The Eccentric Family Season 2 Episode 3

Review:

Yasaburo loves trouble. This we learned during season 1 of The Eccentric Family. However, in this episode he seems to be inviting it from every direction imaginable. Once again, we get an episode full of encounters that all seem fairly random except that Yasaburo serves as the connection between all of these people but Benten’s return was the true highlight of the episode.

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Still, Benten’s arrival alone isn’t enough to make up for the overall driftless nature of the plot so far. As much as I love these characters, season 2 has been taking its time about getting to a point and that is somewhat holding the show back. And yet, Benten arriving and then watching her interact with newcomer character Nidaime… Well, that is interesting. If this show needed something to get things moving, the encounter between those two characters was more or less what the doctor ordered.

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This is the face of an extremely brave man. Few people would dare speak so calmly having just tipped Benten to the floor even if they did first lay out a table cloth for her to land on.

I just have to wonder if they’ll end up killing each other or falling completely in love because those two personalities together is going to make for an explosive combination. Of course, the show could back away from this plot point and go in a different direction. It is kind of hard to know.

The Eccentric Family is available on Crunchyroll.


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March Comes in Like a Lion Series Review

Overview:

March Comes in Like a Lion follows Rei Kiriyama a professional Shogi player despite being in highschool. Rei struggles with social interactions and sometimes just facing the day is an overwhelming challenge, however an encounter with three sisters will see some small changes in his life. You can find my episode reviews here.

Review:

There is no denying that I have absolutely loved watching March Comes in Like a Lion. For me there was an instant connection with Rei (not that I’ve gone through the same challenges or anything but I think we’ve all had those moments where we’ve wanted to run away from everything and hide). Rei’s really at the centre of everything in this show and whether you love it or not will depend entirely on how you take to him. Whether you enjoy watching him struggle and want to get behind him, whether you feel it cuts too close to home and feel uncomfortable, or whether you just don’t connect and find the proceedings fairly dull, it all comes down to that central character.

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That isn’t to say there aren’t some other very strong points to the show but with a plot that is almost non-existent this show heavily relies on the character journey to carry the story forward. Outside of Rei’s emotional journey you really just have  boy drifting through life and encountering others, occasionally getting caught up in their drama, and then drifting on to the next thing. Some of those encounters are amazing, but it doesn’t make for much of a plot.

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So what do I like about Rei?

He is at times represented quite pathetically, which isn’t the same as being a pathetic character. There are times when he gives up, when he loses his temper, when he surrenders a battle before he begins fighting. At all of those moments, everything about the show paints Rei as being pathetic. However, as a character he is magnificent to watch. This show gave me one of the best representations of a character going through depression and dealing with social anxieties that I have ever seen. Early in the series I worried that the sisters were going to be like some mystic fairy godmother and wave a wand and ‘cure’ Rei (a feat we’ve seen in so many other shows where getting a friend or a girlfriend/boyfriend suddenly changes everything). However, while they certainly give Rei an anchor to the world at times and a bright point within the darkness that surrounds him, they alone are not enough to transform him. They merely provide a catalyst for Rei realising he wants to change.

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And that is probably the strongest part of his character. Rei remains the agent of change regardless of the other characters who may support that change, provide a means for that change, or provide guidance on how to change. Rei is the one who chooses to move from where he is. Because of that his journey is not linear. He moves forward and back, stepping into more positive spaces before falling back down. Each time he learns and gains from the experience but it feels incredibly genuine and more importantly, if you’ve connected with him, it is heart wrenching watching him fall. You just want to reach out to him and grab his hand but you know you can’t fight the battle for him anymore than his teacher at school can or the sisters.

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The sisters themselves remain fairly nebulous to me. While they are that shining ray of hope that Rei needs, and at times they certainly kick things into gear (dragging Rei out when he’s sick to nurse him, running into him in town and bringing Nikaido over) as characters they get very little time and almost no development. The middle sister probably has the best moments when going through her first love and again when mourning her parents, but really the sisters seem more like a plot device than characters at times. That doesn’t really detract from the show but given their impact on the main character it would be nice to know more about them other than that they are nice. The cats are a nice touch though.

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Later in the series an older shogi player becomes fairly significant in Rei’s life. Shimada is probably the best developed character outside of Rei and his influence on Rei is enormous in the second half of the series. Shimada is a great character to watch and his story plays out very well and is thoroughly engaging. At first it seemed odd that he was getting so much focus, particularly as it seemed like Rei, the main character, was being sidelined, however the choice was well made and when the focus shifts back to Rei you realise just how essential seeing Shimada’s story was.

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The only other character I want to address in detail is Kyouko, Rei’s sister in the family that adopted him. She is set up as an antagonist and to be honest she is quite antagonistic, however that doesn’t appear to be her main role. Her relationship with Rei is more complicated than it first appeared and while at no point do I actually feel sorry for her, she is a horrible person, you begin to understand her actions a bit more when you realise that the father essentially forced his children to turn against each other in order to be the best. Losing out to Rei, and in so doing losing her father’s affection, seems to be the cornerstone of Kyouko’s entire character so her actions are understandable. What is less clear are Rei’s feelings for her given he clearly hates and fears her, but also seems drawn to her like a moth straight to a flame. If there was any relationship I’d like to see more of, it would be this one, because there’s a lot of unanswered questions about how Rei feels about the situation.

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Outside of the characters what makes this show an amazing watch are the visuals  and the music. Both have been chosen very well throughout to really convey the emotions on screen. While at times the visuals get a little over crowded as they hit you with a plethora of colours and symbols, for the most part they perfectly convey the feeling of the moment and really give a concrete substance to the emotions of the character.

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Okay, a few criticisms because I can’t leave this all shiny and happy. This show is slow. At times in the first half it is really, really slow. And the shogi cat song needs to disappear from existence and never be heard again. Plus, the first opening theme is significantly stronger than the second in terms of matching the tone of the show (though both ending themes are brilliant). And that’s really all I’ve got as overall criticisms.

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All and all though, if you didn’t watch this or try it while it was airing I am definitely recommending it. It won’t grab everyone but it is worth trying as if you can get into it the character journey is well worth watching. I know it is only the Winter season that has aired so far in 2017, but I know it is going to be hard for another anime to have as much impact on me this year as this one did so this is definitely a contender for my anime of the year.


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The Eccentric Family Season 2 Episode 2

Review:

It’s weird in that this episode felt incredibly slow paced at times and yet when thinking back it covered a lot of content. We had the non-duel between the tengu, where  Akadama was only spared falling completely to the ground because Yasaburo caught him. Nidaime’s only conclusion, other than general contempt for Akadama, was that Tanuki’s really are foolish and you can’t really argue with that after watching most of season 1.

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Then Yashirou visits Yasaburo carrying Kaisei with him and we get a discussion about the cancelled engagement. This is before Yasaburo is sent to talk to a guy who has apparently set up a ramen shop somewhere he isn’t supposed to. It was nice seeing Yasaburon put on the back foot in this situation but all of these events have occurred in the first part of the episode.

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The second part sees Yasaburo encounter the guy again at a dinner with the professor from last season (the one who likes Tanuki) and some artist, and then Yasaburo does some digging around about the new guy’s past. You would think Yasaburo was concerned about a new power in town, but to be honest he’s never that concerned about anything. He’s just ticked because he came off second best at tricking someone and that hurts his pride as a tanuki (he has a weird sense of pride but it is definitely there).

Anyway, I still love The Eccentric Family and this season is doing a great job of setting up a whole bunch of plot threads again and hopefully they can all come together as they did in season 1. My biggest issue with this episode was that it felt like things were moving slowly and yet they threw a lot at us to try and process.

The Eccentric Family is available on Crunchyroll.


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Alice & Zoroku Episode 2

Review:

While episode 1 awkwardly merged a facility escape drama with slice of life grandfather character meets cute girl, episode 2 decidedly falls into the slice of life and cute girls category. While the grandfather phones in his parts (literally), the people from the facility sit around in a hotel room and accomplish nothing for the episode, and the episode very much focusses on Alice’s meeting with Zoroku’s granddaughter, Sanae.

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It’s adorable and all but other than seeing the catalyst for Alice running from the facility in a very exposition heavy flashback we learn nothing about her power or the facility or what the ultimate point of the show is. Instead we get treated to a swarm of pigs, hot cakes, and then a free tour of the world (including cute penguins).

That said, it is still kind of interesting enough to give another episode but this one is dropping on my priority list and will need to have a fairly solid third episode if I’m going to keep going with it.

Alice & Zoroku is available on Crunchyroll.


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Friday’s Feature: Betraying My Own Expectations as a Viewer

Admittedly, this is not so much a feature as a ramble.

If you were to ask me directly what kind of anime I liked and didn’t like most of my regular readers already know that I would put comedy, slice of life, and cute girls doing anything pretty much on the side of generally not liked and horror and darker anime on the side of anime I quite enjoy. Shounen titles and drama tend to fall somewhere in the middle depending on their focus.

So imagine my surprise as I began the process of finalising my picks for reviewing this Spring and realised quite an odd trend. With the exception of Attack on Titan and My Hero Academia (both of which are only medium priority because while I’ll enjoy them well enough neither one had a first season that I would add to my list of favourite anime ever – with these I watch, I enjoy, I move on) the majority of the titles I’ve picked are pretty low key and there’s a lot of cute going on. Though I will admit I’m not even going to try to classify Kado at this point because I have no idea what that is going to become.

Starting with the sequels: I’ve got Natsume Yuujinchou which can only be described as a slice of life with a supernatural paint job just to give me enough justification to say that I’m watching a fantasy rather than a slice of life (it’s a slice of life, I’ve more or less accepted that) and then The Eccentric Family which is much the same. Slice of life with a supernatural paint job. Just for an added weirdness, The Eccentric Family relies heavily on comedy and for some reason I still didn’t run for the hills but actually loved the first season.

The other two titles I’ve pretty much decided on are both fantasy. I’ll insist that forever but both of them also feature healthy doses of cute girls and other suspiciously cute characters and objects. Granblue Fantasy and WorldEnd have both given me enough reason to smile while watching that I’m going to continue. I don’t know if I’ll end up regretting those choices but for now it seems like a reasonable call.

Admittedly, I still have a whole bunch of other titles to decide on before I have a final list, but there’s an interesting number of comedy, slice of life and cute coming through this season. Meanwhile, some of the more action focussed shows have been pretty bland (through to awful) in their first episodes and in terms of horror there’s pretty much nothing going on (The World Yamizukan did not appeal).

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Of course, this is why I don’t make a watch list before the season starts. Just because something ticks a genre box doesn’t mean I’m going to like it and if I didn’t at least try some of these other shows I really would miss out on things that I end up loving.

I watched the first episode of Natsume after seeing a random screen cap of one of the yokai in the show. I remember the feeling of being disappointed as the soft music played and the pastel colours filled the screen. Then I remember getting to the end of the first episode and immediately skipping to episode 2. And then binge watching the whole first season in a single afternoon.

Add to this the fact that I kind of enjoyed the first episode of Eromanga Sensei and either my taste has completely warped recently or some of these first episodes managed to execute ideas I would normally find repellent in an interesting manner (of course that doesn’t bode well for me finishing the season).

Spring 2017 is going to be a weird season for me in terms of reviewing and I’m still not sure what my final list looks like but hopefully it will be fun discussing all of the shows with everyone.


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Natsume Yuujinchou 6 Episode 1

Overview:

Okay, if you haven’t watched the previous 5 seasons, there’s very little reason to care about season 6. However for everyone else, Natsume is back and he still sees Yokai and he is still stuck with Nyanko-Sensei. Let’s see what they get up to this season.

Review:

Episode 1 is as true to the formula of Natsume as you would expect. Natsume and Nyanko are out running an errand (yep, the cat ate the snacks again) and they run into a yokai. Natsume being Natsume helps him out and then gets turned into a much younger kid (too adorable).

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We then get one of the better recaps of the main characters of a series I’ve seen as Nyanko-Sensei mentally runs through the options when seeking help before Taki and Tanuma show up (part of me wishes he’d gone to Natori because that would have been hilarious).

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I’m sure I’ve said this before, but Natsume needs smarter friends. Their hearts are in the right place but sometimes they are a little thick. Despite that, things get resolved and we end on a happy note with Natsume and Nyanko having a nap side by side.

Anyway, this is a sweet and fun as it has always been so a great start to another season provided you are up for more of the same.


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One Week Friends Series Review

Overview:

Hase has been interested in Fujimiya for awhile but when he finally finds the courage to ask her to be friends she bluntly rejects him and then runs away. Later, he finds her on the roof and for a week they start to talk and get close before she starts to push him away again. Turns out Fujimiya forgets her friends every single week (total reset). After learning this, Hase becomes more determined than ever to make friends with her, every single week.

Review:

I often wonder where writers for manga and anime get their information about how amnesia works. While it isn’t totally impossible someone would forget part of their memories each week, nor is it totally impossible that they would just forget what aspect of their life, but to forget just one specific set of memories every single week on the exact same day is probably pushing the notion just a bit for the sake of a cheap plot device. And it is a cheap plot device. They can go through the same sequences of events over and over, the conflict is built right into the premise, and there’s all sorts of things that can go wrong for the main pair. Everything about this story is designed to make you feel for their plight but the question remains of whether or not it succeeds.

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One Week Friends succeeds at being an interesting take on the troubles of teen friendship. Why do people make friends? What stops them from being friends? How much work does it take to actually become a friend? And at what point are you friends rather than just acquaintances?

It also succeeds relatively well at being an okay slice-of-life drama thing with the gimmick of memory reset just being the device that stops us from getting too gushy as Hase and Fujimiya get closer and closer.

Where it fails to succeed is at making either of these main characters actually likable and as a direct result while there is interest in the premise the actual steps on their journey kind of lacks emotional impact.

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Hase is too nice. He just is. He wants to be Fujimiya’s friend for whatever reason. I know he explains it and he justifies it to his friend (particularly when his friend points out that this particular friendship is more trouble than it actually seems to be worth at the time), but I never buy his attachment to Fujimiya other than he’s the nice guy who can’t leave the puppy out in the rain. The side-effect of not really getting his drive is that some of his actions become questionable. For instance, when Fujimiya loses her journal (in one of the most contrived ways to ramp up tension in a story I’ve ever seen) and also knocks the sign on her door that tells her to read her journal down, Hase ends up spending days looking for said journal in the long grass by the river where he’s convinced (despite a lack of any evidence) she must have lost the book. There’s optimism, there’s plot convenience, and then there is sloppy writing that we’re supposed to forgive because isn’t it sweet how they made up.

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Conversely, Fujimiya is just kind of dull. At first she’s stand-offish and you get that she goes through the pain of forgetting people each week if they get close to her and her friends act all horrified the next week when she can’t remember them so it is easier to avoid people.That part of her character is totally understandable and is by far the most interesting part of her character. Once she starts with Hase though she quickly becomes just a nice girl. She’s incredibly passive, allowing the uncertain Hase to drive almost every encounter and step they take as she works toward recovery of memories, and mostly she does not seem all that interesting. Instead, Hase and Fujimiya start doing all the usual high school things as though they are dating but they are just friends. Hase asks her to be friends each week. It’s all very, “What’s the point?”.

Saki and Shougo as support characters fare better but Shougo is pretty laconic so while he does drop a rare gem of a common sense line of thought into the story he is far too often silent and merely watching the action. Saki is irritating in every way as a character but she balances out Shougo and her appearance in the story very much helps make Fujimiya just a little bit more bearable so all and all she’s kind of a necessary introduction to the cast.

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I’m not going to talk about the trauma that caused Fujimiya’s condition or how this story resolves but to be honest there are better shows out there if you just want to watch someone’s heart get stamped on week after week. There are better shows for manipulating the audience with contrived plots, and there are better shows for developing teenage characters. Other than the gimmick itself of memory loss there’s just nothing here that is new or fresh or interesting.

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That doesn’t make this bad. If you ignore the limited possibility that anyone could have such a condition, the story plays out as it needs to and moves along at a slow but steady pace. It isn’t particularly flash but it gets the job done and there are some good scenes that genuinely make you think. So it isn’t bad, but it isn’t great. Your enjoyment will largely come from whether you find Hase’s relentless desire for Fujimiya’s friendship appealing and whether you accept the overall premise that the show lays out before you.

If you’ve seen this one I’d love to know your thoughts.


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March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 22

Review:

Rei’s journey has been a fairly fantastic ride to follow and I love that in this final episode we get the analogy of his life playing shogi compared to being on a train, continuing onward without a definite destination. The imagery in this show has almost always worked well (with a handful of exceptions) and this final episode of season 1, really nails it.

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The early part of this episode is interesting because we return to Rei’s school which is probably the place he has made the least progress. While he’s opened up to the sisters and reunited with them last episode, finally made actual friends amongst the other Shogi players, and really started to think about what he wants, school remains a place that Rei seems to want to be but spends most of his time there finding ways to escape dealing with anyone. This really helps us to see that Rei is still the same character we met in the beginning and while some small changes have occurred for the better, his essential character remains unchanged, and it brings a cohesion to this season that a full character transition couldn’t have delivered. It also makes me respect it far more because that kind of social anxiety is not going to vanish overnight no matter how shiny the sisters are.

Anyway, I’ll do a full review of this show sometime in the next month or two and I’m really excited that a season 2 has been announced. I’d love to see more of Rei’s travels.

March Comes in Like a Lion is available on Crunchyroll.


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Poco’s Udon World Series Review

Overview:

Souta returns to his home town after living in Tokyo to organise his father’s house for sale. Once he arrives there, he finds a child in one of the pots used in his father’s Udon restaurant. After that, Souta finds himself caring for the strange child. I reviewed this anime in bulk (episodes 1 – 6) and then did individual episode reviews for the second half so if you are interested in those thoughts click here.

Review:

Poco’s Udon World is a strange little series and really shouldn’t have been all that appealing to me. It stars a tanuki that’s taken the form of a kid and is excessively cute and follows the daily life of Souta who is at a cross roads in his life. Yep, it’s a slice-of-life with just a tinsy, tiny bit of fantasy thrown in to make is a little bit quirky. From the pastel colour scheme, the severe lack of conflict in the story for at least 80% of the run time, to the overly heart warming finale, this really shouldn’t have drawn me in.

I won’t say that Poco’s Udon World does anything that similar slice-of-life shows haven’t because that would be a lie. And yet, I was kind of hooked on this.

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Poco is a very cute kid and once or twice nearly crosses my threshold of tolerance for cute kids but manages to rein it in. I think it’s the animal characteristics from time to time that kind of save him. He kind of reminds me of my cat only he can speak. Whichever way, if you like cute kids he’s a winner and if you don’t you might be able to stand him.

Souta on the other hand is a very generic thirty-something character. He’s kind of adrift in his life. He returned to his hometown for a brief stay and then lingered, and then grew attached. It isn’t that he’s failed in Tokyo and returned home in disgrace or that he’s forced to return. He has a job and a life waiting for him, but he’s just kind of waiting for something else and not even he knows what that is. While he is a reasonably likeable character he isn’t particularly memorable.

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With neither of the two main characters being amazing, why did I fall in love with this show? Because when you put the two together something genuinely magical happens. Whether it is Souta trying to be a parent or freaking out because Poco’s tail is showing, the two of these characters together just work and they bring out the best in each other. Which makes episodes 11 and 12 all the more adorable and just a little bit sad even while you’re kind of happy about it and that’s all I’m going to say about the ending because I don’t want to spoil it.

The support cast are all quite interesting. Souta’s sister  and childhood friend probably get the most screen time and again neither is particularly interesting on their own but together and interacting with Souta they really work. You can believe the family and friendship dynamics between them and you feel that they have genuine history rather than a backstory that we’ve been dumped with. Souta’s boss and co-workers also serve their purpose and are interesting enough for the few scenes they get. But it’s probably Souta’s ex-childhood crush who he becomes ‘mum friends’ with who gets the gold star for supporting character. Again, she isn’t particularly amazing by herself but she really holds up a lot scenes and she’s definitely an essential character for Souta as he goes on this emotional journey.

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Despite being a slice of life this seldom feels overly slow. Admittedly it isn’t moving at break neck speed and the characters do spend a lot of time sitting and eating or sitting and talking, but it doesn’t feel like nothing is happening. Every episode brings the characters a little bit closer to whatever it is they seem to be looking for.

All and all I would definitely recommend this anime as one to check out if you haven’t already. It’s got a lot of heart and delivers a fairly solid story. While it isn’t going to take the world by storm it is a quiet achiever that never over-reaches. And if your wondering why it is Poco’s Udon World I still don’t know. Yes, Souta’s father had an udon restaurant but that seems to be about as far as the connection goes unless I missed something.


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Interviews with Monster Girls Episode 7

Review:

There were some good moments and some information about how society is adjusting to demis in this episode. Sprinkled in amongst some incredibly lame or dull moments. Is it really necessary for Hikari to be unable to provide a simple description of a person? Is it actually necessary for Sakie to deliver this self-aware gem that just fell completely flat in the conversation given there was really no reason for it:

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Was there any reason for the younger detective at all and his wall jumping attack? These things distracted and added nothing.

Also, the ending of this episode might be seen as sweet by some but I just found it slightly gag worthy. Yes, you two smoking men can protect all the female demis with your good intentions just because you are male. No way could they possibly sort out their own issues without you. Okay, I’m projecting my own issues into my interpretation but I just found this whole scene distasteful.

That said, let’s end on a positive. I absolutely loved Sakie’s reaction when she tried to rationalise her own feelings. They kind of nailed the execution by providing an external monologue of exactly what happens in your head when you try to rationalise something as irrational as romance.

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So, this episode didn’t do much to sell me on the show but it didn’t make me drop it so on we go to next week.

Interviews with Monster Girls is available on Crunchyroll.


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