March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 30: Can I Read Subs Through Tears?

Review:

The answer to whether or not I can read subs while tearing up is clearly no because I had to rewatch the second half of this episode and subsequently had my heart crushed and trampled a second time in the space of an hour. Fortunately I was out of tears so the second time it just left me with a dull ache in my chest and a general feeling that as unfair as life is, true strength is moving forward in whatever way you can against whatever odds you may face. And then I found new tears. Sometimes, as much as I love this show I also hate that it hits my emotional buttons so incredibly well.

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Fortunately, this show isn’t just about breaking its audience into pieces. It starts with Rei’s teachers giving us what we needed after last week. A tirade against Hina’s homeroom teacher. A voice of anger in the face of such unreasonable unfairness. It is silly and over the top at it succeeds as a point of needed catharsis for an audience that has been dragged emotionally through the mud with Hina’s troubles for weeks. The situation still isn’t solved, but for once this acts as the lighter point of the episode with Nikaido’s story being the soul crushing one for the week.

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It is really, really affective. For weeks the school and Hina have been the darker points in the story with the shogi hall being a place where things have been going well for Rei and the place where some needed comedy has been injected into the story. This week, we leave the school and the comedy behind as we find out that Rei has made it into the final of the newcomers tournament (a triumph in itself) but Nikaido has not achieved the same. We also learn that Nikaido’s always poor health has taken a turn for the worse.

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Shimada is the one who Rei confronts and demands to know what has happened to Nikaido and so we see young Nikaido through Shimada’s eyes. It is a tear jerking story and it nails the tone perfectly. Nikaido is adorable throughout and his determination not just to be strong himself, but to see his rival, Rei, be strong is incredibly touching.

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However, it is Rei’s response to being told this that really hits home as once again the show is reinforcing the changes Rei has undergone over the course of a season and a half. I’m really worried about Rei next episode because I feel at the moment while he is looking much stronger than he was, he might very well be broken soon. He has realised his complete helplessness with Hina, including the fact that even earning more money isn’t going to solve the issue, and now he is facing an inability to help Nikaido. While at the moment he has the goal of winning the tournament, if that doesn’t happen, I’m really not sure if he’s emotionally able to deal with it at the moment.

All things considered though, I loved this show. I love the imagery that has been used all throughout the episode, particularly that image of Nikaido leading Rei across the bridge with the birds all flying ahead of them. I love how the character really feel like nuanced human beings and I love that they continue to change in response to events around them. I might be a broken, teary mess after most episodes this season, but what comes after that is the feeling that I’m watching something quite special that I will remember well after it is done.


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March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 27: Emotional Ripples

Review:

Where last week hit its tone and remained consistent throughout, breaking the audiences’ hearts over and over again, this week is far less consistent and yet not any worse for it. Instead of focusing on Hina through both Rei’s and her own narration, this week we barely see Hina save for the end. Rather, we focus entirely on Rei and then Akari’s responses to Hina’s dilemma and how the impact of bullying affects everyone and not just the victim.

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Rei is first seen trying to get advice from his former homeroom teacher about how to deal with bullying. There’s some amusing moments that still manage to cut deep when Rei points out he isn’t being bullied (though his teacher assumed he was at first) but then explains the reason he doesn’t get bullied is because the other students don’t even really acknowledge he exists.

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It is interesting to see how Rei is thinking through the first half of this episode and the sheer amount of effort he will expend in order to help Hina even though a lot of his thoughts are either misguided or just confused. The earnest desire to help is there but the issue is complex and Rei can barely look after himself most of the time.

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Still it was a new side of Rei and one which was pleasant to see because it shows us just how far he has come. He sees Hina as a person, even if he is slightly idolising her at this stage. He’s made a real connection and despite the current circumstances, he is fighting hard to protect her. For someone who used to pull the curtains closed and hide in bed, this is real progress and I honestly hope it doesn’t blow up in his face and send him back into hiding.

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As for Akari, she is tormented because she feels she has failed as the stand in mother. She feels her advice to Hina early on in life was wrong, that she couldn’t help her now, that she said the wrong thing… Basically she feels completely helpless in the situation and while she can’t let that out when Hina and the rest of the family are around, she let it out with Rei. And, again in a sign of just how far he’d come, he managed to say what Akari needed to hear. It doesn’t fix anything, but sometimes an emotional salve can go a long way.

The visuals, remain stunningly on point and whoever did the sound direction this episode nailed it. With a number of tonal shifts within scenes and some really complex emotions, both the visuals and sounds managed to perfectly convey the ideas and really created a truly enjoyable viewing experience. With great character moments and dialogue thrown in, March Comes in Like a Lion continues its strong second season and remains my absolute must watch.


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Random Thoughts on Stranger Things Season 2

I should probably do an actual review on this but to be honest I’m probably not going to. The reason being that I watched about half of this, and then took a break and then watched other episodes off and on while sick and busy so didn’t really pay enough attention and to be honest I don’t feel like watching it again to review.

That doesn’t actually mean Stranger Things season 2 is bad. It actually manages to capture most of what made the first season a really enjoyable nostalgia trip without the poor video quality of 1980’s films. But I undeniably struggled with maintaining interest early in the season and ultimately just found the sequel baiting ending a little hard to swallow. While this is my favourite Netflix original story after two seasons it seems pretty clear they plan to just keep running this idea into the ground until any small speck of originality or energy the series may have had is squished completely and totally flat.

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So what was good about season 2?

The big bad was bigger and badder even if they did just kind of up the body count by killing off the extras and one character that you kind of knew early on had raised so many death flags that by the time they finally did him in you weren’t overly surprised. Still, forget what seemingly invisible enemy. Now we have an unseen threat that is widespread and getting out of control fast and when we do see the threat the word horde comes to mind.

The cast are still fantastic. Child actors who can mostly act (the exception being Will’s older brother who’s name I have once again forgotten). I think Nancy actually did a better job this season and Will’s character gets to do a lot more this time round and he is fantastic. The addition of Max to the party, contentious as some of the characters may have found that, was a really good choice and worked well and the other characters mostly maintained what they were known for in the previous season so more of the same which works well enough.

The 1980’s soundtrack, while pretty literal at times, is still amazing to listen to and this along with all the other nods to the era makes for a really fun watch. Though I’m still trying to believe that anyone would mistake ghostbusters for exterminators back in the 80’s.

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What was less good?

The set up process of this story. A year has passed and everyone is a little older and a little jaded by the events the year before and the cover up. There’s some trauma and there are some new relationships and some fairly fractured relationships but it takes three episodes to really establish all of this before anything actually happens with regards to the new story. I’ll admit, after the story started you realised how necessary most of that set up was, but it was kind of dull and a little bit painful to watch.

The Sherriff and Eleven have zero chemistry. Eleven is really sidelined for the first half of this series and her only interactions are with the Sherriff. While I get the story they were trying to establish here, he doesn’t pull enough emotional weight to really sell the anger as over-protection and she isn’t given enough time to establish herself as an actual person so basically we just see them go through the same cycle of eat and play happy families before he ‘lies’ and she has a tantrum leading to him throwing a tantrum over and again until she finally ups and leaves.

Which leads to the story with Eleven and Eight which again could be awesome but is most definitely just setting up potential future storylines and has no relevance here other than Eleven gets a bit of a power up because of Eight’s advice. And a make-over. Anyway…

How dumb are those scientists? I get bad guys being dumb and characters in stories sometimes making dumb choices but these guys have had an entire year to clean up the mess and not only have they failed, the mess got worse and they didn’t even notice. Not one actual researcher makes one actual useful contribution for the entire length of the series. How do these people keep their jobs?

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All and all, if you liked Stranger Things, Stranger Things 2 is enjoyable enough and the second half definitely steps it up. Still, I’m not so sure how many more seasons of this I’m going to be thrilled to see. I’d really like them just to resolve the issue and let Will and his friends get on with their lives at this point.


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March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 26: An Emotional Bomb

Review:

This episode is pure and simple emotional manipulation, however it does it so incredibly well. Actually, probably as close to perfect as any individual anime episode will get. If it doesn’t get you crying in the first part where we find out the circumstances behind Hina’s tears at the end of the previous episode, or after Rei runs after her and heals some of his own trauma from her words, or after they go to the library together, then the scene at the end where they return to the house and the Grandfather gives Hina’s actions the validation they needed (her situation still sucks but at least someone told her she had done the right thing), will get you. It is a fantastically orchestrated emotional rollercoaster that in twenty minutes will take you through sadness, empathy, reflection, grief, loss, calm, and then release.

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Though it is more how this is delivered that works rather than what. This isn’t the first show to deal with middle school bullying, nor will it be the last. However, March Comes in Like a Lion finds the perfect images to reflect each of the emotions it is trying to craft and matches them beautifully with sound and movement. There’s a real understanding of emotions at work here and it is on display for all to see.

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The choice to cover three chapters of the manga (most episodes only cover 2 and the only reason I know this is because the episode titles tell us where we are up to), was a very good call. The episode begins, narrated by Rei, the outsider. He is looking in on Hina’s pain and hearing about it and in the process reflecting on his own pain. We then shift to Hina’s narration, which personalises the issues but gives us glimpses of hope because she isn’t broken. She’s definitely feeling down but she is not out. Just a bit lost and looking for a lifeline to carry her through until she can find her own feet again. Lastly, we shift back to Rei to conclude the episode. Again, it really reflects the tone of the story, creates a compelling emotional journey and the switching viewpoint just drives home the emotions the show wants to convey.

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So yes, two weeks in a row March has made me cry. Last week was more because of where my own emotions were about life but this week the show itself just hit hard. I held out until the final act of the episode but seeing Hina’s face as her grandfather told her how proud he was of her actions did me in.

I still get that this show won’t be for everyone but if you’ve never tried the first season and you have access, I seriously recommend at least trying it.


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March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 25: Packing an Emotional Punch

Review:

Not really a surprise to those who read my review of season 1, but this show really does take its audience on an emotional roller coaster and this week, while objectively the episode was no better or worse than any other, this week it hit me hard. Partly this is because I’m in a fairly fragile emotional state anyway at the moment due to a bunch of things going on with my work, and partly it is because I kind of care deeply for Rei’s character at this point. Either way, I kind of ended up in tears after this episode. I did feel a bit better though so maybe it was exactly what I needed.

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Basically this episode starts as benignly as humanly possible with Smith and Issa being complete idiots over a pair of large shoes at the shogi hall. It was kind of cute and more importantly it recapped previous events without actually making us watch them again, so that was kind of nice.

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We transition to Rei and Nikaidou eating lunch together. Well, food is getting eaten but mostly what is happening is Nikaidou is verbally dissecting Rei’s character and motivations much to the amusement and bemusement of the others eating at the time. However, it does once again drive home the point that as much as Rei keeps reflecting on himself, he still doesn’t really understand what he really wants. The fact that Nikaidou can see straight through him is an endless source of embarrassment but Nikaidou is a needed character because as much as he annoys Rei, his insight is sometimes exactly what Rei needs to hear to change his line of thinking.

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From there however we start rolling into a downward spiral emotionally. Again, benign introduction with Rei buying bread from a bakery the sisters have recommended and eating in a park before his match. And then… then he sees a bush. That bush triggers a memory from his childhood and before we know it we are deep inside Rei’s thoughts as he sees how all of those events, the choices he made, the choices thrust upon him, the misunderstandings, the confusion, have all shaped him into the person he is right now and pushed him onto the path he is now following. The problem is, and as we saw in episode 23 (first episode of the second season), Rei isn’t even sure it somewhere he wants to be. He plays Shogi but he can’t even answer a simple question of whether he likes it or not. And without Shogi he has no understanding of who he would be.

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And then the magic of this show kicked in and I started thinking about the events that have led me to the events of the last four weeks at work and start wondering where I could have possibly gotten off this path so that I wouldn’t have had to go through that. And whether I actually wanted to avoid it at all or whether it was a needed thing to experience on the path to something else. And that’s more or less where I finally had the emotional released I’d needed for quite a number of weeks and had a good cry. That doesn’t fix anything but my head was much clearer after the fact.

As a final kick to the teeth we then have Rei visiting the sisters when Hina shows up in quite the state. Of course we’ll have to next week to find out what is happening there but it does not look good.

I love this story so much at this point. It doesn’t do things with fanfares and it isn’t going to take the world by storm, but for me this story is one I need to watch at this point. I need to see where Rei’s journey will take him.


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March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 24: Showing the Frustration and Complications of Living

Review:

This week returns us to the world of Shogi and to Rei’s complicated relationship with Kyouko (and I was really happy to see her this episode as she was the character I most wanted to learn more about this season). Also Nikaido returns and is as annoying and yet sweet as ever.

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We see the final title match between Souya and Kurakuma which ends in an incredibly frustrating manner for Kurakuma (leading to the amusing scene at the end after they discover despite his calm exit from the match he later kicked a hole in the wall). But more than the match we learn about Shimada’s current mental state after losing his match in the previous season and we see more about Gouto, who previously has been seen simply as a villain but now becomes a more nuanced character (still a jerk though).

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Still, it is definitely Kyouko’s return that really made this episode for me. So far we’ve seen her almost exclusively through Rei’s lens and this episode allows us to see her interacting with Gouto free of any Rei filter and what we see is still questionable but less ominous than previous perceptions might have led us to believe.

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I hope we continue to learn more about these characters as well follow along with Rei’s journey. The more I know them, the more I want to know, and I’m just going to have to admit I’m still completely in love with this show.


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March Comes in Like a Lion Season 2 Episode 23: I Missed This

Overview:

March Comes in Like a Lion is back and we are resuming Rei’s journey as he figures out how to live and what he wants. If you missed my review of season 1 be sure to check it out.

Review:

The second season has started and initially we find ourselves with a more upbeat Rei. He’s engaged with the science/shogi club and actually opening his window and not dreading the outside world. We quickly see however that as much as things are going well for him, there is no instant fix for the deep and complex emotional issues that have plagued Rei from the beginning.

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Still, there’s a more upbeat tone to the opening song and far more interaction from Rei with others than the first season ever gave us. He’s also proactive¬† in deciding to visit the sisters and to share his story with them. Emotionally this was a joy to watch as was the realisation that they aren’t sweeping any of the issues under the rug. The opening might be more upbeat but it isn’t all sunshine and roses and the visuals are still brilliant at depicting emotional states. All and all, an excellent start to a second season and hopefully I continue to love being on this journey with Rei.

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One criticism, just so it doesn’t look like I’m giving this show a free pass because of emotional connections, they hit us with the shogi cats in the first episode this season (just thankful they didn’t sing the song).

Anyway, loved this. Can’t wait for more.


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The Eccentric Family Season 2 Series Review: How Much Trouble Can One Tanuki Get Into?

Overview:

As I went to write this, it occurred to me that I have yet to actually review season 1 of this show so I really must bump that up my priority list given reviewing season 2 without season 1 just seems odd. That said, season 2 picks up the story in the year following the events of season 1 and the tanuki are still trying to elect a trick magister and Yasaburo’s way too serious brother Yaichiro is still trying to follow in his father’s footsteps and assume the role. However, Yasaburo is not content to just have one thing going so once again he is interfering in tengu and human affairs as things get more and more out of control. I reviewed this week to week so if you are interested in my individual episode thoughts, click here.

Review:

The Eccentric Family is one of those very odd anime where there is a story and you could boil it down fairly simply in terms of the main plot, and yet that is almost incidental to what you are actually going to be watching. Season 2 follows the same format as season 1, in that we’ll mostly be following Yasaburo on his rambles around as he stirs up trouble and mischief, offers ‘advice’, and generally seeks out trouble for the sake of having a bit of fun. That said, season 2 seems to have decided it was time for a number of the cast members to grow up and so we have far more focus on romance and relationships outside of the family than in the previous season. There’s also a few quite dark moments (though season 1 did deal with the fall out of their father getting eaten so even though it is a comedy it isn’t as though it wasn’t always dealing with tragedy in one form or another).

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Because of the large cast and the rambling nature of the plot, it is more or less impossible to summarise the story given any summary is going to leave out massive amounts of subplot, all of which come back into the main storyline eventually. Basically season 2 follows yet another attempt at tanuki society electing a new trick magister only this time things seem to be going relatively smoothly for Yaichiro with almost no-one in tanuki society standing against him. The issue comes that Akadama-sensei has refused to be the tengu representative and has instead appointed Benten (who eats tanuki) and so the tanuki ask the recently returned not-tengu (his own insistence), Nidaime, to oversee the election instead, which really upsets Benten. Clearly that’s not all that is going on given we have a trip to hell, the return of the banished uncle, not one but two budding romances, the Friday Fellows seeking out yet another tanuki to eat, and multiple other storylines just bubbling along. Despite the sheer amount of content this show packs in it never feels overly rushed and even when things initially feel random, you know they will make sense eventually so you kind of just wait for them to twist back into the main narrative and then it all just kind of clicks.

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Basically, if you liked season 1 and enjoyed this eccentric cast walking around and having off beat conversations while stuff happens and they react, then season 2 gives you more of the same with a slightly more mature tone at times and with Yasaburo having a few more moments of reflection given even he realises that eventually his actions are going to get him killed.

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My favourite part of season 2, other than the music and the character designs which I loved in season 1 as well, was the inclusion of Nidaime. Any scene where he and Benten appeared together was fantastic. The tension between those characters and the occasional explosive encounters were well worth waiting for though I regret that they didn’t get a chance to meet in the aftermath as it would be interesting to see where they’ve ended up after that final encounter.

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Benten is still a fantastic support character in her own right, stealing literally every scene she is in, but this season she isn’t alone amongst a seemingly male dominated cast as Kaisei and Gyokuran (the two tanuki love interests) definitely step into the spot light at times (and isn’t it nice that these fool brothers are finding some fairly sensible matches to help keep them from going too far).

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The one complaint I would raise is that the ‘magic’ seems to have gone missing from a lot of this season. Yes, the tanuki still do transform but this is for the most part no big deal. There are a few encounters between Nidaime and Benten, however the last of them ends in hair pulling and barely anything of note (other than a storm being summoned and how jaded am I that this barely registered as magical). Basically, season 1 had a sense of wonder about the supernatural even as it worked to integrate the magical world into the city of Kyoto. Season 2 makes everything fairly common place and a lot of the wonder has just kind of fizzled. Admittedly, it was replaced by higher emotional stakes but I missed that feeling as I watched this season.

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If you’ve never given The Eccentric Family a go, don’t start with season 2. It assumes an understanding of the events of season 1 and the relationships between most of the characters are already pre-established and assumed knowledge. That said, this is one anime worth trying because it is kind of zany fun with a lot of drama thrown in and certainly feels a bit different.


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The Eccentric Family Season 2 Episode 12

Review:

Pretty sure I’d given up expecting a Nidaime/Benten face off and yet that’s what we get this week after Benten ‘allows’ Yasaburo to crash the flying bus straight into Nidaime’s home. Yasaburo really does think on his feet and yet he never thinks long term.

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Needless to say, Nidaime’s reaction to the destruction of his home is fairly explosive, but only after a sulk session. It’s probably where we see his true character coming out for the first time beneath his reserved exterior. He’s someone who when he doesn’t get his way packs the toys into the toy box and stomps off, and that kind of explains everything about him and why he left Kyoto in the first place. Just in case we weren’t clear though, they do give us a flash back to the fight against Akadama-Sensei that started it all and to be honest, that was kind of unnecessary given all the pieces had really come into place without it and all that seemed to do was break the pace of what was otherwise a fairly brilliant final episode.

That said, the fight against Benten was both cool and lame simultaneously. I never expected a fight between the two to result in hair pulling and biting and that just seemed all kinds of childish, particularly when Nidaime set Benten’s hair on fire (though you can’t say she didn’t deserve it at that point).

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Anyway, Akadama-Sensei returns after Benten is run off, makes a statement that indicates that Yasaburo is no longer excommunicated, and then has words with a crying Nidaime who has finally calmed down enough to see the destruction of his own home.

And that’s it. Crisis averted. Still, there’s all the loose ends to tie up including a tanuki wedding and so the final moments of the episodes have Yasaburo bouncing around to catch up with literally every character of importance so they can all have their moment of closure. That said, Yasaburo and Kaisei are too cute together so hopefully they work it out so he can actually look at her eventually given they’ve finally agreed they are going to get married one day. However, it is Nidaime’s words to Yasaburo that really sum everything up.

And as Yasaburo says, that clearly a result of his fool’s blood.

So the second season of this very odd show brings us right back where we started with the tanuki seeking a fun life, the tengu doing tengu things, and the humans being for the most part irrelevant to the actual plot and merely a minor hindrance in the grander scheme of things. I’ll do a full series review shortly.

The Eccentric Family is available on Crunchyroll.


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My Hero Academia Episode 26

Review:

This was a much more low-key episode than what we’ve been watching but it was quite effective as we see the students all hyped up after the tournament and moving into an internship and we also finally get to see the full impact on Iida of his brother’s attack.

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While we saw the attack and saw Iida visit his brother previously, that was kind of background to the tournament. This episode, it takes a far more central role and is certainly the major point of drama given the silliness going on in the classroom with the name choosing (silliness here is not synonymous with nonsense – it was a really good way to re-establish the personalities of some of the lesser known students and to see where our main characters were sitting emotionally).

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We also got a blast from the past with the mumbling Midoriya returning to the scene showing once and for all that for all of his growth, Midoriya will remain who he is.

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If I had to pick a fault with this episode it would be the moment where Iida heads off to his internship and Midoriya’s exposition heavy voice over. I get that this kind of works for the genre and given how light the episode was it did add some tension as it foreshadowed darker events, but it was just so unnecessary. We already knew that Midoriya was worried about Iida (as is their teacher) and we already knew that Iida was about to bite off more than he could chew. Putting it out there in such an obvious way just felt really clunky and like they didn’t trust the way they’d portrayed the characters to convey the idea and so they just had Midoriya say it straight out.

Okay, I’m an episode behind now but hopefully I’ll catch up at some point along the way. Still really enjoying this season of My Hero Academia.

My Hero Academia is available on Crunchyroll.


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