Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 10 – Goodbye, Dolly

When Misaki and Mikoto hit a major traffic jam, Misaki summons the power of the “Exterior” to brainwash every driver in their path to pull aside, thus clearing a path. It’s clearly a significant effort for Misaki, pushing Mental Out to its limits. From there, we learn about how her ability was developed at the same facility as Prototype, perhaps the first Mikoto clone. Her nickname, “Dolly” is a reference to the first successfully cloned sheep.

Dolly ‘s handlers have been unable to make progress with her ever since her friend “Mi-chan” (heavily implied to have been Kozaku Mitori) went away. The white coats (who distressingly see both Dolly and Misaki as merely test samples to be used and disposed of as needed) conscript Misaki to be Dolly’s new lab-issued friend.

Misaki uses Mental Out to brainwash Dolly into believing she’s Mi-chan. Misaki was just as haughty back then, so she’s initialy feels his whole enterprise to be a hassle…until she becomes fast friends with Dolly. Like the girl who was cloned to create her, Dolly is far more athletic than Misaki, as evidenced by her far superior garbage can aim.

At the same time, Misaki tries to impress upon Dolly the importance of growing into a refined lady—a losing battle she picks up with Mikoto, to a degree. Without even intending to go along with the white coats, Misaki ends up restoring Dolly’s “inner peace”, allowing research on her to continue without emotional anomalies.

More than that, Misaki forms a real emotional bond with Dolly, blushing when Dolly suddenly hugs her—and pointedly smells out the deception. The two are simply playing around until Dolly suddenly collapses, her clone body shutting down.

It’s then, when she reaches her hand out for a distraught Misaki, that Dolly asks her her name. It dawns on Misaki that Dolly knew she wasn’t Mi-chan, but kept the fiction going because she was happy to have a new friend, and grateful to Misaki for being one. Dolly’s death is a gut punch.

The white coats are then frustrated when Misaki is the one in emotional turmoil, as if it never occurred to them she’d have these things called feelings. Call it professional detachment from one’s scientific subjects…but Misaki is human, for chrissakes! Showing no deference to them, Misaki uses her Mental Out on all of them and learns the truth: once they’re done tinkering with her, she’ll meet the same fate as Dolly.

The Exterior project continues, with part of Misaki’s brain removed and cultivated into a huge brain, which serves as a booster for her powers—and which is what she used to part traffic back in the present. It’s also the “DNA Computer” the urban legends site mentioned. By the time she and Mikoto arrive at Exterior, Kihara Gensei’s forces have already infiltrated, forcing Misaki’s associate Keitz to flee to the roof with 10032.

But Misaki is too late: Kihara tunes the giant brain to his own brainwaves, bypassing the need for length registration and enabling him to use Mental Out. He uses it to freeze Keitz, takes his phone, and uses it to trash talk Misaki, revealing that it was he who instructed Kiyama Harumi on how to use Level Upper.

He then removes all of the protection placed on MISAKA 10032, something First Order immediately notices while playing cards with Accelerator in a hospital room. Then Kihara injects a kind of mental virus into 10032, which is instantaneously transmitted to all other Sisters in the network, knocking them all out.

Mikoto arrives on the rooftop just in time for Kihara to trigger her dormant esper powers. She’s revealed to be his main target all along, as he hopes she’ll be the first to achieve a stable Level 6. Several floors below, Misaki no longer has access to Exterior, while Touma manages to track down Saten as she’s exiting the factory with Xochitl.

The main pair of powerful lasses, then, will need some outside help if they’re going to have a chance of escaping Kihara’s clutches. Mikoto looks completely out of control—half-Akira, half-Little Prince—or worse, under Kihara’s control. Will spirited, virtuous youth win out over the greed and contempt of an old man with a Gorbachev birthmark? We shall see…

Violet Evergarden – 14 (Extra Episode) – Heart Defroster

Since there’s no Railgun this week, I thought I’d write a few words about a Violet Evergarden extra episode I just recently found on Netflix. Enjoy.

Violet has a new client, the diva Irma Felice, who is requesting she write a love letter in someone else’s name, without a concrete address. That’s about all the initial direction she gives Violet, and the resulting first attempt is very curt and military. When Violet tries to draw from literature, it comes off too old-fashioned. When Violet tries to write something modern, it’s just not right.

Irked by a client like never before, Violet reaches out to her colleagues once she learns from the conductor Aldo tells her the love letter will be used as lyrics in the aria of a new opera Irma is producing. She gets a lot of raw, unpolished material from the group, but it’s still not enough to move her stubborn, exacting client.

Desperately needing more insight into Irma, Violet follows her one night. Irma runs, but is no match for Violet’s military conditioning. That’s how the subject of Violet’s loved one comes up, and knowing they share a similar crushing loss, warms up to her and allows her to keep following. Irma visits a shrine at the train station, where she would be if her Hugo ever returned to her.

Her love, Hugo, it turns out, was Aldo’s son who went to war and never returned. It’s a very old story, but that didn’t make it any easier for her or Aldo to move forward…so they didn’t. The letters into which she poured her feelings to Hugo were always sent back for lack of address. Eventually, her and Aldo became frozen in time, and their hearts froze as well, like those of so many who lost lovers and family in the war.

Having finally made a connection through their shared grief, Roland shows Violet a warehouse full of lost letters with neither writer nor sender. Seeing so many talismans of lost, crystallized emotions further inspires Violet, and she gets to typing. In each of her jobs both she and her client have needed to reach some kind of connection that finally gets the words flowing…and it’s almost always tear-jerking, as it it here.

Once Irma reads Violet’s latest and final attempt, she weeps, because Violet was finally able to create what she knew she could: words that warm and stir the frozen hearts of the masses, the “people of today” who couldn’t be moved by the dusty operas of yore, because they were too detached from their own modern experience.

Irma’s resulting performance would indeed be considered almost scandalously modern in the anachronistic era of Violet Evergarden—more Céline Dion than Claudia Muziobut that is precisely why they succeed in moving each and every one of the spectators in the opera house. Art at its finest—and KyoAni has made a fair bit of that—can thaw the coldest hearts and move the most motionless.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 10 – In Accordance With Determined Tasks

We’ve seen it in the OP every week: the moment Golem encounters a human girl in chains in his forest. The first word she says to him is “Dad.” But we learn it was hardly fatherhood at first sight! For several days Golem considers the child an outsider who must leave at once, for her care simply doesn’t fall under his forest guardian duties.

The child is persistent in following him around, however, and when it’s clear there’s no one else around to see she gets food and water, Golem lets those previously rigid edicts slide. He removes her chains and names her Somali, after the cat-like beast that first led him to her. Henceforth, everything he’s done is so he can keep her happy and smiling.

In the present, Shizuno asks if he can see the state of Golem’s body, and…it’s not pretty. Most of his ceramic skin is gone and he reports that even his inner body is starting to crack and leak fluids. Even if there are a set number of days until he “shuts down,” he may cease to function properly well before that.

Considering how he’s committed to spending seven of those days in this town bouncing for the innkeeper, the continued search for humans becomes less paramount than simply ensuring someone is around to care for Somali when he’s gone. Thankfully Shizuno is fine with being that someone, but doesn’t want Golem to give up on repairing himself.

While Golem and Yabashira work in the town, Shizuno and Somali procrastinate on cleaning, as Somali wants to make a gift for Golem. Her attempt at a portrait doesn’t meet her perfectionist standards, but when the innkeeper’s gentle, kindly wife Rosa arrives with supplies, she suggests Somali weave a good-luck bracelet for her dad.

Unfortunately, Auntie Rosa recognizes Somali’s smell as human while locked in a big hug, and unlike Shizuno is not okay with that. Such is her hatred for humans that as soon as she returns to town she reports Somali to some unsavory fellows who will no doubt come for her in short order. Are Golem, Shizuno and Yabashira strong enough to protect her?

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 09 – Creating the Greatest World…While Turning a Handsome Profit

This may sound like hyperbole, but Hands Off the Eizouken! may be in the Anime of the Decade conversation, despite airing in the very first season of that decade. It’s also deserves serious discussion as Yuasa Maasaki’s masterpiece, as clever and creative and self-reflexive and realistic and human a series as I’ve ever watched. It just keeps getting better.

The Robot short was a success in every way except the way that matters most to the third member of Eizouken: financially. Part of that was due to the school limiting the money they can spend and charge, but Sayaka also sees ways in which the creative side of things can be greater optimized. Dreams are nice, warm, and fuzzy, but they’ll wither and die without cold hard cash.

Sayaka turns down all the requests from other school clubs, knowing none of them would be financially worth the effort; effort she knows she can only limit so much before her creatives buck. She takes them on a brainstorming tour of the infinitely whimsical and cool Shibahama town, and Midori and Tsubame’s imaginations snap crackle and POW across the screen.

All along, as we’ll learn later in the episode, Sayaka was selling her comrades something without them even knowing it, something at which she is exceedingly effective: Shibahama is to be the setting of their next project, and the town itself will finance it because it will not only be art, but a promotion of Shibahama’s uniqueness and charm.

We see no shortage of that charm, both in the eclectic and often contradictory architecture, nor shortage of a need for something to stir things up in a town on the decline. Heck, the underground fruit banban noodle restaurant is litterally on a downward slant, which means they don’t serve the noodles with broth lest it pour out.

There is something pouring here, thought, and that’s potential. For the Big Deal Sayaka has been longing for most of her life. When the young proprietor reveals he’s a big fan of their anime (calling them prodigies, which they are) and wishes they could make an anime about a noodle store owner who is also a world-saving secret agent, what was previously-planted seed in Sayaka’s hyper-capitalist brain starts to sprout and flower.

Whether it’s selling the school’s audio collection and exacting rent from Doumeki to making social media posts of their lunch and of the popular Tsubame, Sayaka never wastes an opportunity for profit. That’s because she learned the hard way from the slow deterioration and death of her relatives’ liquor, later general store. She regales Midori and Tsubame with that sad story, and the three are plunged into a wonderful watercolor flashback.

There, the others watch with glee as a much younger “Mini-Mori” exhibits her keen enterprising spirit and natural knack for business despite struggling with math. Her relatives even note how it’s a shame they didn’t have her business sense back before it was too late to save a business that couldn’t evolve with the times. It’s as if Sayaka was born just a decade or so too late.

In a passionate speech that complements those both Midori and Tsubame have made (though theirs were about animation), Sayaka impresses upon her comrades the importance of having a profitable product at the right time, in the right place, and keeping such a practice going. That means sometimes quality will have to take a backseat to satisfying demand.

The fact she is able to talk so saliently about such a wide range of commercial and economic concerns neither Midori or Tsubame have the headspace to have ever thought about cements the absolute necessity of having someone like Sayaka on their side, keeping them in line, and giving them opportunities they’ll always be to busy drawing to see on the horizon.

Sayaka has been giving the Eizouken a robust digital footprint that will serve as the foundation for a marketing network they can rely upon so no one interested in their work will ever be left out of the loop. Just as Art cannot survive without business (at least if you want to make a living with art), business cannot survive without promotion.

As if inspired by the speech, Midori and Tsubame continue brainstorming, and determine that Shibahama itself will be a fine setting for their next project. It will depict a battle between the city and its various hidden weapons systems versus a fleet of UFOs. They have an idea, and Sayaka will ensure every stage of that idea will be shared with interested parties on social media.

The fact Midori and Tsubame took to Shibahama as the setting so organically also serves Sayaka well, for while the StuCo managed to grab Doumeki’s rent from the Eizouken’s coffers, Sayaka is already frying bigger fish. Letting out the same cool toothy smirk as when she received sundries to sell instead of cash tips for cleaning back at the doomed liquor store, Sayaka finalizes a deal where the Shibahama Chamber of Commerce will fully finance the short.

Showing that she’s growing when it comes to her methods (as an adult businessperson must if they wish to avoid future legal entanglements), Sayaka reached out to the president of the town’s Young Person Association: the proprietor of the fruit ramen joint. His group has been working on local revitalization projects, and they “ate up” the idea of revitalization-through-animation.

Because of the heightened stakes, Sayaka will be keeping that much closer and eye on the creatives’ flights of fancy lest her flights of finance go into a tailspin. That said, at this early a stage she allows them to glom onto details here and there that jump out at them, and in the process, Midori manages to convince her that they won’t have to draw any scientifically inaccurate laser beams!

She manages this thanks in part to the addition of Doumeki, who joins the flight of fancy by adding audio to the drawings around them. But the sound isn’t quite right to Midori, and since she’s the director, she has to offer clearer direction to Doumeki (and Tsubame, and all the other creatives they’ll need to pull this off.

Midori directs Doumeki by simply acting out the sequence of sounds with her own voice and then explaining her specific specifications. This is an extension of the flights of fancy throughout the series, where Midori’s voice made most of the sound effects. But it’s also an epiphany to Midori that what she is doing is a performance. As in, performing in front of people, through her concepts and animation, but also in person.

It’s something both Tsubame and Tsubame’s parents already came to grips with, and it is simultaneously exciting and terrifying to the normally shy, meek Midori who only truly comes out of her shell with her Eizouken comrades.

Tsubame may be the pretty face that puts butts in seats and followers online, but as Sayaka continues to expand their digital footprint and the scope of their business, Midori will have to become more comfortable with her performance being seen by all.

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 07 – Donut Unto Others

Ever since digging into Hanako-kun’s past, Nene has felt awkward and uncomfortable around him, to the point Hanako starts to notice. She wants to learn still more but isn’t sure how to broach such sensitive topics, or even if she should. It’s not about anything Hanako has done, just about what she now knows.

Enter Kou, who despite being a great cook asks Nene to help him bake some donuts for his “little sister.” Turns out the donuts are for Hanako, and making them with Nene was meant to give her some space and time away from the bathroom to think things through.

Nene is appreciative of Kou’s friendship, and the donuts work great…until a black crane appears and transforms into…Hanako’s twin brother, whom he murdered. Nene manages to shoo him away (he doesn’t seem to be the most powerful as far as spirits go).

Still, after that things are right back to being awkward between Nene and Hanako. Even though she didn’t actually pry, circumstances exposed still more elements of a past Hanako would clearly not get into, even with a friend like Nene.

Hanako’s brother, meanwhile, seems to be in cahoots with the doll-like Sakura, who along with her lackey Natsuhiko’s help and the use of the broadcast club room seems to be responsible for a lot of the rumors that are causing problems around the school.

We’re not yet sure why she’s doing this, mind you, which is a little frustrating as we’re now past the halfway point of this season. Withholding secrets is fine, but with Hanako and Nene’s story basically going in a circle (donut?) this week, hopefully they’ll confront Sakua’s plot sooner rather than later.

Then there’s the cute ghost of a dead student Kou finds, which just kinda comes out of left field at the end. Kou’s mission to extract the ghost’s “regrets” is way too rushed and to make much of an impact, though the ghost’s protestations of Kou being a pervert bent on doing things “just like in porn” was amusing enough.

For now, there’s a lot of pieces now on the board, with parties of varying interests observing one another and sizing each other up, and Nene’s complicated bond with Hanako stewing in the middle. It’s anyone’s guess how those pieces will be move and interact with one another in the final five episodes.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 07 – Spilling Tea for Art’s Sake

Tsubame’s unyielding passion to capture the motion of the world around her through drawing started when she was in grade school, watching her grandma toss tea into the yard with a precise, practiced motion. The action fascinated her, and she yearned to master it herself so she could capture it in all its glory.

When she ended up in classes on how to stand, sit, and walk in preparation for her modeling career, Tsubame voraciously jotted down all the various motions, even discerning a better way for her infirm grandma to move and walk more comfortably. She carries that passion on in every frame of animation she’s drawing for this robot anime.

She does this in defiance of her mother’s insistence she not get involved in animation, but also in lieu of getting the proper amount of sleep or paying sufficient attention in class. Yet even if she’s sleep-deprived and her grades start to slip, there’s no alternative. Tsubame is gradually learning not to be a total perfectionist, but she’s never going to give anything less than 110% effort.

With Doumeki on board, the trio now have someone with far more audio know-how than the rest of them combined, but that just means she’s able to describe in precise demoralizing detail all of the challenges they face and the consequences of not properly harmonizing visuals and sound.

Meanwhile, Midori is presented artwork that the artists believe was following her instructions, but which she worries will fundamentally change the film they’re making. The artists need to be more flexible, but she needs to be more precise in her direction.

While I’m sure Sayaka considers it another strictly-business opportunity to give her talent a much-needed break, and it is their bathhouse visit after school is closed due to rain turns out to be a nice bonding experience. There’s a familial intimacy to bathing together that the team previously lacked.

It’s also fun to watch Midori dutifully call her very nice parents to let her know where she is and what she’s doing with whom, as well as the very rich Tsubame marveling at every aspect of the bathhouse experience, as well as insisting Sayaka douses Midori over and over so she can watch the motion of the water —much like she asked her granny to keep tossing tea.

The three then dine on crawfish after catching their fair share themselves (though they can’t eat the same fish they caught, as they must be purged of mud first, Midori points out), and Midori and Tsubame whip out their sketchbooks to capture their dinner in all its crustacean glory. Few moments of these young women’s lives seem to ever pass without them capturing it with pen or pencil on paper.

When the rain subsides, they return to their studio, and Tsubame gradually becomes frustrated with her animation of a chainsaw. After discussing possible remedies with Midori, the two bring in Sayaka, who thinks its fine and that they should watch it with sound. Sure enough, it makes more than enough impact for the quick cut…but Tsubame isn’t quite satisfied.

Both Midori and Tsubame consider anime to be the best way to appreciate movement, more so than even live action film, and that comes down to intent. The imagination, passion and effort of a great animator comes out in every frame of their work, lending it greater impact than a mere directed and photographed live-action actor.

Tsubame isn’t looking to “make people smile” with her anime. She wants to be able to wow people like her, who can’t help but spot every potential flaw or revelation; notice every triumph or defeat. By being her own harshest, uncompromising critic, an artiste like Tsubame could potentially problems for a production on a shoestring budget and tight deadline.

But doggone it, the eventual visual rewards of letting her go wild are well worth the pain. It’s why Sayaka is almost always irritated and annoyed, but she’ll gladly bear those emotions if it results in an exceptional—and profitable—final product. When you successfully harness the chaotic energy of special talents and personalities, great things can happen. And like a rocket taking off, the sky’s the limit.

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 06 – Staying Put

When the entrance to the 4 O’Clock Library is revealed, Kou accompanies Nene inside, and it isn’t long until she finds her own book. She can’t resist the temptation to read ahead into the future, whereupon the book starts to turn red with blood and the Fifth Wonder attacks. Kou forgets his staff was sealed, but Hanako-kun arrives to save them.

Turns out the fifth wonder’s manager Tsuchigomori-sensei, was only teasing them. Hanako-kun is the leader of the seven wonders, who are dedicated to keeping the supernatural peace at the school, but one one of them is working with a human like Nene, only stirring up trouble. His solution is to temporarily sap the wonders of their power by neutralizing their Yorishiro.

Hanako chooses Nene to accompany Tsuchigomori to the site of his Yorishiro, which turns out to be a moon rock Hanako gave to him back in the sixties during the moon landing. When he was alive, Hanako was Yuji Amane, a Tsuchigomori was his homeroom teacher who was always concerned about Hanako getting bullied and beaten up.

Hanako was the only human Tsuchigomori knows about who was able to change the future as written in his book. Hanako’s book said he’d have a future as a science teacher at the school, but he died when he was still a “brat”, which Tsuchigomori considers a tremendous shame.

The flashback plays out like Yako’s, with Nene experiencing his memories as if in a dream. When she comes to, she’s in the infirmary. As she desired, Nene now knows a little more about Hanako, including his real name and enthusiasm for space and science when he was alive.

But as she greets him with an almost maternal hug, he can tell she’s learned something about him, and if anything seems a bit miffed. Still, he can hardly have expected to keep all his secrets secure considering the amount of time Nene is spending with him.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 06 – Love Never Lies

When Uzoi tells Somali what she’s doing and why, Somali doesn’t take it lying down. She screams so hard she hurts Uzoi’s sensitive ears and runs. While fleeing, Somali falls off a cliff into a pond, and Uzoi jumps in and saves her.

As Somali whimpers, soaked and cold, Uzoi extends one of her harpy wings around her, inverting its previous use as the prelude to an attack. When Golem and Haitora arrive, Somali protects Uzoi from her dad, while Uzoi crumbles into her dad’s arms, lamenting that she just couldn’t do it.

As we gathered last week, Haitora is nothing but glad she couldn’t do it, and we learn why when he delves into his past to explain to Golem why he’s not deserving of Uzoi’s love. For he was once in her position, after he and his wife and daughter were forced to flee their small human settlement when it was raided by “grotesques.”

Trapped in a cave with no food or water for days, a desperate Haitora happens upon an adult harpy—Uzoi’s mother. And because he and his family is starving and there’s no other option, he kills the harpy without a moment’s hesitation, then drags the body back to the cave. “We have to be like them” to survive, he gravely tells the family in his failing voice.

They all tuck into the raw harpy meat, and within a few minutes, both his wife and daughter suffer unspeakably agonizing deaths before his eyes. This is the kind of graphic horror I came to expect of Made in Abyss, and it’s just as unsettlingly naturalistic in its depiction here.

As we’ve learned, Uzoi has great hearing, so she hears Haitora’s confession to Golem and learns her whole life with him was based on lies. Even after Somali lazily forgives her friend for trying to kill her and drain her blood, Uzoi (whose name sounds a lot like usoi, Japanese for “lying”) faces existential despair and emptiness in the wake of Haitora’s words.

She’s so depressed, in fact, that when they come across a dragon twister while traversing the desert, and the winds pick her and Somali up, she takes one last pained look at Haitora and lets go, in that moment preferring death to living a terrible lifelong lie any further.

The moment also confirms to Haitora that Uzoi heard him last night. He wants to rush out to save her, but Golem insists they stay put until the storm subsides, using his fancy eye to calculate where the girls are likely to survive grave injury by landing on the soft sand.

When Golem spots the girls later, they’re being attacked by an aggressively territorial canterbird. He quickly formulates a plan wherein he serves as a decoy to allow Haitora to get the girls to safety, but Haitora quickly adopts his own plan, hoping to give what’s left of his wretched life leading the canterbird away. To his surprise, upon being cornered the canterbird is stopped…by Uzoi.

Unwilling to let him die without talking to her, Uzoi would much rather he stay alive with her, proving true Somali’s earlier words that “love doesn’t lie.” Love isn’t always happy, or clean; even Somali is aware of this if she doesn’t know her father is dying. Sometimes those who love each other wound each other, but the scars can’t be ignored, even if they’re deepened by confronting them.

Hayami Saori puts on a clinic performing this scene, which comes as no surprise if you follow her voice work. When you need a character to deliver dramatic dialogue movingly and convincingly, Saori-chan is someone you can always count on. Even so, she never ceases to amaze me with her remarkable vocal talent.

Haitora, realizing he was only trying to take the easy way out, re-commits to living with Uzoi as long as he humanly can. Not out of obligation to atone for his past sins and lying about them, but for a more important reason: he and Uzoi are family, and they love one another, period.

But even if he’d been persuaded to drink Somali’s blood (something he’d never do after what happened with his family) it likely wouldn’t have worked. Harpies are magical creatures, so it’s likely magic is needed to heal him. If you need magic, you’ll need witches, whom we glimpse in the preview.

RikeKoi – 03 – Just Get Married Already!

Fourth-year undergrad Inukai Kousuke takes the stage, and at least momentarily gives Ayano a crisis in confidence, since he mentions how he holds his current lover in his arms twice a day and has spent over 227,000 yen on her.

Then we learn he’s talking about 2D girls in dating sims. When Yukimura tells Kousuke he has nothing to be ashamed of Ayano again begins to doubt whether she’s really in love.

When Kanade reaches out during a break, Ayano regales her with a story from her past. When she was in elementary school she was bullied for loving pillbugs. One day, while in the woods, she’s approached by a boy who not only knows what she’s up to, but voices his respect for it.

When she blames the pillbugs, he tells her she’s ostracized not for her hobby, but for having a negative “halo effect” due to her unkempt appearance and standoffish body language.

His call for her to keep her head up and move forward boldly “with beauty and dignity” is something she’s taken to heart, and indeed inspired her not only to pursue a career in science, but as Kanade says, became the cool, beautiful egghead she strove for.

Yet Ayano still feels she’s only partway there as long as she’s unsure of her love. Kanade figures out pretty quickly that the boy Ayano met and was so inspired by and smitted with thirteen years ago was none other than Yukimura. Naturally, the two don’t realize they met each other so long ago.

Rather than try to convince them then and there that they’re soulmates who should by rights be married already were it not for their scientific stubbornness and romantic cluelessness. Better to give them a chance to figure it out for themselves by going on a date.

Neither of them has any problem with this. The problem is, they don’t know the first thing about dates. Enter their three lab-mates, who offer three different versions of how their ideal date would go.

Kanade’s, naturally, involves the teacher she adored in high school, and quickly turns into a sugary shoujo scenario. Kousuke’s involves his tsundere 2D sweetheart, who looks an awful lot like his real-life childhood friend Ibarada. Ibarada’s involves a BL version in which Ayano is a dude with a very detailed backstory.

Eventually they settle on an amusement park date, and calculate the most efficient route to access all 22 attractions. It’s clear they’re overthinking things, but when it comes to actually asking the other out, Yukimura initially pooh-poohs the idea, before asking Ayano out, resulting in her most adorable reaction yet.

Chihayafuru 3 – 13 – The Iceman Cometh


After receiving a bouquet from her adorable firstborn, Haruka wins the second match and becomes the challenger to the Queen. Not a lot of time was spent on their match, which is good, because while Haruka’s a perfectly likable character neither she or Megumu have very fleshed out characters.

During the break he got when Harada withdrew, Arata takes a stroll and thinks about what Chihaya whispered to her, and returns with the face of someone envisioning their imminent victory.

Chihaya also took the opportunity to get some fresh air in the park near the karuta hall, and encounters Suo. When she asks why he always gives out pastries, he says it’s because they contain vitamins, but when she asks why he speaks so softly, he wonders if that’s all she wants to ask him. He’s not wrong on that point.

Chihaya wants to ask him karuta questions she’ll probably never get satisfying answers to, but even something from the guy could prove useful. Unfortunately, Suo takes Chihaya’s attention the wrong way and repeatedly tells her he doesn’t have a girlfriend!

When the third and final match begins, what Chihaya said to Arata is revealed: he’s not going to beat their mentor just by being the same ol’ Arata. He has to channel his grandfather, Master Wataya, and everyone is struck by how much he succeeds in doing so, both in how he carries himself and how his tactics are constantly changing to foil Harada’s uber-offensive style.

By channeling a much older man—someone fifteen years older than Harada himself—Arata is able to take control of the game, but he also inadvertently lends his opponent a second wind, since Harada feels like a young man again (he was nineteen the one time he faced Master Wataya). He’s truly raging against the dying of the light, but disaster strikes when his knee suddenly gives out. Will the kind-hearted Arata subconsciously take pity and ease off his game, or will he do what has to be done to face Master Suo?

Cautious Hero – 12 (Fin) – Who Cautions the Cautious?

Determined not to let him die alone, Rista opens a gate in the final area of the Demon Lord’s palace. It’s against Divine regulations, but she doesn’t have time to trudge through a dungeon. When she, Mash, and Eruru arrive, Seiya is already trapping the Demon Lord in the Gate of Valhalla.

The only problem is, time and time again the gate fails to close. The episode plays with our emotions as just when we think everything is over (Rista and Seiya even return to their antagonistic repartee), a more monstrous version of the Demon Lord spills out and fights on.

Rista manages to unlock all of her divine healing power—another instance of breaking the rules—but suceeds in fully healing Seiya, only for the Demon Lord to burst out of the gate once more. Seiya is prepared right to the end, summoning a second, bigger Gate of Valhalla to swallow both the Demon Lord and the smaller Gate.

The gambit succeeds, but this Gate can talk (and laugh), and insists upon collecting its payment immediately: Seiya’s life. Rista’s healing can only slow down his deterioration, until all she can do is let herself be drawn into Seiya’s resigned arms and say goodbye. Before he disincorporates, Seiya recognizes Rista for who she once was—Tiana—and his last expression is a smile of relief he was able to save her this time.

Rista leaves the knighted Mash and Eruru under Queen Roselie’s care and returns to the Divine Realm. She’s momentarily haunted by a ghost of Seiya—a low blow for the show, to be sure!—but more than anything you truly feel his absence and a sense of emptiness and emanating from Rista and her house.

The other gods and goddesses try to cheer her up in their own goofy ways, but they can’t change the fact that in saving the S-Class world Gaeabrande, she lost her hero, someone whom she loved implicitly. Aria also has the unhappy duty of bringing Rista before Ishtar, who announces her punishment for violating regulations.

At first, the punishment seems almost too cruel: she must liberate the SS-Class world Ixphoria, the world where her human self died, and where the Demon Lord took over and transformed into a Demonic Realm. Furthermore, her healing powers will be locked away, preventing her from offering any support for her hero. If she fails, she’ll be stripped of her godhood forever.

Just when we (and Aria for that matter) think Ishtar is needlessly piling on poor Rista, Ishtar reports that Seiya’s Double Gate of Valhalla ended up swallowing not only the Demon Lord, but the Chain Destruction effect that would have prevented him from returning to his own world upon dying. She then hands Rista a letter with the name and stats of her new hero.

She’ll be reunited with Ryuuguuin Seiya, albeit with a thousandth of the power he once had. She’ll have to somehow support him without the use of her divine powers, and he’ll more than likely have no memory of his previous lives with her. He’ll also be just a ridiculously cautious.

Cautious Hero took a very bold turn towards the serious and dramatic in its final two episodes, but it was an incredibly effective turn that felt both earned and necessary. All of the previous clashing of hero and goddess was suddenly placed in proper context, while the emotional stakes shot through the roof.

I was glad for a happy compromise of ending. Ristarte and Seiya will be reunited, but face a far greater challenge than Gaeabrande. If a second season is produced, I’d definitely want to see how they manage, and who will help them.

Cautious Hero – 11 – Seiya the Unready

This episode comes a long way from its comedic beginning, in which Rista leads Eruru and Mash on a shopping trip, she ends up sniping with a clothier about topless and bottomless swimsuits, then gets the idea to arrange an evening that will end with scoring with Seiya.

Things take a distinct turn when, upon returning to the palace at sundown, Seiya is nowhere to be found. No matter what reasons the three can come up with for his absence, and no longer how long they wait, Seiya…just doesn’t show up.

On the verge of panic, Rista visits Ishtar for guidance, where a tearful Ariadoa leads her, Eruru and Mash to a realm where time stands still. There, Ishtar informs them that Seiya has already headed to the Demon Lord to defeat him himself.

The reason Seiya has been so cold and distant to the three of them is that he actually cares for their well-being to the point he doesn’t want to put them in harm’s way. Since the Demon Lord now has a weapon that can destroy Rista’s soul, Seiya felt it best to keep her away from the battle.

Rista also wasn’t aware due to his Fake Out skill, but Seiya has been totally maxed out since the fight with the Dragons, and has been adding skills like Valkyrie’s Gate of Valhalla to make up for his stagnation (it wasn’t sex after all).

There’s more: Aria is in tears because in a different world 100 years ago, Seiya was the Hero she summoned, and he was far less cautious, adopting the catchphrase “Gonna be okay. Something will work out.” The healer of their party was Tiana, a princess from that world…who happens to have the same eyes, face, and voice as Ristarte.

Things wouldn’t work out for Seiya back then, as his party members were eaten one by one by the Demon Lord, whom he’d insufficiently researched. Tiana meets a particularly grisly doom, as it’s revealed she was with child when the Demon Lord ate her.

Finally, Rista learns that she was Tiana, before she was reborn as a goddess. Neither she nor Seiya retained memories of knowing or fighting each other, but fate brought them back together, and Seiya, knowing he was summoned before and failed, became far more cautious, and hence unwilling to let anyone else die this time around.

It’s a lot for Rista to take in, and Toyosaki Aki does as good a job as she can reacting to it all, but this was an awful lot of exposition, rather inelegantly presented in one big plot-bomb. Regardless, the shift from goofy comedy to serious drama was surprisingly effective, and all the information we learned really does enrich what had initially seemed to be more of a skin deep relationship between Rista and Seiya.

Their history, even if there was no overt memory of it, explains not only why Rista and Seiya are a pair again, but why she’s so devoted, attracted, and at times obsessed with him. One could almost call them soul mates. The issue is, she now knows the truth of their past and he doesn’t, and his overarching mission to defeat the Demon Lord and save Gaeabrande overrides all other considerations.

Of course, Rista isn’t going to let Seiya have his way. She insists on joining up with him, and damn the consequences. Ishtar opens a portal for her, and Eruru and Mash announce they’re coming with her out of solidarity—Seiya saved them, after all. Hopefully, things are gonna be okay, and something will work out.

Chihayafuru 3 – 12 – Damming the River

As Chihaya makes dreamy eyes at Arata, wondering if he’ll be the first of them to realize their dream of reaching the highest Karuta summit, Dr. Harada has a plan. He once played Arata’s grandfather years ago when he was a young lad, and considers it a great joy to be playing Arata now.

That said, he must use every tool at his disposal to try to throw the kid off his game. That means suddenly interrupting the opening stanzas to ask that the A/C be shut off. If Arata plays in the style of water, he’ll disrupt the flow.

Harada also has a lot of intel on Arata from his other two students in Chihaya and Taichi, but that doesn’t give him the full picture of who Arata is, how his game has advanced, and how it will continue to advance even in this very match. For instance, Arata was never one to move cards at the rate he does here, but it’s to counter Harada’s strategy of hitting one side hard by making sure there’s as little on that side as possible.

Chihaya is ultimately torn over who to root for, which she takes as a sign she’s matured, since the younger her would have rooted shamelessly and enthusiastically for Arata alone.

But Arata is also glad he’s playing Harada and that he’s still playing at such a high level, since Harada was the first one to tell him he could pursue his dream of Karuta and gave him and the other two a safe space to explore it to their heart’s content.

With a Herculean effort, Harada manages to eke out a victory in the first of three matches, proving that youthful exuberance and momentum won’t always win the day—and inspiring Inokuma to rally and defeat her high school opponent.

Throughout the match, two of Harada’s peers are decidedly not rooting for him, but very much for Arata to crush him. That’s because he and Kitano were once set to win a match read by Makino Midori, Kitano’s “Madonna,” only for Harada to withdraw from the match, citing Midori’s reading skills.

It seems Midori was so angered by Harada’s slight that she ended up working her ass off to become a certified Grade 6 reader. Ironically, Harada ends up acknowledging her efforts by withdrawing from the second match altogether and banking on the third, for which she’ll be reading.

By withdrawing from the second match, Harada ensures his fifty-plus year-old body will be fresh for the third. Arata, young and spry, can only stew in anger over getting an automatic win, while the third match will carry that much more tension because he didn’t learn anything new about Harada’s game, which Harada could completely change up in the third match.

This puts Arata at a disadvantage, since he was expecting to play the second match (with the second reader). Sensing his frustration, Chihaya comes to his side to whisper advice in his ear, a gesture that’s a lot more romantically charged than it would have been were it not Arata….and Taichi notices. Will their mentor really end up blocking Arata’s best chance yet to become Master?