Violet Evergarden – 06

Violet Evergarden is not content to keep its titular character holed up at C.H. Postal, which I feel works to the show’s advantage. This episode in particular introduces Justitia Province, a fresh and fascinating new locale where she and 79 other Dolls have been summoned.

There, Violet takes an aerial tramway above the clouds to a vast observatory dramatically perched high atop a mountain. There, the 80dolls are paired off with 80 men from the Manuscript Department to undertake a massive effort to transcribe old books that are on their last legs.

It’s unlike any other mission Violet has undertaken, and one would think the impersonal nature of transcribing old books would not afford her the same insight into love and other human emotions as, say, writing letters for a client.

However, it’s all about who she meets there, and that’s Leon Stephanotis, whom we learn right at the outset harbors an inherent distrust for all Auto Memory Dolls, believing it “a profession full of women who hope to one day marry into money.”

While there may well be Dolls with that goal, it hardly seems proper to lump them all into one category, and Leon learns this firsthand immediately upon meeting Violet, who is, as we know, neither a normal Doll nor a normal woman.

Leon is fairly chilly to Violet, but the fact that Violet doesn’t react like he is throws him off. She doesn’t regard his conduct as particularly chilly, just efficient, and if there’s one quality one could be used to describe Violet, it’s efficient…when it comes to taking dictation, not sorting through her feelings for the Major.

The night after they do three day’s work of work in one, Leon asks why Violet is a Doll, and she says, simply, because “it is a role I can fulfill”, expressing her gratitude that she can do such a wonderful job, while questioning if she deserves it—no doubt the words of Gilbert’s brother weigh on her, even if she has nothing to apologize for.

When other scribes ask Violet whether it’s trying working with an annoying guy like Leon, who is a penniless orphan only there because of donations. Violet sets the lads straight by saying she’s not a person who has lived the kind of “proper life” they’re assuming; she’s also an orphan, never laid eyes on her parents, and only recently learned to read and write, further warning them that if one’s birth or upbringing is such an important requisite for being able to speak to someone, they should stay away from her.

Leon overhears her defense of him, but it was never meant to be a defense; just the facts. But regardless of her intentions, he’s all but smitten with her, and does what so many other scribes must be doing with their Doll partners: he asks her if she’ll join him for the comet viewing (a comet that appears only once every 200 or so years). She agrees without hesitation, and he’s so elated he tears his baguette clean in half.

That night, before the comet reaches its most beautiful position, Leon tells Violet the story of how his father once traveled the world collecting manuscripts but went missing. Rather than stay with him, his mother, who loved his father more than anything (certainly more than him, he figured) left to find her husband, and also never returned. If love makes people such “bumbling fools” they forget the well-being of their own children, he wants nothing to do with it.

When he asks how her story goes, she tells him about the one person who cared for her, and who she cares about more than anyone else. Leon gets her to understand that what she’s feeling in the Major’s absence is, indeed, loneliness. Leon tests her, asking what she’d do if she heard the Major was alive and in need of his aid in the middle of her job there at the observatory.

He assumes she’s upset he put her on the spot, but that’s not the kind of person Violet is. She’s upset because she’d have to find some way to apologize to him, meaning yes, she’d go just as his mother went, in order to find the person she, well, loved.

It feels like a kind of gentle rejection for Leon, who might’ve thought he had found the perfect woman for him. But quoting the first manuscript they transcribed together, “That parting is not a tragedy.”

Indeed, Leon is not sad when the job is complete and Violet heads home, because being with her even for this short time didn’t just subvert his expectations about Dolls. It made him rethink and alter the course of his very life.

As Violet departs on the aerial tram (making for some very nice camera angles) Leon resolves to tour the continent as she does and as his father did, collecting manuscripts. And perhaps they’ll even meet again somewhere, under a starry sky.

Or Leo my man, you could always keep in touch by, uh, writing to her from time to time. Why leave their next encounter to such small odds…unless the show intends to reunited them. We do have a lot of show left to go…fortunately.

Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name.)

Simply diving into a review immediately after watching a film as devastatingly gorgeous and emotionally affecting as Kimi no Na wa is probably not a great idea, but this is an anime review blog, so here goes.

Kimi no Na wa isn’t just a charming body-swap rom-com, or a time-travelling odyssey, or a disaster prevention caper, or a tale of impossibly cruel temporal and physical distance between two soul mates, or a reflection on the fragility and impermanence of everything from memories to cities, or a tissue-depleting tearjerker.

It’s all of those things and more. And it’s also one of, if not the best, movies I’ve ever seen, anime or otherwise.

After a cryptic prologue, Kimi no Na wa starts out modestly: Miyamizu Mitsuha, Shinto shrine maiden and daughter of a mayor, has grown restless in her small town world, so one night, shouts out tot he night that she wants to be reborn as a boy in Tokyo.

This, mind you, happens after an odd incident in which Mitsuha essentially lost a day, during which all her family and friends say she was acting very strange and non-Mitsuha-y…like a different person.

That’s because she was. She and a boy from Tokyo, Tachibana Taki, randomly swap bodies every so often when they’re dreaming. As such, they end up in the middle of their couldn’t-be-any-different lives; the only similarity being that both of them yearn for more.

Despite just meeting these characters, watching Mitsuha and Taki stumble through each other’s lives is immensely fun. And because this is a Shinkai film, that enjoyment is augmented by the master director’s preternatural visual sumptuousness and realism. Every frame of Mitsuha’s town and the grand vastness of Tokyo is so full of detail I found myself wanting to linger in all of them.

As the body-swapping continues, the two decide to lay down “ground rules” when in one another’s bodies—albeit rules both either bend or break with impunity—and make intricate reports in one another’s phone diaries detailing their activities during the swaps.

Interestingly, Mitsuha makes more progress with Taki’s restaurant co-worker crush Okudera than Taki (she like’s Taki’s “feminine side”), while the more assertive Taki proves more popular with boys and girls when Taki’s in her body.

Taki happens to be in Mitsuha’s body when her grandmother and sister Yotsuha make the long, epic trek from their home to the resting place of the “body” of their Shinto shrine’s god, an otherworldly place in more ways than one, to make an offering of kuchikamisake (sake made from saliva-fermented rice).

While the three admire the sunset, Mitsuha’s granny takes a good look at her and asks if he, Taki, is dreaming. Just then he wakes up back in his own body to learn Mitsuha has arranged a date with him and Okudera—one she genuinely wanted to attend.

Okudera seems to notice the change in Taki from the one Mitsuha inhabited; she can tell his mind is elsewhere, and even presumes he’s come to like someone else. Taki tries to call that someone else on his phone, but he gets an automated message.

Then, just like that, the body-swapping stops.

After having cut her hair, her red ribbon gone, Mitsuha attends the Autumn Festival with her friends Sayaka and Teshi. They’re treated to a glorious display in the night sky, as the comet Tiamat makes its once-every-1,200-years visit.

Taki decides if he can’t visit Mitsuha’s world in his dreams anymore, he’ll simply have to visit Mitsuha. Only problem is, he doesn’t know exactly what village she lives in. Okudera and one of his high school friends, who are worried about him, decide to tag along on his wild goose chase.

After a day of fruitless searching, Taki’s about to throw in the towel, when one of the proprietors of a restaurant notices his detailed sketch of Mitsuha’s town, recognizing it instantly as Itomori. Itomori…a town made famous when it was utterly destroyed three years ago by a meteor created from a fragment of the comet that fell to earth.

The grim reality that Taki and Mitsuha’s worlds were not in the same timeline is a horrendous gut punch, as is the bleak scenery of the site of the former town. Every lovingly-depicted detail of the town, and all of its unique culture, were blasted into oblivion.

Taki is incredulous (and freaked out), checking his phone for Mitsuha’s reports, but they disappear one by one, like the details of a dream slipping away from one’s memory. Later, Taki checks the register of 500 people who lost their lives in the disaster, and the punches only grow deeper: among the lost are Teshi, Sayaka…and Miyamizu Mitsuha.

After the initial levity of the body-swapping, this realization was a bitter pill to swallow, but would ultimately elevate the film to something far more epic and profound, especially when Taki doesn’t give up trying to somehow go back to the past, get back into Mitsuha’s body, and prevent all those people from getting killed, including her.

The thing that reminds him is the braided cord ribbon around his wrist, given to him at some point in the past by someone he doesn’t remember. He returns to the site where the offering was made to the shrine’s god, drinks the sake made by Mitsuha, stumbles and falls on his back, and sees a depiction of a meteor shower drawn on the cave ceiling.

I haven’t provided stills of the sequence that follows, but suffice it to say it looked and felt different from anything we’d seen and heard prior in the film, and evoked emotion on the same level as the famous flashback in Pixar’s Up. If you can stay dry-eyed during this sequence, good for you; consider a career being a Vulcan.

Taki then wakes up, miraculously back in Mitsuha’s body, and sets to work. The same hustle we saw in Taki’s restaurant job is put to a far more important end: preventing a horrific disaster. The town itself may be doomed—there’s no stopping that comet—but the people don’t have to be.

Convincing anyone that “we’re all going to die unless” is a tall order, but Taki doesn’t waver, formulating a plan with Teshi and Sayaka, and even trying (in vain) to convince Mitsuha’s father, the mayor, to evacuate.

While the stakes couldn’t be higher and the potential devastation still clear in the mind, it’s good to see some fun return. Sayaka’s “we have to save the town” to the shopkeep is a keeper.

Meanwhile, Mitsuha wakes up in the cave in Taki’s body, and is horrified by the results of the meteor strike. She recalls her quick day trip to Tokyo, when she encountered Taki on a subway train, but he didn’t remember her, because it would be three more years before their first swap.

Even so, he can’t help but ask her her name, and she gives it to him, as well as something to remember her by later: her hair ribbon, which he would keep around his wrist from that point on.

Both Taki-as-Mitsuha and Mitsuha-as-Taki finally meet face-to-face, in their proper bodies, thanks to the mysterious power of kataware-doki or twilight. It’s a gloriously-staged, momentous, and hugely gratifying moment…

…But it’s all too brief. Taki is able to write on Mitsuha’s hand, but she only gets one stoke on his when twilight ends, and Taki finds himself back in his body, in his time, still staring down that awful crater where Itomori used to be. And again, like a dream, the more moments pass, the harder it gets for him to remember her.

Back on the night of the Autumn Festival, Mitsuha, back in her time and body, takes over Taki’s evacuation plan. Teshi blows up a power substation with contractor explosives and hacks the town-wide broadcast system, and Sayaka sounds the evacuation. The townsfolk are mostly confused, however, and before long Sayaka is apprehended by authorities, who tell everyone to stay where they are, and Teshi is nabbed by his dad.

With her team out of commission, it’s all up to Mitsuha, who races to her father to make a final plea. On the way, she gets tripped up and takes a nasty spill. In the same timeline, a three-years-younger Taki, her ribbon around his wrist, watches the impossibly gorgeous display in the Tokyo sky as the comet breaks up. Mitsuha looks at her hand and finds that Taki didn’t write his name: he wrote “I love you.”

The meteor falls and unleashes a vast swath of destruction across the landscape, not sparing the horrors of seeing Itomori wiped off the face of the earth—another gut punch. Game Over, too, it would seem. After spending a cold lonely night up atop the former site of the town, he returns to Tokyo and moves on with his life, gradually forgetting all about Mitsuha, but still feeling for all the world like he should be remembering something, that he should be looking for someplace or someone.

Bit by bit, those unknowns start to appear before him; a grown Sayaka and Teshi in a Starbucks; a  passing woman with a red ribbon in her hair that makes him pause, just as his walking by makes her pause. But alas, it’s another missed connection; another classic Shinkai move: they may be on the same bridge in Shinjuku, but the distance between them in time and memory remains formidable.

Mitsuha goes job-hunting, enduring one failed interview after another, getting negative feedback about his suit from everyone, including Okudera, now married and hopeful Taki will one day find happiness.

While giving his spiel about why he wants to be an architect, he waxes poetic about building landscapes that leave heartwarming memories, since you’ll never know when such a landscape will suddenly not be there.

A sequence of Winter scenes of Tokyo flash by, and in light of what happened to Itomori quite by chance, that sequence makes a powerful and solemn statement: this is Tokyo, it is massive and complex and full of structures and people and culture found nowhere else in the world, but it is not permanent.

Nothing built by men can stand against the forces of nature and the heavens. All we can do is live among, appreciate, and preseve our works while we can. We’re only human, after all.

And yet, for all that harsh celestial certainty, there is one other thing that isn’t permanent in this film: Taki and Mitsuha’s separation. Eventually, the two find each other through the windows of separate trains, and race to a spot where they experience that odd feeling of knowing each other, while also being reasonably certain they’re strangers.

Taki almost walks away, but turns back and asks if they’ve met before. Mitsuha feels the exact same way, and as tears fill their eyes, they ask for each others names. Hey, what do you know, a happy ending that feels earned! And a meteor doesn’t fall on Tokyo, which is a huge bonus.

Last August this film was released, and gradually I started to hear rumblings of its quality, and of how it could very well be Shinkai’s Magnum Opus. I went in expecting a lot, and was not disappointed; if anything, I was bowled over by just how good this was.

Many millions of words have been written about Kimi no Na wa long before I finally gave it a watch, but I nevertheless submit this modest, ill-organized collection words and thoughts as a humble tribute to the greatness I’ve just witnessed. I’ll be seeing it again soon.

And if for some reason you haven’t seen it yourself…what are you doing reading this drivel? Find it and watch it at your nearest convenience. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll pump your fist in elation.

Charlotte – 12

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The harrowing events of last week, which resulted in the rescue of Nao and the capture of anti-wielder actors, along with Pooh’s heroic sacrifice, eventually bring Yuu around to Shun’s big-picture way of thinking. It’s not enough to keep those he loves safe; in order to ensure their safety, he has to save everyone.

But at first, this week, he’s unsure of how to do that. In the beginning, all he can do is heal from the injuries he sustained, accept he’ll probably never see out of his right eye (or time leap), and allow himself to be spoon fed delicious meals provided by Takajou (school beef tongue curry), Yusa (cream stew) and Ayumi (omelette rice that has never tasted so good).

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I enjoyed the rhythm of the very people he cares about and wants to help the most visiting his room one after the other, helping him build up his strength with food they made with love. And having almost died, he makes sure to tell Misa to see her parents before Yusa loses her ability and she passes on for good.

Yusa rather ingeniously uses her job on a TV show to visit her parents, and Misa has a cathartic moment in which she actually possesses Yusa on camera to describe the love she tastes in her parents’ otherwise run-of-the-mill soba set. Combined with Yuu’s newfound love of Ayumi’s cooking, there’s some lovely blood family beats to be had this week.

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Despite being back on his feet, the one person Yuu can’t get himself to see is Nao, but as her injuries weren’t as bad as is (and let’s face it, she’s a tough one to boot), she’s discharged before him, and ends up visiting him. He asks her what he should do, and she says it’s technically possible, if extraordinarily difficult and dangeous, for him to simply end the entire crisis by plundering the abilities of every wielder in the world.

She almost seems to be shrugging it off as she proposes it, but Yuu agrees that’s exactly what he’ll do: travel the world, find every wielder, steal their abilities, and trusts he won’t turn into a world-ending monster. When Nao asks why, Yuu is upfront: it’s his turn to save her, because he loves her. The reaction of a Nao who didn’t actually save him in this timeline is dubiousness and confusion, which frustrates Yuu unti they’re literally growling at each other, seemingly proving to Nao they have the worst chemistry possible.

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But Nao’s rather aggressive inability to instantly accept Yuu’s confession doesn’t sway him; he still loves her, and he’ll still save everyone, including her, in order to repay the debt of her alternate self. She rather perceptively points out that other Nao may have just been taking responsibility, as she brought Yuu into all this to begin with, but she can’t deny Yuu has become someone dear to him that she knows she can believe in.

So she makes a deal they pinkie-swear on: they’ll settle down as lovers. Yuu warns her she may be putting too much faith in the one-time “cheating fiend”, but to Nao that’s the point of the deal: if he can pull off this final mission, she’s convinced she’d be in a position to fall for him. Before they part, Nao has Yuu plunder her power first, thus officially setting him on his path.

Once it happens, Nao looks lighter, relieved, and grateful. I want to believe these two didn’t just exchange death flags by mapping out their ideal future together. That is, I’m hoping Maeda Jun doesn’t rip my heart out again; I’m tired of putting it back in my chest!

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Having already started his mission, Yuu visits his brother on the hospital roof, who is still mourning Pooh and fills him in. He gets the blessing of Shun, who tells him to go overseas while he and the Syndicate handle Japan. Yuu also takes Takajou and Yusa’s powers, which in the latter means the end of Misa, who writes a tearjerking farewell letter to her sister thanking her for letting her borrow her now and then.

Finally, while packing to leave on a trip to do something he must do because only he can, Nao pops by to wish him Godspeed, and they exchange tokens of their commitment to meeting again. Nao gives him English conversation notes, and Yuu gives her the media player she gave to him. Hopefully this isn’t ZHIEND for these two, because they’ve emerged as one of the better romantic pairings of the year, in one of the finest shows.

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Charlotte – 11

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If it hadn’t already, with this, its third 10-rated episode, Charlotte has established itself as not only one of the year’s best shows, but one of P.A.Works’ and writer/composer Maeda Jun’s best, as well. Even though I knew full well last week’s rescue of Ayumi was essentially a cakewalk that returned us more or less to the status quo, and that there would be hell to pay this week, I wasn’t fully prepared for just how much hell would go down.

Things start out tentatively, however, with Yuu returning to the syndicate headquarters with Ayumi, who meets her big brother for the first time since her memories were erased. It’s wonderful that Ayumi is breathing and free of Collapse, but to learn her memories of Shun are gone forever is the first of many harsh blows to the cast this week.

And hey, we finally learn why the show is called Charlotte, and more importantly, why there’s an outbreak of kids with abilities: it’s the name of a comet that spreads particles across the earth, activating dormant parts of the human brain. It last happened 400 years ago, and there was a witchhunt. When the comet passed again 12 years ago, more kids were bestowed with “magic powers”, and the witchhunts started back up.

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Shunsuke shelters a research team working on a vaccine for the “disease” that always leads to such horrible massacres throughout histroy, though he admits there’s little to be done for those who already possess powers except to protect them and wait it out until they age enough to lose them. With his Plunder ability Yuu is the most powerful, most valuable, and hence most at-risk ability wielder in the world, so Shun is committed to protecting him.

However, Shun reveals that for all his planning and good intentions, all it took for his syndicate to be unraveled and all of his friends and family to be put squarely in harm’s way, and for the entire vaccination plan to be put into jeopardy, is the syndicate’s hired driver, Furuki.

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Because Furuki has a family, and when that family is abducted and held hostage, Furuki has no choice but to betray Kumagami, who is also captured by a group of foreigners.

These foreigners don’t use the kid gloves on Kumagami, pummeling him, administering truth serum so he spills the beans about every “psychic” he knows and has been in contact with, and ripping out all his teeth and nails. From there, the enemy storms Hoshinoumi’s dorms and Nao is also captured, though she puts up a valiant fight.

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Yes, this is all Furuki’s fault for working with the syndicate when he has something as important as a family to be manipulated with by the enemy, but the responsibility lies with Shunsuke for hiring him, and he knows it. He messed up bad, and Kumagami and Nao won’t be the only ones to suffer for it.

Being more or less powerless himself, Shunsuke has no choice but to give in to the enemy’s demands to send Yuu to them, alone. Yuu is the only one who can stand against them, and his only hope is to steal the enemy’s abilities in order to rescue Kumagami and Nao.

Suddenly having all this shit shoveled on his plate almost causes Yuu to blow from his Collapse ability before the operation even starts, but Shunsuke manages to calm him down, and in any case Yuu feels he must save Nao, the girl who wouldn’t give up on him even when he gave up on himself.

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Whereas Ayumi’s rescue went like clockwork, here the clock is blown to bits and then the bits are set on fire. Murphy’s Law rules, as infiltrating his two foes reveals they neither have powers nor weapons on their person. While the muscleman is not present, a spry little green-eyed ability wielder ambushes Yuu and gouges out one of his eyes, making it impossible for him to make an emergency time leap (and possibly wrecking his plunder ability too).

I’m curious who this Ayumi-sized girl is and why she’s fighting on the wrong side, but I imagine her masters either have some kind of leverage on her like they did Furuki, or she was raised by the masters to hate others with abilities…or perhaps a wielder betrayed her and she’s sworn to make them pay.

Whatever her motives, she’s only one of the enemy’s tools here. Climbing on Yuu can stabbing him in the shoulder,  she causes Collapse to activate in him, bringing the whole warehouse down.

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Shunsuke and his friends rush to the scene to survey the sheer breadth of Yuu’s failure, which was again bourne from Shunsuke’s poor judgement in hiring Furuki. Yuu was able to save himself with telekinesis, but Kumagami wasn’t so lucky: he was run through with several pieces of metal and rebar, using his body as a shield to save Nao.

Now, not only is the syndicate’s ability to identify new ability users and a close friend since the beginning of the resistance dead, their trump card Yuu may be totally neutralized. The only bright side is that they’re able to capture the unconscious foreigners, but I’m sure they have friends too, and right now no user or former user in or out of the syndicate is safe, including the just-rescued Ayumi.

Earlier in the episode, Yuu remarks that the witchhunts happening overseas “have nothing to do with them,” but Shunsuke rebutted that “this story can’t possibly be that easy.” It seemed that way last week, but now there are no delusions. It’s not easy, and this looks to be only the beginning of the hardship. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

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