Akudama Drive – 12 (Fin) – Good Trouble

You could sense this was going to be a particularly intense finale when it starts with Swindler, Courier, and the kids surviving a violent Shinkansen derailing. Brother thinks it’s all over, but Sister still believes in her big sis. Swindler may have a badly broken leg, but she’s not ready to give up.

She produces the 500-yen coin that started her run of “bad luck” (putting it quite mildly) and places it on Courier’s chest. It’s payment for one last job: ensure the kids get to Shikoku safely. Through their prickly, foul-mouthed repartee, Courier too can sense that Swindler is cashing out.

After wishing the kids godspeed, Swindler limps out into the open and almost immediately spotted and surrounded by police drones. But she finally gets her own official Akudama intro sequence (this show’s version of the magical girl transition) as she pulls off one last Swindle.

At first, it seems like nothing other than stalling the Executioners—whose mundane banter in the midst of such carnage only heightens their monstrousness. She pretends to be an ordinary civilian caught in the crossfire, but she’s quickly identified as Swindler, and is stabbed through the chest by one of the Executioners.

That woman Executioner thinks it’s creepy that the Akudama wears a bright smile even in death, but Swindler has every reason to smile: not only did she succeed in buying crucial moments for Courier and the kids, but also sparked something even the Executioners won’t be able to contend with.

Oh, they certainly put on a show of force in surrounding Courier’s bike with seemingly every Executioner, drone, and airship in the city. A feisty Executioner is even able to lunge at Courier, but Brother comes between them an ensures the wound isn’t deep enough to kill Courier yet.

That’s key, because they still need Courier to help them out of this mess. Of course, Courier isn’t enough, especially in his battered state and woefully outnumbered and outgunned. That is, until, the fruits of Swindler’s Last Swindle are borne. Her execution, ruthlessly carried out while pleading she was just an ordinary person? That was caught on video.

The girl whose parents were killed last week steps between the Executioners and Courier and the kids, and even shoots one of them with a gun she found. She’s not alone. Soon the Executioners and their arrogant Boss are surrounded by a far larger force of ordinary citizens rising up against the violence. Even Bunny & Shark’s message is retooled: the Executioners are the Akudama now.

The resurgence of public unrest keeps the Executioners busy enough that Courier is able to charge up his bike railgun and not only bring down the Police station and its looming tower, but uses the tower wreckage as a goddamn ramp to escape with the kids.

He follows the train tracks towards Shikoku until his bike warns him it’s running low on juice, and in any case there are three Executioner airships still in pursuit. Courier stops near a windswept tree, the kids alight from the bike and continue on foot while he’ll go back and stop the airships…at any cost.

Akudama Drive has never had a problem with absolutely bonkers action sequences, but as expected the finale takes them to entirely new heights, reaching Synthwave Music Video levels of serene awesomeness. Courier dances on his bike to dodge enemy fire as long as he possibly can, but is eventually swallowed up by a railgun beam and seemingly vaporized, all while Brother and Sister run away as fast as their little legs can carry them.

BUT…it turns out Courier isn’t quite dead yet after being turned into a black-on-white sketch—usually a death sentence for most characters, but Courier and the Akudama aren’t “most”! He uses his metal arm to replace one of the two prongs on the bike’s railgun that melted away, focusing the beam enough to land a direct hit on the third and final airship pursuing the kids, and destroying it.

With nothing and no one else chasing Brother and Sister, Courier slumps over wearing a smile of relief and satisfaction as the morning sun washes over him. He just managed accomplished his final delivery mission. Before parting with the kids, he gave them the 500-yen coin Swindler gave him, making his last job technically gratis.

Aside from a parting shot showing the wreckage of the police tower, the remainder of the episode is given over to Brother and Sister continuing on to Shikoku as the end credits roll. They reach a tunnel through which there is nothing but light, and walk through it while holding hands, vanishing into the blinding white.

What Shikoku is like and what becomes of them is left ambiguous; suffice it to saw they are safe and free. So is Kansai, it would seem, with the fall of the murderous Executioners. Swindler’s heroic death made her a martyr, and caused the spark that lit the match that brought about the downfall of the region’s old, unjust order—what the late John Lewis called “good trouble.”

Hey, I never thought I’d be quoting a civil rights icon in a show about goofy Danganronpa-style archetype criminals on the run, but here we are! In its finale Akudama’s lyrical action sequences, heart-wrenching character moments and operatic soundtrack all combined to elevate a previously goofily over-the-top series to an epic cinematic experience. And like any great movie or series, I’m holding myself back from immediately watching it all over again.

Akudama Drive – 11 – Their Little Dream

Suddenly, we’re back where we began: Ordinary Person gets off work on time and spots a takoyaki stand. Instead of being accused of not paying, she pays without interacting with Courier and the two go their separate ways. Of course, if this is how things had gone down in the first episode, there wouldn’t be a story.

This is clearly not reality. What is reality is Pupil waking up in a hospital bed to find that not only have nearly 6,000 ordinary people been marked as Akudama, but nearly a third of them have been executed, and his senpai seems perfectly fine with it, as is their Boss, who is praised by Kanto. Order in Kansai has been restored—even if the odd orphan has to be tossed off their parent’s corpse into the cold.

Swindler at first revels in the comfort of her ordinary apartment, and could presumably continue living there as if all of the crazy events in which she participated was all just a very weird dream. But this is the dream, just as a young Courier discovering his mentor, the previous (and female) Courier murdered is a dream.

Bunny and Shark—in crisp HD for the first time—deliver their latest lesson with Swindler and Courier as an audience: they explain the “Butterfly Dream” in which one asks themselves if they’re dreaming of a butterfly or the butterfly’s dream. Apparently, in Kanto, it doesn’t matter: you can be both or neither.

The animal stick puppet characters assert this is where Swindler and Courier “truly belong”: a place where they can dream of whatever and whenever they want and live in their happiest moments forever! Swindler even has a little Shoujo Manga moment with Courier…before both he and the takoyaki stand beging to digitally degrade and evaporate, leaving only the interior of the Shinkansen.

Swindler and Courier escape this world of coddling and restraining illusion thanks to Hacker’s Haro bot, with which the real Hacker is able to interface and which serves as a kind of dream totem for Swindler and Courier; their means of realizing they’re in a dream. The Bunny & Shark program is a form of brainwashing meant to separate body from mind (and free will) when entering Kanto. It is the effect of the Decontamination Zone.

Why would Kanto insist anyone who enters have their mind separated from their body? That becomes clear when Hacker leads them outside of the train to see something even stranger than their dreams: an endless deep blue sky full of eternally floating wreckage of old Tokyo.

As for Kanto, its true form is that of a complex quantum computer with a morphing geometric black structure resembling an Angel from Eva. Everyone in Kanto converted their consciousness to data and stored it in this structure (again, like Eva’s Human Instrumentality Project). Hacker turns back and cheekily breaks the fourth wall, commenting on how crazy a twist this is!

Swindler’s first priority is the kids, whom Hacker points out are currently being restrained by the Kanto structure. It’s presently breaking down, and the siblings were always meant to be Kanto’s new and everlasting vessels. All of Kanto’s data is being transferred to them.

Needless to say, Swindler isn’t cool with the kids being used once more as mere tools. She’s long since completely devoted her mind and body ensuring brother and sister’s one “little dream”—to be alive, safe, and together—is fulfilled. Whatever else they are and whatever Kanto perceives their use to be, she insists they’re ordinary kids who deserve and ordinary life.

Unfortunately, her attempts to physically attack Kanto are repelled by its gravitational wave defense system, which means it’s up to Hacker to go into Kanto and play the toughest—and most fun—game of his life. That’s just fine to him, as the whole reason he’s helping Swindler and Courier comes down to profound boredom. If he can die doing what he loves, he’s okay with that.

This is definitely Akudama Drive at its most baroque and psychedelic, and even though The Day I Became a God had a quantum supercomputer and trippy virtual hacker fight first this season, Akudama is able to put a different spin on both. Hacker’s battlefield resembles FFXIII’s final dungeon, Orphan’s Cradle, while the floating wreckage reminded me of FFXIII-2’s final dungeon, Labyrinth of Chaos.

Hacker ends up succeeding in freeing the siblings, but only by sacrificing his digital self, which is all that’s left of him. He lies about being “just fine” to Swindler and offers her a final token of gratitude for returning his Haro drone intact: coordinates to “a mystical place nobody’s heard about, let alone been to,” which he deems a “perfect place” for them.

He then urges everyone to hurry aboard the Shinkansen, which he programs to return to Kansai, and from there they can presumably head to those coordinates. As Sister surprises Brother with her new street smarts (and potty mouth—”You were shit at protecting me!”), Swindler thanks Courier for all his help. Of course, for Courier, finishing the job wasn’t a choice, but a necessity.

That’s when we return to Kansai where the approaching Shinkansen is placed in crosshairs. Three choppers open fire on it, knocking it off the tracks in a huge fireball as Pupil and New Pupil look on. Here’s hoping Swindler and the kids alighted before the train blew up!

Assuming they did, there are likely to be more hardships—and a likely final showdown with the Executioners—before they can reach their promised haven. Whatever happens in the finale, this episode was a master class in twisty, surreal, mind-bending, truth-dropping, beautifully batshit fun.

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 12 (Fin) – The Hanging Out Continues

As expected, last week’s shocking cliffhanger is resolved within the episode’s first two minutes, as Uzaki clarifies she can’t hang out with him because she still has to do her college summer homework. Sakurai closes the door in her face, despite the fact she’s soaked by the rain. Pretty lame fake-out there, to be honest. Also, college summer homework? Sounds high schoolly to me…

When the cafe owner throws out his back lifting something he should have left to his hulking employee, it affords Ami an opportunity to ask Uzaki how she and Sakurai were like in high school. Uzaki basically reiterates that while she was initially intimidated by his scary face, she soon learned he’s a kind, earnest guy. What Uzaki didn’t realize until Ami tells her is that she’s picked up his speech patterns!

On to the next vignette, in which Uzaki, having shown her whole ass (figuratively speaking) to Sakurai when drunk, is determined to get Sakurai into a similar state of vulnerability. Sakaki tells her Sak intentionally keeps his alcohol intake down to avoid showing that side of himself, so she’ll have to work for it.

To that end, she cooks a delicious but spicy dinner for the two, pretends to drink so he’ll keep up, and brings bad shark disaster movies to distract him from his intake. By the end of the evening, Uzaki is successful as Sakurai is very drunk and for once couldn’t act cool if he wanted to, but when he earnestly praises Uzaki’s cooking and lets the word “love” slip, it leads Uzaki to binge drink in order to steel herself.

The end result is Sakaki puts drunk Sakurai in his futon to get a good night’s sleep, and drunk Uzaki crawls into the bed with him. When they wake up face-to-face, they have no memory of what, if anything, happened, and head to the cafe to treat their hangovers with quality coffee.

Naturally, Ami and her dad are eager to hear details about what happened, and are perhaps too amused by the fact neither Sakurai nor Uzaki can definitively state that they did not have a drunken tussle. One would hope that if and when they do it, they’d be in charge of their faculties and, more importantly, remember the experience!

The next college semester starts, and Uzaki has breakfast with her mom and previously unseen(?) little brother. Uzaki spots Sakurai on campus and catches up to his lumbering gait. She’s still experiencing post-summer break shock, and is mostly down in the dumps because she thinks they won’t hang out with classes in session.

Sakurai assures her, perhaps too earnestly, that it doesn’t have to be summer for them to hang out, and that “they’ll always be together.” That last bit brings out Uzaki’s mischievous flesh fang, and we’re basically back to their warm, cozy status quo dynamic.

While watchable and possessed of some nice moments here and there, Uzaki-chan wants to Hang Out! was a pretty ho-hum, take-it-or-leave-it rom-com. Too often the leads felt more like high schoolers than the adults they’re supposed to be. The antics of the Owner/Ami/Sakaki rooting triad grew stale, while the weird Tottori tourism ad episode was…a weird Tottori tourism ad.

That said, Oozora Naomi gave a solid performance as Uzaki, and I’ll be keeping an ear out for her in other lead roles (she’s also great in the far-superior Chio’s School Road). Other than that this show was a somewhat marginal-effort Summer time-passer…which will be back for a second season of hanging out!

Season Average: 7.5

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 11 – The Inevitable Precipice

Following their Tottori trip (which goes completely unmentioned here), Uzaki and Sakurai continue to ride high as an item, with Uzaki coming over virtually every day and leaving her junk behind, a definite sign of intimacy. However, Sakurai’s a neat freak and when the junk piles up he makes Uzaki clean it up. However, when she cooks him dinner he apologizes for being so harsh, while Uzaki revels at how easy it is to calm him.

When he’s offered cooking duties at the cafe, Sakurai’s attempt at pasta it inedible, so he comes to Uzaki’s house to have a crash course in cooking. He finally meets Uzaki’s cats, but of course her mom overhears him talking about petting them and assumes he’s talking about her. It’s a rehash of a joke that wasn’t particularly funny the first time, but at least we get Hayami Saori “hoo-hoo-hoo” laugh out of it!

We then move on somewhat clunkily to a day of rock climbing, something that comes naturally to Sakurai but which exhausts Uzaki almost instantly. She has no choice but to accept defeat in this particular competition, and simply watches as her “himbo” climbs his heart out while barely breaking a sweat.

We cut awkwardly again to Sakurai doing solo karaoke, the rise of which is explained by a “wise narrator” type I don’t remember hearing much of before, but is only notable because it’s such a poor imitation of Kaguya-sama: Love is War—of which this show isn’t even a pale shadow of a pale shadow.

A tipsy Uzaki and Ami spot him and join in the fun, and due to their reduced inhibitions even dress up and crowd him with chinese dresses, a cop uniform, and a bunny girl suit, the latter of which an unguarded Sakurai declares to be his favorite.

Since this is apparently an episode full of sharp cuts to unrelated events, it ends in the same fashion. Suddenly it’s a dark and rainy day (or night), and Uzaki shows up at Sakurai’s door absolutely soaked…but won’t come in. She declares that she “can’t hang out” with Sakurai anymore, and tears fall down her cheeks.

I’m not sure what to make of this. It’s unusual for a rom-com couple to hit a “low point” or reach some kind of “precipice” before the big finale, but it’s all been goofy fun and games to this point with scarcely any drama aside from the high school swimming flashback.

While this is totally out of left field for the show, I’m still eager to learn why exactly their fun has to come to an end, and would welcome a measure of genuine drama. Was it because Sakurai said the bunny girl was best? Are she and her mom suddenly moving? It could be anything.

ID: INVADED – 04 – Hiding a Leaf in the Forest

We begin with one of the worst things that can be done to a person: high schooler Kikuchi Keiko has been buried alive. She is the seventh such victim of the “Graverobber”, and is aware of the past victims because like her, they were all livesteamed on the internet to a morbidly fascinated audience. Once again, the police are fighting against a ticking clock to prevent a seventh death.

Worse still, their most reliable “pilot” drove another criminal to suicide simply by talking to him about the furthest reaches of their psyche, which of course he saw when in their Id Wells. He’s in solitary while they try to use the Perforater as a substitute pilot, but his survival rate is too low to make any progress. It has to be Narihisago. He’s the best they’ve got.

And yet, even the Brilliant Detective Sakaido finds that the Id Well they were able to create from the perp’s cognition particles has a high level of difficulty. He’s trapped in a massive, undulating apartment block that is currently on fire and full of burnt corpses.

The stange thing is, he finds a burnt-to-death Kaeru above the flames, suggesting they weren’t the flames that killed her. He spots a ten-year-old Keiko on the other side of a huge gap between blocks, and wants to rescue her, but solving Kaeru’s murder must come first if they’re to find the real life Keiko.

As Narihisago is killed and re-injected again and again into the Well, he gets more exhausted and makes mistakes. Momoki decides to give him a break, but neither he nor his colleagues are interested in taking a break themselves, even if it means staying up two straight days. There’s a girl buried somewhere who is slowly running out of air. Rest can come once they find her.

This episode has an air of urgency and desperation that surpasses the previous episodes (with the possible exception of the one in which Hondomachi was kidnapped). And even though Narihisago is a murderer who has driven five other inmates to suicide while in captivity, the officers still end up rooting for him to survive and “win” in the Id Well, because if he wins, they win.

Sakaido finally makes it to the other side and climbs up to the unburnt apartment where the young Keiko is waiting. She even says something that helps Sakaido crack the case wide open. Kaeru wasn’t killed, i.e. Keiko wasn’t buried by the Graverobber at all, but by a copycat.

Young Keiko even points out by name the “failure” of a man responsible, and the police move quickly to locate and apprehend him (it comes down to the pattern of the rug under Kaeru’s corpse matching the one in the suspect’s lair, under which Keiko is sealed in an airtight barrel.

Alas, the livestream was never live to begin with, but a recording that gave the police a false sense that they still had time. In reality, Keiko has been dead of asphyxiation for nearly a week. After working so hard to find her, it’s a gut punch for all involved, including Sakaido once he hears the bad news from Momoki.

Pulling the rug out from beneath our feet, we the audience are similarly frustrated and that much more angered at the creature of a man that is the copycat Graverobber, not to mention the still-at-large Graverobber himself. The case wasn’t solved in this episode, but it did make the case for why, having spent time in their psyches, a once-righteous detective like Narihisago could develop sudden impulse to kill the suspects he helps capture.

Because of this, he’s not even sure he can call himself a person anymore, but Momoki assures him he is. And when Momoki asks if Narihisago still considers him a friend (they were once partners on the force), Narihisago tells him that friendship one of the only things he has left tethering him to reason.

Being dumped into the minds of depraved criminals is enough to drive anyone from reason, but somehow Narihisago has endured. He’ll have to continue to endure as the cops try to find leads to the real Graverobber’s whereabouts. The newly recovered Hondomachi may have found the first such clue in Kazuta Haruka, a missing person and one of the Perforator’s victims.

Oresuki – 05 – Not Working Out

We saw Asunaro’s smirk last week as she looked over an inflammatory article about Joro’s alleged three-timing, so when she invited him up on the roof, I feared the worst for him, even as he thought Asunaro was poised to confess. It isn’t until he sees that damnable bench that he knows nothing good will come of their imminent conversation.

Sure enough, Asunaro isn’t there to confess, but to warn him about the article she’s about to publish documenting his Don-Juanery, with photos of him very close to Cosmos, Himawari and Pansy to prove it. However, Asunaro believes in publishing the truth, and so agrees to shadow Joro and give him a chance to clear his name.

Sure enough, his next interaction with Cosmos does nothing to assuage Asunaro’s suspicions. He asks the three girls if they can just keep their distance for a bit, and all refuse. On the contrary, he’s doomed to stick close to them until the festival, as he’s been chosen as the boy in the Flower Dance, while Cosmos and Himawari are two of the three girls with whom he’ll dance.

When Cosmos asks if he’ll accompany her to meet the first-year who will be the third to dance with him, he asks if she’ll treat him more strictly around Asunaro, but she ends up pulls out a completely over-the-top full samurai lord act. As for the first year, the nasty rumors about Joro are still floating around her grade, and he’s known as the “Slipper Man” for licking girls’ hallway shoes. So yeah…she’s out of the Flower Dance.

Cosmos picks Sun to replace her (still not sure why Sun is even in the picture anymore after his horrendous threat to Pansy), and gets permission from the adults, which means the whole study group (plus Pansy) end up spending more time together, both practicing and buying outfits for the dance. The more she shadows him during these events, the less Asunaro is convinced of the accuracy of her article—which, it should be said, begs the question of why it ever got from draft to ready-to-print status.

That fact ends up costing Joro a lot when the unedited original article is accidentally published and distributed to the whole school. Joro is confronted by the elites in his class who promise punishment for anyone who hurts girls. They’re not even entirely convinced when President Cosmos arrives to defend him, as they suspect she’s one of the three girls in the article. It takes Asunaro to call them off, and she seems incredibly apologetic and upset to the point she doesn’t even check her dialect.

She offers to personally retrieve every copy, but there’s no letting the genie out of the bottle, and Cosmos seems to realize that when she can’t convince the gals. She decides to call off the rest of the practices between her, and basically tells him it will be best to avoid hanging around each other for the time being. Not just her, but Himawari and Pansy too. Cosmos is worried continuing to interact so closely will only create more misunderstandings, for which Joro will bear the brunt.

This leaves Asunaro as the only girl still in Joro’s orbit at the end of the episode, and considering how many twists this show has already presented, part of me can’t help but wonder if this was her plan all along. The article, the rooftop meeting, the shadowing, the “accidental” publishing, her offer to help fix everything, and finally, her eagerness to practice dancing with him (in which she appears to take great joy); all of that can be construed as a sequence of actions undertaken by someone who wanted to likes Joro and wanted to isolate him from the other girls.

If that was the plan, it’s worked perfectly so far. Chances are it wasn’t the plan, because this is Oresuki, which loves flipping the script. But if it was, she hasn’t achieved total victory quite yet; Cosmos watched them dancing on the roof, and despite being a bit of a goofball most of the time, has the smarts to expose and foil Asunaro’s plot…again, if it is indeed even the plot!

Oresuki – 04 – Mending Fences

If the first three episodes didn’t make it plain, Oresuki does not beat around the bush. Joro’s name was just cleared last week, as Sun’s scheme to win Pansy by using Himawari and Cosmos was exposed, mostly thanks to Pansy herself. So it’s understandable for emotions to be too raw for any kind of swift reconciliation to take place anytime soon.

And yet, that’s just what happens, as Pansy tells Joro he can’t hide in the library with her forever avoiding the others. To use her words as a jumping-off point, any effort to justify not mending fences is wasted effort. Just get out there and mend ’em! So he does, and refreshingly, he doesn’t let newspaper editor Hanetachi “Asunaro” Hina spoil his first chance to make up with Himawari.

Himawari assumes Joro hates her and that no good can come from them being around each other, but after a chase, Joro follows Pansy’s advice and simply tells Himawari the truth: he wants to be friends with her again. That’s all she ever wanted too, and they’re both simultaneously relieved and surprised how easy it feels in hindsight.

Himawari accompanies Joro to the rooftop to attempt a reconciliation with Sun, but it initially goes south when Sun dismisses Joro’s indirect “challenge,” which is little more than excuse to study together. It’s only when Joro, and then Himawari, drop all pretense (and dispense with all pride) and simply shout about wanting to be friends again that Sun comes around.

On a clear role, Joro brings Himawari and Sun before Pansy, both so the latter can apologize for his brutish words, and so the four of them can arrange a study circle for midterms. (I wouldn’t have so quickly forgiven Sun for threatening to rape her, but hey, I’m not Pansy.)

But for some strange reason, Joro completely forgot about Cosmos—and while she’s been essentially stalking him the whole time as he made up with the others, to boot!

When he feels her evil purple aura behind him, Joro realizes his mistake and seeks her out on the steps. It turns out not only does Cosmos want to make up more than anything, she’s slaved over an elaborate script for the process, and won’t accept Joro’s offer until he does it in just the bizarre performative way with weird voices that she envisioned!

So! No sooner did Oresuki tear apart all of its wholesome initial friendships with the utmost gusto does it carefully piece them back together, and in an entertaining and believable way. Each of Joro’s make-up sessions felt true to the character he was making up with.

But the end of the episode doesn’t forget that Dark Joro is very much still a thing, and that these reconciliations has rekindled his desire to one day seduce one of these three of these beautiful girls. Little does he know someone other than Pansy is on to Dark Joro, and is ready to expose him as “King of the Scumbags” in a newspaper article.

The charming, Tsuguro dialect-having Asunaro seemed amiable enough in her interactions with Joro, but his line about her being a master of information gathering wasn’t a throwaway. She’s got mud to throw—mud that threatens both his newly-mended friendships and reputation at school in general…again.

P.S. Anime News Network’s Lynzee Loveridge has a nice write-up of the first three episodes, including more references to the characters’ names that offer insight to their personalities. I for one missed the fact that “joro” means “watering can”—how apropos!

Oresuki – 03 – Bounce Back

When Sun, Himawari and Cosmos all arrive at the library at once, it’s clear that some shit is going to go down. Joro almost manages to slip out of it by revealing his darker side and calling out the two girls for using him as a convenient tool, not because he’s a dear childhood friend or cute kohai.

That last-ditch effort fails when Pansy throws him under the bus, telling them he was trying to get her to date Sun while claiming to be on their side. Sun punches him for playing with the girls’ hearts, declares their friendship over, and carries him off.

It sure looks like this is curtains for Joro, and that all Pansy did was assist in this catharsis of misery. But when she mutters “have faith in me” to Joro on his way out, it becomes apparent there’s still more to this story yet to be explored.

Since there was a bystander in the library during the exchange, rumors spread and Joro is ostracized overnight, including having his indoor shoes bedazzled and a detailed golf course model placed on his desk, which is such a bizarre and random head-scratcher of a prank I couldn’t help but laugh.

With Joro out of the picture, Sun is free to spend the next week of lunch periods in the library with Pansy, unaware that she’s putting the finishing touches on her grand plan. It all starts by asking him, quite simply, why he tricked and entrapped Joro, using the feelings of Himawari and Cosmos as his tools in that venture.

And there it is: Joro, as we know, wasn’t the mastermind here, but neither was Pansy: it was Sun all along, sore over an incident years ago when a girl he liked asked him if he’d help her get with Joro. Sun was the one who put the girls up to confronting Joro about asking Sun about them. Joro played the part Sun knew he would (aware as he was about “dark Joro”) and he got his revenge.

Believing he’s all alone with Pansy, Sun doesn’t deny any of this, but proudly proclaims he was after revenge for “losing” to Joro back then, and again with Pansy. He’s also enough of a jerk that he threatens to “do whatever he wants” to Pansy without consequence, since they’re all alone.

Of course, they aren’t. Joro, whom Pansy summoned to the library a minute before Sun arrived, is a witness to her takedown and exposing of Sun as the villain. She threw Joro under the bus in the previous dust-up to give Sun the false sense that everybody was against Joro, when in fact she loves Joro and intended to clear his name.

Joro comes out of his hiding place at the perfect time, and tells Sun where he truly erred: in making light of the “birdbrained” two girls’ feelings for him in order to use them in his scheme to destroy him. A chastened Sun promises to apologize, and departs, and then Joro tells Pansy that her efforts don’t change the fact he hates her, and he won’t be returning to the library.

That’s when Pansy tells Himawari and Cosmos to come out of their hiding spot; unbeknownst to Sun or Joro, Pansy invited them to listen in on the truth of things.

In golf parlance, we can call this episode a major bounce back for Joro. Himawari and Cosmos apologize, the vandalism of his stuff ceases, and Sun confesses in front of the class, clearing Joro’s name to the whole school through the same rumor mill that sullied it.

That brings us to Joro and Pansy, and why the latter fell in love with the former. Turns out, it isn’t his “dark side” she necessarily likes, but the kind, hardworking side that waited by the north entrance to the gym after Sun’s game, standing there dutifully and waiting with his arms full of Sun’s favorite food.

What Joro remembers most about that day was the gorgeous, well-endowed, raven-haired maiden whose eyes met his and with whom he became transfixed, only to never see her again. The last twist is the most predictable lame: Pansy is that gorgeous maiden, and was simply hiding her looks behind a “plain girl” disguise.

While I understand this reveal was necessary, it was very clumsily done for a show that had just crafted such an intricate tapestry of romantic intrigue, and portrays Joro in a very poor light: someone who is now more or less on board with this “Hot Pansy” on the surface but is still confident he’ll never fall for the Pansy inside.

While the ball might’ve land in a bunker (more golf talk…sorry) at the end, after three (or more precisely, 2.85) strong episodes that subverted my expectations, Oresuki has earned some benefit of the doubt. Let’s see where this goes!

Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 11 – The Wrong Hands

After leaving the realm where his father resides, the red pool is gone, and the Ark of Sirius is in Yuliy’s hands. It looks a lot like the sphere Willard acquired in Dogville, suggesting one of the two may be a fake or other means of defeating Yevgraf. Yev arrives right on schedule in his airship, and uses his blood pact with Mikhail to force him to retrieve the Ark from his brother.

Major Iba and Ryouko have followed Yuliy and Bishop and meet up just in time for Bishop to take Ryouko hostage and reveal he’s a vampire, something Yuliy already knew. However, the threat is short-lived, as Yuliy tells Bishop he always knew, and also knew that he and Bishop wanted the same thing: to defeat Yevgraf.

Where they differ is that Yuliy wants to keep the Ark around as the new “pride of the Sirius” while Bishop sought to destroy it so the vamps wouldn’t get it. They eventually agree to fight side-by-side towards that goal.

Yuliy and Bishop confront Misha and the twins, respectively, and with Misha basically programmed to attack Yuliy, it isn’t long before there’s a knife in Yuliy’s shoulder and the Ark is in Misha’s hands. As Tamara rushes the Ark to Yev, Bishop grabs Larissa and kills her.

After a struggle, Misha overcomes the blood pact, thanks to the blood of a diseased vampire he drank earlier. But he still doesn’t want Yuliy doing anything foolish; to let him do so would be to betray the promise he made to their mother. Yuliy, however, won’t allow any outcome where the Ark is destroyed or ends up in vampire hands.

Unfortunately, he’s powerless to stop the latter from happening, as Larissa gets the Ark to Yev, who promptly kills Bishop, then dickishly offers his immense gratitude to Yuliy for doing such a great job unsealing the Ark so he could take it. It really is a worst case scenario, as Yev orders his army to attack Yuliy, with Iba and Ryouko also in the crosshairs.

V Shipping comes to the rescue via airplane, and eventually deposit Willard on the airship with the “other Ark” in hand. But both he and Misha would seem to be too late; activated with Yuliy’s blood, he swallows the Ark whole and its power begins to surge within him, turning one eye gold.

Yev’s laughter suggests he’s absorbing an immense amount of information, and as we know, information is power. Will a Mikhail on his last legs and very mortal Willard be enough to delay whatever Yev has planned so Yuliy can arrive, unleash his Sirius powers, and use Ryouko’s katana to defeat the big bad? Only one episode left to find out.

Steins;Gate 0 – 14 – The Voice of God Can Be a Real Pain in the Ass Sometimes

Steins;Gate 0 comes out of its one-week break between Spring and Summer with authority, delivering a tantalizing blend of drama, tension, and purpose. Roughly half a year has passed since a brainwashed Kagari was taken by forces unknown, which means we’re already at a point where the likes of Rintarou and Mayuri have reached the “acceptance” phase of loss. There was a time when he’d search endlessly and fruitlessly, but absent clues or recourse…life goes on.

In Rintarou’s case, “life going on” means continuing not to pursue any kind of objectives relating to time travel, which means Suzuha and Daru are on their own. While Daru has made some progress, he’s still far from restoring the Phone Microwave, which prompts Suzu to reach out to Maho (back in America) for her assistance and scientific know-how.

The only problem is, a sleep-deprived Maho continues to suffer from her Salieri complex: even if she has the ability to repeat what “Mozart” accomplished in another world line, she lacks the confidence to implement it. She doesn’t agree to assist Suzu because she’s afraid she’ll fail; she’ll let everyone down where Kurisu wouldn’t.

Word comes that Fubuki is in the hospital again; Suzu makes her dad Daru use it as another opportunity to interact with her mother (worried she may never be born in the future). Thankfully, it’s a false alarm; the doctors simply wanted to run more tests on Fubuki…though I wonder whether this is some kind of foreshadowing for further ill effects of time travel.

While at the hospital, Rintarou meets Dr. Leskinen, who doesn’t hesitate to take several pictures of their encounter for the benefit of Maho. Daru learns for the first time that Rintarou may be bound for America to study and eventually join Leskinen’s research group, but Leskinen made sure not to set a concrete date for Rintarou to do so.

Suzuha finds Kagari’s metal opa in the hallway outside the lab, which is strange, because there’s no way she nor anyone else wouldn’t have noticed it for half a year; it must have been left there on purpose. Sure enough, Suzu pretends to be in the shower when an uninvited guest helps herself inside the lab.

Suzu, unquestionably the most militarily capable of Rintarou’s circle of friends (not counting Tennouji) gets the jump on the helmeted intruder in black, and when she forces her to take off her helmet, it’s revealed to be Kagari, or rather a fully-brainwashed Kagari in “Bureau Mode.” She’s come for her Opa, and when Suzu doesn’t produce it, Kagari goes mad and attacks.

Kagari isn’t too much of a challenge to Suzu, until Daru shows up and Kagari slashes Suzu across the abdomen. Kagari snatches up the Opa and flees, and Suzu isn’t able to catch up to her. But as she fled, Daru noticed Kagari was crying. Their Kagari is still in there, somewhere, and she needs their help. But if what Suzu suspects is true, they can’t help her without a time machine.

Suzu also notes that Kagari mentioned she “heard the voice of God” both in the present and twelve years ago when she held her up with a gun. She goes on to believe Kagari, like so many of her “Valkyrie comrades”, is the victim of the “Bureau’s Professor,” who thankfully doesn’t look much like Leskinen (from what little we see of him).

Suzu and Daru beseech Maho via “Skipe” one more time to assist them in building a time leap machine; Maho can tell they’re more desperate than before, yet still doubts herself. But after looking at Amakurisu, something clicks in her head, and she starts packing for Japan.

Rather than searching Kurisu’s work for all the answers, Maho intends to go down the same path and reach the answers herself. After all, no one acknowledged and valued Mozart’s talent more than Salieri. If anyone can do what Kurisu did when it comes to time travel technology, it’s Maho. I’m glad she finally realizes that.

Steins;Gate 0 – 13 – Dark is Dangerous

The near-miss with the car brought back Kagari’s memories, but only some of them. She’s still missing a 12-year gap between 10 and 22. As a result, Kagari acts a lot more like a child than she used to, and treats a somewhat bemused Mayuri (who is mostly going with the flow) like her beloved “mommy.”

Watching a 22-year-old woman act so spoiled around her parents irks Suzuha, to the point they have a yelling match in the TV repair shop. Both sides regret the fight and plan to apologize, but Suzu learns something crucial from it: her and Kagari’s memories of how they became separated are very different.

After conferring with Tennouji, Rintarou begins to suspect Kagari’s strange memory gap is the result of foul play: brainwashing and mind control, just as Kiryuu discovers…something less than 5km from where Kagari collapsed. It’s a clue, but it requires they take a long drive.

Mayuri decides to celebrate the restoration of at least some of Kagari’s memories by throwing one of her patented parties, which she tries to make a surprise, but with her early memories restored Kagari knows when her Mommy is trying to keep a surprise party secret.

All the while, this ominous van drives around Akiba playing seemingly innocuous Mozart, and it’s clear the van is Bad News, whether it’s a van for kidnapping or simply for triggering Shiina Kagari. That perilous van hangs there, like Damocles’ Sword, over the remainder of the episode, as Mayuri & Co. prepare the party.

If the argument got the ball rolling on a theory about mind control, Kagari’s desire to properly apologize to Suzuha is the unfortunate side-effect. Kagari’s trip to the sweet shop isolates her from everyone else, who in hindsight are wayyy to loosy-goosy with her security at this point.

Indeed, in his desire for more clear answers about what’s going on, Rintarou is far, far away; in no position to keep her safe.

She hears the Mozart from the van (which is either planted there by “Them” to play specifically for her, or sheer coincidence) and more memories flow into her head: memories of being left with “doctors” by Mayuri, ostensibly to cure her PTSD, but the visits really comprise a kind of human experiment called the “Amadeus System”, of which Kagari is Sample #K6205.

The shock of this influx of memory sends Kagari into a trancelike state, and she drops the cake for Suzuha and her cell phone and wanders off who-knows-where, believing she’s hearing “the voice of God.” More likely, it’s the voice of those who did this to her to begin with.

Combined with Rintarou and Kiryuu discovering the facility, where Kagari was held in a cell for who knows how long, scrawling “Mommy” on the walls, Kagari’s vanishing from everyone’s sight (again) forms one hell of a thrilling cliffhanger for the second half of Steins;Gate 0.

While we may now know mostly what’s been done to Kagari, it remains to be seen who did it, why, and most important, how Kagari is linked to Maho and Leskinen’s Amadeus System. Was Kagari even a war orphan from the future? Will there really be enough cups and plates? We shall see…

Steins;Gate 0 – 12 – Paradox Song

There’s this song. It’s a song Mayuri sang to a young Kagari in the future, just when she finally became her legal mother. When the Kagari of the present hears the Mayuri of the present singing it, she loses consciousness. It’s not that Mayuri’s singing is just that bad—it’s quite lovely—but rather that Kagari’s brain is suddenly getting hit by some pretty profound aural stimuli.

But when Kagari makes the connection between the song and her fainting spell, the question becomes where did Mayuri learn the song? That takes us on a rather wild ride: She heard it from Suzuha, who heard it from Yuki, who heard it from a woman in her baking class who turns out to be…Rintarou’s mother. Yet Rintarou himself, apparently the source, can’t remember singing it. To quote Alice, “curiouser and curiouser.”

Rintarou’s mom said he used to sing it to Mayuri to cheer her up when she was in her “reaching up at the sky at a cemetery” part of her life. They visit Mayuri’s grandma’s grave to try to spark Rintarou’s memory, but get caught in the rain.

While seeking shelter by a shop window, Kagari hears “The Magic Flute” (K620) playing on the radio and goes into a kind of trance, remembering when she once walked along that same street in her bare feet and pajamas. She’s almost hit by a truck (of course), but Rintarou makes a diving save.

While she’s out this time, something happens. Kagari runs to her mother’s arms; a blurry figure that she discovers is Shiina Mayuri. Waking up in a hospital room, she sees Mayuri by her bedside and immediately recognizes her as her one and only mommy.

Mayuri protests that she’s not a mommy, but, well, she just is. Or rather, she will be…just as Suzu is Daru’s daughter. Rintarou nods assent, and Mayuri goes with it, providing Kagari with the affection she needs. The plain credits roll as a very lovely rendition of the song is sung, at it seems things will end on a pleasant note.

Of course, this is the twist-loving White Fox we’re talking about, so after the credits we find ourselves on a train platform where that same barefoot pajama’d Kagari is singing the song, and a teenaged boy overhears it—a teenaged boy with the same color hair and eyes as Rintarou.

I’ll admit, I was a little confused by this scene, but maybe that was the point. Here is Kagari, who will presumably be adopted by Mayuri in the future, in Rintarou’s past, singing the song he’ll sing to Mayuri to cheer her up. Seems an awful lot like a causal loop to me.

That would be fine, except there’s a creepy white van parked near the platform, confirming that “Runaway K-6205” has been found. Are we watching past events here, or is Kagari in danger no matter where or when she is? Will the next episode continue in this world line, with “Macho Psychologist” Rintarou helping Kagari out? I honestly have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out.

Darling in the FranXX – 21 – Fight to Live

Things are looking pretty grim with the VIRM’s purple nerve networks overwhelming the blue of the Klaxo princess as Hiro continues to suffocate. However, just his presence in Strelizia Apath’s cockpit seems to have delayed the VIRM self-destruct booby trap the princess triggered.

But he only delayed it; Hiro’s friends and allies have just 72 minutes to do something before Apath blows and takes Earth with it. Just as that countdown begins, Zero Two arrives at the control room where Franxx and Hachi are observing events…and she promptly passes out.

When she comes to, she learns from Franxx that she is a clone of the princess, the last surviving member of a Klaxo Sapiens species that fought a millions-of-years-long war with the invading VIRM. That war changed the  once-cosmopolitan Klaxos into sterile war machines, just as humans have become something similar.

Franxx created Zero Two from DNA from the princess so that humanity had someone on their side who could operate Star Entity. He created the human Nines so that she had backup. Reuniting her and Hiro was simply a “scientist’s whim.” For her part, Zero Two doesn’t care about clones or fakes or the VIRM; she just wants to fulfill her promise.

To do so, she has to get back to Hiro in Strelizia Apath. Since the path to the Grand Cradle is sealed and can only be accessed by the princess, Franxx comes along. Right on time, Squad 13 arrives to escort them, bringing a much-needed smile to Zero Two’s face. Time is running out, but it looks like they’re going to make it.

Kokoro, Michiru, Miku and Ikuno stay behind to fend off the VIRM that followed them, so that escort shrinks to one: Delphinium. When they arrive at the door, another VIRM attacks and Ichiro and Goro keep it away from Zero Two and Franxx by grabbing it and jumping off a ledge to an uncertain fate.

Franxx reveals Zero One DNA in his left arm, which the tentacles of the door snatch (with little regard to Franxx’s human parts), and a Klaxosaur snake arrives and opens wide for Zero Two to ride to the Cradle, leaving Franxx behind. One by one, people are sacrificing their lives to give Zero Two the smallest of small chances of stopping the end of the world.

Before leaving Franxx, rather than curse him for what he did to her, as he fully expects her to do, she thanks him for creating her and allowing her to meet her Darling. Love, in Zero Two’s case, trumps hate.

When she arrives, things are bad; both the princess and Hiro are unresponsive. But Zero Two won’t accept it. She kisses Hiro in hopes of taking away the burden of the VIRM infection. Zero One watches in spectral form and is moved (as much as an ancient sentient weapon can be “moved”) to lend to Zero Two what remains of her powers.

In mid-kiss, Zero Two and Hiro share a moment in an idyllic setting, in a wintry place that looks similar to the forest to which they escaped years ago. They kiss in this place too, and in the real world Strelizia Apath “hatches” from the shell around the cradle, and launches a massive beam that obliterates the VIRM fleet in space. In the ensuing chaos, Franxx is crushed, but got to see his life’s work realized, and the world saved because of it.

The VIRM snatch Hringhorni from Strelizia and retreat, vowing to return with a full army (it’s somewhat frightening that what we saw was just a “small detachment” and not at all representative of their full force). But for now, at least, the world is safe.

Time for a big party with good food, good friends, and good conversation, right? Except that the fleet-destroying attack seems to have taken everything Zero Two had. She’s slumped in the cockpit, unresponsive, and her red horns have crumbled.

Could this be the end for Zero Two; one last sacrifice to keep the world alive? And is there any kind of world in which Hiro wants to even live that doesn’t have her in it? I’d predicted often that Zero Two would eventually bite the dust early in the show, a la Kamina, but the fact we’ve (presumably) lost her with just three episodes left somehow hurts all the more.