The aquatope on white sand – 16 – Can’t help but relate

I’ve never disliked Haebaru Chiyu. When she first showed up at Gama Gama, it was clear she was trying her hardest to excel in what was established to be a very exclusive industry. Nor did I ever particularly side with Kukuru in their many spats; Chiyu is absolutely right that Kukuru was, in many ways, spoiled and privileged by being the granddaughter of a aquarium legend.

But this is the episode where my feelings about Haebaru Chiyu shifted from mere understanding to affection. Because, you see, all along, Chiyu has been busting her ass at both Gama Gama and Tingaara…she’s been doing that while being a single goddamn mom. When the attendant team has to take on overnight shifts for a pregnant penguin, she can’t do it, because she’s got a damn son named Shizuku.

They say context is king, and all along Kukuru has had it all wrong. Chiyu isn’t simply some arrogant go-getter looking down on her, she’s a desperate mother trying to balance her lifelong passion of marine life with ensuring her child has sufficient attention. That’s why, when Kukuru takes the shifts Chiyu would have had, Chiyu gets extremely upset with her. When Chiyu yells “I want to work too!”, I teared up, because I knew she was being brutally honest.

Once Kukuru learns Chiyu’s deal, she’s understandably, as she puts it, “torn”. Here she was, hating on Chiyu for being so ambitious and imperious, but all along, Chiyu had this whole other life completely outside the aquarium. It makes Kukuru want to try to experience something like what it means to be responsible for another human life. So she asks the vet Takeshita (who has also joined Tingaara) if she can babysit her son.

Fuuka, ever the peacemaker and moderator, pays Chiyu a visit at her home, and learns from Chiyu the strife she experienced. She was once married, but when she first tried to balance having a kid and working at an aquarium, she was eventually fired and her husband left her. Considering all that happened to her, it’s not surprising she’d want to keep her parenthood a secret at Tingaara. But Fuuka says there’s no need for that, nor is there any need to scorn Kukuru or Gama Gama.

After all, rather than press forward with her shallow hatred of Chiyu, Kukuru committed to learn a little bit more about what it’s like to be mother. Takeshita’s little boy never stops crying for the half-day Kukuru is taking care of him, and nothing she does can calm him until his mama comes home. Even so, Kukuru feels she’s learned something precious about loving all living things—including little humans—as her gramps wanted.

Last week, Kukuru reached  détente with Kaoru, and I said it was fine if she couldn’t do the same with everyone she butted heads with, most of all Chiyu. But leave it to Aquatope to find a way for even Kukuru and Chiyu to drop their antagonist act and admit that they do in fact share common ground, namely a love of aquariums and a desire to protect the life within them.

When the penguin’s egg finally hatches and brings forth a new life, Kukuru, Chiyu, and her son Shizuku are all embracing, rapt by the awe of watching a new life enter the world. Shizuku did her due diligence to understand Chiyu better, and in return, Chiyu opened up to Kukuru and her other Tingaara co-workers about the fact that she’s a kickass single mom. Character growth all around!

Komi Can’t Communicate – 01 (First Impressions) – [……hic……]

Komi Can’t Communicate is a dazzlingly fresh and new high school comedy in the best tradition Kaguya-sama: Love is War. Instead of two hyperachievers, we have the Most Ordinary Kid Ever in Tadano Hitohito and the Class Princess Komi Shouko, who is so popular in her class that nobody realizes she never talks.

Nobody, that is, except for Tadano, who ends up sitting next to Komi in class, and is knocked out during what must be ordinary break time class horseplay. Komi ditches gym in order to stay beside him until he comes to, which occurs just as she meows to her black cat doll. In what is a pretty fun habit, Komi ends up dashing away at top speed.

But Tadano alone, ordinary kid that he is, comes out and asks Komi if she has trouble communicating. Komi, amazed with his insight despite how blatantly obvious it is, wants to respond verbally, but gets simply too nervous and self-conscious.

But give her some chalk, and she’ll fill a chalkboard with her thoughts. Tanado joins in, and a silent conversation ensues that’s thrilling in its presentation (and ASMR cred!) and ends with Tadano saying he’ll be her first friend and help her get 99 more.

I freakin’ loved this show, and if you have Netflix, you should check it out. It’s a thing of astonishing beauty and quirkiness. The episode drops a bombshell by indicating that making 99 friends is not going to be easy in a school that’s apparently full of unique weirdos, which I guess actually makes Tadano special, since he’s the only “normal” one.

But that’s the fallacy of his assumption of ordinariness: if it were so ordinary to empathize with and reach out to someone struggling to communicate, maybe she wouldn’t have this problem. But in a school of kids either gawking or being gawked at, Tadano actually observed his desk neighbor’s issue and offered to help. This looks to be something special.

Takt Op. Destiny – 03 – Defend on Titan

No sooner have Cosette and Takt transformed into Musicart and Conductor than they engage in battle with the swarming D2. Cosette proves utterly incapable of tempering her power output, and soon passes out, followed closely thereafter by Takt. She’s like an OP summoned beast with Auto-Berserk that you can use in some RPG situations, but it’ll probably end up costing you.

Takt comes to in his bed, with his arm back and a strange red scar on his hand. He meets his and Cosette’s saviors, fellow Conductor and Musicart duo Lenny and Titan. Interestingly, Titan seems to have plenty of personality while Cosette—excuse me, Destiny—has none. Turns out the Cosette that was really is dead; this Musicart, born from music, simply took her form. That’s a blow not just to her big sis Anna, but Takt as well.

While Lenny, Anna, and Takt plan a road trip to New York, Destiny eats some tarte tartin with the friendly Titan, but detects D2 in the nearby woods and rushes off on her own to eliminate them. When Takt catches up to her, she tells him his presence is unnecessary, but it’s pretty clear she’s drawing her ridiculously inefficient power by feeding off his life force—an untenable dynamic, as cool as it looks.

Lenny and Titan bail her and Takt out once more, but one D2 escapes and heads straight for Takt’s house and Anna. Destiny makes it in time to save Anna, but when she destroys the D2 she takes the entire house with it. This basically makes the three found siblings’ fate official: they’re going on a cross-country drive to NYC, where it’s believed the Symphonia can help Desinty with her little fuel economy problem.

The first stop on their journey will be Las Vegas. On the way, Destiny, who remember is a completely different person than Cosette, remarks on Takt playing air piano, and expresses a wish to hear him play. Could it be there is some small bit of Cosette left within her? Anna and Takt kinda have to think so…otherwise she’s a stranger wearing their dead sister’s skin.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 15 – Seaslugfest

Buoyed in part by the return of Fuuka, Kukuru has found her rhythm in the marketing office, and is starting to show her competence. Of course, this means her boss Suwa just foists more work upon her. But it’s not done out of malice; it’s a sign that he trusts her to get it done. While having a relaxing lunch outside, Fuuka reminds Kukuru of that.

As such, when Suwa gives Kukuru her largest responsibility yet: a two week exhibition. Kukuru gives it her absolute all preparing a variety of proposals, not merely so she can silence Suwa’s doubt in her (though that’s part of it), but because it’s a golden opportunity to nerd the ef OUT over sea life. She ends up knocking it out of the park with her proposal, which is accepted on the spot. Mind you, Suwa doesn’t offer “Plankton” any praise…but it’s still a huge victory!

Kukuru decides the exhibition will be exclusively sea slugs, the jewels of the sea. I have to admit I hadn’t given sea slugs much thought up until this episode, but I have to admit they’re as gorgeous as they are weird. Kai gets all excited about Kukuru asking him to join her at the shore to collect the creatures, only to find Kukuru invited Fuuka too. His romantic fumbling doesn’t go unnoticed by Eiji, who suggests he try to be a bit more bold.

Like her earlier projects, Kukuru is constantly having to butt heads with people with whom she simply has a lot of trouble getting along besides the minimal professional cordialness. One of those figures is Kaoru, who granted comes of as pretty prickly and inflexible anyway. But Kukuru has gained more spine since joining Tingaara, and one thing she will not countenance is exhibiting the sea slugs without feeding them.

The vast variety of sea slugs doesn’t just pertain to their looks, you see, but also their diet. One species likes one kind of sea sponge or moss, the other ignores it completely. Eventually she finds the right food for all but one of the species to be exhibited, but in the process of obsessing over that eighth, Kukuru completely forgets her tour duties. Chiyu, another one like oil to Kukuru’s water, doesn’t let her forget she messed up, while all Fuuka can do is try to keep the peace.

On the eve of the exhibition, Kukuru is working late hours, and she’s got bags under her eyes. Who should press a cool canned coffee against her head but Kai, perhaps trying to be a bit bolder as Eiji advised. Kai asks if he can do anything for the clearly overworked Kukuru, and she says yes there is: he can put up his hands so she can punch them! In the heat of the stress-relieving spar session, Kai wraps his fingers around her fist, kinda-sora-unconsciously seeking gentler contact than the usual punches.

No sooner is this contact made than Kai apologizes and the drew draw back. But even if Kai’s courtship doesn’t pay off, a different kind of ritual takes place between Kukuru and Kaoru…they come to a détente! Over, what else, their mutual passion for all things living in or near the sea! I’m not sure why Kuuya misgendered Kaoru, but I for one am elated to see her and Kukuru put aside their differences and focus on the common ground they share.

Kaoru even invites Kukuru to the shore! At the same time, she and Chiyu may never get along, nor will Suwa ever give her a break or crack a grin. But that’s okay! Just as not all sea slugs eat the same food, not all people can get along. It’s just surpassingly gratifying when it suddenly, unexpectedly happens.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Takt Op. Destiny – 02 – Cancrizans

This week Takt takes a look back earlier in the year 2047, when Takt, Cosette and Anna shared an idyllic middle class nuclear family home in Anytown, USA. There’s a human-D2 truce in effect and music is mostly banned, but Takt only lives to play his grand piano in the garage. Cosette, who has a lot more personality in this flashback, does her best to keep his lair clean, resulting in the two getting into bickerfests that Anna tries to stamp out.

Not too different from their dynamic in the first episode that takes place some months later…but again, the big difference here is past Cosette being a delightfully bright and cheerful person. It’s not clearly explained what brought Takt into their home, but you can tell beyond the bickering that Cosette deeply cares about Takt and wants to share his talent with others. We also learn that she can play too…the same time Takt learns, and seems both annoyed and intrigued.

Cosette ends up booking Takt for the Symphonia’s traveling music festival, a rare joyful respite from the totally music-less norm. How this is even possible—a huge military buildup around the town?—is not made clear. All that’s clear is that Cosette is absolutely certain Takt will show up, even when he’s late and she has to play in order to stall for time. When he does arrive and hits those four famous Beethoven notes to interrupt her, she beams with the power of a thousand happy suns!

After Takt ditches the classical for some early modern jams that wouldn’t be out of place in a speakeasy, he invites Cosette to join him for four-hands, wowing the crowd with their talent (and piquing the interest of the Grand Maestro, Sagan). Before, Takt could only imagine in his head playing before a rapt audience and then basking in their applause upon reaching the coda. Now that it’s actually happening thanks to Cosette, he can’t hide his elation.

Just when Takt and Cosette are at their highest point, it all goes to shit when a D2 fires right on their position, destroying the piano and causing a huge explosion. The episode expertly lulled me into a toe-tapping false sense of security as we watched Take and Cosette play and blush and beam. Don’t get me wrong, I knew something would happen, I just didn’t know how, where, or when. The direction exploited that to the hilt.

When the smoke clears, Takt, one of his arms and hands mangled, is lying on the charred ground bleeding. Cosette is on top of him, in even worse shape (it could be she tried to shield Takt). Cosette ends up dying in his arms, but he refuses to accept that, and demans she wake back up. With this, her mysterious pendant suddenly shines and she rises Castle in the Sky-like out of a gobsmacked Takt’s arms.

Some kind of spirit emerges from the rock, decides to claim Takt’s injured arm by ripping it off, then merges with Cosette to become the titular Destiny. While he outfit is a damn sight more expressive, much of the Cosette Take and Anna knew—and loved—is lost. And that’s how Cosette became a Musicart and Takt her conductor: when tragedy struck. The next time we’re back in the present it will be tinged with melancholy, now that we know who Cosette was, and is no more.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mieruko-chan – 02 – Wrong Line

This week’s Mieruko-chan starts with Miko and Hana changing. Hana overhears other girls talking about a TV show featuring a severed head, and is scared there might be a head in her locker. Miko checks, and it looks clear…until she looks up at the top shelf, where there’s a severed ghost head only she can see. It’s all she can do not to react to it.

In the next segment Miko has to watch in horror as her airheaded friend Hana is slowly enveloped by pervy ghost limbs she can neither see nor feel. They don’t seem to be hurting Hana, but Miko still tries to get them off of her, even going so far as to douse Hana’s blouse in hand sanitizer. Ultimately, the ghoul shifts to their buxom teacher, spurning the slighter-chested Miko.

The next segment is a quick one involving a long line for half-off donuts. Miko, distracted by the menu on her phone, steps into what she thinks is the right line, but it’s actually a line of dead people waiting to get devoured by a larger ghoul. Hana grabs her and puts her in the right line. Miko is eternally grateful.

In the most heartwarming segment of the series yet, Miko and Hana find an abandoned kitten in a box on the street, but both live where pets aren’t allowed, so they put an announcement on social media. The handsome young man who responds is rejected by Miko, since he’s surrounded by what look like evil cat spirits and God knows what else.

Rather, it’s the huge, super-scary looking yakuza who gets the kitten. He may look scarier than the handsome guy to Hana, but Miko can see good cat spirits on the yakuza’s shoulders. After the credits they’re joined by the spirit of his dearly departed loved one.

The aquatope on white sand – 14 – Nunca te rindas

I don’t know about you, but Fuuka’s sudden appearance on the beach and her and Kukuru’s warm embrace are romantic as all get out. Just look at that shot: Fuuka is basically Kukuru’s valiant prince, drying her eyes strained from tears of frustration and filling them right back up with pure unbridled joy. Even better: Fuuka is back for good. She’ll be working at Tingaara…and even moved next door to Kukuru.

That’s a lot of surprises, but Kukuru is fine with all of them, because if ever there was a time she needed Fuuka close by, it’s now, when she’s feeling totally unmoored in her marketing job. Thanks to Gramps, Fuuka was able to get a job at Tingaara, and Chiyu is clearly not okay Gama Gama nepotism. If she’s going to accept Fuuka as a colleague and not a up-jumped hanger-on, Fuuka must memorize all 20 of the cape penguins.

“There’s no ‘Gama Gama Faction!'”, the Gama Gama Faction protested as they all went out to eat together. Though replacing Kuuya is Eiji, who is tastefully intrigued by the former idol-turned-penguin attendant. Rumors of cliquery aside, I like how the Gama Gama exiles still hang together after work, lay down their troubles, and enjoy Udon-chan’s widening culinary repertoire.

Kukuru admits after dinner that a part of her felt jealous that Fuuka got the job she thought she’d get at Tingaara, but fully admits that kind of thinking is childishness she wants to grow past. With  Karin, Chiyu, and her fellow marketeer Akari (voiced by the Saekano heroine herself, Yasuno Kiyano!) an now Fuuka, she has plenty of girlsboss to emulate. She even discovers she does have a knack for making people care and fall in love with aquariums, as she takes the aquarium-indifferent Akari on a rehearsal tour and wins her over.

This week Kukuru does indeed work harder and smarter than her first bumbling/arrogant days, staying meek and formal on the outside, but keeping that burning fire in her belly stoked. She learns the value of forming little alliances with others to make things easier, and figuring out the precise way to deal with people. Take Chiyu’s second-in-command Marina (Touyama Nao—this cast is stacked): since Kukuru is Fuuka’s friend and Fuuka is cool, Marina will go to bat to change Chiyu’s mind about including the penguins on the tour.

Speaking of intricate social patterns, this week was a low-key cape penguin documentary, as we observe along with Fuuka how to tell the twenty penguins apart not just by their colored wing bands, but how they behave. And while Fuuka was only at Gama Gama for a month, that was enough to know when the birds are agitated due to their sudden new environment (mirroring Kukuru’s own difficulties).

Kukuru believes it was not only Fuuka acing the name-that-penguin test, but recognizing and acknowledging the emotional state of the birds that impressed Chiyu enough to give the go-ahead for their (limited) exposure to tour groups. Kukuru only manages to get a family of four in her first tour, but she ends up nailing the tour just as well as Fuuka nailed her test, showing that the director didn’t throw her into this new environment willy-nilly. He knew she’d eventually figure it out and thrive.

Is Kukuru’s anhedonic ass of a boss Suwa pissed she only snagged one group of four? Absolutely. Does Kukuru let him get her down for long? Nope! She walks out of that office ready to keep up the fight. The episode ends as it began, with Kukuru and Fuuka looking like a particularly happily married couple, this time cooking dinner side by side.

Kukuru gives Fuuka the credit for changing Chiyu’s mind by proving she not only knew about but cared about the penguins. But that’s not entirely fair to herself…who helped Fuuka study for that penguin test? More to the point, Fuuka makes it clear that while she feels she belongs in an aquarium now, the main reason Fuuka is back is to be with Kukuru. Kukuru just so happens to also belong in an aquarium, so it’s allll sea gravy!

Takt Op. Destiny – 01 (First Impressions) – Settling the Score

It’s 2047, and music is banned. If it’s ever played, fearsome alien monsters called D2 arrive and fuck shit up. So when young man sits at a lovely upright piano and bangs out some Beethoven, a D2 comes running…right in the middle of an unassuming town full of unassuming people. The D2 looks like it’s about to obliterate the pianist for sure…but he’s saved by a ridiculously strong young woman.

She is Colette, AKA Destiny, a Musicart, and he is Takt, her Conductor. Transforming into a Musical Magical Girl, Destiny easily defeats the mid-level D2. The brief but wonderfully precussive battle set to a more symphonic arrangement of Symphony No. 5 IV. Allegro is a feast for eye and ear. This is what happens when Madhouse and Mappa join forces.

Takt and Destiny were just passing by the town while on a long and interminable road trip to New York City, where their self-appointed leader Anna hopes they can have Destiny “tuned” to be more efficient in her fighting, as she always ends up exhausting Takt. Destiny loves eating, but also has to due to her extremely fast metabolism. Takt should train, but all he cares about is music.

Destiny is feeling particularly brash, and Takt is sufficiently beat and confident in her skills, that she goes off on her own while he and Anna wait in a remote highway diner (one wall of which Destiny destroys as she exits). She ultimately fails to eliminate the D2 in the area due to their boss being a particularly tough customer, as she regales to them with cute Panty & Stocking-style visuals.

Her mistake was going off without Takt, or rather Takt not accompanying her (neither of them listen to Anna’s directives, a fun running gag). But then Destiny rushes back to town with her super speed, picks up the piano with her super strength, and rushes it back to the abandoned factory where the boss lurks. There, her Conductor starts to play Moonlight Sonata, and it’s off to the races with a sakuga-fest of a boss battle that ends in a victory.

As a weapon, Destiny comes off like a piano: capable of great bluntness and great precision; capable of being extremely quiet or loud. More than anything, she’s only as good as the person making use of her. Takt is a brilliant musician, but has a lot to learn about Conducting. If they’re ever going to get to New York—much less save the world from the D2—they’re both going to have to step up their games.

Takt Op. Destiny is a crisp, bright disco ball of luscious anime goodness. Will every episode look this good? Who knows, but if you want to hook an audience right from the get-go, this is how you do it! Play it again, Takt.

Mieruko-chan – 01 (First Impressions) – I Don’t See Dead People

Mieruko-chan’s premiere featured, by my count, twenty shots of fanservice: two busts, two butts, and twelve legs/thighs. I won’t say they didn’t distract me, but not in a necessarily bad way. This is a show that is very good at building up tension and then releasing it, and in creating patterns that lull us into a sense of security. Those shots are part of that.

The premise is wonderfully, beautifully simple: Yotsuya Miko can see ghosts and ghouls, but tries to act like she can’t. She doesn’t do this out of genuine indifference; she is actually very afraid of them, just as I’m sure I would be. She’s just worried that letting them know she can see them will only make things worse. It probably would!

Throughout the episode, Miko goes through things no one wants to go through, and reacts the way you’d expect someone to react. This makes her very relatable, as well as someone to admire. I can only hope I wouldn’t just scream my goddamn lungs out if one of these creepy ghouls suddenly crept into my vision or invaded my personal space.

Other than ghosts, Miko’s life consists of her busty best friend Miko, a third girl who is aloof this week but looks to become another friend, and her little brother. But mostly ghosts. Studio Passione takes a simple premise and really goes out with the execution, featuring suitably creepy ghosts designs that are thankfully CGI-minimal, crisp, clean character designs, and if the fanservice is frequent and in-your-face, at least it’s competently done. Overall a good, spooky start, just in time for October!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 13 – #aquadulting

We return to Aquatope with Kukuru in a new apartment, in a smart pantsuit, saying her usual prayer (this time to her parents’ shrine), starting her very first day at the brand-spankin’-new Aquarium Tingaara. Umi-yan and Kuuya are already working there, while Kai is in the same group of new hires as she is. But while Kai is assigned to the fish team, Kukuru is assigned to…marketing.

The director has high hopes for her in PR, where Karin is already working. Have you ever, due to various circumstances, ended up in a job you had no idea you’d be doing? Well, that was me about five months ago, and it’s Kukuru here.

Working at an aquarium, but not tending to the marine life? It almost seems like a cruel joke, and Kukuru doesn’t get it. That said, when Karin frees her from the mountains of manuals her director Suwa gave her and takes her on a tour of the modern, impressive facilities, the little kid in Kukuru immediately resurfaces. (This still, by the way, is my new desktop wallpaper, the previous one being the sky after the typhoon).

But she gradually learns that kid has no place at Tingaara. Here, not even Umi-yan can keep ice pops in the feed freezer. Gama Gama was loosy-goosy, and a lot of outsiders like Suwa and Chiyu (who is magnificently smug throughout this episode) believe that had a lot to do with its failure. Tingaara is a strict, by-the-book, professional enterprise, perhaps wound a bit too tightly.

Even so, after dinner at the restaurant where Udon is now working and training, Kai reminds her that Fuuka dove into the world she knew nothing about when she started working at Gama Gama. He himself didn’t originally really want to work there, but did so because he wanted to help her, and eventually came to like it. He thinks if she tries something new and sticks with it, she might have a change of heart.

Reinvigorated by his words, Kukuru goes back to work with her head held high, doing the work that’s in front of her. It seems like preparations are ready for a behind-the-scenes tour Suwa assigned to her, but as he puts it in a very public dressing-down in the office, she really only did the work she knew how to do. He suggests she cease relying on experience working at a failed aquarium and nicknames her Plankton…smaller than small fry.

After getting chewed out and again having her commitment and seriousness questioned by Chiyu, Kukuru leaves the aquarium exhausted and discouraged, declining Karin’s dinner offer and instead sitting on the beach alone. She starts to cry, not knowing how much more of life at Tingaara she can take.

Then, out of nowhere, Fuuka arrives, precisely when Kukuru needed her the absolute most. While they were still together in last week’s episode, the way Aquatope totally turned Kukuru’s life on it’s head and everything she endured made it feel like months had passed…which indeed they did! All of that also makes their reunion that much more heartwarming.

Kukuru has had a rough couple of days, but there’s a reason Tingaara’s director assigned her the role he did. Hopefully seeing Fuuka will remind Kukuru of how rough she was on her in her first days at Gama Gama, and how Fuuka didn’t give up, and ended up thriving.

Tingaara may seem like a cold, cruel, nasty, grown-up place—or at least most of the humans who aren’t Kukuru’s circle make it feel that way—but that doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Kukuru may struggle and fail a lot more before she finds the right wavelength in which to thrive, but I’m excited to watch her find it!

Kageki Shoujo!! – 13 (Fin) – Stage of Dreams

I heard the music of true forgiveness filling the theater, conferring on all who sat there, perfect absolution. God was singing through this little man to all the world, unstoppable, making my defeat more bitter with every passing bar.—Salieri, Amadeus

When it comes time for Sarasa’s turn at Tybalt, Andou-sensei doesn’t hold back his professional acting background. His Romeo is not just loud and forceful, but loud and forceful in all the right ways, drawing the crowd in, accentuating the most important parts of his soliloquy. It throws Juliet and the Nurse completely off…but not Sarasa.

Sarasa once again remembers when she was waiting for Kouzaburou and heard his master practicing in the next room. Sarasa joined in, as the Living Treasure indulged her desire, just for a few moments, to know what is was to be coached in kabuki projection by a master.

Being taught from such a tender age that acting is “no child’s play”, Sarasa is able to shake off Andou-sensei going full out, Sarasa embraces the Kabuki practice of mie, which basically amounts to focusing the audience on them and only them, and exhibiting how cool they are.

Sarasa’s Tybalt immediately captures the audience with her sudden shock, anger, sadness, and ultimately by letting his revealed true feelings for Juliet soften her performance. It’s the complete package, and it shows that she’s learned how to discern between mimicry and genuine individual performance. She tapped into her natural talent and blossomed before all.

After three agonizing days, the girls finally learn who won which role. Ai loses to Aya, and for a good reason, as her uncle explains: Juliet is simply more in Ayaka’s wheelhouse as an avatar of innocence, while Ai’s performance was a bit too mature. Hearing it logically explained doesn’t make the sting of defeat any easier to endure, however. That said, Ai doesn’t head home, but waits for her friend to learn her fate.

In what seems lke nothing more than another petty fuck you to Sarasa borne out of envy for her talent, Hijiri redirects her to hours of floor cleaning in Risa’s stead. Hijiri seems to be the rep for all of those Kouka students who mutter and whisper to each other in their mutual bitterness and inadequacy.

Ayaka hears that mutering when it’s revealed she’ll be Juliet, including false claims that her family got involved in her being chosen. Kaoru, who lose the role of Romeo to some complete rando (and we never even learned why!), stands up for Aya right there and then, telling the sore losers if they lost to her family they “lost to bread”. She then cries, not for Aya, but for herself, and Aya both thanks her and comforts her with her embrace.

It’s nighttime by the time Sarasa learns she’ll be Tybalt. Ai is struck how differently Sarasa reacts to this compared to how she reacted upon first being admitted to Kouka. No jumping or laughing or yelling, just cool reverent focus at the name on the wall. She stepped out of her comfort zone, embodied a dark villain, and won the day. With so much more to learn, possibilities for her seem endless.

Class Rep Sawa, meanwhile, tries her best to be a gracious loser, legitimately praising Sarasa’s Tybalt, but also going tothe faculty lounge to hear why she didn’t get it. The story of the musical and film Amadeus comes up, and Sawa bitterly admits she always identified with Salieri, who toiled in mediocrity while Mozart ran rings around him out of pure god-given genius.

Andou assures her that most actors are more like Salieri than Mozart, not at the top but always looking upward or outward at those better than them in some way. He also hastens to add that Sarasa did not mop the floor with her; the student vote was a tie, as was the faculty vote, until a single teacherr, Ohgi-sensei, voted for Sarasa out of pure “fangirl appeal.”

Having been so deeply cut by a single piece of paper, Sawa accepts the loss and takes it as a learning experience, as young raw students such as herself must. After all, both she and Sarasa still possess a multitude of shortcomings in their skills that will only be resolved in the terms and years to come, with hard work, practice, and rehearsal.

Sawa’s second-year counterpart Takei tells her in the meantime, the two of them will always be class reps, keeping their peers organized and focused; a crucial role not everyone can play. Sawa finally allows herself to cry, and Takei has a comforting hand for her shoulder.

With the first-year roles for the festival set, rehearsals are scheduled for the four winners before the actual performance. However, first comes an event involving the entire 100th Kouka class: a photo shoot to promote the school and recruit members of the 101st class. With Sarasa at the top and Ai at the heart of their symmetrical formation, they ask those future students to join them on the stage of dreams.

And that’s all we’ve got for Kageki Shoujo!! Sadly, it may end up being all we get, as no second season was announced and by some accounts may be a long shot due to its very specific (and thus not wide-ranging) appeal. The prospect of there being no more Kageki even as we never got to see Sarasa and Ai walk on that Silver Bridge is a bitter and sobering one, but I will hold out stubborn hope this is not the end of their anime journey.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bokutachi no Remake – 12 (Fin) – Back to Hard Times

Now that we know that Tomioka Keiko has the ability to send Kyouya back and forth through time, the question becomes, does Kyouya want to go back to the past or remain where he is? As Keiko says, there are few people who can claim they’re as happy and successful as he is. But Kyouya concludes that he didn’t want to go back in time to make a happier future; he wanted to experience pain and struggle alongside the talented creative people he idolized.

So even if, say, Aki decided she wanted to start drawing again, the fact remains that she, Tsurayuki, Nanako and Eiko all had their futures changed by Kyouya’s over-meddling, and that will never sit right with him, so it’s back to the past with him. It seems Keiko, whoever or whatever she is, brought Kyouya to this alternate future to teach Kyouya a lesson, in addition to giving him the choice to go or stay.

After a heartfelt sequence of final scenes with Aki and Maki, Kyouya is ready to go back. Keiko sends him back to the same time he left, when Tsurayuki dropped out. Aki and Nanako aren’t sure what to do about it, but Kyouya adivses that they all stay the course. If there’s a way to bring Tsurayuki back into the creative world, he’ll find one, but this time he’s not going to be so forceful and so certain.

Just as the members of the Platinum Generation put their trust in him, this time Kyouya is going to trust in their ability to shine and fluorish without undue interference or compromise. When Nanako is given an offer to work for another doujin group, she sheepishly asks him if he’ll proverbially hold her hand. Having seen what becoming overly dependent on him did to Nanako’s future, he insists she try being independent on this project. Even if he comes off as rude or mean, it’s in Nanako’s best interest.

He’ll still support her, but he won’t let her rely on him entirely again. Aki proves trickier, as she hits the very same rut that would define her future self as she transitioned from a creative life to a domestic one. Kyouya realizes that asking her to work so hard and compromise her artistic vision for the game took a toll, and that coming out of the rut won’t be a fast or easy process, but it will and does eventually happen, and without undue meddling from him.

Kyouya ends up literally bumping into the girl who will one day become Minori Ayaka, sporting her natural black hair color. Akaya seems embarrassed when Kyouya sees she has the game he made along with some promising sketches, but there’s no disputing she’s dedicated to being the best goshdarn illustrator she can be, inspired as she is by Shinoaki’s work. This must feel gratifying to Kyouya, as by abandoning that possible future he also feared he undid the good he did for Ayaka’s future.

But then, that’s just his ego talking; the same ego that thought he was singularly, personally responsible for upheaving everyone’s lives, when in reality it was a whole host of variables. It’s the same with Ayaka; she’s going to be alright, especially if the artist she adores continues to draw, as Aki does.

As for Eiko, Kyouya now realizes that she considers herself more than just a friend, creative colleague, and confidant. The future Eiko loved (past-tense) Kyouya, that means this past Eiko is in the process of falling for him, if she hasn’t already. Her blush as she admits she’d drop everything to help him if he was ever in trouble says a lot.

But Kyouya isn’t interested in dating Eiko, at least not at the moment. His primary goal is to undo the damage he did to Tsurayuki’s creative motivation. His confronting Tsurayuki as he exits a theator marks the beginning of his Remake Version 2.0, and even hints at a possible second season (though there hasn’t been any announcement of one, so who knows).

If this is the end, it’s a moderately satisfying one, as it has Kyouya on a sustainable path where he’s aware of his “power” and no longer breathlessly achieving happiness at the cost of others’ success. Even as he’s reverted to a younger version of himself, he’s grown as a person and a friend to these talented people. And so the struggle continues.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 12 – Everything becomes the ocean

It’s the last day of Gama Gama, and admission is free. The place is packed with people, which has Kukuru asking why they didn’t come earlier. But even so, she understands that Gama Gama has gotten too old to properly care for its sea life. The logic doesn’t make the last day any less melancholy, but there’s a hint of hope, as Kukuru is offered a job at Tingaara when she’s done school.

Once the last visitors head home and the doors close for the last time, the staff plus Karin and Udon-chan have a little party celebrating 48 glorious years. When everyone learns Kukuru has a job at Tingaara if she wants it, and that Umi-yan and Kuuya are also taking jobs there, a tipsy Karin urges Kukuru to go for it. But Kukuru just isn’t sure, and that’s understandable: the offer came on the day she believes her dream to have ended.

Gramps makes a very awesome and tearjerking speech, and then Kukuru and Fuuka spend some time on the moonlit beach. After the emotional roller coaster of the typhoon, they’ve fully made up. In fact, Kukuru believes it’s now her turn to support Fuuka’s dream, by urging her to take the lead actress job in Tokyo. Fuuka books a flight there for tomorrow.

The next day, Gama Gama is “hollowed out”, as all of the sea creatures are placed in portable tanks bound for either Tingaara or other aquariums that requested them. Kukuru is shook by just how lonely it is with the lights on and the tanks empty…until she goes into the room where all the visitors left notes on the wall.

It’s a room full of warm gratitude, and Kukuru can’t help but smile and feel grateful for everyone who came to Gama Gama and were changed forever. Then, while walking past one of the empty tanks, Kukuru experiences another illusion, once again involving someone who looks like her sister, who gives her a loving pat on the head as if to say “you’ll be alright.”

Back home, during Kukuru and Fuuka’s last meal together for some time, Kukuru mentions the illusion she experienced, believing she’d met her “doppelganger”. This is when Gran finally decides to tell Kukuru something they were going to tell her when she grew up.

As she’s already been an aquarium director for a summer and then lost that aquarium, Gran decides she’s grown up enough. Kukuru had a twin sister…but only Kukuru was born.

I understand Gran not wanting to keep Kukuru in the dark any longer, but the timing couldn’t be worse when it comes to Kukuru and Fuuka having to say goodbye so soon. At the airport, Kukuru tries to put on a brave face, as she feels she owes it to Fuuka, who supported her dream for so long.

Airport goodbyes always get me, and Aquatope really nails it, from the awkwardly formal handshake to watching from Kukuru’s POV until Fuuka disappears into the terminal.

But that is not goodbye, because before she boards her plane, Fuuka thinks about how she only cried when she was alone after her dream ended. She thinks about how Kukuru must be crying alone right then, and decides she can’t board the plane; not now. She runs dramatically through the airport, calls Kukuru and asks where she is, and meets her out on a patio where she is, indeed crying alone.

The bottom line is, making sure Kukuru didn’t have to cry alone was far more important to Fuuka than a movie role in Tokyo. She had to be in the position where she had to choose to learn that the job wasn’t really a new dream. You could say she’s torpedoing her career simply because Kukuru’s gran got talkative about things past at the worst possible time.

Still, Fuuka simply couldn’t let the person who helped her find strength and happiness after losing everything cry by herself. After sharing some big ol’ sobby hugs like two close friends should (seriously, WTF was with that handshake earlier guys!) Kukuru decides she’ll work at Tingaara after all.

The aquarium and its fragile micro-ecosystems taught Kukuru over the years that life can be difficult, and being alive isn’t a given. It was basically a coin toss that Kukuru got to live and her sister didn’t, so she now feels doubly motivated to make those who love her proud; that includes Fuuka.

Fuuka ends up on a plane back home to Iwate as planned, but as she settles into the cozy night flight she reads the poem Gramps read during his farewell speech, about how everything eventually becomes the ocean, which is probably why whenever someone peers into “the ocean within”, they find peace. Kukuru joins in, and they finish the poem in one voice, telling each other see you tomorrow.

It’s a bold and gorgeous way to end the first half of Aquatope, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what new innovative ways the show will cause me to bawl my eyes out when the second half comes around.