Cardcaptor Sakura – 26 – Oh, the Mazes You’ll Smash!

Sakura oversleeps, has to speed-eat her breakfast and get rolling (or as her dad kindly puts it, “hurry a little”) in order to avoid being late to school! After avoiding several obstacles on her ‘blades, she loses her balance. Fortunately, she’s saved from a fall by a tall redheaded woman in whose striking beauty Sakura finds herself immediately in awe.

While Sakura is puzzled by the woman’s promise they’ll see each other again, that’s cleared up the next day when she’s introduced in her class as Mizuki Kaho, their new substitute math teacher. Syaoran has a similar double take, but not necessarily due to her beauty.

He warns Sakura to be careful around her, as he can sense she possesses ridiculous amounts of magical power. As if to tease him, she sneaks up to tell them not to be too careful around her, otherwise they’ll fall behind on their math studies!

Around this time, everyone at school is talking about the Tsukimine Shrine, where you’re supposed to visit in order to find success in romance. Since that appeals to both Sakura and Meiling, they end up visiting that afternoon, joined by Tomoyo and Syaoran, respectively.

Things take a turn…then another turn, then another turn, then several dead ends when a massive emerald-green labyrinth rises up around the four of them. It doesn’t take long to determine it’s the Clow Card Maze, and it’s another showcase of CCS’s creativity and artistry.

When Sakura tries the obvious Fly, the walls extend over her faster than she can ascend. Those same walls heal immediately when she slices them with SwordMaze then starts upping the difficulty level by transforming into an homage to M.C. Escher’s Relativity, where not only are they lost, but up, down, left or right no longer have meaning!

Meiling gets separated and starts to cry, and when the other three try to go the long way ’round to find her as she counts up, the counting suddenly stops and she’s gone! Meanwhile, it’s past 7PM in the normal world, and Sakura’s dad and brother are worried, leading Touya head out on his bike to find her. Teasing and ribbing aside, he is a good and loving big brother.

Both Sakura and Syaoran end up taking the L on this card, as it’s Mizuki-sensei who ends up reuniting them with Meiling and helping them find a way out. Turns out she’s a shrine maiden at the Tsukimine shrine, and in addition to her immense magical power, her uniquely-shaped hand-held bell is able to smash through the labyrinth walls without any trouble.

Once outside the maze, Sakura manages to seal the card, but it floats over to Mizuki, who made the sealing possible. Still, unlike Syaoran with Time she hands the card back to Sakura, deeming it’s better if she held onto it. Touya arrives, relieved to find Sakura is alright, but also is clearly acquainted with Mizuki, calling her by her first name Kaho.

As everyone heads home, Mizuki calmly recedes back onto the shrine grounds, her elegant figure eventually fading away in the distance…almost like a ghost! She’s definitely Sakura and Tomoyo’s substitute math teacher, she’s also clearly a real person.

All we know is we haven’t seen the last of her. Combining the weirdness of the green maze with the introduction of the first adult character who is fully “in” on Sakura’s magical duties made for some trippily great fun.

P.S. This week Touya again gives Kero-chan a good hard look. This isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last, but the closeups of Touya and Kero-chan reminded me of a good old Curb Your Enthusiasm lie-detecting Larry staredown:

Having seen Clear Card, I know they continue with this charade for years to come, even though Touya surely must be 80-90% sure by then that Kero-chan is not, in fact, a lifeless plushie. Maybe it’s more about seeing how long he can remain still before a sweat drop forms? ;)

Owarimonogatari – 03

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This week, in service of determining the true origin of Oikura Sodachi’s intense hatred of him, Araragi dutifully tells Ougi the story of summer break five years ago, when he was in the seventh grade and struggling at math. The envelopes in his shoe locker led him to the mansion where a mysterious girl would teach him not just math, but to like and even love math.

The girl eventually came up with three conditions Araragi had to agree with: the lessons would only take place in that specific room (where Araragi and Ougi presently stand); the lessons must be kept a secret between the two of them, and he must make no effort to find out more about her, or discuss anything not about mathmatics, or even ask her her name.

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Following her conditions, Araragi had a great time, and the girl seemed to as well. In fact, as Araragi states, he was “created” that summer; that is, the Araragi his is today is thanks in large part to that girl getting him back on the right track with math, allowing him to continue living the happy, righteous life he now lives rather than having to deal with the repercussions of increasingly dropping grades. In other words, whatever the reason she disappeared, Araragi owes her.

After his story, Ougi figures out quite quickly (she is a great sleuth) two things that never occured to Araragi, and blow this hatred investigation wide open. First: the mysterious “math fairy” that “created” him was most likely Oikura Sodachi, meaning Araragi met her, and she performed a life-changing service for him, years before he thought he first met her.

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The reason she never told Araragi this is Ougi’s second conclusion: Araragi wasn’t a guy she could count on. Young Araragi was so happy to be absorbing all of Sodachi’s mathematical knowledge, he neither thought much of her strange, specific conditions, nor the conditions of the home, which he wrongly remembers being in ruins. In reality, five years ago the mansion was Sodachi’s house, but it was a house falling apart, probably due to domestic abuse.

Sodachi invited Araragi to her house again and again in hopes he’d see the state of affairs there and relay the situation to his parents, police officers/champions of justice both. But he didn’t. And when Summer ended, Sodachi and her family disappeared, all Araragi found was an empty envelope, which he didn’t understand until now, when Ougi is drawing it all out for him: the envelope is him: “empty and disappointing.”

That’s why Sodachi despises Araragi. Becoming aware of the true nature of his past and what he did or rather didn’t do, Araragi also comes to depsise himself a little bit, for which Ougi has an intriguing response: that she’ll love him that exact same “little bit”…perhaps out of a desire to maintain balance?

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Yet despite Sodachi despising him and despising himself a little, he still loves mathematics. Even if he misinterpreted the purpose of his study sessions with Sodachi, they still imbued him with a formidable love of math, almost like a “curse.” And now that he knows what he most likely did to Sodachi, he’s more nervous about confronting her and a simple apology may not be sufficient.

Enter Tsubasa, who throws another wrinkle into Araragi and Ougi’s supposedly solved proof: Araragi kept the occupation of his parents a closely-guarded secret. So how did Sodachi find out? The answer to that question, and how Araragi’s next encounter with Sodachi will go (assuming he has one), comprises ample material for next week’s outing.

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Owarimonogatari – 02

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As Ougi pointedly remarks toward the end of this normal-length episode, This Is Different. Not only the fact that Owarimonogatari shifts the focus from her in the first episode (essentially an hour-long prologue) to Oikura Sodachi, who is suddenly back at school and asking Tsubasa all kinds of questions. Araragi is confident he can clear the air with Sodachi before Tsubasa gets back from the teacher’s lounge, but that doesn’t happen, because Sodachi, like Ougi before her, is different from every other woman he’s dealt with.

Different, because Sodachi hates Araragi. She despises him, and people like him with the heat of a thousand suns, as if he’d killed her parents (assuming she loved them, of course). So the smooth, easy reunion Araragi expected crashes and burns with equal force, as he can feel the hate suffusing every surface of the classroom, pushing all the desks and chairs back. No water under the bridge here. More like Sodachi wants to throw Araragi off a bridge, into that water, then burn his wretched corpse to ashes.

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So why does she despise Araragi so much? We can hazard a guess from last week, but according to her, it’s because he’s ungrateful for the life of smooth sailing he’s enjoyed, because he’s happy without knowing why he’s happy; because he “doesn’t know what he’s made up of” in ranting that evokes chemistry more than mathematics, though the former requires quite a bit of the latter (which is why I got a “D-” in chemistry :P):

“I despise water that thinks it boiled itself on its own.”

Araragi’s usual charms and ability to take control of an encounter are utterly overthrown in Sodachi’s seething atmosphere of hate. When he tries to calm her by putting his hands on her shoulders, she quickly reaches for a mechanical pencil and stabs him in the hand. She won’t be calm. Within her is a storm that has been brewing for years. But how many, exactly—two, five, or more—is one of the mysteries this episode posits.

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Sodachi’s stabbing of Araragi brings a new element to the equation: a highly displeased Senjougahara, comically dragging a diplomatic Tsubasa behind her, who arrives with a line that’s both eloquent, hilarious, and wink-ily meta-referential:

“I’ll kill you. I’m the only one who can stab Araragi with stationery. Even though I’ve gotten rid of that character trait, I can’t stand having it reused.”

Sodachi greets Senjougahara by lamenting “how far she’s fallen” since the time she was a sickly girl she often took care of, since she’s now dating Araragi, a man who will never credit anyone other than himself for his happiness. But both of Sodachi’s barbs imply a desire in Senjougahara for some kind of repayment for her affections or efforts, where no such desire exists.

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Senjougahara concedes that Sodachi may be right about Araragi’s ungratefulness, but she doesn’t care. She likes Araragi and wants to go to college with him. She’s not looking for anything in return, nor is she keeping score; two more traits on which she and Sodachi differ. Sodachi applies math to all, and in the equations that express Araragi’s wonderful life, sees herself and others as crucial variables. For that, she demands recognition and renumeration, yet Araragi, she believes, pretends those variables don’t exist; that only the sum—his happiness—matters.

Sodachi’s comeback to Senjougahara’s admittedly condescending response to her protests is to slap her in the face (doing a scant 15 Damage), which only incurs a brutal counter-punch from Senjougahara (1479 Damage + KO). Proving she is The Best, Senjougahara then passes out herself and tells Araragi to handle the rest. If this cameo is her only appearance in Owari, she sure made the most of it!

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From there, Ougi’s role returns to the foreground, as she accompanies Araragi to his middle school and finds three envelopes marked “A”, “B”, and “C” in his shoe locker (why they end up in that particular place is explained by the Loki-like Ougi using gorgeous Escher-style imagery with SD versions of her and Araragi).

Araragi recognizes these envelopes as a “Monty Hall problem“-type quiz: Three doors, behind one of which is a car; you choose Door 1; you’re shown what’s behind Door 3 (a goat), and you’re asked if you want to switch your choice to Door 2. Switching to Door 2 gives you a 2/3 chance of getting the car, compared to 1/3 sticking with Door 1.

I liken Ougi to Loki because she’s very much a trickster, neither good nor evil, who has revealed next to nothing about herself while having an intense power to draw out quite a bit from Araragi. She’s also a lot like Monty Hall, a game show host (note the flashing checkered lockers), not only nudging Araragi to choose which way to go next, but also hosting a kind of This Is Your Life for him.

(I’ll also note, Ougi takes a good long look at Nadeko’s shoe locker, both a callback to Nadeko’s arc, and another reason why Ougi is so hard to figure out).

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I say Ougi nudges him, but really, she’s pretty actively leading him deeper into his past, opening rusty gates and kicking in doors. That past is somewhere they both agree is the only place they have a chance of learning for sure why exactly Sodachi despises him so deeply. Ougi rules out the class assembly, as the exact timing of Sodachi’s return to school suggests she knew Komichi-sensei was the true culprit, not Araragi.

Ougi surmises it may be more the fact that Araragi has “forgotten his roots”, though she admits a lot of people do that and aren’t automatically despised for it. Her comments about who she was in grade school and middle school being “far beyond the boundaries of oblivion” and the feeling she was “born very recently”, which Araragi likens to the five-minute hypothesis, are both enticing nuggets about her, but don’t come close to painting a full picture.

But it is the further exploration of that cloudy past, when Araragi’s childhood thought process and actions were strange, mysterious, suspicious, and scary all at once, where he and Ougi hope to excavate some answers and avoid future stabbings.

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