The Rising of the Shield Hero – 23 – Island Grind

Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo meet their cabin-mates L’Arc Berg and Therese Alexanderite (Hayami Saori), neither of whom will believe he’s the Shield Hero. Not because he doesn’t look the part, but because they deem themselves good enough judges of character to conclude he’s not “that scumbag,” not realizing that his scumbag reputation is largely fiction.

In a wonderful bit of karmic justice, the other three heroes who took all the private cabins end up horribly seasick for the duration of the voyage to Cal Mira, and Filo doesn’t make it any better by violently catching strong-smelling shark-fish for dinner.

Once they arrive at the island and get out into the field, they find even small fry net huge amounts EXP…until all four heroes end up in the same spot. Rather than bicker with the others, Naofumi & Co. take a boat to another island, where the monsters are tougher the EXP greater, and the enemy drops both epic and timely, as the weapons Raphtalia and Filo started needed replacing from overuse.

After a day of gaining two dozen-plus levels, the party makes camp, but L’Arc and Therese arrive, responding to their ferryman who was worried they were killed. These are the kind of guys who won’t let acquaintances die out in the field if they can help it…but I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of dread about them. After all, “Myne” seemed like a nice partner at first too.

The five head back to an inn for food and drink, and we see that Cal Mira is as much about pleasure and fun as it is grinding for levels and loot. Kevin Penkin rolls out another beautiful orchestral theme over the carousing scene, which includes Raph getting drunk on wine and beating the racist knight at arm wrestling, as well as Naofumi not getting drunk at all on the same intoxicating fruit that knocks Motoyasu to the floor.

The next morning, Raph seems to have suffered no hangover, and L’Arc and Therese join Naofumi’s party for the day’s grind. Naofumi also presents Therese with the accessory she commissioned, and its power and craftsmanship quite literally move her to tears as she hands Naofumi all the gold she has.

Naofumi, Raph and Filo learn that L’Arc and Therese are very good to have on your side in a fight, as the former is another trusty swordsman while the latter has powerful offensive magic of a style none of them ever heard of. Naofumi even cracks a smile or two; while L’Arcs type usually rubs him the wrong way (See: Motoyasu) they get along just fine.

After a somewhat awkward farewell where L’Arc and Therese decline Naofumi’s invitation to join them tomorrow, they part ways. I’d like to see the duo again, even if they turn out to be plotting against him. Naofumi decides to take the next day off, which means both Filo and Raphtalia get to show off the very stylish swimsuits they bought at the market. Sadly for Raph, Naofumi still doesn’t see her as a potential love interest, and never will.

The lightweight atmosphere of sun and fun is interrupted by Filo’s discovery of underwater ruins (incidentally one of my favorite levels in FFX), which contain a Dragon Hourglass. That’s bad news because it means Cal Mira is a target for the next Wave of Catastrophe, which is just 48 hours and change away. With that, the stage is set for the final battle of Shield Hero‘s first season, as well as the possibility it will end with a bang rather than a whimper.

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Isekai Quartet – 09 – Chibis in Bikinis

The beach trip is finally here, which means fans of the four series see the characters in modern swimsuits for the first time, albeit in chibi form. Still, the animation definitely seems to make Darkness more proportional as she does a thousand push-ups under Cocytus’ orders just so she can be gawked at by Tanya’s men. This, in turn, draws the ire of Ram and Visha, condemning the lads as scumbags for indulging the masochist with their stares.

The daytime events are pretty dull, but things heat up at night when the class splits up into groups for the big test of courage. Tanya is paired with Subaru, Ainz, and Aqua, and loses her cool when Aqua explains that she’s a goddess. Tanya initially mistakes her for Being X and prepares to launch when Ainz estimates to be Level 8 magical power on Yggdrasil.

Subaru stands between Tanya and Aqua, and along with Ainz all agree that Aqua is too much of a lightweight loser to be the Being X she’s talking about.  A couple of Tanya’s own men fall ill due to what she deems “lack of mental discipline”, but Ainz is duly impressed that Subaru took that wave of power in the face at point-blank range like it was nothing. Ainz asks himself what kind of mental stress Subaru is used to living under…If he only knew!

Isekai Quartet – 08 – Shopping in a New World

Ainz proposes a group activity during the class field trip to the beach, and Aqua immediately raises her hand in opposition…until she learns the idea was actually Emilia’s, in the interest of the various class members getting along better.

Aqua has definitely been the most antagonistic towards another character—in this case, the undead Ainz—but when Subaru talks about the purpose of a test of courage, joins Ram in castigating him. Still, everyone agrees that the night  activity will indeed be a test of courage; Emilia just needs Subaru to tell her what it is!

The students also need to head to a department store to buy swimsuits. You’d think that would mean they’d actually try them on, which would in some cases show many of the characters wearing different outfits—a rare occurrence to be sure. That doesn’t happen this week, as don’t yet make it to the beach.

Instead, Albedo and Shalltear try to pick out the best skimpy Speedo for Ainz-sama, and when Aqua crosses paths with them again, Kazuma plays peacemaker. He wigs out when he learns Albedo is a succubus (based on his experience in his isekai) but Shalltear drags her fellow floor guardian by telling him she’s still a pure maiden and laughing about it.

For that, Aqua actually takes Albedo’s side; saving yourself for the one you love isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Instead, she inadvertently drags Shalltear by declaring the only thing to be ashamed of is padding your chest, as her fellow goddess Eris—and Shalltear—do. A such, it is Albedo who gets the last laugh.

Senryuu Shoujo – 08 – Grand Unveiling

It’s Summer, which means Summer Vacation, which means swimsuits. Amane wants to attract a man, and asks Tao to use her crystal ball to help her pick one out for that purpose. For her part, Nanako doesn’t even own one, as she hasn’t been in a pool since she was little.

Amane takes Tao, Nanako and Kino to the store where they are faced with far too large a selection. All the while, Tao’s ball suggests a slingshot bikini for Amane that is “just strings,” while Eiji is ambushed in his room by Koto in a stunning black bikini. If he’s going to have eyes for another girl, she’s clearly making sure he knows what he’s missing.

Nanako, by nature a modest person, starts out with a swimsuit indistinguishable from a dress, then a sarong, but eventually settles on a white bikini that catches the attention of everyone at the pool. It happens to be the same pool where Eiji is taking his little sister, which means he’s present for Nanako’s “grand unveiling” (Amane’s term, not mine!)

She runs back into the changing room, and when Amane tells him what the deal is, he apologizes to Nanako and tells her he’ll keep his distance and avert his gaze. Of course, Nanako wants neither of those things, and so rushes back outside to grab him and assert that it’s okay for him to look, a little—all using a tanzaku she seemingly conjured out of nowhere!

Domestic na Kanojo – 11 – There’s Always Someone Better

After lying and keeping secrets for so long, Natsuo finally tells Rui everything, from his long time love of Hina to his determination to be with her in the future. But just because it’s the truth doesn’t make the words sting any less. After sharing one last kiss and an evening of private sobbing, Rui is also determined to move on from Natsuo.

Of course, since it’s impossible for Rui to not handle such things in an odd way, she announces to Natsuo the next morning that she’s decided to “start disliking him.” I can’t say I blame her, as Natsuo has grown more selfish and insufferable with each passing week, but in her case it’s a defense mechanism. She’ll still treat him like family, but otherwise, she’s done.

At least Natsuo gets to talk to Rui; Rui freezes out Hina both on LINE and at school, where Natsuo and Hina misguidedly meet up once again to discuss it. The episode suddenly makes a hard right turn from the love triangle to…the “Natsuo Striving to be an Author” plot, when Rui wins an award instead of him (or Miu, for that matter).

This shakes Natsuo to his core, despite the fact, if he’s honest, he’s spent far more time lately being a horndog with Hina than he has crafting brilliant narratives. Still, he believes the solution is to go to Akari’s house announced and beg him to make him his apprentice. It’s not any more pleasant than Natsuo begging for sex.

His sensei turns him down in this case, because becoming his apprentice is not the way to go about becoming a good author; it takes actual struggle and hard work, not just connections. Natsuo takes this to mean writing one short story per week. Then, in another bit of whiplash, the episode makes another hard turn to School Beach Trip territory.

This means not only Rui and Miu and Momo in swimsuits, but Hina as well, and as she plays volleyball with the students, she looks more like a teacher than a student. Rui takes her aside to remark on the inappropriateness of her swimsuit, but Hina is so happy she’s not ignoring her anymore, that it leads to the two making up.

Rui isn’t interested in Hina breaking up with Natsuo if she still has real feelings for him; instead, she’s prepared to concede him to her and pursue other options. Honestly it’s probably a good move by Rui…if she can stick the landing. But Rui’s assurances don’t dissuade Hina from deciding to break up with Natsuo anyway, since it’s just not a tenable relationship.

It’s disappointing to see Hina’s position so callously overruled by Natsuo thanks to a cheap ring and a promise that he’ll make an honest woman of her for sure, even proposing marriage. Their two positions couldn’t be further apart, but there’s no compromise, Natsuo simply gets what he wants, again. 

While he may talk about caring about the future, it’s Hina who was looking out for both of them by suggesting they end things while they still can. Instead, they make out in front of an open window during a fireworks display, then have sex and apparently spend the night together.

These are not good decisions, as Hina learns on the first day back at school, when she’s summoned by the principal, who presents her a photo of her, and Natsuo, kissing by the open window, during the fireworks display.

She and Natsuo were so caught up in being together that they got sloppy, never stopping to think how others (who weren’t Rui) mind think and feel about them together. In the school’s case, it’s likely a fireable offense, and certainly a black mark on its reputation. Suffice it to say Hina is well and truly fucked.

Darling in the FranXX – 07

After last week’s epic battle, the 13th gets some well-deserved R&R on a real beach, which makes this a respite episode and a beach episode. It’s a good time to let us spend more time with the pilots as they interact in non-life-or-death situations for once.

The other big news is that 002 and Hiro are officially partners and Zero Two is now a member of the 13th. The higher-ups pulling the strings assign extra surveillance to her and seem to want Hiro to safely “deliver” her somewhere specific. Hiro also meets a fellow young man who’ll be the one doing the surveillance.

But for now, splashing and floating in the ocean are the order of the day, and the male gaze is in full force, with even a “goody-two-shoes” like Gorou thanking the powers that be for such a wonderful experience.

Hiro got to meet Dr. Franxx, who warns him not to let 002 “consume his emotions” if he wants to always be her partner. That is obviously a challenge, since Two is extremely flirty whenever around her Darling, even leaning in for what Hiro thinks is another kiss before she licks his cheek.

Zorome, Goro and Futoshi are in the dark about what all this “kissing” is about, and when Hiro grudgingly describes it and how it feels, Zorome is so eager to experience it for himself he tries to kiss Hiro. Mitsuru and Ikuno don’t participate in the other girls’ and boys’ fun, but Ikuno also makes it clear that doesn’t make them alike.

Then Mitsuru finds a path and leads everyone through it, and they find an abandoned ghost town not unlike the one they appear in during the typical end credits (we get a girls-in-swimsuits sequence this week).

It’s a place that’s gorgeous in its decay, where nature is taking over what was once civilization. Kokoro finds a book on child-rearing, something I’m sure is not done anywhere near the way we know about in our world, considering the ignorance of the parasites—or maybe it is, but since it has nothing to do with their duty to protect humanity, they were never taught about it.

002 tries to tease Ichigo about the fact that she’s kissed Hiro, but Ichigo mostly stands her ground without revealing she kissed him too. In any case, she’s far from ready to surrender Hiro to Two.

After enjoying a lovely sunset on an outcropping, the squad returns to the beach to find a sumptuous barbeque awaiting them. There, Ichigo and the others officially welcome Hiro to the 13th. They welcome 002 as well, but she runs off to swim some more, and seems miffed her Darling did not follow her.

That night, Ichigo gets some much-needed alone time with Hiro as they both wake up in the middle of the night and take a nice starlit stroll along the beach. Seeing Ichigo step into each of Hiro’s steps ahead of her was a really adorable move on her part, and she has a lot of nice closeups of just how much she’s enjoying being with Hiro and Hiro alone.

Ichigo eloquently expresses her feelings, from telling him not to give “all his attention” to 002 “look at her too”, to how much their kiss meant and her desire to be with him forever. She’s relieved Hiro still remembers the “Ichigo Star” in Orion he once pointed out to her.

Unfortunately, Hiro interrupts her, but it’s because a shower of shooting stars breaks out, further adding to the magic of the evening. Ichigo sees them as a good omen; the light they give off looking to her like rays of hope. Rather than repeat herself to Hiro, she playfully calls him baka for not listening when he had the chance. As exotic and alluring as 002 is, Ichigo shows no signs of relinquishing her Best Girl status.

Classroom of the Elite – 07

As soon as it was clear this was not only a pool episode, but an underlying operation by the guys to peep on the girls in their changing room (immediately), I sat back and settled in for what I imagined would be a pleasant but lightweight episode, “7” stamp in my hand, ready to strike.

But hidden among all the usual pool episode fanservice cliches and peeping scheme antics, this episode turned out to be something I didn’t know it was until the end, and felt silly for not realizing it. At the same time, it ever-so-gently nudged a character towards a slightly more normal human high school life.

If this episode were a sandwich, the insides would be pretty monotonous, while the bread, particularly the bottom slice, would be where the true action is. Yet the middle part—let’s call it egg salad for the purposes of this metaphor—was nevertheless crucial in setting up the twist at the end.

Clues are everywhere as to what kind of phone conversation went on between Horikita and Ayanokouji that led to her joining him, the three bad apples (including Sudo), Ichinose, Kushida, and Sakura at a lovely Summer day at the pool, rather than her usual day composed solely of study, eating, and sleeping.

‘Leisure” and “friends” are a waste of time and energy for Horikita, so what is she doing here? Nah. Merely humoring Ayano and the others? Worried he and Kushida (or Sakura, or Ichinose) will get too close if she’s not there? Nope.

Once the ridiculously overwrought and over-dramatic peeping scheme is in dire jeopardy, and Ayano asks Horikita to climb the highest diving board and deliver a stirring speech that gets the nod from her Class D colleagues but rankles the other classes, it should be clear she’s not in on the peeping scheme either…and neither is Ayanokouji.

Rather, Ayano, AKA Argos-4, served as a double agent, knowing the other guys would go through with the scheme even if he protested or failed to participate; better to let them think he’s on their side and let them fail all on their own. But the consequences of failure would spread to all of Class D, so Ayano appealed to Horikita’s pride and desire to reach Class A, and help him neutralize one more obstacle to that goal.

She does, swiping all of the SD cards from the cameras set up in the changing room, and thus while the guys’ scheme failed, Ayano’s succeeds. Getting to see Horikita in a bikini, and having her hang out with people who would be her friends if she just let them, is pretty much just a bonus for Ayano. He dunks Horikita, but when reaching out to pull her out, she pulls him in with her…as “payback” (Sakura also tries and fails—quite hilariously—to join in the fun).

Back home and in her usual routine, Horikita gets a text from Ayano: a photo of him and her with the others at the pool; a memory of a fun time. Horikita collapses on the bed, maintaining that being alone is “easier”, but does she truly want everything to be easy? Doesn’t a challenge make one’s results more satisfying?

Classroom of the Elite let its hair down a little this week, but it deserves kudos for taking the tired pool episode and peeping scheme premises and adapting them to the specific thrust of the show: Horikita and Ayano keeping Class D above water as part of the greater goal to get promoted to Class A. It also allowed Horikita to loosen up ever so slightly, while perpetuating the complex relationship between her and the still very mysterious Ayano. A win on all fronts.

Koi to Uso – 06

Whoa, hold on, what are Yukari and Ririna doing, making out in bed? Oh, it’s just Ririna’s first sexy dream about Yukari. Little did she—or I—know that by episode’s end that dream would become shockingly close to reality.

This is due to a combination of factors, including a genuine growing affection for one another as they get to know each other better, the scientific process by which they were chosen to marry one another, and oh yeah, a ruthless alternate-universe Japanese government that is NOT FUCKING AROUND when it comes to population growth.

Yes, this episode checks in momentarily with Misaki and Nisaka, and new characters are introduced in Ririna’s new friend Arisa and Yukari’s middle-school classmate Igarashi, but thankfully the focus is on the two people that aggressive government program determined should get hitched, get it on, and have at least 2 children.

To that end, everyone who recently got their notices are instructed to leave school early and report to…a hotel…uh-oh. The strangeness of the situation is definitely felt by our surrogates, Yukari and Ririna. He sees aa classmate with his “pre-Yukari way-out-of-his-league” future wife, and turns inward to wonder if people look at him and Ririna like he’s looking at them.

Then that very thing happens. Ririna arrives sporting a new hairstyle and the gift of a creepy figuring that Yukari loses his shit over. He has a gift for her two, and his classmate and future wife marvel at how well this system seems to pick people who clearly like each other.

Both Yukari and Ririna bristle at that, but as the afternoon progresses, The State systematically runs roughshod over whatever doubts and reservations the two may have. Indeed, Ririna, having only recently researched French kissing, is particularly uncomfortable with all the sex talk going on by the Ministry’s presenter, a True Believer in the Yukari System if ever there was one.

Condoms are passed out. The now-healthy birthrate is mentioned to tout the success of the system. Sex is healthily discussed in terms of its physiological and mental benefits, in addition to just feeling good. It’s gotta be a lot to take in for a bunch of 16-year-olds, and that is no accident on the part of the Ministry.

After concluding the lecture with a very informative porno that leaves Ririna shaking and Yukari desperate to keep Misaki out of his head, all of the husband-wife pairs are assigned hotel rooms and ordered to spend the night together. A random Ministry guy hinting (in jest) that they’ll be “watched” and an overheard rumor about consequences for “not banging” only hikes up the pressure.

Before they know it, Yukari and Ririna are alone in a tastefully lit, comfortable room, staring down a big bed. There are no chairs, as Ririna helpfully points out. Yukari is LOSING IT. He’s stuck in his head, and at least finally realizes it, but when he tries to think of what he can do for Ririna, what he comes up with mirrors the beginning of her dream in which they make out: he pins her to the bed. As she awaits the next move, the episode mercilessly (or mercifully) fades to black…

The Yukari Law was born out of necessity. Japan’s birthrate hovered around 1.46 births per woman in 2015. That’s just not good enough to make up for the people aging and dying. There’s no telling what the economic, social, and cultural consequences will be, but you can bet they’ll be bad. Robots aren’t the answer. People study and work too much to get by or get ahead. Family often takes a backseat to success. A lot of younger people just don’t want it.

These are the harsh realities that face the Japan here, in our world. And while it’s doubtful anything as comprehensively invasive as Yukari will ever be implemented, Koi to Uso still serves as a kind of thought experiment in which a relatively simple fix is applied: get people to make more babies. Simple in concept, but ridiculously complex and problem-fraught in execution.

Its exploration of that what-if scenario, with a focus on four youths going against the grain, is as unsettling as it is riveting.

Koi to Uso – 05

The potentially infamous Love Quadrangle Camping Trip from Hell is upon us, and things start out expectedly bumpy, with Ririna protesting Yukari’s choice to invite Nisaka along and Nisaka and Misaki exchanging looks that to us clearly look like two rivals in love, but to Yukari like they’re into each other.

Inevitably, Yukari ends up catching the girls playing in the river in their swimsuits, but neither accuses him of being a pervert. Indeed, Ririna thinks nothing of calling him over to play with them, only to twist her ankle and require he princess-carry her back to camp (since she considers piggyback to be too lewd).

Ririna is a bit of a tsundere for most of this trip where Yukari is concerned, but there’s a good reason for that: she’s increasingly unable to hold back her own feelings for Yukari for her good friend Misaki’s sake. Her face even blushes when she finds herself admiring Yukari as he talks so passionately about researching burial mounds.

Then there’s Nisaka, who Yukari has the exact wrong idea about. Nisaka isn’t into Misaki; he’s into Yukari. But despite having a golden opportunity to do so, Nisaka is unable to come out and confess this. But to be fair, this is a guy who likes guys in a society where guys are matched up with girls by the government and told in no uncertain terms (a la Adama) to “make babies.” Also he values his friendship with Yukari and doesn’t want to ruin it.

Despite the conflicting feelings floating around her head, Ririna is still committed to getting true lovers together as often as she can, even to the point of pairing herself with Nisaka, whom she has a very low opinion of, so Yukari and Misaki can be alone together.

Again, things turn out how one would expect: while chasing a firefly, Misaki slips and starts to fall down a hill. Yukari can’t catch her, but she grabs his arm and takes him down with her. They then spend a good long time on the ground, in each others’ arms, simply listening to their hearts pound against each other.

Nisaka is aware of Ririna’s gambit and straight-up questions what she hopes to get out of it. If Misaki and Yukari marry, it’s not like there’ll be some kind of ménage à trois situation, like the creator of Wonder Woman. Ririna could fall by the wayside…or would she?

And while we finally learn there are no overt criminal penalties, it’s made clear by Nisaka that those who reject their matches are marked for life, and will find it tougher to realize their futures. Nisaka minces no words in accusing Ririna of courting disaster. (I say if you’re as desperately in love as Misaki and Yukari seem to be, I’d say it’s worth it. You can’t put a price on happiness, be it fines or lost wages.)

But Ririna…just wants two people in love to be together. When the two pairs reunite and find the clearing where a cloud of fireflies pepper the night, she defiantly takes the hands of both Misaki and Yukari. Yukari then inadvertently twists her intention by taking Nisaka’s hand as well.

Whatever labels society wants to put on his relationships, Yukari just wants to exist in that beautiful place with people he likes. The camping trip ends with him still thinking Nisaka likes Misaki, but I’ll allow him his blissful ignorance a little longer. A new notice in the mail suggests this love quadrangle’s trials have only just begun.

Eromanga-sensei – 12 (Fin)

Sagiri allowed Masamune to attend the data collection trip because Elf and Muramasa (without her knowledge, through Elf) agreed to “do whatever Eromanga-sensei wants them to do” afterwards. In the final episode of Eromanga-sensei, the bill comes due.

Sagiri’s “festival” ensues, where she boots Masamune, puts the two girls in swimsuits, and makes them play Twister so they’ll strike lewd poses she can draw. It’s basically heaven for Sagiri and hell for Muramasa and Elf…but a promise is a promise. Needless to say, the session is also an excuse for healthy amounts of fanservice.

When Tomoe shows up at Masamune’s door to congratulate him on the success of his new imouto LN, I feared the worst: that Sagiri, suspicious of this new girl and jealous of her interactions with her dear brother, would somehow get Tomoe into a swimsuit as well, or worse.

Thankfully, that doesn’t happen, and the girl who, in hindsight, seems like the best fit for Masamune leaves with her clothes intact, having delivered a doujinshi of the little sister novel that is actual, no-nonsense porn…then says if Masamune gets an anime and becomes famous, she’d be happy to be his wife.

Sagiri inevitably gets hold of the material not suitable for her, and immediately sets to work drawing her own erotic drawings based on the little bit she saw. When Masamune can’t quite put into words why her drawings aren’t quite anatomically accurate, she and Elf decide the best way to settle things is by stripping Masamune naked…

If they had succeeded, would have been only fair considering how many girls have had to strip for Eromanga. But before they do, Masamune gets on the horn with Megumi, who for all her talk is just as clueless as Elf and Sagiri. It takes Muramasa sketching Michelangelo’s David to show them once and for all how to draw…that.

With the sun low and Eromanga all lewd drawing-ed out, she and Masamune bid farewell to her models for the day, adding they’re welcome to come back anytime. And this time Sagiri opens the window and gives them a proper wave goodbye, showing further progress in her attempt to overcome her shut-in-ism.

As frikkin’ wrong as it may be, it’s thanks to lewd art—the lewder the better—that Sagiri can forget about the crippling fear of being outside or interacting with other people. Her digital life is a means of creative expression and a (surprisingly) safe space in which to have rudimentary human contact.

And thanks to her brother’s uncanny ability to draw girls into his orbit, she now has a slew of flesh-and-blood friends to laugh and have fun with…as well as draw in risqué positions.

Eromanga-sensei – 09

I don’t know if I’m in the minority among Eromanga-sensei viewers, but I’m not the biggest fan of the Masamune-Sagiri relationship, which is rife with inevitably icky undertones, whether or not their love is purely familial or not. So when the show gets away from that relationship and focuses on the more standard unrelated boy-girl variety, I’m all eyes and ears.

We certainly get an eye-full in this week’sbeach episode, but it’s not just empty skin calories. I couldn’t be happier with the fact that we’re out of Masamune’s stuffy house and focused on Elf, whose plans are right there in the subtitle in the cold open.

Shidou and Muramasa also attend the “data collection trip” approved by Sagiri in various off-camera negotiations, but aside from Muramasa appearing in a far smaller swimsuit than she planned, Masamune and Elf have the beach to themselves.

Elf tries to take advantage, passing off legitimate activities lovers undertake on the beach—applying the lotion, playfully splashing, walking arm-in-arm—for role-playing and research. But whatever the context, the fact remains they’e doing these things alone, together, and enjoying it.

At least, Masamune tries to enjoy it, but finds it a bit awkward whenever Elf’s big bro and editor Chris appears. That awkwardness follows Masamune to the men’s bath where Chris joins him and asks him about Elf, including whether he’d marry her.

Masamune insists they’re not actually dating, despite Elf telling Chris so; but Chris manages to get Masamune to say an awful lot of complimentary things about Elf—which Elf herself can hear from the women’s bath.

Really, it doesn’t take much coaxing; Masamune exhibits some much-needed awareness of what he has in Elf, even taking exception to Chris saying his sister’s flaws can overshadow her charms; for Masamune, it’s the opposite, and believes Elf would make a good wife. His wife? Well…

Because Elf overheard everything, she visits Masamune’s room that night and takes him to the same firefly-bejeweled “elven forest” that inspired her novels, as well as the place where her dad proposed to her mom. We know immediately where this is headed: she tells Masamune that she considers him a candidate for marriage, which is a roundabout way of saying she likes him. She even tells him her true name: Emily.

This is Yamada Elf at her most vulnerable, earnest, and endearing. She’s come such a long way since her first appearance, where she was introduced as a generic arrogant loli pest. The little tidbits about her family and upbringing that come to light only serve to deepen my emotional investment in Emily and her happiness.

A-1 Pictures’s pretty character design, sutble animation, and seiyu Takahashi Minami are all working in concert to brine Emily to vivid life. And to his credit, Masamune doesn’t come right out and reject her the way he did Muramasa two eps back. He’d have been a fool if he had.

Emily realizes he might not be in love with her enough to propose marriage, but she’s going to work to make sure that he is one day. Considering all she’s managed to accomplish so far in life, I’m not betting against her, even if the show ends up going in a different direction at her expense.

RokuAka – 07

Remaining true to its pattern halfway in, RokuAka takes a step back from last week’s plot-and-action-packed drama and keeps things nice and breezy, starting with some tight shots and dialogue between Sisti and Glenn that’s open-to-lewd-interpretation, until it’s revealed they’re merely doing hand-to-hand combat training.

Sisti is a little impatient about it, but when Glenn tells her if she wants to truly protect her sister with magic, she’ll need to master some non-magical fundamentals, she’s on board. It’s good to still see the friendship of these two continuing to grow.

What would have been a return to routine at the academy is suddenly broken by the arrival of a “transfer student”, Re=L, whose transfer had been thoroughly telegraphed by the OP and ED. As befits her tendency to rush at everything head-on, even a greeting, Re=L comes at Glenn with her giant sword, confident he’ll block it.

She’s ostensibly here to protect Rumia, but she claims she’d rather protect Glenn, which I actually prefer to her being an early-Rumia-rehash, i.e. having a low opinion of him to start. These two go way back, after all.

Re=L comes on a bit strong with her eccentricities and lack of social skills. The class and Sisti in particular are a bit dubious of whether this is all okay. Re=L eventually settles in nicely, thanks in large part to the always kind and friendly Rumia, who it should be noted is always ready to die, hence her fearlessness in being in such close proximity to the blue-haired newbie!

Glenn, relieved Re=L is starting to fit in, hopes she’ll make more progress on a class field trip to a tropical island, where he eggs on the guys in the class to take stock of their uniquely fortunate situation, seeing as how tropical island = beach = girls in swimsuits. Meanwhile the girls on more than one occasion marvel at the idiocy of the boys.

After some beach leisure and sports, the next stage involves the lads devising a very nerdy plan to infiltrate the girls’ rooms (in order to make “lasting memories”), a plan stymied by Glenn. I was worried for a second he would join them, which would have definitely added more than a few Bastard Points to his record.

He learns from Albert-in-disguise that she’s just a decoy, and Albert’s warning about her being “dangerous” weighing on his mind. But while resting alone on the beach under a gorgeous starry sky, Glenn spots Sisti, Rumia and Re=L running into the ocean to affirm their friendship and splash around. Also surprisingly, Glenn’s not a lewd bastard about this either, but is simply glad Re=L continues to seem okay…

…Only Re=L is not okay. She puts on a good show, but something’s been weighing on her all the time since she transferred: Why Glenn left the Imperial Court Mages; why she left her. When she says Glenn is “her everything” and lives “only for Glenn”, Glenn may think she’s just messing around, but her confrontation with him later in the night makes it clear she’s not.

Re=L thinks she’s gotten a raw deal here, in losing Glenn and then having Sisti and Rumia swoop in and steal him from her. This may not be 100% fair to Glenn, who has in a way “given himself” to all of his students, not just Sisti and Rumia. But I also feel he owes Re=L an explanation for suddenly abandoning her, even though he probably didn’t think it meant as much to her as it clearly did.

With Eleanor Chalet planning something devious, this is not the time for anyone on Glenn’s side to be in emotional turmoil; especially with his talk about the “dark side” of military magic one can be swayed by if not used correctly or in the right state of mind.

Saekano 2 – 00

Saekano is back, baby! And it has not changed its ways, no sir. In its Episode 00 special, it doubles down on the enticing Episode 00 of its predecessor, piling on the fan service thick and garnishing with witty banter.

We arrive in the middle of an argument between Eriri and Utaha about an anime they disagree about, and again they seem to be talking about the very anime they’re in, and whether it’s deserving of a second season. After this first taste, I’d tend to agree with Eriri.

Like the hot springs episode 00 of last season, all the girls are after Aki’s attentions in one way or another, and everyone remains consistent in their respective approaches: Michiru with the cousin angle, Eriri with the childhood friend angle, Utaha with the Mr. Ethical schtick, and Megumi with the stealthiness and running commentary. Saekano 2 adds Hashima Izumi, another childhood friend of Aki’s and a fan of Eriri’s, to the mix, because hey, why not?

At a hotel in Odaiba overlooking the Rainbow Bridge and Statue of Liberty (yes, Tokyo has its own small one) the game-making group has gathered, and donned swimsuits because Megumi wouldn’t pose in a bikini unless everyone else was so attired. Aki has zero designs on spending the night, but when all the girls but Utaha end up in the room and she’s nowhere to be found, it’s clear she’s used her power of the purse to arrange things so she’d end up alone with Aki.

She claims to have only poured ginger ale for Aki and herself, but he has the sneaking suspicion it’s actual alcohol, and we know how that turned out for him and the girls at the hot spring. Unfortunately for Utaha (but fortunate for everyone else), while she turned her phone off, Aki’s remains on, and the gig is up. Utaha has not given up, but I wonder how far she realistically thinks she can get with such schemes.

At first Michiru only seem to be here to do pool suplexes on her cousin and put him in holds that mean something a lot different now that they’ve both grown, but it turns out she’s been working hard like Eriri and Utaha, writing not one but ten pieces of BGM for the game so far. As she gives the others a sample, her work has a motivating effect on the artists and scriptwriter, and they whip out their own tools of the trade and get to work as Izumi looks on in awe.

That leaves Megumi free to slip out and admire Tokyo Bay with Aki, among many other couples. For all the attempts of the others in the harem, it’s clear who truly has the upper hand, and she makes it look effortless as usual. For all the inappropriate contact Aki endured from Michiru, the advances from Utaha, the hugs from Izumi, and the reminiscing with Eriri, simply standing close but not too close beside his heroine seems to be ideal for Aki.

The other girls may be shapely and beautiful (and the camera never lets us forget it) but Megumi’s appeal just seems to run deeper and fuller. I look forward to seeing how she, Aki, and the others traverse their relationships with each other as the development of their dating sim progresses. And the only people who would sit there and find faults in someone’s hard work are pathetic losers who have forgotten how to enjoy life!!!