The Duke of Death and His Maid – 09 – Secondborns Roasting on an Open Fire

It’s Christmas, and for the first time, Bocchan is going to host a party. Caph and Zain are coming, and so is Viola with the gift of a handkerchief for Rob. When their mom insists that Viola spend Christmas with “family” she does just that: by spending it with her dear brother. Strangely enough, Walter ends up doing so as well, as he replaces Viola’s driver in order to get a better idea of who he’s dealing with in Bocchan.

Zain ends up finally telling Caph she’s pretty while she’s apparently napping, but she was actually awake and heard his words. In her haste to see Rob, Viola drops her gift, which is picked up by Walter, who then finds a Santa costume in the hall and puts it on just as Caph crosses paths with him. Since Caph still believes in Santa she assumes the gift is for her.

As Caph and Viola bicker over the gift, Walter comes down the chimney in a cloud of soot and issues a challenge his older brother: the first one to discover the secret of the curse will become the new head of the family. As for their mother, well, she gets to eat dinner alone, because she’s an awful bitch who tried and failed to ruin at least two of her three kids!

As the new prologue to episodes states, Bocchan is never lonely, ever since he decided not to give up, and to instead spend his days together with Alice, whom he loves and who loves him in return. Alice very much wants a kiss under the mistletoe, and part of me thought this was the moment they learned the curse didn’t affect her…but she settles for sharing the “coldness” of the snow by lying down next to Bocchan after he trips and falls.

It’s a pleasant if somewhat static episode. I couldn’t care less about Walter and his challenge, but it was sweet to see Zain and Caph’s relationship take a baby step forward. As for the curse, there’s still three episodes to break it. Better get cracking, Bocchan!

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 08 – Beauty and the Grouch

This week’s first segment introduces us to Bocchan’s younger brother Walter, and…he’s a lot. First and foremost, he’s a bit of an arrogant prick, already measuring the drapes for his ascension to head of the family. He’s also got a complex about being called the secondborn son…even though that’s what he is. His goofy antics and physical comedy aside, Walter is not a good guy. At least Viola visits her big brother and treats him like a person!

While her official stance is neutral, I imagine Viola prefers Bocchan to Walter, and hopes he’ll break the curse. During her latest visit, she meets Caph, initially assumes she’s a burglar (not a bad instinct!) and attempts to tackle her, only to bounce off her bust. Then she sits on Caph and ties her up by the fire, which is the scene Rob walks in on, much to Viola’s dismay.

While Viola is charming, cute and fun to watch, the real meat of the episode comes in the final extended segment, during which both Bocchan and Alice play a game of chess during a snowy winter night and reminisce about a similar night years ago, when Alice was appointed Bocchan’s maid. Bocchan was in a much darker, more nihilistic emotional place then, and his first instincts were to dismiss Alice and suspect she’s laughing at him on the inside.

This is because, no doubt due in part to the trauma of suffering the witch’s curse, he doesn’t remember Alice. He certainly isn’t aware of just how momentous him taking her hand and helping her off the ground meant to her at that difficult time in her life. That’s right: the kid who now kills anything he touches once essentially saved Alice’s life…with his touch.

No matter how many insults Bocchan flings Alice’s way or derides her mere presence, or tells her he flat out hates her, Alice does not bend, at least not in front of him; we see a rare moment of her vulnerability after he leaves his room and sighs. When he gives her an ultimatum of cleaning his rock starred-up room in three days or she’s fired, she does it in one night, even though she cuts up her fingers picking up shards of glass.

When Bocchan sees Alice isn’t leaving, he decides to leave instead, trudging out into a winter storm until he’s lost and freezing. It’s then that he decides it would be better to just die than continue living the joke of a life he’s endured thus far, unable to touch or be touched.

But it’s while lying in the snow that he finally remembers who Alice was. That’s when Alice arrives to help him up the way he helped her up years ago. The only difference is there’s an umbrella between their hands this time. Alice fell for Bocchan that day, and never stopped falling for him since.

The Witch told Bocchan “No one shall love you, and you shall love no one. You will live a life of misery.” But that’s no longer true once the two come in from the cold and warm themselves by the fire. Alice does love and care for Bocchan, then and always, and Bocchan soon comes to love her right back as the misery in his life gives way to that love and the joy it brings.

Could it be that ever since that snowy night, the witch’s curse has been broken all this time, except that he can only touch Alice? If Bocchan can touch Alice, could it be long before he can safely touch Viola, or Rob, or Caph and Zain, or Walter…or even his mother? Maybe it will all come down to loving and being loved. We shall see in the final third of Duke of Death and His Maid

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 13 (Fin) – Not the Last Time

With Yoshida having said his piece and even kinda-sorta getting through to Sayu’s awful mom, it’s Sayu’s turn to talk to her. She takes a page out of Yoshida’s playbook by prostrating herself, and once again, her mom almost loses it over not wanting to apologize for anything. But she does at least finally understand that he’s the only parent Sayu has, and it really helps Sayu to hear that from her.

Having taken the first step towards détente with her mom, Sayu slips into Yoshida’s bed one more time in the night, asking if he wants to do it just once so they won’t forget each other. As always, Yoshida’s answer is the same; “no”, and “knock it off!” At the airport, after receiving thanks and refusing cash from her brother, Sayu confesses her love to him, and vows to visit him again when she’s an adult. This isn’t goodbye.

That said, when it finally hits Yoshida that Sayu is gone and with her the entirety of the cozy found family they built together, he can’t help but tear up. Even if he followed her easy recipe, his miso soup just can’t measure up to her’s. That said, as time passes, Yoshida settles back into a life without Sayu, which still contains Mishima and Gotou, who continue to battle for his heart at work.

It seems neither has a shot, as Yoshida has become close to Asami, who is apparently now an adult and no longer has a tan or bleached hair. He’s ready to meet her at the stargazing spot when he arrives home to behold a familiar sight: a young woman sitting by his entrance. It’s Sayu, now a high school graduate and evidently an adult.

The two go through the same exchange as when they first met. It looks like whatever Yoshida’s got going on with Asami (if anything), Sayu didn’t waste any time getting back to the guy she fell for—the man she’s glad she ran away and met.

This is all fine—really, it’s fine—but I’ll admit to suffering a bit of Higehiro fatigue. Considering how these last three episodes languished, a thirteenth episode felt like one too many.

Higehiro – 12 – We Have to Talk

So yeah, things are not off to a great start when the first thing Sayu’s mom does upon laying eyes on her for the first time in half a year is slap her in the face. It’s super awkward, and continues to be so, because they’ve entered Sayu’s mom’s castle and she’s in charge. Issa, as much of an independent and successful adult as he may be, still shuts up when his mom tells him to, which is often.

The discussion moves to the dining room, where it becomes clear Sayu’s mom isn’t interested in empathizing with Sayu as the young woman she is, let alone see her as a daughter to unconditionally love. Instead, she immediately airs her grievances, citing all the rumors that have cropped up since she disappeared.

She’s not glad her little girl is home, but still angry she left, because of how it affected her. It’s also clear she suspects Yoshida of taking advantage of her. Sayu does her best to state her case and demonstrate how she’s grown, but her mom has long since developed cloth ears to anything she says, no matter how true or perceptive it may be.

Once she inevitably declares that she wishes she had never given birth to Sayu, which, just fuck you, you despicable c-word—Yoshida, who had been sitting calmly and quietly the whole time, almost picks up his glass of iced tea and throws it in the bitch’s face. But rightly realizing that would accomplish nothing and possibly even hurt Sayu more, he does the opposite.

He calmly speaks from the heart about how just as a parent can’t choose the child they have, the child can’t pick the parent either. The difference is, a parent is (usually) an adult, and thus responsible for their life. Children aren’t. They need to be cared about and for by parents, or they can’t become proper adults themselves. If Sayu’s mom doesn’t want that responsibility, Yoshida would happily take it from her, adopting Sayu and raising her until she’s a real adult.

But he can’t do that, because Sayu has a mom, and she will never not be her mom. So he prostrates himself and begs her to take care of Sayu. Issa follows his lead and does the same. Faced with this unexpected groveling, Sayu’s mom simply freaks out, and Yoshida and Sayu have to leave the house while Issa tries to calm her down.

As Sayu and Yoshida sit outside and wait, Yoshida can’t fight back tears, lamenting just how much worse the situation between Sayu and her mom turned out to be. Sayu is surprised, but also can’t stop herself from crying once she sees him doing it. But it’s a good cleansing cry that transitions into looking up at the beautiful night sky and holding hands in solidarity.

Even though things are not great, they’re going to be alright. Sayu feels forgiven after Yoshida’s groveling, and after making her piece with her friend on the rooftop last week, feels confident in being able to stand for herself. She also admits that things aren’t going to get better with her mom overnight, but neither of them have even given it a try, so that’s really the first step.

Issa comes out, telling Yoshida that bowing before their mom seemed to do the trick. She’ll insist Sayu live there until graduation, and as long as she doesn’t cause problems for her, she’ll “leave her alone.” It sounds like more selfishness and an inability to see Sayu as anything other than a burden and a hassle, but again, we’re at the start of something. Sayu and her mom will have to adopt and entirely new way of interacting with each other, and that will take time.

What’s important is that not only Sayu is willing to put in the work to give it a try, but Sayu’s mom is too. After Yoshida meets with her again to apologize for lecturing her before, she asks if nothing really went on, he answers truthfully, and she seems to believe him. What puzzles her is why he’d go so far for her daughter, to which he can only say “because I met her that night, in that moment.”

Surely Sayu’s mom must understand how something like that might work; she was, after all, presumably in love with Sayu’s father. She simply didn’t know of any way to keep him around other than the hail mary of having Sayu. When it didn’t work and he left anyway, she put all of her scorn into her.

But she seems to finally understand that it can’t go on like that anymore. Sayu ran away to get away from her, but now she’s back, and she’s grown a little more. It’s up to her, the parent, to ensure that growing up is completed. So she’ll talk with Sayu about their future together, however much of it there ends up being, and go from there. And Yoshida will go back to Tokyo in the morning. But it’s a good thing he came.

 

86 – 11 (Fin) – All Over but the Crying

We arrive at October 30th, the day the five remaining members of Spearhead get into a scrap with the Legion and lose Fido as well as all but Shin’s Juggernaut. Things are getting desperate and they’re running low on ammo, fuel, and food, which means soon their recon mission will be at an end. All of them know what that means, but rather than dwell on that, they simply keep living their lives until the time fate decides to take them.

This means taking shifts piloting the ‘naut while the others rest or watch the rear from the remaining cargo bot. Thanks to Shin’s instincts and a rainstorm they manage to evade another Legion patrol, but the Legion become more legion by the day. The group finds an abandoned town and decide to take shelter in a school—the first school Kurena’s ever been to. They take a final roll call, and “graduate” the next day.

When they hit a literal wall of sheer rock, Shin suddenly asks to switch with Anju, who is piloting, claiming he’s bored. Once they switch, he cuts the tether to split off from the others and uses his grappler to bring down some rocks so they won’t follow. He sensed more Legion were coming; Legion they wouldn’t escape unless he lured them away. The others aren’t okay with this. Raiden, Anju, Kurena and Theo all agree to go after him.

With no Juggernauts, they have to go on foot, and arrive just as Shin’s ride is trashed and a Legion prepares to crack it open like a tin of sardines and claim his head. Only the weakest of the charging Legion are susceptible to their small arms, and even then only headshots, and there are too many of them. First Theo, then everyone else goes down fighting. The light of the Legion prepares to take Shin’s head—but he has his sidearm. Does it succeed?

We finally check in on Lena, who is under house arrest for her little stunt with the mortars. Even so, she pays a visit to the front lines, and to Spearhead’s HQ. A new group of 86 are being processed. The cycle continues.

Lena is greeted by Lt. Albrecht, who reveals he’s an Alba like her whose wife and daughter were 86 and died in battle. Thanks to Shin, he was given a measure of solace in knowing they didn’t become Legion, as Shin never heard them call Albrecht’s name.

Lena then walks through the now abandoned living space like a ghost looking so out of place after having been in essentially another world the whole time. It’s just so heartbreaking that by the time she was finally able to make it here, everyone she spoke to over the Para-RAID was already gone.

While the cycle of using 86 as cannon fodder continues, there was at least a crucial change. Lena and Shin forged a genuine connection, and it rubbed off on the others too, as they left her a memento: Theo’s drawing of her with handwritten notes from him, Shin, Raiden, Kurena, and Anju. More importantly, they left a Polaroid of the whole group, helpfully labelled by Theo “so she wouldn’t cry” about not being able to tell who was who.

In the end, as a practical matter, all Lena was able to do by breaking protocol and getting in trouble was extend the five’s lives by a few more days. Instead of dying on one battlefield, they died on another. But with Fido gone and his records destroyed, Lena now holds some of the last remaining artifacts of their existence—other than the wrecks and bodies they left behind somewhere out there, after reaching their final destinations.

Lena will surely treasure these things, as well as the cat left in her care, but they’re also primed to fuel her continued rebellion against the broken evil system she’s blindly served for too long. She couldn’t end the injustice for Shin and the others, but perhaps with enough allies and some luck, she can end it for others. Or maybe not. But like them, she’ll fight until fate comes for her.

Maybe then they’ll all get to finally reunite…for the first time.

So ends the first cour of 86. What a powerful show. We’ve known since the start there would definitely be a second one, but now we know there will be a “Special Episode” in between the two. What I’m a little fuzzy on is what exactly became of Shin.

I’d like to hope he managed to shoot himself in the head, and that seems to be supported by the fact he reunites with his brother, whom we know he freed from the Legion. We also see Shin’s headless body. But nothing is certain, which is why I’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

Higehiro – 11 – Someday Is Here

This week begins with Sayu saying goodbye to Asami and Tokyo and taking a plane to Hokkaido with her brother and Yoshida, and ends with her returning home after more than a half a year of running away. If that sounds to you like not enough material to fill a whole episode, well, that’s when I must bring up one of the major cons of this penultimate outing: it’s padded within an inch of its life.

Whether its on the oddly-proportioned plane and its odd-looking seats, or during the two to three hours when Issa is off doing business and Yoshida and Sayu hang out in a café, scenes just feel artificially far longer than they either need to be or should. Granted, it’s Sayu’s first time on a plane or in a café with a friend, but when she held up an hourglass, I couldn’t help but think Can we maybe get a move on?

While a detriment early on, I’ll fully admit that Sayu’s trip to her school, which neither Yoshida nor Issa knew she’d request, is actually very effectively paced, as we feel with her the precise and growing dread of drawing closer and closer to the spot on that damned rooftop where her only friend’s life ended—and her life changed forever.

Honestly, I don’t know if or how she’d have been able to do this without Yoshida, so it’s very much a good thing he came along. Even an adult would have a hard time returning to the spot where their friend died for any reason. Add to that the fact Sayu witnessed Yuuko jump and blames herself for it, and you have yourself a brutal veritable trifecta of trauma.

When Sayu blames herself for Yuuko jumping, Yoshida had to be there to tell her she was wrong, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t that she didn’t really care about Yuuko, but cared too much. Her desire to help her fight the bullies wasn’t a bad instinct, even though things went terribly wrong. And frankly, Sayu wasn’t Yuuko’s entire life and can’t be expected to be such…she had her own life, and problems.

Thanks to Yoshida’s support, Sayu is able to wail with grief, letting it all out, until a stiff wind reveals the nearly-full moon and seemingly blows away the ghost of Yuuko that was haunting her. On their way back to the car, Yoshida asks if she’s okay now, and she answers quite correctly “not at all”…but she will be. She’s going to work towards the time when she can remember Yuuko and smile, rather than cry.

After such an emotionally draining experience at school, it almost seems cruel to then drive Sayu back home, even though she says she’s ready to go. After all, nothing in that house is worse than what happened on that rooftop, except for her mother’s last words to her before she ran away, which was to ask if Sayu killed her friend.

For all of the learning and growing up Sayu has done in the last few months, at least at first blush it looks like her mother has learned absolutely nothing. Issa tries to stand purposefully in front of both Sayu and Yoshida, but their mom pushes him out of the way to give Sayu a vicious slap to the face. That’s how she chooses to greet her. Not a great start!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 10 – We’ve Come This Far

86 eschews dialogue and even diagetic sound, sticking with visuals and music to tell the story of Spearhead’s newfound freedom. Followed by their ever-trusty robot porter Fido, Raiden, Theo, Kurena, Anju and a far happier, less haunted Shin continue their “deep recon” mission by heading further and further from their Republic minders, camping out and keeping a low profile as columns of Legion pass by in the night.

It’s so nice to finally see these good kids get to live like the kids they are, not always having to worry about going into battle or being killed or being turned into a Legion. Being in the vivid blues, greens, and purples of nature make for a nice change of pace from their usual gunmetal grays and blood reds. They wash their uniforms, and trip to an old Imperial town nets them a boiler in which to heat a much-appreciated bath.

Shin is smiling and laughing the whole time, but still seems distracted by something, though it’s no longer his brother, whom he’s satisfied is now at rest. Like the others, I feared the worst when they woke up to find him gone, but Raiden remembered the tunnel in the town Shin took a good look at, and it leads them to a zoo where he’s found an immobile Legion with the brain of an 86, which Shin puts out of its misery.

The five stare for a long time at the skeleton of an elephant and other beasts who died locked behind bars, and wonder if they’ll end up the same way. It’s Fido, of all of them, who tells them to stop talking about such things and keep moving forward. While Raiden withdraws his question of whether Shin will be going across the water by himself—and possibly to the good Major, who doesn’t appear this week—he probably already knows the answer.

After the credits roll with almost ten minutes left, we get a retrospective of sorts of the life of Fido, starting with him finding and befriending Shin. He’s been there since this most recent cycle of Spearhead began, and probably before that, and all this time has been capturing all of these small moments of joy and grief. Shots of characters long gone smiling and playing are shown, then immediately juxtaposed of images from the day they died.

The most foreboding and indeed deeply upsetting moment we see happens at the very end, with Fido, and all of the memories he contained that for many of the 86 represented their only record of having existed on this earth, is blown up, most likely by Legion, on October 30, the latest date we’ve seen so far.

On one level, I have to think Shin and the others will be alright, even if Fido very clearly isn’t. And even with Fido’s stored “memories” have gone up in smoke, those five still carry memories of the fallen—all 576 of them, including Shin’s brother. The question is, assuming they’re alright, what will become of them? Will Shin find a way to get to Lena? I suspect next week’s season one finale will focus exclusively on her, and what progress if any she’s made in her one-woman crusade to save the soul of her nation.

To Your Eternity – 09 – Gugunrise Kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Higehiro – 10 – A Warm Place

While Yoshida does his level best to hide it, Mishima and Hashimoto can tell he’s devastated by Sayu’s imminent departure, and how he’s mitigating it by trying to bury himself in his work. While he has many reasons to worry about the welcome Sayu will received from her mother upon returning to Hokkaido, her big brother Issa isn’t one of them.

Issa meets with Yoshida after work to bow in apology for the rude things he said the other day, while also asking him earnestly to continue taking care of Sayu in the time they have left together. He reveals how Sayu was their mother’s last best chance to keep their womanizing dad around, refusing to get an abortion. Alas, the asshole left them anyway.

Sayu’s mom wasn’t equipped to love a girl who was the symbol of her failure to keep the man she loved in her life, and so Sayu received no parental love whatsoever, something Issa believes every child needs. Honestly, it’s a wonder Sayu isn’t a lot more scarred.

While it’s nice to be reminded that Sayu’s brother is a legit good guy, if what he’s said is true, Sayu’s mom may simply be incapable of loving Sayu—or if she does love her on a fundamental/biological level, has never been able to express it. Why would that change when she returns home?

Later, Sayu presents Yoshida with a parting gift: a hand-written and illustrated cookbook with all of his favorite dishes she’s made for him over time. I couldn’t help but let out a loud awwwwwww that a roommate must’ve thought was me reacting to a cute puppy video. It’s such a cute, warm gift, and filled with love.

Sayu’s next parting gift is to share with Yoshida the view Asami shared with her, along with the wisdom she imparted about how even the tiniest stares have pasts and futures. Asami accepted Sayu and became her first real girl friend, just as Yoshida took her in with only the best intentions when everyone before had the worst.

Sayu doesn’t see Yoshida as simply “some guy who shared his apartment with her” for a while. That she met him when she did may well have saved her life, and she’ll never forget that, looking back fondly on the time she stopped running away, settled down, and found a way back.

Sayu admits that she’s tried to leave a few times while Yoshida wasn’t home, but has been unable to do so. Ultimately, he means enough to her not to want to leave without saying a proper goodbye. Because in all honesty, she kinda wants to stay with him forever. But she can’t settle her past unless she goes home.

Ichinose Kana does some really lovely voice work here, and has indeed done much of the heavy lifting in a show that doesn’t have the best production values. She even moves Yoshida to tears, because a part of him doesn’t want her to leave, both because he fears what might go down in Hokkaido, and because he’s become so accustomed to her living with him. He’d no doubt say she saved him just as he saved her.

Back at work, the ever-practical Mishima, independent of her individual crusade to win Yoshida’s heart, says if it’s so unbearable to say goodbye to and part with Sayu, then mabe he shouldn’t, and should instead follow her to Hokkaido. Sure, it would mean leaving his job, but both Mishima and Hashimoto doubt he considers his job or whatever project he’s working on to be anywhere near as important to him as Sayu.

In fact, it pisses Hashimoto off to no end that Yoshida tries—badly—to pretend otherwise, like when Asami calls him saying Sayu has disappeared and isn’t answering her phone. It takes Hashimoto telling Airi that Yoshida are feeling sick and going home early, and Mishima taking over Yoshida’s work for the day, to get him out of there.

While giving him a ride, Hashimoto expresses to Yoshida how it pisses him off that his best friend knows what to care about the most, but pretending he doesn’t. As his best friend, Hashimoto knows what Yoshida won’t admit: wanting what’s best for Sayu, or wanting whatever will make her happy, and his own fear of being apart from her aren’t mutually exclusive.

Sayu is fine (don’t scare me like that, show!); her phone simply died while she was waiting outside Yoshida’s office to surprise him and see where he worked; he and Hashimoto must’ve just missed crossing paths with her. Airi and Asami are there with her, and Yoshida acts like a worried dad when he sees her. This marks the first time Hashimoto lays eyes on Sayu, and seeing her makes him immediately understand why Yoshida is scared of losing her.

That night, the very last night together in Yoshida’s apartment, Sayu asks if she can climb into bed with him. Not for anything weird, but just for some warmth and human contact between two people who have come to mean much more to each other than they’d initially expected.

Sayu asks if she’d have grown up into a “normal girl” if Yoshida had been her dad. Yoshida should’ve answered by saying there’s nothing abnormal about her, she’s a lovely person who has admirably hung in there under abnormal and suboptimal circumstances. Okay, maybe that’s a little too wonky for the mood of that scene.

But whether he had decided earlier that evening, or right there in that bed, Yoshida tells Sayu he’ll come to Hokkaido with her, to keep an eye on her and see her mom with her. Sayu can’t contain her elation upon hearing those words. There’s nothing wrong with going back home to settle your past, but there’s nothing saying you have to do it alone…particularly if you’re someone who’s experienced enough loneliness for a lifetime.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 09 – No Signal

“If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled…for you are in Elysium, and you are already dead!”—Maximus

This week, Spearhead, whose living members now consist only of Kurena, Raiden, Theo, Anju, and Shin, ride out into a vast, dark, and bleak battlefield, where the five of them must face hundreds if not thousands of Legion, because they were never even meant to make it thisfar in their military “careers”.

Of course, Shin has something else in mind: he’s singularly invested in finding his brother and putting him out of his misery. He orders Raiden to take over the unit and find cover in the nearby forest, but his four comrades aren’t about to leave him. Instead, they do what they can to give Shin a clear shot at Shourei.

As it turns out, Lena has a surprise in store for all of them: she managed to get access to the republic mortars, while also being able to swap vision in one of her eyes with Raiden so she can target more precisely. In that split second, Raiden—and only Raiden—catches a glimpse of their “pig princess” Handler.

When Lena prepares to launch a massive mortar attack on Shourei Legion’s position—which is also where Shin is, dodging and grappling—the others are apprehensive: doe she mean to kill Shin too? Far from it; instead, she’s giving Shin the opening he needs.

The impacting mortars are represented in Shourei’s mind by the young Lena slapping him into something resembling coherence, and acceptance that Shin no longer needs his brother to look after him. Instead, his brother needs to know that he’ll be at rest.

The opening is created, and Shin takes his shot, saying goodbye to his brother and then sobbing his eyes out both in grief over his brother’s loss and relief that he’s no longer a technological abomination who wasn’t allowed to die naturally.

From here we shift to Lena’s little control room, and she heeds Raiden’s call to shut off the link for now, as Shin wouldn’t want anyone hearing him cry. She then turns to a sullen-looking Annette sitting in the corner with laptops. We go back a bit to before the battle, when Lena visits Annette despite Annette saying she didn’t want to see her again.

Lena tells Annette that her old neighbor Shin is none other than Undertaker of the Spearhead unit, that she speaks to him every day, and that this is now Annette’s third chance to save him, the first two times having run away. While at first apathetic, knowing it’s Shin forces Annette’s hand. She calls Lena “the devil” for pulling such a stunt, but Lena simply says “that’s right; I am…and so are you.” Better to be devils who care.

With what was supposed to be the battle that should have wiped out Spearhead once and for all ending in unlikely victory thanks in large part to Annette’s hacking, Shin and the others give their heartfelt thanks to Lena, as well as tease her for having turned into a “bad girl” by breaking the rules to save them.

But after that, the group continues their advance without further input from Lena. In fact, all she can say as they head closer and closer to a foreboding “UNKNOWN” area is “please don’t leave me!” It occurs to her that while she made little drawings of them, her only connection to them is the Para-RAID, and soon the distance between them will grow too great to maintain that connection.

Lena bolts out of her control room and runs out of the headquarters, out into the streets, and just keeps running, all while Kurena, Raiden, Anju, Theo, and Shin describe their surroundings, mentioning a “cathedral” the same time we see the one in Lena’s capital, and describing flowers that fall when you touch them carpeting the ground.

As they approach at the barrier of District 86 and the limits of the Republic’s control area, Lena’s desperate dash to maintain reception ends with her losing a heel and ending up collapsed on a lonely cobblestone bridge, suddenly, heartbreakingly alone. Her Para-RAID blinks out, and back at HQ the signals of the five remaining members of Spearhead are lost.

Losing  Spearhead is just one of many burdens Lena will have to bear if she’s truly serious about helping all Eighty Six—not just the ones with which she cultivated a quasi-friendship. Her resolute insistence on Doing What’s Right despite being a devil demands she keep doing what she can—as long as she is able—to end the unjust suffering of the oppressed.

To Your Eternity – 08 – Gugu Unmasked

“Skip Intro” is a well-established and often useful feature to our world of streaming entertainment, but I make it a point to watch every second of To Your Eternity’s OP every week. I can’t not, and not just because “PINK BLOOD” fuckin’ whips. Every time I watch I go through the heartbreak of losing both the arctic boy and March as well as Parona’s trauma all over again. The OP continues to grow more powerful as Fushi progresses on his journey and we meet more of the faces it presents.

Two of those faces are of Gugu (or rather his distinctive mask) and Rean, and the latter (voiced by Iwami Manaka, the voice of Honda Tooru) suddenly decides she’s going to live and work at Booze Man’s place from now on. Gugu isn’t sure what to think about this, because while it will be nice to see more of Rean, the fact she likes Fushi and not him will make things uncomfortable, if not painful.

Then again, pain promotes growth. When Gugu asks “what else” Fushi can do besides transform, he creates a spear. Gugu cuts him with a knife, and after healing, Fushi creates a duplicate knife. When Gugu burns him with a torch, Fushi can only create the stick, not the flame…at least not yet. In reaction to all this “experimentation”, Fushi produces a Marchface, indicating he doesn’t like this.

When Rean shows up bright and early, Fushi still hasn’t come in for work; we later see he’s assumed his wolf form and is sleeping away the day. Gugu asks Booze Man for something Rean can use on her wound, and the coot unexpectedly uncorks part of Gugu’s face and bumps out a strange liquid. When Gugu learns the Booze Man gave him a “new organ” where liquor is stored and ferments (hence his distended belly), Gugu is furious, and runs off.

As usual, the old people are only thinking about themselves. Booze Man wants the valuable booze inside Gugu back, while Pioran is worried about who will cook their meals. Rean is loath to go looking for Gugu since she’s not yet an established part of the “family”, while Fushi outright refuses, still sore over how Gugu treated him in the kitchen, and rightfully scared of the forest besides. He volunteers to cook, but ends up simply boiling a daikon with no salt.

Still, no one comes to look for Gugu, who returns to the tattered tent he and his brother once shared. He gets his job tilling the land back from a kindly father who even invites him to join his family. Unfortunately his kindness and empathy weren’t inherited by his sons, who know about the rumors around town that Gugu is a monster.

Gugu agrees with Chan that he can’t be in a family if the members can’t love one another, and removes his mask to determine if they’ll be able to love what they see. It goes about as well as you’d expect. Later that night while sulking outside, some older kids steal his mask and throw it in the stream, but after realizing the mask doesn’t actually do anything, he throws it right back in, walking through town the next day. Let the people gawk in horror…the faces they make are funnier than his!

Fushi’s attempts to cook, clean, mind the shop, and work the fields all end in failure, but when he asks Pioran (by name!) to teach him those things, she soundly refuses, not moved by the March-inspired dirt balls he offers as tribute. For one thing, she’s got better things to do with her time—sitting around drinking her lover’s excellent booze, for example. For another, she doesn’t want to spoil him, and the best teacher he could ask for isn’t her. It’s Gugu.

Gugu settles back into a routine and puts on a little muscle working in the field, but Chan visits his tent and splashes water on him, telling him not to come back, saying it’s because his dad is such a good man that he doesn’t want Gugu causing trouble with his freakishness. Without work, Gugu runs short on funds, but remembers he has the ring Rean gave him.

It’s clear from the look of the merchant that it is indeed worth enough to ensure Gugu never has to sell produce again, but Gugu can’t see what a monster like him would do with that kind of wealth. So when he discovers his drunk, emaciated brother lying in an alley, he gives the ring to him. Even in his current state he’s better off with the ring than a monster. But while he gives Shin the ring, he doesn’t acknowledge him as his brother. He doesn’t have a brother anymore.

Of course, that’s just not true…he has Fushi! Fushi needs Gugu, and as we see when Gugu is scooped up in the night by bandits prepared to sell him to people a taste for freaks and the cash to spend on them, it becomes apparent Gugu needs Fushi as well.

Fushi bowls into the bandit carrying Gugu in his wolf form, and when the guy and his partner stand their ground, he transforms into the Bear, who, let’s be honest, no one other than Hayase would ever think about fucking with!

With that, the Monster Brothers Gugu and Fushi are reunited. Gugu resented Fushi for being admired by Rean, while Fushi resented Gugu for cutting and burning him willy-nilly, but they’re able to get past that, because that’s what brothers do—well, good ones, anyway…

Higehiro – 09 – The Things She Carried

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

86 – 08 – We Weren’t Ready

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.—Kay, Men In Black

The Alba are right: the Eighty Six aren’t human. They’re better than that. The humans who populate the serene Republic of San Magnolia blindly accept the government’s policy of ethnic cleansing as the cost of peace, order, and harmony. Lena, like the Eighty Six, knows there’s a wrong, but isn’t prepared to do more wrong to right it.

It’s why when Lena discovers the orders basically sentencing what’s left of Spearhead to their almost certain deaths, she wants to rescind them. Annette pulls her out of the records room for some tea and biscuits, but when Lena once again says it’s wrong not to try to do anything, all of the simmering resentment within Annette finally comes to a caustic boil.

Annette isn’t merely “pretending” to be a bad person; she’s fully embraced the role, heart and soul. She doesn’t need an excuse to do nothing; her inaction has already caused the death of her former neighbor and friend (who it’s pretty clear from the suspenders was none other than Nouzen Shinei) while her research is built upon the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Eighty Six.

Like the vast majority of people would in such a situation, Annette chose not to fight a force that could not be beaten, but to join them. Even though her father committed suicide after the suffering he caused developing the Para-Raid, Annette carried on his work. She might’ve scared herself when she first called her friend a “filthy colored” like her classmates did, but that fear soon dissipated into acceptance.

After everything she’s been through and done in the name of not being able to do anything else, Annette doesn’t want to hear one more idealistic word out of Lena’s mouth. After all, the Para-Raid that enables Lena to speak to Shin and the other members of Spearhead was the product of involuntary human experimentation and state-sanctioned suffering. So is her comfy bed, her crisp uniform, her tasty coffee and sweets. It’s all tainted by evil.

Annette tells Lena she hates her and never wants to see her again. I mean, we already new full well Annette wouldn’t join any potential crusade against injustice Lena might concoct, but this really twists the knife, as Lena doesn’t even have a pretend friend in the capital in which to confide.

When she confronts her uncle before the statue of San Magnolia, he tells her the orders sending Spearhead to their deaths cant be recinded because it is the will of the republic that evry Eighty Six not only die, but be forgotten and erased from having ever existed. The only way San Magnolia will avoid becoming a pariah state after the war is if the atrocities they committed against the Eighty Six never come to light.

When Lena begs her uncle to remember the spirit of Saint Magnolia, he tells her their republic was never anything other than a country full of fools and villains who executed Magnolia for their wealth and greed. She says that’s just his despair talking, but he doesn’t consider his despair any different from her hope.

If Lena werent already having one of the worst days of her life, Shin also bids her farewell, fully accepting his suicide mission. Lena deduces he’s going after his brother, but Shin doens’t want her to hear his last words. Instead, he warns her that once the Shepherd is destroyed, the Legion is temporarily thrown into chaos, .

He urges her to head for the Eastern border, where she won’t hear the Legion’s voices and go mad. He and the others will buy her some time. With that, he signs off, for what seems like the last time. Now all Lena has is her tears.

With Lena left very much at rock bottom, we return to Spearhead, now only five strong: Kurena, Anju, Theo, Raiden, and Shin. They clean up their barracks, polish up their Juggernauts, have a final meal, and then set off on their deep recon mission with their heads held high.

As we’ve learned, they’re not just doing this because the alternative is summary execution. They’re doing it for their fallen comrades, and because just because they were always called pigs doesn’t mean they’ll become them. There’s a biting sense of inescapable dread and crushing unfairness to their scenes. More than anything, they feel like five kids who shouldn’t have to be anywhere near a battlefield.

Post-credits, we get one more taste of despair in the absence of anything else, in the form of the complete flashback of Shourei choking Shinei. He had been barely keeping it together before that point, crushed by his powerlessness to do anything about the loss of his parents. In a moment of weakness, he let himself blame Shinei for everything, and nearly killing him until someone pulls them apart.

A roboticized, Legionized Shourei narrates this final scene, lamenting that he couldn’t protect Shinei before. But this time, as Shin and his four companions approach him and his Legion unit, Shourei says he’ll protect his brother forever. All he has to do is come to him…which is what he’s doing.

All I can say to any of this is damn…this is some good shit, but it is also incredibly heavy and upsetting. I can only hope that we’ll get some glimmer of light at some point before the end…but that’s hardly a sure thing.

Rating: 4/5 Stars