Super Cub – 05 – The Ascent

Kudos to Koguma, who over the summer she expanded her horizons, learned an abject lesson in preparing for the elements, saved up some cash ferrying documents between her school and Kofu. That’s a summer anyone can be proud of. She comes to Reiko ready to make some tasty okonomiyaki in exchange to hear what she did this summer…and why her Postal Cub looks like it’s been mauled by Oniguma-sama.

Reiko also expanded her horizons, learned a hard lesson or two, and presumably also made some money with her job doing manual labor “somewhere close…yet far away.”

It’s just…she went about it a little differently…

I see you, Super Cub.

Back in the day, anyone could ride up Fuji-san, but new laws and environmental restrictions narrowed the opportunities considerably. Reiko’s job with an official team that maintains and resupplies the trail and outposts going up the mountain was the opportunity to do something she’d wanted to do ever since she got her license: Ride to the top of Fuji-san.

She researched modifying Cubs for off-roading and secured the job, which consisted of a lot of manual labor but also riding ahead to ensure the way is clean for the giant resupply Caterpillar that climbs up and down the mountain. Reiko’s arduous ascent is often appropriately accompanied by heavy metal soundtrack, and also full of vicious crashes and tumbles.

Still, every time she falls, she dusts herself off and gets back up, because there’s still a mountain to be climbed. When her boss, who climbed Everest, asks her why she’s so intent on climbing the mountain on a glorified moped originally designed to deliver mail, she says it’s to find out if she’s the kind of person who can overcome something like that.

Instead of mail, Reiko intends her Cub to deliver her to a better sense of who she is and what she’s capable of. It’s an incredibly moving, well-realized, self-contained epic little movie of an episode, and what’s all the more impressive is that it doesn’t exist to outdo or overshadow Koguma’s own summer achievements, but simply to present the vast spectrum of experiences.

Oh, and it surprised me almost every time Reiko hit a rock or peeled out, and I found myself actually crying out in anguish whenever it happened, hoping Reiko would be able to get up and start her Cub back up. Fortunately, she always is, and always does. One day when it’s clear she’s really struggling, her boss tells her not to try to “stand up” against the mountain, but to “come alongside”.

Also lending a sense of grandeur is the absolutely spellbinding scenery that grows more strange and otherworldly and beautiful as Reiko reaches higher and higher elevations. There is nothing quite like the way the earth sprawls out before you when you’re on a mountain, and that unique feeling is captured perfectly.

Reiko takes her boss’ advice as a reminder that she should be having fun, not suffering, but when push comes to shove, she’s not going to “go limp” let the mountain push her around. She holds herself and her Cub down and fights as hard as she can. Alas, her final crash is her worst, and cracks her stalwart Cub’s enging casing.

She calls her boss, who picks her up in the Cat. He remarks that she didn’t make it to the top: she’s only a few switchbacks from it; perhaps a few hundred feet. But that’s okay; Reiko can’t look out at creation unfolding beneath her and feel bad about what she accomplished.

Koguma maybe gets the line of the episode in response to this epic tale of man vs. nature: “That’s silly.” As in, climbing Mt. Fuji on your motorbike is silly. Maybe it is, but Reiko still had to do it, and doesn’t regret it. They change the subject to Koguma’s “Cursed Cub”, and Reiko eases her friend’s mind by assuring her none of the three previous owners died because of it. Two of them didn’t even die.

Koguma takes Reiko up on the offer to sleep over, if nothing else to experience the pitch-black darkness far from the city lights. Ensconsced in the mummy sleeping bag Reiko provided (and looking more like Shima Rin than ever!) she clarifies her statement about the silliness of climbing Mt. Fuji as not meaning that it could not be done. Hell, Reiko came really really close to doing it, and probably could have if she’d just slowed down a bit!

And as we’re treated most gorgeous images of Fuji-san yet, Reiko says the first Cub rider climbed the mountain in August of 1963, followed that same year by a team of Cub riders. Reiko isn’t done; she’s going to be the next one to do it—and the first high-school girl!

That morning, over coffee, Koguma makes clear she’s not done expanding her horizons either. She took the summer job in part to pay for driving school so she could get her full motorcycle license. Reiko hops on the laptop to book Koguma’s reservations, and also to look for cheap ways to increase the power of her Cub so her friend can climb her own mountain a little higher.

This whole episode certainly took Super Cub to new heights, but even if and when it comes back down to earth, Reiko and Koguma will unassailably remain my two heroes.

Tokyo Revengers – 03 – A Rare Thing

Once Takemichi calls out Kiyomasa, he’s determined not to let him win. No matter how many crushing blows he lands, the pain can’t compare to the pain of having failed to save Hinata. So he tells Kiyomasa straight up: unless he literally kills him, he’s not going to lose.

That’s just fine with Kiyomasa, who asks for his bat, but his fun is interrupted by his bosses, Koman Vice-Commander Ryuuguuji Ken and Commander Sano “Mikey” Manjirou. After beating Kiyomasa for making Koman look bad, Manjirou declares Takemichi his friend.

This is precisely what Takemichi was hoping for in fighting Kiyomasa. Honestly, it’s a little too tidy, except for the part where Takemichi put his very life on the line with no guarantee he wouldn’t lose it. There’s also something about the eccentric “Mikey”…for one thing, he can’t believe Takemichi is really a middle schooler, which…well, he’s not.

After heading to school on time Takemichi encounters Hinata, who arranges a date before her cram school. Then Mikey and Ken barge right into his class despite being from a different school, and insist Takemichi hand out with them. Hinata intervenes, slapping Mikey and vowing to protect Takemichi from the bullies who keep beating her beau up.

As Hinata tries to flee with Takemichi, Ken  puts his hand on her, but while Takemichi notices her shaking, she stands her ground. Takemichi then puts his hand on Ken and warns him to get his off off Hinata. Mikey says it’s a shame Takemichi doesn’t want to be friends, but now he’ll have to kill him. Again, Takemichi doesn’t back down, and Mikey turns out to simply be messing around.

Hinata’s misunderstanding is cleared up, and both Takemichi and Hinata gain respect from Mikey and Ken. Hinata, glad they’re his friends, tells him to go hang out with them, and after a bike ride they end up watching the sun set from an embankment while Mikey talks about creating a new kind of delinquent—one who will need people like Takemichi, who are willing to put everything on the line for something they need to do.

After this encounter, Takemichi can’t imagine Mikey or even Ken bringing about the kind of Koman Gang that would kill Hinata in the future. But that’s because he hasn’t met Kisaki Tetta, of whom Takemichi catches his first glimpse without quite realizing. One look at Kisaki and you can tell he’s the kind of sadist and bad influence who could one day corrupt Mikey’s heart. Befriending a pre-Kisaki Mikey was no problem for Takemichi. The true challenge will be preventing a post-Kisaki Mikey.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 02 – Done Running

MPD Sergeant Tachibana Naoto has been busy since Takemichi told him the day and manner of his and Hinata’s deaths. At first Takemichi think the kid has gone off the deep end, until he remembers that Naoto is only here because he can, in fact, travel back in time. If he’s a Hinata-saving, gang-stopping time agent, Naoto takes up the mantle of his operator, briefing him on what actions should be taken once he returns to the past.

Naoto’s first task is simple: try to cut off the head of the Tokyo Manji Gang in the past before its the big deal it is in the present. That means Takemichi needs to make contact with its two founders—Sano Manjirou and Kisaki Tetta—and ensure they never meet.

As for how he’ll get back to the past, that’s solved pretty quickly: he just has to shake hands with Naoto again and he’s back in his middle school body, just in time to take a knockout punch to the face. Honestly, the “science” of his time travelling is unimportant, so I’m glad Revengers doesn’t dwell on it.

Unfortunately, the meat grinder doesn’t end with that single punch. Older delinquents like Kiyomasa and his henchmen had money riding on their “slave” putting up more than a fight, so they punish him by beating him again. Takemichi then makes things worse for himself by mentioning the two names Naoto said he had to meet. Kiyomasa takes a wooden bat, beats him bloody, and threatens to kill him if those names come out of his mouth again.

Having suffered three brutal beatdowns in less than a day, part of me wonders exactly what kind of high-strength alloy Takemichi’s bones are made of…but then this is a shounen series, and as such carries with it a heightened sense of reality with an appropriate suspension of disbelief.

More to the point, Takemichi is emotionally beaten, and all he wants to do now is run back to the present. His life there might suck, but it doesn’t involve the regular beatings of his tortured youth. He goes to the Tachibana residence so he can shake hands with Naoto and end this charade…but Hinata greets him instead.

Their exchange goes pretty much the way it did the other day, with her scolding him for fighting (not understanding that it’s the last thing he wants to do), but this time she laments not being a boy, because she’s sure she’d be stronger than him. In fact, since she knows karate, she probably is stronger than him, regardless of gender.

Knowing she’d go to bat for him soothes Takemichi’s bruised heart, and he thrusts his fist out promising to protect her, he accidentally blurts out the shortened form of her first name—Hina—causing them both to blush. Hinata tells him to call her that from now on, and insists that she’ll be the one to protect him.

Considering how Takemichi’s interaction with Naoto saved the guy’s life and set him on the path of law enforcement, part of me hopes these new exchanges with Hinata he never had in his first go-around may similarly influence Hinata’s actions and choices. If he can just stay with her, protect her, and let her protect him, maybe her death can be prevented.

But for now, Takemichi still has to at least try to meet the founding members of the Tokan Gang, and after meeting with Hinata, he no longer wants to run; he wants to fight with everything he has, even if it’s not much. He’s further inspired to action when he watches his friends offer emotional support to Takuya, whom Kiyomasa has chosen to fight next despite (or maybe because of) his frail constitution.

When he first arrived in the past, Takamichi thought his pals were as pathetic and lame as he was when he first saw that bright hair in the mirror. But now he sees he was lucky to have such good friends, whose bonds never broke no matter how much the older kids stomped on them.

Takamichi interrupts the conspicuously in-the-open fight club match (where are the cops? I guess there are lookouts) before Takuya has to fight, and challenges Kiyomasa himself to a fight, billing it a “king vs. slave” match. Crying and running has gotten him nowhere but a shitty life and a dead ex-first-and-only girlfriend. He’s done with both. He has to be: for his sake, his friends’ sakes, and for Hina’s sake.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 01 (First Impressions) – Keen on the Grindstone

“We are kept keen on the grindstone of pain and necessity.”
― H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

Hanagaki Takemichi, 27. Former delinquent, peaked in middle school. Virgin. Aimless. Menial employee, prone to mistakes. Too used to the mess in his apartment. Too used to apologizing and having it not be enough. A pebble worn smooth and shiny, the better to be carried by the whims of the river.

Then a news bulletin arrests Takemichi’s listless flow: gang violence has claimed innocent lives, including Tachibana Hinata, his first and only girlfriend, and her brother Naoto. That name from his past makes him look at his present and wonder Where Things Went Wrong.

Then Takemichi falls—no, is pushed—onto the track as a train approaches. There’s a flash of light, and the first image in his head is of Hinata, shamefully blurry for someone he was once so close to—a symptom of the dreary inertia of the ensuing twelve years.

Before Takemichi knows it, he’s not under a train, but on one. He catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror: open collar, bleached hair, baggy pants. To his contemporary eyes it’s all too brutally lame…and yet this is when he says he peaked. When he was a delinquent in middle school. When he was Hinata’s boyfriend.

Sensing that his life must be flashing before his eyes, those times twelve years ago slowly come back to him, making him realizing how easily he forgot them. By the time he realizes he and his four delinquent friends are walking into an ambush by third-years and his tough-talking cousin is merely their errand boy, it’s too late to avoid the beatdown by the hands of the Tokyo Manji Gang—the same group responsible for killing the Tachibana siblings.

And yet, as Wells quote above makes clear, it is only through adversity and failure, personal or collective, that we are compelled to change and improve. The beatdown is a wake-up call to the adult Takemichi. He splits off from his friends and rushes to Hinata’s apartment.

When he rings her doorbell, Hinata answers, and her first reaction is concern that he’s been fighting again, asking if he needs help. Takemichi is so happy to see Hinata’s face clearly for the first time, and so ashamed that he forgot it and his love for her, he begins bawling.

Hinata, in turn, doesn’t believe for a second that nothing is wrong, and tells him to come out with it. After all, she’s his girlfriend, and she wants to know everything about him. Seeing her face and feeling her hands on his serve as another wake-up call—another turn on the grindstone—in twelve years, this wonderful person will die needlessly.

As Takemichi contemplates his present situation, a small boy is being hassled for changed by three slightly older kids. They’re interrupting the moment Takemichi is trying to have, something in him snaps, and suddenly all of the worries and questions that flooded his head earlier when he first realized he’d be getting into a fight disappear.

He slugs one of the harassing kids, then breaks a bottle in half and threatens to kill the other two if they don’t piss off. He’s left with the small boy, whose first instinct isn’t to thank him for saving him, but to say it’s dangerous to just throw the broken bottle on the ground.

After properly disposing of the glass, Takemichi gives the kid some pointers about having confidence and resolve—things he never had—before learning that the kid is Tachibana Naoto, Hinata’s little brother. Takemachi goes for broke and tells Naoto how he’s travelled back in time, and Naoto, possessed of the open, curious mind of youth, believes him: on July 1, 2017, he and his sister die. But now that he’s warned him, Naoto can protect her.

If this is real, then I want to change the future, Takemichi thinks to himself before shaking on it with Naoto. Upon that handshake, an odd spark runs through Takemichi, and next thing he knows he’s coming to in the train station infirmary, very much not dead, on July 4, 2017. He’s told a man saved his life at the last second, who is there to speak to him.

That man is none other than Tachibana Naoto, who credits Takemichi with changing his fate. Thanks to his warning twelve years ago, he worked hard to become a cop so he could protect Hinata, and survived the gang attack so he could save him in turn. Despite all that, in this timeline, Hinata is still dead. Which means Takemichi’s quest is far from over.

While no one can mistake this for a fully or even remotely original affair (with elements of Erased, ReLIFE, and Steins;Gate, along with Groundhog Day and Back to the Future), its straightforward, confident execution and blooming emotional resonance count for a lot.

And while even his 27-year-old self is a bit of a wide-eyed baby-face (some weight gain and scraggly beard would better sell his plight) Takemichi makes for a surprisingly likable protagonist, ready and willing to make the most of the second chance the universe has given him. It remains to be seen if he can change enough of the future to save Hinata, but I’m committed to watching him try.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 02 – Narrowing the Mandate

The first episode didn’t so much end as pause, but because the second episode was immediately available, that wasn’t a concern. Diva is in time to take a bullet for Aikawa, but it’s only the first of dozens of time she’ll need to safe his life throughout this harrowing, pulse-pounding action-packed episode of Vivy, which due to the corporate skyscraper setting and terrorists could be called Die Hard: With a Vivy-engeance.

That is not a bad thing, as the people behind this production know what they’re doing and execute beautifully. Also, Aikawa’s pursuers are no two-bit op, but the well-trained and equipped anti-AI group Toak, represented by the younger, less-experienced Kakitani and the hulking Batou-like Kuwana. They’re not just there to kill AIkawa, but blow the whole damn building to kingdom come.

Diva conceals her identity by placing a disguising filter in Aikawa’s AR glasses, so all he sees is a generic AI drone. Diva and Matsumoto’s mission is simple: keep him alive. But between her tactical inexperience and the fact that she has the AI equivalent of free will with all its inherent unpredictability, Matsumoto soon decides it best to inject her with combat training a la The Matrix.

Diva severs the wire connection, angry that Matsumoto has only been offering a “slow drip feed” of the future and is now trying to override her singing mandate. But Matsumoto makes it clear there’s a reason he did that: he doesn’t quite trust her yet, even if the professor and researcher with whom he shares his name did.

In the midst of their quarrel, Kuwana gets the jump in her with a “Logical Bullet”, which scrambles her circuits and renders her inoperative. He then shoots Aikawa dead and shoots Diva for good measure, accidentally getting her blue “blood” on his boot. As the Toak team prepares to set the bomb timers, it looks like Diva failed her mission big time. At the same time, it soon becomes clear when Matsumoto hacks Toak bombs that Kuwana was tricked.

Matsumoto used his night-vision goggles to show him what he wanted to see: him killing Aikawa and destroying Diva. By the time Kuwana realizes there’s no blood on his boot, they’re already headed to the very Matrix-like imposing lobby. When they’re confronted by Kakitani, who clearly hates both AI and Aikawa with the hotness of the sun, Matsumoto detonates some of the bombs, bringing rubble down on him and the other Toak operatives.

But as a giant piece of concrete is about to smash Kakitani like a pancake, Diva runs under it and catches it, causing severe damage to her arm and tearing her jacket. Far from grateful, Kakitani seems disgusted and horrified an AI saves him, and later expresses that disgust verbally to Kurawa. Matsumoto, meanwhile, is frustrated that Diva continues to act erratically.

Of course, she isn’t: she’s acting according to her personal prime directive: make people happy with her singing. In order to do that, people have to be alive, so if a person needs rescuing—even a terrorist and her enemy—she’ll do what she can, as she does here. In the midst of all this chaos, Aikawa admits he doesn’t really care about AIs, but is paying lip-service to aid his political rise.

Matsumoto tells Diva that the professor was wrong to stake everything on her, but he had little choice. 100 years in the future, the only AI body that remained in complete form without evolution or modification was Diva’s, as her status as the first autonomous AI meant she was soon turned into a museum exhibit. This is a wonderfully awesome detail to me, as it has a parallel in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica: the human race was saved by an obsolete museum ship the evil Cylons couldn’t hack.

Matsumoto wants Diva to understand that even if she was originally programmed to be a singer, in the very near future she’ll be relegated to an inert, silent artifact, and become the longest of long shots of a researcher trying to prevent humanity’s destruction. He scolds her for letting “such a thing” as her singing mission jeopardize the Singularity Project.

But Diva tells him to take it back and defiantly shrugs the concrete off of her, and pulls off her torn jacket, saying it doesn’t matter for AIs how long they operate, but how they continue to operate. She still considers her mission is to sing. To accomplish that, Aikawa must live, but so must Kakitani. Also, she has to bring the whole building down.

So begins a rush from the lobby to the open observation deck near the top, where Diva takes Aikawa’s hand, breaks into a run as the bombs detonate (after all of Toak evacuates), and helps ensure Aikawa is able to leap from the one toppling building to the next. He lands hard, but he’s otherwise fine as Diva follows him with a bad-ass balletic leap. Kakitani catches her in midair with the full moon as a backdrop, shattered glass flying everywhere. Everything about this scene just owns so hard.

After Aikawa thanks her and they part ways, she asks Matsumoto if there’s a chance he could get the AI naming laws passed anyway, but Matsumoto assures her that won’t happen. Aikawa proved a more effective legislator in death than he’ll prove to be in life.

His career will flag and he’ll be voted out before any law sees daylight. And yet, the way Aikawa repeats to himself what Diva said about “not how long you live, but how you live”, I could almost see Aikawa suddenly growing a spine, thereby undermining Matsumoto’s mission.

While Diva’s mission is accomplished for now, Matsumoto playfully takes her to task for introducing far too many unpredictable variables, and strongly recommends she avoid “all or nothing” strategies when she’s all they—and humanity—have. Her “antics” in the Die Hard operation make him shudder to think what’s ahead for them. From a vantage point that overlooks the city, Matsumoto points out the colossal Arayashiki tower looming further out on the horizon.

He says the taller the tower gets, the more AIs in society will evolve. Call it a barometer of their progress; they want the tower to remain as short as possible—even bring it down if necessary. Diva and Matsumoto shake hands, and Diva agrees that she’ll continue helping him stave off the future war—but only as long as it isn’t in violation of her mission to make people happy through song.

Matsumoto is also quick to mention that while they did bring down a huge skyscraper tonight, the collapse caused no deaths and the overall changes to the timeline were within an acceptable range. He goes on to warn Diva that while they technically have the ability to alter history however they like, Diva’s actions will fall strictly within the limits of the Singularity Project.

When Diva looks as if she’s contemplating who and what else she can save in the present while also saving the future, Matsumoto commandeers an industrial power loader straight out of Aliens and, before even Diva can react, uses it to violently smash her against a far away wall. His tone becomes far more grave as he warn her “Let’s not do this.”

He cannot allow her “personal calculations” to unduly affect history or cloud the mission to prevent the excessive evolution of AIs, and that’s it. That means, despite seeing a newspaper article from a day from now in which a plane crash results in the death of her young friend Momoka, Diva is forbidden from tending to “every single accident in history.” Momoka looks out from her window seat and spots Diva moments before the plane explodes in a fireball, and all Diva can do is watch in horror and shed a tear.

Just when you thought Matsumoto would be a constant source of comic relief, he demonstrates his merciless devotion to sticking to the plan. It will be interesting to see if Diva remains cowed or if she finds small ways to rebel against Matsumoto’s—let’s face it, inhuman inflexibility. The future must be saved, but how it’s saved matters to Diva—just as how she continues to live is more important than how long she lives.

With this one-two punch of thrilling opening salvos, the curiously-titled Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song has already established itself as an early contender for Best Anime of 2021. I can’t wait to see how it shakes out.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 46 – Love Not Lest Ye Be Loved

Yue is in no mood for delays; he’s going to judge Sakura right here and now: she’ll either subdue him with her mastery of the cards, or she’ll lose and catastrophe will be unleashed. There’s just one problem: Sakura has no intention of fighting someone who just a few minutes ago was Yukito, a boy she deeply cares for. We learn Yukito never had any knowledge that he was really Yue, which only adds to Sakura’s reluctance to fight.

The thing is, Yue doesn’t care if Sakura cared about Yukito. If she won’t fight, then he’ll mop the floor with her, just like he did Syaoran. And holy crap does Sakura ever receive by far the worst beating of the entire series, getting tossed around like a ragdoll before being ensnared in the vines of the Wood card she herself summoned. The fact she doesn’t even know that Wood is controlled by the Moon (i.e. Yue) irritates him even more as he passes his final judgment: Sakura loses.

The catastrophe that shall occur due to her failure? Everyone in the world will forget about the person they love or care about most. Kero-chan was right: it isn’t a “world-ending” kind of apocalypse. After she’s completely enveloped in vines, Sakura wakes up in bed, and there’s even the Cardcaptor Sakura doll on her headboard.

She has her normal morning routine, but Yukito vanishes when she spots him, while Tomoyo and Syaoran are no longer warm or friendly, but mere acquaintances. Same with Chiharu and Yamazaki…and Rika doesn’t even like that teacher she likes!

Having had adequate time to take in this horrifying bad future (or at least the equivalent of such from her perspective), Sakura runs to Yukito’s gran’s house, only to find it abandoned and in poor repair. She breaks down in tears in the bamboo forest, but then something happens: she starts hearing the voices of everyone she loves, first calling her name, then singing the song Tomoyo sang (and which Song copied).

Then she hears Mizuki’s bell clang, and she bursts out of the vine prison, waking from her helldream and returning to Tokyo Tower. Turns out the bell was also furnished by Clow Reed and used by Mizuki to give the Cardcaptor one—and only one—last chance against Yue.

This time, Sakura uses her own magical power to draw not from the Sun or the Moon, but her own personal stars, and a new wand is forged that allows her to summon Windy—the first Clow Card she ever captured—and restrain Yue without him being able to counter.

Sakura tells Yue what he never thought he’d hear, that she understands now how much Clow Reed meant to him, and why he never wanted another master after Reed died. However, Sakura isn’t offering to become Yue’s master or a replacement for Reed; she wants them to be friends, plain and simple, making the world better together.

Yue thus judges Sakura to be the winner of their little duel, and she has a brief stop up in the stars to meet with Clow Reed, who is grateful Sakura was able to locate and follow the path of “necessities disguised as coincidences” he had set out—her own way.

After that, Sakura returns to the shrine grounds and is reunited with Tomoyo and Syaoran, taking both of a surprised Syaoran’s hands and dancing with him in pure unadulterated joy.

Kero and Yue acknowledge that due to her youth, Sakura isn’t quite ready for their true forms full-time, so they agree to return to their disguises for the time being. That means Kero-chan is back to being a pint-sized plushie, while Yue returns to the form of Tsukishiro Yukito.

Sakura’s adorable dance with Syaoran, paired with her far more understated reaction to Yukito’s return seems to signal the start of a transition from her feelings for Yukito/Yue—whom she knows will always love Clow above all—to Syaoran, who is, well, an actual human being.

And that does it for the grand Clow Card arc and the second season of Cardcaptor Sakura! My stars, has this show been a balm in these times. While this finale wasn’t my absolute favorite of the series (that might be “Sakura’s Dizzy Fever Day”) it definitely makes the top five, merely by dint of its vital story, cinematic scope and utterly gorgeous animation. On to season three!

Dropped: Kabukichou Sherlock – Case Closed

This was a tough one, but as we always say, when you know you’re done with a show, you just know. Sherlock seems content to continue its lighthearted and zany cases-of-the-week while, meanwhile, a teenager is in prison for murdering a monster who tore out and ate his invalid twin sister’s reproductive organs.

The tonal dissonance has grown too intense. I can’t enjoy the new cases while I know Moriarty is being abused behind bars. I realize there’s no getting around the fact he committed a murder himself, but he deserved a break. Sherlock shoulders some of the responsibility for getting a child and a victim so involved in the case, but when it came time to deal with the culprit, he lost control.

Even if Sherlock reckons with that failure and Moriarty is given early release, the show’s fast-and-loose attitude towards narrative seriousness has poisoned my emotional investment in the show beyond repair. It was a decent enough first cour; I just wish the show had ended with one.—Preston

Kabukichou Sherlock – 13 – Holes in Their Hearts

A dreary pall of despair is immediately cast on the second half of Kabukicho Sherlock as Watson, Sherlock, and Mrs. Hudson visit James in prison. He’s trying to keep a brave face, but there are clear signs he’s receiving beatings from other inmates.

It’s gut-wrenching to see such a bright kid of such potential to help people behind bars, but he doesn’t try to run away from the fact he chose to murder Jack, and this was the consequence.

Mycroft pays a visit to Holmes’ house and thoroughly examines it, while a client-of-the-week arrives with a murder case. As Sherlock starts to unravel the case on the spot, Watson is happy his friend is able to stay busy.

Mycroft tells Watson how Holmes left his accomplished family for Kabukichou because he was missing something very profound at home. It was a void he was able to at least partially fill in his new role as detective and performer of mystery-solving rakugo.

It turns out that rakugo was James’ idea, suggested to Sherlock soon after the two met quite by chance (the fact that Sherlock’s brother was James’ father’s secretary for five years was mere coincidence). When his mother took her life and even before losing his twin sister to Jack, James had a similarly large hole in his heart that Kabukichou and the people in it managed to fill.

Now he feels alone again, as his attackers in prison grow more brazen and one of his protectors being beaten half to death and being released early. It’s just a horrible situation all around. No matter how many cases Sherlock solves, as long as James is in prison (and danger) the emptiness and despair will always creep back into the spaces between the cases.

Vinland Saga – 23 – Adrift At Sea

Following the thorough and decisive physical and emotional ownage cast upon him by Askeladd, Thorfinn is quite literally lost. Limping through the mud, his arm searing with pain and the blood still on his face, he can’t be bothered to do much of anything, aside from engage in a bit of street brawling and get arrested and thrown in jail.

Canute, meanwhile, begins the intricate dance of death with his father Sweyn at the council of elders. The king embraces his son and thanks the gods for returning him and Thorkell, then appoints Canute to rule the fertile and prosperous lands of Mercia, hard won by his leal service. To Askeladd’s eyes, everything is going as he had foreseen…right up until it doesn’t.

While the king is playing nice, he adds a caveat that, intentionally or not, changes the game completely: announcing his intention to open up a new front against Wales in the Spring. This leaves Askeladd scrambling to think of a counter-move that will still net Canute the crown without setting his beloved homeland ablaze. He doesn’t come up with one here, indicating he underestimated the king’s wits. And Floki definitely notices Askeladd going pale (as Ash!) upon hearing Wales.


As for Thorfinn, he’s probably where he should be considering how he’s basically squandered the last eleven years of his life on a meaningless, self-defeating, futile quest for revenge. Leif Erikson hears he’s been locked up, and visits the jail to try to snap him out of this profound slump, first by considering it a matter of personal honor to return Thorfinn to Iceland.

That doesn’t go over so well, so Leif offers him something else: The New World: Vinland. Perhaps there, Thorfinn can gain a new, more fulfilling purpose. To his credit, Thorfinn sits up and doesn’t immediately dismiss the offer. Here’s hoping he takes it, especially if things with Askeladd turn sideways.

Vinland Saga – 22 – How to Kill Someone You Hate

Before the latest Thorfinn-Askeladd duel, Thorkell asks Prince Canute who he wants to win, as it who he’d bet money on. Canute doesn’t care who wins. His only task is to stop the duel before someone dies. Ever the King-in-waiting, Canute, looking further out than anyone. The prince then puts the question to Thorkell, who says he’s got Askeladd in this one. When asked why, particularly when Thorfinn beat him, Thorkell goes in real close, and again Canute shows how much he’s matured by not flinching.

Why Askeladd? “Just a feeling. It’s his aura.” Thorkell isn’t kidding. Askleadd just mercy-killed his only friend not a minute ago, and Bjorn’s body is still warm when the duel with Thorfinn takes place. Only it’s not much of a duel. As much of an age advantage Finn might have, he’s missing a fully-functioning arm, and he’s so angry and obsessed with finally cutting his father’s murderer’s throat, he’s rendered an absolute joke of a fighter.

Askeladd, as “in the zone” as a warrior can be, tosses his sword away, so confident he can put Thorfinn down with his bare hands. And he does. Thorkell is disappointed. But Askeladd is fed up with Thorfinn, and moves to deliver a killing blow, seemingly stopped only by a direct order from Canute.

From there, Askeladd declares Thorfinn an exhausting, unrepentant idiot, because he fights like an idiot, both by going into the duel injured, letting his temper get the best of him, and letting his win over Thorkell inflate his opinion of himself. So Askeladd has a seat on the remnant of what could be a Roman wall, and gives his life story, in hopes of teaching the boy “how to kill someone you hate”.

Thorfinn and Askeladd are alike in many ways, but while they both had frail mothers, their childhoods were vastly different. Thorfinn lived in a comfortable, cozy, loving, free family; Askeladd’s mother was a slave his father Olaf raped, and Olaf didn’t bother even naming his bastard children. At age eleven, Askeladd (so named because of his propensity for being covered in ash and soot) had to keep his mother alive as well as himself.

Despite their dire situation, he and his mother were descendants of Artorius, and she never stopped believing that one day he would return from paradise and free his people from bondage and despair. But one day, when his mother snapped and recklessly approached Olaf in the streets, and Olaf raised his sword to kill her, Askeladd knew: Artorius would never return.

That meant someone else—not a hero or a god, just a person—had to save his mother, and himself. For Askeladd, that person was him. Despite having never been trained in swordsmanship, he picked up a blade and used it, putting up a decent fight against Olaf and finally gaining his attention. Far from angry this child attacked him, Olaf sees potential in young Ash, and brings him into his hall.

For two years, Askeladd was trained by his father and half-brothers in both bow and blade, and became someone trusted, accepted and adored by all. Then, one night, the 13-year-old Askeladd made his move, plunging a sword into his father’s throat and killing the only witness, a woman sharing his bed. The sword belonged to the black sheep of the legitimate brothers, and so the murder was pinned on him, not Askeladd.

Olaf’s guard was down, and Askeladd had already determined a path to inheriting his property. Then and only then he struck, with all the certainty his poor mother had that Artorius would come. His people waited 50o years for their hero to arrive, and in the meantime suffered and stagnated. Askeladd only waited two years, until the time he knew he could kill the one he hated.

It’s a masterful story, masterfully told by Askeladd’s seiyu Uchida Naoya, who deserves all the awards.

It’s a stark contrast to Thorfinn, who has been trying to kill Askeladd since the moments after his father died, believing that somehow losing his temper, shouting loudly, and waving his sword around could lead to victory. In this way, Vinland Saga subverts the shounen formula of prevailing by doing all three of those things! His belief that victory will eventually come has been just as futile as Askeladd’s mother’s dream of Artorius’ return.

While it took Askeladd only two years to kill Olaf, it’s been ten years for Thorfinn, and he’s no closer to killing Askeladd. If anything, he’s less likely to do so now that he’s endured so many injuries in battle. He cannot contest Askeladd’s assertion that he’s an idiot, because Askeladd had an objectively worse past and achieved his revenge in less than a fifth of the time it’s taking Finn.

Askeladd’s final barbs before carrying Bjorn away to be buried, about Thorfinn being no better than a dog chasing after food and being “useful” since it’s so easy to “pay” him with these occasional duels he’ll never win, rankles Thorfinn anew, but he can barely stand, and Canute has to prop him up and insist he let his wounds heal before trying again.

Canute also asks Askeladd why he doesn’t just seek the throne himself, Askeladd laughs. Canute is far more suited to being king than either Askeladd or Sweyn. Askeladd considers himself “just a Viking.” If Vikings are anything, they’re decisive, and act to further their interestrs? Had he followed his mother’s path of simply waiting for a hero who will never come, he’d have died long ago.

To be alive today to teach whippersnappers valuable lessons, he became what he hated. Kingship is out of the question.

Fruits Basket – 17 – Paying It Forward

Uotani Arisa was a broken and rudderless teen, subsumed by dirt and blood from pointless beatings; lost in the darkness. Things were briefly made worse when her idol Kyouko turned out to be the “lame” doting mom of the even lamer and impossibly sweet Tooru.

And yet, when Arisa is alone and on the run from more beating than she can take in a day, who does she barrel into once more but that sweet and polite Tooru, who immediately senses her friend is in danger, grabs her by the arm, and runs.

At Tooru’s apartment, Arisa finds herself back in an atmosphere of warmth, tranquility and love that is so foreign to her it’s uncomfortable. She figures her dirty delinquent self wouldn’t change even if she had such an atmosphere at her home, with her dad. Nevertheless, she’s jealous of it, and she wants it.

Tooru Kyouko are more than willing to share it with her, and to soothe her crushing loneliness that has been the core of her struggles in life so far. Back in the present, we see that Arisa is no longer lonely, and loves Tooru and Saki very much. That’s when the three young delinquent wannabes finally confront Arisa, but she ignores them as if they were mere gnats.

While her story about how she became besties with Tooru is complete, there remains the rest of her story: how she became the strong, beautiful, wonderful person she is. It’s a story she doesn’t tell the Souma boys, but is generous enough to share with us.

Hanging out with Tooru and Kyouko is a positive force for change in Arisa, but that change doesn’t come as quickly or easily as removing the stems peas. She may have returned to school and studies with Tooru, but her teachers assume she’s bullying her, while her gang takes none to kindly to her efforts to go straight.

Other students are weirded out by Tooru hanging out with Arisa all the time, and rumors spread about Tooru actually being a delinquent beneath a goody-goody facade. To Arisa’s relief and joy, Tooru pays such rumblings absolutely no mind. She’s going to make an extra muffin for her dear friend Uo-chan, no matter what anyone says.

But while the bond of friendship between Tooru and Arisa can’t be easily broken, the same doesn’t go for Arisa’s bones. While in the present she credits Kyouko and Tooru with saving her, it’s not like Arisa did nothing to help her own cause, and while she might not have known it at the time, going back to her gang to tell them she’s out and facing the consequences was actually the first step towards saving herself.

Thanks to her older gangmate Akimoto, Kyouko learns of the horrible beating Arisa’s doomed to receive if no one intervenes, so the Crimson Butterfly dons her duster for one last rodeo, intervening in the fight, extracting the battered Arisa, and carrying her back to her place on piggyback.

As Arisa demeans and insults her idiotic self for not realizing sooner she was on the wrong path, Kyouko offers some sage life advice, having experience quite a bit of that life herself. She tells Arisa that sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to realize you want to change; and that neither the light nor purity of life she seeks would be possible without the presence of darkness and dirt from which she emerged.

Arisa didn’t understand the feelings she bore until she got hurt exploring them, but now that she’s come out the other side, she knows with the clarity of a mountain lake what she wants to do: to become a strong, beautiful, wonderful best friend in whom Tooru can take pride.

So Arisa abandons her delinquent past to become just that, and eventually she and Tooru befriend Saki as well. And while she is utterly devastated when Kyouko suddenly dies, she’s also eternally grateful for the things Kyouko gave her and the things she left behind, with which she can not only continue to be a better person with a kinder soul, but pay the love and kindness and wisdom she received to others.

That means not simply socking the redheaded delinquent punk (Ishi-chan) who keeps bothering her, but offering her words of advice she wished she’d received earlier: Stop acting out while you still can, before something serious happens. If you need someone to scold you, I’ll do it anytime.

Ishi is immediately smitten by Arisa’s blend of warmth and coolness, and her two friends fall in line, becoming fans of Uotani Arisa on the spot. After the credits, Ishi not only cosplays as Arisa, but wears the exact same outfit Arisa wore the day they met! Needless to say, this is exceedingly cute and heartwarming.

Just like Arisa idolizing someone like Kyouko instead of a less savory gang member, it’s almost as if the universe is looking out for these three still very young kids who have a lot of life yet to live before giving up.

Because they chose the right woman to idolize, just as she did. And perhaps, one day, when they’re better people, they’ll pay Arisa’s wisdom and kindness forward, and help others become better too. Along with Tooru—essentially a demigoddess of love and kindness—this is the enduring gift Kyouko left behind, and why she’ll never really be gone.

One Punch Man 2 – 08 – Call of the Heroes

Even if Suiryu thought he deserved the tournament win (he doesn’t), he wouldn’t have had more than a few moments to savor it, as Goketsu, escorted by three monstrous crows, crashes the award ceremony. Once a martial arts champion and believed killed by monsters, he was actually given the choice to join them, which he did.

He extends that same choice to the assembled fighters: eat the monster cells and become like him, or die. Some, like Choze, are eager to see how much stronger they can get. Others, like Suiryu himself, aren’t interested in becoming ugly brutes. Instead, he asks a pretty girl if she’ll go on a date with him if he takes care of the monsters.

While Suiryu holds his own and dispatches Monster-Choze, he’s absolutely no match against Goketsu. As Garou picks a fight with Watchdog Man in City Q, Goketsu treats Suiryu like a ragdoll, easily absorbing his strongest attacks and breaking his arm.

To Suiryu’s surprise, Snek and Lightning Max, who had been flicked away by Goketsu earlier, are back for round two, standing their ground like the professional Heroes they are. They made sure to grab effects crucial to their success: Snek’s suit and Max’s shoes.

Ultimately, they’re no more a match for Goketsu as Suiryu. Meanwhile, Bakuzan, who ate a bunch of cells, transforms into a Threat Level-Dragon monster, although still not one that can push Goketsu around. For his part, Goketsu is ordered back to the Monster Association base on the outskirts of City Z, an urges Bakuzan to follow.

But before he does, Bakuzan takes his time wailing on the already battered Suiryu, taking great pleasure in beating down someone much weaker. It’s then when Suiryu, so independent and fun-loving thanks to his good looks and tremendous strength and fighting ability, is brought so low he has no choice but to call out to someone, anyone to help.

And who should answer that call but Saitama, whose absence this entire episode can be chalked up to him either running home or to the locker room to put on his superhero costume. The same man whose punch Suiryu estimated would have ended him had it not been held back; the same opponent who only lost because he was wearing a wig—he’s Suiryu’s only hope. Thankfully, it’s a good bet Saitama’s got this.

Happy Sugar Life – 04 – This is Also Love

The blood from the beating of Mitsuboshi by two sociopath guys dredges up unpleasant memories for Shio: those of her mother saying she’ll never forgive her for letting go of her hand. Uh, that’s really unreasonable, Shio’s Mom! Why is everyone in this show have to be so goddamn INSANE smh.

Satou rolls the dice and manages to take out both of the guys with taser (which thankfully didn’t die on her; anime tasers are very fickle) and a knife (gouging out the eyes of one). She scoops up the unconscious Shio and whisks her home to her suddenly very insecure feeling “castle.”

It’s clear Shio had problems well before Satou met her, but Satou has similar traumatic memories of interacting with an adult guardian who was not okay in the head. In this case, Satou’s aunt, who was always covered in bruises and bandages, explaining them away to her niece as “another kind of love.” Yeaaah, notsomuch. Control is not love.

The next morning things seem to be back to normal, but the previous night Satou saw fit to install exterior locks to keep her Happy Sugar Girl “safe” (i.e. under control). Words of trust are no longer sufficient, not after last night, the outcome of which Satou is at least lucid enough to know was extremely lucky.

This is a show where it’s almost never good when two people are together (except I guess for Satou and Shio), but things aren’t much better when anyone is alone: Satou’s teacher is suspicious that her aunt isn’t answering the phone, but also just wants Satou to insult and punish him more.

Mitsuboshi witnessed Satou making off with Shio, posters of whom he’s plastered all over his room, because now he’s a demented lolicon who has become fixated on the girl be belives to be his “angel” and salvation. Even Shio has her private secret: scrawling a crude drawing in the closet while in a trance and chanting “spinning.” 2018, AMIRITE?

Shio snaps out of it when Satou comes home early, which is because her cafe staff was sent home early due to the violent attacks in the vicinity. Still, Satou needs to keep working so she can keep saving to buy (hopefully not rent) a stronger “castle” in which to preserve her HSL. While she only speaks of an expensive dream to her co-workers, her brown-haired kohai is impressed by her dedication.

That night, after giving up on cleaning the blood off the wall of the murder room (maybe she needs to call The Wolf), Satou gazes at her account balance on her phone, which I may henceforth call Chekhov’s Account Balance on her phone, since, at some point, those savings could either be spent or vanished via some foul play. In any case, Satou doesn’t really love Shio; she just wants something all hers that she can control.

Meanwhile, the drawing of Chio’s mother lurks menacingly in the closet—another stain Satou can’t remove—while at the closed cafe the brown-haired kohai breaks into Satou’s locker and smells her clothes with alarming gusto. What can you say—she’s a psycho magnet.