Super Cub – 11 – No More Enemies to Fight

When Shii’s in big trouble, Koguma answers the call…literally! She’s able to spot a snapped twig on the cat trail and find Shii awkwardly submerged in water that must be somewhere in the forties (though the fact it’s not frozen solid indicates it’s not that cold out). Even so, Koguma took a risk she could find Shii fast enough, and that Shii—who is effin’ tiny—wouldn’t suffer hypothermia.

Everything works out, as Koguma, a picture of calm and collectedness, helps Shii out of the ravine, picks up all 70-or-so pounds of her, and plops her in her front basket for the ride to her place. That’s right, Koguma stole Reiko’s dream of carrying Shii along this way—but quite by necessity!

Once home, Koguma draws a bath and cooks a dinner of curry udon. Reiko, whom she called earlier, arrives with Shii’s ruined Alex Moulton, takes a bath of her own, and joins the other two for dinner. It’s the first time Koguma has had company, but she doesn’t make a big deal of it; but just slurps up her udon with the others, enjoying their company.

While washing the dishes, Reiko lets Shii know—quite tactlessly!—that her Mouton is donezo. Shii breaks down, cursing winter and begging Koguma to use her Super Cub to end the wretched season. Koguma deadpans that her Cub can’t do that…and seems a little sad that it can’t.

The next day, Shii’s parents thank Koguma and Reiko with a pass good for a year’s free coffee, sandwiches, and bread items, which they begin to cash in on immediately, much to Shii’s relief. If Shii ever thought they’d stop hanging out with her after her incident in the creek, then she needs to have more faith in her friends!

Shii gets what Koguma ruthlessly declares a “granny bike”, and the days of Winter continue on, only with no more preparations to make to their bikes or clothes. Then one morning Koguma hears on the radio that the cherry blossomes have bloomed early in Kagoshima. She proposes they go see them…together, escaping the winter by going where—as far as those trees are concerned—it’s already over.

It’s just what Shii needs to cheer up, and when she takes Koguma’s hands in friendship, Koguma’s world colors up bolder and faster than ever. She recounts how when it was her trudging her way uphill on her bike that she saw Shii glide past her on her Moulton, eventually inspiring her to buy her Cub, which led to her befriending Reiko.

Shii may not know it, but this all started with Koguma chasing her and her cooler, faster bike. What better way to thank her for the inspiration by giving her an early taste of spring?

Super Cub – 10 – The Girls of Winter

For me, there are few things better than waking up in a warm cozy bed, pulling open the curtains and discovering that the world has become white—or silver, as Koguma puts it—with a fresh, immaculate coat of snow. So when Koguma does just this, I can relate.

And while she prepares for a day in, as she doesn’t want to try to ride on the slick roads, Reiko gives her a call demanding she come to the cabin, and Koguma braves the suddenly very steep and terrifying hill from her apartment building. She’s rewarded with tire chains for her Cub.

Once properly affixed to the tires, Koguma and Reiko can truly go wherever the fuck they want, and they decide to head up into the mountains for a bit of mechanical horseplay. Koguma crashes her Cub for the first time ever, but thanks to the thick, soft snow, she’s able to pop right back up and remount her trusty steel steed.

She even follows Reiko in doing some jumps and then basically riding around so wildly that they both crash almost on purpose. Especially when they remove their helmets and layers, I kept waiting for a chime and message to pop up saying “Do not attempt. Messing around on motorbikes can cause serious injury or death”…but it never came!

We’ve seen Reiko continually battle Fujiyama, but this is the first time we’ve seen Koguma really cut loose and go wild, following her friend’s lead. There’s a wonderful sense of momentousness mixed with mundaneness in watching them share their usual bikeside meal with such a majestic alpine backdrop.

After lunch, it’s back to playing with their Cubs in the snow. Reiko starts a snowball fight, but Koguma escalates by peeling out her Cub so it shoots loads of snow on Reiko in retaliation. They wrap up their fun but tiring day with a relaxing cup of joe at Buerre, assuring Shii that she can join them next time, with Reiko joking that she’ll stuff her in her cargo box.

As winter goes on, Koguma and Reiko continue to augment their riding kit with ever-thicker, warmer, tougher gear. All the while, Koguma can tell Shii is working hard on converting part of Buerre to an Italian café. While having coffee there with Shii out, her dad says he’s glad she’s finally enjoying the quirky Alex Moulton bike he gave her, and that it’s as if she’s trying to catch up to Koguma and Reiko. But for the record, he’s happy the girls are insipiring Shii.

Unfortunately, while neither Koguma nor Reiko have ever suffered any serious injuries from riding, Shii isn’t so lucky on her Moulton. I’d say it was inevitable the winter would claim someone, but I figured it would be one of the girls suffering a fever or something. Certainly not the realization of a parent’s worst and most absurd fears: “What if you were in a ditch somewhere?!”

Well, Shii is in a ditch, half submerged in icy water and apparently unable to move. Thankfully she’s able to call Koguma, and Koguma answers. Hopefully she (perhaps with help from Reiko and Shii’s parents) will track her down and she’ll be okay. But that doesn’t lessen the sheer horror of seeing Shii in that position, or the audacity of the episode simply ending without getting her out of danger!

Super Cub – 09 – Winter Is Coming

An autumnal cold snap suddenly makes real what had merely been abstract: Koguma and Reiko aren’t quite ready for the full-on chill of Winter. Little things like Reiko warming her feet on her Hunter Cub’s motor offer temporary relief, but more stringent measures will soon be needed.

Despite the cold, Shii braves the outside to ask if she can eat lunch with Koguma and Reiko. These two are so tight-knit now it won’t be easy to penetrate their circle of two, especially without a Cub of her own, but Shii does have one thing at her command: copious amounts of delicious hot drinks.

Her hot Italian milk tea with a touch of grappa is so good, Reiko jokingly contemplates stuffing the tiny Shii in her cargo box so she can always have a hot drink when she needs one. And speaking of knit, when she hears of Koguma’s money problems, she offers her an oversized cardigan made of durable, minimally processed abrasive wool.

While it is indeed warm, it’s also big enough to sleep in, but Koguma hatches a new plan, Reiko removes her cargo box, and Shii rides double with her way too fast for her comfort as they race back to school before the gate closes. There, the home ec teacher regards the rare material with awe, and is more than happy to convert the huge cardigan into a jacket liner and stockings for Reiko. There’s even enough for a Thermos cozy for Shii!

The first time Koguma rides with the new woolly lining, she beams with joy and the episode’s color bumps up. Reiko is also happy that she can be warm and fashionable with her stockings. With the more saturated color comes another patented Super Cub wordless sequence, accompanied by an austere, minimalist piano and trumpet piece.

Unfortunately, the woolly upgrades only last so long, as soon both Koguma and Reiko are uncomfortably cold on their steeds. Even so, Reiko is adamant about not procuring a windshield, which she dismisses as deeply uncool.

In another example of how Shii hasn’t quite clawed her way into their circle of two, they leave her in the dust with nary a word to her when they ride off to the store. Poor Shii! Still, I’m sure in time she’ll be as close to the other two as they are to each other; this stuff doesn’t happen overnight.

Koguma is staring at the 4000-yen price tag of a Super Cub windshield when a clerk removes it from the display and sells it; turns out it’s the last one. An affiliate has both Super and Hunter shields in stock, but the girls shake their heads: Koguma can’t bear the cost, while Reiko can’t bear the lameness.

Even so, they visit the resident Cub collector from whom Koguma procured her cargo box, and each of them tries out an old battered Cub with a windshield…and they’re both sold!

They order their shields, and then work together mounting them to their bikes without anyone else’s help. Once they’re done, they hop on, the color bumps up again, and they just keep riding, thanks both to the protection of their windshields and their high spirits.

As Reiko admits while drinking more of Shii’s coffee (honestly I worry about the girls’ caffeine intake now that they’ve met Shii): “If it works better, it’s not ugly.” She initially pooh-poohed windshields, but that was before she experienced just how much of a difference they make. They don’t just make winter riding bearable, they make it fun.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – 01 (First Impressions) – A Dog and His Boy

Happy Monday Everybody! Are you ready to…bawl your fuckin’ eyes out?! I know I am. Welcome to To Your Eternity, one of the Spring’s most anticipated series. As always, I enter completely in the dark, unsure of what’s in store for me. Yippee!

It is sent to Earth, a tabula rasa of an entity that can take the form of things it encounters. First it’s a small and basic white sphere, then a rock, then the moss on that rock, then a white wolf that dies on that mossy rock. Fantasia and 2001 came to mind. The visuals and music are epic, and given greater gravitas with Tsuda Kenjirou’s narration.

Then, the wolf reaches a small settlement. Of the handful of huts, only one is occupied by a single boy. The last boy. He knows the wolf; it’s his wolf, Joaan. He welcomes him home, glad he’s no longer alone.

The boy makes dinner and shows Joaan how to eat. He talks of the others who left the village to find “Paradise” but promised to return with gifts. He stayed to take care of the elderly. That was five years ago. Some days pass, and the boy decides it’s time to stop waiting, leave the village, and head to paradise himself, with Joaan in tow.

The boy leaves his home with a sense of finality, like he won’t be returning. He drew pictures of everyone who lived there to show others that they lived. He trudges through the snow, following helpful arrow markers, camps for the night. His nose and fingers gradually become raw and red. One day, he falls through the ice.

He manages to avoid hypothermia, but he has a nasty gash in his left thigh. He dresses it, but the wound swells and festers. Joaan can only watch. The boy speaks for Joaan, carrying on a conversation with himself to keep himself optimistic. But the frozen tundra and his wound continue to wear him down.

The boy is in a very bad way when he comes across a final arrow marker X’ed out with blood, and close by, a host of graves and the ruins of a wagon. With nothing but more frozen tundra everywhere he looks, the boy grapples with the fact the others never reached paradise…or maybe they did, but had to perish to do so.

With no further markers, the boy has no choice but to return home. The weather worsens, as does his health. He feverishly crawls back through the door he so confidently closed for good when he first set out. He manages to get one more fire going, but the cold outside and his leg have already decided how this ends. We’re now firmly in Grave of the Fireflies territory.

The final choice the boy has is how to die. He does so sitting in a chair with the faces of the village, along with himself and Joaan, drawn on the wall. With one final smile, he hunches over and dies, his suffering at an end, and his journey to paradise complete as he reunites with all the other villagers. Triggered by the boy’s death, It transforms from Joaan to the boy, in search of more stimulation. From death, rebirth. But rebirth to something not quite what it had been.

It’s a triumphant glimmer of hope after an episode that was largely watching a happy-go-lucky kid die in agonizing slow motion as his unrelenting environment ground him into dust. This show absolutely wrecked me, but I’m glad to have watched it. It isn’t often anime—or anything on a screen—moved me to this extent. I hadn’t gone through so many tissues watching a single episode in quite a while!

Was this perfection? No. The music is almost uniformly excellent (and the OP is an absolute banger) but there was one out-of-place track that sounded like it was from a far older and less serious show. As good as some of Joaan the wolf’s expressions were, the animal modeling was all over the place, esp. in wider shots. Finally, as invested as I was in the poor doomed kid, he talked a lot. More Cast Away-style silent storytelling would have been welcome. Then again, boundless optimism was literally keeping him alive.

But those are minor quibbles. To Your Eternity is primo prestige shit with the potential to be a classic. It made me feel just about fucking everything! It’s a hell of a neat concept: a completely neutral “entity” that observes, then meets the conditions for transformation—a kind of Kino’s Journey, only Kino is a full-on alien. Considering the next episode involves some kind of child sacrifice, I fear we’re in for more misery than jubilation. But it doesn’t matter…I must watch on.

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 06 – Ice Station Yamanaka

Their dreams of cape camping dashed, Chiaki, Aoi and Ena set up their two tents and their tarp as close to it as they dare, then break out their brand-new (and IMO somewhat overpriced) camp chairs. Chiaki opted for the two-chair set-up to a lighter hammock.

A group of hobbyists are flying RC planes over the lake, while they’re visited by a friendly Corgi named Choko (named after the cup in which you drink sake) and his owner. The girls aren’t alone on this cape, and that proves to be of vital importance to their very survival later on.

But first, this trip starts out like many others we’ve seen before; with the participants basking in the beauty of their natural surroundings and bracing themselves against the cold with blankets and something warm to drink. For the latter Chiaki whips up some delectable non-alcoholic hot buttered rum, the recipe for which she got from a co-worker.

While Chiaki demonstrates she can be an angel when she offers one of her two chairs to the chairless Ena, she also shows she’s got a devilish side when she sends a picture of them relaxing to Rin back home. Rin is airing out her bag and cleaning her grill—all the maintenance required to keep your gear in ship shape. Chiaki’s photo puts a smile on Rin’s face, but it quickly turns to a look of concern as she checks that night’s low temperatures at Lake Yamanaka.

At the very end of every episode we’ve been told the same message: It gets cold during the winter. Stay warm and be well-prepared! No duh, right? Except that there’s cold, and then there’s COLD. At 4:30PM, before the sun even goes down, it’s already two below (28° F), and all three girls’ phones’ batteries die due to the cold.

It wasn’t anywhere near as cold in Asagiri for their Christmas Camping, but that was over 1,300 feet lower elevation! And it’s only going to get colder. Chiaki curses herself for not checking the weather forecast, and it would seem like the Outclub got “a little in over their heads” once they started getting all gung-ho about winter camping.

Still, the three come up with an emergency plan to stay warm through the night: build a fire and cook the hot pot to warm themselves up, then pile into one tent with every blanket and coat piled on top of them. Aoi and Ena don’t have the heavy-duty hand warmers, so Chiaki volunteers to run to the konbini to buy more, as well as some cardboard for insulation.

But the plan soon falls apart when Aoi and Ena arrive at the administration building to find the manager has already locked up and is driving off. Unable to buy or even access proper firewood, the two search for twigs, only to find the ground completely immaculate! With the sun fully down and the temperatures dropping fast, things look grim…but for the grace of their fellow camper and owner of Choko.

By the time Chiaki returns from her odyssey to the konbini and back, their campsite is worryingly abandoned. Then she’s called to the dog lady’s big teepee-style tent, which is both blessedly warm due to the continuously-burning wood stove, and large enough to accommodate the three girls. The lady and who I presume to be her dad are even preparing their own hot pot.

The dad may say with a laugh that the girls would have been “goners” if left out there, but he’s not wrong. Toba-sensei ends up showing up to check on them, and while looking in their tents gets the shit scared out of her when Chiaki sneaks up on her. As she explains, Rin notified her of their plans to camp at Lake Yamanaka, where the temps get down to 15 below (just F!), and weren’t answering their phones.

Toba-sensei puts on her Adult hat and firmly scolds the girls over the seriousness of their error. The greatly varying elevation means drastically varying temperatures and unpredictable shifts—stand on a mountain any time of day and you’ll learn that quick! Furthermore, their gear is woefully inadequate for even a normal Lake Yamanaka winter.

She impresses upon them the absolute necessity of thoroughly researching their campsite and preparing accordingly. The girls bow in tearful apology, but Toba-sensei is also sorry, for while she knew the three of them were camping, she didn’t ask where. From now on the must be sure to talk to each other about where they’re camping.

With all that settled, the dad/(or husband?) invites Toba-sensei to join him in imbibing a big bottle of sake—the good stuff from the store they own in Itou. Within minutes, Serious Adult Toba-sensei devolves into Drunk Toba-chan. Then they prepare their two batches of hot pot: both motsu and kiritanpo. A magnificent feast ensues within the toasty tent.

Toba-sensei is too drunk to drive, so she and the girls spend the night in her Hustler with the heat on. I once thought this was a bad idea, but only if your car is parked on ice! Turns out as long as your car’s battery and alternator are in good working order, as long as you’ve got gas in the tank you’ve got a warm car to sleep in. And it’s not like they had another option in this instance!

Just prior to sunrise, Ena is the first to wake up—quite uncharacteristic for the girl they’ve always cut to in the past curled up in her bed with her pup well into the late morning. She’s soon joined by Aoi and Chiaki, and their reward for braving the outside is another truly majestic sunrise complete with soaring orchestral score, which as by now become a Yuru Camp specialty.

Once Toba greets the morning, Ena gets to work on tempura smelts for breakfast. Ena snaps a photo with her newly car-charged phone, and all three girls send Rin their heartfelt thanks for worrying about them. Chiaki adds that she’ll never forget this, and Rin immediately cashes in by playfully warning them they’d better have gifts for her from Lake Yamanaka!

While cleaning her trusty but lately quite dingy moped, Rin gets a call from Nadeshiko, who just got off work, and voices her intent to try solo camping like the kind Rin does. Whether this leads to her trip to Lake Motosu in which Rin and Nade end up soloing at the same place (the epilogue of the first season) or a different, truly solo trip, we shall see.

But yeah, this week Yuru Camp got real with us, showing how quickly laid-back can become life-threatening! Winter camping can be wonderful, but it is not for the ill-prepared. No doubt Chiaki, Aoi, and Rin learned their lesson, and between doing their research and maintaining clear communication, they’ll be ready for their next excursion in the cold.

Yuru Camp△ – 01 (First Impressions) – So Amazing, So Tiny

I’m three years and two months late to Yuru Camp, AKA Laid-Back Camp, but Hannah taking a very worthwhile look back at Demon Slayer got me thinking, what was a series from the last couple years I never took a look at, for no reason in particular? Yuru Camp is the answer, which in hindsight is a crime, as it’s about as up my alley as an anime can be!

Its first episode really sets the tone. After a cold open involving the entire future group, we go back to an instance of Shima Rin going to the foot of Mount Fuji during the off-season to camp all by herself. She gets there by bike, and I have to agree with the campsite reservations guy and his friend: she’s small, but tough!

One thing I loved about Cast Away was how it just let events breathe, really pulling you into its world as if you were there on that beach with Tom Hanks and a volleyball. Only here, the situation isn’t a matter of survival, but simply getting away from the hustle and bustle of the town and enjoying Japan’s natural splendor.

Rin is clearly very practiced at camping and camping alone in particular, bringing everything she needed for a cool evening, carefully, perfectly setting up her tent and galley. With every completed task, she balls up her fists and lets out a little satisfied “yoshi” (Touyama Nao delivers a cute, subtle, pitch-perfect voice performance). And while she didn’t want to deal with a campfire, it eventually gets cold enough to warrant one, and once she’s beside it, there’s no substituting that warmth!

Rin’s tent isn’t too far from the public bathrooms, and the first time she passed them on her bike she noticed a girl with pink hair sleeping on a bench. She spots her again when she uses the bathroom, noting she migrated a bit but remained asleep. Finally, when Rin takes a second trip there in the night, the girl is seemingly gone…only to pop up behind her in tears. After a brief chase, the girl identifies herself as Kagamihara Nadeshiko, voiced by Hanamori Yumiri.

She recently moved to the town, and wanted to catch a look at Fuji-san, only to fall asleep and wake up in the pitch black of night. Rin, while not expecting company, is nevertheless a kind and generous host, offering Nadeshiko a spot at the fire, a cup of curry noodles, and the use of her phone to call her big sister. But before calling, both Nadeshiko and Rin bask in the sight of a moonlit Fuji-san, no longer obscured by clouds.

It’s a gorgeous, dreamy shot, only adding to the coziness of Rin’s warm campsite. Before Nadeshiko is carted off by her big sis, she gives Rin her contact info, saying they should go on a proper camping trip together sometime. Rin calls Nadeshiko a “weirdo”, but that doesn’t preclude the  fact that Rin is a little weird, too. Nadeshiko is the yang to Rin’s yin, if you will.

The next day, Nadeshiko makes her way to school, first by bike, then train, then foot. She’s excited to have seen Fuji-san in all its glory, and as she searches for her shoe locker, she passes Rin, who just happens to have her head down.

While the two miss each other, it should come as a surprise to Nadeshiko that her new acquaintance isn’t a grade schooler, as she suspected, but her own age. I imagine it won’t be long until Nadeshiko is introduced to the other members of the Outdoor Activities Club.

Yuru Camp is anime-as-meditation therapy absolutely oozing with charm. The vistas are gorgeous, the direction is simple and naturalistic, and the laid-back score by Tateyama Akiyuki is the perfect accompaniment. The first episode left me with a big smile on my face, and I couldn’t wait to see the next episode. It’s nice to not have to wait a week!

P.S. There’s a lot to love with this show, but one thing I can’t quite get on board with is the OP. The song sounds like a version of the Jackson 5’s “ABC” tweaked enough to avoid a copyright suit, while the visuals are a bit too herky-jerky for such a “laid-back” show.

Re: Zero – Memory Snow

Firstly, this OVA/Movie isn’t new: it was released back in October 2018…but it’s new for me! And frankly, after one and a half seasons of watching the cast of Re:Zero in chibi form sharing the screen with the casts of 3-4 other isekai shows, it’s a rare pleasure to finally see Subaru, Rem, Ram, Emilia, Roswaal, and Beako in their normal proportions, in a more slice-of-life setting.

While these initial screenshots are disconcerting, one can be rest assured that neither Subie nor anyone else goes through anything horrible or traumatic in this Memory Snow side story; the worst thing that happens is he wakes up to an increasingly cold manor. Turns out the cold is emanating from Puck, who is undergoing Hatsumaki, a periodic semi-controlled bleeding-off of mana. It’s fun to learn that Ram shares Subie’s extreme dislike of the cold.

Subaru’s first date with Lia is postponed until the Hatsumaki is over, but he makes the best of a chilly situation by taking a page from his homeland and organizing a snow festival on the manor grounds. Everyone makes a snow sculpture while Subie, the village elder and Roswaal serve as judges. Even Beako gets in on the action, while Ram and Rem’s collaboration of a Subaru-Roswaal hybrid statue gets middling scores for being so creepy.

At the post-festival banquet, Roswaal cracks open a stash of booze hidden under the floorboards of Subaru’s bedroom. This results in what I believe is our first taste of both Tipsy Emilia and Tipsy Rem, who while unassailably adorable in their playful drunkenness, have limited energy stores and it’s not long before both are using Subie’s lap as a pillow. Ram, on the other hand, can mostly hold her liquor.

The group migrates outside, where Puck expands the Hatsumaki to give the villagers and surrounding lands a lovely late night snowfall; the spirits soon appear, thousand points of light dancing around the sky. Beako and Rem deliver their barbs to Subaru regarding his being named after a star of all things, but by night’s end everyone can jump in bed content after a very full, fun day spearheaded by Barusu.

With Puck’s Hatsumaki waning, the story closes with Subaru and Emilia finally having their date—and Lia unveiling her adorable outfit for the occasion. While this outing lacked its parent anime’s sadistic bite or any measurable stakes, it was a strong affirmation of the real reason why I kept watching Re:Zero, and will be tuning in to its second season: the characters. Subaru, Rem, Emilia & Co. are eminently fun to watch, whether they’re chibis in a high school or playing in the snow without a care in the world.

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.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 07

For good and ill, things take a major step forward for Kondou and Akira, though you might not have expected such progress early in the episode. Unable to come right out and ask if it’s okay to text him, Akira resorts to small talk, and ends up praising Kondou a bit too much for his taste while he’s working on spreadsheets.

He abruptly ends their chat by practically snarling the dreaded ‘You don’t know anything about me’—six words people who know plenty about each other say all the timeand the last words somebody who is awfully sure she likes someone wants to hear from the person they like. It’s no coincidence in a show called After the Rain that it starts to rain immediately afterwards.

Those words haunt Akira, but she’s determined to go to work and face the person who said them, even though there’s a typhoon approaching Yokohama. She gets there to find Kondou is out with a cold, and his absence, combined with the stress of their unresolves “spat”, throws her off her game, something Kase notices.

Kase, perhaps not thinking just about himself, warns Akira that Kondou may be trying to protect his position and uncomfortable about her attention to him, while she doesn’t want to lose something that’s “fun for her” again. It’s none of his business, but he manages to hit on what Akira is worried about most: that she’s just being a nuisance.

After work, as the weather gets worse and worse, Akira finds herself at Kondou’s front door, and it’s not as if he can turn her away in such conditions. Still, Akira hides her face in her arms, and tells him what she wants: to know him more.

Kondou apologizes for his earlier words, which he realizes were too harsh, but what he meant was that he’s nobody special who isn’t the adult she thinks he is. When she says he’s wonderful, he scoffs and returns the compiment, but she asks him why, if he’s nobody special, her heart aches so damn much.

Kondou demonstrates his affinity for pure literature by giving her a beautiful, almost lyrical response: youthfulness can be rough and vicious, but the emotions felt during that time become a treasure later in life.

Is she a nuisance? Is she not good enough? Both are absurd questions to Kondou. If anything, he’s grateful to Akira for making him remember the treasured emotions he felt in his youth but had forgotten.

The power is out from the storm, but lightning gives the room a gorgeous otherworldly light. This praise makes Akira blush, cry, and tremble, and all Kondou wants to do in that moment is relieve the anxiety of the girl sitting before him, even if he has no right to do so.

So he slowly draws nearer until she is gently in her arms. While he isn’t ready to call what he’s feeling “love”, he decides there and then that he’ll “get wet along side her in her pouring rain.”

Now, the translation probably doesn’t do that  line justice (and indeed may well do it quite a bit of harm), but I get what he’s saying: if she insists on being in his life with her rough, vicious youthfulness, he’ll weather it as they both weather the storm outside.

I’ll be honest, this scene made me very nervous, as in once-a-line-is-crossed-there’s-no-going-back nervous. But the show, mercifully, keeps things above board (though their two umbrellas falling on each other gave me a scare!), and the hug is just a hug.

With that said, I can’t underscore the stunning beauty and energy of this scene, perhaps the show’s best to date. Everything clicks: lighting, music (an orchestral version of the Aimer ED, “Ref:rain”), and of course, the emotions floating around. Our anxiety over how far this will go matches the characters’. The weight of that anxiety is balanced by the lightness of the ethereal atmosphere surrounding our protagonists. Really good stuff.

When Akira grasps his shoulders harder, Kondou promptly pulls away, tells her he only hugged her “as a friend” (riiight), briefly passes out (he is suffering a bad cold), then comes to and gets Akira into a cab.

The next day at the restaurant, Kondou is back but Tachibana is out with a cold. The rest of the staff remarks on the coincidence of the consecutive absences, but not in any way that would incriminate either party.

Akira is at home, in bed, with a fever and ice pack on her head. She then begins to fantasize about hugging Kondou…naked…and, well, you can surely connect the dots from there, though the editing indicates she keeps her hands above the belt.

Regardless, such is to be expected from a healthy young person who just experienced some of the closet and most emotionally meaningful contact with someone else in her life thus far. Her smittenness is tempered by the fact Kondou said it was only “between friends”

Meanwhile, Kondou smokes alone in the restaurant office, restless and doubtless uneasy about what he might have wrought with that hug, both in Akira’s heart and in his own. Here was a man, who if not content, was certainly resigned to a lonely life doing his job and raising his boy. That certainly seems to have changed. To be honest, nothing in his monologue indicated he desired Akira, but he does care about her very much.

P.S. After reading some discussion on this episode, someone brought up the possibility that Kondou’s “you know nothing about me” wasn’t even directed at Akira, but was a response to the Amazon reviews of the book that he wrote under a pseudonym. The “acquaintance” is actually him! I really like that angle.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 02

Chito fights to stay awake at the handlebars as she searchs for shelter in a stinging snowstorm…and Yuuri builds a mini-snowman on her head. It’s pretty indicative of their relationship: Chi-chan may be the brains of this survival operation, but her seriousness is tempered by Yuuri’s more easygoing nature—when she’s not pointing a rifle at Chito, her only friend in the whole world (no one threatens anyone this week).

They find an old building, but it’s still cold—until they find a pipe that isn’t. Chito helps a freezing Yuuri steady her gun and blasts a hole in the pipe, then they use the Kettenkrad to haul a pipe fragment to fill and make a hot bath. Not only does the bath look extremely comfortable to spend time in, but proper hygiene is absolutely essential when trying to survive and this is only their fourth bath since leaving home.

After the bath they get a fire going, and Chito writes in a journal by the light. We learn Yuuri can’t read or write (at least not on Chito’s level), and the difference in education and value placed on the written word brings the two into philosophical conflict:

Chito: Memories fade, so we write them down.
Yuuri: Memories just get in the way of living.

(It’s also worth mentioning the language Chito reads and writes in isn’t Japanese, at least as we know it; they come across a Japanese sign she can’t read. Another indication we’re either dealing with the distant future or an alternate universe.)

Yuuri doesn’t even really pay attention when Chito is underscoring how valuable books are, so when asked to add fuel to the fire, she tosses a book in, and Chito isn’t able to put it out until it’s half-destroyed. Chito goes to bed angry at Yuuri, and when the winds outside intensify, it looks as though Yuuri is going to add Chito’s journal to the fire. If the choice is between staying warm enough to live versus the book, there is no choice.

Fortunately, things aren’t that bad (yet), and in the morning, Chito finds that Yuuri drew her sleeping face in the journal, along with the scrawled words “I’m sokky[sic].” She’s no longer mad. And how can she be, when the snows have finally ceased and the skies cleared, giving us a better look at the sprawling ruins of a colossal city of multiple vertical layers, Fifth Elementstyle.

The duo treads water out to the edge of one of the massive structures they stand upon, where a row of huge drains begin to spew forth fresh, pure snow melt, which Chito suggests they’ll use to do laundry—no point in washing yourselves if you’re going to keep walking around in filthy rags.

As their clothes dry, Yuuri finds a fish—something neither of them has ever eaten or even seen—but they’re right on when they fire-roast it on a spit. A hot bath, clean water, laundry, and a fresh meal: it’s been a downright luxurious outing for our post-apocalyptic wanderers.

There’s so much to like in SSR, starting with cute (but-not-too-cute) character designs, yin-yang characterization, deft voice work by Minase Inori (Chito) and Kubo Yurika (Yuuri), and gorgeous, gorgeous scenery of a ruined, deserted, but still thoroughly impressive civilization

The camerawork is great too, with some shots capturing two tiny human specks against the majestic the infrastructure, and others in which the girls’ widening faces fill the frame as they exhale in extreme relaxation. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt show; at once big and small; cold and warm; scary and comforting.

3-gatsu no Lion – 12

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I watched this episode in a similar environment to the one Rei keeps finding himself in after recovering from his illness; a place very hard to leave once you’re there, like a kotatsu. It’s currently 20 degrees F and snowing outside, but I’m nice and toasty in my apartment with a hot mug of cocoa, and because it’s Saturday and I don’t have a possibly career-defining tournament to participate in, I’m more than content to stay right there!

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Now that he’s better, Rei has some serious things to consider. Chief among them is ‘not losing anymore this year’, including the huge highly-publicized Lion King Tournament. He just barely defeats one opponent (who has a bizarre way with words), and may well have to go up against Gotou, the guy who calls Kyoko a “stalker girl” and who once beat him up. If it wasn’t for Smith, he’d have gotten beaten up again.

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Instead, he heads to the Kawamotos with bags bursting with freshly-caught fish from the association president, and Akari couldn’t be happier, as it means they can save on food expenses for a while. As usual, the home is warm, fuzzy, full of love and hard to leave…but Rei has to leave. He can’t be the best shogi player he can be if he doesn’t go home and study. So he tells Momo as earnestly as he can, and she and Hina tell him to do his best.

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Perhaps like no previous episode, this one really strongly marked the contrast between the Kawamoto Kotatsu and the world outside, using every visual method at its disposal. As bright and warm and colorful as it is in the sisters’ house, it’s dark and cold and bleak, even threatening outside.

But Rei is determined to become someone who can live in both worlds, and neither be trapped in one or unable to endure the other. Joy and pain are both inescapable parts of life he must learn to balance. And the beast inside relishes the potential opportunity to deliver a blow or two to Gotou, not with his fists, but on the shogi board.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 11

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We’re halfway through 3GL, and I’ve been remiss in mentioning Hashimoto Yukari. Who is Hashimoto Yukari? She does the music for 3GL, and it’s been fantastic throughout, but never more so than during Rei’s post-shogi season descent into bedridden delirium. The watercolor aesthetic has always given the show a dreamlike aura; Rei’s fever dreams are that much more dreamlike.

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I’m willing to entertain the fact that Rei’s mention last week of a “beast within him” that feeds on victory in shogi hasn’t been exaggerated. Here we see the beast being starved from lack of competition (since the shogi matches for the year are over), and what such a deficit does to Rei’s body. It stands to reason that someone for whom “shogi is everything” would cease to have anything when the shogi stopped.

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But Rei does have more than shogi going in his life. There’s a lovely Ghibli-esque quality to the manner in which the Kawamoto sisters spirit Rei away to the doctor, then to their home for proper convalescence. In his state when they found him, it was clear Rei was incapable of taking care of himself or lifting his fever in a timely fashion. The sisters basically save him.

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But when he thanks the Kawamotos profusely for saving him and apologizes for interfering with their end-of-year festivities, Akari demurs. After all, she wanted Rei to come and be part of their family; otherwise she says she’d be “cleaning alone and crying”, the hole her lost family members left still raw and festering.

Rei takes her mind off that, and for that, Rei has her thanks. Rei was, as he says, too preoccupied with his own loneliness to recognize the loneliness of another, but that failure to recognize it is now over.

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So despite starting out the episode feeling absolutely miserable in his dim, sparse apartment, Rei ends up not only warmly, cozily ensconced in the Kawamoto residence, feeling much better, but also is perfectly comfortable and at peace in the house—weird bathroom addition and all.

The stickers on the chest of drawers remind him of his life with his mother and sister. That family may no longer be with him, but he has a new family that helps him a lot, and lets him sleep more soundly.

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