The aquatope on white sand – 12 – Everything becomes the ocean

It’s the last day of Gama Gama, and admission is free. The place is packed with people, which has Kukuru asking why they didn’t come earlier. But even so, she understands that Gama Gama has gotten too old to properly care for its sea life. The logic doesn’t make the last day any less melancholy, but there’s a hint of hope, as Kukuru is offered a job at Tingaara when she’s done school.

Once the last visitors head home and the doors close for the last time, the staff plus Karin and Udon-chan have a little party celebrating 48 glorious years. When everyone learns Kukuru has a job at Tingaara if she wants it, and that Umi-yan and Kuuya are also taking jobs there, a tipsy Karin urges Kukuru to go for it. But Kukuru just isn’t sure, and that’s understandable: the offer came on the day she believes her dream to have ended.

Gramps makes a very awesome and tearjerking speech, and then Kukuru and Fuuka spend some time on the moonlit beach. After the emotional roller coaster of the typhoon, they’ve fully made up. In fact, Kukuru believes it’s now her turn to support Fuuka’s dream, by urging her to take the lead actress job in Tokyo. Fuuka books a flight there for tomorrow.

The next day, Gama Gama is “hollowed out”, as all of the sea creatures are placed in portable tanks bound for either Tingaara or other aquariums that requested them. Kukuru is shook by just how lonely it is with the lights on and the tanks empty…until she goes into the room where all the visitors left notes on the wall.

It’s a room full of warm gratitude, and Kukuru can’t help but smile and feel grateful for everyone who came to Gama Gama and were changed forever. Then, while walking past one of the empty tanks, Kukuru experiences another illusion, once again involving someone who looks like her sister, who gives her a loving pat on the head as if to say “you’ll be alright.”

Back home, during Kukuru and Fuuka’s last meal together for some time, Kukuru mentions the illusion she experienced, believing she’d met her “doppelganger”. This is when Gran finally decides to tell Kukuru something they were going to tell her when she grew up.

As she’s already been an aquarium director for a summer and then lost that aquarium, Gran decides she’s grown up enough. Kukuru had a twin sister…but only Kukuru was born.

I understand Gran not wanting to keep Kukuru in the dark any longer, but the timing couldn’t be worse when it comes to Kukuru and Fuuka having to say goodbye so soon. At the airport, Kukuru tries to put on a brave face, as she feels she owes it to Fuuka, who supported her dream for so long.

Airport goodbyes always get me, and Aquatope really nails it, from the awkwardly formal handshake to watching from Kukuru’s POV until Fuuka disappears into the terminal.

But that is not goodbye, because before she boards her plane, Fuuka thinks about how she only cried when she was alone after her dream ended. She thinks about how Kukuru must be crying alone right then, and decides she can’t board the plane; not now. She runs dramatically through the airport, calls Kukuru and asks where she is, and meets her out on a patio where she is, indeed crying alone.

The bottom line is, making sure Kukuru didn’t have to cry alone was far more important to Fuuka than a movie role in Tokyo. She had to be in the position where she had to choose to learn that the job wasn’t really a new dream. You could say she’s torpedoing her career simply because Kukuru’s gran got talkative about things past at the worst possible time.

Still, Fuuka simply couldn’t let the person who helped her find strength and happiness after losing everything cry by herself. After sharing some big ol’ sobby hugs like two close friends should (seriously, WTF was with that handshake earlier guys!) Kukuru decides she’ll work at Tingaara after all.

The aquarium and its fragile micro-ecosystems taught Kukuru over the years that life can be difficult, and being alive isn’t a given. It was basically a coin toss that Kukuru got to live and her sister didn’t, so she now feels doubly motivated to make those who love her proud; that includes Fuuka.

Fuuka ends up on a plane back home to Iwate as planned, but as she settles into the cozy night flight she reads the poem Gramps read during his farewell speech, about how everything eventually becomes the ocean, which is probably why whenever someone peers into “the ocean within”, they find peace. Kukuru joins in, and they finish the poem in one voice, telling each other see you tomorrow.

It’s a bold and gorgeous way to end the first half of Aquatope, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what new innovative ways the show will cause me to bawl my eyes out when the second half comes around.

Higehiro – 13 (Fin) – Not the Last Time

With Yoshida having said his piece and even kinda-sorta getting through to Sayu’s awful mom, it’s Sayu’s turn to talk to her. She takes a page out of Yoshida’s playbook by prostrating herself, and once again, her mom almost loses it over not wanting to apologize for anything. But she does at least finally understand that he’s the only parent Sayu has, and it really helps Sayu to hear that from her.

Having taken the first step towards détente with her mom, Sayu slips into Yoshida’s bed one more time in the night, asking if he wants to do it just once so they won’t forget each other. As always, Yoshida’s answer is the same; “no”, and “knock it off!” At the airport, after receiving thanks and refusing cash from her brother, Sayu confesses her love to him, and vows to visit him again when she’s an adult. This isn’t goodbye.

That said, when it finally hits Yoshida that Sayu is gone and with her the entirety of the cozy found family they built together, he can’t help but tear up. Even if he followed her easy recipe, his miso soup just can’t measure up to her’s. That said, as time passes, Yoshida settles back into a life without Sayu, which still contains Mishima and Gotou, who continue to battle for his heart at work.

It seems neither has a shot, as Yoshida has become close to Asami, who is apparently now an adult and no longer has a tan or bleached hair. He’s ready to meet her at the stargazing spot when he arrives home to behold a familiar sight: a young woman sitting by his entrance. It’s Sayu, now a high school graduate and evidently an adult.

The two go through the same exchange as when they first met. It looks like whatever Yoshida’s got going on with Asami (if anything), Sayu didn’t waste any time getting back to the guy she fell for—the man she’s glad she ran away and met.

This is all fine—really, it’s fine—but I’ll admit to suffering a bit of Higehiro fatigue. Considering how these last three episodes languished, a thirteenth episode felt like one too many.

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 – 62 – Parting Gifts

Fruits Basket continues its crowd-pleasing Farewell to the Curse tour by checking in on Yuki—Remember Yuki?and Machi, picking right back up on his sudden and intent desire to see her as soon as possible. They meet in a plaza, surrounded by enthralled strangers, and she gives him a recovery gift for Tooru—some bath stuff.

Really, the gift is a thank you to Tooru for taking care of Yuki back when he was “weak as a baby deer.” Of course, she thinks it’s because of that that he noticed her at all. Yuki ends up being the last one to be broken from the Zodiac curse, but while he feels that same pang of unbearable loneliness and sadness, Machi is right there to comfort him, and show a new way forward.

The ancient, forced bonds of yore now gone, left and right people are strengthening the other, unforced bonds they developed towards the end of the curse’s reign. Perhaps none of the relationships have been as long or mercurial as the one between Shigure and Akito. Akito meets the other eleven members as her true female self, but doesn’t go so far as to ask for forgiveness.

She’s decided she’ll stay put and remain head of the Souma family, but other than that, everything changes. Shigure, who comes from not-so-behind to take the Fruits Basket crown of “Most Hated Non-Parent Character”, promises to stay by Akito’s side as long as she never stops wanting him. Hey, you can’t say they don’t deserve each other!

Finally, Tooru and Kyou have settled in to their new status quo with an easy aplomb, visiting her parents’ grave together. It’s here where Kyou announces he’ll be going away to work and train at a dojo run by a friend of Shisho’s…but he wants her to come with him. Her answer, obviously, is yes, and she’s not going to budge on it, as we know Tooru can indeed be quite stubborn when she wants to be.

We see through her eyes a scenario of her exiting the shade of the trees into the blinding light of the dojo courtyard, and Kyou warmly welcoming her, perhaps followed by them having a picnic or something. As soon as the image enters Tooru’s head, she’s in. It will be sad to leave the other people who love her, but she’d be even sadder without Kyou. She’s waited long enough for him; she’s not leaving his side again.

Before departing from the grave together, Kyou asks for Kyouko’s blessing, as he’s fulfilling his promise to protect her girl forever. That’s when it’s revealed that, as expected, Kyou misunderstood Kyouko when he found her dying in the street that day. She had a whole monologue going on in her head, and the “I’ll never forgive you” was only the very end of it and the only bit she actually got out.

She meant to say she’d never forgive him if he didn’t keep his promise, so since he is, there’s no problem! Tooru was right about her mom. Of course she was; she was the one she loved most until Kyou came into her life. As for Kyouko, she learned when she died that leaving someone you love hurts every bit as much as being left, but one is that much happier upon being reunited, as she is with Katsuya in the afterlife.

Just all around good feels this week, with the possible exception of the scenes featuring Shigure. Even so, I have to admit the kimono he gave to Akito absolutely slew. With everyone where, and with whom, they were always meant to be, all that’s left to wonder is if the final episode will be another ensemble effort, or focus only on Tooru and Kyou.

Or maybe it will focus exclusively on Ritsu, the forgotten Zodiac member! Hahaha…sometimes I crack myself up…

 

Higehiro – 12 – We Have to Talk

So yeah, things are not off to a great start when the first thing Sayu’s mom does upon laying eyes on her for the first time in half a year is slap her in the face. It’s super awkward, and continues to be so, because they’ve entered Sayu’s mom’s castle and she’s in charge. Issa, as much of an independent and successful adult as he may be, still shuts up when his mom tells him to, which is often.

The discussion moves to the dining room, where it becomes clear Sayu’s mom isn’t interested in empathizing with Sayu as the young woman she is, let alone see her as a daughter to unconditionally love. Instead, she immediately airs her grievances, citing all the rumors that have cropped up since she disappeared.

She’s not glad her little girl is home, but still angry she left, because of how it affected her. It’s also clear she suspects Yoshida of taking advantage of her. Sayu does her best to state her case and demonstrate how she’s grown, but her mom has long since developed cloth ears to anything she says, no matter how true or perceptive it may be.

Once she inevitably declares that she wishes she had never given birth to Sayu, which, just fuck you, you despicable c-word—Yoshida, who had been sitting calmly and quietly the whole time, almost picks up his glass of iced tea and throws it in the bitch’s face. But rightly realizing that would accomplish nothing and possibly even hurt Sayu more, he does the opposite.

He calmly speaks from the heart about how just as a parent can’t choose the child they have, the child can’t pick the parent either. The difference is, a parent is (usually) an adult, and thus responsible for their life. Children aren’t. They need to be cared about and for by parents, or they can’t become proper adults themselves. If Sayu’s mom doesn’t want that responsibility, Yoshida would happily take it from her, adopting Sayu and raising her until she’s a real adult.

But he can’t do that, because Sayu has a mom, and she will never not be her mom. So he prostrates himself and begs her to take care of Sayu. Issa follows his lead and does the same. Faced with this unexpected groveling, Sayu’s mom simply freaks out, and Yoshida and Sayu have to leave the house while Issa tries to calm her down.

As Sayu and Yoshida sit outside and wait, Yoshida can’t fight back tears, lamenting just how much worse the situation between Sayu and her mom turned out to be. Sayu is surprised, but also can’t stop herself from crying once she sees him doing it. But it’s a good cleansing cry that transitions into looking up at the beautiful night sky and holding hands in solidarity.

Even though things are not great, they’re going to be alright. Sayu feels forgiven after Yoshida’s groveling, and after making her piece with her friend on the rooftop last week, feels confident in being able to stand for herself. She also admits that things aren’t going to get better with her mom overnight, but neither of them have even given it a try, so that’s really the first step.

Issa comes out, telling Yoshida that bowing before their mom seemed to do the trick. She’ll insist Sayu live there until graduation, and as long as she doesn’t cause problems for her, she’ll “leave her alone.” It sounds like more selfishness and an inability to see Sayu as anything other than a burden and a hassle, but again, we’re at the start of something. Sayu and her mom will have to adopt and entirely new way of interacting with each other, and that will take time.

What’s important is that not only Sayu is willing to put in the work to give it a try, but Sayu’s mom is too. After Yoshida meets with her again to apologize for lecturing her before, she asks if nothing really went on, he answers truthfully, and she seems to believe him. What puzzles her is why he’d go so far for her daughter, to which he can only say “because I met her that night, in that moment.”

Surely Sayu’s mom must understand how something like that might work; she was, after all, presumably in love with Sayu’s father. She simply didn’t know of any way to keep him around other than the hail mary of having Sayu. When it didn’t work and he left anyway, she put all of her scorn into her.

But she seems to finally understand that it can’t go on like that anymore. Sayu ran away to get away from her, but now she’s back, and she’s grown a little more. It’s up to her, the parent, to ensure that growing up is completed. So she’ll talk with Sayu about their future together, however much of it there ends up being, and go from there. And Yoshida will go back to Tokyo in the morning. But it’s a good thing he came.

 

86 – 11 (Fin) – All Over but the Crying

We arrive at October 30th, the day the five remaining members of Spearhead get into a scrap with the Legion and lose Fido as well as all but Shin’s Juggernaut. Things are getting desperate and they’re running low on ammo, fuel, and food, which means soon their recon mission will be at an end. All of them know what that means, but rather than dwell on that, they simply keep living their lives until the time fate decides to take them.

This means taking shifts piloting the ‘naut while the others rest or watch the rear from the remaining cargo bot. Thanks to Shin’s instincts and a rainstorm they manage to evade another Legion patrol, but the Legion become more legion by the day. The group finds an abandoned town and decide to take shelter in a school—the first school Kurena’s ever been to. They take a final roll call, and “graduate” the next day.

When they hit a literal wall of sheer rock, Shin suddenly asks to switch with Anju, who is piloting, claiming he’s bored. Once they switch, he cuts the tether to split off from the others and uses his grappler to bring down some rocks so they won’t follow. He sensed more Legion were coming; Legion they wouldn’t escape unless he lured them away. The others aren’t okay with this. Raiden, Anju, Kurena and Theo all agree to go after him.

With no Juggernauts, they have to go on foot, and arrive just as Shin’s ride is trashed and a Legion prepares to crack it open like a tin of sardines and claim his head. Only the weakest of the charging Legion are susceptible to their small arms, and even then only headshots, and there are too many of them. First Theo, then everyone else goes down fighting. The light of the Legion prepares to take Shin’s head—but he has his sidearm. Does it succeed?

We finally check in on Lena, who is under house arrest for her little stunt with the mortars. Even so, she pays a visit to the front lines, and to Spearhead’s HQ. A new group of 86 are being processed. The cycle continues.

Lena is greeted by Lt. Albrecht, who reveals he’s an Alba like her whose wife and daughter were 86 and died in battle. Thanks to Shin, he was given a measure of solace in knowing they didn’t become Legion, as Shin never heard them call Albrecht’s name.

Lena then walks through the now abandoned living space like a ghost looking so out of place after having been in essentially another world the whole time. It’s just so heartbreaking that by the time she was finally able to make it here, everyone she spoke to over the Para-RAID was already gone.

While the cycle of using 86 as cannon fodder continues, there was at least a crucial change. Lena and Shin forged a genuine connection, and it rubbed off on the others too, as they left her a memento: Theo’s drawing of her with handwritten notes from him, Shin, Raiden, Kurena, and Anju. More importantly, they left a Polaroid of the whole group, helpfully labelled by Theo “so she wouldn’t cry” about not being able to tell who was who.

In the end, as a practical matter, all Lena was able to do by breaking protocol and getting in trouble was extend the five’s lives by a few more days. Instead of dying on one battlefield, they died on another. But with Fido gone and his records destroyed, Lena now holds some of the last remaining artifacts of their existence—other than the wrecks and bodies they left behind somewhere out there, after reaching their final destinations.

Lena will surely treasure these things, as well as the cat left in her care, but they’re also primed to fuel her continued rebellion against the broken evil system she’s blindly served for too long. She couldn’t end the injustice for Shin and the others, but perhaps with enough allies and some luck, she can end it for others. Or maybe not. But like them, she’ll fight until fate comes for her.

Maybe then they’ll all get to finally reunite…for the first time.

So ends the first cour of 86. What a powerful show. We’ve known since the start there would definitely be a second one, but now we know there will be a “Special Episode” in between the two. What I’m a little fuzzy on is what exactly became of Shin.

I’d like to hope he managed to shoot himself in the head, and that seems to be supported by the fact he reunites with his brother, whom we know he freed from the Legion. We also see Shin’s headless body. But nothing is certain, which is why I’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

Fruits Basket – 61 – The Cat Was Right

Totally Invincible

When Tooru leaves the hospital and first sees Kyou, whom she loves, nothing goes as planned. Even as her mind and heart want to go to him and smile, her body runs away as fast as it can…which is, of course, not nearly fast enough to lose the rather athletic Kyou! While Yuki visited, the mere mention of Kyou’s name brought tears to Tooru’s eyes that she quickly slapped away, risking further damage to her head.

Yes, Tooru isn’t running from Kyou because she’s afraid of him, but because of the usual: she’s afraid of being a burden; being unnecessary; causing people pain simply by being around them. She’s afraid of Kyou being disappointed in her. This is what happens when you say your piece and flee like Kyou did. It was a shit move, especially when he knew full well Tooru would take every one of those harsh words to heart.

So it’s as heartlifting to see Kyou get down on one knee and apologize and take back what he said as it was heartbreaking to hear him say those things in the first place to a desperately vulnerable Tooru who was ready to bear her heart but was met with a wall of stone. Kyou has learned a lot from being with Tooru, and one of those things he learned is being more aware of how his words and behavior affect people.

He knows how lucky he is to see Tooru again to apologize, and humbly asks for one more chance with her, because if he’s going to live, he wants to live with her by his side, because he loves her. Tooru responds by asking if it’s really okay for her to stay by his side, and hold his hand, and he points out she’s already holding it, gently places his hand on her face, and gives her her second kiss—the first being when he wasn’t sure he’d have this second chance.

When Kyou laments that being with him means suffering because of his “weird body” (let’s not forget, without that rosary he’s an odd, smelly beast), but Tooru simply tells him she loves him, that that love is “totally invincible”, and he starts thinking maybe he’s invincible too. They hug, both fully expecting him to transform. But he doesn’t, because the curse has been broken.

The Original Promise

It broke because Tooru was able to make a new connection with Akito, and show her that it was going to be okay even if it broke, and that it ultimately be better for everyone, including Akito, if it broke. We thankfully get to see a bit of Akito visiting Tooru in the hospital, where she confesses it all came down to her being jealous of Tooru and how goshdarn pure and pretty she is.

Rather than rightfully reply with a “guilty as charged”, Tooru is Tooru, saying she’s neither pure nor pretty, and if it isn’t too much trouble she’ll thank Akito not to sort people into categories based on “things like that” and use them to keep her distance. If Akito thinks Tooru is pure, then she believes Akito is pure too, and never more than she was when she approached in the rain.

As Tooru and Kyou hug without him transforming, Akito thinks about that visit, and how Tooru repeated her heartfelt desire to be her friend, and Akito’s willingness to be that, resulting in a new beginning, something she never thought possible all her life until meeting Tooru. She feels the hand of the original God on her head, and we’re sent back to time immemorial, and the genesis of the Curse, which was originally not a curse at all.

What it was originally was an effective coping mechanism for the crushing loneliness of the original God, living in his house on top of a mountain, too strange and different to interact with the humans below. The first being to ever visit him was the Cat, who promised to stay by his side and kept that promise.

The cat taught the God that perhaps others who were “different” would be willing to be his friends. He sent out invitations, and twelve other animals responded. The moon quietly watched over the banquets shared by those who were different—what a beautiful collection of words—but eventually the first of them, the Cat, became ill and neared death.

The God enchanted a sake cup that would make the bonds between him and the thirteen animals eternal; that even if they died, they’d be reborn and reunited. But the dying cat neither needed nor wanted eternity, which the other animals saw as a rejection and admonished the Cat.

But the cat was on to something, even back then, at the very first collection of the Zodiac. He beseeched God that they accept that things end, that mortality, while scary and lonely, is what makes life life, and makes love love. The Cat said to God he was fortunate to be with Him for even a moment, but after he died, the other animals ignored his calls for acceptance.

Still, they were still mortal, and one by one died, until only God was left, his house a ruin reminiscent of one of the deserted huts in the Boy’s village in To Your Eternity. Then God died, but was reborn with the others and the eternal banquet resumed. This original memory, which occurred so long ago, was forgotten by all…until it was told to us by the incomparable Iwami Manaka, whose voice moved me to tears on several occasions this week.

Cry With Me

But the promise endured, until present events now have Akito asking the original God if it’s okay for her to stop being special or a god, and just become Akito…to end the eternal, set down the extinguished torch, and begin her life.

As she asks this of her progenitor, the answer is revealed, as one by one the remaining Zodiac members are released from their eternal bonds. For many, like Kisa and Rin, it happens beside Hiro and Haru, respectively—those who already felt the pang of intense and all-encompassing sadness and loneliness that comes with the breaking of the curse. But Kisa has Hiro, Rin has Haru, Ayame has Mine, and Kyou has Tooru.

The coping mechanism is no longer needed. Both the animals and the god are now free to live among one another and with humans who love them and want to live with them. Free to make new beginnings and free to create new bonds. To commemorate this moment, Kyou rips the rosary off his arm and nothing happens. He’s now free to be Kyou, not the Cat, and free to love Tooru, who loves him more than she loves anyone else.

Thank You

All Akito asks as the curse is lifted is for everyone to “cry with her”, but they do more than that. Still sore from the breaking of their bonds, they are actually drawn to her—to Akito, not the God of the Zodiac—and when they do file in one by one, what had been a cold, foreboding, oppressive Souma compound is bathed in warm light.

As the original God states, it would be a long, long time before the cat’s words about eternity not being the answer and the preciousness of mortality became true. But they finally did. Akito may not be a god anymore, but she’s not alone. Tooru makes sure she knows that when she visits with Kyou and the others.

It’s telling that the first person for Akito to embrace post-the breaking of the curse isn’t a former Zodiac member, but the first and best friend of her new non-divine existence: Honda Tooru, who it turns out freed Akito as much as everyone else from bonds none of them ever asked for, and never needed. It is true we mortals must accept that things end, even if that thing is Fruits Basket. But I can’t think of a better or more satisfying ending than the one we’re getting.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Higehiro – 11 – Someday Is Here

This week begins with Sayu saying goodbye to Asami and Tokyo and taking a plane to Hokkaido with her brother and Yoshida, and ends with her returning home after more than a half a year of running away. If that sounds to you like not enough material to fill a whole episode, well, that’s when I must bring up one of the major cons of this penultimate outing: it’s padded within an inch of its life.

Whether its on the oddly-proportioned plane and its odd-looking seats, or during the two to three hours when Issa is off doing business and Yoshida and Sayu hang out in a café, scenes just feel artificially far longer than they either need to be or should. Granted, it’s Sayu’s first time on a plane or in a café with a friend, but when she held up an hourglass, I couldn’t help but think Can we maybe get a move on?

While a detriment early on, I’ll fully admit that Sayu’s trip to her school, which neither Yoshida nor Issa knew she’d request, is actually very effectively paced, as we feel with her the precise and growing dread of drawing closer and closer to the spot on that damned rooftop where her only friend’s life ended—and her life changed forever.

Honestly, I don’t know if or how she’d have been able to do this without Yoshida, so it’s very much a good thing he came along. Even an adult would have a hard time returning to the spot where their friend died for any reason. Add to that the fact Sayu witnessed Yuuko jump and blames herself for it, and you have yourself a brutal veritable trifecta of trauma.

When Sayu blames herself for Yuuko jumping, Yoshida had to be there to tell her she was wrong, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t that she didn’t really care about Yuuko, but cared too much. Her desire to help her fight the bullies wasn’t a bad instinct, even though things went terribly wrong. And frankly, Sayu wasn’t Yuuko’s entire life and can’t be expected to be such…she had her own life, and problems.

Thanks to Yoshida’s support, Sayu is able to wail with grief, letting it all out, until a stiff wind reveals the nearly-full moon and seemingly blows away the ghost of Yuuko that was haunting her. On their way back to the car, Yoshida asks if she’s okay now, and she answers quite correctly “not at all”…but she will be. She’s going to work towards the time when she can remember Yuuko and smile, rather than cry.

After such an emotionally draining experience at school, it almost seems cruel to then drive Sayu back home, even though she says she’s ready to go. After all, nothing in that house is worse than what happened on that rooftop, except for her mother’s last words to her before she ran away, which was to ask if Sayu killed her friend.

For all of the learning and growing up Sayu has done in the last few months, at least at first blush it looks like her mother has learned absolutely nothing. Issa tries to stand purposefully in front of both Sayu and Yoshida, but their mom pushes him out of the way to give Sayu a vicious slap to the face. That’s how she chooses to greet her. Not a great start!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 09 – No Signal

“If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled…for you are in Elysium, and you are already dead!”—Maximus

This week, Spearhead, whose living members now consist only of Kurena, Raiden, Theo, Anju, and Shin, ride out into a vast, dark, and bleak battlefield, where the five of them must face hundreds if not thousands of Legion, because they were never even meant to make it thisfar in their military “careers”.

Of course, Shin has something else in mind: he’s singularly invested in finding his brother and putting him out of his misery. He orders Raiden to take over the unit and find cover in the nearby forest, but his four comrades aren’t about to leave him. Instead, they do what they can to give Shin a clear shot at Shourei.

As it turns out, Lena has a surprise in store for all of them: she managed to get access to the republic mortars, while also being able to swap vision in one of her eyes with Raiden so she can target more precisely. In that split second, Raiden—and only Raiden—catches a glimpse of their “pig princess” Handler.

When Lena prepares to launch a massive mortar attack on Shourei Legion’s position—which is also where Shin is, dodging and grappling—the others are apprehensive: doe she mean to kill Shin too? Far from it; instead, she’s giving Shin the opening he needs.

The impacting mortars are represented in Shourei’s mind by the young Lena slapping him into something resembling coherence, and acceptance that Shin no longer needs his brother to look after him. Instead, his brother needs to know that he’ll be at rest.

The opening is created, and Shin takes his shot, saying goodbye to his brother and then sobbing his eyes out both in grief over his brother’s loss and relief that he’s no longer a technological abomination who wasn’t allowed to die naturally.

From here we shift to Lena’s little control room, and she heeds Raiden’s call to shut off the link for now, as Shin wouldn’t want anyone hearing him cry. She then turns to a sullen-looking Annette sitting in the corner with laptops. We go back a bit to before the battle, when Lena visits Annette despite Annette saying she didn’t want to see her again.

Lena tells Annette that her old neighbor Shin is none other than Undertaker of the Spearhead unit, that she speaks to him every day, and that this is now Annette’s third chance to save him, the first two times having run away. While at first apathetic, knowing it’s Shin forces Annette’s hand. She calls Lena “the devil” for pulling such a stunt, but Lena simply says “that’s right; I am…and so are you.” Better to be devils who care.

With what was supposed to be the battle that should have wiped out Spearhead once and for all ending in unlikely victory thanks in large part to Annette’s hacking, Shin and the others give their heartfelt thanks to Lena, as well as tease her for having turned into a “bad girl” by breaking the rules to save them.

But after that, the group continues their advance without further input from Lena. In fact, all she can say as they head closer and closer to a foreboding “UNKNOWN” area is “please don’t leave me!” It occurs to her that while she made little drawings of them, her only connection to them is the Para-RAID, and soon the distance between them will grow too great to maintain that connection.

Lena bolts out of her control room and runs out of the headquarters, out into the streets, and just keeps running, all while Kurena, Raiden, Anju, Theo, and Shin describe their surroundings, mentioning a “cathedral” the same time we see the one in Lena’s capital, and describing flowers that fall when you touch them carpeting the ground.

As they approach at the barrier of District 86 and the limits of the Republic’s control area, Lena’s desperate dash to maintain reception ends with her losing a heel and ending up collapsed on a lonely cobblestone bridge, suddenly, heartbreakingly alone. Her Para-RAID blinks out, and back at HQ the signals of the five remaining members of Spearhead are lost.

Losing  Spearhead is just one of many burdens Lena will have to bear if she’s truly serious about helping all Eighty Six—not just the ones with which she cultivated a quasi-friendship. Her resolute insistence on Doing What’s Right despite being a devil demands she keep doing what she can—as long as she is able—to end the unjust suffering of the oppressed.

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 01 (First Impressions) – Not Just for the Fun of It

This is going to be one of those shows most viewers will either hate with a steaming passion from the moment the titular Nagatoro first speaks, or follow with a kind of morbid curiosity about just how much teasing, taunting, and straight-up abuse our MC Hachiouji Naoto is ready, willing, and able to endure before he snaps and…asks her out!

Nagatoro’s way with Naoto can be very stressful at times, even for someone who wasn’t bullied as a youth. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is just not a pleasant time for some people, and would totally understand if they want to wash their hands of this show after its first outing made clear what it’s going to be about.

All that said, I came away from Nagatoro thoroughly entertained, and I think a lot of that has to do with tuning into its very particular wavelength. It certainly helps that Uesaka Sumire is so good in voicing Nagatoro’s role, and the visuals are gorgeous and sometimes downright stunning. You have to buy into the idea that for as horrible as she is for much of this episode, this is all really Nagatoro’s way of engaging—and flirting—with Naoto.

Nagatoro is first introduced as one of four faceless gyaru-esque types loudly carrying on in the library, where none of the shyer people around them have the guts to tell them to shut up or leave. Naoto is intimidated by their mere presence on the opposite end of the room, thinking he’s never going to have anything to do with “that species”.

When one of the girls picks up a manga drawing he dropped, Nagatoro seems more interested than the others, and stays behind while they go hang out elsewhere. This is key, as no one else is around during all of the teasing that ensues when she has a flustered Naoto reenact the scene from his manga with her. That’s not an accident; I think she likes it that way.

Nagatoro may be ridiculously irritating and invasive and almost utterly contemptuous of personal boundaries, but she is this way to Naoto and no one else, and with no one else around. It’s the same in the art club, when she makes sure they’re alone before teasing him by offering to be a nude model.

I daresay Nagatoro gets off on dominating the year-older Naoto. Her face does a lot of things throughout the episode, but one thing that stands out is that she’s often blushing just as much if not more than he is while she’s engaged in her teasing. When he’s knocked backwards when she unbuttons her top, she blushes. When she relents and agrees to draw her normally (with her clothes on) she blushes.

She’s loving every minute of this, and seems to be fueled by Naoto’s passivity and submissiveness. Her criticism of his manga and his portrait of her is actually pretty constructive when you think about it, as her goal seems to be to get him to either draw a manga with a character more like him or to become more like his character. She also wants him to draw her better, which means she wants him to draw her again. She was, after all, the first girl he ever looked at so closely.

When Nagatoro makes Naoto cry in the library and she offers him a handkerchief, it almost feels like rubbing salt in the wound. But then when she makes him cry again—after she physically overpowers him and says he’s “so weak”—her demeanor softens considerably and she apologizes while gently drying his eyes, admitting she “had to” mess with him again.

More like she couldn’t resist, because she gets so much pleasure out of riling him up…and also out of drying his eyes. It’s like she’s breaking him down so she can build him back up. In any case, it’s a very cute and tender moment when she realizes she might’ve gone too far there.

That said, Nagatoro continues to pester Naoto as he leaves school, and they apparently share a route home. It’s here whre Nagatoro may actually be hiding a genuine request to go out with her behind a layer of teasing. Sure, even if Naoto straightened up and said “yes”, she’d laugh it off as a joke, but the simple fact that Nagatoro won’t leave him and only him alone means there’s something there.

When she accidentally pushes him into the river (due to some creative physics on the part of the episode) and he comes out soaking but still not letting her have it, she remarks how he never seems to get angry. The thing is, Naoto is used to bullying and used to dealing with it by looking away and closing his mind. Because of that, he doesn’t remember the faces of his previous bullies.

When prompted, he tells Nagatoro that she ticks him off and gets on his nerves, but “he doesn’t hate it that much…talking with [her] and stuff”. Having called her simply “miss” throughout their interactions, Nagatoro finally gets him to ask her for her name, and for good measure, she writes it on his chest with her finger, never passing up a chance to get a rise out of him.

The episode ends with her trademark devilish smirk, but also flushed cheeks as she says “Let’s get to know each other, Senpai.” I’m willing to give Nagatoro the benefit of the doubt because Naoto is, and has dealt with worse treatment before, and to him Nagatoro simply feels different. Perhaps it feels less like a bully and victim, and more like a dom/sub or top/bottom relationship? And it also feels safer because so far all of the humiliation she’s brought upon him has been private?

I doubt at this point that Naoto perceives that Nagatoro harbors genuine attraction to him precisely because he lets her drive him to tears, but as he said, he doesn’t entirely hate it that much. Will the D/s dynamic continue, or will Naoto start to try to assert himself more as he grows more comfortable around her? I’m eager to see where this goes. Your mileage may well vary considerably.

Episode 1 “Senpai” Count: 51

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 24 (Fin) – Kyoto Accords

When a despairing Miku is worried that she simply can’t compete with Nino or Ichika, Nino makes the observation that they’re all cute—they’re quintuplets—but Miku will never get her feelings through Fuutarou’s thick skull unless she tells him; telepathy sadly isn’t an option for the meekest quint. Nino also makes it clear she always considered Miku a legitimate rival and threat. Miku not even putting up a fight simply leaves a bad taste.

Meanwhile, Ichika asked Fuutarou in the hall to “hear Miku out”, only to disguise herself as Miku once more and take Fuu on the same walk he went on with Rena to jog his memory. After their day out, he recalls spending more time with Rena at the inn playing cards, but then asks if she’s done, removing her wig to reveal she’s Ichika.

He deduces she was the one in the hall, and when Ichika tries to redirect the conversation by saying she was the one he met that day, he tells her he can’t trust her anymore, and leaves her to cry in the pouring rain. All five quints agree that if this keeps up no one will be happy, including Fuu, so they’ll decide who’ll spend the last day with him by choosing each of the five elective field trips, leaving it up to chance.

Yet even here Ichika has a scheme afoot, only this time it’s to help Miku, not hurt her, even though she knows it’s not enough to excuse what she’s done so far. Having overheard which trip Fuu and his group would choose, Ichika switches hers with Miku so she ends up with him. Not only that, but Ichika, Nino, Yotsuba and Itsuki all decide independently to call in sick from their trips and instead follow Miku and Fuutarou to make sure their day goes well.

Thanks to impersonating Miku one more time, Ichika gets Miku to dress up period style along with Fuutarou, while Nino “deals” with the other guys—hopefully by drugging them and stuffing them somewhere, in keeping with her ruthless M.O.!

Seriously though, thanks to the efforts of her four sisters, Miku eventually stops running and starts talking normally and having fun with Fuutarou while they go on one of the more adorable dates in a show that’s been full of them, quasi-or-otherwise. The period environs and clothing suit the history buff Miku best anyway!

Not content to enjoy the date vicariously through Miku, Nino has a momentary lapse where she pushes herself into Fuutarou’s back, insisting she’s not simply going to let Miku have him. Fuutarou ends up bumping into Miku, who ends up in the drink. Soaked to her underwear, Itsuki sneaks the racy underwear she bought “in case of emergency”—call it Chekhov’s Thong—into Miku’s dressing room. Miku is mortified, but it’s better than going commando!

Miku and Fuu have a seat under an umbrella, and suddenly her croissants appear next to her, having been rushed there by the ever-athletic Yotsuba. Naturally, Fuu scarfs the croissants right down, and while he admits he may not have the most refined palate, he can appreciate how hard she worked to make them.

The four other sisters watch from inside the building behind them as Miku gets more and more comfortable talking with Fuutarou. She tells him how she wants to learn so much more about him, then starts to point out all the things around them she loves, ending by pointing at him and saying “I love you”, shocking her sisters.

Ichika breaks down, and we learn that Yotsuba was indeed “Rena” for most of the day, while Ichika was the one to play cards with him at the inn—she wasn’t lying! Still, through falling tears, Ichika resolves to be on better terms with her sisters from now on, especially since they now get to talk about something they all like for once.

However, Miku’s confession wasn’t what either they or Fuutarou thought: she was actually pointing at her sisters she could hear behind the wall when she said “I love you”. Fuutarou is flabberghasted by the fake-out, but Ichika is so happy she gives Miku a huge hug.

Fuutarou shuffles off, leaving the quintuplets alone together to share in the pain of falling in love, something they all now understand better having seen the various was they reacted to it (and yes, Itsuki admits she was trying to be alone with Fuu too). Ichika later catches up to Fuu to apologize, and he apologizes in turn. She teases him by saying “it’s all a lie” while kissing him on the cheek, a kiss he continues to feel on the train home.

It will not surprise you, then, to learn that we do not learn who Fuutarou ultimately ends up marrying quite yet. That final revelation will be saved for an already-announced sequel (though what form it takes—movie, OVA, third season—remains up in the air). But I’m not mad! In fact, I’m not even bothering with the rankings this week, just as I ended up juking the stats to make it a five-way tie at the end of last season.

Despite being a presumably zero-sum game, the journeys—all five of them—have continued to prove themselves far more important than the destination; i.e. who marries Fuutarou. The sisters called a cease-fire in Kyoto and more or less negotiated a pact in which they’ll all fight openly and honestly for Fuutarou’s heart from now on.

I’m not even mad Fuutarou is no closer to knowing who—if anyone—to choose above the others. It can be hard to choose from scene to scene! Perhaps the sequel will finally depict him earnestly wrestling with that choice, now that he has a good idea where most of the sisters stand. Until then!

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 09 – Don’t Be a Baby

In the opening moments of this episode, Sonoka gingerly approaches her Hero Wing as if it were a vicious wild animal about to strike, and finally collapses into a quivering heap from fear and anxiety. My breath was short just watching her, because I knew she really really shouldn’t get in that cockpit. Thankfully she doesn’t, and the guys take off in their modern fighters to join the battle, telling her they’ve got this.

The battle itself isn’t going well, as whatever Miko blows up, whether it’s the Tertiary Pillars or the Secondary’s core, regenerate almost immediately, rendering all their hard work moot. It’s like they’re caught in a time loop. And in Odin’s extradimensional “temple”, Claudia fights of the golems, one of their escorts is seriously injured, and Azusu realizes something and…freezes.

That injured soldier ends up sacrificing himself to buy the others time to flee, and Claudy has to slap Azusu to snap her out of her brain feedback loop. All that matters is that Azusu gets back to Tateyama with the knowledge she’s learned. Back at the base, the Pillars are approaching, but the pregnant civilian woman has already gone into labor.

The doctors tending her won’t abandon her, but try to think of a way to move her out of harm’s way. Sono witnesses these “ordinary heroes” and remembers her big sis Yayoi telling her to look in her charm if things get to be “too much”. Inside the charm, Sono finds a handwritten note with the words Yayoi said to her many times: “Don’t be a baby, idiot!”

Tough love to be sure, but Sono is able to laugh at the words, and recovers her nerve. I’m no psychiatrist, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t how PTSD works—there’s no cure for it in reality, though it can be successfully treated, managed, and minimized—but it works enough for Sono to confidently and heroically stride back into the hangar, hop into her Hero Wing, and join the battle.

Miko is elated to find Sono by her side (better late than never) since she’s almost out of ammo. Sono’s fully loaded, and helps plow the road so Miko can make the most of her remaining ordinance. The thousands of spinning gears around them have been a clue for how to defeat the Pillar all along: they are a clockwork that enable it to turn back time and repair itself.

Once some of the gears are jammed with Tertiary Pillars and Miko splashes the Secondary’s core, the whole intricate Rube Goldberg machine falls apart. The Pillar is destroyed, leaving a big ‘ol tree, and the 909th have their first victory in a long time, and it feels so good.

Claudy, Azuzu, and the surviving escorts make it out of Odinville and Claudy successfully closes the portal; Azuzu saves her from being pulled back in by one of the golems. The four Valkyries reunite to join the celebration of the new birth, which brings light to an otherwise dark and death-filled time.

Their celebrations don’t last long, as Azuzu presents imagery of the murals they found in Odin’s temple, which suggest that while they’ve seemingly been fighting to prevent Ragnarök, the fact Norse mythology doesn’t exist anymore suggests Ragnarök already happened. That means Odin has been lying to them at best. The episode ends with him in the temple, insisting “we have not yet fallen.”

Following a recap, this episode offered a welcome glimmer of hope for our four air maidens and their cause, but their patron god has yet to reveal his true intentions for them. I also can’t help but feel like things were resolved too neatly and easily, particularly Sono recovering from her PTSD enough to fly again…just from reading a note.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 09 – Fuel to the Fire

Last week Kazuya acted like a heinous criminal but suffered zero consequences and was actually rewarded with a phone case because Chizuru conveniently ceased to remotely resemble the character we’d known up to that point, while Ruka fell of the face of the earth. How do you come back from such a fiasco?

First, by bursting Kazuya’s bubble: he didn’t get a gift from Chizuru because he’s special, but because it’s a common rental girlfriend practice. And Chizuru still considers their relationship strictly business. When she straight-up asks if Kaz has fallen for her, he lies and denies it. But you can’t help but think she’s lying too.

Second, by welcoming Ruka back to the show, and with a vengeance! Devastated that he blew her off to go on a date with his rental, Ruka demands to immediately go on another date with him that same day, and it’s well within her rights as his GF to do so. When it’s clear to her his mind is elsewhere, she blindfolds him and spirits him away to a love hotel room.

There, she removes her socks (to get comfy) and Kazuya tells her about the situation with his and Chizuru’s grans. Ruka tells him straight up there’s no future for him and Chizuru, who can only ever be platonic, while his gran is very likely looking at the future in the form of a great-grandchild, which Ruka is ready and willing to provide when the time comes.

That time isn’t now, however. Kazuya is overwhelmed and retreats to the bathroom, which gives Ruka the opportunity to slow things down a bit. Her heart rate has never been faster but she knows she shouldn’t rush into sex.

When he fled to the toilet, however, Kazuya left his phone with Ruka, who sees a notification on his lock screen that tells her where and when he’s attending a New Year’s shrine visit with his family and Chizuru. She then decides to crash said visit…and good for her!

I for one have had enough of Kazuya and Chizuru comfortably maintaining a charade when the bottom line is they’re lying to their families. So I was elated to see Ruka invite herself and make them squirm. Kazuya agreed to be her boyfriend, after all; by rights, she should be there, and Chizuru should be off on some other rental date or acting shoot.

Ruka even comes right out and states the truth to Kazuya’s family that she’s his girlfriend, leading Kazuya to tell his grandmother that she’s a pathological liar. Kazuya, you absolute scumbag. Lowest of the low. Die in the garbage fire to which you and Chizuru keep adding fuel!

Ruka then confronts Chizuru in private, telling her Kazuya told him what the score is, and that she’s grossly overstepping her rental GF bounds. When Chizuru pleads “it’s complicated”, Ruka rightly responds that’s because they’re making it complicated.

Ruka suspects that’s intentional, perceiving that Chizuru has fallen for Kazuya and wants to stay on as his “girlfriend” indefinitely. She gives Chizuru an ultimatum: if she doesn’t love Kazuya, then walk away. It’s the right, fair thing to do. Shit or get off the pot, Chizu-chan!

At the shrine, Ruka takes Chizuru’s gran aside, and learns that it’s not just a great-grandchild she’s after. All Gran wants to do is ask Ruka—who in addition to being a “pathological liar” is also Chizuru’s “nearest, dearest friend”—all about her future granddaughter-in-law. It’s clear to Ruka that Gran loves Chizuru and wants her to be family. So it really is more complicated.

That doesn’t change the fact that as long as Chizuru and Kazuya only see themselves as a rental arrangement, it is wrong to keep leading Gran on. So after Kazuya earnestly apologizes to Ruka for the terrible things he told his fam, she makes it clear to him that she’s not giving up on winning both him and his Gran over, no matter how long it takes.

To that end, she gets a job at the same karaoke parlor where he’s working. He has to learn that further ghosting and two-timing of his real girlfriend will not be tolerated. Kazuya doesn’t deserve Ruka—honestly, Kazuya doesn’t deserve a quick death—but he’s got her.

The question is, will he be won over by her, or will she be the catalyst that forces him and Chizuru to abandon their ridiculous current arrangement for something—anything—real? My guess is the latter. Hopefully we’ll know the answer in three weeks’ time.