Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo – 08

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I’ve liked how deftly Y7 has kept things fresh by approaching each new witch intro from a different angle, which is also appropriate considering the unique problems that led to them getting their powers in the first place. Urara was and is Yamada’s primary love interest. Nene was an adversary, while Meiko and Maria needed his help.

With Takigawa Noa, we seem to be dealing with another adversary. Her powers are believed to be the opposite of Maria’s, meaning the Supe Club assumes Noa’s turned three formerly popular students into troublemakers through blackmail or manipulation. But nothing is ever as clear-cut as it seems on this show. In fact, Noa’s turns out to be the most emotionally complex witch cases yet.

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She’s also, at first, the toughest nut to crack. Yamada thinks at first he can put on the charm and get a kiss to make things easier, but to his shock, Noa is grossed out by him, having only teased him about liking him.

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With Yamada’s pride hurt, he tries again, but only gets a push broom to the face. When he reveals he’s in the Supe Club and knows she’s a witch, Noa pulls attitude 180, and is suddenly keen to kiss him. So keen, Yamada thinks something is fishy, and rebuffs her advances. Now she’s the one with the hurt pride.

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Using her knew knowledge of Yamada, she hits him where he lives, having her three troubled friends/minions brutally ransack the clubroom. I’m not sure how they weren’t simply suspended or expelled right then and there, but the adults are all but nonexistent in this school, so whatever.

Pissed off more than ever, Yamada confronts President Yamazaki for the truth about Noa, and he gets it: she wants to make witches out of her three friends, and eradicate all the others. That means Urara, Nene, Meiko and Maria are all in danger.

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Rather than panic, Yamada stages a trap for Noa’s crew, using a game, excited Urara as the bait. I appreciate her adventurous spirit throughout this mission, and the fact she trusts Yamada’s judgement more than anyone else. The female friend of Noa kisses Urara, and celebrates the fact she was able to switch bodies, so she can now pesumably do something to get Urara expelled and thus powers revoked.

Only Yamada kissed Urara before, so the girl only ends up switching with him, in Urara’s body. She and the other two are tied up and held captive in the club room while Yamada, still in the girl’s body, opens negotiations with Noa.

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Two others (not sure who) accompany Yamada in the bodies of Noa’s friends, but Noa knows who they are immediately. She offers the notebook, then both notebooks in exchange for her people, but Yamada wants more: for the witch-hunting activities to stop, a condition Noa flatly refuses.

The talks break down, and Tsubaki and Itou beat Yamada for failing again, but Yamada insists this is about more than getting the notebooks back: three students’ reputations are at stake, and Noa must be stopped. That’s when Noa’s friends agree to stop their activities of their own volition. They’d rather be together with Noa than for her to be alone.

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This awakens Yamada to a key point: Noa hasn’t been manipulating her friends. When he gives them back to her, he asks her if taking over the school with her power was really her goal, and castigates them for causing all those problems that caused them to lose the popularity they already had.

That’s when a frustrated Noa kisses Yamada, and he experiences her power firsthand: in a dream, he relives the most traumatic memory of her past, when her classmates locked her in a storage room for hours until she wet herself. Similarly, her three friends never did anything bad; they were framed.

Noa has wanted to save them for so long, and thought she could do so by getting them witch powers. But when Yamada stopped them, she remembered they were popular from the start, and only their association with her hurt them.

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Then the three friends come to Noa’s aid, fighting Yamada and insisting they won’t leave her side. But Yamada shoots back that it’s their wishy-washiness that’s causing Noa’s suffering. Yamada doesn’t have all the answers, but he thinks they should at least do whatever they can to make Noa smile.

At that, another switch seems to go of in Noa’s head, and when we next see her, she’s in the club clinging to Yamada, whom she claims to have fallen for completely. Urara, whom you’d think would be jealous about such a development, is actually happy, because Noa’s power is more about simply seeing someone’s darkest hour, it’s about both kisser and kissee opening their hearts to one another, eliminating artifice and pretense.

They haven’t known each other long, but Yamada and Noa experienced that, and now he knows she’s not just an annoying schemer, and he’s not just a nosy, gross upperclassman. Urara also remarks that the two aren’t all that dissimilar: Yamada’s power also ultimately brings him closer to each of the witches, since to know their powers is to know the problems that gave rise to them. He knew exactly what to do for Noa, and she appreciates it.

It was great watching the battle of wills between Noa and Yamada, as well as the breathless evolution of their relationship. Yuuki Aoi is a great addition to the already stacked cast. Two witches to go!

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Sidonia no Kishi 2 – 08

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First of all, a hearty bravo is in order for the show’s opening, in which we see a totally different character battle some kind of cyborg in a Sidonia-style setting. From last week’s cliffhanger, I imagined we were suddenly thrown into the events on Planet Seven, so I was pleasantly surprised when it was revealed Nagate, Izana, Yuhata and Tsumugi were merely watching a very well-produced TV show.

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The fact they’re gathered ’round the tube after a hard day’s hull reconstruction, and that Tsumugi is getting more playful and spontaneous (sometimes leading to non-lethal accidents) all contributes to the family atmosphere in Nagate and Izana’s new home.

When Yuhata moves in and she and Tsumugi turn Izana’s room into a communal space with a kotatsu, it’s disrupting Izana’s ideal living situation with Nagate and Nagate alone, but at least in Tsumugi’s case, she means well. In Yuhata’s case, she uses her rank and the need for further conservation of resources to move in, but we know she has the sorta-hots for Nagate.

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Her increasingly lively household, paired with the strenuous labor of reconstruction, and the fact she’s dealing with fundamental changes to her body (both her mechanical and female parts), all contribute to make Izana look like a person who needs to relax and take a break.

Her ageless grandma Yure notices this, and also notices how Izana is starting to blossom into a younger version of herself. To that end, she requests that Izana wear one of her fetching old dresses and the two Shinatoses go out on the town. Those outfits strike the right balance of revealing (with that nice back latticing) and practicality (they still have carabiners in case of gravity fluctuations). Even Izana’s clear weariness with being dolled up like this doesn’t change the fact that she looks fantastic.

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Naturally, she runs into Nagate while trying to hurry home without being seen, and since their home is the same now, it makes for an awkward walk, but also a flattering one. Like myself, Nagate has always found Izana cute, but now that she’s more overtly feminine, he can’t help but blush in her presence, and whenever they accidentally touch, neither quite knows what to do with themselves.

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Nagate takes the route of passivity, but when he straight-up fails to notice Izana is behind him while he’s headed back to base in formation with the Tsumugi, Izana gets upset with him. Again, Yure takes notice, and decides to take matters into her own hands, knowing she’s witnessing a romantic stalemate in progress.

Nagate is never going to ask Izana out, or vice versa, so Yure puts it into terms he can understand: duty and orders; life and death. She suddenly summons him to her presence, timing how long he takes to get there, then starts to tell—not ask—him to go on a top secret snap “Cultural Properties Inspection” of the Thousand Year Village, and telling him to ask Izana to accompany him.

Yure gives him the distinct impression—in surely the funniest use of the show’s omnipresent schematics yet—that if he in any way fails to complete his mission to her satisfaction, she may sever his head with an explosive she planted in his neck vertebrae. What’s so great is that you can’t be sure at all whether she’s serious. This is how you move things forward.

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When Nagate comes home and discusses their “mission” with all that official-sounding terminology, Izana picks up on what’s going on, accepts that this is the only way Nagate can ask her to go on a vacation with him, and says yes. The couple’s body language here, and throughout the episode, really, is really well done.

All the while, their privacy is violated by a too-curious-not-to-look Tsumugi, who suspends Yuhata in the air so she can peek too. In the morning, they’re both kind of put off by Nagate and Izana’s not-too-subtle subterfuge as they sneak out one at a time.

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When they arrive at the entrance to the Thousand Year Village, and the doors open to reveal a gorgeous traditional building amongst a grove of cherry blossoms, it’s like they’re walking into another dimension. The metal and concrete walls of Sidonia are still there, but this place is a warm rejection of that cold science.

Izana is so bowled over by the sights, she doesn’t even realize she’s taken Nagate by the hand. But in a nice change of  pace, they don’t both turn beet red, quickly let go and back away. They continue holding hands, look into each others’ eyes, and say each others’ names. How romantic is that?

While I’m sure there are detractors to this kind of character-focused “Sidonia Lite”, I’m loving and savoring every minute of it. The next horrific threat could pop up at any time, and with the likes of Kobayashi in charge, it certainly will; but in the meantime I’m perfectly happy watching Nagate and Izana live their lives and draw closer to one another.

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Kekkai Sensen – 09

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As Libra, joined by another one of Jugei’s pupils, the half-man, half-fish Zed O’Brien, contine battling the blood breed, Black & White’s story thankfully comes into better focus. We also see HSL’s tentacle defense system in action, knocking the cargo plane the blood breed hijacked out of the sky (This is the second show in a row I’ve watched with vampires operating military planes. Weird!).

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The cockpit of the plane crashes into a giant skyscraper, and Klaus, Zapp and Leo do a little BASE jumping, a sequence that really nicely captures the scale of the building and the drop into the big hole the plane made. Just another instance of the extraordinary made ordinary in HSL.

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While they’re battling, something glows and beats like a heart in an eerie city-sized GeoFront-like cavern.

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Black, or rather the guy possessing Black, seems to have something to do with this beating heart, but nothing seems to come of it, much to the disappointment of Femt and Aligura, fellow n’er-do-wells looking for excitement.

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The blood breed puts up a fight, but is ultimately defeated by the combined efforts of KK, Zapp, Zed, Steve, and Klaus, using the true name Leo discovered to seal him away. And that’s pretty much that. Zed joins Libra, and Jugei peaces out, possibly for another decade. All’s well that ends well.

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But all is not well with White, who also seems tied to that underground heartbeat, passes out, and wakes up in bed, where Black, or rather the entity possessing him, give her a device Aligura fashioned for him, which will allow White to take Leo’s eyes. As Leo is now a friend, White, or rather Mary, doesn’t want to do it, but the agreement was the eyes in exchange for releasing Black, or rather Will.

It’s an unenviable choice between her good friend and kind lad and her beloved twin brother, who sacrificed himself to save her. On the one hand, she feels a duty to her kin, but I wonder if Will would really want her to help a monster to save him. What with Klaus saying Leo’s eyes weren’t the only reason they let him join Libra, maybe Leo isn’t fated to have them forever.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 21

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Yes. The long, long battle between Shirou and his alternate future self continues this week, though thankfully comes to an end around the halfway point. I say thankfully, because as cool as the animation is and as beautiful a setting their fighting in and as poignant the points both combatants are making are, I’ve kinda seen and heard enough, and I was really ready to move on.

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While standing around bearing witness to the Shirous, Saber sees a little of herself in the duality, remembering her days as a farm girl before she drew the Excalibur from the stone. “Even if nothing but regrets remained, if I was able to achieve many of my ideals in the process, then…” Saber trails off, but I believe she means to say it was worth making the choice she made, though both possibilities were correct.

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Shirou, too, doesn’t care about the regrets that have burden Archer and brought on his suicidal rage. His dream to help others so they can be happy is beautiful, and he won’t abandon it. His dream isn’t wrong. The universe around him would tend to agree, because no matter what Archer throws at him, he’s able to slash it away. He’s got almost no mana left, but his spirit is unbreakable.

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The Unlimited Blade Works setting suddenly vanishes, and we’re back in the mansion, with Shirou scoring a fatal blow to Archer. And all because the split second before Shirou stabs him, Archer recalls the memory of sitting on the porch, taking Kuritsugu to step back and let him carry on that wish.

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Oddly enough, it’s Shirou, the victor, who collapses in a pile, as Archer stands his ground, defeated but dignified. He accepts defeat and seems ready to depart, but then he’s stabbed by swords from Gilgamesh.

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Gil, the “genuine article”, means to destroy both of the “fakes” that stand before him, ruining his day, but in his last moment of life, Archer plays the hero once more, shoving Shirou aside and taking the full attack head on, vaporizing him. Rin, abandoning all common sense, shoots a little magic bolt at Gil, shifting his gaze to her, but fortunately, Saber is there to protect her.

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Gil, who was Archer in the previous war, delays killing everyone in order to initiate a enlightenment/gloating session, in which he tells Saber, Rin, and Shirou that the Holy Grail itself is a weapon; a gateway to Hell itself, capable of killing billions of humans. His goal is to do just that, and anyone who survives what pours forth from the grail will be “worthy of his rule.”

Then pieces around the mansion start to fall, and he halts his attack once more, worried about getting soot on him. This was an odd choice, because you’d think if he could effortlessly do so, he’d eliminate anyone who was even the slightest bit of a threat against his plans. Instead, he’s almost challenging them to foil those plans, despite saying their lives are worth less than soot to him.

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So Gil just struts off, finding the wounded Shinji in the forest, and decides to turn him into the vessel for the grail, and Shinji undergoes an Akira-style transformation that is none too pleasant. Then again, this show has been extremely clear about how huge of a piece of crap Shinji is, so this kind of an improvement.

This episode was an improvement over last week’s more open-ended affair, but still suffered a bit from repeating itself too often. There’s also the problem that Gilgamesh is a two-dimensional demigod with lofty but obvious goals of world destruction and domination. In other words, he’s not as interesting a foe as Archer was; not yet, anyway. Prove me wrong, F/sn.

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Owari no Seraph – 09

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Owari no Seraph brings the action this week, starting with a gloriously ridiculous cold open in which a squadron of Vampire Apaches are taken out by a line of Demon Army archers, before two higher-ranking Vamps fly a C-130 into Shinjuku’s barrier wall, blasting a huge hole in the humans’ defense.

It looked for all the world like a suicide attack, but not only do the two co-pilots survive without a scratch, but they even carry on a casual, Joss Whedon-style dialogue, like it’s just another day at the office.

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Things are a bit tenser for our young Moon Demon Company members, as the war literally comes to them and doesn’t ask if they’re ready. Thankfully, they are, and we get to see the whole gang flying and slashing through the air in a brilliant sequence that captures the tense chaos. Unlike many action blockbusters, the relatively steady camera makes it pretty easy to see what’s actually going on, which I appreciated.

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As I said last week, the setting of all this fighting couldn’t be more gloomily appropriate: the ruins of Shinjuku are a constantly unsettling reminder of what’s already been lost and how little is left. Particularly striking is the shot of a school—once the site of silly clubs and laughter and columns of teammates chanting “Fight-o”—converted to a field hospital. Even if all the vampires were to drop dead, we’re not even sure humanity’s gene pool is diverse enough for the species to survive. And many humans will die before this new offensive is over.

I also liked the contrast between the urgency of Yuu & Co. with the relative calm of Guren and his immediate subordinates. They’re veterans who have seen it all, or close to it, and they seem a little more comfortable in their skins and confident in their abilities. Even when Guren spots Feris with a scope and Feris stares right back, it doesn’t faze him. He’s also on a first-name basis with the others, like the power-punching Mito.

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Like Guren, Feris is just kind of chilling as the underlings get valuable battle experience; ready to swoop in if there are any problems. Mika is with Feris, but soon goes off on his own. Feris’ insistence he drink someone’s blood takes Mika back to his first days as a baby vamp, during which Krul Tepes was trying to get him to do the same.

Mika refused a human boy’s blood, and knocked a cup of Krul’s own blood out of her hand…but the sound of that blood pouring and splattering on his face has a visceral effect, and in a moment of possible weakness, possible necessity, he finally digs into her arm. She’s very clear: Mika is her dog, and will always be her dog. In the present, he still carries vials of Kurl’s blood—no one else’s—and he has 10 days of it before he needs more, during which time he hopes to find Yuu.

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That makes Krul’s blood a drug that keeps Mika alive and not a reasonless demon. Turns out, it’s also drugs that, in a pinch, give the humans the edge they need to have a chance against higher-ranking vamps. Shinoa whips them out as casually as Bleach’s Kuchiki Rukia introduces the body-swapping Soul Candy to Ichigo.

In both cases, a fundamentally terrifying biological transformation is treated like taking your Flintstones vitamins. But that’s Shinoa for you; always keeping it light and breezy.

Then there’s the fact that she gives everyone, including Yuu, more than the maximum of two the human body can tolerate, almost assuring that when he’s in a tough spot, Yuu might get stupid and take more than two.

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There’s a foreboding to the truck driven by Corporal Nagai taking them to the front line, but that’s replaced when an Apache ambushes them. The team works together to save Nagai and destroy the chopper, but they end up separated when the street collapses and they fall into the subway below. Yuu is with Shinoa and the unconscious Nagai and head for the nearest base, while Mitsuba, Yoichi and Shihou head to the defense line where they’ll ideally meet up later.

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Meanwhile, as Mika is milling around, looking for Yuu, a cloud of dust is kicked up, and a detached vamp limb flies by his face. As the dust clears, we see Guren, ready to exterminate his next target. It’s kind of fitting that Yuu’s brothers, past and present, meet before Mika and Yuu, though I don’t see either defeating the other, nor do I see Yuu being brought up unless Yuu himself enters the fray.

However this goes, the buildup in the end, presented without music—just the falling rain and a cut to silence—was very effective. Guren v. Mika: Who ya got?

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Oregairu 2 – 09

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Happiness is:

  • Hikky dreading going back to school after the club’s big conciliatory catharsis.
  • Komachi doing a pitch-perfect impression of Hikky’s condescending mumble, before remarking that she likes this “scum-niichan” just fine, and Hikky agreeing with her.
  • Hikky returning to a very brightly-lit club room to find a perfectly civil, downright chipper (for her) Yukino.
  • An elated Yui wanting to sit as close to Yukino as physically possible.
  • Yukino being both happy and a little uncomfortable with the closeness.

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Happiness is:

  • Yukino and Yui attending the event meeting with Hikky. The cavalry has arrived!
  • Yukino and Yui’s priceless reaction to Hikky and Irohas’ little bag exchange ritual. “What was THAT all about?” their eyes seem to ask…
  • Yukino and Yui both agreeing with Hikky’s opinion of the other president dude, but being unable to enact instant change. Fixing will take some doing.
  • Shizuka giving Hikky, Yukino, Yui and Irohas tickets to Destiny Land to celebrate the club pulling through.
  • Hikky’s demand for someone to marry Shizuka already, before he’s forced to.
  • The gradual reveal that Yukino is not only a yearly member of Destiny Land, but doesn’t want to go during the busy season.
  • Yui and Hikky working together to convince her to come anyway.

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Happiness is:

  • Iroha inviting her crush Hayama, which leads to Miura, Ebina, and Tobe also tagging along. One big happy family. (Unfortunately absent but probably for the best: Kawasaki and Totsuka).
  • The resulting dynamic of Hikky with his two girls (Yukino and Yui), Hayama and his two girls (Miura and Iroha) and Ebina and Tobe, a pairing that Hikky worked so hard to prevent, which led to all that unpleasantness that is now behind them.
  • How Hikky is cut off in the group photo, but the one closest to him is Yukino.

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Happiness is: This photo.

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Happiness is:

  • Yukino teasing Yui about how there will never be a “next time” in which she’ll allow her photo to be taken.
  • Hikky’s realization the two are only joking around and are actually closer than ever.
  • Ebina properly thanking Hikky once more for what he did, knowing what it cost.
  • Hikky telling Ebina his, Yukino’s and Yui’s problem had nothing to do with her request; it had been brewing before; at best it was a catalyst/last straw.
  • Hikky smiling unironically. I know; I’m scared too!
  • Yukino demanding absolute silence on the Panda Battle ride.

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Happiness is:

  • The adorableness that is Yui getting up in Hikky’s face with a panda puppet.
  • The moment Hikky believes Yui is making “the first move” she told him she’d make (last season), rather than wait.
  • The way Hikky agrees to a date at the theme park next door (Amaburi?), “someday,” which is enough for Yui for now.
  • Yui slipping animal ears on herself and Yukino and having Hikky snap their picture.
  • Everyone wanting to give Komachi gifts. She got the ball rolling on Hikky’s redemption, after all. But more than that, she’s just a very cute and lovable sister.

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Happiness is:

  • Circumstances working out so Hikky and Yukino end up separated from the others.
  • Yukino taking Hikky’s sleeve in her hand, asking him to “save her someday,” just before their boat takes the plunge. DAT PLUNGE. The silence…pure poetry.

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Happiness is: Yukino making relative peace with the fact she isn’t like her sister, or Hikky, and may not “have what they have,” but that’s okay, because she still loves them both. (She doesn’t say that part, but it’s pretty evident.)

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Happiness is Hikky, Yukino, and Yui side by side by side, watching the park’s fireworks show, being bathed in warm and cool flashes of light as they wear smiles on their faces.

Happiness is Yukino’s many smiles throughout this episode, in particular that last one looking up at the sky, and Yui whispering to Hikky, again getting as possible close to the person she loves.

Happiness is NOT watching Iroha confess to Hayama, only to get flatly rejected and run off, more upset than we’ve ever seen her.

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However, as unhappy an event as it was, I was very happy with how it was portrayed: from the POVs of the others, in particular Hikky; without words, only expressions half-concealed by the shadows. All the planning in the world to create an opportunity for Iroha to get closer to Hayama didn’t mean a thing, because Hayama didn’t want to get closer to her.

Will she now turn to Hikky, fulfilling the prophecy in the OP of Iroha taking her place among the other three Service Club members, filling the void between Hikky and the others? Whatever happens, and as sadly as this episode ended, there was still plenty of happiness to be found.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 09

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Aldini Takumi and his bro made a pretty bangin’ dish for Chef Hinako, but when pondering his response, Souma shows that two can tango. As soon as he asked Hinako to repeat the condition of the test about using anything inside the confines of the hotel grounds, I knew he was going for her beloved rice crackers, which means unlike all of the other students who are grilling the char, he’s now got a coating with which to deep fry it.

Now that’s resourcefulness; hinging one’s entire dish on a snack the judge just happened to have on her. I also like the cut from students wondering why Hinako was known as the “Empress of Mist”, to the “mists” of tea steam emanating from her, explaining the nickname.

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I also like SnS‘s insitence, at least at this point in the game, to have rivals, not villains or antagonists, face off against Souma. Takumi is a rival. He left home to attend this academy specifically because he wants to go toe-to-toe with worthy rivals like Souma. He’s even worried and apologetic when he accidentally crushes Souma’s crackers, afraid he may have inadvertently sabotaged Souma’s dish. Luckily, he needs those crackers pulverized.

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Also heartening: as down to the wire and in the dark as she initially was for this test, Megumi doesn’t just shrink before the task at hand. Once it’s Go Time, she’s fighting right beside Souma, delicately preparing the mountain veggies she has experience foraging for back home as he bones, coats, and fries the fish.

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The final dish that’s served is, like every other one he’s made (except the peanut butter squid) looks tantalizingly scrumptious, especialy that airy egg, oil, and herb dipping sauce.

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We knew this dish was going to be a hit with Hinako, it was just a matter of what spit-take-inducing fantasy she’d have in her taste-ecstasy. SnS doesn’t dissapoint here, either, with a mermaid Hinako (with an embellished bust) being taken into the muscular arms of an anthropomorphized rice cracker. You gotta love the creativity of  SnS‘s visual symbolism.

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Hinako passes Souma and Megumi, but contrary to her agreement with Takumi, never determines whose dish is superior. This is either because she’s a bit of an airhead (another reason for her “Empress of Mist nom de guerre”) or because she’s deliberately toying with the overeager guys. Probably a bit of both.

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And in the end, it doesn’t matter whose dish was better: both Souma and Takumi learned that the other is the real deal, and more importantly, someone they’d never have met if they both stayed in their family restaurants. Only by putting your skills up against others and being exposed to their methods can these two find their true passion; the passion that will take them beyond merely surpassing their elders.

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And that’s a wrap….oh wait, no it isn’t. We get Bonus SnS this week, which underlines how strenuous the training camp truly is. Poor Yuuki thinks they can kick back with extravagant meals prepared for them by the hotel staff, a nice hot bath, and a sumptuous hotel room. But she and the other students are the hotel kitchen staff, and they have to make 50 servings of a steak set each before they can feed themselves, to say nothing of the other comforts of the hotel.

Yuuki is crestfallen, but it’s not long before the intense situation puts her into Battle Mode, feeding an endless horde of ravenous bodybuilders, wrestlers, and football players. It’s good training for those who wish to run a restaruant, no matter what kind it is.

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Unsurprisingly, “Short-Order” Souma is the first to finish, and doesn’t even break a sweat. He heads cheerfully to the communal bath, certain he’ll have it all to himself. But as an extended version of the lovely ED plays and he sings along to it, an equally cheerful and relaxed Erina is singing the same song. It ends with the lyric “Fate is the spice of life” as the two bump into each other, as if by fate. Be it cordial or hostile, I look forward to seeing how this encounter pans out.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DanMachi – 09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nisekoi 2 – 08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ore Monogatari!! – 08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hibike! Euphonium – 08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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