To Your Eternity – 01 (First Impressions) – A Dog and His Boy

Happy Monday Everybody! Are you ready to…bawl your fuckin’ eyes out?! I know I am. Welcome to To Your Eternity, one of the Spring’s most anticipated series. As always, I enter completely in the dark, unsure of what’s in store for me. Yippee!

It is sent to Earth, a tabula rasa of an entity that can take the form of things it encounters. First it’s a small and basic white sphere, then a rock, then the moss on that rock, then a white wolf that dies on that mossy rock. Fantasia and 2001 came to mind. The visuals and music are epic, and given greater gravitas with Tsuda Kenjirou’s narration.

Then, the wolf reaches a small settlement. Of the handful of huts, only one is occupied by a single boy. The last boy. He knows the wolf; it’s his wolf, Joaan. He welcomes him home, glad he’s no longer alone.

The boy makes dinner and shows Joaan how to eat. He talks of the others who left the village to find “Paradise” but promised to return with gifts. He stayed to take care of the elderly. That was five years ago. Some days pass, and the boy decides it’s time to stop waiting, leave the village, and head to paradise himself, with Joaan in tow.

The boy leaves his home with a sense of finality, like he won’t be returning. He drew pictures of everyone who lived there to show others that they lived. He trudges through the snow, following helpful arrow markers, camps for the night. His nose and fingers gradually become raw and red. One day, he falls through the ice.

He manages to avoid hypothermia, but he has a nasty gash in his left thigh. He dresses it, but the wound swells and festers. Joaan can only watch. The boy speaks for Joaan, carrying on a conversation with himself to keep himself optimistic. But the frozen tundra and his wound continue to wear him down.

The boy is in a very bad way when he comes across a final arrow marker X’ed out with blood, and close by, a host of graves and the ruins of a wagon. With nothing but more frozen tundra everywhere he looks, the boy grapples with the fact the others never reached paradise…or maybe they did, but had to perish to do so.

With no further markers, the boy has no choice but to return home. The weather worsens, as does his health. He feverishly crawls back through the door he so confidently closed for good when he first set out. He manages to get one more fire going, but the cold outside and his leg have already decided how this ends. We’re now firmly in Grave of the Fireflies territory.

The final choice the boy has is how to die. He does so sitting in a chair with the faces of the village, along with himself and Joaan, drawn on the wall. With one final smile, he hunches over and dies, his suffering at an end, and his journey to paradise complete as he reunites with all the other villagers. Triggered by the boy’s death, It transforms from Joaan to the boy, in search of more stimulation. From death, rebirth. But rebirth to something not quite what it had been.

It’s a triumphant glimmer of hope after an episode that was largely watching a happy-go-lucky kid die in agonizing slow motion as his unrelenting environment ground him into dust. This show absolutely wrecked me, but I’m glad to have watched it. It isn’t often anime—or anything on a screen—moved me to this extent. I hadn’t gone through so many tissues watching a single episode in quite a while!

Was this perfection? No. The music is almost uniformly excellent (and the OP is an absolute banger) but there was one out-of-place track that sounded like it was from a far older and less serious show. As good as some of Joaan the wolf’s expressions were, the animal modeling was all over the place, esp. in wider shots. Finally, as invested as I was in the poor doomed kid, he talked a lot. More Cast Away-style silent storytelling would have been welcome. Then again, boundless optimism was literally keeping him alive.

But those are minor quibbles. To Your Eternity is primo prestige shit with the potential to be a classic. It made me feel just about fucking everything! It’s a hell of a neat concept: a completely neutral “entity” that observes, then meets the conditions for transformation—a kind of Kino’s Journey, only Kino is a full-on alien. Considering the next episode involves some kind of child sacrifice, I fear we’re in for more misery than jubilation. But it doesn’t matter…I must watch on.

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 24 (Fin) – Kyoto Accords

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 01 (First Impressions) – Don’t Blame the Game

“You cannot lose if you do not play.”—Marla Daniels, The Wire

“I’m not fucking crazy … I’m just goal-oriented.”—Annie Landsberg, Maniac

Our protagonist Tomozaki Fumiya (handle nanashi) is teen with a dearth of social skills and friends and seeks solace and contentment in the world of gaming. In the first of a veritable festival of metaphors this show dishes out, he’s a god-tier player of the popular fighting game Tackfam, but a bottom-tier player in the Game of Life. As such, even though he splashes the popular Nakamura Shuuji in Tackfam, it’s Shuuji who leaves school flanked by two pretty girls.

This leads Fumiya—who is not a refugee from a war-torn nation—to declare “The game of life is garbage”, followed immediately by an establishing shot of his family’s above average-sized detached home in a quiet neighborhood, thence to his spacious bedroom with hardwood floors, a Mr. Slim, and his own entertainment center.

I actually laughed out loud at this juxtaposition, even if it wasn’t quite the show’s intention. Then I couldn’t help but think: This guy is a whiny loser and I don’t like him. But hey, that’s the point: I’m not supposed to! In stories like this, something or someone becomes a catalyst for positive change.

In this case, it’s a someone—a fellow gamer (handle NO NAME) who is second only to Fumiya in the Tackfam national rankings. Fumiya respects NO NAME a great deal, and when he plays him he can tell how much effort and dedication he puts into training. When NO NAME suggests they meet up IRL, Fumiya doesn’t hesitate.

Little does Fumiya know that not only is NO NAME not a guy, but she’s someone he already interacted with at school prior to their meet-up, as she extended him some obligatory class-rep friendliness upon learning he and Shuuji played. NO NAME is Hinami Aoi, the “it” girl at his school: top grades, top athletes, loved by all. He considers Aoi a god-tier player of the game of life, like Shuuji.

Thankfully, Aoi’s reaction to Fumiya being nanashi is spot-on: “This sucks,” she declares, quickly losing her interest in further interaction. Her reason is plain: just as Fumiya is in awe of her as a player of life, she was in awe of nanashi as a player of Tackfam. To learn the real nanashi is a “rock-bottom loser” who has “given up on life” is deflating, and in turn reflects poorly on her, since she pegged nanashi to be a better person IRL.

Voiced by the wonderful Kanemoto Hisako, in with a feminine strictness that had me wondering if Aoi was really Nakiri Erina with dyed hair and contacts, Aoi brings legitimacy to “polite rudeness”—a term I may have just made up—in her takedown of Fumiya. She also has just the right response when Fumiya protests that the game of life is unbalanced, and her “high initial stats” imbue her and those like her with baseless confidence.

What’s so satisfying about her response, and can be tied to the tightness and cleverness of the dialogue throughout the episode, is that she repeats to Fumiya the very same words Fumiya said to Shuuji when he called Tackfam trash: There’s nothing more shameful than blaming the game, especially when you’d barely played. Fumiya goes on to argue that you can’t change characters IRL…and that’s when Aoi takes his hand, and before he knows it, he’s sitting in her bedroom.

It’s at this point in the ep when I began to develop a measure of concern about the emergence of a somewhat unpleasant subtext: Aoi seemed to be going extremely out of her way to be this dude’s archetypal “guardian angel”. After all, what does she get out of helping him? You can say she’s simply being every bit the “good person” and “perfect heroine” Fumiya saw her as to this point: helping those in need help themselves.

But there’s more to it than that, which justifies the extent of her effort vis-a-vis Fumiya, which we learn when she invites him to her room…her very similarly-sized and appointed room:

They’re practically mirror images of each other! Whether this was intentional or the creator/producers simply drew up some normal high school kid rooms, I appreciated the symbolism. There’s common ground between Aoi and Fumiya: their passion for the games at which they excel. Aoi happens to be good at both Tackfam and life, but she shows Fumiya the latter success isn’t due to high base stats.

She does this simply by being who she is—someone Fumiya didn’t know—by appearing before him in cozier clothes and without makeup. She assures him he can attain normie-level looks just fine by practicing better expressions and proper posture. When Aoi watched Fumiya play as nanashi, she saw the same serious effort she applied IRL—in fact, she thought him more capable of effort than she!

So yeah, from where Aoi stands and how hard she’s worked, Fumiya doesn’t get to say the game of life is unbalanced garbage. He just needs to start applying the same effort of which he’s already proven more than capable in Tackfam. She’ll prove he can—and validate her ideals—by helping him out. Fumiya is initially dubious because he assumes Aoi ranks life higher than Tackfam, but when she reveals her belief that life is tied for first with Tackfam, he’s moved.

He’s moved because while he’s always gotten online recognition for his online efforts, those same efforts have netted him precisely zero friends and recognition…until he met NO NAME/Aoi, who bridged the divide between games. In Aoi he finally has someone IRL who recognizes and moreover values his efforts.

As flawed as Fumiya is, he still recognizes his own hypocrisy and has a sense of honor, and is thus motivated to put more effort into “playing” life as Aoi suggests, so he can find out for himself if the game is actually good. This, along with Aoi using the Fumiya Reclamation Project as a means of continuing to grow herself, goes a long way towards making their budding relationship both balanced and compelling.

As for what form Fumiya’s training will take, well here’s where we must suspend disbelief in Aoi having a half-hour to spare in her clearly packed academic, athletic, and social schedule. They meet at the school’s deserted sewing room (where I thought for a moment she’d teach him how to make better clothes, LOL) and Aoi lays out an aggressive plan composed of large, medium, and small goals. The primary goal is “to be as satisfied with offline life” as she is.

Fumiya can see by the structure of the plan that it’s not all that different from how he trains for Tackfam, a realization Aoi was both counting on and appreciates as it will save some explanation time. She’s already given him a facemask behind which he must constantly smile behind in order to improve his expression (this leads to an awkward scene with his imouto, who asks him not to be more creepy than he already is).

But like Nakiri Erina, Aoi has no intention of going easy on Fumiya offline, considering she knows the effort he’s capable of online. He must acquire a girlfriend before starting his third year. Before that, he must get a third party to notice his appearance/vibe has improved, which has already started with the smiling training, but also means he must actually talk to at least three girls at school.

That’s no mean feat for a bottom-tier character in a game he’s barely played to this point, but part of improving one’s character involves occasional stumbling and getting ones ass kicked (figuratively, of course). I notice there are four girls in the middle ground of the promo art, so I imagine Fumiya will start with one of them. So begins a long, fraught, but hopefully rewarding journey towards not thinking life is a garbage game. And as you can tell by how many damn words I’ve written about it, I’m game!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 07 – Ragnarok Salt in the Wound

Programming Note: Our other Cute Girls Battling Things show, Assault Lily: Bouquet, took the week off, so its episode 07 will air next week.—Hannah

Warlords of Sigrdrifa is not fucking around with the drama.

As soon as we open on the battle in progress both within and without the Primary Pillar, it’s clear everyone is in over their heads, and this battle was far more desperate and last-ditch than I initially imagined. You can see the weight of all those kids’ lives on Satomi’s shoulders, while General Okita adopts a Shinji Gendo/Oigakkosan pose.

There are two things inside the Pillar their forces didn’t expect and aren’t quite equipped to deal with: the seemingly undead fallen Valkyries like Jinguugi and Sakura piloting black Hero Wings who are just as skilled as they were when alive but are now the damn enemy, and the gigantic Thor guy against whom bullets are useless and the Hero Cannon only makes him mad.

Amidst all the ensuing chaos, second-string pilots Kurumi and Moe (call ’em the Biggs and Wedge of this episode) end up drifting into the Pillar, where they have no business being. Not that it’s any safer outside, with Thor’s bellow calling every Secondary in Japan to Fuji. Okita orders a full retreat and evacuation, but Sonoka wants to help Kurumi and Moe like Claudia and the European Valkyries.

Yayoi tells her that’s the prerogative of a Named and she should obey the order to flee. Sono suspects Yayoi is going to leave her behind like she did before, but in doing so she almost proves why she shouldn’t even be in a cockpit in her present state, as she’s hit bad by one of the black Hero Wings, losing both one of her landing pontoons and consciousness.

Just as Okita tries to ask Odin about Thor (who says it’s “too soon” to answer), Thor fires up his mighty hammer Mjolnir, which fires a massive green beam of destruction that takes out most of the air base and command center, and any unfortunate souls who were in the line of fire.

Sonoka wakes up in a field hospital bed surrounded by her three comrades and Yayoi. Satomi also arrives with the three-girl operations team; they were able to evacuate before the beam destroyed Fuji’s control tower. Okita’s final order was for them to regroup at an auxiliary site. As for Odin, he’s “missing”…but something tells me while the humans consider this a total defeat, for him, everything went according to plan.

Then Yayoi asks for privacy with Sonoka, and tells her that there are still comrades left behind in the Pillar, and she’s going back in to rescue them. I fail to see how Satomi sanctioned such a clearly suicidal operation considering how few viable forces remain, but Yayoi is a Named, which apparently gives her free reign to sortie at her pleasure.

After kinda-sorta making up with Sonoka, she takes her locket containing the photo of their old unit, then gives Sono her Safe Flying Charm to hold on to, and promises to return, even if she’s shot down. Claudia, Azu and Miku join the rest of the remaining forces in rendering formal honors to send off Yayoi and her escort, who toast to good luck with a shot of Satomi’s good booze.

Then Yayoi heads into the hornet’s nest, and at that point I thought we wouldn’t learn their fate until next week at the earliest. Instead, we learn immediately: Yayoi doesn’t make it back, and neither do her escorts. Instead it’s just Lizbet who limps home in her barely-functioning Hero Wing. She gives Sono the locket back, saying it’s all she could bring back.

So four went in, and only one came back…another defeat. Strategically it could be a wash with one Named going in and one coming out, but Lizbet’s eye one bit; she may not be the same pilot anymore. So humans face an even more uphill battle, and there seems to be no end to Sonoka’s despair and suffering. She wasn’t in the right mind to fly earlier, she certainly isn’t now, but there may not be a choice. Whatever their next move, every last Valkyrie will be needed.

After that gut-wrenching ending and the solemn end credits, we’re treated to the usual goofy upbeat preview music and the return of the nearly-naked manly men. Talk about tonal whiplash! That aside, this was a wonderfully tense and dramatic outing that didn’t let any of the characters off easy. Will Yayoi end up keeping her promise of returning even if she’s shot down? Can the humans scrounge together some kind of win from these ruins? Whither Odin? Stay tuned…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Day I Became a God – 05 – Letting the Spell Land

Last week, many a viewer not well-versed in the minutiae of mahjong (such as myself) struggled to keep up with the onslaught of game rules and terminology, even as we were eminently entertained by the spectacle. This week mostly dispenses with the comedy and bombast to tell a far more accessible, relatable, and straightforward tale: how we deal with loss.

Izanami Kyouko’s mother is dead. She’s been dead for ten years, and ever since her death, Kyouko and her father have been different people. The loss of their mother and wife left such a gaping void in their lives, they couldn’t possibly fathom how to fill it. Rather than moving forward with their lives, they both remained more or less stagnant.

When Youta and Hina learn that Izanami’s father has barely left their house since his wife’s passing, and with only twelve days left till the end of the world, Hina has Youta lure him out onto the town with them under the pretense of helping find a gift for Kyouko’s approaching birthday.

While Youta and Hina are with Papa Iza, he marvels at a “future” in which curry is white, and they go on a culinary journey composed exclusively of cheese. Ultimately they learn that Kyouko’s mom left video messages for her and her father, but he hasn’t told Izanami about them nor shown them to her, no doubt terrified of how she might react to them.

Youta agrees not to tell Kyouko about the messages, but Pops didn’t say anything about Hina telling by means of a magical smartphone that enables Kyouko’s dead mother to speak with her. It’s actually Hina speaking with Kyouko’s mother’s voice, and just hearing that voice brightens Kyouko’s face and her day.

Hina is confident Kyouko’s knowledge of the videos will “shake things up” for her and her father…and she’s not wrong! Both Kyouko and her dad sit entranced when her mom appears on the screen, providing messages for her birthdays from age seven through eighteen. Her main message is for the two of them to buck up, “forget” about her, and destroy the video.

Back then, when she was near death, she was pleading for her daughter and husband to move forward without her…because they were without her, and there’s nothing any of them could do to change that. She stages it as a magic trick, complete with hat and wand, and Kyouko is indeed enchanted, compelled to abide by her mother’s final wish…for her daughter and husband to be happy.

As the gorgeous, heartbreaking, utterly devastating sequence during end credits deftly illustrate, they certainly were happy with her…they just have to learn to be happy without her. I can’t remember something making me cry this much since the infamous life sequence from Pixar’s Up—or hell, probably some other Maeda Jun work(s)! This was the Goddamn Tearjerker I’ve been expecting…and it’s probably only the beginning.

Again, thanks to Hina, Youta arrives at the cusp of a romantic breakthrough, this time with his childhood friend and longtime crush. Kyouko arrives at his door short of breath, her heart having rushed ahead of her head, to thank him for the magic phone call. Alas, Youta doesn’t feel right cashing in on what he considers “cheating” by Hina to bring them closer. But with just eleven days left till the end, he’ll soon find himself bereft of such precious opportunities.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

Saekano the Movie: Finale – Where Scenario Ends and Reality Begins

It’s been three years since Saekano Flat, and to be honest I haven’t kept up with news about a continuation of the story. All I know is I wanted to see it end happily with Tomoya and Megumi as a couple, and however it did that was fine. So imagine my surprise and delight upon learning a full-length movie would wrap everything up!

We pick up where Flat left off: Eriri and Utaha working on Fields Chronicle with Kosaka Akane at Mazuru; while Tomoya, Megumi, Michiru and Izumi work on Blessing Software’s next game: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend. At an after-party for Icy Tail’s first solo performance, the two Blessing Defectors show up to support their friends, but their boss Kosaka inserts herself into the festivities to berate their work and force them to redo it.

Tomoya and Megumi aren’t really a couple yet, but they might as well be. Not coincidentally, Tomoya is in a slump with regards to writing the scene in which the protagonist confesses to the main heroine. He seeks Utaha for help, but runs into Kosaka first. Kosaka laughs at his story at first, but encourages him to embrace his inner deluded otaku and “masturbate more”—literarily speaking, of course…

Around midnight before their senior year begins, Tomoya runs by his Kosaka-inspired rewrites to Megumi. The two aren’t just on the phone for hours anymore, but Skype, face to face. It’s always been so lovely to watch these two simply working together like this while also dropping hints about how they feel about one another.

While Tomoya is determined to keep a crucial scene despite Megumi’s misgivings, he obviously wants her take on the main heroine, because she’s his main heroine. No big hug or crying fit is necessary, an ordinary event is sufficient to raising her flag. Before falling asleep to his typing, well past 3 AM, Megumi and Tomoya decide that because the game’s couple will be on first-name basis from this point on, they should do the same thing.

The next day at school, Izumi is about to greet Tomoya and Megumi, but sees how close they are and doesn’t interrupt (Eriri does though, not reading the room at all). The two then decide to act out a scene at the train station where they hold hands, and by God, the way those hands are animated—so subtle and gentle and loving.

Tomoya plans another “scouting” trip to Ikebukuro for them to “gather material”, on a day he knows to be Megumi’s birthday. When she asks if that’s all they’ll be doing, he initially puts the onus on her to say what she wants, then asks her if it’s okay if it’s about more than that, she says it is; that any reason will do. Then she notes that she’s not responsible for “what might happen”, before abruptly hanging up.

Their mutual realization they were about to go on a date for her birthday, not as mere colleagues working on a game, but as a couple taking the next step, is priceless to behold. I got so caught up in the buildup of anticipation and excitement to that magical day, I forgot how much movie was left. The day arrives, Megumi is at the meeting spot in the same outfit that first inspired Tomoya, only for him to call and tell her he can’t make it.

It was like a door in my chest opened up and my heart just fell on to the floor with a gruesome splat. Thankfully, he didn’t stand her up because he chickened out, but due to circumstances outside his control. Kosaka Akane had a stroke, and since she wasn’t carrying any ID, Tomoya’s card was the closest thing to an emergency contact.

This development angered me at first because it’s precisely the kind of dramatic twist he was trying to avoid for the Main Heroine route. Due to the stroke, Kosaka can’t currently use her right hand. Utaha tries to get Tomoya not to worry about them by saying her and Eriri’s work is mostly done, but Eriri doesn’t pick up on what Utaha is trying to do, and tells Tomoya the truth: they have no idea what this means for Fields Chronicle.

With Kosaka’s old friend Iori and Utaha’s manager stepping up to fill in while she recuperates, Tomoya initially volunteers to take over Iori’s promoting and negotiating roles for Blessing, but Megumi takes that on instead, insisting he need to have his undivided attention on the scenario. Megumi accepted Tomoya’s explanation and apology, but being stood up on your birthday by the guy you love is hard blow that’s left her weary.

Turns out she has good reason to be. Iori reports back to Tomoya with some dire news: even before Kosaka’s stroke, Fields Chronicle was over a month behind schedule. Kosaka prioritized the rapid artistic growth over finishing the game on time. Now the company is prepared to make deep cuts to both story and characters in order to get something to market without further delay.

This would obviously be an intolerable compromise for Utaha and Eriri, but they both know they can’t be the ones to try to argue their case to the company. They need someone who can go to the plate and negotiate, plead, and even get on his knees and passionately beg when logical arguments fail. And there’s just one person like that who knows and believes in their work. So they make the call.

Tomoya and Megumi meet up and sit on the same bench where they tenderly held hands and blushed, only for Megumi to deduce he’s going to Osaka to help Utaha and Eriri with their game. Tomoya cites how this is Utaha and Eriri’s best and possibly only chance at achieving true greatness and living up to their potential, and he can’t stand by and let their dreams be crushed.

But Megumi points out that he’s putting those dreams and that game ahead of their dreams and their game. Unable to hold back tears, she tells Tomoya that she can’t be his main heroine anymore, and boards the next train. But Tomoyo presses on for Osaka, and eventually makes some real progress, extending their deadline and sacrificing two characters so they don’t have to eliminate five. He sends Megumi texts, but she doesn’t reply. Why should she?

With their writer and leader gone, Blessing is on hold as far as Megumi is concerned. She’s also so rightfully angry at Tomoya her heart just isn’t in it…but Michiru and Izumi eventually get her to take up the mantle of their new leader, doing what they can do in Tomoya’s stead.

Indeed, Michiru and Izumi become a lot more assertive in telling Megumi they know she and Tomoya have been dating and are now fighting. Megumi rejects their idle gossip, but something fishy is going on: Izumi is drawing Megumi during her anguish, while Iori is typing on the other end of Izumi’s Bluetooth.

Utaha and Eriri end up completing their work, but rather than celebrate, Tomoya heads home at once. After he leaves, the girls remember what they agreed on before asking Tomoya to help: that in return, they’d help him finish his game and help him make up with Megumi. This meant letting go of Tomoya as a potential romantic partner for good and letting Megumi win.

While Tomoya was in Osaka, every minute he wasn’t helping Utaha and Eriri with their game, he was still writing the scenario for his, while at the same time penning a lengthy letter attempting to describe his feelings for Megumi. When he returns home she’s waiting on his stoop, his letter in her inbox, which she describes as “disgusting”.

Megumi wants to be mad at Tomoya and doesn’t want to forgive him for what he did, but she also “doesn’t care” about any of that, because what’s most important is that she loves him. That’s why she brushes his hand away once, but not twice. The second time she keeps their hands locked, and then Tomoya beats her to it by confessing first.

Tomoya loves his 2D Main Heroine, but he loves the 3D Katou Megumi most. When she asks why, he says it isn’t out of admiration, obsession, or obligation. He’s perfectly frank in telling her she seemed more in his league as a partner than the dazzling, infinitely more talented Utaha or Eriri. Only with Megumi can he feel and act like himself and tell her what he’s really feeling.

One would think Megumi should be insulted by Tomoya’s rationale for choosing her. But in a continuation of her monologue to Michiru and Izumi, she confesses that she wants Tomoya to be hers and no one else’s. Because there’s no drama, like the other girls. Because they’re so wonderfully “normal” together. So Tomoya’s explanation passes muster.

Soon the two are locked in a hug, and when Megumi’s eyes are closed, after some hesitation Tomoya kisses her. She wasn’t quite ready, so she kisses him in turn. Finally, the two count down to have a perfectly timed third kiss. This was one of the best anime first kiss(es) scenes I’ve ever seen.

Kosaka recovers, thanking Tomoya for his help while she was out of commission and offering to read his work (and skewer it viciously) anytime. Tomoya incorporates the details of his and Megumi’s real-life mutual confession into the game and Izumi creates more art for it.

Eriri and Utaha arrive to help out and immediately insert their strong personalities into the project with abandon. When Eriri takes a break, Tomoya follows her out to apologize for…well, everything, but most importantly for what he doesn’t explicitly state: not choosing her. She takes it as well as she could be expected to, asking before heading back whether Tomoya loved her ten years ago.

Eriri then joins Megumi for a bath and briefly waterboards her in frustration, not just that she lost, but that Megumi loved Tomoya so much they made up and started dating before Eriri or Utaha could arrive to help them. After the whole gang pulls a near-all-nighter to complete the game, the two girls tuck everyone in and head out, vowing to keep running together so he can’t catch up, knowing he’ll keep chasing them regardless.

The day of Comiket arrives, and Tomoya and Megumi head to the venue hand in hand like the couple they are. Tomoya wonders if 2,000 copies was too many to print, but they sell every one, validating their hard work as well as the inspiration Megumi provided.

Tomoya and Megumi graduate from high school and return to the spot where they first met, with Megumi in her now-iconic red sweater and white cap and skirt. Roll credits!

After the credits we jump forward what looks like a couple if not a few years. Megumi is suggesting to an overworked Tomoya that they break up, since he’s stuck at his sales job so much they hardly ever see each other, and in any case suspects he still carries a flame for a certain someone. Tomoya has given up on his dreams, and while Iori hasn’t, he’s now a penniless delusional vagrant.

Just when I thought we’d reached Saekano’s “Bad Ending”, Tomoya suddenly encounters a short-haired Utaha by the waterfront, the music rises, and she’s about to start singing when Eriri snaps us out of it; this was just the visualization of a spec script for a new game half-jokingly written by Utaha. The two are in a meeting with Iori and a Tomoya who is very much living the dream of being. Glorious fake-out!

He is the president and Megumi the vice president of Blessing, now an established and successful game company. Utaha’s script hit Tomoya hard, though, so he hugs Megumi when he sees her next, and asks her to reassure him she’s not going anywhere. Of course, she does, but when Tomoya leans in to kiss, she wants to save it for when they get home.

Unfortunately, they are unable to bone when they get home, because their apartment is suddenly overrun by the talent: not just Michiru and Izumi, but Utaha and Eriri have also shown up for their first sleepover meeting in years. Tomoya and Megumi take the intrusion in stride, but Megumi makes sure to steal a kiss, in the process revealing he put a ring on it. Good lad! The six friends gather around the table for a toast to another hit from Blessing, and the curtain finally falls for good on the movie, and on Saekano.

Until I sunk my teeth into this movie, I didn’t realize how much I missed the show’s great mix of comedy, romance, drama, artistry and extremely effective fanservice. I could hardly have asked for a better, more satisfying ending than the one we got.

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 01 (First Impressions) – Just a Simple Fruit Vendor

In an Ikebukuro full of rival gangs like the G-Boys, Majima Makoto is a neutral mediator to whom anyone can come with a problem to solve. Thus he is one of the people helping to maintain a delicate balance in the town and keep it from descending into violence.

I’ve been to Ikebukuro, and perhaps due to watching a lot of Durarara!! prior to visiting, I got a very cozy, familiar feeling walking its streets. But aside from the Sunshine 60 building’s super-fast elevator, there’s nothing all that flashy about the town. It’s most prominent feature is a 600-foot…incinerator chimney.

Like the town where it’s set, IWGP is similarly restrained, un-flashy and ordinary. After a more theatrical cold open in which G-Boys leader Takashi is on a literal stage knocking out a junkie his gang has surrounded, things unfold relatively straightforward manner.

Takashi visits his old friend Makoto (who runs a fruit stand with his mom), and presents him with the 12-year-old Kurashina Mion, who tried to burn a whole building down because it was the hideout of a drug addict who hit her mom with a car. He’s hopeful Makoto can get Mion justice without violence.

Practically speaking, Makoto’s case is composed of a number of sit-down meetings in restaurants. That’s not very interesting, but it gradually emerges both to us and to an initially skeptical Mion that Makoto knows everybody who’s anybody in Ikebukuro, from gang higher-ups to cops, making him the best person to help her.

The fact Mion insists on tagging along even when Makoto cases a suspicious smoke shop, leading to her panicking and smashing a jar of “high grade herbs” and resulting in a chase. It’s here where Makoto’s encyclopedic knowledge of his town and its rooftops comes in handy, as he makes sure Mion can manage their escape route.

Makoto naturally also knows a super-hacker rather embarrassingly named Zero One, and once he gets the leads he needs from the official police, he relies on Zero and Takashi’s G-Boys to help stake out the smoke shop owner’s various properties.

Once they learn he’s almost certainly dealing illegal drugs, Makoto and Takashi discover the apartment is a marijuana-filled grow-house and drug lab. It’s here where I must assume that weed is still illegal in Japan (in many U.S. states you buy it legally for medical or recreational use), and that there are harder drugs than weed being made/sold by these guys.

Mion sticks her neck out to delay the smoke shop clerk from discovering Makoto and Takashi in the apartment. The clerk chases her down and nabs her, but Makoto comes to her rescue by delivering a devastating kick. It’s clear he prefers to avoid violence unless absolutely necessary, which makes sense as this is not a “stylized” version of Ikebukuro or Japan where anything goes.

In the end the bad guys are arrested for their illegal deeds, and Mion’s mom is released from the hospital with a clean bill of health. In the titular Ikebukuro West Gate Park, Mion thanks Makoto while introducing her mom. Thanks to him she knows that “some grown-ups are cool” and that she wouldn’t mind if someone like him was her dad.

Makoto and Takashi are confident the drug bust won’t come back on them since no one knows they’re involved…but their assumption is incorrect: someone is watching them, so there may be consequences that may threaten Makoto’s neutral status in the near future.

IWGP isn’t a show that will dazzle with its visuals, over-the-top action, or outrageous characters. It looks like it aims to be a more down-to-earth and realistic version of Durarara!! in which we’re presented with a complex tapestry of relationships and loyalties, with Makoto in the middle.

It’s a show with a quiet, confident competence. If that sounds like “boring”, it might be for some. But I for one enjoyed its relative subtlety and nuance, and will be back next week for more.

Fruits Basket – 30 (S2 05) – Mystery Date

This week we learn about Arisa’s meet cute at the konbini where she works, in which a man drops a stack of bags of chips in the exact same manner Tooru dropped a stack of printouts when Arisa first met her. The similarity makes Arisa laugh, and her laugh intrigues the man, whose face we don’t see. But it’s obvious this won’t be the end of things between them.

Summer Break has begun, and Tooru is determined to spend it having as much possible with her friends as possible. So when Momiji springs a trip to a haunted house on her, she’s determined to power through the fear. Things don’t go so well at first as she screams in bloody horror over everything. Yuki and Kyou are at a loss, but Haruhatsu exploits her empathy by giving the various scary people tragic stories, and Tooru’s fear soon evaporates.

While Haru’s weirdly convincing sappy story was pretty funny, the haunted house trip is fun but not vital, unlike Arisa’s adventure in romance, which redeems what had been a meh episode (by high Furuba standards). While on break form her cafe job she spots the man from the konbini and runs him down. He buys her lunch as thanks for her help, and tells her that despite being 26 (nine years older than her) he’d never been in a konbini before.

He goes and says something about how such trips were “unnecessary”, and a pissed-off Arisa storms off, because it sure sounds like he thinks she’s unnecessary! But she openly admits she looked forward to seeing him way more than she initially thought. This time he chases her down and apologizes, telling her he feels the same way, drawing her close as if to kiss her, then pulling away and taking his leave.

It’s certainly an charming enchanting encounter…or at least it would be if I wasn’t 1000% sure from the start that Koreno is a member of the Souma clan, and thus probably not someone Arisa should get further involved with (especially when we see him meeting with Akito at episode’s end). Then again, someone could say the same of Tooru or any of her suitors!

For her part, Arisa considers the ball now fully in his court for any potential future interactions. I hope she’s not just putting up a front for Saki, but I also know that it’s highly unlikely the book on these two is closed for good. Will her heart stir her to seek him out again, or will her joyous laugh prove too captivating to avoid…even if he faces consequences?

Vinland Saga – 24 (Fin) – The Prelude Hath Ended

I tell you, gentle reader, I was not ready for the epic-ness this episode dished out, nor the way it completely exploded my idea of where I thought this show might be headed in a rhetorical second season. But I don’t watch shows to have my feeble theories proven right; I watch to be entertained and surprised, which I very much was. Though in hindsight, it was folly not to expect absolutely anything from Askeladd.

Last week we saw Askeladd dreading the corner into which he’d been pushed. On one hand, he must make nice with King Sweyn in order to keep the longer-term plans for Canute’s ascent viable. On the other, Sweyn seems to have deduced Askeladd’s Kryptonite to be Wales, and aims to mercilessly exploit that weakness.

Sweyn entertains Askeladd’s boldness after he attempts to dissuade the king with logic: Wales just isn’t worth it. But in exchange for his lenience, he draws in close to Askeladd and gives him a choice: Canute or Wales. He can only save one. Sweyn twists the knife by telling Askeladd the only good export from Wales is slaves.

Out at the port, Thorfinn boards Leif’s ship—the very same ship he dreamed of boarding as a boy so he could join Erikson on his adventures hither and thither. Finally he’s been given permission to embark, but Thorfinn’s attention is captured by a seabird preening then taking flight into the bright blue sky.

It almost looks like a metaphor for Thorfinn’s present state of freedom and potential for more, but it turns out to be an omen. The bird isn’t his freedom, but the lodestar to which he’s hitched his wagon these past eleven years, about to take off without him. Thorfinn suddenly vanishes from the ship, to Leif’s unyielding dismay.

Let it be said that Askeladd is, as Thorkell puts it, “good with words.” It’s why he had his own loyal army for so long, and why he’s able to openly question the king’s judgment.  But he’s always had deep thoughts to match behind those words, as well as decisive action to back them up. But had thought long and hard for a scenario in which Sweyn would make him choose between his homeland and his chosen heir to the throne?

Hard, perhaps; long, hard to say. “Plan B” happens in a hurry, because Askeladd would never get as good a chance as he had in that moment. So he draws his sword and beheads Sweyn with one swipe before the guards can come near. If he and Sweyn were playing chess, this is Ashy flipping the board and letting the pieces clatter on the ground in chaos. He also reveals his true birth name, Lucius Artorius Castus, offering it as proof he is the rightful King of England.

Askeladd, to most in the hall, appears to have gone quite mad, and the extremity of his rambling continues as he carves through the guards, who it is notable to mention follow orders from Prince Canute. Askeladd isn’t really mad at all; he simply surveyed the board and knew he wouldn’t win without sacrifice. When Canute tells Thorkell of Askeladd’s “act”, Thorkell makes it clear that it must be Canute who executes his father’s murderer.

Canute manages to do so, plunging his sword into Askeladd’s heart, impressing the old man with the precision of his first killing strike. Thorfinn is too late to stop it. The plans surrounding who will rule the Danes and England proved too large and important to pay any bother to his personal vendetta, something that had gone on so long it had soured into a pathetic futility; a source of pathos, not fear.

When a stunned Thorfinn suddenly lashes out at Canute, cutting his perfect cheek, the new king’s loyal subjects line up to kill his would-be assassin. But Canute interrupts their attempts to win favor with the new boss; Thorfinn still isn’t that important. Canute immediately cancels any incursions into Wales, and as everyone assembled bends the knee, he orders his armies to prepare for English revolts in the wake of his father’s death.

The conquered must be made to understand that the new king has no intention of giving up what has been taken. Thorfinn could potentially have a part in that, thanks only to Canute’s surpassing charity, which saved his life. It would be too easy to say Canute did a disservice to Thorfinn, even if the kid’s life has never looked bleaker.

There he sits, beside the fresh corpse of his surrogate father and nemesis, unable and even possibly incapable of even considering how he’ll live the next five minutes, let alone the remaining years of his life. Before he dies, Askeladd begged Thorfinn not to let himself get stuck in “such a boring place” as he currently inhabits.

As he’s carried away, Thors’ dagger falls out of his son’s hand, the past twenty-four episodes of Vinland Saga thus far rapidly unfold, reflected in the blade. Then we’re teased with new locations and new characters, but no explicit announcement of a second season. While it seems highly likely one is coming, questions abound: Will Thorfinn be a part of it, or will his story conclude in an upcoming film?

Whatever the case, this finale was a brilliant culmination of the events that have unfolded thus far, with the stories of old players like Sweyn and Askeladd coming to a close and the stories of young players like Thorfinn and Canute still up in the air. More than anything, it left me wanting more, and hoping to get it as soon as possible. After all, if such a tremendous work was merely the prologue, how does that bode for the story proper?

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 10 – Maiden Abyss

God, where do I even start? I knew I’d be navigating an emotional minefield with a show like this, but in the spirit of one of this episode’s themes, the difference between thinking you know something and actually experiencing it in the moment is as vast as, well, the holes that threaten to swallow up every single character. Certainly far larger than the holes in the sexy underwear Kazusa is investigating on her phone.

Rika just happens to be hanging out with Amagi across the park where Hitoha gets picked up by Milo-sensei. Rika finds Hitoha’s underwear in the trash, freaks out for a minute, then calls a cab to follow them and hopefully save Hitoha and/or Milo from themselves/each other. She’s acting as a good friend would: as best she can with what little, highly concerning information she has.

Meanwhile, after all the hard work he did finding porn not set aboard trains, Niina has likely well and truly ruined them for him as anything pure and innocent, what with her placing his hand on her bum and keeping it there. Izumi pulls away and exits the train, but Niina follows him and demands to know why he’s going so far to refuse her.

Since he asked for advice, Niina offers to let him practice doing it on her. With all of her (not always consciously) honed powers of seduction in overdrive, she asks him straight up if he wants to do it with her, and he rejects her again, but not in the most convincing way.

Before leaving on the next train, Niina passes by and takes note of how hard he was—which is, of course, ludicrous: the hardness of one’s dick and one’s desire to sleep with someone are not the same thing at all. If Niina can’t ever get Izumi to love her like he loves Kazusa, she’ll do everything she can to make him desire her. She’s determined to kill that virginity of hers, and at the moment she has eyes only for him.

Momo plays Street Fighter alone in an empty arcade, and as she watches Chun Li get mercilessly wailed on by Ryu, she comes to a realization that had probably been gestating in her head and heart for some time. She texts Niina, asking to meet up and talk. Just then, Satoshi, a name I rather naively didn’t think I’d have to type again, texts her asking to meet up and talk.

Last week the window (or rather “hole”) seemed to be closing fast for Yamagishi-sensei to put a stop to a situation that, while not strictly illegal in Japan, is still a very bad idea for both parties involved. While yes, he picked up Hitoha, there’s still a possibility he’s just trying to scare her straight by only taking things so far.

Little does he know as he’s driving Hitoha is planning exactly what she’s going to do when they hit a red light: grab Milo’s hand and put it in her. It’s a bold plan to be sure, one I’m not sure she would have actually done, but we’ll never know, because they don’t hit another red light. Instead, Milo pulls in to a love hotel…the cheapest, seediest, least sexy love hotel he could find.

Rika arrives at the love hotel district, but there Hitoha’s trail goes cold, and Amagi really doesn’t want to hang around such a place, as it’s making him think and feel weird things when he’s committed to treating Rika right, a sentiment that makes her swoon when he expresses it.

To our unending relief, we finally learn definitively through his inner monologue that Milo has no intention whatsoever of going through with anything in that dingy lovenest, but makes the mistake of letting Hitoha go off to the bathroom (even more awful than the bedroom! They nailed the details on this shithole) to steel herself up, desperately swiping webpages on what to do in this situation.

She bursts out of the bathroom pounces on Milo, positions herself over his crotch, and starts unbuckling his belt and unzipping. Suddenly, a very stunned Milo has lost control of the situation. Hitoha is just as stunned, but feels if she’s gone this far there’s nowhere to go but forward.

But, once the zipper is down, and there’s no erection, Hitoha gives up and starts to cry, assuming it’s because she’s so “disgusting” to him. Always so condescending and rude in so many of their interactions, Milo drops that act, gently places his hand atop her head and tells her she’s wrong; this isn’t happening not because she’s ugly, but because he’s a coward.

As she cries in his arms, I breathe another sigh of relief. In the end, Yamagishi was the adult here, recognizing he had to to preserve her pride, and the best way to do that was to abandon his own for her sake. That may not satisfy or comfort her in the long run, but it stopped something very bad from happening for the wrong reasons.

Then comes an exchange I wish we didn’t have to witness, because it’s just so hard to watch and so gosh-darn realistic. Satoshi, “The Nice Guy,” didn’t take too kindly to being embarrassed in front of his friends at the cultural festival. He accuses Momo of leading him on, calls her a slut, and demands an apology lest he make it impossible for her to come back to cram school.

Momo isn’t apologizing, and she’s not going back to cram school either, and that’s that. But as she walks away, Satoshi grabs her arm, because he’s not done with her yet. She’s not showing him proper respect, you see? For that, Momo cries out so all the passersby can hear, and naturally Satoshi calls her weird and crazy and scurries off. What an apocalyptic boob. Maybe don’t grab girls who couldn’t be less interested in you and are trying to walk away, brah!

As Niina walks around the same district where we’ve already seen Rika, Amagi, Hitoha and Milo, she thinks about how she always, always gets comments and cat calls whenever she walks down this street…until now. It’s as if Izumi’s rejection of her has marked her as some kind of hideous creature from which all ment will keep their distance.

After years being looked at the wrong way, suddenly she no longer feels the attention…and she’s not feeling so great…like withdrawal from a drug you were forced to take. Then Momo calls her, again asking to meet up. After being touched by a guy, Momo wants Niina to touch her, to “purify” her, because she’s in love with her.

No longer feeling waves of desire from men in her radius, suddenly Niina is confronted by a woman, stating in no uncertain terms she wants to be touched by her. Niina isn’t sure how to respond, so she apologizes and ends the call.

And that, inexorably, brings is to Miss Smartphone Sexy Underwear Shopper. Kazusa is in a wonderful little bubble of bliss, as she has been ever since she and Izumi became a couple. That bubble only grows larger when Izumi gives her a quick “just calling to say I love you” call from the station where he’s still processing what happened with Niina.

It’s clear with this call Izumi is trying both to assuage the measure of guilt he feels and ease the swirling of confusing thoughts in his head by reiterating his feelings to Kazusa, clearly, out loud. He’s a mess, and the call does little to fix that.

After the call, Kazusa beams like we’ve never seen her before, then continues her underwear shopping. In voice-over, she states that at that time she had no idea what vast and widening holes her friends were staring down, nor that she’d soon be staring down her own once her blissful bubble inevitably bursts.

The next morning, Izumi can’t even hold hands on their walk to school for some vague fear of “the neighbors.” That last exchange with Niina really did a number on him, huh? Sure looks like it could be the beginning of the end for these two…before so much as a peck on the cheek.

That just leaves us with Rika and Amagi, the one couple that seems to actually, ya know, be okay! Just as Rika is starting to contemplate getting a little closer to him, the teacher (who is, let it be said, shitty for doing this) announces that her friend Sonoe got pregnant and is dropping out of school. As if the previous twenty minutes of carnage weren’t enough, one last savage dagger before the curtain.

I need a drink!

(Of Misery)

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 09 – What Now?

At least, for a little while, we get to experience the pure initial jubilation of Kazusa and Izumi being a couple, meeting outside their adjoining houses, and walking to and from school together. Everything looks brighter and shinier, food smells and tastes better, and Izumi looks cuter to Kazusa’s eyes. They’re very much on cloud nine, but throughout it all there’s the underlying knowledge that it just can’t last.

Rika, too, admits she has changed, as a “victim of love”, but has also learned that boys are far more sensitive and nuanced than she thought, and tells the rest of the club to value them as humans—something only she didn’t do before.

While all five girls were in one way or another “losers,” now suddenly Kazusa and Rika are “winners,” having broken the plane of boy-girl romance, and their subsequent floating on clouds does not go unnoticed by those left behind. As a self-proclaimed “loser” himself, it’s Milo-sensei’s experience that winning stifles the imagination, which suits Hitoha just fine.

You could also say that winners are so busy winning their guards are down. Kazusa buys Niina’s half-hearted congratulations, but what Niina doesn’t tell her is that she’s still considering whether to steal Izumi from her, and if so, how. Momo isn’t okay with that, and promises Niina that losing two friends (her and Kazusa) for one boy isn’t worth it.

Niina begs to differ: after all, saying she can’t have sex with mere friends—something Momo doesn’t seem that sure about.

So as their destruction is plotted, Kazusa and Izumi go about their wonderful glittery romance…only the glitter gives way to awkwardness when they find themselves alone in Izumi’s house together. What’s the next step for them? They have no idea, not just what they want to do, but what the other person wants to do.

They aren’t communicating properly yet, nor have they set boundaries or lack thereof, so they make assumptions, some of which are right, like Izumi sitting beside her. They hold hands together, but they both get hung up on how sweaty their hands are, and then Izumi’s mom comes in and suddenly they’re six feet apart.

Ultimately, they won’t know what they want to do until they try something, and they won’t know what to try with each other until they discuss it. Right now, their deep, ten-year familiarity is clashing with the newness of their boyfriend-girlfriend status, and resulting in a bit of a short-circuit.

Meanwhile, the fact Kasuza is with Izumi and Rika is with Amagi means the lit club is suddenly taking a break, giving the recent festival as an excuse, but let’s not fool ourselves: Momo and Hitoha and especially Niina are only going to sit and listen to Rika and Kazusa talk about how great it is to be dating boys for so long.

So Momo goes home alone, not knowing quite what to do about the rift between Niina and Kazusa. Niina invites Izumi to “ride the train” with him assuming she’s willing to offer advice as a friend. Hitoha ambushes Milo-sensei in the clubroom with an “expose,” and give him an ultimatum: sleep with her, just once, or everyone, including his beloved Tomita-sensei, will find out about all the things he’s said to a high school girl.

While I doubt Hitoha was simply bluffing here, the fact remains, she wasn’t 100% prepared for him to not only say “okay” to an offer of sex, but set a time and place for him to pick her up. Milo is quickly approaching the point of no return, but his feelings for Tomita, and the threat of her knowing how deviant he’s been, are clearly clouding his judgment.

Later, Hitoha waits at the agreed-upon time and place, and gets in when Milo-sensei stops and tells her to, tossing her underwear into a nearby garbage can. No good can come of this!

In a nice bit of synergy, the same book that Rika and her new gal friend Sonoe (with whom she now interacts far more comfortably) bond over in the library is the book Niina presents to Izumi on the train, describing his relationship with Kazusa to the The Little Prince and the one rose on his planet. When he went to earth, he found that roses were commonplace, but a fox told him that the sum of his time and experiences with that first rose make it unique.

Saegusa tells Niina that she’s the fox, saying the words that will lead to the Prince living the rest of his days with that one special rose, while the fox itself is never mentioned again once they part ways. To not be forgotten like the fox in the story, Niina has to make a bold move.

Whether someone was actually touching her bottom on the train once it gets crowded is immaterial; the point is, Niina wanted a situation in which she could tell Izumi to place his hand on her bottom. Not only that, there’s now a record of their exchange on their phones she could potentially use against Kazusa.

So one of Izumi’s hands is sweatily, awkwardly clutching Kazusa’s as the ticking of the clock grows louder and louder, and the other hand is resting on Niina’s bottom, with Niina’s hand guiding and keeping it there. So, as is asked many times in the heads of the characters this week, What Now?

Trouble…that’s what!

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 08 – Where Legends are Made

This week, with the cultural festival as the backdrop, every O Maiden decides they’re going to make a choice that will hopefully ensure them happiness and stability as they move forward.  Naturally, things don’t start out smoothly for anyone.

For Kazusa, it’s deciding to tell Izumi upfront how she feels. As her performance with Niina looms, Kazusa is mindul, and nervous, of the fact that Izumi is about to witness her essentially rehearse her confession to him with Niina on stage.

Momo decides she’s not going to entertain Sugimoto’s vapid attention any longer, something she’s even more sure of when he shows up with two of his friends. When Rika sees another girl flirting with Amagi, she starts to realize they can’t have relationship if she insists on keeping it secret from the world.

Then there’s Niina. She seems the most lost out of everyone, caught between feelings for Saegusa and Izumi, but neither sure what those feelings are or how to act on them. For his part, Izumi is taken aback when she puts her hand on his face, leading to her scurrying off while he struggles to hold three teapots—which I’m sure is a metaphor for something.

Hongou finds her encounters with Milo-sensei almost completely dominated by the presence of the modern Japanese teacher Tomita-sensei, who has clearly taken a liking to Milo. Tomita doesn’t see Hongou as a threat, she sees her as a child and a student, and there’s clearly the sense Milo appreciates having Tomita around, almost as a shield from Hongou’s potential mischief. But any discomfort he has comes out of his refusal thus far to set clear boundaries, a responsibility that’s his and his alone.

While wallowing in the rest area, Rika is joined by Sonoe, and the two get to talking about the latter’s boyfriend. Sonoe, who it should be said is clearly ready to move on from bullying Rika to a conventional friendship between hotties, tells Rika how her thing with her boyfriend was physical at first, but became romantic when she learned he was a nice guy. Also, that it’s only natural to want to show off and be proud of the person they like. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Izumi in the audience would be awkward enough, but Saegusa also joins the crowd, sitting right beside Izumi. Suddenly, it’s a rehearsal for Niina as well as Kazusa, in which to somehow prove to Saegusa that she’s not boring, that despite having become a woman, she can still be unpredictable like a child.

When nobody expects it, and just when Kazusa is starting to get into rhythm with Izumi less of a source of stress and more of a calming presence, Niina flips the script, walks out into the crowd, and puts her hand on Izumi’s chest, shocking everyone there (and no one more than Kazusa), but eliciting an impressed smirk from Saegusa.

Izumi takes Niina by the wrist to talk in private, whipping the crowd into a frenzy as they hoot and applaud what looks to all the world like two lovers shuffling off to be alone. In the moment, it looks like a heel turn for Niina (if you’re an KaZumi shipper, like me).

Izumi is surprised when Niina tells him even she didn’t really know what she was doing, he surmises that it may have been to make Saegusa jealous, and that if she still wants to do that kind of stuff because she still likes Saegusa, he’s willing to help her. The key is, she should focus on what she wants, not how others will see it. A tall task for someone all but defined by observers. But the one thing Izumi can’t see is the real reason Niina reached out to him: she likes him.

As for Kazusa, she also considered the fact that it may be game over for her and Izumi before she even took her shot, but she’s determined to take that shot anyway. Seeing how Niina looked when she touched Izumi clinched it for her: for someone who clearly likes him that much to still support Kazusa, who only ever thought about herself…that’s the person she’d want to be with Izumi, rather than some rando.

Everything comes to a head at the bonfire that concludes the festival. Due to the buzz caused by the performances—no doubt supercharged by Niina’s improvisation—the whole school is aware of the urban legend about standing in the shadow of the one you love, and people are trying it out.

It’s the first time Hongou’s work has reached an audience so large, and the pride in her accomplishment fuels her confidence in wanting to try it out on Milo-sensei. Unfortunately she doesn’t come close to getting a chance; Milo is well away from the bonfire’s flames, chatting with Tomita-sensei.

Rika fares better. Turns out Amagi wasn’t as close to giving up on them as it seemed last week, but Rika goes for broke and confesses to him in front of everyone, telling him she can now see the difference between romance and sexual desire, but more to the point, she doesn’t care anymore about anything other than Amagi knowing she’s in love with him. He responds by hugging her, telling her he’s never been so happy.

Momo was successful in getting Sugimoto to take a hike, but that leaves her alone at the bonfire when everyone else is busy with their respective love interests. Still, you get the feeling she’d rather be alone than have those annoying dudes buzzing around her, so it’s a win for her.

Niina tells Saegusa that she’s decided to let herself “obsess” over someone for the first time, and see where it goes, after a lifetime of keeping her distance. She’s pretty much asserting she has to look out for herself, even if it hurts Kazusa and ends up fruitless, as Izumi just doesn’t see her that way, and has—has always had—someone closer to him.

That brings us to Izumi, who beats Kazusa to the punch and and confesses to her first, moving her to tears of joy and relief. He references that day years ago when he first saw her as a girl, and after all those years of her protecting him, he decided he wanted to protect her too. Big sister, little sister, good friend…she’s been all of those things to him, but now he knows all of those characterizations are reflections of the love he’s always had for her.

The two walk to the riverfront hand-in-hand to admire the cityscape, at peace and happy as clams. So many weights have been lifted on this night, but the smooth sailing will only last so long with four episodes left. Storms lie ahead, and the strength of all of the night’s confessions and rejections place will be vigorously tested. I’m fist-pumpingly happy for Kazusa and Rika, but love and pain do go hand in hand!

Given – 04 and 05 – Roaring to a Stand Still

In a delicious twist, Sato rejects Uecchi’s offer to join the band. Uecchi is utterly befuddled, agitated, and his google-fueled antics put Harkuki and Kaji in hysterics. Perhaps oblivious to the meltdown he has caused, Sato does exactly what he was asked to do and gets a part time job at the live music venue.

When Uecchi finally goes to confront Sato, old friends interrupt and STRONG IMPLY Sato’s guitar belongs to some one very special and very tragically dead…

Thankfully, Uecchi shakes him out of it and demands to hear Sato sing. The following episode is largely dedicated to Uecchi creating a song for Sato to sing and the lead up to their first public gig.

…Also, the episode reveals revealing that Harkuki loves Kaji, that Kaji has a boy friend no one knows about, that Sato is pretty damn good at basket ball, and Uecchi learning that Sato was dating a boy in middle school but that boy may have suddenly killed himself in an extremely tragic way! Appropriate, this last bit of news comes amidst a deafening roar of white noise punctuated by a hard cut to black.

Given remains beautifully rendered, even when it’s being ‘lazy.’ Seriously! The backgrounds and colors and level of unnecessary detail are insane. Episode 5 did take a noticeable dip, but that is to be expected mid season and it didn’t hurt the narrative’s more introspective focus.

I’m really enjoying the idea that Uecchi is the only semi-straight member of the band, yet imperfect knowledge may prevent each member from realizing that. I’m finding it even more interesting to watch Sato, who seems like he’s characterized as having a spectrum disorder in addition to being gay. It makes for some curious takes on his scenes with Uecchi.

Sato strikes me as a sincere representation of a gay male who’s not romantically into the straight male who is pursuing him. He seems aware of that Ueechi may not realize he is even pursuing him, which seems ironically likely since Uecchi resorted to dating advice to get Sato into the band. Now that the sexuality angle is out in the open, we’ll see if Uecchi reconciles with his own obsessive feelings, or if his obsession is purely based in the art of music the way he previously seemed to think it was.