The aquatope on white sand – 10 – You can’t go home

Only a damn week left in August. A week of Summer Break. Until reopens, the aquarium closes, and Fuuka goes back to Iwate, among other things. After staring at the downtown monstrosity that reminded me of the Olympic Stadium in AKIRA, Kukuru is staring at that damn calendar with only seven days left.

Kai, whose first memory of Kukuru is watching her back tremble as she wept in her front yard, sees that back again. It’s not trembling, but he knows it’s troubled. But he can’t, because he’s just a little too slow and Kukuru is so distracted by her problems she doesn’t even notice Kai is there, and certainly doesn’t see him as a potential source of healing.

Kukuru isn’t really seeing Fuuka either. Fuuka did commit to supporting Kukuru’s dream when her own dream ended, but thanks to the call from Ruka, that dream is suddenly alive again if she wants it: a goddamn starring movie role. Of course she can’t share this news with Kukuru, who has no time or headspace for anything but her beloved Gama Gama. Seeing how Kukuru flails near the finish line really accentuates just how grown up and mature Chiyu was by comparison last week.

Chiyu can see her future and she’s lunging forward and grasping at it with everything she has. Kukuru is trying to keep her past her present and future. She’s so desperate, she resorts to asking Udon-chan’s mom to see if there’s a way to exploit the inscrutable magical realism moments she, Fuuka, and others have experienced. She thinks if she can put it out there on social media that Gama Gama is a “place of miracles” and a “healing power spot”, she can save it.

But just look at everyone’s faces. Kukuru’s desperation is clear to see. Udon-chan is the only one humoring her with a half-hearted, almost patronizing smile. Fuuka is quietly neutral. Karin is like this girl is going off the deep end.

During what was without doubt the most depressing watermelon-eating scene I’ve ever seen committed to the screen, Fuuka can’t hold in what’s bothering her anymore, even if it only adds to Kukuru’s problems. When Fuuka doesn’t enthusiastically say she’ll turning the movie role down, Kukuru cant stomach any more watermelon, or Fuuka’s presence.

In a way, it’s not fair. Fuuka has pretty much had to couch all of her issues while August has worn on and Kukuru’s various ideas to save Gama Gama have come and gone with the same middling success. But Fuuka isn’t sure what she’s doing anymore, which means she’s not committed to helping Kukuru salvage her dream. There’s no point in lying, and I’m glad Fuuka doesn’t, nor does Kukuru hide her disappointment.

Kai, who it’s clear has been working himself way too hard just so Kukuru has an extra strong back at the aquarium, finally gets a chance to spend some time alone with Kukuru, but it’s strictly business: she needs him to be her guinea pig to see if the “illusions” will occur for him. Kukuru’s obsession with saving Gama Gama is flattening all of her relationships. She only noticed Kai when she needed him.

Why she thinks sitting three feet away and leaning towards him with a notebook will put him in the right state to see said illusions…but like I said, Kukuru is desperate…almost as desperate as Kai is to help and console and comfort her. But once again, he’s a little to slow to call her name and reach out, as she buzzes off on her motorbike after their failed illusion session. He keeps getting so close! 

Back home, Kukuru’s Gramps gives her a talking-to about how it was wrong to try to lure supernatural otaku to the aquarium with promises of miracles and illusions. In effect, this week is when Kukuru’s illusory world finally comes into focus. Everyone but her isn’t saying Gama Gama is doomed because they’re being assholes. It’s because Gama Gama is doomed. Barring some serious Kijimunaa divine intervention, of course.

I don’t know of Kijimunaa is directly responsible for the illusions, but the reason for them is made plain (if it wasn’t already) when Kai, distraught over his inability to reach present-day Kukuru, finds himself behind the shoulder of his younger self when he first met her. Audio is added to this scene and it’s brought into context as one of countless times young Kukuru ran out of her grandparents’ house declaring through tears that she’s going home to “mommy and daddy.”

This was, predictably, the point at which I broke down in tears, and basically unconditionally forgave Kukuru for all of her transgressions both this week and in previous episodes. Kukuru lost her parents at a tender age, but not so tender that she was shielded from the weight of the loss. She was old enough to know, but wasn’t ready to accept, that they were gone. The home she knew and loved was gone too.

Past Kai hesitates just like Present Kai did three times prior, but Present Kai is there to give Past Kai a push towards Kukuru. He whips out a big, gorgeous fish he just caught, and Kukuru’s tears stop almost immediately.

Kai comes out of his illusion to a Kukuru hopeful she just witnessed him experiencing what she experienced. But to both her dejection and my own, Kai softly shakes his head. It was a beautiful memory, but just a memory. It was the past, and just the illusion of it. He doesn’t want to feed her any more illusions. Instead, rather than gathering her into a big hug, he puts up his hands so she can punch them and yells “Come!”

Kukuru cries as she punches, but Kai tells her to keep punching, as hard as she can, into his palms. I’m sure if he had a big beautiful freshly caught fish, he’d give her one to cheer her up. We later see that Kukuru posted a retraction on social media, so even that last-ditch plan ended in failure.

If I were her, I’d also be grateful for a friend willing to absorb my punches, my failures, my despair—all of it, for my sake. And when my fists (and their palms) were sufficiently red and stinging, I’d feel better, and maybe even be ready to take a step forward.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 10 – Not Weird at All

While sleeping in her little cabin, Alice dreams of when she was a little girl, hiding behind her mother Sharon’s skirts at the sight of Rob but always waving to young Bocchan, who always waved to her. Even back then, he didn’t see her as a servant, but a normal girl he wanted to befriend. We’re not talking about Prince Joffery here!

After that dream, there’s a sequence involving Caph going food shopping for the first time while Zain keeps an eye on her. Once she figures out what it means to “pay” people “money” for things, she gets the hang of it, and even stops a boy that was trying to pickpocket her from getting impaled on a sharp cast iron railing. Zain only comes in to “bail her out” insofar as he helps her pick up the dropped groceries.

When Bocchan can’t sleep, Alice offers to sleep in his bed with him until he can, then runs off to change into her pajamas without waiting to hear if he was okay with that. Having Alice next to him is stressful at first, but when he sees her beauty up close and how calm and relaxed she is, he manages to calm down. Granted, that would have happened faster if she hadn’t tried to strip out of her PJs more than once!

The meat of this mostly slice-of-life episode involves what should happen if Bocchan lifts the curse. Yes, he’ll presumably return home and take his place as the next family head. But what of Alice? While Bocchan professes his love for her and assures her if his family objects to their marriage, he’ll cut ties with them. That is the last thing Alice wants, but believing his future to be more important than hers is the last thing he wants.


After singing a lovely, pure duet of the nursury rhyme “The Owl and the Pussycat” together, Bocchan ends up insisting on escorting her back to her cabin, armed with the scarf and gloves she lovingly knit for him.

Assuming the curse will end some point before the end of the show’s run, Alice seems convinced she and Bocchan won’t be able to see each other anymore, at least not they way they currently do. But who says that’s the way it has to be? Doesn’t Bocchan get a say?

Sonny Boy – 08 – Canis Dei

What if you befriended God? Yamabiko pretty much did, as he tells the tale of how he became a dog to Nagara and Mizuho as they sit beside campfires in wastelands and traverse various gorgeous landscapes. Kodama was special. She could “direct” all things, and so quickly became worshipped by all her classmates. She became their “whole world.”

Then, out of nowhere, their world became something else: a pandemic struck the class. Horrible red tumors grew on their bodies, including Kodama’s. But Yamabiko, ever her loyal subject, refused to say she was ugly. In fact, he felt very much the opposite: she was hard to look at because she had become too brilliant. When one of her tumors burst and her blood flowed, he lapped it up, and transformed into a dog.

Yamabiko never thought he did much with his human form, an ill-natured youth wandering the worlds alone and bitter. But one night he was pulled out of the literal muck by Kodama. He found himself in a “peaceful, easy world” where she and the others lived contentedly. But she admits it’s dull, as living their cut them off from new information.

Yamabiko couldn’t understand why anyone, much less someone akin to a god as Kodama, would be kind to him. It disturbed him, so he attempted to flee. Remind you of anyone Yamabiko is currently traveling with? Naga-er, Yamabiko tried to sail a raft across the sea, only for Kodama to catch up to him with a hot meal. When he tosses it over the side, she dives in and makes a giant goddamn soup fountain that Yamabiko couldn’t help but lap up.

The more time he spent with Kodama, the more he thought he had come to the end of his once endless wandering, to his destination. But then the pandemic struck, and a man appeared who seemed to fare worse than any of them. This man was the first and only person to call Kodama “ugly”. It both shocked and pleased her, that someone would tell her the truth. That was the whole point.

This mysterious man, named “War” (which…okay) indicated he was not the sole cause of the pandemic, but a side effect of the otherworld in which everyone dwelled. In this world, mental wounds became physical tumors. As for who made this world, well…when Yamabiko was pulled out of that muck, he was being pulled into a world of his own making, which is why Kodama’s godlike powers could not stop the pandemic.

Yamabiko learns to late that had he “changed” himself and flown voluntarily out of the shell he had created around himself, he could have saved Kodama and everyone else; even met them on the other side, in another world where the pandemic didn’t exist. But he couldn’t. Even when Kodama was the last one alive and all but consumed by the red crystal-like tumors, he stayed by her side like the dog he was…loyal to a fault.

Then Kodama died, and Yamabiko finally fulfilled his promise to Kodama by flying out. He’d stayed there till the end because he feared losing the light that she represented. As for actually flying out, it took him five thousand years to do so.

As Yamabiko completes his tale, he, Nagara, and Mizuho reunite with Nozomi, and learn that while they believe they arrived precisely on the day agreed upon, time moves two weeks faster for her. No matter; Nagara takes her phone and re-syncs their times.

That night, beside another fire, Nozomi catches up on what Yamabiko has told the others. He also tells them that this “War” fellow was trying to kill God. Nagara wonders whether it would make a difference even if such a thing could be done while roasting a marshmallow.

So yeah…Yamabiko’s been through some shit. Kodama immediatley asserted herself as one of the most impactful characters of the series in just one episode, and much of that is due to Taketatsu Ayana’s virtuoso performance.

Combined with Tsuda Kenjirou’s dulcet tones, a lush, moody futuristic soundtrack, all those gorgeous, painterly vistas, and some truly gut-wrenching moments, this Sonny Boy stands as the most raw, unrelenting, and personal outing yet. I’ll be watching this many more times in the future, no doubt gleaning new insights or noticing new details each time.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 08 – Beauty and the Grouch

This week’s first segment introduces us to Bocchan’s younger brother Walter, and…he’s a lot. First and foremost, he’s a bit of an arrogant prick, already measuring the drapes for his ascension to head of the family. He’s also got a complex about being called the secondborn son…even though that’s what he is. His goofy antics and physical comedy aside, Walter is not a good guy. At least Viola visits her big brother and treats him like a person!

While her official stance is neutral, I imagine Viola prefers Bocchan to Walter, and hopes he’ll break the curse. During her latest visit, she meets Caph, initially assumes she’s a burglar (not a bad instinct!) and attempts to tackle her, only to bounce off her bust. Then she sits on Caph and ties her up by the fire, which is the scene Rob walks in on, much to Viola’s dismay.

While Viola is charming, cute and fun to watch, the real meat of the episode comes in the final extended segment, during which both Bocchan and Alice play a game of chess during a snowy winter night and reminisce about a similar night years ago, when Alice was appointed Bocchan’s maid. Bocchan was in a much darker, more nihilistic emotional place then, and his first instincts were to dismiss Alice and suspect she’s laughing at him on the inside.

This is because, no doubt due in part to the trauma of suffering the witch’s curse, he doesn’t remember Alice. He certainly isn’t aware of just how momentous him taking her hand and helping her off the ground meant to her at that difficult time in her life. That’s right: the kid who now kills anything he touches once essentially saved Alice’s life…with his touch.

No matter how many insults Bocchan flings Alice’s way or derides her mere presence, or tells her he flat out hates her, Alice does not bend, at least not in front of him; we see a rare moment of her vulnerability after he leaves his room and sighs. When he gives her an ultimatum of cleaning his rock starred-up room in three days or she’s fired, she does it in one night, even though she cuts up her fingers picking up shards of glass.

When Bocchan sees Alice isn’t leaving, he decides to leave instead, trudging out into a winter storm until he’s lost and freezing. It’s then that he decides it would be better to just die than continue living the joke of a life he’s endured thus far, unable to touch or be touched.

But it’s while lying in the snow that he finally remembers who Alice was. That’s when Alice arrives to help him up the way he helped her up years ago. The only difference is there’s an umbrella between their hands this time. Alice fell for Bocchan that day, and never stopped falling for him since.

The Witch told Bocchan “No one shall love you, and you shall love no one. You will live a life of misery.” But that’s no longer true once the two come in from the cold and warm themselves by the fire. Alice does love and care for Bocchan, then and always, and Bocchan soon comes to love her right back as the misery in his life gives way to that love and the joy it brings.

Could it be that ever since that snowy night, the witch’s curse has been broken all this time, except that he can only touch Alice? If Bocchan can touch Alice, could it be long before he can safely touch Viola, or Rob, or Caph and Zain, or Walter…or even his mother? Maybe it will all come down to loving and being loved. We shall see in the final third of Duke of Death and His Maid

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Detective Is Already Dead – 05 – To Hel and Back

This week dispenses with the present day event of Char preparing to reunite with Kimi and takes us back to when he has been Siesta’s sidekick for around a year. They’re on vacation at the beach, Siesta is showing off the ripped abs that make her a formidable combatant; she also gets to see that Kimi is in better shape than she expected.

This continues the quasi-romance, but as important as Siesta ends up being to Kimi in the present once Nagisa shows up with her heart, they never actually dated. That said, Siesta never let Kimi forget she was a woman, he was a man, and if “no one is watching”, why not have a little more fun?

The duo return to business in London where a modern-day Jack the Ripper named Cerberus is poaching hearts of their victims. Detective Kase only shows up long enough to hand Kimi her lit cigar and lighter along with what seems like a tough serial murder case. Obviously, Siesta is already well into this case; the main issue is that every time she gets close to Cerberus they manage to slip through her fingers, suggesting a powerful sense of smell.

Siesta neutralizes Cerberus’ olfactory advantage by using Kimi as bait. At first it looks like Char was sent by Siesta to protect Kimi, but when Char calls Siesta by her name instead of “Ma’am”, Kimi exposes her as an impostor. Sure enough, “Char” is really Cerberus, who is also a werewolf, hence the great sense of smell. Bereft of any other weapon, Kimi tosses Kase’s lit lighter on the bed, starting a fire that activates the sprinklers.

This whole time, a special gas was released in Kimi’s room by Siesta, which when mixed with the water of the sprinklers, blocks Cerberus’ sense of  smell. This allows her to get the jump on him, blasting through the window, shooing him with her silver rifle and delivering a kick for good measure. While clearly fluster moments earlier, Kimi breathes a sigh of relief, implying he never doubted she’d show up in time.

Unfortunately, Cerberus nearly gets away, only to be beheaded and de-hearted by his boss, Supreme Leader of SPES, codenamed Hel (Norse goddess of the dead). With her black hair, red eyes, and evil affiliation, Hel is very much Siesta’s opposite.

Hel uses some kind of magic eyes to stop Siesta dead in her tracks, and then takes Kimi hostage. Cuffing him to a chair in a huge facility beneath Parliament, she reveals a giant monster she’s been feeding human hearts. You’d think someone with this power and reach would have made sure Kimi didn’t have anything on him he could use to unlock his cuffs. Alas.

Hel is interested in Kimi because the Secret Writ she follows already predicts that Kimi will work for her someday in the future. She doesn’t see him as a magnet for trouble, but an entity who brings out trouble; a “pivot point” of the world—the perfect person to have around if you want to “save” the world by destroying its present version.

But yeah, Hel spends too much time talking about her plans and the facility they’re in, giving Siesta time to use an industrial mech to blast through the stone walls to rescue Kimi once more. Kimi is her sidekick, and she’ll be damned if she’ll let anyone poach him.

Want to read more about this episode? Head over to Crow’s!

Vanitas no Carte – 05 – Getting to Noé You

Charlatan takes hold of Noé and instigates a trip into his memories; specifically, back to when “Teacher” (not “Master”) brought Noé to live with his two grandchildren, Louis and Dominique in a mansion not too dissimilar from Bocchan’s. The siblings quickly become his first and dearest friends. The three of them, in turn, befriend four kids from the nearby village.

We’ve seen flashes aplenty of Louis—though I assumed she was a girl due to being voiced by one—but here we finally meet the kid, who while withdrawn and aloof does find comfort and even occasional joy in both Domi and Noé’s constant company. The three are inseparable, even sharing a bed during a thunderstorm, and during the blue moon the Teacher seems to indicate to Louis that he brought Noé there to raise him to eventually befriend someone like Vanitas.

That’s key, as Louis is isolated because he is a curse-bearer-in-waiting. He believes Dominique was born to replace him as the heir to the de Sade clan. Things take a turn for the super-dark when one of their village friends is scheduled to be executed, but goes berserk, leading to Louis beheading her to save Noé and Domi. However shitty his situation, he never blamed his sister and adpotive brother for it.

But when Louis himself succumbed to the curse, the Teacher steps in to behead him—right in front of Noé, who could not do what Louis wished and kill him himself. Left with nothing but a chest full of hand-carved stakes, Noé falls in despair for not being strong enough to save Louis or even put him out of his misery.

It’s Noé’s misery and regret upon which Charlatan feeds and tightens its hold on him, ready to curse him as he did Louis. And after reliving his tragic past, Noé definitely seems to be in a bad way…until Vanitas, having not been sucked dry by Jeanne—and possibly even made stronger by her drink—arrives just in time to disperse Charlatan and rescue his new friend Noé.

While lengthy flashbacks can sap present momentum, in this case it feltjustified, as we lacked the full emotional context of Noé’s relationships and motivations. We learn how close he got to Louis and how that made him reluctant to get too close to Vanitas. We see how adorable and sweet Domi was (Kayano Ai is so good at voicing the younger, more innocent versions of her characters), but how Louis’ fate and her family’s plan transformed her.

Finally, we understand why the Teacher sent Noé to befriend Vanitas, as the Teacher seems to be the rare vampire who understands the true value of those born under the blue moon. But then if Vanitas can save the vampires from the curses of Charlatan, why is Noé destined to kill him? Is that the Teacher’s ultimate plan for him, or does it just…happen? For that, we’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 04 – The Witch and the Snow Fairy

After three weeks of chiding her for getting so close to him, one day Alice is keeping her distance, seemingly avoiding Bocchan. When he tries to approach her, she Shunpos away like a Shinigami out of Bleach. But he soon deduces that she’s caught a cold and doesn’t want to give it to him.

Defying her caution, he tucks her into bed in her cottage and vows to stay by her side until she’s better. It’s a lovely inversion of their usual dynamic, with Alice seeminly capable of anything while Bocchan is weak an ineffectual.

Winter has come to Bocchan’s villa, and with it a fresh blanket of morning snow. The episode really captures the childlike glee that comes with the first sight of such a snowfall (assuming you’re not trying to drive to work that morning).

Bocchan is similarly elated to get to see Alice set against the pure white backdrop, accentuating her loveliness. The two and Rob build a snowman and have a spirited snowball fight, with Alice demonstrating she also has Matrix-like powers of evasion.

In the midst of all the wintry fun, Alice loses one of her earrings, which belonged to her mother and is thus precious and irreplaceable. By the time she realizes it’s gone it’s nighttime and snowing harder, but Bocchan goes out unbidden to dig through the snow looking for it.

The conditions quickly sap his energy, and he’s soon lying in the snow, exhausted. This is how the witch Caph finds him, and when she hears what hes doing, for whom, and why, and that he won’t give up, her initially hostile stance softens, and she decides to help him with her fire magic.

The earring thus found, Bocchan and Caph go in and the witch is introduced to Alice. A lazier or more obvious choice would be to make Alice jealous of Caph for vice versa, but the two women get along famously, and in any case, Caph apparently has her own guy friend whom she admires and adores the similar to how Bocchan and Alice adore each other.

What she doesn’t have is any concrete answers for Bocchan about his curse or how to break it, no matter how much Alice plies her with food, tea, and dessert. Caph is sympathetic to Bocchan’s plight and has even taken a shine to the guy, but she doesn’t consider herself anywhere near the league of the witch who did this to him.

Caph flies off in her bat form, but I’m sure she’ll be back. The next day while outside touching up the Bocchan snowman, Alice recalls a memory from when she was bullied by the rich kids for not being rich, even though she was adorable. Only Bocchan was kind to her, dusting the snow off of her (he could touch people at the time) and saying she looks like a beautiful snow fairy when set against the white powder.

It really brings into focus Alice’s love and devotion to Bocchan, and when he says the same thing he said back then—that she’s like a snow fairy—Alice can’t help but chortle gleefully, for her beloved Bocchan has scarcely changed in all these years. Indeed, the main change is the curse, about which hopefully something will be done before this series concludes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Detective Is Already Dead – 04 – Blue Moon in Her Eye

Huh…well that was…something? I dunno, there’s something very odd and random about just running into an idol concert and randomly wandering around until you realize the bad guy can hear you even through all the noise…and the bad guy gives away his position for no reason. Also, both the crowd of weird shadow people who all have identical green light sticks (why not…blue?), Yui’s performance, and the general sound mix left a lot to be desired.

I’ll, admit, while I suspected Yui made that threat letter, I didn’t think the giant sapphire would her false left eye. That’s odd in more a cool way than a head-scratching one. Still, the entire concert scene that culminated in Kimizuka leaping to push Yui out of the path of a crossbow bolt lacked suspense and the appropriate level of production value.

Matters aren’t helped when Yui explains why her eye is a sapphire and while I obviously sympathize with her losing her parents at such an age, only to inherit a giant mansion, immense fortune, and oh yeah, a sapphire eye that SPES is apparently trying to steal.

That brings us to the most contrived part of the episode: that Yui was manipulated by SPES into trying to kill Kimizuka and Nagisa by rigging a bomb in the jewel vault. This is indeed a twist, but Kimizuka’s manner of deducing it makes no sense. Also her eye has x-ray vision…so I guess it’s not just a sapphire, and Yui is part cyborg?

It’s all moot, as despite the fact Yui pulls a gun on Kimizuka and Nagisa, five minutes later she’s lowering it and crying about not wanting her jewel eye stolen. This begs the question of why is SPES only now trying to steal it. It also seems strange that a secret evil organization would choose such a public and audacious manner of trying to steal it as shooting a crossbow bolt through a beloved idol’s eye.

These are the kind of questions I’d rather not have, but because this episode is only interested in conclusions and twists and not doing any of the work to set them up properly, my mind wandered often.

In any case, Yui is now a friend and compatriot of Kimizuka and Nagisa, fellow targets of the nebulous Bad Guys. The next day, as news of Kimizuka rescuing Yui plasters the city’s video screens, another person from Kimizuka’s past arrives: a blonde bombshell named Char whom we learn—in a flashback in the most obnoxiously expositiony way possible—is the brawn to Kimizuka’s brains.

Siesta insisted that the two learn to get along and cover for each others’ weaknesses. Either that never happened or it never had a chance to happen, because that day on the boat with Kimizuka and Char was Siesta’s last. I foresee next week focusing on Char’s return to Kimizuka’s life, the two trying and failing to get along, but not giving up on trying in honor of their mentor…whose heart is alive and well in Nagisa.

Hear what Crow has to say about episode 4 here.

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 10 – How It Started / How It’s Going

After spending two weeks in the Meiji era with the exception of the final act of last week, when Yuugiri led Franchouchou in one of their best performances yet—and oh yeah, Saga is apparently an extremely long-lived person—we find ourselves a mere year in the past, before the EFS fiasco.

The idols are riding high on their success in the snow at Arpino, but that was only a crowd of five hundred people. But Koutarou, no less high on success, decides that Franchouchou have proven themselves legendary enough to fill the same stadium where Ai died. Her feelings about performing there aside, Ai knows right from the get-go it will be nigh impossible for them to scale up so much so fast.

Despite that, the girls put their faith in their manager and in their own considerable abilities, and even pros like Ai and Junko are swept up in the boundless optimism. Then, as we know, it all goes completely and utterly to shit. Because Koutarou didn’t bother to pre-sell any tickets, the amount of concert-goers who show up manage to fit what would be the soccer field’s penalty area.

While we’ve already been told this tale of woe before in super-abbreviated form, there’s something to be said for watching the disaster unfold in real time. Not even Saki can fight through the sheer dread of playing before a mostly empty venue, while their top fans decide not to call for an encore after the girls shamble off the stage, as it would be just too cruel.

You can really feel the pain of being on that stage in that stadium. They would never have been able to put on their best performance there. Koutarou really screwed the pooch on this one, and he initially reacts to the disaster by going on a weeks-long bender.

During these dark times, Franchouchou are splintered, then exchanged some recriminations, before Yamada Tae comes in and shocks everyone by not only buying her own dried squid with Koutarou’s cash, but doing her own makeup. Just by being Tae, she shows the others that they’ve been relying on Koutarou on everything for too long, and if they have to do non-idolly work to get out of their immense debt, then so be it.

That brings us up to speed. Fast forward nearly a year, and Koutarou announces to the girls that they will once again be performing at EFS for their revenge show. This time, they’re in a far better position to command a larger crowd: there’s the audience of Saki’s radio show, Lily’s inroads with the younger kids, Yamada’s legion of fans, Maimai’s high school, and the fact Iron Frill considers them rivals.

It almost feels like history repeating, but Koutarou is determined to properly promote the concert (and hopefully allowing pre-sales of tickets, for gosh sakes), and gives the others a pep talk worthy of Gurren Lagann. Unfortunately, there’s a huge potential snag in this plan: the reporter Ookuba knows he’s somehow revived seven dead girls and is profiting off their performances. When he learns of the revenge show he’s determiend to stop it.

Frankly, this feels like a little bit of eleventh-hour antagonism for its own sake, and I’m more than a little disappointed that Ookuba is taking such a hard stance rather than letting the idols whose unlives he’s trying to upheave have their say in the matter. By going straight to Koutarou he’s stripping them of their agency. Considering how much they’ve achieved, they’ve earned the right to decide to perform, not for Koutarou, but for each other and for Saga.

That brings us back to the bar where Old Man Saga works. Years ago, Koutarou was “gloomy and half-crazed”—instead of full-crazed like he is now—and thus bought into Saga’s claims that he was an immortal being who can revive the dead and has been fighting a curse that’s been at work in Saga for thousands of years.

Turns out everything that Koutarou has done with Franchouchou has been to prevent Saga’s prophesy—of a cataclysm that will make everyone forget Saga—from coming true. It’s why he flew to close to the sun with EFS the first time, but it’s also why he’s determined to make EFS II a success that no one will ever forget, weaving their past failure into the narrative.

But as the idols prepare for their show tomorrow, Saga is pelted with increasingly harsh rains, and the wind eventually knocks out power throughout the prefecture, just as Ookoba is about to publish his exposé.

But, of course, there are larger problems than whether he saved a copy; a building that looks like Koutarou’s run-down mansion seems to sink into the saturated earth, presumably with our zombie idols inside. While I’m sure they’re safe—they’re zombies—Saga is another question entirely. Are we past the point of singing and dancing  being able to save Saga, or will we simply not see them at their most legendary until the shit has truly hit the fan?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fruits Basket – 59 – Useful Idiots


What does Tooru do when a soaked, filthy Akito approaches her with a knife, saying she stole everything from her? First, Tooru sees her mother standing behind Akito, echoing her words about being left behind and abandoned.

Instead of running away, Tooru runs towards Akito, who is startled and slashes her arm. But no amount of non-lethal dagger strikes or ghost moms will be enough to stop Tooru’s—and time’s—inexorable march forward.


Tooru admits to Akito that even as she rejected the eternity of the Zodiac curse, she wished for the same things: for unchanging feelings and eternal bonds, like she had for her mother. But then she fell in love with Kyou, and even if he doesn’t love her back (he does), she’s going on ahead without her mom. People and feelings can’t be bound down.

Tooru’s words (and complete lack of regard for her life) disarm Akito, literally and figuratively, but Akito’s anxiety remains. How can she live life with “strangers”, lacking promises or bonds or eternity? Tooru asks Akito to start over with her, here and now, and holds out her hand. Akito worries Tooru get sick of her if she cries, but Tooru keeps that hand of friendship out, and Akito is about to take it…when the earth below Tooru suddenly gives way.


The old Akito would have relished a scenario where Tooru was seriously injured and there was no one around; all she’d have to do is nothing. But even though she wasn’t quite able to take Tooru’s hand, Tooru still changed Akito in that moment. Instead of doing nothing, Akito screams her lungs out and runs for help, finding Shigure and Yuki, who calls an ambulance.

Yuki locates Tooru, who is still alive, and thanks to Akito calling for help immediately, she’s likely to stay that way. But for Kyou, who also heard Akito’s screams, that’s by no means a sure thing. In fact, it must feel like a second case of deja vu after the deaths of his mother and Kyouko for which he blames himself. Still, Tooru raises her hand to Kyou’s face and says “it’s all right now”, and then Kyou kisses her.

That night, Yuki is prepared to stay at the hospital all night, but Tooru’s gramps tells him to go home and go to school tomorrow, or Tooru will fret. He also asks where the “redhead” is. It’s clear Kyou doesn’t feel he deserves to visit Tooru considering his running away from her led to this.


But one person who is done running away from everything—from the inevitability of the future to the deeds she committed in the name of stopping that future—is Akito. She visits Kureno at the hospital, and he quickly forgives her. She’s waiting outside when Momiji arrives, and calls both Kureno and Tooru “idiots” for forgiving her no matter what she says or does

Momiji says that “idiots are useful”, since Akito isn’t guilty of her crimes thanks to the two of them being idiots. If they were less kind, soft-heared, loving people, they’d pressed charges at the very least and possibly hated her forever. But that’s not who Kureno and Tooru are.

Momiji tells Akito to treasure them from now on, and that’s just what she does, starting with visiting Tooru in her hospital room, where shes awake, sitting up, her arm outstretched in friendship. Akito blushes and smiles, happy beyond words that a wretch like her can still be forgiven and welcomed.

Those of you who have zero tolerance for an Akito redemption arc will likely be disappointed in where things went this week, but I for one am all for it. Akito may have dished out no shortage of cruelty and suffering upon the other Zodiac members, but if Tooru and Kureno are willing to forgive her, and she’s willing to step out of the shadows and move forward, then that’s all good with me!

As for how all of this seemingly went according to Shigure’s plan, well…that was one hell of a convoluted, risky plan! One wonders if his novels are similarly chaotic…

86 – 08 – We Weren’t Ready

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.—Kay, Men In Black

The Alba are right: the Eighty Six aren’t human. They’re better than that. The humans who populate the serene Republic of San Magnolia blindly accept the government’s policy of ethnic cleansing as the cost of peace, order, and harmony. Lena, like the Eighty Six, knows there’s a wrong, but isn’t prepared to do more wrong to right it.

It’s why when Lena discovers the orders basically sentencing what’s left of Spearhead to their almost certain deaths, she wants to rescind them. Annette pulls her out of the records room for some tea and biscuits, but when Lena once again says it’s wrong not to try to do anything, all of the simmering resentment within Annette finally comes to a caustic boil.

Annette isn’t merely “pretending” to be a bad person; she’s fully embraced the role, heart and soul. She doesn’t need an excuse to do nothing; her inaction has already caused the death of her former neighbor and friend (who it’s pretty clear from the suspenders was none other than Nouzen Shinei) while her research is built upon the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Eighty Six.

Like the vast majority of people would in such a situation, Annette chose not to fight a force that could not be beaten, but to join them. Even though her father committed suicide after the suffering he caused developing the Para-Raid, Annette carried on his work. She might’ve scared herself when she first called her friend a “filthy colored” like her classmates did, but that fear soon dissipated into acceptance.

After everything she’s been through and done in the name of not being able to do anything else, Annette doesn’t want to hear one more idealistic word out of Lena’s mouth. After all, the Para-Raid that enables Lena to speak to Shin and the other members of Spearhead was the product of involuntary human experimentation and state-sanctioned suffering. So is her comfy bed, her crisp uniform, her tasty coffee and sweets. It’s all tainted by evil.

Annette tells Lena she hates her and never wants to see her again. I mean, we already new full well Annette wouldn’t join any potential crusade against injustice Lena might concoct, but this really twists the knife, as Lena doesn’t even have a pretend friend in the capital in which to confide.

When she confronts her uncle before the statue of San Magnolia, he tells her the orders sending Spearhead to their deaths cant be recinded because it is the will of the republic that evry Eighty Six not only die, but be forgotten and erased from having ever existed. The only way San Magnolia will avoid becoming a pariah state after the war is if the atrocities they committed against the Eighty Six never come to light.

When Lena begs her uncle to remember the spirit of Saint Magnolia, he tells her their republic was never anything other than a country full of fools and villains who executed Magnolia for their wealth and greed. She says that’s just his despair talking, but he doesn’t consider his despair any different from her hope.

If Lena werent already having one of the worst days of her life, Shin also bids her farewell, fully accepting his suicide mission. Lena deduces he’s going after his brother, but Shin doens’t want her to hear his last words. Instead, he warns her that once the Shepherd is destroyed, the Legion is temporarily thrown into chaos, .

He urges her to head for the Eastern border, where she won’t hear the Legion’s voices and go mad. He and the others will buy her some time. With that, he signs off, for what seems like the last time. Now all Lena has is her tears.

With Lena left very much at rock bottom, we return to Spearhead, now only five strong: Kurena, Anju, Theo, Raiden, and Shin. They clean up their barracks, polish up their Juggernauts, have a final meal, and then set off on their deep recon mission with their heads held high.

As we’ve learned, they’re not just doing this because the alternative is summary execution. They’re doing it for their fallen comrades, and because just because they were always called pigs doesn’t mean they’ll become them. There’s a biting sense of inescapable dread and crushing unfairness to their scenes. More than anything, they feel like five kids who shouldn’t have to be anywhere near a battlefield.

Post-credits, we get one more taste of despair in the absence of anything else, in the form of the complete flashback of Shourei choking Shinei. He had been barely keeping it together before that point, crushed by his powerlessness to do anything about the loss of his parents. In a moment of weakness, he let himself blame Shinei for everything, and nearly killing him until someone pulls them apart.

A roboticized, Legionized Shourei narrates this final scene, lamenting that he couldn’t protect Shinei before. But this time, as Shin and his four companions approach him and his Legion unit, Shourei says he’ll protect his brother forever. All he has to do is come to him…which is what he’s doing.

All I can say to any of this is damn…this is some good shit, but it is also incredibly heavy and upsetting. I can only hope that we’ll get some glimmer of light at some point before the end…but that’s hardly a sure thing.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fruits Basket – 58 – Forgiven for Existing

Kyou’s a real big jerk in this episode, not letting poor Tooru get a word in edgewise, and even then rejecting those words and running off, ignoring her feelings entirely. Then again, it was about time we heard Kyou’s full backstory, including how he met Kyouko quite by chance one day, as she noticed how his hair matched hers.

In this meeting of orange-haired Kyous, Kyou finally met someone who didn’t curse his existence; an intermittent surrogate mom of sorts, who treated him the way his real parents should have treated him, instead of blaming a mere child for everything wrong with their lives. For a boy thus psychologically tortured, Kyouko was a ray of light and hope—as was her daughter, whom Kyou only ever saw once, watching her from behind.

When Tooru went missing that day, Kyou made “a man’s promise” to Kyouko that he’d find and protect her. But while he searched all night and into the day, it was ultimately Yuki who found her and brought her home, all while wearing the blue cap he claimed from Kyou when the wind blew it his way.

Kyou was never going to accept a hat touched by someone he deemed his  mortal enemy and nemesis; a “bad guy” title he bestowed upon Yuki because a bad guy was needed. Kyouko urged him not to live his life that way, and even when Kyou pushed her aside, she assured him she’d hold him to his promise he made “another day.”

Lonely because he felt betrayed and ashamed because he couldn’t help, Kyou stopped seeing Kyouko, until one day by chance they were at the same crosswalk. When an out of control car careened towards her, he was ready to pull her towards him to save her, but if he did that, he’d transform, so he “let her die” to protect himself.

Despite hating himself so much, and wishing he could go away and disappear, he always saves himself in the end by running away. Even now, after all he and Tooru have been through, he can’t look at her face, so afraid he is that she loves the wretch who let her mother die. If that mother’s last words were what he thought they were: “I’ll never forgive you”, how could he ever forgive himself?

With his ray of light and hope extinguished, and wracked with the guilt of having done nothing to stop it, Kyou shut down. Shisho took him to the mountains and tried to get him to “keep living”. He began to refocus on Yuki as the bad guy who stole all of his hope, and Akito egged him on by promising to acknowledge him as an official member of the Zodiac and cease calling him a monster if he “defeated” Yuki by high school graduation.

This gave Yuki another reason to hate and compete with Yuki, so he followed him to Shigure’s house…only to come across the last person he expected to see: the late Kyouko’s daughter and treasure, Tooru.

Despite growing closer to Tooru since then, Kyou can’t forgive himself, and doesn’t want her to forgive him either. He’s the real bad guy, not Yuki, and he feels he doesn’t deserve hope, or love, or forgiveness. Finally given a chance to speak as the two are pelted by the rain, Tooru declares that if her mother really said she’d never forgive Kyou, then she’ll just have to “rebel against mom”.

She asks if there’s any way Kyou can accept that she loves him, and he in turns says he’s “disappointed in her”, even after saying he wouldn’t when nothing but a sheet separated them. Kyou then runs off, not letting her say anymore, and Yuki, who had been observing from a respectful distance, chases after him.

That leaves Tooru alone and vulnerable to attack from a dirty and clearly unhinged Akito, who approaches Tooru bearing a knife clearly intent on doing away with the one she’s deemed the bad guy. And while this is by far the most overt threat on Tooru’s life in all these fifty-eight weeks of Fruits Basket, something tells this non-reader that Tooru won’t be joining her mom quite yet…