Val x Love – 04 – He’s “It” (Unfortunately)

Val x Love loses the nice rhythm it had developed in which a different sister’s power was awakened to eliminate a demonic threat. Instead, it felt like nothing of consequence happened. The second daughter Futaba indeed reveals her “Castle” power, but it doesn’t quite fit in a game of tag where she’s the one who is it and thus on the offensive.

While the game of tag is meant to “refresh” Takuma after some stressful exams, thinking he’d be okay with them running around the house destroying stuff as she steals her sisters’ underwear makes Futaba look pretty dumb. The game is a transparent vehicle for incidents of accidental groping.

VxL digs deep into the cliche toy box for the second half, which has no connection to the first, combining a school festival, maid outfits, and jealousy of Takuma’s male classmates for his proximity to Natsuki. Garm ends up using this as an opportunity to transform the classmates into akuma to test a Valkyrie’s strength in human form.

He determines that Natsuki isn’t much of a match even for low-level demons, but that Takuma will spring to the rescue. And there’s the main issue with this episode. Aside from rescuing Natsuki and later telling her he thinks she’s cute, his general denseness, near-constant terrified state and dopey stammering is really starting to get old.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 12 (Fin) – Using the Same Words on a Train with No Brakes

The girls might be referring to the hostage situation, but the real train with no brakes each one of them is on is adolescence. It’s a crazy chemical, biological train where bodies take off before minds are ready; where feelings are felt before the words to express them can be found.

The reaction of Tomita-sensei, the principal and vice principal to the girl’s act of rebellion couldn’t be any appropriate: they shrug and go back home, hoping things will cool off by morning, or in about a day or so. They’re not looking down on their students or mocking their seriousness.

Instead, all they have to do is remember when they were that age to know that in this case, anything they try to do or say in this situation can only make things worse. Better to let the crazy kids work things out; to find the brakes. Also, Tomita will be by in the morning with McDonalds breakfast! She’s an angel.

What Tomita also does is call Rika, the person for whom the girls kidnapped Yamagishi-sensei, and who arrives with Amagi by her side. But this isn’t just about Rika anymore; it’s about settling things among each other, so they don’t let Rika or Amagi in.

Rika contacts Izumi, who contacts Kazusa to tell her he’s coming. He sneaks in to find Niina tangled up on the floor with Momoko as Kazusa looks on. Niina thinks it the best time to confess her feelings to Izumi, but Momoko doesn’t accept Kazusa “giving her permission”, and she sure as hell doesn’t have hers.

Izumi somehow makes things far worse by declaring he’ll clearly state how he feels about both of them, then proceeding to say that he loves Kazusa but is sexually attracted to Niina, words so lacking in nuance and open to interpretation they end up satisfying no one.

No one, that is, except Niina, who we’ve known for a while now is too far removed from traditional “love” to value it as much as the pure physical attraction she can make better sense of, since she’s experienced it herself, most powerfully on the train when, as she says “he touched her.”

Those words also lack nuance and serve to stir the shit further, until Kazusa suggests they simply dispense with further words and make it a pure neolithic fight, like their pillow war at the bathhouse. Rika, who arrived with Amagi in time to castigate Izumi for his harsh and imprecise words, laments that her girls have been “driven mad by lust” but doesn’t think abandoning language is the answer.

The only adult in the room, Yamagishi, free of his binds, suggests that they combine some kind of “fight” with language: color tag. By having those who aren’t “it” look for a color the person who is “it” describes in a very personal way, it will enable them to reach beyond mere words to find the thoughts and feelings behind them.

Momoko fails to find Hitoha’s “gray sigh,” but when she just blurts out “peach-colored Momoko” despite not knowing what it is at the time, Niina still runs at full speed to find it.  Niina wants to understand Momoko’s feelings so they can continue being friends. Happy that Niina feels that way, she embraces Niina, declaring she is now “it.”

Niina tells the others to find the “Blues of our youth,” which leads Kazusa to a dark hall, where she thinks about how she’s felt like she’s been lost in that darkness ever since Niina fist mentioned sex during club, confused about romance, sexual desire, and everything in between. But once her eyes adjust and the moon peeks out of the clouds, she and the hallway are bathed in blue light—the blues of their youth.

Izumi ends up right there with Kazusa, and manages to use the opportunity to put how he’s feeling into better, more useful words. To Kazusa’s dawning realization and delight, he’s finally using the same words she would use to describe how she feels. Now they both have a useful tool to fall back on if they ever get anxious in the future. Neither of them are experts on what they’re headed into, but they’re speaking the same language, so they won’t be walking that path alone.

On the other fronts, in addition to Niina and Momoko making up, Hitoha notes Milo-sensei’s dedication to the advisor role even in such an unusual situation. When he plays the “you’re nothing if not entertaining” card on her, she proudly warns him not to “attempt to satisfy me with half-hearted platitudes,” as that isn’t entertaining.

Finally, with things calming down around them, things aren’t as bad as Mom-Mode Rika initially feared. She’s more concerned about Amagi’s experience kissing other girls. But Amagi isn’t that experienced after all, as he’s never kissed anyone on the forehead before, as he does with Rika, and which he states makes his heart race more than any past kiss. Dawwww.

The other girls find them before they’re able to start making out, and Amagi, Izumi, and Milo are all dismissed so the five girls can finish working things out without further interruption from members of the opposite sex.

Their group catharsis takes the form of a massive poster and banner-painting project that leaves the facade of the school plastered in revolutionary slogans and the girls sleeping in their clubroom, spattered in paint of all colors.

Those literal colors represent the proverbial colors that color the blank white canvas of youth as one goes through one’s savage season. To be so colored is no curse, nor anything of which anyone need be ashamed. They are necessary and inevitable—as much as a train with no brakes will, after enough distance with the throttle pulled back, eventually slow down and become more manageable.

After some time passes, it seems all of these young women are managing fine with the bevy of new colors that have been splashed across their canvases. Jujou sends Rika a photo of her, her boyfriend, and their new baby, aged two months. Rika is on a date with Amagi. Hitoha is working on a performance for Milo and Tomita’s wedding. Niina and Momoko are hanging out and having fun.

And Kazusa and Izumi are holding hands, in public while taking a train together. In a marvelous callback to an earlier episode when their train enters a tunnel, she thinks to herself with a placid smile, “It fit.”

O Maidens satisfied my desire for a candid and genuine teen romantic drama that didn’t rely on cliches and didn’t hold back. It was packed with richly-rendered, distinctive, and ultimately lovable characters, and didn’t hesitate to put them—and us—through the wringer, but also didn’t keep us or them in that wringer, and balanced drama and comedy with aplomb. It looked great, too.

Finally, while that ship was built on stormy seas, it managed to sail the ship I wanted! It would have been a dealbreaker if it hadn’t, but that makes all the difference between simply liking or admiring a show, and actually loving it. O Maidens just…fit.

The Promised Neverland – 04 – The Merit in Betrayal

If there was any doubt that Isabella also considers this a game of chess against the smartest of her stock, she makes sure Sister Krone understands that her role doesn’t extend beyond that of her pawn. Informing her that she’s well aware of her behind-the-back plotting, Isabella  promises Krone that if she cooperates, she’ll be a Mama of her own. Predictably, Krone privately fumes and resolves to unseat Isabella rather than wait to be promoted. No doubt Isabella knows she could still be betrayed.

Meanwhile, Emma, Norman and Ray continue escape practice thinly disguised as tag, only this time in teams led by older kids rather than everyone on their own. There’s a lot of attention paid to the hierarchy of the teams and the patterns of their movement; Ray insists Emma memorize all 100 formations he’s devised, and while Emma seems initially reluctant, she responds with “Easy Peasy,” because it most certainly will be easy peasy compared to escaping the farm for real.

It’s not lost on the trio that there’s a traitor in their midst, and they’ve already cast most of their suspicions on Gilda and Don. When Ray tells Emma to go against her kinder nature and suspect them, it isn’t long before everything they do looks suspicious to her. How will the escape ever succeed if they can’t trust everyone escaping?

It’s for this reason that Norman uses one card only they can play: the element of surprise, not in that they’re escaping, but when. With the pattern of the schedule, Mama has basically dared them to use all of the month-plus they have left until the next shipment. But Norman knows they can’t go by the schedule they’ve been handed; they have to escape sooner…much sooner, in just ten days.

To achieve that, they need to start filling in the other older kids, starting with Gilda and Don. The POV animation of the three slowly climbing the stairs to the library really transported me into their shoes and added to the tension and stress with each creaky footstep.

At first Don thinks it’s a big joke, but Gilda knows Emma well enough to know she’d never joke or lie about such things. Norman lies that the kids who left were victims of human trafficking, since the cold reality might just be too much. Gilda and Don ultimately both agree that an escape attempt is the only choice.

Ray doesn’t like how Norman left out the truth to Gilda and Don about all the kids dying and being eaten, but for Norman the escape must come first; he’ll deal with the backlash from bending the truth once that objective has been completed. He’s also set traps for Gilda and Don by giving them different locations for their escape rope.

That night, Emma pretends to sleep and watches Gilda sneak out of the bedroom. What Emma can’t see through the door is that someone I initially believed to be Gilda slips a piece of paper under Isabella’s door with the location of the rope: under Norman’s bed. It must be noted that Norman told Ray that he’d tell Don it was under the bed, not Gilda.

After the paper is delivered, Gilda visits Krone’s room, and Emma listens in from behind that door. Things get a little tense in there, with evidence wavering between Gilda being Krone’s informant and not, but in the end, Gilda does what Emma hoped for and refuses to give up any information.

The next day, Norman wonders out loud why someone would betray their family; Ray tell him there must be some kind of incentive, like being promised they’ll be allowed to live and grow up to become an adult.

Later, Norman asks Emma if she’d let the traitor escape with them even if they betrayed them; Emma predictably and quickly answers that of course she would. She wouldn’t consider the traitor a bad person, because none of them are bad people. Again Emma proves she’s the emotional and moral heart of this show.

But when Norman and Ray search the two spots where the rope was hidden, Norman says there’s nothing under the bed, and Ray says that must mean Don is the traitor. Only now Norman is convinced that Ray has been the real traitor all along. There’s certainly already a wealth of evidence to support that, but we’ll see if Norman’s right, and if so, how Ray will explain himself. Until then, things just got a lot more complicated.

The Promised Neverland – 03 – More Chess than Tag

Isabella is already well-known by her new assistant, Sister Krone, not only for being the youngest “Mama” of a “plant” for consistently producing the finest “product” available. But she’s no doe-eyed acolyte eager to learn Isabella’s ways. Her very first night there, Krone is already planning to usurp her boss, who gave her all the ammo she’ll need: Isabella isn’t reporting the two children who witnessed a “harvest.” That could get her fired or worse if the bigwigs find out.

Meanwhile, Emma, Norman and Ray have just one more difficult variable to consider during their preparations for what’s already looking like a hopeless escape plan. When told to “think like the enemy” in finding a place where a tracking device could be implanted, she inspects Carol, the newest addition to the farm, and finds a red bump behind her ear.

I probably could have done without the demon business meeting (complete with some kind of steaming brew but no donuts), as it kinda detracts from their mystique, but at the same time, despite their frightful appearance these monsters carry on pretty banal lives; with the lower classes of demons serving the upper classes.

Perhaps the kids could exploit the inherent discord within such a strict caste system, but first things first: all the logistics required to get everyone off the farm safely. They agree that it’s too risky to attempt to destroy their ear trackers lest they trip an alarm, so they focus on getting everyone out first.

They know many of the kids will either be too young to understand or old enough not to believe a word of what they’re saying (everybody loves Mama after all), the trio decide to disguise the escape as a harmless game of tag. Emma sets to work improving the kids’ physical condition, while Norman and Ray coach them up on the proper way to survive…”tag.”

Unfortunately, their subterfuge doesn’t fool Sister Krone for one second. She’s suspicious of the three to start, and unlike Isabella intends to ship them out sooner than their official ship date so she can snitch on Isabella for breaking protocol and grab power.

Krone is also physically superior to all of the kids, being an adult in pretty good shape. She challenges the kids to a game of tag, betting she can capture them all in twenty minutes. She lures most of the younger kids out of their hiding spots by making cute cutout shapes in leaves.

Once she’s spotted Emma, it’s only a matter of exhausting her and forcing her to find a hiding spot. It’s a place where there are only so many such spots, and Emma has the disadvantage of having tried to run with two young ones in her arms. The moment when Krone’s voice suddenly grows louder and clearer as she suddenly looms over Emma was…well, pretty frightening!

Norman manages to give Krone the slip, and Ray is the one to announce that her time is up. She’s impressed by the trio of troublemakers, but only insofar as she’s impressed by prime livestock. Now that she knows the actors, their strengths and weaknesses, and that there’s more to their tag than mere play she’ll be keeping that much closer an eye on them.

Not to mention she’ll have an extra set of eyes in the form of a “traitor” in Gilda. When Norman and Ray put the pieces together to determine there’s such a traitor among them, you can see Emma’s spirits plummet. All this time she’s thinking of getting everyone out of the farm to spare them the stuff of nightmares, but the adults already have at least one kid—and it could be anyone—working against her efforts, as well as that kid’s own interests.

In any case, it’s clear this won’t be as easy as a game of tag. Emma, Norman and Ray will have to think two, three, four or more moves ahead of Krone and Isabella, and even make sure the mole doesn’t see or hear what moves they’ll make. What they’re playing, then, is a game of chess, in which checkmate spells death.