Summertime Render – 10 – A Leaf in the Forest

This week is a no-holds-barred Scooby-Doo adventure almost from start to finish. After watching what Ushio went through to warn Shinpei, there’s no way Sou isn’t going to tag along as they head to his family’s old abandoned clinic up in the mountains. Ushio also struts her Shadow Power stuff, able to transform into a shell necklace Shinpei wears, and explaining how her swimsuit is her armor.

Her abilities combined with Shinpei’s courage and Sou’s loyalty make them the perfect team to investigate a creepy haunted hospital. One great detail is a rare statue of the ancient Japanese deity Hiruko-sama, in the form of a limbless leach-like fertility idol. The fact that legend suggests it was heteromorphic creates an enticing connection to the clearly equally-ancient Shadows. Shinpei, Ushio and Sou end up in what seems to be a Shadow nursery.

Turns out there’s something even more terrifying than a Shadow … a baby Shadow, one that seems docile and harmless enough right up until Shinpei tries to shoot it with a nailgun. It dodges and rolls and bounds all over the place until Sou hits it with his baseball bat.

But then it wraps around the bat (again, Shadow) and very nearly kills him, only Shinpei has been practicing his nailgunning and gets three shots into the Shadow. Ushio finishes it off with her Shadow hair, and cue Victory Fanfare for the Scooby Gang. As much as I fear for their safety, it’s a hell of a lot of fun watching these three old friends get shit done.

At the end of the battle, Ushio gives Sou a playful shove forward as the three continue their investigation, but her arm starts bleeding, like the injury that occurred to a previous copy of the arm has returned. After her powers are essentially a cheat code for most of the episode, it’s good for the episode to self-level and demonstrate she’s far from all-powerful.

Shinpei knows this, and he also stands by his promise to always protect her (which made her blush earlier), and his foreknowledge of the nightmares to come even make a dark cave full of Shadow babies seem…not that bad? He knows firsthand it can always be worse! That said, considering how much effort it took to defeat one baby, the trio have their work cut out for them.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 79 – Days of Future Past

The Paths are a place where past, present, and future intersect, but Zeke is content to use a trip down memory lane to show his little brother how their father Grisha “brainwashed” him into becoming a Restorationist. But things don’t go how Zeke plans, as he ends up learning more about Grisha that complicates his long-standing feelings of resentment stemming from his dad abandoning him and starting a new family.

We learn that Grisha found the Reiss family’s underground chapel years earlier than we thought, but chose instead to delay his mission so Eren could have a normal childhood. It’s here, in Grisha’s basement, where Zeke learns his dad didn’t forget him, keeping a photo of him and his mother close by. It’s also where we learn Zeke and Eren aren’t merely invisible observers, as Grisha senses Zeke’s presence but assumes he’s only dreaming.

As Eren stands by patiently, Zeke learns that Eren was never actually brainwashed. When Eren saved Mikasa and killed the monsters in human skin, he was being the same Eren Yeager he always was: neither a weak nor convenient little brother Zeke could use to facilitate his plans or share his scars. Even so, Zeke is determined to “save” Eren (i.e. get him to come around to his thinking) before he saves the world, which he says he can do at any time.

The harrowing incident Eren experienced with Mikasa eventually led to him telling her he wanted to join the Scout Regiment, which Mikasa relays to their parents. Eren doesn’t just want to protect those he loves, but wants to know what lies beyond the walls. Carla pleads with Grisha to discourage their son from taking this path, but Grisha knows there’s no stopping “human curiosity.”

In a return to the truly creepy underground chapel, Zeke and Eren watch Grisha try to convince Frieda to let him use the power of the Founder to protect the people in the walls from the Titans beyond it. Grisha even tells Frieda something she doesn’t know: that the Attack Titan within him can see into the future by having access to the memories of its future inheritors. But when it’s time for Grisha to eat Frieda and kill her family, he can’t do it. At least not until Eren whispers into his ear, reminding him what he’s come to do … and why.

Zeke may have the Founder Titan, but like Frieda, he’s unable to see the future like Eren can. This is why Grisha, after he kills the Reisses and gains the Founder, warns Zeke that things are ultimately going to go Eren’s way, not Zeke’s. He knows this because he’s already seen Eren’s memories of that future. All he can offer Zeke is a hug, his tears, and the affirmation Zeke always sought deep down: that he was loved and not forgotten by Grisha.

Following that cathartic embrace, Eren and Zeke return to the uncanny land of the Paths, and while Eren is still chained to the ground, he doesn’t seem the least bit concerned. Why would he? He knows the future, and if Eren has anything to say about it, it won’t involve the euthanization of the Eldians.

The World’s Finest Assassin – 04 – Nice to Be Needed

Ansatsu Kizoku is by no means the best-looking or most original anime of the Fall, but it just might have the best structure, or rather most interesting structure to its narrative. I love the way it darts and weaves back and forth through time. Macro-wise, we’ve already seen Tarte in action, but this is the episode that truly introduces her as a character, not merely an ass-kicking machine.

We begin with Tarte in pretty much the most dire situation someone can be in. Winter is coming, so the family decided to cast her out so there’d be enough food (it’s implied their lord overtaxes, which caused families to make impossible choices). Starving and running out of strength, she’s set upon by a pack of wolves.

Here’s what immediately made Tarte interesting: she smiles moments before her death. She neither fears nor blames the hungry wolves; hell, she respects them. If this is how she goes, at least she’ll be put to good use keeping other living things alive. When her family abandoned her, she felt she had lost all reason to exist. Then our friend Lugh arrives, and uses the wolves to practice his killing skills while Tarte watches.

Mind you, Lugh doesn’t arrive to save her until after we get an extended scene of him at the harvest market, watching the townsfolk prepare for the winter by preserving and rationing. There’s even a brief little aside of comic relief when the Goddess checks in on another person like Lugh who isn’t faring so well. It’s when Lugh goes hunting so his family will have meat in the winter that he comes across Tarte.

Tarte happens to be backing a huge amount of mana—more than he’s seen in anyone in town—and the grizzled assassin in him knows it can’t be a coincidence; the Goddess must have sent her to him. The thing is, that seemingly throwaway gag of her watching The World’s Finest Special Ops Guy become a NEET over four decades proves she’s not always watching Lugh and making things happen. Sometimes…things just happen, like meeting Tarte.

Lugh’s initial interactions with Tarte are seemingly kind, if somewhat emotionally distant and logical. It’s only after he’s struck a deal for her to bind herself to him mind body and soul that he reveals he manipulated this font of mana into someone who would never betray him; someone who owes their existence to him and so exists only for him.

Two years pass, and Lugh has been training Tarte into the fellow assassin he’ll need to take on the Hero. He hasn’t told her why he’s training her, nor is she curious. When he performs the same examination of Tarte that his father performed on him, it’s super clinical, medical…professional. Lugh may have the body of a twelve-year-old, but he’s no Lewd Rudy.

When I think about how Lugh interacted with Tarte with such precision calculation, I remember what his father said: they are people, not tools. A tool would not have been able to get Tarte to trust him or devote herself to him so easily, but Lugh has been raised to be empathetic and curious, and so is a much better judge of character than your stock killing machine.

The same can be said of Tarte. Takada Yuki does such a fine job initially voicing the starving Tarte and then imbuing her voice with more strength and confidence once two years pass. Tarte may be really really good with a spear (collapsible or otherwise), but she’s also a good person…or as she once said of Lugh, a good person “as far as I’m concerned”.

How we treat others matters. Tarte witnessed Lugh slaughter the wolves with the deftness of a surgeon, and hears how he’s killed people and will go on killing people as part of his duties. But he’s still a good person to her, because he and he alone saved her when he didn’t have to.

Now that both Dia and Tarte have been properly introduced (and are both exceedingly charming, rootable characters to complement Lugh’s aloofness) I imagine the cool beauty Maha’s story is next up. I’m looking forward to more taut, confidently structured storytelling.

Mother of the Goddess’ Dormitory – 01 (First Impressions) – Undress of Grievances

Nagumo Koushi is a 12-year-old sixth grader who is abandoned by his father after their house burns down. He’s wandering the streets starving to death when a green-haired beauty takes pity on him and welcomes him into her college dorm, which is full of beauties, almost none of whom have any qualms about waltzing around with nothing or next to nothing on.

This is a notorious “problem dorm”, which means these college students are generally ostracized by their peers. I can’t really blame them, considering some of their conduct with a 12-year-old kid. I’ll never be too old for anime, but I believe I have gotten too old for this particular brand of nonsense.

It’s a shame, because a lot of the fanservice and voice work is pretty well done, and there are moments of actual emotional resonance…but yeah, I’m just not feeling this one.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 17 – Twinception

I think I’m in love. The opening act of this episode is all Zenin Maki, and at no point does she ever lack the upper hand in her duel with Miwa Kasumi. I like Kasumi just fine, but she got some bad advice from Mai about Maki’s limitations. “Grade Four” may be her official classification, but she’s a damn sight better than that, as Kasumi learns the hard way.

Overwhelmed by Maki’s superior strength and reach, Kasumi tries to draw her into her mini-domain in which she auto-attacks anything that comes within a just over two-meter radius. That plan fails when Maki snaps her polearm in two, throws the individual segments at her along with a hidden kunai Kasumi never saw. Maki ends up stealing Kasumi’s sword from right under her nose. All Kasumi can do is weakly ask if Maki will give it back (she won’t).

With that battle pretty much decided (seems someone kind and “normal” as Kasumi would take a sound defeat over having to kill anyone), we shift to Nobara vs. Momo AKA Ghibli Witch. While Kasumi kept things all business, Momo isn’t above trash talking Nobara for her lack of “cuteness”, a quality the Ghibli Witch believes is crucial for a female sorcerer.

Momo rants about the higher-ups demanding not strength from women, but perfection. Meanwhile, Momo can’t fight 100% against Nobara because a part of her is constantly distracted with using her cursed energy around her ears (to prevent a cursed speech ambush from Inumaki).

When Momo goes into Mai’s difficult upbringing, Nobara doesn’t want to hear it, because Maki—whom she comes right out and says she loves—suffered the same treatment. I love how there’s no love triangle between the two lead dudes and Nobara. Maki is light years better than either of them.

Nobara basically recites her mission statement as a person here: “I don’t give a damn about ‘men’ this and ‘women’ that! I love myself when I’m pretty and all dressed up, and I love myself when I’m being strong!” Realizing once she has her Straw Man Technique all lined up, she switches out her metal hammer for a plastic squeaky one and beats the stuffing out of her opponent, which is the kind of LOL/WTF absurdity I live for.

Were it just Nobara vs. Momo, the former might’ve claimed the win, but the subject of Momo’s sympathy Mai ends up retiring Nobara with a rubber bullet from maximum range. Since Maki is done with Kasumi, she hops into the treetops to face off against her twin, minutes-younger sister.

Through flashbacks we learn that Mai was a scaredy-cat around demons and would’ve been content to accept the Zenin family higher-ups’ estimate of the twins as ultimately good for nothing but servitude at the household. Among the two, only Maki fought against the menial destiny laid out for her and sought out her own, leaving Mai behind. Ultimately, Mai resented her sister not just for lying about remaining by her side, but forcing her to put i the effort to be a Jujutsu sorcerer—something she never wanted to be.

While I sympathize for the way both sisters were treated simply for being women, twins, and lacking the usual qualities of Jujutsu sorcerers, I maintain that Mai is being a whiny little brat. Once she’s fired all six bullets from her revolver, Maki thinks she’s won, but Mei uses her secret ability “construction” that turns her cursed energy into matter—in this case, a seventh bullet.

Just when it looks like Maki is about to get shot in the face, she reaches out and catches the bullet with her bare hands, revealing that she has a unique talent too. In what is essentially the opposite of Mechamaru’s situation, she was was bestowed with superhuman strength in exchange for having no cursed energy whatsoever.

Since Mai can only create one bullet per day, she loses…but doesn’t go quietly, ranting about what was so bad about being ordered around back home, and why Maki didn’t “stay at the bottom” with her. Maki doesn’t mince words: if she did that, they’d still be together, but she’d hate herself. Instead, they’re apart, and Mai hates her instead.

P.S. In this week’s Juju Stroll omake segment, Kasumi gets out of bed for a midnight snack, only to find Momo and Mai eating her edamame. Momo proposes an alternative snack in the form of a seafood ramen cup that’s given richness and an extra kick with milk and red chilies snipped in with scissors. It is indeed tasty…but perhaps a bit too heavy for a midnight snack!

Dororo – 19 – When Words Fail

After a very thematically and emotionally heavy multi-part episode, it felt right to get into some lighter fare. After his battle with Tahoumaru, Hyougou and Mutsu, Hyakkimaru’s arm-swords are ruined, and so with Dororo’s new cash, they set out to find the venerable swordmaker Munetsuna.

A passing peddler told them Munetsuna was the best, but when they arrive in his village, the first villager they meet tells them the hatchet he made for him is crap. Dororo tests it, it cuts perfectly. The guy also says Munetsuna’s daughter Okowa is ugly and has a bad personality, but when they finally meet her, she’s drop-dead gorgeous, warm, and sociable.

Okowa also takes an immediate liking to Hyakkimaru, calling him “Hyaku-sama” and “joking” that he’s come to marry her. Her dad can tell Hyakki’s swords have been used to kill demons, and so they head to a shrine to purify them. That’s where we meet the demon-of-the-week who seems able to manipulate people into saying the opposite of what they mean.

It’s a novel skill for a demon that makes for a delightful rom-com conceit, consisting of the triangle of Dororo, Hyakkimaru and Okowa. Before Dororo knows it, Okowa is proposing to Hyakki, who says he will abandon Dororo their adventures and stay with Okowa. Dororo can’t believe what he’s hearing.

But the next day, he can’t believe what he’s saying: everything that comes out of his mouth is in support of Hyakki and Okowa’s marriage, for which Okowa couldn’t be happier. I can’t place Okowa’s seiyu (I’ll post it when I learn it) but she does a wonderful job bringing the adorable and eminently likable guest star to life.

Even as I sympathized with Dororo after Hyakki’s apparent turn against him, their traveling and/or living with this woman wouldn’t be the end of the world. Still, before Dororo figures out all this opposite-talking is the work of a mischievous demon, he finds an outlet for his frustration and loneliness in Munetsuna.

Ultimately, Dororo figures out something is amiss, and decides he has to stay by Hyakki’s side like he promised, no matter what bro said to make him not want to.

The day of the wedding arrives, and despite saying he was all for it, “Hyaku-sama” has no intention of actually going through with marriage, as he’s not even sure what marriage is. This is all pretty humorous, and the episode makes sure we know it’s okay to find it humorous, as the Amanojaku is far from the killer sharks or lake creatures our duo has fought before. He’s more of a trickster; a nuisance.

Mind you, that nuisance nearly becomes deadly when he makes Hyakki choke Dororo, but Munetsuna bonks him in the head with a log while wearing the mask of Hyottoko, one of their protective deities, and the “spell” he put on both Hyakki and Dororo is lifted. Hyakki embraces Dororo apologetically, and Dororo is happy his bro is back to normal.

As for Okowa, she figures out that Hyakki was saying the opposite of what he meant all that time, which means he never wanted to marry her. Fortunately, with the capture of the Amanojaku, one of the villagers who previously had nothing but unkind words for her is finally able to properly tell her how he really feels, and proposes to her.

As Hyakkimaru tries out his sweet new swords, he demonstrates to Munetsuna and Okowa that it never would have worked out; Hyakkimaru is someone who has dedicated himself to a journey to make himself whole again. So, with a warning to him not to rub his head against anyone unbidden (like he did when he met her), Okowa sees Hyakkimaru off, wishing him and Dororo well on their continuing adventures.

While perhaps not an essential addition to that main journey, this was nonetheless an enjoyable, warm, and above all funny episode that had its “other girl steals Hyakkimaru” cake and ate it too. It reaffirmed both that Dororo need not always be all dark and dire, and that no matter what supernatural foe they face, there’s no breaking up Hyakki and Dororo.

Hanebado! – 13 (Fin) – The Other Side of the Net

Hanebado! seemed to take a bit of a nosedive in critical reception as it progressed, with most of the criticism centering on writing perceived as poor and character reactions and attitudes that were too often over-the-top or unrealistic.

Frankly, neither of these things ever bothered me, because the primary draw for me was always watching two players slap the shit out of a birdie (or shuttlecock, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing). Ayano and Nagisa close out their match, and the show, doing just that.

As such, the animation of the match and of the character’s reactions grows ever more dramatic and stylized throughout the roller coaster of an episode. Ayano crawls all the way back, and Nagisa and her knee seem poised to crumble before the might of her opponent’s honed talent.

Coach Tachibana looks ready to pounce at any moment should Nagisa desire to end the match to possibly preserve her career; to lose to live to fight another day. But she doesn’t give up, nor does she let her knee stop her from hanging in there against Ayano.

After several end-of-match deuces (ties), it gets to the point that even Ayano’s body starts to give out. Indeed, when Nagisa’s winning point is scored, securing the narrowest of victories, Ayano’s racket flies right out of her hand and hits one of the net posts.

Once Nagisa realizes she’s won, she bursts into tears right there on the court, while an exhausted Ayano is helped off by her senpais, and takes that opportunity to thank them for supporting her, something that catches them off guard, since she was such an unapologetic bitch to them not too long ago!

Even though Ayano lost, she doesn’t feel like she’s going to be abandoned, nor that it’s the end of the world. Rather, both she and Nagisa realized during the match that they both love and play badminton because it’s fun; and it’s never more fun than when you’re playing such a close match against someone on or around your level.

Ayano and Nagisa might just represent the two peaks of their respective corners (talent and hard work), though it’s also clear that Nagisa has plenty of talent (otherwise she wouldn’t have beaten Ayano, period), while Ayano works plenty hard (otherwise she wouldn’t have had the stamina to almost knock Nagisa off).

Ayano also confronts her mother and states that she hated her, past-tense, because she thought she was abandoned for not having any talent. Uchika repeats her offer to bring Ayano back with her to Denmark, but Ayano wishes to remain in Japan, where she intends to keep playing and keep getting better. Uchika is impressed and moved by her daughter’s words.

As friends Riko and Nagisa share a post-victory moment of friendship, Ayano also takes the time to thank her friend Erena for always standing by her side, as well as for persuading her to get back into badminton.

When Ayano and Nagisa next meet, the latter is being told to take things easy, what with her patellar tendinitis. But Ayano immediately challenges her to a match. She quickly switches back to “Evil Ayanon”, but not out of straight-up malice; her intention to inspire Nagisa, not provoke her.

It’s also a way of acknowledging Nagisa’s skill; trash talk aside, Ayano wouldn’t play someone she believed wasn’t worth playing. And so the two arrange to practice together more and more in preparation for the inter-high tournament. After all, the person on the other side of the net is a “reflection of themselves”. Beat that, and they can beat anyone.

Hanebado! – 12 – Crossfire

Hanesaki Ayano is good, but not invincible, and while she wins the first game, it’s not a blowout but a 20-16 eke-through, because Nagisa refuses to play the game Ayano thought she’d play. Put simply, Nagisa goes on the defense, forcing Ayano to be the aggressor, which gives Nagisa time to think and keep Ayano off-balance, all while sapping her stamina.

Nagisa’s knee is a concern, but Tachibana examines it and she seems to be okay. Erena hears from Ayano’s mom that her intent, however monstrous, was to get Ayano to become a better player by playing for herself, not for the sake of her mother. Abandoning her made her hate her mother, and thus made her find a new reason to improve: revenge.

But while she won the first game and is determined to beat Nagisa in straight sets, it just doesn’t go that way. Nagisa keeps up the defense and keeps hanging in there long enough to finally release her jumping smash at the most devastating moment. It’s everything Ayano has not to completely melt down on the court.

That’s because despite her brave face and resolve to reject her mom, Ayano still fears abandonment over everything else. By losing the second set, she feels she’s on the cusp of being abandoned again; this time by everyone who isn’t her mom. She enters a tailspin, going down 0-8 in the third game, causing some to consider the match over before it officially ends.

But then something happens: despite how badly she treated her teammates, they still cheer her on and urge her to do her best, not just for her own sake, but for the sake of the team, who can say they sent two teammates to the Nationals. Erena adds her voice to a crowd that is suddenly on Ayano’s side, as if sensing the emotional turmoil in which she’s roiling.

The sudden surge of support works. No longer afraid she’ll be discarded for being useless, Ayano breaks out something new from her back of tricks: she ends Nagisa’s 8-point scoring streak by scoring a point of her own, with her right hand. Could it be she’s a natural righty even though she’s been playing lefty all this time? Or is she simply ambidextrous?

In any case, she’s back in the game. Also worth looking for in the final episode: whether Ayano’s come-from-behind win is really in the cards. Maybe Nagisa will upset her, but then again, maybe Ayano needs to learn that she doesn’t need to win all the time to avoid being abandoned.

Hanebado! – 11 – Creating a Monster

“Why do you play badminton?” That question is oft asked in Hanebado!. Characters ask other characters, and also ask themselves. “Because I love it” seems to be a pretty popular answer. I mean, why participate in a sport and work hard at it if you don’t feel a kind of affinity for it, or because it makes you feel good?

Ayano claims not to subscribe to such a glib answer. Everyone who says they play because they love it seems to get on her nerves. Perhaps it’s envy, or perhaps it’s obfuscation. Regardless, Ayano isn’t in this for the love of the game; she’s in it for revenge against the mother who abandoned her—even as that mother claims she left her so she would become stronger.

You can call Ayano’s decision to renounce her mother a kind of growth, but there’s just as much Nagisa growth on display this week. For one thing, she’s learned not to get bothered by Ayano’s haughty provocations. She’s also learned not to push herself too far.

As Ayano is trying her best not to let the sudden reappearance of her mother throw her off her game (she sees it as yet another hurdle to clear), Nagisa is trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour the night before the match; though she can’t sleep and instead studies film of Ayano, ending up with less than three hours of sleep.

The day of the match, Ayano’s “teammates” encourage her, but she rejects that encouragement as a waste of time; her performance won’t be affected either way by their words. It’s the last display of cruel pomposity Elena is willing to bear. She takes Ayano aside and learns of Ayano’s plan to abandon her mom. And Elena blames herself for making Ayano join the club.

I can’t say I disagree with that placing of blame; while Ayano was hardly in a good place emotionally prior to being forced into joining club, the fact that she had come to hate badminton meant she had find a reason other than love of the game in order to prosper in it. With the best of intentions, Elena created a monster.

When play begins, Nagisa shows growth once more by playing a different game; not relying too much on her smash, and using more deception and less aggressive bull-headedness. She’s rewarded by winning the first two points of the first set. She also has the crowd behind her.

Elena spots Uchika walking out after her daughter’s two lost points, and as the rain starts to fall, expresses her desire to talk about Ayano with her. Meanwhile, Ayano, who didn’t see Uchika leave and probably doesn’t much care anymore, is hardly fazed by Nagisa’s surprisingly strong start.

In fact, she’s mildly amused, and then blurts out the strategy Nagisa is trying to employ. Nagisa was able to use the element of surprise to steal a couple of points, but she knew it wouldn’t be long before Ayano picked up on what was going on and adjusted her game.

While it only took Ayano two points for her to analyze Nagisa’s strategy, the show seems to want to present the possibility Nagisa could beat Ayano…but we’ll have to wait at least one of the final two episodes to know the final result. All we know is that Ayano will have a counterattack…and that we’re probably in for more flashbacks next week!

Happy Sugar Life – 10 – Partners in Crime

Shio believes everyone’s heart is a jar made of glass. If it isn’t regularly filled with love, or is hit by various stresses, it will crack and break, and when it does, there’s no coming back.

Shio is worried Satou’s jar is dangerously close to shattering, so she tries to do as much as she can. She covers her with a blanket, warms up the curry, and throws her clothes in the wash—where she sees Satou’s bloodstained clothes.

Seeing Satou in such a state reminds Shio of her last days with her mom, who became destitute when she finally left her abusive husband. Shio wanted to do what she could then too, including replace her mother’s “jar” with a new one she sees across the street.

But in doing so, Shio is almost hit by a truck, and her mom’s jar breaks. She takes Shio on a walk in the rain, then stops and leaves her there, saying a simple “goodbye.” Her mom’s jar was broken, and she was simply…done.

When Satou awakens, she pretends like nothing’s wrong, but immediately starts talking about their next home. After all her talk about the castle where they’d live happily ever after, it wounds Shio to hear Satou so gung-ho about abandoning it.

But more than that, Shio is hurt by what Satou isn’t saying, and by all the things she’s hiding. When Satou tells Shio all she needs to do is smile and love her, it reminds her of her mother, who also asked nothing of Shio but to stay put; to stay safe.

Shio won’t have it; not anymore. She doesn’t like Satou’s secrets, or her vision of how she should be to her, which is to act as little more than a human doll. She storms off, and in her anger, tells Satou she hates her. Satou then becomes paralyzed with despair.


The same night Shio’s mother abandoned her, Satou happened to be walking around, and meets Shio, asking her why she isn’t chasing after her mom. Shio tells her it’s because what she felt toward her mother wasn’t love, it was just a desperate hope her mom would keep living, so she could live.

With an attitude well beyond her not numerous years, she decides not being with her mom anymore is for the best. But she also realizes she was too harsh with Satou. She doesn’t hate her; but she hates how Satou shoulders the burden of protecting her.

From now on, Shio wants Satou to tell her everything, and they’ll share the burden and protect each other. In other words, a more balanced relationship where Shio has agency. Satou agrees, and tells Shio all of the horrible things she’s done to keep her safe, including killing someone. Shio accepts it all and fills Satou’s jar…because Satou fills and strengthened hers.

Hanebado! – 07 – The Power and Price of Hard Work

The best and most thrilling episode of Hanebado! yet, in which Ayano and Kaoruko have their fated rematch, comes with a surprise: Ayano’s mom is nowhere to be seen; none of Ayano’s teammates mention her again; and there’s no indication she watched the Kaoruko rematch. Where’d she go? We never find out. But she’s there, and she’ll surely be back.

Her total absence reflects the new attitude towards her mother Ayano wishes to adopt: that she doesn’t have a mother, or at least not one whose opinions matter to her anymore. Ayano looks initially rattled by Kaoruko’s gift of a hankie for the tears/snot when she loses, but her pained look morphs into a wry girn.

Ayano isn’t scared of Kaoruko anymore; at least not on the surface. Her inner thoughts/feelings are off limits to Ayano’s teammates, Kaoruko, and we the audience, but it could well be she’s just as calm, cool, and committed to obliterating her opponent inside as out.

Yu loses her match, making Ayano, Nagisa and Sora the only three players left standing in the prelims. But frankly I just wasn’t that interested in the little subplots of the other characters. This was about a suddenly supremely confident Ayano and a Kaoruko humming with arrogance: an Unstoppable Force vs. an Unmovable Object.

Despite the distractions, the match lives up to the hype and then some. It’s the most high stakes match we’ve been able to watch, and the animation team pulls out all the stops, utilizing all manner of angles, zooms, pans, sweeps, etc. as well as a 3-D “floating camera” that soars from one end of the court to t’other. It really got the adrenaline pumping.

But even more important: for once, Ayano, supposedly one of the most talented players in the show, isn’t embarrassed or overwhelmed, physically or psychologically. She is in complete command of the match, and demonstrates virtual telepathy when it comes to diagnosing Kaoruko’s game plan and sabotaging it at every turn with unexpected counters.

This is where Kaoruko’s tireless hard work, ultra-granular attention to detail, and the ruthless drive to defeat Ayano at all costs actually work against her. She prepared so intricately carefully for an opponent based on what she thought she knew of them up and down, leaving no time to consider how Ayano’s skills would have improved or evolved parallel to her own.

Ayano is no stranger to hard work either, after all. She employs it here, and her grit on the court is reinforced by her conscious effort to block all of those negative and unpleasant thoughts that plagued her for so long. Free of the need for validation from her mother, she’s a player possessed.

She’s also in rare form on the trash talking front. Kaoruko talked a big game, but Ayano’s retorts are strategically toned and timed for maximum damage. Long story short: Ayano is all that’s in Kaoruko’s head. Winning is al that’s in Ayano’s head.

The final 21-16, 21-17 score in Ayano’s favor doesn’t do justice to the level of dominance she displayed against Kaoruko in 90% of the match. The defeat is devastating, and not just because she gave her entire team the middle finger prior to the match, so confident was she that she’d “mop the floor” with Ayano.

Ayano broke a fantasy that Kaoruko kept playing in her head as she worked so hard: that she could beat the first player her own age to beat her, without cheating by giving her a cold. She thought she was psychologically stronger. Her only loyal, sympathetic teammate helps her stretch post-match, both of them cry, for Ayano crushed those fantasies, then offered Kaoruko her hankie back.

Ayano, for her part, calls Kaoruko’s effort “pathetic”, which rubs Elena the wrong way. Ayano’s cold response is simply that on that court, winning is the only thing that matters (Sorry, Riko, Yu and Sora!). Another way to say that is that if you don’t win, then nothing matters. So yeah, Ayano may be playing her best badminton, but she’s gone to a dark, lonely place to do it.

Next up is Nagisa vs. Nozomi, but you know what? However it turns out, I can’t see how it won’t feel like a bit of a letdown after Ayano vs. Kaoruko. Both players are lower down on the character significance list. What could mitigate that is if we finally get the Ayano-Ayano’s mom reunion we’ve been waiting for all season. Who knows, maybe she did watch the match; the episode just never cut to her…

Hanebado! – 06 – Not Just One More Match

Prelims are upon us this week, and it’s Izumi Riko’s turn to be angsty. It’s her last year and last prelims, and she wants to win. The only problem is, her first opponent is her childhood friend Nozomi, who also happens to be one of last year’s final four. Riko is not confident she can hang with the likes of Nozomi, and even though Nagisa tries her best to fire her up, Riko ends up frustrated and the two part ways for the evening on a bad note.

The day of the matches arrives, and Riko and Nozomi are cordial but cool, as imminent opponents must be. The team rocks their slick new one-piece uniforms, and Riko’s four cute siblings are in attendance, but she still manages to stink up the joint in the first half of the first set overwhelmed by her own lack of confidence as well as Nozomi’s unbeatable aura.

When the interval comes, Riko knows she has to do something…so she goes over the shots of the match so far, analyzes them, and finds that Nozomi is avoiding her backhand. Riko goes on the offensive and gets a point or two before Nozomi re-adjusts. It’s a beautifully-animated, fast-paced story told through the smooth, graceful, yet powerful motions of the players; a chess match of adjustments and counter-adjustments.

Riko still loses, but she makes Nozomi work for her win, going against her opponent’s strict coache’s insistence she conserve her stamina. It was just another match for Nozomi; a stepping stone to the next round. But for Riko, it was the match; the only match left in her high school career. And as her coach directed, she had fun out there.

Whither Ayano? Well, for most of the episode she seems to be putting up a strong front of Everything’s Okay, and may even believe she’s past worrying about her mother or Connie. But these prelims are uniquely equipped to not let Ayano escape her troubles so easily. Not only is she facing Serigaya Kaoruko in the next round, but her mother will be in attendance to watch their rematch. That should be interesting…

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