Violet Evergarden – 13 (Fin) – “I Love You” Means Never Having to Take Orders Again

Violet Evergarden protects Dietfried from bullets at the cost of one metal arm, then prevents the bridge from blowing up at the cost of another (with a crucial assist and catch from Benedict). In doing so, she averts the escalation of an isolated anti-peace flare-up and preserves peace for the continent.

In light of all this, Dietfried rightly starts to seriously rethink how he’s always thought about Violet—the tool he gave his brother which then outlived his brother—and how his blaming of her was only a means of distracting him from the fact he blamed himself more.

With peace secured, Violet secures new arms and returns to ghostwriting work immediately, but as the first Leiden Air Show since the war began looms, she faces her most difficult assignment yet: writing a letter not for anyone else, but by herself, containing her feelings; the whims of her heart.

Cattleya encourages her to write something before the deadline, but Violet gets writer’s block. She recalls that night in the Major’s tent when he told her she neither needs nor should want nothing but his orders; that she should feel free to live free, because she’s not a toll, she’s human, with emotions just like his.

Gilbert proves it rather cruelly by making her as upset as he is, but at the time Violet still knows nothing of what she’s feeling, and realizing that, he decides to table the discussion until after the battle…a “later” that never comes due to his death at Intens.

As if the universe were conspiring to lend Violet inspiration to write a letter to Gilbert, Dietfried arrives at the doll office to introduce her to his mother, who wished to meet and speak with her. The mother’s memory is somewhat hazy, but watching Violet’s reactions to her words (and her description of Violet’s “Gilbert-Eye” pendant) snaps her into lucidity.

Gilbert’s mother tells Violet things only she can say: that it wasn’t your fault; that it’s not your cross to bear; that her other son hasn’t given up on him any more than the two of them. But rather than wait for her son to come through the front door, she takes comfort in knowing he’ll live forever in her heart. Remembering him the rest of her life may hurt, but hey…love hurts.

For all the damage Gilbert felt he did by allowing her to act as a weapon for so long from such a young age, the very fact he saw her as a human and not a tool is what ultimately put Violet in the position she’s in now: with the means to grab the life she’s always been owed, and live in happiness yearning for neither orders nor death.

Vi shocks Dietfried one more time before departing by telling him she’s done with orders. Thus he sees, for the first time, not only a real human, but someone kindred to him in the pain of his loss.

Upon returning from the Bougainvillea House, Violet writes the letter that will join tens of thousands of others and be rained down upon the city by the airplanes, like her weapons of war reborn as weapons of peace and the transmission of peoples’ feelings.

We, as the audience, are the ones who “catch” and read that letter, in which she states that while she didn’t understand anything about how he felt when he tried to tell her, by ghostwriting she’s gradually developed the tools to sense how people feel, and thus how he felt.

Finally, she speaks of how she feels. She continues to believe he’s alive, whether that’s somewhere out in the world or in her heart and those of his mother and brother, and that she finally understands what the words “I love you” mean “a little better.”

So She’ll continue her work living, writing, transmitting the contents of others’ hearts through paper and ink, and in doing so continue to learn about her own emotions. Since a “new project” has already been greenlit, we’ll be witnesses to the continuation of her journey, and that of her colleagues at the Auto Memoir Doll Service.

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Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 13 (Fin) – Ten Thousand Times More Beautiful

With no more conflicts or catharses left to have, the girls enjoy their final days in Antarctica. They’ve settled into such a routine and gotten so used to the astonishing environment, one adult jokes they won’t be able to reintegrate into society, presenting Shirase and the other Mahjong junkies as evidence.

Their final journey to the frozen sea affords them the opportunity to taste snowcones made from ice with thousand-year-old air pockets, which Mari attests to be delicious. They also learn that much of the winter team’s activities will include sleeping, drinking, and games to pass the time.

Shirase finally gets her wish to be surrounded by adorable penguins, but she’s locked in a cycle of being disgusted by the smell and delighted by being in their presence while asking for some unspecified form of help. I imagine many of us would feel the same way.

Mari is getting cold feet about leaving, and wonders out loud to the others why they can’t just stay. Hinata flicks her forehead and doles out reality; they have to get back to their homes, their families, and their school. But all four promise that they’ll come back together someday.

They then present their final request to the rest of the team: that they play a game of snow softball. Captain Toudou is, naturally, the ace, but just like Takako, Shirase is not only able to hit her pitch, but drive it out of the “park.”

On the eve of departing, Shirase decides to have her hair cut short—her heart wasn’t broken by a guy, but such a change makes sense after her catharsis with the laptop (she also wisely chooses Hinata to cut it, not Mari). The whole team musters for the girls’ farewell ceremony, and after a heartfelt speech by Gin that starts everyone crying, Shirase confidently delivers and even more heartfelt, tear-jerking speech.

In it, she expresses the understanding she reached in this place beyond the universe, and why both her mother and her love it so much: It’s a place that strips everything bare, with nothing to protect you and nowhere to hide. It’s a place where someone can come face-to-face with who they really are…and she did that.

Before embarking for home, Shirase hands Gin her mom’s laptop, stating she no longer needs it. Later, Gin discovers there’s still a message from Takako in the outbox; the last she ever composed. The quartet waves goodbye to their Antarctic summer home where they experienced and learned so much about the world, each other, and themselves.

Yuzu wonders if maybe they all got a little stronger during the journey. A ‘little’? I think she sells herself and the others short here. They were the first high school-age students to explore Antarctica, and they made it. Now, all of a sudden, they’re headed back to the normal world. Even if and when they come back, it will never be the same as their first time.

When night falls, Mari finally gets to experience the one thing they couldn’t due to the laughably short Antarctic nights: view the aurora. Just when they do, Gin sends the last email Takako wrote to Shirase, stating how the real thing is “ten thousand times more beautiful”—something of which, in that moment, Shirase and the others are all to aware.

The four friends, having forged their bonds in the coldest and harshest crucible on the planet, go their separate ways with confidence and return to their lives that were with a serious sense of accomplishment, self-awareness, and maturity.

They discovered as much about themselves in Antarctica as they discovered about the place itself, like how there are no “nothing” days but there’s still more to discover upon returning, like the smell of one’s house.

And in a perfect capper to a marvelous series, Mari texts Megumi that she’s home, and gets a near-immediate response, along with a photo of her posing with the aurora: “Too bad. Right now, I’m in the Arctic.” Well played, Megu-chan; well played.

 

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 12

Shirase vividly remembers the day she was suddenly pulled out of class and informed of her mother’s death. How can she not? We all carry days like that in our memories. For her, it was the end of life feeling as it had before, and the beginning of a dream; an awful dream from which she hoped every day to wake up from.

She’s worked so hard, endured mockery, made and fought with friends, and arrived at the place where she lost her mother. Yet she still doesn’t feel like the dream is over. Now Gin has invited her and the other girls to join the team that will press inland, to the observatory site from which Takako never returned.

Shirase tells her friends it’s not so much that she’s depressed to stressed out about her mother. Rather, she’s weary that if and when she gets to the end of the road, there will be nowhere left to go. If nothing changes, the way it hasn’t thus far, what if she keeps feeling the way she does the rest of her life? What if she can’t wake up?

The girls decide to give Shirase space, proof, according to an adult colleague, that they’re truly good friends. Shirase sits with Gin, who tells her that neither of them know what Takako felt, or whether she wanted them to return to Antarctica, where she’d be waiting in some form.

All Gin can say for certain is that she came because she wanted to come: “At the end of the day, those ideas we latch on to aren’t enough to motivate us. But when we run around on the injustices of reality, they’re the only things that can break through, make the impossible possible, and allow us to proceed on.”

After laying out all of her cash and listing all the ways she made it, Shirase regains the idea that brought her to Antarcica, and joins Gin and the other girls on the inland trip…because her mother is waiting there.

Along the slow, cold slog of a trip, Shirase and he girls experience the harshest conditions so far, but still have to work in them, because there’s no other choice. They also experience some of the most otherworldly sights, like a sun pillar.

When Shirase asks Gin if her mother saw the same thing, Gin answers in the affirmative. Later, Gin has Shirase check in with Syowa Station. From then on, as Shirase realizes she’s following in her mother’s last footsteps, the journey adopts an increasingly melancholy mood.

When a punishing blizzard arrives identical to the one that suddenly claimed Takako, Gin remembers Takako’s last call on the radio, saying “it’s beautiful” but not telling Gin where she was, because if Gin went out to attempt rescue, nature would likely have claimed her as well.

The girls are snug in their sleeping bags as the winds lash against the snowcat, and Shirase sees a vision of her mother sitting nearby, working on her laptop. Mari wakes up to thank Shirase for taking her for allowing her to get the most out of her youth.

It doesn’t matter to her whether they went to Antartica or the Arctic or anywhere else; what made the trip special was that they took it together, as friends. Shirase then tells her mother that she, who thought she’d be fine alone forever, now has friends: slightly weird, frustrating, and broken friends, but friends who were willing to come this far with her.

Now, there’s only a little further to go, and once the snowcats arrive at the observatory site, those same friends rush into the underground complex to try to find something, anything that serves as proof Shirase’s mother was there. And boy do they ever find it: Takako’s laptop, with a photo of Takako and Shirase taped to the back.

Again Shirase’s friends recede to the hallway as Shirase fires up the laptop. She gets the password right on the second try, and when Takako’s inbox opens, it immediately starts updating, with a dozen, then a hundred, then a thousand emails gradually pouring in…and Shirase loses it. Her friends hear her anguish and then they start crying.

In a show that’s had no shortage of episode climaxes that tug at the heartstrings, no scene to date has tugged quite this far (I pretty much lost it too!). It truly feels like Shirase has finally awakened from her hazy three-year-long dream, having experienced a profound measure of closure from this. In any case, her fear of not feeling anything once she came to the end of her journey didn’t come to pass. She didn’t just feel something; she felt everything.

Itsudatte Bokura no Koi wa 10 cm Datta. – 05

Just as Miou has come out of her funk and started to work on her painting of love anew, Haruki develops a profound crisis of identity. He stops coming to school snaps at Saku, and decides he won’t be going to America after all, because he’s now convinced filmmaking was his brother’s dream, not his.

Miou pulls out the ol’ “I’ll wait as long as it takes at the usual spot” to draw Haruki out, as when the snow starts coming down, he worries, correctly, that she’ll be standing out in the cold all alone. There, in their usual spot, the two have it out.

While in the moment I was frustrated with how mean Haruki was being, one has to consider how emotionally unmoored he is, as well as frustrated with how Miou wouldn’t talk or even look at him for so long, only to need to talk now.

Haruki really does need to just cool it with the angst and listen, because Miou has to tell him she was the one Chiaki saved, and to apologize for keeping it from him so long, worried he’d hate her.

Haruki is too busy hating himself to hate Miou, but when he starts talking about what an idiot he is to confuse his brother’s dream with his own, Miou gives him the front of her right hand, breaking the 10cm distance in an instant.

She reminds him two brothers can have the same dreams, and that in all her time watching him, she could tell that Haruki’s dream of directing films was his own, and a powerful one at that, so he should really lighten up!

Miou also shows Haruki her recently completed painting, one of a guy and a girl looking out a window in the classroom. I assume it’s meant to be the two of them, and so the painting serves as a kind of confession of sorts for Miou. Haruki is cheered up, and the two head to his place to get out of the cold.

There, after cocoa, Miou remembers she has a DVD Saku told her to watch with Haruki. It is footage recorded right after Chiaki saved the girl Haruki now knows was Miou; Chiaki tells his little brother he’s filming one of the best scenes a director can film: a person’s moment of victory for having achieved something great (in his case, saving Miou).

Young Haruki promises his brother right there that he’ll follow his dream—yes, his dream of directing—making the DVD video evidence that what Miou said to Haruki is true, and he really does love making films. I guess that means he’ll be heading to America after all…which is bittersweet, since it’ll mean being apart from Miou.

Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 05

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One thing that makes Euph such a joy to watch is that it isn’t only the musical performances that are beautifully animated with the utmost attention to detail, it’s everything.

Hazuki doesn’t just grab hold of the handle on the train, you see the specific angle of her Chuck Taylors as she’s doing so, then looks out the window at the sights going by. Something mundane, like riding a train, is elevated to something special.

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So too is Kumiko when she starts to get scared about the oncoming Kansai Competition, even though we learn neither she nor the others had any reason to fear. They put everything into preparing for a twelve-minute piece, and it pays off big.

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Asuka, mostly keeping to herself unless someone like Kumiko or Nozomi approached her, stands up before the president to say some words that need to be said, about how she isn’t going to be satisfied having simply made it to where they are; she wants to win and move on to the nationals. Now they’re one step closer.

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If mundane things are wonderfully rendered in Euph, then the musical performances are simply that much more impressive. Every little clink of the instruments before the music starts, the teast of Taki-sensei raising his hands, then cutting to the sound of cicadas outside, only to bring us back into the performance.

The bold, brash, and challenging-sounding piece they play draws us in; the band plays as well as they ever have. Everyone knows their role and they execute with near perfection. Kumiko plays to the level Taki expected; Reina, playing for her and not Taki, knocks it out of the park with the trumpet. And Mizore’s oboe solo is full of grace and emotion, now that she’s no longer lamenting Nozomi.

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There’s a bit of suspense after the credits when the schools and their scores are announced, but I never for one second believed Kitauji would get anything less than Gold and to advance onward. I mean, they simply brought it with that performance.

Like Kazuki backstage, I couldn’t help but pray no big mistakes were made, and none were. As a result, the Nationals are now in view on the horizon, and it’s great to see the release of tension once they know it is. Kitauji is for real, but it only gets tougher from here.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 04

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In the end, Kumiko couldn’t do it. Or at least she couldn’t do it in time: confront Yoroizuka Mizore about Nozomi. Time is something no one in the concert band has: the competition is in ten days and they’ll be playing after Myoujou Technical.

It’s apropos that moments after nailing her piece in practice, Nozomi appears to praise her, than to ask if Mizore is around, since she heard her oboe. An oboe, by the way, that Nozomi remembers as being far more “fun” than it is now.

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There’s a reason for that, and it’s revealed this week, in IMO the best episode of the Fall 2016 Season so far (keep in mind I’m not watching Yuri!! On Ice). The tension when Kumiko realizes Nozomi is headed to Mizore, and Mizore’s painful reaction and quick retreat, are all beautifully done, as is Yuuko dropping all pretense and begging Kumiko to find Mizore quickly.

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Kumiko is the one who finds Mizore first, and though she didn’t get to her in time to save her from a painful encounter, she more than mitigates that by forming the conduit through which misunderstandings can be cleared up and fences mended, which was Kumiko’s hope in getting involved all along.

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Mizore, as we know, is bad with people. It’s hard for people to approach her and harder for her to approach them. So when Nozomi did approach her, in middle school, and they became fast friends, it was a revelation.

So much so, that when Nozomi quit the band without telling her, Mizore worried that it was because she was being left out. Nozomi was her only friend; Nozomi had many; and she feared more than anything that she was mistaken about their friendship.

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When Nozomi quit, Mizore shifted to Yuuko, but anyone could hear in her oboe play that she was still playing only for Nozomi; that Nozomi quit and could no longer play with her. When Yuuko arrives, worried sick, Mizore is so worked up about Nozomi that Yuuko has to remind her she has her too.

To that, Mizore reveals something more: that Yuuko was friends with her only out of pity; another misunderstanding. She was also mistaken in thinking her guilt over Nozomi and the others quitting was more important than being happy about winning the Kyoto Competition.

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Tanezaki Atsumi and Yamaoka Yuri do superb, powerful work here, bringing vitality and raw emotion to Mizore and Yuuko, respectively; there are moments when Tanezaki channels Hanazawa Kana. When Nozomi enters the classroom to find out what’s amiss, Touyama Nao adds her voice to this choir of awesomeness.

The most important misunderstanding is revealed by having the two friends finally face each other and clear the air: Nozomi didn’t tell Mizore she was quitting because she didn’t want her to quit too. She admired how diligent Mizore practiced.

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This was a case of someone who has trouble making friends and someone who has trouble not making friends ending up in each others’ blind spots. So it’s a good thing Yuuko and Kumiko are there to help bring them both into the light.

It’s also a case of my patience being rewarded, and I always reward shows that do that. Just when I needed some kind of catharsis over the building character tensions Kumiko was juggling, we get exactly that, and it’s as compelling and dramatically satisfying as anything on HBO. That’s the power of KyoAni at its best.

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Those fantastic scenes between Kumiko, Yuuko, Mizore, and Nozomi were bookended by Kumiko encounters with her older sister (who wordlessly storms past her and out of the house after an argument with their father), and her sister from another mother, Reina. The earlier scene very succinctly illustrates how wading deeper into her bandmates’ problems has taken her further away from her family’s. To be continued.

Her scene with Reina, on the other hand, is almost a reward for Kumiko (and us!) For a second I thought she’d bring up the fact that Taki-sensei is a widower. Instead, she asks Reina if there’s anyone in particular she plays for. Reina is, as Kumiko so perfectly puts it, “so Reina” in her reply that she mostly plays for herself.

But I’d wager a part of her plays for Kumiko too, as part of Kumiko plays for her. After all, come the next competition, everyone in the concert band will live and die on each others’ performances, not just their own.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 08

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar is a little counter-intuitive. You’d think that its penchant for building slow, careful, gradual atmosphere meant it would need all twelve (or more) episodes to properly tell its story. And yet, despite taking things slow and easy and letting its characters breathe and exist in the world it created, this eighth episode could have been the finale, with four episodes to spare.

This was the culmination of nearly everything the seven episodes had cultivated, including my emotional investment. It achieved a tremendous amount without abandoning or compromising the style it’s stuck with all along. In fact, in the end it actually doubled down on the long quiet, contemplative, emotion-rich scene of rest.

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a show so patient and diligent and deliberate that at the same time was able to move so fleetly and efficiently. It kind of had its cake and ate it too.

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Things start simply: a pre-game huddle in which Mary–the priest who let her party die who joined the party that let their priest die–adds her hand to the pile and promises to protect everyone. Then everyone gets into position, waits for the right time, and the most ambitious and dangerous battle yet fought commences.

The breathless, bloody action is set to upbeat (rather than desperate) music, reflecting everyone’s positive attitude and determination entering the fight. No longer is there any doubt that they will have each other’s backs. The goblins are initially surprised by their ambush, but quickly regroup and exhibit that they’re just as capable of learning about their enemy and adapting to their tactics.

At times, things get a little dicey, but just when you think one party member is in trouble, another one bails them out. When Yume and Moguzo get wounded, Mary quickly heals them, and it’s not a waste of magic because without numbers, they can’t afford the pace of the battle to wane due to injuries.

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After infiltrating the goblin stronghold and clearing the lower levels of all enemies, they reach the top, where the leader is sitting, apparently bleeding out and close to death. It’s here, so close to victory, where the party lets its guard down, just as it did when they took down their very first goblin but didn’t cut deep enough. Despite being indoors, they neglected the fact the roof was open, and a goblin snipers puts an arrow in Mary’s back.

Dear God, not again raced through my head as I held my breath, and as the others tended to Mary, Haruhiro (who Mary is now calling “Haru”, like me, or “Hal”, depending on your translator!), goes after the sniper, who happens to have his old dagger. After a vicious struggle, he uses that dagger to deliver the killing blow, Yume slides down the roof to meet him, and the battle is over.

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I was a little worried for a second that Mary died, but part of me assumed this time she had enough magic to heal herself, and so she did. After that battle, Haru and the others acquire their badges and finally become volunteer soliders. Their first stop after this achievement is the grave of their former leader, Manato, not just to show him that they did it, but to give him his own badge as well.

During this extended scene, which I liked very much, Haru thinks a lot about what to say. He notes how he and the others didn’t actually know Manato that long; how he didn’t get to see all the sides of him, how he may have well hid many of his flaws in that time. Haru wished he could have gotten to know Manato better, as did the others, but they can take solace in the fact they were still able to become a good party without him, channeling the pain of his loss to motivate their steady improvement.

As Haru talks about how far they’ve come Ranta says something nasty out of turn and gets admonished by Yume, Shihoru cries, and Mary keeps a respectful distance, though grows closer and closer as the scene continues. It also begins to snow, covering the scenery in white, indicating this is the end of one chapter and the beginning of a fresh new one.

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After the ceremony, Haru walks Mary home (I was wrong last week about her moving in with the party right away). They lament that magic can heal wounds, but not mend clothes or hearts or erase the pain of loss. As they enter the town, he admits he knows about three friends she lost, but she’s okay with him knowing, just as he’s okay with her having a name for him–Haru–that only she uses.

Their last exchange here is infused with a fair share of romantic undertones, but more than anything its just nice to see how far these two have come since Mary first arrived on the scene. Haru has become a good leader of a good party, and Mary has found new friends and a new purpose.

I imagine the party is in store for a time of rest after gaining their badges. I also wonder if the show will ever address everyone’s past lives or the mechanism that brought them to Grimgar; not that any of that is necessary. This was Hai’s best episode, considering the careful work needed to make this such a powerful, cathartic arc conclusion.

I don’t see how it will be topped with only four left (unless a second season is forthcoming), butthat’s okay; the show could have ended right here and I would have been content. This show has already far exceeded my expectations going in; everything that’s to follow is a bonus I’ll graciously accept.

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Noragami Aragoto – 06

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Usually a bad guy just wants more power, for reasons. But once Kugaha truly gets into why he wanted to “start over” with Bishamon, it wasn’t just to become her new exemplar. He truly believed this was what needed to be done. Bishamon had, after all, forsaken her war god legacy and horded “worthless” regalia, dragged them into her centuries-old grudge against Yato (based on a misunderstanding no less), and got them and herself corrupted.

But in his “selfless crusade” to rid the universe of this “selfish, detestable” Bishamon, he forgot one thing: his place, in the order of things. As Yato remarks when he diagnoses Kugaha’s plan as an elaborate cry for mommy’s attention, gods can do no wrong. They are above the morals of humans, Kugaha included. Her will reflects the will of the universe, and cannot be questioned just because Kugaha doesn’t like it.

More importantly, Kugaha deeply underestimated Yato’s power, especially now that Sekki is two swords, sharper than ever, and no longer conflicted about using deadly force. When Kugaha plays his trump card: his skeletal dragon phantom, Yato and Yukine dispatch it with ease.

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Yato prepares to dispatch Kugaha as well, but Bishamon stands up and shields him, refusing to let Yato touch her treasured regalia. Never again, it seems. The War God who had escalated matters so far so recently is the voice of peace here, recalling how she and Kazuma first met Kugaha, and how he became a valued member of her family. Her words and her apologies cut Kugaha to the quick; I might have even detected a glimmer of shame.

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But once word comes that another dragon Kugaha loosed in the mansion is responsible for killing so many of her regalia, Bishamon knows what must be done; she’s just more merciful than Yato would have been, releasing and exiling him rather than taking his life outright. It’s an act that doesn’t forgive what he did, but acknowledges he believed he was doing right by her as well as himself. But he’s not a god, and he wasn’t right.

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Yato, Hiyori and Yukine then fade out to let Bishamon deal with the second phantom, which carries the lost and still-vocal souls of her regalia. She arrives in the nick of time to save the group of survivors, calls the name of the oldest, a rusty swordstick (in a return to her humble roots), and brings the monster down as her lost children cry out for her.

This is the war Bishamon fights. Not some glorious bout on a barren hill that will be recorded in the annals of history, like Kugaha might have wanted. Instead, Bishamon is constantly fighting a war against neglect and cruelty of the near shore. She adopts those who had nowhere else to go because no one else will, and because she alone has the strength to bear so many.

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When the Ma clan was wiped out, Bishamon lost a battle, but not the war, as she and Kurama started over not by killing herself and resurrecting, but taking the ruins of what remained form her defeat and turning it into a fresh victory, her current Ha clan. And standing beside her during that resurgent win was her trusty exemplar Kurama.

When Kurama awakes to find a healed Bishamon smiling over her, he is ashamed for twice disgracing her, and asks her to release him. But like Kugaha, he’s wrong, and Bishamon can do no wrong. She still needs him in the ongoing war to help as many lost ones as she can. It’s a neverending war, but she is timeless.

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And one reason she needs him so badly is because she is unaccustomed to not holding in the manifest pain of her regalia. This is something she’ll work on no longer doing, so something like Kugaha never happens again. To that end, she’s begun an exchange journal with her regalia that she asks Kurama to add to, after she lifts his exile and asks him to return to being her exemplar. And if the War God can forgive him, it would be the highest insolence to not forgive himself.

This was a gorgeous and moving conclusion to the Kugaha vs. Bishamon arc. It managed to give Kugaha a little more dimension before shipping him off, and succeeded in bringing Bishamon and her family to the forefront as a larger-scale analog to Yato’s little but loving family. And it just may have ended Bishamon’s grudge, which dates back to the show’s last season, which is huge, because maybe henceforth she and Yato can interact civilly!

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Noragami Aragoto – 05

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Last week, it was all coming up Kugaha: everyone was playing the roles he’d laid out for them, and everyone was tied up in a knot, culminating in the shattering of Yukine by Bishamon’s untempered-by-Kazuma hand. But Yukine is fine, in fact, he’s better than fine: his act of sacrifice to save his master led to his evolution and transformation from mere regalia to blessed vessel, the same thing that happened with Kuzama.

Now Yukine is two blades instead of one, and they’re both much sharper; all the better to protect his master. Let there be no more doubt about the depth of their bond not just as master and weapon, but family.

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Does the quick resolution of last week’s cliffhanger kill the tension? Not by a long shot. In fact, Yukine’s transformation still plays into Kugaha’s hands, because Yato is now in a far better position to take out Bishamon, who is riddled with blight once Kugaha’s medicine wears off. But if the corruption is weakening her, it’s sure hard to tell; she fights as hard as ever, and her regalia suffer, sharing every blotch of blight she’s enduring.

This won’t end well until someone acts outside of the chain of command and saves Bishamon and everyone else from herself.

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That someone is Aiha, who tells Kuraha, who was just wishing Kazuma was there, where Kugaha stashed Kazuma and Hiyori. As Kugaha lays waste to scores of Bishamon’s lesser regalia with a giant dragonlike phantom, the old lion conveys the two former captives to Bishamon and Yato.

Notably, Hiyori refuses to return to the living world and her body until Yato has seen her; just as Kazuma may be the only one to stop Bishamon, Hiyori is the only one who can stop Yato.

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As Bishamon endures the pain of losing more and more regalia, she refuses to give up the fight, and seeing who’s fighting her, doubles down on her belief Yato is the one behind all this, and is again trying to take everything from her. At the same time, Yato hears the voice of Nora imploring him to cut Bishamon’s regalia down before she entangles him with her scourge. Nora drowns out Yukine’s voice, Yato’s eyes go dead, and he aims for Bishamon’s throat…

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But Hiyori’s voice, now stronger than Nora’s ancient influence, and the reason he’s come, stops him. She shows she’s fine, and explains Bishamon didn’t kidnap her. But it’s too late; if he doesn’t kill her, she’ll kill everyone in a massive atom bomb of corruption. Again going exactly according to Kugaha’s plans, he plans to kill her, saying it’s “not such a big deal” as she’ll be instantly reborn. But it will be a big deal, because she won’t be quite the same Bishamon.

Fortunately, perhaps, Yato’s cut doesn’t kill her, and when she counters, Kazuma comes between the two and takes the full brunt of the attack, then embraces Bishamon and confesses what he deems his sins. He was always going to tell her that he ordered the killing of the Ma clan, but he was the only one left she could turn to, he simply couldn’t say it, and never did, until now.

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Still, I think Kazuma is being too hard on himself. He did what he thought he had to to save his master, and bearing that terrible secret also protected her. Having only Kazuma as a basis for starting over was more important than revealing the truth, which back then would have been the final nail in her coffin. Instead, he became an earring and her exemplar, and she became a better, kinder god.

As with Yukine last week, I can’t definitively speak to the status of Kazuma (though I doubt he’s a goner), but that was some intense catharsis right there, and it had the effect of calming Bishamon and prompting her to release all the regalia she was pushing to their limits.

Most importantly: Aiha’s turnabout, Kazuma’s intervention, Kuraha’s independence, and Bishamon’s catharsis were all events that weren’t part of Kugaha’s plan. He managed to kill a lot of regalia, but his primary goal was thwarted (for now), and now Yato is resolved to go after “the guy behind all of this.” Finally, a break for the good guys.

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One Week Friends – 12 (Fin)

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Yuuki’s present awkwardness with Kaori, and Saki’s avoidance of Kiryu, are both the fault of the guy, and it’s up to them to turn things around. Interestingly, it seems Kaori herself is the catalyst for all of it, by doing what we suggested Yuuki to do, and that is to not let one’s strenuous efforts to retain every past memory interfere with the making of new memories, which is how friendships strengthen and grow.

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She also asks Kiryu what’s up with Yuuki, and while he tells her grudgingly, he knows its something Yuuki may never admit to her: he’s afraid of being with her, lest she one day lost her memories. The tender earnestness of their exchange provides Kaori with much-needed piece of the puzzle (and the knowledge Yuuki doesn’t hate her), it also inspires Kiryu to sort out his own self-made problem.

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The conciliatory scene between Kiryu and Saki isn’t long, but it’s extremely sweet. Kiryu capitalizes on the fact their group is up on the rooftop cleaning to confront Saki, and on her inability to run too far away from him, owing to her modest height. Saki merely misinterpreted his reaction to her proposal, something he apologizes for. He agrees to keep letting her rely on him since she’s so intent on it, though he won’t “baby” her the way her girlfriends do. What goes unsaid is that he doesn’t mind being her rock, because he likes her, but it’s implied in their agreement.

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With that couple’s problem efficiently resolved, it’s back to Yuuki and Kaori, whom everyone, even Kujo, notices a change in their behavior, like they’re forcing themselves. They seriously needed to work things out, so I was heartened when the news came both of them would be going on winter breaks with their families, because that felt like a dead giveaway they’d end up crossing paths.

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Sure enough, both their family trips are cancelled (or those plans never existed in the first place…?) Yet despite this, Yuuki and Kaori walk to the same bridge in what they think are futile hopes of seeing the other there. Their mutual shock and elation at finding each other there is lovely to behold. Though many opportunities arise to part ways, they end up spending the whole day together, because the truth is, neither wants to part ways.

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First, thank God, at long last, they FINALLY HIT UP THE CRÊPE PLACE! I’m in full agreement with Kaori that it’s “like a dream” watching them sitting there, enjoying the crêpes, together. Had the episode not done this, there’d be a far lower score at the bottom of this review, believe it. The dull grey of their surroundings is pushed to the edges of the frame by their warm colors; they look less in a gloomy fog and more in a kind of fluffy heaven.

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Yuuki walks her home, but they come across a shrine and decide to pray to it. Then Kaori starts to cry out of frustration, not knowing what to do in light of Yuuki’s wishy-washy behavior. While she doesn’t know what to do, she knows what she wants, and tells him: she wants to talk to him more, spend more time with him, and become ever closer friends. You know, what Yuuki wants. His wrongheaded attempts to keep her from crying caused her to cry.

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To Yuuki’s credit, he snaps out of his funk, hits himself in the face and insults himself for being such a dolt, and apologizes to Kaori, and goes further to say he wants the same things she does, and lastly, giving her a genuine, unforced smile, borne out of the progress they just made. From now on, they’ll worry less about losing the past or being burned in the future, but focus on making as many new memories together, in the present, as they can. They’re no longer just one-week friends.

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Final Cumulative Score: 8.33
MAL Score: 8.05

Stray Observations:

  • This was a thoroughly beautiful-looking episode, really making the cold overcast winter sky a major character all its own in terms of setting the mood and reinforcing that this was the end, or winter, of the show.
  • Like we said, as Kaori and Yuuki drew closer, they became a warm island, making the monochromatic starkness less ominous.
  • That’s not to say the whole episode was colorless save the characters. Kaori’s talk with Kiryu has a gorgeous palette and composition reminding us of a de Chirico painting, which also inspired the creator of Ico. An appropriate aesthetic, considering how isolated and lost Kaori was feeling.
  • Good on both Kiryu and Yuuki for getting over themselves, admitting they’re at fault, apologizing, and working to make things right. Like I said, the balls were in their courts.
  • I’ll admit I *gulped* when Kaori crossed the street, trailing behind Yuuki.
  • It’s notable that this episode didn’t contain any classic or overt “confessions”, but nor were they necessary, since couples are now on the same wavelength.

Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin – 11 (Fin)

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Tensai to the rescue! The whole big fight between Hiiyo and Juugo, on which Hiiyo seemed to have gotten the upper hand, is called off, not because she uses her Master Detective skills to figure out Hiiyo’s secret power, but because she has the cajones—and enough affection for Juugo that she doesn’t want to see him unduly hurt—to bluff Hiiyo into walking away, appealing to his arrogance while building off the legend she herself had built.

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I wouldn’t have called her bluff, either. It’s entirely likely she’d observed Hiiyo enough to find a weakness and was ready to expose it, because she actually kinda is a Master Detective. She used his reactions to the proposal to determine his power really was his trump card, and that it did have a weakness, so he delayed using it, and she eventually learned that weakness: that the “damage” done to Juugo wasn’t real, but merely suggestion.

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This was an interesting finale in that from the time Hiiyo agreed to stop fighting to the eerie post-credits scene where Yun-chan’s eyes are glowing like a cursed child’s, it was ambitiously building what looked like the foundations of a second season I didn’t actually know was going to happen. At the same time, it still had the feeling of arranging things up on a high shelf, things it knows we won’t see again for some time, so it took extra care in the arranging.

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For one thing, we got a lot of Juugo-and-Tensai time, which reinforced their mutual respect and affection that sometimes veers into romantic attraction. While she qualifies her reasoning for not wanting Juugo to die by saying “she won’t have a rival”, we know he’s more than just a rival at this point; he’s a dear friend she can’t afford to let slip away. Their relationship was a joy to watch right up to the end.

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Another loose end to tie up is the rift between Juugo and Nanana. Through Tensai, Nanana figures out that he avoided telling her too much about the mission because of her past with Hiiyo. Even so, she bets Tensai Juugo won’t break the promise he made to not use the treasure if he found it, and she wins that bet. Juugo doesn’t break promises, whether its not using treasures or finding killers.

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But his resolve to fulfill the latter is compromised by his uncertainty about what Nanana really wants, so he asks her point blank: What does she really want? It takes a cathartic physical fight that Nanana is on the cusp of winning, but Juugo finally cracks and tells her what he wants, or rather what he doesn’t: he doesn’t want her to leave. That relieves Nanana, for while she wants to find her killer and kill them herself, for now, and maybe even after that happens, she’s not ready to “pass on” yet.

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Things are just getting interesting on the island she built, so she wants to keep watching it for now. So do we, so we hope a second season does come around someday.

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Total Cumulative Average: 7.55
MyAnimeList Score: 7.54

Kotoura-san – 12 (Fin)

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Yuriko disbands the ESP Society, and starts a new one with the mission of having fun with Kotoura. Before going out for karaoke, Yuriko apologizes to her for using her. Kotoura realizes that Manabe has never directly said he loves her, and it weighs on her mind. She arrives home to find her mother there, and in the middle of dinner they have it out, and when her mom falls asleep she learns of her tremendous guilt ever since walking out on her. After seeking advice from Moritani and Muroto, on Christmas Eve while with Manabe, Kotoura casually declares her love. Genuinely unaware he’d never done so out loud, Manabe does the same.

Everyone at some point or another wishes they could read the minds of others, but like few other works on the subject, Kotoura-san proves such an ability carries its own set of pitfalls and complications, and makes life more difficult, not less. While telepathy is a supernatural power, this series stayed grounded in reality (aside from that stupid theme park), and was utterly dedicated to painting portraits of likable, sympathetic characters. The attacker arc having concluded last week, this episode had room to breathe and tie up all the loose ends that had accumulated, and ties them up brilliantly, one by one.

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First, Yuriko does what she believes is necessary by prostrating herself before Kotoura for the selfish agenda she pursued for most of the series. But from Kotoura’s POV, she’d already apologized every time she looked at her, and whatever Yuriko’s intentions, Kotoura made found a place where she could be herself thanks to her, so there was good in her bad. Moritani has a weight of her shoulders, and perhaps most surprising was that Kotoura’s mom showed up of her own accord, and Kotoura learned things about her mom reading her mind in one night that erased years of misconception about her. Their cathartic pillow fight and reconciliation is a highlight of the episode.

It would’ve been the highlight, but for the loosest end of the series, which was left until the end: the verbal confirmation of Kotoura and Manabe’s mutual love for each other, and the official start of their romantic relationship. We like Muroto’s quick but sage advice to simply let it slip out naturally and avoid overplanning, as planning breeds overthinking, and as he points out, Kotoura has a knack for self-destruction. We love the simplicity, warmth, and sweetness of their declaration. It was what we’d been waiting for. It was the perfect way to close the year’s top dark horse; a series we hadn’t even planned to watch this Fall, but were very glad we did.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Obervations:

  • Muroto may be wise, but not when it comes to himself, as he’s seemingly content to be Yuriko’s childhood friend. Yuriko needs to take a page from Moritani and Kotoura and take the initiative.
  • Kotoura’s mom is awesome this whole episode, winning us over at the last minute. There was a reason her face always looked so pained; she never forgave herself for what she did, even if she feigned indifference and scorn towards Kotoura for years.
  • Manabe’s thoughts precisely echo his words. This really is the guy for Kotoura.