Sonny Boy – 09 – 3 Cats and a Kotatsu

I’m still thinking about Episode 8, so I knew it would be hard to top it…for anything to top it anytime soon. Episode 9 doesn’t come close…but it does begin with the three Nyamazon cats shooting the shit like three wise old farts under a kotatsu. It’s just the latest reminder that predicting what Sonny Boy will throw at you from one week to the next is like trying to predict every move in a chess game when you’re not in the same room.

The cats, famous lovers of warmth, are under the kotatsu because outside the kotatsu is a frozen, snowy world. Nozomi, Nagara, Yamabiko, and their human Mizuho have traveled there to try to settle a thousands-of-years-old battle between two twins over who has the most hairs on their head (one claims to have one more). But it’s also a look back at Mizuho, and how the white cat Sakura believes she can’t survive without the three of them.

Honestly, the twin story is a bit dull, but it at least ties into the concept of duplication, which we learn is to be Mizuho’s true power. Everything the cats deliver to Mizuho and the others is a copy of products from the original world they came from. While Mizuho’s inner circle certainly wouldn’t hold it against her, the cats, who have been with Mizuho since she was a kid and still believe her to be one, are determined to keep it under wraps.

It’s Yamabiko who approaches Sakura with his suspicion that everything the cats deliver is copies. Sakura then admits that Rajdhani had previously figured out that Mizuho had copied everyone from the world, and now they’re drifting as copies of the people they once were, both the same and different, like the twins. Mind you, this dawned on Rajdhani when two copies of a tick dating Game Boy game(!) arrived, even though he knows there was only ever one in existence.

Yet Rajdhani didn’t tell a soul, proving to the cats he had “a fine character, for being so hairless”. Two copies were made of Sou Seiji, like someone accidentally ordering two of something on Amazon by clicking twice.

Sakura is caught in a bear trap to be a sacrifice of one of the twins, but Mizuho and Yamabiko save her. When armed with a gold ray gun by the shit-stirrer Aki-sensei, the other twin ends up with another ray gun, resulting in a duel that ends with only one twin standing, only for that surviving twin to take his own life.

Mixed in with this is how Asakaze seems to be making a habit of lashing out at Nozomi for not liking him romantically, leading to her spending the night outside sulking. One of the cats keeps her company all night, and in the blood red morning Nagara joins them, thanking her for “showing him the light”, leading him to change.

In a world full of copies and sheep, Nozomi, Nagara, Mizuho and Yamabiko (not to mention Rajdhani) stand out as one-of-a-kind souls who all thank the likes of Aki-sensei or Asakaze to let them pick their own places.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kageki Shoujo!! – 09 – A Beautiful Frame

Even Kouka has a sports festival, and every ten years it’s a grand sports festival; since this will be the centennial festival it’s even more significant. For instance, Kouka’s “Superiors” will be heavily involved in the festivities.

Since Ai, like us, has no idea what that meants, Sawa helpfully explains they’re venerable veteran actresses who don’t belong to any one troupe and enjoy a higher rank than top stars and troupe leads. They are the creme de la creme, and the episode really sells that fact.

That said, the four top otoko-yaku in one room is a pretty awe-inspiring sight too. These ladies are very, very good at portraying men and boys, and the first years are understandably starstruck; Sawa even bleeds from the nose at the sight of them.

The four are not just there to look handsome and get fawned upon. Just as their individual troupes compete for the most and most passionate fanbases, they’re equally passionate rivals in the sports festival. Each of them intends to win and beat the others.

At one point Sawa needs some scissors, so Sarasa voluntters to grab some from the faculty lounge. There, she encounters Andou-sensei for the first time since he basically told her to forget everything she knew about acting to that point and start over.

I love how Sarasa shows Andou what he was hoping for: that she wasn’t going to let harsh but true criticism keep her down in the dumps forever. After summer break that fleeting disappointment is in her rearview mirror. She’s back and ready to put in the work.

Back in episode 6 I mentioned my wish to learn more about the Sawada Twins, Chika and Chiaki. The remainder of this episode grants my wish and then some, delivering what I believe to be one of the most beautiful and realistic depictions of the unique issues that befall twins; namely the realization they’re not the same.

Chika, the “darker” twin, resents when Chiaki easily befriends one of the Superiors, Mirai—whom we later learn was the top star that inspired them as children to become Kouka actresses. When Mirai mistakes Chika for Chiaki and calls her “Juliet”, Chika ignores her and walks away.

It’s Chiaki who later gets in trouble with Mirai when she next sees her, ruining the good vibes of the rehearsals….but Chika, the real culprit, keeps quiet. Ultimately it’s Sarasa and her good hearing who clears up the mix-up.

That night, the twin sisters have a fight that quickly grows in nastiness, with Chika spewing most of the venom. Later we’ll learn it’s the first time they’ve fought. Now Chiaki moves out of the dorm room they share, switching places with Sarasa.

As we’d expect, Ai neither knows how nor tries to get Chiaki to open up, but Sarasa and Chika are a different story. We learn that the two did everything together and even walked in lockstep, but when they both applied for Kouka and only Chika got in, that suddenly ended their run of identicalness.

Rather than attend as was her right, Chika felt bad for Chiaki, who wasn’t eating or sleeping and didn’t leave their room, and as her twin knew the only way to console her was to turn down her acceptance and try again with her sister next year.

That pulled Chiaki out of her emotional nosedive, but it came as a cost: the twins were always going to be out of balance due to Chika’s sacrifice, which is both something she decided on her own to do and something she felt she was obligated to do, out of loyalty to her twin. She chose blood over fame.

But that resentment lingered, and festered, and caused Chika to become someone who’d pass up opportunities again and again for Chiaki’s sake. She felt she couldn’t do things for her sake and eventually came to hate Chiaki for it.

When Chika gets the opportunity to apologize to Mirai for her rudeness, she explains the dark thoughts that had overcome her, and Mirai understands. Jealous befalls us all, but the key is to turn it into ambition, and not let it twist us into self-destructive choices.

Rather than be a haughty Superior, Mirai comforts her junior like a mother would comfort a daughter, assuring her that her desire to apologize and make up with Chika means she’s a good person, and this bad experience will ultimately make her stronger person.

I’m not an identical twin, so I can’t imagine how scary and lonely it feels to them when they come upon a “fork in the road” past which they won’t be the same in everything. That fork came earlier than they expected; the mere fact they had to expect it would happen really speaks to that unique turmoil.

Part of Chika was just as apprehensive about taking off ahead of Chiaki on her side that fork in the road as Chiaki was about getting left behind. The two have accepted that they can’t be the same anymore, but they’re not ready to drift apart forever, either.

There’s potential in the Kouka Revue for twin roles, and Mirai, now friends with both twins, tells them they can realize that potential if they become popular enough. Nothing in Kouka comes easily; it takes blood, sweat, and tears. But the Superiors, and the Top Stars below them, embody what you get for all that hard work: a kind of apotheosis and immortality. Chika and Chiaki could be Kouka’s Apollo and Artemis…or twin Juliets.

Kageki Shoujo!! – 06 – Such Sins Shall Not Be Endured

The 100th Class is restless. For four months they’ve been subjected to basics basics basics when each of them are anything but. They’re fed up of boring lessons…they want to ACT. Sarasa, never one to shy away from making her thoughts known, whatever they may be, airs the united class’s grievance to Andou-sensei.

He seems miffed by her impression of her, even though everyone agrees it’s as spot-on as her impressions of all the other teachers. They wonder if it’s because it’s so good that it struck a nerve. Such is Sarasa’s performative power.

Oh, it’s also Sarasa’s 16th birthday! Akiya’s older kabuki kolleague took the liberty of delivering sixteen roses to Sarasa under an alias, living as he is vicariously through Akiya and Sarasa’s chaste, minimalist long-distance relationship. But Ai isn’t going to lose to some “frog bot”; so she plays and plays the store lottery until she wins a figurine she knows Sarasa will cherish.

She also uses the opportunity to try to call Sarasa by her first name instead of “Sara…Watanabe-san”, and when prompted by Sarasa herself to do so, Ai is finally able to do it. More than by the figurine, Sarasa is made happiest by seeing her first name in Ai’s handwriting and hearing it in Ai’s voice. I love these two so much it hurts.

I could honestly deal quite well with a Kageki Shoujo!! that’s nothing but Sarasa and Ai hanging out and gradually becoming closer, but we’ve got a whole ensemble to cover here, and the results of spreading the love across multiple Kouka students isn’t bad either!

This week focuses on the other members of Sarasa and Ai’s Group E, who along with the other groups have two weeks to prepare to do a scene from Romeo & Juliet. Rock Paper Scissors is used to determine who plays what role, resulting in the suboptimal pairing of Hoshino Kaoru’s Romeo with Ai’s Juliet. Sarasa has to play the much darker Tybalt.

The role of Juliet was really won by Chika, one of the Sawada twins, but she decides to be the lesser role of Juliet’s nurse, later seeing her sister Chiaki claim the role with giddy elation. Is Chika less ambitious than Chiaki, or is she simply trying to differentiate herself from her sister in order to shine on her own? The twins have just been background noise until now, so I’m looking forward to them getting a bit more fleshed out.

Kaoru, whom I’d forgotten wishes to be a otoko-yaku like Sarasa, does not surrender Romeo to Sarasa. Instead, she takes Group E firmly by the reins and does not spare the whip. She harshly criticizes both Sarasa and Ai for seemingly not giving it their all, then finally snaps at Sarasa for daring to propose they practice on the sidewalk like common street performers.

As with Ayako last week, Ai sees a member of JPX in Kaoru, specifically the leader, who was always angry and never satisfied. She also learns why from the other girls; both of the previous generations of Hoshino women were Kouka performers. Ai bridges the gap between her and Kaoru by acknowledging the pressure Kaoru is under, while also admitting something she deems to be shameful and almost disqualifying for a Kouka actress.

Due to all of her years performing from a young age, she never properly learned to read kanji. Ai tells Kaoru there’s nothing wrong with her having a short fuse or being tough on them; if she’s not tough on them, Group E will fail. And if Kaoru doesn’t want to be the bad guy of the group, they’ll also fail!

Speaking of bad guys, Sarasa has zero experience embodying characters like Tybalt, but while she sucks at reading a script, watching a Blu-Ray of Romeo & Juliet is another thing entirely. She absorbs every moment of the performances on the screen, and the shape and color of every line, like a very tall, very efficient sponge. And lest you think I’m being harsh on Sarasa, I hold living sponges in high regard! We should all wish to live such an elegant existence!

When the time comes for the first-ever Great “Let First-Years Act” Experiment, Andou chooses Group E to go first. As they perform in their tracksuits on a rehearsal stage, the audience (including us) are transported to the fully-dressed performance stage, complete with lighting and costumes. This is a nice stylistic touch.

Kaoru makes a good Romeo, but Andou can see her gaze is uneven, indicating she’s distracted and letting her self intrude on her performance. Chika flubs a line by repeating it, but after a momentary breakdown, remembers Ai’s words about them continuing to the end even if they mess up, and improvises a great save. Ai isn’t bringing true love to the performance (because Sarasa is her true Romeo), and she’s also doing what she was trained to do as an idol: performing to an audience of one. A Kouka actress must perform for everyone.

Then Tybalt takes the stage, and we finally see why Kaoru said what she said earlier about people normally improving gradually. Sarasa isn’t normal. After watching the video, once, she manages to serve up a perfect performance of Tybalt, causing her classmates to audibly gasp in unison. Andou is also impressed by the way Sarasa stands, locks her gaze high as if she were performing to a packed Kouka theatre crowd of 2,500. It is stirring, but in the end, it’s too perfect.

In his critique of Group E, Andou-sensei tells Sarasa flat-out that she will never be a top star of Kouka…not unless she changes. As I am prepared to give my life to defend Sarasa’s smile (not to mention Ai’s), it’s here where I must apply Tybalt’s line “Such sins shall not be endured” and “He is naught but a villain” to Andou-sensei. He is a villain whose sin was turning Sarasa’s smile into a look of pained bewilderment. Curse him!

But here’s the thing…he’s absolutely right, and Sarasa needed to hear his harsh words sooner rather than later, because she wasn’t really acting on that rehearsal stage, she was mimicking what she saw—down to the last precise detail. That is an impressive talent, foreshadowed when she did impressions of the other teachers, but it isn’t acting. Sarasa can’t be a top star of Kouka by simply perfectly replicating what she’s seen and heard. At least, that’s what I think Andou-sensei is on about.

Sarasa will have to change. She may even have to forget everything she knows about performing and start over from scratch. Her friend Ai will be there for her, as will the other girls of Kouka. After all, if there’s one person they want to see on stage more than the Sarasa they’ve already seen, it’s the future Sarasa who has mastered how to deliver performances all her own. I know Ai wants to see that Sarasa, and I do too!

Kemono Jihen – 12 (Fin) – How to Melt a Frozen Heart

Nobimaru presses his attack on Yui, but learns he can’t even touch the nullstone without freezing and cracking his arm, as the thing literally feeds on life. Nobimaru, who is unquestionably loyal to Inari despite knowing full he’s nothing but a tool to her, allows himself a moment to stew in the knowledge that Inari knew about the damage the stone would do to him…and didn’t care.

But if Inari left him on his own to succeed or perish, Kabane won’t have it, and he steps in as Nobimaru’s flaming champion. The nullstone grabs still more power from Yui to give him an ice suit of armor, and just like that we’ve got a dazzling Ice Boy vs. Fire Lad duel. Kabane’s constantly burning and regenerating body provides some of the cooler images this vibrant series has yet offered.

Akira manages to use all the fog and steam the battle is creating to smash his ice cage and wastes no time coming between Kabane and Yui before either of them do any permanent damage. And it’s here where I must declare my undying love for any show whose MC crumbles into flaming pile of burning flesh and bones without anyone batting an eye.

Moments later, the nullstone has nearly sucked Yui’s life dry, and his own body begins to become brittle and crack. Fortunately, Kabane has regenerated enough to give Akira a hand pulling the nullstone out of Yui’s chest. Kabane then coughs up his lifestone, which merges with the other stone on contact, releasing it from Yui.

Right on cue, Inari arrives on the scene to snatch up the stone, but Inugami is right there to remind her that neither half of the stone is hers, so she an Nobimaru slink off. In yet another demonstration of empathy and fellow feeling, Kabane asks Nobimaru to go with them to the Ohana clinic where Aya can surely heal his ruined hand…only for Nobimaru to politely decline, intending to bear the wound as a warning not to get careless again.

As Yui recovers at the clinic (and Aya calculates the exorbitant bill), Kabane hangs around outside his door, waiting for him to wake up so he can ask him about his parents. Akira sees him out there and immediately apologizing for saying he hated him, which he obviously only did because he was afraid Yui would kill him. On the contrary, Akira reiterates his love for Kabane, and their little making-up dance in the hall is just precious as all get-out.

Yui eventually wakes up, and is ready to talk with Kabane, starting with the “Kemono Incidents”, a period of history forgotten by most humanity when kabane and humans were in devastating open warfare. An agreement was made to end the hostilities, and all the kabane higher-ups had stones like Kabane’s to maintain balance through the threat of force—the only way a group as fractured and ungainly as kemono could be controlled).

While this is a lot of exposition for a final episode, it provides welcome setup for a second season that, while not yet announced, seems likely due to strong manga sales and a studio that often produces sequels. It also includes Akira’s inner voice worrying about falling asleep during all this talking, which is a wonderful little moment.

As for the question of what’s to become of Yui, he’s content to shuffle off into the shadows and bear all of the horrible things he did. Akira won’t hear of it, and it takes a slap to Yui’s face to get him to listen when Akira says they’re brothers and twins and should share the burdens together. Yui is also heartened when Kabane forgives him, though the others know that’s just who Kabane is. He gives and forgives.

The gist of Yui’s stories (as well as Inugami’s contribution to the discussion) is that for Kabane’s parents to have had the lifestone meant they were either kemono chiefs themselves or found it themselves. The best way to learn more about his stone and all the others that are out there is to track down their owners, some of whom Inugami knows.

Meanwhile, Inari, in her appropriately noir-ish office at the police HQ, assures Nobimaru she’s not done trying to get her hands on either stone (now that they’re merged, which one she’d rather have is irrelevant). But she knows she can’t take from those the tanuki is protecting by force. So he tells Nobimaru to relay Kon’s next mission: to seduce Kabane and get him to give her the stone willingly.

While there’s nothing Inugami can do about that scenario, asking Kon to seduce anyone—particularly Kabane—seems doomed to failure. Neither Kon nor Kabane quite grasp the concept of love or romance quite yet, and Kabane clearly knows more since he now has more of it in his life.

But there’s no denying Kon is smitten on one level with Kabane, so it’s just as likely he’d seduce her to his side than she’d get him to give up the stone that—lest we forget—is crucial to keep him under control. As Akira goes on a trip with Yui and Shiki minds the shop, Kabane and Inugami prepare to head to Shikoku to meet the first of many stone-keepers.

Kon super-awkwardly inserts herself into their trip, and Kabane urges her to join them, which is fine with Inugami. He’s no fool, and so knows full well Inari sent Kon to try to steal the stone. But he also knows Kabane isn’t half as guileless and manipulative as he once was, and so he’ll probably do fine against Kon’s inept attempts.

The three board the shinkansen, bound for more adventures in search of answers to the mystery of Kabane’s folks. That should make for a heckuva second season, the announcement of which I eagerly await. Even if for some reason it never comes, I had a lot of fun watching this eclectic and lovable bunch of characters work through their dark pasts, and differences, grow closer as a family…and kick some monster ass together.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 11 – Let it Bro

Let it be said that the system the yuki-onna employ to keep the Snowy Village arrive is patently awful, not to mention extremely inefficient. And yet, with many a human tribe throughout history relied on the suffering and sacrifice of a “special few” in order to maintain their cultural and spiritual identity survival, it’s certainly nothing new, on either side of the human-kemono spectrum.

We take a look back at Yui and Akira’s past in the village throughout this episode, as Yui becomes the chief and is studded out to all of the 200 women of the village, a duty he keeps secret from Akira. Akira assumes he has to deal with difficult paperwork, and cheers him up with sasanqua camellia blooms when they’re able to talk to each other in the night.

Until a woman produces a male heir, his duties will continue; no mention is made of what happens to any new female children produced in the meantime. But Yui’s burden goes beyond simply being the physical tool with which to keep the village going. He has to deal with the constant competition for his favor, which adds to his emotional toll.

Back in the ice castle Yui built for his pure brother, Akira’s plushie informs him the others are frozen, but they are still alive. Kabane even manages to burst half of his body out of the ice. And while his bottom half grows back, the fact remains he, along with the still-frozen Shiki and Inugami, are still at Yui’s mercy.

Not sure what else he can do to protect them, Akira decides to scorn Kabane, saying he hates them and wants nothing more to do with them. When Yui returns, Akira shields Kabane from his frozen wrath and, knowing Yui will do whatever he asks, says he wants to move with him to a new place.

Kabane is left in a state of shock, thinking Akira really means what he said. Then Inari shows up in all her saxophone leitmotif-having glory. She assures him she’s not here for the Lifestone, but the Nullstone, which among other things could provide answers about his parents.

Seeing Inugami sealed up like a Thermos and reduced to communicating through the plushie (which can read his mind waves), Inari remarks that he’s gotten weaker…probably due to how he “makes too much” of “those useless children.”

Inari, meanwhile, uses her children like tools and discards them when they’re no longer of use. But like Kon, Nobimaru is all too happy to serve his mistress in all things, including going toe-to-toe with Yui, who encases Akira in a protective ice cage while he fights an ice-vs.-fire battle with the kitsune.

As the circumstances of Akira’s banishment are revealed—he had his first wet dream, so Yui sent him away before any of the women found out—Yui will do anything to preserve Akira’s perceived “purity”. And while both Nobimaru is hanging in there and the unkillable Kabane is on his way, it’s still looking like Akira will have to be the one to stop his twin brother from causing more harm.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 10 – Good for Something

When born in their snowy village far to the north, Akira and his twin brother Yui were the first male yuki-onoko born in a century. While they were treated like princes with every need tended to, they were also prisoners in a guilded cage, their mother dead and their father imprisoned and mad. Akira was weak and a crybaby, always being led around by Yui.

One day they found some supplies left behind by humans, including a magazine that teaches them about life in Tokyo. Fast-forward to the present, Yui is in Tokyo searching for his brother. When a drunk tries to extort him he demonstrates his immensely powerful ice manipulation. Immediately, we’re not quite sure we want this guy to find our kind, gentle Akira!

Unfortunately in an ongoing effort to be more useful, Akira ends up only making more work for Shiki and Kabane. Kon and Aya take the week off so that the focus stays on the core three lads and their dynamic. Akira writes a note and takes off on a jourey to find his brother, taking with him his plushie to which Mihei added AI when he repaired its stuffing. Sure, why not?

There must be some unseen force that draws the twin brothers together, because Akira finds Yui in his first five minutes of his “journey.” Akira buys him a crepe like the kind they saw in that magazine…but Yui doesn’t want it. Akira has shown that despite being a snow boy he’s the warmest of the lads. Even for a yuki-onoko Yui is oddly cold.

Still, when his brother mentions a certain frozen castle from a certain popular American film in which ice plays an important role, Yui instantaneously builds him a massive Japanese-style castle in the middle of a park. It’s a gorgeous and glorious thing, but also very unnerving, because it again demonstrates how powerful Yui is. Then he smashes Akira’s phone and locks him away.

Unaware their princess has been taken captive and locked away in a castle, Shiki and Kabane start clashing immediately in Akira’s absence. Kabane realizes, as Inugami hoped they would, that Akira is the glue that holds their little misfit group together. They decide to go find Akira, and his sole posting of the ice castle helpfully points them in the right direction.

As the post is now trending, a large crowd and even a reporter have arrived to investigate this strange ice castle that appeared out of nowhere. Leaving Inari to the inevitable cover-up, Inugami, Kabane, and Shiki confront Yui, who isn’t really interested in talking. Inugami also notices Yui has a “nullstone” lodged in his heart: basically the opposite of Kabane’s lifestone. which is keeping Yui’s heart well-chilled.

Akira learns that his plushie has Wi-Fi, but only just when Yui returns to tell him the claw-foot bath, four-poster bed and chandelier he requested are ready. Yui leads Akira downstairs, where he learns his brother has also decided to decorate a bit…with Akira’s frozen friends.

It’s pretty clear by now that the strength, precision, and control of his ice manipulation far exceeds Yui’s, and and that Yui isn’t the brother Akira knew, due to that nullstone. But assuming some combination of Kon, Aya, Inari, Nobimaru, and Mihei won’t drop in to save the day, it’ll all be up to our favorite useless scaredy-cat snow boy to set his twin straight and thaw his peeps.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 08 – Twisted Sister School

After being entirely absent from the previous episode, Megumi and Nobara stick around for the lion’s share of the eighth. While I understand that plot-wise it makes more sense to unveil Yuuji at the Exchange Event, there’s still a sense of dissatisfaction from the fact the central trio has been apart far longer than they’ve been together, and Megumi and Nobara of them are still in the dark.

The delegation from Kyoto arrives at Tokyo Jujutsu Tech, and their third-year ace Toudou Aoi decides to pick a fight with Megumi, while Zenin Maki’s twin sister Mai restrains Nobara. Toudou decides to beat up Megumi for no reason other than he finds him boring, especially when it comes to his non-specific taste in women. Mai…just wants to shoot a bitch?

Megumi tries his best against Toudou, hoping his ranged cursed techniques will let him keep his distance. But it doesn’t go well, and the outmatched Megumi ends up beaten bloody before Inumaki and Panda come to the rescue. Toudou is content to end the fight there, but it’s clear that Kyoto’s sorcerers-in-training are far crazier and more violent than Tokyo’s (Granted, we haven’t met any of the third-years).

Mai proceeds to shoot holes in Nobara’s brand-new tracksuit, to teach her a lesson in “manners”, but Maki arrives to stop her twin sister from putting any bullet holes in Nobara’s body. Nobara demands Mai leave her uniform behind as payment for ruining her tracksuit, but Toudou whisks her off, as he doesn’t want to be late for the super-tall idol Takada-chan’s handshake event.

Maki confirms to Nobara that she doesn’t have any cursed energy, while Mai doesn’t know any cursed techniques. You’d think that considering together they possess the two qualities that are typically crucial to being an effective sorcerer they’d work together…but you’d be wrong. As for Nobara, she gains a heightened respect for her senpai, affectionately leaning onto her as they walk.

Kyoto’s principal Gakuganji is waiting with his attendant Miwa when instead of Principal Yaga, Gojou enters the room, having intentionally changed Yaga’s schedule so he could have some time along with the Kyoto bigwig. Gojou simply wants to impart his dissatisfaction with the stuffy, tradition-obsessed higher-ups.

Between stronger cursed spirits and stronger students, terms like “special-grade” will lose all meaning, and the fogies aren’t prepared for what happens then. Gojou, on the other hand, intends to be. Miwa comports herself well, but “Inner Miwa” is going completely gaga over Gojou. Akasaki Chinatsu and some excellent character animation really bring a seemingly bit player in Miwa to life. Finally, Toudou gets to meet Takada-chan.

A month passes, and we transition to a movie theater where three high school students ended up killed and their heads severely deformed. One witness spots the apparent culprit Mahito, whom we met on the beach last week. Then Yuuji appears for the first time this episode, along with an older guy wearing Batou-like glasses. Looks like Yuuji is being given one more mission to break him in before heading to the Exchange Event.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 06 – There’s Something About Shion

Turns out Shion doesn’t have the power to draw allies to her; Hinamizawa just happens to be super tight-knit, and an attack on one of them is treated like an attack on all. Maybe the village should be called NATOmizawa, eh? Anywho, Shion changes on a dime from some kind of gangstress to a sweet lass when Ooishi and the cops arrive to take the punks away.

Keiichi is treated to a meal with Shion, who tells him the story about the dam project thwarted by that same village solidarity, weathering violent riots and legal wrangling. Later Keiichi gets a call to come be the guinea pig for the new dessert menu, and he defends Shion’s honor against two boorish otaku.

His ass is kicked, but for Shion the fact he defended her is what matters, and she begins to cling to him like a lover. They go out shopping together and end up at the shop where Mion works part-time, marking the first time we’ve seen the twins together and confirming there are in fact two of them, and that Shion was probably impersonating Mion at times.

Shion is the younger of the two yet more mature and refined compared to Mion’s rougher edges. Shion is also pretty blatant about basically stealing Keiichi out from under Mion’s nose, and whether it’s Shion getting Keiichi to buy a doll for her or talking with him after festival preparations the next day, Mion doesn’t seem too thrilled about her flirty twin sister-interloper.

Things get downright sinister when Tanako Miyo and Tomitake Jirou appear for the first time in this arc. Turns out Miyo’s a bit of a sicko, going on about the death and dismemberment kicking off an annual “curse” of one person in the village being murdered and another “sacrificed” (as opposed to “demoned away” in the last arc). Mion tries to get Keiichi away from the “lame story” but is unsuccessful.

Keiichi’s morbid curiosity and susceptibility to peer pressure rear their ugly heads again the night of the Watanagashi festival, when instead of watching Rika he is pulled away by Shion to the location of the shrine storehouse, where they catch Tanako and Tomitake breaking in. Shion and Keiichi decide to be partners in crime and have a look inside, as it supposedly contains “old ritual tools” that might fascinate Keiichi.

When he agrees, Tanako tells him “you’ve made your choice”, which is really what you want to hear when about to break and enter a dark creepy storehouse. I guess it was Shion’s goal all along to lure Keiichi into this very situation, but why she’s doing so, and what things await him remain tantalizing mysteries.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 05 – Two Not of a Kind

This week the timeline resets back to June 12, long before everyone starts murdering each other. In fact, until the very end of the episode there’s barely a hint of dread to be found here. A lot of time is spent literally playing games at a store. Like the first episode, this is largely table-setting.

Keiichi is saddled with The Game of Life, which unlike his fellow club members’ games, is predominantly luck-based. When Mion, Rena, Satoko and Rika all win their games, Kei decides to win by making a deal with the two younger boys he’s playing with, both of whom like Satoko and Rika, respectively.

The shop’s owner, who is Mion’s uncle, gives everyone gifts for helping to boost the day’s game sales. Keiichi ends up with a western-style doll, and following Rika’s advice, gives it to Mion, who is surprisingly flustered and bashful about receiving it.

The next day, Kei’s dad takes him to a restaurant where all the waitresses are in fantasy cosplay. To his shock, he finds Mion working there—but she reveals she isn’t Mion, she’s Mion’s twin sister Shion, who seems to appreciate Kei’s praise for how she’s rocking her outfit.

Since Shion was so familiar with Keiichi, there’s a distinct possibility she and Shion pose as one another, so from that point on I kept wondering who was who while interacting with Keiichi. When he praises Shion’s outfit, Mion blushes, and while Mion goes to her part-time job, it’s apparently Shion who comes to Keiichi’s house to drop off some dinner.

Throughout this, Keiichi is kind of a jerk in how he treats Mion as somehow “rougher” or more “tomboyish” than Shion…but even he can’t be certain with which twin he’s been interacting, nor could he know how good Shion is at acting like Mion, or vice versa.

At school the next day, Kei returns the dishes to Mion, whom everyone notes is acting more “kind and gentle” than usual. Rena ends up giving Keiichi a friendly reminder not to always tell a book by its cover. When Kei asks what he’s to make of that warning given Rena’s “cover”, she changes the subject.

That said, Rena notably maintains her “cute” Rena persona, never betraying any kind of malice as she did in the previous arc. It could be that instead of Rena, it’s Mion, or rather the Sonozaki Twins Keiichi will have to watch out for.

That brings us to the foreboding yet cryptic ending: when Keiichi is distracted by the restaurant where he met Shion, he stumbles into a row of motorcycles, angering their delinquent owners, who seem to be itching for a fight.

Just when they seem poised to start roughing him up, they’re stopped by a suddenly very pissed-off and assertive Mion…or is it Shion? Whoever it is, they tell the three punks to piss off, and when they move to challenge her, they’re surrounded by dozens of ordinary townsfolk, all wearing the same hostile expression as her.

Is this simply a factor of there being so many Sonozakis in the town? Does Mion/Shion have some kind of power to bring allies to her side? Is she a secret delinquent with more clout than these three grunts? Which twin even is it, considering we’ve apparently seen both “normal” and “reserved” versions of Mion? Could it be we never really met the real Mion until now?

Cardcaptor Sakura – 43 – Meiling Out

While in the middle of another disastrous attempt to bake an edible cake for Syaoran (has she never heard of a timer?) Meiling gets a call from her mother: she’s to return to Hong Kong in a week. When Mizuki-sensei announces she’ll be transferring out the class is shocked, but it’s Syaoran’s tepid reaction that hurts her the most.

Say what you will about Meiling’s possessiveness and clinginess since arriving; Syaoran has almost always been a cold jerk to her, making her feel like she’s only in the way. They seem poised to part ways on not so great terms when Cardcaptor Sakura decides to try her hand at fence-mending, inviting Meiling to sleep over at her house for the first time.

After a delicious meal courtesy of Sakura’s dad, Sakura and Meiling get to have a nice chat over tea and later while curled up in their beds. Sakura tries to reassure Meiling that Syaoran does indeed care for her. During the sleepover, a Clow Card in the form of twins starts to cause mischief in town by doubling things, starting with a mailbox.

While Sakura admits it was love at first sight vis-a-vis Yukito, Meiling reveals her falling for Syaoran wasn’t immediate, due to how stoic and indifferent he acted around her while they trained together. It wasn’t until he saw her crying over losing her pet bird that he comforted her, went out in the rain, and retrieved the bird. It’s a sweet story unfortunately interrupted by Sakura sensing the TWIN card, and suiting up in a cool new battle costume as Tomoyo meets her at her house.

It’s at Syaoran’s suddenly twinned house (complete with twin Weis) that Sakura attempts to subdue and seal the twins, but when she only manages to immobilize one of the two, she’s not able to seal the card. She and Syaoran decide to try launching twin lightning attacks, but the fact they have to signal each other causes a lag that allows the card to escape.

Even though Meiling was ready to stay behind lest she “get in the way”, Sakura took her hand and had her join the party, because, as she says, there are things only Meiling can do sometimes. In this case, that’s stay in perfect rhythm with Syaoran as the two deliver a twin beatdown to the twins, restraining them long enough for Sakura to seal the card. It flies into Syaoran’s hand, but it’s just as much Meiling’s card.

With that, Syaoran and Meiling make up, and at the airport before departing, she asks him if he remembers their promise. Soon after he found her bird Meiling confesses to Syaoran, and badgers him into agreeing to make her his fiancee…until he finds someone he likes more. Whether she’s noticed Syaoran’s attitude towards Sakura softening/warming, and that’s the reason she’s not fighting her summons home, who can say. All I know is, I’ll miss the adorable, clingy, goodhearted little brat!

The Misfit of Demon King Academy – 04 – Live Like There’s a Tomorrow

Anos deduces that Misha and Sasha are actually the same person, since Sasha was able to break a Zacht unilaterally. Ivis Necron utilized “Division Fusion Resurrection Magic” Dino Jixes two create a more powerful race when the two beings fused into one on their fifteenth birthday. But Anos isn’t going to let that happen.

He’s going to make sure Misha lives on. He just needs her to believe there’ll be a tomorrow for her…because he said so. When they catch up to Sasha, she’s still pretending like she hates Misha, when in reality, she sets up two massive magical circles, one of which will be used to transform Misha into the original, instead of Sasha.

Sasha had been trying for years to get Misha to hate her so she’d reject her and welcome the transformation, but Misha never could. Anos proposes he send the two of them back in time fifteen years, which would cause two “new” sources to appear for a total of four, which would fuse into two separate beings: the two sisters.

That’s when Ivis shows up and stabs Anos through the heart in order to prevent him from disrupting his plan to create a vessel for the founding ancestor via Dino Jixes. Of course, Anos is the founding ancestor, so not only does Ivis’ attempt on his life fail, but he’s able to toss Ivis across the room with little effort.

Anos begins the Rivide spell that sends the sisters back in time, but his actions attract the attention of Eugo La Raviaz, the Guardian God of Time, who doesn’t take kindly to people messing with his domain. He lends his godly powers to Ivis, who stops time both the sisters and Anos’ initial attacks.

Even with Eugo’s power, Ivis again fails to do away with Anos, who stubbornly remains alive…because he’s the Demon King. He restarts time for the sisters, and urges them to declare their belief in him as the Demon King, which they do wholeheartedly.

Since this is all taking place within Anos’ castle, he’s able to summon the Magic Sword of Destruction Venuzdnor, which he not only uses to shatter Ivis’ time prison, but to purge Ivis of Eugo’s godly power. Anos is also able to remove the influence of the impostor and restore some of Ivis’ memories. He tasks him with investigating that impostor while letting him believe he’s still under his control.

With the sisters now secure as two separate entities and any threat of Ivis eliminated, Anos leads Misha and Sasha to the castle entrance to collect their perfect score, something that for all his power he’s never actually attained.

It’s all part in parcel of becoming weary of war and being glad to be resurrected in a world of peace, even there are only two people willing to acknowledge him. He gives Misha the magic ice ring for her birthday, while Sasha gets to keep her magic coat. All’s well that ends well, but damn did this episode throw a lot of jargon out there—Demons, gods, spells, weapons, and concepts, oh my! 

My head was spinning for a while, until I decided to let much of it flow over my head and simply enjoy the brass tacks, once the elaborate details are stripped away: Reality isn’t what others tell Anos it can or can’t be—it is what he makes of it, simply by being the most powerful individual in the world. In this case, that meant eliminating the need to sacrifice one sister to save the other.

Hamefura – 02 – Friend of the Dregs

There’s an undeniable pattern emerging in this new-and-improved Catarina Claes: more and more, she’s siding with and befriending those in the “game” who got the short end of the stick. First Keith, in whom she cultivates trust and affection rather than bullying and disdain. Yet as a result of her “erratic” behavior her parents would prefer if her younger brother accompany her to a fancy tea party to keep her on brand. Sure enough, Catarina trades pleasantries for pastries.

After eating to much she ends up rushing to the lavatory, but afterwards meets another trod-upon character in Mary Hunt. Due to her mother being her father’s second wife, her three older stepsisters rain contempt down upon her, making her shy and skittish. And while Catarina’s brashness might seem like anathema to such a fragile soul, she ends up bonding with Mary through gardening. Mary does it as an escape, while Catarina does it because she’s not the kind of woman to be cooped up indoors all day!

Third on Catarina’s list of underdog friends is her fiancee’s twin brother Alan Stuart, who as it happens is engaged to Mary. Catarina’s inner council worries about her befriending the girl engaged to Alan considering how he’s a conquerable route in the otome. She also resents the fact that only Catarina is considered a villainess and monster while Mary, who also loved Alan but lost to the heroine, is merely a good-natured rival.

Still, Alan is not happy about Catarina’s attempts to “seduce” Mary, even using the same line about a green thumb as he was going to use (since she remembered it from the game). Alan challenges her to a number of tree climbing challenges, all of which he loses handily. But in the process of all those challenges and losses, something happens: the two become fast friends.

It gets to the point where Gerald intervenes by visiting Catarina before Alan shows up, basically claiming fiancee’s prerogative. Catarina suggests a piano recital, and Alan proves much better than her at playing, but senses she and Gerald are patronizing him and runs off. Catarina tracks him down and rejects Alan’s insistence he’s just the “dregs” left over form all of Gerald’s good qualities.

To demonstrate that everyone has good and bad qualities, Catarina reveals Gerald’s weakness: a fear of snakes! Even Alan, who had just challenged her to dozens of tree-climbing duels, notes how that’s a pretty childish weakness to dredge up.

But as far as Catarina’s concerned, having a snake on hand could make the difference between life and death should Gerald raise a sword to her. Considering he tattled to her parents about both the toy snake and the tree-climbing, she has every reason to suspect he might turn on her one day!

Hamefura – 01 (First Impressions) – Avoiding the Inevitable

I don’t mind isekai anime, as long as it’s not always the exact same thing. You don’t have to re-invent the genre to hook me, just give it a fresh twist or two. Hamefura easily meets and exceeds that modest bar, as Catarina Claes isn’t the heroine of a fantasy RPG, but the villainess of an dating sim! At least, she’s the villain in the game she played in her previous life, before dying at seventeen.

Catarina is oblivious of her real-world Japan past until she stumbles and hits her head and it all rushes back. That’s when it dawns on her that if her path follows that of the game Catarina, she’ll either be killed or exiled in every route. It’s not a matter of playing and winning the game as normal; she has to break the game to avoid certain doom. One thing in her favor: she’s only eight, the proverbial Phantom Menace Anakin: Far from too far gone, plenty of time to devise a plan.

The question, of course, is how to things from going downhill. Having been an otome otaku in her previous life, Catarina has some ideas, and her inner deliberations are given the form of a “Council of Catarinas”, consisting of four different emotional states and an administrator to gather their votes. It’s another novel idea that adds variety to the story, and lets Uchida Maaya play off five different versions of herself—six, including her standard, “unified” inner voice.

The council’s solution to avoid another early death is to develop her sword and magical skills, so that if anyone comes at her, she’ll be ready to defend herself and survive. The magic will also mean she has something to fall back on for money should she end up exiled. Both her parents, her betrothed Gerald Stuart, and her various servants don’t know quite what to make of Catarina’s suddenly odd behavior.

Before long she’s hacking at dummies with a sword and building a garden to commune with nature (and build up her earth magic). But at the end of the day, Gerald still asks for her hand in marriage and she accepts, which means she could still be on the path to doom!

To make matters worse, her parents introduce her to her new adopted brother Keith, who in the game is bullied mercilessly by Catarina, becomes a playboy to sooth his trauma, and eventually he and the heroine Maria fall in love. When Catarina interferes, she’s either exiled or killed off.

She consults her inner head council, who decides that the best way to keep Keith from falling for Maria is to not bully him or make him feel lonely. Catarina does just that, but ends up persuading Keith to use his advanced earth magic, something he promised their parents he wouldn’t.

Catarina is injured by the giant dirt doll, Keith and their parents blame him, and he ends up isolated and alone. Different cause, same effect. Desperate to take the nearest ramp off this doom-filled route, Catarina literally chops Keith’s door down and apologizes for making him break his promise.

Keith comes into the picture pre-messed up thanks to his immense magical talent but lack of control that has led to accidents. But rather than let him stay isolated (or bully him), Catarina shows him she’s not afraid, and promises him they’ll never be apart. She gets in trouble for the door, but things are looking good on at least one not-getting-killed front! Also, it’s a genuinely sweet and moving scene.

I’m well-sold on Hamefura. It places its protagonist in the rigid structure of an otome and challenges her to forge her own path, even if she has to take an ax to the occasional door! She’s fighting against fate with charisma, panache, knowing this world will offer nothing but ruin unless she works her butt off.

Those around her are straight men witnessing her comic transformation from well-bred noble to tree-climbing gardener. Uchida Maaya lays on the industrious charm the whole way through. Her inner council is wonderful. Just as Cat is finding a way not to end up dead or exiled, this is a show managing to innovate and surprise in an over-saturated genre.