DanMachi II – 06 – Orario Vice

When Bell, Lili and Welf are concerned about Mikoto acting weird, they follow her one night, and to her surprise she ends up meeting with Chigusa and entering Orario’s famous pleasure district, which is run by the wealthy and powerful Ishtar Familia (Ishtar is the Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of love, war, and fertility).

Turns out Mikoto and Chigusa are searching for an old friend of theirs from their original home in the Far East, where she was a noble. Chigusa spotted her in the district and came to Mikoto, who saught confirmation before coming to the rest of Hestia Familia.

Lili, and certainly Hestia, would rather the adorable Bell be anywhere but the pleasure district, where he is  almost constantly approached, accosted, and embraced by dozens of beautiful, available women, including Aisha, one of Ishtar’s higher-ups. Separated from the others, Bell never had a chance to escape their clutches.

Right before he’s surrounded and picked up and taken to Ishtar’s palace to be passed between several eager Amazonesses, he spots an ethereal, yukata-wearing fox woman in a window, who judging from the glimpse of her last week, is the person Mikoto and Chigusa were looking for.

Ishtar herself has no time for a first-timer like Bell, but her underlings are all but willing to suck him dry, so to speak. The start of their fun is interrupted by the huge and grotesque Phryne, and Bell uses the distraction caused by the Amazons’ bickering (and his adventurer’s sneaking skills and speed) to slip away.

He ends up in the courtyard of one of the district’s fancier-looking brothels, and who does he encounter within one of the rooms but the straw-haired fox woman, named Haruhime, who assumes Bell is there to buy his first sexual experience.

It seems despite being more experienced than Bell, the sight of his collarbone still overwhelms her, giving him the opportunity to tell her he’s not there for sex, just to hide from the Amazons. She can understand; it’s tough to be a first-timer in a district where it’s the occupation of so many women to kidnap and have their way with you.

As they spend the rest of the evening chatting, discovering that they share a love of stories about heroes that originally drew them to Orario, Ishtar has a meeting with Hermes, who has delivered something to her that is of importance in her ongoing rivalry with Freya. When Hermes is reluctant to tell her what other weaknesses Freya might have that she can exploit, she removes what little clothing she is wearing in order to force the issue.

Haruhime tells Bell that while she loved those heroic stories, she no longer sees herself as someone worthy of being saved or protected. Despite her noble appearance and cushy digs, she doesn’t seem to see any nobility in her profession, only filth. It really brings Bell down, who doesn’t agree that she should have to sacrifice her dreams simply because circumstances, many of them not of her making, landed her in a brothel.

Still, he runs off into the night none too soon, as Aisha shows up immediately after to escort Haruhime back to her chambers. As for Ishtar, she gets the information she wanted out of an overwhelmed Hermes in bed: Freya is obsessed with Cranel Bell, and she can hurt her by stealing him from her.

So now Bell finds himself in the sights of not one but two distinct and powerful goddesses of love, war, sex, and fertility, and almost certainly doesn’t want his first encounter with Haruhime to be his last. If he’s the hero he thinks he is, he’ll no doubt try to find a way to free her from servitude.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 01 (First Impressions) – Crazy Train

Onodera Kazusa is an almost aggressively normal high school girl. She doesn’t really stand out anywhere, and is part of a literature club whose members include both a budding author, a glasses-wearing prudish type, and a serene senpai who is perfectly comfortable reciting very steamy sex scenes in the book they’re all reading.

Kazusa has a best friend in fellow lit club member Sudou Momoko, and she has a childhood friend in the train-loving Norimoto Izumi. She and Momoko are each other’s main source of verbal and emotional support in these trying adolescent times. She and Izumi were once as close as brother and sister, but have drawn further apart due to his increasing popularity—particularly with other girls.

Kazusa is voiced by relative newcomer Kono Hiyori, who does a splendid job modulating her voice for Kazusa’s vulnerable and frustrated inner monologues. It also helps that she closely resembles Shizuku from Whisper of the Heart, a rare Ghibli film grounded in contemporary life and one of my favorite anime works.

It helps because Shizuku never strayed past the “pure and innocent” phase of her romance with Seiji; the film ended (spoilers!) with her suddenly proposing marriage after they bike up the highest points in West Tokyo and watch the sun rise on the city. It’s beautiful, and it marks a major milestone in their trudge toward adulthood…but it’s incomplete.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season (written by the great Okada Mari) is not incomplete. It reveals all of the insecurities and worries and downright dilemmas far beyond simply developing feelings for someone and being frustrated by one’s comparative lack of accomplishment. By the end, we have a nearly complete picture of who Kazusa is (just a kid), what she is gradually becoming mentally and physically (an adult) and how she feels about that (not so great so far!)

When Kazusa’s mom—whom she says many describe as “child-like” even though she’s most definitely not a virgin due to Kazusa’s existence—asks her to take some food to Izumi’s next door, the comfort of their familiarity is evident, but so is a growing awkwardness punctuated when Izumi asks if he should talk to her around other people.

Kazusa’s wishy-washy reply (depends on who and where) doesn’t help matters. Talking about their issues clearly would be optimal, but again…these are kids. She’s aware enough to know she didn’t handle her interaction with Izumi in a satisfying way, leaving so much up in the air and unclear, but she doesn’t yet possess the tools to do so, hence her frustration and very Shizuku-like private mope on Izumi’s front stoop.

Back in lit club, Sugawara Niina, with her confident stride, ever-calm tone, and shorter skirt, all indicate she’s more mature than the other four members. To put it far more harshly, some boys consider her a diamond atop a pile of dung. But when a story with the premise of “doing something before you die” comes up, she blurts out “have sex,” because as mature as she looks and sounds, she’s still a virgin—still in the bubble with the rest of them. Despite all the classy smut they’ve read, it’s still a totally unknown world.

But her stated desire to have sex before death brings that subject too the forefront, like poking at the bubble until it bursts. Now sex is the first thing on the minds of the four other girls, from Rika (glasses) telling some gals to shut up about sex and being verbally abused by some classmates and then complimented by another; to Kazusa overhearing two of the girls who like Izumi talk very openly about wanting to take his virginity.

The more Kazusa hears about Izumi and sex, the more those two seem like something possible and thus terrifying—a far cry from the little boy with which she used to run around, fall over, and wade in the kiddy pool. The boy who’s crazy about trains. With the bubble of obliviousness popped by Niina, Kazusa finds herself on the deep end, her surroundings growing darker and more morose. But she has to kick and swim and breathe, or she’ll drown.

Things already feel like they’re starting to spiral out of all control for Kazusa, who asserts that she doesn’t like this and isn’t ready for it at all, but she has no idea what’s coming down the track to knock her off the rails of innocence for good, where she was once only teetering and threatening to fall. In an absolutely stunning sequence that plays like, well, a train wreck, Kazusa hears music inside Izumi’s, and so enters through the unlocked front door.

She makes her way up the stairs to Izumi’s room, where the door is cracked but not closed, and lets herself in without knocking. Izumi is inside, his pants down and his feet on the desk, masturbating to porn on the internet. The director lets the two just sit there in the moment of horror, completely silent but for the (likely fake) orgasmic screams of the woman on the laptop. Izumi gives a half-hearted “Hey,” then asks if she’ll keep this a secret. Pretty smooth, considering one of every guy’s worst nightmares just came true.

Kazusa…snaps. She bolts out of the house screaming and just…keeps running and screaming (the action animation is superb) through a market district. Naturally, every food sign is a double entendre, lending credence to her lament that there’s just too much god damn sex in the world.

Worse, her pure, innocent Izumi has changed forever. The boy is dead; a man has taken his place. The last time he saw her penis it was tiny and harmless. Now, not so much. As she stops on a bridge over a train track to catch her breath, she tearfully declares out loud that “that won’t fit in there!” Then, in a moment perhaps almost too on the nose but also pretty damn effective, a train passes beneath her, lining right up between her legs, and enters a very tight tunnel. “It fit,” she says, relieved, but she soon collapses back into a heap of adolescent frustration.

O Maidens is a refreshingly bold, sincere, brutally frank depiction of sexual awakening and its maaaany pitfalls. So far the experience is largely horrifying, terrifying, and overwhelming for Kazusa, and it’s sure to continue to be so. But the show balances the drama and comedy, never letting you forget these are human beings with human being minds and parts, all of which are in a state of open rebellion, but all of which are also very complicated.

The stakes for Kazusa and her friends are far higher than looking fit in a bikini for the summer. This is for all the marbles. All we as viewers can do is ball our fists and hope she hangs on for dear life to this train ride that can’t be stopped, until the ride becomes at least little smoother, if not joyful. I’ll be in the cafe car, quietly cheering on these maidens in their savage season.

Domestic na Kanojo – 01 (First Impressions) – So That’s How It Is

One minute Fujii Natsuo is at an innocuous mixer, the next he’s sneaking out with the least enthusiastic of the girls, Tachibana Rui who asks him for a favor. She wants to have sex, so she knows what it’s like and so it won’t feel like people are talking down to her.

She correctly assessed that Natsuo was also a virgin, and so she wouldn’t be taken advantage of or anything else by a more experienced guy. They get undressed, do the deed, get dressed, and part ways. There was never supposed to be any passion or emotion of any kind, so Rui tells him that if they ever meet again, they’re strangers.

As Natsuo confides to his dorkier best friend (who make it a point to de-dorkify Natsuo before high school so at least one of them would have a chance, socially speaking), the experience doesn’t quite sit that well with him, the more time that passes after The Act.

For one thing, there’s someone he likes—a pretty young teacher at school—and while it’s most likely to remain unrequited (at least as long as he’s a minor and her student), a part of him laments that his first time was so…impersonal.

But if you think the chain of events Natsuo has experienced to this point was sudden, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! One afternoon his father announces he’s going to remarry, ten years after Natsuo’s mother passed away. And oh yeah, she’s coming over right now, with her two daughters…who just happen to be Natsuo’s teacher Hina and Rui, with whom he had sex. OH, SNAP!

Natsuo faints from the shock, but when he comes to, Hina and Rui’s mother warmly introduces herself, and when asked, tells him why she likes him. She and his father really are a good match and both seem happier than any of the kids have ever seen them. It’s for that reason that Rui, who waits for Natsuo outside the toilet, is not going to get in the way of her mom’s happiness just for “some stupid reason” (read: their having sex that one time).

Natsuo gives his dad his blessing as well, and things only accelerate from there: his dad buys a new house big enough for the newly-combined family, and adding to Natsuo’s apparent woes. Hina insists on a dropping of formalities in the house, while Rui insists that Natsuo forget they ever did it, as it’s clearly still bothering him. Naturally, that’s not so easily done; Natsuo can’t get the images of making love to Rui out of his head.

Still, This Is All Happening and everyone has to make the best of it. For Hina’s part, she forgets she’s no longer in an all-women’s household and comes out of the bath half-naked, only to put on a loose tank and short shorts before drinking herself to sleep with Asahi Super Dry (not out of depression; she just likes to drink).

As she dozes on the couch, with everyone else in bed, Natsuo decides he’ll close the book on his one-sided crush on his teacher-now-stepsister once and for all…with a first and last kiss. But before his lips meet hers, Rui enters the room, and her expression isn’t one of total contempt, but something more like…a “how could you?” face.

Your enjoyment of a show like this (or Koi to Uso, or Kuzu no Honkai) will depend entirely on your stomach for love triangles (and other polygons) as well as your ability to swallow a premise this specific and weird. To its credit, because of the central reason for the new arrangement—his dad and their mom are truly in love and deserve happiness—helps temper the ridiculousness.

Because the dynamic between Hina and Natsuo and Rui and Natsuo are so different, it will be very interesting to see how the three navigate their new normal.

Grand Blue – 05 – Beauty is Only Skin Deep

As punishment(?) for neglecting her at the festival, Chisa puts the word out that she’s dating Iori, immediately making all the other guys at college hate him and wish him ill will in a very over-the-top, repetitive opening act that went on a bit too long.

Chisa does nothing to stop the false rumor—on the contrary, she fans the flames—and Iori tells the guys that Kohei is dating Azusa (making him Public Enemy #2), but they both get a reprieve when they promise to arrange a mixer for them.

Oddly, their job is made easier by the fact the legions of haters are curiously whittled down to just two ornery classmates. To that end, they beg Azusa to introduce them to other women at her college. She agrees, but only if Iori continues to act like Chisa’s boyfriend until, as she puts it, Chisa “accepts it.”

With Iori’s promise secured, Azusa introduces her kohai, none other than Yoshiwara Aina, who the lads find extraordinarily adorable when she’s not wearing the thick layers of makeup that earned her the unwanted nickname “Cakey.”

Aina has wanted to join the diving club anyway since the festival, leaving the tennis club full of fakes who treated her like shit. Despite calling her cakey and drooling over her non-cakey appearance, Aina is still willing to scrounge up three of her friends for the mixer. But she also gives Chisa one hell of a sidelong glance; I believe Chii-chan just got some competition.

The quartet of lads, among them a virgin who will sleep with any girl as long as they’re a girl and he can sleep with her, are shocked to find Aina has somewhat tainted the mixer by giving her three friends as well as herself the same Cakey treatment, giving them the appearance of four clowns.

But if the girls are clowns, the guys are circus animals, constantly jockeying for attention and braying and snorting at one another whenever more than one of them focuses on one girl. Like the lecture hall scene, it gets a bit repetitive.

A look at a selfie shows them one of the girls is quite attractive behind the makeup, and they all go after her, but when Kohei asks her if she’ll come to his place later all four girls retreat to the restroom.

Iori uses the time to inspire his men, only to steal the show, thus invoking the other lads’ collective ire. Kohei breaks a mixer taboo by blurting out that Iori has a girlfriend (something he can’t deny lest he break his promise to Azusa), but the girls don’t even care; they already know that fact.

Later, the girls laugh off the mixer as an entertaining lark, likening it to going to the zoo. But Aina, ever the romantic, still ponders whether the person who saw through her cakey makeup and helped her out when she was down in the dumps could be a good match for her. No doubt she sees a decent guy beneath Iori’s own thick layers of alcohol-soaked machismo.

Owarimonogatari – 07

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With Sodachi’s arc completed, we rewind a couple months to before Araragi met Oshino Ougi in the first episode. Araragi has Kanbaru Suruga to meet him at the cram school. Kanbaru is her usual bright, cheerful, sexually aggressive self (she assumes she was summoned so Araragi can take her virginity, and she arrives braless).

Sawashiro Miyuki knows this character through and through and really sinks her teeth into her portrayal of a girl we haven’t seen in some time and, frankly, missed. Noting her pre-Hanamonogatari long hair, it fascinates me how Araragi’s girls seem to swap hairstyles through time.

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Things couldn’t be more affable as Araragi struggles to tell Kanbaru the real reason for their meeting: to ask her if she’ll help him out with something, and to go to another rendezvous point to meet someone. Flirting and clever wordplay ensues, but then the two hear some loud noises, and a giant suit of samurai armor enters the classroom.

Kanbaru wastes no time tossing Araragi aside and charging at the armor, but every time she touches it, it grows stronger and she grows weaker, until she passes out from an energy drain, something Araragi knows to be a vampire power. The transition in atmosphere from happy and playful to dark and dangerous is nicely handled. It’s also the first time in a while Araragi is up against a physical threat, unless you count Oikura’s slaps.

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With Kanbaru down, Araragi steps up to the plate, but there isn’t much he can do and the armor starts to choke the life out of him. Kanbaru prepares to sacrifice herself for her beloved senpai, despite his wanting her to run, there’s no way she will. The impasse is broken by pink flames that surround the armor, which Kanbaru believes are the work of Hanekawa.

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The armor retreats, but Araragi and Kanbaru are stuck in the burning building. Kanbaru asks him to take her virginity before she dies, but Araragi shoots that idea down, as he has a better idea: try not to die, by jumping out a window together. That somewhat reckless action is preempted by an explosion that extinguishes the fire: an explosion caused by one Ononoki Yotsugi, whom we last saw in Tsukimonogatari (which also takes place after this episode).

This episode got off to a slow-ish start that was mitigated by the return of Kanbaru, then became a tense test of Araragi and Kanbaru’s mutual devotion to each other, which they naturally aced. And with the title of “Shinobu Mail” and the armor demanding Kiss-shot (AKA Shinobu Oshino) return the sword she borrowed from him centuries ago, I imagine the blonde vampire herself will be making an appearance before all’s said and done.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 03

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I went into this episode hoping for some answers but prepared for more questions, and got both. First, the indisputable answers: the figure in the wedding dress on the robotic cart is, in fact Magata Shiki. Magata Shiki is dead, and because her arms and legs were amputated, someone murdered her.

The rest—how she was murdered when no one went in her room, nor did she ever leave, in fifteen years—remains, well, a mystery. To say nothing of the identity and motive of the killer.

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As a result of encountering Shiki’s delimbed corpse, everyone, including Saikawa and Moe, are in a bit of shock; not knowing quite how they feel, let alone how they should feel. But Saikawa and Moe are also two uncommonly smart cookies, so they soon find a bit of solace from the horror before them in trying to unravel the mystery that comes with it.

The geography of the room and its apertures (one big, one small); the impeccably-kept surveillance tapes spanning a decade and a half (they didn’t rewind-and-reuse, like convenience stores); the custom security system called “Red Magic” that is so flawless, last week’s error seems planned; there’s a lot to sift through, and Saikawa attempts to do so; sucking down cigarette after cigarette in the process.

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Then Director Shindo arrives on the island via helicopter with Shiki’s younger (but notably more adult-looking) sister Miki, who is shocked to learn Shiki is dead. Moe, while going over in her head the part of her video conversation with Shiki relating to her feelings for Saikawa, thinks it somewhat coincidental that Miki, the last surviving Magata, should arrive around the same time her sister is found dead and mutilated.

For the record, we also learn how Moe met Saikawa (when she was a fifth grader) and why she developed feelings for him (he was the first adult she ever met who was smarter than her). The implication is, her towering intellect had made her hunger for stimulation; for a challenge.

While she initially hated Saikawa for being smarter, she clearly now sees him as a means for her to exercise her intellect. He expanded her humdrum world, by doing nothing at all but existing.

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It seems like Moe is about to mention something about her (deceased) parents, but Saikawa is concerned with how late Shindo is; when they return to the helipad, they find him dead from a knife to the back of the neck. It’s another surefire murder,  and just as Shiki never left her room, he never left the helicopter cockpit, and only used thumbs-up from inside. Perhaps the killer was there all along. But then what’s Mika’s part in all this?

Even more intriguing—and more than a little, well, wrong—is another monologue by the director accompanying another flashback (the one in the car last week was indeed a flashback involving a younger Shiki). This past Shiki is confirmed as only thirteen, but as he puts it, it’s “a long thirteen years”, in which she absorbed and retained everything she possibly could, and now wanted to “lose” something…which is pretty heavily implied to be her virginity.

It was up to Shindo, the adult in this situation, to put a stop to whatever was going on in the car and Ferris Wheel, but for various reasons, he couldn’t. Now both he and Shiki are dead; murdered…by who? How? Why? We’ll need quite a bit more ‘expository dialogue’ to find out.

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Gokukoku no Brynhildr – 10

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Lots of changes this week, starting with no cold open and a brand-new OP. We’ll miss the first OP (a rare instrumental theme) but the new one features a rousing techno-death metal piece and introduces new characters, suggesting this show could be going another season. I thought Nanami was going to stick around for a while, but I really like where the show went instead, in perhaps its best first half-episode to date.

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In last week’s moving outing, Nanami showed up out of the blue and had a great arc, but we were a bit weary she’d be along long, owing to her non-main character billing and absence in the old OP and ED. And so it came to be: after visiting the observatory and earning the friendship of the others, and knowing she’ll be remembered and thus won’t die, Nanami’s beacon is ejected and she turns to goo. And then, no one but Ryouta cares.

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Then it’s made plain: while she wanted to live on in the memories of others, Nanami didn’t want the girls to waste what little time they had left on the world being heartbroken over losing her, so she wipes them. Since her power doesn’t work on Ryouta, she transfers herself into his memories instead, which in a welcome moment of levity, her ghost says “used up a lot of his capacity”. While her body is gone, she’s now literally living on in his head, where only he can communicate with her.

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The second half, in which the girls must do well on the upcoming finals to go to the beach, wasn’t as good, but did end up propelling several plots. Neko’s affection for Ryouta is back in the foreground after lots of hanging out with Kazumi (who wants Ryouta’s virginity if she places second to him). Naturally, Neko ends up beating them both; her clueless request for “a virginity” from Ryouta is pretty cute. But even if Ryouta saves her, her memories continue to vanish. Will she forget him, like she forgot karaoke night?

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While at the beach, Neko, Kana, Kazumi and Kotori all experience a warm fuzzy feeling they’ve rarely if ever felt in their lives: happiness and contentment. If only they could all stay on that beach, soaking up the sun. But their most dangerous opponent yet. Valkyrie, who resembles a white-haired Neko—a shironeko, if you will—is now on the loose, not necessarily under control, and itching to everyone into warm fuzzy goo.

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Gokukoku no Brynhildr – 08

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After returning from Akiba, Ryouta drops Kazumi off and tells the other girls he’ll take care of the rest on his own. But in the wake of their “first date”, Kazumi isn’t satisfied. Under the pretense of helping him pinpoint the location on the device, she ends up at his house, ready to take the next step with him.

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While she rightfully tells him she doesn’t need a logical reason to want to sleep with him, the truth is she has one, and it’s the same reason she enjoyed their Akiba date so much: Her time on this world is cruelly short, and his could be too when he goes on the next wild goose chase. Going forward, her first time for many things could well also be her last, so she’s in a hurry to have them.

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Kazumi continues to cement her role as the most compelling and endearing of the girls, the one who embraces her mixed-up adolescent tendencies and raw humanity with abandon. She knows she may never reach later stages of life, and she’s clearly terrified. But she’s also scared of actually doing it, so when Ryouta accidentally causes her to make a strange, “freaky” sound, she halts the proceedings, admitting it’s all probably too much for him (and her too, if she’s honest).

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After a night of innocent spooning, Ryouta heads off on his own, and quickly finds he’s in over his head. Fortunately for him, the girls didn’t heed his call to hang back. For all his good intentions (and photographic memory) he’s still too weak to protect them on his own. So Kana gets a death vision, Neko storms in with her destructo-powers, Kazumi jams the radio, and when the chief has Ryouta pinned, Kotori teleports him away.

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It’s a good full team effort, but they were never going to struggle that mightily against normal humans. Nanami, the next girl sent after them (Neko, specifically), will be far tougher. Kazumi revels in her humanity and femininity by shedding clothes all the time, but Nanami’s status as a captive tool is accentuated by the belts and a hood she’s wrapped up in when not in use. Still, like the others, she wants to live, so she’ll obey her bosses. And because we know full well her bosses won’t let her live, you can’t help but empathize with her too.

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