Vlad Love – 04 – All Concerned Parties

In a particularly chaotic episode, Mitsugu is captured by the president of the Torture Club for allegedly getting to close to Nami, the Dance Club president, whom he is stalking. Due to their mutual interest in Mai, Karate Club president Kasuno teams up with Nami to free Mitsugu, who packs a bag for Mai, who is apparently no longer safe in her home.

The pair head to Dr. Chihiro’s “house”—more of a mad scientist’s lab—only for Chihiro to have a predatory ulterior motive for harboring Mai. After Mitsugu sedates Chihiro, every other member of the cast shows up in sequence, demanding answers about who Mai is.

Kasuno and Nami end their brief alliance and their respective clubs “fight” each other, all while Maki films it and Kaoru runs around cosplaying as a Chun Li-like character. The Disciplinary President Jinko then shows up, demanding everyone stop breaking the rules.

The sudden surge of characters interacting means Vlad Love relies far too heavily on sliding inset portraits of characters talking and reacting, such that the episode at times looks more like a PowerPoint presentation than animation. There’s so much of this it borders on ludicrous—nay, it is ludicrous!

Then Mai drinks some very suspect blood from Chihiro’s vast collection and transforms into Salamander, and world-ending dragon, and starts destroying the city with her fire breath while Chihiro has a lengthy, meandering, and seriously unfunny monologue about how she came upon the blood.

From there Mitsugu and her classmates fade away and the focus shifts to a kaiju movie-style sequence in which military command center instructing fighter pilots to attack Dragon!Mai. This sequence is very sluggish, full of throwaway characters worrying about being sued for copyright infringement—an old, played-out joke that just won’t die.

Speaking of dying, once the fighters are authorized to open fire, the resulting battle over the city is cool-looking, though it also results in the death of Mitsugu and all the other characters in a massive explosion. Once again, the story ends up in the papers, and we can look forward to everything resetting back to a measure of normalcy next week.

Once again, the surfacy spectacle is occasionally diverting, but it’s hard to care about anything or anyone when everyone is doing little more than yelling at or slapping each other, and nothing that happens ever matters. Mai becomes an unthinking force of nature, while Mitsugu becomes just one more victim of the destruction. Once again I’m forced to ask: where is the vlad love in Vlad Love?

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 15 – Scratch Off

After coming so close to a good ending only for a crazed Ooishi to kill everyone, Rika is buoyed by her friends to try five more loops before using the fragment of the weapon she can use to kill herself for good. I figured the loops would gradually unfold in the next few episodes. Instead, we get all but one in one go!

This new loop starts out promisingly, with Ooishi and Keiichi getting along famously over their shared love of mahjongg (stop trying to teach us mahjongg, anime!) Ooishi’s mahjong buddy also makes an appearance: Akasaka, who is introduced with a soft filter and angelic light.

Back in 1978, one of Rika’s predictions saved his wife Yukie’s life, and he’s come to return the favor. Rika asks him to stay for the entirety of the Watanagashi Festival, and he agrees. Rika is genuinely happy and hopeful about this development!

Then there’s a smash cut to her covered in stab wounds and bleeding out on a tatami mat. Akasaka is the crazy killer scratching his throat out. Even as she burns Rika laughs out loud at how whimsical fate is, puts up her hand, lowers one finger, and snaps.

The episode doesn’t bother with the lighthearted fluff; we just fast-forward directly to the killing, as Mion and Shion’s mother is this loop’s crazed slasher, and she uses her katana to behead her own daughter, vowing to erase their family’s blood for good. Rika lowers two fingers and snaps just as her shoulders are relieved of her head.

In the next loop, Kimiyoshi is the killer, and drags Rika by a rope, rows her into the middle of a swamp, and tosses her overboard with a rock to drown her as a sacrifice…but not before Rika has to endure way too much unhinged monologue and bad breath for her taste. As she sinks into the swamp, she lowers three fingers and snaps.

Just when we’re wondering what ridiulous hell-scenario Rika will end up in next, there are columns of riot police outside the cosplay cafe, where a very itchy Keiichi is bludgening everyone to death, including Rena, who can’t get him to wake up from the bad dream. Rika gets Keiichi to end her life quickly by telling him the secret to getting rid of the “maggots in his neck” is to bash her skull in and eat her brains. She lowers four fingers and snaps.

These loops have become the most unbearably hellish torture for Rika, who is trapped in the goriest version of Groundhog Day ever. It is by far the bloodiest and hardest-to-watch episode of Gou to date. Those scratching sounds…Jesus. If Rika keeps to her plan, she’ll only have one more life to endure before ending it by her own hand. But will that really work?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

DanMachi III – 04 – Seeking the Surface

Hestia Familia’s Xenos hosts provide food and beverage to celebrate the meeting of humans who will accept them. As Bell and the others drink, eat, and dance, they learn a lot more about these intelligent monsters. Like them, they collect loot from the enemies they defeat, be they adventurers or “dumb” monsters.

We also learn that while Lyd is presently the Xenos’ de facto leader, a stronger Xenos has awakened who could challenge his claim as the strongest of them. On top of that, there’s a faction of the Xenos who want no part of the humans, distrusting them every bit as much as the townsfolk on the surface.

Like last week once they reach the Xenos’ hideout, this episode spends most of its time explaining the bigger picture, with “former human” and sage, now skeleton Fels being a useful font of information while Ouranos tells Hestia a lot of the same stuff.

Just as Ouranos hopes Bell and Hestia’s Familia will be the bridge to make people acknowledge the existence of intelligent and peaceful monsters, Dix Perdix and the Ikelos Familia is working to maintain the status quo, killing, capturing, and smuggling the monsters without a moment’s thought to their intelligence.

But neither Fels nor Lyd brough Bell & Co. here to ask for their help, so much as to lay out their plight, as well as their most common desire: to reach the surface and see the sky (and in the Siren Ray’s case, fly in it). Ouranos even posits that it could be the Will of the Dungeon itself (which the Xenos call their “mother”) for Xenos to emerge and yearn to reach the surface.

This is because just as humans die, go to heaven, and are reborn in the lower world, monsters also have a cycle of death and rebirth that starts and ends in the Dungeon. This means someone like Wiene, who learned to speak and act like a human so fast, could have died and been reborn hundreds if not thousands of times.

It’s a lot of fascinating food for thought, but if there’s one demerit to this episode it’s that it is, a the end of the day, one in which everyone is sitting around either talking or listening to people talk about things, rather than watching much in the way of action. The information may be fascinating, but the manner in which it is relayed is somewhat rote.

That aside, the smaller but no less significant immediate ramification of Bell & Co. meeting the Xenos is that Wiene won’t—and shouldn’t—return to the surface to their home. This comes as a surprise to poor Wiene, who cries and screams for Bell not to leave her even though he must, with only a promise he and the others will return at some point.

As Bell & Co. return to the surface and meet up with Hestia to pool share what they’ve learned, the group of Xenos caring for Wiene fall into a trap set by the Dix and the Ikelos Familia, using a brutally tortured Ray as bait. What looks like the strongest of the Xenos charges Dix, and is swiftly killed.

Dix has a huge host of humans and demis under his command, and he clearly relishes the monster hunt to come. He and his ilk represent the extreme challenge any attempt at human-Xenos co-existence, as it will be everything the Xenos can do to simply continue existing period!

There’s also the matter of Hestia being reluctant to risk her children and Familia being branded enemies of their own kind and in league with monsters, thus destroying all the progress the Familia has made and resigning them to ostracization and worse. But if they don’t do anything to help Wiene and the Xenos, who will?

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 05 – Hospital of Horrors

This week Yuuki has a bad fever, so the girls take him to the hospital. At least, they think it’s a hospital. The eccentrically dressed (even for this world apparently) Doctor Mitsuki and her nurse Nanaka assure them that they’ll have Yuuki feeling “30% better” in no time, and to leave him in their care.

Turns out Mitsuki and Nanaka are part of a guild of dark mages called Twilight Caravan who bring in the injured to use for their experiments. Their third member Eriko, possibly the most unhinged of the three, is the very person Yuuki “rescued” with an onigiri, and is convinced he’s her “soulmate.” What she intends to do with him is left shrouded in mystery…but it can’t be good, right?

What had been a “make sure Yuuki gets the medical care needs” mission turns into a “rescue Yuuki from the demonic hospital full of loons”—note neither has anything to do with cooking or food. Kokkoro creates a diversion with her stinky backwater ritual while Karyl and Pecorine grab Yuuki and sneak him out of the hospital. But Karyl realizes if the others are going to get away successfully, she must offer herself as bait to distract the doctor and nurse.

While Yuuki is rescued, the party simply swapped his captivity for Karyl’s, who appears in the sky with her thumb up in a less-than-convincing sign she’s okay. However, when they visit another doctor in town, he confirms that Dr. Mitsuki is legit and that the lad will be on the mend in a couple of days. That means Karyl will probably be fine when—and if—she’s released.

While I usually don’t give much thought to source material of anime I watch, the fact that this is based on a game with lots of colorful players was not lost on me when a bunch of new characters were introduced. This week there’s no sign of those, but instead we get yet another set of introductions, and while they are indeed colorful there’s not much else to them, and their antics rob time from the core quartet and their culinary mandate.

Elfen Lied – 12 – Total Recall

Shirakawa and the assault team can only stand around and watch in horror as Mariko continues to toy with Nana like a child rips wings off an insect. Only Nana is, horns and prostheses aside, a human being. Despite this, they allow 35 to have her way with Nana so she’ll be more cooperative. It’s frankly sickening to see other humans stand by and let this happen.

I know they see Dicloniï as an existential threat to humanity, but Shirakawa and the soldiers are abdicating their own humanity by allowing such sickening, wanton cruelty to occur. Lucy may be one thing and 35 another, but Nana is living, breathing proof that Dicloniï can coexist peacefully with humans. Mayu sees Nana and Nyu as sisters and Kouta and Yuka as their mom and dad.

And it’s Kouta who comes to Nana’s aid when no one else will, putting his own life at grave risk. Not only is Mariko eager to have more “fun” killing people, she resents the fact Nana has a friend, something Mariko didn’t believe was possible because, well, she’s been encased in a giant steel enclosure who whole damn life! I can’t blame Mariko for being the way she is, which is a direct result of the dehumanizing, self-defeating actions of the researchers at the facility.

Nana uses her remaining strength to keep him from being hurt, demonstrating she’s far more human than those who wish her dead. She ends up falling off a bridge into the water, and her fate is left unknown. However, when Nyu finally catches up to Kouta, she slips on a pool of Nana’s blood and hits her head. Lucy reawakens and kills Shirakawa and the soldiers one by one right in front of Kouta, whose long-repressed memories finally surface.

The story that unfolded in episode nine is thus completed, as Lucy followed Kouta’s family on the train out of Enoshima. Kanae claims to have witnessed a “girl with horns” killing lots of people at the festival, but Kouta doesn’t believe her. When Lucy appears, Kanae confirms she was the killer, but Kouta won’t hear of it, slaps Kanae, and orders her to apologize.

Kanae just wants to get Kouta away from Lucy, worried he’ll be her next victim and putting herself between the two, but Lucy snaps her in half, and then beheads Kouta’s father. When Kouta asks why she did these things when he thought they were friends, she calmly responds in her cold Lucy voice: “I didn’t kill you because we’re friends,” then vows to kill Yuka next.

Let me be clear: Lucy is this way because of humans. She killed the bullies because they bullied her; had they been nice to her she’d have been nice back. She punishes Kouta by killing those close to him because he lied to her. It may have been a white lie meant to protect her, but someone with her past didn’t make that distinction, and it doesn’t change the fact it was not the truth.

Back in the present, Kouta finally reconciles those newly surfaced memories with Nyu’s true identity, but he has little time to process them as Bando arrives ready to kill Lucy. She flees, baiting him to follow her, and urges Kouta to meet her at the stone steps. Kouta and Lucy have hurt each other gravely, but perhaps, like Shirakawa briefly hoped, there can be a resolution that doesn’t involve killing. Okay, that involves minimal killing. Bando obviously has to go.

Cautious Hero – 04 – Hairy Solutions to Hairy Situations

We pick up right where we left off, with Seiya categorically rejecting Mash and Ururu. He could be a little nicer about it, but the truth is he is far beyond them in power and they would slow him down. But for some reason, when Rista gains wings and tries to catch up to him, he takes his foot off the gas and comes back for her.

Sure, he then accelerates so fast her boobs pop out, but it seems he had a change of heart about having her around just minutes after saying he “so didn’t need her” any more than the Dragonkin. Did he simply appreciate the effort she made to chase after him? Or just remember that she as a goddess can still do things he can’t, like open portals?

In any case, Seiya arrives at the site of the advancing undead army and uses not one but two Meteor Strikes to eliminate them all at once. When he appears fatigued, Rista lets him lean on her, but she’s annnoyed when he states he’s actually very far from having used up all his MP.

With Seimul safe, Seiya holes himself up in room at the inn, mastering synthesis, in particular making use of Rista’s stray goddess hairs to synthesize a powerful sword, but wanting her to provide one thousand more hairs to make more; Rista for her part is not prepared to go bald!

Then they get a delivery: a looking glass through which the Heavenly King Deathmagla presents a captured and tortured Mash. When Mash is defiant rather than begging for his life, Seiya decides to rescue him and defeat Deathmagla in one trip.

After using his goddess hair-infused sword to slice off Deathmagla’s hand through dimensional planes, he quickly withdraws to the Divine realm where the ten or so seconds before Mash is killed is stretched out to fifteen or so minutes, using that time to brusquely ask an amused Ishtar to open a portal to Mash’s location.

Once there, Deathmagla claims to have prepared for every contingency in creating an invincible boss in Dark Firus. But detail-oriented as he is, Deathmagla can’t hold a candle to Seiya’s preparation, as the hero uses previously-unseen high-level blunt abilities and an ice-element bracelet (again, synthesized with Rista’s hair, making her wonder if she has a hair loss problem).

Whether it’s turning back for Rista in the air or choosing to rescue Mash so he can carry his equipment, Seiya seems most motivated by those who demonstrate maximum effort, as he does. With only two Heavenly Kings and the Demon Lord remaining and Seiya’s continued exponential growth, Rista seems poised to save her first world…barring something unexpected.

Vinland Saga – 16 – End of His Rope

Askeladd’s luck ran out the moment Anne was found by Thorkell’s men. The weight of his army steadily bearing down on Askeladd’s comparatively paltry band fills this episode with increasing tension. While there are warriors like Bjorn and Thorfinn who will never betray him, those two aren’t nearly enough to counter the precipitous drop in morale, and thus loyalty, among the majority of his men.

When I think of how much fun Askeladd and his men once had earlier in the series when his luck was riding high, it only puts his current predicament into greater focus. By episode’s end he can count on one hand the number of men he can truly count on, with fingers to spare. When an English captain simply won’t talk no matter how many fingers Askeladd snips off, it’s almost the final nail in the coffin for him; a sign that he’s lost his power.

When your men are all either worshipers of older gods or of no god at all, they put their trust in a leader with luck and strength, and Askeladd’s is almost totally out. His side plan to force Prince Canute to toughen up pretty much takes a back seat to the far more pressing matters of how long it will be before Askeladd’s men turn against him, and when Thorkell will finally catch up to them.

Thorkell’s name invokes far more fear than Askeladd’s at this point, which means Askeladd’s time is almost out. However, it’s not yet certain whether his longer-term plan to “reform” Canute will fail. All we see is that after he leaves Ragnar behind without any kind of funeral and slaps Canute across the face, Canute starts adopting a far more Thorfinnian visage.

Askeladd is nothing if not perceptive, and has no illusions about how things will go down once the men who are done with him gather enough allies within their ranks to pull something off. That’s why when Thorkell finally appears on that horizon—the glinting from the tips of his mens’ spears portending dread, while his own thrown spear impales three men and beheads a fourth—Askeladd has the best possible defensive position he can have.

Bjorn is at the reins of the lead sled with Thorfinn, Canute, the priest, and two horses when the rest of the men surround Askeladd, calling for an end to his leadership. It is without doubt the most precarious position he’s ever been in, but one should never underestimate Thorfinn’s desire to have at least one more duel with Askeladd—which means keeping him alive…maybe.

Fruits Basket – 13 – Yuki-kun, Adult Version

I always get antsy whenever Tooru’s hanging with Yuki in his garden, wondering what new devilry will come afoul of them. In this case, it’s a snake, but it’s okay, that snake is Souma Ayame, The Snake of the Zodiac. Being cold-blooded, he doesn’t do well when it’s cold, but you still have to wonder if he just used that as an excuse to hide inside Tooru’s shirt dress.

Ayame, who is actually Yuki’s ten-years-older brother he never once mentioned, is quite forward and ebullient, ordering Tooru to serve him lunch, then taking her out for gyoza when she doesn’t respond (due to Yuki telling him to check his rudeness). Turns out Ayame didn’t come to meet Tooru. He heard that Yuki interacted with Akito at school, and was checking in on him, knowing the terror he feels around Akito is on a whole other level as the other Soumas.

When he talks about how hard it’s been to reconcile his younger self (who was less interested in connecting with his baby bro) with his older self (who wants to repent for that younger Ayame) Tooru naturally parrots her mother’s advice about parents not knowing how to be parents…until they’re parents. But also the importants of remembering what it was like to be a child, such that as an adult one can empathize with the next generation.

Ayame is impressed with Tooru’s wisdom, and while Tooru doesn’t take credit, she definitely deserves it simply for absorbing every last iota of her mother’s wisdom (not something most kids do) and being able to so effortlessly apply it to others in order to sooth their troubles.

But as much as she might want Yuki and Ayame to close the yawning rift between them, it just doesn’t happen this time around. Part of that is Ayame is usually an unapologetic cad, and has been one since school when he was classmates with Shigure and Hatori.

He’s also possessed of a particularly silver tongue; whenever he broke the rules, either by growing his hair out or getting caught in a pleasure district, he could talk his way out of it with colorful oratory that would either inspire or annoy his foes into submission.

As Ayame and Shigure reminisce—and Yuki and Kyou sit there and stew—once gets the sense that all his bravado and good cheer on the surface is hiding that deep-seated regret for not being there when his little bro needed him most. Even if he was beholden to Akito like everyone else in the clan, shouldn’t he have put everything on the line to save Yuki…even exile or worse?

He didn’t, and that, much more than his salacious past and forwardness with Tooru, probably keeps that rift between the brothers as wide as it is. In the end, Shigure was more of a big brother to him than Ayame, since he at least got Yuki out of that hell.

Luckily for Yuki, Haruhatsu learns that Ayame is hanging around Yuki, and he informs the only one who Ayame listens to (since he’s always loved and admired the guy): Hatori, who shows up to collect Ayame, ending his reign of terror at Casa Shigure. Later at school Yuki makes sure to thank Hatsu.

And yet, just because a rift will never close doesn’t mean it can’t narrow a little. Yuki learning about Ayame’s devotion to Hatori does that somewhat, which Tooru takes as a sign they’re not an entirely hopeless cause.

Fruits Basket – 12 – Someone Scary This Way Comes

This episode starts out so harmlessly…and silly. It’s a new term, Tooru, Yuki, Kyou, and the others are all second years, and the new first year girls are extremely aggressive in making their existence known to Yuki. Tooru is targeted as an “easy mark” by first year boys, and Kyou scares them off with a move that hilariously befuddles her. New first years Momiji and Haruhatsu brazenly flout the dress code: Momiji by wearing half of a girls’ uni; Haru with jewelry and white-over-black hair.

They are immediately singled out by StuCo President Takei Makoto, who seems like a character from another show, even if FB is not above slapstick. This bespectacled dingus has a thing for Yuki, and his two nearly identical female lieutenants are soon won over by Momiji’s cuteness, while Haruhatsu proves he didn’t illegally die his hair by showing him his pubes in the men’s room.

Unfortunately for this half the episode Tooru is just kind of off in the background as all these Soumas bicker and test authority. I’m well aware Tooru was not always the focus of the source material and in some cases was totally absent as the cast expanded, but the broad goofy comedy on display here doesn’t really make a strong case for keeping her out of the anime spotlight.

Tooru does not play a small role in the second half, when she’s confronted by none other than Souma family head, Akito (voiced by Sakamoto Maaya in her best honey-poison imperiousness). Tooru is caught totally off guard by the sudden and very casual encounter, and Akito never says a single thing I am inclined to either take at face value or believe.

The one person Yuki doesn’t want near Akito less than himself is Tooru, so he comes to her rescue, only to be utterly neutralized by Akito, who after all threw him in a dark room and psychologically tortured him for years until Shigure finally put a stop to it by letting Yuki live with him.

So it’s up to Space Cadet Tooru to rescue Yuki-hime, demonstrating quicker thinking than would usually be expected of her in explaining an action that could’ve cost someone else their life (shoving Akito away from Yuki). In the moment, she knew Yuki was in pain, and she did what she had to do to stop it.

In his report to Hatori about the car ride home, Shigure says Akito would later call Tooru “ugly” and not a threat to him, assured that one day Yuki would come crawling back, citing his fear of him as proof. But Akito seems like the kind of person whose threat assessments vary from day to day, or mood to mood. In any case, Tooru is far from safe, nor is Yuki.

Still, Tooru tries to refocus a clearly traumatized Yuki by joining a big ol’ badminton game with the gang. She doesn’t want to waste, or let others waste, the precious time they have, and she has no illusions about that time being infinite, or even indefinite. Something cold could come out of the shadows and freeze these poor warm people and warm life in which they’ve never been happier. But not today. Today, for a little while, they’ll forget their fears and have fun volleying a shuttle around.

Carole & Tuesday – 03 – ASCENSION!

After a rough first impression (I believe accusations of cyberstalking are leveled), Gus Goldman introduces himself to Carole & Tuesday, dropping names left and right. Unfortunately, the pair is #notimpressed because they don’t remember Bruno, Justin, or Brian Epstein—being from a much younger generation.

Brass tacks: Gus knows talent when he hearts it, and if they want to do what they do for more than just fun, he wants to be there to help them. His enthusiasm and earnestness make up for his underwhelming Wikipedia page. But since nobody’s become a commercial hit quite yet Gus has to insist his talent pay for their own Margherita.

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s mother leaves getting her back to her son—lest police involement sully her campaign—then (presumably) retires to the boudoir with her toyboy. How I hope Tuesday’s bro doesn’t try to drag her back to this horrid gilded cage.

As Angela is asked 37 questions on some kind of vlog of her life (and introduces her extremely annoying AI pet rabbit Aladdin), C&T are at the laundromat waiting for their clothes to be done.

Tuesday likens the still, then suddenly-spinning clothes as mirroring the two of them, and Carole starts stomping and clapping out a beat, with Tuesday joining in and the two starting to sing an impromptu song (albeit one that is not clandestinely recorded).

Just messin’ around in the laundromat is a kernal that germinates as the two refine the music and lyrics, and their song is the soundtrack for a montage of their day in the life in Alba City, all gorgeously rendered and adding to the lush textures of both the sprawling city and their digs.

As for Gus, he vows to lay off the sauce now that he has a new client. Whatever his reasons for copying Motörhead in the past, he seems genuinely determined to put a human musical duo on the map—no small feat in a Martian cultural continuum in which AI has taken over so much of the creating.

What was billed as a trip to a voice coach friend of Gus’ turns out to be…something else entirely: a SPACE YOGA session so bizarre to Tuesday’s sheltered psyche she fears she’ll have nightmares about the experience.

Angela’s experienced at Artience is no less nightmarish. When she can’t hit a high note, Tao activates her restraints and deploys all manner of nasty-looking torture instruments, all an elaborate artifice in order to goad Angela into screaming…and hitting that high note she thought impossible.

She still voices her complaints to her mother, a former child star herself. But her mom insists she keep at it, lest she become as forgotten as she now is due to people moving on and her career not moving on with it. This looks like a classic vicarious parent situation. I hope Angela actually wants to continue as Tao’s guinea pig for her own sake, not just Mom’s.

Thanks to Roddy, C&T score a meet with the famous celebrity DJ Ertegun, whose sold-out megashows are the toast of the town. When they arrive at his waterfront mansion, Gus is prepared to make the pitch, but he’s held back by Ertegun’s security, leaving C&T on their own among the tacky pop art, including Banksy’s self-destructing painting!

Ertegun makes them wait as he talks on the phone by the woman-filled pool, but when he finally comes in, he initially scares the shit out of them by seemingly stripping in front of them; mercifully, he’s got boxer briefs on, and merely shed the robe so he could do some push-ups while he raps with them.

Either Roddy didn’t explain why C&T wanted to meet with Ertegun, or Ertegun didn’t listen to him (probably the latter), because Ertegun doesn’t know why C&T are there: he assumes they want autographs, selfies, or…him (Gus warned earlier them not to give him a leg massage).

When he learns it’s a pitch, he immediately shuts them down, rejecting them without so much as listening to a single bar. Why is he so confident they’re boring generic trash? Well, for one thing, “he’s DJ Ertegun,” which is apparently sufficient explanation. But for another? Because they’re not AI. Like Tao, Ertegun doesn’t trust humans to make good music, except through technology.

Tuesday wigs out and burns their lyrics with the DJ’s cigar lighter, setting off the sprinklers before running away. Ertegun doesn’t seem particularly miffed that all his goofy art is getting doused, but I imagine T&C left an stronger impression on him!

Carole & Tuesday – 02 – Discovered by Fate

The narrator again refers to the “Miraculous 7 Minutes” before we return to the story of how Carole & Tuesday got there, starting with Tuesday’s first morning waking up somewhere other than her mansion. While Carole is out of there not long after 7, it takes much longer for Tuz to wake up, and when she does, immediately demonstrates her utter ineptness when it comes to cleaning.

Meanwhile, Angela finishes up a photo shoot at a studio where everyone applauds and gushes over her, something she’s obviously taken for granted all her life. When she arrives at Artience Lab, she doesn’t get that treatment she’s so used to. If anything, Tao (voiced most imperiously by Kamiya Hiroshi) treats her like a nuisance. But as long as he creates the perfect song for her, she doesn’t care.

If Tuesday is terrible at cleaning, Carole proves equally terrible at holding down jobs. Hired as a professional mourner at a funeral, she ends up laughing hysterically when a butterfly lands on the priest’s head, earning her her second pink slip in as many days. It’s clear if Carole can catch a break with her music, she’d be a better fit for that than either crying or serving burgers to misogynists.

That night, Carole remarks that if she goes to bed in the wrong state of mind she’ll have nightmares, so she and Tuesday exchange mentions of things that they like, and find they’re both big fans of both Cyndi and Crystal. Carole also learns Tuesday is a total rich girl, complete with a limitless black credit card—but Tuz can’t use it or her family will find her.

The next day, Carole and Tuesday are out on the town on a mission: use the real grand piano at the Martian Immigrant Memorial Hall’s main stage, where DJ ERTEGUN is already setting up a future show with one of his producers, Roddy.

On the way, Tuesday sees her mom on TV—turns out she’s the governor of Herschel state, and potentially running for president—but doesn’t let Carole in on that nugget of information.

Back at Artience, the rocky road continues as Angela is subjected to a mechanical chair of torture as she sings scales for Tao to analyze. When she hits the chair in anger, Tao seems to have more compassion for the machinery than her, whom he calls “a bigger piece of junk than expected” under his breath but over enough for her to hear.

When she asks if he’s really human an AI, he replies that he gets that a lot, then gives her a bone-chilling smile that proves her point all the more. This is a dude who has been surrounded by technology, he’s basically lost the basic skills that make us a social species. At the same time, he’s not wrong that 99% of music is AI-generated and most people can’t tell the difference, so Angela is at a distinct disadvantage trying to force her way into the industry.

C&T arrive at the music hall, and when they’re turned away by an assistant, they barge in anyway, take the stage, tune up, and play their first song, “Lonliest Girl,” with full lyrics and much grander acoustics. It’s a lush, soul-stirring sequence, reminding me of the performances in Your Lie in April. The animation is G.O.R.G.E.O.U.S. Like the OP, it gave me goosebumps.

More importantly, it pretty much destroy’s Tao’s assertion about “the warmth of humanity” being a lie. Roddy records the guerrilla performance on his phone, basically falling in love with the duo in the process. Moments after they finish, security starts to chase them around the hall, and Roddy captures that too! None of Tao’s fancy AIs can hope to replicate the anarchy or spontaneity of two young women eager to make a name for themselves.

Running off once more, C&T have no idea what just happened, but are simply enjoying the adrenaline rush of getting in, playing on the big stage, getting out, and getting away with it. Roddy uploads the footage of them, and the video quickly goes viral, making me wonder when Tuesday’s brother will see it (because there’s no way she’s going to stay hidden from them for long).

Even the drunken ex-music producer hears it. He’s so drunk, he initially yells at the woman at the bar to shut it off, and very nearly gets into a fight with her man. But when he stops and listens some more, he’s absolutely smitten, and apologizes for his behavior before running off and getting his old friend Roddy on the horn.

Through Roddy we learn this guy’s name is Gus, and he wants to know who those two girls were. Thankfully for him, Roddy has The Mad Internet Skillz, and in less than half a minute has not only found C&T’s Insta, but pinpointed their address as well, as the location data of their rooftop photo wasn’t hidden. Oops!

The next morning unfolds much like the previous one: Carole getting up and Tuesday…not. Carole punishes her laziness by placing guitar picks on her eyes, but before she can snap a funny photo Gus starts trying to knock her front door down, bellowing like a loon about the “gig being up” and ordering them to let him in.

Turns out this is yet more evidence that not everyone in this world knows how to properly express their intentions, as he ends up coming off as way more of a threat than a boon to the girls, who are scared out of their wits until he mentions he’s their new manager, and their fear instantly turns to bewilderment. And that’s how Carole & Tuesday were discovered! It happened pretty damn fast too, considering there’s twenty-two episodes remaining! This is going to be epic.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 15 – The Flag

This episode was not for the faint of heart. Once faced with her past tormentor, Lord Idol Rabier, memories and emotions from Raphtalia’s past start to flow out like water from a spigot. She remembers her village, and her best friend Rifana, as she has her sword pointed at Idol’s neck.

But Idol only cowers so long, and when he learns she’s one of the demi-humans he used to torture in his dungeon, he draws a hidden sword and puts up a fight. He ends up tripping on his own whip and falling backwards out a window to his apparent death. Raphtalia then decides to investigate the dungeon, and Naofumi, Filo, and Van accompany her.

As she walks with Raphtalia through the dungeon where she once spent an untold duration suffering pointless beatings at Idol’s hand, Melty is disgusted that such things went on in her kingdom right under her nose. Unfortunately, the truth is Idol is not the only one perpetrating such heinous acts.

Raphtalia, meanwhile, continues to dredge up memories, both of her village being raided by Idol, to being carted off to the dungeon with Rifana, to the beatings. Through it all, Raphtalia tried to obey her late father (killed in the Wave) and keep smiling, even in the hardest times. During the beatings, Raphtalia defiantly won’t cry out, but maintains a semblance of a smile.

Her friend Rifana doesn’t fare as well; she loses the will to eat and soon grows weak and feverish. While Raphtalia clings to her duty to smile in order to keep others’ spirits up, the one thing keeping Rifana going is her hope that they can return to their village and raise their flag, the flag that was proof that the demi-humans were able to build their own village.

All Raphtalia can offer her is a small flag made from a stick and scrap of cloth, but she’s grateful even for that. Then one day, the two are ripped apart, as Raphtalia is sold to a slave merchant, leading to her eventual purchase by her and Rifana’s favorite hero, that of the shield. Back in the present they find three survivors in the dungeons, the third being her old friend Keel.

After Naofumi heals him, Raph asks Keel where Rifana is, and he tells her. While she must have hoped the rest of her life that the Shield Hero would save her, he came too late; there’s nothing left of Rifana but her skeleton, still clutching the little flag Raph gave her not long before they were parted.

It’s a sickeningly awful sight to behold, and it causes Raph to break down into a fit of despair and self-hatred. She curses herself for not being able to protect anyone, and deems herself unworthy of standing beside the Shield Hero.

Of course, Naofumi has something to say about this, and assures her she did nothing wrong. On the contrary, the only reason he didn’t fall into his own pit of despair and run away from his duty as hero is because he met her, the first person he could really trust, and which led to meeting Filo and Melty.

On another plane, Raphtalia says goodbye to Rifana before gathering her earthly remains for a proper burial. Then she and the others return to the surface, where not only is Idol still alive (they really should have checked to make sure he wasn’t), but is in the process of summoning a monstrous beast sealed away by past heroes…for revenge, I guess?

Once summoned, the T.Rex-like monster promptly steps on Idol, reducing him to a flat film of pulp. It’s a fittingly unceremonious, darkly comic end for a character who was never anything more subtle than sniveling evil incarnate—good riddance! As for our dino-pal, I’m sure he’s a tough customer but likely nowhere near as formidable as, say, Glass, so I’m confident Naofumi, Raph and Filo can take care of it.

But damn, what a dark past Raphtalia had. Hopefully her unplanned trip to the site of the worst times of her life, and putting Rifana to proper rest, will give her some closure and end the nightmares. Not to mention she was able to rescue Keel and two other demi-humans, who would have certainly shared Rifana’s fate were it not for her.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 08 – Study Long, Study Wrong

Three stories this week! Story the First: Kaguya encounters a cute visitor who she remembers is really Miyuki’s little sister Kei, StuCo treasurer of the middle school division. Kaguya gets it into her head (deep, deep into her head) that if she suceeds in nurturing a close friendship with Kei, she’ll look at her as a sister, giving her the familial love she craves and bringing her closer to Miyuki.

Heartbreak strikes when it turns out Chika (whose imouto is in Kei’s class) is a shitload closer to Kei than Kaguya could ever imagine. But the true twist is that the end, when we learn Kei is actually infatuated with Kaguya, and laments to her oblivious bro that she wasn’t able to close the distance between them. Thus Kei loses.

Story the Second:  With final exams approaching, both Miyuki and Kaguya engage in elaborate games of lies and deception, both of them absolutely determined to claim the top student ranking with their grades. They manage to convince Chika that she doesn’t need to study to do well, but neither of them particularly care one way or another about Chika’s fate, only their own.

When the scores and rankings are posted, Miyuki has prevailed once again, with Kaguya finishing a close second. Internally, Kaguya wants to roll around in the pool of blood that threatens to shoot out of her eyes, but she keeps her composure and congratulates the President, noting that he must be pleased.

At the same time, Miyuki claims that he can’t feel any joy over such a close and hard-fought victory, only relief…but when he retires to the men’s room it’s a different story, as he’s so overjoyed he starts shadowboxing for no reason…as one does. Winner: Miyuki.

Story the Third takes place a week before the finals. Kaguya is aware that the next exam Yuu fails will force him to repeat the grade, a black mark against the honor of the StuCo she as its veep cannot allow. To that end, she grabs his hand and spirits him away to a dark supply closet where she commits to making sure he studies enough not to fail, on her honor as a Shinomiya.

Yuu is initially as terrified of Kaguya as usual—she makes him do the two things he fears most, after all: studying, and eating tiny dried sardines—but when two classmates spot the two in the library and look primed to spread weird rumors, Kaguya stands up for Yuu, telling them she doesn’t judge people by what others say, only by her personal experiences with those people.

Yuu ends up passing, and rising a number of spots in the rankings (up from second to last), but Kaguya is still furious that he only barely passed after all the hard work she put in. Miyuki drops his guard in assuring Yuu that while Kaguya may seem cold-hearted, she is someone who can always be relied upon to follow through. For his unsolicited flattery of his opponent in the War of Love, Miyuki loses the round.