Owarimonogatari – 02

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As Ougi pointedly remarks toward the end of this normal-length episode, This Is Different. Not only the fact that Owarimonogatari shifts the focus from her in the first episode (essentially an hour-long prologue) to Oikura Sodachi, who is suddenly back at school and asking Tsubasa all kinds of questions. Araragi is confident he can clear the air with Sodachi before Tsubasa gets back from the teacher’s lounge, but that doesn’t happen, because Sodachi, like Ougi before her, is different from every other woman he’s dealt with.

Different, because Sodachi hates Araragi. She despises him, and people like him with the heat of a thousand suns, as if he’d killed her parents (assuming she loved them, of course). So the smooth, easy reunion Araragi expected crashes and burns with equal force, as he can feel the hate suffusing every surface of the classroom, pushing all the desks and chairs back. No water under the bridge here. More like Sodachi wants to throw Araragi off a bridge, into that water, then burn his wretched corpse to ashes.

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So why does she despise Araragi so much? We can hazard a guess from last week, but according to her, it’s because he’s ungrateful for the life of smooth sailing he’s enjoyed, because he’s happy without knowing why he’s happy; because he “doesn’t know what he’s made up of” in ranting that evokes chemistry more than mathematics, though the former requires quite a bit of the latter (which is why I got a “D-” in chemistry :P):

“I despise water that thinks it boiled itself on its own.”

Araragi’s usual charms and ability to take control of an encounter are utterly overthrown in Sodachi’s seething atmosphere of hate. When he tries to calm her by putting his hands on her shoulders, she quickly reaches for a mechanical pencil and stabs him in the hand. She won’t be calm. Within her is a storm that has been brewing for years. But how many, exactly—two, five, or more—is one of the mysteries this episode posits.

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Sodachi’s stabbing of Araragi brings a new element to the equation: a highly displeased Senjougahara, comically dragging a diplomatic Tsubasa behind her, who arrives with a line that’s both eloquent, hilarious, and wink-ily meta-referential:

“I’ll kill you. I’m the only one who can stab Araragi with stationery. Even though I’ve gotten rid of that character trait, I can’t stand having it reused.”

Sodachi greets Senjougahara by lamenting “how far she’s fallen” since the time she was a sickly girl she often took care of, since she’s now dating Araragi, a man who will never credit anyone other than himself for his happiness. But both of Sodachi’s barbs imply a desire in Senjougahara for some kind of repayment for her affections or efforts, where no such desire exists.

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Senjougahara concedes that Sodachi may be right about Araragi’s ungratefulness, but she doesn’t care. She likes Araragi and wants to go to college with him. She’s not looking for anything in return, nor is she keeping score; two more traits on which she and Sodachi differ. Sodachi applies math to all, and in the equations that express Araragi’s wonderful life, sees herself and others as crucial variables. For that, she demands recognition and renumeration, yet Araragi, she believes, pretends those variables don’t exist; that only the sum—his happiness—matters.

Sodachi’s comeback to Senjougahara’s admittedly condescending response to her protests is to slap her in the face (doing a scant 15 Damage), which only incurs a brutal counter-punch from Senjougahara (1479 Damage + KO). Proving she is The Best, Senjougahara then passes out herself and tells Araragi to handle the rest. If this cameo is her only appearance in Owari, she sure made the most of it!

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From there, Ougi’s role returns to the foreground, as she accompanies Araragi to his middle school and finds three envelopes marked “A”, “B”, and “C” in his shoe locker (why they end up in that particular place is explained by the Loki-like Ougi using gorgeous Escher-style imagery with SD versions of her and Araragi).

Araragi recognizes these envelopes as a “Monty Hall problem“-type quiz: Three doors, behind one of which is a car; you choose Door 1; you’re shown what’s behind Door 3 (a goat), and you’re asked if you want to switch your choice to Door 2. Switching to Door 2 gives you a 2/3 chance of getting the car, compared to 1/3 sticking with Door 1.

I liken Ougi to Loki because she’s very much a trickster, neither good nor evil, who has revealed next to nothing about herself while having an intense power to draw out quite a bit from Araragi. She’s also a lot like Monty Hall, a game show host (note the flashing checkered lockers), not only nudging Araragi to choose which way to go next, but also hosting a kind of This Is Your Life for him.

(I’ll also note, Ougi takes a good long look at Nadeko’s shoe locker, both a callback to Nadeko’s arc, and another reason why Ougi is so hard to figure out).

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I say Ougi nudges him, but really, she’s pretty actively leading him deeper into his past, opening rusty gates and kicking in doors. That past is somewhere they both agree is the only place they have a chance of learning for sure why exactly Sodachi despises him so deeply. Ougi rules out the class assembly, as the exact timing of Sodachi’s return to school suggests she knew Komichi-sensei was the true culprit, not Araragi.

Ougi surmises it may be more the fact that Araragi has “forgotten his roots”, though she admits a lot of people do that and aren’t automatically despised for it. Her comments about who she was in grade school and middle school being “far beyond the boundaries of oblivion” and the feeling she was “born very recently”, which Araragi likens to the five-minute hypothesis, are both enticing nuggets about her, but don’t come close to painting a full picture.

But it is the further exploration of that cloudy past, when Araragi’s childhood thought process and actions were strange, mysterious, suspicious, and scary all at once, where he and Ougi hope to excavate some answers and avoid future stabbings.

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Owarimonogatari – 01 (First Impressions)

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Owari means “end”, so it looks like this latest story marks the beginning of the end of the Monogatari series, which is celebrated as an epic masterpiece by some (ahem) but derided as a tedious, talky, overwrought glorified harem piece by others (…jerks!), with any number of less extreme opinions in between.

The cold open and tremendous OP indicate the primary subject of this series will be the enigmatic, doll-like, too-long-sleeved niece of Oshino Meme, Oshino Ougi, with a theme of mathematics, or numbers. But in a change from other recent series, Ougi isn’t the one with the problem, i.e. the oddity/apparition.

Rather, the person with the problem is Araragi Koyomi himself. The setting of the episode is deceptively sparse—a locked classroom they can’t exit—but that classroom becomes the perfect stage for a dialogue that expands the setting across space and time, where Ougi establishes from Araragi’s testimony that the classroom itself is an apparition, likely one of Araragi’s own making.

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Combined with a less-rushed (for a weekly show) 48-minute runtime and a couple new takes sparkling visuals This latest narrative twist in the Monogatari formula keeps things fresh and exciting. The series has aired largely out of order, but there’s something both orderly and poetic about saving the end for last, only to go back two years to an experience that changed his outlook on life significantly and causing him to “put a lid on his heart”; at least until he meets Hanekawa Tsubasa.

There’s a new face in this past story, too: the silver-twin-tailed Oikura Sodachi (very appropriately voiced by Kitsu Chiri herself, Inoue Marina). Two years ago, when she and Araragi were first-years, she assembled the class to ascertain the culprit in wrongdoing that led to an unnatural deviation in the math test scores of the class.

Oikura can also be distinguished by her intense dislike, even hatred of Araragi Koyomi, because he always scored higher than her favorite subject, math. To add insult to injury, Araragi didn’t even participate in the suspect study group. But the assembly goes nowhere for two hours, with the students fiercely debating but not coming any closer to discovering the culprit.

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Oikura made Araragi preside over the assembly, but when he loses control, he goes back her her pleading for an end to this unfruitful madness. She relents, calling for a vote…and SHE is the one the class chooses as the culprit. Stunned, and essentially ruined as a student, she never returns to school after the incident, which makes sense as we’ve never seen her before in later series.

Araragi’s regret from the day of that accursed assembly was that he stood by and allowed the majority to make a determination in total absence of empirical evidence. Oikura was only chosen because most of the class chose her. It’s an artificial justice and righteousness that never sat well with justice-obsessed Araragi, who adpoted the motto “If I make friends, my strength as a human decreases,” which he obviously would later drop once started helping out various oddity-afflicted girls.

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Oikura wouldn’t let anyone leave the classroom until the culprit was found, and they “found” her. Likewise, Araragi can’t leave the phantom classroom his regret created until the true culprit is revealed. Ougi wastes no time deciding it was the math teacher, Komichi Tetsujo, who was responsible for the odd test scores, by changing the exam to match the questions the study group used.

In the end, Oikura organized the venue of her own demise, the assembly, as she was sacrificed by a teacher looking to improve her own stature, and the flawed justice of majority rule. And perhaps she miscalculated because she had so much emotional investment in the investigation, due to her resentment of fellow math whiz Araragi.

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Now that Araragi knows the culprit for sure, the classroom returns to normal coloring, and Ougi opens the door and lets him out. The next day, when he checks the part of the school where the classroom was, there was nothing there; the apparition dissipated. Then he stops by his current homeroom, but in a clever inversion of the episode thus far, rather than being unable to exit, he can’t enter.

That’s because Tsubasa is blocking the door, with news that someone has returned to school after two years: Oukura Sodachi, who arrives just as the teacher who destroyed her departs for maternity leave, as if the two were switching places. This should be interesting.

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Hanamonogatari – 05 (Fin)

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A revitalized Suruga returns home from her awesome mini-road trip with Araragi to find she has a package: a mummified monkey head, with a note from Kaiki telling her to do with it what she will. Armed thus with the Pièce de résistance of the devil, she returns to the gymnasium to find Rouka there. Both she and I now see her in a different light, now that we know she’s a ghost.

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Even so, Suruga challenges that ghost to another one-on-one match, this time consisting of just one play. If Rouka prevents Suruga from making a basket, she wins, and can have the head. If Suruga makes the basket, Rouka loses, and has to give up being a collector of misfortune and a gatherer of the devil. If Rouka refuses the challenge, Suruga will destroy the head, essentially ending Rouka’s quest anyway.

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Admitting it’s not much of a choice, Rouka accepts, warning she won’t hold back this time, though we know at this point Suruga has a plan to defeat her. Rouka doesn’t quite comprehend what Suruga aims to get out of this, but it’s clear to us: she wants to save her friend from becoming the devil. It’s also apparent to Suruga that Rouka doesn’t know she died and became a misfortune-collecting apparition/oddity. This delves into a common but poignant phenomenon in fiction where the dead don’t know they’re dead and keep living their lives as if they weren’t.

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I loved how the gym was dark and the court markings were backlit as Suruga brought forth the challenge, lending a very “final boss” atmosphere to the setting. When Rouka goes to the locker room for some shoes, the gym enters “Showtime Mode”, with the grandstands extending, the retractable roof opening to reveal the azure sky (Naoetsu is one swanky high school!), and a few inches of water flooding the court – perhaps a reference to Rouka’s “swampy defense” but also a metaphor for cleansing and renewal.

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The thrilling, intricately built-up duel between the two is over almost as soon as it starts. Suruga rushes ahead as usual, but then does something Rouka could never have predicted: she passes the ball to her, quickly stealing it back before she has full possession. In the moment of confusion she created, Suruga elevates and dunks over Rouka’s rushed block attempt. The two end up laughing in a heap on the (now dry) floor, with Suruga now on top of Rouka (the opposite of their last such encounter). Here, Suruga realizes how cute Rouka is, and considers kissing her.

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Rouka, in accepting defeat, voices her surprise, and ultimately, is grateful that Suruga passed to her, considering how rarely anyone on her team passed to her due to her choice to focus on defense, a choice not made due to lack of talent or skill, but to appease those less talented, just as she sought misfortune from those as unfortunate (or more) than her. Rouka also tells Suruga to stop drifting and get back on the active roster as soon as she can. With that, she vanishes into the aether while Suruga is crafting a comeback with her back turned, leaving behind the mummified monkey parts she had collected.

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Before the duel, Rouka and Suruga agreed on one thing: that it’s better to regret the lack of action than to regret what you’ve done. But Suruga tells her it’s better still to do something and not regret it. If there’s an overarching moral to be had from this story, that’s as good as any. Whatever else Kanbaru Suruga has been, she’s been a doer; on the offense. Sometimes, Suruga’s actions are reckless and/or lead to regrets, like wishing to the monkey paw, for instance. But her most recent actions freed Rouka from her torment. In a dream, she and her mother converse more as equals, as Suruga puts forth her own opinions rather than simply absorb those of others.

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Suruga wakes up from that dream to find Araragi in her room. As she sleeps in the nude, she’s taken aback for a moment, but Araragi isn’t there for “that”, but to help her clean her room, something she requested during the road trip. She also has him cut her hair, as she plans to return to basketball. Between the yellow bug, not being turned on by Suruga, and hairdressing, one might wonder if the producers are trying to say something about Araragi, but these are merely cosmetic characteristics that happen to match a certain stereotype, but aren’t meant to be read too much into, so I won’t. One thing’s for sure, though: the dude is good at setting up dominoes!

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As he shears off her flowing purple locks, returning her to the way she looked when we first met her in Bakemonogatari (a rare aesthetic rewind) he offers some closing words of solace to Suruga (It’s also worth mentioning that Suruga’s other idol, Senjougahara, also sports a short hairstyle when last we saw her). He tells her not to worry about what she did and whether it was right or wrong…because it was neither: It was just adolescence.

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Otorimonogatari – 02

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After letting herself be possessed by Kuchinawa, Nadeko lies to Koyomi on the phone about nothing being the matter. Taking the form of a white scrunchie on her wrist, Kuchinawa badgers her during the day, until she reminds him that her days were hers to do what she pleased without interference, and in exchange she’ll use the nights to search for his corpse. That night she goes out, but her parents call Tsukihi wondering where she is and Koyomi finds her and brings her to his room. Koyomi suggests she sleep in his bed, but Shinobu knocks him out and takes issue with her passivity, but admits she’s “enchanting.”

Last week showed us what probably awaits us at the climax of this arc: Koyomi and Shinobu fighting Nadeko, who had at some point become twisted by Kuchinawa to the extent that they had to try to take her out – and fail. But this week Kuchinawa and Nadeko are still on their “honeymoon”, with Nadeko striking a deal that she do his bidding in a way that won’t draw undue attention to her. Even so, sneaking out late at night is not normal behavior for Nadeko the quiet “good girl”, and she’s soon scooped up by Koyomi, who may well have some not-so-wholesome ideas for her. Enter Shinobu, who implies she’s saving Nadeko from “early motherhood.”

Once a totally silent, morose-looking little vamp who sat in the darkness, these days ‘Bu speaks her mind, and minces no words in sizing-up Nadeko. She calls her privileged, and when Nadeko protests, she fires off all of the ways she is indeed privileged. Her silence has netted her many boons, among them freedom from suspicion, the consensus that she’s smart and a good girl. Her genuine air-headedness and cuteness “enchants” other humans, to the point Shinobu compares her to an oddity. There’s a good chance while she’s saying all this she’s well aware Nadeko is possessed; she had dealings with Kuchinawa in the past, after all. So her sarcastic call for Nadeko to keep letting Koyomi worry about her is as much a warning as a barb.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • This series has always been known for intimate close-ups of its characters, but camera made particularly sweet love to Nadeko this whole episode, fixating on her from every possible angle as she spoke to her wrist, or later with Koyomi and Shinobu. 
  • We enjoyed the architecture of Nadeko’s school and apartment, as well as Tsukihi’s rarely-seen, ridiculous bedroom. 
  • Nadeko’s nighttime adventure starts with a montage of gorgeous still shots that wouldn’t look half bad framed on our walls.

Otorimonogatari – 01

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Koyomi and Shinobu fight Sengoku Nadeko at the shrine, but her hair of snakes destroys Koyomi’s heart, causing a rain of blood. Flashing back to October 31st, Nadeko first meets Oshino Ougi, who delivers a warning about hiding behind victimhood. While at school, Nadeko starts to have hallucinations of white snakes. After a call to Koyomi asking for help, she starts to hear the voice of a snake named Kuchinawa, who insists she visit the shrine. There, she finds a dozen dead snakes, and a giant Kuchinawa asks her to “atone for her sins” by doing him “favors.” She tentatively agrees, and he possesses her.

We’ve now arrived at the third arc in Monogatari Series’ second season, one that involves the snake girl, Nadeko. We’ve always liked Nadeko because we really liked her seiyuu, Hanazawa Kana, but that turns out not to be the only reason to watch this arc. We’re treated to an enticing cold open in which we catch a glimpse of the dark future Nadeko is inching towards: one in which she and her snake apparition become one and she kills Koyomi, the one she loves. Starting at the end only to rewind to the beginning is a common storytelling device, but employed well here, as we see just how far Nadeko will fall.

Once we’re back at the beginning, the ominous Ougi makes an appearance, saying things that affect Nadeko’s thought process at a crucial juncture later on. We’re introduced to Nadeko’s “depressing” school life, and her sudden snake hallucinations are particularly unsettling. Her awkward call to Koyomi ensures he’ll eventually be on the case, but once the snake starts talking to her, Nadeko is in big trouble. He corners her and shames her into a contract, one that sets her on the track to that dark, bloody future. In doing so, she tacitally subscribes to Kuchinawa’s claim that the entire world is nothing but wrongdoers, making victims of one another but never being only victims.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • This is the twelfth episode in the series; the eleventh was a recap of Bakemonogatari, and therefore wasn’t rated.
  • With a new arc comes several new ambient musical tracks, all of which we really liked.
  • We also enjoyed the new Nadeko-centric OP, which may be our favorite of the three arcs this season.

Nekomonogatari: Shiro – 05

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Black Hanekawa reads her mistress’s letter, which boils down to a plea for help, so no one is hurt because of her. Black Hanekawa accepts the plea and confronts the tiger Kako just as she is about to burn down Senjougahara’s house. Kako will hear nothing of returning with Black Hanekawa to their “older sister’s” heart, and Black Hanekawa is only able to delay her for a few minutes. However, that delay enables Araragi to arrive in time to subdue Kako with the Kokoro Watari sword. Hanekawa re-absorbs both Black Hanekawa and Kako, giving her striped hair. She confesses to Araragi, is rejected, and asks her parents for a room of her own in their new house.

As we expected, the last four episodes were all carefully building up to a confrontation between Hanekawa and her wayward “younger sisters.” They were monsters created by her eighteen years of attempting to be as pure, white, perfect, and inoffensive to others as possible. They were pieces of her heart that were shorn off and took on lives of their own. Once those pieces threatened her life and those of her friends, she had to take a stand and decide to go back on those eighteen years of purging imperfection and embrace her humanity; the black and the white. Her heartfelt letter is beautifully rendered with a clever graphic narrative of traveling the world aimlessly, and that letter moves Black Hanekawa to act on her mistress’s behalf. Her other “little sister”, Kako, fueled by envy (not stress), is far more powerful and wild and far less sympathetic.

Kako doesn’t consider Hanekawa family and believes she’s reaping what she’s sown. Whatever she wants but cannot have will be burnt. Black Hanekawa is no match for the tiger, but she doesn’t have to be. Part of the imperfection Hanekawa needed to embrace was the willingness to rely on others besides herself (and Black Hanekawa was just herself). Her attempt to stop Kako was enough to delay Kako just long enough for her love, Araragi, to arrive with a helping hand, aiding her transition to true humanity. The new, bi-color Hanekawa may dye her hair all black to avoid strange looks at school, but she’s no longer averting her eyes. From now on, she’ll confess her love and let herself be hurt and cry, and let herself demand a place in her rightful home. She will accept all the parts of herself, and love all of it.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Nekomonogatari: Shiro – 04

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Hanekawa wakes up in Koyomi’s room and finds a white hair, a sign she’s becoming the sawari neko again. As she leaves for the day, Koyomi’s mom tells her she’s welcome as a guest, but the Araragis can’t replace her family, and she has to stop averting her eyes. While out, Hanekawa runs into the half-vampire Mr. Episode, who has come at the behest of Oshino Meme‘s senpai, and a woman named Gaen Izuko, neither of whom can help her with her tiger problem, which Gaen says Hanekawa will call “Kako.”

After visitng the burnt-down cram school and researching “kako” in the library, Hanekawa talks with Senjougahara on the phone about it. Senjougahara points out that both of the places where Hanekawa has spent the night burned down in sequence, and if the trend continues the Senjougahara and Araragi houses will be next. She returns to the Araragis and plays cards with the Fire Sisters while they discuss fire, passion, justice, anger, and it dawns on her that envy is the reason for her predicament. She starts to write a letter to Black Hanekawa.

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Up until this episode, Hanekawa has been lost and aimless; drifting from friend’s house to friend’s house, her life on hold as she contemplates exactly what’s going on. Well, half of her is, anyway. She’s also torn in two, and the second half, “Black Hanekawa” is once again acting as her stress valve. But all of her interactions this week convince her that it’s time to stop the drifting and depending on others and her other half to help her. This tiger problem needs to be nipped in the bud, lest the house fires continue.

The Araragi matriarch (her face obscured) is the first of the people in the episode who tell Hanekawa it’s time to face her problem, which by the end she believes to be jealousy. But jealousy of what? That Senjougahara has Koyomi, to be sure.That he has a stable, loving home and family. That Black Hanekawa remembers her, but not vice versa. Even that the Fire Sisters live with such certainty (and have boyfriends). We’ll soon see how she plans to deal with all this jealousy, which could involve possibly never seeing Koyomi again.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • From Hanekawa’s perspective the story skips from chapter 26 to chapter 52, doubtless a most worrisome gap in time during which any number of things could’ve gone down.
  • The Araragis eat dinner together every morning, something, like the parents, we’ve oddly never seen. More proof that we only see glimpses of these characters’ lives, not the whole picture. Another example is the Fire Sisters’ BFs. 
  • Between the sugar cubes and the paper cranes, Senjougahara possesses  some rather obsessive (and, where Koyomi is concerne, possessive) qualities, no?
  • The cameos of Mr. Episode and Gaen Izuko didn’t mean anything for us, having not reach the source material. They also seem quite useless, though the story requires that they be so, in Hanekawa’s case.