Super Cub – 05 – The Ascent

Kudos to Koguma, who over the summer she expanded her horizons, learned an abject lesson in preparing for the elements, saved up some cash ferrying documents between her school and Kofu. That’s a summer anyone can be proud of. She comes to Reiko ready to make some tasty okonomiyaki in exchange to hear what she did this summer…and why her Postal Cub looks like it’s been mauled by Oniguma-sama.

Reiko also expanded her horizons, learned a hard lesson or two, and presumably also made some money with her job doing manual labor “somewhere close…yet far away.”

It’s just…she went about it a little differently…

I see you, Super Cub.

Back in the day, anyone could ride up Fuji-san, but new laws and environmental restrictions narrowed the opportunities considerably. Reiko’s job with an official team that maintains and resupplies the trail and outposts going up the mountain was the opportunity to do something she’d wanted to do ever since she got her license: Ride to the top of Fuji-san.

She researched modifying Cubs for off-roading and secured the job, which consisted of a lot of manual labor but also riding ahead to ensure the way is clean for the giant resupply Caterpillar that climbs up and down the mountain. Reiko’s arduous ascent is often appropriately accompanied by heavy metal soundtrack, and also full of vicious crashes and tumbles.

Still, every time she falls, she dusts herself off and gets back up, because there’s still a mountain to be climbed. When her boss, who climbed Everest, asks her why she’s so intent on climbing the mountain on a glorified moped originally designed to deliver mail, she says it’s to find out if she’s the kind of person who can overcome something like that.

Instead of mail, Reiko intends her Cub to deliver her to a better sense of who she is and what she’s capable of. It’s an incredibly moving, well-realized, self-contained epic little movie of an episode, and what’s all the more impressive is that it doesn’t exist to outdo or overshadow Koguma’s own summer achievements, but simply to present the vast spectrum of experiences.

Oh, and it surprised me almost every time Reiko hit a rock or peeled out, and I found myself actually crying out in anguish whenever it happened, hoping Reiko would be able to get up and start her Cub back up. Fortunately, she always is, and always does. One day when it’s clear she’s really struggling, her boss tells her not to try to “stand up” against the mountain, but to “come alongside”.

Also lending a sense of grandeur is the absolutely spellbinding scenery that grows more strange and otherworldly and beautiful as Reiko reaches higher and higher elevations. There is nothing quite like the way the earth sprawls out before you when you’re on a mountain, and that unique feeling is captured perfectly.

Reiko takes her boss’ advice as a reminder that she should be having fun, not suffering, but when push comes to shove, she’s not going to “go limp” let the mountain push her around. She holds herself and her Cub down and fights as hard as she can. Alas, her final crash is her worst, and cracks her stalwart Cub’s enging casing.

She calls her boss, who picks her up in the Cat. He remarks that she didn’t make it to the top: she’s only a few switchbacks from it; perhaps a few hundred feet. But that’s okay; Reiko can’t look out at creation unfolding beneath her and feel bad about what she accomplished.

Koguma maybe gets the line of the episode in response to this epic tale of man vs. nature: “That’s silly.” As in, climbing Mt. Fuji on your motorbike is silly. Maybe it is, but Reiko still had to do it, and doesn’t regret it. They change the subject to Koguma’s “Cursed Cub”, and Reiko eases her friend’s mind by assuring her none of the three previous owners died because of it. Two of them didn’t even die.

Koguma takes Reiko up on the offer to sleep over, if nothing else to experience the pitch-black darkness far from the city lights. Ensconsced in the mummy sleeping bag Reiko provided (and looking more like Shima Rin than ever!) she clarifies her statement about the silliness of climbing Mt. Fuji as not meaning that it could not be done. Hell, Reiko came really really close to doing it, and probably could have if she’d just slowed down a bit!

And as we’re treated most gorgeous images of Fuji-san yet, Reiko says the first Cub rider climbed the mountain in August of 1963, followed that same year by a team of Cub riders. Reiko isn’t done; she’s going to be the next one to do it—and the first high-school girl!

That morning, over coffee, Koguma makes clear she’s not done expanding her horizons either. She took the summer job in part to pay for driving school so she could get her full motorcycle license. Reiko hops on the laptop to book Koguma’s reservations, and also to look for cheap ways to increase the power of her Cub so her friend can climb her own mountain a little higher.

This whole episode certainly took Super Cub to new heights, but even if and when it comes back down to earth, Reiko and Koguma will unassailably remain my two heroes.

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 05 – Always Be Twinkling

This week is a Lily episode, as she decides she wants to shine even brighter by entering herself in the Saga regional of the national TV talent competition Japan’s Got Talent. If she wins, she’ll move on to the finals in Tokyo. I love how the pint-sized Lily announces this by shaking up Koutarou’s usual dungeon briefings. This is a choice she made—not him—and she’s going to do it.

But upon arriving at the venue for the competition, Lily learns she’ll be facing stiff—and very familiar—competition in the form of Oozora Light, the latest child prodigy star. While his meeting with Lily is friendly, Sakura and Tae later discover that unlike Lily he’s an arrogant, cynical little shit, spoiled by and abusive to his manager and expecting an easy win in the “sticks” of Saga.

While much of the competition before him seems to support that assessment—none more than Koutarou’s own baffling impersonation of a mudskipper—Lily brings some class, charm, and heritage to her multi-faceted rakugo performance, proving she can do whatever she wants on stage and excel.

Both the crowd and celebrity judges are eating out of her hand, laughing at the comedic bits and crying at the dramatic ones. Lily is an expert at working the crowd, but it’s always about shining as bright as she can and entertaining them, not manipulating them. If she isn’t having as much fun as they are, there’s no point.

Light follows it up with…sigh…juggling. It’s here where we see that he’s more concerned with tricking the crowd into siding with him with his on-stage performance, since they’d probably loath his true self. He does this by pretending to mess up, only to yell Never Give Up! and get back on track. As juggling acts go it’s pretty good, but in all honesty he’s riding his celeb status here; Lily’s act was far superior.

Unsurprisingly, the two finalists for the Saga Regional are Lily and Light. Lily stops by his green room to wish him good luck, and predictably Light throws her good wishes back in her face, calling her out for putting on such a syrupy sweet and cute act that they both know isn’t going to last once they’re out of elementary school.

Of course, Light isn’t aware that Lily was once a bigger star than him, and also will never grow up, because she’s a zombie. But even if she wasn’t, Lily is still a veteran of show business, and doesn’t rise to his trash talk, keeping things friendly and cordial. Even so, Sakura, who overheard Light laying into Lily, has her back, reminding her all of Franchouchou are with her.

When Light inadvertently steals “Life”, Lily’s signature song from her past, she once again shows what a multitalented consummate professional she is, re-arranging her music for the band and altering her costume, all in the time it takes for Light to perform his song. It’s also not lost on me that her light blue hair and pink and white ribbons match the transgender flag, a lovely personal touch.

Lily counters with “Life”, but rather than the classic bittersweet version, her vivacious arrangement integrates addictive scat-singing and dancing that get all the kids in the crowd and on TV dancing with her. She also basically turns all the adults into kids as the clap along, swept up in her sparkling, twinkling awesomeness.

As I expected, she still loses to the Next Big Thing, but not only is she perfectly gracious in on-stage defeat, but she tracks down Light to cheer up and encourage him off-stage. While he technically won, he knows full well Lily put on a performance he couldn’t have hoped to match, especially in the compressed time frame she had.

Lily reminds him that show business is about who wins, not always who’s best, but all either of them can do is keep shining as brightly as they can. She manages to thaw his cold, dark heart, and when he points out she’s in the boys bathroom, her response is pitch-perfect: “It’s fine…it’s just me after all.”

A lesser show would have had Lily put Light in his place by beating his ass and moving on to Tokyo (something Koutarou wasn’t going to be happy about—Tokyo isn’t Saga!). Instead, Light is given extra depth and humanity, which is gratifying because being a child star in any era is not easy…just ask Macaulay Culkin!

They part ways on good terms, with Light inviting Lily to Tokyo sometime so they can work on something together. And while Lily didn’t make it to the national final, a kid doing her scat performance of “Life” becomes a viral sensation all over the country, netting Franchouchou thousands of new fans. Let it never be said the shrimp doesn’t pull her weight!

Super Cub – 04 – Summer Courier

Some of my favorite moments of Yuru Camp involved Shima Rin on her own, setting things up, figuring things out, or on the road in harsh weather with the knowledge a soothing hot spring wasn’t far away. I could watch her do stuff alone without saying anything all day, just like I could watch Super Cub’s Koguma do the same.

Super Cub, I’ve been remiss in mentioning, distinguishes itself in the musical department by employing a lot of soaring classical piano pieces that really match the moods of the montages with which they’re paired as well as lend a sense of added majesty. Plus, it just makes the show that much more classy.

Anywho, this week is full of Koguma taking care of business as she takes on a challenging summer job as a document courier between her school and a high school in Kofu (also a Yuru Camp locale). Pre-job preparations include buying some sturdy new boots, a dependable Casio watch, and getting a 100-km oil change at Shino’s.

Her first trip to Kofu High is full of suspense; she really doesn’t want to screw up, and even declines the Kofu teacher’s invitation to stop and have some tea just so she can remain ahead of schedule.

Just as she got comfortable with operating her Cub and interacting with Reiko (who is spending her summer touring “somewhere close yet far away”), Koguma gets used to the daily trips back and forth. Eventually loosens up and derives more joy from the new routine.

Before she knows it, she’s put 500km on her Cub, and so takes it back to Shino. He tells her she might be riding her Cub a bit too gentlyleading her to give it the beans at her next green light.

One day Koguma is caught in a summer shower, and arrives at Kofu High looking like a half-drowned cat. The teacher makes sure she’s dried off and has her wait out the rain with a cup of tea.

Not wanting to endure another soaking, Koguma heads to the store to buy a waterproof rainsuit. It costs nearly as much as three round trips, but the next time it rains it pays for itself, as Koguma can ride dry and comfortably, looking up at the sky and saying “take that” upon arriving at Kofu High.

The days and weeks go by, and soon Koguma has reached 1000km. She takes Shino’s advice and gives changing the oil a try. While at first she can’t loosen the bolt that releases the spent oil, she watches a bicyclist ride by and it gives her the idea to use her foot to move the wrench, which does the trick.

In addition to yet again gaining inspiration from observing life around her (as with the goggles), the colors of the episode become more lush and vivid, matching the dopamine high that comes from having cleared what is the toughest hurdle in changing oil—getting that damn bolt off without making a mess or hurting yourself.

The rest of the change goes smoothly, and while Koguma probably should have worn gloves, there’s something to be said for getting a little oil under your fingernails after your very first wrenching job. Go Koguma!

After a month and a half of round trips at ¥2,000 a pop minus fuel and expenses, Koguma has a nice chunk of change squirreled away, with which she can use to further expand the world she’s started to grow with this job, both as a matter of geographic distance, and overcoming her shy, reserved nature.

Even betterm she’s rewarded for a summer job well done by a call from Reiko, who returned home the same day Koguma’s job concluded and invites Koguma over to her place. After a beat, Koguma asks Reiko where to go, and pulls up in front of an absolutely gorgeous log cabin in the forest at dusk. Reiko invites Koguma inside so they can talk about their summer adventures. It’s a cozy, warm, and above all triumphant way to end the episode.

Osamake – 04 – Piling On

Osamake reiterates the fine mess that has been made as each vertex of the Shiro-Haru-Kuro love triangle wallows in misery in their dark bedrooms. Haru blames himself, Kuro blames Haru, and Shiro blames Kuro for the mess, but they’re all pretty much equally responsible.

Tetsu doesn’t make things easier for any of them the next day at school when he announces that his video of the whole horrific fiasco was watched by over a million people on “WeTube”, though his primary goal wasn’t to humiliate anyone but promote Haru’s potential comeback.

The video has the unexpected effect of attracting another woman from Haru’s acting past: the now famous and beloved star Momosaka Maria, who stakes out her territory immediately by coming into Haru’s class and glomming onto him. When Shiro and Kuro try to complain, she dismisses them as, respectively, the woman he used to like and the woman who rejected him about as publically as anyone could reject someone.

Bottom line, Momo-chan considers them to be in Haru’s rearview mirror, while she represents his future. Haru was this little sister figure’s first love, and she’s determined to hitch her star to his wagon, so to speak. After she departs for the time being, Tetsu treats Haru to an apology pizza, only to reveal it was procured by his “jack-of-all-trades” fixer, Asagi Rena, who smells “good money” on a Haru comeback.

But Rena’s intro is interrupted by Shiro, who with her friend Meiko’s help invites Haru to come to her house sometime, ostensibly to meet with her father again. When Kuro tries to intervene, the mere sight of her triggers Haru’s trauma over being rejected and he literally turns into a tiny monkey hiding behind Shiro, who lets Kuro have it on his behalf.

Haru doesn’t like how things ended with Kuro there, but he’s more distressed about the mess he helped make as a result of not fully understanding how Kuro felt despite being so close to her for so long. He talks with Tetsu on the phone about it, unaware that Tetsu has him on speaker and Kuro is listening. Tetsu asks what Kuro is going to do, but she doesn’t respond.

Meanwhile, Momo continues her campaign to conquer Haru and cut the other two out of his life by letting herself into his house and cooking him all his favorite dishes, which she learned of from his late mother way back when. Haru realizes that the press crush and online calming must’ve been Momo’s doing, while Momo admits that the video was the trigger to finally approach him about rejoining the agency where they first met, now run by Shun Hardy, son of its former boss, “Auntie Nina.”

She has two cards: one for Haru and one for Kuro, but then this development is interrupted by another: Kuro’s three sisters are at Haru’s door to report that…Kuro has developed amnesia. As sudden bouts of amnesia (especially those unexplained by an accident or other physical trauma) are my least favorite anime plot device, I sincerely hope this is another ruse. But even if it is a ruse, it’s simply one too many things going on. The gorgeous mess has become an ugly one.

Shiro’s continuing attempts to make Haru fall for him again, the viral video kickstarting Haru’s acting career, the sudden appearance of Momo and Rena, whatever Tetsu still may be planning, and now Kuro apparently has freakin’ amnesia? It’s needlessly, discouragingly too damn much. Combined with the increasingly apparent meh production values, the shine is starting to wear off Osamake. I’m morbidly curious to see what becomes of this amnesia issue, but the show needs to settle down and focus soon, or I’m out.

Super Cub – 03 – Calling Out to the Universe

Koguma notes how it’s been a few days since her “life of emptiness” was suddenly filled by her Cub, and then by a fellow Cub rider. She acquired the Cub by actively visiting a dealership, while befriending Reiko happened more by chance when Reiko approached her. Koguma is gradually getting more comfortable with both of these things.

During lunch (the running gag of Koguma never being able to microwave her meals is great and very relatable) Reiko announces her intention to go touring during summer vacation, and is glad to have the big luggage box that comes with the Postal Cub. Koguma would like one too, so Reiko reaches out to a fellow Cubber and finds another box within walking distance.

Reiko has Koguma remove the box from the worn-out Cub, and using tools on a Cub for the first time must feel satisfying. That feeling is repeated when a teacher gives her a free front basket from his Cub he doesn’t need anymore. As she vicariously revels in Koguma grinning like a goofball, Reiko tells Koguma that whenever she needs a part of something, the universe will provide if you “call out” to it.

As Koguma tries opening up the pipes on her Cub, she learns she’ll have to call out for something else: a means of blocking the wind from hitting her face. I must say these three episodes have been an absolute face clinic, and Koguma’s wind-in-her-face face is as priceless as her satisfied grins. It’s great watching Koguma discover the simple but powerful joy of upgrades.

That night, Koguma considers how to solve this problem as she cooks a dinner of fried rice—not a microwave packet—perhaps indicating she’s taking more pride in the process and effort of all things, not just her Cub. Reiko takes Koguma to the library to search the web for a face shield, but even the cheapest are around $40.

Then, as if the universe were answering Koguma’s call for an alternative, she spots a custodian wearing safety goggles, which are both cheaper than a mask and tough enough to withstand the rigors of riding. Koguma had to go to the hardware store to buy a chain lock anyway, so kills two birds with one stone. Goofy grinning ensues, and that night Koguma dreams of riding her Cub on a road through a flower-strewn meadow. She’s officially got the Cub Bug.

Koguma’s mood extends into the morning, and Reiko notices her friend’s extra pep. After school, both of them want to go riding, so they do, although I was a little confused when Reiko left first, because I thought they intended to ride together. Another time, perhaps. In the meantime, Reiko gives Koguma her cell number, tells her to call if she needs anything, and to be careful on the road.

Koguma admits that getting her licesne wasn’t a particularly emotional moment, but getting Reiko’s number was another thing entirely. She isn’t sure yet if she and Reiko could be classified as friends, but that doesn’t matter, because they’re something she considers deeper and more profound: they’re both members of that ancient and noble tribe of Honda Cub owners, and they are legion!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 02 – Two-Wheeled Freedom

Koguma discovers how to hang her helmet off her Cub after seeing her classmate stow his under the seat of his scooter. Once in class, she daydreams about suddenly blurting out that she came to school on a motorbike and suddenly becoming Miss Popular. Thankfully, she chooses a much more natural time to mention her new scooter—in Home Ec class when they’re making drawstring bags. Her mention leads to a classmate asking if she can see her Cub after school.

While last week Koguma was thoroughly in her own little world, directly interacting only with Shino, this week we see just how socially awkward she is, first by only tentatively agreeing to meet up and then trying to make an Irish exit, only to forget her newly-made bag.

Fortunately, the other girl doesn’t hold it against her, and reveals she’s something of a motorbike otaku in her appraisal of Koguma’s Super Cub. She also makes plain her biker girl bonafides by presenting her own steed: a red MD4=90 Postal Cub, she’s souped up with aftermarket and bespoke parts.

Their interaction kind of trails off when the girl, named Reiko, has to head out, but Koguma privately hopes they’ll get to talk more tomorrow. Even so, when tomorrow arrives, it takes everything she has to let out a hushed good morning that Reiko only acknowledges with a curt “Mmm.”

Koguma’s fear that their interactions are at an end are alleviated when Reiko takes her arm and leads her to their bikes where they eat lunch together, explicitly mentioning they’re friends now. Yet even here, when Reiko tells her they can go anywhere they want with their Cubs, Koguma seems held back by a lack of imagination.

But once she’s riding home after school, Koguma starts to feel what Reiko was talking about, and instead of going straight through her usual intersection, she takes a right turn. That leads to a supermarket with much better prices on her lunch packets, and she even saves a few yen by using the drawstring bag she made the other day.

You could say that inspiration fueled Koguma’s imagination, allowing her to make a different turn than usual and find a new an unknown place. It’s her first small step to realizing the boundless potential for freedom her new ride represents. As we see Reiko taking full advantage of her Cub to find a gorgeous Yuru Camp-esque vista featuring Fuji-san, Koguma looks forward to her next after-school side trip. So am I!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 01 (Belated First Impressions) – Kickstarting a New Journey

Koguma has no family, no friends, no goals or hobbies, and not much in the way of money. She gets by living on her own in a near-monastic existence, and the first four minutes of this episode are spent in silence as the sun comes up and we witness each step of her morning routine from waking up to heading to school on her bike. If you love anime that portray real life without any embellishment, as I do, you’ll have already been pulled willingly into Koguma’s life, as I was.

But after watching the better part of one day in that quiet, lonely little life, we watch as she’s easily overtaken by a classmate on a motor scooter, and she decides to head to Shino’s motorcycle shop where she’s in luck: a used Honda Super Cub (the most-produced motorized vehicle in history) is available for just ¥10,000 (around $91). Immediately upon hopping on, the bike literally adds color to her life.

We watch the painstaking but also rather simple process of acquiring a license and tag for her bike as well as a helmet and gloves, as well as the always initially tricky starting protocol. But once all that’s squared away Koguma hits the road (calling to mind Yuru Camp’s Rin on her scooter), and regularly flashing a warm smile simply at the sight of her new Cub sitting in the paddock. It’s not exaggerating to say it saved her from what was a tedious, mundane, aimless existence.

Koguma realizes she’s still shaky on the road, so unable to sleep anyway, she gets up for a midnight ride to practice when the roads are all but deserted. Again, the Rin is strong in Koguma, right down to the occasional relieved sigh and assured yosh after a notable achievement. When she stops at a konbini and can’t get the Cub started, she simply consults the owner’s manual and switches to her reserve tank.

After refueling, Koguma heads home, plops down in her genkan relieved and exhausted, and falls asleep right there, waking up only when her alarm goes off. Already, her crushingly drab routine has been upended by her new mechanical companion. As she confidently rides to school, she starts to think of new adventures to go on with her new ride, like Kofu, well-known to all Yuru Campers. But the point is, she’s finally found an interest and has gained a measure of ambition.

I initially passed on Super Cub worried that it was going to be nothing but a glorified ad for the Honda Super Cub. I reconsidered when I saw it had a decent MAL score and glowing reviews on ANN, and noted that I was missing a iyashikei-style slice-of-life anime this season. So while it’s adding a sixth show to my schedule, it should feel far more like a treat than a chore.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 05 – Unappraisable

There’s a lot of lead-up to Sei’s introduction to Grand Magus Yuri Drewes—yet another hot guy who just recovered from the coma he suffered after summoning her and Aira. But when it comes time for him to do his duty as the most powerful mage in the kingdom and appraise Sei’s power, his spell is unable to penetrate her own far superior magical power. That means Yuri is fairly certain she’s the true Saint, because he was able to appraise Aira’s power.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Yuri’s inability to properly appraise Sei means he can’t be certain she is the Saint. Aira may not possess her incalculable magical power, but she is progressing abnormally quickly in her training at the academy, which is to prepare her to do battle against the monsters threatening the kingdom. If Sei were to follow a similar path, she’d be playing catch-up, at least on the training side of things.

Yuri relays his findings to King Siegfried, assuring him he’ll continue his research, but a satisfactorily definite answer as to who is the Saint probably isn’t forthcoming. All Siegfried has is Yuri’s expert opinion that Sei is the true Saint in one hand, and an unruly son in Prince Kyle who insulted Sei by choosing Aira as his Saint.

Siegfried decides to flex his royal power by officially inviting Sei to the court, which is a whole thing. Marie and a phalanx of maids thoroughly bathe her, massage her, and dress her in saintly robes. Then Hawke (who it turns out is the younger brother of Earhart, the Assembly’s second-in-command) arrives to be her personal escort, as both he and Johan worried she’d feel lonely entering the court on her own.

Sei, who is a bundle of nerves, is happy to have Commander Hawke to lean on, but once they enter the court chamber, she alone approaches the throne. Siegfried descends from the dais, and he and the rest of the court bow their heads in formal apology for Prince Kyle’s conduct. Sei accepts the apology and is praised for her grace and once again asked what she wants.

It was at this point that I figured the thing she wanted most was to continue living a quiet but rewarding life at the Research Institute. Considering she doesn’t seek any land or titles, this would be a simple thing to grant. But even there she’s hit a bit of a wall, so she asks for two things that will help breach that wall: access to the forbidden section of the royal library, and a magical tutor to teach her the ways of spellcasting.

Siegfried appoints the only person remotely qualified to tutor a saint: Grand Magus Yuri Drewes. As for Prince Kyle, he hears a report about his father’s activities and digs in his heels. As far as he’s concerned, there’s only one Saint, and it’s Aira, whom we finally see in the flesh, but unfortunately don’t hear her utter any actual words. Still, it’s inevitable that Sei and Aira will meet. I hope they won’t allow all the politicking going on around them to spoil what could be a meaningful, supportive friendship.

To Your Eternity – 04 – Put to Good Use

Parona remembers when her big sister hid her away in a tree hollow, only to learn her sister had taken her place as an offering to Oniguma-sama. Lil’ Parona had to learn when she tripped over her dead and buried sister’s foot. She wakes up in a wagon with March and Fushi, headed to Yanome, bastion of the enemy. Also in the wagon is the shamaness who turns out to be a fake and a captive in her own right, admitting she only chose March because she was the prettiest.

Through the shamaness Parona and March learn that the Yanome are envious of Ninnanah’s lush lands and are using the ritual to exert control. When Fushi wets himself, the wagon stops at a lake for everyone to bathe, and Fushi remembers the boy and re-assumes his form. Hayase treats her captives gently as they enter the bustling Yanome city of which she’s clearly proud. But as soon as March, Parona, and Fushi eat, they’re all knocked out; Hayase drugged their meals.

She then presents Fushi to other Yanome officials, declaring the immortal creature a weapon essential to Yanome’s future. As two prisoners hack at Fushi, who regenerates almost instantly, he learns a new phrase: “It Hurts”, and then attempts to flee by changing back into a wolf. Hayase leaves him in March’s care, while Parona, in the cell above her, plans their escape, not content to spend one more day than necessary in their prison.

Hayase also puts March to work tending to Oniguma-sama, whom she learns is just a really big bear covered in arrows and spears from various attackers throughout its life. Once she’s removed them all, the bear dies in peace.

Once she has sufficient rope, Parona commences her escape plan, but nearly almost slips and falls to her death at least three times before landing in a storage room. There, a Yanome guard threatens to rape her, but she kicks the shit out of him, steals his uniform, and arrives at March and Fushi’s cell to announce they’re getting the hell out of there, vowing to put the life her sister gave her to good use.

Parona basically owns the episode, taking on the mantle of the classic Ghibli heroine who is refreshingly not perfect in everything she does. She’s as charming and lovable as the much-more-perfect Hayase is loathsome and despicable. I really hope she and March, maybe with Fushi’s help(?) are able to come out on top, or at least make a good fight of it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fruits Basket – 55 – The End Comes So Suddenly

This final season’s ED pairs off all of the romantic couples, and this week we check in on a number of them, starting with Ayame and Mine. When Ayame asks Mine if she’ll leave him if the curse is never broken, Mine being Mine assures him she’s not leaving his side ever, so if he has a problem with that, tough!

Meanwhile at Mayuko’s bookstore, she and Hatori talk about maybe going on a trip, though Hatori pointedly doesn’t have anywhere in particular he wants to go.

Finally, Machi is falling for Yuki, and hard, such that she’s actually taking her StuCo work seriously. Yuki knows he has to tell her about the curse at some point, but the right time keeps getting interrupted. Ultimately he may have to simply arrange a time—say, a date—for just the two of them to talk with no hangers-on.

Akito, still distraught over her fight with Haruhatsu, gets precisely zero sympathy from Shigure, who continues to mock her for thinking hiding in a dark room will solve anything. He knows that time, people, and emotions will move on in time.

Akito was sold a bill of goods about unchanging bonds and continues to cling to it, but that’s not Shigure’s problem. It’s not often I say this about the most despicable member of the Zodiac other than Akito herself, but…good for Shigure. Scratch that; I want neither of them to win anything, ever.

But Shigure’s not wrong. Would it surprise you to learn that these past four weeks when I watched both the OP and ED, I had no idea who the lanky blonde was, despite the fact that if you discount him, Momiji was nowhere to be found in either? Turns out that’s because Momiji had one hell of agrowth spurt. He’s a full-on man, complete with fully male school uniform.

Despite now looking like yet another handsome prince, he’s still the same playful, cheerful bunny boy who’ll take Tooru by the hand and walk around campus, completely oblivious to the fact it makes them look like a doting couple.

While Shigure is away getting his fix of Akito suffering, his house becomes a hub for all of the young Soumas, as Kisa, Hiro, and Momiji join Kyou, Yuki, Tooru, and Haru for a night of curry and family fun. I love how organically it all comes together; clearly these Soumas have had their fill of Akito’s gloom.

But while Momiji still puts on his usual adorable act, he makes clear to Kyou that as someone who has always loved Tooru and is now big enough to confess to her, he won’t accept Kyou continuing to be wishy-washy about her. If Kyou gives up on Tooru, someone else will come along and take her before he knows it—and that will surely sting.

Shigure, who acknowledges the various kinds of kindness doled out to Akito by Hatori and Kureno, but has no intention of becoming Akito’s “father”, quickly loses all the goodwill he built up kicking Akito when she was down by getting all creepy with a thankfully oblivious Tooru, whom he considers a more worthy “god” than Akito to be devoted to.

That night, Akito dreams of her father telling her how she was born to be loved and how there will be no loneliness or fear in her future, only to see another rope snap, waking her up in a panic.

It comes as both a huge surprise and entirely no surprise whatsoever that the next Zodiac member to be liberated from the curse is Momiji. Akito can feel it, and rushes to his place to beg him not to leave her, and in his newly liberated state he sees Akito for the pitiful, pathetic wretch she is and curses his former self for feeling otherwise.

Still, because he’s also a nice guy he tells her to leave for now; he’ll come talk to her once he’s sorted some things out. The next day at school he is aloof and elusive, but from the roof he catches Tooru gazing at an unaware Kyou in the hall. Kyou goes to the roof and finds him there, and Momiji says “my curse is broken” and tries to pass it off as a joke, all while telling Kyou that he, Momiji, is the one truly being stung.

Later, Momiji tells Akito that he can’t stay by her side all his life, and she can’t tie him down, either magically or emotionally. She tries her best to tell her that neither his parents nor anyone else will welcome him back, but he already knows that. He’s free now, and it’s lonely and terrifying, but he also feels a sense of almost infinite potential.

Even if he can’t find happiness with Akito, and even if he won’t get the girl he wants, he knows deep in his newly freed heart that he can find happiness somewhere, and with someone, at some point in the future. That happiness may only be waiting for him to catch up. But he won’t find it unless he walks his own life’s path.

He then asks Akito how long he’ll stay in that place, which I believe is the very first time someone suggested that Akito could simply give this all up and find her own path. Naturally, Akito ignores the questions and tells him to buzz off, but she’s only delaying the inevitable. I have to believe Kureno and Momiji are only the beginning. The curse is on borrowed time.

While walking to school, Momiji chooses a route that goes past his birth mother and sister Momo. His mom talks about going on a trip soon, and even though Momiji can’t and won’t be going with them, his mood is improved dramatically simply by hearing the words “take care” from his mom.

Higehiro – 05 – The Mysterious Woman

I love the series that can replicate the same butterflies in the viewer’s stomach that the characters have in a particular scene, such as when Yoshida takes Gotou to his place to see Sayu. They stop at a konbini first, where Gotou prepares an extravagant bag of drinks and snacks to break the ice.

It’s not like there was going to be any melodramatic blow-up between Gotou and Sayu, but the episode is always cognizant of how strange this particular scenario is without going too over the top with it. It’s an episode titled “Reality”, after all, so Gotou and Sayu’s meeting unfolds realistically.

Gotou also has Sayu send Yoshida off on a shopping errand in short order so they can talk in private as two women. Gotou asks simple and direct questions—where Sayu is from, how long ago she ran away—but also knows not to press when she asks a question Sayu isn’t ready to answer (why she ran). Another important question Sayu tries to consider is how long she intends to stay with Yoshida.

Gotou makes clear that no matter how hard or respectable Sayu is, a high school girl cannot escape the high-school girl label, so it’s best to use it to her benefit rather than detriment. Sayu admits that in the process of running she was probably looking for someone to tell her not to run away.

Before Yoshida, the men she let use her body in exchange for a place to stay were only enabling her. “Something inside me just went crazy”, and she couldn’t deny that, at times,  when they wanted her it made her feel good. Then she met Yoshida, who not only didn’t do anything to her, but said he’d set her straight.

Gotou may not have Sayu’s sexual experience, but she’s still a woman who was a teenager and knows how hard it was and is. So shetells Sayu she’s glad she found somewhere safe, and because she knows and trusts Yoshida, she thinks it’s fine to let him be nice to her…as long as it’s the right way.

Sayu knows she shouldn’t run from her past forever, and resolves to face it, leave Yoshida’s, and “go back to where I was”. But Gotou, gathering Sayu into a supportive hug, makes clear she should take her time facing what she needs to face, while accepting the kindness she needs to accept.

It’s such a staggeringly lovely and understated scene of empathy and sisterhood, with superb voice performances from Ichinose Kana and Kanemoto Hisato, it makes what goes on with Yoshida in the meantime that much more disappointing. Because he happens to run into Yuzuha…who has been stalking him and Gotou all night. Yikes!

It’s the first time on this show I didn’t quite buy a character’s behavior. After inviting herself to go shopping with Yoshida, she makes a scene at the station as if Yoshida were two-timing her. While she initially accepted that Sayu was living with him, she deems it “weird” for him to let Gotou and Sayu in the same room on a night she thought he and Gotou were spending the night.

While Yoshida could have cleared up matters rather quickly by simply telling Yuzuha that Gotou wanted to meet Sayu, and that was the sum total reason she went to Yoshida’s place, the fact remains Yuzuha is reacting to a situation she knows far too little abhout to make judgments.

Especially when she questions Yoshida’s “priorities” and doubts whether he actually loves Gotou, she seems motivated by her own jealous rather than genuine concern for him or Sayu. She is right about one thing, however: Yoshida is far too nice…in not more forcefully telling her off!

Before Yoshida returns home, Gotou makes clear to Sayu that she loves Yoshida and isn’t interested in anyone else, while Sayu confirms that Yoshida loves Gotou. Sayu is frustrated by Gotou’s “mysterious woman” act but still offers her blessing. Then Gotou puts some makeup on Sayu, partly so Sayu can feel better after her little cry, and partly to mess with Yoshida when he comes home.

Yoshida walks Gotou home, and learns that she and Sayu have a “hotline” if he tries anything. But Gotou is impressed by Sayu, whom she regards a a great girl. Yes, she’s a little unstable and “doesn’t understand herself at all”—but she’s a teenager, what else is new?—but she thinks it will all work out. After all, Yoshida is known by the bosses at work as the “problem-solver.”

With Gotou making clear her true feelings for Yoshida, it’s lookig likelier than ever that neither Yuzuha nor Sayu have a chance, should the latter end up truly falling for him. As for the introduction of a young man who works at the konbini with Asami , I’m desperately hoping he doesn’t turn out to be one of the men Sayu stayed with.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 06 – Grace Under Fire

Vivy once again saves Kakitani along with a handful of Toak operatives, but Kakitani is once again ungrateful and Matsumoto determines it will be hard to conceal the fact that the AIs of Metal Float killed a fair number of humans, all thanks to Dr. Saeki’s apparent “shutdown” program caused all of the AIs to rampage, like antibodies fighting off an infection.

Saeki’s personal stake is put into context as we learn he was once a patient at the facility where he’d eventually work. As a child, it fell to the nursing AI Grace, descendant and Sister of Diva, to tell him his parents abandoned him, and to comfort him.

When he returned as a researcher, he fell in love and proposed to Grace, and they became the first official human-AI couple, with Grace considering marriage to be a logical step in her attempt to better understand humans as part of her mission to save and protect human lives.

When Vivy confronts him, he reveals his true plan, which at first he believed aligned with her and Matsumoto’s goals: like them he intended to shut down Metal Float, but he also intended to retrieve the data comprising the “soul” of the real Grace, who had been forcefully appointed the island’s control AI, and her mission rewritten.

Saeki tries to prove to Vivy that the Grace he knew and loved is still imprisoned in the core, singing Diva’s song (and incidentally, the opening theme) on a loop as a kind of distress call. But both she and Matsumoto hear the “singing” for what it is, nothing more than “tone data”. The Grace Saeki had hoped to download into his replica Grace no longer exists.

After Vivy makes clear to Saeki that in her current form she is not Diva, but Vivy, “an AI who will destroy AIs to change the destructive future”, he siccs his Grace replacement on her, but she’s able to easily defeat her thanks to her combat program. Matsumoto then determines the best place to look for the Grace core is the island’s main tower.

He proceeds to hack the production facility to quickly manufacture dozens of Matsumoto cubes, which coalesce into a kind of flying mecha Vivy uses to fight her way through the waves of defense AIs to reach the tower. Trippy Tron-y baroque neon spectacle set to the theme song ensues, to the point it’s hard to tell what’s going on at times, but it’s definitely cool-looking.

Vivy’s final obstacle is M205, who attempts one last surprise to detonate in her proximity in order to neutralize her, but Matsumoto mecha shields her from the explosion. While her face is damaged, Vivy enters Combat Mode and puts her arm through Grace’s chest. The island shuts down, making the operation a success. But it’s also framed as a death of honor and mercy, freeing Grace from a mission she never wanted.

But this success has immediate consequences. Despite Vivy’s hope and desire that Saeki be able to find happiness elsewhere in the wake of the loss of his love, Saeki instead chooses suicide by putting a bullet in his head, thus joining his lost love. As a result, in this instance, Diva failed in her mission to make people happy with her singing.

With one hand drenched in Saeki’s red human blood and the other in Grace’s blue AI blood, Vivy has a bit of an existential crisis. While Grace accepted the mission rewrite and assumed her new role as control AI of Metal Float, Diva/Vivy has maintained all along that her mission has not changed.

But one cannot deny that she’s suffered quite a bit of mission creep, and the resulting complications in her new dual role as savior of humanity is having a deleterious effect on her sense of being, and possibly her very sanity. We’ll see how this carries over into her next operation, whenever in the future that might be. But I imagine her condition will continue to worsen before it improves.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 04 – Crybaby Hero

So far Takemichi’s mission has been all about saving Hinata, and just in case we forgot, she demonstrates that she’s a hero in her own right, using her cuteness and forwardness to make some boys make space for an old lady to sit down on the train. From this display, to how embarrassed she is by her mom, to the way she watches fireworks, she is unassailably one of the Best Girls.

It’s not a question of if Takemichi can save her…he has to, or this show and I are going to have some words. But of course, it’s not so simple, just as Takemichi trying to hold Hinata’s hand somehow goes wrong and he ends up shaking young Naoto’s instead, thus torpedoing a beautiful romantic scene he never experienced the first time around. Heck, he’d never even been in Hinata’s room before.

It’s for the best that Takemichi return to the present, even if it was on accident. For one thing, it confirms that no matter which timeline he’s in, shaking Naoto’s hand sends him to the other, and his body ends up in a state of “suspended animation”, meaning they shouldn’t do it again except in the safety of Naoto’s apartment.

Takemichi also learns that while there’s still much more to be done, he did manage to change history again; specifically, Akkun’s fate. Originally, Akkun did stab Kiyomasa and ended up being arrested and convicted at sixteen. But now that Takemichi’s bravery stayed Akkun’s hand, he went on to join the Toman Gang, meaning they have a potential in for meeting with present-day Mikey.

After tracking down his old contact book, Akkun’s old phone number amazingly still works, and leads him and Naoto to a hostess club Akkun runs. There, Akkun introduces himself and his new, close-cropped and life-worn appearance. Honestly upon seeing him I worried he was dying of a terminal illness, or had become a drug addict.

Instead, Akkun is simply haunted. Takemichi is right that Akkun considers them friends for life, but he admits that he was the one who pushed Takemichi onto the tracks. That should have killed him, but Naoto saved him, which planted the seed in Akkun’s head that Takemichi can travel through time.

Takemichi tries to deflect Akkun’s ideas as insane ravings, but the bottom line is Akkun had been waiting for him. You see, it may look like he made the big time and has anything and anyone he wants, but the one thing he doesn’t have is freedom. He’s one of Kisaki Tetta’s soldiers, and the way he talks about him, disobedience is death. As for Mikey, Akkun hasn’t seen him in years.

Akkun must’ve been following Kisaki’s orders when he pushed Takemichi, but between failing to kill him and telling Takemichi all these things now, Akkun has already sealed his fate…at least in this timeline. So as Takemichi watches in horror, Akkun climbs up to the ledge, tells his “crybaby hero” Takemichi to save everyone, then jumps to his death. As Takemichi cries out in anguish, Kisaki is on that same rooftop, utterly unmoved.

It must’ve been tough to witness what he did, but in doing so Takemichi finally realizes this is about far more than Hinata. Hinata died because Mikey turned evil, but he turned evil because of Kisaki Tetta after Ryuugjuu Ken died. If Takemichi wants to have any chance of saving Hinata, he’ll have to save Akkun and Draken too. He has to stand his ground, tears and all, and keep fighting for a brighter future for everyone.

Rating: 4/5 Stars