Kokkoku – 04

Juri’s would-be attacker is stopped by Gramps’ catlike reflexes and Juri’s own power, and she gets Gramps to talk about the incident from her youth in which the two went to the Stasis because her dog Andre was about to die, then she used her power out of anger to almost cast Gramps out of Stasis. While running around looking for her, he passes a young Majima on a bridge with her big stuffed cat.

When more thugs go after them and Gramps has to stop to rest, it’s No More Miss Nice Juri. She’s done running, and decides to launch a counterattack on the thugs, pulling out their specters one by one. The fight works up an appetite, so they head to a konbini for some food and drink.

There, they find the place a mess thanks to the thugs, and Juri curses them for being so awful before trying to turn matters to the girl on the bridge years ago, which Gramps only somewhat remembers.

They later can’t find Tsubasa or Makoto where they left them, but Juri believes the specter of the man killed by the Handler transferred to Tsubasa, which means he’s moving around somewhere.

Meanwhile, Takafumi is being grilled by Sakawa and his friend, who think the Yukawa family has been selfish and reckless in their ownership and usage of the Master Stone.

Takafumi, the worst negotiator in the world, doesn’t seem like he’d resist whatever ridiculous terms these sinister sweet-talkers come up with, as he still believes they’re holding his family members hostage.

Back at the Yukawa residence, Majima and the other henchmen sit around. One gets restless, and decides to demonstrate the proper way to strangle someone on a stalled guy, but gets killed by a much smaller and weaker but still deadly Handler/Herald.

When Majima inspects the remains of the Handler, she finds a desiccated human body, and tells the others that those that stay in Stasis and give up control of their bodies to the Specters end up as Heralds. Someone in Majima’s family met such a fate, which goes a little further towards explaining her present beef with the Yukawas.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 16

The pagan holiday of Yule is upon Chise and Elias, and the Yule Twins appear to remind them to make their preparations, gathering various logs, boughs, leaves and berries. Elias wants to make certain Chise doesn’t overwork herself (she herself wonders if she’ll make it to next Fall), while they both have to convince Ruth that he’s not a failure of a familiar after Chise’s latest scare.

These scenes are imbued with the spirit and the beauty of the season, from the snow shimmering in the setting sun to the awkward exchange of kisses under the mistletoe. Elias reports that Chise’s kiss made him a little “tingly” in the neck and back, but is that because he felt something emotionally, or just feeling the effects of having to crouch down?

The next day, after receiving a message via bird in the night, Chise sneaks away to London on her own, where she meets Alice. Alice wants to hang, but also needs advice on what to get Renfred for Christmas. It occurs to Chise she hadn’t even considered getting Elias a gift, but wants to do so.

As they shop and eat and eat and shop, Alice eventually runs into a “straggler from her past”, who wants to sell her drugs. When he doesn’t take no for an answer, Alice kicks him in the balls, and Chise scares of his friends with a ferocious Ruth (eager to redeem himself).

Now that Chise has seen a glimpse of Alice’s past, she tells Alice not to hold back on talking about that past just because it might be uncomfortable; after all, Chise knows something about rough pasts!

Alice was a drug dealer and an addict until one day Renfred plucked her off the streets, invited her into his home as a ward of sorts, and stayed with her throughout the long, painful withdrawal process.

Once she was clean he put her to work organizing his library, but when she opened the wrong book a monster jumped out to attack her, and Renfred took the attack for her, having his face all ripped off.

From then on, Alice knew she could trust Renfred, which made him the first person she could trust in her life. Now that extends to at least a second person, as she clearly trusts and likes Chise enough to open up like this.

Once their shopping for their respective masters is finished, the two part ways, and Chise and Ruth (who is happy Chise has made a friend) head home, where an “angry” Elias is waiting. I use angry in quotes because he himself isn’t sure what it means to be angry, but if he was going to be angry it would be because Chise ran off alone without telling him anything.

Still, Elias is happy with Chise’s gift for him, a new string tie, while Chise learns that Elias has a knack for making teddy bears, and made a big one, his best yet, for her. He also points out other presents for her to open Christmas morning.

Chise goes to bed warm, excited, and actually looking forward to the morning, something that would have been quite foreign in her dark past. The next day Ashen Eye finds “a pitiful child” walking in the snow; likely the subject of next week’s episode. But this week was all about Yule, Christmas, and two women with dark pasts living much brighter, happier lives. I can dig it.

3-gatsu no Lion – 37

Rei has known Souya for years, but like everyone else, has regarded him as some kind of shogi diety, floating above the ground on a higher plane of existence…and shogi. But thanks to his win in the Newcomer Tournament, here he is, sitting opposite Souya, a real, living, breathing human being. Rei isn’t sure if Souya has strayed into his world, or if he has strayed into Souya’s.

As their commemorative match progresses, it’s pretty clear it’s the latter. And you know what? Rei likes it in Souya’s world! It’s a pretty chill place where he doesn’t feel the same pressures or emotions when facing previous opponents.

He’s in the eye of the white storm, where all is quiet, and where there is nothing but shogi, the next move, and the moves after that. Calm, tranquil, and refreshing almost to the point where Rei feels bad for insulting an opponent who defeated him.

And Souya does defeat him, mostly due to an error Rei knows he made the second he placed the piece. In the review, he makes the right move instead, and the Meijin nods. When Rei looks at the palm of his hand, Souya speaks the words “that’s what it’s like.”

Whether Rei can now feel the game through his fingers, the fact remains it was a good match. I’m glad Rei didn’t pull out a miracle win, because that frankly would have not lined up with all we know about Souya, mostly that he’s nigh unbeatable.

Rei doesn’t like losing, but at least he knows when a win simply isn’t in the cards; the gap is too wide, and he hasn’t figured out how he’ll catch up, if that’s even possible. And it wasn’t by any means an embarrasing loss; his match with Souya engendered much lively discussion among their shogi peers.

Last week Rei got his first taste of Souya-attempting-to-act-human at the pre-match reception, and was somewhat troubled by the fact Souya has always been profoundly alone.

Rei, as we know, has a fair amount of Kawamoto in him, and so when the bullet train service is suddenly suspended, he takes care of a disoriented Souya, who proceeds to follow Rei around like a lost puppy.

That being said, Souya has been on this earth longer than Rei, and so whenever Rei can’t find what he’s looking for among the chaotic crush of the station, Souya always seems to quietly point out the proper way forward, be it the ticket booth, finding an inn for the night, and finding an exit that won’t get them drenched.

But yeah, if Souya isn’t physically deaf, he’s certainly close to it…as if he cast off the need to hear sounds because sound isn’t required in shogi.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 01 (First Impressions)

After an appropriately intense prologue in which a red Saber is magnificently defeated by what looks like some kind of golden deity. She starts falling and her eyes meet those of a dying girl—perhaps the female version of our protagonist (in a different life). Like Bakemonogatari or Madoka Magica, Shinjo starts things out loud and brash.

Things tone down a bit (or possibly reset), as we settle into a more-or-less ordinary high school class. There, familiar faces abound as our protagonist, Kishinami Hakuno, has interactions with Matou Shinji, Toosaka Rin, Matou Sakura in short order.

These faces are familiar, but the setting is strange, and there are constant flashes to a darker, more sinister reality lurking beneath the bright top layer. Kishinami can sense the death, and he questions what anyone is doing in this place, or why it even exists.

When he goes against a teacher’s warnings and approaches “Limbo”, the incinerator in the bowels of the school, he gets a fresh lecture from a bespectacled teacher. This is indeed an artificial paradise; a “digital hell” made in the image of heaven. He calls it a “Moon Cage”, where those with Master compatibility are sent.

Once the number of potentials reaches 100, there is a purge, and only the strongest selectees survive. An already disoriented Kishinami is quickly stabbed in the back by Matou Shinji (I guess he’s a jackass in any reality!) and as he starts to bleed out, an army of terminators starts mopping up the losers.

But Kishinami refuses to die, not without “vengeance” or “bliss, ” and presumably, not without more answers. As he’s chased by some kind of stone golem, he makes it to Limbo and falls in.

When he’s at the bottom, he finds a red sword waiting to be plucked…some version of Excalibur? His would-be destroyer is breathing down is neck, but Kishinami reaches and grasps the sword in time, summoning the servant Saber, who cleaves the foe in two in a sumptuous display.

By choosing to fight rather than simply run or survive, Kishinami seems to have earned the favor of the most powerful of Heroic Spirits, and a chance at an “encore” to attain vengeance for his plight and the bliss of victory—and Kotomine Kirei seems to be rooting for the kid, in his way.

Hmm…I found this a fresh an interesting twist on the Fate formula, going virtual and combining advanced Matrix-esque technology with the more low-tech history of the various servants. The Holy Grail would seem to be, at least in part, release from all of the layers of virtual prisons; a “true freedom”.

Akiyuki Shinbo directs this much like Bakemonogatari and Madoka, juxtaposing epic spectacles with mundane daily life and not afraid to let things get a bit trippy. While I would like to see a little more humor infused in the proceedings, I understand the need to establish this world with a straight face. Let’s see where this leads.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 04

So, the pretty new transfer student Shinomoto Akiho is totally the cloaked figure in Sakura’s dreams, right? Someone her same height (and even a similar-sounding name) shows up way too concurrently with the arrival of the cloaked figure in the real world at the tail end of last week’s outing.

If Touya doesn’t let on like he knows anything concrete (for now), he certainly seems to sense Sakura is out of sorts the morning after her disturbing vision of the figure. As for Sakura, she and Tomoyo are bowled over by Akiho’s beauty and eager to make friends with her ASAP.

Whatever, I say, could go wrong here?!

Syaoran certainly seems suspicious of Akiho, even if the others are just as charmed by the newbie as Sakura (then again, remain suspicious of Syaoran…what a tangled web we weaved). Akiho seems singularly invested in making Sakura like her as much as possible, flattering her when they’re alone in the hall, and again when Sakura gets an answer right in class (apparently not a common occurrence!).

After giving that answer, Sakura notices the trees getting up and walking around outside, setting off a series of Sakura’s patented all-purpose catchphrase, HOEHHH! At this point I always look forward to every time she does that, and hearing all the subtle variations on that exclamation. Tange Sakura is a treasure.

It’s Tomoyo to the rescue, having the class believe Sakura is not feeling well. Of course, she also has ulterior motives, and has prepared a Chinese-style costume for Sakura to don during her next card-capturing escapade.

Sadly for her, Tomoyo doesn’t get to film much of the spectacle, as Sakura encloses the runaway trees within Siege, then floods the cube with water from Aqua to immobilize their scampering roots.

Every action sequence thus far in CSS has been a delight to watch, from the novel ways in which Sakura achieves victory, to even the more repetitive elements like her chants and pose-striking (week-to-week variety to which is achieved by the varying costumes).

Her next card, “Action”, thus secured, Sakura takes it to Yukito, whose alter-ego Yue inspects it and concludes that it also seems to lack magical power; it’s all, apparently, in Sakura’s key and staff. The visit gives us the opportunity to see both sides of Yukito/Yue, and learn more about the interesting dynamic he has with Sakura.

Then Syaoran calls, and we’re treated to another heart-melting romantic exchange between the two, with Syaoran accepting Sakura’s offer to make him a lunch sometime, then asking her to call him if anything unusual happens, and Sakura taking it further and asking if she can call him even if it isn’t something unusual.

While Sakura is calling from Yukito’s porch, bathed in gorgeous light of the setting sun, Syaoran is holding the phone at arms length, holed up in the shadows, because he is clearly up to some shadowy shit. He immediately calls Eriol, who isn’t returning Sakura’s calls, and reports on Sakura, Akiho, and the new card, before these words are exchanged:

Eriol: I’m sure it’s hard on you, but this is not the time.
Syaoran: I came here to be ready for that time, when it comes.

All the while, the true mastermind, the dreaded teddy bear, looks knowingly, menacingly on.

I kid, but seriously, what is Syaoran’s deal? Has he been deceiving Sakura with a fake lovey-dovey act (I won’t forgive him), or is there a less sinister explanation, like he’s working in the shadows to protect her? While it’s still a bit too soon to tell, things are not looking good…and that’s not an accident.