Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 05 – Taking the Tsun with the Dere

Via a handwritten letter from Paul instructing him to read it out loud (Ghislaine can’t read), Rudeus learns about his new job as academic and magic tutor to a nine-year-old girl in the city of Roa, for whom Gislaine is both bodyguard and sword instructor. It’s a five-year commitment, ending when he turns 12, and in that time he’s forbidden to contact home.

Paul did this because he suspected Rudy and Sylphie might enter a co-dependent relationship that would be harmful for both of them. He also tells him the young lady is “fair game”, but hands off Ghislaine, whom he mentions having bedded previously. Fortunately, this is all we hear of Paul this week, and presumably for the next five years of Rudy’s life.

Rudy takes this sudden change in his life extraordinarily well for someone who had not only become comfortable in his previous life holed up in his room, but also became comfortable in his home village with Sylphie. He realizes one can become too comfortable, and life too easy. If this job will help pay academy, tuition, he’s game.

Upon meeting Phillip Boreas Greyrat, Rudy learns he’ll be under the employ of his father’s cousin (i.e. his cousin once removed), making his daughter, Eris, his second cousin. And while Phil says his daughter is “a bit willful”, that hardly does her justice. Rudy bows as a noble should, but is immediately dismissed as too young by the fiery, ultra-tsun Eris.

Eris brooks no back-talk, as when Rudy asks what age has to do with tutoring her, she slaps him across the face. He slaps back, but far from cowing her, she pounces and starts beating the shit out of him until he has to push her off with wind magic. She then chases him around the manor.

Despite this first interaction, Rudy isn’t ready to give up, which impresses Phil (at this point, all other tutor candidates quit). Rudy can see the challenge his father has laid out for him, and knows full well he’ll be laughed at if he turns tail and runs home.

More than that, Rudy has had his fill of being beaten up from his previous life. In his position as tutor he’s going to teach the intense, violent Eris that violence should never be the first resort, and one can’t get too comfortable committing it.

After proposing some kind of scheme with Phil to get Eris to accept him as her tutor, we cut to Rudy emerging from a wooden box with bound hands in a grimy dungeon. He wakes Eris up and explains the situation: they’ve been taken hostage by brigands.

When their captors enter and Eris treats them with immediate derision, she’s met with a level of violence she’s unable to keep up with. While she’s bloodied and missing several teeth, she’s still defiant. The degree to which she’s beaten also indicates to Rudy that the false kidnapping plan he arranged may have turned into the real thing.

Rudy is reasonably sure he could overpower the guards, but not sure enough to risk it, and in any case his first lesson as tutor is that might makes right, something he wants to avoid. Instead, he partially heals Eris, bars the door with stone, and busts through the window bars. Eris asks for help, but he’ll only take her with him if she promises not to yell and scream or be violent.

As the baddies bust through the barred door, Eris agrees, and Rudy whisks her off. The moment he’s fully healed her, she’s back to yelling and acting imperious. At this point he bids her farewell, but she soon forms up behind him, saying she was only joking and will honor their promise.

The two take a horse cart back to Roa without incident. The men who race ahead of them on horseback seem like bad news, but Rudy is condient once they’re within Roa’s walls that they’ll be safe. That is, until Eris is snatched up again and one of Phil’s attendants reveals he’s in league with the brigands to exact a ransom.

Rudy halts their escape with Eris by erecting a stone wall in their path and prepares for battle, but he’s outnumbered and surrounded. The baddies offer Rudy a generous cut of the ransom for his cooperation—equal to more than ten enrollments in Magic University with change to spare.

Rudy admits it’s a tempting offer, but if there’s one thing his dating games have taught him, it’s how betraying the girl for money can only bode poorly for one’s affection levels and chances of winning the girl’s heart. So he rejects the offer and launches a massive firework into the sky to blind the baddies, enabling him to snatch Eris out of their clutches.

Rudy is able to get some distance between him and the brigands and lays down suppressive fire magic, but one of the baddies practices the North God Sword Style, which includes deadly sword-throwing. Rudy cannot avoid the path of thrown sword or summon magic fast enough to deflect it.

Fortunately for him, Ghislaine saw the firework and headed for its launching point. Using her immense beastperson strength and speed, she’s able to make it in time to shatter the thrown blade into metal dust and kill two of the brigands in one sensational, fluid, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it movement.

It’s a moment that briefly but powerfully demonstrates the potential of a show as well-funded and lovingly made as Mushoku Tensei—it can match the artistry and badassery of Jujusu Kaisen or Demon Slayer. Rudy is also haunted by the sight of one of the dead brigands, who is headless and robed in blood. He can’t hear, freezes up, and has to be snapped back to coherence by Ghislaine. Compare that to Eris, who is just happy to see her bodyguard and doesn’t really react to the blood.

The intensity of what Rudy just went though stays with him when they return to the Boreas Greyrat home, otherwise none the worse for wear. Rudy deems his plan to be a failure, as in the end things spiraled out of his control and he and Eris could have ended up dead without intervention from Ghislaine. Notably, Eris slaps her father’s hand away when he tries to help her, as she prefers to get up herself.

Rudy turns to leave, but after a few beats, Eris turns back around and orders him to stop, then tells him he has “special permission” to call her Eris—no “lady”, just Eris. When he asks if that means she’ll let him teach her, she turns back around, but it’s clearly not a “no”, and his mood brightens appreciably.

While an archetypal tsundere out of the gate and throughout this episode, I still found Eris’s desire to stand on her own two feet and utter lack of patience for bullshit admirable. Like Rudy when he arrived in the world and to this day, she has a lot to learn, and from reading, writing, arithmetic and magic, Rudy has a lot to offer.

The faux-then-real kidnapping was a worthy means of bringing the two together, and showing us just how awesome Ghislaine is. I’m sad Sylphie gets the short end of the stick, but it should be a fun five years. I’m hoping they don’t fly by too fast!

Check out Crow’s review of episode 5 here.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 03 – Bugs are Best with a Squeeze of Lemon

Karyl spends the better part of a day observing from afar as Pecorine eats and eats and eats some more—all while her own stomach goes empty. This is just the vulnerability needed for Pecorine, Kokkoro and Yuuki to invite her to share a meal (of bugs) with them, and melt her icy heart just a little bit more. That said, she still outright refuses to join their Gourmet Guild, which makes the meek Kokkoro sad, as the gesture of officially signing everyone up is very important to her.

Thanks to Pecorine’s bottomless appetite, she’s soon out of cash, but the proprietor of her go-to restaurant offers her a part-time job. This further complicates Kokkoro’s plan as now some of Peco’s time is already taken up with work. However, Peco’s energy and passion for food makes her the perfect hostess and waitress, and even persuades some brand-new pint-sized patrons to try the bug menu when Karyl breaks cover to stop her.

Karyl has actually come because she has new orders from her apparent femme fatale boss: she’s no longer supposed to assassinate Pecorine, just observe her, so joining the guild now aligns with her objectives. Everything is interrupted by the sudden arrival by a huge ogre-like brute who will have the restaurant shut down if the food he’s served isn’t perfect.

When he breaks the proprietor’s wrist, it’s up to Peco to whip up the bug menu…but it’s Karyl with the lemon juice assist that wins the ogre over. That is, until he decides to toss the rest of his food on the ground. That’s when Peco summons her “princess knight power” to toss the brute out on his can.

Having helped save a beloved business from being shuttered, Karyl accepts the invitation to the Gourmet Guild, in her typical tsundere way (“you’d better be grateful!” and such). With that, the quartet is now officially a guild, and they can commence their quest for unique culinary treasures.

Princess Connect continues to emanate thick waves of charm from each of its characters and this week shows an ability to balance its core party with a host of new characters, all deployed surgically rather than crowding the scene. The mysterious demon girl Yuuki feeds, the adorable would-be guild Little Lyrical, Karyl’s boss, all show promise, while it’s great that the guys who stole Peco’s sword are now best buds with her.

Honestly, anyone would be a fool not to be friends with her: we’ve yet to see anyone who can match her prowess in battle…or at the dinner table!

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 02 – Friends are Delicious

Well, that didn’t take long. Princess Connect soundly beat Shironeko Project this week, and it wasn’t close. And it did it with a no-holds-barred charm offensive, introducing the fourth member of the party: a twin-tailed tsundere catgirl named Karyl (Kyaru).

We learn all we need to know about her as she observes three cats playing together while a fourth keeps its own company. Karyl identifies with this cat. Who needs friends?

Well, if your friend happens to be Pecorine, you don’t have to answer that question. The crusader lights up every scene she’s in, managing to be immensely powerful and a complete airhead without coming across as annoying or cliched.

That’s a fine line to walk, but she walks it extremely well, owing to her cool character design, fluid, lively movements, and of course great voice work from MAO. It’s just barrels of fun watching her wake up in a stable after a rager then win an eating contest for breakfast!

Karyl seems intent on making Pecorine acknowledge her power. She also has the ability to control animals, like an Orc just outside the city. Pecorine deals with the orc easily with her bare hands, and Karyl gets knocked out by that very flying defeated orc!

The reason Peco was in the right place was that she spotted the sword thieves (who are still around and still fun characters in their own right) and was attempting to catch up to them—not because they stole her sword (she thinks they’re just minding it for her as a favor!) but to deliver “Beriberi’s” medicine.

Karyl just so happens to witness the thieves get snatched up by a dragon, who was lured to them by Peco’s valuable sword. Since Peco, Yuuki and Kokkoro were nice to her, she decides to lead them to the dragon’s lair, but won’t lift a finger to help them separate the sword (or the thieves) from its clutches.

Karyl’s ulterior motive is to use her magic to control the dragon and demonstrate her power to Peco. Interestingly it’s not Peco but the amnesiac Yuuki who leads the charge against the dragon, defiantly standing before it, attracting it with his cloak like a matador, only to get hilariously snapped up as the dragon takes flight.

Peco tags along, first using her sword as a handhold and then the afro of one of the thieves. His roots eventually give way, sending Peco flying, but she manages to position herself above the dragon’s head and delivers a devastating blow, knocking it out of the sky and saving both Yuuki and the thieves from a sticky end.

Throughout all of this, Karyl is manipulating the dragon, having made it fly erratically to shake Peco off. However, on the ground she is helplesss against Peco’s luck, pluck, and brawn, the dragon proving to be no big deal at the end of the day.

Pecorine also ends up reunited with her sword, which is actually a good thing for Karyl, because the monsters she controls always have a tendency to land so close to her they manage to squash her. She’s saved by Peco and her sword, and Peco then goes into all-out Crusader Mode, cleaving the dragon’s fire breath then blowing it away with a devastating strike.

In the aftermath, all Karyl can do is gawk at Peco’s glowing magnificence…and you can’t blame her! This right here could have been the best battle of the season so far…something I did not expect, but for which I’m very grateful. The animation was smooth and sweeping and packed a huge punch, and underlining all of it is Peco’s God-Level energy an enthusiasm.

In the end, the quartet returns to Landosol (bathed in the light of another gorgeous golden sunset) and tucks into onigiri made from leftover lunch rice. Pecorine proposes the four of them create a “Gourmet Guild”, the object of which is to discover the tastiest dishes in the realm. Yuuki and Kokkoro are all about it, but Karyl reverts to tsundere mode and huffs off, offended that Peco would think she’d be happy about being included in such nonsense.

However, Karyl has a change of heart when she spots the three cats now playing with the lonely fourth. She takes a bite of the onigiri, made with love by Kokkoro for her companions, and thus tasting better. And while she claims to still not need friends, her recent escapades indicate otherwise. There’s no question of her eventually joining the guild.

Princess Connect Re:DIVE looks and sounds great, has an infectiously upbeat tone, and is legitimately funny. Kokkoro’s expression whenever Yuuki is suddenly injured is growing on me, while Peco is never not entertaining, whether she’s kicking serious ass or being a charming space cadet. I also like how food will be the focus of the party’s efforts going forward. It took two episodes, but I’m sold!

BokuBen 2 – 03 – Lifesaving Bangs

Rizu, feeling like her bangs are getting a bit long, aims to trim them…a bit, but thanks to her dad surprising her, she cuts off a bit more than a bit. Fumino and Uruka’s mixed reaction doesn’t help matters, but it’s around Nariyuki whom Rizu feels most self-conscious, and so takes great pains to hide her face so he won’t notice.

When Fumino sees that Nariyuki is taking Rizu’s face-hiding as a sign she hates him, she removes her ridiculous mask, only for Nariyuki not to notice any change whatsoever. Rizu hates the contradiction of being upset that he didn’t, but he’s determined to figure out what the change is, and eventually redeems himself.

In addition to keeping his promise to call her by her given name, he tells her how her facial expressions have changed since they first started studying together. While she once looked sullen and detached, now her face is more bright animated, even joyful. Not even caring about her bangs anymore, Rizu deems him correct…just not in the way she expected.

We stay with Rizu as the episode’s focus, but the POV shifts to her self-appointed rival (and not-so-secret admirer), Sekijo Sawako. Earlier, their soulmate status was confirmed when they changed hairstyles on the same day (even though Rizu’s was an accident), and when Sawako notices Rizu’s pen case getting a little tatty, she offers to take her shopping for a new one.

The next day, after obsessive minute-to-minute preparation and anticipation that kept her up all night, requiring at least nine cans of coffee, the two meet up for their long-awaited date. But after plying Rizu with at least 2,000 calories in snacks, Sawako spots Nariyuki, and determines she needs to put “Rizu’s happiness first” by cutting their date short and letting Rizu go with Nariyuki.

Both Rizu and Nariyuki are confused by this move, and Sawako ends up sulking at a claw machine, remembering her middle school days when her high test scores would annoy her less brainy classmates.

It wasn’t until she took an exam beside her that Sawako met Rizu and became absolutely enthralled and inspired by her “cool beauty” attitude, calmly calling out the dumb boys. From that point on Sawako gained more confidence in herself and started to care less and less about what they thought…all thanks to Rizu.

Sawako explains all this to Nariyuki when he comes looking for her, and that she believes Rizu “saved her life” with her inspirational attitude. Rizu, who was also looking for Sawako, hears the tail end of this, but rather than being insulted, she’s actually glad that something she considered a weakness—not being great at reading people’s feelings—was seen as a strength and inspiration by Sawako.

Sawako’s tsundere antics can be tiresome, and I’m not sure we needed her to fall on Rizu, grabbing her boob and exposing her own underwear in the process, but I was glad to get her backstory and motivations for why she treats Rizu as both a rival and kind of soul mate and lodestar. I also appreciate that like Fumino she’s aware of the potential of a Rizu x Nariyuki, even if those two remain as clueless as ever.

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 10 – Next Time, Just Use Tsuchimikado’s Quinjet

As Itsuwa searches the internet for a sexy outfit to counter Kaori’s maid assault, Knight Leader stands ready to instruct Kaori on how to act like “a proper English lady” (and presumably dress like one, neither of which appeal to her), while a chance encounter between Touma and Misaka results in the latter getting “overcharged” at the vending machine.

Touma comes home to Index with instant yakisoba, but their meager repast is interrupted by a call from Tsuchimikado, whom Touma demands to keep it short, and he does: “Get your ass to Britain.” A moment later a knockout gas grenade is thrown into the apartment, and Touma and Index pass out.

At some point between then and when we next see the pair, they were given a choice to board Tsuchimikado’s supersonic jet for travel to Britain, but Touma chose the more comfortable alternative of commercial air travel aboard “Air Bus 365” (which sounds more like a make and model of plane than a flight number).

This would be fine, with the biggest problem keeping Index fed and quiet, but due to Touma’s boundless misfortune, the airliner they happen to board has been infiltrated by anti-Britain terrorists with agendas related to heightening tensions between the magical forces of Britain and France.

When Touma discovers something is amiss when searching for (what else) Index’s meal (we’ll never know—beef or fish?!) the flight crew arrests him lest a panic brew in the cabin. One of the terrorists then captures Index and tries to kill her, but Touma manages to rescue her. It’s a tense, claustrophobic situation and the flight crew seems ill-equipped to stop the terrorists, leaving it up to Touma.

On the ground in Britain, Laura Stuart and her logistics nuns represent at least one of the groups trying to bring the plane down (in her case, allowing it to land safely on a closed-off country highway). But their magical manipulation of the plane’s fuel gauges are overridden and the terrorist gets the pilot to regain altitude, so Laura has to switch to Plan S…for Stiyl Magnus, making his first appearance in the trequel.

Touma manages to track down the first terrorist and punches him out, but it isn’t long before he realizes there’s definitely a second, armed terrorist in the cargo hold. He uses hot tea to expand the ductwork so he can slip into the hold undetected, just like they do in the movies! Unfortunately the second terrorist is less of a pushover and has a grenade in his hand.

That’s when Stiyl arrives, perched atop a second plane below Air Bus 365. He uses his cards to neutralize the second terrorist, scolds Touma for not doing the bare minimum to protect Index, then departs as quickly as he arrived. Hi Stiyl, Bye Stiyl!

Air Bus 365 lands safely at Edinburgh; this is reported on the radio being listened to by what looks like another new group of magical users who are about to initiate a plan that will “break up the paradigm that is Britain,” suggesting they’ll be a key part of the complex magical conflict to unfold in this new arc, with Touma right in the middle of it.

Grand Blue – 02 – Underwater Isn’t So Bad

Iori continues to contend with the constant nudity of his male peers, but everyone dresses for dinner, which is when Nanaka observes he’s gone out every day he’s been in Izu, and doesn’t even know where his room is!

Nanaka forcefully forbids him from spending a third night out, but when the boys say they’ll be having drinks with students at a women’s university, Iori begs Nanaka to let him go. She refuses.

Iori doesn’t give up there, an decides he’ll unpack his stuff and set his room up in a way that will convince Nanaka to change her mind. Kotobuki and Tokita volunteer to help, and eventually Imamura is also involved in various ill-conceived makeovers.

They festoon his room in porn, then lolis, then BL, and finally, in order to sway Nanaka most powerfully, slap Chisa’s face on everything. In the last case, Chisa ends up seeing their handiwork before her sister.

It’s a competent example of the “best laid plans” comedy trope, in which Iori keeps trusting his friends, things just keep getting worse, and he just grows more angry and frustrated. His own idea is worse still, suggesting the entire venture was doomed from the start!

Chisa banishes him to an isolated room that also happens to be the meeting room for the diving club; Iori only learns this when he wakes up to find a meeting taking place in the room, and the club ain’t vacating!

Kotobuki and Tokita decide to give the three freshmen—Iori, Imamura, and Chisa—some basic lessons. Chisa is forced to participate despite already being well-versed in said basics.

The swimming lesson goes south when Iori is treated to the sight of way more underwater manhood than with he’s comfortable. The senpais even trick him into totally disrobing just when Chisa emerges from the changing room in her orange bikini.

Iori just can’t seem to prevent Chisa from seeing him in almost exclusively embarrassing and shameful situations!

But when Iori idly says he’s not interested in underwater—something she’s painfully passionate about—Chisa has Nanaka take Iori to the aquarium after-hours.

This visit and the majesty of the underwater to which divers have access doubtlessly inspires Iori, but so does video he sees of an entirely different side of Chisa; one he never sees because he always looks like a jackass around her.

Nanaka is honest about Chisa telling her to take him and why, and the next time Iori sees Chisa, he makes sure to express his gratitude, both by being fully clothed, and by giving her a souvenir. Chisa would’ve preferred a cuter trinket, but she clearly appreciates the gesture.

This was by far the least cringe-worthy interactions between the two childhood friends, and hopefully the start of a trend of more cordial encounters. Still, I also hope the show doesn’t stop mining Iori’s embarrassment/jackassery around Chisa for comedy…it’s still a rich mine!

Saekano 2 – 07

It’s been two months since Winter Comiket, and Cherry Blessing has done well in both sales and critical reception. But with their first game released, Blessing Software is at a crossroads. Utaha is finishing up her newest novel, while Eriri is still blowing past art deadlines (what she’s painting, we never see).

Tomoya’s rival Iori surmises that Cherry was able to surpass his game in reviews (if not in sales) because both writer and artist grew and surpassed themselves. Now that the trio has been through it all together, the girls are far less careful about how they act at school around Tomoya.

Tomoya, Eri, and Utaha are all getting along swimmingly post-Comiket, but Tomoya has been unable to make any progress whatsoever in making up with Megumi. She gives him a listless “good morning” and doesn’t answer her phone when he calls her.

That ignored call is the beginning of Tomoya starting to actually stop and carefully consider everything Megumi had done for and with him, and the manner in which treated her in return. Because he took her commitment lightly and shut her out at a crucial moment, she’s not picking up now to discuss with him the pros and cons of a new, second game.

Valentine’s Day arrives, and when he brings up the possibility of giving her more work, Eriri simply wants more time to relax, not worry about such things, give him chocolate, take his arm and walk with him.

To her chagrin, he has lunch with Utaha, who also gives him chocolate, and offers to sign her real name (not her pen name) “all over his body”, in a classic Utaha tease that’s probably more sincere than Tomoya is willing to realize.

Utaha also released her latest novel, and plans to start another soon. Since she’s already in university, she won’t be coming to school anymore after today. So Tomoya asks her, almost desperately, if she’d write for him again.

Despite her resentment of Tomoya’s protectiveness with Eriri, she bashfully admits she wants to make another game with her. Eriri, out in the hall making sure Utaha doesn’t make any moves, hears Utaha’s warm tone.

If Tomoya can come up with an idea, it looks like Utako Kasumi and Kashiwagi Eri are all on board. Which leaves Megumi (sorry Hyoudou, you’re not a main!). Tomoya makes an effort to track her down, but she slips out just as school ends. He spots her eating alone in a cafe, texts her a request for a circle meeting, and watches her not ignore it, giving him hope that maybe their friendship hasn’t “run its natural course” quite yet after all.

Then he goes home, and late into the night, he plays Cherry Blessing through. Playing it brings up all of the memories he has of Megumi working tirelessly by his side to make the game such a success, and how little appreciation he showed in his words, actions, or lack thereof. So Tomoya curls up in shame. At last—a glimmer of self-awareness from the guy.

Thinking of her also inspires Tomoya to come up with a title for the upcoming game he’ll aim to release in time for Summer Comiket: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend. Meta! Here’s hoping he can make proper amends—and Megumi is willing to take the fool back.

Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 06

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Perhaps energized by their new status as lovers, Stella and Ikki dispatch their opponents with ease in their respective selection matches. Stella still has to deal with Shizuku glomming onto Ikki, and Ikki has yet to set his sister straight (perhaps because he doesn’t realize the extent to which she likes him), but there’s a new problem: Ikki has a stalker girl!

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Thankfully, she’s not a stalker, she’s just bad at looking at or talking to men. She’s Ayatsuji Ayase, the daughter of a famous swordsman who Ikki worships and whos style he knows of. Ayase has a good reason for coming to Ikki: having seen what he can do in the matches, she wants to train with him to get her out of her rut. If this sounds a lot like Kirin and Ayato training in Gakusen Toshi Asterisk, well, I’m with you in my continued astonishment by how often the shows echo one another.

In this case, since Ayase is older and a third-year, she’s not the Little Sister-type like Kirin, but rather the (slightly) Older Woman-type. Despite her mentioning her discomfort with men, Ikki gets right down to business putting his hands up and down her legs in order to adjust her stance. Stella and Shizuku are mortified, Ayase is embarrased and beet-red, but Ikki is very clinical about the whole thing, and doesn’t once express arousal by what he’s doing.

And dagnabbit, his adjustments pay instant dividends for Ayase’s fighting style. Her attempts to exactly copy her father, someone of the opposite sex, was what was holding her back. She needs to capitalize on the strengths her female body to improve.

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Ayase is amazed by her improvement and ebullient in her gratitude, to the point of possibly coming off as romantically interested in Ikki, despite him having no idea or desire for such a thing. Stella asks Shizuku if she’s okay with this, but it’s a question that could just as easily be asked of her. That’s when Shizuku states that as long as the person Ikki is with makes him happy and never betrays him, she’ll be okay with it.

Of course, Shizuku’s not talking about Ayase, but Stella. Only problem is, Shizuku still thinks she’s the best woman for the job, despite being his sister. Ikki, however, is a lot more certain. He touched Ayase as a doctor or therapist would; that’s it. Stella is the only girl he likes. And if she wants his hand and a kiss in the middle of the night, she—and only she—gets them. And she’d probably get more, if she asked.

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With that fact reiterated, Stella joins Ikki in training Ayase, who treats them to dinner to thank them. That’s when the subject of why she needs to get stronger and become a Seven Star finalist. One big reason might be the guy who walks into the restaurant (Wagnaria?) with his entourage of floozies and toadies: Karaudo, who picks on Ayase, then bashes Ikki’s head with a bottle and spits in his face when Ikki comes to her defense.

Stella wants to jack Karaudo up, but Ikki stops her, and does nothing to retaliate himself, leaving Karaudo free to take off with his posse in a cloud of insults at what a cowardly punk he is. But even if Ikki wanted to fight back, to do so would probably get him expelled, so he endures. I mean, his life isn’t all that bad; he has a badass live-in girlfriend, a cute sister, and a beautiful training partner. And Alice! Enduring a little bullying is a small price to pay, right?

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A couple of student council members were watching the whole thing, just waiting for Ikki to make a move, then commending him for not. The whole incident leads Ikki and Stella to want to know what’s going on with Ayase and those douchebags. But before she can tell them, she and Ikki get simultaneous texts: they’ll be fighting each other in the next selection match. That’s…unlucky.

Now Ikki is in a tough spot: he promised he’d help Ayase become stronger, but Ayase only wants to become stronger to progress in the Seven Star Battle; if he beats her, it will ruin her. But he also promised Stella they’d be the last two fighters standing, and that promise must take precedence.

After briefly consulting with Alice (a nice scene between the two that shows how good an adviser Alice is with everyone, not just Shizuku), Ikki decides to accept Ayase’s ominous rooftop invitation, where she stands wearing a kimono and an enigmatic grin. If her goals are as important as they seem to be, and Ikki is in her way, this could be the beginning of the end of their friendship, which despite having just begun this week, still feels like a loss I’d lament.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 05

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RKC is full of surprises. I never thought I’d be awarding two nines in a row to it, but it showed this week, categorically, that the excellent handling of Stella and Ikki’s confession wasn’t a fluke; that wonderful romance is here to stay, and there’s lots of room to grow.

But there were sure to be bumps in the road, and the first is that they’ve been lovers for two weeks…but haven’t done anything. That seems to bother Stella more than Ikki, but as we eventually find out, that’s not the case at all. It’s another common romantic convention: both lovers waiting for the other to start something and getting frustrated by it. Yet it’s another convention RKC picks up and runs with, showing how potent and relatable idea it can be.

While they’ve been lovers doing nothing for two weeks, Ikki has only risen in school standing, no longer the Worst One, but “Another One” (that’s not really his nickname, is it?). The girls swarm around him wanting lessons in swordsmanship; a group of guys gets jealous, but he beats them so easily they become his loyal students, a nice change of pace from the typical “you’ll regret this!” storming off that even the reporter mentions.

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The group of students he’s teaching keep growing along with his popularity, and while Stella is probably proud of him and admiring of his generosity, there’s no doubt she’s getting nudged out of chunks of time he could be with her.

Also Shizuku, as it turns out, hasn’t quite given up on him, or at least intends to make life difficult for Stella if she fails to assert herself. I particularly liked Shizuku’s ear-to-ear grin as Stella must follow through and chug her two bottles of Pocari Sweat.

Another great moment was when Alice lent Stell a game whose protagonist looks and sounds very similar, if not identical, minus the glasses, to Ikki. Her “illicit” vicarious play hearkens back to that great scene where she can’t help but touch Ikki’s chest while he’s sleeping.

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When Ikki takes his class to the pool, he invites Stella along. When she angrily wonders why he doesn’t want to teach her, he gives a very good explanation that not only appeases but flatters her: her ability is beyond anything can teach her, that his style would undermine her strengths, and he wants her, over any other, to continue to go beyond his imagination.

But the fact of the matter is, nothing continues to happen, and Stella is forced into the background as he teaches the others. The reporter puts two and two together, threatens to ask Ikki out, then gets Stella to let slip they’re lovers going nowhere. The reporter’s advice is simple: be forceful and tell him what you want. But of course, it’s not that simple.

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The reporter’s talk with Stella mirrors Alice’s talk with Shizuku, and in this case Alice has valuable insight into the male mind, since he shares their biology, if not that identity. The episode cleverly cuts between the two discussions, Archer-style. It’s also notable that Alice, hardly a conservative, doesn’t think Shizuku’s love for her brother is necessarily wrong, and that she shouldn’t accept defeat just yet.

Still, that’s because Alice is rooting for her beloved friend and roommate. In reality, Ikki is very much in love with Stella, and vice-versa. When the two come together, Ikki starts to talk in a way that Stella interprets as a break-up. The two have their first lovers’ quarrel, and it’s a damn fine one, with the two of them belting out increasingly reasonable things even as they get unreasonably upset with one another.

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Brass tacks: Ikki didn’t make the first move because he was worried she’d think he was a dirty man; Stella didn’t because she was worried he’d think she was a slut. They’re both wrong; both want the other to make a move. So they agree to say the thing they want to do right there and then, and it’s the same thing: kiss. Ikki makes it clear he wants her to ask him for a kiss when she wants one; Stella lets him know she only likes it when one guy looks at her in a naughty way: him.

Having cleared a common hurdle at the start of relationships when the two parties are still feeling each other’s patterns and ways of doing things out, they confidently hold hands on the bus ride home, each knowing a lot more what the other expects, and likely feeling foolish for ever worrying about it. Some tough battles with the Evil Student Council executives lay ahead for both of these lovers, but they won’t have to worry about what the other wants anymore.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 04

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Stella’s first battle is over before it begins, when her lower-ranked opponent forfeits out of a desire not to be hurt too badly. When she checks in on Ikki, he’s studying tape on his opponent, Kirihara Shizuya, and his “Area Invisible” technique that’s such a mismatch against Ikki’s swords skills. He seems focused and committed, and promises her he won’t lose. And Stella, having come off an easy victory, having lost to him herself, and used to Ikki acting tough and cool, believes him, without suspecting anything amiss.

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Alice is different. Her woman’s intuition, if you will, senses something is off with Ikki on this particular momentous, high-pressure occasion. She learns about how years ago there was a conspiracy to get Ikki expelled for some petty infraction, and how Shizuya attacked him brutally, but Ikki wouldn’t fight back no matter what, worried (rightly so) that he’d be kicked out for it.

Alice comes to the conclusion Ikki is so used to being downtrodden, both physically and mentally, by those who see themselves as better than him, that he’s developed a hard skin that prevents him from hearing the “screaming in his heart”—that release valve everyone has.

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Now that he has to either win the Seven Star Battle or be expelled, that pent-up anguish has a profound effect on Ikki, such that he does not strike the moment that gives him the best chance at victory: before Shizuya activates Area Invisible. He can’t, says Alice: he’s too damned nervous down there.

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And so, Shizuya, who is perfectly confident in his ability to hide and attack from the shadows like a hunter or assassin, has his way with Ikki, riddling him full of arrows. Ikki collapses in a pool of his own bloood, Shizuya mocks him, the crowd starts laughing and mocking and chanting “Worst One” and it’s almost a nightmare come true for Ikki, until a fed-up Stella stands up and tells the crowd to shut the hell up, and tells Ikki to stop looking pathetic and get up.

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So he gets up. He puts his cool face back on. He can, because Stella’s loud public words of encouragement wash away the nerves. He calms down, then uses his trump card and steals the “logic” of Shizuya’s ability, so he can see right through it every time. Shizuya is able to switch from tactic to tactic, but ultimately they’re all part-and-parcel of his ability, leaving nothing with which he can hold Ikki back other than cowering and crying “uncle.” Ikki spares his life (by one millimeter!) and wins. Then he passes out.

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When he comes to, he’s in the hospital, a dozing, drooling Stella by his bedside, his sister crying into Alice’s shoulder outside because it’s not to be for her. And since he has her alone, Ikki, who won his battle thanks to Stella, confesses to her, and expresses how important she is to him.

Her lovely dere response includes a closed-eyes first kiss and a small nod indicating she feels the same way about him. Then Ikki draws her into a big warm hug (bawww) and promises he’ll one she’ll face in the Seven Star final. You don’t get that a lot in anime these days: a couple working towards facing off against each other in the final battle. I like it!

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Danchigai – 01 (First Impressions)

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I’ll be brief, like this episode was (under three minutes, if excluding OP, ED and preview): Guy lives with his four sisters who are always on his case about something. One looks older than him, one is a little younger and seems to be a brocon tsundere, and the other two are tiny balls of energy.

We only get the slightest glimpse of their morning. There’s nothing terrible here, but I already have my full-length slice-of-life about a guy with lots of sisters. It’s called Working!!!, plus another show about a big family, Dandelion. So this is redundant. But hey, at least the sisters aren’t eating their brother!

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Nisekoi 2 – 10

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Nisekoi 2’s intense episodic nature means we’re never quite sure what we’re going to get from week to week, and considering the success of other rom-coms with more serialized format, often leave us feeling like it’s taking the wrong approach. But this week demonstrated that when it wants to, Nisekoi can do a lot in just one week.

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Submitted for your approval: four-eyed class clown and horndog Maiko Shuu actually gets DIMENSION, and gets to make more than just sly cat faces! I sure didn’t see that coming, but once it got going I was not complaining.

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While they go way back, Shuu has always been far better at hiding who he likes than Raku, whom Shuu knows full well loves Onodera. All Shuu gives away at first about his love is that she’s an “unattainable flower” who will ultimately break his heart. Raku bounces this idea off of Tsugumi of all people, which is perfect because she happens to be in the very situation he’s presenting to her as a hypothetical.

Fortunately for Tsugumi, Raku is far to dense to pick up on the source of her embarrassment, but Tsugumi ultimately treats his questions with respect, telling him she’d probably never tell that unattainable person how she felt, lest she cause trouble for him; matching Shuu’s position on the matter.

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One can make the case that Tsugumi’s unattainable love is Raku, assuming what she’s feeling for him is love (something she’s not at all sure of). But Shuu’s love is the teacher, Kyoko-sensei, who suddenly drops the hammer that she’s getting married and quitting teaching.

Shuu reacts to the news with a big smile and lots of laughter and hearty congratulations, but inside he’s devastated. And yet, because it was the older Kyoko who told him he was the most mature of the guys in his class, he’s apparently determined never to tell Kyoko his feelings—something he may regret—but will instead live with that regret, like adults sometimes must do.

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Shuu-as-Raku’s-mirror works surprisingly well throughout the episode, especially as the perennial Best Girl Chitoge and clingy Marika are all but absent this week. We can focus instead on the triangle of Tsugumi, Raku, and Kosaki. Raku’s affection for Kosaki is so strong, merely thinking of her being married off to some other guy makes him cough up black stuff and does significant damage to his soul. Heck, I felt pretty awful about that dark fantasy!

Yet, when Raku gathers himself, he can indeed see himself living life under those circumstances, as long as Kosaki is happy. That’s when Tsugumi flags him down, eager to clarify her responses. She maintains that she could see herself never confessing to that hypothetical guy and choosing to live with that, but that doesn’t mean she wants to…nor does it mean she can.

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That settles things for Raku, who clarifies his position to Shuu: he’ll stand by whatever decision he makes, including not confessing to Kyoko. But he’ll also give Shuu a push if asked. Shuu asks, Raku pushes him, and he manages to catch Kyoko right before a taxi drives her out of his life. We can’t hear their exchange, only the pounding rain, but we don’t have to: Shuu gets the gentle rejection he knew he’d get. Even when Raku worries he meddled too much, Ryuu is thankful for his push.

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That push was made possible by Tsugumi, and led to Raku giving himself a push by asking Kosaki, who was looking all over school worried about him, to walk home with him, not because anything is wrong, but because he feels like it. Kosaki is initially shocked by his forwardness, but still accepts, as readily as Kyoko rejects Shuu. You can’t spend your youth wallowing in unpleasant hypotheticals: you gotta enjoy!

That brings us to the final piece of the puzzle this week: Ruri. Frankly, I thought we’d see more of her this week than we ended up seeing, but what we got was still pretty good, as the episode was peppered with moments of her love-hate relationship with Shuu and her status as an attainable—but up-till-now under-noticed—flower in Shuu’s life.

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Re-Kan! – 03

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Last week Franklin mentioned the formula Re-Kan has gotten down: “Funny, Funny, touching, funny resolve!” This week it switches that formula up, to include a lot more touching with its funny in the form of some seriously moving drama. After the cold open I was convinced it would just be an episode about how un-used to cell phones Hibiki is, but I would end up being…dead wrong.

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Harumi may be being a tsundere about it, but she wants to be friends with Hibiki, despite her apparent connection with the dead, which creeps her out. Hibiki’s a good person, so when she hears Harumi is determined to get Yuuki, her terror of a younger cousin to eat the fried eggs she prepares, Hibiki offers to help out, sensing an in; she wants to be friends with Harumi, too, after all.

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Hibiki’s eggs are fantastic, but Yuuki still rejects them, deeming them “gross” and “wrong.” We’re thinking, ‘well, Yuuki’s just a petty little shit and an ingrate, isn’t he?’ Then we learn his dad was killed in an accident, and his very pregnant mom is in hospital, which is why Harumi is taking care of him. Just like that, the kid is sympathetic. This makes Hibiki want to help Harumi even more, but Harumi snaps at her, saying “it has nothing to do with her.”

When Harumi talks to Kana at school, she assumes Hibiki learned how to make eggs from her mom, but Kana tells her Hibiki’s mother died when she was very young. Harumi knows she was wrong to snap at Hibiki, but now she knows why Hibiki was so intent on helping with Yuuki.

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Harumi visits Yuuki’s mom, who can see the exhaustion in Harumi’s face as she lies about Yuuki being no big deal. When Harumi brings up the eggs, his mom tells her there was a way his dad used to make them for her, which is why no matter who makes Yuuki eggs right now, he’s going to reject them as wrong because they’re not like his dad’s.

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So where does Hibiki factor in, besides sharing Yuuki’s situation of losing a parent early in life? Glad you asked! As Hibiki is outside Harumi’s house, ready to help despite being yelled at, she gets a call on her brand-new cell phone, which she handles extra-carefully and daintily as if it were honed from delicate crystal. It’s Harumi, calling to apologize and ask for Hibiki’s help with the eggs again. Harumi is extra-impressed Hibiki didn’t stop caring about her and Yuuki just because Harumi told her off. It’s as if she knew Harumi didn’t mean it…because she didn’t!

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Hibiki proves especially useful to Harumi here because she’s able to commune with the ghost of Harumi’s Nana, who taught Yuuki’s dad how to make the eggs the way Yuuki likes so much. Hibiki interprets the instructions to Harumi, but leaves Harumi to do the actual cooking: her Nana wants her to learn after all, something she never wanted to do when Nana was alive because she thought it was too girly.

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The moment of truth: when Yuuki tucked in to the new, Nana-approved eggs, I knew some tears were going to come…from Harumi, from Hibiki, definitely from Yuuki when he tastes a taste he hadn’t tasted since his dad died—and from myself!

Yuuki actually ends up bawling his eyes out in a moment of catharsis, and Harumi lets him cry it out, which was the favor his mother asked of her, knowing it had to happen sometime, but Yuuki was holding it in, trying to be strong in preparation for being a big brother.

Even Yuuki’s mom tears up and has to turn away while asking Haurmi that favor; she is, after all, someone who very recently lost her husband and the father of her children, one who will never see his face. Despite her tears, she comes off as tremendously strong and brave for her family.

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Despite all the tear-jerking moments, this episode never felt sappy or maudlin, because it stayed true to its characters, tapped into their unexpected stores of emotion, and presented the drama simply and elegantly.

It even managed to stick a few jokes in the mix (While the perv-cat’s shtick is starting to wear thin, his voice actor Kujira sells the hell out of every line).

Hibiki and Harumi also emerge from this episode closer friends than ever, even calling each other by their given names. Re-Kan doesn’t just excel at comedy, but drama as well. It’s one of the better pure storytellers this Spring, and when it wants to, never fails to get you right here (points at heart).

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