Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 09

“A lot happened, but today was a good day.” Sakura could say that about just about any day, considering how much she has going on in her life, but I’ll concede that this day was better than most because she got to finally go on a date with Syaoran.

Sakura arrives at the meeting spot early after a quick chat with Yue (during which Kero once again transforms for no reason other than ‘it’s cool’), but Syaoran is earlier still.

The date unfolds as one would expect, with the two periodically getting embarassed and blushing but also generally having a great time. Syaoran also gets to show off his encyclopedic knowledge of jellyfish—they’re poisonous…who knew?! ;)—as well as his fluency in English.

In an interesting scene, Touya appears as a waiter at the aquarium tea room, and Syaoran later feels bad for simply glaring at him (though Touya glared back!) Also, the height difference between Sakura/Syaoran and adults like Touya is a pretty weird quirk of the show. Look how low that table is!

It wouldn’t be a Sakura date without some kind of Card-related excitement, and Sakura almost seems to be expecting some, especially when she takes Syaoran to the same place where she secured the Watery Clow Card. That excitement takes the form of a cracked water tank, in which…something grabs hold of Sakura.

Touya hits the emergency drains and Syaoran plucks her from the water (interestingly, neither seems embarrassed by him carrying her). That tank burst occured just when Syaoran was going to tell Sakura he officially wanted to go out with her.

Instead, it’s a wash (pun intended), but there’s nothing saying they can’t go on another date in the near future. Indeed, when Sakura vows to return to the aquarium after dark to secure the Card there, Tomoyo dresses both her and Syaoran up and makes sure she has plenty of pics and footage taken.

Sakura uses Lucid to hide everyone from security, then goes through various Cards from Gravitation to Flight to Gale, and isn’t quite able to bring down the Card, which rather than watery, has the form of a kind of giant Slinky.

Syaoran comes through with an assist, freezing the Card with ice magic so Sakura can secure “Spiral.” While larger questions loom and few were answered, Sakura is still quite correct that a lot happened, but it was a good day. From the happy would-be couple’s priceless interactions to the gorgeous environs of the aquarium, to even Tomoyo’s next-level surveillance, it was a pretty good episode too.


Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 02

Mari’s seething wanderlust, as well as her determination not to waste what’s left of her high school youth, makes her extra susceptible to Shirase’s Antarctic plans. When Shirase tells her to get a part-time job at once, Mari is looking for ’em (interestingly, both of them come across the same sketchy job offer for “hospitality” work with guys).

Megumi thus plays the crucial role of managing Mari’s expectations. The expedition Shirase wants to join is in dire financial straits. The safety of those who join it is not guaranteed. They’re not simply going to let high school kids join them just because they really really want to.

When Megumi’s pragmatism slips into Mari’s interactions with Shirase, Shirase can smell the doubt and hesitation, and snaps at Mari, storming off. But Mari doesn’t doubt Shirase, and she does want to do it…she just wants to do it right. As Mari forlornly walks alone, it isn’t long before Shirase returns, realizing she was too harsh, but assuring Mari she does have a plan in place.

That same evening, Mari has a part-time job, at the local convenience store. There, she meets fellow 16-year-old Miyake Hinata (Iguchi Yuka, doing her Araragi Tsukihi voice), who shows an eager Mari the ropes.

The subject of The Trip comes up, and Hinata wants IN. Thankfully, Shirase isn’t particular about who else comes along, and so now the two are three. And while Hinata’s decision to join them seems abrupt (and it kinda is regardless), she’s a person who’s never liked blending in with the crowd, which is why she bypassed high school and is working towards college.

Her time working at the konbini also made her good at observing people, like the students of Mari and Shirase’s school, including the two of them. She always saw something different about them; something she calls “honesty”. Genuine-ness, earnesty, whatever you call it, she knew they were special, and wanted to be a part of what their noble undertaking.

Next stop: Shinjuku, and these three girls from Gunma stick out like a sore thumb-ma (sorry, that was really lame). The intense sights and sounds of the big city make all three a little crazy, but nobody more than Shirase, who reveals that her grand plan was to crash the Antarctic expedition meet-up (in Kabukicho of all places) by…seducing the guys.

The moment Shirase points her head up and tries to act like a “college student” like it’s no big deal, she’s immediately picked up by a guy, and becomes understandably flustered. She’s also adamant that she can’t be the one who attempts the seduction of the expedition team, because they know her.

So Shirase and Hinata shove Mari out, and her old-fashioned sexy pose utterly fails, they shove Shirase out. The people who know her spot her, and the chase is on. Why do the girls run? I’m not sure, but neither are they. Well, Shirase knows, because this isn’t the first time she’s tried to join the expedition.

But despite the fact Shirase’s plan is crumbling before our very eyes, the fact of the matter is that she, Mari, and Hinata are having a hell of a lot of fun running around Shinjuku…Youth In Motion. Unfortunately, none of the three (even Hinata, good in short-distance sprinting) can beat the stamina of their pursuers.

I love how I was just as taken in by the legitimacy and precision of her plan as Mari and Hinata, even with Megumi offering early words of caution. And yet, even with the adults here telling Shirase “this isn’t happening”, even when they refuse her part-time Antarctica fund…even if what she’s doing amounts to chasing her mother’s ghost, I’m still on Shirase’s side.

She has to go to Antarctica. She can’t not. What kind of show would this be if she failed? It’s just, she’s gone about it the wrong way. Seduction and bribes won’t be effective, but maybe something—or someone else will be. Someone like, say, the daughter of the wealthy-looking woman who was with the expedition team.

That girl happens to be on the same train as the other three girls, two of which—Hinata and Mari—vote to relieve Shirase of her leadership role. It’s for her own good. She’s been trying and failing to get on that ship her way for the better part of three years. Now it’s time to see if others have more luck.

Gorgeous, charming, emotionally satisfying, and brimming with the energy of determined youth, and the anticipation of adventure writ both small (Shinjuku) and large (further south), Yorimoi is a no-brainer Winter keeper.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 01 (First Impressions)

Tamaki Mari (voiced by a nicely toned-down Minase Inori) is restless. It’s her second year of high school and she hasn’t done anything to celebrate her youth. She sleeps in too late and keeps a messy room. One day, she decides no more—she’ll skip school, change out of her uni at the train station, go on a trip without a plan.

But the same thing befalls her that always befalls her when attempting to undertake bold endeavors: she chickens out at the last second, blaming the rain for squashing her Tokyo trip, along with the possibility of planes crashing or trains exploding.

In reality, the culprit was a simple and understandable fear of facing the unknown alone; fear of leaving one’s comfort zone and not being able to return. Her classmate and friend Megumi (Kanemoto Hisako) doesn’t think it’s necessarily a bad trait to have, but Mari hates that part of herself. She feels it’s stifling her youth.

Then something strange and auspicious and wonderful is set into motion when Mari sees a beautiful raven-haired girl wearing her school uniform running past her on the train platform. In her haste, the girl drops something: an envelope containing ONE MILLION YEN (about $8800).

The next day, Mari tells Megumi about the giant wad of cash and enlists her aid in locating the raven-haired maiden with the memorable conditioner. Mari spots her entering the bathroom, stuffing herself into a stall, bashing its walls, and quietly sobbing “one million…one million.”

When the girl (voiced by Hanazawa Kana) opens the stall door, Mari presents her with the cash, and after momentary suspicion, the girl has a paroxysm of relief and gratitude, embracing Mari like an old friend. Finding the cash was chance.

Returning every last Fukuzawa to their rightful owner was a choice, and it was the right one, for this strange, expressive girl, who Mari learns is named Kobuchizawa Shirase, is using the cash to do what Mari longs to do: go on a journey.

Shirase’s destination? Antarctica, to find her mother who went missing there after an expedition. Every single peer and adult to hears of her plans all believe the same thing: she’s off her rocker. She spends all non-school time working part-time and saving money instead of having fun with friends.

You could say Shirase is deferring her youth to a later time and a more incredible place (i.e. Antarctica). But girls at school call her “Antarctica”, and some even try to bully her into lending them some of her hard-earned savings.

Enter Mari, who saves Shirase from the bullies and offers her encouragement and excitement over the journey she’s about to undertake, and wants to help in any way she can. Shirase comes right out with it, asking Mari if she’d like to come along.

Mari very much wants to, and prepares to meet up with her at the station, where a train will take them to the icebreaker that will eventually take them to Antarctica, the titular “place further than the universe”, 14,000 km from Japan and the universe Mari knows.

This time, Mari doesn’t chicken out at the last second, and Shirase’s look of elation tells you everything you need to know about how many who claimed to support her backed out at the last second, as Mari was once wont to do. But Mari is committed, inspired as she is by the sheer audacity and dedication Shirase has exhibited. Very soon, they’ll be off, and from the look of the OP, they’ll be joined by two others.

This show was a pleasant surprise for me; I knew nothing but the one-sentence synopsis on MAL when checking it out…that and the fact it was a Madhouse show and that it’s absolutely stacked with voice talent.

Throughout the episode there’s the feeling of a great wave of adventure about to crest, or as Mari puts it, an isolated pool of seawater suddenly breaching and bursting forth, like her youth. As soon as we see the ship, things start to feel real.

Not only that, but both Mari and Shirase exhibit an infectious exuberance that really comes through in their diverse facial expressions and the always-welcome vocal chords of Hanazawa and Minase. I’m looking forward to watching their adventure unfold!

Kino no Tabi – 07

Eating a hot dog reminds Kino of a time she once unsuccessfully tried to get one over on her Master, who was cooking hot dogs at the time. Kino then shares a story with Hermes that her Master shared with her, about a country with a big clock tower and, suspiciously, an even bigger police force.

When Master’s young male apprentice is framed for drug possession and locked up, and she is unable to bribe the dirty cop to let him go, Master uses some of her Apprentice’s infiltration equipment and uses an elaborate set of diversions in the form of city-wide trash can bombs to clear the jail of police and slip in wearing one of their uniforms.

The Apprentice knew she would come—like Kino, he knows very well how good she is—and the question is not can they leave, but how. Both Master and Apprentice agree to make a bang rather than sneak out; demonstrate their full power to an arrogant bully that could use a good nosebleed.

For three days and nights they hole up in the central clock tower, shooting any and all policemen who draw within range, but not killing anyone; only wounding them. They cause such a disturbance, the police start to lose their grip on the country, as the public and their leaders demand something be done.

Master and Apprentice do not relent as smaller and smaller formations of police form up at the base of the tower. All are scattered by gunfire, until the very petty-tyrant commanding officer who sat on his petty throne and told Master no price was high enough to free her companion, is now the one who must offer a price to the Master—and it better be high enough, or more bullets will rain down.

It’s a good story, and one I’d think was apocryphal were it not for the somewhat magical realist nature of Kino’s world. Not to mention it just makes sense that the woman who made Kino the kind of “traveler” she is would be that badass!

Kino just so happens to be in the neck of the woods of that Clock Tower Country, and when she arrives in the courtyard where many shots were once fired without taking a life, she finds a monument made from a door blown off one of the police trucks back then.

An old man with a cane and and a granddaughter explains to Kino and Hermes that the memorial is a tribute to the two “Travelers of Justice” whose brazen acts freed the people from a corrupt and oppressive law enforcement system by essentially wearing them down until they grew ashamed of their conduct and shaped up.

Kino and Hermes alike are a bit amused that the country took Master and her Apprentice’s actions in such high esteem, but was the Master simply keeping her skills sharp in service of escaping the country, or did she have grander plans for that three-day-and-night stand?

We’ll never know, nor will Kino, but after this black-and-white and sepia-tinged look back to the past, she turns Hermes around and continues forward, into that Beautiful World, to  make some history of her own.

Kino no Tabi – 06

This week is spent “up in the clouds” and barely involves Kino at all—she and Hermes only bookend the episode. In their stead, we get a lovely, beautiful, and heartwrenching semi-allegorical tale up in the mountains involving a new character, an orphan girl (voiced by Minase Inori, who is everywhere), sold into servitude, constantly treated like crap by her merchant owners, adult and child alike.

The episode wastes no time portraying those owners as a complete waste of life; they never let off the gas pedal of abuse, both verbal and physical, and the girl just…takes it all. They ask if she hates them, and she says she doesn’t. She doesn’t hate, resent, or wish harm on anyone; to do so would be a sin. They mock her piety, believing only humans who act inhuman survive in this ugly world.

Of course, part of the title of this show is The Beautiful World, with the understanding that the world is beautiful because it isn’t…but the mountaintop environs are ironically utterly gorgeous. If only the girl had better company.

She realizes too late that the herbs she picked and added to the soup for dinner were poisonous, and all attempts to warn her owners fall on deaf ears. She steels herself to drink the soup and die with them rather than live as a murderer (however unintentional), but a boy seals his fate by knocking her bowl out of her hands; she’s later hit with a rock and knocked out.

When she wakes up, the merchants are still alive, and the boy has convinced his father to sell him the girl so he can take his time killing her in order to “become a man”, which is what we’d call overkill. What the hell is this kid, the Devil’s Spawn? In any case, the poison kicks in and they all die before the girl’s eyes.

The only survivor is the man who told his younger colleague, essentially, that the girl being a slave while they’re free comes down to luck; “there but for the grace of God go I” kinda deal.

He believes that until his death, which is semi-self-inflicted, as he pretends to instruct the girl on how to use his rifle to kill herself, but fixes it so she shoots him instead. Before he dies, he unchains her, and with his last breath, tells her to live her life; she’ll understand someday why things happened this way.

To the girl’s shock, there’s a voice coming from one of the wagons. It’s a talking motorrad (in the form of an adorable Honda Motocompo) who has been listening to everything going on, and congratulates the girl on her freedom.

The girl still wants to die, but in the same vein as the last man to die, the motorrad tells her the only way to die is to live life. No one knows how or when death will come, but it comes for everyone. The circumstances that led to the girl’s current position shouldn’t be considered grounds for immediate death. Indeed, it was clearly her fate to survive, escape the shackles of bondage, and strike out on her own. Why else would she meet a talking motorrad immediately after her last captor died?

We see Kino and Hermes arriving at the camp where the bodies of the merchants remain; not much time has passed since the girl and the motorrad left. But as the credits roll we learn what became of her: she was accepted as an immigrant in a new country after telling them her story, took up photography, and became successful and esteemed.

She took on the name Photo, and kept her first friend, the motorrad whose name is Sou, close by the whole time. Sou believes she’s happy. She certainly looks content. I wonder if she’ll ever meet Kino…

Kino no Tabi – 05

“Hero” is rarely a title rightly given to oneself; it must be earned and bestowed upon them by those who deem them a hero. And sometimes it’s not the hero’s choice; they just are a hero, because that’s what the people say. Kino runs into one of those people, a tour guide and true believer who fawns over the great hero of her people and gives them a tour of his modest house.

While in there, the tour guide tells Kino and Hermes a number of stories about the relics on display, like a shovel that let him plant flowers anywhere (that was probably for digging poop holes) or his special knife (which is just a souvenir from another country).

Finally, Kino and Hermes meet the hero’s motorrad, kept in perfect running condition, but not ridden since his master’s death. He’s in his version of Hell, and wants desperately to either be freed or destroyed. Kino can do neither; not without deeply offending the people. Would YOU want to get on the bad side of that tour guide? Nuh-uh.

However, before leaving town Kino is approached by a boy who dreams of being a traveler, like Kino and the hero of their country. Kino nudges the kid in the direction of the hero’s doomed motorrad, leaving it up to the kid whether he’d like to take it for a ride. I doubt he could ever go back if he did, though!

Upon entering the gates of another country (the only gate through which travelers can enter or exit, oddly enough), Kino and Hermes find themselves in a dark wood, out of which a man appears and, talking to them as if he knows them, asks if they’ve seen his lover or were sent to give him a message about her. The man’s maid/caretaker catches up to him and takes him back home.

Kino and Hermes go into town and get the skinny on the man from the folk at the inn: He was the hero of their revolution, who had fallen in love with a farmer’s daughter. When the day of the revolution came, he launched a grenade at the escaping royal family’s car, killing them.

His actions secured liberty and a new government for the country, but the princess whom he’d slain turned out to be the farmer’s daughter. Wracked with grief and betrayal, the people say he went mad; and has had to be cared for by one caretaker after another.

For five years, he’s waited for his lover to return, and everyone keeps lying to him. Apparently no one wants to be the one to give him the bad news that she died, because they all say they’ll continue to lie until he dies or they do.

After helping the man’s caretaker get her wagon out of the mud, she offers them tea at the house the government built for the man. After sending him away by lying about an engine noise at the gate, she sits down with Kino and Hermes and tells them the truth: she is the princess, the royal family the man killed were body doubles, and her real family is safe and living comfortable lives out of danger.

Despite the man not knowing who she really is, the princess is still happy, and never wants things to change. The next day, when Kino and Hermes prepare to leave, the man runs out to meet them once more and tells them the truth: he’s not really crazy; he’s actually happy with things the way they are. Everyone in this country is happy lying to each other for their whole lives. I’m not sure if I should pity them or envy them.

Kino no Tabi – 04

This week KnT switches things up a bit, following Shizu and Riku’s Journey rather than Kino and Hermes’. We saw a moving country on the land last week; here, it’s a moving country on the sea; a Ship Country.

Shizu is invited aboard and brought before the ruling “Tower Clan”, who look like black mages. They offer him a choice of roles while aboard: serve them as a kind of rent-a-cop, or join the common people. Unsurprisingly to us, the humble prince chooses the latter.

He meets a cute, tiny girl named Tifana, or Ti for short, who doesn’t speak, but takes him and Riku all over the ship (despite choosing manual labor, he never has to do any). The general sorry state of the ship, periodic shaking, and numerous flooded compartments tell the tail of a ship that has long been neglected and may not even be afloat much longer.

As per usual, KnT doesn’t skimp on the gorgeous environment; quite a departure from the clean, gleaming, well-maintained Moving Country. When he finds what looks like a long-abandoned control room, he has Ti point out all the places where there’s flooding. The situation is dire, and the rulers of this country have much to answer for…or so he thinks.

Ti, meanwhile, conveys so much despite never speaking; she takes a liking to Shizu, and doesn’t seem to have anyone else. It’s a lovely, immersive moment when Shizu shields her from a sudden rainfall with his jacket and the two quietly listen to the nice, calming sound of the rain hitting the fabric.

Ti then takes him to the country’s roof, and the endless ocean sprawling out before him makes him feel like he’s flying above it. After experiencing this unique and exhilarating sight, he turns to the tower at the country’s center, and remembers that this could all end up under the see unless he does something.

That “something” means confronting the Tower Clan, and when they rebuke him, readies his sword. But another traveler arrived aboard the country who chose the opposite path: that of serving the leaders. When this traveler lifts their mask to reveal Kino, I was nearly bowled over. There‘s Kino!

She and Shizu aren’t on opposite sides long, as the clan quickly accuses her of plotting with Shizu, changes course, then sentences the two to remain aboard to die with the other people.

Shizu and Kino quickly answer by storming the tower and easily overpowering its haughty occupants. When they reach their Jedi Council-like observation deck, Shizu is asked by their leader if he wishes to be the new king, to which he says if necessary. With that, the black cloaks and hats fall to the floor, no longer occupying bodies.

It’s Shizu’s country now, and he promptly points it towards land, opens the gates, and has everyone come out. He tells them that the days of the country functioning properly, or at all, are numbered, something he may well be right about. However, he didn’t consider the fact that the people don’t care. They don’t want to live on the land; they never have. They’d rather die at sea. In trying to be the hero, Shizu only made himself the villain.

When Shizu turns Ti away to join the others, she suddenly stabs him in the gut with a knife, cursing him for leaving her nowhere to return to (as she says, speaking for the first time.

Hermes fills Kino, Shizu, and Riku in on who Tifana really is: the abandoned daughter of passing travelers who shares her name with the ship itself. Hermes also describes the country’s inhabitants as the descendants of children whose parents were killed by a plague, leaving them alone and with no one to lead or take care of them; enter the Tower Clan.

Now that he knows the truth, Shizu commits to taking care of Ti from now on, for which she’s very happy and grateful. But as Shizu, losing blood, starts to pass out, Ti fears he’ll die and leave her alone again, and pulls the pin on a grenade to end them both.

Fortunately, Kino’s there to shoot the grenade away and tend to Shizu’s wounds. Once he’s healed enough, she and Hermes take their leave, hopeful they’ll cross paths with Shizu, Riku, and Ti again. I hope so too; they make a fun team.

Kino no Tabi – 03

While resting before trying to figure out what to do next, Kino hears some rumbling in the distance. An earthquake? An avalanche? No … a country.

Neither this country nor any of its inhabitants are ever given names—the people only introduce themselves by their title(s)—but it is the coolest country Kino has visited yet: a country that moves.

Technically, that makes it a gigantic vehicle, so Kino does what one does when a vehicle approaches: thumb a lift. While the country-tank is initially a menacing thing, a kindly voice asks Kinos her intentions.

She’s then welcomed aboard with open arms by the immigration and diplomacy officer, who has a comfortable room available, with a bed with clean white sheets Kino probably hasn’t seen in a long time.

After beholding the consequences of shushing Hermes (who warned Kino to dry her hair before going to sleep) and fixing her bed-head, Kino continues her tour of this wondrous, awe-inspiring place full of contradictions—the same contradictions that face every country.

The country is powered by an advanced, self-maintaining reactor, but in order to avoid overheating (or perhaps a straight-up meltdown), the country has to be kept constantly moving, meaning the drive motors and caterpillar tracks must be carefully maintained.

But that’s not the only reason they keep moving: the people of the country, like Kino, want to explore the world as she does. The only difference is they all go together as a country, and take their country with them. That means leaving quite a mark, but the people have long since made their peace with that.

While maintaining the motors and tracks must be quite a feat, the scenes of life Kino sees are of a peaceful country where families relax in the lush rooftop park and schoolchildren paint murals on the country’s outside shell. Contemporary cars are driven around, and tablets are used. It’s a very comfortable living.

Throughout this flowery tour I kept waiting for the catch, but in terms of the people turning on Kino or becoming threatening in some way, that never happens. These are nice people, but their country is a huge nuisance what with the tracks it leaves, particularly when butting up against a conventional, immobile country.

Still, the leaders have no problem allowing Kino into their command center. After asking for and being forcefully denied passage through the country, those leaders simply shrug and order the country to press on. That means firing a laser to obliterate the border wall in their path.

While armed with artillery and missiles, nothing the other country has is any match for the moving country, which mows down everything in its path. Those aboard it can only apologize and assure them they’ll be out of their hair within half a day.

When the other country finds something they can damage—the children’s mural—the moving country goes on the offensive. Wishing to minimize casualties on the other side as much as possible, Kino steps forward offering her assistance.

She heads out to a vantage point, armed with her persuader sniper rifle, and efficiently destroys all of the missile guiding sights—without killing their operators. She also takes out a couple of stray missiles for good measure.

With that, Kino cements her role as a friend of the Moving Country…but she said at the start she was only there for a sightseeing visit of 5-10 days, and when those days are up, she bids the country farewell.

On to the next, not-moving country, but Hermes relays to her the very distinct possibility the next children’s mural will feature her fighting off the missiles.

And while the Moving Country is extremely intrusive to other countries its path happens to intersect with, it’s not like they have a choice! If they stop, the reactor blows. If they just drive around in circles, they’ll eventually lose their minds.

Moving is how this country survives. There is a cost to that survival, but it is acceptable. If they wanted, they could easily conquer and subjugate any other country or countries they wished, but they don’t. They only destroy what they must to keep moving.

Kino no Tabi – 02

Kino may be small, soft-spoken, and polite, but she’s also a powerful badass. As such, she knows that she must occasionally push herself as far as she can go, not only to explore her limits, but to keep her skills from getting rusty.

It’s with this in mind that Kino eagerly arrives at the “Coliseum county”, where newcomers must fight others, often to the death, in order to win their citizenship.

The eternal tournament could be called the ultimate diversion for a corrupt king trying to maintain his grasp on his little kingdom, which is rotting and falling apart at every turn. They don’t even keep the coliseum properly maintained.

All of this disrepair must be particularly distasteful to someone as obsessed with being on top her game as Kino, who is underestimated by each of her opponents but defeats them all with ease, without killing a single person.

The night before the final match, Kino tells Hermes to be near the arena so they can leave as soon as she’s done. Victory is never in doubt here, it’s only a matter of how Kino achieves it. Her finals opponent is a capable-looking fellow named Shizu, armed with a katana.

Kino lets Shizu get close enough to slash at her, but blocks his strike with guards hidden in her sleeves, and on his upswing, she trains a hidden pistol at Shizu, forcing him to concede defeat.

The crowd shouts “KILL! KILL! KILL!”, and Kino does kill…their king. Her question about spectators getting killed by stray bullets being of no consequence comes into play here, as does her homemade explosive round that explodes the king’s head, leaving no doubt that he’s gone.

As victor of the tournament, Kino gets to make a new rule for the games, and it’s this: everyone, not just newcomers, must fight each other to the death; the last person standing will be the new king. As she leaves on Hermes, the town starts tearing each other apart.

Shizu catches up with her by a lake and thanks her for killing his father; he was the prince who was cast out of the country and sought revenge, but Kino denied that revenge, taking care of the king herself. She also meets Shizu’s loyal talking dog Riku, whom I’d like to think whispered to Shizu that Kino’s a girl (her earlier “don’t call me boy” to the guards was another hint).

As for why Kino set the people of the town against one another and blew the whole thing up…I suppose a part of her didn’t like how they were exploiting misinformed newcomers looking for a verdant paradise, like the couple she and Hermes met on the road one day, and met just the woman another day (the man was killed in the tournament).

Now it’s a more fair, internalized system. Whether it makes the country a better or worse place is of little consequence; Kino is off to the next country.

Kino no Tabi – 01 (First Impressions)

After fourteen years, Kino is back on broadcast. I only caught a handfull of episodes from the original series, but the formula seems to be pretty much the same: Kino is on an unending journey astride her trusty motorized steed Hermes, traveling from country to country and never spending more than three days there, the “perfect length.”

The first country she encounters here is one where “killing is not prohibited.” Since she’s good on the quickdraw, she’s confident in holding her own there, but also curious if the country will be what a fellow traveler moving there expects it to be: a place where he can kill with impunity, and the home of an infamous serial killer, Regel.

Upon entering the country, Kino finds it to be a placid, bucolic place, where people walk the streets without fear and warmly interact with one another. Everyone also seems to be armed. The country’s culinary specialty is a delicious-looking tower of crepes. An old man representing the country invites Kino to settle there; Kino kindly declines.

Then the boorish traveler Kino encounter outside the country’s walls appears and threatens to kill her if she doesn’t give him all of her stuff. Kino hides behind Hermes, preparing for a protracted fight, but before the man can fire at them, he’s shot through the arm by a crossbow-wielding lady from the window of a nearby building. The entire town, fully armed, descends upon the man.

Then their leader, Regel himself, informs the traveler and would-be killer of the true way of things in this country: while killing is “not prohibited”, it isn’t permitted. The only killing that’s done is by the citizens as a whole; rising as one against anyone who would try to kill another. It is their way of maintaining justice and peace, and at least in their case, it seems to work.

Back on the road, Kino encounters a second traveler, who unlike the first is trying to find a safe country where he doesn’t have to worry about killing others to survive. While there is killing in Regel’s country, it’s not the kind this fellow need worry about. The legend he hears is not of the serial killer Regel, but of the country’s famed crepe towers.

As for Kino, she’s headed for the next country, which is sure to be completely different from this one, which will no doubt provide another fable about a certain aspect of life.

Yuuki Aoi is a worthy successor to Maeda Ai, and aside from some bursts of action (in this case violent and bloody) the overall presentation is calm, relaxed, and understated, as befits a slice-of-life series that focuses on a very unique and interesting transient life. Count me interested!

Made in Abyss – 13 (Fin)

Always cold and hungry yet full of longing to see the wonders of the Abyss, the still-human Nanachi was lured, along with a good deal of other disadvantaged children, to their doom by the dastardly White Whistle Bondrewd the Novel.

On the way down to the unreassuringly-named Sea of Corpses, Nanachi meets the ebullient Mitty. Weary at first, they hit it off almost immediately, buoyed by the exciting, life-changing adventure they’re about to undertake.

Did I say exciting and life-changing? I meant nightmarish and life-ruining/ending. One by one Bondrewd comes for the children until Nanachi and Mitty are the only ones left.

Neither has any idea what’s happening to the others until Bondrewd comes for Mitty, but not Nanachi, in the night. But Nanachi, now all alone, follows them, and sees and hears things she shouldn’t.

Bondrewd takes Nanachi’s disobedience as an auspicious event, and places them in a tube right beside a frightened, already-trapped Mitty, and calmly explains how the “experiment” is going to go down. The two descend to the Sixth Layer, where a horde of formerly-human things gather around their tubes.

Then the ascent begins, and all of the Curse is transferred to Mitty in a graphic, gruesome, and thoroughly upsetting sequence. Nanachi can only watch in the other tube, absolutely powerless to help. Mitty was Nanachi’s one and only true “treasure”, more important than any relic they might have found in the Abyss.

But, as we know, Mitty isn’t gone. Well, not totally. To Bondrewd’s delight, the double-dose of Sixth-Layer Curse not only took Mitty’s human form, but made it impossible for her to die. She is constantly disintegrating, regenerating…and suffering.

Nanachi flees Bondrewd’s clutches with Mitty (though it’s highly likely he lets them go) and eventually finds a place to live. But there is nothing Nanachi can do for Mitty. It’s not that they can’t put Mitty out of her misery due to emotional considerations…it simply isn’t possible.

Not until Reg and Riko came around. With his Incinerator, which Nanachi calls “Sparagmos”, or the “light that returns to the cardinal point”, Nanachi believes she can finally free Mitty’s long-suffering soul from what’s left of her body.

Reg asks for time to think it over, and worries that if he kills Mitty, Nanachi will feel they have no more reason to live, and might take their own life. Nanachi promises they won’t, and convinces Reg of the only right and proper course of action when they tell him that when they one day do die, Mitty will be left alone, suffering for all eternity.

After preparing a tasteful site for “sending off” Mitty, Nanachi only halts Reg from firing Incinerator for one last goodbye to her treasure, then tells him to do it. The ensuing inferno consumes every bit of Mitty until there’s nothing left. Just like that, she’s gone.

It’s ruinously sad, but I’ll admit, a HUGE relief her suffering is at an end. After all, her last words as a human to Nanachi in that tube were “kill me.” Hers was the kind of pure lasting suffering that’s hard to imagine or even comprehend, but I can grasp the catharsis, even if the hurt remains in the hearts of those who sent her off.

Things thankfully take a lighter turn when Reg awakens to find Riko is also awake, and starting her rehabilitation. Riko takes an instant liking to the cute and fuzzy Nanachi, and both Nanachi and Reg appreciate Riko’s far superior culinary skills.

After going through that emotional, visceral ringer, It’s awfully nice to see Riko back to normal. Then she asks if there wasn’t someone else there besides the three of them, and recalls a dream that made her think that.

The creepy dream we saw part of last week is put into context thanks to Riko. She is consumed by a kind of skin (representing her deep illness) and can only cry and panic, but when she sees that terrified, crying eye—Mitty’s eye in the waking world—she calms down, stares back, and tries to comfort her.

Then, after Reg sends Mitty off, Riko perceives it as Mitty (or rather, her soul) being restored to its human form before passing on. Then Riko realizes she needs to “get going”, and follows the light back to consciousness and out of her wounded stupor.

Upon hearing this “dream”, which was likely something more significant, Nanachi looks grateful that someone saw their treasure in the moment she finally achieved her freedom.

Nanachi takes Riko and Reg to a kind of healing hot spring, and enjoys watching Reg squirm as Riko proceeds to have no qualms whatsoever about bathing with him naked, all while quietly asking Mitty to wait “a little longer,” which could either be interpreted as Nanachi planning to take her life and join Mitty soon, or not until after she’s lived a life that now includes two new potential “treasures” in Reg and Riko.

After removing the mushrooms from her arm (another highly painful, unpleasant ordeal), Riko eventually regains the ability to lift her arm and even move her thumb. Reg blames his crappy amputation attempt for the state of her arm, but Riko doesn’t blame him; she asked him to do it, after all. She also heared from Nanachi how tearfully and desperately Reg tried to save her, and thanks him for that, regarding her nasty scar as “precious proof” he protected her.

Riko, like Reg before her, asks Nanachi if they’ll join them as they continue their journey further down the Abyss, and Nanachi agrees. The credits then roll over a lovely montage: Riko ties her backpack to a balloon and releases it, and they prepare for their journey as it makes its harrowing ascent past all the layers they’d passed, even requiring Marulk to free it from a branch and repair it.

It eventually reaches Nat, who looks shocked and elated to finally possess evidence of Riko and Reg’s progress. Having completed their preparations (and the construction of a big, sturdy new backpack), the new party of Riko, Reg, and Nanachi leave Nanachi’s cozy house behind, in search of trying to satisfy that most unstoppable longing for the unknown.

Meanwhile, in Bondrewd the Novel’s lab, he notices one of dozens of lights has gone out; a light signifying Mitty’s life. He is proud of and grateful to Nanachi for having finally gotten it done, as if letting them escape was yet another experiment. And he’s eager to meet her again. Ouzen was right; she’s kind and pleasant compared to this evil bastard.

And there we are; that’s a wrap! At least until a second season comes along. While I can assure you there are very few shows I’d want to jump into the second season of immediately, and this is one of them, I think a good long rest is in order, to recover from the emotional wounds it left in this final, epic, horrendously devastating yet still somehow hopeful, and achingly beautiful finale. I want to believe Riko’s mom is waiting for her. I have to.

Made in Abyss – 12

This week, while waiting for Riko to heal, Nanachi teaches Reg the “true nature” of the abyss, calling it, essentially, a physical, if invisible, trap of barbs that are easy to descend through but quite difficult to ascend. The Abyss itself is both something that doesn’t want anything going in, but also won’t let anything that does get in get out easily, or without exacting a toll.

That toll would seem to extend all the way tot he surface, where lil’ Kiyui (Kiwi) has come down with an awful fever; a growing trend that is claiming lives. When Girou (Gilo) takes him off the island onto one of the ships of the “Caravan Fleet” docked there, he recovers immediately, without any medical treatment.

It would seem that all that was needed was to get further away from the Abyss.

And yet Riko, like her mother Lyza, her mentor Ouzen, and Nanachi and Mitty, couldn’t help but get closer and closer. The longing to reach thebottom of the netherworld and discover its secrets is far more agonizing than any trap, predator, poison, or curse. It’s a curse in and of itself; an infinitely seductive world beneath the surface, simultaneously beckoning and warning.

Good News: Mitty isn’t trying to eat Riko, she’s merely being friendly, and as Nanachi says, uncharacteristically “emotional” toward a visitor (though it’s doubtful they have many other visitors). She also points out Mitty was once a girl like Riko, then demonstrates to Reg how terrible her cooking ability is, prompting Reg to commit to cooking for RIko once she wakes up.

Meanwhile, Nanachi uses a thin, transparent “fog weave” to very effectively demonstrate the physical qualities of the Curse of Abyss; how it morphs to take the shape of whatever it covers, and the consequences of recklessly bursting through it.

Back in the hut, we’re “treated” to one of the more disturbing sequences in the show: Riko, covered in a fleshy film of her own, sits in the pitch black darkness but for a hole, through which Mitty’s eye peers. Riko peers back, and hears not the cooing and moaning of the present Mitty, but the more lucid cries of the girl Mitty once was. Chilling.

Continuing her lessons, Nanachi places a device in Reg’s helmet so she can communicate with him in real time from afar as he responds to a call for help from a Black Whistle, who then bristles when he sees a mere child has answered and begs him to flee.

Of course, Reg isn’t an ordinary kid, and he has a score to settle with this particular piercer, so with Nanachi’s aid he reaches out and grabs the curse, (which the piercer uses to predict the future with its red “nose”) and fires Incinerator at point-blank range, forcing the beast to shed 80% of its quills and withdraw.

Reg calmly asks the stunned Black Whistle to relay a message to Girou up at the Belchero Orphanage: “They are continuing their adventure.”

Even being almost killed won’t sate Riko’s longing to continue, and Reg knows that, so whenever she wakes up and is well and strong enough to do so, they’ll resume their descent. Reg, grateful for all of Nanachi’s help, asks if she’ll accompany him and Riko on their journey.

It’s not that Nanachi outright refuses their offer, but has a request of her own that is more pressing: she asks if Reg will kill Mitty for her. We heard through Riko the misery Mitty lives in each and every moment; almost gone but not gone enough for it to not matter.

Barring some kind of miracle that could save her, killing Mitty would seem to be a mercy; it’s just that after what happened with them and Bondrewed, Nanachi hasn’t been able to herself do what she know needed to be done. She hopes there’s enough emotional separation for Reg to do it instead.

Made in Abyss – 11

Thanks to the careful ministrations of Nanachi the Hollow, Riko’s arm is stabilized and she’d given another 12 or so hours of life to play with.

Turns out Nanachi had been shadowing her and Reg since they reached the Fourth Layer, but only revealed herself out of pity for Reg, who mewled like a “lost little kid” when Riko went blue.

She warns Reg Riko is far from out of the woods: to save her life, he’ll have to go back out into the Goblet to collect a number of items within those 12 hours.

Then another sound comes from the tent, and Nanachi introduces Reg to OH GAAAAAAAH JESUS CHRIST WHAT THE HELL IS THAT … THAT THING? Honestly, after the “meat” Ozen brought back to life and last week’s gruesome ordeal, you’d think I’d be more desensitized to the horrors of the Abyss, but “Mitty” provides another, well, layer of darkness and dread.

Nanachi makes it clear that Mitty in her current form (which is barely a form at all) is nearer to the rule, not the exception, where Hollows are concerned. Both Nanachi and Mitty ascended from the Sixth Layer. Both were changed irrevocably, but only Nanachi maintained her humanoid form and mental faculties – an “exception among exceptions.”

Mitty is…well, hollow. For most humans who undergo such a transformation, death by their comrades usually follows, but not in this case. Nanachi not only hasn’t put Mitty out of her misery, but keeps her around like a kind of pet.

Perhaps it’s an act of penance. In some flashes of the past we see what is probably a pre-ascent Mitty—a girl with eyes the same reddish hue as the eye of post-ascent Mitty—and a younger, post-ascent Nanachi being praised by the White Whistle Bondrewd the Novel, who is happy “the experiment” was a success. Perhaps Nanachi and Mitty were the subjects of that experiment, and only Nanachi survived (relatively) intact.

Reg collects all the items on Nanachi’s list without too much difficulty, only to learn that just one of those items—the purple mushrooms that grow on shroombears—was necessary to save Riko; the other things were merely for Nanachi to eat. But Nanachi makes a good point: she cannot forage for food while tending Riko, so someone had to.

Reg is also instructed to wash Riko’s soiled clothes at a nearby riverbank behind Nanachi’s hut. The utterly gorgeous verdant landscape he beholds is peppered with graves, somewhat souring the awe with melancholy.

But Reg starts seeing things – the field of flowers of fortitude, Blaze Reap marking a grave – and also hears his own voice speaking to Lyza. He wonders if he buried Lyza, but remembers Ozen said “no one was buried” there.

The thing is, “no one” could be construed as “nothing human”—i.e., a hollow—but when back in the tent, what’s left of Mitty suddenly approaches a sleeping Riko. Does this behavior suggest that Riko’s presence is somehow drawing out the humanity in Mitty, like the mushrooms are drawing out the piercer’s poison? Does Mitty recognize Lyza’s daughter?