Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 04

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The next chapter of Re:Zero gets off to a strong start with a great Eva reference from Subaru followed by his and our dashed expectations he’d wake up with Emilia sitting by his bedside.

Instead he’s greeted by no one, walks down a hall loop, then solves it on the first try with his game master-infuriating natural luck, coming afoul of a “drill loli” sorceress who burns him, claiming it’s just a test to determine if he’s friend or foe.

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Waking up again in the same bed (the ceiling now familiar), he hears snide commentary in stereo about himself, then finds two maids, Ram and Rem, standing in his room. Emilia appears, and all is well. He surveys the massive estate where they’re staying, shows “Emilia-tan” Japanese morning calisthenics (a great cultural crossover), and meets the lord of the mansion, Roswaal L. Mathers, whom he not unreasonably mistakes as some kind of jester.

During a sumptuous meal, Emilia informs Subaru that she is one of the candidates in the running for ruler of Lugunica (her insignia was proof of her status), and with the present king’s whereabouts unknown, things are uneasy in the kingdom. As such, one can’t fault Subaru for requesting something relatively modest as thanks for saving her: he wants a job at the mansion. And hell, who wouldn’t? The place is fantastic.

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Once he’s fitted for a butler’s uniform, the twin maids show him the considerable ropes of estate maintenance. He proves he’s not particularly skilled at anything beyond solving Betty’s door magic on the first try every time, but it’s all stuff he hasn’t done before, so some teething is expected.

Ram and Ren are patient and discover some surprising things about Subaru (like his sewing skills), but are quick to nickname him Barusu (a blinding curse) and don’t go easy with the barbs. It’s a great sequence of Subaru once again starting to find his place, and it lulled me into a comfortable place.

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Ram, who it would appear has some kind of special relationship to her lord, reports to him that Subaru doesn’t make the best butler (or spy, most likely) and doesn’t believe interfering in his friendship with Emilia is necessary, since they’re both kids and “nothing will happen.”

That line is accurate due to the personality of Subaru and Emilia, but also proves prescient. But before it does, Subie and Emi have a nice little chat in the masnion’s yard/field. Emilia offer to heal Subaru’s wounds, but he wants to keep them as proof of his efforts.

He also asks Emilia on what amounts to a date in town when both are free, and Subaru ignores her concerns that being with her would be troublesome for him. When he goes to bed, he can’t even sleep, he’s so excited about their day tomorrow, until he starts counting Pucks.

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But then morning comes, and Ram and Ren call him a guest, and his wounds are gone. Return by Death has occured, only with a new spawning location: the bed in Roswaal Mansion. But when did death occur? Was his power trigger by something else? It’s another stunning turn for a show that’s been full of them.

This truly is a gem of a show that lulls us (along with Subaru) into a sense of comfort and security, then resets all the progress he made. Having to start over from scratch in this new timeline will be particularly demoralizing for Subaru, even though neither he no nobody ended up dead—as far as we know—this time.

But it speaks to the confidence of this show that it can sweep the slate clean with such regularity. Reset buttons are typically a way of making quick, neat endings; of making things easier for the writers. Here, the resets make things harder, since an entirely new route and new bonds must be forged.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 03

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Subaru is surprised to find “Satella” at the loot house before dark, but not for long, as he realizes her nature never changes no matter which timeline he’s in. She always helps the lost girl, then ends up tracking Felt down. However, just when Subaru is making progress mediating between the parties (by being nice to both), Elsa comes out of the shadows.

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Again, Subie uses his knowledge of Satella to summon Puck to shield the blade, knowing he’s still corporeal this time of day. But Elsa still manages to severely wound Old Man Rom. Puck and Satella launch a pretty-yet-terrifying counterattack with their green ice-like crystalline magic, but to no avail—like a cockroach, Elsa just won’t go down.

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During Elsa’s fight with Rom, Felt, Satella, and Subaru, she’s full of quips, and so is everyone else. As the blades and crystal saggers fly, so to does the juicy dialogue, which is just as sharp and satisfying as the action.

Subaru makes mention of how cool he is when he realizes he needn’t fear dead (since he can always start over at the vendor) but at the same time, really doesn’t want to die and have to start over, especially now that he’s made progress with both Felt and Satella.

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Satella goes down for a moment, but gets back up and helps Subie when she can from long range, while Felt is able to escape outside to call for help, which they’re going to need because Elsa is as relentless about disemboweling everyone as she is hard to kill.

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That help comes in the form of Reinhard, who is a resplendent model of ultracool fantasy hero timing, appearances, and dialogue. He doesn’t even take out his own sword, choosing instead one that’s lying around, so confident is he that he doesn’t need to go all out against the likes of Elsa, the “Bowel Hunter.” It’s also cool how Elsa knows him too, and is excited to see what he can do before she kills him.

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In a great bit of world-building even within this one loot house interior, Satella admits Reiny can’t go all out while she’s healing Rom. But when Rom is out of danger, she gives the go-ahead, and Reiny goes ALL OUT, launching a terrifyingly powerful attack that rends half of the bottle episodes bottle clean away. Outstanding presentation of an “overdrive” attack.

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Everyone celebrates the victory, until Elsa pops out of the wreckage, STILL not dead; only wounded. Fortunately, she chooses the better part of valor by retreating, but the fact she’s still out there with her chilling desire to disembowel everyone else is certainly…disquieting, as is the fact even that huge attack didn’t kill her.

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Her last attack is foiled by Subaru, who uses Rom’s giant bat to parry her blow, saving Satella in the process. When the coast is clear once again, Subie goes into self-aware fantasy hero mode, asking for something from his rescuee in return for his heroics: her name. She replies, Emilia, with just about the sweetest gosh-darn smiles of the Spring. A great little transaction.

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Even with all the twist and turns we’d experienced so far, Re:Zero still isn’t done yet, as when Felt finally produces the insignia she stole from Emilia to return it to her, Reinhard suddenly hardens his previously lenient stance (he’s off duty, so he’ll overlook theft) and formally arrests Felt, hitting her with a sleep spell when she resists.

Once again, the strong reaction from another world insider creates great gravity and significance for one innocuous-looking little piece of jewelry, like the name “Satella.” But this time, Subie didn’t call her by that name, got on her good side, and when the wounds Elsa made finally open, she heals him and prevents another reset.

I was really glad about that, because my heart nearly plummeted all the way down into the Central Dogma when it seemed like he was going to die. That said, I do hope Felt is okay—she seems to be a pawn in all this—and Subie and Emilia can secure her freedom without making Reinhard mad or getting the law on their backs.

Overall though, this week was simply a tremendous piece of entertainment. Succulent kick-ass combat, quick-witted, tasty dialogue that never felt in the way, and countless twists and turns that only added to the richness of the whole—this was the complete package.

And it was a brilliantly compact package at that, with 99% taking place in the confines of the loot house, without the setting ever seeming stale for a second. Eschewing the OP and ED were also a gutsy choice for what is just the third episode. Re:Zero is a must-watch Spring experience, and this was its best episode to date. Hopefully it keeps this up.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 02

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In the latest iteration of the timeline the first episode ended with, Subaru doesn’t fare too well; calling Satella ‘Satella’ has the same effect as calling someone ‘Voldemort’ in the Harry Potter world. When Felt snatches her insignia, she assumes Subaru was only meant to distract her and runs off, and when he’s short with the three thugs in the alley, he gets stabbed to death and returns right back to the fruit stand.

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That quick sequence of events is enough to convince Subie of what we already know to be the case: he’s caught in a time loop, returning to that fruit stand every time he dies. He even gives it a name: “Return by Death” (which is a little plain but accurate).

(I’ll mention, I thought it was weird how the fruit vendor knew about Subie finding his lost daughter in this timeline. Did he find her again off camera, or is the vendor simply mixing up his memories from a previous go?)

Now that he knows the score, Subie initially considers simply selling his cell phone for some fat stacks and simply enjoying life, but he can’t ignore the fact he knows what happened (or will happen) to the old man, Felt, and Satella. So he decides he’ll maintain course: trade his phone for the insignia and give the insignia back to Satella.

The next time he meets the 3 Stooges, he tries something different: calling emphatically for guards. A distinguished swordsman named Reinhard answers the call, and rather than being a hardass, his “nice guy index” goes off the charts. I imagine we haven’t seen the last of him.

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In committing to this plan, Subie is naturally hoping to bypass the whole everyone-gets-killed-by-Elsa scenario by making the required transaction as efficient as possible, but it doesn’t help matters when he bumps into Elsa in the street and she can smell his fear and anger…and even compliments him by using humor to conceal his aggression (taking note of her dark beauty)

It also doesn’t help that he starts snooping around Felt’s hut, provoking her into attacking him before he can explain himself. I will say he hangs in there pretty well in the fight with the nimble thief—right up until her hut collapses on him.

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He does eventually sort out his intentions with Felt, who can’t be too careful, as she doesn’t intend to spend her whole life in the slums, and means it when she says “Live Strong.” She admits were she not a successful thief she’d probably have to sell her body.

It’s a small detail, but Subie does seem to know how to talk to women after a fashion, first by appealing to Elsa’s beauty, then mentioning offhand that Felt does pretty well for herself in the looks department despite not wearing makeup.

That being said, he pushes his luck a bit by being empathetic to Felt’s situation and petting her head, which she does not like and responds by biting him…after giving fair warning, of course!

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Subaru is intent on getting the phone appraised by Rom and making the exchange before Elsa shows up, but Felt is suspicious of the hurry he’s in, and doesn’t want to close a deal without letting her other client make an offer. Subie thought he could sway Felt by getting Rom on his side, but Felt won’t budge, and when a knock comes at the door, she opens it without reservation, even though Subie warns her they’ll all be killed.

But something very different happens than happened before. It isn’t Elsa at the door; it’s Satella (or whatever her real name is), having apparently asked around and tracked the thief who stole her insignia to the loot house.

That doesn’t mean Elsa isn’t far behind her, ready to kill them all…nor does it mean Subie will be able to form the same easy rapport with this Satella as the first one, but the important thing is, everyone is still breathing, and the episode ends without Subie back at the fruit vendor. …Progress!

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P.S. I liked the OP, which features some backwards percussion and a beginning that’s the reverse of the end. Vocals aren’t bad either. Likely a future Monday OP.

Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 01 (First Impressions)

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I enjoyed the simplicity of Natsuki Subaru’s transition from one world to the next: after buying some food at the Mini Stop, he rubs his eyes, and when they open, he’s simply there, in a medieval-style fantasy world filled with humans and demi-humans. Being a shut-in NEET, Subaru rolls with it, confident he’s seen this kind of world in games he’s played and can thrive if he plays his cards right.

And it’s a lush, detailed world. Like Grimgar, Re:Zero takes its time building out the world and its rules, but in a different way. Instead of providing long pauses in dialogue or action for us to admire the world and become attuned to its slower rhythms, Subaru is in the middle of a bustling city and bounces from one strong personality to the next.

Subaru also makes no bones about the fact he’s dead broke and lacking in magic or other skills. All he has is the physical training he put himself through to guard his home back in his own world, and that only takes him so far. He expects a cute girl to save him, but it’s not the first one (a tiny, fleet thief in a hurry), but the second (an silver-haired ethereal maiden with a spirit cat).

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The girl—a half-elf who calls herself Satella (and voiced by Takahashi Rie, a favorite here at RABUJOI)—and her spirit-cat Puck are looking for the person who stole her jeweled insignia (probably the tiny thief), and Subaru decides to help her on this mission after she stayed by his side until he woke up from his injuries.

The insignia hunt gives Subie and us the chance to explore the world further, and as the sun goes down it only seems to get more and more beautiful, especially when Satella entreats with a mass of lesser spirits on a bridge. We’re in firm Final Fantasy territory here, stylistically speaking.

But as the sky gets dark, so does the show, as Subaru enters an apparent loot house and finds a bloody corpse, then he and Satella get run through by a killer in the shadows.

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Then…things reset. Subaru is back where he started when he first arrived in the fantasy world. Instead of trying to locate Satella again, he continues his search for her insignia without her, ending up at the tavern where he was killed and meeting Rom, the man he found dead there before.

It isn’t long before the thief, Felt, shows up with the insignia, and Subaru offers to trade his cell phone for it, demonstrating with its camera that he can “freeze moments of time with it, to their amazement.

Then the planned buyer of the insignia, Elsa, arrives, and it’s clear from her voice and face that she’s the one who killed Subaru and Satella. Subaru manages to win the insignia in negotiations with Felt and Rom, but when he says he’ll be giving it back to its owner, Elsa turns deadly once more.

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She dispatches Rom, Felt, and Subaru without much difficulty—she’s just too quick and stealthy for a novice like Subie—and he returns to the street vendor once more, as if a reset button had been pushed. That being said, he has the memories of the last two times he was there, but not knowing what the heck is going on, he passes out from exasperation.

Shortly after awakening, he spots Satella passing by, and calls her out by name, apologizing for getting himself and her killed before. Satella, to his surprise, reacts with hostility to Subaru calling her by the name of an infamous “witch.”

A lush alternate fantasy world, a fish out of water and a clash of cultures, a pleasant friendship seemingly domed by murder most foul, and mysterious time looping—Re:Zero serves up quite a bit in its ambitious double-length debut, and even though it wasn’t even on my list initially, now it’s at the top of it.

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Owarimonogatari – 09

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After escaping the trap of the snail by going over the rooftops, Koyomi and Kanbaru encounter a crab-monkey hybrid. Once they deal with it (and as a fellow left-hander I feel for Kanbaru mixing up directions), snakes emerge, which Shinobu grabs, then lends Kokoro-watari to Koyomi to finish the demi-apparition off. All of the animals that afflicted Koyomi’s girls are coming back, and all seemingly in service of the samurai.

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After lying under Shinobu as she swings—revealing a small sticker with Gaen’s location, the shrine—Koyomi heads there with Kanbaru and Shinobu. When Koyomi describes what the samurai was after (and imitates his laugh all too perfectly, another clue as to who he is), Shinobu is incredulous. The minion she created, from whom she took Kokoro-watari…she watched him burn up in the sun and die 400 years ago.

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He can’t be back, she insists; This is all some kind of lie or trick. But when they meet up with Gaen Izuko (introducing herself as Oshino Izuko to Kanbaru and Shinobu, who seem to buy it), and Koyomi tells her everything that happened, Izuko disputes Shinobu’s assertion the first minion is dead.

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While her scenes are primarily exposition, she inhabits a variety of interesting environments as she provides it, eventually whipping out “game pieces” of all the Monogatari characters. She makes connections between the first minion and Koyomi, the second minion, and describes coincidences that weren’t coincidences, like the fact that the first five animal apparitions infected five of his female friends, and later phoenixes and cats and tigers.

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She then takes things all the way back to four centuries ago, glossing over Shinobu’s story (because Shinobu already told it, and beautifully so) and focusing on the first minion, who became so after Shinobu drank his blood. He came to loathe what he had become, but that loathing couldn’t change the fact that his immortality was such that even burning up in the sun would not kill him, only disperse him into a cloud of ash.

Over 400 years, exposed to the elements and through trial-and-error, the first minion resurrected, not necessarily because he wanted to but because that’s just what happened. And the final reveal, that the minion was finally successful in coalescing fifteen years ago, leads us to wonder if he’s someone Koyomi already knows…the fifteen-year-old Oshino Ougi, for instance.

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Owarimonogatari – 08

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After Ononoki Yotsugi saves Araragi and Kanbaru, Araragi asks if he can take Kanbaru home because she needn’t get involved. But Yotsugi isn’t okay with that. Not only did Araragi promise her master Gaen Izuko that he’d bring Kanbaru to meet her, but by not only touching but punching the suit of armor, Kanbaru is already inextricably involved. Taking her home wouldn’t necessarily be the best thing for her safety. Yotsugi drives this point home by pressing her bare foot into Araragi’s face, which is a weird way to admonish someone!

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So Araragi carries Kanbaru to the aforementioned rendezvous point. When she comes to, Kanbaru is so excited about being carried she locks her arms and legs around her upperclassman, demanding to remain on his back. But then she notices they’re going the wrong way, and after an hour, Araragi can’t find the right way.

Either due to the samurai or some other apparition (like the one that affected him and Mayoi), they’ve become lost. Araragi calls Gaen, but she just tells him to figure it out on his own, otherwise he’s of no use to her. Harsh! Anyway, it’s his cute, reliable, and above all extremely athletic underclassmen who bails them out of the situation by climbing a telephone pole and charting a route that doesn’t rely on conventional paths.

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Due to the delay and detour, they don’t get to the rendezvous at the park until three in the morning, and Gaen is nowhere to be seen. Again, Kanbaru comes in handy quickly combing the park. She doesn’t find Gaen, but she does find Shinobu sleeping under a swing. She wakes up and tells Araragi she’s there because Oshino’s master (Gaen) intends to restore their (Shinobu and Araragi’s) pairing.

She also bears the marks of some kind of recent battle, which she says isn’t quite over yet. Sure enough, a figure starts to draw near to their position, silhouetted by the rising sun (or some other light)…a menacing figure with a giant crab claw. This has been some night!

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Owarimonogatari – 07

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With Sodachi’s arc completed, we rewind a couple months to before Araragi met Oshino Ougi in the first episode. Araragi has Kanbaru Suruga to meet him at the cram school. Kanbaru is her usual bright, cheerful, sexually aggressive self (she assumes she was summoned so Araragi can take her virginity, and she arrives braless).

Sawashiro Miyuki knows this character through and through and really sinks her teeth into her portrayal of a girl we haven’t seen in some time and, frankly, missed. Noting her pre-Hanamonogatari long hair, it fascinates me how Araragi’s girls seem to swap hairstyles through time.

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Things couldn’t be more affable as Araragi struggles to tell Kanbaru the real reason for their meeting: to ask her if she’ll help him out with something, and to go to another rendezvous point to meet someone. Flirting and clever wordplay ensues, but then the two hear some loud noises, and a giant suit of samurai armor enters the classroom.

Kanbaru wastes no time tossing Araragi aside and charging at the armor, but every time she touches it, it grows stronger and she grows weaker, until she passes out from an energy drain, something Araragi knows to be a vampire power. The transition in atmosphere from happy and playful to dark and dangerous is nicely handled. It’s also the first time in a while Araragi is up against a physical threat, unless you count Oikura’s slaps.

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With Kanbaru down, Araragi steps up to the plate, but there isn’t much he can do and the armor starts to choke the life out of him. Kanbaru prepares to sacrifice herself for her beloved senpai, despite his wanting her to run, there’s no way she will. The impasse is broken by pink flames that surround the armor, which Kanbaru believes are the work of Hanekawa.

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The armor retreats, but Araragi and Kanbaru are stuck in the burning building. Kanbaru asks him to take her virginity before she dies, but Araragi shoots that idea down, as he has a better idea: try not to die, by jumping out a window together. That somewhat reckless action is preempted by an explosion that extinguishes the fire: an explosion caused by one Ononoki Yotsugi, whom we last saw in Tsukimonogatari (which also takes place after this episode).

This episode got off to a slow-ish start that was mitigated by the return of Kanbaru, then became a tense test of Araragi and Kanbaru’s mutual devotion to each other, which they naturally aced. And with the title of “Shinobu Mail” and the armor demanding Kiss-shot (AKA Shinobu Oshino) return the sword she borrowed from him centuries ago, I imagine the blonde vampire herself will be making an appearance before all’s said and done.

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Owarimonogatari – 06

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When it’s time to solve the mystery of how Oikura’s mom disappeared from a locked room, it’s not surprise that Ougi shows up to cramp Hanekawa’s style. For someone whose face is essentially a mask, she sure doesn’t mask her contempt for Hanekawa and her large boobs, which she feels are exclusively responsible for stealing Araragi away from her.

As usual, I’m not sure how much of what Ougi says is serious and comes from her heart, because I’m still not sure she has a heart, and isn’t some kind of strange construct or apparition, in contrast to all the flesh-and-blood girls in Araragi’s life. She says all the things a jealous underclassmen who likes him would say…but does she really mean them?

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I hope we’ll find out later. In the meantime, we have an arc to conclude! And conclude it does, with Hanekawa answering Ougi’s challenge and coming to the same conclusion as to what happened to Oikura’s mom. That leaves Araragi as the only one yet to realize the truth…and it’s a truth Hanekawa would rather Oikura never be told and never know for the rest of her days, not matter what immediate benefit could arise from telling her.

Still, she agrees with Ougi that it’s something Araragi must figure out for himself and make his own choice. They start offering subtle hints, and he keeps coming to the wrong conclusions, so they give him less subtle hints (over forty of them!) until he’s finally got it: Oikura’s mother starved herself to death, and for two years, Oikura took care of a corpse, until it eventually decomposed into nothing recognizable, giving the impression she disappeared, while she actually “evaporated”, like boiling water.

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It is indeed an awful truth, and one Araragi and the other have no idea how Oikura will react to. But Araragi decides he’s going to tell her. He’s through looking past/overlooking Oikura, as he has for the last six years, as she overlooked her dead mother for two. He’s going to see her, look her straight in the eye, and tell her the truth. It’s a long walk back to his apartment, and the sequence of camera shots in the intensifying sunset make that walk a beautiful occasion.

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Oikura takes the news far better than Araragi expected. More importantly, learning the truth (or perhaps, having it confirmed by someone else) made it that more real, and that much more releasing. Turns out Oikura is moving to a smaller municipal condo, and transferring out of Naoetsu High. But she went back to her class anyway when she knew Tetsujo was on leave, hoping something might change. In the end, Oikura is smiling, but not demonically, before the bright sunset. And the brightness isn’t hurting her.

Now that things avoided have been remembered, things at a standstill can move again. Because what was done with the truth was more important than discovering it, Ougi later concedes this particular case was her loss, also admitting she was wrong that Araragi would turn tail and run like he had in the past. But helping Oikura find change helped him to change too.

Oikura visited Senjougahara and they made up, and she left to start her new life. But not before taping an envelope under Araragi’s desk. This time, it had something in it: several pages. What exactly it was is kept a mystery (which I like), but whatever it is gives Araragi a laugh, so I like to think it’s a reversal of the message the earlier empty envelope sent.

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Owarimonogatari – 05

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Oikura knew Araragi’s parents were cops because they were the ones who got her out of her abusive home and had her live with them. Araragi can’t remember on his own, but that’s not entirely why Oikura despises him. As we learn during one of the more powerful sustained monologues in the Monogatari franchise, and a chance for Inoue Marina to remind us just how good she is when she sinks her teeth into a role.

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As hostile as she is to both Araragi and Hanekawa (throwing tea at the former, which the latter catches with her cat-like reflexes), she still seems to get a lot off her chest and be better for it. She also comes off like never before like a deeply wounded individual; a lost soul who has given up hope.

It’s already the end for her; after all the punishment she’s endured in her still short life—physical and emotional—she believes she’s too frail for happiness, so she despises it along with herself and everything else in the world.

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That punishment includes having to watch Araragi’s perfect family seem to “show off” in front of her. She’d glare at them in resentment, or for not knowing how different they regard “normal family life”; in other words, how much they take love for granted. Oikura was never given love. Her parents divorced, her mother became reclusive and never left her room, and Oikura had to take care of her, until one day she was just…gone.

After all that, Araragi forgetting all about her and giving her nothing in return for what she gave to him throughout their encounters, reveals itself as simply the tip of a very nasty, despairing iceberg. Inoue mixes dread and malice with tones of black humor and feigned happiness in Oikura’s delivery, heightening her aura of imbalance; a spinning top about to fall off a table.

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She made Araragi a villain despite his relatively small contribution to her wholesale suffering because she needed to blame and despise someone other than her parents (which neither she chose nor who chose her) or herself just to keep going on. Whenever she got near the happiness Araragi seems to ooze, it felt either too bright or heavy for her frail, scarred self to survive.

Happiness, she believes, will kill her just as efficiently as the emotions on the other end of the spectrum. So she’s settled for something a little more moderate on that scale, and it’s slowly dissolving her heart. Araragi tell her happiness can’t do that, and there are many kinds that would work for her. But Oikura lacks the ability to access them.

What she needs now, more than anything else, is to continue being heard, and being in the presence of others. When she kicks them out, Hanekawa says both she and Araragi will keep coming back, because “troubling those we care about is how we do things.” It’s pushy, but it’s also something Oikura needs to hear: someone cares about her; is fond of her; and she’s several decades too early to be talking about endings. 

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Owarimonogatari – 04

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Having thoroughly explored his past with Oikura in Sodachi Riddle, Sodachi Lost begins with Araragi describing Oshino Ougi as “Oshino Ougi.” She is she, and cannot be expressed by nothing else. In other words, the detective is the ultimate mystery, at least to Araragi: he’s learning more about himself, and she’s learning beside him…but he continues to know nothing about Ougi, other than she’s Ougi…and has the guts to lock horns with Hanekawa Tsubasa.

Tsubasa plays a much larger role this week, as she, not Ougi, accompanies Araragi to Oikura’s present home. As we learn about the origin of such an arrangement, it becomes clear Tsubasa is concerned about Ougi’s influence on Araragi these last three days. And whenever Tsubasa is concerned, I’m concerned. She’s with Araragi far more out of a desire to isolate him from Ougi and take the measure of him than she is to make Oikura more comfortable with the visit.

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It’s chilling how close she comes to losing Araragi to a day of non-revolving celebratory sushi with Ougi. From the way Tsubasa is acting, I couldn’t help but dread a scenario in which Araragi went with Ougi. This is partly because I know, like and trust Tsubasa a lot more than Ougi, and partly because I knew from the present events at the episode’s beginning that Tsubasa won this fight, which felt like a victory.

There’s also the fact that Tsubasa and I both see now that Ougi is influencing him in some way, and there’s a possessive predatory aura to her presence, like she’s the very “possessing spirit” she herself says she’ll be if she went to Oikura’s with him. When Tsubasa and Ougi face off, it’s like fire vs. water; warm vs. cool. And the close-ups are, as always, stupendous.

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Ougi isn’t letting anything Tsubasa says get to her, and it seems effortless. Tsubasa receives a surgical salvo of barely-veiled insults from Ougi, and you can see her blood start to boil. When Ougi speaks, the traffic behind her (exclusively Datsun 2000s, naturally) is stopped. When Tsubasa returns fire, the cars flow freely. The refinery belches more and more smoke into the reddening sky as their “coversation” heats up.

Finally, once Tsubasa has offered to go with Araragi, she and Ougi turn to Araragi himself to choose. He’s bombarded with reasonable arguments on both sides, but finally chooses Tsubasa when she offers to let him touch her boobs. Mind you, there’s a few beats when that punchline that ends the battle so decisively simply hangs out there, as if Araragi is really that shallow.

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Then Araragi dutifully clarifies in voiceover that he didn’t choose Tsubasa so he could touch her boobs, but because something was “highly unusual” about a situation in which Tsubasa would make such an offer. That he got that feeling, to me, means he hasn’t been totally “lost” to Ougi, whatever that entails. Though it’s funny that Tsubasa might’ve taken his choice of her as a literal sign he just wants to grope her.

Whatever Araragi’s motive(s) for picking her, I think he made the right choice, and this round goes to Tsubasa, while Ougi stands around alone (which would be sad if I was certain she wasn’t some kind of succubus). Also, Araragi has finally come to the door of the Oikura of today, who hasn’t come to school since their last encounter.

The door is open, only a crack, and within awaits darkness, and a girl who despises him so much she’d rather come to the door in pajamas—or naked—than bother dressing for him. Oh, and she knew about his parents’ job because as it turns out, they’ve known each other since grade school. I suspect this latest encounter is going to be very interesting.

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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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