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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 12 (Fin) – Wrapped Up in You

Whatever Yuyu’s tortured emotional state prior to retrieving her late Schutzengel’s CHARM from Moyu’s lab, it’s all cleared up by the time she joins Riri in the battle against the mega-Huge. She uses Lunatic Trancer in a focused, controlled way, beating back the Huge’s sword-like appendages and helping Riri buy time for the other Lilies.

Riri crosses swords with Yuyu, and her Charisma skill seemingly binds with Misuzu’s within the Dainsleif to neutralize not only Yuyu’s Lunatic Tracer, but the damping field keeping everyone from using Magie. That allows the rest of the Hitotsuyanagi Legion to execute the Neunwelt Tactic. Not only do Yuyu and Riri’s seven legion-mates pass the Magie sphere amongst themselves, but pass it to each and every Lily in the Yurigaoka student body

Riri and Yuyu gladly accept that sphere and add their own Magie to it, resulting in a coup-de-grace that bisects the Huge and utterly destroys it. There are no Lily casualties, and there’s an unintended result to the collateral damage from the Huge explosion: the baths are now al fresco. The Lilies’ post-battle bath is also the first in which Yuyu joins Riri, much to the chagrin of Kaede.

But there’s one more battle to be fought: the ultra-class Huge lurking in the currently dormant nest. Moyu and the director determine that Riri and her highly advanced Charisma ability is the only one who can destroy the boss, but allow her to make the choice. Obviously, Riri accepts the mission, and Yuyu will accompany and protect her. The two are airdropped via V-22 Osprey into what looks like a hurricane’s eye, their descent slowed by a charming parasol.

I figured there’d be a little more mind wrestling among Yuyu, Misuzu, and Riri, but in a surprising twist we neither see nor hear Misuzu this week, and Yuyu is simply fine now, thanks to Riri. They descend down to the ocean floor and together they thrust Misuzu’s Dainsleif into the Huge.

This injects it with “bug” code courtesy of Moyu, and the Huge is obliterated without a fight. Riri pulls on Yuyu’s tie, which generates a spherical floatation device. Riri briefly loses consciousness and meets Yuri in a dream, who says a proper goodbye and promises she’ll get her and Yuyu home safe.

Riri wakes up to find she and Yuyu are inside the bubble in their skivvies. They wash up on the shore, and Kaede bursts the bubble and is mortified by the “lascivious” scene. Their Legion, along with Alfhiem and many other Lilies welcome the conquering heroines home. A photo of the scantily clad couple makes it in the paper, along with the news that Moyu and Gropi finally became Schutzengel and Schild—which is staged like a wedding.

Then everyone gathers under the old tree for a well-deserved nap. This finale wasn’t all that concerned with delving back into Yuyu’s complex relationship with Misuzu or the larger ramifications of synthetic Lilies or even the role of Lilies in a post-Huge era. Instead, it gave us one last slick battle, a final boss fight that’s more of a formality, and a return to the carefree life of leisure and fellowship the Lilies enjoyed when not dealing with crises. It’s a perfectly serviceable ending.

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 11 – A Drop of Morning Dew

Apprently, there is no separating Yuyu from Misuzu. Wracked by grief and guilt in the third and sixth episodes, Yuyu went on rampages and Riri was able to calm her, probably by using her Rare Skill Charisma. But that seems to have only been a temporary fix, as some lingering version of Misuzu continues to haunt and influence her.

As Riri’s Legion decides to throw a “ramune party” for Riri, Moyu reports the findings of her research, which suggest that not only did Misuzu possess the Rare Skill Charisma (like Riri), but that Charisma has influenced the Huge and caused them to evolve.

Moyu, an old friend of Yuyu’s, isn’t able to get much of anything useful out of Yuyu, as the Misuzu in her head seemingly tightens her hold on her, making her less useful and responsive. Moyu knows something is wrong, but unless Yuyu says something, she cant help.

Instead, Yuyu keeps returning to her past with Misuzu, who comes off like a young Anakin Skywalker, slowly being consumed by the fear and anger her powers are creating, and thus talking about things she wouldn’t say to anyone else. Young Yuyu is so glad to be loved, she doesn’t seem to realize Misuzu is serious about wanting to be killed if she “goes too far”.

When Riri tries to bring Yuyu back into the here or now, she’s unsuccessful; Yuyu’s simmering pain and the influence of the Misuzu in her head are too overwhelming to bother with Riri or parties. Misuzu wonders if it’s Yuyu with the Charisma. Just then, three bright lines streak up into the sky from the Huge Nest.

Those three objects eventually land, creating craters and forcing the evacuation of the academy. The three objects become active and combine their Magie into a single object. Even the Acting Chairman seems unsure if they’re going to be able to get out of this one. All of the Lilies discover their CHARMs have no Magie; the objects created some kind of dampening field. Only Riri’s CHARM works, and she heads off to find Yuyu.

Yuyu, who has all but Gone Bye-Bye, reliving a disturbing memory of Misuzu comparing her to a drop of morning dew. Misuzu is fighting with every fiber of her being not to destroy Yuyu like she did that beautiful but ephemeral drop…to hold back “wicked feelings.” Very Dark Side-y. It’s confirmed when the developing Huge flashes the same Rune Misuzu flashes when she uses Charisma to silence Yuyu in the flashback.

It’s clear Misuzu controls Yuyu still, as Yuyu tries to enter Lunatic Tracer mode to attack the developing Huge. When Riri arrives to try to take her out of harm’s way, Yuyu accuses her of trying to control her like Misuzu did. Riri, noting Yuyu’s CHARM has no Magie, she smacks it out of her hands, ruining it in the process.

Riri assures Yuyu that the Misuzu she’s seeing and interacting with isn’t the “real” Misuzu…but how can she know that? She then heads off, again, on her own…again. How did that work out for Yuri, again? The rest of the Legion may be all but powerless, but they’re still united in their desire to help Riri…somehow.

As for Riri, she comes face to face with the biggest, meanest, most advanced Huge yet; a Huge whose evolution has seemingly been sped along to near-perfection by Misuzu. Back in the dorm, Yuyu calms herself enough to remember there’s a CHARM she can use: the Dainsleif in the research lab. Sure enough, its Magie is still active. But will Yuyu use it to help Riri fight the Huge, or will she simply fight Riri?

Assault Lily gets super dark this week, building on a lot of bandied-about ideas about the similarities between the Lilies and their Nemeses the Huge. But I can’t help but feel like we’re treading on worn ground with Yuyu and Misuzu. I like all the dark new revelations that surfaced this week, but Yuyu’s previous struggles lend these events an air of repetitiveness.

The Yuri arc, on which considerable time was spent, doesn’t seem to offer much to all of this, or at least the show isn’t making a potential connection clear, other than possibly Misuzu chose to be a Huge while Yuri chose to be a Lily. I almost wish the Yuri story had been excised in favor of more development of Yuyu and others.

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 10 – Four-Leaf Clover

The big question going into this week was “What Now?” Would Riri and her Legion try to find a way to bring Yuri back, or would she accept and process her loss? This is answered pretty quickly: Yuri is gone, and she’s not coming back. As a formality, Riri is serving a week in solitary confinement.

Even her Schutzengel Yuyu can only visit her for ten minutes. It’s clear Riri’s building a hard shell in which to put all of her regret and sadness, and Yuyu wants to do something about it. So she asks the rest of the Legion to help her look for her missing four-leaf clover hairpin, which she lost in the battle.

They all think of ways their perception-based rare skills can be combined and experiment over the next six days, but without success. They mostly end up exhausting themselves and requiring long soothing baths to recover, but no one wants to give up.

During one of those bath sessions, other Lilies learn what Riri’s Legion is up to, and they want to help contribute if they can. Meanwhile, Kaede seems busy using the crafts workshop to create a new four-leaf clover for Riri.

On the seventh and final day before Riri is released, Yuyu and her Legion are shocked to find virtually the entire school has come out to the beach so they can all combine their magie into one massive ultra-precise search net.

It works: the location of the pin is determined, and Kaede rides on Thi Mai’s back and they race out to the open water to recover the pin…at the cost of getting very cold and wet and needing to sit by a fire afterwards.

When Riri emerges from her cell, she’s surprised to find not just her Legion members, but all of the other Lilies who helped out and were concerned about her. Kaede presents the four-leaf clover she made, and Riri recognizes it as a fake, as hers always had a crack in one leaf.

Kaede owns up to having found the genuine article early in their weeklong search, but it was so badly damaged she feared presenting it to Riri would do the opposite of cheer her up, so she spent long nights crafting a new one from scratch.

Kaede is contrite for duping everyone, but Riri gives her a big hug, thankful for her and everyone else’s efforts on her behalf. Then, despite being happy, tears start to fall, and before long she’s bawling her eyes out. Yuyu is glad she’s letting it all out; its a catharsis Riri’s imprisonment had unnaturally delayed.

Now that she’s free, Riri can finally visit Yuri’s grave and pay her respects, and the subject of Yuyu’s Schutzengel Kawazoe Misuzu comes up, with regard to how Yuyu managed to get over her death. Yuyu says it simply takes time and the acceptance that the past can’t be changed. Then the “ghost” of Misuzu appears and speaks to Yuyu (Riri can’t see her).

This is an odd coincidence, because a CHARM has been recovered from inside a Huge five months ago, and Moyu determines that its owner was…Kawazoe Misuzu. Is the ghost just in Yuyu’s head, or is it a product of Mizusu’s CHARM somehow “influencing” the Huge?

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 09 – Nobody Is Perfect

Matters isolate quickly this week, as Chairman Takamatsu concedes that according to GEHENA and Grand Guignol, Yuri is a Huge, not a human or a Lily, and thus not under the academy’s protection. The StuCo brass goes to Riri just as she’s about to trim Yuri’s bangs, but thankfully Yuyu backs them up, giving them cover to escape.

Whatever she was to GEHENA and Grand Guignol, Yuri is clearly something else entirely now, thanks to Riri and the Legion. Yuri has also demonstrated free will, and it’s her wish to stay with everyone. Still, the government doesn’t see it that way, and orders all available Lilies to capture Yuri and arrest Riri.

Yuyu insists to Takamatsu that Yuri couldn’t possibly by a dangerous entity. The Legion sans Yuyu and Kaede makes a collective effort to support Riri and Yuri, and Yuyu soon joins them to declare that as vice commander she is going against the government’s orders. They’ll pursue Riri and Yuri and be the first to find them, and when they do, they’ll protect them from anyone who tries to take Yuri.

Kaede, whom it was hinted at could be a Guignol mole, ends up not betraying Riri and the Legion. Quite the contrary, her call to her father is to tell him she won’t soon (if ever) forgive him for getting in bed with GEHENA and causing this mess, before joining Yuyu and the others. Meanwhile Riri and Yuri find refuge in an abandoned, Huge-ravaged town.

It isn’t just Riri’s Legion who question the justifications of the government’s pursuit of Yuri. All over the search radius, groups of Lilies from Yurigaoka and other academies are all wondering the same thing: “Is Yuri a person or a Huge?” Their answer determines how they should proceed, and whether they should disobey orders. In the case of three Yurigaoka rank-in-files, the answer is obvious and unanimous: Yuri is a person.

But the government won’t take their word, nor Riri’s, nor even Chairman Takamatsu’s at face value. Their belief must be proven, and that’s what brings us to a surprisingly excellent mini-“courtroom drama” as Takamatsu is grilled before arrogant government representatives. As always, Takamatsu’s position is that the young girls who must bear the burden of combat should be afforded as much free will as possible, and Yuri is no different.

That assertion is proven beyond doubt by the absolutely clutch and badass Moshima “Weekly” Moyu, who just finished science-ing the FUCK out of this issue, and has come to the conclusion that Yuri is not a Huge; she’s Human. 99.9% human. Why not 100? Because no one is 100% human, or we’d all be exactly the same and evolution would never occur.

With the matter of what Yuri is settled, the question becomes a matter of jurisdiction and precedent. Moyu demonstrates how prepared she was for this presentation by citing a treaty their nation’s government ratified last year affording “genetically human” individuals like Yuri the same human rights as naturally born ones.

Takamatsu completes the absolute ruination of the pencil pushers by concluding that the order to arrest Riri and capture Yuri were baseless and illegitimate, and thus should be rescinded. As for Riri and Yuri, as Lilies, their punishment is his responsibility.

Riri and Yuri have some tough conversations about where Yuri belongs and what will happen if things don’t go their way, but thankfully all of that is moot when Yuyu and the rest of the Legion arrives in force, and Yuyu declares the crisis resolved. Yuri has been proven to be human, and thus is now safe. The episode could have ended here…All’s well that ends well…Let’s all celebrate over ice cream!

Well, hold on…not so fast.

Their reunion is interrupted by the emergence of the biggest, baddest, most destructive mega-Huge yet encountered, an Evangelion Angel by any other name that is not only able to control Magie, but draws a continuously replenishing supply from its nest. It demonstrates its power by focusing nine energy fields into one and condensing it into a particle beam that utterly destroys everything in its path.

The Lilies amass on the beach, and the moment Yuri understands the situation, she’s off, on her own, at blinding speed over the water, while effortlessly using a combination of Thi Mai and Gropi’s Rare Skills.

One by one she takes out the nine fields while dodging the Huge’s counterattacks, in another sequence lush with awesome sakuga. When Yuri delivers the coup-de-grace, the resulting explosion is massive and, she smiles a sad but determined smile…as it seems to consume her.

As the remains of the Huge burn offshore, Yuri’s ruined CHARM washes ashore, and Riri takes hold of it as she grieves for her sister who sacrificed herself to save everyone who fought to save her. She bitterly remarks how the day started so innocently—with her giving Yuri he first haircut. How that same day end like this?

This is without doubt the finest bloom yet in Assault Lily’s bouquet. It upended the status quo, raised the stakes to the rafters, and put all the pieces together. It employed its reliably-strong eye candy not as a crutch but to back up some truly superb character work, badass scientific research, and some smart, electric conference room sparring.

As for whether Yuri is really dead, that’s something I’m not yet ready to concede with a certainty. It depends on several factors. Will Assault Lily get a second season? After all those lengthy introductions and lighter, quieter early episodes, I truly hope so…I’ve finally memorized everyone in Riri’s Legion!

Second cour or no, it isn’t even about Assault Lily’s “courage” or “guts” to keep an apparently killed key character dead. If it can come up with a good reason to bring her back, I’m all for it. Like she was for Riri and everyone else, Yuri was taken away far too soon.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 07 – The Broken Knight Repaired

Last week we saw Renly had run and hidden in a supply tent behind the lines, but as luck would have it that’s the very tent to which Ronie and Tiese take Kirito in order to keep him safe. Before they arrive, Renly is haunted by Administrator saying he’s always been “broken” due to his inability to master Perfect Weapon Control.

We learn the reason for that is that when sparring with a friend, he accidentally dealt a lethal blow to him after shattering his sword. But when a goblin too big for the girls to take on bursts into the tent, and he sees how strongly Kirito wants to protect them, Renly snaps out of his funk and kills the goblin with his sparrow blades.

He then makes his way back to the lines, killing every goblin he sees. until he’s faced with their chief, for whom his standard attacks won’t work. Again he remembers Kirito’s determination and uses Recollection to bind his two blades into one, cleaving the charging chief straight in half. Linel and Fizel, who fell back to rescue him, return to their unit, learning he’d managed to found his courage without them.

Elsewhere, the Dark Mages and Ogres are on the march, but 800 aerial minions are launched as air support. They all fly straight into a dense lattice of Bercouli’s time slashes, which he activates simultaneously, taking them all out. If last week was the Dark Territory making some inroads, this week was clearly the Human Empire pushing back.

That trend continues when Alice finally makes her move. She had generated a giant mirror filled with luminous elements harvested from the souls of the dead below. She’s saddened to learn that both human and dark territory forces have the exact same souls, rendering their entire conflict pointless in her mind. Nevertheless, this is a battle that has to be one.

To that end, she compresses the mirror sphere into a much smaller size, until the elements within reflect infinitely. Having scooped up all the souls, the charging dark mages aren’t able to fire off a single attack, and along with the ogres, are obliterated when Alice finally unleashes the destructive power built up within the sphere in a terrifying beam.

Alice gathered the spent lives of thousands in order to craft an attack to destroy still more thousands, all for the sake of one. To her, protecting Kirito is paramount, but as we know, it is she who is most important and in need of protecting, as she is Gabriel’s primary target.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 06 – Spitting in the Wind

After a comprehensive layout of the order of battle on both sides, the flatland goblins, giants, and mountain goblins advance on the three sides of the first unit, led by Deusolbert, Fanatio, and Eldrie, respectively. Eldrie falls victim to his inexperience and lets the goblins get too close, and their smoke bombs turn his flank into confusing chaos.

But Sir Deusolbert has a big ol’ quiver of giant arrows, each one of which is capable of blasting away dozens of foes in an instant. It’s impressive firepower…but there’s a limit to it, and when he runs out of arrows, he’s badly exposed and must rely on his men to protect him by essentially throwing their lives away—lives the Human forces cannot afford to lose.

Fanatio also looks poised to make quick work of the charging giants, until their chief starts to glitch and enters a kind of savage berserk mode that catches Fanatio off balance. Fortunately, her loyal lieutenant Dakira steps in and blocks the giant’s attack. Unfortunately, Dakira dies of her injuries, and Fanatio uses up a lot of time and energy eliminating the chief.

The episode ends with the front lines just barely holding together after just the first wave of Dark Territory forces, with Eldrie’s unit in particularly bad way. And that wave is nothing but cannon fodder; it felt like the knights were throwing their best weapons at this enemy without much thought to preserving some of that power for the tougher waves.

Then again, they don’t have a choice. Their regular soldiers are under-trained and untested, and even one of the younger Integrity Knights demonstrates he has no integrity by fleeing the battle to hide in a storage shed. The battle has barely begun, and the forces of the Human Empire have already taken a serious hit in manpower, energy, and morale.

Alice glides over all of this, holding her powder for the next waves to come, and summons a massive ball of…something. Destructive energy, I guess? Hopefully she can slow the enemy’s advance at least somewhat to allow the units to regroup, but it still feels like the Humans are going to need a lot more help, either from Kirito finally waking up (or at least instinctively contributing somehow) or the timely arrival of Asuna.

Bloom Into You – 13 (Fin) – Right Now Is Different

As she visits her family grave, Touko remains determined to “see things through” and put on the stage show in her sister’s place. And that’s all fine and dandy…for the present. But what about when the show is over? Who is she, who does she become once there’s nothing left to do in her sister’s name?

Miyako’s Café Echo is a quiet and intimate place that draws both Yuu and Kanou (to start the process of re-writing the play’s ending) and Touko and Sayaka. While the latter two are there, Miyako and Sayaka share some knowing glances and phrases, and Sayaka finally asks Touko about her sister: What was she like?

Touko is somewhat hesitant to answer, as she’s realized the Mio she knew wasn’t the whole picture. Sayaka responds that just because what she knew of Mio wasn’t complete doesn’t mean that part wasn’t a real and legitimate part of who she was—and a part about which Sayaka wants to hear.

Talking about her sister puts Touko back in a forlorn, uneasy state, and she just wants to see Yuu at times like that, to simply exist with her in the right now. Yet even though she’s been told she’s allowed to “indulge herself” Touko still hesitates to send a text…until Yuu sends her one first, inviting her to hang out.

Just that one simple little text completely changes Touko’s right now. Back at the cafe, Riko arrives, and Miyako asks her if she prefers men or women; a kind of loaded question. Riko admits, she’s not especially attracted to women, but right now, she’s dating one: Miyako. Life is full of exceptions, contradictions, and imperfections. They can or can’t be explained, and can only either be accepted or not.

Yuu and Touko go to Aqua World and have a blast, and I couldn’t be happier. I’d much rather the series end on a lovely date that explores where they’re at in their relationship right now, rather than focus on the festival and stage play. I’m far less interested as a play than as a mirror to who Touko “is.” I shouldn’t, then, be surprised that Bloom Into You gave me what I wanted.

What I also didn’t want, and thankfully didn’t get, was a confession or “awakening” from Yuu. What I did get was Touko explaining why she says I love you so easily and often to Yuu. Regardless of how Yuu reacts, simply saying it makes Touko feel relieved. Relieved that she can actually fall in love with someone, something the sister she knew never did (as far as she knows).

That means that she’s not falling in love simply to check off another box on the list of things her sister did. It’s something that happened to her, Touko, organically and without influence. And however much of who she is is only a lie or an emulation of Mio, the part of her that likes Yuu is most assuredly neither. It’s real, and it’s relieving.

She admits that sounds self-contradictory, but Yuu further comforts her by stating what she believes: that it’s perfectly fine to be self-contradictory. To be so is to be human.

While outside before the penguin march, Yuu starts performing the play, and Touko joins in once she realizes there’s no one else around. When Yuu changes some of her lines from the script, she says she’s improvising, that Touko follow suit, and that Kanou is changing things up because she wasn’t satisfied with the script as-is.

When the part comes when Touko’s character is apprehensive about which person she should choose to be based on the different stories she’s received, Yuu asks why she needs to make a choice at all. “I don’t know anyone aside from ‘you'”,  Yuu’s nurse character says. It’s not like Touko’s character has no memories, she’s gained enough during the hospital stay to lay out the groundwork of who she is right now, not who she might’ve been.

The penguin show interrupts their rehearsal, and the two continue to enjoy the aquarium. Eventually Yuu takes Touko by the hand and leads her through the transparent underwater tunnels, to other exhibits, and to the gift shop. Touko wishes this would never end, but the exit approaches … they’re there already; too soon for her taste.

On the train home, both Touko and Yuu are sleepy and close to drifting off. Yuu tells Touko she can, and she does, leaning her shoulder and head against her. In idea for the title of Kanou’s play comes to Yuu: “Only You Know.” She takes the sleeping Touko’s hand and draws nearer, gently waking her and saying they need to change trains…

…And that’s it! Such a quiet, delicate ending full of warmth and love. Do I wish we got to see more of Touko and Yuu’s relationship blooming, and possibly Yuu eventually figuring out that what she feels for Touko is indeed a kind of love? Sure, and in that regard, this series has left us with naught but an elipsis, and a second season has not yet been confirmed.

So Like Touko with her memories of her sister, we have to be content with what we have and the fact that it’s not the whole picture…though I hope we get a little more down the road.—sesameacrylic

Bloom Into You – 12 – Changing the Ending

Actors put draw from personal pain to express pain in their performances, but in light of what Ichigaya told her about her sister, the line between performance and real emotion is perilously thin. Sure, Touko blows everyone away with her line-reading, but they don’t know that almost all of those lines could be said about her!

Everyone, except for Yuu and Sayaka. But all throughout camp, just as Yuu’s affection for Touko seems to be growing, the combination of Touko’s promise to hold back and Sayaka assigning herself in charge of “looking after” Touko, you can see Yuu grow increasingly lonely and frustrated. Yuu knows that Touko wasn’t acting when talking about who the “real her” was.

After Sayaka dismisses Yuu’s concerns (and frankly doesn’t see the need to discuss it with a kohei at all), Yuu seizes an opportunity when she and Touko are alone and all but orders her to walk her home. She asks about Touko and her family’s further Summer plans. She stops at the railroad crossing and remembers the kiss Touko gave her.

Then, she takes the initiative once more. When Touko’s about to go her separate way, Yuu invites her to her room, and is honest about why: if they part there, they won’t see each other for a while, and she doesn’t like that. She wants Touko to have more faith in her, for she’s holding up her end of the bargain, neither loving nor hating her. Touko accepts, but warns Yuu that she’s going to “indulge” herself.

What ensues is the steamiest scene between the two yet, and another demonstration of how Yuu is probably not being fully honest with herself when it comes to how she feels about Touko.

The show pulls no bush-league parent barge-ins; the two have each other all to themselves, and spend it on the bed until dusk. Kudos to the sound designer and the voice actors for the very immersive blowing fan, as well as the extremely subtle sound effect of the girls’ lips meeting. Touko’s flowing hair is also impressively handled.

During that time, Touko opens up to her about why she’s upset, just as she hoped she would. She expresses how lost and aimless she feels now that her idea of who her sister was might not be remotely accurate. Yuu asks why she needs to “become” someone other than who she currently is.

Again, Touko’s self-loathing surfaces in response. Assuming (perhaps wrongly) Yuu feels nothing for her, she questions why she’d stay the way she is. Then, after getting on top and kissing Yuu some more, Touko whispers in her ear “Don’t fall in love with me. Because, you know, I hate myself. And I can’t be in love with someone who likes the things I hate, right?”

Well, wrong, Touko! Staking her love entirely on the person she loves never loving her back just…that’s not how this works! That assumes Yuu’s feelings will never change no matter what, even as Touko insists upon changing into someone better than she is.  Like she can evolve, but Yuu can’t. It’s unfair, selfish, and utterly misguided. But it’s also what you’d expect of someone with Touko’s experiences.

Yuu agrees with me, in that just because you can logically explain why Touko feels this way doesn’t mean you have to accept it. And Yuu won’t. She yells “Senpai, you idiot!!” when they part, hoping Touko heard her. After spending some time alone with her thoughts, she calls Kanou: she wants to change the ending.

She runs to Kanou’s house to explain, and ends up drawing out the very reason Kanou was so frustrating with the ending as she wrote it (the girl ends up becoming the person her lover remembers).  It all comes down to why the character would pick that version of her: the motivations are totally couched in the past, rather than in the present duration when she’s lacked memories but gained insights from three different people.

The need to choose one and only one of the three version to “become” was always a false one; both Kanou and Yuu see this strongly implicitly. Realistically, there’s a fourth way to go, an ending where that false choice isn’t made. But Yuu doesn’t simply seek to change the play’s ending. She wants to change Touko herself; to somehow get her to see that there’s no single answer. She doesn’t want Touko to hate herself.

It may be selfish or arrogant (and her gaze into the stars of the mini-planetarium do give her a very imperious bearing), but it’s what she’s setting out to do. Hopefully, she’ll take a second at some point and figure out why she has to…though something tells me she already knows.

Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 08

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In this, the finest episode of Sakurako-san to date, One solved mystery leads to a second, than a third, and opens up the possibility of the larger, deeper truths involving Sakurako and her brother, whom Shoutarou reminds her of so much. Shoutarou feels he’s created a rift between him and Sakurako after his outburst about her cat Ulna.

Asking if she’ll accompany him to personally deliver Sasaki-sensei’s effects to his surviving relative is a way for him to reestablish contact, but she claims she’s just “tired”, not avoiding him, and must have been mistaken when she mentioned cat bones at the school, noting quite pointedly “Even I make mistakes, sometimes.”

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Sasaki’s sister, the wheelchair-bound Haruma Sayuki, greets them warmly and thanks them for bringing her brother’s belongings. She’s also able to confirm the identity of the bones in Sasaki’s office, those of Sone Natsuko. The alleged child of a sex worker who came to live with Atsurou and Sayuki, her brother fell for “Nacchan”, but she had a baby out of wedlock—not by him—that was born premature and died soon thereafter.

It was the bones of that baby—whom Natsuko buried that very night many years ago—Sayuki had hoped Shou had brought, so she could lay them and her mother’s bones to rest in the family grave, something her family would probably never have allowed back in the old days.

Sakurako has all she needs to deduce the location of the babe’s bones: in the vicinity of a monument to Mistletoe, a book both Natsuko and Atsurou loved. Sure enough, they find bones, but she also discovers a different truth that differs from Sayuki’s account, and all because Sayuki happened to be wearing open-toed sandals when she first met her and Shou.

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Sayuki has “Celtic-style” feet, with the index toe taller than the big toe; the same kind of foot Sayuki has and Atsurou had. Combined with the extremely high risk of a woman who just gave birth exerting herself buring a child, Sakurako believes Sayuki is the mother, which she finally admits. Natsuko had helped her get in touch with a man she fell in love with, and she got pregnant out of wedlock.

Because her father had arranged a marriage for her, she could not keep the baby, so the fiction was created that it was Natsuko’s, thus preserving Sayuki for marriage, but destroying any chances of Natsuko and Atsurou getting marrying. Natsuko died alone, and Sayuki was going to as well, but now she’ll be reunited with Natsuko, whom she loved as a sister, and her own child, before she dies.

It is strongly hinted at that Sayuki didn’t give birth to a premature child, but rather aborted her, the means for which must have been crude and dangerous.

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It’s a heartbreaking change to an already heartbreaking narrative, in this show that deals with themes and events in real life that few anime bother to. When Shoutarou wonders why Sasaki-sensei never married Natsuko even after being disowned by his family for pursuing a life of education, Sakurako has a simple answer: he believed Natsuko herself may have been a half-sibling by blood, with a shared father. That may not have been the real truth, but it was still a truth he believed in until his death. “Sometimes there’s more than one truth,” Saku remarks.

Back when Shou gave Sayuki her brother’s effects, he kept the photo with the poem, fearing it meant something bad or sad. But with all this new information coming to light, he does further research, and gives the photo to Sayuki, who identifies the poem as one by Roka, and concluding Natsuko wrote it to express her own grief when she was close to death. For a moment, Sayuki transforms into her younger self, filled with grief but also a sense of closure and catharsis. It’s a very moving scene, and it’s thanks to Shou for not closing the case too early.

But that’s not the end of Shou’s sleuthing this week. Staring at a diagram of a skeleton in his school’s lab and thinking about Sakurako’s comment about “more than one truth”, it dawns on him that Sakurako indeed stole the cat bones, and knows why: Because the ulna is only one of two bones in the forearm: the other is the radius. Sakurako had two cats.

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Sakurako and Shou, who looked so cold and grey and distant during the car ride at the start of the episode, are enrobed in the warm, sensual light of the setting sun as Shou argues his case and she listens attentively. He further deduces that because she knew her way to the lab so quickly, and the school was once all-girls, that she was an alumna at his school. Sakurako heartily applauds Shou’s skills of observation: he is correct.

Someone poisoned her two cats, Ulna and Radius, when she was little. She went to Sasaki-sensei with the corpses, who understood what she wanted to do. In life, the cats were always inseparable, so she wanted to reunite them in death as well once she found Radius again, if only briefly.

She hid the theft from Shou thinking he wouldn’t understand, but ironically it’s because she acts like, as she says, an “emotional, foolish human being” that he can finally realize there are some things about the two of them that are alike; that it isn’t hopeless to be friends with her; that he can understand her, sometimes. When he says she can keep the cat in exchange for fox bones, she shows more of that emotion.

That brings us to the relationship we now know of between Sakurako and Sasaki, who taught her osteology and considered her an apprentice. And to Saku admitting “even she makes mistakes sometimes.” Did Saku and Sasaki’s relationship go even deeper into “absurd emotional human” territory?

Could the titular “bones under her feet” (and the small skull that orbits her in the ED) be not her brother’s, but those of her son? All speculation on my part, but I don’t think it’s that wild. There are many more truths and mistakes and motivations to unpack in the final three episodes.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 07

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To Shou’s apparent amazement, Sakurako graces his school festival with her presence—in a skirt, no less!—though it could have more to do with the fact she’d have access to delicious pancakes than any particular urge to see or hang out with Shou. Or is that being too harsh? In a show full of mysteries, Sakurako remains the largest, though we’re now 7/11ths into the show.

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Suddenly disappearing after her meal, Shou finds her in the one place in a school she’d go: the lab, to check out skeletons. She couldn’t care less about rudely off and going without saying something, either because she just doesn’t conform to social norms, or because she knew Shou would be able to find her if he needed to. Far more important to Saku once she inspects the bones, is that a grave injustice is taking place.

The skeletons are gathering dust as decor rather than being handled by students for educational benefit. I loved her matter-of-fact indignation and scolding of Professor Isozaki who maintains the lab but is more of a plant guy, but promises improvement, which matters to Saku more than apologies.

Things take a very Sakurako-san-like turn when Isozaki offers Saku the job of organizing a prep room full of unorganized bones left there by the former teacher who is now deceased. Saku agrees in exchange for three pumpkin Mont Blancs from Patisserie Dandelion, a very specific but also delicious-sounding (and fair) price.

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During the long, dusty process of organizing the prep room and taking inventory of the bones, Saku comes across the skeleton of a dog and a cat, which disturbs Shou quite a bit due to their status as pets. He also remembers seeing a cat skeleton with the name “Ulna” in Saku’s house, and she tells him Ulna was the name of her pet cat, who died an “unnatural death.” She wanted to learn the cause, so she performed an autopsy.

This really unsettles Shou, who gets frustrated when Saku reacts so differently than him. He feels she’s being cold and heartless, even if that’s not really quite the case. It’s another depressing sign to him that Saku is so very different than him, which more than the fact she has a fiancee (that’s more of an excuse not to pursue her, not a true obstacle, as Isozaki opines), keeps him from making a closer connection, to say nothing of pursuing a romance.

They also find a chest full of the bones of a cremated human named Sone Natsuko, who judging from the writings among Sasaki’s personal effects, had at least some connection with him, possibly a close one. Alas, it isn’t a case for Sakurako-san, as the police are called and take the remains away.

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The next day, Shou is confused by the lack of a cat skeleton in the inventory, when he could swear Saku was stroking a cat skull, just as he was talking about her petting Ulna. Because of the way Shou thinks and makes connections to interactions, he believes he might have upset Saku with his in hindsight over-the-top reaction to her comments on Ulna.

But of course an analytical person like Saku would want to find out why her cat died. That, not burying her in the yard and burning some incense, is how she processes the pain of her loss. And when Shou comes to her mansion to deliver her Mont Blancs, the gate is locked. Not because Sakurako is angry, but because she’s gone to visit her uncle, Shitara.

Shitara’s a professor of forensic medicine, now confined to a bed and requiring some kind of SGD to communicate. Saku, perhaps inspired by Shou bringing up Ulna, has come for Shitara’s unsolved case, which she wants to investigate, and she has Shitara’s blessing, provided she doesn’t do anything dangerous. I wonder if Saku will let Shou in on this. She’d better, if she wants those Mont Blancs…

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 06

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When Kougami Yuriko’s friends encourage her to ask Shoutarou to be her date for the Asahikawa Summer Festival, she has her usual coffee with Shou, but all he talks about is Sakurako-san. When she shows up to the festival resplendent in her yukata, but alone, one wonders why she didn’t press. Does she believe Shou is out of her reach, preferring the older, more amazing Sakurako, or is she just not that concerned about pursuing Shou, or anyone else, that way?

As she spots all of the lovey-dovey couples holding hands, seemingly rubbing in her face that which she lacks, she also spots a grandmother and child, and seems comforted and less lonely. It’s not that she doesn’t like the idea of walking hand-in-hand with someone she likes; but she’s more concerned with becoming someone who can protect those she cares about.

Then she spots an ethereal-looking woman with dark black hair throwing an envelope over the bridge, who then vanishes, leaving the envelope behind. Suddenly has on her hands something more interesting, at least to her, than a date. She has a mystery. Then she turns around and encounters another lonely heart, Isozaki-sensei, from her school.

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The envelope contains a ring, and Isozaki opens it to learn more. They determine it’s a synthetic diamond solitaire ring; most likely a wedding ring. The note inside asks forgiveness “for going to him.” Yuri is worried the woman was trying to throw herself off the bridge along with the ring, and wants to find her so she can help in some way. Izosaki…doesn’t.

The two butt heads, with Izosaki standing up for logic, analysis, rights and responsibilities, while Yuri cites human nature to not someone to die, and do whatever they can to prevent it. As the day turns to night, Izosaki considers taking off, but when he hears how serious Yuri is, he’s loath to leave her alone lest she get in trouble, so he agrees to look for the woman with her one more hour.

It’s strange; throughout their interaction, I couldn’t stop thinking how much more I’d enjoy it if it was Shoutarou by her side rather than Izosaki. The two have a good rapport, even if it doesn’t seem likely to turn to romance, and I think that Shou would be on the same page as Yuri. At the same time, the philosophical conflict that occurs from her and Izosaki can’t be discounted.

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Still, one gets the feeling Yuri would prefer the counsel of a professional investigator like Sakurako, so she keeps calling Shoutarou (since Saku doesn’t have a cell, Shou’s her only means of reaching her). When Saku finally appears, it’s by chance, on the very bridge where the mystery first began. Since Saku got lost in thought, she also got lost, which makes Shou and Utsumi have to send out a lost child address for her, which she’s not pleased about.

It’s here where Shou gets scolded by an angry Yuri for leaving his phone in Saku’s office, keeping her from contacting Saku earlier. Is Yuri masking her anger for not being able to spend the day with Shou, or is Shou really nothing more than a conduit to Saku that didn’t come through? The truth seems somewhere in between those extremes.

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Anyway, once Sakurako gets her hand on the ring, she determines it is not in fact a wedding ring, but a mourning ring, and the diamond itself was made with carbon from the bones of a departed loved one. She surmises that the woman sought to toss the ring away because she found another love. Sakurako then tosses the ring in the drink, and the fireworks commence.

It isn’t at all the conclusion Yuri expected, but she’s glad she worked hard and didn’t give up. It no doubt gives her strength and hope that not giving up on other things—or people—could also lead to good things.

I’ll be honest: this was very close to another 9 to me, and it all comes down to Yuri. I’d never have guessed in the first episode that she’d be anything other than a side character and (unrequited) love interest for Shou, but she’s become far more than that.

She’s complex, and feels like a real person, with ideals and beliefs and shortcomings that don’t always fall into easy categories. She’s both admiring and jealous of Sakurako. She’s chummy and warm, but also tentative with Shou. And as I said above, she’s in no hurry to define herself as one half of some couple so much as she wants to know she can stand on her own two feet.

It’s Sakurako’s show, and once she shows up she more or less dominates all the screen time she occupies. But I definitely wouldn’t mind more Yuri here and there.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 05

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Just as Sakurako assembles piles of bones into completed skeletons, she assembles piles of clues into solved mysteries. And this week she wastes no time revealing Fujioka’s “curse” by applying a hefty dose of science. All the rain and humidity caused mold to grew behind the frame of his painting; a mold that reacts to the arsenic-based Sheele’s Green paint to generae diethyl arsine gas.

Fujioka’s banded nails and cough were symptoms of arsenic poisoning, from being in close proximity to the painting in his closed-off room. She “lifts” the curse by opening a window, hopeful the fresh air and truth will set Fujioka at ease. But when Fujioka goes off to smoke his last cigarette, Sakurako senses this skeleton isn’t quite complete: more bones lay scattered whose proper place must be found.

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Among those bones: the fact Fujioka was fine having both a dog and a painting he believed to be cursed nearby; the fact he closely researched the causes and age of deaths of all his male relatives and printed out the results; the large life insurance policy he took out on himself; it all points to him looking to off himself and make it look like an accident; another victim of the family curse.

It almost works, too, but thanks to an alert Hector and a razor-sharp-minded Sakurako, his plan is foiled. She turniquets the leg he wounded with an axe, and as they wait for the ambulance, he confesses that after the global financial crisis, he’s broke, and could see no other way to provide for his wife and child than by sacrificing himself. But as someone who was “left behind” herself, Saku is personally offended by such an attitude.

Being alive and with his family is far more important to them than solving money troubles. So they sell the big black house—black, Saku believes, not because of that color’s association with death, but because of its psychological healing power: those in mourning who wear it aren’t merely expressing their grief, but fighting their fear of death.

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We hear bits and pieces of what becomes of Fujioka and his family: his leg on the mend, he gets a job at an IT company; they sell the house and move into a small apartment; and Sakurako adopts Hector so he can have the proper space to run around. Despite being taken down a couple of pegs, it’s still a happy ending for Fujioka, because his wife’s hope that they’ll grow old together and see their great grandchildren remains.

Sakurako remains weary of the art appraiser who insisted Fujioka get close to the painting with his wife and son, believing he may have had sinister intentions toward the family. Ultimately, his manipulation of Fujioka, and all the heightening anxiety it entailed, may have been the real curse that threatened to kill him. Hopefully, it’s gone now. But Saku still carries her own curse; one pile of bones she has yet to touch, and which Shoutarou continues to remind her of. I wonder when we’ll learn how those bones fit together in earnest—those of the titular ‘corpse under Sakurako’s feet’.

Last week’s episode felt a bit too deliberate and hesitant, but the resolution (imperfect as it is in typical Sakurako-san fashion) more than made up for it, using every bone laid out last week to construct a beautiful skeleton. Saku’s science-y deductions continue to make this one of the smartest shows of the Fall, and references to the Great Recession firmly ground it in reality.

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