GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 21

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Leon has to duel his shitty dad this week, but he holds his own, as he’s no longer a whiny brat consumed by anger and revenge. He wants to protect people, which is why he just can’t understand why his dad is protecting Mendoza, who has only ever preyed on the weak to increase his own power.

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Herman isn’t saying nothin’, he seems more concerned with whether Leon can actually stay with him in a fight. He tries to push Leon’s buttons, but Leon hangs in there. Their fight moves to the roof of the palace, where Garm in bird form helpfully flutters over them, providing exposition. Basically, the body that governs Makai Knights and Alchemists has decided to let Mendoza release that giant legendary horror after all, since it will eat a great many other horrors, and likely destroy an in-over-his-head Mendoza along with them.

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It’s a sacrifice a few to save many plan, the kind of “tough decisions” Herman says Makai Knights must make. But Leon isn’t having it. He dons his armor and presses his attack (the two wisely travel far from the city to avoid too much collateral damage). He won’t let Garm’s kind sacrifice Santa Bard, a city full of people he and his brother have sworn to protect. He won’t let one person be killed to save another. It’s arguably an even tougher stance than that of his dad, who, at least on the surface, seems to be hiding behind his orders.

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Leon’s frustration with his dad’s position is made clearer in a flashback when the two were traveling from town to town, with Herman taking out local horrors and training Leon, whose present belief that every single person must be protected at the cost of a knights life, was instilled in him by his dad, after Leon tried to save him.

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But his dad also makes it clear that he and Leon are only brief participants in a war that will never end. The swords they drop when they fall will be picked up with others.

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In other words, there’s a long game here, and mortal knights cannot expect to save everyone and everything in their lifetimes. There are hard choices and compromises to be made that might clash with their otherwise rigid ideals, like capitalizing on the opportunity to destroy a vast number of horrors by letting Mendoza do what he wants.

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Leon can’t accept the sacrifice of a few now to save many later. Neither can Alphonso, the leader of the people in the epicenter of Mendoza’s plot. Ema also seems to have the brothers’ backs. But what can they do against the might of every other Makai Knight and Alchemist who has fallen in line? Evacuating the city and killing Mendoza would be a start.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 20

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Tsubaki’s grades continue to improve, thanks to her desire to study hard enough to get into whatever school she wants to, as long as it’s close to her Kousei. Just like years ago when her classmates were amazed the “gorilla” who wore shorts year-round was capable of catching a cold, they’re similarly intrigued that she’s capable of falling in love.

And hey, good for her; she’s not giving up on what she wants, even if she hasn’t figured quite out how to get his attention, or to get him to see her as a girl.

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Uso is capable of some seriously powerhouse heartstring-pulling when it wants to, but it also seems committed to drilling certain things into our heads through endless repetition. For instance, how are Watari and Kaori still a thing, while Kousei is the third wheel? How can Kousei look back on all his experiences with Kaori and not think she has some kind of feelings for him? I called Kousei practically everyone’s hero last week, but he seems tragically incapable of saving himself, even though it’s been a long time since Watari’s been anything resembling a threat.

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The flashbacks also tend to repeat themselves, though in different ways. Tsubaki always “looked out” for Kousei, but Kousei also looked out for her. It was a reciprocating kinda deal with them, in that whenever one of them was down the other would be ready with lemonade and solace.

Mind you, it’s tough enough believing these middle schoolers are capable of so much emotional complexity and eloquence in the description of their feelings in the present; some of what their grade school versions say to one another strains credulity even more.

Simply put, they’re too young to be talking and thinking like this. It’s more like writers in their twenties and thirties talking through young people, and it can feel hollow and…off.

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Uso mitigates those persistent issues with some good old-fashioned bombshells this week; two of ’em. First, Tsubaki finally works up the courage to confess…sorta…by insisting to Kousei that Kaori likes Watari, so he has “no choice” but to love her. Then she kicks him as hard as she can in the leg—maybe hoping to literally kickstart him—and runs off at top speed.

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Her intention with the love me remark is to make him not only see her as a girl, but to “suffer” just as she has, stuck in her limbo between family, friendship, and romance. For a second there, Kousei seems to react, but he later wonders if she was merely messing around, even if that’s not usually how Tsubaki messes around.

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In any case, Kousei is preoccupied with two other things; the upcoming finals that will determine his future, and Kaori, who he’s thinking about not visiting anymore, since she has Watari and all. She calls him to say he doesn’t need to visit, preferring if he’d focus on his music. This pisses him off, but he feels like he may finally have a legitimate way to walk away.

Then she calls him about a plane flying low at night—a plane he can see too, connecting them through the sky. He likens her to a cat; one of which sidles up to him just as Kaori calls him back. Kousei cancels his retreat. He’ll come to visit, because he wants to see her. Kaori, ever the enigma (to him at least), doesn’t respond to that.

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So here we are…again: Watari has known Kousei likes Kaori for quite a while now; Tsubaki knows Kousei likes Kaori for quite a while now; We’ve known Kousei has liked Kaori for quite a while now. Even so, Kousei feels the need to make it official by telling Watari what he and everyone else already knows.

Then Watari looks forward to duking it out with Kousei for Kaori’s heart…which, again, I thought had already taken place, and Watari had pretty much lost because he has nothing in common with Kaori besides good looks.

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And oh yeah, because The World Is Horrible, just as they’re joking about the fight for Kaori’s heart, they find Kaori fighting for her life among a phalanx of nurses, apparently having some kind of seizure. Kousei sees her hand go limp and fears the worst, but the boys are shooed away so the professionals can work on her.

With just two episodes left, no doubt Kaori will be in an even worse way next time Kousei sees her…if he sees her again at all. In any case, the chances of her performing with him have never looked bleaker.

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Oh, wait, and also because The World Is Even More Horrible-er Than All Thatthe black cat representing Kaori is hit by a car right in front of Kousei. Heck, it could’ve even been his cat Chelsea whom his mom threw out, still prowling the streets as a stray, somehow remembering her old friend. He rushes her to a vet, but there’s nothing they can do. And the tears flowed, because Dead Cat=Possibly Dead Kaori. Did I mention Where I Don’t Want To Live Anymore?

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Yikes. This is a lot for a bunch of eighth graders to go through, isn’t it? This Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso shit’s gettin’ way too dark. When is this show going to let someone be happy for more than a couple minutes before something croaks? We’ll see if the ultimate lesson of Uso will be “Whenever you spot a skinny blonde playing the recorder in a playground, run the other way and marry your childhood friend.”

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Steins Gate – 20

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I’m glad Moeka and Okarin sort of make up here; where they left things in the previous episode left a very bad taste in my mouth. That was probably the point; after several smooth D-mail resets, Okarin came up against true resistance, and in his increasingly desperate state, he had to get rough. But there’s also a feeling that what’s done is done, even though this is a show were things are undone all the time.

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What brings these two back together is their mutual desire, nay, need, to see “FB” with their own eyes. This results in a sprawling stakeout, the very opposite of last week’s claustrophobic closed room. I like the way Okarin painstakingly records every detail of the IBN’s journey from the coin locker to a France-bound plane. I like even better that it’s Kurisu who convinces Okarin that this approach will be more fruitful than simply nicking the IBN from the locker. And I especially like that Mr. Braun is somehow involved.

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But while spending all this time following people, watching, waiting, and staying out of sight, Okarin is neglecting the present; the now, that he has with Mayushii. He’s not treasuring it because he’s on a mission to save her life, but who ever said that’s an achievable goal? What if the remaining days he has with Mayushii are all he has, and he’s squandering them by keeping her at arm’s length?

Mr. Braun makes a great observation to Mayushii and Kurisu: that Okarin’s an awfully lucky guy, what with his own room, friends like them, and the ability to “do whatever he wants.” There’s a tinge of envy in Braun’s remarks, but he’s also right: Okarin is lucky; and yet he’s been taking everything for granted and putting his entire life on hold for Mayushii’s sake.

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When Okarin, with Moeka and Kurisu in tow, goes to Braun’s house to confront him, everything comes to light: Braun is Ferdinand Braun, or “FB”, and tricked Moeka, AKA “M4”, into following his orders, as he has many others like her. He himself ended up in this business very much like Moeka did: he was desperate and at the end of his tether; his story about spending the night in a manhole and nearly being eaten by rats is bleaker than the show’s color palette.

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When he turns his gun on Moeka, it seems just as cold and mechanical a gesture as when Moeka turned her gun on Mayushii: in both cases, there was no force in their consciousness greater than the one compelling them to shoot. They’re doing it for their superiors (SERN), but they’re also doing it to save themselves, or in Braun’s case, his daughter.

The cut from Moeka falling to the ground and Nae hitting her alarm—which was responsible for the ringing we heard—was a simply masterful piece of editing.

As long as Braun had someone he cared about—something to lose—he would never be free. So he does the only other thing he feels he can do to change the situation: turn the gun on himself.

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While nothing since has quite been able to match the pure visceral WTF-ery of Moeka’s storming of the lab and killing of Mayushii, this scene, with its dual shootings, is certainly no slouch. It was also very overt about that dragonfly; is this S;G’s version of the butterfly in the effect of the same name?

By offing himself, Braun may have actually saved the life of Moeka he just took, as well as his own. That’s because he leaves his phone behind, which Okarin promptly uses to send a D-mail to Moeka of the past, telling her to stop searching for the IBN 5100.

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Because it was sent by FB, she follows the order without question. Braun is still alive, Nae isn’t an orphan, and the IBN is at Ruka’s shrine, where upon Okarin picks it up and hands it over to Daru. Finally, they’ll be able to delete SERN’s database and travel to the Beta world line where Okarin didn’t send his first D-mail.

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At this point, it’s clear Okarin’s single-mindedness has led to a kind of profound tunnel vision, because it’s only when Kurisu mentions what that D-mail was—the one about her getting stabbed—that Okarin realizes returning to that world line means Kurisu will die.

I’ll admit, I too hadn’t thought that far ahead either, until the Ruka episode, where a definite pattern of “eliminating love interests” I suspected would eventually lead to a final choice between Mayushii and Kurisu. One must die so the other must live; that’s the endgame facing Okarin.

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At the time, the Kurisu stabbing was an exceedingly random event that occurred to a total stranger we had little investment in besides the basic distress of witnessing a death. Now that random event looms enormous. It may even also explain why Mayushii has seemed so resigned to her fate all along; maybe she somehow knows its either her or Kurisu, and she’s not the kind of person who’d put her life before another.

For Okarin to get the IBN back at long last, only for him to suddenly realize  what he’ll lose if he uses it; Steins;Gate has cemented its place as the Mohammed Ali of anime: floating like a butterfly (or dragonfly), and stinging like a bee (or a weaponized hornet).

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