Lycoris Recoil – 11 – Dance in the Dark

Kusunoki is barely two minutes into breifing the Lycoris for the Enkuboku operation when Takina interrupts her after spotting Chisato’s name on one of the rosters. She realizes something’s up and leaves the bus to go find her. Chisato and Mika are being led by Robota exactly where Majima wants them to go.

Mizuki and Kurumi are at the airport lounge, and part ways “forever” without much fanfare, only for Kurumi to deplane from her luxurious first-class seat (Mizuki got stuck in economy) when her turbo-hacking reveals there’s a second artificial heart out there.

Takina arrives at LycoReco to find it abandoned and Chisato and Mika’s phones left behind. Then she gets a call from Kurumi about the second heart: it’s an improvement on the one Chisato has, which suggests she could live a full life with it.

The person in possession of this second heart? Yoshimatsu Shinji, naturally, who Kurumi shows Takina has been taken captive by Majima at the old tower where he and Chisato first crossed paths. Takina, who had been in the middle of the operation with Fuki & Co., excuses herself, even if it means she’s done with the DA. Fuki even lets her go, knowing that’s the best move. But before she leaves, Erika gets to have a nice moment, hugging Takina and thanking her for saving her.

Takina’s reason for abandoning her DA duty is simple: she can’t save Chisato from the Enkuboku. She’s in the wrong tower. So she runs with everything she’s got to the other one. Majima, meanwhile, is able to get back on the airwaves thanks to Robota, who uses Radiata’s heavy defenses against itself with thousands of simultaneous hacking attacks.

This enables Majima to officially expose the Lycoris by showing video footage of them walking around the tower with guns near pools of blood. When he tells those who found the guns he left for them to find to watch out for Lycrois, there’s a confrontation that results in both Lycoris and civilian getting shot. Kusunoki’s failure is quickly becoming a bloody fiasco.

Chisato arrives at the old tower, goes inside, rides the elevator up as high as it will go, then heads outside for a bit of acrobatics. She not only has to maintain her own balance to keep from falling to her death, she also has to make sure the thugs she shoots don’t fall to theirs.

Because Chisato doesn’t kill anyone she encounters, it makes sense that she’d act and talk so casually, even playfully while dispatching them non-lethally. She’s not just making her way to Mr. Yoshi, she’s having fun while doing it. Then the fun suddenly stops when Majima drops the shutters and leaves Chisato without her most powerful attribute: her sight.

The two empty multiple clips at each other, but Chisato’s dodging ability isn’t too hampered, while Majima’s supernatural hearing enables him to dodge her wild shots and sneak up on her from behind multiple times. As the two twist and tussle in the dark, it’s clear the fun is back: two realtively evenly-matched opponents are going at it.

Then , just when it looks like Majima is about to get the upper hand, Takina literally smashes through the metal shutters and comes between him and Chisato, packing live ammo. Right now, the DA being exposed and the potential destruction of the new tower doesn’t matter. Takina’s there to save Chisato and Yoshimatsu make it out of there alive, which means Majima is simply in the way.

Engage Kiss – 10 – Sister, Sister

Shuu, Kisara, Ayano, Akino, and a suit whose name escapes me meet with Sharon at the safe house where she’s wining and dining herself to go over the present situation. Essentially, Asmodeus is a demon that has existed in the human world for a good long time in various forms, and Miles’ memories confirm the Hive Three Mine incident was Asmodeus’ doing, not Shuu’s dad.

The various Demon Hazards around the city form the same shaped magical circle that circled Europe, and the location of the final ritual is far offshore to the northwest. Official maps say it’s just open ocean, but it’s likely not.

While Kisara and Sharon go on a boat trip to find the island where they believe Hive Three Mine and Kanna (Asmodeus’ gate to this world) to be located, Ayano takes a ride with Hachisuka Linfa to ask her about the secret location. Mikhail sends another group to stop and arrest both Ayano and Akino, but Shuu ruins his plans by borrowing an attack helicopter.

Linfa, proving she’s still a friend to Ayano, gives her the coordinates to the mine site, now shifted since Bayron City itself was moved away from said site 12 years ago. They arrive just as Kisara and Sharon locate Kanna, whom Kisara has to keep Sharon from killing on the spot.

Mikhail then decides to try out an old “Star Wars”-style satellite weapon to destroy the entire site before Asmodeus can pass through the gate, but he’s a bit too late. The weapon is ineffective, and Asmodeus’ colossal hand emerges from the island, and the wound to its palm quickly closes.

Kisara managed to escape the initial explosion along with Sharon, and while they try to fight the hand of Asmodeus (from which hundreds of other arms and hands branch off) Asmodeus summons of all its previous forms, only in stone, including that of Shuu and Kanna’s mother.

Shuu arrives at the scene and asks Kisara to take all of his remaining memories, if that’s what’s needed to get rid of Asmodeus. Kisara bursts into tears and hesitates, fearing Shuu won’t be Shuu anymore if she obeys him. Then she’s impaled through the chest from behind…by Kanna, or at least the Kanna who is serving as Asmodeus’ gate.

Assuming Shuu remembers his sister’s face (and we’ve seen he’s in such a bad way he barely remembers Ayano’s name), this has to be a major mind trip for Shuu, who will now almost certainly have to give up way more than he should to heal and power up Kisara. If Asmodeus succeeds, Bayron City and perhaps the world may be doomed. But stopping Asmodeus may mean killing Kanna. Not an enviable choice.

Lycoris Recoil – 10 – Beyond the Tower of Lies

When Chisato catches Mizuki and Kurumi researching some kind of solution for her artificial heart problem, she can tell they’re not looking forward to their own paths. She urges Mizuki to go to that ripped hunk she met online, and Kurumi to move to Germany, which she believes to have the strongest board game game.

Takina is back at DA as one of the worker bees, but is still Takina and still has only one goal in mind while she’s there: find Yoshimatsu and a means to repair Chisato’s heart. Of course, Yoshimatsu is now a captive of Majima, who feels bad for the raw deal Chisato got.

Majima may be focused on getting rid of the DA, but Alan is next. and while Yoshimatsu is fine with Majima raising hell since he’s living up to his full potential as Alan planned, he’s not about to reveal any information about the Institute, even if it helps Majima progress further into the perfect villain he was apparently always meant to be.

The last we see of Mizuki and Kurumi, they give Chisato an understated goodbye, then sit in their airport-bound taxi. I don’t believe for a second they’re going to hop on any planes, particularly if either of them catch wind of the news-making events that follow in the episode.

Takina uses both her rebellious streak nurtured by Chisato and her former firing “for killing too many people” to visit and question one of the captured arms dealers, who lets her know that “Alan” wanted the guns to begin with. Could this be a super-long game being played by Alan, with Majima as their ideal puppet, despite thinking he’s simply doing what he wants?

Kusunoki makes a rare appearance in the field with her Lycoris when they raid Majima’s hideout, but he’s already gone, and verbally and philosophically spars with Kusunoki about how true peace cannot be thrust upon a society by a Machiavellian leader, but earned by its citizens.

On the day of the Enkuboku Tower completion ceremony, we learn when Robota helps him hijack the tower’s first broadcast that he intends to prove that theory with a game of sorts. The thousand guns he acquired have been distributed throughout the city, and once they’re all found by those who have no idea what to do with them, blood will flow and force a pampered society into entering the crucible of chaos needed to achieve true peace, free of shadow organizations like the DA or Alan.

Throughout all this, Chisato and Mika have simply been hanging out at the closed café, where Mika presents her with her coming-of-age gift: a gorgeous yukata, as well as some coming-of-age truth: Yoshimatsu only agreeed to save her life if Mika promised to make her into the ultimate hitman. He never told her the truth because her love and idolization of her “Mr. Savior” was what helped fuel her rise into the finest Lycoris, as well as one of the finer people Mika’s ever known.

Chisato takes the news well, and assures Mika that no matter who Mr. Yoshi truly is or always has been, her love and respect and gratitude for her two dads will never fade, and nothing she learns will ever change that. But she does want to meet Yoshi one last time and hear the truth from his mouth. For this reason, just as Takina is back with the DA for Chisato’s sake, Chisato accepts Kusunoki’s call to deploy, puts on her red battle uniform, and heads out for perhaps her final mission as a Lycoris.

Kusunoki called Chisato under pressure from her boss that she was losing control of the situation and risking the exposure of the Lycoris to the public. Majima’s broadcast may have been cut off, but not before damage potentially fatal to the DA’s secrecy is done. Chisato is believed to be the only Lycoris who can stop Majima, but I suspect her strict orders to kill him will not be obeyed to the letter.

Going forward? After last week’s final date that felt like closure, it’s still very much uncertain if Chisato’s heart will be fixed (or if she’ll get a new one) and survive to the end of the show. It’s also uncertain that Mizuki and Kurumi are off the board for the remainder, while it’s a good bet Chisato and Takina will fight side-by-side on the battlefield before all’s said and done.

Hell, there may even be a reversal where Chisato survives and Takina is the one to lose her life in the ensuing final battle with Majima. Or maybe the DA and/or Alan will be exposed and stay exposed, which may be ultimately for the best for the long-term health of Japan’s society. With this tower showdown comes a tower packed with possibilities. While ever weary of who might be lost on the way, I look forward to watching how it all shakes out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 22 – More than a Lie

Kazuya probably feels like Ruka’s kiss, complete with tongue and the requisite saliva strings, lasted the entire week between the last episode and this one. But Ruka felt threatened by Chizuru and didn’t want to lose, so she marked her man. She also hastens to notify Kazuya that it was her first kiss, and despite the saying that the first taste like strawberries or lemons, hers just tasted like booze.

A frankly obscene amount of Kazuya inner dialogue ensues as he tries to deal with having been wall-slammed and made out with by Ruka only to have to return to the table with his mom, grandma, and Chizuru, who can all tell something’s off about both of them. Gran then produces her gift to Chizuru: her heirloom engagement ring. Chizuru says she couldn’t possibly accept it, as one does, but Gran and Kazuya’s mom insist.

Having seen how backed in a corner and desperate Ruka is and seeing Chizuru struggle, Kazuya decides he’s going to come clean, right then and there, or at least say what needs to be said to shatter the charade. Both Ruka and Chizuru can tell he’s about to say something to the effect of “Chizuru and I broke up”, but before he can get the works out, Chizuru gets a call…from the hospital.

Her gran is unconscious, so she, Kazuya, and Kazuya’s gran take a taxi to the hospital, where they find Chizuru’s gran not unconscious, and her usual tough, cheerful self. The grans have fun talking about their young grandkids, and when the doctor asks Chizuru to come with him to talk, she leaves them in Kazuya’s care in a very relationship-y way.

After torturing Kazuya a bit, the grans send him to a konbini for snacks, and he meets Chizuru in the dark corridor, where she tells him that things aren’t great, and despite her smiles and laughs she doesn’t have much time left. Kazuya asks if she’s okay, and she puts on a brave front. When he heads to the hospital room to finish coming clean and making things right, Chizuru grabs his sleeve and tells him not to.

She knows her gran is worried about her being along when she’s gone, so telling her she and Kazuya broke up on her deathbed simply isn’t something she’s willing to do.  I don’t think she’s using this as a pretense to remain in…whatever it is she and Kazuya have.

But when she says that whatever is now “more than a lie”, it feels like she’s saying that more for just her gran’s sake. She and Kazuya head home and go their separate ways, and Kazuya curses himself for not being able to do more for her, while also finding himself in a spot where revealing the truth will cause more harm than good.

That said, the lie is still doing harm to Ruka, but when she and Kazuya go on a grammable pancake date, she shows genuine empathy when she asks about Chizuru and her gran. She also decides to call a truce, as with Chizuru’s family situation it’s just not an appropriate time to continue her “offensive”.

That said, she’s now convinced that now that they’ve had their first kiss, they can now kiss whenever. Kazuya’s not so sure about that. He’s also even more flummoxed that not only Chizuru but also Ruka have decided that the status quo should be maintained until further notice. And that’s even before he’s aware of whatever it is best girl Sumi is planning to celebrate his birthday…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Engage Kiss – 09 – Demon’s Due

Yuugiri Akino’s AAA wins the auction by one dollar to take out the latest Demonically Possessed: Miles Morgan. Mikhail, it would seem, is trying to get rid of every trace of Asmodeus, including Akino and Shuu. We also get to see Mikami put the pieces together just before dying by Miles’ hand.

When Miles drives Shuu to the middle of a big park, he tells him Asmodeus is his benefactor whom he can never repay. Shuu wants him to apologize to everyone, including him but Miles has no regrets, and transforms into a Demon Hazard.

As a giant demonic monster, Miles proves too much for Ayano and her AAA troops, but luckily Shuu struck a deal for Sharon to lend a hand in taking down Miles in exchange for her freedom from police custody and for the memories of Asmodeus’ puppet, Miles.

In what is otherwise a very dry and dour episode, Sharon at least adds a bit of flair and ridiculousness by throwing a running motorcycle Miles’ way. Ayano repays Sharon saving her life by putting a gun to her head, but grudgingly accepts her help.

While Shuu and Kisara initially stand back and watch what happens, it soon becomes apparent Kisara needs to get involved, even if it ends up killing Shuu’s foster father. So Shuu tells Kisara what she needs to take from Miles and gets to smooching.

Hot Topic Kisara relieves Ayano and Sharon and has a proper rough-and-tumble brawl with Miles eventually piercing him from behind with her sword and putting him in a position to be shot by Shuu’s demon gun.

Shuu’s off-camera shot is followed by a rundown of the events that led to Miles breaking bad. It boils down to his daughter Melissa having a terminal illness and Asmodeus, who possessed the body of Shuu’s mother Sayuri (either always or at some point).

Miles did what Asmodeus told him, betraying Shuu’s family, while the mine explosion was caused by Shuu’s dad detonating a bomb. Miles’ daughter made a miraculous recovery, Miles took in Shuu as a mercy, and as he said, his debt to Asmodeus remains active and unending.

Kisara sucks up all of these memories swimming in what’s left of Miles’ human brain, either killing him or putting him at death’s door. Meanwhile, Kisara’s latest kiss has rendered Shuu so devoid of memories he had to refer to a note on his hand to recall that Miles killed Mikami.

Miles is defeated, but no one looks happy as the sun gets low over the scene, while Shuu looks distraught, but also quite lost. Sharon warned that at some point his contract with Kisara would render him unable to remember or even feel anything. We’ll see if Shuu can escape that cruel fate in the final four episodes of the series.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 21 – Scents of Hokkaido

It’s time for the annual family birthday party Kazuya’s grandmother and parents always throw for him, and when he informs gran that her beloved Chizuru’s birthday has already passed, she hits him with an air-to-grandson cruise missile of anger and then insists that he invite Chizuru to a shared party.

Kazuya invites Chizuru to the shindig on their balconies, and while she can’t make the 5 PM time, she can come later, after she visits her ailing gran in the hospital. Shortly thereafter, Ruka calls Kazuya to wish him a happy birthday, and catches wind of the party. That afternoon she shows up all dolled up, ready to join the party.

Since Kazuya’s fam knows Ruka as “Chizuru’s friend” it’s not that strange that she shows up with him, and Ruka is quite right that however Kazuya feels for Ruka, he did agree to be her boyfriend (rather than reject her) and making her cover for him and Chizuru isn’t fair.

Thus ensues a wonderfully lively sitcom scenario where conceits like the fact Ruka’s yelling at Kazuya in the kitchen can’t be heard by the fam in the next room. Ruka sees she’s started out with a deficit, imagining a virtual Reversi game of who can be the best future daughter/granddaughter.

But Ruka has no shortage of charm, and quickly ingratiates herself with Kazuya’s fam. This sucks for him in terms of maintaining the fiction of him and Chizuru for his gran’s sake, but it also shows a nice what-if if only he had genuine romantic feelings for Ruka rather than Chizuru…things would go pretty smoothly!

Instead, Ruka comes within mere seconds of telling Kazuya’s fam that she’s his actual girlfriend when he’s saved by a text from Chizuru asking what’s up. Kazuya sucks it up and adds her as a friend, then calls her on her personal line—unthinkable in the first season, but accepted as a necessity here.

When she says she’s still at the hospital, Kazuya does what’s right and tells her she doesn’t have to come, but then a jealous Ruka rips the phone out of his hand and demonstrates to Chizuru that it really is a good idea to show herself before things get messy.

I totally get Ruka’s anger, but if her goal was to keep Chizuru away from the fam tonight, her rant to Chizuru had the opposite effect. Chizuru surprises Kazuya’s fam by showing up and immediately being her perfect professional girl self, even asking to pray at the family shrine, something Ruka didn’t even think of.

As Kazuya’s gran learns he and Chizuru live in the same area (but not that they’re next-door neighbors) she asks why they don’t just live together, Chizuru blushes and says she’d lean on him too much. Ruka spots the lipstick on Chizuru’s glass and heads to the bathroom without saying anything.

When Kazuya heads to the bathroom, Ruka, who is getting absolutely slaughtered by Chizuru out there, decides to resort to drastic (and readily available) measures, i.e. her lips. She gets on her toes, pulls Kazuya in by the goofy gaudy tie she bought him for his birthday, and gives him a long lasting smooch.

It’s given all the weight of a climactic romantic development, but lest we forget, at this moment Kazuya simply likes Chizuru more, and the fact the two of them can call and text each other whenever constitutes Reversi discs that can’t be flipped back over.

This episode featured some fun and genuinely funny girlfriends-family sitcom action, but also made me hope that at some point before this cour is out we get some kind of legitimate development towards untangling some of the romantic knots Kazuya has made. I realize I may be setting myself up for disappointment, but it’s always nice to dream.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Engage Kiss – 08 – The [REDACTED] is Already Dead

Engage Kiss does not care one single whit about your tonal or genre whiplash. After last week’s poisonous members and tentacle mech suits, we get what amounts to a hard-boiled detective procedural, and the results are…mixed.

While I appreciated the episode’s dedication to showing its work, that work is rarely glamorous. The monotony of what amounts to scene after scene of exposition as Detective Mikami, Miles, and Shuu try to piece things together is at least punctuated by the usual Kisara-Ayano sniping.

Last week’s MVP Sharon is tied to a chair behind bars this week, unable to unleash her full horny/trashy/sacred/profane shtick, but still wields power as someone who remembers crucial information Shuu forgot thanks to Kisara.

It’s pretty significant that Shuu thought Kisara would let him keep certain important memories, but Sharon says that it doesn’t work that way and he’s actually lost a lot more than he knows, and she’s not lying just for spite. All she offers “for free” about the identity of the big bad is an arsonist analogy.

Before Shuu can interpret the scant info Sharon gave him, Mikami has a eureka moment that seems primed to blow this case wide open…just as the trench-coated “Informant X” who’s been feeding Shuu shows up.

Mikami leaves a voicemail for Shuu, and during the recording he is confronted by someone and a gunshot rings out. By the time Shuu and Kisara arrive in the station lot, Mikami is dead, and Informant X tries to slink away. Shuu and Kisara show what a good pair they make by cornering and unmasking the guy…who turns out to be Mikhail.

I gotta say, that’s a pretty cheeky revelation—to dangle this oji-san like high school character who feels like he’s from another anime as the delusional third child in the family pecking order, only to reveal that he’s the mysterious General Director of Bayron City Police, from whom everyone gets their orders.

With his cover blown, Mikhail takes Shuu and Kisara down to his secret surveillance information center deep under the city hall, where he has over three million cameras going 24/7/365, (even on his sisters while they shower and sleep, an observation Shuu is quick to make and condemn).

The other fake-out in play is that Mikhail didn’t murder Mikami, and the camera footage proves it. The person who did is the one for whom Mikhail is merely a puppet, the second human agent who is coordinating the creation and destruction of demonically possessed.

Mikhail’s sudden major player turn takes a backseat to the emotional fallout from Mikami’s sudden murder, and it’s a good reminder of how good the show can be at occasionally taking the goofy/horny elements down a notch and letting these people be humans.

This culminates in Mikami’s funeral, always a solemn affair, followed by Shuu being picked up by his foster father and old pal Miles, who can’t believe Mikami is gone. When Miles talks about Mikami as the rare natural police who was also softhearted and guillible, Shuu drops the hammer: he knows Miles murdered Mikami.

Sure enough, a tattoo on Miles’ arm glows. While I’m hardly enthused by the only brother in the cast being the big bad, his villainous turn isn’t altogether unearned. Like us, Shuu’s had a huge blind spot for the guy, in his case due to the events and conversations he’s forgotten because his contract with Kisara takes away much more than he thought.

Shuu’s been trying to piece together a mystery when his own memory has been crumbling behind him in real time. Now he’s lost a true ally in Mikami and another main ally has turned out to be false. It’s safe to say things are going to get worse before they get better for Shuu.

Heroines Run the Show – 12 (Fin) – Feeling the Love

A little while after punching Hiyori, Chizuru starts eating alone. The feelings that led to her taking photos and causing a scandal have subsided, but she feels both her relationship to Hiyori and LIPxLIP have been irreparably shattered. But Juri knows Chizuru still cares, because she was genuinely worried about Hiyori after the punch.

Despite what she did, Chizuru is still deserving of redemption, but knows she has to change. The boys, meanwhile, are prepping for their Countdown Live performance, but when Uchida gives them comp tickets, they hesitate to give them to their former manager-in-training, and settle for their respective brothers.

In the midst of kicking her LIP fandom entirely, Chizuru is surprised when Hiyori pops by her place with the ticket Chizuru had bought and then left with Juri. Chizuru maintains she doesn’t deserve to be a fan anymore, and in any case won’t listen to Hiyori and promptly kicks her out.

Things seem grim, until Uchida does what the boys couldn’t and stop by her place to personally deliver not just a comp ticket, but an all-areas staff pass: they won’t admit it, but they need her to be their manager-in-training for this one. Now that both she and Chizuru have he means to go, Hiyori returns to Chizuru’s house, reveals she knows she’s Chutan, and finally tells her the truth about being their manager-in-training.

Chizuru accepts this truth, and understands why Hiyori had to keep it secret. With that, Hiyori leads the two on a mad dash to make the concert on time. Yuujirou and Aizou scold Hiyori for being late but are clearly glad she’s here, while Chizuru finds her seat among all their other classmates and their friends/dates also in attendance.

Invigorated by the sounds of their awaiting Julietas, Yuujirou and Aizou put all the pieces together and deliver perhaps their best performance, one that’s not about advancing to the top of the idol mountain, but performing for the fans and showing their love for them.

AT4 praises them for this, as they finally seem to “get” what being an idol on stage is about. Chizuru is moved to tears by their passion, and Hiyori also feels that this concert hit different, likely because she’s happy to be back by their side as manager-in-training.

After the show, the managers offer Hiyori her old job back, which she accepts with her usual enthusiasm. After AT4 counts down the new year, things go back to normal with Hiyori both on the track, with her two besties, and back at work with LIPxLIP. Presumably Hiyori also told Juri about her job, while Chizuru openly shares her Chutan persona with her friends.

Whether LIPxLIP could actually get away with having Hiyori fill in as a backup dancer with absolutely no training is a little doubtful, but it’s fun to finally see the Heroine take the stage, if only under a mascot costume. No doubt the boys wanted to share with their future full manager what it felt like up there, to be cheered and adored by the masses.

Is this also a bit of a neat and tidy conclusion, what with Hiyori and Chizuru mostly making up off-camera? Are a lot of the issues about parasocial relationships, stalking, and other obsessive behavior mostly tabled in favor of Chizuru’s personal redemption story? Perhaps, but on the other side, I never liked Hiyori’s decision to quit, and I’m glad she’s back on the job. In the end, she really did run the show.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 11 – All Done But the Fighting

Saying she’ll protect Karyl is one thing, but Pecorine can’t get within fifty feet of her, as every time she brushes back a bunch of Shadows, another takes its place. Finally Kaiser deploys a “doll-ified” Jun as yet another shield, and Peco, who is already tiring, is gravely wounded when Jun drives armored fingers into her ribs.

Meanwhile, under the palace, Twilight Caravan have been hired by Neneka to get her true body back. When they find Christina there guarding it and spoiling for a good fight as usual, Eriko is more than happy to oblige, as she’s just as up for a tussle and a half. But as berserky as Eriko is, Christina’s Absolute Defense holds up.

While on the run with Yuuki, Little Lyrical and the civvies, Kokkoro is suddenly transported into Ameth’s realm, where they meet for the firs ttime even though Ameth sees her as a friend. She also sees Kokkoro as the only one who can be trusted with a special charm that will keep Yuuki’s power in check, as he’s currently unstable and liable to sacrifice himself to save any other member of the Gourmet Guild.

Back in the bowels of the palace Christina eventually wears three members of Twilight Caravan down, but before she can stab Eriko through the eyes, the two other members of Caravan show up: Anna and Ruka. The latter even manages to land a strike on Christina, who then breaks out Absolute Offense on top of Absolute Defense. Still, Caravan’s goal is to set their client’s body free, not defeat her. But before Eriko can smash Neneka’s holding pod, someone awakens who shouldn’t have.

Pecorine, who simply won’t give up on Karyl no matter how many times Karyl tells her to run, charges up her Princess Strike and defeats (but doesn’t kill) Jun. Jun, free of the “doll-ification”, then serves as Peco’s shield when Kaiser lashes out with her own offensive magic.

With Jun as her shield, Peco loads up another Princess Strike, then another, then another, and what do ya know, it does the trick! Kaiser is finally taken down?! Of course, with several minutes left in the episode plus one more episode to follow, I had my doubts this was a real victory…

At least it allowed Karyl to finally come down from where she was suspended the entire episode, the poor thing, and land right in Peco’s arms. And after all the loud and intense battles, it was nice to have the world return to some kind of quiet, calm normal…even if only for a minute or so.

After that, the “Kaiser” Peco cut down turns out only to be a Shadow clone; the real, and far more scantily clad Kaiser, is the “someone” who woke up down in the palace basement. She’s awake now, and with one little flick of her wrist, Jun is suddenly out of commission. Peco and Karyl are pressed into the ground by intense gravity, and Kaiser prepares to make two more sacrifices to the cause…

…Which is of course when Yuuki shows up in full Hero Mode. Assuming next week is the finale, I’d be perfectly happy with a third to a half of it being taken up by the final battle ending in victory for the good guys, followed by the remaining portion given over to said good guys having a much-deserved rest and feast in Eustiana’s newly-liberated castle. Whatever happens, it is sure to be gorgeously animated.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 10 – Will the Real Eustiana Please Stand Up?

Well, the overarching arc of Pecorine/Eustiana stepping into the light and reclaiming her throne all comes down to this, with a newly-masked Karyl joining Kaiser as her right hand and primary weapon. It’s not clear how much of Karyl’s cooperation is forced, either by magic or deference to Kaiser, but there’s no disputing she’s in a bad way.

When Karyl attacks Diabolos and captures three of their members, Shinobu and Miyako manage to escape and head to the Gourmet Guild to give them the bad news: Karyl has turned her coat. Soon all of Landosol learns this, when Kaiser uses Labyrista’s ability to encircle the city in a shell, then project a giant Karyl who will be the instrument through which Kaiser will sacrifice its citizens.

It’s not just the Gourmet Guild that springs into action to stop Karyl and Kaiser. Doctor Yuni and the Friendship Club collaborate with Kasumi and Tamaki, and the good doctor discovers that the truth that was “out of joint” all this time was the person sitting on the throne: a false princess who has manipulated the minds of everyone in the kingdom.

By the time Yuki, Kokkoro, and Pecorine arrive in town, the place is crawling with Shadows, but adventurers, warriors, mages, and ordinary folk alike manage to hold their own, with the latter even saving Yuuki and Kokkoro when things are looking their most grim. Peco goes on ahead, and from that point on it’s really all about her and Karyl, whose attacks she either dodges or absorbs as she manages to tackle her.

When Yuni uses her “Rosetta Network” of pet rocks to broadcast the truth about the princess currently on the throne, Kaiser orders Karyl to kill everyone—and Karyl is powerful enough to make it happen. But her rain of purple magic bolts ends up hitting no one. As much as she wants to obey her majesty, she just can’t hurt anyone anymore. Kaiser doesn’t take no for an answer, and uses magic threads to manipulate Karyl like a puppet.

Karyls mask falls, she starts to cry and beg someone, anyone to destroy her so she can’t harm anyone else. Instead, her attacks, and Kaiser’s hold on her, are neutralized by a stalwart Pecorine, who finally, finally finds the proper time to tell her dear friend the truth about her true identity. While the duel this week isn’t nearly as badass as the Kaiser-Labyrista bout, it’s a hell of a lot more emotionally charged.

Pecorine does this in front of most of the town, revealing herself to be the real Eustiana von Astrea and vowing to not only save Karyl, but protect her people as well. Considering the power we saw on display from Kaiser last week and all the tricks she has up her sleeve (from Metamorregnant to Labyrista’s power), I’d say the gloves will be coming off next week, which means Pecorine…which means Eustiana will most likely need a little help from her many, many friends.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 03 – Seeking the Truth of the Forest

While Peco and Karyl clean the house, Yuuki and Kokkoro do the shopping, and encounter an old friend in the eccentric forest elf Aoi (Hanazawa Kana), first introduced back in the sixth episode. She wrangles her fellow “Team B-B”-mates into lending her some emotional support as she answers the summons of a fellow student at the fancy St. Theresa’s Academy for Girls.

The three enter the awesome Beauty and the Beast-esque library, and Yuuki happens upon a pile of books on the floor, under which lies Yuni, a student and scholar who has a very poor memory, but uses a memo book to keep track of her thesis on “The Fundamental Falsehoods that Lurk in Our World.”

Yuni and her fellow “Best Friends Club” members Chieru and Chloe don’t come from money, so the three allied together to win it by achieving a great feat for the sake of the school. There’s a rumored threat in the woods near the academy of “Green Guardians”, so Yuni calls on Aoi and her knowledge of said woods to aid them in getting to the bottom of things. Aoi, in turn, invites the Gourmet Guild to accompany them.

Once in the woods, the party of eight soon learns that they’re walking in circles and soon become lost; not even Yuni’s semi-sentient pet rock can guide them. Then Aoi gets separated, the team splits up, and one by one vanish into the eerie, thick fog, until only poor Karyl is left to run through the woods in a panic. For a show that leans into goofy comedy, it gets the creepy atmosphere and Karyl’s fear of being alone just right.

It’s an incredible development, then, when we learn that the members of the party were being picked off one by one by none other than Aoi, who had constructed the “Green Guardians” out of wood to be her friends away from the academy. When Peco, Yuuki, and Yuni catch her red-handed, the gig is up. But…as hilarious as this is, it doesn’t solve the underlying mystery.

Graveyards mentioning kings and kingdoms that never existed are then joined by a whole mess of undead skeletons as the forest turns into flaming ruins. There’s also a weird pixelated glitching going on. Something completely unrelated to Aoi’s larger-than-life wooden friends is going on, and it gets right to the heart of Yuni’s hypothesis about a “great deception” in the world.

Everyone is then transported into the memories of the head crowed skeleton, who it appears was once a jolly king beloved by his subjects and in particular one joyful little girl…only for it to all go literally to hell. Something happened to the king, be it some curse or dark corruption, and it sure looks like he presided over the destruction of everything and everyone in his kingdom.

While everyone else is (not wrongly!) wigging out over the scary skeletons with glowing red eyes surrounded by flames, it takes a fellow royal in Peco to notice that they mean them no harm. Like the adventurers in the first episode, the king and the other skeletons simply want to pass on. With a big empathetic hug, Peco does just that.

Many mysteries remain from this very intense quest: why is there no record of the king, his kingdom, or its downfall in any of the books of their world? Yuni apparently already came oh-so-close to unlocking the great overarching secret of her world, only for her memory to fail her and for the academic society to decry her research as pure fiction.

It’s heavily implied, especially from the pixelated glitches, that this world is one of many, just like the one Yuuki came from. But as Yuni joins the others at a tea party at Aoi’s charming home in the woods, she isn’t frustrated or defeated. For her, finding “the truth” has always been secondary to simply learning and absorbing knowledge around her. It’s the intellectual journey, not the destination, that matters most.

I really liked Yuni, and Kohara Konomi does a great deadpan reminiscent of Minore Inase’s Sleepy Princess. She fills the role of “brainy scholar” quite well amongst the band of well-meaning weirdoes and airheads, questioning this world rather than taking it at face value, but ultimately not stressing that much over it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 12 (Fin) – Moonlight Dreamers

Having watched Irina and Lev risk their lives so many times for each other and their country (very much in that order), Anya has decided it’s her turn to put everything on the line. And boy, does she ever, drugging the guards and sneaking off to the ceremony in the Zirnitran equivalent of Red Square.

There, a seemingly obedient Lev is giving the speech he was told to give…until suddenly he’s talking about how he actually isn’t the first cosmonaut, but the second, after a 17-year-old vampire girl! As he gives her her proper due by describing everything he loves about her, she breaks from the crowd, and with help from Anya (using herself as a missile!), manages to reach Lev before the sun knocks her out.

I expected there to be some bittersweet way Irina and Lev would be reunited. I did not think it would be in front of 200,000 Zirnitrans, Chairman Gergiev, and a TV and radio audience of 3 billion. In front of the largest audience in human history, Lev decided that lies wouldn’t do. He made his estranged parents, and more importantly Irina, proud. He told the truth. Then he hands the mic to the true Hero of Zirnitra.

A lot of the crowd is not initially open to listening to what they perceive as an evil monster to say, but the more Irina talks, the more she sounds like just a young girl who dreamed of reaching the stars, and frikkin’ did it. Later, Gergiev uses Lev’s and Irina’s modifications to the ceremony to tell the world that, actually, Zirnitra is the progressive, tolerant nation of the future, and these two crazy kids are proof positive!

Lev makes a stink about being used as a pawn by Gergiev and Harlova, but it ultimately doesn’t matter that much because a.) somehow, Lev and Irina (and presumably Anya) escape any kind of consequences for basically committing high treason—at least in the country that had been portrayed to this point—and b.) they’re both alive, together again, and the twin faces of hope for a better world, and a future where they travel to the moon together.

Did this ending strain credulity a bit? Sure. But is it a cold Monday, the second-shortest day of the year, and this was exactly the fun upbeat ending I both wanted and needed? ALSO SURE. All it was missing was a first kiss…though their first “bite” a few weeks ago arguably already achieved that!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SSSS.Dynazenon – 10 – Moblie Suit Yourself

After the group ended last week in the very highest of spirits, enjoying their own little summer fireworks festival, this week everyone seems a bit board. When it’s mentioned there haven’t been any kaiju in a while, that’s basically the…ahem…Trigger for one to appear. And this kaiju is unlike any that have come before.

Not content to fight a battle with mere, matter or energy this handsome, hulking mecha-beast’s unique ability is to blip people and objects out of time and space. Shizumu celebrates its arrival by saying he’s been waiting for this particular kind of kaiju; one that will “free them all”.

First Mujina vanishes in the blink of an eye, leaving only a motionless shadow. Then it’s Yume, who was right beside Yomogi. She ends up in the back seat of her car, younger and smaller, and her sister Kano alive and well. As Yume focuses on her sister, a tiny Dyna Wing flies behind her and eventually comes apart.

The kaiju trudges through the city, blipping out entire buildings, and its here where Dynazenon, already a proven virtuoso in the field of sound design, really takes it up a level. There’s just something so terrifying and yet also oddly calming about how it goes about its business in dead silence. Like the characters, it feels like dread is lurking just around the corner, and you wont hear it when it’s finally upon you.

Yomogi and Koyomi are on an elevator to a rooftop, but only Yomogi makes it to the top, as Koyomi is absorbed into his memory of finding the cash with Inamoto-san. Yomogi, discouraged, leaps into the kaiju’s mouth before the building beneath him vanishes. Anti is transported back to when he was in Akane’s world, and Akane even makes a cameo at the restaurant where Anti pigs out.

Even Gauma isn’t immune to the Kaiju’s insidious attack, being transported back over five thousand years to the time he wore the same uniform as the Eugenicists, and they were all buds, and he met the Princess, his affection for whom led to him betraying his comrades.

Yomogi ends up in the memory when his mother first brought up her new boyfriend/husband-to-be, but unlike the others Yomogi isn’t that interested in this illusion. He regrets not telling his mom he didn’t want to meet the guy, but he doesn’t try to re-live anything, because he’s primarily concerned with saving Yume and the others.

It’s foremost in his brain that it’s All Up To Him. And as his Dyna Soldier isn’t broken, he grasps it and manages to shatter the memory, ending up in a void somewhere within the kaiju’s body. There, he can see through the various mirrors, windows, and displays in the memories of the others, including Yume, but is unable to attract her attention.

Meanwhile, the buildings and people still existing in the city are dwindling fast as the kaiju continues its relentless march, but both Chise and Second are protected from being blipped by—you guessed it—the trusty Goldburn. But they’re unable to do anything in that shield; only hope someone can undo the kaiju’s undoing.

Despite being in their respective past younger selves, Yume, Koyomi, and Gauma are still aware on some level that their situations are chances to right wrongs they’ll later regret. Koyomi doesn’t run from Inamoto, and takes her on a joyride to the beach with the cash. Yume tries to stop Kano from leaving for the flood gate, but isn’t able to follow through.

As Chise starts to seriously worry, Second assures her whether the others can return is “entirely up to them.” That may be true, but it’s mostly up to Yomogi, who after literally throwing himself at a solid wall again and again says he simply Will Not Stand for Yume feeling bad—is finally able to shatter the boundary between them.

Yume instantly transforms back to her present-day age, and holds the beaten-up Yomogi when he collapses. Once again, Yomogi puts others first, exclaiming for them to stop her sister. Kano is indeed atop the flood gate, singing a lovely but also sad and lonely song. But to Yume’s relief, she’s not trying to kill herself. She has no intention of dying, and she genuinely wants Yume to come to her recital.

Yomogi leaves Yume with her sister so they can talk for a little while, confident that unlike last time Yume will come back. He then proceeds to free Koyomi, Gauma, and Anti. Koyomi learns that even back then Inamoto wasn’t serious about them running away together, and suspected the cash was fake.

Gauma faces his former friends and says he didn’t betray the others for the country that betrayed them, but for the Princess alone. Anti…well, Anti seemingly knew what was going on all along and was planning to leave of his own accord.

Getting back to Yume, she has what so many people who have lost someone under mysterious circumstances would dream of having: not a chance to bring that person back, but to learn what actually happened so she can have closure. When Kano realizes this is an older version of Yume from after her death, she regrets distancing herself from Yume due to her superior “agreeability”.

It soothes Yume’s heart to no end to know Kano didn’t take her life or invite her to her recital as some kind of cruel goodbye crystallizing their rift for all time. Instead, the reason for her being on the flood gate was all too practical and mundane: she wanted somewhere solitary to practice singing.

Before they part, Kano urges Yume to “make sure you rely on people”—something Yume mentions she’s already gotten the hang of. When Yume asks if she should stay in this world with her, Kano tells her the same thing she used to say to her all the time—”suit yourself”—but this time its  meant out of love and confidence in Yume, not apathy or resentment.

With all four Dyna Pilots plus Anti freed from their pasts, it’s time for a kaiju battle, which is quick and clean. With a full head of steam and maximum motivation and synchonization, the group blasts out of the kaiju and combine with Goldburn to become Super Dragon King Kaiser Gridknight.

When their opponent proves quick and elusive, they power up Dyna Saber and unleash a Kaiser Knight Circular, and ever-expanding purple ring that eventually catches up to the furiously darting kaiju’s teal trail, slicing it clean in two. Interestingly enough, the minimalist abstract shape seen from high above calls to mind both the neon signs of the eighties and the graphics once common on Solo cups and pickup trucks alike.

With the highest-difficulty kaiju defeated, every character comes away a changed person, no more than Yume, who celebrates having made up with Kano and learned the truth by singing on the top of the flood gate as her sister once did.

Koyomi learns he was chasing something unattainable all along, and choosing to go with Inamoto didn’t magically make them be together. Yomogi doesn’t really deal with his problems, but to be fair, he was singularly responsible for saving the others. Even if Anti freed himself, he’s not a Dyna pilot, and didn’t harbor anywhere near the intensity of emotions Yomogi harbored for Yume. That may have kept him from helping the others.

The episode ends cryptically, when after Gauma collapses due to apparent hunger, we cut back to him lying on the ground in the past after betraying the Eugenicists. I’m notot sure what to make of this, but I’m certainly intrigued. Despite this ellipsis, this episode still represents another high watermark for Dynazenon excellence.

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