Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 02 – Nothing Else Is of Any Concern

Makoto meets with Jin on two matters: one is to be briefed on a mission to find the one within Nue who is feeding Kuchinawa assassination targets. The other is to ask about Sawa. Makoto responds to the latter by saying “it saddens me to report that she survived”.

Last week, Asahi prepared to stab Sawa in her sleep. When we see both next, the only thing Asahi is slicing is a daikon radish, and Sawa is very much un-stabbed. This week we learn more about Sawa and Asahi’s pasts, and … Spoilers: those pasts are dark and bloody. First up is Sawa, and if Black Widow has “red in her ledger”, Sawa’s got “blue in her diary.” Well, her mom’s diary.

We know how Sawa hid while her mother, father, and brother were slaughtered. But how did Sawa end up an assassin with Yue? Jin arrived at the ruins of her village as she was trying to bury the charred remains of her family. His mere presence there the morning after their deaths might’ve normally raised a red flag for Sawa, but the very light had gone out of her eyes.

It didn’t matter at the time if there was a chance Jin had something to do with the death of her family. He was offering her a chance at revenge, and that chance brought the light back to her eyes. Under his tutelage she became a graceful and efficient killing machine. Jin made a deal: he’d use her to make Nue stronger, and she’d use him to get her revenge.

Sawa puts the blank diary of dark memories away and joins Elena for their next mission: make contact with a Nue agent named “the Treasurer” and get her to safety. They identify her waiting tables at a restaurant by the fact she can memorize everyone’s orders and whisk her away, crossbowing and beheading the Kuchinawa gunmen along the way.

While Sawa escorts her through the tunnels, the Treasurer mentions how the shogunate is content to ignore the mounting opposition to their regime outside of Tokyo. She also knows a lot about Sawa, because she’s a memorization savant. Meanwhile, Makoto pays Asahi a visit at the bookstore, offering her a bottle of black pills that “kill in ten seconds.” , to use on the person who killed her parents.

That’s right: in the recent past while on a mission, Sawa murdered Sawa’s parents while she was in the next room under burning wreckage of the house they were in. Granted, Asahi’s mother was apparently dolling her up in order to serve her up to a pervert before Sawa arrived, but facts are facts.

When Asahi tried to stab Sawa in her sleep, Sawa woke up instantly (if she was even asleep) and stopped the knife, telling Asahi she needs to strike where she’ll do the most damage, and wait until she’s more vulnerable. When Asahi bursts into tears, Sawa is there to hug her. It’s a strange situation, but it’s true to Sawa’s code: she’s not about to be a hypocrite. If Asahi should exact her revenge by killing her before she can exact hers, so be it.

Sawa, now knowing of the Treasurer’s ability, decides threaten her into telling her everything she knows about the Karasumori village massacre. The Treasurer says how those responsible wanted to keep the Karasumori clan’s blue blood a secret, while Janome stole an imperfect variant of that blood’s power. But the Treasurer stops there, saying Yoshinobu doesn’t tolerate treason.

Her five-year old son is being held hostage; should she betray Yoshinobu, he will die. So Sawa offers to protect her and her son in exchange for the information she wants. When the Treasurer asks why Sawa would go so far for revenge, Sawa answers simply that her entire life is for revenge—just a stretch of borrowed time, in which she’ll either get the job done or die trying.

Sawa and the Treasurer exit the tunnel near a quiet dock where she can be smuggled to safety, but they are intercepted by Kuchinawa agents, along with a Changeling. Elena shows up, and she handles the agents while Sawa enters her blue blood trance and defeats the Changeling.

But when it’s time to put the Treasurer on the boat, Elena stabs her instead and lets her fall into the river, after telling her her son has already died. I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but either the Treasurer fed intel to Kuchinawa, or she and her intel-packed brain were simply too dangerous to be kept alive.

In any case, Sawa loses her best chance yet at learning about what happened at her village and who was responsible. I don’t think she’ll kill Elena or quit Nue, but she can’t be happy that her road to revenge just hit a detour. In any case, this was another dark, bloody, brooding episode of Jouran, packed with bursts of cool action and bookended by an OP and ED by RAISE A SUILEN that both absolutely slap.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 01 (First Impressions) – Keeping Busy in a New World

I loved how elegantly Saint’s Magic Power begins: a lovely prelude preceding the title card, then a quick sequence of overworked office drone Takanashi Sei (Ishikawa Yui—Hi Mikasa!) suddenly being transported to a new world via a summoning spell. It immediately feels new and refreshing simply because its protagonist is an adult woman and not a horny male teen/NEET.

The other refreshing catch is that Sei wasn’t the only “Saint” summoned by the Grand Magus of the Kingdom Salutania. A second Saint is summoned right beside her, but despite them having equal standing, the preening Prince Kyle chooses the other young woman, totally ignoring Sei. Rather than follow the chosen heroine, we follow Sei…the “Spare” Saint.

Except for a brief recollection of her in Sei’s thoughts, we never return to the other Saint’s story, though I’m sure she or we will check in on her at some point. Until then, Sei is encouraged to reside on the grounds of the royal palace and basically stay out of trouble. While her life is comfortable and every need seen to by her kindly maid Marie, Sei, a hard worker in her original world, soon becomes quite bored.

Frankly, that’s awesome! For once, our heroine isn’t thrust into an epic battle of good and evil with a ticking clock. Instead she makes do with far more modest stakes that nevertheless make the fantasy setting feel more real and down-to-earth. Watching Sei, so often cooped up in an office most days, happily frolicking on the palace grounds, is quietly enthralling.

Sei soon finds that her real-world interest in medicinal plants and herbs has a magical analogue: an entire institute dedicated to their research. She meets Jude, one of its researchers, who shows her around, and before long it occurs to her that this is where she wants to be: somewhere she can do what she loves and keep busy.

With the institute director Johan’s blessing, Sei decides to join, and to move out of the palace and into the institute. The palace’s aide-de-camp is happy she’s found something to do and pleased to offer whatever she needs. With that, Sei starts her new unexpected new career in potions.

But first thing’s first: she has to learn to make potions, the institute’s top export. Jude goes through the process step-by-step, and reaches the point when he learns that she’s never used magic. You’d think Jude would know this if he knew she was a summoned Saint from another world, but whatever.

Regardless of her inexperience in casting spells, as a Saint she is naturally imbued with more magical power and sensitivity than most. It’s just a matter of learning how to summon and use that power. Within three months, she’s already making medium-to-high level potions the institute usually had to order from outside sources—and making Jude understandably jealous with her rapid progress.

Their playful repartee is interrupted by an emergency: knights who were on a mission to subjugate a forest of monsters took heavy casualties, and several are near death. The researchers are summoned to the palace with all the potions they have in tow. It’s a good thing, then, that Sei has gotten so good at making potions—all of them 50% more effective than anyone else’s—she lost count of how many she’s made!

When they arrive, Sei is initially shocked by the sudden scenes of injured and maimed soldiers, but soon snaps out of it and gets to work administering potions, which have an immediate healing effect. She’s brought before the horribly wounded captain of the knights. When he won’t drink her high-level potion, she insists that he must until he does, and soon recovers nicely.

Both the captain and Johan, his good friend, thank her for saving him. Sei, beaming proudly, is happy she could help. I for one am here for this charming, laid-back yet still engrossing slice-of-life isekai series. Should her titularly omnipotent magic power justifiably lead her to greater things, I’m fine with that too!

 

Fruits Basket – 51 (S3 01) – There’s No Night that Doesn’t End

Where we last left off, Kureno had just revealed to Tooru that not only was Akito a woman. No matter how much he loved Arisa, he couldn’t leave Akito’s side, not even after being freed from the curse—or especially because of that. He further explains that Akito was raised a male from birth because it was decreed by her mother Ren, to whom we are finally introduced.

Ren still lives on the grounds, but as Kureno puts it she has “some…troubles, mentally and physically.” Akito freaks out when Ren even tries to touch Hatori, while Ren insists Akito’s belief that her bonds with the Zodiac animals are real love and eternally unchanging is nothing but fantasy.

Her cruel taunting of her daughter—whom she made into a sun by pure will—causes Akito to fly into a rage, but Ren wouldn’t mind being killed, because it would mean reuniting with Akira, Akito’s late father. In a flashback Akira tells Akito she was “born to be loved”, but to Akira that probably doesn’t mean being venerated as a god.

The thing is, Ren may question whether the Zodiac bonds are right or even real, Kureno, Shigure, Hatori, and Ayame all woke up in tears the same morning Akito was conceived. Before appearing in Ren’s belly, Akito came to them in a dream, and the four kids ran to Ren, who didn’t even know she was pregnant.

From that day, Kureno felt the other self that lived inside him, in his blood, and knew he could never betray her. Even if the bond was unnatural, or painful, he simply could never push away a crying Akito, and so can’t see Arisa. Because just as Akito wounds others, she herself is wounded.

Kureno said all of this to properly explain why he can’t leave Akito ever, and that the choice to stay with her is his alone, not guided by any curse. As he leaves her in the courtyard, the DVD falls out of Tooru’s hands and she cannot move for some time, frozen by the weight of this new information.

Her scarf flies away, she falls to her knees. Rin, her ally in ending the curse, watches this from afar. Kureno explains how he went out for fresh air, gets a vicious slap from Akito, and then the two gently embrace. Then, like a gothic fairy, Saki approaches Tooru, flanked by Megumi, and announces she is “here to save the day. Ta-da.”

After informing Yuki that Tooru is in her “custody” and will be her’s “all night” (phrasing!) Saki prepares a “Nightgown Festival” to soothe Tooru’s troubled soul. She tells Tooru that she was able to detect Tooru crying in a voice no one else could hear, but was deafening to her. Tooru explains how she tried to bring Kureno and Arisa together, to make up for all the things people like Arisa did to help her…but she failed, so she’s useless.

As we see Kyou spot Tooru’s scarf lying in the street, Tooru tells Saki how Kureno is someone who puts others’ feelings before his own. I’m glad Saki’s there to essentially say “look in the mirror…that’s you!”. Saki worries if Tooru keeps taking everyone’s feelings on her shoulders, it will crush her, and her smile will disappear. Arisa enters Saki’s room to add that if Tooru’s smile disappears, “it will be the end of the world.” Neither of them will let that happen.

Arisa sits with Tooru and says she’s “trash” for maing her cry. Tooru says she’s not trash, and Arisa in turn says Tooru isn’t useless. What she is is a dummy, just as Kureno is a dummy, and Arisa can’t help but love dummies. But because she loves them, she doesn’t want to cause problems for them, so she gathers Tooru in a hug and assures her she needn’t worry; she’ll be fine. With that, the Nightgown Festival commences in earnest, and Megumi’s heart pounds as he’s surrounded by older women, the little scamp!

Rin continues slinking around the Souma compound, only to be caught by Ren, who asks her if she wants any “help.” No doubt Ren would love to lift the curse, though it’s interesting that she only comes into the picture now.

Fatigued by their emotional exertions, Tooru and Arisa fall asleep early. Megumi asks Saki if she thinks it’s really hopeless for Arisa and Kureno. Who can say? Arisa may have said “that’s it”, but Megumi isn’t so sure. Sometimes it takes a long time for lovers to find each other.

The next morning, Tooru comes home, all cheered up, and becomes even more cheered up when she finds her scarf waiting for her, courtesy of Kyou, who even washed it (though some stains remain, which is apropos!) Tooru bops him with a pom-pom once more, then Yuki and Shigure bid her good morning. As Tooru gets on with her life—no mean feat after what she’s learned—she resolves to gradually think upon the thinks Kureno told her bit by bit.

With this beautiful, magical, heartrending-and-mending opening outing, Fruits Basket continues to prove it is the final word in supernatural romantic comedy/dramas. After two exquisite seasons of painstakingly introducing characters, delivering their backstories and developing and strengthening relationships, this third, The Final, will introduce and execute the endgame.

Some of the darkest and most painful episodes may be yet to come, but I’ll happily endure them with Tooru, Arisa, Saki, Yuki, Kyou, and everyone else to see how things turn out!

Higehiro – 01 (First Impressions) – Inadvertent Guardian

Yoshida had the evening with his attractive co-worker Gotou all planned out in his head. They’d have a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant, and if things went well, he’d ask if she wanted to come home with him. He hadn’t banked on the possibility Gotou was already seeing someone for years, and simply never mentioned it at work because she wanted to keep life and work separate—which is perfectly reasonable.

Thus rejected, Yoshida goes and gets drunk with a friend until that friend has to head back home to his wife. Yoshida blabbers about how Gotou “tricked” him, and stole his heart and won’t give it back, but I’ll forgive his attitude as he’s allowed to wallow in defeat, drunk and horny as he is. The bottom line is Yoshida didn’t want to look past sleeping Gotou, and now he’s a little lost at sea.

He most certainly didn’t plan to encounter a runaway teenage girl (voiced by Ichinose Kana) outside his apartment, nor for this girl to offer to let him sleep with her in exchange for a roof over her head for the night. But even when her other options are seemingly ruled out, Yoshida makes it quite clear that he’s not sleeping with a “little kid”, nor is he prepared to leave her to the tender mercies of the night.

So, in his drunk and staggering state, he invites her in, then collapses into his bed to pass out. The girl, no stranger to crashing at men’s houses in exchange for sex (though she is thankfully not shamed for this), sits on the bed and asks matter-of-factly “Hey, are you sure you don’t want to do me?” He’s sure. When asked if there’s anything else he wants, before passing out he mumbles “miso soup.” The next morning, that’s what he gets: miso soup, made by the girl he flat-out forgot he invited in last night!

When he hears how he rejected her offer of sex, he salutes his last-night self, relieved nothing sordid happened. She also mentions how he mumbled about being rejected by someone named Gotou, and whether he wanted her to make him “feel better”. Once again, he declines, saying he’s not so far-gone he needs “a tiny little teenage girl” to do that.

When she points out that her breasts are quite big and asks “aren’t F-cups you can touch better than H-cups you can’t?” he flat-out asks why she’s trying to seduce him…and if she even wants to sleep with him. She says she doesn’t, but then embraces him and says she’s never met a man willing to let her stay for nothing in return, so maybe he’s the “abnormal” one. That’s when Yoshida, God bless him, asks for her ID, a gesture that again makes clear he’s not interested in her in that way.

He learns her name is Ogiwara Sayu, that she ran away from high school in Hokkaido six months ago. When he tells her to go home already, she says she’s sure they’re happy she’s gone, Ichinose Kana’s voice breaking ever-so-slightly. The more Yoshida thinks about Sayu, the worse he feels about it. He takes it out on her to a degree by calling her “stupid”, “dumb as a rock”, and “a spoiled brat”.

But beneath those harsh barbs, he understands that Sayu is not “fine” as she says in the slightest; that what she’s had to do to survive since leaving home is not right or okay. More than she’s an idiot, she’s a victim: both of a home that she felt she had to leave, and to a world apparently full of men who taught her all the wrong lessons and twisted values and standards. He’s also angry that such a kind and sweet young woman couldn’t have a “normal life” and a “normal love”.

Obviously, Yoshida’s positions are showing both his privilege and paternalism. The former was a result of his own upbringing and life experience; the latter was learned through both, just as Sayu learned a certain way of living the last six months. But I can forgive the motives behind his fundamentally principled choice to stop this child from being harmed anymore by offering her a safe, clean place to stay.

I’m not going to pretend that in the real world this isn’t his choice to make. As a matter of law, he should probably go to the police, right? And yet who’s to say Sayu wouldn’t be harmed anyway if he took that route? Considering what she’s been doing to stay away from her home, it’s clear going back there isn’t what’s best for her. Being placed into an overworked and uncaring social services system also wouldn’t be much better.

The fact there are no easy answers or cut-and-dried solutions add a lot of welcome emotional heft to the whole scenario. Yoshida, whom I mentioned is somewhat lost at sea, has encountered a fellow castaway adrift and rudderless, who has the added disadvantage of being far too young to have to endure the waves. So for now, he decides to lash their ramshackle rafts together and chart the course of least harm.

The more time he spends with Sayu, the more disappointed in his fellow man he becomes. When he heads out to the patio to smoke, she calls him “nice”, but our boy Yoshida is not so deluded to think he’s some saint, and makes it clear to her in perhaps his best line of the episode: “Listen up! I’m not nice. They were shit.” He contemplates the environment that put Sayu in such an unfairly precarious situation, and even implicates himself for “letting her stay spoiled” by giving her a place to run to.

But even as he checks headlines about an unrelated case of a man arrested for kidnapping a teenager, and Sayu walks over him, inadvertently giving him a look up her skirt, Yoshida isn’t about to cut the ropes of her raft free. He found her on those waves, which means he feels responsible for her well-being. That doesn’t just mean a roof under her head, but more appropriate clothes, pajamas, and a futon to sleep on.

Sayu isn’t ready to accept all this without worrying about not being able to repay him in some way. Yoshida is again disheartened by the fact a kid has to think that way, but indulges her by insisting that the cooking and cleaning she’s done constitute more than adequate payment, and that arrangement will serve for the time being.

The next morning over breakfast, Yoshida explains to Sayu that it isn’t the act of shaving that makes him feel old, but becoming too lazy to shave every day. Sayu spares no tact in saying he doesn’t look good with stubble, so he decides to shave after all. The exchange indicates this won’t be a one-way street. Perhaps in helping keep this lonely damaged girl safe, Yoshida can find a new course in life post-Gotou rejection.

Higehiro is fraught with potential problems, as all series involving an adult and a child always are. And yet unlike the horrifically skeevy KoikimoHigehiro presents its situation, questions and arguments in good faith, and from a place of human decency and empathy. It’s a compelling, hopeful tale of an imperfect person trying to do the right thing for someone who has already been wronged far too much. Unlike Koikimo, I don’t feel like I need a shower after what I saw, but rather want to see what happens next!

Rating: 4/5 Stars