3-gatsu no Lion – 33

In a bit of a bridge episode stocked with miscellany, Rei is chosen to challenge Souya in a commemoration match between present and future meijin to do the brass “a solid”, and is then surprised at school by the Shogi Science club with a party celebrating  his Newcomer King title, with all food and drink being crafted by the club with on-campus resources.

As such, this is all an opportunity for Rei to realize that he is, at this moment, actually quite happy. So happy, in fact, he has to run to the bathroom so no one sees his tears of joy. Will this happiness last forever? Perhaps, nay, probably not; and he’s right that it could be snatched as suddenly as it was dispensed.

But he aims to never forget these days, his Springtime of life, even acquiring a diary to capture those days in detail for future reminiscence. Indeed, his narration throughout the show thus far is likely from the pages of that diary!

An example of someone suffering a tremendous defeat but coming back as strong as ever is Shimada, who is not the brass’ pick to be the challenger in the Kishou Championship, owing to his lack of charisma. Their pick is Gakuto Sakurai, who has a tendency to take his shogi rivals into the mountains, put them in a spot, then show them kindness, endearing them to him and making them eternal fanboys of him.

Shimada, however grew up climbing mountains to forage, and as such is immune to Gakuto’s particular charms and beats him, showing that Gotou was right; Shimada, if left alone, was always going to come back and win. All it took was time.

Gaining, losing, then gaining things are “an unavoidable part of life”, and both disappointment and loneliness necessary emotions. Such emotions cause people to muster courage and expand their small worlds. These are the words of Noguchi, who not only looks like a sage adult, but talks like one too.

Since he’s a third year, he’ll be leaving the club to focus on college entrance, which means the one place at school Rei felt he “belonged” will be irrevocably changed. However, it won’t be taken away; not as long as Rei perseveres in securing members for the Shogi Club (the Science part, being Noguchi’s purview, goes away).

Fortunately for Rei, he has powerful proponents of a Shogi Club in the principal and vice-principal. While they’re not students, they will help ensure his club (which Rei is worried might be more of a “class” with him as the teacher) will endure. You have to hand it to 3GL; it always, always makes the simple matter of Rei interacting with his actual peers seem like an utter impossibility, because he’s such a highly-specialized, nerdy, shogi-obsessed weirdo.

And yet, considering how easily he’s able to interact with the Kawamotos, I believe Rei continues to sell himself short in the “ability to make friends at school” department. Surely there’s a happy medium between the nerds of the Science Club and the “popular crowd” in which he can find friends, and use his shogi to facilitate that friend-making? Perhaps, but for now, the average age of his new “school” club is 24.

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Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 05

This week Chakuro and his friends locate the nous at the core of Falaina that apparently every sand ship has, are interrupted by three elders who bring archers to kill the nous, thus sinking the Mud Whale, but Chakuro manages to convince them not to, though they do manage to shoot Lykos in the leg.

After that, Suou is freed and Taisha’s aides gather to his side, he meets with Lykos, who tells everyone about the eight ships the empire has and how there could be other countries out there, and Suou gives a speech to the rest of the Whale’s population that they’re going to fight and defend until they can find allies.

That’s a good amount of material in one episode…so why the heck did it feel to me like virtually nothing happened? I suspect it’s at least in part due to the overall presentation, which has felt lacking in urgency and peril since the surprise attack that ended episode two.

There’s also the fact that the Mud Whale feels like such a small and static setting whose leadership seems to change on a dime with little to no repercussions. The rest of the population is treated like one united faceless entity that cheers at the prospect of Ouni joining the defense force.

Perhaps most troubling—and contributory to my waning interest in this show—is the protagonist Chakuro, whose defining character trait is a guy who says a lot—both to others and through narration—but does very little, while Lykos’ is simply “girl who developed emotions” and little else.

As a result, it feels like I’m watching a set of thin and fairly generic characters caught up in a world that’s groaning under the weight of its convoluted (and at times, random-feeling) mythology.

Right now, that’s just not grabbing and holding my attention as much as the other Fall shows I’m watching. Maybe next week, when the defense of the whale begins in earnest, I’ll be able to muster more enthusiasm.

Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 04

Suou is brought before the council of elders, named the new Chief of the Mud Whale, and given his first and last orders: to prepare the people to “return to the sea of sand” from whence they came; in other words, they want the entire remaining population to commit suicide en masse.

Wait, why are these clowns in charge again? Even Suou can’t accept that fate, and while trying to talk to the eldest elder of them all (who seems senile but seems to speak the truth nonetheless), gets knocked out by the captain of the guard and thrown into the Bowels.

Meanwhile, Chakuro is carving words into a cliff face when approached by Ginshu, who seems to be moving quickly after Sami’s demise, offering to help “Cha-kki” learn to use his Thymia better for the next defense of the Whale, obviously unaware of the elders’ decision.

While gazing out into the sea, Nelli comes to Chakuro, and transports him into a series of visions involving those who have passed away, including Sami and Taisha, both of whom make clear that it’s not time for Chakuro to give up hope and join them; nor is it time for the Mud Whale to vanish.

It’s heartbreaking to see Sami anew, especially as she says she wanted to be Chakuro’s wife. She was never able to say this while alive, and so Chakuro never got to return her feelings.

These visions fly in the face of the elders’ wishes, but they—with the exception of one of them to whom the others no longer listen—have lost hope, and want only to give their people honorable deaths rather than let them be needlessly slaughtered.

Newly invigorated by the visions from Nelli (who seemed oddly possessed by someone else afterwards until snapping back into regular Nelli), Chakuro learns what happened to Suou, and seeks help from Lykos, Ouni, and Ouni’s gang (what’s left of it).

They come afoul of the guards, but Chakki is able to seduce Ginshu into letting them pass. They descend into the deepest parts of the Mud Whale where they’ve never been before, until they find Nelli with what looks like a Nous sitting in a giant…rocking chair?

I’l say this: with his primary role as one who must bear witness, Chakuro isn’t the most thrilling protagonist, but at least he’s working to save the Mud Whale and its people. He hasn’t given up. And whatever the heck is going on at the end, I’m definitely intrigued and want to see where this is going.

Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 03

The docile, frightened, and mostly defenseless denizens of Falaina are absolutely no match for the surprise attack by the efficient, emotionless raiding parties of Skylos, who use their thymia to kill with rifles, spears, swords and maces. Chakuro tries to run away carrying Sami, but he trips, and the way her body falls indicates that she’s already dead.

Ouni manages to get released from his cell, and proves more than capable of killing a good number of the enemy…but one man simply won’t be enough. Back in the fields, soldiers advance on Chakuro, but in his combined grief and rage he manages to hold them off with his Thymia until Lykos arrives.

Lykos, or rather Lykos “#32” as she’s called by an oddly giddy and sadistic pink-haired associate who holds a high rank among the enemy, was originally sent to exterminate Falaina. It would appear she failed, and regained emotions.

Now her brother, Commander Orka, is content to leave her on Falaina as a human experiment, to see how long she lasts among the “sinners.” The enemy withdraws, but after torturing two of their soldiers, Ouni learns they’ll be back in just a week’s time. Lykos, it would seem, has picked Chakuro and Falaina over her brother and home country.

It doesn’t look like pacifism and negotiation are in the cards, nor does there seem to be a “misunderstanding.” The people of Falaina are in a war with their very existence in the balance, period. While it isn’t great to see Ouni shed so much blood on his own, I see few alternatives.

As for Chakuro, after a gorgeous but immensely sad funeral service for the dozens lost, including Sami, he simply wishes he could die right then and there. He doesn’t want to be in this world anymore.

Who can blame him? I’m not even sure I want to be here. While the heroic arc obviously requires some initial hardship to be overcome, it was not fun watching men, women, and children callously mowed down. There also seemed to be a lot of the enemy soldiers simply…standing around for long pauses while their victims try to process what’s happening.

Other than Ouni, Lykos, and maaaybe Chakuro (if he can learn to control his power) this entire community looks utterly unequipped for the conflict ahead. Hopefully a few steadfast defenders will be able to curb further slaughter.

Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 02

What I thought was the start of some kind of grand adventure involving Chakuro, Ouni, and Lykos turned out to be more of a quick stop. Lykos (which isn’t her real name) shows them the creatures called “Nous” that suck all emotion out of humans, leaving them “heartless.” Chakuro and Ouni only get a brief taste of the experience, but I imagine neither of them wanted to get a longer one, as intriguing an experience as it might’ve been.

They’re brought back to Falaina, where Ouni is thrown in jail, Lykos returns to the custody of the elders, and Chakuro is freed after “cooling his head”—just in time for the extraordinary periodic phenomenon involving swarms of glowing star locusts. Chakuro breaks Lykos out of confinement so she can see the event with him, and jealous vibes immediately emanate from Sami.

Having been away from…whatever it was she was doing on that other island, Lykos is definitely starting to show more emotion, and when she remembers the time her father gave her a piggyback ride (out of practicality, not love or any other emotion) she can’t help but cry. Chakuro thinks it’s normal, and it proves she has a heart. And anyone’s heart would be stirred by the light show they get.

But that night, Lykos almost told Chakuro something very important, and the next day, really really wants to tell that something to the council of Elders. She best she gets is Suou…but by then, any warning she might’ve given is too late: another island sidles up to Falaina and an attack is launched by its highly-prepared and more technologically advanced occupants.

Those we see are wearing clown makeup (not a great first impression), and Chakuro and Sami stare up at their airship in Miyazakian awe…right until they open fire, Sami jumps in front of Chakuro, and gets riddled with bullets. I was not expecting that! Poor Sami!

It’s a bold, dark new turn for what had been an pleasant Utopian slice-of-life. That’s not quite right: the introduction of Lykos and her lethal magic last week marked the beginning of the end of the “good times”, while the locust swarm was the punctuation mark for the Mud Whale as a place of peace and contentment, and even that peace may have been artificially maintained, as the elders likely knew something like this was possible and/or coming, and have kept all of the Marked in the dark.

It would seem our protagonist and his society are viewed as “sinners” in the outside world, perhaps because they still possess the emotions the Nous feed on and make no effort to purge them. Thus ends Chakuro’s official archive of the Mud Whale, and the beginning of his personal diary.

One Week Friends – 07

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After the often manic romantic anarchy of Nisekoi, it’s comforting to get back to basics: one guy, one girl. Plus, one supposedly faulty memory, and one surprisingly devoted best friend. Yuuki doesn’t have to worry about other girls, just Kaori…though Kaori is enough, to see how he sometimes struggles, which is where Shogo comes in.

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As Kaori’s friends grow, Yuuki starts to long for the days when he had more alone time with her. But as her new friends say, she’s very “pure”, in the literal sense of the term, they’re right: in her present state, friends of any kind are still a very new thing, so it’s that much more difficult to distinguish different kinds of friends, or the possibility of something more than a friend. In a way, she’s already there, but wouldn’t be able to define it if asked.

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Yuuki isn’t necessarily the best person for this, because he’s in love with her. That’s where the primary conflict comes in: what is Yuuki to her? She says she likes him, but she also likes Saki, Shogo, and Math. Yuuki can’t very well ask if she likes him that way, because she’s probably still figuringout what one “like” is; juggling an entirely different kind of “like” could be intimidating and even lead to regression.

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Okay, so things aren’t as simple here compared to Nisekoi; the romance may only be between two, but there’s still a lot of work for Yuuki to do elaborate on his feelings for Kaori. Sure, he fears losing what he has, but ultimately he won’t be content until he’s knows for sure that Kaori has the same feelings he has for her. It’s likely, she does, but doesn’t understand them yet. She certainly seems to be remembering him better.

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One Week Friends – 06

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On the one hand, I wouldn’t have minded a study group episode with just Kaori and Yuuki being awkward, but because she invited Saki and Shogo too, it was much more productive. It also showed that everyone makes friends and treats friendships differently. Shogo may seem cold and scary at first, but the fact he’s hanging out is proof that they’re already friends, without any forced small talk being needed.

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The sight of Kaori with a group of friends also delights her mother, and formally meeting Hase, the friend Kaori is always talking about, compels her to arrange a later meeting with him alone. Yuuki is nervous at first, but Shogo lays out the possibilities: she either wants to talk about Kaori’s memory, or tell him to stay away.

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We never thought the latter was going to be a possibility, but Kaori’s mom does express surprise Hase is still her friend after so long. If Shogo puts little work into making and having friends, Kaori’s “situation” demands that her potential friends work extremely hard for her friendship. We learn from her mom that while the car accident gave her a concussion, there was no brain damage that would have caused such specific memory loss.

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Yuuki may be bad at math (like me!) but he’s no fool: he knew this was a possibility. But the fact that he now knows her issue with remembering friends is at least partially psychological doesn’t change anything. If what he’s gone through is what it takes to be her friend; if he has to re-introduce himself to her again and again and again, so be it.

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By agreeing to those terms without complaint or wavering, he stands to gain more and more of Kaori’s trust. And as she starts to remember how happy having friends was and is, who knows; her “friendnesia” may start to recede, or disappear entirely. Until then, Yuuki will continue to be her friend on whatever terms she deems necessary. He’s a loyal dude.

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One Week Friends – 05

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Kaori’s rule restricting contact everywhere but the school roof never seemed fair to me, and the fact that Yuuki went along with it didn’t make it any fairer. She says it’s “her decision” to pretend she and Yuuki don’t know each other, but pretending you don”t know someone when you do is rude any way you look at it.

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Of course, one way you could see Yuuki’s tolerance of this rule is that he simply likes being her only friend. This is backed up both when he got irritated when she talked about nothing but Kiryu (leading to their first fight) and when he gets jealous when a new girl, Yamagishu Saki, breaks all the rules and coaxes a new friendship out of Kaori with her floaty, lazy charm.

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When Saki arranges an after-school friday date with Kaori, Yuuki again exhibits his possessiveness, essentially stalking them with Kiryu around so it appears less creepy than even Kiryu himself agrees is quite creepy already. I know Yuuki means well, and under these specific circumstances he can’t very well barge in on the date, but it’s behavior I hope he doesn’t repeat in the future.

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Saki turns out to be a good thing for Yuuki, as she handles the “Monday transition” totally differently than he’s been doing. She’s persistent and is able to get Kaori to remember details about their date. She’s even able to put Kaori so much at ease, she starts talking out loud to Saki and others in class; huge progress. Kaori even spots Yuuki, and recognizing him, gives him a look, perhaps cognizant he was her first one-week friend, and a big reason why she now has two.

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One Week Friends – 04

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With Kaori heavily relying on a Chekhov’s gun of a diary to remember Yuuki each week, it was only a matter of time before it went off, i.e. got lost. Losing important things is as much a part of life as having friends, and when you rely on one for the other, you’re living dangerously.

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Kaori loses the diary after her first fight with Yuuki, which is entirely his fault. He’s pissed that Kaori’s friendship with Shogo is publically recognized by the class before his. He doesn’t like how Shogo seems to be talking to her behind his back. And he really doesn’t like it when Kaori talks at length about how great Shogo is. Shogo+Shogo+Shogo=a fight, fueled by Yuuki’ selfishness.

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His punishment is swift, due to Kaori not only losing the diary but also the sign on the wall reminding her Hase is her friend. The next week, she doesn’t remember him, and acts just as cold as when they first met. But Shogo assures Yuuki what Yuuki already knows: she didn’t throw the diary out intentionally, over one little spat. Yuuki’s initial appeal to Kaori doesn’t go well, so he skips school to look for the diary.

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During this time, Kaori gets the feeling she’s forgetting something) really important to her. Urged on by Shogo, she seems to remember enough to end up at the riverbank where she lost the diary, where she finds Yuuki covered in mud and hand cuts, and finally finds it with her there. By then, she already knew what the important thing was that she forgot: Hase-kun.

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I really liked this episode, which felt less like forced drama and more an unfolding of what was a very likely scenario—losing the diary—combined with that time-honored friendship milestone of the First Fight. The ending in particular was very touching. I will say it’s probably in Kaori’s best interest to keep a back-up diary, or possibly a private blog. And it would seem Yuuki can rest easy: if Kaori liked Shogo or even considered him a close friend, she’d have forgotten him…right?

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One Week Friends – 03

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After a month, Kaori’s diary seems to be working, insofar as it’s allowed her to quickly learn about Yuuki and re-befriend him. She even slaves over the stove to make twenty-one different kinds of tamagoyaki, urging Yuuki to tell her which is best so she knows to make it that way moving forward. While it’s a very sweet gesture, it’s also a little strange, and it occurs to Yuuki that Kaori might benefit from other friends besides just him.

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This is somewhat ironic, considering that besides Kaori, I can’t recall Yuuki hanging out with anyone other than Shogo, the person he decides to bring up to the roof. It seems at first like a decision he’ll come to regret: he immediately asks Kaori if she has Multiple-Personality Disorder, is put off by the fuzzy, lovey-dovey atmosphere Yuuki and Kaori create, and then tells Yuuki he’s being too trusting, warning him that Kaori could just be putting on an act. What’s interesting is that Kaori doesn’t instantly deny that charge; she just stays quiet.

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While he could’ve been less harsh about it, I welcomed Shogo’s fresh insights on the situation. And armed with the truth about Kaori—that act or not, she has trouble interacting with people—he even helps her out by going in the classroom where two girls are gossiping about her, shutting down said gossipers, and retrieving Kaori’s all-important “Memory Note.” That act motivates Kaori to speak up to the girls why the notebook matters so much.

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So it seems that introducing her to Shogo wasn’t so bad after all. Even better, her decision to really nail down Yuuki’s egg preference (18g of sugar) results in her recalling the memory of cooking for him and getting a pang of emotion from writing “18” on the chalkboard. Progress is slow, but steady so far, which is why I’m weary of Yuuki’s little voice-over at the end of the episode about him feeling optimistic “at that time,” indicating that unfortunately won’t always be so.

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One Week Friends – 02

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As she had warned, Kaori’s memories of Yuuki have reset, leaving him at square one. But it isn’t as hard as I thought it would be to reonnect with her. The main reason for this is that she doesn’t remember eating lunch all last week, which means she was eating with a friend she had made. So ironically, the very phenomenon preventing her from remembering friends helped her remember Yuuki, lending credence to his story.

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Everything Yuuki and Kaori do in this second week is very similar to what the did the previous week: they chat with each other and have fun doing things, learning about each other in the process. With Kaori’s memory sure to reset next week, wiping it all out, Yuuki figures out a way to help her, while keeping score at a volleyball game: all she needs to do is keep a diary. She hints that she might have done this before, but is enthusiastic nonetheless, and starts jotting down as much as she can.

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It’s notable that Yuuki gets even closer to Kaori this week, taking her out on a date, meaning his jogging of her memory made this week more productive, friendship-wise, than the first go-around. This all seems neat and tidy untill the third week begins. Kaori reads the diary and tries to pretend as if she remembers it—that Yuuki’s plan worked—but it didn’t, as her tears betray. Yuuki blames himself for selfishly forcing matters with his enthusiasm.

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But when he apologizes, Kaori decides to write that down as well, providing more information on Yuuki for her future self; specifically that he’s in her words, and kind and wonderful person. But all of this raises the question of whether she kept a diary before, and if so, why she stopped. I can probably surmise that the more she writes, the longer it takes to read and process it all, until there isn’t adequate time to do so before her memory resets again.

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Nisekoi – 08

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This episode was probably a bit of a slog for those not enamored with Tsugumi Seishirou. Fortunately, we like her just fine, and we also liked this very Seishirou-centric episode, in which odd changes in her body start to occur and she seeks answers and advice from her acquaintances. Her description of her “symptoms” are so precise and clinical, both Chitoge and Claude initially recommend she seek medical attention. Thankfully Seishirou doesn’t stop with those two, and eventually the common refrain of more normal people is that she’s suffering a bad case of love.

Seishirou may claim to not know anything about love, but we know that’s bullshit from the way she devotes herself to Chitoge and enjoys being by her side. She’s just never met a guy who has caused these reactions, and is totally at a loss for how to process them. Nothing Raku does to her deserves the harsh physical reprisals she visits upon him—on the contrary, he’s nothing but a decent, sweet and chivalrous fellow to her—but in the absence of any guidebook or roadmap or training in matters of love, she goes to her default assassin setting.

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Knowing her odd upbringing and years of conditioning meant to erase her femininity, suddenly becoming a slave to her heart is akin to being faced with an unknown enemy, so it’s logical and understandable for her to lash out, as offense is the best defense in her normal workings. The many closeups of her expressions as she wrestles with these strange emotions are enough to illustrate the intensity of her internal dilemma, as is her complete loss of concentration in assembling her gun at the mere mention of Raku by Claude. She’ll only be able to hide her compromised state from her mentor for so long; though Claude is a pretty dense fellow, even if he’s more suspicious than the other people around the fake couple.

But while Seishirou is growing into an interesting, if somewhat frustrating character in her own right, she also serves and important purpose in the central “fake” romance: she is the link to a past Chitoge has forgotten. Seishirou again betrays the fact she does indeed know at least something about love since she witnessed it betwen Chitoge and her first love, and waxes nostalgic about it, to the point Chitoge’s interest is sufficiently piqued that she digs up her old diary from the time and discovers that not only did she fall in love and make a promise to a kid with a distinctive scar, but that the diary also contained a key that looks very similar to Raku’s locket.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)

AnoHana – 11 (Fin)(Retro Review)

Originally posted 24 Jun 2011 – That was a properly fitting and satisfying finale. It cemented its place as by far the best series of Spring 2011, along with perhaps the most consistent, moving and best-executed eleven-episode series we’ve ever seen. we were expecting a good ending after the quality of what had proceeded, but we could never have predicted just how much dramatic ass it would kick. Nothing in it felt the slightest bit contrived or out of place; it remained fiercely true to its characters, and above all, was a surprisingly happy ending, and the perfect place to close the book.

After Menma fails to pass to heaven, the busters regroup and it turns into an all out CryFest, with everyone pouring their guts out. Tsuruko gets worked up for the first time. Even Poppo loses his laid-back composure. And in this mega-catharsis, they all finally realize that none of them are alone in their inconsolable grief or guilt. They’re all in the same boat. They can all forgive each other, and themselves. They all love her. And I’m sorry, but Anaru’s little eyelash moment was the perfect way to re-lighten the mood.

After this, Jintan races home to collect Menma so they can finish things and say goodbye. But she’s fading fast; it turns out, her wish was inadvertently granted: the wish to make Jintan cry. She promised his mom she’d do it. More specifically, to make him break out of his shell and properly grieve, embrace the pain and the love that’s released, and to be able to move on and live his life. By the time he reaches the base, he can’t see her anymore, and is sent into a panic. “Oh no,” we thought; “Will this just end with him still ‘crazy’?”

Thankfully, we had no reason to worry. She says goodbye by hastily scrawling goodbyes to everyone, which sets off another CryFest. All that’s left is to finish the game of “hide and seek” – at the end of which everyone can see Menma – and get Jintan to cry once more, and then she disappears, content and with her wish fulfilled. Closure at last!

What follows is a phenomenal end-credits epilogue, in which Jintan goes back to school and shows signs of giving the long-suffering Anaru a chance; Poppo is working construction and studying for a diploma; and Yukiatsu and Tsuruko become an item (her tiny smirk is awesome. We honestly wouldn’t mind these two as the focus of a spin-off).  This series was an emotional roller coaster, and its makers knew the viewers wanted and deserved this ending and wrap-up. Menma’s ultimate gift was bringing these friends back together.

So what have we learned? Well, first of all, director Tatsuyuki Nagai and scriptwriter Mari Okada put on a romantic drama clinic, and we shall most definitely be looking out for their next works. Secondly, don’t collapse within your own grief. Everyone has it; let it out and make your true feelings known. Don’t let ghosts haunt you. Er…don’t go up to a hotel with a guy you just met. And, of course stay in school!


Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

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