Sword Art Online: Alicization – 15 – Books and Covers

This is an episode of jumping to conclusions with regard to one’s opponents…or is it? Eugeo and Kirito are seemingly caught off guard when the two young Axiom nuns plunge their paralyzing poison daggers into their chest and back, respectively. Linel and Fizel are not merely nuns, but Integrity Knights in their own right. And they both revel in having been seen as nuns just long enough to draw in close enough to attack their prey.

The girls drag the paralyzed guys up to the fiftieth floor Hall of Ghostly Light, where the Four Whirling Blades and Vice Commander Fanatio Synthesis Two are waiting. The nun knights, the last two sheltered survivors of one of the Ponfex’s resurrection experiments, don’t want the other knights stealing their thunder, but still need witnesses when they behead the criminals.

Unfortunately for them, Kirito only mistook them for harmless kids for an instant; far less time than they thought. When he noticed apprentices were disobeying orders (an impossibility in the cathedral) and wearing ruby oak sheaths (for poison daggers), he quietly recited a poison-dissolving art, which completed in time for him to stop them and give them a taste of their own medicine.

He cures Eugeo, then tells him to quietly recite a perfect weapon control art when he can and wait for his signal. Then he drives past the Four Whirling Blades and crosses swords with Fanatio one-on-one. Perhaps impressed by his cheek, Fanatio orders the subordinates to stand back as they duel.

Fanatio learns that despite a sword that contains the reflective power of the sun itself, Kirito and his black sword are no slouch. He chips off a piece of Fanatio’s helmet, endures the heavenly sword’s beam-like strikes (to non-vital areas) and eventually knocks her helmet off. That’s right: Fanatio is a woman. The look of momentary shock in Kirito and Eugeo’s faces pisses her off to no end; they’re faces she’s seen all her life.

But the one who seems most upset that Fanatio is a woman is…Fanatio herself. It is Fanatio reading her own book by its cover, and reading Kirito’s cover as Just Another Guy who won’t fight her with everything he has. As with Zel and Nel, Kirito quickly moves beyond his instinctive surprise and fights her on equal terms; as he says and we know, he’s no stranger to being beaten by swordswomen.

A splendid duel ensues; one that Fanatio almost seems grateful for, as for once she isn’t being underestimated or not taken seriously, despite her “detestable” face. Kirito asks her if she thinks she’s so detestable, why does she doll herself up so; it’s strongly implied she loved/loves Commander Bercouli Synthesis One.

But there’s no room for love, or anything else, for Integrity Knights. Only “glory” through obedience to the Pontifex. And so even when Eugeo unleashes his Blue Rose Sword upon her, he can’t quite finish the job. Part of that is that he trying to beat her with his hatred, and as Kirito calls for his own weapon enhancement, he corrects Eugeo’s thinking.

They’re not there to kill the enemies they hate, but to save the people they love—as well as those enemies themselves—and end the tyranny of Axiom so humans can live normal lives. And he’s going to do it or die trying.

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Attack on Titan – 40 – Truth Desert

Titan is effective because the audience shares in the characters’ frustration that their world is shrouded in mystery and they have no idea what The Truth really is. They have to either be content with smaller truths— Historia’s identity as true heir to the throne, for instance—or theories, like the one where the false king altered the memories of those who settled within the walls, and altered history along with it.

As Historia is meeting her father for the first time in years, she goes over her own sad, well, history in her head. She had an objectively horrible mother who never showed her love, but with no frame of reference for what a “normal” mom-daughter relationship should be, getting violently shoved away for trying to hug her made her happy, because it was something.

The first words Tori’s mother said to her were basically the same as the those with which Tori’s mother left the world: words expressing regret she ever gave birth her. Rob Reiss was and in the present still isn’t proud of having to send his daughter away, but the alternative was her sharing her mother’s fate that one night, when the men in black coats and hates came.

Meanwhile, at the farm, Hange returns Sannes to his cell, and reveals to him that his friend Ralph didn’t sell him and the king out, he was simply used as a pawn to get Sannes to betray the king. Hange has very little patience for their weeping and moaning, and voices that lack of patience…emphatically.

Erwin meets with Pyxis to inform him of the coup he’s planning; after he has words, Pyxis agrees to lend his support when the time comes, but the Military Police is working even faster than they are, and when Erwin’s presence is demanded at the scene of Reeves’ murder, Erwin doesn’t hesitate naming Hange his replacement as commander of the scouts in his absence.

I’d congratulate Hange on her sudden promotion, but she just took command of an organization that is about to be unjustly branded an enemy of the state. What had once been a position of great esteem is now a thankless job. Not that that matters to Hange—she’ll do her duty to the fullest.

Erwin walks into what he knows to be a frame-job, but still makes sure to let Reeves’ family know he intends to avenge the man’s killers, and even though they’ve been carefully conditioned to blame him, Erwin’s pure charisma seems to have an affect on them. On the rooftops Kenny watches scouts all over the city get rounded up as criminals, but prefers to let Levi come to him.

Before being arrested, Erwin told Pyxis a story about his childhood, when his father used to teach his history class. Erwin asked a question his dad had to evade, but later that night explained his theory to his son. In a truth desert like the world in which they lived where others only encountered mirages, his father had found an oasis. But Erwin, young and stupid, blurted out his father’s theory in public until the wrong ears caught it, and that was the end of Erwins’ father.

Since then, Erwin had always suspected his father was killed by the government, and if that happened, it meant there was merit to what his father believed, so he came to believe the theory was fact. To get closer to The Truth, the current government and its fraud monarchy must be replaced, and Historia enthroned as the true queen.

With the military police prowling for any scout and the government on high alert, no part of Erwin’s plan will be easy. In the midst of all this intrigue, I’m sure a number of scouts are almost wishing for the days when all they had to do was…kill Titans. Of course, that (relatively) easier life was only possible because they were more in the dark than they are now.

Hanebado! – 05 – The Discarded Daughter

Ayano lived her childhood absolutely idolizing her mother and soaking up every bit of badminton know-how she could. Other than Elena, there was virtually no one else in her life she cared about. In other words, her mom was her family…until she took off, and Ayano has felt alone ever since (sorry, Elena).

Or, at least she had felt alone. Now that she’s been welcomed and embraced by her team, she feels like she can keep playing with their support. Riko offers as much at the end of their first game which they lost to Connie, 21-12. Kentarou resets the defense so Ayano has the run of the back 2/3rds of the court for the second game.

By throwing her out of the frying pan and into the fire, Ayano eventually picks up her game, returning shots that she’d previously let drop. Her sly persistence starts to frustrate Connie, who in turn steps up her game, and all of a sudden their respective teammates are treated to one hell of a grudge match, with neither Ayano nor Connie believing defeat to be an option.

Connie draws from her own childhood, which looks as lonely as Ayano’s post-mom time, while Ayano gets all Sadako-y like she did when she beat Nagisa in the nationals. The two competitors are so focused on each other, Connie ends up getting a cramp in her leg, and her partner leaps in to score the winning point, catching Ayano and Connie alike off guard and leading them to declare the result of the match corrupted.

Both go off skulking, only to be picked back up by the very people she felt were unnecessary (in Connie’s case) or the people whom she felt she’d let down (in Ayano’s). Sora, who’d been pretty quiet up to this point, confesses that she hated Ayano for seeming not to care despite being so talented, but has revised her feelings about her after seeing how far she went in that match. The two girls end up spending the evening having fun with their teammates.

The next morning when both teams are set to return home, Ayano confronts Connie, who tells her what I (and probably everyone else watching) had suspected last week: Connie is the girl Ayano’s mother replaced her with as daughter. Connie’s goal is to prove to her “mama” that she’s the better player by beating Ayano.

As I mentioned last week, one would assume the question of “who is best” had already long been settled by the fact Ayano’s mother f-ing abandoned her biological daughter for Connie. I guess Connie just isn’t satisfied with her mom’s decision, but wants to be sure she’s better than Ayano. As for Ayano, on the bus ride home she breaks out her crazy face once more, declaring that she “doesn’t need” her mother any more.

While that’s a depressing sentiment, somewhat creepily delivered, I can hardly blame her for wanting to give up on the person who gave up on her. But I still feel there’s a reconciliation story brewing here. Simply stating she’s done seeking her mom’s approval doesn’t magically make it so…right?

Hanebado! – 04 – A New Challenger Approaches

After her playground epiphany, Ayano joins the badminton club, and before she knows it she’s on a bus with the rest of the club to a summer practice facility. While on the ride, the classically alone Ayano has her hair tended to by Yu, resulting in a photo and a warm feeling of belonging; of finally not being alone, but part of something bigger: a team.

But wouldn’t you know it, the facility is already occupied by another badminton team, and not just any team, but the “FreGirls” of Frederica, one of the country’s top teams. One of their players wanted very much to play Ayano’s school. Ayano heads out to a konbini to buy water, but ends up lost thanks to Nagisa’s kiddy, nigh worthless map.

While lost, she meets a foreigner who’s also lost: a blonde from Denmark who offers her a lolly when they make progress with the map.

Things are going swimmingly until the foreigner learns the identity of the cute little girl she’s walked with. The moment she hears the name “Hanesaki” she freezes and drops her change, then accuses Ayano of playing mind games with her by “pretending to be friendly.”

The next they meet, the tall blonde, Connie C, is one half of Ayano and Riko’s doubles opponents, and promises to show her how “meaningless” Ayano’s “team” is. She warns her partner not to interfere and let her play alone. Clearly, what she really wants is a one-on-one match against Ayano.

When her partner does interfere, Connie quits in a huff, letting the other girl struggle alone in a two-on-one match until she basically taps out. Connie doesn’t believe in teams, after all; she’s a team of one, and gets what she wants. As for why her captain and coach do nothing to stop her selfish behavior, who knows?

Connie takes over, effortlessly turning a 10-3 deficit into an 11-10 lead with mammoth vertical leaps and a smash that even the guys doubt they could return. Neither Ayano or Izumi can do anything. It’s Serigaya Kaoruko all over again.

Only…it’s actually worse than Kaoruko. “Connie C” Is Connie Christensen, a Danish prodigy who has already won the world championship in her age group. In every physical measure pertinent to badminton, she’s Ayano’s superior, and wants to make it clear she’s superior in every other aspect of the game as well. Tachibana knows her, and doubts Ayano will be able to hang.

Connie is also the blonde girl in the magazine article in which Ayano learned her mother had basically replaced her as daughter, which makes this even more fucked up. Connie even ties back her hair the same way as Ayano’s mother, adding insult to injury.

Apparently not satisfied with everything she’s already taken from Ayano, Connie now seems to want to crush Ayano’s spirit, such that even being in a fun high school team won’t give her joy or relief. That said, she relied on an awful lot of coincidences to end up in the match. Among them:

  • She knew Ayano had joined the badminton club, even when Ayano herself wasn’t sure until very recently;
  • Her school’s team ended up at the same facility as Ayano’s club;
  • Ayano ended up going out for water, and ended up meeting Connie first;
  • They ended up playing against each other.

Coincidences aside, one has to wonder what Connie’s true motive is, and why she is so intent on psychologically crippling a stranger. I mean, isn’t the fact that Ayano’s mom abandoned Ayano for Connie enough proof for Connie that’s she’s better? Did she really travel all the way to Japan just to beat someone who had already ‘lost” to her? Apparently! And that makes Connie a garbage person…until further notice.

Hanebado! – 03 – For the Sheer Love of Badminton

Overshadowed last week by Nagisa’s slump was the fact that Ayano still didn’t really want to play badminton. The exact reason why was not explicitly laid out until now, and it paints both her reluctance to join the bad club and Elena’s adamant insistence she join anyway. By getting to the roots of the two girls’ motivations, the episode succeeds in strengthening both characters and elevating the show’s drama.

We start with a series of flashbacks from Elena’s perspective, always on the sidelines watching Ayano with a combination of awe and pride, but also loneliness, and even envy. Mostly though, since they were wee girls Elena has always known how much Ayano loves badminton, and so simply couldn’t allow her to reject it. It wasn’t just about wasting talent, but denying herself that which both of them know she loves.

Of course, we’ve known that love is tainted by the huge expectations others put upon her, and the unwanted attention she gets from other badminton lovers for her body and her skills. Elena watches the others fawning over Ayano, gets bored, and goes to the movies with Noriko…where she’s also bored.

Afterwards, Noriko goes off on a date with Saionji, leaving Elena alone. She spots Nagisa on her run, but doesn’t call out. It’s Nagisa, on her run back, who spots Elena, who explains she wanted to see how Ayano would do on her own. Nagisa asks Elena why Ayano quit badminton, because she’s since fallen far from the “perfect” player who crushed her at the junior nationals. Elena promises to get to the bottom of it.

The next day, Ayano’s personal slump is compounded by the sudden arrival of her former self-appointed rival, Serigaya Kaoruko. After nearly falling for the cool Tachibana, Kaoruko challenges a very lethargic Ayano to a set, and totally embarrasses her.

This is another beautifully-animated badminton game, and it’s thrilling to see Kaoruko so easily confound, befuddle, and decimate Ayano, who had been impressing her teammates with her skills thus far. Kaoruko is disappointed, and vows that Ayano will never beat her. Considering Ayano is lying on the floor drenched in sweat, it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

Ayano rushes out, and when Elena catches up to her, she says she’s quitting badminton after all; Elena can stay if she wants, but she won’t. In that moment I couldn’t help but feel bad for Elena, who had stuck with Ayano all this time only for her efforts to be impulsively discarded after just one frustrating set. It felt like Ayano was taking Elena for granted.

The next day, Ayano doesn’t come to school or practice. Tachibana and Nagisa visit her house where her stately, adorable grandparents take care of her; there, they learn that Ayano’s mother was Shindo Uchika, the greatest badminton player of her generation and winner of ten straight national titles.

Both Elena and I considered the pressure of following in the footsteps of an almost impossibly elite parent ample motive for feeling like one’s own badminton career is pointless…but Ayano’s situation turns out to be far more fucked up. Elena may know more about Ayano than anyone, but even she didn’t understand the depths of Ayano’s pain.

She also didn’t know who Kaoruko was. When the two were scheduled to have a match, Kaoruko caught a cold, so she tied Ayano up and gave her her cold so they could play “on even terms.” Kaoruko ended up beating Ayano by a hair, and Ayano passed out on the court.

While still in bed recovering, her mother turned her back on her, ignored the calls of her daughter, walked out the door…and never came back. Ayano kept playing and kept winning, transforming herself into a badminton WMD, hoping that if she won enough, her mom would come back.

Not only did her mother never come back, but Ayano had to learn from an article in Badminton Magazine at the konbini that her mother had taken on another student in a faraway land and trained her to be her successor. Earlier I wondered whether perhaps there was a good reason her mom had to go, but no, she was just a garbage mother and human being.

Elena ponders the shocking new information Ayano has given her on her walk home, but one image over all others continues to be prominent in her mind: that of a tiny her watching a tiny Ayano playing badminton with her mom and loving every minute of it.

Elena considers it her duty as Ayano’s friend to help her get that feeling back—a feeling independent of pressure and  betrayal. To do so, she elicits the help of Nagisa. Elena and Ayano meet at their usual meeting spot atop the red playground octopus. Elena tells Ayano she needs to go back to school, and Nagisa makes her appearance.

Then Elena tells Ayano something she didn’t know before: How then, and now, she felt/feels “left out” when she watches Ayano play. Elena always thought she doesn’t have anything she can devote herself to, but she does. Ayano loves and devotes herself to badminton, and Elena loves and devotes herself to Ayano. Even if she feels lonely, or left out, or envious at times, it’s all worth it to see Ayano have so much fun.

With that, Nagisa draws a makeshift court in the sand, and the two have a match. It’s a bit of a mess of a match, with the wind wreaking havoc on the shuttlecock…but it doesn’t matter. Ayano is able to drop the baggage surrounding the sport she loves and simply enjoy playing it again.

The rest of the club is contacted and they join in the fun. And the next day, Elena and Ayano turn in their forms indicating their intention to join the Badminton Club. Ayano was dealt a terrible hand in moms, but in turn was dealt a great hand in BFsF.

Classroom of the Elite – 06

Dayum, this show keeps finding new heights of awesomeness. Not only does it constantly zag when I expect it to zig, it manages to juggle a whole array of different plot lines of varying importance with staggering ease.

Did I think Sakura was going to end up being the target of a stalker? No, but the incident is instrumental in Ayanokouji continuing to gain her trust, especially after he says her good works at the trial gained his, Horitika’s Kushida’s, and probably Sudo’s and the rest of the class’s. The timing is perfect for Sakura; unfortunately, when she’s about to bring up her problem, Ayano is called away.

Did I think the latest Sudo situation would be resolved so cleverly, outside the walls of the courtroom? No, and neither did Horikita, until Ayano brings up security cameras. This gets the wheels turning, resulting in a gambit in which Kushida lures Sudo’s accusers to a certain spot where there are cameras, but instead of her meeting them, it’s Ayano and Horikita.

There, the two set to work stuffing the accusers into a smaller and smaller box. Horikita tells them they believe the school has acted the way it did because it is testing them to resolve it themselves, and will expel the accusers for lying because they already know everything…because there are cameras everywhere.

Driving that point home when one of the guy’s temper gets the best of him, the accusers surrender and agree to withdraw their complaint. It’s a masterfully-executed plan that came out of nowhere. No more trial!

It’s a stunning victory that gets Class D its meager but significant points back and clears Sudo of wrongdoing. As for the cameras, they were purchased and planted by Ayano, using funds he borrowed from Ichinose (who as we know is swimming in cash).

Just beneath the main Sudo storyline lurks Sakura’s plight, as she’s finally cornered in a dark alley by her creepy stalker, who is exactly who we thought would be her stalker: the camera store guy. Sakura is in a very bad way here, with the guy starting to force himself on her.

It looks for all the world that in order to save Sudo and the class, Ayano had to neglect someone, and that someone unfortunately would end up being Sakura. But that turns out not to be the case, as Sakua managed to call Ayano, and he uses that call to pinpoint her position and stop the assault, with Ichinose and two cops in tow.

Now that she’s in a safe position, Sakua finds the courage to give her stalker a piece of her mind (even though a part of me wondered if some of his rambling was actually true…and yes I feel dirty about that but this is a show that seems to keep all its options on the table). She then removes her glasses, a symbolic gesture of taking off her “mask.”

Chabashira-sensei has some questions for Horikita, but doesn’t press the issue when her student “leaves it to her imagination” how she managed to get the Class C accusers to withdraw. What sensei does do is ask Horikita why, rhetorically, someone as talented as Ayano is dabbling in obscurity in Class D, suggesting he is the most “defective” of the class by far. Sudo, meanwhile, seems genuinely grateful to Horikita, calling her “amazing” to Ayano.

President Horikita is similarly impressed with Ayanokouji, who mananged to somehow bypass the trial altogether and resolve the conflict between the classes without breaking a sweat or even leaving any fingerprints.

We also get a glimpse at the power struggle between Ryuuen, who suffered a defeat when the accusers recanted, and Sakayanaki, his Class A rival for kingship of the school. Looks like the show is going to keep expanding beyond the core triad of Ayano, Horikita, and Kushida—and I have every confidence it will be able to pull it off.

That being said, the episode ends right back with Ayano and Horikita, with the latter calling the former out for planting the seed of security cameras in her head, leading her to forge false evidence to win the day. Horikita is eager to know what Ayano is thinking and who exactly he is.

All Ayano does is reiterate his promise to help Horikita get to Class A. Other than that, he asks her not to “pry into his life.” From the glimpse of his past as a child in a line of others undergoing some kind of conditioning, it’s clear the character with the darkest secrets of all in  Classroom of the Elite seems to be its protagonist, one Ayanokouji Kiyotaka.

RokuAka – 12 (Fin)

Rock Bottom: Leos threatens a frightened Sistine into submission; if it means protecting Rumia, she’ll marry him; sure, whatever. Rumia visits the absent Glenn, who say’s he’s got this. But then the day of Sistine’s sham wedding arrives, with no Glenn in sight. Sisti is resplendent in her nuptial white, but her face is a mask. Rumia and Re=L aren’t fooled; Leos is a Bad Man. But where the heck is their hero?

Ah, there he is. Just when Leos is about to plant a kiss on Sistine’s lips to seal the deal, he bursts in to object to and cancel the wedding. Sistine, who had worked so hard to steel herself, and isn’t convinced Rumia will be safe if she doesn’t do as Leos says, is initially upset about being saved.

But Glenn insists he’s got this. When hordes of Angel Dust addict puppets appear, things start to feel a lot like the battle he fought years ago; the one in which Sara died. Meanwhile, Sisti gets a front-row seat to some bloody, intense professional mage shit…and she’s not steeled for that.

When Leos turns out not to be Leos, but a former fellow Mage Corpse Executioner, Jatice Lowfan (dumb name), who tells them the real Leos died horribly, Glenn again orders Sistine to get the hell out of here; she doesn’t belong in this world.

She obeys, but after slipping in her long, bloodsoaked gown, she remembers how much she cares for Glenn and isn’t willing to let him kill himself in some random fight for which he already carries emotional baggage.

She tears away excess fabric so she can run and saves Glenn from a critical hit in the nick of time. She knows she doesn’t belong in this world…but neither does he. She’s taking him back where they both belong.

Glenn and Sisti form a two-man cell and proceed to hand Jatice his ass-tice, even ruining his lovely summoned esper, Justia. Jatice straight up wasn’t expecting Sistine to join the battle; not when he was sure he’d sufficiently messed up in the head with the Leos wedding ordeal.

So yeah, it’s another villain who simply underestimates the power of Sisti, Glenn, or the combination of the two. He admits defeat this time and strolls off…but of course, This Isn’t Over…Jatice is after the titular Akashic Records that allow their owner to essentially rule the world, and he thinks he has to get rid of Glenn with his own hands to do so.

As bad guys go, Jatice is pretty lame; as his his name. But the threat he poses will surely drive a chunk of a second season, if RokuAka ever gets one (I’ve heard no plans). Nevertheless, the re-reconciliation between Sisti and Glenn, and in particularly Sisti overcoming her fear, saving Glenn rather than vice versa, and fighting by his side made for a satisfying tentative conclusion.

RokuAka was far from perfect, but it featured a great core of highly likable, rootable characters which kept things entertaining and made it easier to overlook the fact the show’s not that great-looking. Not only that, but starting with its first episode, it’s always had a great way with its audience, balancing comedy, drama, and outright peril with wry aplomb. If a Season 2 ever surfaces, sign me up.

RokuAka – 11

Glenn and Leos’ duel for Sistine’s hand in marriage (ostensibly) is realized as a battle between the two teachers’ classes. Class 4 is far stronger than Class 2 and Leos is way more bookish than Glenn, so everyone assumes it will be a cakewalk, but Leos does whatever it takes to win, employing tactics deemed shameful by the elites of the academy.

Frankly, it’s all a big snoozer for me. I don’t mind hearing about magical tactics in theory, but in practice it leaves much to be desired. There’s way too much pace-killing, shounen-style explanation of what’s happening for my taste, and the mechanics of the fighting itself are clunky and kinda all over the place.

Fortunately, the battle isn’t the entire episode. It ends in a draw, which I should have expected. Leos, embarrassed by the performance of his class, isn’t satisfied, and throws another glove at Glenn. Sistine tries to cut in and put a stop to the pissing match, but is ignored, as Glenn goes off about wanting to marry into money.

It’s a bit too much for someone who doesn’t know he’s only joking—who Sistine unfortunately happens to be—and Glenn receives a slap and “I hate you” from her for his conduct.

But we know there’s a very good reason Glenn is going so far; and Rumia (who also knows) urges Sisti to find out what that is from Glenn himself, noting to herself she must talk with him too about the “weird aura” surrounding Leos.

While reflecting on the roof, Glenn is met by Sistine, and she gets the answers she seeks in the form of an abridged tale of Glenn and Sara, the girl he “let die” while on duty in the Imperial Mages.

Sisti doesn’t think Glenn’s been particularly mature in letting his emotions drive him, but she also admits she’s touched by his desire to preserve her dream. She also has no idea just how thoroughly and ruthlessly Leos intends to crush that dream once she’s agreed to marry him.

As in serious battles against pros in the past, Sistine Fibel is utterly unprepared, physically and mentally, for the shitshow she’s found herself in. This isn’t merely a pissing contest between two guys who are into her. It’s a battle between someone with her interests at heart and someone who essentially wants to enslave her, body and soul.

She learns Leos’ true colors when he joins her and Glenn on the roof, gets Glenn upset by bringing up the bloody details of his past, and then overpowers him with an ability that bypasses “The Fool’s World”, which is literally Glenn’s trump card. At this point, Leos is beyond any kind of airs, promising Sistine both she and her friends will suffer if she doesn’t marry and submit to him.

The next morning, Glenn doesn’t show up for the duel, and a narrating Sistine laments that Glenn never returned to the academy. That either means Glenn has returned to his life of post-tragedy seclusion and deprivation, in which case he’ll need a serious talk from someone to get back into the game and rescue Sisti, or he’s gone off to plan a defense against Leos so he can properly rescue Sisti. We’ll see which Glenn shows up next week—if he shows up at all.

3-gatsu no Lion – 06

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We continue an in-depth journey and the running self-commentary of Rei’s life, including the recent slump that has kept him from advancing, even though as one of five players ever to become pros in middle school, he’s expected to become a master like the other four at some point.

Because Rei is still so young, his childhood was disrupted by such tragedy and trauma, the bad times always seemed to overshadow the good, and his “stepsister” Kyouko dug into him so deeply with hurtful words that sounded like the truth, Rei is left unable to process why he’s so unhappy and unable to move forward in life.

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Shogi, so far, hasn’t been the answer. Sure, he threw himself into it with all he had and has been celebrated as a prodigy, but when he’s not playing or training, he has a tendency to shut down. He doesn’t have friends (who aren’t also shogi players).

He barely goes to school, and keeps to himself when he does (I can’t recall even seeing one of his classmates). He admires master Touji Souya, who despite being as old as his teacher still has the face of a teenager; as if his distinguished, decorated career has caused time to stop.

Touji is the titular “God Child”, but I wonder if Rei looks up at him as an ideal to follow, or something he can never attain. Then again, he doesn’t know of Touji delved into shogi not out of love, but out of necessity, as he did. Maybe time stopping isn’t a good thing.

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After nearly a whole episode of navel-gazing and listing all of his problems, Rei and we get a welcome respite, as he runs into Hina in town and treats her to a McDonalds shake. It doesn’t take long for the kind and lovable Hina to notice Rei is feeling gloomy, and invites him to dinner back home.

Hina makes Rei feel ashamed and pathetic for worrying so much about his own issues when Hina is sitting there, a middle schooler worrying about a high schooler, putting his feelings before her own (then crashing and burning when her crush the baseball ace shows up).

If Rei’s going to move—if he wants to move—in life, hanging out more with the Kawamotos seems the way to go.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 05

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For the last four episodes we’ve watched Rei in a really nice situation with caring loving people, and he still seems a bit uncomfortable, like he’s out of place. We’ve also seen glimpses of his Dark Past, but they come fully to the surface this week, as having to pick up Momo (and then tend to her kid wounds) triggers a memory that haunts and will always haunt him.

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Rei’s whole goddamn immediate family went and died instantly when a drunk driver killed them. They left the world, and left him with the rest of his blood relatives, who are portrayed as almost comically awful.

Despite having the means to adopt him, one of his aunts suggests an orphanage, far more concerned about her husband, the younger brother, taking control of the hospital with Rei’s dad out of the way. They’re a real great bunch, I tellya!

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Rei is saved by his dad’s old shogi rival, Kouda, and by a lie: he tells Kouda he loves shogi and wants to pursue a life of shogi, even though he only played shogi as a way to bond with his busy father. Kouda is kinder than any of Rei’s surviving family, but his kids, who are also trying to enter the world of shogi, are not.

Well, at least Kyouko does; the girl from that violent-looking flashback last week. She and her little brother Ayumu are quickly surpassed by Rei, who rises fast in a field he felt he had to pretend to be interested in to be adopted.

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Rei also blames himself for being a “cuckoo chick”, edging out the rightful offspring of the parent out of the nest; tearing a family apart after his was taken from him, like some kind of unconscious revenge/paying backward. Did I mention this is all very horrifically depressing?

I’m glad we’re finally getting Rei’s story of why he is the way he is in the present, but it kinda smothers you in a dark grey cloud of awfulness. The one bright spot is Momo in the first half, being her adorable Momo self. The fact we can understand what the cats and dogs are saying also lighten things up a bit.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 04

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Hina’s longtime crush, a baseball ace, has a Big Game coming up, and she wants to be there cheering him on, with a big, fancy bento in hand for when he’s done. She becomes so consumed with what to make she doesn’t realize she has no cash.

Rei buys her the food, but despite waking up early, Hina has problems with the tricky dishes she’s making for the first time, forgets to pick out what to wear, and is ultimately late.

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The previous night, and at the Big Game, Rei sees a side of Hina he’s never seen before: a side that seems to be in love. “Love” seems to be a triggering word for Rei, because he suddenly gets a black-and-white flashback to a very unsettling scene where a woman—his mom?—removes his glasses and gets on top of him. Clearly Rei’s concept of “love” is distorted in some way, but there are no details beyond this glimpse.

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As for Hina, as happy as she looks during the game, when it comes time to deliver her bento, the object of her affection is surrounded by teammates and other girls, and they all go off to eat dinner. He doesn’t even notice Hina’s there.

I’m not sure if Rei has just been hanging out watching Hina this whole time, but when she tries to throw out the bento, he stops her, and suggests they go home and eat it together. Once there, Akari, who Hina believes doesn’t know what she’s going through because she’s so beautiful and good at cooking.

But the truth is, the very same thing happened to Akari once, which is why she gave advice to cook something simple. It’s the same advice their mom gave her. Basically, fellas: after a ball game, make sure to look around for girls with handmade bentos, and accept them before letting yourself get whisked away to other things.

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Part Two of this week’s episode dispenses with any other hints as to what that black-and-white flashback was all about (aside form what I saw it as, which was some kind of abuse), and takes a much lighter tone as Nikaido  and Rei run into the sisters while in town grabbing lunch.

Nikaido proves to be a popular guy with Momo and Akari. Momo likens him to Boboro, a popular children’s character who is big, fat, soft, and intelligent; a comparison Nikaido gratefully accepts. Rei also laments that Momo seems happier with Nikaido than she ever did with him :(

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As for Akari, we learn that she harbors an unreasonable adoration for “soft fluffy things” as much as Working!!’s Takanashi loves small cute things. It’s the reason she brings in animals, and Reis, who are skin and bones, and fills them up until they’re her preferred soft and fluffy.

Nikaido is the pre-done deal, and when he asks for a less salty, fattening menu, she takes it upon herself to pull out all the stops for his sake, ignoring Rei, the cats, and Rina (the only Kawamoto not enchanted by Nikaido’s presence).

This episode makes Nikaido more likable, as it shows he’s a decent, kind lad who knows how to go with the flow. Sure, he can be a little pushy with Rei, but his insistence that he and Rei are best friends is in no way insincere or mocking. He’s a nice guy. A nice guy under constant surveillance from his butler!

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3-gatsu no Lion – 03

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3GL‘s third episode is again split into two vignettes with an overarching theme: Rei encountering those with more powerful outward emotions than he expresses, leading him question if the way he handles his own emotions is really optimal.

The first vignette deals with his self-proclaimed rival Nikaidou Harunobu, whom Rei beat on the rooftop of a department store in the searing summer heat years ago. In what he describes as an arrogant presumption, he wished to defeat Harunobu quickly so the poor kid could get out of the hot sun.

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But his strategy only made Harunobu play harder, desperately dragging out the game until he was totally out of moves. Years later he faces Harunobu in a professional match, and Harunobu is pumped up, but nothing has really changed.

It takes many hours, but Rei eventually defeats Harunobu once more, because like him, he doesn’t want to lose. Harunobu’s new line of attack is better than the last one, but Rei is better too, and he does what has to be done to win again. He’s both bemused and a bit inspired by Harunobu’s raw intensity.

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The second vignette, a real tearjerker, marks the welcome return of the Kawamoto sisters and their gramps, completing their Obon observance with an elaborate meal. Rei comes late but Rina has his dishes ready, in appropriately small portions to match his slight appetite.

As they light the fire to see off their lost loved ones they only recently welcomed back with a similar ritual, Rei sees the barely-contained pain in the faces of the Kawamotos, though Akari is still smiling outwardly and Momo hides her face. He doesn’t see the point of doing something that brings out so much pain.

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When Hinata suddenly says she has to grab a manga at the convenience store, Gramps sends Rei to go with her, but Rei keeps his distance, even as Hina’s pace quickens and it’s clear her destination isn’t the store, but the river. There, he finds her crying her eyes out, the gorgeous July moon shining down on her.

As with Harunobu, Rei is a bit in awe of Hina’s intense display, a display he long gave up on when he decided to push the pain of losing his family away. There is no doubt Hina is not okay, but just because he’s not crying doesn’t mean he is.

Again he wonders if the path he chose in dealing with his loss was the right one, all while staying with Hinata and giving her all the time she needs to cry it out. Just as certain defeat isn’t enough to rush a match to its conclusion, pushing pain aside doesn’t make it disappear.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 02

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Two stories are told in this episode of 3G, which have thesis statements of their own, but tie into the central idea that Rei and the Kawamoto sisters aren’t in a one-sided deal. He’s not the only one getting something out of this. And he’s well aware he’s getting something out of this.

The first begins with the not-surprising realization that Rei has shoji buddies with far more forceful personalities, which he’s nonetheless able to coexist with on his own terms. Nishioka has made Rei his personal rival, and Matsumoto wants to beat him so he can appear on TV for his ill grandpa who taught him.

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Matsumoto and his longtime friend Smith are also nice guys, so when they go out to celebrate at the hostess club where Akari works, they’re nothing but respectful (and appropriately in awe) of the stunning Akari, and don’t make their 17-year-old Kohei drink liquor. Akari confides to Rei that these are the kind of guys to hang out with.

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It hearkens to the first time Akari and Rei met: when some not-so-nice guys did make Rei drink himself into a stupor (which probably didn’t take much, considering his size and complete lack of tolerance). It was Rei at his most vulnerable, and he had no way to hide it.

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That didn’t matter at all to Akari, who took him into her home and took care of him. It’s a pretty good chance he got alcohol poisoning that night, so when he couldn’t force himself to vomit some of it up to ease his pain, she showed him how. Concerned, gentle, caring: both the Akari at home and Akari the Hostess are equally amazing and beautiful to Rei.

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Before he met Akari, Rina, and Momo, Rei saw the new town he lived in in monochrome, as if walking through a dream. But from the moment Akari welcomed him in their lives and told him he could come by anytime (and meaning it), color returned to his life, and with it, a measure of joy.

The second half, “the other side of the bridge”, marks the difference between the cold industrial/commercial side where he lives (akin to Ayanami Rei’s memorable digs) and the warm, homey, comfortable side where all the Kawamoto sisters are, as well as the food.

Rei can never refuse Akari, and he doesn’t when she invites him to join them for Obon. Because he knows, the Kawamotos have suffered profound loss just as he did. He helps fill the void in their lives so it doesn’t fill with grief, and they restore color to his. It’s a nice arrangement, and watching it play out is enough to melt the hardest heart.

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