Magia Record – 16 – Will the Real Iroha Please Wake Up?

Shortly after entering the Eternal Sakura, Yachiyo finds herself being woken up in her bed in Mikazuki Villa by Felicia, Sana, and Tsuruno. As soon as they mention Iroha, Yachiyo rushes to her room and finds her sleeping there. But something, of course, is off: for a split-second, Iroha’s face turns into that of her Doppel.

Yachiyo and Kuroe have been absorbed by Iroha’s Doppel, who is holding Iroha hostage after a fashion by keeping her happy and at piece in an ideal fantasy version of her life. In this fantasy, Iroha’s Mikazuki friends all know Kuroe even though they’ve never met IRL. As for “Iroha” herself, she’s clearly under the spell of her Doppel.

When Yachiyo mentions Ui, she and Kuroe are transported first to a train, and then to Ui’s hospital, where Kuroe learns Iroha’s sister shared a room with Nemu and Touka, and where Kuroe tells Yachiyo that Nemu created all the Rumors in Kamihama City. But when Ui is finally presented, she’s not human, but a stuffed animal. Yachiyo determines that this fantasy is neither Nemu’s nor a Rumor’s doing.

Yachiyo goes through an Alice in Wonderland-style tiny door to another part of the dream, ordering Kuroe to stay behind where it’s “safe,” but is really not willing to accept help from a member of Magius. Kuroe learns when Yachiyo isn’t around, Iroha’s Doppel creates one, and sees the appeal of such a peaceful, pleasant dream, which matches the gentle, cheerful nature of the Iroha she knows.

Meanwhile, in a lush flower-strewn meadow, Yachiyo locates the Ui stuffed animal, by far the most suspicious thing in the dream. When another Iroha arrives, it’s clear the Doppel, and not Iroha, is talking to Yachiyo, warning her not to ruin the perfect dream world she created. Meanwhile, Iroha’s Soul Gem continues to darken.

When Kuroe breaks the reality of the dream by asking Iroha why Ui is a stuffed animal, Iroha transforms into a Doppel and restrains Kuroe. The Doppel explains that when Iroha fell to the bottom of a Uwasa, she was filled with fear for her sister as well as despair over knowing the truth of the magical girls, so the Doppel overwrote her nightmares with new and happier dreams.

Yachiyo rescues Kuroe, but despite urging her to stay out of the fight, Kuroe transforms and the two connect their powers to bring the Doppel down. Yachiyo doesn’t care how much work went into this fantasy world; she’s taking Iroha back so they can take back her real sister, the real Mikazuki Villa, and their real friendship.

She and Kuroe succeed in suppressing the Doppel and freeing the real Iroha, who falls to the soft grass at the base of the Eternal Sakura where an elated Yachiyo is waiting for her. The two embrace, join hands, and celebrate their reunion. Iroha mentions that she promised she wouldn’t die, and she didn’t…she just needed to be rescued from a dream prison created by her Doppel to protect her from anger, fear, and sorrow.

Magia Record’s second season’s third episode is by far the most straightforward, as Yachiyo and Kuroe are basically on a simple rescue mission. There’s a wonderful dreamlike atmosphere distinct from either the “real life” of the show or the more textured witch realms, and it’s a clever way to check in with the other members of the villa, even if they were only dream versions.

With Iroha back, could she and Yachiyo help bring the others back from Magius? Will Kuroe’s loyalties to Magius conflict with her friendship with Iroha and now Yachiyo, whom she fought beside to save their mutual friend? And what’s up with that post-credits appearance of Madoka? For now, I’ll do as Yachiyo does and simply revel in the unbridled joy of having the real Iroha back.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Magia Record – 15 – Sakura Forever

Sorry to go right into a metaphor, but Magia Record reminds me of a traditional American fruitcake. Incredibly dense and rich, and beautiful with its golden brown color and speckled with red and green fruits like gems.

Like most Shaft works, Magia Record delves into extremely complex narratives but does so while serving up a sumptuously baroque visual and aural banquet. But as episode two marks a return to the “standard” world and vast ensemble of the Madoka spinoff, the bottom line is pretty simple: Nanami Yachiyo is too strong to escape her despair.

In the original wish that made her a magical girl, to survive, all of the members of her idol unit were sacrificed. Like countless other magical girls, she was duped by Kyuubey, never reading the fine print because she never asked to see it and Kyoobs didn’t bother to disclose it.

Yachiyo really is a great magical girl. She’s clearly one of the strongest ever. But that is the underlying tragedy of her existence: her strength thus far has only allowed her to survive, to endure, like Arwen in Elrond’s story about how she would linger long after Aragorn died; utterly alone. What good is surviving if you’re always the only one left?

Yachiyo didn’t wish for anything every other magical girl wished for to become what they now are. The difference is, a good number of them ended up becoming witches, or out of fear of becoming one, joined the monolithic, cultish Wings of Magius. Yachiyo didn’t wish for anything more or less than they did, but she’s so goddamn strong she’s been able to weather them…despite not really wanting too?

She believes her latest victim to be Iroha, but a part of her still clings to that friendship and to Iroha’s promise that she’d be the exception to the rule: she’d survive beside Yachiyo; she’d prove that being Yachiyo’s friend isn’t a death sentence. Yachiyo is not above blaming herself, but there’s plenty of blame to go around, and a good portion of it belongs to Magius, whom she’ll never forgive for their role in the sacrifice of Iroha.

Meanwhile, Satomi Touka has Big Plans for Magius, and isn’t about to allow Yachiyo’s destruction of rumor after rumor delay those plans. The bedridden Hiiragi Nemu, who creates all the Rumors, assigns Magius rank-and-file Kuroe (from the very first episode of Record) to find one of them, called The Eternal Sakura. It isn’t long before Kuroe encounters a Little Kyuubey…as she was clearly meant to.

Meanwhile, Yachiyo waits in the dark for the Coordinator Yakumo Mitama at her awesome elaborate office, and after receiving a mini-lecture about the nature of Doppel Witches (as much for our benefit as hers) demands that Mitama tell her where Magius HQ is so she can go wreck up the place.

Mitama insists her neutrality precludes her from disclosing that information, but in any case the entrance to Hotel Faint Hope is ever-changing and only accessible if escorted by a Magius member…which she isn’t.

Turns out Little Kyuubey leads Kuroe right to Yachiyo, just when Yachiyo is looking for a member of Magius and in a particularly sour mood. Kuroe doesn’t help her case by running from her, and when Yachiyo catches up and corners her, it looks very much like Yachiyo’s going to do whatever is necessary to gain access to Magius HQ.

That’s when Kuroe is rescued by Mifuyu, who tries to deescalate matters but only makes things worse with her defense of an organization Yachiyo has already decided to be unforgivable. Mifuyu says Iroha’s death was an accident, but Yachiyo isn’t ready to accept Iroha even is dead, even as she’s harboring a vendetta towards the group she believes had a hand in killing her. In short, Yachiyo isn’t thinking straight.

When Yachiyo and Mifuyu fight, it demonstrates just how overwhelming Yachiyo’s power is, and why Mifuyu and so many other magical girls like her sought safety and salvation in Magius, formed of, by, and for weak girls who may well have otherwise died or become witches. Yachiyo can’t empathize with them because she has no idea what it is to be weak.

Another case in point: rather than give into her anger, frustration, and despair, Yachiyo is able to suppress her own ridiculously powerful Doppel Witch mode and stop herself from killing Mifuyu in that fit of rage. Just as very few magical girls would even be able to summon such power, not letting oneself get completely consumed by that power makes Yachiyo rarer still.

Mifuyu lauds Yachiyo for that strength, but there’s also pity in her voice, because she knows her old friend will never understand what the girls of Magius are trying to do. Since there can be no understanding, she withdraws. Kuroe is in the teleportation bubble with her until Little Kyuubey runs off and Kuroe steps out of it, leaving her alone with Yachiyo again.

The chase continues as if Mifuyu had never intervened, but this time Kuroe follows Little Kyuubey into an Uwasa Barrier. Yachiyo follows her in, and within that psychedelic realm lies the very Rumor Nemu instructed Kuroe to find: The Eternal Sakura, Laputa-esque great tree that will bloom only when the three girls (herself, Ui, and Touka) leave the hospital and reunite with the “older girl” who’d visit them, and the cherry blossoms that bloom shall never fall from the branches.

Naturally, that older girl is Iroha, and Yachiyo and Kuroe find her there in some kind of doppelly-witchey form. Now that she’s finally found Iroha in some form, can Yachiyo summon that lingering faint hope that Iroha was telling the truth, that she can and will survive beside her, and not leave her alone like everyone else?

I have no idea, because this show is all over the place! But it’s still impressively compelling, and achingly stylish and beautiful to boot. Did I mention…I freaking love fruitcake!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Magia Record – 14 (S02 E01) – Don’t Let Go

We begin this second season of the Madoka spinof in media res with what else, a battle against a weird and unsettling witch. This one has a general spider form, only her legs are human limbs and her web in the sky is made up of clotheslines stocked with sailor fuku shirts. The combatants are a trio of familiar faces: Kaname Madoka, Homura Akemi, and eventually, my avatar, Miki Sayaka, who saves the other two from getting wasted.

Of course, this isn’t the timeline or story we know from the original series; this is an alternate timeline, one of countless Akemi has traveled through in a so-far-vain effort to save Madoka. This episode is the equivalent of the original episode where the girls learned The Truth from the famously blunt and unsympathetic Kyuubey, who will only ever insist that magical girls are getting a fair deal. The Mami Sayaka saw is no longer the Mami they knew.

Sayaka, classically one of the moodiest of the girls, goes home and sits on her bed, depressed, while Akemi prepares to take a train to Kamihara City, where magical girls—and thus Madoka—can purportedly be saved. Before she can depart, the spider laundry witch returns. Madoka, sensing Akemi went off on her own, soon joins the battle, and through telepathy urges Sayaka to join her, with Madoka saying “she wont be coming back”.

Sayaka can’t exactly keep sitting at home when Madoka says this, so she once again arrives just in time to save Madoka, who along with Akemi had been just barely holding serve against the quick and crafty witch. Now that Madoka knows the witch was once a magical girl like them, all she can do is apologize before firing her pink laser arrows.

With the battle stalled, Akemi calls a timeout with her escutcheon, and because she’s touching Sayaka, she can move along with her even though time is stopped. They collect Madoka, touch her so she can move, and then the three magical girls operate as a single entity bound by their arms, with Sayaka in the middle providing transportation around the frozen witch as Madoka looses arrows from all sides.

When time starts back up, the hundreds of arrows find their target, and Sayaka delivers an excellent coup-de-grace with her sword, leading to that ever-so-satisfying sound of the witch’s domain fading away and reality returning. Sayaka, Madoka, and Akemi won the day, but there are no promises for tomorrow, especially in Kamihara, where the witches are much stronger.

While I went into the first season of Magia Record with a healthy dollop of tempered expectations and was ultimately frustrated with how few questions it answered (and how many new magical girls it introduced), I also made clear the original masterpiece bought more than enough goodwill for me to not dismiss the second season out of hand.

I was rewarded for my loyalty to the franchise with a stunning barn-burner, but as with the OG magical girl trio this episode focused on, there are no guarantees for the future. Will we even see these three next week, or will we shift back to Iroha, Yachiyo & Co.? I don’t know, but I also know I want to find out.

Armed with the knowledge there will also be a third and final season in December means there is ample time to set up and execute a satisfying, coherent conclusion. Like Sayaka and Madoka held on to Akemi in the timeless zone, I’ll hold on to hope this is building to something. And if it isn’t, at least it looks and sounds like no other anime currently airing.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Cardcaptor Sakura – 44 – Feeling the Moon

Something new has shown up in Sakura’s dream: someone with long, silvery hair and black wings. When Sakura wakes up, Kero-chan takes note of the Sakura doll by her bed. Tomoyo made it before she became a Cardcaptor, and yet the doll is wearing an outfit very similar to the one Sakura is wearing in her dream—which has already been established as foretelling. We’re getting into some trippy territory here, and I like it!

Sakura is up early on a weekend in order to travel to Tokyo, watch Yukito’s traditional archery competition, and provide him with three or four bento boxes for lunch. Tomoyo and Syaoran tag along, with the former always up for hanging with Sakura, while Syaoran says “being around her is useful for capturing Clow Cards”, to which she innocently replies “that’s true”.

Kero-chan tags along as well, not just for the chance to eat some of the lunches Sakura made, but because the description of her dream points to Yue being near, and Kero doesn’t want to be unnecessarily separated from the Cardcaptor. While on the train to the competition, the Tokyo Tower comes into view and Sakura spaces out…but both she and Syaoran space out upon seeing Yukito in traditional Japanese archer’s dress!

Everyone is also surprised to find Mizuki-sensei not only participating in the competition, but making it to the final round along with Yukito. The two exhibit grace, elegance, and strength as all their arrows impact on or near bullseye…that is until something distracts Mizuki and she misses her shot. Even so, she’s gracious in defeat and congratulates Yukito.

While he has lunch with Sakura, Syaoran and Tomoyo, Kero sneaks out of Sakura’s bag to meet and chat with Mizuki. Throughout the day he’d been “feeling the moon”, or rather the power of the moon, which Mizuki admits she draws upon for her magic. She also seems to know about Yue, who we learn is Kero’s guardian counterpart. Finally, Touya reveals himself as working as a balloon-peddling mascot at the shrine.

Both Touya and Mizuki both forebodingly declare that there’s no such thing as “coincidence”, only “inevitability.” Sure enough, a Clow Card makes its appearance on the shrine grounds, and judging from the fissures and mountains it creates, it looks to be an earth-element card—and a tough one to boot! In a break from most CCS outings, the credits roll before the card is captured…lending it special significance.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 03 – Facing the Atmosphere

Sakuta doesn’t wake up at 6 in the morning, because he never slept in the first place, while Mai sleeps soundly. It starts a string of days Sakuta doesn’t sleep, because as he soon learns upon returning to school, everyone there has forgotten her except his sciency friend Futaba and himself—neither of whom got any sleep last night.

It isn’t murder by Freddy in his nightmares Sakuta fears, but the prospect of forgetting Mai. So he stays up, under the pretense of cramming for exams. The next day, Futaba has slept, and forgets Mai, all but making it official. The bags under his eyes grow larger and darker as he pops stims, chugs “Blue Bull”, but Mai picks up on what’s going on.

One night, during an ostensible study session, Mai slips sleeping pills in his drink, and then strokes his head as he slowly, gradually loses consciousness, tears forming in her eyes as she comes to terms with the fact he may not remember her when he wakes up.

That brings us to the opening moments of the first episode, when Sakuta finds the notebook painstakingly detailing his past self’s experiences with Mai. But when he inspects the book, all of the instances of Mai’s name appear blank, leading him to believe it’s a notebook full of wishful thinking.

While the notebook alone fails to jog his memory, it paves the first stone. He gets another when Futaba shows him the notes her past self wrote to herself, surmising that the collective effort of the school, and indeed the rest of the world, to utterly fail to confirm Mai’s existence, could possibly be overridden by a sufficiently powerful confirmation of her existence…i.e., a confession of love.

The final stimulus that brings the memories of Mai rushing back, like water from an unclogged faucet, is a question in the exam that deals with the characters for “security” and “guarantee”; he remembers Mai’s finger pointing them out, and from them on, he knows what he needs to do…and that is to make a complete and utter fool of himself, by running out into the schoolyard and screaming at the top of his lungs that he loves Sakurajima Mai.

He yells himself hoarse, but it has an effect: the other students begin to remember Mai. Then Mai herself appears to share in the humiliation, but also to slap Sakuta for breaking his promise never to forget her, which he definitely did, if only briefly.

If the school was a box and Mai the cat, Sakuta’s bold actions broke the logical stalemate, declaring once and for all that yes, Sakurajima Mai exists, and he loves her. The “atmosphere” of unconscious ignorance of the collective student body was overcome, and thus the “world regained” Mai. She insists Sakuta continue to tell her he loves her as often as possible so that she knows he’s sincere.

From the emotional lows of Mai willingly saying goodbye to the exhausted Sakuta to the highs of him remembering her again their reunion in the yard, this was a roller coaster of an episode; Bunny Girl Senpai’s best outing yet. Was his public outburst corny? You betcha…but that’s the point!

In order to “bring her back”, he had to step out of the flow and do something no one else did. A stern talking-to from the faculty is well worth it, because Mai will be getting one right beside him. So far BGS is smart, clever, mature, and engaging romantic comedy done right.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 09

I had high hopes for some enjoyable festival times with a newly reunited Akira and Haruka, but the reveal of the episode’s title, “Rain of Sorrow” (yikes!), After the Rain had other ideas. While Akira made a nice gesture by inviting Haruka out, there’s no avoiding the fact the two have drifted apart considerably.

When Haruka watches Akira interact with Kondou (who is there with Yuuto), Haruka is thrown for a loop when Akira makes it clear she likes someone so “old.” It’s a reasonable thing for a high schooler to say, but Akira doesn’t take kindly to it, and cuts off the discussion.

That, in turn, leads Haruka to lose her temper, since Akira has made it almost impossible to talk to her about anything anymore. With a few words that probably weren’t meant to cut as deeply as they do, Akira has Haruka running home crying. Those words? “We can’t go back to how we used to be.”

That’s damned harsh, and I’m a little disappointed in Akira for going there so quickly, but then again, perhaps a degree of maturity and pragmatism have rubbed off on her, both from Kondou and the reality of not being able to run. Bottom line, harsh or not, Akira is right, and she’s not quite sure how to integrate Haruka back into her life.

Somewhat conveniently, Kondou is going through the same thing, only at a more advanced stage: he’s meeting an old friend and classmate Kujou Chihiro at their old watering hole, where they’re the only two guys who aren’t college students.

Kujou is the author of the book Kondou checked out of the library and got mad at the Amazon reviewer about. And it’s lovely to see these old friends gel so nicely right out of the gate (beer and delicious food help grease the proverbial wheels).

It’s also apparent Kujou holds Kondou’s opinion and skills as a writer in high regard; perhaps even beyond his own, which is why he doesn’t believe Kondou when he says he doesn’t write anymore. He does, but rather than a dream he wishes to achieve, it’s “just a little something.”

But there’s a reason Kondou and Kujou haven’t seen each other in ten years. Kondou was meant to join Kujou and other classmates on a trip to India, but he ditched them to marry Yuuto’s mother, while Kujou’s experience kicked off his successful writing career Kondou wanted but apparently put aside for love and family.

Kondou and Kujou never had a grand public yelling match in full yukata regalia like our girls, but through their individual choices and the passage of time, grew apart to the point they couldn’t go back to how they used to be. There may be other times when they see each other to drink and talk. When together, they’re not adults, but classmates. But there will never be a time like back they enjoyed in their youth. Nostalgia, indeed!

The new term starts for Akira, and while her other track friends are friendly, since she hasn’t made up with Haruka, things are still awkward between them, and Akira isn’t sure how or even if she can mend fences, because she’s just as behind in what Haruka is thinking and feeling as vice versa.

Kondou (who made sure to tell Kujou his depiction of high school girls was inaccurate, no doubt based in part on his friendship with Akira), can sense Akira is down about something, and unlike with Haruka, Akira can relatively easily tell him what that something is.

Their talk is interrupted by work, but at close Kondou has Akira join him outside once more, where he presents her with a gorgeous supermoon (and what a great closeup of Akira’s eyes reacting to it’s glory) upon which to wish.

Kondou also lays down some adulty wisdom: even if she and her friend are growing apart, the irreplaceable moments they shared won’t disappear, so perhaps neither will the possibility they’ll grow closer again someday. Sometimes people need to grow apart to truly find themselves. But in Akira’s case, I think she should attempt to make up sooner rather than later; I don’t think they’re irreconcilable.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 08

The opening moments of this week’s episode almost felt like a dreaded recap, but thankfully was just meant to establish the fact that Akira and Kondou are FRIENDS! Yes, JUST FRIENDS.

After that hug, the show—and Kondou!—wisely slows things way down while the episode spends a lot more time with the secondary characters that populate the couple’s life, to very pleasing effect. Also, Akira has a big pimple on her right cheek!

Take Yoshizawa: He’s spent many an episode trying to befriend Akira, to absolutely no avail. When Yoshizawa hears Kondou is friends with Akira he wants to be friends too, but Kondou sidesteps the issue by scolding his long bangs, threatening termination before they have a chance to be friends. It’s a joke, but Yoshizawa takes it seriously.

Enter Akira’s other co-worker of similar age, Nishida, who likes Yoshizawa and wants to get closer. She finds one in offering to cut his hair for him after work, which he’s a lot more enthusiastic about than she expected. After he leaves, she and Akira engage in “guy talk” for the first time, to the benefit of both.

Nishida stresses the importance of taking things step by step, which Akira needs to hear, while Akira tells Nishida that a friendship can turn romantic given enough chances for them to get to know one another and deem them more than friends. But there’s no rush!

What’s nice about this post-hug transition is that Kondou doesn’t avoid or ignore Akira; he’s not even bothered or uncomfortable by her presence. This is to be expected: we know, especially from last week, that Kondou is a decent sort, along with being, you know, a full-fledged adult.

As such, Akira uses his loud proclamation of their friendship to take a very logical step: she says “friends text each other”, and successfully acquires his contact info. A little step that brings them closer; now she can converse with him and learn from him even when he’s not around.

As she leaves work she’s practically floating on air, but so are Nishida and Yoshizawa, clearly hitting it off as he’s given a haircut. There’s just good vibes all ’round, and Akira finally gets to dance in giddy delight without being interrupted by a self-important Kase!

The second half expands the show’s horizons to a very satisfying scene between Haruka, arguably Akira’s best friend, and the recently-retired captain of the soccer team, Yamamoto. At first his presence displeases her, especially when he brings up Akira (imitating her almondlike eyes). But when she runs away, he follows, and he gets hurt.

Like Akira, Yamamoto had to leave the club because of a leg injury. Haruka wonders if Akira doesn’t love running anymore. Yamamoto asks if Akira said as much, and if she didn’t, it means that’s not the case. He considers Akira far more talented than him, so while both he and she might still want to play soccer or run, respectively, the high expectations the track star has from both within and without make her extra-cautious.

Yamamoto thinks Akira will be fine, especially when she has friends like Haruka who care about her. It’s just what Haruka needs to hear, and he manages to cheer her up considerably. Like Nishida and Yoshizawa hitting it off, Yamamoto and Haruka simply feel right together, showing that After the Rain isn’t just a one-couple pony!

From there we’re back in the office with Akira doing her homework. She’s unfortunate enough to be applying ointment to her pimple right as the manager comes in, but much more fortunate that the subject of her homework is in Modern Japanese, specifically Rashomon, which he’s recently read, and not for the first time.

I love how into it Kondou gets, calling the very question she’s stuck on a bad one, unless it doesn’t count towards her grade, because it’s a question with many answers depending on the individual. It’s almost fate that Akira has a pimple in the same place as the servant-thief of the story.

The end of the story—with the servant running into the RAIN towards a town to commit a robbery—finishes with the words “what happened to the lowly servant, no one knows,” which Akira believes is the perfect opportunity for a sequel, something Kondou had never considered.

Kondou also says that if he were the thief he’d likely stay under the rashomon, out of the RAIN, to avoid causing trouble, since he’s old and lives timidly. He also sees her pimple as a sign of youth, since he doesn’t get them anymore. It’s all him trying to maintain his stance that he’s not worth Akira’s affection, and that she’s better off with some guy who still gets pimples.

In any case, the discussion is cut short when, while flipping through her book, Kondou finds the same doodles that first got her in trouble with Kase, and the manager retreats. In the meantime, Nishida is on cloud nine and Yoshizawa gets the praise he so desperately wanted from the manager.

While watching a potential couple blossom before her, one of whom she can consider a new friend in Nishida, Akira looks at all the Summer Festival posters Kondou put up and thinks about her older friend Haruka. A couple taps on her phone, and the next we Akira she’s positively resplendent in her yukata, meeting up with an overjoyed Haruka and taking her hand.

Akira has apparently decided to take her time and trust the process vis-a-vis Kondou, having faith that in time a friendship can become more, but not to worry about it so much she can’t enjoy that friendship with him or anyone else. It’s very encouraging that she can contact and hang out with Haruka. Like Haruka, I was worried about her for a little bit there!

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 07

For good and ill, things take a major step forward for Kondou and Akira, though you might not have expected such progress early in the episode. Unable to come right out and ask if it’s okay to text him, Akira resorts to small talk, and ends up praising Kondou a bit too much for his taste while he’s working on spreadsheets.

He abruptly ends their chat by practically snarling the dreaded ‘You don’t know anything about me’—six words people who know plenty about each other say all the timeand the last words somebody who is awfully sure she likes someone wants to hear from the person they like. It’s no coincidence in a show called After the Rain that it starts to rain immediately afterwards.

Those words haunt Akira, but she’s determined to go to work and face the person who said them, even though there’s a typhoon approaching Yokohama. She gets there to find Kondou is out with a cold, and his absence, combined with the stress of their unresolves “spat”, throws her off her game, something Kase notices.

Kase, perhaps not thinking just about himself, warns Akira that Kondou may be trying to protect his position and uncomfortable about her attention to him, while she doesn’t want to lose something that’s “fun for her” again. It’s none of his business, but he manages to hit on what Akira is worried about most: that she’s just being a nuisance.

After work, as the weather gets worse and worse, Akira finds herself at Kondou’s front door, and it’s not as if he can turn her away in such conditions. Still, Akira hides her face in her arms, and tells him what she wants: to know him more.

Kondou apologizes for his earlier words, which he realizes were too harsh, but what he meant was that he’s nobody special who isn’t the adult she thinks he is. When she says he’s wonderful, he scoffs and returns the compiment, but she asks him why, if he’s nobody special, her heart aches so damn much.

Kondou demonstrates his affinity for pure literature by giving her a beautiful, almost lyrical response: youthfulness can be rough and vicious, but the emotions felt during that time become a treasure later in life.

Is she a nuisance? Is she not good enough? Both are absurd questions to Kondou. If anything, he’s grateful to Akira for making him remember the treasured emotions he felt in his youth but had forgotten.

The power is out from the storm, but lightning gives the room a gorgeous otherworldly light. This praise makes Akira blush, cry, and tremble, and all Kondou wants to do in that moment is relieve the anxiety of the girl sitting before him, even if he has no right to do so.

So he slowly draws nearer until she is gently in her arms. While he isn’t ready to call what he’s feeling “love”, he decides there and then that he’ll “get wet along side her in her pouring rain.”

Now, the translation probably doesn’t do that  line justice (and indeed may well do it quite a bit of harm), but I get what he’s saying: if she insists on being in his life with her rough, vicious youthfulness, he’ll weather it as they both weather the storm outside.

I’ll be honest, this scene made me very nervous, as in once-a-line-is-crossed-there’s-no-going-back nervous. But the show, mercifully, keeps things above board (though their two umbrellas falling on each other gave me a scare!), and the hug is just a hug.

With that said, I can’t underscore the stunning beauty and energy of this scene, perhaps the show’s best to date. Everything clicks: lighting, music (an orchestral version of the Aimer ED, “Ref:rain”), and of course, the emotions floating around. Our anxiety over how far this will go matches the characters’. The weight of that anxiety is balanced by the lightness of the ethereal atmosphere surrounding our protagonists. Really good stuff.

When Akira grasps his shoulders harder, Kondou promptly pulls away, tells her he only hugged her “as a friend” (riiight), briefly passes out (he is suffering a bad cold), then comes to and gets Akira into a cab.

The next day at the restaurant, Kondou is back but Tachibana is out with a cold. The rest of the staff remarks on the coincidence of the consecutive absences, but not in any way that would incriminate either party.

Akira is at home, in bed, with a fever and ice pack on her head. She then begins to fantasize about hugging Kondou…naked…and, well, you can surely connect the dots from there, though the editing indicates she keeps her hands above the belt.

Regardless, such is to be expected from a healthy young person who just experienced some of the closet and most emotionally meaningful contact with someone else in her life thus far. Her smittenness is tempered by the fact Kondou said it was only “between friends”

Meanwhile, Kondou smokes alone in the restaurant office, restless and doubtless uneasy about what he might have wrought with that hug, both in Akira’s heart and in his own. Here was a man, who if not content, was certainly resigned to a lonely life doing his job and raising his boy. That certainly seems to have changed. To be honest, nothing in his monologue indicated he desired Akira, but he does care about her very much.

P.S. After reading some discussion on this episode, someone brought up the possibility that Kondou’s “you know nothing about me” wasn’t even directed at Akira, but was a response to the Amazon reviews of the book that he wrote under a pseudonym. The “acquaintance” is actually him! I really like that angle.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 06

Akira is more than just her infatuation with Kondou; she’s just choosing to dedicate all of her headspace to him at the cost of everything and everyone else. I’m not judging her choice—I have no right to, and don’t even really disagree with it—I’m just stating the facts here.

One of the casualties is Kyan Haruka, who has been friends with Akira for ages. Theirs is a friendship that endured being separated for their last year and change of junior high. They said they’d be back together again, and then they were. Then Akira was injured and was torn away from the thing she loved most,  and the primary reason for their hanging out: running.

Haruka now finds herself in the unintentional, unfortunate position of being a constant reminder of what Akira has lost. That can wear down a friendship in a hurry, so when Haruka spots Akira at a bookstore, she’s weary of approaching her (especially after their last, not-so-smooth encounter) and almost seems relieved when Akira’s co-worker appears.

It’s not just Haruka keeping her distance. Even when Akira doesn’t have her head in the clouds about Kondou, when she spots Haruka, her friend is seemingly constantly being orbited by a host of other runners. It’s not intimidating per se, but perhaps too brazen for her to be able to handle.

This week’s episode covers Akira’s latest efforts to court Kondou while Haruka seeks a way to reconnect, and while that’s about it in the plot department—and that’s all very nicely done—what truly made this a treasure (and a 9) for me was the wonderful atmosphere, and the amount of breathing space one has within the episode.

After the flashback to Akira and Haruka, we’re treated to a virtually dialogue-free montage of Akira getting on with her day: missing a bus; trekking in the Summer heat; catching a gorgeous view of the town; and going to work.

It’s a beautiful and effective way of showing us that there is indeed more to Akira than her Kondou crush or Haruka troubles. She’s her own person, living life and taking the time to stop and enjoy its scenery.

While waiting for a bus, Akira hears from two younger girls about the magical romantic properties of a certain rare cat keychain, and attacks the dispenser with her yen, gaining dozens of keychains, but none of them the one she needed.

It’s while she’s obsessively turning the crank when Haruka spots her. She hides at first, but when Akira doesn’t stop buying keychains, she intervenes, as a good friend should.

Their ensuing time together is rather distant, but cordial. After all, these two have no particular beef; they’re both victims of circumstances that have limited their interactions of late. But Akira gives Haruka some duplicate keychains she has, and before parting ways at cram school, wishes her good luck at practice.

Haruka and I both agree that “good luck” is an olive branch on Akira’s part; and an acknowledgement that just because Haruka can run and she can’t doesn’t mean she hates her.

I tellya, the skies just keep getting better and better in this episode, like the brewing thunderstorm near dusk when Haruka does a practice run. She remembers Akira’s smile earlier in the day, as well as the keychain(s) she gave her, and Haruka is suddenly taken back to the day she learned why Akira always ran so fast and far ahead of her despite her protestations.

It’s not because she doesn’t like Haruka, it’s because she loves the feeling and sound of the wind that one only gets from running. When Haruka says she guess she understands what she’s on about, Akira beams so brightly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Haruka fell for her right then and there. She certainly caught the running bug after that day.

Haruka doesn’t want to lose the person who made her realize how fun running was, especially when it was with that person. So the next day she tosses a plastic egg to Akira, who opens it to find not only the rare black keychain she couldn’t get on her own, but a note from Haruka clarifying (or hoping) that their friendship isn’t just about track and field.

I’m guessing Akira is grateful for Haruka’s gift, because it then proceeds to work immediately, and she finds herself in the same library where Kondou happens to be. Akira brings up classic Japanese literature (his fave) and asks if he’d recommend anything; he tells her that’s not the best way to discover books, since everyone has different tastes.

He then invites her to explore the library, which he likens to a sea of books, and see what sticks out. She thinks it’s more of an aquarium than a sea, and her surroundings change to match that feeling. She settles on a track-and-field picture book and the famous Souseki novel Botchan.

Juxtaposed with Haruka standing at a bus stop proudly displaying one of the keychains Akira gave her, Akira stands beside Kondou, offering to borrow a book for him to read. Window by the Wave by Kujou Chihiro jumps out at him. They settle up at the front desk, then walk a little ways together before parting for the night, and I can’t help but think finding that book created the tiniest little rift in their flow.

For while Akira was “called” to the library where Kondou was by her black cat keychain, Kondou seems to believe he might’ve been called there by Window on the Wave, calling the author by her first name. Could this book have been written by his ex-wife?

Finally, while walking home the rest of the way, Akira repeats in her head Kondou’s words about a book “calling out to her”, when all of a sudden a gust of wind kicks up and reveals a majestic full moon.

The sight, sound, and feeling of that wind called to mind the same sensations one experiences whilst running at top speed; the feeling she’s loved far longer than she’s loved Kondou.

Mayoiga – 03

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Dozens of people of every disposition and background suddenly isolated in a strange place full of mysteries…Mayoiga, I’ve decided, is the Lost of anime. This episode made that decision a lot easier, especially with the group’s need to hastily grope their way through some kind of rudimentary justice system after one of them tries to harm another.

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One reason “Jack” is looking for a new life is that he was heavily bullied in school, lost it, lashed out, and ended up in juvy. Just because he was released doesn’t mean all his trauma and neuroses are gone; so when Judgeness prods him too far, he lashes out again.

That gets him tied up, and ultimately it’s decided they’ll throw him in a creepy undergound prison for the night, even though some (cough-Lovepon-cough) wants him swiftly executed for his wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, Valkana searches feverishly for Yottsun after Masaki is found, with a story of him leading her along until he went off on his own an vanished. Valkana’s obsession with finding him stems from his absolute need not to be called a scapegoat—after just such a thing happened in his “previous” life as a systems engineer (ah, the flashback…one of Lost’s primary narrative devices).

That obsession makes Valkana very short-fused, and Koharun gets a taste of his wrath when she suggests deep down he’s lonely, otherwise he’d never embark on an adventure involving so many other people. The truth hurts some more than others.

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In case anyone was in doubt, Maimai kinda likes Mitsumine, despite her standoffish demeanor towards him. When they encounter one another on the bridge, she’s clearly flattered by his desire to keep her safe, even if that desire extends to, say, Masaki.

Lovepon, meanwhile, remains as loopy as ever about doling out swift justice to those who upset the balance or safety of the group. She believes Jack deserves execution, and anyone who stands in her way deserves it to, as she grabs Mitsumine, falls off the bridge, and tries to drown him.

She does not succeed, but while fighting her off, Mitsumine notices the drowned body of Yottsun floating down the stream. Did Masaki kill him when he tried to rape her, or did he just get killed by a bear? The mind races with possibilities based on the scant information we know. And once more, an episode ends with a hook I can’t quite escape from…

…AND YET, were I to keep saying “One more episode”, I may one day turn around and see that I’ve watched the whole thing, and wasn’t worth it. I committed to watching three episodes, and I’ve watched those three. As enticing as the mysteries ahead may be, I think it’s time to move on.

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Mayoiga – 02

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Mayoiga makes liberal use of its CGI bus model…until it careens down a muddy hill, leaving all the passengers to continue on foot…but not before tossing the bus driver all their wallets as compensation for getting them this far.

The thirty clean-slaters are all different, but they’re alike in one regard: they don’t much care about the driver’s dignity; or at least those who do don’t speak up strongly enough when it counts.

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We learn a little more about Mitsumune, like how Speedstar AKA Hayate is his classmate, friend, and long-time protector…and how he’s easily wooed by girls, due to not having much experience with them (all boy’s school).

With Koharun and her map, the group trudges through the forest, hoping to avoid bears (or bear-like monsters) and eventually come upon a bridge that leads to a village that matches the descriptive details Koharun has at hand. They’ve arrived at Nanaki Village.

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They soon determine that there’s nobody home, which is kind of strange to start. The village has been abandoned for at least a year. There’s no talk of food or lodging, just exploration in various random groups branching off from the whole.

Mitsumune had hoped to accompany Masaki, but he’s snagged by two other girls who seem to have plans for him. Speaking of plans, the sunglassed Yottsun seems to have unsavory ones for Masaki, and manages to end up alone with her. A strange shadow in the woods catches her eye, and that’s the last we see of either.

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Mitsumune, meanwhile, manages to ruin a potentially fun time with Maimai by congratulting himself on not getting so hot and bothered in her presence, which is a little insulting. Maimai then reveals she was only going to toy with him, but they’re interrupted by the sudden emergence of the bus driver from the woods.

Was the driver the shadow Masaki saw? And what did the driver see after everyone left him? Who sent Koharun the anonymous email telling her how to get to the village? And, of course, what happened to Yottsun and Masaki? Is this group only the latest of many who have inhabited this lost village, and have they suffered their first two losses?

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Mayoiga – 01 (First Impressions)

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Huh…Well, that was strange. My first taste of Spring 2016 had me riding along with no less than thirty passengers in various states of sanity on a seemingly dubious”Life Do-over” bus tour to the mysterious Nanaki Village, where they’ll presumably all start their lovely new lives.

The word “bizarre” came up in my head again and again as I was watching this. The characters, though we only get a line out of most of them, are bizarre. Their online aliases are bizarre. The pitch blackness of the world outside the bus is bizarre. The whole premise is bizarre.

Everything is so bizarre, I was not, after one episode, able to determine whether I actually liked all this bizarreness or not…but I do know I want to learn more.

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After everyone introduced themselves and their various reasons for being there (which, for many, included the various problems in their lives they’re trying to escape), the bus driver chimes in, almost as an audience surrogate, calling them nothing but a bunch of self-involved babies.

The ostensible MC Mitsumune is also intentionally normal and dull, at least on the outside; he has some very disturbing dreams that may or may not be related to his past…or his future. For all the introductions of all these people, we leave week one knowing next to nothing about them beyond their most outward personalities.

Mitsumune starts taking care of a little wounded baby bird of a young woman named Masaki, who seems to have some OCD to go along with her carsickness. Then there’s the cynical Hayato, who hasn’t come because he’s bought into what the operators are selling, but to find out the truth about Nanaki Village.

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So everyone here has their reasons for being on this bus. The driver’s reason is to make some money, and his frustration with the loonies he’s transporting almost provoke him into driving the bus off the road, but he regains his senses, and after one last stop, they reach the gloomy bridge to the village where everything is supposed to happen.

This episode creates far more questions than it answers, which is almost always a good way to entice an audience to stick around to learn more, bit by bit. Pitfalls may include a vast cast of characters, none of which we may end up caring about, and the hard-to-shake sense that the show and its mysteries aren’t as clever as they want to be.

We’ll see if Mayoiga can avoid or at least minimize those pitfalls. One thing it’s clearly got down is the overall creepy gloomy atmosphere suffused with that most dreaded of elements: the unknown.

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 04

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It’s very appropriate that this week’s episode of Phantom World begins with a binge session at a restaurant, as it’s Restaurant Week here and I just got back from stuffing myself. The episode then transforms into an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of whimsy focused on the show’s resident eating champion, Izumi Reina.

After dinner, she splits from Haru and Mai and ends up boarding a very unusual bus that takes her…somewhere. Our first go-round with the process is very mysterious, because one minute she’s boarding the bus, the next, she’s outside the front gate of her house. The next morning, Koito (Hi Koito!) confesses to witnessing the whole thing, determining that Reina is possessed by a phantom.

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That assertion proves very true when Haruhiko boards the bus with Reina next time. She’s totally out of it, as if hypnotized, but he’s lucid as the bus transports them, in a sequence that (not accidentally) owes much to the train journey in Spirited Away, to another place; an idealized storybook home complete with adorable bunny caricatures of Reina’s parents (who are a lot stricter in real life.)

As is usually the case in scenarios such as this, eating the food is a bad idea, but Haruhiko realizes this too late, and grows his own bunny ears and a pastel texture to his character design that indicates he’s been “taken” by this place. He acts out Reina’s fantasy as his big brother, until the fantasy breaks and the two are back at the front of her real house, with her real father wanting to know who Haruhiko is. Reina sends him home, promising to explain everything later.

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Turns out Mai reminds Reina very strongly of her real big sister, who got tired of their parent’s tightassery and flew the coop. So after Haruhiko fails miserably in trying to sketch-seal the bus the next time (he’s still under the phantoms’ influence), Mai and Ruru board with Haruhiko and Reina, and end up in the fantasy world with them. Ruru, who is unaffected by the food, ends up accidentally gives Mai a taste, thus bewitching her too.

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It’s not until Haruhiko goes to the bathroom of all things, that he snaps out of it; I imagined the food he ate was the cause of the hypnosis, and when he shat it out, the effects dissipated. He refers to the bathroom as a portal between the real and unreal, or some such. In any case, he takes a chance and ends up successfully snapping Reina out of it by hugging her, a gesture that always elicits a reaction in the form of a martial arts throw.

Once she’s lucid, watching the still-bewitched Mai interact with her “phantom parents” Reina realizes the phantoms fed on her desire for her family to be whole again, creating a world where she could live happily ever after even without that sister.

When the phantoms tell her to make a choice, Haruhiko beseeches her to stay in the world in which she belongs, so she can be there if and when her sister returns home. Reina chooses to reject the phantom world and stay strong beside her senpais. All in all, a very lush, atmospheric episode with heavy Ghibli influence, which taught us a little more about Reina. Though we still don’t know where all that food she eats goes…

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