Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 09

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Even though it starts with an innocuous late night game of cards, it feels like a lot more happens in this episode than last week’s, thanks both to Ryouko’s vivid imagination and Tsuruya’s stargazing suggestion. It’s also a better episode...IF we forgive its deeply disconcerting final moments.

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At first Yuki loses, and as a penalty she has to get food and drinks for eveyrone. Naturally, Kyon comes along, for chivalrous purposes (it’s dark out and Yuki’s a klutz). Indeed. she trips and ends up in Kyon’s arms, and from Ryouko (and everyone else’s) POV they seem to even lean in to kiss.

But then, quite unexpectedly, it all turns out to have been a fantasy Ryouko made up in her head. In fact, the lovebirds never went out; she’s the one who ends up with the Old Maid.

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Thankfully, Yuki and Kyon do go out together when Ryouko and Haruhi conk out and Tsuruya suggests they go to a perfect spot for stargazing, which is quite a hike away. Kyon offers to hold Yuki’s hand, but she can’t quite do it, settling for his sleeve. They end up in a whimsical park full of huge dinosaur models.

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Turns out they’re being tailed by Ryouko and Haruhi here as well, and it’s here where Ryouko confesses to Haruhi she’s not worried about Yuki and Kyon alone together, she’s jealous, and lonely. But the ever-chipper Haruhi assures Ryouko her relationship with Yuki won’t change for fall by the wayside, whatever happens between Yuki and Kyon. They’re words Ryouko needed to hear and wants to believe.

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Everyone ends up reuniting at the stargazing spot, which is as awesome as advertised. When Yuki ends up off on her own, reaching out to starts that look close enough for her to touch, but can’t be, it’s Kyon who touches her hand, and takes it into his.

As their love theme—Debussy’s Clair de Lune—plays, Kyon leads Yuki back to the others, hand-in-hand. Yuki, who had been momentarily preoccupied by her insignificance in the vast universe above, is brought back down to earth, a place where she’s valued and loved not just by Kyon, but Ryouko as well.

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They get to sit next to each other on the train ride home, and just like that, the long, sprawling, eventful “training camp” is over, and Yuki is a little closer to reaching her goal. Cut to the rains that precede Summer, a time when Ryouko remarks Yuki will have to come up with excuses to see Kyon, and after they part ways, Yuki walks out into the street with the Walk sign, and it sure looks like she gets hit by a fucking car.

This…was upsetting. Not because I think it will be the death of Yuki—she appears alive and well in the preview—but because it’s so damned random. So far all of her nice romantic moments with Kyon have just kind of worked out, and now it’s as if the show wants Yuki to pay the piper or something for all of the good luck she’s had. It’s cruel.

Then again, the universe only needs one fraction of a second to everything away from you, and Yuki isn’t immune to that possibility. Also, disappearance is part of the title; I just sorely hope it isn’t her memory and love of Kyon that disappears. That would suck, frankly. I just want Yuki to be happy in her spin-off. Is that so much to ask?

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DanMachi – 09

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Beating an oversouled Minotaur is a pretty big deal, elevating Bell to Level 2 faster than anyone, ever. It makes him an overnight celebrity—complete with the new title “Little Rookie”—though that results in more envious looks directed at him, at least in the tavern.

When one fellow Level 2 (who’s probably been at Level 2 for some time) offers his services in exchange for a little alone time with Bell’s many fetching lady friends, Bell doesn’t have a chance to say, Dr. McCoy-style, “I’m an adventurer, not a pimp!” That’s because Ryuu has his back, making it clear she won’t let her friend be insulted.

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But it’s Ryuu who tells him if he ventures beyond the 13th floor of the dungeon, he can’t hope to take on the enemies alone, so he must expand their party. It just so happens that the smith who made Bell’s light armor (which he likes very much) is right next to Bell when he asks about his wares. That smith, Welf Crozzo, contracts with Bell, making him his exclusive supplier of weapons, armor, and equipment.

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Bell being Bell, he adds Welf to his party and even agrees to help him gain a Blacksmith skill at a lower level, despite knowing nothing about the guy. A more weary Lili (whom Welf adorably nicknames Lilisuke or “Lil’ Lili”) knows that the Crozzos were a once-renowned family of smiths who made magical items, but are now destitute. Basically, Lili scolds Bell for having the same sympathy for Welf as he did for her, but I’m not sure what else she expects: this is the kindhearted, generous, unselfish Bell we’re talking about.

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I like how the enemies on this floor seem so much slower and weaker to Bell now that he’s Level 2; it’s almost like the higher, tougher floors are beckoning to him. But when a baby dragon shows up and threatens Lili, Bell also learns what his new “Argonaut” skill does: it’s “the possibility to overcome any difficulty.” That seems pretty overpowered, but I imagine he can only use it in a pinch, or once it’s charged up; a Limit Break, if you will: e.g. Braver or Renzokuken. In other words, a very useful skill for someone who wants to be a hero like him.

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Because of what happened with Lili before, I was a little suspicious of Welf, especially with his family’s background and his possible desire to bring that family name back to respectability, meaning Bell just might be a convenient stepping stone. So it’s refreshing to see Welf is a man of his word, who actually isn’t interested in restoring his family’s fame at all.

He believes weapons should be extensions of their users, not tools for victory and fame. He notices Bell still has the minotaur horn on him, and fashions it into a really nice-looking dagger which he dubs Ushiwakamaru (Cattle…young…circle?), then asks a very formal, grateful Bell to treat him like a companion, like Lilisuke.

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And then there were three! I liked Lili barking out the order of battle before they venture to the higher floors. Sure, there’s still the specter of Freya wanting Bell to keep getting stronger for some nefarious purpose even Hestia isn’t aware of, but regardless of the plots he’s an unwitting pawn in, it’s great to see his excited party of three proudly going forth into the dungeon.

Bell is well on his way to becoming the hero he wants to become. And tellingly, he reached Level 2 far sooner than even Ais. Now catching up to her seems halfway doable!

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Nisekoi 2 – 08

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Whew, talk about a grab bag. Not only is this week split into two completely different stories, but the first half doesn’t even take place in Nisekoi’s world. Instead, it tries its hand at the magical girl genre, with Kosaki as a pastry-themed heroine, Marika is a kind of magical cop, and Chitoge is a gorilla girl.

The running gag is that their case worker Rurin, who is some kind of mouse thing, not only piles a bunch of bureaucratic paperwork onto Kosaki, who won leadership by rock-paper-scissors, but also seems to take a kind of perverse glee in watching the meek Kosaki transform, which requires a moment of stark nakedness she never really gets used to (though Marika couldn’t care less about being naked).

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The villain, “Dr.” Maikou, is also motivated by wanting to watch the girls transform fight, and beat him, because he’s a bit masochistic that way. When the finishing move to get rid of his minion requires five straight minutes of nakedness, we never actually see it, and Maikou himself is defeated when the mouse flips Kosaki’s skirt and then punches him into orbit.

To borrow Kosaki’s pastry theme, while the show successfully pokes fun at the maho shojo genre here and there, the whole thing is pretty half-baked and inconsequential, which is appropriate as it only takes up a half-episode. It felt like one long omake.

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The second half of the episode is just as thin, as it rehashes Haru’s determination not to give Raku the time of day, even as he volunteers to fill in at the Onoderas’ sweet shop. At least we see from the girls’ mother that Haru is indeed a “little man-hater” who will only be “cured” if she actually interacts with guys, rather than craft elaborate narratives about them in her head.

Raku wants to play nice, and they even connect over their shared love of and devotion to Big Sis Kosaki, who strategically left them alone so they’d have no choice but to gel more. Raku even thoughtfully praises Haru’s skills, while demonstrating he has some of his own, borne from his past experience helping Kosaki at the shop.

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There are signs, then, that Haru is ever-so-slowly coming around to maybe accepting and even tolerating Raku’s existence, even if she still (rightfully) thinks it’s wrong for him to be going after her sister when he already has a girlfriend. And that’s kinda the pall cast over this whole Onodera situation: Raku has been wrong in spinning all these girl-plates without giving any of them the answers they deserve, and the broken locket is a poor excuse for his continued inaction.

Raku has no one to blame than himself if an outside observer like Haru sees him as a playboy, because he kinda is. Yet, as he gets close and personal with Haru—by necessity—when she tries to carry too much, it seems Haru is on her way to being one more member of the harm; albeit not by choice.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 08

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This week’s episode “My Friend” sets the theme immediately with a nostalgic dream Takeo has about the day he met Suna. Suna looks cool, even on the swing, but Takeo senses he’s lonely too. So he runs over, swings himself into a bush, and makes Takeo laugh. Ten years later, and it’s pretty much the same story with these two, who are for all intents and purposes brothers by another mother (and father).

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That past gives way to a present upon cloud nine, with Takeo managing to wring “Don’t Trouble Yourself For Little Old Me” Yamato, whom I notice Takeo isn’t calling “Rinko” yet (to do so would be a big step for the big guy). But as his super long-range vision indicates, her birthday is only ten days away. All she wants is to spend the whole day with him, but he wants to plan a special day for her, for the same reason she wants to  plan one for his birthday next Jan. 1: because he loves her, and doing things for people you care about makes you happy.

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Takeo also gets big news from his super-tough mama: at age forty (but physically 22 according to her), she’s going to have another baby. The talk of birthdays gets Takeo thinking about how people are born, and how glad he is that Yamato was born, and that he had the luck to find her. We already know Takeo is going to be a great big brother, and probably father as well.

What he’s not so great at yet is planning birthday dates; he packs the day with so much stuff without including travel time or accounting for the weather. Enter Suna, who brings the schedule back down to earth, ironically enough with a bunch of activities that he and Takeo once engaged in, and were instances when Takeo did something silly that made Suna laugh.

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Takeo’s kindness and funniness are what drive Suna to want to help him so. The scene where he effortlessly charms the salesperson into holding a broach Takeo wants to get for Yamato is a nice example: Suna knows of his powers, but rather than use them to live the life of a playboy, he uses them to help out a friend when he can.

So it’s interesting and intriguing that throughout the episode Suna is clearly hiding something from Takeo and reflecting any attempts for Takeo to learn what that is. This led a part of me to wonder when the other shoe was going to drop. Now that I know what it was that was really troubling him, I feel bad for thinking ill of him. That’s powerful characterization right there.

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Turns out while his mom and sister are abroad and incommunicado, he’s been all alone in dealing with his hospitalized dad, who has a history of heart problems, and he’s having surgery on Yamato’s birthday. Suna kept it from him because he knew Takeo would offer to spend the day with him instead of his girlfriend.

Suna tells him straight up: that wouldn’t make him happy. He wants his dear friend, who never had any other girl like him back (besides Suna’s sister, but he didn’t know that!) to spend Yamato’s birthday with Yamato. Takeo respects his wishes, and tells Suna not to worry about him, all while in his muscle-revealing “bro cafe” uniform (which is pretty much the perfect part time job for Takeo).

And like he did when Takeo first got on the swing next to him and performed a physical feat of buffoonery, Suna’s frown turns upside down. Seeing Takeo happy makes him happy. He’s a hell of a guy. But I still hope he too finds a nice girl at some point in this show’s run!

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Hibike! Euphonium – 08

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Now THAT, ladies and gentleman, is how it’s done. All hail KyoAni. Nagato Who-ki?

You’ll have to forgive all the incoming gushing, as I’m still a little overcome with ALL THE FEELS from this latest, greatest episode of Hibike! Euphonium, which also happens to be the best thing I’ve seen all Spring; maybe all year.

This episode was every bit a carefully, lovingly composed masterpiece with nary a note out of place, starting with not letting Kumiko off the hook. We’re right back at those desks with Hazuki, having dredged up the courage (and you can see her nervousness in the way her feet shift below that desks).

Kumiko has no clue what’s going on, but she’s about to. Surprising candidate for class yenta Sapphire takes Kumiko’s noncommittal attitude as tacit approval for Hazuki to ask Shuu out for the upcoming Agata Festival, a traditional ceremony of pairing-off for her peers.

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But as we’ve seen, Shuu isn’t interested in any other girls. He asks Kumiko out, and she again acts like a deer in the headlights. As she makes the transition from dark winter to more cheery summer uniform, the sky is appropriately as cloudy as her muddle of racing thoughts. He told her to think about it, but she’s having trouble thinking about anything. This state of mind is totally new for her, and it seems equal parts frightening and exhilarating.

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Kumiko didn’t ask to be thrown into a love triangle, which she literally draws out in her notebook just so she can behold it in a space other than the inside of her reeling head. Nor did she want to be put in a position where her chipper friend Hazuki gets hurt. But the aggressive Sapphire literally pushes Hazuki into doing what she wants to do and would probably regret not doing.

In a sign that Shuu simply isn’t on the same wavelength as her, he misjudges Kumiko’s efforts to slink away from him as a signal for him to follow her. Literally cornered, she grabs the arm of the first person to exit the practice room, who as fate would have it, is Reina! Hazuki also comes out, and asks Shuu for a moment; Shuu asks Kumiko if it’s really “okay”, and she tells him it is.

But it isn’t. Of course it isn’t. It’s almost not fair!

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I say almost, because Kumiko’s “consolation” prize is no consolation at all; but the jackpot; she just doesn’t know it yet. She may have grabbed Reina at random, but Reina considers the act a binding contract, and Kumiko’s in no position to argue. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kumiko was looking more forward to going with Reina, who’s telling her they’re going, than Shuu, whom she would’ve had to say “yes” to— something she’s apparently not ready for.

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I liked the episode’s inclusion of the normal couple Riko and Gotou as a sign that not everyone is locked in fraught triangles at school. But I also like how the show doesn’t play favorites for any particular vertex of the triangle we think is in play. Because of that, I was still rooting for the super-cute Hazuki, who eschews a yukata for a miniskirt and short-crop tee.

As for Reina, well…what is there to say? She’s hauntingly gorgeous, so much so that a more slapsticky show would have almost certainly gone inside an SD Kumiko’s head as she gulps comically loudly. Kumiko is also dressed decidedly boyishly compared to Reina’s ethereal snow-white one piece. But on this date, it’s Reina who leads: up a mountain and into another entirely new world for Kumiko; one she never saw coming.

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Like I said, I wanted to root for Hazuki and Shuu, but as cute as she is, the spark just isn’t there. At least Hazuki has the good sense to be quick and efficient about things, so that when Shuu does gently but firmly reject her, it doesn’t feel quite as sudden when she’s suddenly resolving to get him and Kumiko together, despite his claim there’s nothing there. Still, that shot of Hazuki from behind, gazing at the shimmering moonlit water that may as well be her tears, is a powerful image.

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This must be how it feels to lose your life, drawn to a beautiful thing, despite your fears.

As good as Hazuki’s failed confession was, it is quickly overshadowed by Kumiko’s date with Reina, as they trudge up the mountain, periodically switching instruments so they share the load.

Seeing you in that white one-piece, holding my euphonium, seems so wrong.

On this trek, far from all the other festival-goers Reina fearlessly lays her feelings for Kumiko bare.

—Don’t your feet hurt?
—They hurt. But I don’t hate pain.
—What? That’s kind of hot.
—Freak.

It would have been easy for Shuu to accept Hazuki’s confession and go out with her, having been spurned by Kumiko in a golden opportunity passed by. But the true love triangle doesn’t involve Hazuki at all; we now know it’s between Shuu, Kumiko, and Reina.

It’s like you put on a kind, good-girl face, but inside, you’re actually really distant. It makes me want to peel that good-girl skin off of you.

Bandmate Natsuki also remarked that Kumiko “is kind of distant like that”, and it’s true. It’s why we hear Kumiko narrating to us all the time: not just to explain how the concert band works, but she’s observing and reporting on her life, all the while keeping it at arm’s length.

It’s a side she didn’t know anyone noticed—heck, it might be a side she didn’t even know she had. But Reina has seen it. Reina stays away from people who “don’t interest her”, and believes fitting in, and being relieved about being the same as someone else is “stupid.”

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It was pretty ingenious how effortlessly Reina scooped Reina up and put her under her spell. I must say I did not expect a confession of romantic love, nor was there an indication the show would take a yuri turn so soon, but hey, it is Springtime, and by the time they’d finally reached the summit and seen the entire town and festival at their feet, as if they were standing in heaven, I wasn’t ruling out a kiss. Reina’s “not the same as the others” line seems to underline the fact that no guy in her life interests her as much as Kumiko does.

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On the one hand I couldn’t help but think Reina seems awfully happy to have found a kind of kindred spirit in Kumiko, which some might say makes her a hypocrite, only with different taste than most. But on the other, I really like her belief a life without pain or struggle isn’t a life at all. One only needs to see Hazuki’s struggles this week to understand that. She’s all smiles when she meets back up with Sapphire…until she isn’t. But she tried; she put her heart on the line. That matters.

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Kumiko’s life isn’t made any simpler by Reina’s confession—she’s still in a love triangle, just not the one she drew—but that hardly matters right now. On this particular night, she and Reina play the same song they played in middle school—because Reina likes it—and they play beautifully and in perfect harmony. As Sapphire said, all music begins with love, and Reina’s desire to be “special”, even more special than she already is, is also fueled by love.

In her narration, Kumiko admits to being “sucked in” by this “snow maiden”, and feeling like she wouldn’t mind “losing her life” to her. Only Reina isn’t a yuki-onna; she’s a girl who just confessed to her. Kumiko’s lack of a good reaction makes Reina repeat her assertion that Kumiko has a “terrible personality”, but she means it as a compliment; Reina doesn’t want perfect. And reaction or no, Kumiko now knows what it feels like to want or need to go out on a limb; take a risk; lay one’s heart bare, even if it might hurt or not work out. I daresay Kumiko lost her innocence this week. So…what will she do now?

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 08

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Who is Kusanagi Motoko? It’s a question ARISE has been constantly asking, and which she herself asks, now that this latest arc has become her most personal yet. By the end of last week’s installment, it was pretty darned evident that her love Akira was mixed up in some unsavory conspiracy with Dr. Theid and Col. Hozuki.

A question asked parallel to this is “Who is Scylla?”, a question everyone seems to want to know the answer to except Motoko and her former comrade Kurtz, who gives her a gun with a familiar mark carved into the grip, and the task of “burying” Scylla for good.

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In an interesting choice by the animators, Motoko spends most of this episode wearing hot pants instead of her usual pants, perhaps to accentuate the fact her right leg is still not quite behaving properly thanks to Fire-Starter. She even shows up in a smoking ball gown, indicating whoever she is, she wants to embrace her femininity and have fun with Akira even as suspicion about him continues to mount. Akira says he was drawn to her by her desire, through customization, to make her prosthetic body her own.

Akira’s work, the fruits of which are shown when he and Motoko attend a wedding between two elderly people in brand new young skins, are following a similar path as Motoko: blurring the lines between the technological and the organic. He also considers Motoko’s body to be herself, not merely a tool that allows her ghost to walk about, or choke people. Despite his seedy dealings, I found myself approving of him as Motoko’s mate.

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When Akira’s deal with Hozuki goes sour and he and Motoko are attacked while in bed together, Motoko is quick to blame herself for the targeting, but it’s really Akira the gunmen were after. Detective Togusa’s investigation overlaps with her unit’s, and he warns her that Akira can’t be trusted the way she’s trusting him, and the Qhardi leader confirms that Akira is the “new” Scylla.

After we see how Hozuki and Thied make that happen, and Aramaki and much of the rest of the unit are ambushed at the Vice Minister’s office, the body of evidence is too great and Motoko can no longer deny who Akira is and what she, and she alone, must do.

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Not that she’s looking forward to taking out her lover; someone who seems like a genuinely nice guy who got mixed up with the wrong people and took one too many wrong turns. But it turns out to be more than that: the Scylla in Akira’s brain was once Motoko, and Motoko was once Scylla, aiding the Qhardi separatists back when she was with the 501, before she faked her death.

By shooting him and destroying his cyberbrain, she’s saving her comrades and ending the latest crisis, but she’s also killing a part of her past. She was Scylla, but now who is she? It’s a question she still doesn’t know the answer to. But while she was in Akira’s arms, for a fleeting moment, she knew she was wanted, and that she was happy.

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So ends another tragic chapter in the chronicle of the enigmatic Kusanagi Motoko. But while my heart sank at her having to kill her lover, she’s always proven able to restore and reinvent herself and continue use her unique talents and unique unit to be a force for good in the world. She casts away the explosive “Ariel” parts Akira had furnished her, and rebuilds herself with more customization; if she forgot who the flesh-and-blood Kusanagi originally was, she’ll simply create a new one through prosthesis and cyberization.

The show doesn’t question the rightness or wrongness of such a path, but it does indicate this is all she knows how to do and it’s at least something. It also contrasts her with the all-natural, married Togusa, who impressed her in the last case to the extent that she offers him a job in her unit. With her lover gone that unit is now pretty much all Motoko has, but her offer to Togusa is interrupted by the news that his wife’s water broke and that he’s going to be a father.

Motoko’s look of bemusement as he races off seems to indicate she almost forgot there were still low-tech people like Togusa extant in this world. But in addition to his sleuthing skills, I’ll bet Motoko wants his perspective on her team—a perspective she’s lacked for untold years—as she continues to face threats like fire-starter and rebuild her own identity in the process.

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Re-Kan! – 08

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Teachers in anime are usually portrayed as single, miserable, and resentful of the youth that surrounds them, but Re-Kan! is a trend-bucker, so in its world, two of the teachers at Hibiki’s school, Moriya-senpai and Kimura-senpai, end up getting married. They’re a very cute couple, and both the guys and girls are super-excited.

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Around the same time, however, a new ghost appears before Hibiki, one unlike any other she’s encountered before. This is the ghost of a very young girl who can only say one word: “Morya.” The Samurai concludes something is tying her to the living world, but she can’t seem to remember what. Yamada suggests they give her new memories to make up for the one’s she’s lost, but first they have to teach her to talk properly, which everyone, even Inoue, gets in on.

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In the cold open that sets the bittersweet mood of this whole episode, we see her and a boy of the same age in adjacent hospital beds. The boy turns out to be “Morya” or Moriya-sensei, who Hibiki brings to the girl to play with for a while. There, he remembers that he used to give his carrots to her in the hospital, but now he can eat them himself. He’s grown up.

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While spending the night with the motherly Hibiki, the girl finally remembers the rest: she loved Moriya and he her, and they promised they’d meet again when they grew up. She was sicklier than him and couldn’t keep her promise, but she still loves him. With her memories restored, she’s able to pass on, which she does in the arms of Hibiki.

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Hibiki, along with Inoue and the others, had grown quite attached to the little girl as they taught her how to speak properly and played with her. For Inoue, she’s another example of a ghost who she didn’t have to fear; and more to the point, a ghost that needed help that she wanted to help.

They’re sad to see her pass on, but in doing so inspired the friends, starting with Yamada, to look more closely at the bonds they share and spend as much time with one another, making new memories as they go forward. This Re-Kan! was another poignant, earnestly-felt triumph, exploring the bittersweet nature of loss, love, and life with grace and dignity.

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