Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 02 – Vampire’s Kissu

This second outing’s segments add more nuance, context, and even turnabout to what was largely a one-sided, antagonistic first episode. For one thing, Nagatoro doesn’t make her senpai cry once! Still, in the stinger, she upsets his zen-like art room calm by hula-hooping in, a veritable Tazmanian Devil of energy.

Nagatoro playfully invites him to find the right moment to jump into the hoop with her, but when he actually tries to do so, ends up accidentally catching a glimpse of her underwear. It showed that she’s not always certain or prepared for how her senpai will respond to her teasing…which is clearly part of the fun for her.

When Naoto buys the newest issue of Big Boob Vampires, Nagatoro catches him making a lewd face. I’m not sure what Naoto was thinking even bringing such a book to school, let alone whipping it out in a room Nagatoro frequents, but after a physical stalemate she embarrasses him with dirty talk and snatches it away.

But here’s the twist: while BBV definitely has some pervy bits, it turns out she genuinely loves vampire stuff, and agrees with him that it’s pretty well written! This builds on her harsh but constructive criticism of senpai’s own manga, but also confirms the two have a shared interest.

When the electricity of the school goes out all too conveniently, a tomato juice-sipping Nagatoro starts to ponder what it would be like to be a vampire, showing Naoto her larger-than-average canines and insisting he let her bite his neck. When she mounts him, he says others might get the wrong idea about “things and stuff”, but it’s his post-yakisoba garlic breath that gets her off him.

Within seconds, she pounces on him again, but awkwardly, and her hand lands right on his crotch. For once, Nagatoro is precisely as flustered as Naoto, as she definitely didn’t mean to put her hand there. But she makes lemonade with crotch-grabbing lemons by congratulating Senpai: he got “accidentally lucky”, just like the MC of BBV!

On their walk home (during another lovely sunset) Nagatoro slowly lurks and stews behind Naoto, asks if it was the first time he was “touched”…as it was most likely the first time she touched. She gets in position to grab him again, only to go for his ribs before bidding him goodbye.

As he tries to read the vampire manga at home, his real-life interactions with Nagatoro that day intrude upon his thoughts. She may not have actually bitten his neck or drank his blood, but she’s gotten under his skin for sure…as if he were in thrall to a vampire.

The next day, Nagatoro interrupts his drawing session to play a game to determine if they can guess the precise location of one another’s nipples. There’s a funny cutaway to her in traditional archer’s garb hitting two bullseyes, followed by swirling her fingers around his nipples.

She doesn’t expect Naoto to even try to do the same to her, but he does agree to try, and the closer he gets to her, the more nervous she gets, until she gets a text alert and runs out of there. Naoto can’t see her face as she leaves, but she’s clearly flustered again; her tomfoolery getting her in over her head once more.

The final segment represents the first time since Nagatoro and her three friends were introduced that Naoto was observing her without her being aware, meaning he gets to see a different side of her. This time, she arrives at the same family restaurant he’s working on his manga, joined by one of her girlfriends and two guys. It’s clear her friend is trying to set her up with one or both of them.

Naoto stays hidden, and watches with relish, expecting Nagatoro to tear both guys a new one. But to his shock, she doesn’t tease either of them; rather, she firmly puts each of them in their place: the first guy for being a pretentious musician, and the second guy for bringing up groping a girl’s boobs when they’ve just met.

Nagatoro’s friend is disappointed she scared them off, but as Nagatoro says, “it’s just that those guys are boring.” Meaning she saw no point in messing with them. You could say that just as Naoto is in her thrall, when it comes to having fun with a boy, no one but her thrall will do.

As he walks home, bathed in gorgeous purple and pink light, Nagatoro ponders what looks to be a very distinct possibility Nagatoro toys with no one but him. Right on cue, Nagatoro appears and slaps him on the back, asking what’s up. Thankfully, she never noticed he was at the family restaurant. I wouldn’t have particularly liked that, since there would’ve been no way to tell if she’d adjusted her behavior knowing he was watching.

Instead, Naoto got the real unvarnished Nagatoro. She begins by teasing him for his unique and “creepy” silhouette, then goes on calling him “squiggly”. It seems like he’s about to ask her why she only toys with him, but decides not to, and she just calls him gross over and over as he denies it and tells her to stop.

I thought this was an improvement on the first episode, as some of Nagatoro’s pranks backfire, while she inadvertently demonstrated that the only guy she seems to pay any attention to is him. It may rarely be the kind of attention he wants, but there’s no doubt that their time together is never dull.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode 2 “Senpai” Count: 43
Total: 94

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 01 (First Impressions) – Not Just for the Fun of It

This is going to be one of those shows most viewers will either hate with a steaming passion from the moment the titular Nagatoro first speaks, or follow with a kind of morbid curiosity about just how much teasing, taunting, and straight-up abuse our MC Hachiouji Naoto is ready, willing, and able to endure before he snaps and…asks her out!

Nagatoro’s way with Naoto can be very stressful at times, even for someone who wasn’t bullied as a youth. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is just not a pleasant time for some people, and would totally understand if they want to wash their hands of this show after its first outing made clear what it’s going to be about.

All that said, I came away from Nagatoro thoroughly entertained, and I think a lot of that has to do with tuning into its very particular wavelength. It certainly helps that Uesaka Sumire is so good in voicing Nagatoro’s role, and the visuals are gorgeous and sometimes downright stunning. You have to buy into the idea that for as horrible as she is for much of this episode, this is all really Nagatoro’s way of engaging—and flirting—with Naoto.

Nagatoro is first introduced as one of four faceless gyaru-esque types loudly carrying on in the library, where none of the shyer people around them have the guts to tell them to shut up or leave. Naoto is intimidated by their mere presence on the opposite end of the room, thinking he’s never going to have anything to do with “that species”.

When one of the girls picks up a manga drawing he dropped, Nagatoro seems more interested than the others, and stays behind while they go hang out elsewhere. This is key, as no one else is around during all of the teasing that ensues when she has a flustered Naoto reenact the scene from his manga with her. That’s not an accident; I think she likes it that way.

Nagatoro may be ridiculously irritating and invasive and almost utterly contemptuous of personal boundaries, but she is this way to Naoto and no one else, and with no one else around. It’s the same in the art club, when she makes sure they’re alone before teasing him by offering to be a nude model.

I daresay Nagatoro gets off on dominating the year-older Naoto. Her face does a lot of things throughout the episode, but one thing that stands out is that she’s often blushing just as much if not more than he is while she’s engaged in her teasing. When he’s knocked backwards when she unbuttons her top, she blushes. When she relents and agrees to draw her normally (with her clothes on) she blushes.

She’s loving every minute of this, and seems to be fueled by Naoto’s passivity and submissiveness. Her criticism of his manga and his portrait of her is actually pretty constructive when you think about it, as her goal seems to be to get him to either draw a manga with a character more like him or to become more like his character. She also wants him to draw her better, which means she wants him to draw her again. She was, after all, the first girl he ever looked at so closely.

When Nagatoro makes Naoto cry in the library and she offers him a handkerchief, it almost feels like rubbing salt in the wound. But then when she makes him cry again—after she physically overpowers him and says he’s “so weak”—her demeanor softens considerably and she apologizes while gently drying his eyes, admitting she “had to” mess with him again.

More like she couldn’t resist, because she gets so much pleasure out of riling him up…and also out of drying his eyes. It’s like she’s breaking him down so she can build him back up. In any case, it’s a very cute and tender moment when she realizes she might’ve gone too far there.

That said, Nagatoro continues to pester Naoto as he leaves school, and they apparently share a route home. It’s here whre Nagatoro may actually be hiding a genuine request to go out with her behind a layer of teasing. Sure, even if Naoto straightened up and said “yes”, she’d laugh it off as a joke, but the simple fact that Nagatoro won’t leave him and only him alone means there’s something there.

When she accidentally pushes him into the river (due to some creative physics on the part of the episode) and he comes out soaking but still not letting her have it, she remarks how he never seems to get angry. The thing is, Naoto is used to bullying and used to dealing with it by looking away and closing his mind. Because of that, he doesn’t remember the faces of his previous bullies.

When prompted, he tells Nagatoro that she ticks him off and gets on his nerves, but “he doesn’t hate it that much…talking with [her] and stuff”. Having called her simply “miss” throughout their interactions, Nagatoro finally gets him to ask her for her name, and for good measure, she writes it on his chest with her finger, never passing up a chance to get a rise out of him.

The episode ends with her trademark devilish smirk, but also flushed cheeks as she says “Let’s get to know each other, Senpai.” I’m willing to give Nagatoro the benefit of the doubt because Naoto is, and has dealt with worse treatment before, and to him Nagatoro simply feels different. Perhaps it feels less like a bully and victim, and more like a dom/sub or top/bottom relationship? And it also feels safer because so far all of the humiliation she’s brought upon him has been private?

I doubt at this point that Naoto perceives that Nagatoro harbors genuine attraction to him precisely because he lets her drive him to tears, but as he said, he doesn’t entirely hate it that much. Will the D/s dynamic continue, or will Naoto start to try to assert himself more as he grows more comfortable around her? I’m eager to see where this goes. Your mileage may well vary considerably.

Episode 1 “Senpai” Count: 51

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 23 – Out of Character

Satoko’s century of loops have made any game—particularly involving memory—a cakewalk, wielding an ability to predict that the others call “prophesy”. She’s taking the same approach with her battle of wills with Rika, making use of the infinite time available to her in order to ensure there’s no doubt about the winning result.

Unfortunately, a strange phenomenon has started to crop up: people close to her are retaining memories from other loops, such as Keiichi recalling murdering everyone in a different loop. According to Eua—the purple-haired deity so-named by Satoko’s stuttering—this is the natural effect of looping as much as Satoko has, and it’s only going to get more pronounced.

For Satoko’s Uncle Teppei, the influence of Satoko’s looping manifests in horrible dreams he has about his shitty life ending in various, even shittier ways. He has so many of these dreams it starts to affect his attitude and behavior in his waking life. When he sees a father with his happy daughter at the Pachinko parlor, he decides to use some of his winnings to by some sweets for his niece.

When Teppei happens to cross paths with Satoko, she is understandably weary, considering her uncle used to beat and berate her without mercy. Witnessing him pick up the bag of groceries she dropped, and slip some choco-donuts into it before handing it to her, leaves Satoko so utterly bemused it keeps her up at night.

Another incident occurs when Satoko’s path is barred by a band of delinquents. When she asks them to move they get nasty and threaten her, but Teppei comes out of nowhere, clocks their leader, and then gets himself curb-stomped, as he’s outnumbered and a good deal older than them.

The police intervene, and under questioning Teppei simply says he was teaching a young punk a lesson. Detective Ooishi takes over the interview and reports that multiple witnesses, including his niece, say he rushed to defend his niece. Ooishi knows Teppei well, and how extremely out of character it is, but that’s what the people saw.

Teppei is free to go, and shocked to find Satoko waiting outside the station. They walk together for some time, the sad history between them creating no small amount of tension and awkwardness. He tells her about the dreams he’s having, and how it’s made him want to start making amends for what he’s done. That includes trying to get back on speaking terms with his niece.

He admits there’s a selfish element to it, namely someone to take care of his body after he dies. And when he reaches his hand out and Satoko tries to shake it, her PTSD kicks in and she’s suddenly horribly anxious and fearful. This new Teppei realizes he shouldn’t have attempted to touch her after everything he’s done, and walks off.

Satoko looks at her still shaking hand and the sight of Teppei walking away, and her expression is complex. Part of her could be disappointed in the way she reacted. The looper in her has no doubt realized that she is the one affecting this change in her uncle. With only one episode left of this two-cour run, I wonder if, and how, it will affect her plan to beat Rika.

Wonder Egg Priority – 06 – Omelette Rice

Now that each girl and the group as a whole have had their spotlight episodes, it’s time to return to Ohto Ai’s story. While she’s exhausted and sore from her last battle, Ai’s mom insists she get out of bed for breakfast. Her mom also made her omelette rice for lunch and they’ll be having sukiyaki for supper. Ai notes that they usually only have sukiyaki on special occasions. Then her mom asks if she’ll have a “proper talk” with Mr. Sawaki today.

When Ai joins the others, it’s clear she’s in a mood. First of all, she’s skipping emphatically, then starts kicking a traffic cone around and then a sandwich board that she accidentally shatters. The other three are understandably curious what caused this change in her. The four visit the Accas, who inform them of a new threat: Haters, who disguise themselves as Seeno Evils but are far more powerful.

Haters are the result of the four girls “standing out” by their protecting the egg girls. “Those who stand out pay for it”, Acca says, reminding me of how conformity was also the best defense in Ikuhara’s Yuri Kuma Arashi. They present the girls with a different kind of defense: cute pendants that awaken when spoken to in Latin and imprint upon their owners.

Each girl finds somewhere private to awaken their “Pomanders”. Neiru’s is a snake, Rika’s a turtle, Momo’s is an alligator, and Ai’s is a chameleon. While envy and spite birth the Haters that attack Ai and her latest egg girl, those same qualities are like “bread and butter” to her Pomander, who proceeds to gobble one up. As a big fan of beast-taming in FFXIII-2, I like the extra boost they provide to Ai as the difficulty level increases.

In life, Yoshida Yae could see dead people and “strong grudges” no one else could. Because only she could, no one believed her, and she was eventually committed. The facility was full of the very thing only Yae could see, which do doubt led to her suicide. Ai tries to keep her safe by hiding her, but this time the Wonder Killer itself is invisible.

While it’s a little confusing at first, it becomes apparent that Ai’s defense of Yae and battle against an invisible foe comes after the “special occasion” for which her mom is making sukiyaki: Mr. Sawaki is joining them for dinner…and not to talk about school. While the sukiyaki is a clue, it still feels like an ambush, especially when Ai is still drying her hair from a bath when he basically invades her safe space.

Ai’s mom and Sawaki aren’t done with the surprises, as they announce to her their intention to start dating, if it’s okay with her. YIKES. Look, I get it, her mom is divorced and ready to find love again, and Sawaki seems on the surface to be a kind and decent guy. But your daughter’s teacher, who was a major presence in both her and her only friend’s lives prior to Koito’s sudden suicide?

The cynic, i.e. the Rika in me smells something rotten in the state of Denmark. Just as she supposed Ai’s mom used Ai’s need for counseling as an excuse to make Sawaki’s visits a regular occurance, leading to their growing closer, Rika has even darker concerns based on her own mother’s relationships. In her experience, live-in boyfriends always abuse their girlfriend’s kids—violently if it’s a son, sexually if it’s a daughter.

When Ai tells the other girls about this, Momoe is giddily over the moon, as it could mean she and Ai could be family someday. She does not take Rika’s aspersion casting well, and not just because Rika makes a distinction between how a boy or girl would be abused. Momo trusts her uncle, and believes Rika is letting her perspective curdle Ai’s. For him to use Ai’s mom as a decoy to get to Ai…she just can’t believe he’d be that way.

And yet…sometimes it’s the closest friends and family members who have a blind spot where their loved one is concerned—just ask anyone who was close to someone who has been #MeToo’d in the last few years. “[What they are alleged to have done] isn’t them” is a common refrain. The bottom line is, Ai seems most troubled by the fact she still doesn’t know what caused Koito’s suicide, and as long as the mystery remains unresolved, Ai will understandably feel uneasy.

And then there’s Neiru’s input, which is to draw in so close to Ai she can’t hide her face. She brings up Occam’s Razor—the simplest theory is the best—and wonders if the bottom line is that Ai likes Mr. Sawaki. From where they each stand, Momoe, Rika, and Neiru all have valid reasons for how they feel about Ai’s predicament. There simply isn’t enough information for anyone to be proven right or wrong.

All that is certain is that the uncertainty is extremely frustrating for Ai, so much so that after getting beaten by Yae’s invisible Wonder Killer, and Yae tosses her prayer beads that enable Ai to see it, Ai wastes no time taking out those frustrations on the Killer, kicking and smashing it into oblivion.

Before Yae also vanishes, she gets to experience the release and relief of having Ai embrace her and tell her in no uncertain terms that she believes her. For Yae, Ai was the only one. Upon returning home, she decides to name her new chameleon buddy Leon. It’s a bit obvious, but it feels right.

The next day, it pours. Ai’s mom comes home while she’s still in the bad, and scolds her for leaving her dirty clothes out. When she says she’ll turn out the pockets before putting them through the wash, Ai bursts out of the bath without drying off, dresses herself, and runs out the door into the torrential rain. When her mom asks where she’s going, she defiantly yells “SCHOOL!”

Ai keeps running, and by the time she reaches her school, the rain has let up and the sky has become clear and beautiful. She spots Mr. Sawaki as two other schoolgirls are saying goodbye to him. She runs up to him takes hold of his arm, and catches her breath. It looks for all the world like she’s about to confess her love, but she doesn’t. Instead, she brightly declares that she’s going to start going to school again, purposefully brushing the hair out of her face to reveal her blue eye.

Ai doesn’t give Sawaki an answer about whether its okay for him to date her mom. She also doesn’t have any satisfying answers about Koito; at least not yet. Depsite all that, she’s emerged from her cocoon after a lengthy hibernation, and to give ordinary school life another go. Not for Koito, not for her mom, and not for Mr. Sawaki…but for herself.

Perhaps she was “egged on” (I’m so sorry) by her mom and Mr. Sawaki’s announcement, but defending all the egg girls and hearing their stories, as well as those of her fellow egg defenders, and even Leon helped her put her own situation into relief.

Avoiding school hasn’t brought her all the answers she’s sought since losing Koito. Maybe by returning to school they’ll reveal themselves…or maybe not! Either way, she’s moving forward with her her life. I just hope she didn’t catch a cold running forward through all that rain!

Wonder Egg Priority – 02 – Poached

Episode one was such a feast of beautiful and weird imagery and sound, twisting time and space, and unblinking glimpses of hard truths that we as the audience necessarily needed a little time to find our footing. This week focuses Ai’s new role as plucky heroine saving “damsels in egg-stress”, but also her efforts to connect with the taciturn Aonuma Neiru.

Unlike the other girls with whom Ai has interacted so far, Neiru is both alive and inhabits the same real world as her. Which means Ai can make a real friend! Trouble is, Neiru is singularly focused on processing as many eggs as possible in order to save her little sister, i.e. her Nagase Koito. So while Neiru gives Ai her number, it’s only so they can arrange not to meet.

Neiru makes it clear that while they have similar roles, they’re different people. For one thing, she “loves” herself, while Ai hates herself. We’re reminded of the struggles Ai faces when she comes home to find a therapist is there, and grudgingly goes through as session with her mom present. While we know she’s out doing good in the world, her mom likely suspects she’s engaged in some kind of self-destructive behavior.

Regardless, Ai continues her work, determined to “save” Koito even though “saving her” may not bring her back physically but rather heal Ai—I’d call it an elaborate means of working through the trauma and not allowing it to consume her life. As with last week’s egg, this newest one contains another girl who is already gone, but thanks to Ai, is able to exorcise her demon, AKA her “Wonder Killer.”

In the case of timid Suzuhara Minami, the Wonder Killer is her abusive gymnastics coach. Minami doesn’t like the situation she’s in, but blames her own weakness, and we witness the psychological power of the coach when she arrives on the roof and places a hand on the submissive Minami’s head.

In a nice visual tough, as this week’s “captured maiden” Minami wears a frilly leotard under her hoodie, emphasizing her status as a princess for Ai the knight to rescue. The resigned Minami urges Ai not to bother with her, but as her head is turned, the coach transforms into a grotesque monster.

Ai looks back to when the bullying of Koito started. Koito’ uniform was torn and thown in the mud, which she calls “classic harassment”. The other girls were jealous of the extra attention she, as a transfer student, got from their teacher. She had Ai hide in a locker and film the bullies physically abusing her, but Ai was too scared and didn’t capture any usable footage.

Even so, Kotio smiles her sad smile and thanks her friend for “doing the best she could.” Disgusted that she didn’t do more when it mattered, Ai resolves to save Minami no matter what she says. She heads to the gym, where the monster coach is holding her by the head and repeatedly slapping her in the face.

Of course, the “tough love” the coach is dishing out is nothing more than abuse, and Ai won’t stand by and watch. That said, her giant rainbow key weapon proves useless against the coach. When Minami tries to stop her from hurting Ai, the coach tosses her aside and her yellow ribbon goes flying.

Ai realizes the ribbon is the weapon she needs to use, and while the coach squirts a thick pink liquid from her teat to blind Ai, Minami serves as her eyes, telling her where the coach is and which way to dodge. She eventually lands a coup-de-grace, and the coach explodes in a spatter of paint-like blood.

In the aftermath, Minami thanks Ai for saving her, and wishes they had met earlier so they could have gone out for burgers together. Instead, she vanishes in a puff of smoke just like the first maiden, after asking Ai to think of her sometimes.

While it’s gutting to watch Ai gain the trust of and befriend someone two weeks in a row, only for them to disappear moments after she saves them, that pain is mitigated by two factors: Ai is working towards saving Koito, and she’s met a real friend and fellow heroine in Neiru.

After Minami vanishes, we find Ai in the hospital with her mom, wearing a neck brace. As with last week, the injuries she sustains in her battles with Wonder Killers remain with her in the real world. No doubt her mom is horribly worried for her daughter, having no idea what’s going on. It could also be that nothing we’ve seen Ai do is actually real, but all in her head.

That said, Neiru fares worse than her, ending up in the ICU after trying to handle too many eggs at once. Ai visits her in the hospital and asks if they can be friends. Once she’s recovered a bit, they head up to the hospital roof and discuss what being friends entails. Ai talks about going out for burgers and fries, as Minami wanted to do.

Over sweet-smelling peach-orange sodas, Neiru texts Ai back a thumbs-up, indicating that she’s willing to give this friend thing a try. In a wonderful little piece of elegant animation her resting neutral face slowly turns upward into a gentle smile, and Ai’s smile subtly widens in response.

Even though  I’m rarely sure what’s real life or not (which is likely the point), the scene of Ai and Neiru on the roof seemed realer than most. We’ll see if the two only hang out in between separate maiden rescues, or if they decide to join forces and aid one another in their respective goals. Now that I better know the structure and rules of those rescues, like Ai I feel a lot more comfortable and optimistic.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 13 – Fate Pushes Back

Thanks to the support of Sonozaki Oryou and other adults, most of Hinamizawa and parts of neighboring towns have come out in support of Keiichi’s efforts to save Satoko. The crowd is so large, Ooishi lumbers over to tell them they have to disperse. They don’t have a permit to demonstrate, and the CWS isn’t subject to mob rule.

The same laws meant to protect Satoko seem destined to torpedo Keiichi’s last gasp efforts, as any group dispersed now will surely be smaller next time around. Fortunately those in the highest positions of power have Keiichi & Co.’s backs, including Mion and Shion’s uncle, prefectural assemblyman, and another Sonozaki who’s a powerful lawyer.

The coup-de-grace that ends the CWS siege is Oryou herself, who pays a personal visit to the prefectural mayor along with her daughter to request the crowd’s demands be met. The mayor wouldn’t dream of going against Oryou, and so Keiichi and his friends are allowed inside. There, the cowardly director sends his assistant to confront Teppei. Ooishi gives him a ride to his house.

Later that evening, Keiichi gets a call from Satoko, who is safe and sound—if ominously framed throughout the call. She says learning about the extent to which Keiichi and others did for her sake, she stopped thinking it was best to keep enduring the pain, and cried out for help. When Teppei threatened her, he was arrested and detained. Satoko is now free from his clutches.

The next night is the Watanagashi festival, and the reunited group of friends decides to engage in a far more enjoyable battle than the one they just won: determine who can have the most fun! Festival food eating, target shooting and goldfish scooping ensue in a subsequent montage.

When Rika takes the stage for her sacred dance, Satoko pulls Keiichi aside. In a secluded spot, she asks if it’s okay if she calls him “nii-nii” from now on, making him officially her new big brother. He agrees, and she leads him to her house to give him an additional gift. It was at this point, with these two walking around the dark, that I started to worry about the curse.

Sure enough, the moment Keiichi switches on a lamp in Satoko’s house, Teppei comes at him from behind with a baseball bat. How the hell he escaped from jail isn’t explained, just that Keiichi suddenly snaps, wrests the bat from Teppei, and beats him to a bloody pulp. The uncle’s blood and brains splatter all over the room, Keiichi, and Satoko, and Keiichi then passes out from his own head wound.

The next morning, Keiichi is visited by Detective Kumagai, Ooishi’s colleague. He asks what happened last night at Satoko’s, but due to his head injury Keiichi simply can’t remember. Days pass, and no one comes to visit him except for Rena. He later learns there’s a reason for that: everyone else—including Satoko—are dead.

Rena tells him it’s a good thing he left the festival early, because Ooishi ran into the crowd and started firing his gun wildly, killing Mion, Shion, Rika and Satoko. I would guess that Satoko returned to the festival after running out of her house.

It’s an instance of Keiichi and everyone doing absolutely everything right on their way to a good ending, only for cruel fate to yank everyone back into not just a bad ending, but one of the worst possible. I honestly don’t know how Keiichi could have avoided disaster here. The curse appears to be more powerful than even a whole town united in its desire to protect a young girl whose parents supported the dam.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 12 – Rotten Tatami

Keiichi proves he can amass a grand army of protest against the CWS’ dithering on Satoko’s case, but he soon learns that numbers aren’t everything. He’s on the right track with regards to Hinamizawa coming together to protect its own, but he can’t just summon a lot of people, he must convince the right ones to lean on CWS.

Mion invites Keiichi to the next village council meeting, presided over by Mayor Kimiyoshi. After some initial pleasantries are exchanged, Keiichi is called outside by Mion and Chie-sensei. Chie asks Keiichi to stop his protests for now and see what happens.

Chie proved her mettle by risking her job to keep teaching at the Hinamizawa school when it wasn’t government certified, but with Keiichi utilizing all the students in his army, the school is threatened. Shion also feels the pressure from her grandmother.

The bottom line is all the old farts in the village aren’t prepared to openly, publically forgive the Hojou family for siding with the dam builders, even though they’re already in agreement Satoko personally has nothing to do with what her family did. They fear doing so could upset the village’s hard-fought delicate balance.

Silence and inaction has spread “like mold in a tatami floor”, which means the only remedy is to rip it up. That task falls to Keiichi, who violates protocol and tradition and forcefully makes his case to the council. The old men chastise him for being a rude little brat, but Keiichi makes clear he has no time for politeness: he’s on a mission to save a friend in trouble.

In a thrilling scene that amounts nothing but a spirited discussion in a stuffy old room, Keiichi gradually appeals to one old fart after another by appealing to their past brave deeds during the dam war, and points out the hypocrisy of letting one of their own suffer just to preserve their presently cozy relationship with the government (which, among other perks, helps fund the Watanagashi Festival).

Keiichi demands nothing less than the resurrection of the spirit of the Onigafuchi Defense Alliance. His combination of respect and impertinence wins over enough of the council, but they admit that they cannot properly lean on the CWS without the approval of the town’s true boss, Mion and Shion’s gran Sonozaki Oryou.

In the “Boss Fight” segment of the episode, Keiichi meets his match, for Grandma Sonozaki is a predictably formidable battleaxe who swears like a yakuza goon and doesn’t give two shits about the “cursed” Hojou child, and sees no reason to give her approval to the council or Keiichi.

Oryou sees each and every one of the people in her presence to be a bunch of imbeciles, which stands to reason: she’s older and more powerful than any of them. But in his increasingly disrespectful negotiations (he threatens to kill the “old hag” more than once to her face!), Keiichi presents something she hasn’t seen in decades, if not longer: actual stern resistance to her position. Someone being as stubborn to her as she normally is to everyone else.

Once again, Keiichi’s audacity and guts pay dividends, as Oryou decides to give the okay after all. Deep down, she always wanted to see the long-standing Hojou situation resolved before she died, even if she was committed to carrying the grudge to her grave—so it would die with her.

Now Keiichi has more than sheer numbers, but the full force of the three head families of Hinamizawa, the village council, and the Onigafuchi Defense Alliance at his command. In other words, never before has Keiichi been better equipped to create a good ending not just for Satoko, but a new beginning for the entire village. Even so, we never saw Satoko this week…I hope he’s not too late.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 11 – Tearing Fate Apart

Keiichi can’t snap Satoko out of her panic attack no matter how hard he tries, so Rena steps in, and eventually she stops screaming. But when Chie-sensei returns to the classroom, Satoko literally laughs it off as a practical joke. While it’s probably an animation quirk that the tears and vomit vanish from her face, it’s clear she’d rather pretend her outburst never happened.

Rika again insists Satoko come home with her, but Satoko’s response sounds practiced, even programmed: she lives with her uncle now; there’s nothing she can do about it. That’s not good enough for Keiichi, who wants to do something…anything. Well, not anything, because he draws the line when a furious Shion appears and declares she’s going to simply murder Satoko’s uncle.

Keiichi stands in her way and even takes a chair to the head, telling Shion that’s not how to get back to “the world where everyone is happy”; killing Teppei would destroy that world. Rika’s ears perk up at his phrasing; it’s almost like he’s aware that victory in this route isn’t possible unless they “follow the rules.” She comes between Keiichi and a violent Shion, who finally stands down.

The thing they all settle on is going to Child Welfare Services as a united group to voice their concerns with the process thus far. The employee who receives them does not let their emotions influence the facts: the case is currently being worked on, and she’ll add their concerns to her notes. She also won’t discuss the details of Satoko’s case due to confidentiality.

It’s basically a stonewalling, and Keiichi doesn’t take it well, adopting a defeatist attitude as they walk home at sunset. But Rika won’t someone she believes in—who said earlier he’d “tear fate apart like wet paper”—raise the white flag so easily.

If the five of them weren’t enough to convince CWS of the urgency of Satoko’s case, then they’ll just have to rally more troops to the cause. The next day, Keiichi makes an impassioned speech to the entire class, who are all on board with visiting CWS together. Rika warns Chie-sensei not to stop them, but she won’t. On the contrary, she’ll come with them.

Unfortunately, while a group of sixteen complainants doubtlessly stretches the CWS’ tea and paper cup budget, it does not move the needle tremendously far; at least not proportional to the size of their force. The CWS manager insists that everything is being done with Satoko’s best interests in mind. He also hastens to mention that they have no credible evidence on file that Teppei was ever abusive of Satoko. As far as they’re concerned it was the aunt who allegedly committed the abuse.

That said, Keiichi & Co. won’t take this second defeat lying down. They and the rest of the class commit to asking everyone they know to descend upon CWS at once to insist they do more to protect Satoko. Rika stares semi-maniacally into the middle distance, assured that they are amassing the power to tear through fate and save Satoko.

I appreciated Shion’s infusion of rage into this crisis as a sign that yelling and stabbing is rarely the best way forward; Keiichi is likely 100% right that Satoko would not take her uncle’s death well, especially if a friend killed him, even if he deserves it. That said, Rika’s and Rena’s voices constantly shifting between “cutesy” and “serious” got a bit…silly at times.

Judging from the previous arcs, it’s unlikely the gang will succeed in saving Satoko. Then again, never before has everyone been on the same side working so hard to prevent disaster. “People can’t live without hope,” says Rika…so I’ll hold out hope a bit longer.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 10 – Leaving No Marks

Keiichi wakes up from a dream of beating Satoko’s Uncle Teppei to death with a metal bat, only to find Satoko is late for school. Keiichi doesn’ have any success asking Rika about her, and instead is approached by Ooishi for the first time in this arc. He asks about Satoko, grabbing Keiichi so hard on the shoulder it hurts despite not leaving a mark.

Dr. Irie rescues Keiichi from Ooishi’s piercing gaze, saying the locals call him “Oyashiro’s familiar” due to his obsession with solving all the crimes attributed to the curse. Irie also tells Keiichi about Satoko’s harsh home life ever since she and her brother Satoshi moved in with their aunt and uncle. Now, of course, it’s just Satoko and her uncle.

Satoko finally arrives, but looks depressed and sleep-deprived, and can barely keep up her peppy formal-speech act. After seeing this clearly-changed Satoko come and go without playing games with them, Keiichi, Mion and Rena finally get Rika to talk about what she knows.

Last night, Satoko didn’t come back from a grocery run until very late, only to tell Rika she had come to collect her things; she was moving back in with her uncle. This time the abuse is likely worse for Satoko, since Satoshi is no longer around to shield her. Mion mentions having called social services last year, but they offered only lip service.

The next day, Satoko is absent from school, and her friends rack their brains for how they can help her from what is clearly a worsening situation. They decide to go to an adult, Chie-sensei, and leave the matter in her hands, but when she visits Satoko’s house the Uncle stonewalls her, not even letting her see Satoko.

The excuse that she was in bed with a fever is repeated by a much more chipper and back-to-normal Satoko the next day, but while horseplaying during lunch Keiichi moves to pat her gently on the head, her hand reflexively slaps his away, and she vomits and has a complete mental breakdown, yelling how sorry she is and how much she “hates it.”

Not knowing exactly what kind of abuse Uncle Teppei is inflicting upon poor Satoko makes it particularly awful, since it forces us to contemplate the extent of it, but even worse is the fact that because Satoko lied about abuse to get her real father removed from the home, social services seems to be skeptical of any subsequent reports.

Satoko’s friends feel crippled by their inability to act, but know that if someone doesn’t do something, Satoko could end up dead. Will the violent events of his dream come to pass, or will he and his friends find another way?

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 09 – Estelles;Gate

Last week’s doll-and-face fetish episode, and the grape-stomping maiden episode before it, made for some particularly goofy Journeys of Elaina, making me wonder when and if show would get dark again. Sure enough, this episode arrives with an “Explicit Content” warning, opens on a starving, broke Elaina, and no OP! What the heck are we in for? At the time, I had no idea.

Elaina finds a flyer promising good pay for “ultra-short-term” work, and encounters a fellow Witch, Estelle. Through meeting her, Elaina is pleased to learn that while Estelle became an apprentice when she was younger, it took her longer than Elaina to become a full-fledged Witch. Wand-measuring aside, Estelle is offering a giant sack of gold coins for the job.

What is the job? Well, first, a sad story: Back while Estelle was training abroad, her dear childhood friend Selena’s parents were murdered in a robbery. Selena’s uncle took her in, and proceeded to abuse her. Selena eventually snapped, murdering her uncle, and then several others. It ultimately fell to Estelle to apprehend Selena…and execute her.

Estelle seeks to use magic to go back in time so she can save Selena’s parents and prevent the chain of events that lead to her having to kill her own best friend. Time-traveling requires more magic than any one witch has, so Estelle has been gradually draining her blood to augment the spell.

The other problem is that once they’re actually in the past, Estelle will be drained of all magic, which is why she needs Elaina. By wearing matching magical rings, Elaina will be able to share her magic with Estelle. This job is not without its risks and inconveniences—hence the generous payday.

Elaina, confident and cocksure as always, proudly proclaims herself to be a traveler, and so the next logical step in her journey is to travel through time and see how things used to be in the past. So she slips on the ring, Estelle activates the spell, and off they go.

The witches safely arrive ten years into the past, but only have one hour to do what needs to be done before being sent back to the present. Estelle makes it clear that the timeline in which she executes Selena has happened and can’t un-happen; changing events will create a tangent, but that’s enough for her, as long as there is a timeline in which Selena gets to live on.

Their broom-flight to Selena’s house is interrupted when Estelle spots young Selena walking down the street, and can resist giving her a big hug, no matter how much it weirds the girl out. Elaina notes that Estelle got quie the cold reaction from Selena, but Estelle insists that deep down Selena is very kind.

Estelle proceeds to get Selena’s parents out of the house under the guise that she’s Selena’s half-sister and has business with them. Elaina stakes out the house, waiting for the robber to arrive, but it dawns on her that the murder of the parents was too grisly for a mere robbery. Then her magic-sharing ring glows and shoots a red beam in Estelle’s direction: she’s engaged in battle.

When Elaina arrives, she finds a horrifying sight: Selena has viciously attacked Estelle, and has blood on her mouth just like her photo in the future papers. It turns out Selena’s parents abused her long before her uncle had the chance, twisting her into homicidal mania, even sadism. It doesn’t matter whether Estelle was her best friend or she and Elaina are trying to “help”—Selena is already beyond helping.

While the blood and gore on display in this scene is indeed explicit, I for one am glad we didn’t have to witness the abuse Selena suffered at the hands of her parents, and the warning was meant for the violence. And there is a lot of it—the most in the series’ run for sure.

When Selena prepares to attack Elaina, Estelle gets up and stops her in her tracks. Having worked so hard and sacrificed her own blood to try to save Selena, she is overcome by heartbreak and despair, and there’s nothing left but to kill Selena again before she can kill Elaina or anyone else.

Elaina tries to stop this by removing the ring, but Estelle simply sacrifices her memories of Selena in order to summon enough magic to explode her head off. The hour is up and the two witches return to the present. Sure enough, Estelle doesn’t remember Selena, and barely remembers Elaina. She’s a ruined husk of a witch, and Elaina is so upset by the experience she runs out of Estelles house, pointedly leaving the bag of gold behind.

That, and Elaina’s subsequent breakdown on the bench in front of the clock tower, shows that the effects of this particular journey will (or at least should) last beyond just this episode. Elaina weeps uncontrollably, her confident façade utterly shattered. She no longer thinks of herself as a special or exemplary; only an “ordinary” traveler and witch, inexperienced and unable to do anything.

She’s being a bit hard on herself, as who the heck could have handled that situation better? It was largely out of her hands. The best thing to do would have been to refuse the job, but she really needed money and was intrigued by the prospect of a different kind of traveling. The episode fades to black and the credits roll without images. Black Friday, indeed.

Read Crow’s review of episode 9 here!

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 09 – Never Make Her Cry

We reset back to before everything turns to shit, but as we’ve learned from the previous arcs, there’s plenty of shit lurking just beneath the shiny happy surface of Keiichi & Co.’s daily life in Hinamizawa. Having had Rika and Mion/Shion-centric arcs, now it’s time for the focus on Satoko.

When Mion brings in fancy leftovers, Mion and Keiichi agree to a cooking duel, but Keiichi is abysmally bad at cooking. Seriously, he’s so clueless he almost burns his house down. Luckily Satoko and Rika are there to not only put out the fire, but salvage his dinner, and Kei-chan is thankful for both.

As Rika puts it to Kei before biking home for the night, Satoko is in need of someone Rika can’t replace: her big brother Satoshi, who ran away from home under myterious circumstances. Despite, or perhaps because of their sibling-like combative manner with each other, Kei makes for the perfect surrogate nii-nii.

Simple things like shopping for ingredients, cooking them, and sharing meals together clearly brightens Satoko’s day immeasurably. Similarly, when Satoko needs someone to cheer her on in a crucial at-bat, Kei arrives just in time, and as a result, she hits the winning home run and wins her team free BBQ.

At this BBQ, during which everyone has fun, Kei meets someone new: Irie, who loves Satoko’s smile, and while he can’t adopt her for “various legal reasons”, has no qualms about citing his plans to eventually ask for Satoko’s hand in marriage when she comes of age. Shion is similarly enamored of Satoko, considering herself a big-sis figure.

Irie’s words to Kei—never make Satoko cry—sound like his prime directive for this arc, which he’ll have to follow to avoid disaster. But that will surely come anyway, since Kei overhears two boys talking about how Satoko’s brother Satoshi was a victim of Oyashiro’s curse.

The destructively-curious Kei is eager to pick at this particular scab, and while Rena will have none of it, Mion tells him more: Satoko’s parents were the leaders of the pro-dam movement, as the gov’t offered big payouts to anyone who agreed to move out of the village. They died falling off an observation deck, which is super-suspicious, while Satoshi is believed to have run away to avoid the curse, but could also have been “demoned away”.

In any case, part of “not letting Satoko cry” means keeping all this under wraps, especially around her. And as we learn, and as I’ve suspected since that unsettling end credits image of her looking frightened as a man in a Hawaiian shirt looms over her, Satoko already has enough to cry about.

As we see the loud, drunk, boorish “Uncle Teppei” lead her into an isolated house, It’s almost a certainty some kind of physical and/or sexual abuse is taking place. For all the people who love Satoko and are watching over her, there’s clearly a huge gap in their blanket of protection. However explicit the arc gets about this, I hope Kei & Co. can manage a way to free Satoko from this particular hell…assuming they ever learn about it.

Fruits Basket – 46 – More than Just Darkness

Technically, things stay still this week, as Yuki takes a deep dive back down memory lane as he sits with Kakeru. But while the vice president gets the Cliff Notes at the end about Yuki’s devotion to Tooru (who goes unnamed), we get the full and devastating play-by-play, starting with Yuki’s first meeting with a younger, less evil Akito and culminating in the full retelling of the “baseball cap” incident.

Yuki was so young when he first met Souma Akito, he didn’t question the fact his parents were basically selling him to the Zodiac god as a goddamn human sacrifice. But in their first meeting, Yuki does suddenly tear up. One of the household women states that other Zodiac members did the same upon meeting Akito and that’s it’s a sign of their powerful, inscrutable “bond.”

In reality, the tears were the response to the “shouting” of two opposing voices in his chest, both wanting and not wanting to meet Akito, both wanting to embrace and escape, beloved and repulsing. It’s a lot for anyone, let alone a sickly little kid who has yet to grasp just how much his life has changed.

Yuki admits that Akito was indeed less sadistic once and his tantrums far more tame. But one day Akito became twisted, without any precise cause of explanation. He just…snapped, and Yuki became a canvas much like the walls and floor Akito covered in pitch-black ink (like the ink he saw in the StuCo storage room). The black ink of constant verbal and emotional abuse, liberally, chaotically thrown about like a supernatural Jackson Pollack.

Akito never let Yuki forget for a single day how useless and hated he was by everyone, and how he what little worth he has is entirely dependent on Akito’s benevolence. Such sentiments were borne out in the rare instances Yuki interacted with other Zodiac members. When he meets Kyou, the first thing he thinks is how pretty his hair is, while Kyou, who blames the Rat for his mother’s suicide, vows never to forgive Yuki and wish he would simply disappear. Those are Kyou’s first words to Yuki, who he’d never met!

Yuki does to a fancier school than the other members, despite Kyou, Haru, Kagura and Momiji all being of similar age. The dissonance between all the household talk of how important and venerable and “close to God” the Rat is, and the way he is universally resented and loathed, causes Yuki’s heart to wither…a person can only take so much!

Yuki actually does make some friends organically at his school, but the first time a girl accidentally hugs him and he transforms into a rat, all of those friends’ memories are deleted by Hatori, and he’s suddenly alone in the dark again.

Akito has no words of comfort for him, only of scolding: this is the result of you deluding yourself. For hoping. For believing there is anything bright in this world. Here I was thinking Rin got the very worst of treatment from Akito, but it was almost a mercy that she was so much less coveted a member of the Zodiac than the Rat, constantly suffering under Akito’s foot.

Yuki and Kyou cross paths once more, and Kyou loses his blue baseball cap—that’s right, that cap—but when Yuki offers to hand it back to him, Kyou runs away, and into the arms of Kazuma. That sight makes Yuki yearn for parents who would embrace rather than discard him, as well as a home to which he wanted to return, where everyone could smile and no one would keep their distance.

Yuki becomes ill (well, more ill), and with an apathetic “poor Yuki” Akito is his only visitor as he’s confined to a chair. Akito decides this is the best time to explain why Kyou hates him so much sight unseen, while asking mockingly if he’s going to die. Yuki gets to the point that he’d rather die and disappear, as he believes it would be the first and last time he’ll ever “be useful”.

But as those suicidal thoughts swirl in his head, the mirror in his hands shatters. Rather than cut himself, Yuki puts the baseball cap on and runs. Runs out of the compound to no destination and for no reason other than to simply run.

And run he does…right past a crying little girl (Tooru) and, a little further on, a young mother (Kyouko) chewing out police for asking her for a more detailed description than “cute in every way”. Yuki backtracks, makes eye contact with the girl, and before he knows it, she’s following his every move. Every time he turns a corner he hesitates a bit until she locks back onto him.

From that point on, the girl was relying on him for everything. He wasn’t just useful…he was absolutely needed. Once the two are in front of her house, he places the cap on her head, says “well done,” and runs off, without even asking for her name.

Despite the brevity of their interaction, Yuki’s hopes were buoyed for quite a long time…until he again descended into the darkness of Akito’s abuse and slow torture. Then he met Tooru again without even realizing she was the girl who saved him the first time, and let her save him all over again. The rest we know!

Even though much of what Yuki recalls isn’t relayed to Kakeru out loud, it is still important that Yuki has found someone in Kakeru—a non-Zodiac—whom he can trust and in whom he can confide. He may still not fully grasp what exactly Tooru is for him, he knows for sure that she is beloved, “like a mother.”

The loving, caring, smiling, nurturing mother Tooru herself had all too brief a time, and whom Yuki never, ever had. Thanks to Tooru, he knows Akito was wrong about the world. It’s not all light, but it’s not all pitch-black either.

Check out Crow’s review here!

Fruits Basket – 43 – Having Nothing in the End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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