Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 24 (Fin)

I’m not going to lie and say I was all that enamored by this finale. In fact, it was a bit of a chore to get through, ironically as soon as the titular Bahamut showed up. Now, all of a sudden, Charioce is a good guy like everyone else, and all is forgiven, at least until the more immediate threat of Bahamut is dealt with (and, as it happens, all is forgiven even after that).

Favaro is dead, and Bacchus’ wagon has crashed. Nina decides the only way to fight a dragon is with another dragon (hers truly) while the gods and demons get together and form a barrier to minimize damage to the capital—though Bahamut’s random breath blasts still causes plenty of apocalyptic destruction. I just wish it was more interesting a boss.

Dragon-Nina doesn’t go up against Bahamut head-to-head; that would be suicide. Instead, she flies to Dromos and lands (naked) on Charioce’s back, much to his chagrin. But that’s just tough: if he’s going to put his life on the line to destroy Bahamut, she will too. They interface with Dromos together and it takes the form of a dragon covered with magical circuitry.

Nina and Charioce’s dragon shoots a beam; Bahamut shoots a beam; the beams meet, the first beam pushes Bahamut’s back and eventually blasts his head off, and badda-bing-badda-bang, the capital—and the world—is saved.

Just before Bahamut is blasted away, Nina (but not Charioce) finds herself in “the light of Bahamut”, where Amira is still hanging out. She gives Nina a big ol’ hug (both are naked, so Nina’s a bit bashful) and whispers something. When the day returns, the Dromos dragon has turned to stone and Charioce and Nina are passed out on the deck.

Fast-forward to the epilogue: Nina is still in the capital, helping with rebuilding; still living with Bacchus, Rita and Hamsa; Favaro announces he’s leaving again to resume his wandering life; Nina tells him about Amira, and he’s heartened; Rita has apparently resurrected Kaisar as a zombie.

Nina can apparently visit the palace whenever she wants to dance with Charioce, who is blind now but still king. As I said, all the horrible things he did are forgiven now because Bahamut was defeated…only Bahamut isn’t really dead, and he’ll be back, because he’s the name of the franchise.

But…I guess Nina’s willing to let bygones be bygones in terms of the atrocities Charioce committed against demons, gods, and whatever humans opposed him. She’s also lost her voice, apparently the price she had to pay (along with Char’s other eye) to use Dromos.

I do loathe running out of enthusiasm right before the finish line, but Bahamut really undermined much of this season with its inexplicable insistence that the audience go along with the notion that Charioce was a fellow who deserved redemption.

Nina’s love always felt as blind as the king ended up. She gave and gave and never got anything back for her love, except for the occasional decently-animated dance.

This season was at times fun, often gorgeous, occasionally sweet or funny or even moving. But in the end I just wasn’t buying what Virgin Soul was trying so hard to sell, and as a result I doubt I’d have any use for a third round.

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Made in Abyss – 13 (Fin)

Always cold and hungry yet full of longing to see the wonders of the Abyss, the still-human Nanachi was lured, along with a good deal of other disadvantaged children, to their doom by the dastardly White Whistle Bondrewd the Novel.

On the way down to the unreassuringly-named Sea of Corpses, Nanachi meets the ebullient Mitty. Weary at first, they hit it off almost immediately, buoyed by the exciting, life-changing adventure they’re about to undertake.

Did I say exciting and life-changing? I meant nightmarish and life-ruining/ending. One by one Bondrewd comes for the children until Nanachi and Mitty are the only ones left.

Neither has any idea what’s happening to the others until Bondrewd comes for Mitty, but not Nanachi, in the night. But Nanachi, now all alone, follows them, and sees and hears things she shouldn’t.

Bondrewd takes Nanachi’s disobedience as an auspicious event, and places them in a tube right beside a frightened, already-trapped Mitty, and calmly explains how the “experiment” is going to go down. The two descend to the Sixth Layer, where a horde of formerly-human things gather around their tubes.

Then the ascent begins, and all of the Curse is transferred to Mitty in a graphic, gruesome, and thoroughly upsetting sequence. Nanachi can only watch in the other tube, absolutely powerless to help. Mitty was Nanachi’s one and only true “treasure”, more important than any relic they might have found in the Abyss.

But, as we know, Mitty isn’t gone. Well, not totally. To Bondrewd’s delight, the double-dose of Sixth-Layer Curse not only took Mitty’s human form, but made it impossible for her to die. She is constantly disintegrating, regenerating…and suffering.

Nanachi flees Bondrewd’s clutches with Mitty (though it’s highly likely he lets them go) and eventually finds a place to live. But there is nothing Nanachi can do for Mitty. It’s not that they can’t put Mitty out of her misery due to emotional considerations…it simply isn’t possible.

Not until Reg and Riko came around. With his Incinerator, which Nanachi calls “Sparagmos”, or the “light that returns to the cardinal point”, Nanachi believes she can finally free Mitty’s long-suffering soul from what’s left of her body.

Reg asks for time to think it over, and worries that if he kills Mitty, Nanachi will feel they have no more reason to live, and might take their own life. Nanachi promises they won’t, and convinces Reg of the only right and proper course of action when they tell him that when they one day do die, Mitty will be left alone, suffering for all eternity.

After preparing a tasteful site for “sending off” Mitty, Nanachi only halts Reg from firing Incinerator for one last goodbye to her treasure, then tells him to do it. The ensuing inferno consumes every bit of Mitty until there’s nothing left. Just like that, she’s gone.

It’s ruinously sad, but I’ll admit, a HUGE relief her suffering is at an end. After all, her last words as a human to Nanachi in that tube were “kill me.” Hers was the kind of pure lasting suffering that’s hard to imagine or even comprehend, but I can grasp the catharsis, even if the hurt remains in the hearts of those who sent her off.

Things thankfully take a lighter turn when Reg awakens to find Riko is also awake, and starting her rehabilitation. Riko takes an instant liking to the cute and fuzzy Nanachi, and both Nanachi and Reg appreciate Riko’s far superior culinary skills.

After going through that emotional, visceral ringer, It’s awfully nice to see Riko back to normal. Then she asks if there wasn’t someone else there besides the three of them, and recalls a dream that made her think that.

The creepy dream we saw part of last week is put into context thanks to Riko. She is consumed by a kind of skin (representing her deep illness) and can only cry and panic, but when she sees that terrified, crying eye—Mitty’s eye in the waking world—she calms down, stares back, and tries to comfort her.

Then, after Reg sends Mitty off, Riko perceives it as Mitty (or rather, her soul) being restored to its human form before passing on. Then Riko realizes she needs to “get going”, and follows the light back to consciousness and out of her wounded stupor.

Upon hearing this “dream”, which was likely something more significant, Nanachi looks grateful that someone saw their treasure in the moment she finally achieved her freedom.

Nanachi takes Riko and Reg to a kind of healing hot spring, and enjoys watching Reg squirm as Riko proceeds to have no qualms whatsoever about bathing with him naked, all while quietly asking Mitty to wait “a little longer,” which could either be interpreted as Nanachi planning to take her life and join Mitty soon, or not until after she’s lived a life that now includes two new potential “treasures” in Reg and Riko.

After removing the mushrooms from her arm (another highly painful, unpleasant ordeal), Riko eventually regains the ability to lift her arm and even move her thumb. Reg blames his crappy amputation attempt for the state of her arm, but Riko doesn’t blame him; she asked him to do it, after all. She also heared from Nanachi how tearfully and desperately Reg tried to save her, and thanks him for that, regarding her nasty scar as “precious proof” he protected her.

Riko, like Reg before her, asks Nanachi if they’ll join them as they continue their journey further down the Abyss, and Nanachi agrees. The credits then roll over a lovely montage: Riko ties her backpack to a balloon and releases it, and they prepare for their journey as it makes its harrowing ascent past all the layers they’d passed, even requiring Marulk to free it from a branch and repair it.

It eventually reaches Nat, who looks shocked and elated to finally possess evidence of Riko and Reg’s progress. Having completed their preparations (and the construction of a big, sturdy new backpack), the new party of Riko, Reg, and Nanachi leave Nanachi’s cozy house behind, in search of trying to satisfy that most unstoppable longing for the unknown.

Meanwhile, in Bondrewd the Novel’s lab, he notices one of dozens of lights has gone out; a light signifying Mitty’s life. He is proud of and grateful to Nanachi for having finally gotten it done, as if letting them escape was yet another experiment. And he’s eager to meet her again. Ouzen was right; she’s kind and pleasant compared to this evil bastard.

And there we are; that’s a wrap! At least until a second season comes along. While I can assure you there are very few shows I’d want to jump into the second season of immediately, and this is one of them, I think a good long rest is in order, to recover from the emotional wounds it left in this final, epic, horrendously devastating yet still somehow hopeful, and achingly beautiful finale. I want to believe Riko’s mom is waiting for her. I have to.

Classroom of the Elite – 12 (Fin)

The first seven episodes of Classroom of the Elite were solid, but gave way to an increasingly unfocused and often downright tedious Island Arc. After pointing out how delicate and demanding the girls are compared to the guys, demonstrating the class’s appalling ignorance of outdoor fundamentals (except for one character who camps out a lot), and introducing a set of rules and objectives only slightly less complicated than the U.S. Tax Code, we were then treated to thrilling whodunits involving the theft of a girl’s undergarments and the burning of a manual.

Class C student Ibuki was planted as the obvious culprit to everything, but we can’t be sure if she’s really the culprit, because the biggest question mark of them all is, and has always been, Ayanokouji Kiyotaka, whom it’s implied was the sole “survivor” of a “gifted kid farm.”

Meanwhile, his interactions with Horikita Suzune have been dull and repetitive (due in no small part to the nebulousness of his true motives and  intentions), while what had been perhaps the best character dynamic of the show—that between Ayano and Kushida—has curiously been abandoned altogether, with no further exploration of her character. Some of Kushida’s screen time was replaced by Sakura, whose puppy love for the unperceptive Ayano isn’t nearly as compelling.

But WHO CARES? This was a bad-ass finale. It stuck the landing.

It starts slowly, in basically the same place we left off last week: in a state of confusion and frustration. Horikita wakes up to find Ayano nearby, telling her she should drop out and that whatever goal she has in mind, whether it’s making Class A to prove something to her brother, or something else, she’s going to need allies. She faints again, and Ayano carries her to the teachers.

Ayano tells Hirata everything that’s happened and how it will effect the points, and Hirata is devastated, no doubt believing he let his class down…but Ayano asks a favor of him. When the day the Special Test ends arrives, Sakura asks Ayano what he thinks their points will be, and Ayano simply looks over to Hirata, who is holding the leader identification form.

All of the classes assemble on the beach, except Class C…but a dirty, disheveled Ryuuen does appear…in his mind, to declare victory. Once he lays out his scheme to gain the names of all three class leaders, things don’t just look bad for Class D, but Classes A and B as well.

Ryuuen’s plan is extra-complex, as befits the finale of CotE: signing a binding contract with Class A in which they’ll supply 200 S-points in goods and provide the names of B and D’s leaders, using Ibuki and another C-class student as spies D and B.

Of course, Ryuuen intended to betray Katsuragi, because an ally of Katsuragi’s rival Sakayanagai gave him the name of Class A’s leader…which was never Katsuragi to begin with. Ryuuen runs the math as the calculations are displayed on the screen.

Then the points are announced: Class C gets ZERO points, Classes A and B make just over 100 each, and Class D…WINS, with 225 points. SHOKU!

How’d it happen? Cough-cough. C’mon now, you know: it was all Ayanokouji-frikking-Kiyotaka. What Horikita doesn’t know is how. Class A continues its internal strife as Sakayanagi’s ally antagonizes Katsuragi’s furious levies, while Ichinose doesn’t feel too bad about her class’s high score, since she’s likely close to amassing enough points to buy her way into the class of her choice (which I’m assuming would be A).

Ayano managed to win by pivoting from a strategy of spot-occupation points to leader identification points, and used virtually everyone and everything he had on that island to discover the identities of the leaders of Class A and C (leaving B alone to preserve their alliance). He even used Horikita’s illness, which was actually crucial to giving him a “legitimate reason” to change the leadership of Class D to him at the very last minute. Thus, Ayano was right about Ryuuen and Ryuuen was wrong about him – a 100-point swing.

As an apparent apology for using Horikita and potentially making her even sicker, he had Hirata tell the rest of Class D they owe everything to her, not him. It’s a brilliant move that accomplishes two things: it keeps Ayano in the shadows where he can do the most, and brings the class together, which was Hirata’s goal all along.

Kushida seems to know there’s something a little off about Horikita being the hero here, but can’t get a straight answer out of Ayano when she asks which girl he’d choose. It’s not much, but I did appreciate one last scene with “Real Kushida,” especially in which she resents the fact a girl like Horikita doesn’t have a “side to hide.” But Ayano rightly points out that most people have one.

In his chat with Chabashira-sensei in the ship’s theater, she commends him for having performed up to the standards not only she, but “that man” (AKA his dad) expected. There’s talk about Daedalus and Icarus, but Ayano doesn’t intend to lose his wings any time soon. That’s good, because Ryuuen (and his loyal lieutenant Ibuki) are coming for him, armed with a windfall of points thanks to one other stipulation in their contract with Class A.

Finally, Horikita loses her throng of admirers long enough to track down Ayano and ask him why he told Hirata to spread the word that she, not he, was the class savior and mastermind behind their victory. He tells her, in a scene that’s played quite tenderly at first, to remember when he said she needed allies to succeed – giving her the credit helps get her those allies (and she did suffer in sickness for the cause).

Horikita’s Tsundere Levels reach critical levels as she both thanks Ayano and acknowledges him as an ally while making it clear their future interactions will be purely professional in nature and focused on getting to Class A.

She’s fooling no one, but Ayano is fooling her along with everyone else, because, at least according to his inner thoughts, he’s only looking out for one guy: Ayano. Hirata, Sakura, Ichinose, Kushida, and Horikita are nothing but stones he’s all too willing to step on to win, because winning is all that matters to him.

A dark ending…but also a wide-open door for a sequel down the road. Horikita has changed a lot, and she says it’s all Ayano’s fault. Maybe she, along with Kushida and the others, will get a chance to change him. Or maybe he’ll just dance on their corpses when he’s king of the world. Here’s hoping we get to find out!

Kakegurui – 12 (Fin)

Jamabi Yumeko’s charisma and obsession with her craft has netted her loyal friends in Suzui Ryouta, Sumeragi Itsuki, and Saotome Mary. Suzui isn’t even going to oppose her decision to challenge the President; he’ll stay by her side. So will the girls, but when they present a variety of ways to cheat in the upcoming gamble, Yumeko is grateful, but declines any shenanigans, which will only ruin the fun.

All she wants is to gamble with Momobami, and all Momobami wants is to gamble with her. They both decide to leave things up to fate—literally: the scoring in their game will be determined by the values on various cards in a Tarot deck. Momobami will pick for the past, Yumeko for the present, and Ryouta for the future.

But just one card, The Fool, could determine Momobami and Yumeko’s fates. Whomever loses must leave the academy forever.

This is pretty simple stuff, and it’s basically a means of determining if either gambler has the “stars aligned”, as it were, in their favor; considering the success both have found in past gambles, they’re both pretty “lucky” gamblers, but it’s their drive to make greater and riskier bets that enables them to access that luck, where more timid players may shrink.

I will say that the overseer of the game, the lolipop-sucking, fang-bearing Yomozuki Runa, is a frequent and grating distraction; it was never explained why she’s so tiny or why she wears an animal costume or how and why she’s so good at gambling that she’s on the student council, so it’s hard to care about her that much. But at least she’s not a direct participant in the game, just the ref.

When Yumeko draws a +1 card and Kirari draws a -21, putting Yumeko in a 20-point hole, one person who is a participant and ultimately does not shrink before his duty is Ryouta. While initially clearly scared of all the responsibility foisted upon him to the point of being overwhelmed, Yumeko calms him by assuring him that the responsibility is hers and hers alone; she chose this game, and will accept whatever outcome.

But Ryouta says she’s wrong: he is responsible for the card he chooses, and how it will affect both Yumeko’s future and his own. He doesn’t want her to leave the academy; he wants to remain by her side, either supporting her or playing against her.

His speech voicing his commitment causes Yumeko to have one of her patented gambling-gasms, the last of the season, and he avoids the card almost too obviously marked as potentially The Fool (the card that will cause Yumeko to automatically win) and instead draws Judgment, which nets Yumeko 20 points for a total of +21 to Kirari’s -21. It’s a draw – no one has to leave the academy.

With this result, essentially everyone wins: Momobami stays on as president, but seems open to dissolving the council in light of someone like Yumeko blowing up her “aquarium” for the better; Ryouta, Mary, and Itsuki don’t lose their crazy new friend; and Yumeko remains at the academy, and is able to continue doing what she loves best.

Despite the stakes, Kirari and Yumeko’s final gamble can’t really touch some of the previous gambles that had more time to marinate. As for the reveal that Runa is in contact with “Momobami Ririka”, the mask-wearing council member Kirari disguised herself as last week, elicited little more than a shrug from me.

But the stage is set for a possible second season down the road, perhaps with a fresh set of new, distorted faces, new alliances, and new gambles. If this episiode didn’t mark the end of Kakegurui, I’ll probably take a peek at its continuation.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 23

War explodes in, over, and around Anatae, as Lucifer joins the battle in his flagship, and the Onyx Soldiers and Charioce loyalists battle the alliance of demons, gods, and men. While these zoom-outs to the wider fighting certainly make for nice eye candy, what truly interested me was when they zoomed back in on the smaller, more intimate moments between various pairs of characters, be it Jeanne and Azazel, or Dias finding Alessand.

Alessand cries, begs for his life, and then stabs Dias when his guard is down, betraying him again. At that point, Dias is done with Al, except to drive a sword into him, but a little demon boy, who can see through Al’s forced smile, doesn’t fall for it, and kills him with a dagger.

After making the wrong choice to murder El in sight of a grander station, Al ended up slain by a small, frail, hungry child and died bleeding out in a dark alley. No songs will be sung of Alessand. But hey, he did get Nina into the palace, right?

Nina doesn’t understand Charioce one bit…but she sure wants to, and that means going to him once more, even if previous instances of doing so didn’t really turn out so well for her or anyone near her. Charioce waits on the top deck of aboard his flagship, surrounded by the Onyx Soldiers…who aren’t doing too hot.

Their bodies reach their absolute limit at just the wrong time: when their king needs them the most to protect him. But the combined force of Jeanne and Azazel proves too much for them, although not by much…if the Commander had had just a few more moments of life, he might’ve managed to stab Jeanne in the throat with a hidden blade.

Lucifer’s flagship, Bacchus’ wagon, and yes, an elevating bridge made out of zombies amassed by Rita bearing her and Kaisar, all descend on the same spot, where Charioce is about to be charged by Jeanne and Azazel. It’s Kaisar who makes it just in time to protect his king, and gets stabbed and impaled by their snakes and spear. Rita is beside herself, while Jeanne and Azazel are sheepish.

Charioce is shocked, but he shouldn’t be: Kaisar Lidfort is, and always has been, a true knight. If the world survives this latest attack from Bahamut, it will need more Kaisars, not more Charioces. A few Favaros wouldn’t hurt though…

Made in Abyss – 12

This week, while waiting for Riko to heal, Nanachi teaches Reg the “true nature” of the abyss, calling it, essentially, a physical, if invisible, trap of barbs that are easy to descend through but quite difficult to ascend. The Abyss itself is both something that doesn’t want anything going in, but also won’t let anything that does get in get out easily, or without exacting a toll.

That toll would seem to extend all the way tot he surface, where lil’ Kiyui (Kiwi) has come down with an awful fever; a growing trend that is claiming lives. When Girou (Gilo) takes him off the island onto one of the ships of the “Caravan Fleet” docked there, he recovers immediately, without any medical treatment.

It would seem that all that was needed was to get further away from the Abyss.

And yet Riko, like her mother Lyza, her mentor Ouzen, and Nanachi and Mitty, couldn’t help but get closer and closer. The longing to reach thebottom of the netherworld and discover its secrets is far more agonizing than any trap, predator, poison, or curse. It’s a curse in and of itself; an infinitely seductive world beneath the surface, simultaneously beckoning and warning.

Good News: Mitty isn’t trying to eat Riko, she’s merely being friendly, and as Nanachi says, uncharacteristically “emotional” toward a visitor (though it’s doubtful they have many other visitors). She also points out Mitty was once a girl like Riko, then demonstrates to Reg how terrible her cooking ability is, prompting Reg to commit to cooking for RIko once she wakes up.

Meanwhile, Nanachi uses a thin, transparent “fog weave” to very effectively demonstrate the physical qualities of the Curse of Abyss; how it morphs to take the shape of whatever it covers, and the consequences of recklessly bursting through it.

Back in the hut, we’re “treated” to one of the more disturbing sequences in the show: Riko, covered in a fleshy film of her own, sits in the pitch black darkness but for a hole, through which Mitty’s eye peers. Riko peers back, and hears not the cooing and moaning of the present Mitty, but the more lucid cries of the girl Mitty once was. Chilling.

Continuing her lessons, Nanachi places a device in Reg’s helmet so she can communicate with him in real time from afar as he responds to a call for help from a Black Whistle, who then bristles when he sees a mere child has answered and begs him to flee.

Of course, Reg isn’t an ordinary kid, and he has a score to settle with this particular piercer, so with Nanachi’s aid he reaches out and grabs the curse, (which the piercer uses to predict the future with its red “nose”) and fires Incinerator at point-blank range, forcing the beast to shed 80% of its quills and withdraw.

Reg calmly asks the stunned Black Whistle to relay a message to Girou up at the Belchero Orphanage: “They are continuing their adventure.”

Even being almost killed won’t sate Riko’s longing to continue, and Reg knows that, so whenever she wakes up and is well and strong enough to do so, they’ll resume their descent. Reg, grateful for all of Nanachi’s help, asks if she’ll accompany him and Riko on their journey.

It’s not that Nanachi outright refuses their offer, but has a request of her own that is more pressing: she asks if Reg will kill Mitty for her. We heard through Riko the misery Mitty lives in each and every moment; almost gone but not gone enough for it to not matter.

Barring some kind of miracle that could save her, killing Mitty would seem to be a mercy; it’s just that after what happened with them and Bondrewed, Nanachi hasn’t been able to herself do what she know needed to be done. She hopes there’s enough emotional separation for Reg to do it instead.

Classroom of the Elite – 11

Prior to watching this episode, only one persistent wish occupied my mind: Get off the damn island. Just get off. It’s been a convoluted mess and I’m honestly having trouble caring anymore. The primary reason I watch anime is to be entertained, and the island arc just ain’t getting the job done. It’s a slog.

Alas, we do not leave the island, as time only transitions from Day 5 to Day 6, with the girls and boys of class D continuing to bicker amongst themselves, a storm coming, and the hidden fact that their leader Horikita has been ill since leaving the boat.

Way too much time is spent on the secondary and tertiary classmates yelling at each other. I already get that there’s discord, the episode just repeats itself. Furthermore, there’s absolutely no reason for Yamauchi to put a clump of mud on Horikita’s head, except perhaps to serve the plot, as Horikita must exert herself by throwing him.

More importantly by having mud randomly dropped on her head, she has to wash it off, which means stripping down to her skivvies…which means temporarily not having her key card on her person. Her one primary job as leader is to hold on to that card, but she failed, and only informs Ayanokouji.

Their talk is interrupted by a fire at the camp, which sets off another round of argument. Hirata kinda loses it once it starts to pour, and then orders the others to do useless things like cover the already-wet firewood and collect the already-soaked clothes.

Completely independent of the events on the island, we keep making small check-ins on Ayano’s past as some kind of organization-raised “special” kid, the last one remaining among of a large group of potentials, for which he seems to be placed behind bars.

I honestly couldn’t tell how these little glimpses of Ayano’s past are trying to relate to the events of the present…unless, perhaps, Ayanokouji means to betray Horikita, and is the one who told Ibuki to steal the key card. It could also be an elaborate plan to make their rivals think chaos reigns in Class D, and “betraying” Horikita is part of that. Still, Ibuki doesn’t hold back on beating her up.

That person remains a mystery for now, but the reveal that Ibuki is the one causing all the mayhem feels a bit…obvious, even though the episode tried to keep its cards close. Ayano must’ve found something buried in the spot where he found her, and we don’t know that either.

I have no idea if we’ll get another cour of CotE, but if not, it’s been an interminable, disappointing, seemingly aimless final arc, in which everyone has become progressively dumber, except perhaps Ayano, whose true intentions remain stubbornly opaque. It will take one hell of a finale to bring all the disparate pieces together and deliver some satisfying answers.

Aho Girl – 12 (Fin)

The final episode of Aho Girl falls on the tenth anniversary of A-kun and Yoshiko meeting when she and her mom moved in next door. Yoshiko sought a playmate, and it was derision at first sight for A-kun, a stoic, studious five-year-old. She treats every attempt to avoid or get away from her as a game, and never wants to stop playing. When she gives him a big long kiss, he uppercuts her into the sky for the first time.

Realizing the key to keeping Yoshiko away is physical superiority, A-kun begins rigorous training, Rocky-style. Alas, he ends up training too hard and passes out. He wakes up with Yoshiko on top of him, she stayed by his side for an entire day while he was out with a cold. He almost allows that she’s “not that bad” until his mom tells him she was kissing him the whole time. To add insult to injury, his punches can’t even faze her!

If fighting her doesn’t work, A-kun considers other options; after all, he can’t let this go on, lest he end up marrying Yoshiko and having idiot kids with her. So he turns into a demented pervert and chases her around, flipping her skirt, until she cries and he feels guilty for going to far. But even here Yoshiko manages to get the wrong idea, and apologizes for making A-kun “hold back”, removing her panties and putting them on his face.

Ten years later, she’s wearing those same panties (which don’t fit her anymore at all), still trying to play with A-kun when all he wasnts is peace and quiet; and after all these years he still wants to kill her. But if he’s honest, isn’t he glad there’s someone in his life to make things interesting? No. He hates her guts. But does he? Yes.

Tsurezure Children – 12 (Fin)

Tsurezure Children’s finale starts with Sports Day and a soccer tournament, during which time Kurihara cheers for Yamane, Kanda wonders if it’s okay to cheer Takase, Takase wonders if it’s okay to look her way, Kana and Chiaki are still cool to each other, and Patricia joins the boys.

Chiaki gets the opportunity to save Kana from getting hit by the ball, and as thanks, Kana starts cheering for Chiaki—in her own way, telling the idiot to impress her. Chiaki can’t help but oblige, and comes this close to scoring (a goal) when his run is blocked by Noro, who, not having a girlfriend, resents the guys who do. Patricia then swoops in and scores, ruining Chiaki’s chance to be cool for Kana.

On the last day of school before Summer Break, plans for a beach trip crop up. Takano’s friend tells her Sugawara may come, and Sugawara’s friend (Chiaki) tells him Takano will. But neither believe the other cares whether they go or not, and so remain noncommittal.

However, this is only the beginning of an apparent conspiracy between their friends to get the two alone together, and in the process, Kana ends up alone with Chiaki, even though he didn’t get her message because his phone battery died.

Chiaki concedes that they’re broken up, but he realizes the error of his ways in being so comfortable in a relationship with Kana he thought he could do no wrong. He asks that the existing breakup stand, but that Kana allow him to confess to her once more, because he doesn’t want to lose her again. When he asks her out, Kana, who never truly wanted to break up in the first place, quickly says yes, her face drenched with tears of joy.

In the classroom, it’s Takano who takes the initiative, first asking Sugawara in a voice well above her usual volume whether he’s going to the beach, and then, when he’s ready to sheepishly leave, telling him it won’t be fun without him. Just like that, the two are able to connect and move forward. It’s a happy ending and smiles all ’round for two couples who had suffered so much, as we suffered with them, and a sweet place to end.

Tsurezure Children stuck to a simple formula and executed it admirably, utilizing the variety, realism, relatability and rootability of its sprawling ensemble cast. Of course, not every relationship has been resolved; I wouldn’t mind another go.

Kakegurui – 11

When Yumeko gives up two queens, it convinces Kaede she’s going for the choice to make the “weakest” hand win. When Itsuki fronts 100 chips for Yumeko’s cause, Kaede stays on the “high road” and simply continues to raise, knowing he has enough funds to best them and choose “strongest.”

Just as he expected, Yumeko raises and raises until there’s no more money left, until she brings up life plan she got from the council when she was in deep debt, stating one’s “life” in terms of the value appraised by such plans should be a bet-able commodity.

While Itsuki initially struggles with offering the value of her own life for Yumeko’s sake, she realizes she can’t win and stop Kaede and others from looking down on her if she isn’t willing to bet everything she has and everything she is and ever will be. As a symbol of her wager, she tears out her fancy nails with her teeth – which really would hurt more than she lets on!

Kaede doesn’t accept the raise at first, as he considers the life plans given to livestock to be mere collateral until debts are paid. But as dealer the Vice President gets to decide, not him or Yumeko, and she decides the bet is valid to the tune of 10 billion yen. When Kaede bristles at her authority, she removes her mask to reveal she is President Momobami; she never left.

This is where Kaede, in a desperate bid to regain control of the game, decides he’ll raise Yumeko and Itsuka once more by betting his own life, thus straying from the high road he was assured would take him all the way to the national finance minister’s office. He believes this can only happen if he usurps Momobami, and Itsuka’s funds are a crucial means to that end.

Having raised his life, Kaede is awarded choice, and chooses “strongest.” Itsuka’s initial reaction looks like one of shock over putting all her hopes in Yumeko and losing again…but Kaede’s three 8’s are no match for Yumeko’s three Jacks, and Yumeko and Itsuka are victorious. All because he left the high road…and couldn’t stop looking down on Itsuka, inspiring her to defeat him at all costs.

The loss leaves Kaede unconscious, with hair as white as snow, as if bled dry of all vitality. As he’s carried off by medics, Itsuka feels bad for him, without whom she’d never have gotten into the council, or stood where she stands now. Yumeko can’t help but think how beautiful is the sight of someone who bet everything…and lost.

That leaves Momobami and Yumeko boring holes into one another with their blue and red eyes, respectively. Having beaten Kaede (and drawn out a side of him she’s never seen), the president has all but confirmed that the one gambler who has a snowball’s chance in hell of standing beside her is this Jabami Yumeko person.

Yumeko seems to be similarly interested in what Momobami is capable of, and deduces her the root of her discontent all along, even as she watched the life escape from countless gamblers: What Momobami wants most of all is to see herself in that position…and that requires someone other than herself; someone who can surpass her. She can’t wait to see if that’s who Yumeko is, and Yumeko can’t wait to show her.

Koi to Uso – 12 (Fin)

Ririna doesn’t simply say she’s willing to abandon their arranged marriage for Yukari and Misaki’s sake; she lays out in a very detailed and realistic way exactly the way it’s going to happen, and it involves her and Yukari pretending like they hate each other’s guts—in other words, lying.

Yukari doesn’t like the sound of that one bit, as he doesn’t want to even pretend he doesn’t like Ririna. But Ririna appeals to Yukari’s deep and inspiring love for Misaki—without which Ririna would never have come out of her shell—and is able to get him to agree to her plan.

That means, at some point, if all goes as planned, Ririna will have herself “recalculated” to find another partner to marry, and asks Yukari to ‘show her what to do’, so to speak. The practical excuse aside, both Ririna and Yukari are lying here as well.

Ririna loves both Misaki and Yukari, so she doesn’t want to hurt either. What she fails to realize is that Misaki and Yukari have the same exact reason they don’t want to hurt her: they love her too. Forget about levels or tenure; love is love, and especially during one’s youth it can be extremely hard to distinguish one form for another.

As a result, Yukari initially stays away from the wedding dress fitting, convinced he’s hurt both Ririna (by agreeing to her plan) and Misaki (by kissing her in the chapel), and not wanting to cause any more pain to either. Nisaka shows up and lays it out as only Nisaka can: people who are hurt by loving him is not his problem; it’s theirs.

Nisaka speaks from experience here; he knows he’ll never have Yukari or even get him to look at him the way he wants…but he’s not going to bother him about it. He tells Yukari that when it comes to love, you have to look out for number one.

In Yukari’s case, he doesn’t feel comfortable living life without Misaki or Ririna. At the chapel, Misaki assures Ririna that her plan is impossible, because she, Misaki, loves both Ririna and Yukari. She couldn’t let Ririna drop her marriage to Yukari any more than Yukari or Ririna wanted to hurt Misaki by getting married.

It’s quite the conundrum! And certainly one for which there are no long-term answers. Presumably, Ririna and Yukari will one day marry, just as Misaki will marry her match (we finally learn definitively that she hasn’t received her notice yet). It would seem that love is not a problem for any of the three; it’s just a matter of learning what kind of love that is, and how that will (or won’t) jibe with cultural and societal norms.

Is this finale a cop-out that lets everyone off the hook by delaying a concrete decision on who marries whom? Sure is. But I asked for someone to win last week, and it would seem that, for now at least, everyone wins…Except Nisaka!

Ultimately, this show lacked the teeth that I had expected of a premise in which people were, if not outright forced, very strongly nudged into arranged marriages. As I’ve stated in earlier reviews, Japan’s appallingly low birth rate is a crisis that threatens the nation’s very existence. Drastic societal measures are needed that the notoriously unreliable bureaucracy likely won’t even begin to tackle until it’s too late.

Koi to Uso was initially, and could have remained, a fascinating look into the “what-if” scenario. But ultimately, The Yukari Law was little more than window dressing for a watchable but otherwise by-the-numbers youth-love-polygon show. It could have been much more, but would have had to go to darker places it clearly wasn’t interested in going.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 22

While Charioce is in Eibos, trying to widen a rift, Jeanne is bringing demon, god, and man together in a grand alliance based upon their mutual hate of the asshole king, and Alessand is now in charge of the Orleans Knights, but a few of his subordinates wonder if they’re on the right side, and when Al tells himself he did nothing wrong, he doesn’t sound very convincing.

Kaisar, hopeless idealist to the end, tries in vain to halt Jeanne’s march by trying to shoulder responsibility for El’s death by giving Al free roam of their hideout. But this simply isn’t about who killed El; it’s about everyone Charioce has killed, hurt, or caused to suffer or despair. Like most things with Jeanne, this has grown into something far bigger than herself and her own desire for revenge…though she does want that revenge.

When Nina and Favaro arrive at Eibos via Bacchus’ wagon, through the obscuring fog they learn what Charioce is up to: awakening Bahamut. Nina rushes into the stronghold and takes down everyone in her path with ease, and even outmaneuvers and overpowers Charioce. But even with his own sword in her hand and the opportunity to cut off his arm and the bracelet attached to it, she can’t close the deal, even when he goads her to “do it”,  and backs down. Which…is a bit disappointing.

Instead, Nina and Favaro listen to Charioce’s advisor explain how this day was always coming; when Bahamut had to be dealt with on a permanent basis to prevent him from awakening anew and destroying the world. Charioce was the king that had been groomed to deal with this mission, and it’s one he’s more than willing to sacrifice his life to achieve. The rift opens further, Nina and Favaro escape, and Charioce comes into possession of a fleet of huge, advanced airships.

This is all very cool, it is…but while it’s now been helpfully explained why Charioce did so many terrible things (to acquire the power to destroy Bahamut) it’s still a classic ends-justify-the-means scenario, and just because he’s puting his life on the line doesn’t automatically make him a martyr.

That applies especially if the ends don’t work out; Bahamut is awakened and blows up most of Charioce’s fleet. Was…that supposed to happen? After all this, is Charioce in over his head? Whatever the case, Jeanne is fighting the wrong war; Bahamut has instantly become the Most Important Thing to deal with at the moment. The rebellion will have to wait.

Kizumonogatari III: Reiketsu-hen

Araragi Koyomi has beaten Dramaturgy, Episode, and Guillotinecutter with relative ease, and secured his master Kiss-Shot’s four extremities.
This third movie isn’t about that mission; that’s over now. It’s about everything that comes after, and how we get to Kiss-Shot being at full power to the greatly diminished state in which we were introduced to her in 2009’s Bakemonogatari.

Kiss-Shot promised Koyomi she’d make him a human if he got her arms and legs back, and while Oshino was meant to be Koyomi’s fourth opponent—he in possession of Kiss-Shot’s heart—he is satisfied that the balance has been restored. He not only surrenders the heart, but forgives Koyomi’s 5 million in debt before taking off.

So, will Kiss-Shot keep up her end of the bargain she struck with Koyomi? She’s certainly happy to be in her 26-year-old form; giddy, even. They meet on the roof of the cram school and talk simply like two old chums.

Kiss-Shot tells Koyomi about her first servant, whom she lost to suicide (she tells him more about this during Onimonogatari), and pulls Kokoro-watari, a memento from that time, out of her body.

After watching Kiss-Shot frolick on the roof, Koyomi realizes he’s a bit hungry, so volunteers to pick up some snacks at the local 7-Eleven while Kiss-Shot ‘prepares’ to restore his humanity.

Upon his return, he discovers the nature of that preparation: Kiss-Shot graphically devouring Guillotinecutter, then wondering where Koyomi’s “mobile snack”, i.e. Hanekawa is.

It’s a devastating revelation to Koyomi that yeah, when Kiss-Shot is talking about food she’s talking about humans. She feeds on humans, and he not only saved her life, but restored her to full power. As he rages in the gym equipment room, blaming himself for Guillotinecutter’s death, Hanekawa pays him a visit.

As far as Koyomi’s concerned, he doesn’t deserve to get his humanity back after everything he’s done. He doesn’t even deserve to live, and certainly doesn’t want to live to the point where he sees Tsubasa as food. He’s already disgusted with the fact that the three hunters he defeated were on the side of justice.

Tsubasa, not surprisingly, has his back when he doesn’t have his own. She’s made her selfishness known to Koyomi, and she wants to see him next term, so he can’t die. Besides, throwing away all he’s accomplished thus far would just be running away. Even if he eats her, she’s fine with it, because she wouldn’t call someone a friend unless she’s willing to die for them, no matter the reason.

No, pointing the blame on and killing himself isn’t the right path for Koyomi. Not when he’s the only one who has a chance against a Full Power Kiss-Shot. Knowing he has to go up against her, Koyomi asks, for the first time ever, if he can touch Tsubasa’s boobs, in order to “build up his tolerance” for Kiss-Shot’s own substantial bust.

That attempt goes bust, however, when Tsubasa is more than willing to let him fondle her boobs and even take her maidenhood if he likes, but he chickens out and instead gives her a weak shoulder massage.

Hitagi may end up being Koyomi’s beloved, but there can be no doubt who his best friend is after watching these movies. Because all this takes place before he even meets Hitagi, Tsubasa is free to be the one and only girl, and thus one hell of a best one.

Alright, no more fooling around, it’s time to fight his master Kiss-Shot, who makes one hell of a fiery, explosive entrance in the stadium, the venue of their duel. Kiss-Shot know realizes she was insensitive in being so casual about how she took her meal. With that in mind, she asks him to return to her side, but of course he can’t, because she ate someone.

Koyomi saved her life, and won back her limbs, because she was weak. Once she was no longer weak, and Koyomi saw what she was capable of, he essentially woke up from the spell he had been under. At an impasse, they begin to go at it.

Because they’re both immortal, quick-healing vampires, it’s an absolutely bonkers fight, with heads and limbs flying all over the place, oftentimes sprouting back up before the old parts faded away. But as bloody and brutal as it is, the fight is a stalemate, with neither party able to inflict lasting damage on the other.

Once again unable to stay away when her friend is in need, Tsubasa tells Koyomi something isn’t right, and it’s something everyone but Koyomi would have realize by now: Kiss-Shot wants to be killed; it’s the only way for Koyomi to get his humanity back.

When Kiss-Shot tries to lash out at the interfering Tsubasa, Koyomi (or rather, his head and some neckbones) latch on to Kiss-Shot’s neck, and he starts sucking her blood, a lot of it, until fully half of it is gone, leaving her shriveled and powerless.

But he doesn’t want Kiss-Shot to die.

Instead, he wants everyone to get what they want; everyone to be satisfied. So he calls out to Oshino, whom he knows is watching, and hires him (for five million) to come up with a solution. Unfortunately, no amount of money will change the fact that it’s impossible for everyone to be satisfied.

So instead, Oshino, true to his nature of attaining balance everywhere he can, proposes a way for everyone to be dissatisfied in equal measure. Kiss-Shot can live on as pseudo-vampire mimicking a human, robbed of all her power and dependent on Koyomi to survive.

Koyomi, meanwhile, will become a pseudo-human mimicking a vampire; and both will continue to live, and the risk to humanity will be greatly reduced, but not completely eliminated. Koyomi won’t let Kiss-Shot die, so he takes the deal.

Fast-forward to August and the beginning of a new term for Koyomi and Tsubasa. He still heals quickly for a human, but not nearly as quickly as he was. He also views the world differently now that he can walk in the sun again, something Tsubasa thinks is very positive.

Koyomi pays a visit to Oshino at the cram school to give what’s left of Kiss-Shot some of his blood. On the roof, Oshino characterizes the situation thusly:

What you remember of a vampire eating someone…is like the disillusionment of watching a cute cat devour a live mouse.

And here you are, having chosen to keep your own little vampire like a pet.

You’ve dulled its fangs, pulled out its claws, crushed its throat and neutered it, right?

You, who was once treated as a pet, are getting back at your former master by treating her as one…not a moving tale, is it?

Well, it was, and is, most definitely a moving tale, but I prefer Koyomi’s more poetic way of characterizing it:

We, who hurt each other so terribly, will sit here licking each others wounds. We damaged goods will seek the other out in comfort.

If you are to die tomorrow, I’m fine with my life ending then as well.

But if you want to live for me for one more day, I’ll go on living with you today as well.

And thus begins a tale of kindred bound by their scars.

Soaked in red and written in black, a story of blood.

One of which I’ll never speak.

Our very own, precious as it is, story of scars.

And I have no intention of reciting it to anyone.

It’s not just a beautiful way to end this fantastically epic prequel trilogy, but an artfully powerfully-stated mission statement for all of the stories in the Monogatari Series that follow chronologically. It’s inspired me to re-watch Nekomonogatari (Kuro) and then Bakemonogatari from the beginning, with a new appreciation for where Koyomi has been, andthanks to the recently completed Owarimonogatari—where he’s going.

Finally, major kudos to Kamiya Hiroshi, Horie Yui, and Sakamoto Maaya; all three elevated these movies that much more with their layered, engaging performances.