End-of-Month Rundown – March 2016

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These seasons seem to come and go faster and faster. Before we knew it, there were only two episodes left of our Winter 2016. We whittled our watchlist down to just ten (an ambitious feat for the upcoming Spring that probably won’t be achieved), not counting Zane’s bitty 4-short She and Her Cat reboot.

Overall, it was a very good season. The presence of four shows in the 8.5-9 range are proof of that, but even the lesser shows had their charms. Let’s break it down into bullets:

  • ERASED wavered a little near its end, and did not stay long in MAL’s Top 5, but that’s not to say it’s not an all-time great, and easily belongs in the Top 15-25, with strong climax and finale
  • Few anime have so artfully and sensually chronicled a life’s worth of artistic and interpersonal struggles of a single talented yet flawed individual like Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. Every week it’s transported us to a staggeringly vivid and realistic world full of rousing performances and complex emotions
  • Gundam gave us two things: an excellent, action and character-packed ending, and the promise of more to come, which is fine with us, as there’s a lot more stories to tell
  • Grimgar was achingly beautiful, joyful, tragic, and redemptive fantasy fare. It featured above-average RPG combat and way-above-average character work and drama, all at an deliciously unique, leisurely pace
  • KonoSuba was the anti-Grimgar, but just as successful due to the thoroughness with which it lampooned the genre. It wasn’t as polished or cohesive as, say, Amaburi, but it delivered more than its fair share of hearty laughs and ridiculous situations
  • Shirayuki-hime was often the Winter’s feel-good show, unless of course the titular character was being held hostage. Tthis Bones show soared as an earnest, richly-rendered romance/adventure tale, just as good at high-seas swashbuckling than it was quiet scenes between to young people in love
  • Things got a little hectic and hairy near the end of Durarara!!x2, but it delivered a decent, moderately satisfying finale that turned the page for many of the show’s major players. A Durarara!!x3 hasn’t been confirmed, but nor has it been ruled out
  • GATE wasn’t the most subtle show, and often got bogged down in teriary plotlines and dull political wrangling. But there’s not arguing that it also could deliver one hell of a fist-pumpin’ action set-piece when it wanted to, be it the fire dragon showdown, the paratroopers, or the final rescue op
  • Dimension W turned into an inter-dimensional mess, fast. It was one of two shows we could have done without altogether this Winter, and Zane regrets not dropping it in the midst of that bizarre haunted mansion arc
  • Dagashi Kashi has its sweet moments, but is ultimately a take-or-leave proposition. If Zane hadn’t picked it up, he probably wouldn’t have missed it
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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 24 (Fin)

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Finally…a show that actually uses the word “fin” to end its run! Long story short: there’s no time jump and no marriage between Zen and Shirayuki. Instead, the road is paved and made smooth for such an eventuality down the road.

But that’s okay; a finite storybook ending would have run counter to the show’s M.O. to date: not leading us to the Happily Ever After, but the Happy Now, the part between Shirayuki and Zen first meeting and their marriage, a space that has contained multitudes of stories big and small.

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When messengers from Tanbarun (Sakaki and Mihaya) arrive to present Shirayuki to bestow the tile of “Friend of the Crown” on behalf of Prince Raj, Izana can’t help but laugh at the strangeness, but I get the feeling with him it’s always better to be surprised and amused than bored or disappointed.

The fact another prince would go to such lengths to legitimize his friendship to Shirayuki provides more evidence to Izana that Shirayuki isn’t the “nobody” he worried would sully Zen’s name and station. The thing is, Shirayuki, like her new title, doesn’t fit in with everything that’s come before. Izana isn’t threatened by that potential for disruption; he’s intrigued.

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After reading Raj’s cordial letter and being unable to sleep, Shirayuki walks the stately yet serene grounds of the castle (impressive architecture has always been one of this show’s many strong suits) and bumps into Obi, who’s known her long enough to know what she wants.

He fetches Zen for her, and the two share one of their steamier scenes together, as their kissing makes Shirayuki literally weak at the knees and unable to stand. That’s of no consequence, however, as Zen is happy to carry her to the highest, most private vantage point in the castle.

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There, nobody officially proposes, but as I said, the bricks of the road to that outcome are fully laid and mortared for smooth travel. Shirayuki expresses her desire to remain by Zen’s side (indeed, asks if it’s really okay to do so), and Zen replies most emphatically in the affirmative.

Again, it’s not quite a proposal, or even an engagement, but these two aren’t quite doing things the usual way things are done in their world…and aren’t in a hurry to let conventions oppress them at this point. For now, they’ll keep on keeping on: Zen with his princely duties, Shirayuki with her court herbalism.

On this path of her choosing Shirayuki will continue to walk, with Zen and all her other friends by her side supporting her and being supported by her. When the times comes to do something official about the love she and Zen have for one another, they’ll surely know.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 12 (Fin)

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I’d gone on record stating that Grimgar could have ended at eight episodes and I would have been perfectly content, and whatever Grimgar did in its final four weeks, it wasn’t going to mar from that first eight. I likened it to having four “bonus” episodes.

How gratifying, then, that the Cyrene Mine arc, while necessarily more rushed than the Goblin arc, turned out to be pretty damn good anyway, both by expanding on what the first eight had established and showing us a few new sides of our six party members.

When we left off last week, Haru made the sensible decision not to squander Ranta’s staying behind by attempting to rescue them in their current state. Ranta, for his part, doesn’t expect anyone to come, and ends up making some surprising allies in the livestock he mocked before.

He also summons a demon, Zodiark, who isn’t so much an ally as something annoying enough to ground him in the task at hand; the demon is constantly telling him to die-die-die, and Ranta isn’t about to accommodate it.

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Meanwhile, there’s well, not dissension in the ranks, as Haru wants to go back to save Ranta, merely an argument for why to go back, from the person he least expected: Yume. Mind you, we’ve known for some time Yume and Ranta have been a bit of an item—more “charm-irritate” than “love-hate”, but to see Yume break down when she thinks about how scared she’d be in Ranta’s position, it’s more than enough to convince everyone to make a U-turn.

This isn’t bad leadership by Haru, who is determined to keep everyone alive; it’s merely good fellowship by everyone. They don’t think it’s suicide to try to save him.

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Of course, while Ranta does pretty well for himself all alone, it is good his comrades return to him, because he can’t stay a step ahead of the kobolds forever. I like how not two minutes after lamenting how he never groped Yume’s boobs (guys still a piece of work!) that girl, who’d surely come to miss being called a flat-chest by him, is the one who puts an arrow in Death Spots’ eye for Ranta’s sake.

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It’s also nice to be shown yet again how strong a unit everyone has become, with Mary doing some offensive work, Moguzo being his usual steamroller, and Shihoru laying epic waste with her magic, even twirling her staff and flashing a dark look. Haru’s also as quick and precise as ever, killing two kobolds with a minimum of wasted movement.

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Once Ranta is safe and the party is away, they take a breather for Mary to heal Ranta, who in his elation at being saved and reunited, lets slip that he wanted to see everyone again.

He partially mentions feeling something in his chest, which Yume picks up and runs with, leaving Ranta no choice but to unleash a few more “flat-chest” remarks, spurring a bickering fest between the two until Mary (to whom Ranta’s always been submissive) lays down the law.

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Both Mary and Shihoru are low on magic (I’m glad MP isn’t unlimited in this show), but Death Spots doesn’t care what condition they’re in, he’s going to keep coming.

Haru knows this, and even if they run, he could catch them, so he makes an executive decision to take the big guy on himself, giving the others time to escape, putting Ranta in charge.

When he successfully spiders the kobold king off a cliff, a panicked Mary starts to climb down in a rush to help him, but Ranta stops her (though Mary reallydoesn’t want to be stopped), then warning Haru he’d better not die.

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What follows is an encapsulation of the show and the overall struggle of Haru and the others. Grimgar, like his duel with Spots, is a battle of life and death.

As long as he’s still alive, victory is in sight, so he won’t give up on trying to stay alive until he’s dead. I know, that all seems kind of obvious, but whatever!

Time slows to a crawl for Haru, who follows a stream of light with his dagger until it finds Spots’ weak spot: his other eye.

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After beating Spots, Haru blacks out and collapses, but he does not die with him. Instead, he wakes up to an upbeat Mary humming to herself, then leaning in close when welcoming him back.

Everyone else is in good spirits, with Moguzo making lunch, Ranta counting the cash they made for beating the giant kobold, and planning to take his sword to a blacksmith to forge it into something more useful than a trophy.

Later, Mary puts Haru’s repaired dog tags back on him, and the weight of them make him feel like at home, which is where he now knows he is. “About time,” says Mary.

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While celebrating at the tavern, Renji approaches Haru once more—to apologize. Instead, Haru, who is grateful for Renji giving him the nudge he needed, thanks him. He and Renji exchange looks of mutual respect before Ranta orders a round for the house.

Afterwards Haru visits Manato’s grave (another hauntingly beautiful, quiet scene, to ask him if being a leader was hard. Manato throws the question back at Haru, then tells him he’s grown.

He’s not the Haruhiro from the beginning of the show…but then again no one is who they were at the beginning. For one thing, they’re to a person, far more badass now. They’re also a family now.

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Notably absent is any kind of explanation for how any of the party members arrived in Grimgar, nor any exploration of the lives they led or the shadows of memories from that other world they still carry. And let me be clear: I was totally okay with this. 

I felt there was a possibility those things would be addressed in the finale, even if it wasn’t very likely, but I’m glad they weren’t (seeing the world almost “pause” when Haru faced Spots was a close call though).  Frankly, I like the mystery; not all questions need to be answered. Not for us, and not for Haru and his comrades, either.

As the days go on and he keeps living and surviving and creating new memories with his friends, his family, he feels more and more comfortable in the world and life he’s in, and less and less concerned with the one he’s originally from.

Whatever he forgot, from that life isn’t as important as the fact he’s in this life now, with these people, in this world, and he doesn’t want to forget any of it.

A lovely ending to a visually and emotionally beautiful show with a deft touch. It marched to its own beat and demonstrated that there were still many promising veins to explore in the “Lost in a Fantasy RPG” mine.

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Dimension W – 12 (Fin)

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I’ll be honest: I came into the DW finale with a “Let’s just get this over with” attitude. While initially promising, the Easter Island arc to close the show ended up repeating and amplifying the issues I had with the Haunted Mansion arc. In hindsight, I should have dropped the show then.

Over-stuffed with characters, plot points, explanations and contrivances, all surrounding an item—Genesis—that has no limits or boundaries to what it can do, Dimension W was just the latest demonstration that more is usually not more. More is meh. Cavalierly throw too much crap and I stop caring—and I stopped caring long ago.

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But I got this far, so yeah, let’s get this over with. The big crucial memory Kyouma needed Mira to go into his head and “trace his memories” (what does that even mean?) is that when he had a chance to save Miyabi with Genesis, he didn’t. Instead, he destroyed it, and she died, perhaps to save the world from a cataclyism that would have resulted from its use. It’s the classic “too powerful for anyone’s hands” concept.

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Haruka Seameyer, the most horrendously irritating villain I’ve come across in a good long while, wants that Genesis coil bad, but along the way offers Loser a chance to come over to his side (what side that is, why, or why in God’s name Loser would agree to that are all beside the point). When Loser refuses, Seameyer attacks him with his weird and pointless “Sophia Corpse-Bot”, which can morph into Sophia’s original human form.

Seameyer then turns his attention on Mira, who after the tracing is trying to get as far away from Kyouma since her coil is going critical. He considers using her to make improvements to his body, but Kyouma shows up to rescue her and ruin Seameyer’s day (which I’m all for) by telling him Genesis is gone.

With the help of Loo, the siblings, etc., they unearth a “particle accelerator” coil to tie up Seameyer’s monster, because all these characters need something to do.

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Seameyer fumes and screams a lot, but Kyouma tells him to chill; nothing that happened is pointless; after all, because Miyabi died he has Mira as a friend and partner.

He tells Seameyer to go willingly into the “sea of possibility”, because even his future may not be as bad as he imagines. Of course, it sure looks like Seameyer is being swallowed up into oblivion, so I’m not sure what Kyouma’s on about…but I get his point about Mira…and I’m glad he gets it.

With the expulsion of Seameyer and closing of the gate, the island returns to a state of stability, and flowers start to bloom. Everyone returns to their lives, which for Kyouma is continuing his collector work with Mira as his official full-time partner.

As per usual, the nice Kyouma/Mira stuff saved the episode. If nothing else, I enjoyed the evolution of their relationship and where it ended up. But this arc was hampered by some serious restraint and focus problems.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 25 (Fin*)

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This episode marks the end of my Winter 2016, and it was a good one. In fact, it was a great one. The order of the final battles were all set, with no more surprises in store; all that was left was for everyone to have at it and see who comes out of the fray getting what they want.

Kudelia wants peace and equality for Mars; Orga wants to find, through the crucible of war, the place where Mika and Tekkadan belong. Henri and Iznario want to maintain their grip on power; McGillis wants to purge Gjallarhorn of the corruption and hypocrisy that brought about the crazed FrankenstEin monster.

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The actual battle between Mika and Ein is brutal and smashy, as has come to be the typical mobile suit battle style (even Ein doesn’t have any beam weapons or missiles, which is for the best). As for the personalities, Ein remains, well, crazy, while Mika keeps a casual calm, muttering fuel levels and tactics and generally ignoring Ein’s ranting.

Slightly more civilized in execution is the duel between McGillis and Gaelio, with the former landing swift and deadly strikes on the latter once Gaelio states he won’t let even a lifelong friend in McGillis get away with exploiting Ein the way he did.

While these final two mobile suit duels are going on, Makanai finally arrives at parliament. Was there any doubt once he got there that he wasn’t going to have any difficulty getting his way?

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When Orga receives the good news, he starts to be able to see the end he’ll make…but they’re not there quite yet, so he orders everyone to not die, warning them he’ll kill them again if they do.

As Henri and Iznario sweat, McGillis really gets into Ice Cold Mode, telling Gaelio such “soft-hearted emotions” as friendship, love, and trust Carta (who it’s confirmed has died) and Gaelio gave him won’t reach him, as he has “lived in anger.”

It’s an anger his two childhood friends were too busy trusting, loving, and even partially pitying him for not having been born to power as they were. McGillis took full advantage of their blind spots in using them to expose Gjallarhorn.

When he marries Almiria, he’ll become head of the Bauduin family, the Seven Stars, and the new, unblemished order. He admits to Gaelio that he was the only true friend he ever had, but sacrificing him was necessary for the good of the world.

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Ein’s constant ranting about making Mika repent for his sins really starts to grate, and it doesn’t help that Ein isn’t going down while Mika is running out of gas and ammo.

Back in Parliament, Makanai cedes his speaking time to Kudelia, knowing she’s more likely to deliver a speech that will rouse more members to their cause. She states her purpose for coming and the constant disruptions by Gjallarhorn, and asks the body to choose a future filled with hope.

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Mika, finally on his last nerve, hears Orga’s voice of support and finds his second (third?) wind, finally understanding how to use Barbatos, and proceeding to cut away at Ein’s mobile suit.

Ein calls him a monster, to which Mika dryly responds “Look who’s talking,” finally simply telling Ein to shut up by running his suit through the core. Mika’s never needed many words to get his point across, and achieves yet another badass victory by sticking to that M.O.

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Makanai wins re-election, cease-fire flares are fired, and the battle ends with Tekkadan the victor. Half-metal negotiations are opened, while Mika asks Orga at sunset if they’ve arrived at that place he’s always talking about. Orga affirms that they have, at least one of them, and Mika simply says “It’s pretty.”

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McGillis proceeds to send his father away to exile, then comforts his betrothed; he got everything he wanted out of this, but he still has much to do, and while he’s sitting pretty near the top of the food chain, he’s still not invulnerable.

To Merribit’s relief, after the battle the seeming death-and-revenge-obsessed kids…turn back into more-or-less regular kids/brats. They’re not doomed after all, but a lot tougher than she thought.

Laffter, Azee, and Shino are all fine. Orga meets with Naze and laments the men he lost, but Naze tells him that’s part of being a leader, and he can’t let it get to him. For his men to believe in him and his cause, he must believe in it too, no matter the cost.

Kudelia will be staying behind in Arbrau, but Atra still has the two of them console Mika, who’s lost the use of a hand and a partially ruined eye. And finally, after Orga congratulates Tekkadan for completing their first mission—escorting Kudelia to Earth—he turns around and asks Mika what they should do now, a nice mirror of the usual dynamic. Mika’s response: Let’s go home.

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*If it seems like this “final” episode left a lot of things on the table—no return to Mars, McGillis’ plan just getting off the ground; more observing and maneuvering by the parent companies—well, that’s because a new season has been announced, airing Fall 2016. We haven’t seen the last of the Iron-Blooded Orphans, and I’m not complaining.

Durarara!!x2 Ketsu – 12 (36) (Fin)

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The final episode of Durarara!!x2 opens with almost total chaos: Shizuo and Izaya continuing to go at it, the Saika zombies storming Russia Sushi, and Mikado shooting himself in the head with his microgun.

Gradually, order is restored by various means, such as Varona stopping the duel in order to prevent Shizuo from becoming a “beast” like her. Izaya, for his part, eggs her on to kill him, lest she prove to him by not doing so that she’s just an ordinary human being.

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Simon then stops Varona from killing by tossing a flash-bang into the standoff. Then, all the Saika zombies and the bullets in Mikado and Masaomi are neutralized by Celty, now with her memories as a headless rider overriding her memories as a person and Shinra’s girlfriend.

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Shinra knows Celty is lying about not knowing anything about Ikebukuro, or them, but the head won’t budge on her decision to leave town after cleaning up all the chaos she believed she caused by being a disruptive supernatural entity in an ordinary human city.

When she finally gags Shinra and rides Shooter into the night sky, Shinra cashes in on a high school promise and has Shizuo launch him into the sky, so he can be the “villain.”

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And, well, I guess he is the villain—in that the spooky, powerful, supernatural dullahan should be allowed to leave down—only he doesn’t want that. So he uses the Saika ability he gained to separate Celty from her head once more.

The moment he does this, she starts to panic about the possibility of him dying, even when he’s softly and safely landed in a web of her shadows. I like how she held onto her smartphone, as if subconsciously preparing for the eventuality Shinra would foil her plan to slink away.

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And Shinra, we know, isn’t the only one who counts Celty as a valued friend and ally. She saves Mikado and Masaomi, so that Mikado can take a knife from Nasujima in Anri’s place—an action he makes reflexively but also perhaps as amends the way Celty tried to do.

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After Mikado is stabbed—more than once—the show starts wrapping up loose ends, from Kasane denying Ruri’s own attempts to atone for her crimes, to Varona heading back to Mother Russia, promising to duel Shizuo if she ever returns. Shinra and Celty are happily back together. Then Anri, in a rage, turns Saika on Nasujima for hurting Mikado.

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Niekawa stops her blow with her knives, surprising Nasujima, who thought he was controlling her all along (since she always called him “mother”, no doubt) but was mistaken.

While trying to escape Niekawa’s clutches Nasujima ends up crossing paths with the Kodata and the van posse, but before we know whether they run him over, he wakes up in restraints on a table, as Niekawa wheels tools of torture up to him.

As for Mikado, he wakes up. Just before he does, Anri admits to Akabayashi that she likes him, and those feelings are her own. She seems to have accepted that she’s a human; after that night it was a lot less rare to have Saika inside you, after all. Mikado, for his part, isn’t as concerned with whether his life to follow will be ordinary or extraordinary. What matters is that it’s reality.

The twins in the chat room don’t rule out more Durarara!! in the future, but while I enjoyed this latest arc, hopefully it doesn’t come too soon, for I’m little Drrrr‘d out.

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GOD EATER – 13 (Fin)

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Like GATE, GOD EATER finally concludes on a satisfying, action-packed note, with only a few loose ends left outstanding and all of the big stuff put together. One day, by Pita or some other incident, Lindow was going to die, and the unit was going to lose their captain. Which meant someone had to replace him, and that person is Lenka. This is the episode where he fully grasps what it means to lead, not that he has not choice but to do so.

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Soma, Alisa, and particularly Sakuya flail around in outrage, but Lenka remains calm, centers everyone, reminds them of Lindow’s orders, and carry them out. Soma goes underwater to destroy the Aragami lure, leaving only Pita to contend with.

Of course, Pita is a pretty freakin’ tall order, but with the five remaining members of the unit all working together, maybe they can harass him into enough of a state of confusion to land a fatal blow on him.

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As with everything on GOD EATER, this is extremely hard and brutal. Everyone gets tossed around and loses, if we’re honest, unacceptable amounts of blood for people still conscious. But these aren’t ordinary people, they’re God Eaters, and Lenka, their leader, presses the attack once all his friends have been disabled.

When they can no longer move from their injuries, he keeps fighting, surviving, protecting them. He takes the hope both his family and Lindow (also his family, at this point) entrusted him to radiate for the benefit of others, and the impossible is made possible: on perhaps the last layer of his onion-like god arc, Lenka goes into overdrive, slices Pita up, and shatters his core.

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After that, it’s confirmed that Fenrir’s ultimate objective—completing Aegis—is only a cover for the real—and far less ambitious—Project Ark, which is little more than an Earth Escape Rocket, able to fit at most one thousand souls.

My belief in this is that the cream of Fenrir will be among those with tickets on that rocket, which will shoot into space and whose occupants will wait out the apocalypse, returning when everything has been reset. But without the hope Aegis provides, the ark rocket isn’t possible.

Johannes had Lindow taken out because Lindow was trying to hold on to what humanity had left on Earth, while he had given up on the world that is and made plans for a new one, judging the Aragami nothing but monsters that will consume one another after consuming every last human, if allowed to.

Dr. Sakaki has the opposite theory; that this is just a rough stage in the evolution of Aragami. Eventually, they’ll gain intellect (which we clearly see in Pita, though he’s pretty damn evil and inhuman) and, with communication, coexistence with humans might be possible.

It’s a dream Johannes doesn’t believe humanity has time to wait to come to fruition, and he may be right, but I also know that a thousand humans don’t make for the most diverse gene pool. Human extinction may be inevitable.

But enough dark talk: while Johannes and Sakaki debate whether Man will become God or God will become Man, all Lenka, Alisa, and the other God Eaters are concerned about is keeping hope alive and protecting each other and what they have, here and now.

Lenka is now the new captain, and his orders are the same as his predecessor (who may still be out there somewhere): Don’t die. If your life is threatened, run and hide. And, one day, destroy it.

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She and Her Cat: Everything Flows – 04 (Fin)

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You’re lonely? Get a cat. They live thirteen years, then you get another one. Then another one after that. Then you’re done. —Katherine Olson, Mad Men

The devoutly-Catholic Kathy may only be telling her daughter this in response to learning she and her boyfriend have moved in together with no promise of marriage, but there’s a grim practicality to her advice, and it’s also oddly prescient of the events that close Everything Flows.

To whit: “She”, whom we learn is called Miyu, is lonely after her friend moves out and gets married. Miyu is so lonely and uncommunicative, in fact, her mother fears the worst when she gets a hang-up phone call from her daughter, and races over, which turns out to be a false alarm.

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It would seem a concerned Daru inadvertently dialed Mom’s number, but the effect of the happenstance is profound: Miyu’s mother is relieved. Miyu sees her mother for the first time in a while. They share a laugh. Daru is relieved too: Miyu is going to be alright. He was hanging onto life until he could confirm that. When he has, he passes away, quietly, in her arms.

Then, a psychic explosion destroys Tokyo and initiates World War III. Just kidding! But that’s kinda what it looked like. That would have been quite the genre shift!

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Naturally, there’s a mourning period for Miyu, whose eye-bags and fetal position recalls another famous, devastating film (only without the drugs). She even feels Daru rub up against her back, the way he did countless times in his life. It’s only a phantom rub, but it doesn’t plunge Miyu into further despair. Instead, she sits up, smiles, and moves forward.

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Not wanting to worry Daru any further, she cleans up her place, finds a job, and faces the world with a smile once more. Then Daru apparently reincarnates as a white abandoned cat, which Miyu finds under a bridge and takes in.

But unlike Peggy Olson in her mom’s scenario of a life with three cats to ward off lonliness, Miyu will either need more than three—to combat the formidable longevity of the Japanese—or find a human. Either way, she’ll be fine. The world still moves, and we still travel upon it.

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Dagashi Kashi – 11

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Any DK segment with a healthy dose of Endou Saya is fine by me, and we get that in this week’s first segment, as Hotaru has her and Coco hide under a box so they can observe firsthand why Coco’s dad is so amazing.

Of course, due the the close quarters (and their adolescence), initially all Coco and Saya can think about is the face they’re so close together in a dark, confined space. Naturally Hotaru thinks nothing of this.

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Somehow, Hotaru’s plan kinda works: You doesn’t notice that big box with peeping holes, but Coco comes to think a little higher of his old man after he sees how expertly he deals with a customer. Specifically, a young boy comes in with a girl he likes, but doesn’t have enough money to buy two pieces of Cola Gum.

Why doesn’t the boy just buy gum for her, then? I don’t know, but the girl seems ready to wash her hands of him right there when You suggests he unwrap the gum to see if he won another piece. He doesn’t, but he grabs the little insert and sayshe won, letting him take a second piece. The boy thinks he won, the girl is impressed; everyone’s happy.

This exchange reminds Saya of a time when she and Coco were that age, and she kept winning gum from unwrapping winning wrappers. She surmises that You was letting her win so she’d have more fun, but Coco knows better: Saya has scary good luck when it comes to candy; as good as Hotaru’s is bad. If only Saya had as good luck with Coco!

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The next segment starts leisurely with Coco and Hotaru waiting for the next train after just missing the previous one. Hotaru, in her typical blithely oblivious way suggests passing the time by “sucking on something.” Whoa there, Coco: she’s just talking about suckable kombu (seaweed).

While not technically a candy, neither are a lot of the snacks at Coco’s store. But Miyako Kombu was developed to be sold in a place with lots of people coming in and out all the time; i.e. a train station. After the history lesson, Hotaru’s mouth is parched due to all the talking she’s done, so breaks out a refreshing Ramune.

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After offering Coco some (and inadvertently, an indirect kiss as well), he mentions that “Ramune” is a Japanese bastardization of “Lemonade” brought to Japan by Commodore Perry back in the 1850s.

Underwhelmed by the roteness of his story, Hotaru takes the history lesson to the next level, in a hilarious reenactment in which Perry talks in the manner of a contemporary hoodlum, and in which she credits his ramune with convincing the Japanese to open their borders to international trade, despite having plenty of their own problems.

This was a ludicrously funny little bit, punctuated by the disturbing sight of Hotaru’s face morphing into Perry’s as she imitates his voice.

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All that aside, the reason for the train journey comes up. Coco needs art supplies; Hotaru wants to go on a candy shopping spree. As it turns out, only Hotaru boards the train, as if leaving for good, suddenly giving the scene—and the episode—a welcome bit of serialization.

Hotaru tells Coco she knows he has his own aspirations in life, and doesn’t want to force him to succeed his dad’s shop. But forcing and persuading are two different approaches to achieving the same end.

Having stayed in town these past eleven weeks (or however long it’s been by the show’s calendar), Hotaru quite suddenly decides to leave it up to Coco to contact her when he’s made a decision. She’ll be waiting…only she just didn’t bother to tell him where.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 12

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The day of the dual performance arrives, and the atmosphere is fizzing with anticipation. Sukeroku is noncommittal at first, even when Matsuda arrives, lonely after the passing of his wife. But Konatsu is super-excited at the prospect of getting to watch her dad do what he was meant to, while Kiku sees this little makeshift theater as the venue for re-stoking Sukeroku’s fire and enticing him to come back to Tokyo with him.

Matsuda isn’t the only lonely one. Miyokichi may be with Sukeroku, and Konatsu may be their child, but one gets the idea only one thing—one person—is on her mind, and that’s Kiku. It’s ironic that this theater was once a place for geishas like Miyokichi used to be. But now she’s in Western clothes and sneaking in incognito, and the room is now a place for a different kind of performance.

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We only see and hear snippets of Kiku’s whole performance rather than a single continuous story, as if to underscore the point that this episode isn’t really about Kiku’s performance He’s become one of the best performers alive; his talent is undisputed, and he’s a consummate professional. There was never any doubt he’d knock it out of the park. 

The real question is how a rusty Sukeroku will fare. He becomes more motivated after Kiku goes first (Kiku’s intention, no doubt), because by watching Kiku he was able to observe the quality of the audience, about whom he was initially dubious.

But Kiku’s rakugo was good not just becaue Kiku is good, but because the crowd is good. Rakugo is a far more collaborative process than it seems, with a performer feeding off the crowd as the crowd gets sucked into the performance. Notably, Miyokichi leaves before Sukeroku begins, and there’s never a shot of her listening in the hall, so I assume she really left.

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No matter: with Matsuda, Konatsu, Bon, and a good audience at his disposal, Sukeroku goes all out with a rare (for him) sentimental tale about an alcoholic fishmonger who finds a purse of cash washed up on the beach. He celebrates with a lavish party, but awakes from his stupor to learn he only dreamed of the purse, but not the party.

The contrite man promises his wife he’ll quite drinking and pay back all the debts he has, in addition to the added debt from the partying. For three years, works his ass off, until every debt has been paid off. Then his wife confesses the purse wasn’t a dream after all; she merely gave it to police, who held it for a year with no one claiming it before passing back to her.

The wife is beside herself with guilt for deceiving him for so long, but he’s not upset. In the past three years, her lie made him a better man, and when she offers him sake to celebrate, he puts the cup down without taking a sip, lest everything that happened turn out to be a dream.

The crowd leans in, laughs, cries…and leaned in, laughed, and cried. It was a powerful, mesmerizing performance, and at its heights gave me the same chills and goosebumps as the musical performances in Shigatsu kimi no Uso.

When it’s over, Kiku and Sukeroku spend some time relaxing like they used to do in their little apartment, only this time the latter’s daughter is sleeping on his chest, and the two brothers actually deign to agree on something Kiku says:

People can’t understand everything about each other. And yet people still live together. The love of sharing trivial, meaningless things with others is human nature. I suppose that’s why humans can’t stand to be alone.

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Being in this small, close-knit town, being with Sukeroku again, meeting Konatsu, and Sukeroku’s latest and maybe most soul-bearing performance—it’s all had a profound effect on Kiku. He once thought all he needed in his life was rakugo, but he’s human, and he doesn’t want to be alone anymore. Their late master’s house has fallen to him, but it’s too big for just him. He wants Sukeroku, Konatsu, and Miyokichi to move in with him.

But when Kiku is summoned to a room at the inn where Miyokichi meets him, we learn that all she wants in that particular moment is Kiku…and only Kiku. In all the time they’ve been apart she never stopped pining for him, and the fact he’s there gives her cause to believe he wants to change things, perhaps even make amends for knocking her and Sukeroku’s lives off track with his shortsighted insistence on solitude.

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Kiku can’t quite resist Miyokichi’s embrace, but things take a dark turn when she leads him to the open window and starts to push, contemplating both of them dying together.

That’s when Sukeroku barges in, and in a gesture that’s appreciated but perhaps too late to be worth much, promises Miyokichi he’ll get a real job, that he’ll do right by her by abandoning the rakugo that makes her feel so  insecure. He wants to be the husband in that tale he told with a happy ending, in a dream he doesn’t want to wake up from.

If he has to choose between Miyokichi and rakugo, he’s choosing Miyokichi. But the wooden balcony gives way, and Miyokichi starts to fall. Sukeroku dives after her, leaving Kiku to grasp him to keep the two from falling. But Sukeroku breaks his grip, and he and Miyokichi fall to their apparent deaths together.

Now Kiku is alone, and so is Konatsu—though we know he’ll end up taking her in. While it wasn’t as if Kiku took a gun and shot her parents, he most definitely played a role in their demise. No wonder he’s so bitter in the present day, and that Konatsu has always doubted his car accident story.

Yet, even without Sukeroku or Miyokichi, Kiku was able to continue performing excellent rakugo and being adored for it over the years. After all this talk about not being able to do it alone, one could deduce that it was the presence of Konatsu in his life that kept him going. And now, as we know, he has an apprentice, who brought back all these memories of Sukeroku in the first place. I’m eager to see how this ends.

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GATE – 24 (Fin)

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Rescuing Pina and the Emperor from Zolzal felt like a couple of loose ends to tie up, since there was never any doubt about Itami, reunited with his original Recon Team and his girls, were going to be successful. This, the final episode, seems to understand this, and doesn’t draw out the rescue needlessly, but has fun with the relative ease of the operation.

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Basically, Itami has Rory, Lelei, Tuka, Yao, and his team, which makes him all but invincible. All he has to do is talk when they enter the throne room. Zolzal sics a particularly ill-fated ogre on them, but Rory and Lelei dispatch it with ease—did Zolzal forget these guys brought down a Fire Dragon? 

His meager guards, who don’t particularly want to mistreat Pina or fight Rory the Reaper, are absolutely no match. Zolzal doesn’t try going out in a blaze of glory—he’s too much of a coward. Itami plays with his fear by adding paranoia to his problems: pointing a sniper at him, telling him he’ll be watched from now on.

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The conditions Itami gives him for not getting a bullet in the head are simple and non-negotiable: Pina goes with him; the emperor too; and Lelei’s assassins are called off. All Zolzal can do is accept, bitter as he is, he’s powerless here, and it’s particularly satisfying to watch (though I was kinda hoping he’d resist a little more so Kuribayashi could have at him).

After that, all Itami & Co. have to do is get out of the palace and city walls before they’re all closed, and this too proves not very difficult, thanks to the speed of their vehicles and a helping hand from a friend with a LAV, a bazooka, and a mined entrance that blows behind them, taking out all horsebound pursuers. Mission Complete.

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Pina, who clearly likes her shining knight Itami but isn’t too overt about it (note how she got self-conscious about her skimpy burlap shift when he showed up), but she also has bigger matters than romance. Her father wakes up, not the worse for wear, and declares her crown princess, giving her the mandate to steer the empire where she will, whether towards peace or to civil war with her brother.

It would have been nice if Itami’s crew had, you know, captured the leader of a potential resistance against the legitimate government, but they leave Zolzal alone, which was the one problem I had with the operation, considering how easily they could have taken him into custody/killed him.

But that’s no big deal; whatever he scrounges up won’t be any more of a match against the SDF-backed pro-peace faction than the Special Region ever was against the might of the modern Japanese military.

As for Tyuule, we see she’s not crazy after all; just unfulfilled. She suffered and schemed so mightily and actually got the empire to fracture, and yet tears fall from her face. I guess it wasn’t quite worth it.

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With that, we have a nice little crowning ceremony for Pina, after which all of the various guys show off their new girlfriends / lovers / caretakers / fiancees, to Kuribayashi’s shock and Shandy’s envy.

Itami doesn’t attend that ceremony, because he’s done enough, and now he just wants to go to the doujinshi convention in Tokyo, putting his hobby ahead of his work as usual. I like how he places equal importance on his affairs in otakudom than he did with all the various adventures in the Special Region.

But it isn’t long before his three girls track him down, all with their own Tokyo plans for him. The masses notice these idols and crowd around them in adoration, and a cop sneaks them off in his squad car, even though Itami doesn’t want to leave the convention.

And there you have it, a usually lush and diverting story of our world connected to another one, where the JSDF fought, and fought well.

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Dimension W – 11

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With KK captured, Yuri neutralized, and Chrysler disabled by Loser, one would hope things would start to simplify towards the end, but this second-to-last episode does not comply with that hope.

Rather, it is very quickly descending into the anime version of tl;dr: tc;dc, or too complicated; don’t care. No one can say DW doesn’t have enough stuff going on in the frame, but the problem is so little of it matters; it’s all had a numbing effect on me.

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I’m glad the surviving collectors are more or less working together now, or at least looking out for each other, but there are still way too many of them and I simply don’t care about the vast majority of them.

Another problem is that as our people draw closer to the story’s conclusion, the general nebulousness and wishy-washy technobabble-as-plot becomes more exposed and more problematic.

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There’s plenty of cool imagery and action, but this episode was often choked with lengthy explanations from all sides. At some point it all kinda sounds the same and becomes a sparkly-yet-muddled mess.

The fact that Kyouma and Mira are able to enter and observe Loser’s memories of the events that led up to the calamity on the island lose a lot of their gravity due to the utterly boring, shallow, generic mad scientisty evil of Seameyer.

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Seameyer’s evil and cruel for the sake of evil and cruelty, and it doesn’t elicit much more than an apathetic shrug. And we know even if he (and the giant robo-monster he somehow turned Sophia into…don’t even ask) are defeated, the bigger problem of what to do about the Genesis coil is the true conflict here. Seameyer is just taking up space.

But the thing is, Genesis is even more generic and nondescript as Seameyer. At least he has some semblance of a personality (he’s a dick); Genesis is naught but an all-powerful MacGuffin; a Holy Grail/God Machine that isn’t safe in anyone’s hands.

I regret to report that my enthusiasm for Dimension W, and my optimism for a strong finale, have dwindled significantly in this, the home stretch, but I’ll watch it to completion nonetheless.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 12 (Fin)

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Well, have egg on my face. Just when I thought the show had already reached its main resolution, just when I wasn’t in love with the direction I thought it was taking with Satoru’s new future, and just when I was a little impatient that last week seemingly ended in the same place as the week before, ERASED didn’t just ignore and then subvert my expectations; it pushed them off a school roof with gusto.

It all starts with a little necessary backtracking. Satoru isn’t calm and cool up on that roof alone with Yashiro because he’s content with the life he’s lived and the good he’s done for those around him. It’s because he has a plan. It’s a plan that we can only speculate about until it happens, but it was made with the help of Kenta and Hiromi, who are committed to helping Satoru again, if that’s what he wants.

They feel that way because when he, the superhero, needed help, he believed in them, and so they believed right back. Without that mutual belief in one another, the amazing things he achieved wouldn’t have happened…and Satoru would have likely been murdered up on the roof.

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Call it “One Last Job” for Satoru & Friends: the job that even their nemesis doesn’t see coming, because he’s so consumed with putting Satoru in a box with either jail or death as the escape routes, like a rat in a maze. He uses a fatal muscle relaxant IV on Kumi (with Satoru’s fingerprints on the bag) to create that awful choice, and keeps grinning with glee about finally besting the one who ruined all his plans.

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This is as superhero-y as you can get: the Villain thinking he has the Hero, his Nemesis, in his clutches and at his mercy, and just when victory as he sees it is in sight, the hero wiggles out. The hero wins, with a move way out of left field and yet deliciously awesome in its precision and timing.

Satoru says Yashiro the one who has lost, not only because he was able to save all those victims from him (including his mother in the future) and thwart all his attempts to frame him (including this one), but because for fifteen years—only an instant for him, but an agonizing crawl for Yashiro—while he slept, Yashiro didn’t kill him.

He couldn’t, because Satoru was the only one who knew who he was; that something that fills the void everyone has and needs to have filled. He can’t kill him because of that.

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And Satoru means that quite literally. Sure, Yashiro could let go, which he does, but if Satoru dies then, so does the one thing in his life that’s made him feel anything. The void returns. But Yashiro doesn’t die even when Yashiro decides to let go, because his friends arranged a cushion for him to land safely on, and they also serve as witnesses for Yashiro’s attempted murder.

Yashiro lost because he was alone; because the only person that could fill his void was someone he was committed to ruining; tormenting; erasing. And yet, Yashiro, who truly took fifteen years of Satoru’s life away from him, may have actually been doing him a favor, for the life Satoru lived when we met him was one of dark repressed memories, dead classmates and friends, and most importantly, a life where he had ceased “taking the bull by the horns”.

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It took more struggle to get there, but Satoru was, with his mom and his buddies, finally able to bring Yashiro to true justice. He was able to live on once his deep sleep had ended, and both his memories of heroic deeds, and the dramatic one he performed on the roof to put Yashiro away, filled a void in him that was present in the original timeline, before any Revivals.

This older Satoru keeps taking the bull by the horns. After being a real hero, he became able to write about heroes, compellingly enough to have anime made about them. He’s by all rights a great success, but when he returns back to the city after visiting all his old friends in Hokkaido (and I liked how they teased Misato as a possible love interest), a void still remains in him: one shaped like Kitagiri Airi, the wonderful soul who got lost in all the time-shifting…

…Or so we and Satoru thought. Or maybe he didn’t think that. Why else would he return to the bridge where he and Airi parted, with him in handcuffs and she in tears? Kayo was never meant to be the girl Satoru ended up with after all. When Airi appears, asking brightly if she could share some shelter from the snow with him, everything comes full circle.

It’s a bit cliche, but it’s true: believing in people leads them to believe in you; that’s how you gain allies and friends. It’s one big loop of believing and void-filling. And there you have it: a very nifty and moving ending to my favorite anime of the Winter! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

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