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.

 

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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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Charlotte – 05

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This week’s Charlotte begins with a rather unpleasant scene of Nao being dragged out of class and beaten behind the school by a mob of other girls. Yuu follows but doesn’t interfere, but what’s unclear is whether Nao is disappointed or glad about it. He presumes it’s what she gets for messing with people with her invisibility. He knows what it’s like to bear misdeeds; he’s perpetrated plenty of his own with his body-swapping.

And yet, while Yuu doesn’t play the role of the shining knight swooping in to save Nao from her tormentors, with or without his ability, Yusa and Joujirou both agree they’re “not an unpleasant couple to be around” due to their natural chemistry and spouse-like interactions. If they didn’t care about each other one way or another, they wouldn’t fight; that kinda thing.

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Nao believes the Council’s next target is up in the mountains near the city practicing his flying ability (the downside to the power is never mentioned). The best way she believes to do that is to set up camp and stake the place out indefinitely until they either spot him or he comes to them.

In the process of camping the group participates in typical group-bonding activites that take place during camping, like starting a fire, roasting corn, meat, and vegetables, playing video games, and stargazing. The latter is something only Nao and Yuu do, with the latter finding her alone listening to a group called ZHIEND, whose lead vocalist and composer is blind.

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In another indication Yuu and Nao are a somewhat fated couple, he gets the same feeling from the quiet music as she does: that of being in a vast, gorgeous, lonely open space. She even gifts him her music player, excited as she is to find a fellow fan. The music makes Yuu remember the face of girl who looks a lot like a younger Ayumi but who he doesn’t know, but he’s woken from the dream when it’s his turn to keep watch.

On the second night of the camping stakeout, Yuu and Jou bathe in the river, where Jou tells Yuu it’s best if he set romantic plans aside until two years from now, when they’ll lose their abilities. It makes me wonder if this show will let us see that future and how it changes these classmates and colleagues who are gradually becoming friends.

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It really is a journey-not-destination kind of episode, as the flying kid mission is wrapped up extremely easily. Yuu swaps bodies with him and ends up several thousand feet above the ground (an awesome sight, to be sure), and when he comes down softly but slightly banged up, less than a minute of convincing from Nao persuades the guy to stop using his ability.

Back home, there isn’t much pizza sauce left, and so Yuu gets his first tolerable meal frmo Ayumi in a long time. He also manages to convince her not to put it in everything, finally. But then Ayu starts coughing, and her temperature is 37.8, prompting Yuu to get her under a futon. Hopefully Ayumi doesn’t get sicker as a prelude to the awakening of her own power; but I’ll admit that’s not outside the realm of possibility.

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Kotoura-san – 08

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Kotoura comes down with a  fever, and Manabe takes it upon himself to nurse her back to health. He discovers she can’t read his mind due to her cold, so he’s able to carry on with his fantasies without rousing her ire or embarrassment. When she returns to school she learns the truth, and to make it up to her, Mifune orders Manabe to take her out on a date. They enjoy themselves thoroughly, but at the end, her psychic ability suddenly returns in force, knocking her unconscious.

Well, it happens under some rather unusual circumstances…and under orders, but it finally happened: Manabe and Kotoura go on their first date. And pretty much everything about it is frikkin’ adorable: their surface insistence that it’s not really a date (sorry kiddos; it counts!), their reaction to everyone around them commenting on how first-datey they’re both acting; their little conflict when Manabe goes too far in the clothing store; their quick reconciliation; Kotoura’s little locket. It’s absolute bliss. Early in this date, they’re both extremely nervous, but as it progresses, they loosen up and revel in the fun they’re having.

Neither comes right out and admits they’re dating, but they don’t really need to. Prior to the date, when Manabe takes care of her, it really underlines how much tough he has it, not being able to have any private dirty thoughts about the girl he likes – a luxury all men not dating telepaths take for granted. We also saw that Mifune’s mission is still foremost on her mind: the whole point of the date is to stimulate Kotoura into regaining her psychic ability so she can use her later. And the ploy works, just in time to crash the cute, happy ending. Poor Kotoura-san…can’t even live one measly day as a normal girl unburdened by omniscience.


Rating: 8 (Great)