Rolling Review – Made in Abyss (04)

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Episode Summary:

Riko’s adventure begins in earnest, as she and Reg begin rapidly descending the Abyss in hopes of evading any pursuit from Leader and the others.  Along the way, we get a taste of what the journey will bring, from ancient ruins to terrifying monsters to simply finding food.  The intrepid duo also encounter Riko’s uncle Habo, who gives them some food, a vaccine to prevent sickness in the second layer of the Abyss, and a worrying warning about the guardian of the Seeker Camp that sits at the entrance to the the second layer – Ozen the Unmovable.  Undeterred, the two continue, reaching the edge of the second layer.  Riko is now considered to be a suicide by those on the surface, and her further progress will only be impeded by the challenges of the Abyss and those who live in it.

 

Episode Review:

It’s a little strange to feel proud of a character for charging recklessly towards her own death, but Made in Abyss makes you really want to root for poor, doomed Riko and her protector, Reg, if only because of her irrepressible optimism.

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Figure 1: Irrepressible optimism

Despite barely having a plan and a supply situation that will require them to scavenge constantly as they progress, Riko is nothing but excited for her journey.  It helps that Leader left her a message containing a copy of her mother’s final journal, as well as a message from him to her that spurs her to faster action.  Well, that and Reg, who is assuredly the only thing that might keep Riko safe for longer than a day down here – I don’t even think she has a weapon beyond her survival knife.

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That is a pretty sweet monster-alert system you got there, Reg
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Seriously, what was your plan if you didn’t have Reg’s Bionic Commando powers?

Thankfully, this isn’t going to be a tale of a useless princess being protected by her robot knight.  Riko may be all of 12 years old and unprepared for fighting, but she does have a good set of survival skills and the tools to use them.

Speaking of fighting, they encounter their first terrifying denizen of the Abyss.

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Why is every creature down here awful?

What’s interesting about it is that for this monster, and another one that appears later on, the animation style changes.  It feels like the creatures have been run through some kind of blurring filter, smooshing together all of the internal color lines and making them almost seem… rotoscoped or something.  I mean, they clearly aren’t but it’s really hard to describe the effect.  In any event, it makes the encounters with these monsters really stand out, and makes them feel very different than the characters we’re following.  Probably this is because if the monsters were drawn with the same rounded softness as the characters, they wouldn’t look menacing at all, and so this difference in animation really highlights the danger these monsters pose.

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Not even kidding, Riko, you would’ve been eaten Day 1, 8’ o clock without the Reg-Arm

Much of the rest of the episode (not counting the minor encounter with Habo; the episode summary really says it all) is some absolutely stunning background stills that the characters move through.  The other Con Artists have each said as much, but it’s worth stressing – nothing this season, or for that matter, several seasons, has looked this good.  Please enjoy the following gallery:

I’m almost more excited to see the various areas of the Abyss than I am to follow Riko and Reg’s adventure.  Especially because of the warning given to Riko by Habo about her upcoming meeting with Ozen.

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The way this line was delivered, in context, made me shudder.  I’m worried for you, kid.

In summary, I am totally hooked for what will happen next, and what the next area of the Abyss will bring.

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Oh my god you guys are so screwed.  Go in there so I can see more.

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Rolling Review – Little Witch Academia (22)

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Dun dun dunnnnnn!

 

Episode Synopsis:

The riots from the soccer matches, and the enmity between the countries, have worsened.  Britain’s leaders, Andrew’s father among them, have begun down a path towards confrontation with another continental nation, probably France (although they are not named).  Of course, this has nothing to do with Akko… until she discovers that Croix is using her techno-magic to keep the two sides angry as a way to create additional magical energy and pursue some kind of dramatic end-game.  She confronts Croix, and the fallout from this leads to the reveal of Shiny Chariot, the cause of her disappearance, and a dark secret that may stop Akko from pursuing the Words.

Episode Review:

Before we get too deep into the review, I just want to say that Andrew’s dad is pretty good at cutting a dramatic figure, even when he really shouldn’t.

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This is a man that knows how to turn off a television with extreme prejudice

 

Before we go any further, though, I think it’s appropriate to post a SPOILER WARNING here.  We generally do spoil most of our episodes as we review them, but this one is a lot more spoiler-y than usual, in the sense that it would be a lot more dramatic and impactful to watch this episode than read about it.

At last, we’ve reached the pivotal point of the season.  Croix’s plan has left the lab and moved onto a national stage, a crisis is rising, and the major arcs of Akko, Croix, Ursula, Andrew, and probably Diana are all getting ready to intersect.  Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Croix’s plan is not super original as far as anime villain plots go.  Gaining power from negative emotions and using them to do… whatever it is she’s planning…

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With a name like that, you just know this plan isn’t going to be puppies and rainbows

…is a pretty standard trope.  That said, the explanation of this large plan was given alongside the explanation as to why Akko is basically the world’s worst witch (Shiny Chariot’s show accidentally? intentionally? stole the audience’s magical aptitude to generate magical energy), and that actually did a really good job of tying together many of the things that have bugged us all season.  That event is why Akko is bad at magic, why she can’t fly on a broom, and also explains why Ursula was so reluctant to reveal herself as Shiny Chariot.  It’s not just that Ursula would have to deal with Akko fangirling on her for the rest of her school life, she also would have to explain her very dark past and risk losing both Akko’s friendship and (perhaps more importantly for Ursula) Akko’s pursuit of the Words.

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Of course, putting off this painful explanation means that it happened at the worst possible time instead

So, nice job on that one, Trigger, it explains a lot in one fell swoop.  Of course, we don’t know everything yet; there’s still more to learn about Croix and Ursula’s relationship, as well as –

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OK, what?  Ursula, you have some SERIOUS explaining to do.  I thought that was a charming background detail, but the shape on the moon is RELEVANT!?  We’d better circle back around to this, and soon.

Akko is, of course, emotionally devastated by the revelations, and now I’m sure it’ll be up to her friends to get her back on track.

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Plus, someone’s going to have to stop, or at least hold off, Croix before there’s another European war.  Come on, Diana (and maybe McGonagall), show me what you’re made of!

With the big drama going on, there are a number of other musings I want to touch on.  For one, Croix’s reveal does have one major plot pitfall (other than its standard-ness) – no part of it appears to hinge on Akko or the Shiny Rod at all, at least at this point.  So why did Croix spend so much time befriending Akko?  Her reveal didn’t take the form of a dramatic betrayal of some trust Akko had in her; Akko basically stumbled onto Croix as the plan was beginning; Croix was surprised to see her there at all.

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Was it just to hurt Ursula?  Maybe, but that doesn’t seem like it was a major goal either, just kind of a side project for Croix.  In short, I don’t know why Croix ever played “good professor” with Akko, but maybe there’s more to come.

 

Next up, the riots.

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They make a strong statement

As silly as it is to imagine Britain and France going to war over a controversial referee call in a soccer match, I do have to wonder how European viewers are feeling about the show.  Here in America, I’m pretty used to my country being represented as a shady, immoral, vaguely threatening but usually incompetent villain that menaces Japan from afar.  Or to the assumption that all US citizens are either gun-toting cowboys (for the men) or blonde airheads (for the women).  It’s… a depressingly common portrayal in anime.  But now, out of the blue, it’s Europe’s turn, and their characterization is being one soccer riot away from a war.

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So to any of our European readers – what are your feelings on this episode?  Leave us a comment; I’d be fascinated to read it.

 

Also of note: Andrew’s character development.  Andrew’s difficult relationship with his powerful, brook-no-interference father, and how the heavy burden of his father’s expectations of future leadership is weighing on him, are their own small but well-told story.

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In almost the background of the show, Andrew is having his own quiet arc.

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Real talk, though, Andrew – you may always feel the need to look proper, but some of the poses you strike look ridiculously uncomfortable.

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Seriously, what are you doing?

Maybe take some more cues from Akko.

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Bad example.  That looks a lot more fun… but still uncomfortable to hold

Finally, as we approach the endgame of what has been an enjoyable ride, I do find myself feeling a tinge of regret: I don’t feel like we really got enough time with Lotte, Sucy, or the academia part of Little Witch Academia.  Well, maybe they can do a sequel, or a spinoff or something.  LWA Gaiden: Diana and her Terrible Toadies?


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Rolling Review – Little Witch Academia (18)

 

 

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Get off me, you simpleton!

Episode Synopsis:

The Wild Hunt, an event where highly trained ghost hunters compete (?) to hunt ghosts that appear on a set schedule, is coming to town.  Constanze, the mute techno-mage in training (different kind of techno-magic than Croix, though), is preparing a mighty mechanical steed to participate.  Enter Akko, who accidentally breaks one of Constanze’s helper robots, and takes it upon herself to make it up to Constanze by working with her to build her ship.  Problem is, Constanze doesn’t want any help.  So begins Akko’s quest to prove that sometimes, it takes teamwork to get a difficult job done.  Oh, there’s also a massive magical mecha showdown towards the end.

Episode Review:

This is another fine episode by Studio Trigger from a quality standpoint, with some standout scenes, but I can’t help but feel like the message is a bit off.  Constanze makes it clear from the outset that she doesn’t want any help from Akko.

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Well, see, there’s your problem.  Akko definitely doesn’t have a clue how to read English.

Akko takes the lack of friendship as a challenge, and sets about aggressively trying to make Constanze her friend.

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This is despite numerous conversations with both her own friends and Constanze’s that confirm Constanze’s preference.

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Now, I figured we were setting up Akko to learn another valuable lesson about how people are different, gain (or at least try out) a new virtue that will help her unlock one of the Words, etc.  Instead, the lesson is that Constanze is in the wrong by not accepting Akko’s help…

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Pictured above: “Help”

…and that sometimes it takes people with different skills to accomplish an objective.

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Upon seeing the impossible majesty of a plant in the shape of a cow, Constanze had no choice but to become Akko’s friend.

Now, admittedly, that’s a fine lesson too, but there’s gotta be a better way for Constanze to learn it than having unwanted assistance shoved down her throat until she accepts it.  Someday, Akko is going to meet someone that she truly can’t help with her patented mixture of optimism and bull-headedness, and that’s going to be a rough day.  On a side note, why doesn’t Akko show this level of commitment to making friends with Diana?

Moving on, the second half of the episode is an incredibly fun action sequence in which Constanze and Akko take off in their new ghost-hunting magitek ship for some Wild Hunt action.

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This stylish number emerges from a secret under-lake launch site, because if you’re doing a mecha episode, sometimes you gotta go with the classics

The fight is Trigger at their best, with dramatic action shots all over the place, and gets much more hectic once Croix shows up to make the ghosts stronger and more aggressive with her techno-magical cube things.

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That looks like trouble

Fortunately, Constanze and Akko have a trick up their sleeve.

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Yes.
LWA Ep 18 -_00054.jpg
Yes!

 

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YES.

Is it kind of strange to suddenly have a mecha show in the middle of your magical witch school show?  Sure.  I still enjoyed every minute.  From the transformation sequence to the English attack names to the giant explosions, it was a perfect classic mecha nostalgia moment.

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In terms of plot development, there isn’t too much, though we do get a bit more of Croix’s master plan, which is currently in the research phase.  She apparently has some way to obtain energy from human emotions, and today’s experiment was to gauge the output from panic.

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Based on previous episodes, it seems like she’s really going for the negative emotions, but she may also be causing unintended benefits for Akko’s plan to get people to like magic again:

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These folks are 100% convinced about magic’s radness factor after watching a magical mecha take down a sinister bird demon with an exploding drill arm

Another episode behind us, and I’m left with only one question: Does Akko even attend classes anymore?

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Rolling Review – Little Witch Academia (14)

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Episode Synopsis: Professor Ursula has, at last, decided to tell Akko the whole truth about the Words of Arcturus.  Before she can, though, the faerie maintenance staff unionize and go on strike, demanding a greater share of the Sorcerer’s Stone’s limited magical energy, from which they draw their life force.    With tensions rising on both sides, the new professor of modern magic, Croix, arrives with a solution – the Sorcery Solution System!  By using the SSS to store magical energy from the Stone at off-peak hours, there’s enough magic for both sides to get what they want, and both sides end up embracing it.  But there’s something sinister about Croix, and this system may not be as benign as it first appears.  She also uses a variety of nefarious and dangerous methods to manipulate Akko into idolizing her.  With Ursula’s shocked recognition of Croix, the stage is set for a battle over the future of magic, with the hapless Akko at the center of it.

Episode Review: First off, I don’t want to say that I totally called it…

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…but I totally called it.  I think my exact words were that the maintenance guys “give off a “seen it all” union vibe.”  Perhaps the most surprising thing is that they actually weren’t unionized until this episode.  As amusing as this magical strike is, it also gives us a lot more insight into how Luna Nova works – there’s a limited amount of magical energy available per day, and some of it goes to the maintenance staff; it’s literally their life force.  This also explains why the maintenance staff exists at all – magic isn’t infinite, so the witches can’t just do everything with a spell and hope to have enough juice to make it through the day.

Akko, brash as ever, wakes up to find there’s no breakfast, hot water, or heat in school, and immediately rushes off to solve the problem by confronting the union.  But because she has a good heart and an open mind, she rapidly ends up taking the union’s side – it’s hard to argue with “we need magic to live”, although somehow Akko is literally the only witch at the entire academy to find this compelling.  She becomes the union’s human spokesperson, as faeries don’t speak human language, and translators – Lotte, in this case – are generally required.

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I think she’s found her true calling

This leads to some amusing moments, especially as the witch administration realizes they can’t force their way through the problem and sit down to negotiations.

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I love the super-serious newspaperwoman in the back there

Never change, headmistress.

Although, speaking of the headmistress and her laissez-faire attitude towards running the school, it seems odd that none of the school’s leaders are concerned with the larger problems they face.  Sure, they’ll deal with immediate problems like the strike, but they don’t seem to grasp the big picture – even when it’s presented to them with charts and graphs.

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I swear, headmistress, I can never tell if you’re playing your own clever game… or just a doddering fool

They’ve complained that magic is declining, that there aren’t as many witches coming (leading to financial trouble), that there isn’t enough magic power being output every day… but no one is trying to figure out why, or how to fix it.

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Wow, I wonder if maybe a GLOBAL MAGIC SHORTAGE is a problem we could be looking into

Akko, in reviving the Words of Arcturus, seems on the path to using the Grand Triskelion to revive the power of magic… but she’s just going with the flow and has no idea of what she’s accomplishing.  Ursula, who both knows what’s going on and has finally decided to tell Akko, never quite seems able to get a word in.

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Shortly after this scene, Ursula was sent off to find a short-term solution to the problem and spent the rest of the episode away from campus

My hopes rest with Diana, as it seems like she’s figured it out and knows what Akko has to do, but Diana and Akko just cannot seem to get along.  When Diana tries her own hand at strike-breaking, Akko is ready to oppose her.

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She’s not… wrong

Diana and Akko get into quite the heated argument over the plight of the working class, with Diana ultimately retreating, but not before this:

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So she knows what Akko has to do.  Now they just have to become friends, or at least less antagonistic enemies, so they can work together to solve Magic.  I’m rooting for you, girls.

Speaking of reviving magic, let’s meet its chief opponent.

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You cut a pretty awesome figure, Croix

Croix shows up with fancy buzzwords, “magitronic” devices, and a snake-oil sales pitch whose primary claim is to violate one of the bedrock laws of the universe.

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…no one?  No one is going to challenge that?  See, this is why we need Muggle Studies.

The general idea is that those floaty cube things will store energy and then release it as needed.

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There is, however, a particularly menacing part of the presentation where the Sorcerer’s Stone and the leyline go silent, drained of all magic.

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That’s not ominous at all

As usual, though, no one is really paying attention.  In fact, the only opposition to this plan at all comes from McGonagall here:

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Her opposition isn’t rooted in anything firmer than “I don’t like new-fangled things”, though, and ultimately, she’s overruled.

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Well shoot.  At least they look happy.

So only one member of the administration is really standing against Croix, but everything else is going her way.  The Sorcerer’s Stone is now surrounded by floaty cube things and a whole tower is now devoted to magitronic devices.  Akko, who was twice unknowingly put in danger by Crois and twice saved by Croix’s modern magical intervention , now idolizes her.  In her own words:

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You’re going to make a pretty good villain, Croix.  Keep it up

Before I close, though, what episode review could be complete without the latest in the Continuing Adventures of the Toady Twins, shown here bribing a fire spirit to heat up some water:

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Do you guys practice those facial expressions, or do they come naturally?

Never truly threatening, always petty and selfish, their antics are always fun to watch.  Hey, at least someone at this school took some initiative to work around the strike.


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Rolling Review – Little Witch Academia (10)

 

LWA Ep 10 -_00053.jpgEpisode Synopsis: The Earl is throwing a party for Andrew, and Akko is, naturally, not invited.  Taking the existence of a party she’s not at as a personal affront, Akko breaks in, dragging Lotte and Sucy with her.  For… reasons (or, more likely, no reason at all), Sucy has brought along a bee whose sting causes its victim to fall in love with the first person they see.  Hi-jinks ensue.  By the end of the episode, Andrew is starting to feel an attraction to Akko (or maybe just to her anti-authoritarian streak), while Frank, Andrew’s friend, has realized that Lotte is the girl for him.  Sucy remains beloved only of mushrooms, just the way she wants it.

Episode Review: Episode 10 is similar to the previous few, in that not a lot of importance happens, but it’s fun to watch anyway.  For one thing, Diana, thank goodness, is back.

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And where Diana goes, so go her terrible toadies.

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Prepare for trouble, and make it double!

Unfortunately for Team Rival, Sucy’s love bee makes this an evening they will always want to forget.  Initially, the bee’s sting causes Diana to fall in love with Akko.

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Diana, there’s something wrong with your face… it’s… smiling!

Her poor toadies spend most of the episode as follows:

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Justice!

 

Of course, Akko is only a temporary placeholder for Diana’s true love:

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Herself.  At last, she’s found perfection.  As you might imagine, this isn’t an episode where a lot of serious business occurs, but it is fun to watch the love bee’s effects on everyone.

 

Now, you’re probably asking: Why, Sucy?  Why a love bee?  Why now?  Why here?

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Well, the logic checks out

Now, that’s not to say that everything in the episode is complete fluff.  The episode builds on the introduction we got to Andrew in Episode 6, and gives us a lot more insight into his father, the Earl.

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The Earl has been grooming Andrew for his entire life to become a leader and powerful figure in his country.  To the Earl’s way of thinking, this means eliminating everything that doesn’t lead to status and power, such as witches or, say, piano.  Andrew once expressed interest in the piano, so his father forbid him from touching a piano ever again.

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No son of mine is going to become some… spoony bard!

Andrew resents this constant control, but feels he has a duty to do what his father directs.  Enter Akko:

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LWA Ep 10 -_00044.jpgAs usual, Akko’s forthright and earnest attitude carries the day, and her enthusiasm rubs off a little on Andrew.  The episode finale features Andrew at the piano playing Flight of the Bumblebee as Akko hunts down and swats the love bee to end its spell.

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That looks… so very precarious

As in the fountain episode, Andrew seems to be having fun with Akko, though he’s careful not to show it too much.

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Your pretty-boy sweat sparkles are giving you away!

Meanwhile, things have taken quite a turn for Lotte – even after the bee’s effects have work off, Frank remains interested.

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I gotta give it to Lotte (and the show) though: she might be “the plain one”, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to settle out of desperation – she turns his date offer down.

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She’s still open to getting to know him better and starting as friends

So we’ve got the beginnings of some more interesting relationships between our characters.  And hey, Akko even uses magic and has it do what she wants!

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Granted, what she wants in this case is a squirrel large enough to terrorize the country, but at least it’s a start.

In summary, Sucy continues to be fun to watch,

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The patented “ain’t I a stinker?” face

And I’m looking forward to more episodes with Andrew (as are the girls).

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