Happy Sugar Life – 08 – How We Got Here, Where We’re Going

Now the picture of Matsuzaka Satou is that much more complete. Room 1208, the cage in which she now keeps Shio, was once the apartment where a loner artist resided. He didn’t want anything from Satou except for her to pose, and let her talk about whatever she wanted.

In the minimalist first half, it’s just Hanazawa Kana as Satou talking. The artist responds, but we only hear static, and never get a good look at him. It doesn’t really matter who he is, but what he wanted. He wanted Satou to remain incomplete and unsatisfied, so he could keep drawing her.

That changed when, one day, for reasons unexplained, Satou brought Shio to 1208. Before long, she started to feel something around her she felt for no one else; she became complete; satisfied. In other words, everything the artist didn’t want.

So he tried to get rid of Shio in the most reckless fumbling way: trying to choke her to death when Satou was out of the room. Of course, she enters, and the atelier becomes a violent murder scene.

Since Shio was a witness to it—albeit likely dazed/disoriented by the choking—it sure looks like the creepy figure she’s drawn in the closet is Satou herself. Shio carries the trauma every day, and it occasionally surfaces. That’s a problem!

Taiyo comes to a kind of revelation: he needs to give up on Shio and try to become a normal guy again. He’s content to keep the wanted poster in his pocket as he puts the pieces of his past life back together, not letting the trauma of the abuse he endured further mire him.

Unfortunately, his resolve to reform is brittle, and Satou finds him at the perfect time to shatter it, offering Shio’s still-warm sock to prove she’s serious about letting the “knight” meet the “angel” and let her “purify” him. All he has to do is get rid of the person trying to take Shio away from her.

I first thought Satou wanted Taiyo to get rid of the teacher, but I rethought that conclusion when Asahi gets a call from someone offering him a clue as to Shio’s whereabouts. I immediately thought that this was the first step in the plan Taiyo is carrying out for Satou.

Complicating matters is that Asahi is the one who finds Shouko at her lowest point, cursing herself for rejecting Satou when Satou needed her most and wanting to “disappear.” Asahi assures her she’s a kind and good person—the type of person prone to always laming themselves.

Asahi comforts Shouko and cheers her up, and they now seem to be friends, since she’s still by his side when he gets that phone call. If Asahi is Satou’s target via Taiyo, I doubt Shouko will escape uninvolved.

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Happy Sugar Life – 07 – What are Friends? What is Love?

Satou’s teacher sees her with Shouko and doesn’t like the fact that she seems to be sharing “dirty little secret.” Of course, Sensei is operating under the assumption that Satou’s parents died early and she was brought up by her aunt in an environment devoid of the love humans need to grow up to become “normal.”

He believes Satou snapped one day, murdered her aunt, chopped her into pieces, and gave the bags to him to incinerate. It’s as good a theory as any judging from the evidence he has…but he doesn’t quite have enough for the whole picture, and as a result, he’s dead wrong.

Satou doesn’t take Shouko to the apartment where she lives with Shio; she takes her to her aunt’s apartment. Her aunt turns out to be very much alive, and the cops are at her door answering reports of a “suspicious smell” emanating from the apartment.

Satou’s aunt may be alive, but to the horror of both Shouko and the cops, she’s completely whacked out of her gourd. Seiyu Inoue Kikuko, a grizzled veteran of anime who’s played dozens of mothers, balances the sweet kindness of her voice with an underlying malaise.

Everyone who enters her apartment, and sees horrid room in which she sleeps, immediately wants to leave and take a shower. But before the cops can leave, having found nothing law-breaking, she literally jumps on the male cop, senses he’s lonely, and tells him he can do whatever he wants to her and she’ll accept it—sex, violence, violent sex…anything.

This, Satou later tells Shouko, is how her aunt considered “love”, being a receptacle for whatever other people wanted to give her, good, bad, and ugly…all of it. And she’s never changed, and likely never will, as the cops (and you could say society at large) are neither properly equipped or empowered to “do anything” about her.

The female cop manages to wrest her partner away (and turns down the aunt’s invitation to her), and then turns to Shouko, who she also senses is “lonely” and is looking for her “prince.” Satou comes between them and ushers Shouko out of the apartment. Halfway to walking her home, Shouko expresses herself honestly; that she thought Satou’s aunt was hella weird.

When Satou asks if, now knowing the woman who raised her and how she sees love, if Shouko will still be friends with her. When Shouko hesitates to answer, Satou tells her they can go back to being “just friends at work.” and leaves. Shouko wanted to know the truth, and she only got a small taste, and it was way too much, but she’s still ashamed.

After shedding her tail, Sensei, with some properly dominating language, Satou leaves her aunt’s apartment’s front door, marked 305, and walks up to her apartment with Shio, number 1208, where she continues her Happy Sugar Life, untroubled by what went down with Shouko.

But then we flash back to the rainy day she didn’t want to go home to her aunt anymore. Someone chatted her up, invited her to their apartment (1208), and asked her to model for them (they were apparently an artist). Now we know who she murdered: that artist and 1208’s previous occupant.

Happy Sugar Life – 06 – Losing the Moon

Shouko, who is consistently the most normal of characters in this show full of loons, encounters Asahi, and she isn’t one to just keep walking. At her heart she’s a “good girl”, even as she once made a habit of staying out late at night to fool around with men.

She’s also good enough friends with Satou that she knows when she’s hiding something. She’s just not ready to believe Taiyo’s accusations. Meanwhile, Satou tries to hem in Taiyo from further interference by offering to let him meet Shio, while the masochistic teacher is dedicated to finding proof Satou murdered her aunt.

Satou’s far-too-together demeanor at work continuies to elicit suspicion in Shoko, who walks the same shopping district she and Satou used to hang out looking for guys. Only this time, she goes to the park to find Asahi sleeping under a bench, and gives him more food. She has no ulterior motives, she has no hidden neurosis; she’s just helping someone in need.

She wants to know how Asahi got into this state, and he tells her the story of how his mother and Shio escaped the house where her drunk husband was beating her. Asahi stayed behind so “the devil” wouldn’t go looking for his mom and Chio.

Staying meant enduring beatings and KGB-style fingernail torture, but Asahi it was worth it; he’d take the abuse so Mom and Chio could be safe and free. He had his moments of despair, but ultimately endured until his father drank himself to death.

The unbridled joy of discovering this fact is quickly marred when Asahi goes to his mom’s house to find Chio has been kidnapped. His Mom, who from the look of the place was not coping well with living and caring for her kid on her own (even though the alternative would’ve obviously been worse; at least she’s not being beaten) simply tells Asahi it was “too late.”

Shouko scores a day out with Satou, their first time hanging out as friends in a good long time. They have a lot of fun, but Shouko has a mission in mind: she wants to know the truth. Satou is initially totally unwilling to tell her, since it’s something she doesn’t want a good girl like Shouko getting mixed up in.

Shouko forces the issue by telling Satou that she wants nothing else but to know what she’s involved in, because she loves her friend more than anyone else. These words seem to move Satou, and she invites Shouko to come to her house to learn what secret she’s been hiding with a non-existent boyfriend.

Even so, I’m not convinced Satou is capable of trusting Shouko with all of the dark things she’s done that even she herself has compartmentalized. Then again, I find it hard to believe Satou would do anything to Shouko in the presence of Shio—which calls to mind how exactly Shio’s kidnapping went down. More concerning is the fact the masochistic teacher is tailing Satou. I can’t see any of this ending well.

Happy Sugar Life – 05 – Crime and Punishment

Just as she senses something’s off about Shio, Satou finds her latest challenge at work in her kohai Su-chan. After expertly disarming an unruly customer, Satou notices someone’s been through her locker, and that’s when Su-chan tells her all of the obsessive things she’s done to try to be just like her, from copying her bag to wearing the same makeup and underwear.

But it’s not enough, and Su-chan thinks it’s because there are still pieces of Satou’s life she’s missing…her home life. For Su-chan, getting into that is like stepping on a pink macaron land-mine. But Satou has become very adept at dealing with people without violence (like that customer) as much as with. You can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar, after all.

So Satou calms down from the panic of Su-chan bringing up her home life…and proceeds to make out with Su-chan, confessing that she loves her “just the way she is” and ever-so-gently warning her to stop prying. Su-chan is so overwhelmed by the object of her infatuation all over her—and spooked by the warning—that she seems to fall in line. But who can be sure it will stay that way?

Meanwhile, Shouko is one of the only halfway decent human beings in this show. She takes a day off work and pays a visit to Taiyo’s house to see how he’s doing. She inadvertently enters his room, sees the dozens of Shio flyers, and freaks. Taiyo explains how the girl in the flyers is his purifying angel. Does that convince Shouko everything’s fine? Reader, it does not.

He then pushes Shouko against the door, grabs her too hard, and demands that she help him get Shio back from the one who is hoarding her all for herself: Satou. The unwanted physical contact and accusations towards her friend comprise the final straws for Shouko, who shoves Taiyo down and leaves, disgusted that someone “so hot” is so, well, disgusting.

But as she passes another Shio flyer in the street, the seed Taiyo planted begins to sprout—Satou couldn’t kidnap somebody…or could she? Shio’s brother Asahi appears behind her, no doubt to answer that question if asked.

Back home Satou finds Shio crumpled lying on the floor in the dark, talking about “punishment.” She confesses that while she was outside she did talk to someone, and believes her headaches and vision and need to draw a creepy image of her mother, who it seems was harmfully overprotective.

But Satou starts to think this bitter, bitter-tasting situation is her punishment, for lying to Shio. No, not about the people she’s killed, maimed, seduced, or extorted. Because she lied about loving someone else! That, to her, was the one and only crime she committed that is causing the bitterness.

After confessing, Shio forgives her, and the two seem back on the Happy Sugar side. But while Satou believes hiding and omitting things from her love isn’t lying, it ultimately has the same effect…especially if and when those lies are exposed. Too many people now have their eyes fixed on Satou’s life and Shio’s whereabouts. Her true punishment hasn’t really begun.

Happy Sugar Life – 04 – This is Also Love

The blood from the beating of Mitsuboshi by two sociopath guys dredges up unpleasant memories for Shio: those of her mother saying she’ll never forgive her for letting go of her hand. Uh, that’s really unreasonable, Shio’s Mom! Why is everyone in this show have to be so goddamn INSANE smh.

Satou rolls the dice and manages to take out both of the guys with taser (which thankfully didn’t die on her; anime tasers are very fickle) and a knife (gouging out the eyes of one). She scoops up the unconscious Shio and whisks her home to her suddenly very insecure feeling “castle.”

It’s clear Shio had problems well before Satou met her, but Satou has similar traumatic memories of interacting with an adult guardian who was not okay in the head. In this case, Satou’s aunt, who was always covered in bruises and bandages, explaining them away to her niece as “another kind of love.” Yeaaah, notsomuch. Control is not love.

The next morning things seem to be back to normal, but the previous night Satou saw fit to install exterior locks to keep her Happy Sugar Girl “safe” (i.e. under control). Words of trust are no longer sufficient, not after last night, the outcome of which Satou is at least lucid enough to know was extremely lucky.

This is a show where it’s almost never good when two people are together (except I guess for Satou and Shio), but things aren’t much better when anyone is alone: Satou’s teacher is suspicious that her aunt isn’t answering the phone, but also just wants Satou to insult and punish him more.

Mitsuboshi witnessed Satou making off with Shio, posters of whom he’s plastered all over his room, because now he’s a demented lolicon who has become fixated on the girl be belives to be his “angel” and salvation. Even Shio has her private secret: scrawling a crude drawing in the closet while in a trance and chanting “spinning.” 2018, AMIRITE?

Shio snaps out of it when Satou comes home early, which is because her cafe staff was sent home early due to the violent attacks in the vicinity. Still, Satou needs to keep working so she can keep saving to buy (hopefully not rent) a stronger “castle” in which to preserve her HSL. While she only speaks of an expensive dream to her co-workers, her brown-haired kohai is impressed by her dedication.

That night, after giving up on cleaning the blood off the wall of the murder room (maybe she needs to call The Wolf), Satou gazes at her account balance on her phone, which I may henceforth call Chekhov’s Account Balance on her phone, since, at some point, those savings could either be spent or vanished via some foul play. In any case, Satou doesn’t really love Shio; she just wants something all hers that she can control.

Meanwhile, the drawing of Chio’s mother lurks menacingly in the closet—another stain Satou can’t remove—while at the closed cafe the brown-haired kohai breaks into Satou’s locker and smells her clothes with alarming gusto. What can you say—she’s a psycho magnet.

Happy Sugar Life – 03 – Escalating Bitterness

This episode operates within the same night that Mitsuboshi brings Asahi to the staff room of the cafe, and as a result, it feels a lot more claustrophobic; there’s no sunlight; only the brief but blinding light of Mitsuboshi offering to escort Asahi home.

Asahi doesn’t know he just survived a crowbar attack by Satou because she realized this was not the place to cut loose; to do so would end her Happy Sugar Life for sure. Unfortunately, that life is jeopardized anyway when Shio, scared that Satou still hasn’t come home, ventures outside the apartment to search for her.

Later, we’re reminded it isn’t just adults who are all horrible people in this show, but most people in general, as Mitsuboshi is just way too into the poster of Shio. By the time Satou gets home to find Shio gone, Shio has gotten lost, and since she’s not wearing shoes, has cut her foot.

Shio also continually has a hallucination of what I imagine to be her mother, who Asahi tried to get out of the house with Shio, and away from their abusive father (or whoever the man was who was living there). Shio only remembers bits and pieces; no doubt the memories of witnessing abuse are repressed.

Mitsuboshi finds Shio before Satou does, and that’s when things get weird. Mitsuboshi, sweating, panting, and barely able to restrain himself believes that being touched by Shio will “purify”, undoing the “corruption” of his old manager. He takes it a step further by saying that his touching her will have the same effect and…yyeeeaaah, anytime a guy is talking about touching a little kid, that’s when we have to put up our hands and say NOPE.

I hate to say it, but the return of two more awful younger dudes, the ones who beat up Asahi for no real reason, is a blessing in disguise for Shio. On the one hand, Mitsuboshi was himself the victim of sexual abuse, but that doesn’t entitle him to abuse others. It’s terrible that he gets beaten, but it does buy precious time for Satou to try to find Shio. Better the devil you know…I guess?

Happy Sugar Life – 02 – All Adults are Terrible

Are those bags of human remains Satou’s former classmates, Shio’s parents…or her former Aunt? Flashes back to her past seem to strongly suggest the emotional toll from that past is what molded her into what she is today, only clinging to normalcy with the knowledge there’ll be a cute Shio waiting for her at home…but how long will that remain the case?

It certainly feels so far like that aunt let her down after her parents died, and after having to deal with an awful adult in the cafe manager last week, this time Satou’s adult nemesis is a teacher at her school—one who the other girls fawn over for being “single and hot” but who is not only married with a kid, but gets off on the thrill of stalking girls.

This time, he stalked the wrong girl.

Satou pulls a personal alarm, and the teacher slinks away, and she’s able to get home to Shio and cancel out the adult’s bitterness with Shio’s almost overwhelming sweetness. The next morning Satou is at the gate of the teacher’s house, and his wife almost sees her unbuttoning her blouse.

Satou knows threatening an M like him will only get him excited, but she still does it to make it perfectly clear she won’t brook any more nonsense from him, especially comparing his version of love to hers. She also makes him dispose of her body part bags…which he also likes.

Meanwhile, we get some Shio day-in-the-life, where she tries to help out by cleaning but can’t grasp the need to plug in a vacuum, and has no idea how to cook. She also notices the locked door to Satou’s death room, and actually passes out when the outside balcony triggers a flashback of her own; perhaps to the time when Satou first snatched her.

Of course, it isn’t just adults who are awful on this show. Mitsuboshi, who starts work at Satou’s other cafe, may be a victim of an older woman (and the trauma makes him nauseous whenever another older woman touches him), but he privately reveals he’s a lolicon, with specific hots for Shio, who he knows from the missing posters Shio’s older brother has distributed.

Strange connections are made when Satou’s co-worker Shoko, then Mitsuboshi come across the brother getting beaten up by punks. The brother’s state of hygiene suggests his parents are dead and he’s all alone on the streets, desperate to find Shio. Mitsuboshi brings him to the cafe break room, where the brother starts muttering the same “marriage vows” she and Shio made.

All alone with the brother, who is a direct risk to her only recently-stabilized happy sugar life, Satou snaps into the mode she deems necessary to preserve and protect that life, and prepares to brain the brother with a crowbar. Does she end up killing him right there in her very public workspace?

Happy Sugar Life – 01 (First Impressions) – A Bittersweet Symphony

Sooooo, this is a show about a crazy person! She was once not crazy, but just kinda…there, sleeping around, feeling nothing. But then she felt something she never felt before: pure, true love. Interestingly, she felt it for a young girl, Chio, whom she keeps at an apartment she’s maintaining, and treats her like something between a daughter and a little sister.

Upon meeting her, Chio became Satou’s everything, so she now does anything and everything she can to ensure they can remain together and keep the lights on and their bellies full. And I mean anything.

She has to work in order to afford utilities, food, and the like, so Satou gets a job at a cafe run by an older (but still young) woman. When Satou becomes the toast of the town there due to her innate cuteness, and a waiter confesses and asks her out, her coworker snitches on her about rejecting him.

The manager then proceeds to make Satou’s life miserable, making her work overtime doing pointless tasks. But when she docks her pay, the very thing keeping Satou in her titular “happy sugar life” with Chio, Satou snaps, and fights back, proving she can be just as ruthless as those who wronged her.

Satou gets the manager to confess on video ranting about what she did to the rejected waiter (who is locked in her closet, naked and crying, the victim of sexual assault) but isn’t interested in justice, only blackmail and getting paid. The ordeal is a very bitter experience for her, but it all melts away to sweetness when she returns home to Chio.

The only problem is, their “home” is a house whose original occupants she murdered and still stores their hacked-up remains in a spare room, the bags drawn shut with, presumably, the hair ribbons of Satou’s victims. We also learn that Chio is a missing child, and that her older sister might be Satou’s only friend in the episode, whose body fat content she could calculate with creepy precision.

So it would seem her experience at the restaurant didn’t make her crazy; she was crazy long before that but was simply trying to keep it together. Obviously, it’s a bit difficult to root per se for a homicidal kidnapping monster, especially when her charge Chio is pretty much a cipher.

Chio may not be in immediate danger—she’s the one thing in the world Satou seems to actually value—but then again, Chio never once asks what’s going on, where her family is, or whether it’s okay if she can please go now. Does Satou love Chio enough to give her back to her real family, or is her love wholly dependent on possession? Hmmmm…

Overlord II – 10

This week Sebas must deal with the fallout of his individual actions which drew undue attention to him and by extension Nazarick. However, as expected, Lord Ainz is understanding, and also convinced of Sebas’ absolute loyalty when he orders the Butler to kill Tuare and Cocytus has to step in to stop him.

When Ainz asks Sebas how it benefits him to have Tuare come to Nazarick with them, Sebas says she can cook. This leads to bickering between Sebas and Demiurge about what kind of cooking is “worthy” of Nazarick, which reminds Ainz of the bickering his fellow players once engage in; a pleasant memory.

Tuare, for her part, is ready to follow Sebas wherever he leads, and wouldn’t mind even if he had to kill her for real, giving him her first happy kiss; possibly his as well.

Over at the palace, Princess Renner is getting ready to unleash Blue Rose on Eight Fingers, but knows she’ll need more men, so she invites Marquis Raeven to her chambers for a chat.

Her brother, the Second Prince, also tags along, and is a lot less antagonistic, especially when he learns just how much his sister knows about the complex political tapestry draped across the kingdom; not to mention when she shows her “real” side, which Raeven likes, but decidedly not if it means betrothing his five-year-old-son to her.

Renner intends to bear children with Climb, but her official, noble-born husband will make those children legitimate. Or something. It’s all…a little arcane? Bottom line, Renner has the troops she needs to bring Eight Fingers down, and she intends to add Gazef Stronoff to those numbers. It should be quite a raid.

Meanwhile, Lord Ainz ordered everyone from Nazarick back to Nazarick, but first orders Sebas and Solution to take care of a grain purchase for Demiurge’s sheep. Why neither Demiurge nor Sebas on his own could accomplish this errand, or why Tuare is left so exposed and vulnerable, is not explained. All we know is Tuare has been re-kidnapped by Eight Fingers, and Sebas intends to rescue her.

I’m certain such a rescue mission, for which Sebas orders Albedo to arrange assistance, will be entertaining, but it seems rather artificially created crisis borne out of abject stupidity on the part of all involved parties. It makes me wonder if the kidnapping truly was set up, perhaps so Ainz could further observe just how far Sebas’ attachment to one lowly human really goes.

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.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 02

Mari’s seething wanderlust, as well as her determination not to waste what’s left of her high school youth, makes her extra susceptible to Shirase’s Antarctic plans. When Shirase tells her to get a part-time job at once, Mari is looking for ’em (interestingly, both of them come across the same sketchy job offer for “hospitality” work with guys).

Megumi thus plays the crucial role of managing Mari’s expectations. The expedition Shirase wants to join is in dire financial straits. The safety of those who join it is not guaranteed. They’re not simply going to let high school kids join them just because they really really want to.

When Megumi’s pragmatism slips into Mari’s interactions with Shirase, Shirase can smell the doubt and hesitation, and snaps at Mari, storming off. But Mari doesn’t doubt Shirase, and she does want to do it…she just wants to do it right. As Mari forlornly walks alone, it isn’t long before Shirase returns, realizing she was too harsh, but assuring Mari she does have a plan in place.

That same evening, Mari has a part-time job, at the local convenience store. There, she meets fellow 16-year-old Miyake Hinata (Iguchi Yuka, doing her Araragi Tsukihi voice), who shows an eager Mari the ropes.

The subject of The Trip comes up, and Hinata wants IN. Thankfully, Shirase isn’t particular about who else comes along, and so now the two are three. And while Hinata’s decision to join them seems abrupt (and it kinda is regardless), she’s a person who’s never liked blending in with the crowd, which is why she bypassed high school and is working towards college.

Her time working at the konbini also made her good at observing people, like the students of Mari and Shirase’s school, including the two of them. She always saw something different about them; something she calls “honesty”. Genuine-ness, earnesty, whatever you call it, she knew they were special, and wanted to be a part of what their noble undertaking.

Next stop: Shinjuku, and these three girls from Gunma stick out like a sore thumb-ma (sorry, that was really lame). The intense sights and sounds of the big city make all three a little crazy, but nobody more than Shirase, who reveals that her grand plan was to crash the Antarctic expedition meet-up (in Kabukicho of all places) by…seducing the guys.

The moment Shirase points her head up and tries to act like a “college student” like it’s no big deal, she’s immediately picked up by a guy, and becomes understandably flustered. She’s also adamant that she can’t be the one who attempts the seduction of the expedition team, because they know her.

So Shirase and Hinata shove Mari out, and her old-fashioned sexy pose utterly fails, they shove Shirase out. The people who know her spot her, and the chase is on. Why do the girls run? I’m not sure, but neither are they. Well, Shirase knows, because this isn’t the first time she’s tried to join the expedition.

But despite the fact Shirase’s plan is crumbling before our very eyes, the fact of the matter is that she, Mari, and Hinata are having a hell of a lot of fun running around Shinjuku…Youth In Motion. Unfortunately, none of the three (even Hinata, good in short-distance sprinting) can beat the stamina of their pursuers.

I love how I was just as taken in by the legitimacy and precision of her plan as Mari and Hinata, even with Megumi offering early words of caution. And yet, even with the adults here telling Shirase “this isn’t happening”, even when they refuse her part-time Antarctica fund…even if what she’s doing amounts to chasing her mother’s ghost, I’m still on Shirase’s side.

She has to go to Antarctica. She can’t not. What kind of show would this be if she failed? It’s just, she’s gone about it the wrong way. Seduction and bribes won’t be effective, but maybe something—or someone else will be. Someone like, say, the daughter of the wealthy-looking woman who was with the expedition team.

That girl happens to be on the same train as the other three girls, two of which—Hinata and Mari—vote to relieve Shirase of her leadership role. It’s for her own good. She’s been trying and failing to get on that ship her way for the better part of three years. Now it’s time to see if others have more luck.

Gorgeous, charming, emotionally satisfying, and brimming with the energy of determined youth, and the anticipation of adventure writ both small (Shinjuku) and large (further south), Yorimoi is a no-brainer Winter keeper.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 01 (First Impressions)

Tamaki Mari (voiced by a nicely toned-down Minase Inori) is restless. It’s her second year of high school and she hasn’t done anything to celebrate her youth. She sleeps in too late and keeps a messy room. One day, she decides no more—she’ll skip school, change out of her uni at the train station, go on a trip without a plan.

But the same thing befalls her that always befalls her when attempting to undertake bold endeavors: she chickens out at the last second, blaming the rain for squashing her Tokyo trip, along with the possibility of planes crashing or trains exploding.

In reality, the culprit was a simple and understandable fear of facing the unknown alone; fear of leaving one’s comfort zone and not being able to return. Her classmate and friend Megumi (Kanemoto Hisako) doesn’t think it’s necessarily a bad trait to have, but Mari hates that part of herself. She feels it’s stifling her youth.

Then something strange and auspicious and wonderful is set into motion when Mari sees a beautiful raven-haired girl wearing her school uniform running past her on the train platform. In her haste, the girl drops something: an envelope containing ONE MILLION YEN (about $8800).

The next day, Mari tells Megumi about the giant wad of cash and enlists her aid in locating the raven-haired maiden with the memorable conditioner. Mari spots her entering the bathroom, stuffing herself into a stall, bashing its walls, and quietly sobbing “one million…one million.”

When the girl (voiced by Hanazawa Kana) opens the stall door, Mari presents her with the cash, and after momentary suspicion, the girl has a paroxysm of relief and gratitude, embracing Mari like an old friend. Finding the cash was chance.

Returning every last Fukuzawa to their rightful owner was a choice, and it was the right one, for this strange, expressive girl, who Mari learns is named Kobuchizawa Shirase, is using the cash to do what Mari longs to do: go on a journey.

Shirase’s destination? Antarctica, to find her mother who went missing there after an expedition. Every single peer and adult to hears of her plans all believe the same thing: she’s off her rocker. She spends all non-school time working part-time and saving money instead of having fun with friends.

You could say Shirase is deferring her youth to a later time and a more incredible place (i.e. Antarctica). But girls at school call her “Antarctica”, and some even try to bully her into lending them some of her hard-earned savings.

Enter Mari, who saves Shirase from the bullies and offers her encouragement and excitement over the journey she’s about to undertake, and wants to help in any way she can. Shirase comes right out with it, asking Mari if she’d like to come along.

Mari very much wants to, and prepares to meet up with her at the station, where a train will take them to the icebreaker that will eventually take them to Antarctica, the titular “place further than the universe”, 14,000 km from Japan and the universe Mari knows.

This time, Mari doesn’t chicken out at the last second, and Shirase’s look of elation tells you everything you need to know about how many who claimed to support her backed out at the last second, as Mari was once wont to do. But Mari is committed, inspired as she is by the sheer audacity and dedication Shirase has exhibited. Very soon, they’ll be off, and from the look of the OP, they’ll be joined by two others.

This show was a pleasant surprise for me; I knew nothing but the one-sentence synopsis on MAL when checking it out…that and the fact it was a Madhouse show and that it’s absolutely stacked with voice talent.

Throughout the episode there’s the feeling of a great wave of adventure about to crest, or as Mari puts it, an isolated pool of seawater suddenly breaching and bursting forth, like her youth. As soon as we see the ship, things start to feel real.

Not only that, but both Mari and Shirase exhibit an infectious exuberance that really comes through in their diverse facial expressions and the always-welcome vocal chords of Hanazawa and Minase. I’m looking forward to watching their adventure unfold!

Kino no Tabi – 06

This week is spent “up in the clouds” and barely involves Kino at all—she and Hermes only bookend the episode. In their stead, we get a lovely, beautiful, and heartwrenching semi-allegorical tale up in the mountains involving a new character, an orphan girl (voiced by Minase Inori, who is everywhere), sold into servitude, constantly treated like crap by her merchant owners, adult and child alike.

The episode wastes no time portraying those owners as a complete waste of life; they never let off the gas pedal of abuse, both verbal and physical, and the girl just…takes it all. They ask if she hates them, and she says she doesn’t. She doesn’t hate, resent, or wish harm on anyone; to do so would be a sin. They mock her piety, believing only humans who act inhuman survive in this ugly world.

Of course, part of the title of this show is The Beautiful World, with the understanding that the world is beautiful because it isn’t…but the mountaintop environs are ironically utterly gorgeous. If only the girl had better company.

She realizes too late that the herbs she picked and added to the soup for dinner were poisonous, and all attempts to warn her owners fall on deaf ears. She steels herself to drink the soup and die with them rather than live as a murderer (however unintentional), but a boy seals his fate by knocking her bowl out of her hands; she’s later hit with a rock and knocked out.

When she wakes up, the merchants are still alive, and the boy has convinced his father to sell him the girl so he can take his time killing her in order to “become a man”, which is what we’d call overkill. What the hell is this kid, the Devil’s Spawn? In any case, the poison kicks in and they all die before the girl’s eyes.

The only survivor is the man who told his younger colleague, essentially, that the girl being a slave while they’re free comes down to luck; “there but for the grace of God go I” kinda deal.

He believes that until his death, which is semi-self-inflicted, as he pretends to instruct the girl on how to use his rifle to kill herself, but fixes it so she shoots him instead. Before he dies, he unchains her, and with his last breath, tells her to live her life; she’ll understand someday why things happened this way.

To the girl’s shock, there’s a voice coming from one of the wagons. It’s a talking motorrad (in the form of an adorable Honda Motocompo) who has been listening to everything going on, and congratulates the girl on her freedom.

The girl still wants to die, but in the same vein as the last man to die, the motorrad tells her the only way to die is to live life. No one knows how or when death will come, but it comes for everyone. The circumstances that led to the girl’s current position shouldn’t be considered grounds for immediate death. Indeed, it was clearly her fate to survive, escape the shackles of bondage, and strike out on her own. Why else would she meet a talking motorrad immediately after her last captor died?

We see Kino and Hermes arriving at the camp where the bodies of the merchants remain; not much time has passed since the girl and the motorrad left. But as the credits roll we learn what became of her: she was accepted as an immigrant in a new country after telling them her story, took up photography, and became successful and esteemed.

She took on the name Photo, and kept her first friend, the motorrad whose name is Sou, close by the whole time. Sou believes she’s happy. She certainly looks content. I wonder if she’ll ever meet Kino…