Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 06

Dark times would seem to be ahead for Totsuki Academy, as Azami is formally elected director by the Elite Ten (well, six of them anyway). His inauguration speech is pretty normal and humble, leading some in the crowd to think “huh, maybe he’s not that bad.” Oh, he’s bad.

Azami moves quickly to isolate Erina, summarily relieving Hisako of her role as her secretary, stating that all Erina needs is her father, who promises “he’ll always be by her side”, which is not only inaccurate (he has most certainly not been by her side for some time) but feels ominous and threatening. Worse still, Erina is incapable of defying her father. What the hell did he do to the poor girl?

Just as Souma is wondering how Erina’s grandfather Senzaemon is dealing with his sudden retirement, the super-cut senior shows up at Polar Star, bringing his impressive set of muscles and his stirring leitmotif. Amazingly, it’s the first time the two have met and talked face to face.

Souma accompanies Senzaemon on his routine evening training, and can barely keep up despite his youth; but for all his physical strength and wisdom, Senzaemon laments there is little he can do about his situation. However, a former student of his (Souma’s dad Jouichirou) told him Souma may be only person who can save Erina from Azami’s wrath.

We get a peek at that wrath, as Erina, once a vibrant young lady who loved to laugh (and also loved her cousin Alice) was essentially brainwashed by Azami into having an extremely narrow and critical manner of assessing taste.

Erina rightly knew that it’s wrong to waste food, but he broke her of that, and with the threat of violence and abandonment, molded Erina into his instrument. He even threw away all of Alice’s letters from Sweden, making Alice think she never wrote back out of malice. What a dick this guy is! I just met him and I already hate his guts.

Erina has been getting better since Senzaemon exiled Azami, and has made friends—first Hisako, and eventually Souma, though she’d never admit it—but now that Azami is back, she could revert back very quickly, as his power over her is all but absolute and she lacks the means to fight him.

Thankfully, just as Azami is moving quickly to put his bird back in a cage, that bird’s friends move just as quickly to prevent that from happening. Enter Alice and Ryou, who encounter a beside-herself Hisako and spring into action, getting Erina out of Nakiri Manor.

The question is, then what? As various options for where she should be harbored are shot down for various practical reasons, and a heavy rain starts to fall, Erina considers giving up and going back, lest she cause problems for her friends.

But those friends would much rather have those problems than let Azami take her from them. Her retreat is interrupted by Megumi; the rescue group and Erina have stumbled upon the grounds of Polar Star Dormitory. Megumi welcomes them all in to shelter.

Souma arrives from his talk with Senzaemon to find the one he’s supposed to save in his dorm, which must feel pretty surreal. When the prospect of harboring her is floated to the other dorm members, they’re mostly weary…until Hisako tells them the story of how Erina grew up, and they instantly change tack, welcoming her with open arms and appalled she had to go through such hell.

This is another reminder of how nice and close-knit the occupants of Polar Star are; it goes beyond cooking (though they are excited to feed the God Tongue and hear her critique their cuisine); they’re a family, and are more than willing to welcome another member to that family, especially if there’s nowhere else she can go.

Souma, for his part, is pretty hands-off, which is just as well; the warm and caring nature of Polar Star is such that he can depend on them to keep her safe even when he’s not around. He may not have promised Senzaemon he’d “save Erina”, but he does want to get her to earnestly call his food delicious…which is pretty much the same thing, when you think about it.

There are certainly dark clouds in the horizon as Azami tightens his grip on power, and there’s no telling what he has in store for those who try to steal away his God Tongue, the linchpin of his so-called “revolution” that will transform Totsuki into a “Utopia” (which, if you’re recall, means “place that cannot be”). Let there be no doubt: Nakiri Azami is a bad man who has done awful things, and he must be opposed and defeated at any cost.

This was one of the strongest Food Wars episodes, and it didn’t need to get anywhere near a shokugeki; all it needed to do was unleash the tremendous collection of characters it has nurtured, and all I needed to do was sit back and watch the wonderful spirit of togetherness and solidarity surround Erina in her hour of most dire need. I’m even more excited than last week to see where this goes, particularly when in regards to Souma and Erina.

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Fate / Zero – 08

Maiya has orders to escort Iri away from the castle, but the orders aren’t so precise that Iri can’t countermand them when she senses Kotomine Kirei approaching. She doesn’t want that guy anywhere near her Kiritsugu, and Maiya feels the same way, so the decide they’ll do what they can to keep him away.

Neither of them are any match for Kirei’s considerable mage-executing skills, so all they can do take up as much of his time as they can. The bravery, grit, and selflessness the women exhibit without Saber by their side is something to behold. There’s no doubt Kirei is a fearsome, superior foe, but it doesn’t matter: he’s not getting to Kiritsugu, period.

Meanwhile, a bullet from Kirei’s pistol gets through Kayneth’s quicksilver defense, but he chalks it up to a fluke and a moment of poor focus to the disgust of fighting such an awful mage, and redoubles his defenses…which is exactly what Kiritsugu wants.

Saber and Lancer are having no luck, as there’s no end to Caster’s minions as long as he’s holding his noble phantasm, an old grimoire. Rather than keep hacking away, Saber clears a path with an Air Strike, through which Lancer dashes and slashes the book with Gae Dearg, and just like that Caster is defenseless and must withdraw.

Saber and Lancer’s ‘knightmance’ proceeds apace when Lancer senses his Master is in danger, Saber senses it’s because of her Master, and gives Lancer leave to tend to Kayneth, in accordance with the ideals of nobility and chivalry, while she rushes to help Iri and Maiya.

The next time Kiritsugu fires his pistol into Kayneth’s heightened magical defense, it scrambles the opponent’s magical circuits, causing him to cough up a good deal of blood and pass out. Kiritsugu remembers his mentor(?) explaining the bullets which contained his own ribs in powdered form; but he was only given 66 of them, and we see him use two on Kayneth.

And even that doesn’t kill Kayneth, only gravely wound him. Lancer arrives to rescue him and withdraw, and tells Kiritsugu that he’s only alive because of his Servant Saber’s devotion to the right-and-proper precepts of nobility; because she is the King of Knights. I’m sure Kiritsugu’s glad Lancer didn’t kill him, but less pleased Saber let Lancer get away so easily.

What’s so great about this situation is that everyone has a reasonable position here and nobody is outright right-or-wrong. In a way, Saber went rogue, but again…Lancer would have Kiritsugu him if not for her.

As he beats Maiya to a pulp and chokes then stabs Iri (who he thinks is a homonculus), Kirei can’t fathom why not one but two people challenged him, of their own accord for Kiritsugu’s sake. Kirei has been operating under the assumption that Kiritsugu is, like him, friendless, alone, and understood by no one. But he’s wrong…and I kind of pity him for being so.

One could say Kiritsugu using Iri as a kind of “decoy master” smacks of cowardice, but that position doesn’t take Iri’s (and Maiya’s) feelings into consideration. They do protect him of their own accord, as we witnessed here, and they will continue to do so.

Kiritsugu seems to know this, because when Saber finally comes and touches the injured Iri, she is immediately healed by the scabbard Avalon implanted within her according to her husband’s wishes—something only he and she knew about. Kiritsugu is not alone, because there are those who don’t want him to be.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 12 (Fin)

Leave it to ACCA to save its best episode for last. And why not? Each of the eleven preceding episodes perfectly prepared us for this finale. Everything pointed towards a smooth, peaceful, and efficient coup, and that’s what we got—only it wasn’t a coup to unseat Schwan, but a coup to secure ACCA’s future and thwart the Liliums and Furawau’s plans to snatch hegemony from the Dowa Royal Family. That, my friends, is one surprising yet completely logical and satisfying twist.

At first, things seem to be going according to Lilium’s plan: Once it’s Schwan’s turn to take to the podium and speak, he and his outnumbered guards are surrounded by ACCA officers in riot gear, and Schwan’s plans to dissolve ACCA are exposed to the throng, which quickly sides with ACCA in the matter, as expected.

But then Schwan calls Jean out, knowing exactly why he’s on the dais with the Chief Officers. Just then, Lotta (and I for that matter) are relieved to find Niino by her side. This is the moment when Director-General Mauve completely flips the script and reveals that beneath ACCA’s plan was another plan that Lilium was not made aware of.

In this plan, Mauve, rather than Jean, steps forward. She explains the theatrics were only meant to demonstrate Schwan’s need for greater then very loudly and publicly proclaims Schwan as the one and only Crown Prince of Dowa, thanks Schwan for his continued support of ACCA once he ascends to the throne and into the future, then bends the knee. Knowing how unpopular dissolving ACCA would be (and would make him), Schwan can only affirm Mauve’s words and commit to preserving ACCA.

Mauve’s speech is one of, if not the most badass moments of the series, if not the Winter season as a whole, because of how much it changes, all of the careful preparation that gives it so much power, and the jazzy soundtrack that adds a cool gravitas.

Suddenly, Lilium finds himself on the wrong side of the river with a very weak hand. He was so focused on his own machinations he failed to realize there were counter-machinations going on behind his back. Jean had been strategizing with Mauve since he learned of his lineage, and informed Grossular of what would go down the night before.

Mauve and Jean arranged things so ACCA would win before Furawau would, making the continuation of “the game” pointless. Sure enough, Lilium folds, but he also takes his ball (being Furawau) and goes home (meaning secession). I will now cease the sports metaphors.

After all the drama subsides, Jean and Lotta encounter Prince Schwan and Magie, who reveals it was the prince himself who ordered him to warn her of the attack. Between agreeing not to kill ACCA and this, Schwan turned out to be not-such-a-bad-guy after all, which is more interesting than a petulant, one-dimensional villain. And since there’s no usurping going on, Jean and Lotta’s lineage can remain secret, even as they’re allowed to meet with Schwan and King Falke.

With Lilium and Furawau leaving the Dowa Kingdom to start their own, Grossular dissolves the remaining three of the anachronistic Five Chief officers, who then go home and become chiefs of their respective districts, and seem all the happier for it, while Grossular stays on in an advisory role for the new single leader of ACCA, Mauve. She certainly earned it.

In other good (if a bit convenient) news: Just as Furawau seceded, Pranetta finally hit paydirt, and a resource (presumably oil) rush leads to the district’s revitalization, Suitsu is finally allowed to develop to the level of the other districts and its people allowed to vote.

We even find out who Niino’s secret other contact was, and it’s who I expected: Abend, the ever-loyal servant of the Dowa Family, who had colored his hair and taken on the identity of Owl to watch Jean that much closer. With the family members reunited, Niino is formally relieved of his photographing duties. Mauve and Grossular seem to be spending a lot more time together, while Jean assumes the feelings he has for Mauve are unrequited.

But that doesn’t change the fact that he and Jean are best mates, something that hasn’t changed since they met in high school (the post credits flashback to their prom, which Niino won but gave Jean the crown, was a nice touch), and won’t change now. Jean takes comfort in knowing he’s not alone. And, no doubt, in being able to stay in his old job. For all that’s changed around them, Jean, Niino, and Lotta really haven’t, and that’s for the best, as they’re perfectly happy with the lives they have.

So ends one of the most thoughtful, detailed, and elegantly beautiful looking and sounding series in recent memory, which came completely out of nowhere. Those are my favorite kind of shows: ones about which neither I nor anyone else have any potentially corrupting preconceptions.

It’s also a show with eminent rewatch value; there’s enjoyment to be found in watching the story unfold again whilst knowing its resolution. It’s also a show for which I’d happily embrace a sequel. Until then, I say goodbye to ACCA, a well-crafted and engrossing anime if ever there was one.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 11

ACCA: Jusan-ku Kansatsu-ka. I hadn’t really read the words until recently, but they roll right off the tongue in a very satisfying, elegant way, like ACCA the show itself.

I daresay ACCA is a sneaky show. It seems a bit slow and dull at first but the details keep you around. Then it becomes something you must watch at all costs. In this way, it’s like no other show airing this Winter, and its quality has been rewarded on MAL, rising from 6.97 on week one to 7.43 today, the biggest climb of any Winter ’17 show.

By the time Jean arrives in lavish, exotic Furawau for the thirteenth of thirteen district audits, nearly all pretense has fallen over his “job” as inspector, as Furawau is the district spearheading the coup.

Yet true to its name (“flower” in katakana), Furawau’s inhabitants are cheerful and elegant, and discreet in their welcoming of Jean for his true purpose.

But while it’s named for its flowers, the gleaming skyscrapers and lush palaces are paid for with oil. 90% of the entire nation of Dowa’s oil is supplied by Furawau. This makes them Arabia on steroids, which makes resource-poor Pranetta the comparatively oil-less Jordan.

When he leaves for his hotel, Jean does not give the Furawau chiefs a direct answer about whether he’ll rise up with them. But fortunately for Jean, Niino was listening in when the Princess’ assassins were loudly discussing their plan for slaying him.

When they draw their appropriately ornate golden revolver from the shadows, Niino is there not only to warn Jean, but take two bullets for him. He survives, but when he wakes up from surgery, he wonders out loud something I’ve wondered for many weeks now: whether Jean is merely being dragged into things by chance, or if he’s “prying into the whole mess” of his own accord.

Before leaving Furawau, Jean tells the chiefs he’s with them. Upon returning to Badon, he doesn’t stop by Mugimaki where Mauve continues to show up and wait. Instead, he visits Lilium as his brothers instructed, and shows him all thirteen cigarettes he’s collected.

I love how each one is  different in color and length, and how Pranetta’s is one of his own. Details that carry symbolism: Dowa is one big happy cigarette case. When Jean says anyone can ascend as long as it’s not him, Lilium counters that only he can protect both ACCA and the people.

What he isn’t telling Jean…could fill volumes. Like the fact he needs to present at least the air of proper succession, and probably needs the ACCA angle to strengthen their case. Lotta can’t fulfill either of those conditions…nor can Lilium himself.

When Rail first heard of him, he assumed Jean was an upper class snob who thought his own excrement did not emit odor. Turns out he was right about the “upper class” bit, but now that Rail knows who Jean is for sure, he thinks he’d probably be a better King than Schwan.

Rail tells Jean this while they smoke in the city night, after Jean thanks him for watching Lotta while he was away. And Jean appears to take Rail’s subtle endorsement to heart…maybe he will be better.

The next day, people from all thirteen districts start pouring into Badon for the upcoming ACCA centennial ceremony. This means we get all the ACCA agents Jean met on his travels in the same room, and of course they all know each other.

It’s a nice “lower decks” scene, watching subordinates shoot the breeze. The girls badger Eidar about her feelings for Jean, only to learn she’s dating Grus. One agent brings up the coup, and silence fills the room.

Every one of them seems generally on board with the plan…except Warbler, who, being stationed in Suitsu, is naturally the last agent to be informed of the coup. And while it’s easy to get all swept up in the excitement of dumping a harmful king for a better one, Warbler provides a much-needed voice of concern and reason.

He makes very good points about the risk ACCA’s leadership is taking by arranging such a coup. He also questions if the young, inexperienced Schwan would actually follow through on his threat to dissolve ACCA. He believes the royal family is aware that tipping the scales of power too far in their favor could break the whole system, and trusts them to be more pragmatic once Schwan ascends.

But no one can be certain Schwan won’t dissolve ACCA, and in any case, the decision has already been made by the brass, so Warbler’s protests go acknowledged but not acted upon. After Jean leaves a brief, almost curt meeting with Mauve (which has the air of a breakup), Warbler tries to tell him that this coup idea is ludicrous.

Jean responds by saying he’d really like Warbler to take his job, after “one final push”, then calls the prince a “real headache.” Could Jean be starting to get the feel for the power he’s about to attain?

Cut to the prince being a huge headache, acting petulant aboard his ornate royal plane, dismissing Magie’s advice to meet with his cousin (Jean) or get to know the people more. He’s only going to Badon to attend the ACCA ceremony, then leave.

Warbler might think Schwan’s position on ACCA is open to interpretation or subject to review by the rest of the royal family or the privy council. But Schwan probably doesn’t think any of that. When he’s king—and he’s going to be king, he tells himself—he can do as he pleases.

Lilium continues to uncork bottle after bottle of champagne in celebration of a total victory that is still yet to come. In another private one-on-one with Grossular, he lays out the plan I expected him and his district to have: install someone he can control, Jean, in order to control the nation. He hopes to act quickly and elegantly enough that by the time people notice what’s up it will be too late to do anything about it.

Now that he knows Lilium’s true intent, will Grossular continue to stand impotently by and let it happen, or is he intentionally appearing weak to lull Lilium into a false sense of security? Does Grossular have his own plans? And as Mauve asked both him and Jean before him: is he all right?

He responds the same way as Jean: with a simple ‘Yes.’ Here’s hoping that’s true, because some big things are going down next week.

Little Witch Academia – 10

Note: I filled in for Oigakkosan reviewing this episode. —Preston

Akko, Lotte, and Sucy’s pleasant afternoon ice cream is marred when Diana’s Maybach limo rolls up and her two lackeys jump out just to gloat that they’re going to a sumptuous party celebrating Lord Andrew’s top marks.

Sucy has just shown Akko and Lotte a “Fallin Lovelove Bee” that was delivered to her in error, and we already know precisely where this is going: the peasant girls will crash Andrew’s party, and the Love Bee will sting him, sending him head-over-heels for Akko.

Because it’s so obvious this is going to happen, Akko’s desire to stick it to Diana’s lackeys by attending the party uninvited doesn’t feel like her own choice, only a means to get that bee sting in Andrew’s neck. While Akko and Lotte clean up great, the two-hour, half-price “Cinderella Kit” is just a means to those means…not to mention overly borrow-y feeling.

Andrew is his usual dismissive, aloof jerkface self, while his pal Frank is his usual friendly, decent self. Just when he’s tossing the witches out, Drew gets stung, Akko is the first face he sees, and we’re off to the races. The Bee also stings Frank and three other dudes who all fall for Lotte, then stings Diana, who also falls for Akko. Akko spends much of the evening flailing around, not ready for this kind of “attention.”

Eventually she gets away from her pursuers, then overhears Andrew’s dad chewing him out about staying on the precise path that has already been laid out for him, and not wasting his time on witches or “effeminate” piano playing.

When Akko gets a bead on the bee, she darts all around the party, swatting at it in vain. Andrew, still at least partially under her spell, plays the piano (“Flight of the Bumblebee”, of course) to accompany her. Finally the bee stings Drew’s father, but seconds later Akko kills the bee and the spell is lifted from all.

The Cinderella spell also fizzles out, Akko & Co. return to their uniforms, and Andrew reverts back to being a dick. Maybe he changed a little bit, like the last time he met Akko, but the guy is so stone-faced and inert, it’s as hard to tell as last time, leading to another shrug on the night.

In a nice twist, even post-spell, Frank asks Lotte out because he thinks they’d get along, but she turns him down gently, preferring they were friends first. But otherwise, after the bee reset button is pressed, we’re pretty much back to where we started. No one has changed and nothing was learned.

Now ten episodes in, LWA is not what I was hoping it would be: a show with a structured arc in which Akko gradually improves as a fledgeling witch, some kind of sustained conflict arrives that she and her friends and classmates must come together to overcome. The modern world’s increasing rejection of their craft, for instance.

Instead, the show is content to dawdle around with self-contained episodes that start and end in pretty much the same place, and an Akko who is unapologetically static in both her magical ability and personality. Her dreams remain way to vague and childish to carry any further significance, no matter how much she waxes poetic about them, and the entire premise of crashing a party for spite, leading to the pedestrian “love spell” antics, was generally unsatisfying.

Akko, Lotta and Sucy are still usually more fun to watch than not, but their lack of development and LWA’s lack of direction thus far make it hard to keep coming back. I never expected Madoka, but I would have settled for a story, rather than the series of disjointed, inconsequential vignettes we got.

Fuuka – 11

Ay Caramba was that a jumbled mess of an episode, full of people being selfish and awful, other people being pushed and pulled around like ragdolls, people saying things no normal people would ever say out loud, and peppered with seemingly even more superfluous fanservice than usual.

First up, Fuuka, who leaves the band she forced everyone into to begin with to sign a contract with a studio. You know she’s leaving the band because it’s too painful to be around Yuu, and I know that too, but Yuu doesn’t, because he’s an idiot.

This isn’t about pursuing her dreams. You can tell because throughout this episode she’s sad and saying out loud “I AM MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICE HERE,” as if trying in vain to convince herself.

As for the other girl whose feelings for him Yuu is totally unaware, Koyuki surprises him when he’s moping in the dark his bedroom, presumably a few days later. When Koyuki learns why he’s blue, she tells him it’s for the best, how she wants to be on stage with him, no matter how much he sucks at bass, then opens her blouse and pounces on him.

Yuu is just not feelin’ it, and Koyuki starts to sob, talking about how she knew she wasn’t the one, how she knew about the feelings he doesn’t know he has, and how he needs to “be honest with himself” before leaving the site of her almost comically brief and awkward attempt at seduction. I feel bad for Koyuki, not because she was rejected so utterly, but that she likes a schlub like Yuu in the first place.

Yuu isn’t just a schlub: he’s also a deeply selfish, destructive person. Mind you, it feels like only a few days have passed, but all the other members of the band have already moved on to other things; Fuuka was the now-absent glue that held them together. Without her, Nachi goes back to focusing on track, Mikasa prepares to move back home and be the finance bro his dad wants him to be, and the talented Sara instantly finds another band to play in.

The wound of the short-lived The Fallen Moon (ugh) is healing nicely for everyone…except Yuu. The band was, apparently, all he had, so he tears it back open, writing a song that “contains all his feelings” (ARRGH) and delivers them to the members one by one in person, totally ignoring their firm yet polite attempts to decline.

Mikasa’s egregiously soapy-yet-oddly robotic monologue to Yuu borders on self-parody:

Sorry, Yuu…I’d moved out of my family’s home as a rebellion against my father, but that’s over now too. I’ve decided to listen to my father. He’s literally promised me a happy future! So I won’t have to suffer or stress myself out chasing pointless dreams anymore!

Who talks like that? Who wrote this drivel??

Yuu doesn’t give a shit what you’re up to now. HE wants the band back together, and he knows if they just hear his song, they’ll come running back to Denny’s. And of course, one by one, the rubes prove Yuu right.

“You’re absolutely right Yuu! How silly of us to move on with our own lives after the most talented, charismatic member of our band quit. Let’s re-form the band on the recommendation of the least talented and charismatic member!” What are these people, lemmings?

The only one he’s not able to immediately bring back is the one who he let leave in the first place without a word of complaint, saying at the time, “if it’s her decision, there’s nothing we can do.” Moping in the dark, getting jumped by Tama-chan, and pouring his feelings into a song have changed him. Now he wants the band back, Fuuka included. Everyone has to do what he says, dammit!

It’s tricky, though, because Fuuka, perhaps not ready to face the band she started then abandoned, is using her mom to screen visitors to her house. She mopes much like Yuu mopes, clutching his feelings-song in her hands, insisting she’s on the right path despite all outward evidence to the contrary, to say nothing of the turmoil in her head.

The insinuation is that, like Yuu had been doing until now, Fuuka isn’t being honest with herself. So go ahead, pursue your dreams as far as your talents will take you…but only until Yuu incessantly hounds you to return to the band. You’re done with the band when he TELLS you you’re done.

I don’t like this show anymore!

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 10

If it wasn’t before, it’s become plain that Lilium’s intentions with ACCA’s coup aren’t simply for the unity and good of the nation of Dowa, but for his district, Furawau, in particular. Things might even turn out to be worse with him than if Prince Schwan ascended; who knows?

Lilium seems like the kind of guy who wants more power, and being one of five head officers isn’t nearly enough. He’s already used Grossular as a pawn in his grander scheme, and installing Jean on the throne seems like more piece-moving. All I know is, the show wants me to think he’s being nefarious.

Jean, for his part, continues his auditing work. After Yakkara throws their lot in with Jean, noting they’ve always been a district of…ahem…gambling. Jean’s next stop is one of the more striking ones: Pranetta district, which is a hot and unforgiving desert on the surface, but whose population lives underground, working in the mines and kept entertained by a vibrant television industry.

This district doesn’t have much, however. They’re mining doesn’t seem to be the most fruitful, but the people seem to be living for their as-yet-unrealized dreams rather than a present rich in material things. Jean definitely seems to like the place.

These aren’t mole people, after all, and when it finally is cool enough to emerge from the caverns, it makes the evening sky seem that much more impressive and awe-inspiring. And like Yakkara and Peshi, Pranetta wants a Dowa in which ACCA is still around, so they’re with him. The chief formalizes his support by bumming a cigarette off of Jean, then giving it right back to him, in a really neat little moment that says a lot about Pranetta.

When he returns home, Jean has a chat with Lotta about her crazy day with Rail and the fact their mother was a princess, but before they can head out to eat, a special report comes in on the news: King Falke has taken a turn for the worse.

Suddenly everyone is scrambling to get their ducks in a row for what’s to come. Grossular manages to convince Mauve that the coup is what’s best for the nation and for ACCA, while the First Princess accelerates her plans to get rid of Jean and Lotta, who are nothing but usurpers in her eyes.

As for Jean, he sticks to his audit schedule, apparently unconcerned whether the king dies while he’s away. We only catch an establishing glimpse of Lilium’s home district of Furawau, but we can already discern many things from it. With gleaming skyscrapers among the sandy dunes, Furawau clearly has money, probably due to to fossil fuels. It looks like Dowa’s Dubai, so perhaps they’re also a big financial power.

In any case, Furawau is big and rich and impressive enough to be an alternate capital of the nation, should, say, the monarchy be done away with altogether or reduced in stature and importance. It also looks like a district that could take on any other district head-to-head and have the resources to come out on top (unlike poor Pranetta).

Will this be Jean’s ‘final audit’? Has he entered another friendly district, or a den of vipers? He may finally know who he truly is and what that means, but he still doesn’t know how he’ll be used…or how he’s already being used. We’re also not quite sure whether he’s actually going to claim the throne. The First Princess succeeding in offing him or Lotta, on the other hand, seems more solidly unlikely.

Fuuka – 10

Fuuka still hasn’t written the lyrics. Everyone’s hounding her, but it isn’t until Yuu tries to offer some friendly help when she momentarily snaps. She’s sick of feeling the way she feels about Yuu, and seeing him flirt with Koyuki.

Of course, Koyuki isn’t satisfied either, because it’s not as if she and Yuu are really a couple. There something in between, something that just isn’t cutting it, and she can’t go on. So yeah, Yuu’s making precisely no one happy right now.

Fuuka eventually does finish the lyrics, and they’re apparently awesome. Yuu seems to think so. But whether Yuu’s calling her on the phone and being nice, smiling at her, or praising her awesome lyrics, Fuuka continues to feel like shit.

The night of their big gig we get a little slice of all the band members’ lives. Fuuka perches precariously from her roof, but we don’t see her family. Yuu’s sisters promise they’ll be there. Nachi’s grandma sparks some flint for good luck or something. And Makoto? Makoto’s getting disowned by his asshole father for daring to be in a useless band. I wish I cared…but I don’t!

Fuuka’s pink alpaca strap falls off right in the middle of the street, and everything seems to be pointing to Fuuka getting clobbered by the classic “anime truck doing 70 mph in the middle of downtown,” with Fuuka either buying it or ending up in the hospital, probably with a ruined voice on the eve of her big break.

Instead, she avoids the truck (she is pretty athletic), and leaves the alpaca strap behind, which is like a symbol for her attempting to be move beyond the torturous slog of pining for Yuu, something I’m still not quite sure why she’s doing in the first place.

So The Fallen Moon (uuuuuuggggghhhh) performs their Hedgehogs (I’m sick of capitalizing it) cover for the millionth time, followed by a slower number, and then Fuuka’s big number. Throughout the gig, there’s more than one person singing, even though Fuuka is the only one singing, which is weird.

Also, because apparently there wasn’t enough animated material in this episode, we cut to a slow pan of the classic “impossibly starry city sky” again and again. Honestly, the episode went to that sky almost as much as the band goes to Denny’s!

The gig complete (and a huge success), Fuuka finally decides she’ll do that solo contract after all. Mind you, this is the band’s second public performance, and she’s leaving the band. The band Mikasa got disowned to stay in. Nice.

Really though, Fuuka is making the right choice. Even though everyone in the band is pretty good, the offer with the cash wasn’t for the band, it was for her. And you gotta look out for number one. I’m not sure where this is going, but this is actually a mildly intriguing development.

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Little Witch Academia – 09

The Gist: The students are allowed to leave campus now, but there are rules! The most important of which is no magic off campus grounds! Obviously, this means Akko immediately raises a dead pirate from the grave and all hell breaks loose.

This particular undead pirate has a score to settle with a certain gentleman in town. He doesn’t exactly remember who this gentleman is at first, which means a lot of yelling at strangers, going to buildings that no longer exist, and revealing bits of magical history along the way.

After dodging the police, convincing a crowd that they are street performers, and a talk with the local magic items’ shop owner, Skelly and the Girls end up on the town’s bell tower…where Skelly finally remembers that he is the gentleman he despises.

Fortunately, Akko realizes Luna Nova’s Headmistress Miranda is Skelly’s daughter and, following a quick bell-ride, everyone is reunited for a heartfelt farewell (of sorts).

The Verdict: This week was pleasant enough, especially towards the end when Miranda talks with her father and her father dances away with the ghost of his wife in the sky, but it was pretty narrative-heavy along the way. I appreciate that telling us about magic history through a character who lived it, while that character is on a mini-quest, is a decent way to sidestep heavy exposition but Skelly’s nature (constantly shouting) and quest (running aimlessly around shouting) weren’t the most compelling on their own.

Ultimately, LWA continues to suffer from the same problems each week. The world and adventures don’t lend themselves to slice-of-life stories but the lack of a long-term narrative purpose makes most episodes feel like throwaways. Again, these’s no character development this week (not of the central cast anyway) and the whole totem/field trip ends up feeling like it was written only as an excuse for Akko to create a mess that ultimately just shows us the Headmistress (and witches in general) can be…nice. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty thin tea in my book.

Little Witch Academia – 08

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The Gist: Sucy concocts a mushroom-based energy drink just this-side of poisonous. Supposedly, it will unlock her full magic potential, which she will use to rule over the world’s mushrooms and/or get rid of anyone bothering her while she searches for mushrooms. However, before she can drink it, she faces a conundrum.

She should test the potion on Akko first, to make sure it works or is safe. However, if it the potion does work as intended, Akko’s full magic potential will be unlocked, and Akko would become ‘boring’ in Sucy’s eye.

Leaving the funnel in Akko’s mouth, Sucy glugs down the potion after all. In the morning, she is unwakeable and soon she begins to sprout mushrooms. Mushrooms that threaten to take over the school…

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As with LWA’s best episodes, what follows is full of lovely details, wild and elastic animations, humor and tons of charm. Everything feels like thought was put into it. From Akko and Lotte choosing not to get the teachers because it could lead to their expulsion, to Lotte using her book knowledge to come up with a plan and Akko offering to be the sacrifice, without blinking an eye. It’s in-character and believable, at least within the rules established by LWA’s wacky universe.

Inside Sucy’s mind is a similarly vibrant and dense space. Akko meets many Sucys that make up the core Sucy personality and all of them are terrible people in a Sucy specific sort of way. (For example, both Devil and Angel Sucy want to kill Akko, just in different ways)

Eventually, Akko meets a not-outwardly-terrible Sucy and has to save her from court-ordered execution. Actually, many Sucys Akko finds more normal and relatable are being executed, and Akko saves them all.

Then Akko hitches a ride to the drive-in movies…

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Sucy’s movie vision has a great retro art style to it and, while they aren’t surprising or terribly complex, it’s interesting to see her take on the people and world around her. While Sucy has hinted about liking Akko all along, capturing the two sides of how she see’s Akko (ridiculous but charming) in a short span of images, and playing them directly against Akko as visual reinforcement effectively drives the plot points home. Even enough that Akko herself gets it.

In a way, Akko learns a bit about herself too. At least, that her friends can find her annoying (or that she can look laughable) but still love her. She also learns that outward appearances and good intentions do not always play best with reality.

That nice little Sucy she saved turns out to be a monster, consumes many other Sucys, and threatens to make the core never the same Sucy again…

lwa8cThe license plate says LWA 008, which is the number of this episode ;)

The Boss Fight provides an exciting climax to an already frenetic episode. Not only is it visually distinct, and visually good at setting tension, but the nature of a tangible enemy, with tangible stakes should it not be stopped, elevate Sucy-Monster above previous episode climaxes.

It also helps that she was introduced as a plot thread early in the episode, and that Sucy herself is a core part of show from the beginning (I’m looking at you wtf polar bear!).

But the strongest aspect of the Boss Fight comes at the end, where the Boss itself watches Akko prepare to French-kiss-inject the sleeping Sucy core with an antidote…which really seems to turn the Monster on! (alluding to a possible additional side to Sucy’s appreciation for Akko).

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The Verdict: LWA is at its best when all of its many moving parts are composed into a complex and coherent whole. This week had character development for Akko and Sucy, world building, a self contained but complete and un-rushed narrative, wild and unique animations, and a warped sense of humor.

Friendship, weirdness and adventure. Not much more you could ask for.

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Fuuka – 09

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Wow, we’re already nine episodes into this? Wow, that’s pretty far. What better way to celebrate than Yuu going on a date with Koyuki. Wait, whuuuh? Last time we saw them, they were locked in a hug on a pier, now they’re touring Little Edo, AKA Tiny Kyoto.

Koyuki starts out wearing a ski mask, but removes all disguises except for magic glasses that make it impossible for anyone to identify her. Also good news: her voice is “back to normal”…but I’ll believe her when I hear her!

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In any case, inertia plus history plus chemistry equals these two becoming something of an item this week, which doesn’t go unnoticed by the band. Yuu is late for practice after all, and while Nachi jokes about him being busy with his girlfriend, Fuuka is less enthused.

After practicing the same damn HEDGEHOGS song for the thousandth time (aren’t they sick of it by now?) they go to Denny’s and Fuuka presents her Next Great Idea: she’ll write an original song…by ear. Yuu ducks out to talk on the phone with Koyuki, and when Fuuka goes out to see where he went, he hears their flirting and remains…not enthused.

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A song-writing montage ensues, filled with still images, one of them showing them going to Denny’s again in short order. Honestly, how can these unemployed kids afford so many trips to Denny’s? They must get allowance out the wazoo! You’d think they were already a successful professional band what with all the cash they’re throwing around.

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They get the instrumentation done, so all that’s left is the lyrics. I’ve never been in a band, so I supposed some bands do the music first then the lyrics, while others do vice versa, while still others do both at the same time. Fuuka, at least for this The Fallen Moon song (ugh, I forgot that’s the name they picked for their band), goes with the first strategy, but gets lyricist’s block, no doubt exacerbated by her heartache.

Then one day Sara’s brother asks Fuuka to have a meeting with him and a music producer, who heard her sing at the school riot. The guy is perhaps unreasonably obsessed with her from a single impromptu recording, but goes on to say she “ate Koyuki alive” on that modest stage, the implication being, for the first time, that Fuuka is just flat-out better singer than Koyuki.

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But Fuuka doesn’t even say she’ll think over the producer’s offer to make her, and only her, a pro. She’s sticking with her unfortunately named band. Her selflessness is rewarded when she once more runs right into the middle of a private Yuu x Koyuki interaction.

The show is really piling it on in terms of Yuu and Koyuki rubbing their longer relationship all up in Fuuka’s face. Girl can’t catch a break! But she can’t worry about stuff like this right now; The Fallen Moon (UGH) is opening for other bands in like, no time at all, and she needs to get those lyrics written or she will LET EVERYONE DOWN.

Still, I’m sure no matter what happens, cash will somehow continue to appear out of thin air for the band, with which they’ll continue to buy fried food and sundaes at the local Denny’s. Eat more fish, kids.

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Little Witch Academia – 07

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The Gist: In a desperate attempt to turn her grades around and not get expelled, Akko ‘treats’ Professor Pisces to water only the finest of celebrities drink. Of course mineral water is a terrible thing to pour into a tropical fish tank and, all too soon, Akko has ‘flushed’ the professor into the sewer and a grade-saving adventure!

Along the way, Akko learns to speak Fish, save an endangered species from a poacher, improve on her polymorphing skills, and win the grudging recognition of the faculty (and not get expelled, obviously).

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This week finally nailed a slice-of-life tone for LWA. The supporting cast members received balanced screen time, spread across Akko’s many classes. Lotte and Sucy were the consistent observers, which is the role they fit best structurally, and the scenes felt full and fit together in a way that made Akko’s world feel lived in.

But, above all else, that world was finally fun again. From slapstick to a silent ‘talking’ character, the humor was perfectly timed and delightfully absurd. I absolutely died when Megumi Han delivered Akko’s sobbing response to flushing her teacher down the drain.

The Verdict: This is LWA doing the right things – being fun, upbeat, unexpected and bizarre. Sure, it could benefit from an overarching plot for the cast to focus on but, as long as it keeps Sucy and Lotte by Akko’s side (but not crowding her spotlight) and keeps the weird fun rolling, I don’t mind.

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