The aquatope on white sand – 15 – Seaslugfest

Buoyed in part by the return of Fuuka, Kukuru has found her rhythm in the marketing office, and is starting to show her competence. Of course, this means her boss Suwa just foists more work upon her. But it’s not done out of malice; it’s a sign that he trusts her to get it done. While having a relaxing lunch outside, Fuuka reminds Kukuru of that.

As such, when Suwa gives Kukuru her largest responsibility yet: a two week exhibition. Kukuru gives it her absolute all preparing a variety of proposals, not merely so she can silence Suwa’s doubt in her (though that’s part of it), but because it’s a golden opportunity to nerd the ef OUT over sea life. She ends up knocking it out of the park with her proposal, which is accepted on the spot. Mind you, Suwa doesn’t offer “Plankton” any praise…but it’s still a huge victory!

Kukuru decides the exhibition will be exclusively sea slugs, the jewels of the sea. I have to admit I hadn’t given sea slugs much thought up until this episode, but I have to admit they’re as gorgeous as they are weird. Kai gets all excited about Kukuru asking him to join her at the shore to collect the creatures, only to find Kukuru invited Fuuka too. His romantic fumbling doesn’t go unnoticed by Eiji, who suggests he try to be a bit more bold.

Like her earlier projects, Kukuru is constantly having to butt heads with people with whom she simply has a lot of trouble getting along besides the minimal professional cordialness. One of those figures is Kaoru, who granted comes of as pretty prickly and inflexible anyway. But Kukuru has gained more spine since joining Tingaara, and one thing she will not countenance is exhibiting the sea slugs without feeding them.

The vast variety of sea slugs doesn’t just pertain to their looks, you see, but also their diet. One species likes one kind of sea sponge or moss, the other ignores it completely. Eventually she finds the right food for all but one of the species to be exhibited, but in the process of obsessing over that eighth, Kukuru completely forgets her tour duties. Chiyu, another one like oil to Kukuru’s water, doesn’t let her forget she messed up, while all Fuuka can do is try to keep the peace.

On the eve of the exhibition, Kukuru is working late hours, and she’s got bags under her eyes. Who should press a cool canned coffee against her head but Kai, perhaps trying to be a bit bolder as Eiji advised. Kai asks if he can do anything for the clearly overworked Kukuru, and she says yes there is: he can put up his hands so she can punch them! In the heat of the stress-relieving spar session, Kai wraps his fingers around her fist, kinda-sora-unconsciously seeking gentler contact than the usual punches.

No sooner is this contact made than Kai apologizes and the drew draw back. But even if Kai’s courtship doesn’t pay off, a different kind of ritual takes place between Kukuru and Kaoru…they come to a détente! Over, what else, their mutual passion for all things living in or near the sea! I’m not sure why Kuuya misgendered Kaoru, but I for one am elated to see her and Kukuru put aside their differences and focus on the common ground they share.

Kaoru even invites Kukuru to the shore! At the same time, she and Chiyu may never get along, nor will Suwa ever give her a break or crack a grin. But that’s okay! Just as not all sea slugs eat the same food, not all people can get along. It’s just surpassingly gratifying when it suddenly, unexpectedly happens.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 14 – Nunca te rindas

I don’t know about you, but Fuuka’s sudden appearance on the beach and her and Kukuru’s warm embrace are romantic as all get out. Just look at that shot: Fuuka is basically Kukuru’s valiant prince, drying her eyes strained from tears of frustration and filling them right back up with pure unbridled joy. Even better: Fuuka is back for good. She’ll be working at Tingaara…and even moved next door to Kukuru.

That’s a lot of surprises, but Kukuru is fine with all of them, because if ever there was a time she needed Fuuka close by, it’s now, when she’s feeling totally unmoored in her marketing job. Thanks to Gramps, Fuuka was able to get a job at Tingaara, and Chiyu is clearly not okay Gama Gama nepotism. If she’s going to accept Fuuka as a colleague and not a up-jumped hanger-on, Fuuka must memorize all 20 of the cape penguins.

“There’s no ‘Gama Gama Faction!'”, the Gama Gama Faction protested as they all went out to eat together. Though replacing Kuuya is Eiji, who is tastefully intrigued by the former idol-turned-penguin attendant. Rumors of cliquery aside, I like how the Gama Gama exiles still hang together after work, lay down their troubles, and enjoy Udon-chan’s widening culinary repertoire.

Kukuru admits after dinner that a part of her felt jealous that Fuuka got the job she thought she’d get at Tingaara, but fully admits that kind of thinking is childishness she wants to grow past. With  Karin, Chiyu, and her fellow marketeer Akari (voiced by the Saekano heroine herself, Yasuno Kiyano!) an now Fuuka, she has plenty of girlsboss to emulate. She even discovers she does have a knack for making people care and fall in love with aquariums, as she takes the aquarium-indifferent Akari on a rehearsal tour and wins her over.

This week Kukuru does indeed work harder and smarter than her first bumbling/arrogant days, staying meek and formal on the outside, but keeping that burning fire in her belly stoked. She learns the value of forming little alliances with others to make things easier, and figuring out the precise way to deal with people. Take Chiyu’s second-in-command Marina (Touyama Nao—this cast is stacked): since Kukuru is Fuuka’s friend and Fuuka is cool, Marina will go to bat to change Chiyu’s mind about including the penguins on the tour.

Speaking of intricate social patterns, this week was a low-key cape penguin documentary, as we observe along with Fuuka how to tell the twenty penguins apart not just by their colored wing bands, but how they behave. And while Fuuka was only at Gama Gama for a month, that was enough to know when the birds are agitated due to their sudden new environment (mirroring Kukuru’s own difficulties).

Kukuru believes it was not only Fuuka acing the name-that-penguin test, but recognizing and acknowledging the emotional state of the birds that impressed Chiyu enough to give the go-ahead for their (limited) exposure to tour groups. Kukuru only manages to get a family of four in her first tour, but she ends up nailing the tour just as well as Fuuka nailed her test, showing that the director didn’t throw her into this new environment willy-nilly. He knew she’d eventually figure it out and thrive.

Is Kukuru’s anhedonic ass of a boss Suwa pissed she only snagged one group of four? Absolutely. Does Kukuru let him get her down for long? Nope! She walks out of that office ready to keep up the fight. The episode ends as it began, with Kukuru and Fuuka looking like a particularly happily married couple, this time cooking dinner side by side.

Kukuru gives Fuuka the credit for changing Chiyu’s mind by proving she not only knew about but cared about the penguins. But that’s not entirely fair to herself…who helped Fuuka study for that penguin test? More to the point, Fuuka makes it clear that while she feels she belongs in an aquarium now, the main reason Fuuka is back is to be with Kukuru. Kukuru just so happens to also belong in an aquarium, so it’s allll sea gravy!

Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai! – 03 – Keeping Up Appearances

Jahy has herself a huge mana crystal that puts a serious pep in her step. Not only can she maintain her adult form, but she can work till last call without getting tired. Well, without getting physically tired.

Emotionally, she seems to wear down as she starts to question why she’s working at this izakaya. Her manager only makes things worse by having Jahy use the crystal to clean the place. Jahy has fun…until she reverts to her child form.

It’s here where we see how much “Hy-chan” of the human world differs from the Jahy-sama of the Dark Realm. While there she was at the top of the pyramid and often idle, here she’s just barely making ends meet as she works herself to the bone.

The fear and doubt that enter her mind are at least partially soothed by Druj’s fanatical sycophancy. But even that bubble is broken when Druj assumes Jahy’s crystal is just a small piece, then shows her a literal truckload of crystals she’s collected in the meantime.

It’s such an intriguing choice to have someone who will probably never see Jahy-sama as below her end up not only landing on her feet in the human world, but thriving. But we shouldn’t feel bad for Druj not realizing her and Jahy’s roles have reversed, because in her twisted dark realm mind, they haven’t, not matter how suspicious Jahy gets.

I was reminded of Fraiser and other classic sitcoms in the segment where Jahy pretends she’s the owner of the izakaya. As much as she flails about and lets slip about the reality of the situation, Druj simply will never suspect her God Queen is just an ordinary girl in this world trying to make rent. There’s a bittersweet purity to that notion.

But if Jahy hadn’t been outside hanging the open sign when Druj happened to be walking by, Jahy wouldn’t have received the affirmation she so sorely needed to keep moving forward. Watching Druj have an absolute blast drinking and scarfing down over a hundred bucks worth of beer and food she served to her, Jahy starts to get it.

Sometimes it just feels good to serve, especially if it’s someone you care about. Druj cares about no one more than Jahy, and while her masochism and idolatry can be excessive, let’s not forget she came from a place called the Dark Realm.

While Jahy and Druj’s power dynamics undulate in the human world, the post-credits omake puts Jahy back in command…as a space pirate! Druj is her only crew, while the Landlady warps into their vicinity to demand Jahy pay the rental fees on the ship.

I’ll admit this was a fun and unexpected departure from reality, and I could probably watch a whole cour of this, but Jahy’s continuing voyages back down on earth are far more compelling. While Druj remains the same loyal-to-a-fault servant no matter where she is, Jahy’s sudden shift in fortunes have forced her to adapt and evolve into a more complete person.

Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai! – 02 – Fallen From the Nest

This week while searching for a mana crystal shard, Jahy encounters Druj (Hanazawa Kana), one of her former peons who is now inexplicably far richer and more successful in the human world than she is.

All Jahy has over Druj is her former authority as second-in-command of the Dark Realm, which Druj still recognizes. Druj is also so used to Jahy treating her like crap that even when Jahy is clearly BS’ing her way through their interactions, Druj gives her the benefit of the doubt.

That Druj has made out much, much better in the human world than Jahy is either a matter of chance or pure karma. Considering the cutaways to how Jahy used to treat Druj, I’m inclined to say it’s the latter.

Druj suffered as a peon all those years, but now that the Dark Realm has fallen, she’s not only landed on her feet, but has a penthouse apartment, a limo with a chauffeur, and can afford 2-million-yen diamonds.

When Jahy’s search for mana crystals brings her to said penthouse apartment, Druj’s anti-theft security system imprisons Jahy. Only because Druj is so undyingly loyal to Jahy, she assumes Jahy was merely testing the system and not trying to steal the crystal remnants she’d obtained.

If there were still some who questioned why we should feel any sympathy for Jahy, I feel watching her brought low once more before a former underling who has no idea how pathetic her life is helps mitigate that remaining skepticism. Jahy may be responsible for any number of atrocities while she was a power in the Dark Realm.

But all we see of that is that she liked bathing in blood and drinking wine, and ocasionally using Druj as a chair…which Druj thoroughly enjoyed!

When Jahy redoubles her efforts to find mana crystals not in Druj’s possession, she ends up having her crystal stolen by a crow. At her lowest point, Jahy encounters someone in an even worse position than her: a crow chick who has fallen from their nest.

Jahy transcends her past villainy by returning the chick to its nest at great personal risk to herself (being as she is in her scrawny girl form this entire episode). Her reward for this selfless, compassionate act? She finds not only her own crystal in the nest, but another mana crystal as well.

Even so, she’s soaked, muddy, cold, and hanging from a tree branch. Fortunately, that tree happens to be right behind her apartment, and the landlady spots her, notices her injured leg, and offers a piggyback ride. It’s a satisfying olive branch between these two characters who had been constantly at each other’s throats last week.

It’s also a sign that if there’s some kind of higher power directing Jahy’s fate, it’s clear that if she’s to achieve her goal of restoring the dark realm, she has to do so by growing as a person, by helping (instead of oppressing) those weaker than her, and showing respect rather than contempt for others.

Druj may have been her peon in the Dark Realm, but that’s no longer the case, no matter how deferent Druj remains toward her. If Jahy wants to climb out of the considerable hole in which she finds herself, she’s going to have to evolve beyond her old evil ways.

Tokyo Revengers – 13 – Crossing the Bridge

Why? Why is this show still going on? Why did Hina have to die, again, and in the most horrific, heart-demolishing way? What was Kisaki Tetta up to all this time? These were the unavoidable questions going into Revengers’ second cour, and this first episode of that cour had to do a lot of heavy lifting to convince me to stick around Takemichi’s tragic party, rather than executing a tactical Irish exit.

Rather than pass or fail, I must give Revengers…an “Incomplete”. This is purely a bridge episode, literally called “Odds and Ends”, though I appreciate that it’s a little rude to call Hina’s funeral a “loose end”. But the episode starts out by making us relive Hina’s final moments again, which I did not appreciate.

We know for a fact Takemichi isn’t going to let Hina’s death pass; not as long as he has the ability to go back and fix things. Where he and Naoto went wrong is thinking simply saving Draken would fix everything, all while pretty much forgetting about Kisaki Tetta…which was very weird.

Leaving Kisaki completely alone was never going to pay particularly positive dividends in the future, and even if we grant that Takemichi is an idiot who might well not consider Kisaki, Naoto let the joy of getting his big sis back distract him from the fact they had much bigger Toman fish to fry before they could secure a future for Hina.

Takemichi’s plan to become the leader of Toman and “bring it down” from within is an admirable one, but aside from being able to take the odd beating or stabbing we just haven’t seen the level of fighting ability, cleverness, or charisma needed to be one of the captains, let alone the boss. This isn’t something you can get by asking nicely with dog poop on your head.

Also, it’s been clear from the start that Takemichi has clear boundaries when it comes to being a gang member. But outside of murdering Kisaki Tetta (and possibly that Hanma guy too), I don’t’ see how you eliminate him as a threat. And since the days and months run parallel in the two timelines, Takemichi can’t go back any further in time to do what needs to be done.

So yeah, it was an uneven return to Tokyo Revengers, a judgment perhaps best exemplified by an extremely dull montage of Takemichi working and sitting around his still-messy apartment waiting for Naoto to call, all while extremely dramatic music is playing. This show has never been interested in showing its work, but Takemichi’s still just winging it doesn’t bode well for Hina’s future.

Tokyo Revengers – 12 – Hina We Go Again

I knew two things going into this twelfth episode of Tokyo Revengers: this wasn’t the last episode, and Hina was most likely doomed…again. I was hoping to be proven wrong, but when nearly half of the runtime is spent watching Takemichi and Naoto very gradually make their way to Hina’s place, it didn’t bode well.

It was very in character for Takemichi to reconsider seeing Hina at the last second, thinking that it would just be odd for someone she dated twelve years ago to show up one night with her little brother. Fortunately, fate smiles on our crybaby revenger, as he bumps into Hina and she recognizes him instantly.

Once his tears finally subside, their reunion is painfully awkward; so much so that Naoto prepares to ditch them to figure things out themselves—they are adults, after all. Then Takemichi clings to Naoto’s leg, and for some reason Naoto gets it in his head that taking the two out on a drive will be a better idea than keeping Hina away from any and all cars, considering how she died in the previous timeline.

No, instead, as a very obvious and extremely menacing black Hummer follows them, Naoto drives Hina and Takemichi around until he’s called away by the station, so Hina has to take over driving duties alone with Takemichi. Takemichi, meanwhile, notices she’s wearing the four-leaf clover necklace he gave her twelve years ago…yet inexplicably chalks it up to some kind of coincidence.

They park at the Tokyo waterfront, where she has a memory of being with “the one she loves”. Takemichi learns that it was he who dumped her twelve years ago. Considering how easily he almost ended up sleeping with Emma, you’d think he’d remember what a jerk his past self was. Hina, meanwhile, often said how it felt like there were two Takemichis, and the one she fell for was really his future self.

Even so, this is apparently too much for Takemichi, who runs off to the public bathroom, where he thankfully steels himself to confess to her, no matter how badly he’s afraid it will go. It will and does go bad, but not the way he expected—otherwise, he would never have left Hina alone, let alone tell her to go back to the car.

On his way out of the bathroom he bumps into someone he recognizes is the present-day Hanma, who promised Valhalla would ensure Toman never had any peace. He’s confused why Takemichi “isn’t in the car.” Uh-oh…

Turns out Akkun is behind the wheel of the Hummer that tailed them, and he drives right into the back of Naoto’s car with Hina—and only Hina—inside. A bloodied, tearful Akkun says he’s sorry, but he couldn’t go against Kisaki—any more than his alternate present-day self could. He even repeats a lot of the same lines he said, further torturing Takemichi.

He’s able to get the door of the burning car off, but Hina can’t get out; the front of the car has crushed her legs. Takemichi hugs her and says he’s always loved her, which makes her happier than he can imagine, but shortly after that she pushes him out of the car, which then explodes.

It’s extremely shitty to find Takemichi back at square one, with the added tragedy of having to witness Hina’s horrific demise this time. It’s also extremely annoying and lame that Hina once again has to suffer and die so our protagonist can grow (…again). While he managed to avoid one possible route that would lead to Hina’s death, now he knows there are others, and it will take at least another trip back to eliminate them.

Had Kiseki or Hanma known that Naoto is the one who enables Takemichi to travel back in time—or that he’s even able to do that—they would probably have made sure Naoto was in the car too. But the fact they carried out the plan without Takemichi in the car means they too left a loose end hanging, and that loose end is bent on exacting revenge by becoming the damn leader of Toman.

Tokyo Revengers – 11 – Everybody Breathe

After a number of horrifying twists and turns and some truly epic beatings, Takemichi and his friends finally catch a goddamn break. The bad guys hear sirens and decide to flee, while Hina and Emma arrive with EMTs. Takemichi rides in the ambulance with Draken, who is not out of the woods, and even seemingly breathes his last breath asking Mitchy to take care of Mikey for him before going into cardiac arrest.

Draken enters emergency surgery, and Takemichi, the girls, the boys, Mitsuya, Peh-yan, and Mikey can do nothing but try to keep it down and wait. Everyone’s on pins and needles until that “operation in progress” red light goes out, two suregons step out and report the good news: Draken will live.

Everyone celebrates, Mitsuya tells Peh-yan that Draken visited Pah-chin every day at juvie, and he’d better apologize for trying to kill him. When everyone heads home, Takemichi goes looking for Mikey and finds him having a private cry alone, finally able to drop his tough stoic guy façade.

A few days pass, and Takemichi is the toast of the school, looked up to for the first time in his life and loving every minute of it. He even looks the part with his wide-open bowling shirt, red “OUTLAW” shorts, purple shades, and wide, pompous strut.

An on-the-mend Draken has no time for any of that nonsense when Takemichi visits him the hospital, but Takemichi pushes back against his disapproval, basically telling him to let him have this, just for a little while. Draken bows and thanks him properly for saving him, and presents him with the first Toman jacket Mikey ever wore, a kingly garment that’s a gesture of his gratitude.

On the rooftop, Mikey ominously wonders out loud how Takemichi knew inner Toman strife was going to go down before anyone else did, but drops it and offers his hand for the kid to shake.

Takemichi only has one last handshake to make. He stops by the Tachibanas unannounced, asks Hina to bring out Naoto, then presents her with a four-leaf clover necklace—the same one adult Hina wears (and kisses) in the ED. Takemichi doesn’t give it to her just to make things up to her, but because he wants to leave something behind before going back to the future.

With that, he shakes a very confused Naoto’s hand and ends up back in the present-day, only not in Naoto’s apartment. He doesn’t even have Naoto’s phone number! Instead, he’s back at the video store being taken to task by his younger manager. He gets an alarm for salon appointment, and when he picks up his dropped phone, he notices he now has a scar from when he was stabbed through the palm.

Suspecting he was finally successful in changing the future for the better, one of the three people he saved turns up alive, well, and looking much healthier and happier than the previous present-day Akkun. He’s an assistant at the salon and about to start being allowed to cut hair. He wants to cut Takemichi’s first, since that was their promise.

Then Takemichi gets a call from Naoto, who confirms that he was successful in changing the future. He invites Takemichi to join him in going to see Hina. The question is, will Tokyo Revengers’ twelfth episode rip the rug out from under Takemichi’s (and our) feet once more with some kind of new twist related to Hina’s fate?

With Hanma promising his new gang Valhalla will never allow Toman a moment’s peace before fleeing the sirens at the start of the episode, as well as the total and inexplicable absence of Kisaki Tetta throughout the last few weeks, there may be plenty left for Takemichi to do in the past. Still, I hold out hope Hina is alive, well, and not already spoken for.

TenSura – 35 – The Conditions Have Been Met

Once he began eliminating soldiers of Falmuth by the thousands in service of his goal to evolve into a Demon Lord, it marked the official end of the “happy-go-lucky” Rimuru Tempest…or at least it should, if we the audience are to feel any sympathy at all for the scores of human beings he’s coldly murdering.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Reyheim—the mastermind behind this whole invasion—is spared, along with Falmuth’s King Edomalis. Folgen and Razen aren’t so lucky, getting headshotted just when the king feels like they have a shot at retreating. Even when Rimuru looms high above them with their literal lives in his fingers, Edomalis can’t help but look down on the slime.

With his soul quota at just over halfway met, Rimuru makes use of his new unique skill “Merciless”, which uses the remaining soldiers’ own lost will to fight to kill them all at once. With the requisite number achieved, the “Harvest Festival” begins. It cannot be stopped, and when it ends, Rimuru will emerge a Demon Lord.

The process also makes him extremely sleepy, so before he passes out he summons an archdemon and two underlings to fight and capture the one survivor the Great Sage detected amongst the dead, then has Ranga take him, the king, and the archbishop back to the capital, so the festival can continue in safety.

Shuna places the unconscious Rimuru atop a dais in the center of the plaza, and the Great Sage, which Shuna refers to as “Words of the World”, proceeds to give updates on the process. Benimaru hopes the Rimuru who emerges won’t “become a different person”, but…he kinda already did that when he chose this path, didn’t he?

Rimuru evolves into a Demon Slime, with vastly improved physical abilities. All of the skills he’s acquired in the past carry over or are evolved into even more powerful skills. The Great Sage also attempts to evolve, failing hundreds of times before sacrificing “Degenerate” and eventually becoming the ultimate skill “Raphael – Lord of Wisdom”.

Despite getting shot in the head by Megiddo, Razen’s “Survivor” served as an Auto-Life spell, keeping him alive. Unfortunately, he is immediately approached by the archdemon, whom he unwisely assumes is no match for him. His Nuclear Cannon is literally blown away by the archdemon as one blows a stray hair out of one’s face.

When Razen summons a spirit knight, the archdemon casually sidles up and smashes its core, destroying it in the blink of an eye. Turns out while spirits are typically superior to demons, the age and experience of the summoner matters, and Razen is still “far too young”. When Razen realizes nothing he can do will put a scratch on the “primordial” archdemon, he passes out in fear.

Meanwhile, in the plaza, the evolution is complete, and Rimuru’s closest companions are bestowed with a “gift”—which they can sense makes their connection to him even stronger. Like Rimuru when the Festival began, they all pass out from the process, but Rimuru regains his familiar human body, only now he features scarlet eyes.

Speaking with what sounds like a combination of his voice and that of the Great Sage (sorry, Raphael), he uses his new skill Beelzebub (basically Gluttony on steroids) to collect all the magicules within the anti-magic barrier, then separate them into individual souls which hang over all of the corpses.

When the archdemon returns to his side with Razen, and says there are still insufficient magicules to revive everyone, Rimuru is prepared to expend his own life energy to make up the difference. The archdemon informs him that such a sacrifice is not needed; his two underlings will gladly sacrifice themselves instead.

Rimuru accepts the offer, and the ultimate secret art of Spirit Resurrection commences. Mjurran is amazed by what she’s witnessing. Grucius knows Lord Carrion could never match this power. The archdemon is determined to become Rimuru’s subordinate “at any cost”.

Rimuru/Raphael then repeats the “3.14%” chance of successfully reviving the dead, estimating that number should be revised quite a bit upward since the probability was calculated before he attained Demon Lordship. Sure enough, the wounds of the corpses are healed, Shion’s hand moves, and her eyes open.

Rimuru has achieved everything he set out to do in this operation. With the exception of the archdemon’s fight with Razen the action in the episode was minimal, replaced by the procedural formalities inherent in such a momentous evolution. And all it took was for Rimuru to become the very thing the humans of Falmuth feared he would. Will it be back to business as usual in Tempest, or will there be any ethical or karmic blowback?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 10 – Not-So-Laid-Back Camp▽

After a very cute meet-up with Mimimi at the local train, Tomozaki finds suddenly himself on a perfectly conventional normie event, in which he, Mimimi, Hinami, and Mizusawa are scheming to bring Nakamura and Yuzu closer together, starting with the two sitting next to each other on the train to their camping spot. Also, Takei is there. Hinami sits with Tomozaki, and assigns his task for the trip: tease, make a suggestion, and/or disagree with Nakamura three times, with the aim of becoming his friend.

As I suspected, both she and Tomozaki learned the wrong lesson from Fuuka’s “hard to talk to” comment: It’s clear Fuuka preferred when he was just being himself and talking with her naturally rather than parroting normie lines when he fundamentally isn’t a normie. I understand Tomozaki’s obliviousness, but why Hinami doesn’t grasp this I cannot say. Maybe she’s just that far removed from non-normie life?

After arriving at Hanno Station the group heads to their campsite and goes full Yuru Camp, complete with barbecue (prepared by Yuzu and Nakamura) tarp and chairs (Mizusawa, Mimimi and Takei) and a fire, which is handled by Hinami and Tomozaki. Himami later explains why she chose the groups, and in grouped herself with him in part so she wouldn’t have to “put on an act” all the time, as she admits its tiring.

While Tomozaki reacts with relief to learn she gets tired about something, I still feel her comment flies under his radar. Not only does it confirm that she’s not a true normie (who wouldn’t have to “put on” an act or even recognize it as such), but also feels most at ease around him, with whom she can be herself. She’s a wonderful enigma: she’s both the normiest normie who ever normied, and yet to maintain that requires someone who is literally not a normie.

After a feast, some mild riverside swimsuit fanservice, and a nice accidental assist by Takei to get Yuzu literally in Nakamura’s arms, the boys and girls retire to their respective cabins for some down time. Talk of Shuuji’s ex Shimano comes up, and Tomozaki scores the first of three points by teasing that Shimano is stringing him along, engendering laughter from Nakamura and Takei.

Takei unwittingly assists the others again by distracting Nakamura with arm wrestling while they all LINE about how the operation is going. The guys report that Shuuji mentioned a girl he could see himself going out with, but who is asking him for advice about a guy she likes. The girls confirm that it’s Yuzu telling Shuuji there’s a hypothetical guy she’s interested in.

During a game of tycoon in which Hinami and Tomozaki dominate, Tomozaki gets in his second tease by pointing out Nakamura never made it past Commoner in the game. Nakamura concedes the point, then moves on to Mizusawa, and how he’s been flirting with a girl from another school. This almost seems to irk Mizusawa, as he excuses himself to go to the bathroom.

Tomozaki follows him, and Mizusawa seems comfortable talking about it with him more. Tomozaki can’t imagine himself being bold enough to ask out a girl from another school, and when Mizusawa admits he might not like her, Tomozaki asks why he’d date someone he didn’t like. Mizusawa’s response under his breath, “You’re not just being polite, are you?” is cryptic.

Maybe the girl is just good in bed. Maybe he’s seeking to date someone outside of their circle, say, to give Tomozaki a chance at Hinami. In any case, when the boys are bathing, the other three learn that Tomozaki is hung, nicknaming him “Army Boy”, and he scores his first point by playfully calling Nakamura “tiny.” Hinami and Mimimi can apparently hear all of this.

While it was hinted that Hinami might’ve been lying when she denied she and Mizusawa were dating, but this episode seems to help make the case she was being honest. For while show is eminently comfortable executing its more nuanced version of the standard High School Camping Trip scenario, Tomozaki is anything but laid-back, especially when the Test of Courage comes around.

After Nakamura and Yuzu head off together as planned, rock-paper-scissors puts Hinami and Tomozaki together once more. This presumably means Hinami can relax and “drop the act” like when they were building the fire. Instead, she decides to make it walking-confidently-with-a-scared-girl practice for Tomozaki, suddenly acting timid and clinging to him.

Tomozaki is convinced Hinami is merely teasing her, deriving pleasure by getting him all flustered. But considering she’s never been this close and physical with him, you have to wonder if her motives go beyond mere teasing, and whether she’s using that as an excuse to be genuinely clingy with him. Otherwise, how far would this kind of “practice” go?

The episode seems on the cusp of answering that question when Tomozaki attempts to exact revenge by disturbing a live cicada. It works better than he expected, as she seems 100% genuine in being so horribly startled she ends up on her knees. She insists he help her up, and she wraps her arms around him, the two seem to realize in what a romantic position they’ve ended up. As his gaze settles on Hinami’s soft lips, both we and Tomozaki have to ponder: is simply practice taken to the HEXtreme, or is it something else … something real?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

 

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 09 – The Normiest Summer Ever

Summer break is here, but it won’t be a break from Tomozaki’s mission to master the game of life. It can’t be; it’s their last summer break in high school! His first task—go somewhere one-on-one with a girl who isn’t her—can be satisfied by going to that movie with Fuuka. But for Hinami victory ultimately means him regularly dating Fuuka, and she’ll be setting other goals for him between now and the end of August.

Hinami wants Tomozaki succeeds in his first date, so they have what she calls a “rehearsal date”, in which she texts him places he’ll suggest they go as if he had chosen them, and she’ll speak in a higher register and act like his date. While clothes shopping, she gives him a slightly scratched backpack she bought earlier for a cute button he buys for her. Then they hit up the electronics store and play some Tackfam at the Yontendo display.

It’s here where we watch Hinami openly struggling for once and not being The Best. I emphasize that she’s not acting here; she’s being her genuine self with him, and the pretend date suddenly feels like a real one. He considers their Tackfam playing to be the “best form of communication” for them; it’s when he realizes she’s not just a top-level normie but a dyed-in-the-wool gamer like him.

While having a bite, Hinami tells Tomozaki she already got the OK from Fuuka to give him her LINE ID, which saves him the trouble of asking her in person. Hinami gives him the brass tacks of his message, and Tomozaki bangs it out. It’s a bit lengthy, but it’s earnest and straightforward, so she clears it for sending. And despite warning Tomozaki that sometimes it takes a while for Fuuka to respond, she responds almost instantly with an enthusiastic “yes”—a definite good sign.

Before parting ways for the day, Hinami tells Tomozaki to keep the 4th and 5th open, as she and the rest of the gang are going to have a barbecue and sleepover, ostensibly as a ploy to get Yuzu and Nakamura together. But such a youthful normie event will be a veritable goldmine for Life XP Tomozaki needs to level up. I don’t think that Hinami “pulled strings” to get him invited—I’m sure they were all fine with him joining them—as someone who wishes to master the game, this is a challenge he can’t pass up. He’s in.

First Hinami invites him to join her and Mizusawa for a planning event at Mimimi’s. There, his task will be to “mess with” Mizusawa at least three times, for as she says, “moderate teasing is key to making friends as equals.” It’s a super-clinical, even cynical way of looking at bonding rituals, but that doesn’t make it not true!

Sure enough, as soon as Tomozaki arrives ready for an opening to mess with Mizusawa, he is the one messed with. But when Mimimi requests a change of venue since her grandma is over, Hinami suggests the house of the one who lives closest to Mimimi. That’s Tomozaki, and as a result his little sister and mom totally freak out by the top-tier characters who are suddenly hanging out with their Fumiya!

While playfully searching Tomozaki’s room looking for porn, Mimimi finds a box full of totally worn-out old controllers. He explains that while they’re no longer sensitive enough for Tackfam, they’re still fine for other games. Hinami takes a particular wordless interest in these, actual artifacts of his grueling effort to become the best that she can hold in her hands. No doubt she has a few such controllers in a box in her room too!

Planning to bring Yuzu and Nakamura closer together turns to talk of the future in general, with the knowledge that with exams next year there won’t be as many opportunities to hang out; this summer must not be squandered. Tomozaki successfully messes with Mizusawa thrice. Mizusawa also noticed the hair gel he recommended to him isn’t being used too frequently, and Tomozaki demonstrates why when he applies it: he needs some pointers.

What follows is a very sweet little scene as Tomozaki films himself as Mizusawa shows him the proper way to apply the gel. Mizusawa notes that Tomozaki takes everything seriously, and wonders why he goes to such lengths, with everything from hair gel to Mimimi’s speech. Tomozaki likens life to a game he doesn’t want to lose, and Mizusawa can see, but from his perspective, if life is only a “game”, why not loosen up and enjoy it?

It’s a very enlightening exchange of viewpoints, as the two guys treat the word “game” very differently. When Tomozaki returns to his room with his new ‘do, Mimimi is the one messing with him, using a pen as a microphone to report “something fishy going on.” After everyone leaves, he suggests Saturday the 1st for the movie with Fuuka, which is fine with her.

Now comes the even I’ve been looking forward to since it was first suggested: his big date with Fuuka. Tomozaki is the first to arrive at the meeting spot, which means he gets to see Fuuka before she sees him, and watch her neutral, almost forlorn expression turn to pure quiet joy when she spots him waving to her. Both of them are so happy and giddy this is actually happening, the two freeze up a bit, until Tomozaki says “Shall we?” and they head to the theater.

When Tomozaki mentions her long sleeves, she tells him how she has extremely sensitive skin that burns easily in the sun. He misses an opportunity to compliment her, but at the same time saying something like “I think your skin is lovely” might have made her to self conscious. In any case, Fuuka is so excited upon seeing the movie posters she draws quite close to him, then realizes how close that is an retreats a bit.

Once they’re in their seats, Tomozaki can’t help but look over at Fuuka beside him and blush with happiness. After the film they grab a bite, but as he continues talking about the film in detail, Tomozaki realizes he’s talking too much and not giving her an opening to add to the conversation. It’s here where my stomach started to sink along with Fuuka’s expression as Tomozaki overcompensates by bringing up a string of conversation topics that don’t mesh well.

Worse, he thinks it’s going well when it’s clear from Fuuka’s look that she notices something is off. He realizes this too when she comes right out and says he’s a “mystery” to her, in the way he suddenly swings from being really easy to really hard to talk to. An awkward silence ensues.

Still, and this is key, those moments of awkwardness do not end up sinking the date or their prospects for each other. Instead, while on the train Fuuka clarifies her comments: she didn’t mean what she said about Tomozaki to be a bad thing, but a good thing. She’s never been good at talking with boys, so the times when it’s easy to talk with him represent the first such time. That makes her happy, which is why, without any needed input from him she tells him she wants to go out again sometime.

Tomozaki reports his great victory to Hinami over the phone while she’s painting her toes. She urges him to reflect on the “hard to talk to thing”, which really comes down to lack of experience on skills on both his part and Fuuka’s. The more time they spend together, the more comfortable they’ll get talking with one another.

Hinami may well have expected Fuuka would want to hang out with Tomozaki again, so she already has the ideal event for their second date: a fireworks show on the sixth. Tomozaki texts Fuuka, and she again gets back to him immediately with a yes. But before that he’ll tackle the barbecue and sleepover with his normie friends. I for one can’t wait for either!

Great Pretender – 11 – Mr. Nice Guy

After the high-rolling glitz and glamour of LaLaLand and Singapore, Great Pretender’s newest destination of Nice feels downright quaint … and that’s not a bad thing! Makoto may have followed Laurent and Cynthia to France, but he’s determined to walk away from con artistry and make an honest living at one of Nice’s not-so-famed sushi restaurants.

Unfortunately both his philosophy towards sushi and the language barrier prove to be dual challenges. On the bright side, his boarding house is cheap, has great food, and the owner’s daughter is quite lovely. But when a hoity-toity Englishman samples Makoto’s boss’ sushi and absolutely eviscerates him with withering criticism, the boss is ready to throw in the towel and return to China.

Another blow comes when Makoto gradually learns that his lovely hosts will soon sell their boarding house due to debts owed by the owner’s wife. Soon to be out of a job and a home, what’s Makoto to do? Run a con, obviously! Specifically, he intends to sell an intriguing little painting hanging on the wall for a sum sufficient to help the father-daughter duo pay off the debt and keep the house.

While it’s technically a con, Makoto’s justifications for re-re-breaking bad are twofold: one, it’s to help people out—he’s a Nice guy in Nice, after all—and two, the target is the hoity-toity Englishman who insulted his sushi boss. So he calls in Cynthia, Abby, and Sudou—though pointedly keeps Laurent out of it. Maybe my favorite part of the episode is his quiet, understated reunion and quasi-date with Abby. The two have clearly become closer since their little skydive!

Since this is Makoto’s show, Cynthia lets him run it, but the moment she sees the Englishman she calls for everyone to pull out. After all, the guy is none other than Coleman … James Coleman, Art Appraiser par excellence. Trying to fool him is a fool’s errand. Makoto doesn’t abort, however, and to Abby’s surprise Coleman is happy to buy the seemingly worthless painting for twenty-five thousand Euros.

Turns out the joke was on Makoto: the painting was a genuing Montoya, and a rare lost one at that which Coleman had apparently been looking for for years. He bought it for 25 thousand, but it’s really worth over 20 million—something Makoto’s landlord and daughter learn on the news.

But while they still got twenty thousand (Makoto didn’t keep any for himself, the other five split between Abby and Sudou), it still doesn’t sit right with Makoto that they were the ones taken for a ride. Despite not taking any of the cut, Cynthia is also outraged, and when she gets drunk enough, she decides that their next move is to get the painting back!

Great Pretender – 10 – Throwing Off Gravity’s Chains

When Abby asks Luis about his role in the bombings that killed her folks, he’s really in the mood to come away from the conversation with his life intact, so he says what he thinks will provoke her into killing him the fastest: “taking a dump” on Baghdad was doing his duty, and he couldn’t give two shits about whoever died because of it.

That does the trick; both he and were fully ready to let things end bloody. Then Makoto tackles Abby before she can do the dead. It’s his first step in, well, I can’t call it a “con” per se, but it’s definitely a scheme to create a different kind of end: One that could mean redemption for both tortured souls.

Taking advice from Cynthia, Makoto doesn’t pry into what happened with Abby and Luis, but is simply there for her as she looks out onto the city, wrestling with her grief, rage and helplessness, assuring her she’s not the only one suffering. Interestingly, he already had a bit of an effect on Abby when she spots a capsule toy dispenser and decides to buy one as a fortune good luck charm.

Abby thinks Makoto is full of shit, but she also doesn’t know what else to do. Fortunately, the figurine she acquires has special significance to her situation: historical “bad guy” Akechi Mitsuhide, who betrayed his lord like Brutus did to Caesar—presumably because they didn’t share the same values.

As Isabelle shares with Makoto (with Abby listening close by), Luis suffered PTSD after his tour of duty, and took up stunt piloting in order to satisfy his need to continue putting his miserable life on the line, a pattern virtually identical to the similarly-scarred Abby’s.

When they grudgingly meet with Makoto as a go-between, Luis points out that he and Abby won’t agree on much as long as they’re still alive, as if their beating hearts are anomalies in the universe that must be snuffed out in order to restore balance.

But again, Makoto thinks he has an equitable solution which will break both parties out of their respective funks. It starts with putting Luis back in the cockpit, in Abby’s place. When she pulled a knife on him he stood up from his wheelchair, leading Makoto to deduce that his physical injuries weren’t sufficient to keep him out of a plane. Instead, he needed an emotional reason to get back in: a chance to settle a score with his protege Clark.

When he’s back in the cockpit, it’s as if a switch is flipped. Having calmed down from their earlier scuffle, Luis brings Abby in close before he takes off, and says something she had no idea how much she needed to hear. It was only two words—I’m sorry—but they mean everything, because he means them.

Laurent put Makoto in Clark’s hanger so he could sabotage the engine when the time came to pit Abby against Clark, but he doesn’t sabotage it. In order for this race between Clark and Luis to matter, it has to be real, and make no mistake: Clark prefers it that way just as much as Luis having taken no pleasure in his role in the fixed results.

What results is the best race sequence the show has yet delivered. Photoshoppy color banding aside, the dogfighting planes against the vivid Singapore skyline have never looked better, and there’s a nice bittersweet symmetry to their air ballet being set to the same music as Abby’s last recital years ago.

In the end, Clark manages to eke out a win over his master, who after all hadn’t been in a cockpit in years. Still, it was close and thrilling. We know who wins because the color of the fireworks matches the victor’s plane color. Sam may have bet everything on Clark, but since Laurent arranged for a special doctored video feed and installed color-changing cellophane on the casino’s windows, Sam believes that Abby won, and that he lost everything…

Of course, he does lose—just not due to betting on the wrong pilot! In this regard, Laurent & Co. relied on quite a bit of luck in their win, as the winner of a no-holds-barred race between Clark and Luis was not altogether known. By the time Sam realizes he was swindled, Laurent, Kim and Kudou have already fled with the cash to a yacht.

In a way, just as Clark was able to learn through Luis how to be a better pilot (and let’s be honest, he’s definitely the more honorable of the two brothers), by watching Luis essentially regain his desire to live up in the sky serves a similar experience for Abby.

If that old fart can put the past behind him and take back his life, maybe she can to. His genuine apology also goes a long way towards her ultimately forgiving the guy, since that’s the first step in her moving on to whatever’s next.

When Abby and Makoto visit the abandoned casino, they are trapped and shot at by Sam and his men. Thankfully, Abby is still in her flight suit, so Makoto embraces her and leaps out the window to “give dying together a go”. The chute works and they land safely in the water for Laurent to fish them out.

It’s without doubt the scariest thing Makoto has ever done, and his face says as such, but damn it all if it’s not worth it to finally see Abigail Jones’ genuine, radiant smile! That makes for one hell of a strong ending to the Singapore Sky arc.

The Promised Neverland – 12 (Fin) – A Nameless Song

As the kids begin their ascent up the wall, Emma informs Ray of a change in her plans: rather than rescue everyone tonight, she’s leaving all the little ones four and under behind, and is committed to coming back for them, and everyone else in the other plants, before their various shipping dates arrive. It’s a tough choice, but one that had to be made to ensure that the group of fifteen older kids survive the escape.

That’s why little Phil is with Mama as the house burns: turns out Phil is in on it, and even though he’s only four, he now understands what it means that Norman, Connie and the others were “harvested.” Emma leaves him in charge of training the next “wave”, his fellow younger kids, and getting him ready for when she returns.

But first things first, getting across that great yawning cliff. There’s another wrinkle in the plan for which Ray was kept in the dark, which meant Mama was kept in the dark: they don’t use the very obvious bridge to cross the cliff. Instead, Don heaves a stone across a narrower portion of the cliff, and the rope wraps successfully across a tree. He ziplines across, secures the other end of the rope, and secures the second and third ropes two of the kids use water rockets to launch across.

It’s a wonderful use of ingenuity and intense training, and the kids pull it off with aplomb. Phil also succeeds in distracting Mama just long enough so when she sounds the alarm the monsters go to the bridge, and when she realizes they’re not at the bridge, she doesn’t get to their location until Emma is the last person who hasn’t made the crossing. Emma flashes one last defiant look at her former Mama, and says goodbye before ziplining across. The lines are cut; Mama is beaten.

In her moment of defeat, we learn more about who Mama—who Isabella—was, thanks to a supremely affecting flashback that really humanizes her despite the monstrous things she’s done for her superiors. Isabella had a “Norman” of her own in Leslie, who played a beautiful lute and wrote a nameless song she loved. But Leslie’s shipping date came, and he said goodbye, and Isabella was devastated.

She used her ingenuity and athleticism to climb the wall, only to find the cliff and despair as Norman must have done when he first saw it. Her Mama comes to bring her back home, and eventually Isabella is given the same offer she’d later give Emma.

Only while Emma refused, Isabella accepted. She was trained to be a Sister, then a Mama, and even gave birth…to Ray. A younger Ray hums the same nameless song Leslie used to play, because Isabella hummed it when he was in the womb. Ray realizes Mama is his birth mother, asks why she gave birth to him (survival, plain and simple), and their “collaboration” continued from there.

If Leslie’s song were to ever have a title, one possibility could be “The Path Not Traveled,” as it’s the song Isabella held close and never forgot from her time as one of the same kind of kids Ray, Norman and Emma turned out to be, but it’s a song that reminds her that she chose to survive by joining the system rather than rebelling. In the end, Mama seems more proud than anything else that her beloved children outwitted her. Now that they’re beyond the wall and cliff, she wishes them good fortune.

Another title could be “The First Morning”, such as the one Emma and Ray encounter. The sun rises out of the horizon for the first time since they gained their hard-earned freedom. Seeing them silhouetted against the dawn’s light is one hell of a beautiful parting shot.

While I’m terribly worried for what might come next, or what dangers await them in the wilderness beyond, there simply wasn’t time to explore that in twelve episodes. But just the fact they managed to get out of the farm that was going to ship them off to be demon food is more than enough.