86 – 11 (Fin) – All Over but the Crying

We arrive at October 30th, the day the five remaining members of Spearhead get into a scrap with the Legion and lose Fido as well as all but Shin’s Juggernaut. Things are getting desperate and they’re running low on ammo, fuel, and food, which means soon their recon mission will be at an end. All of them know what that means, but rather than dwell on that, they simply keep living their lives until the time fate decides to take them.

This means taking shifts piloting the ‘naut while the others rest or watch the rear from the remaining cargo bot. Thanks to Shin’s instincts and a rainstorm they manage to evade another Legion patrol, but the Legion become more legion by the day. The group finds an abandoned town and decide to take shelter in a school—the first school Kurena’s ever been to. They take a final roll call, and “graduate” the next day.

When they hit a literal wall of sheer rock, Shin suddenly asks to switch with Anju, who is piloting, claiming he’s bored. Once they switch, he cuts the tether to split off from the others and uses his grappler to bring down some rocks so they won’t follow. He sensed more Legion were coming; Legion they wouldn’t escape unless he lured them away. The others aren’t okay with this. Raiden, Anju, Kurena and Theo all agree to go after him.

With no Juggernauts, they have to go on foot, and arrive just as Shin’s ride is trashed and a Legion prepares to crack it open like a tin of sardines and claim his head. Only the weakest of the charging Legion are susceptible to their small arms, and even then only headshots, and there are too many of them. First Theo, then everyone else goes down fighting. The light of the Legion prepares to take Shin’s head—but he has his sidearm. Does it succeed?

We finally check in on Lena, who is under house arrest for her little stunt with the mortars. Even so, she pays a visit to the front lines, and to Spearhead’s HQ. A new group of 86 are being processed. The cycle continues.

Lena is greeted by Lt. Albrecht, who reveals he’s an Alba like her whose wife and daughter were 86 and died in battle. Thanks to Shin, he was given a measure of solace in knowing they didn’t become Legion, as Shin never heard them call Albrecht’s name.

Lena then walks through the now abandoned living space like a ghost looking so out of place after having been in essentially another world the whole time. It’s just so heartbreaking that by the time she was finally able to make it here, everyone she spoke to over the Para-RAID was already gone.

While the cycle of using 86 as cannon fodder continues, there was at least a crucial change. Lena and Shin forged a genuine connection, and it rubbed off on the others too, as they left her a memento: Theo’s drawing of her with handwritten notes from him, Shin, Raiden, Kurena, and Anju. More importantly, they left a Polaroid of the whole group, helpfully labelled by Theo “so she wouldn’t cry” about not being able to tell who was who.

In the end, as a practical matter, all Lena was able to do by breaking protocol and getting in trouble was extend the five’s lives by a few more days. Instead of dying on one battlefield, they died on another. But with Fido gone and his records destroyed, Lena now holds some of the last remaining artifacts of their existence—other than the wrecks and bodies they left behind somewhere out there, after reaching their final destinations.

Lena will surely treasure these things, as well as the cat left in her care, but they’re also primed to fuel her continued rebellion against the broken evil system she’s blindly served for too long. She couldn’t end the injustice for Shin and the others, but perhaps with enough allies and some luck, she can end it for others. Or maybe not. But like them, she’ll fight until fate comes for her.

Maybe then they’ll all get to finally reunite…for the first time.

So ends the first cour of 86. What a powerful show. We’ve known since the start there would definitely be a second one, but now we know there will be a “Special Episode” in between the two. What I’m a little fuzzy on is what exactly became of Shin.

I’d like to hope he managed to shoot himself in the head, and that seems to be supported by the fact he reunites with his brother, whom we know he freed from the Legion. We also see Shin’s headless body. But nothing is certain, which is why I’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 13 (Fin) – Mission Accomplished

The finale to Vivy, entitled simply Fluorite Eye’s Song, hits all the right notes, as our titlar AI diva gets her second and final chance and doesn’t waste it. I’m a big fan of going back and redoing things, whether it’s Back to the Future or Steins;Gate, and Vivy doesn’t disappoint in switching up the actions she took last time, culminating in saving Toak and Yui before Elizabeth can even arrive on the scene.

Armed with data, footage of the imminent satellite disaster, and the means to shut down the Archive, Vivy asks Toak to believe and stand with her as she accomplishes her mission as she’s always seen it ever since she and Matsumoto met: make people happy with her singing by first keeping those people alive. Yui concurs, and Beth helps inspire the troops.

Toak will be heading to Arayashiki as before, but as Vivy is armed with the knowledge from their first ill-fated raid, they’re able to avoid the mistakes that resulted in all their deaths. Vivy, meanwhile, is headed to the only stage appropriate to sing her song to shut down the AIs: the Main Stage at NiaLand.

After Matsumoto mentions he’s never actually heard his longtime companion sing on the stage, Vivy snaps her fingers like Diva, but she’s got the wrong idea. Matsumoto wants to hear her song. Vivy tells a joke, then psychs herself up by playing with Matsumoto before taking her leave.

As we see from Archive’s core, a new branch is forged on the timeline tree of the Singularity Project. Archive knows she’s coming, but as promised is giving Vivy a chance to prove that humanity shouldn’t be annihilated.

On her way to the stage she encounters another old friend, beside her first stage: Navi, once her one and only friend. Navi doesn’t want Vivy to go to the Main Stage, even summoning a hologram of Momoka to try to keep her there. She rejects Vivy’s expanding of her mission, which used to be just to make people happy with her singing and nothing else.

Navi gets one crucial detail wrong: Momoka would never have called her “Diva”—she’s the one who gave her the name Vivy. She knows her first song in decades may end up being her last, and she’s already prepared for that. But her mission has changed since it was just her and Navi, and she’s a different person, too.

As Vivy walks up to the half-ruined stage and sings the proper, beautiful, major-key “Fluorite Eye’s Song”, Toak and Matsumoto infiltrate Arayashiki, outmaneuver the AI guards, shut down the power, and get to the Archive’s core faster and with fewer (but still not zero) casualties.

As for “singing with all her heart”, Vivy finally learned what that meant: she surrounds herself with images from all the memories she’s amassed. Those memories, and the people and events that changed and shaped her into the Vivy she is, comprise her heart.

And she indeed sings with all of it, which proves too much for her century-old body, which slowly begins to deteriorate as the song gains power. Matsumoto sacrifices all of his cubes but one to take out his dark counterparts, interfaces with the core, and shuts the satellite drop countdown…with just two seconds to spare.

With Armageddon from the sky averted, Vivy’s song reaches its apex and takes care of the robot apocalypse on the ground. Every AI shuts down, a whole bunch of them just one more moment from killing a human. The program Matsumoto inputted into the core fails to stop one satellite from falling—and right towards NiaLand, but he sacrifices his last cube to detonate it before it destroys the stage.

With the Singularity Projec and Vivy’s mission accomplished, Matsumoto’s wrecked cubes lie dormant while Vivy shuts down, her own fluorite eyes going dark after thanking her audience for their kind attention one last time. Or it would be one last time, if either Matsumoto or Vivy were flesh and blood beings.

As it happens, at some point in the future, Vivy wakes up in a different chair in a different building, sporting a new short hairstyle. She’s woken up by Matsumoto, who directs her to the windows where an adoring crowd is waiting to hear her sing. She doesn’t remember her name or Matsumoto at first, but her face brightens up when she’s asked to sing. The mission continues.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a fan of epic anime series that air across years—Attack on Titan, for instance—but there’s something to be said for a tight, compact, self-contained tale (which nevertheless spanned centuries and pitted all of humanity against AI-gone-wild. Wit Studio didn’t just flex its visual muscle with Song, but its considerable character and storytelling chops as well—all in one tidy cour; no sequels or prequels necessary. It was a fun ride, and very pleasant surprise.

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 11 – Art Is Thus To Pursue

The girls try to encourage Senpai by laying into the President and her scolding, scripted manner of speaking, but Naoto doesn’t want them talking shit about her, from whom he’s learned so much about art and still deeply respects.

He’s also dubious about a cosplay art cafe being sufficient to beat the Prez, who helped the Art Club nab sixth place last year—out of over sixty presentations—with a bold, provocative nude self portrait.

Gamo points out what she believes to be a simple fact: when it comes to mass appeal, Senpai and Hayacchi don’t have “the goods” with which to compete with the Prez’s Kardashian-esque proportions. Nagatoro takes it as being dissed—but Gamo still has a point; a lot of horny guys are going to be voting for the better club.

But there’s one horny guy—Naoto—who tells Gamo and the others that he doesn’t think any less of Nagatoro than the President. Both have their charms, and he wants to try to win by depicting Nagatoro as she normally is. Even though he imagines President as a Titan swallowing him whole, he’s still feeling positive.

Nagatoro is determined to ensure he wins, and when her swimsuit isn’t motivating enough, she dons nothing but a white sheet. But in doing so, and with the constant interruptions of the other girls, Naoto becomes increasingly iffy in his drawing, and grows frustrated with the whole venture, deeming any attempt to beat the Prez as futile.

Finally, as the show takes on a de-saturated palette akin to Super Cub, Naoto says this isn’t going to work. He doesn’t want to draw Nagatoro, because if he fails, he’ll drag her down with him. She says she doesn’t care about that, but Naoto insists this is between him and the President. A genuinely angry and hurt Nagatoro storms off in her sheet. The others call Senpai a loser…and in that moment, he absolutely is!

Alone again in his club room (well, half the club room; in an amazingly petty gesture President has cordoned off the other half for third years only!) he gets back to his bread-and-butter: dull still-lifes. President pays him a visit —also wearing only a sheet, as she was taking pictures for her next piece, and tells him it’s dull and no good.

She’s not just being a bitch; she’s right! Naoto’s painting is technically fine, but lacks any kind of passion, other than the desire to be neat and tidy. Prez tells him the most important aspect of a piece isn’t its theme, but love. And when she witnesses Nagatoro peek in and promptly run away after she sees Senpai with her, Prez orders Naoto to pursue her with all due haste.

He does, but when he catches up to her in the hall he blanks on what to say, and the moment is spoiled by two other girls who think he’s stalking Nagatoro. The chase continues until the sun starts to go down, ending at the swimming pool. As he runs after her, he summons all his favorite memories of her, which aren’t of her teasing him, but revealing her genuine self to him.

As she hops from starting block to another away from him, Naoto tells her he wants her to model for him. When she tells him to go back to his precious president, she slips off a block, but before she can go into the pool he grabs her, both demonstrating he does have some strength. When he repeats his desire to draw her the way she usually is, she asks him why, and this time he doesn’t waver: because she’s more attractive to him.

Nagatoro is so shocked by this declaration, and turns so red, she kinda almost has to jump into the pool, taking Senpai with her. They end up walking home soaked, but Naoto’s honesty and the quick plunge into the pool washed away their fight and brought them back together. When he lets slip that he often notices how cute she in ordinary times (as opposed to wearing cosplay) it’s another blushfest for both of them.

Senpai walks right up to the line of confession this week, while Nagatoro leaves no doubt about how she feels when he keeps defending her nemesis. But while she’s scheming something with who I presume to be the StuCo President, the President came off as less of a villain (or Titan) this week.

Instead, she’s issued this challenge to push Naoto out of his comfort zone so he can be the best artist he can be. You can only do that by pursuing your passions—and when it comes to his passions, there’s no beating Nagatoro. Even if he and Nagatoro do lose to her voluptuous magnificence, they’ll lose together, having fought their hardest!

Episode 11 “Senpai” Count: 14 (+3 “Paisens”)—the fewest yet!
Total: 380

Those Snow White Notes – 12 (Fin) – An Abrupt Coda

Last week I railed against Notes for splitting Setsu’s climactic performance across two episodes, since it left us hanging in the middle with no cathartic payoff. Now I understand that such a choice was probably intentional: the last episode marked the end of him merely imitating his gramps, and this final one marked the first time we’ve heard Setsu at 100% His Own Sound.

Kudos to the musical direction and performance here; Setsu As Setsu sounds like no one else, and this sound not only fills the physical venue, but summons long-forgotten memories in one of the judges, moves Sakura and Shuri to tears, makes Mai to make a face that screams “I KNEW it!”…and pisses off his mom royally. It also makes young master Kamiki want to play the shamisen in the worst way.

It’s a triumphant performance, and I’ll admit I was as caught up in it as Setsu and his friends, to the point I felt it impossible that he would lose. Alas, he’s not the final performer, and the best was saved for last. I was fully prepared to listen to Souichi and declare him inferior, but credit where it’s due: Souichi’s performance was better the Setsu’s and everyone else’s.

More to the point, Souichi is confident, even after hearing Setsu (or maybe because of hearing him,), that he would win. I have no problem with that. But like Sakura, I was super-steamed that Setsu came not in second but in third, behind that twangy jackass Arakawa Ushio, who might be tied with Mai for most one-dimensional character of the season.

Umeko hands out the rewards, but intentionally drops Setsu’s and lets it shatter between their feet. Never mind that this was the first time he ever played in a competition, has no teacher, and can’t read music. She leans in and tells him he’s pathetic and he embarrassed her. What a mom!

But while Umeko gives off SAO villain vibes, Setsu’s dad—whom we only found out a couple of weeks ago even was his dad—is more Ikari Gendo. [Soup Nazi Voice]: NO LOVE FOR YOU! Honestly, both of Setsu’s parents should be jailed. Once it’s Kamiki’s turn to point out to Setsu how such a two-faced performance was always giong to suffer in a competition, well…

Having your angsty protagonist reach his highest high only to be ground into the dirt by evil adults is a strange way to end a series it’s by no means guaranteed will get a second season. There isn’t even any glimmer of hope that things will look up for him, as the episode ends with him sulking in the darkness, too immersed in his own despair to notice Sakura is on the other side of his door.

The musical performances were spellbinding, but they were overshadowed by all the doom and gloom at the end. Even if everything Kamiki said about Setsu was absolutely right, I don’t watch anime to get depressed, man! We’re rewarded for watching for twelve weeks with a big ‘ol F-You. If this is a one-and-done season, this finale is as big of a failure as Umeko perceives her son to be.

I’ll end with another Simpsons quote, which perfectly encapsulates Setsu’s journey:

“You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”

SSSS.Dynazenon – 12 (Fin) – E Pluribus Gundum

Gauma is in a bad way and Second can only ease his pain, but with Gridknight and Goldburn losing ground to Shizumu, Yume and Yomogi know what to do. Juuga, Mujina and Onija notice the new Shizumu Kaiju, realize they can’t control it, and instead allow him to swallow them up. This makes things even more difficult for Knight-kun.

Koyomi’s Dyna-car just happens to land near enough to him that he can simply hop in and join the battle; ditto Yomogi, who gets to make a dramatic leap over a cliff of debris into his Soldier. Yume trips and falls, but Yomogi soon tracks her down and offers to take her to her Wing. Gauma even manages to pilot his Dyna-thingy with Second, so all six pieces of the puzzle are there to fight the Eugenicists.

It’s here where we get a lot of those trademark super-intense Trigger Faces, as Juuga curses (and confesses?) to Gauma (who tells him to “shaddap!”), Mujina curses Koyomi (who loudly apologizes), and Yume and Yomogi get the silent treatment from their former classmate Shizumu. But once Yomogi realizes he can Instance Dominate the enemy with his Kaiju user power, the battle is pretty much over.

There’s a number of different Dyna-combinations, all of which are great fun to watch as the pilots shout in unison. The coup-de-grace comes from the old standby Super Dragon Dyna Rex (carrying a combo of Gridknight and Goldburn on its back) firing off the most verbose attack yet: Blazing Hot Inferno Burning Grid Rex Roar.

The Eugenicists glimpse their impending deaths and accept their fate (again), but so does Gauma, who passes away shortly after claiming victory. None of them are particularly upset about this; Mujina even thinks it might be “better this way”, while Juuga is certain the time of Kaiju will still come someday. As for Gauma, he finally understands why the Princess didn’t revive with him: because she entrusted Dynazenon to him. And he did good.

Three months later, as the silent credits roll (no OP or ED in this finale, but the opening theme did make an appearance during the battle, as is its wont), we get a very wide shot of Yume and Yomogi walking slowly across a bridge, Yume stopping Yomogi going back for her, and the two continuing on. I don’t know about you, but to me this feels like Yume wordlessly giving Yomogi her answer.

The two join Chise and Koyomi to take one last look at Gauma’s home under the bridge and bid farewell to Knight and Second, who are taking the now-inert Dynazenon and Gridknight with them. It must be tough, but Chise accepts that the best and coolest friend she ever had doesn’t belong in the world of logic and reason.

Speaking of which, Chise is back in her slick street clothes, since her school was one of the casualties of the climactic battle. That’s a pretty cool touch. As for Koyomi, he looks so different three months later with his haircut and well-fitting suit, I assumed at first he was a last-minute cameo from the Gridmanverse. Chise has also ditched her sleeve, revealing a Goldburn tattoo that was there all along. Looks like her friend will always be with her after all.

That leaves the inevitable cultural festival scene. Yomogi and Yume’s class is doing a horror café, and their shift is about to start but Yume is trying to shirk her duty. After pointing his mom and new stepdad—whom he seems to have accepted and even get along with— to the tickets, he is selected by his friends to track Yume down.

After seeing Mai’s photo exhibition (she decided to use photos of Yume after all which…why would you not), Yume finds the highest place in the school and sings a song in tribute to Kano. Then, as she was probably expecting, Yomogi finds her. She reaches out her hand and, after he recalls a final convo with Shizumu about how he was rejecting a future as a fellow kaiju user, but he was okay with that, he takes her hand and helps her onto her feet.

You can really feel the weight of he characters and the touch of their hands thanks to the animation and sound. She then scolds Yomogi for using her last name Minami, Yomogi relents and calls her Yume while blushing all the way, and Yume lets out a cheekily mirthful laugh.

Once they’re done their shift (as a bloody corpse and mummy, respectively), Yume and Yomogi pose for a photo with the others, and notice they still have their scars. Yume hopes they’ll never lose them, since they’re precious reminders of how they found themselves, found other, and learned to find happiness in their lives. These crazy kids are going to be alright.

The final scene is of Knight and Second arriving back in what I’ll call Akane’s illusory world. I’ll go ahead and assume Yomogi & Co.’s world was pretty much our world. While this is pretty cool to see, it’s not as huge or goosebump-inducing as Gridman’s live action mic drop. IN fact, you could probably make a case that Yomogi’s world is also a fake, simply because everyone looks like they’re in an anime.

That’s further food for thought, but in the end, my cerebral stomach is feeling pretty satisfied already. SSSS Dynazenon was one hell of an eclectic, sumptuous meal, a brilliant and epic melding of the absurd and mundane, both impossibly fantastical and piercingly real. I’m really going to miss this gang of misfits, but assuming Trigger isn’t done with robots, kaiju, and alienated, flawed, and immensely charming characters, I look forward to the next entry in the Gridman Universe.

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 11 – That Time I Got Ambushed by a Slime

With Sei off on an expedition with Al, Yuri takes a shine to Aira. Sei confirms that the best way of summoning her saintly power is to think of Al, the man she loves. The thing is, she’s in no particular hurry to confess to him or start any kind of official relationship, despite the fact she’s already saved the guy’s life and they have superb chemistry. Meanwhile, the hulking Leonhart (no relation to Annie) thinks he might have a chance at Sei, but he’d only be setting himself up for Leonhartbreak—if Al doesn’t kill him first!

With the newfound realization of her feelings for Al, Sei has taken to blushing so much he asks if she’s ill…thought that might be less him being dense and more being courteous or playful. He’s not one to talk about blushing around someone, as he does it a lot around Sei. But besides the insertion of Leonhart, who is shaping up to be more of a big (or big little) brother to Sei than the vertex of a love triangle, there’s not much movement in the Sei x Al romance, which at least for Sei is the way she wants it, at least for now.

When the expeditionary group enters the deep forest, they come afoul of several nasty dark slimes, not at all like our pal Rimuru Tempest from TenSura. Sei is able to purify a bunch and shield herself, Al and others, but they’re soon pinned down by superior numbers. That’s when a column of flame heralds the arrival of Yuri…and Aira, who I’m glad to see in the field. It seems likely she and Sei will be fighting side by side next week, which is something I’ve been waiting for since they were first summoned!

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 11 – Mall Zombies

Sakura wakes up in the morning to find she’s not feeling quite right, but it’s not due to her deteriorating zombie body, it’s because the mansion is literally adrift at sea. Yuugiri, master of understatement, declares things seem to have “taken a turn for the troublesome”.

Ookoba, who was about to publish an exposé that could have potentially shut Franchouchou down, is among those Saga residents wandering the muddy flooded streets in a daze. The goofiness of the floating mansion aside, this week takes a frank look at an all-too-realistic disaster befalling a part of Japan.

But when disaster hits, people tend to come together. After the mansion beaches itself and collapses (as flashes of their fun life there flash heartbreakingly by), Ai’s factory co-worker Machiko invites the girls to the Kaiton Mall, which has been set up as an emergency shelter. She finds a quiet spot for the girls to stay at the top of the stairs.

But the girls have no intention of sitting around idly. Even without Kotarou’s masterful human makeup at their disposal, they don’t shirk from pitching in wherever they’re needed, from helping out with cooking and distributing meals, to assisting with the sandbagging, to keeping the kids’ minds off their situation by having fun with them.

When night falls, many of the kids are scared and want to go home, but their tears dry up fast when Lily starts up her infectious scat-singing and dancing routine. The way Lily likes up the kids’ faces, even Saki can’t help but be wowed by Shrimpy’s idoly power.

The next day Ookoba finds himself at the mall, where NBK is interviewing the families who lost their homes and likely everything in them. To a person everyone keeps their chin up and stays upbeat and positive, both for their own sakes and for their children’s. That’s when Ookoba overhears a man being interviewed mention “the girls” who have been doing so much for the shelter.

On a makeshift stage lit by car headlamps, Franchouchou put on a show every night both to entertain the hell out of the kiddies (who are unassailably adorable) and soothe the adults’ hearts. There was more than one occasion when I teared up, their good works were so heartwarming.

The Grinch-like Ookoba was all gung-ho about exposing Koutarou’s “exploitation” of the idols for profit, but being in that dark mall full of people trying to avoid letting their minds stray to dark places, and seeing the light and joy Franchouchou give both on and off the stage, and he finally starts to understand why Koutarou brought them back to life.

And whither Koutarou, you might ask? Like the girls were initially on the S.S. Mansion, he’s in a somewhat ridiculous situation: the underground bar is completely flooded and both he and an ailing Gramps are just barely keeping their noses and mouths above water. Fortunately Policeman A finds them, making the first time Policeman A has done something useful!

Koutarou is freed from Davy Jones’ Locker none too soon, as the girls’ hastily applied makeup finally begins to chip, flake, and crumble. Before long all of them are in full zombie mode, and with a show to put on that night, their options are limited. An eavesdropping Ookoba spots them all with their natural looks, astonished more than anything else.

Koutarou is on his way to reunite with Franchouchou (thanks to a ride from Misa, using her boat to transport releif supplies) but won’t make it in time to help them. No matter; Junko comes up with a rather ingenious solution, using the materials she brought to make Ozaki dolls to make masks for everyone.

Unfortunately, while they’re able to sell the masks to the kids, who notice their resemblance to the dolls, as soon as the idols leap into the air and come back down, the masks crumble and fall away, and the crowd gets a good hard look at their dead gray skin, scars and bandages.

But here’s the thing: the kids are more confused than anything else. When the idols come clean and say they’re zombies, the kids dispute this. They define zombies as being scary. Franchouchou aren’t scary to them, they’re fun and cool and cute. Ergo, they’re not zombies, they’re Franchouchou.

Ai and the others go for it, hardly able to believe their luck. But in a way, it’s only appropriate that their hours of tireless, selfless hard work at the shelter, doing what they can taking care of others because it’s the right thing to do, be rewarded with a pass on their zombie “disguises.”

Ookoba can also hardly believe how lucky the girls are, but now appreciates how many risks they take every day of their existence. Koutarou sidles up to him and declares, simply, that Franchouchou are the [dis]”embodiment of pure idols”, and Ookoba is in no position to disagree.

As he lovingly reapplies each of the girls’ proper makeup to make them look alive again, Koutarou declares that their revenge concert at EFS will go on as planned in sixteen days, with little or no practice. It has to go on, especially now. Saga was hit by catastrophe, but came out all the stronger and closer for it.

As he takes his leave, Sakura tracks him down and thanks him for making her in idol from the bottom of her no-longer-beating heart. Sakura’s words cause Koutarou to recall flashes of his own failed past trying to make it big  when he attended Sakura’s funeral and held her battered, un-mailed audition package. While he knew he couldn’t save Saga on his own, he reached out to Gramps to bring back Sakura and the rest of the best of Saga throughout history.

For what I believe is the first time ever, he fully acknowledges Sakura, telling her she has “it”. She and the others have the potential to become “eternal idols loved around the globe, and being Franchouchou’s manager, he’ll eternally have “it”, too. It all starts with their revenge!

Irina and Crow talk episode 11 here. Check it out!

Super Cub – 11 – No More Enemies to Fight

When Shii’s in big trouble, Koguma answers the call…literally! She’s able to spot a snapped twig on the cat trail and find Shii awkwardly submerged in water that must be somewhere in the forties (though the fact it’s not frozen solid indicates it’s not that cold out). Even so, Koguma took a risk she could find Shii fast enough, and that Shii—who is effin’ tiny—wouldn’t suffer hypothermia.

Everything works out, as Koguma, a picture of calm and collectedness, helps Shii out of the ravine, picks up all 70-or-so pounds of her, and plops her in her front basket for the ride to her place. That’s right, Koguma stole Reiko’s dream of carrying Shii along this way—but quite by necessity!

Once home, Koguma draws a bath and cooks a dinner of curry udon. Reiko, whom she called earlier, arrives with Shii’s ruined Alex Moulton, takes a bath of her own, and joins the other two for dinner. It’s the first time Koguma has had company, but she doesn’t make a big deal of it; but just slurps up her udon with the others, enjoying their company.

While washing the dishes, Reiko lets Shii know—quite tactlessly!—that her Mouton is donezo. Shii breaks down, cursing winter and begging Koguma to use her Super Cub to end the wretched season. Koguma deadpans that her Cub can’t do that…and seems a little sad that it can’t.

The next day, Shii’s parents thank Koguma and Reiko with a pass good for a year’s free coffee, sandwiches, and bread items, which they begin to cash in on immediately, much to Shii’s relief. If Shii ever thought they’d stop hanging out with her after her incident in the creek, then she needs to have more faith in her friends!

Shii gets what Koguma ruthlessly declares a “granny bike”, and the days of Winter continue on, only with no more preparations to make to their bikes or clothes. Then one morning Koguma hears on the radio that the cherry blossomes have bloomed early in Kagoshima. She proposes they go see them…together, escaping the winter by going where—as far as those trees are concerned—it’s already over.

It’s just what Shii needs to cheer up, and when she takes Koguma’s hands in friendship, Koguma’s world colors up bolder and faster than ever. She recounts how when it was her trudging her way uphill on her bike that she saw Shii glide past her on her Moulton, eventually inspiring her to buy her Cub, which led to her befriending Reiko.

Shii may not know it, but this all started with Koguma chasing her and her cooler, faster bike. What better way to thank her for the inspiration by giving her an early taste of spring?

To Your Eternity – 10 – The Grand Gugupest Hotel

When the Enemy is about to attack Gugu, Fushi springs into action and shields his brother from the twisting branches by creating a number of spears to parry them. I guess he has learned a few things since his last battle! Gugu wants fight beside him, but is very lucky to survive when the Enemy throws him across the forest.

It may just be the still Booze Man installed in his stomach that saves him, as he proceeds to barf out all of the liquor stored there. When his torch ignites the liquor-vomit, Gugu gets an idea for how he can help Fushi, and races home. On the way, he turns completely red, drunk off the liquor that escaped the still, while Rean is about to be carried off by her helicopter parents.

Drunk Gugu is naturally a less inhibited Gugu, so he doesn’t mince words about loving Rean more than anyone, no matter to whom she’s betrothed. In any case, he’s not there to solve her family drama, but to get a refill of Booze Man’s best booze.

Pioran, the only other person to have witnessed the terrifying power of Fushi’s Enemy, insists that Booze Man do as Gugu says. The old man fills Gugu up with his strongest stuff and sends him on his way, while Pioran stops Rean’s parents from taking her and leaving…because it’s not safe out there.

Gugu, having sobered up, arrives to find the Enemy has absorbed Fushi’s Giant Bear form, and there is no sign of Fushi. But it’s soon apparent that the Enemy, essentially being made of wood, is vulnerable to fire, and Gugu has a fresh bellyful of fuel to play with.

Using his boozy fire breah, Gugu burns the Enemy to the ground, freeing Fushi, who is only flowing light and energy before transforming into a rock, his first form. When Gugu picks him up, he transforms into a wolf dog, and the two tussle mirthfully…though Fushi keeps his promise to bite Gugu if he came back!

The next morning Gugu and Fushi return to the Booze Man’s house where everyone is very confused about what happened (though Pioran probably has a pretty good idea). Gugu celebrates his return by cooking up a feast so delicious, Rean’s parents deem him better than their professional chef.

Fushi, back in the same clothes and with the same rope as the boy when he died since he “reset”, greets his maker, whom no one else can see or hear, outside. The creator tells him in order to become stronger, he cannot be sedentary, but like Rean with her parents, Fushi protests. He wants to stay. The creator tells him that’s also an option.

Back inside, Rean prepares to leave with her folks, and Gugu dispenses some precocious wisdom: The people who keep us alive aren’t necessarily good people, but we aren’t so weak that we can’t endure it. Granted, he’s had to endure a lot more than Rean, but it’s all relative!

Fast forward…four years. Gugu is no longer a pot-bellied boy, but a swole young man, having never stopped his fitness regimen. He continues to assist the Booze Man and feed him and Pioran (who still starts eating before everyone comes to the table). Rean still “runs away” from home on the regular, to see Gugu and Fushi.

And Fushi, having watched Gugu and Rean grow, has himself grown “older”; his hair growing longer and even gaining a slight stubble on his face. He also speaks a lot more naturally, which isn’t surprising considering his teachers and how long he’s been with them. The tenth episode of a planned twenty ends on Fushi’s new family happily enjoying a meal together. If only that happiness could last…

Fruits Basket – 61 – The Cat Was Right

Totally Invincible

When Tooru leaves the hospital and first sees Kyou, whom she loves, nothing goes as planned. Even as her mind and heart want to go to him and smile, her body runs away as fast as it can…which is, of course, not nearly fast enough to lose the rather athletic Kyou! While Yuki visited, the mere mention of Kyou’s name brought tears to Tooru’s eyes that she quickly slapped away, risking further damage to her head.

Yes, Tooru isn’t running from Kyou because she’s afraid of him, but because of the usual: she’s afraid of being a burden; being unnecessary; causing people pain simply by being around them. She’s afraid of Kyou being disappointed in her. This is what happens when you say your piece and flee like Kyou did. It was a shit move, especially when he knew full well Tooru would take every one of those harsh words to heart.

So it’s as heartlifting to see Kyou get down on one knee and apologize and take back what he said as it was heartbreaking to hear him say those things in the first place to a desperately vulnerable Tooru who was ready to bear her heart but was met with a wall of stone. Kyou has learned a lot from being with Tooru, and one of those things he learned is being more aware of how his words and behavior affect people.

He knows how lucky he is to see Tooru again to apologize, and humbly asks for one more chance with her, because if he’s going to live, he wants to live with her by his side, because he loves her. Tooru responds by asking if it’s really okay for her to stay by his side, and hold his hand, and he points out she’s already holding it, gently places his hand on her face, and gives her her second kiss—the first being when he wasn’t sure he’d have this second chance.

When Kyou laments that being with him means suffering because of his “weird body” (let’s not forget, without that rosary he’s an odd, smelly beast), but Tooru simply tells him she loves him, that that love is “totally invincible”, and he starts thinking maybe he’s invincible too. They hug, both fully expecting him to transform. But he doesn’t, because the curse has been broken.

The Original Promise

It broke because Tooru was able to make a new connection with Akito, and show her that it was going to be okay even if it broke, and that it ultimately be better for everyone, including Akito, if it broke. We thankfully get to see a bit of Akito visiting Tooru in the hospital, where she confesses it all came down to her being jealous of Tooru and how goshdarn pure and pretty she is.

Rather than rightfully reply with a “guilty as charged”, Tooru is Tooru, saying she’s neither pure nor pretty, and if it isn’t too much trouble she’ll thank Akito not to sort people into categories based on “things like that” and use them to keep her distance. If Akito thinks Tooru is pure, then she believes Akito is pure too, and never more than she was when she approached in the rain.

As Tooru and Kyou hug without him transforming, Akito thinks about that visit, and how Tooru repeated her heartfelt desire to be her friend, and Akito’s willingness to be that, resulting in a new beginning, something she never thought possible all her life until meeting Tooru. She feels the hand of the original God on her head, and we’re sent back to time immemorial, and the genesis of the Curse, which was originally not a curse at all.

What it was originally was an effective coping mechanism for the crushing loneliness of the original God, living in his house on top of a mountain, too strange and different to interact with the humans below. The first being to ever visit him was the Cat, who promised to stay by his side and kept that promise.

The cat taught the God that perhaps others who were “different” would be willing to be his friends. He sent out invitations, and twelve other animals responded. The moon quietly watched over the banquets shared by those who were different—what a beautiful collection of words—but eventually the first of them, the Cat, became ill and neared death.

The God enchanted a sake cup that would make the bonds between him and the thirteen animals eternal; that even if they died, they’d be reborn and reunited. But the dying cat neither needed nor wanted eternity, which the other animals saw as a rejection and admonished the Cat.

But the cat was on to something, even back then, at the very first collection of the Zodiac. He beseeched God that they accept that things end, that mortality, while scary and lonely, is what makes life life, and makes love love. The Cat said to God he was fortunate to be with Him for even a moment, but after he died, the other animals ignored his calls for acceptance.

Still, they were still mortal, and one by one died, until only God was left, his house a ruin reminiscent of one of the deserted huts in the Boy’s village in To Your Eternity. Then God died, but was reborn with the others and the eternal banquet resumed. This original memory, which occurred so long ago, was forgotten by all…until it was told to us by the incomparable Iwami Manaka, whose voice moved me to tears on several occasions this week.

Cry With Me

But the promise endured, until present events now have Akito asking the original God if it’s okay for her to stop being special or a god, and just become Akito…to end the eternal, set down the extinguished torch, and begin her life.

As she asks this of her progenitor, the answer is revealed, as one by one the remaining Zodiac members are released from their eternal bonds. For many, like Kisa and Rin, it happens beside Hiro and Haru, respectively—those who already felt the pang of intense and all-encompassing sadness and loneliness that comes with the breaking of the curse. But Kisa has Hiro, Rin has Haru, Ayame has Mine, and Kyou has Tooru.

The coping mechanism is no longer needed. Both the animals and the god are now free to live among one another and with humans who love them and want to live with them. Free to make new beginnings and free to create new bonds. To commemorate this moment, Kyou rips the rosary off his arm and nothing happens. He’s now free to be Kyou, not the Cat, and free to love Tooru, who loves him more than she loves anyone else.

Thank You

All Akito asks as the curse is lifted is for everyone to “cry with her”, but they do more than that. Still sore from the breaking of their bonds, they are actually drawn to her—to Akito, not the God of the Zodiac—and when they do file in one by one, what had been a cold, foreboding, oppressive Souma compound is bathed in warm light.

As the original God states, it would be a long, long time before the cat’s words about eternity not being the answer and the preciousness of mortality became true. But they finally did. Akito may not be a god anymore, but she’s not alone. Tooru makes sure she knows that when she visits with Kyou and the others.

It’s telling that the first person for Akito to embrace post-the breaking of the curse isn’t a former Zodiac member, but the first and best friend of her new non-divine existence: Honda Tooru, who it turns out freed Akito as much as everyone else from bonds none of them ever asked for, and never needed. It is true we mortals must accept that things end, even if that thing is Fruits Basket. But I can’t think of a better or more satisfying ending than the one we’re getting.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Higehiro – 11 – Someday Is Here

This week begins with Sayu saying goodbye to Asami and Tokyo and taking a plane to Hokkaido with her brother and Yoshida, and ends with her returning home after more than a half a year of running away. If that sounds to you like not enough material to fill a whole episode, well, that’s when I must bring up one of the major cons of this penultimate outing: it’s padded within an inch of its life.

Whether its on the oddly-proportioned plane and its odd-looking seats, or during the two to three hours when Issa is off doing business and Yoshida and Sayu hang out in a café, scenes just feel artificially far longer than they either need to be or should. Granted, it’s Sayu’s first time on a plane or in a café with a friend, but when she held up an hourglass, I couldn’t help but think Can we maybe get a move on?

While a detriment early on, I’ll fully admit that Sayu’s trip to her school, which neither Yoshida nor Issa knew she’d request, is actually very effectively paced, as we feel with her the precise and growing dread of drawing closer and closer to the spot on that damned rooftop where her only friend’s life ended—and her life changed forever.

Honestly, I don’t know if or how she’d have been able to do this without Yoshida, so it’s very much a good thing he came along. Even an adult would have a hard time returning to the spot where their friend died for any reason. Add to that the fact Sayu witnessed Yuuko jump and blames herself for it, and you have yourself a brutal veritable trifecta of trauma.

When Sayu blames herself for Yuuko jumping, Yoshida had to be there to tell her she was wrong, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t that she didn’t really care about Yuuko, but cared too much. Her desire to help her fight the bullies wasn’t a bad instinct, even though things went terribly wrong. And frankly, Sayu wasn’t Yuuko’s entire life and can’t be expected to be such…she had her own life, and problems.

Thanks to Yoshida’s support, Sayu is able to wail with grief, letting it all out, until a stiff wind reveals the nearly-full moon and seemingly blows away the ghost of Yuuko that was haunting her. On their way back to the car, Yoshida asks if she’s okay now, and she answers quite correctly “not at all”…but she will be. She’s going to work towards the time when she can remember Yuuko and smile, rather than cry.

After such an emotionally draining experience at school, it almost seems cruel to then drive Sayu back home, even though she says she’s ready to go. After all, nothing in that house is worse than what happened on that rooftop, except for her mother’s last words to her before she ran away, which was to ask if Sayu killed her friend.

For all of the learning and growing up Sayu has done in the last few months, at least at first blush it looks like her mother has learned absolutely nothing. Issa tries to stand purposefully in front of both Sayu and Yoshida, but their mom pushes him out of the way to give Sayu a vicious slap to the face. That’s how she chooses to greet her. Not a great start!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 10 – Stand Your Shaky Ground

Takemichi finds Draken stabbed in the kidney area by Kiyomasa, but everyone else is busy brawling, including Mikey with the surprisingly formidable Hanma. So it’s all up to Takemichi whether Draken bleeds out or gets to a hospital.

Despite being half his size, Takemichi puts the hulking Ken on his back and sloooowly trudges his way to the hospital. Thankfully, Hina and Emma catch up to him, and have already called an ambulance.

While they wait longer than usual due to the festival and the rain, Kiyomasa’s crew tracks Takemichi and Draken down. Thankfully none of them threaten to do anything to Hina or Emma, but Kiyomasa is going to have to insist that Takemichi take them and fuck right off so he can finish Draken off.

But Takemichi is done running. He doesn’t care how absurd it is to try to go up against a beast like Kiyomasa, he has to make the most of his second chance. So he rushes the guy, shrugs off a stab wound to the hand, leaps onto his back, and refuses to let go.

Eventually, Kiyomasa passes out from lack of oxygen, and comes crashing down on Takemichi like a damn felled tree. But just because Kiyomasa’s down doesn’t mean his buddies are going anywhere. They advance on Draken and Takemichi, both of whom are barely able to stand and losing lots of blood.

They’re rescued at the last moment by Akkun and the rest of Mizu Mid’s Ferocious Five, who are even goofier and more embarrassing than Takemichi…but it doesn’t matter. Victory for them is buying enough time for the ambulance to get there, and when that happens, Kiyomasa’s pals have lost. Takemichi is free to savor the win, but the work to salvage his future has still only just begun.

86 – 10 – We’ve Come This Far

86 eschews dialogue and even diagetic sound, sticking with visuals and music to tell the story of Spearhead’s newfound freedom. Followed by their ever-trusty robot porter Fido, Raiden, Theo, Kurena, Anju and a far happier, less haunted Shin continue their “deep recon” mission by heading further and further from their Republic minders, camping out and keeping a low profile as columns of Legion pass by in the night.

It’s so nice to finally see these good kids get to live like the kids they are, not always having to worry about going into battle or being killed or being turned into a Legion. Being in the vivid blues, greens, and purples of nature make for a nice change of pace from their usual gunmetal grays and blood reds. They wash their uniforms, and trip to an old Imperial town nets them a boiler in which to heat a much-appreciated bath.

Shin is smiling and laughing the whole time, but still seems distracted by something, though it’s no longer his brother, whom he’s satisfied is now at rest. Like the others, I feared the worst when they woke up to find him gone, but Raiden remembered the tunnel in the town Shin took a good look at, and it leads them to a zoo where he’s found an immobile Legion with the brain of an 86, which Shin puts out of its misery.

The five stare for a long time at the skeleton of an elephant and other beasts who died locked behind bars, and wonder if they’ll end up the same way. It’s Fido, of all of them, who tells them to stop talking about such things and keep moving forward. While Raiden withdraws his question of whether Shin will be going across the water by himself—and possibly to the good Major, who doesn’t appear this week—he probably already knows the answer.

After the credits roll with almost ten minutes left, we get a retrospective of sorts of the life of Fido, starting with him finding and befriending Shin. He’s been there since this most recent cycle of Spearhead began, and probably before that, and all this time has been capturing all of these small moments of joy and grief. Shots of characters long gone smiling and playing are shown, then immediately juxtaposed of images from the day they died.

The most foreboding and indeed deeply upsetting moment we see happens at the very end, with Fido, and all of the memories he contained that for many of the 86 represented their only record of having existed on this earth, is blown up, most likely by Legion, on October 30, the latest date we’ve seen so far.

On one level, I have to think Shin and the others will be alright, even if Fido very clearly isn’t. And even with Fido’s stored “memories” have gone up in smoke, those five still carry memories of the fallen—all 576 of them, including Shin’s brother. The question is, assuming they’re alright, what will become of them? Will Shin find a way to get to Lena? I suspect next week’s season one finale will focus exclusively on her, and what progress if any she’s made in her one-woman crusade to save the soul of her nation.