Sherlock Holmes meets speed dating.
In order to verify her identity, Kotori suggests that Shido should kiss her. Instead, he rips off her hair ties. From Kotori’s reaction, Shido determines that it’s definitely her—and she punches him in the stomach.
Miku and Shido head to a theme park, in costume so that Miku won’t be recognized by fans. Excited otaku snap pictures of their cosplays. Shido goes out for ice cream with Mii, Mai, and Ai, who are still mad about the sexual harassment. Shido meets Okamine-sensei in her office, and she pulls out a marriage registration form. Shido goes bowling with Kaguya, who crushes him; she can now make him do whatever she wants. Kaguya curls up in his lap and demands head rubs, but she soon devolves into sobs over Yuzuru.
Shido returns home to Kotori. Unfortunately, none of his dates seemed at all suspicious. Natsumi contacts Shido with magic, taunting him from afar. He guesses that Natsumi is impersonating Yoshino, who acted uncharacteristically bold with him. Natsumi departs abruptly, and Reina contacts Shido—both Yoshino and Ai have disappeared.
Two days later, Natsumi has erased Okamine-sensei, Mai, Mii, and Tonomachi. Shido sees a rom-com with Origami, who asks him to touch her breasts in the movie theater. Tohka, worried about Shido, visits him to offer her support. Woodman asks Shido for directions, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. Immediately after Tohka heads home, Reina announces that Tohka has vanished—because Shido arrived home late, Natsumi claims he forfeited a guess. Natsumi delivers an ultimatum: if Shido guesses right the next day, she’ll give back all his friends. If not, none of them will ever return to this world. Woodman visits a feral James.
Shido brings together Kotori, Origami, Kaguya, and Miku. The girls suggest that Natsumi may not be playing by the rules; she may be hiding inside a photograph or impersonating no one at all. Natsumi offers Shido three guesses. Shido’s first guess is Yuzuru, and Origami vanishes. Isaac wants to hire new personnel.
Kotori guesses Tonomachi, and Natsumi abducts Kaguya. At the last possible moment, Shido realizes that Natsumi was impersonating Yoshinon! Natsumi returns all his friends—and they all see her true form, that of an adorable little girl. As revenge, Natsumi turns the other Spirits into children as well.
I have to say, Date A Live just keeps on exceeding my expectations. This episode is close to perfect—funny, exciting, quirky, and romantic, with a satisfying answer to the mystery that’s been built up for three episodes. Bravo, Date A Live.
The snippets of Shido’s dates are cute and entertaining, but, appropriately, they begin to feel increasingly frantic as Shido’s panic grows. There was never any doubt in my mind that his friends weren’t gone for good—I mean, Date A Live’s hardly going to kill off its whole main cast at the beginning of the season—but Shido’s genuine terror makes Natsumi’s game feel like it has real stakes.
And the characters are just so much fun. Miku is airheaded, creative, and a bit self-absorbed. Tohka is surprisingly thoughtful (okay, full disclosure—if I had to pick a girl for Shido, it would definitely be her). Kaguya is dominant and confident, but even she can be vulnerable, dissolving into genuine concern and love for her sister. Even Origami’s extreme forwardness reads as humorous rather than creepy here; she’s not forcing Shido to do anything he’s not comfortable with, and her matter-of-fact attitude towards sex is hilarious. “That wore me out,” groans Shido, in a line that made me chuckle. “Mind, body, and soul.” On the other hand, Shido’s date with Kotori follows a predictable pattern, but the timing of beats—she swings her fist right before the title card plays—makes it funny all the same.
The final sequence—the clock counts down as Shido frantically works his mind through Natsumi’s riddle—is genuinely so fun and exciting. I love the revelation that Natsumi may not be playing fair, that she could be hiding in a photo or even not impersonating someone at all. The final reveal—that she inhabited the body of Yoshino’s puppet—is the perfect solution: something we could have guessed on our own, but just shocking enough to feel like a clever twist.
Some aspects of this episode require more than a little suspension of disbelief. Wouldn’t anyone notice that these people have vanished? Kaguya was placated by the idea that Yuzuru left to “take a test” (in the middle of the night??) but what about the families of the humans who were taken? And it doesn’t really seem believable to me that Kaguya would be so together at the beginning of her date after her sister has been missing for literal days and she knows something is up.
Then there’s the episode’s ending, which doesn’t really work. The idea that Natsumi is actually a little girl using magic to disguise herself as a sexy, busty adult, and she’s horrified of anyone finding out she’s actually a child… The implications of that are super uncomfortable. I mean, talk about sexualizing kids. After such a huge buildup to her true form, I was expecting… I don’t know, something gruesome? Not the fact that a kid is obsessed with looking sexy and having big boobs. That’s honestly really sad. I’d hope this show would use this plotline to discuss the troubling expectation placed on young girls in 2019, how we expect them to look and act like sexy adults despite being literal children, but I somehow doubt Date A Live is going to go there.
And the setup for the next episode? Even more uncomfortable. I don’t really want to watch Shido babysit child versions of girls he’s kissed and dated, who have made sexual advances on him. Nothing good can come of this. (I see you, teacher pulling out a marriage registration form while meeting with a teenage student, and I don’t like you either.)
I do love a good mystery, though, and on that front, this episode certainly delivers.