Tokyo Ghoul 2 – 06

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A big two-part battle like Cochlea deserves to be followed by an episode that lets us collect our collective breath, and reminds us what motivates ghoul and dove alike, which, for everyone featured in this exquisitely characters-first episode, is essentially the same: victimhood; starting with Koutarou being raised and betrayed by a priest who turned out to be a ghoul.

Looking at the files of Kuroha and Nashiro, he can still hardly believe humans can become ghouls, but if it’s true, that means there’s a possibility, however slight, that the opposite could happen: that his beloved students and perhaps even Eyepatch can be redeemed. These are the thoughts of someone who’s life and career were shaped by his past trauma, but not to the extent he lost all empathy for the enemy.

Even in his horrifying kakuja form, Eyepatch’s tears are still able to affect Koutarou. Of course, he concludes that he may be overthinking things, even though this is just the kind of thinking needed to reach true peace and understanding with the non-violent ghouls.

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Unlike Koutarou, Juuzou, AKA Rei, never had the chance to retain his empathy, or even his humanity. He’s almost a ghoul in human skin after a childhood of torture and being forced to fight in battles for the rich and powerful ghouls’ entertainment. Shinohara freed the poor wretch and with a light touch, managed to tame him enough for Dove duty. In other words, while he’s still very much morally bankrupt, Juuzou behaves himself for his savior Shinohara’s sake.

Revenge isn’t on his mind so much as wanting to see the cross-sections of various living things. I used to admit I found Juuzou irritating when first introduced, but now that I understand where he’s coming from, I’m big enough to admit I was wrong; he’s a terribly wounded, compelling, and oddly adorable kid.

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Touka had a nice family situation going for a while there with her dad and brother, but then her dad left one night (and was turned into an arata), leaving Touka alone and the only one to protect herself and her little brother. We still don’t know the full story about the siblings, but obviously they fell into a dark place, and while Ayato continues to dwell in that darkness with Aogiri, Touka was more or less saved by Anteiku.

With Kaneki walking away from that, and her, all she can do is continue on, trying to live as human a life as she can, which means she has to study her butt off and not let the rumors about her friend swirling around distract her. In his roundabout quest to protect her, Kaneki has made her life more difficult.

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But from the start of the series, Kaneki was always the most overt victim; only now after he was subjected to treatment similar to Juuzou at the finger-cracking hand of Jason has he descended into villainy. He only wanted to go out with a pretty woman; it was Rize who set him on this path and continues to torture him from within.

He let her out of the cage for the mall and prison battles, but especially in the latter he didn’t even accomplish all that much for his trouble. If it was his intention to become stronger, well, now he’s paying a serious price in the form of uncontrollable kakuja fits. He can’t even enjoy a nice cup of coffee anymore; a powerful symbol of his ultimate allegiance to Touka and Anteiku.

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Holy shit, Koutarou got Akira to finally grab some dinner with him! Luck was on his side, as the timing worked out…not to mention the whole matter of him saving her life and staring down the Owl while protecting her. She kinda has to go out, and she knows it.

Unfortunately, the least interesting victim in this story, Takizawa, accompanies them, and after he gets a couple drinks in him he starts to mouth off about how he’s being victimized by having the valedictorian in the same ward as him. Boo-hoo, dude. If you can cry about the prospect of classmates advancing ahead of you, you can do your paperwork properly before getting lit!

But, somewhat awesomely (what am I saying…nothing somewhat about it) Akira reveals that she’s pretty sloshed herself, and says some (but sadly not all) of the things I wanted to say to him.

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The bottom line is, Koutarou is level-headed enough to be referee between the two young guns. But while Takizawa is a whiny punk (until we learn more about him), Akira is a legitimate victim of both tragedy and her own thirst for revenge, a product of her mom and dad falling to the Owl and Rabbit, respectively. It’s the generational vicious cycle Koutarou is best equipped to break.

When he leaves, Akira turns to her partner and superior, and wonders if, like Takizawa, he’s only concerned with advancement. She mentions her father didn’t care about promotions, but at the same time, he was never offered them, beyond Koutarou’s present rank of Senior Investigator. And Akira isn’t wrong that Koutarou has the ability to keep rising.

Akira then turns on Koutarou, going so far as to call him “the one who killed my father,” while also blaming herself for being the one Mado toiled to protect. Koutarou doesn’t deny that assertion, drunk as Akira is. He uses it as one more reason why he has to become even stronger, so he can protect Akira in Mado’s stead.

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After his declaration, and perhaps remembering everything he’s done for her so far, Akira softens…before straight-up passing out. Again Koutarou must bear her slight frame on his broad back, to take her safely home. When she comes to, he moves to leave, but Akira doesn’t want him to go. For a hot second it looks like something is going to…happen, but it doesn’t quite go in that direction, interesting enough as it may be.

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Akira, with no family save a fluffy, stuck-up cat, really only wants to not be alone that night, nothing more amorous than that. But it does indicate that she trusts him, and has accepted him not only as her superior, but her friend and family too.

Koutarou decides to battle through the awkwardness—and strengthen himself for future challenges—in a very Amon Koutarou way: Push-ups. All-Night push-ups; seven thousand of them. And you know what? With hissize and strength, that count is legit.

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In the morning, Akira wastes no time remarking how the wrong idea could be gleaned by Koutarou doing vigorous physical training all night outside his subordinate’s bedroom…but she’s only teasing; more proof she’s accepted him, along with the fact she makes him breakfast (and is very good at it).

The episode closes with Bureau Director Yoshitoki announcing a ghoul-hunt for the Owl he believes is the leader of Aogiri. The strength of Koutarou and Akira’s bond—and Koutarou’s push-ups—will soon be tested. But before that happens, it was really nice to simply have a meal and get drunk with those two.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 05

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Tomoya’s promising dating sim circle is in place and hard at work, but progress is slow. Eriri is frustrated by Kato’s noncommittal expressions (noting that if she was expressionless, they could pass her off as an Ayanami Rei-type), while the only things Utaha types are orders for Tomoya to feed her Pocky sticks.

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What ironically (but also very fittingly) gets things going are Tomoya’s off-the-cuff prods to Eriri regarding what she’d do in a “hypothetical” situation where she’d be on a shopping date. Eriri offers advice—very good advice—and when Tomoya says it sounds boring, it’s because she offered advice for an “away game”, that is, an otaku on a date in the normal world.

When Tomoya inadvertently lets on that the date in question isn’t really hypothetical after all, it’s a creative spark for Utaha, borne out of her intolerance of any such non-hypothetical date not involving her. She begins to fill the white space with words.

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But even as Utaha found inspiration in an unexpected place, Eriri notes how difficult a subject Kato is; perhaps her toughest yet. But it’s precisely because she is a challenge that Eriri won’t give up, especially when it’s looking more and more like her beloved Tomoya is taking a liking to this Kato girl.

In a quiet but extremely sweet scene on the rooftop at night, Kato shows that despite the seeming noncommittalness in her words or expressions, she’s as serious as the other two, and practicing to be the best heroine she can be.

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Tomoya betrays something else when Utaha arrives at school with a thick scenario drawn up, the product of an all-nighter for the sake of the circle. When Utaha falls asleep as soon as her head hits the desk, Tomoya gives her a lingering look of pride and affection the other two girls pick up on: Eriri is suspicious, while Kato is bemused.

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The scenario itself is full of exciting twists, turns, and tropes, and it’s presented exquisitely in a slideshow-and-commentary format. I especially liked when Tomoya would periodically call for Kato to pipe up and say the heroine’s lines, which actually don’t sound half-bad even in her dry-run deadpan.

Also note that the handsomest guy Eriri could think of closely resembles Tomoya, but isn’t quite him, while Kato is Kato even in the scenario, because she is the heroine. It’s as if Utaha and Eriri applied their respective crafts to the basic template that was Kato Megumi to create “Kano Meguri”, through which Kato still manages to shine.

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And yet…while he can’t explain why, Tomoya’s not quite satisfied with the draft, to Eriri and Utaha’s consternation. (Eriri: “Subjective, feelings-based criticism like that doesn’t get us anywhere!” That should be RABUJOI’s slogan!) Utaha’s is deeper, seeing this as another case of indecision and inability to give her a straight answer.

On that note, the show helpfully flashes back to a moment still fresh in Utaha and Tomoya’s memory. If what I think happened happened, “no straight answer” is as good (or bad) as “rejection.” But Utaha seems to be hovering around Tomoya to this day, waiting for a straight answer anyway.

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Tomoya actually seems to become rather down by Utaha making that indecision connection to their past, to the point Kato tells him it’s okay if they postpone their date to the mall, but Tomoya isn’t having it; the date is on, and it’s yet another case of Kato really shining once out of the shadow of the other girls.

The huge, unruly crowds of “normals” throw Tomoya off, especially the proportion of couples (even though like it or not, he and Kato are one of them). In a brilliant turnaround, he decides to treat the shopping trip like a visit to Comiket: he plots the most efficient route to Kato’s stores, avoiding the longer-wait ones until things die down. When the crush of people grows thicker, Tomoya keeps Kato from falling and takes her hand without a second thought.

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While his otaku approach is hardly “normal”, it’s actually a boon to the otherwise normal date. Kato is duly impressed with Tomoya’s ingenuity, and decides to buy him a pair of glasses she thinks he looks good in (she thinks). 

Here, with her tender and very girlfriend-like gestures, all pretense of any kind of “practical experiment for research” falls away. This was a date, plain and simple, and a damn good one. Both parties had far more fun than they’d bargained for, and neither had to be anything other than themselves.

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Somewhat distressingly, the episode doesn’t end there, but pulls the plug on the good vibes when Tomoya laments he must ditch Kato without seeing her home, saying “there’s something he has to do” as we see Utaha waiting along, presumably for him. But whatever could he be leaving Kato for Utaha mean here? I think it’s a matter of obligation. It comes back to him not having an answer for her again.

Even in the midst of his lovely date (which he may or may not have gone into as an empirical and dispassionate exercise but definitely ended up falling for Kato’s charms once again…and who the hell wouldn’t?) perhaps Tomoya found an answer. Not to the past question Utaha asked, but to her scenario proposal. He owes her at least that much for her hard work.

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Steins Gate – 17

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Hmmm…Well, that didn’t work. At least not all the way.

Steins;Gate may twist time into knots, but it never wastes it, snatching away Okarin’s (and my) sweet relief that Mayushii is safe in the first thirty seconds. Okarin stopping his past self from stopping Suzuha from going back to the 70s before the storm damaged her time machine (whew) only delayed Mayushii’s death a little; it didn’t prevent it. For that, he’s going to have to get that divergence number closer to 1.0. Much closer.

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So it’s back to the drawing board for Okarin. Thankfully, he has the adorable genius Kurisu on hand to help him decide what to draw up next. She theorizes that because sending one D-mail to cancel another made incremental progress, cancelling other D-mails that ended up changing the past will lead to further progress.

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It’s a good theory, but undoing D-mails will have a profound interpersonal cost on the lab members, touched on when Kurisu laments she won’t remember Okarin calling her Kurisu (not remembering the first time he did it). But that kind of change is peanuts compared to The last D-mail Okarin undid, which caused Suzuha to never meet her father. The next D-mail he has to undo is the Feyris sent; the one that somehow prevented Akiba from becoming an Otaku Mecca.

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That “somehow” is key, because Okarin can’t change anything if he doesn’t know what Feyris actually did. When he tracks her down, she’s slightly occupied; on the run from a gang of over-zealous Rai-Net Battler gamers sore over her beating them at a tournament. If Okarin wants to talk to her, he’s going to have to keep up.

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The difficulty of prying the truth from the frazzled Feyris is aggravated by his talk with her being constantly interrupted by bursts of chasing, but Okarin eventually able to get her attention by mentioning “May Queen”, the name of her cafe that never was, and a name no one but her should know.

Okarin goes so far as to bring Feyris to the site where her cafe was (or should be), and something very unsettling and haunting occurs: the area briefly shifts back and forth between its current abandoned state and the May Queen, causing Feyris to nearly faint. Even before this happens, the atmosphere is so thick you can cut it with a knife.

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This is a phenomenon I don’t believe we’ve seen before, and I think it has something to do with the effect of Okarin’s Reading Steiner “leaking”; making those he’s in close contact with remember along with him, at least to a degree. I’m interested to see how far this “leaking” goes and if it’s permanent or merely fleeting.

When Okarin tells Feyris that Mayushii’s life is in danger, Feyris is, surprisingly, still hesitant to cooperate, but she turns out to have a very good reason: she sent that D-mail to save the life of her father, who died ten years ago in the original world line.

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This explains why he so suddenly appeared in her apartment after she sent the D-mail, and fully re-inserts Feyris, whose D-mail had far-reaching effects on the timeline but who had been largely sidelined since episode 9, right back into the thick of things, showing just how deep a bench this show has. It also introduces the unenviable but  inevitable choice of saving one person’s life at the cost of another but not being able to save both.

But before they can determine how to proceed, the crazed Rai-Netters corner them, and we get a tense, stark scene in which they beat Okarin bloody and prepare to take Feyris away to their deranged leader for God-knows-what manner of unpleasantness.

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Even in his beaten-down state, Okarin is able to stall the thugs long enough for help to arrive in the most unexpected form imaginable: Feyris’ dad’s chauffeur squeezes his S-Class limo through the alley and scares off the thugs.

Call it a deus (or patrem?) ex machina if you must—it was quite a strange sequence of events—but the fact the thugs’ boss on the other end of the phone is promptly arrested suggests a coordinated, quick-response security system is in place to protect Feyris, a system necessitated by the fact she’s a celebrity in her own right, but also the daughter of a rich and powerful man and thus a target for kidnapping.

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But even with such a system, Feyris would have been in big trouble had Okarin not been there to delay them. That isn’t lost on Feyris or her dad, who agree to tell Okarin what became of the IBN 5100 he used to own, in a very slick segue. Ten years ago, while preparing to board his flight for work ten years ago, her dad received a text that his daughter had been kidnapped, and as he was not as wealthy back then, had to sell his IBN in order to afford her ransom.

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This talk is followed by Feyris paying Okarin a visit in the guest room where he’s resting after a day of running and being beaten up. Okarin has had many exquisitely tender, moving scenes with Kurisu, Mayushii, and Suzuha; now it’s Feyris’ turn…or I should say, Akiha Rumiho’s turn.

She drops their usual chuuni code and nicknames in order to thank him properly, and to tell him everything she couldn’t say in front of her father, in one of the most sharply written and powerfully-acted scenes of the series thus far. Not bad for a character we’ve barely seen for eight episodes, but always liked. Considerable props to Miyano Mamoru and Momoi Haruko.

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Ten years ago, Rumiho was so angry and bitter at her dad for going on his trip, she told him she hated him before he left. That was the last time she ever saw him, as he was killed in a plane crash. When Okarin let her send a D-mail, she sent the false kidnapping message, which kept her dad off that flight and brought him home by train, which led to the current world line. It was a selfish choice, but a perfectly understandable one. If the means to save a dead loved one you didn’t part ways with amicably was in the palm of your hand, who wouldn’t make that choice?

Now that she knows that D-mail may well have sealed Mayushii’s doom, she voices her willingness to send a D-mail undoing it. When asked if she’s “sure about this”, she answers honestly: not at all. But now she can see both the world as it is and as it was, and she is sure of one thing: her father loved her dearly as she loved him, and nothing she said or did would change that fact. Having her father back was a “beautiful dream”, but it isn’t something she’s willing to continue at the cost of Mayushii’s life. Her father died on that plane. He was supposed to die. Now she’s at peace with that. Mostly.

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But more than that, after what her “Prince” Okarin went through to protect her, she feels compelled to return the favor by helping him. She’s always admired and idolized Okarin (ironic as she herself is an idol to many others), but here that admiration takes a turn for the romantic. Calling him her prince, I half-expected her to steal a kiss, but she settles for a behind-the-back hug and permission to cry. It’s just beautiful all around.

Now Okarin finds himself in a situation with Feyris similar to the one with Kurisu: anytime he has these wonderful, powerful moments with either, he travels back in time and everything is lost. Here, Feyris hopes she’ll remember the experiences and words they shared. Okarin tells her she almost certainly will remember, but he expresses far more confidence than he actually has on that front.

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Once Feyris sends her father a D-mail telling him the kidnapping was just a joke, the past changes again. Okarin finds himself in the lab, and Feyris comes up behind him. When he puts his hands on her shoulders, ready to ask if she remembers anything, both Kurisu and Mayushii remark that he’s being awfully lovey-dovey with their friend.

I interpreted Feyris’ response to them — about her and Okarin fighting side by side as lovers in a past life — no less than three different ways. One: She remembers nothing, and is merely talking in their usual chuuni code, which she often uses to express her fondness for Okarin and only coincidentally describes their past dealings. Two: She remembers something, but the memories have to be triggered, as Okarin triggered her memory of the maid cafe before. Three: She remembers everything, and is telling Kurisu and Mayushii the truth.

I’m sorta leaning towards door number two. But whatever the case, Akihabara has returned to its proper state, Rumiho’s father is dead, yet the whereabouts of the 5100 remain unknown. This was still only one step on a very long stair. But it was a fantastic one.

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