Kageki Shoujo!! – 04 – Opening of Borders

I was both fully expecting and looking forward to Sarasa either scaring Mr. Stalker away with her imposing stature or showing off her jujitsu moves if he persisted. Thankfully something completely unexpected and much better happens. Truly great art tends to challenge the viewer in some way, rather than giving them what they expect or predict.

That kind of narrative and thematic creativity really suffuses this, the best episode yet of Kageki Shoujo and the one that finally had me coming around hoping there’d continue to be less actual on-stage performance and more human drama. Like last week, there are some tough-to-watch moments, but also moments of great joy, goofiness, and redemption.

Mr. Gross Otaku, one of Sarasa’s many hilarious, unintentionally insulting nicknames for the guy, didn’t come to exact “revenge” on Ai; he came to apologize for being the one who ruined her career. He was a shut-in NEET who had lost hope until he first saw Naracchi on-screen, and it fascinated him how she was trying so hard never to smile.

In one unguarded moment, Naracchi does smile, and there’s video evidence, but that little smirk at the sight of her favorite mascot shattered Mr. Gross Otaku’s hermitic existence, inspiring him to get a job and make friends (naturally, other admirers of Naracchi). At the in-person event, he was so nervous about properly thanking her for helping save his life, he held on her her hands too long, leading to her making the remark that ended her idol career.

Taichi, who had been observing from a close distance in case Mr. Gross Otaku was a Mr. Total Perv, tells the guy that it wasn’t anything personal; in fact, it was likely only the straw that broke the camel’s back. Like Otaku Guy once did, Ai has given up on the world, and it led her to shut off her emotions. And yet, running away and leaving Sarasa alone invokes very strong emotions indeed, to the point Ai works up the courage to go back.

Naturally, her timing is terrible, and when she sees Sarasa doing goofy dance moves with the would-be tormentor while Taichi watches, Ai’s concern immediately curdles into something resembling hatred, and she storms off once again. The only problem is, poor Sarasa doesn’t know what she did to engender such hate!

Sarasa is persistent, and Ai finally makes a deal: she’ll tell her why she’s mad if she leaves her alone from now on. But when she does, Sarasa still doesn’t get it: if she came back out of worry for her, she should’ve been happy she was alright! As usual, Sarasa is right, but too blunt, and Ai retreats behind her curtain. Both girls seem incredibly unsatisfied where things end.

Sarasa, understandably getting a little fed up with being treated like this, declares that they’re “through”, though later confesses that might’ve been too harsh via Twitter to her friend Akiya—whose fellow Kabuki actor-in-training is tweeting more profound responses on his behalf. He tells Sarasa not to rush until they know each other, to be prepared for her feelings to be entirely one-sided, and appreciate that that’s beautiful in its own way.

The next day, Hijiri, Kouka’s Shit-Stirrer-in-Residence, confronts Sarasa with the pic she snapped of her with a guy (Mr. Gross Otaku), but Sarasa doesn’t have any time for this nonsense, as Ai is skipping classes and Taichi is worried about where she ended up. Sure enough, while staring at the sea, Ai is harassed by a couple of guys who recognized her, and one of them grabs her arm.

I have scarcely felt more fear and apprehension for a character than I did for Ai in this moment, but that was tempered by the knowledge that somehow in short order, Ai would be rescued. I just didn’t know it would happen by Sarasa calling Mr. Gross Otaku, who predicted Ai would go to the ocean to calm down (as she once stated in an interview) then run a social media search and locate her .

From there, all Mr. Gross Otaku has to do is buy a little time by haplessly trying to attack Ai’s harassers. He fails, faceplants, and gets a bloody nose, but still wins, as Taichi and Sarasa arrive and the latter screams for the police, who come running. There are no words for Sarasa’s transformation above as she voices satisfaction for scaring off the jerks.

What’s even more heartwarming about this entire scene that lets me forgive its many contrivances—as well as the entire premise of using stalking methods to save the target of stalkers—is that at this point, Sarasa is sticking to her guns when she said they were “through.” Yet even if she’s uncertain Ai will ever want to be her friend, she rescued her anyway, because it was the right thing to do.

When Sarasa explains to Ai how they found her and the role Mr. Gross Otaku —real name Kitaouji Mikiya—played, it’s Ai’s turn to do something completely unexpected: offer her handkerchief for Mikiya’s bloody nose. During the hand-off she drops the cloth on the ground, but it wasn’t intentional or meant as a slight.

As Ai says with tears welling up in her eyes, “this is the best I can do right now.” But Mikiya, being uncharacteristically cool, tells her to dry her eyes; all he and her other fans wanted was to see those rare and amazing moments when Naracchi genuinely smiled. Because that meant their idol was happy. He promises to return to see her perform on the Kouka stage.

Ai and Sarasa take the long walk back to their dorms, where they’ll face consequences for the incidents that transpired. While they walk, Ai opens up to Sarasa, asking her what she should do about something she wants to forget but can’t (though not going into detail). All Sarasa can tell her is to keep having good memories that will eventually cause the bad to fade from prominence.

Notably, Ai can’t see Sarasa’s face when she says this, but it sounds like a new invitation to make some of those memories with her, if she’ll have her. At this point, it’s safe to say the cat-and-mouse game between these two girls will continue, but they’ve definitely already made one of those memories Sarasa speaks of, and I’m looking forward to them making more.

As for poor, Yamada Ayako, who is now purging regularly and barely has the energy to sing, all I have to say is that every one of her upperclassmen and every adult on the faculty are totally failing her, and I’m terribly worried about how bad things will get until someone helps her. It shouldn’t have to fall to someone like Sarasa and/or Ai, but if it does I won’t complain. I just want Ayako to be happy and healthy!

Those Snow White Notes – 06 – Everyone’s an Apprentice

Yui lights a fire under the ass of the Shamisen Club when she learns her gamer friend from Aomori is also participating in the group division of the Matsugoro Cup. Her name is “Maimai”—could it be Setsu’s self-appointed rival Tanuma Mai? Whoever it is, Yui doesn’t want to lose to them!

She zealously pushes the others to memorize and practice “Shinbushi” for a month, then Koyabu-sensei and the instrument shop owner Oodawara-san arrange a training camp…in Aomori. When they arrive, Setsu still isn’t sure whether he’ll enter the individual division, while Shuri is struggling with her timing.

In the throes of a full-on slump, Shuri reaches out for advice from Setsu, who is too preoccupied with his own stuff to give her anything other than “just keep doing what you’re doing”. This angers Kaito mightily, but not just because he’s in love with Shuri and Setsu is being a condescending jerk. He’s mostly mad—just as practically everyone else he knows is disappointed—that Setsu isn’t making full use of his talents.

Earlier at school, Kaito was a soccer star with a realistic shot at the pros until he blew his knee out, closing the door on his preferred future forever. He then overheard his father say the injury was a “good thing” because it meant he could focus on his studies and follow in daddy’s footsteps. As such, Kaito considers himself “perfectly set on the rails” his parents laid down.

Rai tells Setsu this, providing context for why Kaito blew his stack, and in the baths, Setsu comes to Kaito to apologize. Kaito apologizes too, and then the two of them and Rai start horseplaying, which Yui and Shuri can overhear from the girl’s bath, indicating the boys made up.

The next morning, super-early, Oodawara-san takes the club up to a vantage point overlooking the Tsugaru Strait and offers a history lesson that proves instrumental in Setsu reorganizing his thoughts about finding his sound and participating in the individuals. The first Tsugaru shamisen players were blind and living hand to mouth. Oodawara wonders what the hearts of people looked like to those who never saw the natural beauty of Tsugaru around them.

Oodawara goes on to say rules and traditions only go so far when it comes to Tsugaru Shamisen, since the circumstances and experiences of the first players were so very different from their successors, who weren’t blind. The past is not simply endlessly repeated; there is a conversation between the past and present, meaning change and boundary-pushing is not only inevitable, but crucial to its survival.

Setsu, grasping better how to find his sound, has Rai and Kaito switch shamisens to better match their playing styles and personalities. Shuri keeps struggling, but is determined not to give up. Wakana and family friend Kouta pay him a visit, and it’s clear to Setsu they’re both trying to light a fire under him.

Talk turns to gramps, who never took on any apprentices because he believed anyone who truly listened to him would be able to learn his sound. But more importantly is what Wakana says before parting: gramps also said that the reactions of the people listening were the most important lessons. In other words, Setsu will never find his sound if there’s no one listening.

Setting up atop the vantage point overlooking Cape Tappimi (or “Dragonsflight”), Setsu starts to play, and at the base of the hill, Shuri hears him and comes running as fast as she can. She can hear Setsu’s sound, and when she reaches the top that sound is so powerful, a feeling rose up in her chest that made her suddenly shout “Wa!”

Turns out that while “Wa” isn’t one of the kakegoe shouts, she shouted it precisely when she should have, because she was riding the sound, not chasing it as she had been throughout her slump. Setsu’s sound was “leaping so freely” it not only felt amazing, but helped her leap right out of that slump with a new understanding of what she was doing and how to fix it, all through the power of his sound.

Setsu, in turn, thanks Shuri for giving him the final little push he needed to decide he’s going to enter the individuals after all. That’s right: IT IS ON.

In their final “Shinbushi” practice of training camp, the club gets through the piece without a single mistake. Everyone’s feeling good, and Oodawara suggests they celebrate their success by attending Nebuta, one of the “three great festivals of Tohoku” according to Yui, and something hard to argue with what with the excellent music, dancing, and food.

All the while, the tiny obaasan who hosted the club at the guest house clandestinely shows off her god-level texting skills, revealing that she was one of Umeko’s spies all along. She informs Umeko that Setsu has indeed agreed to enter the individual division, just as Umeko is promoting the Matsugoro Cup. She got what she wanted yet again, but in this case it’s because Setsu wants it too.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

ID: INVADED – 08 – The Lone and Level Sands Stretch Far Away

With Hondomachi diving into a well within a well, Assistant Director Togo leads rescue efforts, which consist of sending both Narihisago and Fukuda into Momoki’s id well. No one knows how this will go, but it turns out working out pretty well…for whomever set this elaborate, elaborate trap.

Sakaido and Anaido wake up in a massive, desolate desert with no food or water and an unmoving sun. The two Brilliant Detectives briefly clash on how to proceed, but their disagreements are more a matter of speed than content.

As Sakaido inspects Kaeru’s corpse a bit longer, Anaido follows footsteps of someone who “stole their watches”, which would explain the watch-like marks on their wrists. Sakaido eventually catches up, and the two trudge through the desert until they find something…anything.

It’s notable that with no memories of the real world but the Brilliant Detective programming that came with them, these two get along famously, with Akaido even calling Sakaido “brother.”

The two eventually find a second corpse—that of the “watch thief”—partially submerged in quicksand. They also find a second cockpit, like the one in Narihisago’s id well, which is also programmed for the id well of Asukai Kiki. Sakaido volunteers to dive in, while Anaido stands by to extract him in ten minutes.

In the real world, Momoki is being interrogated by police, but he just doesn’t seem like John Walker so much as the victim of a frame job. When he hears two detectives were sent into his id well, he demands they extract them at once. If Hondomachi is already in a trap of Walker’s making, Narihisago will join her soon.

ID: INVADED – 07 – Easy as Pi

Hondomachi’s first mission in an Id Well is no murder-of-the-week, but could be the key to everything. The Id Well in question is Narihisago Akihito’s, taken from still-strong cognition particles found at the sight where he emptied a clip into Katsuyama Denshin, the man who killed his daughter Muku.

Here, Hondomachi is not Hondomachi, but the Brilliant Detective Hijiriido Miyo, sporting a stylish twist on the classic detective coat. Following the same pattern as Sakaido, the sight of Kaeru’s body triggers the memory of who she is and what she’s here to do.

While Miyo is handcuffed to Kaeru, the fact Kaeru was killed by lightning means they were cuffed together by a third party after Kaeru died. When Miyo spots a dead Narihisago, she determines he did it to keep her safe: lightning never strikes anywhere twice here, because it’s not real lightning, flashing every nine seconds without fail.

All the other people in the well are family and people connected ti Narihisago, but Miyo manages to get them all onto safe spots to stop the killings. When Narihisago’s wife and daughter Muku wonder what’s to be done about people elsewhere getting killed, the single-minded Miyo suggests they do something about it; she’s here to solve a mystery.

Moving in nine-second spurts, Miyo eventually makes it to an operational cockpit that leads to the id well of the Challenger’s last victim, Asukai Kiki. Diving into an Id Well within an Id Well is some Inception stuff we haven’t seen from this show yet, but Miyo wastes no time taking a seat in the cockpit to see where the rabbit hole goes.

Wellside, they’re unable to extract Hondomachi, then investigators burst in led by the Chief, and Director Momoki is placed under arrest for the charge of inducing all of the 44 murders committed by the serial killers investigated. In other words, they suspect him to be the John Walker; the mole within the unit.

As Momoki is taken away, and with Tougou now in charge, Habutae cracks the number pattern of the lightning: the sequence they’ve witnessed appears in pi around the ten millionth digit. Extrapolating from there, and taking into account a strike every 9.03 seconds, he calculates that the first strike hit the number “3” 1,084 days ago, the day Muku was murdered.

The Id Well within and Id Well, as well as Miyo’s freedom to expore it without interference from Wellside, comprise exciting uncharted territory, and it’s anyone’s guess which crazy twists and turns the mystery goes from here. As for Momoki as John Walker, despite the mounting evidence, I’m not 100% convinced it’s not an elaborate frame job by the real Walker.

Narihisago seems to be, however, at least with regards to having access to Momoki’s well. He believes he’ll find answers there one way or another. Will acting director Tougou indulge his desire to solve the case? I imagine so; as he’s said himself, there’s not much else he’s still alive for.

Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 13

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Asterisk doesn’t waste too much time getting back into the swing of things: Ayato and Julis’ next win puts them in the quarterfinals. Of course, now Ayato’s secret isn’t a secret anymore; both the physical strain of his trump card and its time limit are common knowledge among the rival schools, including Jie Long, the one that fields their latest pair of opponents, Luo and Song.

Jie Long’s pint-sized prez is excited about Ayato despite learning his potential weaknesses, to the point she warns her two students, the arrogant, smirking Li twins, that Luo and Song may not make it to the next round.

For what it’s worth, Luo and Song are neither arrogant nor smirking, but honorable fighters who lament before the match begins that they can’t fight Ayato at 100%.

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The primary draw of this show (unlike RKC, which had a far better central romance) is the matches, and this latest one doesn’t disappoint, with Julis cleveing the stage in half to split Luo and Song apart so they can’t collaborate on attacks or gang up on Ayato.

It’s still a tough fight, however, so Julis executes stage two of her strategy (the firewall was stage one): suddenly switching places with Ayato without warning, throwing the opponents timing off.

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Ayato and Julis strike fast and defeat Song and Luo, who are gracious in defeat but are still compelled to warn them later that the same tricks won’t work on the Li twins, Shenyun and Shenhua.

Song and Luo respect that Ayato and Julis treat their opponents as equals, but the Li twinslook down on everyone and pull out all the dirty tricks they can to stay a step ahead. It’s no surprise that Luo and Song are from the school of wood—rigid and unbending—while the Li twins are from the school of water—flexible and slippery.

Ayato and Julis’ next match will be one of only three matches left to decide the winner. With so many episodes, I, like Julis, wonder what Ayato wants to get out of this, though she appreciates him fighting for her. His sister, for instance, is someone who’s been on the sidelines/in the shadows all this time, and is likely not really dead, so I would think she’ll come into play at some point this season.

As for the introduction of Flora…I wasn’t aware the show was starved for another cute moe character, but…sigh…here we are. That being said, like the battle and Ayato and Julis’ increasingly mature relationship, the Rasmus Faber soundtrack—including the pumping new OP and ED—continues to impress.

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