Akiba Maid War – 08 – Maid-jor League

Akiba Maid War’s opening stingers can be misleading, but this week’s made it abundantly clear it would be a baseball episode. I’ll go on record here: I love baseball, but I’m not really into anime that are predominantly about baseball. The occasional standalone baseball-themed episode of AMW? Oh hell yeah. Sign me up and play ball!

Honestly any old conceit would do, but the leader of Creatureland (and the recently absorbed Maidalien) visits Manami’s funeral, picks up her red bat, and decrees that Oinky Doink will play a game of baseball against the former Maidaliens (now Axolotls) to bury the hatchet. No one on either side is as enthusiastic about this as Nagomi.

But while she’s excited to honor Nerula’s memory with a nice clean game, everyone else either doesn’t want to be there or have no intention of playing a nice or clean game. The first casualty is Manami’s bat, which proves too old and worn out to withstand even one Zoya fastball. The next blow is struck by the Axolotls, who plunk Yumechi hard on the bum.

Despite being the most obnoxious taskmaster and cheerleader, Nagomi proves rubbish at the plate, while everyone else is decently talented, save the three random Venezuelan tourists manning the outfield—who ironically are terrible at baseball. When Oinky Doink builds a good lead, an Axolotl batter smacks Nagomi on the head.

Nagomi turns the other cheek even as Shiipon trips her assailant, and from there on things start to unravel. Tagging out runners with brutal punches, hard slides and trips, and ample trash talk are the order of the day, and the Axolotls soon take over the lead.

When Nagomi protests the game’s descent into violence, even her own teammates tell her she’s the only one playing baseball here. Everyone else is acting like maids—Akiba maids—and treating this not as a simple pasttime, but a battle in a war—an Akiba Maid War!

Despite this, Nagomi doesn’t stoop to everyone else’s level. Even if no one else will, she’ll honor Nerula by playing fair, even taking first without protest after getting plunked in the face. One by one the top Axolotl players see Nagomi, develop a measure of shame and admiration, and decide to start playing fair themselves.

By this time, Oinky Doinks have retaken a slim lead, but Zoya’s nail is split and she can only continue pitching if she rips the nail off—something she’s all too ready and willing to do! This is when Ranko, who has baseball experience from being in the joint, takes over. We also learn that she’s a southpaw, like me, which only endears her to me more.

At this point, an increasingly frustrated Uzaki steps in to pinch hit for one of her fair-playing colleagues, and after taking one pitch she charges the mound to take a swing at Ranko. Zoya takes her out and threatens her, incurring the rage of the other Axolotls.

It looks like Nagomi’s dream of a clean fair game will be dashed after all … and then Uzaki is stabbed in the back by the Axolotl mascot that had been sitting in the stands until then. The Axolotl removes its head to reveal it’s Miyabi, Manami’s disgruntled right-hand-maid.

One of the other Axolotls stabs Miyabi, and suddenly there are two corpses on the field. Rather than end the game without an official result, the other Axolotls, seeing that their only obstacle to playing a fair match have been removed, insist on completing the game, pretending Miyabi and Uzaki aren’t dead and carrying them back to the dugout.

While the two dead maids start to decompose, the Axolotls attempt a last-ditch rally and come of just short. That said, they admit it was a good-ass game. An elated Nagomi hopes her dearly departed sister is smiling down on the victory they won in her name.

After singing an Oinky Doink-themed alma mater, the two teams depart without any further violence. As Ranko washes the blood from her battered left arm, she’s approached by a maid she knew as Uzuko in the past, who now goes by Nagi and has risen to the very top echelon of the Akiba underworld.

Nagi notes that Ranko didn’t kill Manami, just as she didn’t act with lethal force to save their old senior maid back in the day. She warns Ranko that her reluctance to kill when required could spell the end of her one day. Nagi knows what Ranko can do with her hands, she just has to do it. But just like Nagomi wouldn’t resort to violence, perhaps there are boundaries past which Ranko simply won’t go out of personal honor and principle.

Ominous ending aside, as someone who is never not extremely there for any and all standalone baseball episodes, this was a triumph. Not only was it a sweet spiritual sendoff for Nerula and a way of Nagomi finding closure, it was packed with excellent sports animation, postcard memories, adorable uniforms, and tons of great little details. Like the Oinky Doink crew, AMW has proven it can pull off anything it puts its mind to.

Magia Record – 22 (Final Season E01) – Collect, Transform, Manifest, Despair

Magia Record’s final season begins where it all began: with the Hospital Girls Satomi Touka, Hiiragi Nemu, and Tamaki Ui. Ui’s big sister Iroha would always visit the three, and they all led a happy, if sheltered and delicate life. They even created uwasa together, but as places that would soothe hearts, not corrupt them.

Then Ui took a turn for the worse, and Kyuubey was ready to pounce on Iroha’s desperation. When Ui was near death, Iroha made a hasty deal that would save her little sister. In exchange, she became a magical girl. At the time, it didn’t matter. If it meant saving Ui, Iroha would do anything.

The three girls took notice of Iroha’s changed behavior and far less frequent visits. Being innately curious, they decided to follow her when she suddenly rushed out on them, and were horrified by what they saw: Iroha battling and ultimately defeating a witch, but clearly suffering a great deal in the process.

Having ensnared Iroha in his little web, Kyuubey decides to try to recruit the three girls, saying he can give them the power to save Iroha. But instead of hastily taking the deal, Touka, Nemu, and Ui science the shit of of this, doing in-depth research and determining the precise wishes that will maximize their ability to do the most good for the most people.

Kyuubey is right that he never lies, but is quite content to mislead, omit, or create misunderstandings his victims will regret far too late. He may have never encountered a trio of such inquisitive would-be victims as these three, peppering him with so many questions they get a far clearer picture of what’s really going on than any of the emotionally compromised girls he turned Magical over the years.

The conclusion the girls come to at the end of their research is to essentially steal Kyuubey’s powers of collection, transformation, and manifestation. They become magical girls, but rather than being on their own and having to make gradual or uneasy alliances, they’re a cohesive unit right from the beginning, setting up an automated corruption purification system on a grand scale.

This ingenious system goes swimmingly for all of five minutes until Ui’s collection power collects too much corruption too fast for the others’ abilities to keep up with. She is transformed into a witch—the first artificial witch—which attracts the attention of another magical girl: Alina Grey, who accepts the role of muscle for the nascent Wings of Magius.

As for poor Ui, Nemu manages to salvage her damaged soul and places it into the only suitable vessel: the deadified Kyuubey, thus bringing about Lil’ Kyuubey. Now we know why the little fella liked Iroha so much; it’s Ui in there!

As for why Touka is so indifferent to Ui’s loss, it’s not because she let power get to her head, but because by placing her soul into Kyuubey, Ui’s existence was erased from the world. Erased from pictures, name tags, and memories. But Nemu remembers.

Thus concludes a thoroughly heartbreaking demonstration of how Kyuubey’s manipulation corrupts even most intelligent and resourceful girls who only want to do as much good as they can, and to help the big sister they loved so dearly. It’s a dark and tragic story, but again, it’s only the beginning. Maybe the ending will be brighter.

SAKUGAN – 09 – GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL

Gagumber recovers from using his Gale system, and the group resumes their journey to Memenpu’s dream space like a whole lot of drama didn’t just go down in the city. Memenpu is amazed that Zack and her dad can act like everything is and always has been normal. All the while, she’s in the biggest hurry  of the four of them, trying to confirm her dreams were real.

The thing is, the road is long and the part of the Labyrinth the group enters is particularly hot and buggy. Gagumber strips to his skivvies and jumps in a river, soon followed by Yuri and Zack. Their fun is interrupted by torrential rains that cause the very ground beneath them to cave in. It’s not often characters are stranded on a remote island by falling on top of it; it’s a neat concept that draws on the unique structure of the Labyrinth.

Memenpu puts her ample noodle to work devising different ways to get everyone out of this predicament, but the lack of Animus, electricity, or internet hampers her efforts and limits them things like a giant Tony inner tube and a luxury raft…but the waters around them are filled with deadly marine kaiju. All the brain usage makes Memenpu hungry, but learns all the rations she’d stored had been pre-eaten by Gagumber.

She assumes he’s “losing himself” in the island’s deep forest because he’s goofing off as usual, but just when she’s feeling most morose about her lack of progress, Gagumber presents her with a fresh papaya, one of thousands in the forest, which was the real reason he was going there. Not only is Memenpu moved to tears—she loves papaya ever since the late Lynda first gave her one—with enough papayas she’s able to rig a battery to power their mech’s lights and radio.

As the four take turns sending out an SOS, Zackletu talks to Yuri about how she’s able to get over the drama with Gagumber, saying she had “a little tantrum” that “just felt so silly” once it was over. Gagumber similarly has no hard feelings, and tells Memenpu if she can forgive Zack, then it’s water under the cave. In this lovely breakthrough father-daughter scene, Memenpu finally tells her dad she had a dream of him dying.

She’s upset when he says he can’t believe her dream and vows not to die, and doesn’t think they can be real partners if he doesn’t believe her. But Gagumber makes clear, even when he doesn’t believe or understand her, she’s still his daughter, they’re partners till the end, and he will always care.

Later, when the papaya battery is exhausted, the group hears a ghostly voice from an unknown location, and there’s a little more caving-in of rocks. Everyone reacts differently, proving Memenpu’s comment to her Tony Journal about their “team” being composed of four wildly different individuals. Yuri thinks they’re all going to die and Zack just wants to find her gun parts…but it turns out all the commotion is from a surfacing submarine manned by Merooro, come to rescue them.

While mostly a lighthearted and intimate episode, underscored by the core group’s isolation on an island within a remote unmapped cavern, this episode was bookended by scenes of the masked terrorist group Shibito committing acts of destruction in the name of…something.

In any case, they seem to be catching up to our team, and one pint-sized member named Muro seems to be hunting the “next child”, no doubt meaning Memenpu. Judging from the power Shibito demonstrates, if and when they cross paths it’s likely to make Zack’s tantrum look like a pillow fight.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Otherside Picnic – 03 – It Takes a Village

It’s just Sorao and Toriko this week, as Otherside Picnic sticks to a simple formula: the two meet up, go to the Otherside, encounter something dangerous, then make it back safe and sound. Rinse, repeat. Throughout each of the three visits we’ve watched, Sorao wonders if she really should keep hanging out with Toriko, but hasn’t been able to keep herself from doing so—in large part because Toriko is fun and pretty.

This week while searching for the supply point where Toriko first found her gun, the two go into the nitty-gritty of how to search for glitches along their path. Wide shots of the two give a sense of scale of their surroundings, but because they’re rendered in clunky CG it pulls me out of those scenes every time.

The “Big-Heads” who inhabit the village are initially creepy, but as soon as there are dozens of them rendered in CGI, they look more goofy than anything else. And while they end up chasing the girls, one could argue they had a right to be mad about their friends getting shot by intruders.

During the ensuing chase, the girls stop numerous times while Big-Heads don’t, yet they’re never caught.  Also, both Sorao and Toriko stumble, but neither of them help the other up. They end up escaping back to their world through a miniature shrine, showing that there are many different ways in and out of the Otherside.

It’s somewhat deflating that even after Toriko expresses genuine affection for her, Sorao ends up in the precise same headspace as the beginning of the episode: wondering whether she should rethink continuing these excursions with Toriko. The kids chasing each other in masks that were the same colors as the Big-Heads was a neat little detail. Otherwise, three episodes in I must admit I’m getting a little bored with this.

Chihayafuru 3 – 24 (Fin) – Gathering the Wind

Goddammit! This is a dark fucking period!—Dewey Cox

In the wake of Taichi’s sudden departure, the Mizusawa Karuta Club is still able to recruit four new members—two girls including one who is Class A, and two boys—and rather than quit like everyone expected, Sumire takes the lead on showing the newbies the ropes.

She has to, because Chihaya is too out of it. The cards “turn black” for her as well. Fukasaku advises that she “learn something”—anything—because karuta and the hundred poets can’t be all that holds her together.

As Mizusawa’s club loses its founding members, Arata remains determined to start one at Fujioka East. For that, he needs at least two new members, so he goes class to class in his black yukata, starting with the first-years and working his way up.

When he tells Yuu how he saw her as part of his team when they were caring for his grandpa before he passed, she decides to volunteer to join if he’s a member short—but he gains one more than he needs.

Wanting them to see one of the best at what they’re setting out to do, Arata arranges practice matches at the prestigious Fujisaki High, but Sakurazawa is the one to break to him the news that as he’s starting a new club, Chihaya and Taichi have quit theirs. He’s so shocked he can’t focus properly, but he’s still the only one on his team to come away with wins.

More importantly, he learns a lot about how a karuta team must be run and who must run it. It’s rare that a great karuta player is also a great leader. Fujisaki’s best player is Rion, but Hyuuga (“Cheers”) is better at rallying the team. Mizusawa’s leader was Taichi while its best player was Chihaya. Seeing them create a team inspired him to do the same. But he just can’t fathom what happened to cause both of them to quit.

However, he knows instinctively that as a member of their triangle it’s his turn to try to cheer them up, as they once did. So as his team is heading home, he takes a selfie of them bathed in the light of the setting sun. He assures Chihaya that Taichi “will be back”, and that the two of them have to get stronger to prepare for his return.

I don’t share Arata’s optimism, as Chihaya’s response to Taichi’s confession seemed like the final nail in the dual coffins of friendship and karuta. This season ends with us not even 100% sure Chihaya definitely quit, we only hear it second hand, while Arata has no idea what happened between Chihaya and Taichi. That’s a lot of balls in the air for a fourth season. Hopefully it won’t take six years to come!

Sagrada Reset – 23

Kei is in the back of a Toyota Harrier with Urachi, with Tsushima driving and Tomoki riding shotgun; Ukawa, Murase, Sakagami and Oka Eri (I’ll say her whole name since everyone in the show always does) escape by bike (and Ukawa turning the road into a slot car track). Haruki is still at the Karaoke parlor with Sakuin and Kagaya, apparently outnumbered…but it’s all part of the plan.

I hope you don’t mind the calm, measured voice of Ishikawa Kaito, because you get a lot of it in this episode, and that’s saying something. He has an adversary with the opposite position to try to convince to his side, after all.

Kei is as persistent as he is righteous, laying out all of the alternative options to simply wiping out abilities, using the abilities of others to lighten the burden of his two “locked” parents—even transferring his father’s ability to a cat.

At the end of Kei’s spiel, Urachi is still not convinced, and Kei isn’t surprised…because Urachi isn’t the one he was trying to convince: it’s Kagaya, back at the parlor with Haruki, who heard the whole debate through Tomoki.

In light of everything that was said, Kagaya chooses to support Kei. Just like that, Urachi loses a vital team member of his crusade. He can no longer realistically carry out his plan without Kagaya’s support, so he essentially surrenders to Kei, handing him his notebook.

As for what occurs at the very end, with Souma passing thorough the boundaries of Sakurada in a train, suddenly having all her memories rush back, and lamenting that she’s “certain nothing was even” for Kei? Your guess is as good as mine. It would seem Urachi has been quite suddenly removed as an opponent, but perhaps the events of this episode were the easy part of Kei’s plan, with the true challenge coming in the finale.

Sagrada Reset – 22

Kei knows he can’t accomplish his goals alone. He needs a little help from friends, classmates, acquaintances…and even his “nemesis” Eri Oka, to whom he genuinely admits defeat for losing in the pre-reset timeline. Before long, he has Eri, Murase, Sakagami, Tomoki, Ukawa, and Haruki in a karaoke parlor, where he lays it all out and asks them for their help.

He gives them time to think it over and leave if they wish, but as he tells Haruki in the stairwell, he already knows they’ll all agree, because he looked a little deeper into the future back in the photo. He feels like he’s lying and he ran away, but Haruki is glad he did, because she knows he’ll always persevere.

Once everyone has indeed agreed, Kei sets his multifaceted plan into operation, inviting Urachi to join him at the karaoke parlor. Urachi brings Sakuin and Kagaya; Kei is all alone…or he looks alone. Perceived vulnerability is key in his gambit, for Urachi has to believe that no matter how things go in their talk, he’s in control and will get the last say.

After remarking how their mutual desire to control all abilities (Kei by keeping them, Urachi by eliminating them) makes them alike, he proposes a compromise: the abilities remain, controlled by Kei, but he won’t be a pure dictator, because people like Urachi will help him.

Urachi agrees to the plan—all to quickly, and after shaking hands with Kei, he has Kagaya shake hands with him too. Only, Kagaya forgets his locking ability because Kei utilizes the combined power of Eri, Murase, and Sakagami.

Urachi isn’t worried, however, since he can simply rewind Kagaya’s time to before he forgot his power. He’s also used their time talking to call for backup, and before long Kei is surrounded by Bureau members. But he makes the slip—and takes Urachi with him—by using Ukawa’s ability to construct whatever she wants within a minute; in this case a network of tubes.

Urachi and Kei end up in a car with Tomoki and a very confused Tsushima, meeting Urachi for the first time. When Kei says he’s kidnapped Urachi, Tsushima thinks he’s joking, but he’s not. But Urachi points out that Tsushima is now an accomplice to Kei’s crimes.

Once again Kei, has only bought time and stayed a few steps ahead, but the struggle is far from over. It very much remains to be seen if Urachi can ever be convinced to allow abilities to remain in Sakurada, or if his plans can be permanently thwarted rather than simply delayed. One thing’s for sure: Kei is not alone in this.

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