Grand Blue – 01 (First Impressions) – Learning to Swim

Kitahara Iori moves back to the seaside town of Izu where he grew up in order to attend university. He’ll be living with his uncle, who runs the Grand Blue Diving Shop. Upon entering, Iori is met with a scene he never thought he’d see: a huge group of naked burly guys playing rock-paper-scissors.

Iori flees the site, but is quickly caught by two of the dudes, and learns they’re juniors at Izu University, making them his senpais. They were playing a game to determine who would fill their scuba tanks; they’re in a diving club and want to recruit Iori, who declines as he can’t swim.

Iori won’t just be living with his uncle, but his two female cousins as well, Nanaka and Chisa, both of whom have grown quite beautiful in the ten years since he’s seen them. There’s a particular aura around Chisa that suggests she’s looking forward to seeing Iori, or at the very least will give him a chance.

Iori blows that chance without even realizing he had one, because just as he walked in to a debaucherous display, so too does she, with him at its center, half-naked, drinking, shouting, and generally acting a damn fool (i.e., a college freshman). His attempt to smooth things over fails specatularly; Chisa’s first impression of him is that anything he touches must be thrown away.

His senpais Shinji and Ryuu demand he party with them that night, assuring him they’ll get him to orientation on-time. They do, but with two caveats: he’s hungover six ways from Sunday, and he’s in nothing but his boxers. That is how the whole of his freshman class meets him.

Iori has been swept up in the waves of college life, and it feels like his seniors are giving him a “swimming” lesson of sorts. The only way to learn is to jump in and start paddling, but Iori’s attempts to do so only invite more scorn, not just from Chisa, but from a hot blonde guy named Imamura Kouhei, who wears a t-shirt declaring his otaku-ism.

He also gets plenty of attention from the cops for continuing to ask people for their clothes. He finally gets a shirt by recruiting Kouhei to the Diving Club, which is called “Peek-a-Boo.”

Iori is inevitably thrown into more situations of cavorting and heavy drinking, and both he and Kouhei prove ill-equipped to resist the temptation to overdo things. To be fair, the peer pressure to drink as much strong liquor as possible is extremely high…though we see that Chisa is able to sip responsibly and stay above the fray.

The morning after their latest college party experience (involving a staring contest in which one person tries to get the other to spray their drink) both Iori and Kouhei arrive at class in their underwear. Clearly more swimming lessons will be needed…but despite Iori’s insistence the Diving Club is not for him….c’maaahn. You know that cat’s joining.

Grand Blue looks great and is a lot of fun, effectively capturing the raw energy and abandon of early adulthood. Those who have attended college know that it isn’t just about studies, but the experience; the change in one’s lifestyle to something more independent than one’s home. It’s about making a new home, and making a new family.

Most importantly, it’s about trying new things (and yes, sometimes failing and/or suffering). But as Yoda said in The Last Jedi: “The greatest teacher, failure is.”

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Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 22 (Fin) – A Duel that Never Happened

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card ends with some fireworks, danger, and a much-awaited reveal to Sakura that her new friend Akiho is the cloaked figure who has been haunting her for months—only for that reveal to be undone by Yuna D. Kaito’s time reversal magic, the use of which fatigues him.

It just underscores what a contemptuous cad Yuna D. Kaito is to not only make Akiho do these things, but not even have the courtesy to let her remember. Akiho has been in the “Clock Land” of her dreams so often, the lines between dreams and reality are starting to blur, as she feels she’s somehow being a bother to Sakura in real life.

One night, while reminiscing about meeting Kero-chan for the first time, and how she’s glad she met everyone she’s met on her Cardcaptor adventures, she’s interrupted in mid-thought by yet another waking dream, only this time Cloaky is really there, balanced on an electrical pole.

Sakura releases her staff, activates Flight, and flies out to meet the figure, but Kero is blocked from leaving the same window by some kind of magical boundary he can’t break even in Big Mode. It’s clear Cloaky wants this confrontation to be one-on-one.

What follows are the aforementioned fireworks, with Akiho sending a giant ball of broken glass (which Sakura destroys with Blaze), a curtain of flame (she dissipates with Aqua), and a barrage of glowing projectiles (she gathers up with Spiral). Then Cloaky re-seals Sakura’s staff and begins to draw her key towards her.

When Sakura tries to re-release an grab her key back, Akiho dumps out all of Sakura’s Clear Cards, and even deactivates Flight, sending her careening to the earth from hundreds of feet in the air. It’s the tightest of tight spots Sakura’s ever been in, and as she falls, the cloak is pulled back and she catches an unmistakable look at a very out-of-it Akiho.

That would’ve been a fine cliffhanger on which to end things, but if Yuna was going to swoop in and undo it all, I’m glad it happened now and not in the next season, lest I get my hopes up for too long that the reveal would stick.

While inspecting the frozen Akiho and Sakura, Momo is of the mind Akiho will simply think this was all a dream as usual (she’s been “sleep-acting” as Cloaky all this time, after all), but Sakura will remember, spuring Yuna to use more taboo time magic to undo the duel.

I can’t help but feel terrible for poor Akiho, who is little more than a tool doing Yuna’s bidding while he hangs back, observes, and intervenes when necessary. In the season that follows I’d love to see her somehow break free of his hold on her, though that would require an awareness of her situation she still doesn’t have.

As for Sakura, she has no recollection of her big fight with Cloaky and losing all her cards and nearly her life, and simply continues on with what she was saying to Kero-chan after he dried her hair: with all of the wonderful people she’s met by her side, she’s confident she’ll be just fine, come what may. After that close call, I can’t yet share her confidence.

Darling in the FranXX – 18 – All too Brittle a Home in which to Live

Everything Squad 13 does in the remains of Mistilteinn is being monitored, so you knew the first night Kokoro and Mitsuru spent together would probably be their last. We start with what could be the happiest morning of their lives, where the love they shared seems to paint everything around them in a more beautiful light. They are experiencing that which humanity has apparently given up.

Sure enough, Hachi informs Ichigo that the squad will soon be packing up and leaving Mistilteinn, leaving their distinctive, human birdcage for a far more sterile, antiseptic one where all the other, emotionless parasites live. Hiro thinks they should close out their days there with a wedding ceremony for the beaming new couple (and notably not for him and Zero Two).

Everyone is gung-ho about making it a celebration to remember; all but Ikuno, who lies in bed dejected. Ichigo thanks her for getting angry and sticking up for Kokoro and Mitsuru, but Ikuno tells her she didn’t do it for them, but because she agreed with a part of the lead Nine’s assertion about man-woman pairings.

Ever since Ichigo gave her her name (turning the number 6 on its side to make the “no” kana), Ikuno has had eyes only for her, and always cursed the boys who got to stand by her side simply because they were boys. Ichigo recognizes the pain from her own unrequited love for Hiro in Ikuno, but draws her into a comforting hug and tells her she doesn’t mind.

These are simply part in parcel of all the messy things they have to live through that makes them human. Left unsaid is the fact that virtually everyone outside of Mistilteinn no longer feels that way. They’ve shed that vital part of humanity, presumably in order to survive most efficiently.

As the preparations for tomorrow’s ceremony are completed, the squad and Zero Two take a group photo together, mimicking the photo of the previous squad that lived there. As they stand there, their joy and camaraderie frozen for posterity, I thought of two things.

First, how much everyone has grown as characters, from Hiro and Zero to Ichigo, Mitsuru and Kokoro, Ikuno, Goro and even Futoshi. Only Zerome and Miku have remained more or less static in their childlike naivete. And yet I’ve come to love each and every one of these characters, and become fully invested not just in their safety, but in grasping the humanity the rest of their people abandoned and finding genuine happiness.

Second: that there probably won’t be a squad that comes after 13 who will ever see that photo. It just feels like the wheel is breaking, not least of which because Mistilteinn itself is no longer a viable place to live, having been crippled by the Mega-Klaxosaur hand slap.

It’s that slap that Zero Two dreams of after nodding off while drawing her storybook illustrations. The dream also features a gang of partially injured soldiers grabbing her and preparing to drag her away. Hiro wakes her up and asks what’s wrong, but Zero Two doesn’t want to mar another lovely moment with her darling on the eve of such a blessed event with unpleasant portents.

The next day, Zero Two commits to living in the moment, sharing a playful frolick with Hiro through the blooming sakura trees, dressed in the same gray uniform as the other Squad 13 members, thus truly becoming one of them. She’s able to wear one of their unis because Kokoro has changed into her re-purposed curtain gown, looking every bit a bride as she descends the staircase to join her waiting groom.

Ikuno presents them with a bouquet and boutonniere and escorts them to the aisle, while the other assembled squadmates ring bells and toss petals. Futoshi decides to officiate the wedding, giving closure to his one-sided love for Kokoro by being the one to “give her away” to Mitsuru.

Everything is just lovely, until it isn’t. The Nines arrive aboard an APE assault ship with a squad of grunts and place everyone under arrest before Kokoro and Mitsuru can seal their bonds with a kiss. They fight; their squadmates fight; Zero Two attacks the Nines, her former comrades…but it’s all for naught.

Everything they carefully built crumbles like a stale old breadstick and an iffy Italian restaurant…or more appropriately, like the sakura blossoms falling from the tree. Like their lives on Mistilteinn, the wedding was only a passing dream; one everyone could happily live in only until it ended, and it couldn’t end more cruelly.

Hachi, while protesting the Nines’ actions, does nothing to stop them, and does nothing to comfort the rest of Squad 13 as Kokoro and Mitsuru are taken away for “reindoctrination” to remove the “dangerous” ideas they’ve developed.

As the rest of the squad defeatedly packs up to leave their home on the worst note ever, Hachi visits the similarly “defective” Nana in her cell and remembers the first time she was dragged away like Kokoro and Mitsuru, after her FranXX copilot (whom she must have loved) was killed she had an emotional outburst. Hachi, devoid of emotion then, as now, could only silently watch.

Here, he remarks that Nana “in her current state” could nonetheless better provide comfort to Squad 13 than he. It might not seem like much, but the mere fact he believes they need or deserve comfort means Hachi has gained back a slim measure of humanity simply buy observing the very emotional parasites.

Squad 13 and Zero Two sans Kokoro and Mitsuru arrive at the parasite camp  “Bird Nest”, and it’s a real downer of a place, reminding them of Garden and not in a good way (it also feels like they’ve been taken backwards in their development, which may well be Papa’s intention).

Weeks pass with no news until one day they are reunited with Kokoro and Mitsuru. Though they still wear the rings they so tenderly and lovingly presented to one another, their memories have been altered (like Hiro and Zero Two’s years before) to make them not only believe they are new members of the squad, but to make them forget they ever knew each other.

It’s a heartbreaking gut-punch to end the episode, and yet when Kokoro is on her own and spots the abstract “trees” in one of Bird Nest’s courtyards, she’s reminded of “sakura”, the blooming trees under which she and Mitsuru wed. She may not remember Mitsuru, or the wedding, or anything else, but she remembered the trees.

After watching what Papa and the adults and the Nines did to his squad, his home, and finally his two friends who truly and deeply loved one another, Hiro announces in voiceover that they are “at the end of their rope.” He’s done being ruled by a destiny that will only continue to pulverize the things they build into dust.

I’m eager to see how he’ll try to start fighting back, even if I’m dubious his efforts will net him anything but more cruel tragedy and loss.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 10 (Fin) – Hakuno Picks a Third Way

FELE’s last episode for a while elaborates on the plan devised by Rin and Rani to bring a Master to the Sixth Floor, and they relay those plans to Hakuno on the roof of a high school down on what I assume to be the level where he started.

Waking up in the ladder with Saber, Hakuno explores his code casting powers, which apparently contain all of the weapons and skills of the masters who died before him. That combination of abilities adds credence to Saber’s insistence that he is himself and no one else, and must proceed as such.

When they reach the Sixth floor, it is a white wasteland piled with long-unused lances. Suddenly, Rin appears in her Lancer garb and attacks Saber, and a giant Rani sneaks up on Hakuno. Then Rin and Rani fight each other, more Rins show up, more Ranis show up, and Hakuno and Saber basically get a very efficient course in what’s been happening for about a millennium.

They realize the lands and waters are littered not just with weapons, but corpses of endless Rin and Rani copies. But there is one place where there are no corpses, and Hakuno determines that’s where they should go.

While pondering what the heck is up with all the Rin copies, the “real” Rin arrives, but like her “soldier” versions, she’s only a digital copy, and a fragile one at that. She’s just able to lead them to the central dome when she starts to disperse, a process she tells them actually hurts quite a bit.

Within the halls of the dome, recorded video of Rin and Rani is projected on cross-shaped supports. They once fought as rival Masters on this floor, but Moon Cell deemed their fight a draw just before the Holy Grail War was suspended, leaving them in a horrifying limbo of fighting and killing each others’ endless digital copies as the “originals” lay dormant.

It’s a stalemate, but it’s also a bug in the system that’s gotten way out of control, so they both sent avatars of themselves to guide Hakuno here, so he could end the cycle and choose a winner and a loser, something Moon Cell couldn’t do.

However, Hakuno doesn’t choose to kill either Rin or Rani. Instead, he tries to revive both of them. Only Rin survives, while Rani passes on due to the “peculiar” nature of her digital body. But she’s grateful for the attempt, and Rin is grateful he succeeded in bringing her back. Once Rani is laid to rest, she commits herself to continuing to aid Hakuno until the end.

“Fate Spin-off By Shaft” was met with mixed and polarizing emotions, but I for one enjoyed it immensely. It took the parts of Fates I’d seen before and liked and placed them in a gorgeously-rendered distant and unsettling future where a tiny glimmer of hope still remains thanks to a walking talking manifestation of death itself and his trusty, adorable, formidable Roman Emperor of a Servant. I’m looking forward to Part Two.

3-gatsu no Lion – 44 (Fin) – From Darkest Depths to Highest Heights

The eight minutes that kick off 3GL’s final episode (for a while at least), in which Rei visits the Kouda household, were some of the most hauntingly beautiful, unsettling, and emotionally gutting eight minutes I’ve ever seen. He is received only by the mother, who narrates the entire segment.

Rei was always capable—more capable than her children, which is why he had to go—but she finds him even more so now; he’s become an adult. Meanwhile, Kyouko and Ayumu (seen but never heard here) continue to flounder; they remain children, seeking immediate enjoyment.

Rei’s visit confirms to Mother Kouda that it was for the best for Rei to leave, and she is grateful that he did it of his own volition. Rei was such a genuinely good boy, it was a weight the rest of the family could not bear. When she dreams of Rei being her real son, he’s a sassy layabout like the others.

I was already in tears before the OP, but this episode wasn’t done, as Rei takes Takahashi and Rina out for monja to congratulate their graduation and bid farewell to the brawny baseball kid. Going pro is no longer a dream for him, it’s a goal, and leaving the home he loves was something he had to do to achieve it.

As they talk about how there won’t be monja where Takahashi is going, and that he’ll simply bring it with him to represent March Town, it dawns on Hina that while people may move away, they remain children of the town.

As the minutes and seconds left with Takahashi tick implacably down to zero, Hina savors those remaining moments with everything she has before saying goodbye. Again I held back tears…watching her hold back tears.

Takahashi leaves for his new school the day of the cherry blossom festival, which means he’ll miss it, but Hina doesn’t see him off. For one thing, the previous night’s farewell was just fine; for another, she’s got work to do, working at the Crescent Moon food stall.

She, Akari and Gramps clean up, capitalizing on the slight remnants of the winter chill by selling hot red bean soup and dumplings. Like so much with the Kawamotos, it’s warm, tasty, cozy, and fun.

And as Hina remembers a younger, smaller Takahashi sitting on the steps with an ice cream bar in his baseball uniform, she commits to doing her best where she is, just as he’ll be doing his best farther away.

Soon thereafter, just before she starts high school, Hina decides she’s going to get her hair cut. Privately (or rather in the presence of their aunt), Akari has bittersweet pangs about Hina’s choice to give her childhood self a “proper sendoff” and take a step forward as “the new me.” Akari is sad that one stage of her little sister’s life is ending, but excited and even a little envious of the next; Hina’s “springtime of life.”

However, that first step forward seems to go horribly awry when only an older hair stylist was at the salon. Hina asked for an “adult-like bob”, but once she get it, Akari can barely contain her shock, while Gramps, in his most hilarious reaction to date, thought on first glance that Hina was the household deity. Momo thinks she looks like a kokeshi doll, while Akari asks her to pose with a box of candy.

But when’s all said and done and we get a decent look at it (from numerous intimate close-up angles) I’m in agreement with Rei’s first impression: it’s nice. It’s a really nice new look! Despite the references made by her family, she looks a little more mature and serious, especially in her new high school uniform.

The more Rei looks at it, the more he likes it…and the more embarrassed Hina gets. But let’s not forget what’s happening: the two are walking to school together! This is huge. What will his classmates think? What will they say? How will Rei and Hina handle the fact that they look like one of history’s most perfect couples, straight out of the gate?

Unfortunately, all of that must be left up to my imagination, because 3-gatsu no Lion closes the book on the life of Rei, Hina, the Kawamotos, the Koudas, and all of the shogi folk. Hopefully it will be back, but if this is truly the end of the anime, it couldn’t have ended on a higher, brighter note, rising from the sullen depths of the Kouda household.

3-gatsu no Lion – 43 – Some are Gone, but Some Remain

Gramps’ doctor is impressed with how far he’s been able to lower his blood pressure, especially when he used to say things like “I don’t need doctors!” and “I’ll die when like!” which are, let’s face it, Big Time Granddad things to say. But when his wife and daughter left him with “three little ones” he resolved to stay alive until they were all married off, which he realizes is a big ask considering Momo is still in preschool.

One of those little ones, Hinata, is making fine progress with studying, and Rei is putting on a tutoring clinice…until he tells Hina that Takahashi is going to school all the way in Shikoku, something she didn’t know until Rei told her; something Rei immediately feels very shitty for doing.

The news totally throws her off her studying game and into a spiral of despair over yet another person suddenly vanishing from her life. She stays out in the cold and catches one, and since Akari has to work late it falls to Rei to take care of her and assure her she’s studied enough, won’t forget what she knows, and will be okay in time for the exams.

That night, Hina can’t hold back the flood of tears from thinking about everyone who is or will soon be gone from her life. But with Rei there by her side, even to walk her to exams, she realizes that things aren’t all bad; for as many people who have left her life, just as many remain, like Rei, to help her up when she slips. She takes comfort in that.

She passes the entrance exams, which means in April she’ll officially be Rei’s kohai at his high school. While her aunt was initially very skeptical of a second-year high schooler spending so much time alone with her young and vulnerable niece, her fears are met with chillingly identical reactions from Akari and Gramps…Kiriyama/”the Kid” isn’t going to do anything weird. I mean, he’s Kiriyama/”the Kid”! 

Indeed, even Hinata tells him he’s “like a mother,” to which he should say “what’s wrong with mothers? Mothers are great!”

While very pure and oblivious to some if not most of what is said about him and Hinata, he knows one thing for sure: when he heard she wanted to come to his high school, he did everything he could to help her achieve that goal, and didn’t worry about whether that was right or wrong.

When she showed up at home with mismatched slippers, and stayed utterly true to her heart even in the face of gross injustice, she lit a light within him he didn’t have before. She made a part of him.

Then Rei gets a surprise of his own: his father shows up, having avoided demotion, which means they’ll both be in B-2 next period, and he wants to pick up where they left off…which is just fine with Rei.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 09 – The Emperor’s Soliloquy

The “film” the female Kishinami Hakuno shows her male counterpart is of her own quest with Saber as her Servant, and a more noble, loyal and true servant, no one could possibly have.

Like the current Hakuno, the female Hakuno learns that she’s neither wizard nor Master, but a “recreation of the data of someone who once existed”; an “NPC”. But Saber tells her that’s of no consequence, either to her value as an individual or her role as prospective victor of the Grail War.

It is in She-Hakuno’s moment of deepest despair and crisis of identity that Saber reveals her True Name: Nero Claudius, fifth emperor of the Roman Empire and one history condemns as a raving despot and dictator. Naturally, Nero herself has a more nuanced life story to tell, and that story is told through what appears to be the work of Ueda Hajime, a frequent collaborator with Shinbo Akiyuki who also animated all Monogatari EDs.

Saber makes no attempt to sugar-coat her tale or excuse the life she led, only to lay it all out to provide Hakuno with context in which to consider her sage advice. Nero loved strangers and commoners more than the royal family to which she belonged. She’s proud of bringing the Great Fire of Rome under control, but as her reign went on she became seen as a moody, unstable dictator.

The Senate could not depose her as long as she had the loyalty of the common people, but when push came to shove no one came to her aid when she was brought down, and she died alone, in despair, with the love of no one. Both in its flamboyantly unconventional presentation, themes of adoration and fall from grace, and truly epic scope, Saber’s story parallels that of the vampire later known as Oshino Shinobu in Monogatari.

And now that we finally have the whole picture of who Saber is, and was, we can appreciate just how much weight there is behind her words of encouragement, for both past and present Kishinami Hakunos. She is at peace with her demise, and will set her life ablaze for the sake of those who wish to believe she is beautiful. In other words, who will love her.

Whatever love she had in her lifetime—of family or people—was either nonexistent or fleeting, so it stands to reason she’s not picky about where she gets her love now. Both Hakunos may deem themselves pale imitations unworthy of having a Servant as excellent and wise and kind as Saber.

They are utterly mistaken for thinking that way. Saber doesn’t care from whom she gets her love. In fact, she would prefer if those people did not “mind every little thing” about themselves.

Call it the extension of her affinity in life for those deemed “less than” in the society in which she lived. Commoners. Bastards, cripples, and broken things. And yes, even NPCs who have been killing and hating for a millenium.

Saber’s been dead three millenia, but doesn’t let it get her down for a second. To her, Hakuno isn’t beholden to the person or people he was before. As far as she’s concerned, he’s is a new person, who deserves a fresh start without prejudice. But he has to take it.

Reinvigorated and healed thanks to the ministrations of Rani (or, at least, her ghost), Hakuno and Saber head back out. Saber faces off against Berserker once more.

After copying and countering his martial arts moves with Royal Privilege, she unleashes her Noble Phantasm: Kingdom of Heaven and Hell,  the Golden Theater of the Deranged, and Veil of Petals, ending Berseker without any difficulty. It’s a short but gorgeous battle.

That leaves Hakuno to deal with Julius, who no longer has any backup. Julius tries his usual spiel denigrating Hakuno for not being alive or having a wish or any business fighting him. This time, the words don’t hurt Hakuno. Saber has opened his eyes. Julius isn’t talking about him; those were other people, and he’s not interested in hearing about their pasts.

After a trippy zero-gravity battle in which the two Dead Faces fight in midair as their surroundings rotate and reorganize around them, Hakuno delivers a decisive blow. Yet even in his dying breath, Julius assures him that he’ll end up like him eventually.

Hakuno doesn’t worry about those words; he’s recommitted to being the best Master he can be for the best Servant one could ask for, who is waiting for him at the ladder to the sixth level.

Rani and Rin seem poised to remain behind having accomplished their shared goal of getting a “decent Master” to the sixth level. But citing the increased difficulty at that level, Rin changes her mind and follows the pair after all, while Rani vanishes in a cloud of digital code.

Thinking back on this episode, I’m astounded at how much it achieved in 25 scant minutes. It felt like a feature film, without ever feeling overstuffed, while cementing my undying love for this version of Saber, whose story was so vividly and painfully told. My head is still spinning. That was truly awesome.

3-gatsu no Lion – 42 – High School Should Be Fun

It’s still summer vacation for Hina, and she was so inspired by the town festival that ideas for new sweets are exploding in her head…yet those dreams of expanding her confectionary repertoire are being deferred by summer homework and school days.

Hina proudly shows her adorably delicious designs to a duly impressed Rei. When he decided to get into shogi, he believed it was his only path; the only thing he could do at the time. It worked out, but that wasn’t guaranteed.

Hina, looking toward the future like few eighth graders do, has a lot more options, so Rei agrees with others who have told her she really should go to high school…even if she ultimately does decide to work at her gramps’ sweets shop she loves so much.

After a not-so-fun year in middle school, Hina is understandably weary of going to high school, particularly having to make all new friends. But Rei has an idea. He takes Hina (who also brings Momo) to his school, Hashi High, where Noguchi, Mr. Hayashida, and the Science Club have set up a bitchin’ flume noodle stream out of surplus bamboo.

On first sight, both Hina and Momo mistake the mustachioed Noguchi for a teacher (natch), while Hayashida spots Hina and understands instantly why Rei wanted to help this girl so much. When Akari, an older version of her, arrives, disheveled and sweaty, Hayashida is nearly blown away by smitten-ness.

The noodle bonanza commences, with the lads adjusting the stream angle and stream to help an overmatched Momo, and showing Hina the proper way to catch the noodles. They then play a little game where the color of the accent noodle they catch determines whether they get tempura; Hayashida runs into a streak of bad luck here.

In any case, everyone has a ton of fun, which leads Hina and Akari to wonder out loud if maybe she should try to get into Rei’s high school. It’s an idea I don’t think has ever come up before, but I like it. I like it a lot!

3GL is equally adept at portraying the sizzling summer heat as the warm, cozy interior of the Kawamoto house in winter, as a serious time leap takes place in the second half. It’s new years, and Hina and Rei are under the electric kotatsu.

Ever since Rei heard Hina’s intention to apply to his school, he’s (a notion by which he’s clearly elated), he’s been gung-ho about helping Hina study for the entrance exams, putting the same passion and diligence into it than he does while preparing for a shogi tournament.

When Akari was Hina’s age studying late for exams, their mother once asked if she wanted tempura or fried tofu in her udon. Akari couldn’t decide, so her mom put both in, and thus Kawamoto Pampering Udon was born.

By making the same udon for Hina and Rei, Akari is both passing on a tradition and remembering her mother’s love while paying it forward. Plus that shit looks guuuuud.

Hina takes a look back to when she was still weary of trying for Hashi High, mostly because it’s a fancy and thus expensive private school and she didn’t want to be a burden on Gramps or his sweet shop’s steady but modest revenue.

Gramps, not one who believes kids shouldn’t think about finances, is chuffed that Hina thought of him while considering her choice. But he believes they’ll be fine money-wise, and in any case, his granddaughter’s happiness is paramount. If she’ll have fun at “the kid’s” high school after suffering in middle school, her choice has his full blessing.

Back in the present, Hina asks Rei for help on a math problem, but he’s so absorbed in his shogi study he doesn’t notice. Far from being annoyed, Hina actually feeds off the infectiously incredible concentration. In another sign these two were destined for each other, they are completely at ease without saying any words. Hina pulls back her window curtain, and after noting how hushed it seemed, discovers the first snowfall of the year.

A masterpiece need not always contain shocking revelations, twists, or developments, although Hina trying to join Rei in high school is a pretty big deal. This was a quiet, peaceful episode filled with fun, love, and ambitious yet very achievable dreams to aspire to.

The show created little pockets of happiness one wants to wrap around oneself like a blanket, all while organically building the very close and loving bond between Rei and Hina, both souls beyond their years. Few shows do this kind of stuff better.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 12 – The Butler is Up to Something

This week’s opening scene practically oozes foreboding, and Yuna D. Kaito has never looked more suspicious as he prepares tea for Akiho. Whether there’s something in that tea or not, the scene all but confirms he’s operating against Sakura behind the shadows—unbeknownst to Sakura, Syaoran, and even Akiho.

It’s also pretty much certain Akiho is the cloaked figure in Sakura’s dreams, and that the dreams are being shared between the girls, with neither of them know the other is in them. All Akiho knows is the feeling of wanting  something the other person has. That thing is Sakura’s key, and Yuna seems pleased the dream is “progressing”, most likely in his favor.

By laying out some meaty plot progression right off the bat, the more slice-of-life ball sports tournament at school feels more earned and less like more stalling (though if you’re not watching Sakura at least in part for her high school slice-of-life…why are you watching?). 

It helps that the sports are a lot of fun, as watching BasketBaller Sakura toss no-look passes, crossover dribble, and nail shots from downtown is just as fun—and smoothly-animated—as watching her battle and capture cards.

The school doesn’t allow students to film the events, but Tomoyo finds a way around that by using Kero-chan, who is more than game to redeem himself after the playground footage debacle.

The sports tournament again demonstrates not only Sakura’s athletic skills, but those of Syaoran and Akiho, the latter two specifically in the field of badminton. I loved how seriously Sayoran was taking his match, which Akiho was keeping very close, and how Sakura wanted to root for both of them.

Just as she hopes for a tie, a surprise hailstorm rolls in, ending the match in a tie and sending everyone scattering for shelter. Sakura stays out, because she’s pretty sure this is a new Card. Unfortunately, as of yet she has no fire-element Clear Cards, and Reflect only sends hail into the building, causing damage.

Syaoran, still sore about not being able to put Akiho away (if he was even capable of doing so!), summons his fire sword to help out his girlfriend. His initial lower-powered attack isn’t effective, so he breaks out a bigger spell that stops the Card in its tracks, allowing Sakura to secure it.

It’s a great bit of Sakura/Syaoran teamwork, and shows that her friends will be there to fill in her weakness (in this case, no fire Card). Now, at least, if she comes upon a fire Card, she’ll have Hail to counter it.

After the battle Akiho comes running, and when she sees Sakura in the poncho Tomoyo made, she assumes it’s for another play that doesn’t really exist, but Sakura doesn’t correct her. That night Sakura turns in early, seeing as how it was a very active day and she overslept that morning.

Upon falling asleep, Sakura’s right back in Clockworld with Cloaky, who we can now assume is an unwitting Akiho, possibly working as Yuna D. Kaito’s puppet in the dream. She again tries to steal Sakura’s key, but Sakura grabs it back, and a giant dragon appears just below Cloaky, ready to swallow Sakura up.

She wakes up before that happens, and checks to make sure she still has her key before going back to bed. But she’s definitely unsettled than ever before. The figure is not only taking things up a notch in the dream, but perched on a utility pole just outside Sakura’s house. Some great semi-revelations this week that really escalate the tension.

That all of this is going on without any of Sakura’s allies’ knowledge makes me feel all the more worried for Sakura. If she were to lose her key, she wouldn’t be able to capture or use cards. That…would be bad!

Hoe Count: 4

P.S. Going forward, we at RABUJOI have agreed to use more descriptive (if not always the most perceptive) titles to our posts. We’ll see how that goes!

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.