Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 01 (First Impressions)

Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau, or Children of the Whales, begins with a funeral of a much-loved and admired 29-year-old teacher. She didn’t live a long live because she’s “Marked”, like 90 percent of the inhabitants of the Mud Whale. The Marked can use Thymia (magic), but are cursed with those short lives. The Unmarked, who live much longer, serve as the Mud Whale’s leaders.

It’s an efficient introduction to all the necessary whats and wherefores of this world that avoids being dry, and indeed is suffused with quite a bit of emotion due to the funeral of someone who went too soon. It’s also clear that as 90 percent of the population is doomed to die young, this mini-civilization travelling the shifting seas of sand aboard the Mud Whale may not have much of a future…unless there’s a change in the status quo.

Our window to this world is Chakuro, the teenage archivist of the Mud Whale who is not only Marked, but also “cursed” with the compulsion to record all he sees and hears, while trying to keep his own personal emotions out of it; a kind of Mud Whaleipædia. Other introductions include his sister Sami (also Marked), the chieftain Taisha (Unmarked), and her heir apparent Suou (also Unmarked).

One day, Chakuro looks out onto the usually empty horizon and spots a “Driftland”, a rare island full of supplies for the Mud Whale. He and Sami join a scouting party, who use their Thymia to keep their boats from sinking into the sand.

Chakuro finds a sword, and when he wanders off to look for Sami, he finds an injured Marked girl with a tan and light blue hair, surrounded by swords and holding a bloody one. The ruins, the swords, the tuna cans suggest a completely different culture at work on this island than the Mud Whale, a self-contained miniature world that has diverged due to isolation.

I for one feared the worst for Sami, but thanks to his Thymia Chakuro deflects the girl’s sword strike, she passes out, and he carries her to the rest of the party, where Sami is safe and sound. He also picks up a strange, intelligent furry mammal who tags along.

They take the girl, whose shit tag reads “Lykos”, back to the Mud Whale, and she is brought before the elders, who clearly fear she’s an unstable element that will shake up the status quo, flawed as it is by the short lives of the Marked. She is also deemed “emotionless”, and likes saying “I/we lack that.”

She simply doesn’t belong here, but the fact that she’s proof of an outside world beyond the Whale is a kind of infection that instantly takes root there, thanks to the fact Suou happens to be releasing a gang of rebellious Whale-dwellers from the “Bowels” or dungeon, led by Ouni, who happens to have the most powerful Thymia on the Whale.

As soon as Ouni hears there’s someone from the outside world, he acts quickly to pluck her from the elders, as well as Chakuro, who was spying on them.

Ouni and his gang aren’t interested in living out their short lives on the pathetically small Mud Whale; they want to explore and find what else is out there. Since Lykos is from out there, he takes her and Chakuro accompany him back to the Drifland to find more clues.

Thus the lines of conflict are drawn: the faction who wishes to maintain the Utopian society, studying to find a cure for the short lives of the Marked; and the upstarts who reject the Mud Whale as the one and only world they need concern themselves with, even if contamination with the outside world could doom the Whale much faster. Chakuro finds himself in the middle, but if there’s one thing he’s sure of, whatever happens, he’ll record everything he sees, hears, and experiences along the way.

CotW is a lush fantasy yarn in the spirit of Nagi-Asu or Gargantia with attractive character design, a warm pastelly-watercolor aesthetic, and an appropriately robust score. While it lacks the immediate visceral punch and grandeur of Made in Abyss, it has a lot of potential, especially once the small world of the Mud Whale starts to expand at Ouni’s behest.

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Fate / Zero – 09

“Go fírinneach, mo chroí, ní féidir liom diabhal a thabhairt.”

I’m far more familiar with Gilgamesh, Alexander, and King Arthur than, say, Diarmuid Ua Duibhne. Heck, I can barely pronounce it. So it’s good to see a few glimpses of his life before he became a heroic spirit, in which his king’s daughter Grainne was betrothed to a the leader of his order, Fionn, but fell for him due to his love spot. Suffice it to say it didn’t work out so swell. Interestingly enough, the one dreaming of Lancer’s life is Kayneth.

“Oh BTW I DIDN’T sign the prenup.”

Kayneth…is in a bad way. His beloved fiancee Sola-Ui informs him that he’ll never use magic again, which means his time as Master of Lancer has ended. She wants to take over the “burden” of commanding Lancer so she can win the Holy Grail War for Kayneth and use it to grant the miracle of restoring him to the way he was.

Sola is threatening enough looming over the restrained Kayneth in a dark, dank, and not particularly sterile-looking makeshift hospital room. But when Kayneth bristles at her proposal, soon she’s breaking one of his fingers and threatening to amputate his command seal-bearing hand. Yikes.

“I won’t be passed around like a bottle of…Jameson?”

Dare I say, I kinda don’t hate this Sola-Ui? You’ve gotta respect her raw ambition. She was perhaps initially content to let Kayneth command Lancer while she simply provided the mana for his physical form. Now she wants Lancer…all of him. But she has to appeal to his indomitable sense of honor, and get him to overcome, or at least ignore, the regret he feels for how things went down in his life.

She does this by swearing to him that she is only seeking Lancer’s services, and the Holy Grail, for Kayneth’s sake. He grudgingly agrees, but something tells me he’s not entirely convinced she can be trusted. All I know is, Kayneth continues to have just the worst luck. I mean, sure, he’s an arrogant dick, and Sola-Ui is, shall we say, ethically flexible…but when people like Uryuu and Caster are skulking around, it tends to put things in perspective.

“Look, Kiritsugu loves ILYA very much. The rest of the kids in the world? Ehh…”

Kiritsugu is trying to win the War as quickly and efficiently as possible. That apparently means not wasting any time talking to his Servant or being anywhere near her, and it certainly means not stopping to save a few, or even a few dozen, children’s lives. The game is already stacked against him and he knows it.

No matter how much Saber may talk about the sacred rules of the Holy Grail War which are being stamped on, she’s not dealing with a knight. It’s not his job to serve any lord or abide by a code of chivalry, it’s to win and save the world…all of the world. And at the end of the day, Iri feels the same way. Even so, I could never imagine a Servant-Master relationship as dysfunctional as this one, to the point I worry it might come back to bite both in the future.

I must say I wasn’t expecting Rider to get his pants so soon, but this show is full of surprises. Rider also gets along smoothly and splendidly with Waver’s hypnotized fake grandparents. Even better, Waver impresses Rider by flexing his alchemical muscles in locating Caster’s lair, a neat little glimpse of the more science-y side of magic Waver is clearly more comfortable with.

Unfortunately, there is nothing comfortable or pleasant in the slightest about Waver and Rider’s trip to Caster’s underground base. Rider quickly ratchets down his jolliness at the first sight of the piles of maimed and bloody child corpses, and his warnings for Waver not to look go unheeded, resulting in Waver losing his lunch and probably a good deal of faith in humanity along with it.

“Tá mé ag suí i rud éigin fliuch.”

Waver and Rider also meet some of Kirei’s Assassins, something that was apparently not planned, because Kirei is very upset about Assassin not only being exposed as being still around (if not in the game) and having numerous separate forms.

Upon reporting this, Tokiomi tells Kirei to continue to stay calm, keep a low profile, and keep his Assassins’ eyes on Waver and Rider; no good can come of letting his emotions get the best of him. But I saw the beast that was unleashed when Iri and Maiya challenged him. This guy looks like a volcano waiting to burst, and Archer’s words about Tokiomi being a bore are still ringing in his head.

Everyone who fixed this War so the Toosakas would win are operating under the assumption that Kotomine Kirei can be trusted to play his part without any problems. But what if there was a problem with him? I’ll tell you what: it would make for more great drama. No one should have it easy in this war.

Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tsuki ga Kirei – 12 (Fin)

Going into the finale, I held out a glimmer of hope that Kotarou would be able eke out a high enough score to get into Akane’s school, and even if he wasn’t accepted, they’d figure something out.

Well, the finale wastes no time giving us the answer, dropping the news that Kotarou was not accepted in the first minute. It’s a crushing blow, especially knowing how many “first loves” like this are ended by long distance.

Still, if he had passed and been able to attend high school with Akane, where would the drama be? Kotarou’s mentor tells him that nothing an author goes through is for naught; one could say the same of lovers.

One person who hopes long distance will change things is Akane’s sister, who reasonably asks Akane if she’ll take the move as an opportunity to break up with Kotarou and turn the page rather than endure the pain of the distance. Akane is adamant that that’s not what she wants…and that her sister is a jerk.

Another is Chinatsu, who is ecstatic when Kotarou is accepted to the municipal school and takes it to mean fate has worked out in her favor. She decides the time is right to confess to Kotarou; to tell him she’s always like him, and ask if she’s good enough.

And she’s just…not. Everything worked out in her favor except the most important thing: that Kotarou is able to return her feelings. He’s not. She accepts the loss (again) and tries to look forward to the next year with Kotarou as just a friend.

Chinatsu tells Akane about her confession attempt, but Kotarou doesn’t, which makes their last date together before her move more fraught. When Kotarou tells her all the ways HE will make this work—getting a job to afford train fare to Chiba as many times a week as he can manage—she becomes overwhelmed by the burden she believes she’s putting on him.

This is another case of these two being in uncharted territory with no map compass, or experience. Kotarou’s a great guy who loves Akane, but she needs more than for him to say HE’s got this; she has to be a participant in making their relationship survive, and because she’s anxious by nature (doubly so when it comes to him), his unceasing niceness actually works against him as she becomes overwhelmed, cries, kisses him, and runs off.

That meeting on the river is the last time they see each other…before the move, but Kotarou decides to take the advice of friends and start writing as a way to process his feelings. He posts the stories of his first tender love to an online board, where they resonate because everyone has been there, and many even wish they could go back to a time when love was so simple.

Ironically, he’s posting these stories at the end of those simple times. From here on out, things will get more complicated by all of the things in life that interfere or threaten what we want most: to simply be with the person we love.

Yet even though he’s too late to say goodbye to Akane in person either at her now-vacant house or at the train station, Kotarou’s feelings, and the fact they’ll never change, manage to get through to her, and they’re the same feelings she has for him: a deep, warm love that is poised to endure the challenges of growing into adulthood.

And so ends the first stage of the romance between Kotarou and Akane. It turns out not to be fleeting, as thanks to the magic of LINE they stay in touch almost constantly, and also meet up quite a bit once Kotarou makes enough money.

As the credits roll, we see the couple enjoying more firsts like movie night alone (with the parents coming home too early); their first trip together alone; missing out on chatting when Akane gets home too late; Kotarou having drinks with Akane’s parents; Akane being fitted for a wedding dress.

It may seem like jumping ahead, but Tsuki ga Kirei isn’t about these moments and days and nights years…it was the story of how these two found each other, fell in love, and never stopped loving. It was a foundation, and it was a damned strong one.

By the end, after the challenges of long distance and high school and entering the workplace and more hard work and more distance, Kotarou and Akane come out of it wonderfully, get married, and have a child.

It’s the happy ending I hoped for, but with the added bonus of having been earned due to the challenges endured and sacrifices made. And brothers and sisters, if any of you came out of this episode—and that beautiful closing montage in particular—with totally dry eyes, you may want to check your pulse!

Tsuki ga Kirei – 11

Sooo…this episode was just about perfect, which doesn’t really surprise me at this point. Kotarou and Akane are on splendid terms, so Kotarou faces two new conflicts this week, which prove more complex and challenging than winning Akane’s heart. Gaining the approval of his parents, and being accepted into Koumei.

We know Akane’s grades are great and her family is the reason she’s changing schools, so there’s not much tension on her end; just whether or not Kotarou will like her hand-knit scarf (which…DUH of course he will).  So instead we delve deep into Kotarou’s small, quiet family, and navigate the treacherous waters with him.

Like Kotarou and Akane’s romance, Kotarou’s problems with his folks are portrayed with a heightened sense of realism and equilibrium. His mom may sound worse than nails on a chalkboard when nagging Kotarou, but she’s only nagging because she cares so fiercely about her son’s future.

That being said, I don’t decry Kotarou pushing back against the path she’s already laid out in her head for him. It is HIS future, after all. But just as Kotarou was initially so bad at communicating his feelings (or anything else) with Akane, he’s equally bad at explaining why he’s so hellbent on attending Koumei.

Hell, he never even seems to try, which works against him early on as his mother quickly dismisses his intention to follow a “girl he likes” as teenage caprice. We know better—Kotarou near-as-makes-no-difference loves Akane, and she loves him, but his folks have no choice but to work with the information they have, which is scanty.

Rather than hearing it from him, Kotarou’s mother comes to gather more information on her own, as she watches her son furiously studying late into the night. She can tell he’s working hard for something he believes in, so obviously she’s not going to come in and crush his dreams by forcing him into a municipal school. Instead, she adopts a wait-and-see approach, putting her faith in her son by letting him hold the keys to his future.

The constant studying wears Kotarou down, and his mock exams are, uh, nothing special, so it’s great to see Akane spearhead a Christmas meetup that serves as a much-needed break for both of them, as well as an opportunity to exchange presents.

It’s lovely to watch the couple so comfortable and warm around each other, especially the lack of hesitation when they lean in for another kiss. You really get the feeling, both here and after all we’ve seen, that this isn’t mere puppy love; these kids have a future together…even if they don’t end up in the same school.

One night, Kotarou’s father lays it out: they’ll let him apply for Koumei, but if he fails, he’s going to a public school. Kotarou accepts the fair conditions, then stands slack-jawed when his dad tells him when his homeroom teacher told his mom Koumei wasn’t a realistic choice for Kotarou, she fought back, leading to an awesome thunderbolt of a quintessential Dad Line: “She can be naggy, but…Well, there you have it.”

Sure enough, when heading downstairs at 1 am for a snack, Kotarou finds his mother there, making some fresh onigiri; forming the balls with love, care, and gentleness before heading off to bed. His mom is no longer an impediment to his dreams of attending school with Akane. She never was. She saw the effort he was putting in, and decided to support and even fight for him.

The morning of his big, decisive exam—the last true impediment to his happiness (though not really since as I said their love seems likely to endure the lengthy but non-permanent distance)—both Kotarou’s mom and dad are up to make sure he has everything he needs, to wish him luck, and to see him off. And Kotarou does something he hadn’t done all episode, but sorely needed to do: he thanks his mom.

These family interactions are so understated and relatable, and really form a nice little arc within the episode as understanding is achieved between the parties and the conflict is revealed only as a measure of concern. Kotarou puts in the work to assure them they needn’t worry, and they show him that they are and always will be on his side.

Now he just needs to pass that goddamn exam!

Tsuki ga Kirei – 10

Akane’s text about moving is such a shock to Kotarou, he actually calls her on the phone (!) in what is known as a “phone call” for all of you born after the iPhone. Both seem terribly down about the idea of being apart, but also agree that they’ll make it work somehow.

That, despite the dubious success of long-distance relationships throughout history they can’t and shouldn’t think about, lest they get way too depressed. Kotarou also considers applying for the same school in Chiba she’ll be transferring to, which would obviously allow them to see each other regularly.

The festival that follows their talk will be the last one Akane attends as a resident of Kawagoe, so it too has a pall of sadness over it, even though the presence of Kotarou in full fox regalia performing the Hayashi dance on the mobile stage in the streets combines that sadness with a sense of awe and venerability.

But since Akane attends the festival with the track team, she inevitably ends up alone with Hira again, and at the worst possible time – when Akane is about to meet Kotarou on his break. Worse still, Kotarou happens to see the two together. Hira confesses to Akane, who promptly turns him down, but when she sees Kotarou, he can’t hide his annoyance and, yes, his anger; he can deny it all he wants!

While one could say he’s been over-possessive here (especially since Hira has no chance against him), let’s not forget how young and inexperienced in the relationship arts this kid is. He’s never been in a true “fight” with Akane until now; with “fight” meaning a failure to properly communicate at the proper time and place.

Both are miserable and still unable to talk to one another the next day, but by the time that day is at an end and Akane and Kotarou are done cram school, Akane notices a book on Koumei high schools was requested at the municipal-office-thingy-place, and Akane uses her mad running skillz to track down Kotarou.

He’s not coy; he was the one who requested the book. He’s seriously applying to her school, and was going to tell her once he told his parents (who still don’t know and at least one of whom, his mother, will be hard to convince).

Their silly row at the festival quickly fades away as a rush of happiness comes over Akane, after hearing Kotarou tell her whatever shape his future takes, he wants them to be together in it. That’s what Akane wants too, and after rushing into Kotarou’s arms, crying tears not of frustration, but joy, she quickly dries her raw eyes and leans in to kiss him.

Their road ahead will have more bumps, but I’m pretty dang confident in the staying power of this couple’s love…and confident the show isn’t about to break their—and our—hearts in the home stretch. They’re going to be just fine. I take comfort in that.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 09

Now that Kotarou and Akane have (mostly) overcome the largest impediment to their relationship with each other—their timidity—we see them hanging out alone together a lot more often and more comfortably, even discussing the ideal situation for the future: attending the same high school.

But no sooner do they swap first names and share a kiss does another obstacle come along; this one isn’t either of their faults, but an external factor.

Whenever a dad in an anime has to make an announcement, it’s probably because he’s being transferred and will be moving the whole family with him. That would be fine…if Akane didn’t have a boyfriend and had no interest in being uprooted. Alas, her dad’s gotta go where the bacon is.

It isn’t a sure thing, so Akane keeps it a secret as long as she can. She has her final junior high track meet approaching, after all, and has to keep her head in the game. Incidentally, that also means keeping Kotarou away when he asks if he can watch her run; it would be to embarrassing to her.

But Kotarou attends anyway, keeping a secret of his own, for the best of reasons: wanting to cheer his girlfriend on without distracting him. I honestly thought Akane would look up at the stands and catch a glimpse of Kotaoru there, but she doesn’t, and instead sets a personal best which she’s quick to snap with her camera and send to Kotarou, not knowing he saw her be awesome.

While Kotarou gets the slip on Akane, Chinatsu sees him, and because she’s still not quite over him, she doesn’t let Akane know she saw him. Hira asks Akane if she’ll still pursue track at high school, and she lets slip to Hira that she might be moving to Chiba.

Chinatsu, like Hira, is still stinging from her recent romantic defeat, but Hira seems to instill her with a glimmer of hope; after all, neither of them have actually taken a proper shot at getting the object of their affection to look their way; they’ve only dealt with the other member of the couple; with Kotarou being firm with Hira and Akane making her feelings for Kotarou plain to Chinatsu.

Whether Hira or Chinatsu give up may ultimately become moot if Akane moves, and when Kotarou confesses he watched Akane, Akane tells him about the possibility, and he’s suitably devastated. That being said, Kotarou has an awesome, progressive dad who wants his son to put happiness above fulfilling some kind of obligation; to “take it easy” and live his life doing what he loves.

With that in mind, if Kotarou decides to take a creative pivot towards light novels, he may find himself living in Tokyo before long, and Tokyo is not far at all from Ichikawa, where Akane and her family might move. If not, and the two end up being broken apart do to something as silly as a parent’s transfer, well, that’ll suck!

Renai Boukun – 09

Not long after the ordeal with Akane and Yuzu’s mothers, Akane and Guri are still going at it, with Guri pushing Akane’s buttons and Akane never failing to fall for the goading. Making matters worse, the mothers have charged Shikimi with monitoring Akane and Seiji, so she transfers to their school, just in time for the cultural festival. Holy anime cliches, Batman!

The love polygon Guri originally wrought continues to cause problems for Yuzu, who has always conditioned herself to love Akane and only Akane but clearly has feelings for Seiji as well; she just doesn’t know how/isn’t ready to deal with them. When opportunity knocks, she kisses Seiji in hopes of confirming she feels nothing, but can’t stop her heart from racing.

The class casts Akane and Guri as love rivals…for the heart of the “princess” played by Shikimi (Seiji plays a tree…which is actually very Seiji). The play is an absolute farce, descending into relationship drama between Akane, Guri, and Yuzu, but with Akane trying to be on her best behavior, since Seiji promised he’d kiss her if she got along with Guri.

At the end of the play, Akane has assured Yuzu that it’s okay to have feelings for others, though doesn’t linger on the fact that her sister’s object of affection is Seiji. Seeing Yuzu give an “I detest you but don’t hate you” spech to Seiji while Seiji is still a tree is a pleasant enough visual gag.

The manic energy is present throughout the episode, but my interest in the multi-sided love polygon, and all the “serious vibes” that come with it, is starting to flag, as it dulls the zany comedy that brought me to the show. Guri’s dilemma in particular, and Shikimi’s attempts to drive a wedge between the girls, just isn’t my thing. Still, with just three episodes left, I’ll power through.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 08

Simplicity can contain multitudes. By that, I mean sometimes there’s a lot to be found in a pure, unembellished tale of first love of the kind blooming between Koutarou and Akane. With Chinatsu out of the way (an unpleasant but necessary step), all that stands between the two is their gossiping peers at school, eager to know all there is to know.

But there isn’t that much to know. Akane doesn’t even give a straight answer to the question “Why Azumi?” She may not be able to put it in words, but that doesn’t bother her; she doesn’t care why she likes him, she just…does. And he likes her, which is why they now actively do all they can to see as much of each other as possible, during which time they’ll explore more about the ‘why’.

During their private lunch in the library, Kotarou gets a text asking him to attend a hayashi practice, and Akane pounces on the opportunity to see her boyfriend perform, which he does. Just as Akane seemed to run harder, Kotarou dances harder, impressing the hell out of his girlfriend.

Kotarou also gets nods of approval from his hayashi peers, one of whom suggests the couple attend Hikawa Shrine’s Summer festival, famous for its hanging wind chime fortunes. Akane arrives at their meeting spot for the date in full yukata. Kotarou is loving the look; Akane is loving how he’s loving it.

A near-perfect festival date ensues, with no one getting lost or bumping into unwanted secondary characters. Akane also cuts her foot on her sandal, but Kotarou tenderly bandages it when she can’t bend over in the yukata. They don’t let anything spoil their enjoyment of the night and of each other.

Akane ducks away for a bit, but only once she hears Kotarou’s most recent birthday has already passed, and decides to get him a little present: the same beanbag stress toy she has. The only remaining ‘drama’ is her trying to finding the right time and place to present it to him.

Once she does, she feels much better, and Kotarou is grateful, and decides the time has come for him to call his girlfriend by her first name, and she, in turn, calls him by his. And with no one around to suddenly stop them, they finally connect for real on their first kiss, finishing what they started last week and hadn’t been able to stop thinking about.

It all happens to the tune of a rendition of “Summer Festival”, which I last heard in Re:Life. The camera keeps a tasteful distance, underscoring how the two must feel like they’re in their own little world. The next time her friends at school ask, Akane can tell them being with Kotarou makes her feel safe.

The parting shot of what the two wrote on their chime wishes—they both wrote the same thing: to be together forever—is a little mushy, but who cares! I daresay these kids are gonna be alright, and there’s a quiet thrill in watching them steadily improve at this thing called courtship.

Renai Boukun – 08

Yuzu and Guri mount a daring rescue of Akane (armed with cosplay and retro dramatic music), only to find she doesn’t want to be rescued… naturally. The story is very standard issue, and on paper sounds like dozens of such rescue episodes. What makes Renai Boukun’s take on it fresh and watchable (if not outstanding) is its commitment to inserting punchy, often self-referential comedy wherever it can.

As the subtitle above demonstrates, Renai Boukun will often go to the trouble of pointing out the cliches it’s using, because characters like Guri are themselves knowledgable students of anime like the one they’re in. Guri’s status as a cupid, with her “love detection” ability, easily cuts through the stoic masks both Akane and her mother are wearing.

Akane’s mom may not ever break her stern, Vulcan calm, but when Akane herself has her blade pressed to Seiji’s neck, and he tells her he’d never be able to hate her no matter what, her eye highlights come back, and then some: shimmer, tears; the lot!

Renai is also shameless in its portrayal of Akane and Yuzu’s moms as aged-up versions of their daughters: they loved the same man, bearing the girls who now both love Seiji. Akane’s mom left her dad when her family calling beckoned, but she has to deal with the fact her daughter might not go down that very same path.

The moms are also even more powerful than their daughters, and their unhinged battle on the roof of Akane’s house surprises Seiji, even though at this point he’s used to getting stabbed (but likes the pain from Akane’s stabbing more than Shikimi’s).

As expected, by the end of the episode everything is back to the way it was, relationship-wise, only now Akane has the implicit approval to “do as she likes”, which is to keep loving Seiji. Seiji also feels closer to her now that he knows the whole truth about Akane and Yuzu’s family.

Akua got to fight some goons in suits. Coraly got to scare Akua shitless. Shikimi got to stab Seiji a bunch. Everybody’s happy! Well, until the very end, when Guri sees how close Seiji and Akane have grown, and no doubt ponders what, if anything, she can do to get Seiji to look at her the way he looks at Akane.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 07

It ain’t just the game of thrones—in the game of love, you win or you die…romantically speaking. It’s take no prisoners; shit or get off the pot; even moreso when you’re young and just figuring this stuff out.

With the Dome City amusement park as the setting for this outstanding episode, Akane, Kotarou, Chinatsu and Hira all learn harsh lessons about the game they’re all playing, the risks and rewards of being passive or active, and how being on the winning side can be fleeting. It’s a side that must be defended.

I honestly can’t stop snickering at Kotarou’s face while on the roller coaster. That is the face of someone very unhappy he didn’t decline Chinatsu’s suggestion they sit together. He might as well be shouting over the roar of the coaster ‘I’VE MADE A HUGE MISTAKE!’

Because he’s next to Chinatsu, Akane is next to Hira, and because she doesn’t handle coasters so hot, it’s Hira, not Chinatsu, who serves as her support during and after the ride. It doesn’t help Kotarou that the majority of the rest of the group is shipping Akane and Hira (except Roman, who we learn has had his suspicions about Kotarou and Akane before Kotarou confirms it).

Kotarou and Akane simply start out the trip all wrong, due to their general passivity in a scenario that requires activity. Akane ends up with Hira a lot of the time, but did nothing to prevent it; Kotarou ends up with a super-aggressive Chinatsu, who understands she’s got to hustle to have any chance over Akane…and may even be moving so fast and forcefully because she already knows she has no chance.

In either case, after Kotarou sees Akane with Hira, Akane sees Kotarou with Chinatsu, and after some time passes, Kotarou sees Akane with Hira AGAIN, Kotarou has finally had it; he’s groaned his last ineffectual groan. Time for some muthafuckin’ ACTION!

He calls out to Akane, then tells Hira he’s in a relationship with her, which she backs up. He then takes her by the hand and they walk off, just in time for Chinatsu to spot them together. As her tears start to fall on the souvenir photo of her and Kotarou on the coaster, I can’t help but feel for her. She got off to a good start, but ends up running out of steam.

After a great series of reactions from the group after Roman confirms Kotarou and Akane are going out (which NO one else saw coming), the happy new couple finally has their precious time alone. What had felt like such a delicate bond strengthens with each activity they do together.

I appreciate how they mirrored my own glee over the whole situation with lots of beaming and giddy laughter, neither of them able to contain their elation at being able to hang out together.

After eating together for the first time, going on various rides and to a haunted house, the two close in closer and closer for a couple selfie, and their bubbly contentment only intensifies when they see how much like a couple they look in the photo.

Meanwhile, Chinatsu returns to the group, her eyes raw from crying, and her girl-friends get the bad news that Kotarou chose Akane over her. Chinatsu might’ve stolen Akane for the coaster and gotten temporarily “lost” with him, Akane ends up stealing him back, though mostly thanks to Kotarou taking action.

No matter; it’s the action Akane wanted to be taken. She’ll be the proactive one next time. As the fireworks explode across the night sky, Kotarou takes her hands in his and leans in for a kiss, and Akane leans in right back.

A nosy little shrimp interrupts them (where are your damn parents, kid?), but they get so goshdarned close to kissing, I’m going to go ahead and call it a kiss, even if it isn’t officially their first kiss. Neither of them bailed out; it was a matter of being surprised by an outside stimulus. Close enough, I say!

Chinatsu…she was never that close, because Kotarou simply isn’t interested in her the way he is in Akane, just as Akane isn’t into Hira that way. At the end of the night, Akane and Kotarou are exactly where they should be, where they want to be.

hen Chinatsu texts Akane that she couldn’t confess, Akane says “Sorry” to herself. I’ve no doubt she feels bad about Chinatsu getting hurt. Chinatsu was the one who chose to keep going even though she knew Akane was with Kotarou, but Akane could have been more forceful in discouraging her.

But at the end of the day, when made to choose between her happiness and Chinatsu’s, there is no choice. It’s shitty not being the one chosen, but that’s life. Akane and Kotarou won the game today. They deserved to savor their victory. Here’s hoping the wins keep coming. They must be vigilant.

P.S. Attention, Show: You have extinguished your allotment of near-kisses. Next kiss better not be interrupted. You have been warned!

Tsuki ga Kirei – 06

Uh-oh…the dreaded Pinky Promise, long the bane of many a budding middle school relationship. Tsuki ga Kire’s couple makes theirs after Kotarou gets a call from a publisher in the city and Akane prepares for her big meet, and the two are determined to achieve their dreams.

No matter how much Kotarou’s mom worries about his future, or how much Akane’s family gawks at her upon figuring out she’s dating someone, they like having each other around, supporting each other both in person and on LINE.

Both are drawing strength and ever-so-gradually becoming bolder, braver people, as demonstrated when Akane texted Kotarou that she wanted to discuss something with him (namely, the Chinatsu situation). But they’re in such high spirits after the pinky promise, Akane leaves it for another day…The worst possible day she could leave it for, the day of the big track meet.

She manages to get out to Chinatsu that she’s already in a relationship with Kotarou, which is good, but the timing couldn’t be worse in terms of the emotional toll it takes on her. Chinatsu, for her part, already knew—they’re friends, after all—but when the time comes to race, Akane is so weighted down by complex, conflicting emotions, she ends up with a terrible time and is eliminated, while Chinatsu has a personal best and advances. Ouch.

Akane isn’t the only one to take an L, mind you: when Kotarou sneaks out to make the long trip to the publisher, he’s full of cautious optimism, determined to fulfill his promise to Akane and to himself, eager to take the first step towards joining the ranks of his beloved highbrow authors…only to be crushed like a bug under a different weight than the one that slowed Akane: literary reality.

The publisher minces no words: Kotarou is not cut out for the kind of literature he attempted and submitted, but he may just have a knack for “light novel type stuff”, which Kotarou is clearly not into.

So after pumping each other up so much and pounding the pavement with confidence and gusto, secure in knowing the other is trying their best right beside them, Akane and Kotarou end up having the worst day. And I’ll tell you, I felt every ounce of their combined…er…worstitude; I really did.

I felt Akane’s exasperation over her best friend’s crush on Kotarou, which just so happens to be mercilessly translated into a literal footrace with her friend-and-now-rival. I felt Kotarou’s crushing disappointment that his odyssey to the city was all for naught.

And I definitely felt the both of them not feeling the slightest bit better once they return to their homes. Akane’s parents are warm enough and tell her there’ll be other races, while her sister tells her it’s going to be very hard to remain friends with someone still actively after her boyfriend.

Kotarou’s mom lets him have it as soon as he comes in the door, telling him no good will come of the thing he’s most passionate about doing (though is dad is more sympathetic). Dayum.

Sometimes family helps you recharge and heal from the stress and wounds of the world out there, but sometimes they contribute to it. Which is why I was so glad that after so much mutual moping about, in the middle of the night, by the light of her phone, Akane finally gets a message on a screen still mockingly displaying the optimism they expressed before the day began.

Just three simple words: I miss you. Akane only needs two: Me too. The two meet up in the library the next morning, cheered a little by their mere presence, and cheered more by their shared determination not to give up on track or writing, to work even harder so awful days like yesterday won’t become a common occurrence. They reaffirm their still-active pinky promise, to which they wisely did not assign a deadline.

And yet their struggles are far from over. When Akane meets with Chinatsu on a beautiful tree-wreathed path bathed in the warm glow of the setting sun, there’s a friendly, conciliatory mood to the proceedings: Akane apologizes for not telling Chinatsu sooner; Chinatsu apologizes for falling for Kotarou.

That mood is upturned by one last, frankly cheeky request by Chinatsu: that she be allowed to confess to Kotarou, for “closure.” And herein lies the danger about which Akane’s big sister warned her: neither confrontation with Chinatsu over Kotarou resulted in closure. Chinatsu, fresh of her big track win, is feeling more confident than ever, while Akane has never felt less, despite the fact she has the guy.

But it doesn’t matter if Kotarou immediately says no. Putting Akane in such a position at all is a clown move by Chinatsu, straight up, as is pretending it’s not a big deal. It’s also a possible prelude to war, a war for Kotarou’s heart. And when friends go to war, they tend not to stay friends.

Sagrada Reset – 04

Occasionally, I like a show that keeps me engaged; that challenges me; that even leaves me in the dust if I’m not sufficiently aware. Sagrada Reset is all of those things so far, and there’s a genuine thrill in not knowing just what the hell is going to transpire from one episode to the next, in addition to being emotionally invested in the characters—something that didn’t seem feasible in episode one.

Sagrada is also dense, and if you blink you might miss a reset or a vital piece of information. For all its seeming randomness, it builds, so far, off every little event and detail it’s presented thus far. It doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence, it demands it, and it won’t hold your hand. That can make it hard to follow, even frustrating at times, but despite getting a little lost at times I felt it still holds together.

This week is a particularly bloody and violent episode, as Asai promptly learns that Minami Mirai was killed by Hisuchi-kun, hence her becoming a ghost that haunts him to start the episode.

Of course, she wasn’t just shot or strangled, she was killed when Hisuchi, who gains nourishment not from food (he’s an intense germaphobe) but from information he sucks out of others like an intel vampire. Minami had too much, and he went to far. He didn’t mean to kill her; it just happened.

But just when Asai and Haruki are wrapping their heads around the murder, they are confronted by Murase Youka, whose sudden violent, homicidal outburst would be out of character if we knew her character. I didn’t realize it at the time, but we later learn there’s a very good reason for her very odd, violent behavior, and it all comes down to Haruki’s Reset ability.

Asai orders Haruki to reset before Murase kills him. Back at school, Haruki is glad when Asai tells her they haven’t gone to the festival yet (girl wants her DATE). They visit Tsushima for answers, and he tells them more about the “MacGuffin”, which enables anyone who possesses it to control all the special abilities in Sakurada…only to then tell them exactly what and where it is, obviously trusting his students won’t take it.

Someone does take it…or rather, ends up with it by chance. That person is Minami, who isn’t killed by Hisuchi-kun this time because Asai and Haruki visit him. They’re joined by Murase, whose knowledge indicates to Asai that she’s able to remember two resets back, but not one. He also learns about her M.O.—her desire to destroy and remake the bureau into something more effective after it failed to save her brother.

Indeed, it’s Murase who helps them find Hisuchi’s house, using her ability in a way I didn’t expect (while explaining the hand-shaped hole in the wall last week). Hisuchi tells them about Minami ending up with the stone, and he helped her because he was guilty for killing her.

I’d say that that never happened, but it actually did, and Haruki’s ability didn’t negate that fact, it merely rewound and, well, reset things to her last save. Murase ends up stealing the MacGuffin from Minami, lightly wounding her in the process, but Asai assures Haruki they don’t have to go after her. All will be taken care of in due time.

In the meantime, Tsushima gives Asai a new job: to convince a truant, Murase, to come back to school. To do that, Tsushima believes Murase needs to be utterly defeated, to show her that she still has more to learn before starting a revolution against the Bureau.

Asai visits Nono Seika with some takoyaki, to muse over the Murase situation in a calm place. And he thinks of Souma Sumire, who told him its better to say something than nothing, even if it’s bad, and to not be afraid.

After that, it’s his big little date with Haruki, who is resplendent in her yukata, and doesn’t just smile but blushes upon receiving the gift of a hairpin. It didn’t look like Asai was paying attention to her when she spotted it, but clearly he did. I loved that little detail.

He asks Haruki for a favor, and the next day we see she’s joined him beside the river to confront Murase. She thinks they’re ready to join her cause, but Asai wants to test her abilities first. Haruki saves, then she obliges, and Asai offers almost no resistance as she puts her finger through his hand. During the fight he suspects she attacked them the first time because she wanted a reset for herself, to forget Minami Mirai’s death.

An increasingly agitated Murase is certain she has Asai in checkmate, even noting that if Haruki resets, he’s only two steps away from her, and she could easily defeat him before he had time to do anything. But it’s Murase who’s in check, as Asai moves his head into her hand, which goes through it, killing him horribly. He does this before ordering Haruki to reset…so she doesn’t.

Then something I didn’t expect happened: Nanako Tomoki beams his voice into Haruki’s head, then Asai’s voice comes through—in that moment, a ghost, just like Minami was—giving Haruki the reset order. She resets, and Minami remains where she is: exactly in a location where when Asai said “Bang”, it looks like he struck her down.

Stunned by this course of events, Murase promptly concedes defeat, which means she’ll honor the terms of their agreement, return to school, one day join the bureau, and make it better that way. Asai also tells her the cat is fine, chilling with Nonoo. He holds out his hand to shake hers in order to celebrate their new friendship.

He’s quite sure that her ability has worn off, making it safe to touch her, but the episode still ends just before they touch, so good it is at messing with us. Still, it’s mission accomplished—and what a baller mission it turned out to be.