Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 09 – Rolling With the Punches

There have been plenty of cases of Nagatoro committing an unforced error that nets her a little more closeness with Senpai than she had initially bargained for, but let us not forget that Naoto also commits his fair share of blunders. For instance, he lent her a boxing movie, so now she shadowboxes all over the club room and eventually wants to spar with him.

He has no intention of even pretending to hit back, but when he dodges and loses his balance, he falls into her arms, and his self-own turns into hers. Nagatoro also plays with fire by letting her life with her circle of friends overlap with her Senpai time, such as when a bunch of loud gamers lead the four girls to flee the dining hall and make the club room their hangout space.

When Naoto expresses his surprise such otherwise aggressive girls gave up so easily, they say they’re taking care of it by sending Sakura in to flirt with the gamers and turn them against each other. But by going along with this strategy, Nagatoro is setting herself up for potential heartache in a later segment.

With Senpai and her friends in such consistent close contact, Nagatoro ends up in the unusual position of having to defend his honor…or rather, his depravity. Gamo, who is most definitely messing with Nagatoro because she knows she actually likes Senpai, declares him an “herbovore” with no libido.

Nagatoro strongly disagrees, calling Senpai a “closet perv” and insisting on proving it by finding a dirty book hidden somewhere in the club room. The thing is, she’s right: Naoto does have a pretty dirty (but also artistic) book hidden away; just not in the room where Nagatoro bet she’d find it.

When Naoto sees how frustrated Nagatoro gets, he slinks into the prep room and very transparently tries to hide it while she’s watching him. This leads her to pounce on him with with a mixture of joy and relief, clearly ecstatic she had him pegged correctly. Rather than watch further PDA, Gamo and Yoshi leave the club room.

In the next segment, Nagatoro not so subtly shows off her new earring, which Naoto naturally notices immediately and compliments. These two are now so close that the slightest change in appearance is a big deal. As a couple in everything but name and with their dynamic largely right up against the precipice of “real dating”, it’s the little details that excite them.

But this is, at the end of the day, dilly-dallying on the part of both Nagatoro and Naoto, and they’re punished by Sakura, the most complex, inscrutable, and possibly brightest of Nagatoro’s three girlfriends. As a result of flirting with the gamers, one of them is now stalking her, and she wants to get him to stop…by pretending to date Senpai-kun.

Gamo and Yosshi are all for this, and Naoto is too nice to decline, even knowing how Nagatoro will feel about it. Of course, Nagatoro fucking hates this, and never lets us forget it in her facial expressions throughout the segment. To her credit, she doesn’t seem to place outsize blame on the situation on Senpai. After all, if he wasn’t as stupidly nice as he was, she wouldn’t like him!

That doesn’t make it any easier to watch her smartly cardiagned Senpai being clung to by Sakura in a ridiculously cute outfit on their fake date. That’s especially when Gamo starts tapping against the fourth wall, calling this one of those situations from one of the rom-com anime Paisen watches, and how those dates start out fake but the feelings gradually become real.

Of course, Naoto is just too uncomfortable around Sakura, even when he doesn’t know Nagatoro is watching, for that to happen, while it’s pretty clear from the get-go that Sakura is only using Naoto to flush out the stalker. And yet there’s also clearly part of her using this scenario to try to light a fire under Nagatoro.

Gamo is content to mess with Nagatoro, but Sakura is more like me: growing a little impatient with their schtick and waiting for them to get real with each other. But there’s no guarantee that will ever happen. I’m sure both Naoto and Nagatoro harbor a measure of frustration over their “failure to launch”, as it were.

But that doesn’t change the fact that they still enjoy each other’s company and their daily interactions, some of them thrilling in their accidental (or not-so-accidental) steaminess, but ultimately safe in their mutual ambiguity and deniability. That might just be enough for them, and may continue to remain so indefinitely. I hope it isn’t, but I accept that as a distinct possibility as we head into the home stretch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode 9 “Senpai” Count: 23 (+11 “Paisens”)
Total: 331

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 07 – May I Have This Dance?

Winter comes to Roa, and while Eris continues to excel in swordsmanship and earns praise from Ghislaine, she’s just as hopeless as ever with her academic studies. Nevertheless, she’s persevering. While she’d once throttle Rudeus if he told her her answers were wrong, she now simply puts her nose back to the grindstone to find the right answers.

One night, while inspecting his shamelessly realistic statuette of Roxy, Rudy gets a visit from one Edna Rayrune, who tells him about the particulars of Eris’ upcoming birthday party. She’ll be presented as a potential match for a lad form another noble family, whether she wants to be or not—it’s just the way this society works.

As such, she’ll need to perform a dance at the event, and it will have to be perfect, or she’ll bring shame on herself and the Boreas and Grayrat families. Bottom line, Edna wants to take some of Rudy’s tutoring time to spend Eris’ dancing lessons. Rudy is all too willing to get some free time, which he soon uses to explore the world’s other languages.

Winter turns to Spring, and Edna returns to Rudy, having made no progress with Lady Eris. Thus, the inevitable happens: Rudy tracks Eris down in her usual hiding spot in a barn and tells her he’ll help with her lessons by being her partner. While she reacts violently, she also accepts the offer. But in every lesson, Eris always ends up going faster than the music’s rhythm, resulting in their spinning out of control.

In between his dance lessons with Eris and brushing up on the beast god language with help from Ghislaine, Rudy finally gets a letter and package from Roxy, who is amazed he is tutoring the daughter of a lord, and also very much not appreciative of the creepily accurate statuette of her now in the possession of her perverted prince student, who she must immolate regularly.

Within the package is a hand-written textbook in the Demon God language with which Rudy is having the most trouble, despite being young and picking languages up much faster than an adult would. He says he can’t thank Roxy enough, but he could have done so easily by simply not distributing that statuette!

Eris’ big day arrives, and while she looks the part and greets her first suitor properly, their dance goes haywire fast, leaving her face down on the ground as all of the assembled nobles murmur about how the Boreas family is “doomed” with someone like her as their asset.

This is when Rudeus steps up to the plate, asks Eris for a dance, and tells her to close her eyes and not think about dancing, but to think about sparring. As we’ve seen in the past two episodes, Eris is a natural at swordsmanship, including pacing, body control, balance, and footwork. In other words, she’s already good at dancing, just not the usual kind you’d see in at a social function.

With Eris trusting in Rudy and Rudy trusting in her, the two captivate their audience with a gorgeous and lively performance. By the time Eris opens her eyes to see how well they’re moving, she can’t help but smile as widely as possible. As has been the case with their sparring scenes, the dancing is wonderfully staged and animated.

The party is more of a success than Rudy had expected; he captures the attention of several lovely single ladies, and draws the gentle ire of Philip, who’d still prefer if Rudy didn’t draw too much attention to himself—likely for political and strategic reasons.

That night, Rudy, Eris, and Ghislaine have a private after-party where he presents them with wands, as is traditional for a magic teacher to do. Eris, it should be noted, wants one of his statuettes. Ghislaine also gives Eris a gift for passing her swordsmanship lessons: a gold ring that supposedly keeps wolves from attacking you at night.

Rudy wakes up to find Eris asleep in his bed and defenseless, but before he can try anything sleezy he spots the ring and her wand, and decides not to do anything. He credits that with the ring doing it’s job, but I’d also like to think he felt a genuine pang of morality.

He then makes his way up a tower to the sound of Lord Sauros raping one of his beast-woman servants, another instance of Mushoku Tensei taking an unblinking look at the injustice, inequality, and inherent brutality of this time period, when a lord could do as he pleased with members of lower rungs of society. Rudy seems to shrug it off as just The Way Things Are.

After the servant runs off, Sauros points out a strange red orb in the sky with two sets of Saturn-like rings, telling Rudy that whatever it is, it’s not necessarily “a bad thing.” It’s a very awkward way to end the episode, but I’m sure we’ll see more of that orb next week. Until then, we continue to take the good (Rudy and Eris dancing, Ghislaine teaching Rudy) with the bad (Philip, Sauros, and Roxy’s prince)

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review of episode 7 here!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 06 – Calculating Change

After a major shakeup last week, MT slows down as we remain in Roa for the duration. Rudeus learns that while he played a vital role in protecting Eris, Ghislaine is to be given all credit for reasons related to the intricate politics of the Greyrats and the land they rule. He meets Phillip’s father Lord Sauros, the ruler of the Fittoa region of the Asura Kingdom, which includes the city of Roa.

Rudy immediately sees how much Eris both takes after and imitates her grandfather, from their penchant for punching to the way they cross their arms. As for Eris’ mother, let’s just say she doesn’t seem too fond of young Rudy—particularly the way his gaze lingers on her bosom.

Eris asked Lord Sauros to ask Rudy to teach her magic, but Rudy insists that Eris learn to ask for things on her own, and Sauros agrees. Rudy is shocked when the “proper” manner of asking him is for Eris to hold her hair like drooping beast person ears and say “nyan” after every sentence!

A month of tutoring passes. Eris learns to summon fire, and is all about sparring with Rudy, since she always mops the floor with him. Honestly, the animation is so good I could watch her beat him up all day. Her reading, writing, and math lessons, on the other hand, leave much to be desired. Whenever she’s tired of learning, she runs away; when he catches her, she punches him.

One of these times, she falls asleep in a barn, and Rudy sees fit to try to assault her by copping a feel and then attempting to steal her underwear. After two straight episodes of behaving himself, it’s disappointing to see him reverting to his baser ways. At least he gets immediate comeuppance: a brutal beating from Eris in the barn, and again when they spar and she doesn’t hold back.

One day during lessons, Eris simply snaps, and it dawns on Rudy: he hasn’t given her any time off. So the two of them and Ghislaine head out to Roa to see the sights and shop. While Rudy takes notes about the prices of goods in different parts of the market, a merchant who can tell he’s from the Lord’s manor presents him with across a fancy aphrodisiac that costs the equivalent of a million yen.

Rudy also checks out the magical tomes, and Eris, feeling generous, offers to buy him one. When he learns she’d simply get the money from her gramps, he offers her another lesson: only give gifts with money you earned. She learns how little he makes compared to her Sword King bodyguard, while he says they’ll ask her dad to start giving her an allowance.

As the sun starts to set, an odd shadow dances across the buildings and streets, and for the first time since arriving in Roa, Rudy spots a massive floating fortress in the sky. Eris and Ghislaine tell him it’s the fortress of the Armored Dragon King Perugius, hero of humanity who along with twelve servants defeated the Demon-God Laplace over four centuries ago.

It’s a lot of world lore suddenly dumped on us at once, but it’s nevertheless intriguing, and I hope we one day get to explore that fortress with Rudy. Until then, the tutoring continues back at the manor. Eris casually presents him with the vial of aphrodisiac which she bought with her allowance as a gift to him. The catch is, she doesn’t know what it is, and insists he tell her.

Once he lets slip that it’s an aphrodisiac, Ghislaine is on to him, and has no qualms about restraining him while Eris tries to tickle it out of him. The vial eventually breaks, and it’s a good thing too—I was dreading either Ghislaine or Eris suddenly becoming love-drunk. Still, my distaste for the insistence on keeping Rudy a pervert affected my score.

Check out Crow’s episode 6 review here!

TenSura – 28 – A War Full of Holes

From Dwargon Rimuru returns to Ingrassia where he announces his five students have passed the exams and will move on to the next grade…but Tiss-sensei will be their teacher from now on. I know Rimuru is doing this because he trusts Tiss with their further education and is a busy slime leader, but as the other events of this episode prove, it’s probably a good thing that he’s returning to Tempest soon.

Youm returns to Tempest before Rimuru, and Clayman’s spy Myulan (AKA Mjurran) soaks up the place like a sponge. You can see she’s somewhat unnerved at how nice everyone is to her. When it’s Youm, she can call him stupid, but even powerful Kijin are offering her friendship. To her eyes, the Federation is a direct threat to many other nations, but only because she cannot yet see any other way forward.

Rimuru is diving into the deep end of the commerce and trade pool by making deals left and right while his nation becomes an all-too-enticing potential new hub of trade. He fails to realize that this is an aggressive act in and of itself, even if not intended to be, especially considering his is a nation of “monsters” the human nations simply do not trust.

And because, say, the Kingdom of Falmuth sees Tempest as a direct threat to their very survival, let alone their continued future as an economic powerhouse, the King and his royal council devise a plan to subjugate Tempest. This is done during your typical “dour guys sitting at a table planning shit” scene.

Archbishop Reyheim announces that the Western Holy Church has already recognized the monster nation as an affront to their God, giving them religious cover. They can call it a Holy War to stoke the support of the masses, most of whom already fear the monsters.

In an interesting wrinkle, Falmuth’s advance attack will inlclude their stable of three Offworlders from in Shougo, Kyouya, and Kirara. Unlike Rimuru, they’ve retained their regular Japanese forms and look down on this new world with contempt as vastly inferior to theirs. Kirara in particular misses cosmetics and the internet.

I believe we’ve heard murmurs about others like Rimuru from Japan, but that we meet them in the flesh for the first time really drive home the fact that Rimiru is about to face the biggest challenge to great experiment, as like him they all possess insanely powerful abilities.

At the same time, there’s a pettiness, complacency, even laziness about the attitudes of these three. This world didn’t have manga, so Rimuru created it, along with the onsen and all the other things inspired by his world. It seems these three would rather bitch and complain than put in the effort to create homes away from home.

At least Kyouya seems the least content with their situation, and intends to use the coming war with Tempest as a vehicle to gain his freedom from Falmuth. They call Shougo “Berserk”, while Kirara’s deemed the scariest of all of them, so it seems easier for them to spread chaos, hatred, and destruction—the polar opposite of Rimuru’s designs for peace, love, and cooperation.

Rimuru wants to create a happy, prosperous world for all races; the other three just want to watch the world burn. After all, it’s not their world, so who cares? Speaking of chaos, Milim Nava makes her first appearance of the season, standing in Clayman’s office. Yeah, Rimuru really doesn’t have time to continue teaching the kids!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 03 – Like a Rock

This week is a very workmanlike training episode, what amounts to a lengthy montage in between scenes of Tanjirou writing journal entries to Nezuko describing all of the things Urokodaki teaches him over a year. That includes how to stand, land, hold a sword, breathe, hold your breath and more. All the while, Nezuko sleeps, and Tanjirou worries about her.

Tanjirou soaks it all up like a sponge in order for his master to clear him for the Final Selection that will determine if he can become a member of the Demon Slayer Corps. Once Urokodaki tells him there is nothing else to teach him, he offers him a final test: slice a giant boulder in the woods clean in half.

The varying environments (forest, mountains, waterfall) break up the repetition that is both a bug and feature of most training episodes, and despite how fast time passes you can really feel how hard Tanjirou is working and struggling, and how frustrated he is when he’s suddenly left on his own to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

For another six months Tanjirou tries and fails to slice the boulder, until he’s approached by a boy in a kitsune mask named Sabito and a cute girl named Mokomo. Sabito offers tough love and clichéd motivational patter as he wails on Tanjirou. In between their sparring sessions, Mokomo teaches Tanjirou how to properly achieve Total Concentration, which allows humans to fight on par with demons.

After six months of that, Tanjirou is ready to face Sabito, who wields a metal sword for the first time after using only wood before. Tanjirou uses Total Concentration, her and Sabito rush at each other, and his strike hits Sabito first, cracking his mask in two. With that, the orphans trained by Orokodaki smile and disappear, and all of a sudden Tanjirou is standing before the boulder, which is sliced in two.

As I said, this episode has some cool moments but gets the job done in a pretty matter-of-fact manner. I’ve seen training regimens last only half an episode or less, while I’ve also seen them last entire arcs or cours. In the case of Demon Slayer, Tanjirou’s training takes an episode an change, which seems about right. On to the Final Selection…and hopefully Nezuko wakes up soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 23 (Fin) – A Hug and a Sword

She may have put up a brave front for most of last week’s episode, Alice’s cracks show at a cocktail party and culminate in an escape from Rath altogether. Kirito just gets off the phone with Rinko when he receives a large package.

Sure enough, it’s Alice, who shipped herself to his house! It strikes just the right balance of hilariously ridiculous and tremendously sweet, especially when you consider Alice isn’t just any heartsick maiden, but an artificial life form.

Alice has been unfathomably lonely since awakening in the real world, and who can blame her? She’s literally the only being of her kind in that world. She’s lost and adrift, but the sight of Kirito—or rather the physical presence Kirigaya Kazuto—soon soothes her, especially when wrapped in a big hug. He also tells her she is his hope, and the hope of all decent people in the world.

But Kirito can discern that she needs more than a tour of his humdrum family home. He takes her to the nearby dojo puts a practice sword in her hand, and the two spar. After defeating him with a cheekily improvised move called “Iron Headbutt”, Alice’s confidence and sense of self is restored. All a knight needs is a sword and a cause, after all!

Alice stays the night, and gets to witness a rare sight for SAO: the entire Kirigaya family seated around the dinner table. After his dad asks him to once again apologize for stressing them out during his latest mission, Alice herself defends Kirito as a hero in her world.

To her surprise, her father responds with pride that he’s aware of Kazuto’s accomplishments, and that he’s already a hero in the real world as well, making his son blush. Kazuto also informs his parents of his new course in life: to earn a degree in electronic engineering and join the Oceanic Resource Exploration & Research Institution, AKA Rath.

That night, Alice sneaks into a sleeping Kirito’s room, but not for that. She received a strange message through the network, and with Yui’s help Kirito determines the message is code for a specific IP address in which to re-access the Underworld.

Kirito, Alice, and Asuna meet at the Roppongi facility where Rinko helps them log back into the Underworld, two hundred years after leaving it. The three are shocked to find they’ve spawned not on the Underworld, but in orbit of it, out in space!

There has clearly been some possibly Macross-inspired technological advances in those two centuries, because Tiese and Ronie (or two people very much like those two) are “integrity pilots” locked in a desperate space battle with an eldritch abomination called “The Abyssal Horror”, all eyes, mouths, and tentacles.

Since the pilots are in trouble, Kirito, Asuna, and Alice all pool their considerable offensive powers in order to freeze, impale, and utterly destroy the spacebeast, all while the pilots gaze in awe and recall that the trio are historical figures back in the Underworld. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see the planet surface and how things have advanced.

Granted, that would probably have been digging too deeply than what was required of this episode: a worthy send-off for Kirito, Asuna, and Alice, and a tantalizing sneak-peak at their next adventure, called the “Inter-Intellegence War.”

Whenever that new anime is released, I’ll certainly be there to follow our old friends as they hopefully manage to avoid falling into comas or being held hostage by perverts! Until then, I bid sayonara to the now-completed War of Underworld and ja ne to Sword Art Online. It was quite a fun ride.

Season Average: 8.55

Appare-Ranman! – 09 – Taking a Load Off

The car companies decide that despite the threat of Gil, the race will go on. The route to the next supply point is adjusted for the safety of the race staff. That means all of the racers have a day off, and this episode is all about how they spend that day, which means it’s all about Appare-Ranman’s colorful cast of characters.

This episode features a formidable number of character pairings and groupings, from Hototo an Dylan to Appare and former engineer Seth Carter to Hototo and the Bad Brothers. Appare spends much of the day lost in deep calculations about his hybrid drive, but everyone else basically kicks back.

We learn a lot of little details during this slice-of-life excursion: TJ and Al have a drinking contest, but Sofia easily drinks both of them under the table. Xialian and Kosame spar, and the former brings up how her father taught her kung fu to protect herself. Little things here and there that bring the ensemble cast to life.

Naturally there’s a fair amount of comedy in the episode, from the lost-in-thought Appare collecting objects until he’s riding on a donkey’s back in a barber’s smock with display pennants and a ragdoll hanging from him and his foot in a bucket.

The donkey eventually bucks him straight into a building occupied by one Thomas Edison. There’s even a hot springs session with the whole gang, and Kosame and Appare learn about American modesty the hard way. Sofia discusses Al with Xialian while the boys play an increasingly spirited game of jan-ken-pon.

It’s all a lot of fun despite the fact there’s no racing, and by sunrise the next day Appare’s hybrid system is in good working order, such that he deems the “real race” about to begin. But as Sofia boards the train that will follow the route of the race, she’s accompanied by Richard Riesman, whom we already know to be the real villainous Gil. No matter how much liquor Sofia can hold, that can’t be good!

Appare-Ranman! – 07 – People Aren’t Machines

From what I gather, Gil’s car catches up to the others, mows through the debris, and detonates rocks in the valley, forcing everyone else to take a detour. But thanks to some highly questionable editing we’re shown events out of order, and in some cases more than once, adding needless confusion to the sequence.

Appare’s car manages to make it through the explosion only to break down; eventually Xialian and Al either catch up to them or backtrack and offer to take turns towing him. Neither want an easy win, which leaving Appare behind would cause.

They end up camping for the night, with Appare proving useless at hunting, fishing, and cooking. Kosame dreams of his mother being murdered protecting him and wakes up screaming. Appare is starting to act more human as he realizes people aren’t engines driven merely by logic and science.

By the time the three drivers make it to Eli, Nevada, Gil has already been their eight hours and is ready to go, but they block him. Hototo wants answers about what happened to his father.

When the crowd starts to stone him, Appare, Xialian, Al, and even Sophia shield him with their bodies. Finally, Gil removes his mask and speaks, revealing he and his big brother were merely impersonating Gil, which means they had nothing to do with Hototo’s dad.

 

 

Appare-Ranman! – 06 – Outside the Box

At the start of the rave, favorites Dylan, TJ and Al are in the front, with Appare’s thrown-together contraption just barely keeping up with the second group of Xialian and Richard Riesman. Al stops at a railroad crossing, but daredevils Dylan and TJ jump the track a moment before the train crosses, showing they’re willing to put their lives on the line for this race. Since they’re the first into the first supply town of Lancaster, they’ll be the first allowed to leave.

As teams rest and resupply, Al finds himself feeling discouraged and insecure. He wonders if it would be better for Sofia to go ahead by train and meet him in New York, since the race will only get hairier.

Sofia reminds him that he’s not supposed to be putting his life on the line for the race; he has a future with her and the company to think of. After Kosame spars with Al (and continues to exhibit a kind of “block” keeping him from his best swordsmanship) he buys Appare, Hototo and Xialian a nice dinner.

Appare’s team is scheduled for a 12:07 am departure from Lancaster, but Hototo, having seen Gil’s henchmen all over town, decides to split off in order to “take care of something.” He overhears Gil’s team planning to sabotage the entrance to Death Valley via the Valley of Despair and dynamite the entrance behind them.

Hototo doesn’t do a great job of staying hidden, and one of those henchmen finds him. They tie him up and stuff him in a box. When the start time arrives, Appare pretends the car needs more work to buy Kosame more time to find Hototo.

Hototo finally breaks out of his box prison by the side of the road and runs back into town to reunite with Kosame. Appare betrays a brief smile at the sight of their return, and off they go. Fortunately, all the cars that left ahead of them were stopped in their tracks by Gil’s men blocking the entrance with junk, so the delay doesn’t hurt them.

Appare is confident his newly “reborn” engine, improved during the downtime in Lancaster, can catch up to the group, overcome the junk and the dynamite, and remain in the running for the win. He’s tired of relying on shortcuts; he wants to win with his machine, not in spite of it, or all of this is for nothing.

Appare-Ranman! – 02 – Even if the World Won’t Allow It

Note: Due to covid-19 the broadcasts of Appare-Ranman after the third episode have been delayed indefinitely. We’ll be reviewing future episodes if and when they become available.

It dawns on Kosame that returning to Japan (something he’d very much like to do) is no easy matter, and could take as much as “ten years of toil” to manage. Fortunately, his fighting skills are readily street-applicable skill than Appare—his fighting skills—and Appare puts him to work showing them off.

Then Appare picks up a flyer for the Trans-America Wild Race and stumbles upon the speedway where state-of-the-art driving machines are pitted against one another. While drivers like Dylan enjoy celebrity status, “the cars are the stars” here. It dawns on Appare he’s exactly where he needs to be: in a position to do something people say can’t be done. He’s going to enter the race and he’s going to win it.

A win will net him a cool 1.51 million dollars—them, if Kosame sticks by his side in this crazy venture. As they sit in an anachronisitc Art Deco diner(!) the samurai can’t deny that his share of the purse could solve many of his problems—his fiancee won’t wait ten years!—but he’s still skeptical, and rightfully so. Appare may have a dream, but they both just got there, and barely earn enough at the moment for food. They’re staying in a storeroom for free, and have no budget for a race car, let alone one that can beat the big manufacturers.

But absent a viable alternative (and fearful of FOMO), Kosame follows Appare, who breaks into the racetrack that night to check out the machinery. There they encounter Jing Xialian is already racing there, and almost accidentally runs a fearless Appare over. She damages the car—whih isn’t strictly hers—and when Kosame approaches her she exhibits her own martial arts prowess. In an effort to de-escalate, Kosame lets himself get hit by her kick.

As he recovers in the garage, Appare and Kosame learn more of Xialian’s story: she’s always loved cars and racing and joined the team as a chore girl. She’s good enough to race herself, but due to the sexism of the time she’s told she can’t be, and has come to believe it. Someone like Appare is clearly a good influence, as he doesn’t let the world tell him his limits, and doesn’t see why she should either. If you can do it, do it; don’t worry about the world’s rules. It’s hard to argue with him considering how far that attitude has gotten him so far.

Xialian’s story is not a particularly original one, but she’s another fun, colorful character I’m compelled to root for, even if she becomes Appare’s competitor in the race. Then there’s the celebrity driver Dylan, who saves Appare and Kosame when the latter is trying to help a young Native American kid from a group of racists. Notably, Kosame cannot physically draw his katana due to PTSD from a bloody incident in his past, so he needs the save. Dylan may well only be intervening because his peace is being disturbed.

There’s a lot of disbelief to suspend in Appare-Ranman from the total lack of language barriers, to the anything-goes dress code and futuristic technology/architecture. But once you let all that go, it’s a tremendously entertaining ride that’s just getting started. It’s just a shame we won’t be able to see much more of it due to delays. I just know I’ll definitely be tuned in when it returns.

 

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 07 – Meat on the Brain

With the gym closed, the girls decide to take Gina out for a welcome party. Hibiki recommends her brother’s yakiniku (BBQ) restaurant where she works part time. As they chow down, Machio and Satomi hover between them and us, explaining that while beef is a good source of protein for bodybuilders, the cut of meat and even its source determines how much you should eat.

When there’s a slowdown in work, Hibiki takes a load off and tucks into a multi-thousand-calorie meal. Gina believes this is Hibiki’s secret to, among other things, beating her at arm-wrestling: the same ability to consume huge amounts of muscle-building protein as a pro wrestler, only she enjoys doing so! Of course, it’s just Hibiki’s “cheat day,” but she won’t be able to slack off on the other days.

When the others ask why Hibiki has to work five days a week in addition to school and the gym, she says it’s to pay her monthly membership fees and for all the food she eats. Akemi informs her that thanks to her older sister, chairman of the board of their school, gym fees and other training-related expenses are covered by the school! That said, Hibiki still needs to pay for her own food.

While sitting in class and half-paying attention, Gina notices that Satomi has a beauty mark beneath her eye that she’s sure she’s seen before. Sure enough, a quick check of her phone confirms that Satomi is “Yulia Riko”, cosplay sensation. When she tells Satomi that she knows, Satomi assumes Gina wants something in exchange for her silence, as, in Gina’s words, she’s “suspicious of altruism.”

So Gina comes up with a worthy payment: she gets to spend the day with Satomi/Yulia, including a one-on-one photoshoot and sightseeing tour. When Satomi complains of soreness after a nice workout, Gina introduces her to the concept of active rest, which actually helps you recover from fatigue faster than the passive kind (i.e. sitting on your bum and swilling beer). It’s all about aiding circulation of blood (and thus oxygen) throughout the body.

Their active rest for the day takes the form of a brisk but comfortable jog that isn’t overdoing it and enables them to carry on a conversation, all the way to Akihabara. When Satomi hilariously asks the tourist if she’s going there to buy electronics, Gina responds that due to her love of all things Japanese (and a few things that aren’t like Hong Kong and yoga), she’s determined to become an idol…and she’s taking Satomi and her new friends along for the ride.

The public idol audition they end up competing in is judged by a director voiced by Yoshino Hiroyuki (nice cameo!) who is tired of normal-looking girls with a normal level of talent performing normally. That is, until the bikini-clad “Muscle Girls” arrive on stage, riding on the shoulders their burlier fellow gym members. All of a sudden, things are a bit too abnormal for the director…with emphasis on the ab!

Rather than sing, Gina and Ayaka deliver an impressive sparring demonstration, while Hibiki does bench presses with Akemi spotting. Their final act is Satomi, hiding her face behind a kendo mask, performing a perfect deadlift, the toughest and riskiest of the three major barbell exercises.

Despite enthusiastic applause by the crowd, they fail to make the cut…partially because they didn’t sing anything, but also because they were just way too weird. Normal, the director concludes, is fine after all. Too bad; I would have loved to see these guys on tour!

Fire Force – 02 – About All Any of Them Can Do

With the Rookie Fire Soldier Games coming up, Captain Oubi has high hopes for young Shinra. But he’s not the only rookie assigned to Company 8. That’s right, it’s the Rival/Friend His Own Age Who Is More Like Him Than Not, Arthur Boyle, the self-proclaimed “Knight King.”

Maki and Iris are enjoying the nice day on the roof when the two prepare to go at it, but Lt. Hinawa puts an end to both Maki’s idle fire manipulation (technically against regs, but he’s a stickler) and the attempted duel. Instead, he rearranges the fight so Shinra and Arthur have to go up against their senpai Maki.

While both third-gens are unconcerned about taking on a second-gen, Maki’s military training, experience, wonderful muscles, and most important, her ability to manipulate the flames of others means both guys end up taking quick losses.

Maki may be a little self conscious about her “ogre gorilla” alter-persona, but there’s no doubting her toughness despite not being the latest generation of pyrokineticist. If Shinra’s a devil and Arthur a knight, she’s a witch—and a very accomplished one, at that.

Taken down a few pegs, Shinra and Arthur shift their battle to see who can eat the ramen Oubi treated them to faster…which is not the point of eating delish ramen. There’s also a mention of how much gear a non-user like the captain has to wear (and Hinawa has to maintain) for the job, while Arthur’s Excalibur and Shinra’ feet and Type 7 ax are sufficient for them. Speaking of which, the alarm sounds and the now five-person Company 8 answers the call.

The scene is eerily quiet but the Infernal is inside, the father of a girl who already lost her mother to “infernalization,” and dreads being next as a matter of genes (though it could just be a coincidence). When Shinra and Arthur take out their weapons in public, they are scolded by Oubi. The Infernal they’re about to fight was a human, with family. It’s not a glorious battle, but a solemn funeral. If the rookies think otherwise, they can leave the 8.

Oubi is proven right when they enter the house and find the girl’s infernalized father just sitting quietly at the table, the shrine of his wife nearby. Shinra wonders why they should attack an Infernal that isn’t doing anything, but Arthur corrects him: the person sitting there is in tremendous pain, and they must put him out of his misery.

As Iris says the prayer, all it takes is a single quick strike form behind with Arthur’s plasma sword to send the father to rest. A quick and dignified end, but no consolation for his daughter as she never saw it.

Before they went in, a cloud of flames above the house formed into a smirk, and after they defeat the Infernal, the house inexplicably comes tumbling down; fortunately Oubi is tough and isn’t injured, but he and Hinawa immediately suspect a third party that’s messing with their duties. Indeed there is someone outside among the crowd, who leaves smoke letters in the sky reading “Joker.” Huh.

Meanwhile, Oubi completes his duties by doing what he can to comfort the surviving daughter in her time of greatest despair. He posits that because his parents protected her so thoroughly from the flames, she’ll be safe form now on, even if they’re gone. The fire soldiers didn’t fight a battle this week; the Infernals did, for the sake of their daughter, and they won, because she’s still alive.

Neither Shinra nor Arthur can sleep that night (obviously they were assigned the same bunk bed), realizing that the academy could not prepare them for the most terrifying part of being a fire soldier: getting accustomed to what they do. But as much as they snipe and sneer at nip at each other, they’ve perhaps started to realize that they’d rather have one another by their side than not, to help deal with those solemn times.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 08 – Blooming in Foreign Soil

After a quick pep talk from Liena telling him not to remember that Volo’s power comes from his vaunted family line as well as the power of his imagination, and to keep his promise to her to show her everything he’s got, Kirito engages in his real-swords duel with the First Seat.

Volo also gives it everything he has, but Kirito remembers he has a family too; not just in Eugeo and Liena but in all his friends IRL. He also draws from the power of the Gigas Cedar his sword is made with, and successfully blocks Volo’s strike.

The faculty member ends the fight in a draw, but Volo is satisfied Kirito has been sufficiently chastened for staining his uniform. It’s good to see Volo has a good head on his shoulders and wasn’t going to take things too far. Liena is elated at Kirito’s feat, as are the rest of the assembled students.

After celebrating at Liena’s quarters, Kirito meets the two highborn bullies who didn’t like the result of Kirito’s fight with Volo, and come to deliver a message in the form of the snipped-off bud of the flowers Kirito had been growing in the garden. As I thought, the jerks just couldn’t lay off the garden…

Kirito had come to feel he had a lot in common with the flowers that don’t usually bloom in such a climate; he too is a stranger in a strange land, far from the family that knew, loved, and supported him. Sure, there’s Eugeo and Liena, but it’s not the same.

Then, suddenly, a voice comes out of the air, urging him to ask for the other flowers in the garden to aid him in restoring his plant. They answer the call and send some of their life energy to the ruined planter, resurrecting the buds.

Liena, having both learned from and been inspired by Kirito’s previous fight with Volo, manages to dig deep and defeat him to graduate as First Seat, and thanks to Kirito learning something new about the world he’s in, he has a bouquet of flowers from her homeland waiting for her.

Liena, Volo, and the other elites graduate, and Kirito and Eugeo become Elite Deciples themselves, complete with cute Novice Trainee pages in Tiese and Ronie. Eugeo may tell the latter that Kirito will be nothing but trouble, but the other side of the deal is she gets to be the first artificial fluctlight trained in his unique Aincrad Style.

Meanwhile, Kirito and Eugeo, after going at it like an old married couple, keep their eyes on the prize: Alice’s most likely whereabouts, the grand white tower in the center of the city. Swordcraft Academy may be fun, but it’s only a stepping stone.