The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 09 – The Selfish, Mistaken Prince

For her role in saving everyone from the horde of monsters with her purification magic, Sei is rewarded by being teased by Grand Magus Drewes, much to Albert’s displeasure. Upon returning to the palace, word of her great saintly deeds precedes her, and she’s even more of a celebrity with the nobles.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Prince Kyle specifically waited until Sei returned in order to stage his spat in the courtyard with Elizabeth, who both wants to be a friend to both Sei and Aira. Kyle lays it on rather thick, calling Sei an “impostor” and “most definitely not the Saint”, making things even more uncomfortable for poor Aira.

Liz, unaware that Kyle is carrying out a ploy, takes him to task for his foolishness, but then both she and Aira spot Sei, and Kyle takes aim, pretending not to know who she is and even trying to put his hand on her. Albert comes out of nowhere to prevent that.

Drewes, who slinked off, returns with the king himself and his retainers, and takes Kyle to task for spreading fake news. Kyle continues to maintain that despite Aira having no accomplishments of note, she’s still the only person he summoned. The king orders them to continue this discussion in private.

There, Kyle bears all, admitting he was intentionally acting like a boorish lout so that all the heat from the public would fall on him, while Aira would be seen as a victim in his craven schemes. After learning he played the fool for Aira’s sake, Liz is no longer angry at her fiancé, and in fact seems to have come to admire him even more, while lamenting how awkward he is.

As for Liz, Aira is left in her care, and she arranges a tea party so that Sei, who is now officially recognized by all as the Saint, can finally meet Aira, and vice-versa. It’s a little awkward at first (due to the age difference, among other things), but Aira soon learns that Sei is a gentle, kind person who is eager to spend more time with her.

She and Liz also suggest that if she wants to continue her magical studies, she should join the Royal Magi Assembly. Considering how long Sei and Aira were kept apart, this first meeting has a very understated, almost anticlimactic quality. And maybe that’s for the best: one thing Sei and Aira have in common (besides their homeworld) is a general distaste of the limelight. A laid-back tea party was the perfect place to begin their friendship in earnest.

The king, striking an Ikari Gendo pose, consults with his chief of staff about the region in most need of assistance against the scourge of monsters and miasma: Klausner’s Domain, AKA “The Alchemist’s Holy Land”, the kingdom’s primary source of medicinal herbs.

When Sei learns Albert and his knights will be headed to Klausner’s, she volunteers to come along, surprising her director who assumed Sei would want to stay put at the institute and was preparing excuses for her. Albert says Sei’s safety is paramount, but what’s a safer place for her—or him—than by each other’s sides?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 05 – Unappraisable

There’s a lot of lead-up to Sei’s introduction to Grand Magus Yuri Drewes—yet another hot guy who just recovered from the coma he suffered after summoning her and Aira. But when it comes time for him to do his duty as the most powerful mage in the kingdom and appraise Sei’s power, his spell is unable to penetrate her own far superior magical power. That means Yuri is fairly certain she’s the true Saint, because he was able to appraise Aira’s power.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Yuri’s inability to properly appraise Sei means he can’t be certain she is the Saint. Aira may not possess her incalculable magical power, but she is progressing abnormally quickly in her training at the academy, which is to prepare her to do battle against the monsters threatening the kingdom. If Sei were to follow a similar path, she’d be playing catch-up, at least on the training side of things.

Yuri relays his findings to King Siegfried, assuring him he’ll continue his research, but a satisfactorily definite answer as to who is the Saint probably isn’t forthcoming. All Siegfried has is Yuri’s expert opinion that Sei is the true Saint in one hand, and an unruly son in Prince Kyle who insulted Sei by choosing Aira as his Saint.

Siegfried decides to flex his royal power by officially inviting Sei to the court, which is a whole thing. Marie and a phalanx of maids thoroughly bathe her, massage her, and dress her in saintly robes. Then Hawke (who it turns out is the younger brother of Earhart, the Assembly’s second-in-command) arrives to be her personal escort, as both he and Johan worried she’d feel lonely entering the court on her own.

Sei, who is a bundle of nerves, is happy to have Commander Hawke to lean on, but once they enter the court chamber, she alone approaches the throne. Siegfried descends from the dais, and he and the rest of the court bow their heads in formal apology for Prince Kyle’s conduct. Sei accepts the apology and is praised for her grace and once again asked what she wants.

It was at this point that I figured the thing she wanted most was to continue living a quiet but rewarding life at the Research Institute. Considering she doesn’t seek any land or titles, this would be a simple thing to grant. But even there she’s hit a bit of a wall, so she asks for two things that will help breach that wall: access to the forbidden section of the royal library, and a magical tutor to teach her the ways of spellcasting.

Siegfried appoints the only person remotely qualified to tutor a saint: Grand Magus Yuri Drewes. As for Prince Kyle, he hears a report about his father’s activities and digs in his heels. As far as he’s concerned, there’s only one Saint, and it’s Aira, whom we finally see in the flesh, but unfortunately don’t hear her utter any actual words. Still, it’s inevitable that Sei and Aira will meet. I hope they won’t allow all the politicking going on around them to spoil what could be a meaningful, supportive friendship.

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 03 – Allies for an Afternoon

Iska and Alice can’t stop thinking about each other. It dawns on them both that their recent meet-cutes haven’t been a matter of mere coincidence. That’s further reinforced when Iska is offered his Saint Disciple status back in return for apprehending the Ice Witch.

Meanwhile, Rin and Alice learn that Iska was imprisoned for, of all things, freeing an astral witch from captivity, once again calling into question everything they think they know about their enemy. However bad the Empire might be, if there’s someone like Iska helping her kind, then perhaps there is a sliver of hope for the peace for which she yearns.

The two decide to test their propensity to run into reach other in the Neutral City. This time Captain Mismis accompanies Iska, while Rin sticks by Alice’s side. Both “chaperones” are well out of their comfort zone, but Iska and Alice want to learn more about each other.

In particular, Alice considers Iska’s past actions to contradict his current mission to capture her. Iska explains that nothing he’s done has been contradictory, but all in the greater service of peace. Ever since he freed that young, low-powered astral witch from a cruel fate, his overarching loyalty has been to the effort to end the war, not win it for the Empire.

Alas, Alice, who like Iska with the Imperial Senate is beholden to her set-in-her-ways mother, assures him capturing her won’t change the Sovereignty’s position. But perhaps, if he defects and serves under her, that position might soften.

Before he can respond to this shocking offer, the sky literally cracks and the Founder, Grand Witch Nebulis, emerges. Drawn to Iska’s location by Iska’s astral swords, Nebby is there to smite him, as well as any who “corrode the planet and its astral power”.

When Alice’s mom discovers the Founder has escaped, she’s happy, because it means the Empire’s defeat is all but certain due to her immense power. However, that belief lacks the nuance required of a leader carrying their people into the future, not just concerned with quarrels of the past.

The Founder doesn’t care about the future, only senseless wrath. When Alice tries to reason with her, she’s labeled a traitor and attacked along with Iska. It’s here when Alice is convinced the Founder cannot save her people; she is merely an uncontrollable relic of a bygone era. She can revere her for founding the Sovereignty, but her ancient grudge will only lead to further death and suffering for all.

On their own, neither Iska nor Alice are a match for the outdated agent of destruction, but when they stand back-to-back and combine their powers, Iska is able to climb Alice’s staircase of ice to literally clip the Founder’s wings and force her retreat. They also join their voices in telling the Founder to shut up and fuck off, cutting off her ponderous speechifying!

Before she returns to the cracks in the sky, Alice tells the Founder to go back to sleep for another hundred years. She’ll ensure that when she wakes up again the world will be a better place. That said, Iska rejects her offer to defect, so while the two exhausted fighters call a truce for the rest of the day, tomorrow they’ll be enemies again.

But Alice can’t deny that she and Iska want the same basic thing, and that her Founder can’t provide it. Saving the world is going to be up to the two of them, so they can’t remain enemies much longer.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 12 (Fin) – The One He Wants

We’ve finally arrived at the end of one of the most frustrating, problematic rom-coms I’ve experienced in quite some time, and it ends pretty much how I expected: by not ending. But despite how hard it was to watch at times, I could never quite look away.

On not one but two occasions this week Kazuya shows signs of not only knowing what he must do but stepping up and doing or saying it, only to abandon the effort a half-step short of the finish line. First he does this with Ruka, realizing how lucky he is to have her and how unreasonable he is for feeling like she’s not enough.

He is right in the middle of telling her he’s ready to move past the “trial” period of their relationship and declare them “official”—only to be distracted by the arrival of Mizuhara and Mami at the karaoke parlor. It’s the first of two “showdown” scenes between the two women, and in this first one Mami has all the power and relishes wielding it.

Mami tells Mizuhara she didn’t book her to rag on her profession, but now that she knows she’s a rental, she couldn’t stay quiet. She doesn’t like the fact Mizuhara and Kazuya have had a fake relationship this long, and aside from deeming it bad for Kazuya, just watching it in practice pisses her off “a teensy bit.” None of her words are that harsh or cruel, but Yuuki Aoi’s expert delivery and Mami’s odd expressions make them feel like icy daggers.

Because this is a show where Everything is About Kazuya, Kazuya feels it’s his duty to not only eavesdrop on Mizuhara and Mami’s date, but pretend to be sick and excuse himself from work to follow them. Mizuhara rewarded him last time he did this, so why wouldn’t he do it again? He has an excuse ready to go: he doesn’t want Mizuhara to bear the brunt of Mami’s hate.

Meanwhile Ruka is left holding the bag, wondering if Kazuya was serious about making them official. Kazuya finds Mizuhara and Mami on a bridge about to wrap up the date, but not before a “rematch” of sorts, only this time with Mizuhara having a slight rhetorical edge.

Mizuhara asks Mami straight up how she feels about Kazuya, as she’s sure Mami still occupies a special place in the guy’s heart. Mami doesn’t take the bait, but tosses the question back to Mizuhara, suspicious that in a year of fake-dating, she’s fallen for Kazuya for real. Mizuhara simply states “He’s my boyfriend”, not adding the “rental” part because at this point, until the end of their contract, whether it’s a rental or not is irrelevant.

Mami considers that a dodging of the question and turns to leave, but Mizuhara grabs her hand and tells her they’re not done. As scenes of Kazuya crying about Mami flash by, Mizuhara tells Mami how being a rental girlfriend helped her realize the importance and difficulty of falling in love. She asks if Mami ever faced Kazuya’s feelings head on, in good faith, seriously engaged with his love, or considered that he may be the one to make her “happy for life”.

Mami tells her to buzz off under her breath, and states that all of that is between her and Kazuya. Fair enough, but Mizuhara wins this round. She knows Mami wouldn’t have bothered with this date if she didn’t care one way or another about Kazuya. Of the three lead women, Mami is the one most unready, unwilling, and unable to reckon with her feelings, preferring her cool, aloof, gives-no-fucks, bored-with-everything…facade.

That night, Kazuya is waiting by Mizuhara’s door when she comes home, confessing he saw and heart what she said to Mami, thanking her for having his back once again, and apologizing for not being able to do those things himself. Mizuhara then shocks Kazuya by apologizing in turn, for not being able to secure him a real girlfriend (apparently Ruka doesn’t count!).

As she’s suggesting he consider asking Mami out again, for closure if nothing else, Kazuya steps up to the plate, as he did with Ruka, and says something he should have said long ago: “You’re the one I want. It’s gotta be you.” At last, some progress! Only no, he immediately recants, saying he wants her “as a rental girlfriend”, before rushing into his apartment with a curt good night.

Yet another disappointing, immensely frustrating moment of failure for Kazuya, who comes away from the incident thinking it’s a sure thing that Mizuhara isn’t into him. Meanwhile, next door, a blushing Mizuhara wonders WTF just happened. I have no doubt if Kazuya had made it clear he truly did want her as a real girlfriend, it would have been better for both of them, whether Mizuhara accepted or rejected him.

Instead, as a closing montage indicates, it’s still very much anyone’s game when it comes to winning the Kazuya Sweepstakes. Sumi’s out there doing her job with renewed confidence, Ruka smiles at the phone background of her and Kazuya, Mami is utterly bored to death by her latest rich old dude, and Mizuhara is still showing up early for dates with Kazuya.

They’re still rental dates, and she’s still a rental girlfriend. I get it; that’s the name of the show. And the point of the show wasn’t really about Kazuya to end up with one girl over the others, but to explore the different ways in which we fall in love, now made more complex and at times strange via new technologies.

Kazuya was almost always abysmally hard to watch, but that was kind of the point too. What kept me coming back were Ruka, Mizuhara, Mami and Sumi—in that order—as much care was put into their voices, character designs, clothing, and personalities. They were the stars, while Kazuya was an unfortunate but necessary variable in the equation. If RaG were to return for a sequel, they’d be the ones who’d bring me back.

No Guns Life – 14 – The Cyberpunk Prometheus

In light of her brother’s apparent return, Mary tells Juuzou more about her and Victor’s past as orphans. They were taken in by an engineer named Emmet, but when Victor got interested in Extended tech Emmet objected. Since Emmet had become a violent drunk, Victor killed him before he could hurt Mary and fled.

Mary only ever got one letter back from Victor saying he’d joined the military, but what she doesn’t know is that he became Juuzou’s primary engineer during the war. Juuzou assumed Victor had died, but considers the man’s dying wish to be his first request as a resolver: Protect Mary.

What Juuzou doesn’t understand is why Victor joined Spitzbergen, and why he’s getting Mary involved in dangerous shit when he told him to protect her. Their talk is interrupted by the pair of Spitzbergen enforcers, but despite the larger of the two describing his anti-Extended armor in great detail, Juuzou still manages to blast it to pieces anyway, safe in the knowledge he didn’t have to hold back.

Juuzou is actually find giving Spitzbergen the data, as long as the hostages are returned safe and sound, but that willingness doesn’t imply he won’t punch somebody for daring to kidnap members of his “family”. He and Mary head for the Kyusei Pit.

Meanwhile, Tetsuro isn’t really treated like a hostage, but allowed to walk free without restraint. He’s brough before a high-ranking member of Spitzbergen named Wachowski, a clear homage to the creators of The Matrix.

Wachowski reveals something to Tetsuro he had forgotten as part of his amnesia: he betrayed his father, left Berühren, and funded Spitzbergen. Tetsuro can’t believe any of it, but he can’t necessarily dismiss it out of hand, either.

Whether Tetsuro became aware of the plight of the downtrodden and oppressed as a result of Berühren’s greed and wished to balance the scales by helping its enemy, who can say. All we do know is that Victor Steinberg is not a good guy anymore.

When Juuzou confronts him and asks why he’s sabotaging his request to protect Mary, Victor reveals that his main goal is to dissect and research Juuzou himself, down to his last bolt. He also knows Juuzou will never fight for himself, only to protect others.

That means in order to unleash Juuzou’s “true form”, he must put a member of Juuzou’s family—in this case Mary—in mortal danger. Victor’s claims to be “reaping what he’s sown” by joining Spitzbergen seems to be in conflict with his more scientific desires.

One thing’s for sure: Juuzou isn’t going to let Victor hurt Mary. It’s fitting that’s their names, since Victor is acting very much like a twisted Dr. Frankenstein, while Mary is likely named after Frankenstein’s author Mary Shelley. Famous name-borrowing aside, looks like a big bruising Juuzou-Victor fight is primed to commence.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 08 – Love and Thunder

Sakura has a strange dream of Tokyo Tower that’s identical to one she had in the first episode, except that the person in it isn’t her, but some boy in Chinese clothes she’s never met before. Both Kero-chan and Yukito independently surmise it might be a “foretelling” dream.

Sure enough, she meets the boy when he suddenly transfers to her class. His name is Li Syaoran, and he has absolute daggers for poor Sakura from word go, which bore into the back of her head all during class.

Since my intro to CCS was Clear Card, I’m used to Syaoran as Sakura’s mild-mannered boyfriend, so it’s a bit shocking and upsetting to see just how big a goddamn jerk he is to Sakura when they first meet. During recess he asks her to hand over the Clow Cards she has.

When she rightfully refuses, he gets physical, but thankfully Touya is nearby to help his little sister. Touya and Syaoran are about to throw down with some martial arts when Yukito adorkably breaks up the fight with what else but a big sack of food! 

That night, Kero-chan assures Sakura that because she opened the book and awakened him, she’s already proven she’s worthy of being a Cardcaptor, and shouldn’t pay the kid’s negging any mind. When a new Clow Card shows up in the form of persistent thunder and lightning, Sakura and Tomoyo leap right back into action.

Since she has a battle costume for any theme and eventuality, this week Tomoyo provides Sakura with an outfit entirely made of rubber and other insulators to prevent conduction. As for why she included cat ears? Because they’re cute, NEXT QUESTION.

Using a combo of Fly and Jump, Sakura has the altitude and agility to keep up with Thunder, but has no idea how to return it to it’s “true form.” To make matters worse, Syaoran shows up, criticizes Sakura for her ignorance, then casts some magic that turns Thunder into a beast.

While that’s a necessary step, the task of actually sealing Thunder falls to Sakura, who possesses Shadow—which unlike Windy is able to restrain Thunder—as well as the staff required to seal the card. Even so, Syaoran isn’t impressed and basically dismisses Sakura as an out-of-her-element tourist before splitting.

Obviously, Syaoran is wrong. Not only is Sakura capable of capturing Clow Cards, but has every right to do so, even if she’s not related to Clow Reed like the Li Clan. That doesn’t stop Syaoran’s words from hurting Sakura’s feelings, which is clear to both Kero and Tomoyo. IMO Syaoran owes Sakura an apology for being such an meanie right out of the gate.

It’s not her fault her dad had all the cards, and that she found them while he was off in Hong Kong. The two could work better far together as a team rather than rivals at cross purposes, but to do so Syaoran would have to cede Cardcaptor status to Sakura. Something tells me he’s too proud and arrogant for that, but the teamwork will just happen organically regardless!

Fruits Basket – 35 (S2 10) – Squaring Off Against a God

Tooru can tell that both Yuki and Kyou have changed on this beach trip, and believes that they must have changed for the better. But what about her? They’re going home the day after tomorrow, and Tooru feels like she hasn’t been done enough self-improvement of her own. Yuki is content to finish the trip with the fun memory of fireworks on the beach.

Tooru happens to listen in as Kyou confides in Momiji. He now realizes why he and the other Zodiac members obey Akito without complaint or argument: for Tooru’s sake. By letting Akito have his way, they’re sparing her more of his ire. Momiji laments that they’ve been doing it “all wrong” due to their selfish desire to have it both ways. Tooru just wants to do more for them.

As for Akito’s ire, Tooru already has it, and it’s built up every day of his trip until he can even sense that Shigure has fallen under the “ugly girl’s” spell. When Kureno interrupts Akito’s ranting with a report from the main house, the two begin to depart, but Akito gives Kureno the slip after changing.

The next we see him, Akito is in the yard, and Momiji grudingly receives him. When Akito announces he’s there for Tooru, Momiji blocks his path, and pays for it with a vicious punch to the face that draws blood. That’s when Tooru who couldn’t sleep anyway and was out on a walk, puts her body between Akito and the thoroughly cowed Momiji. I can’t decide if it’s the bravest or the stupidest thing she’s ever done, but hey…why not both?

Akito holds back on neither the invasion of personal space, the gaslighting, or the plain ol’ acidic vitriol. He accuses Tooru of being “not a very nice person”—which would be laughable if he wasn’t so menacing—and proceeds to dictate how things are going to go: after high school graduaction, Kyou is going into confinement for the rest of his life, and the other Zodiac members will return to the estate with him for the rest of theirs.

Does Tooru give in to the finality and despair of these words, despite learning that Akito is not the rooster but the literal GOD of the Zodiac, and after receiving nasty gashes to the face? My friends, she does not. While it must no doubt be disconcerting to be told a future by someone with the power to make it a reality, Tooru is just as certain in her own commitment to prevent that future, because she doesn’t think it’s what the Zodiac members want.

As with Kyou and Yuki before him, meeting with Akito changed Tooru. She’s no longer uncertain about what to do, and it was Akito’s quintessential rottenness that finally solidified that plan. Tooru is going to protect them. She’ll protect their freedom to choose where to seek their happiness. Their freedom to move forward, not stay stagnant in some dusty estate at the whims of a loathsome wretch.

As Yuki tells Hatsu (who stopped both him and Kyou from interfering in the confrontation), it’s not easy to protect someone, let alone a whole group people with myriad problems in addition to the common one of Akito. But Tooru doesn’t care if it’s hard, or if it’s impossible and will result in Akito tearing her limb from limb.

She’s going to break that goddamn curse, and won’t hear a single syllable from anyone urging her to reconsider. Her arsenal will include light, love, kindness and hope…but will it be enough? And can she hope to fight effectively without reckoning with her own murky past and its constituent traumas? I don’t know, but I’m not about to bet against her!

Fruits Basket – 32 (S2 07) – So Hard Because It’s So Simple

This week’s cold open features Akito, who has followed Shigure’s advice and arrived at the seaside, confronting Yuki and whispering something in his ear. While we can’t hear what hesays, Akito is likely using the exact same ammunition he’s used in the past—trying to cover Yuki in a hopeless pitch black, warning him any glimmers of happiness or warmth are mere delusions.

But there’s something different about Yuki here from previous confrontations with Akito, and the fact Yuki’s voiceover is all we here is key to that. First of all, he’s not having a goddamn panic attack, so that’s good! While Akito approaches and launches his attack, Yuki is testing a new “armor” he has developed as a result of “opening the lid”—the armor of his memory of saving Tooru.

When Momiji proposes a watermelon splitting contest, Tooru starts to bring up her mother, but stops herself, awkwardly saying “gumshoe” instead of “mom”. She doesn’t want to trouble people with stories of her mom when she knows nothing about their own.

Hiro, who learned that morning that his mom is pregnant, can now see the effect of his harsh words to her, while Kyou can again sense something off in Tooru, and suspects it’s Hiro’s fault.

While Momiji, Hiro and Kisa are napping, Kyou asks Tooru about it, and she in turn asks Kyou about his parents. As expected, there’s not much to say: his mom was killed in an “accident” (holding back that it was suicide) when he was very small and he and his biological dad are estranged.

Tooru then shares the details of her watermelon splitting contest with her mom. Neither of them had any aim to speak of, as her mom smashed both a flowerpot and Tooru’s dad’s shrine, but they still had a lot of fun, and the warmth and love of that memory brings a smile to Kyou’s face.

But amidst all these happy feels, you can’t help but wonder: what is missing from Tooru’s almost impossibly ideal childhood with her mom prior to her death? Why doesn’t she remember (or claims not to remember) anything about her dad, from whom she inherited not only her kindness but her very manner of speaking?

Akito, Kureno, and Hattori arrive, and arrangements are made for the Zodiac members to formally greet her at the annex. Before that, Akito spends some time by the ocean, with Kureno not far away. Yuki encounters them while on a walk, and we’ve now reached the events of the cold open.

Predictably, Akito fires shoots some lies Yuki’s way—telling him he’s “all alone as usual” and “such a lonely boy.” Akito’s idea of Yuki as an individual might as well be frozen in amber. That’s who Yuki was, and those barbs don’t cut nearly as deep as they once did, when Akito’s influence on him was stronger.

Shigure rounds up Momiji, Hatsu, Kisa and Hiro, and all of them are gloomy because none of them are in a particular hurry to meet with Akito, especially if it means leaving Tooru behind (not to mention Kyou, who never sees Akito). Momiji in particular seems at peace with the fact he’s “disliked” by Akito, but he can deal with that if he can continue having fun with Tooru.

Back at the beach house, Tooru is determined not to be glum, and stirs into action making pancakes with Kyou, who’s never had them before. Kyou can sense Akito’s reason for coming as putting a damper on their good times.

When Shigure arrives with the Zodiac members, he’s received by Akito, Kureno, and Hattori. Akito sends Kureno away without meeting with anyone (deeming it “unnecessary”) and proceeds to launch into a villainous rant, boasting about how she discouraged Yuki and laughing about his attempts to separate from her.

Shigure takes all this in stride, and is his usual polite self as Akito goes to receive the others. While Hattori isn’t pleased with Shigure’s methods (i.e. “scheming” and “shaking things up”) he lauds him for at least trying to do something to exact change.

I may not know exactly what Shigure is up to, but I do know that Akito is more a means and not an end to his plans. That Akito doesn’t seem aware he’s being manipulated seems to be working in Shigure’s favor.

While Yuki weathered his latest confrontation with Akito well, it still left him feeling as gloomy as everyone else who has dealings with the pale little shit this week. So it’s fortuitous that he and Tooru meet on the beach at dusk, just when he’s feeling his most alone.

Just then, there’s a beautiful meteor shower in the sky above them. They’re only visible to Yuki because he was able to survive dark clouds and pelting rain of Akito’s bitter mind games, which in turn was possible due to both his memory of and friendship with Tooru, twin totems in his efforts to cast away the darkness.

Akito tried so hard to make Yuki think he was useless, but when Yuki encountered Tooru and helped her out, it was the first time he felt needed. In that regard, she saved him just as much as he saved her, because it turned his world upside-down and let him dream of a better one, of which he’s now privileged to be a part.

Akito’s dark clouds never stood a chance against the dazzling showers of kindness, warmth and joy that Tooru so generously shares with him every day. They’re why he won’t lose to Akito. When Tooru asks why he looks sad, Yuki tenderly takes her shoulders, kisses her forehead, and tells her she’s “so dear” to him. So it’s official: Tooru is the Dear of the Zodiac!

Puns aside, Yuki compares Tooru to the sky: i.e. something he’ll never reach. It’s clear Kyou is making more progress with Tooru, and Yuki knows if he becomes bitter or possessive about it, he’s no better than Akito. Just as he’s liberated himself from Akito’s now-hollow lies an manipulations, he must move past the memory that helped him do so, and shrug off the comfy blanket that is Tooru in order to keep moving forward.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 06 – Winning the Right Way

Only one battle is covered this week, and it’s not in Kaguya and Miyuki’s War of Love, but the StuCo Presidential Election. Osaragi, Iino Miko’s best and only friend, gives an impassioned speech on behalf of her candidate, but only half the crowd at best is even listening. By comparison, Kaguya’s speech is preceded by intentional mic feedback.

Kaguya speaks with equal or greater passion than Osaragi, but with all the attention and none of the desperation. More to the point, everyone adores and idolizes Kaguya, and the lavishly-produced visual aids are, as Osaragi says, “full of shameless baloney” but nonetheless incredibly effective.

This one was in the bag from the start, but what bothers Yuu isn’t that Miko will lose, it’s how she will lose, which is the same way she’s lost every election she’s run in with increasingly dire results: she’s a terrible public speaker. Yuu doesn’t like how someone who works as hard as Miko ends up the laughingstock of the student body simply because of stage fright.

Again and again Osaragi’s heart has been broken by her friend’s defeats, knowing that while everyone sees Miko as serious, no one ever saw her cry bitter tears in the bathroom stall, wondering why her message fell on not just deaf but maliciously mocking ears.

Miyuki picks up what Yuu is putting down, and just when Miko looks like she’s going to secure her worst defeat yet in an embarrasing, self-destructive fiasco of a campaign speech, Miyuki…interrupts. She forces Miko to forget about the crowd that is causing her so much anxiety and simply focus on him, the person she’s running against.

By asking her pointed questions about her policies, Miyuki helps Miko get back on point. Because she’s simply talking to one person, Miko can summon her pride, confidence, and passion.

Not only that, the crowd Miko forgot about is finally seeing Miko stand up for herself against an opponent, and it never occurs to them this is only happening because Miyuki furnished the conditions with which to stand up to him.

Miko ends up losing to Miyuki, but it’s a damned close race: he only beats her 320 to 280. Far more importantly, their spontaneous debate, which stretched on for over half and hour and captivated students and faculty alike.

As such, Miko the toast of the school: a scrappy, righteous underdog who fought the good fought, came up a bit short, but is in prime position for a victory in the next election. Osaragi has never been more proud to be Miko’s friend now that she’s finally been acknowledged…and it’s all thanks to Miyuki.

Kaguya, meanwhile, suffered a number of stomachaches that landed her in the school infirmary. There, she asks Hayasaka where the hell Miyuki is and why he didn’t come to her bedside immediately to watch over her. Did he discover all of the political dirty tricks she pulled to secure his victory?

Was his assist to Miko meant as a stand against the “horrible girl who relied on foul play?” Was she wrong about Miyuki being nice to her as a sign he liked her, since he was also nice to Miko, and come to think of it, is nice to everyone?

The answer to all of those questions is either “no” or “it doesn’t matter.” Miyuki was only delayed because the first duty of the new StuCo is to clean up the post-election mess—which he achieves with the help of Chika and Yuu, who retain their positions as secretary and treasurer, respectively.

When he comes to her bedside, he apologizes for his impulsive behavior on the stage, but tells her he was only able to do it the same reason he’s able to do anything: thanks to help from her and the others. He doesn’t just like Kaguya, he needs her. He needed her for his campaign, and he needs her by his side as vice president for the next year. Elated but not quite able to face him, Kaguya flashes an “ok” sign, and all is right in her world once more.

With that, the stressful StuCo Election is finally behind us, but we won’t be returning to the status quo ante. That’s because, acknowledging her value, Miyuki has invited Miko to join the StuCo to perform their forthcoming financial audit, and to be in charge of “general affairs.” Having a fifth member in the StuCo office of Miko’s caliber should prove to be a lot of fun!

Dororo – 12 – The Consequences Of Sacrifice

Father and discarded son finally meet face to face, and all Daigo can say is “Why aren’t you dead?” and call Hyakkimaru a “half-born demon child.” It’s pretty harsh, but not at all surprising considering those words are coming from the man who fed his firstborn to demons.

As long as Hyakkimaru is alive, Daigo cannot have confidence in the future of his domain. The mere fact he is alive is proof that the deal is in the process of being destroyed, as evidenced by all the lord’s misfortune of late. Of course, he deserves all the misfortune coming to him.

Hyakkimaru skitters off when Daigo’s men launch arrows at him, while elsewhere Dororo and Sukeroku are taken prisoner and stashed in a cave. After trying to comfort Sukeroku (who found his village only to find it destroyed and his mom likely dead), Dororo slips out of a Dororo-sized hole, promising to find Hyakkimaru so they can save everyone.

Tahoumaru, having received testimony from the midwife, confronts his mother, who does not dispute the terrible accusations, and indeed has never for one day forgotten what was done. Tahoumaru can’t believe his parents would do something so monstrous, but that just goes to show you how much he idolizes his great lord father.

Daigo tells Tahoumaru of the hellish times before he was born, and how sacrificing his first son was the only way to stave off the utter ruin of his domain. Tahoumaru rightly rejects the notion his dad’s motivation was anything other than the desire for power and prosperity. He notes the appalling amorality of the action.

His protestations fall on deaf ears. Lord Daigo believes he is a lord because he was given choices and made the decisions that he made. The ends justify the means, and in any case, it’s too late to undo what he did because to do so would mean sacrificing the welfare of the domain for one person: Hyakkimaru.

Daigo made a terrible choice, and he knew it was terrible, but to him not sacrificing his son would have been more terrible. Thus, if he had the choice, he’d likely do it again. He tells Tahoumaru if he wishes to cancel the deal with the demons, he can go to the Hall of Hell to do so, but rightly assumes his son won’t do anything (in any case the hall spits him and his aides out with a gust of wind).

Dororo reunites with Hyakkimaru and connects the dots that Daigo and Tahoumaru are Hyakkimaru’s father and brother, something he’s actually cheerful about because he doesn’t know the truth, but also because Dororo’s family was so loving and he longs to have them back.

By the time they find Sukeroku, the kid is already tied to the Banmon with other hostages as an overture to a battle between Daigo’s armies and those of Asakura. Among the combatants is one of the men who burned killed Mio and burned her orphanage; Dororo has to hold him back to stop him from proving to all assembled that he truly is a demon.

Tahoumaru arrives on the battlefield, and while he acknowledges what was done to his brother is wrong, the preservation of the domain and its people takes precedence over one life, even if it is his brother. So, the two fight, as the Banmon ghouls gather, picking off soldiers and eventually combining to form Kyubi.

Hyakkimaru eventually slices Tahoumaru’s eye, but then their mother Oku arrives, to ask forgiveness of Hyakkimaru; not just for herself, but on behalf of her husband, her other son, and all the people of the domain who owe each day of their prosperity to Hyakkimaru’s long suffering. If no one else will take responsibility, she will, and does—by stabbing herself.

It would seem the demons accept her as a sacrifice to their appetites, as their power seems to increase immediately after Oku’s stabbing, to the point the Banmon crumbles to the ground, forcing Daigo and his men to retreat with Tahoumaru and Oku.

Things calm down from there, and there’s even a happy note to an otherwise ominous ending, as Sukeroku reunites with his mother and other villagers who had been hiding. Dororo notes that even Sukeroku and his mom are only alive thanks to Daigo’s cruel, heinous deed.

Dororo then reiterates his intention to stick with Hyakkimaru no matter what, even if his blood relations continue to reject him. In a world full of moral shades of gray, their bond as brothers-from-another-mother (though one is actually a sister) is thankfully absolute. Will they be enough to stand against the relentlessly turning wheels of destiny?

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 08 – What Friends Are For

This week all the disparate parties involved in this arc begin to confront and communicate with one another, starting with Suema meeting Jin. She watches one of the girls Jin “initiated” walk by while engaged in a phone call, and decides she can’t let this go on. She wants answers. Boogiepop momentarily speaks through Touka offering help, but Suema insists she’s got this.

In the case of Imaginator, I consider it fine for Suema to ask for any help offered; she’s quite out of her depth here. While Jin is initially taken aback by how much she’s been able to figure out for herself, he manages to successfully gaslight her, and even if she doesn’t walk away a convert, it remains to be seen if his plan-reveal-couched-in-artistic-rhetoric proves useful to her solving the case.

Then again, maybe I’m underestimating Suema just as Jin is, or just as Spooky-KotoE underestimates Masaki when he realizes he’s being followed by six or more people. He heads underground to confront them, and uses a nice bit of misdirection to catch KotoE’s goons off-guard (Towa should invest in less disposable goons) and put KotoE herself on her back.

The only problem is, she won’t talk, he can’t really make her talk, and if he kills her he’ll be branded a murderer. Like Suema, Masaki seems doomed to be disappointed in his efforts to crack the case. He’s only caught a pawn, just as Jin can shrug off everything he told Suema as messing around.

When Nagi suddenly shows up to keep his half-brother in check, he slips away, and KotoE reveals she was keeping some goons in reserve. But these goons aren’t any match for Nagi’s skills any more than the first wave were to Masaki’s. She makes quick work of them, including KotoE’s attempts to attack her with a butterfly knife, but isn’t interested in getting any information from her. Her focus is probably catching up to her brother.

When KotoE wakes up, she’s still in her brainwashed mode, but Jin appears and manages to snap her out of it by reaching into her soul and taking note of the missing blooms on her rose (much like Suema’s problem). But while he’s always known of Kotoe’s feelings and yearning, she was mistaken in thinking her sadness mirrored his own; he’s never been able to feel sadness; only despair.

Jin also laments he can’t save her, but will change the world to a place where no one has to feel like she feels ever again. With Spooky E’s brainwashing undone, Kotoe breaks down, but engenders no more sympathy from Jin than a stranger, which is a devastating sight to see. Then Jin moves on to Spooky E’s command center atop the amusement park tower, apparently led there by the part of Spooky that copied his will into Kotoe in the first place.

Jin introduces himself as Imaginator, the one Spooky and Towa have been looking for, but calmly warns Spooky that they’re on completely different levels. They may possess similar brainwashing abilities, but while Spooky basically mind-rapes people by shoving information into their brains, Jin’s is far more…therapeutic? Horticultural? Since he can see everyone’s plant—even Spooky’s—he can control them as he sees fit, adding or removing parts with Imaginator’s help.

Rather than stuff info in the brain, he finds what is lacking, and offers whatever a person desperately desires: to be whole. The result of this: Imaginator will “normalize the psyche” of the human race, eliminating all emotional want and yearning. There are a LOT of problems with such a world, so it goes without saying Imaginator can’t get away with this.

But Spooky E can’t do shit about it; Jin removes his aggression in the blink of an eye, intending to use him to take over Towa, in order to expand his reach and accelerate his plans. While unable to attack Jin, Spooky E decides it better to attack and kill himself, so at least he won’t be the conduit through which the enemy takes control of Towa.

Jin, however, doesn’t believe in enemies, except as parties who exist to be turned into allies with the right manipulation. His plan to use Spooky E as an ally thus backfired, he discovers Orihata tied up in that same location. She begs for help, but Jin isn’t there to save her. He’s there to use her as a sacrifice; the kind that will propel his dreams forward and make them a reality for the next generation.

Poor Orihata: poised to become a tool for Imaginator immediately after Spooky E and Towa did the same. Is there any saving her or Kotoe, and are Suema and Masaki up to the task?

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 16 – Stuck On You

Hikari has Iroha prepared for the worst—that he’d move to Hokkaido with his mom. Even though the two have progressed enough in their relationship for her to know and openly admit that she’s not helping matters, she still can’t help yelling at him and running off in a tizzy.

I mean, she wouldn’t do either if she didn’t truly care for and love Hikari. But she’s super-frustrated that neither of them can do anything about it…which is why it’s auspicious that while walking home she crosses paths with someone who can: Hikari’s father.

Iroha uses the opportunity to introduce herself as Hikari’s girlfriend, and Dad apologizes for indirectly disrupting her life as well, but assures her he’s working on a solution, and seems encouraged by Iroha’s devotion to his son for all the right reasons.

The same time Iroha goes to Hikari’s house to apologize for her outburst, Kono, the woman Hikari’s dad is seeing, also pays a visit. They whisk her away to a family restaurant, and Iroha proceeds to lays into her by saying nothing that isn’t true.

She admonishing the 24-year-old Kono for crying when it’s she and Hikari who should be crying about this situation. Iroha would hope someone of Kono’s age would know loving someone is no excuse for destroying the lives of others.

As Kono gets told the riot act, eventually confessing that she didn’t think going out for a couple dinners would be that bad, both Itou and Ayado think about the last time they interacted. She approached him to apologize for ignoring him, and he told her she didn’t have to talk to him anymore, and apologizes himself for not being able to be her friend (since he can’t help but want more).

Ayado ends up moping on the roof, but thankfully, she’s not stuck in that inactive funk for long, because Ishino Arisa is on the case. When Ayado explains how she felt she had no right to fall for someone else so soon after falling for Tsutsui, Ishino delivers a swift slap to the face. Of course she has a right to be happy, and she has to take every opportunity she’s got to do so! If Itou has the wrong idea, she has to correct him!

When Hikari and Iroha realize his dad and Kono never actually did it, but only had dinner a couple times, Iroha is embarrassed for taking things too far, but Hikari is even more angry at his dad for not being clearer about the extent of his betrayal of Mom.

Hikari and Iroha take his dad to the restaurant (I swear high schoolers shouldn’t be able to afford this many trips to the famures, unless Pops is paying the second time around) to talk it through, and he proceeds to tell them the story of how he and his wife, Hikari’s mom, Kie met.

It all started with an act of kindness (not surprising, coming from a Tsutsui male): when one of Kie’s shoes broke, he fixed it with some of the glue he always had on hand (“I’m not a shoemaker, I’m a gluemaker” is a great line that actually sounds better in English).

Kie takes him out to dinner to thank him, and wonders why he’s so quiet. When she brings up the subject of glue, he talks her ear off, then apologizes for being such a “lost cause.” But Kie isn’t impatient; she’s charmed by this kind, awkward guy, and laughs.

When Kie is out with her drunk boss and that boss propositions her, telling her she’s incompetent and only kept around the office because of him, Hikari’s dad (who happened to be there) is there to comfort her. Even though he couldn’t run out and slug her boss, he is able to fix her shoe (again), and comfort her in her moment of vulnerability. He confesses his love to her, and notes how absurd that is considering they hardly know each other…but Kie doesn’t mind. She wants to know him better.

The rest is history…or would be history if Hikari’s dad continued to sit on the sidelines and do and say nothing to stop his marriage and family from becoming destroyed. Hikari has him seek Kie out at the playground to try to work things out, and he’s ultimately successful by being honest, forthright, and kind, the qualities that made her fall for him in the first place. Kie forgives her husband his transgressions, as not only were they not as severe as she initially believed, and that they served to rekindle his love for her.

With that crisis averted, the episode closes with Ayado calling out to Itou, who seemingly ignores her and boards the bus. But he ends up approaching her and asking what’s the matter, like he doesn’t know…and Ayado throws herself at him and tells him what’s the matter: he ignored her, he told her she didn’t have to talk to him anymore…and she can’t think about anything but him. Really great work by Ueda Reina here, as usual, and encouraging news on all dramatic fronts!

Happy Sugar Life – 12 (Fin) – Nothing But Fun

That’s what Matsuzaka Satou sought for her and for Koube Shio: a world without bitterness or pain; i.e. a world quite the opposite of the one they’d inhabited to that point. Their love for, acceptance of and devotion to one another is the fuel that keeps them moving toward that goal—that, and Auntie’s trash bag full of cash.

All that’s left is to go to the airport, let Auntie do her work, be rid of the old sad bitter world forever, and when they step off the airplane they’ll be in a happy sugar world, where they’ll never have to suffer or despair again, and where they’ll have each other.

That was the plan, at least. Ironically, it’s Satou’s love that makes her take off her ring, so it won’t be sullied by the work of dressing Shouko’s corpse (if she is, in fact, 100% dead when we see her). Forgetting that ring, that symbol of their love, and going back for it at the worst possible time, proves to be Satou’s undoing.

Auntie ties Taiyou up in between “abusing” him—rape is heavily implied)—she didn’t gag him, perhaps because she liked hearing him squeal. That preference is also her undoing (if she cared about self-preservation, of course), as he’s able to get a call to Asahi telling him where he is.

Asahi arrives just as Taiyou escapes—and happens to bump into Satou and Shio in the lobby. They should never have come back for a stupid ring.

Satou and Shio head upstairs to find Taiyou, but they get away from him as well (he’s tied up) as Auntie, who assumes Satou is well on her way to freedom (and damn well should be) ignites the fire on the twelfth floor that will engulf Shouko and supposedly, any evidence tying her to Satou.

Asahi hurries to Room 1205 and finds Shouko there, dead and surrounded by flames, inflaming his rage even more. When he, Satou and Shio cross paths again, he lets her have it with his bat, injuring her leg, but Shio steps between them to prevent further violence.

Shio, exercising her own agency, tells her brother she’s done with her family, and all she wants or needs is Satou, and he’s just going to have to deal. Asahi tells her that their mother only abandoned her because she was in over her head and didn’t want to become their monster father (whom she poisoned to death).

But it doesn’t really matter why she did it anymore; Shio has moved on and isn’t coming back. She’s going to live for herself now, as Asahi should learn to do, rather than defining his life as finding and protecting her. Just then, the flames cut their chat short, and Satou and Shio make a run for the roof…where they are trapped.

Shio tells Satou that it would be alright if they die together by jumping, because they’ll surely be reborn together in that new world they’ve been hoping to reach (but again, couldn’t thanks to one dumb ring).

That potential New Happy Sugar Life flashes before them as they fall, but Satou makes one small change to Shio’s plan: she doesn’t let Shio die, shielding her from the impact of the ground with her larger body.

Shio survives, but Satou does not. She and Shouko are mentioned in the same news report, but as casualties of the fire, not murderer and victim.

Rather, Auntie is suspected, and gladly surrenders herself, having done everything she could for the sake of her niece’s love. Satou’s teacher is arrested in front of his family, Taiyou continues to obsess over his angel in his room.

As for Shio, she’s in hospital, and Asahi comes to visit her, promising to fill the void left by their parents, by society, and finally, by the loss of Satou. But Shio smiles in a very Satou-esque way; there is no void, not from her perspective.

Shio believes Satou sacrificed herself and became a part of her—which is kind of true, in an emotional sense—and as such Shio feels she’ll never be alone again. She still doesn’t need Asahi. She gained more than she lost, and she’s resolved to live her best life for herself and Satou. How exactly she’ll be supporting herself, a minor with no money or job, is left unspecified.

HSL is the story of deeply damaged people and the different ways the consequences of that damage unfold in their lives. There’s a solid causality to everything that, while hardly absolving most anyone of their numerous crimes or obsessions, at least explains them satisfactorily, and makes them subjects of pity rather than simple loathing.

People can grow up to be decent people even if there’s abuse or trauma in their lives, and without traditional families, or no families at all. But that’s an ideal; it doesn’t always happen. It usually doesn’t happen. And when it does (see Taiyou) it doesn’t always mean someone will “turn out” “alright.”

But even in the darkest places, some small amount of light can emerge, some small amount of happiness can be found, and a sweet but twisted love can take root between kindred damaged souls, filling their jars and giving them reason to keep living.