SAKUGAN – 12 (FIN) – THICKER THAN BLOOD

The Big Twist that starts the SAKUGAN finale is that Memenpu actually is a “Rainbow Child”, a child with an exceptionally advanced brain. This not only explains why she’s a genius, but what the “place in her dream” is all about: it was never a dream, it was a memory. Rainbow Children retain vivid memories even from their infancy. As Rainbow Children were bred to be the guardians of the Labyrinth, they are anathema to Shibito, who want them all dead.

Fortunately, Muro’s boss doesn’t let her kill Memenpu right away, even though it’s debatable what if anything he intends to do with her before killing her. This gives the remaining members of Team Memenpu the time they need to zero in on her location and rescue her. It’s definitely a team effort, with Yuri using a second-hand computer in a store to guide Gagumber and Zackletu, then Zack distracting both Shibito and the Bureau with sheer ballistic chaos.

Gagumber locates Memenpu, but by then she’s been placed in a bell jar, which soon shatters due to the Animus dripping on top of it. Memenpu seems to be immune to its deleterious effects due to her Rainbow-ness. But by the time her pops arrives, Muro’s boss (I don’t believe we got his name) has convinced Memenpu that she has no father. Whether their surroundings were meant to evoke that same father-y scene from Empire, I don’t know.

All’s I know is, this Shibito guy is a huge prick for messing with Memenpu’s head, and for all her advanced intellect, Memenpu betrays just how sensitive and naïve she his, simply accepting the guy’s words about Gagumber not being her father. She even puts herself between the guy and Gagumber, offering up herself in exchange for her not-dad’s safety.

Gagumber, rightfully so, says fuck that, treading through the shallow pool of Animus to reach Memenpu, melting away his boots and burning his feet. He tells her he is, always was, and always will be her father, and she is, always was, and always will be his daughter. Whatever she wants to do and wherever it leads them, he’ll be by her side on her journey. Memenpu, realizing she does have a dad in Gagumber after all, has herself a good cry in his arms.

Seemingly moved by this dramatic and cathartic exchange, the Shibito boss decides to let Memenpu and Gagumber go…for now. Gagumber recharges Big Tony and they take the shortest route back to Dream Colony proper—by drilling through the colony’s retaining wall. There, Gagumber zeroes in on Muro and blasts her through a hole in the floor for making his daughter cry.

There’s a ceremony honoring Team Memenpu hosted by Merooro, but when he produces arrest warrants and the team is surrounded by Bureau cops and bots, Memenpu unleashes a cloud of purple smoke from Tony and the quartet escapes with the Bureau in hot pursuit. Not sure why Merooro held a ceremony just to arrest them, but whatevs.

Back on the Labyrinth “road”, Memenpu leads her team on their original mission: to find the place in her dreams, come what may. It’s what she truly wants to do, and that’s more than enough for Gagumber to accompany her, and by extension Zack and Yuri. It’s been fun watching this found family iron out their warts and beat the bad guys…fun enough that I’ll likely give the expected second season a watch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 10 – DADDIN’ UP

Once aboard the heavily armed Bureau submarine, Yuri and Zack’s criminal records are expunged with a swipe of Merooro’s iPad, and he leads the quartet to a briefing room for a briefing. It’s an infodump that both explains and justifies the existence of the Bureau of Regulation as an entity tasked with humanity’s survival, and casts Shibito as a chaotic cabal terrorists intent on “saving” the world by destroying it.

As Merooro continues the tour, he reveals the the ship doubles as an ark for plants and animals displaced by the effects of the current “great disaster” that threatens the Labyrinth—and is indeed a greater threat than Shibito. Memenpu is impressed, and Gagumber doesn’t like how much she gets along with the “smug dandy,” whom he later learns has a wife and kid of his own, but his duties as a Regulator keep them apart.

When Memenpu half-jokingly says she wishes Merooro’d been her dad instead, Gagumber goes topside to drink a 12-pack of brewskis and sulk. Then Shubito very suddenly attacks just when Memenpu is on her own retrieving her stuffed goat Tony. Her isolation is perfectly timed with the arrival of the masked Muro, who last week resolved to kill Memenpu, whom she refers to as a “rainbow child”. Gagumber is still moping and almost leaves Memenpu to Merooro to save, but Zack says he’d better dad the fuck up or he really will lose her.

Gagumber is in time to stop Muro from killing Memenpu on the spot, but not before Muro’s boss arrives in a bot. Muro, who loses her mask and is revealed to be a young girl, incapacitates Gagumber long enough to grab Memenpu and hitch a ride on her boss’ bot. Fortunately, Merooro gets topside fast enough to delay Muro long enough for Gagumber to regroup in his bot.

A bot-on-bot battle ensues until there’s another cave-in and a Kaiju arrives, which Muro and her Boss use as cover to withdraw for now. The boss is confident they’ll get Memenpu “next time”. This leaves Gagumber and the Bureau to deal with the Kaiju, who almost stomps on Memenpu (girl just can’t stay out of mortal danger).

She’s shoved aside by Merooro, who gets seriously injured in the process, but not mortally so. As the ship dives to escape the Kaiju and Merooro is rushed to the infirmary, Gagumber holds his hand. He still hates the smug dandy’s guts, but hates those who’d hurt Memenpu a whole lot more, and is grateful Merooro, a fellow dad, saved his girl when he couldn’t. In short, Gagumber grows a little…even if he’s still mostly a big idiot.

As for why she loves Tony so much, as Merooro tells him before he heads off to find her, Tony is her “precious treasure” simply because Gagumber bought it as a birthday gift. He never really had any reason to worry about Merooro “stealing” his status as dad, as long as he actually dadded up when the time came, which he most assuredly did.

That included taking one horse-kick of a punch from Muro, both the origins and motivations of which remain a mystery, but hopefully not for long. After all, why unmask an antagonist if you’re not going to eventually let us know more about her?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 09 – GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL

Gagumber recovers from using his Gale system, and the group resumes their journey to Memenpu’s dream space like a whole lot of drama didn’t just go down in the city. Memenpu is amazed that Zack and her dad can act like everything is and always has been normal. All the while, she’s in the biggest hurry  of the four of them, trying to confirm her dreams were real.

The thing is, the road is long and the part of the Labyrinth the group enters is particularly hot and buggy. Gagumber strips to his skivvies and jumps in a river, soon followed by Yuri and Zack. Their fun is interrupted by torrential rains that cause the very ground beneath them to cave in. It’s not often characters are stranded on a remote island by falling on top of it; it’s a neat concept that draws on the unique structure of the Labyrinth.

Memenpu puts her ample noodle to work devising different ways to get everyone out of this predicament, but the lack of Animus, electricity, or internet hampers her efforts and limits them things like a giant Tony inner tube and a luxury raft…but the waters around them are filled with deadly marine kaiju. All the brain usage makes Memenpu hungry, but learns all the rations she’d stored had been pre-eaten by Gagumber.

She assumes he’s “losing himself” in the island’s deep forest because he’s goofing off as usual, but just when she’s feeling most morose about her lack of progress, Gagumber presents her with a fresh papaya, one of thousands in the forest, which was the real reason he was going there. Not only is Memenpu moved to tears—she loves papaya ever since the late Lynda first gave her one—with enough papayas she’s able to rig a battery to power their mech’s lights and radio.

As the four take turns sending out an SOS, Zackletu talks to Yuri about how she’s able to get over the drama with Gagumber, saying she had “a little tantrum” that “just felt so silly” once it was over. Gagumber similarly has no hard feelings, and tells Memenpu if she can forgive Zack, then it’s water under the cave. In this lovely breakthrough father-daughter scene, Memenpu finally tells her dad she had a dream of him dying.

She’s upset when he says he can’t believe her dream and vows not to die, and doesn’t think they can be real partners if he doesn’t believe her. But Gagumber makes clear, even when he doesn’t believe or understand her, she’s still his daughter, they’re partners till the end, and he will always care.

Later, when the papaya battery is exhausted, the group hears a ghostly voice from an unknown location, and there’s a little more caving-in of rocks. Everyone reacts differently, proving Memenpu’s comment to her Tony Journal about their “team” being composed of four wildly different individuals. Yuri thinks they’re all going to die and Zack just wants to find her gun parts…but it turns out all the commotion is from a surfacing submarine manned by Merooro, come to rescue them.

While mostly a lighthearted and intimate episode, underscored by the core group’s isolation on an island within a remote unmapped cavern, this episode was bookended by scenes of the masked terrorist group Shibito committing acts of destruction in the name of…something.

In any case, they seem to be catching up to our team, and one pint-sized member named Muro seems to be hunting the “next child”, no doubt meaning Memenpu. Judging from the power Shibito demonstrates, if and when they cross paths it’s likely to make Zack’s tantrum look like a pillow fight.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 08 – EASIER TO RUN THAN REGRET

Rufus was going to be Gagumber’s last partner. When things went sour with Memenpu last week, Gagumber remembered why he didn’t want, didn’t need, and shouldn’t have a partner, even if it’s his daughter. While Memenpu wanders off to sulk in his old hometown, Gagumber drinks with a recovered Yuri and reconnects with the old man who ran the marker shop.

Zackletu, who had been by Yuri’s bedside, tracks down Memenpu and treats her to the local specialty of tea-in-a-plastic bag. She gets Memenpu to open up about what’s troubling her: about the dream that felt like more than a dream where Gagumber died, and how she can never really hate Gagumber. But once we get a good look at Rufus’ little “brother” Zack, I felt like things were going to take a turn.

And turn they do. Turns out the tea Zackletu gave Memenpu was drugged, and she kidnaps her and uses her as bait for Gagumber. Zack was actually Rufus’ kid sister, not brother, and when she became convinced Gagumber was responsible for Rufus’ death, she spent a huge sum of money for Yuri to track him down so she could get her revenge.

What finally pushed Zackletu into carrying out her plan was seeing how blithe and callous Gagumber was being to his new partner and daughter Memenpu, after what she saw as him abandoning her after Rufus’ death. It was definitely shitty for Gagumber not to follow up with Zack. Does he deserve to die over it? Even Zackletu isn’t sure, as she fires a lot of bullets and detonates a lot of bombs in his general direction, but never seems able to deliver the killing blow.

It’s this episode where I understand why Hanazawa Kana was cast as Zackletu: in addition to being able to credibly voice a young boy, who was actually a young girl hiding her true gender to protect herself from her rough environment, Hanazawa really brings out her pathos and rage. Through all the violence she’s exacting upon Gagumber as Memenpu is forced to watch, you never get the feeling Zackletu is enjoying this.

Rather, she just doesn’t know what else to do, so she’s lashing out. It’s only when all the explosions and Memenpu’s struggling causes her rope to break, and Gagumber overrides the stopper on his “Gale” device to save her and then apologize to her, that Zackletu stops her attack. She couldn’t easily kill Gagumber knowing his daughter still loved him in spite of all his flaws; once he admitted those flaws to Memenpu, she definitely couldn’t kill him.

Instead, Gagumber is admitted and then discharged from the hospital, while Zackletu prepares to depart…only Memenpu won’t let her. She forgives her for trying to kill Gagumber, and insists she stay with the group as they head to her dream place. Memenpu just warns Zackletu, in the same way Rufus did, that next time it happens, she’ll really let her have it.

Do I buy that someone as hell-bent on getting revenge as Zackletu would not only stand down, but remain with the man she believed killed her brother for years? I do, it all comes down to buying that she tried to be a heartless avenging baddie, but couldn’t go through with it because she still had a heart, and wasn’t all bad.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 07 – FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS SUEÑAS

After the last few episodes took place in colonies or on a mission in a stationary place, this week is all about the journey. Memenpu, Gagumber, Zackletu and Yuri embark upon a road trip that soon grows monotonous in both scenery and routine. Yuri tries to spice things up a little with some lovely red flowers.

The only problem is, he picked flowers that look just like the flowers he wanted to pick, but these flowers happen to have psychotropic effects. As such, things get a little Hunter S Thompson, as the higher the rest stop numbers get, the higher Gagumber, Zackletu, and Yuri get. Memenpu, the one who is most with it, gets rid of the flowers and uses a native cactus to whip up an anecdote.

Alas, Memenpu mistakes the cactus for one that looks just like it that only makes the symptoms of the flower worse. This is hilariously depicted as everyone continues to get nuttier, with the three acting like they’re at the Mad Hatter’s tea party. They repeat the same lines but their words get more and more slurred. Their driving gets more wild and reckless. They can’t stop barfing.

Memenpu determines the only way for the other three to recover is water, rest, and luck. They do eventually find themselves (after she slaps them in the face several times) but Memenpu is having her own rough time. When under the influence of the flowers her dream got psychedelic, but when she buried the blooms they got more intense and violent, depicting Gagumber bleeding out and dying in the flower fields of her dream.

When Memenpu tries to get the others to hurry up and get to the place, Gagumber tells her to chill out and stop taking her dreams so literally, even saying “I thought you were smart.” When she tries to climb aboard their mech on her own, he pulls her knapsack and she loses her footing and falls hard, getting all scraped up.

Gagumber doesn’t apologize an the two drift apart as the trip continues, but Memenpu’s dream of him dying is obviously extremely upsetting, and she believes the only way to prevent it is to go there and check things out, and possibly meet Urorop, who always appears in the dreams. Only Urorop is already there, at their camp.

Is she just there to watch in the shadows, or will she engage with the others? The chaotic goofiness of the drug tripping combined with the dark turn Memenpu’s dreams have taken made this an edgy, unpredictable episode—befitting a proper road trip.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 06 – CRIME FOR JUSTICE

For his assistance in restoring the God of Wind, Gagumber comes into some money, which he quickly turns into a lot more money at Jolly Jolly’s casino. It’s all going quite well for him (unbeknownst to Memenpu)…until he loses everything on a bum hand. Shoulda quit while he was ahead. Gagumber Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-Gagambler.

He and Memenpu then end up captured by, essentially, a band of punks, led by Yuri, who calls his crew the “Yuri team.” They’re gentlemen (and ladies) of fortune, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor like Robin Hoods in the colony of AreYaar, whose university president Trevi claims to be a colony of “equality” but is really anything but.

Because Yuri was hired by Zackletu to do a hacking job for something like a million gold, both Yuri and Zackletu want what’s owed them from Gagumber, who it’s established is broke after flying too close to the sun at the casino. So instead he and Memenpu will work off their debt doing domestic labor for the Yuri team, who lives in an undertown under the already underground colony.

Memenpu and Yuri soon form a bond as the former learns the latter is a pretty good hacker, while she may be one of the first to tell him she thinks his prosthetic hands are cool. She and Gagumber accompany the Yuri team on a number of Robin Hood heists. They’re riding high, but Yuri doesn’t want to just make money; he wants to make Trevi and all the haves of AreYarr actually hurt and hurt bad.

Not only is his right-hand man Fidelio not okay with this, who understands that becoming more extremist or violent will only have the authorities cracking down on them harder, but Gagumber sees quite a bit of his old self as having big, bold, and ultimately reckless dreams, having left his friend Rufus’ side when Rufus wasn’t prepared to go so far. It ended in tears.

Gagumber is older and wiser and doesn’t wish the same of Yuri (i.e. losing everything, like Gagumber did both years ago and again at the casino), so he and Fedelio literally hang on to Yuri’s bot as he makes an ill-advised attempt to take over AreYaar’s central tower, which is also the center of the colony’s power. Yuri wants to “change the world” like the Labyrinth-widely infamous Shibitu, but Shibitu are pretty much just terrorists.

Ultimately Gagumber, Memenpu and Fidelio succeed in keeping Yuri from doing something that could get him and all of them arrested and at worst killed. Instead, Yuri and Memenpu use their hacking skills to embarrass Trevi by broadcasting his dalliances with the casino bunny girls to the whole colony.

The episode ends by teasing a new dynamic: both Zackletu and Yuri sticking close to Gagumber and Memenpu on their travels, making it a full-on adventuring party. I can’t say yet whether Zakletu has either wife or big sister potential, but Yuri makes a good big bro for Memenpu, and it will be fun to see them interact more.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Adachi & Shimamura – 07 – Friendship Chocolate

Just before midnight, Adachi texts Shimamura and they exchange New Years greetings. Shimamura is lying in her kotatsu and is reminded of Adachi’s thighs, the mention of which make Adachi blush. Adachi continues her push-and-pull between contentment and longing.

Part of her is happy with what she has with Shimamura, and part of her desires…er, more. Shimamura can sense Adachi wants to take their friendship to “higher place”, but is worried she may not have the “wings” with which to follow.

Before long, it’s already February, and Shimamura has observed that Adachi is being shyer and more distant than usual, until one day when she works up the courage to ask Shimamura to hang out after school to buy some sweet snacks. With Valentines Day approaching fast, Adachi wants to make sure she and Shimamura can hang out on that day.

While Nagafuji gets the urge to “lift up” a Hawaii-tanned Hino as they relax together, Shimamura asks Adachi for advice on how she should proceed with her darkening hair. Dye it again? Let it grow out? Adachi is not sure, bu is happy to be asked. Her responses, sometimes interrupted by hiccups, continue to perplex Shimamura: what exactly does this girl want from this? From “us”?

For now, baby steps suffice, as Adachi gets Shimamura to agree to spend Valentines Day together. She also wants them to exchange chocolate like Nagafuji and Hino do, but it’s clear she wants it to be more than obligatory “friendship” chocolate. Shimamura comes to admire Adachi’s resolve to get her words out and express her wants, no matter how much she stumbles along the way.

Little by little, she’s adding color to Shimamura’s grey, empty world. I think that’s a good thing! But then there’s suddenly a new source of color and light in the form of Shimamura’s childhood friend Tarumi, as they encounter one another at Nagafuji’s family shop. Tarumi is quick to note Shimamura has grown into a beauty, and quick ask for number so they can catch up later.

Any way you slice it, this is probably bad news for Adachi. Even if Tarumi doesn’t turn out to be a romantic rival, she’s still competition for “best friend” status, with built-in history helping her case. I can just imagine how Adachi will feel after learning about Tarumi—jealous, lonely, defeated…IN DESPAIR! Hopefully she can shake those things off and fight the good fight.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 07 – Walls Were Meant to Fall

Elaina fondly remembers a story from the Travels of Niké about a country separated into two halves by a wall. She shows the chiefs on both sides how to market themselves as the superior side: by having tourists and visitors etch their praise into the wall with blades.

Seeing Niké in this flashback resembles Elaina, I’m inclined to consider it further evidence her mom and Niké were one and the same, especially as her mom encourages Elaina to visit the country to find out who won the contest.

The thing is, over a decade later it’s Saya who makes it to this split country before Elaina. By then the outer coating of the wall has been weathered away by tourist praise, but the chiefs want to shake things up. Saya ends up etching her undying love for Elaina into the wall, and suggests that the townsfolk on both sides should do the same…it’s their wall, after all!

A little later, Elaina finally arrives, eager to see the wall and the results of the ongoing contest of the two sides…only to find a giant heap of rubble where the wall was. Turns out all that etching and erasing of messages by the townsfolk on both sides eventually causes the two sides to break through and meet each other.

By then no one remembered the source of enmity, and so decided to finish demolishing the wall.. This is great, right? Witches of two different generations (Niké and Saya) ended up being the catalyst for reunifying the country. The wall may be in ruins, but everyone looks happy. The sole exception is Elaina, who is disappointed she never got to see the wall, and also that the final score was an exact tie.

In a way, you could say Saya ruined Elaina’s childhood dreams. And in a final mark that the two are fated to reunite someday, the piece of rubble Elaina claims as a souvenir just happens to be a piece Saya etched “ELAINA” into!

A community separated by enmity is the basis of the second story, though instead of tracing history back to Niké, Elaina’s story is being told by a village chief who met her to his young son, while his wife stomps grapes in the background. Back when Elaina visited, the village was split into two: This and That. A bit on the nose, but fine!

Now of legal age, Elaina visited to sample the area’s famously delicious wine, but learns that That has begun dominating sales with a new label featuring Rosemary, a beautiful, buxom Grape-Stomping Maiden, and declaring the wine in the bottle to be made from grapes “lovingly stomped” by her.

Simply put, the villagers (or rather the male villagers) of This wish to recruit Elaina as a rival Grape-Stomping Maiden. Why don’t they just pick one of their own maidens? That’s never explained, though the women of the village are always in the background stewing ruefully (I imagine if they all agreed to withhold sex from their men, this childish nonsense would stop pretty quick!)

Elaina is given a charming red outfit to counter the green of Rosemary’s, but when she stops by the This side with a retinue of loyal That men carrying her on a litter, she most heartily laughs at Elaina’s “childish”, “thin” figure, deeming her unsuitable to lovingly stomp on grapes. That’s when Elaina’s confidence and competitive spirit kick into gear.

Technically, Rosemary is right: Elaina doesn’t lovingly stomp on the grapes…she hatefully stomps on them while screaming “DIE!”, as if she were stomping on Rosemary’s head. After a whole day of stomping, Elaina’s legs and feet are a wreck, but she only stomped enough grapes for maybe half a cask.

That’s when she becomes Witch Detective Elaina, thinking it fishy that That’s wine sells in so much higher numbers. Even if Rosemary stomped all day, every day (and she clearly doesn’t, since she had time to stop by This and trash talk them) she wouldn’t be able to stomp enough grapes. Elaina and the This Chief discover she’s sitting back and relaxing while all the men stomp the grapes at factory scale.

With Rosemary’s verbal barbs still stinging in Elaina’s side, she has a little revenge by tying up Rosemary and exposing the scam. But as she samples That’s wine for the first time, she admits it is indeed delicious. Then has another glass…then another, and before long, she’s drunk.

By this point the villagers of This and That have begun a grape-tossing fight, and when she’s hit in the grapey crossfire, she responds by launching a magical counterattack. Surely there are regulations against witching-while-intoxicated, but thankfully Elaina’s “grape bullets” only knock everyone out; no one is killed!

The morning after the grape fight, Elaina is gone, but the villagers of This and That eventually reconcile. The chief of This and Rosemary fall in love and marry. In the present-day where he’s telling the story to a kid, Rosemary is still stomping grapes, as beautiful as ever, and the grape-tossing festival is a tradition.

While Saya ended up essentially tearing down walls with her intense and heavy love, Elaina does so by getting lit and escalating an epic food fight. The grape maiden fetishism aspect is pretty gross all round, but both tales are lightweight, fun, and the visuals, as always, were beautifully executed, earning the episode an extra half-star.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Crow’s Episode 7 review is here!

Adachi & Shimamura – 06 – Throwing a Boomerang in a Chinese Dress

What is Christmas? What’s a date? What is it, exactly, Adachi really wants from Shimamura? Adachi doesn’t know, aside from the basics, and this is an episode in which that basic understanding is reinforced. Also, Adachi and Shimamura go on a Christmas date!

After getting the day off work, Adachi asks Hino what Shimamura likes, and she vaguely remembers something about fragrant tea, so they go shopping together. It’s the first time she hangs out one-on-one with Hino, and to their surprise, they spot Shimamura hanging out with Nagafuji.

Both Hino and Adachi feel lonely and a little jealous that their respective Number Ones would be alone with someone else, but as Adachi tells herself that night, it’s nothing to get so upset about. Nevertheless, she can’t help but pump herself up for a Christmas to Remember, even if she suspects unforgettable memories won’t be made just because it’s Christmas.

Adachi makes the adorable choice of wearing her work dress to the date, since Shimamura thought she looked cute in it. She wants to hurry up and hold her hand, but surprises Shimamura and jams her thumb. Shimamura touches Adachi’s lips and tells her if she wants to hold hands, just ask! So they do.

Off to the arcade they go, trying out air hockey instead of their usual ping pong, and immediately Shimamura’s competitive streak and distaste for losing rears its head, almost going so far as to accuse Adachi of hustling her. They follow that up with some fast food, while talking about what the future holds.

They may end up in different classes next year, but Adachi declares they should just go to class and meet up to hang out after school, like they’re doing now. Shimamura agrees, impressed by what an “honor student” Adachi has become.

Then Adachi gives Shimamura her gift—which was the very tea she wanted to try; good call, Hino!—and Adachi is surprised to learn that not only has Shimamura gotten her a gift in return, but the reason she was with Nagafuji is that they were picking out a gift for her (under the guise of it being for Shimamura’s little sis).

Adachi doesn’t care that the gift is silly—a boomerang and googles—the fact Shimamura gave her a gift is the best gift of all. She tries it out a few times in the park, but can’t quite get the hang of it. It gets colder, and Shimamura suggests they head inside…but Adachi realizes This Is Her Chance—and she may not get a better one—to tell Shimamura How She Feels.

She gets close—oh so close—to saying she likes her, a lot, but instead settles for something more cowardl-err, more pragmatic: she doesn’t just want to be friends, she wants to be Best Friends. Shimamura doesn’t quite get it, but salutes Adachi’s “ambition”.

So nothing truly dramatic happens just because it’s Chrismas…but I highly doubt Adachi will soon forget her memories of her date with Shimamura. It just comes down to whether best-friendship is all she wants. It seems to be for now; we’ll see if that remains true further down the road.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 06 – Truth is the Sword, Lies the Scabbard

Elaina’s next destination is an island city-state whose name has recently been changed to “Land of Truth-Tellers”. Their king has initiated a barrier around the whole of his domain in which no one can lie, either verbally or by writing. Elaina is weary of entering such a place but deems it worth the risk if it makes for a good story.

This being our ever-confident Elaina, she first tests the truth-telling effect by trying to say “I am not beautiful,” and later tries to write “I have a twisted personality”. Instead she ends up saying she is beautiful and writes that she’s pure of heart—both of which are the unvarnished truth.

Despite the seeming benefits of a society without lies, she finds the town quiet and oddly tense. She’s also approached by an unwashed young woman who asks non-verbally via a notepad if she’s the witch dispatched the United Magic Association. Again Elaina tells her the truth: she isn’t.

It’s when Elaina witnesses two young men fighting in the streets while others do nothing and watch that the problems with a lie-free society become clear: if everyone always says the truth, it’s much easier to end up in fights, which is why most people simply stay quiet. If you don’t have anything nice to say, etc.

But one witch decides to break up the lads’ fight mid-punch—Saya “the Charcoal Witch”, who is the UMA witch dispatched to the town! She’s so elated to see her beloved Elaina that her time-freezing spell dissipates and the lads punch each other square in the jaws. Elaina tries to take Saya’s extremely heavy feelings in stride.

Another effect of the truth barrier is that Saya, who is naturally quite the chatty person, will and does say everything rattling around in her mind, including all the things she wants to do with Elaina. But duty calls: she meets with the notepad woman, Eihemia the Quicksand Witch, who gives them the full situation.

When the King (with whom Eihemia was secretly infatuated) demanded she make his kingdom free of lies, she went all out to do so, locating a sword (which he’d later truthfully declare “lame”) powerful enough to serve as a vessel for the truth barrier’s magic. Unfortunately, in doing so Eihemia loses all of her magic and even her voice.

That means even though she did exactly what the king wanted, she ended up losing all the things that made her a useful member of his court, and she was banished from the palace. Had the episode wanted to go darker it could have explored what Eihemia has been forced to do to survive on the streets in a town with no lies, but it does not go there, which is probably for the best!

Her solution is clear: destroy the sword, and her magic and voice will be returned—as will the ability of the kingdom’s people to lie. Elaina and Saya get around having to write the truth by cleverly piecing together separate sentences then putting them together to gain access to the palace.

Once inside, they soon end up fighting off magical attacks from the king and his sword, one of which hits Saya square in the back and hurts like a bitch. When the king’s guards arrive, Elaina has Saya take care of them in the background while she reasons with the king.

The crux of her argument for destroying the sword: good people sometimes lie, while bad people will always find ways to bend the truth through the various loopholes in the barrier magic. To keep people from the little white lies we tell each other to get along every day will eventually be the kingdom’s undoing.

If truth is a sword, Elaina puts succinctly, lies are the scabbard that keep us from swinging that sword recklessly. Of course, scabbard in Japanese is apparently Saya, so Saya momentarily thinks Elaina called her name. Elaina then uses her broom to disarm the king and conjures a hammer to smash the sword to bits, thus lifting the curse of unchecked truth from his kingdom.

Eihemia’s voice and magic are restored, and she and the king reconcile when he agrees that some degree of lying and being lied to is necessary in any society. She returns to the court, and the king apologizes to his people. All’s well that ends well, and Saya gets paid for her trouble!

That turns out to be a good thing, since she had recently spend all of her money on matching dolphin necklaces for her and Elaina for when they crossed paths. Before heading back to UMA HQ, Saya takes her time tenderly putting the necklace on Elaina. Then the two pinky-swear to meet again someday.

This week was Elaina very nearly at its best. I for one don’t mind the darker stories like the one with the princess and dragon, but this was also great stuff; a feel-good fable-like high concept adventure that’s balanced by solid comedy. And of course, it is improved immeasurably by the return of the delightful Saya, voiced by Kurosawa Tomoyo, who brings so much effervescent vim and vigor to her characters.

Adachi & Shimamura – 05 – Running Towards Sparkly Things

Throughout the episode Adachi is on edge until she achieves her objective: ask Shimamura to hang out with her for Christmas. Because she knows it will sound like asking her out on a date (’cause, well, that’s what she’d be doing) and thus change the complexion relationship forever, she struggles to find both the right time to ask and the words to use.

Her first opportunity comes when she asks if she can study at Shimamura’s place. This means Shimamura turns down an invite from Hino and Nagafuji, whom we learn have grown pretty darn close themselves, as Nagafuji for all the world looks like she’s about to kiss Hino on the lips before moving to her forehead.

Up in Shimamura’s dusty study room, she and Adachi get under the kotatsu, and Shimamura calls for a break while the room heats up. Rather than ask what she needs to ask, Adachi instead asks what kind of kid Shimamura was. Her answer is that she was pretty normal; her hair was shorter and undyed, and she wasn’t as inhibited.

She then nods off, and Adachi leans in to almost kiss her before withdrawing, only to have her lap commandeered by Shimamura once she wakes back up. Shimamura doesn’t explain why she’s so comfortable placing her head in Adachi’s lap, and Adachi is far too happy about it to ask why—or about Christmas. She just enjoys the moment for what it is: pure bliss.

The second half of the episode is from Shimamura’s perspective, and she lists all the weird things about Adachi lately. She’s constantly staring at her, always seems like she’s keeping herself from saying or asking something, and even got a higher grade on her English test. That last one is neither here nor there, but it’s proof that Shimamura has had a positive influence on Adachi’s academics.

Shimamura determines if Adachi can’t get the words out, she’ll have to help her do so, taking her by the hand to the roof for some deep breaths and to ask straight up what she wants to talk about. Adachi blushes and says she’ll tell her “after giving it some thought” even though she’s thought of nothing else for days.

Adachi somewhat reminds Shimamura of another friend she had in primary school, who always hid behind her like a trusty shield unless they came across “something sparkly”, then ran to that. That was, perhaps, the first time Shimamura started to question the value of getting close to anyone.

Adachi ends up appearing at Shimamura’s door early in the morning before school. She feels Adachi’s face and brings her in to warm up and, hopefully, finally ask her what she wanted to ask. And at long last, Adachi powers through her crippling hesitation to ask, in almost too roundabout a way, if Shimamura will hang out with her on the 25th of the month. That’s right—she can’t even say “Christmas”!

When Shimamura considers the question, its phrasing, the manner in which Adachi struggled to say it and the redness in her face, she almost asks “why”, but stops herself, knowing it could well irreparably harm their present relationship. She’s apparently so jaded about meaningful bonds that even if she did wreck them, she can’t see herself putting in the necessary effort to repair it.

It’s only when Adachi senses Shimamura pondering her question that she rephrases it in a way that simultaneously fails to get her true feelings across and makes it possible for Shimamura to accept. Adachi says she wants to hang out with “someone” for Christmas, which Shimamura takes to mean “not me specifically, but I’ll do since I’m really her only friend”. Of course, we know Adachi doesn’t want to hang out with anyone else, just like she doesn’t want to kiss or hold hands with or lie in the lap of anyone else.

That said, once Shimamura accepts, she can’t help but see how goshdarn giddy it makes Adachi, as if a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Is that really the reaction of someone for whom “anyone will do”? In her haste to start preparing their day, Adachi marches out of Shimamura’s house and bikes off without her, leaving Shimamura on the floor with her hand out yelling “Wait for li’l ol’ me!” in an uncharacteristic, old-timey way.

So yeah, these two aren’t quite on the same page, and at the moment Shimamura simply isn’t strongly considering the possibility of a romantic entanglement with Adachi in the near future. That said, if anyone can change Shimamura’s way of thinking about the matter, it’s Adachi. While her words continue to fail her, perhaps she can get the job done with her actions.

Adachi & Shimamura – 04 – The Joy of Being Patted on the Head

Shimamura calls Adachi to ask if she can do a sit-up. It’s a weird and random conversation, but who cares? They’re enjoying talking on the phone together; the content doesn’t matter. Then Shimamura goes to the gym with her mom and encounters Adachi’s mom talking about her daughter.

Shimamura can’t stop herself from speaking up for her friend, questioning whether her mom really knows what she’s talking about. Mirroring her own mom’s tendency to act younger than she is, Shimamura ends up challenging Adachi to a sauna duel to determine who is right.

While Adachi’s mom is initially hostile, she admits she doesn’t know what’s going through her kid’s head. She just wishes she did. In this, the two are alike. When asked for suggestions on how to be a better mom, Shimamura says she should just be normal: have dinner with her once in a while.

Adachi’s mom ends up doing just that, which Shimamura learns as she’s resting her head in Adachi’s lap. Turns out this was odd enough behavior from her mom for Adachi to be too anxious to taste the food her mom made. Shimamura snuggles closer to Adachi, who is demure. Then they do sit-ups!

Shimamura reaches out to Adachi to hang out with her and her friends at karaoke. Shimamura’s mom raised her not to be a burden to others, but it’s Adachi who feels she’ll affect the “harmony” of Shimamura’s three-girl group. Shimamura insists that won’t be the case, and Adachi agrees to the date.

When Adachi arrives on her bike and spots Shimamura’s cute outfit, the two look like a perfect couple. Shimamura’s other two friends are warm and friendly to Adachi, but things still feel “off” to her. She senses that while Shimamura is better at social situations, she doesn’t like them anymore than Adachi.

The two sing a beautiful duet and then prepare to head home, but Adachi offers to give Shimamura a ride on her bike, and Shimamura accepts. Adachi is blushing the whole trip, completely on top of the world to have Shimamura behind her, her hands on her shoulders.

Shimamura suggests a detour to a nearby playground and buys them drinks. Earlier, while underwater in the pool, the vivid aqua color reminded Shimamura of Adachi’s favorite brand mineral water, but the machine closest to them didn’t sell it.

When Shimamura finally draws close and asks Adachi if she has something she wants to talk about, Adachi is initially silent. After all, there isn’t just something she wants to say; a great number of things have piled up inside her, but she’s held them all back for fear of making things “weird” between them. Even so, something comes out: “I want you to pat my head.”

Adachi thinks she’s totally blown it, but then Shimamura pats her head! She pats it slowly and gently, and Adachi has never been happier. Shimamura again notes that Adachi likes to be coddled, and while that’s true, her little request shouldn’t be taken to mean she wants a Big Sis. She wants to be someone special to Shimamura…even if it’s weird.

That head-pat all but clinches it for Adachi: she must like her. Rather than let Shimamura toss her empty off-brand drink can, Adachi keeps it as a memento of that moment of clarity. If Shimamura ever ends up in that room, maybe she’ll see it, and understand. And maybe laugh, too…but good-naturedly!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 04 – Assembling a Team

Concerned that Riri is letting their Schutzengel go to her head and slacking, and annoyed that Fumi blasted the contract in the paper (complete with their couple name “Yuri”), Yuyu tasks her pink-haired Schild with putting together a new legion. While she intends for Riri to form her own, Riri ends up recruiting for a legion that will include and be led by Yuyu.

While legions like Alfheim have been together since junior high, there are plenty of free agent Lilies for Riri and Fumi to choose from; it’s just that some, like Andou Tazusa, are hard to approach—though it helps if you have a kitty. Meanwhile, a bonded pair like Kuo Shenlin and Wang Yujia take Riri’s recruitment as an opportunity to clear the air.

The more Riri recruits, the more she learns how sought-after Kaede and Fumi are, and how lacking she seems by comparison. Riri’s problem is similar to Yujia’s—she’s got skills, but lacks confidence. Still, Kaede and Fumi don’t flaunt the fact other Legions want them; they’re right where they want to be: with Riri and Yuyu. Miriam von Gropius soon joins them, and the legion grows to five out of a required nine.

Shenlin and Yujia become the sixth and seventh, but only after the former puts the latter through her paces in an attempt to boost her confidence. She knows Riri will provide moral support as Yujia is ordered by Shenlin to target her with her sniper rifle, firing from a kilometer away.

When Shenlin reflects the tenth and final shot back, Yujia is able to parry, thus demonstrably ending the debate about her mettle when compared to her two sisters, who are still defending her homeland of Iceland.

Shenlin, who became the Lily she is due to strenuous hard work, simply wanted to remind a natural talent like Yujia to have faith in herself. That leaves just two slots remaining in Team Yuri—though it’s a good bet they’ll be filled by Andou Tazusa and Yoshimura Thi Mai.

Frankly, there’s not a whole lot to go on this week other than marveling at the sheer variety of Lilies, their hair colors and outfits, personality quirks, and abilities. In the characterization department, Assault Lily is concerned with quantity over quality, while its quality lies in the character, mechanical, combat, and environmental design, which is all top-notch. We’ll see how long those elements can carry the show.

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