Owarimonogatari – 02

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As Ougi pointedly remarks toward the end of this normal-length episode, This Is Different. Not only the fact that Owarimonogatari shifts the focus from her in the first episode (essentially an hour-long prologue) to Oikura Sodachi, who is suddenly back at school and asking Tsubasa all kinds of questions. Araragi is confident he can clear the air with Sodachi before Tsubasa gets back from the teacher’s lounge, but that doesn’t happen, because Sodachi, like Ougi before her, is different from every other woman he’s dealt with.

Different, because Sodachi hates Araragi. She despises him, and people like him with the heat of a thousand suns, as if he’d killed her parents (assuming she loved them, of course). So the smooth, easy reunion Araragi expected crashes and burns with equal force, as he can feel the hate suffusing every surface of the classroom, pushing all the desks and chairs back. No water under the bridge here. More like Sodachi wants to throw Araragi off a bridge, into that water, then burn his wretched corpse to ashes.

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So why does she despise Araragi so much? We can hazard a guess from last week, but according to her, it’s because he’s ungrateful for the life of smooth sailing he’s enjoyed, because he’s happy without knowing why he’s happy; because he “doesn’t know what he’s made up of” in ranting that evokes chemistry more than mathematics, though the former requires quite a bit of the latter (which is why I got a “D-” in chemistry :P):

“I despise water that thinks it boiled itself on its own.”

Araragi’s usual charms and ability to take control of an encounter are utterly overthrown in Sodachi’s seething atmosphere of hate. When he tries to calm her by putting his hands on her shoulders, she quickly reaches for a mechanical pencil and stabs him in the hand. She won’t be calm. Within her is a storm that has been brewing for years. But how many, exactly—two, five, or more—is one of the mysteries this episode posits.

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Sodachi’s stabbing of Araragi brings a new element to the equation: a highly displeased Senjougahara, comically dragging a diplomatic Tsubasa behind her, who arrives with a line that’s both eloquent, hilarious, and wink-ily meta-referential:

“I’ll kill you. I’m the only one who can stab Araragi with stationery. Even though I’ve gotten rid of that character trait, I can’t stand having it reused.”

Sodachi greets Senjougahara by lamenting “how far she’s fallen” since the time she was a sickly girl she often took care of, since she’s now dating Araragi, a man who will never credit anyone other than himself for his happiness. But both of Sodachi’s barbs imply a desire in Senjougahara for some kind of repayment for her affections or efforts, where no such desire exists.

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Senjougahara concedes that Sodachi may be right about Araragi’s ungratefulness, but she doesn’t care. She likes Araragi and wants to go to college with him. She’s not looking for anything in return, nor is she keeping score; two more traits on which she and Sodachi differ. Sodachi applies math to all, and in the equations that express Araragi’s wonderful life, sees herself and others as crucial variables. For that, she demands recognition and renumeration, yet Araragi, she believes, pretends those variables don’t exist; that only the sum—his happiness—matters.

Sodachi’s comeback to Senjougahara’s admittedly condescending response to her protests is to slap her in the face (doing a scant 15 Damage), which only incurs a brutal counter-punch from Senjougahara (1479 Damage + KO). Proving she is The Best, Senjougahara then passes out herself and tells Araragi to handle the rest. If this cameo is her only appearance in Owari, she sure made the most of it!

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From there, Ougi’s role returns to the foreground, as she accompanies Araragi to his middle school and finds three envelopes marked “A”, “B”, and “C” in his shoe locker (why they end up in that particular place is explained by the Loki-like Ougi using gorgeous Escher-style imagery with SD versions of her and Araragi).

Araragi recognizes these envelopes as a “Monty Hall problem“-type quiz: Three doors, behind one of which is a car; you choose Door 1; you’re shown what’s behind Door 3 (a goat), and you’re asked if you want to switch your choice to Door 2. Switching to Door 2 gives you a 2/3 chance of getting the car, compared to 1/3 sticking with Door 1.

I liken Ougi to Loki because she’s very much a trickster, neither good nor evil, who has revealed next to nothing about herself while having an intense power to draw out quite a bit from Araragi. She’s also a lot like Monty Hall, a game show host (note the flashing checkered lockers), not only nudging Araragi to choose which way to go next, but also hosting a kind of This Is Your Life for him.

(I’ll also note, Ougi takes a good long look at Nadeko’s shoe locker, both a callback to Nadeko’s arc, and another reason why Ougi is so hard to figure out).

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I say Ougi nudges him, but really, she’s pretty actively leading him deeper into his past, opening rusty gates and kicking in doors. That past is somewhere they both agree is the only place they have a chance of learning for sure why exactly Sodachi despises him so deeply. Ougi rules out the class assembly, as the exact timing of Sodachi’s return to school suggests she knew Komichi-sensei was the true culprit, not Araragi.

Ougi surmises it may be more the fact that Araragi has “forgotten his roots”, though she admits a lot of people do that and aren’t automatically despised for it. Her comments about who she was in grade school and middle school being “far beyond the boundaries of oblivion” and the feeling she was “born very recently”, which Araragi likens to the five-minute hypothesis, are both enticing nuggets about her, but don’t come close to painting a full picture.

But it is the further exploration of that cloudy past, when Araragi’s childhood thought process and actions were strange, mysterious, suspicious, and scary all at once, where he and Ougi hope to excavate some answers and avoid future stabbings.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 02

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It’s nice to see how well Stella and Ikki are already getting along even before their first day of school; it’s a testament to the equity and fairness with which they each treat each other. They’re both on first-name terms without any reservations, and Stella makes a habit of bringing up things like the possibility of indirect kisses as a big deal, but never once denies that she doesn’t mind such things, when sharing Ikki’s sports drink. She also insists on running the full 20km a day that he runs, which speaks to her competitiveness.

But this, like Asterisk War is still a harem, which means there will be plenty of competition for Ikki’s attention. The first to glom onto him is Kusakabe Kagami, who means to run the school newspaper and saw him fight. Whether you’re a boy or a girl, people dig ability, and it’s clear Ikki has skills, even if there’s no surefire way to evaluate it. Still, the way the six school reps will be chosen works in his favor: rather than assess people by their stats, everyone will be fighting for those spots.

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Kagami essentially fades into the background, however, when a petite silver-haired girl everyone calls “Lorelei” beckons to Ikki. As we gleaned from the cold open, she’s his little sister Shizuku, and the only member of his family who she believes really loves him. Because of that, on top of her sheltered, upper-crust upbringing, to her, that means she needs to show Ikki enough love to make up for all the family members who show none.

To Shizuku, that means French-kissing him in front of Stella and half the school. Now, this is some standard brocon incest ikkiness? On the surface, sure, but it’s nicely mitigated by two factors: Shizuku’s aforementioned strange upbringing, and the fact no one else, including Ikki, is okay with his sister Frenching him.

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Then a catfight breaks out between Shizuku and Stella, who draw their devices, but they get in trouble with the director and must clean all 27 of the school’s girls’ restrooms, which they do while exchanging insults about one another’s breast size and body type.

It’s petty, but it’s conflict born out of mutual misunderstanding. Shizuku doesn’t yet know the full extent of Stella’s bond with Ikki, and Stella doesn’t yet know why Shizuku is acting so possessive.

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That changes quick when Shizuku mentions that the rest of the Kurogane family has always treated Ikki like he didn’t exist, and she hates them for it. Stella, concerned and eager to learn more about her roommate (and master, a promise she hasn’t forgotten), wastes no time asking Ikki about it, and he’s very open about it: due to his lack of verifiable talent, he was shunned as the family’s black sheep. The ostracization was so bad, he once ran away from home into the brutal cold.

He was saved from death by his grandfather Ryouma—a samurai so famous even Stella knows the name—who told him to harness his frustration with being called the weakest or the worst; make that weakness a strength, and never give up or stop working to prove everyone wrong. Ikki then started to train alone—something Stella also did when she was younger. Thus Stella’s understanding of Ikki deepens, as does her affection.

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Those affections lead her to make a move on Ikki for the second week in a row, entirely on a whim while cooking. Her excuse is that a good servant must fulfill a master’s wishes before he even asks, but really, she liked what she saw and felt last week, and wants more. Ikki is understandably a bit on-edge about the whole thing—Stella is a knockout in her pink bikini (her concession to modesty and not letting things get too far too fast)—but lets Stella do what she wants to do, and tells her what she wants to hear.

A nice detail: when the newspaper girl Kagami put Ikki’s arm against her chest, Stella noticed, and so brings it up here, because it looked like Ikki liked it…and Stella wants Ikki to like when she does it. I loved the honesty and equity of this romantic encounter: both Stella and Ikki are getting something they want out of it…right up until Stella loses her top, which she didn’t want to happen. Scream; Slap; Womp-Womp.

Lastly, we come to the show’s ED, with all the girls in Ikki’s prospective harem lounging around nude in a bed of roses with their weapons, to the welcome eclectic tunes of ALI PROJECT.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 02

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Asterisk War took a page from its cross-town rival Rakudai Kishi by wasting no time infusing its characters with more depth and nuance. That included another piece of Ayato’s past puzzle with his big sister telling him to temper his immense power and vowing to protect him, and reaching Détente with Princess Julis, whose sharp edges are smoothed considerably this week. 

While haughty and dismissive in the first episode, here she’s reasonable and not totally opposed to friendship with Ayato, who after all just saved her from an unwanted confrontation with Lester (who, alas, remains a meatheaded moron).

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Julis also—seemingly reluctantly, but actually not—agrees to take Ayato on a tour to repay her debt to him, as well as show him around the city. She even replies to his Good Morning in class, which surprises the rest of the class.

Julis is on Ayato’s immediate right, but he learns to his left is Sasamiya Saya, his childhood friend and daughter of a weapons inventor. And what a great school: not only can students pull guns on other students without anyone blinking, but teachers can hit students for being late due to oversleep! Fantasy indeed.

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And it’s in this classroom that it’s confirmed without a shadow of a doubt that yup, this is going to be a harem. Saya senses Julis’ conflicted will and offers to show Ayato around for her, but of course Julis actually does want to show him around, so the two start clashing immediately. The Asuka/Rei resemblance of the two, both visually and personality-wise, did not go unnoticed.

Then Claudia and her boobs show up, and Julis and Saya instantly form a smaller-boobed alliance, refusing to give Ayato up and deciding it better for the two of them to show him around together. Claudia withdraws, promising she’ll get Ayato to herself eventually. How nice it is to be wanted!

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When she gets Julis to admit she was in a duel with Ayato,  Saya is dubious, because even someone of Julis’ level would have their ass handed to them by the Ayato she knows. This is a nice callback to the flashback in the cold open, in which Ayato easily defeats a bunch of bigger, older students for his sister’s sake, but goes too far.

Julis resents Saya claiming the two of them are on an equal level, and a duel between them almost breaks out until there’s another glowing-arrow attempt on Julis’ life, and the two work together to blast the masked culprits, with Saya revealing her ginormous weapon.

And because the culprits were hiding in a fountain, and the fountain is destroyed, the girls get soaked to the bone, revealing their bra, or in Saya’s case, lack of bra, just as Ayato returns. Fortunately, he receives no physical punishment, as he’s able to avert his eyes in time.

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Cut to the next day, when Ayato joins Saya at the Ogre Lux facility to find the weapon best suited for him. Ayato has his eyes on Ser Veresta, which was apparently his sister’s Lux, which Lester also happens to be interested in. However, the sword immediately rejects Les, who gets no higher than a 32% compatibility rating that drops into negative territory when he tries to force the issue.

All the while, Ayato is startled by the feeling of chains tightening all around him. Ser Veresta has its eyes on him, proceeds to come at him with deadly intent. And thankfully, they got something other than canned Star Wars lightsaber sounds for Veresta.

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After dancing with it for a while, Ayato stands firm and waits for it to shoot at him from behind, whereupon he grabs it and thrusts it into the ground, taming it and earning a 97% compatibility rating in the process. Claudia is duly impressed, but not altogether surprised, as she was hoping Ayato would be useful to her plans to restore the Seidokan to greatness.

She seemingly rewards Ayato by inviting him to her apartments later that night, and naturally, Ayato comes in through the window just as Claudia is getting out of the shower. Far from outraged, Claudia seems charmed by Ayato’s choice and time of entry.

Speaking of charmed, the theme song that plays the episode out was the biggest surprise of all this week: a hauntingly beautiful piece called “Waiting for the rain”, composed by Swede Rasmus Faber with captivating vocals by Sakamoto Maaya. This wasn’t a bad episode, but I’d be tempted to keep watching Asterisk War just to see and hear its wonderful ED!

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