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?

Vinland Saga – 23 – Adrift At Sea

Following the thorough and decisive physical and emotional ownage cast upon him by Askeladd, Thorfinn is quite literally lost. Limping through the mud, his arm searing with pain and the blood still on his face, he can’t be bothered to do much of anything, aside from engage in a bit of street brawling and get arrested and thrown in jail.

Canute, meanwhile, begins the intricate dance of death with his father Sweyn at the council of elders. The king embraces his son and thanks the gods for returning him and Thorkell, then appoints Canute to rule the fertile and prosperous lands of Mercia, hard won by his leal service. To Askeladd’s eyes, everything is going as he had foreseen…right up until it doesn’t.

While the king is playing nice, he adds a caveat that, intentionally or not, changes the game completely: announcing his intention to open up a new front against Wales in the Spring. This leaves Askeladd scrambling to think of a counter-move that will still net Canute the crown without setting his beloved homeland ablaze. He doesn’t come up with one here, indicating he underestimated the king’s wits. And Floki definitely notices Askeladd going pale (as Ash!) upon hearing Wales.


As for Thorfinn, he’s probably where he should be considering how he’s basically squandered the last eleven years of his life on a meaningless, self-defeating, futile quest for revenge. Leif Erikson hears he’s been locked up, and visits the jail to try to snap him out of this profound slump, first by considering it a matter of personal honor to return Thorfinn to Iceland.

That doesn’t go over so well, so Leif offers him something else: The New World: Vinland. Perhaps there, Thorfinn can gain a new, more fulfilling purpose. To his credit, Thorfinn sits up and doesn’t immediately dismiss the offer. Here’s hoping he takes it, especially if things with Askeladd turn sideways.

Vinland Saga – 22 – How to Kill Someone You Hate

Before the latest Thorfinn-Askeladd duel, Thorkell asks Prince Canute who he wants to win, as it who he’d bet money on. Canute doesn’t care who wins. His only task is to stop the duel before someone dies. Ever the King-in-waiting, Canute, looking further out than anyone. The prince then puts the question to Thorkell, who says he’s got Askeladd in this one. When asked why, particularly when Thorfinn beat him, Thorkell goes in real close, and again Canute shows how much he’s matured by not flinching.

Why Askeladd? “Just a feeling. It’s his aura.” Thorkell isn’t kidding. Askleadd just mercy-killed his only friend not a minute ago, and Bjorn’s body is still warm when the duel with Thorfinn takes place. Only it’s not much of a duel. As much of an age advantage Finn might have, he’s missing a fully-functioning arm, and he’s so angry and obsessed with finally cutting his father’s murderer’s throat, he’s rendered an absolute joke of a fighter.

Askeladd, as “in the zone” as a warrior can be, tosses his sword away, so confident he can put Thorfinn down with his bare hands. And he does. Thorkell is disappointed. But Askeladd is fed up with Thorfinn, and moves to deliver a killing blow, seemingly stopped only by a direct order from Canute.

From there, Askeladd declares Thorfinn an exhausting, unrepentant idiot, because he fights like an idiot, both by going into the duel injured, letting his temper get the best of him, and letting his win over Thorkell inflate his opinion of himself. So Askeladd has a seat on the remnant of what could be a Roman wall, and gives his life story, in hopes of teaching the boy “how to kill someone you hate”.

Thorfinn and Askeladd are alike in many ways, but while they both had frail mothers, their childhoods were vastly different. Thorfinn lived in a comfortable, cozy, loving, free family; Askeladd’s mother was a slave his father Olaf raped, and Olaf didn’t bother even naming his bastard children. At age eleven, Askeladd (so named because of his propensity for being covered in ash and soot) had to keep his mother alive as well as himself.

Despite their dire situation, he and his mother were descendants of Artorius, and she never stopped believing that one day he would return from paradise and free his people from bondage and despair. But one day, when his mother snapped and recklessly approached Olaf in the streets, and Olaf raised his sword to kill her, Askeladd knew: Artorius would never return.

That meant someone else—not a hero or a god, just a person—had to save his mother, and himself. For Askeladd, that person was him. Despite having never been trained in swordsmanship, he picked up a blade and used it, putting up a decent fight against Olaf and finally gaining his attention. Far from angry this child attacked him, Olaf sees potential in young Ash, and brings him into his hall.

For two years, Askeladd was trained by his father and half-brothers in both bow and blade, and became someone trusted, accepted and adored by all. Then, one night, the 13-year-old Askeladd made his move, plunging a sword into his father’s throat and killing the only witness, a woman sharing his bed. The sword belonged to the black sheep of the legitimate brothers, and so the murder was pinned on him, not Askeladd.

Olaf’s guard was down, and Askeladd had already determined a path to inheriting his property. Then and only then he struck, with all the certainty his poor mother had that Artorius would come. His people waited 50o years for their hero to arrive, and in the meantime suffered and stagnated. Askeladd only waited two years, until the time he knew he could kill the one he hated.

It’s a masterful story, masterfully told by Askeladd’s seiyu Uchida Naoya, who deserves all the awards.

It’s a stark contrast to Thorfinn, who has been trying to kill Askeladd since the moments after his father died, believing that somehow losing his temper, shouting loudly, and waving his sword around could lead to victory. In this way, Vinland Saga subverts the shounen formula of prevailing by doing all three of those things! His belief that victory will eventually come has been just as futile as Askeladd’s mother’s dream of Artorius’ return.

While it took Askeladd only two years to kill Olaf, it’s been ten years for Thorfinn, and he’s no closer to killing Askeladd. If anything, he’s less likely to do so now that he’s endured so many injuries in battle. He cannot contest Askeladd’s assertion that he’s an idiot, because Askeladd had an objectively worse past and achieved his revenge in less than a fifth of the time it’s taking Finn.

Askeladd’s final barbs before carrying Bjorn away to be buried, about Thorfinn being no better than a dog chasing after food and being “useful” since it’s so easy to “pay” him with these occasional duels he’ll never win, rankles Thorfinn anew, but he can barely stand, and Canute has to prop him up and insist he let his wounds heal before trying again.

Canute also asks Askeladd why he doesn’t just seek the throne himself, Askeladd laughs. Canute is far more suited to being king than either Askeladd or Sweyn. Askeladd considers himself “just a Viking.” If Vikings are anything, they’re decisive, and act to further their interestrs? Had he followed his mother’s path of simply waiting for a hero who will never come, he’d have died long ago.

To be alive today to teach whippersnappers valuable lessons, he became what he hated. Kingship is out of the question.

Shokugeki no Souma 4 – 09 – And Then There Were Four

Tsukasa Eishi’s exquisite, multifaceted Lievre a la Royale easily defeats Satoshi, which is a little disappointing after the latter had been built up as a worthy challenger. Anyone is going to have a hard time beating Eishi, because the kid puts absolutely everything he has improving his art.

The thing is, the rebels are going to have to find a way to beat him, because the fifth bout will be the final, one way or another. Eishi and Rindou will go up against Souma and Erina, with the task of creating both an appetizer and main course that exemplify a “true gourmet meal.”

In the aftermath of the bout, Takumi asks Rindou why he sensed so much unease from her during their match. She dismisses him and runs off, but Megishima also sensed that unease.

In a flashback sequence, we see that despite Eishi’s less-than-stellar social skills, he and Rindou were nigh-inseparable friends who always had fun cooking. Somewhere along the way, Eishi stopped having fun. After gaining the First Seat he was always endlessly praised at banquets, but always felt a bit…off.

Then, in Las Vegas and again in L.A., he met Nakiri Azami, who put his off-ness into words: the people who praise him are pigs who don’t really know what true cuisine is. Azami gradually built Eishi up to believe he was the up-and-coming Picasso of cooking, and there’s only two people who can truly judge Eishi’s cooking, him, and Eishi himself.

Meanwhile, on the rebels side, Souma and Erina bicker constantly on who is going to cook what dish and who will take the lead with the main course. I’m with Erina on this one; she’s got the God Tongue and the former Elite Ten seat, after all.

Their dispute lasts until the next day, when the bout is about to begin, an exhausted-looking Erina finally wins a game of rock-paper-scissors against an equally exhausted-looking Souma. It’s not the best start for the rebels’ last hopes, especially since Eishi and Rindou come out looking like a million bucks.

I’m well aware this ain’t gonna end with Souma & Co. getting expelled, but I’m interested to see how the seemingly invincible Eishi is rendered vincible. If anyone can do it, it’s our boy Souma and Miss God Tongue.

Vinland Saga – 19 – What Are You Looking At With Those Eyes?

Having entertained him so much thus far, Thorkell gives Thorfinn a few minutes to rest before continuing the fight. An intermission, if you will, during which he tells the boy about Thors. The two of them were fellow Jomsviking commanders, and Thorkell is Thorfinn’s great-uncle, since his brother, their leader, gave Thors his daughter’s hand in marriage.

In one battle, Thors was thrown from his boat, never surfaced, and presumed dead. But one night, Thors returned. Thorkell was delighted, until he realized Thors didn’t mean to stay. Thors wouldn’t explain to his satisfaction why, only that he learned the secret to being a true warrior, and had a look in his eye Thorkell had never seen.

Thorkell tried to kill Thors for deserting, but ended up with his axe smashed and knocked out cold by Thors…who didn’t even wield a sword. Fifteen years later, Thorkell learned Thors had died for real. Thorkell doesn’t see that same look in Thorfinn’s eyes, which means Thors never told him his secret.

Thorfinn listens to Askeladd one more time, warning him if he loses, the man he wishes to duel will be killed by another. Askeladd is the only one there who has ever seen Thorkell fall in battle, and the reason is almost comically simple: the man has a glass jaw.

Thorfinn jobs for a while, until Thorkell drops his guard to kill him. Askeladd blinds him with the reflection of the sun on his blade, and Thorfinn leaps up and kicks him straight in the jaw, knocking him flat on his back. When Finn tries to go for the kill, he’s surrounded by Thorkell’s men.

The first duty of those men is to keep their commander alive, but Thorkell is furious they disrupted his duel. That’s when Prince Canute arrives, the changed man he became last week, and orders all fighting to stop. When Thorkell bristles, Canute tells him the truth about his father not loving him, choosing Harald as his successor, and sending him to England to die in battle so he didn’t have to assassinate him.

What Canute seeks to do is head to the main camp at Gaineborough and fight his father the king, snatching the crown and the throne from the man who forsook him. Thorkell thinks this is just a tough-guy act, and Canute will crumble if he pretends to punch him, but Canute doesn’t flinch in the slightest. Furthermore, Thorkell sees the same look in Canute’s eyes that Thors had.

Thorkell tells his men his one greatest regret in life was not following Thors rather than trying to stop him. By getting knocked out, he missed his chance to learn what Thors had learned about being a warrior. In Canute, he’s been given a fresh chance to learn, so he agrees to become his follower and fight for him. No doubt Thorkell’s men will follow his lead.

Finally, the wounded but not-as-near-death as we thought Askeladd confesses to killing Ragnar, and offers his sword to Canute with which to kill him. He adds that if Canute spares his life, he will fight for him as well. Canute, loather of pointless deaths, declines to execute Askeladd, instead ordering him to honor Ragnar through leal service.

And with that, ladies and gents, everyone we’ve been following have joined forces behind Prince Canute in what is to be a glorious fight against King Sweyn. Since Thorfinn is Thorfinn, he’s going to follow the man who killed his father. Oh, and he shouldn’t look now, but Canute is now his legit co-protagonist, while Thorfinn remains a callow boy who needs to grow up.

Vinland Saga – 13 – The Prince is Beautiful, But Cautious

After what looked like a no-win scenario had unfolded for Askeladd, Thorfinn, and Prince Canute, the standoff actually de-escalates when Askeladd starts speaking Welsh, to the surprise of even Bjorn.

It’s his assessment that their “hosts” from Brycheiniog won’t do them any harm, but they cannot let a horde of Danes cross their lands unchallenged, hence their intimidating posture. Askeladd tries to get Canute to intimidate them back, but the prince hides behind Ragnar.

Askeladd and Gratianus have a private meeting with the Brycheiniog commander, Asser, in which Askeladd reveals that he is half Dane and half Welsh, and a living descendant of the legendary King Artorius of Brittania, who inspired the legend of King Arthur.

The episode’s cryptic cold open depicts him in his youth bringing his dying mother back to Wales, and Gratianus greeting him. It should be noted young Askeladd looks a lot like Thorfinn. No wonder he’s taken such a shine to him; he’s the son he never had.

Anyway, Askeladd agrees to hand over the weapons of all his men and allow themselves to be escorted across Brycheiniog so Asser and his king can save face and look good to the common subjects. In exchange, Askeladd will see to it Canute is the one who succeeds the Danish throne, which means he’ll have a powerful seat at the table with which to ensure a treaty of non-aggression with Wales is arranged.

The fact of the matter is, Askeladd hates the Danes, likely in part (if not mostly) because of what they did to his mother. He seems as intent of keeping Wales unspoiled for her sake as anything else. But between some concerned looks from Bjorn and some groaning of his men, he will be testing their loyalty—and the secrets he’s kept from them—to their furthest limits by changing their route to Gainsborough.

In the meantime, Prince Canute finally hits his limit for enduring verbal abuse and mockery from Thorfinn, and calmly explains that as a prince he must be more cautious with his words…before abandoning that cautiousness to give Thorfinn a piece of his mind. Ragnar is shocked, but in a good way; he knows more than most how he might be hurting the fledgling by not insisting he leave the nest.

Still, Ragnar’s desire to protect a child who has already endured so much (Canute’s childhood was not a happy or peaceful one) seems to override that logic. It’s probably heartening to no end to hear Canute speaking to someone other than him; it means Canute and Thorfinn are, against all odds, developing a rapport. That can only be good for the both of them.

Fruits Basket – 22 – An Answered Prayer

Or: Why Kids Are Total and Complete Trash, Volume #3,692

Present-day Hanejima Saki’s “Waves” aren’t just a rumor about her, or some kind of occult quality she happens to believe in. They are an actual power, like ESP. I shouldn’t be surprised—this is a world where people turn into adorable animals when hugged by the opposite sex—and seeing how much a younger Saki suffered from the inability to control those powers really puts the person she now is into perspective.

But here’s the thing: she didn’t become a different person. She’s always been the same person: quiet, kind and gentle, and loyal to those who love her. Her problem in the past was, she feared her powers, and when human laws couldn’t be employed against her, she decided that whatever horrible bullying she received was punishment she was due.

Kids bullied the hell out of Saki, and it wasn’t until two shitty boys were holding her down to make her eat a live newt that she finally thought I want this boy to die that her ability had a physical effect, knocking the kid out for hours.

While its understandable for her to fear her power and even hate herself for it, that position totally ignores the fact that the little shit instigated things, and bears most of the responsibility. If he’d simply treated her with kindness, he wouldn’t have been hurt.

This week we also learn the extent to which Hanejima’s family loves her. It would be all too realistic for her mom and dad to one day reach their breaking point, but that never happens, and their love, protection, and desire for her to be happy never fades for an instant, even when she starts considering herself nothing but a burden to be discarded.

When the environment at school gets too bad—she has to sit and be burned and fight with everything she’s got not to fight back lest she hurt her bullies—the entire family moves, and urge her not to give up. Her devoted little brother Megumi wears all black in solidarity, and prays that one day someone will come who will love Saki as he does and end her crushing loneliness.

That day comes at her new school, where there’s no black in the uniforms, so she paints her nails black as a “mark of sin”, that original sin of harming the boy that she’ll never forget or forgive herself for. While in line for lunch, Honda Tooru chats her up. Little does Saki know that Megumi’s prayer has been answered in the form of this odd, ditzy, extremely polite and upbeat girl.

Of course, back then Tooru and Arisa were already hella tight, so they invite Saki to lunch with them, and won’t hear any objections based on her low self-worth. They make it clear to her that no matter how strange she may think herself to be, they’re just as strange, and welcome her company.

For the first time, a peer tells Saki “see you tomorrow,” and to her delight, they say “good morning” to her the next day, another first. As much as Saki tries to stick with her M.O. of staying away from people, she finds herself with Tooru and Arisa all the time, until even the once-oppressive sun seems to take on a gentler color.

All her progress with her new friends is suddenly threatened when two classmates ask her about her old school, having heard nasty rumors. But while Saki isn’t the one who burned a girl’s arm, she does own up to almost killing that boy, and for that reason, she believes Tooru and Arisa should distance themselves from her before they get hurt.

Needless to say, Tooru and Arisa..don’t do that. Not two minutes go by after Saki flees that Tooru catches up and declares that no matter what she does or doesn’t know about Saki, she loves her, and doesn’t want to stay away. Arisa joins them and asks simply: Does Saki want them to stay away? Of course, she doesn’t, and so they won’t.

The rest is history! In time, and probably in large part to emotional support not just from her family and two BFFs, Saki learns how to control her power, and the voices vanish. Now, as we know, she only uses it “a bit” to teach shitty people a lesson, but isn’t in any more danger of losing control.

But even if she’s more or less cured from a malady that was as life-debilitating as it was mysterious, she still wears all black, as it keeps her calm, while Megumi keeps wearing black for the same reason. His prayer was answered, but more importantly, Saki never gave up.

Fruits Basket – 17 – Paying It Forward

Uotani Arisa was a broken and rudderless teen, subsumed by dirt and blood from pointless beatings; lost in the darkness. Things were briefly made worse when her idol Kyouko turned out to be the “lame” doting mom of the even lamer and impossibly sweet Tooru.

And yet, when Arisa is alone and on the run from more beating than she can take in a day, who does she barrel into once more but that sweet and polite Tooru, who immediately senses her friend is in danger, grabs her by the arm, and runs.

At Tooru’s apartment, Arisa finds herself back in an atmosphere of warmth, tranquility and love that is so foreign to her it’s uncomfortable. She figures her dirty delinquent self wouldn’t change even if she had such an atmosphere at her home, with her dad. Nevertheless, she’s jealous of it, and she wants it.

Tooru Kyouko are more than willing to share it with her, and to soothe her crushing loneliness that has been the core of her struggles in life so far. Back in the present, we see that Arisa is no longer lonely, and loves Tooru and Saki very much. That’s when the three young delinquent wannabes finally confront Arisa, but she ignores them as if they were mere gnats.

While her story about how she became besties with Tooru is complete, there remains the rest of her story: how she became the strong, beautiful, wonderful person she is. It’s a story she doesn’t tell the Souma boys, but is generous enough to share with us.

Hanging out with Tooru and Kyouko is a positive force for change in Arisa, but that change doesn’t come as quickly or easily as removing the stems peas. She may have returned to school and studies with Tooru, but her teachers assume she’s bullying her, while her gang takes none to kindly to her efforts to go straight.

Other students are weirded out by Tooru hanging out with Arisa all the time, and rumors spread about Tooru actually being a delinquent beneath a goody-goody facade. To Arisa’s relief and joy, Tooru pays such rumblings absolutely no mind. She’s going to make an extra muffin for her dear friend Uo-chan, no matter what anyone says.

But while the bond of friendship between Tooru and Arisa can’t be easily broken, the same doesn’t go for Arisa’s bones. While in the present she credits Kyouko and Tooru with saving her, it’s not like Arisa did nothing to help her own cause, and while she might not have known it at the time, going back to her gang to tell them she’s out and facing the consequences was actually the first step towards saving herself.

Thanks to her older gangmate Akimoto, Kyouko learns of the horrible beating Arisa’s doomed to receive if no one intervenes, so the Crimson Butterfly dons her duster for one last rodeo, intervening in the fight, extracting the battered Arisa, and carrying her back to her place on piggyback.

As Arisa demeans and insults her idiotic self for not realizing sooner she was on the wrong path, Kyouko offers some sage life advice, having experience quite a bit of that life herself. She tells Arisa that sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to realize you want to change; and that neither the light nor purity of life she seeks would be possible without the presence of darkness and dirt from which she emerged.

Arisa didn’t understand the feelings she bore until she got hurt exploring them, but now that she’s come out the other side, she knows with the clarity of a mountain lake what she wants to do: to become a strong, beautiful, wonderful best friend in whom Tooru can take pride.

So Arisa abandons her delinquent past to become just that, and eventually she and Tooru befriend Saki as well. And while she is utterly devastated when Kyouko suddenly dies, she’s also eternally grateful for the things Kyouko gave her and the things she left behind, with which she can not only continue to be a better person with a kinder soul, but pay the love and kindness and wisdom she received to others.

That means not simply socking the redheaded delinquent punk (Ishi-chan) who keeps bothering her, but offering her words of advice she wished she’d received earlier: Stop acting out while you still can, before something serious happens. If you need someone to scold you, I’ll do it anytime.

Ishi is immediately smitten by Arisa’s blend of warmth and coolness, and her two friends fall in line, becoming fans of Uotani Arisa on the spot. After the credits, Ishi not only cosplays as Arisa, but wears the exact same outfit Arisa wore the day they met! Needless to say, this is exceedingly cute and heartwarming.

Just like Arisa idolizing someone like Kyouko instead of a less savory gang member, it’s almost as if the universe is looking out for these three still very young kids who have a lot of life yet to live before giving up.

Because they chose the right woman to idolize, just as she did. And perhaps, one day, when they’re better people, they’ll pay Arisa’s wisdom and kindness forward, and help others become better too. Along with Tooru—essentially a demigoddess of love and kindness—this is the enduring gift Kyouko left behind, and why she’ll never really be gone.

Fruits Basket – 16 – Her Kind of Place

This week’s cold open is perhaps the darkest scene since the show dove into Hatori’s dark past. It’s not just shot dark, it’s frikkin’ dark, full stop. A younger, short-haired, long white coat-donning Uotani Arisa comes home to a dad wreathed in TV light and surrounded by bottles who doesn’t notice she’s there. She goes to the room and sits in the dark, wondering, perhaps, why she’s even fucking alive; what the point of all this is.

The next we see Arisa, in the present, luxuriating in the pool during P.E., is as bright and upbeat as the cold open wasn’t. Despite their reputation for delinquency, both she and Saki love the pool and would never skip out on an opportunity to swim in it. But the sight of Tooru in the same school swimsuit she wore in middle school reminds Arisa of elderly people buying dinner at the konbini she works at: somehow just really sad and wrong.

So she does something about it, asking—nay, telling—the Souma boys that it’s about goddamn time they get up off their asses and show some gratitude for Tooru constantly cooking and cleaning for them, by coming along to help her and Saki buy Tooru a big girl swimsuit. After some brief Shigure lecherness, the kids hit the mall.

Yuki and Kyou are beyond embarrassed to even be in a store that sells skimpy bikinis, let alone to see one placed in front of Tooru, but Arisa demands they at least lend their opinion as to what color Tooru would look best in.

Naturally, the boys pick opposite colors: Yuki blue, Kyou orange. Saki corrects them: Tooru looks best in pink. Her mom was the Crimson Butterfly while her straightforward dad’s color was white; combine those, and you get pink. When Yuki remarks that Arisa and Saki seem to love Tooru very much, Arisa quickly confirms that assessment. After all, Tooru saved her.

That’s when three yankees spot Arisa and plan to jump her, but are totally distracted by the gorgeous Souma boys she’s with.

Tooru is very predictably reticent about accepting the swimsuit, claiming she doesn’t deserve such a gift or any gift for that matter, because she’s nuts—but Arisa and Saki insist, so a swimsuit it is. Yuki and Kyou will just have to wait until next time they’re at a pool or beach with Tooru to see what it looks like.

Yuki remarks about how much Arisa and Saki love Tooru (and vice versa), and asks if the three go back to grade school. Arisa says no, only since middle school, when she was still active in a women’s gang she joined in fifth grade. She beat the shit out of people and had the shit beat out of her, and absolutely idolized the Crimson Butterfly, AKA Honda Kyouko.

When her gangmates tell her the Butterfly’s daughter attends her middles school, Arisa keeps her eyes open for “Crimson Butterfly II,” a carrot-topped delinquent in the mold of her mom. Instead, she’s bumped into by Kyouko’s actual daughter: klutz, space cadet, and deeply kind and decent girl, Honda Tooru. Arisa can’t believe it.

When she finally gets to meet the total badass bike empress she placed on such a high pedestal, she was bound to be disappointed, but could never in a million years have thought she’d be a carefree doting parent. When Kyouko and Tooru invite her to dinner, Arisa suddenly feels very uncomfortable and out of place.

Arisa gets up to leave, and when they insist she stay, she lets Kyouko have it: she’s disappointed and embarrassed to see what has become of the Crimson Butterfly. Kyouko’s response is perfect: she “just relaxed a bit”, is all. But it’s just too hard a pill to swallow.

In her rush to leave, she left her trademark black face mask, and Tooru chases after her to give it to her, calling her “Uo-chan.” But Arisa rejects the nickname and rejects Tooru’s open hand of friendship. She can’t look at Tooru without being reminded of how low the Crimson Butterfly fell. So she goes back to beating the shit out of people and getting the shit beat out of her, because what else is she going to do?

That brings us back to the cold open when she comes home, shuts herself in her room, and can’t get the image of Kyouko and her warm, bright, happy life with her “strange” daughter out of her head. Lame as it might seem to her, it may nevertheless be something Arisa wants, but long ago thought she could never have.

After last week’s disappointing Ayame-stuffed lakeside excursion, Fruits Basket roars back into relevance with a much-anticipated look into the past of one of Tooru’s BFFs and one of the most lovable characters on the show, and it didn’t rush things, leaving its resolution for next week.

It reminded me of another excellent backstory episode of another blonde delinquent-turned respectable civilian (Onizuka Hime from SKET Dance) as well as a wonderful exploration of how much a person can change in a short time—and how much Tooru can change them just by being Tooru. More of this, please!

Oh, and as an added bonus, the three delinquents who have a beef with Arisa have a hilarious post-credits sequence where they’re enthusiastically practicing their threatening techniques under a bridge, only for their first “victim” to be none other than Souma Momiji, who inadvertently scares them off with a his terrifying German friendliness. Very good stuff.