Mahoutsukai no Yome – 18

The day after Christmas, Stella shows up with sweet treats to hang out with Chise, as promised. Chise is so unaccustomed to friends as we know them that not only did she not expect Stella to come, she doesn’t quite know what to do.

Stella, who we learn is just ten but very mature for her age, tells her not to sweat it; being friends is nothing more complicated than being with someone, talking and listening to them. It shows how far Chise still has to go, and how little Elias can help her.

In fact, having Stella around is apparently too much for Elias, who isolates himself in his study then storms out of the house without any warning. Worried, Chise ditches Stella to go after him, transforming into a wolf to keep up. Elias traps her in the shadows and binds her with tentacles.

Elias doesn’t say much, but he does say that Stella’s presence made him want to leave the house,. He felt better when Chise chased him, but couldn’t stop running, and now he can’t seem to let her go.

Meanwhile, back in London, Stella and her family seem to be being watched/stalked by Cartiphilus and Ashen Eye. What the heck to they have planned?

Chise manages to fire off a flare with her wand, and Ruth manages to find her when a Fae daughter of Titania reveals the shadow where he’s holding her (she helps because they gave her a proper Yule offering).

Chise puts a knife to her throat, which causes Elias to immediately release her. He’s rightfully ashamed and contrite, but Chise forgives him and suggests they go home and get some sleep.

Elias, as we know, is even more emotionally stunted than Chise, lashing out when he doesn’t get his way like a small child. Here’s hoping Elias eventually learns how to control his wilder instincts whenever faced with a perceived slight.

However, Chise accidentally puts Elias into a deep sleep when she sings him a lullaby, and she heads to London to seek the aid of Angelica, meeting her non-magical husband David in the process.

David lends Chise some perspective as someone who knows he doesn’t have all the time on Earth with his wife and daughter he might like, but that he intends to make the most of that time, and so should Chise.

Chise returns home with a recipe for a potion that will wake up Elias, and it works like a charm…but she’s so exhausted from her ordeal that she immediately passes out beside him, leaving Ruth to explain.

Meanwhile in Dragonland, some poachers apparently hired by Cartiphilus(?) try to capture two of the young dragons, but they’re thwarted by a pissed Lindel. Is there a connection to what Carty was doing with Stella in London and the attempted dragon theft here? To be continued.

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Mahoutsukai no Yome – 17

In a diverting case-of-the-week that involves non-magical clients, Chise meets Stella, a girl just a bit younger than her, who can’t find her little brother Ethan after he ran off after they had an argument. What makes this most likely a magical case is that Stella’s parents have no memory of their son.

Obviously, Stella’s a wreck, but she’s not so much of a wreck she isn’t totally freaked out by a huge skull-faced dude coming out of Chise (or speaking through her body, turning her eyes silver). I also snickered when she reacted to the dog talking.

Turns out the big teddy Elias gave Chise also turns her excess magic into crystal flowers, like a kind of release valve to preserve her body. She puts those flowers, which are like candy to fae, to good use asking the various beings in the forest where the kid went.

In fact, Chise, wanting desperately to do something for someone after so much has been done for her (though if we’re honest, she’s done plenty), goes so far as to let what looks like a more feral Elias suck her blood in exchange for info on Ethan’s whereabouts. This troubles Stella greatly, but as Elias tells her, mages aren’t omnipotent, and in exchange for something, they must be willing to give something in return.

When they finally locate Ethan, he’s in the clutches of the ancient trickster Ashen Eye, who has claimed the boy as his own after Stella’s harsh words to him (“I don’t need you!”) broke their familial bond and made the kid fair game.

Knowing what happened when Ashen Eye was involved before, I figured no one was actually in any real danger, even when both Ethan and Elias are sucked into a dark void (Ash isn’t omnipotent either, but he’s been around the block, and  a lot more powerful than the younger Elias).

The loss of Elias causes Chise to wig out momentarily, but Ruth consoles her. Ash simply wants them to jump through a few hoops; he’ll only keep Ethan if they can’t find him, and if he and Stella can’t reconcile. As they search, Elias must deal with Ethan, who immediately takes a liking to his bony head.

This causes Elias to transform into a kind of Winter Ops version of Chise, and with his uniquely non-human perspective on humanity, gets Ethan to define what he thinks family is. It’s more than just blood; it’s people you want to be with more than anyone else, even if you don’t always get along and say things you don’t mean.

Chise uses the pelt that Ashen Eye gave her to transform into a were-bear, and uses her heightened sense of smell to locate Elias and Ethan. As I suspected, Ash is satisfied the siblings have learned their lesson and warns them to choose their words carefully, because they aren’t sure who might be listening who will take those words seriously.

When initially speaking through Chise, Elias got Stella to agree to pay them in “sweets” for their services locating her brother (who the parents now remember, reuniting the family as it was). But Chise gets something a lot better for her kindness: she gains a friend in Stella.

And hey, even after all that exertion, Chise doesn’t pass out, cough up any blood, or go into any kind of trance or coma, so everything comes up Team Ainsworth this week. I just hope Chise doesn’t immediately revert to her “ZOMG I’m so useless” attitude next week; she’s without doubt earning her keep.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 16

The pagan holiday of Yule is upon Chise and Elias, and the Yule Twins appear to remind them to make their preparations, gathering various logs, boughs, leaves and berries. Elias wants to make certain Chise doesn’t overwork herself (she herself wonders if she’ll make it to next Fall), while they both have to convince Ruth that he’s not a failure of a familiar after Chise’s latest scare.

These scenes are imbued with the spirit and the beauty of the season, from the snow shimmering in the setting sun to the awkward exchange of kisses under the mistletoe. Elias reports that Chise’s kiss made him a little “tingly” in the neck and back, but is that because he felt something emotionally, or just feeling the effects of having to crouch down?

The next day, after receiving a message via bird in the night, Chise sneaks away to London on her own, where she meets Alice. Alice wants to hang, but also needs advice on what to get Renfred for Christmas. It occurs to Chise she hadn’t even considered getting Elias a gift, but wants to do so.

As they shop and eat and eat and shop, Alice eventually runs into a “straggler from her past”, who wants to sell her drugs. When he doesn’t take no for an answer, Alice kicks him in the balls, and Chise scares of his friends with a ferocious Ruth (eager to redeem himself).

Now that Chise has seen a glimpse of Alice’s past, she tells Alice not to hold back on talking about that past just because it might be uncomfortable; after all, Chise knows something about rough pasts!

Alice was a drug dealer and an addict until one day Renfred plucked her off the streets, invited her into his home as a ward of sorts, and stayed with her throughout the long, painful withdrawal process.

Once she was clean he put her to work organizing his library, but when she opened the wrong book a monster jumped out to attack her, and Renfred took the attack for her, having his face all ripped off.

From then on, Alice knew she could trust Renfred, which made him the first person she could trust in her life. Now that extends to at least a second person, as she clearly trusts and likes Chise enough to open up like this.

Once their shopping for their respective masters is finished, the two part ways, and Chise and Ruth (who is happy Chise has made a friend) head home, where an “angry” Elias is waiting. I use angry in quotes because he himself isn’t sure what it means to be angry, but if he was going to be angry it would be because Chise ran off alone without telling him anything.

Still, Elias is happy with Chise’s gift for him, a new string tie, while Chise learns that Elias has a knack for making teddy bears, and made a big one, his best yet, for her. He also points out other presents for her to open Christmas morning.

Chise goes to bed warm, excited, and actually looking forward to the morning, something that would have been quite foreign in her dark past. The next day Ashen Eye finds “a pitiful child” walking in the snow; likely the subject of next week’s episode. But this week was all about Yule, Christmas, and two women with dark pasts living much brighter, happier lives. I can dig it.

Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 03

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Sakurako-san is a weird one, preferring bones to people and all, but she’s full of wisdom and thinks and looks like no one else around her. Yet she also has her own brand of empathy, seeing even emotions like happiness, relief, and comfort as brain chemistry reacting to external stimuli.

She’s also quite human and thus fallible herself, which is what makes her so endearing as a character. She persists in calling Shoutarou “boy” (shounen) as a way to distance herself from him, despite their growing bond that, at times, treads into romantic territory.

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Sakurako persuades her self-professed “guardian” to accompany her through some caves, then to a park where they’re pointed in the direction of human remains by a far more normal couple. Saku’s delighted at the find, and gives a beautiful description of how a corpse out in the open is briefly a “paradise of life” as flies lay eggs, maggots feed, and predators feed on the maggots, etc. She has a deep appreciation for the circle of life and the food chain, things humans don’t need to think about in daily life.

When Shoutarou does the responsible thing and phones the police, it doesn’t stop Sakurako from offering her expert opinion on who the corpse was and what happened. The police, however, aren’t so much impressed by her expertise as annoyed by her interference and what they perceive as arrogance (and hey, she is a bit arrogant).

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Back home, when Shou thinks Saku is sulking, she’s actually concentrating on building a skeleton. That’s when she finally tells him what he’s been meaning to ask about: her dead little brother, Soutarou, just one syllable removed from his name. It’s not much, but it’s the start of a dialogue and a sign she’s willing to gradually let Shou in.

The next day, Shou goes to a cafe at the request of his classmate Kougami Yuriko. Her purpose is to thank him for helping to find the corpse, which was that of her grandmother, who the police believe jumped to her death. When she invites both Shou and Saku to her house to thank them properly, we learn her grandma was taking care of her husband, who was suffering from severe dementia and required round-the-clock care.

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That burden is something the police used as a motive for Yuriko’s grandma’s suicide, and Yuriko even understands and doesn’t hold it against her. On the contrary, she’s ashamed she and the rest of her family didn’t see how tough it was for her until it was too late. But when she asks Saku to show her where and how her grandmother died, she gets an entirely different and more plausible story than the police came up with.

When they return to the site where her grandmother’s remains were found, Sakurako presents that story, which is this: her grandmother didn’t go there to die, she went there to live. She just stumbled and fell off the cliff in an unfortunate accident.

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The reason she left in the middle of the night was so that she could reach a certain spot so she could see the same sunrise her husband painted back when he was healthier. Sakurako points out how exposure to the morning sun releases serotonin, which calms and soothes the mind. She tempers her conclusions as mere speculation, but they fit the facts, the timing, the motive, and the details.

These conclusions also provide comfort and closure to Yuriko. Now that she knows her grandmother didn’t give up on her grandfather, she has that much more reason to be strong and provide care in her granny’s place. Another satisfying mystery that respectfully delved into a specific (yet under-represented in anime) circumstance in modern human society—caring for those who can’t care for themselves—and built logically to a life-affirming finish.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 02

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This was a tough one to watch, but it still felt good to watch it. Though I don’t have any kids, I could feel my latent parental instincts kick in on multiple occasions. What I do have is a little niece going on three, the same age as the girl who serves as a conduit for this week’s murder mystery, which turns out to be a lot more involved than last week’s century-old skeleton or the suicide-not-suicide.

The little girl, who only has the most basic grasp of communication, and will default to “no” when confronted with strong direct demands, is like a lock that Sakurako and Shou must pick in order to figure out who she is and where she came from. I like how such a lockpicking must be undertaken by a lad too young for kids and an older but still young woman too involved in her work to bother with things like husbands or children of her own.

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In spite of this, Sakurako and Shou become the kid’s surrogate parents for the duration of their investigation. Shou is the one who brings her to Sakurako, who quickly notices the child is suffering from a poorly-healed bone injury; the likely result of abuse. As luck would have it, a classmate of Shou’s knows the kid and her real name, leading them to her house: a pigsty strewn with bags of garbage and a likely den of neglect and abuse. Then they find the corpse of the mother, and a new story emerges.

The mother is dead of an apparent stab wound, with only one defensive wound, and died in a very strange position that turns out to be one best-suited for covering a trap door in the kitchen where she hid her other child, an infant boy. When Sakurako moves the mother’s body and finds the babe, she wastes no time attempting to revive it, pumping his tiny heart to provide his brain with enough oxygen to stay alive.

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Before help can come, the father does: a knife-wielding drug addict looking for “butterflies.” Saku is unable to move to protect herself, lest she risk losing the baby, and the cop who accompanied her and Shou is the first one stabbed. That means Shoutarou has to step up and save everyone, which he does thanks to some karate he learned from his gramps.

Far from impressed, Saku is angry at Shou for acting so recklessly. As he acted, she remembered a young boy running from her in a similar fashion, and being unable to stop him. A younger brother she lost, perhaps? In any case, all’s well that ends well. The baby wakes up (thank GOD) and the police and ambulance arrive. And throughout all of this, the three-year-old has been kept safe by Shou’s classmate in the other room, shielding her from further trauma.

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The house may be the dump of a destitute couple unable to properly care for their two young children, but in Sakurako’s reconstruction of what happened (which happens with all of the pieces having been previously, carefully laid out), the mother is redeemed as a Mother, one who did not hesitate to sacrifice her own life to save both of her kids from her insane, homicidal partner. She may not have been the best mother in life, but she did the one fundamental thing required of her, and all mothers, when it mattered: she protected her children.

This was more than just a rich spoiled genius girl solving a another mystery for her own satisfaction. The show successfully drew me even further in by upping the stakes considerably. This was about continuing the work the murdered mother started: making sure those innocent kids survive. And Saku couldn’t do it alone; she needed the help of her “Watson” and the plucky cop, and they delivered.

With this latest case closed, a deeper mystery remains: the truth of Saku’s memory.  Shoutarou is surprised when she calls him by his first name in the aftermath of their ordeal, but also remembers her shouting “Soutarou” during it. Calling him Shoutarou is a sign of intimacy, yet when he asks her to confirm calling him that, she backs away, careful to maintain the same distance between them. Something haunts her; something Shou wants to uncover; and I want to see him uncover it!

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