Alice to Zouroku – 05

(In an attempt to balance our workloads, I’ve taken over Alice to Zouroku reviewing duties from Preston.)

In this episode apparently brought to you by SNICKERS® (You’re not you when you’re hungry. Eat a SNICKERS®.) Minnie C doesn’t easily give up her captives, so she and Ichijou Shizuku enter a long, sustained battle full of CGI effects that holds together reasonably well, considering the show itself has never striven for ufotable-level precision.

Minnie C puts on a good fight, but Shizuku eventually wears her down due to her superior power: the ability to summon any number of 666 weapons and 13 grimoires from a magical storeroom derived from an anime she used to watch.

That’s not as satisfying a powers-origin story as, say, Minnie C, but the major difference is that Shizuku is fighting for others, while Minnie is only fighting for herself, angry at the world for taking away her darling. When she runs out of energy and Shizuku stands triumphantly over her, I really feel for Minnie C when she apologizes to her husband for continuing to be alive, because she’s completely wrong: her husband wants her to live. That means finding another reason for living beyond being with him.

Meanwhile, the now-freed (and largely static during the battle) Alice celebrates and underscores her and Zouroku’s new freedom by floating with him high up into the sky, something he’s fine with after being cooped up on that container ship so long. He’s also fine that Alice is accepting of his and Sanae’s love and invitation to join their family, no matter what kind of being she truly is.

Minnie C is shipped back to the states, and the organization that employed her and the other ability-users and pursued is dismantled by the police. Alice takes to the granddaughter role with gusto, further charming her new big sister Sanae, who has no end of plans to use Alice’s newly-restored energy to have “fun”, a concept once foreign to Alice.

Shizuku and Ryuu rest easy, knowing all’s well that ends well. Ryuu almost seems to want to will the next crisis into being by wishing another “incident” would come along, but until then, it’s nice to see Alice, Zouroku, and Sanae simply having a normal dinner on a normal night, in the normal lives they hope to maintain even after all that’s come to light.

In fact, this could be the finale to a five-part miniseries, as it leaves me wondering what the show has lined up next.

Alice to Zouroku – 04

Nearly the entirety of this episode is spent in the cramped dark interior of a Hummer in which Minnie C continues to restrain Sana and lectures her about the fact that she’s not human, but rather a random but extremely powerful phenomenon that’s taken the form of a little girl.

Their scenes feel numerous and repetitive, until Sana meets someone who looks like her older self in her subconscious, then musters the energy to transport Zouroku into the car with her and Minnie C.

This occurs after Zouroku makes it clear he not only wants Sana back, but wants to make her a part of his and Sanae’s family. Sanae concurs, but hopes in the future her gramps will be more open and communicative with her and Sana.

When Zouroku is in the Hummer, he wastes no time lecturing Minnie C, who is unquestionably up to some of the “crooked stuff” he hates so much. Minnie can justify her beastly actions all she likes; as far as Zouroku is concerned, Sana is a little girl who doesn’t deserve this treatment…even if she isn’t really a little girl (and the jury is very much still out on that).

When Minnie starts shooting her service pistol, Sana tries to surrender, but Zouroku won’t let her call herself a monster or a waste of time. It’s his choice what he gets himself into, and now that he’s into this, he’s committed to her well-being.

That being said, neither Sana nor Zouroku have the power to oppose Minnie C, which is why seeing Ichijou Shizuku arrive at the scene to rescue them is necessary.

Her appearence in her suit left me doubting she was the same “cosplaying” girl who saved Sana from Minnie in the first ep, but now at least we know she’s a “Cabinet Information Research Office Secret Service agent”, and Ryuu and her superiors are well aware of her abilities.

This episode felt like it dragged the rescue out, and as a result, it was very monologue-heavy. Also, Ryuu’s assurances everything would be fine (which they turned out to be) kinda sapped the tension. I’m glad Sana and Z were rescued, and have a powerful ally who knows how to properly use her powers.

Alice to Zouroku – 03

In the aftermath of Sana’s big pig-conjuring hiccup, she’s loath to come right out and apologize to Zouroku (as any little kid would be), but playing Good Cop Bad Old Man, Ryuu manages to get Sana to wear a tracking device so he and Shizuku can help keep her safe.

He also wants Zouroku to go ahead and adopt Sana, which is a big step, but isn’t necessarily out of the question for the ol’ buzzard. Sana is a highly believable (and adorable) little kid throughout, constantly asking for juice but taking offense when Sanae asks if she needs help in the potty.

Meanwhile, Kitou takes of the kid gloves and sends in Minnie C Tachibana (again) to retrieve Sana. While en route to her mission we learn quite a bit about Minnie that makes her both a more sympathetic character and explains why she’s on the side of the bad guys.

Minnie met and immediately fell in love with and married an American marine, but when he was killed defusing a bomb in Iraq, she was a lost at sea (figuratively). That is, until she was reborn as a Dream of Alice out of a desire to be held in his big hairy arms – the arms we saw in episode one.

We also learn, I believe for the first time, that Sana’s elaborately costumed saviour from that first episode was actually Shizuku; they have the same blue mirror gate, after all. What’s interesting about this is that while Minnie, the Twins, and the Artist are all under the control of the facility, Shizuku is not only free but leads a normal life.

This is probably why despite Sana possessing power many magnitudes higher than she, Shizuku is working to keep Sana free. At her young age, she still has a chance to lead a normal life. But controlling her powers is key.

And what powers. In another flashback we see Kaitou showing Minnie C the “Wonderland” Sana conjured with a thought. Among the Dreams of Alice, Sana is clearly the crown jewel for them, and the facility wants to keep studying her under it’s determined if others can gain the same level of power.

Minnie C is fully on board with this, because if she can attain Sana’s power, she might be able to bring back her husband. That seems like a long shot, but she clearly thinks its worth it and has dedicated her life to that goal, even though Sana’s power specifically does not harm humans…for now.

Minnie C and Shizuku, then are diametrically opposed in their treatment of Sana. Minnie C has absolutely no compulsions about violently restraining Sana and threatening to break her neck. Sana is The Objective, nothing more. For Shizuku, as well as Zouroku and Sanae, Sana is a little girl who deserves better than lab rat status simply because she has supernatural power.

We leave Sana in the firm hands of Minnie’s beloved, and the good guys only have the faintest idea where she might have gone. But Shizuku is flying through the city, hoping she’s going in the right direction, and won’t rest until she’s found and re-rescued. Hopefully she won’t be too late before Minnie C’s obsession allows Sana to be hurt any further.

Alice to Zouroku – 02

Last week Sana met the ‘vinegar’ (Zouroku); this week she meets the ‘honey’, Z’s lovely, kind, and capable granddaughter Sanae, voiced by Toyosaki Aki. Sana is in Defense Mode at first, but Sanae manages to disarm her with a pig puppet, something, incidentally, Leon did to get Matilda’s mind off the trauma she’d just endured.

Sana didn’t witness her family’s murder, but she did witness…something very bad, which is why she had to leave the facility. But outside the facility is extremely hazardous, both in terms of what could happen to Sana and what she could accidentally do to others with powers she’s not 100% in control of.

Still, the Kashimura residence is a great safe house to demonstrate her powers writ small, so to speak, if “writ small’ means conjuring a whole herd of pigs upon seeing Sanae’s puppet, to creating a mammoth pancake when she can’t wait the nebulous “a bit” for seconds.

Sanae gets Sana into more contemporary clothes, fixes her hair by hand, and fills her belly. All the while, Sana inspects the home, which is a stark contrast from the cold, sterile research facility. Also, that big pancake, like any food, required a massive transfer of energy, leaving Sana tuckered-out.

When the research facility comes up in conversation, Sana starts to talk, which is the best way to process what happened, deal with it, and move on. She mentions how everybody was either very professional or very nice, and how she didn’t even know how to communicate before meeting the twins, expanding our knowledge of Sana’s abilities. Interestingly, the memories seem to be narrated in two voices: the young Sana, and an adult Sana voiceover.

When talk of what she found in the deeper levels of the facility (which involved huge crystals and lots of blood), Sanae is there to give her a needed hug. This new place may be ‘weird’, and more cramped and less clean than the facility, but it is where she currently belongs, at least until a proper plan of action can be formulated. Sanae makes sure Sana knows she is safe, and that everything will be okay.

Energized by her meal, her nap, and her hug, Sana is ready to take on the facility now, and when she decides they’ll look for Zouroku, she and Sanae end up teleported to, in quick succession: high over Tokyo, on a tarmac as a plane lands, clinging to a rushing freight train…and Antarctica.

It’s clear, then, that while Sana has immense power to conjure anything and travel anywhere, she’s still a long way from controlling her powers, either their level, or keeping whims from becoming reality. Tackling the facility in this state would be reckless.

In another example of the unpredictability of those powers, Sana and Sanae finally return to Tokyo, it’s to Zouroku’s flower shop, and the pigs come along for the ride, destroying the shop in short order. It’s another blunder, but far better for such blunders to occur in a controlled, safe environment than at the facility where many other ability-users will be deployed against her, even the twins.

Sana still has her ability-using ally whom we caught a glimpse of last week—she said they’d “meet again soon.” But I’m glad Zouroku’s granddaughter has been introduced to smooth Z’s rough edges, and the warm and cozy slice-of-life with Sanae and Sana was appreciated and a nice respite from what is sure to be more action and danger going forward.

Tsugumomo – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: One day, Kagami Kazuya’s sakura-patterned obi, given to him by his late mother, takes the form of a blue-haired girl named Kiriha revealing she is a tsukumogami.

After saving him from an attacking amasogi, Kiriha assigns Kazuya as her “servant” and shares his living space, remaining as inseparable as they were when she was a mere inanimate obi.

Roll Credits…

Even with a rather poor translation, I don’t think I missed much nuance here. Kazuya is defined by his utter lack of distinguishing features or personality traits—other than carrying around an obi and smelling it all the time, which would be kinda sweet, I guess, if it wasn’t also a bit weird.

Along with his one-note “class-rep” character, and his one-note big sister/guardian, there isn’t much depth to be found here, only reminders of shows past (and half-hours wasted on said shows).

We end up seeing many sides of Kiriha, and to her credit, between her superior, imperious attitude, propensity for making messes, and love of pudding, she also has Kazuya’s back (both out in the world and in the bath) and seems to mean well as a companion/protector.

But rather than working in her favor, these myriad sides only served to paint a muddled picture of who and what she is, beyond an once-inanimate object given (pretty) human form. Also, if you’re going to have blue hair and red eyes, you best come correct.

Throw in bland-as-paste Kazuya and a not particularly great-looking production (aside from one okay action scene) and there’s not quite enough here to encourage me to continue.

Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 13 (Fin)

WE’RE SO SCREWED

As expected, the final Hibike! Euphonium 2 of the season is an epilogue; it even has ‘epilogue’ in the episode title. The third years are given a proper sendoff with lovely musical performances accompanied by montages of both this season and the last.

Yoko and Natsuki take up the mantle of new president and vice president, and the former can hear the loss of the third years.

Really nice lighting effects in this scene
Really nice lighting effects in this scene

So can Taki-sensei, who acknowledges that every year school bands essentially take a big step back due to the outgoing talent. That experience must be replaced with the remaining members plus the rawer talent of incoming first years.

The same band that made it to the Nationals no longer exists. The one that intends to make it back will be an entirely new one: new leadership, new composition, new style.

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Since Kumiko and Reina are first-years, they have not one but two more years to achieve their goal of National Gold. And they seem as optimistic and determined as ever to get there, despite their bronze finish this year and the loss of so much talent.

Their problems going forward are the same problems all school bands face, and secondary problems — such as Yoko and Natsuki clashing — are sure to crop up.

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The key (no pun intended), I suppose, is to avoid really big dustups such as the ones that took place before Kumiko and Reina arrived at Kitauji; the kind of conflicts that actually hindered the band’s performance, and the wounds of which have now all but faded.

And so we get a nice, long, heartfelt goodbye as all the seniors play for their juniors, then vice versa. There’s a commencement ceremony, where the goodbye hugs and wishes continue. And throughout this epilogue, Kumiko is sad and upset, all because Asuka is leaving.

Ah, so THAT'S where the show's title comes from. HUH!
Ah, so THAT’S where the show’s title comes from. HUH!

She runs all over the school grounds, increasingly desperate to find her. As usual, Asuka is trying to avoid “these kind of things”, but Kumiko won’t let her escape her, or her true feelings. Kumiko thinks she might have hated Asuka at first – but now all she feels is love. Romantic love? Perhaps it hews close to that, just as you could read her feelings towards Reina on top of that mountain last season.

But whatever specific kind of love it is, she’s got it, when she didn’t have it before. Asuka is someone she let into her life and personality, while continuing to hold back from Shuu (poor Shuu). Asuka is someone leaving, whom she doesn’t want to go. She has eyes for no third-year but Asuka.

And now she’s the chief euph, and her bandmates even remark how she sounds like Asuka. Like Mamiko, Asuka has helped shape and progress Kumiko’s musical development and identity. I’m unsure if there will be a Euph 3, but there’s plenty of great material to continue with.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 10

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Another week, another weak opponent with a sad story Rei must face, another dose of caustic venom from Kyoko. Remembering back to a Christmas where Kyoko’s dad gave him a shogi set instead of her, Rei admits he wants to hear the poison from Kyoko.

He must believe on some unconscious level that he deserves punishment for the pain he caused her. Kyoko is all too happy to oblige, but her shtick is getting a little old, and not just with me.

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Predictably, Rei defeats Mr. Yasui. It doesn’t even take that long. He can tell Yasui is trying his best to bring a victory home to his daughter on the last Christmas before his divorce. But Rei sees Yasui’s mistakes before he does.

That means he can see more moves ahead, which means Yasui never had a chance. Throughout the game, Rei feels like he’s walking on eggshells around the faintly alcohol-scented ol’ bastard, and doesn’t feel particularly good about dispatching him so easily.

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When Yasui slinks away without the bag containing a gift for his daughter, Rei tries to be a nice guy and gets the bag back to him. Yasui pretends it isn’t his at first, but Rei presses the issue and Yasui angrily snatches it away before continuing off, probably to get drunk.

All the while, I was thinking about how unwise it was for Rei to involve himself in the personal lives of the sadsack opponents he beats. They’re not your problem, dude. You gotta focus on winning matches so you can eat and pay the bills.

Turns out…he listened!

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WRONG, Trump, WRONG! Not everything is Rei’s fault! It’s his opponents’ faults they lost, because they weren’t good enough to beat him. He realizes there’s a “beast” inside of him, fighting for his survival, that will elicit no mercy once the battle has begun.

No matter how he became a shogi player, the fact of the matter is, he’s a Shogi Player, and a damn good one. He’s sick of feeling like shit for beating people…and allowing Kyoko to keep that river of shit flowing. Could this be a turning point?

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 12

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Shuu Sighting! Shuu Sighting! Kumiko and Shuu can’t sleep the night before the Nationals, and end up having drinks together by the vending machine. As always, they talk about mundane things. Shuu gives Kumiko a belated birthday present: a cute hairpin. Scene.

It’s these two in a nutshell. Here, in the middle of the night, the two are able to at least have a moment. It’s not a bit dramatic moment or anything, just a cordial acknowledgement of their history together, without any kind of indication either one of them know what to do from there. Sometimes I think the show revels in always teasing these two.

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Oh yeah, the Nationals! Kitauji fails to win Gold. They fail to win Silver, too. They end up with Bronze. Bronze, after all that! I guess they aimed too high, huh? Ah well, like the band, I had carried unreasonably high expectations, and while it stings to seem them essentially crash and burn, they didn’t do badly for a group so young, and the second and first years aren’t out of opportunities. Just getting to the Nationals was a goal they successfully achieved, and that’s nothing to sniff at.

When Taki-sensei is awarded on stage, the band doesn’t have a cheer arranged. Enter Reina, who yells out “I LOVE YOU!”, which Taki and everyone else hears, but not necessarily as a confession. Later, when Taki thanks Reina and expresses his worry no one in the band liked him, she piles on the praise, then makes it clear she “really does like him” – to which Taki is flattered, and walks away without a formal response. Hang in there, Reina!

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In better news, Asuka’s father, and judge in the competition, heard her, and through Taki-sensei, compliments her play as “beautiful” and is glad she kept at it. Frankly, I’m not sure why he couldn’t tell his daughter in person, but it seems to be enough for Asuka, who has to embrace Kumiko before completely breaking down with happiness.

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And finally, after a lot of looking around and chasing, Kumiko tracks down Mamiko, who did attend after all, to tell her she loves the Euph and loves concert band because of her, and she loves her. Mamiko yells back that she loves her too, and that’s the ep.

It was a bit odd not to hear any music, but it was always going to be hard to replicate the atmosphere of previous performances without seeming repetitive. Similarly, the Nationals didn’t feel any more “special” than the Regionals this time or last. It ends up being kind of a bronze episode (if a 9 is Silver and a 10 is Gold).

It felt more like an episode full of loose ends being tied up. That made for some enjoyable moments, but they felt isolated and disjointed. Still, the feels were felt on numerous occasions; oddly enough no more so than when Mizore fist-bumped Kumiko and looked so pleased about it.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 09

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Rei isn’t feeling great about having to bring down a guy who’s been playing more than twice as long as he’s been alive, and that feeling doesn’t improve when he spots his opponent, Matsunaga, praying at a local shrine and acting very erratic.

The old man’s inscrutability translates to his shogi game, which Rei can’t quite suss out, even to the point he wonders if Matsunaga is placing pieces randomly. He also starts to doubt if his opponent’s stress is real or all an act. Neither can we; his opaqueness makes for some entertaining human observation.

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When the match is over, and Rei wins, Matsunaga nearly falls down some stairs (the same stairs Rei was going to use to sneak away), and ends up treating the old man to a sumptuous feast and more than he can drink. Turns out Rei is a nice guy like Kyouko said, because he doesn’t leave the man’s side as long as he’s not certain he’ll be okay.

But he will be okay. The liquor greases the hinges of the door to Matsunaga’s heart, and he opens up to us and Rei. Rei may not be able to fathom forty years of shogi, but hearing the old man speak of the addictive elation of victory despite the bitterness of defeat (and he’s suffered a lot more defeats than Rei), he’s able to finally relate. Those are the same things he feels.

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Even if Rei claims to hate shogi, and Matsunaga can’t answer the question of whether he likes it, the fact of the matter is, they are both shogi players. So when Kyouko calls to gloat over Rei having to “strangle an old dog”, Rei proudly announces that Matsunaga will, in fact, not be retiring from shogi after all.

Rather than serve as a young, beautiful grim reaper for the old man, Rei, their match, and the night that followed, made him reconsider quitting the game, even after Rei beat him (that, and he really doesn’t want to do house chores).

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Matsunaga this week, as I’m sure Rei didn’t. But I was pleasantly surprised by the swiftness with which his character was fleshed out. This week was a sprawling profile of the guy, from his knowledge of Fukushima history to the drive to play not snuffed out by Rei. Sorry Kyouko – no win for you!

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 10

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It’s no coincidence Mamiko spends most of a scene scrubbing a pot she burned trying to make dinner. Mamiko wants to make up, not just with her parents, but with her sister as well. She’s scrubbing all the grease and grime that had amassed so that a new pot of soup can be made – a fresh start, without forgetting about what was said or what choices she made in the past.

As Kumiko volunteers to cook in her stead as she scrubs (she’s clearly the better cook of the two), Mamiko lays it all out candidly: how she thought going along with whatever her parents wanted was the adult thing to do, even though she wasn’t an adult at the time; how she resented Kumiko for being able to have fun with band; how she now regrets the choices she made, but is now ready to live her own life, hoping to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

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Kumiko always assumed her folks let her do as she pleased because they’d given up on her, because she had no promise. Mamiko doesn’t believe that; she just felt, as many older kids do, that her parents were taking a different approach with the younger kid; it’s what parents do. And before going to her room for a nap, Mamiko tells Kumiko to live her life too: be a kid when she’s a kid and an adult when she’s an adult; don’t be left with any regrets; learn from your suddenly awesome big sis.

While other friend-reconciling or concert-heavy episodes packed emotional and at times visceral punches, this may be my favorite episode of Euph2, because it’s the most personal one for Kumiko. She reacts to Mamiko’s news of leaving home with a stoic face, but on the train the next day, she suddenly bursts into tears. She is sad her sister is going, even if it’s what her sister wants…and probably needs.

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The episode brilliantly presents Mamiko as a parallel to Asuka, a connection I never really though about, but which makes perfect sense. I love how it’s Kumiko’s sister who provides a timely assist in terms of giving her a usable angle to go after an exceedingly stubborn Asuka.

Asuka is doing almost exactly what Mamiko did at her age, and while Kumiko didn’t do anything about that at the time – indeed, she didn’t even know what was going on, except that her sister was drifting away – she’ll be damned if she’s going to stand by and let Asuka go through with it unchallenged.

Challenge her Kumiko does, and Asuka, at least initially, is ready. She peppers Kumiko’s assertions with doubts like an expert debater. She keeps the focus on Kumiko’s argument rather than her problem, and even gets personal with Kumiko in a not-very-nice way, regarding her typical method of dealing with people.

She questions how someone like Kumiko, who herself tries to avoid hurting or getting hurt; who is “wishy washy” and keeps a safe distance; can expect people to tell her what they really feel, not just about Asuka coming back, but about anything.

 

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Kumiko is disheartened and temporarily stopped in her tracks, but the power of Mamiko’s words ring in her head and mix with Asuka’s euphonium, and Kumiko gets her second wind. Her voice rises in intensisty, tears stream from her cheeks as she confronts the heart of the matter.

She knows Asuka wants her father to hear her at the Nationals, and so does Kumiko herself. And she reminds Asuka that neither of them are adults yet, just high schoolers; and pretending to know everything and think “sucking it up and dealing” is the best course just isn’t right.

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Kumiko delivers an argument even Asuka didn’t quite expect, and moreso, delivers it with an honest passion Asuka can’t help but admire. Kumiko hurt her here, and let herself get hurt in return. The little blush on Asuka’s face is proof that that matters.

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Of course, Kumiko didn’t know if it would work when Asuka is suddenly called away. So when Asuka shows up the next day for band practice, Kumiko is gobsmacked. Many other band members tear up at her return.

And why? Well, Asuka proved she actually is special, at least when it comes to academics, scoring high enough in mock exams to have ammunition against her mom’s assertion she can’t succeed if she stays in band. Asuka takes her place beside Kumiko, and they prepare to practice.

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Asuka isn’t the only one Kumiko is surprised to see: Reina is also there. With everything that’s been going on with Mamiko and Asuka, Kumiko admits she’s kinda let Reina fall by the wayside.

By the look of Reina, I’d guess she’s either pissed off at the lack of Kumiko’s attention (doubtful) or has put the pieces together regarding Taki-sensei and his late wife, knows Kumiko knows, and is angry she didn’t tell her.

It’s almost as if the show intentionally made Reina and Kumiko such wonderful BFFs to this point so that when they hit a bump in the road, which seems to be the case here, it would have that much more impact. Of course, I’m just theorizing at some point. Gotta hear the next piece.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 08

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3GL doesn’t conform to the usual one-twentyish-minute-episode per week, usually splitting into two or more parts. Never has the transition between two segments been as dramatic as this week, but it works in the show’s favor: Nikaidou’s teaching sessions and all the cat stuff was cute, but was also getting kinda old. I will say that it was nice of Nikaidou to buy Rei a sofa bed. That apartment needs more stuff in it!

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The hook for the much darker and emotionally dense second segment is beautifully illustrated when Rei recalls seeing a bolt of lightning in a clear blue sky: the harbinger of a storm. It’s one of his most powerful memories, and it appears – in a sense – at his doorstep when he comes home one night in the form of his estranged (I guess?) adoptive sister, Kouda Kyouko.

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From the moment we see this present-day, all-grown-up Kyouko, it’s clear the camera is a stand-in for Rei’s gaze. The camera loves Kyouko. Her piercing eyes, her golden locks, her painted toes – it’s all lovingly, enthusiastically captured, and evokes quite a bit of thought about what’s going on beneath the surface of this human bolt of lightning.

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What’s certain is that for all her talk of not knowing Rei very well, she does know one thing perhaps no one else does: she knows he doesn’t love shogi, or at least his relationship to shogi isn’t a simple as love or hate. I loved the ambiguity of Kyouko’s visit – at times she seems almost half-nice – before saying something she knows full well will upset her adoptive little brother.

Some scenes, out of context, make it appear like Rei and Kyouko might be involved in that way; which wouldn’t be a first, considering one of Rei’s darker memories has her on top of him. But the segment unfolds like a fantastic, seductive two-person play, brimming with atmosphere, tension, and malice, it wrapped around me like that overly-fluffy futon. The soundtrack that accompanied it was fantastic.

Kyouko saves her sharpest dagger for the morning, as walks out the door, warning Rei that the match he probably has to win will be against an elderly player who will be demoted and retire if he loses. Kyouko is the bolt that brings pounding rain to Rei’s life. Rei’s better at shogi, but she’s better at mind games. And yet…I don’t loathe, or even dislike her.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 08

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That ominous cold close of Mamiko leaving the Oumae household was a taste of what was to come this week, with Kumiko getting so caught up in family unrest it literally makes her sick. That being said, she isn’t all that involved in said unrest, merely a witness, and not a happy one at that. Her sister Mamiko, who inspired her to get into music, now wants to become…a beautician.

Her Dad warns Mamiko that if she quits college, she’ll be cast out and cut off. Mamiko blames her folks for making her quit trombone (which, to Kumiko’s shock, she never wanted to quit), but Pops only accepts partial responsibility; to him, the blame rests on Mamiko for not being more forceful about what she wanted to do.

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Back at school, Asuka returns to practice, but just as quickly stops coming again after inviting Kumiko to her place to help study for exams, which would be a first. Kumiko quickly becomes quite ill, making the band two euphs down, while Taki informs the band that if Asuka can’t show up for practice, Natsuki will take her place at the Nationals. It’s kind of unsettling how quickly Asuka disappears from this episode halfway in.

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Kumiko is sent home by her friends, and after an odd encounter with the third-year Aoi, she ends up in bed, waking up to find Reina quietly sitting by her bed, waiting to spring into action and take care of her. Reina has taken a bit of back seat to others of late (though she hasn’t become as obscure as Shuuichi), so it’s nice to see her here, and to see how far these two have come in their friendship.

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Reina even gets to witness Kumiko getting fed up at her sister when she barges in to turn off a euph CD. Kumiko doesn’t hold her tongue, and lets Mamiko have it regarding her earlier assertion she never wanted to give trombone up. Mamiko retreats, telling her little sister she’ll “never understand how she feels.” Yikes.

But that’s not where things are left. Mamiko runs into Shuuichi in the lobby on her way out (Shuuichi, whose mother heard Mamiko was quitting college). Shuu’s voice proves crucial in getting Mamiko to introspect, and that night, Mamiko comes back in Kumiko’s room – not to complain or fight, but to ask for a recording of her Kumiko’s music.

There’s been a rift between these two sisters for a long time, not helped by their frustratingly implacable father who only seems to know how to sow and escalate rancor in the household. Maybe they can reconnect through music?

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 06

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Still basking in the glow of the band’s great victory and progression to the October Nationals, the girls relax a little at Kita High’s cultural festival. Kumiko, Hazuki and Midori try their hand at a maid cafe (so passe), and on her break Kumiko and Reina hang out a bit; all the while with Kumiko wondering whether to tell Reina what she knows about Taki-sensei.

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The festival also marks a rare appearance by Shuuichi, whom I sometimes forget exists. He’s kind of a weird but novel male romantic interest in that regard: he’s almost never on Kumiko’s mind, and she makes the same exact annoyed noise whenever she spots him, yet she still relies on him to help her get through the haunted house. Shuuichi has something to say to Kumiko, but the poor bastard is blocked by Reina dressed as a pretty scary ghost.

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Throughout the festival, Kumiko seems almost restless, and sure enough the “nonchalance” ends when a typhoon arrives, and she and the others get back into their routines, preparing for the run-up to some serious Nationals prep. But when Kumiko gets home, the colorful fun of her school’s festival is replaced by desaturated colors, a lack of eye contact, and an older sister who looks to her like a hypocrite now that she’s threatening to quit college.

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Kumiko, so quick to do what she can to help her friends (without getting too directly involved, mind you) is far less comfortable with her own personal problems, whether it’s whatever the hell is going on with Shuuichi (ahem, nothin’) or her family strife, her go-to move is to separate herself from the situation.

That leads to her ending up in Taki’s awesome Citroen Ami 8, as he offers her a ride home when her umbrella breaks. All of a sudden, Kumiko is up close and personal with a problem not her own: the Reina and Taki situation. And everything she sees and hears in this scene indicates Taki doesn’t seem ready to love anyone else anytime soon; after all, he still buys Italian Whites and wears his ring on the anniversary of his wife’s death. A

s lovely and mature as Reina is, I just don’t see it, and while I’m glad this didn’t descend in to a farce of Reina (or Shuuichi) spotting Kumiko being dropped off by Taki, it’s looking like Reina is setting herself up for heartbreak, whether or not Kumiko tells her anything.

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