Dororo – 24 (Fin) – Proof of Existence, Proof of Humanity

In the end, the brothers Hyakkimaru and Tahoumaru only had to endure one last thing: the missteps of their parents. When Hyakkimaru was born, Daigo decided to sacrifice him to the demons. Nui would have Tahoumaru later, but she never stopped loving her firstborn, and that ate at her second in its own way. Even Mutsu and Hyougou couldn’t replace the love of a mother that he always lacked.

As they continue their swordfight in the castle, Tahoumaru goes on about how the likes of Hyakkimaru doesn’t belong within the walls, and that unlike the post where Mutsu and Hyougou marked their heights over the years, there’s nothing there to prove his existence. This is ironic, as the castle itself is burning and crumbling around them, and all of that physical proof Tahoumaru values so along with it.

But even though Tahoumaru still has his human eyes, Hyakkimaru can still see the void in his brother’s heart; the same sense of lacking something as himself. They are no different, and despite their crazed fighting and bizarre modifications, they are both humans who have simply forgotten themselves, lashing out to fill those voids.

As Nui and Jukai enter the castle to try to stop the fighting, Hyakkimaru ends things on his own, not by killing Tahoumaru, but by sparing him. The demon eyes in his head still burn even after Tahoumaru accepts defeat, but he rips them out and offers them to their rightful owner. Hyakkimaru’s false eyes are ejected and his human eyes restored.

As a mass of demonic crystal surges with anger, the castle starts to come down, but both Nui and Jukai arrive in time to save him from being crushed by burning debris. He plunges his swords into the crystal mass, apparently exorcising the residual evil energy, but that also completes the destruction of the temple literally kept up by the power of those now-forsaken demons.

Jukai, Nui and Tahoumaru do not escape, but perish in the flames, while Dororo finds Hyakkimaru and the two climb up the well Nui used to gain access. Hyakkimaru sees Dororo with his own eyes for the first time and calls him—calls her—pretty, which really throws Dororo off. Biwamaru, who helped get them out of the well, stands with the two as they watch Daigo’s castle and surrounding lands burn in a purifying fire.

Once the flames recede and the smoke clears, Dororo is back in the village of survivors and invalids led by a few able-bodied individuals, including those he suggested start to live life without depending on samurai, using money instead of swords to maintain that life.

When they ask where that money will come from, Dororo says he’s got it covered. Dororo has decided, then, what to do with that fortune: use it to realize a community that runs itself, without fealty to some stern-faced lord.

As for the lord, Daigo is not quite ready to give up his quest to restore his lands to prosperity, no matter how many people, including Hyakkimaru again, he has to sacrifice to the demons in a new pact. That is, until Hyakkimaru takes a sword and instead of plunging it into Daigo’s back, pierces his helmet instead.

The helmet is a powerful symbol of Daigo’s status as something other than a mere human, so its destruction is a symbol of Hyakkimaru’s hope his father will live on as a human, something he too plans on doing. In the end, Daigo laments ever making the pact, as he now realizes he might have achieved prosperity simply by raising Hyakkimaru and letting him succeed him.

Bittersweetly, it’s not Happily Ever After for the duo of Dororo and Hyakkimaru. The two go their separate ways; Dororo to lead a new community in keeping with the legacy of her rebellious parents, and Hyakkimaru to learn how to walk the path of humanity after a lifetime of survival-and-revenge mode. With his new eyes, heart, and purpose in life, he has truly been reborn, and until he finds his way, it’s not safe for Dororo to be beside him.

However, the ending suggests that one day the two are reunited, as the young “boy” Dororo runs across a pier with a hopeful smile, he transforms into Dororo the older and more beautiful woman. At the end of the pier is a slightly older-looking Hyakkimaru, in all his human glory, welcoming her with a warm smile. It’s a shame a passing look is all we get, rather than an after-credits scene of the two conversing—but then again, perhaps their reunion is meant more symbolically, as something to which they both aspire.

In any case, both souls, once having lost and suffered so much, seem to be in a much better place, and have stepped out of the darkness and doubt and embraced their respective selves. While I wish we’d seen more of Dororo-as-a-leader, considering where we started, this was a logical and satisfying enough place to end.

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 06 (Fin) – Twenty Percent Interest

As is usually the case when involving Oshino Ougi, there’s a sinister aura to the “ghost classroom” where Koyomi finds her; like the last level of a game that may well end up kicking your ass because you’re under-leveled. That Ougi is wearing Koyomi’s boy’s uniform actually adds both to the sense of unique occasion and ominousness.

But if Monogatari has taught us anything, especially from the likes of Shinobu and Ononoki, it’s not to tell a book by its cover. This isn’t going to be a battleground, because Ougi isn’t Koyomi’s enemy. Ougi is Koyomi, and vice-versa. Case in point: the only reason their uniforms are swapped is because she thought it would be a funny prank.

Rather than a battle of fists or magic, this will be place where these two sides of Koyomi take the various pieces he’s collected in this mirror world and start to fit them together. Ougi starts with the easiest, most obvious, and yes, most cliched hypothesis: It was all a dream. Not just the mirror world, but all of Koyomi’s dealings with everyone thus far.

When Koyomi says if it was all a dream, he’ll consider it a happy one, wake up, stretch, and live out the day in a good mood. She withdraws this rather uninteresting theory relatively quickly, but answers him directly about being his double, not the Koyomi of the mirror world. She came to the world with him and helped him along the way, such as asking Black Hanekawa to save him.

She did this in part because Koyomi’s best interests are her best interests, but also because despite all her glaring and teasing, but because she is truly grateful to him for saving her from the darkness. That’s a tidy segue into the reflection rate of mirrors, with which Koyomi is already familiar thanks to Sodachi, who said that most mirrors only reflect 80 percent of the light.

The 20 percent that isn’t can be said to be absorbed, or erased, or executed. In any case, it goes into the darkness; into nothingness. Until that morning when Koyomi noticed his reflection had suddenly stopped moving. Koyomi didn’t pass through the mirror into a new world; he pulled a mirror world out of the mirror, saving the 20 percent of light that would have been lost—utilizing his innate mastery of all oddity qualities.

As has been established earlier, this world doesn’t really make sense as a reflection of Koyomi’s original world because the people in it aren’t mirror images, but other sides of who they fundamentally were, are, or could be. Here Koyomi learns why those other sides are what they are.

Gaen Izuko’s bitter memories created Gaen Tooe. Hanekawa’s regret about leaving town created her mini-me. Shinobu and Ononoki regained the humanity they lost. Koyomi’s regrets, and those of everyone else, that they either forgot or wanted to forget or pretend never existed, came back in this world. They gained their lost twenty percent back.

Ougi mentions that this isn’t something to be undone with the snap of fingers; Koyomi and everyone else actually experienced what it was like to regain that percentage, for good and ill, and will carry it with them from now on, even if they all revert back to the people they were before the mirror world was pulled out.

Perhaps most poignantly, the mirror world proved to Ougi—and any potential specialist who might place a target on her back—that there was value in Koyomi saving her from the darkness. That the darkness itself was wrong to think she had no reason to exist. In this mirror world, Ougi was Koyomi’s fail-safe. Without her, this story might’ve ended under the fist of the Rainy Devil.

In part as thanks for that, Ougi presents Koyomi with a zero-reflection, 100-percent absorption rate mirror, or a “slice of darkness” he’s to offer to Mayoi at the Shrine of the Polar Snake. There, at that focal point of the town, it will absorb the twenty percent of light he pulled out of the mirror, restoring the world to its previous state. But again, the “reminder” everyone got of that light—of their almost-forgotten regrets—will remain. With that, Ougi leaps out the window, her work there done.

Back home, Koyomi gets a knock at the door. It’s his girlfriend, Senjougahara Hitagi, trying out a new, adorable look that isn’t based on Hanekawa’s style. Her late arrival provides the perfect capper for a wonderful epilogue that explores how far Koyomi has come, and how he fears not knowing where to go from there.

He explains his last two days to Hitagi, about how after losing his title as high school student he looked in the mirror and summoned his regrets. Mind you, those myriad regrets weren’t all resolved to his or anyone’s satisfaction; they were simply remembered, faced, and acknowledged, which enables him to step towards the future a little more informed, so that he might hopefully avoid actions that will create more regrets.

In this regard, Hitagi’s total absence from the mirror world makes sense: Where she’s concerned, Koyomi has no regrets, and it’s reasonable to assume neither does she where he’s concerned. Koyomi creates a microcosm of his occasional hesitation when the two come to a crosswalk, where he used to stress about whether to lead with his right or left foot when the crossing light signals “go.”

Hitagi has a wonderfully Hitagi response to that: just plant both feet and take a leap, which is exactly what she does after taking Koyomi’s hand. Then Araragi Koyomi delivers a  stirring final monologue: “The long-continued story having come to its end, I remember my memories, leave my business unfinished, and leaving ample aftertaste and black space, towards the next story, we take a leap.”

Whew. It’s been quite a ride, leaping from one story, one oddity to the other over ten years and one hundred and three episodes containing many more individual chapters. I don’t think it’s a gross exaggeration to declare Monogatari, when taken as a whole, to be the most rich and satisfying collections of anime I’ve ever experienced.

It’s a series that has demanded time, patience, and at times, a certain twisted sense of humor, or tolerance for same. It’s downright bittersweet to think the book of Araragi & Co. has finally closed for good. But I’m glad I took the leap. Or should I say, a huge, joystick-pushing, lake-obliterating jump.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 12 (Fin) – The War Continues

Last week ended on a hopeful note, but there was still a lot that could go wrong with Kaguya and Miyuki’s big night at the fireworks festival. And what do you know, it does! Just as she’s ready to head out, one of the butlers not named Hayasaka vetoes her outing as too dangerous, so she has to text Chika that she can’t go, and she’s sorry.

Kaguya enters heretofore unplumbed depths of dejection, but Hayasaka tells her to regain her Kaguya attitude that would have normally had her trying to sneak out by now. Hayasaka aids in all the ways she can by posting a tweet to Kaguya’s feed that Miyuki picks up on, then disguising herself as Kaguya so she can swing Tarzan’s Jane-style over the wall and to a waiting taxi.

While getting out of bed and sneaking out of the house was a big win, Kaguya still has to get to the fireworks before they’re over…and she isn’t able to succeed. The taxi is stuck in traffic, and there’s only so much ground she can cover in yukata and geta. She’s able to glimpse the fireworks closer than ever before—between buildings—but by the time she reaches the meeting spot, the display has concluded and the crowds are cleaning up after themselves (what a concept!) and heading home.

Of course, all this time, we know that Miyuki has been racing around on his bike, attempting to intercept Kaguya on her ill-fated solo mission to reach the fireworks. He manages to pick the right alley where she’s chosen to cry, then takes her by the arm and tells her he’s going to make sure she sees some fireworks. He accomplishes this with help from Yuu and Chika, who are waiting with the same taxi  Kaguya took before, driven by one of the Four Ramen Kings.

The driver takes liberties with the speed limit and gets them under the Aqua Line towards Umihotaru, where the fireworks display will still be going on for another twenty minutes. There’s an action thriller flavor to their undersea tunnel trip, and an ultimate feeling of triumph when they emerge at the other side to a sky full of gorgeous fireworks. Only now, that she’s closer than ever to those fireworks, all Kaguya can watch is Miyuki’s face, and all she can hear is the beating of her own heart. Daaaaaw.

While the fireworks night turned out to be a great victory for everyone, pulled from the jaws of defeat numerous times, the real proof in the pudding of whether Kaguya and Miyuki’s relationship has grown would come in the aftermath. We get a glimpse of that as the new school term begins, and both of them are so bashful and self-conscious that every time they try to approach each other, they end up sailing by like ships in the night—or two dogfighting planes.

Again and again they swoop by, with Chika eventually getting into the spirit of things with an “asterisk” before Yuu arrives and unwittingly makes it a “triangle.” Kaguya and Miyuki then banish both Yuu and Chika (“shooting them down”, as it were) in order to get the privacy they need to finally confront each other about last night.

Kaguya just wants to thank him for everything he did, but as they finally meet and end up bumping into a kind of half-hug, her broomstick juts into his chest, and she says the very words he feared she’d say as an appraisal of his “egotistical” behavior and “cringeworthy lines” the other night: “it must be painful.” Of course, she was talking about the broomstick, not his behavior. But he runs off anyway, and Kaguya gives chase, and henceforth everything is pretty much back to normal.

Surely other situations will come in the future where the two will be able to hang out and do fun stuff and experience moments of beauty and honesty together—but due to their stubborn pride and persistent self-consciousness, any such interactions will only come after much hand-wringing and hesitation. Perhaps, given enough time, it will get easier. But as long as they think something that manifestly isn’t a war is, it’ll remain akin to pulling teeth. But hey, a romantic can hope!

Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 12 (Fin) – Bringing the World Together

Fallon manages to land the plane without killing anyone, and Dorothea deals with their vampy stowaway. Willard gains access to the airship’s bridge and brings the ship close enough to the ground so Yuliy can grab hold and board it. Yevgraf immediately becomes drunk with power and spends a lot of time smirking, laughing, and gloating about it.

Indeed, Yev proves just a few minutes into his “merging” with the Ark that he’s only in it for number one. Having gained the knowledge of the Ark, he believes vampires to be a weak and inferior race just like humans, and plans to purge both in his new world.

This naturally comes as a shock to his always enthusiastically loyal underling Tamara. But even more shocking to her is that Yuliy is the one who comes to her rescue against a Yevgraf who has changed a great deal in a very short time…and not for the better. Like myself, she did not see such an alliance coming!

Yuliy isn’t interested in killing vampires for the sake of killing vampires. He made a promise to his father to keep the Ark, and the pride of Sirius alive, and to prove him right about all of the races of the world being able to peacefully coexist. I mean, if the Ark doesn’t have the answers to such a future hidden somewhere within it, what good is it, really?

The Jirov brothers team up to fight this new “deformed final boss” version Yevgraf, who is little more than a monster now; all subtlety regarding his lamenting the end of his kind by some random disease utterly evaporated for the sake of a good-vs.-evil showdown.

Yev can heal super-fast, but eventually the power proves too much even for his body, and the regeneration slows and eventually stops altogether. This leaves him a far more vulnerable target for attacks by both Yuliy and Mikhail, who work together to finish him off.

Not soon thereafter, Misha succumbs to the disease and his wounds, but not before handing Yuliy the Ark he pulled out of Yev’s chest and telling him to keep living, this time with the Ark.

The airship crashes into the sea, and Willard washes up on the shore, but while he’s out, Yuliy reaches out to him, telling his second father he’s found a new way to live: by using the power of the Ark to help the world, as he believes those who bestowed it upon his predecessors intended.

Willard wakes up surrounded by the rest of V Company, Iba and Ryouko. A bit later Ryouko returns home and enrolls in college business classes, hoping to one day walk by Yuliy’s side once again. Willard & Co. receive word of the location of a couple matching Yuliy and Tamara’s description, and are ordered to capture them.

While their superiors now see Yuliy as an adversary to keep in check, nobody in V Company is against what he’s doing, which is why they intend to be the first to find him. When we leave Yuliy, he’s on a train, preparing to meet with vampire elders about reaching some kind of détente.

And that’ll do it for Sirius! I’ll admit it took me a while to get through it, but that wasn’t out of lack of enthusiasm. On the contrary, despite its lukewarm reception in the halls of MAL, I quite enjoyed P.A. Works’ foray into the vampire genre. It tweaked the blueprint with period and steampunk touches and a likable (if not particularly unique or deep) cast of characters.

Steins;Gate 0 – 23 (Fin) – Fortune Favors the Foolish

With Amadeus deleted from history, Rintarou ends up in a slightly different present, in which Leskinen never succeeded in fully brainwashing Kagari. Moeka subdues Leskinen when he pulls a gun on Rintarou, and the two head up to the roof just as Mayuri is successfully stopping Kagari and Suzuha from killing each other, by badassedly positioning her head between their handguns. Mayuri and Suzu are able to board the time machine safely after receiving the blessing of a Rintarou who’d just arrived in that time.

All the times the time machine was wiped out by a missile from a helicopter gunship, it was only seconds away from disappearing into the spacetime either, so a few extra seconds is all Mayuri and Suzu needed to get away safely, and they do, in an extremely thrilling scene that pays off all of the failure and heartache of previous attempts.

Better still, Hououin Kyouma is able to lustily gloat to Leskinen, Stratfor, DURPA and the Russians for having foiled their plans to acquire the time machine. In the timeline where Mayuri and Daru await the return of Rintarou and Suzu, two time machines briefly appear on the rooftop at once, and Mayuri gets a call from…the other Mayuri, convincing her not to let Okarin give up when he returns in the depths of despair.

Mayuri and Suzu aren’t able to stay in that timeline long lest they cause a paradox, and with the time machine all but out of fuel, they soon lose the ability to choose their next destination. But both of them seem to take their descent into temporal oblivion quite well, all things considered.

Back on the rooftop, Suzu and a defeated, blood-stained Rintarou return, and he gives his little speech about everything being hopeless and deciding he’s going to give up. Then Mayuri remembers the words of the other Mayuri, recalls when Kyouma was “born” (when he hugged her to comfort her at the cemetery) slaps Rintarou, her Hikoboshi, and convinces him not to give up.

Soonafter Rintarou receives a video D-Mail from the Rintarou in the future, and we switch to his point of view, as we watch his grainy recording unfold where and when it occurred. After sending the message, Rintarou’s next operation, Operation Altair, consists of him “deceiving the world”, as well as himself, by travelling back to another point in spacetime in the first version of the time machine to be built by Daru & Co.

Deceiving himself and the world, it turns out, is the only way to reach the Stein’s Gate. He thanks his noble, trusty Lab Members, receives a hug from Maho, and sets off to locate and rescue Mayuri and Suzu, who were lost in time but can be found thanks to something called a “Kerr black hole tracer”, the nature and operation of which are not specified (which is probably for the best).

Suffice it to say, in his experimental but still brand-new and fully-gassed time machine, and with the Kerr thingy, Rintarou successfully locates Mayuri and Suzuha, who by their perspective had just arrived themselves in the year 18,000 B.C. in a dark and stormy wasteland.

They seem ready to accept their fate with grace, but the bright light of Mayuri’s Hikoboshi appears, and from that light, Okabe Rintarou—AKA Okarin, AKA Hououin Kyouma—emerges triumphant; perhaps his most badass moment yet.

And that, folks, is where Steins;Gate 0 ends things. We don’t get to see Steins Gate, or learn whether Rintarou is right that it does exist. All we know is that they’re in a good position to reach a world line in which both Mayuri and Kurisu can live.

It took a lot of gumption, guile, teamwork, sacrifice, trauma, math…and downright foolishness, but the gang is headed in the right direction. It’s a positive, hopeful ending; an ending full of promise and excitement for what may come next for all of these kind, brave fools—even if we may not get to see it.

Darling in the FranXX – 24 (Fin) – A Word They Were Never Taught

Despite the hope from their Squadmates that they’ll one day return victorious, there is every indication that Zero Two and Hiro’s insane odyssey through space is a one-way trip, at least in their current forms/lives. As they near the VIRM homeworld and fight off wave after wave of their warships, Hiro becomes a little more Zero-y, and Zero Two becomes a little more Hiro-y.

Back on Earth the gang returns to Mistilteinn, where they find things are growing again, and set to work rebuilding their food supply in order to survive without magma energy they relied on for so long. With Zero Two and Hiro’s lessons, as well as their own experiences, everyone ends up changing and growing up. Kokoro has the baby. The rejected parasites are brought out of hibernation, including Naomi.

Goro sets off on a journey of exploration on Earth seeking supplies and other lost children, making sure to kiss Ichigo before he leaves. After two years, the constant onslaught of VIRM has exhausted Hiro, allowing the enemy to “caress his consciousness” and knock him out, leaving Zero Two vulnerable.

They’re both saved not just by their own love, but by the fruits of those whom they inspired: Ai, the daughter of Kokoro and Mitsuru, named for the Japanese word for love, a word humanity had all but forgotten and which the children were never taught.

When the gang realizes the stone statute of Zero Two is a conduit through which both Zero and Hiro can hear them, they join hands and pray as loudly as they can for as long as they can, until their prayers get through to the two out in space. Hiro wakes up, green-eyed and blue-horned, rejects the pooh-poohing of the VIRM, and becomes even more one with Zero than they were before.

Apus is destroyed, but a new entity emerges; a total merging of Zero Two and Hiro, and they rend the VIRM homeworld asunder in a light that manages to reach Earth. The Klaxosaur fleets return to the earth and become one with it, and the green returns with it. Zero Two’s statue, no longer necessary, crumbles, leaving a small tree sprout.

While still hoping their friends will one day return, Squad 13 doesn’t assign them any time table, and instead begin writing their own stories. They help rebuild human civilization, without magma energy, while building families. Ikuno manages to slow their rapid aging, even though it’s too late for her. Ichigo and Goro have a kid. Futoshi finds another to love and has several kids. Zorome and Miku…continue to bicker with one another.  The more things change, the more they stay the same, and all that.

Then, centuries pass, Zero Two’s cherry tree grows larger and ancient, and a huge futuristic city rises around it, only no longer hidden within a plantation dome, and no longer populated by emotionless humans. It’s in this city built by love, the thing never taught its founders, where a boy and a girl one day meet who look an awful lot like our starring pair. Circle of life, baby.

And that’s a FranXX wrap. These last few episodes sure got BIG, as in expansive in both time, scale, and theme, culminating in a resolution for all of Squad 13 and an ending a franchise like Evangelion may never give us; instead of the story stopping before it ends, the book is closed on Hiro, Zero Two, and the others, and a new story begins, built upon what they started.

The VIRM may one day return, but mankind is in a much better position to oppose them, thanks to Hiro, Zero Two, and Squad 13 not living to fight, but fighting to live…and love.

AICO – 12 (Fin) – A World for Both Aikos

AICO ends by having its cake and eating it too, with only Isazu suffering long-term ill effects from the events of the finale. In the last couple episodes he’d devolved into a raving, maniacal villain, but at least it was presumably out of his Papa-Grizzly desire to protect his cub, Yuzuha. However it’s clear he’s willing to use Yuzuha to manipulate the matter to his whims and gets drunk off the power, ignoring her pleas for her to stop.

Isazu presents a persistent threat to Kanzaki’s attempt to perform extremely sensitive “brain transfer surgery”, the science of which neither the show nor I will bother getting into; suffice it to say Yura is one of the greatest medical and scientific minds in human history, which is frankly…a bit much.

But with the other Divers arriving at Primary Point, and Kurose successfully infiltrating the hospital and disconnecting Yuzuha from her duplicate bodies (ending the threat Isazu presented), Kanzaki/Yura has just enough time to pull it off. When the procedure is complete, The “Real” Tachibana Aiko emerges from the surgical capsule safe and sound, if a little out of it.

However, Yura’s intention wasn’t just to revive Aiko, but save the other Aiko who had spent the last eleven episodes proving that she was just as real. He didn’t want either Aiko to die. Yet once the “fake” Aico has confirmed Aiko is alright, she seems ready to do just that, as her head retreats into the mass of Matter, which starts to turn green, as if decomposing.

But just when everyone is lamenting the loss of a person they’d become quite fond of, the dying matter spits out a strange fetus-like thing, which then spits out a fully alive (and naked) Aiko. Turns out Gummi, whom her father gave her, was meant to serve a far more important role than just that of a pet and companion.  Gummi also contained the sum total of data for Aico’s body, such that once the brain transfer was complete, Gummi was able to surround and regenerate her body.

Aiko invites Aico to join her family (her mom and brother are released and soon up and about), but while she’s grateful for her conterpart’s kindness, she respectfully declines.

Aiko at least insists she meet at least once with her Mom and Ryouta before going off and doing her own thing, and the resulting reunion is every bit as powerful and earned-feeling as when she first arrived at their cocoon, particularly when she starts to tear up immediately after turning her back on them.

From there, everyone returns to their lives, and the Area, now free of malignant Matter, begins to rebuild. As for Aico, she starts on her own path at a new school as a transfer student, but her name probably isn’t Aico.

As for what it is, we never find out, and I enjoyed the ending that cut off her introduction. All that matters is she is a different person. She’s the girl in loafers walking into a classroom in the ED. Most importantly, she’s the one we’ve been watching and following all this time. I wish her well.

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.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 12 (Fin) – A Gentle Nudge Past the Status Quo

The last episode of KJT starts with a long shot of Takagi looking over at Nishikata without trying to look like she’s looking. It’s the first time we’ve seen her since Nishikata unwittingly made her heart go dokidoki, and when we hear that the girls in class are on a letter-writing kick, it’s natural to assume Takagi would join in.

When Nishikata finds a love letter in his textbook, he does everything he can to keep that information from Takagi…right up until she tells him she put it there, she wants him to read it before school ends, because she wants his “answer” by then.

When Nishikata discovers the “love” letter is really just a written request to walk home together like they always do, Takagi gets the reaction she wanted. But in a way, it was a love letter, albeit a coded one: Nishikata’s reactions provide her nearly as much info as direct words.

Her ability to read him like a large-print book goes back to when they first met and spoke, back on their very first day of school. Nishikata is late, but not because he overslept. Takagi senses he wants to set the record straight, and her first words to her new desk neighbor are “you didn’t really oversleep, right?”

Later, Takagi is the one who’s late, giving Nishikata cover, but also sets up her first guessing game with Nishikata, correctly guessing he was late because he found her handkerchief and brought it to the staff room.

Nishikata (unaware that she was “Takagi-san” until just then) reacts in the over-the-top flustered manner we’re used to by now—only it’s the first time Takagi is watching it. From that day onward, she was hooked.

Back in the present, Nishikata receives bad news: there’s to be a seat rearrangement. Nishikata pretends it doesn’t bother him, but Takagi doesn’t hide her dispiritedness, which in turn makes Nishikata dispirited. The status quo is at stake!

Nishikata ends up joining someone else despondent over the rearrangement: Mano-chan, who was perfectly content next to her boyfriend Nakai-kun, and whose life is now essentially over. Then Nishikata loses his one chance to switch seats with Kimura-kun, and sinks into his new desk of despair beside Mano-chan.

Thankfully, things didn’t end there: through a number of seat switches, Mano and Nakai end up up front together, while Takagi returns to Nishikata’s side. Nishikata can barely hide his relief.

Then she asks what he wanted to say earlier, and he produces her handkerchief, which she used to bandage his knee a while back, and which also brought them together on the first day of school. Nishikata expresses his gratitude he was able to return it, and that they’re next to each other again; the feeling is mutual. For once, he says what he feels without worrying about being teased.

That night, while inspecting her hankie, a little note slips out, and suddenly Takagi is in the same position Nishikata is when he found the love letter in his book. It’s no confession, just a simple “Thank you”…but it’s another critical hit on Takagi, who plops onto the bed and buries her head in her pillow, giddy with delight.

It would be an understatement to say I’ll miss Takagi and Nishikata. Could I watch the duo grow closer and closer together as they enter high school, college, and eventually adulthood? You BETCHA. But since that’s sadly unlikely to happen, I have to be satisfied with the snippet of their lives that we got. And I am, very much so!

ReLIFE – 17 (Fin)

Aw HELL yeah! I didn’t ask for much, just a happy yet satisfying ending that felt earned, and ReLIFE delivered exactly that. Initially framed by Yoake’s final report, things start out in the afterglow of Kaizaki and Hoshiro’s confessions. All their friends are super-excited for them, but they keep it very cool and low-key, which is just like two teenagers who are actually adults.

They’re both simply savoring every day they have left together, because they don’t have a lot of them. It makes you wish they’d gotten together much sooner…but then again, I couldn’t have asked for a better way for them to finally realize their feelings for another, and their love only deepens as the days pass, as evidenced by their late night phone call when simply messaging on LIME won’t cut it.

Graduation Day comes, and Kanzaki manages to graduate by the skin of his teeth (thanks to Oga). There’s goodbyes, notes of goodwill, flowers, smiles…and tears. But there are no tears more bitter than those shed by both Kanzaki and Hoshiro.

He finally gives her a hug, just when she needs one most, and it turns out he needed that hug just as badly. He says it feels like a break-up, even though they’ll see each other at the start of the college term. Hoshiro thanks him for being such a transparent yet kind liar.

And that’s the last they see of each other in their respective ReLifes—with a tearful embrace, assuring each other they’ll never forget each other, even if they know they can’t keep that promise.

Yoake congratulates Kanzaki for a marvelously successful ReLife, telling him he can look forward to very promising job placement in exchange for his cooperation with the experiment, and should hold his head high. Meanwhile, Onoya has her exit interview with Hoshiro, who never really warmed up to her newer support.

Describing her ReLife, Hoshiro describes how her heart is “ripped open” by getting close to people only to lose them, but admits she does feel like she changed “a little.” After taking her pill and falling asleep, Onoya accidentally discovers a marker Hoshiro used to write “I was in love with Kaizaki Arata”, and breaks down at Hoshiro’s failure to hide it better, as once Onoya sees it, she has to get rid of it along with all other evidence. It’s her job, after all.

Fast-forward to a bit of time after Kanzaki regains his 28-year-old appearance and starts interviewing for the jobs ReLife provided. Ultimately, however, he wants nothing more than to help others as he was helped, so he requests a job with ReLife, and is accepted. Now he is the one visiting shut-ins and other wretches, offering a way for them to find themselves again.

At a ReLife company dinner, Kanzaki arrives a bit late, but a space was saved for him. Turns out the seat he takes belongs to Hoshiro, but it’s no big deal or anything, as someone from another part of the restaurant is calling for her. As she turns to walk away, Kanzaki notices the strap on her bag…

At the end of the dinner (well, the first round, but the only round recommended for newbies), it starts to rain, but Kanzaki doesn’t have an umbrella. Just then, Hoshiro appears once more and opens the very same green umbrella the two shared just after confessing. She offers to share it, but Kanzaki politely declines, and she starts to head off on her own…but turns and says she heard the higher-ups calling him a test subject.

She then mentions her own stint as a subject, how it lasted two years, and how her supporter pushed for her to get a job at ReLife, and she took a position in the pharma section. Kanzaki asks if she’d tell him about her ReLife, and she compares it to…fireworks, like the ones she saw at the festival with her friends.

They both latch onto the spectacular yet fleeting nature of fireworks, and eventually both remember flashes of that night when Hoshiro told Kanzaki he was like fireworks. I tellya, I got an absolute thrill out of watching them gradually put the pieces together in their heads.

You could say the fireworks…sparked their memories, heh-heh. Once he recalls Hoshiro in her red yukata looking up at the sky, Kanzaki calls her by her name. Hoshiro needs just a little bit more, but she eventually remembers writing the note on her hand as she cried after taking the pill. And that’s it: in spite of the lab’s efforts, they found and remembered each other…and it didn’t even take that long!

Now, while the ReLife procedures were concluded with all due diligence, I’d like to think both Yoake and Onoya played roles in facilitating a reunion. Yoake accepting Kanzaki’s request to work for ReLife; Onoya predding Hoshiro to work there as well…even telling Kanzaki that Hoshiro’s seat was his in the restaurant.

But while the supports made the conditions more favorable for a happy ending, at the end of the day they were just that, support. It took Kanzaki and Hoshiro being friendly, open, and honest with each other, and especially Hoshiro bringing up how she heard he test subject, like her, at that crucial moment.

If she hadn’t they might have gone their separate ways, perhaps forever. But I’m immeasurably chuffed she did, and the resulting re-connection was nothing short of mesmerizing. Time for some #Adulting!

ReLIFE returned quite out of the blue to rip my heart out with the prospect of tearing apart two lovely people who had only just found each other…only to painstakingly reconstruct that heart, and fill it back up with love until it almost burst all over again, only in a good way!

Of course, you’re mileage may vary, depending on whether you read the entire web manga (I did not) and your particular emotional investment. Clearly, my investment was significant, and one and a half years of time away didn’t dull it in the slightest. This was a big win.

ReLIFE – 14

Well, this is a nice surprise on the second day of Spring when there’s a Nor’easter pummeling my coast: a bonus episode of one of my favorite shows of 2016, ReLIFE! These four new reviews won’t make much sense without watching the 13 that came before, which I highly recommend. You can catch up by reading my reviews here.

When we left the main couple of Hishiro and Kaizaki, we knew they were both subjects, but they didn’t know that they were, and so maintained a distance that was not bridged, since they both assume they’ll lose contact with the other forever because of the nature of ReLIFE.

Still, both have benefited tremendously from their experiences as high schoolers, and continue to do so. Meanwhile, real high schoolers Kariu and Oga are now an item, while Yoake is transferring Hishiro to his junior Onoya now that she’s entering an “unprecedented” second year.

Hishiro now rather strongly suspects that Kaizaki is a test subject like her, but Yoake will neither confirm or deny it, while warning her that if she learned that he was a subject, it would spell the end of his experiment and an immediate severance, and Hishiro would never see him again.

With that in mind, Hishiro treads carefully, but is still eager to learn the truth. To that end, when Kaizaki is made the class boys’ cultural festival officer, she volunteers to be the girls’ officer. They work tremendously well together and the paperwork flies off the proverbial desk.

Their work is momentarily interrupted by a problem Oga is having. He got in a fight with Kariu for shooting down the idea of her coming over to his place after a date, because he didn’t want to hurt his older shut-in brother and feared Kariu wouldn’t “approve” of him.

Kaizaki and Hishiro put on a veritable friend-cheering-up and advise clinic, with Kaizaki assuring Oga that the best way to act around family is naturally, without hiding anything, while Hishiro assures him if he just tells Kariu what’s up, she’ll accept it; in fact, she’s probably mad because he didn’t in the first place.

Afterwards, Kaizaki and Hishiro exchange words of mutual respect. Kaizaki, unaware that Hishiro is a fellow adult, continues to be astounded by her maturity and wisdom beyond her years, while Kaizaki’s very accurate suspicions persist.

The two continue festival prep, and Oga and Kairu make an appearance to show they made up nicely, but later in the day, when Kaizaki returns to the classroom to find Hishiro worn out and asleep at her desk, he resists the urge to touch her head in affection, while in his head admitting he’s fallen for her.

So, we’ve come a little further from the fireworks festival episode, in that Hishiro is on to Kaizaki (the level of her surety is up for debate, but the fact she’s right is indisputable) and Oga and Kariu are doing nicely as a couple. But both Kaizaki’s ignorance of Hishiro’s true age and Oga’s veiled threat prevented all the truth from coming out. We’ll see if that happens in the next bonus episode.

Net-juu no Susume – 10 (Fin)

Sometimes ten is a really good number for a series—it works fine for KonoSuba. Net-juu no Susume also ends at ten eps, and it wraps up very nicely and neatly indeed…I just wish I could spend another episode or two with the surpassingly adorable new couple of Morioka and Sakurai.

Finales are always, in part, a “thank you” to those who have watched the whole time, and NjS’s fulfills that role with aplomb. There’s no more misunderstandings or missed opportunities with these two, just a general (and understandable) nervousness and excitement.

It’s a thoroughly fun and joyful episode, which takes place mostly in Sakurai’s apartment. Morioka’s soaked clothes quickly led to a far more intimate situation than either party expected, to the point Morioka has to snap out of it lest Sakurai see her underwear in the changing room.

Each and every little domestic situation you’d expect of, say, a live-in couple, is experienced for the very first time by both Sakurai and Morioka. Take Sakurai’s computer terminal, which like Moriokas was a place of deep physical solitude for so many hundreds of hours, but sharing his computer and the experience of playing Lily, if only briefly, is as enjoyable for Sakurai as it is for Morioka.

These are also two very well-matched people, with Sakurai being very polite and even “old-fashioned” for his age, which isn’t even that much younger than Morioka to begin with. When they accidentally touch, they’re both embarrassed, but neither fins they really dislike such accidents.

Then Morioka’s stomach grumbles, and she defiantly accepts that this is “just who she is”; she also helps Sakurai cook and wash the dishes, and the two are already looking like an old married couple. They’re both having such a lovely time despite being so flustered.

Inevitably, the konbini incident comes up, and Morioka’s putrid sense of self-worth rears its ugly head. Sakurai, thankfully calling her out, gently tells her that while she often puts herself down, both he and likely everyone else values her a lot more than she thinks they do. He continues that both as Harth, Lily, and Sakurai Yuta, he’s very glad to have met her.

When Morioka cries tears of joy, he dries them with his sleeve, and the two almost seem ready for a kiss when the frikkin’ talking dryer startles them. With her clothes dry, Morioka takes her leave, thanking Sakurai for his hospitality.

Naturally, Sakurai reconsiders simply staying behind and walks Morioka home. Before they part, he lets her know he’d very much like “another day like today”, whether in Fruits de Mer or real life. Morioka agrees.

In a nice little moment while in the game, Lily notes the full moon, but Hayashi looks up and sees a crescent. But it’s really Sakurai talking about the moon IRL. And it’s IRL where they finally have their first (really second) date; with a very pleased Koiwai’s full blessing.

The two can’t help but notice the other couples are acting around them, and it makes them both a little embarrassed…but both want to power through that embarrassment. Gaining strength from their avatars and alter-egos, the triumphant Fruits de Mer music starts to play as Morioka takes a step forward, trips, and is caught by Sakurai.

That means they’re holding hands, but they don’t let go and continue on with their date, drawing strength and courage from one another. The episode ends rather abruptly (and with no “thanks for watching” card), but that’s alright; I’m not going to complain after such an enjoyable, heartwarming finale!

Sagrada Reset – 24 (Fin)

Haruki knows she faces a problem if she believes Asai Kei to be perfect and without flaw: it puts an untenable pressure on him to be flawless in order to continue being the Asai Kei she knows. But until she finds out what that flaw or mistake is within him, she won’t know him as well as she wants.

Fortunately for her, the power of abilities enables her to do just that in this, the final episode of Sagrada Reset. Kei has shifted his focus from Urachi (no longer a threat) to Souma Sumire (who has collapse). He wants to save her, and would like Haruki to put aside her differences with Souma and help him.

Haruki agrees – if Kei shares the memories he has of pre-Reset Harukis, through Sakagami’s ability. Kei agrees, and before you know it, Haruki remembers when she first said she liked Kei (having said it a second time just then), but also finds his mistake, which happened two years ago: when Kei kissed her, she was happy.

Kei apologizes for being an indirect and cowardly; Haruki admits she was the same. It’s a lovely and vital new step forward for this beautifully subtle yet increasingly warm couple.

The easy part thus completed, the hard part commences: Kei wants to “save” Souma, but what does that mean? Apparently, he aims to save her from the weight of her own longing over not being the girl who “won” him, and the intense feelings of perceived inadequacy and budding nihilism that realization cultivates.

He isn’t saving her because he’s a hero; he’s saving her because she’s his friend, and he wishes for her happiness to be “second-best” in the world (Kei makes no bones about who is Number One in his heart).

In Kei’s apartment in the dream world, Souma is sitting in the dark, hiding her face because she’s been crying. Kei takes her face in his hand and tells her however she’s feeling now, he can see a future, however far off, where she’s happy and smiling, despite him not being hers.

Souma is afraid of the prospect of being able to smile under such circumstances—where she essentially has lost to Haruki, and always will, every time. So she challenges Kei to one last game: correctly say her name, and she’ll go along with his plan for her.

But if he fails, she wins, and he’ll become hers, living in the dream world with him, like two stones, never being bothered by the world outside in the least. Cut to the end of the game, when Haruki appears to speak to Souma, and Souma holds out a stone she says is Kei, and tells her she’s won.

Haruki isn’t buying it; there’s no way Souma Sumire would wish for such a thing, and accuses her of having a “tantrum” and waiting for her to come and hand Kei over. Haruki tells Souma that she used to be able to use her ability by herself…until a reset led to Souma’s death and hurt Kei.

It stands to reason then, that if Souma’s turning of Kei into a stone also hurts him, there’s no reason to hold back and reset by herself again. But before she gets the word out, she holds back, because she believes that despite the stone trick, Souma really does have Kei’s best interests in mind.

Since Haruki isn’t buying it, and sees the stone trick as a means to get her to use her Reset of her own will, Souma tells her why: If Kei is going to assume responsibility for all of Sakurada’s abilities, he’s going to need someone by his side to help him, and if necessary, provide a check against him hurting himself. Souma concedes that Haruki is the best candidate for that job.

With both Haruki and Souma affirming their roles regarding Kei, Souma wakes up first, and Kei is watching her because her bed is by the moon and she looks pretty. That’s…kinda weird, but Souma doesn’t mind (at least, in this one little instance, she “beat” Haruki for once), and pledges herself to providing a voice of council to Kei, who agrees to listen to that voice.

Souma then shuffles off, and Haruki emerges from behind the curtain around her bed. Souma thought it would be awkward to stick around, while Haruki was embarrassed of seeing her, and lets Kei know that even if he doesn’t (and may indeed never) understand, she and Souma being “moderately adversarial” is “good”, i.e. “natural.”

Finally, Haruki places her hands on the shoulders of her man and tells him she’s thinking of letting her hair grow out, now that she remembers him saying, long ago, how he liked it that way. Now that she has those memories back, Haruki can love Kei of both the past and present instead of merely the latter.

That deeper understanding and affection, as well as Urachi and Souma’s respective redemptions, were only made possible through the existence—and judicious use of—abilities. So even if Asai Kei isn’t righteous or just or a hero, he was right to work so diligently to preserve abilities in Sakurada. They were and are the key to his happiness. They are…sacred.

And thus concludes a sometimes slow, sometimes maddeningly opaque, yet also almost always strange, intriguing and wonderfully offbeat show. I appreciated that the finale not showing us the results of Kei accomplishing all he’s set out to do—that would have felt cheap to go down in just one ep.

Instead, all his relationships are now in good standing, putting him in the best position to succeed. I close the book on this series wishing him and his the best in their endeavors to Keep Sakurada Weird.