Cardcaptor Sakura – 09 – Once More Unto the Brooch

Sakura is feeling low after her humbling encounter with Syaoran Li. Tomoyo assures her she’s doing her Cardcaptor duties beautifully, but Sakura isn’t entirely sure she’d have fared as well against Thunder without Syaoran’s advice.

When she inevitably has to face him in class, she thanks him for his help and also mentions that she saw his green robes in a dream. Confirming Kero-chan’s later accurate assessment of him as a “despicable brat”, Syaoran demonstrates how he can turn any nicety into an opportunity to viciously neg Sakura.

Both Tomoyo and Rika want to cheer Sakura up, so they take her to a new shop that sells all manner of cute knickknacks, and the three girls end up buying brooches before going to Sakura’s house for tea and homemade pudding (which looks delectable BTW).

The pleasant decompressing takes a turn when Rika puts on her sword-themed brooch, her eyes go blank, and the brooch turns into a rapier with which Rika starts attacking Sakura and Tomoyo. Clearly, it’s a Clow Card, and Kero confirms as much when he comes down (but is also pissed about not getting any pudding!)

Kero warns Sakura that anyone with Sword card in their possession becomes a master swordsman. Thankfully, Sakura is able to dodge her strikes with her not inconsiderable agility, but Rika’s attacks are so fast all she can really do is defend.

That’s where Syaoran comes out of nowhere to insert himself into the battle. Worried he’ll hurt Rika in pursuit of the card, Sakura grabs him and uses Jump to keep him away from her friend. Sakura has let this kid get away with a lot, but when it comes to her friends, she’s not someone to be trifled with!

All that’s needed to break Rika from Sword’s spell is for her to momentarily drop the sword. To accomplish this, Sakura employs Illusion to conjure the image of their homeroom teacher on whom Rika has a crush. While she’s distracted Sakura knocks the blade out of her hand, then successfully secures the Card…all without Syaoran’s help.

Kero-chan makes sure Syaoran doesn’t interfere by biting him repeatedly, but when Yukito suddenly appears, it isn’t Sakura’s staff or Kero or the unconscious Rika that catch his attention; it’s the bite mark on Syaoran’s finger. When Yuki asks if he’s okay, Syaoran blushes like a beet and scurries off.

When Sakura arranges to meet up with Yukito the next day to give him a thank-you gift, Syaoran is already there, and quickly produces a gift of his own. As Tomoyo makes clear to her, Sakura now not only has to deal with a rival in her Clow Card capturing, but in romance too, as Syaoran seems as smitten with Yukito as she is. Unfortunately for both of them, he’s already spoken for…

Nine episodes in CCS has proven adept at shaking up the weekly formula. Sakura may not have had a battle costume this week, but she did use Illusion for the first time. Her friend Rika had a larger role, while her multi-vector rivalry with Syaoran developed further. We’re also introduced to Yamazaki—he of elaborate invented stories.

Finally, Kero-chan’s post-credits omake segment is always a delight, with him pointing out some detail of Sakura’s costume, or in the case of this week, Syaoran’s. His justifiable hostility towards “that kid” shines through brilliantly in the terse rundown of his ceremonial garb.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 13 (Fin) – Lost and Found

Pecorine tells Kokkoro that they’re in Landosol Castle, and that the painting is of her, Eustania von Astrea, Princess of Landosol. When she came of age, her parents sent her off on a solo adventure to see and hear her people firsthand and return a better, wiser leader from the ensuing experiences.

However, upon returning home, Eustania found that an impostor—Karyl’s mistress—assumed her identity, and no one in the castle, not even her parents, know who she is. Barely escaping the cat woman’s magical attacks, Eustania left the castle once more and became friends with Kokkoro, Yuuki, and Karyl, and the rest is history.

Even so, her past trauma made Peco believe that one day she’d lose her new friends just like she lost everyone else before; that the closer she got, the more distance they’d keep from her. Kokkoro immediately puts that assertion to bed with a long nurturing hug and head-pat, assuring Peco that whatever her name or past, their time together has formed an unbreakable bond.

Karyl was listening in to all this through the doorway, and feels the same way, even though she feels wrong for defying her “Majesty”, who it’s clear took advantage of Eustania’s adventures away to steal her throne and alter everyone’s memories.

Karyl doesn’t know what to do about that any more than Peco, but here and now she’s going to help her friend by facing the Shadow Boss. Of course, when Karyl’s about to be killed, Peco swoops in to protect her and selfishly continue to ask that she fight by her side.

The Shadow Boss is more powerful than any one member of the Gourmet Guild—even Peco—but once Yuuki returns from a protective null space created by Labyrista, and gathers a few more memories as well as the powers within him, the four friends create a united front and defeat the monster in a gloriously colorful and chaotic final battle.

When it’s over, the quartet is transported back to the tavern where all of their friends are hugely relieved and ecstatic to see them after fearing the worst had happened. The false Eustania still reigns as Princess, but rather than press her claim, Pecorine is content to let the impostor hold her throne, at least for now.

I too would be loath to give up the life she found outside the castle walls: full of loving friends, a cozy home, exciting adventures, and of course, delicious food. And from the look of Karyl when Peco pulls her into a big hug, the others are just fine with things the way they are too. When the time comes to get back what’s hers, I’m sure the Gourmet Guild won’t hesitate to support her.

Princess Re:Dive was similarly content to tell small, fun cozy stories throughout much of its run, but like our heroes proved that when things start getting more dramatic and perilous, it could deliver the goods, and then some!

Fruits Basket – 38 (S2 13) – Council of Troublemakers

It’s a new cour, and a new term for Tooru, Yuki, and Kyou, and while Arisa and Saki make a quick appearance at the beginning (confirming that Arisa has had no further contact with Kureno), this episode is not about the main crew at all. It’s all about Yuki, and his ability to lead the Student Council, which as was hinted at far earlier in the season is packed with some colorful personalities.

First there’s VP Maname Kakeru, who sleeps often, calls the council the “School Defense Force” and does little work. There’s secretary Todou Miki, who looks like Tooru’s twin sister, sounds like cutesy Kagura, but is a first-class stirrer of shit. The high-strung, irritable Sakuragi Naohito and the taciturn treasurer Kuragi Machi round out the crew.

Wrangling these misfits would be a tall task for any president, let alone one who was tortured by a god-child cult leader for years into thinking he’s lower than scum and devoid of hope. Yuki may be committed to a new, more honest and take-charge self, but he still has trouble interacting with people who aren’t family. Heck, he still has trouble with family!

Not only that, Vice President Manabe has a bright, charismatic personality and people are naturally drawn to him, which not only reminds Yuki of his big brother, but also social butterfly Kyou, two people “inner Yuki” has always compared himself to, and found himself wanting. He’s just not sure what to do around a guy like Kakeru, so he withdraws within himself.

When a StuCo session is commandeered by Manabe for the sole purpose of assigning Power Ranger-like colors to each member, Naohito fume, Machi simmers, and Miki eggs everyone on, and Yuki has no idea how to maintain order. The chaos washes around him, even as Manabe names him “Red” simply because he’s the leader, taking the more aloof “Black” for himself. No doubt Yuki sees it the other way.

Things come to a head when, while Yuki carrying seedlings for the gardening club after school, Kakeru confronts him about the nature of his relationship with Tooru. He spotted Kyou walking home with her and judges the guy to look more like Tooru’s boyfriend, and “happier” looking in general. That sets Yuki off, and he unleashes a tirade at Kakeru condeming his apparent hobby of weighing the happiness of others for his own amusement.

Surprisingly, Kakeru kicks the tray of seedlings out of Yuki’s hands. Not one to back down from a confrontation, he calls Yuki out for lecturing him so brazenly. The two bicker, and Yuki eventually admits he was really just lecturing himself, because comparing himself to others is what he always does…or rather did, and wants to stop doing so much.

The StuCo may be full of troublemakers, but Yuki considers himself the biggest of all. Kakeru’s stance softens significantly, and he admits that he’s actually jealous of Yuki for having more empathy and understanding the feelings of others before needlessly hurting them.

Having only just started spending time with Kakeru, it was easy to box him into a caricature, but Yuki learns there’s more to the guy, including a desire to grow and change—even if he naps a bit too much to actually do so! While he was initially weary of the StuCo and his ability to lead, now he looks forward to spending time with Kakeru and the rest of these weirdos.

While I’ve honestly missed Tooru and the rest of the crew these past two weeks, Fruits Basket once again demonstrates it can tell a solid story from anyone’s perspective, and with any combination of main, secondary, and tertiary characters, without breaking a sweat.

Check out Crow’s episode 13 review here!

Gleipnir – 13 (Fin) – The Truth is Out There…Not Here

As Honoka/Aiko’s “Ghost” “erases” another classmate (perhaps involved in the bullying that caused Aiko’s suicide) in front of Elena, Shuuichi and Claire ask Sayaka’s gang to give them all the coins they collected so they can go back to living normal lives while the two of them “end the game” for good. It’s a neat strategy, but unfortunately we never get to see it realized in this frustratingly incomplete finale.

Claire finally gives Shuuichi an ultimatum: either they hang out at one of their houses or they’re through, having had only this one summer together before going their separate ways. It’s a bit out of left field, but the result is Shuuichi invites her to his house, which is filthy and no place for a makeout session. When Claire tries to get answers, a repressed memory of Elena in the same position surfaces, and in a panic, Shuuichi nearly assaults Claire before returning to his senses.

Ultimately, Sayaka’s gang decides they’ll give their coins to Elena and not Shuuichi. Chihiro makes the exchange, but is interrupted by the arrival of Shuuichi, whose memories continue to surface. He now knows that Elena used her ability to erase his memories so Honoka/Ghost Aiko wouldn’t go after him. In effect, she did the same thing to him that he and Claire want to do for Sayaka’s crew: shoulder all the burden.

Shuuichi wants more answers, but Elena is elusive, and a fight ensues, that while technically impressive and exciting, doesn’t really amount to much. With his memories returning Honoka/Ghost Aiko appears and prepares to erase Shuuichi altogether. While he’s busy with “ghost clones” Elena slips behind him and uses her ability, locking the memories of her back away and saving his and Claire’s lives.

And that’s pretty much where we leave things: a stalemate with no time left; an ellipsis. Kaito and Ghost Aiko guard the landing site that Shuuichi and Claire are still determined to reach, reuniting with Sanbe for that purpose (Hey Sanbe). Sayaka and the others go back to their lives.

Mifune, perhaps the most ineffectual character of the entire series, is resigned to moving on from Shuuichi, who was never aware of her feelings. But the power couple is still in the game, and still determined to end it. It’s just unsatisfying that we probably won’t see that end in anime form. Thirteen episodes should’ve been enough to tell this story.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 12 (Fin) – Adjusted for Inflation

After the thrilling but nearly completely comedy-free Ishigami Sports Festival denouement, Love is War returns to its bread-and-butter with a relatively understated slice-of-life, life-goes-on finale. We get two stories, the first of which is by far the most emotionally engaging.

The Principal wants to snap photos of the StuCo, but Shinomiya family policy forbids Kaguya’s face from being distributed in any media, so she sits out the shoot. The Principal quickly pulls Miko out of her shell, but gets on Kaguya’s bad side when he pairs Miyuki and Chika as a dating pair.

While Kaguya once looked down on other girls who took pics with their phones, she’s nevertheless come to enjoy documenting her life with the StuCo on her antiquated flip phone (full disclosure: my landlord still has one, and she’s not planning on giving it up anytime soon!).

When the other members insist on including her on a private rooftop shoot, her phone falls off the roof during the exchange with the principal, and it is destroyed, along with all of the data (since it’s not only old, but a weird proprietary phone with no SD storage).

Crestfallen, Kaguya and Ai head to the store to buy the latest smartphone, but she’s thoroughly down that all of her precious memories were lost. The rest of the StuCo picks up on that, so Miyuki finally starts a StuCo LINE group with a shared cloud album, having held off until Kaguya got a smartphone, not wanting to leave her out. Suddenly, her phone, so sad and lonely when new and empty, starts to burst with brilliant 4K HDR photos of the StuCo’s hijinx.

This also serves as a curtain call for some of the most indelible images from this marvelous season. Kaguya’s blank look of quiet despair becomes a gleaming smile, and the five StuCo members pose for another group photo. Needless to say, Kaguya wins, having lost a low-res flip-phone album but gained a much more comprehensive hi-res one.

The majority of final segment feels like a stakes-free epilogue that could also have aired at any point this season. It makes a point to demonstrate that despite all the development these characters have gone through, they can still fall into their old habits, whether it’s Miyuki worried about Kaguya saying “How Cute” to Yuu losing his nerve.

The premise is easy enough, and starts out as a very direct double entendre involving pumping. Chika has a big balloon leftover from the sports fest, and pulls everyone into an increasingly stressful game in which each player must pump at least once, but if the balloon bursts, they lose. Chika actually gets poor obedient kohai Miko to pump the most, but lets her stop before it bursts.

This leaves Miyuki and Kaguya as the last two to pump, and they too survive, but when Chika gets a drop of tangerine juice on the paper-thin rubber, a cataclysmic explosion occurs that destroys the entire academy. As the credits zoom horizontally from right-to-left (a la Chihayafuru), both Kaguya and Miyuki, who survived the blast, are determined to get the other to take their hand.

What sets this interaction apart from so many past ones is that for once their wavelengths are perfectly aligned and they each get what they wanted, which was to hold the other’s hand without saving face or enduring mockery. It’s the perfect way to wrap up this momentous second season, while creating hope for a third one.

Still, I’d be very surprised (and delighted!) if a potential third episode surpassed this second, which goes down as one of the best second seasons of anime ever. MAL has it at #22 all time, and I think that’s a little low. I’ve savored every minute, and now that it’s over for now I shall miss it dearly!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 08 – Love and Thunder

Sakura has a strange dream of Tokyo Tower that’s identical to one she had in the first episode, except that the person in it isn’t her, but some boy in Chinese clothes she’s never met before. Both Kero-chan and Yukito independently surmise it might be a “foretelling” dream.

Sure enough, she meets the boy when he suddenly transfers to her class. His name is Li Syaoran, and he has absolute daggers for poor Sakura from word go, which bore into the back of her head all during class.

Since my intro to CCS was Clear Card, I’m used to Syaoran as Sakura’s mild-mannered boyfriend, so it’s a bit shocking and upsetting to see just how big a goddamn jerk he is to Sakura when they first meet. During recess he asks her to hand over the Clow Cards she has.

When she rightfully refuses, he gets physical, but thankfully Touya is nearby to help his little sister. Touya and Syaoran are about to throw down with some martial arts when Yukito adorkably breaks up the fight with what else but a big sack of food! 

That night, Kero-chan assures Sakura that because she opened the book and awakened him, she’s already proven she’s worthy of being a Cardcaptor, and shouldn’t pay the kid’s negging any mind. When a new Clow Card shows up in the form of persistent thunder and lightning, Sakura and Tomoyo leap right back into action.

Since she has a battle costume for any theme and eventuality, this week Tomoyo provides Sakura with an outfit entirely made of rubber and other insulators to prevent conduction. As for why she included cat ears? Because they’re cute, NEXT QUESTION.

Using a combo of Fly and Jump, Sakura has the altitude and agility to keep up with Thunder, but has no idea how to return it to it’s “true form.” To make matters worse, Syaoran shows up, criticizes Sakura for her ignorance, then casts some magic that turns Thunder into a beast.

While that’s a necessary step, the task of actually sealing Thunder falls to Sakura, who possesses Shadow—which unlike Windy is able to restrain Thunder—as well as the staff required to seal the card. Even so, Syaoran isn’t impressed and basically dismisses Sakura as an out-of-her-element tourist before splitting.

Obviously, Syaoran is wrong. Not only is Sakura capable of capturing Clow Cards, but has every right to do so, even if she’s not related to Clow Reed like the Li Clan. That doesn’t stop Syaoran’s words from hurting Sakura’s feelings, which is clear to both Kero and Tomoyo. IMO Syaoran owes Sakura an apology for being such an meanie right out of the gate.

It’s not her fault her dad had all the cards, and that she found them while he was off in Hong Kong. The two could work better far together as a team rather than rivals at cross purposes, but to do so Syaoran would have to cede Cardcaptor status to Sakura. Something tells me he’s too proud and arrogant for that, but the teamwork will just happen organically regardless!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 07 – Enjoy the Silence

Sakura and Tomoyo’s class go on art museum to sketch the various works, and we’re able to witness just how good Tomoyo’s artistic skills are. Sakura is able to avoid being a disturbance, but in her place a very ornery kid named Yuuki tries to take a painting knife to one of the paintings he claims to be his father’s. Sakura notices something odd about the out-of-place figure in the painting.

Operating under the assumption the Clow Card Silent is hiding in the quiet museum, Sakura, Tomoyo and Kero-chan go on a secret stealthy mission. Yukito spots Sakura sneaking out but doesn’t tell anyone (he himself is more interested in hanging out with Touya). Tomoyo dresses Sakura down in a cute midriff-bearing thief’s outfit with subdued colors for a lower profile.

When they enter the museum they learn that Yuuki had the same idea to come under cover of darkness, but anytime anyone makes a sound, Silent transports them outside the museum in a flash of light. After several failed attempts, Sakura releases Shadow, which she uses to not only trip up the security guard who caught Yuuki, but to secure Silent.

Once the Clow Card is secure, the painting is restored to normal, revealing that Yuuki wasn’t the young son of the recently deceased painter, but his young daughter. Happy her dad’s artistic vision was restored, Yuuki sets off into the night, all alone. I’m surprised Sakura and Tomoyo didn’t offer to escort her home though—she’s only in the second grade, after all!

When Sakura and Tomoyo prepare to head home, their mission accomplished, they don’t notice that someone is watching them from the museum’s highest tower. As a previous watcher of the later Clear Card arc,I already know who this kid is (or rather who he will be), but he’ll get his official intro in the next episode. Can’t wait!

Great Pretender – 05 – Cooking Up Something Good

Turns out Dickens wants Salazar in cuffs, so Makoto’s efforts to keep him free to care for his son goes nowhere, and Makoto has no choice but to cooperate lest he end up in prison himself. So as Eddie, Laurent, Abby, and a camera watch closely, Makoto cooks up his very first batch of Sakura Magic, a drug that doesn’t really exist.

Having watched sufficient instructional videos, Makoto is able to pull it off, though the candy is a little rough-looking. Abby is ready to taste-test and offer another performance, but first Eddie presents Laurent with the ten million dollars in ten suitcases, and Agent Dickens’ troops bust in, automatic weapons drawn.

Dickens makes no effort to conceal the fact that Makoto was her mole. She also promised no one would get killed in the raid, but that’s before an enraged Abby suddenly pulls a gun on the cops. Laurent dives to shield her, but the two end up riddled with bullets and die in a puddle of blood on the floor, to Makoto’s absolute shock. Naturally, I immediately questioned whether they had actually been killed, or if this was simply a larger con in play.

If it is, Makoto goes off script and takes Dickens hostage, forcing the cops to back off. He urges Salazar to escape, but in the confusion Eddie sneaks off and overloads the pressure on a tank, blowing up the entire lab. Makoto ends up under a wounded Salazar, and ends up chasing a hobbled Eddie. Eddie gets the jump on him and starts beating him with a traffic cone before Salazar, okay after all, punches him out.

That’s when things get weird. Dickens conducts an interrogation that ends with her accepting a bribe of 100 million dollars, again to Makoto’s shock. This cleans Eddie out of his international assets, but he’s free to leave and make it all right back. Naturally, Makoto is disgusted with Dickens’ shady conduct, but before he can protest too much he’s knocked out.

When he comes to, he learns what I expected: Laurent and Abby were fine, and Dickens and her team were fellow con artists, part of a much larger scheme to take Eddie for all he’s worth. “Dickens”, who really goes by Cynthia, hosts a huge celebration for the whole team on her private island, and everyone receives a cut in the numerous millions of dollars.

It’s understandably quite the surreal experience for Makoto. Despite the predictability of the outcome, Makoto being in the dark for the majority of the long con nevertheless lent an air of suspense, which helped the proceedings feel like more than the sum of their elemental parts. When people start going their separate ways but Laurent offers to take him under his wing, Makoto asks them to wait three or four years for him to get his affairs in order.

They agree, and Makoto returns to Japan. But just as soon as he arrives, he dumps his sack of American cash on the front desk of the nearest police station, confesses to having conned people out of it, and indicating his wish to pay back those he scammed. Looks like he’s going for a clean slate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those years he told Laurent to wait would be spent behind bars (again). In any case, the LA designer drug adventure comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 06 – Forest of Illusion

Sakura isn’t a fan of ghosts, like, at all. So when her friends suggest they investigate the forest behind the school for signs of haunting, she basically has to be dragged along. Sure enough, something appears in a flash of eerie blue light, but that something is different for everyone. Tomoyo sees a meat bun, but Sakura sees her mother Nadeshiko, who died when she was only three, and the anniversary of her death is approaching.

This is another case where Kero isn’t sure if a Clow Card is at work, but it’s enough of a possibility to visit the spot again, this time with Kero tagging along, Sakura in a kind of Italian opera bunny costume, and Tomoyo with her camera. When the spectre of her mother appears again, drawing Sakura closer, she steps right off the very sheer cliff she herself warned the others about.

Fortunately, Yukito catches her before she hits the ground, but she still passes out. She wakes up at his house, where he makes a point to mention his grandmother changed her clothes, not him, and that her “plush toy” is safe with Tomoyo for the evening. When Sakura contemplates whether who she saw was her mother, Yukito asks her: if it really were, why would she put her daughter in harm’s way?

When Touya comes to collect his little sister, Yukito tags along, and we learn that Sakura’s intense fear of ghosts comes from two things: her innate ability to sense (but not see) the real things, and Touya’s incessant teasing of her when they were younger. While he declares it his right as a big brother to mess with her, I could sense a tinge of regret in Touya’s telling, while Yukito suggests that maybe he can skip scolding her when she wakes up.

The next night, Sakura, Kero, and Tomoyo return to the forest, this time with Sakura wearing a very slick, futuristic, vocaloid-esque yellow costume. That’s two looks in the same episode for the first time! This time her mother beckons her to the cliff’s edge again, but Sakura snaps out of it, remembering Yukito’s words. Turns out it’s not the ghost of her mother, but a Clow Card called Illusion, which Sakura successfully captures.

The next morning, Sakura is ready to go back to school, but takes a moment to say hi to her mother, confident she’s not lonely by that cliff, but up in a beautiful place among the stars. Touya suddenly notices the real ghost of Nadeshiko appearing, however briefly, watching over Sakura and smiling.

This was the first truly heartstring-pulling episode of CCS, exploring how despite barely remembering her mother, she still loves her deeply due to the stories her dad and brother have told her, and in turn Nadeshiko is always watching over Sakura, no doubt immensely proud of her daughter’s new calling.

Tower of God – 13 (Fin) – Just Climb, Baby

“‘Be sure to drink your Ovaltine’. Ovaltine?! A crummy commercial?! Son of a bitch!”—Ralphie, A Christmas Story

I thought of that quote from a movie I watched a ton growing up when I watched this finale, because over and over I’d heard that this adaptation was nothing but a pale shadow of/introduction to the sprawling webtoon, something I’d never seen, and was more of a commercial than a product in its own right.

Don’t get me wrong: both Ralphie and I should have known that at the end of the day anime—like radio—is a business. Unless it’s original content, part of its raison d’etre is to sell its source material, be it a manga/manhwa, novel, or game. Much like Bam, I can’t say Tower of God “tricked” me into watching it only for it to be a glorified prologue. Like Rachel’s attitude towards Bam, its true nature was always apparent.

But I only watch anime for anime’s sake. Any product that tries to steer me towards something that isn’t anime is never going to succeed. I watched Tower of God simply for the characters it introduced, the story that was told, and the setting in the title…which, it turns out, we never really got to see. There was never any actual climbing…that doesn’t begin until the very end.

Up top you see Rachel’s look of relief as she says “Finally,” her long ordeal with Bam is over (at least for now). One mark against this finale is how little new content it contains; much of it is a recap of past events with Rachel’s narration providing fresh context, right up to when she shoves Bam out of the bubble and to his apparent death.

We start with Rachel arriving at the base of the Tower, meeting Headon, and being told she’s too weak to climb it. But she’s eventually able to convince both him and Hansung Yu to let her make the attempt anyway, but only if she completes a special test: She must kill Bam. They even provide her with a Rak-sized bodyguard, as well as guidance from the redhead Hwaryun.

In Rachel’s mind, what she must do is never in dispute, so much of her ordeal throughout the training sessions is convincing her body to respond to her mind’s intentions. Climbing the Tower and becoming a star, not just seeing them, is her primary objective, and Bam is an obstacle.

She watches and stews with envy and resetment as he gains everything she wants with hardly any effort: an amazing weapon, a tight-knit circle of loyal friends who believe in him, the ability to summon and manipulate shinsu at an elite level.

But finally, the incident with Hoh puts her in a position to get rid of Bam, but tying him to her more closely than ever. Bam was never going to abandon her not matter how badly she treated him, so when she loses the ability to walk, he offers to stay by her side and be her legs.

Throughout all of this, Rachel has no illusions about who and what she is. She’s no savior, she’s nothing special; only something “extra”. She’s not a star, but at best a shadow cast by one. But that doesn’t mean the shadow won’t try to take the star’s place. If she climbs the Tower and becomes a star, perhaps the self-loathing within her will go away.

Yu and Hwaryun arrange things so Rachel is found by the others in a puddle of worm slime, and when she comes to she has no idea what happened to Bam. Anything could have happened, but the theory they’re left with is that he was probably eaten by a fish. In any case, he’s gone, Rachel is free of him. Climbing out of bed with very functional legs, she stands by the window and laughs a villainous laugh.


That’s because despite no longer having Bam to lean on, all of his friends (except maybe Parscale, who goes along with the group anyway) believe that helping Rachel in Bam’s place is what he would have wanted. They’re not wrong, either—even though Rachel played them all.

She continues to pretend she’s disabled, and while Khun most definitely has his suspicions about Rachel and what went down in that bubble, what he doesn’t have is proof, so he holds his tongue as Yu transports the surviving examinees up to the Tower to begin their clumb.

As for Bam, he’s not really dead, but was held in a bubble of shinsu until everyone else was gone. Then Hwaryun releases him and offers to continue training him to climb the Tower, if he still seeks answers at the top. Bam responds that he doesn’t think there are any answers up there, but he’ll search for them as he climbs anyway, because…well, what else does he have going on?

That’s honestly a lot of vague cliched “what will you do” platitudes at the end there, which aren’t very enticing considering how relatively little happened in these past thirteen episodes, and how no Tower climbing at all took place. There’s a certain feeling of arrogance that an audience will simply keep letting itself get strung along a la Attack on Titan, season after season, year after year…and as a newcomer to the series ToG just didn’t develop the clout to do that.

That said, I don’t see what will possibly stop me from tuning back in if and when the anime adaptation of ToG continues. Perhaps this really does mark the end of the beginning, and that an end—teased at the very end with what I assume to be an older, longer-haired Bam standing triumphantly near the corpse of a monster with a color palette similar to Rachel’s—may someday come.

I just won’t hold my bread that we’ll see that end in that next season. But perhaps we’ll finally see the Tower, a bit of climbing, and learn more about why those things are so important. Also Rak eating more chocolate bars. Till then, I’ll be sure to drink my Ovaltine.

Great Pretender – 04 – The Candyman Can’t

Let’s start with the basics: Makoto has no idea how to cook drugs, yet Eddie is now spending millions to renovate a lab where he’ll be…cooking drugs. Laurent (through Abby, who sneaks into Salazar’s house in the night) provides video lessons in how to cook.

It’s pretty much the best he can do; the rest is a result of the various rash choices Makoto made that got him so deep into this mess. But it still seems rather unlikely Makoto would be able to learn how to make even a marginally passable product after a week of watching videos.

In the week the renovations will take, Eddie lets Makoto enjoy the sights of L.A., provided his bodyguard Salazar is always around. When Makoto learns that Salazar’s wife is dead and he only sees his son on Sundays, he insists on Salazar keeping to that schedule with his kid.

The three have a lot of fun together; the son knows his samurai, and also considers a bodyguard to be a much cooler job than cops or FBI. If he knows what his dad truly did for a living beyond bodyguarding, he’s not talking about it. Makoto wonders if it’s genuine ignorance or simply putting on a brave face.

During a bathroom break, Makoto is accosted by Anderson, who then introduces him to Dickens, who offers Makoto a deal: if he serves as their mole and helps them apprehend both Laurent and Cassano, he’ll be sent back to Japan without any jail time.

It’s probably as generous an offer as he’ll get from law enforcement, though it certainly doesn’t ensure his safety; Eddie’s reach, even outside of prison, is likely vast. Not to mention the last time he tried to pull one on Laurent and Abby, he ended up hanging out to dry on the Hollywood sign.

At a big lavish “sushi party” at Eddie’s celebrating the completion of the lab renovations, Eddie formally welcomes Makoto into his “family”, while also announcing he’s found a rat. It turns out to be a random guy who gets the bat to the balls.

This, despite the fact Makoto didn’t notice a video camera in the teddy in his room until he’d already had a couple meetings with Abby. The thing is, Salazar doesn’t care what scam Makoto, Abby, and Laurent are pulling on his boss. His job is to protect Eddie’s personal safety, not his money.

Salazar’s situation hits home for Makoto. He grew up thinking his dad was a cool, moral lawyer protecting the rights of the downtrodden. He’d later learn, the same time as his mother, on TV, that their father and husband was scamming them all along, and was really the linchpin of a despicable international child trafficking operation.

Makoto also wants Salazar’s dream of getting his kid in college to come true. Like Makoto himself, his son is an innocent who doesn’t deserve to have his life destroyed—or the stigma attached to his name by his criminal dad. So Makoto puts on the glasses with the built-in two-way bug, and agrees to assist Dickens—but only if they leave Salazar out of it.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 05 – Heart of Plushiness

This week we are formally introduced to the rest of Sakura’s crew: Chiharu, Rika and Naoko. Chiharu in particular is a big plushie afficionado so the group is excited to check out a brand-new shop owned by the kind but somewhat uncoordinated Matsumoto Maki. Only the same night Chiharu purchases a panda toy, it is apparently stolen right out of her room, only to return to the store the next day.

It isn’t long before Sakura starts to suspect a Clow Card is at work, but Kero-chan can’t recall a card that would steal and collect plushies. When they stop by the shop at night for a closer investigation, Sakura is proven right: the card Jump, an extremely quick pink bunny-like card, is responsible for all the havoc. Tomoyo tags along to run interference for Sakura, politely stalling Maki by telling her just about everything she knows!

When it senses Sakura means to take it captive, Jump jumps out the shop window, but Sakura gives chase. As her rollerblading and prowess in gym class demonstrated, Sakura is a formidable athlete, and most cards would be hard-pressed to leave her in the dust, but Jump is different, and when she does finally get her hands on it, she gets taken for a ride up into the sky and then dropped!

Fortunately, Sakura releases her staff and activates Fly, then wisely uses the newly-acquired Wood to create a cage of branches to restrain Jump. Then Tomoyo shows up with her camcorder and delays the card-sealing, and Jump escapes, and then merges thousands of plushies into a single kaiju-sized Jump…but it doesn’t last, and Jump eventually falls over and returns to its normal modest size, enabling Sakura to capture it for good.

As Sakura remarks, it’s a bit “anticlimactic”, but from the initial confrontation in the shop to the chase into the sky to the kaiju walk, Jump was an agent of chaos that went through a lot of fun iterations. While Sakura lacked an official battle costume, you could tell as the chase continued and escalated she was determined to win. Now that she has the card, maybe she can gain the same crazy speed and agility.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 12 – The Lost Princess

It’s been pretty clear since the start that Pecorine was a runaway princess, but chose to conceal that from her guildmates, no doubt so as not to burden them. But as we see from her dark dream in which her royal mother and father don’t recognize her before disappear, there’s a lot more going on in her head than the next meal. With the Shadows literally amassing, it’s only a matter of time before she must take up the mantle of her nation’s protector.

You—not to mention Yuuki, Kokkoro and Karyl—would never know that judging from Peco’s bubbly breakfast attitude. Still, Karyl notes the unforgivable lack of bread, which Peco uses to segue to a quest to defeat a monster that’s blocking the flow of supplies into the city. Karyl (grudingly) lures it away from the bridge and Peco finishes it off with a Princess Strike. Easy Peasy!

While Yuuki is filling out the activity reports at the main guildhall, he inadvertently writes part of his name in Japanese, confusing the others but proving that his memories of another life are in there somewhere. The gang celebrates the completed quest with crepes from the very first stall Yuuki and Kokkoro visited, which also now employs Yuuki’s “sisters”.

That night, memories and possible pasts and/or futures continue to surface Yuuki’s dream, including visions of past and present comrades falling before the might of an evil cat lady. Ames, the guide at the gate to the world of PriConne who still knows Yuuki better than he knows himself, makes another appearance to cite her trust in him and encouraging him to stay strong when the time comes.

Yuuki asks Peco to train him in swordsmanship, something she’s both eager to do and very much up to the task. But in the middle of a large “training” meal, the Mega-Shadow Karyl saw her master create attacks the town. Peco springs into action, but to her shock, even Princess Strike isn’t enough to bring the monster down. And while Peco doesn’t seem to notice it, Karyl hesitates when she’s asked to support her, not wanting to make that master angry.

Faced with two roads, Karyl stands still, but Peco doesn’t read anything into it, and just assumes Karyl is injured and/or terrified, and continues to attack the monster while protecting Karyl from harm, even giving her a shoulder guard for extra defense. Peco’s ultimate attack cleaves the shadow in two, but she loses consciousness before she can defeat it. Yuuki steps forward to take over, and chaos—and several powerful magical attacks—ensue.

When Yuuki comes to and the smoke clears, he finds himself in a field of wreckage, and is confronted by none other than the red-headed crepe stall lady, Labyrista. She stopped the monster from killing him and transported his friends to safety, so perhaps she’s on their side against the Cat Lady and her Shadows? One can hope, because she’d be a powerful ally!

The ultimate fate of Pecorine and Karyl is left up in the air, but Kokkoro ends up in the royal palace at the center of town, and comes across a portrait of the Eustanian royal family: the king and queen and their daughter…who looks just like Pecorine.

This must be a shock for Kokkoro, who had thought of the Princess as a fairy tale only to learn she was beside her all along. This episode had a little of everything, with the usual adventure comedy fare dotted with foreboding visions and transitioning into awesome no-holds-barred action and the potential for some serious character drama. We’ll see how things shake out in the finale—and see if there’s a second season in store.