Magia Record – 18 – The Future They Chose

Not content to sleep beside Kaede’s isolation bubble, Iroha sneaks out to meet with Nemu, not wanting to further burden the others with her problems. Once more, it’s great to see Iroha really driving the narrative. Kuroe, poor thing, thinks she and Iroha were only friends in Iroha’s dream, but that’s not the case, and when she follows Iroha and wishes to help her in any way she can, Iroha is grateful for the help.

As Iroha and Kuroe take charge like the blossoming Magical Bosses they are, Tsuruno Rui is slowly losing it, and we also check in on Felicia and Sana, who are naught but grunts performing menial labor for Magius at Hotel Faint Hope. They, in turn, meet Sakura Kyouko from the original series, who’d saved Felicia once before.

While Kyouko is ostensibly there to steal grief seeds/soul gems (one or the other), she along with the other two stumble upon the witch factory none of them knew anything about, especially the scale of it, while Touka announces to all of Magius that “Operation Embryo Eye” is about to commence.

It’s named after their prized “Artificial Witch” Embryo Eye, who ravenously feasts on the farm-fresh witches—the trains going straight into it’s creepy live-action human mouth. Felicia and Sana are not okay with any of this. Yachiyo, having forced the Amane sisters to withdraw, also overhears of Touka’s plan.

So do Iroha and Kuroe, and it doesn’t sound liek the Touka or Nemu she knew. They’re no longer not just bent on liberating magical girls everywhere, but on executing their grudge against the rest of humanity who aren’t magical girls. They will suffer as all of them have suffered, and Touka won’t forgive anyone.

But despite how dastardly this plan is—and how far gone her former friends must be to be going forward with it—Iroha still wants to try to talk with them. And who knows, maybe she can make a difference! Before that, however, she and Kuroe have to get past hordes of Magius security on high alert.

At first Iroha leads the fight, deflecting the feathers’ weapons with her crossbow without flinching. But Kuroe doesn’t want to sit back and let Iroha do all the work, so after her very cool and elegant transformation sequence, she builds a huge wall between them and their opponents, then blasts a hole through the wall for Iroha to escape.

Iroha only leaves because Kuroe promises she’ll catch up to her. When Kuroe says this, she’s not just talking about this present situation; she wants catch up to Iroha in general. If you ask me, she’s already well on her way; she was a rock star this week, right up to when she unleashes her very distinctive Doppel.

Touka and Nemu move Hotel Faint Hope to Daito Ward, then implement the operation. All of the witches in Kamihama City and within a 200-kilometer radius are gathered up to be fed to Embryo Eye, which I’m assuming they’ll use against the “Big One” they end up reeling in, which arrives like a giant typhoon: Walpurgisnacht.

Is this what happens when two of the most powerful and intelligent magical girls ever created develop a vendetta against the world and systems that made them? Was Iroha naïve to think that her visits to them and Ui would be enough to preserve their humanity and morality? It certainly looks that way…but you never know. A lot can happen in the remaining three episodes, plus the third and final season still waiting in the wings.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Magia Record – 17 – Back Into the Lions Den

In a usual cour, there’d be time and space for a cooling off episode, but with only eight episodes to work with, this lean, mean second season of Magia Record has no time to waste. And you know what? That’s just fine with me!

Not only did the entire first season feel more like an introduction and explanation of this world and its expansive cast, but it just makes sense to the flow of the story that once Iroha got caught up on what’s going on, she’d make a beeline for Nemu and not spend half the episode tidying up Mikazuki Villa with Yachiyo and Kuroe.

It also totally tracks that Iroha is almost fanatically eager to do her part in this story. Last week’s dreamy rescue mission got the ball rolling, but this week is where Iroha reasserting herself as the protagonist of this story really picks up momentum. Yachiyo is certainly weary of Iroha jumping right back into the dangerous realm of Magius, while Kuroe is a follow-not-lead sort.

So it’s really quite exhilarating to see Iroha take the initiative, get her friends aligned and on board; she’s both the glue bringing everyone back together and the lodestar guiding everyone to what’s good and right while Kuroe guides them through the fanciful book-filled caverns below Hotel Faint Hope. Unfortunately, in order to get those two through the portal, Yachiyo had to stay behind to keep the Amane sisters at bay.

Fortunately, it’s not long that due either to fate or coincidence—hell, why not both?!—Iroha encounters the ena, who is on her way out after deciding to defect from Magius. She has a very weak and vulnerable Kaede in tow, whose Doppel looks ready to pop out and kill everyone.

Again, alacrity demands that this reunion eschews the usual pleasantries; after all, all four girls are in a hurry with good reason: Nemu says she’s dying, while Kaede looks close to death, or a fate worse than it. But with the portal Iroha and Kuroe used closed, the four decide to team up for now.

What I’m glad there is time for is to check in with the Puella O.G. (including yours truly), who appear to have arrived in Kamihama City judging from the Alina Gray posters and Magius recruitment flyers. Besides it always being great to see these girls, it’s even more gratifying to know that there’s an actual reason for their inclusion here.

They’ve essentially crossed the dimensional barrier to find their beloved Mami, whom we know to be in way too deep with Magius. I like how their fish-out-of-water status is accentuated by the fact their colors are so much more muted than those of “native” magical girls like Iroha & Co. I can’t wait for if and when Madoka and Iroha meet and join forces.

But while on the way to the main exit (Rena and Kaede) and Nemu (Iroha and Kuroe), Iroha follows Little Kyuubey to another inconvenient truth about Magius: they’re farming witches. Knowing full well how fuzzy the line between magical girl and doppel, and goppel and witch, Iroha demonstrates why she’s the beating moral heart of the show, as she declares her distaste for this whole enterprise and questions what could possibly justify it.

Mind you, Iroha is not infallible in her role, and in fact her strong sense of what is right and what just seems wrong clashes with the real-world realities and wholesale suffering not only of less fortunate magical girls who lacked both the strength to defeat Kamihama witches and the support network to make up for their weaknesses. Iroha’s no Yachiyo (no one is) but she’s no slouch in terms of power or friends. Her moral certitude comes from a place of privilege.

But its that certitude and that privilege that make Iroha so well suited to leading the charge. When the girls are attacked by some kind of Uwasa sentry, Kuroe ends up cornered and her soul gem blackened, and almost takes the easy way out by using her doppel for perhaps the last time.

But Iroha won’t let her; instead, she clears Kuroe’s gem, and then the two Connect and their combined power obliterates the sentry. Magius is an organization that is hoping magical girls like Kuroe give up. Iroha’s selflessness and refusal to sacrifice anyone is anathema to them, because it’s explicit proof that their way isn’t the only way.

A new crisis emerges right on the heels of the defeated sentry, as Kaede has hit her limit. Her doppel emerges and goes berserk, and in another positively virtuoso battle sequences, Iroha, Kuroe, and Rena fight together to tame their gentle friend—turned chaotic monster.

As is usually the case with anime like this, stills just don’t due the battle animation the slightest bit of justice. Suffice it to say that in terms of artistry, grace, eclecticism and pure uninhibited style, there are few series out there that can match Magia Record. The benefits of putting 12-13 episodes worth of budget into 8 are on full display here.

Another estranged member of Team Mikazuki Villa, Momoko, arrives with Mitama shortly after the other thee girls manage to neutralize Doppel!Kaede. Mitama seals Kaede a big glass sphere, then wheels it into a gallery absolutely filled with similar spheres: an isolation ward for troubled doppels.

The other girls are not okay with this situation any more than what Magius is doing with witches. But Mitama is unmoved by their outrage, reminding them with almost Kyuubey-esque haughtiness that she warned them not to overuse their doppels.

She also reports that Kaede the other afflicted girls likely won’t wake up—let alone return to normal—until Magius’ “plan has succeeded”—an objective Iroha, Yachiyo, and now Rena and probably Momoko are committed to thwarting.

Again, Iroha serves a focusing and uniting role, corralling and calming the hotter heads and offering a possible Other Way. Even after all that has happened since returning to Faint Hope, her mission is the same: meet with Nemu, find out what’s going on, and find a way to save her.

Iroha has already demonstrated what can be accomplished by bringing the “family” together in a single, clear effort. Why can’t it be so with this? After all, unlike Touka, Nemu remembers Iroha, and the bond they shared. He’s hoping Big Sis gets to meet with her soon.

 

Otherside Picnic – 06 – To the Trained Eye

Lt. Blake takes Sorao and Toriko to Major Barker, the “current” commander of the unit, implying a previous commander was among the many casualties. Barker seems nice enough, but weary of the situation, and like Blake, isn’t sure how much longer things can stay “civilized.”

They are surrounded by “bear traps” (i.e. glitches) that either kill or transform whoever or whatever touches them. They are running low on diesel fuel and will soon be out of food. The girls are offered an empty tent that’s strewn with garbage. It’s empty because its previous occupants are dead. It’s just not a place you want to be, especially after a pleasant dinner and drinks.

Blake “advises” them not to use their phones, but it should have been an explicit order and explained that making a call, as the girls do to Kozakura, has an effect on the environment. Specifically, it calls the “Meat Train” to the station, and with it a frightening train of “face dogs”, on whom the soldiers’ mortars and gunfire have no effect.

Toriko hops onto a Humvee and whips out an M14 EBR, but even though Sorao spots the proper target for her, her shots never reach them. This gives Sorao the idea that the one perceiving the targets must be the one to pull the trigger, so she has Toriko anchor her so she can take the shot, all before the soldiers can stop them.

The face dog mass dissipates, but when firing the shot Sorao lost her contact, and the soldiers wig out. She and Toriko make a run for it, and are probably lucky none of the exhausted, extremely on-edge soldiers took any shots at them. Call it a win for Major Barker in keeping discipline under suboptimal conditions.

As the Meat Train approaches, Sorao has another hunch: even though it doesn’t look like it will stop, she belives they can board the train if Toriko reaches out and touches it with her translucent hand. Sorao repeats Toriko’s line about everything working out if they’re together, and take a leap of faith.

It works, and they’re on the train, but Sorao senses a great number of unspeakable, horrifying things on that train, the collective auras of which are enough to cause her to lose consciousness. However, when she comes to, Toriko is smiling from above, and a bright blue sky indicates that they successfully returned to their world, safe and sound.

That’s not to say they returned to Ikebukuro. The beach and palm trees indicate they could be in Okinawa, having used the same entry point to the Otherside the Americans used. Further weird details include the childish drawing of a train track in the sand, and a cut to Kozakura playing back her phone call with the other two, which is distorted and full of unsettling gibberish.

If they’re now in Okinawa, I’d think the next step for Sorao and Toriko is to report the whereabouts of Pale Horse Battalion. Yet even that carries some risk: Kozakura has never heard of such a unit, though the Dark Horse Battalion is stationed in Okinawa. Just what was that unit really up to in the Otherside?

Appare-Ranman! – 10 – Snakes on a Train

Their respite over, it’s time for the racers to get back to work, this time racing a train out of Nebraska with Big Boss hoping to prove the era of the automobile has come. Richard is Sofia’s companion aboard the train, and every moment they chat is skin-crawling, because we know Richard is Gil T. Cigar just waiting to strike like the snake he is, and Sofia has no idea, thinking she’s pegged “Richard” as too kind to stay in the race.

When the train baron calls Gil back to his ornate caboose to lecture him like an employee, Gil casually throws him and his chair out the side of the train before returning to the car and telling Sofia her prayer for a safe race won’t be answered. With that, his henchmen rise up from among the passengers and slither through the train, killing the crew and marshals, tossing bombs, and taking hostages.

Gil brings the train to a stop on the bridge over the Missouri River, then runs out to confront the racers he’s blocked. He runs towards them in a fake panic as “Richard”, but Dylan & Co. soon realize something’s not right. They’re too late, as Gil reveals who he is and produces Sofia’s hat, stained with blood, to indicate his cruel intentions.

Nobody, not even TJ and Dylan, can hang with Gil long in a fight. His demands are simple: he wants the 1.51 million in prize money for the winner of the race, and he’ll let the hostages on the train go. Chances are even if they get him the cash, more if not all of them will die anyway; we’re dealing with a butcher, after all. When Appare tries to voice his outrage at Gil’s villainy, Gil shoots him—but it’s Kosame who takes the bullet.

After trashing all of the cars, Gil and his crew take off on the train. Al chases after Sofia in vain. Xialian tries to stop the bleeding, and Appare tries to start his car, but both fail, and a very wan Kosame passes out after declaring proudly that he’s glad his buddy is okay.

You could scarcely ask for a more extreme shift in mood and stakes than from last week’s joyful rest episode to now, when Kosame may be dead, Sofia is a hostage, and the racers have nothing to drive. But like Kosame, I’ll put my faith in Appare: surely he can use parts of all the damaged cars to build something that can get them moving again.

Appare-Ranman! – 06 – Outside the Box

At the start of the rave, favorites Dylan, TJ and Al are in the front, with Appare’s thrown-together contraption just barely keeping up with the second group of Xialian and Richard Riesman. Al stops at a railroad crossing, but daredevils Dylan and TJ jump the track a moment before the train crosses, showing they’re willing to put their lives on the line for this race. Since they’re the first into the first supply town of Lancaster, they’ll be the first allowed to leave.

As teams rest and resupply, Al finds himself feeling discouraged and insecure. He wonders if it would be better for Sofia to go ahead by train and meet him in New York, since the race will only get hairier.

Sofia reminds him that he’s not supposed to be putting his life on the line for the race; he has a future with her and the company to think of. After Kosame spars with Al (and continues to exhibit a kind of “block” keeping him from his best swordsmanship) he buys Appare, Hototo and Xialian a nice dinner.

Appare’s team is scheduled for a 12:07 am departure from Lancaster, but Hototo, having seen Gil’s henchmen all over town, decides to split off in order to “take care of something.” He overhears Gil’s team planning to sabotage the entrance to Death Valley via the Valley of Despair and dynamite the entrance behind them.

Hototo doesn’t do a great job of staying hidden, and one of those henchmen finds him. They tie him up and stuff him in a box. When the start time arrives, Appare pretends the car needs more work to buy Kosame more time to find Hototo.

Hototo finally breaks out of his box prison by the side of the road and runs back into town to reunite with Kosame. Appare betrays a brief smile at the sight of their return, and off they go. Fortunately, all the cars that left ahead of them were stopped in their tracks by Gil’s men blocking the entrance with junk, so the delay doesn’t hurt them.

Appare is confident his newly “reborn” engine, improved during the downtime in Lancaster, can catch up to the group, overcome the junk and the dynamite, and remain in the running for the win. He’s tired of relying on shortcuts; he wants to win with his machine, not in spite of it, or all of this is for nothing.

ID: INVADED – 06 – Eternal Rail

What had been a calm encounter with Inami Nahoshi takes a turn when Hondomachi outs her as the Gravedigger mastermind. Nahoshi is calm because her accomplice Kazuta is in the house with all the kitchen knives.

A dust-up ensures, with Matsuoka receiving a flesh wound to the shoulder and Hondomachi stabbing Kazuta to death, much to Nahoshi’s uncharacteristic dismay. These two detectives are just powerful electromagnets for trouble.

Demonstrating that the detectives at the Wellside are always working, five of them spend their time a police officer’s funeral discussing the Walker case. Why does he keep showing up in the id wells of serial killers, and in the same whimsical form? The name of the inventor of the Mizuhanome, Shirakoma Nishio, comes up, which is sure to be important later on.

While this case are already complicated enough, one of them brings up the possibility one of them is a mole working from within. Considering we only have cursory familiarity with these five detectives, the eventual reveal of one of them as Walker wouldn’t be that narratively satisfying, at least not yet.

Using the cognition particles from Kazuta’s urge to kill (which manifested in a dying kiss to Hondomachi), Narihisago is injected from the flying house to a train. On it, Kaeru is (obviously) dead via stabbing. When he follows the very obvious bloody footprints, he discovers the train is a closed loop, ending right back where it begins.

The Wellsiders determine this is the very train Nahoshi’s mother jumped in front of…while Nahoshi was on it. A high school-aged Nahoshi is here to, with a younger Kazuta sitting on the opposite side of the aisle. There was once a time when Nahoshi abhored seeing dead things or people; her mother’s suicide flipped that sensibility.

IRL, Nahoshi reveals all the locations of the barrels containing her victims, but on the id train she didn’t kill Kaeru; Kaeru killed herself. When Narihisago comes to this conclusion, he weeps in her lap. He grows weary of coming upon her corpse over and over again. He wants to save her, but like the train, he’s going in circles. One wonders how long he can keep up the Brilliant Detective act with his sanity intact (such as it is already).

That brings us to Hondomachi, the other protagonist. Matsuoka recommends her to be a second Brilliant Detective utilizing the Mizuhanome. Hondomachi is flattered, but Matsuoka considers it a practical decision, in part to protect him and their colleagues. Hondomachi has killed more than once—by attempting to kill herself and then killing Kazuta. Matsuoka laments he couldn’t keep her out of this business, but she’s too suited for it, and there’s no turning back.

The Wellsiders make a connection between the surveillance devices found in the Perforator’s house match those used in the case involving the “Challenger”, AKA Katsuyama Denshin, the man who killed Narihisago’s daughter. With every subsequent case, ID:INVADED adds another piece to the larger puzzle of John Walker and the root of Narihisago’s fall, just as his possible successor begins her ascent.

No Guns Life – 10 – Tomorrow Never Knows

From the moment he prepares to leave on his job, which turns out to be blowing up a train full of Berühren officials for Spitzbergen, Colt is prepared for this to be his final day. He’s not thinking about tomorrow for himself, only his bedridden mother and his two little sisters.

They’re slowly starving, looking as if they’ve come straight out of Grave of the Fireflies. The life in their eyes is fading, but Colt hopes to give them a future in the form of money, even if he won’t be around to enjoy it with them. It’s a simple yet powerful look into the marginalized lives Berühren grinds under its boots every day to further its own ambitions.

When Tetsuro comes to the arranged place and time, he and Mary soon learn what Colt is about to do. When Mary is almost arrested by a security bot, Tetsuro takes it over, and when they find Colt about to carry out his plan, he initially mistakes the bot as an enemy until realizing it’s Tetsuro.

Regardless, as much as Tetsuro (lawful good in this case) pleads with Colt (chaotic good) not to commit a crime that will hurt people (even lawful evil people), Colt sees this as the only option left to him that will secure a tomorrow for his family. He’s committed to being the means to and end—the end of their suffering—and nothing more.

Colt’s plan is turned on its head when a higher-level Berühren heavy shows up and tells him there are no targets on the train he means to bomb: only innocent protesters and children. Now not only will Colt not get paid, but Spitzbergen will be tagged as mindless terrorists who’ll just kill anyone.

Not about to let that happen, Colt leaps to the car where the bomb is and extracts it, but before he can toss it away, his meds give out and he can no longer move. That’s when Tetsuro ups his Harmony, giving his security bot a second wind, and tosses the bomb away, saving Colt and the innocents.

Colt took quite a bit of damage to both his cybernetic and organic parts, and all Tetsuro can do is use Harmony to help get him home. Alas, he dies of his injuries right outside that home, before he can say goodbye to his family. We also learn it’s doubtful he’ll even be paid, as the Spitzbergen contact is arrested by Juuzou and handed over to the Security Bureau’s Chief Rosso.

I worry for Colt’s mom and kids, especially as they’re only three in a city of thousands in such a hopeless situation. Will Mary, who never found out anything about Victor, bring them into Juuzou’s place? There’s only so much they can do, especially when a new danger in Pepper is waiting for Juuzou as soon as he returns to his office. It’s just one thing after another, and any one of those things could mean no more tomorrows.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 11 – Going Once, Going Twice…

With its insistence on crafting the most intricate Swiss watch of a final mystery for Lord El-Melloi II to step in and steadily unravel, Case Files fell victim to its own self-indulgence this week, delivering what another possible owner of Kairi’s big rig truck would call “all hat and no cattle”.

That is to say, this episode is nothing but setup for a final reveal that seems to implicate Caules after El-Melloi reveals both the elements of the case Adashino had omitted so her deduction would stand up; the beginning of the presentation of El-Melloi’s conclusions, without following through.

In a show that has featured no small amount of pleasing spectacles, the whole damn point of the train, the Mystic Eyes auction, carries with it all the urgency and excitement of a rapidly deflating balloon. The auction room is nothing but an ornate but stodgy courtroom, where the bidding is arbitrarily paused not once but twice: once so El-Melloi can secure funding from Melvin; another so El-Melloi can state his case.

The murders in the past, as well as that of Trisha, were committed so the mastermind could collect the Mystic Eyes of the victims and use them at will. El-Melloi states that only one person could do everything the mastermind did and possess the all-important motive.

The credits roll just as Adashino moves to restrain Caules and the eyes in Trisha’s severed head, but there’s simply no time to revel in that revelation. After all, aside from caring for the injured El-Melloi, Caules hasn’t had much to do, and has been rather innocuously hiding in plain sight.

I’m glad El-Melloi knows who the culprit is, but this episode just confirmed that it wasn’t Karabo; it didn’t explain why it is Caules (if that’s who it ends up being). Thus the episode ends in an unsatisfying ellipsis, as the full measure of Lord El-Melloi’s conclusions will have to wait until next week.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 10 – Deduction, Not Delusion

In a clever narrative device that could have probably sustained an entire episode within the unconscious El-Melloi II’s mind, past merges with present as Waver is back in Lord Kayneth’s class at the Clock Tower, only the Lord is asking him about things going on now, like his desire to participate in the next HGW, and Hephaestion’s rejection of him as a worthy subject.

Meanwhile, left behind by the Rail Zeppelin, Gray waits out the blizzard with Hephaestion, who warms to her a bit after she determines the two are alike; both “living incarnations of a distant ideal,” both “counterfeit”, yet still unique and autonomous due to their own personal ideals, without which Gray could not have fought Hephaestion.

Since she deems them to be alike, Hephaestion understands Gray’s desire to stay by El-Melloi’s side to the bitter end, but warns her that loyalty and glory can be contradictory; if the time comes when Gray has to choose, and chooses glory, both she and the Lord could be destroyed.

Luvia and Kairi’s investigation continues with an interview with Mary Lil Fargo, though frankly they feel almost distractingly distant from the more pressing matters aboard Rail Zeppelin. Still, Mary was friends with Trisha, and last met with her a month ago.

Mary tells them that Trisha was trying to connect the serial murder case seven years ago, the investigation of that case by Lord Aminusphere and someone known as the “man with no heart,” and the Lord’s abandoning of Olga-Marie. Luvia knows of that heartless man, and that he has a younger sister-in-law aboard the train: Adashino.

Gray gets back to Rail Zeppelin in pretty much the most bodacious way possible, another reminder that however serious and stodgy this show can get, it doesn’t forget to include fun little moments of levity like Gray using Add as a snowboard, even pulling a couple tricks before landing into the caboose before Caules and a very amused Melvin.

Miss Adashino brings an end to the lighthearted fun by gathering everyone to the dining car to deliver her deductions, since Mr. Master Detective is still asleep. She reveals that Policies was looking into a serial beheading case seven years ago, but so was the Holy Church, and their investigator was…Karabo.

She also has Olga-Marie present Trisha’s head, which Trisha herself made sure would fall into the dimensional pocket she created after foreseeing her future murder with her Mystic Eyes. When Olga found the head, it had been frozen in time, and thus Trisha had one more breath with which to say one word: “Karabo.”

Adashino believes Karabo possesses eyes that can not only see the past, but make past visions the truth, and that his Mystic Eyes enabled him to bring a killing slash made through the air in the past into the present, just as Trisha’s head inhabited that space. While this is all conjecture, Adashino believes it’s enough to warrant certain measures be taken against Karabo.

Then an awake and recovered Lord El-Melloi II is wheeled in by Gray, and he immediately calls Adashino’s conclusions into question.

For one thing, Adashino never mentioned Karabo’s motive, and he’s of the mind that there can be no crime without motive. After all, what with Mages and their ability to manipulate individuals, motives aren’t always directly tied to the actual perpetrators of said crimes.

Just when El-Melloi voices his doubts about Adashino’s surety that Karabo’s Mystic Eyes can project elements of the recorded past into the present, Rail Zeppelin’s ethereal deputy manager comes, on schedule, to extract Karabo’s eyes. Karabo is restrained, but El-Melloi still isn’t convinced of his guilt.

Indeed, Karabo only just remembered he was even involved with the serial murder case seven years ago. His Mystic Eyes could see the past, but at the cost of his memories. But if he can get them back, he believes he can determine the truth of things. To get them back, he’ll need to win them in auction. Melvin offers to help them place a bid, but El-Melloi would rather not get involved with him.

Instead, he vows to solve the case on his own.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 10 – Maiden Abyss

God, where do I even start? I knew I’d be navigating an emotional minefield with a show like this, but in the spirit of one of this episode’s themes, the difference between thinking you know something and actually experiencing it in the moment is as vast as, well, the holes that threaten to swallow up every single character. Certainly far larger than the holes in the sexy underwear Kazusa is investigating on her phone.

Rika just happens to be hanging out with Amagi across the park where Hitoha gets picked up by Milo-sensei. Rika finds Hitoha’s underwear in the trash, freaks out for a minute, then calls a cab to follow them and hopefully save Hitoha and/or Milo from themselves/each other. She’s acting as a good friend would: as best she can with what little, highly concerning information she has.

Meanwhile, after all the hard work he did finding porn not set aboard trains, Niina has likely well and truly ruined them for him as anything pure and innocent, what with her placing his hand on her bum and keeping it there. Izumi pulls away and exits the train, but Niina follows him and demands to know why he’s going so far to refuse her.

Since he asked for advice, Niina offers to let him practice doing it on her. With all of her (not always consciously) honed powers of seduction in overdrive, she asks him straight up if he wants to do it with her, and he rejects her again, but not in the most convincing way.

Before leaving on the next train, Niina passes by and takes note of how hard he was—which is, of course, ludicrous: the hardness of one’s dick and one’s desire to sleep with someone are not the same thing at all. If Niina can’t ever get Izumi to love her like he loves Kazusa, she’ll do everything she can to make him desire her. She’s determined to kill that virginity of hers, and at the moment she has eyes only for him.

Momo plays Street Fighter alone in an empty arcade, and as she watches Chun Li get mercilessly wailed on by Ryu, she comes to a realization that had probably been gestating in her head and heart for some time. She texts Niina, asking to meet up and talk. Just then, Satoshi, a name I rather naively didn’t think I’d have to type again, texts her asking to meet up and talk.

Last week the window (or rather “hole”) seemed to be closing fast for Yamagishi-sensei to put a stop to a situation that, while not strictly illegal in Japan, is still a very bad idea for both parties involved. While yes, he picked up Hitoha, there’s still a possibility he’s just trying to scare her straight by only taking things so far.

Little does he know as he’s driving Hitoha is planning exactly what she’s going to do when they hit a red light: grab Milo’s hand and put it in her. It’s a bold plan to be sure, one I’m not sure she would have actually done, but we’ll never know, because they don’t hit another red light. Instead, Milo pulls in to a love hotel…the cheapest, seediest, least sexy love hotel he could find.

Rika arrives at the love hotel district, but there Hitoha’s trail goes cold, and Amagi really doesn’t want to hang around such a place, as it’s making him think and feel weird things when he’s committed to treating Rika right, a sentiment that makes her swoon when he expresses it.

To our unending relief, we finally learn definitively through his inner monologue that Milo has no intention whatsoever of going through with anything in that dingy lovenest, but makes the mistake of letting Hitoha go off to the bathroom (even more awful than the bedroom! They nailed the details on this shithole) to steel herself up, desperately swiping webpages on what to do in this situation.

She bursts out of the bathroom pounces on Milo, positions herself over his crotch, and starts unbuckling his belt and unzipping. Suddenly, a very stunned Milo has lost control of the situation. Hitoha is just as stunned, but feels if she’s gone this far there’s nowhere to go but forward.

But, once the zipper is down, and there’s no erection, Hitoha gives up and starts to cry, assuming it’s because she’s so “disgusting” to him. Always so condescending and rude in so many of their interactions, Milo drops that act, gently places his hand atop her head and tells her she’s wrong; this isn’t happening not because she’s ugly, but because he’s a coward.

As she cries in his arms, I breathe another sigh of relief. In the end, Yamagishi was the adult here, recognizing he had to to preserve her pride, and the best way to do that was to abandon his own for her sake. That may not satisfy or comfort her in the long run, but it stopped something very bad from happening for the wrong reasons.

Then comes an exchange I wish we didn’t have to witness, because it’s just so hard to watch and so gosh-darn realistic. Satoshi, “The Nice Guy,” didn’t take too kindly to being embarrassed in front of his friends at the cultural festival. He accuses Momo of leading him on, calls her a slut, and demands an apology lest he make it impossible for her to come back to cram school.

Momo isn’t apologizing, and she’s not going back to cram school either, and that’s that. But as she walks away, Satoshi grabs her arm, because he’s not done with her yet. She’s not showing him proper respect, you see? For that, Momo cries out so all the passersby can hear, and naturally Satoshi calls her weird and crazy and scurries off. What an apocalyptic boob. Maybe don’t grab girls who couldn’t be less interested in you and are trying to walk away, brah!

As Niina walks around the same district where we’ve already seen Rika, Amagi, Hitoha and Milo, she thinks about how she always, always gets comments and cat calls whenever she walks down this street…until now. It’s as if Izumi’s rejection of her has marked her as some kind of hideous creature from which all ment will keep their distance.

After years being looked at the wrong way, suddenly she no longer feels the attention…and she’s not feeling so great…like withdrawal from a drug you were forced to take. Then Momo calls her, again asking to meet up. After being touched by a guy, Momo wants Niina to touch her, to “purify” her, because she’s in love with her.

No longer feeling waves of desire from men in her radius, suddenly Niina is confronted by a woman, stating in no uncertain terms she wants to be touched by her. Niina isn’t sure how to respond, so she apologizes and ends the call.

And that, inexorably, brings is to Miss Smartphone Sexy Underwear Shopper. Kazusa is in a wonderful little bubble of bliss, as she has been ever since she and Izumi became a couple. That bubble only grows larger when Izumi gives her a quick “just calling to say I love you” call from the station where he’s still processing what happened with Niina.

It’s clear with this call Izumi is trying both to assuage the measure of guilt he feels and ease the swirling of confusing thoughts in his head by reiterating his feelings to Kazusa, clearly, out loud. He’s a mess, and the call does little to fix that.

After the call, Kazusa beams like we’ve never seen her before, then continues her underwear shopping. In voice-over, she states that at that time she had no idea what vast and widening holes her friends were staring down, nor that she’d soon be staring down her own once her blissful bubble inevitably bursts.

The next morning, Izumi can’t even hold hands on their walk to school for some vague fear of “the neighbors.” That last exchange with Niina really did a number on him, huh? Sure looks like it could be the beginning of the end for these two…before so much as a peck on the cheek.

That just leaves us with Rika and Amagi, the one couple that seems to actually, ya know, be okay! Just as Rika is starting to contemplate getting a little closer to him, the teacher (who is, let it be said, shitty for doing this) announces that her friend Sonoe got pregnant and is dropping out of school. As if the previous twenty minutes of carnage weren’t enough, one last savage dagger before the curtain.

I need a drink!

(Of Misery)

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 09 – Straighten Yourself Out

Gray and Caules are consulting with Olga-Marie about Hephaestion when the path of Rail Zeppelin is suddenly altered, turning into the infamous “Child of Einnashe,” or Forest of Dead Apostles, and stopping dead in the middle of a horrendous blizzard.

Some enterprising mages are quickly stabbed by the predatory trees. With El-Melloi still unconscious and most of the passengers locking themselves in their rooms, it falls on Gray and her allies to figure out how to get the train back on track.

In a rather abrupt transition, Luvia and Kairi visit the “Zombie Cooking” studio of Jean-Mario Supinerra. They ask him about the crimes involving beheadings, and he assumed from his Scotland Yard contact that such a case had been resolved. Trisha also contacted him about it just before she died in the same manner, suggesting she had some pecognition about her fate.

Melvin Weins, who had been following Rail Zeppelin by helicopter ever since meeting with Reines, joins Gray, scaring the crap out of her with his unorthodox, bloody entrance. Soon Karabo and Yvette arrive with the conductor, who asks them to assist in getting the train moving again, lest they be forced to cancel the auction.

Caules agrees to stay with El-Melloi, and Melvin plays his violin to tune the magical circuits of everyone, buffing them for the upcoming mission; judging by Yvette’s reaction, the tuning also happens to feel really, really good.

The eclectic, hastily-built party (a really cool combo, by the way) sets out into the bitter cold. Yvette locates the main Leylines and Karabo marks them for activation. Add warns Gray of trouble approaching, and hangs back, once again encountering Hephaestion, a Servant whose true name she knows but whose role—and Master—she doesn’t.

As Yvette, Karabo, and Melvin battle the forest’s defenses and finish activating the leylines, Gray and Heph spar, with the latter not at all interested in dialogue and the former hesitant, but not altogether unwilling to use force.

When the train starts back up, Olga-Marie happens to land on a dimensional pocket with an imaginary attribute; a signature spell of the Fellows family to which the late Trisha belonged. When Olga unlocks the pocket, Trisha’s head falls out, to Olga’s shock and dismay. Adashino enters the room, pleased the head of the victim has been found.

Even when the train released from the forests and ready to continue on its proper course, Gray isn’t about to let Heph get away, so she rescinds her first restraint, transforming her scythe into a giant hammer. Will they get left behind, or will the battle again be interrupted, whether by an awakened El-Melloi or someone else? Even standing still, with its titular character out cold, Rail Zeppelin continues to crackle with intrigue.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 09 – What Now?

At least, for a little while, we get to experience the pure initial jubilation of Kazusa and Izumi being a couple, meeting outside their adjoining houses, and walking to and from school together. Everything looks brighter and shinier, food smells and tastes better, and Izumi looks cuter to Kazusa’s eyes. They’re very much on cloud nine, but throughout it all there’s the underlying knowledge that it just can’t last.

Rika, too, admits she has changed, as a “victim of love”, but has also learned that boys are far more sensitive and nuanced than she thought, and tells the rest of the club to value them as humans—something only she didn’t do before.

While all five girls were in one way or another “losers,” now suddenly Kazusa and Rika are “winners,” having broken the plane of boy-girl romance, and their subsequent floating on clouds does not go unnoticed by those left behind. As a self-proclaimed “loser” himself, it’s Milo-sensei’s experience that winning stifles the imagination, which suits Hitoha just fine.

You could also say that winners are so busy winning their guards are down. Kazusa buys Niina’s half-hearted congratulations, but what Niina doesn’t tell her is that she’s still considering whether to steal Izumi from her, and if so, how. Momo isn’t okay with that, and promises Niina that losing two friends (her and Kazusa) for one boy isn’t worth it.

Niina begs to differ: after all, saying she can’t have sex with mere friends—something Momo doesn’t seem that sure about.

So as their destruction is plotted, Kazusa and Izumi go about their wonderful glittery romance…only the glitter gives way to awkwardness when they find themselves alone in Izumi’s house together. What’s the next step for them? They have no idea, not just what they want to do, but what the other person wants to do.

They aren’t communicating properly yet, nor have they set boundaries or lack thereof, so they make assumptions, some of which are right, like Izumi sitting beside her. They hold hands together, but they both get hung up on how sweaty their hands are, and then Izumi’s mom comes in and suddenly they’re six feet apart.

Ultimately, they won’t know what they want to do until they try something, and they won’t know what to try with each other until they discuss it. Right now, their deep, ten-year familiarity is clashing with the newness of their boyfriend-girlfriend status, and resulting in a bit of a short-circuit.

Meanwhile, the fact Kasuza is with Izumi and Rika is with Amagi means the lit club is suddenly taking a break, giving the recent festival as an excuse, but let’s not fool ourselves: Momo and Hitoha and especially Niina are only going to sit and listen to Rika and Kazusa talk about how great it is to be dating boys for so long.

So Momo goes home alone, not knowing quite what to do about the rift between Niina and Kazusa. Niina invites Izumi to “ride the train” with him assuming she’s willing to offer advice as a friend. Hitoha ambushes Milo-sensei in the clubroom with an “expose,” and give him an ultimatum: sleep with her, just once, or everyone, including his beloved Tomita-sensei, will find out about all the things he’s said to a high school girl.

While I doubt Hitoha was simply bluffing here, the fact remains, she wasn’t 100% prepared for him to not only say “okay” to an offer of sex, but set a time and place for him to pick her up. Milo is quickly approaching the point of no return, but his feelings for Tomita, and the threat of her knowing how deviant he’s been, are clearly clouding his judgment.

Later, Hitoha waits at the agreed-upon time and place, and gets in when Milo-sensei stops and tells her to, tossing her underwear into a nearby garbage can. No good can come of this!

In a nice bit of synergy, the same book that Rika and her new gal friend Sonoe (with whom she now interacts far more comfortably) bond over in the library is the book Niina presents to Izumi on the train, describing his relationship with Kazusa to the The Little Prince and the one rose on his planet. When he went to earth, he found that roses were commonplace, but a fox told him that the sum of his time and experiences with that first rose make it unique.

Saegusa tells Niina that she’s the fox, saying the words that will lead to the Prince living the rest of his days with that one special rose, while the fox itself is never mentioned again once they part ways. To not be forgotten like the fox in the story, Niina has to make a bold move.

Whether someone was actually touching her bottom on the train once it gets crowded is immaterial; the point is, Niina wanted a situation in which she could tell Izumi to place his hand on her bottom. Not only that, there’s now a record of their exchange on their phones she could potentially use against Kazusa.

So one of Izumi’s hands is sweatily, awkwardly clutching Kazusa’s as the ticking of the clock grows louder and louder, and the other hand is resting on Niina’s bottom, with Niina’s hand guiding and keeping it there. So, as is asked many times in the heads of the characters this week, What Now?

Trouble…that’s what!

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 08 – Invisible to Time

In her shock and rage, Olga-Marie lashes out at the one she deems the most likely culprit in Trisha’s murder: Karabo, of the mage-detesting Holy Church. Karabo blocks her attack and renders her unconscious, then volunteers to perform an autopsy on the body, putting aside the differences between their factions.

Contrary to my theory about Trisha possibly knowing her fate and meeting it without complaint, the investigators determine that neither the mystic eyes of premonition or past vision could see the perpetrator; that they were essentially invisible to time. Furthermore, the loss of Trisha’s head strongly suggests the perp was after her eyes—such murders are apparently not uncommon on the Rail Zeppelin.

El-Melloi meets with Olga-Marie once she wakes up, telling her he’s not helping her so Aminusphere will owe him, but because of a creed he adopted after his adventures with Iskander. “Glory lies beyond the horizon,” his servant used to say, assuring him that while what he seeks is beyond his grasp, he’ll find his own path one day, something he’s now trying to do.

With that in mind, El-Melloi will do everything in his power to keep similarly out-of-their-depth young ones (like Olga) from losing their lives needlessly. Olga is taken aback by his confessing to being influenced by a mere “minion” and “means to an end,” but she doesn’t understand that El-Melloi’s Servant was his mentor in every sense of the word. She simply  considers El-Melloi “weird”, and Gray weird for being his apprentice.

While passing in the corridor, Adashino tells El-Melloi that both Codrington and Davenant had the same sponsor, but won’t say anything more, leaving “Mr. Detective” to deduce whether that sponsor is involved with Rail Zeppelin.

As Luviagelita and Kairi determine the theft of the Holy Relic was an inside job, committed by someone who possessed a spare key to the bounded field, El-Melloi and Gray wait on the caboose of the train to await the thief, who arrives in a flash of red lightning on the train’s roof, wearing Iskandar’s mantle.

She introduces herself as Hephaestion—one of Iskandar’s generals—and is unwilling to recognize El-Melloi as a true subject. Disgusted with his face, she moves to kill him, and when Gray intervenes, she uses Mystic Eyes to turn Gray’s body against him. El-Melloi neutralizes that spell, but Hep then summons Iskandar’s Noble Phantasm, Gordius Wheel.

Gray prepares to recind her seals and unleash her own Phantasm, but again El-Melloi stays her hand, then uses the magical energy in his hair of all things to redirect Hep’s lightning to the ground. It doesn’t entirely work—he suffers severe burns to his back—but in any case Hep was clearly toying with them; if she wanted them dead, she could have done it. Instead she withdraws.

Olga-Marie offers a panacea to heal El-Melloi in exchange for calling them even, which Caules combines with a Primeval Battery, so El-Melloi is poised to recover, but he doesn’t regain consciousness for the rest of the episode. But before he passed out, he wondered how he’d never even heard of Hephaestion. No doubt it made him wonder what else he might not know, and whether he still nothing more than the helpless, hopeless boy who bit off far more than he could chew.