SAKUGAN – 09 – GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL

Gagumber recovers from using his Gale system, and the group resumes their journey to Memenpu’s dream space like a whole lot of drama didn’t just go down in the city. Memenpu is amazed that Zack and her dad can act like everything is and always has been normal. All the while, she’s in the biggest hurry  of the four of them, trying to confirm her dreams were real.

The thing is, the road is long and the part of the Labyrinth the group enters is particularly hot and buggy. Gagumber strips to his skivvies and jumps in a river, soon followed by Yuri and Zack. Their fun is interrupted by torrential rains that cause the very ground beneath them to cave in. It’s not often characters are stranded on a remote island by falling on top of it; it’s a neat concept that draws on the unique structure of the Labyrinth.

Memenpu puts her ample noodle to work devising different ways to get everyone out of this predicament, but the lack of Animus, electricity, or internet hampers her efforts and limits them things like a giant Tony inner tube and a luxury raft…but the waters around them are filled with deadly marine kaiju. All the brain usage makes Memenpu hungry, but learns all the rations she’d stored had been pre-eaten by Gagumber.

She assumes he’s “losing himself” in the island’s deep forest because he’s goofing off as usual, but just when she’s feeling most morose about her lack of progress, Gagumber presents her with a fresh papaya, one of thousands in the forest, which was the real reason he was going there. Not only is Memenpu moved to tears—she loves papaya ever since the late Lynda first gave her one—with enough papayas she’s able to rig a battery to power their mech’s lights and radio.

As the four take turns sending out an SOS, Zackletu talks to Yuri about how she’s able to get over the drama with Gagumber, saying she had “a little tantrum” that “just felt so silly” once it was over. Gagumber similarly has no hard feelings, and tells Memenpu if she can forgive Zack, then it’s water under the cave. In this lovely breakthrough father-daughter scene, Memenpu finally tells her dad she had a dream of him dying.

She’s upset when he says he can’t believe her dream and vows not to die, and doesn’t think they can be real partners if he doesn’t believe her. But Gagumber makes clear, even when he doesn’t believe or understand her, she’s still his daughter, they’re partners till the end, and he will always care.

Later, when the papaya battery is exhausted, the group hears a ghostly voice from an unknown location, and there’s a little more caving-in of rocks. Everyone reacts differently, proving Memenpu’s comment to her Tony Journal about their “team” being composed of four wildly different individuals. Yuri thinks they’re all going to die and Zack just wants to find her gun parts…but it turns out all the commotion is from a surfacing submarine manned by Merooro, come to rescue them.

While mostly a lighthearted and intimate episode, underscored by the core group’s isolation on an island within a remote unmapped cavern, this episode was bookended by scenes of the masked terrorist group Shibito committing acts of destruction in the name of…something.

In any case, they seem to be catching up to our team, and one pint-sized member named Muro seems to be hunting the “next child”, no doubt meaning Memenpu. Judging from the power Shibito demonstrates, if and when they cross paths it’s likely to make Zack’s tantrum look like a pillow fight.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 08 – EASIER TO RUN THAN REGRET

Rufus was going to be Gagumber’s last partner. When things went sour with Memenpu last week, Gagumber remembered why he didn’t want, didn’t need, and shouldn’t have a partner, even if it’s his daughter. While Memenpu wanders off to sulk in his old hometown, Gagumber drinks with a recovered Yuri and reconnects with the old man who ran the marker shop.

Zackletu, who had been by Yuri’s bedside, tracks down Memenpu and treats her to the local specialty of tea-in-a-plastic bag. She gets Memenpu to open up about what’s troubling her: about the dream that felt like more than a dream where Gagumber died, and how she can never really hate Gagumber. But once we get a good look at Rufus’ little “brother” Zack, I felt like things were going to take a turn.

And turn they do. Turns out the tea Zackletu gave Memenpu was drugged, and she kidnaps her and uses her as bait for Gagumber. Zack was actually Rufus’ kid sister, not brother, and when she became convinced Gagumber was responsible for Rufus’ death, she spent a huge sum of money for Yuri to track him down so she could get her revenge.

What finally pushed Zackletu into carrying out her plan was seeing how blithe and callous Gagumber was being to his new partner and daughter Memenpu, after what she saw as him abandoning her after Rufus’ death. It was definitely shitty for Gagumber not to follow up with Zack. Does he deserve to die over it? Even Zackletu isn’t sure, as she fires a lot of bullets and detonates a lot of bombs in his general direction, but never seems able to deliver the killing blow.

It’s this episode where I understand why Hanazawa Kana was cast as Zackletu: in addition to being able to credibly voice a young boy, who was actually a young girl hiding her true gender to protect herself from her rough environment, Hanazawa really brings out her pathos and rage. Through all the violence she’s exacting upon Gagumber as Memenpu is forced to watch, you never get the feeling Zackletu is enjoying this.

Rather, she just doesn’t know what else to do, so she’s lashing out. It’s only when all the explosions and Memenpu’s struggling causes her rope to break, and Gagumber overrides the stopper on his “Gale” device to save her and then apologize to her, that Zackletu stops her attack. She couldn’t easily kill Gagumber knowing his daughter still loved him in spite of all his flaws; once he admitted those flaws to Memenpu, she definitely couldn’t kill him.

Instead, Gagumber is admitted and then discharged from the hospital, while Zackletu prepares to depart…only Memenpu won’t let her. She forgives her for trying to kill Gagumber, and insists she stay with the group as they head to her dream place. Memenpu just warns Zackletu, in the same way Rufus did, that next time it happens, she’ll really let her have it.

Do I buy that someone as hell-bent on getting revenge as Zackletu would not only stand down, but remain with the man she believed killed her brother for years? I do, it all comes down to buying that she tried to be a heartless avenging baddie, but couldn’t go through with it because she still had a heart, and wasn’t all bad.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 18 – The Most Important Thing

After a brief scene showing a seasick Rudy and Eris (and a very unseasick Ruijerd) headed to the Central Continent by ship, the rest of the episode belongs to Roxy, who is always either a step ahead or behind her apprentice. We learn she was once in a party with Bojack…er, Nokopara, who has cleaned up his ways since getting burned by Rudy two years ago.

Nokopara, who is a bit older than Roxy, tells her to go visit her damn family already, citing his own family he built since they last met as evidence that family is the most important thing. He would do anything for his wife and three kids, and suspects Roxy’s parents would do the same for her. I must say I appreciate the softening of the initially assholeish horseman.

When Roxy arrives at her home village, she’s immediately given a painful reminder of the main reason she left: in this village, she is “deaf”, i.e. unable to hear the telepathic communication of the other villagers. When they try to greet her, she’s just hit with a static-y feedback accompanied by pops of light—which to the show’s credit is almost as unpleasant for us as it is for Roxy.

Even when she makes a connection with three kids by healing one of them, when they try to thank her telepathically and she doesn’t respond, then a parent shows up and tries to do the same, everything goes pear-shaped. This is a place where Roxy has always felt oppressed by her difference, and the reluctance of anyone there to accommodate it.

It’s a bad start to her return, made worse by a stilted reunion with her parents. Clearly still off from her previous interactions before arriving at her old home, Roxy is noncommittal about how long she’ll stay. When her parents tell her she can stay as long as she likes, then immediately settle into their usual telepathic banter, they unintentionally exclude her out of force of habit.

At this point Roxy has had about enough, and as much as I want her to reconnect with her folks, whom we know to be so loving and kind and caring of her from when Rudy visited, I can’t blame her for wanting to go. She feels like an interloper, an outsider, and always has.

But then her mother starts to cry, after Roxy agrees to visit once in the next fifty years. Even that extremely loose promise is enough to bring tears to her mother’s eyes. Then Roxy catches in the corner of her eye the doll her mother made for her, which she’d clutch while she taught her to read and write, all the while speaking verbally.

One day, lil’ Roxy encountered some kids who she would have been able to befriend, if only she could hear what they were saying telepathically. When they don’t answer her, she understandably feels like she did something wrong, that she was somehow wrong herself, and didn’t belong. That’s why she ran away: so she wouldn’t cause problems for her parents.

But remembering what Nokopara said about parents (good ones anyway) doing anything for their children, and seeing her mother weeping and her doll on the shelf, Roxy can’t help but start crying herself. Oh, she tries to stave off the tears, but that just makes them fall in a great sobbing torrent all at once, in a wonderfully beautiful moment where the camera simply rests on her contorting face.

Roxy gathers her mother into a hug, they both apologize, her dad, getting misty-eyed himself, joins that hug. You have to hand it to Mushoku Tensei, because two straight episodes with these kinds of tearful, cathartic embraces might’ve come off as repetitive and even emotionally manipulative. Instead, I felt right there in that hug, where Roxy suddenly realized this place is still her home, because the people she loves and who love her, are there.

She also learns that Rudy had visited with Eris and a Superd, which enables her to finally connect the dots: Rudy’s the one who revived the Dead End name, and if a Superd is in his party, he must be doing just fine. Roxy rejoins her own party and continues the search for the missing, buoyued by the strides she made with her family and relieved that her apprentice is fine, wherever he is.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 17 – Having It Easy

Lest last week’s episode make us too hard on Paul, we flash back to the same disaster that sent Rudy and Eris to the Demon Continent. Paul suddenly finds himself a stranger in a strange land, with only Norn with him. With Zenith, Lilia, and Aisha nowhere to be found, all Paul could do is keep Norn safe and try to find the rest of his family. Just as Rudy did everything he possibly could to keep Eris safe, Paul did the same with Norn.

Back in the present, Paul once more escapes into drink, but he just so happens to know Geese, who tells him that actually, if he stops and thinks about it (preferably while sober), he was pretty harsh on his eleven-year-old son. Yes, Rudy was an amazing and special prodigy, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is also a little kid who went through a lot and still managed to come out of it with himself intact.

Geese’s man-to-man chat with Paul really provides a key assist to Rudy, as Paul dries himself out and visits Rudy once more at the tavern. Eris is ready to attack him, but Ruijerd stops her. As the two leave to allow Paul to be alone with his son, Ruijerd reminds Paul that the grievances he has with Rudy are only important because Rudy is still alive. As in, Paul still has much to be thankful for.

Last week, both Paul and Rudy learned a lot about themselves and each other. Rudy learned that yes, he actually was kind of treating this like a game this whole time, because he didn’t know the extent of the disaster that befell Fittoa (Paul warns him there’s basically nothing left of their home). When the bartender tells Rudy to look his father in the face, he sees a face he hadn’t seen since the last friend who hung out with him when he was a shut-in in his previous life.

When that friend was doing his best to help Rudy feel like what he was and what he was doing wasn’t bad or wrong, Rudy at the time took it as nothing but patronization and pity. He lashed out at his friend, who never returned to his place. But Paul did come back, to apologize for being too harsh with his son. So Rudy, in turn, suggests they simply forget the previous day happened and start over with a simple father-son hug.

Back at the inn, and with Paul present, Rudy has another Dead End strategy meeting with Eris and Ruijerd. He tells Eris that the home they knew doesn’t exist anymore, and to his surprise, Eris had long ago already accepted that possibility. Thus their mission is no longer to return home, but to find the rest of his family.

Now his party will be active in the same search Paul’s party and Roxy’s party have been involved in since the disaster. That means there’s a good chance one of those groups will find someone. After all, Paul and Rudy found each other. And while it was initially a tough reunion, once both of them committed to being grown-ups they were able to be honest with each other.

Fruits Basket – 25 (First Season Fin) – Fighting Their Way Forward

Kyou quickly came to love Kazuma not just as a foster parent or guardian or shishou, but as a father, but because of the stigma carried by his status as the Cat, he always felt he didn’t have the right to call him one. Kazuma took Kyou in in part as an act of penance after even he treated his kind grandfather with cruelty and revulsion, only to be forgiven with a smile.

Then Kazuma began to love Kyou like a son, but found himself never quite able to say so. Matters weren’t helped when Kyou would forcefully insist he was no son of his when he (often) got into trouble. Kazuma also feels it would be too selfish to continue to see Kyou as a son after forcing him to reveal his true form to Tooru, so he leaves without saying goodbye.

But Kyou is glad what happened last week happened, and it could not have happened without Kazuma…or Tooru. After years of sparring with his shishou, the two finally connect on an emotional level and acknowledge that they are, in every way that matters, father and son. Tooru is the bridge that makes that possible…and in a neat touch, that connection happens on a bridge!

While everything is peaches in Kyou-land, and he is committed to becoming more independent and tempering his fiery nature when needed, the rancor between him and Yuki has not ceased. Judging from Yuki’s body language, part of that may be due to Kyou’s recent “monopolization” of Tooru.

In this regard he’s going through something similar to Saki, who had to fight back the notion of Tooru spending less time with her and more with the Souma’s as something bad, since constant possession isn’t love. Heck, Kagura is experiencing the same thing, only with Kyou.

While Tooru’s attention—and her heart—is split among many different parties, she’s not alone in worrying about Yuki. Haruhatsu, one of the more emotionally intelligent Soumas, also notices something’s off, and so makes sure to remind Yuki that just because Tooru’s been busy with Kyou of late doesn’t mean she’s forgotten about him or worries about him any less.

Yuki then seeks Tooru out on the stairs, thanks her for her continued worrying, and commits to spend more time outside doing things with people this summer…and with Tooru in particular, even breaking out a modified wall slam in semi-jest!

It’s clear the second season will likely involve the continued push-pull of Tooru between Yuki and Kyou, but both have become categorically better people with her in their world, so it’s all good in the Soumahood.

While the show makes it clear that it will be far from smooth sailing all the time in the second season, those hoping for the first season to end on a hopeful positive note can breathe a sigh of relief. One after another Soumas gather at Shigure’s for a big celebratory meal with Tooru; the only major players missing being the two yet-to-be-introduced Zodiac animals, and Shigure, who is meeting with Akito.

Before joining the others, Hiro meets with Rin, perhaps one of those two  animals, while the other could be the faceless guy with the faceless female friend who spots Yuki at school. But there’s no devastating cliffhanger that upends everyone’s lives or threatens Tooru’s marvelous little world.

Instead, she’s looking forward to a fun-filled Summer with everyone. I hope, after all she and the Soumas have been through, they’ll be allowed at least some of such a Summer before the next storm(s) arrive. With quite a bit of source material yet to be adapted, we can reasonably expect plenty more of this wonderful show well into 2020 and beyond. I can’t wait!

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 10 – Diving In

As a result of Shou confessing to Hitomi, she and Asagi find themselves “at odds”, as he puts it (naturally he has no idea why, the big dolt). But neither of them want to keep not talking to each other. So Hitomi doesn’t give up trying to reach out to Asagi, and the two end up making up pretty quickly and easily once Asagi works through her frustrations as more her own fault that Hitomi’s.

After all, someone who’s known Shou as long as she has should know full well how direct and clear she has to be, and she hasn’t been, leading to him seeking love elsewhere. No matter how obvious it may seem to her that she’s in love with Shou, it’s ultimately up to her to make it known to him beyond doubt. Besties once more, Asagi and Hitomi scarf down some healing parfaits and then partake in therapeutic karaoke with Kurumi and Kohaku.

The next day, Kohaku announces the magical presentation which will be her contribution to the club for the festival. She intends, with Hitomi’s help, to transport visitors into a drawing; specifically, one of Yuito’s fantastical pastels. But Kohaku makes it clear to Hitomi she can’t do it without her. Hitomi has a special ability to reach into the heart of the artist (in this case Yuito’s), and has faith she’ll be able to do it. All it will take is dedication to the goal, discipline, and practice, practice, practice.

First she sends one paper airplane into a Seurat painting on the computer. Then two, then five, then one for every member of the club, in under three minutes. Kohaku may have asked a lot of Hitomi, but she knows how powerful Hitomi’s magic is, as well as how it’s been dormant much of her life. It’s time to let it out to stretch its legs, and once Hitomi gets it, it’s as invigorating for her as it is exciting for her granny.

Yuito completes his drawing—one with a theme park aesthetic that combines all of the club members’ disparate requests—and Hitomi and Kohaku successfully transport everyone inside. For the first time, Hitomi and her friends can see the same colors at the same time.

It’s a glorious sequence, diving into the drawing, and reminded me more and more of the similarly trippy What Dreams May Come, which starts out all vivid and lush and slowly grows more dark and menacing as its protagonist descends into the bowels of the hereafter.

Hitomi and Yuito are enjoying a lovely stroll in the forest when he spots his neon fish and follows it into a dark corner of the painting. Before long, he finds a stone statue of a seated, forlorn Hitomi, then gets shut into an even deeper darker chamber where he finds a young and even more forlorn Hitomi drawing sad monochromatic pictures of a princess and queen seemingly perpetually separated by a deep black boundary.

No matter how hard Yuito tries to cheer up this illusory ‘lil Hitomi, she rejects his attempts as unwanted and futile. Nothing can cross that black boundary. She doesn’t know why; she just knows you…just can’t. When Yuito snaps back into reality with everyone else outside the picture, Hitomi finds herself suddenly crying.

Clearly, just as Hitomi was able to reach into Yuito’s heart and bring his drawing to life for everyone to share in, Yuito’s drawing drew out a part of Hitomi. Now that he’s seen it, he’s not just going to pretend he didn’t.

She and Yuito go to their vantage point and talk through it. Yuito brings uncomfortable things up Hitomi would rather be left unsaid, right up until she’s shouting for him to stop already, but she realizes he’s trying to help and so she talks, for the first time, about how things were.

Hitomi’s mother was the first Tsukishiro woman in a long, long time who had no magical ability, but Hitomi had plenty. She believes her having magic is the reason her mother suddenly left, and blames and curses herself for not calling out to her. Yuito rightly assures her that Hitomi shouldn’t feel responsible just because she had magic and her mother didn’t, and rather than shoulder all the blame, it’s okay for her to be angry.

Hitomi’s guilt over the abilities she was born with led to her hatred of, and turning of her back on, magic. Until now, of course. Even without her mother around, she’s not alone. She has friends who care about her and are amazed and moved and made happier by the magical gifts Kohaku is helping her hone. And perhaps that’s why her grandmother sent her to the past to begin with: to show her that her magic is a blessing, not a burden.

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.

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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