Those Snow White Notes – 12 (Fin) – An Abrupt Coda

Last week I railed against Notes for splitting Setsu’s climactic performance across two episodes, since it left us hanging in the middle with no cathartic payoff. Now I understand that such a choice was probably intentional: the last episode marked the end of him merely imitating his gramps, and this final one marked the first time we’ve heard Setsu at 100% His Own Sound.

Kudos to the musical direction and performance here; Setsu As Setsu sounds like no one else, and this sound not only fills the physical venue, but summons long-forgotten memories in one of the judges, moves Sakura and Shuri to tears, makes Mai to make a face that screams “I KNEW it!”…and pisses off his mom royally. It also makes young master Kamiki want to play the shamisen in the worst way.

It’s a triumphant performance, and I’ll admit I was as caught up in it as Setsu and his friends, to the point I felt it impossible that he would lose. Alas, he’s not the final performer, and the best was saved for last. I was fully prepared to listen to Souichi and declare him inferior, but credit where it’s due: Souichi’s performance was better the Setsu’s and everyone else’s.

More to the point, Souichi is confident, even after hearing Setsu (or maybe because of hearing him,), that he would win. I have no problem with that. But like Sakura, I was super-steamed that Setsu came not in second but in third, behind that twangy jackass Arakawa Ushio, who might be tied with Mai for most one-dimensional character of the season.

Umeko hands out the rewards, but intentionally drops Setsu’s and lets it shatter between their feet. Never mind that this was the first time he ever played in a competition, has no teacher, and can’t read music. She leans in and tells him he’s pathetic and he embarrassed her. What a mom!

But while Umeko gives off SAO villain vibes, Setsu’s dad—whom we only found out a couple of weeks ago even was his dad—is more Ikari Gendo. [Soup Nazi Voice]: NO LOVE FOR YOU! Honestly, both of Setsu’s parents should be jailed. Once it’s Kamiki’s turn to point out to Setsu how such a two-faced performance was always giong to suffer in a competition, well…

Having your angsty protagonist reach his highest high only to be ground into the dirt by evil adults is a strange way to end a series it’s by no means guaranteed will get a second season. There isn’t even any glimmer of hope that things will look up for him, as the episode ends with him sulking in the darkness, too immersed in his own despair to notice Sakura is on the other side of his door.

The musical performances were spellbinding, but they were overshadowed by all the doom and gloom at the end. Even if everything Kamiki said about Setsu was absolutely right, I don’t watch anime to get depressed, man! We’re rewarded for watching for twelve weeks with a big ‘ol F-You. If this is a one-and-done season, this finale is as big of a failure as Umeko perceives her son to be.

I’ll end with another Simpsons quote, which perfectly encapsulates Setsu’s journey:

“You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”

86 – 08 – We Weren’t Ready

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.—Kay, Men In Black

The Alba are right: the Eighty Six aren’t human. They’re better than that. The humans who populate the serene Republic of San Magnolia blindly accept the government’s policy of ethnic cleansing as the cost of peace, order, and harmony. Lena, like the Eighty Six, knows there’s a wrong, but isn’t prepared to do more wrong to right it.

It’s why when Lena discovers the orders basically sentencing what’s left of Spearhead to their almost certain deaths, she wants to rescind them. Annette pulls her out of the records room for some tea and biscuits, but when Lena once again says it’s wrong not to try to do anything, all of the simmering resentment within Annette finally comes to a caustic boil.

Annette isn’t merely “pretending” to be a bad person; she’s fully embraced the role, heart and soul. She doesn’t need an excuse to do nothing; her inaction has already caused the death of her former neighbor and friend (who it’s pretty clear from the suspenders was none other than Nouzen Shinei) while her research is built upon the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Eighty Six.

Like the vast majority of people would in such a situation, Annette chose not to fight a force that could not be beaten, but to join them. Even though her father committed suicide after the suffering he caused developing the Para-Raid, Annette carried on his work. She might’ve scared herself when she first called her friend a “filthy colored” like her classmates did, but that fear soon dissipated into acceptance.

After everything she’s been through and done in the name of not being able to do anything else, Annette doesn’t want to hear one more idealistic word out of Lena’s mouth. After all, the Para-Raid that enables Lena to speak to Shin and the other members of Spearhead was the product of involuntary human experimentation and state-sanctioned suffering. So is her comfy bed, her crisp uniform, her tasty coffee and sweets. It’s all tainted by evil.

Annette tells Lena she hates her and never wants to see her again. I mean, we already new full well Annette wouldn’t join any potential crusade against injustice Lena might concoct, but this really twists the knife, as Lena doesn’t even have a pretend friend in the capital in which to confide.

When she confronts her uncle before the statue of San Magnolia, he tells her the orders sending Spearhead to their deaths cant be recinded because it is the will of the republic that evry Eighty Six not only die, but be forgotten and erased from having ever existed. The only way San Magnolia will avoid becoming a pariah state after the war is if the atrocities they committed against the Eighty Six never come to light.

When Lena begs her uncle to remember the spirit of Saint Magnolia, he tells her their republic was never anything other than a country full of fools and villains who executed Magnolia for their wealth and greed. She says that’s just his despair talking, but he doesn’t consider his despair any different from her hope.

If Lena werent already having one of the worst days of her life, Shin also bids her farewell, fully accepting his suicide mission. Lena deduces he’s going after his brother, but Shin doens’t want her to hear his last words. Instead, he warns her that once the Shepherd is destroyed, the Legion is temporarily thrown into chaos, .

He urges her to head for the Eastern border, where she won’t hear the Legion’s voices and go mad. He and the others will buy her some time. With that, he signs off, for what seems like the last time. Now all Lena has is her tears.

With Lena left very much at rock bottom, we return to Spearhead, now only five strong: Kurena, Anju, Theo, Raiden, and Shin. They clean up their barracks, polish up their Juggernauts, have a final meal, and then set off on their deep recon mission with their heads held high.

As we’ve learned, they’re not just doing this because the alternative is summary execution. They’re doing it for their fallen comrades, and because just because they were always called pigs doesn’t mean they’ll become them. There’s a biting sense of inescapable dread and crushing unfairness to their scenes. More than anything, they feel like five kids who shouldn’t have to be anywhere near a battlefield.

Post-credits, we get one more taste of despair in the absence of anything else, in the form of the complete flashback of Shourei choking Shinei. He had been barely keeping it together before that point, crushed by his powerlessness to do anything about the loss of his parents. In a moment of weakness, he let himself blame Shinei for everything, and nearly killing him until someone pulls them apart.

A roboticized, Legionized Shourei narrates this final scene, lamenting that he couldn’t protect Shinei before. But this time, as Shin and his four companions approach him and his Legion unit, Shourei says he’ll protect his brother forever. All he has to do is come to him…which is what he’s doing.

All I can say to any of this is damn…this is some good shit, but it is also incredibly heavy and upsetting. I can only hope that we’ll get some glimmer of light at some point before the end…but that’s hardly a sure thing.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Re: Zero – 41 – The Purrfect Loser

Years ago, Garfiel attempted and failed the trial, and smashed his head against a column, causing the scar he wears to this day. He is the final obstacle to Emilia continuing her trial, and has come to the Graveyard to smash the entrance, isolating the Sanctuary forever.

Only Emilia and Subaru stand in Gar’s way, and it’s the former who makes a barrier of herself before him. She has lived in fear all her life until today, and knows the pain of being separated from a parent. All this time, Gar has maintained that he and his sister were obstacles to his mother’s happiness, which is why she abandoned them. But then the memory surfaces…of Gar finding his mother’s carriage, wrecked by a landslide.

She wasn’t even able to reach the outside world that lured her, that was to be the place where she’d find happiness, away from him. Gar has washed his hands of the outside, and will stand, as a wall in and of himself, to protect everyone else in the sanctuary who feel, like him, that things changing won’t make them happy. Nothing will ever get better, so you might as well stay frozen in place.

Having heard and been unmoved by either Emilia or Subaru, Gar transforms into Beast Mode and charges them. Subaru uses Shamac to halt time so he can stab Gar with the crystal Frederica gave him, which seems to be imbued with some of Puck’s spirit. This transforms him back into a man, but it hasn’t sapped Gar’s will to fight.

Subie stands firm and takes a vicious shot to the face, but he’s able to counterattack with a supernatural punch from the Sloth Witch Factor within his body, which he inherited from Betelgeuse and learned about from Echidna.

Gar is down, but not yet out. The knockout blow is delivered by someone who owed Gar such a blow: Subaru’s ever-dutiful earth dragon, Patrasche. Her charge finally gets the job done. Even if Gar hasn’t been proven wrong, he can no longer fight. Both he and Subie pass out in short order.

When Subie wakes up, it’s once again in Emilia’s lap. He thanks her, punches then shakes hands with Otto for his help and for being alright, and of course thanks Patrasche for her loyalty and love. Ram allows Gar to lay in her lap, but only until he wakes up and barely a second more.

Rem proceeds to give him the third degree, telling him to fight with an empty head next time and to stop yammering on in front of “the woman he loves” and accept his loss, and move forward. She then urges him to take the trial one more time, in order to confront and accept the past.

The Graveyard transports him back to that golden-lit day his mother left him and Fred in Ryuzu’s care. She kisses her infant son right on the place where he would create an ugly scar years later. Then his mother says something he didn’t remember: “I promise I’ll bring your father back.” That means not only did she not leave them to find her happiness, but she always intended to return, and with his dad.

The memory fades away until it’s just him and young Fred, who asks him straight up what he wants to do. He answers that he wants to do what he’s expected to do, by all of the people who need him. With his past confronted and resolved, he leaves the trial exchanging sharp toothy smiles with his little big sister.

Just as Emilia emerged from the graveyard a new and stronger person last week, the young man who would stop her and anyone from completing the trial emerges in much the same manner. He can’t claim he gained much that can be seen, but he did gain vital closure, and can even thank Subaru for being the one to give him the push he needed.

It’s then when Subie learns Gar is not only younger than him, but at fourteen is just an eighth grader…which actually explains a lot! With no further obstructions, Emilia can re-enter the graveyard and continue the trial with a full head of steam. Some of that steam is produced when she asks Subie if they can talk about the kiss they shared when all this is over.

Subie states that would be happy to, and is delighted by Emilia’s confidence, betting another date with her that she’ll prevail this time. When Emilia enters the inner chamber, she finds out what Subaru was doing when he abandoned her bedside that night: etching words of cheer and encouragement with Puck on the chamber walls.

Once Emilia is in the trial, she’s immediately met in the forest by Echidna, who unloads with a string of biting insults that would certainly cause distress to the Emilia of yore. But this Emilia is made of sterner stuff.

Taking a page out of Subie’s book on theatricality, she points dramatically up into the air, then directly at the Witch of Greed,  and introduces herself as Emilia, the Frozen Witch, born in Elinor Forest. She won’t give in to the “malice of a fellow witch”, and further warns that she too is “quite an insufferable woman, after all!”

Accompanied by a defiant orchestral score to match the occasion, this was a pitch-perfect way to end the episode and begin the trial of Emilia’s life. While I still can’t quite rule out things going badly for her and Subaru from this point on, I also never thought we’d see Emilia and Subaru kiss, or Garfield both thanking and apologizing to Subaru. But we’re in uncharted Re:Zero territory, and we have a brand-spankin’ new old president, so I’m in a hopeful mood!

Re: Zero – 40 – Her Most Precious Feeling

Otto tells Garfiel his mission: to buy time “so a certain boy and girl can be alone for a while.” But Otto isn’t all alone in this effort: he’s called upon the entire forest to fight beside him. That’s why when Gar is led outside and falls down a hole, he’s soon beset by a swarm of zodda bugs. How was Otto able to do this? Duh, he’s Re:Zero’s Dr. Doolittle!

We take a step back to Otto’s earliest days, when he could hear the voices of animals but couldn’t understand it. His ears were constantly assaulted by a a jumbled din so intense he couldn’t hear his family members. Then his older brother gave him a pen and paper, and he could finally communicate.

He marked the occasion by crying, something he only did once before: when he was born. When he turned ten, he began to understand the animals’ voices, but his brother warned him to keep his divine protection a secret lest others try to exploit them.

That protection creates the conditions for Otto being exiled from his hometown when, in an effort to clear his name in a love triangle, says the wrong thing about the wrong daughter. Nevertheless, Otto makes the most of his exile by becoming a successful traveling merchant.

One day on those travels, his carriage is stopped by Betelguise and the Witch’s Cult (Hi Betelguise!), and he is bound and held captive in the cult’s god-forsaken cave lair. But then, suddenly, he was freed by a beastman, who told him to make sure to thank the “boss kid”—Natsuki Subaru.

He cried then for the third time, to mark another “rebirth” in his life: when he finally understood his purpose and reason for living. Back in the present, here it is: continuing to buy time. But after a brief chase, a pissed Garfiel has him by the scruff, and Otto’s personal part of the plan would seem to be over. Thankfully, Ram is on the scene to pick up the baton!

That’s right: Ram has thought about it and must’ve decided that supporting a man with such “bizarrely good timing” (despite having virtually nothing else of value) to be worth her time. She won’t hear Gar impugn her loyalty to Roswaal either.

Gar has had enough of this shit and transforms into a giant cuddly tiger (right on the heels of TenSura’s cuddly tigers!), but Ram is ready, willing, and eager to go toe-to-toe with his Beast Mode, dodging his thrusts and landing blow after devastating blow with a superior smirk.

Otto stands back in awe of Ram’s power, but when Gar gets a lick in on her (who compliments him for having become stronger since their last scrap), he calls out to the forest to buy him and Ram another precious few moments of keeping Gar occupied.

It’s at this point Subaru looks back at the forest hoping Otto can hold out, and fifteen minutes into the episode, you’d be forgiven if you thought we were being deprived of the crucial Emilia-Subaru Talk last week previewed. But once he sits down beside her, it’s clear we’ll get that talk, and much more.

Emilia’s memories are returning; that much is certain. But she tries to keep them at bay with anger and despair over both puck and Subaru breaking their promises. I too was both perplexed and disappointed when Subaru left her bedside, and all he’ll say about why is that “he can’t tell her” just yet.

But besides that, she can’t fathom why Subaru wouldn’t be angry at her for being so “useless”, both with the trial and with everything else throughout their time together. His answer is as honest as it is simple: because he loves her. He loves her so much he can barely take it—the cute parts, the kind parts, the selfless parts—even the parts she’d call “ugly”. Moreover, he doesn’t love her because he believes in her, he believes in her because he loves her.

When she goes all [CITATION NEEDED], Subaru tells her why else he would willingly go through all this suffering and torment to help “a pain in the ass” like her? She then tells him how unfair it is for him to bring that up when she never asked for him to suffer for her, and how she’s always  worried about him getting hurt for her.

Their talk gets more and more heated, as Takanashi Rie voices Emilia in a faint whisper at the beginning but takes it all the way up to full-throated hysterical yelling, before the wave crests, and she quietly tells Subaru of the fear she’s experiencing now that her memories are resurfacing.

She doesn’t recognize what she’s remembering, can’t believe she even forgot her mother, and worries the memories will change her, that the Emilia he knows was never the real Emilia. Mention of her mother and the past causes Subie to remember what his mother said to him during his trial: “What matters isn’t how you start or what happens in the middle, but how it ends.”

If Emilia can’t believe Subaru loves her, than he has no choice but to put his hands on her shoulders, lean in, and prove it. He tells her “if you don’t want this, then dodge,” but Lia doesn’t dodge. She closes her eyes, expectantly, and they kiss. As they kiss, their surroundings suddenly glow with a warm, pinkish light.

When their lips separate once more, Emilia starts to cry, but Subie assures her it’s only natural to be anxious and scared about the rush of old, sealed memories. But it’s also okay to remember, because among those memories may be the one most precious feeling she can use to burst through the anxiety and fear and run forward toward the end—which matters most.

Subaru, for his part, hopes that feeling is for him, as his is for her. When they emerge from the graveyard interior, Garfiel is waiting for them, but says he wasn’t. But hopefully, he’s too late. Too late thanks to Otto and Rem and the animals of the forest, and too late because Subaru told Emilia he loves her no matter what, and everything is going to be fine.

Is it though? Does Gar simply concede defeat here and go off to eat some lasagna? Does he beat the shit out of Subie and take Lia hostage? Whenever someone in Re:Zero believes or states everything will be fine, I can’t help but be a little dubious. But I’ll put that doubt aside for now and simply celebrate the momentous events of this episode’s second half.

For the very first time in this whole run, Subaru and Emilia shared a kiss, and Emilia seems to finally get that while Subie did leave her bedside, he never left her side in spirit, and his love will keep him firmly entrenched there throughout all the trials to come.

Re: Zero – 39 – Two Clowns at the Mercy of Fate

As with NeverlandRe:Zero’s second season picks up right where it left off when we last tuned in: with Otto administering some tough love on Subaru, who ultimately aceepts the merchant’s offer of help. His confidence and that wry glint in his eye restored, Subaru marches into Roswaal’s room and makes a bet: he’ll save everyone in the sanctuary and mansion without sacrificing anyone, all without resorting to Return by Death.

Roswaal notably doesn’t smile throughout this entire exchange until Subaru makes his resolve plain (and acknowledges the greed inherent in his plan), and Roswaal accepts the bet. Otto wonders if it’s simply because Rosy has never lost a bet. But like, er, an angry mob storming the U.S. Capitol to hijack democracy, there’s a first time for everything, and if all goes according to plan, Roswaal may find himself on the losing end of a bet for the first time.

Subaru isn’t going to rely only on himself to save everyone, but instead rely on and put his trust in his friends and allies. Otto got things started, but he alone won’t be enough. Ram seems intent on remaining on Roswaal’s side, though out of deference to their unspoken friendship she does give Subaru a key clue: that Emilia hasn’t figured out why she’s struggling in the trial, and won’t be able to pass until she does.

Subaru also visits Ryuzu for help, and learns that the Ryuzu he’s speaking to is one of three “supervisors” of the crystal, among the first four copies. Shima was once the fourth, but was relieved of her duties for her role in rescuing Garfiel from the graveyard when he attempted the trials. Thus Subie learns that a big part of why Gar is against the barrier falling is due to the fact his mother abandoned him and Frederica and “chose the outside.”

Emilia is exhausted when Subie visits her and asks her directly to tell him about the trial so far. He doesn’t promise she’ll feel better for telling him, but wants to share the burden of worry with her. She mentions how she was once frozen in ice (as we saw in the Frozen Bonds OVA), suddenly remembers her mother, then recalls a deal she made with Roswaal: if she won the Royal Selection, he would thaw the forest where her folks remained frozen.

Emilia feels she should be ashamed to seek the throne for such “personal reasons”, but our boy Subie can relate, to say the least, and assures her that wanting to help people is noble no matter how small the number. With Subie offering his unconditional trust and support, and helping her take the first step to resolving her trial stalemate, Emilia is able to finally fall sleep.

Unfortunately Emilia doesn’t awaken as peacefully as she falls asleep, as she sees a fuzzy memory of when she was a small child being separated from her mother before waking up in tears. Subaru took the step of pretending to try to harm Emilia so Puck would finally emerge in corporeal form, and he’s there when Emilia awakens.

Her elation is short-lived, as Puck is tiny—able to fit in the palm of her hand—and also has some sad news: he’s decided to break their contract, first forged when she was in dire need of protection from the arbiter Melakeura back in Frozen Bonds.

There are two primary reasons for this: first, the contract is blocking memories essential for Emilia to continue with the trial (and, incidently, life). Second, Puck is confident he can entrust his daughter to the one whose love for her is second only to his own: Natsuki Subaru.

That night, Emilia takes Subaru’s hand and asks him to stay with her throughout the night. With the seal on her memories broken, it will be a long and painful one. In one new memory, Emilia is being embraced by someone she calls Mother Fortuna, telling her that “all the people who told you ‘that kind lie’ wanted to protect her.”

Emilia wakes up, calls Fortuna a liar, calls Puck a liar, and when she sees Subaru isn’t there, calls him a liar. But I imagine Subaru had to leave her bedside to begin implementing all the various conspiracies he’s arranged with Otto. That morning, Emilia is missing, and Ram and Garfiel lead the search, but Subie already knows where she is: in the Graveyard. He sits beside her with an open ear and open heart, ready to help her get through this.

Re:Zero Season 2 Part 2 isn’t messing around. The witch’s tea party is over, as is Subaru’s crisis of confidence and competence, and oh yeah, Puck’s gone, just like that! It’s far more development than I expected, and with Emilia’s memory block finally lifted, her trial can proceed with the aim of raising the barrier on the Sanctuary. Takahashi Rie does some of her most beautiful and vulnerable voice work, and I expect we’ll get more of it.

Appare-Ranman! – 11 – A Break in the Clouds

The Bad Brothers managed to survive having a train car derail on top of them, meaning they have the one working car with which to rush Kosame to the hospital. The bullet is removed and bleeding stopped; all that’s left is for him to wake up, but the doctor cannot say when or even if he will.

Appare simply cannot fathom why Kosame lunged in front of him to take the bullet; it defies all logic to him. But with Kosame possibly out of the picture, Appare also loses all will to fix his car or continue the race. Declaring himself useless, he wanders the town, unsure what to do.

Al knows what he must do: get his car fixed at all costs so he can rescue Sofia. Typical youthful hot-headedness; he does remember how Gil utterly owned everyone’s asses, right? No, it will take a plan, not mere passion, to defeat Gil. Also brakes. Gotta be able to stop your car!

Hototo stays by his savior’s bedside, while Dylan and TJ recount their rivalry over the heart of Claudia, which ended for TJ when she chose Dylan. It only takes a couple of stills to learn these two were once friends and partners in noble crime.

As clouds gather and rain starts to fall in sheets, Appare’s mask of numbness falls away, and he bawls like he’s never bawled before. The blood on his clothes washes away, and then Hototo locates him and tells him to come back to the hospital.

There, Appare finds Kosame with a cloth over his head…but then Kosame, who has woken up, blows the cloth off his face. The preview was a complete fake-out! I assumed the show wouldn’t go so far as to ax him permanently. While getting his ability to use his sword marked the end of a character arc for him, he I still want to see him return home to his family someday.

Thanks to modern medicine, he can. Kosame tells Appare that the new idea of blood transfusion defied Gil’s will to kill him. They’ll defy him again, but not alone. The drivers meet to discuss how dire the situation is, but the clouds part just as Appare returns, back to his old self.

He tells Al he’ll help him fix his car (including making him new brakes) and they’ll get across the Missouri no matter what. GM exec Seth Carter decides to deploy his mechanics to assist everyone, as teams don’t matter right now. This is about saving the hostages and foiling Gil’s attempts to stop the race—their race.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 18 – Back in the Game

This week, we get into Kirito’s head as he gets up from the symbolic “desk at school” and starts off to his symbolic “home”, passing Alice and Eugeo without noticing them while in transit. Higa was successful in connecting him to his friends, and process of awakening has begun. He just needs a little more time.

While Asuna is certain she can no longer even stand, she’s helped up by the spirit of Kanno Yuuki, who gives her angel wings with which to take up the fight with PoH anew. The art style again shifts to Not Fuckin’ Around Mode, and Asuna proceeds to mop the floor with PoH. Unfortunately, he’s only stunned temporarily, as Sortiliena notices his weapon is absorbing sacred resources. Within moments he’s on his feet and turning the entire force of foreign players on the Japanese.

Meanwhile, in Kirito’s head, he’s forced to walk down memory lane, specifically all of the worst memories he’s had since entering SAO, including  the death of Sachi and the Moonlit Black Cats on the 27th floor, long, long ago, and the time he carved Nobuyuki Sugou up like a turkey. These memories disgust Kirito, and he’d rather tear his own heart out than keep watching and hearing them.

Kirito is momentarily snapped out of it by the appearance of Sinon, Suguha and Asuna, but it’s still not enough for him to forgive himself. Just as Higa is pondering what fourth person could be used to, a fourth connection is established not by a person but an object: the Blue Rose Sword. The remnants of Eugeo merge with Kirito’s own memories of him to create a spectral Eugeo who urges Kirito to wake up and keep fighting, for there are so many people waiting for him.

The first thing Kirito does when he wakes up is use Enhance Armament to freeze PoH and his forces in their tracks. When even this fails to restrain PoH and he rushes Asuna, Sortiliena, and Ronie, Kirito puts up a shield around them, then pushes PoH back, neutralizing him for the moment. From there, Kirito can finally get back to his feet. An elated Asuna simply says okaeri—welcome back—and Kirito replies tadaima…I’m back.

Oigakkosan’s Summer 2019 Anime Season Wrap-up

Arifureta began as a grim, visually unremarkable dungeon crawler, hinting at global conflicts and structures of political and social control… before devolving into guy-shoots-monsters-gets-harem-rinse-repeat. Pitting guns, missiles and motorcycles against orcs and wolves is tricky to make compelling, and Arifureta’s mediocre animation, slow plot, and constant battles doesn’t help.

Worse shows aired this season but few featured dragons being anally raped by the protagonist with a giant metal spike, nor said dragon joining said protagonist’s harem afterwards. However, and I’m going out on a limb here, even if this is up your personal kink, Arifureta’s PG-13 sensibilities probably wont go far enough for you. Niche at best, Barely Watchable for the rest of us.

Dr Stone is delightfully consistent with it’s focus on science process, over the top characters, and methodical plot to rebuild society from the stone age up. While its medium term objective (defeat super-strong/ super evil antagonist with science) has taken a back seat to gaining support of the villagers Senko discovered mid-season, its not forgotten.

We’ve learned about electricity, food chemistry, and glass as much as human nature, motivation and weakness. Hand in hand with lovable characters and charming visual style, Dr Stone is probably my most recommended show of the season.

Given’s relationship story is lovely, thoughtful, and matured with deeper issues of loss. The wow is in the details. From taking a dozen buses just to stand by the ocean, just to stand where you once stood with a close friend, to walking off stage after only one song, Given doesn’t over explain itself with dialog.  It’s solid but, like real romance, the best parts come from getting to know the characters. So I called it quits after episode six. Still, highly recommended

Granbelm finally developed an emotional core: Mangetsu is a magic puppet created by Ernesta’s subconscious desire to have a friend who isn’t an effed up mess. Also, despite earlier signs that losing wasn’t that big a deal, it has been revealed that girls die all the time in magic fights but no one remembers because… magic amnesia.

These are solid reveals and Mangetsu’s heart filled good bye to the cast (almost all of which immediately forget she ever existed) was strongly delivered. It just took way too long to develop. Combined with a dull pure evil villain, power levels that swing at the whim of the story, and Granbelm’s misunderstanding of what a mystery is (as opposed to just being confusing) and the show is only watchable.

Maou-sama, Retry! started off so absurdly bad, so generically Demon Lord/Isekai, that it had a certain charm. As it strolled forward, it took no greater objective than to introduce new characters to Maou’s harem, and forget about previous characters and potential destinations for the story. Aku hasn’t even been in the previous two episodes. The result is powerfully without purpose. It doesn’t care. You shouldn’t either. Barely watchable.

UchiMusume also suffers from a lack of purpose and follow through. For a show that features a central character who’s past is a mystery, and a hero who occasionally kills people for political gain, there’s an awful lot of wandering around aimlessly and eating food!

The result is harmlessly cute but smidgens of world building do not make up for a four episode long trip to and from a village to buy a new trench coat. It’s Barely watchable.

Fire Force – 06 – Wherein Opposite Paths Converge

As shounen heroes tend to do, Shinra struts into Princess Hibana’s lair and prepares to go a second round, despite having learned nothing about how to defeat her ability that had him flat on the ground. He’s confident that between his talents and determination he’ll figure something out and rescue Iris. Hibana is ready for him, but because she’s a shounen villain, she explains what her ability does, which enables Shinra to resist it.

Of course, heating up her opponents so they become lightheaded ragdolls isn’t Hibana’s only trick. She conjures up scores of flowers to launch at Shinra, and finally releases her featured attack, which bears more than a passing similarity to Captain Kuchiki’s Senbonzakura.

Hibana is convinced that the world is made up of the burned and those who burn, and ever since all the sisters but her burned in the convent, she’s dedicated herself to…herself. Burning whoever and whatever she needs to to get ahead. It’s how she became a successful researcher, and it’s how she became Captain of the 5th.

But here’s the thing: Iris survived too, and Iris is still around and kicking despite not becoming “the devil” to the god Sol everyone prays to. Which means there were obviously more than just the single evil path Hibana took. Iris continued her sister training and became a good and caring person who helps comfort people both during and at the end of their lives.

As we see in the expanded flashback, Hibana was unique among the other sisters in her ability to manipulate flames into beautiful flowers, and change their colors with chemicals. Iris and the others loved her flowers, but the nuns in charge discouraged her, warning that she was, well, playing with fire.

But Iris never forgot their promise: that if she overcame her shyness, Hibana would show her her flame flowers once more. This time, defeated by the flames she believed only served her, and by someone she deemed just more “gravel” to be trod upon, the hard crust that those old flames created around her heart shattered, revealing her heart wasn’t hardened to the core.

Princess Hibana is redeemed, the 5th and 8th cease hostilities, and she even develops a little crush on Shinra, who after all managed to defeat her, making her reconsider whether his prattle about heroes and saving people without getting anything in return was just empty BS.

As for Captain Oubi, after the credits he calls Hinawa, announcing he’s finally ready to join the fray, only to be told that it’s already over, and the dramatic battle music stops abruptly.

Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest – 01 (First Impressions) – The Pit of Misery, Dilly Dilly!

Arifureta doesn’t bother with any light-hearted introductions or explanations into how Nagumo Hajime and his class ended up transported to a new, fantastical world, it simply plops us right beside him as he wallows in an abyss of despair. He’s weak, ineffectual, and his only magical skill is transmuting the rock in his immediate vicinity.

He was underleveled way further up in this labyrinth; now he’s prey for prey. When a giant polar bear-like monster with a tanuki face slices his left arm off and eats it, he retreats into a cavern of his own making and passes out under a healing holy crystal, bleeding and waiting for death.

Then and only then do we get some insight into how he ended up in this situation: he was on a quest in the labyrinth when a careless classmate touched something that transported them to a far more dangerous level.

He manages to save his classmate Kaori from a rampaging behemoth, but while the others cover his escape, one of them targets him directly, sending him plummeting into the abyss where we first meet him.

Kaori, who may not see Hajime as a love interest but still looks out for him, warns him not to come on the quest after she has an awful dream about him meeting his doom, but he convinces her to help protect him, and he’ll be alright.

Turns out her dream was prescient, but when Hajime wakes up in the abyss, in pain but still not dead, he decides to change his tune and pump himself up into Survival At All Costs Mode. First, he drinks holy water, then he captures a smaller monster and eats its raw meat, which ends up poisoning him and turning his hair white.

But that’s not all: in addition to his badass hair, Hajime’s muscle mass and stats have all increased, and he’s gained the skill of the monster he ate. Much like Rimuru Tempest when he first arrived in a new world as a Slime, Hajime uses the ample resources around him to continue leveling up and build weapons that will let him defeat ever more powerful foes.

It’s a very A-leads-to-B-leads-to-C procedural process, but one thing’s for sure, Hajime’s seiyu Fukamachi Toshinari stops sounding so annoyingly whiny and adopts a cooler voice to go with his cooler appearance and upgraded skill-set. It’s as if he had to fall into the deepest abyss (and get betrayed by a classmate) in order to awaken the will to become a stronger person in this world.

Armed with a pistol and grenade, Hajime locates the bearlike monster who ate his arm, and utilizes all of his new skills to tear its arm off and eat it, then puts a bullet between its eyes. Hajime is no longer messing around; he’s going to survive and get home, and he’ll kill anyone “in his way.”

Isekai shows are like American crossover vehicles: there are a lot of them, and most of them are exactly the same, but still others are actually good. I’m not quite sure what Arifureta is quite yet, but it at least distinguished itself nicely by putting us right beside a protagonist who had already literally hit rock bottom.

Aside from some glimpses of his elaborately kitted-out classmates and the awakening of a starving, red-eyed Loli, this was a stripped-down and minimalist outing that focused on one young man shrugging off death and despair and improving himself to the point he can climb out of the darkness.

I’ll see where he leads…especially since Youjo Senki taught me the dangers of passing judgment on a show after its first episode.

The Promised Neverland – 10 – Never Give Up, Never Surrender

With the bombshell discovery of the cliff last week, it looked like checkmate for the kids, and especially Norman, who after all was going to be shipped out the next day. That schedule is not changed, and Norman accepts his fate, much to the despair of Emma and Ray.

Norman offers them a ray of hope by noting that the complex of farms or “plants” form a hexagon, one side of which is the HQ where there’s a bridge across the cliff. But he won’t be joining them, and his mind won’t be changed. That doesn’t stop the other two from trying.

While packing for his “departure”, Norman puts only one item in his suitcase: the string telephone Ray helped Emma make years ago so she could communicate with Norman when he was sick and quarantined. Mind you, his being sick never kept Emma away, and Mama had to shoo her off more than once.

In a microcosm of the trio’s dynamic in the present, Ray’s technical know-how and Emma’s stubborn refusal to give up leads to the two ensuring Norman isn’t lonely. Norman isn’t just a friend, he’s family. Emma and Ray love the hell out of the guy. But this time there’s no string long enough to reach where he’s going.

The scene of Norman’s goodbyes is…is rough. All of the other kids are either in tears or just barely holding back, but no one is suffering his impending departure more than Emma, and she makes no attempt to hide that suffering, or to pretend she’s not going to do everything she can to stop Norman from leaving, including trying to slip him the tracking device breaker.

It takes the most explicit death threat from Mama yet (delivered chillingly quietly so only Emma can hear) for Emma to calm down and accept Norman leaving. Before they part, Norman hands her back the tracker breaker and tells her not to give up. As for Ray, he’s not even there; Norman has to come to him, and even then, Ray says nothing. They only share a parting look.

Norman and Mama’s solemn walk to the gate is another standout scene, steeped with doom, but also an odd kind of peace. Mama seems to hold Norman in genuine esteem, as the two seem to have an understanding that Emma and Ray will be treated well until the “end of the time that was decided.”

He momentarily throws Mama off when he asks her if she’s happy, but she replies that she is because she met someone like him. They reach the gate, and Mama directs him to enter a well-lit room to wait…and that’s the last we see of him. Who knows what he saw, or if it was the last thing he saw. Maybe Mama has bigger plans for him than mere food?

Emma and Ray are gutted by Norman’s loss. The three of them were inseparable, almost symbiotic, but Norman was their center; their heart; the bridge between them. The two of them don’t seem able to continue on, even with support from Don and Gilda. Ray tells them he’s “tired” and doesn’t care anymore; they can do what they like, but he’s resigned to dying there.

Emma was then the last of the trio to hold out hope and not give up, but she’s too overcome by grief to accomplish anything. Both the little kids and Mama take note of her constantly morose state, and Mama visits her in her dorm to urge her to give up, and life will be much easier. She even offers Emma a path that will allow her to become the next Mama of the house, rather than be shipped away.

Of course, Emma is never going to go back on what she promised Norman, no matter how many perks she offers (or bones she breaks). So Mama tells her fine, keep dreaming of the impossible, “writhe in agony”, and be damned.

Time passes, and the eve of Ray’s shipment date arrives. Emma wakes up and finds him singing to himself in the chapel. It’s there where both of them reveal that at least part of the way they’ve been acting around Mama, Gilda, Don, and the little ones was merely a performance; a means of lulling Mama into thinking they really did give up.

But they haven’t, as the fire in their eyes at the end of the episode proves. They seem as determined as ever, and thanks to Norman’s reconnoitering of the wall, a path to escape remains. What a fool I was to believe it was time to give up when they hadn’t; to doubt the strength of their spirit and defiance!

Mama, the demons, the system has taken so much away from these kids. It’s time to take something back from them for a change. I am here for it.

The Promised Neverland – 09 – Let’s Get Cracking

By the end of last week, four episodes of The Promised Neverland remained for the kids to escape the farm and survive the aftermath of casting aside their old lives, and all the protections and amenities therein. Even if their lives wouldn’t last much longer than if they’d  stayed put, at least they’d die free.

Alas, for all of the kids’ careful preparation up to this point, the situation has never been more dire. Any hope of Emma escaping on her own two feet has been dashed thanks to Mama’s act of appalling brutality (“clean break” indeed) while Norman is due to be shipped out in a day’s time.

Norman puts on a brave face for Emma, but when he fetches water he betrays a look of paralyzing fear and despair. And yet, once that moment has passed, there’s a decidedly defiant look on his face, like he’s decided and committed to his next move.

When he returns, Ray is with Emma, and they’ve already decided something as well. When Norman proposes they proceed with the escape plan without him once he’s gone and Emma is healed, they reject him in unison. Their counter-proposal: Norman will deactivate his tracker with the device Ray has just completed (using parts from all the various discreet rewards he got over the years), and hide out until Emma heals. Then they’ll all escape together.

Norman is fine with this plan, except for the fact that if he goes missing, they may ship Ray out in his stead. In that case, Ray says he’s willing to have his arm broken so, like Emma, he won’t be suitable for shipping. When Norman asks how Ray found out about the truth of the House, he says he’s always known, since he has memories of his life going back to when he was still in the womb.

Norman agrees to the plan, and the next morning, Norman executes his escape, running to the wall with the backup rope Don and Gilda made, while Emma and Ray stick close to Mama. The music that plays while Norman is running to freedom is epic, hopeful and triumphant.

After he attaches the rope, he holds it taut as he runs up the wall, and manages to grab hold of the top ledge and hoist himself up. A vast forest unfolds in all directions on the other side; a forest full of possibility. If they could get everyone into that forest, the adults would be hard-pressed to find them.

When Mama finally notices Norman is not around, she checks his tracking device, and her expression makes it clear it’s not working. But to Emma and Ray’s horror, she smiles and closes the device, and Norman emerges from the forest, looking like he’d just been drugged or hypnotized.

Turns out it was neither, but simply the look of utter, complete defeat. Only while atop the wall and looking over the other side could he discover the truth: there is a vast, yawning, sheer CLIFF between the wall and the forested land, of a distance they can’t hope to surmount.

Just when the kids’ spirits were at their highest, everything is cruelly snatched away, and their doom feels more inescapable than ever. What an emotional roller coaster; a symphony sorrow; a triptych of tribulation. Those poor damn kids…what are they going to do now?

Happy Sugar Life – 10 – Partners in Crime

Shio believes everyone’s heart is a jar made of glass. If it isn’t regularly filled with love, or is hit by various stresses, it will crack and break, and when it does, there’s no coming back.

Shio is worried Satou’s jar is dangerously close to shattering, so she tries to do as much as she can. She covers her with a blanket, warms up the curry, and throws her clothes in the wash—where she sees Satou’s bloodstained clothes.

Seeing Satou in such a state reminds Shio of her last days with her mom, who became destitute when she finally left her abusive husband. Shio wanted to do what she could then too, including replace her mother’s “jar” with a new one she sees across the street.

But in doing so, Shio is almost hit by a truck, and her mom’s jar breaks. She takes Shio on a walk in the rain, then stops and leaves her there, saying a simple “goodbye.” Her mom’s jar was broken, and she was simply…done.

When Satou awakens, she pretends like nothing’s wrong, but immediately starts talking about their next home. After all her talk about the castle where they’d live happily ever after, it wounds Shio to hear Satou so gung-ho about abandoning it.

But more than that, Shio is hurt by what Satou isn’t saying, and by all the things she’s hiding. When Satou tells Shio all she needs to do is smile and love her, it reminds her of her mother, who also asked nothing of Shio but to stay put; to stay safe.

Shio won’t have it; not anymore. She doesn’t like Satou’s secrets, or her vision of how she should be to her, which is to act as little more than a human doll. She storms off, and in her anger, tells Satou she hates her. Satou then becomes paralyzed with despair.


The same night Shio’s mother abandoned her, Satou happened to be walking around, and meets Shio, asking her why she isn’t chasing after her mom. Shio tells her it’s because what she felt toward her mother wasn’t love, it was just a desperate hope her mom would keep living, so she could live.

With an attitude well beyond her not numerous years, she decides not being with her mom anymore is for the best. But she also realizes she was too harsh with Satou. She doesn’t hate her; but she hates how Satou shoulders the burden of protecting her.

From now on, Shio wants Satou to tell her everything, and they’ll share the burden and protect each other. In other words, a more balanced relationship where Shio has agency. Satou agrees, and tells Shio all of the horrible things she’s done to keep her safe, including killing someone. Shio accepts it all and fills Satou’s jar…because Satou fills and strengthened hers.