Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 20

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This was a quiet, leisurely episode, especially after last week’s excitement on the high seas, but few shows do quiet and leisurely more pleasantly than Shirayuki, and in any case, a little rest and celebration is in order. Shirayuki and Zen are invited to the village headquarters of the Lions of the Mountain, whose chief, Mukaze, is indeed Shirayuki’s father. She remembers seeing him at her grandparents’ bar years ago, but held on to that memory in case she ever saw him, since those grandparents went against Mukaze by saying he was alive after all.

What I like about their reunion is that there isn’t any rancor or hard feelings; Shirayuki is just glad she had the opportunity to meet her dad, and vice versa. We even learn that his wife, Shirayuki’s mom, was once betrothed to Mukaze’s relative, but he stole her fair and square and was then banished. Not all that different from Shirayuki herself being “selected” by the earlier, awful-er iteration of Prince Raj!

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It’s not just a time for Shirayuki to catch up with her dad; Kiki manages a genuine “thanks” for Mitsuhide worrying about her. I’ve always enjoyed the rapport and, if we’re honest, love between these two badasses, even though it’s not romantic love. They care about each other, and it shows when it counts.

As for Obi, he’s so down about letting Shirayuki down by letting her get nabbed, he spends much of his time in the forest alone…until Shirayuki goes after him, to assure him she doesn’t blame him for what happened; it was an unavoidable, unfortunate situation all around.

Obi knows she doesn’t hold his failure against him, but that doesn’t make his failure any more acceptable to him. Even so, Shirayuki asks that he be her guard next time they visit Tanbarun.

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A night of light drinking and carousing ensures, with Mitsu, Obi, and Kiki matching drinks, Shirayuki talking with her dad and Kazuki. Later. Mukaze finds Zen on his own and has a conversation he’s probably been looking forward to, the “what are your intentions towards my daughter” talk.

Mukaze first asks if Shirayuki loves him, then realizes he’s the wrong one to ask, and instead asks him how he feels about her. Zen is forthright in declaring his love for her, leading Mukaze to shout “I won’t allow it!” – but he’s only joking, and always wanted to say that. Worse for Zen, Shirayuki overheard everything, and when he spots her on the stairs, the two turn an intense beet red that really pops in the blue-filter night.

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When it’s time to go to bed, Shirayuki asks Zen to stick around with her a little longer. Uh-oh, I thought…but only for a minute. These two aren’t really going to do anything until they’re good and married, so instead they spend a few hours simply chatting and enjoying each others’ hard-won company. Shirayuki is the first to doze off, whereupon Zen puts her to bed and gives her a tender goodnight kiss straight out of the fairy tales.

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Mukaze expresses his happiness that his daughter has found a place where she’s happy (even though it’s not where he is), and sees her off. Shirayuki, Zen and Co. then head back to Tanbarun, where Prince Raj is elated to see her once more, and the rescheduled ball is still on.

Raj’s little siblings again try to start some shit, but they are stayed when he tells them he doesn’t want Shirayuki at the palace “forever”, because that would be boring. It’s one of Raj’s better lines, delivered with his trademark snap, and is essentially a mic drop to the meddling twins.

A lovely ball ensues, with Raj having the orchestra play the piece chosen by Shirayuki, and the two having a nice dance together. Zen watches from afar, and is surprised how far Raj has come. Rajs owes a lot of his growth to his time with Shirayuki, including the predicament she ended up in.

When she was out of danger, she taught him how to be more self-aware and selfless and less presumptuous; in times of crisis he brought out his courage and stalwart determination to secure her safe release from baddies. Now they’re at the point that when Shirayuki’s hair grows out again, she’d be happy to show it to Raj, because now she considers him a friend, and the feeling is mutual.

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End-of-Month Rundown – February 2016

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Weather-wise, it’s been a kinder, gentler Winter here at RABUJOI HQ. This past Sunday in particular was unseasonably warm and lovely. Spring is on the way, and with it at least 20 new shows to check out and vet, with hopes of whittling that collection to a dozen or less.

Since dropping Phantom World, we’ve been happy with the group of ten Winter shows that remain. Here’s where those shows currently stand with one month left:

  • ERASED continues to be a revelation; easily the best show watched by any of us since Steins;Gate, which is oddly enough an opinion shared by the FMA and Gintama-loving MAL community, who have elevated the new show to 5th all-time
  • Speaking of superlatives, Hannah is willing to go ahead and declare Gundam IBO the finest and most complete Gundam series she’s seen (though she’s watched a lot less than some)
  • Grimgar rose to dizzying heights this month, progressing in Preston’s mind from curious SAO facsimile at the start to a emerging classic that stands on its own
  • Zane has been pleased as punch with SGRS and its mature, sophisticated and witty storytelling in a postwar Japan bursting with the promise of hope and redemption
  • Snow White with the Red Hair went Full Swashbuckle with pirate kidnappers, stormy seas, hidden bases and a daring rescue.
  • There are times when it feels like KonoSuba’s male protagonist protests too much when it comes to his new life, so it’s good he learned he liked that life a lot more than he thought when it almost came to an end
  • Hannah is hoping Durarara!!x2 will sort out the sometimes imposing tangle of personalities and motives both human and supernatural in the final installments of an epic 36-episode run
  • GATE delivered a hell of a dragon battle to save Tuka’s sanity, then gave us more of the underutilized Lelei. Sherry was a pleasant surprise, but the likable core cast always seems to be competing for time with the wider political issues of the two worlds
  • Dagashi Kashi is a competent diversion, with glimmers of a sweet romance and sporadic laughs, but the detailed history lessons can drag, as does Hotaru’s statically eccentric personality

Dimension W – 08

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Al gets Kyouma, Mira, and the Lexus (with its sweet-sounding hi-revving V10) to the island without any issues, but Prince Salva, Lasithi, and Sanchos are out cold as the other collectors wash up on the shore. Lwei remembers his (adoptive) brother’s dream–to make the world so that Lwei an sit in it–and takes charge, insisting that despite Salva’s incapacitation, the game is still on for anyone able to participate.

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Elsewhere on the island, Loser and Ellie carefully make their way to the believed location of the coil, while the survivors of the plane crash find shelter and deal with the wounded. It’s a truce between collectors who would otherwise stab each other in the back as soon as look at each other, but after Lwei proves he can defend his unconscious brother and Lasithi, Jason Chrysler, KK, Antonov split off to seek the coil on their own.

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Everyone’s arrival on the island has already begun “re-starting” people and objects that were practically frozen by the dimensional calamity, resulting in the discovery of a zombie-like human as well as the island’s defensive killbots. On top of that, there are still “mystery spheres” flying around, but don’t seem interested in women, so they must be after a specific person.

Kyouma almost immediately regrets not bringing a 4×4 to the island when they hit road littered with boulders, but thanks to Mira’s immense strength, the road is cleared in no time. When they encounter two robots blocking their way, Kyouma uses a flash grenade to sneak by, but doesn’t warning Mira to close her eyes. Mira tries to bring up the subject of why he’s not kinder to her, but there are bigger fish to fry.

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Mira detects a battle up ahead, and she and Kyouma manage to arrive in the nick of time to save Harry and Debbie from a killbot, using teamwork in combat for the first time. They’re a gas to watch: Kyouma with his daggers and wires, Mira with her strength and speed.

Kyouma thinks the best way to the coil is to get to the tunnels Grendel used in their mission years ago. Harry and Debbie pay him and Mira back for saving them by digging the holes they need to access those tunnels. Of course, since the LFA only has two seats, the siblings have to hang on to dear life from the outside. Kyouma also makes it clear when he finds the coil he’ll “break it so it can never move again.”

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Before long, an obstacle in the tunnel approaches in the form of an 800-meter pocket of nothingness they have to drive through. When they do, Mira totally freezes while in the process of tearfully expressing her apprehension with what was about to happen, and Kyouma and the siblings start losing consciousness as well. It’s very dark (black, in fact) and creepy, and it’s a relief when they come out unscathed (and Mira completes her thought).

But as soon as they’re through one obstacle in this increasingly bizarre and hazardous gauntlet to the coil, they are stopped by another one in the form of Loser. Above ground, KK knocks Yuri out with drugs and prepares to perform a “simple operation” on him. Captain America Chrysler isi doing his own thing too.

Things are getting cutthroat, but I wonder of Loser and Ellie will join Kyouma and Mira’s party, at least temporarily. After all, this is an unforgiving, unpredictable island where going it alone may not work out.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 08

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar is a little counter-intuitive. You’d think that its penchant for building slow, careful, gradual atmosphere meant it would need all twelve (or more) episodes to properly tell its story. And yet, despite taking things slow and easy and letting its characters breathe and exist in the world it created, this eighth episode could have been the finale, with four episodes to spare.

This was the culmination of nearly everything the seven episodes had cultivated, including my emotional investment. It achieved a tremendous amount without abandoning or compromising the style it’s stuck with all along. In fact, in the end it actually doubled down on the long quiet, contemplative, emotion-rich scene of rest.

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a show so patient and diligent and deliberate that at the same time was able to move so fleetly and efficiently. It kind of had its cake and ate it too.

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Things start simply: a pre-game huddle in which Mary–the priest who let her party die who joined the party that let their priest die–adds her hand to the pile and promises to protect everyone. Then everyone gets into position, waits for the right time, and the most ambitious and dangerous battle yet fought commences.

The breathless, bloody action is set to upbeat (rather than desperate) music, reflecting everyone’s positive attitude and determination entering the fight. No longer is there any doubt that they will have each other’s backs. The goblins are initially surprised by their ambush, but quickly regroup and exhibit that they’re just as capable of learning about their enemy and adapting to their tactics.

At times, things get a little dicey, but just when you think one party member is in trouble, another one bails them out. When Yume and Moguzo get wounded, Mary quickly heals them, and it’s not a waste of magic because without numbers, they can’t afford the pace of the battle to wane due to injuries.

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After infiltrating the goblin stronghold and clearing the lower levels of all enemies, they reach the top, where the leader is sitting, apparently bleeding out and close to death. It’s here, so close to victory, where the party lets its guard down, just as it did when they took down their very first goblin but didn’t cut deep enough. Despite being indoors, they neglected the fact the roof was open, and a goblin snipers puts an arrow in Mary’s back.

Dear God, not again raced through my head as I held my breath, and as the others tended to Mary, Haruhiro (who Mary is now calling “Haru”, like me, or “Hal”, depending on your translator!), goes after the sniper, who happens to have his old dagger. After a vicious struggle, he uses that dagger to deliver the killing blow, Yume slides down the roof to meet him, and the battle is over.

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I was a little worried for a second that Mary died, but part of me assumed this time she had enough magic to heal herself, and so she did. After that battle, Haru and the others acquire their badges and finally become volunteer soliders. Their first stop after this achievement is the grave of their former leader, Manato, not just to show him that they did it, but to give him his own badge as well.

During this extended scene, which I liked very much, Haru thinks a lot about what to say. He notes how he and the others didn’t actually know Manato that long; how he didn’t get to see all the sides of him, how he may have well hid many of his flaws in that time. Haru wished he could have gotten to know Manato better, as did the others, but they can take solace in the fact they were still able to become a good party without him, channeling the pain of his loss to motivate their steady improvement.

As Haru talks about how far they’ve come Ranta says something nasty out of turn and gets admonished by Yume, Shihoru cries, and Mary keeps a respectful distance, though grows closer and closer as the scene continues. It also begins to snow, covering the scenery in white, indicating this is the end of one chapter and the beginning of a fresh new one.

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After the ceremony, Haru walks Mary home (I was wrong last week about her moving in with the party right away). They lament that magic can heal wounds, but not mend clothes or hearts or erase the pain of loss. As they enter the town, he admits he knows about three friends she lost, but she’s okay with him knowing, just as he’s okay with her having a name for him–Haru–that only she uses.

Their last exchange here is infused with a fair share of romantic undertones, but more than anything its just nice to see how far these two have come since Mary first arrived on the scene. Haru has become a good leader of a good party, and Mary has found new friends and a new purpose.

I imagine the party is in store for a time of rest after gaining their badges. I also wonder if the show will ever address everyone’s past lives or the mechanism that brought them to Grimgar; not that any of that is necessary. This was Hai’s best episode, considering the careful work needed to make this such a powerful, cathartic arc conclusion.

I don’t see how it will be topped with only four left (unless a second season is forthcoming), butthat’s okay; the show could have ended right here and I would have been content. This show has already far exceeded my expectations going in; everything that’s to follow is a bonus I’ll graciously accept.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 21

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As expected, Gjallarhorn is coming. More specifically, Carta is coming. The Issue family is the Top Dog of the Seven Stars, and she’s coming in force to restore her pride and that of her fleet. Orga’s plan is to help get Makanai and Kudelia to parliament. Kudelia calls upon Montag for transport and he obeys, happy to be of help in the shadows.

But all this is preceded by a rare “Back on Mars” scene, specifically Biscuit’s sisters waiting for his return from Earth. As I saw the place and family he wanted to get back to as soon as possible (which isn’t as soon as he’d like, hence deferring to Orga), I didn’t know it was a bad omen.

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“We’ll worry about the future after we leave here,” says Mika. In the meantime, they’ll crush whoever’s in their way of that future. The target has had to move by necessity, and Biscuits okay with that. “You’d never complain about my reckless ideas,” Orga says to Biscuit in a dark mess hall. “I did complain.

You just weren’t listening.” And so it is with Biscuit’s many death flags early in this episode. They were clear to see, but like Orga, my eyes were focused elsewhere, on all the other issues at hand, like resisting Carta Issue’s imminent assault.

We even see a potential passing of the torch from Biscuit to Merribit, as she visits Orga and assures him he’ll have “plenty of chances” to tell Biscuit how much he needs him and wants him to stay in Tekkadan. Could the foreboding be any more obvious?

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Alas, like Orga, I wasn’t listening, partly because I didn’t want the worst to happen. Biscuit, even with his wavering resolve, was too important to Tekkadan’s survival. And when Carta brings the pain from land air and sea (and one naval captain is the older brother of Orlis, Tekkadan’s first kill), the focus moves from the characters to the latest battle they must fight.

Carta’s got the numbers, but she was born a few centuries too late. Tekkadan doesn’t cut her any slack for her flashy, chivalrous, but ultimately dubious tactics, like clumping her Blonde Squadron and rushing straight ahead, but not before posing and announcing how great they are. I chuckled when a shirtless, impatient Akihito interrupted her sublime little procession by blasting one of her men.

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That being said, Carta has a lot of steel to throw at Tekkadan, and throw she does. It’s just that most of it gets wasted with terrible gameplan that doesn’t try to poke or prod at Tekkadan’s defense, allowing them to exploit a great number of traps and misdirection.

Carta and her men are also not accustomed to fighting guerrillas like Tekkadan, and the uncouth rough-and-tumble melee combat throws them off balance. Meanwhile, thanks to Biscuit’s strategizing, Carta attacked the wrong side of the island in her desire to achieve her mission objective of capturing Kudelia and Makanai.

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When her men get to Makanai’s residence, only fire and smoke greets them, and in the confusion their targets slip away to the landing area where Tekkadan commandeers their own landing craft. Tekkadan knew exactly what their enemy was after and how they’d go about trying to get it.

Carta didn’t know or care what her enemy was up to or how it would fight, and simply thought everything would work out due to sheer brute force and “fortuitousness.” She thought wrong.

Even so, Carta is in the right place at the right time (and Mika is occupied) at one crucial moment when Orga’s Biscuit-piloted Mobile Worker is exposed. Carta is able to slip away and slash it, and Biscuit is able to warn Orga to let go and be thrown from the worker just in time.

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When Mika sees the worker tumble, he goes into a kind of controlled berserk mode, defeating both the suits hounding him and then beating Carta down (though not killing her in a murderous rage, hence the “controlled”). But the damage is done, and the flags this time didn’t lie: Biscuit is crushed by the worker, and due to blown-out ears, isn’t able to hear Orga’s cries.

Biscuit doesn’t want to die there and then, but he can’t overcome the damage done to his flesh and blood. “We will make Tekkadan…” are his final words to a devastated Orga…not “I told you this would happen.” The “we” and “Tekkadan” suggest Biscuit wanted Orga to know it he was with him and with Tekkadan until the end. That his death wasn’t Orga’s fault. Orga can’t just fall into a pit of regret and despair after all; there are a lot more people depending on him to lead their search for a future.

This episode returned to the Mars-based first ED, which was a nice move. Now I finally understand what the corn at the very end is about. It represents the quiet, peaceful life of farming with his sisters Biscuit was fighting for until the end, but could not quite reach. But for everyone else, the struggle continues.

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Durarara!!x2 Ketsu – 08 (32)

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While I acknowledge it contained some progress and a couple of Durarara!! firsts, this episode had a disappointingly incremental feel about it. Sure, virtually all Durarara!! episodes are incremental, but the better ones do a better job keeping me entertained and distracted enough to overlook the fact there is a dizzying number of players involved. It’s starting to get a little out of hand.

But let me get back to one of those firsts: Celty finally has her head back. In true Dullahan fashion, she doesn’t simply reattach it to her neck, but carry it in her arm. Her horse turns back into a horse, and she regains her original armor, but considering she has no idea who Izaya is when she sees him, it would seem her memories of Ikebukuro to date have been erased.

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If that’s true, that would be a real bummer, but in the meantime Izaya has a fight to the death with Shizuo to take care of, so Celty kinda just…slinks away from the episode. Back at Shinra’s, Kodata shows his face for the first time since the hit-and-run, and wants Erika and everyone else to stay indoors. Tom Tanaka, pissed that neither Shizuo or Varona showed up for their rounds, has some late night Russian sushi, unaware the streets outside are growing more dangerous for him by the minute.

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Nasujima, now some big-shot rogue Saika host, has turned dozens if not hundreds of citizens into Saika zombies, with which he intends to capture Tanaka and use him as a bargaining chip in his dealings with Shizuo. Shijima is with them to, though I’m not sure why.

Back at the construction site, Izaya briefly recalls what Shinra said to him about the benefits of getting along with Shizuo (he’s a tiger who will one day be an urban legend) rather than remaining adversaries (someone will get hurt or killed). Back in the present, Shizuo and Izaya are only circling each other. A big fight seems imminent, but it’s still just sputtering so far.

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Chikage decides the best way to get Masaomi and Mikado to meet is with the chat room and a little bit of theater. He interrupts Namie’s ranting to demand Mikado call Masaomi’s phone…or else. When Mikado calls, Chikage answers, and sets up a meeting to hand over his “hostage.” Mikado agrees, and sets a location very near and dear to him vis-a-vis the Dollars.

That other Durarara!! first? Mikado actually has a gun, given to him by Izumii when they met. I have no idea what he intends to do with it, but it’s clear he doesn’t have the slightest idea how to use it properly; though at the end of the day, point-and-shoot will suffice. Call it another step deeper down the dark inscrutable abyss for Mikado, albeit an incremental one.

Once guns start being shot, the results can quickly become something one can’t simply, as Tom puts it, “let slide.” When bullets fly, impasses and stalemates start to become irreversible conclusions. I’ll hope Mikado takes after the re-booted Celty, and keeps his head.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 08

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As we return to Kikuhiko’s tale, he’s just finishing up his tour with Master Yakumo, having steamed up many an audience in Kyoto with his seductively funny rakugo. Talk of making him a shin’uchi is no longer presumptuous; as even his own master was too enthralled both with his performance and the reaction of the crowd to notice the mistakes he made.

Kiku is rapidly progressing on the steam locomotive to greatness, but there are sacrifices that need to be made on the way – both those imposed upon him, and those he imposes on himself.

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Back in Tokyo, Miyokichi sits in the back of another full house as Sukeroku performs and effortlessly drawing huge laughs. But she’s not laughing; she’s there to catch a glimpse of the man she loves who’s currently giving her the cold shoulder.

Her presence didn’t go unnoticed by Sukeroku (she was the only one there who wasn’t “ancient”), and he proposes a commiseration session: she gets to vent to him about a subject he’s very well versed in – Kiku-san – in exchange for buying him a drinkypoo.

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Their ensuing conversation, a thing of beauty, offers many insights into Miyokichi’s character and the nature of her love of Kiku. She doesn’t even like rakugo; she prefers movies. Hearing his voice is the only reason she goes to the theater. She endures the stodgy, old-fashioned practice she wouldn’t otherwise give the time of day…for Kiku. She also endures his constant brush-offs, including this most recent unannounced trip of his.

Miyo can endure this because she’s strong. She had to be. Abandoned by a man when in Manchuria, she had to sell her body to survive, until Master Yakumo brought her home. But because she’s become so tough, neither the good Master nor Sukeroku are her type. She doesn’t go for nice guys, she likes cold guys, and Kiku has certainly been that to her.

Miyo doesn’t want the moon; she just wants to be able to stand beside the man she loves and support him as a woman. But she suspects, and Sukeroku can’t convince her otherwise, that Kiku intends to break up with her. When she takes her leave on that somber note, Sukeroku, ever the nice guy, can’t help but draw her into a hug.

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It’s while she’s struggling to get out of that hug that Kiku appears, suddenly back as quietly as he left. His exchange with Miyo is brief and probably the coldest yet, but there’s a reason for it; Kiku indeed intends to break up with her, and doesn’t want to be cruel by being kind beforehand.

Kiku can admit to Sukeroku that he loves Miyo, but the Master has told him he needs to find a “proper woman” to settle down with a family. Disobeying would mean expulsion from Yurakutei, and in this case, with his rakugo future so bright and his identity and place in that world so clear…Miyokichi is second fiddle to all that.

In fact, Kiku would rather simply be alone than be with anyone, a sentiment that quickly evolves into an agreement for Sukeroku to move out of his apartment. Kiku relays to Sukeroku all of the flaws their master mentioned that are making it hard to promote him, but Sukeroku is in this business because he loves rakugo, and he has bigger plans than the Yurakutei orthodoxy could ever accommodate.

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His position is legitimized by the simple fact they’re in a packed jazz hall filled with Japanese in Western clothes, listening to American music. The times they are a changin’. He acknowledges that a part of rakugo must always endure, but that’s Kiku’s duty. Sukeroku intends to be the part of rakugo that evolves by changing to suit whatever the people want, which is never fixed.

Kiku is a traditionalist; Sukeroku the innovator. But they are alike in two important ways: they both love rakugo and they both respect each other’s place in that world. At the same time, Sukeroku didn’t want to end up like his previous “master”, the one from which he took the name Sukeroku, who ended up dying penniless.

That night, Master Yakumo celebrates with Matsuda his hard-won success in getting both Kikuhiko and Sukeroku promoted to shin’uchi, he takes the Yurakutei family record from the alter to let the past generations share in the celebration, even as he laments he wasn’t quite able to achieve what his forebears did.

Unaware of his promotion, Sukeroku roams the streets, gently kicked out of Kiku’s place, backlit by the bright lights and the winds of change. Kikuhiko, also unaware, but now alone in his apartment like he wanted, pauses his practicing to inspect the old fan Sukeroku gave him. They’ve started on very different paths for the same love of rakugo. It was an amicable parting, but that doesn’t make it any less sad!

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Dagashi Kashi – 07

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This week DK does a festival episode, only in this case, Kokonotsu and You are there bright and early before any customers arrive. Koko’s confusion as to why his dad is setting up a monjayaki pancake griddle for a candy stall is quickly cleared up by Hotaru, perched high in a nearby tree (a tidy reference to the Alice in Wonderland-themed ED).

We also get to see an annual tradition that’s very familiar to Koko: the okonomiyaki seller Tamai squaring off with his dad over selling pancakes. When You subtly threatens that she’d lose all the snacks people love using as toppings for her product, she quickly backs down, and the two make up. It’s all there, from anger to tears, and there’s comfort in knowing it will probably go exactly the same way next year.

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Turns out it’s Hotaru’s first ever festival, but with only 200 yen on her person, she has to find a way to procure more cash. Fortunately, she’s practiced precision candy die cutting for fun, and when she spots a stall, she immediately picks out the shape that will net her the biggest cash payout.

Kokonotsu and Tou are skeptical: even if Hotaru manages to do a good job, the die cutting stall guys are notoriously nitpicky and cheap. But to their surprise and mine, she’s actually really good at something (for once!), and earns the full 5000 yen (nearly $44). Furthermore, she Koko notices she looks really cute when she’s concentrating.

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Speaking of cute, in the second half of the episode Saya finally makes her appearance at the festival, resplendent in a yukata she spent a long time getting into. She wants to hang out with Koko, but Koko’s working his dad’s stall, and doesn’t realize how much she wants to be alone for him, so it’s up to his dad to notice Saya’s cues and send Koko off with her.

Koko does at least compliment Saya’s yukata – though only after she compliments his clothes. How it happened doesn’t matter; Saya is over the moon by being told she looks good, making the trouble of putting on the yukata totally worth it.

With that milestone achieved, the two simply have fun visiting the stalls, chowing down and playing games. It’s as near as makes no difference a date, even if again, Koko doesn’t realize the significance of spending time with Saya and only Saya.

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When Koko spots the goldfish scooping station, Koko does happen to notice a moment of hesitation in Saya, but she bids him proceed with scooping. Saya is remembering another time when Koko obsessed over the goldfish, all too confident he knew exactly how to scoop one, but ending up spending all his money with no result. The vender took pity on lil’ Koko and gave him a consolation fish, which he promptly gave to lil’ Saya.

So it happens this time. Just as Saya is done fondly reminiscing, Koko is broke again, and has a new consolation fish for her. The first fish he gave her is the giant one still floating (in a bowl way too small for it) in her family’s cafe. Regardless of whether he remembers, Koko again demonstrates his generosity and almost reflexive tendency to make Saya smile every chance he gets, which is enough for now.

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GATE – 20

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I often groan at GATE episodes that mostly or wholly omit the core gang of Itami & Co., but that’s a bit unfair, knowing that GATE is about more than just one man or one group’s adventures, but about an entire sprawling world of multiple races, political affiliations, and ideologies.

This week may have felt more like a Sherry & Casel spin-off than the GATE I typically like, but it was nonetheless a strong and surprisingly moving episode that gave the current political troubles and Japan’s involvement (or lack of same) a smaller, human scale.

Under Tyuule’s manipulation, Prince Zolzal has passed extraordinary laws and raised a paramilitary force called “Oprichnina” to oppress all pro-peace actors in the Empire. Among those is Senator Casel, who hoped to find safety with Sherry’s family, but are soon set upon by Orpichnina “Cleaners” led by the sniveling Gimlet.

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Sherry leads Casel out of the house, and her parents proceed to burn it down, presumably dying in the process but covering the escape of both their family’s and country’s futures. Of course, Tyuule is on the scene and aware of Sherry and Casel’s movements, and uses her porcine assistant to get the two to “dance for her.” Not sure why Tyuule is micromanaging things to this extent, but I do know her evil smirking is getting old.

Sherry, despite being only twelve years old, doesn’t show her fear as she finds herself out in the world with people after her and an adult senator to protect. She haggles with a villager for food and secures a room at the inn, but the only way they’ll both be safe is if they can reach and gain asylum at the Jade Palace, a territory that is technically Japanese soil by treaty.

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They get to the boundary of the de facto embassy easily enough, but are met by Princess Pina’s knights, who relay the Japanese diplomats are unwilling to harbor political dissidents at this time, thanks to a hard line from the ministry back home that doesn’t want to look weak or further embolden Zolzal by harboring doves. Even Sugawara, whom Sherry is in love with and truly believes she’ll marry someday, won’t let his personal feelings interfere with his diplomatic duties.

The Japanese refusal to accept Casel means as soon as Gimlet arrives with his Cleaners, they arrest the senator and prepare to take Sherry into custody too. It’s hard to watch her come so far, with so much childish faith in her shining Japanese hero, only to be turned away right before the finish line, and into the jaws of those who have already destroyed her family and likely have nothing good planned for her.

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At the same time, while I despised Sugawara as much as he probably despised himself when he refused to act, I also appreciated his duty to his country. People can’t just disobey orders all the time. I thought this would all come to a heartbreaking end, with Gimlet’s grubby mitts all over an increasingly pathetic Sherry screaming for Sugawara’s help.

Turns out, Sugawara couldn’t abandon Sherry to a horrible fate. He orders her brought over to the Japanese side. This obviously led to the desirable outcome of Sherry being safe (in exchange for Sugawara promising to marry her after all when she comes of age), but GATE doesn’t pretend such an action wouldn’t have messy consequences.

There are knots and kinks in this particular fairy tale: Just as Sherry’s parents gave up their lives to get her out, Sugawara may have sacrificed his career and complicated Japan’s position to a potentially disastrous extent to save her. He did something he didn’t have the authority to do. Zolzal and Tyuule wanted nothing more than to stir the shit with Japan, and Sugawara’s heroism did just that.

The Vice Minister, who previously respected his decision as a diplomat while loathing him as a man, is forced to reverse both positions: condemn his actions as a diplomat, but laud him for being a decent man who couldn’t let the screams of a child go unheard.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 08

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Hwelp, I’m an idiot. I was pretty darn sure the end of last week was the beginning of the end of Kayo–again–but I was mercifully mistaken: it was only a very, very close call. That’s not to lessen the seething tension of the episode’s first moments when Kayo isn’t sure what’s going to happen, but a lot of that weight I talked about (not all, but a lot) was lifted. Who the shit cares if I read the scene wrong, or the show “tricked” me by deviating from its usual pattern? Kayo’s still free and breathing!

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This means Satoru gets to see Kayo again, and is able to provide her with lunch thanks to his mom, who was up even earlier than he was preparing meals. One for him, another for “lunch”, but really for Kayo, as the note in the bento box confirms. At this point, Kayo’s mom has a pretty good idea what her son is up to, and is letting him keep his secret for now, having faith he’s doing the right thing and silently supporting him.

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At school, Kayo’s consecutive absences draw the attention and conjecture of the whole class, and Satoru asks the Yashiro of this timeline to act once more. Turns out he already has contacted social services, and accompanies them to Kayo’s home.

Kayo’s mom managed to sneak out just as they arrived, meaning it’s not yet time to rest easy, but at least the proper authorities are aware of the situation and intend to get Kayo away from her mother as soon as they can.

Satoru, Kenya and Hiromi keep Kayo company that night, giving her the opportunity to present Satoru with his belated birthday present: a pair of mittens she knit for him. Considering what became of the mittens back when Satoru failed to save her, I’m not surprised Satoru can’t help but tear up with joy and relief at the sight of them.

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The previous night’s intrusion didn’t result in Kayo’s demise, but it did spell the demise of the bus as a viable hideout, especially when they discover the contents of the backpack the man left behind, which Satoru instantly recognizes as the tools of the serial murderer, including that damnable spray bottle used to accelerate hypothermia.

I don’t think he noticed future first victim in Nakanishi Aya as he walked past her that morning, but with Hiromi as the second victim, it’s abundantly clear the bus and its environs are the nexus of the tragedy he hopes to avoid. They all have to get the hell out of there. But where will he stash Kayo? Why, at his house, of course.

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Such is Satoru’s knowledge of and faith in his loving mother, he knows bringing her there is the right move, and a move she’ll gladly accept. She’s seen Kayo and knows the miserable, loveless life she’s been forced to lead until meeting her son.

Nowhere is it clearer how raw her wounds from that life still are when Kayo instinctively recoils at the sight of Satoru’s mom’s approaching arm. Were it her own mom’s arm, it would have meant a strike; instead, her head is gently patted.

After feeding everyone and sending Kenya and Hiromi home, Sachiko calls Yashiro to inform him of what he expected – Kayo is safe and sound with Satoru. When she asks if Kayo really has to go away, I thought about the possibility of Sachiko adopting her, so she could have some constancy in her life.

Sachiko then goes out of her way to make sure Kayo feels as loved as possible on this night. The hot dinner with friends, a hot bath, having her hair washed, being given new, fresh pajamas, drying her hair properly, and sharing a warm futon with Satoru and his mom (lying strategically between the two) – everything is a new and wonderful experience for Kayo.

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That morning, Sachiko cooks her a hot multi-course breakfast, so far removed from the lazy, thoughtless breakfasts of cup ramen, bread, or spare change her “mom” provided, and Kayo can’t hold it in anymore.

She starts bawling at this attention and care and love she’s never gotten before. The 11-year-old Satoru might’ve taken this kind of treatment from his mom for granted, but the 29-year-old knows better, and understands Kayo’s tears as well as his own good fortune.

Later, Kayo knocks on her own apartment door, and her furious mother, who was in the process of trashing Kayo’s room, answers, winds up for a vicious slap, but stops in her tracks when she notices Kayo isn’t alone. Kayo and Sachiko flank her like bodyguards. Hopefully Kayo will never have to be alone with her pathetic coward of a mother ever again.

This was a generous episode not just because it didn’t kill Kayo in the beginning, but because it ends not on a note of uncertainty or imminent disaster, but on a note of potential triumph. Certainly, a lot of setbacks can occur in the four remaining episodes, but for now those possible troubles feel far away.

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KonoSuba – 07

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This week starts off cryptically, with Kazuma back in his green tracksuit in the place where he first met Aqua after dying in Japan. The basic takeaway is that Kazuma died again, meaning at some point we’ll find out how.

Meanwhile, it’s now winter, which means sleeping in the stables is a one-way ticket to frozen eyelashes, and because of the reward for defeating Verdia being spread out amongst the adventurers, there’s a glut of quests, just none of them the right fit for Kazuma’s party.

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He eventually settles on adorable snow-sprite hunting, but after killing nine, they incur the wrath of the sprites’ guardian, the “Winter Shogun” (a creation of another dead guy formerly of Japan, to Kazuma’s chagrin). When the shogun slices Darkness’ sword like it was butter, Aqua insists everyone disarm and prostrate themselves so he’ll forgive them. But Kazuma doesn’t quite drop his sword soon enough, and is killed.

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Back in that limbo-like void, he meets a new goddess, Eris (whom I believe is voiced by Kitamura Eri) who proves a lot nicer and less arrogant and mocking thatn Aqua was. When Kazuma lists all of the misfortunes he’s endured since ending up in the fantasy world, she maintains a caring attitude, to his surprise and mine; I thought she’d show her true colors after some extended time with her, but she seems to be a legitimatly nice goddess.

She informs Kazuma that since he died in the fantasy world, she can now send him back to Japan, this time as a member of an affluent family. She can’t change himin any particular way, but it still sounds like a sweet deal for him, he’s going home!

Only, when he actually stops and thinks about Aqua and Megumin and Darkness, he starts shedding tears, and realizes he was a lot fonder of that life than he thought when he was living it. Only now, when he’s being offered a chance to abandon that life, does he realize he didn’t actually hate it.

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Then, just as Eris is about to send Kazuma back to Japan, Aqua’s voice blasts through the limbo from above, informing Kazuma she’s restored his body and he can come back to their world now. Eris considers this a breach of protocol and the “laws of heaven” which dictate Kazuma is to be sent back to Japan, but the “elite” Aqua pulls rank on the “backwater newbie” Eris, even revealing her dirty little secret (breast pads) and compelling Eris to make Kazuma an exception.

However, Eris remains kind to Kazuma till the end, when Kazuma wakes up on his back in the wintry landscape with his worried-sick party-mates looming over him. For a moment, he seems happy.

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Then they all glom on him and he gets embarrassed, and Aqua demands an apology and gratitude and nearly comes to blows with Kazuma, and they have to retreat without any reward. Turns out Aqua kept one sprite, intending to use it as a refrigerant for when it gets warmer, and resisting Kazuma’s intentions to kill it for the cash (named after Aqua’s counterpart, by the way).

Aqua, Megumin and Darkness then spend an inordinate amount of money on a huge feast, even though the party scarcely has enough cash on hand to last the winter. Basically, within ten minutes of being back in this “wonderful world” after lamenting never being able to go on adventures with these girls ever again, Kazuma is back to hating everything and everyone.

The only thing he learned from his existential ordeal is that there’s a nicer, kinder, more competent goddess out there somewhere, but he’s stuck with his pack of weirdos. And he’s totally fine with her pads.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 19

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I’d been waiting all Winter for an episode of Shirayuki to break out of its streak of polished and quietly competent 8s into 9 territory, and this action-packed conclusion to Shirayuki’s latest predicament did the trick nicely. Even better, it was a team affair, with everyone contributing to securing our heroine’s release.

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Raj is able to appeal directly to the masses and muster a merchant fleet to chase Umihebi, and then able to lead his flagship by the seat of his pants (with no seamanship, just will and pure dumb luck) in order to get past the “Blue Vortex” the pirates hoped to lose them in. Meanwhile, Umihebi marks her captive with her kusarigama, but Shirayuki’s gaze remains defiant.

Umihebi pays pretty quickly for cutting Shirayuki’s face by only being able to gloat about having gotten away for a grand total of, oh, about ten seconds, before Raj’s ship enters their “secret” cave and rams her ship, destroying it.

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Then Kiki takes advantage of the chaos and springs into action. Umihebi snags Shiayuki with her handy weapon once more, but it’s already the beginning of the end of the pirates having their way. First Mitsuhide jumps out of the shadows to aid Kiki, then Prince Zen himself, whose face is a sight for Shirayuki’s sore eyes.

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Shirayuki gets an opening in Umihebi’s hostage hold thanks to Obi, biting the pirate’s hand and then getting separated. As she and Kazuki are whisked away by Zen, the Lions of the Mountain surround the Claw of the Sea and start picking them off.

Kazuki soon joins his fellow Lions in the melee, giving Zen an unexpectedly early moment alone with his love, the first such moment in about five episodes. He doesn’t waste it, drawing Shirayuki in close as their mutual relief and happiness washes over them.

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After that, Zen rejoins the battle with the pirates until Umihebi is surrounded with just a handful of men on her side, and has no choice but to surrender. I wonder if this is the last we see of Umihebi (classically, pirates are hanged), who looked like a worthy adversary for a time but was ultimately not that huge a threat, at least against the unswerving dedication of Raj and Zen to get their girl back.

All’s well that ends well, but there’s one last twist this episode tosses our way. When Shirayuki gets her first good look at the leader of the Lions of the Mountain, she exclaims “Dad?” His hair is kinda reddish now, isn’t it? I personally like this and I’m interested to see how it shakes out: is he really her dad; if and how they’ll bond; what insights on her past he can provide.

There’s also the little matter of Zen telling his bro he intends to marry Shirayuki. After all, Zen didn’t drag his crown in the mud to rescue her, so Izana’s unlikely to ban her from the castle.

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Dimension W – 07

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Dimension W’s best episode to date succeeds because it finally lets us into Kyouma’s past, both the heady highs and the devastating lows. Kyouma’s unplanned first meeting with Azumaya Miyabi, the girl who would become his soul mate, girlfriend, and fiancee, is a chance possibility that fits neatly in the show’s description of Dimension W as not only a place of infinite electrical energy, but infinite possibility.

Miyabi may be tiny and soft-spoken amateur photog, but she’s not scared of the semi-delinquent, samurai-looking Kyouma. Why would she be? He saved her! She also prefers her old-fashioned Pentax camera to anything with a coil, something that Kyouma either shares or will come to develop as he grows closer to her.

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The heady highs come first, and it’s just nice to see a young Kyouma who is happy and has whole life to look forward to. He gets into brawls to protect those weaker than him, and ends up in trouble a lot, but there’s the feeling he’ll be alright as long as he has Miyabi by his side to smooth his rough edges (and her sister Tsubaki to bail him out of jail!)

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Then come the devastating lows, as one little trip-and-fall by Miyabi reveals she has an incurable condition that will wear her muscles away to nothing, similar to ALS. Not willing to let such a fate be her reality, Kyouma desperately reaches out and claws at any possibility of saving her, including a full-body cybernetic replacement. Clearly, at this point, with Miyabi’s future on the line, he’s not above embracing the power of coils.

His efforts lead him into the restraining hold of Colin Keys, bodyguard to NTE Yurizaki Seira, Shidou’s wife. Together they’re gathering test subjects to achieve precisely what Miyabi needs: a new body through technology. The catch is, Kyouma has to agree to join Keys’ Beasts of Grendel. Before heading off to battle (presumably fighting a rogue NTE faction), he puts a ring on the bedridden Miyabi, promising to marry her when he returns.

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The battle is a victory, but only Kyouma and Al survive. When Kyouma awakens (he doesn’t remember most of the battle), Miyabi is already gone. Worse, due to a coil malfunction during experimentation, her head is gone, meaning Kyouma doesn’t even have the comfort of looking upon his love’s face before saying goodbye.

Don’t get me wrong: at its heart this is a pretty familiar story: a man twisted and haunted by his lost love rejects everything that he believes led to her destruction, which Mira embodies. But I can’t deny the intense emotions I felt when Miyabi slipped away, or the pain the Kyouma has felt ever since. He couldn’t save her or be there when she died either.

Also, I’m pretty sure Miyabi was voiced by Ueda Reina, the same seiyu that voices Mira (EDIT: According to MAL she’s voiced by Ohara Sayaka, same as her older sister). I’m grasping at straws in Dimension W here, but I’m thinking a part of Miyabi’s mind made it into Mira’s sophisticated cyberbrain, perhaps combined with that of the Yurizakis’ daughter.

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And that’s another reason why Kyouma is loath to get too close to Mira, or even treat her like he would a human being he doesn’t loathe: Maybe Kyouma sees and hears Miyabi in Mira’s voice and mannerisms, and Mira is guilty of nothing other than not being Miyabi. Sure, she may be the next best thing, but that may as well be the difference between infinity and zero, which is…infinite.

Nevertheless, Kyouma is taking Mira with him to Easter Island. He’s just not taking his old Toyota. Instead, he’s taking his gorgeous, newly fixed up Lexus LFA. The show doesn’t immediately explain why the change of cars – and why a car at all – until later, but for now it’s nice to see Kyouma’s taste in cars extends past the seventies.

Meanwhile, Prince Salva makes his case to the other 59 NTE central heads, and explains he’s using self-involved collectors instead of NTE staff to explore the island in order to avoid any possibility of appearances of internal NTE treachery, of the kind that led to the initial battle Kyouma participated in, as well as Yurizaki Seira’s assassination.

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Obviously, recruiting collectors from all around the globe meant we’d be bombarded with new characters, much like the haunted mansion mini-arc, but it bothered me less here since this is a competition to see who can get to the one functioning coil still on Easter Island, so you need competitors. They’re all colorful characters to boot, and Liz and Loser are there too.

Fortunately for Kyouma and Mira, bringing his LFA means having to take a separate flight, relying on Al to fly them to the ruined island. The other collectors travel with the prince aboard an NTE airship that is quickly downed by the strange and unpredictable probabilistic phenomena that rule Easter Island, as well as the sea and sky around it.

Kyouma does eventually explain he needs the car to race around the contour of the island in order to reach the coil first. And combined with the other collectors’ rough start and uncertain state, the episode ends with Kyouma and Mira in a good early position to be the ones to claim the 50 million dollar reward.

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