3-gatsu no Lion – 31

Rei is enjoying a big feast with the Kawamotos before he heads off to Osaka for the Newcomer Tournament final, but Hana isn’t. She can’t eat a bite; her stomach hurts. It’s because she’ll be heading off too: to Kyoto, on a multi-day class trip.

Rei immediately knows why Hina is feeling the way she is, and gives what advice he can to help ease her pain, since he’s felt it too. He vividly imagines the hell she’ll have to face while on the trip, ostracized by her peers. She’s going into battle just as much as he is. And like him, she wants to win.

When Rei meets Kawasaki Junko, the game records of his semifinal match with Nikaidou have already said a lot about the guy (except that he looks really old for someone 26 and under). Knowing he couldn’t beat Nikaidou in a quick game, Kawasaki did everything he could to lengthen it, knowing Nikaidou’s health would give out and the match would be his.

Knowing this is how Kawasaki wins fills Rei with rage, and he almost plays right into his opponent’s hands when a voice inside him stays his hand: it’s Nikaidou’s words ringing out: don’t attack, defend; take care of your shogi and yourselfPerservere. It’s what Nikaidou did, even though he failed. It’s what Hina is doing in Kyoto.

Back on course, Rei contains his anger and focuses it on persevering, on enduring the mind games Kawasaki is playing, and by focusing on the shogi, and when the match is over, Rei is the new Newcomer King, while Kawasaki is a fief in the land of losers where he deserves to be for his callus, unchivalrous play.

Rei does not savor the victory long, because he knows Hina’s still out there battling. After a fellow player gives him some stomach medicine Shimada recommended, Rei races to Kyoto by bullet train, and using Hina’s class trip schedule, combs the shopping venue where her class is supposed to be.

Then he remembers his own times of loneliness during such trips, and how a mall full of laughter and fun would be the last place he’d be. Instead, he searches the river, the place back home where she’s always run to be alone.

Her reaction to Rei suddenly appearing there, just when she was about to start crying, is hard to put into words. Poweful? Sure. Heartlifting? You bet. When he was younger, Rei had to face many battles alone.

Now he knows how much better he’d have fared if he had someone beside him to make things even a little more endurable, and happens to have someone in Hina who he can ensure won’t endure her battles alone.

All it took was being there—in that particular time and place—to be hugged, to be a font for her tears, to remind her she isn’t fighting in vain, and that it’s going to be alright.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 30

“All you can do is what you can do, one thing at a time.” That’s the advice Hayashida-sensei gives Rei after another consultation about Hina’s predicament. Hayashida is as outraged by the attitude of Hina’s homeroom teacher—and as rearin’ to go give her a piece of his mind—as Rei, but neither of them can.

Hayashida is a total stranger in the matter, while Rei took a path of isolation that won’t work for Hina…though I maintain that his plan of “at least have lots of cash sitting around” isn’t a bad one, though Hayashida is right that the Kawamotos would not easily accept it.

Akari’s emotionless tale of their father’s whereabouts—he left them to start another family—was suitably heartbreaking. But so is the sudden news that his self-appointed rival Nikaidou lost the semifinals in the Newcomer Tournament, and is apparently now too ill to leave his home.

Rei wants answers, so Shimada provides them—by telling Rei the story of how his master took on one more disciple after him: a tiny, round, sickly boy. Shimada dismissed him, as most did, as a pampered rich boy, but in him raged a burning passion the equal of any shogi player, even if he lacked adequate skill to match.

Due to his (undisclosed, incurable) illness, Nikaidou couldn’t have a normal childhood any more than Rei could with the loss of his family and turbulent years with his stepsiblings. But back then, as now, Nikaidou only ever “did what he could do, one thing at a time,” staying in every match until he had nothing left. He was doing it because he could, but also so Rei could have a worthy rival to keep him on his toes.

Now that Rei knows how weak Nikaidou is, one could be forgiven for thinking he’d go easy on him next time. But Rei understands what devoting oneself to shogi means, even if his path to the game was much much different. That understanding demands he show Nikaidou no mercy next time. And hopefully there’ll be a next time.

3-gatsu no Lion – 29

This week is all about dealing with unpleasant or unreasonable people. It would be nice if such people didn’t exist in the world, but they do, hence the dealing.

Hina has to deal with a teacher who hasn’t learned anything from what happened with Chiho, only this time Hina makes her anger about the situation known.

Akari is nervous about being called in and having to face off against other parents. She’s heard horror stories about how forcefully they take their own child’s side, and wonders if she’ll need backup in the form of Grandpa or Auntie.

Rei yells, perhaps too loud, that he’s there for her too, and that’s all it takes for Akari to pull out of her worry-spiral and start thinking the right way: she’s not alone, and it will all work out. Probably!

Rei wants to help in any way he can, but is well aware of his shortcomings. His heartfelt desire is to be needed; he believes continuing to fight and win in his chosen field is the best way to do so.

He makes sure his colleague Nikaidou gets some rest before the next day’s match, assuring him he’ll do fine as long as he takes care of himself.

As for Rei, actively working to fulfill his own desires constitutes taking care of himself; always a welcome development.

In order to win, he must play—and defeat—Subaru Hachiya, an opponent he almost immediately finds offensively irritating. The 23-year-old up-and-comer stomps around, clicks his tongue, shakes his legs, taps his fingers, slams pieces onto the board with a rude force. He also plays comically fast, as if he has a bus to catch.

Rei doesn’t seem to have much trouble beating Hachiya, but he’s later blamed by the older players for “poking the hive” and allowing Hachiya’s worst behaviors to assert themselves rather than trying to “contain” him.

While far less serious, it’s the same basic situation as Hina, as Rei was a victim of Hachiya’s rudeness as Hina was a victim of the bullies, yet here they are, being blamed for their comparatively far better conduct.

Maybe Hina’s teacher sucks, but maybe she’s also seen enough Chihos and Hinas to know that the bully/victim class dynamic isn’t going away, any more than Hachiya’s buzzing can be tamed. Neither Hina nor Rei chose the easy way that would be “better for everyone”, and that’s their choice to make.

3-gatsu no Lion – 28

Hina is the focus again this week, and the show is all the better for it; it’s good to see that while he still has plenty of doubts, in this situation Rei is the one who isn’t emotionally at sea, and even has a concrete path he’s following for the sake of the girl who saved her. Hina has been all but a co-protagonist this season, giving Hanazawa Kana some really good material to work with and simply letting her do her thing.

In case her middle school life can never return to its former normalcy (and even that was a bit of a charade), Rei continues to familiarize Hina with shogi, which served Rei well in the past as an escape from unfavorable conditions, and is now the game that pays his bills. Rather hilariously, Rei proves as bad at going easy on Hina (even though he’s trying) as he is good at competing professionally.

Sitting alone with Hina in her room (for the first time), Rei feels it’s a suitable time to ask Hina to tell him, in small bits, in her own time, what’s going on at school. Hina describes, among other things, an oppressively awkward and hostile atmosphere and “an invisible hierarchy” in which “your ranking decides how loud you can laugh or how much freedom you’re allowed.” In other words, every damn middle school classroom, ever.

Of course, not all classrooms are like that, but by no means an uncommon atmosphere, and both Hina and Chiho are partly victims of bad luck, and partly victims of their own selfless personalities. While changing that atmosphere may be nigh impossible, it’s much easier to bypass it.

Takahashi asks for Hina by name and invites her to play catch with him during lunch. He tells her Rei came by his house to play shogi with his dad and granddad—a granddad usually bedridden, but a spring chicken before Rei and a shogi board.

In any case, Takahashi understands the situation, and tells Hina if the classroom is ever too much, they can simply play catch. Hina is overjoyed.

The joy—and the prudence of Rei involving Takahashi—is short-lived, and the bullies escalate by scrawling slurs on Hina’s desk (albeit in chalk; these girls aren’t yet to the point where they’re gouging the wood).

Their leader also calls Hina a bitch under her breath, but Takahashi seems to hear it, or at least can read the room, then invites the three hellions to join him and Hina in their game of catch.

Before I could ponder whether Takahashi was trying to quell the conflict through inclusion, he unleashes some game-level heat at the fawning bullies, sending them running off.

Then Takahashi tells Hina why he did what he did: Chiho once gave him half of her lunch when his bento box fell in the dirt. He knew then, as he knows now, that anyone who shares their food with you is a good person, and he doesn’t think Hina should be afraid to show she has allies in this war.

It’s sweet, sweet revenge and a wonderful sentiment, but I knew its effects would be temporary, and perhaps even cause further escalation. That night, while playing shogi with Hina, Rei apologizes for introducing another element into her problem so recklessly.

But Hina is grateful for everything Rei has done, and is happy he is always asking her what she wants. She’s just frustrated that she doesn’t know…or that she does know, but knows there’ll be no turning back if she does that, because two wrongs don’t make a right and such, right?

Rei has always felt that Hina is stronger than him, and he’ll never surpass her in that regard. The bullies may be having their fun drawing awful stuff on the chalkboard, but they’re not just causing Hina pain…they’re making her madand toughening her. Rei realizes that his pacifist nature may not apply to Hina, and that simply becoming invisible, shuffling off to stare at bushes or play shogi may not be the best options for her.

So when the teacher asks Hina for an explanation, she stands tall, proud, and tearless, and tells the truth: she doesn’t know; she didn’t write that; it was written there before she came to class. The teacher seems to remember the Chiho situation she handled so badly (Chiho is now in psychological rehab, unable to even respond to Hina’s letters). One can hope she’ll handle things a little better this time.

3-gatsu no Lion – 27

As part of repaying his debt he feels he owes her, Rei wants to help Hina in anyway he can, and that means getting a new perspective on the matter of bullying. Hayashida-sensei misunderstands at first. Rei isn’t the one being bullied. Indeed, he proudly proclaims his hard-won and long-standing invisibility at school.

When he brings up Hina, then describes her personality in such great detail and then presents his passion and motivation on the matter (“my duty as a human being” and such) Hayashida starts thinking that there is someone Rei likes. Of course, Rei isn’t thinking that way at all; Hina is not just a dear friend, but close to family, and his lifesaver to boot.

Hayashida gives Rei some good advice, including to tread carefully and not make a big fuss at school, lest it just make things worse for the victim, but to instead listen very intently to her feelings on the matter; how she’d like the matter resolved.

You know Rei is super-serious about this endeavor because he has a back-up plan: if Hina has to change schools or get a private tutor, he means to support her, not just emotionally, but financially. To that end, Hayashida spots a stack of shogi tournaments into which Rei has entered, calculating all of the winnings he’ll amass, which makes him a bit worried.

Despite saying he (literally!) can’t afford to lose again, he does inevitably lose, and is so angry he wrangles an all-to-willing Nikaidou to strenuously train with him. Nikaidou thinks Rei finally has fire in his belly and is utilizing his Best Friend; Rei just wants money to repay Hina!

The next day, Rei helps Akari lug home a whole mess of groceries she got a big sale. When Rei tells Akari his weight, she hurries home to start cooking, and won’t hear of Rei leaving.

There’s something about Rei, perhaps in part his personality; and the experiences he’s had (the loss of loved ones being something they share), that has Kawamotos pour their hearts out at him. Akari feels she can talk to him, and criticizes herself for the job she’s done as surrogate mom to Hina, lamenting she’s “no good.”

Only nineteen herself when their mother died, Akari had barely lived any life before suddenly becoming a mother of two. She did her best, but in hindsight worries she instilled “ham-fisted” ideals into Hina, which led to her predicament with her friend and the bullies.

Akari admired Gramps simply praising Hina’s courage, but she hates the part of herself for wanting Hina to simply run away rather than do something that would cause her to be unhappy or alone. This is, of course, silly; Gramps has lived a long-ass life, of course he’s going to have more wisdom on these kinds of things. Akari is too hard on herself here.

Rei reassures Akari that just as Hina did nothing wrong in fighting the good fight, neither did Akari. After all, Akari raised the girl who saved Rei’s life; that makes Akari his savior too. Had Hina been raised not to be as kind as she is, or to think of herself before others, Rei might not even be there talking to her.

His honest words cheer Akari up, and she fixes a big ‘ol pot of curry for dinner. When Gramps returns from the theme park with Hina and Momo, he complains that Rei is there “again”, but he’s only joking around, and orders him to sit, eat, and stop making him feel like the bad guy.

While stepping back into the house, Hina hands him a cartoon cat phone strap that somewhat resembles him, as thanks for everything he’s done. Hina expects Rei to think it childish, but he tells her he’s moved, and thanks her. It’s such a nice, quiet, warm moment shared between two people who will hopefully be thanking each other for being there for one another for a good long time to come.

3-gatsu no Lion – 26

As Hina cries in her big sister’s lap, Rei catches us up on the reason for her tears, as well as her missing shoe. It’s a harrowing, all-too familiar and common story: some girls in her class with nothing better to do started bullying her longtime friend Chiho. While everyone ignored it or pretended nothing was happening (even the teacher), Hina, like a Fire Sister, kept talking and eating with Chiho.

Eventually, the bullying got so bad Chiho stopped coming to school, and her mother decided they’d move to where her father works, pulling her out of school. When the girls who started all this make light of that in gym class, Hina pounces on their queen bee in vicious rage, to no avail.

Now Hina is the target of their bullying, and she’s terrified of going back to school and being alone, just as she’s distressed that she couldn’t do anything for Chiho. After scaring Momo with her crying, Hina runs out into the night, and Rei very slowly chases her (what can you say; kid’s not an athlete).

Rei makes no bones about it: Hina is the reason he’s above water; she is his lifesaver; and after gently taking her hand, he promises he’ll always stay with her, no matter what. After all, for all the distress and pain it’s caused her, Hina is quite correct that she did absolutely nothing wrong in trying to defend Chiho. That it was beyond her ability to stop the bullying, or that she’s the new target, does not change that simple fact that she’s a good person.

Fully appreciative of her fragile state and need to not be alone, Rei spends the day with her at the libarary where they look at books, something he’s been doing a long time and the reason he’s so good at shogi at his age.

While she’s looking at Japanese sweets books, Rei is looking for the name of the “ladybug bush” of his dark earlier years: “Silverthorn.” He also finds the scientific name of the Asian Ladybug that populated those bushes, and Hina notices the kanji for that name also means “heavenly path.”

Rei takes her to the bush and places a ladybug on her hand, and it climbs as high as it can before flying off toward the sun, demonstrating why, long ago, people gave the bug that name.

As the beetle flies heavenward, Rei would wish nothing more than to unleash hell upon those who have done this to Hina; but just as she walks the heavenly (i.e. just and rightous) path, he knows so must he. Tearing those bullies limb from limb won’t solve anything, and probably onlu make things worse for Hina.

Evening arrives, and Rei escorts Hina home, where Akari and Momo are waiting for them and invite Rei to join them for a sumptuous dinner consisting of all of Hina’s favorite foods. Their Gramps is there too, and gravely asks Hina to sit down and listen.

Akari told him everything that happened…and he praises her heartily for what she did. He knows from the papers how serious bullying can be, so he has nothing but joy and pride in knowing Hina would go to bat for her friend despite the dangers involved; something most adults wouldn’t do. He echos her own earlier words that she did nothing wrong, and should be proud of herself.

Now, I watched his monologue in a very dusty room, so you can imagine I needed a lot of Kleenex nearby, just as the Kawamoto sisters did. Both Gramps’ words of encouragement and Akari’s meal were things they knew they could do for Hina. Rei wracks his brain over what he can do, but simply being there for her, by her side, and assuring her he’ll never leave it, is already enough.

3-gatsu no Lion – 25

After Matsumoto and Smith mess around with the towering Kumakura’s huge shoes, we see a shogi den settled down for lunch in June…when I guess it’s to hot to eat outside? As he munches on his healthy yet high-class meal, Nikaidou rants about how Rei must get to the finals of the Newcomer Tournament so they can face one another, then proceeds to analyze Rei in a manner that’s far too accurate for Rei’s taste.

When Nikaidou tells him it stands to reason he’d know his deepest depths like no one else, because they’re not just rivals but best friends, Rei, a paragon of stoicism to that point, freaks out and books it out of the room. “Leave him be,” an older player says, “it’s funnier that way.” And to a geezer like him who was one, teenagers are funny, with their needless emotional outbursts and poor organization of priorities.

But what I took out of the first half of “June” is that Hey, Rei is his Nikaidou and Nikaidou is Rei’s. Rei has a friend. Not the only one, either! That fact might embarrass him, but that’s progress, and it took a lot for him to get to that point.

In the second half of “June” we get a welcome cut to the Kawamoto residence, where Grampa makes his first appearance this season (his love of and fawning over Momo will never get old, because let’s face it, Momo deserves all the love). He’s holding a brainstorming session for new sweets after the success of the last one.

When Momo is asked what goes in the water, she first says “duck”, but a duck on top of an agar sweet could easily fall off, while a duck encased in that agar would look like a dead one. Then Momo suggests a sandal, recalling a time she lost one while Akari was walking with her near the water. Gramps instantly declares her a genius and a prodigy.

But there’s something off about this scene: Hinata. She doesn’t say a word, and has her head down as she scribbles into a notebook. At bathtime, Akari finds her sitting alone on the stoop, and when asks what’s wrong, Hina says “nothing” and shows her sister a smile that’s probably forced, because it’s gone again when she’s alone in the bath, looking up at the moon.

So what’s up with Hina? I can guess, considering she’s entering adolescence, but little did I know the next segment would serve as a dark preface to that question’s answer. In the present day Rei notices a plant with the same leaves as a “ladybug bush” he noticed when he was a little kid being teased, bullied, and ostracized at school.

As we know, Rei chose shogi to please his stepfather, willing to endure the hate from the man’s biological children because he had no choice. Now we know to the extent Rei, Shogi Prodigy is not the product of a nature or nurture, but pure, elemental survival.

Rei had no safe haven from the hatred of classmates or stepsiblings. He made himself more invisible and indifferent to prevent escalation at school, but trying to ingratiate himself with his stepparents and not feel like a burden only intensified his siblings’ resentment towards him.

As much as Kyouko’s been humanized in the present, the villainous version reappears in these flashbacks, as someone who couldn’t give a shit Rei’s problems, either the loss of his family or the continued abuse he faces at school. He’s a creepy eyesore to her. No wonder it’s still hard for him to talk to her today!

Shogi wasn’t a dream or aspiration, it was a life raft. Instead of reacting to the horrible things in his life, he buried his nose in shogi books, studied feverishly, and played like his life depended on it, because he thought it did. A perfect and devastating visual is of him desperately treading water in a dark sea, with nothing to cling to but a floating shogi board.

Things are much better for Rei now; he has friends, a surrogate family that loves him unconditionally, and even a place to hang out at school—but though he still carries wounds and scars that may never heal. More importantly to the closing act, a product of his ordeal is that he can spot the warning signs of others enduring the same from a mile away, as he instantly does when Hina enters the room.

She’s missing her left shoe (in a weird, prophetic echo of the shoe Momo suggested for the dessert), the sock is filthy, and her face is a raw mess of tears. For the show to so quickly and concisely reassert all the crap Rei had to go through, only to visit it upon one of the kindlest, gentlest souls in the show in Hina, is almost too much to bear, especially when the episode ends before we’re able to learn the details or see her be comforted.

I guess the details don’t matter; it would seem she’s now going through the same thing Rei did. I can only hope that if she cannot find a solution at school, at least going home won’t just add to her shit sandwich. Unlike Rei, who only had shogi, she has Rei, Akari, Momo, and Gramps. Being a teenager is usually terrible for everyone, but it’s still worse for some than others.

Inuyashiki – 03

As soon as Hiro realizes the old man he killed wasn’t effected by his “air gun”, he bolts, and by bolt I mean launch into the sky and scream off like a fighter jet. Thus, the big standoff between him and Ichirou is postponed. But as he wakes up from a nightmare of the death he witnessed, Ichirou knows he’ll have to find and confront him sometime.

This boy is like him, but whether his powers have twisted him into a monster, or he was always a sociopath and only now has the means to do as he pleases, Ichirou knows he’s the only one who can stop him. Essentially, some whippersnapper needs an ear-boxing.

Hiro isn’t the first evil, nor is he the only evil in the world, or even in the vicinity of Ichirou’s home and work; far from it. You don’t need to be killed and reconstructed by an advanced alien race to be a dickbag that doesn’t care about anyone or anything, as evidenced by the kids who attacked a homeless man, or a group of athletic young toughs who plan to kill a man for daring to tell them to wait in line.

Like any and every great hero, Ichirou doesn’t buy into a world where the strong unrelentingly prey on the weak. Why should he? He may be one of the two strongest beings on the planet. No, with strength comes not carte blanche, but noblesse oblige. Just as Hiro was a bad person before getting reconstructed, Ichirou was always a good and just man.

It’s only now, like Hiro, that he’s able to act on his kind and virtuous nature. When it looks bad for the poor man surrounded by much larger ones, Ichirou takes out the trash. But he doesn’t kill anyone, nor is there any malice in his actions; only a desire to stop a great wrong from being committed, and ensure the safety of those who cannot ensure it themselves.

Once his “Grampy-sense” detects a family struggling to escape a house fire, he wills the machinery within his back to come out and propel him to the danger in time to save them. He does so by singing the theme to Astro Boy.

At first, his built-in jetpack is a little too much to handle; he screams bloody murder as he’s flung every which way, a scene that’s as awesome as it is frikkin’ hilarious. In a show that gets as intense as this one, it’s nice to know we’ll always have some moments of levity.

He gets the hang of it pretty quickly, and manages to save not only the crying children’s father, but their grandmother as well. Instead of thanks and praise, he asks that they not mention him to the authorities, and having just been miraculously saved by him, one hopes they would respect his wishes.

Ichirou is an unconditional hero to all, not because he can, with his wondrous new powers, but because he feel he must. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he stood by and did nothing when his actions can make a positive difference in the world. Compare this to his pre-transformation, when he was just trying to maintain, and was diagnosed with terminal cancer for his trouble. A man of inaction, no longer is he.

Hiro, while a monster, seems to remain tied to his humanity through his best friend Andou, whom he finally convinces to come to school, promising to protect him. He is, or at least is trying to be, a hero of one…unfortunately for the rest of the world, not to mention Andou.

When the bullies return to Andou’s desk and threaten him, Hiro wastes no time taking the wrist of their strongest and squeezing it hard enough to make him cry, apologize, and insult himself and his friends.

I can’t tell whether Hiro is using laser-sharp precision to apply just enough pressure to the guy’s wrist, or struggling as hard as he can not to squeeze to hard, snap his arm off and expose himself at school. I like how there’s uncertainty in something like that.

Hiro takes Andou to the roof where the bullies initially told them to meet, but they already left with some girls. Hiro gives Andou some binoculars and starts pointing out into the distance and saying “BANG.” Eventually, Andou pans to where Hiro was “shooting”, and finds the four bullies dead, all shot in the head with invisible bullets that leave no trace; the scared-shitless girls having no idea what just happened.

It’s too far. Andou is a gentle soul; he can’t take this shit, and wastes no time rejecting Hiro and warning him to stay away when Hiro refuses to turn himself into the police. All of the things Hiro did to that point to impress Andou—humiliate then kill bullies, boast of his ability to nuke China with US missile, steal thousands of dollars from the ATM—only serve to disgust Andou and push him further away.

Their friendship is over, but Hiro reacts the same way he does to everything, save his brief encounter with Ichirou: calmly. Too, calmly, if you ask me. Without Andou to provide even a semblance of a tether, Hiro’s monstrous acts may only increase in scale and scope.

Inuyashiki likes to punch below the belt, as when an adorable mama cat and her kitten walk past a charmed Ichirou, only for the mom to get hit by a car right in front of him. Exhibiting uncommon goodness that makes one’s eyes well up, he takes the cat into his arms, even though he can’t do anything for her…then learns that he actually can.

Ichirou scans that dead cat and fixes her right up, and she and her kitten stride off like nothing ever happened, giving Ichirou the one thank-you he wished he always got: no thank-you at all. Ichirou is overcome with joy and gratitude for the gift he has been given, and immediately stops by a hospital to heal as many people as he can.

And yet, as he’s been going around left and right saving lives, his opposite Hiro is out there taking them, as if the universe itself were maintaining the balance from suddenly having two such immensely powerful beings in such close proximity. If both were evil killers, humanity would be toast, but Ichirou is as good as Hiro is bad.

Witness the ending, in which the camera mercifully doesn’t follow Hiro inside another house for another routine family-killing. It just stays there, frozen, and we realize just how goddamn quickly Hiro purges the house of all life before walking out, spotting two passing boys—clearly friends—running past, and thinks long and hard about killing them too.

By holding his fire, was he trying to prove to himself that he can control himself when he needs to even without Andou? Perhaps he still has a degree of restraint, owing to the same sense of self-preservation that induced him to escape from Ichirou. But that restraint can’t last.

The first two episodes introduced our characters: the third explored their powers further and illustrated how far they can take those powers—in both moral directions. Hiro seems to be on the path to ruin; Ichirou, on the path to sainthood. But in a universe of balance, perhaps neither will ever reach their destination.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 03

Turns out that while she was just plucked up by a dragon at last episode’s end, Chise is actually not in danger. She’s simply being brought to a dragon’s nest by its caretaker, Lindel. There, she learns more about dragons, meets both an ancient Uin and three playful hatchlings,  and ultimately experiences something few mages ever do: a dragon’s end-of-life return to the earth and transformation into a tree.

Lindel’s dragon unceremoniously spits Chise into a very cold deep lake, but she manages to get out on her own, and once Elias catches up with her (appearing out of her shadow, as badass mages do), he has a very nifty insta-dry spell that prevents hypothermia.

When she’s tasked with babysitting the lil’ dragons (who are extremely cute and childlike) curiosity draws her nearer to Nevin, the oldest extant dragon, who is old even for a dragon, and is very near death. While in contact with his brittle, flaking hide, he reads her memories; specifically her emotional downfall following the suicide of her parent.

Nevin uses this as an opportunity to enlighten Chise with dragons’ sense of death: they do not fear it, but live their lives to the fullest and pass on with gratitude and contentment, with no regrets. “It’s just nature”, Nevin says to Chise, who lost someone to unnatural means, long before their time. Chise is far from done processing that grief.

Instead, Nevin allows Chise to share in his “last dream”, a vision of freedom, flight in a gorgeous vista that stretches on forever. When the vision ends, Chise returns to the normal world, and a tree quickly sprouts from the now passed-on Nevin. It’s a gorgeous, moving sequence, epic in scope, in which Chise takes a big step towards understanding her role in the world (and that she has a role).

I imagine Lindel (and probably Elias as well) are glad Chise was able to experience this, as she may well be of the final generation of mages, just as the little hatchlings may be the last generation of dragons. They tell Chise not to grieve Nevin’s loss, at it’s all part of the circle of life and all, but still, a kind, wise stranger was there a minute ago is now gone forever.

Her solace is that, as Nevin recommended, when she has need of a wand, she take the wood from the branches of the tree he became. That way, in a way, he’ll always be with her. But it will never be the same as when he was alive.

Inuyashiki – 02

Last week I watched with intense interest and wonder as Iyunashiki suddenly received a new lease on life out of nowhere; this week we get to know the other person who was killed and reconstructed by the alien ship: Shihigami Hiro. Ironically, he’s not the hero, but the villain, as is made quite clear by the end of this episode.

With a calming, pleasant lilt to his voice (he is excellently voiced by live action actor Murakami Nijirou), and on a mission to convince his recently beat-up friend “Chakkou” to come back to school, at first Hiro doesn’t seem that bad…but when he mentions there’s a slasher who’s killed eight people, I knew immediately he was talking about himself, well before he opened his face to show Chakkou what he’s become.

Hiro demonstrates his new powers to a shocked, amazed, and slightly freaked-out friend: he kills a bird by pointing at it and saying bang; then makes all the TVs in an Ikebukuro electronics store broadcast porn. Harmless fun, right? Well, no…harming animals for no reason is a telltale sign of sociopathy, which  I’m willing to bet our lad had before his transformation.

The only thing that’s changed is that with his new body, he now has the ability to make his twisted impulses a reality. He can make dozens of cars crash into each other, and he can kill anyone by pointing at them and saying bang. He’s like a far more efficient Yagami Light, only without even a hint of justice.

His only glint of humanity is that he considers friends and family off-limits (at least for now), even if he couldn’t care less about anyone else, and offers to kill the one(s) who beat Chakkou, which Chakkou, not being a sociopath, obviously doesn’t want. Unfortunately, he has little choice in the matter; Hiro is a force of nature now and his appetites are formidable.

Case in point: in one of the grisliest, most fucked-up scenes I’ve seen in an anime in a long time, Hiro randomly picks a house and goes room-to-room executing its occupants: a mother by the stove, a father bathing with his young son (his body pins the boy under him so he drowns in the bath…just awful), and finally, the teenage daughter upon coming home.

The father and daughter have time to beg for their life, but Hiro gives them an order they can’t obey—don’t cry or beg for your life—and punishes them with death. First, he asks the girl his age if she reads any manga, and is momentarily excited that she likes One Piece and has a favorite character he approves of.

The casualness with which he carries out his rampage leaves no doubt: Hiro is an irredeemable monster that needs to be put down before more families suffer his wrath.

But with that body and the weaponry and defenses it contains, there’s only one person who can be the hero to slay this beast: Iyunashiki, the titular “Last Hero.”

Upon coming home, Ichirou can hear the last screams of the daughter Hiro is torturing, but the fact he still doesn’t have much luck is demonstrated when he gets stuck in traffic and is too late to save her. Clearly, he hasn’t explored the extent of his own abilities yet, or he would have, i dunno, run really fast or flown to her aid (unless his body doesn’t actually allow that).

In any case, upon inspecting the house and the family of victims, Ichirou discovers Hiro is still lingering there. Hiro assumes he’s the grandpa, and shoots him in the head before leaving, but Ichirou isn’t the grandpa, and while he was knocked down, the bang didn’t seem to cause any other damage.

I’d hope that with our hero meeting the villian, the slaughter of innocents will cease…or at least slow. But who am I kidding? These two are, at worst, equally matched, and with Ichirou’s clumsiness and Hiro’s give-no-fucks attitude, quite a bit of collateral damage will be in order. Hiro believes he’s a god. He won’t give that up easily. But neither will Ichirou.

P.S. While I love the visuals of the OP, the rap metal theme (which may owe a bit to Rage Against the Machine) and its English lyrics is a bit cheesy. Ah well. 

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 02

This week, Chise gets a better idea of what her new life will be like, though she still dreams about the awful life she used to lead; a life she was willing to discard because she didn’t think it had any value. Now people treat her gently and with respect.

Silky, Elias’ “landlady” cooks and cleans and provide Chise with clothes. After watching her mother commit suicide after telling Chise she shouldn’t have been born, this kind of care seems welcome.

Chise accompanies Elias to London—an up-to-date London that includes The Shard—and while there he swaps his “bony” face for a human one—a handsome one, at that.

Elias takes Chise to the shop of another mage, Angelica, who has some issues with how Elias procured his new apprentice, and is taken aback when a simple rookie mage test—turn a crystal into one’s favorite flower—nearly gets out of hand, with Chise transporting herself to a memory of her and her mom in a field of poppies.

Elias tells Angelica that Chise is a Sleigh Beggy, an individual for whom the miracles that comprise the practice of magic come far more frequently than they would for someone less attuned to magic. After seeing the crystalline growths that populated Angelica’s arm, I felt nervous about Chise’s feet upon creating a partial landscape of her memory from that crystal.

Angelica doesn’t blame Chise, though; she didn’t know Chise is a Sleigh Beggy—something Elias didn’t tell her because that’s a dangerous nugget of information in their line of work. But like Elias, Angelica can tell that, like her own daughter, Chise will make a fine mage one day; it’s just a matter of proper training. Chise and Elias head from London back to the countryside.

After meeting with the local priest, who more or less gives Elias and Chise his blessing and an offer of assistance, Chise and Elias head to Iceland, a a land of dragons—and Chise almost immediately gets kidnapped by one said dragon.

Again, this show makes me recall Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, whose redheaded heroine was kidnapped more than once and had to be rescued (though during captivity she helped facilitate that rescue). We’ll see if Chise manages to use her newfound magical powers to attempt escape from her captors, if it once again falls mostly to Elias to rescue her. At this early stage in her apprenticeship, I won’t hold it against her for needing a hand…especially against a dragonrider!

Inuyashiki – 01 (First Impressions)

Inuyashiki Ichirou has, at least to me, a pretty impressive name, but his life is depicted as…less impressive. Like Japan, he’s old. It’s worse: even though he’s just 58, he looks more like he’s in his 70s or 80s. His kids are in high school, and they’ve never been that impressed by him.

He finally makes enough money to buy his family a new house, and they’re underwhelmed by its size and the fact it’s next to (and in the shadow of) a much bigger house owned by their neighbor Oda, a successful manga artist.

Ichirou’s family abandons him and has dinner at a family restaurant (ironic) while he’s stuck with all the boxes.

Speaking of boxes, Inuyashiki Ichirou would seem to have checked off a lot of the ones he was expected to: got an education, a salaried job, a wife and two healthy kids. He finds a tossed-away dog and names her Hanaka, but the family just sees her as a nuisance and a burden.

He’s alone. So alone, when he’s cavalierly diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer and given three months to live by a doctor with one of the worst bedside manners I’ve ever seen, not one member of his family answers his phone calls.

He doubts they’d even cry if he told them; they’d probably just curse him for being so weak and frail and ineffectual. His daughter tells her friends he’s her grandfather, for Christ’s sake. This is a sad man on every level; thank god he has Hanaka to hug.

But while out walking her, he and another younger man with dark hair we only catch a glimpse of are apparently flattened by a crashed alien ship. Willing to take responsibility despite their tight schedule, Iyunashiki is painstakingly reconstructed with non-organic material.

He looks exactly the same, but Ichirou doesn’t feel right. He’s very thirsty; he no longer needs glasses; oh, and his arms, back, and head all retract to reveal various types of bizarre machinery, scaring the heck out of Hanaka.

I couldn’t help but think of the changes the MC of Parasyte went through, only rather than being infected with an alien parasite, Ichirou is only alive because the aliens were nice enough to rebuild his body, and mind, in perfect detail…only better.

One could say he’s been given great power, and with that comes great responsibility. When he encounters a gang of youths attacking a homeless man (who they call a “cockroach” with fireworks and with metal bats at the ready, Ichirou steps in to stop them.

First of all, I sorely hope roving gangs of kids beating up the homeless isn’t, like, a thing in Japan. That’s doubly distressing considering how much respect elders are supposed to be shown by youth in Japan, and how large a proportion of the population the elderly are becoming.

Ichirou is quickly beaten into the ground by the kids, who believe they’ve killed him and figure they might as well kill the homeless guy too. Honestly, this is the scum of the earth.

But in a hilariously, thoroughly satisfying, absolutely righteous climax to this sad tale of an old, weak, ineffectual man, his body acts on its own; targeting all the bad eggs Terminator-style, plotting firing solutions, and launching a non-lethal barrage of “fireworks” that spook the kids into scattering before they do any more harm.

Even better, his body’s OS uses its scan data to discover the identities of the young assailants and broadcasts a posted video of their activities on every screen in the city. They’re eventually found out and likely to be caught by the police and punished for their crimes. It’s probably better than they deserve; I was fully prepared for Ichirou to kill them.

But he’s not a killer. What he has become is a hero. More importantly, by risking his life to save another and becoming emotionally overcome by the weight of that sequence of events, Ichirou cries tears of joy. He may still look like a spent old man, but he’s never felt more alive, and I sincerely doubt this will be the last of his heroic acts.

Inuyashiki paints a pretty bleak picture of Japanese society, to the point it was pretty damn unpleasant to watch how Ichirou was treated by everyone in his life. The show is clearly on his side, and, well, so am I, even if I agree with his kids that the house he chose is a little depressing. It’s refreshing to see an anime for once not focusing a bunch of teenagers, instead starring a family man desperate to catch a break.

Due to the extreme nature of his transformation, he’ll likely be keeping this a secret from his family and everyone else, which means he’ll still have to play the role of the man he used to be. Hey, every hero has to have an alter-ego, right? They also have to have an arch-nemesis; my money’s on that younger man at the sight of the alien crash serving that role.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 01 (First Impressions)

When we first meet Hatori Chise—who both resembles and sounds like the heroine Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, or perhaps her long-lost, much-maligned sister—she’s pretty much at rock bottom, having seemingly lost the will to live, signing away her human rights so that she can be chained and presented as an object to be purchased at an auction before some Eyes Wide Shut-ass muhfuckahs.

But holding true to the episode title “April showers bring May showers”, as well as the axiom “it’s always darkest before the dawn”, in this, her darkest hour, she is met by, and purchased with a winning bid of five million pounds, by an imposing man in a black cloak wearing a big antelope skull on his head (unless…that is his head).

Chise, fully prepared for whatever horrible fate might befall her upon being purchased (let’s face it, the kind of guys who would buy teenager girls in an auction are likely to be…not so great!), quickly finds that despite his fearsome appearance, her buyer Elias Ainsworth doesn’t want her to be his toy, but his apprentice. He’s a mage, you see; the “real deal”, and he believes Chise, who is what in his trade is called a “sleigh beggy”, can live a fulfilled life of purpose as the newest member of a dying breed of mages like him.

Teleporting her to his super comfy-looking country estate, swapping her chains for an protective adder stone, and showing her kindness she’s never known, Chise ever-so-gradually starts to learn that despite all of the hatred, abuse and suffering she’d endured her entire life up to this point, this place just might be different.

For the first time, she’s told she has a home and actually feels welcome there, and is told she’s family and someone to be protected and nurtured rather than spat upon and discarded.

Thus, when Chise is lured out for a midnight stroll by faeries who later show their true colors by trying to further lure her into their realm, Chise repays Elias’ kindness—and in doing so decides to trust someone for perhaps the first time in her life—by resisting the faeries until Elias arrives to shoo them off.

It’s then when, while princess carrying her home, Elias also confesses he doesn’t aim to merely make Chise his apprentice, but his bride as well. Her reaction to this information, as well as other instances of lighthearted humor, provide a nice ice-breaking contrast to the darker themes initially at play, giving way to a hopeful future in a real home with a real family that cares for them; things every child deserves. A very strong opening.