Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 12 (Fin) – You Bring Me Peace

Aharen can tell that Ooshiro is shadowing her more than usual of late, so when Raidou parts ways with her after school, Aharen tells Ooshiro the score: she and Raidou aren’t going out. After training her mind and body to kill him, Ooshiro issues an official challenge…in Reversi. Ever since they were younger, Ooshiro has always treasured Aharen as a friend and the only person who told her she was cute. She isn’t about to let anyone hurt her.

The thing is, while Aharen isn’t going out with Raidou, it’s not because he rejected her. Turns out, her tears were only a result of her not being able to tell him her feelings. As soon as Raidou figures out what this Reversi challenge is really about, he rallies from behind to beat Ooshiro, then very publically declare that he likes Aharen…just as Aharen appears. Buoyed by his words, she finally declares that she likes him too, and Ishikawa and Satou spring forth from the bushes to join the celebration.

Aharen and Raidou confessing to one another and becoming an official couple is the best gift this cozy little show could give us, and it’s that much more gratifying how little the dynamic of the two changes now that the mystery of Aharen’s camping tears have been solved. Raidou still jumps to the strangest conclusions (mistaking Lupinus for Cassava), while Toubaru-sensei happens to witness their confessions and suffers an “eruption of esteem”.

Raidou’s worries about their relationship hitting a “cold spell” and needing spicing up turns out to be nothing, as Aharen invites him, Ooshiro, Ishikawa, Satou, Toubaru-sensei and Miyahara-sensei to a little tea party. She never imagined that her high school life would be so full of fun and happiness, and she wanted to show her gratitude.

She’s also anxious about second year and whether she’ll be alone in her new class, but Raidou assures her that both he and the others will always be there for her regardless. There’s no amount of “messing up” she can do to change that. While this was pretty much a pitch-perfect finale, I certainly wouldn’t mind a second cour of these two esteemed weirdoes down the road.

86 – 22 – Somewhere Left to Go

Remember 86? The show left us hanging, but it’s finally back to give us a conclusion. Shin succeeds in defeating Kiri, but is knocked out by the blast of Morpho’s self-destruct. He dreams of those who died before him, from his brother to his fellow Eighty-Six who thank him one by one.

I don’t think Shin’s interested in thanks, or for the gratitude of scores of people who died before him. Rather, he’s tired of being the one to survive; for everyone to fight till the end, only for their ends to come before his. This is someone who never thought of the future because the only future he could see was one of soul-crushing solitude.

But when the Legion flak fly away en masse, revealing a vivid bed of funereal higanbana, a solitary female soldier appears and makes contact. We know it’s Lena, but since Shin has never actually seen her, he’s not sure at first. The two exchange cordial words as Lena draws closer, teasing the long-awaited in-person meeting between these two seeming soulmates…

That said, a part of me prepared for the possibility Shin and Lena actually wouldn’t actually come face-to-face, despite being so close…and being kind of oddly okay with that, despite how cruel it felt. Seeing Lena alive and well, in the flesh, and unwilling to run from the war restores Shin from his doldrums. Seeing her hold Theo’s drawing of her as a pig and a photo of Spearhead in her hands, and hearing her say she wants to catch up to him, brings a rare smile to his face.

We learn that Lena is the commander of what’s left of San Magnolia’s forces, which isn’t surprising at all considering she was one of the only soldiers who took her job (and the threat of the Legion) seriously. We also learn that the Giad Federacy will be assisting San Magnolia with rescue efforts.

Shin expected his trip would be a one-way variety, while he would be the last person standing against the overwhelming might of the Legion. And yet here we are, Morpho gone, the Federacy still intact, and, to his delight, Kurena, Raiden, Anju and Theo are still alive, as are Frederica and Wenzel. In Frederica’s case, it was Kiri who protected her from his own explosion.

When the Spearhead gang is back together in the briefing room, everyone is eager to hear Shin describe what the Major looked like. He lies and says he couldn’t see her, but it’s clear to them Lena has grown quite a bit, and that Shin always had a soft spot for her.

More importantly, the universe decided to cut Shin a break for once. Be it Lena or his Spearhead colleagues, those he thought dead weren’t dead after all, but fought and survived. Lena, not knowing she was talking to the Reaper, said that’s something to be proud of…and for the first time in his life, Shin was.

Vanitas no Carte – 19 – Quelqu’un avec qui se Blottir

The prison Chloé has found herself in for centuries was never entirely of her own making. Its bars were forged in part by her love of her father, and his lifelong devotion to returning her to human form. As much as she loved her father, the human Chloé d’Apchier he loved was gone and could never come back. Because of this, the vampire Chloé always felt alone, even before her father and the rest of the d’Apchiers died.

Astolfo is also in a prison, albeit one that doesn’t also hold everyone else: his anger over being betrayed and grief over the slaughter of his sister and family set him on a laser-stright “Kill All Vampires” path. Noé may have suffered equal or greater torment, but has Vanitas by his side to tell him not to lose himself in that rage, even if he can’t back down.

…But back to Chloé, who only got more and more sympathetic and compelling as her arc progressed. Within the prison built in part by the loneliness of a father who couldn’t accept or love what she’d become, she chose to stay there, but now that it’s crumbling around he she has a choice: stay within its bars and vanish into oblivion, or take the hands of the two people who do love her for who she is—Jean-Jacques and Jeanne—and let them pull her to freedom. Chloé wisely chooses the latter.

As J-J and Jeanne pull her from the black cage, Vanitas uses the book—and begs for Luna’s strength—to obliterate that cage and the false world of endless winter around it, as well as reveal Chloé’s true name: Canorus, “she who makes music with snow flowers.” As the cursed world vanishes to reveal blue skies and patches of astérique flowers, Astolfo finds some relief in the arms of his senpai, Roland.

Chloé finds herself in one of these astérique patches, and her first action is one of anger, slapping and then uppercutting J-J for letting himself get so brusied and bloodied. But once that passes, her eyes fill with tears of relief and joy. The flowers remind her of when she looked up at the sky with lil’ Jeanne, thinking if she could die, it would be on that day. But now she wants to live, and J-J is there to love, accept, and be there for her, warts and all.

Seeing Chloé and J-J embrace, Jeanne’s thoughts turn to Vanitas, and when she finds him, she can’t hold back her relief, gratitude, or joy. Their relationship may have started out fraught, but all Vanitas has done since then is what he said he’d do. She thought Chloé was beyond saving, but he showed her there was another way. He also saved her from the regret of not having saved Chloé befoe. Jeanne celebrates by lustily drinking Vanitas’ blood, and then planting a pure yet passionate kiss on his cheek.

Nobody may yet live happily ever after. There’s the looming threat of Ruthven’s control over Noé to kill Vanitas, Vanita’s spreading affliction, and the consequences for Chloé, Jeanne, and others by the powers that be. But right now, none of that matters. Jeanne’s radiant smile says it all—Everyone can relax, at least for a little while, with the clear blue sky above them the pale blue flowers below, and the ones they love beside them.

When Vanitas and Misha were little, Luna told them that everyone, be they human or vampire, is alone, and most of them go their entire lives never understanding themselves. That’s why they reach out for someone to snuggle with and keep them warm in a cold world; who will accept and love them for who they are, and thus no longer feel as lonely. Chloé and Jean-Jeaques have each other, while Vanitas now has two such someones in Jeanne and Noé.

My Senpai is Annoying – 06 – If You Love Your Child, Send Her on a Journey

This week we finally meet Futaba’s enormous grandfather. It all starts with Sakurai using a photo app filter to make Takeda and Futaba look like they’re wearing traditional wedding garb. Sakurai “accidentally” sends it, and Gramps shoots back a torrent of texts wondering who this “big lug” is and “what rock he climbed under”.

Takeda joins Futaba at the florist where she intends to buy herself a birthday bouquet, only for them to learn they share the same birthday. How goddamn friggin’ cute is that? Minutes later, Gramps arrives on his hog to give Futaba a second bouquet, grabs Takeda by the scruff (he’s slightly bigger than Futaba) and asks him what the heck he’s doing with “his” Futaba, and Takeda makes Futaba blush by saying she’s not an object and belongs to no one.

The two butt heads, but part ways without tearing each other to pieces. The next day Futaba goes out with Harumi for some day-after-birthday cake. Gramps, who spent the night at Futaba’s on the floor, tries to understand young love better…by going to see Your Name.! He perhaps learns the wrong lessons from the Shinkai masterpiece, and later texts Futaba the cryptic question “Who are you?”, which goes unanswered.

Meanwhile, Gramps and Takeda keep bumping into each other, and whether it’s fishing, batting cages, or trash pickup, they engage in intense competition, each time going too far and eliciting strange looks from bystanders. The two end up developing a mutual respect for each other, which tracks, because they’re almost the same damn person! Gramps also waxes nostalgic about what a cute kid Futaba was.

Takeda learns that Futaba decided to live on her own in Tokyo when she was just 16, and Gramps let her, because he trusted her, and agreed with her that she needed to learn to become less dependent on him. That said, when Takeda goes to a public restroom and Futaba is accosted by three punks making light of her stature, she requires Takeda and Gramps’ assistance to get rid of them. That begs the question: certainly while living on her own all those years this happened more than once?

Never mind; I love the dynamic between Futaba and her doting gramps, even if it isn’t particularly complex. And I also love how Takeda and Gramps learn to get along. I’m sure he would have preferred if Futaba were going with someone more traditionally handsome than Takeda, but he can’t argue that Takeda is a stand-up guy, and someone he can trust with his beloved granddaughter.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fruits Basket – 52 – An Unwavering Truth

I’m not here to forgive Akito for her two-plus seasons (and years before that) of acting horribly shitty to just about everyone, from all of the Zodiac spirits to Honda Tooru, probably the human being least deserving of malice and cruelty in the universe.

But I’m not going to pretend she’s had it easy, either. No one cursed with the Souma name does, and just because she’s revered as god who can boss the others around doesn’t mean doing so makes her feel remotely happy or fulfilled. Nor is she immune to the nefarious Shigure’s twisted mind games!

Akito recalls a beautiful memory of years ago when she asked Shigure if he loved her. He plucks a nearby red tsubaki (Camellia) bloom—a symbol of love and desire—and tells her he not only loves her but cares about her more than anyone, which he calls “an unwavering truth”. She recalls this while in bed with a sleeping Kureno.

It’s apparently a tradition to make paper carnations at Tooru’s school, and Shigure decides to join her and make one of his own. Tooru is sitting on the bombshell of Akito’s true gender and Kureno being free of the curse, but in her usual deference to others’ feelings, she’s unable to broach the topic with Shigure. But thinking about it is like staring down a deep dark cave, and if she doesn’t tell someone, she could fall in.

This episode helpfully reminds us that school, Prince Yuki, and the much less brazen Kyou Fan Club still exist, and if the school stuff is often the weakest material Fruits Basket offers, it’s still better than 90% of other school stuff in my books!

Nearly everyone at school is fake-flower crazy. Motoko and Co. launch a raid to steal the paper flowers Yuki made for themselves, while Kyou’s admirers steal his, invoking his ire. Arisa assembles a posse to round them up.

And then there’s Machi, who quietly tails Yuki around the school as he checks in on everyone and offers to help out; everyone politely refuses, unwilling to sully a prince’s hands with common man’s work. But Machi eventually catches up to him, out of breath, only to freeze up and say she just wanted to say hello.

When Machi complains about him “roaming an unpredictable route” in which she’d kept “losing” him, the words carry more weight and meaning then mere practical considerations. When Yuki realizes she came to him and only him “of all people”, he blushes and gently puts his hand on her head. She lashes out at him, but he ends up with a flower in his hand: a flower even more of a mess than the ones he made…but of course it’s not about the quality of the flower, but whom you give it to.

While Arisa, Saki, and other classmates are chasing down Prince Yuki, Tooru is alone with Ryou, and she feels she can try to bring it up to him. She asks hypothetically what he’d do if there was someone in the Zodiac whose curse was broken, Old Ryou spits back not to ask such questions, because he couldn’t begin to answer them.

However, when he sees Tooru’s face suddenly go flat and hollow, the New and improved Ryou resurfaces, and when a simple and emphatic apology isn’t enough, he offers her his flower, which she gently takes as they’re bathed in the golden sun of the late afternoon. Their beautiful moment is rudely interrupted by Arisa & Co announcing the culprits have been found and justice done.

When Shigure presents the red paper flower he made to Akito, she asks him if there’s something familiar about this scene, but he’s evasive. As Tooru and Yuki wash dishes, Ryou reports that Shigure will be out late. Yuki assumes he’s out torturing his editor, whiel Tooru just realized one person she might be able to talk to about Kureno is Rin. But her search for Rin at her school comes up empty, as Rin’s classmates say she’s on one of her absence streaks “somewhere far away”.

In an unfortunate coincidence, Mitchan picked the same restaurant for their meeting where Akito, Shigure’s parents, and other important guests are having a big dinner. Mitchan catches a glimpse of Akito in a black suit, agrees with Shigure that he’s as white as a ghost, but also says he’s pretty. Akito spots Shigure snubbing her and leaving with the other woman…which is probably exactly what Shigure intended.

In a call with Kureno at an undetermined date, Shigure, who knows his curse is broken, berates Kureno for not abandoning Akito. Shigure also makes perfectly clear that he hates Kureno’s fucking guts—apparently another unwavering truth. Kureno pleads with Shigure not to keep being so cold with Akito.

That’s because for as loyal and present or Akito as Kureno is at all times, Akito never loved him as much as she loved—loves—Shigure. Akito comes home in a foul mood and when she’s informed Shigure is there, orders everyone to stay the fuck away.

Their encounter begins with her asking about the woman he was with and whether he slept with her like he sleeps with every woman. Like he slept with that woman…her own mother, Ren. We learn that when he did, she punished him by telling him to leave. But Akito still thinks he only slept with Ren as an excuse to leave, as he didn’t put up a fight.

When an increasingly upset Akito rants about Shigure liking and wanting “her”—whether that’s Ren or, uh, someone else—Shigure repeats what he said the day he gave her a camellia: I care about you more than anyone. That’s an unwavering truth. He remembered. He didn’t waver. And he says he only slept with Ren because she slept with Kureno.

As Shigure puts it, he loves Akito so much that sometimes he wants to “spoil her rotten”, and sometimes he wants to “crush her to a pulp”. Jesus. He starts to leave, concerned they’re simply repeating the same argument they always have, but then Akito throws herself—HERself—at him, and in a thoroughly steamy gesture, rips her tie off and embraces her.

The day Shigure told Akito he loved her, she fell in love with him, and never stopped. When Akito and Kureno became an item, it doubtless hurt Shigure profoundly…but the unwavering truth endured. I still can’t trust the guy any farther than I can throw him, but damn it all if his and Akito’s love and longing isn’t gorgeous in its gloominess.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 05 – A Familiar Face in a New Place

The show’s commitment to depicting all the facets of Elaina’s world, not just the pleasant ones, is admirable, but after three straight unsettling or cautionary tales, I imagine the primary refrain of viewers this week was “Could we get segment that’s not, like, a total bummer?”

Elaina wastes no time abiding: look, a town full of living people! The beautiful land of Royal Celesteria is just what the witch doctor ordered, but Elaina’s curiosity with the city’s Royal Magic Academy seems to get her in trouble, as she ends up being chased by a pack of magic students.

As a full-fledged Witch, Elaina is able to easily avoid capture and exhaust her pursuers, whose professor turns out to be Elaina’s own magical mentor, Fran, whom she hasn’t seen in a few years. Once she heard the Ashen Witch was in town, Fran thought it would be both good training and good fun for her students to go up against catch such a talented witch—tooting her own horn as well as Elaina’s!

Back in her academy chambers, Fran tells Elaina she should stop by home, as her mother is worried about her. Fran assumes Elaina’s mom was the reason she became a traveler, but Elaina tells her it was more the stories of Nike. Turns out the two share the same favorite story: of Nike passing the torch to her apprentice Foula.

I’m not sure how heavily we’re supposed to read into this, but it’s definitely hinted at that Nike and Elaina’s mom were the same person, and Fran was her “Foula”. Once she taught Fran everything she could, she became an “ordinary woman” and lived out her days at home.

Fran also tells Elaina about her own attempts to write a book about her journeys. While she wasn’t proud of her manuscript and lost it when she sold the bag it was in, Fran encourages Elaina to make full use of her diary, so that she too can hear about her apprentice’s fun memories someday (of course, we know they’re not always fun.)

The next day, Elaina joins Fran as a guest lecturer and assistant. After deftly handling silly questions about her (no, she doesn’t have a boyfriend!),  Elaina has a ton of fun helping to teach the young students how to calmly manipulate balls of water. It’s the first time she’s passing on the knowledge and wisdom passed to her from Fran, and she clearly finds passing it to the kids uniquely rewarding.

The evening before the day Elaina plans to leave, Fran takes her to her favorite view of Celesteria. When Elaina asks what will become of the students when they graduate, Fran says they’ll work in various jobs around the city, which we saw as Elaina explored earlier. But whether they deliver packages or taxiing people about, or performing magic tricks in the square, they’re all doing what they like, just as Fran is teaching—and Elaina is traveling—because they like it.

When asked what else Elaina likes, Fran gets her to say that butterflies are “okay” and that she likes flowers too. The next morning, Fran is late to see Elaina off, but Elaina is worried that if they have an extended goodbye she’ll have sad feelings about it later. Before she leaves, Fran appears with her students and gives her a shower of flowers, some of them flying like butterflies. It’s a fitting farewell to the wandering witch, who will surely have fond memories of her time in Celesteria.

I mean, considering where else she’s been and what she’s witnessed, I’m sure she was as eager for a joyful destination as we were! That leaves the framing device of the episode: Elaina finding Fran’s book in published form six months later, in a town not only full of Fran merchandise, but a prominent statue of the her in what Elaina thinks might be too cool a pose! In any case, next time she sees Fran—and she fully plans to—she’ll have a fun story to tell.

Some words on the episode from Crow here.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 03 – A Flower’s Fangs and the Cruelty of Kindness

This week chronicles two separate stories of Elaina’s travels, neither of which end remotely happily, indicating Wandering Witch won’t be content to ply us with bromides about the beauty of the world. It’s going to show us the good and the bad, and how the bad often wears a good cloak.

On the lighter side: This is the second straight ep that starts with Elaina asking the audience some version of “Who is that elegant stunning girl?…Why, it’s ME!!!” Later in the episode, a character praises her, and replies “You can praise me more if you like!” Our wandering witch is brimming with confidence, and I am here for it!

On to the meat of the story: Elaina first comes across a young woman in vast and gorgeous flower field. When asked if she tends the field, the woman says “no one can tend it”, which in hindsight was the first sign something was off. She asks Elaina to give a bouquet of flowers to someone in the next town—doesn’t matter who.

Elaina doesn’t get past the gate when she’s stopped, first by a hot-headed guard, then his superior, both of whom are wearing masks and demand she hand over the flowers. While they may be harmless to a witch, the blooms are poisonous and drive ordinary folk insane.

The younger guard recognizes the shawl the flowers were wrapped as belonging to his missing sister. When Elaina returns to the now dark and stormy field, she finds the brother there, covered in vines and being slowly digested beside his sister, who has already fully morphed into a plant.

Elaina wisely peaces the fuck out, but misses the worst of this story. The smoke from the burned bouquet apparently spreads to other townsfolk, who in turn become thralls to the predatory plant and spread the “gift” of lovely flower bouquets throughout the land.

There’s a harsh German children’s tale quality to this segment, warning one to beware of outward beauty, as it could one day enslave and kill you. Life-affirming this is not—but it is surprisingly powerful.

In the next segment, a young lad flags Elaina down to say hello. His name is Emil, who himself has been traveling about collecting scenes of happiness and converting them to magic he’s keeping in a bottle. He intends to give it as a gift to the girl he likes. First red flag? The girl in question is his servant.

Emil, the village chief’s son, invites Elaina to lunch, after which he’ll present the gift to the shy, gloomy Nino. But from the start it seems quite unlikely his gift will raise Nino’s spirits. During a painfully awkward few minutes with the father, Elaina learns she’s a slave he bought because she could do housework and would grow up to be a beauty.

The lunch is far larger and better than Elaina expected, but the village chief shows his true colors, and the typical dynamic of the household, when Emil surprises Nino and she drops a pitcher of water. The dad verbally abuses Nino and shoves her to the ground, and Nino adopts a desperate contriteness.

Elaina is able to deescalate the situation by magically repairing the pitcher (a very neat bit of CGI), but it’s long since time she was on her way. When Emil presents Nino with the bottle of happiness and they open it together, images of truly happy people wash over her vision, moving her to tears.

But they’re not tears of joy, and Nino certainly doesn’t cheer up afterwards. It isn’t until Elaina is back in the sky that she remembers the end of a similar story: when a man traveled the world capturing beautiful images to share with his bedridden wife, they only made her more depressed, and compelled her to eventually take her own life.

Neither we nor Elaina know if Nino will turn out that way, but she pointedly remarks that she doesn’t want to know. As with the flower siblings, she saw and heard all she needed to, and it was time to move on. This isn’t The Heroic Crusade of Elaina, it’s The Journey of Elaina.

That means accepting that the world is sometimes ugly and cruel and dark, there’s nothing you can do about it but move on and try to find something brighter over the horizon. While this episode was hardly comfort food, I applaud the show’s guts to “go there”, i.e. not make all of Elaina’s experiences whimsically wonderful…or even remotely pleasant.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s thoughts on the episode here.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 54 – The Calendar Watchers

Every so often a CCS episode comes around that focuses on the Kinomoto family, a family full of almost impossibly warm, kind, talented, charming overachievers. They are almost always happy and always look out for each other. Touya may seem moody at times and tease his little sister, but he also adores her, and she him. They’re truly an ideal to aspire to.

They’re also an absolute treat to watch whenever they’re in the spotlight, as they are this week. Sakura is given her mother’s calendar, complete with handwritten notes regarding birthdays. There’s Sonomi’s (which just passed), Touya’s (February 29!), her own (April 1!). Seeing her name in her mom’s handwriting brings her closer to her mom.

Sakura discovers another birthday—November 1, which is tomorrow—she hadn’t noticed earlier: that of her mom’s grandfather; her great-grandfather. While she just missed Sonomi’s birthday, Sakura is determined to give him a gift just as her mother did every year.

She’s given more motivation when she learns her great-grandfather and dad only ever met once, and her dad describes himself as “the bad guy who stole his granddaughter”. Sakura won’t take that sitting down; she wants her great-grandfather to know just how happy and we’ll she and everyone else is.

After sewing a handmade gift late into the night and converting Flower to a Sakura Card so she can conjure a bouquet of flowers (the need in her heart was legitimate, so the card cooperated; plus Flower is a mild-mannered card), her dad contacts someone who will be able to make a same-day delivery so the gift arrives in time for the old man’s birthday.

That someone is Tomoyo’s sister, Daidouji Sonomi. While she’s always harbored a one-sided enmity towards the man she still calls sensei, because it’s for Sakura’s sake she’ll gladly deliver the gift to her gramps in time. The next day her dad gets a call, and for a moment my heart sank—will he have to tell Sakura her great-grandfather passed away the day she sent him a gift?

Thankfully, no…this is not usually that kind of show! Great-gramps is fine. He just wanted to meet with his estranged grandson-in-law. Sakura’s dad is shocked to see the old man’s hands shaking and tears forming in his eyes. Through the love he felt from Sakura’s letter and gifts, her great-gramps felt compelled to reach out to her dad in order to thank him for marrying him and apologize for taking so long to meet with him again.

He also has gifts for Touya and Sakura, the latter of which is a blue dress and bonnet no doubt worn by Nadeshiko when she was around Sakura’s age. Just as a larger-than-life fairy-like version of Nadeshiko watched over her dad and great-gramps as they finally formed an emotional connection, she also watches over Sakura’s family from her portrait on the table.

In effect a spiritual sequel to episode 16, Sakura ends up connecting with thebold man she’d actually already met and bonded with while on vacation, but it was never revealed to her that they were actually related, due mostly to her dad’s reluctance to open old wounds. Turns out the greater wound was the distance between them, which Sakura helped heal with her love-infused gifts.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 11 – The Eraser is Mightier Than the Sword

This week on Cardcaptor Sakura, Sakura visits Tomoyo’s house for the first time, which is surprising considering they’re BFFs and even related by blood (since Sakura’s and Tomoyo’s mothers were cousins). I believe we get the first instance of Kero-chan airlifting a lost Sakura into the expansive Daidouji Estate, the reveal of which is set to Takayuki Negishi’s truly sublime track Yume ni mita date, which is the musical equivalent of walking on clouds on the loveliest day ever.

Tomoyo invites Sakura and Kero-chan in and they go up to her room, which includes a screening room for all of Sakura’s Cardcaptor exploits. Tomoyo brought Sakura to her home for a specific reason, but that’s sidetracked when her mom Sonomi shows up and suggests the three of them have tea al fresco with some cake she brought, leaving Kero-chan all by his lonesome.

Sonomi shares her daughter’s adoration and idolatry of Sakura; the intensity of her infatuation is only matched by her dislike of her father, and frustration with the fact that Nadeshiko had to marry him so Sakura could be born. Obviously Sonomi cherished her cousin as deeply as Tomoyo loves her cousin’s daughter.

Still, when Sakura earnestly asks Sonomi to talk about her father back then, Sonomi considers him a “disgusting man”…but only because he doesn’t have a single flaw. Meanwhile, Sakura’s dad sneezes while hanging with Touya and Yuki, and suspects someone’s talking about him.

When Sakura and Tomoyo return to the latter’s room, Tomoyo presents Sakura with her original reason for inviting her: a treasure box that cannot be opened, even with the key. Kero-chan determines that it is the Shield card, which is always drawn to deeply cherished treasures.

That said, there’s nothing Sword can’t cut through, so Sakura summons it for the first time in order to secure the Shield card. This “battle” wasn’t any tougher than Flower card last week—and didn’t involve any dancing! Also Tomoyo manages to record this capture, though she forgot to make Sakura change into a battle costume.

With Shield lifted, the box can be opened, and reveals the well preserved sakura bouquet from Nadeshiko’s wedding. Sakura were Nadeshiko’s favorite flower, and since she and Sonomi were little she vowed to give the name Sakura to her daughter if she had a girl.

If that weren’t touching enough, the second treasure in the box is a bunny eraser, which was the first item Sakura ever gave Tomoyo. Tomoyo treasures it like a religious relic, and a symbol of the warmth, kindness and generosity her best friend exudes at all times. Honestly both Tomoyo and Sonomi make pretty good audience surrogates: Sakura is the kind of friend you’d be lucky to have, and not just because she possesses magic!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 10 – Flowers and Family

It’s Sports Day, which means it’s truly Sakura’s time to shine. She wows classmates and parents alike with her running speed, and while she accidentally lets a baton land on her head, she looks positively adorable while doing so.

When the time comes for the obstacle course race, Sakura and Syaoran find themselves beside each other in the starting blocks, and both are equally excited that Yukito is cheering them on. But while Sakura stays focused on winning, Syaoran looks over at Yukito one too many times and trips over his feet, letting Sakura win.

No sore winner, Sakura invites Syaoran to join her, Tomoyo, Touya, and Yukito for lunch, and Syaoran accepts when he hears Yukito is there and then marvels at the amount of food the kid can put away. Then Sakura’s dad arrives, as does Tomoyo’s mother Sonomi, who was his wife Nadeshiko’s cousin and protector.

She’s never forgiven him for stealing her away and then allowing her two die so young (sadly she was in the 27 Club). When Sonomi demands to know why he’s so cool about it, he tells her he promised his wife not to cry. Instead, he’s raised two great kids in an environment of love and happiness.

Even so, Sonomi won’t pass up another opportunity to challenge Sakura’s dad, so they both enter the parent’s 100m race. But as he’s mopping the floor with her, what had been a light dusting of flower petals becomes a veritable torrent, forming an increasingly thick carpet in the school’s main quad. Sakura and Syaoran simultaneously suspect a Clow Card, but the latter can’t leave the medical station in case there are injured.

Thankfully, this is not the toughest Clow Card. Sakura and Tomoyo learn from Kero-chan via Daidouji-brand cell phone that Flower is a fun-loving but gentle card who tends to show up around celebrations or other fun events, like sports days. When Sakura first approaches her, Flower pulls her into a joyful dance, but Sakura is eventually able to return her to card form before everyone in the quad is completely buried.

Sakura immediately puts Flower into use by giving both her father and Sonomi, who were in the midst of a quarrel, nadeshiko flowers. Nadeshiko Yamato is a Japanese term meaning “the epitome of pure, feminine beauty”; a floral metaphor for the ideal woman, whom Nadeshiko clearly was. Even Tomoyo’s long hair is a tribute to Nadeshiko’s flowing locks.

The two adults end up bonding over their shared love of her, while Sakura and Tomoyo profess their love for each other in turn. It’s all so wonderfully warm and fuzzy, there were moments I thought my heart might burst! Brimming with beautiful moments between family and friends, this was one of the most purely joyful CCS episodes yet.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 11 – Sisters Act

It all starts with Pecorine not wanting Karyl’s breakfast to get cold. When Karyl doesn’t answer her door, Peco fears the worst and burst through her window like an action hero, damaging her favorite stuffed animal. Turns out Peco has never heard of the concept of “personal space”, and assumes it’s something to eat.

Kokkoro is confident she can mend the plushie, so she, Yuuki and Peco take a trip into the city to buy materials. The three don’t have any luck and split up, and that’s when Yuuki is attacked by a Shadow that was attacking someone else, and is rescued by Shizuru, his…big sister? Yes, that’s right: throughout most of his adventures he’s been watched over by Shizuru, along with his little sister Rino.

After cleaning up her room, Karyl heads into the city to pay Her Majesty a visit, and even picks some pretty white flowers for her. She finds her boss surrounded and preoccupied by numerous Shadows that she seems to be modifying to be even more dangerous, and their dark presence wilts the flowers, which the boss calls “filth.” Jeez, Karyl was just tryin’ to be nice!

When Kokkoro heads to a fountain to wet her handkerchief so she can clean the hot dog ketchup from Yuuki’s face and clothes (whew) she ends up meeting a jealous Rino, who learns that Kokkoro is Yuuki’s servant. But Yuuki suddenly vanishes. Fearing the Shadows got him again, they follow rumors to the food critic’s lair (who is more grotesque than ever) and end up rescuing Charlie, not Yuuki.

Turns out Yuuki was hiding from one of the demon girls from the hospital when he spotted a quest to acquire a rainbow silkworm, and completed it all on his own, off-camera. I guess he’s more capable alone than we thought! Shizuru and Rino end up receding from view after confirming that despite having lost his memories of them and a lot besides, their brother remains a kind and decent lad, and has found some good friends.

Karyl returns home in a far worse mood than she left, and feels even more down when she finds the guild house empty. However, Yuuki, Pecorine and Kokkoro arrive right behind her, proudly carrying her fully-repaired stuffed animal. The look on Karyl’s face says it all: the dark empty place she’d walked into was just a house; these three friends make it a home. And perhaps her increasingly unhinged boss doesn’t deserve her continued loyalty.

After the end credits we meet the red-haired woman who sent Shizuru and Rino to observe Yuuki, called Queen Labyrinth by her fellow “Seven Crowns leader” Metamorregnant. They seem to both be investigating “Omniscient Kaiser”, but Meta isn’t yet interested in collaborating. Not much to say about these two; hopefully we’ll learn a little about them and how they fit into the bigger picture in the penultimate episode next week.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 20 – Flowers in the Underworld

If you’re going to have a final boss to the final singularity in your narrative universe, go big or go home. F/GO goes monumental, and everyone has a role to play. First in the order of battle against Beast Tiamat is Assassin, who helpfully slashes both its eyes and delivers various other blows. Tiamat responds by unleashing a brood of Divine Spirit-class lahmu.

As Tiamat begins to climb back up to the living world, the quicker and dealier than ever lahmu prove too much for Ritsuka and the Servants, who are riddled with cuts and bruises and are starting to tire. That’s when they’re bailed out by the arrival of Gilgamesh, this time in his Servant form. He doesn’t spare the treasury in unleashing a gold-steel rain upon the lahmu, while Tiamat is forced back down to the ground.

Tiamat’s bonkers response to this setback is to create a Nega-Genesis, an attempt to restart the very universe. A huge bubble forms around the beast, poised to rewrite life itself and negate every Servant in Ritsuka’s stable. Ereshkigal is able to stop this process by using her impressive Noble Phantasm Kur Ki Gal Irkalla, but even this is naught but a time-buying measure.

While Beast is temporarily sealed away, the only person who can enter the Nega-Genesis, Ritsuka, but deliver the killing blow. Gilgamesh provides the blade, while Mash and Merlin will use their Noble Phantasms Lord Camelot and Garden of Avalon simultaneously, creating a path for Ritsuka.

There’s a palpable vulnerability to the prospect of Ritsuka heading to perhaps the most dangerous spot in the universe without his trusty aid—but the two trust in one another to take care of business on their different sides of the battlefield.

Ereshkigal’s gambit turns out to be a sacrifice, as she used up all of her authority to give Ritsuka and the others maximum time to prepare a final assault. She disappears in a distraught Ishtar’s arms, smiling at the sight of so many gorgeous flowers in her underworld (the product of Garden of Avalon).

A victory against Tiamat wasn’t going to be without cost, but it’s surely gutting that Ereshkigal is part of that cost. Ueda Kana does moving work voicing both Servants in the scene, and indeed throughout the two Servants’ interactions. So alike and yet so different.

Her sacrifice isn’t in vain, however; after some effort and a last minute assist by Assassin (who can be in the Nega-Genesis because he’s technically dead…?) keeping the last of the lahmu off his back, Ritsuka is able to reach Tiamat’s head and plunge the dagger in.

The Nega-Genesis begins to collapse, and Gilgamesh breaks out Ea and delivers the coup-de-grace—the good ol’ Enuma Elish, delivered with such unrepentant ferocity I was momentarily worried my speakers would blow out.

In the midst of all the external sturm und drang Ritsuka finds himself in a tranquil oasis where Tiamat’s true form of a horned woman stands alone in a white, soundless void. She quietly laments how her children made a ladder of her and gone far away, and asks if her love for them was mistaken. Ritsuka assures her that all her children love her, which is why she has to get going.

I honestly felt sympathy for Tiamat, so soft and lonesome were her words. A lot of that is down to the stark minimalism of the scene and Yuuki Aoi’s deep yet restrained performance. After she is destroyed by Gilgamesh’s Phantasm, the underworld that was their last battlefield begins to crumble.

Merlin quickly shoots Ritsuka and Mash, hand-in-hand, back up to the surface on a stream of flowers. A stunning victory has been achieved by their hands and those of their friends. Humanity will go on. Hopefully there’s some time to celebrate—and mourn—before the duo heads on home.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 19 – Just Another God

You can go ahead and call this the “Kitchen Sink” episode: everyone who didn’t fight in the previous few episodes fights this week, and I mean everyone. Gorgon basically covers Mash and Ritsuka’s retreat by butting heads with Tiamat. Still, that only slows her down a bit, so with Uruk about to be stamped out by the roving Tiamat, Gilgamesh goes on the offensive, managing to personally fire 360 cannons even with a huge hole in his chest.

Kingu, who’d been telegraphed as a potential turncoat, realizes that potential in the 11th hour by detaining his mother with the Chain of Heaven, because it’s what he, Kingu, not Enkidu, wants to do. Uruk, once so sunny and grand, now looks more like Mordor, and it’s a hell of a setting for a kinda-sorta-final battle. For Gilgamesh, it is the final battle, full stop.

With Tiamat chained down and Ereshkigal’s preparations complete, all Ishtar needs to do is unleash her stored up magical energy, firing her Noble Phantasm Angalta Kigalse, blasting through the earth that separates Uruk from the Underworld and dropping Tiamat down into a domain where the rules are different: Ereshkigal rules, Tiamat is no longer invincible.

The plan seems to be going well, and Kigal certainly seems confident in her impending success, fueled as it is by warm praise from Ritsuka and Mash. However, things take a turn when Tiamat covers herself in her primordial mud, and her chaotic sea starts to infect the Underworld itself. More than anything, Ereshkigal is grossed out, but also shocked her authority can be overwritten in such a way.

Fortunately, Merlin returns in his real form to turn all that mud into harmless flowers, but Tiamat is still hanging around, is still ridiculously huge and strong and has not only healed, but transformed into an immense dragon that Merlin somewhat unimaginatively calls Beast II, the culmination of evil borne by mankind’s folly throughout its history.

Tiamat is not getting any weaker, and will only remain mortal while in the Underworld, so she’s gotta be killed before she can escape by air (she regained her flying ability). And if you need someone important killed, who do you call? Why, an Assassin, that’s who. Specifically in the Fate world, you call the first Assassin, Hassan-i Sabbah.

FGO took a week off to sharpen up the animation, and it shows: this episode looks fantastic. It’s just…things are getting awfully ridiculous and BIG now, and Tiamat has now morphed into a comically overwrought CGI final boss. With just two episodes left, I’m hoping this Tiamat business can end sooner rather than later so we have some time for a proper epilogue.

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