And with this recap I am fully caught up for the first time since… well, let’s not dwell on that, shall we? Let’s instead get on with what must be my most detailed and screenshot-laden recap to date.
Princess Akira, I mean Prince Takumi, is making Mashiro’s staff nervous with his stern behaviour. It’s not as though they aren’t already nervous enough on account of not knowing Mashiro’s whereabouts. Nina and Arika’s arrival presents them with a possible, albeit farfetched, solution: Have Arika stand in for the queen!
I’ll pause for a moment and bask in the delicate subtlety of this plot device.
Hah! Anyway, Arika dresses up in her birthday outfit… no, not that, you pervs. She puts on the dress her benefactor bought for her birthday. There’s not much to say about the dress other than that it was clearly selected by a man who has no sense of women’s fashion. Oi vey. The newly minted Mashiro stand-in greets the Takumi stand-in, who in turn greets her in what he has heard to be the accepted manner in Windbloom, namely to kneel and kiss the queen’s hand. (Note the sheen of sweat on the prince’s face during this procedure.) Arika blushes from tip to toe, among other things, and it takes Nina’s elbow to the ribs to remind Arika that she should regain her composure. Nina, now masquerading as “the Queen’s Otome, Arika,” is all proper and formal, not that this stops her from getting some sort of enjoyment out of elbowing Arika periodically, I’m sure.
Meanwhile, the real royal brat awakens (from a bizarre dream involving Nagi, declarations of love and some light S&M) in a riverside shanty to find her cat cavorting with a strange young man who introduces himself as… Akira. Mashiro, in turn, takes the name of Nina Wong.
Once again, let’s bask in the subtlety. Takumi and Akira have merely swapped names, while Mashiro, Arika and Nina have performed an (partially unwitting) three way name rotation. At this point in the series I’m not sure if this is the worst foreshadowing ever… or a bright, shiny red herring. I rather hope it’s the latter, truth be told. I’d like to be pleasantly surprised instead of feeling like I’ve been led around by the nose, you know?
An interesting note about this first Takumi & Mashiro scene: The locket thief from last episode appears, chews Mashiro out for being wasteful with food, starts to recognize the princess… and then looks quite startled when Mashiro claims to be Nina. Did Nina exchange names with the child on the rail station steps, or does this kid know more than he (or is that a she) should? Either way, having the kid show up two episodes in a row under quite different circumstances means that this is also very likely not the last we’ll see of that character.
During the limousine ride to Guarderobe, Arika complains about having to impersonate the Queen and asks Nina why she took Arika’s name. Nina’s response is both enlightening and curious. She insists that in no way would she want Nina Wong to be the Queen’s Otome… and she also reveals that she knows about the contract. Arika is surprised by this, and when she asks how Nina knows this, Nina’s response is a playful, “Guess!” It’s interesting that Nina doesn’t want to be Windbloom’s Otome, but has Arika forgotten that everyone knows about the contract on account of the library break-in debacle? I’m not sure if this is sloppy writing or something else entirely.
Arika and Nina make an agreement: Nina won’t spill the beans about the contract between Arika and Mashiro if Arika keeps mum about the day’s earlier events (chronicled last episode). Having achieved this, Nina formally states that she’ll be Arika’s Otome for the day. Since she’s sort of already agreed to play that role, I can only assume this is more along the lines of a gesture indicating Nina’s acceptance of Arika as something vaguely resembling a friend, or at least a worthy equal. The girls briefly reflect on what a messed-up birthday this is turning out to be, and then Nina really looks at the world outside the car windows. Oh my! It’s “Our Lovely Queen” Mashiro’s picture splashed all over the city! That can’t bode well for the success of their little charade… which makes you wonder why it took a teenaged girl to spot one of the most glaring holes in the plan. Ah well.
Mashiro, for her part, wants to reveal her true identity. Too bad the banners are being rolled up even as she speaks, huh? When she reveals that it’s her birthday, Takumi buys a her flower. Mashiro, not being familiar with the value of simple kindnesses, is thoroughly discombobulated. Meanwhile, Arika counsels what appears to be a lead ninja to hurry up and find the real prince, for Takumi’s medicine has probably run out. Well well. Some things never change, eh? Takumi may have made it to the top of the food chain, but that hasn’t removed his health problems.
Our false queen and false prince’s entourage arrives at the school, where Natsuki & Co. welcome them. I laughed out loud at the “ding!” of a small bell as Shizuru’s eyes widen when she gets a good look at “Prince Takumi.” You can’t fool that woman, especially about women. Hah! Sergei, who’s part of the greeting party at the behest of his employer, takes advantage of the opportunity to playfully needle an unappreciative “Antsy.”
Mashiro and Takumi enjoy a carefree day together, laughing and goofing off and generally being cute as little buttons. Eventually Takumi is forced to take his last pill, however. (Geeky Fanboy Moment: It’s the same pill case!) When asked by Mashiro why he’s in Windbloom, Takumi replies that he’s looking for a very important female person (at which point Mashiro becomes visibly dejected), someone who always lectures him about how he’s too nice to everybody… someone who is no longer in Windbloom… his sister (at which point Mashiro lights up like a halogen lamp).
Whoah! Tokiha Mai is, or was, alive and kicking, has been in Windbloom, and is important enough to have a head of state introduce her to the story. Woo hoo! This, along with the three-flame logo on Takumi’s vest, lends a lot of weight to the theory that it’s Mai’s silhouette (with matching logo) we see in the opening sequence. Oh my!
The “prince” is shown the delights of Guarderobe, including an Otome battle which prominently features Tomoe. Speculation about the “handsome prince” abounds, including a cute character-building moment of Nao teasing Akane about maybe stealing away Kazu-kun. Nao doesn’t want to fight and die for principles; she just wants a nice, comfortable life with a rich benefactor somewhere. Arika, for her part, is bored silly… and when she starts to yawn and fidget, Nina’s right there not only with the elbow to the ribs but a follow-up punch to the face. You can’t tell me Nina’s not enjoying these little wake-up calls!
Finally safe behind closed doors, the false royalty each collapse in identical frustrated exhaustion and inquire as to the status of the search. Akira expressions an additional frustration that Takumi is so attached to his sister that… and at that point, the ninja named Iori laughs a bit, which embarasses Akira considerably. Hmm, it seems that Akira’s feelings have not yet been adequately expressed, let alone requited. Once again, the brother/sister bond gets in the way of things. One can’t help but wonder how this might have played out in Mai’s case.
Iori leaves Akira to clean up, but she’s not alone; Shizuru makes her move, and dramatically at that. Akira tries to attack the intruder, but Shizuru easily disarms her and then traps her in something of a cross between a hold and an embrace. Trust Shizuru to make the most of a given situation, but before she can properly interrogate this false prince, Arika arrives (and is thoroughly taken aback at what she sees) which provides Akira enough of a distraction to make her escape. Shizuru awakens Arika’s gem and they give chase.
Takumi takes a moment at the end of his day with Mashiro to say some things about the somewhat-sorry state of Windbloom that our young queen desperately needs to hear, even though she doesn’t want to. Mashiro tries to take the elitist stance, but Takumi cuts through that crap with ease. He’s a man of the people, no question.
Arika and Akira meet in the skies above the city. Arika with her phenomenal physical skills can’t quite nab the green-haired ninja, and her surprise is expressed as a query as to whether Akira is an Otome. Akira is offended by this notion, considering herself “above” such a thing. Apparently there are more than just the two ways (Otome and Cyborg) to become vastly overpowered in this world.
Takumi has an attack of his medical condition, conveniently right as Akira arrives. Taking the purple-haired girl as a threat, Akira attacks… but is thwarted by Nina at the last moment. As Mashiro calls out Nina’s name, the whole silly scheme finally unravels. Everyone’s introduced, and Akira provides Takumi his medicine… albeit in a somewhat eyepopping fashion. (It’s amusing that nobody corrects Arika’s misconception that Takumi and Akira are both boys. Heh.) Shizuru roughed Iori up but good, and Mashiro just wants to know what the hell’s going on…
A now-regal Takumi holds forth in Natsuki’s office about his opinion of the Otome program, including misgivings about leaving the fate of the world in the hands of a gaggle of teenaged girls. (Silly boy. Anyone who watches enough anime knows that the fates of the world has always been safe in the hands of teenaged girls. I mean, really now. Ahem.) Natsuki counters with the fact that Guarderobe has a strict selection process (one easily circumvented by expediency in Arika’s case, hmm?), but Takumi has an answer to that in the form of another question: What about the Ruby of the Flaming Jewel, huh? Natsuki is shocked and speechless. (Arika tries to ask Nina who the Ruby of the Flaming Jewel is and earns one last elbow to the ribs for her efforts. Silly Nina!)
Takumi explains to Natsuki that his purpose in Windbloom isn’t to seek a bride or Otome, and that his country of Zipang will not be interfering in Western politics for a time. At this point we cut to a brief shot of Sergei reading a letter marked with the name Tokiha. One wonders what Takumi had to say to our good Major Wong, eh?
Mashiro has kept the flower, though she nearly crushes it in anger as she reflects on Takumi’s words. Instead she sings her part of The Song… while Natsuki looks at an old class photo that includes a number of familiar faces such as Shizuru, Natsuki, Haruka and… Mai! (I welcome the inevitable list of who all of the names are attached to those faces. I’m sure Mai’s not the only plot point in the picture.)
Natsuki and Shizuru see the prince off. Takumi wishes them well, and asks Natsuki to give the Queen his best regards as well. Natsuki asks, “Are you Mai’s…?” to which Takumi nods. (Gee, like we didn’t all know that already. But I suppose there’s some value to Natsuki confirming this information.) Takumi later proclaims that perhaps he’ll return some day.
Next episode: Oh no! Something bad happens with Akane and Kazu! Not that we haven’t seen the “sacrificial lamb” sign hanging over those two since the beginning (even if we hadn’t already seen the same thing happen to them in Mai HiME), but still… Waah! Those two just can’t win, can they?