Astra Lost in Space – 06 – U for Vendetta

Each mortal threat the young crew of the Astra has faced falls into one of two main categories: threats from without—be they the perils of space or the planets they visit—and threats from within—i.e., the unknown enemy among them who sabotaged their comms and is believed to be on a suicide mission to wipe the rest of them out.

Last week’s cliffhanger of Ulgar pulling a gun on Luca fits in the first category, but not at all the way I expected. Perhaps I was too naive to so quickly conclude Ulgar was the aforementioned enemy, because he isn’t: his quarrel is personal and is with Luca alone—or rather, with the Esposito political family of whom Luca is the eldest son and heir.

During a long monologue with flashbacks to his past that rather kill the momentum and urgency of the standoff, Ulgar tells everyone about his belief that Luca’s father killed his brother, a freelance journalist and the only person in Ulgar’s family who was actually kind to him. Killing Luca is about revenge; about getting Luca’s dad to feel how Ulgar felt when he lost his brother.

There are multiple problems with Ulgar’s position, not least of which the complete lack of evidence that Marco Esposito had anything to do with his brother’s death. But Luca also tells him that killing him won’t change anything, because he’s not the heir; his younger brother is. When Ulgar accuses him of lying to save his skin, Luca disrobes and reveals that he’s intersex.

As the member of a family that values strong male heirs above all, as soon as Luca’s younger brother was born and the truth of his intersexuality was discovered, he became persona non grata, and his brother was named the heir instead. So Luca knows all too well Ulgar’s pain and isolation. Hell, he probably knows it much better than Ulgar. Luca wishes that killing him would make his dad sad. With that, Ulgar drops the gun and the standoff ends.

Naturally, this being Kanata no Astra, it isn’t one minute after one threat is extinguished than another arrives, of the external variety: a massive tsunami that may or may not be an homage to the famous giant wave scene in Interstellar.

Everyone rushes aboard, but Ulgar and Luca are furthest from the ship, and Kanata isn’t able to grab them when the wave arrives. Still, the fact the three of them survived at all indicates the wave was not as huge as it initially looked, even though it appears to swallow up the entire sandbar on which the Astra had landed.

Despite Ulgar having just pointed a gun at him, Luca doesn’t hesitate to extend a helping hand to him, now that he’s confirmed through telling him more about himself that the two are more alike than different and actually friends whether Ulgar knew it or not. But Ulgar lets go rather than let Luca use the last of his strength trying to save them both.

Fortunately, Ulgar’s sacrificial move doesn’t end up costing him his life, as Kanata is lowered down to the water’s surface via bungee cord. With no further earthquakes or tsunamis, Ulgar, Luca, and the rest of the crew are safe and sound.

Ulgar apologizes to Luca and the rest of the crew, and Luca even teases him a bit by acting a little more feminine. Ulgar (rather abruptly) decides that he’s decided to become a journalist like his brother, perhaps a path that had up to that point obscured by his blind desire for revenge. He’s going to find the truth about Marco Esposito. Zack, for one, wonders if it wasn’t simple political corruption Ulgar’s bro found, but something much bigger … maybe even something worth sending them all into space.

Having weathered one big internal and one big external threat, you’d think the crew could enjoy the rest of the episode in peace without further problems, but alas. Since it’s feeling more likely to Aries that Kanata is far too dumb to realize she likes him, she decides to learn more about Charce, and asks a seemingly harmless question about what classes he was in. Charce says he was in biology, but Aries was in that class too; if Charce was in it, she’d remember, what with her photographic memory.

So the episode ends with the prospect of Charce being the enemy. But after what happened with Ulgar, such possibility should be taken with a sizable grain of salt (that is, won’t get fooled again). For one, would someone who’s so carefully blended in make so blatant an error as saying he was in a class he wasn’t actually in? Maybe Aries’ memory is messed up. Maybe Charce is being framed somehow. Heck, even Aries could be the damn enemy. So we’ll see.

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Astra Lost in Space – 05 – The Kids Are Alright…Right??

Even after last week’s harrowing ordeal, the crew is not yet ready to pack up and leave Shummoor—not until they’ve gathered enough food. Thanks to a successful hunch from Charce, they learn that the pole trees, once their nemesis, are actually the yummiest food on the planet, and with the stores filled, the Astra departs from Planet #2.

The crew are also grateful to Yunhua, whose voice had both physical and psychological healing effects for all who were poisoned. That gratitude quickly shifts to straight-up admiration when they learn she’s the daughter of the superstar singer Lucy Lum. She then enlists Luca to give her a haircut, and Quitterie bristles as all the guys swoon.

Meanwhile, back home, Aries’ mom Emma listens to her daughter’s last video message to her, saying all is well—and probably isn’t watching it for the first time. It’s been over forty days since Team B5 was last seen on McPa, and Ulgar’s father has gathered all the other parents to decide whether to call off the search and declare their children permanently lost.

Emma is not ready to make that determination, and even correctly conjectures that the reason there’s neither remains nor luggage on McPa is because their kids are somewhere in space, still alive. But many of the parents are past the “denial” phase of loss (or don’t love their kids as much as her) and are ready to give up.

Meanwhile, at the very same time, many thousands of light years away, not only are their kids perfectly fine…they’re living it up on a tropical beach.

Planet #3 is Arispade – which is 99% water with one tiny islet that features a wealth of food and a sugar-white beach on which to break out and show off one’s swimsuit. It’s paradise. It’s so paradise, Quitterie almost loses it; after all they’ve been through, why are things suddenly so easy and comfortable that she can totally see herself living out the rest of her days on that beach?

Since this is, in fact, Kanata no Astra‘s beach episode, it wastes no time delivering the goods, as Quitterie insists on comparing boob sizes with Aries and Yunhua, and also assures Aries she’ll have no problem attracting Captain Kanata with her “spicy” bikini. The implication flusters Aries.

Back on the ship, there’s more good slice-of-life, with Quitterie pressing her attack upon Aries, urging her to go ask Kanata out, or at least find out if he already has a boyfriend. Aries actually musters the courage to ask him if he’s popular with girls (he says he’s popular with “all humans”) and then asks if he has a girlfriend (he says all girls are his friends). Neither Aries or Quitterie are happy with Kanata’s lame replies. Quitterie exacts swift punishment by sticking Kanata’s toothbrush up his nose; Aries goes to bed early; dejected.

Meanwhile, Luca thinks he’s making progress becoming friends with Ulgar, having fashioned a bow, arrow, and fishing poles for him to do what he apparently does best: shoot and hunt. Yet Ulgar remains aloof and hostile, and becomes…something else entirely when he learns that Luca’s last name is Esposito, and that he’s the son of a senator back home.

Ulgar’s reaction—like a switch had been flipped in his head, combined with the image of the gun we saw a couple weeks back, spell nothing but dread for the final scene of the episode, an otherwise placid sunset repast among the crew members, with only one person absent: Ulgar.

After waxing romantic about the time they have and how neither photos nor medically secured memories will ever adequately convey the emotions they’ve felt in the last fifty-or-so days, and Luca remarks that he doesn’t even believe there’s an enemy among them, that enemy finally reveals himself, and points his gun at Luca’s head, warning he’ll shoot if he moves.

And that my friends is how you go from a solid “8” episode that lacked any danger or difficulty for twenty-two minutes, to a solid “9” in the twenty-third. The good-old cliffhanger. It doesn’t even matter if the most likely of the crew to be the bad guy is the bad guy (unless he isn’t, and there are more twists afoot); that was marvelously done.

Fire Force – 02 – About All Any of Them Can Do

With the Rookie Fire Soldier Games coming up, Captain Oubi has high hopes for young Shinra. But he’s not the only rookie assigned to Company 8. That’s right, it’s the Rival/Friend His Own Age Who Is More Like Him Than Not, Arthur Boyle, the self-proclaimed “Knight King.”

Maki and Iris are enjoying the nice day on the roof when the two prepare to go at it, but Lt. Hinawa puts an end to both Maki’s idle fire manipulation (technically against regs, but he’s a stickler) and the attempted duel. Instead, he rearranges the fight so Shinra and Arthur have to go up against their senpai Maki.

While both third-gens are unconcerned about taking on a second-gen, Maki’s military training, experience, wonderful muscles, and most important, her ability to manipulate the flames of others means both guys end up taking quick losses.

Maki may be a little self conscious about her “ogre gorilla” alter-persona, but there’s no doubting her toughness despite not being the latest generation of pyrokineticist. If Shinra’s a devil and Arthur a knight, she’s a witch—and a very accomplished one, at that.

Taken down a few pegs, Shinra and Arthur shift their battle to see who can eat the ramen Oubi treated them to faster…which is not the point of eating delish ramen. There’s also a mention of how much gear a non-user like the captain has to wear (and Hinawa has to maintain) for the job, while Arthur’s Excalibur and Shinra’ feet and Type 7 ax are sufficient for them. Speaking of which, the alarm sounds and the now five-person Company 8 answers the call.

The scene is eerily quiet but the Infernal is inside, the father of a girl who already lost her mother to “infernalization,” and dreads being next as a matter of genes (though it could just be a coincidence). When Shinra and Arthur take out their weapons in public, they are scolded by Oubi. The Infernal they’re about to fight was a human, with family. It’s not a glorious battle, but a solemn funeral. If the rookies think otherwise, they can leave the 8.

Oubi is proven right when they enter the house and find the girl’s infernalized father just sitting quietly at the table, the shrine of his wife nearby. Shinra wonders why they should attack an Infernal that isn’t doing anything, but Arthur corrects him: the person sitting there is in tremendous pain, and they must put him out of his misery.

As Iris says the prayer, all it takes is a single quick strike form behind with Arthur’s plasma sword to send the father to rest. A quick and dignified end, but no consolation for his daughter as she never saw it.

Before they went in, a cloud of flames above the house formed into a smirk, and after they defeat the Infernal, the house inexplicably comes tumbling down; fortunately Oubi is tough and isn’t injured, but he and Hinawa immediately suspect a third party that’s messing with their duties. Indeed there is someone outside among the crowd, who leaves smoke letters in the sky reading “Joker.” Huh.

Meanwhile, Oubi completes his duties by doing what he can to comfort the surviving daughter in her time of greatest despair. He posits that because his parents protected her so thoroughly from the flames, she’ll be safe form now on, even if they’re gone. The fire soldiers didn’t fight a battle this week; the Infernals did, for the sake of their daughter, and they won, because she’s still alive.

Neither Shinra nor Arthur can sleep that night (obviously they were assigned the same bunk bed), realizing that the academy could not prepare them for the most terrifying part of being a fire soldier: getting accustomed to what they do. But as much as they snipe and sneer at nip at each other, they’ve perhaps started to realize that they’d rather have one another by their side than not, to help deal with those solemn times.

Carole & Tuesday – 13 – Army of Two Steps Back

I’m not sure why every episode of Carole & Tuesday needs to begin by reminding us about the “Miraculous Seven Minutes” that haven’t happened yet, as if we forgot. We get it: they’ll set it into motion! It will change Mars forever! Shut up about it, would ya?!

For now, all C&T get for not winning, but also not quite losing, Mars Brightest is a lot of notoriety, not all of it welcome. They muddle through talk shows and interviews, while Angela, owner of a new contract with a 20 million Woolong singing bonus, has already released her first single.

It features such stirring slogans as “breaking chains”, “keep moving”, “taking control”, “today’s a new day”, and “find my heaven,” collections of words no one has ever thought to put together before! New day, same crappy lyrics.

C&T’s new fame is earning them zero Woolongs but plenty of headaches. At a laundromat, Tuesday is surrounded by brusque gents, and is only saved further harassment by the intervention of a fellow clothes-washer who is probably Carole’s long-lost father (or at least, we’re supposed to wonder if that’s who he is).

When Gus and Dahlia cross paths, they’re all smiles and passive aggression, but Angela cuts through the crap: C&T better get their heads out of the clouds and start making hits soon, or else she’s going to leave them in the dust come Mars Grammy time. Heck, she’ll probably leave them in the dust anyway, but like Mars Brightest, she still wants a fair fight.

There’s nothing fair about the contract meeting at Brightest Records, the studio run by Catherine. As Tuesday’s suddenly very Trump-like mom starts talking about deporting illegal immigrants (which makes one ask the uncomfortable, what exactly is Carole’s official immigration status?) Gus rejects Cathy’s offer without consulting the girls, taking money out pockets and food out of their mouths without any guarantee of alternate sources of income.

Daddy Gus has simply decided, unilaterally, that C&T are going to be an indie group, selling their songs online to “boost their commercial value” and make their negotiating position better. And the girls just…allow it. It’s baffling; they’re just not developed enough as a group to be turning down reasonable offers; not when it’s really past time they started, you know, earning money to “live” and “eat”.

And don’t get me started on Gus dragging them to the rougher side of town to play an impromptu concert no one there asked for, all to lure out a “genius producer” who loves swinging a goddamned ax around. But hey, I guess it will all work out. Those Miraculous Seven Minutes are coming, or so they say! I just don’t know if I’m going to make it there…

Vinland Saga – 03 – It’ll Pull You In

Askeladd immediately shows both Floki and us what kind of dudes we’re dealing with, as he manages to double the bounty for Thors’ head from five to ten pounds of gold. Floki is a very shrewd man with good instincts, but he also has a solid right-hand-man in Bjorn, who spears a Jomsviking who was hiding behind a tapestry and passes it off as an innocent accident.

As for Thors, he doesn’t leave at the break of dawn, but is seen off by the whole village. Before they leave, all five of the young men he’s bringing along have designs on asking Ylva for her hand in marriage upon their return and presenting her with spoils of war; all Ylva wants is a little more shuteye.

When a young lass who likes Ari (one of the guys who tried to propose to Ylva) is cruelly rebuffed, Leif assures her none of the five greenhorn lads will come to any harm; Thors will see to it they’re dumped off in Norway before they see any battle, and Leif promises he’ll ship them back to Iceland, disappointed, but with their organs still very much internal.

Seemingly the only member of the village not seeing them off is Thorfinn, who is nowhere to be found and presumed by both Thors and Ylva to still be off skulking, angry about being scolded. We get a little more comedy when the five guys line up on one side of the boat, while Thors is on the other side all on his own with one hell of a huge oar. Leif bangs out the pace on the drum, and the ships are off.

It isn’t until they’re already out in the open sea that Thorfinn reveals he stowed away. While peeing over the side (he really needed to pee) he suddenly notices where he is, and his smile is so wide and bright, Thors can’t help but smile back, despite the fact his son just ruined his plans to try to keep him safe.

He later paints Finn’s back door red for his insolence (pretty tame discipline from a viking in the 11th century), as the gears turn in Askeladd’s head. He chats with Bjorn about the bounty deal not seeming quite right; he’s quite sure Floki reached out to them independently and his superior didn’t order Thors’ execution.

Askeladd also believes Floki is afraid of incurring a great loss of his own men, and so hired someone else. This tells Askeladd that this Thors fellow shouldn’t be a pushover, even if Floki says he’s “not a warrior” anymore.

As night falls, Thors warns Ari not to stare at the moon in the sea, lest it “pull him in,” a common nautical hazard. As Thorfinn dozes contently in his lap, Thors tells Ari more about his first child, the woman Ari says he’s in love with.

It was a difficult birth for Helga, the daughter of the leader of the Jomsvikings, but Thors was about to head out on another mission, and was annoyed he got a daughter instead of a son. He’s about to leave when Helga asks him to name her.

He says he’s “busy”, but Helga insists—the first time he ever saw her truly angry. So he named her Ylva, after his mother. And that, he tells Ari, was the first time he started to feel afraid of battle…which makes sense, as dying in battle meant abandoning his newborn child and wife to an uncertain future.

The next day they arrive at the Faroe Islands—the usual rest stop between Iceland and Scandinavia. They row into a cove that leads to a trading village, but the high walls immediately spell foreboding, and Leif notes that there are fewer structures in the village itself.

By the time they start rowing out of the cove, it’s to late—Askeladd’s men start dumping huge piles of debris onto their ships, blocking their only exit. Then another drum can be heard: the drum of Askeladd’s two ships rowing towards them.

Ari and the other men bristle and claim to be ready for battle, but Thors knows better; the boys will be no match for these hardened foes. So he takes a deep, “I’m getting too old for this shit” breath, pulls out his sword, and hands his dagger to Thorfinn, warning him only to use it in time of absolute need.

Before Askeladd’s men know it, Thors has leapt onto one of their ships. He takes out the first man with one punch, two others with two more, and then three with three; six skilled men downed without even drawing his sword. It’s then that Bjorn and Askeladd know: they’re going to have to work their asses off to earn every ounce of that gold.

Each of the first three Vinland Sagas have been very different affairs—from an introduction to Thors and Thorfinn and live in Iceland, to the arrival of a new old threat, to the swashbuckling adventure that begins in this episode. But all three of kicked all kinds of ass in their own way.

Like Thors himself, it doesn’t glamorize violence or killing, and Ari and his four hotshot friends are presented as the naive fools they are. As for Thorfinn, he may not have pissed himself while hiding in that barrel, but yeah…he’s now somewhere that’s absolutely no place for a six-year-old. I just can’t see how this ends well for anyone…but nor dare I look away.

Vinland Saga – 02 – Nobody Has Enemies, but Everybody Loves War

As the English launch an ambush on their Danish occupiers during their Saturday bath (note to self: switch up bath days for this very reason) in Northumbria—slaughtering men, women and children indiscriminately—the children in Thors’ village, Thorfinn inluded, participate in mock battles using blunted wooden swords and spears.

It’s a simple but effective juxtaposition of the ideation of war as a grand, noble, and honorable venture, and all it really boils down to: people ending the lives of other people, often without even the slightest hint of grandeur, honor, or nobility.

Thors ended many lives as a warrior, but those days would seem to be over, as he now takes smithing classes not to make weapons, but to make cooking pots. But his old comrades, the elite Jomvikings, have other ideas. A warship captained by Floki land at the village, their mere presence a transparent threat.

It’s revealed Thors essentially deserted when he jumped into the ocean and cast away his sword. The Jomsvikings don’t take kindly to desertion, but they’re giving Thors one chance to repent because he is a skilled warrior. Floki gives him an offer he dare not refuse, because now that they know of his village, it’s the villagers—and his family—who will suffer if he does.

As Floki makes the announcement that Thors has agreed to join their campaign and will need volunteers to crew his warship, the entire village erupts into celebration: finally, a war! But the only one who has actually seen war—Thors—is the very picture of gloom.

As they drag the village warship out of mothballs and prep her for the voyage to Jomsberg, Thorfinn gets a bit overzealous during the mock battles, injuring a couple of kids four to five years older than him, breaking one of their arms with his wooden sword.

When he gets home he tosses that sword aside, because he wants—he thinks he needs—a real weapon. Snooping around the storage room, he soon finds a stately chest, full of Thors’ old regalia and weapons (minus the sword he tossed).

When Thorfinn takes a dagger in his hand, unsheathes it, and holds it up to the light to admire, his father’s huge hand closes upon it, as powerful and concise an image as Vinland Saga has conjured thus far. Thors isn’t the kind of dad to rage or even raise his voice to his kids, so when he asks his son who he plans to kill with these weapons, it carries even more weight.

Thorfinn, all naivete and bluster, says he plans to kill “the enemy,” but Thors asks him who that is, knowing he has no idea. In his many brutal bloody battles, Thors gradually learned that fighting and killing is ultimately pointless, which is why he cast it aside. But his son has already been influenced by his peers and by the presence of the Jomsvikings.

Thorfinn also thinks his father is being hypocritical, as he’s heading out to war. Never does it occur to him that he shouldn’t be thinking about fighting in any battles anyway simply because…he’s six damn years old.

As Helga stoically cleans the dagger wound on his hand, Thors tells her to take care of Thorfinn. The next morning, Leif, who is joining Thors, tells him the conditions are right to begin the voyage, and Thors takes one last look at his sleeping son before departing.

Meanwhile, on one of the Faroe Islands, Floki is meeting with someone named Askeladd, who has been contracted by the Jomsvikings to kill Thors, in exchange for five pounds of gold. Thors is sailing into a trap, to his death, and there’s no guarantee the village will be left alone if and when he’s taken out.

The question is, is he as reluctant and morose about having to mobilize simply because he thought he was done with this shit…or because he knows it’s a trap, has no choice but to sail into it, and can no longer guarantee his family’s safety?

Vinland Saga – 01 (First Impressions) – Hard Times in a Hard Land

Fresh off the heels of Attack on Titan’s third season, Wit Studio brings us something just as harsh and bleak and serious, but with its roots in real history; specifically, Vikings. We’re immediately thrust into a melee aboard a longship in the middle of a huge naval battle, as the stoic warrior Thors is rudely awakened from a pleasant daydream of greener pastures and his wife Helga by an attacking foe.

Thors easily defeats his opponent, then carves through dozens more in a very businesslike fasion before anyone lays a finger on him—or in this case, an arrow to his shoulder. Still, he pulls a warrior into the freezing sea with him to even the odds, kills him, and eventually comes ashore, none the worse for wear. The battle is an impressive display of mixed 2D and 3D animation, particularly the sudden storm of hail.

Fifteen years later, in the harsh colds of Iceland, Thors lives with his wife Helga, his daughter Ylva, and his young son Thorfinn, who longs to go on adventures like another village member, the gregarious Leif Erikson (who discovered North America, which he called Vinland, half a millennium before Columbus).

Donning a headpiece and smoking a pipe from the natives he met, Erikson evokes both awe and skepticism from the kids, but Thorfinn is mostly among the former. He doesn’t like Iceland, and would rather be anywhere. I can’t blame him; while an achingly gorgeous land, surviving there is a constant battle, and the spirit of a warrior like his dad Thors is paramount in such an exercise.

As Thors talks with Leif long into the night about the worsening winters in Greenland and Iceland, and how his family’s battles are only going to get tougher, Thorfinn dreams of captaining a grand longship on a westward journey.

Unfortunately they run into the legendary Jormungand, who proceeds to squeeze Thorfinn until he awakes. Turns out Jormungand was Ylva, sharing his warm bed (a “hot” commodity in such a cold land). Vinland Saga wastes no time showing that while life is hard, this family has endured by sticking together.

Ylva, it seems, would still prefer if they bought a slave, since her mother has grown weaker, something to which her dad seems morally opposed. But when she falls off the roof they’re clearing of snow (a scary moment), she lands on something strange, and after some digging, she finds a runaway slave.

Meanwhile, Thorfinn, probably not doing his fair share of chores considering he’s just hanging around Leif, wants to start adventuring at once, not waiting until he grows into a man. Leif warns him of the dangers of the sea, particularly so far north, and how he was once the only survivor out of a crew of seven whose ship was crushed by ice floes.

When Thorfinn asks why they all live in such a hard place, Leif doesn’t sugarcoat it: their forbears once lived in Norway, but when a king rose there and demanded the people choose fealty or exile, they left. Thorfinn is angered and doesn’t believe Leif, seeing this fleeing of his ancestors as cowardly.

The slave gains consciousness after Thors warms him by the fire gives him a kind of primitive CPR, and is awake long enough to tell him he doesn’t want to go back to Halfdan’s household. We soon learn why when Halfdan suddenly shows up at the village, causing a standoff. Still, the chain-obsessed Halfdan is looking for a slave, not a fight, so even when one of his own men tries to attack a villager, he flays the skin from his face himself. Talk about lawful evil…

Upon entering Thors’ house, he demands they return the slave to him. Thors offers to buy the slave instead, for more than Halfdan paid for him—over four times more, when the negotiations conclude. The whole time, Ylva can’t believe her dad is making such a deal, which isn’t a good one in any century.

Sure enough, the slave dies soon after the deal is struck, leaving Thors’ family short eight goats. But I know why Thors did it. The slave had already suffered enough, and Thors wasn’t going to be the one to return him to his earthly torments. Better to die peacefully, which is what he did. It was a bad deal, but it was the right thing to do.

That night, as the family watches the Northern Lights from a dramatic promontory (it really is a shockingly gorgeous land), presumably after burying the slave, Thorfinn asks his dad if Leif was telling the truth about their people running away. Thors quietly confirms that “that’s what they say.” To which Thorfinn asks, if one wanted to run away from here, where would they go?

The answer, it seems, will likely drive Thorfinn from this sleepy, cold, and often cruel village, no doubt after whoever is smirking in a longship attacks his village…at least that seems to be the likeliest sequence of events. Not being well-versed in Norse history (and never having read the manga), his journey will be new to me.

While a mostly quiet and understated beginning, Vinland Saga built a strong foundation for the coming twenty-three episodes (the following two of which I will review soon) by showing us Thorfinn’s roots, and why his wanderlust is so strong. I can assure you if Leif Erickson regailed us with tales of his travels every night, I’d probably want to head out too.

Carole & Tuesday – 12 – Setting the Stage to Stardom

As a dejected Carole tells Gus and Roddy what just happened, Tuesday is briefly scolded by her mother upon returning to her mansion. Her mom couldn’t give to shits about her beyond how her actions reflect on her, and she basically says as much before locking her daughter in her room for a week.

You’d think for a politician worried about the scandal of a runaway daughter, subjecting that daughter to solitary confinement might not be the best look! Anyway, what follows is an effective montage of the two girls suddenly ripped apart becoming more and more morose. They are both The Loneliest Girl all over again.

Gus, who had a similar falling-out with a loved one that in hindsight he believes he could have salvaged, offers some sage advice to Carole about not letting things fester too long without making amends. Carole, eating her feelings in the form of a double Whopper, is way ahead of him: She needs Tues, and she thinks Tues needs her. Gus agrees, which means it’s time to plan the rescue mission—which, yes, may technically involve kidnapping!

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s only non-robot visitor is Spencer, who is as supportive as Gus about getting the duo back together, and letting his sister pursue her dreams. He reveals to her he saw her in the club, and while he admits he never thought his sis was capable of running away to the big city or getting into music, he can relate (having once pursued music but gave up, likely under pressure from mom).

I like Spencer. He’s a good brother! He didn’t give in to their domineering mother when it mattered most. Mom’s too self-involved and distracted by politics and toy boys to realize her hold on him is not as strong as she thinks. And while he couldn’t make it, he can tell she’s got what it takes, and so will do everything to free her from her gilded prison.

That night—the night before the finals, as Carole, Gus, Roddy take the train to Tuesday’s district—Angela is at the Artience Lab with Tao, asking him why the AI lyrics seem to be almost reading her mind. His answer is that, well, the lab itself has been reading her mind all along, as well as her body. It’s been listening and watching and writing, and perhaps even drawn out words from her subconscious she’d never be able to draw out alone.

In this regard, Angela is not a solo act, despite appearing alone on stage. Tao is her collaborator, since he’s the one who developed the AI. After getting into singing to please Dahlia, she can’t sing the final song to her Mama, so she asks Tao to indulge her and look at her and only her throughout the performance.

Tao agrees, but only this once. Like Carole and Tuesday, there’s nothing overtly or explicitly romantic in play here, but it’s also not like there’s nothing there.

The next morning, the rescue attempt, in which Spencer aids Carole, Gus and Roddy without even knowing it by unlocing her door and holding back a security robot so she can run away in her very inappropriate-for-running fancy shoes. They also catch a bit of luck when a driver in a car that’s faster than the cops recognizes them and offers them a ride to the station.

Gus and Roddy are arrested, but the mission is complete: Carole & Tuesday are on their way to their destiny. On the train, Carole apologizes to Tues for the things she said, and the two make it clear to each other that they want nothing more than to by each other’s side. Carole also finally manages to give Tues her birthday gift: a shiny acoustic guitar pin.

When the two return to Alba City, the grandeur of the first episode in which Tuesday arrives for the first time returns, only now she’s not alone and unknown, but running hand-in-hand with her new bestie as the throngs of people recognize and cheer them on. The only problem is, they’re very late; the season finale of Mars Brightest has already started, and as promised, Tao is in the back of the hall, his gaze locked on Angela.

Angie takes that gaze and runs with it, turning in another lovely performance. The vocals are good, but as usual I’m just not that impressed with the lyrics. She sings two identical verses without any change, which makes me wonder, are they that deep and sophisticated as to make Angela believe the AI was reading her mind? I don’t know, but as usual I have to grade on a curve and for this show, it’s a damn good song, well performed.

The judges agree, and are ready to crown Angela a winner until the sudden belated appearance of Carole & Tuesday. Catherine whips out the rulebook and states that any performers not present at the start of the show will be disqualified. Despite this, Carole, Tuesday, Benito, the crowd, and even Angela all compel her to allow them to perform anyway.

Since they had no time to write or practice a new song, they go with their very first song, Loneliest Girl, the song that marked the beginning of their friendship, the end of their loneliness, made them a viral sensation (thanks to Roddy) and put them on the road to musical greatness.

While we’ve heard the song a few times throughout the series, it’s never been performed so powerfully as this time, and with both this and Angela’s finals performance, Mars Brightest finally sounds and feels like a genuine reality TV competition, breaking through the walls of mere imitation.

That’s carried forward with the deliberation of the judges afterwards. Even DJ Ertegun is moved to tears! Catherine initially holds her “rules are rules” ground, but allows an exception that satisfies everyone from the crowd, to Angela (who wanted a fair-and-square fight) to Gus and Roddy (still stuck in jail): Angela is the official winner, but both acts will be permitted to make their pro debuts.

They earned it, and Angela is cordial in congratulating them. She, Carole and Tuesday have come a long way, and many challenges remain. Will their continued chilly rivalry curdle into outright hostility? Will Cybelle break out of prison and finish what she started? Will Tues’ mom take harsher measures, despite the blowback from the duo’s growing legion of fans? We’ll find out in the second half of the series. I’ll be on board!

Carole & Tuesday – 11 – Plucked from the Jaws of Success

Tuesday’s hand is badly burned, and once bandaged, she cannot play the guitar. As the MC delays by appealing to the boundless ego of Ertegun, Gus tries to find the culprit with the security cams, with no success. We know that it was Cybelle, but everyone in the show has to play catch up, which leads to more interpersonal problems.

What I didn’t know? Whether Cybelle was sicced on Tuesday by either Katie or Dahlia, whether it was egging on her anger or giving her access to the dressing room. When Katie mentions who has motive, Angela suspects her mama. but Dahlia seems too proud for that kind of trickery. Katie has been very shifty the last couple episodes, and her “dumb assistant” act seems almost too practiced.

Whent C&T take the stage, the judges immediately note Tues’ injury and lack of a guitar. Carole passes it off nicely by saying they’e going to show they’re more of a guitar-and-piano duo; which isn’t really lying, since they may well want or have to branch out without either of those instruments at some point.

Carole is also asked about being a refugee and her family. She’s not sure what she’d say if her parents were watching, just “I’m here.” There’s not much of a crowd reaction to her background, so they move on with the song. It’s…fine, again. No ear bleeding thankfully, but the lyrics are reliably trite, sparse, and poorly structured. We see Cybelle is still somewhere in the building, watching on.

Ertegun starts the judge’s review by stating that someone who gets injured just before a performance has no business being a musician, and as harsh as he sounds, he’s not wrong. If Tuesday wants to make the big time, she’s got to learn how to protect herself, speak up, say no, and be a better judge of character. Unable to do all of the above led directly to her burns.

That said, the other judges loved them, and the woman who was introduced as the Simon Cowell of the trio states that the duo “stole her heart.” All the Insta followers in the world can’t keep Pyotr from losing this one, but like GGK he’s a good sport about it, happy he gained even more followers and has a bright future.

The final, then, is set: Carole & Tuesday vs. Angela. This leads Gus, absent any hard evidence, to accuse Dahlia of sabotaging Tuesday, just as Angela initially did. But when the culprit is described as “a slender young woman”, Angela’s suspicions shift immediately to Katie, and she reams her out for doubting her ability.

Katie, who we previously see smelling Angela’s lipstick, is either a very good actor, or legitimately devastated by her favorite artist’s accusations. Thankfully, the cops find Cybelle while she’s trying to flee, all thanks, incidentally, to Roddy spotting her in one of Pyotr’s many video posts. During her perp walk, Cybelle blows up at Tuesday, telling her she got what she deserved.

Like Ertegun, Cybelle isn’t the most tactful here, but she’s right. Though even a firm rejection at the start may have caused Cybelle to go after her, leading someone like her on was playing with fire…or in this, case dry ice. Carole tells her as much outside the hospital, where Tues was told she could play again in a week.

Carole doesn’t hold back in telling Tuesday she needs to not only learn how to handle people better, but also seemed unfocused in their performance, and that perhaps her commitment is less serious because she has a big fancy home to go to if this doesn’t pan out. It’s definitely the most distant these two have been for a while.

But things could always be worse…and they become worse almost immediately after Carole’s shots are fired, as burly goons sent by Tuesday’s family roll up and roughly toss her into the car. Carole gets punched when she tries to interfere, and when she manages to jump onto the fleeing car, the driver switches to manual mode and she’s thrown from it, though she suffers no serious injuries due to good rolling form.

Still, just like that, the duo has been severed, moments after cracks started to form due to their deeply different backgrounds. The timing is horrifically cruel, almost as if it was meant to be. But as we’ve seen, Tuesday is, like a young princess out in the world, not quite equipped to survive in it, and her injured hand was clear for all the millions of viewers to see.

A lot of those viewers are voters, so it behooves Tuesday’s pragmatic mom to put her house in order. I smell a rescue mission in the works.

Fruits Basket – 08 – All is Quiet on New Year’s Day

Everyone has somewhere to be for the New Year’s holiday…everyone but Tooru, whose parents are dead and whose remaining family is off to Hawaii. Yet no matter how hard Uo and Hana try to invite them to their places, she insists she’ll be fine, and that they should spend the time with their families.

After reveling in winter cleaning with the Soumas, Tooru learns the three are headed to the main house for the big banquet and other festivities. Tooru, not being a Souma, is not invited, but she’s content to hold the fort at Shigure’s house, even though it will mean ringing in the new year all alone.

Despite her insistence she’ll be fine, Yuki and Kyou are uneasy the whole time they’re en route to the main house. They know her well enough (it’s been four months) to know she can be a bit of a space cadet, and is prone to accidents. What if she gets hurt and no one is there to help her?

Shigure finds the two young lads’ worrying about her like their baby chick to be most entertaining, and so stirs the pot by saying there’s a burglar in their neighborhood who has yet to be caught. The final straw is when they run into Saki, who very simply and concisely asks them to consider how she’s feeling all alone at their house for New Years; to put themselves in her shoes, knowing both what she’s been through.

Yuki and Kyou bump heads rushing back home to her, cursing themselves for not realizing they accepted Tooru’s polite insistence far too easily. Saying you’re fine being alone and being fine alone are not the same thing, even with Tooru. Their suspicions are confirmed when they arrive to find her holding her mother’s portrait and crying while listening to Enka music on the telly.

Wondering what the heck happened, an exhausted Yuki and Kyou collapse to the floor and say, simply, “I’m home”…and Tooru tears right back up, only they’re tears of joy. Despite always smiling on the outside, Tooru is not always happy and cheerful on the inside; the lads were right not to leave her alone on the holiday; she’s happiest when she’s with people she cares about.

Shigure meets with Hatori, Hatsuhare, and Momiji, informing them Yuki and Kyou have skipped. Hatsuhare can understand, as he himself contemplates running from things he’d rather not engage in. But Shigure tells him this wasn’t about running away from Akito (in Yuki’s case) or Kagura (in Kyou’s); not this time.

Instead, it was about running to someone, someone both in greater need and more deserving of their presence. That’s hammered home when Shigure checks in on a morose Akito. Shigure is actually glad to see the family head reaping what he sowed. Shigure is the one harboring Yuki and Kyou during their self-exile, after all; it makes sense he’d be on their side with this…situation.

Meanwhile, by spending New Years with Tooru, keeping her company, sharing mochi (and chewing carefully!), and finally climbing up the roof together to watch the gorgeous first sun rise out of the horizon, the guilt Yuki and Kyou initially felt about abandoning their formal family obligations eventually melts away.

No, Yuki and Kyou needed Tooru every bit as much as Tooru needed them. Far from being a night they’ll regret, it turns out to be a night—and morning—the three of them won’t soon forget. They get to see Tooru smile without a hint of weariness hidden behind it as she looks forward to another year with two of the four people (along with Uo and Saki) most important in her life; her real family.

Fruits Basket – 07 – On the Outside Looking In

Tooru arrives for her mysterious meeting with Hatori and is brought to her office by Momiji. Hatori doesn’t mince words: when most of the members of the Souma clan aren’t aware of the Zodiac members’ secret—only around fifty “insiders” do—it’s an “outrage” that Tooru knows, and she should leave the Soumas and never have anything to do with them again.

It seems like a classic case of trying to scare someone off by making things sound far worse than they are, but when Momiji explains why Hatori is so resolute. He once had a girlfriend named Kana, who was a Souma but an “outsider.”

They loved each other deeply, and asked Akito for permission to marry, but Akito blew up at them, resulting in Hatori being blinded in one eye by glass from a shattered mirror. Kana blamed herself, and that blame turned into an obsession and an illness. The only way Hatori could save her was by wiping her memories of loving him.

Tooru is empathetic of Hatori’s position, but doesn’t want to leave Yuki, Kyou, and Shigure, the latter of whom suspected Hatori was up to no good and comes to put Tooru’s mind at ease, as Hatori is prone to over-drama. Still, he and Momiji have New Years-related matters to attend to, so Hatori escorts Tooru back to the front gates.

While doing so, Tooru gets lost in thought and slips down some stairs, and Hatori catches her, which technically means hugging her, and transforms into his zodiac animal: a dragon. But not a big dragon; a tiny, defenseless seadragon. As Tooru rushes to get him in water, he remembers this is exactly how Kana first reacted when she learned his secret.

That takes us down memory road, to when Hatori’s ice-cold heart was warmed by Kana’s warmth. A man who neither knew nor felt he needed love suddenly found himself not just receiving it, but giving it back in return. Kana accepted him for who he was, and if anything only loved him more because of it.

Things went seriously pear-shaped when they attempted to ask for Akito’s approval, an absolute must, considering he’s the boss. But Akito sees Kana as nothing but an outsider, not someone who would do anything about “the curse.” He says a great many terrible things to Kana that day, including that she’s to blame for Hatori if he goes blind.

That sets Kana on a downward spiral that leads to her memory being wiped, which was probably what Akito was going for. I must say in my limited exposure to him I’m not a fan of Akito…but hey, I wasn’t a fan of Hatori last week and here we are, seeing him in all his humanity, passion, and tragedy. Perhaps Akito’s story is even worse than Hatori’s!

Hatori comes to on a bench beside a worried Tooru, who then runs off to find his shoes that she dropped. While she’s gone, a newly-engaged Kana walks past as her friends congratulate her. From her perspective, Hatori never loved her, but it doesn’t change the fact she finds him more handsome than the man she’s going to marry; his dream man.

Tooru returns, it starts to snow, and when Hatori asks what Kana told her, she has the same answer Kana had: when snow melts, it doesn’t simply  mean water, but that Spring is coming. Tooru reminds Hatori of Kana on more than one occasion; he just hopes she doesn’t suffer the same fate.

As for “the curse,” Tooru tries to ask Shigure about it but he demurs, stating it’s not quite time to tell her, should he choose to do so. Then again, she wasn’t supposed to learn the Soumas’ secret; perhaps she’ll learn about the curse through plain happenstance…

Fruits Basket – 06 – Not One to Ask for the Moon

After a particularly narratively and emotionally heavy episode that ends with Tooru back where she belongs, we get something much lighter, starting with the cultural festival at school, the great success of Tooru’s onigiri, and Yuki giving his upperclassmen the going-away present of cross-dressing for them.

We also meet a Souma relative somehow more annoying than Kagura (though mercifully less violent): Momiji, the pint-sized half-German who is brazen enough to hug Tooru in the middle of school and transform into his Zodiac form, the rabbit. Thankfully Yuki manages to distract the class with his charms.

We also meed Momiji’s minder, Souma Hatori, whose animal remains a mystery for now (my money’s on Ox), and who was the one who altered memories the last time Yuki’s secret was exposed to normies. Once he and Momiji are gone, Yuki laments to Tooru how unmanly it is to be called “cute”, and she can’t deny she thinks he’s cute-looking too.

Yuki throws her for a sudden dokidoki loop when he tells her he’s sure she’d look much cuter than him in his princess dress. While heading inside, Tooru is confronted by her BFFs Uotani and Hanajima, who are concerned she’s hiding something from them from the way she’s acting around the Soumas. When she says she’s living with them, she assures them there’s nothing to worry about.

Uotani and Hanajima decide to determine that for themselves, leading to an impromptu visit and sleepover at Shigure’s house. Tooru learns (and is duly #impressed) that Shigure is an author, of both “high” and “low” literature. While Tooru is grabbing some playing cards, Uotani and Hanajima wonder if they’re actually useful friends to her anymore, considering in her dire need they weren’t there to help.

Kyou and Yuki tell them she doesn’t sweat things like that, nor does she “ask the moon” of her friends. It’s more than enough for Uo and Hana to be by her side, like they were at her mom’s funeral, like they are at school, and like they are tonight at her new home. Tooru confirms this by telling them the story of her baseball cap, which a boy (that looked an awful lot like Yuki or Kyou in silhouette) gave her when she was feeling sad and lonely years ago.

After a good night’s sleep in Tooru’s awesome bed, Uo and Hana have some breakfast and give the Soumas their official approval. Not only are they kind gents (despite their spirited cat-and-rat rivalry), but they already know Tooru well, and appreciate her. Yuki and Kyou also agree that Uo and Hana can come back anytime…as long as the Souma family secret is maintained.

Speaking of which…Souma “Memory Modifier” Hatori is Tooru’s latest “Ominous End-of-Episode Phone Call,” basically ordering her to report to the main house on her next day off school to speak to him and possibly meet Akito, the family head—who admits in a scene with Shigure that he does ask the moon. Now what could they want with Tooru?

Fruits Basket – 05 – Rescuing the Princess

This episode’s cold open moved me to tears. Tooru’s grandfather has informed her that his house is sufficiently ready for them to move back in. Just like that, her new life with her unique new friends has been snatched away from her.

There’s a palpable atmosphere of gloom and emptiness to the scene in which she tells the others, before realizing she hasn’t started dinner. Then, while in the kitchen, her mom suddenly walks in the door, and she’s in her old kitchen, making dinner despite suffering a fever.

When she tells her mom she couldn’t just stay in bed while she’s working so hard, her mom simply hugs her, and says sometimes it’s okay to be discouraged or selfish, once in a while. It’s as if she almost did too good a job raising her daughter!

When the kettle whistles she’s brought back to the Souma house, and declares that no, she’s okay. It doesn’t matter if she can get discouraged, she won’t get discouraged. Gramps’ newly renovated house may well be fine; and definitely better than her tent!

But for someone who’s come so far in so short a time, it feels like moving backwards, and that she’s deferring her happiness in order to go with the flow. Trying to convince herself she and the Soumas can’t be family when they already are just that.

It’s heartbreaking and yes, tear-jerking. It remains so as she tells herself she was never the brightest bulb, hearkening back to grade school when she played in the “Fruits Basket” game that gives this series its name, and in which she was cruelly excluded by being declared an onigiri.

She declares it foolish to ever believe she could join the Fruits Basket group of Zodiac animals that is the Souma clan. But she’s wrong, you see. She’s foolish to think she was or is foolish. It’s when she’s welcomed “home”, where her grandfather can’t even get her fucking name right, when I thought to myself it can’t end this way.

I’m not alone, as a melancholy Yuki and Kyou recall all the good times they had with their dear friend Tooru, whom they allowed to depart without any resistance, and suddenly sport defiant looks on their faces. They’re on my side; they’re not gonna let it end this way.

Every second Tooru is in that hellish house with those trash people, it made my blood boil. Being asked to hurry up and unpack her meager two shopping bags of effects. Her mother’s older sister hiring a P.I. to investigate where Tooru was living to protect her son, who’s going to be a police officer and can’t have any bad apples in the family mucking that up. Calling her sister a bad seed and declaring “like mother, like daughter.” Tooru’s asshole of a cousin, leering at her while asking if the men she lived with did anything indecent.

Gramps may confuse Tooru with his daughter, but he’s still sharp enough to slap his would-be cop punk of a grandson for speaking to “Kyouko” that way, and condemning his family as a bunch of “unpleasant people”…which they most certainly are! Go Gramps! He concedes that he has to put up with them, but tells her that she doesn’t. Her late father said Kyouko deserved to live where she could “spread her wings,” so if there’s a place where she’s happier, she should go there.

Still, Tooru resists. She doesn’t deserve “more.” She has to be grateful with what she has. She’s “blessed”. She shouldn’t say “I want to go home,” and home not be her gramps’. She can’t say “I didn’t want to leave!” If she did, that would be selfish, and mean she’s too soft on herself? “Yes,” replies Yuki, suddenly in the living room, dazzling the stage.

Flashback to before his surprise appearance; he and Kyou are taking out their frustration on each other, as per ususal, with Shigure in the middle. Yuki notices the note with Tooru’s address on the table, and excuses himself to take a walk. Kyou has the same thought, but is just a step behind.

He catches up, and after walking around in circles, remember the exterior walls of the house aren’t finished. They knock on the door but no one answers, then watch the scene we just saw unfold and wait for the right time to swoop in. When that moment arrives, Yuki is there, followed closely by Kyou, who escorts her out while Yuki grabs her things and calls her cousin a lowlife.

Kyou tells her he’s been on edge since the moment she left, and now knows why: she didn’t want to leave. It’d piss him off to indulge someone’s daily selfishness, but in Tooru’s case, it’s okay once in a while, repeating the words her mother said to her. So she finally lets herself be selfish, and declares she wants to go home to where he and Yuki and Shigure are.

Yuki and Kyou take her hands and do just that. Finally, in the Fruits Basket game of her life, the onigiri has been chosen. Her new tribe may not be perfect, and their house always on the verge of being destroyed by familial strife, but she’s home, with her family, where she belongs. As the cameras pan up from the exterior of the house to the dusk sky, it’s never looked more beautiful.