Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 15 – The Swing Within

When Eve’s Orange Bullet holes the ball and gives them the win, Eve has to be told it happened; she must’ve gone into a trance when using Orange, which is probably why she hasn’t used it until now; it’s a last resort. As for Aoi, she passes out and remembers her father training her and telling her he wants her to not just win, but keep enjoying golf with a pure and innocent heart, for “hearts too sharpened by conviction can sometimes shatter”. That’s a great line.

Despite hearing news that her daughter is in the hospital and they can’t find anything medically wrong with her, Seira still can’t be bothered to cancel a business meeting to go see her. Real Mother of the Year shit! But she also knows that Aoi is going through the same “thing” as Kazuhiko, only earlier in life (he was in his 20s), which is concerning.

Fortunately for Eve, Aoi comes to in time to treat her to all the hamburgers she can eat, and the next day they watch Nadaminami’s Oikawa Kaede and Himekawa Mizuho trounce their semifinal opponent. Eve makes a throat-slitting motion to Mizuho, who is looking forward to facing off against a real opponent.

There’s no rest for the weary on the eve of the final against Nada, as Coach Reiya takes Aoi to the driving range, not to teach her anything per se, but simply to “put a spell”, which he accomplishes with three swings. Aoi recognizes his first as her mother’s then her father’s. She doesn’t know the third, but it comes with lots of sparkles, as any good spell should.

Reiya tells her the third swing is the one still within her, which has been waiting until now to be unlocked. Amane, watching from the bushes, notes that it’s far more advanced than even the most ideal swing Aoi’d been working on, and after just a few swings, she already has it mastered. After leaving Aoi to practice, Reiya himself collapses after just those three swings, and a concerned Kinue comes running.

On the subject of special golf attacks that take a lot out of you, Ichina has been over it over and over and can’t find a way for Eve and Aoi to beat Nada…unless Eve can pop off two more Orange Bullets. Eve, a picture of confidence as she lounges on her bed, tells Ichina she’ll shoot all the Oranges in Florida if that’s what it takes to win. And so we enter the finals with both out Gold Girls relying on new and unpredictable weapons.

The change in Aoi is instant and shocking to everyone watching, from her suddenly frustrated Nada opponents, to her mother (who finally deigns to arrive to watch after her daughter already finished eight holes), and Leo and Date watching on TV. Klein and Lily are also tuned in at their classy bar. But just when they’re just one hole from beating Nada, Aoi can fell that she has just one more swing left in her.

After taking it, she’s unsteady on her feet, but Eve is there to support her and to take it from there…but won’t commit to a kiss, which is important due to what comes next. As expected, when Eve begins to execute another Orange Bullet she experiences a mental shock, and suddenly her long-buried memories of her childhood, and the identities of her parents, are suddenly unlocked.

Just as Aoi changed as a golfer after Reiya’s spell, after the rush of memories and emotions triggered by Orange, Eve unleashes a Rainbow Shot, identical to that of the late, great Kazuhiko. A rainbow shot means the club is swung without any hint of uncertainty in one’s heart.

An astonished Aoi, still conscious and leaning on her golf bag, approaches Eve after her shot, and Eve declares her real name: Evangeline Burton; her mother’s name, Eleanor Burton…and her father’s name: Hodaka Kazuhiko. Since that’s the same father Aoi has, that makes these golf girls half-sisters by blood.

And while I’m glad Eve finally knows who she is, and I love the postcard memory of her family to close the episode, I am a little disappointed, since this revelation confirms that Aoi and Eve will never be a romantic item. Unless, ya know, Birdie Wing goes and does something weird and crazy, which, as we know, it has never done in the past.

Or hey, maybe Kazuhiko isn’t actually Aoi’s dad. Hey, one can hope. And even if Eve x Aoi isn’t to be, there’s always Eve x Vipere!

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 14 (S2 E01) – The Sixth Bullet

Hello Friends. Welcome to A Tradition Unlike Any Other: Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story, the finest anime in existence. Last season didn’t really end so much as pause, smack-dab in the middle of the All-Japan Girl’s Tournament. This season starts right up where the last left off, with the pair beating their quarterfinal opponents to

This makes Iijima Kaoruko and Iseshiba Kuyou Eve and Aoi’s next and most formidable victims opponents. Unfortunately for Aoi, her perfectly-struck ball hits an errant rock in the fairway, which means she doesn’t get the post-round kiss from Eve she was hoping for.

Coach Amuro Reiya meets with Eve the night before the semifinal, not so much to discuss strategy (Eve has none and wants none) but to basically do a heat check of his player. He mentions how one of the main reasons he himself gave up golf was because he was “killed in golf” by Leo.

While he may feel a slight pang of envy that she was chosen to inherit his Rainbow Bullet, Reiya is determined to see that Eve maximizes the abilities she’s been given…which includes revealing two of the seven Bullets he has yet to see.

When it comes to the actual golf (which is on a regular golf course and not some modular underground technological marvel) we get a lot more of the match from the perspective of Kaoruko and Iseshiba Kuyou. They are likeable shounen characters who feel like underdogs against Aoi and Eve.

Kaoruko was scorned by Reiya (who went to coach at Aoi’s school) because he tried and failed to impress upon her the dangers of relying so much on her golf power In The Zone. She doesn’t just want to beat Aoi and Eve, but prove Reiya he was wrong. Kuyou is well aware she’s not on the same level of Kaoruko but nevertheless is determined to give her absolute all to support her.

Kuyou isn’t just a hanger-on, either: her steadiness is crucial when Kaoruko’s inevitable overuse of In The Zone and its more advanced version Deep cause her a crucial momentary lapse in her abilities. Her golf falls apart, just as Reiya said. And in a one-on-one round against one of Aoi or Eve, that could prove fatal, golf-wise.

But Kaoruko isn’t alone, and when her shot falters, Kuyou comes through in the clutch to put the ball in a position for them to win. MAO and Arai Satomi really bring a lot of gravitas and appeal to these girls’ causes. It’s to the episode’s credit that they’re not painted as one-dimensional villains and obstacles to be overcome. If anything, Aoi and Eve fill that role for them.

Things take a sudden turn when Aoi, who had looked a little out of it at times, suddenly collapses, losing her own golf at the precisely worst moment possible. Her shot goes way wide into the trees, seemingly paving the way for an easy win for their opponents. Aoi, either exhausted, suffering heatstroke or anemia, or a combination of both, can’t continue.

But like Kuyou, Eve is ready, willing, and able to carry the entire load of the competition at any given moment. With a smile and a wink, she tells Aoi she’s got this, and Aoi smiles back warmly, with full confidence Eve will indeed get it done. Eve even relishes being all alone in this, as she was on the streets of her hometown.

Eve cleans up Aoi’s errant first shot with her own version of In The Zone, AKA the Orange Bullet. In her mind’s eye she’s handling a ridiculously long sniper rifle aimed squarely at the flag staff over the hole. And even though she knows it gives her headaches afterwards, she fires that orange bullet, which sends the ball right at the flag, which halts it’s momentum and sends it falling straight down into the hole.

Eve and Aoi got the ball in the hole in two shots to Kaoruko and Kuyou’s three, so they’ve go the win and move on to face Mizuho and Kaede in the final. In the process of using her Orange Bullet, Eve catches a glimpse of her birth parents, setting the stage for the family mystery and associated turmoil that will accompany the golf along the way. Perfectly timed to run parallel to The Masters, Golf Girls’ Story is back, and the Spring 2023 season has officially begun.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro 2nd Attack – 11 – Almost There

After art club, Hana gets a ride on her cousin Sana’s motorcycle, and tells Sana the situation with Naoto and Hayase. Sana’s advice to Naoto is to simply follow his heart. These Sunomiyas may be a bit kooky and intense, but they’re also good people looking out for Naoto’s happiness, and their encouragement is just the kick in the bum Naoto needs to take action.

After waiting for Hayase to be done judo, the two have a perfectly nice and relaxing walk home. Along the way, Naoto finally works up the courage to vaguely ask Hayase “where she’d want to go on her day off”. Hayase can see what Naoto is getting at, but since she misses messing with him, she messes with him here, telling him places like Everest, the Amazon, and the Mariana Trench.

This almost backfires spectacularly when Naoto drops the topic and the two part ways. Naoto’s problem is he isn’t sure where she’d want to go, but when he sees a construction sign with a penguin, he remembers she wanted to see them. The South Pole is out, so…how about the Aquarium? Naoto’s “Well?” isn’t quite direct enough for Hayase, who tells him if there’s something important to say, he should say it properly.

With this, Naoto remembers Sana telling him to follow his heart, and he comes right out and asks Hayase if she wants to go the aquarium on their next break. He fully expected her to mess with him, slap him down to size, and say the word “creepy” a lot, so he’s surprised when she doesn’t do any of those things, and instead says “sure” with one of the biggest grins she’s ever mustered.

Now it’s official: Naoto and Hayase are going to go out together. Even then, when announcing to an extremely ecstatic Hana of their plans, he says “it’s not really a date, we’re just hanging out.” Like hell! Hana knows better, and as someone who has never experienced love but is rooting for Naoto all the way, she pretty much gets him to accept it’s a date worthy of hearty congratulations.

Hayase is out of it too, and Gamou and Yoshi witnessing her being hyper and “freaking out” to just plain spacing out. When they ask her if she wants to visit Paisen in the club room since they’re done practice early, she says no; she’ll save seeing him for their date instead. Shocked, Gamou and Yoshi see her look in her eyes and believe that she is after Paisen’s virginity.

That night, we get twin scenes of Naoto and Hayase working out what they’ll want to wear. Naoto’s mom doesn’t bother him, but Anetoro can’t help but mess with Hayase, telling her to wear something sexier. All I could think is that after nearly two full seasons of circling one another, these two dopes are finally going to have an honest-to-God, no-holds-barred date.

The big day arrives, and the two have no trouble meeting up—Naoto in subdued but sufficiently un-dorky duds, and Hayase in an oversized tee, jean shorts and red kicks. Hayase starts messing with him almost immediately—not that he minds—but little do they know they’re being tailed by Gamou and Yoshi, who are determined to protect Paisen’s chastity.

Little to Gamou and Yoshi know that they’re being watched by Hana and Sana on the latter’s bike, determined to stop the two “demons” from ruining Naoto’s date. If this show knows what’s good for it, it had better deliver a lovely and adorable date with minimal problems that may or may not end with some kind of kiss. It has that one job next week. Don’t let me down!

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro 2nd Attack – 10 – The New Challenger and the Demon Love Nest

Naoto’s third year has arrived, but it’s business as usual at the art club: his first oil painting of the year is of Nagatoro in her competition swimsuit, followed by him massaging her lower back. She then announces she’s joining the judo club, reiterating that her goal is to beat Orihara so he’ll give him a reward kiss, and she wasn’t messing around.

Nagatoro is pressing Naoto on whether he wants to kiss her or not (a simple question, but obviously difficult for someone like him to answer) when the club door slides open to reveal a mini-Sana. Turns out it’s Sana’s cousin and Naoto’s former middle school kohai, Sunomiya Hana. Her first question is regarding the talk of kissing she overheard in the hall: are Naoto and Nagatoro dating?

Both parties deny it, but Hana is clearly dubious. She also sees how Nagatoro has modeled in a swimsuit, and announces her willingness to be a nude model for Senpai (like her cousin, she’s an unabashed exhibitionist). When Gamou shows up to tell her they need to get to judo club, Hayase suddenly finds herself in a spot: she’s not willing to declare Naoto her boyfriend, but she’s extremely anxious about leaving him with the likes of Hana.

That anxiety distracts her in her first practice, and she gets tossed around as a result, with a lot of room for improvement. Orihara can tell she’s distracted, and Gamou takes the opportunity to mess with Hayacchi by laying out the unvarnished truth: she’s worried she might lose her boyfriend to a “new challenger”. I love how excited this makes Orihara, and that Nagatoro is getting a taste of her own medicine.

As for Hana, she doesn’t seem quick to steal Naoto away; in fact, she can tell just like Sana did that his art has actually become bolder and more colorful since Nagatoro-senpai started modeling for him. She can also see the love inherent in the paintings, and declares that Naoto must grab that love with both fists. If Nagatoro isn’t going to be around the club as much due to judo, well then, he’s just going to have to go on a date.

Between Gamou (and the other gals), Orihara, and Hana, I believe our two lovebirds have all the supporting crew they need to nudge them a few steps closer to the realization that they’ve long since ceased fooling anyone that they’re not an item, and that the time may soon come when they’ll stop fooling themselves as well. A date or two might just do the trick.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro 2nd Attack – 09 – That Doesn’t Sound Like You

Who would have thought a four-eyed, fluffy-haired, creepy pervy bean sprout Senpai could rekindle Hayase’s long extinguished passion for judo? I did, because I could see it coming a mile away. But of course it’s not whether everything would work out for these two lovebirds at the judo tournament, but how it would work out.

Obviously Naoto feels he owes it to Hayase to try to snatch at least one win as thanks for her lessons. But he also wants to impress the girl he likes, and show her that he’s not a complete wimp (though she already knows this). On the other hand, while Hayase easily beats her first round opponent, her next opponent is Orihara, a candidate to represent Japan, who easily beats Gamou (who unlike Sakura is no slouch herself).

Not only that, Orihara is the very person who caused Hayase to walk away from judo altogether. Since she was a kid she loved judo, and was good at it. She regularly beat Orihara, who didn’t have as much raw talent, and Orihara bawled her eyes out every time. But she got better with every match, and the day she finally beat Hayase, she was just as elated in victory as she was distraught in defeat.

It wasn’t that Hayase was being a sore loser per se, just that she had never dealt with defeat before and tied the constant victories to her love of judo. When she leaves the dojo to sulk outside and Naoto checks in on her, she finally opens up to him about this, then walks in wanting to get the loss over with.

Naoto rightly says she doesn’t sound like that Nagatoro he knows. She shoots him a furious look, asking what the hell gives him the right to talk like she knows her. But he does know her, and knows she’s strong and skilled enough to make it a fight. And as he says during his match, he’s decided he does have the right to not want her to make that forlorn face.

Hayase decides to make things interesting: If he can walk the walk and win at least once, she’ll give Senpai an honest-to-God smooch. While flustered by the idea, it nevertheless motivates Naoto. Even when he’s up against a musclebound brute of an opponent in Sasai, he remembers her training, and how size and brute strength aren’t always what decide a judo match.

He fights so hard, Hayase’s friends start to cheer for him, and eventually even Hayase can’t help but cheer for him too. He doesn’t let Sasai get a full point, and while he loses by ref’s decision, he never gave up, and wins not only Hayase’s adoration, but Sasai’s genuine respect.

Next up is the title bout, and as soon as it gets started, it’s clear the two black belts are in a different league than everyone else assembled. But what’s also clear is that even if she’s a bit rusty from being out of the sport, Hayase can still hold her own against a national candidate. That’s not only due to the fact she knows Orihara’s fighting well, but because she too is fueled by the cheering on of the person who likes her.

Like Naoto, Hayase fights hard and with heart, and even gets to show off her signature throw against Orihara. Unfortunately, she’s out of bounds when she does it, and like Naoto, loses by ref’s decision. Finally, she and Orihara shake hands in mutual respect. Hayase promises she’ll beat her next time, and Orihara is looking forward to it. Just a couple of golden-hearted, tough-as-hell ladies throwing down…What else could you ask for?

A kiss, perhaps? A real one, not a peck on the cheek or forehead or with lips separated by something? Well, the deal was Naoto had to win, and he didn’t, so no kiss this week. But Hayase comes up with a new bet, with the kiss this time dependent on whether she beats Orihara next time. She wants to beat Orihara, ergo she wants Senpai to kiss her. She could technically just skip to the kiss, but that’s not how these things work in rom-coms!

When he gets all flustered and decides she’s just messing with him again, she tells him, with a straight face and neutral tone, that no,  despite the title of the show, she is not messing with him in this case. Then she sprints off before her face turns completely pink in front of him.

Thus a challenge has been leveled, and one of the more satisfying, sweet, and heartwarming episodes of Nagatoro-san comes to an end. But with Sana’s little sister(?) about to enter the mix, will our couple’s heretofore smooth sailing hit stormy waters?

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro 2nd Attack – 08 – A Beautiful Throw

Naoto is sick of still-lifes, and wants to draw another portrait—Nagatoro specifically. She cycles through a number of martial arts poses until she gets to one specific one Naoto likes. It’s a judo pose, but Nagatoro seems self-conscious about it. Later, her friends come in, see the pose, and Nagatoro flees, not willing to tell Naoto what it means.

Gamou and Yoshi tell Naoto he should work out more; this is borne out during his judo club, when he’s annihilated in every match. Gamou gives him a flyer from her family gym, which features not only a photo of her, but also Nagatoro fighting. When Naoto sees that Nagatoro saw him “fight” and was thoroughly unimpressed, he decides to go for it.

Mind you, he arrives at the gym without telling Nagatoro, and ends up seeing her in the middle of MMA sparring with Gamou. For someone always barging into the art club room while he’s doing his thing, she’s awfully sensitive about him basically pulling the exact same thing on her!

When Naoto comes right out and tells Nagatoro he knows he sucks and judo but wants to get better, and asks if she’ll teach him, she runs off and returns with a white tunic for him. They get down to it, and Nagatoro relishes the opportunity to tussle around and pin her senpai—though her technique is so solid, he ends up committing a cardinal sin and calls her “heavy”. Not cool, Naoto!

Nagatoro is, as she says, “dainty”, which puts her at a disadvantage in MMA where mass and reach are more important. Naoto watches Gamou punch and kick her from great distance, before Nagatoro borrows a move from judo, draws in, and subjects Gamou to an epic throw. It’s notable that Nagatoro is also beaming from ear to ear when she does this.

On their way home, there’s little to no usual teasing. Instead, Naoto asks Nagatoro about judo again, and she actually opens up a bit, using her normal voice to talk about how she was once really into it but got frustrated with her physical limitations that kept her from beating the biggest and best.

Before they part ways, Naoto does her a solid at tells her the truth: her judo throw on Gamou was beautiful. He’s basically telling her she’s beautiful, so of course she runs of flustered to all heck!

A part of Nagatoro clearly still loves judo, so I wonder if Naoto will be able to convince her to participate in the same tournament he’s in and rekindle her passion. As for him, thanks to Gamou and Yoshi Sana finds out that he’s trying to get better at judo, and volunteers her services. She’s as pushy as Nagatoro, and isn’t wearing anything under her tunic to boot!

Nagatoro gets there just in time to see Sana burying Naoto’s face in her ample bosom, and briefly manifests the same powers of electricity as Lum, Uesaka Sumire’s Urusei Yatsura character. But it’s Naoto who tells Sana thanks but no thanks, he wants Nagatoro to teach him. That makes Nagatoro happy, and elicits a proud smile from Sana.

Then, Sana meets with a mini-Sana outside. Even with Naoto’s senpai done with exams and school, it looks like a new Sunomiya is about to enter his school life…and perhaps even give Nagatoro more healthy competition!

The Eminence in Shadow – 20 (Fin) – Just Getting Started

Before she knew it, Princess Iris, who not only believed she was the strongest fighter in her kingdom, but needed to believe it, was beaten. Mundane Mann’s sword lingered at her throat. He could have taken her life ay any moment, and she knew it. Not taking her life, showing mercy, isn’t what enrages Iris.

It’s when Mann lowers his sword, without even asking if she yields, because something else has gotten his attention. He thinks so little of her as his opponent he can not only turn away, but leave the battlefield. Of course, it’s so Cid can stop Rose from getting herself killed, then face off against an even stronger opponent in Beatrix.

Cid and Beatrix cross blades so quickly as they guide through the rainy sky, they almost look like fireworks. But soon the two-person dance gains a third partner. Iris isn’t done with Shadow; not by a long shot. Unfortunately for her and Beatrix, he is simply in another league when it comes to speed, strength, and precision. He even fights them with his beloved crowbars!

Meanwhile, Rose is free, but asks herself in a dark alley, what now? Alpha appears to give her two options: try to save her kingdom by going it alone, which will almost surely end in failure and death…or join Shadow Garden and prove both she and Oriana are worth saving.

Of all the women Cid has dueled with, Annerose definitely gets off the easiest; she’s a picture of tranquility as Iris and Beatrix throw everything they have at Shadow in the background. Bon Voyage, Annerose!

It takes some sustained futility for Iris and Beatrix to finally agree to work together, which consists of Iris using one of her flashier fire attacks with her enchanted mithril sword—the use of which she earlier agreed is underhanded, but she has no choice.

She aims to stop Shadow even if it costs her her life, but even her best attack doesn’t even hit, nor does Beatrix’s, which she executes after charging up with a cool display of whirling geometric shapes. Iris ends up face down on the ground, and Beatrix soon joins her, Shadow stomping them both into submission.

When Iris tells Shadow that their attack has only been stalling for time, the entire Knight’s Order has mustered, and there’s nowhere for him to run, Cid breaks out his loudest, most drawn-out, supervillainous (excuse me: supereminancious) laugh yet. Run? Run where? Why?

No, Shadow is staying right where he is, because playtime is over. Cid really chews into the clichés here, and just generally has an absolute blast—literally, as he covers the capital in an eerie purple dome, then unleashes I AM ATOMIC as the ultimate battle-ending coup-de-grace.

But—and this is key—this I AM ATOMIC is totally benign; just a glorified puff of smoke that allows him to withdraw of his own accord. When Beatrix and Iris come to, the rain is gone, the sky is clear and blue, and a rainbow arches over them. Beatrix is her usual stoic self, but Iris starts blubbering like a child. I’ll say this for Shadow, she brings out a side of Iris no one else can!

Speaking of women he negatively affected, remember Sherry Barnett? I do! And she makes a quick cameo in the ending minutes of the episode that serve as an epilogue. She’s itching to fight and kill him, while Asshat get scolded by his Cult superior, trying to frame his failure as a positive since it resulted in the destabilization of Oriana.

As for Cid Kagenou, he continues to not be killed by his sister, and is back on the train to the temporary buildings where dark knight academy classes take place until Gamma’s conglomerate rebuilds the academy. The Seven Shades are hard at work both in the shadows and in broad daylight, doing what must be done.

Rose wisely decides to join Shadow Garden, but learns that it won’t be a picnic. After walking dozens of miles, she and Alpha reach the Garden’s secluded headquarters, ancient city of Alexandria, which gives off some serious Nazarick vibes.

There, Alpha hands Rose of to Lambda, who tells her her life and identity up to that point are over and meaningless. With one swipe, Rose’s clothes—and more distressingly, her beloved burger wrapper—are torn to shreds. But before long, “Number 666”, as she has been re-named, will likely have a sleek slime suit of her own—and renewed purpose.

The Eminence in Shadow appropriately and perfectly concludes with its namesake character, once again playing Moonlight Sonata in a dark, dramaticaly lit room filled with drifting feathers. It is only the latest of many carefully-orchestrated “set pieces” Cid is not only fond of, but lives for.

With his army and background influence growing and his enemies sharpening their swords, there’s a ton that could be done in a theoretical second season. If and when that season becomes a reality, I’ll be right there, parked in my comfy Ikea chair, ready to watch Cid act like a endearing goofball and a breathless badass simultaneously. But for now, Eminence goes out on the highest of notes.

The Eminence in Shadow – 19 – Fear Is the Mind-Killer

Prior to her match with Mundane Mann, Iris practices her swordsmanship alone in the dark rain, all the while remembering all the times she was praised and admired throughout her life for her strength and ability. She has been both fueled and burdened by the collective wishes of the people of Midgar: as long as they have her, everything will be fine. She intends to maintain that narrative by beating Mann.

Little does she know that the real Mundane Mann is Claire’s mundane little brother, who happens to know his stuff when it comes to countering the bitterness of coffee. When her honored guest War Goddess Beatrix, the Legentary Swordmaster, arrives, Cid relishes a chance to be a background character, as he and other NPCs visually frame the Beatrix and Iris.

Lord Asshat doesn’t even notice Cid is sitting beside Iris until he shuffles of to the restrooms. He’s too busy helpfully letting us in on his, or rather Diabolos’, plan to use the drugged King of Oriana to assassinate the King of Midgar, throwing both kingdoms into chaos so the cult can swoop in and reign. Beatrix, who has shown she has keen insights, says both Asshat and the king “stink” as they pass by. They do stink!

Asshat is confident Rose will return with her drill tails between her legs out of love for her father. His marriage to her will give his rule legitimacy, while her possessed condition will also make her a prime subject for the cult’s experiments. Only one problem: Rose has been cured of her curse. As she sneaks into the arena, she encounters Diabolos corpses everywhere, along with Shadow Garden. They tell her to move forward “fulfill her mission”, unaware Cid didn’t give her one, confident she’d make the right choices.

I’m glad we got some time inside Iris’ head earlier to show that she isn’t this invincible warrior, like her subjects even her sister believe but someone full of insecurities and fears. It lends necessary context to her duel with Mundane Mann, which is more psychological than anything else. Just a slight movement from Mann causes her to hallucinate that he’s lopped off her head, her arm, or leg.

Ultimately, while she has the potential to be far more than she is, Iris could not unlock that potential against Mann. She still has a long way to go. And as I suspected, unlike Annerose, who took her defeat in stride but thanked Mann for showing her how far she had yet to go, Iris’ loss is devastating as it not only shatters where she thought she was (at or near the top of the pile) but what the people thought of her.

But if Mundane Mann is assassinating Iris’ reputation in the arena, it’s Rose who does the actual assassinating. When she arrives at the boxes where her father and Asshat are, she gives a beautiful and heartbreaking speech about following her own path, even if it means making one more mistake. It even rouses the king into a moment of lucidity, in which he forgives her all her sins.

This, of course, makes her weep, because it means there’s nothing holding her back from Doing What Must Be Done…nothing but her own fear. She lunges at Asshat, who uses the king as a shield (as she likely suspected). His last words are used to tell Rose he loves her. Asshat has now lost the weapon he aimed to use against Midgar, and when Rose puts her blade to her own neck, is about to lose his future wife—and the cult’s newest research subject.

That’s when Mundane Mann crashes through the window to stop Rose, asking her if this is really the choice she’s made. He transforms into Shadow and switches his voice to Shadow Mode, but it’s a third identity Rose immediately recognizes: that of the Stylish Bandit Slayer Rose watched from a shack where she’d been bound by said bandits.

If anything were to return a smile to Rose’s face, it would be the arrival of Cid/Shadow/Stylish Bandit Slayer. And the third one is most definitely her favorite, since he’s the one who inspired her to become a fencer to begin with. In that regard, Cid was influencing the geopolitical landscape of this world before he was even aware of it!

When Rose tells Shadow how she had despaired and tried to take her life because while she had the power to fight, it was still difficult to do so, and the consequences of any actions she might take terrified her. Shadow tells her to raise her head, saying her fight has not yet ended. Rose gets the picture and flees. After defeating all of Asshat’s cult bodyguards, he holds a sword to Asshat’s neck. He calls for backup, but Shadow Garden has taken out all of it.

The only one who answers Asshat’s call for help…is Beatrix. Now, I’m not under any illusions that she gives two shits about Perv Asshat, or either of the two kingdoms he’s planning to screw over. She’s not taking Asshat’s side, and may well not even know what that side is.

No, War Goddess Beatrix answered the call, because after watching how Mundane Man / Shadow defeated Iris, she wants to cross blades with the man herself. She’s a legendary swordmaster, after all—other than finding her niece, finding a strong and worthy opponent and fighting them is all that matters.

The Eminence in Shadow – 18 – Absolute Confidence

As her forced smile at his front door suggested, Claire is not here on a friendly visit. She’s there to choke Cid out on his bed for breaking every one of his promises thus far to hang out with her. She presents an extremely exclusive box ticket to the Bushin Festival, and he’d better be there to watch her fight and win, or he’s a dead little brother.

The ticket gives Cid access to a section where only royalty and nobles sit, including Princess Iris, who is seated right next to him. Cid has succeeded thus far as a background character insomuch as Iris only knows him because he’s Claire’s brother, and Alexia’s friend (though Cid disputes that label). Iris’ lickspittles also look down on Cid as an unexceptional irrelevancy just how he likes it!

While heading to the dressing room for his next match, Cid once again encounters the ethereal Lady Beatrix, who like him has a MgRonald bag. Unlike him, it’s filled with burgers, not his Mundane Mann disguise. While she’s apparently here to find her niece (i.e. Alpha), she’s also powerful wild card in a tinderbox of conflicting political interests.

Speaking of which, Perv Asshat helps himself to Cid’s seat while he’s gone, and Hayami Show does his usual good work making even idle chitchat sound incredibly menacing. When he asks who Iris thinks will win the next match: Annerose or Mundane Mann, she gives Mann one thing: his eyes have the look of absolute confidence, like he sees the path of total victory.

Obviously, we knew Cid was going to mop the floor with Annerose, it was just a matter of how he’d do it and how fast. She actually hangs in there longer than any previous opponent, even with his weighted armguards off. She tries to beat his speed with hers, but finds out his speed is far greater than she imagined. When she tries to get him to charge her so she can counterattack, he simply counters her counter.

After that barnburner of a fight, Iris excuses herself from Perv’s charming presence in order to prepare for her match. Perv tells his attendant to find out everything he can about Mundane Mann, since could well represent an unchecked and troublesome threat to his (and Diabolos’) plans for world domination. Ironically, he rules out Mann’s possible affiliation with Shadow Garden, siting its all-female composition and the lack of any motive for Garden to intervene at the Festival.

This reasoning fails to take into the account that while the Garden may not have any reason to participate, its leader does, since it’s his opportunity to be a more public Eminence in Shadow, and show off moves Lord Shadow never would (since he’s in the shadows). But as Mundane Mann he’s snagged one more admirer in Annerose, who accepts her defeat and thanks him for showing her heights she never knew, which she will now aspire to attain herself.

If Annerose has any other designs on Mr. Mann, she’ll have to get in line. Now that she’s cured of the Curse, Rose prepares to do what must be done to save her kingdom and her people from Asshat’s treachery. She still holds the wrapper of the MgRonald burger Cid gave her as a token of what she now knows to be a doomed love and impossible future with him.

With just two episodes remaining, and Rose, Iris, Beatrix, and however many of the Shades show up later in play, the Bushin Festival final is sure to be one for the ages. I just hope that Perv Asshat is put in his place, the poor king is freed from his mind prison, and Mundane Mann shows Iris what true strength is before peace-ing out!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 22 – Love Means Nothing

A painting in the possession of the wealthy tycoon Cavi Campbell is believed to contain a code that, if unlocked, could reveal dark secrets about the East or West that could reignite a war. It’s up to Twilight and Nightfall to retrieve the painting. But Fiona doesn’t intend to steal it, she intends to win it.

Cavi runs an underground no-rules, anything-goes tennis tournament called Campbelldon. Fiona dons ojou ringlets and Loid a sporty headband as they pose as an amateur husband and wife team, the Phonys. Secretly, Fiona hopes to show Loid that she’s the only one worthy to be his fake wife.

The crowd bets heavily against them as their first opponents are former pros who went into the mountains to train and are here to seek tougher foes. They get their wish, as both Loid and Fiona mop the floor with them. Despite only “dabbling” in tennis, every one of Loid’s serves is a devastating ace.

Fiona goes above and beyond in trying to look as cool and amazing as possible, her resting stoic face belying the colorful imagery of Loid being so impressed he sweeps her off her feet and proposes they enter the “doubles game of life.”

Loid had previously practiced a bit with Yor and Anya, and I kinda wish we could have seen more of that, especially considering Yor rarely knows how to hold back when it comes to physical exertion. Still, Yor is anxious about the possibility Loid is with Fiona. Anya offers her mom words of comfort … that don’t give away the fact she can read her mind.

Loid and Fiona’s next opponents are a pair of brothers who injected themselves with a new experimental doping cocktail (again, anything goes in Campbelldom). But they are undone by their insistence on trash-talking, which quickly gets under Fiona’s skin and leads her to literally beat them into submission with a flurry of smashes.

Before the final, the spies are taken to a waiting room, where they discuss strategy against their opponents: the son and daughter of Cavi Campbell himself. They’re sure to have more than a few tricks up their sleeve. As Fiona resolves to go even harder for the sake of impressing Loid, he takes her hand.

She initially mistakes him for making a move, unable to restrain himself from her magnificence. But he’s really looking at the cuts, sores, and blisters on Fiona’s hand, and tells her to stop pushing herself so hard, as spies who lose their cool don’t live long.

Fiona pulls her hand away and appears to stare daggers at Loid, but in reality, she’s elated beyond reason that Loid, who once treated other spies as disposable, is so concerned with her well-being. Swooning and slightly risqué sounds ensue.

But then both Fiona and Loid notice that a colorless, odorless gas is filling the locker room. They hold their breath, but some damage has already been done, just when they need all their strength, speed, and stamina.

In addition to not being 100%, Carrol and Kim Campbell have totally legal modified racquets: Carrol’s is jet-assisted, while Kim’s has an extending head that greatly extends her return radius. The Campbell kids ambitions may not extend further than wanting daddy to buy them another yacht, but they win the first set 6-3.

Loid and Fiona regroup and come up with a workable counter to their opponents superior equipment, but then another curveball is lobbed their way when bits of the very court beneath their feet start to shift, causing their shots to veer off-target.

This surely isn’t the last of the dirty tricks they’ll face, but Loid is determined to win that painting for the sake of world peace, and Fiona is just as determined to crush the Campbell kids by his side, and convince him to dump Yor and marry her, both for Strix and for real. To be continued…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 08 – A Terribly Flawed Scenario

This week starts off by replaying the start of the invasion of the academy by Fake Shadow Garden (Shamdow Garden?) this time from Cid’s perspective, and man is he excited to be involved in a terrorist attack! The moment he realizes Rose is in serious trouble, he launches himself into the path of the baddie’s blade, as that’s the role of the background character. In doing so, he (posthumously) wins the heart of Rose, who remembers how hard he fought against her in the tournament and now sees his selfless sacrifice as proof that he loved her.

Rose and all the other students are rounded up in the auditorium, but Cid is left behind, as he’s just a corpse. Or IS he? After punching himself several times in the chest, Cid starts his heart back up, having successfully pulled off the risky “Ten-Minute Death—Heartbreak.” Considering what Cid did to himself to reach this other world, it’s no surprise he’d put his life on the line to best inhabit the role of Eminence in Shadow. Meanwhile, Sherry is researching away when one of the bad guys’ top lieutenants drops in.

She’s saved by one of the school’s elite swordsman who is still able to fight despite the lack of magic, but he falls to the bad guy’s blade soon enough. He only manages to buy a bit of time for Sherry to shuffle away in her flip-flops. After sniping several dozen of the enemy and plummeting dramatically off the school roof, Cid senses Sherry is being pursued and not doing a great job of being stealthy, so he serves as her protective shadow, killing anyone who gets close to her.

Sherry’s refrain of “it’s just my imagination” is one of many comedic highlights, and when she finally trips and nearly falls down the stairs, Cid is there to catch both her and the artifact and recommend she stop thinking out loud, stop trying to decipher the artifact while moving, and ditches slippers. He escorts her to her father’s office, where she finds unpublished research of the artifact she’s been charged with, which is the control unit for the Eye of Avarice that’s created the anti-magic field.

But the Eye isn’t just neutralizing magic, it’s absorbing it. Given enough magic, it will eventually reach its full capacity and release in one huge explosion that will level the school. So it’s a magical bomb threat. Sherry is game to fine-tune her artifact so they can shut the Eye down, but to do that Cid has to head back to where Sherry was to fetch the tuning instruments. After righteously toying and fucking with the lieutenant guy, he encounters Nu, who finds her ex-betrothed dying in the room where Sherry was working.

Nu reports that the real Shadow Garden have arrived on the scene and are ready to go on Cid’s orders. The only downside to that is that Gamma, the clumsiest of the Seven Shadows, is in command. Cid then fills Nu in on what he and Sherry plan to do, and he describes the plan so nonchalantly it basically reinforces her belief that Cid is a mastermind of unsurpassed brilliance, when he’s actually just been wining it all along and doesn’t even believe any of this is real.

But of course, it is, and the lives of  the whole school are in his, Sherry’s, and Shadow Garden’s hands. Watching him cut through the bad guys and have tons of fun doing it was immensely entertaining; watching him and his allies save the day should prove the same or moreso.

The Eminence in Shadow – 07 – Making Friends

Ever since she received the gift of chocolates, Sherry’s head has been in the clouds. She’s moved to action when she tastes one of them, and finds it irresistibly sweet. Nu shows off her disguising abilities by posing as an academy student to give Cid her report; they couldn’t get anything out of the brainwashed “Child of Diabolos”.

A “Named” Child (one who has kept their personality through the cult conditioning) has been sent to the capital, surely to continue sullying the name of Shadow Garden. There’s a sad little moment when Nu briefly daydreams about a normal high school life of fun and dancing, only for it to turn into a nightmare.

Cid has a nightmare of his own on his hands: he’s been entered into a fencing tournament against his wishes. He makes lemonade from lemons when his opponent is Rose Oriana, Princess of the kingdom of art and culture and also the academy’s top swordsman.

Because Cid is Cid—pathelogically devoted to playing the nobody—he uses this opportunity to be defeated in the most embarrassing “bloody” ways imaginable, only to get back up and demand the fight continue. Rose slashes him and he goes flying every time, but she can sense his fire…and likes it.

When she finally admits she was underestimating him and takes the kid gloves off, the ref jumps between them before she can lay down a strike. Rose is technically the winner, but she feel like a loser because Cid never gave up in the battle of spirit.

Despite trying to come off as as pathetic a loser as possible (and has practiced 48 different ways to do so), Cid inadvertently gains the ungrudging respect of Rose, an unquestionably powerful “main character”—not exactly what Cid was going for!

In that same vein, Cid didn’t put any thought into whom he gave chocolates to, but by giving them to Sherry Barnett, he picked one of the rare girls at the academy who admired what she saw of him out there in the arena. Recognizing him through his (fake) bandages, she seeks him out and invites him to coffee.

There, Sherry presents him with a bag of homemade cookies as a thank you—even though Cid doesn’t remember giving her chocolates. When he casually agrees to her proposal that they “start out” as friends, and then learns whose daughter she is, Cid is immediately apprehensive; should a background character such as he really consort with such heavy hitters?

He has no idea how happy he made Sherry with his acceptance of her offer. But when she still can’t concentrate on the artifact research, she pays a visit to Alexia, and over an extremely sweet and milky cup of coffee (contrasted with Lexi’s black) asks if she and Cid are still dating. When she says they’re not, and never really were, Sherry can’t contain her elation, which gives Alexia quite a bit of pause!

After befriending Sherry, Cid uses his “injuries” to justify staying away from classes for five days. Upon his return, Rose (the student council president) and her apparent Veep pay his class a visit to talk about elections. But just then, Diabolos commences an invasion plan by cloaking the entire academy with a magic-dampening field.

Among his classmates, only Cid seems to notice the change, and even senses when danger is approaching before it does. When Rose draws her sword to challenge the invaders, she’s unaware of the field, and almost gets seriously hurt. Instead, Cid comes between her and her charging attacker…and gets badly slashed across the chest.

As Sherry takes her coffee with a heap of sugar, I’m inclined to take Cid’s injury with a grain of salt. His performance at the tournament showed that he can an elite dark knight and a stadium full of people into thinking he’s getting seriously hurt. This seems like another opportunity to show everyone how very good he’s gotten at looking so very bad.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 13 (Final Hole) – Killing You, In Golf

As Birdie Wing outings go, this last one was a bit tame; I’d almost go so far as to say leisurely. But I went in almost certain the entire All-Japan Girl’s Tournament wouldn’t get wrapped up in one episode; if it had, it would have surely sucked.

While expectations were lower, I still looked forward to lots of Eve and Aoi flirting, and in this I was not disappointed. Eve even starts things off frisky by giving Aoi a Nafrecian peck on the cheek and then claiming Ichina as her personal body pillow for the night, while Coach Reiya rightfully shoots Kinue down.

It’s a good thing Ichina shared a room with Eve too, as neither Eve nor Aoi would have slept a wink and not been ready for the golf. That said, due to their high qualifying rank they get a fairly late tee time, giving them time to goof off more.

As Kuyou and Kaoruko do battle against another pair, their coach Date gets trash-talked by Reiya, who is confident his two first years will win decisively, seeing as how Aoi is golf royalty and Eve is the apprentice of the legendary Leo Millafoden.

This wouldn’t be much fun if Eve and Aoi didn’t run into a little adversity, as Eve’s worst enemy turns out not to be Himekawa Mizuho, but her own over-aggressiveness. She puts a ball into the bunker, and Aoi, perhaps a little too wound up about getting to play beside Eve, misses getting the ball out. That said, the two win their first round comfortably.

The thing is, Eve wanted to defeat their opponents to a pulp—kill them, with golf—as funny a collection of four words as I’ve heard spoken in an anime (I particularly love that comma in there). Their win, while easy, is also much closer than either of their elite rival pairs from Kouran and Nada.

We also learn that while Aoi is the daughter of Hodaka Kazuhiko, Himeko seems to have inherited his brand of golf, so much so that Aoi recognizes it instantly. Himeko and Kaede destroy their opponents in their two rounds, an impressive response to Eve and Aoi’s superior score in the qualifiers.

Eve’s usual mind games won’t work on the Kouran or Nada girls, but Ichina feels it’s actually good for her to be experimenting with her aggressiveness in earlier matches where it’s safe to do so. Eve and Aoi will have to take every risk they can to defeat Kaoruko and Himeko, to say nothing of killing them, in golf.

Naturally, this ends before those key duels take place, and a second season of Birdie Wing in Winter Spring 2023 has restored my faith in both anime and humanity. As far as I’m concerned, the golf flirting and murder can go on indefinitely; a veritable Hole in One Piece.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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