The Promised Neverland – 12 (Fin) – A Nameless Song

As the kids begin their ascent up the wall, Emma informs Ray of a change in her plans: rather than rescue everyone tonight, she’s leaving all the little ones four and under behind, and is committed to coming back for them, and everyone else in the other plants, before their various shipping dates arrive. It’s a tough choice, but one that had to be made to ensure that the group of fifteen older kids survive the escape.

That’s why little Phil is with Mama as the house burns: turns out Phil is in on it, and even though he’s only four, he now understands what it means that Norman, Connie and the others were “harvested.” Emma leaves him in charge of training the next “wave”, his fellow younger kids, and getting him ready for when she returns.

But first things first, getting across that great yawning cliff. There’s another wrinkle in the plan for which Ray was kept in the dark, which meant Mama was kept in the dark: they don’t use the very obvious bridge to cross the cliff. Instead, Don heaves a stone across a narrower portion of the cliff, and the rope wraps successfully across a tree. He ziplines across, secures the other end of the rope, and secures the second and third ropes two of the kids use water rockets to launch across.

It’s a wonderful use of ingenuity and intense training, and the kids pull it off with aplomb. Phil also succeeds in distracting Mama just long enough so when she sounds the alarm the monsters go to the bridge, and when she realizes they’re not at the bridge, she doesn’t get to their location until Emma is the last person who hasn’t made the crossing. Emma flashes one last defiant look at her former Mama, and says goodbye before ziplining across. The lines are cut; Mama is beaten.

In her moment of defeat, we learn more about who Mama—who Isabella—was, thanks to a supremely affecting flashback that really humanizes her despite the monstrous things she’s done for her superiors. Isabella had a “Norman” of her own in Leslie, who played a beautiful lute and wrote a nameless song she loved. But Leslie’s shipping date came, and he said goodbye, and Isabella was devastated.

She used her ingenuity and athleticism to climb the wall, only to find the cliff and despair as Norman must have done when he first saw it. Her Mama comes to bring her back home, and eventually Isabella is given the same offer she’d later give Emma.

Only while Emma refused, Isabella accepted. She was trained to be a Sister, then a Mama, and even gave birth…to Ray. A younger Ray hums the same nameless song Leslie used to play, because Isabella hummed it when he was in the womb. Ray realizes Mama is his birth mother, asks why she gave birth to him (survival, plain and simple), and their “collaboration” continued from there.

If Leslie’s song were to ever have a title, one possibility could be “The Path Not Traveled,” as it’s the song Isabella held close and never forgot from her time as one of the same kind of kids Ray, Norman and Emma turned out to be, but it’s a song that reminds her that she chose to survive by joining the system rather than rebelling. In the end, Mama seems more proud than anything else that her beloved children outwitted her. Now that they’re beyond the wall and cliff, she wishes them good fortune.

Another title could be “The First Morning”, such as the one Emma and Ray encounter. The sun rises out of the horizon for the first time since they gained their hard-earned freedom. Seeing them silhouetted against the dawn’s light is one hell of a beautiful parting shot.

While I’m terribly worried for what might come next, or what dangers await them in the wilderness beyond, there simply wasn’t time to explore that in twelve episodes. But just the fact they managed to get out of the farm that was going to ship them off to be demon food is more than enough.

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The Promised Neverland – 11 – All Or Nothing, Now Or Never

It’s heartening to learn neither Ray nor Emma had ever truly given up on escaping, but they’re out of time, so they have to implement whatever plan they have immediately. The key is to distract and misdirect Mama so all of the kids can escape, and the best way to do that is by setting the house on fire.

But Ray knows that won’t be enough, which is why he’s been planning and working his ass off to be the most valuable pieces of meat Mama has ever raised. He’ll set himself on fire so that Mama will stay fixed on trying to save him. And while he brooks no argument from Emma, we never see him actually drop the match into the fire.

Nevertheless, Mama comes out of her office smelling burnt flesh, and finds Emma kneeling before the conflagration in the dining hall, telling her Ray’s in there. She orders an evacuation while she desperately tries to save what she can of her great prize.

She also urges Emma to get out of there, but when she turns around, Emma is already gone. When she tracks her with her watch, she discovers Emma has cut off the ear containing her tracking device. She’s off the grid, and has a huge head start.

When she meets up with the others, Ray is with them, to our surprise. Turns out Emma caught the lit match in her bare hands before it could fall on the oil. She has an alternate plan for Ray that doesn’t require his sacrifice. It’s a plan Norman gave to her, and which she distributed to everyone else bit by bit.

Norman told Emma exactly what Ray would do and how to stop him, including with a pile of meats and human hair that will smell like someone burning. The whole time Emma appeared to have lost all hope and was being comforted by the little ones, she was actually muttering to them the plan that will spring them.

When Emma reaches the wall with the others and prepares to climb, the specter of a smiling Norman pats her on the back, urging her to keep going. But Ray senses somebody is missing…and somebody is. Mama manages to escape the burning house with her radio but nothing else, but she’s determined to retrieve her beloved Emma and Ray. To her surprise, she still has a hostage—with which to lure one or both of them back—in little Phil.

After so much preparation and time-biding, the escape is finally on, and there is no going back, as the home where they used to live has been destroyed. But if I know Emma, she’s not about to leave anyone behind, and that could well lead to her ruin.

The Promised Neverland – 10 – Never Give Up, Never Surrender

With the bombshell discovery of the cliff last week, it looked like checkmate for the kids, and especially Norman, who after all was going to be shipped out the next day. That schedule is not changed, and Norman accepts his fate, much to the despair of Emma and Ray.

Norman offers them a ray of hope by noting that the complex of farms or “plants” form a hexagon, one side of which is the HQ where there’s a bridge across the cliff. But he won’t be joining them, and his mind won’t be changed. That doesn’t stop the other two from trying.

While packing for his “departure”, Norman puts only one item in his suitcase: the string telephone Ray helped Emma make years ago so she could communicate with Norman when he was sick and quarantined. Mind you, his being sick never kept Emma away, and Mama had to shoo her off more than once.

In a microcosm of the trio’s dynamic in the present, Ray’s technical know-how and Emma’s stubborn refusal to give up leads to the two ensuring Norman isn’t lonely. Norman isn’t just a friend, he’s family. Emma and Ray love the hell out of the guy. But this time there’s no string long enough to reach where he’s going.

The scene of Norman’s goodbyes is…is rough. All of the other kids are either in tears or just barely holding back, but no one is suffering his impending departure more than Emma, and she makes no attempt to hide that suffering, or to pretend she’s not going to do everything she can to stop Norman from leaving, including trying to slip him the tracking device breaker.

It takes the most explicit death threat from Mama yet (delivered chillingly quietly so only Emma can hear) for Emma to calm down and accept Norman leaving. Before they part, Norman hands her back the tracker breaker and tells her not to give up. As for Ray, he’s not even there; Norman has to come to him, and even then, Ray says nothing. They only share a parting look.

Norman and Mama’s solemn walk to the gate is another standout scene, steeped with doom, but also an odd kind of peace. Mama seems to hold Norman in genuine esteem, as the two seem to have an understanding that Emma and Ray will be treated well until the “end of the time that was decided.”

He momentarily throws Mama off when he asks her if she’s happy, but she replies that she is because she met someone like him. They reach the gate, and Mama directs him to enter a well-lit room to wait…and that’s the last we see of him. Who knows what he saw, or if it was the last thing he saw. Maybe Mama has bigger plans for him than mere food?

Emma and Ray are gutted by Norman’s loss. The three of them were inseparable, almost symbiotic, but Norman was their center; their heart; the bridge between them. The two of them don’t seem able to continue on, even with support from Don and Gilda. Ray tells them he’s “tired” and doesn’t care anymore; they can do what they like, but he’s resigned to dying there.

Emma was then the last of the trio to hold out hope and not give up, but she’s too overcome by grief to accomplish anything. Both the little kids and Mama take note of her constantly morose state, and Mama visits her in her dorm to urge her to give up, and life will be much easier. She even offers Emma a path that will allow her to become the next Mama of the house, rather than be shipped away.

Of course, Emma is never going to go back on what she promised Norman, no matter how many perks she offers (or bones she breaks). So Mama tells her fine, keep dreaming of the impossible, “writhe in agony”, and be damned.

Time passes, and the eve of Ray’s shipment date arrives. Emma wakes up and finds him singing to himself in the chapel. It’s there where both of them reveal that at least part of the way they’ve been acting around Mama, Gilda, Don, and the little ones was merely a performance; a means of lulling Mama into thinking they really did give up.

But they haven’t, as the fire in their eyes at the end of the episode proves. They seem as determined as ever, and thanks to Norman’s reconnoitering of the wall, a path to escape remains. What a fool I was to believe it was time to give up when they hadn’t; to doubt the strength of their spirit and defiance!

Mama, the demons, the system has taken so much away from these kids. It’s time to take something back from them for a change. I am here for it.

Steins;Gate 0 – 18 – What is this New Devilry

What happens this week? God, what doesn’t happen this week?! (Oh wait; sorry, “there is no God…”) But first, a couple of misconceptions I’d gathered at the end of the last outing. Mayuri is not dead; a bullet only grazed her head.

Also, Kagari/K2605 didn’t shoot her; it really was a stray from the soldiers. Far from being her attempted murderer, Kagari completely loses it on the troops in her mother’s name, lopping off their heads and shooting them with their own rifles.

When Mayuri gets a (pained) look at her future adoptive daughter, K2605 snaps out of it and becomes regular Kagari again. But nobody’s out of danger yet. Maho and Daru are still being held captive by soldiers, and the mastermind finally reveals himself, first to Rintarou, then to everyone else on that rooftop.

It’s Professor Leskinen. He, or rather numerous “hes” throughout history, are behind everything: the “voice of God” in Kagari’s head to manipulating events so Kurisu would die but her memories of the time machine would be preserved through Amadeus.

Leskinen/s have been preparing for this very day, the perfect time when competing global powers (Stratfor and DURPA) converge on the Time Machine, allowing him to swoop in and snatch it for himself.

I’m pretty sure I never suspected Leskinen was the Big Bad; only when they showed part of the face of the guy who brainwashed Kagari did I comment that he didn’t look like Leskinen. Now Judy Reyes I suspected (who drinks red wine on a plane? A little turbulence and you’re wearing it), but not the mostly harmless-seeming bad Japanese-speaking professor.

Of course, Lesky relied on the “soft-heartedness” of everyone from Maho to Rintarou to facilitate his plan, and was all too willing to appear harmless until it was too late to stop him. His reveal is a double-edged sword: there’s more clarity now to who Rintarou & Co. are up against, but “villain spends inordinate amount of time explaining his evil scheme” cliche really has been done to death.

It’s a bit disappointing to see Lesky reduced to a chortling mad scientist, but at least there’s a kind of dark symmetry with Rintarou’s long-dormant Hououin Kyouma. Oh, and thanks to wasting so much time explaining his plan, he ends up never getting to even implement it. Instead, Kagari uses her remaining strength to grab him.

He puts a couple more bullets into her but she doesn’t let go, giving Suzu time to take care of the rest. Only her dad can stop her from beating Leskinen to death. Then things get really crazy when a Black Hawk helicopter opens fire on the roof before another team of soldiers drops in.

Then an Apache helicopter shoots the Black Hawk, causing enough chaos for Mayuri to grab Suzuha and do what they originally set out to do: use the time machine. After bidding Rintarou farewell, the machine is activated and begins to glow green, but one of the helicopters fires a missile at it. There’s an explosion, and the among the resulting debris is a part of the machine.

Did Mayuri and Suzuha fail to get out in time? We don’t know for sure (just like I wasn’t sure Mayuri was killed or Kagari didn’t kill her last week). If they made it, perhaps we’ll pick up on their experience, and Mayuri will be able to undertake her first big mission as Lab Member #002.

Furthering the confusion is a lengthy text Rintarou gets from Mayuri. Is it just a text she sent in the present that simply took a while to get to him, or is it a D-mail? The timing suggests the latter.

If they didn’t make it, there’s still the Phone Microwave and Daru and Maho’s know-how (not to mention a captive Leskinen), and they’ll be making more green bananas. In either case, Rintarou & Co. are down, but far from out.

Steins;Gate 0 – 17 – Fiasco

I could say “if only Suzu had left in more of a hurry”, but “if onlys” are at the very core of Steins;Gate. The future is the product of countless “if onlys” that were combined just so. Besides, there’s an element of inevitability, such that Suzu’s departure was meant to be delayed by Mayuri, and Mayuri was meant to know everything everyone else knows.

Suzu, Daru, and Maho tell her what they know, and it confirms what she suspected: Rintarou is in this state because he lost Kurisu, whom he loved. Mayuri exclaims that she loves Okarin every bit as much as Kurisu did if not more, but loved Hououin Kyouma even more than that, even though that persona has vanished, along with any joy in Rintarou’s life.

Because she loves him so much, Mayuri cannot stand by and allow him to remain so sad. So she decides not to stop Suzuha, but to join her on her trip back to August 21 of last year, in hopes they can both find the Steins Gate World Line. Rintarou races to the rooftop to plead with Mayuri not to go, but she’s determined to, as she poetically puts it, “clear away the clouds that loom over his sky”.

By having to deal with both Mayuri and Rintarou (the latter of whom she shoots, grazing his leg). Suzuha wastes a lot of time she should be using to get out of 2011 while she still can. She even leaves Mayuri alone on the rooftop as she takes Rintarou aside to patch him up.

The cell network blackout should have been a sign—a very ominous sign—that her window for escaping to the past was becoming smaller with every passing second. Earlier in the lab, Daru, Rintarou and Maho find messages from AmaKurisu on @channel, and Maho learns that the system was hacked and Kurisu’s memory data stolen.

All of the actions and inactions, observations and failures to observe, culminate in a D-Mail being sent to Suzuha from 2025; the first of this 0 arc. It’s from the future Daru, but from a slightly different world line than the one she left. The lines diverged when Suzuha and Mayuri decided to use the time machine. But they never get to actually use it.

Instead, Mayuri is taken hostage (making her announcement back in the lab heart-breakingly prescient) and the entire rooftop is swarming with soldiers; I’m guessing the Americans. They surround Suzuha and force her to surrender, but she has one more ace up her sleeve in the form of a knife hidden in the time machine.

Suzuha goes on a mini-rampage, but there are too many soldiers to take out, and in the mean time Mayuri is badly exposed. Just steps away from the safety of the stairs, she’s shot in the head and falls lifelessly to the ground. At first I thought it was just a stray bullet—there were so many—but the headshot is the work of Mayuri’s own future daughter Kagari, AKA K2605.

Never mind “if onlys”—I can’t see how this could have possibly gone worse.

Hinamatsuri – 08 – Getting Angry at Balls

When a serious-looking woman with black boots and gloves arrives in town (fully-clothed-Terminator-style) asking Anzu for Hina’s whereabouts, it felt like the beginning of the end for Hina’s stay with Nitta…for about five minutes.

Then we learn that while Ikaruga Kei looks the part of a badass punative field officer, Anzu has to keep her from constantly taking shortcuts in her duties, and she’s terrified of clashing with Hina, who apparently destroyed a city when she lost control one day.

Ikaruga’s duties aren’t even that involved or complicated; as Anzu says, anyone could follow Hina and check off boxes that determine whether she’s still out of control (she isn’t). As for Anzu herself? When she never returned due to her travel orb getting ruined in the wash, she was declared KIA and is now free to live her best life.

Ikaruga ultimately gives up when both the novice and advanced-level questionnaires reveal Hina has changed and grown, but later reads an addendum that stipulates if she gets over a 90% score, it means she can, and should, return “home”, wherever that is; thankfully the show never says. Ikaruga also has a dog, thanks to a failed gambit to get Hina to fail a question about caring for animals.

Meanwhile, Hina continues going to school where she mostly eats and sleeps. However, despite having a broken leg she still has cleaning duty, and a classmate witnesses her using telekinesis to toss out the garbage. Not just any classmate, but Shinjou Mami, who is obsessed with magic and the occult.

Mami believes she’s made a monumental discovery, but has heard what the ominous “Organization” did to the last person to speak out about it, and so intends to tread carefully. At the end of the day, however, she just comes right out and directly confronts Hina, who does not deny her powers.

Mami quickly befriends Hina and decides to become the disciple to the master, even though Hina’s powers are non-transferrable. Watching Mami try all day to lift a rock on her own, Hina lifts it for her out of a desire to leave the riverbank since it’s getting late.

That only makes things worse for Mami, who believes she lifted the rock (and later rocks), and despite not being able to lift anything when Hina’s not around, she quickly gets full enough of herself to make a big show of her powers in class, which ends in abject failure and humiliation.

Eventually Ikaruga confronts Hina, who is celebrating her leg being healed with a big chocolate parfait, and tells her she has to go home. Hina doesn’t want to, but she’s grown to the point where she knows the value of orders, and will obey them in this case, to Ikaruga’s shock.

That means she has to drop the news to Nitta that she’s leaving, and the novelty tees she wears that say “BYEBYE” and “SAYONARA” don’t do the trick. She levitates and flies around in place until she’s nauseous trying to think of the best way.

After a brace of medical tests comes up, Nitta finally demands she tell him what’s up. He responds by taking her out for one last ikura bowl before driving her to the spot where she’ll meet with Ikaruga. Nitta is honest in his parting words, telling Hina she’s been a royal pain in the ass, but he nevertheless really enjoyed the time they had together.

That puts a rare joyful smile on Hina’s face…but she’s obviously not going anywhere. After all, the “Orb” in which she arrived at Nitta’s apartment—and in which he got stuck and had to stew in his own urine all night—was discarded (with other non-burnable trash) and is now lost and possibly destroyed. No orb, no return home.

Hina’s, and the episode’s, return to the status quo is marked when she reappears at Nitta’s to learn that he is holding a New Year “Without Hina” Party…all by himself. She interrupts the start of his explanation with a grave “NOT COOL.”

Between the sometimes lazy security chief Ikaruga and the would-be disciple Mami, we got two solid new players in this world of complex characters who each command their share of laughs with both their actions and their inner thoughts.

I also enjoyed little moments like when Anzu and Ikaruga muse on what should be done with the dog, or Mami’s mom standing in the hall. While it might well have been interesting for Hina to actually go home, by not doing so the show preserves the mystery of that place and the organization that administrates it.

I don’t mind learning how “powered” girls need the Orbs to travel…but I don’t really need to get too deep into the workings of the other world. I dig the mystique. Plus, there’s plenty to do right here on Earth.

3-gatsu no Lion – 44 (Fin) – From Darkest Depths to Highest Heights

The eight minutes that kick off 3GL’s final episode (for a while at least), in which Rei visits the Kouda household, were some of the most hauntingly beautiful, unsettling, and emotionally gutting eight minutes I’ve ever seen. He is received only by the mother, who narrates the entire segment.

Rei was always capable—more capable than her children, which is why he had to go—but she finds him even more so now; he’s become an adult. Meanwhile, Kyouko and Ayumu (seen but never heard here) continue to flounder; they remain children, seeking immediate enjoyment.

Rei’s visit confirms to Mother Kouda that it was for the best for Rei to leave, and she is grateful that he did it of his own volition. Rei was such a genuinely good boy, it was a weight the rest of the family could not bear. When she dreams of Rei being her real son, he’s a sassy layabout like the others.

I was already in tears before the OP, but this episode wasn’t done, as Rei takes Takahashi and Rina out for monja to congratulate their graduation and bid farewell to the brawny baseball kid. Going pro is no longer a dream for him, it’s a goal, and leaving the home he loves was something he had to do to achieve it.

As they talk about how there won’t be monja where Takahashi is going, and that he’ll simply bring it with him to represent March Town, it dawns on Hina that while people may move away, they remain children of the town.

As the minutes and seconds left with Takahashi tick implacably down to zero, Hina savors those remaining moments with everything she has before saying goodbye. Again I held back tears…watching her hold back tears.

Takahashi leaves for his new school the day of the cherry blossom festival, which means he’ll miss it, but Hina doesn’t see him off. For one thing, the previous night’s farewell was just fine; for another, she’s got work to do, working at the Crescent Moon food stall.

She, Akari and Gramps clean up, capitalizing on the slight remnants of the winter chill by selling hot red bean soup and dumplings. Like so much with the Kawamotos, it’s warm, tasty, cozy, and fun.

And as Hina remembers a younger, smaller Takahashi sitting on the steps with an ice cream bar in his baseball uniform, she commits to doing her best where she is, just as he’ll be doing his best farther away.

Soon thereafter, just before she starts high school, Hina decides she’s going to get her hair cut. Privately (or rather in the presence of their aunt), Akari has bittersweet pangs about Hina’s choice to give her childhood self a “proper sendoff” and take a step forward as “the new me.” Akari is sad that one stage of her little sister’s life is ending, but excited and even a little envious of the next; Hina’s “springtime of life.”

However, that first step forward seems to go horribly awry when only an older hair stylist was at the salon. Hina asked for an “adult-like bob”, but once she get it, Akari can barely contain her shock, while Gramps, in his most hilarious reaction to date, thought on first glance that Hina was the household deity. Momo thinks she looks like a kokeshi doll, while Akari asks her to pose with a box of candy.

But when’s all said and done and we get a decent look at it (from numerous intimate close-up angles) I’m in agreement with Rei’s first impression: it’s nice. It’s a really nice new look! Despite the references made by her family, she looks a little more mature and serious, especially in her new high school uniform.

The more Rei looks at it, the more he likes it…and the more embarrassed Hina gets. But let’s not forget what’s happening: the two are walking to school together! This is huge. What will his classmates think? What will they say? How will Rei and Hina handle the fact that they look like one of history’s most perfect couples, straight out of the gate?

Unfortunately, all of that must be left up to my imagination, because 3-gatsu no Lion closes the book on the life of Rei, Hina, the Kawamotos, the Koudas, and all of the shogi folk. Hopefully it will be back, but if this is truly the end of the anime, it couldn’t have ended on a higher, brighter note, rising from the sullen depths of the Kouda household.

Saekano 2 – 11 (Fin)

Megumi and Tomoya go on a date, not just because it seems like the thing to do after the rest of the harem has cleared out, but to cheer one another up. It’s clear it’s not a one-sided case of Megumi cheering Tomoya up from the look of a soundless flashback in which she reacts dramatically to Eriri’s news she’s moving on from the group.

Megumi also seems to take great joy in shopping for clothes and shoes with Tomoya around. Even if he has no fashion sense or money to speak of, his company is appreciated and their instincts—like the one to hold hands in the crowded section—are often in sync.

By the end of the trip, Tomoya is feeling much better, as is Megumi, and the former makes sure they stop by a hat store so he can get her the same white hat she was wearing when he first envisioned her as his main heroine, as thanks both for her company and for getting him glasses last time.

Megumi is touched by the gesture, and when they return to that fateful hill, she tells Tomoya “she’s not giving up”. It strikes me as having dual meaning, as she intends to move forward with the doujin group even without Eriri and Utaha…and intends to make Tomoya fall completely for her.

Tomoya agrees they should move forward, but when his laughter turns to tears of loss, she reaches out to embrace him, only to then pulls back.

Now sufficiently cheered up, cried out, and ready to move forward, Tomoya takes it upon himself to see Eriri and Utaha off, surprising them both on the platform of their train to Osaka. Their looks say it all; Eriri in particular can’t believe he’ll forgive them.

But it’s not about forgiveness at all for Tomoya; it’s about wishing his two dear and wonderfully talented friends good luck on their exciting new venture. And I don’t think he’s putting on airs—one doesn’t turn down something like Fields Chronicle, and he thinks their “god-tier” talent can make it the best ever.

This sendoff, complete with a Megumi phone call with the same positive, concilatory intent, is enough to bring Eriri, Tomoya, and even Utaha to tears. It’s a bittersweet moment, one perhaps made a bit more silly when after Eriri removes Tomoya’s glasses, intending to keep them, then leans in to kiss, it’s Utaha who steals a big, long smooth with Tomoya, and Eriri is forced to whip out her twintails for the first time in a long while. They also miss their train in the excitement.

But no matter; they’re on their way. Post-credits, Tomoya and Megumi are both on first name terms, now seniors in school, chattering away with their usual excellent chemistry and bonhomie. Then, to their surprise, Hashima Izumi appears, a recent transfer, and Tomoya understands Iori’s words about sending his sister to a place where her talents can be put to best use.

Will Izumi be the artist for Tomoya and Megumi’s game? Perhaps, but it’s a certainty that Michiru will score the music once again. Hey, remember Michiru? The show makes sure to let us know it’s in on the joke regarding her absence for the back half of the season (which, frankly, was fine).

But notably, Michiru is conversing with Eriri and Utaha, who are watching Tomoya from afar. Eriri is still enrolled in the school, but the graduated Utaha is there because “it’s a free country.” The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 14

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Shirayuki knows this visit to Tanbarun is a little suspicious, and so does everyone around her. Like Obi, who splits his time looking for the bishounen Kazuki and observing how Shirayuki is taking her sudden orders.

Naturally, she’s working as hard as she can to learn enough about dancing, etiquette, and comportment in order to not bring shame upon Clarines during her visit. Whatever plot, if any, has been hatched, it’s starting with a gentle whisper, rather than a bang, which if anything, is more unsettling, considering how many times Shirayuki has found herself captured by someone.

But maybe there isn’t a plot…right? (No, there definitely is.) But theoretically, if there weren’t one, Shirayuki wants to take advantage of this opportunity anyway. She’s also heard Raj is a “new man”; and I’m as curious as she is to see if that’s true.

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As for Zen, well, he’s pretty sore about the whole thing, but like Shirayuki, keeps himself busy with palace and state matters, and whenever he’s not, he’s sparring with himself, in order to vent his frustration. I enjoy watching his entourage watch and comment on their master, who is more than just their master.

More and more since he became a permanent member of the posse, Obi seems like he’s cultivating a little bit of a crush on Shirayuki, or otherwise wants to be close to and protect her. That would make his master his rival for her affections.

Even if he suspects he has little chance against what the two lovebirds have, he’ll do what he can, like beat Zen in a match (proving how tough he is even unarmed), and granting his permission to accompany Shirayuki instead of Mitsuhide.

And I like this development. Mitsuhide, bless him, is too stiff for this trip. Shirayuki and Obi’s chemistry, while perhaps not as magnetic as her and Zen, has its own strange-but not-in-bad-way energy; not to mention the show is pushing the suspicion that Obi likes her, not Mitsu.

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If Obi had been peeping in the windows of the palace wing where Shirayuki is boarding, he might’ve seen just how steep a hill he’d have to climb to change Shirayuki’s heart. For the first time in this second season, Shirayuki and Zen get to share some quality time, be calmed and reassured by each others’ presence.

Zen’s last-minute hug-from-behind may not have been steamy, but it was so warm and sweet and lovely, as the atmosphere tends to be when these two are alone. But lest we forget, this is a farewell, for perhaps up to a month, even if all goes smoothly. So the encounter’s sweetness is tinged with the bitter truth that they’ll be apart, something neither of them want but are strong enough to accept.

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Loved the very sudden surprise appearance by Lord Haruka, Eternal Stodgy Sourpuss, only this time he’s fully accepted Shirayuki’s right to be at court. Of course he doesn’t miss out on the chance to remind her not to return in disgrace. Shirayuki very adorably asks for a trinket of Zen’s to keep with her, and he gives her his pocket watch, which she promises to give back upon her return. Even Prince Izana, the apparent mastermind in this dastardly scheme, shows up to see Shirayuki off.

As for Izana’s reasons for doing this, I can think of three: he wants to make sure Prince Zen can still function as a Prince of Clarines when his girlfriend isn’t constantly by his side; he wants Shirayuki to learn more about court life, in preparation for her to one day become Zen’s consort; and finally, to give Shirayuki the opportunity to spend some time outside of Wistal Castle and return to her home; offering her a good look at other potential paths, to ensure she’s on the right one.

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And Shirayuki will definitely see other things and people on her journey, from an Obi who acts a specific way around her (and knows how to clean up and speak pretty when he needs to); and a Prince Raj who upon welcoming her (back) to his kingdom seems to have changed somewhat for the better…only to revert back to his old goofy, wishy-washy self once they’re in the throne room.

I actually thought the transition was too quick; I kinda wanted to see Raj on his best behavior a little longer. Nevertheless, he seems shocked and a little overwhelmed that the girl he tried to forceably marry not long ago is actually there. Maybe he has changed, in that he realizes how badly he acted, and acknowledges he owes her a debt to her from his last stop in Clarines. Time will tell, but for now, all eyes are on Shirayuki–and not just for that dazzling apple-red hair.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 11 (Fin)

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Subete ga F ni Naru was a fun, engrossing, and above all thought-provoking show from beginning to end. Even though the main mystery has been solved, this episode trudges onward with some very long but solid character interactions: first between Saikawa and Miki Shiki, then between Saikawa and Moe. By the end, has introduced a whole new brace of head-scratching mysteries to ponder during the digital end credits.

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Dr. Magata makes good on her promise she and Saikawa will meet again far sooner than Saikawa expected, considering she’s on the lamb, but something he said in their sensory deprivation meeting intrigued her to the extent she felt the need to visit him in person and chat a little, before surrendering herself to the police. That something was “You can’t smoke underwater,” and she opts to try one of cigarettes (her first ever).

They talk of life and death; her view (though she doesn’t say it’s the only view) that the latter is the natural state of things, while life itself is “a kind of illness” that death cures. She also considers the human compulsion to want to interfere in the lives of others—or to want one’s own life interfered with by another—is essentially what love is.

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As we see the ship at sea for the first time since the pilot, I pondered what it represented, as Shiki tells Saikawa that they have similar “structures”—other selves created to protect “the real him.” But Saikawa isn’t Shiki, nor does she believe he could ever become her. At least, he’d need “far more than one hundred years” to do so. It’s not meant as an insult, just a fact, and Saikawa accepts it as the two part.

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The Lego Shiki leaves him with is another question mark, but after pondering his encounter in his office (during which time Moe tentatively enters, makes coffee, and promises to leave right afterwards), he realizes the three “policemen” who surrounded her weren’t policemen at all, but guys she hired to act that way. Shiki is still out in the wind. Saikawa laughs out loud, not just because she got him once more, but because I think he’s happy she’s still free.

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His talk with her got him thinking: “love has no single shape.” It could be being killed, as it might have been for Shiki and her daughter. Or it could be solving the magic trick someone else loved outsmarting others with, then being the one who saves the life of someone who had no one else,  and telling silly jokes that make her irritated or tear up.

Saikawa makes no bones about him and Moe being very different people, but that doesn’t matter; two people don’t need to be the same to be in love. He’s willing to accept all of Moe’s “contradictions” if she’s willing to have him. This was a love that has been brewing for some time, but only his experience with Dr. Magata shook him out of the impasse they were in and take the next step into something like a romance, which Moe has been ready to take for some time.

The camera plays with the positions of Moe and Saikawa as they go on an apparent date together, only showing them separate from each other at first, not quite in the same location at once, until they are in the frame together. Moe also learns that Gido is Saikawa’s little sister, so she never had any competition to begin with (not to mention Saikawa never wanted to kiss her).

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On that happy note, we leave Saikawa and Moe, and shift to a time and place we know not when or where. Shiki is on a camel in the desert with her daughter, teaching her that even though humans do not really exist for the sake of people and things around them, they cannot help but assign such reasons to exist as for the sake of others, or to help everyone. “They always want an answer”, and that want drives them. We cut to the two of them in the kitchen of her locked apartment in the lab, where Shiki urges her daughter never to stop seeking those answers even after she is gone, which is strange, because the theory was that she outlived her daughter when she murdered her.

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The final shot is the most perplexing, but not negatively so: “Michiru” introduces “Kishio”, the apparent name of her daughter, in that seascape with the giant shipwreck. Where is this place? Did it ever exist, or is it just in Shiki’s mind? We saw Shiki interact with Saikawa in the real world, but these last scenes threaten to upheave all that came before. Then again, Shiki did speak of dying without suffering and not fearing death.

After getting so many satisfying answers and explorations of philosophy, existence, life, death and time…there are still more questions. But as is the case with so much in life, we must be content with the answers we have, and with the fact that we’ll never find them all.

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Charlotte – 12

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The harrowing events of last week, which resulted in the rescue of Nao and the capture of anti-wielder actors, along with Pooh’s heroic sacrifice, eventually bring Yuu around to Shun’s big-picture way of thinking. It’s not enough to keep those he loves safe; in order to ensure their safety, he has to save everyone.

But at first, this week, he’s unsure of how to do that. In the beginning, all he can do is heal from the injuries he sustained, accept he’ll probably never see out of his right eye (or time leap), and allow himself to be spoon fed delicious meals provided by Takajou (school beef tongue curry), Yusa (cream stew) and Ayumi (omelette rice that has never tasted so good).

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I enjoyed the rhythm of the very people he cares about and wants to help the most visiting his room one after the other, helping him build up his strength with food they made with love. And having almost died, he makes sure to tell Misa to see her parents before Yusa loses her ability and she passes on for good.

Yusa rather ingeniously uses her job on a TV show to visit her parents, and Misa has a cathartic moment in which she actually possesses Yusa on camera to describe the love she tastes in her parents’ otherwise run-of-the-mill soba set. Combined with Yuu’s newfound love of Ayumi’s cooking, there’s some lovely blood family beats to be had this week.

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Despite being back on his feet, the one person Yuu can’t get himself to see is Nao, but as her injuries weren’t as bad as is (and let’s face it, she’s a tough one to boot), she’s discharged before him, and ends up visiting him. He asks her what he should do, and she says it’s technically possible, if extraordinarily difficult and dangeous, for him to simply end the entire crisis by plundering the abilities of every wielder in the world.

She almost seems to be shrugging it off as she proposes it, but Yuu agrees that’s exactly what he’ll do: travel the world, find every wielder, steal their abilities, and trusts he won’t turn into a world-ending monster. When Nao asks why, Yuu is upfront: it’s his turn to save her, because he loves her. The reaction of a Nao who didn’t actually save him in this timeline is dubiousness and confusion, which frustrates Yuu unti they’re literally growling at each other, seemingly proving to Nao they have the worst chemistry possible.

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But Nao’s rather aggressive inability to instantly accept Yuu’s confession doesn’t sway him; he still loves her, and he’ll still save everyone, including her, in order to repay the debt of her alternate self. She rather perceptively points out that other Nao may have just been taking responsibility, as she brought Yuu into all this to begin with, but she can’t deny Yuu has become someone dear to him that she knows she can believe in.

So she makes a deal they pinkie-swear on: they’ll settle down as lovers. Yuu warns her she may be putting too much faith in the one-time “cheating fiend”, but to Nao that’s the point of the deal: if he can pull off this final mission, she’s convinced she’d be in a position to fall for him. Before they part, Nao has Yuu plunder her power first, thus officially setting him on his path.

Once it happens, Nao looks lighter, relieved, and grateful. I want to believe these two didn’t just exchange death flags by mapping out their ideal future together. That is, I’m hoping Maeda Jun doesn’t rip my heart out again; I’m tired of putting it back in my chest!

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Having already started his mission, Yuu visits his brother on the hospital roof, who is still mourning Pooh and fills him in. He gets the blessing of Shun, who tells him to go overseas while he and the Syndicate handle Japan. Yuu also takes Takajou and Yusa’s powers, which in the latter means the end of Misa, who writes a tearjerking farewell letter to her sister thanking her for letting her borrow her now and then.

Finally, while packing to leave on a trip to do something he must do because only he can, Nao pops by to wish him Godspeed, and they exchange tokens of their commitment to meeting again. Nao gives him English conversation notes, and Yuu gives her the media player she gave to him. Hopefully this isn’t ZHIEND for these two, because they’ve emerged as one of the better romantic pairings of the year, in one of the finest shows.

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Steins Gate – 22

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In preparation to what I suspected was going to be a rough episode for me, I entered into what’s known around the office as my “Induced Pessimism Mode”, a kind of emotional shield formed by expecting the very worst out of the story to come. A means of maintaining a healthy emotional distance from the material I’m to review.

How can I put this? That…umm…that didn’t…didin’t work. My IP-field was no match for the roller coaster that was this episode…which may have just cemented this show’s position as my all-time favorite anime, with two episodes, an OVA, and a film to go.

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I’ll reserve judgment until some time passes and I’m a little more removed from the show, but what I can say with certainty is that it is rare for me to be as moved by an episode of television as I was with this, but the entire show was brilliantly building up to it. A part of me would be content with this as the show’s finale; not just because it will be so very hard to top these 23 minutes and 39 seconds, but because I’m not certain how much more wrenching and rending my gut and heart can take, respectively.

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I thought Okabe would fight. I though he wouldn’t accept that one woman he loves would have to die so another could live. I thought he’d run around Akiba and find something or someone who would help him find a third way. And while I had an inkling Kurisu would be more accepting of the situation, I also expected her to come up with some kind of scientific loophole Okabe couldn’t have thought of.

None of that happens. Kurisu lies on the roof of the building where she’s stabbed in the Beta World line several floors below. Then it rains, she and Okabe retreat to a stairwell where she repairs his lab coat in the dark with pink thread and trade barbs about each others’ skinniness. She fixes the coat because it’s something she can fix.

She also tells him she remembers bits and pieces from his other time leaps, in which she watched him suffer and try again and again in vain to save Mayuri. Such memories not only make her amazed that someone would go so far for someone else, a quality she clearly admires in Okabe, but it also makes her feel guilty that she is the last remaining obstacle to realizing that goal.

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Okabe does race back to the lab, to time leap back as far as he can go; to gain a fresh set of days to formulate a plan…but Kurisu, having chased after him, stays his hand. No more running. There’s an Alpha line and a Beta line, there’s only one way to save Mayuri, as opposed to no way to save her. She thanks Okabe for trying, but won’t let him destroy himself watching Mayuri die anymore. Okabe accepts defeat, apologizes, and gathers Kurisu in a hug.

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Kurisu then tries to comfort him, and herself, with theories that the Kurisu of twenty days ago might have found unscientific, naive, and even ridiculous, but she sells them fully here and now. If she can remember bits and pieces from other world lines, she posits, maybe all of the minds of the Kurisus from those lines are connected to form a whole that is beyond time.

Beliefs, desires, and love could transcend the boundaries of the fourth dimension. She may die in one world line, but she’d remain alive in countless others, all contributing to that whole. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful?” she asks twice, knowing it’s little consolation.

Then Okabe takes her by surprise by finally confessing he’s in love with her, and will never forget her.

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I’m not sure what’s more adorably fantastic: that Kurisu’s reply is to make Okabe close his eyes while she gets on tiptoe to kiss him, or the marvelously nerdy explanation for it, delivered in a trembling, flustered voice:

“I-I didn’t want to do that, okay? But experiences such as your first kiss are stored in the hippocampus with your strong memories, which are harder to forget. Thus–“

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You know what, I do know what’s more adorably fantastic: when Okabe confesses that wasn’t his first kiss, that it left a weak impression, and that they have to kiss again to make a stronger one. Kurisu has no problem with that logic, nor do I. Who’d have thought when these two first met that they’d be capable of such unabashed romantic words and gestures?

The entire lab scene sets a new high watermark of excellence. What’s also amazing is just how fast it all happens, and how Kurisu notes how fast it is, referencing Einstein’s theory of relativity to the situation, since now, when she and Okabe want nothing more than for time to stop entirely does it feel like it’s moving faster than ever.

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The setting changes from the warm, dark, cocoon-like lab where they made their love for each other clear to the bleak, blinding outside of the train station where they say goodbye, which again happens unconventionally, with Kurisu lobbing a Dr. Pepper nowhere near Okabe, mouthing “Sayonara” while he’s turned to pick it up, then vanishing. No long tearful goodbye, but a quick rip of the band-aid. But it’s a goodbye knowing that Dr. Pepper is the drink of the chosen ones…and Kurisu chose him.

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As Okabe glances at the pink stitching on his coat, the pain clear and harsh in his face, Kurisu stands on the train platform where she’ll be borne back to America, but is really there to be taken away from the world line where Okabe lives; at least this Okabe.

Her parting wish is that in everything he experiences and desires and loves in the Beta World Line he’s headed to, if he remembers her one in a hundred times, she’ll be happy, “beyond the 1% barrier.” It’s another gorgeous sentiment from an unusually poetic Kurisu this week, but it can’t dull the utter emotional devastation I’m going through as I watch.

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Okabe fights back tears as he delivers a rousing, selfless speech to Mayuri and Daru,  thanking everyone who helped him get this far and expressing his gratitude to those he sacrificed before hitting the button that will change the world. Just a heartbeat after hitting the key, Kurisu bursts back into the lab and says “I’m also in…” before the shift occurs, sending him past the 1% barrier, in a world where there was never a Lab Member 004, and where there are no pink stitches on his coat.

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Puffing up his chest and playing the role of Hououin Kyouma once more, he claims victory before his remaining lab members. The “Battle of Ragnarok”—or more precisely, “The Battle to Save Mayuri” is over, and he has conquered time itself, foiled SERN’s schemes, and reset the world’s power structure, with all the unhinged passion of a sweat-drenched preacher man.

Mayuri then calmly talks him down, aware of everything that he did and everything he gave up for her sake, and tells him “he can cry for himself.” He then looks forward, to a life without the IBN; without the Phone Microwave; without Hououin Kyouma. And “it’s all for the best…right Kurisu?”

For the first time, the ending music is different, and it sounds very much like a reproach to his question; a dark, stirring piece of music with the gravitas of a final dungeon.

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Okabe spoke of “complete victory” in turning the page on all the pain and sacrifice of those twenty days. But then the end credits suddenly fizzle out, and it’s pretty clear that nothing is complete after all. Rather, it is the choice of Steins Gate that here, in the Beta World Line, Okabe fight at least one more battle, for far higher stakes in the grand scheme of things than two girls’ lives. This new destiny is brought to his attention by Amane Suzuha, freshly arrived from 2036, calling Okabe on her father Daru’s phone to beseech him to stop World War III. Damn.

This is Steins;Gate throwing down the gauntlet. Having delivered a phenomenal episode that wouldn’t have made a bad finale at all, the fact is there are two more episodes to go (and an OVA…and a film). As blown away as I was to this point, Steins;Gate isn’t done with me, and it’s not content to rest on the laurels it has already earned.

And you know what? I have every confidence in the world that it will deliver. I’m ready to go a couple more rounds.

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Akame ga Kill! – 22

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Even with so little time left and an entire empire on the brink, AGK! decides it was still worth it to slow things down a bit and give Akane and the dying Kurome one final duel to settle things. It’s a decision I happen to agree with and appreciate.

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Giving their final reunion in the church and the duel that follows plenty of room does a service to one of the more tragic character dynamics in a show full of them. Though the presence of redundant backstory and narration felt unnecessary. Akane and Kurome don’t actually have to explain to one another why they’re fighting, but they felt the need to explain it to us, even though we already know.

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Barring an unlikely scenario in which Kurome got a lucky strike on her big sis (followed by her dying shortly afterwards), it never felt like Akame was in any particular mortal danger. Kurome is too weak and spent to stand toe-to-toe with her anymore. But whether Akame was going to die or not wasn’t the point, so much as the fact that both sisters felt this fight had to be fought.

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That fact doesn’t change when Kurome loses her last two puppets and the sisters are cornered by a massive danger beast that awakened from the fury of their attacks; either. Akame saves Kurome, because Kurome is her responsibility.

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It doesn’t change either when Wave comes, against Kurome’s wishes, to break up the fight and save her. Tatsumi shows up too, but not to stop Akame; but to stop anyone from interfering with the sisters. Wave seriously does not like this, but he honors Kurome’s wishes and stands by.

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After that, it only takes a little more for Kurome to fall to Akame. Kurome isn’t bitter about losing; some of her final words to Akame are of love for her, despite everything that’s happened between them. Being killed by Akame was basically the next best thing to Kurome killing her, and Kurome takes it.

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Before carrying Kurome’s body away (leaving Akame to bawl into Tatsumi’s shoulder), Wave asks Tatsumi and Akame an odd question: “Why are we fighting?” I suppose for someone turning a blind eye to the empire’s horrors, it’s not that odd; but Tatsumi and Akame have their reasons, and it’s up to Wave to find his. Maybe he’ll join Run, who announced to him he supports revolution from within?

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