Fruits Basket – 63 (Fin) – A New Banquet

Tooru and Kyou go to a petting zoo for their first official date—a bit on the nose, but also adorable! Also adorable? Uo and Hana tag along as chaperones and mess with Kyou the whole time. But at the end of the day, both of them admit they like him and give him their blessing with their beloved Tooru, who is both friend and family to them.

Yuki makes clear to Kakeru that Machi knows he’s going off to college somewhat far away, and Kakeru is proud the two of them are now “full-fledged adults.” After graduation, Tooru and Kyou clean out their rooms in Shigure’s house, and Tooru admits to treasuring all the fun and happy days she had with everyone like jewels, and is sad they’re at an end.

Kyou hugs her and assures her that everyone loves her more than she thinks, and she’ll see them all again. The old Zodiac banquet is over, but now a new one can begin: one in which the members’ bonds were chosen, not forced. Yuki gives Machi the key to his new place and says she can visit any time. Kagura and Ritsu share a moment as the only two members who are still single.

Did I say only? There’s also Momiji, who lose the Tooru sweepstakes but not for lack for trying. As he hangs with Haru and Rin, he vows to find an even more magnificent significant other with whom he’ll show off next time he sees Tooru and Kyou.

Uo and Kureno make plans to see each other. Hatori and Mayu make plans to go on vacation together. Akito is out in the world with Shigure wearing modern women’s clothing. Everyone gets their curtain call, and everyone gets either a happy or hopeful ending.

That leaves us with Tooru and Yuki, who were originally set up as a potential couple back in the beginning. All this time, Yuki hasn’t been able to properly express his feelings for her or thank her, but here and now he finally can, and does.

He loves Tooru, but as a mother figure; someone who raised him into the confident and capable man he now clearly is. He also assures her, as Kyou did, that everyone loves her. Tooru may never feel like she deserves that love, but she does, so she’d better darn well get used to it!

Fast forward several decades, and we see Tooru now have both children and grandchildren, all of whom resemble and seem to take after them. The old couple are given some space by their family to be lovey-dovey together among the hydrangeas. Don’t think I didn’t get some tearful Up vibes from that!

Now, we’ve finally come to the end of Fruits Basket, consistently one of the most beautiful and heartwarming series I’ve ever encountered. It certainly had its dark times, but those were countered by brighter times bursting with love, understanding, and growth, none brighter than these closing episodes where nearly everyone has found their soul mate and are happy as clams—but in no danger of transforming into clams!

Fruits Basket – 55 – The End Comes So Suddenly

This final season’s ED pairs off all of the romantic couples, and this week we check in on a number of them, starting with Ayame and Mine. When Ayame asks Mine if she’ll leave him if the curse is never broken, Mine being Mine assures him she’s not leaving his side ever, so if he has a problem with that, tough!

Meanwhile at Mayuko’s bookstore, she and Hatori talk about maybe going on a trip, though Hatori pointedly doesn’t have anywhere in particular he wants to go.

Finally, Machi is falling for Yuki, and hard, such that she’s actually taking her StuCo work seriously. Yuki knows he has to tell her about the curse at some point, but the right time keeps getting interrupted. Ultimately he may have to simply arrange a time—say, a date—for just the two of them to talk with no hangers-on.

Akito, still distraught over her fight with Hatsuharu, gets precisely zero sympathy from Shigure, who continues to mock her for thinking hiding in a dark room will solve anything. He knows that time, people, and emotions will move on in time.

Akito was sold a bill of goods about unchanging bonds and continues to cling to it, but that’s not Shigure’s problem. It’s not often I say this about the most despicable member of the Zodiac other than Akito herself, but…good for Shigure. Scratch that; I want neither of them to win anything, ever.

But Shigure’s not wrong. Would it surprise you to learn that these past four weeks when I watched both the OP and ED, I had no idea who the lanky blonde was, despite the fact that if you discount him, Momiji was nowhere to be found in either? Turns out that’s because Momiji had one hell of agrowth spurt. He’s a full-on man, complete with fully male school uniform.

Despite now looking like yet another handsome prince, he’s still the same playful, cheerful bunny boy who’ll take Tooru by the hand and walk around campus, completely oblivious to the fact it makes them look like a doting couple.

While Shigure is away getting his fix of Akito suffering, his house becomes a hub for all of the young Soumas, as Kisa, Hiro, and Momiji join Kyou, Yuki, Tooru, and Haru for a night of curry and family fun. I love how organically it all comes together; clearly these Soumas have had their fill of Akito’s gloom.

But while Momiji still puts on his usual adorable act, he makes clear to Kyou that as someone who has always loved Tooru and is now big enough to confess to her, he won’t accept Kyou continuing to be wishy-washy about her. If Kyou gives up on Tooru, someone else will come along and take her before he knows it—and that will surely sting.

Shigure, who acknowledges the various kinds of kindness doled out to Akito by Hatori and Kureno, but has no intention of becoming Akito’s “father”, quickly loses all the goodwill he built up kicking Akito when she was down by getting all creepy with a thankfully oblivious Tooru, whom he considers a more worthy “god” than Akito to be devoted to.

That night, Akito dreams of her father telling her how she was born to be loved and how there will be no loneliness or fear in her future, only to see another rope snap, waking her up in a panic.

It comes as both a huge surprise and entirely no surprise whatsoever that the next Zodiac member to be liberated from the curse is Momiji. Akito can feel it, and rushes to his place to beg him not to leave her, and in his newly liberated state he sees Akito for the pitiful, pathetic wretch she is and curses his former self for feeling otherwise.

Still, because he’s also a nice guy he tells her to leave for now; he’ll come talk to her once he’s sorted some things out. The next day at school he is aloof and elusive, but from the roof he catches Tooru gazing at an unaware Kyou in the hall. Kyou goes to the roof and finds him there, and Momiji says “my curse is broken” and tries to pass it off as a joke, all while telling Kyou that he, Momiji, is the one truly being stung.

Later, Momiji tells Akito that he can’t stay by her side all his life, and she can’t tie him down, either magically or emotionally. She tries her best to tell her that neither his parents nor anyone else will welcome him back, but he already knows that. He’s free now, and it’s lonely and terrifying, but he also feels a sense of almost infinite potential.

Even if he can’t find happiness with Akito, and even if he won’t get the girl he wants, he knows deep in his newly freed heart that he can find happiness somewhere, and with someone, at some point in the future. That happiness may only be waiting for him to catch up. But he won’t find it unless he walks his own life’s path.

He then asks Akito how long he’ll stay in that place, which I believe is the very first time someone suggested that Akito could simply give this all up and find her own path. Naturally, Akito ignores the questions and tells him to buzz off, but she’s only delaying the inevitable. I have to believe Kureno and Momiji are only the beginning. The curse is on borrowed time.

While walking to school, Momiji chooses a route that goes past his birth mother and sister Momo. His mom talks about going on a trip soon, and even though Momiji can’t and won’t be going with them, his mood is improved dramatically simply by hearing the words “take care” from his mom.

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 10 – The Tasty Truth About Tottori

Last week’s lurking shadow villains turn out to be Ami and Sakaki, as expected. They’ve followed Uzaki and Sakurai and rented a car so the couple can experience everything Tottori has to offer—all while they observe from a mostly respectful distance and eat it all up. But this episode isn’t just a means of Uzaki and Sakurai becoming a little closer, it’s a full-on love letter to Tottori!

Never far from Uzaki & Co. is a uniformed tour guide describing in detail a certain lovingly-rendered Tottori point of interest, starting with the famous sand dunes to a circular school converted to museum honoring all the famous mangakas from the area.

Also always near by is a more lovey-dovey version of Uzaki and Sakurai, always providing a mirror of how the two of them look to others, especially when they do very couple-y stuff like playing together on the dunes or taking bites of the same rabbit cake.

By the time they pray at a shrine and receive a very favorable fortune regarding their coupling, Ami and Sakaki admit that Tottori is a historical Couples’ Mecca—much to this particular couple’s chagrin. They were enjoying themselves totally until their friends made the implicit explicit, but they try to fight back the blushing, relax, and enjoy hanging out nevertheless.

They couldn’t be in a better place to relax, thanks to Tottori’s famous hot springs and steam baths. When a sweaty Uzaki slips and falls chest-first on top of Sakurai and some deceptively suggestive dialogue ensues, causing an attendant to rush in assuming they’re up to things best done in the privacy of their room.

But while Ami and Sakaki came to watch a relationship blossom, they also undermine it; Uzaki ends up sharing a room with Ami and Sakura with Sakaki, eliminating what would have been the most romantic part of the trip—a night alone in a hotel room.

Ami and Sakaki get a “feast” out of watching the couple, but if their goal was to somehow jump-start their relationship into a higher gear than it was before, they come up a bit short. That’s not a bad thing; it just means that no amount of meddling will either help or hurt a slow but steadily simmering romance emerging organically from their interactions together and increased comfort with one another and their quirks.

Uzaki still teases Sakurai about being a loner, but we already seen last week that he prefers that to an artificially meek Uzaki. No doubt Uzaki likes Sakurai the way he is, and any change she causes in him will be minor and incidental.

In short, these two came together because of the kind of people they are, they like each other that way, and they’re going to be fine. Sakaki seems right on one count: Sakurai may insist he an Uzaki “aren’t like that”, but it’s all but inevitable that they soon will be, if they aren’t already!

Sarazanmai – 02 – Let Slip the Cats of War

As a reward for defeating their first kappa zombie, Keppi bestows upon the boys a silver “Dish of Hope” they can use to wish for anything. Enta snatches it and accidentally wishes for a hatchback-sized cucumber roll, shattering the dish and leaving the three with no reward (unless they’re going to eat that roll…which is on the ground).

Kazuki is eager to earn another dish that he can use not to fulfill his own wish, but that of his little brother Haruka. We learn that he is the “Harukappa” to whom Kazuki is sending selfies of himself-as-Azuma Sara. Kazuki’s only wish is that Haruka is happy, and a dish can only help that cause.

Meanwhile, Kuji Toi is up to more criminal mischief on behalf of his older brother, while Enta receives a Kappazon package meant for Toi—containing a handgun of all things—strengthening Enta’s belief he’s Bad News

When Nyantaro, the fat, awesome neighborhood cat Haruka adores, sneaks into Toi’s weed-growing lab and steels a shipment hidden in cat treats, another ludicrous chase ensues. Kazuki (dressed as Sara again) stops Toi when he threatens Nyantaro with his metal ruler, and refuses to get out of his way or stop following him.

The chase leads them to a couples-only theme park, an employee of which dresses the two up in bee costumes and insists they hold hands the entire time they’re in the park. Kazuki and Toi hold hands and chase Nyantaro on ride after ride, but can’t manage to close the distance, since we’re talking about a neighborhood cat here: if he doesn’t want to be caught, it’s not happening.

We learn a little more about the two bishounen cops from the end of last week, who appear to do an elaborate song and dance of their own to extract desire and create a new cat-based kappa zombie boss.

It’s apparent these two and Keppi’s three young helpers are working at cross purposes, but the cops’ specific motivations, beyond their commitment to “wring out the desire”, remain mysterious.

Not soon after their “performance”, thousands of cats start to float up into the sky, including Nyantaro, and Enta and Keppi (disguised as his date) meet up with Kazuki and Toi to discuss the situation. Enta warns Kazuki to stay away from the kid he’s currently holding hands with, but in order to get his little brother’s favorite cat back, he needs Toi’s help.

Events from there follow a pattern now familiar after the first go-around last week (in what I like to call the Ikuhara Formula): Keppi turns the three lads into kappa, they attack the zombie boss (this time a giant cat), and when they determine its secret (he kidnapped cats and shaved them to give himself a coat of fur so his girlfriend would take him back! Of COURSE!!), they  break through and extract its shirikodama.

Once that’s done, the guys go through the titular sarazanmai, during which it’s revealed that Nyantaro was owned by another family before Kazuki stole it so Haruka could have a cat (even if it was only a neighborhood cat). He defends what he did because he did it for his brother’s sake; his happiness trumping all other considerations.

With the second boss defeated, the lads receive another silver dish of hope, and Kazuki and Toi immediately argue over it, with Toi even brandishing his gun. Since both have brothers they want to make happy, and Keppi informs them they’ll need five to grant a real wish, Toi cedes the dish to Kazuki, but he’s getting the next one.

That night, Kazuki finally completes his mission to take a Sara selfie with a cat (specifically the rescued Nyantaro), to Haruka’s delight. Exhausted from the day of activity, he passes out right there in the park, where he’s approached by none other than Enta…who promptly kisses him! Looks like he’s got a secret too—one that re-contextualizes why he was so concerned with Kazuki hanging around Toi.

The two cops also now realize somebody is out there working against them. It’s likely only a matter of time before the two opposing groups clash. In the meantime, on with the hope-dish collecting!

After two episodes, I now have a better grasp of the beats and rhythms of a show that definitely dances to the beat of its own drum. With less head-scratching to do I could concentrate better on all the little details that contribute to making Sarazanmai such a fun and exciting little show that’s unafraid to challenge contemporary “norms”of gender and sexuality.

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 02 – Photography Club Can Be a Hoot

Between TKS and 3DK, Tada-kun takes round two. While we only took the tiniest step further in the ostensible romance between Tada and Teresa, we’re introduced to the rest of the crew and…I kinda like all of them?

On Teresa and Alec’s first day they’re the toast of the school, and bespectacled Class Rep Hasegawa asks if they’d like a tour to determine what club they’d like to join (they have to join something). 

That leads them to the photography club, where Teresa and Alec are reunited with Tada and Ijuuin, and upon inspecting a shrine of the club president Sugimoto’s favorite gravure idol HINA, Alec suddenly realizes that class rep Hasegawa is HINA.

Honestly, Tada and Teresa kinda chill in the background of most of this; the stars that shine brightest are Hasegawa, Sugimoto, and the trusty junior member Yamashita, nicknamed “dog” because he comes when Tada calls him.

When Teresa voices interest in joining the club, Sugimoto decides to hold a traditional photo-snapping contest to begin their trial period. The group splits in to, and they turn out to be inspired combinations.

Ijuuin ends up with Alec, with whom he clearly didn’t get off on the right foot, while Sugimoto and Hasegawa round out the 4-person Team B. Once the clock starts, they take turns running around the school trying to get good pictures of the other team, who doesn’t make it easy on them.

Tada, Teresa, and Yamashita make up Team A—a new couple and their pet dog—and the episode takes on a breathless, exciting energy as the club runs around the school with abandon, enjoying their youth.

In the midst of the competition, Yamashita reveals his excellent sense of smell, while Alec shows off her kunoichi skills (again adding fuel to my little princess’ bodyguard fire). We also get a lot of interesting interactions between Sugimoto and Hasegawa. She calls him “-chan”, so I wager they’re childhood friends.

But as Sugimoto falls for Yamashita’s “Look behind you, it’s HINA!”, it’s possible he’s unaware his friend is his favorite idol…and she’s fine keeping it that way. Still, gestures like Sugimoto shielding her from a bucket of water suggest that regardless of whether he knows, he definitely cares a great deal about Hasegawa.

Teresa and Tada thought they’d gotten the best shot of the contest by snapping a surprised Sugimoto and Hasegawa (cameras are good at picking up love between two people), it’s Ninja Alec who swoops in and snaps a picture of Teresa and Tada laughing, which ultimately wins.

So the two had a lot of fun together, and it looks like we have one long-standing couple and a pairing of opposites that just might work given time. And hey, even Yamashita has an admirer in Tada’s sister, Yui. Teresa and Alec join, and when Hasegawa takes her leave, Sugimoto stops her and invites her to join them in celebrating, since she’s part of the club too. All in all, a great ensemble effort.

Little Witch Academia – 10

Note: I filled in for Oigakkosan reviewing this episode. —Preston

Akko, Lotte, and Sucy’s pleasant afternoon ice cream is marred when Diana’s Maybach limo rolls up and her two lackeys jump out just to gloat that they’re going to a sumptuous party celebrating Lord Andrew’s top marks.

Sucy has just shown Akko and Lotte a “Fallin Lovelove Bee” that was delivered to her in error, and we already know precisely where this is going: the peasant girls will crash Andrew’s party, and the Love Bee will sting him, sending him head-over-heels for Akko.

Because it’s so obvious this is going to happen, Akko’s desire to stick it to Diana’s lackeys by attending the party uninvited doesn’t feel like her own choice, only a means to get that bee sting in Andrew’s neck. While Akko and Lotte clean up great, the two-hour, half-price “Cinderella Kit” is just a means to those means…not to mention overly borrow-y feeling.

Andrew is his usual dismissive, aloof jerkface self, while his pal Frank is his usual friendly, decent self. Just when he’s tossing the witches out, Drew gets stung, Akko is the first face he sees, and we’re off to the races. The Bee also stings Frank and three other dudes who all fall for Lotte, then stings Diana, who also falls for Akko. Akko spends much of the evening flailing around, not ready for this kind of “attention.”

Eventually she gets away from her pursuers, then overhears Andrew’s dad chewing him out about staying on the precise path that has already been laid out for him, and not wasting his time on witches or “effeminate” piano playing.

When Akko gets a bead on the bee, she darts all around the party, swatting at it in vain. Andrew, still at least partially under her spell, plays the piano (“Flight of the Bumblebee”, of course) to accompany her. Finally the bee stings Drew’s father, but seconds later Akko kills the bee and the spell is lifted from all.

The Cinderella spell also fizzles out, Akko & Co. return to their uniforms, and Andrew reverts back to being a dick. Maybe he changed a little bit, like the last time he met Akko, but the guy is so stone-faced and inert, it’s as hard to tell as last time, leading to another shrug on the night.

In a nice twist, even post-spell, Frank asks Lotte out because he thinks they’d get along, but she turns him down gently, preferring they were friends first. But otherwise, after the bee reset button is pressed, we’re pretty much back to where we started. No one has changed and nothing was learned.

Now ten episodes in, LWA is not what I was hoping it would be: a show with a structured arc in which Akko gradually improves as a fledgeling witch, some kind of sustained conflict arrives that she and her friends and classmates must come together to overcome. The modern world’s increasing rejection of their craft, for instance.

Instead, the show is content to dawdle around with self-contained episodes that start and end in pretty much the same place, and an Akko who is unapologetically static in both her magical ability and personality. Her dreams remain way to vague and childish to carry any further significance, no matter how much she waxes poetic about them, and the entire premise of crashing a party for spite, leading to the pedestrian “love spell” antics, was generally unsatisfying.

Akko, Lotta and Sucy are still usually more fun to watch than not, but their lack of development and LWA’s lack of direction thus far make it hard to keep coming back. I never expected Madoka, but I would have settled for a story, rather than the series of disjointed, inconsequential vignettes we got.

7 Awesome Non-Romantic Couples of Summer 2016

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Summer 2016 has shaped up to be bursting with interesting boy/girl relationships that aren’t necessarily (or in some cases, even remotely) romantic. Just friends, BFFs, best buds, call ’em what you want, they’ve already made a huge impact this season. Here are seven of our favorites. If you know of one we missed, let us know in the ‘ments.

Heavy Spoilers Throughout.

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Takamiya Naho x Suwa Hiroto (Orange)

Orange is primarily focused on the potentially future-and-life-saving romance between Naho and Kakeru, but Naho’s friends play a key role in facilitating her mission, and none more than Suwa. Indeed, in the future where Kakeru dies Naho marries Suwa and they have a child, but both of their future selves seemed committed to making sure their past selves saved Kakeru. That meant Suwa putting his own feelings for Naho aside.

Now that they both know about each other’s letters form the future, Naho and Suwa have a strong, unique non-romantic relationship. In the circle of friends, Hagita and Azusa are another romantic couple in the making, leaving Suwa and Takako, who we think should be a couple so everyone’s paired up and happy.

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Kariu Rena x Kaizaki Arata (ReLIFE)

Remember ReLIFE? Zane semi-binged in the first two weeks July, and it was full of great character pairings. Most were romantic: Kariu and Oga (better late than never); Kaizaki and Chizuru (a pairing potentially doomed by circumstance, but not dead); An and Ryou (who weren’t fooling anyone).

But one of the best combos wasn’t romantic: Kariu and Kaizaki. He helped end her misunderstandings about Chizuru’s behavior and brought them together as friends, and then Chizuru helped Kariu repair her friendship with Honoka. Kaizaki was also instrumental in getting Oga to realize his feelings for Kariu, leading to them finally pairing up at the Summer Festival. Being friends with and helping Kariu out also helped Kaizaki come to grip with his own social issues.

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Utara Canaria x Suzaku Ichiya (Qualidea Code)

Ichiya has been and continues to be a twerp in QC, but his friendship with Canaria was one of the most humanizing things about him. His boorish “I’m all we need” arrogance is borne out of his intense desire to be strong enough so that his friend doesn’t have to fight (even though he was at his best when she was buffing him with her song).

Not the most original dynamic, but the fact Ichiya and Cana were never even hinted at a romantic couple (and never acted awkwardly towards each other) made the couple more interesting.

Sadly, Canaria was suddenly killed off after just four episodes and all evidence suggests she’s not coming back. Since she was the only person Ichiya cared about in the world, he’s not so high on the world right now.

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Hoshino Yumemi x Customer (Planetarian)

This show only spanned five quick episodes, but still packed an emotional punch, and dealt with some very elemental Asimovian themes when it came to human-robot relations.

At first, the customer was impatient and indifferent to the planetarium host without an audience. But her relentless positivity wore him down, and he became enamored of the idyllic island in a sea of apocalypse she represented.

He became so fond of Yumemi that seeing that she made it out of the Sarcophagus City with him safe and sound became as much a priority as surviving, making it all the more tragic when she disobeys his order to stay put when she senses his life is at risk and she sacrifices herself to save him. Thank goodness her memories are backed up!

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Yukihira Souma x Tadokoro Megumi/Nakiri Erina/Nakiri Alice/Mito Ikumi (Shokugeki no Souma: Ni no Sara)

Yukihira Souma didn’t come to Totsuki Academy to find a girlfriend or wife, but he DID come to make friends. And that what he considers all the girls listed above: friends, whom he can talk with casually about a number of subjects, bounce ideas off of, and, of course, cook with (or against), enjoy meals with, and learn from.

Souma’s female friends don’t feel like an anime harem because it isn’t one; there are certainly actions and reactions from all of them that suggest they harbor affection or even some feelings for him, but Souma generally treats them non-romantically, as equals.

Which is just as well: his ideal woman would be someone with the qualities of all four: Megumi’s warmth, humility, and inner strength; Erina’s uncompromising pursuit of culinary perfection, unwavering confidence, and veiled decency; Alice’s technical know-how, cheerfulness and humor; and Nikumi’s infectious earnestness and generosity.

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Crusch Karsten x Natsuki Subaru (Re:Zero)

If you told us eight weeks ago that one of Subaru’s most intriguing friendships would be with one of his beloved Emilia-tan’s rivals for the throne of Lugnica, you would have sounded preposterous. Yet here we are. Crusch and Subaru aren’t exactly friends, but they do share mutual trust and respect for one another, which is an important step towards friendship…without the slightest hint of romance.

What’s interesting is how this was achieved: through trial and error (and some death and suffering), Subaru finally arrived at the formula of things to say, and when and how to say them (as well as the conviction to back those things up), to make Karsch believe him and agree to his plan to defeat the White Whale. The result of that battle remains to be seen, but it’s nevertheless impressive to see how far these to have come.

Compared with the other two candidates introduced along with her (Anastasia and Priscilla), Karsten’s character has been given the most depth and opportunity to empathize with her as a fully-dimensional person rather than a set of personality traits. Subaru shared a drink on the terrace with her, grovelled in vain and elicited her disgust, and finally came to her with head held high and an alliance she could get on board with. The fact she can magically detect when Subie is lying literally keeps him honest!

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Yatrisino Igsem x Ikta Solark (Alderamin on the Sky)

The undisputed crown for best non-romantic couple of the Summer are these two ridiculously-named characters from Alderamin. Preston has gone on at length about what makes these two so fun and riveting to watch, but it all comes back to the fact that you just can’t put them in a simple box like “siblings”, “lovers”, “soul mates,” or “brains and brawn.”

Instead, they have their own box: the Yatori & Ikta Box. Beyond friends, beyond family, and frighteningly effective as a duo, keeping each other out of trouble and making each other better. We were sold on them before an episode aired detailing how they met and forged their unique bond; after that portrait our regard for them only grew. These two make this show.

GATE – 24 (Fin)

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Rescuing Pina and the Emperor from Zolzal felt like a couple of loose ends to tie up, since there was never any doubt about Itami, reunited with his original Recon Team and his girls, were going to be successful. This, the final episode, seems to understand this, and doesn’t draw out the rescue needlessly, but has fun with the relative ease of the operation.

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Basically, Itami has Rory, Lelei, Tuka, Yao, and his team, which makes him all but invincible. All he has to do is talk when they enter the throne room. Zolzal sics a particularly ill-fated ogre on them, but Rory and Lelei dispatch it with ease—did Zolzal forget these guys brought down a Fire Dragon? 

His meager guards, who don’t particularly want to mistreat Pina or fight Rory the Reaper, are absolutely no match. Zolzal doesn’t try going out in a blaze of glory—he’s too much of a coward. Itami plays with his fear by adding paranoia to his problems: pointing a sniper at him, telling him he’ll be watched from now on.

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The conditions Itami gives him for not getting a bullet in the head are simple and non-negotiable: Pina goes with him; the emperor too; and Lelei’s assassins are called off. All Zolzal can do is accept, bitter as he is, he’s powerless here, and it’s particularly satisfying to watch (though I was kinda hoping he’d resist a little more so Kuribayashi could have at him).

After that, all Itami & Co. have to do is get out of the palace and city walls before they’re all closed, and this too proves not very difficult, thanks to the speed of their vehicles and a helping hand from a friend with a LAV, a bazooka, and a mined entrance that blows behind them, taking out all horsebound pursuers. Mission Complete.

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Pina, who clearly likes her shining knight Itami but isn’t too overt about it (note how she got self-conscious about her skimpy burlap shift when he showed up), but she also has bigger matters than romance. Her father wakes up, not the worse for wear, and declares her crown princess, giving her the mandate to steer the empire where she will, whether towards peace or to civil war with her brother.

It would have been nice if Itami’s crew had, you know, captured the leader of a potential resistance against the legitimate government, but they leave Zolzal alone, which was the one problem I had with the operation, considering how easily they could have taken him into custody/killed him.

But that’s no big deal; whatever he scrounges up won’t be any more of a match against the SDF-backed pro-peace faction than the Special Region ever was against the might of the modern Japanese military.

As for Tyuule, we see she’s not crazy after all; just unfulfilled. She suffered and schemed so mightily and actually got the empire to fracture, and yet tears fall from her face. I guess it wasn’t quite worth it.

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With that, we have a nice little crowning ceremony for Pina, after which all of the various guys show off their new girlfriends / lovers / caretakers / fiancees, to Kuribayashi’s shock and Shandy’s envy.

Itami doesn’t attend that ceremony, because he’s done enough, and now he just wants to go to the doujinshi convention in Tokyo, putting his hobby ahead of his work as usual. I like how he places equal importance on his affairs in otakudom than he did with all the various adventures in the Special Region.

But it isn’t long before his three girls track him down, all with their own Tokyo plans for him. The masses notice these idols and crowd around them in adoration, and a cop sneaks them off in his squad car, even though Itami doesn’t want to leave the convention.

And there you have it, a usually lush and diverting story of our world connected to another one, where the JSDF fought, and fought well.

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RABUJOI’s Top 22 Couples of 2014

UPDATE: We’ve added a couple more couples from Fall 2013 shows that carried over into Winter 2014, bringing the total to 24, not 22.

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1. Mine x Tatsumi

Akame ga Kill! – At first it seemed like Tatsumi’s love interest would be the titular Akame, while Mine was someone he merely constantly bickered with. Yet their chemistry only got better in time, and after both saved each others’ lives multiple times, they finally clicked, and got to say what needed to be said before Mine tragically succumbed to her battle injuries.

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2. Esdeath x Tatsumi

Akame ga Kill! – Another romance involving Tatsumi that started out as a joke but grew more serious as time and circumstances with the war progressed. Esdeath proved that while she was a monster, she was also still a human being, which meant sought someone to give her heart to and share her life of death and destruction with, and Tatsumi literally checked all of her boxes. I only hesitated to list these two because Tatsumi never really seemed interested in Esdeath beyond superficial titillation, but Tatsumi did basically offer himself to her if she came over to the rebellion.

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3. Haru x Tokaku

Akuma no Riddle – While this list is mostly boy-girl pairings, that doesn’t preclude other combinations as long as they were interesting, and Haru and Tokaku’s certainly was, with both girls in turn taking up the “protector” role as conditions warranted, and even Haru’s dark secrets not swaying Tokaku from her side.

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4. Kisara x Rentarou

Black Bullet – Rentarou was adopted into Kisara’s family, but while that technically makes them siblings and thus not couple material, that turns out to be the least of their worries. Let’s get one thing out of the way: Rentarou and Kisara love each other, and it goes beyond standard familial love; they’re devoted to one another, with a bond forged in the hellish fires of the past. What dooms them, in the shows somewhat curtailed ending, is Kisara’s descent into darkness, choosing to become an even greater evil to destroy the great evil that infects the world…starting with Kazumitsu, her brother by blood. It’s a road Rentarou can’t follow her down, and she knows that. It’s also quite sad.

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5. Rikka x Yuuta

Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren – Well…duh. You didn’t think these two wouldn’t be on this list, did you? I mean look at them…bloody adorable. But that’s not to say they were just a couple of cute faces. They went through some things, including trying to parse out what their relationship is and what its pace should be, as well as overcoming a feisty rival.

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6. Hilda x Roselie x Chris

Cross Ange: Tenchi to Ryuu no Rondo – Yes, I know, this is a trio, not a couple, but I’ll allow it. Arzenal is many things, and ‘women’s prison’ is one of them. As such, the ‘weak’ (either physically or emotionally) ally themselves with the ‘strong’, be it in the skies, the mess hall, or boudoir. These three comprised Troop Captain Zola’s harem, and Zola looked after them both on duty and off. When she was killed in action they carried on with Hilda in her place. Then Hilda deserted, and it was just Chris and Roselie. When she’s recaptured, Hilda claims she was just playing around with them…but I wasn’t convinced she was being totally honest with herself.

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7. Nagi x Kyoutarou

Daitoshokan no Hitsujikai – Yes, the show wants to give all the girls possibilities with Kyoutarou, and seems to want to nudge him in the direction of Tsugumi in particular, but I’ve always found this pairing to be the most compelling. They have a past, and spend the most time together, often with no pretense or tension. The only problem is they share the same father. Whoops…

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8. Rin x Shirou

Fate stay/night: Unlimited Blade Works – Rin and Shirou are far from an official couple, but it can’t be argued that they have a certain romantic tension in their interactions, which have varied from verbal to physical/magical altercations to sharing dinner and spending the night under the same roof (though not in the same room). They’ve been enemies, and they’ve been allies, and there’s the constant indication that the alliance is temporary and they’ll be enemies again before too long…but in the interim, they make a good team.

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9. Kazumi x Ryouta

Gokukoku no Brynhildr – This is another case (there were many this year) when I wasn’t as interested in the show’s intended ‘main’ couple of Ryouta and Neko. Kazumi was a way more dynamic character and she and Ryouta have some great dramatic and comedic scenes together.

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10. Tomoyo x Jurai

Inou-Battle wa Nichijou-kei no Naka de – There are cuter and more precocious (Chifuyu), taller and more voluptuous (Sayumi), lovey-dovier (Mirei) and more familiar (Hatoko) women in Jurai’s life, but none ever clicked quite so well as he and the crimson-headed Tomoyo. They bicker a lot, but out of mutual interest in and affection for each other, not loathing.

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11. Satomi x Shinichi

Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu – File Satomi and Shinichi under 2014’s Most Doomed Couples, despite their mutual affection and brilliant natural chemistry…well, when Shinichi isn’t making scary faces, yelling at her for no reason, or tossing puppy carcasses in the garbage.

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12. Rurumo x Kouta

Majimoji Rurumo – You can’t tell a book by it’s cover, and the rather childish-looking MMR had a surprisingly rich and mature romance at its core, which rightly took center stage, rather than the magical milieu. Ruru even shelves her original purpose for contracting with Kouta, because completing that would separate the two (via his death), something neither of them want.

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13. Chisaki x Tsumugu

Nagi no Asukara – I loved Miuna to death, but for most of the second core when she’s a main character, her’s was a one-sided love. No, the best couple in this show were the two I thought least likely to pair up, only it happened anyway due to circumstances and time. Their relationship is threatened by Tsumugu’s future and the awakening of their friends, but by the end it endures. They just fit, as the photo above indicates.

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14. Kosaki x Raku

Nisekoi – Sorry, Chitoge, but Kosaki was here first! Not only that, Raku liked her and she liked him first. They were on the cusp of connecting when Chitoge arrived, and no matter how much progress she and Raku made towards becoming less of a fake couple and more of a real one, Chitoge still felt like an interloper. Of course, that’s partly on Kosaki and Raku, for not having the guts to come right out and confess to each other. The show itself didn’t seem to want them together, but that doesn’t change the fact that they were the best fit for each other.

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15. Kaori x Yuuki

One Week Friends – There were times on this show when you weren’t sure whether Kaori’s was a real brain condition caused by her accident, or if it was a psychosomatic process she went through in order to avoid getting too close to anyone. In any case, it made her a tough nut to crack, but Yuuki put the work in and devised a way for her to remember him even when she forgot, regardless of the reason. It was a bumpy road, but immensely satisfying.

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16. Erika x Kyoya

Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji – One of the upstart surprise of the year, Ookami’s general premise of ‘guy treating girl like a dog’ naturally had me pre-turned off, worried it would be demeaning towards women. It turned out to be a lot more nuanced and likable, as were Erika and Kyoya, despite their many flaws and missteps. I’m not sure if any other couple had quite so many obstacles to finding happiness, but they navigated them all with grace and humor.

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17. Aoi x Naoto

Rail Wars! – Aoi is constantly telling Naoto he’s not tough enough for railway public safety, dubbing him “Stringbean” and such. But the truth is, Naoto was a lot tougher than he looked, and never let her down when they were in a spot. They developed a good working relationship, but the more death-defying adventures they shared, the closer they became, to the point where Aoi is unashamed to be officially in the fight for Naoto’s heart along with the other girls, and Naoto is not opposed to the chase.

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18. Tensai x Juugo

Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin – While these two were never an official item, they shared a mutual respect and admiration that would sometimes veer into the realm of romantic affection/attraction. They’re rivals who keep one another on each other’s toes, but when they come together – Tensai’s brains and Juugo’s brawn, they can accomplish great things.

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19. Yuu x Haruka

Sakura Trick – This show mostly focused on one thing and one thing only—the budding relationship between two young people in love for the first time—and did it damn well. Perhaps no other show this year captured that unique joy and excitement that comes not just from finding the right one, but knowing that person thinks you’re just as right for them. That, and the thrill of making out in places where one could get caught.

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20. Kaori x Kousei

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – I considered putting Tsubaki and Kousei here, because despite having different callings (athletic versus musical) they seem to be the more natural match due to time and proximity, which are tried-and-true reasons two people come together. Kaori and Kousei, meanwhile, have the look of a more idealistic, star-crossed couple. Kaori is amazing and everything, but she’s also dying, as we the audience know better than the other characters.

But at the end of the day, Kousei is in love with Kaori, not Tsubaki. He’s said as much to Kaori, though he could have been clearer and she has yet to clearly respond. Still, there’s nothing else on TV, animated or not, quite like watching these two make music together. Yes, music music…get your head out of the gutter!

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21. Chiharu x Mitsuo

Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta – Pilot’s Love Song had some issues…chief among them, it didn’t really, um…end, so much as stop. But one thing it did well was introduce perhaps the quickest but most compelling and moving romances of the year, between the affable Chi and kind Mitty, both side characters in this meandering tale. Like so many other couples who suddenly find each other in the midst of war, that war ends up tearing them apart prematurely, in one of the most heartrending scenes of the year.

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22. Yui x Sou

Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete – Aside from her super-romantic (and heartbreaking) confession/kiss/farewell in the street where Sou had just narrowly escaped death-by-bus, a kiss immediately proceeded by her no longer existing in his universe, the time-traveling Yui’s love story was often overshadowed by future Sou’s obsessive quest to save Kaori, but always present, to the point where Yui started as a means to save Kaori, but then a safe Kaori became a means for Sou to one day create Yui anew. Still with us…?

Bonus Couples

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23. Kouko x Banri

Golden Time

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24. Mako x Ira

Kill la Kill

Merry Christmas!