Summertime Render – 17 – Hands Not for Hurting

Since we’re now only 17 episodes into a 25-episode series, it was only a matter of time before the momentum slowed a bit and our intrepid band of shadow hunters took a bit of a rest. This week we get a calm-before-the-storm episode that allows for moments that deepen our understanding of these characters, as well as give them an opportunity to bond more, for better or worse.

Ushio worries she may go crazy like Haine did in the memory of Hizuru’s she saw, but Hizuru promises she’ll kill her if that happens. Shadow Mio, who knows all the little ways Mio Prime hates herself, urges her to tell Shin her feelings before it’s too late. Sou’s pops hid the truth from him because he knew his son’s heart was too good to bear the darkness. Tokiko suggests that Shin, who has developed pronounced bags under his eyes, to catch some shut-eye while he can.

That night Nezu tries to sneak out but Ushio catches him and insists on accompanying him. Turns out Nezu is putting the last of his affairs in order before shit starts going down. Ushio learns that he keeps the Shadow of his wife Kaoru pinned in his garage, having not had the heart to kill it until now.

Shadow Kaoru is beastly like so many of the Shadows, but Ushio urges Nezu to hold his fire, as her hacking might be able to restore her. Nezu’s not interested; Ushio may still be Ushio, but his wife is gone; this is his “wife’s enemy” who copied her body. So Ushio gives Nezu his privacy, and sheds tears for two more lives among the countless ruined by Haine’s appetites.

The next morning the group splits up to investigate various family homes in hopes of reducing the number of Shadows as much as possible before the festival. The two Mios are put in the same team, and Shadow tries to egg Mio on, but she clutches onto Sou as a sign she won’t let Shadow push her buttons.

Mio also has a thoughtful gift for Ushio: hairs from her original body that she found around the house. Ushio is able to use them to restore the length of her hair (adorably done with a Sailor Moon-like aesthetic) and, perhaps all too death-flaggy, tells Shin she has something to say to him when he and Ushio return.

Shinpei and Ushio end up having to kill the Shadow of their old teacher, nicknamed Bucchi, and Ushio remembers when she beat up a couple of bigger boys teasing her for her blonde hair. Bucchi, ever the gentle soul, told Ushio her hands weren’t for hurting people, but for holding hands, patting heads, and the like.

Unfortunately, Ushio doesnt’ really have a choice in her present scenario, though it’s arguable that the Shadow’s are “people” so much as unrelenting killing machines bent on wiping out the village. So she and Shin work together to save three kids from Shadow Bucchi and her two Shadow sons.

The little kids mock Ushio and Shinpei for looking like a classic couple, to which they respond in unison that it’s “not like that.” Isn’t it though?

In a creepy moment, Ushio seems to be taken over by…someone, neither Haine nor Shide, but maybe another deity observing what’s going on and briefly using her as a vessel. The two teams then regroup and report on their investigations. Turns out the Shadows don’t seem to be preparing a direct attack on them, but are primarily focused on the upcoming festival when the great slaughter and feast is to commence.

Naturally, if the festival can be cancelled, there won’t be a convenient huge group of people ripe for the picking. To that end, Shin heads to the shrine maintained by Karikiri—a place where he just happened to die the first time. Karikiri welcomes Shin warmly, but whether he’s a friend, foe, or neutral party in this struggle remains to be seen. I just hope that’s Ushio on Shin’s wrist, and he’s not really alone up there.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 14 – Trouble Out of the Gate

As Shinpei and Ushio continue to watch Hizuru’s past interactions with Haine unfold, it’s clear Haine was not always evil incarnate, but more of a timid, frightened little girl Hizuru just couldn’t let be. Haine’s story of how the rest of her family starved is probably a big part of that; no doubt Hiruko inherited that story from the host body.

But the more Hizuru fed her, the more hungry Haine became, and she could no longer control herself. Hiruko’s instinctive drive to devour took over just as Ryuunosuke encountered a bloody Haine while looking for his twin sister. This is the day Ryuunosuke died, then in short order became a part of Hizuru.

Hizuru’s split personality wasn’t due to emotional trauma, it was an actual thing that happened as a result of Ryuunosuke’s copy bouncing off Haine (who is momentarily her former, innocent self) and imprinting onto Hizuru. Ryuu has powers similar to Ushio in the present, but by using them in his sisters body he puts immense strain on that body.

That said, he manages to kill two shadow babies and rescue Hizuru and a younger (but still old) Nezu. But Hizuru couldn’t do anything about the loss of her brother’s body, and her family soon moves off the island, much to Asako’s distress. As her boat departed, Hizuru spotted Haine wearing a patch where her right eye had been, promising the next time they meet she’ll kill her.

The memory ends abruptly, and Shinpei and Ushio end up back with Hizuru and Nezu about to confront Shiori. Ushio uses her memory transfer ability to bring the two up to speed, and they decide to regroup for now. Shinpei has Mio, Sou, Tokiko, and Tetsu meet him, Ushio, and Hizuru at the school, where he gives a speech about not wanting to run away, but to stand and fight…and for that he’ll need all their help.

Now knowing what awaits her by dutifully continuing her family’s practice of aiding Hiruko (betrayal and grisly death) even Tokiko agrees to help fight, leaving the cowardly holdout Tetsu no choice but to also agree. Nezu, keeping watch outside, ends up like Muldoon in Jurassic Park when he looks the wrong way at the wrong time and a “clever girl” kills him.

Just as Shinpei’s new plan is about to commence with everyone filled in and on board, there’s a flash and he loops back to when he was making sandwiches in the kitchen of his house. Clearly, one of Shiori, Shadow Mio or Shide (the four-armed one, embodiment of greed) killed him with Nezu’s sniper rifle. Shiori has realized that the starting points of Shinpei’s loops are getting later and later, so the faster she and her ilk make Shinpei die and loop, the faster he’ll run out of time.

That said, his starting point here is getting very late indeed with most of a second cour left; surely something in his favor has to happen soon. That is, unless, perhaps, reaching that point where there’s no time left is his natural next step on his journey…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Made in Abyss – S2 03 – The Ruthlessness of Value

Nestled deep within the Golden City lies an entire village full of hollows like Nanachi, only those who chose to become so in order to endure in the Sixth Layer. Majikaja takes Riko, Reg, and Nanachi on a tour, and show them where Prushka ended up. While initially it looks like a hollow is chipping away harmfully at the whistle, Riko can sense that Prushka “doesn’t mind” and Majikaja confirms that shaving the whistle down to a purer form increases its “value.” And in the hollow village of IRUburu, value is everything.

Majikaja, whose automaton body we learn is actually only a vessel (their real form is sloshing around in the body’s central tank), takes our delvers to the hollow market, where everything is assessed, bought, and sold. Majikaja makes it clear that human children are among the most valuble, but Riko puts her foot down: she’s not here to sell pieces of herself.

That said, when one of the hollows squeezes Meinya too hard and almost kills her, it is punished by a “balancing”, which is the power of the village taking the hollows possessions and finally tearing off bits of it until the damage it did is paid in full. All hollows here, who have taken the form of their desires, know that this is how things go down.

Thankfully, Meinya is tougher than she looks and survives the accidental squishing, and Riko is able to spend the money given to her in reparations to buy lodging and food. Riko is eager and excited to taste food one would never be able to taste anywhere else in the world…but since this is Abyss and there’s no bodily function it won’t explore, she ends up in intestinal distress.

Nanachi and Reg prepare to further explore the village, but there’s a big boom, and suddenly a huge procession of hollows start racing towards it. Majikaja tells them it’s Faputa, “embodiment of value”, who “can go anywhere and will never perish.” Majikaja calls Faputa a lady of high status, which Nanachi translates to “princess”. While doing recon, Reg encounters this princess.

Faputa bears a striking and completely non-coincidental resemblance to Irumyuui, the little native girl Vueko took under her wing during Ganja’s descent into the Abyss in the distant past. Here the present and past once again collide, as we watch Ganja encounter the bizarre, whimsical, and terrifying power of the Golden City and its hollow denizens for the first time.

Unsurprisingly, Kevin Penkin’s score is up to the task of capturing the combination of wonder and danger; the guy is a master of orchestral crescendos that perfectly express the emotional and physical scope and scale of the city as first viewed by Vueko & Co. I must admit I replayed the final few minutes of the episode just to get swept up in the awe.

But as Vueko remarks, as awesome and beautiful as this place is, what is most assuredly is not is safe...at least for humans. It’s both heartening and heartrending to consider that just as Irumyuui evolved into Faputa, all of the members of Ganja are probably still around in hollow form. They may even have already met Riko, Reg, and Nanachi. They may have had to cast off their human form, but the intelligence remains, and at least they are finally at peace after what they endured as people.

Engage Kiss – 03 – What He’s Losing

Before greeting the day, Shuu has a dream about his parents and sister Kanna being killed by demons—Kanna while begging her brother to save her. This is apparently a frequent dream, and he reacts to it as he probably always does: with a kind of grim gratitude. Clutching a photo of his family, he tells them it’s alright: he still remembers them.

There’s a new caterpillar-like demon crawling around Bayron City’s ever-important energy production sector. They mayor’s office learns of this prior to any auction, while Shuu receives a photo of the demon to show Ayano. They meet in a park of some significance, and she makes a point to dress as cute as possible, but also points out all the times he’s betrayed him when asked.

Nevertheless, she recognizes that Shuu should have leave to take this new demon out. He wins the auction to do so by underbidding everyone, but his winning bid is nullified when new info suddenly comes in stating that because the demon is holding a core equivalent to a week’s worth of the city’s electricity, it is not to be eliminated.

Since Shuu doesn’t have the resources to capture, the job falls to AAA. Through Miles explaining the situation to detective Mikami Tetsuya, he once fostered Shuu, and Shuu became the city’s best and only true hope at demon extermination thanks to his contract with a demon. That said, the government only grudingly recognized his new company.

Ayano leads the AAA operation, but the effort to capture the demon goes pear-shaped when the huge caterpillar transforms into a huge moth that shoots powerful lasers. One by one, Ayano’s support is wiped out. Shuu calls Ayano’s mom, who quickly signs him to a contract to clean up the mess. To do so, we see that Shuu has to do more than simply make out with Kisara.

For one thing, we learn definitively that Shuu doesn’t love Kisara; even she knows that. We also learn that due to how “troublesome” this foe is, Kisara’s going to need something extra. Shuu thus decides to sacrifice another set of memories—the ones from when he an Ayano happily lived together—to give Kisara the power she needs.

The kiss is merely a conduit through which Kisara receives and consumes his memories. No sooner do their lips part does a mass of rubble start descending upon an injured Ayano, only for Kisara to save her at the last moment. The soundtrack gets down to business as she takes the fight to the big moth, dodging its laser beams and delivering brutal blows to its thorax.

Shuu wakes up very out of it, but is reoriented by a note on his hand (“Aim at Kisara”) and a locket containing a photo of the family he lost. He readies his rifle, aims and fires where his note told him, which is at the core Kisara already cracked open. It takes not one but two of his fang-bullets to shatter said core and defeat the demon.

In the aftermath of the battle, Ayano limps to where Kisara is inspecting the corpse of the demon moth, asking if she has to thank her for saving her life. Kisara says no…but she feels she should apologize to Ayano. After all, she took Shuu’s happiest memories of him and Ayano together, which he willingly sacrificed in order to keep Ayano safe (and to further his objective). Watching flashes of these memories hit me hard.

Earlier, we learned from Kisara that the outfit Ayano wore at the park meeting was the same one she wore on her and Shuu’s first date. As the keeper of Shuu’s stolen memories, these latest ones related to her “rival” Ayano, it’s no surprise Kisara has adopted a kind of vicarious romance with him. This is not your usual love triangle, and I really dig this dynamic.

The last two episodes established what an unappealing, miserable wretch Ogata Shuu is, while this latest one went a long way towards explaining, if not excusing, why that is. He’s not only “the worst”; he’s the product of a lot of shitty circumstances: the loss of his family, the city government’s combined dependence on and disdain of him, and most importantly, the fact he’s just not the same Shuu anymore.

He’s lost more than his family; he’s lost parts of himself. I daresay I sympathize with the guy. He, Ayano, and Kisara are tragic figures: him because of what he’s lost and will continue to lose, Ayano because she in turn lost (most of) the man she loved, and even Kisara because Shuu will never love her. It’s kind of a bummer, but I respect the show going to these dark places while also delivering top-notch action.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 13 – The Rules Have Changed

When Ushio materializes beside Shinpei, she pounces on a confused Hizuru. Nezu prepares to aim his rifle at Ushio, but Shin asks him to stand down. Then Ushio takes Hizuru’s hand, sees everything she’s seen, and knows that even though she’s a Shadow, Ushio is their ally.

She’s always been their ally, ever since she printed the looping eye and brought Shin to the island. And since she’s a novelist, she’ll consider the incredible credible, and the unreal real. Shin believes their worst mistake last loop was splitting up, and having heard she died, Hizuru concurs.

They head to the Kobayakawa home just like before, only this time they have Ushio, and after Haine tried to corrupt her, she now believes she has the ability to erase a Shadow if she wants to. Since Shiori is Haine’s way of moving about outside the cave, she’s hoping erasing Shiori will eliminate that way at worst, and destroy Haine at best.

Hizuru cedes control to Ryuunosuke, who heads into the house…and gets their ass handed to them. The “four-armed one” smashes Hizuru’s head in with her own sledge, and Haine!Shiori reveals that thanks to the brand on Shinpei’s arm, whenever he shows up in a new loop, she can find him “lickety-split”.

With Hizuru already dead and Nezu following shortly thereafter, it looks very bad for our heroes. Then the four-armed one wraps those arms around Shinpei, and PreCure Ushio swoops in and beheads him with her hair. So ends the fifth loop; we hardly knew ye! In the timeless corridor between loops, Shinpei thanks Ushio (in wristwatch form) for her quick thinking.

He laments how he let his naivete get Hizuru and Nezu killed so quickly and let another loop go to waste…but there’s no time for sulking. Ushio reports that when she tried to scan four-arms she found no data, but he “smelled” like Haine. She also believes Haine is using the brand to pull her along with him through the loops.

Both agree that in the next loop they’ll have to be a lot smarter and more careful, since they no longer have much of the element of surprise. But to their surprise, they appear not on the 22nd as usual, but in front of their family restaurant, in the rain. Two students walk past—the twins Hizuru and Ryuunosuke.

Shinpei follows them inside with Watch!Ushio and learn that this is most definitely the past; back when the restaurant was celebrating ten years, and both of Shinpei’s marine archaeologist parents were still alive. Hizuru tells Asako and Ryuu that she’s met a friend…up at the clinic on the mountain.

Shinpei/Ushio follow the three (he’s not visible to anyone in this projection, which is one of Hizuru’s memories), and when Hizuru’s friend doesn’t appear, Ryuu and Asako split. Then the light in the window comes on as usual, and Haine (with two identical red eyes) greets Hizuru.

I thought we were going to spend some time in the fifth loop, but it’s smart for the second cour to subvert expectations and up the ante when it comes to the dangers Shinpei and his family and friends face as they continue to meddle. Even more ominous, Sou’s dick of a dad is aware of Shinpei and Hizuru snooping around where they shouldn’t, and also knows Ushio’s shadow is causing trouble.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S., The new OP is…fine, and I even find myself not skipping it for future episodes, but it’s no first cour OP, which really captured the heat and bittersweet longing of summer. This new theme (and the ED, for that matter) sound a lot more generic.

Summertime Render – 09 – A Tale of Two Ushios

The video on Ushio’s unlocked phone shows both the original Ushio and her Shadow delivering a joint message to Shinpei. The original assures him her Shadow isn’t evil like the others, but an ally, then proceeds to tell the story of how she ended up dying, and why that’s not the end of her story, because ultimately she is her Shadow and her Shadow is her.

It started with Shiori telling Ushio about seeing her own Shadow and asking her for help, since no one else will listen to her. Then, while Ushio and Mio were cleaning up the beach, there was a flash from above and just like that there was a second Ushio, who runs away before she can learn anything more.

Ushio comes home for a bath to find the other Ushio is already in the tub; she went home because it’s her home, same as Ushio’s. Once she determines that this other Ushio isn’t a threat, the two join forces to seek out Shiori’s Shadow on Mt. Takanosu, the locaiton of Sou’s family’s old clinic, believed by most of the island to now be haunted. It is haunted, but not by ghosts…by a monster.

A Shadow in its black goo form copies Ushio’s copy and tries to kill her, but Shadow Ushio figures out on accident that the copy’s weakness is not its body, but its shadow, and that she can use her own body—like her hair—as a weapon to slice through that Shadow. She can also repair her physical body, and tells Ushio that the instinct to kill her original “fills her brain”, even though she has no intention of doing so.

The two Ushios return to the beach to record a message for Shinpei, and after the present-day Shadow Ushio watches it with Shinpei and Sou, she suddenly regains her memories and knowledge of her power. She uses that power and her phone to “transport” the three of them into a recording of the tragic events of July 21st on the private beach where original Ushio breathed her last.

Original Ushio had Shadow Ushio turn into a seashell necklace and wore her, so that when Shiori was washed out to sea, not one but two Ushios were there to rescue her. However, under those waves Shadow Shiori kills her original and drowns the original Ushio—the one Sou was unable to revive and ended up being cremated.

Struck by her original’s sacrifice for both Shiori’s sake and her own, Shadow Ushio vowed to help Shinpei wipe out the Shadows when he returned to the island. As Sou and Shinpei weep over what they witnessed, Shadow Shiori suddenly grabs Shin’s arm and transforms into Haine, who promises he won’t escape her next time.

Shadow Ushio switches of the recording so she, Shin and Sou are back in the present, but Shin now has a sinister black mark on his arm where Haine touched him, proving that it wasn’t just part of the recording, and that Haine is apparently capable of transcending time and space like he can.

That adds an extra layer of difficulty and dread to Shinpei’s task, but the recordings he and Sou watched proved one thing: Shadow Ushio is indeed their ally, and they need all the allies they can get against an increasingly menacing enemy.

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 09 – Running Start

Diving Into the Muck

All along both Miyuki and Kaguya have maintained that the one to confess their love first is the loser, but now we have a Kaguya openly declaring her love for Miyuki to Ai and planning to confess during the festival, and Miyuki ready to confess if she doesn’t. But truth be told, Miyuki is already the “loser” of this particular war, and he lost before the first season even aired!

Yes, before Kaguya even knew who he was, Miyuki was a surly first-year with a chip on his shoulder. Shuchiin offered the most student aid but was proving most obnoxious due to how much richer everyone was except him. That’s when the previous Student Council President (with that distinctive gold rope on his jacket) reaches out to Miyuki and recruits him.

The Prez says he wants someone with a “level gaze” who has seen outside the cloistered garden of privilege and wealth, but in practice, he has Miyuki help fish trash out of a swamp. That’s when someone falls in, and Miyuki freezes. Not being able to swim, he simply hopes in his mind someone will rescue the girl. That someone turns out to be Kaguya, who comes out of nowhere,

Kaguya doesn’t hesitate to sully herself with swamp muck when diving in to grab hold of the girl, having tied a rope to herself so the others can pull them both out. That right there was the moment of victory for Kaguya, and she didn’t even know it! Not only was Miyuki smitten with her from then, he was also inspired to become a better person, and eventually swap that muck-covered rope for the golden one of the StuCo President.

Good to the Last Drop of Love

Back in the present, Kaguya’s classmates have ensured she’s dressed as an adorable and elegant Taisho-era Japanese woman for the cosplay café—a look they maintain no one can pull off better. She told Miyuki about her shift times and is hoping he’ll show up to see her in her outfit, but as she’s manning the entrance the cafe is soon swamped with customers.

Kaguya has to wait on customers, and gets the short and very annoying end of the stick when her first two customers are J and San, two of the Four Ramen Emperors of Tokyo. They’re just as fussy and dramatic about coffee service, and when Kaguya starts to serve them, they make her stop and ask that Ai (an actual maid) serve them instead.

Not one to back down, Kaguya admits to her shortcomings when it comes to coffee, but insists that she has no peer when it comes to black or green tea. San and J allow her to serve them, but just when she’s ready to put them in their place, Miyuki shows up. No matter; Kaguya swiftly dispatches San’s concerns with a beautiful cup of tea.

San is moved by his cup of tea, declaring that it was made with love. When he later sees Kaguya doting on Miyuki, he understands where that love comes from and who it’s meant for. Unfortunately, there’s another annoying middle-aged customer right after the first two, so the first day of the festival passes with Kaguya unable to confess to Miyuki. Mind you it’s not tallied as a loss per se, merely a lost opportunity.

Look Past the Discrepancies

That’s the end of Kaguya and Miyuki for the episode, as we move on to Yuu and his new best friend Shijou Maki, AKA “Miss Mood Swings.” She is true to that nickname throughout their interactions, swinging wildly between giddy enthusiasm of the sort one of your mates would dish out when armed with the knowledge you’re trying to ask out your crush, and crushing depression over her own lost opportunity with Tsubasa.

Yuu and Maki are soon joined by Nagisa and Tsubasa, the one established couple in the cast who are probably worth listening to about asking out considering the success they found, even if their PDA is hard to watch. Nagisa also decides to be friends with Yuu, since both Tsubasa and Maki vouch for him as a good guy.

All three of them are behind him in his quest to ask Tsubame out, and while he’s being ambitious by crushing on the Madonna of the third years, he can’t approach the situation with a sense of inadequacy or he’ll get nowhere. When Tsubame goes on her break, the nerds sneak around in the shadows, but Yuu is the one who approaches her, brings up his class’ horror house, and in more words than are probably necessary, gets across his desire to go there with her.

Tsubame picks up what Yuu is laboring to put down, her face lighting up like a Christmas angel as she immediately agrees to go with Yuu, and leads the way with an outstretched hand. It’s a solid victory for Yuu, even though at this point Tsubame may not fully grasp Yuu’s intentions. At the end of the episode Yuu has taken a crucial step forward (one Maki couldn’t), but there’s more work to be done if he’s to exit “beloved kohai/pal” mode.

The only question is whether we get to see Yuu and Tsubame next week, or if the focus shifts to Chika and Miko, who did not appear outside of the background. There are three more episodes for Kaguya, Miyuki, and Yuu to accomplish their goals. FIGHT-O!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 04 – Anywhere is Fine

Izumi, always sensitive to the heat and sun, is struggling on the roof where his friends have gathered to discuss plans for summer break. Not only do I salute these kids for being on top of things—how many times are anime are summer breaks wasted due to lack of communication? Enter Shikimori, who surprises him by touching his face with a cold sports drink.

Hachimitsu also offers him some space under her parasol. This notably doesn’t worry Shikimori, as “it’s just Hachimitsu”, i.e. not someone trying to steal her Izumi! As for where they’re going for break, they decide on the river, as the beach would prove too much for Izumi. They make it clear they’re not compromising on his account; they want to go somewhere where everyone will have fun.

Nekozaki Kyou, the energetic heart of the friend group whom I find myself loving more and more as the series progresses, decides that despite it just being the river, everyone should wear swimsuits. So instead of studying for upcoming final exams, she brings everyone out shopping. When Izumi says he probably won’t be swimming, she says she’s fine not buying a swimsuit.

…That is until she spots Izumi gazing a tad too intently on a poster of a swimsuit model in a skimpy black bikini. While Izumi is simply admiring her muscles (confirming that Izumi has a type) Shikimori races to the swimsuit store and finds the same bikini…but is hesitant to purchase it. Nekozaki seconds that, and assure her she and Hachimitsu will find her one that suits her.

Nekozaki can tlel when Shikimori’s fiery competitive spirit and hatred of losing rears its head; it’s what ended up being the icing on the cake for why she made it a point to become friends with Shikimori. She already had a girl-crush on her for being her idea of a perfect, pure, ideal woman, and then they played one hell of a passionate basketball game, and Nekozaki simply couldn’t stay on the friendship sideline a second longer.

I’m of the mind that Nekozaki is selling herself far too short, and that Inuzuka would be lucky to have her as a girlfriend. I know “Inu”zuka and “Neko”zaki indicate an incompatible dynamic (cats and dogs, oil and vinegar), I think if they’re honest with each other they’d make a good couple. Their sniping at each other feels like a practiced act.

Once the girls rejoin the guys in the food court, Izumi notices how excited Shikimori looks and asks her what she bought. When Shikimori says nothing, he knows she’s lying. Nekozaki saw Shikimori have Izumi in the palm of her hand earlier, but here the tides have turned; there are plenty times when she’s in his palm. It’s why they work so well as a couple.

The first day of finals arrives, and Izumi has a particularly cursed day, even for him; ending with Shikimori is pulling him away from an angry (tiny) dog (shades of the excellent video gamey ED). Later, Izumi is lamenting being unable to study properly when Shikimori gives him a call simply to hear his voice.

Night calls between girlfriend and boyfriend are often veritable fonts of big time feels, but this scene is the cream of the crop. The two sitting in their rooms in the dark, connected by the starry night sky. Izumi tells her about his love of the stars, but how he never got a chance to stargaze as a kid due to it always being cloudy when he wanted to.

When Shikimori assures him she’ll take him somewhere to see the stars, Izumi brings up the fact she lobbied for them to go to the river rather than the beach, and states his desire to take her somewhere she wants to go. The thing is, Shikimori is fine with anywhere as long as he’s there.

The two spout so many sweet somethings to each other, and they both want to desperately see each other’s faces—completely forgetting the fact that video calls are a thing. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most adorable and heartwarming moments yet between these two desperately beautiful, loving souls.

In the after-credit omake, Shikimori is at a cooking class with Izumi’s beautiful but accident-prone mom. She’s naturally nervous around Izumi’s mom, considering looks-and-kindness-wise she’s basically an older female version Izumi.

As such, the scene is humming with romantic tension, especially when Izumi’s trips while bringing Shikimori a left-handed knife, and Shikimori catches the knife with one hand and Izumi’s mom with the other. If mama didn’t already know Shikimori is far more than just a cutie, she sure as heck knows now!

Magia Record – 25 (Fin) – A Record No One Knows

Step One of the Magia Record finale: dig poor Tamaki Iroha out of the yawning chasm of despair into which she was cast by losing both Ui and Kuroe. First, Iroha shoots a Kyuubey or three in the face, not wanting to hear his platitudes about extending the universe. Harder to silence is her own doppel, who says she couldn’t save Ui or Kuroe because she didn’t ever truly know or understand them.

Iroha is no doubt in a bad way, but thanks to the timely arrival of Yachiyo and the rest of Mikazuki Villa, she’s able to share her pain and failures with them, just as they shared joy and happiness in brighter days. They connect with both hope and despair, sharing everything about each other. This maximum understanding means Iroha is able to conjure a giant crossbow airship that conveys the quintet to Embryo Eye.

Mikazuki and a huge army of magical girls manages to restrain Embryo Eye, while Iroha is able to fly through any and all obstacles to end up with her two remaining little sisters in her arms. Nemu and Touka insist she fall back, stay safe and let them keep her alive for a long, long time. But Iroha assures them more time won’t make her happy if it means they must sully their hands, or disappear. She wants to share as much time as they have left together.

While she’s finally able to get Nemu and Touka to stand down, the victory lasts only a few moments when we’re reminded that the wild card Alina Gray is still on the board, and crazier than ever. Of all the hundreds of magical girls deployed in this battle, it only takes one to muck everything up, and that’s Alina, who above all must be entertained and engrossed by art and excitement, even if it means sacrificing herself to merge her doppel with both Embryo and Walpurgisnacht.

Alina’s destructive actions threaten everyone, magical girl or not, and Iroha can’t hold Nemu and Touka back from doing what they can to stop her. In this case, that is summoning their own doppels, going into overdrive, then catching up with the Alina-Embryo Eye and destroying it before it can merge with Walpurgisnacht—sacrificing themselves in the process.

The resulting explosion turns everything white, and Yachiyo wakes up on a train in space, wondering if she’s dead. She’s soon joined by former villa sisters Mel and Kanae, and then by Momoko and Mifuyu. They tell Yachiyo they’re not ghosts, but fragments of their magic that live on within her. Thus is Yachiyo’s magical ability finally confirmed not as the power to survive by sacrificing friends, but the power to carry on their hopes.

After meeting with Ui and saying goodbye one last time (though Ui also says a part of her will remain with Iroha, specifically every time she experiences happiness), Iroha ends up in one last discussion with her doppel. But since she no longer fears her doppel, and has come to understand her, Iroha is able to remain in control, and even draw upon her doppel’s power, combined with Ui’s collective power, to connect each and every magical girl on the battlefield with glowing pink threads.

They’re not threads that collect despair, but seek understanding and sisterhood. One big happy magical girl family, all of whom know each other, and all of whom have a part of themselves in their others. She and Yachiyo connect and conjure a mammoth half-spear, half-crossbow bolt. Declaring that no matter how sad or regretful she gets, she’s going to keep living, Iroha fires the bolt, finishing the Alina-Eye off and dispursing Walpurgisnacht.

The clous part, the blue sky and gleaming sun bathes Iroha and Yachiyo in its warm light. The rest of Mikazuki Villa joins them, and they revel in their hard-fought victory. After the credits we see new occupants arriving at Mikazuki Villa in some undetermined but not necessarily distant future, with framed pictures of former tenants, including Yachiyo and her original group, as well as Iroha and her little sisters.

But they’re just photos of girls. As the girls in those photos narrate that nobody knows nor will know the struggles they faced, the sacrifices they made, the tears they shed and the blood they spilled. They won’t know they failed, were deceived, were stolen from, or that they fought each other, made up with each other, comforted each other.

The damage caused to the city is explained by a combination of earthquakes, typhoons, and terrorist attacks. What actually happened will never be recorded, and to the rest of humanity, magical girls and their record never existed.

It’s a expectedly sobering and haunting way to close the curtain on this bizarre world. But it doesn’t matter to Iroha if she was remembered, only that she got to be a magical girl, save people, and live and share in the lives of those she loved.

Magia Record – 24 – No Choice at All

As Alina Gray revels in the chaos Touka and Nemu have resumed (and paints a picture of it) and Yachiyo chases after Embryo Eye, Kyuubey calmly waxes philosophic about how he’s actually doing magical girls a favor, since their sacrifice is a small price to pay for, ya know, extending the life of the universe.

He also goes on about how “what is right” depends entirely on when you live in human history. In some times “justice” hast meant protecting the weak; in some times it has meant eliminating them to make humanity stronger.

Those lofty areas of rumination are of no interest to Iroha, who is now safely within Little Kyuubey, which means she finally gets to reunite with Ui. Her goal is to get out of there with Ui, but Ui tells her it’s too late for that. However bad a big sister Iroha believes herself to be, Ui believes she’s been a worse little sister.

She’s not herself anymore, and hasn’t been since she became a magical girl with Touka and Nemu. Unlike those two, Ui is content to admit they failed and gracefully back away (and say what you want about Kyuubey’s designs, the plan ws and is short-sighted at best).

Ui tells Iroha they must part, because while her story is over, Iroha still has a lot of people left to save, starting with Kuroe. Iroha breaks Iroha out of Little Kyuubey just when Kuroe’s doppel is overwhelming her. But while Iroha wants to save Kuroe, Kuroe doesn’t want to be saved, because she doesn’t believe she’s worth saving.

We finally learn why (or at least part of why) Kuroe feels that way. Whether she became a magical girl because Iroha did or for some other reason is not clear. However, once she became one, she was weak, and barely able to scrape by. But just as there’s always a bigger fish in the sea, there’s always a weaker magical girl.

When Kuroe meets one who is stuck in a witch’s labyrinth, she rescues her and the stray cat she meant to save. We never see this magical girl’s eyes or learn her name (nor does Kuroe). But when the girl asked for a spare grief seed, Kuroe lied and said she didn’t have one, when in reality she did have one to keep her above water.

Kuroe believes the choice she made back then was no choice at all. She went so far as to save that girl, only to abandon her to a longer, slower death. She has no idea what happened to her, but it’s likely to have been nothing good, considering her Soul Gem was already in bad shape.

So now, having had to say goodbye to her dear little sister, Iroha now finds herself trying to convince her friend that she can and should be saved. Kuroe is far from keen on the idea, especially as her darker side replaces that mystery girl with Iroha in her mind, thus upping her guilt and despair.

While she’s under the heavy emotional influence of her downer doppel, Kuroe decides she’ll make it so that she doesn’t have to save anyone and doesn’t need to be saved. Her doppel breaks through Alina’s barrier and she transforms into a full-on witch, Iroha watching helplessly as Kuroe’s blackened vestigial human body is torn to pieces.

As the witch soars out of earth’s atmosphere, likely up to no good at all, Iroha’s defeated face turns to one of grim duty and determination. If she couldn’t save Kuroe, she’ll at least put her out of her misery, and spare a great number of lives she’d claim as a witch. Three episodes into this four-part finale, I earnestly hope we’ve reached the lowest depths, and that Iroha and her remaining friends can soon begin to ascend from the shadows.

Attack on Titan – 87 (The Final Season Part 2 Fin) – Their Best Shot

Before we reach the end of everything, Attack on Titan takes a look back to a time that was never covered in previous episodes: the last time the Scouts (minus Reiner, Annie, etc.) were all together: when they first arrived at Marley’s biggest port. It’s great to see Sasha alive, Levi in one piece, Mikasa in her Sunday best making the cutest faces while eating ice cream for the first time…while Connie and Sasha chase a car to try to feed it a carrot.

We know the gang is there to meet with the Azumabito and weigh their options concerning Marley. Ideally they can strike some kind of peace, and Hange makes it clear that’s the primary goal to start, no matter how difficult or dangerous it might be. They know there’s a “Subjects of Ymir Protection Group” making a big speech in the forum that will shake things up…it’s not much, but as Hange says, it’s their best shot.

While everyone else is either focused on the political talks or being fish out of water in the technologically advanced city, Eren already seems distant, with a thousand-yard stare that’s more like ten thousand yards. The ever-protective Mikasa finds him looking down at a refugee camp on the city outskirts.

He can’t help but relate to these people from whom everything was suddenly stolen. Then, out of the blue (at least for her), asks Mikasa “what he is” to her. Rather than say he’s everything and she loves him, she goes the safe route, saying he’s “family.”

Following that is one of the most purely joyful sequences in all of Titandom: when Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Sasha, Connie, and Jean are invited to the tent of the refugee elders and their family. There, they get drunk and have a shitload of fun all night long.

When the booze runs out, they simply go get more, and bring more refugees to join the party. When Hange and Levi find them, they’re all passed out, with Eren naturally flanked by Mikasa and Armin, the three inseparable even in intense inebriation.

Sadly, that’s the end of the fun and joy for both the episode and for Part 2 of The Final Season. Everyone gets over their hangovers and attends the forum, their purported ally, while voicing his resolve to help those Subjects of Ymir who have suffered as much or more than Marleyans, still considers the Subjects on Paradis to be “devils” and the “true enemy.” It doesn’t look like there’s much hope for peaceful negotiation, so Eren peaces out early.

Mikasa recalls that this was the day Eren left them. As she stands on the boat in the present, headed back to the Marleyan coast to try to stop the Rumbling, she can’t help but wonder if all of this would have happened had she given Eren a different answer to the questions “what am I to you” and “why do you care about me so much.”

The answer, of course, is probably not. While I still doubt Eren meant the terrible things he said to Mikasa when they basically broke up as both friends and family, but as we see in his last talk with Historia, he believed there was no other way to stop the cycle of hate and revenge than destroying the rest of the world.

Historia is understandably horrified by his position, and by his suggestion he can use the Founder’s power to wipe her memories to soothe her pain. But what probably haunts her most is that she, the “worst girl in the world” saved his life. Had she not, he wouldn’t be here preparing to commit mass genocide against her wishes.

Later, after Eren cuts off his own leg and stabs his eye to end up in a military hospital where he and Zeke meet, he asks his brother about the “forced behavior” of members of the Ackerman clan. Zeke assures him that Mikasa’s devotion to him wasn’t blood conditioning, but simply a level of love so intense she’d happily tear through legions of Titans for him.

I wish Zeke’s words had come earlier, before Eren had already pretty much committed to betraying his brother and usurping the Eldian euthanization plan for an Everyone Else euthanization plan. After all, Eren is certain he’ll only live four more years, tops. But he wants to leave the world a place where Mikasa and Armin can live and be happy.

Unfortunately, Mikasa and Armin aren’t content to simply sit back and let Eren do this in their names; there’s no way they could ever be happy in a world that 1.) doesn’t have Eren in it and 2.) has had most of the world’ population wiped out by the Rumbling. But Eren’s got tunnel vision at this point. Unless anyone can get to him and give their best shot to convincing him to reconsider, this thing is happening.

We see the beginnings of this as the largest joint fleet in human history assembles at the coastline. Their first volley of fire destroys several dozen Colossal Titans, but then the skin of the others begins to harden and that’s all she wrote; the 20,000-ton battleships being tossed into the air like plastic toys. The last line of defense, land-based artillery units, watch this nightmare unfold and abandon their posts.

As the camera pans up to the several-thousand-foot-tall Founding Attack/Founding Titan bearing Eren’s green eyes, the vow he made as a small child before an hour of scout training, when the vision of his mother being eaten still fresh in his mind, is repeated: “I’ll kill every last one of them.”

And that’s it for Part 2. Mind you, Part 2 was not Part 2 of 2. I kinda figured that when I realized half of this episode was over and we were still in a flashback. Still, the stage is set for a Part 3, which may or may not be the final part of the final season.

Will this all come down to an epic lovers’ quarrel between Mikasa and Eren? If it does, how many cities will be leveled before it gets to that? I don’t know, but I do know the face Mikasa should make in hopes of stopping Eren:

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 01 (First Impressions) – Pure, Just, and Strong

As isekai anime go, this one starts out pretty ordinary: after a stinger involving someone’s dream about being in a class where everyone likes them and they have one “best friend of all”, a boy, Mitsuki, is suddenly summoned into the court of a king, but when judged to be lacking, Mitsuki is promptly tossed out of the castle, where he meets the lovely priestess Menou.

Menou offers a roof under Mitsuki’s head and food and money if he’s willing to work for it. Menou informs him that he’s not the first “lost one” from Japan; in fact, this world has been so influenced by summoned Japanese, the culture there in full force. That said, this world still has its own strict social ladder in which the Faust, or members of the church like Menou, sit even higher than kings and lords.

Mitsuki laments he has no powers, saying the wizard back at the castle said they were “null”, but when Menou gets him to summon his powers, they learn that he actually has the power to nullify anyting, as in making it cease to exist. Once the kid realizes what this means, he immediately start to show signs that suggest he might well abuse that power if left unchecked…

…And so Menou checks him, plunging a dagger straight through his skull. Turns out her true duty is as an executioner of Lost Ones, neutralizing their threat to her world and its balance of power. This wasn’t Mitsuki’s story. It was never supposed to be. It’s Menou’s.

Mind you, Menou doesn’t enjoy doing this, it’s simply her duty, and considering how much chaos carnage a Nullify power could have caused, it’s a damned important duty at that. It’s just great to see the typical isekai (and typical dull MC) formula subverted so promptly and completely.

Menou understands all too well how important her role is, as she is the sole survivor of a calamity that resulted from a Lost One—another high school student from Japan—accidentally turning an entire town into snow (or something white and powdery).

Menou is saved when Flare, the priestess who will become her master, kills the girl. When the girl comes back as a giant snow monster, Flare’s old master Orwell takes care of it. I loved the haunting bleakness of the scene, with the snow (or whatever) serving as a stark contrast to the usual flame-themed dark flashbacks.

Back in the present, Menou meets with her aide Momo, who unlike Menou treats this whole business like a fun game, perhaps her way of coping with the things that must be done to uphold balance and peace (not agreeing with that philosophy per se, jut acknowledging it’s there).

Momo is also infatuated with Menou, an attempt to add some levity to a very dark and bloody business. When the king’s guards come to the church, Menou deals with them quickly and efficiently, while Momo takes care of the one who got away.

Momo determined that the second Lost One the king summoned after the boy Menou already killed is a “guest” of the castle. The king, being of the Noblesse class below the Faust, is hoping this Japanese girl could be used as a weapon to being the Faust down. The episode ends with Menou descending on the girl on the castle balcony.

Menou is immediately a complex and thus fascinating character to watch: ever since she was rescued from that disaster she’s been trained for nothing but what she’s doing, and even parrots Flare’s slogan that a priestess must always be pure, just, and strong. There’s a bitterness in the way Menou says it.

You could say she really is all three of those things, and that the potential threat of the Lost Ones justifies her cold vigilance and laser focus on duty. But to see her master Flare and her aide Momo seem to revel in their bloody deeds in the past and present, while she gives the boy she executed a proper burial, there’s definitely a kernel of moral conflict that this second Lost One will likely help to sprout.

Her Way of Life borrows a lot from its isekai predecessors, but I’ve always been one to say if you can tweak the formula enough that it’s fresh and execute it well, you’ve probably got me as a viewer. Menou’s complexity, concise world-building, the dark comedy of the would-be MC boy’s fate, and combat scenes that pack a punch all conspire to make this one a sure keeper.

Fabiniku – 12 (Fin) – From the Heart

When Tachibana’s rants and rampage convince Jinguuji that the best thing to do is to disappear from her sight, Schwartz rises as the true hero of this story by smacking Jinguuji in the face a lot harder than Will smacked Chris. Tachibana doesn’t want him gone, she’s proud to be his best friend, and now she needs the kind of praise only a best friend can give.

What snaps Jinguuji out of his long-standing stoicism isn’t just Schwartz’s smack, but him saying it’s normal (and thus totally okay) for guys to be jealous when their friend—another guy—is with someone else. He’d always been told baring his heart to another is weakness, but he can see how it’s always been Tachibana’s greatest strength.

So Jinguuji bears his heart—while parrying the berserk Mehpon’s attacks—by telling Tachibana that far from having “nothing”, she has so much that he doesn’t. Just when he’s getting through to her, Kalm intervenes, sending Mehpon into berserk mode. But with Schwartz covering him, Jinguuji manages to scamper right up to Mehpon, climb and gain acces, where he finds Tachibana lying in the dark.

He then starts praising Tachibana, but not for his appearance, but for all the things, big and little, that he loves about her. Things only an old best friend would know. They run the gamut from her always being considerate to how she kept whiskey at home even though she hated it because he liked it. Shocked by this newfound honesty, Tachibana resurfaces from his self-loathing tantrum.

The two then emerge triumphant, barely escape Mehpon’s self-destruction, and return to the capital together apologize to the king for all the trouble they caused. The king feels just as responsible since it was his daughter who started the rebellion (Yggie herself is wonderfully uncontrite). Then Tachibana and Jinguuji learn that the Demon Lord’s castle is the big white star-like thingy that’s been in the background all along!

Splitting form Schwartz and Lucius (yet not quite able to shake free of Shen) the two head towards that castle. The night before they say their goodbyes and begin their journey, they have a quiet night of relaxation back in Tachibana’s apartment, where she becomes Charmed for the first time—in this case from watching Jinguuji change.

Thus the two find themselves in a hurry. They need to defeat the demon king and restore Tachibana to her manbod pronto, lest the two of them fall in love, get married, and have a kid. But wait…would that really be so bad?!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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