Fruits Basket – 22 – An Answered Prayer

Or: Why Kids Are Total and Complete Trash, Volume #3,692

Present-day Hanejima Saki’s “Waves” aren’t just a rumor about her, or some kind of occult quality she happens to believe in. They are an actual power, like ESP. I shouldn’t be surprised—this is a world where people turn into adorable animals when hugged by the opposite sex—and seeing how much a younger Saki suffered from the inability to control those powers really puts the person she now is into perspective.

But here’s the thing: she didn’t become a different person. She’s always been the same person: quiet, kind and gentle, and loyal to those who love her. Her problem in the past was, she feared her powers, and when human laws couldn’t be employed against her, she decided that whatever horrible bullying she received was punishment she was due.

Kids bullied the hell out of Saki, and it wasn’t until two shitty boys were holding her down to make her eat a live newt that she finally thought I want this boy to die that her ability had a physical effect, knocking the kid out for hours.

While its understandable for her to fear her power and even hate herself for it, that position totally ignores the fact that the little shit instigated things, and bears most of the responsibility. If he’d simply treated her with kindness, he wouldn’t have been hurt.

This week we also learn the extent to which Hanejima’s family loves her. It would be all too realistic for her mom and dad to one day reach their breaking point, but that never happens, and their love, protection, and desire for her to be happy never fades for an instant, even when she starts considering herself nothing but a burden to be discarded.

When the environment at school gets too bad—she has to sit and be burned and fight with everything she’s got not to fight back lest she hurt her bullies—the entire family moves, and urge her not to give up. Her devoted little brother Megumi wears all black in solidarity, and prays that one day someone will come who will love Saki as he does and end her crushing loneliness.

That day comes at her new school, where there’s no black in the uniforms, so she paints her nails black as a “mark of sin”, that original sin of harming the boy that she’ll never forget or forgive herself for. While in line for lunch, Honda Tooru chats her up. Little does Saki know that Megumi’s prayer has been answered in the form of this odd, ditzy, extremely polite and upbeat girl.

Of course, back then Tooru and Arisa were already hella tight, so they invite Saki to lunch with them, and won’t hear any objections based on her low self-worth. They make it clear to her that no matter how strange she may think herself to be, they’re just as strange, and welcome her company.

For the first time, a peer tells Saki “see you tomorrow,” and to her delight, they say “good morning” to her the next day, another first. As much as Saki tries to stick with her M.O. of staying away from people, she finds herself with Tooru and Arisa all the time, until even the once-oppressive sun seems to take on a gentler color.

All her progress with her new friends is suddenly threatened when two classmates ask her about her old school, having heard nasty rumors. But while Saki isn’t the one who burned a girl’s arm, she does own up to almost killing that boy, and for that reason, she believes Tooru and Arisa should distance themselves from her before they get hurt.

Needless to say, Tooru and Arisa..don’t do that. Not two minutes go by after Saki flees that Tooru catches up and declares that no matter what she does or doesn’t know about Saki, she loves her, and doesn’t want to stay away. Arisa joins them and asks simply: Does Saki want them to stay away? Of course, she doesn’t, and so they won’t.

The rest is history! In time, and probably in large part to emotional support not just from her family and two BFFs, Saki learns how to control her power, and the voices vanish. Now, as we know, she only uses it “a bit” to teach shitty people a lesson, but isn’t in any more danger of losing control.

But even if she’s more or less cured from a malady that was as life-debilitating as it was mysterious, she still wears all black, as it keeps her calm, while Megumi keeps wearing black for the same reason. His prayer was answered, but more importantly, Saki never gave up.

Fruits Basket – 18 – Cry of the Tiger

While Tooru and Yuki are waiting under a shelter for the rain to stop, they encounter a soaked Haru carrying…a tiger cub. That cub is the Tiger of the Zodiac, Souma Kisa, and she ran away from home. She also doesn’t talk due to a “psychological” issue that locked her words away. Now she only bites.

Since her previous circumstances brought her to this state, Haru takes her to Shigure’s house for a change of scenery, and Tooru learns the silence is a result of bullying. Zodiac parents tend to either overprotect or reject their odd children. Kisa’s mom is more in the middle, but looks close to her limit.

So it’s Tooru to the Rescue! I’ll admit, any episode that lacked Uotani Arisa was going to be a slight letdown, but this isn’t the Uotani Arisa show, now is it? Instead we get the introduction of another zodiac member who is simply not coping as well with her differences as her older counterparts have (more or less) managed. Of course, the reason many of them can do that is thanks to Tooru.

Once again, Tooru can relate at least in part to Kisa’s situation, as she was once bullied too. Kyouko gave her the unconditional love and support and encouragement she needed to keep getting up, dusting  herself off, and going to school, and things worked out. She just needed to hear that “it’s okay.” So does Kisa, and she transforms back into a girl and embraces Tooru.

From that point onward, Kisa never leaves Tooru’s side and rarely lets go of her, save to let her use the bathroom. Yuki gets a little jealous of all the glomming and rests his head on Tooru’s shoulder. As annoying as this looks to, say, Kyou, Tooru is loving every minute of it, very much the Kyouko to the adorable Kisa’s young Tooru, who was also adorable.

Tooru, Yuki, Haru and Momiji discuss the nature of Kisa’s bullying, which involves her strange hair color and eyes, and later became a campaign of ignoring her and snickering at everything she said until she stopped talking. Momiji is overcome by sadness, having never experienced such bullying (as far as he knows) and thus being unable to imagine the pain that would lead to closing off your very words.

But like Tooru when she was bullied, only in a more concentrated state, Yuki can imagine all too well. As a result of Akito’s abuse, he too retreated within himself, and the more he did, the more he hated himself. When Kisa’s homeroom teacher writes her a platitude-filled letter that blames her for not loving herself as the reason no one else will, it’s enough to make Haru puke, and Yuki doesn’t much like it either.

What does that mean, “learn to love yourself?” It just didn’t work that way for him. He had to be told he was loved by someone before he could start feeling anywhere near like that about himself; enter Tooru. In actions and words, Tooru has demonstrated her love for Yuki, as well as Kisa. The kind of love that can spur someone to muster the courage to speak.

With persistent love and encouragement from Tooru, Yuki was able to face his fears, and learn that every tear he shed was purposeful towards that end. And so, following his own advice as Kisa decides to go back to school,  Yuki accepts the student council president’s request that he run to become his successor.

We don’t get to see what becomes of Kisa facing her fears, but the episode ends with her knowing even if it’s not great, and the tiger ends up feeling like retreating back to the jungle of darkness and silence, Tooru and Yuki will still be there to say it’s okay.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 13 (Fin) – Everything is Going to Be Alright

Upon the return of her memories, Kaede doesn’t really seem to grasp why this is all such a big deal; from her perspective, she was never actually ever “gone.” But it’s a huge shock and a gut punch to Sakuta; bigger than he could have expected or was prepared for.

“Kaede”, the entirely new personality he’d loved and cared for as his little sister for two years, isn’t just gone; it’s as if she never existed, and that deletion of her existence occurred just when she was starting to take her biggest steps yet towards living a normal life. It’s enough of a shock for Sakuta to simply lose it upon leaving Kaede’s hospital room.

He simply wasn’t ready to lose Kaede. Even the three huge slash marks reopen and bleed. And just when Sakuta needs someone—anyone, but also not just anyone—most, who should appear but his first crush; the girl no one else can see: “Shouko-san.”

Shouko-san takes the soaked and suffering Sakuta home, gets him into a hot bath, and proceeds to read Kaede’s diary to him. While this may seem like a gross breach of privacy, this is mitigated by the fact that the Kaede that wrote the diary is now gone, and thus the diary is the only link to her Sakuta has left.

Through the diary and Shouko-san’s words of support and reassurance, Sakuta learns that both Kaedes never stopped loving him, and while it might’ve seemed only natural to regret not helping her back when she was being horribly bullied, she never held that against him, and thus there was never any reason for regret, self-hatred, or the physical manifestation of those emotions, his chest slashes.

Knowing that we’ll never see or hear Kaede as we knew her ever again, its a particularly poignant diary/farewell letter, narrated in both Shouko-san and Kaede’s voices. More importantly, it finally gives Sakuta, who had been so busy helping others to help himself for so long, a kind of catharsis and closure. The next morning, Shouko is gone, leaving only a note behind.

Sakuta has no other way of reaching Shouko-san, and can’t even reach the younger Shouko on the phone. He does finally call Mai back, and fills her in on what happened, without really getting into his whole ordeal in the bathtub. When she surprises him by coming over, prepared to spend the night with him, she finds Shouko’s note.

Since this is Mai we’re talking about, there’s no way she’d get jealous over such a note, or that she wouldn’t believe Sakuta’s explanations; rushed and verbose as they are, everything he’s saying is the truth. But Mai is still hurt, and has to leave as soon as she arrives.

Part repaying a debt, part helping out her sister, and part being a good friend, Nodoka meets with Sakuta and tells him to make things right. It’s Mai’s birthday, after all. Sakuta double-times it onto a bullet train to catch up to her in Kanazawa.

Things are chilly both inside the car in which Mai and her manager give Sakuta a ride, and outside, where some snowflakes start to fall. But once Sakuta shares his coat with Mai, the ice is broken and they both proceed to apologize to each other. What caused Mai to say the things she did and leave wasn’t jealousy, but frustration that she wasn’t able to be with Sakuta when he needed her the most; “Shouko-san”, whoever she is, filled that role instead. She feels bad about that and apologizes.

Of course, there’s nothing to apologize for; Sakuta is just happy to have Mai by his side whenever he can, even if it wasn’t at a crucial time this time. She’s his girlfriend, and he loves her, and that’s more than enough for him. She almost leans in for a kiss, but instead gives his cheek a yank, remarking that being “punished” is probably the ideal thing for him anyway.

All is well that ends well, as Sakuta introduces Mai to his parents and re-introduces her to Kaede, continues hanging out with Tomoe and Futaba and Nodoka, and re-bonds with his little sister, who is ready to go to school and ready to see some pandas with her big brother for the first time…again.

While the Kaede and Sakuta arc wasn’t my favorite, it was still a solid way to bring the anime to a close. It’s a shame we couldn’t see more of the “new old” Kaede as herself, or going back to school, and it’s also a shame there was so much mystery surrounding the nature of the Shouko(s), but it sounds like at least the latter will be covered in an upcoming film.

I for one wouldn’t mind returning to this pleasant, charming world where people who feel so alone it starts to do weird things to them are saved by friends and family whose help proves that they’re not alone after all, and never were.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 12 – Trying Your Best ‘Till You Disappear

Sakuta tells Mai and Nodoka the story of Kaede he’s never told anyone, but now that Kaede is making friends and thinking about going back to school, he can’t hold it off. It’s also the story of himself and the rest of his family. When Kaede suddenly enters a dissociative state as a result of online abuse, she loses her memories and becomes the “Kaede” we know.

Other than her outward appearance, everything about her is different, to the point she could have switched personalities with someone the way Mai and Nodoka did. She walks different, talks different, eats different. Kaede’s Mon can’t deal, and due in part to being a big brother who is utterly powerless to stop whatever Kaede’s going through, the slash marks on his chest appear one night.

The doctors believe they’re self-inflicted, as “Adolescence Syndrome” isn’t a theory they’d subscribe to. But Sakuta gets sick of the hospital and sneaks out, finds himself on the beach, and meets his “first crush”, Shouko. Shouko tells him “life is here for us to be kinder”, and she strives every day to become a little kinder than she was the day before.

Sakuta adopts that credo; one could say it’s all thanks to Shouko that he’s able to do any of the stuff he does to help his friends later on. But here, before he meets Nodoka or Tomoe or Mai, we see that the first person he helped was Kaede. He helped her simply by acknowledging that she was Kaede. She didn’t have to be the old Kaede. He was the first and only one to accept her, not as an anomaly, but a person.

Back in the present, where Kaede is on the cusp of “leaving the nest”, Sakuta gives her a book the old Kaede apparently lent to her friend. In it is a note expressing that friend’s wish to be friends with “Kae-chan” again. Tears well up, and Kaede suddenly faints.

She wakes up in the hospital, none the worse for wear, but the doctors believe that her dissociative state may be wearing off. The note was apparently the trigger. The Kaede we’ve known all this time is still there, but she overhears Sakuta reporting to Mai that he doesn’t know how long she has.

Kaede accelerates her plans to go to school, even risking her well-being to do so (the dark red bruises appear when she gets overly stressed, and rushing things when it comes to going back to school is definitely stressful. Sakuta, hoping there’s something he can do for her as her big brother, promises he’ll show her the school.

But first they go to the zoo and watch the pandas, tigers, giraffes, elephants, meerkats, and all the other animals, all just “doing their best to live their lives”. Like Pandas with their not-very-nutritious bamboo diet, Kaede—specifically this Kaede—has it rough. But all she can do is keep doing her best.

That night, before heading home, Sakuta delivers on his promise to take her to school: an empty school at night. It proves just the thing. Having seen the place in the flesh for the first time, Kaede is more optimistic and motivated than ever to go to school during the day. Not because she might be out of time in her current state, but because it’s the next natural step.

Her opportunity to go to put that optimism and motivation to the test never comes. The Kaede who wakes up is the old, pre-breakdown Kaede. You can tell, too: Kubo Yurika totally switches up her voice. She remembers Sakuta, but doesn’t remember going to the zoo, and doesn’t speak in the third person. “Kaede” is gone.

Will it be for good…and isn’t that okay? It’s not like Kaede died, after all. Sakuta may feel like he lost someone precious—and in a way, he did—but that person was never going to be around permanently. We’ll also have to see how the “original” Kaede reacts to everything in her life, from her parents, friends, even her room layout, being different from how she remembers. Will Sakuta seek to bring back a part of “Kaede” to help bridge the other Kaede’s gap of experience?

Bunny Girl Senpai – 11 – #KaedeGoals

That little cliffhanger about Mai (actually Nodoka in Mai’s body) being seen with Sakuta by a photographer? No biggie; the director of her upcoming film decides to spin it into a marketing opportunity, while Mai admits to the relationship and is candid not only in how it occurred (a kohai confessed in front of the entire school) but why it matters (were it not for him she wouldn’t be back in show business).

Now Mai and Sakuta get to hang out without any problems, and the two are on cloud nine. Then Sakuta gets a letter from “Shouko” whom he later confirms is not the middle schooler of the same name who hasn’t come by the house in a while, but rather his “first crush.”

When he confides in Futaba seeking advice, Futaba texts everything he tells her to Mai, making her status as a confidant now somewhat suspect! It’s all good, once more: Mai is fine with him meeting Shouko, as long as he’s back by six so she can make him dinner. He doesn’t get a kiss, though.

The main dilemma this week isn’t Sakuta and Mai’s relationship or the return of “Shouko”, but Sakuta’s little sister Kaede, who’d kinda served as the show’s mascot up to this point. Still, as a victim of such intense bullying she and Sakuta had to move and she stopped going outside, it was clear the show was going to promote her to the lead in an arc at some point.

Sakuta is about to go to the beach to meet with Shouko, but he’s delayed by the sudden appearance of one of Kaede’s classmates, who saw Sakuta in a magazine tracked him down. She wants to meet with Kaede to apologize for not doing more to stop the bullying, now that the ones who bullied her were themselves bullied out of the school. Back home, the numerous visits from the other girls Sakuta has helped has convinced Kaede that she can’t remain stagnant, and begins compiling a list of goals to become more independent.

Her first small step is to answer the phone when someone other than Sakuta is on the line (in this case, Mai), but the stress of doing that for the first time in a long time causes her to nearly faint. Even more distressing, when Kaede is resting to recover from a fever, Sakuta notices a dark red blotch on her neck; no doubt another symptom of adolescence syndrome, much like his own chest slash marks.

However, Kaede recovers, the blotch disappears, and she keeps taking smal steps, aided in no small part by an extremely kind and understanding Mai, who offers a number of cute outfits she wore in magazine shoots for Kaede to wear when she goes outside.

The day finally arrives, and Sakuta comes home to a fully resolved sister. Still, it takes Sakuta lying about how far outside of the entryway they’ve strayed to get Kaede to follow through; call it one last little nudge to get her where she herself wants to be. It’s a truly triumphant, emotional moment that’s a long time coming; even Sakuta can’t help but tear up.

Kaede was scared of the outside, where the love of their home, like a security blanket, wasn’t out there to protect her. She still is. But she’s far more scared of staying inside, so even though her brother tricked her, she’s grateful.

From there, Kaede takes larger and larger steps until she’s able to roam around outside without clinging to Sakuta. He decides to surprise her by taking a trip to the beach, along with Mai and Nodoka. They have a grand old time, and Kaede is having fun…until her friend arrives, and she retreats behind Sakuta once more.

This friend doesn’t understand why Kaede doesn’t remember her, but Sakuta has an explanation, and it’s something he’s been waiting for the right moment to tell Mai too: Kaede has no memories. I suspect that is to say, no memories from after whatever psychological break she suffered as a result of her bullying.

Obviously, that’s still objectively not good, and looking back at Kaede’s behavior, it has seemed like a part of her was missing beyond the part that could go outside and interact with people. The stagnancy she fears isn’t just about remaining shut in, but about that yawning gap in her memory.

The two main questions are 1.) will and how will Sakuta & Co. help Kaede get those memories back, and 2.) where do “Shouko” and Makinohara Shouko” fit into this equation, if at all?

Mahou Shoujo Site – 01 – NOPE (First Impressions)

In the episode’s first couple of minutes, the protagonist Aya is already ready to throw herself in front of an approaching train. I’m not going to pick the low-hanging fruit and say this episode made me feel like doing the same when it was over…but yeah, this was pretty fucked up. And it gets worse.

Aya’s life is hell. She gets cut by tacks and razors in her school shoes. She’s forced to sit in a puddle of glue. She’s punched and kicked and plunged into the toilets, then goes home and gets severely beaten and choked out by her frustrated older brother, pleading in vain for him not to keep her from getting her period by doing too much damage.

She takes a tiny measure of solace from taking care of a stray cat, but her tormentors at school find out and promptly kill it. Oh, and they describe how it died while the senpai they brought in to rape her starts closing in.

Have you had enough yet? I certainly did. Aya is pointed in the direction of the titular “Mahou Shoujo Site” which gives her powers to exact revenge—revenge she is overwhelmingly justified in using against the sorry excuses for demons in human skin that gnaw at her day after day.

Two of her bullies and her would-be rapist are gone, but because Aya’s a decent person, she thinks killing is wrong, to the point of keeping plenty of the remaining beasts alive, who will no doubt dole out more punishment in the coming weeks.

I won’t be there to watch it. I can appreciate the message the show is trying to send—somewhat—and it’s to the show’s credit that Aya is as reluctant to kill as she is despite how much she’s suffered; despite her new powers her basic morality remains unassailable. But MSS has all the subtlety of Stone Cold Steven Austin giving a promo while on PCP. It’s just a bit too much.

 

Koe no Katachi – (Film Review)

Koe no Katachi isn’t just the redemption story of a guy who bullied a deaf girl in elementary school, got caught, became ostracized, and came a hair’s length from offing himself. It’s more than just the tale of a deaf girl trying to do the best she can to fit into a world in which everyone else can hear. It isn’t just the story of a little sister being so worried about her big sister that she neglects her own life.

It’s all of those things, and far more. It’s really a story about all of us, because we all have flaws. We can’t always fix those flaws, either due to lack of understanding or guidance. All of us have at some point or another hurt others, or been selfish, just as others have hurt us or been selfish themselves. These are not unique qualities to have, they are the things that make us human.

Can people truly love themselves, or anyone else, completely unconditionally? Rarely. There are always conditions and compromises, and transactions. Words fly and are heard or not heard, but actions are felt, and ultimately they define us. Not one action or two, but all of the actions in one’s life, good or bad. And the sequence of those actions are crucial.

Ishida Shouya WAS a colossal dick in elementary school. He DID bully Nishimiya Shouko mercilessly until she had to transfer out. When confronted with his crimes, he DID lash out at his friends, who then turned on him one by one. But he’s trying to make things right; he’s trying to make amends. And he’s lucky; Shouko is as kind and forgiving in the present as she was in the past; almost to a fault.

And yet meeting Shouko again, seeing that she harbored no ill will, and even seemed interested in being friends with him aftrer all that happened, changes everything for Shouya. One by one, he makes friends again, through acts of kindness, forgiveness, and selflessness. Yet he learns that friendship isn’t a right attained by fulfilling qualifications or conditions, but about the simple gesture of reaching out and grasping someone else’s hand.

Of course, friendships can and almost always do get a lot more complicated. Back in elementary school, Shouya likely did what he did not just for personal amusement, but for approval and acceptance. When those things suddenly didn’t work, and in fact had the opposite effect, he was suddenly un-moored, and left with nothing but his own regret for all of the pain he caused.

But as long as there are other people in the world who will even consider sharing the same space or breathing the same air, recognizing pain and sharing it is the best way to go. We are social creatures. We may hurt each other sometimes, but we need each other to survive; to help each other live.

Whew…that’s probably enough pretentious babbling like I’m some kind of expert in psychology or sociology for one sitting! It’s just that Koe no Kotachi, as I said, is far more than the sum of its parts, and even those parts are phenomenal in their construction and presentation, be it its fully-realized and complex characters, KyoAni’s seemingly more obsessive-than-usual attention to human and environmental detail, marvelous dialogue, voice acting, music, etc.

Koe no Kotachi is BIG, and it’s often messy, much like life. There are moments of despair and disgust, but also moments of grace and astonishing beauty. Scenes filled with hate and loathing mixed with scenes of love, understanding, and camaraderie.

It’s immensely though-provoking and impeccably performed. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry (probably more than you’ll laugh) but mostly it will tear your heart to pieces and then meticulously reconstruct it, bigger and better than ever. Mostly it’s just really really good. I highly recommend it!

3-gatsu no Lion – 35

Thanks to the efforts of Kobuku, the bullying in Hina’s class has stopped. The ringleader Takagi and her five co-conspirators were exposed for all to see and made to apologize to the class for their actions. And yet Kobuku remains unconvinced that Takagi in particular shows any remorse for what she’s done.

In an interrogation-style scene, he tries to get past Takagi’s limp excuses (it’s society’s fault) and tries to get to the root of her trouble. Takagi is frustrated with always being told to study and work hard by people who won’t take responsibility if all that studying and working amounts to nothing.

But more importantly, as all those people were dishing out those platitudes, they never made any real effort to ask Takagi how she feels and what she wants. But now she has Koboku’s undivided attention; she no longer has any excuses.

Hollow apology or not, Hina is happy the darkness in her class has been expelled, even if she’s still terribly hurt by the effects of Takagi and her henchmen, especially where poor Sakura Chiho is concerned, which is why Hina is so overjoyed when she finally receives a letter from her.

In it, Chiho tells Hina that after initially being a bit lonely, she’s made friends and found peace at the remote farm surrounded by mountains and forests and full of animals and kind people. Tears well up in Hina’s eyes as she reads; tears of both enduring heartbreak of what went down in their class, and relief that Chiho is okay, and wants Hina to visit some time.

Rei, perhaps feeling like Hinata is slowly stealing his show (he’s not wrong!), shows up at the Kawamoto residence to find Hina lying supine and fast asleep in the sun. She has an etheral, almost angelic aura about her that makes him feel extra self-conscious about entering the room. So he waits in the genkan, only to be woken up by Hina.

She tells him, simply, that “it’s over”, and eagerly describes the day when her classmates cried and apologized to her, then invited her over to make cookies. These were the same classmates who, with the threat of retribution from Takagi and her ilk removed, finally felt safe enough to tell the teacher what happened and to talk with and hang out with Hina again.

When Hina opens her mouth wide to show Rei the burn caused by a fresh baked cookie, Rei decides to make this about himself: Woe is he, who wasn’t able to do anything to help Hina in her time of need. Oh wait, he didn’t do nothing in that time; he did a lot!

Hina sets him straight by listing everything he’s done for her, then doles out punishment in the form of several love bites. Then she starts to dance and twirl under his arm as they walk briskly beside the river, happy as you please. Which begs the question: Is Hina merely the best girl in the galaxy, or the entire universe? I’m gonna go with the latter.

3-gatsu no Lion – 34

Despite all of the good vibes sent Hina’s way by her sisters, her grandpa, and of courses, Rei, the bullying is still going on, and it has cast a pall of black, miasma-like mist over the entire classroom and school. Takagi Megumi won’t stop stirring the shit, and Hina won’t stop bravely confronting it head-on. Both can probably keep the battle going indefinitely, but their teacher has had enough.

This isn’t the first time her class has been thrown into shadow and chaos by one shit-stirrer and one defiant victim, and the stress that comes from her helplessness to ever resolve such situations, combined with the dread that comes with the certainty it will happen again, proves too much for the poor woman, who unleashes a desperate rant before passing out.

Now that Takagi has not only sent a victim off, but the supposed authority figure as well, one would think she’s “winning” this particular war. But whether she actually really wants this to go on or not, she seems almost as powerless to stop this as her victims. That makes whatever victory that might come feel not only hollow, but Pyrrhic.

This is some Scorched Earth-kinda shit going own, so who better to deal with averting apocalypse than Ikari Gendo himself? Just kidding; a 3GL-Eva crossover would be too weird (though not altogether unwelcome!) But the ruined teacher’s temporary replacement Mr. Kokobu is voiced by the same guy, doing a more causal performance more indicative of Zaraki Kenpachi.

Kokobu comes in not only knowing pretty much exactly what’s going on, but on whom to pin the blame. He laments that a class so close to high school entrance exams must be disrupted by a faculty shake-up, but also says, basically, “you little shits have no one to blame for not making a peep when one of their classmates had to change schools because of the bullying.”

And of course, he’s right. Takagi and Hina aren’t as powerful as a classroom united against bullying and conflict. But Takagi has spent so much time and effort neutralizing them with threats of retribution that they’ve kept quiet all this time. But it’s not like I expect the class to en masse decide to take a stand.

The overarching problem is that no one is in a situation they can control or pull themselves out of alone. It will take a unity of will and intent, and Kokobu likely hopes the unpleasantness of the situation to date will start bringing this mess to an end.

The last thing Hina wanted to do was bring her sister Akari into this, but that’s what has to happen, and Akari doesn’t shrink before the task at hand, nor does she hesitate to spoil Hina with some of her favorite foods (some kind of french toast drink and a beef croquette) on the eve of their parent-teacher conference.

Akari even fends off Grandpa, who has an important sweets order to take care of, so seriously does she take her promise to her dying mother that she’d take care of Hina and Momo. That she made this promise in her uniform, showing she’s still a child herself, makes it the dream much more heartbreaking.

It’s a dream that keeps Akari up late, so even if she had a particular game plan against the eventuality of encountering Takagi’s formidable mom in the hall (and she does not), she wouldn’t be at 100% to execute that plan.

Any thoughts of Takagi losing her hold on the class anytime soon are dashed when two of the classmates lure Mr. Kokobu away with a lie about a broken window, leaving the two students and their guardians alone together. Takagi’s mom immediately sets to work telling Akari to sort Hina out, and Akari falls all too easily into a trap where the mom asks her for proof of her daughter’s malfeasance, for which there is only Hina’s word.

Unaccustomed to such aggressive confrontation, overwhelmed by the promise she made to her mom, and fatigued from last night’s lack of sleep, Akari quickly falters, but before Mrs. Takagi can finish her, Kokobu returns, and it is Hina who takes Akari’s hand and sends her of to calm her down, not the other way around.

In this horribly shitty situation, Hina maintains her composure and is able to stand and endure the black mist. In the nurse’s office, she vows, like a shounen hero, that she’ll survive and graduate, she wins, so she’s not going to spend a second of her life worrying about the words and actions of c-words like Takagi again. Even if that’s better said than done, Akari is heartened.

Meanwhile, Kokobu calmly listens to Takagi’s Mom’s grievances, but cannot accept them without proof Hina is lying (which she obviously isn’t). The burden of proof both Takagi and her Mom were touting works both ways, and without the opportunity to pawn all the shit her daughter stirred up on to someone else, neither are ever going to be happy about the situation any more than Hina and Akari.

That means we have something of a stalemate.  Hopefully the escalation has been halted, the miasma somewhat cleared, and that with Kokobu’s guidance, the possibility of productive peace talks isn’t as remote as it once was.

3GL always seems to know when I’m hankering for a Kawamoto-heavy episode, and this one pretty one delivered everything I could have hoped for, with phenomenal performances by Kayano Ai and Hanazawa Kana and  a sweet guest appearance by the always authoritative Fumihiko Tachiki— (not to mention some nice work from Yuuki Aoi as Takagi).

The episode leans on the 3GL habit of using stark contrasts in light, dark, water, and color as the mood of the episode changes. We also get a new OP sung by Unison Square Garden and a sensational new ED featuring “I Am Standing” by Ruann. Forget March, it’s January that comes in like a lion with this, probably the best episode yet of 3GL’s second season.

Inuyashiki – 11 (Fin)

Early in this final episode, I was deathly afraid Hiro would somehow repair himself and pay Ichirou and his family a visit, and there would be no way Ichirou would be able to fight Hiro off and save his family; indeed, they’d likely be part of the ample collateral damage of such a fight.

That fear was only amplified when Ichirou showed his entire family the machinery within him, confessing to them that he might not be their Ichirou, but a fake. When his wife asks him to describe their honeymoon, he recalls every detail with such emotion both she and Mari end up bawling and embracing him…of course he’s their Ichirou. Only his son stays away, still understandably weary of this shocking news.

As for Hiro, his arms aren’t coming back, and he seems to have given up on destroying Japan. He shows up in Andou’s room to read the latest Jump, but Andou can’t allow the charade to go on, and calls Ichirou. Hiro splits before he arrives, and later watches Shion and her grandmother from afar, not daring to get too close lest his awfulness infect them any further. Hiro is also constantly hearing desperate cries for him to just effing die already for all the horrendous shit he’s done. He’s not in a good place.

As for Ichirou, honesty proves to be the best policy, as his family quickly embraces him (I love how his office didn’t even acknowledge him as the healing god on TV). He takes the fam out to eat and they take a riverside stroll afterward, in a wonderful display of family camaraderie.

In an earlier talk with his boy while walking home, Ichirou tells him how death makes life precious, and that now that he’s a machine he realizes he took being human for granted.  Even so, you can’t deny his family is being a lot nicer to him now that he’s a machine, when before, only his dog Hanako seemed to care whether he lived or died.

At the same time, perhaps they weren’t ever as disdainful as the earlier episodes depicted; maybe we were just seeing things from Ichirou’s woe-is-me perspective. It wasn’t as if he was the only member of his family feeling underappreciated or downtrodden.

In any case, that odd ominous sense of finality to the family interactions is explained by President Donald Trump of all people on the TV: Remember that Giant Asteroid? It’s still headed to Earth, where it’s expected to wipe out all life in three days. Trump basically tells the losers of the world to pound sand; he has no regrets about his life.

Such a comforting voice in trying times, is the Trumpster’s. A good chunk of the masses respond by engaging in widespread illegal activity. Something has to be done, and we know who needs to do it.

While I know the asteroid has been mentioned for some time, the shift from the Ichirou-Hiro conflict to Stopping the Asteroidocalypse still feels very sudden, and once this episode ended, I felt a bit like an entire arc had been awkwardly squeezed into one episode.

That being said, the execution, while hasty, still made an impact, what with Mari’s tearful farewell of her father (who promises he’ll be back) and the gorgeous shots of Ichirou floating around space. Unfortunately, even his formidable arsenal is ineffective at altering the asteroid’s course.

Enter Hiro, who followed Ichirou into space, and who believes the course will shift if he self-detonates on the asteroid’s surface. As horrible as he is, Hiro doesn’t want Andou or Shion to die, so like Ichirou, he’ll do all he can to stop that from happening.

When the night sky turns to day for a few minutes, both Andou and Shion seems to sense their friend is gone. For all the hundreds of people he killed in various awful ways (and if looking at things dispassionately), sacrificing himself to save the entire population of earth seems like a sufficient means of redemption.

It’s too bad then, that Hiro alone can’t save earth; he only blew up part of the asteroid; to finish it, Ichirou has to blow himself up as well. While I’m sure he didn’t like breaking his promise to Mari, he’d have liked her being incinerated by a meteor even less.

Also neither Ichirou nor Hiro in their current states were anything that should have been anywhere near humanity; they were simply too powerful, on both the good and bad side of things. They should have died when that alien ship squashed them. Turns out they got some bonus time, but now that time has ended.

The simple, quiet epilogue of Mari learning her manga won the competition in Jump (to Andou’s surprise as well) is the product of Ichirou lovingly supporting his daughter’s creative dreams, and earning back her respect and affection in return. No doubt the next work she publishes will be dedicated to her father’s memory.

3-gatsu no Lion – 31

Rei is enjoying a big feast with the Kawamotos before he heads off to Osaka for the Newcomer Tournament final, but Hana isn’t. She can’t eat a bite; her stomach hurts. It’s because she’ll be heading off too: to Kyoto, on a multi-day class trip.

Rei immediately knows why Hina is feeling the way she is, and gives what advice he can to help ease her pain, since he’s felt it too. He vividly imagines the hell she’ll have to face while on the trip, ostracized by her peers. She’s going into battle just as much as he is. And like him, she wants to win.

When Rei meets Kawasaki Junko, the game records of his semifinal match with Nikaidou have already said a lot about the guy (except that he looks really old for someone 26 and under). Knowing he couldn’t beat Nikaidou in a quick game, Kawasaki did everything he could to lengthen it, knowing Nikaidou’s health would give out and the match would be his.

Knowing this is how Kawasaki wins fills Rei with rage, and he almost plays right into his opponent’s hands when a voice inside him stays his hand: it’s Nikaidou’s words ringing out: don’t attack, defend; take care of your shogi and yourselfPerservere. It’s what Nikaidou did, even though he failed. It’s what Hina is doing in Kyoto.

Back on course, Rei contains his anger and focuses it on persevering, on enduring the mind games Kawasaki is playing, and by focusing on the shogi, and when the match is over, Rei is the new Newcomer King, while Kawasaki is a fief in the land of losers where he deserves to be for his callus, unchivalrous play.

Rei does not savor the victory long, because he knows Hina’s still out there battling. After a fellow player gives him some stomach medicine Shimada recommended, Rei races to Kyoto by bullet train, and using Hina’s class trip schedule, combs the shopping venue where her class is supposed to be.

Then he remembers his own times of loneliness during such trips, and how a mall full of laughter and fun would be the last place he’d be. Instead, he searches the river, the place back home where she’s always run to be alone.

Her reaction to Rei suddenly appearing there, just when she was about to start crying, is hard to put into words. Poweful? Sure. Heartlifting? You bet. When he was younger, Rei had to face many battles alone.

Now he knows how much better he’d have fared if he had someone beside him to make things even a little more endurable, and happens to have someone in Hina who he can ensure won’t endure her battles alone.

All it took was being there—in that particular time and place—to be hugged, to be a font for her tears, to remind her she isn’t fighting in vain, and that it’s going to be alright.

3-gatsu no Lion – 30

“All you can do is what you can do, one thing at a time.” That’s the advice Hayashida-sensei gives Rei after another consultation about Hina’s predicament. Hayashida is as outraged by the attitude of Hina’s homeroom teacher—and as rearin’ to go give her a piece of his mind—as Rei, but neither of them can.

Hayashida is a total stranger in the matter, while Rei took a path of isolation that won’t work for Hina…though I maintain that his plan of “at least have lots of cash sitting around” isn’t a bad one, though Hayashida is right that the Kawamotos would not easily accept it.

Akari’s emotionless tale of their father’s whereabouts—he left them to start another family—was suitably heartbreaking. But so is the sudden news that his self-appointed rival Nikaidou lost the semifinals in the Newcomer Tournament, and is apparently now too ill to leave his home.

Rei wants answers, so Shimada provides them—by telling Rei the story of how his master took on one more disciple after him: a tiny, round, sickly boy. Shimada dismissed him, as most did, as a pampered rich boy, but in him raged a burning passion the equal of any shogi player, even if he lacked adequate skill to match.

Due to his (undisclosed, incurable) illness, Nikaidou couldn’t have a normal childhood any more than Rei could with the loss of his family and turbulent years with his stepsiblings. But back then, as now, Nikaidou only ever “did what he could do, one thing at a time,” staying in every match until he had nothing left. He was doing it because he could, but also so Rei could have a worthy rival to keep him on his toes.

Now that Rei knows how weak Nikaidou is, one could be forgiven for thinking he’d go easy on him next time. But Rei understands what devoting oneself to shogi means, even if his path to the game was much much different. That understanding demands he show Nikaidou no mercy next time. And hopefully there’ll be a next time.

3-gatsu no Lion – 29

This week is all about dealing with unpleasant or unreasonable people. It would be nice if such people didn’t exist in the world, but they do, hence the dealing.

Hina has to deal with a teacher who hasn’t learned anything from what happened with Chiho, only this time Hina makes her anger about the situation known.

Akari is nervous about being called in and having to face off against other parents. She’s heard horror stories about how forcefully they take their own child’s side, and wonders if she’ll need backup in the form of Grandpa or Auntie.

Rei yells, perhaps too loud, that he’s there for her too, and that’s all it takes for Akari to pull out of her worry-spiral and start thinking the right way: she’s not alone, and it will all work out. Probably!

Rei wants to help in any way he can, but is well aware of his shortcomings. His heartfelt desire is to be needed; he believes continuing to fight and win in his chosen field is the best way to do so.

He makes sure his colleague Nikaidou gets some rest before the next day’s match, assuring him he’ll do fine as long as he takes care of himself.

As for Rei, actively working to fulfill his own desires constitutes taking care of himself; always a welcome development.

In order to win, he must play—and defeat—Subaru Hachiya, an opponent he almost immediately finds offensively irritating. The 23-year-old up-and-comer stomps around, clicks his tongue, shakes his legs, taps his fingers, slams pieces onto the board with a rude force. He also plays comically fast, as if he has a bus to catch.

Rei doesn’t seem to have much trouble beating Hachiya, but he’s later blamed by the older players for “poking the hive” and allowing Hachiya’s worst behaviors to assert themselves rather than trying to “contain” him.

While far less serious, it’s the same basic situation as Hina, as Rei was a victim of Hachiya’s rudeness as Hina was a victim of the bullies, yet here they are, being blamed for their comparatively far better conduct.

Maybe Hina’s teacher sucks, but maybe she’s also seen enough Chihos and Hinas to know that the bully/victim class dynamic isn’t going away, any more than Hachiya’s buzzing can be tamed. Neither Hina nor Rei chose the easy way that would be “better for everyone”, and that’s their choice to make.