Sagrada Reset – 08

After this week’s first act, I’m convinced this show excels at getting us to underestimate Asai Kei, at least as much as his adversaries do. Last week Eri Oka seemed to be holding all the cards, but it turns out Asai isn’t trapped in the photo for more than a few minutes.

Even though that buys time for Eri to mess with Haruki, Asai has Murase in place to mount a rescue. A rescue that occurs after Eri tries to plant false memories in Haruki, which not only doesn’t work (thanks to a little device in Haruki’s ear with Asai’s voice) but restores Haruki’s Reset ability.

It’s a great little turnaround, flummoxing Eri, who retreats for the time being. And having Asai and Haruki back together underscored how much anxiety I felt when they were apart. Of course, I’ve seen all their interactions thus far, but it’s important to remember Haruki doesn’t remember a lot of them.

That’s why she’s not keen to immediately reset; she wants to remember what Asai did for her. So instead of resetting, she saves, and Asai returns to the Sasano case, apparently confident Eri won’t be bothering them for a while.

The next morning, Asai receives a message to “come see someone”, and three photos, one of a woman on the beach, another of a blossoming cherry tree, and the third, Souma Sumire at sunset. Asai assumes it’s the “Witch” who is summoning him, so he goes to the beach.

There, he takes what he learned from his encounter with Eri, enters the photo, and converses with the Witch in her younger form. Because her ability is knowledge of the future, she knows what she’s going to do, and when she’s going to die, and wants to escape the bureau to see Sasano before that happens.

To that end, she used both Asai and Eri, but presents Asai with a choice: he can stop Eri, possibly leaving the Witch to die in confinement, or save the Witch another way (a way she may already know he’ll implement, mind you).

Asai gathers Sasano, Haruki and Murase, and head to the Bureau, Scooby-gang-style, and wait for Eri to get them inside. Sasano, armed with a Polaroid, takes photos of the building’s interior, one of which proves useful in getting one of the Bureau guards “out of the picture.”

This infiltration of the Bureau is only preparation for the next infiltration, when the actual rescue of the Witch is to take place. Asai has Haruki reset, sending him back to when they saved on the beach. He then jumps into one of the photos they took of the Witch’s room and asks her to call him.

The photos are still around because Murase had them, and her power negates reset, while his communication with the Witch of the past reaches the Witch of the present because she knows the future. It’s a complicated metaphysical labyrinth, but it checks out.

Before pulling it all off, Asai meets with a surprisingly chipper Eri, who accepts her loss but isn’t ready to give up on beating him, thus proving he’s weaker. Asai, meanwhile, knows that she won’t hurt him as long as he’s “defenseless.” Considering this is a long show, Eri is sure to be back; we’ll see whether she poses a greater threat at that point.

As expected, Asai gets a call from the Bureau, who bring him to the Witch, who asks him the same questions about “loving a stone” she asked Haruki, to which Asai answers he’d still love the stone if it was the girl he liked. But is that girl Asai…or Souma?

Regardless, Asai gives the Witch the photos she needs to escape and knock on the window of her boyfriend, just like the story Sasano told her when they were far younger. All these years, the Bureau has kept her under lock and key, fearful of her power. But after a time, or maybe all along, it was a power she never seemed all that interested in having, let alone using.

That’s why she decides she’ll leave Sakurada, forget about her power altogether, and live out the rest of her days—all seven of them, by her reckoning. But before she does, she indulges Asai by telling him his future: he will be involved in “something big”, something involving her “successor”, whom Asai correctly identifies as Souma. The Witch tells him he’ll run into her again. I certainly hope so!

Whew, what a ride. This mini-arc contained the most complicated ability machinations yet, and it was downright exhilarating watching all the pieces be carefully maneuvered into place before being set into quick, decisive motion. On top of that, we got confirmation Souma isn’t totally dead (though whether she’ll merely exist in that photo or not, who can say).

By not forgetting what Asai did for her, Haruki’s affection for him continues to grow. Murase is proving to be useful as “muscle” (i.e. putting holes in things or neutralizing abilities) while Eri has vowed to come back at Asai, insisting he should “be afraid.” One thing I’m not afraid of: losing interest in this unapologetically bizarre, engrossing show.

Attack on Titan – 33

Thanks to Bertholdt’s colossal smoldering husk falling off the wall, he and Reiner are able to make off with both Ymir and an incapacitated Eren in a literal cloud of smoke. All the scouts present end up injured and burned in some way, and Mikasa, who is knocked out, isn’t able to immediately give chase, like she did when Annie took Eren. No one is.

It’s a good a time as any, then, for another flashback to the “good old days” when Eren, Mikasa and Armin played out the very same dynamic: Eren would bite off more than he could chew in fights with bullies, Armin would run to Mikasa, and Mikasa would unleash hell on those who hurt Eren. But because she’s almost always just a bit late, she’s rarely able to get Eren out of a fight before he gets beaten up.

EAT ANGRY.

Hannes, who remembers this (and misses being a ‘useless drunk soldier’), reassures the two that Eren won’t give up just because he’s been taken away. There’s no evidence of him ever giving up throughout the years they’ve known him. So the best thing for Mikasa and Armin to do is not to stew in their own present helplessness, but rest, heal, and eat food, so they can give their best when it’s time.

That time comes sooner than expected, as Erwin arrives with the military police and join forces with the scouts to go across the wall. Hange believes the two traitors are likely tired after their ordeal and will hole up in the nearby giant forest until nightfall, when (most) other Titans don’t move.

She turns out to be correct, as Eren wakes up, still steaming and missing his arms, beside Ymir, who is looking much better than a couple episodes ago (in that she’s up, about, and talking). Reiner and Bertholdt are both back to their human forms. They should have a lot to talk about before the cavalry appears, and before the sun goes down.

Sagrada Reset – 07

“Things seem to be getting rather complicated, huh?”

I could not have said it better than Tsushima myself: Things are getting complicated, and for once, Asai has a worthy adversary who manages to stay a step ahead of him the entire time, leading to even higher stakes by episode’s end.

But let’s go back to the beginning, and the photo by Sasano that entices Asai so. It’s indeed a photo of Souma Sumire, on the same beach where they first met and promised to meet again. And I suppose he could, in a way, by entering the photo as Sasano does.

Extremely unsettling metaphysical ramifications aside, we also learn something simpler: the evolution of Oka Eri. She was once Fujikawa Eri, before the hair-dye and contacts and rad clothes; the “weak and worthless” daughter who took abuse from her father.

Two years ago, Asai saved Eri by telling her to change her name and use a piece of evidence to blackmail her father if she so chose. Oka Eri was born, and I believe part of her believes that she’s paying Asai back by confirming his weakness, in hopes he’ll return to his former strength; the hero to her villain in this story of life.

Asai has moved on from the person he was two years ago, but meanwhile, Sasano is able to travel to 28 years in the past where a much younger Oracle lives inside one of his photos. The two of them have a plan, and it’s a long-game kind of plan. When Sasano tells her the Bureau is going to try to shut him down, she tells him not to resist, but to give her a certain selection of photos before they come.

Asai all but confirms how soft he’s gotten since meeting Asai by being drawn away from her all too easily by a frantic phone call from Murase Youka. On her own, Haruki does her best to get away from a pursuing Oka, but around five seconds of eye contact are all the villain needs to steal her reset ability.

After confirming she can’t reset, Haruki begs Asai to help her get it back, and he agrees. He’ll accede to Eri’s demand for the MacGuffin in exchange for Haruki’s ability back, then learns more from Tsushima about Eri’s ability and its weaknesses, which will no doubt be pivotal in his counterattack.

However, he doesn’t get to make one this week. Standing his ground on having moved on from the “hero” Eri saw him as two years ago and worshipped, he offers the MacGuffin without any resistance; his only goal to restore Haruki’s ability.

But Eri has another trick up her sleeve, which digs an even deeper hole for Asai and Haruki: she traps him in a photo of the lighthouse balcony they’re on, taken during the day, underscoring how hopelessly cut off he is from the “non-photo” world. And poor Haruki, who trailed after Asai, hoping the plan would work out, is once again vulnerable to Eri’s whims.

All in all, quite a mess Asai and Haruki have found themselves in. A satisfying conclusion would obviously get them out of this mess, but also, as with Murase earlier, convince Eri not to be a villain anymore, not because she’s being forced to quit, but because she wants to. That’s going to take some doing…

…And that’s before we even get into whatever Sasano and Oracle are planning.

Attack on Titan – 32

Those who had a hankering for a knock-down drag-out Titan brawl were treated to one this week, with the added gravity of the Titan combatants being Bertholdt, Reiner, and Eren. As the latter two go at at the base of the wall, Bertholdt swallows Ymir (and someone else) and gives the soldiers atop it a big hit of burning steam, making attacking him impossible until he wishes it. It’s a stalemate, with Krista holding out hope Ymir is alive, and Connie, the poor bastard, hoping Bertholdt and Reiner are okay.

With the top of the wall stalemated for the time being, both Eren and Mikasa learn their usual attacks are worthless against Reiner’s armor. Eren, flat on his back, suddenly recalls his first martial arts lesson with Annie, who showed him for the first time that someone who isn’t Mikasa can be far stronger and effective in combat than they look, due to using their opponent’s size and strength as weapons against them.

The flashbacks mostly made me miss Annie dearly, wish she was still around, and wonder when if ever her story will be continued and/or resolved, what with all this other stuff going on taking precedence so far this season. I also dearly wanted to see her fight Mikasa, even if I was pretty sure Mikasa would win such a fight (considering what she did to Reiner).

Ripped from that happier past into a far more morose present, Eren finds his feet and the proper technique against Reiner, and a titan MMA match ensues, with Eren ripping Reiner’s limb off and the armor gradually flaking off in enough places that Mikasa can finally cut him.

I was a little irked why none of the other armed soldiers were going at Reiner’s obvious weak spots, rather than just Mikasa, but then it did take a while for her to fly over there, and more importantly, Reiner and Eren’s mutual hold is to Reiner’s advantage, as he drags Eren with him to a place directly below the simmering, deteriorating Bertholdt, whose smoldering colossal skull falls off and threatens to crush Eren.

Head’s up!

Sagrada Reset – 06

Sakurada Reset continues its penchant for whimsically jumping from timeline to timeline by starting four years in the past, with Kei on the train to Sakurada. He encounters a man in a suit who hands him a phone that immediately rings, and a nameless “witch” is on the other end, telling him the “place he belongs” is the town of Sakurada, but warns him he’ll never live a normal life, as the town will “grab on to [him] and never let go.”

Well, we know how he chose, and it leads to his latest assignment: meeting with Sasano, an elderly gentleman whose ability to enter photographs (and thus, relive moments from the past his photos capture) has been taken away. He wants the MacGuffin to get his ability back, but Kei believes there’s a more surefire way: use his and Haruki’s powers to stop whoever sealed his ability before they seal it.

When Sasano insists on repaying Kei once he restores his power, Kei asks if he’ll use his ability for him, after seeing a figure on the beach in a photo that could very well be Souma Sumire, the loss of whom no doubt weighs upon Asai every day. Perhaps seeing and hearing her one last time could assuage that regret. A chat with Hitsuchi-kun reveals that Sasano was one of the founders of the Bureau.

After not getting changed in front of Haruki (who’d have been totes okay with it) and enjoying a lunch she prepared for them, Kei tells Haruki the thought experiment of the “Swampman”, and it leads to Kei assuring Haruki he’d be sad if she died and was replaced by someone who looked exactly like her. Furthermore, he wouldn’t want to go on living without knowing the truth. Both assertions please Haruki.

The two are then summoned, as Tsushima assured them they would be, and they accompany the same suited man who approached Kei on the train years ago. They’re then separated, as only one of them at a time may meet with the person who wants to meet with them.

That person turns out to be another founding member of the Bureau, or at least a facilitator. She has no name, and refers to herself as a “witch” with partial jest and partial wistfulness. In reality, she is an oracle, able to see the future, both of Sakurada, the Bureau, and individuals like Kei and Haruki.

Naturally, she cannot tell them those futures, but only offer riddles, much like the Oracle of The Matrix. Aside from educating Kei on her purpose, and the fact she is near death, the “witch” does not dispense as much knowledge as she likely gains by seeing Kei’s future. She also “apologizes” to him but doesn’t say what for.

As for Haruki, the “witch” presses her on how she feels about Kei and why, talking about a stone with thoughts that can be turned into a human and whatnot. Ultimately, it’s a simple “chat with a girl about love”, and after reading her future, the “witch” has all she needs and bids her farewell.

After Kei was dismissed, he is confronted by Eri Oka, the girl who took Sasano’s ability; someone he knows and who knows him, calls him “senpai”, and a “hypocrite” and thinks he used to be “more badass”. She’s there for one thing: to be the villain, causing trouble for people.

Her specific threats: to take the MacGuffin from Kei, then take away Haruki’s Reset ability. She claims to hate Kei, and wants to see him hit rock bottom…and taking Haruki’s power would certainly do that! So when Haruki emerges from the building, he immediately requests she reset, and she does.

Oka Eri likely assumed Kei would get a reset or two in in an attempt to thwart her plans, but the threats have been dispensed. Now Kei and Haruki have to figure out a way to defeat her.

She’s a bit stiff and obvious as a villain, so I’m wondering if she’s truly what she says she is, or merely using her villain persona as a means to test the service club’s dynamic duo like they’ve never been tested before. Either way, it should be an interesting confrontation.

Attack on Titan – 31

Last week was a barn-burner (or rather castle-toppler) that put everyone through the ringer, revealing Ymir’s true form and Krista’s real name, so you’d expect a quieter “breather” of an episode, and that’s mostly what we get, right up until the cliffhanger ending. And what a cliffhanger.

But again, things start out quietly, with a comatose Ymir being lifted to the top of the wall for eventual transport to Trost. No one seems to be in a particular hurry to get her medical attention, but then again, she’s proven to be far tougher than a normal human.

The delayed removal of Ymir from the vicinity can’t help but feel like stalling as Eren puts two and two together after a very out-of-it Reiner oh-so-casually informs him he is the Armored Titan and Bertholdt is the Colossal Titan, and their mission is to destroy humanity.

Reiner also wants Eren to come with them back “home”, wherever that is, and if he does, they might just forego destroying humanity. Reiner’s sudden openness leaves Eren a bit dazed, and he tries to chalk it up to Reiner starting to lose it after going through so much.

12 hours before, before bailing out the scouts at Utgard, Hange reports that she’s finally received documents on Annie, and has learned she came from the same place as Reiner and Bertholdt. Furthermore, Reiner’s unit was given false information that would seem to incriminate him as working with the female Titan/Annie.

Armin also remembers Reiner demanding to know Eren’s location. Considering all this was swishing around Eren’s head, yet he held out a sliver of hope that they were just wrong, and his comrades Reiner and Bertholdt are innocent, made Reiner’s casual confessions that much more deflating.

In his discussion with Eren, Reiner eventually “snaps out of it” and decides that after three years, it’s time for him and Bertholdt to get back to their original mission, as they’re both warriors and the mission is the most important thing.

But just as he’s about to grab Eren, Mikasa appears from behind and slashes at him, acting when Eren cannot. I did originally think it odd Mikasa was walking away with the others, leaving Eren behind, but she turned back in short order, and could tell there was something rotten about the nature of the talk.

Mikasa is not quick enough to kill Reiner or Bertholdt, and they transform into Titans in a huge cloud of dust, grab Ymir and Eren, and make their escape down the side of the wall. Eren, remembering all the good times he had with his now-former comrades, isn’t having it, and finally transforms himself into a Titan, in order to dole out punishment on the two traitors. So much for rest for the weary.

Attack on Titan – 30

In true Attack on Titan momentum-killing fashion, we cut away from Titan-Ymir’s impending brawl with the other Titans to the fateful night Krista and Ymir shared back during Winter Training. There, it wasn’t Titans that threatened their lives, but the freezing cold of the blizzard they found themselves caught in.

Krista is determined to drag their injured comrade Daz back with them, but he’s half-dead already, and he’s slowing them down so much they may all freeze before returning to base. No, Ymir doesn’t think Krista is trying to save Daz. She thinks she’s trying to end her own life and pass it off as heroism.

In a flashback within the flashback, we learn why, and the root of Ymir’s interest in Krista: she learned that Krista was the illegitimate child of a noble, and thus ineligible to succeed him. Rather than just killing her, they changed her name and forced her into the cadets. Considering Krista a kind of kindred spirit, Ymir doesn’t think Krista should make the people who cast her aside happy by dying just yet.

As the flash indicates, Ymir transforms into a Titan to carry Daz back to base, having conveniently buried Krista in the snow. By the time Krista returns to base on her own, she’s stunned to find Ymir and an alive Daz beat her there. She asks Ymir how the hell it’s possible, and Ymir tells her…but only if she keeps an important promise.

Back in the present, it would seem that Krista either Ymir’s secret, after being plied with wine by Ymir shortly after learning the news. As it happens, Reiner and Bertholdt’s friend was killed by Titan-Ymir, so for a moment Reiner takes his blind rage out on Krista’s slender leg, before pleading ignorance of Ymir’s secret form.

Meanwhile, Titan-Ymir is kicking ass, but in her efforts to keep the tower from falling, is at a distinct disadvantage. You can’t play offense and defense at the same time, and noticing Ymir’s attempted heroics, insists that Ymir not die here, and instead tear the dang tower down, which she does. After that, everyone grabs Ymir’s hair and she flies them to safety.

“Safety” being out of range of the crumbling tower, but once all the stunned Titans get back up, they find themselves sitting ducks. There’s a horrifying oment when a Titan confronts Krista and goes for her head, but just then, Mikasa blazes in to take the beast down.

The cavalry has arrived, and their arrival brings a huge jolt of adrenaline to what had become an increasingly hopeless scenario. Eren even manages to sneak in “his first kill”, though I assume he’s talking “as a scout”, as he’s killed plenty as a Titan.

Once the remaining Titans are mopped up, everyone turns to Ymir, who has returned to human form, but is in rough shape. Krista talks hold of her and fulfills her promise, telling Ymir her true name: Historia. Then Ymir closes her eyes and smiles.

While I’m not left 100% sure this means Ymir is dead, with missing limbs, and a chest wound, she’s certainly not fighting anytime soon. Still, it was another emotional journey that deepens two more scouts, even as it seemingly takes one of them away.

Ymir clearly isn’t a saint (from the looks of what she did to Reiner’s village) but she’s not quite the devil, either. She decided long ago she’d go her own way, and that way included supporting Krista whenever she could, even at the cost of her life.

And Krista, who never made that deep of an impression in the first season (though I briefly mistook her, not Annie, being the Female Titan) really comes to life, both through her backstory and the passion she exudes. That character work makes this a solid outing, despite not touching on any of the show’s other, arguably larger extant mysteries.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 08

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After a taste of Kyoto-style rakugo (which has a lot more props than Tokyo style…not sure I like it) courtesy of Mangetsu, who is trying to make a comeback after ten years out of the game, We see a frail and withered Yakumo showing his grandson one of Sukeroku’s albums.

Higuchi and Matsuda then come in to show Yakumo the veritable bonanza of recordings and memorabilia the professor has collected over the years. Higuchi leaves it up to Yakumo whether the recordings and such were ever to be released to the public, or destroyed. Yakky says he’ll think about it.

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In a really, really lovely scene, we see the happy couple of Yotaro and Konatsu relaxing on a warm night, and Konatsu rests her head on Yotaro’s broad back and asks him to perform some rakugo, and is no doubt soothed by the vibration of Yotaro’s voice as he does so. It’s personal rakugo; not for a crowd, but for someone close.

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Yotaro can’t get far in his story before the couple notices Yakumo walking onto the nearby bridge; he feigns a desire to get out and about and a bout of sickness, but Konatsu knows what he’s up to: he was trying to off himself, something she won’t allow until he “atones.”

Or at least, that’s how she chooses to label her love for the man who brought her in when she lost both her parents and raised her into the fine woman she is. Yakumo concedes that fate may not be ready to let him die.

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Yakumo visits Kido Isao, an old friend and who owes him a “debt that can’t be paid”, knows how to keep quiet, and longs to hear Yakumo perform again. Then, one night, after seeing a play with Matsuda, Yakumo finds himself the victim of his loyal servant and family’s machinations.

To wit: he’s being forced into a performance before a small, select audience of old friends, colleagues, and patrons. When he threatens to leave, the lady of the Yanashima Inn “insists” by hilariously shoving him onto the stage.

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But before Yakumo has to perform, he yields that stage to his “dunce” of a student, who performs “Shibahama” to his master’s shock. When asked how he learned it, Yotaro confesses to having watched the film, though doesn’t go so far as to hear the truth of what happened at that inn so many years ago.

As for his “Shibahama”, Sokuroku’s was, in my opinion, far superior. But to Yotaro’s credit, he uses his tendency to weep easily well here.

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When it’s finally Yakumo’s turn, he introduces himself with an air of “whelp, I guess I can’t rest easy yet, so despite my dry tongue here goes”…only to be rudely interrupted by a police raid that has come to arrest Kido Isao. Have those coppers no decency?! 

One also wonders if, like when his suicide was thwarted by the sudden appearance of Yotaro and Konatsu, if there’s something to the fact that he was so harshly silenced just when he was about to do rakugo again.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 07

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It’s Autumn, and getting chilly, but Yakumo goes out to sit amongst the gingko trees on hospital grounds in thin robes. Konatsu finds him and wraps him in a scarf. He’s in a dark place. When he first collapsed, he thought he wouldn’t “have” to do rakugo anymore.

Now that he’s returned from that hall of candles and from his encounter with Sukeroku…wherever he was, he feels he’s lost both the voice and the desire to ever take the stage again. Konatsu, who still blames him for her father’s death, calls it karmic retribution.

The deep-seated bitterness remains. Yet if anything, Konatsu is even bitterer to see the ultimate antagonist in her life brought so low.

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Konatsu and Yakumo’s meeting among the Gingkos, and the tragic past that binds them, is re-investigated and all but rewritten this week, as Higuchi invites Yotaro and Matsuda to join him in the countryside where everything ended and began: the hot spring inn where Sukeroku and Miyokichi Yurie died.

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It’s where Higuchi, only a boy and accompanying his father, an inn regular, first met (and pretty much fell for) Miyokichi. A few years later he encountered her in Tokyo, and she’d only grown more beautiful and refined.

When Higuchi heard the way she spoke the name Kikuhiko, he had to see what kind of man could snatch this gorgeous woman’s heart. When he went to see the future Yakumo perform, he found himself in awe like many others, and asked if he could be a rakugo apprentice.

Obviously, Kiku refused, and now we know that young man from episode 10 of last season was Higuchi, who since then has immersed himself in rakugo, not as a performer, but a student, and may just be positioned to help steer its future with Yotaro.

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But this episode is concerned mostly with the past, specifically the last days of Sukeroku. Yotaro obviously wasn’t there, but Matsuda was, and throughout the episode Matsuda is overcome with nostalgia for the barely-changed place.

More to the point, Higuchi has brought them here to view film reels of Kiku and Shin’s performances, which despite their degraded quality put everyone right back in that state of awe. The Kiku in the film is younger than Yotaro, and yet he’s so much better, and more to the point, seems so much happier to be performing rakugo. All Yotaro needs to do is close his eyes, and he sees the young master in color, performing all the roles within the world of his story.

Then the innkeeper loads the reel of Shin performing “Shibahama”, the story of the wife’s lie that made her husband’s life better, and there isn’t a dry eye in the darkened room, including my own. It’s a story told and performed so well that it simply gets me every time. And Yotaro can tell how happy Shin was.

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After that, they go to the graves of Sukeroku and Miyokichi, whose happiness—and ultimately lives—Higuchi said were destroyed by Yakumo. But Matsuda knows the truth of what happened that night, and it isn’t the story Yakumo told Yotaro last season. Likely because it was such a good and well-told story, I never questioned whether Yakumo was a reliable narrator.

But overcome by all the memories the town, inn, and film reels surfaced in him, and the sun not only setting on the day, but on his and Yakumo’s lives, Matsuda reveals all: Miyokichi stabbed Shin. Kiku was holding him and got covered in his blood when Matsuda and Konatsu came in, and Konatsu then tried to push her mother out the window. Shin grabbed Miyokichi and the two fell to their deaths, while Kiku held Konatsu back.

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That misleading image—of Kiku holding her father, the two stained in blood, and Kiku wearing a fiercely hostile expression—is pretty much all Konatsu remembers of the ordeal; her memory is hazy from passing out from the shock of the events she witnessed. But it’s an image that still haunts her to this very day, as she smokes alone in her jammies when Yotaro returns home.

When she looks up at him, wondering why he was out late, she sees the tears in the big guy’s face (not an uncommon occurrence) and assumes Yakumo must have done that to him. He did, but not directly. Those are the tears of someone who has heard the truth and come across someone who still doesn’t, and has gone through a lot of pain because of it.

He doesn’t relay to Konatsu what he’s learned on this night. Instead he embraces her…while she keeps smoking. But I imagine the truth will come out at some point, as Matsuda begged Yotaro and Higuchi not to let the master leave the world believing rakugo will die with him.

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Fuuka – 06

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This episode of Fuuka has no band/light music club practice, no Mikasa, Nachi or Iwami, and precious little Fuuka. Instead, true to its title, it’s all Hinashi Koyuki all the time, starting with a particularly bad day at the recording studio. Koyuki just can’t manage to find her voice, and it’s likely largely due to “Nico-kun” being back in her life.

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First, we look back on their friendship, when she seemed to have much harder edges and a tomboy streak. Yuu was a crybaby prone to moping, but took direction well, and genuinely seemed to enjoy spending time with Koyuki, adventuring and such. Indeed, at this time, Yuu liked Koyuki, he just couldn’t muster the courage to say anything.

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As for Koyuki, her home situation isn’t great, as she cries herself to sleep as her parents war downstairs. When she becomes a child of divorce and moves to Tokyo with her mother, her friendship with Yuu is tragically cut short, just when they’d made promises not just to make snowmen, but to start a band like their mutual favorite – HEDGEHOGS – and share the stage one day.

I understand Koyuki’s attraction to Yuu and vice-versa a little more now now – they were largely each other’s only and best friends. People fall for their besties all the time. Yuu, for Koyuki, was an escape from her unpleasant home. Koyuki drew courage and chivalry out of Yuu.

It’s just a bit unfortunate Yuu tells her he “likes it better when she smiles”, because it plants a seed in her head that her smile around him is some kind of prerequisite for him liking her. I’m sure ‘lil Yuu didn’t mean it that way, but still…

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Fast-forward to now, and when Yuu admits he avoided contacting her out of fear she hated him—when she avoided contacting him out of fear he hated her—the assertive Tama-chan comes back out, inadvertently bringing out the mopey, submissive Nico-kun. It’s a nice scene, because A.) it lets us see another side of Koyuki and B.) it shows how quickly their old dynamic from when they were kids can reassert itself.

When Yuu talks about the band Fuuka made him and others join, it really irks Koyuki, to the point she can’t listen anymore and has to go. She leaves on cordial, even upbeat terms, however, as she gets Yuu to renew their deferred promise to share the stage someday.

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Koyuki then gets splashed by a truck just when Fuuka happens to be running by, and invites her into the bathhouse she lives above. Koyuki gets to take the measure of her potential rival, and Fuuka’s bubbly exuberance and physicality contrasts nicely with Koyuki’s more modest, solemn bearing. Koyuki also learns Fuuka has never even thought of being in a relationship, which buoys her spirits as she heads home: maybe regaining Yuu’s affections won’t be so hard after all, eh? Riiiight.

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And because we can’t have two episodes of Fuuka in a row end on an upbeat note, we end instead with two amateur photogs in a “Starbuccos” looking over a shot of Koyuki and Yuu pinkie-promising in his street. I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up on a tabloid magazine cover Fuuka happens to notice while walking by a newsstand, or something.

I’ll just close by saying I didn’t much mind the dearth of music or band practice this week, because, if I may confess, I don’t much care for that part of this show. It may yet change my mind, but for now I’m content with the relationship stuff.

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Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 12 (Fin)

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Whoops, miscounted: here I was thinking for some reason there’d be two episodes left, but this turns out to be the finale. And you know what? I’m fine with that, even if the epilogue was a little rushed.

The epic final battle between Ripple and Swim Swim goes on while Fav continues to verbally torture Koyuki, who doesn’t want to be a magical girl anymore. The damn cyber-bird-thingy finally broke her spirit.

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But then, when she finally hears the truth she probably should have known for some time now — that this was nothing but a deathmatch for Fav and Cranberry’s shared entertainment — she transforms once again, hoping not to be too late before Ripple and Swim Swim kill each other.

This is Koyuki finally focusing her grief over the patently unfair, grisly ordeal she’s been through into action. It’s very satisfying watching her smash her terminal in rage, even if we know it’s not yet the end of Fav.

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The battle between Ripple and Swim Swim, pockmarked as it is by cuts to Snow and Fav, at least shows Ripple has learned a thing or two, both from her own first fight with Swim and from others who didn’t quite get her.

Ripple uses light and sound to disable Swim Swim, pulling her out of her magical girl form. This is when what had been a satisfying battle between a super-strong kunoichi and a super-powerful magic-user stops being fun.

That’s because Swim’s transformation back to normal shows us that Swim Swim was only a small child, and a deeply troubled one at that. She was doing what she thought she needed to do to become her idol, Ruler, and Ripple takes no joy in finishing the tyke off.

That being said, things got satisfying again when Ripple puts Swim Swim’s magic spear through the Master terminal, which takes Fav off line for good (cue grumpy cat GOOD pic). I also liked the cleverness of Koyuki being able to hear that Fav was in trouble, and that the spear would indeed do him in.

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Snow was too late to save Swim Swim (not that she would have listened to reason if she were still alive when she arrived), but she does end up saving Ripple by inspiring her. With Top Speed avenged, Ripple wants to go back to being a magical girl in the vein of Snow White; that is, someone pure and righteous, not someone who ends up having to stab children.

In the aforementioned speedy epilogue, Koyuki abandons her normal life, and for six months, toughens her mind and body — with Ripple’s help — and pulls off increasingly big, flashy feats — having come a long way from doing little kind deeds here and there.

Going big picture as she does, and rejecting the selection process and the raising project, is likely Koyuki’s way of making up for all the other girls whose lives were lost so that she could, as Fav put it, rise to the top without “dirtying her hands.” Now she’s a little less bright-eyed and naive and more world-weary and wise. And she’s determined to do everything she can to make the world a better place.

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Other than Fune wo Amu, which was handed off to me by Zane, MGRP was the last show standing on my Fall ’16 watchlist. A big part of that was that it was an elimination show that kept me involved right to the end, despite almost never properly developing characters in the right way or at the right time. (A notable exception being Alice).

Anyway, I’m glad I stuck with it, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Madoka. It wasn’t nearly as good, but it was a fun ride.

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Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 11

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Well, Cranberry didn’t think Swim Swim would be able to kill her, and she was right…but she didn’t account for Tama and her hole-making ability at a crucial moment, leading to the unfortunate state of affairs above, one of the most surprising (not to mention awesomely gruesome) sudden deaths of the show. Cranberry was supposed to be above all this; she was the last girl standing once before, after all. But she wanted to fight strong enemies, and got her wish – and dug her grave in the process. R.I.P. Cranberry.

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For her, well, dog-like loyalty (and complete and utter lack of guile), Tama is swiftly dispatched by Swim Swim, ever looking out for Number One. Tama saw Swim Swim’s true form, after all, and one of the edicts the late Ruler instilled in Swim Swim — in real life a small, impressionable, dedicated young girl — was to never let anyone learn your true identity. Swim Swim decided that even meant her last and most loyal ally. R.I.P. Tama.

(Incidentally, we got Tama’s backstory as she bleeds out, confirming her guilelessness and indicating she, like Alice, simply wanted to be useful to people. Pretty rote stuff.)

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With the shocking exit of Cranberry (and the far less shocking exit of Tama), the last three magical girls remaining are Swimmy, Ripple, and Snow White. Ripple asks Snow to meet, but Ripple just wants any and all intel Snow might have on Swim Swim, nothing more. Snow argues killing Swimmy now will only make Ripple a murderer, but Ripple don’t care. If Snow won’t help her, she’ll go it alone.

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Ripple seems to live only to avenge her friend and mentor Top Speed, the aftermath of whose death has been hard on her. Snow lost a friend last week in Alice, but it was essentially a friend she didn’t know she had. Swim Swim, showing a tinge of the innocence of her real self, sheds a tear at the loss of Tama, but Tama wasn’t really her friend, either, more of a sidekick.

No, Ripple and Top Speed were the best-realized duo on the show — more even than Snow and Pucelle — and it was something Ripple didn’t know how badly she needed until it was gone. Top Speed could see a side to Ripple — to Sazanami Kano — no one else could, either because they were too busy looking her up and down, or because she wore her mask so well.

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Interestingly, Ripple gets a full-on Sailor Moon-style transformation sequence prior to heading to the dam to duel Swim Swim. The fact it’s a dam means there’ll be plenty of water there (good for Swimmy), but Ripple at least has the hint from Fav (who seems kinda miffed by Swimmy’s apathy with her new role as master) that light and sound are her weaknesses.

I don’t know who will prevail in that duel: judging from past battles, Swim Swim always seems to get the upper hand in the end, but she’s out of allies and now occupies the same seemingly invincible space Cranberry once stood. I can’t rule out a Ripple victory.

Heck, maybe they kill each other, leaving Snow White as the last girl standing by default. That’s the least satisfying outcome: Snow is still clinging to her ideals of what a Magical Girl should be. It stands to reason a show that loves taking things away would take that away from her before all’s said and done.

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Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 10

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What do we have here? The first magical girl backstory that actually made me feel something, and elicit something other than an indifferent shrug. Like all the other backstories, it still comes too late to be as impactful as it could have been, but it still connected. And what do you know, it’s Hardgore Alice’s alter ego: Hatoda Ako.

One reason Alice looks so dark is because Ako comes from such a dark place. Her father murdered her mother, making her a pariah at school. While her auntie seems nice enough, Ako knows she’s not needed by anyone; she’s just a burden. Then she heard about Snow White, and thought they would make a pretty sweet black-and-white duo.

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Of course, this is MagiPro, so that turned to shit pretty fast. Mina disguised herself as Alice’s stuffed rabbit in order to learn Ako’s home address. Once Swim Swim knew that, all she had to do was ambush Ako when she wasn’t in her invincible form.

There’s a special twist of the knife in play here, what with Alice trying to reach out to Snow White as a friend, but simply being unable to say the right words at the right time.

That time is when Koyuki is simply freaking out about all the horrible things happening (which is justifiable), but that doesn’t make it any easier when Snow White is holding a bloody, dying Ako in her arms and learns it’s her would-be only friend in the world.

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That leaves Snow White, Ripple, Swim Swim, Mina, Tama…and Cranberry. And in case you haven’t been paying attention in the last few Cranberry scenes, Cranberry isn’t like the other magical girls. In fact, she seems to be some kind of facilitator from the magical world, overseeing what is in fact a super-bloody selection process that is nearing its end as the ranks dwindle.

For the record, Cranberry would have preferred to simply kill off all the weak ones right away, but has seemingly left the administration of the game to Fav (and whoever is controlling/speaking as Fav).

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Swim Swim has proven to be a one-girl wrecking crew, and when she comes to Cranberry’s forest to take her down, Cranberry uses is as an opportunity to get to know Swimmy a little better. She’s impressed by her, if not her sidekicks (she kills Mina with ease, in one of the show’s more unceremonious killings), but she still doesn’t think Swim Swim can beat her.

As for Ripple, who is out there on her own with only revenge on her mind, I’m not sure how she’s going to be able to actually exact any on Swim Swim. The first time they fought, Swim seemed to have her number, and that was with Top Speed’s help. And then there’s the possibility Cranberry will kill Swim Swim before Ripple can get to her. In any case, it’s never a dull moment in MagiPro Land.

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