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.

Fire Force – 11 – Flowers of Edo

On Captain Oubi’s order, Hinawa regales the newer members of the 8th with the tale of how the 8th got started. Hinawa was a sergeant in the Imperial army at the time (as was Maki, a general’s daughter), and his lieutenant was a kind fellow named Tojo who had his sidearm “baptized” in case he has to put an Infernal to rest.

Well, Tojo is the one to be infernalized, and when the time comes to put him down, Hinawa can’t pull the trigger because his gun isn’t baptized. While off duty, he comes upon the scene of a fire where Oubi, head of the amateur firefighters, takes exception to the Fire Force soldiers who delay putting a docile Infernal to rest because it won’t “score enough points.”

Hinawa and Oubi decide to team up and put the docile Infernal to rest, and Oubi eventually starts the 8th Company as a different kind of Fire Force, one primarily concerned with putting Infernals to rest as respectfully and properly as possible while ensuring the safety of the living.

The company starts with just the two of them, but Hinawa urges Oubi to recruit Maki, whose work ethic, compassion and dedication to her duty make her the perfect match for the company they want to create. When Maki hears this in the present, she’s overcome with happiness, as she initially thought she was just brought in as a “meat shield.”

The reason for all this reminiscing? Aside from the fact it’s fun to learn about how the 8th got started, it was their first call that brings them to the present matter at hand, as it’s likely that the first Infernal they put to rest was artificially created by the Evangelist.

The location of that first call was Asakusa, the jurisdiction of the 7th Company, headed up by Captain Shinmon Benimaru. Beni does things a bit differently too, as his company doesn’t officially answer to the empire, and they dwell and work with traditional technology.

Oubi and the 8th visit the 7th’s HQ unannounced, and meet Benimaru, his lieutenant Sagamiya and two tiny twin fire soldiers Hinata and Hikage. But Beni doesn’t like another company stepping on his turf, and won’t hear them out. Just as Shinra is challenging him to a fight he’ll likely lose, fire bells sound outside—an Infernal has been spotted.

Shinra and the 8th then bear witness to the way Beni does things, as well as demonstrates his compound 2nd/3rd-gen abilities to both create and manipulate flames. He uses them in much the same way firefighters of the hikeshi system of old Edo: to demolish buildings and even entire blocks in order to stop the spread of the fire. His ability just enables him to do it on his own and with great efficiency (not to mention style).

The people in his jurisdiction, much like the people of Edo during those fires, aren’t outraged by the apparent wanton destruction. On the contrary, they know Benimaru is doing what must be done to protect the city, and hope that if they ever Infernalize, he’ll be the one to put them to rest. Fires and the destruction caused to stop them are a fact of life for them. For as the saying goes, “Fires and quarrels are the flowers of Edo.

Citrus – 11

Best Girl Harumin always has a way of coming in at the perfect time in this ridiculous show about sisters loving other sisters who love their sisters to splash water on the whole affair. She makes a down-in-the-dumps (and at this point disgustingly self-involved) Yuzu pay dearly for her negative aura in the form of a ruthless tickling.

I love how quickly and casually Harumin moves on to reveal yet another thing to love about her—she’s a history buff! But also, she’s just got other things going on…unlike Yuzu, who has let this Mei situation consume nearly every waking moment.

The next day, the class trip visits a “relationship-forming shrine”, a decision made at Himeko’s urging, still fighting to get closer to Mei. Sara’s sister Nina gets wind of this, and despite knowing Mei and Yuzu are “already invovled”, as a fiercely loyal sister, she’s committed to doing all she can to help Sara.

That also means bringing Sara to the same shrine. It also means keeping Sara in the dark about Yuzu and Mei, something I see coming to bite her later.

Both Yuzu and Himeko are enthusiastic about visiting the shrine and offering their very long prayers that make Harumin wait. Once the three are back together, it’s not five seconds until Sara appears, to Yuzu’s surprise. Since neither is aware they’re in love with the same girl, they each offer one another their blessings and hope to hear of their success later. Oh dear.

On a brighter note, Himeko’s underlying good-girl nature meshes well with Harumin’s innate maternal aura, as the two conspire to offer Yuzu charms to aid her future beauty and luck and success in love. Harumin also hilariously shuts down Himeko’s tsundere act – Himeko cares about Yuzu as a friend.

If only Yuzu pulled her weight, especially in her friendship with Harumin. Any way you look at it, Harumin gives and gives while Yuzu simply takes and takes. But the thing is, if Harumin didn’t want to be friends with someone like Yuzu, she wouldn’t be. So I’ll respect her choice.

When the weather turns, Nina makes sure she’s in the same place as Mei. She informs Mei of her sister Sara’s affection for her, and asks whether she’d consider entering into a relationship with her. Mei declines, but Nina asks her to think it over.

Clearly, Nina did not intend for Mei to have more than a minute or so to think it over, because it isn’t long after she leaves that Sara appears. Determined not to let her chance slip by, Sara confesses her love. When Mei asks if Sara would “need” her, Sara answers of course she would; she loves her, after all.

It’s a directness Mei wanted from Yuzu, but didn’t get, and doesn’t get even later that evening when Yuzu confronts Mei once more and can’t get the words out. Mei interrupts her to say she was already confessed to that very day, and decided to start dating that person.

Having reached a new low, Yuzu get’s “sauced” on orange soda and rants to herself in the hotel lobby, making a big scene. Her shot, it would seem, was at the end of last week. She blew it, and left the opening for someone else (who she still doesn’t know is Sara).

Nina isn’t about to tell her…at least not until she gets an ironclad promise from Yuzu that she’ll support Sara in her love, no matter what. She secures that promise when Yuzu is at her most miserable and vulnerable. I tellya, this Nina is one cool operator.

After another unpleasant run-in with Mei over hitting up the bath too late— breaking both school and hotel rules, *gasp*—Yuzu ends up encountering Sara in the bath. A very happy, if nervous Sara. Yuzu is happy for Sara, but when she reports her own failure, Sara urges her not to give up. Even if she’s dating someone else, Sara believes Yuzu has to tell her how she feels.

Yuzu tries to do just that, waiting until Mei’s roommate Himeko leaves to sneak in and talk. Mei isn’t having it, but when Himeko suddenly returns, she turns out the lights and pulls Yuzu under the covers with her, literally covering for her.

This time, Yuzu doesn’t squander her chance, embracing Mei, blowing on her neck, and preparing to kiss her, perhaps in hope her actions will speak louder than her thus-far lack of words. Mei stops her and orders her to leave, but the experience emboldens Yuzu. The time wasn’t right to say what she wanted to say, but now she’s committed to finding that time.

Yuzu was hoping that would be the next day, but Mei has already gone off on a date. Yuzu rushes to the location of that date and tries to determine where Mei might be, but she’s intercepted by Nina, who finally tells her the truth: Mei is Sara’s girlfriend, and she’s going to keep it that way.

Nina’s statuesque physique was played for laughs last week, but both when she squeezed a promise from “drunk” Yuzu (hugging her just a bit too hard) and when she’s backing her into a railing here, Nina’s size becomes a threatening proposition—one Yuzu simply never saw coming.

Meanwhile, atop an observation tower, Mei spaces out. Last night after the bath, Sara found Yuzu’s dropped student ID, saw the same last name as Mei’s, and remembered Yuzu saying she was in love with her stepsister. Even so, she can’t deny her heart, which is telling her she wants to kiss Mei.

With Sara wanting to go all in,  Mei simply wanting someone to need her for who she is, and Yuzu cowering in a tight corner, everything seems to be coming up Nina…except of course if the ultimate truth is that Nina harbors an unrequited love for Sara.

The stigma of incest combined with Sara falling for someone else seem to have helped Nina decide to give up on Sara for herself and instead use every resource at her disposal to ensure her sister’s happiness, even at the cost of her own.

I appreciated the added layers given to both Tachibana twins. Like Yuzu, Sara is the purer of the two sisters, more easily manipulated for good and ill, while Nina, due in part to the world denying her the love she chose, is the more cynical sister who doesn’t believe in fate, only will and effort. She may be hurting Yuzu deeply, but better Yuzu than Sara.

We should be in for quite a finale.

Citrus – 10

Mei unblinkingly offers Yuzu her body with open arms, ostensibly out of gratitude for how Yuzu helped her with her grandfather and father. But when Yuzu finally has the object of her infatuation in her arms…she just can’t do it.

Emphasis on she; Mei looked ready to go all the way, and from the look of her reaction to Yuzu’s declining, isn’t cool with being turned down. That feeling lasts the length of the month of January, with the two stepsisters rarely talking.

When Matsuri hears the two didn’t do it on Christmas after all, she mocks Yuzu for wanting her romance to be perfect like the shoujo-ai manga she hides in her bookshelf. She also scolds Yuzu for not properly considering Mei’s feelings. Even if that’s a bit rich coming from her, she’s not wrong. Mei opened up, and Yuzu ran.

When Yuzu oversleeps the morning of their class trip to Kyoto, Mei leaves without her, and Yuzu misses her class’s train. As it would happen, another big sister from another school ends up missing her train and separated from her little sister.

That sister is Tachibana Sara, and she and Yuzu end up meeting and getting on the next train headed to Kyoto, and from there, the coincidences keep piling up. Yuzu and Sara set out to find their respective classes and learn they each have virtually the same schedule and are even staying at the same hotel.

In the process, Yuzu and Sara become friends, which I knew would make things interesting when Sara learns that the nice girl she fell for (and mentions to her sister Nina earlier in the ep) is Yuzu’s stepsister, whom Yuzu told her she fell for and is currently unable to reconcile with.

Sara and Nina reunite, and Yuzu learns Sara’s “little” sister is huge, and a gyaru to boot! But Himeko catches Yuzu and gives her the third degree, even interrupting Yuzu’s attempt to get Mei to talk.

They eventually do meet, later that night, but Mei is not in a patient mood, and when she asks Yuzu “What do you think of me?”, Yuzu has nothing but shallow answers, even if they’re the best she can come up with on short notice. Mei isn’t moved, and tells Yuzu to forget Christmas night.

In one final coincidence, Nina happens to overhear this conversation between Sara’s new friend Yuzu and the black-haired girl Nina knows her sister likes.

A coincidence or two can be perfectly fine, but when there are this many it can make the resulting drama a bit manufactured and thus less satisfying. And while I knew the Tachibana twins were coming from the promo art, and they weren’t nearly as grating as Matsuri, they were also just a bit dull.