Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 02 – Better to Not Put on an Act

The Ishigami-Iino Accords

Kaguya-sama is about far more than two goofs who won’t admit their love out of pride and fear. It has the ammo to provide a veritable kaleidoscope of spinoff stories about its other characters. Ishigami and Iino Don’t Get Along could not only be a decent series unto itself, but has an incredibly catchy English title!

That Ishi-Iino isn’t a spinoff from the Kaguya-sama: Love Is War Cinematic Universe is a shame, but it’s also the mark of a great series that it keeps you wanting to see more of its greatness. Also, it’s good enough that it doesn’t have to spin things off. Sometimes a small taste is enough.

So we’ve known for a while now that Ishigami and Iino hate each other…but do they? Sure, they seem to inhabit opposite ends of the Discipline-Rebellion Spectrum, but we know better. Ishigami has as strong a sense of justice as Iino, especially where Iino herself is concerned. He just chooses to conceal it behind an outer crust she loathes.

By the same token, Ishigami obviously respects Iino’s honesty and diligence, or he wouldn’t stand to defend her from embarrassment. The thing is, their practiced hostility has escalated to a level neither Miyuki nor Iino’s friend Osaragi can suffer. Hence, the Ishigami-Iino Friendship Plan.

After an exchange of compliments turns into a hatefest, ear-cleaning becomes awkward contortionism, and Pocky-eating leads to aggressively gnashing teeth, Osaragi ditches Miyuki’s plan and pulls out the big guns, telling the two what a good match they are, and how it’s “typical teen behavior” to not be able to stop yourself from being mean to the one you like.

Ishigami and Iino are so shocked by the checkmate they relent on the spot, then devolve into an automated, emotionless, auto-tuned exchange of Iino saying “I like you quite a lot” and Ishigami returning the sentiment. It’s very far from normal human interaction, but by the letter of what the segment victor Osaragi and Miyuki set out to do, it gets the job done.

Play Along, All Right?

Of course, simply getting the job done on paper is not Kaguya-sama’s M.O., as evidenced by the epic two-parter that closes the episode. This might also just be my favorite segment of all the shows two-plus seasons. After declining several times in the past, Miyuki finally accepts an invite from classmates to go out for karaoke and “networking” with kids from other schools, unaware that it’s really going to be a group date.

Hayasaka can’t help but point this out to Kaguya, but Hayasaka ends up being inconvenienced, as Kaguya orders her to attend the group date and make sure no girls get near the President. Hayasaka is so good at getting herself mixed up in Kaguya’s man mess that one frankly can’t rule out that she does it on purpose, for sport or personal achievement.

This scenario marks the return of Hayasaka’s alter-ego “Miss Herthaka”, and when Miyuki recognizes her, she’s grumpy enough with her plight that she decides to take the fact that he dumped her like a bag of sand when last they met and run with it like Marshawn Lynch in Beast Mode.

After making clear to Miyuki’s pals that he dumped her, she takes the stage and belts out a stirring, pitch-perfect rendition of “My Feelings” by Akasaka Saka/Giorgio Giorgio. If there’s such a thing as anime nirvana, it’s this.

What makes this performance so powerful is that it’s not played 100% as a joke. Hayasaka is legitimately frustrated both by her past failure to seduce Miyuki and Kaguya’s continued taking of the President for granted as someone who will always be available to her.

After the song, Hayasaka and Miyuki have a serious discussion about putting on acts. When she rants about her “little sister” forcing her to come to this to get over being dumped, he feels like he’s talking to the something like the “real her” … which of course she is, since she’s voicing real frustrations! Miyuki, always forthright in everything but his love of Kaguya, feels he can relate to her better, and you get the feeling he likes this “Herthaka” more than the obviously fake one from their first encounter.

Hayasaka then reveals her position on the matter, which is that “no one will ever love you unless you’re acting”, and that weakness and ugliness must be hidden by that acting. He then puts it to him whether he’s actually the real Shirogane Miyuki, or if he overreaches and bluffs. He thinks on this and decides it would probably be best to call it a night.

Hurt You Just a Little

When some rando tries to put the moves on Hayasaka the moment she’s alone, Miyuki returns, takes her by the hand, and leads her to safety, telling her to “play along”. She’s so moved by the gesture, she reserves a room just for her and Miyuki, where she plans to succeed in Kaguya’s dare for her to seduce him.

Hayasaka reports this to Kaguya via earpiece, who is in her covert ops outfit on a rooftop. And again, this is all played straight. We have a legit love triangle here! There’s a part of Hayasaka who likes Shirogane and a part of her that wants to win, and when opportunity like this knocks she’s not going to ignore it. What started as a playful dare is no longer just a game. When Hayasaka cuts off communication, Kaguya panics.

She knows that normally Hayasaka operates within the bounds of common sense. But she also knows that Hayasaka was furious for having to go to the group date to begin with, so who knows what she’s capable of. Kaguya finds the door of the booth where they are, but there she’s paralyzed from further action.

The window is covered by Hayasaka’s coat, rendering it a Schrödinger’s Shirogane scenario. Whatever is or isn’t happening in there, Kaguya’s imagining of what it might be is far worse. And she knows she can’t just barge in without “losing”, i.e. revealing she cares so much about Miyuki that she’ll stalk him when he’s hanging out with friends (which, yes, she does, and is!).

Her solution? Invite Chika to karaoke, being sure to give her the number of the booth. But before Chika can arrive to open the box, Kaguya starts hearing suggestive noises and a flurry of double entendres. When Miyuki exits the booth to go to the bathroom, Kaguya slips in and learns the truth: Hayasaka’s strange utterings were reactions to Miyuki’s rapping.

While I saw this coming, it’s still an excellent callback to Chika’s attempts to improve Miyuki’s vocal skills. But I don’t believe rapping lessons were part of her curriculum judging by the state of Hayasaka. When Chika finally arrives and hears Hayasaka describe what she heard, it immediately puts her off karaoke and the three take off, leaving Miyuki all alone.

On the ride home, Hayasaka admits to Kaguya that she had become somewhat jealous of how happy and carefree she’s been of late, and selfishly wanted to take her down a peg, or as she puts it wanted her to “hurt just a little.”

She accomplished that mission admirably thanks to her intimate knowledge of Kaguya, but Kaguya already knew it must’ve been something like that thanks to her intimate knowledge of Hayasaka; specifically, how twisted her personality is. Hayasaka shoots back that Kaguya’s no different than her, and Kaguya doesn’t argue that fact.

While Hayasaka might have started out as Kaguya’s maid and attendant, the fact of the matter is in the ensuing years they’ve grown into something far more like sisters. Siblings love each other, but they can also irritate or hurt each other like no one else. I really loved this sprawling segment’s ability to balance humor and character drama so perfectly.

Mind you, the credits could have rolled during this last exchange between Kaguya and Hayasaka, but that would simply be “getting the job done.” Instead, the end credits roll over an lovingly, amazingly detailed intro for a Starship Troopers anime adaptation, with Miyuki, Kaguya and Hayasaka reflecting that film’s triangle of Rico, Carmen, and Dizzy.

Again, this ED could be a whole show, and it would be incredible. But here it’s just a fun throwaway gag. We live in rare and tremendous times that anime like this is still made.

RWHL

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 12 (Fin) – Nishikata’s Quest

For three seasons and dozens of vignettes, we’ve watched Nishikata undertake a gradual journey of enlightenment and awakening, from an origin point of modest, adolescent…dumbness. This season and this episode in particular, Nishikata’s brain has finally started to get wise to the fact that it has never been about winning or teasing with Takagi. It was more simply about being with him.

As these confusing feelings sprout up in his dinosaur-filled mind, Takagi must know that he’s distracted by the imminent coming of White Day, even if she doesn’t know that Hamaguchi urged him to confess to her on that day. Faced with such a monumental task, Nishikata retreats into the games, creating his most elaborate yet: Nishikata Quest, a series of boxes containing riddles leading to other riddles.

But when there are no more riddles, and he hopes Takagi to be at her most frustrated and defeated, that he’ll give her his White Day present In other words, when all is said and done he not only wants Takagi to be comforted, he wants to be the one to brighten her mood. Alas, his grand plan is dashed when Takagi is unable to make it to school on White Day due to strong winds delaying her ferry.

When he thinks she’ll only be gone for first period, Nishikata tries his best to take good notes that he’ll share with her. But when she texts him that she won’t be coming at all, he realizes how lonely he is without her sitting at the desk beside him…how things just feel “off”. After school, Hamaguchi gives Houjou some white chocolate, but just can’t manage to confess his love to her. But Houjou still looks happy he at least made the attempt.

When Mina finds the first of Nishikata’s boxes on the floor of the classroom (jostled off Takagi’s chair when Takao and Kimura are fighting), she leads Sanae and Yukari on his epic mind-bending quest. When they find the final box bearing Nishikata’s name, Yukari realizes this was all one big gesture of love for Takagi, and insists they put all the boxes back where they found them, lest they spoil loverboy’s efforts.

When Kimura kept Nishikata company during solo library duty, Nishikata noticed that Kimura was reading the same novel as Takagi when she said “I love you”. Kimura recommends the book and lends it to Nishikata, who reads it when he gets home and can’t find the “I love you” Takagi purportedly took from the page. It’s here where the dusty light bulb in his head finally switches on. That time she said “I love you”, like so many other times he remembers, were Takagi expressing her honest feelings.

For that reason, Nishikata can’t wait until tomorrow to see Takagi or give her her White Day gift. Heck, he can’t wait one more minute, running out the door, onto the bus, and running some more to the docks. When he spots Takagi getting into her car and driving off, he chases the car…on foot. Finally, fate smiles on him as Takagi’s car happens to turn at just such an angle that she spots him running behind, asks to stop the car, gets out, and runs to meet him.

In effect, it’s a romantic climax I’ve probably seen dozens of times both in anime and movies and other TV. But there’s something about the way it’s executed so beautifully, and with all the accumulated feelings and experiences these two have been through in three seasons, that elevates what could have felt clichéd in less skilled hands to truly epic status.

Even better, we don’t need the classic “I love you” confession; the fact Nishikata is there at all, chasing Takagi down, is all Takagi needs to know how he feels. And then he comes right out and says he’s there “because I wanted to see you.”

He may think he failed when his White Day gift got dropped and smashed by a car, but the gift doesn’t matter; she doesn’t even open it, instead taking his scuffed up hands into hers and saying he’s already given her the best gift she could have asked for: him, there, with her.

It’s pretty much the best ending a Takagi-san fan could ask for, made all the more satisfying because there’s an upcoming movie that could well elaborate on their new adorable normal. As we’ve come to the end of this season, there few things I’m looking more forward to than seeing these two on the screen again as soon as humanly possible.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 09 – The Thing You Wanted Most

Once, in a blue moon, an anime gives you exactly what you want. This was one of those times. All I wanted was to bask in the adorable bliss of Takagi and Nishikata’s 100% Unrequited Love: The Movie Date, and that is what I got. No school, no ancillary characters…just our main couple, together, like they were always meant to be.

The show teases us a bit by starting with Nishikata’s dream of “SanTa-kagi” visiting his home in the middle of the night and giving him a gag gift, then shows us Takagi at the ferry pier looking lonely and a little worried…until she spots Nishikata running to her, late and apologetic.

Nishikata realizes that with the year about to end he hasn’t scored a single victory against Takagi; a wrong he’s determined to right. After the ferry ride, he suggests they kill time at an arcade, and come across a new 100% crane game. His heart is set on the Kyunko+Ikeo plushie set, but tries to go for the easier score: a puzzle.

He fails, losing both to Takagi and to himself for trying for the easy win at the cost of what he really wanted. Then it’s Takagi’s turn at the controls and she quickly and effortlessly acquires the plushie set…which she can tell was the thing Nishikata really wanted, and so immediately gifts to him. She’s simply happy to have done something to make him happy.

When the two move on to the movie theater, Nishikata is very cognizant of the fact that some “couples” there might be fake couples who are only putting on airs so they can get the special gift for couples. While he considers himself and Takagi to be one of those “couples of convenience”, he’s determined to pass them off as a real couple (which of course they actually are).

This results in him strutting up to one of the attendants and declaring “two tickets for the Nishikata couple”—rather than Nishikata reservation—both surprising and delighting Takagi in the process. They also decide to go in on a “100% In Love Set”—two sodas and a large popcorn to share. Before heading into the theater, Nishikata hangs back to go to the bathroom, but he really just needs some time alone to write a Christmas card for Takagi.

When he enters the theater and spots the familiar back of Takagi’s head, he thinks to himself “I’m gonna sit…right next to her?” Yes you are, Nishikata, and you’ll like it! The two unwrap the special couple gift, which turns out to be a set of miniature figurines of a Santa Ikeo giving Shunko a Christmas gift.

The movie starts, and as the two lovebird dip into the popcorn their hands touch. As we know, the same voice actors who voice them also voice Shunko and Ikeo. The two thoroughly enjoy the movie, with Nishikata unable to hold back tears as the credits roll.

After the movie, the two stroll around town a bit, with Takagi asking Nishikata what kind of girl is his type, guessing that it’s someone like Kyunko—a bit of a klutz but also earnest and kind and always trying her best. Nishikata says he doesn’t think of Kyunko quite that way, and that’s to be expected, as he’s the Kyunko to Takagi’s Ikeo in their relationship!

Quite suddenly, Takagi challenges Nishikata to a race to an electric pole, which he wins easily, netting him his first and only “win” of the year, just what he wanted. Naturally, he gets totally full of himself and believes he simply cannot lose to Takagi, proving it by having her guess which hand he has a coin in.

Later, she bumps into him from behind, and, sensing something’s up, asks her straight-up what’s up with her. Turns out she decided to try acting like the klutzy-yet-earnest Kyunko for a little while, hoping he’d think she was cute. But Nishikata likes Takagi the way she is, teasing and all.

Takagi just happens to pose in front of the town Christmas tree as it lights up, spurning Nishikata to produce his Christmas present to her: a pair of gloves to keep her hands warm. Takagi can’t hide her surprise, nor her joy, at being given a thoughtful gift by the boy she likes. Nishikata notes that this isn’t turning out anything like his dream…which is good!

Takagi then gives Nishikata her Christmas gift to him: a scarf she made for him, partly while they were on library duty. Then they board the ferry back home, and Nishikata walks Takagi to her house, and they wave goodbye to each other. There’s no classic “confession” scene…but there doesn’t have to be one.

Nishikata walks, then runs home full of joy, having experienced perhaps the best day of his life. The Christmas card he bought and wrote for Takagi was advertised at the store as something “to someone you care about!” Turns out Takagi bought the very same card for him.

So while the actual messaging on the cards is somewhat cordial—he writes “Thanks for everything today”; she writes “Thanks for another fun year”—the more important message conveyed to one another is that they wrote those messages on a card they bought knowing it was for someone they cared about. Someone they love spending time with.

I don’t see how Nishikata can ever dare to deny who Takagi is to him anymore. Not after he, and Takagi, and all of us got everything we could have ever asked for, and more, out of the Best Date Ever.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 06 – It Was Spring When We Met

With the Culture Fest imminent, rehearsals for Romiya and Juliot are well under way, but when Nishikata first lays eyes on Takagi in her princess regalia, he forgets half of his lines as Dumpling A and gets an earful from Director Yukari. Nishikata knows he needs practice, so he arranges for Takagi to meet him…on a rooftop…at sunset.

It’s not until he’s almost to the top of the steps that he realized that in his absent-mindedness he set up the perfect conditions to ask Takagi out, recalling an iconic chapter of 100% Unrequited Love, in which he should know by now Takagi is also well-versed. But such is her knowledge of the workings of his mind, she knows he’s up there to practice their lines…though she’s a little disappointed it’s not for more than that.

The day of the festival arrives, and Nishikata is 5 billion percent certain he can beat Takagi in a contest of who can get out of the haunted “diner” first (can I just say how wonderfully random a haunted diner is?). Takagi gets in and out in 43 seconds, dashing his hopes of her getting freaked out. But for a moment there, he considered going in, so concerned that she’d be too scared. Sure enough, Takagi wants to go through the house with him together, not separately.

Intertwined with Nishikata and Takagi’s slow dance of love are Houjou and Hamaguchi, the latter of which initially disappoints and pisses off the former by telling her not to come to his class café. When she arrives anyway to spite him for being a jerk, she discovers why he didn’t want her there: all the guys in his class had to dress like maids!

But the big draw of the fest is the play, and things get off to a smooth and encouraging start. Even Nishikata knows all of his lines and delivers them with confidence, no doubt a product of his thorough off-camera practicing with Takagi. But when Kimura is “turned into a ham” and leaves the stage, the chestnut atop his scepter pops off. Then Kimura has digestive issues after winning the eating contest.

This leaves Nishikata to fill in for him, but things don’t go as Yukari, Sanae, or Nishikata planned. That’s because during the scene where she’s about to take her life, Takagi trips on the chestnut, and Nishikata darts onto stage to catch her so fast his pig head falls off. The crowd believes this is all intentional, so he runs with it—emphatically declaring his return to human form is a “miracle born from our love.”

Surely the adrenaline has him, but that doesn’t matter. Takagi is loving every moment of this improvisation, as it means she gets to be in the arms of the boy she loves for real, and Nishikata has nowhere to hide. It’s only when an entire gym full of eyes are on them that they’re finally able to say how they truly feel, even if Nishikata would dispute that’s what’s going on.

At the after-festival karaoke party, I was glad to see Nishikata and Takagi sitting next to each other. She praises him for the improv, and he claims not to remember any of what he said on stage. Takagi assures him she remembers “each and every second” of it, and probably will never forget it.

Then Nishikata asks why one of her improvised lines mentioned how they met in spring when Romiya and Juliot met in the fall…to which Takagi says, while looking straight into Nishikata’s eyes, that “it was spring when we met each other.” We, not the characters they played. While Nishikata’s 8-bit brain tries to process these words and their meaning, Takagi is called to the mic to sing another lovely vintage song. A perfect ending to a perfect episode.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 23 (Part 2 Fin) – Be Strong and Wait

My interpretation of Eris’s reasons for deciding to sleep with Rudy and then run off with Ghislaine is twofold: First, she wanted her first time to be with Rudy, whom she loves more than anyone else. Second, her note about not being “well matched” should be taken literally: she is overmatched by him. Their encounter with Orsted proved it. So off she goes.

She couldn’t have imagined this would cause Rudy to revert to his old self, the one who, once shamed at school in one of the worst ways possible, could no longer leave his room, despite being surrounded by love, understanding, and kindness—first his parents, and later his neighbors. He rejected them out of paranoia they were all laughing at him. So in he stays.

This episode seems to hint that the isekai world is merely in Rudy’s head, and that he wasn’t actually hit by a car as he would have us believe. If that’s the case—I have no idea, and I’m also fine if it’s meant to be ambiguous—the isekai world is no longer an escape. He may have been reincarnated and given a second chance, but he’s the same depressed, paranoid, emotionally stunted man he was in the old world. Eris leaving him and him not being able to understand why was the straw that broke the ground dragon’s back.

He may not be surrounded by the same support system as the old world, but things are definitely looking up in Fittoa. I realize that part of why it looked so wasted and bleak last week was because Rudy and Eris (and we) were comparing it to how it once looked before the disaster. But also the bleak washed-out look reflected Rudy’s post-Eris leaving mood. But color is slowly returning to the land, and there’s hope in the voices of the survivors as they plant new crops.

As they  toil and sweat, the people of Fittoa long for a “return to normal”, but the old normal is gone and never coming back. That’s true for everyone, as Ruijerd confirms that the curse that makes humans afraid of him is gone. I’m so glad we got to see the big guy one more time, and his exchange with the three friendly townsfolk is one of som many scenes this week that moved me to tears.

Another one of those scenes is where Eris confirms my interpretation of why she left Rudy (not that it was very much in doubt), with touching details like observing how the hands of the one she relied on for so long were smaller than his. The wind blows her cat-hood off her freshly short-cropped hair as she climbs atop a rock to shout out her love of Rudy to the mountaintops, and her resolve to become strong enough to protect him when next they meet.

We also get brief check-ins with Tona, Zoruba, Geese, and the young adventurers they met in the Demon Continent. Everyone is moving forward, with their experience with Rudy and Dead End being something they’ll always treasure, even if they never see them again. Roxy, meanwhile, inadvertently becomes Kishirisu Kishirika’s newest savior when she pays the tiny troublemaker’s bar tab from the rowdy night before.

love how we get the briefest peeks of that party that pack a punch when we see how drunk Roxy got and how bad her hangover must be. But she’s rewarded for her generosity to Kishirika by learning that Paul, Lilia, Norn and Aisha are safe and sound and reunited in Millishion. We get to see—and cry from—this reunion scene. But Norn still wants to know where her mama is, and we learn that Zenith is alive somewhere in the Labyrinth City of Rapan on the Begaritt Continent.

Roxy also learns from Kishirika that Rudy is in emotional turmoil, but rather than go to his student, she trusts that he’ll pick himself off and be able to move forward without her assistance. She and her party are headed to Begaritt. At the same time, it’s a beautiful memory of Rudy, taking over the end-of-the-evening chores for Zenith when he sees she’s tired, that finally gets Rudy to sit up, get out of bed, and step outside his tent with his cloak and spear.

He’s able to push past the fear of everyone laughing and mocking him, because Zenith is family, alone, and in need of help. Unaware that Roxy is also headed there, almost ensuring a reunion, he has to go find her. For that, he has to get up and take one step, and then another, past the pain of being left alone.

In the real world, Rudy does the same thing, and while it’s a mystery whether this is symbolic look back at his past life or his actual life running parallel to his fantasy life, it’s a major breakthrough for our protagonist. Like the people of Fittoa planting new crops, Rudy doesn’t give in, stays strong, and looks toward a future where his family is reunited.

Meanwhile, at Ranoa Magic Academy, Sylphiette, sporting Oakleys and whose hair is now white, makes the case for the academy recruiting Rudy. It’s clear he too will need to be stronger if he’s going to defeat the Dragon God. But with Sylphy here and Eris working to become stronger, he won’t be alone in that effort. He just doesn’t know it yet, but hopefully he can follow the advice of his original parents and continue to be strong and wait, just as we must all be strong and wait for Part 3.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 22 – Home Alone

Following his extremely close brush with death by Orsted’s hand, Rudeus has a series of disturbing dreams while unconscious, which are something of a culmination of his journey and his yearning. All this time he’s not only sought to keep his beloved Eris safe and restore Ruijerd’s rep, but to return home to his family. These dreams give him a glimpse of what that might look like, but also show him his old reality of being alone in a dark, cluttered room, only to be impaled once more by Orsted.

He awakes to find Eris dozing peacefully beside him as usual, and Ruijerd sitting by the fire keeping watch. Ruijerd is still trying to wrap his head around a Man-God and the fact the Seven Gods of ancient times are still kickin’ it. For a second, I thought Rudy was going to tell him that he came from another world. Instead, he says the Superd curse has been fading since Ruijerd shaved his head, and is all but gone; this moves Ruijerd to tears. Ruijerd!

After many travels and trials and tribulations, Dead End have come to their destination, Rudy and Eris’ home, only to find it a grey, dreary ruin, lacking all the green vitality it had before the disaster. As Rudy walks pasts spots where he, his mom, dad, Roxy and Sylphie once shared simple moments made so much more meaningful by the fact those moments are no longer possible; only in memory. Again, it feels like the series summing things up.

Now that Rudy and Eris are home, and no longer children, Rujierd declares them them as no longer needing a babysitter. He treats them like children once more by patting them on the head, then says goodbye, hoping they’ll meet again someday. It’s a perfect farewell for Ruijerd, as there’s little more he can teach Eris. Now that she and Rudy are back home in their new, more adult-ish form, it’s time for them to stand on their own, just as Ruijerd must walk on his own, after Rudy helped him take the first step.

The good news: Ghislaine is in town, as is Alphonse, both alive and well. The bad news: Eris’ family is dead. We know her gramps was executed, but her parents passed away after being teleported. Alphonse is primarily concerned with the future of the Boreas family and the fate of their lands and people. To that end, he mentions an alliance whereby Eris becomes the concubine of a neighboring lord in order to secure that future. Ghislaine is against it. Eris needs time alone…not even Rudy can stay by her side.

Later that day Rudy learns that Sylphie is among the missing, but not confirmed dead, so she’s out there somewhere. That was the first hint that his and Eris’ paths would diverge, but it didn’t come into focus until later that night when Eris visits Rudy in his tent wearing a flowing nightie. Eris mentions that she just recently turned fifteen—of age in her society—and for her birthday she wants a family. She wants Rudy to be that family; she wants them to sleep together.

Rudy hesitates, his head swimming with all the reasons he shouldn’t; Eris is feeling hopeless and needs connection; he’s not fifteen yet…but then Eris draws closer and tells him all the reasons they should, and so they do. What ensues is one of the more tasteful lovemaking scenes you can pull off considering the ages of the participants. In any case, it’s a long, long time coming, considering how much these two have come to love each other.

Alas, that night was just another dream. In the morning, Rudy only gets a few magical moments of having “gotten it made” as a normie before he realizes Eris isn’t in the bed, has chopped off her hair, and left him a note stating “You and I aren’t well-matched right now. I’m going away.” Rudy learns from Alphonse that Eris set out on a journey with Ghislaine, and told him not to tell Rudy where.

So Rudy finds himself back home, totally alone but for Alphonse, with whom he never had the closest or warmest relationship. No more Ruijerd, and more devastatingly, no more Eris, on whose proximity day and night he’d become so accustomed. He wanders the tent city aimlessly, wondering what Eris meant in her note. I suspect she meant for it to sting so he wouldn’t follow, as she has things she needs to do without him at her side to rely on.

But Rudy doesn’t know. He’s not back in his smelly apartment in Japan, but he’s just as alone now as he was then. The question is, what will he do and where will he go next? His mother and Sylphie, for instance, are still missing; does he set out alone to search for them? Does he rejoin his dad and Norn and aid their efforts?

His possibilities are as endless as the horizons of this sprawling world, but just right now he’s paralyzed with sudden, crippling loneliness—the end of one journey marks the start of a new and far more difficult one.

Sonny Boy – 11 – Excelsior

I would have been content with episode 8 being Peak Sonny Boy, but I knew it probably had at least one more ten or Lister in it. So we come to the Achingly sad, joyful, empty, bursting, whimsical, utilitarian, lonely, warm, humdrum and epic episode yet. It begins with two humans, a dog, and three cats celebrating the life of Nozomi—the episode confirming what I’d feared without using words (though the explicit words come later).

After preparing the funeral venue with the kind of mirth Nozomi would have totally gotten down with, the sun eventually goes down, no one comes to mourn her, and Mizuho and Nagara set her shrine into the sea to be carried away to parts unknown. Mizuho starts to cry, but Nagara is both too awkward to comfort her and a steady emotional rock sitting beside her.

When live takes away a Nozomi in This World, it gives you a Rajdhani, and while I missed Nozomi more than I thought I could miss a fictional character, it’s to Sonny Boys credit that it softens the blow by bringing back the smartest and one of the kindest and most empathetic characters in the show. He’s been on his own for over 2,000 years, but he’s still Rajdhani. You could say he’s mellowed out a bit.

Mizuho, Nagara, Rajdhani embark upon the most ambitious project to date: Project Robinson, an Apollo-like program with just the three of them, Yamabiko and Nyamazon as the people involved (meanwhile Apollo involved 400,000 people, or more than the population of Iceland). Robinson is Mizuho and Nagara’s ticket out of This World and back to their own, where they figure about two years have passed, but they’re ready to go home anyway…because it’s home.

As work progresses on the Vehicle Assembly Building (an exact copy of the one in Florida), Rajdhani regales both Mizuho and Nagara with some of his more memorable travels to far-flung worlds. In one, a guy refused to accept reality and became trapped in a world of his own embellishment, starting with the depiction of the one he loved.

In another, the entire population of students ate neither plants nor animals but simply fasted—something you can do when you can’t starve—until challenged by a meat-eating devil. And then there was an inventor who invented “death”—or at least as close to death in the world they came from as you can get in This World—which is pretty similar.

The inventor who invented “death” had become “Buddha-like” in Rajdhani’s words, a “well-adjusted person” who was content with what was in front of him. And yet, that was the literal end of his life, for even the most complacent or enlightened humans still age and die.

This World is inhumanly, inhumanely static, which means there comes a point when existence…well, isn’t necessarily a curse, but simply doesn’t matter. Rajdhani admits that he feels like he’s being drained away by time. He calls life “an endless exercise in vain effort”, yet it’s that very meaninglessness that makes every moment in life so precious and brilliant, because each one of those moments is the only one that was, is, or will ever be.

That brings us to a flashback on the beach with Nagara and Nozomi, before her ill-fated trip to War. He’s showing her an earlier version of Project Robinson, which he’d been working on in Rajdhani’s absence. Nozomi ponders the ramifications of suddenly returning home after two years, how they may be different people than who they were, and how she may even be dead.

But one thing Nozomi the Compass knows for sure: the first thing she’ll do when she’s back in their “original” world (that doesn’t involve eating something) will be to seek Nagara out and re-befriend him without delay. It’s after remembering this moment with Nozomi, who promised they’d be friends in any world, that Nagara finally breaks down. And even after over 2,000 years of absorbing knowledge and wisdom, Rajdhani still can’t do anything but sit next to him…and that’s okay.

The completed heart of Project Robinson is revealed as the Saturn V rocket that propelled human beings to the moon, something that remains such a staggeringly awesome achievement, especially considering how long ago it happened. The Saturn V is perhaps the most awesome thing humanity has ever built, and it worked…more than once, is something of a miracle.

And while there were certainly political considerations to be made—the Soviets beat the U.S. to space, so apparently the U.S. had to beat them to the moon—so much labor was put into a mission of pure peaceful exploration and discovery. That the fruit of all that labor brought science closer to the cusp of the unknowable and infinite that our simple carbon-based bi-pedal species had ever come before or since.

It was a simply glorious achievement that makes me misty eyed just thinking about it…so it’s especially fun to see three high schoolers pull if off with a dog and three cats. The Robinson rocket is a 363-foot-tall metaphor for spreading one’s tender, untested new wings and leaving the nest, which is what Mizuho does by leaving her three cats behind. They can’t come back with her to where she belongs, but that’s okay. They did their job. She’ll be okay on her own.

Well, not entirely on her own; she has Nagara. And for an episode in which he mourned the loss of his first friend Nozomi, he smiled and laughed more in this episode than any previous ones. He wouldn’t be the person he is without Nozomi, which is why on the spaceflight up into the infinite, near the boundary between This World and That, he still has a compass watch with arrows that never move, representing Nozomi’s inspiring, indomitable will.

We don’t know what awaits Nagara and Mizuho on the other side any more than they do, but that’s entirely okay. I haven’t had the slightest idea what Sonny Boy will throw our way from one week to the next; I highly doubt it will try for predictable, obvious, or boring in its (assumed) finale next week.

As Rajdhani said, Nothing matters in This World…but once in a while, cool things do happen. Sonny Boy shows us that experiencing those cool things alongside people you love can make what shouldn’t matter…matter.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

The aquatope on white sand – 11 – The storm

All the color and light of previous episodes is sapped from this one, both fitting Kukuru’s mood and due to a nasty typhoon rolling into Okinawa. It’s in this dim, gray, gloomy soup that we watch Kukuru go through the Five Stages of Grief. First up is Denial and Isolation. The handmade sign says it all—NO CLOSING!as Kukuru shuts herself in Gama Gama.

Ironically, this means closing the aquarium, but due to the typhoon there won’t be any visitors anyway. Gramps decides to let Kukuru be and give everyone the day off. Fuuka goes home with him, but during lunch, decides she’s not going to leave Kukuru to endure the coming storm alone—either the literal one or the emotional one. Just as she gets up to leave, Grams has bento ready for Fuuka to take to Kukuru.

From there, Kukuru goes into the Anger stage, though to her credit she puts the energy that comes with the anger to good use, going about the daily business of feeding, maintaining, and checklisting. She enters a kind of utilitarian trance, losing herself in the work, until suddenly snapped out of it by Fuuka rapping on the door.

Not long after Fuuka arrives at Gama Gama, the typhoon arrives in force, totally blocking out the sun, and bringing sheets of diagonal rain and vicious winds to the battened-down island. These establishing shots—and the white noise of the storm—really capture how dark and spooky a really bad storm gets. Day becomes night, and the outdoors themselves become a threat to life and limb.

Kukuru’s anger re-surfaces at the arrival of Fuuka, as she’d prefer to do all of this herself. But Fuuka is as obstinate as she is, and wants to stay by Kukuru’s side to help her with her dream like she promised. Her movie role doesn’t matter right now. Before they can get deeper into their discussion, the power goes out, leaving the aquarium with only seven hours of generator power before the more sensitive sea life starts to die en masse.

Just as Kukuru can’t turn Fuuka away when the storm is at its worst, she can’t turn down her help when there’s so much to do to save the fish and creatures they can. With two pairs of hands, they can do double the work. When the wind breaks a window, Kukuru’s Bargaining stage officially begins. If she can just bar the window, just Do What’s Right, everything will work out, as her daily prayer to Kijimunaa goes.

But it’s not enough. She can’t hold back the storm from causing the power to go out, the roof to leak, the windows and pipes to break, and the sea life to gradually die in the suddenly unfavorable water conditions. Her only memory of her mom and dad was here at Gama Gama, but now, just as they were taken from her, so too is the aquarium, in slow and deliberate fashion, piece by piece.

When Fuuka sees Kukuru giving up on bargaining and entering the Depression stage, she runs over and holds her tight, telling her that even if it’s the end of Gama Gama, and of her dream, it’s not the end of the future. And if they get back to work, there’s still a future for the marine life. Only they can protect them and save them from oblivion.

Kukuru snaps out of it just as Gramps, Kai, Kuuya, and Umi-yan arrive onces the winds die down. Gramps goes into Legendary Aquarium Keeper Mode (if only whatsername was here to see it!), as he knows exactly what to do in what is clearly not his first (or fiftieth!) typhoon. Now six strong, there’s enough manpower to do what needs to be done to buy time until the power comes back on. As far as we know, they don’t lose a single fish.

That said, Gama Gama took a beating, and really showed its age. Gramps promised the man who build the aquarium that he’d close it if it ever got too old, and that time has surely arrived. Having gone through the emotional and meteorological wringer, even Kukuru realizes that it’s probably beyond token repairs or improvements, and can’t keep the precious marine life safe anymore. It’s time has simply come, as it does for all things. Thus she arrives at the final stage: acceptance.

There are few skies more beautiful than those you see after a bad storm. For one thing, you’re relieved the sun is back, while the swirling remnants of clouds and other various optical effects  give the sky a more dramatic look. The color and light slowly returns by the end of the episode. In this light, Fuuka comes to realize she wasn’t just helping Kukuru achieve her dream. By letting Fuuka help her, Kukuru was giving Fuuka strength.

Fuuka doesn’t hate working hard for someone else…especially Kukuru. So when Kukuru turns to Gama Gama’s façade, again admits it is closing, and then bursts into tears, Fuuka is all too happy to be her shoulder to cry on. What comes after acceptance? Catharsis, adaptation, struggle…and maybe—Kijimunaa willing—new dreams, and happiness.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

The aquatope on white sand – 10 – You can’t go home

Only a damn week left in August. A week of Summer Break. Until reopens, the aquarium closes, and Fuuka goes back to Iwate, among other things. After staring at the downtown monstrosity that reminded me of the Olympic Stadium in AKIRA, Kukuru is staring at that damn calendar with only seven days left.

Kai, whose first memory of Kukuru is watching her back tremble as she wept in her front yard, sees that back again. It’s not trembling, but he knows it’s troubled. But he can’t, because he’s just a little too slow and Kukuru is so distracted by her problems she doesn’t even notice Kai is there, and certainly doesn’t see him as a potential source of healing.

Kukuru isn’t really seeing Fuuka either. Fuuka did commit to supporting Kukuru’s dream when her own dream ended, but thanks to the call from Ruka, that dream is suddenly alive again if she wants it: a goddamn starring movie role. Of course she can’t share this news with Kukuru, who has no time or headspace for anything but her beloved Gama Gama. Seeing how Kukuru flails near the finish line really accentuates just how grown up and mature Chiyu was by comparison last week.

Chiyu can see her future and she’s lunging forward and grasping at it with everything she has. Kukuru is trying to keep her past her present and future. She’s so desperate, she resorts to asking Udon-chan’s mom to see if there’s a way to exploit the inscrutable magical realism moments she, Fuuka, and others have experienced. She thinks if she can put it out there on social media that Gama Gama is a “place of miracles” and a “healing power spot”, she can save it.

But just look at everyone’s faces. Kukuru’s desperation is clear to see. Udon-chan is the only one humoring her with a half-hearted, almost patronizing smile. Fuuka is quietly neutral. Karin is like this girl is going off the deep end.

During what was without doubt the most depressing watermelon-eating scene I’ve ever seen committed to the screen, Fuuka can’t hold in what’s bothering her anymore, even if it only adds to Kukuru’s problems. When Fuuka doesn’t enthusiastically say she’ll turning the movie role down, Kukuru cant stomach any more watermelon, or Fuuka’s presence.

In a way, it’s not fair. Fuuka has pretty much had to couch all of her issues while August has worn on and Kukuru’s various ideas to save Gama Gama have come and gone with the same middling success. But Fuuka isn’t sure what she’s doing anymore, which means she’s not committed to helping Kukuru salvage her dream. There’s no point in lying, and I’m glad Fuuka doesn’t, nor does Kukuru hide her disappointment.

Kai, who it’s clear has been working himself way too hard just so Kukuru has an extra strong back at the aquarium, finally gets a chance to spend some time alone with Kukuru, but it’s strictly business: she needs him to be her guinea pig to see if the “illusions” will occur for him. Kukuru’s obsession with saving Gama Gama is flattening all of her relationships. She only noticed Kai when she needed him.

Why she thinks sitting three feet away and leaning towards him with a notebook will put him in the right state to see said illusions…but like I said, Kukuru is desperate…almost as desperate as Kai is to help and console and comfort her. But once again, he’s a little to slow to call her name and reach out, as she buzzes off on her motorbike after their failed illusion session. He keeps getting so close! 

Back home, Kukuru’s Gramps gives her a talking-to about how it was wrong to try to lure supernatural otaku to the aquarium with promises of miracles and illusions. In effect, this week is when Kukuru’s illusory world finally comes into focus. Everyone but her isn’t saying Gama Gama is doomed because they’re being assholes. It’s because Gama Gama is doomed. Barring some serious Kijimunaa divine intervention, of course.

I don’t know of Kijimunaa is directly responsible for the illusions, but the reason for them is made plain (if it wasn’t already) when Kai, distraught over his inability to reach present-day Kukuru, finds himself behind the shoulder of his younger self when he first met her. Audio is added to this scene and it’s brought into context as one of countless times young Kukuru ran out of her grandparents’ house declaring through tears that she’s going home to “mommy and daddy.”

This was, predictably, the point at which I broke down in tears, and basically unconditionally forgave Kukuru for all of her transgressions both this week and in previous episodes. Kukuru lost her parents at a tender age, but not so tender that she was shielded from the weight of the loss. She was old enough to know, but wasn’t ready to accept, that they were gone. The home she knew and loved was gone too.

Past Kai hesitates just like Present Kai did three times prior, but Present Kai is there to give Past Kai a push towards Kukuru. He whips out a big, gorgeous fish he just caught, and Kukuru’s tears stop almost immediately.

Kai comes out of his illusion to a Kukuru hopeful she just witnessed him experiencing what she experienced. But to both her dejection and my own, Kai softly shakes his head. It was a beautiful memory, but just a memory. It was the past, and just the illusion of it. He doesn’t want to feed her any more illusions. Instead, rather than gathering her into a big hug, he puts up his hands so she can punch them and yells “Come!”

Kukuru cries as she punches, but Kai tells her to keep punching, as hard as she can, into his palms. I’m sure if he had a big beautiful freshly caught fish, he’d give her one to cheer her up. We later see that Kukuru posted a retraction on social media, so even that last-ditch plan ended in failure.

If I were her, I’d also be grateful for a friend willing to absorb my punches, my failures, my despair—all of it, for my sake. And when my fists (and their palms) were sufficiently red and stinging, I’d feel better, and maybe even be ready to take a step forward.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

Sonny Boy – 08 – Canis Dei

What if you befriended God? Yamabiko pretty much did, as he tells the tale of how he became a dog to Nagara and Mizuho as they sit beside campfires in wastelands and traverse various gorgeous landscapes. Kodama was special. She could “direct” all things, and so quickly became worshipped by all her classmates. She became their “whole world.”

Then, out of nowhere, their world became something else: a pandemic struck the class. Horrible red tumors grew on their bodies, including Kodama’s. But Yamabiko, ever her loyal subject, refused to say she was ugly. In fact, he felt very much the opposite: she was hard to look at because she had become too brilliant. When one of her tumors burst and her blood flowed, he lapped it up, and transformed into a dog.

Yamabiko never thought he did much with his human form, an ill-natured youth wandering the worlds alone and bitter. But one night he was pulled out of the literal muck by Kodama. He found himself in a “peaceful, easy world” where she and the others lived contentedly. But she admits it’s dull, as living their cut them off from new information.

Yamabiko couldn’t understand why anyone, much less someone akin to a god as Kodama, would be kind to him. It disturbed him, so he attempted to flee. Remind you of anyone Yamabiko is currently traveling with? Naga-er, Yamabiko tried to sail a raft across the sea, only for Kodama to catch up to him with a hot meal. When he tosses it over the side, she dives in and makes a giant goddamn soup fountain that Yamabiko couldn’t help but lap up.

The more time he spent with Kodama, the more he thought he had come to the end of his once endless wandering, to his destination. But then the pandemic struck, and a man appeared who seemed to fare worse than any of them. This man was the first and only person to call Kodama “ugly”. It both shocked and pleased her, that someone would tell her the truth. That was the whole point.

This mysterious man, named “War” (which…okay) indicated he was not the sole cause of the pandemic, but a side effect of the otherworld in which everyone dwelled. In this world, mental wounds became physical tumors. As for who made this world, well…when Yamabiko was pulled out of that muck, he was being pulled into a world of his own making, which is why Kodama’s godlike powers could not stop the pandemic.

Yamabiko learns to late that had he “changed” himself and flown voluntarily out of the shell he had created around himself, he could have saved Kodama and everyone else; even met them on the other side, in another world where the pandemic didn’t exist. But he couldn’t. Even when Kodama was the last one alive and all but consumed by the red crystal-like tumors, he stayed by her side like the dog he was…loyal to a fault.

Then Kodama died, and Yamabiko finally fulfilled his promise to Kodama by flying out. He’d stayed there till the end because he feared losing the light that she represented. As for actually flying out, it took him five thousand years to do so.

As Yamabiko completes his tale, he, Nagara, and Mizuho reunite with Nozomi, and learn that while they believe they arrived precisely on the day agreed upon, time moves two weeks faster for her. No matter; Nagara takes her phone and re-syncs their times.

That night, beside another fire, Nozomi catches up on what Yamabiko has told the others. He also tells them that this “War” fellow was trying to kill God. Nagara wonders whether it would make a difference even if such a thing could be done while roasting a marshmallow.

So yeah…Yamabiko’s been through some shit. Kodama immediatley asserted herself as one of the most impactful characters of the series in just one episode, and much of that is due to Taketatsu Ayana’s virtuoso performance.

Combined with Tsuda Kenjirou’s dulcet tones, a lush, moody futuristic soundtrack, all those gorgeous, painterly vistas, and some truly gut-wrenching moments, this Sonny Boy stands as the most raw, unrelenting, and personal outing yet. I’ll be watching this many more times in the future, no doubt gleaning new insights or noticing new details each time.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 12 (Fin) – Not Leaving It Up to God

ZSR’s totally epic saga of a finale starts out very stodgily, at the Saga Prefectural Office’s Special Task Force HQ. There’s a wonky procedural flavor to the proceedings reminiscent of the underrated Shin Godzilla, in that it mirrors the real life Japanese collective spirit of 1.) This Is The Problem; 2.) This Is What We Do About It; and 3.) We’ve All Got Matching Jumpsuits. Honestly I think it’s ultra badass that in dire times, even the government officials start dressing like a bike gang. Or is it t’other way ’round?

It is into this disaster CIC that Tatsumi Koutarou insinuates himself, and despite being held back by police, makes sure Saga’s governor hears his pleas to prioritize restoring the infrastructure around the Tosu area—where EFS happens to be located. Koutarou knows what Saga needs is a pure, uncut injeciton of reassurance into the hearts of every Saga resident. Something to unify them so they can all defeat this horrible disaster together.

That something is, obviously Franchouchou, who are enjoying a well-deserved bath prior to the biggest show of their lives that they’re still not even sure will happen due to the ongoing calamity.

While they rest up and make sure they’re prepared come what may, Koutarou is risking imprisonment to plead his case to the people who decide what happens in Saga, while Ookoba uses all of his media connections not for Koutarou’s sake, but for those girls who give everything their all, no matter how dead they are.

Sakura may get the day of the week wrong—and there were a good eight to ten months during Covid when I lost track too!—fate smiles on the group over at Saga FM, which is not only operational and on the air, but in dire need of personalities to fill that air time. Saki then proceeds to give a vulnerable and impassioned pep talk—one of the best monologues of the whole show—and Tano Asami absolutely nails it.

The next morning, Franchouchou, the Legendary Seven, strike out from the mall shelter they’ve called home the past few days and make the trek to EFS on foot. This offers them and us an opportunity to view both the devastation and the enduring beauty of their home.

When they arrive at EFS, it again seems to mock them with its cavernous emptiness. But instead of oppressive, I saw the venue as brimming with potential. Sure enough, people who love Franchouchou and whose lives they’ve touched start to trickle in, starting with their two first and most loyal fans, the metalheads.

Maria and the delinquents past and present file in, followed by Maimai and her classmates, Iron Frill and their followers, Oozora Light and his encourage, Hisanaka Pharmaceuticals, NHBK Fukuoka news chopper who has followed the group’s story since discovering them at the mall shelter, White Ryuu and a contingent of American troops, possibly from Yokozuka. Even the Dancing Chicken Man shows up!

It’s a beautiful and heartwarming reunion of everyone from Zombieland Saga, and their numerous powerful allies and fans combined with the might of both print, TV, and social media, ensure that this time—even in the midst of what could possibly be Saga’s worst disaster in its history—a packed and positively rocking Ekimae Fudosan Stadium.

The governor’s chief of staff reminds Koutarou that all they did was “choose to prioritize the most effective strategy, after logical consideration”, which is politicspeak for “the people need this right now and we’re going to do everything in our power to see that they get it”—”it” being nothing less than the biggest and best Franchouchou show yet.

No, the zombie idols aren’t coursing with electricity and crazy laser lightshows. Their outfits aren’t over-the-top, but call to mind seven angelic figures dedicated with every fiber of their undead being to make the people of Saga not simply forget their troubles, but to give them the courage to face and defeat them through surpassingly catchy song and dance.

This is not an episode satisfied with one climactic song. It opens with a big-league build-up to the energetic first song, then some call-and-response with the Legendary Yamada Tae (whose gibberish eventually coalesces into a franchouchou chant), which transitions into a slower and more contemplative piece.

Sakura, Saki, Ai, Junko, Yuugiri, Lily, and Tae are all at the top of their games, and the crowd—no doubt still traumatized by current events—are well and truly into it. And while not as important as the revitalizing impact they have on the people of Saga, the group gets their revenge and then some.

Not only is every seat and the entire field packed this time, but while the piddling crowd of their first disastrous EFS show didn’t call for any encores because they thought it would be just too cruel, this time there’s nothing that can stop Franchouchou from heading back out onto the stage after a quick breather.

Before they do, Koutarou prostrates himself before them and despite being a “grown-ass man” starts tearing up at the sheer restorative power of the zombie idols. Silly, Koutarou, being open with your emotions is what makes men grown-ass! As they head back out to hit the crowd with their collective soul, Koutarou tries to scrub out his blood from the floor; a truly ill omen.

Franchouchou’s final song is interspersed with scenes of Saga rebuilding and people overcoming adversity together, echoing their own personal struggles as well as their struggles as a group. Let it be said that both Franchouchou and Zombieland Saga as a series left absolutely everything on the stage in its finale.

In fact, if Saga were to, say, be destroyed utterly by an alien warship reminiscent of the City Destroyers from the 1997 blockbuster Independence Day, immediately after the concert wrapped, I don’t think a single person on or off EFS’s stage who’d deny that they went out on a good note.

That’s a good thing, because immediately after the concert wraps, Saga is in fact apparently destroyed utterly by an alien warship reminiscent of the City Destroyers from the 1997 blockbuster Independence Day. It’s kind of a downer, but it’s also the kind of irreverence and absurdity I’ve come to know and love from Zombieland Saga, and why I will miss it and each and every member of Franchouchou so damn much. What a frikkin’ ending!

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Head over to Crow’s World of Anime for the latest discussion on our beloved zombie idols with Irina from I Drink and Watch Anime. Always a great read!

Fruits Basket – 61 – The Cat Was Right

Totally Invincible

When Tooru leaves the hospital and first sees Kyou, whom she loves, nothing goes as planned. Even as her mind and heart want to go to him and smile, her body runs away as fast as it can…which is, of course, not nearly fast enough to lose the rather athletic Kyou! While Yuki visited, the mere mention of Kyou’s name brought tears to Tooru’s eyes that she quickly slapped away, risking further damage to her head.

Yes, Tooru isn’t running from Kyou because she’s afraid of him, but because of the usual: she’s afraid of being a burden; being unnecessary; causing people pain simply by being around them. She’s afraid of Kyou being disappointed in her. This is what happens when you say your piece and flee like Kyou did. It was a shit move, especially when he knew full well Tooru would take every one of those harsh words to heart.

So it’s as heartlifting to see Kyou get down on one knee and apologize and take back what he said as it was heartbreaking to hear him say those things in the first place to a desperately vulnerable Tooru who was ready to bear her heart but was met with a wall of stone. Kyou has learned a lot from being with Tooru, and one of those things he learned is being more aware of how his words and behavior affect people.

He knows how lucky he is to see Tooru again to apologize, and humbly asks for one more chance with her, because if he’s going to live, he wants to live with her by his side, because he loves her. Tooru responds by asking if it’s really okay for her to stay by his side, and hold his hand, and he points out she’s already holding it, gently places his hand on her face, and gives her her second kiss—the first being when he wasn’t sure he’d have this second chance.

When Kyou laments that being with him means suffering because of his “weird body” (let’s not forget, without that rosary he’s an odd, smelly beast), but Tooru simply tells him she loves him, that that love is “totally invincible”, and he starts thinking maybe he’s invincible too. They hug, both fully expecting him to transform. But he doesn’t, because the curse has been broken.

The Original Promise

It broke because Tooru was able to make a new connection with Akito, and show her that it was going to be okay even if it broke, and that it ultimately be better for everyone, including Akito, if it broke. We thankfully get to see a bit of Akito visiting Tooru in the hospital, where she confesses it all came down to her being jealous of Tooru and how goshdarn pure and pretty she is.

Rather than rightfully reply with a “guilty as charged”, Tooru is Tooru, saying she’s neither pure nor pretty, and if it isn’t too much trouble she’ll thank Akito not to sort people into categories based on “things like that” and use them to keep her distance. If Akito thinks Tooru is pure, then she believes Akito is pure too, and never more than she was when she approached in the rain.

As Tooru and Kyou hug without him transforming, Akito thinks about that visit, and how Tooru repeated her heartfelt desire to be her friend, and Akito’s willingness to be that, resulting in a new beginning, something she never thought possible all her life until meeting Tooru. She feels the hand of the original God on her head, and we’re sent back to time immemorial, and the genesis of the Curse, which was originally not a curse at all.

What it was originally was an effective coping mechanism for the crushing loneliness of the original God, living in his house on top of a mountain, too strange and different to interact with the humans below. The first being to ever visit him was the Cat, who promised to stay by his side and kept that promise.

The cat taught the God that perhaps others who were “different” would be willing to be his friends. He sent out invitations, and twelve other animals responded. The moon quietly watched over the banquets shared by those who were different—what a beautiful collection of words—but eventually the first of them, the Cat, became ill and neared death.

The God enchanted a sake cup that would make the bonds between him and the thirteen animals eternal; that even if they died, they’d be reborn and reunited. But the dying cat neither needed nor wanted eternity, which the other animals saw as a rejection and admonished the Cat.

But the cat was on to something, even back then, at the very first collection of the Zodiac. He beseeched God that they accept that things end, that mortality, while scary and lonely, is what makes life life, and makes love love. The Cat said to God he was fortunate to be with Him for even a moment, but after he died, the other animals ignored his calls for acceptance.

Still, they were still mortal, and one by one died, until only God was left, his house a ruin reminiscent of one of the deserted huts in the Boy’s village in To Your Eternity. Then God died, but was reborn with the others and the eternal banquet resumed. This original memory, which occurred so long ago, was forgotten by all…until it was told to us by the incomparable Iwami Manaka, whose voice moved me to tears on several occasions this week.

Cry With Me

But the promise endured, until present events now have Akito asking the original God if it’s okay for her to stop being special or a god, and just become Akito…to end the eternal, set down the extinguished torch, and begin her life.

As she asks this of her progenitor, the answer is revealed, as one by one the remaining Zodiac members are released from their eternal bonds. For many, like Kisa and Rin, it happens beside Hiro and Haru, respectively—those who already felt the pang of intense and all-encompassing sadness and loneliness that comes with the breaking of the curse. But Kisa has Hiro, Rin has Haru, Ayame has Mine, and Kyou has Tooru.

The coping mechanism is no longer needed. Both the animals and the god are now free to live among one another and with humans who love them and want to live with them. Free to make new beginnings and free to create new bonds. To commemorate this moment, Kyou rips the rosary off his arm and nothing happens. He’s now free to be Kyou, not the Cat, and free to love Tooru, who loves him more than she loves anyone else.

Thank You

All Akito asks as the curse is lifted is for everyone to “cry with her”, but they do more than that. Still sore from the breaking of their bonds, they are actually drawn to her—to Akito, not the God of the Zodiac—and when they do file in one by one, what had been a cold, foreboding, oppressive Souma compound is bathed in warm light.

As the original God states, it would be a long, long time before the cat’s words about eternity not being the answer and the preciousness of mortality became true. But they finally did. Akito may not be a god anymore, but she’s not alone. Tooru makes sure she knows that when she visits with Kyou and the others.

It’s telling that the first person for Akito to embrace post-the breaking of the curse isn’t a former Zodiac member, but the first and best friend of her new non-divine existence: Honda Tooru, who it turns out freed Akito as much as everyone else from bonds none of them ever asked for, and never needed. It is true we mortals must accept that things end, even if that thing is Fruits Basket. But I can’t think of a better or more satisfying ending than the one we’re getting.

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Fruits Basket – 60 – Moving Toward that Someone

After starting with Shigure wishing he could be less of a meddling shitstain (fat chance), we thankfully shift to two of my very favorite Fruits Basket characters in Arisa and Saki. Upon visiting Tooru in the hospital they meet Akito for the first time, who claims responsibility for Tooru’s injuries. Saki, the true God of Fruits Basket, says Tooru doesn’t believe anyone is to blame.

Then there’s the matter of Kureno, whom Akito confesses to have stabbed , after emotionally tying him down and trampling on him for years. She’s at a loss about what to do, since neither Tooru nor Kureno will blame her for anything, and that’s when all the years of being raised as a boy are shattered by Saki, who causally, correctly identifies Akito as female. Then Arisa gives Akito a hug, because Akito needed one.

It doesn’t change the sting of Arisa now knowing that she’s been nothing more than a brief blip in Kureno’s life up to this point; that she’s been “polishing a single day’s memories like they were some diamond”, which, goddamn that’s some pretty writing right there. But here’s the thing…what if they were some diamond?

When Arisa visits Kureno in the hospital room, and he says he thought she wouldn’t come because he didn’t deserve her, nothing matters to Arisa anymore but the love she’s feeling. Whatever Kureno wants to do; wherever he needs to go to “leave the sight” of Akito as one final kindness, Arisa will be by his side without fail. She’s done not being a participant in his life. The diamond is nice, but she wants the mine, and she’ll have it, because she’s Uotani Fucking Arisa.

The screen is once more soiled by Shigure’s presence as he and Yuki encounter Haru at his house. Haru notes how Rin has been “impressively worried” about her BFF Tooru, but he’s likely there because he’s worried about Kyou, who hasn’t once visited Tooru in the hospital and is rarely seen leaving his room.

Yuki admits Kyou has “his own pain and his own reasons”, but he also doesn’t give a shit about them. He’s done being Mr. Nice Ratboy, and storms upstairs, where he’s even more incensed to find Kyou packing to leave before Tooru comes home. Kyou says listlessly that his being there would hurt her, that he can’t protect her, and that she’s better off with Yuki.

Yuki then kicks Kyou through the damn door, mocking him for thinking he has to be some kind of superhero plucking Tooru out of midair or save her from getting hit from a car. Of course he’s not that—he’s just a stupid cat—but he doesn’t need to be a superhero.

Kyou admits to Yuki that he always wanted to be him, which in turn causes Yuki to admit that he always wanted to be him. Of course, neither of these facts comes as a surprise to us, but Yuki and Kyou have been so mired in playing out their respective Zodiac roles they failed to notice how much they admired and envied one another.

But here’s the thing, Kyou can’t be Yuki and Yuki can’t be Kyou; Kyou has to be Kyou and Yuki has to be Yuki (though Shigure should probably stop being Shigure). From how Yuki’s seen it, Kyou has protected Tooru just fine by being Kyou; by simply loving her being the one she loves; by being the only one of the two of them to make her truly smile.

Yuki leaves a stunned Kyou with the words “Get your damn act together!”, and Kyou is moved, though not, at first, to the hospital. He has to take care of something first, namely standing up to his grotesque, loathsome creature of an audiophile father. As he heads to his dad’s place, we get a cute little scene of Hiro and Kisa discussing how Hiro breaking the curse hasn’t changed their affection for each other.

When Kyou quietly concedes that his mom’s death was his fault as his “dad” claims, said “dad” tells his maid to call the main house to have him dragged away to the Cat’s Cottage. Kyou, tasting the stew of hatred, fear, and grief he’s got going, refuses to go there. He’ll live outside, because there’s someone he wants to be with.

While listening to his ranting, Kyou comes to recall that his dad said horrible things to his mother, so while Kyou might still claim some responsibility for her depression, it’s much more likely his dad was the one who put her into a state where she decided to “throw herself away.” Well, Kyou won’t do the same thing. He’s going to live.

Akito gets the call, but tells the long-serving attendant to ignore it. She’s decided to free Kyou of his impending sentence, tear down the cottage, and quit this wretched place forthwith (hopefully to go stay with Shigure, as the two unassailably deserve each other). The attendant laments how unlike all these young people, poor old her can’t just start over in the outside world. Oh, cry me a fucking river, you deeply despicable woman. Akito certainly won’t…and good for her!

Kyou has adopted the philosophy of continuing to stand on your own two feet, accepting what you are, and moving toward something—or in his case, someone. After his pep talk with Kyou, Yuki is sulking in the dark when he gets a call from his someone, Machi. It doesn’t matter what she wants, he just wants—needs to see her. Tooru? More like Toor-who?!

Just as Arisa’s anxious racing thoughts of how insignificant she was in Kureno’s life melted away at the sight of him, the gears of Kyou’s feline brain are also spinning furiously with questions like Will she still accept me? Do I still love her? Why? How much? The answers are: Yes (eventually), Yes, Because, and A Lot.

Those questions are meaningless as soon as he spots her leaving the hospital and thos big brown eyes. But then, because this is not a show afraid to crack a joke even in a moment like this, Tooru gets spooked and gives Kyou a taste of his own running away medicine. Unfortunately for her, Kyou can run much faster than her, and quickly gives chase as Arisa and Saki look on approvingly.

Everywhere you look, love is in the air, and I am here for it. And let me reiterate: I’ve never read the source material, so I have no problem with the direction or pace of the adaptation. The way I see it, I’ve been invested in this anime for sixty episodes totalling twenty-five hours over three years, and so far this is the ending I both want and deserve. Keep it up, Furuba!

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