Saekano 2 – 07

It’s been two months since Winter Comiket, and Cherry Blessing has done well in both sales and critical reception. But with their first game released, Blessing Software is at a crossroads. Utaha is finishing up her newest novel, while Eriri is still blowing past art deadlines (what she’s painting, we never see).

Tomoya’s rival Iori surmises that Cherry was able to surpass his game in reviews (if not in sales) because both writer and artist grew and surpassed themselves. Now that the trio has been through it all together, the girls are far less careful about how they act at school around Tomoya.

Tomoya, Eri, and Utaha are all getting along swimmingly post-Comiket, but Tomoya has been unable to make any progress whatsoever in making up with Megumi. She gives him a listless “good morning” and doesn’t answer her phone when he calls her.

That ignored call is the beginning of Tomoya starting to actually stop and carefully consider everything Megumi had done for and with him, and the manner in which treated her in return. Because he took her commitment lightly and shut her out at a crucial moment, she’s not picking up now to discuss with him the pros and cons of a new, second game.

Valentine’s Day arrives, and when he brings up the possibility of giving her more work, Eriri simply wants more time to relax, not worry about such things, give him chocolate, take his arm and walk with him.

To her chagrin, he has lunch with Utaha, who also gives him chocolate, and offers to sign her real name (not her pen name) “all over his body”, in a classic Utaha tease that’s probably more sincere than Tomoya is willing to realize.

Utaha also released her latest novel, and plans to start another soon. Since she’s already in university, she won’t be coming to school anymore after today. So Tomoya asks her, almost desperately, if she’d write for him again.

Despite her resentment of Tomoya’s protectiveness with Eriri, she bashfully admits she wants to make another game with her. Eriri, out in the hall making sure Utaha doesn’t make any moves, hears Utaha’s warm tone.

If Tomoya can come up with an idea, it looks like Utako Kasumi and Kashiwagi Eri are all on board. Which leaves Megumi (sorry Hyoudou, you’re not a main!). Tomoya makes an effort to track her down, but she slips out just as school ends. He spots her eating alone in a cafe, texts her a request for a circle meeting, and watches her not ignore it, giving him hope that maybe their friendship hasn’t “run its natural course” quite yet after all.

Then he goes home, and late into the night, he plays Cherry Blessing through. Playing it brings up all of the memories he has of Megumi working tirelessly by his side to make the game such a success, and how little appreciation he showed in his words, actions, or lack thereof. So Tomoya curls up in shame. At last—a glimmer of self-awareness from the guy.

Thinking of her also inspires Tomoya to come up with a title for the upcoming game he’ll aim to release in time for Summer Comiket: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend. Meta! Here’s hoping he can make proper amends—and Megumi is willing to take the fool back.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 07

While watching the first half of this Baha Soul, I felt like the calm before the storm achieved last week didn’t need the supplemental calm we got here. Just get on with the parade and let things unravel.

Don’t get me wrong, Nina is adorable as always, especially post-first-date, it’s ironic to think the fact she dressed Mugaro as a girl means Sofiel can’t tell he’s the kid she’s looking for, despite staring straight at him.

It’s also laudable for Kaisar to warn his king not to attend the parade, because unpleasant doings sure to transpire. But we know Charioce isn’t going to miss a parade celebrating his great day of victory—when Cocytus fell and with it the fear of demons—for fear of demons.

But when the parade finally starts, the tension keeps building until that first concussive blast, followed by several more. It’s a terror bombing the king was almost daring the demons to pull off, and being surrounded and unable to retreat is no sweat off his back.

It’s a nice touch that in a carefully-planned battle in which she was meant to be the pièce de résistance for the resistance, Nina doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. She’s suddenly scooped up by Azazel, who proceeds, in hilarious fashion, to alternated between staring deeply and intensely into Nina’s eyes and hugging her.

But the blushing never comes. Nina’s heart doesn’t race for Azazel anymore, not necessarily because of anything he did, but because of what her mystery date did: make her once general discomfort with pretty men much more specific. She doesn’t know why she’s not transforming even after almost being kissed by Azazel, but she also seems relieved. I know I would be.

I can’t fault for Nina not cooperating with Azazel – she wants her dragon form under control, not weaponized, and certainly doesn’t want to hurt people. At best, she’s annoyed by the kind, shrugging off missing him in the parade (incidentally, if they’d locked eyes while he passed I wonder if she’d see her date and if her heart would’ve raced accordingly. Alas).

But, Nina not playing ball with Azazel means the demons are dealt another defeat, picked off one by one by Charioce’s forces. Many start to think they were betrayed by Azazel, until he swoops in to fight beside them. But when they asked what the hell happened with the red dragon, he has no answer.

Post-credits, the big tank demon and sultry demon are taken out by a flurry of arrows and the fist of one of those giant golem/mecha guys (that don’t seem like a good idea in a crowded city), respectively. Azazel is also in big trouble, and Nina still isn’t yet caught up on what’s even happening.

Finally, the preview was handled by Gabriel and Sofiel, who haughtily boast of the fact they’re beautiful gods.

Saekano 2 – 06

Both the immediate (Eriri collapsing) and long-term (finishing the game) crises are resolved this week, with one major caveat: to rescue Eriri, Tomoya gave up on a full Winter Comiket release, even though that’s the reason Eriri ended up in such a state (that, and her obsession with quality with the threat of Hashima Izumi looming).

Ironically, it’s Izumi’s bro (and Tomoya’s chief rival) Iori who comes to Tomoya’s aid, offering a ride to Eriri’s villa. Tomoya finds Eriri really did get everything done, and more to the point, he believes it’s her best work and the best work he’s seen all year.

That brings a smile to the gradually-recovering Eriri, but she’s even happier to hear him say, categorically, that she’s his “number one;” that her new art is better than Izumi’s. She doesn’t mind that he doesn’t go so far as to tell her she’s beaten Utaha and Michiru, but she happily infers it.

After that, the two settle back into the same routine as when they were little kids: staying indoors, playing games and watching anime, which Tomoya both notes was because Eriri was so sick so often, but also doesn’t complain about.

He goes further in wanting to apologize to the others in Eriri’s stead, as he’s the director and all, but Eriri insists: if she can’t apologize properly, she can’t keep moving forward. So she does so, and the whole crew is on hand for Winter Comiket…albeit with only 100 hastily burned copies of Cherry Blessing.

It’s shocking how quickly all the work they’d done suddenly becomes a finished product, which sells out within 30 minutes due to lots of buzz about a new game with studs like Kashiwagi and Kasumi collaborating. At the market, Eriri also apologizes to Izumi for how she treated her, and explains why she did (fear of being surpassed).

Yet in the midst Eriri dispensing all of her apologies and the team dispensing every last copy of their game, something seems off. The camera uncharacteristically lingers on Megumi too often, and she seems to be hiding something that will certainly rain on the parade of the big release.

Content to quietly skip the post-release party and go home for the time being, when Tomoya forces the issue, she finally has a very Kato-ish “outburst”, one that cuts Tomoya to the quick, far more than if she had yelled or cried. In his haste to save Eriri, he neglected to tell her about anything that was going on, during the precise days she said she’d make sure she was available for him, no matter what.

Tomoya took her earnest promises and commitments lightly, and ultimately ignored them altogether and took everything on himself, keeping her in the dark until everything worked out. That is something Megumi cannot forget, nor easily forgive.

As happy as I am to see Tomoya and Eriri on such good terms again, I can’t say I blame Megumi. If getting out of the doghouse is even possible, Tomoya, with his famous lack of awareness, may find doing so even tougher than making a dating sim from scratch.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 06

This was a calm-before-the-storm episode where not much happened, but what did transpire, and what I learned, was of great significance. It also underscored the fact that the female gaze as represented by Nina is not only present but prevailing in Bahamut.

Case in point, while running an errand for Rita on the eve of the great Anatae festival, Nina comes afoul of the Pimp whose slaves Mugaro released, only this time he’s armed with ridiculously handsome henchmen that make it tough for her to fight back.

It’s an ingenious way to place her in a state of vulnerability and in need of rescuing by the dreamy aloof vagabond. As thanks for his assistance, she asks him to stop by Bacchus’ hot wings stand, and he says he’ll be there.

Nina’s resulting bubbly high from the gruff yes lasts her for much of the episode, as her facial expressions reach new heights of contortion and she wanders through her festival duties in a haze. She’s got the hots for the stranger, and bad…but I wonder how she’d fell if she knew that stranger was none other than King Charioce XVII, walking among his people in disguise.

Meanwhile, Azazel’s imminent plans cast a pall over the big festival—plans that heavily rely on a very large assumption that Nina will side with him and the demons, transform into a red dragon, and help his cause; none of these things are certain, but he’s moving forward regardless.

The night of the festival, Charioce keeps his promise and stops by, and Bacchus asks him to take Nina and show her around. A lovely montage ensues, with an initially just-as-bashful-as-ever Nina gradually becoming more comfortable beside the pretty man as they engage in all manner of festival-related activities.

Those activities culminate in a folk dance, which is as carefully and lovingly animated as the scenes of action, violence, and destruction in previous episodes. Nina’s face is typically a kaleidoscope of emotions, but the dance takes her expressiveness to a new level.

When the time comes to bid farewell, Nina asks the king-in-disguise his name: he gives the name “Chris.” She wants to see and dance with him again, and he hopes they will, a line that echos in Nina’s head and almost turns her into a dragon right there, which is her cue to speed off, Road Runner-style.

While running, she fortuitously collides with Azazel, who has returned to Anatae after his long absence. Azazel has no time to chat, and sternly instructs Nina what to do. Notably, despite the fact he squeezes her cheeks and her eyes meet his, Nina does not blush or react strongly at all to the contact.

This, and her blissful letter to her mom, not only suggest that Nina now only has eyes for “Chris”, but that Charioce may have successfully accomplished what he set out to do: “disarm” Nina and remove her as a potential trump card for Azazel.

Was Charioce only playing Nina, or does a part of him get a thrill from being out in the world without the crown on his head; holding the warm hand of a lovely woman, rather than cold steel, in his own.

We’ll soon see. Azazel Comin’.

Saekano 2 – 05

After witnessing Megumi reject a request to date from another guy, Tomoya has to keep Utaha from being too harsh on Eriri, who has fallen way behind on the art despite a schedule extension.

Utaha now considers a Winter Comiket launch a “pipe dream” until proven otherwise, but Eriri promises she’ll make it, and Tomoya has her back…though saying “she’ll deliver exactly what you expect” probably wasn’t the best choice of words for an artist.

One morning, Eriri stops by Tomoya to tell him she’s going away to her family’s winter house in the woods to draw in seclusion, even skipping school to meet the deadline.

Tomoya seems more or less fine with this, but he—and I, for that matter—feel a foreboding atmosphere; like somehow Eriri won’t be coming back, or won’t be the same when she does.

Letting Eriri go “off into the wild” was a big, possibly fatal mistake, according to Utaha, who is ready with a whole “five-stages of creative deprivation” spiel with Tomoya and Megumi, predicting all the ways Eriri will stray from her usual self in her desperate attempt to make the greatest art ever with which to beat the Hashima siblings, ultimately leading to her dropping the project altogether and never being heard from again.

What with Utaha’s added “sixth stage” of Eriri finding another guy and another job and thus Tomoya won’t have to worry about her anymore (the implication being he can focus more on her), Tomoya is loath to take these predictions so seriously…even if they don’t sound so far-fetched.

Megumi proposes he and she go to the villa the Saturday before the Monday deadline, but Tomoya humbly declines, both due to the situation of a guy going away with two girls, but more importantly, because he has deadlines of his own to meet. Megumi lets the matter drop for now, but is already concerned that Eriri would go to such lengths to complete her work.

Just as Utaha foretold, Eriri starts exhibiting signs of stage one (rough language), and Tomoya is worried, since two (blaming herself) can’t be far off. Tomoya tries to play lip service by saying “he believes in her”, but what he’s asking Eriri to do has become increasingly unlikely, even for someone with her talent, because there’s too much pressure and not enough time to pull it off.

Tomoya’s attitude irks both Utaha and Megumi; and Utaha is doubly irritated that she has more respect for Kashiwagi Eri thant Tomoya right now. She puts a lot of words in his mouth, but he can’t or won’t dispute any of them. Tomoya is starting to look like a failing director.

But Eriri does eventually manage to make some progress in drastically changing her style, once it starts to snow. She and Utaha knew the grand route would need a different style, and Eriri isn’t the most versatile artist…but she works her butt off in that cabin and finally, apparently, has the necessary art ready.

Whether she actually does or not, I have no idea, honestly. All I know is, Eriri doesn’t look like she’s in a particularly good physical or mental state by the end of this episode. While Utaha got a degree of resolution in her episode, lying on the floor with Tomoya, Eriri finds herself lying on the floor alone, isolated in a snowy forest cabin, in need of food, sleep, and affection. Here’s hoping she gets all three, soon.

Saekano 2 – 04

Maybe it was because I was so tired, but I was off in my assessment of Tomoya’s assessment of Utaha’s script. It’s not that he demanded perfection; his true qualm lies in his exact words: “It’s a crap game.” Meaning, the script is written like a novel, and is thus unsuitable for a dating sim. This is why, as compelling as it is, it must be re-worked.

Of course, Tomoya delivers his criticism with all the delicacy of a sledgehammer through a plate glass window, and he and a still-stunned Utaha have a little shouting match in the maid cafe of what is otherwise, mercifully, a completely in-the-background school festival.

Tomoya is a rude ass about it, but he’s not wrong, and after making Utaha cry, Tomoya is contrite and assures her she did nothing wrong; it was he who failed as game director, getting sucked into the text without considering how it would fit in a dating sim structure.

As he attempts rewrites, Utaha sleeps in his beat, deflated from the rejection of her new arc, which, by the way, was an arc in which the character most resembling her gets the guy rather than the character resembling Megumi. Megumi calls Eriri to report Utaha’s whereabouts, but Eriri is unconcerned.

Eriri’s been in the boat Utaha’s in right now, and can relate, and in any case, she’s got a mountain of her own work to do, surrounded as she is by crumpled balls of art that don’t meet her standards or vision. Eriri isn’t even interested in entering the Miss Toyogasaki Pageant, despite being the reigning champ.

From there, it’s almost a purely Utaha-and-Tomoya episode, with the two combining forces in a creative odyssey during which Utaha gets so exhausted she falls asleep wearing only an open dress shirt and panties, much to the painfully oblivious Tomoya’s shock.

They re-work the Ruri path, then Tomoya gets it in his head he needs a third arc as well: one in which everyone lives happily ever after, which also seems to match what he wants in real life with Utaha and Megumi. While initially frustrated Tomoya wasn’t responding to her feelings, by the end she comes out confident they’ve made a stronger, more fun game by working together.

On the evening the festival ends, when the bonfire is about to be sparked, Megumi asks Utaha, her writing duties now complete, if Ruri is based on Sayuka from Metronome in Love. And she is; of course she is, because both of them are actually Utaha. And Utaha makes it clear she still hasn’t given up on the ending in which her character is chosen by the protagonist.

Megumi straightens out and her eyes focus upon hearing this, before bowing and heading down to the bonfire, where she romantically approaches Tomoya. Megumi tells him she’s not Megumi right now, she’s Ruri, Sayuka, and also…then takes his hand, and dances with him, as Eriri draws them and Utaha looks on. Lovely stuff.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 05

It’s an incremental episode with little action, but I can hardly complain when it’s also stuffed full of nice character beats from everyone. Take Nina, going shopping with Mugaro and naturally assuming he’s a girl because he’s so pretty, and dressing him accordingly. Nina cleans up pretty well herself, not that her standard, practical outfit isn’t nice in its own way.

Nina uses her super-strength to negotiate discounts, but it also allows her to stand up against a pimp-like human for torturing his slaves. Brand-new frilly dress or no, she’s ready to rumble with him and his bodyguards when Mugaro uses his red eye to vaporize all of the demon slaves’ collars, causing their former owner and his goons to flee.

Meanwhile, Kaisar is having a crisis of confidence, unsure if he’s worthy of captaining the Orleans Knights in Jeanne d’Arc’s stead. What’s so wonderful is how he expresses this frustration, inviting Rita to lunch, then sounding an awful lot like he’s about to confess to her. Rita is understandably miffed that Kaisar only wants to rant, and punishes him accordingly, while also telling him the old Kaisar of ten years ago may have been useless, but he was better than this Kaisar.

Bacchus’s moral dilemma intensifies when Sofiel pays him a visit complaining that he’s not doing enough to secure the “child;” but it’s only when Nina returns with Mugaro that he starts to suspect Mugaro is the very child he’s looking for. Sofiel thinks Bacchus is pathetic for not caring about staying in the human world forever, and it’s clear at least a part of Bacchus wants to obey her and produce the child…but another part of him doesn’t.

Getting punched by Rita motivates Kaisar to confront the King once more, and gives some very reasoned arguments, but Charioce argues his position well, too, even if he’s a bit overconfident he can become powerful enough to overcome the hatred his hatred will beget. Kaisar rightly believes Charioce’s way of doing things simply isn’t sustainable, and it’s only a matter of time before a large scale demon uprising is upon them (as we see earlier, Azazel is well on his way to starting it). But Charioce says he’s got it. To his credit, he doesn’t begrudge Kaisar living his life the way he chooses, as long as he doesn’t interfere with him.

One of Bahamut’s strengths is its ability to be so stern and serious in one scene, and so lighthearted and comical in the next—and sometimes both in the same scene. So it’s nice to see Kaisar and Charioce’s political debate followed by Bacchus and Hamsa’s ham-fisted attempt to see if Mugaro has two different-colored eyes, only to wake up and creep out Nina, who delivers swift justice and tosses them out of their own wagon.

No huge movement here, but still plenty of solidly entertaining scenes. Nina in particular continues to be a magnetic presence. I could honestly watch and listen to her read the phone book—which makes me that much more excited to see how she’ll fit into the coming confrontation.

Sousei no Onmyouji – 09

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At the end of last week, Rokuro and Benio’s slowly burgeoning friendship looked to be in absolute tatters with the news that Rokuro indeed killed everyone at Hinatsuki Dorm, including her twin brother Ijika Yuto.

It seems like the only thing that can turn things around is if Yuto were to suddenly show up, not only not dead, but so frikking evil that Benio would be left wondering how the hell she ever cared for him in the first place.

Well…that’s pretty much exactly what happens! Though I’m sure why Yuto is showing up right here and now just as Seigen is in the middle of a story that was painting Rokuro in such a bad light, only to go “that’s not the whole story!”…except to put poor Benio through the emotional wringer.

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And speaking of emotional wringers, Rokuro certainly went through one two years ago. The night of the Hinatsuki massacre, when Yuto shows his true colors and turns all his fellow trainee exorcists into Kegare, is straight out of a horror film, complete with drab palette and grisly deaths of cute girls.

Frankly, I don’t see what Rokuro could have done in this situation. As Seigen states with certainty, the only thing for a person who’s been corrupted by Kegare is to give them a quick death before they can commit any atrocities that further mar your memory of them.

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Yuto speaks of these times with such detachment and nonchalance, grinning his stupid evil grin the whole time, to the point that Rokuro simply can’t take anymore, arms up, and starts attacking him.

A stunned Benio looks on but sees that Rokuro is only doing damage to himself (Yuto, who has a blue gauntlet to Roku’s red, parries every strike with the flick of a finger), so she stops the fight, taking a hit that Rokuro can’t hold back in time.

Then Yuto…kinda calls it a day and fucks off, hoping Rokuro will “entertain” him better next time.

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When Rokuro and Benio emerge from Magano and Seigen takes Mayura home, Benio can’t think to do anything but prostrate herself before Rokuro and ask that he forgive her for all of the pain and grief and trauma her brother caused.

Rokuro is stunned by this sight, and repeatedly tells Benio to raise her head; they were both hoodwinked by the little blue-haired bastard, all their lives, and if anything, they share the blame for being ignorant to the evil within him.

Still, I think they’re being a bit hard on themselves. These two strike me as too young to feel responsible for what happened years ago when they were still younger and less attuned to the world, let alone their own selves.

I liked their commitment to becoming stronger together at the end, but Yuto is a brutally dull and tired manic villain archetype, and a great deal of the episode was merely exposition and reaction shots.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 08

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As expected, Mayura confronts Rokuro and Benio over their sudden change in living arrangements. What I didn’t expect is that the episode didn’t go for goofy comedy in the sparring between the girls. Instead, they represent two different philosophies of life.

Mayura thinks Rokuro’s suffered enough already; Benio respects his abilities and believes he’s obligated to use them, and Rokuro, when pressed, sides with Benio, believing the benefits of being an exorcist outweighs any personal costs.

While Mayura rushes out, believing she’s been rejected all over again, the reality is both she and Benio make good points.

As for Rokuro failing to notice her feelings, well girl, that’s because you have to tell him, in no uncertain terms, about those feelings, while he has your undivided attention. Mayura should know this having spent most of her life by Rokuro’s side.

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While storming out, however, Mayura leaves her good luck charm behind, which is actually a legit charm that hides her spiritual power from hungry Kegare. Considering how important it is, I can’t imagine how she could have misplaced it so easily, unless she’s unaware of how important it is to her safety.

In any case, she gets captured and yes, tentacled, by a nasty little Kegare that becomes a nasty BIG Kegare, chortling the whole time. Of course, I never thought for a second Mayura was going to buy it (as gutsy a move as that would’ve been), and right on cue Rokuro swoops in to save her, then swears to protect her no matter what.

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Losing Mayura would have been a brutal blow to a kid who’s already received a few, but we simply didn’t know the extent of the trauma in his past…until this week, when his former master (and Mayura’s Dad!) Seigen appears to clean up Rokuro’s mess, run him down a bit, and challenge him to a duel in which he must exhibit intent to kill; a tall order for someone who’s still getting back on his exorcist feet.

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We cut away from the reunion of master and student in Magano numerous times to check in with the guys at the dorm, who prove far more useful at asking questions that lead to extensive (but unfortunately inartful) info-dumping by Jissama (Seigen’s father-in-law).

The final third of the episode suffers from being bogged down in all this exposition, but things do pay off a bit at the end, if you were someone who wanted a fresh wedge between Rokuro and Benio (for the record, I’m not that someone).

Benio learns the tragedy that killed numerous promising students at the Hinatsuki dorm was not the result of a Kegare attack, but the result of Rokuro killing them, the victim of something called “Kegare corruption.”

Since Benio’s whole reason for being is to destroy the Kegare who took away her family, learning Rokuro is to blame for the tragedy, this is definitely an, er…setback for the future parents of the Miko.

Of course, the jury’s still out about whether Rokuro chose to go berserk or if it was something outside his control—I’m guessing the latter—I’m still not convinced Benio’s twin brother is dead. Let the kid explain, Benio! Well, if he’s even willing or able to.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 07

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This episode’s Arima-heavy early scenes (and why does every show need someone dressed like a proper English lady having tea?) were a little troublesome, but I liked the end result, as well as his very serious underlying goal: he wants to bring about the prophecy of the Miko; to do that, he needs to bring Rokuro and Benio together.

So this week, the two would-be lovebirds graduate from being two roommates in a dorm of many to two occupants of palatial villa, in order to grow closer to each other. Thus continues SnO’s emphasis on character over plot or action (though the short bit of action still packs a punch)—something I’m on board with, because I happen to like both leads.

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A big part of why I like them is that while they do spar a lot of the time, they also spend a fair amount of time not sparring. They also can suck it up and work together when they have to, and the floors of their two once-separate bedrooms literally turn on an incline and create a sidescroller-style physical challenge, the two know they need each other, and as they figure out how to overcome the various obstacles involved, they find themselves thinking alike more often than not.

A challenge that could have been sigh-worthy in less careful hands also adds to the enjoyment and complexity of their trial, as Benio just happens to be going commando today on account of her panties being in the wash. This means she has to be careful what happens with her skirt, and Rokuro has to be careful where he’s looking. But when he accidentally sees something, she doesn’t go berserk and beat the shit out of him. They simply deal with it, in a reasonable fashion.

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Indeed, Arima meant for this trial to bring the two closer together in several ways, and when they do, Rokuro and Benio are what you’d expect two kids to be: embarrassed, a little excited, but also respectful. Rokuro doesn’t try to sneak another look, and Benio doesn’t hold it against him when gravity causes him to fall on her.

Because they work together, they get out of the combined room without too much trouble, and when they face another trial in the air ducts in the form of a question involving numbers of hiragana and strokes, the two put their brains together again to come up with the correct answer.

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It’s a good job they do clear the trial as quickly as they do, because their “exorcist” pals need bailing out once again. Seriously, is there ever going to be an episode where these guys can handle a Kegare on their own? Until they do, I’m putting “exorcist” in quotes when referring to them.

Rokruo and Benio work together again to bring down the giant mantis-like beast, but Benio starts to panic when she realizes her hair tie is gone, one of the two her brother gave her. Rokuro stops her desperate search and takes her back to the villa, where he finds the tie in the air duct (and I noticed the glint when they fell out of it the first time, a neat little visual detail that went unexplained at the time).

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The day over, the two have their baths (ladies first, says Rokuro, but again, no funny business with peeping), and prepare to go their respective, once-again separate rooms to turn in. But before that, Rokuro asks about Benio’s brother. She wonders why, but the amount of importance she placed on her hair tie made him curious.

She sits down with him and talks about her beloved twin brother, from whom she was separated and believes to be dead—though I think we might have caught a glimpse of him a couple episodes back. Maybe if he reappears, he’ll be Benio’s version of Mayura?

Rokuro’s desire to learn more about Benio means he’s starting to care about her, just as Benio is starting to care about Rokuro when she tells him to make sure to brush his teeth, and assures him that even if he’s not the heir to a great family, his skills are remarkable…even if he’s usually “mostly useless.”

That last jab that leads to bickering at the end wasn’t all that necessary, but it’s clear she’s half-joking, and just giving Rokuro shit. If she didn’t like or care about him, she probably wouldn’t bother. As goofy and insufferable as Arima is, he may be on to something here.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 07

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Kaori loses her violin competition. Tsubaki loses her softball game. Even the chick-magnet-“nice jock” Ryouta loses his soccer game. None of the three are happy about it. After all, they gave it everything they had and still came up short. It wasn’t the first time they lost, and it won’t be the last. But, hey, it would be nice if someone in the quartet achieved victory, which the other three could relish vicariously. The only someone that can be at this point…is Kousei.

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Kousei isn’t certain that he can win. It doesn’t help that there’s a pushy cat with a familiar voice in his mind’s eye asking him deep questions like “Who are you?” and “Where are you?” and when Kousei doesn’t have an answer, is all like “See? You suck.” Still, Kousei studies the music and practices tirelessly, getting so immersed he skips meals and collapses in P.E.

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After being supplied with ample egg sandwiches by Tsubaki, Kousei is visited in the infirmary by Kaori. As they walk home, they come upon a stray black cat not unlike the one in his mind. For he once had a cat, Chelsea. One day the cat scratched his hand, He stood there in his mother’s shadow as she took Chelsea away and abandoned her, which was the pragmatic but hardly humane thing to do, for either the cat or Kousei.

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Kousei’s doubts about who he is and why anything matters is put to rest by Kaori, his dazzling sun, who tells him to relax; she knows who he is…he’s Arima Fucking Kousei. She also tosses out an apt quote from Charlie Brown of all people, then joins her delicate hand with his knobby pianist’s, and notes how she can feel just how much that hand is itching to play piano. That hand was frikkin’ born to play the piano…as was the boy it’s attached to. That’s who he is.

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Whoa there, Kaori. You don’t want to be telescoping your spine!

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The day of the competition arrives, and the four arrive at the fancy glass concert venue. Little does Kousei know he’s walking into an ambush: Aiza Takeshi (Kaji Yuki) and Igawa Emi (the excellent Hayami Saori) are there for blood, and we learn why as the episode gives us more of their story.

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For more than two years, Takeshi and Emi have worked to become better pianists, motivated, if you will, by Kousei. It isn’t quite right to call them rivals as Kousei wasn’t even aware of their existence at the time. A human metronome has no use for human relationships, after all. And even though Takeshi and Emi somewhat pitied Kousei, the fact remains they felt scorned and are now seeking revenge.

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As the other three settle into their seats, Kaori remarks about how Kousei’s fame is more of an infamy. Playing a piece exactly the way it was written is a skill to envy, but that was all Kousei did, and it was, to Kaori and many others, a dead end. Kousei had and has the skill to take the music further, but didn’t. Instead, he arrived at the competitions, beat the everloving stuffing out of everyone, and left without a word or a glance at the results. Why look at the results? There’s no way he’d ever not win!

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One look at Kousei from Emi, and Kousei’s somewhat guilty confession he doesn’t quite remember her or Aiza, convinces her that “he hasn’t changed a bit”, and she’s resolved to destroy him. But having been around him and witnessed his past and present suffering, we know he has changed. He’s not someone who’s sure to win, for one thing, but he’s also not someone to put in a soulless, non-resonant performance. Not after seeing Kaori play.

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Also, he seemed to be too far under his mother’s heel to worry about human emotions like fear, but now he has fear in spades and feels it, because everyone is scared to take that stage (or that diamond, or that pitch), and lose. Just like Takeshi, who wretches in the bathroom prior to his turn even though he won last year. Last year means nothing to him; he’ll prove he deserved to win last year by beating Kousei this year.

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I’ll be honest: the music I heard Kousei playing in the practice room probably isn’t going to cut it against the likes of Takeshi and Emi, and it seems a little early in this 22-episode run to give Kousei a legitimate win…but who knows? Maybe Kousei won’t embarrass himself! This episode ends on a freeze-frame of Takeshi about to hit the ivories; so…To Be Continued.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 06

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This week’s Uso showed me something: that it didn’t need a rousing central musical performance to earn a 10. In fact, this episode made the music look like glorified window dressing; icing on the cake: sweet but ultimately unnecessary. What takes center stage here is character and relationships. We start with dual aftermaths of jumping from that bridge; first in the past, when Tsubaki carried Kousei home even though she was injured herself…

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…to Kousei inviting Kaori to his house to dry off and change. Just as she wriggled her way into his heart, she does the same into his home, and proves just as positively disruptive; relieving his piano of all the books and boxes and dust that had accumulated on it. Ever the breath of fresh air; the new bright beacon of redemption.

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Then Kaori throws open the window to reveal Tsubaki next door, and, well…what the heck is Tsubaki supposed to think, considering how she feels about both Kousei and Kaori? One is the guy who’s always been with her and vice versa; the other is the girl who seems well on the way to snatching him away. This is why early, straightforward confessions are so important…but in reality, they’re far harder to get out.

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Kaori’s invasion extends far beyong Kousei’s heart and home; she’s all about fully restoring him to the stature he once had, only this time, not simply for his mother’s sake, but because it’s what he wants to do. To that end, she enters him into a prestigious competition with Chopin as the set piece, and essentially coaches and bullies him to prepare for it.

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Ever so gradually, the music comes back to Kousei. It’s not that good yet; it still sounds like his greatness is submerged in a deep sea, but to see Tsubaki’s serene, relieved face listening next door is a beautiful moment…but so it Kaori nodding off in the music room as Kousei practices.

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Things are not looking good for Tsubaki, especially when Kaori shrugs off her devotion and care towards him as simply “looking out for a hopeless kid brother.” Tsubaki saw how they looked at each other; she knows it must be more than that. Feeling desperately alone, when Saitou calls her, she suggests they go out.

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Meanwhile, as if to confirm Tsubaki’s suspicions, Kaori turns right around and heads back to school where Kousei is still working. She takes what Tsubaki said about Kousei suffering through it all, and tearfully begs his forgiveness for pushing him so hard so fast. Kousei’s reaction surprises her, even though she told Tsubaki the best music is derived from exposure of one’s innermost emotions: he’s grateful Kaori dusted off his piano and threw open the shutters.

He knows he has a long way to go, and he may look like he’s suffering, but such is to be expected when crossing “uncharted waters”. But he’s also suffering because he loves the girl his best friend likes…and clearly Kaori isn’t merely looking out for a little brother.

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I know I say this every other episode…but “Poor Tsubaki!” She tries, damnit! She tries so hard not to feel this way about Kousei, to move on to someone more attainable and uncomplicated, like Saitou. But it just isn’t there. Talking with him, she always comes back to talking about Kousei. Seeing him cheer her on with the angelic Kaori beside him is enough to totally break her focus in a crucial softball game, trying for an inside-the-parker when she only had a triple, and being tagged out at the plate by a foot.

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While it’s generally a pretty good episode for Kousei, it’s The Worst for Tsubaki, but not all is lost, as she finds when walking home from her defeat. Kousei is waiting for her, and knows just where to kick her to necessitate him carrying her on her shoulders, mirroring the cold open’s flashback. He knows because he knows her, as she knows him. Music may make words seem trivial, inadequate, or mundane, but the time and the memories they’ve shared over so many years trump both music and words, at least on this night.

As terrible she feels about losing the game and as present as the threat of Kaori taking him will remain tomorrow, in this moment on this night, on Kousei’s warm back dampened by her own tears, Tsubaki wants nothing else than for time to stand still right there.

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So do we, Tsubaki, so do we. Don’t get me wrong, Kousei and Kaori’s romance is compelling as all-get-out, but so is Tsubaki and Kousei’s. Heck, even the weakest romance, that of Ryouta and Kaori, is still stronger than most because we know Ryouta to be a decent guy and…well, just look at the two, they look like the ideal Representatives of Earth. As for Kousei’s return to the world of music, a couple of rivals who have been waiting for that return are sharpening their teeth. Even in uncharted waters, one can chance upon acquaintances. It’s a small world.

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