3-gatsu no Lion – 43 – Some are Gone, but Some Remain

Gramps’ doctor is impressed with how far he’s been able to lower his blood pressure, especially when he used to say things like “I don’t need doctors!” and “I’ll die when like!” which are, let’s face it, Big Time Granddad things to say. But when his wife and daughter left him with “three little ones” he resolved to stay alive until they were all married off, which he realizes is a big ask considering Momo is still in preschool.

One of those little ones, Hinata, is making fine progress with studying, and Rei is putting on a tutoring clinice…until he tells Hina that Takahashi is going to school all the way in Shikoku, something she didn’t know until Rei told her; something Rei immediately feels very shitty for doing.

The news totally throws her off her studying game and into a spiral of despair over yet another person suddenly vanishing from her life. She stays out in the cold and catches one, and since Akari has to work late it falls to Rei to take care of her and assure her she’s studied enough, won’t forget what she knows, and will be okay in time for the exams.

That night, Hina can’t hold back the flood of tears from thinking about everyone who is or will soon be gone from her life. But with Rei there by her side, even to walk her to exams, she realizes that things aren’t all bad; for as many people who have left her life, just as many remain, like Rei, to help her up when she slips. She takes comfort in that.

She passes the entrance exams, which means in April she’ll officially be Rei’s kohai at his high school. While her aunt was initially very skeptical of a second-year high schooler spending so much time alone with her young and vulnerable niece, her fears are met with chillingly identical reactions from Akari and Gramps…Kiriyama/”the Kid” isn’t going to do anything weird. I mean, he’s Kiriyama/”the Kid”! 

Indeed, even Hinata tells him he’s “like a mother,” to which he should say “what’s wrong with mothers? Mothers are great!”

While very pure and oblivious to some if not most of what is said about him and Hinata, he knows one thing for sure: when he heard she wanted to come to his high school, he did everything he could to help her achieve that goal, and didn’t worry about whether that was right or wrong.

When she showed up at home with mismatched slippers, and stayed utterly true to her heart even in the face of gross injustice, she lit a light within him he didn’t have before. She made a part of him.

Then Rei gets a surprise of his own: his father shows up, having avoided demotion, which means they’ll both be in B-2 next period, and he wants to pick up where they left off…which is just fine with Rei.

Darling in the FranXX – 12 – Time is Running Out and Zero Two Drops the Pretense

Squad 13 returns to Garden, to the place where they were made, even if it isn’t where they came from—a question Kokoro ponders while doubting the adults’ answers. In narration, Hiro says it doesn’t matter where, as long as he can live life to the fullest. But his increasingly distant (and feral) partner Zero Two feels the opposite: where she came from—what she is—means everything.

Hiro the rest of the squad are only tagalongs. The reason they’re at Garden is for Zero Two, or “Iota”, as the leader of the elite “Nines” calls her. He’s surprised she’s been able to integrate so well into a squad of humans, and is rudely explicit about how inhuman she is, gaining the ire of Ichigo. Ultimately the adults’ patience with Zero Two’s sullen bit runs out and they have to tranq her.

The rest of the squad tours the Garden, even though they were forbidden from doing so, and the memories come flowing in. Hiro, for one, vageuly remembers a red girl with white hair and horns. They see children getting parasite injections far earlier than they did.

With the increase in klaxosaur activity, it would seem humanity no longer has time for experiments in disobedience or individuality; they’re basically growing bodies to put into cockpits as fast as they can. Squad 13 is a relic; an indulgence they can no longer afford…even though it could be argued they bear elements of humanity crucial for its long-term survival.

As humanity hopes continuing to refine their children into increasingly efficient parasites will help extend the time they’re on the planet, Zero Two insists her time is quickly running out. Every time she sorties with Hiro she tries to kill as many Klaxosaurs as possible, as viciously as possible, hoping it will help her become human.

Because Hiro believes everything in this show is about him, he assumes Zero Two feels like she can’t truly belong in the squad, or in his heart, unless she becomes completely human, shedding everything that made her part klaxosaur. Since Gorou and Futoshi’s feelings helped him understand his own, he thinks confessing his love for Two will both appease and please her.

Imagine my combination of delight and despair upon witnessing Hiro completely strike out after confessing to the person who always insisted on calling him her “Darling”, not to mention kissing him and staying by his side. Hiro drops the Darling and calls Hiro “fodder.” She only cares about him if she can use him to kill klaxosaurs.

Since partnering with Hiro, we learn Two’s level of “saurification” has been steadily rising, which explains why she’s been acting so feral lately. (Ichigo hears this, because the adults apparently have an open-door policy.)

When she learns what is becoming of Zero Two, which she adds to the knowledge given to her by the leader of the Nines, Ichigo moves to have another conversation with her squadmate, only to find her smashing mirrors to bits for daring to reflect her face. Ichigo freezes in terror and closes her eyes, ready for the worst, but Two just walks past her.

Despite her clear and worsening imbalance, the adults continue to let Zero Two sortie with Hiro, and Two continues to believe she can become human if she kills enough klaxosaurs. Whether someone told her such a theory was true, or she simply decided for herself it was true, the evidence just doesn’t bear out that outcome.

If anything, killing klaxosaurs only seems to increase her bloodlust for combat. When Hiro tries to hold her back, she eventually overloads and starts to choke Hiro, while more and more images of the red girl with horns flash through his head. This totally berserk Two wants to meet her darling from “back then.” I imagine we’re in for some crucial flashbacks at the start of the second half.

Takunomi. – 12 (Fin) – Makoto Super Dry

Michiru wakes up to strange sounds an fears a burglary, but it’s just Makoto, up late and binge-eating over the stress of her job hunt. She’s perhaps a bit too worried about how she’ll come off to elders.

Michiru recommends she have drinks with alumni from her school, and Nao recommends the designated beer for business events: Asahi Super Dry, once an upstart, now Japan’s #1-Selling Beer—as well as one of my personal favorites.

Makoto’s housemates give her a “Super Dry run” by role-playing as pantsuit-donning salarypeople, and hilarity ensues.

They go through all of the subtle rules of etiquette, from the proper place to sit, pour, and hold the bottle and glass, to the very obvious rule of not getting too drunk and rowdy. Since Asahi was developed as a beer to go perfectly with sashimi, they tuck into some delectable dead fish as well.

By the end, Makoto’s confidence is built up, and she proceeds to have a very fun alumni night. Unfortunately, she was so focused on making a good impression with her perfect beer etiquette (which she did), she forgot what any of them said about job hunting.

No matter; by sticking to her core concept, like Asahi Super Dry, Makoto will be just fine, and join Michiru, Nao, and Kae in the ranks of the working public. Takunomi was a fun little show that reminded me that all of the answers in life can be provided by good food, good spirits, and good friends to share them with.

AICO – 07 – The Truth Carbon Nano-Hurts

When we last left our friends they were between a rock and a hard place—or rather between a Matter-clogged tunnel and a CAAC assault squad. They’ve come for Aiko, and when Yuuya refuses, saying he has to keep going and that they would never understand, they fire shots at the Matter.

That turns out to be a bad move, as the squad leader is nabbed by some human-form Matter, throwing the rest of the squad into chaos as they try in vain to retreat. Our team learns from their sacrifice that the Matter is attracted to light, and uses flares to draw the Matter out of the tunnel, clearing their path forward.

That’s far from the only danger the team faces, as the Beetle is nearly swallowed up and the Evidence system proves too far behind the curve to keep up with the new Matter forms they encounter. It’s straight-up dicey out there, leaving Aiko to voice her concerns about putting the Divers in further danger for her sake and her family’s.

In a slight change from his colder manner towards her back at the rest stop, Yuuya assures her that compared to her, everyone else is expendable. But he’s wrong that they knew what they signed up for, because they don’t know Aiko is walking talking Matter bait. Thanks to a hot mic, one of them learns this, but keeps it to herself.

There’s a brief check-in with the three college friends. Nanbara loses contact with her squad, Isazu once again commits to saving his daughter, and Kurose learns with the help of a hacker friend that Isazu’s daughter is somehow connected to the Matter.

The Team gets through another guillotine gate by the skin of their teeth, but it isn’t long before they’re under attack, and as Yuuya is delivering ammo to the Divers, the Matter seeps into the Beetle, nabs Aiko, and places her in a fluid-filled cocoon.

Thankfully, it took a weapon with her, and she uses it to bust out, but she’s buried by the crystallized matter that trapped her, and by the time she’s dug out, all of the Divers see her for what she is: a composite being: human in mind, but artificial in body.

They’ve been traveling deeper into more and more hazardous territory with Matter bait. Will this revelation give them second thoughts about supporting her and Yuuya’s cockamamie plan? I doubt it. I don’t see Kazuki abandoning her, while Kaede is just happy to have the opportunity to fight in a place few humans have been.

Violet Evergarden – 12 – The Train Has Left The Station

As Violet flies south from her mission, her intended destination is not home, but the town of Distery. That’s where Cattleya, Benedict, and a group of peace envoys will travel north to Gardarick via the completed transcontinental railroad. The military puts Gilbert’s brother Captain Dietfried Bougainvillea in charge of security for the mission. The troops Violet encountered up north were only the tip of an Anti-Peace spear that is not as decimated as the south believes.

This means that at some point Violet and Dietfried, her harshest critic despite knowing very little of who she’s become, will cross paths. Before that happens, he interacts with Cattleya and [], who bristle at his harsh words for Violet, who like everyone is doing her best…and her best means letters that “slip right into people’s hearts”. Diets can’t believe it.

Violet and her pilot are among the first to notice the first stages of the Anti-Peace faction’s plan, involving fires along the railroad. Their next stage involves infiltrating the envoy train with troops. When Violet spots the train halted in Distery, she has the pilot drop her off.

Vi reports what she saw to Dietfried and requests orders, rejecting the notion that doing so means she’s still just a military tool that needs orders to follow. She’s doing what she wants, and what she knows she can do: avoiding war and protecting her friends.

Once the Anti-Peacers execute their plan to separate the front and backs of the train (a nice microcosm of their larger goal to keep the continent divided), Violet is a half-step ahead…fortunately for Dietfried, who must rely on her in the absence of his troops. He heads for the engine to regain control, and orders her to protect the civilians. Atop the moving train, she encounters the very same unit that she encountered in the forest.

Their commanding officer bears the physical and emotional scars of the fall of Intense, the battle where Violet lost Gilbert. He wants the fort back, and while his monologue to Violet is tinged with the thirst for vengeance and the burning of the world, he argues his side’s case well. He and his comrades have been abandoned. Everything was taken from them. Under those circumstances, you can’t blame them for wanting to burn everything down.

Violet resolves not to kill ever again, no matter what, in doing so making her battle atop the railcar that much trickier. Between the need to refrain from fatal blows, keep fallen opponents from falling off the train, and her attachment to the green pendant Gilbert gave her, there’s simply too many variables working against her.

She’s eventually subdued by the general’s superior numbers. But before he can behead her, his saber is shot away by Dietfried, who proceeds to dispatch the bulk of the troops and their general, using deadly force Violet wouldn’t.

Upon saving her, Diets is furious that she attempted to stop the troops without killing. “What’s the use of a battle doll that won’t kill?”, he fumes, blaming that kind of foolish thinking for his little brother’s demise. No doubt he gifted Gilbert Violet so that someone (something in his mind) would always be by his side to protect Gilbert in his stead.

Diets can holler all night about Violet being the one who killed Gilbert for failing to protect him, but he’s the one who decided that Violet was a tool and nothing else. Gilbert didn’t see his dynamic with Violet as user and tool, or brother and protector. He made it his goal to make amends for what was done to Violet; to restore the humanity, individuality, and emotions he knew still resided within her. Her orders were to live, not kill.

In the middle of this spat, a suriving enemy soldier gets a shot off before falling off the train, and Violet dives in front of Diets, deflecting the bullet with her metal arm. The ricochet causes an explosion, which in a crucial railroad tunnel connecting the north and south, may mean Vi inadvertently did the Anti-Peace faction’s work for it, but the ramifications will have to wait.

For now, Violet is committed to following Gilbert’s last orders. And considering she intends to stay alive, she might as well keep putting her skills to use keeping others alive. If she couldn’t protect him, then she’ll protect Dietfried…even if he never stops hating her.

A lot of great reflected themes swirled around this episode. The war between north and south reflecting the war between Dietfried and Violet; in each case with a latter party that doesn’t want to engage. The fragility of the peace efforts reflecting the fragility of the railroad, tunnel, and bridge that peace must travel on.

Making Dietfried and Violet temporary allies of necessity was a great move to get them together, while the train setting gave the episode an excellent surging momentum—as train episodes tend to do.

It’s clear that deep down Dietfried indeed blame himself for getting his brother killed, but keeps using Violet as a scapegoat. That Violet was capable of moving on from the past makes him even angrier, because he hasn’t figured out a way. But if he can’t forgive himself and move on, he’s no different than the Anti-Peace faction, and their general was right: the war will never end.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 12 (Fin) – Never Gonna Give Up, Never Gonna Let Down

For the record, I was never against Akira running again, I just wanted it to be because she wanted to do it, not because Haruka or anyone else compelled her to. In any hard endeavor, if your heart isn’t in something, quality suffers, and its evident for all.

What I learned from this finale is that both Akira and Masami got nudges of varying kinds from their respective best friends. One of them, Haruka, may have pushed a little to far in her zealousness, but to her credit, is aware of that, and how it may well be selfish of her to put Akira on the spot.

At the same time, Haruka is being true to what she wants, even if it’s selfish or may not work out; even if Akira never speaks to her again, she had to make her stand, in case there was just the slightest glimmer of an ember of passion remaining in post-op Akira’s heart.

Despite the differing levels of intensity, both “friend nudges” ultimately succeed, because there were indeed embers in the hearts of both Akira and Masami, which only needed a little bit of oxygen to reignite. Perhaps due to how receptive he was to Chihiro’s advice, Masami is back to belting out pages through the night, nearly causing a dozen cigarette fires.

It’s at this point that we return to the budding romance of Nishida and Yoshizawa, never an unwelcome prospect owing to their infectious chemistry and general adorability. Both are unsure of their futures, but while Yoshizawa is simply going to college and will figure out what to do later, Nishida has decided to start on the path of hair-styling.

Yoshizawa was the one that nudged her in that direction, fortifying her courage with his confidence in her ability and satisfaction with the work she’s done and, if she’ll have him, will continue to do into the future. Bawwww.

Meanwhile, Haruka continues to wait for Akira, spotting two middle schoolers sharing a scarf while scouting the high school and remembering when she and Akira did the same exact thing, because it was a school that, according to its name, can “see the wind,” something they wanted to do together.

While Kondo is away at the Head Office again, sparking rumors that he’s soon to be promoted, his son Yuuto suddenly asks Akira if she’s fast, and whether she’ll teach him. Akira just as suddenly agrees, and does a really good job!

When Yuuto falls, he asks if he wants a break, but he refuses, not wanting to give up; wanting to reach the finish line even if he’s last, or else it will feel like he never ran. Just when it sounds like a “from the mouths of babes” moment, Yuuto makes it clear it was his dad that said this stuff to him, adding that he wasn’t going to give up either.

When she catches Kondo in the office, he thanks her for teaching his son, and she tells him what Yuuto told her. Akira can tell he’s gotten back into writing novels, and he tells her he’s essentially added a promise to a promise one from which he’s both suffered and learned, wondering out loud if she has a similar promise she’s forgotten.

That night, she remembers. Unpleasant and overdone as it was, Haruka’s confrontation nevertheless helped unsheath a still-warm ember in her heart. Kondo’s inspiring words and those of his son then reignited it.

Kondo finally announces why he’s been at the head office so much: it’s not that he’s getting promoted, but he has to master a new menu…which he hasn’t been able to do. His coworkers assume it’s another episode of their pitiable bed-headed manager bumbling about again…but nobody knows that he hasn’t kept up with the new menu because he’s so absorbed in writing. Nobody, that is, except Akira.

When he even leaves the menu book behind, Akira decides to tracks him down to return it. She remembers that after the fall that tore her Achilles, Haruka urged her to get back up, and she did, limping across the finish line. She didn’t give up.

Kondou encounter her in a light jog, and after what happened the last time she chased someone down, Kondou is worried. But Akira is perfectly fine, telling him “It’ll stop raining soon.”

Kondou is about to say something but is interrupted by a phone call—no doubt the head office tearing him a new one. But as Tachibana quietly walks away, the rain stops, the clouds part, and a lusciously gorgeous deep blue sky opens up, reflected in the pools of fallen rain.

He calls out her name once more, and she comes running, practically throwing herself into his arms. And she’s fine, no re-aggravation. They resolve to fulfill their own promises—his writing, her running—they’ll let each other know right away, whenever that may be. Akira then texts Haruka, indicating her desire for them to “see the wind” together again.

It’s a lovely end to a lovely show to put a very necessary pause on their romance. Rekindling fires is one thing, keeping them going long and strong is another. It takes time, dedication, effort, and care. As such, I imagine by the time Akira makes some good progress fulfilling her promise, she’ll be sufficiently old to remove the elephant from the room of their relationship.

However things go, it’s good to see Akira and Kondou end up in such a good place. They both know what they have to do, but more importantly, they know what they want to do, and are going to give it their all—come what may.

Overlord II – 12 – The Truth Can Be Surprising

Momon, embracing his role as protector of his adventurer brethren and fights off Demiurge, who also takes on the alias Jaldabaoth for the purposes of this pageant.

Witnessing Momon fight to protect her, Evileye is impressed to the point of fascination, becoming smitten with one of the few warriors she’s met who is actually stronger than her. However, she comes to be disappointed in how Momon ultimately decides to hold her: less like a princess, more like baggage.

The “Tuare” Climb & Co. rescue turns out to be Succulent in disguise, a trick that the warriors didn’t fall for. Zero, last of the Six Arms, shows up to occupy Brain, so Climb and the other guy fight Sucky, with the other guy showing Climb that in situations like this it’s okay to fight dirty. Climb takes the advice to heart by delivering a vicious kick to Succulent’s succulents.

Just when Brain and Zero are ready to get serious, Sebas arrives with the real Tuare, lets Zero (highly skeptical the old guy took out all of his comrades without taking a scratch)  take his shot (utterly ineffective) and ends him with one kick. The only mark against the fight is that he got blood on his attire.

With Sebas’ part of the mission a success, we return to Momon, Evileye and Demiurge, the latter of which retreats so he can set up a wall of fire in the capital, presumably to show the city who’s boss—though if he’s doing it with an alias and not in Nazarick’s name I fail to see how it serves the Tomb; I thought the point was to teach Eight Fingers a lesson?

Reagrdless, once that wall of fire is up, Momon decides to join Evileye, the Blue Rose, Brain, Climb, and a mess of other adventurers, all under command of Princess Renner, who sets up a battle plan, briefs her troops, and sends them out to fight the demons within the otherwise harmless wall set up by “Jaldabaoth.”

Renner stays behind in the palace, revealing to her brother and the Marquis her true plan, while showing her true, demented face: she’s counting on Climb dying so Lakyus can ressurect him, a process that will make him as weak as a newborn kitten, necessitating constant attention and care. And Renner intends to take good care of him.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 13 (Fin) – Ten Thousand Times More Beautiful

With no more conflicts or catharses left to have, the girls enjoy their final days in Antarctica. They’ve settled into such a routine and gotten so used to the astonishing environment, one adult jokes they won’t be able to reintegrate into society, presenting Shirase and the other Mahjong junkies as evidence.

Their final journey to the frozen sea affords them the opportunity to taste snowcones made from ice with thousand-year-old air pockets, which Mari attests to be delicious. They also learn that much of the winter team’s activities will include sleeping, drinking, and games to pass the time.

Shirase finally gets her wish to be surrounded by adorable penguins, but she’s locked in a cycle of being disgusted by the smell and delighted by being in their presence while asking for some unspecified form of help. I imagine many of us would feel the same way.

Mari is getting cold feet about leaving, and wonders out loud to the others why they can’t just stay. Hinata flicks her forehead and doles out reality; they have to get back to their homes, their families, and their school. But all four promise that they’ll come back together someday.

They then present their final request to the rest of the team: that they play a game of snow softball. Captain Toudou is, naturally, the ace, but just like Takako, Shirase is not only able to hit her pitch, but drive it out of the “park.”

On the eve of departing, Shirase decides to have her hair cut short—her heart wasn’t broken by a guy, but such a change makes sense after her catharsis with the laptop (she also wisely chooses Hinata to cut it, not Mari). The whole team musters for the girls’ farewell ceremony, and after a heartfelt speech by Gin that starts everyone crying, Shirase confidently delivers and even more heartfelt, tear-jerking speech.

In it, she expresses the understanding she reached in this place beyond the universe, and why both her mother and her love it so much: It’s a place that strips everything bare, with nothing to protect you and nowhere to hide. It’s a place where someone can come face-to-face with who they really are…and she did that.

Before embarking for home, Shirase hands Gin her mom’s laptop, stating she no longer needs it. Later, Gin discovers there’s still a message from Takako in the outbox; the last she ever composed. The quartet waves goodbye to their Antarctic summer home where they experienced and learned so much about the world, each other, and themselves.

Yuzu wonders if maybe they all got a little stronger during the journey. A ‘little’? I think she sells herself and the others short here. They were the first high school-age students to explore Antarctica, and they made it. Now, all of a sudden, they’re headed back to the normal world. Even if and when they come back, it will never be the same as their first time.

When night falls, Mari finally gets to experience the one thing they couldn’t due to the laughably short Antarctic nights: view the aurora. Just when they do, Gin sends the last email Takako wrote to Shirase, stating how the real thing is “ten thousand times more beautiful”—something of which, in that moment, Shirase and the others are all to aware.

The four friends, having forged their bonds in the coldest and harshest crucible on the planet, go their separate ways with confidence and return to their lives that were with a serious sense of accomplishment, self-awareness, and maturity.

They discovered as much about themselves in Antarctica as they discovered about the place itself, like how there are no “nothing” days but there’s still more to discover upon returning, like the smell of one’s house.

And in a perfect capper to a marvelous series, Mari texts Megumi that she’s home, and gets a near-immediate response, along with a photo of her posing with the aurora: “Too bad. Right now, I’m in the Arctic.” Well played, Megu-chan; well played.

 

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 09 – The Emperor’s Soliloquy

The “film” the female Kishinami Hakuno shows her male counterpart is of her own quest with Saber as her Servant, and a more noble, loyal and true servant, no one could possibly have.

Like the current Hakuno, the female Hakuno learns that she’s neither wizard nor Master, but a “recreation of the data of someone who once existed”; an “NPC”. But Saber tells her that’s of no consequence, either to her value as an individual or her role as prospective victor of the Grail War.

It is in She-Hakuno’s moment of deepest despair and crisis of identity that Saber reveals her True Name: Nero Claudius, fifth emperor of the Roman Empire and one history condemns as a raving despot and dictator. Naturally, Nero herself has a more nuanced life story to tell, and that story is told through what appears to be the work of Ueda Hajime, a frequent collaborator with Shinbo Akiyuki who also animated all Monogatari EDs.

Saber makes no attempt to sugar-coat her tale or excuse the life she led, only to lay it all out to provide Hakuno with context in which to consider her sage advice. Nero loved strangers and commoners more than the royal family to which she belonged. She’s proud of bringing the Great Fire of Rome under control, but as her reign went on she became seen as a moody, unstable dictator.

The Senate could not depose her as long as she had the loyalty of the common people, but when push came to shove no one came to her aid when she was brought down, and she died alone, in despair, with the love of no one. Both in its flamboyantly unconventional presentation, themes of adoration and fall from grace, and truly epic scope, Saber’s story parallels that of the vampire later known as Oshino Shinobu in Monogatari.

And now that we finally have the whole picture of who Saber is, and was, we can appreciate just how much weight there is behind her words of encouragement, for both past and present Kishinami Hakunos. She is at peace with her demise, and will set her life ablaze for the sake of those who wish to believe she is beautiful. In other words, who will love her.

Whatever love she had in her lifetime—of family or people—was either nonexistent or fleeting, so it stands to reason she’s not picky about where she gets her love now. Both Hakunos may deem themselves pale imitations unworthy of having a Servant as excellent and wise and kind as Saber.

They are utterly mistaken for thinking that way. Saber doesn’t care from whom she gets her love. In fact, she would prefer if those people did not “mind every little thing” about themselves.

Call it the extension of her affinity in life for those deemed “less than” in the society in which she lived. Commoners. Bastards, cripples, and broken things. And yes, even NPCs who have been killing and hating for a millenium.

Saber’s been dead three millenia, but doesn’t let it get her down for a second. To her, Hakuno isn’t beholden to the person or people he was before. As far as she’s concerned, he’s is a new person, who deserves a fresh start without prejudice. But he has to take it.

Reinvigorated and healed thanks to the ministrations of Rani (or, at least, her ghost), Hakuno and Saber head back out. Saber faces off against Berserker once more.

After copying and countering his martial arts moves with Royal Privilege, she unleashes her Noble Phantasm: Kingdom of Heaven and Hell,  the Golden Theater of the Deranged, and Veil of Petals, ending Berseker without any difficulty. It’s a short but gorgeous battle.

That leaves Hakuno to deal with Julius, who no longer has any backup. Julius tries his usual spiel denigrating Hakuno for not being alive or having a wish or any business fighting him. This time, the words don’t hurt Hakuno. Saber has opened his eyes. Julius isn’t talking about him; those were other people, and he’s not interested in hearing about their pasts.

After a trippy zero-gravity battle in which the two Dead Faces fight in midair as their surroundings rotate and reorganize around them, Hakuno delivers a decisive blow. Yet even in his dying breath, Julius assures him that he’ll end up like him eventually.

Hakuno doesn’t worry about those words; he’s recommitted to being the best Master he can be for the best Servant one could ask for, who is waiting for him at the ladder to the sixth level.

Rani and Rin seem poised to remain behind having accomplished their shared goal of getting a “decent Master” to the sixth level. But citing the increased difficulty at that level, Rin changes her mind and follows the pair after all, while Rani vanishes in a cloud of digital code.

Thinking back on this episode, I’m astounded at how much it achieved in 25 scant minutes. It felt like a feature film, without ever feeling overstuffed, while cementing my undying love for this version of Saber, whose story was so vividly and painfully told. My head is still spinning. That was truly awesome.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 12 (Fin) – A Gentle Nudge Past the Status Quo

The last episode of KJT starts with a long shot of Takagi looking over at Nishikata without trying to look like she’s looking. It’s the first time we’ve seen her since Nishikata unwittingly made her heart go dokidoki, and when we hear that the girls in class are on a letter-writing kick, it’s natural to assume Takagi would join in.

When Nishikata finds a love letter in his textbook, he does everything he can to keep that information from Takagi…right up until she tells him she put it there, she wants him to read it before school ends, because she wants his “answer” by then.

When Nishikata discovers the “love” letter is really just a written request to walk home together like they always do, Takagi gets the reaction she wanted. But in a way, it was a love letter, albeit a coded one: Nishikata’s reactions provide her nearly as much info as direct words.

Her ability to read him like a large-print book goes back to when they first met and spoke, back on their very first day of school. Nishikata is late, but not because he overslept. Takagi senses he wants to set the record straight, and her first words to her new desk neighbor are “you didn’t really oversleep, right?”

Later, Takagi is the one who’s late, giving Nishikata cover, but also sets up her first guessing game with Nishikata, correctly guessing he was late because he found her handkerchief and brought it to the staff room.

Nishikata (unaware that she was “Takagi-san” until just then) reacts in the over-the-top flustered manner we’re used to by now—only it’s the first time Takagi is watching it. From that day onward, she was hooked.

Back in the present, Nishikata receives bad news: there’s to be a seat rearrangement. Nishikata pretends it doesn’t bother him, but Takagi doesn’t hide her dispiritedness, which in turn makes Nishikata dispirited. The status quo is at stake!

Nishikata ends up joining someone else despondent over the rearrangement: Mano-chan, who was perfectly content next to her boyfriend Nakai-kun, and whose life is now essentially over. Then Nishikata loses his one chance to switch seats with Kimura-kun, and sinks into his new desk of despair beside Mano-chan.

Thankfully, things didn’t end there: through a number of seat switches, Mano and Nakai end up up front together, while Takagi returns to Nishikata’s side. Nishikata can barely hide his relief.

Then she asks what he wanted to say earlier, and he produces her handkerchief, which she used to bandage his knee a while back, and which also brought them together on the first day of school. Nishikata expresses his gratitude he was able to return it, and that they’re next to each other again; the feeling is mutual. For once, he says what he feels without worrying about being teased.

That night, while inspecting her hankie, a little note slips out, and suddenly Takagi is in the same position Nishikata is when he found the love letter in his book. It’s no confession, just a simple “Thank you”…but it’s another critical hit on Takagi, who plops onto the bed and buries her head in her pillow, giddy with delight.

It would be an understatement to say I’ll miss Takagi and Nishikata. Could I watch the duo grow closer and closer together as they enter high school, college, and eventually adulthood? You BETCHA. But since that’s sadly unlikely to happen, I have to be satisfied with the snippet of their lives that we got. And I am, very much so!

AICO – 06 – 99 Problems and a Burst Ain’t One

The closer the team gets to Primary Point, the more tricky it is to predict how the Matter will react, and what will work against it. Kaede’s recklessness puts the entire operation in danger when the Beetle is damaged and they lose precious time.

Maybe it’s the stress of their environment, but all of a sudden the Divers I touted as consummate professionals are bickering like siblings in the back seat. Ah well, Kaede gonna Kaede, I guess.

Back at Kiryu Hospital, Isazu and Nanbara complete their plot to edge Kurose out in order to maintain control of the Area situation. As villains go, these two are pretty dang dull, sitting in cars and offices and calmly betraying their college friend.

While I understand Isazu’s intense desire to save his daughter, what good will reviving her, or the Japanese economy, do if there’s no Japan, or world, in which to live or prosper? If he’s obsessed to the point of madness, he hides it well.

One thing made clear six episodes in is that AICO’s forte is clearly not characters. Nearly everyone is either derivative, generic, annoying, or a combination of same. Take Kanzaki. We still know almost nothing about him (though I somewhat suspect he may be artificial too), except that he loves bossing Aiko around and otherwise treating her like dirt.

The person he’s dealing with is Aiko’s real brain in a fake body, yet he treats her like she’s a full-on robot without a shred of humanity. He’s also oddly petty in that treatment, even scolding her for trying to make the Divers’ rations more palatable. Maybe he’s curt because time is an issue; maybe he’s an artificial dude who resents Aiko’s emotions…or maybe he’s just a dick.

The show’s saving grace continues to be its action and the heightened peril the nearly omnipresent Malignant Matter presents. Our infiltration team is a bunch of tiny, puny humans who are only kept alive by highly sophisticated technology, the proper training and experience to utilize it, nerves of steel, and a disturbingly high amount of luck.

This particular episode also benefits from having Aiko actually defy Kanzaki, not only by making a tasty meal for her protectors, but serving an ultimately decisive role as resident Matter Detector. If she’d listened to Kanzaki, and sat back and done nothing, the mission would have surely failed. Nice to finally see some agency from her.

Their successful passage through a devilish gauntlet of active Matter from above, below, and all sides, the Divers also manage to work out their interpersonal issues, particularly when it comes to Kaede being a loose cannon. Kaede almost runs out of her famous luck, but is saved by the same guy who grabbed her by the neck and chewed her out earlier, while the rich kid loses an arm, but it’s artificial and easily replaced.

Some may actually be disappointed by the show’s unwillingness to pare down the admittedly quite large Diver crew; losing some players would certainly raise the stakes. Perhaps it’s holding its powder until they get closer to Primary Point…and even then, mission success is not assured.

Aiko may have saved the day, but attacking Matter has a deleterious effect on her, and the surgery can’t proceed if she’s knocked out and can’t be revived. More pressing is the fact their way forward is blocked by more Matter, while a CAAC team is hot on their heels.

3-gatsu no Lion – 42 – High School Should Be Fun

It’s still summer vacation for Hina, and she was so inspired by the town festival that ideas for new sweets are exploding in her head…yet those dreams of expanding her confectionary repertoire are being deferred by summer homework and school days.

Hina proudly shows her adorably delicious designs to a duly impressed Rei. When he decided to get into shogi, he believed it was his only path; the only thing he could do at the time. It worked out, but that wasn’t guaranteed.

Hina, looking toward the future like few eighth graders do, has a lot more options, so Rei agrees with others who have told her she really should go to high school…even if she ultimately does decide to work at her gramps’ sweets shop she loves so much.

After a not-so-fun year in middle school, Hina is understandably weary of going to high school, particularly having to make all new friends. But Rei has an idea. He takes Hina (who also brings Momo) to his school, Hashi High, where Noguchi, Mr. Hayashida, and the Science Club have set up a bitchin’ flume noodle stream out of surplus bamboo.

On first sight, both Hina and Momo mistake the mustachioed Noguchi for a teacher (natch), while Hayashida spots Hina and understands instantly why Rei wanted to help this girl so much. When Akari, an older version of her, arrives, disheveled and sweaty, Hayashida is nearly blown away by smitten-ness.

The noodle bonanza commences, with the lads adjusting the stream angle and stream to help an overmatched Momo, and showing Hina the proper way to catch the noodles. They then play a little game where the color of the accent noodle they catch determines whether they get tempura; Hayashida runs into a streak of bad luck here.

In any case, everyone has a ton of fun, which leads Hina and Akari to wonder out loud if maybe she should try to get into Rei’s high school. It’s an idea I don’t think has ever come up before, but I like it. I like it a lot!

3GL is equally adept at portraying the sizzling summer heat as the warm, cozy interior of the Kawamoto house in winter, as a serious time leap takes place in the second half. It’s new years, and Hina and Rei are under the electric kotatsu.

Ever since Rei heard Hina’s intention to apply to his school, he’s (a notion by which he’s clearly elated), he’s been gung-ho about helping Hina study for the entrance exams, putting the same passion and diligence into it than he does while preparing for a shogi tournament.

When Akari was Hina’s age studying late for exams, their mother once asked if she wanted tempura or fried tofu in her udon. Akari couldn’t decide, so her mom put both in, and thus Kawamoto Pampering Udon was born.

By making the same udon for Hina and Rei, Akari is both passing on a tradition and remembering her mother’s love while paying it forward. Plus that shit looks guuuuud.

Hina takes a look back to when she was still weary of trying for Hashi High, mostly because it’s a fancy and thus expensive private school and she didn’t want to be a burden on Gramps or his sweet shop’s steady but modest revenue.

Gramps, not one who believes kids shouldn’t think about finances, is chuffed that Hina thought of him while considering her choice. But he believes they’ll be fine money-wise, and in any case, his granddaughter’s happiness is paramount. If she’ll have fun at “the kid’s” high school after suffering in middle school, her choice has his full blessing.

Back in the present, Hina asks Rei for help on a math problem, but he’s so absorbed in his shogi study he doesn’t notice. Far from being annoyed, Hina actually feeds off the infectiously incredible concentration. In another sign these two were destined for each other, they are completely at ease without saying any words. Hina pulls back her window curtain, and after noting how hushed it seemed, discovers the first snowfall of the year.

A masterpiece need not always contain shocking revelations, twists, or developments, although Hina trying to join Rei in high school is a pretty big deal. This was a quiet, peaceful episode filled with fun, love, and ambitious yet very achievable dreams to aspire to.

The show created little pockets of happiness one wants to wrap around oneself like a blanket, all while organically building the very close and loving bond between Rei and Hina, both souls beyond their years. Few shows do this kind of stuff better.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 12 – The Butler is Up to Something

This week’s opening scene practically oozes foreboding, and Yuna D. Kaito has never looked more suspicious as he prepares tea for Akiho. Whether there’s something in that tea or not, the scene all but confirms he’s operating against Sakura behind the shadows—unbeknownst to Sakura, Syaoran, and even Akiho.

It’s also pretty much certain Akiho is the cloaked figure in Sakura’s dreams, and that the dreams are being shared between the girls, with neither of them know the other is in them. All Akiho knows is the feeling of wanting  something the other person has. That thing is Sakura’s key, and Yuna seems pleased the dream is “progressing”, most likely in his favor.

By laying out some meaty plot progression right off the bat, the more slice-of-life ball sports tournament at school feels more earned and less like more stalling (though if you’re not watching Sakura at least in part for her high school slice-of-life…why are you watching?). 

It helps that the sports are a lot of fun, as watching BasketBaller Sakura toss no-look passes, crossover dribble, and nail shots from downtown is just as fun—and smoothly-animated—as watching her battle and capture cards.

The school doesn’t allow students to film the events, but Tomoyo finds a way around that by using Kero-chan, who is more than game to redeem himself after the playground footage debacle.

The sports tournament again demonstrates not only Sakura’s athletic skills, but those of Syaoran and Akiho, the latter two specifically in the field of badminton. I loved how seriously Sayoran was taking his match, which Akiho was keeping very close, and how Sakura wanted to root for both of them.

Just as she hopes for a tie, a surprise hailstorm rolls in, ending the match in a tie and sending everyone scattering for shelter. Sakura stays out, because she’s pretty sure this is a new Card. Unfortunately, as of yet she has no fire-element Clear Cards, and Reflect only sends hail into the building, causing damage.

Syaoran, still sore about not being able to put Akiho away (if he was even capable of doing so!), summons his fire sword to help out his girlfriend. His initial lower-powered attack isn’t effective, so he breaks out a bigger spell that stops the Card in its tracks, allowing Sakura to secure it.

It’s a great bit of Sakura/Syaoran teamwork, and shows that her friends will be there to fill in her weakness (in this case, no fire Card). Now, at least, if she comes upon a fire Card, she’ll have Hail to counter it.

After the battle Akiho comes running, and when she sees Sakura in the poncho Tomoyo made, she assumes it’s for another play that doesn’t really exist, but Sakura doesn’t correct her. That night Sakura turns in early, seeing as how it was a very active day and she overslept that morning.

Upon falling asleep, Sakura’s right back in Clockworld with Cloaky, who we can now assume is an unwitting Akiho, possibly working as Yuna D. Kaito’s puppet in the dream. She again tries to steal Sakura’s key, but Sakura grabs it back, and a giant dragon appears just below Cloaky, ready to swallow Sakura up.

She wakes up before that happens, and checks to make sure she still has her key before going back to bed. But she’s definitely unsettled than ever before. The figure is not only taking things up a notch in the dream, but perched on a utility pole just outside Sakura’s house. Some great semi-revelations this week that really escalate the tension.

That all of this is going on without any of Sakura’s allies’ knowledge makes me feel all the more worried for Sakura. If she were to lose her key, she wouldn’t be able to capture or use cards. That…would be bad!

Hoe Count: 4

P.S. Going forward, we at RABUJOI have agreed to use more descriptive (if not always the most perceptive) titles to our posts. We’ll see how that goes!