The aquatope on white sand – 07 – Going halfsies

In the first week of August Gama Gama Aquarium is on pace for a goal of 2,000 visitors thanks to the touch pools and shaved ice. But that first week took everything the staff had, plus Udon-chan working for free (and the shaved ice stall still lost money). Kukuru’s gramps orders the youngins to take a day off and spend some time neither working nor thinking about work.

This would, at first glance, seem like the perfect time to show everyone off in their swimsuits, but Aquatope is regionally accurate in the locals of Okinawa not being all that big on swimsuits. Indeed, only Fuuka wears one —the same one in which she had a photo shoot in Tokyo. This makes her very self-conscious, but Kukuru tells her not to worry about it. After all, she does look ridiculously cute.

The ladies meet up with Kai and Kuuya, who have set up a barbecue by the beach, though a little too close to the aquarium than they’d like, considering the goal is to forget about work. We meet Kai’s little sister Maho, who is super polite and formal and takes an instant liking to Fuuka, while hating Kukuru’s (fish) guts.

While I enjoyed Maho’s precocious rivalry with Kukuru, her voice sounded a little bit too much like the other, older women. This was definitely a case where an Ogura Yui or Kuno Misaki would have been a better choice. In any case, only children Kukuru and Udon-chan lament having not had siblings to liven things up.

Ultimately, the pull of Gama Gama proves too strong for Kukuru, who decides to peek in and see how things are going in her absence. She finds Yuuya had the same idea, and overhears him talking with her Gramps about what happens after Gama; namely the very capable and knowledgeable Yuuya taking a job at another aquarium.

The article in the paper is one thing, but hearing her own grandfather talk about the end of Gama Gama like it’s a foregone conclusion when she’s doing everything she possibly can to stave off closure, is understandably (fish) gutting.

In the episode’s finest scene, Kukuru is off on her own on the breakwater when Fuuka finds her. Kukuru breaks down in Fuuka’s lap, saying she’s not sure if she’s “going to be okay.” But without a moment’s hesitation, Fuuka embraces Kukuru and assures her that no matter what happens, she’ll be there with her.

Just when Kukuru was lamenting not having a sibling (and it being heavily implied in flashbacks that she could have had one), Fuuka plays the role of reliable big sister to a T. It’s really great to see how Fuuka has grown since moving to Okinawa, to the point she can be an emotional rock to Kukuru in her more vulnerable moments.

After some nonsense involving Maho’s would-be grade-school boyfriend Rui and Kuuya having a race on the beach, the little kids go home, the older kids break out the booze, and the kids in between wish they could have a beer or lemon highball or three to close out a day of leisure.

We also learn a lot more about Kuuya’s past as a popular and athletic high schooler (and Karin’s classmate) who was sabotaged by the queen bee after he rejected her and was taken in by Kukuru’s gramps. His story is somewhat inelegantly exposited in one go, but it’s still good to learn more about him, why he distrusts women, and how he’s a much looser, more laid back guy when he’s drunk…which tends to be the case with most people.

Speaking of loose and laid back, this is definitely the kind of episode a show can indulge in when it has two cours to work with instead of just one. Even so, this episode wasn’t completely devoid of the burdens Kukuru bears as she must go against virtually everyone’s expectations that Gama Gama is doomed. In fact, this episode hinted that it may just be doomed, and Kukuru is tilting at underwater windmills. But even if that’s so, it’ll be okay…because she’s not alone.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 03 – The Detective Is Already Snarky

Nozomi, Nagara, and Asakaze have turned out to be a pretty good survey team, with Nozomi locating new worlds with her Compass, Nagara being able to access them, and Asakaze bailing them out with his powers of flight.

When we check in they’ve already found thirteen new worlds, and Rajdhani is soaking up the data like a sponge at his beachfront laboratory. Their survey work is interrupted by an unsettling trend of students starting to freeze in place and turn pitch black, like voids in human form.

Since she’s the one with the most time on her hands owing to the immense wealth her power provides, Mizuho is put on the case, and she chooses Nagara as her Watson, partly to share what sounds like a hassle of a case, but also because Nagara…was nice to her previously, and she enjoys his company.

That said, she still initially treats him as a rank servant, making it clear that this isn’t a collaboration of equals. That said, she still orders a gaudy couch big enough for both of them, and even gets Nagara the same fast food order she got. When it comes to sharing the wealth, she’s fine sharing it with Nagara.

The uniting quality of the two students (who later become three, then four) who fell victim to the freezing phenomenon is that they kept to themselves, hardly anyone noticed them when they were around, and no one noticed when they suddenly vanished.

While Nagara is busy with Mizuho, Nozomi and Asakaze fail to find any new worlds. Despite this, Asakaze drops in specifically to tell Nagara that he’s not needed and that Nozomi doesn’t care if he doesn’t come back. Nagara brushes this off, and that ineffectual passivity irks Mizuko.

Eventually, Mizuho and Nagara break the case wide open when, no doubt due to Nagara’s unspoken power even he may not even be aware he has, they discover a portal to the space where the four students ended up.

They walk through a honeycomb of blackout curtain walls separating the four spaces of the students, all of whom are content to stay right where they are and keep doing what they’re doing indefinitely. It becomes evident that while they may be content, this wasn’t originally their doing, but another rule of the world, separating those no one else wants around or cares about.

After Nagara and Mizuho’s nightly debriefing with Cap and Pony, a minor disagreement causes simmering underlying resentment to boil over for both of them. Mizuho points how how watching Nozomi follow him around like a puppy grosses her out; Nagara accuses Mizuho of lying to show off and being “ill-natured” because she’s just another recluse; Mizuho tells Nagara to die and storms off.

It’s a testament to how much these two have come to know each other that they each know the precise buttons to press to sting hardest.

But because the two really do care what the other thinks of them despite words to the contrary, both of them feel bad about the spat. Fortunately, back at Rajdhani’s lab, Nozomi offers a clue Nagara hadn’t considered, and he texts an apology to Mizuho, along with a promise to be waiting by the blackout curtains tomorrow.

Armed with Rajdhani’s bizarre, whimsical instruments, the two get down to business lifting the blackout curtains and freeing the students. This is Sonny Boy at its most Eizouken, particularly with the fantastical machinery and Yuuki Aoi lending Mizuho such a wonderfully husky, distinctive voice.

With the case solved and the afflicted students retrieved, Nagara and Mizuho make up with a handshake; what was said when heads were less cool and frustration was mounting is water under the bridge.

As much if not more than their surreal surroundings, what I enjoyed most about this episode was just reveling in this nascent friendship between two people who don’t normally do so well around others doing just fine around one another. I daresay I wouldn’t even mind a whole cour of these two solving cases together.

On the periphery were some interesting inroads into the larget questions about this place, with Hoshi admitting a voice told him this would all happen, and Nozomi being the first to suggest that while she can spot new worlds, Nagara alone has the power to create portals between them.

Sonny Boy – 02 – Kindle Blue Fire

While technically a beach episode, there’s not a ball or a bikini to be found. There are crabs—you gotta love crab—as well as a makeshift open-air classroom with rows of desks and a chalkboard, but otherwise the sand is just another flat surface for Nagara to lie on and wile away the hours.

When Nozomi catches a crab, it cuts her hand up pretty badly with its claw, but she soon heals; just another one of the rules of this “This World”, as the egghead Rajdhani calls it while explaining the situation.

While most of the class is in tents on the beach, Mizuho has, presumably through the three cat Amazon power called Nyamazaon, built a Disney princess castle full of stuff, but otherwise isn’t that different from Nagara in her fondness for straight chillin’.

Another girl steals makeup from Mizuho’s vast collection of things with impunity, but that and other items acquired from Nyamazon start to burst into blue flames, rumors spread that Mizuho is doing it intentionally.

Mizuho doesn’t help matters by stirring the shit on social media that the recent election was rigged in Michi’s (AKA Pony’s) favor—which is the truth; the extremely Kyuubey-like Hoshi helped rig it. Pony and Hoshi learn Mizuho is behind it and try to exact an apology, but Mizuho is stubbornly refuses.

When they confront her at the front gate, Hoshi uses his power of showing everyone potential futures to depict the entire island covered in blue flame; everything destroyed. On top of it all, Mizuho is exhausted and filthy from looking for one of her cats, who has gone missing.

While the rumor may have well gotten started since Mizuho is a natural target for envy and resentment among the other students due to her extremely cool power, Nagara still blames himself for blabbing about Mizuho knowing something about the flames, which got twisted into “Mizuho is responsible for the flames.”

But thanks to Rajdhani’s research and a retro Game Boy, it is determined that the blue flames appear every time someone receives something without a fair exchange. Among the things that burned-up, only Raj’s Game Boy was exchanged for some toys he made with his power, and only it escaped those flames. Therefore, it isn’t Mizuho’s doing, but the Rules of the World.

Among the students, most of whom end up in the “Punish Mizuho” camp/mob, only Nagara and Nozomi want to help her. They both know she’s not doing this, but also know that she hasn’t explicitly defended herself, which isn’t doing her any favors. Nagara also finds the missing cat, and unlike two previous instances of letting birds die, this time he takes care of the animal like the non-heartless person he is.

The two decides to go to her—nay, run to her, just as she’s literally making it rain fat stacks of cash, which soon burn up and set fire to the whole island. Mizuho, overcome with relief her kitty is safe, admits that she should have simply stated her innocence from the beginning. It’s an all-around wonderful performance by Mizuho’s seiyu Yuuki Aoi—which comes as no surprise as she’s one of the best in the business.

Nagara, Nozomi, and Mizuho oversee the ruined island—the realization of Hoshi’s vision—and concede the fact that they can’t live there any more. But then something happens: as the sun rises over the ocean, the island essentially resets itself to before everything burned up.

It’s as if the island, which set the rule of fair exchange, is forgiving all of the students for their stumblings as they learn of those rules and correct their misunderstandings. Mizuho comes down from her castle and apologizes, but only for making it rain flammable money…not the stuff she was accused of doing but didn’t really do.

Mizuho also stops by the beach where Nagara is lying to give him a token of her appreciation for finding her cat: a hat to keep his face out of the sun. When he asks if he needs to give her anything in return for it, she says with a gentle smile that it’s “her treat” before walking away.

This episode was significantly less weird and frightening than the first, but that tends to happen when you take the inscrutable black void out of the equation. What it was was another relatively straightforward exploration of how the court of public opinion can be wrong—in school or life—and it’s up to those who know it’s wrong to speak up. Nagara grew as a person in this episode, as did Mizuho, and they each gained a friend in the process.

Credit also goes to Rajdhani for not giving up on trying to make sense of the place, thus confirming the injustice being done to Mizuho, as well as Nozomi, for lending Nagara the encouragement to correct the injustice. Just as she’s the “Compass” who can see the ways out of these other worlds, she’s also a moral compass; a check against both rampant authority and rampant apathy.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bokutachi no Remake – 04 – A Talent that Shines

After filming on a beach specifically for purposes of fanservice, new member of Team Kitayama Plus Kawasegawa Eiko learns that Kyouya broke the rules a little in order to get the equipment they needed for longer than first years can check it out. Another senpai, the diminutive Tomioka Keiko, overhears this, but promises not to say anything…but now they owe her.

But thankfully this episode isn’t really about bikinis or lolis or…sigh…an impending arts festival. It’s about Kogure Nanako, and how she’s pursuing acting, something she’s not fully serious about, because she’s not passionate about it. Their team wins the competition with a better overall production, but everyone—including Nanako—agrees the acting in their competitor’s film was ten times better.

As the team celebrates their win, Eiko can tell Nanako is faking her cheer—even at that, she’s not the best actor—and Kyouya can’t disagree. But then Nanako is given a mic, everyone who isn’t Kyouya hears her powerful but tone-deaf singing for the first time and are kind of in awe of it. It even makes Eiko angry, because it’s clear to her Nanako’s true passion isn’t acting at all.

Eiko is so honest and forthright that she abandons all delicacy and tact and really lets poor Nanako have it. She says it’s a terrible waste of talent for Nanako not to take her vocal training more seriously and instead dither away in acting, afraid of failing at her true passion. Nanako, who only just manages to hold back a slap before running off, is so devastated by what Eiko says because it’s true.

The next day, Eiko prepares to resign from the team, but Kyouya won’t have it. While she could have broken it to Eiko more gently and at a later time, it’s clear she told Nanako something she needed to hear. She may still be depressed—devastated, even—but Kyouya admits that’s her problem to work out.

Eiko does actually feel bad about how she put it to Nanako, but when she saw how much Nanako shined when she was singing—even the raw, out-of-tune version of it she heard—yet pretend not to care about it simply made her too angry to stay quiet. Kyouya promises he’ll help pull Nanako out of the abyss, and while Eiko doesn’t have the empirical evidence she usually demands, there’s something about Kyouya’s words that make her believe him.

As for believing in himself…Kyouya’s not quite there yet. In a scene at the fine art club that goes on a bit too long (and introduces that damnable art festival), Keiko sneaks up on him and offers him a job directing a game for her doujin company. Just like that, he’s been given another opportunity to pursue his passion for video games.

But he respectfully declines, because he doesn’t believe he has what it takes. This is Kyouya reflecting on his future failures and acting in a less reckless way than someone his actual age might (though someone as old-souled as Eiko certainly would!) but it’s also Remake showing us that those failures are scars he still bears, and here they cause him to pass up a great opportunity.

Still, it’s not only because he feels he needs more directing experience before attempting to go pro (again); he does have a full plate. He promised Eiko he’d help Nanako, and it just so happens to be one of Keiko’s extremely well-produced doujin group’s games that gives him a “Eureka” moment.

Specifically, when hearing the quality singing in the game reminded him of how he had to stay up all night to digitally adjust the notes of a singer in one of his company’s games. Thus inspired, he approaches Nanako’s door, behind which she sulks in a monochromatic malaise…and plays her a recording of her voice…only in tune.

Kyouya didn’t have to do much—just tweak some of the tones—to let Nanako hear a taste of her potential through the door. That he had to do so little is a testament to her vocal power and talent, and he needed her to hear it before talking about how she has “nothing” and “everything’s been smashed completely.”

Nanako emerges from the room in tears of joy and a tentative smile—and really this whole episode has been a clinic of detailed facial expressions and animation, which combined with Terakawa Aimi’s vocal performance really lends an emotional kick to this scene. She always loved singing but hated how she sounded, but with his magical laptop Kyouya has opened her eyes to a new way forward.

When Kyouya takes her hands into his without thinking, Nanako blushes, but also doesn’t recoil. On the contrary, she leans forward with a hopeful smile as she declares she’s going to trust Kyouya. It’s starting to look like maybe he does have what it takes—at least in terms of production, direction, and encouraging and inspiring the creatives—who also happen to be his friends.

It’s extremely fun to watch Kyouya do his thing, and it helps that he’s a genuinely good, earnest person who isn’t imbued with snark for snark’s sake like so many MCs in similar scenarios.

Oregairu 3 – 12 (Fin) – A Genuine Something

First of all, wow, what a finale! It’s a pretty much perfect way to send off our crazy mixed-up kids while giving viewers who have eagerly watched them grow for three years a happy ending that seemed impossible at the beginning, when Hachiman was just an arrogant antisocial twerp. Now he’s an arrogant antisocial twerp with a goddamn adorable girlfriend!

But first things first: business. Hikki roped Yukino into a seemingly no-win joint prom scenario he came up with just as an excuse to keep her in his life, but the two dive into their mission with renewed energy and purpose. While before they’d sit far apart, now they’re right on top of one another, and while their dialogue is still awkward, now it’s romantic awkward.

Hikki even proposes the two go to a beachfront park and scout it as a possible venue on their day off, knowing full well it would be a date. With all the will-they-won’t-they tension melted away, we get to enjoy the warm, gooey romance in the center.

From Hikki noticing and complimenting the alternate hairstyle Yukino did just for him to Yukino pulling Hikki into a bubble tea selfie without a moment’s hesitation, to their reaction to seeing a wedding taking place, it’s just absolutely glorious finally seeing these two together and happy! It TOOK long enough!

The Service Club is back in operation for the sole task of organizing the joint prom, and between Hikki and Yukino, they actually have enough friends and well-wishers to help them out with their tall self-imposed task. Their gradual gathering in the clubroom serves as an unofficial curtain call for several secondary/tertiary characters like Zaiko, Saki, Yumiko, Hina, and Kakeru.

Someone important is missing, but she eventually walks in the door, fashionably late with her trademark “Yahallo!”—Yuigahama Yui, ready, willing, and eager to be working together as a team again, and even though the pain of losing Hachiman to Yukino is surely still fresh and raw, she intends to overcome it and continue a warm relationship with both of them.

Hikki and The Lads go for a quick revitalizing trip to the sauna, where buzz commences about whether Hikki is now dating Yukino. He refuses to answer, but Saiko (notably the only boy wearing his towel as if he had boobs to conceal) has his back as always, saying they all agreed to watch over them, not engage in futile speculation.

Afterwards as the sun starts to go down, Hikki meets up with Yukino, Yui, and Iroha, all ready to go to dinner with him Yui and Iroha leave first, leaving the couple together for a moment. He holds his hand out to help Yukino up, even though he knows she can stand up on her own, and she knows he knows. But he holds out his hand anyway, and Yukino takes it anyway. Daaaaaaaawww…


The big day arrives: the day of the joint prom, yes, but also the day Komachi and Iroha meet. It’s everything I could have hoped for, with the two exchanging formal pleasantries and vicious barbs in equal measure and Yui in the middle as a kind of referee. It’s rare you get Yuuki Aoi, Touyama Nao and Ayane Sakura sharing a scene together, and every moment of it is a gift.

Yukino’s mom tries once more to rattle her daughter’s cage, but her efforts are utterly ineffective. Yukino firmly and confidently acknowledges her duties and responsibilities as the boss of this prom—as well as the potential cost to her family’s rep if it doesn’t go well. When turning to leave, Haruno tells Hikki to “brace himself” for a real, genuine journey he’s undertaken with Yukino.

But thanks to all of their hard work and the assistance of their friends, the prom goes off without a hitch just like the last one, only without the dread of the three friends breaking up forever upon its conclusion. If the first prom celebrated the end of the beginning, this prom heralds the start of a new era for Hikki, Yukino, and Yui.

And all of this is, in large part, thanks to Hiratsuka Shizuka, who never stopped bugging a younger, stupider Hikki to join the Service Club and meet similarly transient souls who’d benefit from each other’s interactions. Shizuka ends up getting a lovely extended curtain call and special treatment in the form of a dance with Hikki in a emptied-out hall bathed in a gorgeous sunset.

Then Hikki gets a little lucky when Shizuka trips and lands on him. The romantic energy has never been stronger between these two, but Shizuka is content to be the wise sensei who considers Hikki to be her Ultimate Student. He’s proud of him, and he’s grateful to her, and their warm handshake is the perfect parting gesture.

Speaking of perfect, a seemingly frazzled Yukino has a thick stack of papers in hand as she warns Hikki that the “hard part” of the prom has just begun. Before they split up to perform the various necessary tasks, she rattles off a list of thinks for him to take care of. As the list grows, Hikki starts thinking it’s too much…until Yukino tells him one more thing: I love you.

She said it! No half-measures or weasel words, just the big three! Upon seeing Hikki’s stupid blushing reaction, she shrinks into her papers and shuffles away. I loved it, and even though he knows he’ll have to say something just as clear and unambiguous in response to her in the very near future, Hikki loved it too. The things about her that annoy him also kill him with cuteness, and I’m sure the feeling’s mutual.

Fast forward to the start of Hikki and Yukino’s final year of high school. The two are in the clubroom tying up lose prom ends when their new kohai Komachi enters, enthusiastically volunteering to join the Service Club. When they tell her no such club exists anymore, Iroha follows Komachi through the door (complaining about how fast the “little rice girl” runs) with a StuCo-preapproved application for a New Service Club.

Komachi is the new president, and no sooner do Hikki and Yukino learn they are listed as members does their very first new client arrive with another “Yahallo!” Yui has come for advice on what to do if the person you like has a girlfriend, but you want to be friends with her forever.

A knowing Yukino offers Yui a seat and prepares to pour her some tea. This could take a while, but it could take forever as far as they’re concerned, since that would mean they’d always be together, figuring it out, as they have so many other things.

Season Average: 9.08

Fruits Basket – 35 (S2 10) – Squaring Off Against a God

Tooru can tell that both Yuki and Kyou have changed on this beach trip, and believes that they must have changed for the better. But what about her? They’re going home the day after tomorrow, and Tooru feels like she hasn’t been done enough self-improvement of her own. Yuki is content to finish the trip with the fun memory of fireworks on the beach.

Tooru happens to listen in as Kyou confides in Momiji. He now realizes why he and the other Zodiac members obey Akito without complaint or argument: for Tooru’s sake. By letting Akito have his way, they’re sparing her more of his ire. Momiji laments that they’ve been doing it “all wrong” due to their selfish desire to have it both ways. Tooru just wants to do more for them.

As for Akito’s ire, Tooru already has it, and it’s built up every day of his trip until he can even sense that Shigure has fallen under the “ugly girl’s” spell. When Kureno interrupts Akito’s ranting with a report from the main house, the two begin to depart, but Akito gives Kureno the slip after changing.

The next we see him, Akito is in the yard, and Momiji grudingly receives him. When Akito announces he’s there for Tooru, Momiji blocks his path, and pays for it with a vicious punch to the face that draws blood. That’s when Tooru who couldn’t sleep anyway and was out on a walk, puts her body between Akito and the thoroughly cowed Momiji. I can’t decide if it’s the bravest or the stupidest thing she’s ever done, but hey…why not both?

Akito holds back on neither the invasion of personal space, the gaslighting, or the plain ol’ acidic vitriol. He accuses Tooru of being “not a very nice person”—which would be laughable if he wasn’t so menacing—and proceeds to dictate how things are going to go: after high school graduaction, Kyou is going into confinement for the rest of his life, and the other Zodiac members will return to the estate with him for the rest of theirs.

Does Tooru give in to the finality and despair of these words, despite learning that Akito is not the rooster but the literal GOD of the Zodiac, and after receiving nasty gashes to the face? My friends, she does not. While it must no doubt be disconcerting to be told a future by someone with the power to make it a reality, Tooru is just as certain in her own commitment to prevent that future, because she doesn’t think it’s what the Zodiac members want.

As with Kyou and Yuki before him, meeting with Akito changed Tooru. She’s no longer uncertain about what to do, and it was Akito’s quintessential rottenness that finally solidified that plan. Tooru is going to protect them. She’ll protect their freedom to choose where to seek their happiness. Their freedom to move forward, not stay stagnant in some dusty estate at the whims of a loathsome wretch.

As Yuki tells Hatsu (who stopped both him and Kyou from interfering in the confrontation), it’s not easy to protect someone, let alone a whole group people with myriad problems in addition to the common one of Akito. But Tooru doesn’t care if it’s hard, or if it’s impossible and will result in Akito tearing her limb from limb.

She’s going to break that goddamn curse, and won’t hear a single syllable from anyone urging her to reconsider. Her arsenal will include light, love, kindness and hope…but will it be enough? And can she hope to fight effectively without reckoning with her own murky past and its constituent traumas? I don’t know, but I’m not about to bet against her!

Fruits Basket – 34 (S2 09) – A Too-Perfect Monster

Rin’s story is placed on hold as this episode is entirely given over to the fated rematch between Kyou and Akito. On the way in, Kyou castigates Yuki and the others for letting Tooru be all alone at the beach house, two which Yuki throws a “what about you?” back in his face. As much as they might hate Akito, obeying him is “how it’s supposed to be.” And yet how unusual is it for Akito to give the Cat another audience? Akito’s looking to head off any further intrusions from Tooru by appealing directly to Kyou.

For what it’s worth, Tooru is ecstatic that Kyou was finally invited in. Little does she know all Akito wants is to stamp out the beautiful thing she and Kyou have, and turn him against her. The visit goes about as well as you’d expect, considering how little experience Kyou has dealing with Akito. He tries his best to keep his temper in check, but Akito knows exactly how to push his buttons and make him erupt into a scattered emotional mess.

This is in sharp contrast to Yuki’s last couple meetings with Akito, in which he proved to himself that Akito’s taunts and mind games are of little utility. When Kyou’s eyes widen and he trembles as Akito’s proverbial tentacles surround and restrain him, it’s in large part because Akito is tapping into Kyou’s long-held guilt that his mother committed suicide because of him, and thus is undeserving of love, happiness, or hope.

But what really pushes Kyou into the deep end from which he may never return is when Akito starts insulting Tooru as a fellow “monster”, an angel far too perfect to be normal or real. Kyou sets the record straight, telling Akito just how scared Tooru was when she saw his true form, yet still held onto his hand lest she lose him forever. Akito derides Tooru as a monster, while Kyou’s Shisho made him think of her as a little flower in the dirt.

No matter how many times one might trample that flower—that hope—it always blooms anew after periods of nurturing sun and rain. As we see in a flashback involving Lil’ Kyou meeting Kyouko, Tooru became that little flower for him.

In their previous meeting Akito and Kyou made a bet: if he defeated Yuki by graduation, Akito would stop calling him a monster and welcome him into the Zodiac. But if he failed, Akito would confine Kyou just as he did previous Cats. It’s a terrible bet; one Akito can far too easily rig in her favor by poisoning Kyou’s all-too-fragile mind. Just bring up the guilt about his mother, and he starts wondering why he was even kept alive this long.

And yet, when he reunites with Tooru on the beach, the little flower he loves so much he can’t let her get any more involved with him, he resolves to stay with her until “the end”, when he’ll go quietly into confinement and save her from being trampled.

Of course, there’s no way in hell Tooru would want him to do something like that for her sake or anyone else’s. And I predict the more we learn about what she’s keeping under the still-closed lids in her heart, the more we’ll find she harbors very similar guilt about the fate of her parents as Kyou does, which will only draw her closer to him as he plans for a gradual separation.

In any case, quietly making such choices without consulting her is just plain bad form and walking backwards by Kyou. Hopefully Tooru will learn about what he has planned for himself before it’s too late to change anything, and find a way to help reconcile the guilt over the past that continues to press upon both of them.

Fruits Basket – 33 (S2 08) – Quiet Voices

In summoning the Zodiac members to the annex, Akito intends to gradually isolate Tooru, the “Ugly Girl” with whom Akito locked is in a one-sided competition. Tooru isn’t trying to take anyone from him, just get along and help out with their problems if she can.

Of course, simply by existing and being kind-hearted and caring, Tooru is an affront to Akito’s authority as “god” of the Zodiac. The members and their souls are Akito’s property. To put it crudely, Tooru is fuckin’ with Akito’s shit, and he will only tolerate it so far.

All we know is, none of the Zodiac members dare oppose Akito…except for Yuki, who thanks to Tooru has developed a more rigid spine and thicker skin. Tooru is worried about what Yuki said to her on the beach, especially the part spoken in such a “quiet voice” she couldn’t hear it even when she strained to do so.

The next day Yuki apologizes for making her worry, but won’t apologize for the kiss. In exchange, he’s fine with her forgetting everything he said, but she won’t. What was said (what she heard anyway) was important, after all.

Kyou is a little different in that he’s no so much in open rebellion against Akito as simply not worth his time or trouble, being the Cat and all. It’s because of this Akito doesn’t summon him, allowing him to continue hanging out with Tooru. What Akito doesn’t realize (at least until witnessing the two having fun on the beach) is that as long as Tooru has Kyou, she won’t be lonely and miserable, which is what Akito wants.

Previously, Akito assumed Kyou was a monster who even Tooru couldn’t have fun with, but he is ignorant to just how much growth Kyou has gone through. Rather than be tight-lipped about his rosary, for instance, Kyou tells Tooru how it’s made of bone and blood of “some great monk”, making it a constant reminder that someone was sacrificed so that his true form could be controlled. Just telling Tooru this, and letting her comfort him, is immense growth.

Meanwhile, someone who is clearly not only an emotional prisoner of Akito but of her own emotional complexes is Isuzu AKA Rin, whom Tooru finally meets by chance while chasing down a sheet.

She meets Rin in her Horse form, as Rin is exhausted from walking to the beach. In the cold open we see she’s crashing at Kagura’s house, but like virtually everyone else she has no intention of letting anyone know about her desires or problems.

Despite being exhausted, Rin transforms back into human form through sheer willpower after nearly kicking Tooru’s head in as a horse. She takes Tooru’s change of clothes, but otherwise doesn’t give her the time of day, and not-so-kindly asks Yuki to butt the hell out of her business. Seeing her as she is now reminds me of much earlier versions of Yuki and Kyou, but without the slightest interest in knowing Tooru.

When Rin calls Yuki Akito’s toy and Yuki doesn’t so much as flinch, it angers her even more, and she storms off in a rage, later stomping the sand castle Tooru and Kyou built. Yuki assures Tooru he’ll take care of Rin, but for now has to return to the annex from which he snuck out. He’s continuing to play Akito’s game, even as his hold on him is diminishing by the day.

But now that Akito has seen how well Kyou and Tooru have gotten on, which means a new avenue for antagonism. Thus he finally orders Hatori and Shigure to summon Kyou, in an effort to complete her isolation. Shigure is excited at this development as it no doubt fits within whatever twisted scheme he has, while Hatori is not amused.

As for Kyou, he has no idea what’s coming down the pike. Yuki warned him not to risk hurting Tooru by being too impertinent if and when Akito summoned him. Hopefully he got the message even though he hates the messenger…

Fruits Basket – 32 (S2 07) – So Hard Because It’s So Simple

This week’s cold open features Akito, who has followed Shigure’s advice and arrived at the seaside, confronting Yuki and whispering something in his ear. While we can’t hear what hesays, Akito is likely using the exact same ammunition he’s used in the past—trying to cover Yuki in a hopeless pitch black, warning him any glimmers of happiness or warmth are mere delusions.

But there’s something different about Yuki here from previous confrontations with Akito, and the fact Yuki’s voiceover is all we here is key to that. First of all, he’s not having a goddamn panic attack, so that’s good! While Akito approaches and launches his attack, Yuki is testing a new “armor” he has developed as a result of “opening the lid”—the armor of his memory of saving Tooru.

When Momiji proposes a watermelon splitting contest, Tooru starts to bring up her mother, but stops herself, awkwardly saying “gumshoe” instead of “mom”. She doesn’t want to trouble people with stories of her mom when she knows nothing about their own.

Hiro, who learned that morning that his mom is pregnant, can now see the effect of his harsh words to her, while Kyou can again sense something off in Tooru, and suspects it’s Hiro’s fault.

While Momiji, Hiro and Kisa are napping, Kyou asks Tooru about it, and she in turn asks Kyou about his parents. As expected, there’s not much to say: his mom was killed in an “accident” (holding back that it was suicide) when he was very small and he and his biological dad are estranged.

Tooru then shares the details of her watermelon splitting contest with her mom. Neither of them had any aim to speak of, as her mom smashed both a flowerpot and Tooru’s dad’s shrine, but they still had a lot of fun, and the warmth and love of that memory brings a smile to Kyou’s face.

But amidst all these happy feels, you can’t help but wonder: what is missing from Tooru’s almost impossibly ideal childhood with her mom prior to her death? Why doesn’t she remember (or claims not to remember) anything about her dad, from whom she inherited not only her kindness but her very manner of speaking?

Akito, Kureno, and Hattori arrive, and arrangements are made for the Zodiac members to formally greet her at the annex. Before that, Akito spends some time by the ocean, with Kureno not far away. Yuki encounters them while on a walk, and we’ve now reached the events of the cold open.

Predictably, Akito fires shoots some lies Yuki’s way—telling him he’s “all alone as usual” and “such a lonely boy.” Akito’s idea of Yuki as an individual might as well be frozen in amber. That’s who Yuki was, and those barbs don’t cut nearly as deep as they once did, when Akito’s influence on him was stronger.

Shigure rounds up Momiji, Hatsu, Kisa and Hiro, and all of them are gloomy because none of them are in a particular hurry to meet with Akito, especially if it means leaving Tooru behind (not to mention Kyou, who never sees Akito). Momiji in particular seems at peace with the fact he’s “disliked” by Akito, but he can deal with that if he can continue having fun with Tooru.

Back at the beach house, Tooru is determined not to be glum, and stirs into action making pancakes with Kyou, who’s never had them before. Kyou can sense Akito’s reason for coming as putting a damper on their good times.

When Shigure arrives with the Zodiac members, he’s received by Akito, Kureno, and Hattori. Akito sends Kureno away without meeting with anyone (deeming it “unnecessary”) and proceeds to launch into a villainous rant, boasting about how she discouraged Yuki and laughing about his attempts to separate from her.

Shigure takes all this in stride, and is his usual polite self as Akito goes to receive the others. While Hattori isn’t pleased with Shigure’s methods (i.e. “scheming” and “shaking things up”) he lauds him for at least trying to do something to exact change.

I may not know exactly what Shigure is up to, but I do know that Akito is more a means and not an end to his plans. That Akito doesn’t seem aware he’s being manipulated seems to be working in Shigure’s favor.

While Yuki weathered his latest confrontation with Akito well, it still left him feeling as gloomy as everyone else who has dealings with the pale little shit this week. So it’s fortuitous that he and Tooru meet on the beach at dusk, just when he’s feeling his most alone.

Just then, there’s a beautiful meteor shower in the sky above them. They’re only visible to Yuki because he was able to survive dark clouds and pelting rain of Akito’s bitter mind games, which in turn was possible due to both his memory of and friendship with Tooru, twin totems in his efforts to cast away the darkness.

Akito tried so hard to make Yuki think he was useless, but when Yuki encountered Tooru and helped her out, it was the first time he felt needed. In that regard, she saved him just as much as he saved her, because it turned his world upside-down and let him dream of a better one, of which he’s now privileged to be a part.

Akito’s dark clouds never stood a chance against the dazzling showers of kindness, warmth and joy that Tooru so generously shares with him every day. They’re why he won’t lose to Akito. When Tooru asks why he looks sad, Yuki tenderly takes her shoulders, kisses her forehead, and tells her she’s “so dear” to him. So it’s official: Tooru is the Dear of the Zodiac!

Puns aside, Yuki compares Tooru to the sky: i.e. something he’ll never reach. It’s clear Kyou is making more progress with Tooru, and Yuki knows if he becomes bitter or possessive about it, he’s no better than Akito. Just as he’s liberated himself from Akito’s now-hollow lies an manipulations, he must move past the memory that helped him do so, and shrug off the comfy blanket that is Tooru in order to keep moving forward.

Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl (Bunny Girl-Senpai Movie) – Heart of the Matter

From June 2019 (a much simpler time) comes the continuation of the Bunny Girl-Senpai anime, the broadcast of which ended without answering key questions about the nature of Sakuta’s first crush, Makinohara Shouko (Minase Inori). Don’t bother watching this movie without having seen the anime, my reviews for which you can read here.

Our titular Rascal Sakuta is actually doing fine with Mai as his busy actress/model girlfriend Mai. But one day a college-aged version of Shouko arrives at Sakuta’s apartment, ready to move in with the man she loves. Anxiety about the future from a much younger Shouko from the fourth grade led to her Adolescence Syndrome that created her future self in the present.

The younger Shouko reveals to Sakuta and Mai that she’s been in and out of the hospital all her life with a bum ticker; she wasn’t even expected to survive past middle school, hence her anxiety. The older Shouko was created to live out all of the plans her younger self couldn’t write down in that elementary school “future plans” exercise.

Those plans include not only graduating middle and high school and being admitted to college, but meeting the boy of her dreams, confess to him, and eventually marry him. For all those things to happen, Shouko needed a heart transplant, and while she’s doing a “trial run” wedding at a venue in a gown, Sakuta notices a scar on her chest and realizes it was he who gave her that new heart.

According to Rio, Shouko’s will was likely split between one who was resigned to dying young and one who sought to continue her life. Now the future Shouko tells Sakuta about a car accident that will claim his life and allow his heart to be donated to her. She gives him the choice between spending Christmas Eve with her or with Mai.

The wounds on Sakuta’s chest are the result of the contradiction of his heart being both in his chest and in that of the older Shouko. Now that Sakuta knows one version of his future and the doom that befalls him, it means he can act to change it. Preventing his accident spells doom for Shouko, but letting the accident happen means leaving Mai all alone.

Sakuta is desperate to try to have his cake and eat it to, but the bottom line is he simply can’t. And while it’s a tough choice, it’s not an impossible one. He visits the younger Shouko in the hospital to tell her that the both of them have done all they can.

For her part, Mai wants Sakuta to choose a future with her, and follow the older Shouko’s instructions to celebrate Christmas Eve at home where it’s safe. She even tries to lead him on a train journey to take them as far away as possible from a situation where she’d lose him, urging him to share the pain of choosing to live on with his girlfriend.

After paying young Shouko one last visit (she’s in the ICU), Sakuta has a change of heart, especially when he realizes Shouko knew he’d pick Mai. He rushes to meet with Shouko instead, and is almost run over by a van, but he’s saved by Mai, who dies in his place. This is a lot of story to keep track of, but it all unfolds relatively organically, and it’s all appropriately heartrending to behold.

Sakuta lives out a few more days after this Bad Ending partly in a numb daze, partly wracked in grief. His chest wounds are gone, which means Shouko never got his heart, and seemingly the entire region mourns the loss of the famous actress who was taken from them far too soon.

Sakuta wanders off, asking someone, anyone to save Mai, to not let things end this way. Then he’s approached…by Shouko. He may not have given her his heart, but she received Mai’s in secret and survived. Now she’s come to help him visualize the time they’re in as the future so he can travel back to the present and save Mai himself.

Sakuta falls asleep in a bed in the school infirmary and wakes up on Christmas Eve. He manages to find someone who can see and hear him (Koga Tomoe, who had a dream about him needing her in just such an occasion) and then reunites with Mai, the loss of whom is still so raw and fresh that he loses it upon seeing her.

Sakuta tells his past self that there’s nothing he can do for Shouko and that any attempt will cost Mai’s life, but as Sakuta is a stubborn ass, he doesn’t initially hear him. Meanwhile Mai tells him she was resolved to rescue him all along, and knows the other Sakuta would never save himself if it robbed Shouko of her future.

When the fateful moment at the icy intersection occurs this time, Sakuta is rescued by his future self (wearing a bunny mascot suit so his self won’t recognize him and cause a paradox). The future Sakuta then vanishes, merged with the present Sakuta…and Shouko vanishes as well. He then returns to a relieved Mai’s side.

Sacrificing Shouko still doesn’t sit right with Sakuta, however, so he and Mai agree to try to do what they can to help her, starting by visiting her in the ICU where she’s near death. But young Shouko tells Sakuta not to worry about her anymore; she’s seen everything that’s happened in her dreams, and intends to create a future where he and Mai won’t have the painful memories of her.

All the way back in the fourth grade, Shouko manages to fill out her future plans, resulting in a future where Sakuta and Mai indeed do not remember her, and seem to be far more at peace for it. They visit a shrine for the new year, and Sakuta prayed for less weird things to happen to him…a bit ironic considering that’s how he met Mai!

All the same, while discussing a movie in which Mai stars in a role identical to Shouko’s near the beach where Sakuta once dreamed of his first crush, he and Mai spot a girl running along the sand with her parents. It’s a young Shouko, alive and in good health. Suddenly memories of Shouko flood back into Sakuta’s head and he calls out her name…and she calls out his.

Dreaming Girl’s ninety minutes equate to five new episodes and a final arc that ties all of the anime’s storylines togethers. It’s a satisfying conclusion to as well as a dramatic elevation of the TV show; an emotional roller coaster that knows just which ways to twist and turn for maximum heart-wrenching. And it’s absolutely essential viewing for any Bunny Girl fan.

Kakushigoto – 02 – Boxes Within Boxes

In addition to being about a single father and daughter, Kakushigoto offers a glimpse into the lives of manga artists. Kakushi’s team is up against a deadline, so they escape reality by getting absorbed in doing chores or cooking. They end up completing the manuscript in time, and while it might sound counter-intuitive, they were only able to do it because of the gyoza-making session session.

Since a manuscript is done, Kakushi and crew have some free time, so they head to a beach (and a villa owned by a manga artist who, like many, dreamed of working by the sea, only to soon regret it). Unfortunately for Kakushi’s assistants, the villa is in dire need of a deep clean.

Meanwhile, Kakushi spies on Hime, who is on a school field trip. He’s caught several times by Ichiko, who thinks he’s talking about her (and not Hime) when he says “the cuteness is undeniable.”

Kakushi also goes to great lengths to ensure Hime doesn’t endure teasing, first by buying a beetle for her to easily catch (though it’s the wrong species), then flying in an Indian master chef to add seasoning to her curry (though it’s too spicy for the kids).

He returns to find his assistants are too exhausted from cleaning to go out, so they aim to have double the fun tomorrow. Alas, a typhoon hits the area hard, and they’re stuck inside with the power out and nothing to do…but draw manga. One of them, Rasuna, draws in her swimsuit, because she brought a swimsuit so she has to wear it somewhere, dammit!

While taking Hime to a festival, Kakushi keeps spotting bootlegged merchandise bearing the face of a character from his manga. Mortified Hime will put two and two together, he buys up all of the masks, cotton candy, and attempts to shoot all of the targets, using his assistants to carry the huge loads of merch away.

In the process of doing all of this, poor Hime has to sit on a bench and wait instead of spending time with her dad. It’s a case of Kakushi worrying and thinking way too much. Hime isn’t actively trying to find out the truth of his livelihood.

In another segment that bends reality, a pair of police investigators come to Kakushi’s makeshift studio, on suspicion they’re running an antisocial cult. With every piece of “evidence” the detectives find, their crazy suspicions grow more ridiculous, until they fear Kakushi and his comrades are planning to overthrow the government.

Three of his four assistants surrender, hoping they’ll receive leniency, and Kakushi follows suit when he considers the possibility of not being there for Hime. Ultimately it’s Rasuna who proves to the cops that Kakushi is indeed a manga artist and harmless—as long as you consider a naked artist’s portrait in the back of his book!

Finally, while printing out photos of their festival trip, Kakushi wonders where Hime’s yukata came from. She tells him it’s hand-sewn, and she found it in the closet. Kakushi opens said closed, for the first time, and discovers boxes for every year of Hime’s life up to 16, no doubt packed with age-appropriate, hand-made clothes. Kakushi has been so busy with his manga and keeping his job a secret, he never knew his wife too great strides to ensure Hime would be well-dressed after she was gone.

Fast-forward to the present day when Hime is 18, lamenting how she never tried to find out what her dad really did and is only learning now. She finds new boxes for ages 17-20 in the storage house. It sure seems like Kakushi has died at this point, and that lends an extra layer of melancholy to all the segments in the past—especially when you consider how much time (and money) Kakushi spends keeping his job secret.

If he’s dead when she’s 18, that means the 10-year-old Hime only has seven years left with her dad. It’s kind of heartbreaking!

Elfen Lied – 02 – One Or the Other

Things would have been so much easier—and far less bloodily—if Kouta hadn’t gotten angry and scared Nyu off. Instead, Bando and his tactical team arrive, and Bando is not particularly interested in anything other than killing the target. After the cops visit his house, Kouta somehow manages to get to Nyu first and tries to run away with her, but Bando gun-whips him and captures the target.

Yuka also briefly talks to the cops before tracking down Kouta, who is still dazed on the beach. Bando drags Nyu to another location, but when she won’t fight back he grows bored and orders his subordinate to kill her instead, since those are their orders. Instead, Nyu turns back into Lucy and does her thing, relieving the grunt of his chest, arm, head—you name it, she slices it off.

Suddenly intrigued, Bando tries to fight Lucy, but it’s really no contest; not when she’s tossing boats around and none of his bullets hit her. The fun ends when she closes the distance between them to the range of her telekinesis, and it’s seemingly game over, as she slices off his arm and gouges out his eyes. But Bando is spared when she suddenly turns back into Nyu.

Nyu runs off, and a young woman with a puppy finds the maimed Bando and runs for help. But when she returns, he’s gone. After a very brief stay in the hospital, Kouta takes a taxi and bids Yuka goodnight, only to find a soaked Nyu at his front door with a new shell to replace the one she broke.

Yuka returns just as Kouta is getting Nyu out of her wet clothes to keep her from catching cold, while the head researcher and his #2 prepare to deploy another human experiment like Lucy to go after her—a naked and bloody subject called “#7.”

Once again Elfen Lied delivers extensive blood and boobs, but if you’ve watched, say, True Blood (which didn’t premiere until four years after this show) you’re likely as desensitized as I am. What struck me more was just how much of a boorish asshole Bando was (and will likely continue to be, as he’s not dead yet), as well as the apparent heartlessness of the lab coats. Kouta may have messed up last week, but maybe now he understands how much Nyu needs him in her current state.

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 04 – No Gym? No Ocean? No Problem!

Due to a large volume of summer casual trainers at the gym, Hibiki and Akemi aren’t able to access the “free weights” like the bench press and dumbbells, so on Machio’s advice they train instead on machines like the chest press machine, which are a good way to diversify the way one exercises a muscle group.

Ayaka also joins the gym to give boxing classes, and is as immediately smitten with (a fully clothed) Machio as Hibiki and Satomi were…before he struck his signature “Side Chest!”, that is.

The first day Hibiki, Akemi and Ayaka meet up to go to the gym as a trio, Silverman is unexpectedly closed for the day. While they lacked their primary training equipment at the gym, not having access to a gym at all means getting more resourceful.

Akemi invites the other two to her palacial house, and shows them a beefcake-packed video by Ozu Toshio, apparently Machio’s sensei. They learn reverse sit-ups and dips using chairs, but unfortunately when Hibiki ups the difficulty by attempting dips with a backpack full of books, she breaks two antique chairs she later learns could sell at auction for hundreds of millions of yen. Oops!

Finally, the three girls (plus Satomi, in another case of pure coincidence) hit the beach to show off their tight new bods, only to learn the summer swimming season is closed due to hammerhead sharks in the water.

Not one to be discouraged by a setback, Akemi shows the others how to do burpees, which exercise the entire body (which she proceeds to expose in the instructional video), followed by sprints along the beach. While everyone gets properly worn out by day’s end, everyone rightly feels a great sense of accomplishment. Who needs gyms, or even the sea, when you have a nice stretch of sand?