ReLIFE – 11

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Well, I guess even ReLIFE can have an off-day.

Perhaps it’s unfair to watch this episode on the heels of a terrific episode of Orange—or indeed, the momentous previous episode of ReLIFE—but I just wasn’t feeling this one. Which is a shame, because for all its momentum-killing flashbacks, it marked a significant leap forward for Kaizaki by the end.

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This week Kaizaki asks Yoake for another pill to make him 28 again, so he can properly visit his senpai Saiki Michiru’s grave. She committed suicide after continued harassment from her peers, which only intensified when Kaizaki ignored her wish for him to “grow up” and not to involve himself.

I guess my main problem with this storyline—important as it is for how Kaizaki ended up with ReLIFE to begin with—is that I don’t buy that an office would be that awful. I’m not saying office jobs can’t be that awful, just that I didn’t feel that scenario was portrayed carefully, convincingly, or realistically enough here.

This show’s always better when working with shades of gray—everyone has selfish desires; that sort of thing—but Kaizaki’s former job seems like a ridiculously cartoonish hell; a “black company” not just full of sexist pricks, but borderline sociopaths.

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Then there’s the two kohais from his company, who Yoake and An arrange to bump into Kaizaki. It’s good there are people who feel as he does, even if they didn’t have the courage to quit as soon as he did, and their admiration of what he did certainly lessens his regret somewhat and convinces him quitting was the right thing to do.

That’s all fine and dandy, but I’m still not sure why Yoake chose the anniversary of Saiki’s death to do this. It means for four months he kept information from Kaizaki that could have helped him deal with his trauma. But why so long? Was he simply waiting until a time when he knew Kaizaki would ask for a re-aging pill?

Finally, Kaizaki says he wants the pill so he won’t run into trouble if someone he knows shows up at Saiki’s grave. But that begs the question: how has he been able to avoid being spotted people he knows for four months? It’s a can of worms the episode presents that’s best left closed for the purposes of suspension of belief.

At any rate I’m glad Kaizaki is feeling better about the choices he made that led to his joining ReLIFE. Now I’d like to see him get back to that ReLIFE.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 15

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I honestly didn’t think a second cour episode of Re:Zero could match the cinematic majesty of episode 7, but, well…here we are, eight episodes later, and this show is still topping itself. My expectations for the finale have now risen to unreasonable highs. But never mind that; we’ve got a long, long way to go, as does Natsuki Subaru.

Subaru doesn’t choose to commit suicide. He does die and Return by Death; but not by his choosing. He is slain in the most nightmarish way imaginable, having his fingers and leg cleaved off before freezing solid and cracking. Jeez, this show is rough on ol’ Subaru.

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Surprisingly, he respawns not in a bed, but at the vender’s cart, where he was with Rem seemingly an eternity ago (but in reality, early in last week’s episode). It isn’t long before he’s in a bed, however, as he’s so traumatized by what he witnessed and experienced in his last life, he is still in shock and barely able to speak.

Felis can’t do anything about his mental condition, so Crusch lets Rem take him home to Roswaal’s manor, hopeful being with Emilia and Ram will help him recover. Crusch also asks why Rem is so devoted to Subaru, and she responds “because he’s special.”

Once again, they fail to reach manor without incident, even though it’s Rem and not Subie’s choice to head there.

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The hooded baddies—witch cultists—ambush the cart, bloody a furious Rem, and take Subie captive.

Subie wakes up in chains, still unable to speak, and comes face to face with the grotesque and thoroughly insane Betelgeuse, who would be a goofy character for Re:Zero if we didn’t already have his less evil counterpart, Roswaal.

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Oh, and if this guy wasn’t fucking threatening and terrifying as all Hell, and merely a subordinate to “The Gospel”, and presumably, The Witch. Betel is a high priest of “sloth”, and initially calls Subie “pride” (perhaps why the cultists bowed to him last week?), and while his plans for Subie aren’t precisely clear, he’s intent on finding and killing Rem as soon as possible.

Rem all but grants his wish by busting into their cavern hideout, hopelessly outnumbered and surrounded. For all her power and combat ability and heartfelt desire to save her beloved Subaru, she’s still quite messed up from the initial ambush, and when she gets too close, Betel strings her up in mid air and breaks all the bones in her body, then twists her extremities in the opposite direction just two twist the proverbial knife.

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Betel heads off to prepare for “The Ordeal”, but Rem is amazingly still alive enough to scoot towards Subaru and free him from his chains, and from what is certainly to be more horrible torment at the hands of that monster and his master.

She tells him to live, and that she loves him, then passes away in his arms. While Rem has died before, as has Subaru, I just wasn’t prepared for this. She was found dead suddenly last week, but here the death is drawn out, as is Subaru’s apparent helplessness.

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Not sure what else to do, and still clearly foggy from his multiple ordeals, Subie continues his trek to Roswaal’s manor with Rem’s body in his arms. Again, he finds signs of a massacre, dead villagers, children, and Ram.

He doesn’t get anywhere near the front door before a colossal dark beast with glowing yellow eyes orders him to “sleep now, like my daughter.” Subaru’s head pops of with a splash of blood…and the blood-red credits start to roll as he’s buried by the snow. There’s no merciful fade to black. The camera doesn’t budge. The stirring, soaring, relentlessly tragic score blares.

By God…that was one of the darkest, cruelest, most hopeless endings I’ve ever seen. But this is Re:Zero, where endings usually lead to new beginnings. Still, it still felt like everything was over and there would be no victory, ever. 

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Sure enough, Subie respawns with Rem at the vendor’s. He’s not catatonic this time. He embraces Rem; alive again; in love with him. The vendor tells them to take a hike and stop scaring customers with their PDA.

Subaru takes Rem’s hand like he never intends to let go of it again, and she’s all to happy to hold his as they walk peacefully, quietly down the street.

But Subaru’s smile slowly vanishes as the camera pans up to his face. It’s a beautiful day, but there’s a storm brewing in his eyes. They’re not the dead eyes of defeat. They’re the fanatical eyes of a demon, and Betelgeuse is his prey.

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Orange – 02

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I never like awarding 10s and RWHL certifications willy-nilly, but I was compelled to give this episode the score it deserved, which was, to me, the highest score possible. This episode was an emotional roller coaster that sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. It contained no less than All The Feels. And it made missing the next episode, or indeed the rest of the run of the show, seem like as big a mistake as Naho not listening to her future letters.

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Naho is a good girl. She has a gentle, generous heart, but she also lacks confidence, and sometimes isn’t able to say or do what she wants. The letters she’s getting say in no uncertain terms that if the behaviors that come naturally to her in the present persist unchanged, Kakeru will be out of her life in ten years. Naho is currently falling in love with Kakeru, so she really doesn’t want that to happen.

So when the letter tells her to make Kakeru a lunch, she plans to do so. She doesn’t tell him when it seems like the best time to do so, hesitating until the latest possible moment in the day, and only after her friends tell Kakeru she makes her own lunches and Kakeru “jokes” about wanting her to make one.

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Saying it was just a joke, and worrying about “bothering” Kakeru by foisting her unworthy slop upon him (well, she’s not that harsh on herself), vex Naho terribly. Interestingly, her thought process mimics her mom’s.

Initially, she casts my heart into the cellar by deciding against making a lunch for him. But thankfully she reconsiders, and gets “fired up” making the best damn lunch Kakeru will ever have tasted.

For a second, I thought she was making lunches for everyone to provide cover and hold back rumors of favoratism. Of course, to all her friends, including Suwa, who likes her, they already know the score with her and Naho.

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But making the lunch is only half the battle for Naho. She must inform Kakeru she’s done so, and deliver the meal to him at the proper time. The time between when she nervously greets him to the lunch bell is tortuously long, as demonstrated by the montage of various teachers giving lectures intercut with quick shots of Naho and the bag containing the lunch.

But when that lunch bell rings…she CHOKES! My heart, having just started back up the stairs, ends up in the sub-basement. I was literally banging my fist on the coffee table, furious by her self-defeating inaction. But then, she waits after school for Kakeru to be done soccer practice with Suwa. And again, Kakeru gives Naho the fresh opening she needs, offering to walk home with her—and only her.

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Naho engages in idle conversation meant to learn more about Naho in basic terms: where she lives; what she does when she gets home, her hobbies. Naho’s truthful answers are nothing flashy, but Kakeru still seems to enjoy them.

Then Naho starts to ask him questions, but gets more specific…like where he was and what he was doing those two weeks he was absent. Because Kakeru has feelings for Naho, he wants her to know, but also clearly exhibits some courage of his own by coming out and saying it:

The very day of their opening ceremony—the day the future letter warned Naho not to invite Kakeru to hang out with them—his mother committed suicide. With that, my heart busted through the floor of the sub-basement and into a subterranean aquifer.

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At this point, even though they were sitting down and Kakeru clearly expressed his hunger, Naho had not yet revealed she had made a lunch for him. But by hearing Kakeru tell her something so intimate and sad, and realizing what not listening to the letters did, Naho finally summons the courage she needs to present the lunch to him.

He accepts it with elation, having hoped she’d followed through on fulfilling his desire, even though he called it a joke at the time. My heart starts another long descent as she finds her footing, promising she’ll make him lunch every day from now on, and give him wake-up calls if he needs them, or any of the other things a parent does until you find someone you love who does them instead.

Returning to her letters, details emerge: Kakeru dies in an accident in the Winter of his seventeenth year, and she and the others always regretted not saving him when, as her future self sees it, they could have. Well, that’s that; Naho WILL save him, no matter what.

GO NAHO. (Sorry, Suwa.)

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 01

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(Disclaimer: I have never played any of the Tales games; my RPG experience is limited to Final Fantasy and Skyrim. Therefore I have no knowledge of Zestiria, its story or its characters.)

Last week’s prologue started relatively upbeat but grew very dark and sinister and apocalyptic very quickly. This week’s episode isn’t quite done torturing Princess Alisha, who faces grief, loneliness, a sea of bugs (which a cute little familiar she apparently can’t sense tries to help keep away), and then upside-down water she drops out of, as if passing from one world to another.

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I love the Alice in Wonderland sense of awe and, well, wonder in Zestiria’s many imposingly beautiful-vista money shots. Alisha gets a brief respite on a sunlit grassy cliff beside a dramatic waterfall. She inadvertently activates a pillar that reveals an entrance to another ruin behind that waterfall, and her lonely quest continues.

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Meanwhile, good friends Sorey and Mikleo have a hobby much like Alisha and her friends of yore: exploring and investigating ruins. On this day they discover what they believe to be the mythical capital of Seraphim, breathtakingly perched off the face of a mountain. At this point, it’s pretty clear these two and Alisha are on opposite sides of this ruin, and will ultimately meet at some point.

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The thing is, Mikleo isn’t human, and Sorey a human raised by Mikleo’s kind, while Alisha is human. That doesn’t stop Sorey from having the same book Alisha has, and the same thirst for ancient knowledge about the Seraphim who foster him.

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Their aged master warned them not to stray too far into the ruins, but curiosity gets the best of the lads, who end up being attacked by lightning that seems to be summoned by the ruins themselves as a defense system. But their only escape from the lightning is to go inside the ruins, where a platform Alisha was standing on was obliterated by the same lightning.

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The ruin is a great RPG-style dungeon with multiple levels, obstacles, and hidden paths that are revealed with Mikleo’s magic. As predicted, Sorey and Mikleo do spot an unconscious Alisha and Sorey rushes to help, against Mikleo’s warnings to stay away from humans.

When Ali comes to, her first question is whether Sorey is “The Shepherd,” and with that, the party swells to three, and she’s not alone anymore. But it’s also clear she’s far she was in the smoke-and-flame-wreathed prologue, down (or up) the proverbial rabbit hole; a stranger in a strange land; etc.

I’m eager to see who she fares here, with the two who will become her quest companions, as well as the assembling of the rest of the colorful party we see in the OP and ED. So far, it’s a fun, gorgeous, richly-detailed show that is still managing not to bury me in lore or jargon.

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ReLIFE – 10

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Both gifted and cursed by immense natural athletic talent that made her peers resent her and take her for granted, Honoka turned down all the powerhouses and sought refuge at Aoba High, a prep school not too serious about sports, where no one knew who she was.

But when she tried out for the team, someone knew who she was, and was angry she didn’t give it her all. She makes Honoka spike a ball at her as hard as she can, knocking her down, but she gets up laughing, her suspicions confirmed. Her name is Kariu Rena, and she wants to play volleyball with Honoka.

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For three years they played and had fun, but one thing that goes unmentioned is that the rift caused by her ankle injury wasn’t helped by the fact she never really caught up to Honoka’s level, and trying to stand beside her on a still-tender ankle felt impossible.

So Kariu said some very mean things and retired from the team, two actions she felt she could not undo, no matter how much she wanted to. She didn’t realize just how genuinely worried her friends were, and how they’d let her undo whatever she said or did if she’d just…play and be friends with Honoka again. It’s what everyone wants.

Hishiro’s role in the talk with Honoka is masterful, chronicling all the times she transferred and introduced herself with less and less enthusiasm, “giving up on knowing people” as her heart gradually numbed. The bond between Kariu and Honoka makes her jealous. She won’t let it crumble needlessly.

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Kariu is caught listening in on Honoka, and maintains her stubborn iron guard. Oga remains to assure Honoka she didn’t mean the things she said (again), and Honoka is in agreement. Kaizaki, basically acting as Hishiro’s backup thus far, surveys his friends and Honokas; they’re all of the same mind. They give Kariu time and space, trusting her to show up for the tournament.

When she doesn’t, Hishiro is pissed, and vows to drag Kariu there if she has to. Yoake helplfully provides Kaizaki with Kariu’s address. An points out to Yoake that he’s getting more involved these days, because he likes how things are changing. So does she. Kaizaki & Friends exploits are changing them too.

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Hishiro almost makes the rookie mistake of stating her name after ringing Kariu’s bell. Kaizaki shushes her and pretends to be a delivery man, Kariu answers the door, and they barge in. She’s in her tracksuit, with her uniform on underneath. It would appear their trust in her was not misplaced, only their confidence in her ability take the step of going to the tournament on her own. She’s still stuck at home.

Kariu calls Hishiro dense, that she can’t possibly understand how she feels, but Hishiro doesn’t care. Kariu’s her friend; she’s allowed to be worried about her. She’s come to fulfill her own selfish desire: to make Kariu play with Honoka again. She takes Kariu’s head in her hands and ask her what her selfish desire is.

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Turns out, it’s the same thing; Kariu was just afraid it was too late to achieve, but it wasn’t. All their selfish desires align. All that’s left is to act. Kariu accompanies Hishiro and Kaizaki back to school. Kariu enters the gym, and the match. Honoka stops looking, as Hishiro puts it, “ugly” and “dead.” They play, and have fun, like they’ve played for three years.

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They also lose, and are eliminated, and are officially done with high school volleyball for good. But as they both share a good cry behind the gym (with Hishiro sitting between them, a choice she initially regrets), Honoka makes it clear that winning without Kariu would not have been fun or made her happy. Losing is fine if it means she has Kariu back. And Kariu points out they can still play volleyball in college. Duh!

They exchange apologies before turning their gratitude and affection on Hishiro, who couldn’t be happier herself. She’d only just become friends with these two, and she was going to be damned if she was going to let their bond crumble. So she worked her butt off and it paid off marvelously, to the joy and relief of all. Stellar stuff.

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