Cardcaptor Sakura – 01 – The Start of Something Beautiful

My entry into the gorgeous, charming, feel-good world of Cardcaptor Sakura was the Clear Card arc of Winter 2018, twenty years before the original. Now that Netflix has notified me that the original is mine to watch in all its 4:3 late-nineties glory, I simply couldn’t resist.

That’s not to underestimate the scale of such an undertaking: the original series runs a cool 70 episodes split unevenly across two major arcs (compared to just 22 for Clear Card), but you’ll note that I didn’t say when I’d complete this task; just that I’d plan to. It will certainly take a while.

In a show hailed as quintessential Maho Shoujo anime for everyone, Kinomoto Sakura holds the same position among mahou shoujo heroines. If you don’t know her, know that what she lacks in academic ability she makes up for with athleticism, cheerfulness, and just generally being one of the most goshdarn adorable characters in all of anime, both in design and Tange Sakura’s fabulous voice.

It’s honestly pretty thrilling to watch Sakura’s origin story unfold in this first episode. It’s a tale simply and confidently told, and there’s a refreshing quality to the late-90s animation style—not to mention Sakura’s totally bodacious habit of rollerblading to school (something she’d sadly given up by high school). CCS’s production quality in its day was a large part of its wide appeal, and it holds up extremely well.

Sakura’s mom died when she was three, but she has a kind, loving archaeologist father and a big brother who, while a little antagonistic at times, clearly cares for her as well (he also has a best friend in Yukito, on whom Sakura has an innocent crush). She also has a best friend in the super-rich but kind videophile, Daidouji Tomoyo, who will get a more detailed intro next week.

What Sakura categorically wasn’t prior to this episode was involved in anything remotely magical. That changes in a hurry when she hears strange animal noises coming from her dad’s basement study, and encounters a glowing book full of cards. One of them is called “Windy”, and when she says the name, a gust of wind blows all of the other cards out of the house and into the vast outdoors.

While I’d hardly label Sakura an überklutz, it’s somehow appropriate that the genesis of her magical girl status was an innocent moment of clumsiness. When the magical creature who was making the noises presents himself to her as the tiny yellow creature Kerberus, we learn that he too was asleep at the switch, making this card-losing screw-up both their faults.

Kero-chan’s Osaka accent and general cozy casualness about this whole situation makes him as instantly endearing as Sakura herself. But now that Sakura has woken Kero up, her duty is clear: take up the mantle of Cardcaptor and, well, capture the Clow Cards.

It’s a wonderfully elegant premise that promises a vast and deep collection of clever monster-of-the-week stories that all coalesce around that central goal to re-complete the collection. The first card Sakura captures is “Fly”, which takes the form of an ornery bird she must both flee from and chase on her rollerblades…in her pajamas. That’s right, no fancy magical girl battle costumes as yet!

This process, like the next few capture missions surely will be, involves quite a bit of trial-and-error, which is to be expected, but Sakura’s pluck, determination, and heart means once she sets herself to the task, she doesn’t stop until she’s unleashed Windy, restrained and sealed Fly back into the card.

She then learns she can use Fly to…fly, which she does in a beautiful closing sequence that Kero-chan suggests is the beginning of a beautiful working relationship. Sakura on the other hand insists she hasn’t told Kero she’s not necessarily her girl for card-capturing going forward…bless her heart!

After a super-upbeat ED with what sounds like music from a Genesis-era Sonic game (not a bad thing!) we get Kero’s post-credit omake segment, in which he makes keen observations about Sakura’s wardrobe in the episode, among other things. I may have watched Bleach and met its small yellow mascot Kon first, but Kero-chan beats him in the head-to-head matchup every time.

The more cards Sakura collects, the more abilities she’ll have in her repertoire to capture still more cards. The dynamic of Sakura figuring out the best way to utilize those abilities with Kero’s help, as well as the inevitable Daidouji wardrobe supervision and clashes with the villain seeking the same cards, all figure to make this a yachtload of fun to watch.

Elfen Lied – 07 – Let’s Be Friends

It’s fitting that the seventh episode of Elfen Lied is all about #7, or Nana, back from the (near-)dead. Shichi is another way to say seven in Japanese, but because shi means “death”, nana is more commonly used. In western culture seven is considered lucky, yet Nana is unfortunate enough to immediately cross paths with Bando on the beach.

He has a few new anti-Diclonius tactics—social distancing(!) and harder bullets—but his new arm crumbles from his gun’s recoil, and their duel ends in a stalemate. When he learns they both consider Lucy an enemy, he tries to give her his number (the same one he wrote for Mayu) but she doesn’t know what a “number” is, so he gives up.

Mayu doesn’t know much of anything about the outside world, but she is hungry. She watches people exchange coins for crepes, but doesn’t realize the stacks of paper in her bag are hundreds of thousands of yen. It’s another scene that comments on the dearth of general kindness and empathy in this society, as the crepe guy tells her to buzz off and the other women comment on her clothes. No one asks if she’s okay.

Even if Dicloniï didn’t possess the potential for lethal mayhem, they’d be ostracized simply for looking different. Nana understands this is not her world and never will be, so she considers destroying it and making a new one where she does belong. But for the time being, that’s beyond her abilities, and she could settle for a meal.

Nana isn’t done with chance encounters, as #2 involves Wanta leading Mayu to the spot where Nana and Nyu fought, and finding Nana there, warming herself by a fire made from the money. Most people in this town might be assholes, but Mayu certainly isn’t, and has very recently been in Nana’s shoes: nowhere to go and unsure what to do.

Mayu notes that at least someone (Nana’s “dad”) cared enough about her. They agree to become friends, and Mayu notes how Nana and Nyu both have horns. That makes it the second episode in a row where Mayu has told someone something she couldn’t that puts Kouta, and Yuka in danger…not to mention herself.

Sure enough Mayu invites Nana to her house, where Nana has her third change encounter of the day: one with her self-appointed nemesis. Notably, she cannot sense Nyu’s presence the way she can sense Lucy’s; her personality shift to Nyu apparently has the effect of nullifying her Diclonius signature.

The second she spots Nyu, Nana goes into attack mode, shocking Kouta and Mayu. Will Mayu’s hastily forged friendship with Nana be enough to calm her? Will Lucy wake up and just make things worse? Whatever the case, it looks like it’s going to be another long night for everyone.

Elfen Lied – 06 – Debts Paid and Unpaid

Kouta and Kakuzawa’s assistant Arakawa find the professor’s body (and head) in the basement. Arakawa isn’t particularly devastated by the sight of her lover beheaded, but perhaps she’s in shock. Not to mention she has no idea why he has horns like a Diclonius. A shaken Kouta returns home, but in the middle of talking with Yuka a switch seemingly flips in his head. He suddenly can’t remember what he was saying, and goes to bed.

Out on the street and still lucid, Lucy reaches into the head of a passing girl, either wiping her memory of seeing her…or killing her. The next day, Yuka insists on accompanying Kouta as he continues his search. The two end up taking shelter at a shrine, revealing their feelings for each other, and kissing. In a show with so much violence and cruelty, a tender scene like this is welcome, and Noto Mamiko’s voice emanates kindness and gentleness.

While walking to school, Mayu spots Bando on the beach, and makes the terrible mistake of approaching him. Mayu can’t help it; she was worried about the guy and is glad to see he’s alright, because she’s a good girl. To repay his debt, Bando gives her his number for her to call if she needs help. Ironically, when he learns she knows about Lucy, Mayu has to use that call immediately…on him. His honor forces him to let her go, but his toxic masculinity put her in that situation in the first place.

The rain stops, and Yuka’s lovey-dovey-ness turns to embarrassment, and then jealousy when she and Kouta encounter Lucy. They’re shocked to hear her form complete sentences, but when Kouta insists they return to his house, she tells him she doesn’t deserve his charity. She mentions something from the past that triggers a memory in Kouta’s head. Lucy herself remembers her and Kouta playing in the ocean as youths, before reverting to Nyu and cuddling with him.

I wonder if Kouta will continue to remember those repressed memories involving Lucy, and how he’ll respond to them. He’s thrown caution to the wind regarding “Nyu” to this point because he thought they had no prior connection. What if she killed his sister Kaede?

In the meantime, Kurama couldn’t kill Nana. We learn he’d already killed his birth daughter in the past (presumably for having horns) and lost his wife to suicide shortly thereafter. But if he wanted Nana to survive, you’d think he wouldn’t have left her on that god-forsaken beach, where Bando (who apparently lives there) can immediately find her. I’d have shipped her to the other side of the country, if not continent…

Elfen Lied – 05 – Good People are Hard to Come By

Kurama looks out at the ocean, perhaps grieving the loss of Nana, while Kouta and Yuka wake up to find Mayu has run away. The episode delves into her past, and not surprisingly for this show, it’s horrific. Habitually sexually abused by her stepdad and shunned by her mother, one night she refuses to undress, and runs.

She doesn’t stop until she reaches the ocean, and seems poised to walk in and not come back. She’s stopped only by the dog Wanta, whom she assumes was discarded like her. Back in the present, Wanta (AKA James) is claimed by his owner, leaving Mayu alone again. She hides among crates in the cold, dark night, utterly miserable.

Some cops find her, but thankfully so do Yuka and Kouta, who remembered she hung around the beach a lot. They bring her back to the house, but she’s not sure why, because no one in her life has ever given a damn about her except to use her. It never occurred to her that good people existed.

While his penchant for “collecting girls” continues to irk Yuka, she doesn’t protest when he decides to let Mayu stay with them indefinitely. Mayu’s mother all too easily signs away guardianship to him. Wanta comes back to her (his old owner was not a good person, it seems) and she returns to school with a smile on her face, now in a much better place.

Kouta and Yuka return to college classes too, but inexplicably take Nyu with them. I understand how they might be worried about her wandering off again, but it just seems like a really, really bad idea considering how much they don’t know about her situation.

Sure enough, the professor of their new class is Dr. Kakuzawa, son of the head of the research facility where Lucy was being held. He takes Kouta and Yuka aside, warns them of the laws they’re breaking by having the girl in their custody, and makes Kouta agree to leave Nyu with with him.

Fearing the consequences and cowed by an authority figure, Kouta ignores Nyu crying out his name (she’s learning more words than just “nyu”), and later can’t help but shed tears over their separation. Yuka reproaches him for crying (“You’re a man!”) but then starts crying herself.

They get home and tell Mayu, who plants the seed in Kouta’s head that maybe the professor wasn’t telling the truth when he said Nyu’s family was worried and wanted her back. Gee, ya THINK?

Sure enough, Kakuzawa’s intentions with Nyu are anything but honorable. He strips her down, ties her up, and injects her with drugs. But while he’s still undressing in preparation to rape her, Nyu wakes up as Lucy, and plainly asks him who he is and what he wants.

Kakuzawa tries to give her his spiel about replacing the human race with superior Dicloniï, revealing his own sorry horns. Lucy plainly ain’t buyin’ it, and helpfully relieves him of his head, causing a fountain of blood and saying she doesn’t need someone like him.

Truer words have never been spoken. Like Mayu, she needs good people like Kouta and Yuka, particularly when she reverts to Nyu. It’s just a shame those good people aren’t the brightest…

Elfen Lied – 04 – Remembering a Strange Dream

Poor Nana never had a chance.

Not just when it came to going toe-to-toe with Lucy, but throughout her tortured existence. All but brainwashed by Kurama to do his bidding as some kind of superhuman replacement daughter, Nana sought his approval any way she could, whether it was taking on the task of bringing Lucy in, to going beyond her mandate and trying to punish Lucy for the trouble she caused.

All the while, Nana and Lucy would be on the same side, as both are victims of the utterly inhuman research Kurama and his criminal ilk have been undertaking. Instead, Nana is Kurama’s puppet, giving Lucy no choice but to turn against her own kind to preserve her freedom.

Nana’s vectors may be longer, but Lucy’s pack a bigger punch, and she’s more experienced in their use. But none of her shortcomings matter to Nana: she has a job to do and she’s going to do it…or die.

Things reach a boiling point between Kouta and Yuka, with the latter sick and tired of him talking about nobody but Nyu, Nyu, Nyu. She slugs him and runs off, but later regrets it, considering Kouta is suffering and Nyu is little more than a young child in need of care and guidance, and definitely not a romantic rival.

Then there’s Mayu, whom Yuka sees getting her daily bag of free bread crusts on which to live. Mayu ends up witnessing the battle between Lucy and Nana and tries to get them to stop fighting. Nana, not willing to cause collateral casualties, withdraws her vectors from Lucy, giving Lucy an opening to relieve Nana of her arms and legs in what is, and is supposed to be, a sickening spectacle.

Kurama and his men arrive, surrounding Lucy, but she manages to slip away, leaving Kurama with a critically wounded but still conscious Nana. He can’t very well scold her for disobeying orders, since he knows all she ever wanted to do was please him and make him proud, like any daughter would.

While transporting her back to the lab, Kurama receives a summons from his boss, Secretary Shirakawa. Yuka manages to run into Lucy, who has transformed back into Nyu, and Yuka realizes she erred in being jealous of her.

Mayu, whom Lucy tossed into a tree for safety during the battle, ends up in the hospital, and calls Kouta to pick her up, since she clearly has no one else. The two arrive at Kouta’s house to find both Yuka and Nyu home, and the four have dinner together. Yuka and Kouta agree that the homeless Mayu should spend the night, considering they have plenty of rooms to spare.

Shirakawa orders Kurama to kill Nana, as she’s no longer useful to their plans. It’s a gut-wrenching scene, and I wept bitter tears for poor Nana, a gentle soul who was never given a chance. It’s apparent Kurama also grieves for Nana, but the fact is he played an active role in her lifelong bondage and suffering, as well as that of Lucy who knows how many others. I for one hope he pays for that at some point.

Perhaps Nana’s early exit was a mercy; who knows what further carnage and torment await Lucy and other Dicloniï, representing both the future of humanity and the manifestation of their collective sins.

Elfen Lied – 03 – Unlucky Number Seven

When Yuka walks in on Kouta undressing Nyu, a lot of things must run through her head. While it makes sense to get soaked clothes off someone before they catch cold, Nyu is also a beautiful woman, and one with serious mental differences. Yuka’s initial thoughts probably dwell on how bad it looks. But on a more basic level, Yuka doesn’t want Kouta doing anything with another woman, whether it’s harmless or not. As far as she’s concerned, Kouta belongs to her.

A lot of questions ran through my head during Chief Kurama’s encounter with Nana in her detention cell. Like “why is she naked?” or “why is she drenched in blood?”, or “how long has she been like this?”. The exact nature of her situation is kept pretty vague, but suffice it to say Nana has lived her whole life in the facility, enduring what amounts to unspeakable torture with a smile.

As such, Nana knows no other life, and no other comfort but Kurama as her “father”. So she’ll do anything for him…except kill. Instead, she’ll try to detain Lucy for him if she can. All she asks for in return is his necktie, which she uses to conceal her horns.

Yuka tries to stay away from the house where watching Kouta with Nyu causes her so much discomfort owing to her Deep Feelings for him (incidentally, the episode’s title). But when she drops off some of her clothes for Nyu, she finds Kouta has caught cold from his beach excursion, and Nyu is absolutely helpless to care for him.

Back at the lab, Kurama speaks to Bondo about undergoing castration…which is probably not what he should have started off with. He then describes who and what it was that Bondo lost so badly to, and the reason castrating him might save humanity: Lucy can “reproduce” through her vectors, causing the mutation in whomever she touches with him. In that way, she and her kind could one day overrun humanity as we know it.

Yuka decides that if Kouta won’t take Lucy to the authorities, then she’ll just move in to keep an eye on both of them. She puts Kouta to work cleaning up the house, and Nyu is eager to pitch in. That’s when Mayu, the runaway girl with the dog, shows up with Kouta’s umbrella. He has many questions about that night on the beach with Nyu and the soldier.

Nyu ends up slipping and falling, and whether due to the impact of the fall or the music box that plays the show’s theme song (or both…or neither), she reverts back to Lucy. She comes this close to killing Kouta with her Vectors before a flash of a younger Kouta stops them dead. Lucy runs outside, and for a moment the show makes us wonder if she killed Mayu’s cute puppy. It turns out she just set it free, but it soon runs back to Mayu.

As Yuka tries to talk to Kouta about whether he has any feelings at all for her (he seems to have lost a lot of the memories of the two of them that she cherishes), Lucy wanders off, eventually encountering Nana, whom she sensed was coming. Kurama’s underlings don’t think Nana is any match for Lucy, but Lucy’s problem is she never knows when she’s going to devolve back into Nyu…and Nyu isn’t a match for anyone.

Elfen Lied – 02 – One Or the Other

Things would have been so much easier—and far less bloodily—if Kouta hadn’t gotten angry and scared Nyu off. Instead, Bando and his tactical team arrive, and Bando is not particularly interested in anything other than killing the target. After the cops visit his house, Kouta somehow manages to get to Nyu first and tries to run away with her, but Bando gun-whips him and captures the target.

Yuka also briefly talks to the cops before tracking down Kouta, who is still dazed on the beach. Bando drags Nyu to another location, but when she won’t fight back he grows bored and orders his subordinate to kill her instead, since those are their orders. Instead, Nyu turns back into Lucy and does her thing, relieving the grunt of his chest, arm, head—you name it, she slices it off.

Suddenly intrigued, Bando tries to fight Lucy, but it’s really no contest; not when she’s tossing boats around and none of his bullets hit her. The fun ends when she closes the distance between them to the range of her telekinesis, and it’s seemingly game over, as she slices off his arm and gouges out his eyes. But Bando is spared when she suddenly turns back into Nyu.

Nyu runs off, and a young woman with a puppy finds the maimed Bando and runs for help. But when she returns, he’s gone. After a very brief stay in the hospital, Kouta takes a taxi and bids Yuka goodnight, only to find a soaked Nyu at his front door with a new shell to replace the one she broke.

Yuka returns just as Kouta is getting Nyu out of her wet clothes to keep her from catching cold, while the head researcher and his #2 prepare to deploy another human experiment like Lucy to go after her—a naked and bloody subject called “#7.”

Once again Elfen Lied delivers extensive blood and boobs, but if you’ve watched, say, True Blood (which didn’t premiere until four years after this show) you’re likely as desensitized as I am. What struck me more was just how much of a boorish asshole Bando was (and will likely continue to be, as he’s not dead yet), as well as the apparent heartlessness of the lab coats. Kouta may have messed up last week, but maybe now he understands how much Nyu needs him in her current state.

Elfen Lied – 01 – A Study in Extremis

The haunting opening credits feature Latin vocals and Klimt-inspired art, a blending of the sacred and the profane. A research subject breaks free of her industrial-strength restraints and goes on a harrowing homicidal rampage, lifting neither arm nor finger but utilizing a kind of telekinesis to relieve both guard and functionary of their heads and/or various limbs.

Every effort to stop or slow her steady march ends the same way: an abundance of blood and viscera staining an otherwise cold and sterile environment. She is finally seemingly neutralized by a shot to the head from an anti-tank round, and falls at least fifty feet into the inky ocean. But, of course this isn’t the end of Lucy…it’s only the beginning…of Elfen Lied.

Why am I watching and reviewing this show, which aired fifteen years ago in the season before Bleach premiered? Many reasons: A look at a show I missed because I wasn’t even into anime back then; a means of complementing today’s crisper, cleaner, and overall safer anime; and mere curiosity in a show notorious and controversial for its transgressive content; a show nearly as many people hate as love.

Also, it’s a show that gives you those first ten minutes, then follows it up by switching gears completely. What follows is a mundane, low-key romantic comedy without a hint of the supernatural horror or military intrigue of the prologue. College student Yuka meets up with her same-aged cousin Kouta in Kamakura, and end up on the beach reminiscing about his departed little sister, Kaede.

That’s when Yuka notices something, or rather someone quite out of place: a buck naked woman with pink hair: the research subject Lucy. Due to her head injury, she seems to have reverted to the developmental state of a young child, and can only say one word—nyu—which they eventually decide to name her.

Since Yuka and Kouta are decent folk, they do what anyone would do: offer Nyu clothes and then shelter at the otherwise vacant ten-room inn where Kouta and Yuka will be living. She confirms her developmental state by being unable to adequately communicate she has to use the bathroom, and relieves herself on the floor of the foyer.

As Lucy has profoundly changed and entered a profoundly different world than the lab where she no doubt lived and suffered for quite a while, her handlers are already planning an operation to hunt her down and eliminate her, as the lab’s chief researcher declares that an unbound Lucy in the outside world would spell the “end of mankind”.

Bando, the man they choose to lead the manhunt, is about as heartless and despicable as they come. He’s bored with simulated kills, slaps the shit out of unwitting assistants, and desires nothing but the opportunity to kill without restraint. In effect, he’s a “Lucy” by choice. In any case, he surely won’t hold his fire just because Lucy isn’t quite herself.

After sharing a meal of onigiri with Yuka and Nyu, Kouta takes out a shell that he keeps as a memento of his deceased sister, who died suddenly of an illness. Nyu interprets his connection to the shell as something making him sad (not necessarily wrong) and breaks it into pieces, throwing Kouta into a rage. He shouts and fumes and tells her to get out, and she does.

Returning to the now rain-soaked spot of beach where they found her, Nyu stares out into the ocean and tears start to fall from her eyes, as Bando & Co. close in on her via helicopter. Roll Credits.

* * *

Elfen Lied is a compelling blast from the past with a first episode that packs a vicious punch in its first act before easing into its more domestic latter two. It’s an exploration of extremes, be it between Lucy and Nyu, the research facility and the sleepy Japanese town, the blunt lethality of Bando and innocence of Kouta, and yes, the warmth of human flesh and blood and the chill of metal and concrete.

It sets things up superbly for one hell of a clash of worlds and personalities—between parties that seek to simply live their quiet little lives, and those who seek to end a life, before, as they claim, it threatens to end all life. Having no previous knowledge of Elfen Lied or where it goes, a great start is no indication of a great anime, but most definitely warrants further viewing.

Isekai, Ranked

If Anime is escapism, there is no better way to escape than Isekai’s theme of plunging Into Another World, where our niche skills and routine possessions may shake the fabric of reality! From MMO-inspired, to hard fantasy, there are many types of Isekai on this list. However, there are no movies, nor series we haven’t seen recently. Bring all disagreements to the comments below!

1. Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World
Re:Zero takes Isekai’s love for fish-out-of-water stories on step further: through brutal, expectation breaking blind sides, it makes the viewer a fish out of water too! Dripping with fantastic animation, Re:Zero’s true strength is the balance of its highly detailed world without over explaining its magic system, time loop mechanic and political systems. It also earns bonus points for  limiting the application of its protagonist’s powerful magic and technological advantages.

2. Sword Art Online (1st season) 
In the narrowest of second places, SAO pairs top shelf animation with an approachable cast and easy to appreciate central conflict. Put its lovingly constructed MMO setting aside, and Kirito’s mistakes and occasional darkness elevate him above his potentially generic good-at-everything character type and Asuka plays the strongest heroine/love interest on the list.

3. Now and Then, Here and There
Imagine if Digimon told a bleak story about sex trafficking child soldiers trapped on a waterless world with a maniac king? NTHT’s intense swerve from adorable into darkness is on par with Re:Zero and, much like Natsuki Subaru, HTHT’s Shu must rely on ‘durability’ and ‘heart’ to make it through. While some of it’s later tragic moments are predictable, this f’ed-up little anime scores major points for telling a complete story and having that story grow Shu from simpleton into a conflicted young adult.

4. Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet
While Ledo’s post-earth scifi origin may stretch the common definition of Isekai, being trapped in a primitive culture that treats him (and his AI-driven mech Chamber) like a hero of old does not. Beautifully, Gargantia flips the script and makes Red’s overwhelming power, and killing in general, counter productive and at odds with the local people.

5. Yōjo Senki / The Saga of Tanya the Evil
Give us World War I with magic, a gender swapped villain as our protagonist, and God as our antagonist, and you’ve given us something pretty damn original. Like Gargantia, this reborn in another world captures thinking differently about the world can be as powerful and terrifying as unworldly strength. Without question, Yojo Senki’s cast is the most uniquely imagined on this list.

6. No Game No Life
Like Tanya, the Blank twins piss off god and are sent to another world as punishment. However, their punishment is much more stylish and… harem. Underneath NGNL’s acid-soaked panties, over the top protagonists and the psychedelic color pallet, is a show featuring thoughtful puzzles and imaginative spins on classic gamble-to-win story telling. Sadly, its story ends unfinished…

7. KonoSuba
One part jab at Isekai and one part love letter to the starting town of every fantasy MMO, KonoSuba is all parts ruthlessly funny! While this reborn in another world (with a goddess!) show is not as smartly written as NGNL, and it becomes repetitive after a time, the constant frenetic action more than makes up for it.

8. Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
Quiet, thoughtful, and full of sadness, this hard fantasy Isekai doesn’t care if its heroes are reborn in another world or trapped in a dungeon crawl afterlife. Building family bonds and connecting with people who would not normally be friends is all that matters… and it’s lovingly animated to boot!

9. ReCreators
As a reverse Isekai, ReCreators distinguishes itself by bringing the other world to us. The experience is fantastically animated and packed with clever dialog that somehow breaths sincerity into a profoundly silly plot. The cast is quite diverse, both in design and personality, which keeps the action fresh, yet somehow cohesive throughout. It’s only major flaw is, the final act, which is way to drawn out.

10. The Devil is a Part Timer
No I’m not kidding! This reverse Isekai’s premise that the Devil is trapped in our world and must work at McDonnald’s to get by is charming. While DiaPT’s humor isn’t particularly specific to the devil, the jokes are punchy, and the overall plot develops at a respectable pace. As an added treat, the opening gothic fantasy fight scenes are surprisingly well animated.

11. Log Horizon (1st season)
Most exposition heavy, trapped in an MMO themed Isekai featuring ‘top ranked’ players crumble after a few episodes. More often than not, these shows try too hard to sell the coolness of their game worlds, user interfaces, and central characters. Miraculously, Log Horizon gets better mid season with a simple question: if former NPCs have personalities, can grow and learn, and even die, are they more human than the former players that dismiss them as background texture? Still, it takes Log Horizon six episodes to get going and good lord is it gray looking…

12. Overlord (3 Seasons)
This transported into an MMO Isekai mirrors its main character: it is competent but not sure what it should be doing at any given moment. Sometimes the protagonists are villains and sometimes they are heroes. More often than not, characters are given lavish screen time to develop, only to be slaughtered whimsically. The resulting narrative is full of call backs and revealed foreshadowing… yet hasn’t gone very far in 3 seasons and hasn’t asked any interesting questions along the way.

13. El Hazard – The Magnificent World (OAV/TV)
Predestined paradox, trans-dimensional time jumping high school students (and their drunk gym teacher) are trapped in an Arabian Nights’like land besieged by sentient bugs, a secret tribe of assassins from another dimension, and a death star like eye of god orbiting nearby. If you watched anime in the 1990s it will all be familiar but it still manages to feel original yet cohesive production. The character abilities are wonderful, the tragedy is nice, and plenty is left up to your own imagination to fill in the blanks. A bland, fault free, protagonist and a boy-crazy harem vibe are the only reasons it isn’t higher on the list.

14. Gate: Jieitai Kano Chi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri
This invading the other world Isekai flips the script to deliver political intrigue, clash of culture, and commentary on Japanese society. It loses points for being a overly harem, relying on super dumb/super evil antagonists, and a dull protagonist but it’s fun enough to watch.

15. Juuni Kokuki (The Twelve Kingdoms)
This brought back to the world you actually were born in Isekai begins with a whiney good-girl who doesn’t want to be queen pissing off her not-friend, who would really like to live in another world, but no one cares, because she’s not the chosen one. Whiney protagonist who has limited agency over the plot aside, that central theme, and the magic and political intrigue around it grow nicely over time. Sadly, the second arc introduces a new character, tons of vocabulary heavy exposition, and just drags. The result is a slightly dated looking show but completely watchable show.

16. Drifters
Stylishly violent, strikingly ugly, historical character filled and utterly bonkers, this reborn in another world Isekai’s uniqueness will hold your attention. Even if you do not want it to.

17. Rise of the Shield Hero (2 Seasons)
On paper, this transported to an MMO world Isekai’s “treat the hero like crap,” “watch him accept the role of a slave-buying villain” and ultimately “rise to become the true hero” concept is great. Revealing that the world he’s saving may be less redeemable than the world the invaders are trying to save is also great. Too bad its padded and many of the arbitrary delays and narrative dead ends feel like cop outs.

18. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime
While it lacks the initial hardcore’ness of Shield Hero, this reborn in another world Isekai is pleasantly animated and full of heart. The idea that naming monsters grants them power is a pretty neat mechanic too. It just sort bounces from idea to idea without a sense of purpose of resolution. One minute it’s a story of unlikely friendship, then magic destiny, then town builder, then harem, and onto magic school and isn’t about anything in particular until a hastily thrown together plot ties it up at the end. It scores points for making its hero a slime… although the reborn aspect never feels played with or justified.

19. Angel Beats!
If the gun fetish, kids fighting a loli-angel instead of attending school in the afterlife plot weren’t so dumb and drawn out, this rebirth story’s touching moments would push it much higher. There’s a really good tale of life cut short, reunion after death, and again after rebirth here and it gets major bonus points for finishing the story it had to tell. Totally squandered.

20. Death March / Kara Hajimaru Isekai Kyousoukyoku
Like Shield Hero, this reborn in an MMO Isekai is actually quite good looking. However, its Gary-Stue protagonist, harem and absurd narrative padding make it far less interesting.  OMG how many episodes are about making lunch?! That’s too bad because the concept of code-like “copy and paste” magic system is pretty neat.

21. Wiseman’s Grandson / Kenja no Mago
Despite opening with a modern day man being killed, this reborn into a fantasy world Isekai is more Magic School than Isekai. The only thread that connects the protagonist’s lives is that he can look at magic with an eye for process instead of outcome. The result is harmless easy watching but harem elements, a slow pace and lack of getting anywhere narratively hold it back.

22. How Not to Summon a Demon Lord
This summoned into an MMO Isekai starts off as charming, but ecchi-heavy, before abruptly turning dark at the end of the season. We’re talking ‘make a child watch as her best friend is slowly tortured to death’ and creepo ‘finger-bang a loli cat girl in order to give birth to the demon inside her’ level dark. While those elements elevate HNtSaDL above niche appeal of its harm and MMO content, they aren’t so interesting to earn my recommendation.

23. Problem Children are coming from Another World, Aren’t They?
T
he non-ecchi poor man’s No Game no Life features a talking cat that only some characters can understand and dreadful music. TFW smooth jazz? There’s some cuteness to be had, and the solutions to gambling games can be clever, but the overall vibe is low energy. It loses drama points because its protagonist is as smart as a god and physically stronger.

24. Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks?
This poor man’s Konosuba is occasionally funny, satire of RPG conventions and family relationships. Mama’s skill that interrupts whatever her son is doing, no matter what it is or where he is in the game world, is particularly charming. Unfortunately, there’s no avoiding the creepo factor of sexualizing that family relationship.

25. Restaurant from Another World
My mom is secretly from another world and my restaurant’s front door connects back to that world each day is certainly unique, but it’s structured more like a food-porn show than Isekai. While the linkages of each patron become clear over time, few characters are not aware of those connections themselves. The result never feels like it gets anywhere.

26. Dot Hack//Sign
This stuck in an MMO Isekai dedicates too much animation and story to grunting, chuffing, whimpering, and sighing. Combined with a grotesque color pallet, hilariously terrible early 2000’s character designs, and awkward ‘weapon up’ pose each character takes, and it just bleeds out before you can invest in the character drama.

27. In Another World With My Smartphone
Stories without risk are still watchable when they immerse us an interesting world, or delve into niche details like food or how magic works, or hilariously us with harems and sex appeal. Smartphone fails all of these things. Worse, it does nothing with it’s one idea: protagonist Touya is reborn in a fantasy world with smartphone. Except, GOD GIVES HIM GOD TIER MAGIC FROM THE GET-GO! Ironically, Re:Zero and No Game No Life both use of a cell phones in more interesting ways, and Tanya’s God isn’t even comparable. Unoriginal, unfunny, not dramatic, not sexy, not worth watching.

28. Maou-sama, Retry!
This transported to an MMO Isekai’s trash production values, and bizarre characters are hard to take seriously. The results are sometimes so terrible they are funny, such as incompetent background music transitions and detailed horses hiding at the edges of the frame. Sadly, a bland harem and complete lack of narrative objective kill the mood.

29. Isekai Izakaya
Imagine a low energy, public access style show, with a tourism theme, that featuring a modern Japanese restaurant that serves fantasy world patrons…

30. Isekai Cheat Magician
A loveless summoned to a fantasy world Isekai who’s protagonists are the most powerful and purely good characters could deserve a niche rating. Not this one. The narrative sort of ‘skips the boring stuff’ and, in doing so, skips character development. Hilariously, what the narrative does show is poorly animated, always underwhelming magic battle scenes or people standing around talking.

31. Endride
Without dialog, this stumbled into a magic world Isekai’s vibrant color and crisp art would be watchable. The fact that the world is somehow inside of Earth’s core and the sparse use of mythology are unique, but its dumb-as-bricks whiny teen protagonists have the maturity of a small children. There are many unintentionally funny moments like scientists using gigantic laptops or the king’s magic weapon looking like a safety pin. Ultimately, the cast is so unlikeable that the show itself is unwatchable.

Fate / Zero – 01 (First Impressions)

“Your Dad and I are just going to slowly orbit you for a while. You don’t mind, right?”

I have watched the UBW anime, but not the original Fate/stay night. I intend to watch and assess stay night’s prequel Fate/Zero on its own merits, forgetting/disregarding wherever possible what transpired before or after, since. That being said, having watched UBW I’m not a complete novice to the Fate franchise, so I know the basics of the Holy Grail War and its Servants.

Zero takes all of the limited information I know and recontextualizes it and expands my understanding of its players, all of them operating ten years before the events of night. Things obviously feel familiar to UBW for the most part, but they are still, in fact, quite different. Dare I say, more significant…and more emotionally resonant?

“Hey Rin! Here’s hoping the next time we meet I don’t have white hair and a face full of bugs!”

I’ll admit I was a little lost in the woods as I watched flashback after flashback to the present day of Zero, in which Irisviel von Einzbern and Emiya Kiritsugu’s newborn child Illyasviel, or Kotomine Kirei’s father Risei and Toosaka Tokiomi informing Kirei that he’s to ensure Tokiomi’s victory.

But as I carefully watched and took a few notes, the complex network of characters and relationships—both good and deeply troubled—gradually took shape. Rin, Sakura, and Illyasviel are all players I’ve known and seen, but this is the story of how their older relatives assembled and summoned their Servants to fight the Fourth Holy Grail War.

I thus found myself gaining lots of insights into the kind of families and personalities those familiar faces came from. For instance, I had no idea Shirou and Illyasviel have the same dad…or that Sakura and Rin are biological sisters.

“What is this bullshit…A5? I wanted LEGAL.”

Watching this epic introduction jump from one party to another as they begin to circle one another and size each other up is, in a word, thrilling (I say that despite the mundane-ness of the image above). And without exception, I found myself invested in everyone for very different reasons, even though I know they’ll all be at each others’ throats and most of them will have to lose and/or die.

Kirei and Kiritsugu may think each other the most underhanded, dangerous men alive (in a masterful dual-monologue in which the two shit on each other for what seemed like five solid minutes), but I never felt the compulsion to take a side, because both men have their reasons. I also never felt like the show was trying to make me take a side.

The exception to that is, of course, the clearly demented Matou Zouken, who needs go fuck off immediately to hell with Sugou Nobuyuki and/or some similar assholes. It’s good to see Kariya sacrifice his freedom, health, and maybe life to keep poor Sakura out of the fighting. I also appreciated the layered characters of both Rins’ dad Tokiomi and apparent wild card Waiver Velvet.

“I like what you’ve done with the lighting in this place.”

This episode is long and talky, but it’s length well spent and talks that kept me interested. Call it a crash course in Fate, only with a little bit of prior knowledge, and far more comfortable and entertaining than a crash course has any right to be. This is setting the stage done right.

Speaking of that stage: once all the talking and sizing up ceases in this first episode, it’s time to start summoning some Servants, and the inter-cut scenes between Saber, Archer, Berserker, and Rider’s awakenings form a compound momentousness (just as Assassin’s intro was stealthy and low-key, as befits an assassin).

In short, I was pleased with this opening. The fact that nobody so much as laid a finger on anybody for nearly an hour only reinforces my confidence in this show’s narrative chops. Timelines and venues may jump around, but it’s just people talking-talking-talking in rooms, to one another, to themselves, about each other…then summoning some Servants. It just…worked.

Captions by sesameacrylic

Attack on Titan – 01

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Thanks to Netflix and a relatively light Fall season, I am pleased to finally crack open the massively popular Attack on Titan, a show I eschewed virtually sight unseen, choosing instead to follow Gargantia, Majestic Prince, and Valvrave. I’m only past the first episode of AoT, but I can already see I made a major oversight; one that will be corrected forthwith.

AoT’s cold open shows us the very moment the people of Shiganshina are royally hosed, then after the credits, rewinds to the morning before the shit hits the fan and begins the process of masterfully building up the dread and tension preceding the events of the cold open.

As we follow Eren (a loud-mouthed portentous shonen if ever there was one) and his sister Mikasa (a girl of few words but immense strength) as they wind their way through the streets of their huge hometown, the walls, streets and structures have a strength, solidarity, and safety to them. Even the sounds of everyday life are lulling.

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If there is one shortcoming to this first episode, it’s that Eren isn’t necessarily likable at first. His reasons for wanting to strike out into the outside world aren’t unreasonable, but he can be over-emphatic in his protestations and scolds.

Sure, he may have had a vision of doom descending on Shiganshina, but he’s fighting against a century of idleness and contentment. Conviction and loudness are no substitute for hard evidence. Also, the episode tries to paint Armin with broad strokes, but there’s not much to him yet except that like Eren, he’s not content to stay within the walls.

Then the evidence arrives in the form of a hand grasping the top of the 50-meter outer wall, and it’s a powerful “Toldya so” moment that shakes every inhabitant of the city to their core. Then…a hole is blasted in the wall with such force it causes widespread destruction to the rest of the city. And that’s before smaller Titans start rushing in.

Any early quibbles I might have had with Eren or Armin go out the window when the appalling carnage starts, with throngs of humans running for their lives and many being scooped up and gobbled up like hors d’oeuvres. There’s a distinct sticky aura of awfulness to the spectacle, and the utter powerlessness of the three young protagonists.

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When Eren rushes home hoping against hope his house is still intact only to find his mom’s legs crushed under its ruins, it’s a gut punch. Before I can recover from that, a Titan eats her with cold satisfaction as a fleeing Eren watches, flooring me yet again.

Amidst the wholesale butchery and mass despair, there are obviously glints of both hope and levity. Mikasa’s imposing brawn is employed for a snicker when she and Eren rescue Armin from bullies, and the smash cut from Hannes momentarily facing off against a Titan to reconsidering and scooping up the kids, and retreating was a legitimately funny “oh shit” moment.

As for hope, well, Eren, Mikasa, and Armin are still alive, which means anything is possible. Obviously, they won’t stay powerless for long. But nor is any viable counterattack likely in the immediate future. The onslaught of the Titans has only begun, after all. For now, surviving is the name of the game.

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Welcome to my weekly (or bi-weekly) Attack on Titan retro reviews. Comments are welcome as always, however please limit discussion to this episode and avoid spoilers, as I am writing these reviews as I watch AoT for the first time. Thanks—HB

Steins Gate – 18

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Is Steins;Gate a harem? If it is, it’s one of the best applications of the genre I’ve seen, doubly impressive considering it’s not just a harem, but a harem operating in tandem with and irreparably melded to its central time travel mystery. Each world line is like a path in a dating sim, allowing the show to explore each girl to their fullest potential, only to reset once Okarin cancels the girls’ d-mails.

One way of looking at the sequence thus far is that the divergence factor has strayed from its ideal of 1.0 because too many other potential romances are hanging out there for Okarin. With Suzuha, Feyris, and now Ruka, he is eliminating those potentials one by one, with only Moeka (who has fallen off the face of the earth) and Kurisu (who has looked more like his ideal mate from the start) remaining.

Before all this started, there was only one woman in his life: Mayushii; a situation he clearly took for granted (though they’re more siblings than lovers). Will the universe only deign to spare her if Okarin sheds himself of all the other women in his life who love him?

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I say one woman there, because even though he’s more traditionally feminine by a large margin than any of the others, Urushibara Ruka is a guy. He was a guy in Okarin’s original world line, and thus is “supposed” to be a guy. There’s no delicate way of telling the female Ruka this, but when he tells her Mayushii’s life is at stake, Ruka agrees to go back to being a guy.

In exchange, Okarin will be her boyfriend for one day…because she loves him; a confession that it turns out she can only make in this world line where she’s female.

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With no other choice, Okarin agrees to the date, despite reservations about going out with someone he’s always known to be a guy. But more to the point, Okarin has never been on a date, period. The word “date” is as foreign to him as “Large Hadron Collider” is to Snooki. For that matter, no one in the Future Gadget Lab has the slightest bit of romantic experience.

That’s because they’re all a bunch of weirdos, geeks; and nerds; so caught up in their particular passions and hobbies that they hardly have time to eat or sleep, let alone date. Kurisu can only go so far in her mocking of Okarin’s ignorance and virgin-status, because she is just as clueless and just as much a virgin…only an American one.

(Note that I don’t count Daru’s romantic “experience”, since it’s all 2D, and his present self hasn’t actually concieved Suzu yet.)

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But it’s not just that Okarin is scared of dates. Dating is just not something he’d ever feel the need to do, period. He’s perfectly capable of hanging out with and conversing with and having fun with Kurisu and Mayushii and Ruka, without the rigid structures of courtship getting in the way.

Kurisu, for her part, seems invested in making sure Okarin doesn’t make an ass of himself. Even when the “Dating for Idiots” book tells him to wear something “clean”, Kurisu understands that doesn’t mean a sterile lab coat (though that wouldn’t be odd at all in Akiba). She also knows how to tie a tie.

Watching her fuss over Okarin’s appearance is a joy to watch, because at the end of the day she knows Ruka, who will turn back into a guy, isn’t a threat to her own designs on Okarin, which we know her to harbor.

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She drags Daru along with her to tail Okarin and Ruka and offer advice when it looks like he’s in trouble, via texts (one could call them “L-mails”, where the “L” is for “love”), and I got the distinct feeling she was getting a special vicarious thrill out of it.

As for Okarin, well…having his encounter with Ruka suddenly be categorized as a date stiffens him and turns him into a boring, distant mess, ruining the nice vibes Ruka is putting out. Of course, Ruka’s hapless attempts at small talk also contribute to the awkwardness, but super-props to her seiyu Kobayashi Yuu both in these scenes and everywhere else. They’re trying.

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Things take a turn for the Steins;gate-ian when Ruka asks Okarin if he remembers how they met. Turns out Okarin protected Ruka from some guys with cameras who likely assumed she was a shrine maiden. It’s clear that Okarin was acting according to his own ideals and code, rather than protecting her for the sake of sticking to the script from some book.

After saving Ruka, he told him despite how he looks, he’s a guy. Now, hold on! This is the female Ruka bringing up this memory of when she told Okarin she was a guy. Ruka herself realizes the paradoxical slip-up, and can’t explain it. Okarin knows, though: it’s more of that temporal “leakage” or “Reading Steiner Lite” that also befell Feyris when she saw both versions of the cafe.

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In the end, Ruka thanks Okarin from the bottom of her heart for the date, hands him her mom’s pager number and flees, barely holding back tears. It isn’t until he returns home that Okarin realizes the date wasn’t complete until he went back as “Hououin Kyouma” to train Ruka with her sword. Both are a lot more comfortable this, and Kurisu, Daru, and Mayushii can only look on in an “attaboy” kind of way.

When that’s over, Ruka confesses that she really doesn’t want to go back to being a guy, because it means she’ll have to repress her feelings for him, and even if she didn’t, simply may not be able to love him in the same way. Okarin assures her that regardless of whether she’s a he or he’s a she, He is Kyouma and she is Ruka, and that will never change as long as they both live, so she needn’t worry.

(Ruka also confesses to having accidentally broken the IBN 5100 while cleaning the room where it was stored, a surprisingly mundane fate for the crucial machine/red herring.)

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When Okarin sends the d-mail, Ruka’s appearance hasn’t changed in the slightest; only his answer to Okarin’s question “Do you like me?” Ruka blushes, but says he “respects” him, and Okarin knows things are back to “normal.”

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Okarin returns to the lab to see his labmates having a quiet evening sewing, reading, and surfing. He doesn’t assume everything’s alright yet, because the divergence meter is still around 0.5. The only d-mails that remain in effect now (that I remember) include the one where Moeka warned herself not to buy a new phone, the lottery numbers to the past…and Kurisu’s stabbing.

That has me thinking that once all of the d-mails he’s ever sent were undone, Mayushii will in all likelihood be saved from a premature death…but at the cost of erasing his entire relationship with Kurisu to this point. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t meet for the first time again, and start over from scratch. A girl can dream.

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Steins Gate – 17

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Hmmm…Well, that didn’t work. At least not all the way.

Steins;Gate may twist time into knots, but it never wastes it, snatching away Okarin’s (and my) sweet relief that Mayushii is safe in the first thirty seconds. Okarin stopping his past self from stopping Suzuha from going back to the 70s before the storm damaged her time machine (whew) only delayed Mayushii’s death a little; it didn’t prevent it. For that, he’s going to have to get that divergence number closer to 1.0. Much closer.

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So it’s back to the drawing board for Okarin. Thankfully, he has the adorable genius Kurisu on hand to help him decide what to draw up next. She theorizes that because sending one D-mail to cancel another made incremental progress, cancelling other D-mails that ended up changing the past will lead to further progress.

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It’s a good theory, but undoing D-mails will have a profound interpersonal cost on the lab members, touched on when Kurisu laments she won’t remember Okarin calling her Kurisu (not remembering the first time he did it). But that kind of change is peanuts compared to The last D-mail Okarin undid, which caused Suzuha to never meet her father. The next D-mail he has to undo is the Feyris sent; the one that somehow prevented Akiba from becoming an Otaku Mecca.

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That “somehow” is key, because Okarin can’t change anything if he doesn’t know what Feyris actually did. When he tracks her down, she’s slightly occupied; on the run from a gang of over-zealous Rai-Net Battler gamers sore over her beating them at a tournament. If Okarin wants to talk to her, he’s going to have to keep up.

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The difficulty of prying the truth from the frazzled Feyris is aggravated by his talk with her being constantly interrupted by bursts of chasing, but Okarin eventually able to get her attention by mentioning “May Queen”, the name of her cafe that never was, and a name no one but her should know.

Okarin goes so far as to bring Feyris to the site where her cafe was (or should be), and something very unsettling and haunting occurs: the area briefly shifts back and forth between its current abandoned state and the May Queen, causing Feyris to nearly faint. Even before this happens, the atmosphere is so thick you can cut it with a knife.

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This is a phenomenon I don’t believe we’ve seen before, and I think it has something to do with the effect of Okarin’s Reading Steiner “leaking”; making those he’s in close contact with remember along with him, at least to a degree. I’m interested to see how far this “leaking” goes and if it’s permanent or merely fleeting.

When Okarin tells Feyris that Mayushii’s life is in danger, Feyris is, surprisingly, still hesitant to cooperate, but she turns out to have a very good reason: she sent that D-mail to save the life of her father, who died ten years ago in the original world line.

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This explains why he so suddenly appeared in her apartment after she sent the D-mail, and fully re-inserts Feyris, whose D-mail had far-reaching effects on the timeline but who had been largely sidelined since episode 9, right back into the thick of things, showing just how deep a bench this show has. It also introduces the unenviable but  inevitable choice of saving one person’s life at the cost of another but not being able to save both.

But before they can determine how to proceed, the crazed Rai-Netters corner them, and we get a tense, stark scene in which they beat Okarin bloody and prepare to take Feyris away to their deranged leader for God-knows-what manner of unpleasantness.

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Even in his beaten-down state, Okarin is able to stall the thugs long enough for help to arrive in the most unexpected form imaginable: Feyris’ dad’s chauffeur squeezes his S-Class limo through the alley and scares off the thugs.

Call it a deus (or patrem?) ex machina if you must—it was quite a strange sequence of events—but the fact the thugs’ boss on the other end of the phone is promptly arrested suggests a coordinated, quick-response security system is in place to protect Feyris, a system necessitated by the fact she’s a celebrity in her own right, but also the daughter of a rich and powerful man and thus a target for kidnapping.

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But even with such a system, Feyris would have been in big trouble had Okarin not been there to delay them. That isn’t lost on Feyris or her dad, who agree to tell Okarin what became of the IBN 5100 he used to own, in a very slick segue. Ten years ago, while preparing to board his flight for work ten years ago, her dad received a text that his daughter had been kidnapped, and as he was not as wealthy back then, had to sell his IBN in order to afford her ransom.

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This talk is followed by Feyris paying Okarin a visit in the guest room where he’s resting after a day of running and being beaten up. Okarin has had many exquisitely tender, moving scenes with Kurisu, Mayushii, and Suzuha; now it’s Feyris’ turn…or I should say, Akiha Rumiho’s turn.

She drops their usual chuuni code and nicknames in order to thank him properly, and to tell him everything she couldn’t say in front of her father, in one of the most sharply written and powerfully-acted scenes of the series thus far. Not bad for a character we’ve barely seen for eight episodes, but always liked. Considerable props to Miyano Mamoru and Momoi Haruko.

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Ten years ago, Rumiho was so angry and bitter at her dad for going on his trip, she told him she hated him before he left. That was the last time she ever saw him, as he was killed in a plane crash. When Okarin let her send a D-mail, she sent the false kidnapping message, which kept her dad off that flight and brought him home by train, which led to the current world line. It was a selfish choice, but a perfectly understandable one. If the means to save a dead loved one you didn’t part ways with amicably was in the palm of your hand, who wouldn’t make that choice?

Now that she knows that D-mail may well have sealed Mayushii’s doom, she voices her willingness to send a D-mail undoing it. When asked if she’s “sure about this”, she answers honestly: not at all. But now she can see both the world as it is and as it was, and she is sure of one thing: her father loved her dearly as she loved him, and nothing she said or did would change that fact. Having her father back was a “beautiful dream”, but it isn’t something she’s willing to continue at the cost of Mayushii’s life. Her father died on that plane. He was supposed to die. Now she’s at peace with that. Mostly.

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But more than that, after what her “Prince” Okarin went through to protect her, she feels compelled to return the favor by helping him. She’s always admired and idolized Okarin (ironic as she herself is an idol to many others), but here that admiration takes a turn for the romantic. Calling him her prince, I half-expected her to steal a kiss, but she settles for a behind-the-back hug and permission to cry. It’s just beautiful all around.

Now Okarin finds himself in a situation with Feyris similar to the one with Kurisu: anytime he has these wonderful, powerful moments with either, he travels back in time and everything is lost. Here, Feyris hopes she’ll remember the experiences and words they shared. Okarin tells her she almost certainly will remember, but he expresses far more confidence than he actually has on that front.

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Once Feyris sends her father a D-mail telling him the kidnapping was just a joke, the past changes again. Okarin finds himself in the lab, and Feyris comes up behind him. When he puts his hands on her shoulders, ready to ask if she remembers anything, both Kurisu and Mayushii remark that he’s being awfully lovey-dovey with their friend.

I interpreted Feyris’ response to them — about her and Okarin fighting side by side as lovers in a past life — no less than three different ways. One: She remembers nothing, and is merely talking in their usual chuuni code, which she often uses to express her fondness for Okarin and only coincidentally describes their past dealings. Two: She remembers something, but the memories have to be triggered, as Okarin triggered her memory of the maid cafe before. Three: She remembers everything, and is telling Kurisu and Mayushii the truth.

I’m sorta leaning towards door number two. But whatever the case, Akihabara has returned to its proper state, Rumiho’s father is dead, yet the whereabouts of the 5100 remain unknown. This was still only one step on a very long stair. But it was a fantastic one.

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