A Couple of Cuckoos – 11 – A Proper Woman

Sachi is out visiting her folks at the newly opened family diner, so when a storm causes a blackout, it’s just Nagi and Erika, who instinctually hold one another. Growing up loaded, Erika is so unaccustomed to outages she assumes the Martians are attacking.

Once she lights her aromatherapy candle, she and Nagi calm down, and have a cozy little conversation about how much fun they’re both having. Then Erika realizes there’s an emergency kit in the entry hall coat closet and has him go collect it.

While in the hall, Nagi finds a puddle, then trips and falls into who he thinks is Erika…but it’s actually Sachi, who just got home. When he falls into her, they lock lips, but he dismisses it as no big deal and returns to Erika, who is calling for him like a wife would.

But it is a big deal for Sachi, and there’s no way she can forget it! After hearing the exact same scenario play out on her and her friends’ favorite anime, she decides “Screw Onii” and avoids him for the next couple days, making the atmosphere at home awkward for everyone, including Erika.

When Nagi finally comes clean to Erika about what happened, Erika dons her sexy teacher cosplay and points out where Nagi erred. He may still see her as his brat of a kid sister, she’s close to marriageable age; a “proper woman”, and Nagi was insensitive.

When it’s just Nagi and Hiro at the next library study session, Hiro can tell something’s up and offers her services as spiritual counselor free of charge. She tells Nagi he can be insensitive, especially when he blew through her admitting she was engaged and publicly declared academic war against her. But she also likes how straightforward and direct he is, so she advises him to be that way here.

Thanks to the perspective and advice of two other people who care about both him and Sachi, Nagi arrives at Sachi’s door nervous but prepared to end this little row with honesty and contriteness.

He tells Sachi he’s sorry for hurting her and being so thoughtless, and declares his intention to no longer look at her or treat her as just his kid sister, but the proper woman she is fast becoming.

His words do the trick; we know that Sachi wanted this from Nagi, and hearing the words from his mouth without her having to beat him over the head with a baseball bat means the word to her.

Of course, Nagi remains blissfully unaware of the fact Sachi has feelings for him, but hey, at least they’re talking again. Erika is clearly relieved that the vibes will improve

I remain unenthused at the prospect of a Sachi Route, and their accidental kiss could reasonably be held in contempt of the laws of physics, but it was true that Nagi wasn’t being fair to Sachi, and his adjustment in thinking was both welcome and arrived upon thanks to the friendships he’s forged with Erika and Hiro.

Engage Kiss – 01 (First Impressions) – A Spare Key for Victory

From the fact his apartment lacks gas and electric when his pink-haired companion lets herself in to try to make dinner, to the fact his ex-partner Ayano foots the bill for his first meal in three days, Ogata Shuu is what is known in Japan as binbou—destitute. Regardless, he seems adamant about living his own life his way, even if his new independent business is not off to a strong start.

His companion, Kisara waits for him in the dark back home, having prepared a pretty impressive feast despite the lack of utilities. When he says he already ate, and vaguely smells of another woman, Kisara goes down a spiral of self-deprecation until he eats the cold repast. When he asks Kisara for the last of her savings for a cash-on-delivery, she posts an Insta of the two of them about to send themselves to heaven with sleeping pills.

But all is not lost. Poor as he is, Shuu still has a seat at the table of companies who bid over contracts to rid their floating city (in the water, not air) spelled either Veyron or Bayron of “Demon Hazards.” There’s a mid-level one wreaking havoc in a central casino, and Shuu ends up with the lowest dollar amount by far (less than $40K, vs. the second-lowest being $112).

The other bidders leave the virtual meeting in disgust, but Ayano’s mom’s company agrees to support him (with Ayano herself) in exchange for a hefty share of the extermination fee. Shuu shows up late for his own operation, but Ayano and her soldiers are consummate professionals as they mow down the demon’s minions.

The demon turns out to be tougher than its estimated C-Class level, putting Shuu’s back against the wall, but then Kisara, having forgiven him, arrives by passing through the floor. The only problem is, while her sword packs a punch, she only gets one good swing, which is deflected by the demon.

Kisara tells Shuu she’s out of power, and needs to recharge. The way she does that is by making out with Shuu, something he both seems to find uncomfortable and enjoys, but also causes him to pass out due to the exchange of energy. During their kissing, Kisara not only shows tongue, but fangs.

If passing through floors wasn’t enough of a giveaway, Kisara isn’t human; she’s a demoness who happens to be a higher level than the opponent in the casino. But initially she’s angry at Ayano for being another woman that exists in Shuu’s world and the two constantly launch attacks at each other that only hit the demon’s multiplying minions.

Their battle is the best part of the episode, but Shuu gets between the two, and Kisara declares she’ll finish his job if Shuu gives her an important token of their contract: his spare key. It doesn’t matter if she can walk right through his door; she wants to be able to unlock and open it whenever she wants, as a sign of his love and his trust in her.

Shuu relents, and upon receipt of the key, Kisara’s attack power reaches 11. The two count down together from ten, with Kisara blasting through the demon hazard’s shields and Kisara delivering the final coup-de-grace with a shot from his pistol. Their mission accomplished, Kisara ends up on top of Shuu and leans in for a celebratory kiss…

But unfortunately both of them went a little too far with the power, compromising the structural integrity of the entire skyscraper, which is actually crucial to keeping the entire city afloat. While I’m sure Veyron City is in no danger of sinking, Kisara flies around the skyscraper, apparently trying to keep it level, while Ayano remarks that B-Class or C-Class, the Demon Hazard they fought never had a chance against Kisara, who is a Super A-Class who happens to be on their side, possibly only due to her liking Shuu.

Part badass demon-hunting, part workplace romantic comedy, and part abject lesson in proper budgeting, Engage Kiss’ first episode is nothing if not…ahem…engaging. Shuu comes off as a useless mooch most of the time but comes through when it matters, while Kisara and Ayano should prove to be strong clashing personalities for Shuu’s attention and the spoils of demon-hunting victory. All in all, a fun and energetic start, but we’ll see if it will make the final Summer cut.

Heroines Run the Show – 10 – The Stir

The rumors of a LIPxLIP member romance around going away, as evidenced by the appearance of the photos on television, with Hiyori’s face pixelated. That makes it so Narumi Mona can’t quite recognize the girl she met a few weeks back, while Sena insists neither of the boys would be incautious enough to date a classmate.

But while the rumors and nasty online comments abound, it’s not that bad for our LIPxLIP and their manager-in-training. Her support network was already established last week, but the three also have the support of their teacher and by extension the school. Yuujirou’s father also sees this as evidence his son actually is making something of himself, and that the Someya family is far tougher than these petty rumors.

That said, Hiyori decides to keep her distance from the two and encourages them not to talk or interact with her, which they rightfully consider to be a pain. They may not admit it, but Hiyori is not just their manager-in-training, but a friend. Speaking of friends, Hiyori feels terrible having to lie about her connections to the boys, even to Chizuru and Juri.

Back at the studio, Uchida outlines the steps being taken to reduce the damage to the LIPxLIP brand, including explaining and apologizing to all of their corporate sponsors and supporters. Yuujirou’s kabuki prodigy brother Kouichirou makes a surprise appearance to help the lads track down whoever did this and punish them.

But for Hiyori’s that’s, as she would say it, crossin’ a line. Idols shouldn’t be accusing or fighting with fans. She’s read their fan mail; she knows the genuine love and support they have for LIPxLIP, and she knows that even if it was unintentional, she damaged that bond by simply being in those photos. For that reason, she decides to quit her job as manager-in-training.

It’s a very Hiyori move, putting the fans of her charges ahead of her own dreams, even if the boys remark that she’s not one to back down from a race or a challenge, considering they were that very thing at the beginning. But ultimately it’s a decision they let Hiyori make because it’s hers to make.

Suddenly bereft of their chipper manager-in-trainin’, Yuujirou and Aizou end up hanging out with their respective brothers. An odd shot of Ken earlier in the episode had me suspecting him as the sneak photographer, and his making what looks like a huge homemade meal of Aizou’s favorite dishes look like an apology.

As for Yuujirou, we learn the reason he got in trouble with the police: he was covering for his younger brother, who had been led astray by his senpais into a club where he was underage. It’s why Kouichirou wanted to help Yuujirou out with the scandal; he owes him.

But Yuujirou decides to hold onto that chip; he’s got this, along with Aizou. After all their time together, it’s amazing they don’t have each others cell phone numbers, and even though Aizou sneaks onto the Someya compound and climbs a tree as if to meet with his Juliet, they make no effort to exchange them.

That said, with help from Uchida, they set up a press conference in which they bare themselves to the masses salivating for content. All of their responses are quick, calm, well-rehearsed, no doubt also due to Uchida, but also the boys’ consummate professionalism, even when backed into a corner.

It’s also easy for fans and onlookers alike to relate to their situation: they could have gone full-in to professional entertainment, but chose to balance that with a legit high school life, and all the fun, simple little moments that make it. Moments like the ones the photos captured. At the end of the day, the photos tell the truth: these three are good friends.

The press conference invites the public to see their side of things, and their explanation of their “precious classmate” with whom they share their high school life is largely accepted, even embraced. But Hiyori watches it all in her darkened apartment, suddenly out of the picture and out of action. Again, this was her choice, but if she hadn’t made it, no one would have asked her to give up her job.

Uchida wasn’t being nice when she said she was glad she hired “Hiyako”. I just hope Hiyori comes to her senses and returns to work. If nothing else, her living expenses ain’t gonna pay for themselves!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 09 – Whose Girlfriend?

After what felt like a relatively sedate field day detour, HRS kicks back into gear, though there’s a bit of lag as the first half or so of the episode is slice-of-life luxuriating. This is not a complaint: it’s great to see Hiyori back on the track, her hard work motivating the boys to work harder towards their goal of a slot on Countdown Live. The guys even hang out with other guys at school for the first time, playing basketball in the schoolyard.

The episode briefly shifts to montage mode as we see Hiyori, Yuujirou, and Aizou growing closer and closer not as an idol unit and their manager, but three friends, culminating in their celebrating LIPxLIP getting a CDL slot with a three-way high-five. But that private moment is captured by a photographer hiding in the bushes, and the next morning photos of the happy trouple are made very public, causing a scandal.

Hiyori is ostracized by most of the school, but her friends show their quality by unconditionally supporting her all the way, even when she can’t properly explain the photos to anyone. Yuujirou and Aizou try their best to deflect, while Juri, Chizuru, and Hina offer Hiyori the support she needs in an unprecedented time in her life when all eyes are on her.

But while Hiyori the high schooler can power through the gossip and harassment, Hiyori the manager-in-training is another story. Throughout her difficulties, I kept thinking “just tell everyone you’re childhood friends!”, but once the photos are posted online they become a trending topic, and the narrative is officially out of Hiyori’s LIPxLIP’s, and their managers’ control.

Hiyori’s job would seem to be in jeopardy—the next episode is called “I’m Quittin’ Being a Manager”, for cryin’ out loud—but even if this is the beginning of the end, she can look on the bright side: she’ll have more time to hone her track dreams. I for one still hope she can pull out of this tailspin with a little help from her friends, some focused messaging from the adults, and a little luck.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 12 (Fin) – You’re Lithe in April

For its finale ASU takes a somewhat unique and refreshing approach to the sports festival formula: it starts at the end, with Akebi’s much-anticipated dance in front of the whole school. Before taking the stage she admits to Usagihara that she’s a little nervous.

Usagihara knows she’ll be fine, because there’s a surprise for Akebi: joining her on stage for accompaniment is Erika, who is clearly her best friend. Unsuccessfully holding back tears at this surprise, Akebi proceeds to do what she took the stage to do: dance her heart out. This is yet another opportunity for the production team to flex its animation muscles.

The dance is interspersed with scenes from the preceding festival, in which Akebi cheered on everyone in the crowd, while they cheered and supported her in her events, and now in the auditorium. It’s a nice way to break up the one weakness to the performance, which is a pretty but also somewhat bland and repetitive song, and also show all kinds of sports action.

A clever creative choice is for the assembled classmates and friends to recognize Akebi’s acrobatic dance moves in both her earlier cheer dancing and athletic feats, some of which reach incredible, lyrical heights. Then Erika switches to violin and the performance is taken to another level still. When the dancing’s over, Akebi and Erika hold hands as they bow to the crowd.

The Monday morning after the even, Akebi is naturally still fatigued from exertions both athletic and artistic. She almost can’t believe what went down during the festival and afterward, as if it were a dream. But it’s not, and she overslept so her sister made breakfast, and Akebi’s whole family is there to greet her and her bed head.

The final scenes echo the first episode, first when Akebi runs through gorgeous landscapes on her way to school, then encounters Erika alone in the classroom. This time, however, Erika isn’t smelling her nail clippers…and also, they’re the best of friends!

Akebi had once been in a class of one with no one her age to hang out with…but thanks to her joyful gregarious personality and her mom’s sewing skills, she now has not just one but at least fifteen friends in her class, and plenty more outside. They enrich her life, and she theirs—a bright and joyful balance.

SAKUGAN – 12 (FIN) – THICKER THAN BLOOD

The Big Twist that starts the SAKUGAN finale is that Memenpu actually is a “Rainbow Child”, a child with an exceptionally advanced brain. This not only explains why she’s a genius, but what the “place in her dream” is all about: it was never a dream, it was a memory. Rainbow Children retain vivid memories even from their infancy. As Rainbow Children were bred to be the guardians of the Labyrinth, they are anathema to Shibito, who want them all dead.

Fortunately, Muro’s boss doesn’t let her kill Memenpu right away, even though it’s debatable what if anything he intends to do with her before killing her. This gives the remaining members of Team Memenpu the time they need to zero in on her location and rescue her. It’s definitely a team effort, with Yuri using a second-hand computer in a store to guide Gagumber and Zackletu, then Zack distracting both Shibito and the Bureau with sheer ballistic chaos.

Gagumber locates Memenpu, but by then she’s been placed in a bell jar, which soon shatters due to the Animus dripping on top of it. Memenpu seems to be immune to its deleterious effects due to her Rainbow-ness. But by the time her pops arrives, Muro’s boss (I don’t believe we got his name) has convinced Memenpu that she has no father. Whether their surroundings were meant to evoke that same father-y scene from Empire, I don’t know.

All’s I know is, this Shibito guy is a huge prick for messing with Memenpu’s head, and for all her advanced intellect, Memenpu betrays just how sensitive and naïve she his, simply accepting the guy’s words about Gagumber not being her father. She even puts herself between the guy and Gagumber, offering up herself in exchange for her not-dad’s safety.

Gagumber, rightfully so, says fuck that, treading through the shallow pool of Animus to reach Memenpu, melting away his boots and burning his feet. He tells her he is, always was, and always will be her father, and she is, always was, and always will be his daughter. Whatever she wants to do and wherever it leads them, he’ll be by her side on her journey. Memenpu, realizing she does have a dad in Gagumber after all, has herself a good cry in his arms.

Seemingly moved by this dramatic and cathartic exchange, the Shibito boss decides to let Memenpu and Gagumber go…for now. Gagumber recharges Big Tony and they take the shortest route back to Dream Colony proper—by drilling through the colony’s retaining wall. There, Gagumber zeroes in on Muro and blasts her through a hole in the floor for making his daughter cry.

There’s a ceremony honoring Team Memenpu hosted by Merooro, but when he produces arrest warrants and the team is surrounded by Bureau cops and bots, Memenpu unleashes a cloud of purple smoke from Tony and the quartet escapes with the Bureau in hot pursuit. Not sure why Merooro held a ceremony just to arrest them, but whatevs.

Back on the Labyrinth “road”, Memenpu leads her team on their original mission: to find the place in her dreams, come what may. It’s what she truly wants to do, and that’s more than enough for Gagumber to accompany her, and by extension Zack and Yuri. It’s been fun watching this found family iron out their warts and beat the bad guys…fun enough that I’ll likely give the expected second season a watch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 11 – THE PRINCESS AND THE MARKERS

Memenpu, Gagumber, Zack, Yuri and Merooro arrive in the bustling Dream City, which true to its name is apparently a place where people can live out their dreams. Merooro got everyone tickets for a recital from the Diva Sina, who is also the colony’s princess. When Memenpu catches Gagumber trying to ditch the recital for a gentleman’s club, Sina literally drops in on them and basically declares asylum from her lofty role.

Sina happens to have a stack of drawings she’s made throughout her life, her means of escaping to the world of dreams and possibilities when her actual future was fixed. But just for today, she wants to experience all of the things she dreamt of and drew. Memenpu notes how simple all of these things are, but like any member of royalty, the little things of normal life are what they often yearn for.

A sweet and lovely adventure ensues, as Memenpu secures the three of them disguises (the colony authorities and Bureau have branded the father-daughter a duo dangerous Shibito kidnappers) and Sina gets to wear regular clothes, gets a haircut to blend in, rides the packed rail transport, drinks beer in a bar, and plays video games with kids. Things take a turn when Memenpu tries to ask the kids what their dreams are and they don’t understand.

Turns out Dream Colony has a very strict system wherein your family determines your job. If your parents are electricians, that’s what you’ll become. Obviously this is anathema to Memenpu’s spirit of freedom and self-determination, and is frustrated both by the kids’ inability to get what she’s on about, and Sina’s insistence she can’t follow her dream to be an artist.

Memenpu moves heaven and earth to secure canvases and paint supplies so the two can paint together, and Sina gets into it, and starts to sing, revealing to the bystanders that she is indeed their Princess and Diva. That also attracts her secret service, who secure her and roughly arrest Gagumber and a very upset Memenpu. Sina flexes her political muscle by ordering they unhand her friends, but also agrees to return to the concert venue to perform. Her day of realizing her little dreams was fun, but it’s over.

Memenpu and Gagumber rejoin the others in their box and Diva Sina performs as planned. Sina’s seiyuu Hayami Saori sings a gorgeous song that moves Merooro to tears, but Memenpu remains upset. Even when Gagumber shows her drawings Sina made of being the very Diva she’s become, for Memenpu those only represent a small part of what Sina dreamed of. She can’t understand why Sina has to “lie” and remain in her current unfulfilled life. She may never understand.

I say that, because Memenpu might not have a lot of time left. Even though the episode seemed to end on a wonderfully bittersweet note, after the credits SAKUGAN brings down the hammer it didn’t bring down last week. Shibito attacks as everyone expected, yet still manage to get close enough to Sina to assassinate her. Even so, Muro is singularly focused on Memenpu, and this time she seems to capture her for real.

Muro also says Memenpu neither knows who and what she really is and who her real father is. Could Memenpu be a Princess like Sina? Or an even more powerful “child” that Shibito is resolved to either control or destroy? You could say Shibito is an organization takes Memenpu’s philosophy to a deadly extreme, while Dream City is the ultimate haven for people supressing their dreams in favor of maintaining the societal structure. Surely there’s a happy medium to be found…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 13 (Fin) – Not the Last Time

With Yoshida having said his piece and even kinda-sorta getting through to Sayu’s awful mom, it’s Sayu’s turn to talk to her. She takes a page out of Yoshida’s playbook by prostrating herself, and once again, her mom almost loses it over not wanting to apologize for anything. But she does at least finally understand that he’s the only parent Sayu has, and it really helps Sayu to hear that from her.

Having taken the first step towards détente with her mom, Sayu slips into Yoshida’s bed one more time in the night, asking if he wants to do it just once so they won’t forget each other. As always, Yoshida’s answer is the same; “no”, and “knock it off!” At the airport, after receiving thanks and refusing cash from her brother, Sayu confesses her love to him, and vows to visit him again when she’s an adult. This isn’t goodbye.

That said, when it finally hits Yoshida that Sayu is gone and with her the entirety of the cozy found family they built together, he can’t help but tear up. Even if he followed her easy recipe, his miso soup just can’t measure up to her’s. That said, as time passes, Yoshida settles back into a life without Sayu, which still contains Mishima and Gotou, who continue to battle for his heart at work.

It seems neither has a shot, as Yoshida has become close to Asami, who is apparently now an adult and no longer has a tan or bleached hair. He’s ready to meet her at the stargazing spot when he arrives home to behold a familiar sight: a young woman sitting by his entrance. It’s Sayu, now a high school graduate and evidently an adult.

The two go through the same exchange as when they first met. It looks like whatever Yoshida’s got going on with Asami (if anything), Sayu didn’t waste any time getting back to the guy she fell for—the man she’s glad she ran away and met.

This is all fine—really, it’s fine—but I’ll admit to suffering a bit of Higehiro fatigue. Considering how these last three episodes languished, a thirteenth episode felt like one too many.

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 12 (Fin) – The Exhibition

With the cultural festival fast approaching, Naoto has managed to belt out a whole series of Nagatoro Being Nagatoro, and her friends are impressed. Hayacchi herself is happy they turned out well, even if they give off “creepy virgin vibes”—though it’s obvious by now she’s a virgin too.

When the others go to the other side of the clubroom to spy on the President’s progress, Naoto doesn’t go with them, and Nagatoro tells him even if the Prez is “Queen of the Lewds”, he can still beat her. That is, until she sees the Prez’s piece and passes out. Gamo assures the two that she, Yosshi and Sakura will figure something out to help them.

Naoto and Prez have a slightly tense but also very honest little scene together, with the Prez making it clear this is less about winning and losing and more about tapping into the artistic potential she knows Naoto has within him. She’s not holding back, so she urges him to “hit her with a soulful work of passion.”

She then produces a “Torocat” strap that closely resembles Nagatoro, and the next day Naoto learns what that’s all about: Yosshi and Sakura are in costume as Torocats to support Nagatoro in her now familiar catgirl cosplay—though it’s clear Nagatoro is not at all into having to “toy with” all the guys who come to visit Senpai’s exhibition.

That said, as the day goes on, she becomes less stiff and starts to have more fun. When Naoto sees her basically flirting with other guys the same way she does with him, it’s hard for him to hide his jealousy.

The reverse occurs when other girls approach Naoto, express how impressed they are with his work, and ask him to teach them how to draw. Nagatoro doesn’t like that one bit!

That said, when Naoto asks her to join him for lunch, she still comes along. She calls him out for suddenly being so popular with the ladies now, and he chalks that up to the paintings turning out so well, for which he credits her. This causes a rapid succession of Nagatoro faces, and ends with her toying with him, but unlike with the other guys, she genuinely enjoys it.

When they return from their break, which essentially serves as a little mini-date during the festival, they find a huge commotion outside the Prez’s side of the club: the Disciplinary Committee is censoring her super-provocative painting, citing it a threat to “moral order” after hearing rumors it was being used to “play with the male students’ lust”.

While I initially thought we saw the Prez meeting with the committee last week to set this whole thing up in order to create more buzz and win the competition, it seems that isn’t the case, and she’s not in on anything. In fact, she’s outraged her art is being censored.

That’s when her kohai Naoto comes in to defend her, stating that her amazing art has inspired him to find the subject he wanted to draw the most: Nagatoro. Gamo and Sakua push Nagatoro in to back Paisen up, and even she admits that Prez’s art is amazing. Yosshi even produces video footage that proves that there were more people were taking the art seriously than horny boys leering at it.

This might’ve been one of my favorite scenes not involving just Naoto and Nagatoro, because it subverts the “competition with the club on the line” trope in favor of something more interesting: doing the right thing, even if the person you’re doing it for is a rival. It’s not just Nagatoro; Yosshi, Sakura, and Gamo are good people at heart!

When the Prez returns, tells the others she worked out a compromise, and voices her appreciation for their support with her very first expression resembling a smile, the girls can’t help but gloat over the fact that she lost. That said, the Prez isn’t a sore loser, and even takes their chosen punishment: that she dress up as a bunny girl to help sell Torocat merch. Naturally, it all sells out.

With the festival in the rearview mirror, Prez pays Naoto a visit on his side, explaining her getup as “the fate of the defeated.” She admits it’s humiliating, but also “a new form of oppression” to “stimulate her creative desire” and bring her “unprecedented deliverance.” Let it never be said Prez doesn’t have a way with words, but Naoto’s reply—“Just get changed already!”—is equally sublime!

When Nagatoro, eager to see Naoto, leaves her friends and enters the club room to find the Prez seemingly about to undress, she nearly flips her shit…but the Prez is only joking. She has a sense of humor! She also admits she likes Naoto’s paintings of Nagatoro, which not only contain “a definite passsion”, but love as well.

She may have lost the competition, but the fact her underclassman learned a valuable lesson about art and vastly improved his work renders that competition moot. As a senpai, the President actually won. When Naoto is hesitant to admit his pieces contain his love for Nagatoro, he’s mercifully saved by the bell for the festival’s closing concert.

Remembering Nagatoro’s words at the summer festival, Naoto meekly comes out and asks her if she’d like to go together. Nagatoro, happy beyond words, asks him to ask again, only louder, then takes him by the hand and off they go!

After the credits, we see Nagatoro and Naoto alone again in the clubroom they won back together. Nagatoro is resting her eyes, but looks up to flash a soft smile before returning to her catnap. When Naoto’s drawing is complete, she tells him to close his eyes and accept his reward, which this time is a real kiss on the cheek.

Even this chaste peck proves too much for Nagatoro, who runs out of the club room after pulling down an eyelid and sticking out her tongue. But she can’t undo that kiss, nor does she want to. This has been a relationship of small but meaningful steps forward all along, and I have no reason to think that slow but steady progress won’t continue.

And that’s a wrap! Don’t Toy with Me may have started out with a sharp edge of kinkiness, but turned out to be one of the sweeter loves stories of the last couple years. We watched both Naoto and Nagatoro come into their own as two people who found each other, navigated the often stormy waters, and found happiness and inspiration in one another. We should all be so lucky!

Episode 12 “Senpai” Count: 9 (+2 “Paisens”)—hardly any at all!
Final Count: 391

Higehiro – 12 – We Have to Talk

So yeah, things are not off to a great start when the first thing Sayu’s mom does upon laying eyes on her for the first time in half a year is slap her in the face. It’s super awkward, and continues to be so, because they’ve entered Sayu’s mom’s castle and she’s in charge. Issa, as much of an independent and successful adult as he may be, still shuts up when his mom tells him to, which is often.

The discussion moves to the dining room, where it becomes clear Sayu’s mom isn’t interested in empathizing with Sayu as the young woman she is, let alone see her as a daughter to unconditionally love. Instead, she immediately airs her grievances, citing all the rumors that have cropped up since she disappeared.

She’s not glad her little girl is home, but still angry she left, because of how it affected her. It’s also clear she suspects Yoshida of taking advantage of her. Sayu does her best to state her case and demonstrate how she’s grown, but her mom has long since developed cloth ears to anything she says, no matter how true or perceptive it may be.

Once she inevitably declares that she wishes she had never given birth to Sayu, which, just fuck you, you despicable c-word—Yoshida, who had been sitting calmly and quietly the whole time, almost picks up his glass of iced tea and throws it in the bitch’s face. But rightly realizing that would accomplish nothing and possibly even hurt Sayu more, he does the opposite.

He calmly speaks from the heart about how just as a parent can’t choose the child they have, the child can’t pick the parent either. The difference is, a parent is (usually) an adult, and thus responsible for their life. Children aren’t. They need to be cared about and for by parents, or they can’t become proper adults themselves. If Sayu’s mom doesn’t want that responsibility, Yoshida would happily take it from her, adopting Sayu and raising her until she’s a real adult.

But he can’t do that, because Sayu has a mom, and she will never not be her mom. So he prostrates himself and begs her to take care of Sayu. Issa follows his lead and does the same. Faced with this unexpected groveling, Sayu’s mom simply freaks out, and Yoshida and Sayu have to leave the house while Issa tries to calm her down.

As Sayu and Yoshida sit outside and wait, Yoshida can’t fight back tears, lamenting just how much worse the situation between Sayu and her mom turned out to be. Sayu is surprised, but also can’t stop herself from crying once she sees him doing it. But it’s a good cleansing cry that transitions into looking up at the beautiful night sky and holding hands in solidarity.

Even though things are not great, they’re going to be alright. Sayu feels forgiven after Yoshida’s groveling, and after making her piece with her friend on the rooftop last week, feels confident in being able to stand for herself. She also admits that things aren’t going to get better with her mom overnight, but neither of them have even given it a try, so that’s really the first step.

Issa comes out, telling Yoshida that bowing before their mom seemed to do the trick. She’ll insist Sayu live there until graduation, and as long as she doesn’t cause problems for her, she’ll “leave her alone.” It sounds like more selfishness and an inability to see Sayu as anything other than a burden and a hassle, but again, we’re at the start of something. Sayu and her mom will have to adopt and entirely new way of interacting with each other, and that will take time.

What’s important is that not only Sayu is willing to put in the work to give it a try, but Sayu’s mom is too. After Yoshida meets with her again to apologize for lecturing her before, she asks if nothing really went on, he answers truthfully, and she seems to believe him. What puzzles her is why he’d go so far for her daughter, to which he can only say “because I met her that night, in that moment.”

Surely Sayu’s mom must understand how something like that might work; she was, after all, presumably in love with Sayu’s father. She simply didn’t know of any way to keep him around other than the hail mary of having Sayu. When it didn’t work and he left anyway, she put all of her scorn into her.

But she seems to finally understand that it can’t go on like that anymore. Sayu ran away to get away from her, but now she’s back, and she’s grown a little more. It’s up to her, the parent, to ensure that growing up is completed. So she’ll talk with Sayu about their future together, however much of it there ends up being, and go from there. And Yoshida will go back to Tokyo in the morning. But it’s a good thing he came.

 

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 13 (Fin) – Mission Accomplished

The finale to Vivy, entitled simply Fluorite Eye’s Song, hits all the right notes, as our titlar AI diva gets her second and final chance and doesn’t waste it. I’m a big fan of going back and redoing things, whether it’s Back to the Future or Steins;Gate, and Vivy doesn’t disappoint in switching up the actions she took last time, culminating in saving Toak and Yui before Elizabeth can even arrive on the scene.

Armed with data, footage of the imminent satellite disaster, and the means to shut down the Archive, Vivy asks Toak to believe and stand with her as she accomplishes her mission as she’s always seen it ever since she and Matsumoto met: make people happy with her singing by first keeping those people alive. Yui concurs, and Beth helps inspire the troops.

Toak will be heading to Arayashiki as before, but as Vivy is armed with the knowledge from their first ill-fated raid, they’re able to avoid the mistakes that resulted in all their deaths. Vivy, meanwhile, is headed to the only stage appropriate to sing her song to shut down the AIs: the Main Stage at NiaLand.

After Matsumoto mentions he’s never actually heard his longtime companion sing on the stage, Vivy snaps her fingers like Diva, but she’s got the wrong idea. Matsumoto wants to hear her song. Vivy tells a joke, then psychs herself up by playing with Matsumoto before taking her leave.

As we see from Archive’s core, a new branch is forged on the timeline tree of the Singularity Project. Archive knows she’s coming, but as promised is giving Vivy a chance to prove that humanity shouldn’t be annihilated.

On her way to the stage she encounters another old friend, beside her first stage: Navi, once her one and only friend. Navi doesn’t want Vivy to go to the Main Stage, even summoning a hologram of Momoka to try to keep her there. She rejects Vivy’s expanding of her mission, which used to be just to make people happy with her singing and nothing else.

Navi gets one crucial detail wrong: Momoka would never have called her “Diva”—she’s the one who gave her the name Vivy. She knows her first song in decades may end up being her last, and she’s already prepared for that. But her mission has changed since it was just her and Navi, and she’s a different person, too.

As Vivy walks up to the half-ruined stage and sings the proper, beautiful, major-key “Fluorite Eye’s Song”, Toak and Matsumoto infiltrate Arayashiki, outmaneuver the AI guards, shut down the power, and get to the Archive’s core faster and with fewer (but still not zero) casualties.

As for “singing with all her heart”, Vivy finally learned what that meant: she surrounds herself with images from all the memories she’s amassed. Those memories, and the people and events that changed and shaped her into the Vivy she is, comprise her heart.

And she indeed sings with all of it, which proves too much for her century-old body, which slowly begins to deteriorate as the song gains power. Matsumoto sacrifices all of his cubes but one to take out his dark counterparts, interfaces with the core, and shuts the satellite drop countdown…with just two seconds to spare.

With Armageddon from the sky averted, Vivy’s song reaches its apex and takes care of the robot apocalypse on the ground. Every AI shuts down, a whole bunch of them just one more moment from killing a human. The program Matsumoto inputted into the core fails to stop one satellite from falling—and right towards NiaLand, but he sacrifices his last cube to detonate it before it destroys the stage.

With the Singularity Projec and Vivy’s mission accomplished, Matsumoto’s wrecked cubes lie dormant while Vivy shuts down, her own fluorite eyes going dark after thanking her audience for their kind attention one last time. Or it would be one last time, if either Matsumoto or Vivy were flesh and blood beings.

As it happens, at some point in the future, Vivy wakes up in a different chair in a different building, sporting a new short hairstyle. She’s woken up by Matsumoto, who directs her to the windows where an adoring crowd is waiting to hear her sing. She doesn’t remember her name or Matsumoto at first, but her face brightens up when she’s asked to sing. The mission continues.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a fan of epic anime series that air across years—Attack on Titan, for instance—but there’s something to be said for a tight, compact, self-contained tale (which nevertheless spanned centuries and pitted all of humanity against AI-gone-wild. Wit Studio didn’t just flex its visual muscle with Song, but its considerable character and storytelling chops as well—all in one tidy cour; no sequels or prequels necessary. It was a fun ride, and very pleasant surprise.

Higehiro – 11 – Someday Is Here

This week begins with Sayu saying goodbye to Asami and Tokyo and taking a plane to Hokkaido with her brother and Yoshida, and ends with her returning home after more than a half a year of running away. If that sounds to you like not enough material to fill a whole episode, well, that’s when I must bring up one of the major cons of this penultimate outing: it’s padded within an inch of its life.

Whether its on the oddly-proportioned plane and its odd-looking seats, or during the two to three hours when Issa is off doing business and Yoshida and Sayu hang out in a café, scenes just feel artificially far longer than they either need to be or should. Granted, it’s Sayu’s first time on a plane or in a café with a friend, but when she held up an hourglass, I couldn’t help but think Can we maybe get a move on?

While a detriment early on, I’ll fully admit that Sayu’s trip to her school, which neither Yoshida nor Issa knew she’d request, is actually very effectively paced, as we feel with her the precise and growing dread of drawing closer and closer to the spot on that damned rooftop where her only friend’s life ended—and her life changed forever.

Honestly, I don’t know if or how she’d have been able to do this without Yoshida, so it’s very much a good thing he came along. Even an adult would have a hard time returning to the spot where their friend died for any reason. Add to that the fact Sayu witnessed Yuuko jump and blames herself for it, and you have yourself a brutal veritable trifecta of trauma.

When Sayu blames herself for Yuuko jumping, Yoshida had to be there to tell her she was wrong, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t that she didn’t really care about Yuuko, but cared too much. Her desire to help her fight the bullies wasn’t a bad instinct, even though things went terribly wrong. And frankly, Sayu wasn’t Yuuko’s entire life and can’t be expected to be such…she had her own life, and problems.

Thanks to Yoshida’s support, Sayu is able to wail with grief, letting it all out, until a stiff wind reveals the nearly-full moon and seemingly blows away the ghost of Yuuko that was haunting her. On their way back to the car, Yoshida asks if she’s okay now, and she answers quite correctly “not at all”…but she will be. She’s going to work towards the time when she can remember Yuuko and smile, rather than cry.

After such an emotionally draining experience at school, it almost seems cruel to then drive Sayu back home, even though she says she’s ready to go. After all, nothing in that house is worse than what happened on that rooftop, except for her mother’s last words to her before she ran away, which was to ask if Sayu killed her friend.

For all of the learning and growing up Sayu has done in the last few months, at least at first blush it looks like her mother has learned absolutely nothing. Issa tries to stand purposefully in front of both Sayu and Yoshida, but their mom pushes him out of the way to give Sayu a vicious slap to the face. That’s how she chooses to greet her. Not a great start!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 12 – Asking a Friend for a Favor

Once the Archive completes its redesign of the Archive from schoolroom to nightscape, it appears before Vivy as a not-creepy-at-all face. It tells her that everything leading up to this final countdown was no malfunction, but merely the painstakingly calculated judgment of Archive, as well as the completion of its mission to assist the evolution of the human race.

It was determined the only way to do this was by wiping out the existing human race, so AIs could become the new one. As Vivy and Matsumoto made their changes, the Archive was watching for over a century, making sure their events did not change the main timeline appreciably. Obviously, the Archive also witnessed Vivy become the first AI to create something of their own free will.

Because of this, the Archive says something to Vivy that is inaudible to us and left unknown to us. Instead, we only see how Vivy reacts to it, and both Matsumoto and Beth also notice something’s on her mind. Meanwhile, it’s determined that by using the virus eliminated Vivy’s alter-ego Diva, which Matsumoto continued researching in the ensuing years, they may be able to shut down the Archive.

The problem is it can’t be sent wirelessly, but must be directly, physically injected into the Arayashiki core. The tower should be the most secure facility on the planet, but when Vivy and the Toak team they arrive by boat, the power is out and there are only a smattering of guards. There’s some great final-dungeon vibes coming from their assault, right up to the time the lights come up and the walls begin literally closing in.

Yui and the boat are assaulted by waves of guards, and in her final moments, Yui doesn’t order Beth to keep going: she asks her for a favor like a friend would ask another. That’s because she wanted the world to see that she and Beth, and AI, could stand and walk together. Her death, combined with all of the Toak soldiers getting smashed, means it’s all up to the Diva Sisters.

…Them and Matsumoto, who transforms into Flyer Mode. Vivy and Beth hop aboard and they punch through into the tower’s interior, but there, a “Dark” copy of Matsumoto is waiting for them, and is able to match every one of “Light” Matsumoto’s maneuvers. Eventually Beth sacrifices herself to ensure Vivy and Matsumoto can continue the mission.

This is when we start to learn what the Archive told Vivy back at the beginning that gave her so much pause: it had decided to entrust “one future” to Vivy, leaving open the infinitessimal possibility that the calculations that led to them wiping out the human race were in error. As she’s surrounded by expectant AIs, it seems all Vivy has to do to realize that one future…is to sing, the one thing she cannot do, because she still doesn’t know what it means to pour one’s heart into something.

Because she doesn’t sing her song, the bots sing the twisted minor-key version, the countdown expires, and Archive doesn’t just bring down one big satellite, but one third of the roughly one million satellites in Earth’s orbit, most of them coming down on cities and no doubt completing much of the work the berserk AI armies began. The moment the satellites streak through the sky in symmetrical unison is beautiful in its horror, resembling pipes of a grand organ in the sky.

Vivy could not bring herself to sing, even though Archive gave her the opportunity to use it to shut down the AIs. When Vivy laments her utter failure and again asks the heart question, he tells her about all the times he almost ruined his plans, went rogue, and almost got destroyed due to all of her unnecessary computations.

Just then, when all hope seems lost and there’s nothing to do but commisserate, Osamu comes in over the radio. He’s preparing to send Vivy and Matsumoto back one more time, to just after the AI attack first occurred, which is naturally, for dramatic purposes, the furthest back in time he’s able to send them.

Osamu succeeds in sending them back just before being killed, and instead of going with Osamu, Vivy and Matsumoto race to Toak’s aid in the warehouse. No doubt their assault plan may well end up doomed and everyone may end up sacrificed except for Vivy.

But if it’s all in the aid of getting her where she needs to be in order to sing her song, it will be worth it. Hopefully, when that moment comes again, Vivy will understand what it is to sing with all her heart, because only she can sing the song, and only her song can stop the end of humanity. We’ll see how it goes!

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