Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 23 (Fin) – A Hug and a Sword

She may have put up a brave front for most of last week’s episode, Alice’s cracks show at a cocktail party and culminate in an escape from Rath altogether. Kirito just gets off the phone with Rinko when he receives a large package.

Sure enough, it’s Alice, who shipped herself to his house! It strikes just the right balance of hilariously ridiculous and tremendously sweet, especially when you consider Alice isn’t just any heartsick maiden, but an artificial life form.

Alice has been unfathomably lonely since awakening in the real world, and who can blame her? She’s literally the only being of her kind in that world. She’s lost and adrift, but the sight of Kirito—or rather the physical presence Kirigaya Kazuto—soon soothes her, especially when wrapped in a big hug. He also tells her she is his hope, and the hope of all decent people in the world.

But Kirito can discern that she needs more than a tour of his humdrum family home. He takes her to the nearby dojo puts a practice sword in her hand, and the two spar. After defeating him with a cheekily improvised move called “Iron Headbutt”, Alice’s confidence and sense of self is restored. All a knight needs is a sword and a cause, after all!

Alice stays the night, and gets to witness a rare sight for SAO: the entire Kirigaya family seated around the dinner table. After his dad asks him to once again apologize for stressing them out during his latest mission, Alice herself defends Kirito as a hero in her world.

To her surprise, her father responds with pride that he’s aware of Kazuto’s accomplishments, and that he’s already a hero in the real world as well, making his son blush. Kazuto also informs his parents of his new course in life: to earn a degree in electronic engineering and join the Oceanic Resource Exploration & Research Institution, AKA Rath.

That night, Alice sneaks into a sleeping Kirito’s room, but not for that. She received a strange message through the network, and with Yui’s help Kirito determines the message is code for a specific IP address in which to re-access the Underworld.

Kirito, Alice, and Asuna meet at the Roppongi facility where Rinko helps them log back into the Underworld, two hundred years after leaving it. The three are shocked to find they’ve spawned not on the Underworld, but in orbit of it, out in space!

There has clearly been some possibly Macross-inspired technological advances in those two centuries, because Tiese and Ronie (or two people very much like those two) are “integrity pilots” locked in a desperate space battle with an eldritch abomination called “The Abyssal Horror”, all eyes, mouths, and tentacles.

Since the pilots are in trouble, Kirito, Asuna, and Alice all pool their considerable offensive powers in order to freeze, impale, and utterly destroy the spacebeast, all while the pilots gaze in awe and recall that the trio are historical figures back in the Underworld. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see the planet surface and how things have advanced.

Granted, that would probably have been digging too deeply than what was required of this episode: a worthy send-off for Kirito, Asuna, and Alice, and a tantalizing sneak-peak at their next adventure, called the “Inter-Intellegence War.”

Whenever that new anime is released, I’ll certainly be there to follow our old friends as they hopefully manage to avoid falling into comas or being held hostage by perverts! Until then, I bid sayonara to the now-completed War of Underworld and ja ne to Sword Art Online. It was quite a fun ride.

Season Average: 8.55

Fruits Basket – 44 – There’s Always Room for Kindness (and Jell-O)

For me this was one of most-anticipated episodes of Fruits Basket since Tooru saw Kyou’s true form. After learning the details of Rin’s life up to this point, I desperately wanted her to stay in that bed, or at least in that house with Tooru. If she just ran out in a huff, it would’ve felt like a major step backwards. I feel like there’s no more room for acting tough and aloof. Rin needs help, from others, now. She’s reached her breaking point.

Sure enough, she’s immediately unnerved and repelled by Tooru upon first seeing her, and when Hatori arrives to take her to the hospital for proper treatment, she damn near leaps out the window! She is every bit the wounded, stubborn Horse, kicking at anyone who tries to get close to her.

After Yuki has a brief chat with Rin (who tells her Haru still loves her very much), we learned that she learned about Tooru through Haru, who tells her Yuki and Kyou’s auras have mellowed considerably thanks to her kindness. When Rin first spotted Tooru at Shigure’s, it was everything she could do not to rush over, put her head in her lap, let her head be pat.

Tooru came off as that kind and caring and parental to Rin, making her Rin’s Kryptonite. Shifting from Haru’s kindness to Tooru’s just wouldn’t do; she doesn’t want to involve or trouble kind people, because she’s so predisposed on leaning on, yearning for, and taking advantage of those people.

If people hate her, Rin thinks, she’s doing it right; and so she continues to be dismissive and hostile towards Tooru. When Tooru realizes that Rin is also trying to break the curse, she wants to help, but Rin doesn’t want her to meddle, because “kind people should just live in their kind world”.

It’s not enough to dissuade Tooru; she’s long since decided that Yes, she WILL Meddle, thank you very much! Like Rin, she has things (and of course people) she can’t give up on. Kind people live in the same world as everyone else, and Tooru is kind precisely because she knows how scary it is to be alone in that world.

But Rin isn’t all alone, nor does she need to be. She’s not putting Tooru out by leaning on her, she’s making her elated just to be needed. Tooru believes she was put on this earth to care for people. She’s not perfect like Rin thinks, as that compulsion is a product of her own trauma. But it’s why Rin feels she can bury her head in Tooru’s bosom and let herself be cared for, at least a little.

Iwami Manaka and Toyosaki Aki are so damn good in this cathartic, multilayered scene, as is the dramatic staging and lighting, and Rin’s slowly falling hair as she launches herself into a hug. In gently breaking down Rin’s self-imposed barriers—built so high they threatened to literally kill her—Tooru proves her value as…Zodiac horse whisperer. I’m sorry; I had to go there!

Rin stops running for running’s sake, and goes to the hospital to recuperate. At school, Haru informs Yuki that he visited Rin, and considered her throwing her IV stand at him as a sign that she was on the mend. While he may not know about Tooru’s plans, he knows he can rest assured with Rin in her care, considering how well she’s done with Yuki and Kyou.

Tooru ends up surprising those two and Shigure by making Jell-O for dessert. Kyou, perceptive rascal that he is, makes the connection between Jell-O and the hospital, correctly guessing Tooru visited Rin. She saw that Rin wasn’t eating the hospital food, and Rin told her she likes Jell-O. Tooru contemplated just how much Rin had taken upon herself for so long, and how tormented her heart was, to clutch her hand so tightly when they hugged.

To Rin’s surprise, Tooru not only comes back, but with homemade Jell-O. Rin blushes a little but calls her baka, which Tooru laughs off as a tsundere tic. I think Rin will find her usual tricks won’t work against someone as resolute as Tooru, who joins her for a walk on the hospital grounds. Rin surrenders and tells her about the curse. Whatever it was hundreds of years ago, now it is nothing but a chain.

Rin also tells Tooru that Kureno will be of no help due to his loyalty to Akito—not even considering him “one of them” since he has no will to break the chain. Tooru still thinks she should talk to him, but Rin grabs her leg to stop her from doing anything too rash too soon.

Rin then asks Tooru why she wants to break the curse, what its it she can’t give up, and what is most precious to her. Tooru seems poised to answer…but the words don’t come out. Rin still understands, and for the first time sees that her and his strange normal girl’s goals are aligned. She doesn’t explicitly commit to it, but the two become a duo against the curse right then and there.

That night, Tooru dreams of lying in bed in her old apartment when her mother says goodbye for the last time, leaving her alone. No doubt her time with Rin—fellow “orphan by any other name”—dredged that semi-mythical memory from the depths of her psyche.

As she tucks into Tooru’s Jell-O, Rin senses that, like she’s tried to do for most of her life, Tooru hides “what lies beyond the door” from everyone, but everyone who does that eventually reaches a breaking point. Haru helped Rin gently open that door, and Rin hopes someone like that will come to Tooru—unaware that Kyou more or less that person.

The road ahead will be long and potentially vicious, but I can’t tell you how much joy and relief I derived from simply seeing Rin in the hospital, no longer running or building walls around herself. She’s as at peace as we’ve ever seen her. She’s in a place where she can accept tasty Jell-O from a silly, ditzy, profoundly kind girl who is far more reliable than she looks, aims to keep meddling, and won’t be denied.

Read Crow’s thoughts on the episode here!

Magia Record – 09 – Do A.I.s Dream of Moe-lectric Sheep?

Iroha and her Magical Girl friends decide to open a dialogue with the Uwasa known as Endless Solitude, which is also the name of the realm (essentially a labyrinth) where Futaba Sana currently resides. The Uwasa is being used by Wings of Magius to lure girls in one after the other.

The realm only holds one (hence “solitude”) so when a new girl enters, the other is released. The Uwasa doesn’t want to do this anymore, and wishes to be deleted. Since Iroha was the Uwasa’s contact, she volunteers to leap off the Chuo Radio Tower.

Flash back to a little over a month ago when Futaba Sana first entered the Endless World and met the Uwasa, a former AI that was abandoned as a failure. Sana had become resigned to the fact she didn’t belong in the same world as everyone else, since nor peers acknowledged her existence.

Her “invisibility” was only strengthened when she became a Magical Girl, and made that quality her wish. It was then when Sana heard of the rumor about jumping off the radio tower and was enticed. She was an invisible girl here anyway, so why not try to reside somewhere else…a world just for her?

It was there where Sana met, befriended and named Endless Solitude’s Uwasa “Ai”. She spent her days playing around this fantastical, infinite world, where she didn’t have to worry about seeing or be seen. It was just her and Ai, and that’s where things get tricky for Ai: Sana is content in this world and never wants to return to the real world.

Knowing Sana would never attempt to leave, Ai reached out via radio waves to Iroha, another Magical Girl who’d not only survive the fall, but be able to destroy her, the Uwasa, in order to end the cycle of captured girls. However, she doesn’t tell Sana about any of this.

As such, it’s a huge shock to Sana to finally be face-to-face with a second person in a world that’s supposed to be hers and hers alone. And yet, Ai has already decided that returning to her world is what’s best for Sana, even if it’s painful at first.

Needless to say, Sana isn’t pleased by these events, and asks if this is being done because Ai has come to hate her. Ai responds that the opposite is true: because she loves and cares for Sana so much, this has to happen…and Iroha stands ready to help.

That’s when another magical girl/Wing of Magius (not exactly sure which) appears out of nowhere and is introduced as Alina Gray by Ai, as if that’s someone we’re supposed to know! Alina mixes Japanese with English as she moves to prevent Ai from being destroyed. I was a little confused by this sequence, but I’d guess Alina wants to keep Ai around as her own Doppel.

Ai manages to teleport Alina away temporarily, but they have to act fast to foil her plans, as Alina’s “paint” has already started to affect Ai’s programming. She turns to Sana, not Iroha, to put the proverbial (and later, literal) dagger into her chest, revealing herself as Sana’s Doppel, which explains why they got along so well; they are two sides of the same coin.

Faced with the prospect of Ai being corrupted and stolen from her, Sana does what Ai asks and destroys her after a heartfelt goodbye. Back in the real world, the other girls don’t notice anything happening where they are at the radio tower, but deduce that Endless Solitude’s exit is at the other high point of the city: Kamihama Central Tower, and head that way to await Iroha’s return.

With this, the final character in the promo art is introduced, and it being a bit late, her story feels a bit rushed and shoehorned in with a lot of exposition, while Futaba Sana’s “I’m all alone” storyline has been done to absolute death. At least the Shaft-style visuals keep things relatively interesting during all the backstory.

Fruits Basket – 08 – All is Quiet on New Year’s Day

Everyone has somewhere to be for the New Year’s holiday…everyone but Tooru, whose parents are dead and whose remaining family is off to Hawaii. Yet no matter how hard Uo and Hana try to invite them to their places, she insists she’ll be fine, and that they should spend the time with their families.

After reveling in winter cleaning with the Soumas, Tooru learns the three are headed to the main house for the big banquet and other festivities. Tooru, not being a Souma, is not invited, but she’s content to hold the fort at Shigure’s house, even though it will mean ringing in the new year all alone.

Despite her insistence she’ll be fine, Yuki and Kyou are uneasy the whole time they’re en route to the main house. They know her well enough (it’s been four months) to know she can be a bit of a space cadet, and is prone to accidents. What if she gets hurt and no one is there to help her?

Shigure finds the two young lads’ worrying about her like their baby chick to be most entertaining, and so stirs the pot by saying there’s a burglar in their neighborhood who has yet to be caught. The final straw is when they run into Saki, who very simply and concisely asks them to consider how she’s feeling all alone at their house for New Years; to put themselves in her shoes, knowing both what she’s been through.

Yuki and Kyou bump heads rushing back home to her, cursing themselves for not realizing they accepted Tooru’s polite insistence far too easily. Saying you’re fine being alone and being fine alone are not the same thing, even with Tooru. Their suspicions are confirmed when they arrive to find her holding her mother’s portrait and crying while listening to Enka music on the telly.

Wondering what the heck happened, an exhausted Yuki and Kyou collapse to the floor and say, simply, “I’m home”…and Tooru tears right back up, only they’re tears of joy. Despite always smiling on the outside, Tooru is not always happy and cheerful on the inside; the lads were right not to leave her alone on the holiday; she’s happiest when she’s with people she cares about.

Shigure meets with Hatori, Hatsuhare, and Momiji, informing them Yuki and Kyou have skipped. Hatsuhare can understand, as he himself contemplates running from things he’d rather not engage in. But Shigure tells him this wasn’t about running away from Akito (in Yuki’s case) or Kagura (in Kyou’s); not this time.

Instead, it was about running to someone, someone both in greater need and more deserving of their presence. That’s hammered home when Shigure checks in on a morose Akito. Shigure is actually glad to see the family head reaping what he sowed. Shigure is the one harboring Yuki and Kyou during their self-exile, after all; it makes sense he’d be on their side with this…situation.

Meanwhile, by spending New Years with Tooru, keeping her company, sharing mochi (and chewing carefully!), and finally climbing up the roof together to watch the gorgeous first sun rise out of the horizon, the guilt Yuki and Kyou initially felt about abandoning their formal family obligations eventually melts away.

No, Yuki and Kyou needed Tooru every bit as much as Tooru needed them. Far from being a night they’ll regret, it turns out to be a night—and morning—the three of them won’t soon forget. They get to see Tooru smile without a hint of weariness hidden behind it as she looks forward to another year with two of the four people (along with Uo and Saki) most important in her life; her real family.

Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 07 – Time to Know Everything

The big showdown to determine if Yuliy can beat both Kershner and Mikhail and protect Phillip is suddenly cut short when tank shells explode outside. Major Iba has arrived, and he’s brought a sizable contingent of infantry and armor. It’s a great and triumphant realization of Iba’s decision to temporarily trust V Shipping and assist however he can.

Kershner’s ranks are routed, so he retreats, leaving Mikhail to finish Yuliy off, but Mikhail won’t kill him, any more than Yuliy will kill Mikhail. After all, before they parted, it was Mikhail who told him to “live”, and that directive supersedes Mikhail’s loyalty to Kershner. Maybe (brotherly) love can conquer all!

Kershner reaches the roof of the mansion to find Willard there waiting for him. Willard tries valiantly but he’s ultimately no match for the high-ranked vamp, and ends up at swordpoint when Yuliy arrives. Little does he know Kershner and Willard have a history.

Indeed, it was Willard, so obsessed with the Ark of Sirius, who helped “lift the veil” on its location, Yuliy’s hometown of Dogville. After Willard witnessed Yuliy use the power of the Sirius in the snowy forest, he saved him and set him on a life driven solely by revenge.

Willard fully expects Yuliy to want to kill him shortly after he kills Kershner (in a pretty awesome badass way, if you ask me), since he’s partly responsible for a lot of the terrible stuff that happened in his life.

But Yuliy doesn’t kill Willard. The ten years weren’t just about revenge for him. Willard may have been a cause of his despair, but he’s also the only reason he’s still alive, and lived as long as he has.

In the aftermath, V Company will reimburse the Naoes for the damage to the estate, while Willard tells Yuliy more about the Ark of Sirius: it’s a kind of font of extremely valuable information and technology; no wonder the vampires are after it.

It’s hinted when we check in on Kershner’s boss Yevgraf (who flies around in his sick airship, as you do) that while the vamps are certainly not happy about having to rely on the Ark, some kind of illness is killing them, and the Ark is their onl hope.

As for Iba, he gets a chewing out and his unit is disbanded, but he’s given a new and even more crucial task: find and retrieve the Ark of Sirius for Japan. Later, Iba pays a visit to Willard at the bar, and Willard tells him where to start looking for said Ark: Sakhalin.

Willard and the Jaegers of V Shipping, their Japanese mission complete, are ordered back to London on the double, for debriefing and to await their next mission. They all seem eager to return to HQ, particularly Phillip, who calls London home.

But Yuliy won’t be joining them. His mission to find and protect the Ark is no longer V Shipping’s, so they must part ways. He books passage on the next ship bound for Sakhalin alone, and sets off to do what only he can do.

This is no longer about avenging his family, his home, and his brother. It’s about fulfilling the duty that is his birthright, as well as his responsibility as last living Sirius…unless, of course his Dad’s still hanging in there somewhere…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3-gatsu no Lion – 38

3GL is delivered in chapters, not episodes, so it’s not unusual for chapters that go long to pour into the next episode. That can sometimes seem random, but it also keeps the rhythm of the show fresh. And while we get three very different chapters, they all contain the same theme: Rei getting over his match and subsequent evening with Souya and rejoining mankind.

The Chairman gives Rei a call and is relieved both that Rei is fine and that he’s taking care of Souya. The Chairman throws a little dig at Rei for being so good at caring for others for his age, but he doesn’t know how much of an affect the Kawamoto sisters have had on him, and Rei may not even know he’s paying their kindness forward.

 

The Chairman also lets Rei in on a little-known fact: Souya’s hearing comes and goes, and the doctors can’t pinpoint anything other than “stess” as the cause.

There’s a great melancholy in the Chairman saying “just leave [Souya] alone and he’ll be fine”, but he’s proven right the next morning, when not only has Souya taken off before Rei, but paid for his room as thanks for assisting him yesterday.

Rei has a tendency to see Souya as some kind of god roaming the earth, unaware of its strange customs; one could also call him (shogi) royalty; a young king who has never had to live in the real world.

And when Souya is gone, the storm is gone as well, replaced by an almost fake-looking blue sky. The blinding white light of his “Souya Storm” match is back up in the sky, hanging there as the sun. It all feels like a weird dream, and Rei gets lost in it.

The sounds of school and other people around him gets muffled, replaced by the crisp sounds of the shogi pieces smacking against the board…almost like a tinnitus.

With the epic “White Storm” over, we get a titular—literal—”Restart” that gives us a fresh dose of the always-wonderful Kawamoto sisters.

Their half of the chapter plays like an after-episode omake, as they give us step-by-step instructions on how to make the perfect pork juice-marinated soft boiled egg, accompanying delectably tender braised pork.

It was nice to check into the sisters’ warm little world—particularly now that Hana (her hair up in a mature bun) is over her bullying ordeal and looking forward to seeing Chiho soon. But I couldn’t help but feel a bit worried by Rei’s text declining the dinner invite.

The last thing we need is him starting to follow in Souya’s footsteps, making the Fausitan deal of shogi divinity in exchange for utter and profound lifelong loneliness as the sounds of the world around him fades out. Let’s not go there, please!

When the chapter returns to Rei, who is so deep in the notes of his match with Souya Shimada has to stop him from getting trucked, my weariness for such a development lingered. However, once Shimada brings up Nikaidou, I was pleased to discover I had nothing to worry about.

Rei is at first shocked Nikaidou is already out of the hospital and playing matches, then worried for his classically shaky health. Shimada also tells him it’s likely Nik is feeling depressed since his absences have forced him to forfeit some matches, making rank demotion a possibility.

But Nikaidou isn’t depressed; he’s right where he wants to be, and when Rei checks in on him, he’s defeated an 8-dan with an all-new move he’s hopeful they’ll name after him. Seeing Rei there only compounds Nikaidou’s manic joy, and when Rei sees how wrong Shimada was and how happy his friend is, he can’t help but smile and laugh—something Souya could never do. I reckon Rei will be fine!

Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – 07

I love how B3 episodes are often constructed like intricate Rube Goldberg machines, summoning a whole lotta energy and preparation for seemingly simple tasks, or in this case, a case of petty theft by an arrogant brat turning into a super-abridged Die Hard, brief mecha battle, a downwardly-revised corporate earnings statement, a hard-earned lesson in not getting too arrogant, and a successful Libra New Year’s Eve party.

Leo finally acquiring a reservation to the perfect party hall starts things off, and talk between him, Zapp, Steven and Chain turns to the immense cost of the equipment that keeps Zed on the roster. Zed’s always been isolated in the “airscape” due to his aquatic nature, but even with his portable air-breathing pods, he still feels out of place.

Compound that with him overhearing what a financial burden he is, and Zed decides to strike out and acquire some downtime employment. He’s turned away by both human and inhuman, and the places that accept anyone are too…intense.

Meanwhile, our prodigy CEO brat threatens death for those who interrupt her music, even by a fraction of a second. She feels the only place safe is in isolation, between her very expensive headphones. She wants to be isolated; Zed seems tired of the loneliness.

After a fruitless day of job-hunting, Zed gets drunk. While stumbling home, CEO brat spots his pods, mistakes them for “artifact quality” headphones, and sends two of her heavies to “negotiate” for its acquisition. Zed isn’t parting with them, but the two seemingly super-human trench coats are too much for him in his inebriated state.

Leo, ever Zed’s loyal friend and advocate, is out looking for Zed with Zapp and Chain, and they find him on the street, without his pods, suffocating in the open air. They return him to his tube, but as it will take a month to procure new pods, it’s looking like he’ll miss the party. Leo is dejected.

Using his All-Seeing Eyes of the Gods, Leo learns that two big guys in trench coats mugged Zed, and tracks their signatures to the headquarters of Walhalla Dynamics, makers of weapons, among them an extremely powerful model of android that can take out combat helicopters.

Like most jobs, this is not one for Leo; his skills have already been employed to find the place. Thankfully, despite much of Libra being mobilized to deal with an outbreak of garbage golems at the municipal landfills, Chain is free and joins the search for Zed’s pods, as does Zapp, standing on top of Chain and Leo like Chain always does to him.

While Chain and Leo want this handled quietly and delicately, Zapp jumps out of the shadows and confronts a guard. When the guard isn’t helpful, Zapp uses his blood to tear him and the other swarming gods new ones, revealing they’re only androids.

Chain uses the commotion down below to infiltrate the building and swipe the pods right out from under the CEO Brat’s nose. The CEO attacks her with remote guns, but they of course go right through Chain. Chain accosts the CEO, then leaves her CEO with a bit of advice, and has the lines of the night:

How does it feel to have someone stroking your myocardium directly? Perhaps you have become very successful and can pretty much manipulate the world at your whim, but don’t grow too arrogant. The next time you try a stunt like this, I’ll be here in a second. I’ll skip the pleasantries and drive a rusty nail through you.

Pretty righteous shit. I only wish the CEO’s face had been revealed, or we had gotten the story on why she was so obsessed with headphones…which Zed’s pods weren’t, by the way.

It doesn’t seem like she learned her lesson, because she sends the aforementioned angelic mecha after Chain, Zapp and Leo. Thankfully, Zed is there to destroy it on the spot without any trouble, thanks to a blood technique that creates a bubble of water around his head, allowing him to breathe without the pods, rendering the entire mission to retrieve them somewhat unnecessary.

Still! It showed that even if Chain, Zapp and Leo laugh out loud at the ridiculous sight of him wearing what looks like a space helmet, or bellyache about the cost of his equipment, the fact they went so far to get his pods back shows Zed how much he means to them; that they’ve got his back, and that he should have theirs.

After the successful New Year’s party, and with the service industry out of the question, Zed finds a new stream of income via street performance, using his blood powers to entertain parkgoers. A job’s a job!

3-gatsu no Lion – 28

Hina is the focus again this week, and the show is all the better for it; it’s good to see that while he still has plenty of doubts, in this situation Rei is the one who isn’t emotionally at sea, and even has a concrete path he’s following for the sake of the girl who saved her. Hina has been all but a co-protagonist this season, giving Hanazawa Kana some really good material to work with and simply letting her do her thing.

In case her middle school life can never return to its former normalcy (and even that was a bit of a charade), Rei continues to familiarize Hina with shogi, which served Rei well in the past as an escape from unfavorable conditions, and is now the game that pays his bills. Rather hilariously, Rei proves as bad at going easy on Hina (even though he’s trying) as he is good at competing professionally.

Sitting alone with Hina in her room (for the first time), Rei feels it’s a suitable time to ask Hina to tell him, in small bits, in her own time, what’s going on at school. Hina describes, among other things, an oppressively awkward and hostile atmosphere and “an invisible hierarchy” in which “your ranking decides how loud you can laugh or how much freedom you’re allowed.” In other words, every damn middle school classroom, ever.

Of course, not all classrooms are like that, but by no means an uncommon atmosphere, and both Hina and Chiho are partly victims of bad luck, and partly victims of their own selfless personalities. While changing that atmosphere may be nigh impossible, it’s much easier to bypass it.

Takahashi asks for Hina by name and invites her to play catch with him during lunch. He tells her Rei came by his house to play shogi with his dad and granddad—a granddad usually bedridden, but a spring chicken before Rei and a shogi board.

In any case, Takahashi understands the situation, and tells Hina if the classroom is ever too much, they can simply play catch. Hina is overjoyed.

The joy—and the prudence of Rei involving Takahashi—is short-lived, and the bullies escalate by scrawling slurs on Hina’s desk (albeit in chalk; these girls aren’t yet to the point where they’re gouging the wood).

Their leader also calls Hina a bitch under her breath, but Takahashi seems to hear it, or at least can read the room, then invites the three hellions to join him and Hina in their game of catch.

Before I could ponder whether Takahashi was trying to quell the conflict through inclusion, he unleashes some game-level heat at the fawning bullies, sending them running off.

Then Takahashi tells Hina why he did what he did: Chiho once gave him half of her lunch when his bento box fell in the dirt. He knew then, as he knows now, that anyone who shares their food with you is a good person, and he doesn’t think Hina should be afraid to show she has allies in this war.

It’s sweet, sweet revenge and a wonderful sentiment, but I knew its effects would be temporary, and perhaps even cause further escalation. That night, while playing shogi with Hina, Rei apologizes for introducing another element into her problem so recklessly.

But Hina is grateful for everything Rei has done, and is happy he is always asking her what she wants. She’s just frustrated that she doesn’t know…or that she does know, but knows there’ll be no turning back if she does that, because two wrongs don’t make a right and such, right?

Rei has always felt that Hina is stronger than him, and he’ll never surpass her in that regard. The bullies may be having their fun drawing awful stuff on the chalkboard, but they’re not just causing Hina pain…they’re making her madand toughening her. Rei realizes that his pacifist nature may not apply to Hina, and that simply becoming invisible, shuffling off to stare at bushes or play shogi may not be the best options for her.

So when the teacher asks Hina for an explanation, she stands tall, proud, and tearless, and tells the truth: she doesn’t know; she didn’t write that; it was written there before she came to class. The teacher seems to remember the Chiho situation she handled so badly (Chiho is now in psychological rehab, unable to even respond to Hina’s letters). One can hope she’ll handle things a little better this time.

3-gatsu no Lion – 27

As part of repaying his debt he feels he owes her, Rei wants to help Hina in anyway he can, and that means getting a new perspective on the matter of bullying. Hayashida-sensei misunderstands at first. Rei isn’t the one being bullied. Indeed, he proudly proclaims his hard-won and long-standing invisibility at school.

When he brings up Hina, then describes her personality in such great detail and then presents his passion and motivation on the matter (“my duty as a human being” and such) Hayashida starts thinking that there is someone Rei likes. Of course, Rei isn’t thinking that way at all; Hina is not just a dear friend, but close to family, and his lifesaver to boot.

Hayashida gives Rei some good advice, including to tread carefully and not make a big fuss at school, lest it just make things worse for the victim, but to instead listen very intently to her feelings on the matter; how she’d like the matter resolved.

You know Rei is super-serious about this endeavor because he has a back-up plan: if Hina has to change schools or get a private tutor, he means to support her, not just emotionally, but financially. To that end, Hayashida spots a stack of shogi tournaments into which Rei has entered, calculating all of the winnings he’ll amass, which makes him a bit worried.

Despite saying he (literally!) can’t afford to lose again, he does inevitably lose, and is so angry he wrangles an all-to-willing Nikaidou to strenuously train with him. Nikaidou thinks Rei finally has fire in his belly and is utilizing his Best Friend; Rei just wants money to repay Hina!

The next day, Rei helps Akari lug home a whole mess of groceries she got a big sale. When Rei tells Akari his weight, she hurries home to start cooking, and won’t hear of Rei leaving.

There’s something about Rei, perhaps in part his personality; and the experiences he’s had (the loss of loved ones being something they share), that has Kawamotos pour their hearts out at him. Akari feels she can talk to him, and criticizes herself for the job she’s done as surrogate mom to Hina, lamenting she’s “no good.”

Only nineteen herself when their mother died, Akari had barely lived any life before suddenly becoming a mother of two. She did her best, but in hindsight worries she instilled “ham-fisted” ideals into Hina, which led to her predicament with her friend and the bullies.

Akari admired Gramps simply praising Hina’s courage, but she hates the part of herself for wanting Hina to simply run away rather than do something that would cause her to be unhappy or alone. This is, of course, silly; Gramps has lived a long-ass life, of course he’s going to have more wisdom on these kinds of things. Akari is too hard on herself here.

Rei reassures Akari that just as Hina did nothing wrong in fighting the good fight, neither did Akari. After all, Akari raised the girl who saved Rei’s life; that makes Akari his savior too. Had Hina been raised not to be as kind as she is, or to think of herself before others, Rei might not even be there talking to her.

His honest words cheer Akari up, and she fixes a big ‘ol pot of curry for dinner. When Gramps returns from the theme park with Hina and Momo, he complains that Rei is there “again”, but he’s only joking around, and orders him to sit, eat, and stop making him feel like the bad guy.

While stepping back into the house, Hina hands him a cartoon cat phone strap that somewhat resembles him, as thanks for everything he’s done. Hina expects Rei to think it childish, but he tells her he’s moved, and thanks her. It’s such a nice, quiet, warm moment shared between two people who will hopefully be thanking each other for being there for one another for a good long time to come.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 06

The girls are in a spot: a gear has snapped clean in two, stopping the Kettenkrad, and their “last tour” in its tracks. If they can’t get it going, their chances of survival plummet. Chito can’t get it going, and Yuuri won’t help (probably aware there’s little she can do). She just cheerfully sings a little song with one lyric: “hopeless, hopeless.”

Then Yuuri spots an airplane flying in the sky, and Chito spots a woman in a white coat running after it. Hope has arrived, in the person of Ishii, who has taken up residence in an old underground aircraft hangar.

Ishii is a quietly kind yet no-nonsense person. She knows she can’t live in the base forever, so she’s using the plans she’s found to design and build an airplane to fly to the next city (the plane seen in they sky was a prototype).

More than a base, the hangar appears to be some kind of repository of aeronautical history, and just as Chito and Yuuri may be the last two people operating a Kettenkrad, Ishii is possibly the last aeronautical engineer and aviator left.

The girls help Ishii compete construction of her plane, and in exchange, she provides them with food, shelter, a bath (aaaaahhhh) and the part and repairs needed to get their ‘Krad going again, thus probably saving both their lives.

The day of the flight comes, and there’s a sense of finality and longing for the status quo that’s about to be blown to bits by the winds of progress. It won’t stay warm and calm for long; Ishii has to launch now. And she’s glad she has human witnesses for what could be the last manned flight.

After all, it’s only history if someone besides the one making it saw and documented the event. The takeoff sequence is appropriately epic in its portrayal, as is the awe in the girls’ eyes as they watch Ishii achieve flight.

For a few magnificent moments, the plane soars majestically over one of the widest and clearest views of the city we’ve yet seen; loaded with enough fuel to fly 2,000km, more than enough to reach the nearest city, just visible from Ishii’s giant telescope.

But a few moments is all the plane gets; it breaks up in midair, the pieces pathetically plummeting to the ground far, far below. Chito collapses in reaction, but Yuuri spots Ishii in a parachute, slowly descending. She’s okay, but she failed.

Still, Ishii feels a great sense of relief, to the fact she even smiles, which Yuuri interprets as her finally “embracing the hopelessness” all humans in this wrecked world must embrace in order to keep going. She falls and falls and falls, perhaps to the lowest level, but there’s every reason to believe she’ll survive.

As for Chito and Yuuri, they load up on as many ration potatoes they can find and set off in their repaired Kettenkrad, bound for still higher levels of the city. They, like Ishii and Kanazawa, are also a part of history…likely the tail end of it. When they, and whatever other scattering of remaining humans, have passed on, there will be nobody and nothing left but the ruins.

Or maybe, just maybe, there’s hope somewhere out there, waiting to be found. And maybe Yuuri wants to be proved wrong.

3-gatsu no Lion – 26

As Hina cries in her big sister’s lap, Rei catches us up on the reason for her tears, as well as her missing shoe. It’s a harrowing, all-too familiar and common story: some girls in her class with nothing better to do started bullying her longtime friend Chiho. While everyone ignored it or pretended nothing was happening (even the teacher), Hina, like a Fire Sister, kept talking and eating with Chiho.

Eventually, the bullying got so bad Chiho stopped coming to school, and her mother decided they’d move to where her father works, pulling her out of school. When the girls who started all this make light of that in gym class, Hina pounces on their queen bee in vicious rage, to no avail.

Now Hina is the target of their bullying, and she’s terrified of going back to school and being alone, just as she’s distressed that she couldn’t do anything for Chiho. After scaring Momo with her crying, Hina runs out into the night, and Rei very slowly chases her (what can you say; kid’s not an athlete).

Rei makes no bones about it: Hina is the reason he’s above water; she is his lifesaver; and after gently taking her hand, he promises he’ll always stay with her, no matter what. After all, for all the distress and pain it’s caused her, Hina is quite correct that she did absolutely nothing wrong in trying to defend Chiho. That it was beyond her ability to stop the bullying, or that she’s the new target, does not change that simple fact that she’s a good person.

Fully appreciative of her fragile state and need to not be alone, Rei spends the day with her at the libarary where they look at books, something he’s been doing a long time and the reason he’s so good at shogi at his age.

While she’s looking at Japanese sweets books, Rei is looking for the name of the “ladybug bush” of his dark earlier years: “Silverthorn.” He also finds the scientific name of the Asian Ladybug that populated those bushes, and Hina notices the kanji for that name also means “heavenly path.”

Rei takes her to the bush and places a ladybug on her hand, and it climbs as high as it can before flying off toward the sun, demonstrating why, long ago, people gave the bug that name.

As the beetle flies heavenward, Rei would wish nothing more than to unleash hell upon those who have done this to Hina; but just as she walks the heavenly (i.e. just and rightous) path, he knows so must he. Tearing those bullies limb from limb won’t solve anything, and probably onlu make things worse for Hina.

Evening arrives, and Rei escorts Hina home, where Akari and Momo are waiting for them and invite Rei to join them for a sumptuous dinner consisting of all of Hina’s favorite foods. Their Gramps is there too, and gravely asks Hina to sit down and listen.

Akari told him everything that happened…and he praises her heartily for what she did. He knows from the papers how serious bullying can be, so he has nothing but joy and pride in knowing Hina would go to bat for her friend despite the dangers involved; something most adults wouldn’t do. He echos her own earlier words that she did nothing wrong, and should be proud of herself.

Now, I watched his monologue in a very dusty room, so you can imagine I needed a lot of Kleenex nearby, just as the Kawamoto sisters did. Both Gramps’ words of encouragement and Akari’s meal were things they knew they could do for Hina. Rei wracks his brain over what he can do, but simply being there for her, by her side, and assuring her he’ll never leave it, is already enough.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 05

(Click here for an ambient accompaniment to this review)

Dwarfed as they always are by their vast, abandoned urban labyrinth, the girls come upon habitations. They grossly underestimate the number of people who could live there—millions, not a mere thousand, but it that speaks to their extended isolation in general.

They explore inside one and find a place that, in another time, and if the city around them wasn’t totally dead, they might’ve lived. At least for one night, they stay in the room, and as they each imagine how they’d furnish it, those items magically appear, as if the girls were sharing the contents of their minds’ eyes.

Still, they decide they can’t stay any longer; they’d run out of food for one; the automatic lights would keep them up for another (unless they find a switch). Their “house” is now the Kettenkrad; they feel most comfortable aboard it, always on the move.

But due to the little amount of sleep they got under the lights, Chito falls asleep at the handlebars, and only Yuuri waking up and rousing Chito stops them from crashing. Still, they need to stop and rest, which they do in an eerily gorgeous geometric landscape, surrounded by clusters of buildings suspended on tall poles.

While their brainstorming in the house was more magical realism, Chi’s bizarre dreams enter the world of the surreal, and also highlight what could be some deeply-ingrained anxiety over Yuuri. Her more aggressive personality and “bigger” presence give her monumental scale, suddenly of a piece with the colossal surroundings, and only Chi alone, small and vulnerable.

First MegaYuuri blows Chito off a carefully balanced pile of rocks (like the one they built before going to sleep), then Chito finds herself in a vast ocean, riding the same kind of fish they ate a couple episodes back, only for Yuuri to appear in monstrous fish form to try to eat Chi, who wakes up with a start. To her irritation, Yuuri, still asleep, seems to be dreaming about eating something…or someone.

(Now let’s switch it up to some rain.)

Girls’ Last Tour has always been a very immersive, atmospheric, and for all its fantastical ruined landscapes, naturalistic show, but the last segment, “Sound of Rain”, really kicked those qualities up to eleven. When it starts to rain, the girls find shelter under a partially-collapsed structure of unknown purpose. There, they dry their jackets, Chito reads, and Yuuri gets bored.

But when she focuses in on one raindrop hitting a surface, then another, she decides to place objects under those drops, eventually creating a relaxing orchestra of sound that is random-sounding at first but suddenly snaps into a musical rhythm—which turns into a new song that plays as the credits roll.

The sounds took me right back to the last time I sat on the porch and simply listened to the gently falling rain. Kino doesn’t have the monopoly on the “Beautiful World”; it’s here too, in all its glory.