The Rising of the Shield Hero – 18 – Some Messed-Up Logic

I’ve probably said it before, but since it happens this week I’ll say it again: nothing is less entertaining than watching someone berate or attack Naofumi for actions we know for a fact he didn’t commit. The entire premise of the discussion or fight is faulty, so it just feels like we’re wasting time. I’m long since out of patience waiting for Motoyasu to realize he’s being manipulated by Malty.

Malty uses the made-up term “Brainwashing Shield” as her own version of “Fake News”—two words to dismiss whatever defense Naofumi may field. Her story is that Naofumi is responsible for the death of Rin and Itsuki. Motoyasu won’t listen to Naofumi, or Melty, or anyone else but Malty, so the reconciliation Naofumi promised Fitalia he’d attempt is just as impossible as he thought. Instead, Malty creates a Lightning prison around Motoyasu and Naofumi so her puppet can fight the “Devil of the Shield.”

This entire fight, which takes up a lot of time, is utterly pointless. These two have already fought before, and Malty should know from the last Wave that Naofumi & Co. are more powerful. Simply attacking him again and again under false pretenses when you know Motoyasu will lose is folly. And yet we, the audience, still have to watch them go through the motions.

Not even Penkin’s score could make either this fight, or the lead-up to it, interesting. We get some participation from Motoyasu’s other party members, but even 19 episodes in they’ve been given precisely ZERO personality, so I could care less about them.

Once Motoyasu and Malty are defeated, once again, as expected, they continue twirling their mustaches right up until Filo kicks them all into a pile and demands Naofumi conjure as much mass above them as he possibly can, because something’s coming. That something is very similar to the phenomenon that fell on Ren and Itsuki, and we learn it was produced by the Pope, who calls it “God’s Judgment.”

Popey McGee has bad news Naofumi and Motoyasu: using the receipts collected from their actual deeds, as well as those of Ren and Itsuki, they’re being eliminated as “false heroes.” He has bad news for Melty and Malty too: the church is staging a coup, tossing the Melromarc monarchy into the bin and presumably replacing it with a theocracy.

No doubt his forces are already in the process of capturing their mother Queen Mirelia, whose utter absence in, well, all of this remains almost show-breakingly baffling.

While we at RABUJOI are all card-carrying non-fans of the Lame One-Dimensionally Evil Religious Organization (LODERO) trope common to fantasy anime, the Pope crashing another lame fight with Motoyasu and Malty actually saved this episode for me. His evil is there for everyone in that pit to see, and directly contradicts the lies Malty was telling Motoyasu, who listened because she’s hot and he has a hero complex.

But the Pope’s plans also provide the first real opportunity for Naofumi to make some headway with Motoyasu, who as terrible as he is, is still necessary to defeat the Waves. I can’t really say much about the Pope’s coup—one would think the next move would be Mirelia’s—but it’s encouraging that circumstances have finally put Naofumi and Motoyasu in the same boat. If they want to live, they’ll have to row together. So…Thanks, Pope, I guess?

As for whether Ren and Itsuki are really dead…like Naofumi, I’ll need more concrete confirmation than the word of a power-hungry, coup-starting pontiff. One thing I know for certainty: If and when they all get out of this mess, Malty will still treat Naofumi like utter shit. Take it to the bank.

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The Rising of the Shield Hero – 17 – Rite of Succession

The next morning, it’s No More Mrs. Nice Fitoria. She binds Melty in a wind prison and demands once more for Naofumi to make up with the other heroes. When he refuses, she once again threatens to kill all four heroes, but first gives his party the chance to prove they can take on the waves on their own. She’ll determine this by fighting Filo.

As expected, the spirited but woefully under-leveled Filo is absolutely no match for Fitoria…at first. But with continual pointers and encouragement from Naofumi, Filo keeps getting back up dusting herself off, and trying again. Eventually, she’s able to summon enough power to literally put a scratch on Fitoria’s face. That’s enough to satisfy the queen: Filo wins.

Not only that, but Fitoria names Filo her official successor, conjuring a crown to place on Filo’s head, which is replaced by an ahoge of which Filo very much not a fan. She opens a new Filolial-themed section of Naofumi’s sphere grid—albeit all shields he’s of too low a level to access—and increases Filo’s stats (though she still can’t break Level 40 quite yet).

She also apologizes to Melty by giving her a ride in her giant filolial form (of which I wish we could have seen more), and throws a huge party. Throughout these events, and the episode itself, Kevin Penkin’s marvelous score really asserts itself, elevating the images on the screen. This show’s music is just a pure joy to listen to.

Once the festivities have wound down and everyone else is asleep, Naofumi finds himself in a similar situation as the previous night: alone with a Fitoria committed to getting him to reconsider his hard stance on not playing nice with the other heroes, which she actually manages to achieve when she points out that his refusal to defend himself against Malty’s lies is as saying the lies are true.

While Fitoria doesn’t have the best memory, on two occasions Naofumi says something her hero once said to her, and the nostalgia leads to her tearing up and placing her head in his lap to be patted. The reason Fitoria works so hard to make Naofumi repair his reputation and relationship to the other heroes goes beyond the fate of the world: she knows he’s a good man by dint of raising the next Filolial Queen. It’s time the rest of the world knew it.

As for those other heroes, both Sword and Bow enter a cave seeking some kind of treasure, only for it to be a trap that incinerates the entire cave. I highly doubt they didn’t survive, though it’s not like I’d care if they didn’t…

Zombieland Saga – 12 (Fin) – We’re All Zombies, We’ve All Died

Even after Tatsumi’s big speech, Sakura remains skeptical that she’ll be able to pull off the Arpino show, believing she’ll only be a drag on the others, even as practicing reveals she still has the muscle memory of the dance moves. After those demoralizing failures in her life, she’s given up all hope of ever succeeding at anything, and would rather be left alone.

Of course, her friends don’t leave her alone, in large part because she never left them alone. That is to say, she never gave up on them when they were at their lowest. Junko, Ai, Lily, Saki—without Sakura, none of them would be where they are today, on the cusp of their biggest show yet. They fully intend to repay that debt, and a well-timed slap from Yuugiri is the sign they won’t take no for an answer.

They remind Sakura that she’s not the only one who had a rough life—they all died young and tragically—and would rather fail on stage together than have a perfect show without her. If she’s not beside them, it’s not a success, bad luck be damned.

The night before the show, Tatsumi reminisces about the past; specifically, a certain red-haired classmate at school whom he admired. That classmate turns out to be Sakura, which explains why he recruited her. She may not have been a legend in her time, but he’s determined to make her one after her time.

The day of the show, a huge winter storm approaches (thankfully isn’t named, because naming winter storms is asinine). The group rehearses, prepared to perform in an empty venue of necessary, but to their surprise and delight most of the 500 who bought tickets show up; a who’s-who of characters whose lives they touched throughout the series run.

They all go out on stage, with Sakura as the center, full of vim and vigor, and get off to a good start—only for Sakura’s bad luck to rear its ugly head in the cruelest of ways: the snow and winds crash through the windows and collapse the stage and lights, leaving Franchouchou in a pile of debris and dust.

Then Tatsumi starts slowly clapping, breaking the stunned silence of the crowd. Sakura gets up and keeps singing, and the rest of the group follows suit. The techs get enough lights and speakers working so they can continue the show (albeit under extremely hazardous conditions for the still-living crowd).

No matter, the idols dazzle the stage (what’s left of it) and earn an encore, while Sakura gets her memories back. It’s a great victory, but it’s only the beginning of Franchouchou’s quest to conquer Saga—just as the journalists start to connect the dots about their shouldn’t-be-possible resurrection.

Whether that’s a legitimate teaser for another season or these twelve are all we get, Zombieland Saga was a pleasant, at times side-splitting, at times surprisingly poignant diversion. Vibrant, rootable characters, an irreverent tone and Miyano Mamoru made for a pretty solid combo.

I’d have liked to learn more about Yuugiri and/or Tae’s past, particularly the latter’s inability to talk despite nailing all the dance moves and expressing emotion during her attempts to bring Sakura back in the fold. But I’ll settle for what we got!

Zombieland Saga – 11 – The Girl Who Tried, and Died for Her Efforts

In a nearly shot-for-shot recreation of her first night in the mansion, Sakura wakes up and discovers her fellow zombies, only they’re all “awake” now (except for Tae of course). Their roles have reversed; she’s the one with no memories of what’s happened since becoming a zombie.

Instead, she only remembers her life when she was alive. As for that life, well…let’s just say the opening minute of the first episode was not an accurate depiction, except for the getting-hit-by-a-car part.

The other idols are hoping they can get Sakura back on board with the show, but her memories of them isn’t all she’s lost; she’s also lost her will to do, well, anything. Her motivation is shot, as if that truck accident caused it to spill out onto the asphalt instead of blood (as she no longer has any).

She lacks motivation because she remembers her life, which followed a depressingly predictable pattern: she’d always try really hard and give a task or goal her all, only for all that hard work to go to waste due to a last-minute mishap or accident.

The last time she decided to give something a try one last time, it was because she was inspired by Mizuno Ai of Iron Frill, who said she doesn’t hate failures or mistakes, since they help her learn and become even better.

But Sakura was denied the opportunity to even mail her audition paperwork to the idol agency, thanks to that truck. Now she’s dead, and a zombie. Nothing ever works out for her, because, as she says, she doesn’t “have what it takes.” She says this something like ninety times.

And I guess that was part of why I felt kinda meh about this episode. I feel for someone working so hard again and again only to fall victim to impossibly bad luck, but at this point she literally has nothing to lose. I understand the “main” character getting her miniarc last before the finale, but for her dilemma to be couched in such mundane, repetitive angst kinda saps the momentum of the show.

Maybe that’s the point, and maybe Tatsumi’s speech to her about him having what it takes (something, er…”big and impressive”) so she doesn’t have to will snap her out of her malaise and get her back on track. But right now Sakura is the first of the idols I liked better before we learned more about her.

She thinks the universe is out to keep her down, despite the fact she was brought back to life to be what she dreamt to be before she died. If that’s not a sign the cycle has been broken and thus cause for optimism, I don’t know what is!

Steins;Gate 0 – 23 (Fin) – Fortune Favors the Foolish

With Amadeus deleted from history, Rintarou ends up in a slightly different present, in which Leskinen never succeeded in fully brainwashing Kagari. Moeka subdues Leskinen when he pulls a gun on Rintarou, and the two head up to the roof just as Mayuri is successfully stopping Kagari and Suzuha from killing each other, by badassedly positioning her head between their handguns. Mayuri and Suzu are able to board the time machine safely after receiving the blessing of a Rintarou who’d just arrived in that time.

All the times the time machine was wiped out by a missile from a helicopter gunship, it was only seconds away from disappearing into the spacetime either, so a few extra seconds is all Mayuri and Suzu needed to get away safely, and they do, in an extremely thrilling scene that pays off all of the failure and heartache of previous attempts.

Better still, Hououin Kyouma is able to lustily gloat to Leskinen, Stratfor, DURPA and the Russians for having foiled their plans to acquire the time machine. In the timeline where Mayuri and Daru await the return of Rintarou and Suzu, two time machines briefly appear on the rooftop at once, and Mayuri gets a call from…the other Mayuri, convincing her not to let Okarin give up when he returns in the depths of despair.

Mayuri and Suzu aren’t able to stay in that timeline long lest they cause a paradox, and with the time machine all but out of fuel, they soon lose the ability to choose their next destination. But both of them seem to take their descent into temporal oblivion quite well, all things considered.

Back on the rooftop, Suzu and a defeated, blood-stained Rintarou return, and he gives his little speech about everything being hopeless and deciding he’s going to give up. Then Mayuri remembers the words of the other Mayuri, recalls when Kyouma was “born” (when he hugged her to comfort her at the cemetery) slaps Rintarou, her Hikoboshi, and convinces him not to give up.

Soonafter Rintarou receives a video D-Mail from the Rintarou in the future, and we switch to his point of view, as we watch his grainy recording unfold where and when it occurred. After sending the message, Rintarou’s next operation, Operation Altair, consists of him “deceiving the world”, as well as himself, by travelling back to another point in spacetime in the first version of the time machine to be built by Daru & Co.

Deceiving himself and the world, it turns out, is the only way to reach the Stein’s Gate. He thanks his noble, trusty Lab Members, receives a hug from Maho, and sets off to locate and rescue Mayuri and Suzu, who were lost in time but can be found thanks to something called a “Kerr black hole tracer”, the nature and operation of which are not specified (which is probably for the best).

Suffice it to say, in his experimental but still brand-new and fully-gassed time machine, and with the Kerr thingy, Rintarou successfully locates Mayuri and Suzuha, who by their perspective had just arrived themselves in the year 18,000 B.C. in a dark and stormy wasteland.

They seem ready to accept their fate with grace, but the bright light of Mayuri’s Hikoboshi appears, and from that light, Okabe Rintarou—AKA Okarin, AKA Hououin Kyouma—emerges triumphant; perhaps his most badass moment yet.

And that, folks, is where Steins;Gate 0 ends things. We don’t get to see Steins Gate, or learn whether Rintarou is right that it does exist. All we know is that they’re in a good position to reach a world line in which both Mayuri and Kurisu can live.

It took a lot of gumption, guile, teamwork, sacrifice, trauma, math…and downright foolishness, but the gang is headed in the right direction. It’s a positive, hopeful ending; an ending full of promise and excitement for what may come next for all of these kind, brave fools—even if we may not get to see it.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 03

AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR. While I initially liked it when it was just Shirase and Mari, I quickly ended up liking the addition of Hinata, who while fiery and is no more effective at advancing the group’s Antarctic plans than the other two.

Now Shirase’s worst nightmare has come true: another high school girl—celebrity, aspiring idol, social media personality, and former child actress Shiraishi Yuzuki—has beaten her to the punch, as the group learns she’ll be joining the expedition.

And yet the universe isn’t done with Shirase yet, as she soars from the deepest valley to the highest peak when no less than Shiraishi Yuzuki herself shows up at her house, and willing to give up her seat to Shirase. Yuzuki has no interest in going; it’s too cold (lol duh).

Showing she can be just as energetic as the others, Shirase gets a bit too worked up and bangs her foot on the door. As if to further punish her for celebrating too soon, Yuzuki’s manager and mother (apparently in that order) Tamiko puts the kibosh on her client-daughter’s plans to shirk her duty.

Mari and Hinata try their best to sell Shirase to Tamiko, but while she’s gorgeous, Shirase is too shy when put on the spot to be of any interest to the hard-nosed manager, while neither Mari or Hinata are pretty enough. Harsh!

However, Shirase persists as she usually does, and enters into a contract with Tamiko: if she, Mari and Hinata can convince Yuzuki to go to Antarctica, they can come to. Bang, just like that, they’ve got their in.

Again, Shirase is so brimming with excitement and giddiness Hinata has to knock her on the head to calm her down (Hanazawa Kana puts on a clinic this week showing every side of Shirase, but Iguchi Yuka keeps up as Hinata, as does Minase Inori as Mari).

Once Mari heads home, we get what was somewhat lacking last week: some Shirase/Hinata-only interaction, and we see that they to have become fast friends as well. While Hinata and Mari feed of one anothers’ energy (and Mari admires Hinata’s relative maturity), Hinata interestingly serves as more of a straight man to Shirase’s antics.

She’s serves as an open ear to Shirase’s very earnest self-assessment. She knows she’s being selfish, but Hinata considers it assertiveness, not selfishness, and wouldn’t be hanging out if she wasn’t okay with it.

After not-so-slyly staging a “chance encounter” with Yuzuki, they join her at a family restaurant where there are free refills where she can study. There, the trio begins attempting to convince Yuzuki into changing her mind. She’s on to them immediately, but they still want to hear her out: why is she so adamant about not going?

Her reason, as it turns out, is all to understandable: she’s been acting since she was four years old, and has been kept busy since then. As a result, while she may have a stout 38,000 followers (far more than fair RABUJOI), she has zero friends. Even now, when she tries to make them, they’re more interested in glomming onto her celebrity and aren’t that intereted in who she is.

Yuzuki fears she’s running out of time to make good first impressions for potential friends, and if she goes to Antarctica, she’ll lose more precious time still. When Mari hears this story, she feels suddenly compelled to give Yuzuki a big ol’ hug…and who the hell can blame her?! Thankfully for Yuzuki, she has not one or two but three potential new friends sitting at that booth with her.

She’s initially skeptical these three “best friends” could possibly understand her situation, but that’s before they reveal they haven’t known each other that long at all…they’re “just trying to go to the same place.”

In the end, Shirase, Mari and Hinata didn’t have to use any clever tricks to get Yuzuki to reconsider her refusal. They merely had to show up and present themselves as who they really are: three girls who practically just met and want very much to go to Antarctica. Yuzuki could be the fourth.

Add to that the fact Yuzuki’s last potential friends at school seem ready to give up on her, and a bizarre dream in which Yuzuki is plucked from the window by the three girls on a ladder outside her hotel window (which I briefly thought was real—and rather shark-jumping!)

Yuzuki is charmed by the dream, but acknowledges that that was all it was; a fleeting expression of hope friends would come to her rather than laboring to seek them out.

But hey, the basic idea of her dream comes true anyway, with the trio appearing at her door (not her window, thank goodness) to make their final plea. Their timing is impeccable, and moves Yuzuki to tears of joy. She agrees to go, but only if Shirase, Mari, and Hinata can come as well.

The newly minted quartet then head to the Polar Science Museum in Tokyo (which I must visit next time I’m there).

Shirase gets hyped by the realistic penguin models, the four explore an old Snowcat, watch the aurora in the theater, and take a selfie together. Things are starting to feel real.

So, what’s up with the woman with the beauty spot in a “Challenge for Antarctic” car looking at that photo of Shirase and her Mom? She’s neither of the women who turned Shirase down in Kabukicho. Am I supposed to read her somewhat inscrutable expression as “grave” or “neutral”?

In any case, the band has been formed, and I couldn’t be happier. But something tells me things aren’t going to get easier just because they’ve got their tickets all but stamped. Four high school girls going to Antarctica will require, I imagine, a degree of training and preparation. Looking forward to those next steps and how the group responds to them.

Kino no Tabi – 09

This week we get five stories in one, as Kino jumps from country to country and character to character in a what ends up a bit of a “beautiful world grab bag.” The first story is told from the perspective of two bandits, a student and an elder. The student wrongly assumes both Shizu’s party and Kino are appropriate “prey”, but the elder knows better from a look.

Cute and alone Kino may be, but if she’s alone, it’s because she’s capable of traveling alone, which means she can handle herself. Ditto Ti, holding her hand grenade, and Shizu, who may only be a swordsman but isn’t the type to be defeated by bullets alone. The elder learned a lot after wrongly believing Kino’s master and her apprentice were prey, but turned out to be “devils”.

A neat little outside look at Kino and Shizu. Next up: a country where people accrue “virtue points” to determine status based on good deeds. Points are deducted for crimes, but it’s a system in which it’s possible to accure enough points over a lifetime to exceed those that would be deducted for killing someone.

That’s the dilemma an old man Kino meets is facing, and indeed, he originally approached her with the intent to kill, which is why Kino never took her hand off her gun. The man laments his inabilty to kill anyone as a failure in life, for he’ll die wasting all the accrued points.

That was a bit silly and weird, but at least had a nice Kino moment of a seemingly nice guy turning out to be much darker. The third segment involves Kino’s visit to a “country of cooking” where a council of chefs begs her to cook a dish for them.

Hermes worries for the country, because apparently Kino’s cooking sucks (har har). However, the country buys into her super-spicy chicken, though another traveler comes along and makes a milder version that’s equally popular.

The fourth segment is the shortest, as Shizu, Tifana and Riku arrive in a city with giant statues people attach wishes to so they’ll come true. Ti decides to wish for “everyone’s wishes to come true”, which earns her many thanks and approving words from the folks around her. Of course, Ti only made that wish because she believes it’s all bullshit anyway.

Finally, Kino enters a country her master once mentioned as a place of “beautiful memories”, moreso than any other country. And yet, Kino was never able to get any actual info about the country out of her master. When Kino enters and seemingly immediately exits through the other gate, she learns why.

Upon entering the country, visitors must agree to have all of their memories of their stay wiped if they wish to stay. Kino agreed, which is why she remembers nothing. Hermes, whose memories weren’t wiped, nevertheless won’t tell Kino because he promised the country he wouldn’t and isn’t one to go back on his word.

All he can say is that she enjoyed herself, perhaps more than any other country they’ve visited. The details of that enjoyment, however, remain classified, though she was allowed to leave with a crude drawing of her posing with people she must’ve met there.

The end credits came a message from Kino’s original creator, Sigsawa Keiichi; an “anime afterword” consisting of words of encouragement for anyone seeking to make their dreams come true, as they apparently did for him. Well…good for him, and thanks for writing Kino so we could have this anime! It just seemed strange to get such a message when there’s still a quarter of a season left to watch…

Kino no Tabi – 08

Shizu isn’t trying to jump from country from country to see what he can see like Kino; he wants to find a place to settle down. He thinks he may have found that place in a welcoming country that accepts any immigrants who are able to secure jobs.

Then a blood-covered professor shows up with the head of one of his students, and the authorities deem him the latest in a series of victims of…radio waves.

This is a country whose ancestors were former slaves, controlled by implants in their bodies that received said radio waves. The towers are still transmitting even generations later, but no one can get close to them. Enter Shizu, who agrees to solve their problem for them.

Of course, things aren’t that simple: it’s not enough that there is a problem that needs solving: the outposts are a ruin and haven’t transmitted in some time. But that doesn’t matter: for generations, the country’s citizens have believed they’ve still been transmitting, and thus deem all criminals to be victims of their radio waves.

Even photographic proof of the ruined outpost does not sway the police chief, who then accuses Shizu, Ti, and Riku of having fallen victim to the radio waves themselves, meaning they must be arrested and placed in isolation. Ti, acting on her own and with her beloved hand grenades, takes a baby hostage in order to secure her, Shizu, and Riku’s safety.

The chief switches places with the baby as their hostage as the exit the country, never to return, but before they part ways Shizu tells the Chief that there’s a newer outpost in perfect working order, and they set the wave transmissions to maximum. He hopes that perhaps this will help make the chief realize the truth: there are no radio waves. Who knows if it’ll work.

That leaves us with a quarter-episode left, which is given over to a Day in the Life of Tifana, escorted by Riku, who still doesn’t fully trust her (due to the odd things she says, the way she says them, and how she always wants to carry grenades around).

Riku is being a loyal protector to Shizu, and as such doesn’t quite pick up on Ti’s attempts to make nice. She is glad to be freed from her past, and glad to have companions to travel with and share experiences with. Sharing her travels also means sharing her food with Riku, as well as giving him the occasional big hug.

Rokka no Yuusha – 11

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To be honest, while RnY got off to a stirring start, it’s been a bit of a disappointment, failing to score a 9 all Summer. It’s gotten to the point that if I could go back to week one, I’d probably choose to skip it. But since watching week one, and then week two, and beyond, I’ve been unable to turn away, because of the weekly reminder that the next revelation or new truth or uncovered mystery is always around the corner. And the central mystery—Who is the Seventh—will keep me around until the end.

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Much of this week’s first half is devoted to Nashetania’s attempts to kill Adlet, flanked by Maura and Goldov. Fremy, now firmly on Adlet’s side, backs him up; he saves her from Tania’s blades, then she comes right back and saves him from Tania’s blades. And while Tania seems to play up the insanity a bit too much, the show at least attempts to explain her behavior as that of an inexperienced princess out in the world for the first time, who believes she’s had the wool pulled from her eyes. After all, why would Maura be lying to her about Adlet injuring Hans?

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In the process we see exactly how tough and relentless the Blade Saint can be when she’s trying to make up for her ignorance and naivete, even though its those very qualities she’s succombing to by blindly belieiving Maura. But neither she nor Maura nor Goldov are able to kill Adlet before he’s able to get to the very spot where he can clear everything up and prove once and for all he’s not the seventh by exposing their plan.

In other words, part of being the World’s Strongest Man means having an extraordinary amount of luck, and being able to rely on luck and only luck when backed into a corner. Because he’s so lucky, not only do the six other braves converge at right place, but the injuries he suffered made him lose enough blood that he finally realized why it’s been so cold.

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His explanations, while long-winded and somewhat momentum-killing, are still welcome, because they make so many references to past events in the show, tying previously mundane details together to built his argument. The seventh and their allies kidnapped the Sun Saint Riuna to heat up the area around the temple, then killed her so the temperature would drop, causing the fog the braves thought was a result of the barrier. Then when no one was noticing, the real barrier was activated.

Hans finds the body of Riuna in a nearby dead fiend, proving Adlet right, and after Tania and Goldov stayed their hands, even Maura must concede she was mistaken about Adlet being the seventh. Which begs the question: than who is? Everyone has acted in some way that seemed suspicious, only to turn out not to be the seventh, so it truly could be anyone.

Unfortunately, the episode couldn’t resist cutting to the credits before Adlet can spit it out, but you can be certain I’ll be back next week, eagerly awaiting that name.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 04

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I think I’m still in shock. Happy shock. My heart is still racing. What the hell just happened? What did I watch? What did I just experience? I’ll tell you what that was: It was far more than a violin competition entry with piano accompaniment, play-by-play, and color commentary. That was a frikkin’ journey with no clear destination. That was nothing less than one of the finest and most riveting episodes of anime I’ve ever seen.

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Perhaps so strong a reaction is a product of having sat through most of half hour with almost no dialogue whatsoever, aside from the occasional comment from a stunned onlooker. We’re in that audience along with them, in this vast dark, dusty chamber that’s only a room until someone picks up an instrument and starts to wield a kind of wordless magic.

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That pure sound emanating from piano and violin taps into our most fundamental emotions of joy and pain. The silence is a canvas; Kaori and Kousei are charged with filling it. And fill it they do. But first, the buildup. Oh, God, the build-up before the Big Game. Once off that bike and miming the sheet music, things start to get real for Kousei, and he starts to get lost in that black and white.

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Kaori headbutts him, even a little harder than she intended; she’s nervous too! But neither of them are going out there alone. They’re going to play together, and she belives the two of them can do it together. She leaves no room for protest as she grabs his hand and leads him to the stage. We, and Kousei, don’t know it, but this is the moment of departure on the journey Kaori takes him on. He says she’s “freedom itself,” out loud. “I’m not,” she rebuts. “Music is Freedom.”

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With that, they take the stage, and Kousei endlessly adjusts his bench as some in the crowd starts to recognize him. They’re voices he can hear; they sound similar to the voices he heard when he was a prodigy, when his mother had essentially placed him in a hermetic prison with musical bars he could not hope to bend. But back then, just as now, he does not blame his mother. He felt honored to be the recipient of her wisdom and guidance; whatever pain he felt, it was the price of being able to bear that greatness.

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Trying to remember Kaori’s words — music isn’t a prison, it’s freedom — the two begin, and Kaori goes easy on him at first. Her initially docile play gives him time to find his bearings. Almost like riding a bike, his body remembers what to do, and the fact he can hear his own notes encourages him. Then Kaori gives him a look, and he knows she’s about to turn off the main road of their journey and enter some dense brush. He can keep up like she knows he can, or he can get lost.

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I knew as soon as the started playing that things could go south at any time without warning, like they did at the cafe, so I watched with a lump in my throat and a slight weight in my chest. The brilliance of the episode is its depiction of Kousei getting lost back in his deep sea, the water and darkness washing around him and us. The gradual and increasing distortion of the music is as emotionally effective as it is technically impressive.

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Eventually, things get so bad for Kousei, he can barely hear anything at all, and he stops, worried he’ll ruin Kaori’s playing. Then Kaori stops too. When they both stop, everything from a competition standpoint is over. But this isn’t about a competition, it’s about Kaori and Kousei’s journey. He’s tripped and fallen and can’t – or won’t get up, but Kaori isn’t going to leave him behind. She doesn’t want to continue on alone.

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But wait…we’re only a little over halfway through the episode. Things are bleak, but a comeback is still possible! Lest we forget, a tearful Kaori begged Kousei to help her prove she could do this, that they could do this. She’s not annoyed Kousei stopped; she’s scared. He has to get up and they have to keep going. “Again,” she says. They start playing again, but Kousei is still in the trippy sea, the currents choking the notes.

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Then Kousei remembers his mother singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” during a happier time. He remembers her telling him “The Piano Is You.” Caress it like an infant and it coos; bang its keys and it roars. Kousei digs deep and changes his strategy: he’ll stop worrying about hearing the notes and merely imagine them, playing with his whole body.

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He starts playing like a man possessed; like a man one with the piano, and he even starts getting into it with Kaori, as he stops being her accompanist and morphs into her opponent. He’s back on his feet and racing ahead; and she’s more than game to chase him!

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He’s no longer behind the musical bars. Kaori, and the music, has sprung him, and sprung him righteously. He’s no longer looking down, he’s looking up, looking at Kaori, smiling, full of joy, and Kaori’s looking right back at him, no less overjoyed that they’ve recovered so splendidly. This is what she saw in him.

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POOR TSUBAKI!!! T_T

And as they get lost in each other’s eyes and music, they put the whole of the audience under a spell. Tsubaki, who jumped up and cheered when he started playing again, adopts a pained, defeated expression when she realizes what’s going on between the two. Next to her, Ryouta becomes ever more lovestruck with Kaori.

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The episode realizes that just because they’re both musicians doesn’t mean this performance makes them a couple now. She even still calls him “Friend A” up there, though at this point it could just be an ironic pet name. It’s not as if Ryouta is done; in fact, he still probably has the inside line. A harrowing love rhombus has been built this day.

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But that doesn’t matter to Kaori or Kousei right now; Spring has Sprung and they’re on Cloud Nine; the change of Kousei’s scenery effectively illustrates that point. Things are getting brighter and more saturated until they finally bring the piece to a stirring close, bringing the house down…

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But the performance, which was perhaps as long and energy-draining a performance as she ever gave, brings Kaori down as well. She left nothing left in her tank. Kousei got bloodied while dismounting from Tsubaki’s bike, which provided a measure of symmetry to this closing shot, But while that was a joke, this isn’t. It suddenly, ruthlessly imparts the episode’s title – “Departure” – with unspeakable dread and foreboding. The episode plummets from the dizziest heights to the lowest depths. Not again, Kousei may be thinking; God, don’t do this to me again.

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P.S. That up there is a 1,158-word review. When I really like something, I tend to ramble.

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 03

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Kaori knows about Kousei. Of course she does; any musician worth their salt knows of the “human metronome” who played with a symphony at eight. He’s a celebrity, but he’s one you always talk about like “Well…yeah…shame about that guy…he was really going places.”

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We open this episode with Kousei a bit annoyed he’s gone from “extra” to “substitute”, but he has no idea of Kaori’s true interest in him, though he probably has an inkling that she knows who he is…or rather was. But we see firsthand along with her just how deep and dark an ocean he’s fallen to the bottom of, where a mental block suddenly kicks in, depriving him of color and hearing his own music just when he’s getting into it.

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It’s a cruel affliction, but Kaori isn’t interested in attending his pity party: she’s on a mission of rehabilitation, not commiseration. Arima Kousei fell into the deep, but she’s come to pull him out. He’s gotten too comfortable in that darkness, to the point painful emergence is inevitable. But Kaori has faith there’s still a brilliant pianist in there, which is why she decides to make a bold decision: to choose Kousei as her accompaniment in the second round of her competition.

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Kousei refuses vehemently, and his reasons are many; insufficient training for accompaniment; inadequate time to rehearse; rustiness; inability to hear the piano…but it all comes down to fear…not even necessarily fear that he won’t be able to do it (of which he’s not at all confident anyway), but because he’ll be leaving that deep dark sea where he’s grown so…accustomed. It will be so bright and loud and scary out there…it will be different.

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But again, from Kaori’s perspective, that’s the point. That sea is a kind of limbo, where he constantly bathes in currents of self-doubt, self-loathing, and self-pity. Kaori means to wean him off those currents. The tactics she takes frankly border on the excessive, and she and Tsubaki kill a forest’s worth of paper plastering all of the walls in Kousei’s life with the sheet music for the competition: Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. (I’m sure there’s probably some symbolism in that choice of music, but I”m gonna play my musical tourist card at this juncture.)

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As Kaori sees Tsubaki put everything into trying to get Kousei to agree to play, she also sees the feelings Tsubaki plainly has for him, though she says she considers him more of a little brother (just like he considers her a big sister) than a romantic interest, the fact remains, she loves him. She’s doing this for selfish reasons…for “family” reasons: she doesn’t want to see her kid brother continuing to “live life halfway.” So you’re he’s Beethoven. So what? Beethoven’s a baseline. Play it backwards, upside-down; with a frikkin’ distortion pedal. Stop hiding. Stop running. Start playing.

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What neither Tsubaki nor Kousei know, however, is that Kaori isn’t asking him to play just for his sake, but her’s as well. No matter what crappy stuff has showed up in her life, she’s always kept playing…it’s how they (musicians) survive. On the rooftop, where she finds a Kousei frustrated she’s still pressing the issue, Kaori finally tells Kousei: she’s in a moment where she’s about to lose heart, just as he did so publically and brutally years ago. She needs his support now as badly as he needs to be saved from his sea of silent darkness.

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We close with a heartwarming, Ghibli-esque scene of youthful energy on display in the heart of Spring

It’s there, when she shows that heretofore unseen side of herself, where Kousei realizes Ryouta was right: ‘the girl will let you know.’ He realizes maybe what he thought was impossible wasn’t. He won’t be alone on that stage, Kaori will be right there with him. Alone, they probably wouldn’t have a chance. But together, perhaps they can pull out a performance that may not be perfect, but will propel them into that big bright scary unknown where they both must go to keep surviving.

I. Cannot. Wait to see it.

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