Classroom of the Elite – 12 (Fin)

The first seven episodes of Classroom of the Elite were solid, but gave way to an increasingly unfocused and often downright tedious Island Arc. After pointing out how delicate and demanding the girls are compared to the guys, demonstrating the class’s appalling ignorance of outdoor fundamentals (except for one character who camps out a lot), and introducing a set of rules and objectives only slightly less complicated than the U.S. Tax Code, we were then treated to thrilling whodunits involving the theft of a girl’s undergarments and the burning of a manual.

Class C student Ibuki was planted as the obvious culprit to everything, but we can’t be sure if she’s really the culprit, because the biggest question mark of them all is, and has always been, Ayanokouji Kiyotaka, whom it’s implied was the sole “survivor” of a “gifted kid farm.”

Meanwhile, his interactions with Horikita Suzune have been dull and repetitive (due in no small part to the nebulousness of his true motives and  intentions), while what had been perhaps the best character dynamic of the show—that between Ayano and Kushida—has curiously been abandoned altogether, with no further exploration of her character. Some of Kushida’s screen time was replaced by Sakura, whose puppy love for the unperceptive Ayano isn’t nearly as compelling.

But WHO CARES? This was a bad-ass finale. It stuck the landing.

It starts slowly, in basically the same place we left off last week: in a state of confusion and frustration. Horikita wakes up to find Ayano nearby, telling her she should drop out and that whatever goal she has in mind, whether it’s making Class A to prove something to her brother, or something else, she’s going to need allies. She faints again, and Ayano carries her to the teachers.

Ayano tells Hirata everything that’s happened and how it will effect the points, and Hirata is devastated, no doubt believing he let his class down…but Ayano asks a favor of him. When the day the Special Test ends arrives, Sakura asks Ayano what he thinks their points will be, and Ayano simply looks over to Hirata, who is holding the leader identification form.

All of the classes assemble on the beach, except Class C…but a dirty, disheveled Ryuuen does appear…in his mind, to declare victory. Once he lays out his scheme to gain the names of all three class leaders, things don’t just look bad for Class D, but Classes A and B as well.

Ryuuen’s plan is extra-complex, as befits the finale of CotE: signing a binding contract with Class A in which they’ll supply 200 S-points in goods and provide the names of B and D’s leaders, using Ibuki and another C-class student as spies D and B.

Of course, Ryuuen intended to betray Katsuragi, because an ally of Katsuragi’s rival Sakayanagai gave him the name of Class A’s leader…which was never Katsuragi to begin with. Ryuuen runs the math as the calculations are displayed on the screen.

Then the points are announced: Class C gets ZERO points, Classes A and B make just over 100 each, and Class D…WINS, with 225 points. SHOKU!

How’d it happen? Cough-cough. C’mon now, you know: it was all Ayanokouji-frikking-Kiyotaka. What Horikita doesn’t know is how. Class A continues its internal strife as Sakayanagi’s ally antagonizes Katsuragi’s furious levies, while Ichinose doesn’t feel too bad about her class’s high score, since she’s likely close to amassing enough points to buy her way into the class of her choice (which I’m assuming would be A).

Ayano managed to win by pivoting from a strategy of spot-occupation points to leader identification points, and used virtually everyone and everything he had on that island to discover the identities of the leaders of Class A and C (leaving B alone to preserve their alliance). He even used Horikita’s illness, which was actually crucial to giving him a “legitimate reason” to change the leadership of Class D to him at the very last minute. Thus, Ayano was right about Ryuuen and Ryuuen was wrong about him – a 100-point swing.

As an apparent apology for using Horikita and potentially making her even sicker, he had Hirata tell the rest of Class D they owe everything to her, not him. It’s a brilliant move that accomplishes two things: it keeps Ayano in the shadows where he can do the most, and brings the class together, which was Hirata’s goal all along.

Kushida seems to know there’s something a little off about Horikita being the hero here, but can’t get a straight answer out of Ayano when she asks which girl he’d choose. It’s not much, but I did appreciate one last scene with “Real Kushida,” especially in which she resents the fact a girl like Horikita doesn’t have a “side to hide.” But Ayano rightly points out that most people have one.

In his chat with Chabashira-sensei in the ship’s theater, she commends him for having performed up to the standards not only she, but “that man” (AKA his dad) expected. There’s talk about Daedalus and Icarus, but Ayano doesn’t intend to lose his wings any time soon. That’s good, because Ryuuen (and his loyal lieutenant Ibuki) are coming for him, armed with a windfall of points thanks to one other stipulation in their contract with Class A.

Finally, Horikita loses her throng of admirers long enough to track down Ayano and ask him why he told Hirata to spread the word that she, not he, was the class savior and mastermind behind their victory. He tells her, in a scene that’s played quite tenderly at first, to remember when he said she needed allies to succeed – giving her the credit helps get her those allies (and she did suffer in sickness for the cause).

Horikita’s Tsundere Levels reach critical levels as she both thanks Ayano and acknowledges him as an ally while making it clear their future interactions will be purely professional in nature and focused on getting to Class A.

She’s fooling no one, but Ayano is fooling her along with everyone else, because, at least according to his inner thoughts, he’s only looking out for one guy: Ayano. Hirata, Sakura, Ichinose, Kushida, and Horikita are nothing but stones he’s all too willing to step on to win, because winning is all that matters to him.

A dark ending…but also a wide-open door for a sequel down the road. Horikita has changed a lot, and she says it’s all Ayano’s fault. Maybe she, along with Kushida and the others, will get a chance to change him. Or maybe he’ll just dance on their corpses when he’s king of the world. Here’s hoping we get to find out!

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Classroom of the Elite – 11

Prior to watching this episode, only one persistent wish occupied my mind: Get off the damn island. Just get off. It’s been a convoluted mess and I’m honestly having trouble caring anymore. The primary reason I watch anime is to be entertained, and the island arc just ain’t getting the job done. It’s a slog.

Alas, we do not leave the island, as time only transitions from Day 5 to Day 6, with the girls and boys of class D continuing to bicker amongst themselves, a storm coming, and the hidden fact that their leader Horikita has been ill since leaving the boat.

Way too much time is spent on the secondary and tertiary classmates yelling at each other. I already get that there’s discord, the episode just repeats itself. Furthermore, there’s absolutely no reason for Yamauchi to put a clump of mud on Horikita’s head, except perhaps to serve the plot, as Horikita must exert herself by throwing him.

More importantly by having mud randomly dropped on her head, she has to wash it off, which means stripping down to her skivvies…which means temporarily not having her key card on her person. Her one primary job as leader is to hold on to that card, but she failed, and only informs Ayanokouji.

Their talk is interrupted by a fire at the camp, which sets off another round of argument. Hirata kinda loses it once it starts to pour, and then orders the others to do useless things like cover the already-wet firewood and collect the already-soaked clothes.

Completely independent of the events on the island, we keep making small check-ins on Ayano’s past as some kind of organization-raised “special” kid, the last one remaining among of a large group of potentials, for which he seems to be placed behind bars.

I honestly couldn’t tell how these little glimpses of Ayano’s past are trying to relate to the events of the present…unless, perhaps, Ayanokouji means to betray Horikita, and is the one who told Ibuki to steal the key card. It could also be an elaborate plan to make their rivals think chaos reigns in Class D, and “betraying” Horikita is part of that. Still, Ibuki doesn’t hold back on beating her up.

That person remains a mystery for now, but the reveal that Ibuki is the one causing all the mayhem feels a bit…obvious, even though the episode tried to keep its cards close. Ayano must’ve found something buried in the spot where he found her, and we don’t know that either.

I have no idea if we’ll get another cour of CotE, but if not, it’s been an interminable, disappointing, seemingly aimless final arc, in which everyone has become progressively dumber, except perhaps Ayano, whose true intentions remain stubbornly opaque. It will take one hell of a finale to bring all the disparate pieces together and deliver some satisfying answers.

Classroom of the Elite – 10

How could a show that started out so fresh, slick, clever, and cerebral feel so stale, dull, dumb now? The first mistake seemed to be taking the classes out of the proverbial classroom and onto an island…then proceeding to do basically nothing for five days.

Horikita conducts recon of Classes A and B, both times having unpleasant encounters with their respective leaders, both of whom are drawn as if they were in their thirties. Fine, I’ll forgive the disappointingly goofy character design—this is Lerche, after all—but I won’t forgive the obvious holes in logic that keep creeping up this week, even if the sexism subsides.

Remember how I said Horikita came into contact with the leaders of Classes A and B? Isn’t there a 50-S-Point bonus to anyone who correctly guesses the leader of another class—an a 50-point  deduction from the leader correctly ID’d? Am I missing something here? Katsuragi and Ryuuen aren’t exactly being subtle in their leaderliness—nor is Horikita herself.

Days 2 thru 4 breeze by without any incident…or any meaningful developments whatsoever, aside from more of Sakura flirting with Ayanokouji (who has never been portrayed as anything other than an unromantic, assexual character, making her flirtation seem like a futile waste of time), a mysterious scene in which a mystery student of unknown gender steals a girl’s bag from the tent, and Sudou suspecting Class C exile Ibuki of some kind of treachery.

I suppose I should look to the episode’s title for guidance, a Kierkegaard quote: “Every man has in himself the most dangerous traitor of all.” I’m no philosophy major, but off the top of my head, this seems to have dual meaning: everyone has the potential for treachery, but no other person is capable of betraying you more than you can betray yourself.

It could also just mean there’s a traitor in Class D’s midst, which Sudo believes is Ibuki, so I gravitated to her as well. Then, on the morning of Day 5, the girls are united in their outrage that Karuizawa’s underwear was stolen in the night. The rest of the episode deals with the investigation of this panty heist. See what I said about feeling a bit dumb and rote?

Despite that feeling, things to sharpen up a bit when Ike finds the panties in his bag. Clearly they were planted there, but by whom? What the heck would Ibuki have to gain by sowing discord, when her own Class spent all their points and headed back to the boat to party?

By the way, I’m happy Class C’s strategy was not immediately dismissed as the wrong one; none of the remaining classes are guaranteed to earn enough points to make all the trouble they’ve been through worth it. It’s almost as if the show is saying “yes, this whole island survival premise is indeed dumb, but only Class C and Koenji decided to reject it.”

Ike gives the panties to Ayano, and Hirata finds them when giving the boys pat-downs at the girls’ demand. But Hirata doesn’t turn in Ayano, because he understands the distinction of Ayano having the panties and Ayano stealing them.

Hirata takes the panties from Ayano, supposedly to protect his classmate, as Karuizawa’s boyfriend is the one the girls suspect the least to have them, but despite the fact it’s (I’m assuming) to prevent further discord from compromising the class, Hirata is betraying himself here, by lying.

And the fact he’s able to be dishonest here makes me start to think that maybe his whole upstanding, “Everybody Loves Hirata” act is merely cover for…more sinister designs.

Kuromukuro – 04

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A handful of demons are still at large all over the globe, but there’s no imminent existential threat to humanity. But Kennosuke still has a challenging battle to fight: adjusting to the modern world, where even the eating utensils are different, to say nothing of the kind of food people eat.

Much of this episode’s first half is Ken settling into Yukina’s uncle’s house, much to Yukina’s consternation. Samurai otaku Koharu, on the other hand, is delighted to have a real life samurai around to criticize the little men in the box (TV) whose stances are all wrong.

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I must say I fall more on Team Koharu in terms of Ken’s fish-out-of-water antics being immensely entertaining and amusing. The show really flexes its slice-of-life and comedy muscles, after previously showing it can do hand-to-hand combat, mecha battles, and general peril.

I especially enjoyed how Ken turns everything—from the strange food to the pet ferret on the roomba—into little mini-battles that test his mettle. As the uncle says, he really is a warrior, and warriors don’t always make the best houseguests, but they are fairly predictable in their behavior and values…especially a distinguished samurai such as Kennosuke.

Of course, there will always be hiccups, like repurposing Yukina’s favorite towel as a loincloth. But that’s just part of the fun, as Yukina’s often mortified reactions are as funny as the words or incidents by Ken that cause them.

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So this isn’t the most heavyweight episode, plot-wise, but it does continue to gradually build up a bond between the two leads, Yukina and Kennosuke. She’s tasked with taking him to the mall (which he mistakes for a castle), and she takes the task seriously, even though she’s reluctant. Something about Ken rubs her the wrong way (especially now that she learns they’re about the same age) because he’s new (or rather old) and different; shaking up her old mundane life.

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But as I said last week, there’s an upside to Kennosuke, beyond laughing at his archaic way of speaking and the unique ways he sees certain aspects of modern life, and its that very shaking up of Yukina’s life; giving it sudden and profound purpose.

When Ken looks around at all the happy kids at the mall, he remarks that the world has become a very peaceful place, and so his princess did not sacrifice herself in vain. It’s a very poignant, melancholy moment, which is expanded upon when Ken essentially assures Yukina that her father—who was dismissed as a whack-a-doo for his theories on alien demons—was right.

Of course, her father being right doesn’t change the fact that he left, something Yukina, who seemed close-ish to her father in the flashbacks, probably laments/resents about him. But when Ken sees and verifies his bigfoot-like photo of a demon, it’s as if a missing piece of a puzzle has fallen into place. I’m all for badass mecha action, but quiet episodes like this that develop the players are welcome too.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 03

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Grimgar is definitely chugging along at a very deliberate pace, with regular pauses in action and dialogue that are usually employed sparingly if at all in the majority of modern anime. However, so far, that pace working just fine for me, thanks very much!

This is a show that tells you to forget what you know about shows with similar premises and settings. In this show, a very shy girl remains upset about being peeped on for a long time, and when the rain comes, they don’t make any money.

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While the chemistry of the cast as a whole together is still a bit uncertain, it’s the wonderful one-on-one interactions that dot this episode and give it life. Interactions like those between Yume, who sees Shihoru is attracted to Manato, is learning as the days go by that Haruhiro is a nice guy, and is consistently nice to him as a result.

Yume is bad with words, but is still able to communicate that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he saw her naked, as opposed to Ranta, because Haru would apologize properly. Yume wants respect, and Haru offers it without even trying.

The episode also shines in Haru’s narration. This isn’t a party of fighters who are trying to defeat the boss on Level 99; they’re trying to earn enough to afford new underwear.  All that activity, and dampness, is quickly destroying their primative but expensive clothes.

It makes sense that Haru, our narrator and most reliable conduit into this world, is the first to notice that the girls have the same problem as the guys, and are forced to go commando until new skivvies can be procured. He decides not to use this knowledge for evil, steering Ranta away from the girls.

And it’s Yume who helps him make that decision by greeting him warmly rather than suspiciously; Haru doesn’t want there to be further unpleasantness between the genders.

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The rainclouds eventually pass, and once the weather is good, the party strikes out to a city abandoned by humans and now inhabited by goblins, many of whom have been separated from their groups for whatever reason, making them vulnerable. It’s good to see the group getting better at performing their own jobs in addition to working better as a unit (with Manato as their general).

It’s also good to see a follow-up to the party’s thoroughly unpleasant but absolutely essential first kill. It may not be sporting to kill a goblin in their sleep, but they can’t afford new undies, they can’t afford the luxury of sportsmanship, and must put their morals aside for the sake of survival. And as we see (and Haru remarks), it gets easier, and they begin gradually raking in loot.

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Haru worries they’re starting to turn into volunteer soldiers – cold, hardened, singularly obsessed with their own survival – but Manato points out they’re already soldiers. Plus, their well-earned day of rest doesn’t bear out that worry: luxuries like hot food prepared by someone else, or trinkets like hairclips, are still very much appreciated. It just takes less to make them content now.

It’s on the day of rest that Shihoru hides from Manato behind Yume, even though it’s clear she wanted to talk with him. That leads Yume to have a talk with her back home about starting to talk to the boys again; it’s been long enough, and they’ve been good.

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The subtle little romantic subtext in the conversations continues in the boy’s bunks, with a curious mention of Yume’s name by Ranta makes Haru perk up; if the guys and girls pair off, two guys will be left out. Moguzo seems content with cooking and whittling, while Manato and Shihoru seem like a good match.

That leaves Haruhiro, Ranta, and Yume, and while Yume and Ranta aren’t on great terms right now, that doesn’t mean Haruhiro has nothing to worry about. If he doesn’t want to be just a “good friend” to Yume, he’ll have to speak up. At the same time, there’s a possibility Yume likes Manato too, making her and Shihoru rivals. (Of course, this is all conjecture, but all the various interactions and looks and tones by the very good voice cast make it so you can’t help but wonder who likes who and what that will mean to the party as a whole.)

It even looks as if Haruhiro might bring up girls to Manato, but instead simply thanks him for being their leader. For all his eminent competence, Manato doesn’t have a lot of self-esteem, believing his past self wasn’t someone who’d have many friends – perhaps because he’d elicit envy in those not as skilled or handsome as he?

Haru tries to put Manato at ease by saying it doesn’t matter who they used to be. What matters is that they’re all friends here, and after twenty-three days, they’ve managed to not get killed or kill each other … despite the fact that Ranta is a member of their party! That in itself is a minor miracle to be thankful for. Because nothing, not food, not money, not underwear, not tomorrow, can be taken for granted in Grimgar.

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Prison School – 12 (Fin)

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I am sad that there is no more Prison School to watch, but it couldn’t have delivered a better finale, one that many an anime should look to for reference when it comes to delivering the goods, with interest in the ninth hour and satisfying on virtually every level, but not giving its wronged but not entirely innocent lads too easy a final result. No one is innocent by the end of Prison School. But that’s okay!

We begin the end with the “enhanced interrogation tactics” Meiko employs on Anzu (i.e., sitting on her face), just as Shingo and the guys figure out that it’s Anzu helping them by helping Chiyo. It’s good to know they know Kiyoshi isn’t the only one sticking his neck out for them (though that’s not to say he isn’t).

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Kiyoshi would be having the time of his life kissing a cute, well-bred girl after-hours in the corrections office…if Hana was a girl he liked, and if Hana liked him. That’s obviously not the case. Instead, as he realizes, Hana’s kiss is a very rigid and uncertain one; as if she’s as out of her element as he is.

They are both of them complacent in appropriating sexual behavior for reasons other than mutual stimulation (though that’s a side effect): Hana wants to exact perfect justice; while Kiyoshi, knowing Hana’s weakness whenever things have gotten too far, performs a “Flight of Shimazu” in Hana’s mouth, breaking through her dental defenses with his tongue, meeting hers, and engaging in furious combat until she’s defeated.

Thanks to her height and the design of the office window, Chiyo is thankfully spared the sight of this spectacle, and only sees the top of Kiyoshi hunched over (this is, to the end, a show where every inch and second matters). She’s also kept from walking in on them when Kiyoshi cries out “Not yet!” but that also wakes Hana up, who sends Kiyoshi back to his cell for lights out, despite still being very out of it.

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Mari and Meiko are satisfied the boys are indeed locked away in bed, and no longer up to anything, apparently resigned to their fate. But that’s exactly what Kiyoshi and Gakuto want them to think, and the next morning, the tables turn: they discover Joe is posing as Gakuto, while Chiyo is poising as Joe.

The real Gakuto makes quite the entrance, donning only his underwear (not wishing to sully the lovely Chiyo’s gym clothes), just in time for him and Kiyoshi to explain how they made a three-way switch when Hana let them use the bathroom.

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While Gakuto was free, he made full use of the time to restore and extract the DTO files, which he produces in the form of a thumb drive he was keeping hidden up his ass for safekeeping. I knew when he came in in his underwear this would be the case, but I wasn’t prepared for the super-serious yet also super-hilarious manly exchange between him and the chairman, and how the latter has no qualms about touching the drive. After looking over the files, he’s satisfied the Underground StuCo indeed set traps to get them expelled.

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When Hana realizes she’s the one who allowed Kiyoshi to unlock the door, she rushes at him with murderous intent. I must say, it has been an absolute joy listening to Hanazawa Kana play all the myriad sides of Midorikawa Hana, alongside Ohara Sayaka and Itou Shizuka as Mari and Meiko, respectively.

And it’s Mari who shields Kiyoshi from Hana’s punch taking responsibility for everything she put both her subordinates and the boys through. This final gesture suggests even she knows the gig is well and truly up. Though she believed it was for a good reason, she broke the rules, and lost.

But most importantly, Mari failed to see the boys as anything but scum. That unyielding prejudice was her undoing. Yes, the boys were guilty of peeping (God, that seems like eons ago), but they more than paid their debt to the school for that crime. Mari tried to ride her exclusionary agenda too far, and got burned.

There’s also the fact that she kept digital records of DTO rather than deal exclusively in burnable paper documents. She would have probably been victorious had Gakuto had no evidence to stick up his ass. But it wouldn’t have been a moral victory, no matter what Mari told herself later, and her relationship with Chiyo would have taken an even stronger hit.

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But she didn’t win; the boys did; the Chairman declares their time served and grants them their freedom. The sight of them in regular high school uniforms is a glorious sight for sore eyes, as is the extremely happy ending all the guys get, from Kiyoshi being fed by Chiyo, to Andre finding a group of girls who love his size, ears, and punchability; to Shingo and Anzu picking their courtship up where they left off; to Joe playing with his ants. Heck, even Gakuto reaches for the same 3K book as a very comely young lady who wears her hair in Chinese buns.

More importantly, rather than peep on the girls form afar, the lads (other than Joe) are engaging the girls; treating them not as objects to be admired and leered over from afar, but as fellow human beings to interact with on equal terms. It could be argued their incarceration actually improved them as men; they certainly appreciate their freedom.

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But not everything is peaches and sunshine at Hachimitsu. This is a show about reversals, and the most devastating one is saved for last, when a particularly wrathful redhead whom I assume is the regular StuCo president (as opposed to underground) comes to the Chairman (with her own agenda) and demands justice be doled out for Mari, Meiko and Hana. Wanting to avoid the specter of nepotism, the Chairman acquiesces.

That means throwing them in the very jail they once ran. And you know what? It doesn’t feel right. I don’t need the girls to get their “just desserts” in this manner. A direct turnabout like this wasn’t necessary, and it only feels bitter in my mouth—as I’m sure it does to Kiyoshi and the others—and as I’m sure it was meant to. After all, they know exactly what it’s like in there, and wouldn’t wish it on anyone…even those who originally put them there.

In all honesty, I wouldn’t mind a second season that explores further the relationships of Anzu+Shingo, or Gakuto+3K girl, or the Chiyo-Kiyoshi-Hana triangle (if that’s indeed a thing), or the possibility of Mari changing her mind about men, or Meiko growing a spine in the aftermath of her leader’s fall.

I’d also love to watch Kiyoshi, the other guys, and the girls who’ve befriended them (3K girl is one of the redhead’s lieutenants) work together to try to free their three former antagonists. Because no student should serve time in a prison in school. Normal detention and suspension should suffice!

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Prison School – 11

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It’s cruch time for the inmates, and Gakuto quickly devises a fresh challenge for the Vice President—butt-wrestling—only to find Mari has replaced her, not due to doubt over Meiko’s loyalty or competence, but simply because she suspects the boys have caught on to her pattern of behavior and are planning to exploit her once more…which is exactly what is going on.

Their latest greatest plan thus foiled before it could get off the ground, it falls to Kiyoshi to use Meiko’s replacement Hana to regain access to the office. When he mentions the grudge Hana holds against him (without going into the tawdry details), they protest what could end up a very painful, bloody path, but he sees it as an opportunity to do right by the lads he wronged. They forgave him, but he hasn’t forgiven himself.

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As I suspected, Kiyoshi makes use of Chiyo’s message exchange to gain outside help, and while Chiyo is caught, it’s by Anzu, who shares her desire to get the boys un-expelled. The girls of the Underground StuCo may be the source of all their suffering, but girls also happen to be instrumental to their salvation.

When Gakuto’s quick thinking gets him and Kiyoshi in the office, then ends up alone with Hana, he’s expects the worst for his “eryngii” when she pulls out a pair of shears. Alas, Hana is no butcher, nor is she criminally insane; she merely uses the shears to cut the top off a bottle for him to pee in. Her plan for revenge remains the same; it has not escalated.

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But once Kiyoshi quickly removes his pants, then boxers, he realizes Hana is no less embarrassed by the intimacy of the situation than he is, so he steels himself and tries to win the emotional battle. When Hana realizes what’s happening, she too steels herself, removing her leggings and shimapan and turning the tables. Considering all the messed-up stuff these two have been through—largely through no fault of their own—this is par for the course.

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Kiyoshi doesn’t give up, however, and manages to unlock the door that must be unlocked for the larger plan to succeed. Then she kicks him for being too close, and he catches a glimpse of her “precious area”, which he calls her “medusa”, and then “turns to stone.” Yikes, that’s a lot of double entendres!

Just when Hana is about to pee on him, they’re startled by the commotion when Meiko captures a girl outside the prison. Everyone is dejected that Chiyo has been caught until Shingo recongizes the voice of Anzu, selflessly serving as Chiyo’s decoy and getting captured for the good of the mission.

Kiyoshi gets another accidental peek, and when he explains himself with those entendres, including the use of the term “medusa”, he causes Hana to start bawling. Why did he give it a name? Why does the first person to see her have to be him? Why did it have to turn out this way?

Kiyoshi offers his apologies, and offers to let her hit him as much as she wants…and she does. But hitting him won’t make them even. Instead, in keeping with her eye-for-an-eye sense of justice, she takes from him something he’ll never get back: his first kiss with a girl.

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Almost delirious with the justice she’s doled out, Hana gets Kiyoshi to admit he likes Mari’s little sister, and for that reason, Hana is resolved to do everything to him he doesn’t want her to do, no matter how embarrassing it might be. So as Chiyo sneaks around outside, fighting for Kiyoshi’s sake, Hana continues to purposefully make out with him.

Even if Chiyo doesn’t catch them in the act (something Kiyoshi could probably explain anyway), Kiyoshi won’t forget this evening in the prison office. The thing is, neither will Hana. I can’t believe this encounter won’t stay with her, and that she feels absolutely nothing genuine from it.

Amidst all the totally weird and wrong interactions they’ve had, there’s also been a sliver of chemistry and mutual attraction…it’s just a matter of neither knowing what the heck to do with such things.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 07

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The sprawling underground ballast area where Ayato and Kirin fall becomes a crucible in which Kirin makes the crucial move from her uncle’s path to one of her own, encouraged by Ayato to do so with the assurance she won’t be alone on such a path. Considering how decisively he handles the boss dragon (albeit reaching his 5-minute limit), Kirin knows she has an ally who is strong and kind.

What she needs a little help with, which isn’t surprising considering how young and impressionable she is, is realizing her own agency and value as an individual, not as the tool of another. She also decides (due to Ayato’s nervous vacillating) that she might have a chance with Amagiri-senpai, making her an official member of the harem, if she wasn’t already.

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For too long Kirin’s uncle has gotten away with using her guilt, her sense of obligation, his bluster, and the back of his hand to cow Kirin to do his bidding. No longer. In a very simple but elegant scene, she takes one last slap, but blocks his second. She refuses to cut ties to Ayato, and instead looks her uncle in the eyes and cuts ties with him.

She’ll do things her own way from now on. Will costs come with that choice? Of course, not least because her uncle doesn’t really have any other means of advancing in the bureaucracy. He could grow desperate and do something unpredictable. And while some may say Kirin is swapping out her uncle’s influence for Ayato’s, it’s clearly that of the latter who has her own best interests at heart.

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Kirin asks Ayato to a rematch to serve as the first step on her freshly paved path to betterment and happiness. And it’s a very awesome duel at that, with Kirin displaying her usualy mastery of swordsmanship, but Ayato besting her by continually switching up his weapons from sword to spear to daggers, and finally to his bare hands, which she was open for. She’s soundly beaten, but when the match ends she’s smiling ear-to-ear, because it’s her loss, not her uncle’s, and it was also a valuable learning experience.

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After the match, Kirin asks if she can join Ayato, Julis and Saya’s training sessions after all, no longer bound to isolation, which one could argue had stifled her exposure to fighting styles and led to her loss. She’s determined to become stronger so she can save her father. I assume winning a Festa or three would give you enough clout to request sentencing modifications for family members, otherwise, wouldn’t Kirin be better served studying law?

Her uncle shows up one more time, but Kirin doesn’t waver in reiterating she no longer intends to let him use her. She’s also backed up by Ayato, who blocks one of the uncle’s cowardly cheap shots for her, and by Claudia, who promises she won’t take kindly to someone trying to sabotage or corrupt one of her beloved students…and her high-ranking mom will hear of any attempts.

Kirin also thanks her uncle for all the good things he did, but because he never did it for her, only himself, he leaves without responding to her heartfelt emotions. She then gets on first-name basis with Ayato (likely annoying Julis) and is later asked by Saya to be her tag partner. All the while, Ernesta and Camilla prepare to take the next step in their grand plan. Even as only semi-bad guys so far, they’re still preferable to Silas.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 02

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Asterisk War took a page from its cross-town rival Rakudai Kishi by wasting no time infusing its characters with more depth and nuance. That included another piece of Ayato’s past puzzle with his big sister telling him to temper his immense power and vowing to protect him, and reaching Détente with Princess Julis, whose sharp edges are smoothed considerably this week. 

While haughty and dismissive in the first episode, here she’s reasonable and not totally opposed to friendship with Ayato, who after all just saved her from an unwanted confrontation with Lester (who, alas, remains a meatheaded moron).

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Julis also—seemingly reluctantly, but actually not—agrees to take Ayato on a tour to repay her debt to him, as well as show him around the city. She even replies to his Good Morning in class, which surprises the rest of the class.

Julis is on Ayato’s immediate right, but he learns to his left is Sasamiya Saya, his childhood friend and daughter of a weapons inventor. And what a great school: not only can students pull guns on other students without anyone blinking, but teachers can hit students for being late due to oversleep! Fantasy indeed.

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And it’s in this classroom that it’s confirmed without a shadow of a doubt that yup, this is going to be a harem. Saya senses Julis’ conflicted will and offers to show Ayato around for her, but of course Julis actually does want to show him around, so the two start clashing immediately. The Asuka/Rei resemblance of the two, both visually and personality-wise, did not go unnoticed.

Then Claudia and her boobs show up, and Julis and Saya instantly form a smaller-boobed alliance, refusing to give Ayato up and deciding it better for the two of them to show him around together. Claudia withdraws, promising she’ll get Ayato to herself eventually. How nice it is to be wanted!

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When she gets Julis to admit she was in a duel with Ayato,  Saya is dubious, because even someone of Julis’ level would have their ass handed to them by the Ayato she knows. This is a nice callback to the flashback in the cold open, in which Ayato easily defeats a bunch of bigger, older students for his sister’s sake, but goes too far.

Julis resents Saya claiming the two of them are on an equal level, and a duel between them almost breaks out until there’s another glowing-arrow attempt on Julis’ life, and the two work together to blast the masked culprits, with Saya revealing her ginormous weapon.

And because the culprits were hiding in a fountain, and the fountain is destroyed, the girls get soaked to the bone, revealing their bra, or in Saya’s case, lack of bra, just as Ayato returns. Fortunately, he receives no physical punishment, as he’s able to avert his eyes in time.

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Cut to the next day, when Ayato joins Saya at the Ogre Lux facility to find the weapon best suited for him. Ayato has his eyes on Ser Veresta, which was apparently his sister’s Lux, which Lester also happens to be interested in. However, the sword immediately rejects Les, who gets no higher than a 32% compatibility rating that drops into negative territory when he tries to force the issue.

All the while, Ayato is startled by the feeling of chains tightening all around him. Ser Veresta has its eyes on him, proceeds to come at him with deadly intent. And thankfully, they got something other than canned Star Wars lightsaber sounds for Veresta.

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After dancing with it for a while, Ayato stands firm and waits for it to shoot at him from behind, whereupon he grabs it and thrusts it into the ground, taming it and earning a 97% compatibility rating in the process. Claudia is duly impressed, but not altogether surprised, as she was hoping Ayato would be useful to her plans to restore the Seidokan to greatness.

She seemingly rewards Ayato by inviting him to her apartments later that night, and naturally, Ayato comes in through the window just as Claudia is getting out of the shower. Far from outraged, Claudia seems charmed by Ayato’s choice and time of entry.

Speaking of charmed, the theme song that plays the episode out was the biggest surprise of all this week: a hauntingly beautiful piece called “Waiting for the rain”, composed by Swede Rasmus Faber with captivating vocals by Sakamoto Maaya. This wasn’t a bad episode, but I’d be tempted to keep watching Asterisk War just to see and hear its wonderful ED!

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 01 (First Impressions)

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I claimed this show because its genres included comedy, but what ended up being most comical was how slavishly shows like this hew to an exacting formula of predetermined variables. Dark prologue that sets the stakes, check. Narration full of proprietary jargon like “Invertia” and “Genestella”, check. Drab transfer student who immediately gets into trouble with a stuck-up girl, check. Inadvertent peeping, overkill response, good deeds, boob grabs, checkity check check check.

But hey, this stuff obviously sells, it would be going away anytime soon, and I knew pretty much instantly what I was getting into and still watched through to the end, so let’s table the bigger questions like “should shows like this exist” and dive right in.

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Well, that was an unexpected disrobing! Protag Amagiri Ayato’s introduction to Julis-Alexia von Riessfelt (She’s a real princess, not just a pretend one! Monarchies make a comeback in the future!) is a bit rough, but there are clear transactions that are made.

First, he retrieves her beloved handkerchief in good faith, and when she punishes him for peeping and he proves he can hold his own against the fifth-strongest student at Seidoukan Academy. Then he commits another good deed by saving her from a third-party projectile. It’s understandable Julis would go tsundere on him. He’s helped her out at least twice, but the collateral peeping and touching spoil the goodwill.

Class Prez/Rep Claudia Enfield plays a different game with Ayato than the very direct Julis. She’s more about facades and jokes and lies hiding dark thoughts and schemes, and is very upfront about that. She gets Ayato to reveal he may be here to find out what happened to his big sister Haruka (the bleeding girl in the prologue), but he later sidesteps larger motivations and simply says he’s here to find out what he should do with himself.

He’s clearly a capable fighter judging from his duel with Julis, which makes him a potentially valuable resource for Claudia, whose academy hasn’t been doing well in the interschool competitions of late.

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Finally, Ayato takes his seat beside Julis, in class, and seated just behind him is his roommate and designated friend, Yabuki, whose membership in the newspaper club gives him more leeway in explaining to Ayato what’s going on with Julis, who apparently bears a burden and remains aloof in order to insulate others from that burden.

That doesn’t stop objectively weaker (if physically more imposing) challengers from demanding duels with her, as three-shirt-sizes-too-small Lester MacPhail does. Les is also at Seidoukan for some important reason (I’m guessing family pride or security) but wrongly thinks Julis is just doing this for fun.

So there are a growing number of different dynamics set up here, punctuated with well-tread ecchi elements and told in the almost tiresomely familiar language of Magic Schoolese. It’s serviceably watchable, but offers absolutely nothing new, which means if something more inspiring or creative comes along, then Goodbye Asterisk City.

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Shimoneta – 12 (Fin)

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Shimoneta ends with an adventure on the road, as SOX is summoned by Anna’s mom Sophia to a hot springs district, possibly for some kind of parley. Only when they arrive, there’s no Sophia to welcome them; only Anna and Goriki, who were also summoned. The gang decides to avail themselves of the spa facilities, but what is going on here?

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Turns out Anna is the first to break the strict non-coed rules regarding the baths, as she sends Goriki on an impossible errand (her favorite way of getting rid of third parties) and again has her way with Tanukichi, but she’s interrupted by the scream of her own mother, who everyone finds unconscious and in her underwear in the changing room. Now they know someone else brought them here.

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That someone is “Black Base”, who claims no connection whatsoever to White Peak despite being a fan of the opposite color of panties. He’s replaced everyone’s clothes with black underwear, and that’s all everyone wears for the rest of the episode, which is a bold but highly appropriate move for the cheekily lewd Shimoneta. 

I especially liked how bashful Ayame and Tanukichi were with one another in such garb, despite plenty of running around either naked or near-naked in their past SOX dealings. But as Ayame says, “this is different,” and she’s right: those were professional duties; this is a lot more intimate.

Also, while Peak and Base represent black and white among SOX’s adversaries, Anna and Ayame are black and white-themed girls in Tanukichi’s life.

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Anywho, Black Base finds the rusty metal wheel Tanukichi brought along (given to him by his imprisoned father, who told him to bring it should he ever visit the hot springs district), and will only give it back if they beat him in a strip rock-paper-scissors tournament. Ayame makes good use of Goriki’s nausea-inducing pink underwear to distract Black Base so she and Tanukichi can escape with the wheel and head to the “treasure trove” its supposedly the key for.

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While taking a rusty old cable car (which Fuwa gets working in a random cameo) up to the mountain trove, Anna manages to beat Black Base and races back to Tanukichi. Unable to breathe, Tanu accidentally grabs Anna’s butt, sending her into ecstacy, whereupon the whole floor of the cable car gives out, sending her to her into the forest canopy.

I’ll say one thing about Shimoneta, it’s always been incredibly creative about infusing absurd lewdness into its action sequences. Once they’re at the trove, a hidden pedal reveals a hexagonal shaft, upon which Tanu’s rusty wheel fits perfectly.

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It takes the full strength of SOX to turn it and open the trove’s doors, revealing a wealth of lewd figurines collected and preserved for posterity. Ayame vows that SOX will continue to preserve such enlightening treasures for future generations, and a fully nude (but thankfully backlit) Black Base, who turns out to have been a good friend and colleague of Tanukichi’s dad, looks on approvingly, knowing the trove is in good hands.

Was the episode, and Shimoneta in general, perfect? Far from it; it never returned Anna to sanity, leaving her a bit one-note at the end; the Ayame-Tanu pairing never materialized; and everyone barfing at Goriki’s underwear seemed a little hypocritical in such an otherwise permissive milieu. But it was still fun, innovative, hilarious, and a surprisingly apt critique of the continuing Japanese struggle to balance decency and lewdness, both crucial parts of the nation’s culture.

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Working!!! 3 – 04

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This week, something that in hindsight seems obvious became evident: the title Working!! doesn’t just refer to a bunch of quirky people working in a restaurant. That’s just the setting. It can also be about those quirky people working things out with one another, like Yachiyo and Satou, or Inami and Takanashi.

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After their drinking date, Yachiyo is consumed with the meaning of Satou’s sudden, warm, but cryptic hug. She knows she didn’t dislike it and wouldn’t be opposed to more of it, but has no idea why Satou did it.

When she confronts him in the kitchen, he tells her to figure it out for herself, while the best she manages to relay to him is that the thought of being friends with him makes her gloomy, without clarifying that she doesn’t want to be JUST friends.

Yachiyo is so distracted she’s making mistakes in her work, but thankfully the episode doesn’t make that a practical excuse for her to give up on Satou. Working!! is also about the characters helping out one of their own when they’re in some kind of trouble or acting strangely, as Yachiyo is.

To that end, Popura, the second-most senior server after Yachiyo, makes it work, picking up the slack and delegating all of the work Yachiyo is forgetting to do to everyone else, with each task optimized for the worker’s unique talents and quirks.

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Meanwhile, Kyouko’s underling Mitsuki shows up to drill Satou on his knowledge of Yachiyo, only to learn he knows a lot more about Kyouko since Yachiyo has classically always talked about her in front of him, and because he likes her, he doesn’t just take a fake interest; he retains the information, no matter how inane. Mitsuki thinks this means he loves Kyouko, but it really means he loves Yachiyo.

When Kyouko finds out about Yachiyo’s predicament, she solves it in the most direct, Shirafuji Kyouko Way possible: locking the two would-be lovebirds in the supply closet.

And it actually works! Yachiyo finds she can talk with Satou normally while they’re busy working, and they get on the same page about wanting to continue to act and talk normally. Yachiyo then tries to slip in her desire for Satou to take her out again sometime, but in her rush to make a dramatic exit, she forgets the door is locked.

Still, in that stockroom, these two took a little more stock in what they mean to one another, and while their future doesn’t look easy, it still looks bright.

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The rest of the episode is devoted to a relationship that hasn’t gotten much play this season, and indeed seems to have regressed: that of Takanashi and Inami. The former starts to notice how cute Inami is (now that she’s punching men, and him, a lot less), even though this goes against his obsession with tiny, cute things.

He strains to explain these feelings—maybe it’s Inami’s tiny bust affecting him?—but he can’t quite accept what Kirio says (loudly and obnoxiously): that the reason he’s had eyes for Inami lately is that he’s in love with her. Her, a mature woman far older than he likes.

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As Popura and Kyouko helped Yachiyo out with her problem, Yamada is trying to help Inami out, putting her “on the market” by constantly approaching Takanashi with methods that only intensify his feelings. His bizarre reactions discourage Inami, but she eventually gets it out of him that she’s been giving him a “good vibe”, but he isn’t able to confess he finds her “slightly, barely, blink-and-you-miss-it cute.”

He then takes up his paternal platitudes about her getting over her hatred of men and living happily ever after with the man she loves. Inami is understandably hurt that Takanashi clearly intends to eliminate himself from any equation involving her, if only due to his stupid self-imposed standards. For that Inami punches him and tears up, but her “punch” is only a delicate tap on his chest that lingers there.

She apologizes and runs off, indicating she (and Yamada) still have work to do. But I’m confident that like Yachiyo and Satou, Takanashi and Inami will somehow make it work.

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Working!!! 3 – 03

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It’s nice every once in a while for my slice-of-life to have some actual plot development in it, especially when it involves Satou Jun and Todoroki Yachiyo, the Working! couple only to Inami+Takanashi in will-they-won’t-they teasing. So ingrained in the show is their hair-pulling futility, that it feels like a HUGE victory when Satou finally, finally asks Yachiyo out for a drink when they both have the day off.

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Yachiyo, for her part, is super-excited and super-nervous, as much as someone who never fully opens their eyes can be. She’s wanted to go drinking with a friend for ages, but has no idea what it entails (besdies the drinking, obv).

So she seeks out advice from the staff, along with Kozue, who gets it into the tragically impressionable Yachiyo’s head that new underwear and removing the top layer are of the utmost importance when drinking alcohol. Usually keeping his big sis in check, Souta keeps his distance from this one, but the other ladies are reeled in for their two cents. Yachiyo settles on “normal” underwear, as suggested by the normal-obsessed (and rarely-seen) Matsumoto.

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Just seeing Satou in something other than his chef’s jacket, and being reminded how nicely Yachiyo’s katana goes with anything, is an unparalleled pleasure. How many years have we been waiting for this momentous occasion? I was downright giddy. Even better, once Yachiyo drinks, she’s neither a sad nor angry drunk; but mostly the way she usually is, which means she’s prattling on about Kyouko and parfaits as usual…

…Right up until, to Satou’s shock, she changes the subject to something else, of her own accord! To his horror, that subject is underwear, and when he learns where she got her advice, he knows immediately his date’s been tampered with.

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Despite this, they both have a good time, because, well, why wouldn’t they? They like each other! Yachiyo earnestly, sweetly thanks him for the good time, and whether it’s the alcohol pumping up that earnestness or intended to have platonic overtones, she wishes he’d stay with her forever. Hearing those words moves Satou to immediate action in the form of a big ol’ HUG and a big ol’ confession to go with it.

And while he blames the alcohol for his forwardness, he doesn’t retract what he said, but sticks by it, every word. At this point, both of these lovebirds are pretty sloshed, and while slinking away, Satou realizes he needs to call a cab for Yachiyo, whose legs have given out. She seems relieved by the chivalrous gesture.

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The A-plot was obviously fantastic start-to-finish, but it was also supported by a serviceable B-plot in which Yamada, like Yachiyo, consults most of the staff on a matter of utmost importance to her: how to get Souta to pet her again. The first time he did it cast as spell on her, and she simply wants, nay, needs to be pet more. She tries getting into position, but is asked to move; she ties a chick to her head, but he only pets it; she actually works hard for once, but he only feels her head for a fever.

Finally, Inami (whom Yamada half-joked as her romantic rival) does what Yamada should have done from the start, but couldn’t because of her low standing with Takanashi: simply ask him to pet her. The final twist of the knife is Takanashi being unable to pet her the same way he did the first time, because only Popura can bring out his Petting A-Game. Get your head out of the gutter!

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