Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 05 – A Familiar Face in a New Place

The show’s commitment to depicting all the facets of Elaina’s world, not just the pleasant ones, is admirable, but after three straight unsettling or cautionary tales, I imagine the primary refrain of viewers this week was “Could we get segment that’s not, like, a total bummer?”

Elaina wastes no time abiding: look, a town full of living people! The beautiful land of Royal Celesteria is just what the witch doctor ordered, but Elaina’s curiosity with the city’s Royal Magic Academy seems to get her in trouble, as she ends up being chased by a pack of magic students.

As a full-fledged Witch, Elaina is able to easily avoid capture and exhaust her pursuers, whose professor turns out to be Elaina’s own magical mentor, Fran, whom she hasn’t seen in a few years. Once she heard the Ashen Witch was in town, Fran thought it would be both good training and good fun for her students to go up against catch such a talented witch—tooting her own horn as well as Elaina’s!

Back in her academy chambers, Fran tells Elaina she should stop by home, as her mother is worried about her. Fran assumes Elaina’s mom was the reason she became a traveler, but Elaina tells her it was more the stories of Nike. Turns out the two share the same favorite story: of Nike passing the torch to her apprentice Foula.

I’m not sure how heavily we’re supposed to read into this, but it’s definitely hinted at that Nike and Elaina’s mom were the same person, and Fran was her “Foula”. Once she taught Fran everything she could, she became an “ordinary woman” and lived out her days at home.

Fran also tells Elaina about her own attempts to write a book about her journeys. While she wasn’t proud of her manuscript and lost it when she sold the bag it was in, Fran encourages Elaina to make full use of her diary, so that she too can hear about her apprentice’s fun memories someday (of course, we know they’re not always fun.)

The next day, Elaina joins Fran as a guest lecturer and assistant. After deftly handling silly questions about her (no, she doesn’t have a boyfriend!),  Elaina has a ton of fun helping to teach the young students how to calmly manipulate balls of water. It’s the first time she’s passing on the knowledge and wisdom passed to her from Fran, and she clearly finds passing it to the kids uniquely rewarding.

The evening before the day Elaina plans to leave, Fran takes her to her favorite view of Celesteria. When Elaina asks what will become of the students when they graduate, Fran says they’ll work in various jobs around the city, which we saw as Elaina explored earlier. But whether they deliver packages or taxiing people about, or performing magic tricks in the square, they’re all doing what they like, just as Fran is teaching—and Elaina is traveling—because they like it.

When asked what else Elaina likes, Fran gets her to say that butterflies are “okay” and that she likes flowers too. The next morning, Fran is late to see Elaina off, but Elaina is worried that if they have an extended goodbye she’ll have sad feelings about it later. Before she leaves, Fran appears with her students and gives her a shower of flowers, some of them flying like butterflies. It’s a fitting farewell to the wandering witch, who will surely have fond memories of her time in Celesteria.

I mean, considering where else she’s been and what she’s witnessed, I’m sure she was as eager for a joyful destination as we were! That leaves the framing device of the episode: Elaina finding Fran’s book in published form six months later, in a town not only full of Fran merchandise, but a prominent statue of the her in what Elaina thinks might be too cool a pose! In any case, next time she sees Fran—and she fully plans to—she’ll have a fun story to tell.

Some words on the episode from Crow here.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 04 – The Princess and the Cook

Elaina begins a love story—complete with ornate storybook illustrations—though aside from her love for her parents, it’s not something she knows a lot about. That makes the next stop on her journey potentially quite edifying. At first, a grand city looks to be in ruins, smoldering and covered in snow and ash.

The palace is the last building standing, and within she finds the last person in the city, Princess Mirarosé—a princess without subjects who looks exactly like her painting, as if it were painted that day. Curiously, aside from her name, Mirarosé isn’t sure about much of anything, as she’s suffering from amnesia.

Elaina joins the princess for a cup of tea (without mentioning the front door she broke), and Mirarosé shows her a letter she found that provides some but not all answers. There is a monster, Javalier, who appears at sundown to wreak destruction upon the city and eat its subjects. Elaina gets a first-hand look at the monster in action.

As a magical barrier prevents Javalier from attacking, Mirarosé and Elaina are safe. But the letter beseeches her to go out and slay Javalier with all due haste, as it will never stop chasing her or cease its reign of destruction until it is no more. Mirarosé, who has recently learned she is a witch, resolves to take it out.

Elaina basically says “Good luck with that!” but will be watching from a safe distance and nothing more. Mirarosé respects and even appreciates her plain, almost curt honesty: it is true Elaina stands to gain nothing from risking her life to help.

That said, Elaina does avail herself of a guest room for the night—complete with a soft fluffy bed that gives her no shortage of pure joy—as well as a sumptuous (and lovingly animated) breakfast of bacon, eggs, and fresh-baked bread. While they eat, the princess tells Elaina how she can feel the hatred in the author of the letter, and is starting to feel the same way.

As thanks for Mirarosé’s hospitality, Elaina agrees to help her prepare for the battle, if not help her fight it. We watch Elaina’s considerable magical talents on display as she charms an army of doors, buckets, and stuffed animals (of dead kids no less) to dig a massive hole in the city’s central square. Elaina offers to make dinner for Mirarosé when she’s done, and kindly asks her not to die.

When the sun falls, Elaina can’t help but leave the safety of the palace to help in case Mirarosé needs it. Even though she’s only spent a day with the princess, she doesn’t want her to die, and so will do what is necessary (without putting herself in danger) to prevent that from happening. I appreciate Elaina’s change of heart while maintaining her pragmatism.

At this point the episode certainly seems to be setting Mirarosé up for a glorious but inevitable death. Of course, I should have expected Elaina would have something more interesting in mind for the climax, which follows one hell of a beautifully choreographed and animated battle between Mirarosé and the raging Javalier.

She isn’t just a witch, she’s a hella powerful witch, employing wind, fire, ice, lightning attacks as well as red plasma beams and summoning thousands of swords like Gilgamesh. And by the time she beheads the trapped, exposed, and wounded Javalier, she’s recovered her memories, which brings us back to the cold open story of the Princess and the Cook.

When Mirarosé’s father found out she was carrying the child of the lower-class cook, he ordered the cook’s torture and execution…as Mirarosé watched. In response, she cursed her father, transforming him into a monster that would destory his city and eat his subjects—while still being fully aware he was their king. She wanted him to feel the same helplessness she felt when she lost the thing she loved most.

After cursing her dad (who presumably killed the queen during one of his nightly rampages), Mirarosé wiped her memories but left a letter for her future self to discover. The rest of the story, we know: Mirarosé succeeded in every aspect of her plan, fully avenging her lover—who taught her how to bake—and her child, the fate of whom is only implied.

When Elaina takes her leave, she watches as Mirarosé lays out breakfast for her long-departed lover and speaks with him as if he were there. It would seem the combination of her trauma and subsequent trials, and the crushing loneliness of her present situation have conspired to drive her mad. And yet she seems content, and at times even giddy.

As for the departing Elaina, well…her expression is worth a thousand words. In the cold open, she asked “Why do they call it ‘fall’ in love?”, which sounds like love is a trap, which is kind of is…it’s just that ideally falling in love won’t result in your lover’s summary torture and execution. And hopefully, should she ever fall in love, Elaina will fare better than poor Princess Mirarosé.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 03 – A Flower’s Fangs and the Cruelty of Kindness

This week chronicles two separate stories of Elaina’s travels, neither of which end remotely happily, indicating Wandering Witch won’t be content to ply us with bromides about the beauty of the world. It’s going to show us the good and the bad, and how the bad often wears a good cloak.

On the lighter side: This is the second straight ep that starts with Elaina asking the audience some version of “Who is that elegant stunning girl?…Why, it’s ME!!!” Later in the episode, a character praises her, and replies “You can praise me more if you like!” Our wandering witch is brimming with confidence, and I am here for it!

On to the meat of the story: Elaina first comes across a young woman in vast and gorgeous flower field. When asked if she tends the field, the woman says “no one can tend it”, which in hindsight was the first sign something was off. She asks Elaina to give a bouquet of flowers to someone in the next town—doesn’t matter who.

Elaina doesn’t get past the gate when she’s stopped, first by a hot-headed guard, then his superior, both of whom are wearing masks and demand she hand over the flowers. While they may be harmless to a witch, the blooms are poisonous and drive ordinary folk insane.

The younger guard recognizes the shawl the flowers were wrapped as belonging to his missing sister. When Elaina returns to the now dark and stormy field, she finds the brother there, covered in vines and being slowly digested beside his sister, who has already fully morphed into a plant.

Elaina wisely peaces the fuck out, but misses the worst of this story. The smoke from the burned bouquet apparently spreads to other townsfolk, who in turn become thralls to the predatory plant and spread the “gift” of lovely flower bouquets throughout the land.

There’s a harsh German children’s tale quality to this segment, warning one to beware of outward beauty, as it could one day enslave and kill you. Life-affirming this is not—but it is surprisingly powerful.

In the next segment, a young lad flags Elaina down to say hello. His name is Emil, who himself has been traveling about collecting scenes of happiness and converting them to magic he’s keeping in a bottle. He intends to give it as a gift to the girl he likes. First red flag? The girl in question is his servant.

Emil, the village chief’s son, invites Elaina to lunch, after which he’ll present the gift to the shy, gloomy Nino. But from the start it seems quite unlikely his gift will raise Nino’s spirits. During a painfully awkward few minutes with the father, Elaina learns she’s a slave he bought because she could do housework and would grow up to be a beauty.

The lunch is far larger and better than Elaina expected, but the village chief shows his true colors, and the typical dynamic of the household, when Emil surprises Nino and she drops a pitcher of water. The dad verbally abuses Nino and shoves her to the ground, and Nino adopts a desperate contriteness.

Elaina is able to deescalate the situation by magically repairing the pitcher (a very neat bit of CGI), but it’s long since time she was on her way. When Emil presents Nino with the bottle of happiness and they open it together, images of truly happy people wash over her vision, moving her to tears.

But they’re not tears of joy, and Nino certainly doesn’t cheer up afterwards. It isn’t until Elaina is back in the sky that she remembers the end of a similar story: when a man traveled the world capturing beautiful images to share with his bedridden wife, they only made her more depressed, and compelled her to eventually take her own life.

Neither we nor Elaina know if Nino will turn out that way, but she pointedly remarks that she doesn’t want to know. As with the flower siblings, she saw and heard all she needed to, and it was time to move on. This isn’t The Heroic Crusade of Elaina, it’s The Journey of Elaina.

That means accepting that the world is sometimes ugly and cruel and dark, there’s nothing you can do about it but move on and try to find something brighter over the horizon. While this episode was hardly comfort food, I applaud the show’s guts to “go there”, i.e. not make all of Elaina’s experiences whimsically wonderful…or even remotely pleasant.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s thoughts on the episode here.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 02 – You’ll Never Fly Alone

While flying along on her broom during her travels, Elaina makes it a point to declare that even the “sun’s eyes” squint at the beauty and majesty of the lovely Ashen Witch, i.e. her! I like how Elaina isn’t a perfect goody-two-shoes but has a healthy ego that could curdle into arrogance if she’s not careful, but hasn’t yet. That confidence is both to be expected of the youngest Apprentice and full Witch ever, at at times, justified!

Her destination this week is the gorgeous, whimsical City of Mages, so-called because the non-magical are unable to reach it, as if Diagon Alley were a whole city. Instead of flying cars, witches dart hither and thither in the sky, and Full Witches like Elaina are idolized. Unfortunately her first encounter with a resident involves a mid-air collision with a novice who lost control of her broom.

Elaina repairs the damaged roof and the cut on the face of the girl, who introduces herself as Saya. She thanks and apologizes profusely to Elaina, insisting that she be allowed to do something to make up for the trouble she’s caused, but Elaina is content to continue on her journey, and bits Saya farewell—for all she knows, for good.

Of course, Elaina and Saya are fated to meet again. This happens when Elaina is roughly turned away from every other hotel in the city—a far cry from the fawning and deference she expected due to her full Witch status. It’s a fun echo of when none of the witches in her hometown would give her the time of day. However, Saya happens to work at the one hotel that will let her stay there, and Elaina asks for and receives a “nice witch discount”.

Turns out Elaina was turned away from the other hotels because her Witche’s brooch fell off and is now lost. After a fruitless search, she takes a relaxing bath…and Saya waltzes right into her room! It’s the first sign that Saya wants quite a bit more than just to make up for bumping into Elaina. She prostrates herself and begs Elaina to help train her to pass the Apprentice exams.

Saya shows Elaina a photo of her and her little sister, who came with her to the city but passed the exam before her and returned home. Since Elaina’s ego was bruised by getting kicked out of so many fancy hotels, she wants a win, and a boost to that ego. Impressed with Saya’s prostrating skills (an odd but sincere gesture from her home back east), Elaina agrees: while searching for her lost brooch, she’ll train Saya for a week.

It turns out to be a wonderfully equitable arrangement for both parties. Saya proves a quick study in both broom-flying skills, and while she’s lacking in magical attack focus and accuracy (and mushroom tolerance), Elaina’s very close attention is both appreciated and effective.

In return, Elaina gets to experience what it’s like to be a teacher like Flan was for her, and finds nurturing her junior to be extremely appealing and rewarding. While there’s nothing as intense as Elaina and Flan’s duel, there’s still plenty of lovely eye candy to enjoy throughout their training.

While searching on the roof where she landed for her brooch, Elaina spots a lady whom she pays to tell her what she saw the day of the collision. That night, Elaina lets Saya sleep in her bed with her, and Saya indicates how happy she is that, at least until her brooch is found and she continues her journey, they’ll be “together forever.” That’s when Elaina says she knows Saya stole her brooch and has been concealing it.

This was never about learning how to fly properly—Saya wouldn’t have been able to come to the city from far to the East if she weren’t a solid flyer—instead, but how Saya can’t “pin someone down” with “misguided methods” so they’ll remain with her. Ever since her sister left Saya has experienced crippling loneliness, which she hoped would end upon meeting Elaina (with whom her collision was intentional).

Seiyuu Kurosawa Tomoyo brings a beautiful vulnerability and comic expressiveness to Saya throughout the episode, and shows her equally solid dramatic chops in this scene as Saya breaks down. Hondo Kaede is just as effective as a consoling Elaina who, after delivering a needed forehead flick, tells Saya that being alone is an inevitable and necessary part of becoming a witch (like eating mushrooms).

Elaina felt lonely during her development, but she gradually gained the courage to fight alone, and so must Saya. Part of that means understanding that those she loves are always watching her, even if they’re not physically there. To that end, she gives Saya her spare hat, so that when the time comes that she’s lonely, she’ll remember Elaina’s words and her affection.

Six months later, Elaina is elsewhere in the world (looks like Venice…Hi Arte!) and reading this show’s equivalent of the Daily Prophet, an article in which reports that Saya finally passed the Apprentice exam, and announced that her next step is to go see “the traveler I love!” It’s an immensely sweet sentiment to end the episode, while almost assuring us that not only will Elaina and Saya meet again, but Saya could well become her apprentice.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t pick up on some of the yuri undertones to Saya’s interactions. While Elaina kept things platonic, it’s clear Saya is very much enamored of the Ashen Witch…and who can blame her? While Saya first tried to replace her little sister with Elaina, now that she’s advanced to the next stage of her magical life, Elaina is something else—a friend, mentor, and ideal for which to strive!

Our fellow anime lover Crow has also written on this episode; you read about it here!

The Journey of Elaina – 01 (First Impressions) – The Ashen Witch is Born

Ever since she was wee, Elaina (Hondo Kaede, recently Bofuri’s Maple) dreamed of traveling the world like Nikeh, a great witch who recorded her adventures in a diary. Her parents, the supportive type, told her she could do it if she studied hard to become a witch. She did just that, not only passing the sorcery examination with flying colors, but being the youngest ever to do so at age 14.

Elaina’s next hurdle to becoming a witch would be to train under one as their apprentice, but due to her fame as the youngest ever, she has the door of every witch in the city slammed in her face before she can even state her case. Then she overhears a “dodgy” witch having taken residence in the forest outside the city, and flies over to take a look.

Flan, Stardust Witch (Hanazawa Kana, who is having a ball) agrees to take Elaina on as an apprentice, but like Mr. Miyagi with Daniel-san, it doesn’t seem she has any actual interest in training her, just using her as her own personal assistant. Cooking her meals, collecting ingredients, dealing with spiders in the tub and rubbing her shoulders; this is all Elaina gets to do.

After a month of this, Elaina has had enough, and asks if Flan is at last ready to train her. Flan tells her she has “nothing in particular” to teach her, but she will have Elaina fight her. Flan’s awesome mastery of the elements proves too much, as Elaina can only bob and weave against an onslaught of fire, earth and lightning. This fight was also the point at which I was utterly and completely sold on the show; its fantastic magical combat!

Totally defeated for perhaps the first time in her life, Elaina collapses into a heap and starts to bawl uncontrollably, catching Flan, clearly not used to dealing with teenage witches, tries to cheer her up with butterflies and a crown made of weeds, but settles on a hug, which proves most effective.

Flan also confesses to Elaina that her parents paid her to teach her about setback and failure until she reached her limit. Elaina has the skill, talent, and potential, but needed to learn not to deal with or endure everything no matter what, just because she can.

With that catharsis, and Flan’s strategy revealed, the training continues in earnest. Over the period of a year Flan teaches Elaina everything she knows, and Elaina soaks it all up like a sponge. But unlike her first month, she speaks up if something displeases her. Eventually, she’s good enough to best Flan in a duel for the first time, and that’s when Flan knows she’s ready.

Replacing her apprentice’s flower badge with the star brooch, Flan bestows upon her the status of a full-fledged witch. On Flan’s suggestion, Elaina picks the magical name “the Ashen Witch” due to her hair color. Fran then bids Elaina farewell and returns to her home country, and Elaina returns home.

She’s not there long, as now she’s achieved the requisite of being able to travel the world freely like Nikeh. Her parents keep their word, giving Elaina three simple rules to follow: When in serious danger, run; don’t come to think she’s a “special human”; and come home someday with a smile.

She’s outfitted in new witch’s robes, a kickass oversized hat (along with a spare—it’s windy out there!), and of course, a handsome diary in which to write about her adventures. With that, she says goodbye to the only home she’s ever known, without a particular plan or destination, and journeys in that fashion for three years, finally reaching the age of eighteen.

I for one am glad we got Elaina’s “origin story” at the most logical part of the anime: the beginning. It’s a story beautifully and efficiently told, and delivered the same kind of fuzzy feels as goodhearted witch series like Kiki, Flying Witch, and Little Witch Academia. I can’t wait to see where Elaina ends up landing next week!

Rating: 4.5/5

Crow is also watching the Wandering Witch, and always has great observations about the episodes’ best moments. Read Crow’s review here.

RikeKoi – 03 – Just Get Married Already!

Fourth-year undergrad Inukai Kousuke takes the stage, and at least momentarily gives Ayano a crisis in confidence, since he mentions how he holds his current lover in his arms twice a day and has spent over 227,000 yen on her.

Then we learn he’s talking about 2D girls in dating sims. When Yukimura tells Kousuke he has nothing to be ashamed of Ayano again begins to doubt whether she’s really in love.

When Kanade reaches out during a break, Ayano regales her with a story from her past. When she was in elementary school she was bullied for loving pillbugs. One day, while in the woods, she’s approached by a boy who not only knows what she’s up to, but voices his respect for it.

When she blames the pillbugs, he tells her she’s ostracized not for her hobby, but for having a negative “halo effect” due to her unkempt appearance and standoffish body language.

His call for her to keep her head up and move forward boldly “with beauty and dignity” is something she’s taken to heart, and indeed inspired her not only to pursue a career in science, but as Kanade says, became the cool, beautiful egghead she strove for.

Yet Ayano still feels she’s only partway there as long as she’s unsure of her love. Kanade figures out pretty quickly that the boy Ayano met and was so inspired by and smitted with thirteen years ago was none other than Yukimura. Naturally, the two don’t realize they met each other so long ago.

Rather than try to convince them then and there that they’re soulmates who should by rights be married already were it not for their scientific stubbornness and romantic cluelessness. Better to give them a chance to figure it out for themselves by going on a date.

Neither of them has any problem with this. The problem is, they don’t know the first thing about dates. Enter their three lab-mates, who offer three different versions of how their ideal date would go.

Kanade’s, naturally, involves the teacher she adored in high school, and quickly turns into a sugary shoujo scenario. Kousuke’s involves his tsundere 2D sweetheart, who looks an awful lot like his real-life childhood friend Ibarada. Ibarada’s involves a BL version in which Ayano is a dude with a very detailed backstory.

Eventually they settle on an amusement park date, and calculate the most efficient route to access all 22 attractions. It’s clear they’re overthinking things, but when it comes to actually asking the other out, Yukimura initially pooh-poohs the idea, before asking Ayano out, resulting in her most adorable reaction yet.

Fruits Basket – 18 – Cry of the Tiger

While Tooru and Yuki are waiting under a shelter for the rain to stop, they encounter a soaked Haru carrying…a tiger cub. That cub is the Tiger of the Zodiac, Souma Kisa, and she ran away from home. She also doesn’t talk due to a “psychological” issue that locked her words away. Now she only bites.

Since her previous circumstances brought her to this state, Haru takes her to Shigure’s house for a change of scenery, and Tooru learns the silence is a result of bullying. Zodiac parents tend to either overprotect or reject their odd children. Kisa’s mom is more in the middle, but looks close to her limit.

So it’s Tooru to the Rescue! I’ll admit, any episode that lacked Uotani Arisa was going to be a slight letdown, but this isn’t the Uotani Arisa show, now is it? Instead we get the introduction of another zodiac member who is simply not coping as well with her differences as her older counterparts have (more or less) managed. Of course, the reason many of them can do that is thanks to Tooru.

Once again, Tooru can relate at least in part to Kisa’s situation, as she was once bullied too. Kyouko gave her the unconditional love and support and encouragement she needed to keep getting up, dusting  herself off, and going to school, and things worked out. She just needed to hear that “it’s okay.” So does Kisa, and she transforms back into a girl and embraces Tooru.

From that point onward, Kisa never leaves Tooru’s side and rarely lets go of her, save to let her use the bathroom. Yuki gets a little jealous of all the glomming and rests his head on Tooru’s shoulder. As annoying as this looks to, say, Kyou, Tooru is loving every minute of it, very much the Kyouko to the adorable Kisa’s young Tooru, who was also adorable.

Tooru, Yuki, Haru and Momiji discuss the nature of Kisa’s bullying, which involves her strange hair color and eyes, and later became a campaign of ignoring her and snickering at everything she said until she stopped talking. Momiji is overcome by sadness, having never experienced such bullying (as far as he knows) and thus being unable to imagine the pain that would lead to closing off your very words.

But like Tooru when she was bullied, only in a more concentrated state, Yuki can imagine all too well. As a result of Akito’s abuse, he too retreated within himself, and the more he did, the more he hated himself. When Kisa’s homeroom teacher writes her a platitude-filled letter that blames her for not loving herself as the reason no one else will, it’s enough to make Haru puke, and Yuki doesn’t much like it either.

What does that mean, “learn to love yourself?” It just didn’t work that way for him. He had to be told he was loved by someone before he could start feeling anywhere near like that about himself; enter Tooru. In actions and words, Tooru has demonstrated her love for Yuki, as well as Kisa. The kind of love that can spur someone to muster the courage to speak.

With persistent love and encouragement from Tooru, Yuki was able to face his fears, and learn that every tear he shed was purposeful towards that end. And so, following his own advice as Kisa decides to go back to school,  Yuki accepts the student council president’s request that he run to become his successor.

We don’t get to see what becomes of Kisa facing her fears, but the episode ends with her knowing even if it’s not great, and the tiger ends up feeling like retreating back to the jungle of darkness and silence, Tooru and Yuki will still be there to say it’s okay.

Attack on Titan – 55 – Levi’s Choice

The characters of Titan naturally have to hold on to certain dreams in order to keep going, though Kenny likened that to being a slave to something or someone. For Levi, that has become serving Erwin and seeing to it his dreams come true, if at all possible. That’s why, when he appears with the syringe of Titan serum, he holds out as long as he can to give it to Armin, who is on the verge of death.

Eren is slave to Armin’s and his dream of seeing the ocean one day, so their opposing dreams create a conflict. As for Zeke, he leaves Bertholdt for dead and lives to fight another day, promising Eren, fellow victim of their father, that he’ll come back to rescue him some day.

On the other front, Hange sends Mikasa to see if Levi is alive and still has the serum; if injected into one of them, they can eat Reiner and gain his powers. Otherwise Hange will kill Reiner right there and then, but not before taking possession of a letter from Ymir meant for Christa.

When Mikasa meets up with Eren and Levi, and sees what has become of Armin, Floch arrives just before Levi administers the serum to Armin, with a badly wounded but still breathing Erwin. Right there and then, Levi changes his mind; Erwin will get the serum. Armin will die.

It’s an impossible choice, as both Erwin and Armin have proven to be an integral part of the continued survival of humans within the walls. For Levi, it’s a simple matter of giving it to the more experienced leader, but he can’t pretend he’s not influenced by his greater loyalty to his commander, as well as his buy-in to Erwin’s dreams.

When he knocks Eren aside to execute his decision, Mikasa pins him down, and because he’s in such bad shape from the Beast Titan fight, Mikasa can tell she can overpower him. But Floch is on Levi’s side, and tells them how he believes was the only one of his unit to survive so he could ensure the “devil” Erwin couldn’t go out so easily, that he’d live on and continue to be the devil they needed to defeat the Titans. Then Hange, Jean, and Sasha drop in, further complicating matters.

It’s an apt microcosm of the inner-wall humans all along: different factions or individuals wasting precious time and resources fighting over which way to proceed, with Levi, Hange, and Floch on one side and Eren and Mikasa on the other. Both are factoring emotions into their decisions, and both are right that if either person dies it will be a huge blow to the cause.

Ultimately, when everyone has cleared out, Levi is about to insert the syringe in Erwin’s arm, and Erwin suddenly moves it out of the way, as if to prevent the injection. Turns out he’s delirious and raising his hand as if he was still in Grisha’s classroom. Levi takes it as a sign it’s time for Erwin to finally get the rest he’s deserved.

The next time Eren sees Armin, he’s a Titan, gobbling up Bertholdt and gaining his Colossal Titan powers. Levi quietly explains his choice, and begs Floch and everyone else to forgive Erwin, who never wanted to be a Devil. Everyone made him the devil, and it didn’t seem right to pull him back into Hell when he was finally freed from it.

Instead, Armin is being given a second chance to see the sea with Eren and Mikasa. By being given the abilities of the biggest, strongest Titan, he’s taking Erwin’s place as the Devil the humans within the walls need to lead them to victory.

Even with this massive shift in the balance of power (the Titans’ greatest weapon we know of is now in human hands), even dragging Armin back into Hell might not be enough. There’s still so much they don’t know. But with Zeke and Reiner in retreat, at least the path to The Basement now seems clear.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 03 – Sex Ed, Ten Questions, and the Joy of Not Being Driven

When inappropriate literature is confiscated by the headmaster and given to Miyuki to dispose of, Chika takes one look and is scandalized, emphatically challenging fact about 1 in 3 high schoolers having “done it.” That means 1 in three in that very room could have already had an “experience”.

It’s Kaguya who comes right out and said she’s had one, shocking Chika and Miyuki and putting the latter in a bind: if asked if he’s done it, he knows Kaguya will sniff out a lie and likely respond with a devastating “that’s cute.”

Miyuki is defined by being extremely well-liked by the opposite sex (he’s even been given homemade chocolate…full of hair?!?) but utterly inexperienced with same (not counting his non-romantic interactions with Kaguya and Chika). Boundless confidence and pure chastity are a weird combo, but they take a back seat to Kaguya’s situation.

You see, Miyuki is bailed out from having to answer whether he’s “done it” after Kaguya says several things that paint the picture of an extremely perverse upbringing, having “done it” with a “newborn on videotape” and assuming Chika’s “done it” with her dog many times.

He finally asks Kaguya what she thinks “doing it” refers to, and she replies that it means “kissing.” It’s an answer someone who’s been boxed up and protected from any and all sexual education for all of her sixteen years. When Chika finally explains what “doing it” really means (a 15-minute process!), her faces says it all: she’s lost this round.

In the middle segment Miyuki notes how much Kaguya has mellowed, and how in the half-year they’ve worked together he’s come to understand her better. She decides to put him to the test with a game of “20 Questions”, only he limits him to just ten, since he claims to know her so well.

She writes something on a piece of paper, and he’ll have ten questions to figure out what it is. Miyuki is game, while Kaguya senses an opportunity.

Her “yes” and “no” questions take a turn when Miyuki asks “is it something you like” and she suddenly gets all bashful and flustered. He comes to think the thing she wrote down was him, as all the responses fit that conclusion so far.

Miyuki himself is so flustered by the end of the sequence, he blows his ninth question by providing a non-yes/no query. But after thinking about it more (or rather thinking about the other side of Kaguya he knows; the one that plots) He eventually guesses “dog”, and he’s correct.

Kaguya was probably trying to lead him to reveal his feelings by getting him to suggest she was talking about him, but he doesn’t go for it, and in the process proves that he indeed understands her. A win for Miyuki!

The rubber match…isn’t even a match between Kaguya and Miyuki, and Chika’s not even in the sequence. Intead, with a cat holed up in the engine compartment of the car that drives her to school, she decides to walk to school for the very first time, having watched other kids do it thousands of times from the car window.

It’s a beautiful sequence that underscores just how rare an experience this is for the sheltered princess, and knowing Miyuki’s bike route, attempts to “surreptitiously” cross paths so he’ll give her a ride to school. Her plan is seemingly foiled by a crying, scared middle schooler who can’t cross the street without a buddy.

As Kaguya stays with her for all the crosswalks that lead to her school, she learns that like she herself, this girl doesn’t want to walk alone. When Kaguya suggests she just arrange to walk with her friend, independent of official group walking, the girl labels her a genius before meeting up with her friend (who has the colorful nickname “Yeti”).

At this point, Kaguya knows she’ll be late to school, but as she’s coming to terms with that, the crossing sign flashes “stop” and none other than Miyuki screeches to a halt on his bike right beside her. After he gets over the shock of Kaguya being there, he instructs her to get on and ride with him, as it would be a black mark for the StuCo if she were late.

There’s no hesitation or embarrassment in what Miyuki does, and he even puts school rules ahead of traffic rules prohibiting two people on a bike. Logic is on Kaguya’s side today, and you can sense her joy as she rides with the furiously pedaling Miyuki, keeping her skirt down, her hair flowing in the wind.

Even though the next day she’s back in the car, she’ll always look fondly at the one exciting day she set out on foot and got picked up by the boy she likes. Kaguya wins without anyone losing—a marvelous example of the show balancing its usual cynicism with lovely, joyful segments like this.

Other Stuff:

  • The two cats in this episode looked really good. It’s like they were drawn by people who have actually seen cats before! :-)
  • Slight continuity error: In one shot, the Audi A8L in which the cat has taken up residence has a prop shaft holding open the hood, but in the next scene the shaft is gone. In real life the A8 hood has hydraulic struts.
  • Moments after the middle schooler mentions her friend “Yeti”, a real Yeti appears in the edge of the frame, using the crosswalk, as one does.
  • I couldn’t close without mentioning Chika’s absolutely adorable song-and-dance during the credits. Just tremendous animation that has the look of motion capture but without that fake smooth CGI look that plagued Zombieland Saga. A welcome surprise after an episode that was otherwise light on Chika.

ReLIFE – 14

Well, this is a nice surprise on the second day of Spring when there’s a Nor’easter pummeling my coast: a bonus episode of one of my favorite shows of 2016, ReLIFE! These four new reviews won’t make much sense without watching the 13 that came before, which I highly recommend. You can catch up by reading my reviews here.

When we left the main couple of Hishiro and Kaizaki, we knew they were both subjects, but they didn’t know that they were, and so maintained a distance that was not bridged, since they both assume they’ll lose contact with the other forever because of the nature of ReLIFE.

Still, both have benefited tremendously from their experiences as high schoolers, and continue to do so. Meanwhile, real high schoolers Kariu and Oga are now an item, while Yoake is transferring Hishiro to his junior Onoya now that she’s entering an “unprecedented” second year.

Hishiro now rather strongly suspects that Kaizaki is a test subject like her, but Yoake will neither confirm or deny it, while warning her that if she learned that he was a subject, it would spell the end of his experiment and an immediate severance, and Hishiro would never see him again.

With that in mind, Hishiro treads carefully, but is still eager to learn the truth. To that end, when Kaizaki is made the class boys’ cultural festival officer, she volunteers to be the girls’ officer. They work tremendously well together and the paperwork flies off the proverbial desk.

Their work is momentarily interrupted by a problem Oga is having. He got in a fight with Kariu for shooting down the idea of her coming over to his place after a date, because he didn’t want to hurt his older shut-in brother and feared Kariu wouldn’t “approve” of him.

Kaizaki and Hishiro put on a veritable friend-cheering-up and advise clinic, with Kaizaki assuring Oga that the best way to act around family is naturally, without hiding anything, while Hishiro assures him if he just tells Kariu what’s up, she’ll accept it; in fact, she’s probably mad because he didn’t in the first place.

Afterwards, Kaizaki and Hishiro exchange words of mutual respect. Kaizaki, unaware that Hishiro is a fellow adult, continues to be astounded by her maturity and wisdom beyond her years, while Kaizaki’s very accurate suspicions persist.

The two continue festival prep, and Oga and Kairu make an appearance to show they made up nicely, but later in the day, when Kaizaki returns to the classroom to find Hishiro worn out and asleep at her desk, he resists the urge to touch her head in affection, while in his head admitting he’s fallen for her.

So, we’ve come a little further from the fireworks festival episode, in that Hishiro is on to Kaizaki (the level of her surety is up for debate, but the fact she’s right is indisputable) and Oga and Kariu are doing nicely as a couple. But both Kaizaki’s ignorance of Hishiro’s true age and Oga’s veiled threat prevented all the truth from coming out. We’ll see if that happens in the next bonus episode.

3-gatsu no Lion – 11

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We’re halfway through 3GL, and I’ve been remiss in mentioning Hashimoto Yukari. Who is Hashimoto Yukari? She does the music for 3GL, and it’s been fantastic throughout, but never more so than during Rei’s post-shogi season descent into bedridden delirium. The watercolor aesthetic has always given the show a dreamlike aura; Rei’s fever dreams are that much more dreamlike.

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I’m willing to entertain the fact that Rei’s mention last week of a “beast within him” that feeds on victory in shogi hasn’t been exaggerated. Here we see the beast being starved from lack of competition (since the shogi matches for the year are over), and what such a deficit does to Rei’s body. It stands to reason that someone for whom “shogi is everything” would cease to have anything when the shogi stopped.

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But Rei does have more than shogi going in his life. There’s a lovely Ghibli-esque quality to the manner in which the Kawamoto sisters spirit Rei away to the doctor, then to their home for proper convalescence. In his state when they found him, it was clear Rei was incapable of taking care of himself or lifting his fever in a timely fashion. The sisters basically save him.

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But when he thanks the Kawamotos profusely for saving him and apologizes for interfering with their end-of-year festivities, Akari demurs. After all, she wanted Rei to come and be part of their family; otherwise she says she’d be “cleaning alone and crying”, the hole her lost family members left still raw and festering.

Rei takes her mind off that, and for that, Rei has her thanks. Rei was, as he says, too preoccupied with his own loneliness to recognize the loneliness of another, but that failure to recognize it is now over.

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So despite starting out the episode feeling absolutely miserable in his dim, sparse apartment, Rei ends up not only warmly, cozily ensconced in the Kawamoto residence, feeling much better, but also is perfectly comfortable and at peace in the house—weird bathroom addition and all.

The stickers on the chest of drawers remind him of his life with his mother and sister. That family may no longer be with him, but he has a new family that helps him a lot, and lets him sleep more soundly.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 10

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Another week, another weak opponent with a sad story Rei must face, another dose of caustic venom from Kyoko. Remembering back to a Christmas where Kyoko’s dad gave him a shogi set instead of her, Rei admits he wants to hear the poison from Kyoko.

He must believe on some unconscious level that he deserves punishment for the pain he caused her. Kyoko is all too happy to oblige, but her shtick is getting a little old, and not just with me.

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Predictably, Rei defeats Mr. Yasui. It doesn’t even take that long. He can tell Yasui is trying his best to bring a victory home to his daughter on the last Christmas before his divorce. But Rei sees Yasui’s mistakes before he does.

That means he can see more moves ahead, which means Yasui never had a chance. Throughout the game, Rei feels like he’s walking on eggshells around the faintly alcohol-scented ol’ bastard, and doesn’t feel particularly good about dispatching him so easily.

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When Yasui slinks away without the bag containing a gift for his daughter, Rei tries to be a nice guy and gets the bag back to him. Yasui pretends it isn’t his at first, but Rei presses the issue and Yasui angrily snatches it away before continuing off, probably to get drunk.

All the while, I was thinking about how unwise it was for Rei to involve himself in the personal lives of the sadsack opponents he beats. They’re not your problem, dude. You gotta focus on winning matches so you can eat and pay the bills.

Turns out…he listened!

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WRONG, Trump, WRONG! Not everything is Rei’s fault! It’s his opponents’ faults they lost, because they weren’t good enough to beat him. He realizes there’s a “beast” inside of him, fighting for his survival, that will elicit no mercy once the battle has begun.

No matter how he became a shogi player, the fact of the matter is, he’s a Shogi Player, and a damn good one. He’s sick of feeling like shit for beating people…and allowing Kyoko to keep that river of shit flowing. Could this be a turning point?

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3-gatsu no Lion – 09

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Rei isn’t feeling great about having to bring down a guy who’s been playing more than twice as long as he’s been alive, and that feeling doesn’t improve when he spots his opponent, Matsunaga, praying at a local shrine and acting very erratic.

The old man’s inscrutability translates to his shogi game, which Rei can’t quite suss out, even to the point he wonders if Matsunaga is placing pieces randomly. He also starts to doubt if his opponent’s stress is real or all an act. Neither can we; his opaqueness makes for some entertaining human observation.

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When the match is over, and Rei wins, Matsunaga nearly falls down some stairs (the same stairs Rei was going to use to sneak away), and ends up treating the old man to a sumptuous feast and more than he can drink. Turns out Rei is a nice guy like Kyouko said, because he doesn’t leave the man’s side as long as he’s not certain he’ll be okay.

But he will be okay. The liquor greases the hinges of the door to Matsunaga’s heart, and he opens up to us and Rei. Rei may not be able to fathom forty years of shogi, but hearing the old man speak of the addictive elation of victory despite the bitterness of defeat (and he’s suffered a lot more defeats than Rei), he’s able to finally relate. Those are the same things he feels.

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Even if Rei claims to hate shogi, and Matsunaga can’t answer the question of whether he likes it, the fact of the matter is, they are both shogi players. So when Kyouko calls to gloat over Rei having to “strangle an old dog”, Rei proudly announces that Matsunaga will, in fact, not be retiring from shogi after all.

Rather than serve as a young, beautiful grim reaper for the old man, Rei, their match, and the night that followed, made him reconsider quitting the game, even after Rei beat him (that, and he really doesn’t want to do house chores).

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Matsunaga this week, as I’m sure Rei didn’t. But I was pleasantly surprised by the swiftness with which his character was fleshed out. This week was a sprawling profile of the guy, from his knowledge of Fukushima history to the drive to play not snuffed out by Rei. Sorry Kyouko – no win for you!

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