Re: Zero – 48 – Crunch Time

“Love Me Down to My Blood and Guts” almost feels like a finale. At the very least, it feels like the start of the climax of a epic blockbuster film. Every stop is pulled out and not a single moment of its 29+ minutes is wasted. You get a little bit of everything, starting with a well-balanced combination of badass action and lighthearted comedy.

Every wound Garfiel gives Elsa is instantly healed, but he doesn’t consider his fight futile, because he’s not necessarily fighting to beat her. He’s fighting to support his “Boss” Subaru, and no matter how many times Elsa heals and charges, he’ll keep meeting her steel with his.

That’s where we get a couple of impeccably-timed jokes, first with Garfiel boasting that the mabeasts will be no sweat for Boss, followed by the mabeasts being too much for Boss to handle. Subie also strikes out when he tries to demonstrate his real-world knowledge of dust fires, only to need to be bailed out by Otto and Petra igniting the beast with oil.

Those fires defeat the main mabeast but also beging to envelop the mansion. Subaru entrusts Rem and Petra to Otto while he runs into the flames to rescue Beako, whether she wants to go or not.

While the flames rage at the mansion, Emilia’s part of the episode serves as a calming, centering breath. Sure, she watched a number of unpleasant futures, but they come as a jumbled rush of voices and images, ultimately collectively blunting their individual discouraging effects.

There’s also the fact that they’re only “possible” futures, as Minerva tells her after the third trial ends. That means none of them are absolutely the real future, which means Emilia and those she loves will be able to avert disaster if and when it rears its ugly head.

Minerva appears to meet with Emilia in Bliss because Echidna was still “mad” at Lia for how the other two trials went, particularly the second. Perhaps Echidna really would have preferred to greedily feed off Emilia’s despair, but after reckoning with her past in the first trial, the witch’s prediction the other two would be a cakewalk turned out to be accurate.

Minerva is decidedly unwrathful in her interactions with Emilia. In fact, she treats her a lot like Mother Fortuna treated her, with tenderness and love, embracing her when Emilia turns back to see her. I suppose Minerva knew her mother, and maybe even knew Emilia as a baby, which is why she’s so aunt-like here?

In any case, Emilia has passed all three trials, and gains access to a tomb where the intricate barrier spell emanates from the deceased Echidna’s chest. With a cute little “Hi-yah!” Emilia deactivates the barrier and exits the graveyard, only to be welcomed by a raging winter storm.

Elsa and Garfiel are still going at it in the midst of the spreading flames when Maylie bursts through the outer wall with her giant hippo. Frederica isn’t far behind, turning the duel into a battle between sibling duos. After some trash talk the four get down to business, in a fury of bloody, kick-ass combat.

Frederica takes on all of Maylie’s other mabeasts, then Garfiel starts getting serious by transforming into his beast mode, ripping half of Elsa’s face off then not only going toe-to-toe with the hippo, but twisting and ripping it’s damn head off. Unlike the hippo, even Gar’s most vicious attacks fail to faze Elsa.

It’s at this point Garfiel realizes he’s dealing with a vampire. Elsa takes a few moments to tell the story of where she came from, and how she suffered to get to this kind of existence. When she was caught and stripped by an shop owner while stealing off starvation, Elsa reached for a shard of glass and opened the man’s belly.

Elsa, who’d previously only known the cold bleakness of her homeland, was both soothed and excited by the warmth of blood and innards, and never looked back. She tells Garfiel all of this because she finds him so precious and endearing. When he says there’s already a girl he likes, she clarifies that she only has business with his insides, and her love for him will begin after she kills him.

It’s a stirring final monologue for a baddie who has been around since Subaru first arrived, and distinguished by the utter inability to kill her. However, thanks to an assist by Frederica using Maylie to distract her, Gar gets in close and bites Elsa in the neck. Elsa bites him back, but he gives as good as he gets.

Before Elsa’s wound heals (or perhaps it won’t heal because of where he bit her), Gar lifts up the giant headless hippo and throws it on top of her. In her final moments, she recalls the very first thrill of disemboweling someone, then exclaims “What a thrill” in sheer ecstasy before being crushed with an ugly crunch. Hard cut to the title card and that oh-so fitting title, “Love Me Down to My Blood and Guts”.

At this point we’ve reached the 21-minute mark, which is when most other anime are rolling credits. Re:Zero keeps it going with an entire extra act, which is perhaps the most visually stunning and emotionally affecting in an episode that’s already full of those.

It deals with Ram and Puck fighting Roswaal, a battle that moves outside to protect Ryuzu Meyer’s crystal. Roswaal stirs shit by confessing to messing with Puck’s contract with Emilia when she was depressed after her fight with Subaru, essentially kicking her while she’s down in hopes Subie would scoop her up and do everything for her.

Roswaal admits to always looking back on the past, and with fondness, deeming all the wonderful things that ever happened to be in the past, and all that exists now is a phony standing atop a pile of corpses. Puck name-drops Beatrice, provoking him into launching fire attack.

Roswaal is disappointed in Ram’s weak outing thus far; as he wanted her to exact justice for her brethren and find happiness by defeating him. That’s when Ram drops a bombshell on him: he never properly realized her true intention: that she really was a demon, and not someone who was in love with Roswaal.

It’s a confession she delivers while both of her eyes exposed, a trademark of the demon maid sisters. When Roswaal asks her what of keeping her promise to her brethren, Ram simply says she’s prioritizing her own feelings over those of the dead. Puck, energized by Ram’s confession, grows to mammoth size (though maintaining his cute appearance) and seals Roswaal in a giant ring of ice, through which he can spot multiple Rams flitting back and forth.

Roswaal begins destroying the ice walls and the giant ice crystal attacks Puck rains down on him, but in the process he ends up with one of the crystals directly behind him. It shatters on its own and out comes the real Ram, snatching the gospel Echidna gave him, while suffering a horrific wound. Calling it “the root of all evil”, she drops the book in the fire, destroying it.

She wears a smile as she says “Now, at last…” before being hit by Roswaal’s retaliatory flames, which cause a huge explosion that consumes them both. Then the credits roll, and for me at least, the process of starting to breathe again commenced. As it has demonstrated many times in its previous forty-seven episodes, when Re:Zero decides to go big and epic, it does not disappoint.


RABUJOI
WORLD
HERITAGE
LIST

Wonder Egg Priority – 07 – Oyakodon (Parent-Child Bowl)

“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”—The Dread Pirate Roberts

It’s Rika’s birthday. On one level, that’s a good thing: a cause to celebrate with her new friends, while also celebrating Ai’s retirement from shut-in-dom. Ai describes her sudden change of heart as having realized beating herself up at home wouldn’t solve anything.

On another level, Rika’s birthday also a reminder that she is one year older, one year closer to possibly becoming her lonely, alcoholic mom, and no closer to learning who her father was. Her mom agreed to tell her when she got into middle school, but she doesn’t know herself, and gives her five possible candidates. It could be one of them or none of them.

It’s instructive that Rika lives above a bar her mom owns. That bar has not only been the place where her mom no doubt met these many men over the years to try to quell her loneliness (and drown it in booze when she failed) but before Rika could enter her home she always had to walk past a gauntlet of drunk men.

Rika takes her birthday celebration as a chance to air some grievances, albeit with her usual irreverent tone that implies she doesn’t care. In truth, meeting her real dad is almost all she cares about. She believes her mother never wants her to meet him, since they might get along.

She calls her mom a “tragic heroine with a persecution complex” who has never apologized for anything and has nothing but her own pride. She thinks her mom believes she could have been happy if only she didn’t have her. Neiru, ever calm and logical and correct, asks rather tactlessly if Rika hates her mom too, and if “that’s what they call co-dependence.”

This angers Rika, who storms off, but she fully expects Ai to chase her, and she does. Ai is ready to continue the mom-insulting session, calling the two of them the “Single-Mother Girls”. As they wander the abandoned entertainment center and Rika swings and misses at the batting cages, “Serious Rika” comes out of her shell to talk about all the bad stuff that she remembered at once. As Ai listens, Rika wonders what the hell is even up with adults, who presumably bang and marry because they like it, yet end up like her mom.

Neiru and Momoe are worried about Rika, but when they hear her yell they’re confident she’s okay. Neiru wonders whether she’s too honest and direct for “female society”, but Momoe tells her she’s fine that way, as she hates when everyone pretends to agree. Neiru cops to being a straight-up orphan who never knew either parent, and notes it seems to have spared her “a lot of trouble.”

On the rooftop, Rika asks Ai about her dad, who she sees at least once a month, and thus is still her daddy even though her parents broke up. Rika can’t even remember her dad’s face—only his gentle voice when he once told her “a beautiful woman never needs a wallet.” After shedding a few tears of frustration from wanting to see him and not being able to, Rika declares “Moping Time” over and takes off.

The episode then shifts between Rika’s latest Wonder Egg battle and the battle she fights every day by having to cross a gauntlet of drunk men and her mom to gain access to her home. This Egg Girl and her family were members of a suicide cult, but still loves her Wonder Killer and wants Rika to join them in cosmic bliss.

She gives Rika the hard sell, telling her how her family was cursed by karma from their past lives, so they abandoned their attachments to the physical world. The Wonder Killer, whom the girl calls “the teacher”, talks of a flawed world “fixated on worthless appearances and hierarchies” in which the haves grow arrogant and the have-nots envious.

Once up in her dark room, Rika pulls out her box-cutter and draws it close to her arm. In the battle, the Egg Girl notices the sleeve on Rika’s arm covering her scars and tells her to “erase herself”, revealing more of the same scars on her own arm as a show of solidarity. The Egg Girl was once like her, hating, envying, and drowning in pain and despair, before becoming one with the teacher and becoming part of a “vast energy.”

Normally Rika might not be so easily taken in by this new age gobbledygook from the child of parents who bought into what someone was selling, but it’s her birthday, and “all the bad stuff” is still foremost on her mind. The pain of still not knowing her dad, the fear of becoming just like her mom; they weigh on her, and the Egg Girl and teacher’s offer to “erase her karma” sounds like a good one in the there and then.

In this psychologically vulnerable state, the Egg Girl and Wonder Killer are tag teaming her towards her doom. Aca and Ura-Aca even worry that they could lose her. Ai, Momoe and Neiru, sensing she’s in trouble, use their pendants to snap Rika out of it, but their voices fade out as the Wonder Killer tells her to relax and surrender herself to his “hug of life.”

The only thing that saves Rika from oblivion is the fact she too is a mother; a fact she’d forgotten in the haze of the cult proselytization. Her turtle guardian-child, Mannen, grows to full size and blocks the Killer’s hug, saving Rika. She realizes because he imprinted on her, he thinks she’s his mom, and that she almost turned into a “selfish, piece-of-shit” mother by giving up and abandoning her child.

Declaring death to all fake men who ask women for money, and partners with Mannen to give the teacher the “slice of death.” The Egg Girl is devastated, asking why Rika, who like her cut her own arm to endure the pain of life, turned down a chance at sweet release. But Rika wasn’t buying what the teacher was selling. Dying isn’t the answer; not for her. Even if it means hurting herself, she’s going to live.

Rika reunites with her extremely worried and relieved friends. Neiru doesn’t join in the group hug but makes it clear she’s glad Rika is okay. Later that night Rika goes downstairs, after the bar has closed, where her mom is where she always is, drinking herself to sleep. Rika takes the cake out of the fridge and has a bite, confirming her mom’s worry the cream has dried out.

Her mom laments having gotten “old” before she knew it. Rika points out she’s only 40, and her mom corrects her; she’s 38. She says she’s sure Rika will abandon her, too. Rika concurs, but after a pause, sais “…but not now.”

* * * * *

This episode shines as a heartwrenchingly sober examination of the duality of parents and children as both curse and blessing to one another, how they hate, blame, and envy or resent one another, and how society only seems to make things worse. And yet, life and all its pain is presented as preferable to the bleak, defeatist alternative rapacious charlatans have offered since time immemorial.

Rika may not know how to win, if winning is possible, or even what victory looks like in this painful, fucked-up world. But no matter how many cuts she receives—by her own hand or otherwise—or batting cage balls she swings through, one thing she won’t do is stop playing. If she does, she knows she’ll lose, and she wouldn’t be the only one losing.

If this is all feels a bit heavy and complex for a cold cloudy Tuesday afternoon…well, I can’t blame you. I’m just glad a show like this exists, frankly presenting such ideas about these girls’ lives juxtaposed with the mundane heartaching beauty of the world in which it’s lived. It’s the kind of breathless ambition and thematic richness all too many anime would rather not adopt, instead pursuing the easy buck and assured popularity.

Don’t get me wrong—there’s a time and a place for that stuff too!—but it’s shows like Wonder Egg Priority that confirm that murmurs regarding the decline of anime are grossly exaggerated. This isn’t just the best anime on the air. It’s the best television show, period.

Horimiya – 07 – Downpour

I. The Coffee Stain

Yuki would never say so, but Hori falling for Miyamura worked in her favor. It meant Tooru would have to give up on Hori and look for love elsewhere. Yuki makes an effort to hang out with Tooru more frequently, in hopes they’ll grow closer. She doesn’t let little opportunities like carrying the class trash out together slip away.

Unfortunately for Yuki, this backfires when, while she’s teasing Tooru, he bumps stright into Kouno Sakura, who is presently crushing on him hard. Coffee from the trash spills on Sakura’s top, and when Tooru runs off to grab his gym jacket for her to wear, Sakura asks Yuki if she and Tooru are dating. Yuki tells the truth: they’re not. But she also leaves out the truth: she’d like to.

Sakura takes Yuki’s reply as cause for relief. In the StuCo office she asks Kakeru about why he likes Remi. He gives a very heartfelt response about how despite him not being that strong, he feels compelled to protect Remi, which inspires him to become stronger, so Remi really protects him too…and Sakura.

Buoyed by these words of support, Sakura returns Tooru’s washed jacket and gives him a bag of homemade cookies. He genuinely loves them, especially the sakura colored ones, so Sakura gets him to repeat “I love Sakura”, which is wonderfully devious on her part!

II. Smiles and Cupcakes

Hori watches something play out in the bookstore that’s a microcosm of Yuki’s tendency to withhold how she really feels or what she wants: she reaches for the last issue of something just as someone else is, and lets that person take it. “The things she loves or wants tend to escape her.”

The more upset she is, the more she’ll smile to hide it. So Yuki is beaming when Tooru goes out to the hall to talk with Sakura, and smiles even wider when Sakua offers her cookies, after initially refusing them under her breath. The trash is right there in which to toss them, but they’re too damn good to waste.

Not wanting to give up on what—on who she wants, Yuki reaches out to Miyamura for cake-baking advice. He assures her he wasn’t born a baker, and nobody’s good at anything when they first start out. If she messes up, she should just give it another shot.

Yuki takes that advice to heart in both baking and Tooru. She has Horimiya try her first (failed) attempt, but to her horror Tooru joins them, eats an entire burnt cupcake, and smiles his big smile saying that while it was utter crap, he looks forward to the next batch. The Yuki-Tooru-Sakura love triangle is official!

III. FIVE DAYS

After two very strong segments focused on secondary characters, this felt like it would be an entire episode in which Horimiya’s romance would be placed on the back burner. O me of little faith! On the contrary, the latter two segments are all Horimiya, All the time, and greatly advance their relationship.

This segment is the epitome of the adage absence makes the heart grow fonder, as Hori and Miyamura are separated almost the whole time. Miyamura is away with family in Hokkaido for five days (a funeral from the looks of it). It’s he longest period they’ve been apart since they became a couple, and to make matters worse, Miyamura’s phone dies and he left his charger back home!

While those sound like the ingredients for another rom-com cliché, in which a lesser show would milk the misunderstanding around his lack of replies, by now we know better. Hori never feels like Miyamura is avoiding her, it just sucks ass that he’s away. She also carries out functions as if he were there, like getting him a drink at school or setting a place for him at the table at home. She counts the days off on her hand.

Five Days is a little masterpiece of brooding atmosphere and steady crescendo-ing anticipation of Horimiya’s eventual reunion; anyone who’s had to endure time alone with a new love knows full well what they’re feeling.

When Miyamura finally gets home and plugs his phone in. we don’t get to see the message that greets him, only his reaction: to run to Hori’s. Hori, meanwhile, can’t wait any longer, and rushes to Miyamura, and the two end up meeting in the elevator.

I breathed a sigh of relief, having been conditioned by countless other anime for the two to just miss one another another couple times. Hori’s tearful look of elation really is a sight to behold, and as she steps back to welcome him back, we see the message on Miyamura’s fallen phone: “Hurry up and get back here, dummy.”

IV. FEELING THE HEAT

That brings us to the final most stunning segment of the entire series. It starts out so simply, innocently, and comically, with Yuki, Sakura, and Remi taking Hori to task for loving horror and slasher movies and making Miyamura watch them. They insist that’s weird and could even push him away.

The next time Horimiya watch a scary movie, Hori tries to follow his friends’ advice, first by pretending to act scared as an excuse to draw closer, which scares the bijeezus out of him. Then she tries to surreptitiously take his hand, only causing him to recoil in terror. He apologetically goe off to be alone for a minute, and Hori retires to her room, devastated that what Yuki said has come true, and he wants nothing more to do with her.

Naturally, nothing could be further from the truth, and before long Miyamura joins Hori in her room where she’s sulking about “not being cute”, because she doesn’t and can’t get scared. Miyamura realizes she was doing that stuff for him, and reminds her he didn’t fall for a “normal girl”, but for “her”, just like she fell for him and all his quirks, among them his tendency to be a scaredy-cat.

Miyamura suggests they go back and watch the rest of the movie, but instead Hori calls him Izumi and slides off the bed and into his arms. She puts her ear to his chest to listen to his heart; he does the same. As the rain continues to fall in sheets outside, they move to the bed. Hori notes Miyamura’s cold ears and hands, says he can’t go home in such a downpour.

In her head Hori says “There was a heat within me, and I wanted Miyamura to feel it too.” And so Hori and Miyamura make love for the first time.

At some point after that, Miyamura has some real talk with Souta, who is worried about losing his big sister. Miyamura assures him he won’t take his big sister away, but asks if he can have Kyouko, to which Souta assents. Poor Souta! Still, he’s really not losing anyone; he’s gaining a big brother.

In a post-credit, post-coital sequence, the two are naked together and Hori proudly declares she’s bitten Miyamura on the neck, so he’d better grow his hair back to hide it. So there you have it! Going from a stolen candy kiss and a make-out session interrupted by Hori’s dad, to going all the way.

There’s no doubt that being apart for five days, and the joy they felt upon reuniting, was another milestone in their relationship, something they couldn’t reach without experiencing being apart. But it was also a matter of it simply happening—effortlessly, organically, just like so many other important moments in this series. Nothing is forced; everything just makes sense.

By being in Hori’s room they had the privacy; by reiterating that why they love each other has nothing to do with anyone else, they had the intimacy; and heck, the fact it was cold out, and there was the soothing sound of that rain…I can’t stress enough how simply, beautifully and tastefully this scene was composed. It’s rare for an anime to depict a loving couple earnestly taking the next step—one of the best, Kare Kano, is twenty-two years old—but if any contemporary series could do it, it’s Horimiya, and it did.

Golden Kamuy – 35 – Finding Warmth in the Shattered Ice

The reunion of old buddies Shiraishi and Sugimoto is appropriately gross, as the former’s nose snot ends up in Sugimoto’s eye. This is actually foreshadowing for another key reunion, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

These two men are still separated from Asirpa, just as Asirpa finds herself alone with Ogata—the only person who knows Asirpa has remembered the secret to Wilk’s code. Both groups have shattered on the ice floes, as Tsukishima finds Svetlana in the cold while Tanigaki and Koito are ambushed by escaped prisoners.

While Sugimoto uses his coat as a sail to steer their ice floe where they want (yet another lifesaving lesson Asirpa taught him), Tsukishima urges Svetlana to return home, only for her to tell him she willingly went with whoever would take her—anything to get away from the boredom of life in that lighthouse.

Live certainly isn’t boring for anyone on these ice floes, as Tanigaki and Koito successfully repel the bandits. However, an unlikely reunion occurs when Kiroranke emerges from behind an ice boulder. Tanigaki, who seeks revenge for the death of Inkarmat, gives Kiroranke his bone-handled knife back—by stabbing him with it.

As the skies seem to darken and the snow and wind intensify, so too does the tension between Ogata and Asirpa. He knows she’s figured it out, and asks her while they’re alone if she’ll tell him. He only wants a little gold; to have all of it would mean getting tangled up in war with all the parties who want it. He also believes she wishes to return home to her kotan and spend her days hunting in the woods.

When his methods of persuasion don’t work, he reveals that Sugimoto wasn’t quite dead when he saw him, and tells her his last words about giving some gold to his friend’s widow Tome for her eye surgery. Then Asirpa catches Ogata in a lie when she asks him if Sugimoto said anything about food, and Ogata says he wanted monkfish stew. Asirpa knows Sugimoto’s true final wish would be for dried persimmons.

She breaks Ogata’s grip and knocks her bow, but Ogata reminds her of when she stopped Sugimoto from killing him, and when she vowed never to kill for the gold or anything else. Ogata actually takes sick pride in trying to goad Asirpa into murdering him, since to him that would mean they were alike in their “impurity”. Sugimoto manages to arrive in time to shout out, but Asirpa is startled and looses the arrow straight into Ogata’s eye.

Sugimoto quickly administers first aid, purging the poisoned from the wound and bandaging it to slow the bleeding. He won’t let Ogata die. because he won’t let him make Asirpa a killer. When the ice floes split again, threatening to separate Asirpa and Sugimoto, he reaches his hand out, she leaps to grab it, and they successfully embrace. After an entire season of them apart, finally they’re together again, and it feels so good to see it!

Of course, this is Golden Kamuy, a show never afraid to follow up a tearful, touchingly cathartic reunion with some absurdly gross comedy. Asirpa says she “can’t let go”, but we soon learn she literally can’t, because her damn eyelid is stuck on Sugi’s frozen coat button! Shiraishi, who is holding Ryuu back from interrupting the lovebirds’ reunion, is quickly summoned for assistance.

As we learned, the best way to separate skin from cold metal is piss, and if there’s anything Shiraishi is always full of, it’s piss. This leads to perhaps the most hilariously fucked-up line in the entire Golden Kamuy series: “Piss on her face!” The snow lets up, the sky brightens, and the sun starts to peak through the clouds as Shiraishi, Sugimoto, and Asirpa revel in rainbow-making golden showers. It is utterly glorious.

The episode then jumps back a few minutes and returns to the darkness of the storm, as Tsukishima, Koito, and Svetlana find an injured Tanigaki, who tells them Kiroranke is wounded and on the run. While in pursuit, the two soldiers make the mistake of picking up Tanigaki’s rifle, which was rigged with a bomb by Kiroranke. Tsukishima’s neck is gashed in the blast, but Koito is relatively okay, and continues the chase.

He and Kiroranke eventually become locked in a bitter grappling match; Koito with his saber and Kiroranke with his rifle. Kiroranke has escaped worse scrapes in his long bloody history, but with Asirpa learning the truth about his treachery at Abashiri Prison and Sugimoto already knowing he’s bad news, whatever becomes of him, he can no longer hide his true colors.

As of this tremendous episode’s ending, Ogata, Tanigaki, Tsukishima, and Kiroranke are all seriously wounded, while Koito may be about to be. Sugimoto, Asirpa, and Shiraishi are all fine. Sofia strangely plays no role in this episode, but I wonder where her loyalties will lie (I suspect with herself) while Svetlana just wants to go to St. Petersburg. Most importantly, Sugimoto and Asirpa are together again. That one fact makes my whole month.

Saekano the Movie: Finale – Where Scenario Ends and Reality Begins

It’s been three years since Saekano Flat, and to be honest I haven’t kept up with news about a continuation of the story. All I know is I wanted to see it end happily with Tomoya and Megumi as a couple, and however it did that was fine. So imagine my surprise and delight upon learning a full-length movie would wrap everything up!

We pick up where Flat left off: Eriri and Utaha working on Fields Chronicle with Kosaka Akane at Mazuru; while Tomoya, Megumi, Michiru and Izumi work on Blessing Software’s next game: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend. At an after-party for Icy Tail’s first solo performance, the two Blessing Defectors show up to support their friends, but their boss Kosaka inserts herself into the festivities to berate their work and force them to redo it.

Tomoya and Megumi aren’t really a couple yet, but they might as well be. Not coincidentally, Tomoya is in a slump with regards to writing the scene in which the protagonist confesses to the main heroine. He seeks Utaha for help, but runs into Kosaka first. Kosaka laughs at his story at first, but encourages him to embrace his inner deluded otaku and “masturbate more”—literarily speaking, of course…

Around midnight before their senior year begins, Tomoya runs by his Kosaka-inspired rewrites to Megumi. The two aren’t just on the phone for hours anymore, but Skype, face to face. It’s always been so lovely to watch these two simply working together like this while also dropping hints about how they feel about one another.

While Tomoya is determined to keep a crucial scene despite Megumi’s misgivings, he obviously wants her take on the main heroine, because she’s his main heroine. No big hug or crying fit is necessary, an ordinary event is sufficient to raising her flag. Before falling asleep to his typing, well past 3 AM, Megumi and Tomoya decide that because the game’s couple will be on first-name basis from this point on, they should do the same thing.

The next day at school, Izumi is about to greet Tomoya and Megumi, but sees how close they are and doesn’t interrupt (Eriri does though, not reading the room at all). The two then decide to act out a scene at the train station where they hold hands, and by God, the way those hands are animated—so subtle and gentle and loving.

Tomoya plans another “scouting” trip to Ikebukuro for them to “gather material”, on a day he knows to be Megumi’s birthday. When she asks if that’s all they’ll be doing, he initially puts the onus on her to say what she wants, then asks her if it’s okay if it’s about more than that, she says it is; that any reason will do. Then she notes that she’s not responsible for “what might happen”, before abruptly hanging up.

Their mutual realization they were about to go on a date for her birthday, not as mere colleagues working on a game, but as a couple taking the next step, is priceless to behold. I got so caught up in the buildup of anticipation and excitement to that magical day, I forgot how much movie was left. The day arrives, Megumi is at the meeting spot in the same outfit that first inspired Tomoya, only for him to call and tell her he can’t make it.

It was like a door in my chest opened up and my heart just fell on to the floor with a gruesome splat. Thankfully, he didn’t stand her up because he chickened out, but due to circumstances outside his control. Kosaka Akane had a stroke, and since she wasn’t carrying any ID, Tomoya’s card was the closest thing to an emergency contact.

This development angered me at first because it’s precisely the kind of dramatic twist he was trying to avoid for the Main Heroine route. Due to the stroke, Kosaka can’t currently use her right hand. Utaha tries to get Tomoya not to worry about them by saying her and Eriri’s work is mostly done, but Eriri doesn’t pick up on what Utaha is trying to do, and tells Tomoya the truth: they have no idea what this means for Fields Chronicle.

With Kosaka’s old friend Iori and Utaha’s manager stepping up to fill in while she recuperates, Tomoya initially volunteers to take over Iori’s promoting and negotiating roles for Blessing, but Megumi takes that on instead, insisting he need to have his undivided attention on the scenario. Megumi accepted Tomoya’s explanation and apology, but being stood up on your birthday by the guy you love is hard blow that’s left her weary.

Turns out she has good reason to be. Iori reports back to Tomoya with some dire news: even before Kosaka’s stroke, Fields Chronicle was over a month behind schedule. Kosaka prioritized the rapid artistic growth over finishing the game on time. Now the company is prepared to make deep cuts to both story and characters in order to get something to market without further delay.

This would obviously be an intolerable compromise for Utaha and Eriri, but they both know they can’t be the ones to try to argue their case to the company. They need someone who can go to the plate and negotiate, plead, and even get on his knees and passionately beg when logical arguments fail. And there’s just one person like that who knows and believes in their work. So they make the call.

Tomoya and Megumi meet up and sit on the same bench where they tenderly held hands and blushed, only for Megumi to deduce he’s going to Osaka to help Utaha and Eriri with their game. Tomoya cites how this is Utaha and Eriri’s best and possibly only chance at achieving true greatness and living up to their potential, and he can’t stand by and let their dreams be crushed.

But Megumi points out that he’s putting those dreams and that game ahead of their dreams and their game. Unable to hold back tears, she tells Tomoya that she can’t be his main heroine anymore, and boards the next train. But Tomoyo presses on for Osaka, and eventually makes some real progress, extending their deadline and sacrificing two characters so they don’t have to eliminate five. He sends Megumi texts, but she doesn’t reply. Why should she?

With their writer and leader gone, Blessing is on hold as far as Megumi is concerned. She’s also so rightfully angry at Tomoya her heart just isn’t in it…but Michiru and Izumi eventually get her to take up the mantle of their new leader, doing what they can do in Tomoya’s stead.

Indeed, Michiru and Izumi become a lot more assertive in telling Megumi they know she and Tomoya have been dating and are now fighting. Megumi rejects their idle gossip, but something fishy is going on: Izumi is drawing Megumi during her anguish, while Iori is typing on the other end of Izumi’s Bluetooth.

Utaha and Eriri end up completing their work, but rather than celebrate, Tomoya heads home at once. After he leaves, the girls remember what they agreed on before asking Tomoya to help: that in return, they’d help him finish his game and help him make up with Megumi. This meant letting go of Tomoya as a potential romantic partner for good and letting Megumi win.

While Tomoya was in Osaka, every minute he wasn’t helping Utaha and Eriri with their game, he was still writing the scenario for his, while at the same time penning a lengthy letter attempting to describe his feelings for Megumi. When he returns home she’s waiting on his stoop, his letter in her inbox, which she describes as “disgusting”.

Megumi wants to be mad at Tomoya and doesn’t want to forgive him for what he did, but she also “doesn’t care” about any of that, because what’s most important is that she loves him. That’s why she brushes his hand away once, but not twice. The second time she keeps their hands locked, and then Tomoya beats her to it by confessing first.

Tomoya loves his 2D Main Heroine, but he loves the 3D Katou Megumi most. When she asks why, he says it isn’t out of admiration, obsession, or obligation. He’s perfectly frank in telling her she seemed more in his league as a partner than the dazzling, infinitely more talented Utaha or Eriri. Only with Megumi can he feel and act like himself and tell her what he’s really feeling.

One would think Megumi should be insulted by Tomoya’s rationale for choosing her. But in a continuation of her monologue to Michiru and Izumi, she confesses that she wants Tomoya to be hers and no one else’s. Because there’s no drama, like the other girls. Because they’re so wonderfully “normal” together. So Tomoya’s explanation passes muster.

Soon the two are locked in a hug, and when Megumi’s eyes are closed, after some hesitation Tomoya kisses her. She wasn’t quite ready, so she kisses him in turn. Finally, the two count down to have a perfectly timed third kiss. This was one of the best anime first kiss(es) scenes I’ve ever seen.

Kosaka recovers, thanking Tomoya for his help while she was out of commission and offering to read his work (and skewer it viciously) anytime. Tomoya incorporates the details of his and Megumi’s real-life mutual confession into the game and Izumi creates more art for it.

Eriri and Utaha arrive to help out and immediately insert their strong personalities into the project with abandon. When Eriri takes a break, Tomoya follows her out to apologize for…well, everything, but most importantly for what he doesn’t explicitly state: not choosing her. She takes it as well as she could be expected to, asking before heading back whether Tomoya loved her ten years ago.

Eriri then joins Megumi for a bath and briefly waterboards her in frustration, not just that she lost, but that Megumi loved Tomoya so much they made up and started dating before Eriri or Utaha could arrive to help them. After the whole gang pulls a near-all-nighter to complete the game, the two girls tuck everyone in and head out, vowing to keep running together so he can’t catch up, knowing he’ll keep chasing them regardless.

The day of Comiket arrives, and Tomoya and Megumi head to the venue hand in hand like the couple they are. Tomoya wonders if 2,000 copies was too many to print, but they sell every one, validating their hard work as well as the inspiration Megumi provided.

Tomoya and Megumi graduate from high school and return to the spot where they first met, with Megumi in her now-iconic red sweater and white cap and skirt. Roll credits!

After the credits we jump forward what looks like a couple if not a few years. Megumi is suggesting to an overworked Tomoya that they break up, since he’s stuck at his sales job so much they hardly ever see each other, and in any case suspects he still carries a flame for a certain someone. Tomoya has given up on his dreams, and while Iori hasn’t, he’s now a penniless delusional vagrant.

Just when I thought we’d reached Saekano’s “Bad Ending”, Tomoya suddenly encounters a short-haired Utaha by the waterfront, the music rises, and she’s about to start singing when Eriri snaps us out of it; this was just the visualization of a spec script for a new game half-jokingly written by Utaha. The two are in a meeting with Iori and a Tomoya who is very much living the dream of being. Glorious fake-out!

He is the president and Megumi the vice president of Blessing, now an established and successful game company. Utaha’s script hit Tomoya hard, though, so he hugs Megumi when he sees her next, and asks her to reassure him she’s not going anywhere. Of course, she does, but when Tomoya leans in to kiss, she wants to save it for when they get home.

Unfortunately, they are unable to bone when they get home, because their apartment is suddenly overrun by the talent: not just Michiru and Izumi, but Utaha and Eriri have also shown up for their first sleepover meeting in years. Tomoya and Megumi take the intrusion in stride, but Megumi makes sure to steal a kiss, in the process revealing he put a ring on it. Good lad! The six friends gather around the table for a toast to another hit from Blessing, and the curtain finally falls for good on the movie, and on Saekano.

Until I sunk my teeth into this movie, I didn’t realize how much I missed the show’s great mix of comedy, romance, drama, artistry and extremely effective fanservice. I could hardly have asked for a better, more satisfying ending than the one we got.

Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul – Trials Make Love Stronger

I finished the first season of Made in Abyss three years and a week ago, commenting that while I ached to know what would happen next, a long rest was in order, so that I might recover from the emotional wounds throughout that first run, culminating in the shockingly brutal story of Mitty and Nanachi.

Turns out no amount of time would heal those wounds to the extent they wouldn’t be re-opened and—very soul freshly re-crushed—upon watching the continuation of the Abyss story. That’s because the deeper Riko, Reg, and Nanachi descend, the more acute and devastating the horrors they encounter.

This is the third of three Made in Abyss films; the first two were a retelling of the first season, while the third is a direct sequel As such, spoilers throughout.

Case in point: upon arriving at one of her mother’s favorite spots in all of the Abyss, the Garden of Flowers of Fortitude, they encounter one of Bondrewd’s delvers, the Umbra Hands, harvesting tissue from other delvers who have been infected by a parasite that not only feeds off you while you’re still alive, but feeds itself to you in order to keep you alive. Lovely!

Few anime do soaring vistas like Abyss, and there’s something just so otherworldly and dread-inducing about the sight of the Fifth Layer’s Sea of Corpses, along with Idofront, Bondrewd the Novel’s domain. But as cold and unyielding and inhospitable as the spinning ghost city seems on the outside, within resides one of the sweetest, warmest, most human souls they’ve yet encountered: an adorable little girl named Prushka.

Prushka is Bondrewd’s daughter (voiced by Minase Inori), who is initially suspicious of outsiders coming to help her dad when she thinks she should be enough. But once she meets Riko, Reg, and Nanachi, they open for her a whole new world of questions and information about the Surface (she was born in the Abyss).

It’s so strange to see Prushka acting so lovey-dovey with Bondrewd, perpetrator of countless acts of sickening biological crimes, especially since he and his Umbra Hands resemble evil robots. And yet that evil robot still has a strange gravitational pull Nanachi finds hard to resist. Nanachi can’t forgive Bondrewd, but something still draws them toward him. Nanachi was something of a child figure to him, after all, so Nanachi sees Prushka as a younger self.

Bondrewd has bad news for Riko: while she may have her mother’s White Whistle, only the person for whom the whistle was made can use it to activate the altar that will take her down to the Sixth Layer. He offers them accommodations to “think things over”, but there isn’t any doubt his intentions for them are about as far from harmless as they’re all far from the Surface.

Despite her cozy room, soon Riko wakes up alone, and upon exploring, finds that she’s trapped in a small area with the only exit being a stair Prushka warned will cause “strains of ascension” if climbed. When Riko attempts to climb them anyway, she loses all sense of touch and balance, grinds her baby molars away and falls down the stairs, gaining cuts here and there. But she hallucinates far worse: as the very concepts of what and where are gradually eaten away by white light.

Ultimately, the reason Bondrewd does anything all comes down to curiosity and the aspiration to reach the bottom of the Abyss and learn its infinite secrets, same as Riko. It’s just a matter of scope and scale. Riko has managed to retain her humanity throughout her descent. But while has the affable dad voice and general form of a man, there is simply nothing left of Bondrewd’s humanity.

After Nanachi offers to stay with him and help him continue his research in exchange for Riko and Reg’s safety, Bondrewd tells them that, uh, unfortunately, he’s already tossed Reg to his Umbra Hands, who restrain him, slice off his right arm (along with Incinerator) and start collecting his bodily fluids. That’s when Riko, who was helped up to the upper level by Prushka, intervenes, and Prushka learns the truth about her father for the first time.

With Bondrewd showing his true horrific colors loudly and proudly, Nanachi, the most experienced with how he operates, comes up with a plan to take him out. This involves luring him into a nest of giant seven-tailed scorpions, trying to infect him with parasite larvae, and finally Reg crushing his body with a giant boulder.

Naturally, Bondrewd praises both Reg and Nanachi every time they toss a new tactic at him, saying things like “wonderful” and “I’m surprised.” After all, Nanachi is one of the creations of which of which he is most proud, one who unlike Mitty and the others was able to receive the “Blessing” of the Abyss rather than fall victim to the Curse. You’d could mistake it for fatherly pride if, again, Bondrewd had a shred of humanity. But his willingness to offer love and pain and suffering in equal measure disqualifies him as both from being either a parent or a human.

None of the tactics against him end up working, because the Umbra Hand who escorted Prushka simply takes the mask off of the crushed Bondrewd and places it on his head, thus transforming into a new, untouched Bondrewd. Turns out all of his Umbra Hands are him—and his immortality is tied to a relic called Zoaholic. The fight ends for now, and Bondrewd returns home with Prushka.

If Zoaholic didn’t make Bondrewd insane, the act of splitting his soul and essence into multiple bodies still removed what was left of his empathy or humanity, which is why he ends up having Prushka cruelly vivisected just like all of the other orphan children before her. He’s satisfied her experiences with Reg, Riko, and Nanachi helped “perfect” her, and this is the natural next step. She is never told this would happen, and never asked if it’s okay.

Her body is marked with “X’s” to signify the parts that will be cut away and discarded (most of it) until all that is left is a mass of “fleshy curse repellant” to be placed within a suitcase-sized cartridge. It is in this way that Bondrewd staves off the curse; using the pain and suffering of still technically-living children as his strength.

It’s truly skin-crawling, horrible, horrible stuff, and even though I had a reasonable suspicion that Prushka was doomed to a Mitty-like fate, I was still not ready to see even a little of that fate carried out, nor would I ever be. No one would!

By the Riko, Reg, and Nanachi return to Idofront to rescue her they’re way too late, while the sight of the “processing” room brings back Nanachi’s memories of assisting with said processing. When Bondrewd arrives, Riko and Nanachi they buy time for Reg, who hooks himself up to Idofront’s power supply and ends up rebooting in Berserk Mode.

Bondrewd tells Riko that his own White Whistle is the result of sacrificing his own body and soul, and that all White Whistles are made in this way—with a willing human sacrifice, not carved stone.

It’s then when Berserk-Reg arrives and fights on the same level as Bondrewd, ultimately blasting a huge sphere-shaped chunk out of Idofront. He lands in a pit of Mittys—material for Bondrewd’s cartridges, and we’re reminded of all those lights on the wall representing their lives are labeled: he remembers the name of every child, their unique qualities, and how cute they were. Shudder…

As Bondrewd and Reg are locked in an epic battle, we hear Prushka’s disembodied voice as she recounts her life with Bondrewd, starting as a failed subject. He decided to raise her as his daughter, gave her Meinya as a pet, and gave her a fun and happy childhood, ultimately culminating in her helplessly watching as pieces of her are removed one by one on the operating table.

We hear Prushka because she’s now a cartridge that Bondrewd is currently using in his fight, and ends up being his last cartridge. Even after what he did to her, she still wants to help her dad achieve his dreams—even if it means helping him fight against Reg, Riko, and Nanachi.

Thus aided by Bondrewd, Reg can’t defeat him with one arm, which is why he was buying time for Riko to retrieve his other arm. Even disconnected from his body, she’s able to aim it at Bondrewd and fire it, blasting him to pieces.

As this is happening, Prushka pleads with everyone not to fight, because they’re all going to have adventures together. An image of that dream appears in the climax of the battle, and is pretty much the most heartbreaking goddamn thing I’ve ever seen.

Then Bondrewd falls to the ground, finally beaten, and Nanachi stand over him. True to form, Bondrewd isn’t bitter about losing; on the contrary: he’s never been happier to find someone with stronger aspirations, will, and love defeat him. It means they, not him, are worthy of exploring the greater depths of the Abyss, and all the curses and blessings therein.

Riko holds the spent cartridge of what’s left of Prushka, simply red liquid that spills everywhere, and very understandably begins to bawl in absolute despair. But then she notices an object lying in the puddle of liquid: a White Whistle. Turns out Prushka’s soul willingly became the sacrifice necessary for Riko. Now her dream of going on adventures together can be realized.

With that, Riko gains the means to make her Last Dive, along with Reg (who learned a great deal about what his relic body can do) and Nanachi (who found a degree of closure in her vendetta with Bondrewd). Bondrewd, oddly enough, is still alive (after a fashion), but no longer a threat to them, and indeed is happy to see them off as they enter the “elevator” that will take them to the Sixth Layer, that much closer to Riko’s Mom, whatever’s become of her.

Quite appropriately, the end credits pull double duty as an illustration of that elevator descending ever deeper  into the Abyss, accompanied by an achingly gorgeous song that is a collab between MYTH & ROID and Kevin Penkin. Penkin, of course, also contributed the score and outdoes himself in the task; his music has been and continues to be a vital piece of what makes Abyss so unique an special.

It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to end this in less than 1500 words, but whatever; this was basically four episodes of the anime comprising a Fifth Layer arc, enshrining Bondrewd the Novel as one of anime’s all-time most monstrous and compelling villains, exploring the ways ambition can mutate “love” into a heartlessly destructive force.

It also ably reinforced Abyss’ uncanny ability to tear its viewers’ hearts and souls to bloody shreds before painstakingly sewing them back together with delicate threads of hope. And with a second season in the early stages of production, the story of Riko, Reg, and Nanachi is far from over.

Fruits Basket – 50 (Second Season Fin) – Feather Brain

Despite all of the chaos and craziness of These Times, leave it to the trusty Fruits Basket’s second season to end one year to the day after the first season ended in 2019. And it doesn’t end with a whimper, but a one-two punch that will leave your pulverized heart slowly stewing in your stomach, even as the brightest rays of hope yet shine upon Tooru’s mission.

The opening images herald what’s to come. As soon as I saw a young, bewildered Kureno surrounded by floating feathers and a positively terrified Akito cowering behind him, I knew the big secret Shigure has known, and would be dying to reveal were it not up to Kureno himself later: Kureno is not a Zodiac member. He hasn’t been for years. His bond with Akito was severed; the curse lifted…only to be immediately replaced by a new curse of his own making.

To the part about his curse being lifted, it’s the best news yet that Tooru’s dream of lifting it for all isn’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, but a reality waiting to be realized. Of course, Tooru doesn’t know anything about this at first, and nor does Rin: but the fact that Rin will remain in a room and talk with Tooru (but leave the moment Yuki shows up) may well foreshadow future collaboration between the two. I certainly hope so, anyway!

For now, Tooru is happy for a new year with Yuki and Shigure and oh yeah, Kyou, who doesn’t appear in this episode, since the exploration of his and Tooru’s failure to confess to one another is best left to a future season for it to be done justice. Instead, most of the episode is given over to the truth about Kureno, and how he’s always seemed “off” to both Shigure and Hatori.

Kureno manages to steal away from a sleeping Akito’s side deep into the night, and plays the Cinderella-ish DVD given to him by Tooru c/o Momiji Both of them pray he’ll watch it, and he does. The scene with Tooru and Kyou was so powerful I almost forgot Arisa also bore her whole damn heart in the play.

First she castigated Prince Kyou for not acting on his feelings when there are “people out there (like her and Kureno) who can’t see the ones they wish to see.” When Arisa cries out “I want to see him!” Kureno can’t help but reach out. But his image of a smiling Arisa in her work apron is juxtaposed by a hysterical younger Akito begging him “Don’t abandon me!” and the dimensions of Kureno’s own personal prison come into clear focus.

The moment Tooru returns home to Shigure’s, he sends her out on an errand to buy envelopes, knowing full well she’ll do it immediately and with a smile (this is Tooru, after all). He also knows it will take her past a certain park where Kureno is waiting. Before noticing him, Tooru approaches a flock of sparrows, who naturally aren’t afraid of her what with her gentle soul and calming aura.

Then Kureno approaches her, and the birds scatter. This confuses Tooru to no end since she’s seen rabbits, rats and cats naturally gather around Momiji, Yuki, and Kyou, respectively. Then the absolute kicker: Kureno draws Tooru into a hug…and nothing happens. He tells her plainly: he’s different. His curse is broken. He isn’t a member of the Zodiac.

It would have been one thing if his burgeoning love for Arisa had broken the curse, but it happened long before they met, and to this day Kureno couldn’t tell you exactly why. All he knows his how he felt when it happened. At first he was sad upon realizing he’d never fly again. But he also felt a happiness and a freedom and a sense of humanity he’d never felt before.

Even so, he says, upon returning the DVD, Tooru’s present “was for nothing”, as he doesn’t intent to see Arisa again, and will instead remain by Akito’s side as he has done. It seems like a firm declaration, but as he tries desperately to rationalize two simple insignificant meetings with Arisa as easily forgotten with time…he just can’t do it.

There’s no supernatural or spiritual bond keeping him by Akito’s side. It is more pity than love, along with years of trying to make it something it hadn’t been since the curse broke. Upon realizing their bond was broken Akito lost it, taking Kureno aside and threatening to kill anyone else who approached. And then she sobbed and begged and pleaded for him not to leave her. And Kureno, being younger than Tooru is now and not knowing any better, gave in.

Things are even more different now than they were then. Kureno resolved neither to go too far into the outside world nor seek anything there, but he’s fallen in love for the first time since the curse broke, since he “became human”, as he puts it. And as much as he may want to stay by Akito’s side, just as back then, something has happened that cannot be undone.

Kureno might have been able to deceive the other Zodiac members for a while, but I doubt he ever deceived Akito. And yet despite knowing the curse was broken, his staying probably signaled to Akito that their power still held sway, which turned out to be true, only if psychologically and not supernaturally.

As Tooru tries to comfort the long-tormented Kureno, he tells her without self-pity, hatred, or regret, that he made his choice to live only for “the one who cried until sobs racked their body. Weaker than anyone…more fragile than anyone. For the one…so afraid…for a sorrowful girl.”

Akito wakes up before Kureno returns, and notes that it’s the first time he’s left without permission. After ordering their attendants to find him, Akito takes a bath, and when their robe slips off in the mirror, it is finally officially confirmed that Akito is a woman. This had already been heavily implied, both in design, choice of seiyu (Sakamoto Maaya), and in other subtle ways. But that doesn’t lesson the impact of learning the truth explicitly.

Immediately upon Tooru learning Akito is a girl, the second season ends, having answered so many questions and yet left us with so many more about what’s to come. Will Tooru (and Rin, and other allies) succeed in her quest to lift the curse for all? Will she even continue the quest, knowing how much pain it will cause Akito to take her remaining Zodiac members away? Will Tooru ever allow herself to love someone more than her mother? Will Kureno and Arisa meet again? Will Akito escalate her grudge against Tooru?

Lots to ponder, for sure. And that’s even before we get into how we’re supposed to feel about Akito, who regardless of gender has been a pretty consistently selfish, cruel, dispicable character from the start. It goes without saying she’d have a tragic past of her own to match her myriad psychological issues, and while I can empathize, goddamn is it hard to sympathize, when weighing the suffering she’s caused the others.

For all of that food for thought, and yearning for the next season, and the expert direction and framing and pitch-perfect music throughout, I found this one of the best episodes of Fruits Basket yet, which at this point is saying something, and it will be very very hard to wait for what’s next.

P.S. Additional food for thought: the reason Akito cherishes Kureno so much is because he is there by his own free will, and not due to any binding curse, something I hadn’t considered until we learned he’s no longer a Zodiac member. Ultimately this is the way all her companions should be: there by choice and not force. Of course, she’d have to be much nicer to them…

Want to read more? Read Crow’s thoughts here.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 39 – A Kind Hand

Good Lord, what a unfathomably beautiful, heartrending episode is “Sakura’s Dizzy Fever Day”, which asks the question: “What if the Cardcaptor was out of commission?” Every episode Sakura seems to spring out of bed, kaiju-stomp down the stairs, and burst out the front door in her rollerblades, ready to conquer the day. But she’s still human, which means inevitably the day would come when she wakes up feeling like shit. It happens to us all!

Today is that day, and it’s also a dark, cloudy day; the kind of day almost nobody likes or can feel comfortable enduring. Even though there’s a bright clear sky above the clouds, the fact we lowly humans are trapped below them can feel claustrophobic and depressing. Sakura is literally and figuratively “under the weather.”

Because she’s Sakura, she tries her darndest to power through it, even convincing Touya to let her go to school despite his misgivings and the warmth of her forehead. She’s also worried her dad will skip out on an important archaeological trip, so makes him promise not to tell him she’s under the weather.

Sakura also has posters to make for school, and doesn’t want to inconvenience anyone by being absent. She doesn’t want to do anything that will cause trouble, overlooking the fact that the people who love her, from Touya and her dad to Tomoyo, will be far more troubled if her fever worsens.

When Mizuki-sensei feels Sakura’s head, she has Tomoyo escort her to the nurse’s office, where Syaoran and Meiling assure her that they will be fine with the poster work without her, and the only think Sakura needs to worry about is going home, resting, and getting better.

Due to his possessing a certain degree of magical power, Touya can “sense” a message from his former squeeze Kaho, who informs him that Sakura is indeed suffering from a fever. Before carrying Sakura home on his back (what a good big brother!) he asks Kaho why she “came back”; she simply tells him there’s something she has to do.

As Sakura’s head swims with fever, the clouds in the sky become increasingly thick and cyclonic, and Sakura senses a Clow Card, which Kero-chan identifies as Cloud. Despite being in no condition to go outside, let alone fly through the air in her jammies, Sakura answers the call of the Cardcaptor, and Kero can’t keep her from her duty.

Despite her abject disregard for her own health, it’s hard to argue with Sakura here: Syaoran’s delusions aside, only she possesses the power to actually seal Clow Reed’s cards, and if left unchecked, Cloud will cover the entire town and become virtually un-sealable.

While she’s out on her mission, Sakura uses Mirror to create a double of herself to interact with Touya in her stead. But things quickly go pear-shaped as Cloud’s stiff gusts knock Sakura out of the air. Thankfully, she’s saved by a wind cushion summoned by Syaoran, who also sensed the card and came with Meiling in tow.

Both Syaoran and Meiling mostly put aside their rivalry with the Cardcaptor to exhibit concern for her well-being, and scold her for being so reckless. Certainly Syaoran (who is harboring a crush on Sakura) and Meiling don’t want Sakura to get sicker.

Back home, Touya pretty much instantly knows that the Sakura in bed is not the real Sakura, and tells the double as much. He also tells her he has “a vague idea” what Sakura is up to, but asks that the double not tell Sakura that he knows, since she’s (poorly) trying to keep it a secret.

Syaoran manages to use fire to shrink the cloud down to a manageable size, but the feverish Sakura can barely stand as she attempts to seal the card. That’s when, in one of the many extremely poignant moments in this episode, Meiling serves as Sakura’s support, allowing her to seal Cloud. And while it flies into Syaoran’s hand, he gives it to her, acknowledging how much it took for her just to leave her bed.

Sakura returns to her room, and her double tucks her in before reverting to her card state. Touya returns to take her temperature, which has risen due to her overexertion, but then the ghost of their mom Nadeshiko arrives, placing the same “kind hand” Sakura dreamed about at the beginning of the episode.

Sakura and Touya’s dad comes home early, having also sensed something was amiss with Sakura, but Touya tells him about Nadeshiko and that there’s no cause for concern.

The next morning, Sakura is her usual chipper self. When she wonders why her dad is back, he tells her he forgot something. The Kinomotos may be a family with a lot of supernatural stuff going on, but what truly endears me to each and every one of them is their basic decency, humanity, and unconditional love for one another, especially when one of them is in trouble or pain.

Like Touya, Tomoyo, Syaoran, her parents, and everyone else who loves her, I felt so bad for Sakura and worried for her, even though I knew she’d eventually recover. Considering how kind and brave and filled with love Sakura herself is, it was unbearable to watch her suffer even for just one dark, cloudy day.

I didn’t just feel for Sakura. Her dizzy fever day reminded me of similar days of my own when I felt like shit and didn’t want to stay home, but had to. We’ve all had those days. So it filled me with pure unfiltered joy to see her feeling so much better the next morning, after the clouds had parted.

Fruits Basket – 43 – Having Nothing in the End

Hiro is talking with Kisa about his yet-to-be-born sibling, whose gender will be a surprise, when he spots Rin in her school uniform. He’s concerned about her ashen appearance, but she gives him basically the same treatment as everyone else who tries to reach out: Buzz off. Go have your happy life with your nice parents and leave me alone with my misery.

The episode then revisits the time Rin approached Shigure, and we learn that she seeks a means of lifting the Zodiac curse, just like Tooru. She’s willing to give him her body for the info, but Shigure—in a rare instance of not being a total slimebag—rejects her offer. But he also refuses to help in any way, while stating he’ll enjoy the benefits Rin’s and others’ efforts, because, as he himself says, he is the worst.

Spurned by Shigure, who may or may not possess the answers she seeks, she goes through a Souma storage room in hopes of finding something, anything related to the curse and a way to lift it. Exhausted and nauseous, she collapses on the ground, then remembers one of the happiest moments in her life—in bed with Hatsu post-coitus, wishing she could be his heart—followed by one of the worst: her parents telling her they “don’t want her”.

Around dusk, she returns to Shigure’s house, strung-out almost beyond belief, but nobody’s home…until Tooru comes through the door. Even that act of opening a door sends Rin into a hysterical fit, repeatedly begging Tooru not to yell at her. Tooru being Tooru, she does the only thing the situation calls for in that moment: giving Rin a warm, gentle hug to try to calm her down.

Shigure may believe he’s the worst, but delving into Rin’s horrific childhood establishes some healthy competition for the title. By all accounts, Rin’s parents tried for years to put on a happy, fun façade as they raised her. It wasn’t until it started to feel like a performance to her, and she asked them why that was, that they snapped. This is not at all to blame Rin for breaking the façade; it was doomed no matter what she said or did. But it’s clear she blames herself.

Verbal and physical abuse followed, until one day Rin collapsed from the injuries the marks of which her clothes concealed. Kazuma and Hatsu are with her in the hospital, and that’s when her parents tell her flat out they no longer want her. Hatsu responds not by turning into Dark Hatsu, but simply by getting extremely pissed off with the parents, and lays into them, getting no response in return.

From then on, Rin lived with Kagura’s family, and the mere fact it was a genuinely happy household caused her intense emotional and physical pain, since she wonders “what she did wrong” to cause her to lose her own home. The only person in whom she found true peace and comfort was her white-haired knight Hatsu, who eventually confesses his love, and she reciprocates.

For the one person with whom spending time was not painful to also be a Zodiac member only adds fuel to the all-consuming flame of misfortune that is Rin’s life. Akito finds out, and when Hatori’s eye is brought up, Rin declares that she was the one who seduced Hatsu.

Akito doesn’t hold back on the verbal or physical wrath, calling Rin wicked and devious “like all women” and calling her flowing black hair “repulsive”. Seemingly feeding off Rin’s fear by grabbing her, Akito tells her she has no value other than filling one of the Zodiac slots before throwing her out the window. This is witnessed by Hiro, and if he hadn’t, Rin might well have bled out. Instead, she’s still alive…and wishes she wasn’t.

For all of those times I misinterpreted Rin’s standoffish, quick-to-anger nature in the few scenes in which she interacted with others, I can only beg for the character’s forgiveness. She’s had every right to act the way she has. It’s now crystal clear she broke up with Hatsu in order to save him from Akito’s wrath, as well as her own belief her love for him would be so heavy it would one day crush him.

I can only breathe a sigh of relief that Rin is now in the safest possible place: in Shigure’s house and in Tooru’s care. She may act like every bit the wounded horse upon coming to, and stubbornly reject any and all offer of help from Tooru, but the fact is the two share the same goal, and they’ll need each other if they’re going to make any progress.

So ends the darkest and most devastating episode of Fruits Basket to date, an absolutely unrelenting look at the destructive effects of the Zodiac curse on its members. Few episodes of anime hit me as hard as this one. Rin is at absolute rock bottom, neither wanting nor feeling she is deserving of love, happiness, or anything at all. But if anyone can help her, it’s Tooru. As long as Rin is alive, there is still hope. And I hope to hell she gets the redemption she needs and deserves.

Wave, Listen to Me! – 09 – The Ecstasy and Agony of the Man-Child

When Minare gets a friendly text from Mitsuo after her bear attack broadcast, her first instinct is to borrow Mizuho’s laptop so she can Google “how to buy a gun” (much tougher in Japan than the U.S.) with which to shoot him, as she promised herself she’d do.

Mizuho calls for calm, and Minare downgrades her intentions to murdering him socially, via doxxing. When Matou and Mizuho both pooh-pooh that idea, Minare agrees to a date at Mt. Moiwa…with no apparent plan in place. Her only prep involves an “aggressive” outfit and dark red lips, knowing he prefers light pink. It’s the little things!

No doubt Minare’s first question going into the date is What gives with the sudden contact after months of nothing? In that regard, it’s fitting that her outfit includes a sleuth’s fedora. It should be noted that Minare has possibly never looked hotter than she does here, and that’s definitely intentional. It’s provocative, yet also self-conscious.

When they first meet up, she can’t help but blush while thinking how he hasn’t changed a bit. It hasn’t been that long, Minare! He then proceeds to throw her off-balance, first by paying for his own cable car ticket (¥1700 per person—not cheap!), then offering up her favorite torimon, and then handing her a brown envelope containing ¥250,000, half of what he owes her. What gives, indeed!

While pondering the possibility of becoming ensnared in an eternal limbo of debt repayment, Minare’s first word in edgewise is an accusation of infidelity by Mitsuo (she heard from a friend he was walking with another girl). That’s when Mitsuo owns up to the fact he indeed befriended a girl, but totally glosses over the particulars of that relationship and goes straight to the story of her trying to stab him.

Mitsuo is hungry and wants curry, and lets it be known by a kind of specific man-child whine that has an almost Pavlovian effect on Minare. However shlumpy this guy looks and how possibly insincere he’s acting, it’s obvious Minare had legitimate feelings for this guy, and there are parts of him that are still thoroughly disarming.

Here’s someone who planned to kill him when he became an abstract bogeyman, but now, in the reality of their reunion and his M.C.T. (Man Child Terror) field, her homicidal designs all but evaporate. Still, once she hears the details of Mitsuo’s brush with death, it doesn’t take long for Detective Koda Minare to forge a theory about the other woman’s motive: she must have also lent Mitsuo money.

There’s a constant push-and-pull going on throughout Minare and Mitsuo’s date that is both all-too-realistic and extremely fascinating. The pain of his past betrayal and her suspicion over his present motives is always on one end of the scale, rising and falling from prominence as Mitsuo works his practiced Suga charm.

Minare is happy and excited to just be on another date again, after much drinking alone, self-commiserating, and the breaking-and-entering of Oki’s place. She even considers the possibility that even a creature like Mitsuo could change for the better after nearly being offed by the latest victim of his adorkably breezy treachery.

For all his faults, Mitsuo is Minare’s type, whether he’s being “cute”, commenting on her lip color, suggesting they do one activity after the other, demonstrating growth by paying his fair share, or telling her the words “there’s no one better than you.” It must feel so good for her hear words like that from someone with whom she’s shared so much history, both good and bad.

Minare is sufficiently hungry for domestic affection that she slips easily back into the comfort and familiarity of Mitsuo’s place, even reflexively making coffee when they’ve already had a ton of it throughout the day. She also takes comfort in his very specific preferences, like what drink goes best with what food.

But when Mitsuo toasts their reunion and “reconciliation”, Minare’s dormant rage re-surfaces, vowing to keep her heart shut tight until the full amount is paid back. He assures her he borrowed it to be a co-signer for a friend’s debt and always meant to pay her back.

Having presented himself as a Good Guy who helps people in need, Mitsuo’s head finds Minare’s thighs, which he admits he’s missed dearly. Minare, in turn, fishes out the ear pick she left there which is so beloved she gave it a name—Onikirimaru!—and proceeds to clean Mitsuo’s ears “for her own sake and pleasure!”

Since it’s been a while since they’ve done this, she’s elated to find a “gold rush” in there. How adorably disgusting! Not to mention intimate. And despite having planned to kill him only yesterday, she still falls for his upside-down face as he once again points out his preference in lip color, and Minare removes the deep red with a tissue.

It is here, where Minare realizes how Mitsuo’s Man-Child nature seemingly encourages her to take the lead while in reality making her the subservient one. It’s a shtick he probably does without even thinking. But the spell is immediately broken when she spots a strange bit of trash when tossing her tissue.

After a sip of coffee, Mitsuo references the “coffee kiss” they’d often do—another beautiful detail that speaks to the deeply specific intimacy of two former lovers. Minare leans down for a kiss, but stops mere inches from his lips. Suddenly, she’s Detective Koda again, she has Mitsuo in “the box”, and he’s not getting out until she’s heard the unvarnished truth from his un-coffee-kissed lips.

He admits he lost the ¥500,000 at the tracks, but came into the ¥250,000 after helping out the relative of a rich oil executive (again implying his charitable good-guy nature). Minare admonishes him for his get-rich-quick nature, urging him to live more frugally by, for instance, learning to cook.

It’s a lure the Man-Child can’t resist; he assures her everything will be fine; why should he cook when there’s so many good, cheap restaurants? Quite literally taking matters into her own thighs, Detective Koda locks Mitsuo’s face in a leg-lock and shows him the suspicious piece of trash: a free magazine full of recipes with a single dried bell pepper seed stuck to the cover.

It’s evidence not just that someone interested in cooking was in the room, but made Mitsuo’s favorite stir-fry recipe, indicating an intimacy with the other woman he had been concealing from her. No need for a judge or jury; in Minare’s eyes, Mr. Suga is guilty. His sentence is what must be some kind of professional wrestling throw that drives his head hard into the floor.

No longer under the influence of Mitsuo’s smile after seeing him lie once more while wearing it, Detective Koda puts her fedora back on and tells him she’ll forgive the remaining half of the money she lent him. It’s preferable to letting him to betray yet another woman to pay him back.

While she harbored abstract (and ultimately impossible) murderous designs prior to their reunion, this Minare is wiser and more level-headed in her condemnation and handing down of punishment. Mitsuo may be glad to be off the hook for the ¥250,000, but if he was being honest when he said there’s “no one better” than Minare, her refusing to take him back is harsh punishment indeed.

This episode was a thrilling, layered, ultimately bittersweet tour-de-force depicting the games played, battles fought, and lies told behind easy smiles and flirtations of two people. You really get the feeling Minare would prefer being in a happy loving relationship with Mitsuo, but she just can’t trust the bastard, and there’s no indication he’ll ever stop fucking up and lying about it.

As Minare enjoys a decisive moral and tactical victory, the episode doesn’t overlook the bitter tragedy of that. If she’s the hard-boiled private dick in an old noir crime novel, Mitsuo is the “homme fatale”. In the end, her loyalty to the truth and her solidarity with women prevailed.

If nothing else, it should make for a hell of a broadcast…

Fruits Basket – 17 – Paying It Forward

Uotani Arisa was a broken and rudderless teen, subsumed by dirt and blood from pointless beatings; lost in the darkness. Things were briefly made worse when her idol Kyouko turned out to be the “lame” doting mom of the even lamer and impossibly sweet Tooru.

And yet, when Arisa is alone and on the run from more beating than she can take in a day, who does she barrel into once more but that sweet and polite Tooru, who immediately senses her friend is in danger, grabs her by the arm, and runs.

At Tooru’s apartment, Arisa finds herself back in an atmosphere of warmth, tranquility and love that is so foreign to her it’s uncomfortable. She figures her dirty delinquent self wouldn’t change even if she had such an atmosphere at her home, with her dad. Nevertheless, she’s jealous of it, and she wants it.

Tooru Kyouko are more than willing to share it with her, and to soothe her crushing loneliness that has been the core of her struggles in life so far. Back in the present, we see that Arisa is no longer lonely, and loves Tooru and Saki very much. That’s when the three young delinquent wannabes finally confront Arisa, but she ignores them as if they were mere gnats.

While her story about how she became besties with Tooru is complete, there remains the rest of her story: how she became the strong, beautiful, wonderful person she is. It’s a story she doesn’t tell the Souma boys, but is generous enough to share with us.

Hanging out with Tooru and Kyouko is a positive force for change in Arisa, but that change doesn’t come as quickly or easily as removing the stems peas. She may have returned to school and studies with Tooru, but her teachers assume she’s bullying her, while her gang takes none to kindly to her efforts to go straight.

Other students are weirded out by Tooru hanging out with Arisa all the time, and rumors spread about Tooru actually being a delinquent beneath a goody-goody facade. To Arisa’s relief and joy, Tooru pays such rumblings absolutely no mind. She’s going to make an extra muffin for her dear friend Uo-chan, no matter what anyone says.

But while the bond of friendship between Tooru and Arisa can’t be easily broken, the same doesn’t go for Arisa’s bones. While in the present she credits Kyouko and Tooru with saving her, it’s not like Arisa did nothing to help her own cause, and while she might not have known it at the time, going back to her gang to tell them she’s out and facing the consequences was actually the first step towards saving herself.

Thanks to her older gangmate Akimoto, Kyouko learns of the horrible beating Arisa’s doomed to receive if no one intervenes, so the Crimson Butterfly dons her duster for one last rodeo, intervening in the fight, extracting the battered Arisa, and carrying her back to her place on piggyback.

As Arisa demeans and insults her idiotic self for not realizing sooner she was on the wrong path, Kyouko offers some sage life advice, having experience quite a bit of that life herself. She tells Arisa that sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to realize you want to change; and that neither the light nor purity of life she seeks would be possible without the presence of darkness and dirt from which she emerged.

Arisa didn’t understand the feelings she bore until she got hurt exploring them, but now that she’s come out the other side, she knows with the clarity of a mountain lake what she wants to do: to become a strong, beautiful, wonderful best friend in whom Tooru can take pride.

So Arisa abandons her delinquent past to become just that, and eventually she and Tooru befriend Saki as well. And while she is utterly devastated when Kyouko suddenly dies, she’s also eternally grateful for the things Kyouko gave her and the things she left behind, with which she can not only continue to be a better person with a kinder soul, but pay the love and kindness and wisdom she received to others.

That means not simply socking the redheaded delinquent punk (Ishi-chan) who keeps bothering her, but offering her words of advice she wished she’d received earlier: Stop acting out while you still can, before something serious happens. If you need someone to scold you, I’ll do it anytime.

Ishi is immediately smitten by Arisa’s blend of warmth and coolness, and her two friends fall in line, becoming fans of Uotani Arisa on the spot. After the credits, Ishi not only cosplays as Arisa, but wears the exact same outfit Arisa wore the day they met! Needless to say, this is exceedingly cute and heartwarming.

Just like Arisa idolizing someone like Kyouko instead of a less savory gang member, it’s almost as if the universe is looking out for these three still very young kids who have a lot of life yet to live before giving up.

Because they chose the right woman to idolize, just as she did. And perhaps, one day, when they’re better people, they’ll pay Arisa’s wisdom and kindness forward, and help others become better too. Along with Tooru—essentially a demigoddess of love and kindness—this is the enduring gift Kyouko left behind, and why she’ll never really be gone.

3-gatsu no Lion – 44 (Fin) – From Darkest Depths to Highest Heights

The eight minutes that kick off 3GL’s final episode (for a while at least), in which Rei visits the Kouda household, were some of the most hauntingly beautiful, unsettling, and emotionally gutting eight minutes I’ve ever seen. He is received only by the mother, who narrates the entire segment.

Rei was always capable—more capable than her children, which is why he had to go—but she finds him even more so now; he’s become an adult. Meanwhile, Kyouko and Ayumu (seen but never heard here) continue to flounder; they remain children, seeking immediate enjoyment.

Rei’s visit confirms to Mother Kouda that it was for the best for Rei to leave, and she is grateful that he did it of his own volition. Rei was such a genuinely good boy, it was a weight the rest of the family could not bear. When she dreams of Rei being her real son, he’s a sassy layabout like the others.

I was already in tears before the OP, but this episode wasn’t done, as Rei takes Takahashi and Rina out for monja to congratulate their graduation and bid farewell to the brawny baseball kid. Going pro is no longer a dream for him, it’s a goal, and leaving the home he loves was something he had to do to achieve it.

As they talk about how there won’t be monja where Takahashi is going, and that he’ll simply bring it with him to represent March Town, it dawns on Hina that while people may move away, they remain children of the town.

As the minutes and seconds left with Takahashi tick implacably down to zero, Hina savors those remaining moments with everything she has before saying goodbye. Again I held back tears…watching her hold back tears.

Takahashi leaves for his new school the day of the cherry blossom festival, which means he’ll miss it, but Hina doesn’t see him off. For one thing, the previous night’s farewell was just fine; for another, she’s got work to do, working at the Crescent Moon food stall.

She, Akari and Gramps clean up, capitalizing on the slight remnants of the winter chill by selling hot red bean soup and dumplings. Like so much with the Kawamotos, it’s warm, tasty, cozy, and fun.

And as Hina remembers a younger, smaller Takahashi sitting on the steps with an ice cream bar in his baseball uniform, she commits to doing her best where she is, just as he’ll be doing his best farther away.

Soon thereafter, just before she starts high school, Hina decides she’s going to get her hair cut. Privately (or rather in the presence of their aunt), Akari has bittersweet pangs about Hina’s choice to give her childhood self a “proper sendoff” and take a step forward as “the new me.” Akari is sad that one stage of her little sister’s life is ending, but excited and even a little envious of the next; Hina’s “springtime of life.”

However, that first step forward seems to go horribly awry when only an older hair stylist was at the salon. Hina asked for an “adult-like bob”, but once she get it, Akari can barely contain her shock, while Gramps, in his most hilarious reaction to date, thought on first glance that Hina was the household deity. Momo thinks she looks like a kokeshi doll, while Akari asks her to pose with a box of candy.

But when’s all said and done and we get a decent look at it (from numerous intimate close-up angles) I’m in agreement with Rei’s first impression: it’s nice. It’s a really nice new look! Despite the references made by her family, she looks a little more mature and serious, especially in her new high school uniform.

The more Rei looks at it, the more he likes it…and the more embarrassed Hina gets. But let’s not forget what’s happening: the two are walking to school together! This is huge. What will his classmates think? What will they say? How will Rei and Hina handle the fact that they look like one of history’s most perfect couples, straight out of the gate?

Unfortunately, all of that must be left up to my imagination, because 3-gatsu no Lion closes the book on the life of Rei, Hina, the Kawamotos, the Koudas, and all of the shogi folk. Hopefully it will be back, but if this is truly the end of the anime, it couldn’t have ended on a higher, brighter note, rising from the sullen depths of the Kouda household.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 12

Shirase vividly remembers the day she was suddenly pulled out of class and informed of her mother’s death. How can she not? We all carry days like that in our memories. For her, it was the end of life feeling as it had before, and the beginning of a dream; an awful dream from which she hoped every day to wake up from.

She’s worked so hard, endured mockery, made and fought with friends, and arrived at the place where she lost her mother. Yet she still doesn’t feel like the dream is over. Now Gin has invited her and the other girls to join the team that will press inland, to the observatory site from which Takako never returned.

Shirase tells her friends it’s not so much that she’s depressed to stressed out about her mother. Rather, she’s weary that if and when she gets to the end of the road, there will be nowhere left to go. If nothing changes, the way it hasn’t thus far, what if she keeps feeling the way she does the rest of her life? What if she can’t wake up?

The girls decide to give Shirase space, proof, according to an adult colleague, that they’re truly good friends. Shirase sits with Gin, who tells her that neither of them know what Takako felt, or whether she wanted them to return to Antarctica, where she’d be waiting in some form.

All Gin can say for certain is that she came because she wanted to come: “At the end of the day, those ideas we latch on to aren’t enough to motivate us. But when we run around on the injustices of reality, they’re the only things that can break through, make the impossible possible, and allow us to proceed on.”

After laying out all of her cash and listing all the ways she made it, Shirase regains the idea that brought her to Antarcica, and joins Gin and the other girls on the inland trip…because her mother is waiting there.

Along the slow, cold slog of a trip, Shirase and he girls experience the harshest conditions so far, but still have to work in them, because there’s no other choice. They also experience some of the most otherworldly sights, like a sun pillar.

When Shirase asks Gin if her mother saw the same thing, Gin answers in the affirmative. Later, Gin has Shirase check in with Syowa Station. From then on, as Shirase realizes she’s following in her mother’s last footsteps, the journey adopts an increasingly melancholy mood.

When a punishing blizzard arrives identical to the one that suddenly claimed Takako, Gin remembers Takako’s last call on the radio, saying “it’s beautiful” but not telling Gin where she was, because if Gin went out to attempt rescue, nature would likely have claimed her as well.

The girls are snug in their sleeping bags as the winds lash against the snowcat, and Shirase sees a vision of her mother sitting nearby, working on her laptop. Mari wakes up to thank Shirase for taking her for allowing her to get the most out of her youth.

It doesn’t matter to her whether they went to Antartica or the Arctic or anywhere else; what made the trip special was that they took it together, as friends. Shirase then tells her mother that she, who thought she’d be fine alone forever, now has friends: slightly weird, frustrating, and broken friends, but friends who were willing to come this far with her.

Now, there’s only a little further to go, and once the snowcats arrive at the observatory site, those same friends rush into the underground complex to try to find something, anything that serves as proof Shirase’s mother was there. And boy do they ever find it: Takako’s laptop, with a photo of Takako and Shirase taped to the back.

Again Shirase’s friends recede to the hallway as Shirase fires up the laptop. She gets the password right on the second try, and when Takako’s inbox opens, it immediately starts updating, with a dozen, then a hundred, then a thousand emails gradually pouring in…and Shirase loses it. Her friends hear her anguish and then they start crying.

In a show that’s had no shortage of episode climaxes that tug at the heartstrings, no scene to date has tugged quite this far (I pretty much lost it too!). It truly feels like Shirase has finally awakened from her hazy three-year-long dream, having experienced a profound measure of closure from this. In any case, her fear of not feeling anything once she came to the end of her journey didn’t come to pass. She didn’t just feel something; she felt everything.