Charlotte – 09

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Judging from the amount of time he spends figuring out what to wear, Yuu is not only looking forward to his concert date with Nao, but also seems to be developing some feelings for her. When they meet, he encounters a much more pleasant and bubbly and less surly Nao who is genuinely excited to see ZHIEND live (and collect their very practical smartphone case!)

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As the concert progresses, Yuu’s mind-splinter like nagging feeling of deja vu keeps building until it finally explodes when Sala starts singing a song caled “Trigger”, which just happens to be the trigger that sends Yuu…somewhere, somewhen else. Here, he and and a very alive Ayumi are patients/inmates at the very kind of government facility Nao always warned about, where ability users are rounded up and monitored, while those more powerful (and thus dangerous) are restrained, dissected, and/or disposed of.

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Is this a flashback, or an alternate reality? The show doesn’t say for sure, nor does it need to. Suffice it to say this is an awesome new direction for a show featuring characters with all sorts of crazy powers, so the ability to travel through time (Yuu’s “big brother” Shunsuke’s ability) isn’t that far out there.

The episode fully commits to this new, harsh, dystopian setting with abandon, along with the efforts by other users to free Shun with Yuu’s true power, “plunder”, or the ability to steal other abilities. That power makes him uniquely suited when the time comes to race through the corridors of the facility to release Shun. In the process, many of his associates fall to the security forces. The time between 13:55 and 17:30 is a thrilling masterpiece in and of itself.

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Everything seems to be worth it though, as Shun is released, his eyes uncovered, and…well, something happens. Yuu wakes up in the hospital with Nao by his side, as if it was all a dream, but the timing of Shun using his powers suggests it’s because of Shun that Yuu is here, and was here in this world living peacefully with Ayumi.

Nao is confused by Yuu’s thinking out loud, until a dry Kumagami (who was in the facility with Yuu and Ayumi) enters the room, offering to take Yuu and Nao somewhere where they’ll learn everything they’ve missed out on so far, including reuniting with Shunsuke, who Yuu learns was the one who set Nao on her path of finding and protecting users, thus helping the overall cause. Kumagami also says he can help Yuu rescue Ayumi, as if she wasn’t dead (and indeed, we never saw a body.)

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From post-rock concert to dystopian government facility to comfy hospital room, Yuu then finds himself following Kumagami with Nao to another top-secret underground facility, though in this case, it’s the well-funded but time-deficient headquarters and last stronghold of the “resistance” of ability users against the government, an organization led by Shunsuke, who is now blind.

This is little more than a reveal, with Shuu exchanging pleasantries and preparing to tell Yuu and Nao Everything, but this episode had done more than enough already, completely changing the complexion and expanding the scope, stakes, and very reality of the show. This is no longer just about a school club that rescues kids one at a time. This is about saving them all, including Ayumi. I’m always suspicious of un-killing characters, but in this case I’m very intrigued to see how they do it.

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Kabukimonogatari – 04

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Thousands of zombies converge on Koyomi and Shinobu, but a shower of rice disperses them, launched by a grown-up Hachikuji Mayoi, who is still alive in that dimension. She has a letter for him from Oshino, asking him to confront Shinobu of this time, AKA Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade, who is only half-dead and still a threat to the survivors. Content with his fleeting encounter with Hachikuji, Araragi goes to the shrine with Shinobu, and both double-wield “Kokoro-Watari” demon swords as Shinobu calls out for her.

The half-burned Heart-under-blade arrives, but does not attack. She is so relieved and heartened by seeing her alternate self by Koyomi’s side, she offers her own energy (i.e. blood) to enable them to return to their own timeline, killing her in the process and saving the alternate Hachikuji’s world. Koyomi returns to the present, late for the school ceremony, and the regular Hachikuji barrels into him, having left her backpack at his place.

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We thought this was the strongest episode yet of Monogatari’s second season, completing a second arc that  seemed far less dilatory than the first. The series could have introduced the older Hachikuji Mayoi in last week’s cliffhanger, but chose to defer to this episode so that we have the briefest possible time with her, like Araragi. Hanging out and catching up with her is pointless; this Hachikuji doesn’t know him and vice versa.

Their momentary encounter was enough to make him content, as well as convince him that he wouldn’t let the world where she survived be destroyed. He confronts Heart-under-blade fully expecting a vicious battle that could end with him and Shinobu getting swatted like flies. But as with him with Hachikuji, Heart only wants the briefest glimpse of her alternate self and her “minion” – just long enough to be reassured that there’s a better world out there, in which she didn’t go down the spiral that’s left her a half-dead wretch that still threatened the world.

While Koyomi is glad the alternate Hachikuji and her world will live on with Heart’s demise, he’s also glad to be back in a timeline where he met Hachikuji, even if he couldn’t save her life, they know each other here, and always will. At the same time, the young Hachikuji doesn’t regret dying, because that’s what led to her meeting Koyomi. Finally, Shinobu is glad to be back, and glad even the alternate her that “failed” so fantastically still eventually made amends. To Koyomi, the world he wants is one where Hachikuji knows him. To Shinobu, the world she wants is one where she’s with him. It’s fortunate then that those are the same world.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • Had to mention: Alternate Grown-up Hachikuji is an awesome-looking character.
  • Oshino’s verbose letter was exposition medicine that went down easy thanks to the slick “time-travel-as-rock-climbing” visuals that accompanied it.
  • The Koyomi of the alternate timeline also dated Senjougahara. We guess that makes them multi-dimensional soul-mates, huh?
  • Shinobu’s – or we should say, Sakamoto Maaya’s – summoning scream was pretty frikkin’ bad-ass.
  • We thought we’d part with one of the many gorgeous vistas we were treated to throughout the episode:

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Kabukimonogatari – 03

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Koyomi and Shinobu return to the present to find it in ruins, and the last newspaper reads June 15th. They’re unable to use the shrine to travel through time, and are surrounded by zombies. They retreat into the sky and wait for the dawn, then return to Koyomi’s home. Shinobu deduces that saving Mayoi meant Koyomi never met her.

As a result, Black Hanekawa killed him, and he never retrieved Shinobu after she ran away. Released from his servitude, Shinobu’s full power was unleashed and she turned the entire world into vampires before committing suicide, turning them into zombies. After lighting fireworks in hopes of luring survivors, they are again surrounded by zombies.

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Upon first laying eyes on the bleak, lifeless, eerily beautiful new world Koyomi and Shinobu created by saving Mayoi, our first thought was that we’d want to leave as quickly as possible. Besides being straight up creepy and full of friggin’ vampire zombies, we’d also feel a crushing depression from the knowledge that this just wasn’t right and it was our fault, which would negate any possible appeal of having the world – and Costco! – all to ourselves.

Then Koyomi and Shinobu do try to leave almost immediately, back to the past where they can possibly fix this, and…they can’t. Another crushing sensation; they’re stuck there, indefinitely. But we won’t be too pessimistic. The night’s always darkest before the dawn; a gorgeous dawn we see when Shinobu launches into the sky with Koyomi, which along with the fireworks show brings some life back into this ruined world they simply must restore.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Kabukimonogatari – 02

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When Koyomi realizes they were sent into the past the day before Mother’s Day eleven years ago, he decides to take the opportunity to save Mayoi’s life. Shinobu is dubious, but goes along with the plan. While they’re there, they also spot a younger Koyomi and a younger Hanekawa. Once they locate her father’s house they stake it out in the morning, but she’d already left earlier. They find her, Koyomi startles her, and while chasing her she is almost hit by a passing truck in the crosswalk, but Koyomi pushes her to safety just in time, and then escorts her to her mother’s. Shinobu opens a portal back to the present, but when they return, they learn that the world has been destroyed.

While discussing their unique temporal situation and their singular opportunity at hand with Shinobu, Koyomi concedes that he may not be able to prevent the oddities of all the girls from coming into being; not even Senjougahara’s weight crab. Those oddities were formed from very specific circumstances and sequences of events involving more than just those girls. But Mayoi, he opines, is different. She simply died in a random accident on the way to seeing her divorced mother. And he feels that their ending up eleven years in the past wasn’t random: even if it’s only a stopgap measure, he’s determined to save her and help her find her way.

So after crossing paths with the tiny, flat-chested, but otherwise identical-to-present Hanekawa Tsubasa and almost letting Mayoi slip through his fingers, Koyomi does indeed save her and deliver her to her mom’s, and all’s well that ends well…until they return. In the end, we don’t see the present; Koyomi only describes it in the bleakest terms before the episode cuts to black. But it’s clear that saving Mayoi meant dooming the present he and Shinobu knew. Even if he thought it was a random accident, the only reason the present he knew existed was because Mayoi died in the past. What he saw as righting a wrong only made an infinitely bigger wrong.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)