Mieruko-chan – 11 – Meowruko-chan

While last week seemingly confirmed that Toono Zen was a Bad Dude who was behind the local cat abuse, all the episode really did was confirm that he’s an odd, lonely young man; it didn’t explicitly show him actually doing anything. Now we learn that both we and Miko judged him too quickly.

First we flash back to Zen’s childhood, which was strictly controlled by his mother, who wouldn’t let him for relationships with anyone or anything other than her without accusing him of “betraying her like his father,” and punished him by squeezing his head if he kept secrets from her.

Fast-forward to the present, when Miko has decided she can no longer stand by and do nothing while Hana is basically starved by the spirits surrounding Zen-sensei. She carefully follows Zen down mostly empty and isolated streets, until he comes across a mangy stray kitten in a tunnel.

Miko had planned to call the police and catch Zen red-handed abusing a cat, but couldn’t let the act actually happen, and cries out when it looks like he’s about to crush the little kitty’s head…which we already saw was a similar gesture her mother performed on him many times.

Zen asks Miko if she followed him and what she’s doing, and the huge ghoul seemingly protecting him pops out and threatens her. Miko runs with the kitten in hand, but trips and falls, though the kitten is unharmed. Startled, it jumps out of her hands and runs right into the street.

Right on cue, Car-kun races down that street at breakneck speed, threatening to flatten the poor kitty. But then Zen leaps out in front of the car to save the kitten, and suddenly Miko has no idea what is going on. Why would he want to save a cat…then kill it?

Turns out Zen wanted to do nothing of the sort. At the hospital, he tells Miko not to blame herself for what happened; he chose to leap in front of the car. He further explains that someone in his area—not him—has been abusing animals, and he was patrolling the area like usual.

Because of the odd way Miko had interacted with him when he answered the message about adopting another stray cat, as well as her odd demeanor at school, Zen assumed she might be the animal-abusing culprit, proving that both of these people simply needed more information before forming assumptions.

Miko gets more context on the hospital’s roof from Satoru, Zen’s friend since grade school, learning about his strict—nay, fucking psycho mother, who killed his pet cat when she found out about it, which…goddamn. Satoru, a vet, is the one Zen brings all the cats he finds so that he can secure new homes for them.

Lately, with the animal abuser, Zen has only found cats who are either already dead or close to it, which explains last week’s suspicious scene. As for why Satoru helps Zen, well…for the same reason Miko wants to help Hana: if your friend is in trouble, you do what you can to help them!

Now that Miko knows that the cat spirits are the result of Zen encountering the victims of the animal abuser, and the ghoul was once his horrible mother, she decides to help Zen out, for his sake, for Hana’s sake, and hell, for her own sake. She addresses Zen’s mother-ghoul directly, asking her to set him free, and she charges after her into the corridor.

I’m not sure if Miko intended for the fox spirits to arrive and destroy the mother-ghoul, but I’m not sure what else she expected, considering she put herself in harm’s way. It’s supposedly the third and final time they’ll help her, but at least it was for a good cause, and will end up helping both Hana and Zen. But who knows; maybe this is only the beginning of Miko taking a more active role in helping people with her ability.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Takt Op. Destiny – 10 – Keepers of the Light

This week’s Takt delves fully into Lenny’s past while throwing multiple death flags in the present, meaning this episode really only has one conclusion. That, and the lack of depth in Lenny’s development to this point —not to mention the relatively thin relationship he has with Takt and Destiny—kinda left me wanting on this one, and I don’t feel good saying that!

First Lenny, Titan, Takt, and Destiny meet in Central Park where Lenny will reveal the secret of the Symphonica and the Boston Tragedy, but before he can say anything Sagan shows up, says “Yes, I’m Evil too”, asks the others to join him, and has both Heaven and Hell attack them when they don’t. I usually don’t mind getting down to the exciting action, but for an episode full of exposition they could have gone into a little more detail about what Sagan is trying to accomplish.

Yes, there was every indication that Sagan was evil too, but the fact that he’s evil…just cause kinda flattens the conflict. It would have been more interesting if he’d presented his side of what the world should be, or give a good reason why he’s riling up the D2s. But nothing. His Musicarts fight Lenny and Takt’s, Takt runs out of gas, Lenny takes three bullets and uses what’s left of his life to put Titan in Overdrive.

With a fusillade of bullets that would make Tomoe Mami proud, OverTitan manages to disable Heaven. Whether she didn’t feel conficdent taking Titan on herself or read the room that her laughing and mugging was growing stale, Hell withdraws with Sagan and Heaven, and the fights over just like that. The remainder of the episode is saying goodbye to Lenny, and…I don’t mean to be callous, but there’s an art to death scenes.

If the character is someone you care about and their death was set up, you’re on the right track. Lenny seems like a swell guy and all, and I liked him, but the show never made me get all that invested in until this week, when they rushed through it all. The inevitability of his demise from start to finish, and trying to land payoffs with inadequate setup made this turning point of an episode fell far more hollow than it should have.

Shin no Nakama – 03 – Off the Path of Blood, On the Path of…COOKIEEES!!!

This week’s Shin no Nakama takes place entirely in the present day, but it doesn’t get off to a strong start when Red (and the camera) gazes a bit too long on Rit’s bazongas spilling forth from her ‘jammies. I mean for real, I thought my player had frozen! Fortunately, the rest of the episode is a lot less leery.

I have a bit of a problem with how easily Red ended up living with a literal warrior princess who has basically already made it quite clear she loves the guy. Heck, you can love whoever you want for whatever reason, but Red didn’t really do anything to engender such undying love from Rit. The flashback ep help explain their friendship, but not their sudden fauxmance.

Despite this, I can’t help but love watching these too together. Whether Red is helping Tanta’s friend Al after a bullying incident, to simple scenes of Red and Rit having meals or enjoying his new nutritional biscuits, the two just work well together. There’s a difference between their mutual bashfulness around each other and outright pretending they don’t feel something for one another. Shin no Nakama exploits that intermediate space with aplomb.

Other than the morning pop-out, the episode doesn’t go in lame or predictable directions like Rit being awful at tending a shop (or cooking), or Red being pervy. Instead, when he lifts Rit up and spins her around, there’s a genuine innocence to it, along with unbridled joy. And Rit is just as happy to be spun as Red is to spin her. No sudden pull-back shots of the exterior where we hear a scream and a slap!

Also interesting is the brief but increasingly consequential cutaways to the Hero’s Party. As I suspected, the big dude and the knight dudette aren’t happy Ares unilaterally banished Gideon, and when the big dude decides he’s going to go off to find Gideon, he gets Ruti’s blessing. I’m glad the party isn’t just falling into lockstep behind Ares’ conniving, but I also don’t need Red returning to the party. I’m here for the slow life!

Shin no Nakama – 02 – Party of Two

As expected from the spoilery ED, Red doesn’t remain alone in his shop for long, as he’s joined this week by Rizlet of Loggervia, AKA Rit, whom we learn is both a B-rank adventurer and a princess. She took it upon herself to leave her kingdom, lest those who favor her over the crown prince instigate a power struggle.

She’s very happy to have run into Red, an old “comrade” from back when his party crossed paths with her in a pub. A huge chunk of this episode consists of flashbacks to those times, which on the one hand gives the episode a static quality, but on the other, at least shows us who these two people are, through who they once were.

Rit was all gung-ho about fighting on the front lines for her people until she was hoodwinked by a general in the Demon Lord’s Army, who killed her sword shishou and assumed his form. Red (then Gideon) swooped in like a trusty knight to save her, but a lot of people she cared about died, for what she believed to be her mistake.

Rit holes up in her lavish royal bedroom, but Gideon sits beside her and tells her that while he knows she’s afraid of losing more people, he also knows she still wants to fight, and gives her an opportunity to do so. They end up handing the Demon Lord’s Army a satisfying defeat…off-camera. If there’s one thing this somewhat action-packed episode of Shin no Nakama taught me, it’s that it has no business trying to do action—you can actually hear the animation budget creaking and straining.

Fortunately it doesn’t have to lean on that as a strength. Instead, your enjoyment of this episode will depend on how much you buy into Red and Rit’s once-and-future relationship. The two try their damndest not to get too lovey-dovey, but at the end of the day Rit is asking not just to work at Red’s shop but also move in with him, and Red isn’t really putting up much resistance after an initial moment of shock. I enjoyed their chemistry, and the balance of their attraction.

So this episode took a step away from its borderline iyashikei premiere, but in the service of showing us how Red used to be in the party and how Rit used to be before their sudden reunion. I look forward to watching them working and living together. As for the party, the apathetic behavior of two of its members suggets Ares’ move to banish Red was a wholly unilateral one that doesn’t sit well with them.

Takt Op. Destiny – 02 – Cancrizans

This week Takt takes a look back earlier in the year 2047, when Takt, Cosette and Anna shared an idyllic middle class nuclear family home in Anytown, USA. There’s a human-D2 truce in effect and music is mostly banned, but Takt only lives to play his grand piano in the garage. Cosette, who has a lot more personality in this flashback, does her best to keep his lair clean, resulting in the two getting into bickerfests that Anna tries to stamp out.

Not too different from their dynamic in the first episode that takes place some months later…but again, the big difference here is past Cosette being a delightfully bright and cheerful person. It’s not clearly explained what brought Takt into their home, but you can tell beyond the bickering that Cosette deeply cares about Takt and wants to share his talent with others. We also learn that she can play too…the same time Takt learns, and seems both annoyed and intrigued.

Cosette ends up booking Takt for the Symphonia’s traveling music festival, a rare joyful respite from the totally music-less norm. How this is even possible—a huge military buildup around the town?—is not made clear. All that’s clear is that Cosette is absolutely certain Takt will show up, even when he’s late and she has to play in order to stall for time. When he does arrive and hits those four famous Beethoven notes to interrupt her, she beams with the power of a thousand happy suns!

After Takt ditches the classical for some early modern jams that wouldn’t be out of place in a speakeasy, he invites Cosette to join him for four-hands, wowing the crowd with their talent (and piquing the interest of the Grand Maestro, Sagan). Before, Takt could only imagine in his head playing before a rapt audience and then basking in their applause upon reaching the coda. Now that it’s actually happening thanks to Cosette, he can’t hide his elation.

Just when Takt and Cosette are at their highest point, it all goes to shit when a D2 fires right on their position, destroying the piano and causing a huge explosion. The episode expertly lulled me into a toe-tapping false sense of security as we watched Take and Cosette play and blush and beam. Don’t get me wrong, I knew something would happen, I just didn’t know how, where, or when. The direction exploited that to the hilt.

When the smoke clears, Takt, one of his arms and hands mangled, is lying on the charred ground bleeding. Cosette is on top of him, in even worse shape (it could be she tried to shield Takt). Cosette ends up dying in his arms, but he refuses to accept that, and demans she wake back up. With this, her mysterious pendant suddenly shines and she rises Castle in the Sky-like out of a gobsmacked Takt’s arms.

Some kind of spirit emerges from the rock, decides to claim Takt’s injured arm by ripping it off, then merges with Cosette to become the titular Destiny. While he outfit is a damn sight more expressive, much of the Cosette Take and Anna knew—and loved—is lost. And that’s how Cosette became a Musicart and Takt her conductor: when tragedy struck. The next time we’re back in the present it will be tinged with melancholy, now that we know who Cosette was, and is no more.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – 16 – What’s the Story, Morning Glory?

Fushi just won a huge victory, aided in no small part by Tonari’s crew and other people of Jananda. He has March, Gugu, and Oniguma back, a group I’d call family but his creator calls his “past.” By the way, that’s the last time I call him “the creator”, as some guy calls him “the asshole in black” and that’s a much better name for him!

With the Nokkers out of the picture for the time being (but those OP images of Tonari’s crew Nokker-ified still fresh in my mind) it’s nice to see Fushi simply relax, drink some blood, drink some more blood, then conjure a sumptuous feast for his new compatriots. Unfortunately, the food he conjures is from the night March and Parona were drugged by Hayase using Morning Glory-based sedative. Talk about foreboding foreshadowing!

Tonari is the first to wake up from her food coma, and notices Fushi wandering off, as is his wont. For what I believe to be the first time, she apologizes to Fushi for bringing him there. That said, Fushi glimpsed an entry in the big red book that contains her thoughts, her dreams; specifically the entry where she says she’s going to invite him to share a meal with them.

Tonari starts writing in the book again, and regales us with her story so far. She’s always dreamed of “surprising” her dad, who was wrongly accused of killed her mom and sent to Jananda. Faced with the choice of being an orphan and going with her father, she chose the latter.

Eventually, however, her dad got caught up in the leader tournament, and warned his daughter that it wouldn’t be safe to be around him. That turned out to be true, but more to the point, in participating and eventually winning the tournament, Tonari’s father became someone that her seven-year-old self simply couldn’t recognize as her father anymore.

By the time they met at the port as they promised, he was already succumbing to the poison he was given by his rivals in the unending struggle not to lead the island, but simply to have control. Her father’s parting gift to her on her birthday was the book she writes in to this day. The years went on, and she met her found family and eventually, Fushi.

Speaking of Fushi, with March back in his repertoire, he’s able to easily scale the wall and enter Pioran’s cell. While she had urged him to leave her be earlier, now she can’t mask how happy she is that he’s there.

While he could smash the prison walls with one swipe of Oniguma’s paw, he intends to win the tournament, become the leader of the island, and leave the island with Pioran, their heads held high. It’s a good plan, and Pioran is right that he’s become much more reliable.

All he has to do is win the tournament final. Now armed with a reason for fighting, he walks down the corridor to the arena without hesitation. Tonari is there to see him off, worried he wouldn’t show but very glad he did. The two honestly don’t interact much this week, but this is the most tender moment they’ve shared yet. It figures that this comes right before yet another huge setback for Fushi, though fortunately not one that involves the Nokkers.

Then again, who needs the Nokkers when you have the evilest, most badass villain in the whole show in Hayase? Turns out she’s the one who urged Tonari to get Fushi on a ship to Jananda, all so she could eventually face him…and, incidentally, lick his face.

Fushi already has plenty of reason to hate Hayase considering she killed poor little March with an arrow to the back. But Hayase wants to make sure Fushi also understands that his Parona form is “her gift” to him: she tracked Parona down and murdered her by sloppily beheading her so she suffered. This riles Fushi up, and he comes at her with everything he’s got…but it’s not enough.

As Hayase puts it, Fushi is immortal, but feeble. His murderous intent is just one more simulacrum; it can’t hold a candle to her ruthlessness. Also, if we’re honest, Fushi hasn’t had much of a challenge in the tournament thus far, and all of his past opponents had no idea what he was. I guess Hayase doesn’t either, but she knows how he operates, and she knows his gentle nature.

She also knows that when he’s in human form he can succumb to a poison just like any regular human. She sticks him with some morning glory sedative (like I said, simply devastating foreshadowing), and just like that, she is the new leader of Jananda—presumably free to lick him all she wants. At the end of the day, Hayase isn’t the kind of villain who wants to destroy Fushi. Rather, she intends to possess and control him completely. I Imagine Tonari and her crew will have a couple things to say about that!

Kageki Shoujo!! – 05 – Staying in the World of Dreams

Trigger Warning: this episode frankly depicts bulimia and the practice of binging and purging.

Some time has passed; the girls are now in their summer unis, and Ai is trying her darndest to both apologize to Sarasa and call her by her first name…but she just can’t quite find the right time. Meanwhile, Sarasa confesses she only knows one Kouka show, so Sugimoto takes her and the others to one of the Winter Troupe shows. They run into Winter’s number two star, Satomi Sei, off-stage, and its top star Kazahana Sou on it.

Ai, totally unaccustomed to fighting with friends, follows her uncle’s advice to take her time and calmly tell Sarasa how she feels when the time is right. That time finally arrives when Sarasa suddenly recites verbatim lines from Romeo & Juliet.

Her peers are amazed both that she memorize the lines so easily, and by her performance on their walk home. Ai can’t help but reach out and grab the star shining brighter that all the others, and formally asks to be Sarasa’s friend. Sarasa, of course, is glad; she’s wanted to be Ai’s friend from the moment she saw her!

Later, Ai had hoped Sarasa would accompany her to the bathroom (as besties do), but instead Sarasa wants to check out the exam scores. Sarasa is delighted to have moved up from dead last to second-to-last in ranking, but the reason for that advancement is less about her studies improving and more about poor, poor Yamada Ayako’s plummeting.

As we saw at the end of last week, Ayako is in trouble. In a desperate effort to lose 5 kg (11 pounds—probably around 10% of her weight!), she is obsessively binging and purging. Her body and mind are suffering. Tachibana-sensei, who called her a “fattie” and started her on this path, defends how blunt she was with Yamada because all students must grow a formidable backbone in the cutthroat environment of the Kouka Troupe.

“If Yamada can’t cut it, she shouldn’t be there” is Tachibana-sensei’s position, while her music teacher Onodera-sensei disagrees in the strongest terms. He understands their role to toughen the girls up, but calling a sweet, sensitive Yamada a “fattie” was way beyond the pale. Tachibana-sensei is also unaware of how badly Ayako wants to make her loving big sister proud.

One night, Ai catches Ayako in the bathroom, and tells her something I never knew: throwing up as much as Ayako does causes the stomach acid to irritate the esophagus, leading to pain, swelling, and the deterioration of one’s voice. She knows because someone in JPX did what Ayako is doing.

The only problem is, Ai, inexperienced with interacting with people, is way too blunt at the wrong time, and Ayako mistakes her concern with kicking her when she’s down. Ayako also has an inferiority complex when it comes to the naturally stunning Ai, even if Ai herself isn’t aware of how her beauty affects other women around her.

One day in singing class, a wan Ayako with deep eye bags and chapped lips can’t sing a single note before collapsing on the ground. Onodera-sensei takes her to the doctor, who diagnoses her with pharyngitis. The only remedy is to rest and relax, something Ayako feels she can’t do because she fears falling behind even further. Thankfully, the doctor is totally unwilling to administer drugs to rid of her fever so she can continue. She has to rest, period.

While lying in bed, at rock bottom, Ayako gets an encouraging text from her sister, and Ayako expresses how she’s suffering by telling her sister all the delicious pastries and desserts her family makes that she wants to taste. Picking up on this, her sister says there’s no shame in quitting and coming home. She contemplates doing just this, prepared to look upon her time at Kouka as a passing dream as she returns to “the world she knows.”

Thankfully, and unlike the horrible Tachibana-sensei—who should be fucking fired for what she did in a just and fair world—Onodera-sensei breaks the rule about no men in the women’s dorm by rapping on Ayako’s door to tell her what she needs to hear. When the dorm mom protests, he asks her to regard him as “a beautiful Kouka girl on the inside.”

Onodera-sensei, who is a genuinely Good Guy, impresses upon Ayako the fact that she is far too young to be giving up on an opportunity as great as Kouka, and that stumbling, falling, and despairing are normal from time to time. He wants her to remember that over  girls couldn’t achieve what she did: get accepted to Kouka. Girls with “nothing to offer” simply don’t get it in. So he asks her to tell him why it is she got in: her beautiful singing.

Even before she got sick, Ayako had never given singing her all in class, so none of her peers heard what got her into Kouka. But apparently her soprano was so sweet and lovely, the normally bored teachers sat up and listened intently. When Ayako recovers from her pharyngitis and returns to class looking much better, Onodera-sensei asks her to sing the same song she sang at that audition, to build her confidence and show the others how beautiful a singer she is when she’s serious.

While it was lovely to see Ai reach out a hand of to Sarasa and begin her awkward little dance of friendship, this was really Yamada Ayako’s episode. Her seiyu Sasaki Rico delivers a stunningly beautiful performance that shattered my heart into a million shards only to painstakingly piece it back together better than ever by the end.

My chief complaint with this episode is that it seemingly solves Ayako’s eating disorder far too quickly and easily. But at the same time, I’m relieved beyond belief she’s okay, she’s not quitting, and a decent adult was in her corner when she needed one, reminding her how she earned the right to be here by her own talent and hard work, and that she belongs there just as much as top stars Satomi or Kazahana.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

To Your Eternity – 10 – The Grand Gugupest Hotel

When the Enemy is about to attack Gugu, Fushi springs into action and shields his brother from the twisting branches by creating a number of spears to parry them. I guess he has learned a few things since his last battle! Gugu wants fight beside him, but is very lucky to survive when the Enemy throws him across the forest.

It may just be the still Booze Man installed in his stomach that saves him, as he proceeds to barf out all of the liquor stored there. When his torch ignites the liquor-vomit, Gugu gets an idea for how he can help Fushi, and races home. On the way, he turns completely red, drunk off the liquor that escaped the still, while Rean is about to be carried off by her helicopter parents.

Drunk Gugu is naturally a less inhibited Gugu, so he doesn’t mince words about loving Rean more than anyone, no matter to whom she’s betrothed. In any case, he’s not there to solve her family drama, but to get a refill of Booze Man’s best booze.

Pioran, the only other person to have witnessed the terrifying power of Fushi’s Enemy, insists that Booze Man do as Gugu says. The old man fills Gugu up with his strongest stuff and sends him on his way, while Pioran stops Rean’s parents from taking her and leaving…because it’s not safe out there.

Gugu, having sobered up, arrives to find the Enemy has absorbed Fushi’s Giant Bear form, and there is no sign of Fushi. But it’s soon apparent that the Enemy, essentially being made of wood, is vulnerable to fire, and Gugu has a fresh bellyful of fuel to play with.

Using his boozy fire breah, Gugu burns the Enemy to the ground, freeing Fushi, who is only flowing light and energy before transforming into a rock, his first form. When Gugu picks him up, he transforms into a wolf dog, and the two tussle mirthfully…though Fushi keeps his promise to bite Gugu if he came back!

The next morning Gugu and Fushi return to the Booze Man’s house where everyone is very confused about what happened (though Pioran probably has a pretty good idea). Gugu celebrates his return by cooking up a feast so delicious, Rean’s parents deem him better than their professional chef.

Fushi, back in the same clothes and with the same rope as the boy when he died since he “reset”, greets his maker, whom no one else can see or hear, outside. The creator tells him in order to become stronger, he cannot be sedentary, but like Rean with her parents, Fushi protests. He wants to stay. The creator tells him that’s also an option.

Back inside, Rean prepares to leave with her folks, and Gugu dispenses some precocious wisdom: The people who keep us alive aren’t necessarily good people, but we aren’t so weak that we can’t endure it. Granted, he’s had to endure a lot more than Rean, but it’s all relative!

Fast forward…four years. Gugu is no longer a pot-bellied boy, but a swole young man, having never stopped his fitness regimen. He continues to assist the Booze Man and feed him and Pioran (who still starts eating before everyone comes to the table). Rean still “runs away” from home on the regular, to see Gugu and Fushi.

And Fushi, having watched Gugu and Rean grow, has himself grown “older”; his hair growing longer and even gaining a slight stubble on his face. He also speaks a lot more naturally, which isn’t surprising considering his teachers and how long he’s been with them. The tenth episode of a planned twenty ends on Fushi’s new family happily enjoying a meal together. If only that happiness could last…

To Your Eternity – 09 – Gugunrise Kingdom

Fushi has rescued, reunited and made up with Gugu, and for the first time he uses his powers…strictly for fun. For the sheer thrill of scaring the shit out of random townsfolk or thrill-seeking teenagers. Gugu has no intention of going back to the house of a man who put a still in his body without his consent, and Fushi doesn’t care either way s long as he’s with Gugu.

As time passes, the penniless Gugu grows hungrier and weaker. Fushi, obviously, needs no sustenance other than stimulation. But his stimulation thus far has prepared him for this eventuality, as he is able to create the pear-like fruit March fed him, along with dango and fish, thus saving Gugu from starvation.

When Meer, who obviously knows Gugu’s scent at this point, shows up at his tent, Fushi calls the sickeningly cute and good boy Joaan, the name the boy gave to his wolf-dog. Fushi describes to Gugu how “his first person” stopped moving and “became empty”, so he “became” him. Gugu hypothesizes that both physical and emotional pain affect his bizarre friend.

He posits that if he were to die and Fushi became upset, he would become him. Gugu thinks this is seriously cool…because, well, it is. But for him specifically, it would mean even if he died, Fushi would still think of him. Gugu describes a life where he had three square meals a day, a soft bed, twin older siblings to play with, a mother and father to care for him, and an older brother to look up to.

Gugu is describing his early childhood, when, for at least a few beautiful, fleeting years, he thought he was part of just such a family and living that kind of life, where a lot of people were thinking of him. As he grew older, he began to realize he and his brother were merely the children of servants to that family. When those servants moved on to a new job, they didn’t take Gugu or his brother with them.

Gugu asks Fushi, the only one who came for him and the only one he can call family, to become him if he dies, then passes out and stops moving. For a second there, I thought that was well and truly the end of Gugu—perhaps succumbing to the nasty side effects of having a still in your gut. Fushi even seems to contemplate absorbing Gugu’s form for a hot second.

For a certainty, To Your Eternity wanted you to think Gugu had died. Then Rean pokes her head into the tent, having finally found the two runaways, and Gugu springs back to life, blushing. Turns out Fushi wasn’t the only one thinking about him or the only one who came for him. Rean tries to drag Gugu out of his ragged tent and back to the Booze Man’s house, but Gugu doesn’t wanna.

Of course, Rean’s motivations aren’t 100%honorable. She says she, Pioran and Booze Man love Gugu, but really they need to bring someone back who knows what they’re doing in the kitchen. But you know what? As someone who likes to cook for my friends and family, I’m fine with part of the reason people love me is that I cook them good food. It makes me happy when they like my food!

Rean is also unconcerned with Gugu’s appearance, and insists that he show her what he really looks like. Gugu doesn’t acquiesce to this, which means Rean doesn’t get a real look at him. It may be because of this she can reveal her own horrible disfigurement and declare with a straight face that if he casts his gaze upon it he’ll see that his own wound isn’t that bad.

The thing is, Rean’s horrible wound is nothing more but a tiny, fading scratch on her arm no more than three inches long.

It is a rare show indeed that makes me laugh and cry with such intensity, but this might just have been the funniest episode of To Your Eternity yet. Of course, tragedy and comedy have gone hand-in-hand since the dawn of storytelling itself, it’s just gratifying to see it so effortlessly pulled off here. Just like Fushi, the stronger and more diverse the viewer’s stimulation, the more is learned.

Rean goes on to tell a story that, for her, is a tragic tale of a girl who was never given agency or independence; a girl assigned a role and personality for which no expense was spared to maintain, despite the fact she had zero say in it. It is an obvious mirror image of Gugu’s sob story, told from the POV of the child of the employer, not the employee.

Even so, I do not doubt that from Rean’s perspective, she has suffered, because just like Gugu but through very different (and cushier) circumstances, she was denied the chance to be the best her she could be, which is the one she wanted to be. The grass is always greener, etc.

When Rean tells Gugu how she got her wound—saying that someone pushed her from behind out of malice—Gugu is crestfallen, as this girl misinterpreted him rescuing her from a runaway log as having assaulted her to get back at her family—simply because she never saw the log.

But just as Rean doesn’t care how it looks that someone as rtich and privileged as her is complaining that her life is too comfortable, she also doesn’t gcare whether Gugu is a monster or a human. To her, he’s just Gugu, a weird little boy she’s taken a liking to, so he should come out of the tent and enjoy the wind with her. And if he wants to cover his face, she brought him a pot with eye-holes to wear.

With Fushi having run off to find Gugu’s original mask, he and Rean agree to go looking for him. Their search takes them into town, where Rean is promptly snatched up by a goon hired by her family to retrieve her. Gugu, who later states he doesn’t care about his “circumstances” anymore, commits to simply being himself.

That happens to be someone who will barrel into someone twice his size, catch the falling Rean, and lead her by the hand to safety. As he does, Rean smiles, not just because Gugu is being Gugu, but because she’s living precisely the dream she hoped to live after running away from home. I am seriously loving this tender story of young love, which reminds me of Moonrise Kingdom, itself likely inspired by rom-com anime.

Fushi ends up finding them after retrieving Gugu’s old mask (it’s nice when you can transform into a wolf-dog, complete with a wolf-dog’s sense of smell) and locates Gugu and Rean, who is now wearing the pot to hide her identity from those sent to find her. It isn’t long before they come across a maid who is most definitely not fooled by Rean’s disguise.

It’s here where Gugu and Rean rely on Fushi to cover their retreat, which he does non-lethally by assuming the form of March and writhing on the ground before the maid, who sees the little girl’s arrow wound and has no choice but to tend to her before going after Rean.

While searching for Gugu’s mask, Fushi’s creator paid him a brief visit, warning him to keep his guard up. As the maid carries March!Fushi, he’s suddenly snatched up by a tentacle of the “unspeakable” enemy he was warned about. His creator even narrates that this was bound to happen, as Fushi has failed to gain any sophisticated tactical skills since his last scrape with the enemy, and thus the enemy was always going to strike first.

Even so, something happens that neither the enemy nor indeed the creator might have foreseen: Gugu coming to his rescue. I’m not sure what he can possibly do when he’s just a small human boy and even Fushi seems helpless before the enemy’s power. Indeed, as we’re reaching the halfway point of the 20-episode series, Gugu’s days are surely numbered. But even if resistance is futile, I’m glad he’s there for his friend and brother.

Higehiro – 09 – The Things She Carried

Like Sayu, I was dreading the day someone from her family finally found her and forced her to come home…but that isn’t what happens. It turns out Issa is just as decent and kind a person as Yoshida, and doesn’t jump to conclusions even when Yoshida and Sayu greet him at the door in their PJs.

Instead, he’s the latest in a long line of refreshingly reasonable, level-headed human beings that populate Higehiro and make it feel more real. He’s not simply doing their mother’s bidding; he wanted to be the one who found Sayu, because he loves her and is worried about her.

Issa is greatly relieved Sayu managed to find a good soul who took her in without asking for anything inappropriate, and takes both of them at their word when they say nothing’s happened. As a high-achieving corporate type, I imagine Issa trusts his instincts when it comes to reading people.

But that’s not all: Issa can also tell, even if Sayu can’t, that she’s taken some important steps forward as a person. He notes how she’s more able to speak her mind, as she explains why she needs a few more days to think about things. He’s proud and caring n a way only a big brother can be, and grants her one more week.

I have to say, I never imagined in a million years that Issa would be such a good guy, especially considering the uncomfortable way the series has handled the bastard who took her in for sex and ended up her co-worker. But it’s not the show’s fault I automatically expect the worst…it’s because men, and especially anime men, are so often just that…the worst.

Of course, women are the worst too, as we learn when Sayu invites Asami over and sits her and Yoshida down to finally tell them about everything that’s happened that led her to run away. In effect, she’s unloading all of the burdens she’s carried before two friends who are all too happy to help share that load. Her first step in getting ready to go back is telling the people important to her about where she came from.

Sayu and her mother never got along. Her mother put all of her hopes and aspirations into her firstborn son Issa, and never had a kind word for Sayu. Because she never received love, Sayu didn’t bother putting any effort into anything, be it academics or socializing. She was alone, emanated a “stay away” aura, and came to prefer it that way.

But along came another outcast in Yuuko, for whom Sayu’s repelling aura had the opposite effect. Yuuko always told Sayu she was pretty and cool—as pretty and cool as Yuuko claimed not to be—and the two became fast, close friends. But Sayu’s looks and unimpeachable “goodness” kept the other girls from bullying her directly when she turned down a guy one of them liked, so they started bullying Yuuko instead.

Yuuko always said Sayu looked best when she was smiling and happy. But as the bullying intensified and Sayu dug in her heels, determined to stand beside Yuuko and fight for her, she stopped smiling and laughing, and was always depressed, because she felt responsible for her friend’s suffering and felt powerless to stop it.

Yuuko, however, felt differently. When Sayu told her she’d support her and fight for her against the bullying, it hurt Yuuko more than anything, as she believed she was ruining Sayu’s happiness by deigning to become friends with her in the first place.

So one day, Sayu found Yuuko standing on the wrong side of the balcony, waiting for her. Yuuko told her what happened was her fault, but it would be better if she were no longer in her life. Before leaping to her death, Yuuko asked Sayu to keep smiling, obviously in no mental state to realize how hard that would be if she killed herself.

Witnessing her first and only friend commit suicide for her sake would have been plenty of trauma for any teenager or adult to bear, but that wassn’t the end of Sayu’s suffering. As the Ogiwara household became besieged with press and stories and rumors of the true cause of Yuuko’s death, her mother did all the exact wrong things, only exacerbating Sayu’s despair.

Rather than support her daughter and help her grief, she blamed her for their predicament, and even went so far as to ask, seriously, if Sayu really did kill Yuuko. That despicable question is the last straw for Sayu, and you really can’t blame her for not wanting to spend one more second inside that house with that despicable woman. Instead, it’s Issa who offers Sayu a shoulder to cry on as she prepares to run away on foot.

Demonstrating he was just as empathetic and kind back then as he is in the present, he actually helps his sister get the distance and time she needs, giving her $3000 for a decent hotel and food for two weeks, if she promises to call him if she ever gets into trouble. If there’s a right way to run away, this was it: acknowledging and respecting what Sayu needed, but building checks into the arrangement.

But even with those measures in place, Issa would still need Sayu to actualy call him if she got in trouble, and she never does that. As she burns through her cash, she continues to be crushed by isolation and self-loathing, with no one there to help pull her out of her downward spiral. Issa’s mistake wasn’t getting Sayu away from their mom, it was sending Sayu away all by herself when she was in no condition to be entirely alone.

The episode includes a scene we previously saw only a flash of, in which Sayu masturbates and looks down at her hand afterwards. As this happens before she first sleeps with a man, I’m not sure why such a graphic scene was included, except to underscore that there was really not much for Sayu to do during this time but sleep, eat, and pleasure herself, and none of it was helping.

When Issa calls Sayu to check on her, her battery dies, and she tosses her phone out, believing in that moment that his kindness was merely pity she didn’t want or deserve. She wanders the streets, bumps into a man, and when she explains her situation he offers her a place to stay. He eventually asks for sex in return, and Sayu gives in, though doesn’t even remember the name of her first. She then went from guy to guy, trading sex for shelter, until ending up on Yoshida’s doorstep. The rest, we know.

The first to speak after her tale of woe is Asami, who gives Sayu the affection she needs and tells her just how hard she hung in there all this time. Having gotten all of this out, Sayu breaks down, having a much-needed cathartic cry. Once she’s calmed down and in bed, Asami asks Yoshida on the balcony what he’s going to do about her.

Yoshida says it’s up to Sayu’s family to figure this out and it’s not his place to interfere. Asami points out that’s not what she asked, idiot, and again asks: what does he want to do? He may say he’s a stranger, but he’s not; he and Asami are as much family to Sayu as Issa, and certainly more than Sayu’s mom.

What they want matters too, especially if it aligns with what Sayu herself wants. But first those things must be said, just as the things Sayu carried needed to be said to fully understand where she’s been, and determine what she should do. It’s not just Sayu who needs to think about things in the week she has left.

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 08 – The Celestial Maiden

Note: This episode was originally accidentally labeled episode 7. It is episode 8.

This is it, the much-anticipated backstory episode(s) for the oldest (by more than a century), wisest, and most elegant and domestically capable members of Franchouchou. One and a half seasons seems like far too long without Yuugiri being the focus, but good things come to those who wait.

The clock turns all the way back to 1881 (Meiji 14), when the proud proprietor and madam are meeting with the Legendary Courtesan Yuugiri at the very height of her powers. Such is her beauty and talents of entertainment, she literally priced herself out of her market!

Her richest and most devout patron showed his gratitude for her services by setting her up with her own household in Saga. I imagine he intended to live with her, but he died of an illness, and a year later, Yuugiri arrives in Saga completely alone and knowing no one. She spends her days giving the local girls dance lessons, and her evenings staring wistfully at the gorgeous Saga sunsets.

Ay, but there’s the rub: the region she moved to was once known as Saga (and will be again in the present day), but in 1882, the Meiji government considered it a nuisance prefecture, and after losing a regional war to Meiji, Saga was split up between Mizuma and Nagasaki, effectively erasing it from the map.

Local boy Momozaki Kiichi is determined to “Bring Saga Back”, making him the spiritual (if not biological!) descendant of Tatsumi Koutarou (he’s even voiced by Miyano Mamoru) . He tries to pass out flyers urging others to join his cause to create a new beginning for Saga, but he’s stopped often by the local cop, and just as often bailed out by his more jaded friend Itou.

One day, Yuugiri’s students urge her to leave her stately roost and view the cherry blossoms. She purchases a windmill, and the wind—and possibly fate—blow it out of her hands, landing at Kiichi’s feet. Kiichi is understandably bowled over by her beauty and politeness.

They’re almost both bowled over by a rickshaw, but when he leaps to push her out of harm’s way, she deftly dodges the ride on her own, and in the opposite direction, while he lands in a muddy bog. To his continued shock and shame, she soils her yukata to dry his face. We get another gorgeous shot of Yuugiri staring at the sunset, but because the red pinwheel is there, it feels significantly less lonely than the first shot.

The woman aboard that rickshaw looks just like Tae, just like many extras in the background resemble characters from the present day. It’s an fun artistic choice that reminds me of Farscape’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and Star Trek: DS9’s “Far Beyond the Stars”—two episodes that placed the casts in totally different roles.

Kiichi learns who he met from Itou, who is more up to speed with gossip in the prefecture formerly known as Saga. It’s rumored Yuugiri was so good, it almost brought down the Meiji court. Kiichi comes calling at Yuugiri’s house to offer a humble comb as thanks for her help; it’s then he learns he’s the first person to actually visit her other than her dance students.

Itou says that Yuugiri and Kiichi are “from different worlds” and thus hopelessly incompatable, but Kiichi rejects that cynicism and begins to build a friendship with Yuugiri, which isn’t hard because she’s incredibly nice and he’s her only adult visitor.

And then, one day, Yuugiri is in the kitchen when she feels what she charitably describes “a fresh presence” that turns out to be Itou. From this point on, and really before that too, something seemed off and sinister about this guy. That he perfectly blocks Yuugiri’s chopstick strike doesn’t dispel that notion!

The aura around Itou is so menacing, in fact, that I half believed he drugged Kiichi in order to be alone with Yuugiri. Instead, he has her put down the shamisen, offers her a drink (she graciously declines), and the two talk about Kiichi. As Yuugiri learned from Kiichi while visiting him at his “gramps”,  he was taken in by an old man after he was orphaned in the Saga war.

While Itou thinks Kiichi’s wild dreams and guileless optimism will lead to heartbreak and despair, Yuugiri admires the lad’s capacity for dreams. For all of Yuugiri’s comfort and luxury, in this era she remains the proverbial bird in a cage, idolized by all and avoided by all. Yet Kiichi, with his wild dreams, visits her and talks to her like they’re equals, and Kiichi-han’s Saga is a Saga where she truly can be free.

Before taking his leave for the night, Itou insists Japan is still too “twisted” and “barbaric” a nation for Kiichi’s dreams to ever come to fruition. Yet the next morning, a hot one, two strapping young lads approach Kiichi with his flyers in hand, interested in a new Saga themselves.

That glimmer of hope Kiichi has finally found some like-minded folks is all but snuffed out when Itou tosses a scrap of paper to an beggar who moves a lot faster and with far more purpose than you’d expect. This elicits a host of suspicions in me, from Itou plotting something horrible for Yuugiri (perhaps on orders from the Meiji court), to those two lads interested in Kiichi’s cause actually being hired muscle waiting for their chance to silence Kiichi, possibly for good.

And then there’s the overarching pall hanging over this look back: it is a look back. We know Yuugiri is already dead. I feel we just may have experience the happy half of the Legendary Courtesan’s saga. One way or another, the second half will end in tragedy as Itou predicted (and could well be an architect in that tragedy), and more than a century will pass before Yuugiri is revived by Koutarou and actually gets to see the New Saga Kiichi-han dreamed about.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Irina and Crow’s discussion of episode 8 here!

Tokyo Revengers – 06 –Part of His Plan

Takemichi is still watching Draken from the shadows as Mikey is chauffeured away from the hospital. I kept waiting for Draken to tell him to come out because he’s doing a shitty job masking his presence. Instead, we get Draken’s backstory.

His mom was a prostitute and he was raised and lived in a brothel. He got his head tattooed when he was in fifth grade, prompting the artist to predict he’ll be “one rotten adult”, the irony being he never comes close to even reaching 18.

But back then Draken still got his ass beat by middle schoolers, who made him escort Mikey over so they can teach him a lesson. Draken is bemused by this tiny weird kid, but when Mikey is the one teaching his tormentors a lesson, he suddenly gets it, while Mikey can tell Draken is friend material.

Surprisingly, Takemichi is back in the present with Naoto, tracking down the former leader of Moebius, Osenai, who is now even more of a pathetic loser than Takemichi had become. He’s still haunted by the August 3rd battle between Moebius and Toman that led to Draken’s death, but makes it clear the battle was part of a larger plan by someone to create a rift within Toman.

Why neither Naoto nor Takemichi mention Kisaki Tetta’s name, considering he’s the prime candidate for the identity of the puppetmaster, I have no idea. But Takemichi zaps back to his past self, who thankfully isn’t under a girl this time. Instead, he’s on the back of Akkun’s bike.

Takemichi can’t contain his joy upon seeing his friend alive again, and wastes no time getting all sentimental. While not as perceptive as Hina that this is a “different” Takemichi, when asked what his dream is, a blushing Akkun earnestly tells him he wants to be a hairdresser. Takemichi tells him to make that dream come true, and he’ll have his back all the way.

His heart-to-heart with Akkun once again impressed the urgency of Takemichi’s mission. He must save Hina, Draken, and Akkun, and he’s pretty sure that can’t happen if Toman fights Moebius. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a plan any better than barging in on a secret meeting of the Toman brass and demanding they call off the fight.

Mikey pulls rank here, saying he’s already made up his mind. When Takemichi endures a beating from Pah-chin and still stands his ground, Draken suggests they look into Moebius, but Mikey sees this as Draken going against Toman (i.e., him).

For all of Takemichi’s talk of it being unthinkable that these two would fight, it happens right here before his eyes: a tiny crack that could quickly turn into a yawning chasm of pent-up bad vibes that are inevitable in any power structure—particularly one run by literal frikkin’ adolescents.

If that isn’t enough, Prime Osanai arrives, resplendent in his embroidered red shirt and matching pants. He heard Toman was looking for a fight, and so he brought it to them, bringing dozens of his soldiers and setting up a seemingly hopeless mismatch…until you remember that Mikey and Draken have superhuman strength and Takemichi is virtually indestructible.

Vlad Love – 08 – The Hematologist’s Lament

Chihiro describes her daily battle as school nurse, Blood Donation Club advisor, night class instructor, and researcher, while gazing at the moon and grasping a bottle of blood marked “Memories.” An intrigued Mitsugu tells everyone to call in sick for night class, and once Chihiro heads home, they break into her office to locate the blood.

Thanks to transfer student “Franken”, who is a giant robot who apparently isn’t supposed to transfer for two more episodes, they break the lock, but Mitsugu is electrocuted when she touches the cabinet. Chihiro appears, knowing the kids wouldn’t be able to resist the intrigue of her bottle of Memories.

Since everyone is eager to know what exactly the bottle contains (even though it should be clear from the label), they gather ’round Chihiro as she lights up a cigarette or seven and uncorks that bottle, regailing them with a tale of youth, infatuation, betrayal and heartbreak…none of which seems to have anything to do with the blood!

Young Chimatsuri Chihiro, being smart in hematology but dumb at life, falls for one sketchy character after another (literally—they’re typically sketched out with pencil or ink!), who either empties her bank accounts with excessive dating actitivies or just plain leaves her Casablanca-style.

It must be noted that Chihiro should at all times be considered an unreliable narrator. For one thing, there’s no way steam locomotives ever ran regularly in her time! The bit about her falling instantly in love with people who deliver her dinner is a nice nod to the beginning, when it’s Mitsugu with cup ramen.

While her story intentionally drags on and repeats itself, and it’s generous to even call this episode half-animated, as it’s mostly flashbacks slideshow format, I still enjoyed the episode. It set itself apart from the others by being relatively calm and relaxed, and its gags and pratfalls are in service of actual character work, albeit of questionable provenance.

Also, while it’s little more than a bunch of stills, those stills are gorgeously rendered and accompanied by a suitably weighty score that really sells Chihiro’s lamentations, even if her students all fall nod off before she reveals the “Memories” bottle contains a blend of blood she drew from the various men in her past while they were unconscious.

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