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.

Fire Force – 06 – Wherein Opposite Paths Converge

As shounen heroes tend to do, Shinra struts into Princess Hibana’s lair and prepares to go a second round, despite having learned nothing about how to defeat her ability that had him flat on the ground. He’s confident that between his talents and determination he’ll figure something out and rescue Iris. Hibana is ready for him, but because she’s a shounen villain, she explains what her ability does, which enables Shinra to resist it.

Of course, heating up her opponents so they become lightheaded ragdolls isn’t Hibana’s only trick. She conjures up scores of flowers to launch at Shinra, and finally releases her featured attack, which bears more than a passing similarity to Captain Kuchiki’s Senbonzakura.

Hibana is convinced that the world is made up of the burned and those who burn, and ever since all the sisters but her burned in the convent, she’s dedicated herself to…herself. Burning whoever and whatever she needs to to get ahead. It’s how she became a successful researcher, and it’s how she became Captain of the 5th.

But here’s the thing: Iris survived too, and Iris is still around and kicking despite not becoming “the devil” to the god Sol everyone prays to. Which means there were obviously more than just the single evil path Hibana took. Iris continued her sister training and became a good and caring person who helps comfort people both during and at the end of their lives.

As we see in the expanded flashback, Hibana was unique among the other sisters in her ability to manipulate flames into beautiful flowers, and change their colors with chemicals. Iris and the others loved her flowers, but the nuns in charge discouraged her, warning that she was, well, playing with fire.

But Iris never forgot their promise: that if she overcame her shyness, Hibana would show her her flame flowers once more. This time, defeated by the flames she believed only served her, and by someone she deemed just more “gravel” to be trod upon, the hard crust that those old flames created around her heart shattered, revealing her heart wasn’t hardened to the core.

Princess Hibana is redeemed, the 5th and 8th cease hostilities, and she even develops a little crush on Shinra, who after all managed to defeat her, making her reconsider whether his prattle about heroes and saving people without getting anything in return was just empty BS.

As for Captain Oubi, after the credits he calls Hinawa, announcing he’s finally ready to join the fray, only to be told that it’s already over, and the dramatic battle music stops abruptly.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 08 – Blooming in Foreign Soil

After a quick pep talk from Liena telling him not to remember that Volo’s power comes from his vaunted family line as well as the power of his imagination, and to keep his promise to her to show her everything he’s got, Kirito engages in his real-swords duel with the First Seat.

Volo also gives it everything he has, but Kirito remembers he has a family too; not just in Eugeo and Liena but in all his friends IRL. He also draws from the power of the Gigas Cedar his sword is made with, and successfully blocks Volo’s strike.

The faculty member ends the fight in a draw, but Volo is satisfied Kirito has been sufficiently chastened for staining his uniform. It’s good to see Volo has a good head on his shoulders and wasn’t going to take things too far. Liena is elated at Kirito’s feat, as are the rest of the assembled students.

After celebrating at Liena’s quarters, Kirito meets the two highborn bullies who didn’t like the result of Kirito’s fight with Volo, and come to deliver a message in the form of the snipped-off bud of the flowers Kirito had been growing in the garden. As I thought, the jerks just couldn’t lay off the garden…

Kirito had come to feel he had a lot in common with the flowers that don’t usually bloom in such a climate; he too is a stranger in a strange land, far from the family that knew, loved, and supported him. Sure, there’s Eugeo and Liena, but it’s not the same.

Then, suddenly, a voice comes out of the air, urging him to ask for the other flowers in the garden to aid him in restoring his plant. They answer the call and send some of their life energy to the ruined planter, resurrecting the buds.

Liena, having both learned from and been inspired by Kirito’s previous fight with Volo, manages to dig deep and defeat him to graduate as First Seat, and thanks to Kirito learning something new about the world he’s in, he has a bouquet of flowers from her homeland waiting for her.

Liena, Volo, and the other elites graduate, and Kirito and Eugeo become Elite Deciples themselves, complete with cute Novice Trainee pages in Tiese and Ronie. Eugeo may tell the latter that Kirito will be nothing but trouble, but the other side of the deal is she gets to be the first artificial fluctlight trained in his unique Aincrad Style.

Meanwhile, Kirito and Eugeo, after going at it like an old married couple, keep their eyes on the prize: Alice’s most likely whereabouts, the grand white tower in the center of the city. Swordcraft Academy may be fun, but it’s only a stepping stone.

Violet Evergarden – 04

Violet Evergarden delivers yet another bravura character study, this time with a focus on Iris, the young, feisty, but not-yet-distinguished Memoir Doll. She’s so excited to get her first personal request—from her hometown of Kazaly, no less—she overdoes it, and ends up spraining her arm falling down some stairs.

That means the ghostwriter will need someone to ghostwrite for her—a ghostghostwriter, if you will—and newly-certified doll Violet accompanies her for that task. During a conversation on the train, Iris is miffed by Violet’s assessment of her hometown as lacking in valuable resources.

But what she doesn’t get about Violet in that moment is that she doesn’t have a mean or even passive-aggressive bone in her body. Violet actually considers Kazaly’s resource dearth a good thing, because it meant warring factions didn’t destroy it fighting over resources.

When Iris agrees that it’s good no one in her town was hurt, she then apologizes to Violet, who was hurt. Violet doesn’t see the distinction between Iris apologizing for what happened to her, and apologizing for being insensitive with her words.

Upon arriving in Kazaly, Iris is approached not by her client, but by her loving parents; her mother sent the request under a false name in order to lure Iris home. Her parents’ true intention to throw a birthday party, with many single young men invited, in hopes she’ll return home, get married, and settle down. Thus, Violet, on behalf of Iris, will type up invitations.

Among the invitees is Emmon Snow, whom Iris asks Violet not to invite. But the day of the party, Emmon shows up and offers his salutations, which throws Iris into a rage. She runs into the house and away from the party.

Violet is confused by Iris’ “change of condition”, so Iris spells it out: Emmon rejected her already. When Violet immediately relays this information to Iris’ parents, and Iris’ mother tells her they’ll find another, better match for her, Iris is furious at Violet for being completely incapable of understanding peoples’ feelings.

Then Violet issues an apology that’s as thorough and revealing as it is heartbreaking:

I’m sorry. I thought I’d come to understand them a little, but people’s emotions are extremely complicated and delicate. Not everyone puts all of their feelings into words. People can be contrary, or at times, untruthful. I can’t decipher them accurately. It’s proving all too difficult for me. I’m truly sorry.

Iris’ attitude towards Violet softens considerably, once she realizes the difficulties Violet faces and battles without complaint.

And despite Violet having parroted almost everything Iris has said to her, Iris opens up even more, giving her the details of her confession to Emmon and his subsequent, devastating FriendZone-ing. The words that “activate” Violet are “I love you.”

The way Iris used them, she deduces that it must take a great deal of courage to say them to someone, and she wonders if the Major felt the same way. Iris, in turn, learns that the Major Violet speaks of was the first person in her life to show her love. Then Violet suggests she help Iris write a letter to her parents, to tell them how she truly feels.

While last week’s letter from a sister to her troubled brother was so short and sweet it could have been a fluke, this week’s letter is no fluke. Violet strikes a balance of cold, straightforward facts and warm, resonant sentiments.

In the letter, Iris properly expresses her desire to return to the city and continue on the path she set out for herself. She is grateful to her parents for their love, and sorry for causing them to worry, but hopes they’ll give her more time and watch over her.

Iris narrates the letter, which is to say Tomatsu Haruka does, and she absolutely knocks it out of the park. By the time her parents finish reading it, they’re near tears; as am I. On the train ride home, Iris assures Violet it was a fine letter, and that her feelings reached those she loves.

Iris is given a bouquet before leaving: one of irises, which were in full bloom when she was born and which are in full bloom when they depart back to Leiden. When Iris tells Violet how her parents named her, she remembers the Major doing the same thing with her.

Gilbert spotted a solitary yet stalwart violet off in the distance, lit up by the sun, and decides that’s what his new charge will be called. It’s his hope she “won’t be a tool, but a person worthy of that name,” yet another episode-ending title drop that gave me all the feels.

P.S. On a lighter note: with the number of close-ups of feet, particularly Iris’, one could be forgiven for thinking this episode was guest-directed by Quentin Tarantino, well-known as one of Hollywood’s foremost foot enthusiasts.

Kino no Tabi – 11

This episode was both illuminating—due to the light it shed on Kino’s origin—and dark, because of the particulars of that origin. Our Kino, it turns out, isn’t the first Kino, nor is Hermes the first Hermes.

The original Kino was a traveler too, and when he visits the Country of Adults, he approaches the future Kino II, a girl of twelve whose original name we never learn, and the daughter of innkeepers.

The girl helps name the derelict motorrad Kino is fixing behind the inn, giving it Hermes, the name of one of Kino’s friends.

In the girl’s country, all children get “surgery” at the age of twelve to make them “proper adults” overnight, (evoking dark shades of FGM) whereupon they inherit the jobs of their parents, as is their one and only job in life. What about what she wants to do, like singing, which she’s really good at? Not allowed.

Her country has a very strict idea of what an adult is and when a child becomes one, and this girl is trapped. Kino is sympathetic, but his transitory nature means that whatever happens, it has nothing to do with him; he’ll be on his way to the next country after his three days are up.

Only Kino never leaves the Country of Adults, because the girl can’t stop pondering his words about adults being able to do things they enjoy, like traveling and being free. When she tells her parents, in the company of the preist and other townsfolk, that she doesn’t want the surgery, they explode at her with manic rage.

The girl’s father confronts Kino, but the priest pleads for peace. They ask that Kino take his leave, but when the father produces a knife with which ti kill his “defective” child, Kino leaps in the way and is stabbed to death before the girl’s eyes. Shocking. A voice familiar to us as Hermes urges the girl to get on and tells her how to ride him if she wants to live…which she does.

And so off she goes, like a bat out of hell. The Kino we know and love was born that day, named the new Kino by Hermes. In the present, Kino and Hermes find themselves in the same field of crimson flowers where she stopped to rest when old Kino’s blood still fresh on her cheek.

In a lovely transition from past to present, Yuuki Aoi treats us to her pipes with a stirring a capella performance. Free of her nightmarish home country of control and stifling of individuality, Kino is now free to be the adult she wants to be. Like Tifana and Photo, she came from a dark place, but now she glows with joie de vivre.