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.

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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.

Renai Boukun – 09

Not long after the ordeal with Akane and Yuzu’s mothers, Akane and Guri are still going at it, with Guri pushing Akane’s buttons and Akane never failing to fall for the goading. Making matters worse, the mothers have charged Shikimi with monitoring Akane and Seiji, so she transfers to their school, just in time for the cultural festival. Holy anime cliches, Batman!

The love polygon Guri originally wrought continues to cause problems for Yuzu, who has always conditioned herself to love Akane and only Akane but clearly has feelings for Seiji as well; she just doesn’t know how/isn’t ready to deal with them. When opportunity knocks, she kisses Seiji in hopes of confirming she feels nothing, but can’t stop her heart from racing.

The class casts Akane and Guri as love rivals…for the heart of the “princess” played by Shikimi (Seiji plays a tree…which is actually very Seiji). The play is an absolute farce, descending into relationship drama between Akane, Guri, and Yuzu, but with Akane trying to be on her best behavior, since Seiji promised he’d kiss her if she got along with Guri.

At the end of the play, Akane has assured Yuzu that it’s okay to have feelings for others, though doesn’t linger on the fact that her sister’s object of affection is Seiji. Seeing Yuzu give an “I detest you but don’t hate you” spech to Seiji while Seiji is still a tree is a pleasant enough visual gag.

The manic energy is present throughout the episode, but my interest in the multi-sided love polygon, and all the “serious vibes” that come with it, is starting to flag, as it dulls the zany comedy that brought me to the show. Guri’s dilemma in particular, and Shikimi’s attempts to drive a wedge between the girls, just isn’t my thing. Still, with just three episodes left, I’ll power through.

RokuAka – 07

Remaining true to its pattern halfway in, RokuAka takes a step back from last week’s plot-and-action-packed drama and keeps things nice and breezy, starting with some tight shots and dialogue between Sisti and Glenn that’s open-to-lewd-interpretation, until it’s revealed they’re merely doing hand-to-hand combat training.

Sisti is a little impatient about it, but when Glenn tells her if she wants to truly protect her sister with magic, she’ll need to master some non-magical fundamentals, she’s on board. It’s good to still see the friendship of these two continuing to grow.

What would have been a return to routine at the academy is suddenly broken by the arrival of a “transfer student”, Re=L, whose transfer had been thoroughly telegraphed by the OP and ED. As befits her tendency to rush at everything head-on, even a greeting, Re=L comes at Glenn with her giant sword, confident he’ll block it.

She’s ostensibly here to protect Rumia, but she claims she’d rather protect Glenn, which I actually prefer to her being an early-Rumia-rehash, i.e. having a low opinion of him to start. These two go way back, after all.

Re=L comes on a bit strong with her eccentricities and lack of social skills. The class and Sisti in particular are a bit dubious of whether this is all okay. Re=L eventually settles in nicely, thanks in large part to the always kind and friendly Rumia, who it should be noted is always ready to die, hence her fearlessness in being in such close proximity to the blue-haired newbie!

Glenn, relieved Re=L is starting to fit in, hopes she’ll make more progress on a class field trip to a tropical island, where he eggs on the guys in the class to take stock of their uniquely fortunate situation, seeing as how tropical island = beach = girls in swimsuits. Meanwhile the girls on more than one occasion marvel at the idiocy of the boys.

After some beach leisure and sports, the next stage involves the lads devising a very nerdy plan to infiltrate the girls’ rooms (in order to make “lasting memories”), a plan stymied by Glenn. I was worried for a second he would join them, which would have definitely added more than a few Bastard Points to his record.

He learns from Albert-in-disguise that she’s just a decoy, and Albert’s warning about her being “dangerous” weighing on his mind. But while resting alone on the beach under a gorgeous starry sky, Glenn spots Sisti, Rumia and Re=L running into the ocean to affirm their friendship and splash around. Also surprisingly, Glenn’s not a lewd bastard about this either, but is simply glad Re=L continues to seem okay…

…Only Re=L is not okay. She puts on a good show, but something’s been weighing on her all the time since she transferred: Why Glenn left the Imperial Court Mages; why she left her. When she says Glenn is “her everything” and lives “only for Glenn”, Glenn may think she’s just messing around, but her confrontation with him later in the night makes it clear she’s not.

Re=L thinks she’s gotten a raw deal here, in losing Glenn and then having Sisti and Rumia swoop in and steal him from her. This may not be 100% fair to Glenn, who has in a way “given himself” to all of his students, not just Sisti and Rumia. But I also feel he owes Re=L an explanation for suddenly abandoning her, even though he probably didn’t think it meant as much to her as it clearly did.

With Eleanor Chalet planning something devious, this is not the time for anyone on Glenn’s side to be in emotional turmoil; especially with his talk about the “dark side” of military magic one can be swayed by if not used correctly or in the right state of mind.

Rewrite – 02

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After reflection, I revised by rating of Rewrite’s first episode to a seven, as I suspect its nearly hour-long running time lulled me into a kind of trance in which it seemed like a better show than it actually was.

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But the first episode was still gobs better than the second, which eliminated most of the fantasy elements and atmosphere I liked for silly antics and discussion of boobs. As such, all my enthusiasm for sticking with Rewrite has evaporated.

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It doesn’t help that the characters are drawn with only the broadest of strokes based on well-worn archtypes that are better executed elsewhere on the Summer spectrum…or that the animation leaves much to be desired.

With 91 Days and Alderamin now on my list, in addition to being the worst of the three current shows whose titles begin with “Re”, Rewrite has been relegated to my recycling bin.

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Rewrite – 01 (First Impressions)

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Rewrite is a sprawling adventure with a little bit of everything in its hour-long premiere. MC Tennouji Kotarou jumps from fantastical dreams, and being bitten by a “ghost” in his bed every night, to gradually stocking his harem group of female friends at the fancy academy he attends in real life.

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The show often suprises with its transitions from the supernatural to the mundane, often merging the two visually, as when Kotarou locates a dozing Kotori under a tree (he meets a lot of girls around trees).

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Rewrite wastes none of its hour introducing a bevy of characters, from Kotarou’s fellow outcasts in class, the “delinquent” Yoshiro and his childhood friend Kotori, to the literally fiery class rep Konohana and the cherry pantsu-wearing, super-strong transfer student Ootori Chihaya.

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It’s a lot of people to keep track of, but I wasn’t overwhelmed, as their designs and personalities were distinctive enough to tell them apart. That being said, Lucia and Nakatsu seemed extraneous to this first episode, while the newspaper girl losing a piece of paper that leads to Kotarou learning about the “Academy Witch” was a little forced. But the Witch’s almost Howl’s Moving Castle-style sumptuous, comfortable office. She’s just nowhere to be found, which is kind of the point.

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If Kotarou wants something done about his nightly bitings, he has to find the Witch, but she makes him work for it, communicating through curt notes, including one saying he’ll be dead in two days.

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Another extraneous scene is the one in which Kotarou takes Ootori on a bike tour of the city, which is pleasant enough, but Ootori’s initial aggression towards him seems to fade away too quickly into an all-too-pliant potential love interest; one of several introduced.

It’s as if he initially chose the wrong options of speaking to her, but managed to climb out of the hole he dug. I won’t deny the tour of the eco-city was pretty, though.

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That night, things get considerably less pleasant and pliant for Kotarou, as he jumps through several hoops in hopes of meeting the Witch. Instead, he gets chased through the halls by weird creatures, the ghost girl who’s been biting him steals his (Key Brand) coffee, and he gets trapped in a stony void with two pixies named Pani and Gil.

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He and the pixies then accidentally wake up a giant crab monster (in just the place Kotarou expects to find the boss), but the silver-haired ghost girl comes to the rescue. Well, she doesn’t so much rescue Kotarou as level an immense and outsized portion of magic-based wrath upon the crab that spilled her delicious stolen coffee. Her cool-headed battle with magic shields and weaponized ribbons was pretty fun to watch.

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Hilariously, Kotarou falls a great distance and lands…on the floor of the school, everything back to normal, with a Colonel Sanders mannequin smiling down on him. Upon delivering the mannequin to the Occult Club office, he finally meets the Academy Witch, Senri Akane, in person. And it looks like she’s got plans for the kid.

Oh yeah, dreams, hallucinations, and illusory spells aside, Kotarou himself is “gifted” supernaturally, though we only see small hints of it in his ability to leap great distances and in preparing (but never unleashing) a skill he calls “accelerating.”

No doubt we’ll see more of his abilities now that he’s met the Academy Witch, who ask him the question of whether he wants to change himself or change the world.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 04

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“I get it, okay?” says Rokuro, after running off in a snit after the guy who is basically his older brother annoys him: “I know I can’t run away forever.” He’s implying he needs more time to put the past behind him and move on. But…we’re a quarter into the show now, and he’s still angsty and hesitant while we haven’t heard the full story about why, so…hurry it up, willya? Thankfully, Rokuro takes a couple of steps forward.

It starts with the old woman who runs a candy store he used to frequent as a youngin’ with Ryougo. In a five-minute exchange, she’s able to cheer him up and make him feel silly for being so harsh to his big bro when all he’s doing is looking out for him. By running off, he was also refusing to tag along on an exorcism mission with Ryougo and two others.

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When those two others show up at home without Ryougo, Rokuro doesn’t hesitate to do what he needs to do in order to spring into action, which at this point is to bow his head and beg Benio to accompany him to Magano. He’s afraid to go himself, plain and simple. And that’s perfectly okay. Benio, for her part, insists he rise his head – no one should have to beg an exorcist to fight for or with him.

Ryougo is up against a huge, two-headed, constantly-chortling Kegare with no way out and no talismans—except the one Rokuro made for him, appointing him his servant when he’s the baddest exorcisin’ mofo in the world. He’s kept it ever since as a charm, and it comes in handy as Ryougo shows up just in time to save him from going out in a blaze of glory.

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Benio is there to assist, and while Rokuro later scoffs that he could have handled the peripheral Kegare she takes out during the fight, the fact of the matter is, he wouldn’t have even been able to go there without Benio by his side, and he freely admits this when he waits outside for her to finish purifying the house, to thank her from the bottom of his heart.

Rokuro’s earnestness and heart-sleeving catches Benio off guard, insisting he doesn’t have to thank her any more than he had to beg her. So here, both in moments of emotional vulnerability, the two exorcists begin to see something besides contempt in one another. Rokuro sees her nice side, while Benio sees the greatness in him, when he fights in spite of his trauma.

Sure they start slinging insults in an attempt to backpedal, but they’re not fooling anyone: they’ve made real progress this week, and they’re sure to make more, which is very encouraging.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 03

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Despite the fact Arima has made a match of Rokuro and Benio and the two have moved into the same space, they’re no closer to becoming, well, closer, at least the way Arima would like.

Indeed, aside from crossing paths a couple of times at home and school (naturally, Benio must transfer to Rokuro’s school and class…because.) the two spend the majority of the episode apart, doing their own thing.

As Benio senses kegare and joins Rokuro’s exorcist pals in Magano to battle a boss-type they can’t quite handle, Rokuro stays behind, and is snatched up by Otomi Mayura, his childhood friend.

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We can tell who Mayura is going to be from miles away: she’s the tragic childhhod friend character who would make a great match for the MC except for the fact he simply doesn’t see her that way (he makes it clear to his buds that he sees her more as a cousin or sister, and thus out of bounds).

His position on Mayura is not unreasonable, but it doesn’t make Mayura’s feelings any less valid. Proximity and time are just as capable of making the heart grow fonder as absence, and Mayura has known Rokuro long enough to know when he’s bothered by something.

In this case, it’s his predicament with Benio, and his old reflex to charge forward towards danger fighting with his desire not to repeat his past sins and live as peaceful a life as he can.

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Whatever those sins are, they seem to involve a traumatic ordeal in which several of his friends are lost and he ends up prostrate and in tears…but Mayura is right there, also crying, but trying to comfort him. And so here, in the present, she decides it’s her job to cheer him up.

To that end, she takes him to an amusement park they haven’t been to in years, and have what looks like a great ol’ time. I liked how when it comes to carnival rides, Mayura is a lot more brave than Rokuro. I also liked how there were moments Rokuro sees Mayura as more than just a platonic relative, but a kind and beautiful young woman.

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This week, in what came as a pleasant surprise, Rokuro and Benio’s stories stay separate. Benio doesn’t run into trouble and need bailing out again; she handles the boss with relative ease (in another great battle sequence).

The only “crossover” between their days is when during the battle the kegare rams into the roller coaster in Magano, which causes a small rift between Magano and the normal world. When two kids are trapped on the coaster as it dangles precariously, Rokruo does not hesitate to scramble up there and save the kids before they fall to their deaths.

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True to the title, both heroes proved their worth this week: Rokuro with ordinary heroics in the normal world; Benio with her exorcist enhancements in the otherworld. Mayura succeeds in cheering Rokuro up, and inadvertently gets him to prove to himself that the heroic drive is still within him.

When Rokuro and Benio reunite in the evening, they don’t detail their days, but Benio can tell from Rokuro’s dirty uniform that he was up to something, and Rokuro asks how things went with Benio out of earnest curiosity, almost as if he cares. 

Sure, they still turn away from each other and harrumph at the same time, but both really do respect each other on some level; they just need to master dealing with one another, a skill that will come to them in time and proximity.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 07

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The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki? More like the Disappearance of Plot, best demonstrated in the first minute or so of the episode, carried out in silence but for the sounds of Kyon playing Othello with Koizumi, Yuki tapping away on her PSP, and Haruhi writing noisily on the whiteboard. Kudos to the foley artists who provided the sounds that really brought this slice of the lit club’s life…to life.

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As for the plot, it’s not all that important: Haruhi has organized a Hot Springs trip for the club, under the guise of a “training camp”, for which she has forged detailed trip journals legitimizing what will be far more of a freestyle vacation where the only goal is to have fun. Leave it to Haruhi to put so much effort and energy into something that is by design meant to be unproductive.

It also means Opportunity #468 for Yuki-chan to get closer to Kyon and vice-versa, and while I can certainly see some of the situations Asahina imagines Kyon and Yuki getting into, I can safely say the trip will not consist of the two “crossing any lines,” such is the product of Asahina’s overactive imagination.

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Instead, despite not drawing lots to sit right next to each other on the train, the two end up on either side of the aisle, which is almost as good in terms of snack-sharing. It’s a fine example of things maybe not going perfectly according to plan yet still working out just fine. And I’m sure, to Asahina’s relief, Kyon doesn’t try feeding Yuki again.

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The quiet first scene in the club room set the tone for the episode and the club trip in taking its time and enjoying the moment and the journey more than the destination. The character interactions, both as a whole group of seven or in pairs or trios, keep the episode going, as they kill time waiting for their courtesy van by sightseeing and eating…a lot.

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One such welcome pairing is Koizumi with Haruhi, who are always a reliable duo for comedy simply because as far as Koizumi is concerned, Haruhi is never wrong and he’ll never refuse her whims, no matter how unreasonable or odd. The spinoff even makes another callback to its predecessor when Haruhi mentions “power spots” at the temple that can bestow supernatural powers.

But we know by now it’s just teasing and winking, not really seriously suggesting the show will take any supernatural turns…because it won’t. And that’s fine by me, especially if I can still be subjected to silences as long and awkward as Haruhi and Koizumi’s in response to Kyon’s attempt at “vital point” humor.

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Also, it’s good to see that romance and Kyon aren’t the only things on Yuki’s mind—she’s also very enthusiastic about sampling the local food of the region!—She’s also just basking in the glow of her new circle of friends, including Asahina, and this lovely trip they’re on, making fond memories out of soba and smoke.

Lest we forget she was once the only member of the lit club, about to be shut down, but with its infusion of members and semi-members from within and without her school, the club has never been more vibrant. The wish she writes on her matchmaking amulet is directed at the whole group, but we’ll see next week if her attention turns to a more specific subject at the hot spring…and if any of Asahina’s rom-com scenarios come to pass.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 06

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This week’s Yuki-chan was a bit of a “sampler” with a lot of different loosely-connected stories taking place within the episode. Because Yuki is trying to be bolder, so she speaks up when the opportunity arises to hear the story of Kyon and Mikuru’s “horrendous encounter” from Tsuruya—after Tsuruya launches Mikuru at Kyon, causing a boob-face collision.

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In a classic example of the listener being at the mercy of the narrator’s own biases and motives, Tsuruya recounts a story of Kyon shamelessly setting up a situation in which he bumps into Mikuru and takes her by the hand. In reality, both events were pure accidents, which, is actually why Kyon and Mikuru are able to converse normally: what happened wasn’t that horrendous to them at all.

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The theme of misunderstanding and withheld facts continues in the second segment, in which Kyon, who won’t admit he’s not doing so great with his studies, asks Asakura if she’ll help tutor him. She gives him a high-and-mighty lecture, whereupon he decides to ask someone else, like Nagato.

At the mention of Yuki, Asakura grabs his hand and the two exchange what I’ll call “smiles of understanding.” But because of those smiles and the fact they’re holding hands, Yuki’s skewed, hyperrealistic manga/video game vision presents a much more intimate scene unfolding before her.

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This misunderstanding is cleared up, but when Asakura and Kyon hit the books, Haruhi and Koizumi burst in, with their prep school education that’s a full year ahead of the two. I love the shot of Kyon’s POV when Haruhi sticks her head into the frame. Kyon and Asakura mistake Haruhi’s factual statements as an attempt to mock their “lesser” school and by extension themselves, so Asakura challenges a “math-off”, only to get in over her head and start crying.

Asakura had warned Kyon not to involve Yuki in anything related to schoolwork, but has little choice, and wins the challenge with Yuki’s superior academic prowess. Hey, she lacks confidence…no one said she was a dummy! In another nice nod to the show in which she’s an alien, Yuki is so bad at explaining how she arrives at answers so quickly it sounds like she’s speaking an indecipherable alien language at seemingly superhuman speed.

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The last segment involves both misunderstandings and Yuki being bold. Kyon decides to eat lunch in the clubroom and finds Yuki there tapping away at her video game (which looks like a dating sim). He decides to tease her by snatching the game and making her jump up high to grab it, resulting in the two accidentally embracing. Asakura enters just in time to witness this embrace, and quickly withdraws with her apologies.

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She bursts in again to find Kyon feeding Yuki, and again apologizes and withdraws. Kyon worries she misunderstood everything…but did she? The hug may have been accidental, but both of them held that hug an awful long time…almost as if they enjoyed it. Also, it makes no sense why splitting Kyon’s lunch would be easier if he fed her. That’s just Yuki seeing if Kyon would actually feed her…and he does! Nice moments for this couple; I just wish they wouldn’t always dismiss them as misunderstandings.

The final scene has Haruhi, Koizumi, Tsuruya and Mikuru at the club’s door in preparation for Haruhi’s “Training Camp”, which she’s sure she told Yuki about, just as she told Yuki she got a faculty pass to come to their school for club. In both cases, Yuki forgot being told these things because she was so engrossed in her video games. But approving Haruhi’s requests has increased Kyon’s exposure to Haruhi, making Yuki’s job to woo him that much harder. So Yuki: When Haruhi’s around, put the game down and concentrate!

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 05

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Last week was a compelling turning point in the show, when the streak of everything going Nagato Yuki’s way ends with a bang, with that bang being her homemade chocolates hitting the ground. This week, Nagato Yuki disappears, and it’s up to Ryouko to pick up the pieces.

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To her surprise, Haruhi joins the search. Haruhi claims it was just a misunderstanding; that she was giving Kyon courtesy chocolate just like she gave to Koizumi. It isn’t her fault Yuki overreacted, or takes the ritual so seriously.

Ryouko is angry, first at Haruhi, then at herself for blaming others for what she deems her own failure. This is the angriest and most emotional we’ve seen Ryouko yet, and it’s the culmination of putting “Miss Nagato’s” hopes and dreams on her shoulders, while also possibly forcing ideals on the lilac-haired waif.

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When the two finally locate that waif, sulking on a stair, they learn they misunderstood her running away, as did we. Yuki wasn’t devastated by the sight of Haruhi and Kyon, nor is she giving up; she merely felt like she shouldn’t be there while someone else is giving chocolate to someone, because she wouldn’t want anyone watching while she was doing it. Yuki puts herself in the shoes of others, and treats them the way she’d want to be treated. She really is a good girl.

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But will she have the fortitude to hang in a fight with Haruhi for Kyon’s heart? Haruhi makes it clear she “doesn’t dislike” Kyon (i.e. she likes him) when Yuki asks her point blank (and good for her for doing so!) so it’s no longer a one-horse race. But Yuki is game for now, and Haruhi wishes her rival luck.

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Yuki finally, finally delivers the chocolates to Kyon, with trembling hands and a face so red he really should know how much this means to her. He opens them eats them, praises their taste and Yuki and thanks her. He does everything he should do considering what he was presented with, but it isn’t enough. Someone like Kyon needs a clear-as-crystal confession or it’s going to sail over him.

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With nothing else to do but watch from a secluded spot, Ryouko decries the fact it doesn’t seem to be going so smoothly, while Haruhi, nervously playing with her shoe thinks she understands at least part of how Yuki feels, and how giving something to someone, as a courtesy or not, is still an achievement to be proud of.

Haruhi looks particularly weary when Yuki seems to be going in for the confession, but a terribly-timed tackle by Tsuruya causes Yuki to fall to the ground and Kyon to land on her chest, ruining her chance once more. Haruhi seems more than a little relieved by the Tsuruya ex machina.

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While this week did resort to some standard rom-com stall tactics, I appreciated how it kept things tough for Yuki, and more importantly, brought Ryouko’s formerly flawless facilitating powers down to earth. In one of her better lines, told in her temporary rage, Ryouko tells Haruhi “you’re the kind of person who can act to make what you want happen”—referencing Haruhi’s supernatural powers in the original series—compared to Yuki, who has trouble making anything at all happen.

But after this week, Ryouko and Haruhi seem like something resembling friends, their bond forged in large part because of Yuki: Ryouko’s devotion to her, and Haruhi’s competition with her. And I think Haruhi understands Yuki all too well in one notable regard: for both of them, getting Kyon to properly notice their feelings looks to be a Herculean challenge.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 04

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Oh dear…I realize I may have been hasty about choosing Nagato Yuki-san as the Spring’s “feel good” anime. Her inflexible reliance on conventional courtship rituals like Christmas and Valentines left her vulnerable the battle for Kyon’s heart Four weeks in, he has no idea how deeply she feels for him.

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Haruhi arrived on the field of battle late, and even provided moral support for Yuki to advance at a quicker pace, which lessoned the threat she posed. At the same time, her strict non-adherence to societal norms, striking looks, and impish aggressiveness made for a formidable arsenal, with which she’s able to steal a march on Yuki.

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The most heartbreaking part (if you’re a Yuki shipper)? By going home to make chocolate rather than stay at the club to hang with Kyon, Yuki gave Haruhi the only opening she’d need. Mind you, Haruhi doesn’t have anything against Yuki, and she’s not some villainess hell bent on making her life miserable. On the contrary, I doubt she was planning to make the connection she made with Kyon, or vice versa. It was almost as if destiny itself was against Yuki.

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All Haruhi sees is a lonely Kyon waiting for her by the school gate, a potential free coffee, and later, an open ear to her philosophy of “good things will come to those who seek them,” not those who wait. Even when she tests him by asking if he thinks water imps exist, he doesn’t bore her with a scientific explanation for why they don’t. Instead, he ponders whether they do…and who can blame him, with Haruhi fording the February river in her bare feet at sundown; the very picture of impish beauty?

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Yuki means well, but her omission absence, and hesitation are no match for Haruhi. Yet she doesn’t even consider Haruhi to be a threat when she tries and fails to sleep that night, then goes to school with a lump in her throat. Her challenge, as she sees it, is to get that chocolate into Kyon’s hands. As long as she does that, everything will be fine. But putting so much importance into the ritual also means she’ll be that much more devastated if things don’t go as planned.

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Mikiru, Tsuruya and Asahina’s collective “attagirl” encouragement and Asahina’s plan in which she comes to Kyon rather than wait for him, are all designed to make the exchange as painless and idiotproof as possible. But at this point, I’m pretty certain she’s walking into an ambush. There will be no feel-good ending in that room.

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The scene she walks in on couldn’t have been worse if they were in flagrante delicto on the tabletop, because frankly, Yuki’s threshold for romantic defeat is about as low as humanly possible. There’s Kyon, to whom she was about to present the chocolates she put her goddamn heart into, his hand connected via the conduit of a store-bought chocolate bar—”Showa”, a play on Meiji—to Haruhi, the usurper Yuki herself allowed into the club. It’s a regular imperial coup.

The one slight glimmer of hope? The box Yuki drops on the floor doesn’t bust open and scatter the pieces all over the floor, so maybe that’s not quite the state of her heart. But this is going to sting, and her skight step back indicates she intends to retreat.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 03

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By formally introducing the main character of the Haruhi franchise in just the third episode of a spin-off starring a meek bookworm, Nagato Yuki-kun seems to be issuing a challenge—to itself—can Yuki hold her ground when a charm factory like Hirano Aya’s Haruhi crashes her show, or will she disappear, as the title suggests?

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I would imagine most of the audience turned off by all the show’s changes have already checked out (unless they’re hate-watching). Now it’s up to the show to deliver for the cautiously optimistic viewers who stuck around to see where they’re going with this.

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In terms of Yuki being replaced as the protagonist, that isn’t going to happen, nor would I want it to: Haruhi is a supporting character who just happens to steal every scene she’s in with her charisma, and instant chemistry with Kyon. Their half-hostile, half-flirtatious sparring on display here is nothing new for veterans of the franchise. And listening to two true pros at work in Hirano and Sugita is always a pleasure in and of itself.

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As it has every episode thus far, the show doesn’t forget to give Yuki and Kyon a romantic moment or two to keep their romantic potential active. Here, Yuki gives Kyon an extra-formal thank you for helping her this year, and then prays at the shrine for the courage to tell him her feelings—her real feelings, not the word salad she dropped on Haruhi and Kyon in that cafe.

That being said, I loved how her melon soda refilled when she realized she could call Kyon a friend without anyone thinking it’s weird.

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The new year brings with it more Haruhi, and when she infiltrates North High with her transfer student pet Koizumi Itsuki (who doesn’t appear to be an esper) and moves right in, getting Yuki to agree to make them members and make her Executive President. In an odd moment, it seems like Haruhi heard Kyon’s inner monologue. Was that just an easter egg, or a sign things could get more supernatural?

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That’s going to be another big question: assuming Nagato will still have the greater share of screen time as the official protagonist, how much will the people Haruhi has amassed change? Does she have the same godlike power to make her delusions reality she possessed in the original series? Did the show start out like a conventional, non-supernatural rom-com as a feint?

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I’m skeptical of that. I see this Haruhi as no more a god here than Yuki is an alien or Asahina a future-girl. I’m not saying there’s no way they’ll become those things under extended exposure to Haruhi, but I doubt it. The challenge remains, the lit club is now much louder and livelier (the whole cast does a great job creating the aural chaos of such a club), and Yuki must become louder and more aggressive in order not to be left in the dust.

The good news is, Nagato doesn’t need to grow her hair long enough to put it in a ponytail…though if she really wants to, Kyon won’t stop her.

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