Fate / Zero – 12

“Why do I always sit on my smokes?”

After the Rumble in the Marble, most Servants take a step back and assess the situation. Kiritsugu sits in a dark hotel room and pores over intel as he chats with Maiya on the phone…and that’s about it, really.

“I like the way your tent your fingers. Why don’t you work for me?”

Reports and conversation are the name of the game again, but instead of interacting with Saber and Rider, Archer is stuck with Kirei, trying to connect the dots as part of his larger plan to make him one of his men. Kirei delivers his report on the motivations of the other Masters to Archer, who points out that the one that seems to interest Kirei the most is Matou Kiriya, who also seems to be enduring the most pain and suffering.

“I mean, this isn’t how I would drive, but this is fine too, I guess…”

Pain doesn’t seem to be an issue for Iri, while Saber doesn’t seem to be feeling the lasting effects from her throughout putting-down she endured at the hands of Rider and Archer. But Saber does find it odd that Iri has her drive and perform every other task that requires the use of her hands. When she asks Iri about it, she reveals she’s become extremely physically weak as a result of shutting down her sense of touch (a homonculus ability, apparently).

While she believes she can recover a bit of strength by sitting in the right kind of magical circle, the bottom line is that she’ll be relying on Saber more and more as this War progresses. Saber, obviously, is up to it. I must say I underestimated her mental toughness. That circle is drawn in a storeroom on a Japanese mansion that looks very much like the place where Emiya and Saber live and practice in UBW.

“Feel that sting? That’s pride, fuckin’ with you!”

From there it’s back to Archer gradually wrapping Kirei around his finger, Emporer Palpatine-style. He gets Kirei to pretty much admit that he is actually capable of joy, and even if he’s previously considered such feelings to be a sin, Gilgamesh isn’t a fan of this newfangled puritanical philosophy that generated people like Kirei and Saber. Joy is joy, and leads to happiness.

So Archer gets Kirei to ‘find his bliss’, and Command Seals suddenly reappear on his hand. Archer believes it’s proof the Holy Grail isn’t done with him; indeed it’s almost as if the Holy Grail rejected his previous role as Toosaka’s ally and spy and reinstates him as a full Master. Archer also suggests Kirei go out and steal a new Servant, and not-so-subtly picks up the Archer piece from the chessboard to indicate who he should pick.

While there were some nice character beats, you can really only portray two people sitting around talking for so long from so many angles before it gets a bit tedious. In other words, another cool-down episode on the heels of a solid 10. That leaves one episode left in the first cour.

Sagrada Reset – 20

Urachi strikes the first blow, and as soon as Kei commits to preserving the abilities in Sakurada, all the abilities in Sakurada go bye-bye in an instant. After some momentary disorientation from the memories clashing in his head, Kei finds himself in a new world.

But from the moment this world “begins”, Kei doesn’t seem comfortable in it. How can he, when he has all his memories from the previous one? And how can he live life here knowing there’s a chance he can reverse Urachi’s handiwork and bring abilities back? If he can make it so Haruki’s last text to him isn’t an unnecessary apology?

In this world, Souma Sumire attends his high school and is an ordinary girl who likes him. But she notices something’s ‘off’ about him and through some discussions about the fallacy of memory, the five-minute hypothesis and being happy with the simple, unflashy life one has been given, Souma can help but feel rejected.

But it’s not just her: it’s this entire world. Kei can’t stay; not as long as he has those memories. And due to his ability, his memories will never go away.

In this world, Kei was born in Sakurada, while in reality he was born elsewhere and only moved to Sakurada in the sixth grade. In this world, his parents are dead and he is adopted. But he remembers the apartment he grew up in, and also remembers the taste of his mother’s curry. So he pays a visit to that hometown.

What I didn’t expect was that he would meet his mother, and the sister he never knew he had, whose name, Megumi, shares the same kanji has his name, Kei: both represent deep love, as their mother says to them; since names are what others use to call you.

Of course, Kei’s mother has no idea Kei is her son, so when he brings up something horrible he did to his parents and doesn’t think he has the right to seek forgiveness, she firmly corrects him. She may not know who his parents are, but they surely love him, even if they can’t forgive him, so he should apologize.

Of course, he can’t. Leaving his family was the price of remaining in Sakurada.

Little did I know (and possible little did Kei know himself) that his visit with his mother and sister would be crucial in his plans to undo what Urachi has done. When he visits Haruki, she’s back to her robotic, emotionless self of two years ago, and does not remember or trust him.

What she does do is humor Kei quite a bit, coming along on a bus ride, conceding a text was sent from her phone, proving they are acquaintances, than helping him hold a Polaroid of the cherry tree they’re standing in front of.

That photo, which was in Haruki’s hidden diary, turns out to be Kei’s key to getting back in the fight, as it transports him and Haruki to the time the photo was taken, back when she had the reset ability. All her memories rush back, but they’re a jumble, and she struggles to stand from the stress.

For whatever reason, she still can’t quite remember him, and when he tells her she should Reset, she tells him she can’t, because it “doesn’t feel like the right time.” That time comes almost immediately, however, thanks, again, to Kei’s experiences earlier in the day.

He thinks about the home and family he can never go back to, and the true meaning of his name, and dearly wishes for one last chance to undo some of the things he’s done. He didn’t cry over his past experiences on this day, but he does cry here, and Haruki remembers that that is her cue to Reset: when she sees someone crying. So she Resets.

And what do you know, Sumire Souma is also crying, by the water, in that very moment, upset that even after everything that happened, she’s not the one.

Back on the evening of October 22nd, Kei and Haruki are outside her house, and he can’t help but steal a big hug, so happy he is that his Haruki is ‘back.’ She can tell a lot has happened, and is worried about him. Kei tells her what’s going to happen the night after tomorrow unless they do something…they, not just him.

Haruki asks if abilities are really necessary, and Kei says no…the town would be fine without them, but he likes them, so he’ll do everything he can to protect them. With her help, he’ll attain the MacGuffin.

Sagrada Reset – 19

This week, in the “Boy, Girl and —” arc finale, Souma Sumire comes to Kei’s place, makes chicken curry, telling him about how Urachi grew up while she cooks. Urachi is basically Kei’s opposite: he wants all abilities to be wiped out, because he believes they’ll hurt, rather than help, the weak in the world (though we’re just talking about one small town here).

Then Souma takes a shower, because, as Kei presumes, she knows she’s going to cry. She tells Kei that Souma Sumire died so that when she was ultimately brought back by Kei’s efforts, she wouldn’t really be Souma Sumire anymore, which allowed her to pass Sakuin’s lie detection.

This “artifact”, as she calls herself, still intends to hinder Urachi, and so did everything possible to give Kei a chance to thwart his plans—except tell him everything before she set her plan into motion.

The fault for this lies in the Souma of two years ago who no longer exists, and though “Souma II” admits she and her are pretty much the same, it was that first Souma who acted “foolishly”, letting Kei get stolen away by Haruki, then forcing all of the “hard parts” onto her replacement. She can’t forgive her, but like her, Kei’s happiness comes first.

Kei expresses his gratitude to both Past Souma and Souma II, and as they eat the curry, he notes how the flavor is “oddly nostalgic.” Souma used her ability to draw from his mother’s know-how, but just as she’s not 100% the Souma Sumire she used to be, something made with “a mother’s love” cannot be 100% replicated.

Kei commits to beating Urachi, which he intends to do by claiming all of the abilities in Sakurada, as the MacGuffin promised to do. The miracles they’ll create will be happy, not a danger or nuisance as Urachi so strongly believes.

Kei made sure to warn Haruki that Oka Eri may pay her a visit, and to let him know if she takes her Reset ability (again). Sure enough, Urachi arrives with Oka, and instead of having Oka take her Reset right there, he uses his own ability on her, “rewinding” her to two-plus-years ago, before she met Asai Kei (and when she had really long hair.)

He leaves the sleeping Haruki with Oka, telling her to take her Reset once she wakes up in the hospital.

Oka Eri wants to beat Senpai, but a part of her still admires, looks up to, and loves Kei, and so when she heard his voice message in her head, telling her he’s been “backed into a corner”, and asks if when the time comes she won’t take Haruki’s reset…it puts Oka in a moral bind.

Just as Souma got around Urachi’s lie detector through rather desperate measures, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kei has to make similar sacrifices in order to succeed in his mission.

The stakes couldn’t be higher: his relationship to Haruki and the abilities of the town hang in the balance, and Urachi, preparing to wake up his “petrified” mother after 20 years, is playing for keeps.

Sagrada Reset – 18

Now that Kei knows that Urachi Masamune is trying to eliminate abilities from Sakurada, he tries to determine what Urachi’s next move will be…and that inevitably leads to Ukawa Sasane, quietly the most powerful—and thus most potentially dangerous—of all the town’s ability users.

Urachi indeed pursues Ukawa, but not directly. He sends Tsushima, a non-user, to convince her to join the cause, siting the potential danger of ability users unconsciously and spontaneously activating their powers.

As Kei enlists the help of Murase and Nonoo to locate Ukawa, Haruki, whom he doesn’t enlist, just happens to visit the cat shrine, just for the heck of it.

Haruki expresses how she feels and how she’s worried her recent increased “selfishness” will annoy Kei. Nonoo doesn’t think it will, nor does she subscribe to Haruki’s notions of “being good enough.”

Haruki already has become more than Kei could ever have hoped for. The emotions she now feels are still new, but fiercely felt; a warm fire now burns within her cool, calm exterior. If she were to kiss Kei now, as opposed to the first time, I don’t doubt she’d actually feel something…feel quite a bit, for that matter.

As for Kei’s attempt to get to Ukawa before the Bureau, it fails. Ukawa unleashes her ability, and the rainy clouds part. Kei’s entreaties to Tsushima, about why abilities are the one problem out of all of the problems in the world, that must be dealt with, are largely brushed aside.

Tsushima urges Kei to embrace becoming a normal high school student, which also means being a normal boyfriend, and eventually a normal salaryman and husband and father. And as I’ve mentioned in earlier reviews…would that really be the worst thing? Kei and Haruki are, as their advisor says, burdened with too many unnecessary things.

Those things are very much putting a lot of strain on someone, trying to be a hero, but sacrificing his own life and happiness in the process. Tsushima thinks that’s wrong, and it’s why he convinced Ukawa to use her ability, thus compelling the Bureau to eliminate abilities.

But this episode presents a new and potentially terrifying prospect: Asai Kei can’t ever be normal. Urachi and the Bureau will eliminate abilities by eliminating memories of them in every man, woman, and child in Sakurada. But Kei’s memories won’t be affected.

Kei alone will remember the forty years of time Sakurada was a town of ability users. He is a loose end, and the way he sees it, killing him is the only way to eliminate his memories. Will Urachi stoop that low? Can he really call the town he’s trying to bring about “sacred” after that?

I’m gonna say no. I’m also gonna say…Poor Kei and Haruki! These kids can’t catch a damn break.

Sagrada Reset – 17

Another week, another dense, intricate Sakurada Reset. Let’s wade in, shall we? First of all, Souma’s second voice message to Kei leads to another incident involving abilities – specifically, an entire supermarket breaks out in laughter, including Kei and Haruki, which is actually pretty momentous considering how subtly the two usually express emotion.

That night, Hitsuchi calls just when Kei is about to call him, asking him for a head shot of Souma Sumire. He also tells Kei about about the Bureau’s current fear of every ability user in Sakurada using their abilities simultaneously.

Kei then remembers what he read in Manuscript 407, which is about the events of 40 years ago when the Bureau was first founded by the only three ability users who were aware of their abilities. Two were a married couple; the husband could “take something” from the entire world at once, and the wife could “retain” something. The third would later be known as the Nameless Witch.

Because of the husband, none of the people in Sakurada know of their abilities, but when he dies, the “spell will be broken”, and there will be chaos. So the Witch proposes they work together to expand the boundary of the wife’s ability (which negates memory loss the husband is causing worldwide), so that when the husband does die, people will know about abilities and they’ll be in a position to keep them under control; thus the Bureau was born.

Back in the present, Hitsuchi eventually sends Kei info on the ability users involved in the last two incidents, then calls Kei to report that after seeing Souma’s photo, he remembered certain things about two years ago. before Souma died, she went to Hitsuchi, who she used to borrow the ability of Tomoki to create voice messages without Tomoki remembering what he did. The messages, then, are from the Souma of the past, before she died.

Traveling with Sakuin, Souma engages with the human lie detector in non-superficial conversation, asking her opinion on the Bureau. Sakuin believes the Bureau’s foundation has started to crumble, even going so far as to call her boss Urachi a “monster” that nothing can be done about. Urachi’s plan is to eliminate information on abilities from the town, which would, after all turn Souma back into a “normal student,” which is her intent.

Despite knowing Urachi’s methods may not be the most moral, Sakuin is of the mind that abilities are “unnecessary,” but as she lacks the means to remove them from the town, she leaves it in Urachi’s hands. As for Kei, all the remembering of information—including the realizaiton Souma may have died for him—has led to him having a rough time; something Haruki can sense when he visits her house.

Why does he visit her house? No, not for a booty call…Souma’s third voice message instructs him to deliver a copy of his favorite book to Haruki. We don’t learn what that book is, nor does Haruki (he left it in her mailbox to look at later), but when Kei opens up about his problems to her, Haruki is heartened. She suggests he rests, but there’s more he needs to do, and Haruki isn’t about to stop him that.

That ‘something more to do’ apparently involves returning to Haruki’s dreamworld, where he finds both Michiru and Chiruchiru “locked” by Urachi’s underling. According to a blue bird Chiruchiru created to tell Kei what happened, the Bureau entered the dream world and locked Michiru, Chiruchiru, and the world’s Souma.

The bird implores Kei to help Michiru escape the lock, and also gives him the name of his “nemesis”, which he hadn’t known was Urachi until just then. It’s a name he knows, because two of the three founders, the husband and wife, had the same name, making Masamune their son.

After his parents basically kicked the abilities can down the road, Masamune is looking for a permanent fix, and seems to be getting closer. It remains to be seen if he’ll succeed, or what succeeding will mean for Kei, Haruki, Souma, and everyone else in Sakurada.

Sagrada Reset – 16

Urachi has a plan. His plan is to wipe out all of the abilities of Sakurada and start everything anew as if the last forty years of people with abilities never happened. In effect, it’s a plan to “fix” something that is not in its natural state. Sakurada should be a normal town, and yet it isn’t, and hasn’t been for four decades. He merely plans to fix that.

Considering it’s the job of our protagonists, or ‘heroes’, Kei and Haruki, to use their abilities to help people and improve lives, Urachi’s plan would seem to be at odds with their reason for being…and yet I can’t regard Urachi as a ‘villain’, no matter how much he may smirk (in his sleep or otherwise).

For if there were no abilities, Kei and Haruki would no longer have the responsibilities that come with them; they could merely carry on as normal humans, as a normal couple, in normal love with each other. What’s so wrong with that?

Nothing, IMO, which is why I won’t be “held hostage” emotionally by this latest four-episode arc, in which Souma believes “everything will end in a few more days.” I’m game for any outcome. I’m along for the ride.

Souma reaches out to Urachi, agreeing to identify herself (though only as the “second witch”) if he halted investigations into her (and Kei) for one month; he agrees. Meanwhile, Kei takes stock of his relationship with Haruki, and concludes that while she has progressed a great deal despite all the resets (they save all the time, after all), he has “stopped”, keeping what they have as a collaboration of ability users.

He is his own worst enemy, so during the cultural festival at school (in which he and Haruki will play lovers on stage despite not really being lovers), he makes a concerted effort to get moving again; to progress, as Haruki has progressed. Meeting her on the rooftop, Haruki is the first to speak, apologizing for the reality that she has come to hate Souma as a rival for his attention, both ability-wise and romantically.

But Kei makes it clear to her that he’d want to be with her even if she didn’t have her ability. I think that’s huge, becaue all signs seem to be pointing to that anyway. It’s not Souma he wants to be with; it’s Haruki. Upon hearing these words, out loud, and not having to worry or create scenarios in her head, Haruki blushes and beams…while Souma stews in a dark bedroom, accusing Haruki of being in a place where she “can’t get hurt” while she, Souma, feels all of that hurt. She’s tired.

After Kei and Haruki save (not wanting to risk resetting their time on the roof), Kei receives a voice message from Souma that Tomoki says he didn’t send, suggesting someone else out there can send such messages. She tells Kei to go to a very specific intersection with Haruki and collect trash.

Souma then meets with Urachi in person, and he brings along not just his lie detecting underling, but another who can “lock things” in time, whether to give them a private instance in which to talk over things, or to prevent his notes from being reset. Urachi’s notes are key, because his ability is “memory cancellation,” making it hard for a precog like Souma to use her ability on him specifically.

However, Urachi and Souma seem to be in agreement that abilities should disappear from the town; and she says she’ll do nothing to impede him. When his lie detector confirms Souma is speaking the truth, he’s satisfied his plan will succeed. Will it actually succeed? Well, we’ll just have to keep watching, won’t we!

The next morning Kei and Haruki do clean up duty and…a very odd sequence of events occurs: A girl trips on the sidewalk, a car backs into another car, causing minor damage and minor injuries to one man…but neither Kei nor Haruki can turn their heads to see the actual accident, almost as if they’re being prevented from doing so by some unknown ability.

Souma is as close to Urachi and his associates as she can be, and his lie detector is always confirming she’s being truthful…but that’s only because Souma didn’t tell Kei anything face-to-face; she relied on a voice messaging ability. She uses it again to instruct Kei to go shopping with Haruki at a certain mall, at a certain time. It’s almost as if she’s lulled Urachi into a sense of supreme confidence…but she’s clearly up to something she’s not telling him.

 

Sagrada Reset – 15

Katagiri Honoka has gotten to a state where she’ll soon stop using her ability, essentially rejecting her “Fake Eden”, an action akin to suicide. The Stray Cat House Man is awake, but insists to Nonoo that she carry on and not worry about him; he doesn’t mind being alone.

Kei calls for a Reset, but before doing so, asks Haruki if there’s anything of note she told Chiruchiru. She lies to his face that there’s nothing, despite the fact the talk with the fake god led to the discovery of her true desire: to “grow up” and become the person with the “greatest worth” to him.

Kei knows she’s hiding something, but lets it go, and the Reset happens. Kei and the others go back in, and Kei tells the Michiru who greets him he wants to help her find her blue bird—her real blue bird.

With the help of Souma, Kei gets a meeting with Chiruchiru and informs him of Katagiri’s impending rejection of the world and the steps that need to be taken to save her—part of their deal where he helps with Michiru’s problem and Chiruchiru will lend him a hand with his “Souma Exit Project” research.

Meanwhile, Nonoo meets back with the STHM and they talk again of friendship, specifically the role of friends: to rid one another of their loneliness. As she asks him for a favor, Michiru, who ran away from Kei, is chased by the monster, only to be rescued in heroic fashion by…Kei.

It’s all part of Kei’s plan to show Michiru, or rather Katagiri Honoka, that the “One Hand Eden” will never be as stable as a “Two Hand” one, of the kind that can only be made and shared between friends, not on one’s own.

While Kei carries out his plan, Haruki has nothing to do so she confronts Souma on a rooftop, asking her her objective (a secret), whether her actions will sadden Kei (maybe, but so be it), and whether she’s Kei’s enemy (she’s not). Okay then, glad we had that little chat! I tell ya, this is one bizarre love triangle…

Kei bows out and is replaced by SHCM, who tells Michiru he was sent to help his friend’s friend who was crying. He talks of the difference between gods (smile for others) and demons (for themselves), and that he considers her the god of this world.

As such, he asks the god to do something about the monster, which destroyed his house…and she does. Katagiri has her real blue bird back and now accepts who she is. The monster is gone, SHCM’s house is back. It would seem Kei has fulfilled his end of the bargain, which means now Chiruchiru will help him with his Souma experiment.

Only we don’t see Chiruchiru again, and Souma herself doesn’t actually want to leave Sakurada, ever. Furthermore, as if twisting a knife, Souma casually points out what Kei erased in the last reset: a Haruki on the cusp of escaping her own One Hand Eden and becoming the “normal girl he had wanted two years ago”.


Ouch. Of course, that’s not to say she’ll never reach that point again; just that it took a unique individual like Chiruchiru to bring it out there and then. And the fact remains, no one is affected more by a reset than Haruki herself.

By resetting again and again, one could say she is going two steps back after one step forward; forever the ideal, perfectly “pure good” human that would otherwise be impossible. And Kei is the one directing those resets.

That final jab by Souma—both its implications for Haruki’s growth and its role in bringing into focus what kind of character Souma has become (or always was)—was compelling, but I’m not sure four episodes of dream world lead-up were quite worth it.

Rather than crescendo, this arc was pretty steady and level throughout before falling off, groaning under the weight all of its plot machinations. I’ll also admit to having not gotten much out of the B-plot involving Nonoo and the SCHM.

Sagrada Reset – 14

As was fairly evident the first time we entered Michiru’s Dream World, said world is a kind of prison (or birdcage) isolating her from the outside world and from any connections to anyone.

Ukawa, who can alter anything that’s not living, decides this isn’t any kind of world to live in, and so, by placing a ring on her finger and activating her ability, erases all of the buildings in the world in an effort to “rectify” it.

In doing so, Ukawa doesn’t really destroy the dream world but only the buildings, but hopes that the shock will drive Michiru to remember that she’s Katagiri Honoka.

As Urachi uses abilities like Ukawa’s and Kagaya’s to further his goals, he tells his underling Sakuin that it’s good that she hates her ability, because all ability users should hate their own abilities. It makes me wonder what, if anything, is Urachi’s ability…beyond being an ominous jerk.


But hey, at least he doesn’t follow through on his desire to “snuff out” a troublemaker like Kei…at least this week. Rather, he pretty much leaves Kei alone, and Kei capitalizes by figuring out that the inverted world they’ve been in is actually a world within the dream world, which isn’t inverted.

Approaching the wall of white wind with Haruki (who describes the building-less place they’re in as looking “like the end of the world”), Kei appeals to Chiruchiru for an audience, and a hole in the wall appears.

Kei and Haruki go through, and after jumping on a bus with a destination marked “Chiruchiru” find themselves at school… another Monogatari quality to go with all the lengthy dialogue.

In a dark classroom, Chiruchiru, fake god and creation of Michiru, isolates Kei and Haruki, and tries to play some mind games with both, perhaps to test their mettle. He hits a lot of nails on the head with Haruki in particular, even taking her form, resulting in Haruki debating with Haruki the merits of—and threats to—her special relationship with Kei.

While it’s clear she just plain likes the guy, it’s never been as explicitly stated what her situation is than by Chiruchiru: “strongly tied down by one boy”; a “facade of not wanting anything”; “two contradicting selves” (hence the two Harukis); the thought of Souma Sumire dominating Kei’s attentions; “the possibility that [she] personally might not be making Kei’s happiness [her] top priority”; hating “the geeling of wanting to keep him all to [her]self”…

“Chiruchiru Haruki” tries to make the argument that Haruki, like Katagiri Honoka, created an “easygoing paradise”—the titular “one-handed Eden”—but Haruki is never all that fazed by her pseudo-self-grilling, adamantly standing by her man; abiding by his decision, and claiming not to let jealousy or some perceived competition with Souma play a factor (Souma is notably absent all episode).

As for Kei, he turns his one-on-one with Chiruchiru into a negotiation; the “god” doesn’t take his form. Chiruchiru admits “the true objective [he] was meant to fulfill” is the only one he never can…but Kei believes he may be able to. Michiru wants to connect with people, but having created a god—and a monster, something the god must protect her from—has had the opposite effect.

So Kei tells Chiruchiru he’ll come up with a way to solve Michiru’s problem and erase her lonliness, if Chiruchiru helps him with Souma’s case, using the dream world as his testbed.

The dream world isn’t just Katagiri Honoka’s birdcage…it’s Katagiri Honoka. The buildings, the white wall, Chiruchiru, even the monster, it’s all her, because it’s all her dream. The monster represents the part of her that is sad, alone, and lashing out at world she’s made, which is a poor substitute for the real thing at the moment.

We’ll see what Kei manages to come up with. Whatever it is, Haruki seems sure to abide by it, while Urachi will continue to sneer at Kei and possibly even try to undermine his efforts. Just one episode left in this four-episode arc, which is already Sagrada’s most dense, ambitious, introspective, and intriguing.

Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 18

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In which Subaru truly does return to “Zero”, and this show continues to surprise

Other than a thorough and devastating dressing-down by MegaPuck (during which time Subie slowly freezes solid and shatters) and another Return by Death, this episode consists exclusively of one conversation between Subaru and Rem, presented only with intermittent flashes from the past.

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lot is covered, with a great deal of emotion flying around. It takes a great deal of attention to sit through and absorb, but if you like Subaru (or are at least rooting for him) and you like Rem, you probably liked this episode a lot, I for one was riveted.

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There’s also a good deal of rejection in their long, sprawling discussion, which takes place in a very pretty part of the city with a lovely view, on a clear, crisp day. First, Rem rejects Subaru’s desperate plan to run away together, because it would mean giving up on the Subaru she fell in love with.

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Rem can’t possibly know how much Subaru has been through already, and how he finally decided to give up after much suffering. But damn it all if I don’t get soppy-eyed as she beautifully describes the perfectly fine future they’d have together if she went with him. But again, she’s not ready to give up on him, even if he’s given up on himself.

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Initially in the talk, I was on Subaru’s side, because I was right there with him when Rem, Ram, and Emilia died again and again, often in awful, horrifying ways. Like him, I’m from the real world, where I, unfortunately, am not a hero. If I ended up in a fantasy-RPG-style world like he did, I might think for a time, that I had suddenly become one.

But Subaru learned the hard way that he is, as Puck put it, useless. That every time he’s talked big, he’s come up short in the quest to save everyone. It’s hard to argue, considering this is the most persistent impasse he’s come to, which has led to the darkest places…and there’s only so much a dumb do-nothing kid from the modern world can take, right?

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Subaru tries, with the same passion he ranted at Emilia, to drill into Rem’s head all the ways he is a complete and utter failure of a living thing. But she simply doesn’t buy it. She comes back with all of the reasons she loves him, and describes in detail how she felt when he rescued her from herself. Not only did she fall in love with him then, but he restarted a clock that stopped for her when her village burned. He is her hero.

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Rather than run away from everything, she’s going to stay right where she is, and so is Subaru. Whatever troubles they have, they’ll figure it out together; support each other; make up for each other’s weaknesses. Do what they’ve done up to this point. Rem makes her love for him plain as the blue sky above them.

So when Subaru rejects her because he still loves Emilia, it stings quite a bit, but for Rem, better to have a Subaru around than not, whether he loves her the same way back or not.

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So when Subaru puts forth his plan to move forward and try to save Emilia and asks for Rem’s help, Rem humbly accepts, but makes sure to tell him how cruel it is to ask such a thing of someone you’ve just rejected. Subaru, in turn, reminds her she rejected his running-away plan first. Touché!

They both have a good laugh – it’s been a long, exhausting talk, but look at what it has wrought! Subaru, who had been brought so low, he was starting to think—like me and Franklin—that he really was immensely over-his-head with this whole hero thing.

He had bags under his eyes, he was utterly done with everything. And now he’s back in the game, in far higher spirits, and even smiling and laughing. Quite the transition in one talk!

Time will tell if Subaru is simply grasping one last time onto the hope of one (Rem) who is, at the end of the day, ignorant to his past failed attempts, and doesn’t understand just how weak and ineffectual he is.

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Is this a glass-half-empty or a glass-half-full show? I’m still not sure, but it’s a half-full episode, which rejects what I’ve been thinking throughout this second half: that Subaru simply can’t cut it in this world, as much as he and I and Rem may want him to.

I’m looking forward to seeing what, exactly, returning to “zero” means for Subaru, and if somehow all the insights he and Rem gleaned from this long heart-to-heart will help them. Until then, this was a powerful episode, despite not much physically happening.

What did happen was Kobayashi Yuusuke and Minase Inori delivered some powerhouse performances that really drew me in and restored my faith in the possibility of a happy (or at least happier) ending. Mind you, Re:Zero may just be setting us up for more dark times made darker by the fact everything said here may end up being lost. But I hope not!

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 04

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This week’s HGG starts out gently and quietly, with Manato and Shihoru returning from a dawn errand. Shihoru stops to feed the birds, and invites Shihoru to help. She’s startled by the birds, slips, and falls, but Manato catches her, protecting her from harm.

When she thanks him, he admits how glad he is to be talking with her again. Their interactions speak volumes. Manato is someone Shihoru can relie on to protect her; to catch her if she falls. Little did I know that this would be the last time they’d be alone together.

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Back in the ruined city, Haruhiro reports how each one of the party has gained a new skill, which when combined with their improving teamwork that covers one anothers’ weaknesses, results in a goblin-slaying bonanza; they can now take on three at a time, and are no longer squeamish about finishing off their quarry.

There’s a triumphant tone to this sequence, with our party kicking ass, taking names, and looking good doing it, all to some very upbeat, energetic battle music. The gang is finally getting the hang of it.

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When they settle in for lunch and some rest and relaxation, Yume goes off on a very long tangent about the deity she prays to and offers part of her food in order to keep her safe. The rambling irks Ranta, who wanted her story to have a point, but this is another example of simply passing the time, shooting the breeze, and gradually learning a little more about each other – and themselves; they are still amnesiacs – every day.

The casual joy of the scene is not lost on Manato, who proceeds to praise every other member of the party for their contributions, and how he’s happy they’re become a respectable party due to filling in each other’s gaps. He doesn’t get to talk about Haruhiro, as the party has to move on, but Haruhiro is sure he’ll have any number of chances to ask Manato what he thinks of him. Only, as it happens, he won’t.

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Haru sees a glint from the top of a building, and manages to save Manato from a sniper, taking the arrow in his shoulder. Soon, he gets another in his leg, and all hell breaks loose. Goblins of various sizes and skill sets come out of the stonework and ambush the party, who have to beat a speedy retreat to the forest.

As he runs, Manato, the party’s healer, vanguard, and glue, gets an arrow to the back, which pierces his vitals. He attempts to heal himself, but has lost too much blood, and passes out. Neither stopping the blood nor giving him mouth-to-mouth has any effect.

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His stunned, desperate party members take him to the priests to see what they can do, but there’s nothing they can do. No phoenix down; no Life spells; no respawning. In Grimgar, dead is dead, and that’s what Manato is. Worse, if his remains aren’t properly cared for within three to five days, he may rise as a zombie. Utterly dejected, you can taste the venom in Haru’s mouth as he asks whether the cremation costs money, then categorically rejects the priest’s charity.

What follows is an excruciatingly long and hard few scenes where Haru, Yume, Shihoru, Moguzo and Ranta simply sit or stand around, defeated, filled with grief, as they say goodbye to their friend and the one who bound them all together and never doubted them. In addition to huge holes in their hearts, they now have a gaping hole in their party with no more healer, a stinging irony.

Their first goblin kill was one of the first times we felt along with the party the full weight and stakes and cruel unyielding harshness of the world they now found themselves in without explanation. But Manato’s death was another first, and one that will be far tougher to recover from. There is no rage or talk about revenge in the end; only heartache and anguish.

In the first three weeks of Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, we had no shortage of fantasy wrapped in a unique and refreshing realism, with all the horrors and joys of real life. Now, we’ve seen the ash, how far the realism goes, and a major death getting the weight and solemnity it deserves. Now all we can do is wait with nervous apprehension to learn how the party will carry on.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 03

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Grimgar is definitely chugging along at a very deliberate pace, with regular pauses in action and dialogue that are usually employed sparingly if at all in the majority of modern anime. However, so far, that pace working just fine for me, thanks very much!

This is a show that tells you to forget what you know about shows with similar premises and settings. In this show, a very shy girl remains upset about being peeped on for a long time, and when the rain comes, they don’t make any money.

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While the chemistry of the cast as a whole together is still a bit uncertain, it’s the wonderful one-on-one interactions that dot this episode and give it life. Interactions like those between Yume, who sees Shihoru is attracted to Manato, is learning as the days go by that Haruhiro is a nice guy, and is consistently nice to him as a result.

Yume is bad with words, but is still able to communicate that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he saw her naked, as opposed to Ranta, because Haru would apologize properly. Yume wants respect, and Haru offers it without even trying.

The episode also shines in Haru’s narration. This isn’t a party of fighters who are trying to defeat the boss on Level 99; they’re trying to earn enough to afford new underwear.  All that activity, and dampness, is quickly destroying their primative but expensive clothes.

It makes sense that Haru, our narrator and most reliable conduit into this world, is the first to notice that the girls have the same problem as the guys, and are forced to go commando until new skivvies can be procured. He decides not to use this knowledge for evil, steering Ranta away from the girls.

And it’s Yume who helps him make that decision by greeting him warmly rather than suspiciously; Haru doesn’t want there to be further unpleasantness between the genders.

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The rainclouds eventually pass, and once the weather is good, the party strikes out to a city abandoned by humans and now inhabited by goblins, many of whom have been separated from their groups for whatever reason, making them vulnerable. It’s good to see the group getting better at performing their own jobs in addition to working better as a unit (with Manato as their general).

It’s also good to see a follow-up to the party’s thoroughly unpleasant but absolutely essential first kill. It may not be sporting to kill a goblin in their sleep, but they can’t afford new undies, they can’t afford the luxury of sportsmanship, and must put their morals aside for the sake of survival. And as we see (and Haru remarks), it gets easier, and they begin gradually raking in loot.

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Haru worries they’re starting to turn into volunteer soldiers – cold, hardened, singularly obsessed with their own survival – but Manato points out they’re already soldiers. Plus, their well-earned day of rest doesn’t bear out that worry: luxuries like hot food prepared by someone else, or trinkets like hairclips, are still very much appreciated. It just takes less to make them content now.

It’s on the day of rest that Shihoru hides from Manato behind Yume, even though it’s clear she wanted to talk with him. That leads Yume to have a talk with her back home about starting to talk to the boys again; it’s been long enough, and they’ve been good.

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The subtle little romantic subtext in the conversations continues in the boy’s bunks, with a curious mention of Yume’s name by Ranta makes Haru perk up; if the guys and girls pair off, two guys will be left out. Moguzo seems content with cooking and whittling, while Manato and Shihoru seem like a good match.

That leaves Haruhiro, Ranta, and Yume, and while Yume and Ranta aren’t on great terms right now, that doesn’t mean Haruhiro has nothing to worry about. If he doesn’t want to be just a “good friend” to Yume, he’ll have to speak up. At the same time, there’s a possibility Yume likes Manato too, making her and Shihoru rivals. (Of course, this is all conjecture, but all the various interactions and looks and tones by the very good voice cast make it so you can’t help but wonder who likes who and what that will mean to the party as a whole.)

It even looks as if Haruhiro might bring up girls to Manato, but instead simply thanks him for being their leader. For all his eminent competence, Manato doesn’t have a lot of self-esteem, believing his past self wasn’t someone who’d have many friends – perhaps because he’d elicit envy in those not as skilled or handsome as he?

Haru tries to put Manato at ease by saying it doesn’t matter who they used to be. What matters is that they’re all friends here, and after twenty-three days, they’ve managed to not get killed or kill each other … despite the fact that Ranta is a member of their party! That in itself is a minor miracle to be thankful for. Because nothing, not food, not money, not underwear, not tomorrow, can be taken for granted in Grimgar.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 02

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HGG makes another strong case for continued viewing, in an episode that chronicles the trainees’ first kill, what they went through to get it, and what it does to them. Yet we’re not thrown into the heat of an ultimately futile battle like last week. Instead, we get an wonderful scene of Haruhiro and Manato having some tea in the middle of the night, just shooting the breeze.

In the morning, their task would seem easy: for the six of them to take out a single, isolated goblin unaware of their presence. They got the tip about the location thanks to Manato frequenting a tavern (and drinking to make friends and gather intel). What we quickly learn, however, is that even with superior numbers, it isn’t easy to kill the goblin…because as much as they all look the part, nobody has ever killed anything before.

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The goblin isn’t some gamehen or rat, it’s a humanoid biped with clothes, weapons, and formidable combat and survival skills. The long range girls miss their marks while the short-range guys don’t cut deep enough when they get the chance. They only do real damage to the goblin when he stabs Haru in the shoulder and pins him down.

Just when the gang thinks they’ve got the goblin beat, he gets back up and doesn’t stop fighting, despite his injuries. Finally Ranta has to go a little nuts and continually stab the shit out of the goblin until it stopped moving. It’s a gorey, nasty business that has everyone shaking, crying, even fainting, in Shihoru’s case.

This is the gritty realism HGG brings that sets it apart from similar recent fantasy rpg-style anime. There are no gimmies, no lightweight foes, and no victory fanfare. There’s only physical and emotional trauma, along with a wolf fang and a silver coin, enough to keep everyone fed a little while longer.

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Not only that, HGG deals fully with the consequences of the ordeal the trainees had to endure, along with the weight of the knowledge that while it may get easier, this is how it’s always going to be, and it will change them.

After the battle everyone breaks off and simply relaxes in town. There’s no dialogue for the better part of five minutes, only a soothingly bittersweet insert serenade about how it’s going to be alright. As Haru walks about on his own, he sees both joy and despair, and it makes him go check on a brooding Ranta.

Yume has fun shopping with Shihoru, but later she catches Shihoru and Manato looking like the perfect couple, and her face is a mixture of sadness and acceptance. Finally, once Moguzo finishes repairing and cleaning his gear, he whittles an airplane—something from his past life that doesn’t exist in this world—out of wood. That gave me goosebumps.

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The gorgeous, painterly fantasy setting and the bustling town are beautiful and engrossing because they’re basically the same kind of things we can see everyday in our own world, which makes them resonate more. And the day of wandering around, observing others, and pretty much doing and thinking about anything other than slaughtering other living things, has a healing effect on the group.

We return to the straw beds of the guys in the last scene, as it turns out no one is really sleeping. Haruhiro has so many questions for Manato, but nothing comes out, and once Ranta announces he’s going to crash the girl’s bath session (an action that gets him tossed and yelled at by a furious Yume) Haru realizes he doesn’t really need answers from Manato just now, even if he actually had any.

He doesn’t know what will happen tomorrow—it could be better or worse than today—but he and his five companions will learn and draw strength from one another, and face it together. That’s sufficient comfort for him to look forward to tomorrow.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 01 (First Impressions)

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This is a tale of six young people who suddenly find themselves in an RPG fantasy world with no other memories other than their own names. It’s a gorgeous, painterly RPG fantasy world, by the way, rougher in texture but just as lush as Norn9’s setting.

The show quickly separates itself from both SAO and OverLord by maintaining the mystery of what exactly the world of Grimgar is and how everyone got there. It could be an elaborate game or a world as real as the one everyone presumably came from, judging from their normal clothes at the outset.

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There were actually twelve “new entrants” to this world in the beginning, as protagonist (and our guide to what’s going on) Haruhiro harkens back to a couple days ago. Once they learned the rules—join the Volunteer Soldier Squad for Ortana’s Borderland Brigade, and basically root out baddies for cash—the strongest of them, Renji, took the next-five strongest and went their own way, leaving the six least-strongest.

But while the focus is on the “misfit” party, the show doesn’t cartoonishly overplay their incompetence as anything that wouldn’t be natural for any group of kids in their situation. They’re not that good, but they’ve only been at it a few days; they just need to get their bearings.

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The party consists of Haruhiro, who has chosen the role of thief; Ranta, a dark knight who, appropriately, goes on the most rants and is a bit of a self-involved jerk; Yume, an athletic hunter; Moguzo, a big brawny warrior with a gentle, polite personality; Shihoru, a warm but shy mage with a negative body image; and the priest/white mage Manato, who seems the oldest and most mature of the six and their de facto leader.

While it’s a party of clashing personalities (with much of the clashing being done by Ranta) the show is also very delicate and understated (again, aside from Ranta) in how it portrays the little interpersonal conflicts they have. Their mutual amnesia, shared plight and need to work together to maximize resource income, serves as an equalizer.

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Despite each character’s well-worn archetype, the character interaction is this show’s quieter secret weapon, as is its overall restraint. Nobody is too good too fast at what they’re supposed to do, but nor do things get too dangerous too fast. The goblins that are supposedly the weakest enemies to hunt aren’t hunting them.

No one is utterly overwhelmed by the weight of their situation. Everyone tries to keep a cool head and make the best of a very odd but unavoidable situation. The show also uses music and silence effectively. It’s definitely a less-is-more treatment to this kind of show (aside, perhaps from ample fanservice), which serves it well in terms of gently guiding its viewers into its milieu. I’m in, and I like what I see!

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