The Rising of the Shield Hero – 23 – Island Grind

Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo meet their cabin-mates L’Arc Berg and Therese Alexanderite (Hayami Saori), neither of whom will believe he’s the Shield Hero. Not because he doesn’t look the part, but because they deem themselves good enough judges of character to conclude he’s not “that scumbag,” not realizing that his scumbag reputation is largely fiction.

In a wonderful bit of karmic justice, the other three heroes who took all the private cabins end up horribly seasick for the duration of the voyage to Cal Mira, and Filo doesn’t make it any better by violently catching strong-smelling shark-fish for dinner.

Once they arrive at the island and get out into the field, they find even small fry net huge amounts EXP…until all four heroes end up in the same spot. Rather than bicker with the others, Naofumi & Co. take a boat to another island, where the monsters are tougher the EXP greater, and the enemy drops both epic and timely, as the weapons Raphtalia and Filo started needed replacing from overuse.

After a day of gaining two dozen-plus levels, the party makes camp, but L’Arc and Therese arrive, responding to their ferryman who was worried they were killed. These are the kind of guys who won’t let acquaintances die out in the field if they can help it…but I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of dread about them. After all, “Myne” seemed like a nice partner at first too.

The five head back to an inn for food and drink, and we see that Cal Mira is as much about pleasure and fun as it is grinding for levels and loot. Kevin Penkin rolls out another beautiful orchestral theme over the carousing scene, which includes Raph getting drunk on wine and beating the racist knight at arm wrestling, as well as Naofumi not getting drunk at all on the same intoxicating fruit that knocks Motoyasu to the floor.

The next morning, Raph seems to have suffered no hangover, and L’Arc and Therese join Naofumi’s party for the day’s grind. Naofumi also presents Therese with the accessory she commissioned, and its power and craftsmanship quite literally move her to tears as she hands Naofumi all the gold she has.

Naofumi, Raph and Filo learn that L’Arc and Therese are very good to have on your side in a fight, as the former is another trusty swordsman while the latter has powerful offensive magic of a style none of them ever heard of. Naofumi even cracks a smile or two; while L’Arcs type usually rubs him the wrong way (See: Motoyasu) they get along just fine.

After a somewhat awkward farewell where L’Arc and Therese decline Naofumi’s invitation to join them tomorrow, they part ways. I’d like to see the duo again, even if they turn out to be plotting against him. Naofumi decides to take the next day off, which means both Filo and Raphtalia get to show off the very stylish swimsuits they bought at the market. Sadly for Raph, Naofumi still doesn’t see her as a potential love interest, and never will.

The lightweight atmosphere of sun and fun is interrupted by Filo’s discovery of underwater ruins (incidentally one of my favorite levels in FFX), which contain a Dragon Hourglass. That’s bad news because it means Cal Mira is a target for the next Wave of Catastrophe, which is just 48 hours and change away. With that, the stage is set for the final battle of Shield Hero‘s first season, as well as the possibility it will end with a bang rather than a whimper.

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Zoku Owarimonogatari – 06 (Fin) – Twenty Percent Interest

As is usually the case when involving Oshino Ougi, there’s a sinister aura to the “ghost classroom” where Koyomi finds her; like the last level of a game that may well end up kicking your ass because you’re under-leveled. That Ougi is wearing Koyomi’s boy’s uniform actually adds both to the sense of unique occasion and ominousness.

But if Monogatari has taught us anything, especially from the likes of Shinobu and Ononoki, it’s not to tell a book by its cover. This isn’t going to be a battleground, because Ougi isn’t Koyomi’s enemy. Ougi is Koyomi, and vice-versa. Case in point: the only reason their uniforms are swapped is because she thought it would be a funny prank.

Rather than a battle of fists or magic, this will be place where these two sides of Koyomi take the various pieces he’s collected in this mirror world and start to fit them together. Ougi starts with the easiest, most obvious, and yes, most cliched hypothesis: It was all a dream. Not just the mirror world, but all of Koyomi’s dealings with everyone thus far.

When Koyomi says if it was all a dream, he’ll consider it a happy one, wake up, stretch, and live out the day in a good mood. She withdraws this rather uninteresting theory relatively quickly, but answers him directly about being his double, not the Koyomi of the mirror world. She came to the world with him and helped him along the way, such as asking Black Hanekawa to save him.

She did this in part because Koyomi’s best interests are her best interests, but also because despite all her glaring and teasing, but because she is truly grateful to him for saving her from the darkness. That’s a tidy segue into the reflection rate of mirrors, with which Koyomi is already familiar thanks to Sodachi, who said that most mirrors only reflect 80 percent of the light.

The 20 percent that isn’t can be said to be absorbed, or erased, or executed. In any case, it goes into the darkness; into nothingness. Until that morning when Koyomi noticed his reflection had suddenly stopped moving. Koyomi didn’t pass through the mirror into a new world; he pulled a mirror world out of the mirror, saving the 20 percent of light that would have been lost—utilizing his innate mastery of all oddity qualities.

As has been established earlier, this world doesn’t really make sense as a reflection of Koyomi’s original world because the people in it aren’t mirror images, but other sides of who they fundamentally were, are, or could be. Here Koyomi learns why those other sides are what they are.

Gaen Izuko’s bitter memories created Gaen Tooe. Hanekawa’s regret about leaving town created her mini-me. Shinobu and Ononoki regained the humanity they lost. Koyomi’s regrets, and those of everyone else, that they either forgot or wanted to forget or pretend never existed, came back in this world. They gained their lost twenty percent back.

Ougi mentions that this isn’t something to be undone with the snap of fingers; Koyomi and everyone else actually experienced what it was like to regain that percentage, for good and ill, and will carry it with them from now on, even if they all revert back to the people they were before the mirror world was pulled out.

Perhaps most poignantly, the mirror world proved to Ougi—and any potential specialist who might place a target on her back—that there was value in Koyomi saving her from the darkness. That the darkness itself was wrong to think she had no reason to exist. In this mirror world, Ougi was Koyomi’s fail-safe. Without her, this story might’ve ended under the fist of the Rainy Devil.

In part as thanks for that, Ougi presents Koyomi with a zero-reflection, 100-percent absorption rate mirror, or a “slice of darkness” he’s to offer to Mayoi at the Shrine of the Polar Snake. There, at that focal point of the town, it will absorb the twenty percent of light he pulled out of the mirror, restoring the world to its previous state. But again, the “reminder” everyone got of that light—of their almost-forgotten regrets—will remain. With that, Ougi leaps out the window, her work there done.

Back home, Koyomi gets a knock at the door. It’s his girlfriend, Senjougahara Hitagi, trying out a new, adorable look that isn’t based on Hanekawa’s style. Her late arrival provides the perfect capper for a wonderful epilogue that explores how far Koyomi has come, and how he fears not knowing where to go from there.

He explains his last two days to Hitagi, about how after losing his title as high school student he looked in the mirror and summoned his regrets. Mind you, those myriad regrets weren’t all resolved to his or anyone’s satisfaction; they were simply remembered, faced, and acknowledged, which enables him to step towards the future a little more informed, so that he might hopefully avoid actions that will create more regrets.

In this regard, Hitagi’s total absence from the mirror world makes sense: Where she’s concerned, Koyomi has no regrets, and it’s reasonable to assume neither does she where he’s concerned. Koyomi creates a microcosm of his occasional hesitation when the two come to a crosswalk, where he used to stress about whether to lead with his right or left foot when the crossing light signals “go.”

Hitagi has a wonderfully Hitagi response to that: just plant both feet and take a leap, which is exactly what she does after taking Koyomi’s hand. Then Araragi Koyomi delivers a  stirring final monologue: “The long-continued story having come to its end, I remember my memories, leave my business unfinished, and leaving ample aftertaste and black space, towards the next story, we take a leap.”

Whew. It’s been quite a ride, leaping from one story, one oddity to the other over ten years and one hundred and three episodes containing many more individual chapters. I don’t think it’s a gross exaggeration to declare Monogatari, when taken as a whole, to be the most rich and satisfying collections of anime I’ve ever experienced.

It’s a series that has demanded time, patience, and at times, a certain twisted sense of humor, or tolerance for same. It’s downright bittersweet to think the book of Araragi & Co. has finally closed for good. But I’m glad I took the leap. Or should I say, a huge, joystick-pushing, lake-obliterating jump.