Sonny Boy – 03 – The Detective Is Already Snarky

Nozomi, Nagara, and Asakaze have turned out to be a pretty good survey team, with Nozomi locating new worlds with her Compass, Nagara being able to access them, and Asakaze bailing them out with his powers of flight.

When we check in they’ve already found thirteen new worlds, and Rajdhani is soaking up the data like a sponge at his beachfront laboratory. Their survey work is interrupted by an unsettling trend of students starting to freeze in place and turn pitch black, like voids in human form.

Since she’s the one with the most time on her hands owing to the immense wealth her power provides, Mizuho is put on the case, and she chooses Nagara as her Watson, partly to share what sounds like a hassle of a case, but also because Nagara…was nice to her previously, and she enjoys his company.

That said, she still initially treats him as a rank servant, making it clear that this isn’t a collaboration of equals. That said, she still orders a gaudy couch big enough for both of them, and even gets Nagara the same fast food order she got. When it comes to sharing the wealth, she’s fine sharing it with Nagara.

The uniting quality of the two students (who later become three, then four) who fell victim to the freezing phenomenon is that they kept to themselves, hardly anyone noticed them when they were around, and no one noticed when they suddenly vanished.

While Nagara is busy with Mizuho, Nozomi and Asakaze fail to find any new worlds. Despite this, Asakaze drops in specifically to tell Nagara that he’s not needed and that Nozomi doesn’t care if he doesn’t come back. Nagara brushes this off, and that ineffectual passivity irks Mizuko.

Eventually, Mizuho and Nagara break the case wide open when, no doubt due to Nagara’s unspoken power even he may not even be aware he has, they discover a portal to the space where the four students ended up.

They walk through a honeycomb of blackout curtain walls separating the four spaces of the students, all of whom are content to stay right where they are and keep doing what they’re doing indefinitely. It becomes evident that while they may be content, this wasn’t originally their doing, but another rule of the world, separating those no one else wants around or cares about.

After Nagara and Mizuho’s nightly debriefing with Cap and Pony, a minor disagreement causes simmering underlying resentment to boil over for both of them. Mizuho points how how watching Nozomi follow him around like a puppy grosses her out; Nagara accuses Mizuho of lying to show off and being “ill-natured” because she’s just another recluse; Mizuho tells Nagara to die and storms off.

It’s a testament to how much these two have come to know each other that they each know the precise buttons to press to sting hardest.

But because the two really do care what the other thinks of them despite words to the contrary, both of them feel bad about the spat. Fortunately, back at Rajdhani’s lab, Nozomi offers a clue Nagara hadn’t considered, and he texts an apology to Mizuho, along with a promise to be waiting by the blackout curtains tomorrow.

Armed with Rajdhani’s bizarre, whimsical instruments, the two get down to business lifting the blackout curtains and freeing the students. This is Sonny Boy at its most Eizouken, particularly with the fantastical machinery and Yuuki Aoi lending Mizuho such a wonderfully husky, distinctive voice.

With the case solved and the afflicted students retrieved, Nagara and Mizuho make up with a handshake; what was said when heads were less cool and frustration was mounting is water under the bridge.

As much if not more than their surreal surroundings, what I enjoyed most about this episode was just reveling in this nascent friendship between two people who don’t normally do so well around others doing just fine around one another. I daresay I wouldn’t even mind a whole cour of these two solving cases together.

On the periphery were some interesting inroads into the larget questions about this place, with Hoshi admitting a voice told him this would all happen, and Nozomi being the first to suggest that while she can spot new worlds, Nagara alone has the power to create portals between them.

Sonny Boy – 02 – Kindle Blue Fire

While technically a beach episode, there’s not a ball or a bikini to be found. There are crabs—you gotta love crab—as well as a makeshift open-air classroom with rows of desks and a chalkboard, but otherwise the sand is just another flat surface for Nagara to lie on and wile away the hours.

When Nozomi catches a crab, it cuts her hand up pretty badly with its claw, but she soon heals; just another one of the rules of this “This World”, as the egghead Rajdhani calls it while explaining the situation.

While most of the class is in tents on the beach, Mizuho has, presumably through the three cat Amazon power called Nyamazaon, built a Disney princess castle full of stuff, but otherwise isn’t that different from Nagara in her fondness for straight chillin’.

Another girl steals makeup from Mizuho’s vast collection of things with impunity, but that and other items acquired from Nyamazon start to burst into blue flames, rumors spread that Mizuho is doing it intentionally.

Mizuho doesn’t help matters by stirring the shit on social media that the recent election was rigged in Michi’s (AKA Pony’s) favor—which is the truth; the extremely Kyuubey-like Hoshi helped rig it. Pony and Hoshi learn Mizuho is behind it and try to exact an apology, but Mizuho is stubbornly refuses.

When they confront her at the front gate, Hoshi uses his power of showing everyone potential futures to depict the entire island covered in blue flame; everything destroyed. On top of it all, Mizuho is exhausted and filthy from looking for one of her cats, who has gone missing.

While the rumor may have well gotten started since Mizuho is a natural target for envy and resentment among the other students due to her extremely cool power, Nagara still blames himself for blabbing about Mizuho knowing something about the flames, which got twisted into “Mizuho is responsible for the flames.”

But thanks to Rajdhani’s research and a retro Game Boy, it is determined that the blue flames appear every time someone receives something without a fair exchange. Among the things that burned-up, only Raj’s Game Boy was exchanged for some toys he made with his power, and only it escaped those flames. Therefore, it isn’t Mizuho’s doing, but the Rules of the World.

Among the students, most of whom end up in the “Punish Mizuho” camp/mob, only Nagara and Nozomi want to help her. They both know she’s not doing this, but also know that she hasn’t explicitly defended herself, which isn’t doing her any favors. Nagara also finds the missing cat, and unlike two previous instances of letting birds die, this time he takes care of the animal like the non-heartless person he is.

The two decides to go to her—nay, run to her, just as she’s literally making it rain fat stacks of cash, which soon burn up and set fire to the whole island. Mizuho, overcome with relief her kitty is safe, admits that she should have simply stated her innocence from the beginning. It’s an all-around wonderful performance by Mizuho’s seiyu Yuuki Aoi—which comes as no surprise as she’s one of the best in the business.

Nagara, Nozomi, and Mizuho oversee the ruined island—the realization of Hoshi’s vision—and concede the fact that they can’t live there any more. But then something happens: as the sun rises over the ocean, the island essentially resets itself to before everything burned up.

It’s as if the island, which set the rule of fair exchange, is forgiving all of the students for their stumblings as they learn of those rules and correct their misunderstandings. Mizuho comes down from her castle and apologizes, but only for making it rain flammable money…not the stuff she was accused of doing but didn’t really do.

Mizuho also stops by the beach where Nagara is lying to give him a token of her appreciation for finding her cat: a hat to keep his face out of the sun. When he asks if he needs to give her anything in return for it, she says with a gentle smile that it’s “her treat” before walking away.

This episode was significantly less weird and frightening than the first, but that tends to happen when you take the inscrutable black void out of the equation. What it was was another relatively straightforward exploration of how the court of public opinion can be wrong—in school or life—and it’s up to those who know it’s wrong to speak up. Nagara grew as a person in this episode, as did Mizuho, and they each gained a friend in the process.

Credit also goes to Rajdhani for not giving up on trying to make sense of the place, thus confirming the injustice being done to Mizuho, as well as Nozomi, for lending Nagara the encouragement to correct the injustice. Just as she’s the “Compass” who can see the ways out of these other worlds, she’s also a moral compass; a check against both rampant authority and rampant apathy.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wonder Egg Priority – 07 – Oyakodon (Parent-Child Bowl)

“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”—The Dread Pirate Roberts

It’s Rika’s birthday. On one level, that’s a good thing: a cause to celebrate with her new friends, while also celebrating Ai’s retirement from shut-in-dom. Ai describes her sudden change of heart as having realized beating herself up at home wouldn’t solve anything.

On another level, Rika’s birthday also a reminder that she is one year older, one year closer to possibly becoming her lonely, alcoholic mom, and no closer to learning who her father was. Her mom agreed to tell her when she got into middle school, but she doesn’t know herself, and gives her five possible candidates. It could be one of them or none of them.

It’s instructive that Rika lives above a bar her mom owns. That bar has not only been the place where her mom no doubt met these many men over the years to try to quell her loneliness (and drown it in booze when she failed) but before Rika could enter her home she always had to walk past a gauntlet of drunk men.

Rika takes her birthday celebration as a chance to air some grievances, albeit with her usual irreverent tone that implies she doesn’t care. In truth, meeting her real dad is almost all she cares about. She believes her mother never wants her to meet him, since they might get along.

She calls her mom a “tragic heroine with a persecution complex” who has never apologized for anything and has nothing but her own pride. She thinks her mom believes she could have been happy if only she didn’t have her. Neiru, ever calm and logical and correct, asks rather tactlessly if Rika hates her mom too, and if “that’s what they call co-dependence.”

This angers Rika, who storms off, but she fully expects Ai to chase her, and she does. Ai is ready to continue the mom-insulting session, calling the two of them the “Single-Mother Girls”. As they wander the abandoned entertainment center and Rika swings and misses at the batting cages, “Serious Rika” comes out of her shell to talk about all the bad stuff that she remembered at once. As Ai listens, Rika wonders what the hell is even up with adults, who presumably bang and marry because they like it, yet end up like her mom.

Neiru and Momoe are worried about Rika, but when they hear her yell they’re confident she’s okay. Neiru wonders whether she’s too honest and direct for “female society”, but Momoe tells her she’s fine that way, as she hates when everyone pretends to agree. Neiru cops to being a straight-up orphan who never knew either parent, and notes it seems to have spared her “a lot of trouble.”

On the rooftop, Rika asks Ai about her dad, who she sees at least once a month, and thus is still her daddy even though her parents broke up. Rika can’t even remember her dad’s face—only his gentle voice when he once told her “a beautiful woman never needs a wallet.” After shedding a few tears of frustration from wanting to see him and not being able to, Rika declares “Moping Time” over and takes off.

The episode then shifts between Rika’s latest Wonder Egg battle and the battle she fights every day by having to cross a gauntlet of drunk men and her mom to gain access to her home. This Egg Girl and her family were members of a suicide cult, but still loves her Wonder Killer and wants Rika to join them in cosmic bliss.

She gives Rika the hard sell, telling her how her family was cursed by karma from their past lives, so they abandoned their attachments to the physical world. The Wonder Killer, whom the girl calls “the teacher”, talks of a flawed world “fixated on worthless appearances and hierarchies” in which the haves grow arrogant and the have-nots envious.

Once up in her dark room, Rika pulls out her box-cutter and draws it close to her arm. In the battle, the Egg Girl notices the sleeve on Rika’s arm covering her scars and tells her to “erase herself”, revealing more of the same scars on her own arm as a show of solidarity. The Egg Girl was once like her, hating, envying, and drowning in pain and despair, before becoming one with the teacher and becoming part of a “vast energy.”

Normally Rika might not be so easily taken in by this new age gobbledygook from the child of parents who bought into what someone was selling, but it’s her birthday, and “all the bad stuff” is still foremost on her mind. The pain of still not knowing her dad, the fear of becoming just like her mom; they weigh on her, and the Egg Girl and teacher’s offer to “erase her karma” sounds like a good one in the there and then.

In this psychologically vulnerable state, the Egg Girl and Wonder Killer are tag teaming her towards her doom. Aca and Ura-Aca even worry that they could lose her. Ai, Momoe and Neiru, sensing she’s in trouble, use their pendants to snap Rika out of it, but their voices fade out as the Wonder Killer tells her to relax and surrender herself to his “hug of life.”

The only thing that saves Rika from oblivion is the fact she too is a mother; a fact she’d forgotten in the haze of the cult proselytization. Her turtle guardian-child, Mannen, grows to full size and blocks the Killer’s hug, saving Rika. She realizes because he imprinted on her, he thinks she’s his mom, and that she almost turned into a “selfish, piece-of-shit” mother by giving up and abandoning her child.

Declaring death to all fake men who ask women for money, and partners with Mannen to give the teacher the “slice of death.” The Egg Girl is devastated, asking why Rika, who like her cut her own arm to endure the pain of life, turned down a chance at sweet release. But Rika wasn’t buying what the teacher was selling. Dying isn’t the answer; not for her. Even if it means hurting herself, she’s going to live.

Rika reunites with her extremely worried and relieved friends. Neiru doesn’t join in the group hug but makes it clear she’s glad Rika is okay. Later that night Rika goes downstairs, after the bar has closed, where her mom is where she always is, drinking herself to sleep. Rika takes the cake out of the fridge and has a bite, confirming her mom’s worry the cream has dried out.

Her mom laments having gotten “old” before she knew it. Rika points out she’s only 40, and her mom corrects her; she’s 38. She says she’s sure Rika will abandon her, too. Rika concurs, but after a pause, sais “…but not now.”

* * * * *

This episode shines as a heartwrenchingly sober examination of the duality of parents and children as both curse and blessing to one another, how they hate, blame, and envy or resent one another, and how society only seems to make things worse. And yet, life and all its pain is presented as preferable to the bleak, defeatist alternative rapacious charlatans have offered since time immemorial.

Rika may not know how to win, if winning is possible, or even what victory looks like in this painful, fucked-up world. But no matter how many cuts she receives—by her own hand or otherwise—or batting cage balls she swings through, one thing she won’t do is stop playing. If she does, she knows she’ll lose, and she wouldn’t be the only one losing.

If this is all feels a bit heavy and complex for a cold cloudy Tuesday afternoon…well, I can’t blame you. I’m just glad a show like this exists, frankly presenting such ideas about these girls’ lives juxtaposed with the mundane heartaching beauty of the world in which it’s lived. It’s the kind of breathless ambition and thematic richness all too many anime would rather not adopt, instead pursuing the easy buck and assured popularity.

Don’t get me wrong—there’s a time and a place for that stuff too!—but it’s shows like Wonder Egg Priority that confirm that murmurs regarding the decline of anime are grossly exaggerated. This isn’t just the best anime on the air. It’s the best television show, period.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 16 – To Panda or Not To Panda

The new Bromance for the Ages is off to a good start, with Toudou eager to teach his new best friend how to use one’s mind, body, and soul as one, in order to eliminate the lag inherent in Divergent Fist.

Yuuji proves a quick study, much to Toudou’s delight, as it means he doesn’t have to use kid gloves. At this point it seems unlikely Toudou will carry out Principal Gakuganji’s order to kill Yuuji, or even allow anyone else to do so. What kind of friend would he be if he did?

From Yuuji vs. Toudou we shift briefly to Panda/Nobara vs. Momo, who looks for all the world like Kiki’s buddy and is voiced by Lil’ Taiga herself, Kugimiya Rie. The odds are evened when Ultimate Mechamaru emerges from the soon-to-be-felled trees. Panda estimates the robot to be somewhere in the Grade 2 range like him, but Mechamaru corrects him, saying he’s more of a semi-Grade 1.

It’s appropriate for the two most different sorcerers from among their peers would go up against each other, but throughout their hard-hitting battle, Mechamaru continues to look down on Panda as “just another Cursed Corpse”, when in reality, Principal Yaga created the first CC with emotions.

Mechamaru, meanwhile, is merely the robot remote-controlled by a human born with profound physical disabilities. He lies in a tub surrounded by tubes and covered in bandages, virtually immobile and in constant pain. The trade-off for such an existence is a ridiculous level of cursed energy that can be used at range.

Panda has a couple other secrets that give him the upper hand in their battle. First, unlike most CCs he has not one but three cores in his body: his “panda” core, his brother’s “gorilla” core, and his “bashful” sister’s core, represented by a flash of light. Mecha disables two of the three, but Panda is still going strong in Gorilla mode, and manages to trash the robot before it learns the location of his last core.

On the one hand, this was a fun battle between two extremely quirky characters that pulled double duty in explaining who and what they are and what makes them tick. On the other, part of me was perfectly fine with neither of these characters being explained beyond “one is a panda and one is a robot.” Now that the show has answered a bunch of questions about the two, there’s less mystique there.

Finally, the Panda vs. Mechamaru duel was the one I was least invested in compared to the three others that bookend the episode: Yuuji vs. Toudou, Nobara vs. Momo, and Maki vs. Miwa. I’m probably not alone in this, which may be why the show chose to resolve this battle first.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 13 – What Is a Proper Death?

Yuuji is in the fight of his life, but he’s also in the middle of a lecture. Nanami may not be a teacher, but he’s still going to coach up the young buck so he doesn’t get himself killed. Yuuji, for his part, pays attention. He’s not the kind of hero who’s going to defy his sensei because he thinks he knows better or thinks he’s strong enough.

Nanami’s plan with Mahito is simple: wait for an opening, then rain blows upon him with Yuuji. It takes a little under four minutes, but the two jujutsu sorcerers eventually get the timing right, and then it’s open season. That’s when Mahito plays dirty, unleashing a trio of deformed humans on Yuuji, knowing he doesn’t have the heart to kill them.

Only, to Mahito’ surprise, he does. It happens offscreen, but Yuuji deals with the humans before they kill him. That’s when Mahito decides to push all his chips into the pot with Domain Expansion, engulfing only Nanami while Yuuji is trapped outside. Nanami, all but certain this is the end for him, looks back on how he got back into sorcery in the first place.

We watch him live his life in a pinstripe suit stealing money from wealthy people in order to make other people wealthier. It’s a job he’s good at but gives him no joy, and he believes no one would miss him if he simply ceased to exist. Then, when a cute young woman at the bakery has a low-level curse on her shoulder, he exorcises it, she thanks him profusely, and he decides right then and there to give Gojou a call.

Of course, while more rewarding and a better use of his time and talents, jujutsu sorcery was always going to be a higher-risk proposition. Mahito thanks Nanami for getting him to unleash his domain, but Mahito isn’t interested in the gratitude of a curse. He’s gotten enough thanks from people like the bakery lady that he has no regrets.

Only before Mahito can do Nanami in, Yuuji successfully busts through the domain from the outside, which is far easier than trying to break out. Because Yuuji is the vessel for Sukuna’s soul and Yuuji is now within Mahito’s domain, Mahito touches Sukuna’s soul a second time, and Sukuna punishes him—a flick of his hand puts a gaping gash across Mahito’s chest.

With his cursed energy depleted from summoning the domain, Mahito puts everything he’s got left into making himself as big and fat as possible. Yuuji proceeds to put everything he has into a Divergent Fist, which pops Mahito like a balloon, but crucially does not kill him. He’s able to slip back into the sewers. Nanami has his colleague Ito try to track him down, while Yuuji passes out from exertion and his many wounds.

When Yuuji wakes up he’s back at the school, specifically the morgue, where he reflects on the human life he was forced to take, and how it led to the realization that while he’s been trying to ensure everyone gets a “proper death”, he has no idea what that is. Nanami has news for him: no one does. All he knows is there will be many more people like him who will need him, so he’d better not die improperly himself.

Back at the late Yoshino Junpei’s high school, the lead bully Itou is called out by his peers filling out surveys, and the ineffectual teacher who looked the other way for so long develops a spine. He knows both he and Itou bear the crime of killing Yoshino’s heart, and will have to keep bearing it the rest of their lives. While Junpei died far too early, his death wasn’t without purpose.

Meanwhile, Yuuji is back on his feet and above ground at Jujutsu High, meeting Nanami and Gojou in the hall as a full-fledged jujutsu sorcerer. While Mahito & Co. will surely go after him in hopes of releasing Sukuna (who Mahito believes can singlehandedly usher in the “Age of Curses”), his more immediate concerns are reuniting with Megumi and Nobara (at last!) and participation in the Kyoto Sister School Exchange Event.

As for this episode, I consider it the best of Jujutsu Kaisen yet, an absolute tour-de-force of combat animation and sakuga, staging, pacing, atmosphere, peril, and sweet, sweet near-victory. Nanami’s backstory was well-timed, efficient, and effective at giving the guy some dimension, while Mahito remained an entertaining adversary to the bitter near-end.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 05 – A Familiar Face in a New Place

The show’s commitment to depicting all the facets of Elaina’s world, not just the pleasant ones, is admirable, but after three straight unsettling or cautionary tales, I imagine the primary refrain of viewers this week was “Could we get segment that’s not, like, a total bummer?”

Elaina wastes no time abiding: look, a town full of living people! The beautiful land of Royal Celesteria is just what the witch doctor ordered, but Elaina’s curiosity with the city’s Royal Magic Academy seems to get her in trouble, as she ends up being chased by a pack of magic students.

As a full-fledged Witch, Elaina is able to easily avoid capture and exhaust her pursuers, whose professor turns out to be Elaina’s own magical mentor, Fran, whom she hasn’t seen in a few years. Once she heard the Ashen Witch was in town, Fran thought it would be both good training and good fun for her students to go up against catch such a talented witch—tooting her own horn as well as Elaina’s!

Back in her academy chambers, Fran tells Elaina she should stop by home, as her mother is worried about her. Fran assumes Elaina’s mom was the reason she became a traveler, but Elaina tells her it was more the stories of Nike. Turns out the two share the same favorite story: of Nike passing the torch to her apprentice Foula.

I’m not sure how heavily we’re supposed to read into this, but it’s definitely hinted at that Nike and Elaina’s mom were the same person, and Fran was her “Foula”. Once she taught Fran everything she could, she became an “ordinary woman” and lived out her days at home.

Fran also tells Elaina about her own attempts to write a book about her journeys. While she wasn’t proud of her manuscript and lost it when she sold the bag it was in, Fran encourages Elaina to make full use of her diary, so that she too can hear about her apprentice’s fun memories someday (of course, we know they’re not always fun.)

The next day, Elaina joins Fran as a guest lecturer and assistant. After deftly handling silly questions about her (no, she doesn’t have a boyfriend!),  Elaina has a ton of fun helping to teach the young students how to calmly manipulate balls of water. It’s the first time she’s passing on the knowledge and wisdom passed to her from Fran, and she clearly finds passing it to the kids uniquely rewarding.

The evening before the day Elaina plans to leave, Fran takes her to her favorite view of Celesteria. When Elaina asks what will become of the students when they graduate, Fran says they’ll work in various jobs around the city, which we saw as Elaina explored earlier. But whether they deliver packages or taxiing people about, or performing magic tricks in the square, they’re all doing what they like, just as Fran is teaching—and Elaina is traveling—because they like it.

When asked what else Elaina likes, Fran gets her to say that butterflies are “okay” and that she likes flowers too. The next morning, Fran is late to see Elaina off, but Elaina is worried that if they have an extended goodbye she’ll have sad feelings about it later. Before she leaves, Fran appears with her students and gives her a shower of flowers, some of them flying like butterflies. It’s a fitting farewell to the wandering witch, who will surely have fond memories of her time in Celesteria.

I mean, considering where else she’s been and what she’s witnessed, I’m sure she was as eager for a joyful destination as we were! That leaves the framing device of the episode: Elaina finding Fran’s book in published form six months later, in a town not only full of Fran merchandise, but a prominent statue of the her in what Elaina thinks might be too cool a pose! In any case, next time she sees Fran—and she fully plans to—she’ll have a fun story to tell.

Some words on the episode from Crow here.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 26 – Oh, the Mazes You’ll Smash!

Sakura oversleeps, has to speed-eat her breakfast and get rolling (or as her dad kindly puts it, “hurry a little”) in order to avoid being late to school! After avoiding several obstacles on her ‘blades, she loses her balance. Fortunately, she’s saved from a fall by a tall redheaded woman in whose striking beauty Sakura finds herself immediately in awe.

While Sakura is puzzled by the woman’s promise they’ll see each other again, that’s cleared up the next day when she’s introduced in her class as Mizuki Kaho, their new substitute math teacher. Syaoran has a similar double take, but not necessarily due to her beauty.

He warns Sakura to be careful around her, as he can sense she possesses ridiculous amounts of magical power. As if to tease him, she sneaks up to tell them not to be too careful around her, otherwise they’ll fall behind on their math studies!

Around this time, everyone at school is talking about the Tsukimine Shrine, where you’re supposed to visit in order to find success in romance. Since that appeals to both Sakura and Meiling, they end up visiting that afternoon, joined by Tomoyo and Syaoran, respectively.

Things take a turn…then another turn, then another turn, then several dead ends when a massive emerald-green labyrinth rises up around the four of them. It doesn’t take long to determine it’s the Clow Card Maze, and it’s another showcase of CCS’s creativity and artistry.

When Sakura tries the obvious Fly, the walls extend over her faster than she can ascend. Those same walls heal immediately when she slices them with SwordMaze then starts upping the difficulty level by transforming into an homage to M.C. Escher’s Relativity, where not only are they lost, but up, down, left or right no longer have meaning!

Meiling gets separated and starts to cry, and when the other three try to go the long way ’round to find her as she counts up, the counting suddenly stops and she’s gone! Meanwhile, it’s past 7PM in the normal world, and Sakura’s dad and brother are worried, leading Touya head out on his bike to find her. Teasing and ribbing aside, he is a good and loving big brother.

Both Sakura and Syaoran end up taking the L on this card, as it’s Mizuki-sensei who ends up reuniting them with Meiling and helping them find a way out. Turns out she’s a shrine maiden at the Tsukimine shrine, and in addition to her immense magical power, her uniquely-shaped hand-held bell is able to smash through the labyrinth walls without any trouble.

Once outside the maze, Sakura manages to seal the card, but it floats over to Mizuki, who made the sealing possible. Still, unlike Syaoran with Time she hands the card back to Sakura, deeming it’s better if she held onto it. Touya arrives, relieved to find Sakura is alright, but also is clearly acquainted with Mizuki, calling her by her first name Kaho.

As everyone heads home, Mizuki calmly recedes back onto the shrine grounds, her elegant figure eventually fading away in the distance…almost like a ghost! She’s definitely Sakura and Tomoyo’s substitute math teacher, she’s also clearly a real person.

All we know is we haven’t seen the last of her. Combining the weirdness of the green maze with the introduction of the first adult character who is fully “in” on Sakura’s magical duties made for some trippily great fun.

P.S. This week Touya again gives Kero-chan a good hard look. This isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last, but the closeups of Touya and Kero-chan reminded me of a good old Curb Your Enthusiasm lie-detecting Larry staredown:

Having seen Clear Card, I know they continue with this charade for years to come, even though Touya surely must be 80-90% sure by then that Kero-chan is not, in fact, a lifeless plushie. Maybe it’s more about seeing how long he can remain still before a sweat drop forms? ;)

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 04 – Foxy Lady

When a beautiful woman appears she’s initially delighted to find that Nene, Kou and Hanako have constructed a human-ish body. But when she makes it move, it crumbles into a pile of parts; another “failure”she’ll add to the growing heap behind her, where Aoi and all the others who fell into her stairs lie, neither dead nor alive.

However, her scissors have the ability to turn a human (or a part of them) into a doll, so Hanako reiterates their goal of finding Misaki’s Yorishiro (or weakness). If the highest spot isn’t the deepest, then perhaps the lowest spot is…so he shoves Nene off the edge, and she falls, falls, and falls some more.

When she comes to she’s lying near the gate to a temple, surrounded by concerned Mokke. She finds a desk, an old photo, and a notebook that contains a kind of dialogue between a girl and her handwriting teacher. The handwriting gets better as the pages go on, but one day the teacher, named Misaki, doesn’t return.

Misaki, then, isn’t the woman in the kimono trying to turn everyone into dolls, but the teacher who abandoned her, likely when he died, or simply moved away. In any case, Nene now knows the woman’s weakness: a pair of haircutting scissors gifted to her by Misaki.

When the lady finds Nene and attacks her, Hanako intervenes, protecting Nene and giving her cover to make a run for the shrine containing the scissors. While the woman’s story is a sad one of unfulfilled love, she’s gone too far and way beyond her duties as a School Wonder. With her Yorishiro broken, Hanako strips her of her power.

Back in the realm of the living, Nene is safe and sound, while both a doll-ified Aoi, Kou, and all the other victims will be restored to their humanity. They were never dead, just trapped in between worlds. Then Hanako reveals the true form of the woman: an Inari statue in the form of a kitsune, or fox spirit.

In the past, Misaki-sensei befriended the ghost who inhabited the kitsune statue, name turns out to be Yako, and even included her when a photo was taken of him and his class. Yako grudingly agrees not to continue her mischief, but isn’t in a hurry to befriend Nene nor anyone else.

This latest School Wonder case thus solved, the black crane, really a black Haku-joudai  hiding in Nene’s hair, returns to its master, who then returns it to his master, a green-haired girl wearing the same uniform as Nene. She seems pleased things worked out. I assume at she’ll reveal herself and her intentions to Nene and/or Hanako at some point.

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 03 – Cheat Day, Cosplay

Dumbbell keeps up the good work with a well-organized, well-paced, funny, charming, and informative episode. Sadly we don’t learn any more about Hibiki’s progress with boxing training (if any), but then that was to be expected; this is not a boxing anime! Still, that was a hell of a punch. I wonder if we’ll see another down the line…

Instead we’re introduced to Tachibana Satomi (Horie Yui!), a history teacher who wants to lose a bit of weight. When she checks out Silverman Gym she’s a little disconcerted to find two of her students there (and even more cheesed off when one of Hibiki indirectly refers to her as “old”—she’s 29) but when she meets Machio (and is instantly smitten) she sticks with it.

Machio introduces her to dumbbell curls, which help build one’s biceps as part of balanced training with push-ups (which help build triceps). When Satomi gets hot and rolls up her shirt, Hibiki and Akemi notice a strange tan spot on her stomach, and she manages to conceal the true cause: her secret cosplay hobby.

The middle segment involves Akemi joining Ayaka and Hibiki for lunch, and Hibiki learns that far from being ideal for getting a nice bikini body, her diet is actually far better suited for a sumo thong. Akemi explains that suddenly gorging on an empty stomach boosts blood sugar and insulin production, resulting in weight gain, not loss.

But not all is lost: she suggests Hibiki shift to the diet of bodybuilder, most of whom seek a limit of 3% body fat before a contest, essentially making them dieting pros. It’s all about eating smaller meals high in protein but low in fat, which means boiling or steaming foods that normally sauteed or fried. Snacks like protein bars and shakes prevent hunger without adding fat.

When Hibiki laments that such a radical shift in her diet is miserably untenable, Akemi gives her some relief: the occasional “cheat day”, typically once a week, prevents a dieter’s body from going into energy conservation mode in addition to the psychological boost that comes from eating tasty stuff. Unfortunately, Hibiki still doesn’t grasp that she’ll have to start actually dieting for a while before having her cheat day!

We finish with another Satomi-POV segment, as she’s sufficiently slimmed down to wear a revealing sailor suit (KanColle?) to an event at Tokyo Big Sight, where she’s an instant sensation. That’s when she notices Hibiki and Akemi are there, but not for her; for Machio, who agreed to cosplay as the “Muscle King” in an anime apparently everyone in the world except Satomi has heard of.

The horde of cameramen circling her quickly shift to Machio, who is all too happy to destroy his costume with an iconic front press, then proceeds to explain the front press’ proper form. At day’s end, Satomi is just happy her students didn’t discover her cosplay hobby, but they do spot her as she’s slinking away with her suitcase, and lets Hibiki think she’s a doujinshi fan. Better than the alternative!

Wasteful Days of High School Girls – 01 (First Impressions) – An Interesting Woman (Or So He Says)

Wasteful Days picks up on the first day of high school for three friends who have been together since middle school (and possibly longer). Particularly for the liveliest of them, Tanaka Nozumu (voiced by the always-energetic Akasaki Chinatsu), this is supposed to be the start of their amazing high school lives; the pinnacle of youth. She hoped to become popular with the guys. The only problem is, they attend an all-girl’s school.

The only guy is a teacher who makes it clear he’s only into college girls, and manages to creep out the entire class. From there, Nozumu seeks out advice from her classmates, assigning them nicknames in the process, from from “Serious” (the girl who regularly checks stocks) to “Loli” (self-explanatory). No one is of any help, particularly her two friends, Saginomiya Shiori (a listless Toyosaki Aki) and Kikuchi Akane (Tomatsu Haruka).

The veteran all-star voice talent and the pacing of jokes somewhat make up for the fact that only a few of the jokes land, and I particularly liked the various cutaways and instances of characters reacting by just…walking away. But the full episode length makes it feel like there aren’t quite enough jokes to fill the space—a 12-minute runtime might’ve been a tighter affair. As it is, my mind often wandered.

There is a nice sequence of “possible” (but highly contrived/far-fetched) scenarios in which Nozomu encounters a hot guy, but they’re all in her head, and all are rejected as absurd by her friends, neither of whom have much energy for her antics. That being said, you get the feeling these three stick together anyways, as friends tend to do, due to pure inertia, and in the absence of strong new bonds.

If nothing else, this show captures the ennui and irrelevance of high school life as much as O Maidens captures the drama and angst. The fact it’s early in the Summer season means I don’t have a full plate yet, so this will stay on my list for now. But as tends to be the case, if better shows come along in my wheelhouse, it may signal the End of (Wasteful) Days.

BokuBen – 11 – The Fast and the Kirisu

This week it’s Kirisu-sensei’s turn to get dressed up every which way, as she breaks off from boring work drinks (with guys who think she lives like a princess) and happens upon Nariyuki hanging outside a seedy maid cafe. Turns out Asumi is one of her former students, and the two start yanking at Nariyuki’s arms, as you do.

In the midst of the horseplay, another cafe employee is injured, and Kirisu decides to make things right by dressing up as a maid and filling in. Unfortunately, despite her confident bluster, she’s no better at cleaning in a commercial setting than a residential one, and one tiny sip of alcohol sends her into a “praise spiral” as Nariyuki carries her home on his back.

If that wasn’t enough humiliation, Kirisu runs out of clean clothes to wear when she has to stop by school to “drop off some documents”—everything, of course, but her old school uniform, which still fits like a dream but immediately attracts police attention.

Again, Nariyuki is there to bail her out, and even thought she repays him by giving him a lift in a Honda Jazz she drives like they’re getting away from a robbery, he still helps her navigate the school without being seen.

Seeing Kirisu in her uniform makes Nariyuki wonder how she was in high school, and she mentions she never got to stop anywhere after school due to her dedication to skating. He rectifies this by buying her an ice cream, but the two end up having to hide behind a bench and then pretend to kiss when Fumino and Rizu show up at the same stand. That night, just when Kirisu thinks she’s in the clear, she turns around and finds Asumi there, ready to mock her school uniform “cosplay.”

Kirisu is…fine as focus characters go, but after an Asumi-centric previous episode I had hoped for a return to the main trio of Fumino, Rizu, and/or Uruka. The comedy also leaned a bit too heavily on Kirisu’s arrested development, penchant for running into students outside of school, and talent for humiliation that verged on piling on.

Isekai Quartet – 04 – Common Ground

Little by little the various newly-mixed characters are starting to learn more about each other. Ainz Ooal Gown and Tanya end up exchanging Evil Death Stares until they loosen up and both realize that despite their appearances they’re both men from modern Japan, which is vastly comforting considering how crazy anyone else in their respective other worlds would think they were by bringing it up.

Two women who find kinship in feeling the same way about their man (specifically, that there’s no better one)? Rem and Albedo! When Cocytus protests compulsory participation in the talent show, Ram simply tells him the teacher’s word is law.

When both Subaru and Kazuma are running late, their much more athletic female friends (Rem and Darkness, respectively) literally carry them as they run fast. Neither man feels right about this, but put an end to the carrying only when they see each other.

While serving punishment for being late as a result, the two learn that they have a lot in common, except that one of them was summoned and the other reincarnated. And one’s a shut-in and the other isn’t. But they both love tracksuits!

When Kazuma starts describing the awful situation he’s in (which honestly doesn’t sound so bad), Subaru tells him he “knows how he feels” despite the fact he lives in a mansion with the girl he’s trying to win, along with two twin maids, one of whom is in love with him. Kazuma takes particular umbrage to Subaru calling that a bad deal, and with good reason…it’s not!

Isekai Quartet – 03 – Status Report

IQ continues to explore various combinations between characters through casual interactions. Demiurge ends up doing what he usually does—explain to all what Lord Ains has already realized: they’re trapped in another world and forced to become students. Only as usual, he’s several steps ahead of his lord and Ains has to pretend otherwise.

A flyer for an upcoming student talent show is distributed, which should also provide a vehicle for the characters to get to know each other better. Ram is typically ruthless in her criticism of Subaru, declaring his talent to be “failing at life.”

Beatrice is called a “little girl” by two of Tanya’s underlings, but when she visits the lounge to talk to Roswaal, it’s one of Tanya’s superiors, who uses his hypnotic voice to convince her to return to class. In “Betty” he sees another potential “demon in a little girl’s skin”, causing Tanya to sneeze (and Aqua to bless her).

Aqua’s mention of gods/goddesses, words Tanya hates, reminds her of “Being X”, and back in class she decides to confront Lord Ains in the off-chance he may knows something. But when she asks Ains to meet her, Albedo becomes defensive, eventually befriending Rem, as they both agree that love has no set conditions nor a duration to take root.

Note…there’s not much to say here, as this is an inherently uneventful show—Avengers: Endgame it is not! It’s more just enjoying all these characters bounce off each other with zero stakes.