SSSS.Gridman – 10 – Akane’s in Her Heaven, All’s Wrong with the World

Akane has a dream in which Tonkawa and all of the other people she killed are back, but wakes up in the dark in her room, the weird “ceiling city” in the background, and Alexis looming over her, waiting for her to complete her next kaiju.

Yuuta, Rikka, Shou, and Neon Genesis all determine that if Akane is being controlled by an alien, they have to at least go to her house to talk with her. Somewhat hilariously, that means simply walking out the door to the junk stop and going next door to Akane’s house, but when the door is forced open, there’s nothing on the other end but…more “back-end” city.

Writing the slogan of NERV from Eva in his notebook, Shou gets back to his studies, saying that even if he, his world, and everything in it was made by Akane, there are still things that need to be done, like studying for midterm exams. After all, there are no kaiju attacks for several days in a row.

Yuuta, Rikka, and Gridman muse about why Akane built this world: was it to find tranquility, or refuge from the world of the other gods? Rikka thinks it wasn’t because Akane was/is weak, merely that she’s sensitive, and as she says so, the very sunset she beholds seems to speak to that sensitivity.

When a frankly fucked-up-looking kaiju suddenly disturbs the peace, I was wondering if Alexis had simply used one of the incomplete kaiju models Akane didn’t seem motivated to finish.

It certainly doesn’t take much for a full-powered Gridman to take it down, while a determined Anti in kaiju form doesn’t give him much more of a fight. Later, we learn that unique to all the other kaiju she’s created, Anti alone has “life”, which makes it possible for him to read the hearts of others, even think about or look out for them, something true kaiju would never do.

But Akane doesn’t seem to have a use for a kaiju with feelings, and so basically tells him to buzz off and do whatever he wants. Later that night, out of the husk of the dead weak kaiju, another, more aggressive-looking kaiju emerges.

It proceeds to chop the heads off all of the massive “custodian kaiju” that dot the city, and the pall of fog/poison gas they emit is lifted. When Gridman sorties once more, this new kaiju is more than a match, he can read all of Gridman’s moves and outmaneuver and outgun him.

It isn’t until this pointy-headed monster is looming over a trashed Gridman flat on his back, surrounded by flames, that Anti springs back into action, this time saving Gridman from the kaiju. His logic is that in order to crush him, he must fight together with him to defeat that which would crush him first. He doesn’t just want Gridman crushed by anyonehe wants to be the one do it.

Anti then transforms into a Gridman clone, or “Gridknight”, and with a shimmering purple energy donut, cleaves the kaiju—which represent’s Akane’s heart—in two. Perhaps that’s why Akane seems so down when she appears in the Junk Shop and inspects the computer used to interface with Gridman: one could say Anti just “broke her heart”.

In return, now knowing that Yuuta and Gridman are separate entities, she suddenly embraces Yuuta, then pulls away, revealing a bloodied knife as Yuuta falls to the ground.

For the first time, she’s foregone the use of kaiju or other godly powers and bloodied her own hands to rid her world of someone messing everything up. It would seem, then, that she’s made her choice, even if she doesn’t seem particularly happy about it.

SSSS.Gridman – 09 – Don’t Wake Up! , Or: The Intolerable Dilemma of Shinjou Akane

This week things start out different…and weird. Well, weird-er by SSSS standards. A new kaiju appears in the city, from the POV of a random passerby on the phone. We know there’s something fishy going on when Yuuta wakes up in Rikka’s apartment and Akane is there instead, even calling Rikka’s mother her’s.

There’s too much fog; too little activity; and in the glare of many a shiny object, Gridman can be seen for an instant, but goes unnoticed by a confused, amnesiac Yuuta, who at first takes it on face value that he and Akane is dating.

Meanwhile, at school, Rikka goes to the nurse’s office to find Akane already there. The two are friendly together, as friends are (and much like the end credits unfold), then Akane takes her to her house, as friends do. There are no parents, just Alexis, whose odd appearance Akane explains away as elaborate cosplay.

Then, in a repeat of an older scene, Akane strikes up a conversation with Shou in the bookstore about mecha and kaiju and the two hit it off, much to Shou’s delight. While walking home to or from school, we see Akane happily walking with Yuuta, her watch on his wrist. She leans in to hold his hand…and everything pauses.

These three scenarios involving Akane and the three members of the Gridman Alliance are all occurring in dreams. In “real life” (whatever that is) the three are unconscious on the couch in the junk store. The kaiju stands menacingly outside, striding about, but isn’t destroying anything.

As Anti learns when he tries to attacking it (being told by Neon Genesis that its keeping Gridman from appearing), it is a kaiju out of phase: unable to affect anything; unable to be affected. Akane is atop a construction crane with Alexis, watching the dreams…and hoping.

Not hoping to defeat Gridman, or kill someone she doesn’t like…but hoping these three can be re-made to be her friends, as they were originally programmed by her to be.

But the longer the three dwell in the dream, the more they feel like something’s not right. In a graveyard, in the glint of the gravestone of the family of one of the classmates Akane killed, Gridman appears again. In a flash, Yuuta’s memory has returned; at least the bit where he can be confident he’s currently in a dream.

After showering him with attention and rare swag, and about to be invited to Akane’s place to spend the night, Shou also snaps out of it; this is all just too good to be true; too ideal. On the bus, Rikka also quietly comes to the realization she’s not on a real bus and this isn’t her real life…and Akane just might not be a real friend.

She pleads for all three not to wake up; not to go. But they go. Three times she must watch someone get up and three times she must hear the sound of receding footsteps. Three times she’s left alone. Three times her hopes are shattered. The friends she made for herself have abandoned her and allied with each other. No matter what she tells them, or what she gives them, they’ll leave her for each other.

As the kaiju materializes and begins its march of destruction in the real world, the three friends run toward one another, and towards Gridman, in his time of need. Neon Genesis mobilizes on their own, de-scaling and combining into a kind of “substitute hero mecha” to bring down the kaiju.

What’s left is a cloud of dust, and Akane, in her created world, still profoundly, intolerably alone. She asks no one in particular what she should do before jumping from the tower and plummeting hundreds of feet. She lands on her feet, physically unharmed but clearly mentally spent.

At first, Akane was a one-dimensional villain: create kaiju to defeat Gridman every week. But after who-knows how many iterations of that scenario, Akane seems tired, worn out, and above all, lonely and miserable. If it was Alexis who gave her the powers she possesses, perhaps she was excited about having them….at first.

But now those powers have created a cycle without end with no friends to comfort her. A dream from which she cannot wake. A prison from which there is no escape—not even suicide.

As Yuuta, Rikka, and Shou wake up in the shop, and thank Gridman for bringing them out of their dreams, Gridman informs them there’s still a fourth human who must wake from their dream. Then Rikka tells everyone there’s something she wants them all to hear. I for one can’t wait to hear what that is.

So ends the best Gridman episode to date; one that harkens to the weirdest headspaces and corners of Evangelion (the background sound of clanging we hear at one point is straight from Rei’s ‘hood); and even one that seems to take some steps in its own directions after drawing from Gridman lore for so long.

Even if this is more of that borrowed and reimagined mythos, you couldn’t ask for a more gorgeous, cerebral, unnerving, and ultimately  heartbreaking execution. I’ve never felt more for Akane’s plight than I do now, which is quite a feat considering the wrongs she’s committed. And I hope that Rikka, Yuuta and Shou can help her escape her prison and wake from her dream.

Golden Kamuy – 18 – Kanemochi with Walnuts

This episode puts the chase on hold in favor of a deep dive into Tanigaki Genjirou’s eventful and tragic past, as told to Lt. Tsurumi several months ago. It all starts with a description of the kanemochi his people made to serve as last-resort rations, and how his had a special ingredient to set them apart from others.

Tanigaki had a need for such rations when he and another member of his hunting party got stuck in a blizzard for many days. He and this man, Kenkichi, shared the rations, the secret ingredient for which was walnuts, and they survived. Eventually, Kenkichi married Tanigaki’s sister Fumi and the couple moved into a remote place in the mountains.

Then Tanigaki got word that something happened, and rushed to Kenkichi and Fumi’s home. There he found only charred remains of the house and of Fumi, who had a stab wound in her heart; Kenkichi’s knife, “the soul of a matagi”, not far from her body.

Tanigaki abandoned his family and his village to find Kenkichi and seek revenge. That led him to the same battleground as Sugimoto, who asks for food. Tanigaki gives him some kanemochi, and Sugimoto recognizes Tanigaki’s dialect because someone he fought beside had the same one.

In one coincidence, just as the Russians started running into the Japanese trenches with lit grenades strapped to their bodies, Kenkichi leapt out to stop one of them, saving everyone in the trench, including Tanigaki.

It turns out Tanigaki was wrong: Kenkichi didn’t kill her sister in cold blood. He took her life in order to spare her a worse fate. Fumi contracted smallpox, and didn’t want her family finding out or for Kenkichi to stay and die with her.

Kenkichi didn’t want to leave her to be attacked by animals. And so the compromise was struck: put her out of her misery, then burn the house so the pox wouldn’t spread. It was pretty much the best option out of a host of terrible ones.

Kenkichi tells this to someone he can’t recognize, since his eardrums are shot and his eyes blown out. But Tanigaki knows how to get him to understand it’s his brother-in-law he’s speaking to—by giving him a piece of kanemochi with walnuts; his last meal.

Tanigaki tells a rapt Lt. Tsurumi that he admires Kenkichi for finding a role in life and carrying out that role, and that he sought a similar role, since vengeance was no longer an option. Tsurumi offered him a place with his unit, but as we know, that wasn’t the role for him either.

Now, in the present, flanked by Inkarmat and Cikapasi, Tanigaki finally reunites with Asirpa and Sugimoto. And since he’s not working for the nefarious likes of Tsurumi, he can feel a lot better about his latest role.

Leave it to Golden Kamuy to take something like a regional food and create an entire tragic drama around it. It may not have moved the main plot forward too far, but it did greatly enrich one of its characters.

Banana Fish – 05 – No More Quitting

Ash is on his best behavior when interacting with Max’s lawyer, who manages to score a conditional release for the kid, checking off one of the items on my wish list for this week: Get Ash Outta Jail. Max, thanks to his time inside with Ash, isn’t fooled, but Charlie and Ibe are when, after telling him Griff was killed, he breaks free of their custody. Though that’s only possible when Eiji decides to commandeer the car. Ash wants to take care of everything by himself, but between Eiji and Shorter, he’s destined to be disappointed.

Having to quit pole vaulting has never sat well with Eiji, and now that he’s involved (feeling responsible for getting Griff killed since he was followed), he’s done quitting. Shorter too doesn’t trust Ash to do anything on his own but get himself killed. Thankfully, he listens to reason, and the trio are harbored by the “banker” Mr. Lee, who is cool with anyone trying to bring Dino down. Ash knows where Dino will be…but so does Max, and he tells Ibe.

Everyone converges at “Club Cod”, a restaurant front for a dastardly child sex trafficking operation that once included Ash himself and still ensnares bigwigs the nation over, who end up in Dino’s pocket (for the record, the Mafia aren’t that powerful in America anymore…though they certainly once were!). Unsurprisingly, things go pear-shaped: Dino takes a bullet, but it’s not fatal, and Ash and Shorter get shot too (though also not fatal).

Max and Ibe arrive in the middle of the fracas, and decide the best move is for all the good guys to take a swim in the river, which, East or Hudson, ain’t a pleasant experience. But it’s certainly better than getting killed, which no one important to Ash is, notably. Max knocks Ash out and takes him to his hideout where he fixes Shorter’s wound and plots the next move: heading to Cape Cod, where Ash and Griff grew up, hoping to find more clues in the Banana Fish investigation.

Banana Fish – 04 – Thoroughly Punished

Arthur gives Eiji a choice—tell him what he knows or watch one of the white coats die—but even when Eiji relents, he still orders the woman’s death, only cementing the axiom that a traitor like Arthur can never be trusted. Shorter manages to rescue Eiji and the two white coats, but at great cost: Griffin is shot when he bursts into the middle of the standoff, and eventually dies from his wounds.

It seemed like a great deal of what Ash was doing was for the sake of his brother, but he doesn’t learn until after he defeats his new bunkmate Bull. Ibe feels responsible for Eiji and wants him to return to Japan now that his life is in danger, but Eiji wants to stay put; he can’t leave Ash now. Ash is also attacked by convicts loyal to Golzine but he manages to handle them thanks to a fork he hid. After that, Max lets him know about Griff’s death, and the two have it out, each giving in to the grief.

As Ash and Max reach a kind of detente, bunkmates once more, the wheels of justice may be slowly turning in Ash’s favor. I certainly hope he’s out of prison soon; the fights and threats of rape have grown stale, especially since it’s clear Ash can handle himself. Even with Griffin dead, Ash probably won’t stop scratching at this itch of a mystery once he gets out, and Eiji will no doubt be by his side in the search for the truth, no matter how many dangers accompany their path.

Hanebado! – 04 – A New Challenger Approaches

After her playground epiphany, Ayano joins the badminton club, and before she knows it she’s on a bus with the rest of the club to a summer practice facility. While on the ride, the classically alone Ayano has her hair tended to by Yu, resulting in a photo and a warm feeling of belonging; of finally not being alone, but part of something bigger: a team.

But wouldn’t you know it, the facility is already occupied by another badminton team, and not just any team, but the “FreGirls” of Frederica, one of the country’s top teams. One of their players wanted very much to play Ayano’s school. Ayano heads out to a konbini to buy water, but ends up lost thanks to Nagisa’s kiddy, nigh worthless map.

While lost, she meets a foreigner who’s also lost: a blonde from Denmark who offers her a lolly when they make progress with the map.

Things are going swimmingly until the foreigner learns the identity of the cute little girl she’s walked with. The moment she hears the name “Hanesaki” she freezes and drops her change, then accuses Ayano of playing mind games with her by “pretending to be friendly.”

The next they meet, the tall blonde, Connie C, is one half of Ayano and Riko’s doubles opponents, and promises to show her how “meaningless” Ayano’s “team” is. She warns her partner not to interfere and let her play alone. Clearly, what she really wants is a one-on-one match against Ayano.

When her partner does interfere, Connie quits in a huff, letting the other girl struggle alone in a two-on-one match until she basically taps out. Connie doesn’t believe in teams, after all; she’s a team of one, and gets what she wants. As for why her captain and coach do nothing to stop her selfish behavior, who knows?

Connie takes over, effortlessly turning a 10-3 deficit into an 11-10 lead with mammoth vertical leaps and a smash that even the guys doubt they could return. Neither Ayano or Izumi can do anything. It’s Serigaya Kaoruko all over again.

Only…it’s actually worse than Kaoruko. “Connie C” Is Connie Christensen, a Danish prodigy who has already won the world championship in her age group. In every physical measure pertinent to badminton, she’s Ayano’s superior, and wants to make it clear she’s superior in every other aspect of the game as well. Tachibana knows her, and doubts Ayano will be able to hang.

Connie is also the blonde girl in the magazine article in which Ayano learned her mother had basically replaced her as daughter, which makes this even more fucked up. Connie even ties back her hair the same way as Ayano’s mother, adding insult to injury.

Apparently not satisfied with everything she’s already taken from Ayano, Connie now seems to want to crush Ayano’s spirit, such that even being in a fun high school team won’t give her joy or relief. That said, she relied on an awful lot of coincidences to end up in the match. Among them:

  • She knew Ayano had joined the badminton club, even when Ayano herself wasn’t sure until very recently;
  • Her school’s team ended up at the same facility as Ayano’s club;
  • Ayano ended up going out for water, and ended up meeting Connie first;
  • They ended up playing against each other.

Coincidences aside, one has to wonder what Connie’s true motive is, and why she is so intent on psychologically crippling a stranger. I mean, isn’t the fact that Ayano’s mom abandoned Ayano for Connie enough proof for Connie that’s she’s better? Did she really travel all the way to Japan just to beat someone who had already ‘lost” to her? Apparently! And that makes Connie a garbage person…until further notice.

Banana Fish – 03 – Survive, But Never Repent

When Ash is thrown in the slammer indefinitely, without a trial, Eiji, Ibe and Charlie reach out to Max Lobo, a rough-and-tumble guerrilla journalist who happens to be in the same prison for punching a cop. Max isn’t confident he can actually protect Ash, and when he meets the kid, that confidence withers even more, though he’s impressed that he’s read his column in the Bulletin.

Ash doesn’t particularly help his own case while in prison, lashing out at the first guy who lays hands on him and earning a night in solitary. When he’s out, that same guy finds Ash and rapes him, with Max finding him naked and bruised.

It’s very likely Max had an impossible job; he can never be in the same place as Ash at all times, and even if he is, he’s just one man; easily outnumbered and out-muscled. As for Ash, he takes the assault he’d been dealt out as just doing what had to be done to survive; he’s not dyin

While in medical eating a banana, Ash mutters “Banana Fish”, a term Max knows about and has been researching for the last decade. He’s been able to learn is that it’s the name of a person or organization related to a drug route, but unfortunately the man he was going to meet with after release was the man Ash watched die muttering the words “Banana Fish.”

Max also learns that Griffin—whom he knew while in Iraq and who wigged out from the drug and attacked him, forcing him to shoot back—is Ash’s big brother. Ash is not pleased with how Max handled things with Griffin, and vows to kill him when he gets out. Max seems halfway willing to let him.

During a visit, Ash makes a big show of French kissing Eiji to conceal the fact he used the kiss to get Eiji a message written and rolled into a medicine capsule. That message leads Eiji on a fruitless search for Ash’s at-large ally Shorter Wong…and eventually, right into the clutches of Ash’s betrayer and new boss of the gang, Arthur. D’oh!

I wonder what Ash was thinking, having Eiji go on such a dangerous mission alone (if that was his intention). The kid’s greener than Ed Begley Jr.! Now Ash’s enemies have someone in whose well-being he is invested.

Citrus – 11

Best Girl Harumin always has a way of coming in at the perfect time in this ridiculous show about sisters loving other sisters who love their sisters to splash water on the whole affair. She makes a down-in-the-dumps (and at this point disgustingly self-involved) Yuzu pay dearly for her negative aura in the form of a ruthless tickling.

I love how quickly and casually Harumin moves on to reveal yet another thing to love about her—she’s a history buff! But also, she’s just got other things going on…unlike Yuzu, who has let this Mei situation consume nearly every waking moment.

The next day, the class trip visits a “relationship-forming shrine”, a decision made at Himeko’s urging, still fighting to get closer to Mei. Sara’s sister Nina gets wind of this, and despite knowing Mei and Yuzu are “already invovled”, as a fiercely loyal sister, she’s committed to doing all she can to help Sara.

That also means bringing Sara to the same shrine. It also means keeping Sara in the dark about Yuzu and Mei, something I see coming to bite her later.

Both Yuzu and Himeko are enthusiastic about visiting the shrine and offering their very long prayers that make Harumin wait. Once the three are back together, it’s not five seconds until Sara appears, to Yuzu’s surprise. Since neither is aware they’re in love with the same girl, they each offer one another their blessings and hope to hear of their success later. Oh dear.

On a brighter note, Himeko’s underlying good-girl nature meshes well with Harumin’s innate maternal aura, as the two conspire to offer Yuzu charms to aid her future beauty and luck and success in love. Harumin also hilariously shuts down Himeko’s tsundere act – Himeko cares about Yuzu as a friend.

If only Yuzu pulled her weight, especially in her friendship with Harumin. Any way you look at it, Harumin gives and gives while Yuzu simply takes and takes. But the thing is, if Harumin didn’t want to be friends with someone like Yuzu, she wouldn’t be. So I’ll respect her choice.

When the weather turns, Nina makes sure she’s in the same place as Mei. She informs Mei of her sister Sara’s affection for her, and asks whether she’d consider entering into a relationship with her. Mei declines, but Nina asks her to think it over.

Clearly, Nina did not intend for Mei to have more than a minute or so to think it over, because it isn’t long after she leaves that Sara appears. Determined not to let her chance slip by, Sara confesses her love. When Mei asks if Sara would “need” her, Sara answers of course she would; she loves her, after all.

It’s a directness Mei wanted from Yuzu, but didn’t get, and doesn’t get even later that evening when Yuzu confronts Mei once more and can’t get the words out. Mei interrupts her to say she was already confessed to that very day, and decided to start dating that person.

Having reached a new low, Yuzu get’s “sauced” on orange soda and rants to herself in the hotel lobby, making a big scene. Her shot, it would seem, was at the end of last week. She blew it, and left the opening for someone else (who she still doesn’t know is Sara).

Nina isn’t about to tell her…at least not until she gets an ironclad promise from Yuzu that she’ll support Sara in her love, no matter what. She secures that promise when Yuzu is at her most miserable and vulnerable. I tellya, this Nina is one cool operator.

After another unpleasant run-in with Mei over hitting up the bath too late— breaking both school and hotel rules, *gasp*—Yuzu ends up encountering Sara in the bath. A very happy, if nervous Sara. Yuzu is happy for Sara, but when she reports her own failure, Sara urges her not to give up. Even if she’s dating someone else, Sara believes Yuzu has to tell her how she feels.

Yuzu tries to do just that, waiting until Mei’s roommate Himeko leaves to sneak in and talk. Mei isn’t having it, but when Himeko suddenly returns, she turns out the lights and pulls Yuzu under the covers with her, literally covering for her.

This time, Yuzu doesn’t squander her chance, embracing Mei, blowing on her neck, and preparing to kiss her, perhaps in hope her actions will speak louder than her thus-far lack of words. Mei stops her and orders her to leave, but the experience emboldens Yuzu. The time wasn’t right to say what she wanted to say, but now she’s committed to finding that time.

Yuzu was hoping that would be the next day, but Mei has already gone off on a date. Yuzu rushes to the location of that date and tries to determine where Mei might be, but she’s intercepted by Nina, who finally tells her the truth: Mei is Sara’s girlfriend, and she’s going to keep it that way.

Nina’s statuesque physique was played for laughs last week, but both when she squeezed a promise from “drunk” Yuzu (hugging her just a bit too hard) and when she’s backing her into a railing here, Nina’s size becomes a threatening proposition—one Yuzu simply never saw coming.

Meanwhile, atop an observation tower, Mei spaces out. Last night after the bath, Sara found Yuzu’s dropped student ID, saw the same last name as Mei’s, and remembered Yuzu saying she was in love with her stepsister. Even so, she can’t deny her heart, which is telling her she wants to kiss Mei.

With Sara wanting to go all in,  Mei simply wanting someone to need her for who she is, and Yuzu cowering in a tight corner, everything seems to be coming up Nina…except of course if the ultimate truth is that Nina harbors an unrequited love for Sara.

The stigma of incest combined with Sara falling for someone else seem to have helped Nina decide to give up on Sara for herself and instead use every resource at her disposal to ensure her sister’s happiness, even at the cost of her own.

I appreciated the added layers given to both Tachibana twins. Like Yuzu, Sara is the purer of the two sisters, more easily manipulated for good and ill, while Nina, due in part to the world denying her the love she chose, is the more cynical sister who doesn’t believe in fate, only will and effort. She may be hurting Yuzu deeply, but better Yuzu than Sara.

We should be in for quite a finale.

Citrus – 10

Mei unblinkingly offers Yuzu her body with open arms, ostensibly out of gratitude for how Yuzu helped her with her grandfather and father. But when Yuzu finally has the object of her infatuation in her arms…she just can’t do it.

Emphasis on she; Mei looked ready to go all the way, and from the look of her reaction to Yuzu’s declining, isn’t cool with being turned down. That feeling lasts the length of the month of January, with the two stepsisters rarely talking.

When Matsuri hears the two didn’t do it on Christmas after all, she mocks Yuzu for wanting her romance to be perfect like the shoujo-ai manga she hides in her bookshelf. She also scolds Yuzu for not properly considering Mei’s feelings. Even if that’s a bit rich coming from her, she’s not wrong. Mei opened up, and Yuzu ran.

When Yuzu oversleeps the morning of their class trip to Kyoto, Mei leaves without her, and Yuzu misses her class’s train. As it would happen, another big sister from another school ends up missing her train and separated from her little sister.

That sister is Tachibana Sara, and she and Yuzu end up meeting and getting on the next train headed to Kyoto, and from there, the coincidences keep piling up. Yuzu and Sara set out to find their respective classes and learn they each have virtually the same schedule and are even staying at the same hotel.

In the process, Yuzu and Sara become friends, which I knew would make things interesting when Sara learns that the nice girl she fell for (and mentions to her sister Nina earlier in the ep) is Yuzu’s stepsister, whom Yuzu told her she fell for and is currently unable to reconcile with.

Sara and Nina reunite, and Yuzu learns Sara’s “little” sister is huge, and a gyaru to boot! But Himeko catches Yuzu and gives her the third degree, even interrupting Yuzu’s attempt to get Mei to talk.

They eventually do meet, later that night, but Mei is not in a patient mood, and when she asks Yuzu “What do you think of me?”, Yuzu has nothing but shallow answers, even if they’re the best she can come up with on short notice. Mei isn’t moved, and tells Yuzu to forget Christmas night.

In one final coincidence, Nina happens to overhear this conversation between Sara’s new friend Yuzu and the black-haired girl Nina knows her sister likes.

A coincidence or two can be perfectly fine, but when there are this many it can make the resulting drama a bit manufactured and thus less satisfying. And while I knew the Tachibana twins were coming from the promo art, and they weren’t nearly as grating as Matsuri, they were also just a bit dull.

Just Because! – 12 (Fin)

Setting the final episode on the seniors’ final day of high school is an obvious touch, but a very effective one here on Just Because!. We can share that sense of accomplishment, relief, and anxiety the new grads are going through. There’s also the sense that everyone feels a bit out of place, from little details like flowers and parents to a completely different schedule of events from the usual routine.

Unfortunately, we have to wait quite a long time for the inevitable payoff of Izumi and Natsume meeting in college. That’s because they don’t see each other the entire episode. This seems at once a wry nod to viewers that such an inevitable payoff, while desired, isn’t something that can sustain an entire episode.

Rather than pad it out, JB! does a curtain roll of everything and everyone else, starting with the news that Izumi didn’t get into the fancy college he thinks Natsume is going to. She only texts him that she got in “her first choice”, without indicating that she changed it to his.

That profound misunderstanding threatened to mar all of the events in the episode that weren’t dedicated to resolving it, but it turned out to be an episode that rewarded patience. We also get an arguably superior scene to the episode’s final moments in Izumi and Komiya’s last scene together.

She won and lost the competition: lost because her photo of him didn’t win, but won because her fellow club member’s photo of her taking a picture of Izumi did win, which means the club, and her place of belonging survives. It’s little consolation for Izumi’s formal rejection, however, and both animators and seiyu LYNN really knock it out of the park with Komiya’s understandable reaction.

Speaking of dingers, we get a nice symmetry to the series when Izumi and Souma play ball in the yard again, only this time with their positions reversed. When Souma hands him the bat and says “hit a home run”, Izumi knows what he’s talking about, because of what hitting one meant for Souma.

That being said, Souma’s fiert first pitch immediately lets Izumi know he’s not lobbing a batting practice toss…Izumi has to earn his homer—and he does, making crisp contact that sends the ball flying, just as a jetliner screams overhead, the vapor trail imitating the ball’s path, making the homer seem that much more epic. Izumi runs off to Natsume.

Unfortunately, Natsume doesn’t wait on the hill long, as she assumes that Izumi won’t come, and a phone call from Yuriko and her celebrating friends lures her away before Izumi can get to the rendezvous point.

So that’s kinda that…and an entire month passes, without them speaking or even texting each other. To this, all I can say is, WTF, show? A month? Seriously? A longer period of time apart than the two have ever suffered, at so crucial a time in their lives? I’m not a fan of the choice, or the persistent lack of communication that caused it.

That being said, their encounter at college, in which both un-bottle that month of longing with quick confessions to one another, was very well done. Not as nice as Komiya’s scene, but still nice.

Some shows are about what happens after two people who really had to labor to end up with each other enter a romantic relationship, but this was just about how it happened. I’m always for at least a taste of seeing the new couple fall into a new rhythm together, but we didn’t get that here.

Oh well, what we did get was most enjoyable regardless. Just Because! is no Tsuki ga Kirei, but there were certainly moments when it came close.

Just Because! – 11

Everyone in Just Because, it seems, requires certain seemingly unrelated conditions be met before taking action.

Souma wouldn’t ask Morikawa out unless he hit a home run. Natsume won’t “lay her feelings bare” unless she gets into Joei. Izumi won’t tell Natsume how he feels unless he gets into Suizan. Morikawa won’t go out with Souma until they settle into their respective futures at college and work.

Only Komiya confessed to Izumi before meeting her stated condition (winning the photo competition), but she’ll still wait for Izumi’s answer until after the exam, which she expects him to pass.

Mio’s sis is too good at imitating her sister’s face

This was a very practical, functional episode in which all of the members of the Natsume-Izumi-Komiya triangle meet their conditions, which in a way was the easy part. The toughest trials for the three come now that they no longer have those artificial boundaries in place. In the final episode, they’ll have no choice but to follow through on what they promised they’d do.

Between Natsume and Izumi’s simultaneous balcony sessions to their morning routines to their lengthy commutes to the colleges to their time at their desks taking the exams, there’s a great deal of thematic heft given to those exams, as befits the fact that passing them means far more than simply getting into those colleges. Both of them have assigned a lot more importance to them than that, but neither shrinks from the task at hand.

As they furiously put pens to paper, Morikawa and Souma enjoy each other’s company at school, too restless to be home, each worried about their friends. It’s here where Morikawa and Souma first pool their knowledge of both Izumi and Natsume both switching schools…but it’s “too late” to stop them.

Is this meant to suggest the would-be lovers are doomed to attend different schools? I hope that’s not the case and that with some paperwork wrangling they can align where they wish to go…if that’s what they both want.

While the buildup and the presentation of those exams was very deliberately paced, the results come in in the relative blink of an eye. Natsume’s letter definitely says she’s been accepted to Joei. Komiya’s smile most likely means her photo won. Izumi’s grin means he got into Suizan, meaning the conditions have been met. With all that paperwork out of the way, I’m looking forward to seeing these three proceed to sort things out.

Just Because! – 10

In its third-to-last episode of the Fall, nobody has a particularly happy Valentines Day, both as a result of bad luck, poor timing, simple misunderstandings, and an inability to resolve those misunderstandings in a timely fashion (hence the two episodes remaining).

Komiya Ena—who may be the more charming and less passive of the two girls, but is nevertheless someone I don’t think Izumi should end up with—still wants to give him chocolates, but becomes dejected when she sees him with Natsume.

Meanwhile, Natsume seems on the cusp of giving Izumi chocolates as well, but a LINE message from Souma leads Natsume to glance at Izumi’s phone, and Chekhov’s Phone Background goes off, upsetting her to the point of running off with a face Izumi has never seen. THANKS A LOT, SOUMA.

Almost immediately after Natsume retreats, Komiya goes up to Izumi and gravely removes the background before running off herself. And when Natsume finally stops running, she beams, happy to be so “completely serious” about Izumi, even if he has no idea his love is requited.

Frankly, I found the need for Natsume to see the background a bit of a cheap stunt, even if it was telegraphed as a potential point of conflict as soon as Komiya made it Izumi’s background.

I get it: these crazy kids take their social media seriously, but they’ve also proven capable of using their words with one another in person. Sure, emotions ran high, but Izumi made no real effort to go after Natsume or explain the reason Komiya was on his phone.

Speaking of communication, Souma and Morikawa meet up, ostensibly so Morikawa can deliver her answer—which she does, but not before they do a kind of performance piece in which she’s playing the trumpet while Souma pantomimes hitting a home run and rounding the bases.

It was…odd, more than a little corny, and not really effective. That being said, their exchange after their little “dance” went better than Izumi’s triangle, even if Morikawa asks Souma to be patient and let her get settled with college before dating.

Asking for another delay is cruel, but hardly avoidable. The two being able to see each other regularly is practically impossible, no matter how gung-ho Souma claims to be, he’s not made out of travelling expenses, and it wouldn’t change the fact they’d be leaving the gate in a long-distance situation, which is never a good way to start.

Ultimately, I’m satisfied with Morikawa’s position evolving from “no way” to “I don’t know what I’m doing” to “yes, but later.” As Souma said, she gave it a lot of thought and consideration. Could he fall in love with someone else in the weeks and months he and Morikawa are apart? Perhaps, but that’s not presently the case. If it’s to be, it’s to be.

That’s kind of the attitude I have to take with Izumi and Natsume too; if it’s to be it’s to be. Komiya decided to bike to temples all over the place to grab as many amulets as she can. It’s a gesture simultaneously self-serving (to impress him with her dedication) and selfless (she got them to ensure he’ll pass the exam). She both wants him to fail so he won’t go off with Natsume, and wants him to succeed because he’s studied so hard.

Izumi likes that part of Komiya, and so do I. She also gives him chocolate—albeit one small store-bought bite rather than her homemade sweets—and he gives her one of her charms back, in hopes she’ll win her competition, something he didn’t use to care about, but now does because he considers Komiya a dear friend.

As for Natsume, she’s going for it. She’ll get into Joei and then “lay bare all her feelings” regarding Izumi. Here’s hoping she and Izumi don’t end up at different schools, thus having same problem of distance and time as Souma and Morikawa. Don’t do that to me, show. I’m warning you. DON’T YOU PUT THAT EVIL ON ME JUST BECAUSE!

Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – 10

Just as getting shaken down in an alley one more time can lead to a city wide crisis involving a giant rage monster, Hellsalem’s Lot is the place where there’s never a shortage of work for cleaners like K.K. She’s so good at her job, in fact, that there’s no one to replace her in most operations. As such, her work-family life suffers.

This week we get a welcome, overdue look into that balance (or lack thereof), starting with how she managed not to break her promise to come to her younger son Kane’s school’s Parents Day the fourth or fifth time in a row.

I enjoyed how quickly we were caught up to speed on her lovely family: Kane, who still takes everything at face value (and assumes she doesn’t love him if she goes back  on her word), an older son who is jaded by it, kind husband who knows how to smooth things over on both sides.

Seeing the other side of K.K. really brought a background character to life, and gave all her momentary appearances in previous episodes this season more context: there’s always been somewhere she’d rather be, and that’s by her sons’ sides.

One advantage to all the work she’s been doing is that she can afford a remedy that will allow her to be with Kane: she has Patrick prepare a number of remote drones that she can control either from her shades in class or a laptop and controller in the restroom.

There are several interruptions in her presence (which a prickly Kane naturally notices), but hey, at least she’s there without having to worry about Steve and his men dying because of it.

As soon as she returns to the class and finds only one man in a green suit having a grave phone conversation, I had some suspicions about him. But K.K. is trying to be present, and when she sees a pretty girl talking enthusiastically with her son, she can’t help but get a bit distracted.

That’s when the crime boss of the organization Steve is trying to take out shows off his backup: a remote-launched missile-catching Blood Breed who cannot be picked up on any of K.K.’s remote scopes. She held out as long as she could, but she has to go—and endure Kane’s hate—one more time.

Of course, I’d already realized the man in the green suit was the real blood breed, remote-controlling the automaton facing off against Steve. It’s the reason he has to step out for a “smoke break.” K.K. senses it too, and confronts him on the school roof.

But here’s the thing: he wasn’t lying about anything: his daughter (Kane’s pretty  “girlfriend” Caroline) really does attend the school, he’s also up to his neck in work, and like K.K., has a hard time striking the right balance.

Knowing K.K. wouldn’t let him go he’s working as a bodyguard for some bad dudes, after all) he proposes the two of them go at it one-on-one right there. But anything that would have happened is thankfully interrupted by Caroline and Kane. Back at the operation, the father’s automaton stopped moving, allowing Steven to destroy it. The mission is a success, and K.K. can go back to being with her son.

Unfortunately, his failure means the father has to disappear lest he and his daughter incur the wrath of his defeated client for his failure. Just as K.K. has to disappoint her kids and let them hate her again and a gain, it’s more important for the dad to keep Caroline safe, so he had to pull her out of Kane’s school. K.K. feels partially responsible for that, so gives Kane a commiseratory hug.

In any case, it’s not like Kane and Caroline will never see each other again; they’ll surely do so once they get a little older (and maybe even follow in their parents’ footsteps). Until then, there’s always the almighty social media to keep them connected!