Fate/Extra Last Encore – 08

The fourth level was apparently so uneventful the series skips it altogether, and we end up on the very rainy and somber fifth level, which takes the form of a enormous jumbled mass of skyscrapers. While the ladder to Level Six is in sight (and just an ordinary physical ladder) and there’s no Floor Master, there is a “homicidal maniac” lurking the floor; Julius Harwey, whom Rin remarks was defeated by Saber and her former master.

All of the hope Hakuno seemed to carry with him from the third floor seems to have faded away, and the more Saber discusses her former master (who was a girl), the harder Hakuno is on himself.

Saber, in another one of her warm, caring monologues, tells Hakuno not to worry about doing anything other than what he’s capable of.

True genius, Saber believes, lies not in one’s talents, but by their ability to bear the cruel truth that not everyone is equal; that everyone has their roles and weaknesses. Basically, she wants Hakuno to buck up and keep doing his best.

But once Julius shows up (with either a Berserker or Assassin Servant), Hakuno and Saber are quickly separated, and Saber needs an emergency save by Lancer-Rin. Saber leaves the Servant to Rin so she can return to Hakuno’s side.

Hakuno, meanwhile, is goaded into summoning his Dead Face, but learns that Julius is also a Dead Face…”unable to save anything or save anyone,” beings whose purposes were torn away long ago.

While taking what would be a fatal blow to the midsection were he actually a living human named Kishitani Hakuno, Hakuno enters a dreamlike state where he’s told exactly what he is: an amalgamation of the massive number of  dead, defeated, and failed souls bearing grudges…a mass of hatred brought about by SE.RA.PH.’s long decline.

He is told he ascends “only to kill”, and was born “only to die.” If Hakuno were to take these words at face value and do as Saber recommended, dying would seem to be the only thing he is capable of doing, so he should do that, no?

Regaining consciousness just as Saber and Rin arrive, the battle is lost almost as soon as it resumes, as Julius reveals his Servant kills with a single blow, and Saber received that blow. Hakuno crawls towards the apparently defeated Saber (Julius and the Servant only flee when a giant arm breaks up the battle that was). He’s sure that she’d have been able to win had he been a real Master…even if there aren’t any of those left.

He descends into darkness, accepting everything he was told in his dream about being born from hatred. He allows himself to think for a moment that he might have been Saber’s former Master reincarnated before dismissing it as folly. But he hears Saber’s encouraging voice once more, asking if he really wants to simply give up at this point.

A door appears, and Hakuno walks through it, into a classroom with projector running. Seated beside it is a girl wearing the same uniform as him, who asks him (in Ishikawa Yui’s voice) to take a seat…because “it’s starting.” Very intriguing.


Fate/Extra Last Encore – 07

The fourth level’s part two starts with a flashback—I think—to an Alice wondering where Hakuno went, and in the process of absorbing various objects around her to replenish resources, transforms into a grotesque monster that forces the Masters to flee to lower floors, and killing and eating those that don’t. None of this seems to be anything Alice the Master intended.

Back in the “present”—whatever that even is—Hakuno, Saber, and Rin make their way back to the castle. The phenomenon that sent them back was only a “respawn”, not a time loop; and all parties involved retain their memories of the first attempt.

Rin (flashing an epic Shaft head-tilt) continues to drop hints to Hakuno about Dead Face without coming right out and saying that’s what he is, DFs being humans “rebooted by their grudges”, and Hakuno not knowing what beyond hatred propels him upward.

When Hakuno starts daydreaming of hanging out with Alice, reading to her and playing tag, Amari is also there in some form. When he comes back to reality, he, Saber and Rin face the monster they’re assuming is the Floor Master’s Servant.

Rin puts up a barrier, but the monster sends a hail of scissors at it, shattering it and her. Hakuno manages to spend another command seal, but before the monster is destroyed and the “game” reset, he ends up back in the dream.

There, Hakuno meets Alice in her true form, covered in bandages, lying in a bed, hooked up to all manner of IVs…and dead. The living, walking, talking Alice Hakuno has been interacting with is no more than a dream that dead Alice is watching, and is herself dreaming in Alice’s place, even able to take Amari’s form.

Back at the starting point, after Hakuno washes up and Rin apparently had a bath, they set out once more with Saber, for what Rin hopes will be the third and final time. As they walk through the forest, Hakuno ponders what and where he is: a man with no past and a place where the past has piled up to the point of near-madness.

Hakuno feels of a piece with the place because the hatred that drives him is essentially an obsession with the past; an inability to let something go. Saber tells Hakuno a story of a Master she once had “much like him”, with neither memories nor a wish, aiming to ascend only out of a desire to live on. At Angelica Cage, the highest level, the Master was defeated by “Twice Pieceman.”

Saber’s point, I believe, is that there are no guarantees. If you get to Angelica Cage, you have to beat Twice. If you beat Twice, Moon Cell has to decide to grant your wish. She wants to know if Hakuno will still ascend despite all that uncertainty.

In the dream (and a repeat of last week’s cold open), Hakuno has already won the third round, as Alice conceded the fight by not showing up. He leaves her with the promise he’ll be back once he’s won the Grail. And it certainly seems to be the case that he did return even after failing to win it.

Once back with Saber and Rin, Hakuno acknowledges that he’s no one special; just a fake who made it this far in someone else’s place. But even as a fake, he wants his feelings to be true. His time with Alice in his dreams have spurred him to want to ascend not just with hatred, but with hope.

In the present, however, the Servant still needs to be dealt with, and between Rin seemingly unleashing her trump card—transforming into Lancer, complete with Gae Bolg—and Saber’s coup-de-grace, it feels as much like putting a wretched creature (or ghost, as it were) out of its misery as defeating the floor boss.

It also carries on the Monogatari tradition of lots of discussion punctuated by short, intense bursts of decisive action. On to the fifth level.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 06

The third level, the “Nameless Forest” is a totally different animal than the ones that came before, both in design and purpose. First of all, it’s way trippier, as Shinbo creates a lush and textured wonderland inspired by the aesthetic of the illusory worlds witches created in Madoka.

These bizarre, whimsical surroundings make for a great backdrop as Hakuno, Saber and Rin attempt to find the Floor Master. According to Rin, the third level is the land of dreams where “ghosts” gather, ghosts being souls transferred into information by Moon Cell.

Rin also kinda answers my question from last week, in that Death Face is “something different” from the other ghosts,embodying a “different concept of death.” She also calls it a thousand-year-old legend, apparently unaware that Hakuno is that legend (or feigning ignorance for some reason).

Things get increasingly weird in terms of time and space, with Saber almost instinctively taking Hakuno’s hand to ensure they won’t become separated. Even so, with all off the multi-colored drawers, tanks containing thousands of playing cards, and most concerning, a preponderance of mushrooms, Hakuno eventually finds himself somewhere other than Saber’s side.

That place is in the presence of the Floor Master whom Hakuno says goodbye to in the episode’s cold open; we see his victory and ascent to the fourth level so we know it happens (or happened in the past); it’s a question of how.

This Master is a ghost named Alice, and this wonderland is where she’s been ever since a war that killed everyone else, and after her life of illness was ended by excruciating pain caused by adults in a hospital.

Alice wants nothing more than to have someone like Hakuno to play with forever and ever. Quite suddenly, Hakuno “snaps out of it” and is once again in Saber and Rin’s presence. A vision.

Rin and Hakuno each have one more vision while in the midst of the mushrooms – both involving Amari Misao, their “classmate” in “high school.”

If ghosts are reproductions of people’s states at the moment of death, Amari’s regrets come through strong and clear; both her insufficient strength (which Rin can sense) and when she tried to seek the week to defeat her enemies, only to find there was no one weaker than her.

Having returned from their visions, Hakuno and Rin find signs of a battle, and Saber goes after a shambling, scissors-shooting construction of various objects as if it were like any other opponent. She manages to slash it in two, but the moment she does she and the other two are instantly transported all the way back to where they started, next to the ladder that brought them there. Even time has seemingly reverted.

Rin surmises this is the work of the Noble Phantasm known as “Nursery Rhyme”, which is being used to ensure they keep repeating the same day forever. With such a power, in such a place, being wielded with such a character as the Alice we met, it’s pretty obvious we’re dealing with Caster. Swords and bullets aren’t going to do the trick this time.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 04

So, the pretty new transfer student Shinomoto Akiho is totally the cloaked figure in Sakura’s dreams, right? Someone her same height (and even a similar-sounding name) shows up way too concurrently with the arrival of the cloaked figure in the real world at the tail end of last week’s outing.

If Touya doesn’t let on like he knows anything concrete (for now), he certainly seems to sense Sakura is out of sorts the morning after her disturbing vision of the figure. As for Sakura, she and Tomoyo are bowled over by Akiho’s beauty and eager to make friends with her ASAP.

Whatever, I say, could go wrong here?!

Syaoran certainly seems suspicious of Akiho, even if the others are just as charmed by the newbie as Sakura (then again, remain suspicious of Syaoran…what a tangled web we weaved). Akiho seems singularly invested in making Sakura like her as much as possible, flattering her when they’re alone in the hall, and again when Sakura gets an answer right in class (apparently not a common occurrence!).

After giving that answer, Sakura notices the trees getting up and walking around outside, setting off a series of Sakura’s patented all-purpose catchphrase, HOEHHH! At this point I always look forward to every time she does that, and hearing all the subtle variations on that exclamation. Tange Sakura is a treasure.

It’s Tomoyo to the rescue, having the class believe Sakura is not feeling well. Of course, she also has ulterior motives, and has prepared a Chinese-style costume for Sakura to don during her next card-capturing escapade.

Sadly for her, Tomoyo doesn’t get to film much of the spectacle, as Sakura encloses the runaway trees within Siege, then floods the cube with water from Aqua to immobilize their scampering roots.

Every action sequence thus far in CSS has been a delight to watch, from the novel ways in which Sakura achieves victory, to even the more repetitive elements like her chants and pose-striking (week-to-week variety to which is achieved by the varying costumes).

Her next card, “Action”, thus secured, Sakura takes it to Yukito, whose alter-ego Yue inspects it and concludes that it also seems to lack magical power; it’s all, apparently, in Sakura’s key and staff. The visit gives us the opportunity to see both sides of Yukito/Yue, and learn more about the interesting dynamic he has with Sakura.

Then Syaoran calls, and we’re treated to another heart-melting romantic exchange between the two, with Syaoran accepting Sakura’s offer to make him a lunch sometime, then asking her to call him if anything unusual happens, and Sakura taking it further and asking if she can call him even if it isn’t something unusual.

While Sakura is calling from Yukito’s porch, bathed in gorgeous light of the setting sun, Syaoran is holding the phone at arms length, holed up in the shadows, because he is clearly up to some shadowy shit. He immediately calls Eriol, who isn’t returning Sakura’s calls, and reports on Sakura, Akiho, and the new card, before these words are exchanged:

Eriol: I’m sure it’s hard on you, but this is not the time.
Syaoran: I came here to be ready for that time, when it comes.

All the while, the true mastermind, the dreaded teddy bear, looks knowingly, menacingly on.

I kid, but seriously, what is Syaoran’s deal? Has he been deceiving Sakura with a fake lovey-dovey act (I won’t forgive him), or is there a less sinister explanation, like he’s working in the shadows to protect her? While it’s still a bit too soon to tell, things are not looking good…and that’s not an accident.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 03

The rate of strange magical happenings in Tomoeda increases this week, with Sakura capturing not one but two Clear Cards. The first is a water-element Card called Aqua, which telegraphs its presence to us early on with an unexpected rain that grows heavier and heavier as the day progresses.

School goes on as it pours outside, affording us a look at “indoor lunch”, as well as another demonstration of how Yamazaki and Chiharu’s running bit in which he comes up with bizarre and dubious facts about things, Sakura and Li believe him, and then Chiharu hits and/or scolds him.

Finally, the rain is so heavy Sakura has to respond by releasing her staff, while Tomoyo provides a frog-themed battle suit. Sakura also makes use of her Clear Cards for the first time, using Gale to disperse the rain and Siege to surround and hold its source so she can secure it.

Indeed, it’s as if a Card showed up that specifically required the power of the two Cards she’d already collected to capture. I’m also now versed in Sakura’s trademark lingo, be it “Release”, “Secure”, and her all-purpose exclamation of “HOEHHH!” All good stuff. Also: consistent Battle Music!

When Sakura texts Yuki that she’s gained another Card, her brother Touya is nearby, and lets on that he may know a little about what Sakura and Yuki are up to, and that he himself once gave them power which he doesn’t expect he’ll ever have back.

The next day Sakura and Chiharu get to show the Cheerleading Club what they’re made of, but after stooping down to tie her shoe, Sakura gets up to find every other person at school gone. With nothing attacking her, she releases her staff and goes on the offensive, only to have her Gales either hit nothing or get reflected back.

Eventually, Sakura can see a faint wisp of something racing around, but it’s mostly invisible, so she employs Aqua’s rain to render it visible. Upon securing it, she herself is drenched by the rain she used, but Li races to the rescue and lends her his jacket until she can change.

It’s a cute and heartwarming moment, and it’s nice that every episode has at least one or two such moments (even if Li still seems a bit shady).

Just as Sakura thought she was done with magic for the day, she suddenly loses consciousness and ends up in her recurring dream with Cloaky. This time the figure tries to steal her Key, and when she grabs hold of it she gets pulled along with it, until she’s face to face with them.

Upon waking up, she notes that they’re about the same height, but that’s about all she seems to know. I’m now caught up on CCS:CC, and must now wait until next week like everyone else to see where this goes.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 02

Sakura has a new key, a new staff, and new clear cards, but neither she nor Li can detect any magic emanating from them. Sakura wonders why these kinds of things are happening in Tomoeda again, while Tomoyo is simply disappointed she wasn’t present for Sakura’s first card capture in a while with a fitting outfit or her camcorder.

As much as Sakura wants answers, for the time being there’s not much for it than to continue on with her middle school life, slices of which are wonderfully presented this week without any shoes dropping. Sakura intends to join the cheerleading squad, the girls have art class, and Syaoran is stubbornly non-specific in the “things” he has to “take care of” which preclude him joining any clubs.

Still, just two eps in and I’m a fan of Sakura and Syaoran, because neither try to be in each other’s lives every second of every day. They each have their own stuff going on, and each respects one another’s need and right to be individuals. Pretty enlightened relationship strategy for middle schoolers!


CCS:CC is also full of little life lessons about not worrying too much about things outside your control. Sakura resolves to do what she has to do and put one foot in front of the other every day, and she’ll cross bridges when she comes to them.

One problem that often arises is the need to conceal magical things—like Kero-chan—from her older brother Touya. Kero must be completely still when he’s around—kinda like Hobbes—but Touya can’t help but wonder what’s going on when he sees fruit sauce on Kero’s mouth, and later spots beads of sweat. Amusingly, Sakura employs literal hand-waiving to distract her bro.

After dinner, Tomoyo presents Sakura with a new outfit (the first she’s worn in years, a meta statement referencing how long it’s been since the last CCS series), but no sooner does Sakura don the garb of a magical girl than she, Tomoyo, and Kero suddenly find themselves in a giant white cubic room with no doors or windows, an eerie situation well-sold by both visuals and the soundtrack.

When Sakura and Kero try to touch the walls, they bend out of the way, and before long, the entire cube starts to wobble like Jell-O. Kero deduces the material is similar to rubber, and that they’re inside the equivalent of a giant cubical balloon.

The seamstress Tomoyo, armed with her trusty pincushion, proceeds to pop the cube once Sakura summons her Staff of Dreams to capture another new card: “Siege.” Just like that, the trio are back in Sakura’s room, and have to play things cool when Touya checks in.

Let’s face it, neither of the two challenges Sakura has faced so far have been all that difficult to crack, nor the cards difficult to capture. However, there are still numerous unanswered questions, and while a new dream only adds to them, Sakura’s friend Eriol in England is holding off on contacting her until “the time is right”; presumably not until she captures more clear cards.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 01 (First Impressions)

Why am I seriously considering belatedly picking up a reboot of an 18-year-old anime I never watched and know nothing about? Simple: Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card is gorgeous, massively charming, and surprisingly easy to jump right into.

My knowledge of the franchise is its own “clear card”, and yet Keroberos’ super-abridged intro at the beginning gave me the gist. From there we join Kinomoto Sakura as she starts her middle school life, along with her best friend Daidouji Tomoyo and her boyfriend Syaoran Li, with whom she rather dramatically and beautifully reunites.

All seems well in Sakura’s life, but after she has a startling dream about clear cards, she discovers all of the “Clow Cards” she’d amassed have become clear, blank, and devoid of power, which I imagine could be a problem since the cards are the source of much of her power.

This situation has Sakura reaching out to fellow magically-inclinded friend Yuki (who can transform into an angelic alter-ego) and her friends in England, but no easy answers are forthcoming. Tomoyo tries to distract her from her troubles by assuring her she has no shortage of cute costumes waiting in the wings for Sakura’s future use.

In another trippy dream sequence, Sakura’s cloaked tormentor faces her again, but she’s able to summon a crystal that transforms into a key, much like the one she’s always used to summon her magical staff. The next day, when she and Kero-chan are attacked by sharp gusts of wind, she releases the new staff.

With the staff, she’s able to focus the winds into a captured card of a type she’s never seen before, and just like that she’s back in the card-capturing and mystery-solving business.

CCS:CC features top-notch animation with very satisfying movement and modern special effects, while the retro-inspired character design, voice work, sound effects and music lend an irresistible nostalgic feel. The dialogue is also a nice balance of humor, drama, and romance. In short, I may not know much about the CCS universe, but I definitely like what I’ve seen so far.

Itsudatte Bokura no Koi wa 10 cm Datta. – 06 (Fin)

After much cathartic yelling and crying last week, it’s all gravy as Miou, Haruki, and their friends graduate from high school on a positive, if bittersweet, note.

Miou and Haruki get the time they need alone together and write all their dreams on the chalkboard, emulating the promo art with one important difference: a tiny “I love you” Miou rights just out of Haruki’s sight.

The two also avoid closing that 10cm gap they’ve always had, knowing that if they did, they’d likely never let go. That is, they’d never give each other the time and space to realize their individual dreams. A very mature move by both, and one that pays dividends later on.

Much, much, much later on, as in SEVEN GODDAMN YEARS LATER. Sheesh, what is it with these Fall romances and their huge time jumps? And here I thought Just Because!’s month was a long time!

At any rate, Miou is a mostly content art teacher at her old school, Yuu proposes to Natsuki in one the most adorable scenes of the episode, and even Souta and Akari remain a strong item. Miou’s friends worry about Miou, but Miou said she’d wait for Haruki, and wait she does.

Fortunately, all her waiting doesn’t come to naught, as the moment Haruki wins a rookie director’s award in L.A., he’s on the first plane back to Japan to tell Miou first (though Miou already finds out through Natsuki).

Despite the well-known amount of, er, temptation in the Hollywood scene, Haruki kept his head down the whole time, and was there to work and realize one of his dreams. And he missed Miou as much as she missed him.

At the top of the steps where they always sat 10cm apart as kids, they confess their love as grownups, and finally, mercifully, close that infernal gap with a hand-hold and a smooch. Medetashi medetashi!

And that’s a wrap for Fall 2017! I should hope so; it’s literally Winter now, and frikkin’ freezing to boot. Thanks for reading! We’ll be back in action soon checking out the new shows Winter 2018 has to offer.

Itsudatte Bokura no Koi wa 10 cm Datta. – 05

Just as Miou has come out of her funk and started to work on her painting of love anew, Haruki develops a profound crisis of identity. He stops coming to school snaps at Saku, and decides he won’t be going to America after all, because he’s now convinced filmmaking was his brother’s dream, not his.

Miou pulls out the ol’ “I’ll wait as long as it takes at the usual spot” to draw Haruki out, as when the snow starts coming down, he worries, correctly, that she’ll be standing out in the cold all alone. There, in their usual spot, the two have it out.

While in the moment I was frustrated with how mean Haruki was being, one has to consider how emotionally unmoored he is, as well as frustrated with how Miou wouldn’t talk or even look at him for so long, only to need to talk now.

Haruki really does need to just cool it with the angst and listen, because Miou has to tell him she was the one Chiaki saved, and to apologize for keeping it from him so long, worried he’d hate her.

Haruki is too busy hating himself to hate Miou, but when he starts talking about what an idiot he is to confuse his brother’s dream with his own, Miou gives him the front of her right hand, breaking the 10cm distance in an instant.

She reminds him two brothers can have the same dreams, and that in all her time watching him, she could tell that Haruki’s dream of directing films was his own, and a powerful one at that, so he should really lighten up!

Miou also shows Haruki her recently completed painting, one of a guy and a girl looking out a window in the classroom. I assume it’s meant to be the two of them, and so the painting serves as a kind of confession of sorts for Miou. Haruki is cheered up, and the two head to his place to get out of the cold.

There, after cocoa, Miou remembers she has a DVD Saku told her to watch with Haruki. It is footage recorded right after Chiaki saved the girl Haruki now knows was Miou; Chiaki tells his little brother he’s filming one of the best scenes a director can film: a person’s moment of victory for having achieved something great (in his case, saving Miou).

Young Haruki promises his brother right there that he’ll follow his dream—yes, his dream of directing—making the DVD video evidence that what Miou said to Haruki is true, and he really does love making films. I guess that means he’ll be heading to America after all…which is bittersweet, since it’ll mean being apart from Miou.

Dies Irae – 01

There wasn’t much I liked about Die Irae’s episode 00, and not much reason to continue with it—other than the fact 00 was a prologue and the first “regular” episode might totally different, better, or more promising.

Well, this first episode certainly is different; totally different. We’re now in modern-day Japan, following Fujii Ren, a regular high school kid, around as he’s discharged from the hospital after a fight with his best friend Shirou, who then dropped out of school and ran away.

After almost dying in an epic rooftop fight, Ren’s friend Ayase Kasumi (who he calls BAkasumi) thinks he’d enjoy going to a sword exhibition, but then they come across a rusty guillotine that shouldn’t be there and both of them get freaked out. Ren, in particular, has a vision of a beautiful woman flying out of the guillotine.

He awakens in his room, which we learn Ayase can access at any time from a hole in the wall. Her room, Ren’s, and Shriou’s are connected this way. Ren has another vision in which the blonde woman sings a song about beheading people, then finds himself locked into a guillotine, and his head goes flying with a fountain of blood. When he wakes up screaming, sirens can he heard outside: someone has been murdered…by beheading.

His other female friend Himuro Rea spends a good deal of time teasing Ren before telling him she and someone named Sister Riza saw the body. She mostly wants to make sure Ren’s okay after leaving the hospital.

As much as he may want his high school life to go back to normal, Shirou’s absence, the physical and emotional scars he left, and these sudden visions and real-life murder all conspire to prevent that normalcy from returning, perhaps ever.

Finally tying this episode into the prologue, we begin seeing some of Heydrich’s supermen/women appearing in the city, apparently ready to sacrifice it for the sake of their lord, believing nothing they do, not matter how awful, will be seen as a sin in the eyes of that lord.

So yes, this episode was pretty different from the first. Was it better? Hard to say. It at least fleshed out its characters a little better, but Ren, Kasumi and Rea aren’t anyone we haven’t seen in anime a hundred times over; both girls laid on their shtick pretty thick.

It remains to be seen if impending doom makes them anyone we met this week more interesting. The bottom line is that more questions arose here than were answered. On one hand that’s frustrating; on the other, a part of me still wants to watch on to see what happens…time permitting.

Dies Irae – 00 (First Impressions)

Dies Irae takes people from real-world history (namely Reinhard Heydrich and Karl Krafft) in the midst of a real-world conflict (WWII) and mixes it up into some kind of occulty Nazi X-Men-type milieu. And while the metal soundtrack was very apropos, much of the episode was what Heydrich initially aimed to be: boring.

That boredom arises from a lack of a strong character to root for. If you’re going to give a fictional character the name of one of history’s greatest monsters, well, I ain’t rooting for him, whether his mini-arc in this episode somewhat resembles Kotomine Kirei’s or not. There’s also an introduction to a good number of people with long flowery names who don’t make much of an impact.

It’s a jumble of overly-baroque (and in the case of the floating skeleton cities, somewhat silly) settings and thin characters with unclear motivations. Krafft seems to have tried and succeeded to bring out Heydrich’s full potential, leading to the creation of a badass nazi kill squad, with the aim of—wait for it—“creating a new world.” “Loving and destroying” are also the same thing, don’t you know.

Yeah, not sure I’m feeling Dies Irae. Episode one, still to come, may be totally different, and succeed where zero failed to hook me…but I won’t hold my breath.

Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name.)

Simply diving into a review immediately after watching a film as devastatingly gorgeous and emotionally affecting as Kimi no Na wa is probably not a great idea, but this is an anime review blog, so here goes.

Kimi no Na wa isn’t just a charming body-swap rom-com, or a time-travelling odyssey, or a disaster prevention caper, or a tale of impossibly cruel temporal and physical distance between two soul mates, or a reflection on the fragility and impermanence of everything from memories to cities, or a tissue-depleting tearjerker.

It’s all of those things and more. And it’s also one of, if not the best, movies I’ve ever seen, anime or otherwise.

After a cryptic prologue, Kimi no Na wa starts out modestly: Miyamizu Mitsuha, Shinto shrine maiden and daughter of a mayor, has grown restless in her small town world, so one night, shouts out tot he night that she wants to be reborn as a boy in Tokyo.

This, mind you, happens after an odd incident in which Mitsuha essentially lost a day, during which all her family and friends say she was acting very strange and non-Mitsuha-y…like a different person.

That’s because she was. She and a boy from Tokyo, Tachibana Taki, randomly swap bodies every so often when they’re dreaming. As such, they end up in the middle of their couldn’t-be-any-different lives; the only similarity being that both of them yearn for more.

Despite just meeting these characters, watching Mitsuha and Taki stumble through each other’s lives is immensely fun. And because this is a Shinkai film, that enjoyment is augmented by the master director’s preternatural visual sumptuousness and realism. Every frame of Mitsuha’s town and the grand vastness of Tokyo is so full of detail I found myself wanting to linger in all of them.

As the body-swapping continues, the two decide to lay down “ground rules” when in one another’s bodies—albeit rules both either bend or break with impunity—and make intricate reports in one another’s phone diaries detailing their activities during the swaps.

Interestingly, Mitsuha makes more progress with Taki’s restaurant co-worker crush Okudera than Taki (she like’s Taki’s “feminine side”), while the more assertive Taki proves more popular with boys and girls when Taki’s in her body.

Taki happens to be in Mitsuha’s body when her grandmother and sister Yotsuha make the long, epic trek from their home to the resting place of the “body” of their Shinto shrine’s god, an otherworldly place in more ways than one, to make an offering of kuchikamisake (sake made from saliva-fermented rice).

While the three admire the sunset, Mitsuha’s granny takes a good look at her and asks if he, Taki, is dreaming. Just then he wakes up back in his own body to learn Mitsuha has arranged a date with him and Okudera—one she genuinely wanted to attend.

Okudera seems to notice the change in Taki from the one Mitsuha inhabited; she can tell his mind is elsewhere, and even presumes he’s come to like someone else. Taki tries to call that someone else on his phone, but he gets an automated message.

Then, just like that, the body-swapping stops.

After having cut her hair, her red ribbon gone, Mitsuha attends the Autumn Festival with her friends Sayaka and Teshi. They’re treated to a glorious display in the night sky, as the comet Tiamat makes its once-every-1,200-years visit.

Taki decides if he can’t visit Mitsuha’s world in his dreams anymore, he’ll simply have to visit Mitsuha. Only problem is, he doesn’t know exactly what village she lives in. Okudera and one of his high school friends, who are worried about him, decide to tag along on his wild goose chase.

After a day of fruitless searching, Taki’s about to throw in the towel, when one of the proprietors of a restaurant notices his detailed sketch of Mitsuha’s town, recognizing it instantly as Itomori. Itomori…a town made famous when it was utterly destroyed three years ago by a meteor created from a fragment of the comet that fell to earth.

The grim reality that Taki and Mitsuha’s worlds were not in the same timeline is a horrendous gut punch, as is the bleak scenery of the site of the former town. Every lovingly-depicted detail of the town, and all of its unique culture, were blasted into oblivion.

Taki is incredulous (and freaked out), checking his phone for Mitsuha’s reports, but they disappear one by one, like the details of a dream slipping away from one’s memory. Later, Taki checks the register of 500 people who lost their lives in the disaster, and the punches only grow deeper: among the lost are Teshi, Sayaka…and Miyamizu Mitsuha.

After the initial levity of the body-swapping, this realization was a bitter pill to swallow, but would ultimately elevate the film to something far more epic and profound, especially when Taki doesn’t give up trying to somehow go back to the past, get back into Mitsuha’s body, and prevent all those people from getting killed, including her.

The thing that reminds him is the braided cord ribbon around his wrist, given to him at some point in the past by someone he doesn’t remember. He returns to the site where the offering was made to the shrine’s god, drinks the sake made by Mitsuha, stumbles and falls on his back, and sees a depiction of a meteor shower drawn on the cave ceiling.

I haven’t provided stills of the sequence that follows, but suffice it to say it looked and felt different from anything we’d seen and heard prior in the film, and evoked emotion on the same level as the famous flashback in Pixar’s Up. If you can stay dry-eyed during this sequence, good for you; consider a career being a Vulcan.

Taki then wakes up, miraculously back in Mitsuha’s body, and sets to work. The same hustle we saw in Taki’s restaurant job is put to a far more important end: preventing a horrific disaster. The town itself may be doomed—there’s no stopping that comet—but the people don’t have to be.

Convincing anyone that “we’re all going to die unless” is a tall order, but Taki doesn’t waver, formulating a plan with Teshi and Sayaka, and even trying (in vain) to convince Mitsuha’s father, the mayor, to evacuate.

While the stakes couldn’t be higher and the potential devastation still clear in the mind, it’s good to see some fun return. Sayaka’s “we have to save the town” to the shopkeep is a keeper.

Meanwhile, Mitsuha wakes up in the cave in Taki’s body, and is horrified by the results of the meteor strike. She recalls her quick day trip to Tokyo, when she encountered Taki on a subway train, but he didn’t remember her, because it would be three more years before their first swap.

Even so, he can’t help but ask her her name, and she gives it to him, as well as something to remember her by later: her hair ribbon, which he would keep around his wrist from that point on.

Both Taki-as-Mitsuha and Mitsuha-as-Taki finally meet face-to-face, in their proper bodies, thanks to the mysterious power of kataware-doki or twilight. It’s a gloriously-staged, momentous, and hugely gratifying moment…

…But it’s all too brief. Taki is able to write on Mitsuha’s hand, but she only gets one stoke on his when twilight ends, and Taki finds himself back in his body, in his time, still staring down that awful crater where Itomori used to be. And again, like a dream, the more moments pass, the harder it gets for him to remember her.

Back on the night of the Autumn Festival, Mitsuha, back in her time and body, takes over Taki’s evacuation plan. Teshi blows up a power substation with contractor explosives and hacks the town-wide broadcast system, and Sayaka sounds the evacuation. The townsfolk are mostly confused, however, and before long Sayaka is apprehended by authorities, who tell everyone to stay where they are, and Teshi is nabbed by his dad.

With her team out of commission, it’s all up to Mitsuha, who races to her father to make a final plea. On the way, she gets tripped up and takes a nasty spill. In the same timeline, a three-years-younger Taki, her ribbon around his wrist, watches the impossibly gorgeous display in the Tokyo sky as the comet breaks up. Mitsuha looks at her hand and finds that Taki didn’t write his name: he wrote “I love you.”

The meteor falls and unleashes a vast swath of destruction across the landscape, not sparing the horrors of seeing Itomori wiped off the face of the earth—another gut punch. Game Over, too, it would seem. After spending a cold lonely night up atop the former site of the town, he returns to Tokyo and moves on with his life, gradually forgetting all about Mitsuha, but still feeling for all the world like he should be remembering something, that he should be looking for someplace or someone.

Bit by bit, those unknowns start to appear before him; a grown Sayaka and Teshi in a Starbucks; a  passing woman with a red ribbon in her hair that makes him pause, just as his walking by makes her pause. But alas, it’s another missed connection; another classic Shinkai move: they may be on the same bridge in Shinjuku, but the distance between them in time and memory remains formidable.

Mitsuha goes job-hunting, enduring one failed interview after another, getting negative feedback about his suit from everyone, including Okudera, now married and hopeful Taki will one day find happiness.

While giving his spiel about why he wants to be an architect, he waxes poetic about building landscapes that leave heartwarming memories, since you’ll never know when such a landscape will suddenly not be there.

A sequence of Winter scenes of Tokyo flash by, and in light of what happened to Itomori quite by chance, that sequence makes a powerful and solemn statement: this is Tokyo, it is massive and complex and full of structures and people and culture found nowhere else in the world, but it is not permanent.

Nothing built by men can stand against the forces of nature and the heavens. All we can do is live among, appreciate, and preseve our works while we can. We’re only human, after all.

And yet, for all that harsh celestial certainty, there is one other thing that isn’t permanent in this film: Taki and Mitsuha’s separation. Eventually, the two find each other through the windows of separate trains, and race to a spot where they experience that odd feeling of knowing each other, while also being reasonably certain they’re strangers.

Taki almost walks away, but turns back and asks if they’ve met before. Mitsuha feels the exact same way, and as tears fill their eyes, they ask for each others names. Hey, what do you know, a happy ending that feels earned! And a meteor doesn’t fall on Tokyo, which is a huge bonus.

Last August this film was released, and gradually I started to hear rumblings of its quality, and of how it could very well be Shinkai’s Magnum Opus. I went in expecting a lot, and was not disappointed; if anything, I was bowled over by just how good this was.

Many millions of words have been written about Kimi no Na wa long before I finally gave it a watch, but I nevertheless submit this modest, ill-organized collection words and thoughts as a humble tribute to the greatness I’ve just witnessed. I’ll be seeing it again soon.

And if for some reason you haven’t seen it yourself…what are you doing reading this drivel? Find it and watch it at your nearest convenience. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll pump your fist in elation.

Little Witch Academia – 25 (Fin)

Ya know, I re-read my review of last week’s episode, and started watching the finale form the same jaded viewpoint, until I said nah, “let’s just have some fun watching this play out,” not worrying about how much the finale owes to Gurren Lagann (just like Trigger’s aesthetic is basically Neue Gainax) or how crazy positive everything gets towards the end.

Say what you will about Trigger, at least—unlike the Evangelion film—series, LWA got an actual ending! And it’s one in which Akko finally takes charge and her words—combined with the believing hearts of all around her—are finally backed up by similarly lofty action.

Those like a version of myself that thinks the ending got too “cute”, may I direct you to the name of this show, which contains the words “little witch”? So yeah, I lightened up, sat back, and enjoyed it when Chariot and Croix gave the six girls their “final battle” outfits, and one by one the secondary trio falls off the mega-brom like stages of a rocket after expelling all their magic.

Eventually it’s just Akko and Diana, the ultimate demonstration of what is possible when airs are dropped and people come to understand each other. They’re fighting an evil, “magic creature”-ified ICBM that can basically do…er, whatever they feel like drawing it doing.

Needless to say, this is quite entertaining to the crowds, suddenly distracted from the fact nuclear war might have been started by one of the rival countries. The crowds start organically rooting for the two witches in the sky, being streamed online due to…something, and then goes superviral when Croix transmits the feed to the world.

The really boring, annoying old white dudes initially have a problem with these witches and it’s even suggested shooting them down, but Andrew, like the crowds, has come to believe in Akko and in witches and magic, (despite his fervent anti-magite upbringing).

Drew’s argument gains the endorsement of the prime minister, who’s a little person like the King in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, only he actually has all the power. Mr. Mustache is quickly cowed by the political chain of command.

Imbued with the positive vibes of their collected audience, Akko and Diana suddenly have a lot of surplus magic to work with, and Akko doesn’t waste it, as we get a visually arresting scene of their aerial battle in which complicated spells are flying left and right like the Siege of Hogwarts.

It’s frankly quite satisfying to finally see Akko put her money where her mouth has been all this time. She’s worked hard and gone through some things, and this is the fruit of her labor, as well as the fruit of the bonds she’s formed with her friends, including Chariot.

Heck, she even summons the legendary broom and saves Diana from falling. Diana! And she looks damn good doing all this in her “final battle” dress whites.

Eventually, it’s time for Akko and Diana to put their powers together, hold hands and point the Shiny Rod at the camera as they stare a hole in said camera, and shout GIGA DRILL BREAKER!!! (okay not those exact words, but something like that) at the top of their lungs, tearing the ICBM monster a new one.

Could I have done without the explosion becoming a smiley face that giggles like a little kid? Oh yeah…but whatevs. Akko finally proved not only that her believing heart is her magic, but everyone’s is…if that makes sense? Whatever, the soccer riots are now over, so it’s all’s well that ends well!

All that was left was to see Akko finally take off on a broom…without the aid of the Shiny Rod (which she allowed to disperse and for the stars to return to space and become the Great Bear). And…she fails, again.

Only, when Sucy and Lotte cheer her on and deliver that believing heart spiel, she’s suddenly laughing and joyful and hey presto she’s levitating all on her own! The damage Chariot did, it would seem, wasn’t permanent.

Also, Croix ends up in jail where she belongs…oh wait, no she doesn’t! She’s allowed to go out, fix the messes she made, and continue her research, presumably under supervision. Happy endings for everyone!