Bokutachi no Remake – 12 (Fin) – Back to Hard Times

Now that we know that Tomioka Keiko has the ability to send Kyouya back and forth through time, the question becomes, does Kyouya want to go back to the past or remain where he is? As Keiko says, there are few people who can claim they’re as happy and successful as he is. But Kyouya concludes that he didn’t want to go back in time to make a happier future; he wanted to experience pain and struggle alongside the talented creative people he idolized.

So even if, say, Aki decided she wanted to start drawing again, the fact remains that she, Tsurayuki, Nanako and Eiko all had their futures changed by Kyouya’s over-meddling, and that will never sit right with him, so it’s back to the past with him. It seems Keiko, whoever or whatever she is, brought Kyouya to this alternate future to teach Kyouya a lesson, in addition to giving him the choice to go or stay.

After a heartfelt sequence of final scenes with Aki and Maki, Kyouya is ready to go back. Keiko sends him back to the same time he left, when Tsurayuki dropped out. Aki and Nanako aren’t sure what to do about it, but Kyouya adivses that they all stay the course. If there’s a way to bring Tsurayuki back into the creative world, he’ll find one, but this time he’s not going to be so forceful and so certain.

Just as the members of the Platinum Generation put their trust in him, this time Kyouya is going to trust in their ability to shine and fluorish without undue interference or compromise. When Nanako is given an offer to work for another doujin group, she sheepishly asks him if he’ll proverbially hold her hand. Having seen what becoming overly dependent on him did to Nanako’s future, he insists she try being independent on this project. Even if he comes off as rude or mean, it’s in Nanako’s best interest.

He’ll still support her, but he won’t let her rely on him entirely again. Aki proves trickier, as she hits the very same rut that would define her future self as she transitioned from a creative life to a domestic one. Kyouya realizes that asking her to work so hard and compromise her artistic vision for the game took a toll, and that coming out of the rut won’t be a fast or easy process, but it will and does eventually happen, and without undue meddling from him.

Kyouya ends up literally bumping into the girl who will one day become Minori Ayaka, sporting her natural black hair color. Akaya seems embarrassed when Kyouya sees she has the game he made along with some promising sketches, but there’s no disputing she’s dedicated to being the best goshdarn illustrator she can be, inspired as she is by Shinoaki’s work. This must feel gratifying to Kyouya, as by abandoning that possible future he also feared he undid the good he did for Ayaka’s future.

But then, that’s just his ego talking; the same ego that thought he was singularly, personally responsible for upheaving everyone’s lives, when in reality it was a whole host of variables. It’s the same with Ayaka; she’s going to be alright, especially if the artist she adores continues to draw, as Aki does.

As for Eiko, Kyouya now realizes that she considers herself more than just a friend, creative colleague, and confidant. The future Eiko loved (past-tense) Kyouya, that means this past Eiko is in the process of falling for him, if she hasn’t already. Her blush as she admits she’d drop everything to help him if he was ever in trouble says a lot.

But Kyouya isn’t interested in dating Eiko, at least not at the moment. His primary goal is to undo the damage he did to Tsurayuki’s creative motivation. His confronting Tsurayuki as he exits a theator marks the beginning of his Remake Version 2.0, and even hints at a possible second season (though there hasn’t been any announcement of one, so who knows).

If this is the end, it’s a moderately satisfying one, as it has Kyouya on a sustainable path where he’s aware of his “power” and no longer breathlessly achieving happiness at the cost of others’ success. Even as he’s reverted to a younger version of himself, he’s grown as a person and a friend to these talented people. And so the struggle continues.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 12 – Everything becomes the ocean

It’s the last day of Gama Gama, and admission is free. The place is packed with people, which has Kukuru asking why they didn’t come earlier. But even so, she understands that Gama Gama has gotten too old to properly care for its sea life. The logic doesn’t make the last day any less melancholy, but there’s a hint of hope, as Kukuru is offered a job at Tingaara when she’s done school.

Once the last visitors head home and the doors close for the last time, the staff plus Karin and Udon-chan have a little party celebrating 48 glorious years. When everyone learns Kukuru has a job at Tingaara if she wants it, and that Umi-yan and Kuuya are also taking jobs there, a tipsy Karin urges Kukuru to go for it. But Kukuru just isn’t sure, and that’s understandable: the offer came on the day she believes her dream to have ended.

Gramps makes a very awesome and tearjerking speech, and then Kukuru and Fuuka spend some time on the moonlit beach. After the emotional roller coaster of the typhoon, they’ve fully made up. In fact, Kukuru believes it’s now her turn to support Fuuka’s dream, by urging her to take the lead actress job in Tokyo. Fuuka books a flight there for tomorrow.

The next day, Gama Gama is “hollowed out”, as all of the sea creatures are placed in portable tanks bound for either Tingaara or other aquariums that requested them. Kukuru is shook by just how lonely it is with the lights on and the tanks empty…until she goes into the room where all the visitors left notes on the wall.

It’s a room full of warm gratitude, and Kukuru can’t help but smile and feel grateful for everyone who came to Gama Gama and were changed forever. Then, while walking past one of the empty tanks, Kukuru experiences another illusion, once again involving someone who looks like her sister, who gives her a loving pat on the head as if to say “you’ll be alright.”

Back home, during Kukuru and Fuuka’s last meal together for some time, Kukuru mentions the illusion she experienced, believing she’d met her “doppelganger”. This is when Gran finally decides to tell Kukuru something they were going to tell her when she grew up.

As she’s already been an aquarium director for a summer and then lost that aquarium, Gran decides she’s grown up enough. Kukuru had a twin sister…but only Kukuru was born.

I understand Gran not wanting to keep Kukuru in the dark any longer, but the timing couldn’t be worse when it comes to Kukuru and Fuuka having to say goodbye so soon. At the airport, Kukuru tries to put on a brave face, as she feels she owes it to Fuuka, who supported her dream for so long.

Airport goodbyes always get me, and Aquatope really nails it, from the awkwardly formal handshake to watching from Kukuru’s POV until Fuuka disappears into the terminal.

But that is not goodbye, because before she boards her plane, Fuuka thinks about how she only cried when she was alone after her dream ended. She thinks about how Kukuru must be crying alone right then, and decides she can’t board the plane; not now. She runs dramatically through the airport, calls Kukuru and asks where she is, and meets her out on a patio where she is, indeed crying alone.

The bottom line is, making sure Kukuru didn’t have to cry alone was far more important to Fuuka than a movie role in Tokyo. She had to be in the position where she had to choose to learn that the job wasn’t really a new dream. You could say she’s torpedoing her career simply because Kukuru’s gran got talkative about things past at the worst possible time.

Still, Fuuka simply couldn’t let the person who helped her find strength and happiness after losing everything cry by herself. After sharing some big ol’ sobby hugs like two close friends should (seriously, WTF was with that handshake earlier guys!) Kukuru decides she’ll work at Tingaara after all.

The aquarium and its fragile micro-ecosystems taught Kukuru over the years that life can be difficult, and being alive isn’t a given. It was basically a coin toss that Kukuru got to live and her sister didn’t, so she now feels doubly motivated to make those who love her proud; that includes Fuuka.

Fuuka ends up on a plane back home to Iwate as planned, but as she settles into the cozy night flight she reads the poem Gramps read during his farewell speech, about how everything eventually becomes the ocean, which is probably why whenever someone peers into “the ocean within”, they find peace. Kukuru joins in, and they finish the poem in one voice, telling each other see you tomorrow.

It’s a bold and gorgeous way to end the first half of Aquatope, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what new innovative ways the show will cause me to bawl my eyes out when the second half comes around.

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 12 (Fin) – Spring at the Latest

Not entirely surprisingly considering the pace of the storytelling so far, there is no miracle insta-cure for Bocchan’s curse this week. Instead, he heeds his mother’s summons and comes home for the first time in years. Upon meeting with his mother after all that time, she simply tells him it’s too late and they’ll talk tomorrow. Viola and Walter assure their bro that Mom was actually being “kind” tonight.

Thankfully for Bocchan, Alice tags along for his awkward trip to the main house, and is an immediate hit with the house staff, who are amazed what a spitting image of her dearly departed mother Sharon she’s become. Bocchan’s mom even mistakes Alice for Sharon, with whom she was very close and was never the same after her death by as-yet unexplained circumstances.

Bocchan’s mom may be too tired to talk late at night, but Alice is delighted when Bocchan stops by to chat. Alice assures him the staff treated her kindly, and she’s very happy to hear Bocchan was able to speak to his mother normally, even if briefly. When it looks like Alice is dangerously close to touching his lips with her own, Bocchan retires for the night, and Alice lies in the warm spot he left.

The next day, Viola takes Bocchan to the grave where he was cursed by a woman in white. They cross paths with their mom, who tells Viola not to stand so close to her brother and again insists she start dressing like a proper lady; Viola pays her no mind.

The night of the big dinner, Bocchan’s mom has him seated at the far end of the table. Turns out she only summoned him there to inform him that due to his father’s deteriorating health (oddly we never see him) Bocchan must break the curse by Spring or Walter will be named the family head.

When Bocchan insists on discussing another matter and brings up Alice, his mom thinks he’s joking if he thinks he’ll be able to marry the one he loves. But Bocchan won’t stand for her calling Alice a “lowly maid”, nor will he have what he’s talking about mistaken for japes. He forcefully tells her that Alice was the one who pulled him out of the abyss, and he’d be dead were it not for her.

Further, he, Walter and Viola aren’t her things, they’re her children, and sometimes there are things more important than wheeling and dealing. He storms out of the room without finishing the soup course, and Viola and Walter also excuse themselves to show him out. None of them see their mother smile, as she’s impressed and proud that Bocchan has grown into a strong young man who can talk back to her.

There’s a sense of triumph in seeing Bocchan flanked by his siblings in the hall. Unlike their mother, they no longer see him as a freak or monster, but simply as their brother, who had some misfortune. At the same time, they also envy him for having been able to live outside of the harsh stern structure of the main residence. He’s been able to live his own life with Alice and Rob.

That said, the curse remains, and Bocchan is still determined to get rid of it, hopefully by his mom’s Spring deadline. As they play cards by the fire, Bocchan tells Alice that she’ll always have all of his love, even if he doesn’t come right out and say he told his mother he’d be marrying her. When he later falls asleep at the card table, Alice lays a blanket over him and says “I love you.”

So we’ve reached the end of the first part of Bocchan and the Black Maid’s story of finding light, hope, and love in the darkness…but only for now. With the promise of a sequel at the conclusion of the episode, I’ll surely be watching when its pure, sweet, charming central couple returns.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 11 – The storm

All the color and light of previous episodes is sapped from this one, both fitting Kukuru’s mood and due to a nasty typhoon rolling into Okinawa. It’s in this dim, gray, gloomy soup that we watch Kukuru go through the Five Stages of Grief. First up is Denial and Isolation. The handmade sign says it all—NO CLOSING!as Kukuru shuts herself in Gama Gama.

Ironically, this means closing the aquarium, but due to the typhoon there won’t be any visitors anyway. Gramps decides to let Kukuru be and give everyone the day off. Fuuka goes home with him, but during lunch, decides she’s not going to leave Kukuru to endure the coming storm alone—either the literal one or the emotional one. Just as she gets up to leave, Grams has bento ready for Fuuka to take to Kukuru.

From there, Kukuru goes into the Anger stage, though to her credit she puts the energy that comes with the anger to good use, going about the daily business of feeding, maintaining, and checklisting. She enters a kind of utilitarian trance, losing herself in the work, until suddenly snapped out of it by Fuuka rapping on the door.

Not long after Fuuka arrives at Gama Gama, the typhoon arrives in force, totally blocking out the sun, and bringing sheets of diagonal rain and vicious winds to the battened-down island. These establishing shots—and the white noise of the storm—really capture how dark and spooky a really bad storm gets. Day becomes night, and the outdoors themselves become a threat to life and limb.

Kukuru’s anger re-surfaces at the arrival of Fuuka, as she’d prefer to do all of this herself. But Fuuka is as obstinate as she is, and wants to stay by Kukuru’s side to help her with her dream like she promised. Her movie role doesn’t matter right now. Before they can get deeper into their discussion, the power goes out, leaving the aquarium with only seven hours of generator power before the more sensitive sea life starts to die en masse.

Just as Kukuru can’t turn Fuuka away when the storm is at its worst, she can’t turn down her help when there’s so much to do to save the fish and creatures they can. With two pairs of hands, they can do double the work. When the wind breaks a window, Kukuru’s Bargaining stage officially begins. If she can just bar the window, just Do What’s Right, everything will work out, as her daily prayer to Kijimunaa goes.

But it’s not enough. She can’t hold back the storm from causing the power to go out, the roof to leak, the windows and pipes to break, and the sea life to gradually die in the suddenly unfavorable water conditions. Her only memory of her mom and dad was here at Gama Gama, but now, just as they were taken from her, so too is the aquarium, in slow and deliberate fashion, piece by piece.

When Fuuka sees Kukuru giving up on bargaining and entering the Depression stage, she runs over and holds her tight, telling her that even if it’s the end of Gama Gama, and of her dream, it’s not the end of the future. And if they get back to work, there’s still a future for the marine life. Only they can protect them and save them from oblivion.

Kukuru snaps out of it just as Gramps, Kai, Kuuya, and Umi-yan arrive onces the winds die down. Gramps goes into Legendary Aquarium Keeper Mode (if only whatsername was here to see it!), as he knows exactly what to do in what is clearly not his first (or fiftieth!) typhoon. Now six strong, there’s enough manpower to do what needs to be done to buy time until the power comes back on. As far as we know, they don’t lose a single fish.

That said, Gama Gama took a beating, and really showed its age. Gramps promised the man who build the aquarium that he’d close it if it ever got too old, and that time has surely arrived. Having gone through the emotional and meteorological wringer, even Kukuru realizes that it’s probably beyond token repairs or improvements, and can’t keep the precious marine life safe anymore. It’s time has simply come, as it does for all things. Thus she arrives at the final stage: acceptance.

There are few skies more beautiful than those you see after a bad storm. For one thing, you’re relieved the sun is back, while the swirling remnants of clouds and other various optical effects  give the sky a more dramatic look. The color and light slowly returns by the end of the episode. In this light, Fuuka comes to realize she wasn’t just helping Kukuru achieve her dream. By letting Fuuka help her, Kukuru was giving Fuuka strength.

Fuuka doesn’t hate working hard for someone else…especially Kukuru. So when Kukuru turns to Gama Gama’s façade, again admits it is closing, and then bursts into tears, Fuuka is all too happy to be her shoulder to cry on. What comes after acceptance? Catharsis, adaptation, struggle…and maybe—Kijimunaa willing—new dreams, and happiness.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Kageki Shoujo!! – 09 – A Beautiful Frame

Even Kouka has a sports festival, and every ten years it’s a grand sports festival; since this will be the centennial festival it’s even more significant. For instance, Kouka’s “Superiors” will be heavily involved in the festivities.

Since Ai, like us, has no idea what that meants, Sawa helpfully explains they’re venerable veteran actresses who don’t belong to any one troupe and enjoy a higher rank than top stars and troupe leads. They are the creme de la creme, and the episode really sells that fact.

That said, the four top otoko-yaku in one room is a pretty awe-inspiring sight too. These ladies are very, very good at portraying men and boys, and the first years are understandably starstruck; Sawa even bleeds from the nose at the sight of them.

The four are not just there to look handsome and get fawned upon. Just as their individual troupes compete for the most and most passionate fanbases, they’re equally passionate rivals in the sports festival. Each of them intends to win and beat the others.

At one point Sawa needs some scissors, so Sarasa voluntters to grab some from the faculty lounge. There, she encounters Andou-sensei for the first time since he basically told her to forget everything she knew about acting to that point and start over.

I love how Sarasa shows Andou what he was hoping for: that she wasn’t going to let harsh but true criticism keep her down in the dumps forever. After summer break that fleeting disappointment is in her rearview mirror. She’s back and ready to put in the work.

Back in episode 6 I mentioned my wish to learn more about the Sawada Twins, Chika and Chiaki. The remainder of this episode grants my wish and then some, delivering what I believe to be one of the most beautiful and realistic depictions of the unique issues that befall twins; namely the realization they’re not the same.

Chika, the “darker” twin, resents when Chiaki easily befriends one of the Superiors, Mirai—whom we later learn was the top star that inspired them as children to become Kouka actresses. When Mirai mistakes Chika for Chiaki and calls her “Juliet”, Chika ignores her and walks away.

It’s Chiaki who later gets in trouble with Mirai when she next sees her, ruining the good vibes of the rehearsals….but Chika, the real culprit, keeps quiet. Ultimately it’s Sarasa and her good hearing who clears up the mix-up.

That night, the twin sisters have a fight that quickly grows in nastiness, with Chika spewing most of the venom. Later we’ll learn it’s the first time they’ve fought. Now Chiaki moves out of the dorm room they share, switching places with Sarasa.

As we’d expect, Ai neither knows how nor tries to get Chiaki to open up, but Sarasa and Chika are a different story. We learn that the two did everything together and even walked in lockstep, but when they both applied for Kouka and only Chika got in, that suddenly ended their run of identicalness.

Rather than attend as was her right, Chika felt bad for Chiaki, who wasn’t eating or sleeping and didn’t leave their room, and as her twin knew the only way to console her was to turn down her acceptance and try again with her sister next year.

That pulled Chiaki out of her emotional nosedive, but it came as a cost: the twins were always going to be out of balance due to Chika’s sacrifice, which is both something she decided on her own to do and something she felt she was obligated to do, out of loyalty to her twin. She chose blood over fame.

But that resentment lingered, and festered, and caused Chika to become someone who’d pass up opportunities again and again for Chiaki’s sake. She felt she couldn’t do things for her sake and eventually came to hate Chiaki for it.

When Chika gets the opportunity to apologize to Mirai for her rudeness, she explains the dark thoughts that had overcome her, and Mirai understands. Jealous befalls us all, but the key is to turn it into ambition, and not let it twist us into self-destructive choices.

Rather than be a haughty Superior, Mirai comforts her junior like a mother would comfort a daughter, assuring her that her desire to apologize and make up with Chika means she’s a good person, and this bad experience will ultimately make her stronger person.

I’m not an identical twin, so I can’t imagine how scary and lonely it feels to them when they come upon a “fork in the road” past which they won’t be the same in everything. That fork came earlier than they expected; the mere fact they had to expect it would happen really speaks to that unique turmoil.

Part of Chika was just as apprehensive about taking off ahead of Chiaki on her side that fork in the road as Chiaki was about getting left behind. The two have accepted that they can’t be the same anymore, but they’re not ready to drift apart forever, either.

There’s potential in the Kouka Revue for twin roles, and Mirai, now friends with both twins, tells them they can realize that potential if they become popular enough. Nothing in Kouka comes easily; it takes blood, sweat, and tears. But the Superiors, and the Top Stars below them, embody what you get for all that hard work: a kind of apotheosis and immortality. Chika and Chiaki could be Kouka’s Apollo and Artemis…or twin Juliets.

Magia Record – 17 – Back Into the Lions Den

In a usual cour, there’d be time and space for a cooling off episode, but with only eight episodes to work with, this lean, mean second season of Magia Record has no time to waste. And you know what? That’s just fine with me!

Not only did the entire first season feel more like an introduction and explanation of this world and its expansive cast, but it just makes sense to the flow of the story that once Iroha got caught up on what’s going on, she’d make a beeline for Nemu and not spend half the episode tidying up Mikazuki Villa with Yachiyo and Kuroe.

It also totally tracks that Iroha is almost fanatically eager to do her part in this story. Last week’s dreamy rescue mission got the ball rolling, but this week is where Iroha reasserting herself as the protagonist of this story really picks up momentum. Yachiyo is certainly weary of Iroha jumping right back into the dangerous realm of Magius, while Kuroe is a follow-not-lead sort.

So it’s really quite exhilarating to see Iroha take the initiative, get her friends aligned and on board; she’s both the glue bringing everyone back together and the lodestar guiding everyone to what’s good and right while Kuroe guides them through the fanciful book-filled caverns below Hotel Faint Hope. Unfortunately, in order to get those two through the portal, Yachiyo had to stay behind to keep the Amane sisters at bay.

Fortunately, it’s not long that due either to fate or coincidence—hell, why not both?!—Iroha encounters the ena, who is on her way out after deciding to defect from Magius. She has a very weak and vulnerable Kaede in tow, whose Doppel looks ready to pop out and kill everyone.

Again, alacrity demands that this reunion eschews the usual pleasantries; after all, all four girls are in a hurry with good reason: Nemu says she’s dying, while Kaede looks close to death, or a fate worse than it. But with the portal Iroha and Kuroe used closed, the four decide to team up for now.

What I’m glad there is time for is to check in with the Puella O.G. (including yours truly), who appear to have arrived in Kamihama City judging from the Alina Gray posters and Magius recruitment flyers. Besides it always being great to see these girls, it’s even more gratifying to know that there’s an actual reason for their inclusion here.

They’ve essentially crossed the dimensional barrier to find their beloved Mami, whom we know to be in way too deep with Magius. I like how their fish-out-of-water status is accentuated by the fact their colors are so much more muted than those of “native” magical girls like Iroha & Co. I can’t wait for if and when Madoka and Iroha meet and join forces.

But while on the way to the main exit (Rena and Kaede) and Nemu (Iroha and Kuroe), Iroha follows Little Kyuubey to another inconvenient truth about Magius: they’re farming witches. Knowing full well how fuzzy the line between magical girl and doppel, and goppel and witch, Iroha demonstrates why she’s the beating moral heart of the show, as she declares her distaste for this whole enterprise and questions what could possibly justify it.

Mind you, Iroha is not infallible in her role, and in fact her strong sense of what is right and what just seems wrong clashes with the real-world realities and wholesale suffering not only of less fortunate magical girls who lacked both the strength to defeat Kamihama witches and the support network to make up for their weaknesses. Iroha’s no Yachiyo (no one is) but she’s no slouch in terms of power or friends. Her moral certitude comes from a place of privilege.

But its that certitude and that privilege that make Iroha so well suited to leading the charge. When the girls are attacked by some kind of Uwasa sentry, Kuroe ends up cornered and her soul gem blackened, and almost takes the easy way out by using her doppel for perhaps the last time.

But Iroha won’t let her; instead, she clears Kuroe’s gem, and then the two Connect and their combined power obliterates the sentry. Magius is an organization that is hoping magical girls like Kuroe give up. Iroha’s selflessness and refusal to sacrifice anyone is anathema to them, because it’s explicit proof that their way isn’t the only way.

A new crisis emerges right on the heels of the defeated sentry, as Kaede has hit her limit. Her doppel emerges and goes berserk, and in another positively virtuoso battle sequences, Iroha, Kuroe, and Rena fight together to tame their gentle friend—turned chaotic monster.

As is usually the case with anime like this, stills just don’t due the battle animation the slightest bit of justice. Suffice it to say that in terms of artistry, grace, eclecticism and pure uninhibited style, there are few series out there that can match Magia Record. The benefits of putting 12-13 episodes worth of budget into 8 are on full display here.

Another estranged member of Team Mikazuki Villa, Momoko, arrives with Mitama shortly after the other thee girls manage to neutralize Doppel!Kaede. Mitama seals Kaede a big glass sphere, then wheels it into a gallery absolutely filled with similar spheres: an isolation ward for troubled doppels.

The other girls are not okay with this situation any more than what Magius is doing with witches. But Mitama is unmoved by their outrage, reminding them with almost Kyuubey-esque haughtiness that she warned them not to overuse their doppels.

She also reports that Kaede the other afflicted girls likely won’t wake up—let alone return to normal—until Magius’ “plan has succeeded”—an objective Iroha, Yachiyo, and now Rena and probably Momoko are committed to thwarting.

Again, Iroha serves a focusing and uniting role, corralling and calming the hotter heads and offering a possible Other Way. Even after all that has happened since returning to Faint Hope, her mission is the same: meet with Nemu, find out what’s going on, and find a way to save her.

Iroha has already demonstrated what can be accomplished by bringing the “family” together in a single, clear effort. Why can’t it be so with this? After all, unlike Touka, Nemu remembers Iroha, and the bond they shared. He’s hoping Big Sis gets to meet with her soon.

 

Kageki Shoujo!! – 08 – The Bus Stop by the Sea

Back at school after summer break, Hoshino Kaoru is sporting a new super-short hairstyle, in keeping with her goal to become an otoko-yaku, but soon  scolds Sarasa and Ai for allowing themselves to get a tan. Flashback to a formative summer in Kaoru’s life: the summer before her third year of high school, her last chance to get into Kouka…and when she fell in love for the first time.

Kaoru walking on sunny days with an umbrella was derided by some, not only was it odd behavior, but also presumptuous to those who knew her pedigree. While using a bus stop to the hospital to visit her gran (recovering from surgery), she encounters Tsuji Rikuto, the younger brother of a famous rising star of baseball.

Since his gran is so into the Kouka Revue and he overheard from mean girls of Kaoru’s relation, Rikuto works up the courage to ask her about the troupe, but is interrupted by another girl in love with his brother to give him her love letter. He refuses, and shortly thereafter, Kaoru tells him her name.

At first, Rikuto thinks she’s another girl trying to get closer to his bro through him, but she quickly clears that up by telling him about the expectations being the daughter of a Kouka actress and granddaughter of a top star, and he gets it; they’re like kindred spirits.

Of the two, Kaoru is the one more keen to fight against those who would define them by their more accomplished relations, and it’s her texts to him encouraging him to be himself and not worry about being compared that causes an uptick in Rikuto’s baseball play.

Their bus stop encounters and bus rides soon become something both look forward to, such that Kaoru starts visiting her gran more so she can also see Rikuto. She confides in him how she’d never be somebody to say “I’m getting in” knowing how hard it really is (Sarasa doesn’t have that problem). Kaoru is all about the hard work, right down to covering up in the sun to avoid getting tanned.

When she shows off the skirt she’s wearing, eager to wear as many as she can before she gets into wearing men’s clothes when she’s an otoko-yaku, Rikuto is sure that even if she had a mustache she’d be pretty. It’s the first time a boy ever called her pretty, and she wasn’t prepared for how happy it made her.

Rikuto eventually asks Kaoru out to the fireworks festival marking the end of summer; unaware that it would also mark the end of their brief, cozy romance. Before meeting him there, his grandmother assures her she doesn’t have to keep trying to become a Kouka actress if she doesn’t want to.

Kaoru isn’t about to tell her still-recovering gran that she’s full of shit, but she’s still down in the dumps when she meets Rikuto. For a time, him complimenting her yukata catching her when she’s pushed by some kids, and holding her hand is enough to soothe her troubled heart.

But then she asks why Rikuto seems so down, and he tells her that he’s questioning what the point of forcing himself to follow in his brother’s footsteps and fulfill everyone’s expectations of him…then he says he’s sure Kaoru thinks the same way all the time.

Kaoru…does not. Like her gran, and practically everyone else in her life, Rikuto doesn’t understand her after all; that this is precisely the path she chose to walk and she’s never questioned why she was walking it. She’s not trying to get into Kouka for anyone other than herself.

As she runs away from Rikuto in tears, she calls herself stupid for feeling jealous of the “typical high school girl’s life”, including having a boy worry about her and cheer her up. She runs along the beach singing a song, her voice wavering from her flowing tears, but eventually her voice clears as heartbreak turns into iron determination.

She swears to herself she’s going to make it. The normal life isn’t for her. She’s bound for the world of dreams and glamour.

While she intends to make a clean break by blocking Rikuto on her phone, his team actually makes it to the Koshien prelim final, and he just so happens to hit a game-winning pinch-hit home run as Kaoru is walking past a TV in the window broadcasting his game.

Despite knowing nothing about baseball (except what he taught her), and how things turned out at the fireworks festival, Kaoru is still happy Rikuto got to play, and win. Seeing him succeed on TV showed her that he didn’t give up on his path after questioning the point of it all, and after he incorrectly assumed her motives for walking hers.

She still never went back to that seaside bus stop, but it reappears again at Kouka of all places, when Sarasa sees it going viral on social media. Some mystery person left a note on the wall of the stop saying he didn’t give up and thanking another mystery person. Being a hopeless romantic, this kind of thing is right up Sarasa’s alley.

As the newly-shorn Kaoru examines the picture, she smiles knowingly and blushes ever so slightly. Of the thousands sharing that picture, only she and Rikuto know who it’s for and what it means, just like only they know what they want to do in life and are going to go after it with everything they can.

Hoshino Kaoru closes this incredibly moving portrait of her character the way one would close an epic romantic movie: by saying that when she gets to walk out on that Silver Bridge, she’ll save Rikuto “a primo seat in the SS section”…and maybe even say she was in love with him one bright, beautiful summer.

The perfect parting shot of the two having fun at the bus stop by the sea, at the height of that summer and the height of their love, was a thing of exquisite bittersweet beauty—as was the closing theme as sung by Kaoru ‘s seiyu Taichi You. And just like that, I’m in love with yet another character in this show, along with Sarasa, Ai, and Ayako.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

Tsukimichi: Moonlit Fantasy – 07 – Incidental Income

Makoto brings to Rembrandt a talented alchemist in Hazal, but he’s super-nervous, which makes him clumsy. Fortunately, Makoto is able to parkour himself into a position to catch the precious vials of ambrosia medicine. When it comes time to administer them to Rembrandt’s wife and daughters, Makoto employs the same Judo his sisters used on him to put the women into restraining holds without injuring them.

Makoto leaves the Rembrandt manor having cured his beloved family, and Tomoe and Mio are waiting for him. Unfortunately, so is a band of adventurer assassins. Makoto dodges, but Tomoe and Mio intentionally don’t, so as to gauge their adversaries’ power. Turns out it’s nothing to worry about. That’s when we learn that Makoto now has a system for employing his ultra-powerful retainers.

In this situation, that system involves Mio pretending to take the gold of the lead adventurer—named Lime Latte, which does sound like a gross Starbucks drink—and simply sitting this one out. She, Tomoe, and Makoto coordinate via telepathy, making it look like Mio is betraying Makoto for a quick buck. In reality, she has every confidence Tomoe and/or her Young Master can handle Lime and his crew without her.

And they do—obviously—but while there’s no tension about who will emerge victorious, some actual nuance emerges with regards to their adversary. While Lime and his crew agreed that Rembrandt needed to be taught a lesson, he just thought they’d be putting his wife and daughter into a harmless deep sleep. The witch doctor who approached him duped him into something far more sinister.

Our of gratitude and respect for Makoto, Rembrandt spares Lime’s life when he profusely apologizes. Later, Tomoe even gives Lime the katana the dwarves made her—which she deems “imperfect” but is without doubt the most valuable thing Lime has ever touched—and even takes him on as a squire of sorts. Looks like we’ll be seeing more of Lime.

Lime, who unlike the baddies in the previous town is not a manifestly bad guy, but Tomoe, who Sees All, eavesdrops on Rembrandt and his trusty butler Morris talking about the possibility of taking hostile action against the Young Master should his trading company continue to prosper.

This week, the bad guy turned out to be not that bad, while the apparently good guy with the recently cured wife and daughters may not be too good after all. I for one welcome this infusion of shades of grey!

Kageki Shoujo!! – 07 – The Curse of “Never”

Summer Break is upon Kouka’s hundredth class, but Ai’s version of giddiness over getting to spend it at Sarasa’s is somewhat tempered by how the semester ended: with Sarasa taking a major hit from Andou-sensei. As I suspected, perfect replication of other actors isn’t going to cut it if you’re going to be a Top Star in the Kouka Revue. This doesn’t mesh with what Sarasa learned about kabuki growing up, where succeeding generations of actors do their best to embody their predecessors as closely as possible.

But that’s Kabuki; and this is Kouka. Sarasa and Ai also get a little education on Andou-sensei and why he’s nicknamed “Phantom”, courtesy of the two top Kouka stars who happened to be seated in the row ahead of them! Apparently Andou was an esteemed actor with a musical troupe, most famous for his Phantom of the Opera, but due to a stage accident he had to retire, and decided to teach instead.

I’m glad he did, because as I said, as painful as it was to see Sarasa’s reaction and ensuing gloom, she was straying from the path to Lady Oscar, and needed a course correction. Fortunately, there’s plenty of family and friends waiting for Sarasa to take her mind off being “Sara-sad”, if only temporarily.

Ai insists on sitting formally for the duration of the gathering downstairs, even though she’s mostly ignored and suffering the agony needlessly (gramps told her to sit however she likes). Then Sarasa then goes to see her grandma at her grave, suggesting Ai can hang with the cat while she’s gone.

Of course, we know even when Sarasa and Ai don’t that it’s not just the cat waiting in her room, but Akiya. Ai, who is not good with people, comes off as curt with Akiya, who misinterprets it as intentional rudeness, but when Ai profusely apologizes and hides behind a wall, Akiya’s stance softens.

When asked about his “girlfriend” Sarasa, all he’ll tell Ai is that they were childhood friends since forever, and they took traditional dance classes together. Fortunately, we get to learn a lot more about both Sarasa and Akiya’s past, and Sarasa comes out even more amazing for having enduring what she had to endure.

Basically, the famous kabuki actor Kouzaburou was always very close to Sarasa, so much so that rumors floated around of her being his illegitimate daughter. Illegitimate or not, had she been a boy, she would have been the heir apparent to the venerable Shirakawa Kaou name…which Akiya is expected to assume instead. He’s far more loosely related, but he’s a boy.

It didn’t help matters for Akiya that while he liked Sarasa a lot for her strength and cheerfulness, she also happened to be a better natural talent than him when it came to Kabuki. Unfortunately, Sarasa was never sat down and told that grown women aren’t allowed to perform Kabuki.

That said, when another actor is ill, Sarasa is chosen to fill in during a performance of Sukeroku, since she memorized all the lines and movements (even back then, she was amazing). Young girls are allowed to perform, so there was no problem.

But while performing beside her, Akiya could tell how goddamn good Sarasa was, and how goddamn unfair it was that Sarasa’s Kabuki career would reach a harsh dead end due to tradition. After the performance, he first hears the rumor that Sarasa is related to Kouzaburou, which he shares with his mom/grandma/aunt/guardian (I forget her exact relation to him).

Tossing that pebble in the pond causes all kinds of drama, including his mom* chewing out poor Sarasa at the front door, telling her for the first time she’ll “never” be able to be something—in this case, Sukeroku. As soon as Sarasa runs off crying she’s immediately ashamed and regretful, but the damage is done.

Sarasa’s gramps comes to Kouzaburou’s house and chews him out for traumatizing Sarasa, and declares that she’ll have nothing to do with him or Kabuki ever again. That said, gramps softens considerably upon seeing a scared Akiya in the hall, and asks him if he’ll continue being Sarasa’s friend. He’s only cutting her off from Kabuki, he says.

Shortly after Sarasa stopped coming to dance classes, her grandma died, and Akiya and Kaou pay their respects from a distance. When Akiya sees Sarasa’s raw eyes, he starts to cry too…and Kaou tells him to hold on to the pain…it will make him a better actor.

Fast-forward to the present, and Akiya and Sarasa remain friends despite having been kinda-sorta rivals in the past. The rivalry never happened because the institution of Kabuki never let it. I’d say it’s for the best, since I have every confidence Sarasa will be okay in Kouka, but if ever there was going to be a first woman kabuki actor, it would be her!

After giving Sarasa her present of another bizarre figurine she’s super excited about (which is also see-through, for reasons), he also invites both Sarasa and Ai to a performance of Sukeroku he’ll be in. He already got clearance from her gramps.

That night, Ai learns about Sarasa’s performance in Sukeroku when she was only six. The two girls are transported into space as Sarasa beautifully, poetically describes what it was like being on that stage, feeling the audience like heat on her skin, feeling like the stage was a different world; feeling she had transformed into someone else.

It was clearly one of the most amazing moments of her life, making it doubly tragic that she was later deprived of pursuing a future there despite how much she loved it and how good she was. Even so, hearing Sarasa’s words makes Ai want to go see Sukeroku with Sarasa all the more, if only to catch a glimpse of the stage Sarasa once stood upon.

During the performance, Ai notices Sarasa crying, and isn’t sure whether it’s due to fond memories or “something else entirely.” Uh, why not both? From there, the episode abruptly cuts to the train platform where Sarasa and Ai are heading home. Akiya gives Sarasa some words of support and assurance from his heart.

He reminds her they’ve only just started down their paths; it’s okay to lose sight of what they want sometimes; and all they can do is keep moving forward. Sarasa still wants to play Lady Oscar, and she’s going to make it happen—”nevers” be damned!

She also wants Akiya to play Sukeroku. After a firm handshake (throwing Ai off a bit, as she assumed they’d at least hug), the two part ways, both feeling better than before they’d seen each other. They may not be a lovey-dovey couple, but they’re a couple where it matters.

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 03 – A Distant Kiss

Bocchan loses a game of pool to Alice, and so cannot refuse when she asks if he’ll accompany her into town for a festival. Because many will be in costume, he’s able to wear a steel-framed suit to avoid contact with both Alice and bystanders. It’s a way for him and Alice to feel like they’re on an actual date out in the world for the first time, even if they still can’t touch.

When they become separated by the crowd, Bocchan demonstrates how despite the rumors around town about a monstrous shinigami, the actual person of whom they speak is actually a kind and gentle young man. When a lost boy clings to his coat, he cheers him up by playing a song on the piano set up in the town square.

Bocchan sheds his heavy disguise to join Alice atop the clock tower, where they gaze at the moon and she tells him the story of another couple separated by a witch’s interference. In the case of the story, the man is on the moon while the woman is on earth.

But the man could be on Pluto and the basic tragedy would be the same as Bocchan and Alice’s; they are together in their hearts, but can never actually touch as long as the curse remains in force.

One night Bocchan gets a note from Alice to meet her in her bedroom (set off from the mansion) if he has trouble sleeping. When he enters to find her brushing her hair while nude, he assumes she has naughty plans for him. In the end, however, between a calming scented candle and cammomile tea, she really was simply trying to help him sleep…though it’s clear she was also hoping he’d get the wrong idea so she could gleefully watch his reactions.

Another night, when a once-in-a-decade meteor shower is to occur, Bocchan is the one to invite Alice to an intimate boat ride on the lake. His true intention is to properly confess his feelings—as opposed to the offhanded ways he’s told her he loves her. Things go pear-shaped when the wind snatches his hat, Alice leaps into the drink to grab it, and he can neither stop her nor help her out of the water due to the curse.

When she tells him straight-up that she’d be fine dying by his kiss, he leans as close as he dares before backing off, not willing to sacrifice Alice for just that one kiss. Alice, knowing he wouldn’t do it, tips the boat so he falls in the water with her. Thankfully, the water doesn’t conduct his curse like it does electricity!

In all the excitement, they missed the meteor shower, but as they both dry off by the fire, Alice says she’ll accompany him to the next one, in ten years. Bocchan is constantly worried that he’s not properly expressing how he feels, but Alice already knows, and feels the same way about him. It’s why she’s stayed with him this long; it’s why she has every intention of being with him in a decade, curse or no curse…but hopefully no curse!

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 02 – Moonlight Waltz

The third member of Bocchan’s family, Rob, makes his first appearance, and proves to be your typical jovial, dependable old butler who might just be a bit long in the tooth for the strenuous work of maintaining a mansion. Even so, he gives it the old college try, which incidentally leaves Alice with little to do but toy with her beloved duke.

She eventually agrees to behave herself and sit quietly as Bocchan plays some of the new piano piece he’s working on, which is indeed both somber and beautiful. Alice’s rush of emotion during the piece precedes the good duke telling her he composed the piece for her; as a reward she leans in to kiss him, her lips stopping only an inch from his.

Bocchan may be relatively content with Alice and Rob, but a member of his original family does come to visit him now and again, treating it like a special service and act of welfare on her part, but visiting him nonetheless.

Viola (Minase Inori in Adorable Squeaky Mode) may not be as overtly honest as Alice about how she feels about her brother—she wants him to break the curse so he can return home—but it’s clear that unlike her mother she does care.

When a black cat appears in the mansion, Bocchan is terrified, not because he’s scared of cats but because he’s scared of killing it if it touches him. So he runs from the cat, Rob mistakes him for the cat, and Alice makes much of the fact the cat tore her dress in just such a way.

They find a note with that cat—”Forgive Me”—that Bocchan takes to mean it was abandoned, as he was. As for me, I wondered if that black cat wasn’t sent by the witch as a messenger; maybe the curse wasn’t intentional? It would explain why it was cast upon a five-year-old boy who no one had reason to curse.

The pièce de résistance of the outing is the ending, as Alice finds Bocchan in the deserted ballroom and the two dance inches from one another under the gorgeous, massive full moon, a scene lifted from a storybook. Like the music Bocchan composes, it’s sad, beautiful, and with just enough of a touch of hopefulness.

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 01 (First Impressions) – Ducal Distancing

An young duke (or Bocchan) is cursed by a witch at age five to bring death to any living thing he touches, like the Grim Reaper, AKA Death. He is shunned by his family and exiled to a villa in the woods. His only companion is Alice, the daughter of the head maid who grew up with Bocchan. There’s also a butler, he doesn’t show up in this first episode—bad back!

While everyone is scared of Bocchan and thinks him a monster, only Alice (and presumably the butler) treats him like an ordinary guy. She is absolutely fearless in how close she gets to him, and loves to toy with him by presenting her ample bust or garterbelts because of his innocent reactions.

But behind the playful and occasionally raunchy teasing, there’s genuine affection and devotion behind everything Alice says and does that has nothing to due with the fact she’s a family employee. She is happy when their old childhood friend Phillip shows up, but even when it goes predictably pear-shaped, Alice flatly refuses Philips’s offer to get her a “safer” job, while Bocchan forbids Phillip to disrespect her.

Bocchan has his issues—he’s a little traumatized during every meal due to the unpleasantness of meals with his family between getting the curse and being exiled—but a monster he is not; he really is just an ordinary young man who cannot be touched. Alice is hoping by being with him and treating him with love, kindness, and occasional sexual harassment, they can break his curse together, and he can do what it’s clear from the outset they both want: for him to put a ring on her finger.

As is typical of first episodes of new series that don’t introduce the whole cast at once, I enjoyed the elegance of following just Bocchan and Alice. Phillip and his four(!) bodyguards were a well-timed break from their routine, and while it wasn’t a fun experience, Phillip isn’t an altogether bad person, as he is capable of pitying Bocchan even as he fears his curse.

If you’re not a fan of CGI or canvas-textured backgrounds then this show will not be your visual cup of tea! I’ll admit the characters are a bit stiff and uncanny as they tend to be with this animation method, but like most things it grows on you. One advantage, however, is that the models remain perfectly consistent from shot to shot, and some very subtle hand gestures, body movements, and facial expressions are possible.

These subtleties are crucial in a show all about how close Alice is willing to get to Bocchan without actually touching him, and her acceptance of his wilted white rose—interpreting it through the language of flowers as swearing his whole life to her—was genuinely moving and gorgeously shot to boot. Also, Alice’s azure eyes of deepest summer are mesmerizing to the point you can see why Bocchan cherishes her so.

Hanae Natsuki and Mano Ayumi get the lion’s share of credit for bringing the characters to life and making me care about them right from the get-go. The classy Victorian aesthetic and classical score also heighten the material, while both OP and ED go pleasantly against the grain with more contemporary music and visuals.

I may have just finished a show about a girl teasing a guy, but that turned out to be way more heartwarming and profound than I expected, and I foresee enjoying this new take on the formula as well.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – 12 – Crushmore

Don’t let the punny review title mislead you; this episode did indeed crush me emotionally, just as it emotionally crushed Fushi and Rean and physically crushed poor Big Gugu. From the moment the outcropping balcony crumbled from beneath him, I knew this would probably be the final act of the Gugu Arc.

It’s funny how when I first met Gugu and later Rean that I couldn’t imagine becoming as attached to them as I did March and Parona…but here we are. Such is the power of To Your Eternity’s straightforward yet compelling storytelling and beautiful character development.

Proving he is and always has been a good orb thingy and friend to humanity (heck, for four years he was a human), it only takes a moment after he is warned by his Creator to transform into his Giant Bear form in order to buy Rean’s party guests time to escape the crumbling mansion.

Also, in what is a nice touch, Gugu is rescued by a group of people brought by Rean, including her own husband-to-be. But not before one of the Nokker’s weird flesh tentacles sticks itself into his armpit and does…something, and whatever it is it can’t be good.

No sooner is Gugu saved than he runs into the wrecked mansion where Fushi is still holding on for the sake of Rean’s injured parents, who Gugu snatches up and takes to safety. Rean wants the boy she loves to stay with her from that point on, but Gugu breaks free from her grip; he has a brother to help, and Fushi, now back in his original younger Snow Boy form, is happy for the help.

That’s because he has no idea how to beat the Nokker this time. His creator didn’t bother him when he was determined to live as a human, but that turned out to be a two-sided coin: Fushi wasn’t ready for the Nokker’s new tricks, and the delay nin dealing with said Nokker costs him dearly.

At first, even Gugu’s new flamethrower mask can’t penetrate the Nokker’s stone armor, but with some help from March!Fushi and a steady supply of conjured spears, he’s able to open a crack in the armor large enough to shoot his booze flames, shocking the Nokker.

Unfortunately, he only made the Nokker mad, because it returns as a stone Giant Bear arm, plucks March!Fushi from the rubble, and squashes him like a bug, stealing the March form from Fushi once again. Just as the Nokker is about to crush Gugu, Rean leaps out of nowhere to push them both out of the way, paying him back for the now two times he did the same to save her.

As Fushi comes to in Snow Boy form, he realizes he is feeling pain, but it’s not his own, it’s Gugu’s. Whether due to their familial bond, the Nokker’s armpit injection, or both, Fushi can feel what Gugu feels…and it’s not good. Gugu’s broad back and trunk-like arms are the only things keeping untold amounts of rubble from crushing Rean to death.

It’s a situation that ironically and heartbreakingly traps the two in what is physically a very romantic and intimate position. Gugu takes the time to reassure Rean, even as blood starts to drip from his open mask. She sits up to kiss his face. He tells her he loves her. Then he dies, but we don’t see the moment it happens. Instead, we know it to be true for a fact because Fushi transforms into him.

Despite being distraught over losing his brother and best friend, Fushi wastes no time using his new Gugu form to fight the Nokker, blasting it repeatedly with flames and eventually getting it to leap into the ocean to chase him, where it eventually self-destructs, leaving only the weak, squishy core to slither away into the depths.

Fushi’s Creator appears to tell him which way the Nokker went, and tells him to go after it. He doesn’t, and once again the Creator doesn’t force him to do anything, though he does ask if it’s really already for the Nokker to make off with “a part of him”. Right now that doesn’t matter to Fushi, who has already lost a part of himself in Gugu, who died saving Rean’s life one more time.

In a scene reminiscent of Adult March after she died, Gugu finds that his face has healed and he has reunited with everyone: Booze Man, Pioran, Rean, Shin…but wonders where Fushi is. That’s when the illusion crumbles. After his soul spends a little while longer with a distraught Fushi, telling him he has no regrets, Rean runs back to the Booze Man’s house as soon as she’s healed from her injuries.

Fushi panics, not wanting to appear as the younger Fushi before Rean, but with his March form stolen by the Nokker the only other human form he can assume is Gugu. Rean mistakes him for the real thing and tells him she loves him. After they share a hug, and Fushi wonders Why am I me? Rean asks where Fushi is, and Gugu!Fushi tells her he died.

Booze Man, who already knew Fushi would be taking his leave in order to protect them from his enemies, prepares some food and money for him, and while Rean is told Gugu is only “going shopping”, a part of her surely realizes this is the last time she’ll see him, as much as she doesn’t want that to be so. So she’s glad when he refuses to take her ring back from her, as he tells her to keep it so she’ll always remember him.

A little later, Rean’s father finds her lying out in the field of purple flowers she and Gugu promised to pick together. She tells her father she won’t be getting married, because she’s in love with someone. That someone isn’t around anymore, but she’s sure Fushi is with him.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED