Spy x Family – 07 – Making It Work With Less Than Ideal

“I’m sorry I’m bad at school”, a still-drowsy Anya says to Loid and Yor. “The peace of the world rests on you making amends”, she hears Loid thinking. It’s a lot of pressure for a little girl on her second day of school, but she’s resolved to apologize to Damian. The problem is, both his toadies and her her rich girl friend Becky make that almost impossible.

Reading minds clearly takes a lot out of Anya, so between hearing the inner voices of all her classmates and probably not sleeping much last night, she nods off in first period. But when Loid sees Becky working against the apology plan, he starts disguising himself as school staff to make it clear to Anya that the apology must happen, the sooner the better.

It takes Loid calling Becky away on the PA for Anya to finally get her shot, and Damian’s toadies bully her so much in their minds they make her start bawling as she apologizes. As I’d suspected, Damian has confusing new feelings about Anya, the girl who was the first to “defy” him. When she sobs during her apology, making clear she only wanted to be friends, the resulting shot to his heart is so much he has no choice but to run away.

While Loid witnesses all this unfold and concludes that the Friendship Plan may be doomed, I’d say he’s making far too quick an assessment of the situation. Sure, on the surface Damian hates her, but he actually likes her; his behavior is the result of simply not knowing what to do about it. This is 100% classic little kid (and some times bigger kid) behavior.

That said, Loid is new to this, and Twilight didn’t get where he is by taking risks or operating under less-than-ideal circumstances. But there’s so much not in his control here and the circumstances couldn’t be less ideal, so he’s trying to overcompensate. Today Damian ran away from Anya, so he has to try to get her those eight Stella. That night Loid has an intense study session with Anya, but his anxious thoughts and calculations flood into her head and overwhelm her, and she runs into her room to sulk.

Here is where Yor’s lighter touch (if only where Anya is concerned) comes in. At first Yor feels she’s being presumptuous in offering Loid advice and insisting they not be to hard on themselves. But by doing so she reminds Loid that he’s not alone in this parenting business.

He and Yor are legally husband and wife and parents to Anya. They’re in this together, through thick and thin. They need to be patient, but also confident. All parents go through this; that this one was constructed for a spy mission doesn’t change that in the slightest.

I loved how much simpler and more macabre Yor’s inner thoughts are compared to Loid’s during the study session, but I also love how Anya truly wants to do her best, which is why Loid finds her asleep at her desk. She stopped sulking and started studying all on her own.

She’s a good girl, Yor’s a good mom, and he’s a good dad for caring about all of Anya—not just how she figures into the mission. They’ll get through this…even if Yor’s brother Yuri is only now finding out Yor has a husband and daughter.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 04 – The Only Bad Guy

You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy’.—Tony Montana

As Akari naps on her shoulder, Menou reflects on how she got to this point, on a train to the execution of what seems like a perfectly ordinary and nice young woman but for her potential to end the world with her unchecked powers of time manipulation.

We’ve seen where Menou’s old life ended and where Flare found her; a haunting blanched world of pure white destruction. The first half of this episode expounds upon that scene, and how the landscape was very much reflecting Menou’s own state at that time: a blanched, blank slate.

Like Fushi in To Your Eternitythis Menou didn’t feel anything; she was simply there…until Orwell assigned Flare to look after her. Her first words to Flare were “who are you?” which might as well been a question to herself. Flare’s response, that she’s a “pure, just and strong” priestess, is delivered with a villainously twisted face and dripping with sarcasm Menou takes at face value.

Menou came to learn that Flare was an executioner of otherworlders and other enemies of the Faust, and is eventually taken to an entire continent of nothing but salt slowly dissolving into the sea, the result of one of the Four Human Errors. Upon learning the solemn duty of people like Flare, Menou decided on the spot that she wanted to be one of those people.

To this request, Flare warns Menou that executioners like her are little more than villains to be loathed and discarded when at the end of their usefulness, someone willing to do anything to anyone, good or bad, man or woman, in order to keep the world safe. Someone strong, but bereft of purity or justice. A tool.

When Menou says she wants to be one anyway, Flare takes her to a monastery to train with other young girls. They learn how to fight and kill, and also learn about the otherworlders and how they influenced this world and threatened its very existence at least four times in history. The iconography on display in the classroom is wonderfully dark and medieval.

It’s here where Menou learns that she must “speak of friendship, whisper words of love, be dirty and underhanded” in order to kill one’s targets. She also meets the younger Momo, who like some other girls is not taking the indoctrination into merciless killing machines smoothly. Menou comes to Flare, who seems to be sleeping uneasily in her dark and musty chambers.

There, Menou asks her to make her “the only bad person” so the girls who don’t want to don’t have to be. It’s clear their hesitance is a result of past experiences Menou no longer has due to the calamity she survived. Flare proceeds to evaulated Menou’s strengths and weaknesses, adding up to a “slightly below average” candidate for such a role.

Then Menou surprises Flare (something I’m sure doens’t happen often) by  taking her face in her little hands and asking her not to make her like her, but to make her her. A little Flare. A Flarette.

Flare, long ago resigned to her fate as a loathsome villain who will never find vindication or peace, is half-lamenting and half-admiring in stating that a “twisted personality” has emerged from Menou’s “blanched out soul”, and that one day she’ll surpass her when all of it is destroyed by happiness and she still survives.

That segues nicely into the present, with Akari waking up from her nap to see Garm growing larger through the window. She’s too distracted by the big shiny capital city to noticed Menou’s pained expressions, the result of having time to herself to reflect on her past and present. Flare knew Menou would come to this point, when happiness threatened to destroy the villain she’d become.

Menou promises to go on a sightseeing date with Akari, but they first pay a visit to the Faust cathedral (which is right next to the Noblesse’s fortress…keep your enemies close). The ceremonial hall that will “take Akari home” is there, and Akari meets Archbishop Orwell, who says the hall will be ready in two days.

Akari is apologetic and appreciative, the only person not in on what is really going on. Orwell plays the role of kindly grandmother figure to a T, while Menou does not flinch in the presence of this deeply upsetting charade. She also agres to take on a side job for Orwell investigating missing women in the city in exchange for funds for taking the pilgrimage route once her business in Garm is finished.

The fact that this job conflicts with the promise Menou made to Akari to go sightseeing together, and also looks ahead to the time when Akari is back “home”, irks Akari to no end, and she makes her anger plain once the two are set up in a fancy hotel room. She storms back inside to take a bath, slamming the door behind her.

Menou is seemingly taken aback by Akari’s anger, forgetting that while she’s always kept a professional remove due to her ultimate mission to eliminate her, Akari considers Menou a friend, and for Menou to treat her like a “stranger who will be gone soon” truly hurts, even if Akari is being a little immature about it.

While Akari bathes, she has a chance to reflect on how she reacted, and concludes she was indeed too harsh on Menou, who has many responsibilities to juggle. To whit, while she’s in the bath Menou meets with Momo on the balcony, and basically delegates the investigation job to her.

As she was on the train, Momo is obedient to the big sister she loves more than anything, but also very weary of Menou’s continued interactions with someone she deems an extremely dangerous otherworlder. Menou laments forcing “the messy stuff” on Momo’s plate, but still does it, because she needs and wants to keep Akari happy.

Upon going back into the room, Akari meets her there, having emerged from the bath in a towel, and apologizes for how she acted, saying she’ll sightsee on her own while Menou takes care of her duties. Menou in turn says their sightseeing date is back on, and Akari embraces her, loing her towel in the process.

As much as Akari may like Menou, the fact of the matter is she’s being lied to, and proverbial knives are being sharpened for her demise, not her return to Japan. Menou is using their nascent friendship to keep Akari docile and content until the knife can be slipped in. It’s heartbreaking, compelling character drama.

Next week’s episode is titled “Goodbye”. Will it mark the departure of Akari, or Menou’s departure from villainy? Judging from her past, the latter seems more likely. But then again, she’s never met an otherworlder quite like Akari.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 03 – All Things Strong and Beautiful

First, kudos must be dispensed to the OP and theme “Paper Bouquet” by Mili, which absolutely slaps. Second, kudos to the cool head and hewn granite abs of Princes Ashuna (MAO in a non-cutesy voice for once), who doesn’t flinch when a band of terrorists attempt to take her hostage.

The muscle princess is naturally on the same train as Menou and Akari, who also have to deal with the terrorists. One of them orders Menou (at etheric gunpoint) to strip, revealing any hidden weapons. To Menou’s shock Akari not only comes between them, but offers to strip in Menou’s place, protecting not only her person but her virtue as well.

Naturally, these thugs are no match for an established priestess like Menou. Momo, stashed a few cars back from them, makes similarly quick work of the terrorists before encountering Ashuna on the roof of the speeding train, also having no problem dispatching them.

Momo and Ashuna, not just a bodybuilder but a knight in her own right, proceed to exchange semi-cordial shit talk, complimenting each other’s strength, beauty, and fashion. Then, because Ashuna’s dad is on trial for heresy, she decides to go toe-to-toe with a Faust.

Their fight is marvelously epic and badass, but Menou’s got shit going on too. Turns out all of the terrorists swallowed red gems. This means once activated the gems consume the bodies in which they reside, then combine to form a summoned golem, in this case a red knight. Because Menou fights this knight in the engine room, the etheric engine is naturally damaged, causing the train to go out of control.

The extra speed doesn’t faze either Ashuna or Momo. Ashuna is enjoying the fight while Momo, still a novice but a Faust novice, laments how big of a hassle this “crappy little princess” has become. Momo turns her garrote-like saw blade into a humming sword, then a boomerang, which she uses to shoot some branches and twigs at Ashuna’s front, leaving her back wide open. Unfortunately for Momo, Ashuna manages to grab her and both are thrown from the train.

Menou’s fight with the red knight golem (such a cool concept btw) is complicated further by the arrival of Akari, whom Menou told to be a “good girl” but who thinks she is being a good girl by worrying about her new friend. Unwilling to find out what happens if the red knight swallowed up Akari (and her powers), Menou uses more ether than she’d like to defeat it quickly.

It should be noted that during both her battle with the knight and Ashuna and Momo’s duel, all three women experience a funky time shift of some kind. This almost certainly means Akari either consciously or unconsciously activated her time powers.

While the red knight is history, the train is still runaway and they’re nearing a station where another train is parked. With insufficient ether to stop it, Menou takes Akari by the hand and asks if she can borrow some of hers, something that normally wouldn’t be allowed…but her options are limited.

The yuri undertones of this scenario and Menou’s proposal are all too clear already, but become even more explicit when Menou actually borrows Akari’s seemingly bottomless stores of ether to bring the train to a stop. Menou mentions how she’s “lost most of herself a long time ago”, which means whenever she shares or combines ether with another, it causes a great deal of pain.

But while it may be painful for Menou, it merely tickles for Akari, who makes a few noises that could be construed as suggestive in addition to calling out Menou’s name during their, er, “ether transfer.” I apologize here as I’m not trying to make this seem hornier than presented (it’s actually presented quite matter-of-factly)—but Menou and Akari clearly share and go through something here.

The result of that something is that the train comes to a halt a mere inch from the stopped train. Somewhere in the woods Ashuna and Momo continue to spar, but thanks to Akari, Menou was able to save all of the innocent people on the train and deal with the terrorist threat. You have to think that with all of their wholesome interactions and Akari’s inherent goodness, at some point Menou has to start questioning her duty to execute her.

That’s not just true because Menou stood between her and a terrorist and offered to strip in her place, or give the little girl on the train courage to tough out the ordeal, or lent her the power to save everyone using a semi-taboo practice. No, what Menou contemplates—and which is vividly dramatized—is what really went down on that train before the day was saved.

Did the train actually crash in a timeline, killing everyone, and then Akari’s  time magic kicked in, rewinding things to before the point of no return? If so, how many times did Akari die and time reverse to get the right set of conditions for the train to be stopped safely? Like Menou, I can’t help but shudder to think, but it’s also fascinating to think about.

It’s a rare episode that can pull of so many cool concepts and action set pieces and still hold together beautifully thanks to skilled direction and pacing. It always helps move an episode along when it’s a train, but the technology, tactics, and emotions behind the characters were firing on all etheric cylinders here. I’m tempted to go back and immediately re-watch it, so thrilled I was by this ride. Time magic, indeed.

P.S. Somehow, the ED theme “Touka Serenade” by ChouCho kicks just as much ass, if not more, than the OP.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 02 – Giving Herself Away

Menou isn’t expecting Tokitou Akari to walk out onto the balcony when she lands there, bringing them face to face. That said, the depth and quality of her training as an executioner is demonstrated admirably in their ensuing encounter. Menou first gets Akari to confirm she’s a Lost One by asking for her her class number. Then she immediately makes it plain that she’s on Menou’s side, trying to get her out of danger.

It’s interesting to hear Menou speak lies as easily as breathing this week, now that we’ve already seen her do this to the poor doomed Mitsuki last week. Akari agrees to escape with Menou, because she’s currently a prisoner in a fancy cage, so why wouldn’t she? But when Menou tries to kill Akari, the girl’s Pure Concept reverses time itself, nullifying the death she just suffered.

Menou has to once again improvise, asking Momo to distract the guards while she gets Akari out of the castle. From Akari’s perspective, Menou is playing the role of the valient knight saving her from her doom, right down to the mid-air princess carry. Akari can’t help but blush being in Menou’s sure grip. That night while Akari sleeps, Menou makes her report to Orwell, who tells her to bring her to the cathedral in Garm where there’s a ceremonial execution room that should do the trick.

The next morning Menou is all smiles with Akari, basically following her target’s lead by embracing their chemistry together and strengthening the illusion that they she has Akari’s best interests at heart, rather than preparing to deliver her to her elimination. I can’t underscore how tense and unusual this dynamic is. On one level I hate what Menou has to be, and that she believes Akari must die. On the other hand, maybe Akari does have to die to protect the rest of this world.

Momo’s fixation on her big sister figure/eternal crush was a bit one-dimensional last week, but here we see her jealousy over Akari’s sudden closeness to Menou combined with her genuine fear that Menou could be in over her head. Probably few people know Menou as well as Momo, and it could be she knows Menou has a nice and decent side that could prove a Lost One Executioner’s undoing. She forcefully insists she’s accompanying Menou and Akari on the train, albeit keeping out of sight.

Menou actually pretty much proves Momo’s concerns are legitimate by letting her have her way; a harder and less understanding superior would refuse Momo’s request and likely discipline her for insubordination. Menou and Akari’s arrival at the station is an opportunity for Menou to deliver some world-building exposition, as the trains run on ether, and magecraft is less magic and more a technology. When a lost little girl trips, Akari heals her, again making it clear Menou has to execute and ordinary, good person.

As charming as Akari is, with her references to an epic adventure together with shoujo-ai romantic undertones (it’s clear from the start Akari has a thing for Menou, and who wouldn’t when you’ve only seen the heroic and kind side of her?), by the end of this outing Menou is still committed to delivering Akari to her death.

Not just because it’s her duty, but because she truly believes that if left unchecked even someone as sweet as Akari could bring about the apocalypse. That’s not to say she won’t develop stronger misgivings about what she’s doing.

As for that “ceremonial room” (which is goddamn creepy hearing it discusses so causally), if it doesn’t work and Akari still can’t be killed, what then? In the absence of the means to kill her and any sign of her becoming a threat, Menou will only grow closer to Akari—and perhaps farther from the certainty of her organization’s cause.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 07 – Hebimori Unplugged

Hebimori loves the sound of guitars, especially electric ones, but didn’t join the music club, preferring to simply listen to the music of others. But when Akebi notices the magazine she’s reading with her headphones on has sheet music, Akebi assumes Hebimori can play, and with eyes sparkling, states that she’s looking forward to hearing Hebimori play for her.

If Hebimori had simply said “Actually, Akebi-chan, I don’t know how to play at all,” Akebi would have surely understood. And yet Hebimori decides to use this opportunity to dust off her father’s old guitar and give it a strum. Once she does, she finds it so fun she dances around the dorm when her roommate, the quiet basketball clubber Togano, comes home.

Unlike Akebi and Erika, the skills they’ve chosen to master don’t come easily for Togano and Hebimori. Togano wonders whether it made sense for Hebimori to keep her inability to play from Akebi, but also understands how frustrating it can be to not be great at something upon first trying it. Like her shooting, Hebimori simply needs to put in the practice, starting a little at a time and not letting oneself get discouraged or overwhelmed.

And as Akebi practices annunciating and projecting with her voice outside and Togano keeps taking shots in the gym, Hebimori repairs the old string she broke, finds some beginner lessons, and gradually teaches herself to play the guitar. In one particularly heartwarming moment, Togano turns away from her studies to find her roommate asleep on the floor and gently lays a blanket on her.

When the time comes for Hebimori to finally play for Akebi, her jitters aren’t helped by Erika entering the music room and playing something on the piano just for the heck of it; because the piano was there. Akebi and Hebimori are hidden under the piano, and while Akebi learns that Erika can be scary when she’s mad (something she’s never seen), Hebimori decides she can’t follow Erika’s act with her shaky guitar, and confesses to being a complete newbie.

As she prepares to flee the room Akebi takes her hand and says, simply, “I want to hear.” Hebimori understands that Akebi isn’t looking to be wowed by a stellar, virtuoso performance. She’s there to hear her friend doing something she loves that she’s finally learned to do, and support her. Hebimori proceeds to play and sing with a lovely rawness and vulnerability.

It’s not perfect, but it is beautiful and from the heart, which is why Akebi stands up and applauds emphatically. There are a lot fo things Akebi can’t do, and playing guitar is one of them. In this way, Akebi is a muse to all her classmates, providing the enthusiasm, encouragement, inspiration, and motivation needed to carry through, while they in turn inspire her to work harder at what she’s invested in—a marvelous cycle of love, support, and good vibes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 06 – Call Me By My (First) Name

Where the last few episodes involved Akebi forging new friendships, this one returns to her first one: Erika. Akebi, having never invited a friend over to her house before, is unsure how to go about it and extremely nervous to boot. This results in her staring a lot at a puzzled Erika, who thinks Akebi is acting even weirder than she usually does.

Erika doesn’t buy that Akebi only wanted to ask her what she thought of houses with leaky roofs (obviously she thinks they should be repaired!). So she invites her to join her at the library, where she reads a book about fishing and learns Akebi fishes at a lake by her house.

Sensing Akebi wanted to hang out on Saturday, Erika asks if she can go fishing with her, whispering it in her ear since it’s the library, then helping Akebi execute a proper pinky promise.

Erika, who has never fished, gears up to the max, and arrives a full hour early, so excited she is she to fish with Akebi. I’d be pretty psyched too, considering how effing gorgeous the lake and its environs are. Like, it’s beauty that strains credulity, but that’s fine; a great slice-of-life can and should transport you to idyllic places.

Akebi uses nothing but sewing threat, a hook, and rice to catch a bevy of minnows, but the more traditionally-equipped Erika manages to get a bite from a char. Akebi rushes into the lake in her swimsuit to assist, and eventually secures the fish Erika caught in a satchel Erika is beyond overjoyed to have caught a fish on her first day trying, and Akebi makes sure to mark the occasion with some photos—which lends the series’ artists another opportunity to flex their considerable aesthetic muscles.

Erika and Akebi end their fishing day thoroughly satisfied…and thoroughly soaked. Akebi, somewhat hesitantly, invites Erika to shower and change at her house, which again, is something straight out of a picture book, and not something to be ashamed of in the least. Erika also gets to meet Kao AKA Mini-Akebi, as well as Akebi’s mom.

It’s here where Erika gets to see “Home Akebi” for the first time; someone who is always attentive and on top of things when it comes to the operations of said house, as well as a warm and caring host. The two bathe together, Akebi washes her back, then carefully blow dries and combs Erika’s hair, something she has a lot of practice with her little sister’s hair.

When Erika asks Kao what she likes about her sister, Kao has a perfect pecocious little kid response: smacking her sis on the bum and saying she likes the sound it makes.

Akebi’s mom drives Erika home, cementing Erika awe of this amazing loving family. After they drop her off, Erika calls out to Akebi, but by her first name Komichi, declaring she’ll be calling her that from now on, and she can call her Erika. Relieved by how well her first visit by a friend to her house went, Akebi enthusiastically agrees.

Akebi, or should I say Komichi’s interactions with all her friends have been lovely to behold, but her relationship with Erika just hits different, transcending mere “school friends” territory and entering the realm of sisterly, even yuri love. Regardless, it’s as crystal clear as that lake these two care about each other a great deal and had an absolute blast hanging out, so first name terms were long overdue!

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.

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