground meant to her at that difficult time in her life. That’s right: the kid who now kills anything he touches once essentially saved Alice’s life…with his touch.

No matter how many insults Bocchan flings Alice’s way or derides her mere presence, or tells her he flat out hates her, Alice does not bend, at least not in front of him; we see a rare moment of her vulnerability after he leaves his room and sighs. When he gives her an ultimatum of cleaning his rock starred-up room in three days or she’s fired, she does it in one night, even though she cuts up her fingers picking up shards of glass.

When Bocchan sees Alice isn’t leaving, he decides to leave instead, trudging out into a winter storm until he’s lost and freezing. It’s then that he decides it would be better to just die than continue living the joke of a life he’s endured thus far, unable to touch or be touched.

But it’s while lying in the snow that he finally remembers who Alice was. That’s when Alice arrives to help him up the way he helped her up years ago. The only difference is there’s an umbrella between their hands this time. Alice fell for Bocchan that day, and never stopped falling for him since.

The Witch told Bocchan “No one shall love you, and you shall love no one. You will live a life of misery.” But that’s no longer true once the two come in from the cold and warm themselves by the fire. Alice does love and care for Bocchan, then and always, and Bocchan soon comes to love her right back as the misery in his life gives way to that love and the joy it brings.

Could it be that ever since that snowy night, the witch’s curse has been broken all this time, except that he can only touch Alice? If Bocchan can touch Alice, could it be long before he can safely touch Viola, or Rob, or Caph and Zain, or Walter…or even his mother? Maybe it will all come down to loving and being loved. We shall see in the final third of Duke of Death and His Maid

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 04 – The Witch and the Snow Fairy

After three weeks of chiding her for getting so close to him, one day Alice is keeping her distance, seemingly avoiding Bocchan. When he tries to approach her, she Shunpos away like a Shinigami out of Bleach. But he soon deduces that she’s caught a cold and doesn’t want to give it to him.

Defying her caution, he tucks her into bed in her cottage and vows to stay by her side until she’s better. It’s a lovely inversion of their usual dynamic, with Alice seeminly capable of anything while Bocchan is weak an ineffectual.

Winter has come to Bocchan’s villa, and with it a fresh blanket of morning snow. The episode really captures the childlike glee that comes with the first sight of such a snowfall (assuming you’re not trying to drive to work that morning).

Bocchan is similarly elated to get to see Alice set against the pure white backdrop, accentuating her loveliness. The two and Rob build a snowman and have a spirited snowball fight, with Alice demonstrating she also has Matrix-like powers of evasion.

In the midst of all the wintry fun, Alice loses one of her earrings, which belonged to her mother and is thus precious and irreplaceable. By the time she realizes it’s gone it’s nighttime and snowing harder, but Bocchan goes out unbidden to dig through the snow looking for it.

The conditions quickly sap his energy, and he’s soon lying in the snow, exhausted. This is how the witch Caph finds him, and when she hears what hes doing, for whom, and why, and that he won’t give up, her initially hostile stance softens, and she decides to help him with her fire magic.

The earring thus found, Bocchan and Caph go in and the witch is introduced to Alice. A lazier or more obvious choice would be to make Alice jealous of Caph for vice versa, but the two women get along famously, and in any case, Caph apparently has her own guy friend whom she admires and adores the similar to how Bocchan and Alice adore each other.

What she doesn’t have is any concrete answers for Bocchan about his curse or how to break it, no matter how much Alice plies her with food, tea, and dessert. Caph is sympathetic to Bocchan’s plight and has even taken a shine to the guy, but she doesn’t consider herself anywhere near the league of the witch who did this to him.

Caph flies off in her bat form, but I’m sure she’ll be back. The next day while outside touching up the Bocchan snowman, Alice recalls a memory from when she was bullied by the rich kids for not being rich, even though she was adorable. Only Bocchan was kind to her, dusting the snow off of her (he could touch people at the time) and saying she looks like a beautiful snow fairy when set against the white powder.

It really brings into focus Alice’s love and devotion to Bocchan, and when he says the same thing he said back then—that she’s like a snow fairy—Alice can’t help but chortle gleefully, for her beloved Bocchan has scarcely changed in all these years. Indeed, the main change is the curse, about which hopefully something will be done before this series concludes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 10 – The Girls of Winter

For me, there are few things better than waking up in a warm cozy bed, pulling open the curtains and discovering that the world has become white—or silver, as Koguma puts it—with a fresh, immaculate coat of snow. So when Koguma does just this, I can relate.

And while she prepares for a day in, as she doesn’t want to try to ride on the slick roads, Reiko gives her a call demanding she come to the cabin, and Koguma braves the suddenly very steep and terrifying hill from her apartment building. She’s rewarded with tire chains for her Cub.

Once properly affixed to the tires, Koguma and Reiko can truly go wherever the fuck they want, and they decide to head up into the mountains for a bit of mechanical horseplay. Koguma crashes her Cub for the first time ever, but thanks to the thick, soft snow, she’s able to pop right back up and remount her trusty steel steed.

She even follows Reiko in doing some jumps and then basically riding around so wildly that they both crash almost on purpose. Especially when they remove their helmets and layers, I kept waiting for a chime and message to pop up saying “Do not attempt. Messing around on motorbikes can cause serious injury or death”…but it never came!

We’ve seen Reiko continually battle Fujiyama, but this is the first time we’ve seen Koguma really cut loose and go wild, following her friend’s lead. There’s a wonderful sense of momentousness mixed with mundaneness in watching them share their usual bikeside meal with such a majestic alpine backdrop.

After lunch, it’s back to playing with their Cubs in the snow. Reiko starts a snowball fight, but Koguma escalates by peeling out her Cub so it shoots loads of snow on Reiko in retaliation. They wrap up their fun but tiring day with a relaxing cup of joe at Buerre, assuring Shii that she can join them next time, with Reiko joking that she’ll stuff her in her cargo box.

As winter goes on, Koguma and Reiko continue to augment their riding kit with ever-thicker, warmer, tougher gear. All the while, Koguma can tell Shii is working hard on converting part of Buerre to an Italian café. While having coffee there with Shii out, her dad says he’s glad she’s finally enjoying the quirky Alex Moulton bike he gave her, and that it’s as if she’s trying to catch up to Koguma and Reiko. But for the record, he’s happy the girls are insipiring Shii.

Unfortunately, while neither Koguma nor Reiko have ever suffered any serious injuries from riding, Shii isn’t so lucky on her Moulton. I’d say it was inevitable the winter would claim someone, but I figured it would be one of the girls suffering a fever or something. Certainly not the realization of a parent’s worst and most absurd fears: “What if you were in a ditch somewhere?!”

Well, Shii is in a ditch, half submerged in icy water and apparently unable to move. Thankfully she’s able to call Koguma, and Koguma answers. Hopefully she (perhaps with help from Reiko and Shii’s parents) will track her down and she’ll be okay. But that doesn’t lessen the sheer horror of seeing Shii in that position, or the audacity of the episode simply ending without getting her out of danger!

Fruits Basket – 53 – Let’s Make Footprints Together

Kuragi Machi hates perfection. She hates it wherever it is, such that when presented with a fresh box of chalk, she must dash it on the floor, shattering every piece. Two classmates report her stunt to Yuki at the StuCo office, mentioning a rumor she was kicked out of her home for trying to kill her brother. Machi stops by the office just in time to see her classmates have spread the rumor to Yuki, and runs off with her awful parents’ voices in her head.

Manabe partially corroborates the classmates’ story, but he admits he only knows the story the parents fed him, so it might not be true. What Manabe does know is that he once watched Machi obsessively make footprints in the freshly fallen snow. Manabe takes Yuki to Machi’s apartment, which Yuki charitiably describes as the “Sea of Decay”, while Manabe hands him one of her bras. Manabe then leaves the two alone to take out the trash.

Manabe leaves the two alone to take out the trash, and as Yuki tapes her cracked window, Machi tells him to ask and believe whatever he wants, since she’s given up trying to set the record straight. Yuki rather easily deduces that Machi is bothered by orderly things. It harkens to the fact her awful parents demanded absolute perfection, then dismissed her as boring and lacking in individuality.

When her little brother was born, her parents got the son they wanted, and had no further use for her. Yuki rejects her being something her parents “got wrong”, as she worked hard to be the Machi he knows and he’s glad she’s there. Machi admits she was never jealous of her brother; she was only trying to place a blanket on him when she thought he might get cold.

It was her psycho mom who accused her of trying to kill him, leading to her exile and the rumors. Then Yuki says if the snow piles up, he’ll make footprints in it with her. That hella-smooth line almost leads to a kiss between the two, were it not for the unsilenced phone of an  eavesdropping Manabe.

The next day at the StuCo meeting, Kimi thoughtlessly slides another fresh box of chalk in Machi’s face, but just as Machi is freaking out, Yuki reaches over and snaps one of the pieces without interrupting his announcements.

For the first time, Machi looks forward to the next time it snows, while I look forward to Machi and Yuki growing closer. After the meeting, Yuki makes a quick check-in and is just in time to save Tooru from a ladder off which Kyou falls. Then he heads to an “appointment” with none other than graduating senior Minagawa Motoko.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Motoko despite her often underhanded tactics to get a little closer to Yuki, so I was perfectly fine with her getting a proper sendoff scene here, in which she wants to make clear and plain her feelings to Yuki not so he’ll return them, but just so he knows she loved him, he made her school days happy, and she hopes he’ll find happiness too, or greater happiness if he’s already happy.

We then learn why Nao has been so hostile towards Yuki and even called him his “rival”, when he locates Motoko giving the classroom one last look and tries his best to make his feelings known to her. Like she did with Yuki, it’s more about wishing her well in the future than confessing and expecting an answer, and Motoko’s response seems more than enough for Nao.

The final few minutes are a grab bag, as Hiro meets his baby sister Hinata, Kagura worries about Isuzu’s whereabouts to Hatori and Shigure, and Isuzu emerges from what looks like a building on the Souma compound, donning a white robe and having just cut her hair short. I couldn’t help but notice how closely she resembles Akito from behind, and that might just be intentional on her part. To be continued…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Combatants Will Be Dispatched! Dropped

With a full slate of shows to follow this Spring, I needed Combatants to really knock one out of the park in its third week to justify keeping it around and…it just didn’t. It was a dull, dreary affair, full of sloppy character models, sketchy animation, unfunny comedy, and a cast that are rehashes of Konosuba characters, only less likeable. Agent Six it probably the show’s biggest misfire, as the show is well aware that he’s supposed to be an dishonorable bastard, but gives us zero reasons to want to watch him.

Combatants Will Be Dispatched! – 02 – Assembling a Team

With far less exposition to dump on us, this week’s CWBD is an improvement, flowing much better structurally and focusing on its kooky characters, like the artificial combat chimera Rose and Grimm, archpriest of Zenarith, god of undeath and disaster.

While both are eccentric to say the least, Alice deems them two of the more powerful assets at their disposal. With their ultimate goal of defeating the Demon Lord in mind, they can’t be picky about personalities.

And just like KonoSuba, there’s nobody here whose personality you’d call “normal.” Alice comes closest, but she’s an android. Six continues to be a cad, racking up Evil Points. Rose is a timid glutton who has a sinister chuunibyou side. Grimm wants a man, and Six would seem to do. Grimm and Rose were both exploited by the military as frontline weapons.

The newly-formed party first tastes battle after harassing a demon lord army supply train, which distresses Snow because she wants more exciting frontline combat so she can affort to pay off her sword (the news she clawed her way to where she is from nothing makes her character more interesting).

Then two of the Demon Lord’s Elite Four arrive: the voluptuous Heine of the Flame (whose “cosplay” reminds Six of his comely bosses back home), and Gadalkand of the Earth, who straight up murders Grimm, just like that!

Even though his sole interaction with her was catching a glimpse of her thong, Six still wants to avenge Grimm, but Gadalkand and Heine both withdraw before he can fight them. Then he learns from Snow and Rose that due to her demon blood and position as Zenarith priest, she comes back to life no matter how many times she dies…which should prove quite handy!

While Six continues to be, for the most part, pretty scummy, he comes off far better this week, especially when he sits vigil over Grimm’s corpse in the temple of Zenarith. When she wakes up, she’s surprised he’s there because he didn’t want her to be lonely.

The episode closes on a sweet note, as Six orders her a spiffy new Kisaragi-brand wheelchair and the two go on an adorable date racing through the wastelands and breaking up couples in a village. This is still no KonoSuba, but I came away from this second episode feeling like it’s starting to find its own voice, and liking everyone just a little bit more.

Combatants Will Be Dispatched! – 01 (First Impressions) – Falling From Grace

With the director of Master Teaser Takagi-san (and this years excellent Those Snow White Notes!) and the creator of KonoSuba, you could say my hopes for this series were somewhat inflated from the get-go. So I regret to report that while this opening episode of Combatants Will Be Dispatched! was okay, it was not great. It didn’t come close to meeting those hopes.

We open with our (anti)hero Combat Agent Six meeting with two busty women in elaborate, skimpy fantasy cosplay and equally lofty names and titles. Everything is serious for the first few seconds as they inform Six of his mission to investigate an Earth-like planet. But then Six calls out Astaroth and Belial for their chuunibyou getup and dialogue.

While this knocking on the fourth wall is a common occurrence in KonoSuba, and it’s intriguing that Six’s two bosses have real Japanese names, his joking around felt premature and forced here, which can be said about a lot of the ensuing comedy. KonoSuba’s jokes based on Kazuma’s perviness and fish-out-of-water status was comparatively so natural and effortless.

It doesn’t help that right off the bat these characters are all some combination of generic, unlikeable, and inconsistent. Astaroth and Belial seem to be in a position of authority, yet Six apparently helped the two found the “Kisaragi Corporation” they all work for, and Astaroth even seems to be harboring a crush on him.

Why, then, does Six let the two women, along with generic “scientist girl” Lilith, boss him around by shoving him into a teleport tube to this random planet? Six is introduced to the “high spec pretty girl” android Alice and shoved in a teleport tube before there’s any satisfying explanation of what exactly is going on. The episode is waving its hands at us saying “just go with it,” but I’d have preferred something more solid to go with!

My initial theory, as Six and Alice are dispatched to the Earth-like world (appearing 30,000 meters above the surface) is that Astaroth, Belial, Lilith and Six are gamers in some kind of VR-RPG. That explains how they alternate between playing their roles as agents of universal domination and a group of regular human friends.

The remainder of the episode is all about Six landing in a vast ruddy alien wasteland, heading to a nearby city, and learning about his new android assistant. Alice’s primary feature is an apparently city-leveling self-destruct, which calls to mind KonoSuba’s Megumin’s all-or-nothing Explosion. Otherwise she’s just a little girl, and as such, when packs of dog-like beasts attack, it’s up to Six to defend them.

Alice also serves as a rather clumsy provider of exposition, explaining how Six amasses “Evil Points” by doing bad shit, which he can then spend on stuff by writing it on paper and scanning that paper with a gizmo on his wrist. While somewhat novel, it seems like a rather inefficient system. Also, while we know Six starts out with 300 Evil Points, we don’t learn how many he spends to put a shotgun in Alice’s arms.

The show seems to be full of decisions and details that force me to think about why those choices were made instead of just sitting back and enjoying the silliness. Alice just said she was physically just a little kid, yet we see her moments later wielding a shotgun without issue. And why just a plain-old shotgun? It’s a fantasy anime, why not come up with a more imaginative weapon?

After defeating the beasts, Six and Alice are approached by Snow, a female knight straight out of SAO. While initially both suspicious of the two but otherwise noble and dignified, Snow’s not-always-hidden “other side” is apparently extremely obsessed with recognition, money, and glory—in the same way Darkness is obsessed with being punished and ravaged.

Snow is also the personal knight for the Kingdom of Grace’s lovely Princess Tillis, and she’s apparently such a good bodyguard that she lets two total strangers—a highly-trained spy and his android assistant/bomb—into the same room with their weapons! Grace is also a land where real-world items like tanks are regarded as mysterious ancient artifacts.

One such artifact used to make it rain in the kingdom, but is malfunctioning. Alice shows her worth by fixing it, only for Six to insist on resetting the activation password to “Dick Festival”. He helpfully explains that making Princess Tillis say those words will net him Evil Points, and I can’t argue with him there.

The problem is, Tillis’ father, who I’ll call “King Santa” for now, would also have to say those words, so Six and Alice end up tied up. Even so, the King is grateful the artifact was repaired, and Tillis, citing her country’s desperate need for warriors to fight beasts, decides to make Six one of her knights. Snow is dubious, but Six reminds her she said she’d take “full responsibility” for whatever happened with the rain-making machine.

As a result, Snow essentially gets demoted to Sir Six’s XO in their interceptor group. Along with Alice, the three-person party has been set—I just wish I was more excited about it! Not helping matters is the fact that while overall the series looks fine, there are some glaring off-character model moments that are less excusable in a first episode whose job is to impress.

But mostly, Dispatched! is too similar to KonoSuba not to invite unfavorable comparisons to the older series, which not only aired first but crucially also aired at a time when I frankly had more of a stomach for Kazuma / Six / Rudy’s pervy antics. If I’m sick of Six’s schtick one episode in, it does not bode well for the future.

The next-episode preview is presented as a broadcast on a TV in Kisaragi Corp.’s break/club room as Astaroth, Belial and Lilith have tea and snacks, adding credence to my theory the “corporation” is more of a gaming club formed in high school. We’ll see if the show can redeem itself next week.

Re: Zero – 50 (S2 Fin) – Number One Knight

The only thing standing between Subaru & Co. and winning the day is one of the Three Great Mabeasts, the Great Rabbit, who surround the Graveyard just as Subaru returns from the mansion with a newly-revitalized Beatrice. What with the weakness of her contractor (Subie) and the length of time since her last real battle (400+ years), Beako deems she has just the right handicap to make the fight interesting.

With that, she unleashes El Minya—a shower of pink crystal shards that obliterate bunnies on contact. They keep coming, but her contractor, Subaru maintains hand contact and uses El Minya as well until the Rabbits, not being truly infinite, reach their maximum number. Subie then builds a crystal paddock to restrain them, which Emilia traces and reinforces with her ice magic, rising them off the ground.

Having been given sufficient time to prepare it, Beako finishes the Rabbit off with Al Shamac, transporting it in its entirety to an isolated space—like the forbidden library—from which it will never be able to return. A great psychological weight lifts from everyone—and myself!—when they realize that the battle is over, and they won.

Just when Beako is hoping for a little more enthusiastic celebration, she gets more than she bargained for when Subie lifts her up and spins her around in elation. Beako and Roswaal pay their respects to Echidna, their mother and teacher. Beako realizes for the first time that the Roswaal before her is the Roswaal she knew—the product of soul transcription, Echidna’s dream was realized.

Given some time to themselves outside the graveyard during a gorgeous sunrise, Emilia bashfully, adorably broaches the topic of “the baby in her belly!” It’s a phrase that nearly causes Subie to jump out of his shoes, but is only the result of some god-level trolling on Puck’s part, who convinced Lia that a mere kiss like the one she shared with Subie is enough to create life!

What follows is a “purification ritual” at the chapel, in which everyone in the main circle Roswaal wronged is given a much deserved slap or slug to the face. Ram, who is recovering quickly thanks to Beako, doesn’t stop them, as not even she can deny he’s made mistakes—one of them never being aware how much she loves him until now.

Emilia and Subaru knows they need Roswaal’s power for the Royal Selection and Battles to Come, but what’s stopping him from turning on them again? He removes his shirt to show just that: an oath sealed by a curse, which he received after losing to Subaru (on whose chest it would have appeared had he lost). Gar and Petra object anyway, but defer to everyone else, while Lia is sufficiently satisfied upon hearing a simple “I’m sorry” from the margrave.

A little time passes, but not much. With Roswaal’s mansion in ruins, the house of Annerose Miload, of a Mathers branch family, serves as the venue for the knighting of one Natsuki Subaru by one Emilia. Before the ceremony, Roswaal informs Subaru that he still intends to bring Echidna back, blood, breath, and soul.

Because he lacks the Tome of Wisdom, and the pain of losing what may be lost in his quest to revive teacher might surely cause him to Burn Everything Down, he instead vows to keep a close eye on Subaru and the path he walks. Like Roswaal, Subaru has lost so much, but every time he picks up the pieces, refusing to lose anything, bearing every wound those initial losses create.

After some flowery dialogue, the deed is done; Subaru officially becomes Sir Subaru. Subaru marks the occasion by telling Emilia how sexy and cute she looks in her be-knighting outfit, and in another sign of how much stronger she’s become, Lia laughs it off and sticks out her tongue rather than crumbling before praise. More importantly, Subaru now dons world-appropriate clothes that match Emilia’s white-and-purple theme.

As the well-earned party rages indoors, Subaru goes out onto the balcony for some quiet contemplation, and Emilia soon joins him, accurately accusing him of being drunk…on himself and the atmosphere, not booze. Emilia tells him there’s something she wants to talk to him about, and asks him to come to her room later to do so, employing a pinky swear to seal their agreement.

Subaru assures her no matter what she needs to say, he’ll never become “disenchanted” with her. After all, she just made him her Number One Knight! Emilia compliments Subaru’s sweet face, and remarks that the scene they’re beholding just might be her “ideal”, and she’ll never forget it. It was at this point I was convinced a shoe or two would drop, pulling the rug from everyone’s feet and plunging the celebratory mood into some fresh devilry as White Fox often does.

But it didn’t! The fact Rem never woke up aside, this was a totally happy ending, not leaving us with any cliffhanger we’d have to stew with for an unknown duration until a third season arrived to sate our hunger anew. And I’m very happy about that, and where everyone stands at this stopping point.

The gorgeous way the episode fades to white as Subaru and Emilia dance a waltz while surrounded by friends and allies—that’s pretty much my ideal too! Emilia finally got the character-building arc she deserved, and cemented her role as Best Girl. The Royal Selection, Rem’s reawakening, and dealing with the Sin Archbishops can wait. For now, Let’s party!

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