Astra Lost in Space – 04 – Songstress of the Mushroom Kingdom

In addition to action, adventure, and danger, there’s also quite a bit of plain old life aboard the Astra, and whenever the crew is not working against the clock to save their skins, there are little quiet moments of that life: Zack accidentally walking in on a naked Quitterie (and even worse for her, not blushing about it); Funi coming up with a new way to address Kanata (“Aye, yeah!”); or Kanata basically telling the traitor, whoever they are, to “do their worst.”

In the meantime, the crew is going to focus on food and water, not investigations that will waste time and sink morale. While I’m sure the mystery traitor will cause more problems down the road, I’m glad it’s not totally dominating the narrative or the headspace of the crew members. Instead, the crew splits up to find food on the planet Shummoor, a name that sounds kind of like “mushroom,” and thus a hint about who or rather what is the true king of the planet.

Thanks to some friendly Gruppies, one team makes it back to the ship with giant cacti full of water, while the other team has a pretty big haul of delicious fruits. Unfortunately, those fruits spoil almost immediately after being picked, making them unsuitable for storage. This presents a serious problem: their first day’s haul of food will only be good for five days at most; not nearly enough to reach the next planet.

After Ulgar earlier called the towering Yunhua a “big girl” and “useless”, Luca’s thoughtless joking words about being worried Yunhua inadvertently eating all of what little food they have are the last straw. Aries and Kanata find Yunhua’s glasses and a note saying she’s left the ship and will stay behind for the benefit of everyone else.

Naturally, Captain Hoshijima is not going to remotely accept that; each crew member is precious, regardless of their talents or other perceived value. Thankfully both Luca and Ulgar show at least a measure of remorse for their ugly words.

As to Yunhua’s crushing lack of self-esteem, it’s chalked up to Yunhua’s dream to sing like her mother (a famous professional singer) and that selfish mother’s commitment to making sure Yunhua not only never sings to anyone, but remains as invisible as possible.

Even though Kanata has skills for which he’s been praised (and indeed qualities that made him the consensus captain), he can still empathize with Yunhua, for the trauma in his past stems from an inability to do anything to save his sensei. He knows what it’s like to feel useless, but what’s even more useless is to keep feeling that way.

But Yunhua leaving the ship isn’t the crisis of the week, it’s the mushrooms, specifically, when the Pole Tree releases poisonous spores that knock out Aries, Zack, Luca, Ulgar, Funi, and Charce, who at leasts manages to send an SOS to Kanata warning him not to take his helmet off.

Every planet is going to have a bit of an edge of danger to it—it’s built into human nature to fear the unknown—but I like how Astra smartly builds up its threats with clues, while also presenting possible solutions that, while not impossible, still require the crew to work together—or for individual members to do what is necessary when it’s their turn.

Dr. Quitterie is stumped; the medical supplies on the ship can only make the six patients a little more comfortable, but aren’t sufficient to cure them. As Kanata did with the traitor mystery, Quitterie drops her beef with Yunhua running away (and risking everyone else’s life to look for her) and asks her to help out with the patients.

Charce, still barely conscious, figures out the process of the predatory Pole Trees that rule Shummoor, and their symbiotic relationship to the moss and other plants. When Kanata asks if the ecosystem has some kind of limiter on the predation of animals, Charce says there could be an antidote out there: a medicinal mushroom. Sure enough, Yunhua used that very mushroom earlier to cure an ill gruppie. Kanata runs back out there to find some.

He has no luck, and worse, Quitterie succumbs to the spores, having been around the infected so much. That means the only non-bedridden crew member on the ship is Yunhua. Remembering her chat with Kanata about her dream to sing but reluctance to defy her mom, Yunhua steps up and finally does what only she can do: sing to her ill crewmates, sing with all her might, and by doing so create a soothing atmosphere suitable for healing.

As she envisions herself on the stage, in a glittering purple gown, with her bangs out of her face, belting out a reassuring song, Kanata realizes that the Pole Tree won’t allow access to the antidote fruits unless he’s suffering the symptoms of the poisonous spores. So, in true Classic Sci-Fi Captain-y fashion, he takes a huge gamble, removes his helmet, and lets himself be poisoned.

 

Sure enough, the medicinal mushrooms reveal themselves before him, he eats enough to get back on his feet, and the very gruppie he and Yunhua saved gives him a ride back to the Astra. The other ill crew members eat the mushrooms and recover.

The captain put his crew before himself and they are grateful for it. But Yunhua is even more grateful for Kanata helping her break her chains of self-loathing, leading to her playing a vital role  in the crew’s recovery.

As for the crew, they’ve likely learned some vital lessons for future planetary excursions: just because a plant or a mushroom doesn’t have teeth or a roar doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous or deadly. Anything in this vast universe is capable of ruling a kingdom, and mere humans interlope at their own risk.

Hinamatsuri – 05 – I’m Totally Confused, But This Isn’t Prostitution

We begin with the very stark differences in Hina’s and Anzu’s everyday lives laid bare. Anzu learns cat’s cradle from a fellow homeless person, and is excited to show Hina so they can play together…but Hina only cares about video games.

Anzu has a good heart—perhaps too good for her own good—so rather than tell Hina to take her video games and get stuffed, she implements a scheme whereby she’ll find and sell used TVs she finds off the streets in order to afford video games with which to play with Hina.

Hilarity ensues, as Anzu first learns that CRT TVs are worth less than the dirt they’re sitting on, then learns that Hina and Hitomi are friends. Seeing the futility of searching the riverbank for LCD TVs, Hitomi asks her mom if she can have the one they’re replacing, only to get stopped by a cop for illegal dumping.

Meanwhile Hina makes herself useful (and demonstrates how clueless she is about…pretty much everything) by asking Nitta for cash to buy a new TV, then taking a 5900-yen taxi ride to the guy who buys the TVs…for 3000 yen. Hey, Anzu said she wanted TVs, right?

At the end of the night, Anzu spills the beans about wanting to afford video games to play with Hina (though it may well have fallen on deaf ears) while Nitta ends up very confused when Hina talks about selling the TV she just bought with his money to pay for cab fare. (A particularly standout exchange: Cabbie: “Where to?” Hina: “The river.”)

We then shift back to a Hitomi-centric segment, which is fine with me, as Hitomi is awesome. Two male classmates watch her enter the Little Song bar, and when Matsutani-sensei immediately follows her, they, with their adolescent brains, fear the worst: an illicit sexual relationship.

To that end, the boys start a “Matsutani Illicit Sexual Relationship Suspicion Task Force” made up of the two of them and Hitomi’s friend Aizawa, who thinks they’re full of it but recommends they recruit Hina—who has know idea what’s going on, and whose numerous pleas to know what’s going on go hilarious unanswered for the rest of the episode.

While initially skeptical, Hitomi’s ridiculous (and sometimes adorable) reactions to Aizawa’s probing convince her that something is amiss, but when it looks like she’s just messing with Hitomi to get those reactions, the boys split off (though they all have to take the same single staircase down).

After following Hitomi and Matsutani to the prep room and gaining no new intelligence, the four kids (Hina’s still there, but doesn’t know why) stake out the bar one night, and spot Hitomi entering, followed shortly by Nitta (who they regard as Hina’s dad).

Hitomi’s closest friend, Aizawa, decides to throw caution to the wind and rush into the bar, and the others follow shortly thereafter, where they catch Hitomi red-handed. However, after imagining the absolute worst that could be happening to her, Aizawa and the boys are actually relieved it’s just a matter of her being a middle school bartender.

With that, Aizawa forces Hitomi to repent for keeping them in the dark by declaring she is a middle school bartender, with the spirit of an idol introducing herself, which Hitomi does. This gets her the applause not only of her peers, but of Nitta and Utako as well. Hina, meanwhile, remains just plain confused.

Hinamatsuri – 04 – Unfit to be Homeless

“I’m disowning you.” Those are the three words that suddenly upend Hina’s cushy life at the top, after she upends nearly everything Nitta owns. While decent parents sometimes say things like that in moments when they might be nearing their limits, they never mean it.

Only Nitta doesn’t see himself as her parent, merely a caretaker of heretofore bottomless generosity and patience…and now that Hina has exhausted his supply of those qualities, she’s out.

To the show’s credit, he has a well-established good reason not to feel like her parent—she showed up in a metal egg!—but Nitta eventually learns it doesn’t really matter how bizarrely she entered his life, only that entering it changed that life forever.

Surely a part of Nitta buried by his anger in the moment immediately regretted kicking Hina off, because it knew just how useless she’d be in the real world after the cushy life she’s been used to since arriving.

That uselessness is demonstrated when she immediately spends 10,000 yen on junk food and plays video games until her battery runs out, then latches on to a concerned Anzu, whose limits are quickly tested.

Nitta’s lack of thinking his plan through is also exposed when Hitomi comes to his front door with printouts for Hina. And because Utako is such a good person, she works at a soup run in the park and discovers what Nitta has done. None of the people in the bar who judge Nitta know where she really came from, and that she’s no ordinary defenseless kid who you couldn’t dream of kicking out of your house.

When Nitta tries to defend himself and they run him out of the bar like the one kid all the other kids agreed was Bad News, he gets a harsh lesson in how unimportant details like what Hina is and where she comes from really are. By kicking Hina out, Nitta is a bad guy, at least in the world he wants to keep living in—a world of conscience, selflessness, and kindness.

Kicking her out means Nitta not only has his cushy apartment to himself, but his own world; even Sabu is not having it. Meanwhile, Anzu learns what it’s like to be Nitta, only in accelerated form, as Hina reaches her bike gang-coated friend’s limits and is kicked out after just three days.

Mind you, he’s right that Hina isn’t entirely hopeless. She does befriend some buskers and uses her telekinesis to pep up their show, and is able to make money on her own for the first time. Like the homeless people Anzu befriends, Hina is lucky not to end up with bad people who might to weird things, and even if they tried, she’s be more than capable of fighting them off.

Would Hina have been fine with the band indefinitely? In terms of money and food, perhaps, but where would she stay? And what if she hits the band’s limits like she did Nitta’s and Anzu’s? As Anzu tells Nitta when the two cross paths, Hina simply isn’t fit to be homeless, a devastating line to behold, in no small part due to its blinding accuracy.

But the main reason Hina wouldn’t make it out there is because she doesn’t want to. She liked being with Nitta the most, and so waits outside his door with a newly bought 2900-yen vase and a sincere apology. Nitta, having been banned from Utako’s bar until he makes up with Hina, makes up with Hina.

Yes, it’s a really nice bar, but also Nitta had reached a new limit: he’d gone as far as he could go without Hina, and vice versa, and so the two are back together, and he proudly displays her cheap vase beside the pricey ones, because like HIna, it doesn’t matter where it came from.

Hina’s expulsion from and eventual reinstatement in the good life takes up three-quarters of the episode; the balance is made up of another Hitomi portrait, cementing Hitomi’s role as without doubt the Best and most fascinating character on the show.

While Hina needs to learn the hard way the value of hard work, “half-assed” is not and has never been in Hitomi’s category. She knows she’s good at bartending, and continues to perform that job with pride. Not only can she mix drinks like an adult pro, but she’s now able to dispense advice and say just the words her customers need to hear, whether it’s Nitta’s superior or her own homeroom teacher.

Most importantly, her advice comes from her own experiences, which are numerous despite her modest age. She tells the yakuza boss that a bar is where you can come to be your honest self and not worry about their “real life” outside the door because that’s exactly what she’s doing.

And Hitomi won’t stop doing it, not just because she gets paid, but because she enjoys it, even on the weekends when she works through the night.

It’s in that exhausted state after an all-night shift that Hitomi comes upon Anzu in the alley, and learns that she collects cans. Hitomi, going all out in all things, directs Anzu to a windfall of cans (and gently blackmails a fellow bar employee to gain access to them. She learns fast).

Things get “heavy” in a hurry when Hitomi learns the extent of Anzu’s destitution, and feels bad about even eating the 200-yen ramen she’s offered, especially after learning Anzu usually makes 600 yen a day; the same amount Hina can make in a half-hour.

Suddenly confronted with someone living what appears to be a much tougher life with much smaller rewards weighs heavily on a Hitomi already physically taxed by her dual life. And so, during a protracted game of tag through the forest, Hitomi finally reaches her limit, and falls asleep standing up. If Hina is unfit to be homeless, Hitomi is unfit to be idle…or apathetic.

 

Houseki no Kuni – 09

In the winter days and weeks since the loss of Antarcticite, Phosphophyllite has been busy. As the snow and ice starts to melt, heralding the start of spring, we get a very cool slow-build reveal of the individual Phos has become: serious, dutiful, efficient; calm, cool, and deadly. Sounds kinda like Antarc, doesn’t it?

The time jump to Spring wasn’t a surprise, so much as the intense change in Phos, and I have to say, I like it. Even Kurosawa Tomoyo’s lower, sterner voice emulates Mariya Ise’s Antarc’s tone and cadence. There remains a measure of the old Phos’ spunk and rawness (Kongou catches Phos at the end of a successful Lunarian battle) but overall, Phos has become a polished and capable member of the group—and the only one with a alloy membrane that can take any form.

Phos kind of had to, after Antarc was lost; but more than necessity, it is how Phos honors Antarc’s memory; no more slacking off or complaining. Phos also keeps a small shard of Antarc’s remains, and has vivid hallucinations of Antarc resurrecting from the wooden bowl, only to shatter and force Phos to relive Antarc’s final moments. It’s a full-blown case of Gem-PTSD, and Phos can’t forgive herself…or sleep. She also cries gold tears, which is both sad and very cool.

When the other Gems wake up (and are issued Summer uniforms), they’re initially shocked at the change in Phos, then scared of Phos’ alloy membrane, then fascinated to the point of surrounding and demanding that Phos perform a variety of tricks, or be poked and prodded every which way. Phos creates a nifty galloy decoy to thrown them off, but they’re pretty relentless.

Before all of the events that made Phos the way they are took place, Phos was often derided as being dead weight and a source of stress and extra work for everyone. Now Phos has never been more popular (in a good way rather than bad). The thing is, it’s the old Phos who would have loved such adulation; New Phos doesn’t quite know how to deal.

I imagine part of that is Phos long-term isolation, which aligns Phos more closely with someone like Cinnabar. Phos briefly forgets who Cinnabar is, but when the two meet during a patrol, Cinnabar is as cold and aloof as ever, clearly trying not to dignify the changes Phos has gone through with a reaction.

While Phos can now perform all manner of dazzling parlour tricks (but no longer has any intention of performing them for amusement) Phos doesn’t seem to mind demonstrating to Amethyst twins how much has been learned during the solo training and learning from Antarc and Kongou.

Phos is truly a force to be reckoned with, and has absolutely no trouble throttling another Lunarian attack, to the twins’ amazement and elation. But not every Gem is impressed. Bort cannot believe this is the same Phos who used to cause so much trouble and contribute so little, to the point of suspicion. I imagine a test of Pho’s combat abilities is in the offing.

Houseki no Kuni – 08

I raise my hands in defeat! I mean my hands are probably rising up right now out of the sea in defeat.

Antarcticite isn’t willing to immediately accept that Phos’ arms are lost, but instead braves the frozen depths (and the colliding ice boulders therein) in search of them, to no avail. Upon reporting to Kongou, Antarcticite takes full responsibility, citing inexperience in working in a pair, but Kongou blames his own lack of caution.

He has Antarc and Phos travel to the Chord Shore, where all Gems are “born”, to find material for new arms. There, they witness something akin to such a birth, albeit far less advanced and complete. The reddish crystals simply fall into the snow, lifeless and inert.

The beach is littered with gold and platinum deposits—deemed worthless by Antarc for their high weight and malleability. Still, there’s nothing else around, so Phos is fitted with temporary gold arms in the absence of more suitable material. The results are initially…not promising:

Um… I’m kind of getting engulfed. Wouldn’t you say I’m being engulfed?

Worse still, the clouds part and Lunarians appear both over the Chord Shore and surround headquarters, keeping Kongou from racing to the Gems’ aid.

In an all-but-no-win scenario, Antarcticite shows true grit and valor, using the saw as a snowboard and taking out as many Lunarians as possible before they unveil yet another new tactic: fishing tackle and hooks that entangle Antarc. Only a burst of nearly self-shattering strength severs the connection, but the Lunarians still don’t disperse.

Antarc manages to yank their stolen hand free and cause the Lunarians to disperse, but not without nearly shattering as well. Though extremely fragile, Antarc attempts to break Phos out of the gold prison, but another Lunarian arrow reduces Antarc to a cloud of crystal shards. Before being carried off, Antarc orders Phos to remain silent, buying Phos time.

Phos…doesn’t remain silent, instead managing to find a way to control the new gold “arms”—a term that doesn’t really do the new shapeshifting appendage(s) justice—and attempt a desperate counterattack to retrieve Antarc’s fragments.

Phos pushes the absolute limit the gold’s ability, acting both as a means of propelling their body into the sky, absorbing or blocking projectiles, and grabbing and throwing Antarc’s sword. Also pushed to new dizzying highs – the increasingly intricate CGI, put to good use. The shimmering, “gooey” liquid gold presents a stunning contrast to the brittle frozen backdrop.

It’s a valiant effort, but ultimately futile, as the Lunarians retreat too quickly for Phos’ attacks to reach them. Phos ends up badly cracked and plummeting to the ground, but is caught by Kongou, who arrived too late to save Antarc. Still, were it not for Antarc, Phos would be gone too.

Phos acknowledges that sacrifice while lamenting Antarc’s loss, and is likely now possessed of a new iron determination to master their new golden “inclusions”, to prevent (or at least make it more difficult) for the Lunarians to capture another beloved comrade and friend.

As the end credits roll over a somber view of Antarcticite’s now-abandoned quarters (with a lovely new song sung by Phos’ seiyu), I’m devastated by Antarc’s sudden loss, despite not knowing they existed just two episodes ago. Antarc made a huge impact on the world of Houseki no Kuni, performed momentous deeds and fought for Phos till the bitter end, and in this writer’s opinion, left us far too soon.

Houseki no Kuni – 07

Phos lies prostrate before the Amethyst twins as Rutile repairs them, but once they’re whole enough to speak, it’s the twins apologizing to Phos: they were overzealous in their efforts to show Phos how badass they are and let their guard down.

Phos doesn’t feel any better about freezing up, and runs off, both to try to outrun the shame, but also because that when circumstances necessitate an immediate retreat, Phos has to be able to do it. Phos’ legs lead to Cinnabar, whom Phos still doesn’t feel right speak to quite yet.

Phos’ state of incomplete development comes at a bad time for them; Winter has come, and with it the time when all gems hibernate until Spring—and sufficient sunlight for them to function—returns.

The only two who normally stay awake while the others sleep are Master Kongou, and the heretofore-unseen Antarcticite, voiced by Ise Mariya.

Antarcticite was unseen because they only become solid when the temperatures drop enough; when it’s warm, Antarcticite occupies a vat in their room, in a liquid state. “Antarc” also has a particular like of Kongou, and cherishes the time when they patrol together.

Then, while the two are hugging, Phos emerges from behind a wall. Unable to sleep, Phos requests to be allowed to stay up and train up in these harsher-than-usual conditions rather than waste them hibernating. Kongou agrees and partners Antarc with Phos.

Antarc is initially quite annoyed by this decision, but only because they remember Phos of yore, not the present Phos, willing and able to grow. When Phos tells Antarc of the desire to become better and more useful, Antarc takes a more patient tack.

Phos is particularly sluggish in the dim winter chill, but toughs it out until the two reach their destination: a field of eerily gorgeous and hazardous ice floes that let out blood-curdling screeches when grinding together.

Like Amethyst, Antarc is quick to demonstrate their duty to Phos: cleaving the surfacing ice floes with a saw in order to stop them from disturbing the hibernating Gems. Watching Antarc spring into action, balance a high heel atop the ice, then unleash a massive blow, is really something to behold.

The spectacle, and the utterly pristine whites, blues, purples and aquas of the frigid winterscape lend this episode a unique beauty, backed up by some of the most conspicuously excellent music of the show.

I’ve always liked “ice levels” as a kind of aesthetic palate-cleanser. Winter turns the Land of the Lustrous into another world, and it’s a glorious thing to see and hear. The stark beauty is nicely complemented and warmed up by the understated Phos-Antarc buddy comedy.

Antarc shows Phos all of the various duties they must perform; some menial, others herculean, and others downright weird, like making sure to put down the sleepwalking gems—and, occasionally, cover Master Kongou when he smashes into a wall—with blankets. Phos simply tries to keep up, but it’s a lot of work and has to be done with a minimum of energy due to the low sun.

Then, just as Phos is wondering whether they bit off more than they can chew and ponders the hopelessness of achieving their goals, the ice floes seem to call out, echoing the anxieties in Phos’ head. Kongou warns Phos to ignore the voices, giving Phos yet another challenge to overcome among all the others.

It ultimately proves too much. While out on patrol, Phos considers sawing off both arms so that they be replaced with a stronger ones, as Phos’ legs were. Phos stops themselves, but slips and falls into a frigid pool. Antarc pulls Phos out, but Phos is missing both forearms—and if they can’t be retrieved, many more memories.

Antarc has been shown to be proficient in making minor repairs, but this is a job for Rutile, who is hibernating. So yeah, we close another episode with Phos’ existence at another crossroads. Here I thought Phos would find a way to attach saws to their legs and use them to cleave the floes; now I just hope the Phos I know and love can get out of yet another spot.

Houseki no Kuni – 06

We meet Yellow Diamond and Zircon as they battle Lunarians. Zircon’s head is cleaved off, but Yellow performs repairs, letting Rutile rest. Yellow is the oldest of the gems, and one of the costs of being the oldest is that you’ve seen the most Gems taken to the moon.

The reason we haven’t met Ruby, Sapphire, Green Diamond or Pink Topaz? They’re all on the moon, and they were all former partners of Yellow. As such, Yellow doesn’t like or feel deserving of the respect and veneration given by the other Gems simply for knowing when to run.

Phos has incredible speed now, but can’t yet control it, leading to an amusing encounter with the also speedy Yellow, who thinks Phos is intentionally running away. Yellow catches Phos without harming them by grabbing the fabric of their robe.

Despite the lack of control, Phos still wants to join the fight against the Lunarians. Master Kongou asks why Phos is hell-bent on participating despite a thorough lack of fighting ability; Phos says out loud what all the other Gems think: Kongou has a special place in Phos’ heart. I believe it’s the first we’ve heard of the Gems loving their master.

Kongou agrees to let Phos join the battle. But as Phos can barely hold the lightest sword in the armory, a pairing with Amethyst is most suitable, since Amethyst is actually two twin Gems—#84 and #33—and they can handle themselves on the battlefield.

What Phos quickly learns is that 90% of patrolling is waiting around, doing nothing, and anticipating. Every little sound or movement in the sky, on the ground, or in the water, spooks Phos, who expects the Lunarians to pop up at any time.

The constant stress levels quickly exhaust Phos, who is sluggish at a most inopportune time: when the Lunarians suddenly pop up. I will never tire of their elaborate entrance from the sky, otherworldly beautiful, ethereal, and deeply unnerving in equal measure.

The Amethyst twins (voiced by Itou Kanae) seem to have things under control…at least initially, springing into action, tossing their sword sheaths and working in tandem to eliminate all of the Lunarian minions before cross-cutting the larger “leader” in the center of the cloud.

But the twins are just a bit cocky, and in showing Phos How It’s Done, they turn their backs on the Lunarians, who break out a new trick: Venus Fly Trap-like jaws with blue crystal teeth that may well be the remnants of the late Sapphire. Since Sapphire is harder than Amethyst, the twins are shattered to pieces.

Only the timely arrival of Bort, Dia, Yellow, and finally Master Kongou—who obliterates the Lunarian cloud with a flick of his hand in an impressive demonstration of his power—saves Phos. We see pieces of Amethyst being collected, so the twins are probably okay, but Bort is furious, and has questions, like why Phos sat by and did nothing, not even running away on those new legs to alert others.

In Phos’ defense, it was their very first battle, freezing up can happen, and even the Twins were caught off-guard by the Lunarian’s new weapon. But regardless, will Phos’ first battle also be the last?

Houseki no Kuni – 05

When Phos can’t be found, Kongou musters the entire group to go perform a search. Diamond encourages Cinnabar to assist, but Cinnabar demurs. Meanwhile, Phos, weak and with smashed legs, is fished out of the sea by the Lunarians, who circle Phos like a bunch of ravenous customers at the local buffet.

Ventricosus would like to be on her way with her brother Aculeatus, but the Lunarians alter the deal, and basically tell Ventri to pray they don’t alter it any further. They want more Gems before handing over her brother. These guys are straight-up jerks, but it’s only fair that a betrayer get betrayed. When Ventri protests, they attack her, and Acule awakens and smashes them to bits, showing his admirabilis form (which Phos finds adorable) before taking humanoid form and assisting Ventri.

Acule is ready to continue using Phos as a bargaining chip to free their family members still imprisoned on the moon. But Ventri seeing a literally broken Phos who won’t even offer words of resistance (Phos is exhausted and immobile; why bother?) causes Ventri to have a change of heart.

Phos has forgiven Ventri after the betrayal, and Ventri sees it as an opportunity to not be like the Lunarians. She and her brother escape, and set Phos free. Just as Kongou prepares to send everyone under the sea to search for Phos, Phose washes ashore…right beside Cinnabar.

Phos apologizes for going another day without keeping the promise made to Cinnabar, and promises to try harder tomorrow. For some reason, rather than call out to Kongou and the others, Cinnabar sneaks into HQ and leaves Phos in the infirmary, to be found later by Rutile.

Kongou’s rage is something to behold, as every step he takes creates cracks in the building; all of the Gems scatter for shelter from his wrath. But while he calls Phos an insolent fool with a force that almost causes Phos to shatter, he then catches Phos before that actually happens—a nice moment of compassion from the master.

He’ll have Rutile do whatever can be done to repair Phos, then hear a report tomorrow. He also summarily cancels Phos’ encyclopedia-writing assignment, leaving Phos once more without a job.

Phos washed ashore with two spikes from Acule’s shell, and Rutile notes they contain agate, which is more than twice as hard as Phos’ structure. Rutile manages to craft new legs for Phos, which have a distinctive iridescent black-and-white striped pattern (pretty cool-looking), but upon standing up, Phos finds the legs useless. Phos has also lost a good deal of memories—including those of Jade—as a result of the loss of the original pair of legs.

As the others leave one by one to attend to their other duties (which will be harder to attend to after that exhausting search), Phos laments being worse off than before all of this started and sulks in the grass, but after thinking of Cinnabar (who is in a worse situation than Phos anyway you look at it), Phos suddenly jumps up and finds that not only do the legs work, but Phos is now unbelievably fast.

Perhaps Phos’ latest brush with destruction has now produced a better situation, and those new legs will give Phos new hope of being useful to Cinnabar, Kongou, and the others.

Houseki no Kuni – 04

When Master Kongou finally wakes up from his slumber, it’s from a strange dream in which he is in the center of a mob of Lunarians, and destroys them all with a kind of chakra. He regrets sleeping too long.

Jade, Bort, and Diamond then brief him on everything that’s happened, including the snail eating Phos, mining and reconstructing Phos from the snail’s shell, and the fact that only Phos can understand what the creature is saying, leading everyone to think Phos has gone crazy.

In defense of Phos, we can hear the creature too; their name is Ventricosus, king of of the Admirabilis, and in her current form, she’s pretty cheeky (she’s also voiced by Saito Chiwa).

Despite the indignity of a tossed Ventricosus landing on his head just right, Kongou not only believes Phos, but uses Phos as an interpreter to initiate a dialogue with the creature. He orders Phos keep the creature close while continuing work on the encyclopedia (at present, the amount of work Phos has done on that is…naught).

When Phos speaks on Cinnabar’s behalf, Kongou interrupts, stating that not only is he still working on the matter (and has yet to find a solution), but that it was Cinnabar’s decision to go on night watch to begin with, going into exile rather than sit around HQ doing nothing. It’s not ideal, but Kongou maintains the best way Phos can help Cinnabar is by doing what he ordered: work on that encyclopedia. Later, Phos and Venty get to talking, and Venty mentions that there is someone who resembles the Gems back in her homeland under the sea.

Phos, not making any progress on the land with Cinnabar, decides it’s work a look, and prepares for the trip by applying a salve to the “skin” that should protect the finish from the saltwater. Rutile tattles on Phos, and Kongou categorically forbids such a trip, reminding Phos to do what he asked and not worry about Cinnabar for now.

When it’s clear Ventri isn’t getting the proper nutrition she needs away from the sea (Phos even believes Ventri has died momentarily), Phos and Ventri have a very in-depth discussion on the nature of death (something neither the immortal Phos nor any Gem may can fully grasp the finality of), then Phos breaks the rules once again and heads underwater.

Once on the sea floor, Venty suddenly transforms into a beautiful jellyfish-queen form, and here is again where the 3DCGI fluidity really shines. Now closer to home, Venty starts to remember certain information; a kind of oral history about a race called “humans” who walked the earth.

Things happened, and humans split into three distinct forms: flesh (Admirabilae like Venty), bone (the Gems) and soul (the Lunarians). “Vague stories” also point to the fact that the Lunarians are seeking a revival of humanity by uniting the three forms, capturing them by force.

While that’s their goal, the “flesh” in the equation are content with their existence under the waves, while the “bone” would clearly prefer not being attacked from the sky all the time.

Alas, Ventricosus is hiding something, and exploits their newly-formed bond to deceive Phos. There is no malice in her actions, but her brother is being held by the Lunarians, and she means to offer Phos in exchange for his freedom.

With the sun almost down and Phos greatly weakened, the Lunarians prepare to capture Phos, smashing Phos’ arms and legs. But I’m sure Venty’s betrayal hurts far more than Phos’ loss of limbs, and the fact that Phos once again needs rescuing after disobeying Kongou’s commands to try to help Cinnabar.

It isn’t just the animation that’s beautiful in HnK, although it certainly is that; it’s also very well-written and performed, with a wealth of clever quips in the dialogue and some surprisingly profound discussion on the varying natures of existence of the three kinds of beings.

It remains a mystery what happened to humans, or what exactly Kongou is besides caretaker to the Gems, but if we take Venty’s stories at face value, we now know a lot more about why things are the way they are in this world, and have a clearer picture on the Lunarians’ goals.

Not that that puts them in the right; despite being human myself (I think), there’s something sinister about eliminating three new forms of life that emerged naturally for the sake of reviving one. It seems reckless and hubristic; akin to swimming against the waves of evolution.

Houseki no Kuni – 03

Land of the Lustrous continues to be, one of the strangest and most otherworldly beautiful anime of the Fall, and I am loving it. After their encounter with the Lunarians’ giant snail, Phos has…changed. That is to say, they no longer have a humanoid body. They’re still “alive”, as much as all of the Gems of this land are.

But while the standard rules of flesh-and-blood humans don’t apply to Phos or any other gem, there are other considerations that do: their “humanity”, i.e. the network of interpersonal relationships that define Phos to others.

Despite being shiny gems, these people have the same social structure as any normal human group. Which explains why the overriding reaction to Pho’s apparent transformation into some kind of semi-sentient invertebrate is…indifference. Apathy. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯-ness.

The Gems are largely a pragmatic and practical bunch; if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem; if you don’t have an immediate, measurable use, you’re of no value.

Diamond, perhaps the most altruistic of the Gems, scoops up the creature believed to be Phos and seeks help first from the doctor, but Rutile only knows how to heal Gems, and would only dissect and kill the creature if left alone with it. When presenting it to other Gems, most see Phos’ metamorphosis as an improvement, and in any case wouldn’t know where to start in terms of changing Phos back.

There’s an almost Christmas Carol quality to this…if Scrooge were a slimy slug being carried around by an anthropomorphic diamond, and the Gems were the various ghosts who visited him. So, basically, A Christmas Carol exactly. :D

Dia ends up far out in the country, and their observations of “Bio-Phos” indicate Phos might not care or want to change back. The creature eats plants, poops them out (like watermelon seeds), then curls up and falls asleep, like any biological organism would do. Dia laments that Phos had such crappy connections to the others that they’d care so little about Pho’s present situation.

Where is Cinnabar, I kept asking myself, what with their unique poison gooey properties. Well, Cinnabar is where they always are; far. far away from everyone else, on the night watch. They spot a bright light they believe to be Lunarians, but turns out to be a dozing, but still dazzling, Diamond.

Despite not taking any active role, just being in contact with Dia proves crucial to Phos’ return to corporeal form. You see, on the isolated shores of the country there are a good number of snails, and Cinnabar observes that those snails eat stone to restore and harden their shells.

The snails who eat red stone turn red. Those who eat white stone turn white. So a snail who ate phosphophyllite would have a minty glint to their shell. That’s when it hits Dia: the creature isn’t really Phos. Phos’ crystalline structure is now in the shell at the bottom of the pool back home. We saw the answer, those green crystals, in the opening moments of the episode.

Now knowing what to do, Dia rushes back as fast as their diamond legs can carry them in a gorgeous, lyrical sequence that really illustrates the great distance that must be covered and neatly establishes the scale of the land, along with Dia’s determination to cross it and save Phos. Even the stern Bort can’t refuse that determination; indeed, Bort averts their eyes at the sheer brilliance of it.

And so Dia, who unlike Phos has strong bonds to all of their fellow Gems, calls upon everyone to assist in heaving the great shell to the surface, carving out the Phos deposits from the shell, and delivering them to Rutile, who reconstructs Phos in another gorgeous sequence that makes full use of the 3DCGI.

Phos awakens, surrounded by the other Gems, and is immediately off on the wrong foot, attacking and yelling at the creature Diamond is holding rather than, you know, thanking everyone for saving them once again.

And yet that act of communicating with the creature and responding to its noises reveals a new and potentially groundbreaking fact: Phos can understand what the creature is saying. That makes Phos unique and potentially valuable…for once.

Phos endured quite a bit over the last couple episodes—to an extent worse than the routine smashing into pieces—and seems to have made some kind of connection that may even prove useful in future dealings with the Lunarians. If only Phos would take their ordeal to heart and start mending relationships with others.

KonoSuba 2 – 02

kono221

The expressions on the faces of Kazuma on Aqua kinda match up with my feelings about this episode, which was, in a word, listless. They still have the mansion (for now), but all their other earthly goods are gone. Megumin brings in a cat, so now the party has a mascot. The three worry about what might be happening to Darkness.

kono222

Then Sena observes as the party strikes out into the snow to do what it does best: nothing right. Granted, this is a show all about the ineptitude of the party, so it’s not like I expect competence. It’s just that the slimy giant toads were already done last season, and despite casting Megumin’s rival Yunyun and Sena into the slimy fray, it all comes off as a bit stale.

kono223

In other news, Kazuma and Megumin’s stubborn pride leads them to share a bath together, when neither wants to lose face by backing down from threats of…bathing together. To be fair, it’s a huge bath, so I don’t really see the problem as long as they’re covering up, which is the case here. Nevertheless, this is another retread from last season, with Megumin instead of Darkness.

kono224

I’m not sure what would have improved this episode, but less (or no) Yunyun might’ve done the trick. The projections of her and Megumin’s most embarrassing moments were good for a chuckle, but otherwise she was half-baked and didn’t bring enough new out of Megumin to make her worth having around. This episode just felt like it lacked energy, and wasn’t up to the standard KonoSuba programmed me to expect through its much better efforts.

16rating_7

KonoSuba 2 – 01

kono211

I have wrested control of KonoSuba reviewing duties from Zane, but we both watched this first episode of its much-anticipated sequel, and it does not disappoint, picking up right where it left off. KonoSuba 2 continues its predecessor’s generosity – you get a lot of bang for your buck. This episode featured five distinct scenarios, all the source of a great many laughs.

People initially come to Kazuma’s defense, first by talking about other bad stuff he’s done, but quickly wilt into the background when Sena, the prosecutor charged with arresting him, makes it clear she has no qualms about putting others in jail for the same charges as Kazuma. Here, Kazuma learns the true value of his “friends” at the tavern.

kono212

However, his core friends don’t give up, as Megumin causes an explosive diversion, allowing Aqua to sneak to the prison where Kazuma is held and give him a pin with which to pick the cell lock. Of course, it’s not that kind of lock. When she returns with a hacksaw, she tosses it to him, even though he can’t reach the window bars, as it never occurred to her to saw the bars herself. The failed attempts re-establish the party’s general incompetence in all things, but especially seemingly simple things.

kono213

That being said, Kazuma exhibits in a hilarious interrogation scene with Sena that he can more than make up for his lack of stupidity with an abundance of embarrassing details about his life, which he has no choice but to elaborate on in front of Sena, a lie-detecting bell, and an enthusiastic stenographer.

In what’s my favorite part of the episode, Kazuma starts out under the stern Sena’s heel, but once the bell seems to prove his innocence, the tables turn completely, and Sena is suddenly docile and contrite. Fukushima Jun and Nabatame Hitomi put on a voice-acting clinic playing the swiftly evolving moods of Kazuma and Sena.

kono214

Naturally, Kazuma gets too full of himself and says something the bell identifies as a lie (b/c he knows Wiz) which is enough for Sena to send him to trial – an open-air trial with the gallows hanging courtroom adjacent. Sena starts breaking down Kazuma’s character with the unflattering testimony of witnesses.

Here the show flexes its memory, using that testimony as a means of refreshing us on what Kazuma has done (not all of it is stuff to be proud of, after all), and Aqua and Megumin fail to provide a robust defense. Kazuma only goes free when he tells the bell he’s not involved with the Devil King, and even then after Darkness has to reveal her Dustiness heritage to override the local Lord leaning on the judge to convict.

kono215

But with each victory comes another defeat, something that one both expects and doesn’t expect on KonoSuba, so engrained is my fantasy anime way of thinking. A brutal and unjust middle ages-style legal system actually worked out for Kazuma in the end…but only because he knew someone important.

That’s his luck in play, but there’s never enough to, say, avoid having his, Megumin’s, and Aqua’s assets snatched up in order to pay his debt to the Lord Aldarp, who emerges as perhaps the next big bad.

And so the party now has to somehow make back enough money to get rid of that debt with nothing but the clothes on their back and their wits, all without incurring more debt or breaking more laws that will get them executed. It’s a hard knock life in this beautiful world.

Any promising opportunities are to be looked upon with suspicion, but even that vigilance will prevent be from being surprised or even shocked by what fresh indignities KonoSuba has cooked up for Kazuma & Co.

16rating_9

Watashi ga Motete Dousunda – 09

wat91

It’s a beach episode, folks, with a lot of familiar elements from that subgenre, including vertical pan up to unveil the ladies’ swimsuits. Shiny! It’s also a rare Shinomiya-centered episode, in which most of the inner dialogue comes from him as he struggles to impress Kae, and makes mess after mess of trying.

wat92

From accidentally launching himself into her boobs on the beach to having to hide behind his bigger friends as they scare off some creeps, Shino’s feeling particularly inadequate this week. When he knocks her down trying to save her from a snake, causing her to drop all her kebabs on the ground, it’s the last straw, and he runs off in tears.

wat93

Concerned for Shinomiya’s well-being, the gang chases after him, but he manages to get way far ahead of them for some reason, while Shina seems oddly un-knowledgeable about the environs of her family’s beach manse. The gag with the bridge that breaks but the gang (sans Kae) only “plummets” a little is funny enough, until you wonder how that fall (which is at least ten feet) didn’t hurt anyone. They can’t blame mushrooms this week!

wat94

Some odd choices about the journey to save Shino aside, I did enjoy how the two fujoshis embrace him for his “klutz appeal”, which ties into the themes of the show thus far. But it felt like someone jacked up Shino’s Klutziness and Anxiety Quotients to 11 for this and only this episode.

In trying to deepen the character, the show turned him into a outlandish caricature of himself. Of the episodes thus far that have centered on a single guy, Shino’s has been the worst. It wasn’t a bad episode, but I know Kiss Him Not Me can do better.

16rating_7