Higehiro – 10 – A Warm Place

While Yoshida does his level best to hide it, Mishima and Hashimoto can tell he’s devastated by Sayu’s imminent departure, and how he’s mitigating it by trying to bury himself in his work. While he has many reasons to worry about the welcome Sayu will received from her mother upon returning to Hokkaido, her big brother Issa isn’t one of them.

Issa meets with Yoshida after work to bow in apology for the rude things he said the other day, while also asking him earnestly to continue taking care of Sayu in the time they have left together. He reveals how Sayu was their mother’s last best chance to keep their womanizing dad around, refusing to get an abortion. Alas, the asshole left them anyway.

Sayu’s mom wasn’t equipped to love a girl who was the symbol of her failure to keep the man she loved in her life, and so Sayu received no parental love whatsoever, something Issa believes every child needs. Honestly, it’s a wonder Sayu isn’t a lot more scarred.

While it’s nice to be reminded that Sayu’s brother is a legit good guy, if what he’s said is true, Sayu’s mom may simply be incapable of loving Sayu—or if she does love her on a fundamental/biological level, has never been able to express it. Why would that change when she returns home?

Later, Sayu presents Yoshida with a parting gift: a hand-written and illustrated cookbook with all of his favorite dishes she’s made for him over time. I couldn’t help but let out a loud awwwwwww that a roommate must’ve thought was me reacting to a cute puppy video. It’s such a cute, warm gift, and filled with love.

Sayu’s next parting gift is to share with Yoshida the view Asami shared with her, along with the wisdom she imparted about how even the tiniest stares have pasts and futures. Asami accepted Sayu and became her first real girl friend, just as Yoshida took her in with only the best intentions when everyone before had the worst.

Sayu doesn’t see Yoshida as simply “some guy who shared his apartment with her” for a while. That she met him when she did may well have saved her life, and she’ll never forget that, looking back fondly on the time she stopped running away, settled down, and found a way back.

Sayu admits that she’s tried to leave a few times while Yoshida wasn’t home, but has been unable to do so. Ultimately, he means enough to her not to want to leave without saying a proper goodbye. Because in all honesty, she kinda wants to stay with him forever. But she can’t settle her past unless she goes home.

Ichinose Kana does some really lovely voice work here, and has indeed done much of the heavy lifting in a show that doesn’t have the best production values. She even moves Yoshida to tears, because a part of him doesn’t want her to leave, both because he fears what might go down in Hokkaido, and because he’s become so accustomed to her living with him. He’d no doubt say she saved him just as he saved her.

Back at work, the ever-practical Mishima, independent of her individual crusade to win Yoshida’s heart, says if it’s so unbearable to say goodbye to and part with Sayu, then mabe he shouldn’t, and should instead follow her to Hokkaido. Sure, it would mean leaving his job, but both Mishima and Hashimoto doubt he considers his job or whatever project he’s working on to be anywhere near as important to him as Sayu.

In fact, it pisses Hashimoto off to no end that Yoshida tries—badly—to pretend otherwise, like when Asami calls him saying Sayu has disappeared and isn’t answering her phone. It takes Hashimoto telling Airi that Yoshida are feeling sick and going home early, and Mishima taking over Yoshida’s work for the day, to get him out of there.

While giving him a ride, Hashimoto expresses to Yoshida how it pisses him off that his best friend knows what to care about the most, but pretending he doesn’t. As his best friend, Hashimoto knows what Yoshida won’t admit: wanting what’s best for Sayu, or wanting whatever will make her happy, and his own fear of being apart from her aren’t mutually exclusive.

Sayu is fine (don’t scare me like that, show!); her phone simply died while she was waiting outside Yoshida’s office to surprise him and see where he worked; he and Hashimoto must’ve just missed crossing paths with her. Airi and Asami are there with her, and Yoshida acts like a worried dad when he sees her. This marks the first time Hashimoto lays eyes on Sayu, and seeing her makes him immediately understand why Yoshida is scared of losing her.

That night, the very last night together in Yoshida’s apartment, Sayu asks if she can climb into bed with him. Not for anything weird, but just for some warmth and human contact between two people who have come to mean much more to each other than they’d initially expected.

Sayu asks if she’d have grown up into a “normal girl” if Yoshida had been her dad. Yoshida should’ve answered by saying there’s nothing abnormal about her, she’s a lovely person who has admirably hung in there under abnormal and suboptimal circumstances. Okay, maybe that’s a little too wonky for the mood of that scene.

But whether he had decided earlier that evening, or right there in that bed, Yoshida tells Sayu he’ll come to Hokkaido with her, to keep an eye on her and see her mom with her. Sayu can’t contain her elation upon hearing those words. There’s nothing wrong with going back home to settle your past, but there’s nothing saying you have to do it alone…particularly if you’re someone who’s experienced enough loneliness for a lifetime.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 09 – The Things She Carried

Like Sayu, I was dreading the day someone from her family finally found her and forced her to come home…but that isn’t what happens. It turns out Issa is just as decent and kind a person as Yoshida, and doesn’t jump to conclusions even when Yoshida and Sayu greet him at the door in their PJs.

Instead, he’s the latest in a long line of refreshingly reasonable, level-headed human beings that populate Higehiro and make it feel more real. He’s not simply doing their mother’s bidding; he wanted to be the one who found Sayu, because he loves her and is worried about her.

Issa is greatly relieved Sayu managed to find a good soul who took her in without asking for anything inappropriate, and takes both of them at their word when they say nothing’s happened. As a high-achieving corporate type, I imagine Issa trusts his instincts when it comes to reading people.

But that’s not all: Issa can also tell, even if Sayu can’t, that she’s taken some important steps forward as a person. He notes how she’s more able to speak her mind, as she explains why she needs a few more days to think about things. He’s proud and caring n a way only a big brother can be, and grants her one more week.

I have to say, I never imagined in a million years that Issa would be such a good guy, especially considering the uncomfortable way the series has handled the bastard who took her in for sex and ended up her co-worker. But it’s not the show’s fault I automatically expect the worst…it’s because men, and especially anime men, are so often just that…the worst.

Of course, women are the worst too, as we learn when Sayu invites Asami over and sits her and Yoshida down to finally tell them about everything that’s happened that led her to run away. In effect, she’s unloading all of the burdens she’s carried before two friends who are all too happy to help share that load. Her first step in getting ready to go back is telling the people important to her about where she came from.

Sayu and her mother never got along. Her mother put all of her hopes and aspirations into her firstborn son Issa, and never had a kind word for Sayu. Because she never received love, Sayu didn’t bother putting any effort into anything, be it academics or socializing. She was alone, emanated a “stay away” aura, and came to prefer it that way.

But along came another outcast in Yuuko, for whom Sayu’s repelling aura had the opposite effect. Yuuko always told Sayu she was pretty and cool—as pretty and cool as Yuuko claimed not to be—and the two became fast, close friends. But Sayu’s looks and unimpeachable “goodness” kept the other girls from bullying her directly when she turned down a guy one of them liked, so they started bullying Yuuko instead.

Yuuko always said Sayu looked best when she was smiling and happy. But as the bullying intensified and Sayu dug in her heels, determined to stand beside Yuuko and fight for her, she stopped smiling and laughing, and was always depressed, because she felt responsible for her friend’s suffering and felt powerless to stop it.

Yuuko, however, felt differently. When Sayu told her she’d support her and fight for her against the bullying, it hurt Yuuko more than anything, as she believed she was ruining Sayu’s happiness by deigning to become friends with her in the first place.

So one day, Sayu found Yuuko standing on the wrong side of the balcony, waiting for her. Yuuko told her what happened was her fault, but it would be better if she were no longer in her life. Before leaping to her death, Yuuko asked Sayu to keep smiling, obviously in no mental state to realize how hard that would be if she killed herself.

Witnessing her first and only friend commit suicide for her sake would have been plenty of trauma for any teenager or adult to bear, but that wassn’t the end of Sayu’s suffering. As the Ogiwara household became besieged with press and stories and rumors of the true cause of Yuuko’s death, her mother did all the exact wrong things, only exacerbating Sayu’s despair.

Rather than support her daughter and help her grief, she blamed her for their predicament, and even went so far as to ask, seriously, if Sayu really did kill Yuuko. That despicable question is the last straw for Sayu, and you really can’t blame her for not wanting to spend one more second inside that house with that despicable woman. Instead, it’s Issa who offers Sayu a shoulder to cry on as she prepares to run away on foot.

Demonstrating he was just as empathetic and kind back then as he is in the present, he actually helps his sister get the distance and time she needs, giving her $3000 for a decent hotel and food for two weeks, if she promises to call him if she ever gets into trouble. If there’s a right way to run away, this was it: acknowledging and respecting what Sayu needed, but building checks into the arrangement.

But even with those measures in place, Issa would still need Sayu to actualy call him if she got in trouble, and she never does that. As she burns through her cash, she continues to be crushed by isolation and self-loathing, with no one there to help pull her out of her downward spiral. Issa’s mistake wasn’t getting Sayu away from their mom, it was sending Sayu away all by herself when she was in no condition to be entirely alone.

The episode includes a scene we previously saw only a flash of, in which Sayu masturbates and looks down at her hand afterwards. As this happens before she first sleeps with a man, I’m not sure why such a graphic scene was included, except to underscore that there was really not much for Sayu to do during this time but sleep, eat, and pleasure herself, and none of it was helping.

When Issa calls Sayu to check on her, her battery dies, and she tosses her phone out, believing in that moment that his kindness was merely pity she didn’t want or deserve. She wanders the streets, bumps into a man, and when she explains her situation he offers her a place to stay. He eventually asks for sex in return, and Sayu gives in, though doesn’t even remember the name of her first. She then went from guy to guy, trading sex for shelter, until ending up on Yoshida’s doorstep. The rest, we know.

The first to speak after her tale of woe is Asami, who gives Sayu the affection she needs and tells her just how hard she hung in there all this time. Having gotten all of this out, Sayu breaks down, having a much-needed cathartic cry. Once she’s calmed down and in bed, Asami asks Yoshida on the balcony what he’s going to do about her.

Yoshida says it’s up to Sayu’s family to figure this out and it’s not his place to interfere. Asami points out that’s not what she asked, idiot, and again asks: what does he want to do? He may say he’s a stranger, but he’s not; he and Asami are as much family to Sayu as Issa, and certainly more than Sayu’s mom.

What they want matters too, especially if it aligns with what Sayu herself wants. But first those things must be said, just as the things Sayu carried needed to be said to fully understand where she’s been, and determine what she should do. It’s not just Sayu who needs to think about things in the week she has left.

Higehiro – 08 – Such Sticky Sweet Sorrow

In hindsight, it was already over for Sayu the moment Issa showed up at her workplace. A man of her brother’s means and drive surely wouldn’t rest until his little sister had been found. Even though Sayu knows this this, and understands this is probably It for her months-long excursion, she’s understandably shaken by the close call, and freezes up. Rather than take immediate action to soften the inevitable blow, Sayu retreats to her happy place: buying snacks for her and Yoshida, who will be at the office late.

But more to the point, Sayu once again places someone or something—in this case Yoshida’s work and her obligation to handle the chores—before herself, even though well within her rights to insist upon being the priority. Her brother finding her also affects Yoshida quite a bit, and in more ways than one—psychologically, legally, etc.—yet Sayu keeps quiet. She doesn’t bother Yoshida.

Thankfully, just as her brother and his employee are about to spot her, Sayu rings into Yuzuha, who, after hearing that Sayu doesnt want to be found, helps hide her. We learn she does this as much to help Sayu out as she does to take the temperature of Sayu and offer some unsolicited but very much needed advice; even some tough love.

In yet another example of how Sayu’s youth has not gone the way most kids her age have, Yuzuha learns Sayu can’t sing with her, because she doesn’t know any songs, because she never had any friends with whom to go to karaoke. Yuzuha surely sympathizes with Sayu, but she’s also more concerned with giving her a thorough reality check than sparing her feelings.

As such, she sits down next to Sayu and asks her, if her pursuers are already here, and she has so little time left, what is she doing shopping? I don’t think Yuzuha is right when she says Sayu “doesn’t get it”, but she is right that Sayu isn’t taking this as seriously as she should. Not just that people are looking for her, but that she and Yoshida seem to have become co-dependent.

One can argue as a practical matter whether Yuzuha the character has really spent enough time with the two of them to make that determination so confidently, but that doesn’t really matter to me, because as much or as little as Yuzuha is assuming, she’s absolutely correct that Yoshida and Sayu have become far too comfortable with their arrangement.

I gave Yuzuha grief in an earlier episode for essentially reading both Yoshida and Airi the riot act for the way they’re going about their lives, but while her little stalking incident is still a mark against her, I for one am glad Yuzuha is here as the voice of reason. Sure, she has a massive conflict of interest in being literally in love with Yoshida (which is its own can of worms), but Yuzuha is no kid.

At this point I trust her more than anyone else to see the forest for the trees. That’s why she can love Yoshida, see the way he looks at Sayu when he arrives, and stay behind in the karaoke room to cry her eyes out, while still being very much in the right about how tremendously unprepared either Yoshida or Sayu are for what isn’t coming down the pike—but has already freaking arrived!

The remainder of the episode sets to work painstakingly validating Yuzuha’s concerns. I can’t blame her taking a rain check considering her feelings for Yoshida, but it really would have been better if Yuzuha had joined them for dinner. At least then, she might’ve been able to steer Sayu towards telling Yoshida that she’s close to being found.

Instead, Sayu says nothing to Yoshida about her brother, choosing to ignore her fate. The two see a poster for the Summer Festival, and in one of the more awkward transitions of the show, the episode cuts from one night to the next night, with Sayu resplendent in her pink yukata,gold obi, and geta. 

Then they go on a date that would be adorable, except for the fact that it’s an indulgence neither of them can really afford at the moment. I can’t really blame Yoshida—he’s in the dark about Sayu’s brother and wants Sayu to have another “normal high school girl” experience.

At the same time, I can’t really blame Sayu for not suddenly turning to Yoshida and saying the jig is up. After all, she hasn’t been to a summer festival since she was a little girl, wasn’t allowed to eat cotton candy even once, and has never been as close to fireworks as she and Yoshida end up being.

The temptation to forget about her imminent doom for just one night proves too strong to resist, but like a yukata rental, the quickly-melting cotton candy, and the fleeting light from the fire fireworks, the trappings of normalcy in which she seeks refuge are all too temporary.

Their interactions throughout are charged with romantic tension. When he sheepishly compliments her yukata, she asks, just under her breath so he can’t quite hear, if it’s prettier than Gotou-san’s. She feeds him some of her cotton candy. When a kid bumps into her, of course Yoshida takes her hand to keep her from falling, and she decides they should keep holding hands throughout so they won’t get lost.

Yoshida knows that were it not for Sayu, he’d have never gone to the festival. Images of his past life without her flash by in his head; it’s a place he’s not ready to return to. When he exits those thoughts, Sayu is no longer holding his hand, and he calls out for her. She’s right behind him, and teases him for thinking she’d disappeared, but we cut to his five-o’clock shadow as he asks, also just under his breath, if she’s really going home.

Even after the fireworks are over, Sayu keeps looking up at the sky. She recalls how she gave all the other guys an alias, but when she met him, her real name just came out. The moment arrives that has arrived in so many romantic anime where there’s either a confession and/or kiss or a failed/thwarted attempt at either.

Instead of either, Yoshida wisely gives Sayu a nice, platonic head pat. Sayu looks disappointed, but quickly smiles. She knows, even if she wasn’t a teenager, Yoshida is sure would have taken her in…and just as sure they wouldn’t have had sex.

Of course, while she knows this, and Yuzuha and Airi and Asami know this, the person to which that very crucial distinction matters most does not know this, at least not yet. That means when Yoshida comes to the door in his pajamas and Sayu is standing behind her in hers, Issa has absolutely no way of knowing Yoshida wasn’t sleeping with his sister.

Even so, Ogiwara Issa’s entire character as we know him thus far is that he’s polite but determined to find her, and now he has. His brief smirk seems more out of relief to have succeeded than a reaction to just how screwed Yoshida is. But that smirk soon straightens into a more serious face as he announcesnot proposes—what’s going to happen. He’s taking Sayu home.

Yoshida may have something to say about that, and Issa may be open to hearing him out, but because this is there first interaction, depending on the level of assumptions Issa is willing to level against him, I can’t imagine anything Yoshida says will move him. I guess we’ll find out eventually, but with next week’s episode entitled “Past”, we may have to wait longer than we should.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 07 – What Then?

It’s telegraphed from the beginning of the episode: someone who knows Sayu (or is working for them) has found her. There’s no other reason a suspicious black car would keep showing up at the konbini where she works, and Sayu is right to be weary. After all, she’s committed to working towards a future for herself, but hasn’t had enough time to figure out what that might be. Simply going home now would solve nothing.

This week marks the return of Mishima, whom I castigated for literally stalking Yoshida the last time we saw her, but the more I think about it, the more she’s the most realistic of the bunch. She invites herself to lunch with Gotou to express her frustration with her supervisor’s boss: if she’s in love with Yoshida, why is she just sitting around when Sayu could “take” Yoshida from them any day?

Gotou says she simply doesn’t see the point of artificially forcing anything with her and Yoshida. If it happens, it happens, but she’s not going to pretend she can control the feelings of others. Mishima says flat out that Gotou is simply scared to stick her neck out, while she’s far more scared of losing what she could’ve had because she didn’t do anything.

Neither Mishima nor Gotou are presented as the person with the “correct” philosophy…and that’s okay! Anybody who says they have all the answers is trying to sell you something. But Mishima is determined to try her way, and so asks, nay, demands Yoshida’s contact info. Yoshida is taken aback, because he doesn’t consider himself “attractive enough” to be worth giving his contact info for no special reason.

At this Mishima snaps at him for deciding everything by his standards, including his own appeal. She says he has a bad habit of doing what he wants to do while convincing himself its for the sake of others. Then she confesses her love for him (“a little”) and texts him a request to go out for a movie when Sayu isn’t making something special for dinner. He texts back a sheepish “sure”, which lifts Mishima’s spirits.

The next day when Yoshida is off work, he’s just kind of sitting around while Sayu cleans around him. He offers to help, and she pushes him into his bed, tripping in the process and landing on him. Their resulting position is lovingly drawn and lit the way a romantic scene would, and Sayu lingers there before Yoshida asks her to take the wet rag off his shoulder.

After this awkward scene that appears to play right into Mishima’s worst fear —that Sayu has the inside track on winning Yoshida’s heart—Sayu decides to go through a box of stuff in his closet (with his okay…but it’s still hella random!) and finds his high school yearbook, along with a photo of him and his gorgeous senpai girlfriend.

I for one am willing to give both parties the benefit of the doubt regarding the bed incident, but then Yoshida starts talking about how that girlfriend called him “clingy” and that she didn’t want somebody who cared about him so much. Again his standards come through, as he tells Sayu it’s only natural to care about someone, to want them to smile and be happy, and to be the one who makes that happen. Sayu mutters “what about me?”, but Yoshida doesn’t hear (naturally).

Back at work at the konbini, Sayu ends up sharing a shift with her former attempted rapist, which is never something you want. When the mysterious guy in the black Lexus comes in and reveals he’s Sayu’s big brother (and clearly loaded), Yaguchi tells Sayu to hide in the break room and then covers for her.

While I appreciate the show’s dedication to showing the good and bad in people, I really didn’t need this guy performing a remotely redemptive act, and it frankly sours the whole scene, especially when Sayu thanks him. Now, if he actually owned up to what he actually did and earnestly apologized, maybe I’d feel a bit different…but probably not!

As for Ogiwara Kazuto, well…it’s interesting that this President and CEO of Ogiwara Foods is Sayu’s brother and not a parent. I’d also guess he’s about Yoshida’s age. The look on Sayu’s face when she realizes who he was was, and then upon realizing that she may not get to decide when she goes home, is heartbreaking. I’m hoping Kazuto is reasonable and doesn’t just drag her into the car, but Sayu ran far, far away from these people, so all bets are off.

Higehiro – 06 – Doing the Best We Can

Trigger Warning: This episode contains a scene of attempted rape.

With Sayu now working a part-time job, it was only a matter of time before the show’s first truly unsavory character reared their ugly head. Yaguchi Kyouya is that character, and to call him “unsavory” is putting it all too lightly. Just because he and Sayu slept together a few times, he believes he’s entitled not only to know where she lives now, but to sleep with her whenever he wants.

Yaguchi is a truly detestable scumbag in the SAO tradition of scumbag villains: a guy specially formulated to be loathed with extreme prejudice. There are moments when his presence in this show is so out-of-place compared to all the caring, compassionate, and protective people around Sayu, he feels like a caricature.

Lest I forget: Yaguchi and men like him who took what they could from Sayu and then discarded her are not only a crucial part of this story, but all too common in real life. Yaguchi shows no regard for Sayu’s agency or choices, blows past all personal boundaries, lies to her face about “just wanting to talk.” And the worst of it? When he attempts to rape her, she puts everything on herself, fearing the consequences to Yoshida and Asami.

That she’s of the mind that she has to let Yaguchi have his way with her so others won’t get hurt shows how far Sayu still has to go in being able to protect and value herself. And she would have absolutely been raped had Yoshida not taken it upon himself to read her text as a call for help. While I normally detest violence, I feel Yoshida goes far to easy on him; he should have to bear at least a shiner for his transgressions.

Yaguchi is absolutely wrong that they’re the same and the only difference is Yoshida isn’t sleeping with her. Yaguchi is definitely a criminal for having sex with a minor, while Yoshida’s harboring of Sayu is a lot more of a gray area. But worst of all to Yoshida is that at no point does Yaguchi think about Sayu. It’s all about what he can get, and why Yoshida isn’t getting it to.

Thankfully, Yoshida is firm enough to get Yaguchi to promise not to bother Sayu again, but we’ve already seen the value of this guy’s promises. Yoshida knows he may not know if he can save Sayu or how, but at least he’s trying! All the others did was hurt her more. They don’t get to protest his attempts to save her when they never tried.

When he returns to the room to comfort Sayu, she doesn’t know why she got so scared when he tried after they’d done it so many times before. Yoshida simply says that’s normal. She was right to turn him down, did and said nothing wrong, and needs to think about herself more. Seeing her not able to be the normal teenager she should be hurts, but becoming one starts with caring about herself.

The next day, Asami notices that something happened between Yaguchi and Sayu, and when Sayu won’t say anything, she confronts him. He tells the truth about what he tried to do to Sayu, then apologizes after Asami slaps him and leaves the break room, admitting he “got a little rough” (ya think?) Sayu asks why he didn’t tell Asami about them, and he says he promised not to if she brought him to her place. So I guess he’ll keep some of his promises?

Sayu doesn’t forgive Yaguchi—she never should, frankly, unless he shows serious signs of changing—but isn’t “mad” anymore, and is also present enough to make clear to him if he tries anything again she’ll be mad. His assurance he won’t seems more couched in the ferocity of her two “guard dogs” in Yoshida and Asami, but if there’s one quality of this guy I’ll put my faith in, it’s his cowardice, and if that means he really won’t try to touch her again, I’ll take it.

After Sayu’s shift, Yoshida texts that he’ll be at work late, so Asami invites herself over to her place to protect her. She stops by her palatial estate for some stuff, and we learn that she’s the daughter of a politician and lawyer who are almost never around, and Sayu’s the first friend she’s told about her house. By opening up a little about herself, she inspires Sayu to do the same, telling her plainly about how she came from Hokkaido and stayed at various guys’ places, including Yaguchi’s.

She continues that she kept running from place to place and nothing ever changed, until she met Yoshida and then Asami, and realized how “stupid” she was being. Heartened by Sayu opening up, Asami takes her to a special spot where you can see the stars despite still being in Tokyo.

As the two gaze at the stars, Asami tells Sayu more about herself, how she dressed up as a gyaru, but her parents didn’t understood she was doing it for attention she simply wasn’t getting from them. And while she’s expected to follow in her mom’s footsteps in law, what she really wants to study is literature and become a writer. That led to a huge argument with her mom.

That’s when her dad took her to this starry spot and assured her their worries are nothing compared to those stars. But while Asami knows humans are to small to be seen compared to the stars, they still have pasts and futures that matter. She knows Sayu’s past was rough, but she got through it to get to where she is: in a position to choose her future. It’s the second straight week of heartwarming girl talk, only this time between girls of the same age.

The next day after Yoshida comes home early, Sayu tells him that living with him, she’s finally able to start thinking about a future. She just needs a little more time. Yoshida will give her all the time she needs. She may have  met one too many Yaguchi Kyouya’s on the way, but those assholes are but insignificant specks compared to the growing constellation of good people she knows, who care about her and are slowly but surely teaching her to care about herself.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 05 – The Mysterious Woman

I love the series that can replicate the same butterflies in the viewer’s stomach that the characters have in a particular scene, such as when Yoshida takes Gotou to his place to see Sayu. They stop at a konbini first, where Gotou prepares an extravagant bag of drinks and snacks to break the ice.

It’s not like there was going to be any melodramatic blow-up between Gotou and Sayu, but the episode is always cognizant of how strange this particular scenario is without going too over the top with it. It’s an episode titled “Reality”, after all, so Gotou and Sayu’s meeting unfolds realistically.

Gotou also has Sayu send Yoshida off on a shopping errand in short order so they can talk in private as two women. Gotou asks simple and direct questions—where Sayu is from, how long ago she ran away—but also knows not to press when she asks a question Sayu isn’t ready to answer (why she ran). Another important question Sayu tries to consider is how long she intends to stay with Yoshida.

Gotou makes clear that no matter how hard or respectable Sayu is, a high school girl cannot escape the high-school girl label, so it’s best to use it to her benefit rather than detriment. Sayu admits that in the process of running she was probably looking for someone to tell her not to run away.

Before Yoshida, the men she let use her body in exchange for a place to stay were only enabling her. “Something inside me just went crazy”, and she couldn’t deny that, at times,  when they wanted her it made her feel good. Then she met Yoshida, who not only didn’t do anything to her, but said he’d set her straight.

Gotou may not have Sayu’s sexual experience, but she’s still a woman who was a teenager and knows how hard it was and is. So shetells Sayu she’s glad she found somewhere safe, and because she knows and trusts Yoshida, she thinks it’s fine to let him be nice to her…as long as it’s the right way.

Sayu knows she shouldn’t run from her past forever, and resolves to face it, leave Yoshida’s, and “go back to where I was”. But Gotou, gathering Sayu into a supportive hug, makes clear she should take her time facing what she needs to face, while accepting the kindness she needs to accept.

It’s such a staggeringly lovely and understated scene of empathy and sisterhood, with superb voice performances from Ichinose Kana and Kanemoto Hisato, it makes what goes on with Yoshida in the meantime that much more disappointing. Because he happens to run into Yuzuha…who has been stalking him and Gotou all night. Yikes!

It’s the first time on this show I didn’t quite buy a character’s behavior. After inviting herself to go shopping with Yoshida, she makes a scene at the station as if Yoshida were two-timing her. While she initially accepted that Sayu was living with him, she deems it “weird” for him to let Gotou and Sayu in the same room on a night she thought he and Gotou were spending the night.

While Yoshida could have cleared up matters rather quickly by simply telling Yuzuha that Gotou wanted to meet Sayu, and that was the sum total reason she went to Yoshida’s place, the fact remains Yuzuha is reacting to a situation she knows far too little abhout to make judgments.

Especially when she questions Yoshida’s “priorities” and doubts whether he actually loves Gotou, she seems motivated by her own jealous rather than genuine concern for him or Sayu. She is right about one thing, however: Yoshida is far too nice…in not more forcefully telling her off!

Before Yoshida returns home, Gotou makes clear to Sayu that she loves Yoshida and isn’t interested in anyone else, while Sayu confirms that Yoshida loves Gotou. Sayu is frustrated by Gotou’s “mysterious woman” act but still offers her blessing. Then Gotou puts some makeup on Sayu, partly so Sayu can feel better after her little cry, and partly to mess with Yoshida when he comes home.

Yoshida walks Gotou home, and learns that she and Sayu have a “hotline” if he tries anything. But Gotou is impressed by Sayu, whom she regards a a great girl. Yes, she’s a little unstable and “doesn’t understand herself at all”—but she’s a teenager, what else is new?—but she thinks it will all work out. After all, Yoshida is known by the bosses at work as the “problem-solver.”

With Gotou making clear her true feelings for Yoshida, it’s lookig likelier than ever that neither Yuzuha nor Sayu have a chance, should the latter end up truly falling for him. As for the introduction of a young man who works at the konbini with Asami , I’m desperately hoping he doesn’t turn out to be one of the men Sayu stayed with.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fruits Basket – 38 (S2 13) – Council of Troublemakers

It’s a new cour, and a new term for Tooru, Yuki, and Kyou, and while Arisa and Saki make a quick appearance at the beginning (confirming that Arisa has had no further contact with Kureno), this episode is not about the main crew at all. It’s all about Yuki, and his ability to lead the Student Council, which as was hinted at far earlier in the season is packed with some colorful personalities.

First there’s VP Maname Kakeru, who sleeps often, calls the council the “School Defense Force” and does little work. There’s secretary Todou Miki, who looks like Tooru’s twin sister, sounds like cutesy Kagura, but is a first-class stirrer of shit. The high-strung, irritable Sakuragi Naohito and the taciturn treasurer Kuragi Machi round out the crew.

Wrangling these misfits would be a tall task for any president, let alone one who was tortured by a god-child cult leader for years into thinking he’s lower than scum and devoid of hope. Yuki may be committed to a new, more honest and take-charge self, but he still has trouble interacting with people who aren’t family. Heck, he still has trouble with family!

Not only that, Vice President Manabe has a bright, charismatic personality and people are naturally drawn to him, which not only reminds Yuki of his big brother, but also social butterfly Kyou, two people “inner Yuki” has always compared himself to, and found himself wanting. He’s just not sure what to do around a guy like Kakeru, so he withdraws within himself.

When a StuCo session is commandeered by Manabe for the sole purpose of assigning Power Ranger-like colors to each member, Naohito fume, Machi simmers, and Miki eggs everyone on, and Yuki has no idea how to maintain order. The chaos washes around him, even as Manabe names him “Red” simply because he’s the leader, taking the more aloof “Black” for himself. No doubt Yuki sees it the other way.

Things come to a head when, while Yuki carrying seedlings for the gardening club after school, Kakeru confronts him about the nature of his relationship with Tooru. He spotted Kyou walking home with her and judges the guy to look more like Tooru’s boyfriend, and “happier” looking in general. That sets Yuki off, and he unleashes a tirade at Kakeru condeming his apparent hobby of weighing the happiness of others for his own amusement.

Surprisingly, Kakeru kicks the tray of seedlings out of Yuki’s hands. Not one to back down from a confrontation, he calls Yuki out for lecturing him so brazenly. The two bicker, and Yuki eventually admits he was really just lecturing himself, because comparing himself to others is what he always does…or rather did, and wants to stop doing so much.

The StuCo may be full of troublemakers, but Yuki considers himself the biggest of all. Kakeru’s stance softens significantly, and he admits that he’s actually jealous of Yuki for having more empathy and understanding the feelings of others before needlessly hurting them.

Having only just started spending time with Kakeru, it was easy to box him into a caricature, but Yuki learns there’s more to the guy, including a desire to grow and change—even if he naps a bit too much to actually do so! While he was initially weary of the StuCo and his ability to lead, now he looks forward to spending time with Kakeru and the rest of these weirdos.

While I’ve honestly missed Tooru and the rest of the crew these past two weeks, Fruits Basket once again demonstrates it can tell a solid story from anyone’s perspective, and with any combination of main, secondary, and tertiary characters, without breaking a sweat.

Check out Crow’s episode 13 review here!

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 04 – Despair, Deferred

In what seems to be a recurring practice of presenting then defusing potential threats to Somali, the wolfman turns out to be good people. He is Muthrica, one of the force that patrols the vast underground, and whom Kikila calls “shishou.” 

As we’ve seen, the underground is no place for children, but that hasn’t stopped Kikila from making regular trips and getting caught roughly half the time by Muthrica.

Despite his gruff appearance and manner, Muthrica can sense how desperate Somali is to have a wish granted, so he guides her and Kiki to a tree where she’ll be able to harvest a bloom that will survive the trip back to the surface. In the process, a giant “tsuchilizard” confronts her.

Kiki protects her with his body, but when Somali explains her reason for needing the flower—so she can continue being with her dad—the lizard, being a parent of two offspring itself, understands, and trudges off.

They make it all the way back to the restaurant with the flower intact, but as it is after dark, Golem has nothing for Somali but scolding. Somali drops the flower on the ground and runs off to her room in tears.

Later, both Muthrica and Kokilia gently admonish the Golem for being so strict and inflexible, rather than hearing the reason Somali didn’t follow his orders to the letter. It’s good to hear them both saying what I was thinking last week—he just needs to learn to lay off sometimes!

Then, Kikila finds Somali has collapsed from a fever. In as much of a panic as a Golem can be, Golem spends all of his amassed pay on a rare medicine that “works on all clans”, unwilling to betray her true species to the apothecary.

He and Kikila then stay with her as she slowly recovers, and Kokilia gives him some advice as a parent to know when you’ve instilled too much fear, when to take your child in your arms and apologize, and to make sure they know they’re loved and wanted.

When Somali awakes in slightly better shape, Golem, who regrets pushing her so hard to exhaustion then piling emotional distress on top of that, and does indeed apologize. He also does something he may not have done even a few days ago, before he received advice from other parents: he makes a promise to Somali to be with her forever.

As a Golem entering his final days, keeping such a promise may well be impossible. But Golem understands that now is not the time to say that to her. Somali’s emotional health must be looked after in the here and now, and that means postponing hard truths.

In the scenario that Golem does die, hopefully Somali will keep living, growing, and learning about mortality, both her dad’s and her own. What seemed like broken promise at the time may prove not to be, as long as the memory of him remains in her heart.

Or heck, maybe the superstition proves to be true, and Golem’s life is extended. In any case, postponing her despair even a little bit longer is worth everything.

P.S. Yoshimata Ryou’s epic fantasy score is on point, particularly when Somali locates the tree from which she plucks her flower. It called to mind the theme to the Sacred City of Aquios in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time—Not a bad track to be reminded of!

Violet Evergarden – 07

Much to the envy of superfan Erica, Violet is sent to pastoral Roswell (in Genetrix, not New Mexico) to assist the famous playwright Oscar Webster with his newest work.

As is so often the case with great talents, he also has his problems: he lives all alone, his house is a mess, and he day-drinks too much (Violet helpfully points out it’s “not good for him”…I think he’s aware Vi). When Oscar first sees the blonde Violet, he narrates in his head how she isn’t the blonde he wished he could see again, whose name he can’t utter.

Violet deems Oscar a “handful”, but if anyone can handle him, it’s her. In the day before she begins taking dictation, she cleans the place and even tries her hand a cooking Carbonara. Her difficulty with cracking eggs and the resulting single mass of pasta she presents to Oscar engendered belly laughs from your author.

But again, before going to bed Violet must keep the booze away from Oscar, hiding all of his various bottles that she might get a good day’s work out of him. His status as a handful thus established, we move on to the why, which makes for the show’s most emotionally devastating and sorrowful stories yet—aside from Violet’s own tale of woe.

The why of Oscar’s solitude and drunkenness is revealed quite by chance. Oscar and Violet reach a rapport as he dictates his play—his first for children—and even Violet can empathize with its protagonist, Violet finds a frilly parasol that evokes in Oscar memories of a girl with a gap in her teeth.

With heavy implication that girl passed away, Oscar knocks the parasol out of Vi’s hand in anger and orders her to leave. Violet manages to calm him, correctly guessing there’s something deep in his heart he’s trying to hide. The truth is, Oscar hasn’t been able to write for some time, but thought the best way to do so would be to complete the tale he once told his late beloved daughter, Olivia.

Oscar’s wife, Olivia’s daughter, passed away all too early of an illness, leaving him to raise her. While he was sure she missed her mother, she never let on, as if being strong for both of them.

Then, quite tragically, she took ill as well, and rather than keep her in the hospital to pass, Oscar took her to their vacation home he still occupies, so she could die with a smile on her face. She does so as they sit by the lake; a lake Olivia promised to walk across, using her parasol to keep her aloft.

Oscar’s story is well and powerfully told (it’s akin to the opening scene in Up), and accompanied by composer Evan Call’s familiar ‘tragic’ theme; a theme that never fails to make me suddenly realize how gosh-darn dusty it is in the room in which I’m watching the show. I was glad this was the halfway point so I could grab a few kleenex.

That night, Oscar decides to finish the play after all, giving it the happy ending he and Olivia couldn’t have, in which the protagonist Olive will return home and reunite with her father. They complete it outside on the terrace, and Oscar asks Violet to go stand by the lake with the parasol to help him better visualize the ending.

While this scene is beautifully, breathtakingly staged—it’s one of the best-looking scenes of the series—it failed for me where the pre-intermission montage of Olivia fully succeeded: in not going too far. Call’s score gets a bit too bombastic, and when combined with the Bullet Time of Violet’s “walking on water”, the scene strays uncomfortably close to maudlin.

Still, the idea of Oscar dealing with his grief through finishing the play inspired by his daughter, and having Violet be the muse he needed to draw out the pages, still rang clear and true. The execution simply needed more moderation.

The episode closes with two instances of someone saying something to Violet that sets her off: first, when she and Oscar part, he thanks her for helping Olivia “keep the promise she made.” Violet lies sleeplessly in her berth, thinking of all the lives she took in the past, and all the promises they couldn’t keep because of her.

Claudia once told her she was “on fire”, and she took him literally; now she finally understands that she is on fire, and has not been able to forgive herself.

The second instance occurs when she returns to Leiden to encounter Lady Evergarden at the pier. The Lady can tell how much Violet has grown since their first tense interaction, and believes “now the late Gilbert’s soul can rest in peace.”

This is the first time Violet has been told the Major is dead, and when Claudia confirms it and gives her the details (they never found his body, only his dog tag), she immediately reverts to believing he’s alive and well.

The odds aren’t good, however. That hardly matters to Violet, who, like Oscar with Olivia, tied all her hopes to Gilbert. Coming to terms with the fact she may never see him again will not be easy, especially when the circumstances of his disappearance aren’t so clear cut.

For now, Violet simply runs, not knowing what to do. It’s appropriate then, that this episode has no title.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 10

This week, the girls find a train, a radio signal, and a furry companion. As usual, they are absolutely dwarfed just by the vertical scale of the train, to say nothing of its length. Judging by the number of “robot corpses” strewn across its interior, it seems the design had to accommodate robots far bigger than humans.

After Yuuri experiences the boredom of waiting for the train to reach the destination, she and Chito do what I do when possible—head to the front. Yuuri points out that they’re going faster than usual because they’re moving on a moving train. It starts a fun discussion about the rotation of the earth and relative speed.

If there’s a commonality to these little talks it’s that it reveals both that Chito is very bright and just doesn’t have all the words needed to describe the scientific principles she understands, and Yuuri, while perhaps less bright, nonetheless comes to some perceptive conclusions of her own, despite having even less vocabulary than Chito.

At the end of the line they alight from the train and continue through another vast expanse of infrastructure. For a moment, Yuuri picks up something on the radio: what sounded like a sad song.

They look for a way to ascend to where the waves will be stronger, and happen to stop right on an ascending platform…only it either needs maintenance or wasn’t meant to convey humans and kettenkrads, because it moves extremely fast and stops on a dime.

That leads to a great bit of physical comedy as the girls and rig keep moving even when the platform stops; naturally, Yuuri lands on her feet. They’re met at the top by an eerily red sunset and a much clearer and more consistent transmission of the song, which is indeed sad, albeit very beautiful and moving in general, especially combined with the sad sunset.

I especially liked when the graininess of the radio feed gave way to a clear, crisp performance of the song. I just wished they could’ve tuned the radio to something more upbeat; they could’ve used some cheer after that last song.

When they come upon a massive hole—with another massive hole in the level above—Yuuri wonders if it was caused by the battle all the broken weaponry around them was used for. Chito surmises the hole predates the weapons, and that the hole was more recently merely a venue for a later battle. In any case, the image of a tank being repurposed as a fountain by nature and gravity is a sight to behold, especially when Yuuri literally soaks her head.

In what looks like a rocket tube, Yuuri finds a strange creature that neither she nor Chito can quite place, and so settle on “cat.” While they don’t mention it themselves, it very much also resembles those tall white idols they’ve encountered here and there. When the animal makes noise, the radio seems to translate it, even though the animal only seems to be repeating the girls with slight variation.

While the end of the train line and the sunset provided suitable ending points for the first and second vignettes, the third looks poised to continue, as the “cat” follows the girls, who decide to keep it with them for now. As Chito puts it, they’re always throwing things away or using them up, it’s nice to add something for a change.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 09

In a change of pace both neat and foreboding, Girls’ Last Tour ditches its usual cute OP in favor of giving us a couple more minutes of “Life.” Chito and Yuuri enter another vast, city-sized facility, and while they assume they’re the only ones Alive for miles around, the facility is still “alive” with a lowecase “a” due to the lights, fans, pumps, and other various machines still working, even after the civilization that built them fell.

They also find a fellow “living thing” in a single, solitary fish, the last fish in a facility that probably churned them out in the billions in its prime. That single fish is kept alive by the one maintenance robot still functioning, much like the robot in Castle in the Sky, many of its not-so-lucky robot colleagues were not so lucky. Last tank, last fish, last maintenance robot voiced by Kamiya Hiroshi (I think?), and two of the last girls…it’s like a last convention, complete with pool facilities.

Free spirit Yuuri is all too comfortable skinny dipping, but Chito keeps her skivvies on in the presence of the robot, even though his “empathy” is just sophisticated software. But being in the presence of such complex electronic and mechanical systems that still function have Chito and Yuuri constantly wondering what “life” really is. That’s driven home by an effective fast-paced montage of all of the various patterns of sound that emulate the functions of organic life forms.

The fact that evolution bred from rebirth and change is required for life is also explored, with the only other robot at the facility being responsible for constructing or deconstructing parts of the facility as its programming dictates. When that includes the aquarium where the last fish lives, Yuuri spearheads an effort to stop the giant ‘bot.

While there was an early running joke of Yuuri constantly saying they should just eat the damn fish, she gradually develops empathy for it, to the point she’s pulling some Mission Impossible-type shit to strap explosives to the giant robot, bringing it down.

In doing so, Yuuri may have saved the fish and its attendant for now, but without the giant robot the facility will no longer change or evolve. The last robot will cease functioning, the last fish will die, and one by one the last functioning systems in the facility will shut down, in time. And since everything is the last of its kind, that will be all she wrote; no more “life.”

It’s a stirringly bittersweet close, as Yuuri and Chito themselves serve as “mutations” in a system that looked poised to self-destruct anyway (when the giant robot destroyed the fish’s home) before continuing their tour. They mostly agree that “life” means something that has an end…which this episode does with a classic credit roll with a haunting new piece of music.

Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu – 02

They may lack emotion, but they still know to pretend to be a Good Samaritan to get some alone time with dinner
They may lack emotion, but they still know to pretend to be a Good Samaritan to get some alone time with dinner

Humans think they’re real hot shit, don’t they? Even a quiet, mild-mannered, normal kid like Izumi Shinichi is utterly convinced the inviolability of human life is absolute, and that the grisly murders of people by “things” like his right hand must be opposed and the things responsible stopped. But his hand, which names itself “Migi”, doesn’t see a problem: his brethren are eating; that’s all.

It definitely a plus that Shinichi's love interest is Hana-Kana
It definitely a plus that Shinichi’s love interest is Hana-Kana

At least you know where evil and hatred stand, but there is no evil or hatred in the parasites; they’re merely carrying out their natural biological process. Humans just happen to be on the wrong end of the fork. Now they know how cows, pigs, and a multitude of other animals feel. But still, Shinichi thinks it’s different.

"YOU WON'T LIKE ME WHEN I'M ANGRY", or "MEIN FUHRER, I CAN WALK!"? How about both
“YOU WON’T LIKE ME WHEN I’M ANGRY”, or “MEIN FUHRER, I CAN WALK!”? How about both

And, of course, it is different. Humanity’s belief in its own primacy may well be just a matter of chemistry and biology itself, but like Shinichi, we are humans and so seeing so many of us turned into mincemeat, no matter how flawed they might be, its unsettling and just plain not okay. Especially when the next victim could be someone you care about.

Don't cross me, Shinichi. Don't ever cross me.
Don’t cross me, Shinichi. Don’t ever cross me.

For Shinichi, that someone is Murano Satomi (Hanazawa Kana), and she happens to like him to. After Migi sinks a half-court shot on the court, she formally forgives him and asks him out for pancakes. I’m really enjoying their fumbling yet tender courtship, and of the high school milieu in general; even in the midst of such grisly murders; it speaks to how mass media and the internet have desensitized us as a society to the horrors in the world.

kisei205a
The sounds Migi makes when morphing are best described as…skin-crawling

But Shinichi’s interactions with Murano underscore to him and us just how much he stands to lose if he leaves the mincemeat murderers be. That all threatens to become moot when a full-body parasite encounters and corners him, then invites Migi to “transfer” to his body and share his host, which will enable them to live longer. Again, Shinichi comes just an inch away from dying. He may not look it, but he’s livin’ on the edge.

"Hop on, there's room for two!"
“Hop on, there’s room for two!”

And that right there is the first sign that these things have a semblance of community, even if they lack empathy for other life. Because they value their own lives, and joining forces will lengthen their lives, logic dictates that they should join forces; there’s no need for emotional input. Migi declines and instead kills his brethren, explaining he didn’t know the transfer would be successful, and stating once more: “I value my own life.”

Migi NOT saving Shinichi's life, only saving his own life...and Shinichi's too
Migi NOT saving Shinichi’s life, only saving his own life…and Shinichi’s too

While one could argue that a little of Shinichi’s empathy is seeping into Migi and a kind of rudimentary emotional bond is forming, we also can’t rule out that Migi will only continue to protect Shinichi as long as it serves his purposes. The enemy remains within as well as without, and as I said, it’s an enemy with no hatred or fear. Or anything. The parasites can’t very well be the “demons” Shinichi labels them without those things.

So pleasant...how long can it last
So pleasant…how long can it last

It’s really humans, or at least a lot of them, (or even everyone, at moments) who are the closest thing to demons, says Migi. Shinichi’s Adorable Pancake Date with Murano takes a dark turn when the encounter youths trying to hit a cat they buried in the sand with rocks. I couldn’t help but think Shinichi was thinking “Ya see? It’s little shits like you give our species a bad name!” before scaring them off and rescuing the cat in front of the animal-loving Murano.

Just go get eaten, punks!
Just go get eaten, punks!

Here’s the thing: the parasites aren’t punishing people for misdeeds; their targets are random. This isn’t karma, it’s merely nature. Even so, Shinichi wants to use Migi’s power to protect as much life as he can. He isn’t someone who can just stand by when he might have the power to do something. Migi is dubious; no doubt because of the risks involved.

For all the gross twisting and meshing of body parts, the show can still pull off something sweet like Shinichi and Murano holding hands for the first time with aplomb
For all the gross twisting and meshing of body parts, the show can still pull off something sweet like Shinichi and Murano holding hands for the first time with aplomb

Both after the basketball shot and after this incident with the rock throwers, Murano is warm and affectionate, but she also seems to need Shinichi to say he really is Shinichi. And to a casual observer, it would appear like he’s under the influence of some kind of love potion. She’s not used to him being so…capable, though it’s not as if she doesn’t like this new side of him.

kisei211
“I’m going to switch to your left hand, if you don’t mind. That okay?”

Two episodes in and I’ve now seen the show consistently excel at delivering both skin-crawling body horror (with philosophical subtext) and charming, realistic, but probably doomed romance. For all the gross stuff it does with body parts. The soundtrack also continues to distinguish itself, in that it always seems to bring the right music for the situation. I even heard a bit of Vangelis inspiration in there. It’s as quirky and eclectic as the rest of the show.

No...HUMAN BEING...makes love like this.
No…HUMAN BEING…would make love like this.

The final scene where to full-body parasites—a man and a woman—stand naked in the moonlight, about to perform a human mating ritual. It will be completely devoid of love (or any emotion at all), but they’re probably doing it in an effort to better emulate human behavior. In other words, if Shinichi wants to put a stop to them, he’d better hustle!

9_mag