Owarimonogatari – 05

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Oikura knew Araragi’s parents were cops because they were the ones who got her out of her abusive home and had her live with them. Araragi can’t remember on his own, but that’s not entirely why Oikura despises him. As we learn during one of the more powerful sustained monologues in the Monogatari franchise, and a chance for Inoue Marina to remind us just how good she is when she sinks her teeth into a role.

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As hostile as she is to both Araragi and Hanekawa (throwing tea at the former, which the latter catches with her cat-like reflexes), she still seems to get a lot off her chest and be better for it. She also comes off like never before like a deeply wounded individual; a lost soul who has given up hope.

It’s already the end for her; after all the punishment she’s endured in her still short life—physical and emotional—she believes she’s too frail for happiness, so she despises it along with herself and everything else in the world.

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That punishment includes having to watch Araragi’s perfect family seem to “show off” in front of her. She’d glare at them in resentment, or for not knowing how different they regard “normal family life”; in other words, how much they take love for granted. Oikura was never given love. Her parents divorced, her mother became reclusive and never left her room, and Oikura had to take care of her, until one day she was just…gone.

After all that, Araragi forgetting all about her and giving her nothing in return for what she gave to him throughout their encounters, reveals itself as simply the tip of a very nasty, despairing iceberg. Inoue mixes dread and malice with tones of black humor and feigned happiness in Oikura’s delivery, heightening her aura of imbalance; a spinning top about to fall off a table.

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She made Araragi a villain despite his relatively small contribution to her wholesale suffering because she needed to blame and despise someone other than her parents (which neither she chose nor who chose her) or herself just to keep going on. Whenever she got near the happiness Araragi seems to ooze, it felt either too bright or heavy for her frail, scarred self to survive.

Happiness, she believes, will kill her just as efficiently as the emotions on the other end of the spectrum. So she’s settled for something a little more moderate on that scale, and it’s slowly dissolving her heart. Araragi tell her happiness can’t do that, and there are many kinds that would work for her. But Oikura lacks the ability to access them.

What she needs now, more than anything else, is to continue being heard, and being in the presence of others. When she kicks them out, Hanekawa says both she and Araragi will keep coming back, because “troubling those we care about is how we do things.” It’s pushy, but it’s also something Oikura needs to hear: someone cares about her; is fond of her; and she’s several decades too early to be talking about endings. 

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 05

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RKC is full of surprises. I never thought I’d be awarding two nines in a row to it, but it showed this week, categorically, that the excellent handling of Stella and Ikki’s confession wasn’t a fluke; that wonderful romance is here to stay, and there’s lots of room to grow.

But there were sure to be bumps in the road, and the first is that they’ve been lovers for two weeks…but haven’t done anything. That seems to bother Stella more than Ikki, but as we eventually find out, that’s not the case at all. It’s another common romantic convention: both lovers waiting for the other to start something and getting frustrated by it. Yet it’s another convention RKC picks up and runs with, showing how potent and relatable idea it can be.

While they’ve been lovers doing nothing for two weeks, Ikki has only risen in school standing, no longer the Worst One, but “Another One” (that’s not really his nickname, is it?). The girls swarm around him wanting lessons in swordsmanship; a group of guys gets jealous, but he beats them so easily they become his loyal students, a nice change of pace from the typical “you’ll regret this!” storming off that even the reporter mentions.

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The group of students he’s teaching keep growing along with his popularity, and while Stella is probably proud of him and admiring of his generosity, there’s no doubt she’s getting nudged out of chunks of time he could be with her.

Also Shizuku, as it turns out, hasn’t quite given up on him, or at least intends to make life difficult for Stella if she fails to assert herself. I particularly liked Shizuku’s ear-to-ear grin as Stella must follow through and chug her two bottles of Pocari Sweat.

Another great moment was when Alice lent Stell a game whose protagonist looks and sounds very similar, if not identical, minus the glasses, to Ikki. Her “illicit” vicarious play hearkens back to that great scene where she can’t help but touch Ikki’s chest while he’s sleeping.

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When Ikki takes his class to the pool, he invites Stella along. When she angrily wonders why he doesn’t want to teach her, he gives a very good explanation that not only appeases but flatters her: her ability is beyond anything can teach her, that his style would undermine her strengths, and he wants her, over any other, to continue to go beyond his imagination.

But the fact of the matter is, nothing continues to happen, and Stella is forced into the background as he teaches the others. The reporter puts two and two together, threatens to ask Ikki out, then gets Stella to let slip they’re lovers going nowhere. The reporter’s advice is simple: be forceful and tell him what you want. But of course, it’s not that simple.

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The reporter’s talk with Stella mirrors Alice’s talk with Shizuku, and in this case Alice has valuable insight into the male mind, since he shares their biology, if not that identity. The episode cleverly cuts between the two discussions, Archer-style. It’s also notable that Alice, hardly a conservative, doesn’t think Shizuku’s love for her brother is necessarily wrong, and that she shouldn’t accept defeat just yet.

Still, that’s because Alice is rooting for her beloved friend and roommate. In reality, Ikki is very much in love with Stella, and vice-versa. When the two come together, Ikki starts to talk in a way that Stella interprets as a break-up. The two have their first lovers’ quarrel, and it’s a damn fine one, with the two of them belting out increasingly reasonable things even as they get unreasonably upset with one another.

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Brass tacks: Ikki didn’t make the first move because he was worried she’d think he was a dirty man; Stella didn’t because she was worried he’d think she was a slut. They’re both wrong; both want the other to make a move. So they agree to say the thing they want to do right there and then, and it’s the same thing: kiss. Ikki makes it clear he wants her to ask him for a kiss when she wants one; Stella lets him know she only likes it when one guy looks at her in a naughty way: him.

Having cleared a common hurdle at the start of relationships when the two parties are still feeling each other’s patterns and ways of doing things out, they confidently hold hands on the bus ride home, each knowing a lot more what the other expects, and likely feeling foolish for ever worrying about it. Some tough battles with the Evil Student Council executives lay ahead for both of these lovers, but they won’t have to worry about what the other wants anymore.

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Owari no Seraph 2 – 04

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On the way to Nagoya, after fighting off Four Horsemen of Johns, Shinoa has a little fun by leaving Yuu behind to walk the rest of the way. In addition to being a little too mean, it seems extraordinarily stupid thing to do under such serious circumstances. The show thinks it was dumb to, and Shinoa later comes to regret it, because Guren throws and elaborate lesson their way that drives the message into her and all the other newbies’ heads. Fooling around will get your family killed, so knock it off.

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When the five show up late, they make a bad first impression on the more experienced squads Guren has amassed. Then Yuu takes full responsibility, but Guren knows he’s covering. Then he, Shinya, and Mito face off against the five right there and then to test how well they gel as a team. Even three-on-five, the older soldiers barely break a sweat overwhelming the noobs. Yuu hangs in there with Guren, but in the process, all of his comrades are “killed” by the other two veterans.

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The lesson is, take this seriously and learn to work better together under duress, because the vampire nobles they’re going after are even tougher, and won’t end the lesson by sparing lives and mussing Yuu’s hair. Yuu is uncharacteristically mature throughout this lesson, already working out how they should handle such a fight next time, and taking it in stride when Sgt. Narumi protests the newbies’ inclusion in the plan.

Speaking up backfires for Narumi, as Guren puts him and his haughty squad in charge of teaching Shinoa’s squad the ropes, much to their chagrin. But Yuu doesn’t feel like a hot potato, or at least doesn’t show it: he’s eager to work and learn. As long as he can kill vampires and get Mika back, he’s growing up in a hurry.

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As for Mika, the day Krul warned about—when her blood alone would no longer be sufficient—is fast arriving. Mika has insisted on not drinking human blood, but the blood calls to him as his partner and their squad rounds up children for tribute to the very nobles Guren’s group of 100 are going after.

He pounces on a girl and grabs her by the throat, but is able to pull himself back…for now. But that control will only get more and more difficult to maintain. When that happens, he’ll have little choice but death or human blood. But would he really choose the former, knowing what it might do to Yuu?

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 05

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Asterisk War more or less regressed to the mean this week, starting off with an interminable bickering match between the leaders of five of the six schools in Rikka. We get some nice Ayato and Julis time, but it’s all too brief, and replaced by an influx of Allkant interlopers, apparently arranged by Claudia as payment for Allekant’s role in furnishing Silas’ robots.

The designer of those robots is Ernesta Kuhne, who is way over the top and over-rambunctious in all the wrong ways. I usually like Akasaki Chinatsu’s energy, but here she’s just extraneous.

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Call me spoiled by the last two episodes, in which Julis did indeed “monopolize” Ayato, to the benefit of the show, I might add. This Julis who butts heads with Saya (absent the last two weeks) just isn’t as interesting. It’s like another girl shows up and a switch is flipped. Fortunately, Lester is with me on this, and slinks away rather than witness any more fighting over Ayato.

That brings us to the introduction of a new main member of Ayato’s harem, judging from the promo art: the petite silver-haired Toudou Kirin. Their first encounter was a bump-and-peek in the hall, but when Ayato sees an adult in a suit strike her, he chivalrously steps in to intervene.

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This doesn’t go well for him, as when he asks the awful man (her uncle) to never hit her again, he agrees, IF he wins a duel. And in that duel, he’ll be fighting…Kirin, his niece. This puts Kirin in the odd position of not having her uncle beat on her if she loses, but losing isn’t an option for her, where every duel in her resume is scrutinized with a fine-tooth comb.

Ayato still has to deal with a limit to how long he can fight with Ser Veresta before he runs out of gas, and the fact that he doesn’t want to hurt Kirin—that’s the whole reason he got involved with her and her uncle in the first place! So it’s a defensive duel in which the clock runs out, Kirin wins, and Ayato is a bit dazed and confused.

What he just did was duel with the top student at his academy, one of the more then twenty students in Rikka Julis said were her equal or better. And while he can’t really be blamed for trying to stop abuse happening right in front of him, he did do exactly what Julis told him not to: get into another pointless public duel that reveals his strengths and weaknesses to all. So yeah, not exactly helping himself out.

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Ushio to Tora – 18

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Few anime this year have worn their hearts so brazenly and so effectively on their sleeve as Ushio to Tora, and these past two episodes—in which the women (and one special woman in particular) in Ushio life literally save his soul—comprise UtT’s finest and most thrilling hour yet. Not a single line or action is wasted, and the dramatic stuff is expertly garnished with bursts of UtT’s trademark comedy.

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Two girls have successfully combed his hair, and once Yuu uses her athleticism and courage to be the third, that leaves his closest friends Mayuko and Asako. Mayuko almost instantly falls into a river charging ahead, but she is continually rescued by Tora, under the pretense of preserving a future meal.

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That neither Mayuko, a grateful Asako, nor anyone else take Tora’s malevolence seriously cracks Izuna up while showing how far he’s come whle maintaining his preferred way of showing affection to the humans around him: by claiming, almost defensively, they’re all food. With Jiemei showing him the way, Tora carries the girls to Ushio’s new location by the mouth of the cave where “a piece” of Hakumen no Mono dwells, and Mayuko reflexively uses the comb to parry a blow from the Beast Spear.

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That sends her flying to the edge of a cliff from which she falls rather than drop the comb that contains “all their hopes”, but fortunately for her Tora is really diligent about keeping his food clean and unharmed. Mayuko in arm, he decides he’s sick of Ushio, a human, acting like this. So he lets Ushio stab him with the spear, giving Mayuko the opening she needs. Four down, one to go.

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As suspected, for maximum dramatic effect, the one who loves Ushio the most is saved for last. Jeimei reveals it’s her brother who is the Beast Spear trying to devour Ushio in service of destoying Hakumen, but she begs him to stop. Ushio is even able to get the words “it hurts” out, sending the tears streaming from Asako’s eyes as she laments that all this crap is happening. Like Tora, she wants the old Ushio back, preferring him and all his lovable flaws to the mindless monster before her.

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As she wipes her eye she combs his hair, but the Spear senses Hakumen close and seemingly undoes all the progress the combing made, and neutralizing the power of Asako’s emotions. But she doesn’t give up, grabs hold of Ushio and doesn’t let go, and remembers all the times throughout the years Ushio pissed her off by teasing her, only to be her dopey knight in shining armor when she was in a spot.

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Just as Tora has a shorthand for why he helps out his “food” so much, Asako has a shorthand for the “idiot” Ushio. But she also happens to love that idiot, and all but says it when his crystal eyes shatter for good, released from the Beast Spear’s hold. Back in “normal” Beast Mode, he summons Tora and the two deal with the threat that had been bubbling around them, and had been dealt with by his dad, the chosen four, Jun, the priests, and even Hyou (Hi Hyou!), until the end of their limits: the massive swarm of Hiyou.

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Noting he seems stronger than before, Tora works with Ushio to obliterate the storm, after which Ushio collapses from exhaustion, back to his old self. He mutters to Tora how before he woke up, he felt like he was having a strange dream full of strange people, but also filled with warm people who were at their very best. But it all seems like a dream to him; he’s unaware of what has transpired and who was involved.

That Ushio may forever be ignorant to their deeds and hard-won victory is a little disappointing, but they’re right: if he learned what he did to them, he’d likely never forgive himself. They’re protecting him from needlessly punishing himself for hurting them, because to a woman, they were there by choice, and would do it again to save him in a heartbeat.

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This is an experience none of them will ever forget, but it’s also notable that it’s an event that brought them all together, as shown when they decide to go party together to celebrate a victory everyone who was present knows about except the one they saved.

But while many friendships were forged in this ordeal, as Ushio heads into the cave with Tora (no time to waste!) all the girls not named Asako know that Ushio will definitely be back, but won’t be coming back to them, but to her.  That will be some reunion.

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