Kuzu no Honkai – 11

While on a train to a weekend hot springs getaway with Kanai (two adults! How often does that happen in anime?) Akane falls asleep (she later blames being with the younger Mugi last night). She dreams she’s in a gallery of all the men she’s had, and all the lines she supposedly crossed, while either not realizing it…or not caring.

The distinction is moot; what matters is the reason: she’s never felt truly connected with anyone. In the dream, Kanai asks her why she “keeps doing this” if, as she herself said, she’s not “suited for it.”

Like last week, there’s only one brief scene involving Hanabi, and it’s one in a situation we’ve barely seen her in: hanging out with high school peers she hasn’t laid with. They view her and Mugi as some kind of ideal couple, and we the audience, like Hanabi, can only roll our eyes and say If they only knew.

When Hanabi tells them how she thinks it’s best if she and Mugi don’t see each other, they call her “such a grownup”, and considering everything she’s been through in such a short time, and the satisfying end result of Kanai’s rejection and Mugi’s, er, “moving on,” I tend to agree.

Even the contrast between the girls’ food orders and her plain ol’ coffee seem to help her exude a wisdom beyond her years. She’s been through some stuff; they haven’t. If they actually have, this show didn’t have time to show it.

Last week Akane didn’t like her dynamic with Kanai, in which she he was occupying far too much of her thoughts for her comfort. Trying to move on by telling all, if anything only intensified Kanai’s feelings for her. She’s in a nonchalant “okay let’s see where this goes” mode when they start off on the hot springs trip, but by the end, she starts to notice her heart beating.

No one has been able to throw Akane off like Kanai throws her off here. He tells her he’s fine with her messing around because he thinks she does it because she likes it, as opposed to never having known anything else. The flaws she’s always thought kept her from connecting are of no concern to Kanai, and his love for her isn’t transactional; it’s unconditional, almost paternal.

That unconditional love, and his desire for her to live a happy life, wipes clean those portraits in her dream gallery, replacing them with the image of her and Kanai. She finally feels connected. It’s something entirely new to her, but she doesn’t dislike it, and the next morning when Kanai goes for it and asks if she’ll marry him, she decides to give it a try.

Now that she’s ready to take that step, her first date with Mugi is more about closure than anything else; even Mugi realizes this. For so long he tried to find out how he could change her, but in reality, the Akane he loved was the one who existed; not the ideal he hoped to help create.

It’s clearly shitty for Mugi to see the change in her once she announces her marriage, knowing he had nothing to do with that change. But like Kanai’s rejection of Hanabi, it’s also freeing. Mugi loved the way Akane was before she changed. But she has, and so I imagine he’ll move on. But he won’t forget her.

It will hurt for a while, but Mugi will be okay, just like Hanabi and Moca and Ecchan will be alright. With Akane and Kanai getting hitched, it will be interesting to see if Hanabi and Mugi attempt a relationship, only not as it was: rather than an pragmatic alliance of “replacements”, a genuine romantic pairing of two people who no longer consider themselves scum.

Masamune-kun no Revenge – 12 (Fin)

Last week I predicted that Masamune would fill in for Kanetsugu in the Class-A play—a safe prediction, since that’s what came to pass. The show tries to be coy about it, what with showing Masamune arrive in the auditorium to see Aki already on the stage performing, and not immediately revealing his plan. But really, we all knew where this was going.

What I did not know was how much I would enjoy the performance scene, telegraphed as it was. Simply taking Kanetsugu’s place is no mean feat for Masamune in his ill and weakened state, but the well-rehearsed cast (which includes his master) catches on fast, as his fatigue is explained as the result of his “long journey.”

Back to another safe assumption: that Masamune would, in fact, give Aki a real kiss. I mean, how could he not, that’s what the role demands! But when Aki said the kiss would be “pretend” while waiting in her coffin, it all but confirmed to me that it wouldn’t be. It wasn’t a bad kiss at all, and it even compels Aki to do a little improvisation of her own, by decking him for stealing a kiss. Because he’s so weak, he’s out for the count.

Fast Forward to the conclusion of the festival (thankfully) as reps from both classes meet at a karaoke joint for the after-party. This is where the episode kinda stretches out and relaxes, and where it was clear, if it wasn’t in past weeks, that this whole Masamune’s Revenge thing wasn’t going to be wrapped up in just twelve episodes. The last half feels more like a self-contained OVA.

Which, yeah, makes sense. Masamune feels a lot of tension at the karaoke bar, and when his turn in the sing-off approaches, he’s hassled by Sonoka and Kikuon, warning he won’t be able to run away from humiliating himself at the mic in front of their mistress. But it’s Aki who scolds them and sends them off, taking his side. She later regrets it, as Masamune’s singing is so bad everyone looks dead by the end, and quickly clear out afterward.

At least that leaves Masamune and Aki alone together for one last scene, which is as nice way as any to close out the show. They exchange thanks and apologies, and Aki earnestly asks him what she should do as far as tokens of appreciation go. Masamune swings for the fences and asks for a kiss, and to his shock, she accepts.

Aki’s lips do come within less than an inch of Masamune’s, but she stops short and pops a baked yam (I think) in his mouth, provided by Yoshino, who just showed up to feed Aki. Aki feels they got “close enough for now,” and strides off, far more playful than aloof.

Thus, Masamune and Aki end this 12-episode run on pretty good terms. However, obstacles still exist. We know Kanetsugu is deceiving both Aki and Masamune, something Yoshino hasn’t informed her of. Neko doesn’t quite seem ready to give up now that she’s been given a new lease on life. And then there’s the whole matter of whether Masamune wants to actually exact his titular revenge and dump Aki once he’s earned her favor (eh, likely not).

I assume Masamune-kun no Revenge will be back…someday, to resolve these remaining issues. If it does, the show has earned my loyalty, so I’ll be taking a look. If it doesn’t, well…it was a nice, if incomplete, ride.

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ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 11

ACCA: Jusan-ku Kansatsu-ka. I hadn’t really read the words until recently, but they roll right off the tongue in a very satisfying, elegant way, like ACCA the show itself.

I daresay ACCA is a sneaky show. It seems a bit slow and dull at first but the details keep you around. Then it becomes something you must watch at all costs. In this way, it’s like no other show airing this Winter, and its quality has been rewarded on MAL, rising from 6.97 on week one to 7.43 today, the biggest climb of any Winter ’17 show.

By the time Jean arrives in lavish, exotic Furawau for the thirteenth of thirteen district audits, nearly all pretense has fallen over his “job” as inspector, as Furawau is the district spearheading the coup.

Yet true to its name (“flower” in katakana), Furawau’s inhabitants are cheerful and elegant, and discreet in their welcoming of Jean for his true purpose.

But while it’s named for its flowers, the gleaming skyscrapers and lush palaces are paid for with oil. 90% of the entire nation of Dowa’s oil is supplied by Furawau. This makes them Arabia on steroids, which makes resource-poor Pranetta the comparatively oil-less Jordan.

When he leaves for his hotel, Jean does not give the Furawau chiefs a direct answer about whether he’ll rise up with them. But fortunately for Jean, Niino was listening in when the Princess’ assassins were loudly discussing their plan for slaying him.

When they draw their appropriately ornate golden revolver from the shadows, Niino is there not only to warn Jean, but take two bullets for him. He survives, but when he wakes up from surgery, he wonders out loud something I’ve wondered for many weeks now: whether Jean is merely being dragged into things by chance, or if he’s “prying into the whole mess” of his own accord.

Before leaving Furawau, Jean tells the chiefs he’s with them. Upon returning to Badon, he doesn’t stop by Mugimaki where Mauve continues to show up and wait. Instead, he visits Lilium as his brothers instructed, and shows him all thirteen cigarettes he’s collected.

I love how each one is  different in color and length, and how Pranetta’s is one of his own. Details that carry symbolism: Dowa is one big happy cigarette case. When Jean says anyone can ascend as long as it’s not him, Lilium counters that only he can protect both ACCA and the people.

What he isn’t telling Jean…could fill volumes. Like the fact he needs to present at least the air of proper succession, and probably needs the ACCA angle to strengthen their case. Lotta can’t fulfill either of those conditions…nor can Lilium himself.

When Rail first heard of him, he assumed Jean was an upper class snob who thought his own excrement did not emit odor. Turns out he was right about the “upper class” bit, but now that Rail knows who Jean is for sure, he thinks he’d probably be a better King than Schwan.

Rail tells Jean this while they smoke in the city night, after Jean thanks him for watching Lotta while he was away. And Jean appears to take Rail’s subtle endorsement to heart…maybe he will be better.

The next day, people from all thirteen districts start pouring into Badon for the upcoming ACCA centennial ceremony. This means we get all the ACCA agents Jean met on his travels in the same room, and of course they all know each other.

It’s a nice “lower decks” scene, watching subordinates shoot the breeze. The girls badger Eidar about her feelings for Jean, only to learn she’s dating Grus. One agent brings up the coup, and silence fills the room.

Every one of them seems generally on board with the plan…except Warbler, who, being stationed in Suitsu, is naturally the last agent to be informed of the coup. And while it’s easy to get all swept up in the excitement of dumping a harmful king for a better one, Warbler provides a much-needed voice of concern and reason.

He makes very good points about the risk ACCA’s leadership is taking by arranging such a coup. He also questions if the young, inexperienced Schwan would actually follow through on his threat to dissolve ACCA. He believes the royal family is aware that tipping the scales of power too far in their favor could break the whole system, and trusts them to be more pragmatic once Schwan ascends.

But no one can be certain Schwan won’t dissolve ACCA, and in any case, the decision has already been made by the brass, so Warbler’s protests go acknowledged but not acted upon. After Jean leaves a brief, almost curt meeting with Mauve (which has the air of a breakup), Warbler tries to tell him that this coup idea is ludicrous.

Jean responds by saying he’d really like Warbler to take his job, after “one final push”, then calls the prince a “real headache.” Could Jean be starting to get the feel for the power he’s about to attain?

Cut to the prince being a huge headache, acting petulant aboard his ornate royal plane, dismissing Magie’s advice to meet with his cousin (Jean) or get to know the people more. He’s only going to Badon to attend the ACCA ceremony, then leave.

Warbler might think Schwan’s position on ACCA is open to interpretation or subject to review by the rest of the royal family or the privy council. But Schwan probably doesn’t think any of that. When he’s king—and he’s going to be king, he tells himself—he can do as he pleases.

Lilium continues to uncork bottle after bottle of champagne in celebration of a total victory that is still yet to come. In another private one-on-one with Grossular, he lays out the plan I expected him and his district to have: install someone he can control, Jean, in order to control the nation. He hopes to act quickly and elegantly enough that by the time people notice what’s up it will be too late to do anything about it.

Now that he knows Lilium’s true intent, will Grossular continue to stand impotently by and let it happen, or is he intentionally appearing weak to lull Lilium into a false sense of security? Does Grossular have his own plans? And as Mauve asked both him and Jean before him: is he all right?

He responds the same way as Jean: with a simple ‘Yes.’ Here’s hoping that’s true, because some big things are going down next week.

Little Witch Academia – 11

Finally, finally LWA stops spinning its wheels with skeleton chases and fancy balls and throws us some juicy story meat, revealing the role Akko will play (or rather, is playing) in reversing the accelerating decline in magic throughout the world.

The reason Charior is so intent on helping Akko isn’t out of regard for her biggest fan: it’s because she believes Akko could be the witch to stem the tide of magical oblivion. Of course, Akko still doesn’t know Ursula is Chariot, and it stays that way, but Ursula still relays a very Chariotesque saying: “That which is dreamed cannot be grasped, but work towards it, day after day, and you will find it in your hands.” 

She’s telling Akko not to be so focused on the future and her ultimate dream—to become an amazing witch like Chariot—and instead focus on the extremely hard day-to-day work that’s needed just to become a competent witch. And Akko has been working harder, with Ursula giving her after-school lessons every day for a month.

By mentioning the blue moon, Ursula probably did not intend to send Akko digging through her trading cards, finding one that references a “blue moon apparition” in the bowels of Luna Nova—but that’s where Akko goes, when the moon is high, notably without Lotte and Sucy tagging along.

Akko’s journey deeper into the abyss is a return to the sense of awe and wonder I got from earlier LWA episodes. Watching Akko continue to move forward even in the midst of terrifying stone witches (and even a false Chariot trying to discourage her), earned her back some serious likability points in my book.

As she explores deep below the school, Diana searches the towering shelves of Luna Nova’s deep archive on her broom. The same blue moon that guides Akko also shows Diana the book related to the quest Akko doesn’t even know she’s already on: the unlocking of something called the Arcturus using seven words to unseal the “Grand Triskelion” that will “change the world.”

I can forgive Diana’s largely expository role because the archive is so cool-looking. As for the seven words, Akko unwittingly revived the first when she opened the portal to Luna Nova back in the first episode. This week she unwittingly reives the second.

She does so by rejecting the future the “blue moon apparition” offers to her, for the low, low price of, oh, her entire past, including memories of everyone she’s known, even Chariot, as well as all the mistakes she’s learned from.

She’d rather achieve that future on her own rather than taking a shortcut, and by saying the magic words that translate into Ursula’s words (about “that which is dreamed” being attained through day-to-day toil), she not only turns the Shiny Rod into an axe but uses it to free the apparition from the wood to reveal a beautiful otherworldly woman.

That woman is Woodward, the professor who inspired Chariot when she was a student at Luna Nova. Woodward was testing Akko, and for once, she passed: the second of seven words has been revived.

What happens when the remaining five words are revived? The Shiny Rod, AKA Claiomh Solais, will break the seal of Arcturus and release the Grand Triskelion, which will “change the world,” presumably for the better as far as witches and magic goes.

In a way, this episode felt like a seal had been broken, not only unveiling the overarching plot and indicating a clear path for Akko, but restoring the show’s wondrous atmosphere, was well as my faith in it going forward. For now, at least, my concerns have been nicely allayed.

Talking Shop: Little Witch Academia

Preston (MagicalChurlSukui): Reviewed 10 after all — Not Great :/

Franklin (Oigakkosan): Yeah…let me read your take :)

Franklin: Yeah you captured it.

I just want it to be about something and it’s not. It’s random throwaway skits featuring mostly jerks. Akko isn’t especially likable. Nor Sucy. And Lotte gets rare screen time.

It’s just like whuuut dooo you want me to get from you show???

Preston: Yeah

Franklin: You ever read/watch The Magicians?

Preston: Neither

Franklin: Magicians the show is fine. Not great but fine. The book is terrible.

It’s more like LWA. It just doesn’t go anywhere. Lots of wheelspin and underdeveloped characters

Preston: It’s weird. LWA has always felt like it should be more serialized. Oh well

Franklin: Diana’s love for Chariot hasn’t even become a thing. Diana knowing Akko is powerful hasn’t become a thing. Those were good eps but even they haven’t gone anywhere

Preston: It’s weird. LWA has always felt like it should be more serialized. I almost feel like a Harry Potter TV show would be like this…big arc events at either end of seasons but lots of padding in the middle.

But I would be very surprised if LWA drops something big at the halfway point

Franklin: The HP books are full of dead ends and fluff. Malfoy is like a cartoon villain in the first three. Individual episodes would have content but it wouldn’t work well as arcs.

As eps with self-contained arcs I mean. Like Hermione’s Elf Rights Arc. It would last a whole season and end with nothing happening. Forgotten in the next season entirely

At least each HP book has a villain and a mystery. LWA has neither. We know who Chariot is, we know Diana liked her once, we know Akko can be powerful. We don’t know why knowing that matters

Preston: There’s no real coming-of-age story either after the first ep. Any elements of that are too wishy-washy.

Akko seems locked in 10-year-old mode

Franklin: Not a slice of life either, since there’s not much to the characters

Preston: It seems the non-magical world love shitting on witches in the show…so they could theoretically have a situation (or crisis) where suddenly the world needs witches again…

But it just hasn’t been building to that, or anything like that. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Franklin: No buildup. No development. No payoff.

Preston: It’s not as if I’m some anime-writing expert, but those seem like no-brainers to have in a show like this

Preston left the conversation.
Franklin left the conversation.

Little Witch Academia – 10

Note: I filled in for Oigakkosan reviewing this episode. —Preston

Akko, Lotte, and Sucy’s pleasant afternoon ice cream is marred when Diana’s Maybach limo rolls up and her two lackeys jump out just to gloat that they’re going to a sumptuous party celebrating Lord Andrew’s top marks.

Sucy has just shown Akko and Lotte a “Fallin Lovelove Bee” that was delivered to her in error, and we already know precisely where this is going: the peasant girls will crash Andrew’s party, and the Love Bee will sting him, sending him head-over-heels for Akko.

Because it’s so obvious this is going to happen, Akko’s desire to stick it to Diana’s lackeys by attending the party uninvited doesn’t feel like her own choice, only a means to get that bee sting in Andrew’s neck. While Akko and Lotte clean up great, the two-hour, half-price “Cinderella Kit” is just a means to those means…not to mention overly borrow-y feeling.

Andrew is his usual dismissive, aloof jerkface self, while his pal Frank is his usual friendly, decent self. Just when he’s tossing the witches out, Drew gets stung, Akko is the first face he sees, and we’re off to the races. The Bee also stings Frank and three other dudes who all fall for Lotte, then stings Diana, who also falls for Akko. Akko spends much of the evening flailing around, not ready for this kind of “attention.”

Eventually she gets away from her pursuers, then overhears Andrew’s dad chewing him out about staying on the precise path that has already been laid out for him, and not wasting his time on witches or “effeminate” piano playing.

When Akko gets a bead on the bee, she darts all around the party, swatting at it in vain. Andrew, still at least partially under her spell, plays the piano (“Flight of the Bumblebee”, of course) to accompany her. Finally the bee stings Drew’s father, but seconds later Akko kills the bee and the spell is lifted from all.

The Cinderella spell also fizzles out, Akko & Co. return to their uniforms, and Andrew reverts back to being a dick. Maybe he changed a little bit, like the last time he met Akko, but the guy is so stone-faced and inert, it’s as hard to tell as last time, leading to another shrug on the night.

In a nice twist, even post-spell, Frank asks Lotte out because he thinks they’d get along, but she turns him down gently, preferring they were friends first. But otherwise, after the bee reset button is pressed, we’re pretty much back to where we started. No one has changed and nothing was learned.

Now ten episodes in, LWA is not what I was hoping it would be: a show with a structured arc in which Akko gradually improves as a fledgeling witch, some kind of sustained conflict arrives that she and her friends and classmates must come together to overcome. The modern world’s increasing rejection of their craft, for instance.

Instead, the show is content to dawdle around with self-contained episodes that start and end in pretty much the same place, and an Akko who is unapologetically static in both her magical ability and personality. Her dreams remain way to vague and childish to carry any further significance, no matter how much she waxes poetic about them, and the entire premise of crashing a party for spite, leading to the pedestrian “love spell” antics, was generally unsatisfying.

Akko, Lotta and Sucy are still usually more fun to watch than not, but their lack of development and LWA’s lack of direction thus far make it hard to keep coming back. I never expected Madoka, but I would have settled for a story, rather than the series of disjointed, inconsequential vignettes we got.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 48

McGillis, sporting a slightly less ostentatious look goes to the hangar to ask Mika what he wants to do, and whether he wants to join him in fighting the Gjallarhorn forces surrounding them. But no matter how he phrases it, Mika’s answer is the same: He’ll do what Orga wants, no more, no less.

Ever since the two met as boys, their relationship has been defined by utter dependence on each other, a bond no one, even Atra, could break. He is the hand; Orga is the will. But what happens if one dies before the other?

Yukinojo decided that now is the time to bring up the only remaining potential means of Tekkadan’s escape: underground tunnels and comms equipment left over from the Calamity War. Orga’s new order is not to fight, but survive, even if they have to dig themselves out by hand.

In order to ensure a future for everyone, even if it’s a future where they’re able to keep on living and nothing else, Orga has to contact Makanai. So he, Chad, Ride, Kudelia and Atra leave HQ in an unassuming armored car.

Notably, Orga does not take Mika along, saying he has another task for him. Mika is weary of what Orga “might mess up” if he’s not with him, but still gives him his pistol when he asks for it; the same pistol Orga watched Mika kill at his command with years ago.

At first Mika scared him; but he soon realized that there was nothing to fear, because if Mika was your friend, you couldn’t lose against anyone. Who would have thought Mika would be right about Orga messing up, and that this would be the last time they saw each other?

I greatly appreciated the little scene in which Kudelia and Atra kiss Mika goodbye, much to the discomfort of Ride and Hush. I personally have never had any problem with their weird lovey-dovey triangle (indeed, it’s been a nice change of pace from the usual kind), but this is an acknowledgement of that weirdness in the eyes of other Tekkadan members, who either don’t quite understand, or are jealous, or both. It’s really the only funny moment in the episode, but I’m glad it’s there.

And how will Orga’s little road trip get to Chryse without being attacked by Gjallarhorn? McGillis has that covered, though he doesn’t deploy, defeat Iok in three strokes, and fight the entire force on his own merely as a diversion for Orga. He still speaks of destroying Rustal, but Rustal isn’t even on the planet.

Whatever scheme is still in motion for McGillis, he seems resigned to the fact that he isn’t a wolf in a pack like the members of Tekkadan; he’s always been alone, and if that’s how he has to achieve his goals, so be it.

Orga & Co. get to Chryse, where they learn that those they’ve helped survive in the past are ready and willing to return the favor, like Makanai, who despite being one of the older adults on the show, continues to favor the youngins of Tekkadan who are the only reason he’s still around.

And what a nice reveal of Takaki, who is doing fine, working as Makanai’s aid, and implying Fuka’s doing fine too. One could argue as long as one member survives Rustal’s purge, Tekkadan wins.

Makanai and Takaki aren’t their only allies, for they are providing haven, but not the means to get there. Enter an email from an awesomely-suited Azee and Eco, stating that they have the okay from McMurdo to assist Tekkadan in any way they need, at any time. All of the fighting and dying wasn’t for nothing; Tekkadan made important friends whose loyalty isn’t wavering when it counts the most.

With that, Orga says goodbye to Kudelia and Atra in a hallway gorgeously lit by the setting golden sun. They’ll hole up in the Bernstein residence and await good news from Earth. I’m sure Atra would have liked to stay with Mika until the end, but he wouldn’t have wanted that for her or their baby, and Kudelia promised Mika she’d protect them.

After a long walk down that almost eerily lit hall, with Ride all but shouting death flags about everything working out, the seething tension was almost unbearable. It didn’t get any better when they step outside to the waiting car and there’s no Gjallarhorn soldiers, or anyone around at all. It’s too quiet, too calm. Something was going to happen.

Something did: in an incident just as quick and merciless as Lafter’s muder, Orga is gunned down by a bunch of suits in a passing car. Chad and Ride escape mortal injury, and Orga kills one of the assassins with Mika’s pistol, but he’s riddled with bullets and leaking his life’s blood on the pavement.

Still, he wears a wry smile, gets up, doesn’t slip on the blood puddle, and moves forward. Not towards the car, just forward. His last order to Tekkadan before collapsing: don’t stop. “As long as you don’t stop, I’ll be at the end waiting for you.”

Before heading off on his own, McGillis told Mika the power he saw in him, and once thought would bring about a bright future, turned out to have “no ideals, no objective, no destination,” any more than a pistol has such things. A defiant Mika derided Macky’s use of too many words and insisted “We’ll get there.”

But at least for Orga, Mika’s will, the definition of “there” has shifted, from a happy, ideal, peaceful life they always fought for, to whatever comes after that life ends. Barring a medical miracle, Orga has already reached “there.” Mika must now decide what to do all on his own; whether to join Orga now, or stay alive and chart a new course with Atra, Kudelia, his kid, and the others.

Until then, R.I.P. Orga Itsuka. You died well.

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon – 10

The Gist: It’s the Christmas episode and Tohru is asked to put on a holiday play for seniors by the shopping arcade association. Everyone but Kobayashi is involved and, after some foreshadowingly unproductive discussion, they agree to put on a version of ‘The Match Stick Girl.”

Of course the Dragons don’t really understand human culture, and everything they plan is overly specific to their own hobbies or just straight up weird. It’s wonderfully bizarre when it comes together, with an Anxious Kobayashi providing commentary and watching from the back of the room ready to spring in and stop things if they get out of control.

And even though things do get out of control, the seniors are happy and everyone has fun. So much so that Kobayashi settles down a bit and her love and appreciation for Tohru grows ever so slightly larger.

This applies to everyone else too. Lucoa and Shouta interact more naturally (read: less rapey), Riko’s lust for Kana is a little less frequent, and even Elma gets acceptance among the group.

After the after party, Tohru and Kobayashi share a snow filled dragon ride through the sky and exchange gifts.

The Verdict: Dragon Maid owes much of its success and limitations to its reliable comedic formula. That formula was a bit more obvious than usual, as several jokes used the same setup “Oh, dragon misunderstands the point” but they were still well timed. The creativity is in how weird the jokes get, and the general strength of the episode depends on how much charm and warmth the cast can generate around those odd jokes.

This week checked off the warmth marks, obviously, and the weirdness stayed creative too. I wish there was a stronger narrative thrust or purpose to all of it, but the show still deserves your attention without that.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 22 (Fin)

The more I watched this episode, the more I wished it didn’t have to exist. I mean…I already KNOW Rei’s a really lonely guy with no friends whatsoever at school. Do I really need the show to drill it into my head with more lonely montages? No, I do not.

It’s doubly frustrating to see Rei fail so hard at interacting with his peers because last’s week’s episode felt so good, and this is like having cold water poured on you; it’s just…unpleasant to watch Rei at school, as it always has. Seriously, Hayashida-sensei and those four weird burner club guys who aren’t really characters—those are the only people he ever speaks to!

At certain breaks in his inner monologue, I kept hoping against hope that someone, anyone resembling a normal high school student would approach him, maybe having seen or read about him. But no one ever comes.

The second half, which starts as a flashback to really drive home the point that Rei is awkward and lonely, again feels like a redundant detour that illustrates what I already know: Shogi is the “ticket” that ensures someone will always sit by him.

Rei envisions himself on (and the show is very intent on repeatedly showing) a magical floating CGI train in the sky; a train he shares with many other people headed towards the same destination.

Call me bitter because the previous episode was a perfect ending to the series as a whole, not just the Kawamoto side of Rei’s story. I guess, like all those high school kids, the actual shogi was never that interesting too me; too arcane to get too far into with its alphanumerical nomenclature.

Fortunately, everything else was not only interesting but endearing, charming, and relatable. So while it’s regrettable the series ends on a meh note, it doesn’t take away from last week’s loveliness, nor do I regret getting into the show.

Average Rating (22 episodes): 8.14

Youjo Senki – 10

The Gist: Team Tanya successfully wipes out the Republic’s forward command, which allows the Empire’s plan to unfold without a hitch. A massive explosion is set off under the Republic’s southern position, Empire tanks surge through the scattered survivors, and the Republic’s main force is encircled.

From inside their submarine escape vessel, Team Tanya has every right to pre-celebrate victory. However, little do they know, Colonel Anson and a boat full of Kingdom Mages is about to run into them, putting their lives, and indeed the success of the entire plan in question.

Following the credits, we flash back to Serebryakova being an un-wakeable weirdo sleeper on the submarine for some humor. Will the improved Anson finally match Tanya’s output? Will her team of 10 stand a chance against a full regiment of broom-riding mages? Beyond this battle, what’s Youjo Senki’s end game? Only a few episodes remaining to see…

The Verdict: Like the battles it features, this week’s episode landed a string of successes, with the caveat that things may go off the rails, structurally, by the end. The flow of battle and strategy was easy to understand and visually interesting, and we got a broader emotional range from Tanya and crew while on the submarine.

However, there’s an over arching haphazardness of editing throughout Youjo Senki. On one hand, it tries to cram a lot in per-episode but what it crams in isn’t always relevant or impactful. The Empire’s board meeting between government officials and the military didn’t really add to any tension over the success of the plan for example. Anson’s scene on the Kingdom ship reduced the surprise impact of his arrival at the end of the episode for another. There are plenty of other short moments in hallways and at tables where characters repeat information we already know too.

Combined, these little delays and wheelspin shave time off of other moments, not always for the better. In some ways, the opening attack from Team Tanya didn’t even feel like a scene in it’s own right, since it was so brief and the potential failure was so brief as to add no tension (It would have been far stronger to end on that in the previous episode, and leave us guessing what Tanya will do if her target was wrong to begin with).

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 11

For all the sorrow and tragedy and pain in his life, things turned out pretty well for Yakumo, AKA Bon, and as it turns out, he really did die under ideal circumstances: he died in his sleep, peacefully, painlessly, surrounded by those who loved him, listening to his grandson doing rakugo.

This episode, perhaps the finest in the entire run of the show, takes place entirely in the purgatory-like place the recently deceased go before crossing the Sanzu River to the hereafter. This requires a fare, which, big surprise, Sukeroku hasn’t been able to afford yet.

The show had always teased an interest in depicting a more fantastical world than that of the living, and in this place people can change their age at will, time is kinda hard to put a finger on. Yakumo is initially annoyed that once again Sukeroku is sponging off him, even after death, but once he’s a boy again, he quickly falls back comfortably into the very deep brotherly bond they shared.

The afterlife is suitably lush and otherworldly, but also borrows heavily from traditional Japanese aesthetics, which makes sense considering the characters we’re following. Sukeroku makes sure Yakumo understands how grateful he is for raising Konatsu.

The reunions don’t stop with Sukeroku, as Miyokichi died at the same time. While she’s cast away the “role of a woman”, she and Sukeroku are still a married couple, working together to earn fare across the river. It feels like, from their perspective, they only recently got here, just like Yakumo.

Yakumo wanted more than anything to apologize to Miyokichi for dumping her so heartlessly, but she holds no grudges in this place. In fact, she can now reflect on the mistakes she made in life, namely latching onto one person rather than rely on, and be there for, others. She’s also amused to no end by Yakumo talking like an old man, since he died as one.

The three travel together for a bit along that seemingly endless scaffolding, and Yakumo mentions the food is tasteless and unsatisfying. Sukeroku says it’s because they’re dead, but if he wants to be satisfied, he knows just the place: the very theater that burned down two episodes ago has arrived in the afterlife as well. It had a soul, after all. Even better: it’s a packed house with the biggest billing ever: All the masters of all generations…and Yakumo is on the bottom. He’s gone from grizzled old master to fresh new arrival in this place.

Sukeroku decides to warm the place up with a performance that really does seem to give flavor to the sake, meat, and onions he pretend-drinks and eats (never has his jaunty entrance theme, which Yotaro inherited, sounded better or more significant). “You can’t take this taste with you when you die!” also has new meaning. He’s still got it, in this place, which has gone back to exactly the same as it was in the old days.

There’s also a magic cushion (I’ll allow it) which brings the person from the living world the performer wants to listen the most. In Sukeroku’s case, it’s his daughter Konatsu, who appears the age she was when he and Miyokichi died. For Yakumo, it’s his grandson Shin, about the same age as his mom, and just as enthusiastic to hear Yakumo’s rakugo.

Yakumo takes the stage as his old self, but has never looked happier, beaming at his reunited family and full of energy. In a playful mood, he performs “Jugemu”, and Miyokichi and Shin “sing” along the comically long name. His story continues as the camera leaves the old, drafty, but brightly glowing theater, which slowly fades out of focus.

Yakumo then finds himself in a fine boat, packed and ready for his journey across the Sanzu. Sukeroku sees him off, and Yakumo makes him promise he and Miyokichi will join him soon, once they save up enough for their fare (the one thing he apparently can’t share with his friends, even if he wanted to). That could be a year from now, or it could be yesterday.

While en route, the ferryman reveals himself as Matsuda, who may have followed his master into death after nodding off himself, and he couldn’t be happier to be by his side again, chaffeuring him to the very gates of heaven.

It’s a fitting end to Yakumo’s story, and a achingly gorgeous episode full of joyful and tear-jerking moments, from Miyokichi first seeing Yakumo, to Konatsu hugging her mother, to Yakumo taking the stage one last time and meeting Matsuda on the boat.

The preview indicates the last episode will be an epilogue that jumps forward in time, perhaps to an older Shinnosuke with a red-haired young woman who may be his younger sister. That should be fun, even if it doesn’t come close to approaching the greatness of this, Yakumo’s farewell.

Fuuka – 11

Ay Caramba was that a jumbled mess of an episode, full of people being selfish and awful, other people being pushed and pulled around like ragdolls, people saying things no normal people would ever say out loud, and peppered with seemingly even more superfluous fanservice than usual.

First up, Fuuka, who leaves the band she forced everyone into to begin with to sign a contract with a studio. You know she’s leaving the band because it’s too painful to be around Yuu, and I know that too, but Yuu doesn’t, because he’s an idiot.

This isn’t about pursuing her dreams. You can tell because throughout this episode she’s sad and saying out loud “I AM MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICE HERE,” as if trying in vain to convince herself.

As for the other girl whose feelings for him Yuu is totally unaware, Koyuki surprises him when he’s moping in the dark his bedroom, presumably a few days later. When Koyuki learns why he’s blue, she tells him it’s for the best, how she wants to be on stage with him, no matter how much he sucks at bass, then opens her blouse and pounces on him.

Yuu is just not feelin’ it, and Koyuki starts to sob, talking about how she knew she wasn’t the one, how she knew about the feelings he doesn’t know he has, and how he needs to “be honest with himself” before leaving the site of her almost comically brief and awkward attempt at seduction. I feel bad for Koyuki, not because she was rejected so utterly, but that she likes a schlub like Yuu in the first place.

Yuu isn’t just a schlub: he’s also a deeply selfish, destructive person. Mind you, it feels like only a few days have passed, but all the other members of the band have already moved on to other things; Fuuka was the now-absent glue that held them together. Without her, Nachi goes back to focusing on track, Mikasa prepares to move back home and be the finance bro his dad wants him to be, and the talented Sara instantly finds another band to play in.

The wound of the short-lived The Fallen Moon (ugh) is healing nicely for everyone…except Yuu. The band was, apparently, all he had, so he tears it back open, writing a song that “contains all his feelings” (ARRGH) and delivers them to the members one by one in person, totally ignoring their firm yet polite attempts to decline.

Mikasa’s egregiously soapy-yet-oddly robotic monologue to Yuu borders on self-parody:

Sorry, Yuu…I’d moved out of my family’s home as a rebellion against my father, but that’s over now too. I’ve decided to listen to my father. He’s literally promised me a happy future! So I won’t have to suffer or stress myself out chasing pointless dreams anymore!

Who talks like that? Who wrote this drivel??

Yuu doesn’t give a shit what you’re up to now. HE wants the band back together, and he knows if they just hear his song, they’ll come running back to Denny’s. And of course, one by one, the rubes prove Yuu right.

“You’re absolutely right Yuu! How silly of us to move on with our own lives after the most talented, charismatic member of our band quit. Let’s re-form the band on the recommendation of the least talented and charismatic member!” What are these people, lemmings?

The only one he’s not able to immediately bring back is the one who he let leave in the first place without a word of complaint, saying at the time, “if it’s her decision, there’s nothing we can do.” Moping in the dark, getting jumped by Tama-chan, and pouring his feelings into a song have changed him. Now he wants the band back, Fuuka included. Everyone has to do what he says, dammit!

It’s tricky, though, because Fuuka, perhaps not ready to face the band she started then abandoned, is using her mom to screen visitors to her house. She mopes much like Yuu mopes, clutching his feelings-song in her hands, insisting she’s on the right path despite all outward evidence to the contrary, to say nothing of the turmoil in her head.

The insinuation is that, like Yuu had been doing until now, Fuuka isn’t being honest with herself. So go ahead, pursue your dreams as far as your talents will take you…but only until Yuu incessantly hounds you to return to the band. You’re done with the band when he TELLS you you’re done.

I don’t like this show anymore!

Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujouou-hen – 11

Ao no Exorcist wasn’t going to be able to sustain my interest in the battle without resolving it for two more episodes, so I’m glad it was finished in one. And what a finish! All the little separate parts of the battle came together wonderfully, and Rin finally figures shit out.

As Shura says, the only think he lacks is confidence. He’s been holding back all this time because he was scared of who he truly was: the spawn of Satan. As the Observing-from-on-high Mephisto quotes: sometimes to defeat a monster you have to become one.

Dealing with Todou certainly requires vicious and vigilant attention, as Kurara enables him to regenerate right quick; if it wasn’t for the heavy rain (and added effectiveness of naiad bullets) Yukio & Co. would have been in bad shape. Again, though, this fight seems a bit of a distraction beside the Impure King threat, and Yukio’s realization that he shouldn’t be listening to the temptations of a demon comes curiously late in his battle.

Sick of watching Rin ineffectually hack at the seemingly infinite tendrils of the King, Ucchusma, noticing the Koma Sword, agrees to lend his power to Rin, shrinking in size, turning blue, and perching on the tip of the sword as a result.

But while Ucchusma wants the two of them to completely obliterate everything on the mountain—including all those who have been “contaminated”: Rin’s friends and comrades—Rin has something less destructive in mind; something only he can do: use his flames to defeat the Impure King without harming anyone or anything else. When he does so, the flames threaten to overwhelm him, tearing away his humanity.

Rin eventually calms down and remembers what happened to Shiemi when his flames enveloped her in Mephisto’s prison: nothing. So after Shiemi herself, after losing Nee again, climbs the rot that has enveloped Izumo, ignoring her insults, and pulls her free, and after Rin’s blue flames pour out in all directions and envelop them both, Shiemi is not afraid; everything will be fine.

Bon, Shura, Renzo and Koneko; everyone is bathed in the blue flames. At first they feared it would mean their death, but the flames are harmless, and only destroy the King and his Impurity. High above the mountain, Mephisto applauds the “bonfire” Rin created, happy the powers of the Blue Exorcist have finally awakened.

Shura, Renzo, Koneko, and the Myoda monks are all smiles in the aftermath of Rin’s great achievement, but there’s one guy who rains on the parade with a brutal punch to Rin’s face is Yukio, who is furious that he’s out of his cell. Obviously, he’s not up to speed, and Rin’s puckish grinning and laughing doesn’t help matters.

So Rin gets serious, and shows his little brother who he truly is; the thing he’s no longer afraid of facing himself. Shino never directly told Rin what he should do with his life, but left it up to him. So he chose: with the power he always had, but could not control because he feared it, he will keep his friends and family safe from the forces of evil, using Satan’s own flames against them.