The aquatope on white sand – 14 – Nunca te rindas

I don’t know about you, but Fuuka’s sudden appearance on the beach and her and Kukuru’s warm embrace are romantic as all get out. Just look at that shot: Fuuka is basically Kukuru’s valiant prince, drying her eyes strained from tears of frustration and filling them right back up with pure unbridled joy. Even better: Fuuka is back for good. She’ll be working at Tingaara…and even moved next door to Kukuru.

That’s a lot of surprises, but Kukuru is fine with all of them, because if ever there was a time she needed Fuuka close by, it’s now, when she’s feeling totally unmoored in her marketing job. Thanks to Gramps, Fuuka was able to get a job at Tingaara, and Chiyu is clearly not okay Gama Gama nepotism. If she’s going to accept Fuuka as a colleague and not a up-jumped hanger-on, Fuuka must memorize all 20 of the cape penguins.

“There’s no ‘Gama Gama Faction!'”, the Gama Gama Faction protested as they all went out to eat together. Though replacing Kuuya is Eiji, who is tastefully intrigued by the former idol-turned-penguin attendant. Rumors of cliquery aside, I like how the Gama Gama exiles still hang together after work, lay down their troubles, and enjoy Udon-chan’s widening culinary repertoire.

Kukuru admits after dinner that a part of her felt jealous that Fuuka got the job she thought she’d get at Tingaara, but fully admits that kind of thinking is childishness she wants to grow past. With  Karin, Chiyu, and her fellow marketeer Akari (voiced by the Saekano heroine herself, Yasuno Kiyano!) an now Fuuka, she has plenty of girlsboss to emulate. She even discovers she does have a knack for making people care and fall in love with aquariums, as she takes the aquarium-indifferent Akari on a rehearsal tour and wins her over.

This week Kukuru does indeed work harder and smarter than her first bumbling/arrogant days, staying meek and formal on the outside, but keeping that burning fire in her belly stoked. She learns the value of forming little alliances with others to make things easier, and figuring out the precise way to deal with people. Take Chiyu’s second-in-command Marina (Touyama Nao—this cast is stacked): since Kukuru is Fuuka’s friend and Fuuka is cool, Marina will go to bat to change Chiyu’s mind about including the penguins on the tour.

Speaking of intricate social patterns, this week was a low-key cape penguin documentary, as we observe along with Fuuka how to tell the twenty penguins apart not just by their colored wing bands, but how they behave. And while Fuuka was only at Gama Gama for a month, that was enough to know when the birds are agitated due to their sudden new environment (mirroring Kukuru’s own difficulties).

Kukuru believes it was not only Fuuka acing the name-that-penguin test, but recognizing and acknowledging the emotional state of the birds that impressed Chiyu enough to give the go-ahead for their (limited) exposure to tour groups. Kukuru only manages to get a family of four in her first tour, but she ends up nailing the tour just as well as Fuuka nailed her test, showing that the director didn’t throw her into this new environment willy-nilly. He knew she’d eventually figure it out and thrive.

Is Kukuru’s anhedonic ass of a boss Suwa pissed she only snagged one group of four? Absolutely. Does Kukuru let him get her down for long? Nope! She walks out of that office ready to keep up the fight. The episode ends as it began, with Kukuru and Fuuka looking like a particularly happily married couple, this time cooking dinner side by side.

Kukuru gives Fuuka the credit for changing Chiyu’s mind by proving she not only knew about but cared about the penguins. But that’s not entirely fair to herself…who helped Fuuka study for that penguin test? More to the point, Fuuka makes it clear that while she feels she belongs in an aquarium now, the main reason Fuuka is back is to be with Kukuru. Kukuru just so happens to also belong in an aquarium, so it’s allll sea gravy!

Vanitas no Carte – 11 – Jean d’Ate

Armed with the notion that Vanitas will despise someone who professes their love for him, our favorite easily-flustered vampire knight decides to ask her blood buddy out on a date, hoping he’ll end up in the palm of her hand. Predictably, this doesn’t go remotely how Jeanne hoped.

After all, it’s hard to pretend to have affection for someone when you are truly drawn to them, no matter how much you don’t want to be. Such is Jeanne’s plight: whether due to the lure of his delicious blood or the fact she simply adores a bad boy, she’s genuinely excited about the date, especially as it allows her to tour human Paris.

Meanwhile, Lord Ruthven, whom we know is up to no good, gets Noé out of bed so they can have a nice friendly chat at the Lord’s favorite human café, the entirety of which he rents out for such a purpose. While initially apprehensive, Noé soon settles into an easy rapport with Ruthven, to the point he reminds him of his teacher, the Shapeless One.

Throughout Vanitas and Jeanne’s date, Domi is diligently following and observing with opera glasses. She originally committed to doing this because she thought she’d derive some entertainment from it, only to find it looks like an ordinary date. It’s also funny that Dante tags along, and the more bored he gets, the more he resembles Cartman.

It’s atop Paris’ highest hill—from one gets a good look at the Sun Tower that takes the place of the Eiffel Tower in this alternate steampunk world—where things turn from a fun dawdle to Serious Business.

When a boy scrapes his knee and Jeanne gets one look at the blood, she’s ready to pounce on the lad, but Vanitas stops her, having her bite his arm instead. Dante tosses a smoke bomb so they can get away safely, but it’s close call—and a revealing one too, when it comes to Jeanne.

The pleasant, cordial café date also takes a turn when Ruthven asks Noé straight-up whose side he’s on: humans or vampires. At this point Noé is only on the side of those he cares about, which includes members of both groups. This is the wrong answer, and he fails Ruthven’s “test”.

The Lord grabs him and sucks his blood ravenously. Could this be how Noé ends up killing Vanitas, as he said he would back in the first episode: while under the thrall of Lord Ruthven?

Vanitas takes Jeanne somewhere safe, where she proceeds to seductively suck on his blood in another one of their hot-and-heavy scenes. Vanitas takes the opportunity to ask once again whether Jeanne is a curse-bearer, which Jeanne doesn’t confirm or deny.

Even so, when she stops drinking his blood and starts to shed tears that fall on his face, Vanitas promises her that whatever she is, he promises to kill her if she ever becomes a threat to her beloved charge, Luca. Of course, if he can find a way to release her of whatever is slowly sapping her sanity, I imagine try that method first!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 02 – Yurigaoka Orientation

If last week was primarily a quick “hi” to the main players, a crash course in Huge combat, and the awakening of Riri’s CHARM, this week omits the Huge battle in favor of a more in-depth introduction to Riri’s classmates and Yurigaoka’s facilities, as well as the next small step in Riri and Yuyu’s Schutzengel pact.

As such this episode is heavy on exposition and slice-of-life, starting with Riri waking up. Her roommate Itou Shizu seems nice enough, though finds it weird that Riri sleeps while spooning her CHARM. When she’s hit on by Endou Araya in the bathroom, it’s not only clear that Riri is popular with the other girls, but in need of a measure of defense against unwanted advances.

Speaking of which, when Riri attempts to approach Yuyu to thank her for her help in both the recent and more distant past, her idol gives her the cold shoulder, not even deigning to speak to her. This is disheartening to Riri, though her other classmates insist Yuyu tends to be moody and “too sensitive” despite her hard exterior.

Riri finds comfort and friendship in Fumi and Kaede (who unlike Endou is looking for something more significant than a good time) as the three tour the academy and its grounds, including a tranquil foot bath with a gorgeous view of the sea. Yurigaoka isn’t just a place of learning and training, but a sanctuary as well as a means of the adults atoning for having to use young girls to fight the enemy.

It’s clear that like any university where youths are in close quarters, the academy is also a place where bonds are cultivated and people pair off. Since there’s no guys, that means same-sex relationships are the norm. Some are more overtly romantic than others, but they are all intimate, with the Schutzengel in particular being as much about senpai-kohai dynamics as sharing love.

Like “conventional” marriages and families, it’s about the future, but also about individual transformation. Riri is concerned that Yuyu has changed far too much since the first time they met, and wants to know why. Kaede is content to let take a swing at Yuyu, confident she’ll strike out and leave Riri running into her arms. But as CHARM-smith Mashima Moyu notes, learning more about Yuyu is all about talking to her personally, not asking others about her.

When Riri finally crosses paths with Yuyu again, it’s near the end of the day, in a dramatically-lit hallway. Flanked by Kaede and Fumi, Riri gets down to brass tacks: she wants to form a Schutzengel with Yuyu, and only Yuyu, who after all inspired her to become a Lily. Yuyu refuses, stating that such an agreement would reduce her tactical effectiveness.

This provokes Kaede into moving in to slap her, but Riri comes between them, again demonstrating her innate mobility and stealth, but also giving Yuyu an opening to slap Kaede first. Still, Kaede takes exception to Yuyu’s obsession with battle efficiency; a Schutzengel is about far more than that, and notes that a “pure girl” like Riri is actually the perfect match for a “fool” like her. To this, Yuyu surrenders, and calmly agrees to enter the pact to become Riri’s guardian angel.

After a bath, Riri returns to her dorm where Shizu is there to welcome and congratulate her on her first full day at Yurigaoka. Like Riri, we learned a lot about the Magie embued within CHARMS, as well as the spell runes within either forged metal or rifled gun barrels, and how both Lilies and Huge rely on Magie for their power, albeit in different ways.

The reason for Yuyu’s present troubled state remains a mystery to Riri that she’ll hope to understand the more they hang out and grow closer. That said, Yuyu gave in awfully easily, and while she warns Riri not to regret forming a Schutzengel  with her, she privately expects that Riri will regret it. She’s banking on it, in fact.

In her darkened dorm, her silver-haired senpai talks to her, but as we haven’t seen her interact with anyone, she could be a ghost. This would certainly explain Yuyu’s preference for fighting alone, especially if she blames herself for her guardian angel’s death.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 14 – Don’t Get It Twisted

Keiji is lonely. Touka is lonely. So they arrange a date at the grand opening of Moon Temple, AKA The Temple of Babylon, AKA “Teratsuki Kyouichirou’s Folly,” a massive, bizarre, twisted tower in the center of a postmodern park, the final legacy of a once hugely-successful CEO who died suddenly at 56.

The lovebirds aren’t the only ones to attend the unveiling: there’s a massive throng waiting in line hours before the opening, among them a mother and son, who upon leaving the bathroom finds himself face-to-face with a Teratsuki claiming he was “just born.”

Despite assuring Keiji she won’t be late, Touka is made late by the emergence of a fresh threat to humanity, and so Boogiepop takes over her body to intervene. Keiji, waiting for Touka in a cafe, encounters “Boogiepop”, but something’s off; it’s a fake, calling themselves the “King of Distortion.”

A girl named Sakiko on a date with a guy she’s not particularly interested in spots the real Boogiepop rushing past, but she only knows of the legend of the Boogiepop who kills women at the peak of their beauty. Niitoki Kei, who knows better, also spots Boogiepop and chases after them into the tower.

Kei ends up in the schoolyard, the same place and time of day Saotome Masami was killed. Saotome appears before her, calling himself the “King of Distortion.” A guy who was working at the tower but now finds himself in a restaurant with that same King, in the form of a girl he wanted to whom he wanted to say something but never did.

In all these cases, the King of Distortion seeks to turn the world to gold (hence the threat), and apparently seeks to do so by creating elaborate illusions and take the form of people that will help them remember something lingering in their hearts—in other words, distortion in those hearts.

When the King and Boogiepop meet, he warns them that he won’t allow anyone to interfere with his “experiment to turn everything to gold.” What we have, then, is a bizarre but intriguing new adversary who uses peoples’ memories, relationships, and insecurities against them and twists their very reality. In light of all this, Boogiepop wonders for the first time if she’ll actually be able to protect Kei & Co.

Nil Admirari no Tenbin – Teito Genwaku Kitan – 02 – Welcome to Fukurou

NAT continues to be watchable if unexceptional in its second episode, which is largely an introduction to Fukurou’s facilities and the attractive yet often eccentric men who live and/or work there.

They include a former houseboy of the Kuze family with whom Tsugumi is acquainted, a mask-wearing researcher, and an odd-eyed kid who likes to hang out up in trees. She also sees the repository of cursed tomes, which is, from her perspective, lit up like Christmas from the various auras.

Tsugumi is also shown her own apartment, a first for her, and is also chatted up in the alley by someone who turns out to be her brother’s favorite author, Migawa Shizuru, who lives at Fukurou.

He joins Tokimiya, Hayato, Akira, and Hisui for a welcome banquet of sushi, and immediately Hayato and Shizuru start making preparations to stake their claim on the right to woo the newbie, with Hisui in the middle trying to keep things calm.

The next day Tsugumi heads out for her first patrol with Hayato, Akira, and Hisui, donning her Fukurou uniform which features a skirt of a short length she’s not used to. She’s also not used to walking beside unmarried men, and so almost instinctively keeps her distance.

They visit bookstore after bookstore, but none of the old Japanese-style books they encounter has any aura, which disappoints Tsugumi, who hoped to make more of an immediate difference.

One bookstore tender even calls her “another useless good-for-nothing,” while another asks if she wants to be his lover “or sweetheart”, to which she states, for the record, she’s not interested in men or marriage at the moment. (She also meets the living stuffed animal Perry, whose reason for existing other than being the show’s mascot escapes me).

At one bookstore run by a particularly panicky and paranoid owner, Tsugumi’s failure to find a cursed tome actually makes the poor guy’s year, and Hayato points out to her that doing her job isn’t just about finding books, but putting people at ease when they learn they’re not in possession of them. So it was a good day’s work.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 08

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As we return to Kikuhiko’s tale, he’s just finishing up his tour with Master Yakumo, having steamed up many an audience in Kyoto with his seductively funny rakugo. Talk of making him a shin’uchi is no longer presumptuous; as even his own master was too enthralled both with his performance and the reaction of the crowd to notice the mistakes he made.

Kiku is rapidly progressing on the steam locomotive to greatness, but there are sacrifices that need to be made on the way – both those imposed upon him, and those he imposes on himself.

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Back in Tokyo, Miyokichi sits in the back of another full house as Sukeroku performs and effortlessly drawing huge laughs. But she’s not laughing; she’s there to catch a glimpse of the man she loves who’s currently giving her the cold shoulder.

Her presence didn’t go unnoticed by Sukeroku (she was the only one there who wasn’t “ancient”), and he proposes a commiseration session: she gets to vent to him about a subject he’s very well versed in – Kiku-san – in exchange for buying him a drinkypoo.

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Their ensuing conversation, a thing of beauty, offers many insights into Miyokichi’s character and the nature of her love of Kiku. She doesn’t even like rakugo; she prefers movies. Hearing his voice is the only reason she goes to the theater. She endures the stodgy, old-fashioned practice she wouldn’t otherwise give the time of day…for Kiku. She also endures his constant brush-offs, including this most recent unannounced trip of his.

Miyo can endure this because she’s strong. She had to be. Abandoned by a man when in Manchuria, she had to sell her body to survive, until Master Yakumo brought her home. But because she’s become so tough, neither the good Master nor Sukeroku are her type. She doesn’t go for nice guys, she likes cold guys, and Kiku has certainly been that to her.

Miyo doesn’t want the moon; she just wants to be able to stand beside the man she loves and support him as a woman. But she suspects, and Sukeroku can’t convince her otherwise, that Kiku intends to break up with her. When she takes her leave on that somber note, Sukeroku, ever the nice guy, can’t help but draw her into a hug.

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It’s while she’s struggling to get out of that hug that Kiku appears, suddenly back as quietly as he left. His exchange with Miyo is brief and probably the coldest yet, but there’s a reason for it; Kiku indeed intends to break up with her, and doesn’t want to be cruel by being kind beforehand.

Kiku can admit to Sukeroku that he loves Miyo, but the Master has told him he needs to find a “proper woman” to settle down with a family. Disobeying would mean expulsion from Yurakutei, and in this case, with his rakugo future so bright and his identity and place in that world so clear…Miyokichi is second fiddle to all that.

In fact, Kiku would rather simply be alone than be with anyone, a sentiment that quickly evolves into an agreement for Sukeroku to move out of his apartment. Kiku relays to Sukeroku all of the flaws their master mentioned that are making it hard to promote him, but Sukeroku is in this business because he loves rakugo, and he has bigger plans than the Yurakutei orthodoxy could ever accommodate.

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His position is legitimized by the simple fact they’re in a packed jazz hall filled with Japanese in Western clothes, listening to American music. The times they are a changin’. He acknowledges that a part of rakugo must always endure, but that’s Kiku’s duty. Sukeroku intends to be the part of rakugo that evolves by changing to suit whatever the people want, which is never fixed.

Kiku is a traditionalist; Sukeroku the innovator. But they are alike in two important ways: they both love rakugo and they both respect each other’s place in that world. At the same time, Sukeroku didn’t want to end up like his previous “master”, the one from which he took the name Sukeroku, who ended up dying penniless.

That night, Master Yakumo celebrates with Matsuda his hard-won success in getting both Kikuhiko and Sukeroku promoted to shin’uchi, he takes the Yurakutei family record from the alter to let the past generations share in the celebration, even as he laments he wasn’t quite able to achieve what his forebears did.

Unaware of his promotion, Sukeroku roams the streets, gently kicked out of Kiku’s place, backlit by the bright lights and the winds of change. Kikuhiko, also unaware, but now alone in his apartment like he wanted, pauses his practicing to inspect the old fan Sukeroku gave him. They’ve started on very different paths for the same love of rakugo. It was an amicable parting, but that doesn’t make it any less sad!

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Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen – 04

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In the big capital, Haku, Kuon, and Rurutie meet Ukon’s little sister, Nekone, who has her doubts about Haku for most of the episode until she realizes he’s actually a pretty nice and interesting fellow, and learns from observing him not to worry so much or overthink things.

As far as baths are concerned, overthinking is definitely not a problem for Kuon: Clothes come off, Kuon gets in the water. Kuon also makes sure Rurutie and Nekone are as God made them that they might fully enjoy the experience of bathing. When talk that Ukon is with Haku on the men’s side, Rurutie’s inner fujoshi comes out. We even see Maroro without his white base mask.

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The next morning, Haku is very refreshed, and Nekone invites him, Kuon and Rurutie to join her on a tour of the capital, during which she’ll determine whether Haku is worthy of being a friend to her brother. On the tour, they catch sight of the hugely-popular general Oshutaru, and Nekone clashes with Haku on what she perceives as his arrogance, ignorance, and general dimwittedness.

The girls find him a job waiting tables, and to Nekone’s surprise, after a rough start, Haku starts to fit right in. No one has a problem with him the way she does, so she starts to wonder if her perception of him is the true problem. Stepping back from her preconceptions of him, she starts to see the odd but comforting charisma he exerts, and which Kuon, Rurutie, and even her brother Ukon have come to like.

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After a hard day’s work and with the cost of his mistakes subtracted, Haku has made barely enough money to buy a meal, let alone a room at an inn. Nekone is still dubious, but delivers an invitation from Ukon to Haku and the others. When they arrive to find Oshutaru, he reveals “Ukon” is merely a false identity he uses on occasion. With Ukon and Oshutaru being one and the same means he and Haku are already good friends.

Seeing how much her brother truly trusts and cares for Haku, Nekone takes a page out of Haku’s book. She, Kuon and Rurutie have already hit it off, so she decides, without overthinking, to simply regard them as friends, as they clearly already consider her one.

Meanwhile, two cloaked messengers report Haku’s presence in the capital; news that is very well-received by a venerable elder-type whose face is concealed. We saw Haku as a simple waiter this week, but it’s clear there are many people whose existence he’s not even aware of who have far grander plans for him.

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Kyousougiga – 5.5

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Sometimes it’s fun to jump out of the 2D animation and see the places and people that make and inspire an anime; in the case of Kyousogiga, the place is Kyoto and its environs, and the people who show up in the flesh are Shiraishi Ryoko, who voices Un, but who we’re most familiar with as the voice of Onizuka Hime from Sket Dance.

Newbie Nakayama Erika accompanies Shiraishi, and veteran Kazuki Yao also makes an appearance. We’re hardly experts on live-action Japanese television, but we love the energy and enthusiasm the trio bring to the proceedings. There’s never a dull moment, and it’s especially fun to see them just as bowled over by their venerable surroundings as we are.

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The episode is a tour of all of the places that inspired the creators of Kyousogiga: from Genkouan, home of the round and square windows (representing dreams and reality), to the gorgeous Kouzanji, home of the real Priest Myoue and the oldest tea field in Japan, as well as the Choujuugiga, four ink scrolls of “bird-men and beast-men at play” that is ostensibly a precursor to manga and anime.

We learned a lot, but were also entertained along the way, and now have a lot more appreciation for the detail that’s gone into the anime. Plus it’s always cool to put real-life faces to the talented voices we hear every week. Oh, and the desserts the ladies sampled at that fancy bakery looked amazing:

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Tamayura: More Aggressive – 06

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Fuu’s photographer friend Shihomi Riho introduces her to her father’s kohai, Kawai Harumi, who worked with him (and still works) as a travel planner. She takes Fuu and Riho on a Seto Inland “Where The Wind Takes You” tour, where she revisits places she’d been to with Fuu’s dad, plus some places they never made it to, telling her about her father along the way. They end up at a home of Akio and Yuuko, a couple who took Fuu’s father’s advice to open a simple bed & breakfast.

Potte takes a day off from the two-person photo club (and she and Kanae are fine with it being just them) to go on a grand adventure at the behest of her photog friend, who introduces her to someone else whose life her dad touched and enriched when he was alive; lives she was connected to without even knowing it. Thus the tour isn’t just of some truly beautiful and cozy spots around the Seto Inland Sea, it’s also a tour of a side of her dad she didn’t know, and of those new bonds. It’s also an opportunity for Harumi to spend time with Fuu, something planned but never happened, due to her senpai’s passing. Harumi seems pleased to see a lot of her senpai in Fuu.

Like her dad, Fuu has “the mindset to enjoy anything and everything.” Fuu is wide-eyed full of questions the whole time. Not every place Harumi takes her was a place her father had been; she’s not just rehashing old times with an old friend, but creating new memories with a new one. We’ll admit to nearly tearing up when Harumi and the B&B couple talked about Fuu and her dad, making this the first episode since the first to elicit that response in us. It was also a particularly gorgeous episode that really made us want to travel, particularly to the Inland Sea region.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)