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…

 

Fruits Basket – 44 – There’s Always Room for Kindness (and Jell-O)

For me this was one of most-anticipated episodes of Fruits Basket since Tooru saw Kyou’s true form. After learning the details of Rin’s life up to this point, I desperately wanted her to stay in that bed, or at least in that house with Tooru. If she just ran out in a huff, it would’ve felt like a major step backwards. I feel like there’s no more room for acting tough and aloof. Rin needs help, from others, now. She’s reached her breaking point.

Sure enough, she’s immediately unnerved and repelled by Tooru upon first seeing her, and when Hatori arrives to take her to the hospital for proper treatment, she damn near leaps out the window! She is every bit the wounded, stubborn Horse, kicking at anyone who tries to get close to her.

After Yuki has a brief chat with Rin (who tells her Haru still loves her very much), we learned that she learned about Tooru through Haru, who tells her Yuki and Kyou’s auras have mellowed considerably thanks to her kindness. When Rin first spotted Tooru at Shigure’s, it was everything she could do not to rush over, put her head in her lap, let her head be pat.

Tooru came off as that kind and caring and parental to Rin, making her Rin’s Kryptonite. Shifting from Haru’s kindness to Tooru’s just wouldn’t do; she doesn’t want to involve or trouble kind people, because she’s so predisposed on leaning on, yearning for, and taking advantage of those people.

If people hate her, Rin thinks, she’s doing it right; and so she continues to be dismissive and hostile towards Tooru. When Tooru realizes that Rin is also trying to break the curse, she wants to help, but Rin doesn’t want her to meddle, because “kind people should just live in their kind world”.

It’s not enough to dissuade Tooru; she’s long since decided that Yes, she WILL Meddle, thank you very much! Like Rin, she has things (and of course people) she can’t give up on. Kind people live in the same world as everyone else, and Tooru is kind precisely because she knows how scary it is to be alone in that world.

But Rin isn’t all alone, nor does she need to be. She’s not putting Tooru out by leaning on her, she’s making her elated just to be needed. Tooru believes she was put on this earth to care for people. She’s not perfect like Rin thinks, as that compulsion is a product of her own trauma. But it’s why Rin feels she can bury her head in Tooru’s bosom and let herself be cared for, at least a little.

Iwami Manaka and Toyosaki Aki are so damn good in this cathartic, multilayered scene, as is the dramatic staging and lighting, and Rin’s slowly falling hair as she launches herself into a hug. In gently breaking down Rin’s self-imposed barriers—built so high they threatened to literally kill her—Tooru proves her value as…Zodiac horse whisperer. I’m sorry; I had to go there!

Rin stops running for running’s sake, and goes to the hospital to recuperate. At school, Haru informs Yuki that he visited Rin, and considered her throwing her IV stand at him as a sign that she was on the mend. While he may not know about Tooru’s plans, he knows he can rest assured with Rin in her care, considering how well she’s done with Yuki and Kyou.

Tooru ends up surprising those two and Shigure by making Jell-O for dessert. Kyou, perceptive rascal that he is, makes the connection between Jell-O and the hospital, correctly guessing Tooru visited Rin. She saw that Rin wasn’t eating the hospital food, and Rin told her she likes Jell-O. Tooru contemplated just how much Rin had taken upon herself for so long, and how tormented her heart was, to clutch her hand so tightly when they hugged.

To Rin’s surprise, Tooru not only comes back, but with homemade Jell-O. Rin blushes a little but calls her baka, which Tooru laughs off as a tsundere tic. I think Rin will find her usual tricks won’t work against someone as resolute as Tooru, who joins her for a walk on the hospital grounds. Rin surrenders and tells her about the curse. Whatever it was hundreds of years ago, now it is nothing but a chain.

Rin also tells Tooru that Kureno will be of no help due to his loyalty to Akito—not even considering him “one of them” since he has no will to break the chain. Tooru still thinks she should talk to him, but Rin grabs her leg to stop her from doing anything too rash too soon.

Rin then asks Tooru why she wants to break the curse, what its it she can’t give up, and what is most precious to her. Tooru seems poised to answer…but the words don’t come out. Rin still understands, and for the first time sees that her and his strange normal girl’s goals are aligned. She doesn’t explicitly commit to it, but the two become a duo against the curse right then and there.

That night, Tooru dreams of lying in bed in her old apartment when her mother says goodbye for the last time, leaving her alone. No doubt her time with Rin—fellow “orphan by any other name”—dredged that semi-mythical memory from the depths of her psyche.

As she tucks into Tooru’s Jell-O, Rin senses that, like she’s tried to do for most of her life, Tooru hides “what lies beyond the door” from everyone, but everyone who does that eventually reaches a breaking point. Haru helped Rin gently open that door, and Rin hopes someone like that will come to Tooru—unaware that Kyou more or less that person.

The road ahead will be long and potentially vicious, but I can’t tell you how much joy and relief I derived from simply seeing Rin in the hospital, no longer running or building walls around herself. She’s as at peace as we’ve ever seen her. She’s in a place where she can accept tasty Jell-O from a silly, ditzy, profoundly kind girl who is far more reliable than she looks, aims to keep meddling, and won’t be denied.

Read Crow’s thoughts on the episode here!

Fruits Basket – 43 – Having Nothing in the End

Hiro is talking with Kisa about his yet-to-be-born sibling, whose gender will be a surprise, when he spots Rin in her school uniform. He’s concerned about her ashen appearance, but she gives him basically the same treatment as everyone else who tries to reach out: Buzz off. Go have your happy life with your nice parents and leave me alone with my misery.

The episode then revisits the time Rin approached Shigure, and we learn that she seeks a means of lifting the Zodiac curse, just like Tooru. She’s willing to give him her body for the info, but Shigure—in a rare instance of not being a total slimebag—rejects her offer. But he also refuses to help in any way, while stating he’ll enjoy the benefits Rin’s and others’ efforts, because, as he himself says, he is the worst.

Spurned by Shigure, who may or may not possess the answers she seeks, she goes through a Souma storage room in hopes of finding something, anything related to the curse and a way to lift it. Exhausted and nauseous, she collapses on the ground, then remembers one of the happiest moments in her life—in bed with Hatsu post-coitus, wishing she could be his heart—followed by one of the worst: her parents telling her they “don’t want her”.

Around dusk, she returns to Shigure’s house, strung-out almost beyond belief, but nobody’s home…until Tooru comes through the door. Even that act of opening a door sends Rin into a hysterical fit, repeatedly begging Tooru not to yell at her. Tooru being Tooru, she does the only thing the situation calls for in that moment: giving Rin a warm, gentle hug to try to calm her down.

Shigure may believe he’s the worst, but delving into Rin’s horrific childhood establishes some healthy competition for the title. By all accounts, Rin’s parents tried for years to put on a happy, fun façade as they raised her. It wasn’t until it started to feel like a performance to her, and she asked them why that was, that they snapped. This is not at all to blame Rin for breaking the façade; it was doomed no matter what she said or did. But it’s clear she blames herself.

Verbal and physical abuse followed, until one day Rin collapsed from the injuries the marks of which her clothes concealed. Kazuma and Hatsu are with her in the hospital, and that’s when her parents tell her flat out they no longer want her. Hatsu responds not by turning into Dark Hatsu, but simply by getting extremely pissed off with the parents, and lays into them, getting no response in return.

From then on, Rin lived with Kagura’s family, and the mere fact it was a genuinely happy household caused her intense emotional and physical pain, since she wonders “what she did wrong” to cause her to lose her own home. The only person in whom she found true peace and comfort was her white-haired knight Hatsu, who eventually confesses his love, and she reciprocates.

For the one person with whom spending time was not painful to also be a Zodiac member only adds fuel to the all-consuming flame of misfortune that is Rin’s life. Akito finds out, and when Hatori’s eye is brought up, Rin declares that she was the one who seduced Hatsu.

Akito doesn’t hold back on the verbal or physical wrath, calling Rin wicked and devious “like all women” and calling her flowing black hair “repulsive”. Seemingly feeding off Rin’s fear by grabbing her, Akito tells her she has no value other than filling one of the Zodiac slots before throwing her out the window. This is witnessed by Hiro, and if he hadn’t, Rin might well have bled out. Instead, she’s still alive…and wishes she wasn’t.

For all of those times I misinterpreted Rin’s standoffish, quick-to-anger nature in the few scenes in which she interacted with others, I can only beg for the character’s forgiveness. She’s had every right to act the way she has. It’s now crystal clear she broke up with Hatsu in order to save him from Akito’s wrath, as well as her own belief her love for him would be so heavy it would one day crush him.

I can only breathe a sigh of relief that Rin is now in the safest possible place: in Shigure’s house and in Tooru’s care. She may act like every bit the wounded horse upon coming to, and stubbornly reject any and all offer of help from Tooru, but the fact is the two share the same goal, and they’ll need each other if they’re going to make any progress.

So ends the darkest and most devastating episode of Fruits Basket to date, an absolutely unrelenting look at the destructive effects of the Zodiac curse on its members. Few episodes of anime hit me as hard as this one. Rin is at absolute rock bottom, neither wanting nor feeling she is deserving of love, happiness, or anything at all. But if anyone can help her, it’s Tooru. As long as Rin is alive, there is still hope. And I hope to hell she gets the redemption she needs and deserves.

Sarazanmai – 11 (Fin) – Just Like That

Sooo….yeah. True to form, Ikuni chooses not to go with the simple, straightforward finale, at least not in terms of presentation. A frikkin’ lot happens in these final twenty-odd minutes. It’s a torrent of ideas, metaphors, and processes; almost too much to take in all at once.

While it retained several elements of previous episodes, I still felt like I was back in that first episode, wondering what the hell was going on. But like that first episode, I also didn’t particularly care if I wasn’t quite absorbing everything Sarazanmai was confidently emitting.

At the end of the day, for all the window dressing and CONCEPTS, Kazuki and Enta’s odyssey into the darkness to rescue their friend was nothing more than that: They simply weren’t going to allow their connection to one another be severed—not by a Toi wracked by guilt and grief, not by the Otter egging Toi on, and not by Keppi’s dark half.

When they finally get to Toi, who is in the midst of erasing his memories and thus connections from them, the other two put their faith in the talisman that started their connection in the first place: the miçanga. As they plummet into the abyss watching their connections vanish one moment at a time, Toi himself cries for a stop to it all; for once he doesn’t want to give everything up for anyone. He wants to keep what he has: the friendship of Kazuki and Enta.

As Keppi and Dark Keppi battle and eventually fuse into a Full Keppi, the three friends in kappa form deliver the miçanga to a young Kazuki, shoring up the connection at its source and causing Mr. Otter to crumble away to dust, frustrated that he, an abstract concept, would be defeated.

NO YOU DON’T! STOP LYING!!!

A-Ahem…anyway, Once they’re all back in the normal world (whatever that means), Toi does the right thing and turns himself in, and is sent to juvie, from which he emerges three years later only to throw himself off a bridge. Fortunately, not only does the jump not kill him, but Kazuki and Enta jump in after him, having waited for him to get out all this time. They proceed to run around and have fun, together again at last.

Now that they, as the Kappa King put it, connected their desires through the pain of loss, they and only they can take the future in their hands. Does that mean the three will compete at the World Cup in Qatar? Probably not. But perhaps they no longer have any need for dishes of hope, transformation into kappas, or shirikodama extraction.

Sarazanmai – 10 – A Little Bit of Dishtory Repeating

Way back when, after the siege of Keppi’s castle, Otter saves Mabu’s live with a mechanical heart, but only if he makes a solemn promise. In the present, Reo reveals he’s a kappa too, once a vassal of Keppi’s along with Mabu. He shrink-wraps Keppi and demands the final dish of hope, but empathizes with Kazaki’s wish to save someone close to him, and so lets him tag along while he collects the other four dishes.

During the descent, Reo laughs at Kazuki’s earnest attempt to save his connection with Enta, and his jadedness is understandable; the Mabu they encounter is less his Mabu than ever; cold, distant, and in Reo’s words, nothing but a fake, half-baked doll. They descend further and find Dark Keppi, the half of Keppi created when he split his Shirikodama to escape capture by the Otters.

This otter demands the dishes, and also places Enta in “Enta’s World”, in which his desire—to be loved by Kazuki—is made real. But like Reo with the resurrected Mabu, it’s just not the same, and Enta escapes the fantasy. Reo has a key assist by shooting the head off the Otter and producing four of the five dishes needed, but just then Mabu jumps from a precipice and ends up transforming into a Zombie Kappa.

This means Reo has to be transformed by Keppi—like he and Mabu were in the old times—and go through the same (literal!) song and dance as Kazuki, Enta, and Toi. Even Miyano Mamoru’s casual singing voice is better than those of the other three, as he peers into Mabu’s Shirikodama and learns that in order to live and stay by Reo’s side, Mabu had to give up his connection with him.

That means when Mabu, who he only just freed from zombiehood, decides he can’t live on with that severed connection anymore. Pledging his everlasting love for Reo, his deal with Otter is broken, his mechanical heart stops, and he disappears. When the dust clears, Keppi creates a new fifth dish of hope (Kazuki broke one earlier) and Reo is beside himself with grief, unleashing it with his pistol in a destruction spree that ruins Asakusa’s bridges.

Then Reo forgets who Mabu ever was, and is then shot through the heart…by Toi, who has returned from the ferry. Kazuki thinks he’s changed his mind and come to rescue him and Enta, but Toi hesitates, wanting the five dishes to bring his brother back. Enta’s clock runs down to fifteen, ten, zero seconds…and Kazuki makes his  wish, even at gunpoint.

When Enta wakes up, Toi admits he probably would have saved Enta too…but now he’s as full of grief and rage and desire as Reo was before he shot him. That attracts Otter, who looks to bring him under his influence, using the spectre of his older brother to lure him in. Once Chikai appears, whispering in his ear, Toi lets go of Kazuki’s hand and walks into the darkness of his own volition.

With Kazuki, Enta, Haruka, Mabu and Reo’s stories largely complete, the final episode will seek to close the book on Toi, one way or another, who has only had to live in a world without his brother for a few hours (maybe less), and is thus all too easily manipulated by Otter. We’ll see how Keppi and the Golden Duo fare against that negative influence, and maybe get back to being three normal soccer-loving kids.

Sarazanmai – 09 – Only the Bad Ones Survive

Things go from bad to worse in the Azumi Sara comedy of errors. While trying to free Prince Keppi from ice, he slides out into the street, where he’s shattered by a passing otter-aligned Dekotora truck. Not a great start! Still, with all the comedic musical stabs, it was clear Keppi was probably going to be fine in the end. After all, he’s a magical creature!

Enta, on the other hand? Not a magical creature, just a boy who was shot by the police. Since Mabo and Reo brainwashed all the other cops, they won’t listen to his story, and instead place all the blame on Chikai. Tao sees Enta on the news, he leaves Enta in Kazaki’s care. Tao, meanwhile, is the only one who can stand with his big brother. As expected, through extremely whimsical means Sara manages to reassemble and thaw Keppi.

Enta’s sister Otone eventually convinces Kazaki to finally face Enta and try to talk to him, and to his surprise, Enta is alive and well…only in Kappa form, thanks to the newly-built Keppi springing into action right away. There’s a catch, however: there’s a ticking clock on Enta’s kappa cap, indicating when he’ll die. If they’re going to save him, they’ll need dishes fast. Time is of the essence.

Once off the ferry, Chikai meets up Masa with a former little bro in his gang who knows the truth about Tao killing the boss years ago. After hanging around with him for a while, before they depart Chikai kills him because he was “to good to survive,” and when he’s confronted by another gangster, Chikai is surprised to find Tao has a pistol of his own, and is providing covering fire for his escape.

To drive home the fact that Mabo and Reo are not your conventional two-dimentional villains, the latter is excited to have been reunited with the former until he catches him being worked over by a desirous doppelganger; a mirror of the desires within Reo. The real Reo resolves to take back the real Mabu with his own strength, suggesting he’s not in lockstep with his otter kin.

When Kazaki collects a dish from his room, Haruka is awake, and asks him if he’s leaving again. Kazaki doesn’t sugar-coat things; he may be going into danger, but it’s to help Enta, whom Haruka recognizes is someone more than deserving of help from his brother for everything he did for both of them. Haruka also produces a drawing of Kazaki playing soccer that he drew with Enta, and Kazaki suddenly remembers meeting Tao when he was little.

Tao, meanwhile, follows his brother as far as he can, before he realizes that even he isn’t safe from being offed once his usefulness is at an end. That time seems to arrive when Tao catches up with Chikai, only for Chikai to pull a gun on him. Before he can kill Tao, he’s shot by the other gangster from long range, who is, in turn, shot by Chikai before he collapses.

Turns out Chikai was wrong; it’s not always the bad ones who survive. Or is he? As he lies dying and Tao weeps on the roof of the suddenly very funereal-looking ferry, memories of their brotherhood flash by, showing a loving Chikai and Tao who were always there for one another, even as Chikai grew darker and more troubled, Tao never ceased to stay beside him.

In Chikai’s pocket is a photo of their family with everyone scratched out by Sharpie except for Tao. As terrible a person as he was, Kuji Chikai wasn’t always that way, and he never stopped loving Tao. But now he’s gone, and Tao has a choice.

Sarazanmai – 08 – Giving Up Something Precious

Where did Kazuki originally get his miçanga? From Toi, years ago, after he shot his brother’s foe. His brother had given up so much for him, he wanted to return the favor, and so gave up soccer, just like Kazuki would end up doing after Haruka’s injury. The thing is, Kazuki doesn’t remember.

That may be part of the equation of why Toi is alright leaving Kazuki and Enta, but it doesn’t mean he’s okay with it. Still, family comes first, and Toi would do anything for his brother. Unfortunately, Chikai is such a selfish jerk that he exploits Toi’s utter devotion to him at every turn, not letting him have his own life. “You need me, I need you.” Neither is true; not anymore.

On the contrary, Toi would be better off if his rotten brother were apprehended and faced justice. He has new connections. Not to be cold with regard to Chikai—he may well genuinely love his brother and wants them to be together. But he’s also an adult who made his choices, which come with consequences.

That he’s okay with Toi getting dragged down with him out of fraternal loyalty is proof of Chikai’s self-serving nature. More proof? Relying on a 14-year-old stranger in Enta to keep him hidden from the roaming Otter policemen. At least during this interaction, Enta learns the truth about the origin of Kazuki’s miçanga, and that Kazuki an Toi’s connection goes back further than he thought.

While the sudden presence of the “bro” of the guy Chikai (though technically Toi) killed wanting revenge seems rather sudden and contrived, when Chikai tosses Enta in the line of the guy’s sword, it’s Strike Three; dude should be in jail.

Thankfully for Enta, Reo and Mabo rescue him from the gangster, and then Reo shoots said gangster dead. Two other police hear the shot, but he and Mabo use special otter pins to brainwash them into telling the story of their choosing.

In a theater, Keppi consults with Sara on the Otter situation, and Sara unveils an apparatus that will flash freeze them alive upon capture, all to get back “Dark Keppi.” It’s interesting to see these two work so closely together, and to see Sara’s intermittent extreme clumsiness on display as she sneezes from pepper and accidentally kicks Keppi into the device, freezing him.

When Toi calls Enta to say his farewells, Enta tells him he knows about the miçanga, but that Kazuki doesn’t realize it’s Toi who gave it to him. Toi doesn’t think it matters, nor is there any reason to tell him, and says goodbye, wishing Enta and Kazuki the best as the Golden Duo.

When Toi calls Kazuki, he tests him by saying the same words he said years ago about having to “protect the connections he has.” Kazuki assumes, quite wrongly, that Toi is leaving because Enta betrayed them and stole the Dishes of Hope.

That makes Enta’s next encounter with Kazuki fraught with a great deal of anger and sadness over the misunderstanding. Even though Enta returns with the dishes and urges Kazuki to hurry up and help him get Toi back, Kazuki is still burning from Enta’s betrayal, and won’t believe or even listen to another word he says.

This is how, on the same day his friend Toi leaves his life, possibly never to be seen again, Kazuki puts all the blame on Enta and disowns him as a friend. To make matters worses, Keppi is nowhere to be found and thus can’t protect them when Reo and Mabo show up in the park.

Reo pulls out his pistol and shoots, and Enta takes the bullet for Kazuki…a love bullet! As the cops leave with the dishes, Mabo tells Kazuki he may still have time to save Enta’s life, and Enta comes to sprawled over Kazuki’s lap, and laughs that he couldn’t even joke about ever hating him before passing out again.

No doubt unsure what else to do, Kazuki calls Toi, but Toi is already on the boat out of Tokyo with his brother, and doesn’t bother answering. One imagines if Kazuki texted him that Enta got shot, he might ask the boat to turn around, but Kazuki doesn’t text him, so he doesn’t know how dire things are back on land.

With Kazuki a definite emotional wreck, Enta possibly dead, Toi on a boat and Keppi an ice kappa-cube, the Otters couldn’t be in a stronger position, nor could the good guys be mired in a deeper abyss of despair. Where does Sarazanmai go from here?

Sarazanmai – 07 – Back to Who He Was

We check in on Mabu as he’s undergoing some kind of semi-sexy “maintenance,” which makes sense considering we’ve seen that he has a mechanical heart that I believe runs on desire. Mabu and his partner Reo seem more distant than ever.

Meanwhile, Kazuki is now to cherishing his connections: those with his friends, his parents, and of course, his totez-adorbz bro. He doesn’t even accept his mom’s sachet, telling Haruka to hold onto it for him. You can tell his folks are relieved Kazuki is acting more like he used to: cheerful, upbeat, and magnetic.

It’s a triumphant moment just to see Kazuki joining Enta at their riverside practice spot; more so when Toi decides to join the soccer club, a heart once thought cold sufficiently thawed by the warmth and enthusiasm of the other two and their acceptance of him, delinquent history and all.

While the kappa boys are on cloud nine, Reo surveys the ward for potential zombie kappas alone, in the dark. In a flashback to just after the siege of the Kappa Kingdom, he learns that his beloved partner Mabu was gravely wounded, and but for the grace of the Otter Empire’s Chief “Otticer” of Science and Technology, would have shuffled off this mortal coil.

The lads are shocked to find the practice spot has been vandalized by trash (like Dr. Kappa cans) and paint, but immediately set to work cleaning the place up until it sparkles, employing the same teamwork they would have used playing footie.

But the next day, the mess is back, and just as bad, and Toi gets a foreboding call from his brother, informing him his latest job went south and they’ll have to leave town. The timing can’t be a coincidence, can it?

While I initially thought Toi was vandalizing the spot on the sly, my suspicions evaporated when I saw how genuinely disappointed he was that he had to go, and his gratitude when Kazuki suggests they collect the one more Dish of Hope needed to make five, and use them to help Toi and his bro.

When Toi asks Enta why he’s okay with this arrangement, Enta states that the way he sees it, Kazuki’s present wish is to help Toi. Almost on queue, the potential source of that fifth and final dish arrives in the form of a “Balls” themed Kappa Zombie, reported by Sara (who goes on lovey-dovey strolls with Keppi) with an E.T. visual reference.

But when they all meet in Keppi’s park, he senses something is amiss, and sure enough, they discover the four dishes they hid under the ground tile have been stolen. Keppi suspects the Otter Empire, and he transforms the trio into kappa to do their thing, sticking with the plan to collect a fifth dish.

The Kappa Zombie’s Shirikodama reveals he longed to be kicked, either like a ball or in the balls—or heck, both—by his girlfriend. In the Sarazanmai that follows his defeat, the culprit behind both the practice spot vandalism and theft of the Dishes of Hope is revealed to be Enta, who is jealous of Kazuki’s increased attention towards Toi.

Enta’s treachery is dastardly, but easily explained: just when Kazuki is back to the way he was before Haruka’s accident, Enta has to share the guy he loves with someone else; someone he feels has neither put in the work nor been around long enough to deserve such outsize attention; at least compared to him.

Speaking of being “back to the way he was,” that’s how the New Mabu describes himself on the rooftop when Reo sees him for the first time since his injury and operation. But Reo’s reaction is immediate and intense; this is not the Mabu he knew; he would never look at him the way this Mabu does.

Mabu may have been given a mechanical heart that enables him to live on, but as Reo said earlier in the episode, everything he says is a lie. And of course, consistent with Kunihiko’s love of wordplay, uso is Japanese for “a lie” but can also mean “otter”, as in kawauso.

All this backstory deepening the Otter Cop characters is very welcome. As for the large monster with very Keppi-like pink eyes that ominously yells “daaarknessss”…well, I think I’ll just need to tune in next week to figure out what that’s about…

Sarazanmai – 06 – Inside the Circle

As a dejected Haruka watches the real Sara pull the same fortune as yesterday (“sachet”, due to the zombie not being beaten), Kazuki resigns himself to being a kappa for the rest of his miserable existence, unable to be seen by anyone.

But Enta and Toi aren’t ready to let him give up on himself for Haruka, and Keppi seems game to assist where he can. As Kazuki laments being “outside the circle”, he’s really in the middle of two of them: his family and his kappa crew.

Then Reo, one of the cops who is currently separated from Mabo, his partner, encounters Haruka feeding Nyaranko. Haruka assumes he’s to be arrested for theft of Kazuki’s smile; Reo decides to roll the dice and extract his desire, if it is indeed desire and not love, tossing the cat aside.

The cat lands on Enta as he’s pleading with Kazuki, and Keppi reports that Haruka has been kidnapped by the Imperial Army of the Otters, long-time enemies of the Kappa, and of which Reo and Mabo are soldiers. Kazuki resolves to rescue Haruka at any cost.

After a brief history lesson from Keppi (including use of a modified Alexander Mosaic), he and the lads descend into the Otters’ vast industrial facilities dedicated to extracting desire from humans (now that there are no Kappas left other than Keppi) and creating Zombie Kappas.

Kazuki locates the box in which Haruka has been stashed, but it’s already part of the production line, and keeping up with it on its unrelenting path to oblivion is tough, even with help from Keppi.

Ultimately, Kazuki comes up a little bit short, and Haruka’s box begins its long drop into the matrix that will turn him into a Zombie Kappa. This means the end of Haruka, and the lads learn for the first time that the Zombies they’ve previously defeated are not only gone, but ceased to ever exist (hence their disappearance from photos and memories).

Keppi presents one last chance to save Haruka: a Shirikodama transplant, with Kazuki as the donor. That will mean the brothers will swap fates, and Kazuki is fine with that, since he feels he was always “outside the circle” anyway.

Obviously, neither Enta nor Toi will allow him to make that kind of sacrifice. Toi uses his gun to reverse the winch sending him down, and Enta shows him the miçanga Haruka never threw away, because he never gave up on his big bro.

As a confirmation Haruka never gave up, his box is blocked from conversion to a Zombie Kappa because it reads as “love”, not “desire”; Otters are only interested in the latter, so he’s marked for return. The bad news is, he’s headed straight for a giant shredder (evoking memories of the “Child Broiler” in Penguindrum).

Keppi rolls up into a soccer-sized ball, and Toi and Enta pass it to Kazuki, who uses a bicycle kick to knock Haruka’s box off its fatal course. A sleeping Haruka pops out of the box, and Kazuki is there to catch him.

We learn that Haruka had the sachet because he encountered Kazuki’s real mom shortly after Kazuki took his leave of her, and noticed the sachet had been left behind. He pleaded with her not to take Kazuki away, and she assured him he didn’t need to worry about that.

With that, the Sachet Zombie Kappa is defeated, and the lads regain their human form. No mention of a Dish of Hope, nor any tearful reunion with a newly-awake Haruka, just the three lads in the small Kappa plaza, and Kazuki suddenly feeling different than the last time he had his human body, no doubt because now he knows he’s not outside the circle, but in the center of it.

The Otter Cops don’t seem too perturbed about their latest defeat, and will certainly have their eyes on the Kappa boys henceforth. The episode closes with a flashback to long ago when the two of them stormed the Kappa castle to kill Keppi, only for Mabo to be gravely wounded, which may explain why his heart is clockwork?

Who knows…lots of blanks left to fill, but at least now we know for sure this is a war between the very well-supplied Otters and the last surviving Kappa. This was an episode that effectively departed from the usual monster-o-f-the-week formulae of earlier episodes, and was a thrilling adventure to boot. With Kazuki in a much better place emotionally, the Kappa triad looks better equipped to handle the next challenge thrown their way.

Sarazanmai – 05 – A Nostalgic Scent

Not long after Haruka was born, Kazuki gleaned from his grandfather’s dying words that his mother wasn’t his biological mother, and ever since felt disconnected from the family as a non-member, despite all the love they gave him.

It’s not so much that he hated his brother, as he said last week, but he hated the whole situation of him and his brother not actually being related by blood. Why it matters so much to him that they are connected by blood, but there it is.

In the present, Toi captures Sara’s manager and escorts her away from her fan meet-up event, but finds she’s not quite human, and thus capable of transforming into a little critter who can squeeze out of any confinement.

Kazuki fares rather well as Sara’s double, at least where Haruka’s concerned, but things go pear-shaped fast when both the manager and the real Sara arrive in the hall and the former removes Kazuki’s wig. And that’s it: his secret is out. Now Haruka knows all those texts were just from him.

As all this is going on, the Otter Cop Duo wrings the desire from a man obsessed with sachets of a very specific smell, creating a new Kappa Zombie boss.

The three kappaboys do their song-and-dance, but when the Sarazanmai comes, and Kazuki’s memory of finally reuniting with his true mother in secret, the smell of her sachet he remembers is the same as the sachet Haruka always carries.

Whatever that means, the three kappaboys are ripped out of the tunnel of water, their work to extract the shirikodama still incomplete.

Keppi is so mad he can boil tea on his belly, and asserts to the boys that they won’t get their human forms back or get a dish of hope until they defeat the Sachet Zombie. Kazuki shares more about his meeting with his mother with Toi and Enta, culminating in him deciding to stay with Haruka and his non-biological parents.

Even so, before he returns to them, Haruka runs (that’s right runs on his functioning legs) to beg Kazuki to come back, fearing he’s going away. Kazuki spurns him rather harshly and walks off, but Haruka follows him…and gets hit by a car.

Now, every time Kazuki sees Haruka in his wheelchair, he’s reminded of what he did to him, and simply can’t bear it, which is why he adopted the Sara clone routine to make a faux connection with him from a safe distance. But odds are Haruka already forgave Kazuki a long time ago, and couldn’t care less if they have different mothers.

Sarazanmai – 04 – Only The Bad Ones Survive

That’s the mantra a younger Kuji Toi learns from his older brother Chikai at a seminal moment in his life, along with the lesson that those who can’t survive can only perish and be forgotten. It’s when Toi is thinking about these things that Enta calls him to meet. Enta wants him to give his Dish of Hope to Kazuki…again for Haruka’s sake.

We learn along with Enta that Toi’s relatives run a soba shop that used to be run by his and Chikai’s parents before they ran into debt and committed suicide. It’s from those shadows that Toi finds himself in the position to give someone some light: in Kazuki’s case that means kidnapping the real Sara Haruka is poised to meet so he’ll meet Kazuki instead, preserving his secret identity.

Kazuki is so dedicated to his Sara persona, Toi can’t help but blush when he watches him eat soba, even though he sucks at eating soba! Watching Kazuki work to protect his weaker brother dredges up more memories for Toi, even to when he and his brother were not on the best of terms.

Chikai joined a gang to make money, cursed their folks for offing themselves, and spitting on Toi’s quaint sentimentality. But he also takes care of Toi, even if Toi doesn’t think what he’s doing is good or right. He produced enough cash to prevent the soba shop from leaving the family, and put their relatives to work running it. It was as if Chikai was sacrificing his goodness for Toi’s sake.

Kazuki’s crazy Sara-kidnapping plan is sidelined by a Zombie Kappa alert, also soba-themed. Specifically, Sobatani, a soba shop owner who was charged with stealing bathwater from a female regular. The Flying Object of the Week is soba and soba dishes, drawn by the Zombie Kappa’s insatiable desire.

Since some of the soba he draws in comes from Toi’s relatives’ place he has a personal stake in defeating the Zombie Kappa, and so takes the lead, demanding Keppi transform him, then uncovering the truth after their song and dance: Sobatani wanted to make soba out of the bathwater. Weird!

With Sobatani’s secret out and Shirikodama extracted, Sarazanmai occurs, and Kazuki and Enta watch along with Toi as the missing pieces of his tragic flashback fall into place. When Toi learned that both his and Chikai’s lives were in danger after stealing the money to buy the soba shop, he takes the handgun he finds in a drawer and shoots Chikai’s gang senpai.

Chikai arrives on the scene, and puts too more bullets in the man, claiming he was the killer, not Toi. Even when Toi sought to share some of the burden of badness in order to survive, Chikai was there to cover for him; to, in a way, save his soul. If only the two of them knew the truth, no one in the world would ever suspect the little brother of murder.

But Toi still concedes he killed someone, his brother’s save aside. He claims not to be too haunted by it—it was a necessity to ensure both his and Chikai’s survival, in keeping with his bro’s mantra. But it’s still his secret, and he threatens Enta and Kazuki with deadly retribution if they ever spill the beans about what they’ve learned.

Having gained new insight into Toi’s upbringing and motivations, Kazuki decides to offer up his Dish of Hope to him, believing he’s more deserving of it than he. ‘But what about Haruka’, Enta protests? Well, for Kazuki, that’s why Toi is more deserving: Kazuki claims to hate Haruka.

Does he mean Kazuki finds looking out for him and doing these things for him a burden? A mere excuse to indulge his own desires? Or would he never kill, even for Haruka’s sake? It’s a declaration that seems to come out of left field, but I’m sure there’s more context to come.

Sarazanmai – 03 – The Golden Duo

Kazuki wakes up, but is too out of it to notice that Enta was just kissing him. Enta is direct with the audience: he’s in love with Kazuki. He has been for a long time, ever since they were the unstoppable “Golden Duo” in soccer, complete with a signature pose. Enta has to contend with a lot of kissing the next day, as his big sister Otone is going on a fishing trip with her boyfriend.

The episode plays with the fact that kisu is not just how you say “kiss,” but the Japanese name for Sillago japonica, or Japanese whiting. The city idol declares it’s kisu day, and in lieu of someone to kiss (that he knows of), Kazuki tries in vain to go to a fishmonger for a “kisu selfie” for Haruka.

While playing cards with Haruka (who “Sara” texts to apologize for the selfie being late), Enta learns that Kazuki isn’t laughing around his little brother either ever since quitting soccer. Enta wants to use the wish from the next dish of hope to reunite the Golden Duo.

Enta even fantasizes about Kazuki coming around on his own and letting him tie the miçanga to his ankle – the symbol of their soccer brotherhood as well as a token of affection. But no—it’s just Otone, who runs off with the anklet for her date.

As Enta defends the spot by the river where he and Kazuki used to practice by getting into a fight with two other players, the two “Otter” cops create another Kappa Zombie, this one from Otone’s kisu-loving boyfriend. His head takes the form of a kisu, but he’s a Don Juan who has many women and many kisses, obsessed with quantity over quality.

Enta fantasizes again that Kazuki comes to rescue him, but it’s just Kuji, who doesn’t get why Enta got in a fight he had no chance of winning. Enta is committed to protecting the Golden Duo’s practice spot…in the off-chance Kazuki comes back to him.

The Kappa Zombie alert is then sounded (with Sara doing a wonderful homage to Castle in the Sky), and rather than cats last week the sky is full of brides, all of them drawn to the zombie, who turns them to kisu with a kiss. The three lads are transformed by Keppi, do their attack song and dance, and extract the zombie’s shirikodama.

All three parts of the ensuing sarazanmai are related to Enta’s long-standing secret crush on Kazuki. We see Enta smelling Kazuki’s clothes, playing his recorder (for an indirect kiss), and finally his more recent kiss with a sleeping Sara!Kazuki.

The zombie thus vanquished and its desire assimilated, Otone and all the other women wake up and completely forget Mr. Kisu…as if he had never existed. He even disappears from photos, Back to the Future-style! Enta confesses his love to Kazuki and just when they seem poised to kiss, it’s only another fantasy; “Kazuki” is just Keppi.

Thanks to Kazuki’s obliviousness and Kuji’s lack of really caring, Enta’s secret seems to be secure—or at least emotionally tabled—for now. The next time he’s with Haruka (who we see in a wheelchair for the first time), Enta declares he’s going to “give up” on trying to win Kazuki over.

Part of that is that he saw a random mouse making off with the miçanga meant for Kazuki as a sign that it’s not to be. But then Haruka produces Kazuki’s original miçanga, saved from the trash, and asks Enta to keep trying to get Kazuki back into soccer.

Meanwhile, the Otter Cops are scolded by their boss, who is “otterly” furious at their lack of progress due to kappa-related interference (I hope he’s just a giant talking otter, for the record). With his frustration in mind, I wonder how much longer the kappa zombie fights will remain as easy as they’ve been.

Sarazanmai – 02 – Let Slip the Cats of War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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