Those Snow White Notes – 07 – All Together Now

When Setsu leaves his tenement house bound for the Matsugorou Cup in Asakusa, Sakura has a special lunch prepared for him, even though he says there’s no need. Of course, need’s got nothing to do with it; Sakura simply wanted to make him a lunch, so she did, period. As she and her dad see him off, Setsu notes how Sakura is more of a mom than Umeko.

When the team arrives at the Cup venue in Asakusa (a throwback Tokyo district best known for its giant lantern), they’re all a bit caught off guard by how goshdarn EXTRA it is, which comes as no surprise to Setsu, since it’s a reflection of his extra mom. And yet, Yui presents the team with special competition outfits that give each of them way too accurate Super Sentai colors!

As expected, Yui’s online friend Maimai is Tanuma Mai, who demands to be placed in the Individual competition when she belatedly learns Setsu is in it. She’s got it in her head that it matters whether her dad acknowledges her, and that the only way to do that is to beat Setsu. But the officials don’t budge, and her mother Sayuri scolds her for being so gauche.

Then Umeko catches wind of Mai’s attempt to use her second-place finish in a past competition to muscle her way in…but Mai’s mother isn’t about to let the strutting peacock like Umeko bash her daughter, so the two moms engage in some ultra-fuckin’-high-class trash talk while Mai gets the fuck out of the way.

Yet, when you analyze the content of their discourse—Umeko mocking Sayuri was a fool and a naïf to marry the man she did, while Sayuri accuses Umeko of drinking the blood of the young—it ultimately comes off pretty trashy! I absolutely loved it.

Setsu goes off on his own for a while, and revels in the sound of so many shamisens in one place. Wakana may later accuse Umeko of “torturing” Setsu, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the case. Setsu is, as Brian Cox often hums in McDonald’s commercials, lovin’ it, even if some of the musicians are a little sharp with their B’s.

To his surprise, someone else tells them this and they retune their shamisens correctly. This lad, Tanuma Souichi, then approaches Setsu with eyes unclouded by hate. Instead, Souichi is elated to meet someone who speaks with the same Aomori dialect, and believes that automatically makes them friends…even if Setsu isn’t quick to agree.

Meanwhile, Yui finally encounters Mai, who happens to be in a sour mood after getting caught between two tiger moms. I love how they recognize one another by matching each other’s auras to their avatars. Poor Shuri is afraid she’ll have to try to break up a fight, only for Mai and Yui to join hands in giddy friendship.

The Cup finally gets underway with an opulent opening reminiscent of the 2004 Athens Olympics opening ceremony, with Umeko mimicking the role of Björk, who wore the whole world as a gown. From there, the Groups start to perform before the judges. Some are traditional, others are trying to grab attention with rock chords or an idol aesthetic.

As this is going on, Setsu’s teammates grow increasingly weary of his absence, and when he finally arrives, he pooh-poohs any thought of practicing before their performance. This once again draws the ire of Kaito, who assumes Setsu is looking down on them (him), doesn’t want to play with them…but he’s wrong. Setsu headbutts him, cowing him in the process, saying he “knows his own quirks”.

After some gimmicky units that put Umeko in a foul mood (leading her to go “powder her nose”…which I’m guessing means do some coke), a group from Osaka comes along that puts everyone on notice.  Led by the mild-mannered Takaomi Kaji, whom women love and men want to be, the six-man ensemble practices perfect posture, form, and near-hypnotic synchronization, summoning a crisp cool wind that courses through the venue. Even Umeko is impressed.

Wakana apologizes to Setsu’s teammates on his behalf, assuring them that if you were to ask who his little brother is playing for, it’s for all of them, and if you asked why he was doing it, it’s because he wants to win, and win with them. It’s just that hearing a sound of Kaji’s group’s caliber “maxed out” his emotions, making it hard to do normal human interaction.

Now he simply has to find a way to channel that energy into his performance, not leave his team in the dust, and save enough in the tank for the Individual competition … his first ever. No pressure!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Those Snow White Notes – 06 – Everyone’s an Apprentice

Yui lights a fire under the ass of the Shamisen Club when she learns her gamer friend from Aomori is also participating in the group division of the Matsugoro Cup. Her name is “Maimai”—could it be Setsu’s self-appointed rival Tanuma Mai? Whoever it is, Yui doesn’t want to lose to them!

She zealously pushes the others to memorize and practice “Shinbushi” for a month, then Koyabu-sensei and the instrument shop owner Oodawara-san arrange a training camp…in Aomori. When they arrive, Setsu still isn’t sure whether he’ll enter the individual division, while Shuri is struggling with her timing.

In the throes of a full-on slump, Shuri reaches out for advice from Setsu, who is too preoccupied with his own stuff to give her anything other than “just keep doing what you’re doing”. This angers Kaito mightily, but not just because he’s in love with Shuri and Setsu is being a condescending jerk. He’s mostly mad—just as practically everyone else he knows is disappointed—that Setsu isn’t making full use of his talents.

Earlier at school, Kaito was a soccer star with a realistic shot at the pros until he blew his knee out, closing the door on his preferred future forever. He then overheard his father say the injury was a “good thing” because it meant he could focus on his studies and follow in daddy’s footsteps. As such, Kaito considers himself “perfectly set on the rails” his parents laid down.

Rai tells Setsu this, providing context for why Kaito blew his stack, and in the baths, Setsu comes to Kaito to apologize. Kaito apologizes too, and then the two of them and Rai start horseplaying, which Yui and Shuri can overhear from the girl’s bath, indicating the boys made up.

The next morning, super-early, Oodawara-san takes the club up to a vantage point overlooking the Tsugaru Strait and offers a history lesson that proves instrumental in Setsu reorganizing his thoughts about finding his sound and participating in the individuals. The first Tsugaru shamisen players were blind and living hand to mouth. Oodawara wonders what the hearts of people looked like to those who never saw the natural beauty of Tsugaru around them.

Oodawara goes on to say rules and traditions only go so far when it comes to Tsugaru Shamisen, since the circumstances and experiences of the first players were so very different from their successors, who weren’t blind. The past is not simply endlessly repeated; there is a conversation between the past and present, meaning change and boundary-pushing is not only inevitable, but crucial to its survival.

Setsu, grasping better how to find his sound, has Rai and Kaito switch shamisens to better match their playing styles and personalities. Shuri keeps struggling, but is determined not to give up. Wakana and family friend Kouta pay him a visit, and it’s clear to Setsu they’re both trying to light a fire under him.

Talk turns to gramps, who never took on any apprentices because he believed anyone who truly listened to him would be able to learn his sound. But more importantly is what Wakana says before parting: gramps also said that the reactions of the people listening were the most important lessons. In other words, Setsu will never find his sound if there’s no one listening.

Setting up atop the vantage point overlooking Cape Tappimi (or “Dragonsflight”), Setsu starts to play, and at the base of the hill, Shuri hears him and comes running as fast as she can. She can hear Setsu’s sound, and when she reaches the top that sound is so powerful, a feeling rose up in her chest that made her suddenly shout “Wa!”

Turns out that while “Wa” isn’t one of the kakegoe shouts, she shouted it precisely when she should have, because she was riding the sound, not chasing it as she had been throughout her slump. Setsu’s sound was “leaping so freely” it not only felt amazing, but helped her leap right out of that slump with a new understanding of what she was doing and how to fix it, all through the power of his sound.

Setsu, in turn, thanks Shuri for giving him the final little push he needed to decide he’s going to enter the individuals after all. That’s right: IT IS ON.

In their final “Shinbushi” practice of training camp, the club gets through the piece without a single mistake. Everyone’s feeling good, and Oodawara suggests they celebrate their success by attending Nebuta, one of the “three great festivals of Tohoku” according to Yui, and something hard to argue with what with the excellent music, dancing, and food.

All the while, the tiny obaasan who hosted the club at the guest house clandestinely shows off her god-level texting skills, revealing that she was one of Umeko’s spies all along. She informs Umeko that Setsu has indeed agreed to enter the individual division, just as Umeko is promoting the Matsugoro Cup. She got what she wanted yet again, but in this case it’s because Setsu wants it too.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akudama Drive – 06 – Akudama Brawlliant Park

Even though the Boss has mobilized every Executioner to seek and destroy the Akudama, Master gets there first, driven by his need to redeem himself for past failure. An Executioner doesn’t execute, then what is his purpose, right?

He goes all out from the start, sending both Brawler and Cutthroat flying and tossing the police drone at Courier, knocking him and the kids off his bike. Then he slashes Doc across the belly…though I somehow knew she’d be fine.

When Hoodlum finds Brawler in a pile of rubble, he suggests they fall back and give the latter time to recover, but Brawler won’t hear of it. He’s never been in a brawl like this, and isn’t going to back down. His words and wholesome smile make Hoodlum blush…his brother is so cool!

Cutthroat ends up under rubble as well…but cuts his own legs off to continue protecting Swindler…and Swindler alone. Without any regard for the kid brother, he uses him as an (artificial?) human shield, then stabs right through him to wound Master.

Swindler laments Brother’s death, but the Sister tuges at her sleever and tells her to watch: Brother is fine; he has fully regenerative healing. He’s more miffed Cutthroat broke his backpack. Doctor, who stitched herself up, then stiches Cutthroat’s legs back on so he can fight at 100%.

It’s clear from the injuries both the Executioners and Akudama sustain that they’re something more than plain ‘ol human. Only Swindler and Hoodlum, whom we know to be “normal”, escape horrific injuries this week, likely because they wouldn’t recover from them so quickly. Everyone piles onto Couriers bike, then Brawler bursts back onto the scene like an uncaged beast.

The balance of the episode is taken up by their one-on-one decisive battle, which moves from a glitzy arcade to an old amusement park, their fighting and the lightning seemingly giving these abandoned places new life, if only for a short moment.

Here Akudama Drive really shows off its visual flair, taking the ridiculousness of the brawl the extra mile, and all the while both Master and Brawler feeding off their mutual joy over how much goddamn fun they’re both having. Before Master hid his scar with a mask; now he’s grinning like a schoolboy, just like Brawler.

The two continue to wear each other down until it comes down to one last punch that does them both in at the same time. Meanwhile, Apprentice, who had just received a somewhat momemtum-sapping infodump from Boss about why she started pairing up Executioners, arrives on the scene. Boss told her survival rates of Executioners increased dramatically when they had a “reason to live”, i.e. their partner.

But Boss is incorrect that this is what separates the Executioners from the Akudama, because this particular group, despite having been a collection of selfish loners, has also developed a sense of camaraderie, even family. Had they not, they would have surely fallen to Master one by one. Instead, he falls, while the Akudama just lose Brawler—a huge loss, to be sure, but a survivable one.

As Apprentice mourns her Master’s death, Hoodlum mourns his big bro’s…then picks up Master’s lightsaber and rushes an unready Apprentice. When next we see her she’s alive and back in the hospital; both lightsabers by her bed. Hoodlum is also alive in the preview, which means he only took her eye, not her life. But it’s a given Apprentice will seek revenge.

Meanwhile, Swindler drops the nice-girl act (as Doctor had been pleading) to slap Cutthroat across the face and call him “despicable” for valuing her “beautiful” life over that of the kid Brother. The message is clear: she won’t tolerate any more of that. No more cutting through others to protect her! Brother and Sister locate their next destination, which turns out to be the underground network where survivors of the bombing of Old Kansai still reside.

Akudama Drive – 05 – Damn Kids

“Mission Impossible” is accomplished…or is it? Brawler is ready to head back to Kansai to fight Master, who is the first opponent to ever scare him and thus more important than the money. Hacker wants to head the other way to Kanto, and even managed to deactivate his bomb collar. Just as Brawler lives to fight, Hacker lives for excitement, and there’s nothing back in Kansai but boredom.

They’re both right: their job should be complete; the Black Cat didn’t say anything about smuggling two kids back to Kansai. And yet that’s the job. The brother offers to double the reward to ¥2 billion, but as Doctor points out (as perhaps the most intellectually shrewd of the Akudama) it’s not about the money for any of them—except Courier, who is ready to complete whatever mission the kids want.

Still, with no bomb collar the kids can’t force Hacker to keep working for them, and he’s doubtful he’ll ever get as good a chance to see Kanto than now, so he’s going to take it. He gives one of his Haro to Swindler as a parting gift, but she fully intends to return it when they meet again.

Doctor isn’t prepared to go any further until she learns more about these mysterious siblings, which is where Swindler comes in—and I’ll just call her that from now on because she herself seems to have gotten used to it. She accuses Doc of bullying little kids (whose hands she can see are trembling). Brawler and Hoodlum scold Doc, and she backs down.

The brother does at least tell them where they’re headed in Kansai—Expo Park—and when everyone’s tummies start to rumble, he produces a special bento box that creates whatever food someone wants out of thin air. I’d call it magic, but the Kanto and Kyushu Plant are capable of some pretty spiffy tech. Bunny is clear to shark that Kyushu can manufacture anything—meaning it’s not outside the realm of possibility the brother and sister are themselves manufactured.

Both can feel their stomachs are empty but don’t register it as hunger, and when they eat some of Swindler’s takoyaki they can’t tell if it’s good or not, just that it makes their bellies warm. It’s fun to learn of each Akudama’s favorite food (Brawler, meat; Hoodlum ramen, then onigiri; Doctor, wine, bread and cheese; Cutthroat, marshmallows), and that Courier and Swindler share a love of takoyaki. 

With a considerable and likely intentional pause in the action this week, we get to watch these colorful personalities mingle and clash. Doc for one believes Swindler is putting on an “innocent act” that she’s not buying. And hey, it remains to be seen if Swindler really is hiding something from us as well as her comrades.

We also learn more about the Executioner Division structure, with a Boss (named “Boss”) answering to Kanto in the form of three Noh masks atop a traditional shrine-like structure. They aren’t just elite cops, but Kanto’s muscle in Kansai and a form of society control. Akudama, after all are the only people from Kansai who could threaten Kanto’s hegemony.

Boss is given an ultimatum to find and destroy the seven Akudama who raided the Shinkansen at all costs, but the hospitalized Master and Apprentice are suspended indefinitely for twice failing in their mission—something virtually unheard of up to this point.

Meanwhile, in a nice moment between Swindler and Courier as the skies clear and reveal a gorgeous sunset, she tries to give him back his dropped ¥500 piece, which she almost slips up by saying it’s what “got her in this mess.”

The Executioners’ Boss gives a rousing speech to all members, including trainees, to find and eliminate the seven Akudama, and their faces pop up all over town video boards. Frankly, while Boss talks about law, order, and justice, there are more than generous hints of fascism and hyper-conformity in both her rhetoric and the division’s uniforms.

Apprentice is frustrated she and her Master can’t take responsibility for their failures by participating, only to find that Master has given her the slip. The next we see him he’s already located the Akudama, who attempted to clandestinely enter Kansai through the drainage and sewage network. They failed, but is the Master and a single security drone really enough against the six Akudama—even if the little sister doesn’t provide defense via her flute shield? We’ll find out.

Not every episode is a bullet train heist, nor should it be, nor would I want it to be. This was just the kind of follow-up I wanted, using the calm between storms to give a little more depth and seasoning to the players and their relationships.

Whether Swindler is just an ordinary girl in over head or secretly and/or unconsciously the most powerful of all of them (due in large part to her ability to “move hearts”), the true nature of the siblings, and the all-hands manhunt add up to plenty of juicy material for the remaining episodes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 05 – A Familiar Face in a New Place

The show’s commitment to depicting all the facets of Elaina’s world, not just the pleasant ones, is admirable, but after three straight unsettling or cautionary tales, I imagine the primary refrain of viewers this week was “Could we get segment that’s not, like, a total bummer?”

Elaina wastes no time abiding: look, a town full of living people! The beautiful land of Royal Celesteria is just what the witch doctor ordered, but Elaina’s curiosity with the city’s Royal Magic Academy seems to get her in trouble, as she ends up being chased by a pack of magic students.

As a full-fledged Witch, Elaina is able to easily avoid capture and exhaust her pursuers, whose professor turns out to be Elaina’s own magical mentor, Fran, whom she hasn’t seen in a few years. Once she heard the Ashen Witch was in town, Fran thought it would be both good training and good fun for her students to go up against catch such a talented witch—tooting her own horn as well as Elaina’s!

Back in her academy chambers, Fran tells Elaina she should stop by home, as her mother is worried about her. Fran assumes Elaina’s mom was the reason she became a traveler, but Elaina tells her it was more the stories of Nike. Turns out the two share the same favorite story: of Nike passing the torch to her apprentice Foula.

I’m not sure how heavily we’re supposed to read into this, but it’s definitely hinted at that Nike and Elaina’s mom were the same person, and Fran was her “Foula”. Once she taught Fran everything she could, she became an “ordinary woman” and lived out her days at home.

Fran also tells Elaina about her own attempts to write a book about her journeys. While she wasn’t proud of her manuscript and lost it when she sold the bag it was in, Fran encourages Elaina to make full use of her diary, so that she too can hear about her apprentice’s fun memories someday (of course, we know they’re not always fun.)

The next day, Elaina joins Fran as a guest lecturer and assistant. After deftly handling silly questions about her (no, she doesn’t have a boyfriend!),  Elaina has a ton of fun helping to teach the young students how to calmly manipulate balls of water. It’s the first time she’s passing on the knowledge and wisdom passed to her from Fran, and she clearly finds passing it to the kids uniquely rewarding.

The evening before the day Elaina plans to leave, Fran takes her to her favorite view of Celesteria. When Elaina asks what will become of the students when they graduate, Fran says they’ll work in various jobs around the city, which we saw as Elaina explored earlier. But whether they deliver packages or taxiing people about, or performing magic tricks in the square, they’re all doing what they like, just as Fran is teaching—and Elaina is traveling—because they like it.

When asked what else Elaina likes, Fran gets her to say that butterflies are “okay” and that she likes flowers too. The next morning, Fran is late to see Elaina off, but Elaina is worried that if they have an extended goodbye she’ll have sad feelings about it later. Before she leaves, Fran appears with her students and gives her a shower of flowers, some of them flying like butterflies. It’s a fitting farewell to the wandering witch, who will surely have fond memories of her time in Celesteria.

I mean, considering where else she’s been and what she’s witnessed, I’m sure she was as eager for a joyful destination as we were! That leaves the framing device of the episode: Elaina finding Fran’s book in published form six months later, in a town not only full of Fran merchandise, but a prominent statue of the her in what Elaina thinks might be too cool a pose! In any case, next time she sees Fran—and she fully plans to—she’ll have a fun story to tell.

Some words on the episode from Crow here.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 02 – You’ll Never Fly Alone

While flying along on her broom during her travels, Elaina makes it a point to declare that even the “sun’s eyes” squint at the beauty and majesty of the lovely Ashen Witch, i.e. her! I like how Elaina isn’t a perfect goody-two-shoes but has a healthy ego that could curdle into arrogance if she’s not careful, but hasn’t yet. That confidence is both to be expected of the youngest Apprentice and full Witch ever, at at times, justified!

Her destination this week is the gorgeous, whimsical City of Mages, so-called because the non-magical are unable to reach it, as if Diagon Alley were a whole city. Instead of flying cars, witches dart hither and thither in the sky, and Full Witches like Elaina are idolized. Unfortunately her first encounter with a resident involves a mid-air collision with a novice who lost control of her broom.

Elaina repairs the damaged roof and the cut on the face of the girl, who introduces herself as Saya. She thanks and apologizes profusely to Elaina, insisting that she be allowed to do something to make up for the trouble she’s caused, but Elaina is content to continue on her journey, and bits Saya farewell—for all she knows, for good.

Of course, Elaina and Saya are fated to meet again. This happens when Elaina is roughly turned away from every other hotel in the city—a far cry from the fawning and deference she expected due to her full Witch status. It’s a fun echo of when none of the witches in her hometown would give her the time of day. However, Saya happens to work at the one hotel that will let her stay there, and Elaina asks for and receives a “nice witch discount”.

Turns out Elaina was turned away from the other hotels because her Witche’s brooch fell off and is now lost. After a fruitless search, she takes a relaxing bath…and Saya waltzes right into her room! It’s the first sign that Saya wants quite a bit more than just to make up for bumping into Elaina. She prostrates herself and begs Elaina to help train her to pass the Apprentice exams.

Saya shows Elaina a photo of her and her little sister, who came with her to the city but passed the exam before her and returned home. Since Elaina’s ego was bruised by getting kicked out of so many fancy hotels, she wants a win, and a boost to that ego. Impressed with Saya’s prostrating skills (an odd but sincere gesture from her home back east), Elaina agrees: while searching for her lost brooch, she’ll train Saya for a week.

It turns out to be a wonderfully equitable arrangement for both parties. Saya proves a quick study in both broom-flying skills, and while she’s lacking in magical attack focus and accuracy (and mushroom tolerance), Elaina’s very close attention is both appreciated and effective.

In return, Elaina gets to experience what it’s like to be a teacher like Flan was for her, and finds nurturing her junior to be extremely appealing and rewarding. While there’s nothing as intense as Elaina and Flan’s duel, there’s still plenty of lovely eye candy to enjoy throughout their training.

While searching on the roof where she landed for her brooch, Elaina spots a lady whom she pays to tell her what she saw the day of the collision. That night, Elaina lets Saya sleep in her bed with her, and Saya indicates how happy she is that, at least until her brooch is found and she continues her journey, they’ll be “together forever.” That’s when Elaina says she knows Saya stole her brooch and has been concealing it.

This was never about learning how to fly properly—Saya wouldn’t have been able to come to the city from far to the East if she weren’t a solid flyer—instead, but how Saya can’t “pin someone down” with “misguided methods” so they’ll remain with her. Ever since her sister left Saya has experienced crippling loneliness, which she hoped would end upon meeting Elaina (with whom her collision was intentional).

Seiyuu Kurosawa Tomoyo brings a beautiful vulnerability and comic expressiveness to Saya throughout the episode, and shows her equally solid dramatic chops in this scene as Saya breaks down. Hondo Kaede is just as effective as a consoling Elaina who, after delivering a needed forehead flick, tells Saya that being alone is an inevitable and necessary part of becoming a witch (like eating mushrooms).

Elaina felt lonely during her development, but she gradually gained the courage to fight alone, and so must Saya. Part of that means understanding that those she loves are always watching her, even if they’re not physically there. To that end, she gives Saya her spare hat, so that when the time comes that she’s lonely, she’ll remember Elaina’s words and her affection.

Six months later, Elaina is elsewhere in the world (looks like Venice…Hi Arte!) and reading this show’s equivalent of the Daily Prophet, an article in which reports that Saya finally passed the Apprentice exam, and announced that her next step is to go see “the traveler I love!” It’s an immensely sweet sentiment to end the episode, while almost assuring us that not only will Elaina and Saya meet again, but Saya could well become her apprentice.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t pick up on some of the yuri undertones to Saya’s interactions. While Elaina kept things platonic, it’s clear Saya is very much enamored of the Ashen Witch…and who can blame her? While Saya first tried to replace her little sister with Elaina, now that she’s advanced to the next stage of her magical life, Elaina is something else—a friend, mentor, and ideal for which to strive!

Our fellow anime lover Crow has also written on this episode; you read about it here!

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 10

Lindel sends a selkie along with one of the young dragons (now big enough for a human to ride) to invite Chise to the Land of the Dragons so the “Robin” can have a wand made. For this journey, Elias will stay behind, though Ruth will remain by her side.

Chise’s dragon ride through the wind and clouds is appropriately epic in presentation, with stirring orchestral accompaniment to boot. It’s also nice, for once, to have an episode without any imminent or even perceived threats. There are more sides to Chise’s life than peril…procuring a wand, for instance.

Nevin’s Tree is as big and majestic as ever, and Lindel directs Chise to saw off a piece of it for her wand. Her lack of surefootedness in the tree results in a spill and a demonstration of how crucial it is she have a familiar nearby to, among other things, catch her. Back home, Elias notes how quiet it seems without Chise.

While she’s hardly a Chatty Cathy, she’s a motormouth compared to Silver. Then Elias receives a message via bird-intercom from Adolf Stroud of the College administration, who’d like to learn more about what Elias has in mind for Chise’s future.

That night, Chise arms and hands are covered in scrapes and scratches, which Lindel instantly heals with a touch. As a “bedtime story”, and because Elias hasn’t told her, Lindel regails Chise with the tale of how Lindel met Elias.

Lindel himself didn’t even have a name before his master found him, and Elias has a similar “birth”, one brutally wintry day simply appearing out of seemingly nowhere, nameless, without any memories or idea of what he was. Lindel gave him a place to rest and a meal, but its clear if either of them want any answers, the best bet is to take him to his master.

Lindel finds his master with a sprig of spruce and a red string. When they arrive, when Elias is too big to enter the house, he shrinks himself to child-size. The master, kind and curious, pegs the creature as almost a fairy; as close as one can get, yet still with a bit of human, which pretty much describes the Elias we’ve come to know.

She’d normally chalk his state to the result of a human transformed after abusing black magic, but she keeps her other guess close to her chest. All she can get out of him memory-wise is a color: red. She tells Lindel to take care of him, giving him the name Elias. Lindel is initially hesitant, but when Elias starts to take off (not wanting to be a bother), he agrees, though makes sure to call him his “acquaintance”, not his “apprentice.”

Back in the present, Elias’s bird-call from Adolf is interrupted by Renfred, who warns Elias that he’ll “ruin” Chise if all he does is let her live with him. Everyone from the college to Lindel wants her to spread her wings, but Elias is taking things slow, and Chise, happy simply to be wanted by someone, is being complacent on purpose.

Of course, this episode only provided part of Elias’ past, and we still don’t know exactly who or what he is, particularly before that scene in the forest where he had to fight back wolves. Ultimately, Chise’s future is up to her and no one else, but she’ll need more knowledge before making any concrete plans.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 09

After the dispersal of Cartaphilus, life returns mostly to normal for Chise, who enters a nice, steady routine along with her new familiar Ruth. The part that isn’t normal is Elias: he’s confined himself to his room and Chise doesn’t dare enter. Eventually, Silky tires of her standing by Elias’ door and throws her and Ruth out of the front one with spending money.

It’s not long before Chise runs into Angelica, and the two do some sightseeing and shopping around town. Angelica first tells her she needs to learn to rely on people more, but later wonders out loud if she’s being too dependent and fixed on Elias. While Angelica apologizes for saying too much, Chise latches on to her latter point, and turns it into a larger criticism on her own perceived “selfishness” for not wanting to be abandoned.

Obviously, Chise’s being too hard on herself. Considering how much she’s already lost in her sixteen years (and how few years she may have), I’d say she deserves a measure of selfishness. Besides, even as an apprentice she’s touched a number of lives in meaningful ways. She’s a good person becoming a good mage.

As if she heard my words about her, Chise decides to do what she wants, which is storm in Elias’ room and ask him what exactly is going on. The Elias who she meets is even farther from human than usual, and he warns her (with a steady voice that belies his fearsome appearance) he’s having trouble controlling his body. I couldn’t help but think of Howl (of the Moving Castle) when he’s extended himself too far and become beast-like.

Chise was startled initially, but doesn’t remain afraid for long (thinking it’s because she’s cursed). In fact, she spends the night with Elias, during which she dreams of him on top of her turning into her mother, who tells her she should never have given birth to her. How creepy and messed up is that? She wakes up to find Elias gone and a note saying he’ll be back that night.

That’s not sufficient for Chise, who didn’t get all the answers she wanted, and initiates a search for Elias with Ruth. Along the way, they encounter an old man apparently in thrall to a leannan sidhe, a kind of vampire that gives their host talent in exchange for their blood – but she is invisible to him.

The thing is…while Joel Garland is a big reader and occasional writer, he doesn’t have the talent or fame one would expect the Sidhe to give him. Nor does she even take his blood, because he lacks the ambition that is usually the opening her kind uses to gain a host.

Instead, she fell for him, years ago, when they met eyes. They meet eyes again, and the Sidhe believes it’s because Chise, a sleigh beggy, is there. She gives Chise a couple of kisses as thanks and asks her to come see Joel again some time, but insists, almost tsundere-like, that she doesn’t actually love the guy, since she can’t give him talent or take his blood.

Chise doesn’t think she can talk of love when all she can think about is herself…but is she really doing that? Does she only worry about Elias because he saved her; because gives her a reason to live; because she benefits?

Ruth finds Elias resting in a pool and Chise races to him, demanding more answers even though she expects only a few mixed with half-truths and deflections. Elias always assumed a minimum of information was needed since she understands and accepts him so quickly.

What he didn’t realize was that Chise cares about him to the extent a note and a little bit of explanation isn’t always going to cut it; she’s going to want more sometimes. Elias, taken aback by her “new faces”, now understands, but still needs more time to recover and gather his thoughts.

Just then, Echo’s familiar appears on behalf of Lindel, to invite Elias and Chise to the Land of the Dragons where he has “business” with her, revealing the setting for Chise’s next adventure.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 08

When Chise goes down, Ulysse fears the worst as he recalls the fate of his sister Isabelle, chased into a street by bullies and killed in a car accident. Isabelle never woke up, but Chise does, could see his thoughts, and tells him she’s okay.

Meanwhile, an enraged Elias in his true(r) form tears the chimera of the ageless sorcerer (whom Elia later calls Cartaphilus) to pieces, while Renfred shoots him in the head, giving everyone a bit of time to rest and Elias to return to a less terrifying (and more importantly, shorter) form.

Cartaphilus heals quickly, however, and summons another chimera: this one with the body of a giant spider and the head of none other than Isabelle, to capture Ulysse.

Chise isn’t having it, using her masses of magical power to summon a swarm of tarantula wasps from the ether; Elias warns her not to mess with the laws of nature in such a way, and manages to hold her back, but she’s super cheesed-off.

A blue flame fairy spirits them away from Carty and the chimera to a safe place, and lends Chise a lump of his coal to calm her racing blood.

When Carty appears once more with his Isabella-headed chimera, Chise forms a pact with Ulysse in a stirring ritual to make him her familiar, whom she renames Ruth. Their hearts, minds, and lives now bound together, Ruth attacks the chimera without reservation, knowing the Isabelle he knew and loved isn’t there and won’t be coming back.

Alice shoots off Cartaphilus’s arm, and with Chise and Ruth now in a familiar pact, decides they’re no longer worth his time, and he apparates away. Being an undying force of nature more than a human or beast, may well return if and when his interest is re-sparked.

But for now the threat has passed, and Elias bids that he, Chise, and Ruth all return home, where Chise will be healed, scolded, and told more about everything that went down, as well as the ins and outs of having a familiar.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 07

This week the sorcerer Renfred and his apprentice are cast in a slightly more sympathetic light, as they are operating under the command of the same ageless sorcerer who led Matthew to murder cats in an attempt to save Mina. Renfred puts keeping Alice safe over resisting the guy, and that seems like a good idea…provided keeping Alice safe is possible.

Meanwhile in the countryside, Chise continues to learn magic from Elias, and even helps out with potions and remedies…though her nightmare ward is brewed with too much magic, making it a sleeping agent. Elias provides Chise with a ring that will absorb some of her deep stores of magic, easing the strain on her body as long as she can remain calm.

Of course, Chise almost constantly finds herself in situations in which it is very difficult to stay calm: news of a “grim” or black dog on church grounds; a corpse that looks decidedly like it was mauled by said dog, and in the cemetery, a creepy multi-legged monster with a face like a fresh-shaven Guy Fawkes mask. She is saved by the black dog, who assumes a human form.

When the man transforms back into a dog and passes out, Chise heals and stays with him. When Alice shows up and demands Chise surrender the dog, Chise uses her failed nightmare ward to knock her out then tie her up.

When Alice comes to, she tells Chise she needs the black dog as “material” for making a chimera, citing these as the “weird brat” sorcerer’s orders. Elias emerges from Chise’s shadow, having gotten the gist of Renfred’s dilemma (along with the reason he lost an arm).

But just then, out of the blue, the weird brat shows up, and attempts to kill Alice. Chise shoves her out of the way and gets impaled by what looks like a spiked vine or giant mantis leg. In either case, it looks like the kind of wound that would be mortal if the person being impaled wasn’t the title of the show.

So yeah, Chise isn’t going to die anytime soon, but she’s certainly in bad shape, and the sight of her getting wounded sends Elias into a rage unlike any we’ve ever seen from him, perhaps revealing a form more indicative of who—or rather what—he truly is, which most certainly isn’t human.

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.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 06

After Chise succeeds in cleansing the corruption, Renfred withdraws. Chise asks Elias how long she has; Elias states three years if nothing changes, but he doesn’t expect nothing to change, and didn’t tell her because her dying so soon isn’t “part of his plans.”

Having so thoroughly exerted herself magically again, Chise passes out, and doesn’t wake up even two weeks later. Elias stashes her in the middle of a forest where her magic can regenerate faster, and Titania, Queen of the Faeries, Titania, emerges from the woods.

Titania is best described as having weird boobs that are drawn one way in one shot and another way in another; they seem to be contained by her bodice one moment, but are spilling out another. It’s a bit distracting, frankly. She also has a very irritating husband in the Faerie King Oberon.

Annoying though he may be, Oberon, along with his wife, seem to approve of Elias’ new human hatchling/mate, and Oberon restores all of Chise’s magic, allowing her to finally awaken.

Having restored Chise and heard that she’s fine with Elias, Oberon and Titania take their leave, inviting Elias and Chise to visit them for a banquet in their realm; an offer their Spriggan guard warns them not to redeem, nor does Elias intend to. He already had to stop faeries from luring Chise into their realm, after all.

After saying goodbye to Simon (who was banished from the encounter by the faeries and made to roam the forest until their business was concluded), Chise tells Elias how she wishes he bought her ten years ago, when Simon first started observing him.

Elias assures her they’ll be together more than ten years, and that his “experiment” to lengthen her lifespan will not fail; together, they’ll make it work. What role Christmas pudding plays in that venture, I don’t know. All I know is, while it had a few interesting moments, this episode felt a bit thin!

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 05

The sorcerer Renfred and his apprentice Alice turn out not to be of much concern, as their attempts to turn Chise against Elias fall on deaf ears. Not knowing from whence she came, they totally misunderstand how she feels: far from wanting to be freed, she wants to belong to Elias, the first person to ever call her family. Out of her shadow, Elias appears, and a whole mess of thorns push the sorshies back.

With that over with, Chise, Ariel, and the King of Cats proceed with the plan to cleanse the corruption, which is truly growing out of control. Chise makes contact with the miasma and enters the memory of the corruption, able to watch what unfolded, yet unseen by everyone there, as what she’s watching has already come to pass.

And as horrible and heartrending a story as it is, it hardly came as a surprise. Even before we see a desperate Matthew meet with a super-sketchy sorcerer, things unfolded super predictably: the sorcerer tells Matt the only way to save his beloved Mina is to slaughter cats and make a medicine from their blood and guts.

When Mina catches Matt slaughtering cats, it breaks her heart, but he and the sorcerer force the potion down her throat…and naturally, it doesn’t work. What I didn’t predict was that she’d explode, suddenly and awfully, right in his arms. Jeez.

The sorcerer shrugs it off, thanks Matt for helping him with some practical research, and is on his merry way. But Matt has a breakdown. Before he can slaughter more cats, believing he can still bring Mina back, the cats come for him, led by Mina’s pet, Tim.

Due to the combined horrendous circumstances of the deaths of Mina, Matthew, and the cats, all of them forgot how to return to the cycle of life and death; they are lost in between, and Mina tells Chise the only thing to be done is erase all their existences, lest they become consigned to an even deeper, darker void (harming the living world in the process).

Chise’s like nah-ah, Minal; I’m not erasing you. Instead, with the help of both Ariel and the King of Cats (on her ninth and final life), she guides Mina to where she belongs, with Matthew, allowing the two to happily pass on together and rejoin the natural cycle.

In the gorgeous meadow of blue flowers after they have passed on, Chise stands there, musing about how she was born without a place or purpose in life, but now she has a “perch”, thanks to Elias. As such, she’s less inclined to die soon…but being a Sleigh Beggy, how long does she truly have?