Fruits Basket – 54 – Coming Home

After a cryptic cold open in which Akito shows Kureno a black box presumably containing her father’s remains, we shift to Yuki asking Hatsuharu about Rin. Haru doesn’t know any of the details, but was unaware Rin had become close with Tooru, and gleams with pride. He tells Yuki to thank Tooru, and “if it all goes wrong”, to comfort her.

Kisa and Hiro, who are both taller now, head to Hiro’s house so Kisa can meet lil’ Hinata. Hiro admits that whenever he sees Hinata, he thinks of how stupid he is to always be wrapped up in his vanity and fear. He wants to be a brother who can protect her. That’s why even when he bumps into Haru to ruin the mood, Hiro is intent on apologizing to Kisa, since it was his fault Akito hit her.

He tells Haru that Akito pushed Rin off the balcony, but Akito and Rin both told him to keep his mouth shut. He also knows Rin is trying to break the Zodiac curse, which is why she left Haru—to shield him from whatever consequences she’d face. And as Haru tells these truths to lighten his heart, Kureno spots a maid delivering food to the Cat’s cottage, demands the key, and discovers a starving Rin imprisoned there.

The lovely, innocent exchange between Hiro and Kisa is a preemptive balm for the harsh events that follow in this episode. This is an episode full of beautiful and terrible moments. As soon as he takes his leave of Hiro and Kisa, Haru becomes Dark Haru, and storms right into Akito’s rooms to confront him*—decorum be damned.

*While we, Kureno, Shigure, and Tooru know the truth about Akito’s biological sex, Haru is one of the Zodiac members still in the dark, hence the male pronouns I use for Akito when interacting with Haru.

We’re reminded how scary Hatsuharu can be when he’s pissed off, and he has every right to be, especially when Akito denies he pushed Rin off the balcony and pretends not to know where she is now. Haru is about to get violent with him when Kureno comes in and tells Haru that Rin is in the hospital under Hatori’s care.

Then Kureno scolds Akito for doing something so monstrously cruel. He may have vowed to remain by her side forever, but he didn’t say anything about standing by and letting her pull this kind of shit. For all the shading we’ve gotten into Akito’s own background and trauma, she continues to sabotage any chance of sympathy by being so goddamn villainous.

When Akito’s demeanor changes and he tries to play the victim of Kureno’s betrayal, Haru violently grabs him, but Akito is ready with the gaslighting, saying it’s Haru’s fault Rin is suffering; he dug her grave when he decided to fall in love with her, knowing full well how Akito would react.

Akito tries to turn Haru’s love for Rin against him, into a defect that rendered him worthless when he felt Rin needed him most. And it works—at least at first, as Haru punches the wall instead of Akito, and warns him not to say anything else lest he kill him and then himself.

As he storms off, Kureno urges him never to return there, but instead to go to the hospital to see Rin, who surely wants to see him more than anything. While she was malnourished and barely conscious when Kureno found her, Rin’s first word was “Haru.” Upon hearing that, the rope representing the curse binding Haru with Akito begins to fray.

Rin, meanwhile, ends up escaping from her hospital room, as is her habit, lamenting that she has “no home to go to” anymore. She wanders the streets barefoot and frail, remembering how she ended up in the cat prison in the first place. While sneaking around the Souma compound, Rin was caught by Ren, who agreed to tell her the secret to breaking the curse if she retrieved a “treasure” from Akito’s room: the box Akito called “father.”

Rin is caught red-handed by Akito, her hair is roughly snipped off, and she’s thrown into the Cat’s cottage to rot. As for Ren? She never knew the cure to the curse, and was only using Rin, whom she always dispised. Last week didn’t show us a short-haired Rin; it was Akito with those scissors. Akito warns Rin to go into exile or Haru will lose his eyesight. Rin decides to stay in the prison and waste away, deeming herself “no good” for failing to find the secret to Haru’s happiness—i.e. the cure for the curse.

In her delirious state Rin believes she’s still imprisoned, and wishes that if she’s going to die, that at least her final dream will be of her beloved Haru, spoiling her with his kindness. She gets her wish, except that it’s not a dream: he finally found her collapsed on the sidewalk. Haru was always Rin’s true home—and vice versa—so when she “returns” from her long journey, it’s only appropriate that he say “Welcome Home.” He needs her to come home to him, or it’ll be too lonely to bear.

He scoops her up (she can’t weigh more than 90 pounds). She protests, saying she can walk on her own, but he refuses to let her go, not when he came so close to losing her! When he saw her on the ground years ago, he did nothing, but now he’s older, and wiser, and stronger, and loves her so much more, so no matter how many times she needs to be carried, it would never be a burden for him.

As two random elementary school kids gawk at the powerful, adorable romantic scene unfolding before them, Rin says “I’m home”, and she and Haru embrace tightly as one, her long journey finally at an end. Thank God. Not Akito though…a better god!

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Fruits Basket – 53 – Let’s Make Footprints Together

Kuragi Machi hates perfection. She hates it wherever it is, such that when presented with a fresh box of chalk, she must dash it on the floor, shattering every piece. Two classmates report her stunt to Yuki at the StuCo office, mentioning a rumor she was kicked out of her home for trying to kill her brother. Machi stops by the office just in time to see her classmates have spread the rumor to Yuki, and runs off with her awful parents’ voices in her head.

Manabe partially corroborates the classmates’ story, but he admits he only knows the story the parents fed him, so it might not be true. What Manabe does know is that he once watched Machi obsessively make footprints in the freshly fallen snow. Manabe takes Yuki to Machi’s apartment, which Yuki charitiably describes as the “Sea of Decay”, while Manabe hands him one of her bras. Manabe then leaves the two alone to take out the trash.

Manabe leaves the two alone to take out the trash, and as Yuki tapes her cracked window, Machi tells him to ask and believe whatever he wants, since she’s given up trying to set the record straight. Yuki rather easily deduces that Machi is bothered by orderly things. It harkens to the fact her awful parents demanded absolute perfection, then dismissed her as boring and lacking in individuality.

When her little brother was born, her parents got the son they wanted, and had no further use for her. Yuki rejects her being something her parents “got wrong”, as she worked hard to be the Machi he knows and he’s glad she’s there. Machi admits she was never jealous of her brother; she was only trying to place a blanket on him when she thought he might get cold.

It was her psycho mom who accused her of trying to kill him, leading to her exile and the rumors. Then Yuki says if the snow piles up, he’ll make footprints in it with her. That hella-smooth line almost leads to a kiss between the two, were it not for the unsilenced phone of an  eavesdropping Manabe.

The next day at the StuCo meeting, Kimi thoughtlessly slides another fresh box of chalk in Machi’s face, but just as Machi is freaking out, Yuki reaches over and snaps one of the pieces without interrupting his announcements.

For the first time, Machi looks forward to the next time it snows, while I look forward to Machi and Yuki growing closer. After the meeting, Yuki makes a quick check-in and is just in time to save Tooru from a ladder off which Kyou falls. Then he heads to an “appointment” with none other than graduating senior Minagawa Motoko.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Motoko despite her often underhanded tactics to get a little closer to Yuki, so I was perfectly fine with her getting a proper sendoff scene here, in which she wants to make clear and plain her feelings to Yuki not so he’ll return them, but just so he knows she loved him, he made her school days happy, and she hopes he’ll find happiness too, or greater happiness if he’s already happy.

We then learn why Nao has been so hostile towards Yuki and even called him his “rival”, when he locates Motoko giving the classroom one last look and tries his best to make his feelings known to her. Like she did with Yuki, it’s more about wishing her well in the future than confessing and expecting an answer, and Motoko’s response seems more than enough for Nao.

The final few minutes are a grab bag, as Hiro meets his baby sister Hinata, Kagura worries about Isuzu’s whereabouts to Hatori and Shigure, and Isuzu emerges from what looks like a building on the Souma compound, donning a white robe and having just cut her hair short. I couldn’t help but notice how closely she resembles Akito from behind, and that might just be intentional on her part. To be continued…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fruits Basket – 52 – An Unwavering Truth

I’m not here to forgive Akito for her two-plus seasons (and years before that) of acting horribly shitty to just about everyone, from all of the Zodiac spirits to Honda Tooru, probably the human being least deserving of malice and cruelty in the universe.

But I’m not going to pretend she’s had it easy, either. No one cursed with the Souma name does, and just because she’s revered as god who can boss the others around doesn’t mean doing so makes her feel remotely happy or fulfilled. Nor is she immune to the nefarious Shigure’s twisted mind games!

Akito recalls a beautiful memory of years ago when she asked Shigure if he loved her. He plucks a nearby red tsubaki (Camellia) bloom—a symbol of love and desire—and tells her he not only loves her but cares about her more than anyone, which he calls “an unwavering truth”. She recalls this while in bed with a sleeping Kureno.

It’s apparently a tradition to make paper carnations at Tooru’s school, and Shigure decides to join her and make one of his own. Tooru is sitting on the bombshell of Akito’s true gender and Kureno being free of the curse, but in her usual deference to others’ feelings, she’s unable to broach the topic with Shigure. But thinking about it is like staring down a deep dark cave, and if she doesn’t tell someone, she could fall in.

This episode helpfully reminds us that school, Prince Yuki, and the much less brazen Kyou Fan Club still exist, and if the school stuff is often the weakest material Fruits Basket offers, it’s still better than 90% of other school stuff in my books!

Nearly everyone at school is fake-flower crazy. Motoko and Co. launch a raid to steal the paper flowers Yuki made for themselves, while Kyou’s admirers steal his, invoking his ire. Arisa assembles a posse to round them up.

And then there’s Machi, who quietly tails Yuki around the school as he checks in on everyone and offers to help out; everyone politely refuses, unwilling to sully a prince’s hands with common man’s work. But Machi eventually catches up to him, out of breath, only to freeze up and say she just wanted to say hello.

When Machi complains about him “roaming an unpredictable route” in which she’d kept “losing” him, the words carry more weight and meaning then mere practical considerations. When Yuki realizes she came to him and only him “of all people”, he blushes and gently puts his hand on her head. She lashes out at him, but he ends up with a flower in his hand: a flower even more of a mess than the ones he made…but of course it’s not about the quality of the flower, but whom you give it to.

While Arisa, Saki, and other classmates are chasing down Prince Yuki, Tooru is alone with Ryou, and she feels she can try to bring it up to him. She asks hypothetically what he’d do if there was someone in the Zodiac whose curse was broken, Old Ryou spits back not to ask such questions, because he couldn’t begin to answer them.

However, when he sees Tooru’s face suddenly go flat and hollow, the New and improved Ryou resurfaces, and when a simple and emphatic apology isn’t enough, he offers her his flower, which she gently takes as they’re bathed in the golden sun of the late afternoon. Their beautiful moment is rudely interrupted by Arisa & Co announcing the culprits have been found and justice done.

When Shigure presents the red paper flower he made to Akito, she asks him if there’s something familiar about this scene, but he’s evasive. As Tooru and Yuki wash dishes, Ryou reports that Shigure will be out late. Yuki assumes he’s out torturing his editor, whiel Tooru just realized one person she might be able to talk to about Kureno is Rin. But her search for Rin at her school comes up empty, as Rin’s classmates say she’s on one of her absence streaks “somewhere far away”.

In an unfortunate coincidence, Mitchan picked the same restaurant for their meeting where Akito, Shigure’s parents, and other important guests are having a big dinner. Mitchan catches a glimpse of Akito in a black suit, agrees with Shigure that he’s as white as a ghost, but also says he’s pretty. Akito spots Shigure snubbing her and leaving with the other woman…which is probably exactly what Shigure intended.

In a call with Kureno at an undetermined date, Shigure, who knows his curse is broken, berates Kureno for not abandoning Akito. Shigure also makes perfectly clear that he hates Kureno’s fucking guts—apparently another unwavering truth. Kureno pleads with Shigure not to keep being so cold with Akito.

That’s because for as loyal and present or Akito as Kureno is at all times, Akito never loved him as much as she loved—loves—Shigure. Akito comes home in a foul mood and when she’s informed Shigure is there, orders everyone to stay the fuck away.

Their encounter begins with her asking about the woman he was with and whether he slept with her like he sleeps with every woman. Like he slept with that woman…her own mother, Ren. We learn that when he did, she punished him by telling him to leave. But Akito still thinks he only slept with Ren as an excuse to leave, as he didn’t put up a fight.

When an increasingly upset Akito rants about Shigure liking and wanting “her”—whether that’s Ren or, uh, someone else—Shigure repeats what he said the day he gave her a camellia: I care about you more than anyone. That’s an unwavering truth. He remembered. He didn’t waver. And he says he only slept with Ren because she slept with Kureno.

As Shigure puts it, he loves Akito so much that sometimes he wants to “spoil her rotten”, and sometimes he wants to “crush her to a pulp”. Jesus. He starts to leave, concerned they’re simply repeating the same argument they always have, but then Akito throws herself—HERself—at him, and in a thoroughly steamy gesture, rips her tie off and embraces her.

The day Shigure told Akito he loved her, she fell in love with him, and never stopped. When Akito and Kureno became an item, it doubtless hurt Shigure profoundly…but the unwavering truth endured. I still can’t trust the guy any farther than I can throw him, but damn it all if his and Akito’s love and longing isn’t gorgeous in its gloominess.

Fruits Basket – 51 (S3 01) – There’s No Night that Doesn’t End

Where we last left off, Kureno had just revealed to Tooru that not only was Akito a woman. No matter how much he loved Arisa, he couldn’t leave Akito’s side, not even after being freed from the curse—or especially because of that. He further explains that Akito was raised a male from birth because it was decreed by her mother Ren, to whom we are finally introduced.

Ren still lives on the grounds, but as Kureno puts it she has “some…troubles, mentally and physically.” Akito freaks out when Ren even tries to touch Hatori, while Ren insists Akito’s belief that her bonds with the Zodiac animals are real love and eternally unchanging is nothing but fantasy.

Her cruel taunting of her daughter—whom she made into a sun by pure will—causes Akito to fly into a rage, but Ren wouldn’t mind being killed, because it would mean reuniting with Akira, Akito’s late father. In a flashback Akira tells Akito she was “born to be loved”, but to Akira that probably doesn’t mean being venerated as a god.

The thing is, Ren may question whether the Zodiac bonds are right or even real, Kureno, Shigure, Hatori, and Ayame all woke up in tears the same morning Akito was conceived. Before appearing in Ren’s belly, Akito came to them in a dream, and the four kids ran to Ren, who didn’t even know she was pregnant.

From that day, Kureno felt the other self that lived inside him, in his blood, and knew he could never betray her. Even if the bond was unnatural, or painful, he simply could never push away a crying Akito, and so can’t see Arisa. Because just as Akito wounds others, she herself is wounded.

Kureno said all of this to properly explain why he can’t leave Akito ever, and that the choice to stay with her is his alone, not guided by any curse. As he leaves her in the courtyard, the DVD falls out of Tooru’s hands and she cannot move for some time, frozen by the weight of this new information.

Her scarf flies away, she falls to her knees. Rin, her ally in ending the curse, watches this from afar. Kureno explains how he went out for fresh air, gets a vicious slap from Akito, and then the two gently embrace. Then, like a gothic fairy, Saki approaches Tooru, flanked by Megumi, and announces she is “here to save the day. Ta-da.”

After informing Yuki that Tooru is in her “custody” and will be her’s “all night” (phrasing!) Saki prepares a “Nightgown Festival” to soothe Tooru’s troubled soul. She tells Tooru that she was able to detect Tooru crying in a voice no one else could hear, but was deafening to her. Tooru explains how she tried to bring Kureno and Arisa together, to make up for all the things people like Arisa did to help her…but she failed, so she’s useless.

As we see Kyou spot Tooru’s scarf lying in the street, Tooru tells Saki how Kureno is someone who puts others’ feelings before his own. I’m glad Saki’s there to essentially say “look in the mirror…that’s you!”. Saki worries if Tooru keeps taking everyone’s feelings on her shoulders, it will crush her, and her smile will disappear. Arisa enters Saki’s room to add that if Tooru’s smile disappears, “it will be the end of the world.” Neither of them will let that happen.

Arisa sits with Tooru and says she’s “trash” for maing her cry. Tooru says she’s not trash, and Arisa in turn says Tooru isn’t useless. What she is is a dummy, just as Kureno is a dummy, and Arisa can’t help but love dummies. But because she loves them, she doesn’t want to cause problems for them, so she gathers Tooru in a hug and assures her she needn’t worry; she’ll be fine. With that, the Nightgown Festival commences in earnest, and Megumi’s heart pounds as he’s surrounded by older women, the little scamp!

Rin continues slinking around the Souma compound, only to be caught by Ren, who asks her if she wants any “help.” No doubt Ren would love to lift the curse, though it’s interesting that she only comes into the picture now.

Fatigued by their emotional exertions, Tooru and Arisa fall asleep early. Megumi asks Saki if she thinks it’s really hopeless for Arisa and Kureno. Who can say? Arisa may have said “that’s it”, but Megumi isn’t so sure. Sometimes it takes a long time for lovers to find each other.

The next morning, Tooru comes home, all cheered up, and becomes even more cheered up when she finds her scarf waiting for her, courtesy of Kyou, who even washed it (though some stains remain, which is apropos!) Tooru bops him with a pom-pom once more, then Yuki and Shigure bid her good morning. As Tooru gets on with her life—no mean feat after what she’s learned—she resolves to gradually think upon the thinks Kureno told her bit by bit.

With this beautiful, magical, heartrending-and-mending opening outing, Fruits Basket continues to prove it is the final word in supernatural romantic comedy/dramas. After two exquisite seasons of painstakingly introducing characters, delivering their backstories and developing and strengthening relationships, this third, The Final, will introduce and execute the endgame.

Some of the darkest and most painful episodes may be yet to come, but I’ll happily endure them with Tooru, Arisa, Saki, Yuki, Kyou, and everyone else to see how things turn out!

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 16 – The Webs that Bind

Tanjirou, Inosuke, and Murata continue to battle the spider thread puppets, leading me to wonder why these demon slayers don’t have individual styles like our leads. Once cut, their threads are quickly reconnected, and the Mother spider demon has no qualms about cruelly contorting their bodies until their bones break.

Murata urges the other two to head to the Mother while he handles his comrades. Tanjirou finally determines he can immobilize the puppets without harming them by tangling up their threads along branches; Inosuke follows suit. Meanwhile, Zenitsu wanders around wearily with his sparrow, calling out for Nezuko, who stays in her box this week.

The Mother spider demon was all business last week, but her demeanor changes on a dime to someone desperate to kill all of the slayers lest she face the wrath of “Father”. It seems the spider demon family dynamic is a toxic one.

Mother ends up killing all of her demon slayer dolls by snapping their necks, rendering all of Tanjirou’s efforts to protect them moot. Then she sics a giant headless demon with swords for hands on Tanjirou and Inosuke. Rather than fight on his own, Inosuke learns the value of teamwork, especially when your partner is as capable and unselfish as Tanjirou.

With her giant headless doll defeated, Tanjirou proceeds to the Mother’s location, where she’s been sitting on a rock controlling things all this time. Tanjirou descends upon her, and she immediately resigns herself to defeat, as it will mean she’ll be free of her unrelenting torment.

To her surprise, Tanjirou employs a form that separates her head from her body without any pain, feeling like nothing but a gentle, soothing rain. She expresses her gratitude for finally being given peace by telling Tanjirou that one of the Twelve Kiseki is on the mountain.

While it’s good to be presented with demons conflicted about their existence like Mother, part of me wishes she hadn’t been defeated so easily. It’s as if she had no offense or defense beyond her dolls and simply…gave up. In a way she was no more than a puppet of Father, who used threats instead of threads to control her.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 20 – Student vs. Teacher

Kirito carries Alice and climbs up to the Cloudtop Garden, whereupon Kirito casts a spell to track the Blue Rose Sword. Find the Sword, Find Eugeo is his logic. The spell leads them to the bathhouse, still covered and ice, and to the petrified Bercouli, whom Alice affectionately refers to as Uncle.

They cannot free Bercouli from his stone prison; their options are either to get Prime Senator Chedulkin to break the spell, or kill him for his refusal to do so. Bercouli gives Alice his blessing, telling her she has nothing more to learn from him.

Alice and Kirito ascend to the Senate level, where Kirito learns that the weird bald headed dude who appeared after he attacked the noble rapists was a Senator. They observe and detect breaches of the Taboo Index, then dispatch Integrity Knights as needed.

The existence and function of the Senate is something previously unknown to both Kirito and ourselves, and even Alice is a bit fuzzy about it. But it makes sense for Administrator to leave the day-to-day operations to proxies in the form of the Senate rather than be hands-on about everything and never get any beauty rest.

They locate Prime Senator Chedulkin’s tacky chambers (which somewhat resemble those of the giant baby in Spirited Away), but when Alice confronts him, he merely reminisces on the day four years ago when young Alice first appeared, tearfully begging not to have her memories of those she loved erased.

Chedulkin’s deeply goofy appearance is matched by his boundless cruelty and sadism, but when Alice runs him through with her sword, he merely explodes into a puff of smoke. Getting rid of the little chud won’t be so easy.

More distressingly, he largely succeeded in his mission to stall Alice and Kirito with stories that only served to further boil Alice’s blood. And clearly, Administrator used that extra time wisely, quickly transforming Eugeo into her thirty-second and newest Integrity Knight.

When Eugeo appears before Kirito and Alice, he has no memory of his relationship to either, nor does he care. The Pontifex has given him something he’s apparently been missing his whole life, and something neither of his friends could provide to his satisfaction. So Kirito and Alice are naught but rebels and enemies of his Pontifex to be eliminated without delay.

While Kirito warns Eugeo that he’s the master and Eugeo the student in their imminent duel, I imagine Admin didn’t send Eugeo to fight Kirito without a few tricks up his swanky new sleeves Kirito might not be able to predict. And then there’s the whole matter of Kirito not wanting to go all out lest he accidentally kill Eugeo, while Eugeo is completely wrapped around Admin’s finger. In any case, it should be some duel.

Citrus – 05

Mei has no time for Yuzu and Himeko’s little competition for her, as she’s busy with both student council duties and filling in for her grandfather, the chairman. She orders the rivals to eat lunch together instead, and neither dare disobey.

Thus starts the first of many of the kind of interactions I was hoping for between Yuzu and Himeko: ones in which they put their gloves down for a second and simply exist adjacent to one another, as they must due to their associations with Mei.

Harumin serves as a great mediator in this venture, even suggesting the three of them and Mei go to Amagi Brilliant Park (well, something like it). Both Himeko and Yuzu doubt Mei will agree, but Yuzu will give it a try.

What Yuzu does manage is to get a day alone with Mei when they’re not at school; when Yuzu lies and said Mama would also like it if she accompanies Yuzu to visit her Papa. Note that Mei probably would have refused if Yuzu hadn’t lied, but it’s a good thing she did.

At first, Yuzu treats this like her first date with Mei, and tries to “cross a line” like Himeko claims to have done, first by breathing on Mei’s ear in a packed train (at first an accident, but repeated once she notices Mei’s reaction), then licking it.

When Mei asks her what the heck is up with her, Yuzu mentions what Himeko said, and Mei sets her straight: Himeko tried to do something weird to her and she scolded her. There’s nothing between them. This really puts a spark in Yuzu’s idea of her chances.

This leads to her trying to get an indirect kiss out of Mei by having a bite of her crepe, only for Mei to have only finished it. Mei delivers revenge for the ear-licking by wiping some cream off Yuzu’s face and eating it slowly, causing Yuzu to nearly boil over.

All these sensual gestures, combined with the simple pleasure of hanging out with Mei alone, gets Yuzu all worked up; she wants to kiss Mei and shout her love from the mountaintop more than ever.

But when she’s about to ask if they can hold hands (incremental steps), Himeko pulls up in her S-Class Benz and starts attacking Yuzu.

With a cruel, icy calmness, Mei basically tells Himeko to buzz off, and beckons for Yuzu to keep going. Mei and Yuzu walk away, leaving Himeko standing there, stunned, alone, and hurt.

It’s not the first time I felt for Himeko, but I’d never felt for her more before this moment. Even Yuzu can’t help but turn back, not to gloat, but with a pained, empathetic look.

It was around the time I was thinking “when the heck are they going to meet Yuzu’s Papa” that Yuzu brings Mei to a graveyard. It never occurred to me he was deceased, as I (wrongly) assumed her mom was divorced, not widowed. Mei also seems both surprised to have been brought there, but also honored.

It’s a very solemn, touching scene when Yuzu says all the good and bad things about Mei when introducing her and Mei doesn’t challenge any of it; this isn’t the time or place. Even more touching is Yuzu’s reaction when Mei silently prays at the grave. Yuzu is about to muster the courage to say something she needs to say…but Mei beats her to it.

The letters Mei gets from her father (whom she calls “Sensei”), one of which Yuzu jokingly threatened to open? Mei has never opened any of them. She’s afraid to, because if any of them contradict her long-standing hope that he’ll come back one day and everything “will be the way it was”, she’d be crushed.

When a shaken, tearful Mei asks Yuzu if such an outcome is really possible, Yuzu says the tactful thing, even if it isn’t something she can guarantee: everything will be fine, and she’ll help her in any way she can, like a sister should. The smile Mei gives Yuzu drives the point home: Mei doesn’t need love; at least not right now. She needs family.

As Yuzu cries out of Mei’s sight, Mei seems to be laboring to maintain consciousness, and sure enough, she collapses on the stairs at school the next day, right in front of Himeko. Trying to force herself up, she runs down Himeko just as Yuzu enters earshot, and, whatever bad shape she’s in, Yuzu doesn’t let Mei’s cruelty towards Himeko go unanswered.

What she does do is order Himeko to take Mei’s place at the various meetings she meant to attend, while she takes Mei to the nurse’s office. The two drop their rivalry for Mei’s sake, because Mei has not been looking out for herself properly enough, and their childish rivalry has blinded them to the toll Mei’s overwork has taken.

In the nurse’s, there’s no makeout scene, but a scolding scene. Mei explains how driven she is to become a worthy successor to her grandfather, especially now that his health may be failing. Yuzu wonders out loud why Mei’s father doesn’t take over, and Mei, for once, agrees with Yuzu’s  “nonsense”, which she likens to a broken watch—right twice a day.

And just to bring things around, Yuzu and Himeko have a nice little scene together in which Yuzu scolds her for overwork as well, tells her to be more honest, and the two come to a kind of detente.

That detente is sealed, in a way, when while walking to school the next day, Yuzu urges Mei to go ahead when they spot Himeko. Mei apologizes for being such a bitch to her and taking her for granted, and Himeko is instantly in tears, hugging her tightly, probably telling Mei she has nothing to apologize for.

That night, Mei’s father shows up, just like that. Yuzu has no idea who he is, and gets skeeved out when he hugs her and doesn’t let go (which, yeah guy, don’t hug a girl who doesn’t know you). Mei’s reaction to seeing her father again—as well as his reaction to seeing her—tells me things aren’t going to be the same in the Aihara household…but they’re definitely not going to be boring!

In the meantime, I really enjoyed both Himeko and Yuzu’s growth in this episode, the continued casual, reliable support role Harumin plays, and how Mei and Yuzu drew closer together not in a romantic way, but as family. Most importantly, Yuzu is now consciously weighing her own desires with what is actually best for her “little sister.”

Made in Abyss – 08

“If they die now, it just means they didn’t have what it takes to go any further.” Harsh they may be, truer words were never spoken. Despite her ice-cold demeanor and gloomy, threatening affectation, I have no doubt Ozen would be immensely disappointed if Riko and Reg died during their ten-day survival test.

Now obviously they’re not going to die—and she probably knows that. There may be a lot of bugs when they use fire and a grumpy hippo-like beast who doesn’t want them near his water, but Riko and Reg make a great team, and they have, after all, lived and survived off the land up until now.

Thus Ozen would be worried, even if she was capable of being worried about the two kids passing the test. Ozen takes us back to when Lyza introduced her to a frail-looking young man named Torka whom she married. In a classic Ozen move, she fast-forwards to after Torka has passed away from the effects of the Abyss, and Ozen has to deliver a stillborn Riko.

But as much of a ‘hassle’ as it was, Ozen remained faithful to her dear apprentice, who had progressed so far only to go through so much pain and anguish, and assures the suddenly-alive baby Riko of her “strong sense of duty” which continues to the present now that Lyza’s daughter has descended to her lair.

The product of her duty returns, dirty and exhausted but very much alive after ten days. Reg points out it feels like more, and when Ozen invites them to sup with her, she tells them of how being in the Abyss warps one’s sense of time (among other parts of the brain), such that while Riko has lived ten years since coming up to the surface, to Lyza down in the netherworld it may have felt like a scant ten months; possibly even less.

Needless to say, this is very heartening to Riko, but Ozen warns her and Reg to avoid the three White Whistles besides Lyza who are lurking in the lower layers as they speak, and when she says one of them isn’t “kind like I am”, you know she’s not joking: she, and everything we’ve seen of her, is still kinder than The Sovereign of Dawn, Bondrewd the Novel. 

I love the idea of White Whistles being their own tiny, elite tribe of eccentrics, and to think they get more eccentric (and less human) than Ozen is…a little unsettling. She’s also still not sure what to make of the note Riko thought was written by Lyza.

After giving Riko her mother’s pickaxe, Blaze Reap, she sits her and Reg down and begins to tell them all of the things they’ll need to know as they continue their descent. These are secrets usually kept between White Whistles exclusively, but as Riko is the spawn of one and is headed to their realm, it only makes sense. It’s a sobering experience for Reg to hear of all the strange things on the lower layers, and Ozen doesn’t mince words.

But Ozen isn’t trying to discourage them; only to prepare them as much as one can be prepared. When it comes time to say goodbye, Ozen isn’t present, so Marulk and the raiders see off Riko and Reg. Marulk is particularly sad to see them go, and her tears not only cause Riko and Reg to tear up, but me as well!

Ozen recalls one final pivotal exchange she had with Lyza after they returned to the surface. Lyza, whose face is finally fully revealed, has not only taken on an apprentice (Jiruo, AKA Leader), but has made the decision to make another descent in order to allow Riko to decide for herself what kind of life she’ll lead. She asks Ozen to tell Riko about all of the miracles that had to occur so she could live; Ozen agrees.

Back in the present, with her duty now done, Riko and Reg set out for deeper depths approaching the terrifying sheer pale walls of the Great Fault and the Third Layer. While it seemed strange and alien at first, the longer we spent in the Inverted Forest, the more comfortable, even cozy it felt.

The edge of the Fault couldn’t be any less hospitable. It will be exciting to see what other wondrous sights they’ll see in this newest setting—and what fresh devilry with which they’ll have to contend.

Made in Abyss – 07

Just as Habo is telling Nat and Siggy about the badass White Whistles (who kinda remind me of the Espada) and wondering if he should have gone against Riko’s wishes and accompanied her and Reg after all, Riko and Reg face their toughest challenge yet: An Ozen the Immovable as their enemy.

But while both kids get beaten within an inch of their lives, it isn’t physical punishment that cuts the deepest—it’s Ozen’s utterly curel and tactless presentation of the giant white cube, which turns out not to be merely a vessel that repels curses. Ozen reveals to Riko that she was stillborn, and upon being placed in the vessel, she was brought back to life.

Ozen further explains that she put some of the meat she uses for dinner in the vessel, and it came back to life as well: that weird, threatening-looking but also bumbling and pitiable thing that made Riko wet the bed. The final twist of the knife? Before long, the thing turned back into lifeless meat, and Ozen wonders when Riko’s time will come to turn back into a corpse.

This is harsh, merciless stuff, but Ozen is just getting started. When she threatens to hurt Riko, Reg intervenes with his arms and ties her up, but she frees herself effortlessly, noting how the arm cables are made of extremely tough stuff. She then proceeds to try to pound Reg into dust, and when Riko tries to stop the madness, a light flick of Ozen’s finger sends her flying across the room, knocked out and bloodied.

Goddamn was this shit hard to watch. Reg tries to break out his Incinerator, but while trying to narrow the focus his beam so he doesn’t blow up the whole camp, the bitch grabs his still-charging cannon and points it at the out-cold Riko.

Where it not for a last-second kick of his own arm out of harm’s way, Riko would be gone. Fortunately, she’s not, and the hole his arm blasts in the ceiling doesn’t cause any serious structural damage. But using his cannon makes him pass out, and when Riko comes to, she sees Reg bruised and bloodied, the result of Ozen continuing to beat his unconscious body.

And yet, after three-quarters of an episode of the most heinous, villainous, evil-ass conduct one could imagine, the other shoe drops: Ozen was TESTING Reg’s strength, as well as Riko’s resolve. And let me tell you, she got me, just as she got them.

I never thought for a moment that she wasn’t simply being the evil monster the build-up to her appearance portended. Marulk ‘saved’ Reg and Riko by calling Ozen’s band of cave-raiders to her in…something Ozen both thanks her apprentice for and promises to string her(?) up for.

Frankly, I didn’t know what she was thinking. It’s another way she’s “immovable”…as in unable to be “moved” by anything … except, perhaps, by the prospect of learning more about the Abyss. Riko on her own would never, ever have gotten this far, let alone any further, without becoming, as Ozen says, “poor meals, little seedbeds, or a stain on the ground or some wall.”

And yet while her approach underscores how far from her humanity Ozen has strayed, it also makes perfect practical sense: the Abyss is fundamentally not a place for little kids. Beasts far tougher, crueler, and more cunning await them in the lower layers.

And as flashbacks prove, Ozen isn’t as emotionally “unmovable” as she appears, as she recalls the first day a Red-Whistled Lyza asked to become her apprentice. In virtually no time, Lyza had earned her Black Whistle, and credits her quick success to Ozen, who may have an “irredeemable” personality, but is still the “best mentor ever.”

Does Ozen truly “despise” Riko? Could it be because she sees Riko as Riko saw that meat? Is she, dare I say…scared of what Riko is and might become as she draws nearer to the bottom? With Ozen, deep questions abound.

One thing’s for certain: as much as she has changed (her armor and the 120 or so implants in her body make her cut quite the menacing figure), there’s still some humanity in there; the humanity that lets Riko know the grave she found was empty; Lyza could well still alive and waiting for her daughter.

In the meantime Reg might might might just be tough enough to protect Riko as she continues her descent, but Ozen isn’t willing to send them on their way yet, she needs to gather more ‘data’. She takes the kids out to the far edge of the layer, far from camp or anyone else, and tells them to survive with the supplies they have for ten days.

Furthermore, Reg is forbidden from using his cannon, as the hours she’s determined he shuts down for would likely be fatal to Riko…unless, of course, he manages to bring down whatever threatens them. It’s the toughest of tough love, but in a world where kids are regularly punished by being strung up naked, I guess it’s par for the course.