Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 06 – Protecting Unstable Hearts

For whatever reason Orihata Aya, AKA “Camille”, is beholden to the Towa Organization’s Spooky E, and he treats her like a disposable tool, urging her to hurry up and sleep with Anou Shinjirou, as well as gather clues that will lead to finding Boogiepop. Already, we see that “Camille” is bound in chains of fear, deference, and servitude. Who will break her chains, and is that even what she wants?

At least in this instance, Masaki intervenes, “saving” Aya from Spooky, who assumes the kid is an enemy of Towa when he’s just good at martial arts. Spooky shocks Masaki unconscious, and when he comes to he doesn’t remember his assailant. She apologizes, but Masaki likes her, and wants to do anything he can for her. So she asks him if he knows anything about Boogiepop.

Back at Shinyou Academy, Asukai Jin’s cousin Kinukawa Kotoe reaches out to Suema Kazuko, the school’s resident researcher of weird tings, regarding Jin’s odd and suspicious behavior of late. Suema promises to look into it, and before you know it, she’s hiding in a classroom into which Jin invites two girls, who promptly remove their tops and undergo some kind of magical ritual.

When it’s over, they feel like all the weight of their lives has been lifted and that they can do anything…for Jin. This is how Jin and Imaginator are taking over the world: one schoolgirl—one fragile adolescent mind—at a time. At some point someone’s going to have to stop them, but I imaging Boogiepop will again only play a supporting role. Suema, for her part, has always longed to “take on the darkness [her]self.”

In an auspicious crossing of paths, Suema encounters Anou as she’s talking with Niitoki Kei. Kei has kept her distance from Suema’s friend Touka (and vice versa), but not just because Touka’s guy rejected her, but because she knows Touka’s “other side.” Anou still seems pretty out of it, unable to remember what he’s doing at the academy while feeling like something important is missing.

Scenes of Aya talking to Masaki are intercut with scenes of Suema finding Aya on the roof, ready to die. Aya wants death to free others from her, not to free herself from Spooky E and Towa. Her self seems to the least important thing to her, whether that self has been tampered with by supernatural forces, or if it was always in a troubled, fragile, easily manipulated state…as most kids entering adulthood after all.

Both Aya and Masaki have initially believed the rumors going around that Boogiepop is a reaper that takes the lives of girls at the peak of their beauty so they’ll never become ugly, but Suema corrects her: Boogiepop is there to lend the helping hand to fragile young hearts that adults won’t provide, as adults they feel adolescence is just a phase everyone goes through, and will pass.

The reality is that sometimes it doesn’t pass, and you either get kids who kill themselves rather than continue suffering, or try to make others suffer as a salve to their own. In that regard, Boogiepop is there to protect them from themselves as much as those forces that would hurt or use them.

Rather than Boogiepop, the one doing the reaping here, or rather gardening, is Jin/Imaginator, as we see him “convert” more and more willing and in some cases eager young women to “their side.” The fact that this is visualized as Jin tending the roses so that they have roots, stems, leaves, and blooms – the height of their beauty.

Their hearts may thus be said to be complete and at peace, but they’re paying for it with their free will. It’s swapping one set of chains for another. I for one hope Suema, no doubt with help from Boogiepop (and others), can manage to shine a light on that darkness.

So…everything’s starting to make a little more sense, but this still felt like yet more setup, and with so many characters shuffling around, it’s hard to find firm ground on which to plant my feet and actually care about anything consistently.

Hopefully, as with previous mini-arcs, the payoff will be satisfying enough to make it worth all the setup. This seems like a show in which the destination is better than the journeys, or at least in which the destinations must be known before the journeys can be fully understood or appreciated.

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Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 03 – The Enemy Disagrees…Vehemently

In Tijuana, Mexico, Mia Cyrus is taking care of business with her anti-cartel unit (her magical bullets can pass through any armor or barrier) when they find an emaciated, tortured prisoner tied up, who is then compressed to death into a magical energy cube. Clearly, there’s more going on here than drug cartels, Mia worries aloud.

Back in Japan, Kurumi has transferred to Asuka’s school to remain by her side in case another threat arises, and also to see the new life and friends Asuka has abandoned Kurumi and her duty to live. Suffice it to say, Kurumi is not that impressed with Sayako’s half-hearted “I guess we’re friends” and annoyed by Nozomi’s “if anything happens the magical girls will save us.”

Still, she tries to keep up a cordial front, as she warns that despite what Asuka might think, the enemy doesn’t agree that it’s not her problem. Whenever a good guy has something to lose, they’d better be ready to fight to protect it, or the enemy will try to take it away.

Kurumi must feel doubly frustrated by Asuka, who has always been in peak physical and mental condition. Kurumi was horribly bullied as a child, came to hate that weak version of her, and has worked extremely hard to become and stay strong and dependable. She sees that Asuka is still staying in shape, in contrast to her mindset of not wanting to fight anymore.

Iitzuka tries to entice Asuka once again by showing her the headquarters for the elite M Squad of the JSDSF, disguised as a maid cafe with training facilities in the sub-basement. Between the rise of illegal magial girls and the distribution and improvement of remnants from the old war, a new, potentially worse war is just on the horizon, and they can’t afford to have someone of Asuka’s skills on the sideline. Still, Asuka insists her war is over. If only repeating it enough would make it true…

Speaking of people with something to lose, Nozomi’s dad continues his brutal torture of the terrorist leader one minute, and is admiring the phone background of his cute daughter the next. It’s admirable this guy can switch from work to family so quickly, but there’s simply no way the enemies he’s made won’t become aware of the existence of his family, if they aren’t already. His work puts a target on Nozomi’s back.

The only solace we have is that, at least for some of the day, Nozomi and Sayoko are safe when they’re hanging out with Asuka and Kurumi, as they do when they all go to a Olympic-grade swimming center together. Fanservice is kept to a minimum as everyone’s in standard issue one-pieces, but Sayoko uses the high dive as an opportunity to get over some of her paralyzing trauma.

For her  part, Nozomi is grateful that Asuka and Kurumi came, since she’s looking out for Sayoko’s well being and Sayoko loves to swim. She also plans for the four to see a movie the next day. Before parting for the night, Asuka maintains her resolve not to fight because she now has things (or rather people) she cares about, which Kurumi feels is the exact opposite of what she should be doing.

Kurumi is proven right (which probably gives her no joy) and Asuka pays for her lack of vigilance when Nozomi is confronted in the street by ominous members of the “Babel Brigade”, a group both tortured prisoners muttered about being involve in a “new, more terrible war.” As I predicted, they know who Nozomi’s father is, and that they can hurt him by hurting her.

The bad guys have a sizable head start on Asuka, who just got the text Nozomi sent about being excited for the movie just before being kidnapped, no doubt lulling her into a false sense that Nozomi is okay, when the exact opposite is true. Asuka is going to have to come to terms with the very problematic opposites that dwell her life…very soon.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 05 – Love at First Sight

This week the POV shifts from Asukai Jin to Taniguchi Masaki, the kid he saved from bullies along with the girl he was with. We learn more about both Masaki and the girl, Orihata Aya, who had actually just met him in that alley and tried to save him by offering her body to the guys.

Masaki is a transfer student from abroad who is just trying to do well, but gains some unwanted attention. Fortunately for him he not only had Asukai on his side when things got rough, but met Aya and basically fell for her the day he met her, due to her courage in that situation.

While Masaki seems normal enough (and is apparently Kirima Nagi’s brother, another interesting connection) there’s something off about Aya, and even he, who likes her, notices it. She’s extremely eager to please, as if she has no will of her own, but is rather driven by a curious pair of edicts: no one is allowed to hate her, and she has no right to fall in love.

Shift again to Anou Shinjirou, who played along with the other classmates who eventually beat up Masaki in the alley, but didn’t get killed by Asukai because he didn’t participate. He was just putting up a front for the other guys; in reality, he fell for Masaki as quickly as Masaki fell for Aya, and wanted to get closer to him. But he found that hard due to Aya, whom he learns is famous at her school for being promiscuous.

Anou finds where Aya lives and spies on her, but is interrupted by a very large, very ugly man who looks like a roadie for Aerosmith in the 90s. The roadie, whom we later learn has the name “Spooky E”, proceeds to “reprogram” Anou’s mind, wiping all his personal desires and ordering him to attend Shinyou Academy to await further instructions.

Now Anou is a part of the Towa Organization as a sleeper agent, only with no agency…essentially a puppet (Spooky calls him a “terminal”). His change in behavior endears him to a girl, who sends him a love letter that Spooky makes him forget. But Asukai has been watching Anou since the alley incident, and intentionally or not manages to remove the Towa programming, restoring his memories and free will.

Anou re-discovers the love letter and answers it, meeting the girl in question in a dark, deserted office building. But the “girl” there is Boogiepop in disguise, and when Spooky E appears to re-reprogram Anou (he set a trap), Boogiepop stops him and decides to go on the attack. Spooky gets away, but Anou is still of sound mind…for now.

Boogiepop promises if Anou gets in trouble again, she’ll be there for him. Then she gives him the real love letter, urging him to show up on the actual meeting date the day after tomorrow. Meanwhile, Masaki asks Aya out again, and of course Aya agrees. But while apparently waiting for Masaki, she’s confronted by Spooky E, who calls her “Camile” and wonders what she’s doing there.

This episode connected a few more strings in an increasingly dense narrative web, bringing into focus players that were present in last week’s events but not given emphasis until now, and seemingly opening a third party in the present situation. You have Boogiepop, Asukai/Imaginator, and now Towa Organization.

And then there’s Aya: is she one of Towa’s terminals, whose emotional engagement with Masaki may be degrading her programming? Will she stop worrying about being hated and let herself be loved? Lots of question marks floating around.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 02 – Being Served By Power, Not Serving Power

Gaining Sayoko and Nozomi as friends only added both to the list of things Asuka has to lose and the things she must use the power she had laid down to protect. Iizuka admonishes her for battling in downtown Tokyo so brazenly, and repeats his desire for her to join Spec-Ops. Asuka isn’t budging; she’ll protect herself and her friends, but she won’t go back to that life.

As we learned last week, however, there’s no way to have one foot in this world and one foot out. You’re either all-in or not, and Asuka not using her power last week would have meant Sayoko buying it. For her part, Sayoko remains subconsciously traumatized by the terrorist battle; the magic that occludes ordinary peoples’ perception must not have worked on her 100%.

We also learn that unbeknownst to Nozomi, her “boring desk work” policeman dad is actually a top interrogator (read: torturer) with the National Police Agency, and is torturing the terrorist leader for info on future attacks. One such attack is being facilitated by a group of “bad” magical (badgical?) girls, who possess an enhanced Disas from the bad old days.

Sayoko’s incomplete memory wipe aside, she is feeling terrible about having not been able to do anything to help her fellow bystanders, which means while she got to go home safe and sound, some people didn’t. Asuka tells her it’s better to be cowardly than to pretend you’re stronger than you are. Naturally, Asuka’s not telling her friends she’s Rapture, and you can’t help but wonder how long she can keep them in the dark.

A call from Iizuka warns Asuka that a powerful Halloween-class Disas has been deployed by the terrorists, and “War Nurse” is the only active Magical Girl in Japan who can engage it. That doesn’t sit right with Asuka, who after all was the one who recruited War Nurse, AKA Mugen Kurumi. Kurumi was perhaps the weakest of the Magical Five, and her success in combat relied on the cooperation of the other girls beside her.

Kurumi is confident she can deal with the Disas herself—she doesn’t have any other choice—but it proves more powerful and dangerous than the Halloweens of yore, and it isn’t long until she’s in the same position as the mother and young daughter she saved: about to be slashed to bits by a giant evil plush bear.

While I maintain the resting states of the Disas are hella goofy, when this bear version gets serious it’s actually pretty goddamn creepy-looking, what with its giant claws, buzzsaw-like teeth, and the bloody carnage it unleashes. Fortunately, Asuka is Just In Time to bail Kurumi out.

While the bear is tough, it’s no match for Asuka, who dispatches it with ease, angering the badgical girl who lent it to the terrorists (she works out her anger by stabbing a passing policeman in the eye). As her catlike familiar fights pigeons for food crumbs, Kurumi tells Asuka that she has been and will continue to be a “terrible person” for recruiting her while knowing she wasn’t strong enough to fight alone, only to abandon her.

She’s not wrong. Sure, it was Kurumi’s choice to make, but she made it believing Asuka would remain by her side, and that hasn’t been the case of late. Still, she’s willing to forgive Asuka as long as Asuka keeps her promise “from now on.” When Kurumi then transfers to Asuka’s school and class, it’s apparent that Asuka has some trust to rebuild with her friend and comrade. She’s strong; stronger than Kurumi. Standing on the sidelines is no longer an option.

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 01 – Meet Cutes and Coincidences (First Impressions)

“Oh Hai! I’m not weirded out by you taking my picture AT ALL!”

There are three basic kinds of anime rom-coms: those that do something totally unique and/or unexpected, those that hew close to the well-worn conventions of the genre, and those that stride the two extremes. From the moment Tada Mitsuyoshi catches his love interest Teresa Wagner in his viewfinder, it’s clear we’re dealing with the well-worn variety.

That means it’s up to things like the execution of the romance, the quality of the comedy, the likability of the characters, and the technical aspects that determine whether I’ll watch it. And if I do, I’m still looking for surprises somewhere to liven up an otherwise boilerplate affair. So let’s see what TKS has going for it, and what it doesn’t.

“We meet AGAIN? It’s almost like we’re supposed to be in the same anime!”

Regarding execution of romance, the title says it all: “Tada doesn’t fall in love.” That doesn’t mean he shouldn’tcan’t, or won’t, mind you; it just means he usually/typically/classically…doesn’t. But it’s almost immediately clear from the Imperial Palace Sakura Photo Meet Cute that Mitsuyoshi is struck by Teresa’s beauty, if nothing else. First impressions matter, and can make the difference between “doesn’t” and “could.”

Mitsuyoshi is most likely someone who has never fallen in love because a.) he’s young,  b.) hasn’t found the right person, and/or c.) he’s focused on photography and school. I’m glad he doesn’t fall head-over-heels for Teresa from the start—he knows next to nothing about her—but at the very least, the air-headed foreigner is an intriguing  new presence in his life.

Alec kicks the overcaffeinated sidekick (THANK you…)

As coincidences continue to pile up that bring the two together, Mitsuyoshi brings Teresa before his whole family, consisting of his cafe-running grandfather (who likes the same old samurai tv show as Teresa) and little sister/waitress Yui (obligatory Minasi Inori presence). The shrine in the Tada residence indicates the loss of one or both Tada parents, one of whom was a photog like Mitsuyoshi.

Before long, Mitsu’s best mate and self-professed “Adonis” Ijuuin Kaoru shows up and tries to put the moves on Teresa as soon as Mitsu tells him she’s not his gf, but he’s quickly thwarted, not just from the cafe cat Nyanko Big (who amusingly resembles a friend’s cat), but by Teresa’s traveling companion, Alexandra “Alec” Magritte, who assumes Kaoru is attacking Teresa and swiftly deploys her itchy trigger leg.

Alec and Kaoru look like a dead ringer for the “opposites attract” trope, but while I appreciate what Miyano Mamoru does with his voice at times, his performance as Kaoru feels a few notches too extreme for this milieu (which is probably intentional).

If you were surprised by this development, you don’t watch many anime rom-coms

Why, do you ask, do two Luxembourgish women in Teresa and Alec have perfect command of Japanese? I imagine it’s the same reason Teresa almost gives another surname other than “Wagner”, and why Alec is so well-versed in martial arts and is protective of Teresa: it’s likely she’s royalty, and Alec is her bodyguard/valet.

She’s come to Japan, likely her favorite foreign country, to soak it all in. That means transferring to Mitsu and Kaoru’s school, and even their class. Ye gods, the coincidences…

Of course, they don’t want to broadcast that fact, but it will be interesting if a.) I’m right about this and b.) it creates a conflict with Mitsu, because at this point, there are no conflicts beyond Mitsu’s general normalness and heretofore non-existent love drive. Maybe she has a betrothed? In any case, this was an establish and introduce episode, and for the most part I’m on board.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 04

So, the pretty new transfer student Shinomoto Akiho is totally the cloaked figure in Sakura’s dreams, right? Someone her same height (and even a similar-sounding name) shows up way too concurrently with the arrival of the cloaked figure in the real world at the tail end of last week’s outing.

If Touya doesn’t let on like he knows anything concrete (for now), he certainly seems to sense Sakura is out of sorts the morning after her disturbing vision of the figure. As for Sakura, she and Tomoyo are bowled over by Akiho’s beauty and eager to make friends with her ASAP.

Whatever, I say, could go wrong here?!

Syaoran certainly seems suspicious of Akiho, even if the others are just as charmed by the newbie as Sakura (then again, remain suspicious of Syaoran…what a tangled web we weaved). Akiho seems singularly invested in making Sakura like her as much as possible, flattering her when they’re alone in the hall, and again when Sakura gets an answer right in class (apparently not a common occurrence!).

After giving that answer, Sakura notices the trees getting up and walking around outside, setting off a series of Sakura’s patented all-purpose catchphrase, HOEHHH! At this point I always look forward to every time she does that, and hearing all the subtle variations on that exclamation. Tange Sakura is a treasure.

It’s Tomoyo to the rescue, having the class believe Sakura is not feeling well. Of course, she also has ulterior motives, and has prepared a Chinese-style costume for Sakura to don during her next card-capturing escapade.

Sadly for her, Tomoyo doesn’t get to film much of the spectacle, as Sakura encloses the runaway trees within Siege, then floods the cube with water from Aqua to immobilize their scampering roots.

Every action sequence thus far in CSS has been a delight to watch, from the novel ways in which Sakura achieves victory, to even the more repetitive elements like her chants and pose-striking (week-to-week variety to which is achieved by the varying costumes).

Her next card, “Action”, thus secured, Sakura takes it to Yukito, whose alter-ego Yue inspects it and concludes that it also seems to lack magical power; it’s all, apparently, in Sakura’s key and staff. The visit gives us the opportunity to see both sides of Yukito/Yue, and learn more about the interesting dynamic he has with Sakura.

Then Syaoran calls, and we’re treated to another heart-melting romantic exchange between the two, with Syaoran accepting Sakura’s offer to make him a lunch sometime, then asking her to call him if anything unusual happens, and Sakura taking it further and asking if she can call him even if it isn’t something unusual.

While Sakura is calling from Yukito’s porch, bathed in gorgeous light of the setting sun, Syaoran is holding the phone at arms length, holed up in the shadows, because he is clearly up to some shadowy shit. He immediately calls Eriol, who isn’t returning Sakura’s calls, and reports on Sakura, Akiho, and the new card, before these words are exchanged:

Eriol: I’m sure it’s hard on you, but this is not the time.
Syaoran: I came here to be ready for that time, when it comes.

All the while, the true mastermind, the dreaded teddy bear, looks knowingly, menacingly on.

I kid, but seriously, what is Syaoran’s deal? Has he been deceiving Sakura with a fake lovey-dovey act (I won’t forgive him), or is there a less sinister explanation, like he’s working in the shadows to protect her? While it’s still a bit too soon to tell, things are not looking good…and that’s not an accident.

Citrus – 02

While all of Yuzu’s thoughts are focused on what Mei’s kiss was all about, she falls into a fountain and takes Mei with her, and ends up in an even more inimate situation when they bathe together. Yuzu thinks about how Mei’s skin feels, Mei is pressing her against the wall, as if she could read Yuzu’s mind. However, it’s too much contact too quickly; Yuzu is again flustered by her little sister.

At school, Yuzu continues to make no effort to follow the dress code, and notices many of the girls are paired up, holding hands and flirting. Harumi says since most of them are already engaged, it’s more a matter of “being in heat” and fooling around while they still can; lust, not love. Their chat is interrupted when Harumi notices the chairman, Mei’s grandfather, is at the gates.

Yuzu brashly approaches him and calls him “gramps”, but he’s having none of it, turning to Mei and reaming her out for allowing “such a fool” to be near school grounds. Yuzu sticks up for her sister, but is banished from the grounds. Either Gramps didn’t get the memo about the marriage, or worse, he doesn’t care; doesn’t see Yuzu as real family.

While sneaking back in, Yuzu and Harumi spot Mei’s betrothed in the parking lot, and overhear him talking to his girlfriend about how he doesn’t really care about Mei, and will only string her along because her family is rich. It’s an awfully specific phone convo for a guy to have out in the open just when Yuzu happens to hear it, but it also shows what a jerk this guy is.

Yuzu tells Mei about her fiancee’s infidelity, but Mei, not surprisingly, already knows, and, well, she’s not fine with it, but she clearly seems resigned to proceeding regardless. She also dismisses Yuzu’s “big sister” status in this issue, since she’s never kissed anyone and thus can’t possibly understand. Yuzu only seems to make things worse the next day when she hijacks a school assembly to tell everyone how she saw the teacher forcing himself on Mei.

That little stunt leads to the chairman sending men to pick Mei up from Yuzu and her Mom’s and having her live with him from now on; Yuzu’s mom says Mei didn’t resist. When Yuzu confronts Mei, Mei pretends nothing is amiss. When Yuzu presses, Mei tells her she’s been ordered to stay away, and that’s how it is.

Yuzu doesn’t stay away. She can’t sleep in the empty room without Mei, knowing there’s clearly something bothering her (what with the crying in her sleep) and she can’t stand feeling partially responsible for her mom’s pain. So she goes to Mei’s grandfather’s mansion and confronts her again, bringing up the pained looks and cries for her father in her sleep.

Mei gets violent, tossing Yuzu on the bed and tearing her blouse. As tears fall from Mei’s eyes to Yuzu’s face, Yuzu gets up and takes hold of Mei, saying “I’m with you now!”, which seems to have an effect. Alas, their grandfather enters the room and expels Yuzu right then and there.

While shopping with Harumi (who is in Full Glamorous Gal Mode outside of school), a very forlorn Yuzu finally tells her friend about her and Mei being related and her expulsion (though doesn’t mention how Mei has kissed her and pushed her into walls and onto beds).

Harumi tells her that despite Mei’s demeanor Yuzu’s feelings on wanting to protect her are probably getting through to her, but that gets Yuzu thinking about what her feelings for Mei truly are, and whether they’re love, something she’s never experienced before. It certainly seems that way.

Citrus – 01 (First Impressions)

The flashy, glamorous Aihara Yuzu tries to make it clear to the outside world that she’s a gal who gets around, but has never actually been in love or even kissed anyone.

This is hardly a new story, but what makes things a little more interesting is that when she transfers to a new, all-girls school where she sticks out like a sore thumb, the hard-nosed student council president Aihara Mei turns out to be her new, slightly younger stepsister.

The knowledge that Mei is betrothed to an “elite teacher” is seemingly confirmed when Yuzu accidentally catches Mei and the teacher making out in a secluded spot; Yuzu is so flustered she flees in a not-so-inconspicuous manner.

In any case, her insistence on dolling herself up and flaunting the school dress code in every way possible brand her as a delinquent in the eyes of the mostly drab, sheltered student body (one exception being Taniguchi Harumi, a “gal in disguise”).

While Yuzu may talk the talk, Mei seems to walk the walk, and Mei essentially sends Yuzu’s perfect maze of deception crashing down around her when Yuzu tries to force Mei into talking to her by bringing up her sucking face with the hot teacher.

Mei reacts by pinning Yuzu down and giving her a long, deep kiss with tongue before leaving the room, telling her “that’s what a kiss is like.” Yuzu’s first kiss is thus not only with a girl, but with someone she just learned is her “little” sister…and someone she butted heads with the moment they met.

Mei has also demonstrated beyond doubt that while Yuzu possesses all the outward trappings of boy-crazy gal, like Jon Snow, she really knows nothing, while Mei has actually experienced a measure of love and desire.

Decent yuri anime are few and far between, but this one at least shows glimmers of promise with its full-length episode format, attractive visuals, and a complex (if somewhat contrived) scenario that should be fraught with similarly complicated emotions on the part of both leads as their relationship evolves beyond the sizing-up stage.

Just Because! – 03

Izumi’s entanglement with Komiya Ena proves all to brief, as she’s forgotten the photo that she wants permission to submit. Showing zero consideration for Izumi, she zooms off on her moped to grab it, and it’s no surprise when she returns, in the rain, to find he’s gone.

The next day is Christmas (?), and everyone seems a bit listless, mimicking the somewhat grayish day with their moods. Izumi and Natsume type messages into LINE, but delete them without sending, seemingly hesitant to make any forward motion that will evoke a response from the other. It’s a stalemate, I tellya!

Things are dreary at Casa Morikawa too, as Morikawa confides to Yoriko that her life plan after high school doesn’t include furthering her trumpet performance, but rather college, a job, and eventually taking over the family business. It’s all said with the enthusiasm of someone inspecting turnips.

Left unsaid is any discussion of starting her own family, and as Morikawa seems almost criminally oblivious to Souma’s feelings (mostly his fault, BTW), that’s not surprising.

When Komiya reaches out to Natsume for info on Souma, Natsume uses it as an excuse/opportunity to message and meet up with Izumi. When they meet up, they’re still very cold and distant to one another, and the energy completely changes when Komiya spots her elusive transfer student.

Komiya’s casual nature with Izumi doubtless irks Natsume even more, since neither she not Izumi know what the heck they’re doing or what they should do. And while Komiya’s mission to get Izumi’s permission or LINE ID fails, she doesn’t seem like the type to give up easily.

Meanwhile, Souma is invited by Yoriko to join her and Morikawa for a walk, and his resulting meandering bike ride to their location is a constant source of suspense…will he ever get to them?

He does, only to freak out when Morikawa’s dog barks at him, which he thinks is a deal-breaker where dating her is concerned. Frankly, he should be more worried about, you know, telling her how he feels about her and asking her out on a proper date…but who am I?

When Souma reports the dog incident to Izumi and begs him for help getting better with dogs, Izumi tells him he has no pets, but Komiya stealthily enters the frame and offers her help…in exchange for Izumi’s LINE ID, which he gives her.

Interestingly, Komiya makes it clear she’s “over” the fact Izumi didn’t give her permission to use the photo, but with his ID, maybe she’s playing a longer game. Heck, maybe she just likes the cut of Izumi’s jib and wants to be friends…or more, which would complicate the love polygon even further.

Speaking of complications, Souma, unaware of the deal Izumi struck with Komiya, messages Natsume about helping him with dogs, since she has one too. This basically puts Natsume in the friendzone area of helping her unrequited crush get along with his own crush.

Over the most mundane circumstances, and in the absence of direct, honest, face-to-face conversation regarding how people feel about one another, the web of conflicting or one-sided romantic interests grows ever more tangled.

Just Because! – 02

Izuki reacts the way he does to Souma’s text about Natsume being at the school because, as we learn in another flashback, he liked her in middle school. Unfortunately for him, Natsume liked Souma, something Souma never knew.

Back in the present, Izuki and Natsume reunite in a similar situation, with Souma nearby with another girl, this time Morikawa. He’s unable to properly confess his feelings to her, but instead manages to invite her, along with Izuki and Natsume to the aquarium on the weekend.

Morikawa accedes to the wishes of her two little brothers and brings them along, further muddying the “date” waters for Souma, but he comports himself well, even earning the brothers’ trust and showing Morikawa he’s good with kids, which is definitely something she’d look for in a man…were she looking.

It’s a pleasant, cozy trip to the aquarium, and by the end Morikawa and Souma are virtually exuding warmth. As for Izumi and Natsume, well…they’re less warm together, even if I got the sneaking suspicion that Izumi still likes Natsume despite his aloof manner with her.

Similarly, the more time she spends with Izumi, the more comfortable she seems interacting with him. It’s far from lovey-dovey, but it’s a nice low-key resumption of their relationship.

While Souma and Morikawa have a kind of “talent anchor” (baseball and trumpet, respectively), I appreciate how Izumi nor Natsume don’t really have those anchors, and are also alike in being on the wrong side of an unrequited love.

With the benefit of future episodes—as well as the flashbacks they’ll likely contain—we’re sure to learn more about these kids and who likes whom, and what Komiya plans to do with Izumi now that she literally has him in her grasp. I like that JB! is taking the time to flesh out the various characters and not rushing things.

Just Because! – 01 (First Impressions)

With a rookie director, two rookie seiyuus in the lead roles and a super-vague synopsis, I had no idea what to expect from Just Because! —all I had to work with was a script by the guy who wrote seven scripts for Gundam IBO. What I did know was that Just Because! is a pretty nifty title.

We begin with an extended introduction to the neck-of-the-woods where we’ll presumably be spending time, and the show seemingly blows its entire suspended monorail budget in those first few minutes. Still, it’s a nice slow, but not flashy, establishment of this world.

The slow unflashiness continues at school, where there seems to be a dreary atmosphere; a malaise waiting to be snuffed out. Like the transfer student we eventually meet, we’re thrust into this school without knowing quite who to follow or what to do. That lack of bearing is essential to putting us in the mindspace of the protagonist, before he’s even anywhere near the center of the frame.

I’ll admit, I was dubious when terms like “transfer student” and “disbanding tiny club” came up; I consider myself just about clubbed out (both dance clubs and tiny school clubs in anime) and combined with the leisurely pace, I was starting to get a bit bored and depressed with this place. Especially when there’s no one or two people in focus for most of the episode. Even the camera feels afraid of showing us the players in this story.

Then Izumi Eita and Souma Haruto unexpectedly reunite on a baseball field after not contacting each other for the better part of four years (after Izumi moved away). He’s back for one semester, and while he and Haruto are initially a bit cool to each other, they manage to reconnect via baseball, with Izumi pitching and Haruto eager to hit a home run (I speak literally here, not in sexual euphemisms, BTW).

As their pitch-and-hit session heats up (hehe), it gradually garners the attention of the three other protagonists: the girl who is angry the photo club could be disbanded (the fiery Komiya Ena), the girl who plays the trumpet (Morikawa Hatsuki, providing the incidental score to the final act), and the former student council president who seems both jealous and part okay with the fact her friends went off to have fun without her (Natsume Mio).

Izumi and Souma are the magnets that draw the others together, though their individual vantage points keep them from realizing they’re all watching the same thing. This drawing together of disparate gazes also brings the show into focus. Finally, at the very end, we see people having fun, smiling, and laughing, after three quarters of an episode of somberness and ennui approaching existential dread.

Having hit a home run like he intended (but never thought he’d actually do), Souma goes off to ask Morikawa out, but he and Izumi exchange texts, and Izumi learns that Natsume, whom he also knows from the past, is also attending this school. Neither Izumi nor Natsume seem particularly happy at the start of this episode, but perhaps that will change when they reunite.

Made in Abyss – 02

Wherever he came from—Riko believes he’s from the furthest depths of the Abyss…in a nice way!—she along with her friends Sigy and Nat, know that the arrival Reg is huge. Bigger than the discovery of any other relic in the Abyss to date. He’s like ten relics in one, and more importantly, he walks, talks, and even blushes when Riko gets too close.

Her hilariously embarrassing report on the results of her very thorough examination of Reg’s every nook and cranny notwithstanding, they determine the safest place for him to hide is in plain sight, so they give him a whole backstory and Leader accepts him to the Orphanage, and eventually a job cave-raiding.

The ruse goes swimmingly, with Reg fitting in nicely at the orphanage, and growing close to Riko, who sees him not as some relic, but a friend and member of their big family. Then news comes that some elite cave raiders—among them Black Whistles—have completed their descent from the place where Lyza the Annihilator fell.

Who is Lyza, you ask? Only one of the most famous and distinguished explorers of her age…and yeah, Riko’s MOM. Leader was old enough to remember what a drunken, short-tempered mess Lyza was…but also reveals to Riko that she was born on that expedition, deep in the Abyss, protected by a relic that minimized the effects of the Abyss’ “Curse.”

Lyza also abandoned the expedition to recover a prime relic—The Unheard Bell—to ensure baby Riko got back to the surface and survived. So she has, albeit with an eye condition that requires crystal lenses to avoid headaches. Oh, and some rather large shoes to fill!

Riko being presented with Lyza’s ornate White Whistle caused all the reminiscing, and gaining new insight into her mom (and her own beginnings) from Leader only increased her desire to become a White Whistle of her own. It feels like destiny.

That feeling likely isn’t diminished when Riko is brought before unsealed documents that were with Lyza’s White Whistle. Among them is a sketch of a robot boy just like Reg, as well as a note saying “At the netherworld’s bottom, I’ll be waiting.” That there’s no mention of Lyza’s body ever being recovered only increases the likelihood she may still be alive somewhere down there.

Maybe Lyza sent Reg up to the surface to protect Riko and help her reach the depths of the Abyss where she was, in a way, made (i.e. born). Is she ready to descend that deep? The grown-ups think not. We’ll see.

Kakegurui – 01 (First Impressions)

Suzui Ryouta is an unexceptional student at the prestigious Hyakkaou, a gambling academy for the children of the super-rich. Suzui gets into such great debt to Saotome Mary that he becomes her “house pet.”

Already, we’re into Prison School territory with Kakegurui, what with a powerful woman in charge, a mostly-innocent boy under her heel, and a mood not afraid to get a little kinky about it.

Of course, Suzui isn’t totally innocent—he did gamble after all—but he’s in an unenviable position at the start of the story, and feels like there’s no hope. That is, until hope arrives in the person of Jabami Yumeko, an elegant raven-haired maiden initially appears to be both the visual and emotional yin to the blonde Mary’s yang.

Of course, Jabami is way too suspiciously affable and bubbly; it’s clear even if one didn’t watch the sultry, hedonistic OP that she’s a hustler and that Saotome Mary is her latest mark. Be forewarned: is a show that revels in twisting up its characters’ faces to disturbing degrees.

Saotome challenges Jabami to a friendly game of the “Rock-Paper-Scissors Voting Game”, which combines RPS and an extra element of imbalance due to the randomness of the votes.

Jabami wins a couple of two-chip hands but also lets Saotome win a couple of far larger ones involving a million yen—all to put Saotome in a false sense of confidence while determining how Saotome is using the assembled voters (many in her debt, like Suzui) to cheat.

Once Saotome drops the nice act and shows Jabami her “war mask”, Jabami has no more reason to hide her own: buying back in to the tune of ten million yen cash before having what could be described as a “gamblegasm” whilst striking a pose.

The only RPS hand that matters is the final one, in which Jabami walks away with a cool 8.8 million yen (around 77,000 USD) after subtracting her initial losses. Rather, she walks away with Mary 8.8 million in her debt, which seems like a far worse place to be.

Suzui, ashamed that he was compelled to help Saotome cheat (which Jabami picked up on by spying on him with her compact mirror), apologizes to her and vows to drop out of an academy in which he feels he has no business being. To his shock, Jabami earnestly thanks him for the fun gambling she was able to experience on her first day, and drops a fat stack in his hand to back up her words with green.

And there you have it: Gambling school, weird over-the-top twisted expressions, some light S&M, and some (so-far) elemental but promising characters. MAPPA delivers a solid production with bold lighting, visceral sound, and a red-and-black palette appropriate to the gambling theme. Performance-wise, it’s a delight to hear Hayami Saori as Jabami shift from meek to meaty on a dime. Definitely worth a look.