ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 12 (Fin)

Leave it to ACCA to save its best episode for last. And why not? Each of the eleven preceding episodes perfectly prepared us for this finale. Everything pointed towards a smooth, peaceful, and efficient coup, and that’s what we got—only it wasn’t a coup to unseat Schwan, but a coup to secure ACCA’s future and thwart the Liliums and Furawau’s plans to snatch hegemony from the Dowa Royal Family. That, my friends, is one surprising yet completely logical and satisfying twist.

At first, things seem to be going according to Lilium’s plan: Once it’s Schwan’s turn to take to the podium and speak, he and his outnumbered guards are surrounded by ACCA officers in riot gear, and Schwan’s plans to dissolve ACCA are exposed to the throng, which quickly sides with ACCA in the matter, as expected.

But then Schwan calls Jean out, knowing exactly why he’s on the dais with the Chief Officers. Just then, Lotta (and I for that matter) are relieved to find Niino by her side. This is the moment when Director-General Mauve completely flips the script and reveals that beneath ACCA’s plan was another plan that Lilium was not made aware of.

In this plan, Mauve, rather than Jean, steps forward. She explains the theatrics were only meant to demonstrate Schwan’s need for greater then very loudly and publicly proclaims Schwan as the one and only Crown Prince of Dowa, thanks Schwan for his continued support of ACCA once he ascends to the throne and into the future, then bends the knee. Knowing how unpopular dissolving ACCA would be (and would make him), Schwan can only affirm Mauve’s words and commit to preserving ACCA.

Mauve’s speech is one of, if not the most badass moments of the series, if not the Winter season as a whole, because of how much it changes, all of the careful preparation that gives it so much power, and the jazzy soundtrack that adds a cool gravitas.

Suddenly, Lilium finds himself on the wrong side of the river with a very weak hand. He was so focused on his own machinations he failed to realize there were counter-machinations going on behind his back. Jean had been strategizing with Mauve since he learned of his lineage, and informed Grossular of what would go down the night before.

Mauve and Jean arranged things so ACCA would win before Furawau would, making the continuation of “the game” pointless. Sure enough, Lilium folds, but he also takes his ball (being Furawau) and goes home (meaning secession). I will now cease the sports metaphors.

After all the drama subsides, Jean and Lotta encounter Prince Schwan and Magie, who reveals it was the prince himself who ordered him to warn her of the attack. Between agreeing not to kill ACCA and this, Schwan turned out to be not-such-a-bad-guy after all, which is more interesting than a petulant, one-dimensional villain. And since there’s no usurping going on, Jean and Lotta’s lineage can remain secret, even as they’re allowed to meet with Schwan and King Falke.

With Lilium and Furawau leaving the Dowa Kingdom to start their own, Grossular dissolves the remaining three of the anachronistic Five Chief officers, who then go home and become chiefs of their respective districts, and seem all the happier for it, while Grossular stays on in an advisory role for the new single leader of ACCA, Mauve. She certainly earned it.

In other good (if a bit convenient) news: Just as Furawau seceded, Pranetta finally hit paydirt, and a resource (presumably oil) rush leads to the district’s revitalization, Suitsu is finally allowed to develop to the level of the other districts and its people allowed to vote.

We even find out who Niino’s secret other contact was, and it’s who I expected: Abend, the ever-loyal servant of the Dowa Family, who had colored his hair and taken on the identity of Owl to watch Jean that much closer. With the family members reunited, Niino is formally relieved of his photographing duties. Mauve and Grossular seem to be spending a lot more time together, while Jean assumes the feelings he has for Mauve are unrequited.

But that doesn’t change the fact that he and Jean are best mates, something that hasn’t changed since they met in high school (the post credits flashback to their prom, which Niino won but gave Jean the crown, was a nice touch), and won’t change now. Jean takes comfort in knowing he’s not alone. And, no doubt, in being able to stay in his old job. For all that’s changed around them, Jean, Niino, and Lotta really haven’t, and that’s for the best, as they’re perfectly happy with the lives they have.

So ends one of the most thoughtful, detailed, and elegantly beautiful looking and sounding series in recent memory, which came completely out of nowhere. Those are my favorite kind of shows: ones about which neither I nor anyone else have any potentially corrupting preconceptions.

It’s also a show with eminent rewatch value; there’s enjoyment to be found in watching the story unfold again whilst knowing its resolution. It’s also a show for which I’d happily embrace a sequel. Until then, I say goodbye to ACCA, a well-crafted and engrossing anime if ever there was one.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 14

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After a night of storming a church, putting knights in the hospital, and assassinating the bishop, Rose plays things super-cool. She’s up early for more Sparrowfeathers trading, and has breakfast laid out for Sorey.

When General Sergei stops by to apologize, she teases him. Sorey saw her trudge home late but says nothing about it, because it’s unlikely he’d get anything from her…so it just hangs there.

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From there, Sergei is called into town when there’s a suspicious sinkhole; Sorey & Co. believe it’s caused by malevolence, and tag along. From the time Sorey uses Lailah to light the way with her flames to his impressive purification ceremony with Mikleo, Sergei is quickly and efficiently brought up to speed on Sorey’s abilities, and has no choice but to believe, even if it’s a lot to take in.

He also mentions to Sorey that the capital of Rolance has been beset by unending rain, which would seem to be this land’s “calamity” the way the dragon was in Hyland. Sorey sees that there’s a similar situation here with malevolence primed to blow, but neither he nor Sergei can get through the Blue Storm knights. The Church has secrets it doesn’t want to reveal to anyone outside their circle.

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Rose and the Bones’ operation last night was meant to save lives by taking out the Bishop, but in the process, a dear friend and comrade was lost, and Rose, rightly so, feels responsible. She’s let her emotions in and they’re running wild, even though she pledged like everyone else in the Bones to put them aside for the good of those who need them.

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It’s perhaps because she allowed he emotions out that Dezel, who it seems has always come to her side at various times in her life, starts to act on his own, either fueled by that emotion or perhaps simply with Rose’s lack of a strong “No.” Dezel has been watching Rose for a long time. He trusts her and knows her to be a virtuous person, so he’s willing to go out there and do the things she can’t do, at least without involving or losing more friends.

So a wind storm arrives around the secret-hoarding Church, poised to crack it open like an egg. That may not be the best approach for the root problem in Rolance – the building malevolence – so we’ll see if Sorey and his seprahim pals are able to stop him and get the job done the right way.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 13

How to they keep up with the news like that?
How to they keep up with the news like that? And I thought this was supposed to be a fantasy…

Ready for more Zest in your life? I am, after getting needlessly concerned that the first twelve episodes were merely an elaborate advertisement for the game it’s based upon. Turns out the anime has more stories to tell, and to its credit, assumes we’re caught up. Only the Fall season separates its cours, after all; not five-plus years like Preston’s Blue Exorcist.

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Jumping right back in to its gorgeous, detailed world, Zest goes right back to building it. The Seraphim usually just sit around this week, only active when Sorey is doing his Shepherd training. But that allows us much more time with Rose, and both we and Sorey watch her present her many facets: trader, negotiator (both with figures and kicks), and allegedly “noble” assassin.

She can not only try to get a good price on herbs, but is able to determine on her own that her trading partners are actually thieves. She also sees the profit in Sorey performing his feats before audiences, though she knows Alisha (also not present here) probably wouldn’t like that.

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Focusing on Rose gives the episode more, well, focused, with the Seraphim more of a subtle spice whose running commentary isn’t overused. As Sorey enters Rose’s home base of Lastonbell, a lively trading city that isn’t yet feeling the Age of Calamity, he’s also introduced to Mayvin, a centenarian and explorer of the world whose goal in life has been to share his experiences and knowledge with the rest of the world – in a way, preserving it from the oblivion of lost memory/history.

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We’re also (re-)introduced to General Sergei Storelka of the Platinum Knights of Rolance, who have been sent to “escort” Sorey; where, they don’t say. Rose confronts him in her own building and brings up the rule of law that says Sorey can’t simply be abducted; the General says Sorey is a unique threat that demands vigilance, and a bending of said laws. Mayvin diffuses the situation with ample amounts of wine, and he, Sorey and Sergei drink and talk peacefully long into the night.

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Mayvin is old enough to remember the last Shepherd, Michael, whom Lailah was contracted with before Sorey. Michael seemed like a broodier, more cynical lad than the bright-eyed Sorey. He spoke of everyone having a heart tainted by malevolence, “slumbering deep inside”, even him. Still, what vexed him most were questions about morality that never seem to have simple answers, or answers at all.

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Questions like sacrificing one or few to save or benefit many, or whethr accepting necessary evil makes people malevolent. The same night Mayvin shares these stories with Sorey, Rose goes into town, meets up with her band of Scattered Bones, and assassinates a bishop who is hoarding a mass fortune and a mass grave beneath his cathedral. Unlike the pure Seraphim (or the pure Alisha), Rose is the personification of those hard questions Sorey, like Michael before him, must wrestle with as Shepherd.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 12 (Fin)

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This review has been updated to reflect news this anime will have a second season next year.

Things looked a little grim for the good guys last week, but everything ends up working out in the finale. A new, wind-element seraphim ally is introduced, as is a new Big Bad in the Lord of Calamity himself. Yet neither really makes much of an impact, being introduced so late in the game.

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I mention “game” because the reality of the game this show is based on has always loomed in the background. I did not realize (due to not doing any research) that there will indeed be a second cour of the anime. But this first cour still felt more like an extended introduction of the world—a setting of the table—rather than any kind of satisfying narrative.

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It’s taken the length of this series for me to admit that while many of the characters possess admirable traits, none of the elaborately-designed characters ever surpassed the generality of those traits. That wasn’t really much of a problem when I was simply enjoying the exploration of the vast world and the battles within it, but it does leave me feeling a little empty and under-invested when all’s said and done.

The Berseria detour, while a fun interlude, took up time that in hindsight would have been better spent developing the main Zestiria cast, or at least getting them together a little bit faster. Some shows pile on characters too fast; I’d argue Zestiria had the opposite problem, and the characters suffered as a result.

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Even if Zestiria’s characters leave a bit of a bland aftertaste, and that it was content to show us a series of minor skirmishes and only hint at larger conflicts this season, I won’t forget the fun I had watching the last thirteen episodes (0-12), or the excitement and wonder the gradual unfolding of the world evoked, or the satisfaction of watching a technically impeccably well-crafted show. It never failed to look or sound great.

The post-credit previews were always a playful showcase of the characters’ chemistry that was rarely replicated in the actual show. If and when the next season of adventures arrives, I’ll be looking for less introductions (or re-introductions) and more Getting Down To Business. I also hope there’s a bit more to the vaunted Lord of Calamity than “Bwahaha, What Insolence.”

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 11

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Off everyone goes to war…or hopefully (but not realistically), the prevention of war. We meet Ian, a bubby personality who somehow managed not to get killed this week, while Rose takes Alisha up on her offer to witness her actions. Then there is Sorey, who likes Alisha but won’t take a side if there’s war. Instead, he’ll do his job as a Shepherd: purity the malevolence, and try to stop war, not make it.

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Unfortunately the war is already in progress when they arrive, so Sorey has to split off from Alisha and use his three Seraphim to try to do damage control. It’s Alisha’s first taste of large-scale combat, but she’s protected by her honorable underlings.

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No-so-honorable are the Rolance troops who went behind their general’s back to launch a rear suprise attack, while Hyland’s general won’t listen to Alisha’s orders and instead orders his men to capture her, wounding her if necessary.

Bartlow is in full control here, even if he’s nowhere near the actual battle, and Alisha’s reluctance to use violence plays right into his hands. But when the soldiers start coming at her and Rose, they hold their own pretty well, without killing.

Meanwhile, Sorey exerts a good deal of energy to purify an entire battlefield of hellions and malevolence…only to discover there are other battlefields. His task has been made so much harder by the fact everything is already in motion.

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And such is the implacable cowardice and unreasonableness of the Hyland forces under Bartlow’s command, one soldier uses Alisha’s moment of compassion for her own troops, keeping Rose from killing him, to stab her in the back. Things look very bad up until all the troops in the room are swept away by some kind of telekinesis wielded by a mysterious figure floating above them.

So it’s a rough start for Team War Prevention, and with the “Lord of Calamity” superboss on the literal horizon, it’s not getting smoother anytime soon. Though I imagine, with a second season officially coming sometime in 2017, this season’s final episode will feature some kind of resolution.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 10

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I was a lot more into this episode than last week’s, perhaps because it felt like so much more got done. Marlind was a murky mess last week, but here Sorey and Mikleo, now reunited, make quick work of purifying the town’s water.

Of course, those are only the first steps, and the full healing of the town will take the better part of a year, but it’s in far better shape, and Princess Alisha wants to make sure it stays that way, and that her people choose hope over despair.

Rose is also back in the picture, and her presence as friendly merchant early on meant she’d likely show up as a deadly merchant later.

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Like Sorey the Shepherd, Alisha really needs to be everywhere at once in order to be the most effective, but she can’t be, and when the cat’s away the mice will play. The most troublesome rodent is Lord Bartlow, who is sending troops to the buffer zone between Highland and Rolance for war and plunder. She has loyal soldiers to follow her, but little time: she has to leave Marlind at first light to have a chance to stop Bartlow.

Meanwhile, after kicking some baby dragon ass and receiving quite a bit of praise from the town for his hard work, the other shoe finally drops on Sorey’s role when he must purify a hellion who was once a human. He must bear all the malevolence he pulls out of the hellion, something the Seraphim can’t help him with. It’s a lonely, painful duty, and it’s sure to alter Sorey’s demeanor over time.

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Just as Sorey must bear the malevolence born of the despair of ordinary folk, Alisha also understands that choosing not to fight has a cost she’s prepared to bear. When the assassins surround and attack her once more, they are there to prevent the “senseless deaths” from Alisha’s ideals. But even I think they have it all wrong. If Alisha were to give in to Bartlow and allow a free-for-all, it will only worsen global malevolence and hasten calamity.

Alisha tells the leader of the assassins that she doesn’t believe she’ll stop Bartlow; she will, and if they want to stop her, they’ll have to kill her. The masked leader is moved by those words and by Alisha putting her foe’s knife to her throat without the slightest hesitation. The assassin stands down, and Alisha cuts their mask off, revealing Rose. Alisha asks her to accompany her to Glaivend to bear witness to her actions; Rose agrees.

This solid outing of Zestiria aptly illustrated just how awesomely badass Alisha is, how heavy are the burdens she and Sorey (and only they) must bear moving forward, elaborated on the nature of malevolence (hint: it starts with despair over loss), and finally brought Rose into the party.

Even the next ep preview shined, as Rose playfully attempts to swindle Alisha on some beauty sundries, only for Alisha to turn the tables using Rose’s guilt. I’m looking forward to these two interacting not as acquaintances, or opponents, but as comrades.

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ReLIFE – 05

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Last week’s cliffhanger portended a rough road ahead for all parties involved, and a galaxy of possibilities in terms of if, and how, the conflicts would be resolved. But judging from the first four episodes, I was confident ReLife would resolve everything relatively quickly, but in the most narratively and emotionally satisfying way. The right way: no shortcuts, no lies, and no running away.

As it turns out, both Kaizaki and Kariu were knocked out by their fall down the stairs, so there was no immediate confrontation between them and Hishino. Instead, Kaizaki wakes up in the infirmary. Hoshino and her bag are gone, so the mystery of where she went and how she feels about what she saw is always hanging in the background, adding tension to an already tense scene.

Before Kariu comes to, Kaizaki pieces together what happened, and he remembers back when he was training at his job. When the woman training him started out-performing the men, they turned on her and started working to knock her down, sullying all the hard work they’d done to get to where they are.

Kaizaki remembers his trainer saying she wasn’t mad, but sad that they had given up trying to fight fair. Now we know one reason Kaizaki quit his job; rivals had twisted into vindictive enemies. It happens all the time.

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Kaizaki knows this, because he’s 27. He’s lived ten years more life than Kariu or any of his other classmates. And so, without even thinking, when Kariu comes to he lectures her the way a 27-year-old would lecture a 17-year-old.

His own baggage comes into play, as he makes the connection between what the “filthy adults” stooped to at his workplace and what Kariu is doing; telling her he’s not mad, but “very, very sad”, and that she’s too young to be acting like this. Kariu blows up at him, caling him too self-righteous and too self-assured, considering they’re the same age. But much of what he said still hit home, even if it was delivered with a bit too much, shall we say, adult authority.

Kaizaki tells her what she’s overlooked: sure, she hasn’t been able to beat Hishiro or Honoka, but she’s still bettered herself. Her hard work wasn’t for nothing, and she shouldn’t give up. Not only that, she has the wrong idea about Hishiro, because they’ve barely ever spoken. Kaizaki delivers this advice knowing full well he himself gave up, but like both Hishiro and Kariu, he’s trying to change. And he is!

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That wonderful exchange (with more baller work from Tomatsu Haruka) would be about all we could reasonably expect from a good episode…but this is a great episode, which means Hishiro is waiting at the gate when Kaizaki, and later Kariu, leave the infirmary.

Kaizaki initially lies about Kariu taking the bag because it was “dangerous to have it in the hall”, but changes his mind and tells the truth, remembering Yoake telling him not to clear all the thorns. Hishiro reacts as one would expect: with calm, cool logic. She doesn’t know the right answer, so she’ll ask Kariu upfront. (There’s also the matter of her heart panging when she saw Kaizaki hugging Kariu, but she wisely tables that issue for now).

Kaizaki may be hiding in the bushes to watch how it goes (with Yoake), but both of them stay out of it when Kariu comes out and sees Hishiro. Kariu doesn’t run, nor does she try to lie and say she doesn’t hate Hishiro, because at the moment, she kinda does.

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The source of that hate had been cultivated each time Hishiro flashed her one of her scary mocking smiles, so when Hishiro assures her she never meant to mock her, and Kariu talkes Kaizaki’s advice and asks her to smile on demand, it dawns on her that she misunderstood; Hishiro is simply very socially awkward.

It was Kariu’s own issues with her than caused her to interpret it as mocking. Also, well, it really does look like she’s mocking her, but hey, that’s why you talk things out with people!

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When Hishiro tells her all those smiles were meant to help them become friends, Kariu lets out a hearty laugh; part in relief, part in amazement. She also realizes Hishiro wasn’t ignoring her handshake, and when Hishiro puts out her hand this time, Kariu takes it and agrees to be friends…as long as it’s clear they’re also academic rivals.

That’s fine with Hishiro, who is so happy to have made a new friend, she smiles for real, surprising and dazzling Kariu in the process.

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So, all’s well that ends well in the Kariu/Hishino Conflict! The operative word there being end, as the show had the guts to lay all the cards on the table and hash everything out in this one episode. Dragging out the misunderstanding would have only kept us from what are sure to be other great stories involving, say An.

I really enjoyed Kaizaki and Yoake celebrating like adults with beer and cigarettes, as Kaizaki gets a thank you from Kariu for ratting her out to Hishiro, realizing it was in her best interest. Kaizaki still isn’t sure he didn’t spare her the ugly truth about life, the truth he saw firsthand and drove him from the workplace.

But Yoake assures him he didn’t lie, either. There’s a happy median between blatant sugarcoating and outright nihilism. And even though Kariu won’t remember Kaizaki in a year, she’ll remember what he said to her if and when she runs into the same obstacles he did later in life. The episode closes with a triumphant shot of Kari sitting with Hishiro at lunch, the rest of the group happy and relieved. On to the next high school crisis!

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GATE – 21

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Pina’s Rose Knights fight, bleed and die, but ultimately prevail against the initial force of Gimlet’s cleaners, seeing as how the latter aren’t equipped with plate armor and aren’t exactly great fighters. Sherry, wasting no time demonstrating what a badass she is, stands and watches with unblinking eyes the violence and death she knows is of her making (though I wish she and Sugawara had retrieted within the Palace, lest, say, a stray arrow find one of them).

The knights managed to keep Oprichnina at bay and protect the embassy this time, but a bigger, tougher force will show up eventually, and they’re going to be woefully outnumbered. This leads the officials responsible for the diplomats’ safety to beseech a minister for authorization to rescue them, along with the pro-peace refugees.

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The civilian politician is, well, like pretty much every civilian politician in GATE: a weak weeny who is waffling about doing the right thing because he’s too concerned about his own career and upcoming elections.

He has reason to worry: Alnus is full of press and military officials from all over, and he doesn’t want to look weak. As if the waffling politician weren’t enough, we also have a self-important journalist who has a low opinion of the noble SDF, and makes no bones about his journalism not being totally objective, since at the end of the day it’s a business.

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Meanwhile in Rondel, assassins make another attempt on the lives of Lelei & Co., only they are foiled by Itami’s stuffed beds and a flash grenade. The assassins are far from pros, but they are representative of the M.O. of someone called the “Pied Piper”, who exploits those who are easy to convince of huge plots and conspiracies and lies; in this case, young inn employees were told Lelei & Co. were impostors and murderers.

The key, then, to stopping these attempts on Lelei’s life is to figure out who this Pied Piper is and take him out. At the same time, Rondel has learned through recent messenger of Team Itami’s exploits with the Fire Dragon. In particular, Lelei is lauded as the one who finished it off, furthering the Imperial position that a human and Imperial citizen get the lion’s share of credit for the feat, which doesn’t sit right with Lelei (her word for it is “nasty”).

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Because the Jade Palace-protecting Rose Knights are under Pina’s command, it isn’t long before Zolzal “kindly requests” that she order them to stand down, promising no harm will come to the diplomats (but making no such promises for Casel or Sherry). Naturally, Pina refuses, and attempts to set off for the Palace to see what’s what, but then, in the least surprising move yet by the Acting Emperor, he places Pina under arrest. Frankly, Pina should have sneaked out of the Capital ages ago.

With a force of Imperial regular army—the Rose Knights’ own comrades—over one thousand strong at the Palace gates, the situation is about to explode. So it’s a relief that the civilian minister finally gives the go-ahead for a rescue mission.

Like Sugawara last week, his professional training gives way to his humanity, and he makes the better of two bad choices. There were going to be consequences either way, but at least this way he won’t be sitting back and twiddling his thumbs while his diplomats are slaughtered, along with what’s left of the pro-peace movement.

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Prison School – 08

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Yours truly should have known, but my “manly feelings” were also manipulated, as I, like Shingo, stopped worrying about what was or wasn’t too good to be true and actually roll with the idea of a random girl at Shingo’s school being legitimately into him. After all, Chiyo can’t be the only one who likes having the guys around, right? Well, it’s not really a yes or no question.

But let’s just say for most of the episode and all of last week, Anzu was putting on an act. Unlike Chiyo, who puts herself at risk trying to warn Kiyoshi of the impending plot afoot (writing it in Go stones…so refined!), Anzu is acting on behalf of the Underground Student Council, in exchange for Mari’s recommendation she be named to the executive committee next year. She was a part of DTO…but by the end, she’s almost responsible for foiling it.

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Why does she do that? Well, everything was going according to plan, with cheek-pinching about to move on to something else, until Shingo just cant sit there and watch some random kid in the park get sand thrown at him by his friends. When he yells at them too harshly, they cry, and the kid who was getting bullyed throws sand on him. 

This isn’t just a show about T&A. It’s a show about fate and justice; friendship and forgiveness. The confessions that take place in that park aren’t of love between Shingo and Anzu. Shingo confesses to being a snitch, and can’t betray his friends anymore. But then Anzu ‘fesses up about being appointed by Mari to seduce him as part of a plan to get the boys expelled.

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Of course, Anzu was only one of Mari’s variables in her devastatingly intricate scheme, which involved using Meiko’s voluptuousness and lack of punishing Andre to drive him mad until he’s chasing cardboard cutouts, and finally, the real thing. When Meiko offers to whip him if he just comes through the fence, Andre can’t help himself, pushes through the wire (which had already been cut), and is guilty of the boys’ second breakout. If Shingo doesn’t get back in time, that will be three strikes, and they’ll be out. Baseball Metaphor!

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In the time Anzu’s spent with him, culminating in those shared confessions, she can no longer play him any more than he can play Kiyoshi and the others. So she does everything she can to get him back to school on time. At first, their getting along seemed all to easy, then was revealed to be an artificial fondness that then became real. I just hope this isn’t the last we see of these two.

If Mari and the council have their way, however, it will be…and the boys won’t get to experience “seaside school” in the summer, when the girls hold a wet t-shirt contest. While I’m almost positive that’s just bullshit to get them riled up, the fact they believe her so intensely is pretty hilarious.

In fact, it’s that dream of transparent tops that move Kiyoshi, Gakuto, Andre and Joe to put their wishes and hopes together and chant for Shingo’s on-time return. Shingo is almost hit by a truck, but avoids it, and that truck happens to be the laundry truck for the school! Almost as if the universe is rewarding him for his honesty, eh?

Well, not quite: the kicker in DTO is that the other four inmates were put to work adjusting how the door to the stockade opens so it slides rather than pushes in, so Shingo can’t open it, and he’s outside when his time runs out. Dayum, that is one ice cold checkmate.

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Happily, as they await their impending expulsion, Shingo prostrates himself and apologizes profusely for what he’s done…and he’s forgiven, just like that. Well, until he mentions details of what happened with him and Anzu; then they lay into him, but when they’re done, they’re all of them satisfied and even. Mari may have gotten them expelled, but she failed to break their brotherly bonds.

Mari all but smacks her dad in the face with the official school regulations and how the boys are indeed guilty of breaking out three times. Chiyo is there to argue their case, but her pleas are shouted down by Kiyoshi and her confederates. This is one of those times you’d really wish her dad the chairman had some backbone, but considering how awkward and awful he feels about Mari seeing so many overt glimpses of his fetish, he probably feels he has no moral ground to stand on, even if Chiyo were to back him up in the pro-boys corner.

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So, is that that? Will the end of the week after next be all she wrote for our lads? Or is the festive victory celebration by the council—complete with cake, sparkling cider, and Meiko getting her thong caught on the door after doing fingertip pullups—premature? For her part, Anzu tells her boss how she ended up failing her mission when she fell for the target, but Mari lets her off the hook, while ordering surveillance on her as soon as she’s out of the room.

As for the boys, because their bonds have never been stronger, and their hopes somewhat miraculously reached Shingo, they belive anything is possible. They’re not done yet. They’ve got allies in Chiyo and maybe Anzu and the director, they have each other, and they have at least a couple of weeks. Can they somehow overturn the verdict of the council? Will they turn DTO’s victory into a defeat? I hope so.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 22 (Fin)

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BRAVO. Violin Girl had its ups and downs this cour, but really came through with a stirring and satisfying finale that looks back upon where Kousei has been, explore where he is in the present and what he’s become, and hints at where he’s poised to go, not long after a certain devastating yet inevitable development comes to pass.

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First of all, Kousei draws power from everyone who has helped him (most of whom are in the audience) and finds the sound within him, delivering by far his best performance. Entering a serene environment of still water and deep blue sky, the Kaori inside of him coalesces, not just to cheer him on, but to play violin along with him…one last time.

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It’s an exceedingly beautiful, sad, but ultimately uplifting performance, and to the show’s credit, everyone shuts up for a few minutes so we can simply listen and get lost in the wall of sublime sound. Now, if you’re not a Chopin fan, you’re probably not going to like this, but I’m just fine with him, and it was a transcendent sensory experience I hoped would never end.

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But at one point in the piece Kaori lowers her bow and begins to fade away, then light explodes violently from her core, to Kousei’s despair. Yet he doesn’t freeze. He keeps his head up and watches her disappear. He’s no longer playing with her, he’s playing for her, and for everyone else who got him to where he is: once again pouring his heart and soul into a Steinway.

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When the piece ends at the episode’s halfway point, there’s no delayed applause nor the usual post-performance victory fanfare. There’s only silence, and Kousei’s tears streaming down his face. He says goodbye.

And that’s it.

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When the B-part begins, there’s no mention of who won (probably Kousei), nor how Kaori’s operation went. The first scene is of cars trudging through the snow (something I’ll probably have to do tomorrow, despite the fact it’s the first day of Spring!). The second is Kousei in a graveyard with Koari’s parents. The operation didn’t work, and she has passed away.

Yet Kousei isn’t so overcome by grief that he cannot function as a person; he’s grown up. He also got to play with her one last time, if only in his head.

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Kaori’s folks give Kousei a letter from Kaori, affixed with the telling black cat sticker, her narration (and Kousei’s reaction) to which comprises the rest of the episode. This letter provides Kousei closure, but also fresh insight into his dearly departed love.

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Kaori first saw Kousei long before he spotted her in that playground. As a five-year-old, she was an aspiring pianist herself, who was affected so powerfully by lil’ Kousei’s performance, she ran straight home (Unattended five year olds! Japan!) and asked her parents to buy her a violin. Kousei was the reason she played a violin at all.

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Kaori continued to admire Kousei when they started attending the same school, but only from afar, as she was intimidated by the strong bond between him and Tsubaki. But the fact that Ryouta was beside them meant she’d have a chance to make Kousei notice her. To make that happen, she told the titular Lie In April: the lie that she liked Ryouta.

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Like the fact that she started playing violin so she could play beside Kousei, this lie comes as more of a confirmation rather than a surprise: it was clear pretty early on, despite all the teasing and flirting to the contrary, Kaori and Kousei had a lot more going for each other than Kaori and Ryouta, who was fun and nice and attractive, but not much more than that. Ryouta knew this too; he could never hold a candle to the power beyond words that music brings to the table.

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For all of the cursing of music for tearing Kousei’s mom away from him, or Kousei away from Tsubaki, or Kaori away from Kousei, Kousei doesn’t give up on music just because Kaori passes away. To do so would’ve meant he’d learned nothing from her. Instead, as we see, he’s grown into a cooler, more mature musician.

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In the end, music brought Kaori to him from the start; and though she was only “passing by”, she was able to bring him back to it, and it brought them together once more in his last performance with her. And as she wished, he will never forget her. If he does, she’ll haunt his ass.

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That brings us to Tsubaki, who isn’t sure how to approach Kousei after Kaori’s passing, knowing he loved her deeply. Kashiwagi, armed with 108 BL books’ (and zero boyfriends’) worth of romantic wisdom, tells Tsubaki to simply stop turning the gears in her head and simply listen to her heart and act the way she usually does with him.

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It works. In one last violent slapstick act that actually felt appropriate and earned, Tsubaki kicks Kousei in the shin and tells him in no uncertain terms that he’d better not ever think he’s alone ever again, because she’s never going to leave his side. Kousei is just fine with that, and so he should.

Kaori was the love that, rather than never was, was only a corporeal thing ever so briefly, like trees blossoming at the start of spring. Tsubaki was in his life before Kaori appeared, was there throughout his fleeting romance with Kaori and remains there for the long haul. I wish them both all the best.

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The show closes with a look at the random old photo Kaori included with her letter, of her posing with a friend. But it’s significant because a little Kousei is in the background walking past, with his mother’s stern foot just in the frame.

Ten years ago, this photo captured a moment when Koari and Kousei were so very close together, and both looking at the camera, and yet neither knew the other was in it, and in Kousei’s case, didn’t even know wouldn’t even formally meet the girl until ten years later. But not only did they meet, but she lifted him out of his deep soundless sea, he gave her a stirring sendoff and vowed to continue playing with everything he has as long as he has it.

Ill fate tore them apart too soon, but even if that photo and all other photos fade away with time, she’ll always live on in Kousei, the year or so they spent together and the music she made and helped him make etched eternally in his heart.

Once again: Bravo.

10_sesRABUJOI World Heritage List

Final Series Score: 9.05

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 21

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Uso’s second-to-last episode brought back the magic of its sublime first cour, left me bursting with emotions, and moved me to tears. And the cost-cutting we saw in earlier eps? A lot of that was so that we could have this. I’d call it a fair trade.

After Kaori’s latest turn for the worse, Kousei can’t do it anymore. He’s reverted back to the non-piano-playing state he started this show in. Just as Tsubaki cursed music for always taking Kousei away from her, Kousei curses music for taking both his mother and now Kaori, and no one can bring him out from under his cloud.

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No one, that is…but Kaori. On a lark, Ryouta visits the hospital and is able to relay a brief letter to Kousei from Kaori:

“I want caneles.”

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Kaori is back in her room and seems to be okay, but she’s still very unwell, and initially, Kousei’s spirits aren’t raised one bit by his presence there. Kaori’s casual, nonchalant description of the ICU is as heartbreaking as the increasingly desaturated way her character is colored. But she’s in no mood for Mopey Kousei, and demands he carry her to the rooftop to eat the caneles he brought.

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Up there, it’s snowing. Up there, Kousei tells her in his current state he’d need a miracle to be able to play well at the competition. Kaori stands up and gives him a miracle, playing air violin he can hear, which restores color to their colorless world, if only briefly. It’s an achingly gorgeous, bittersweet scene; one of the best the show has done.

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Up there, Kaori tells Kousei, who is worried about ending up along, how scared she is of ending up alone, and how much Arima has meant to her all this time, and how she’s only still alive and struggling as hard as she can because he made her. Nobody says I love you, but it’s hardly necessary; we’re dealing with soul mates here.

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Kaori’s words and actions get through to Kousei and the cloud lifts a bit. As she goes under for her risky surgery, he prepares to perform after Takeshi and Emi, who are genuinely concerned for their pale rival’s health, but understand when he repeats the mantra “Gotta play”—because he’s a goddamned Pianist.

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He takes the long walk, with all the anticipatory chatter in the crowd, takes his seat on the bench, and freezes, yet again. Is another meltdown in the cards for the Human Metronome? Hardly. He’s snapped back into coherence by a disturbance the most appropriate person.

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He’s brought back by Tsubaki’s accidental, and apparently very rude sneeze. That’s right, with all her swirling contempt towards music for keeping Kousei away from her, her body almost acts of its own volition in order to keep Kousei from another disqualification. She reached out to Hiroko (who is at wits’ end) to prevent history from repeating itself with Kousei, but that little sneeze did more than anything Hiroko could in that moment.

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Kousei realizes Tsubaki is there, as is Kashiwagi, and Ryouta, and Hiroko, and Nagi, and Miike, and Emi, and Takeshi. He’s not alone, and he’s not going to be alone. He’s up there on that stage thanks to them, as well as Kaori. Whether they’re in the music game or not, they all made their contributions.

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He owes those in the music game even more, perhaps, for pouring their goddamn souls out in order to inspire him to do the same. He can’t let them down. He can’t let us down, either; this is the second-to-last episode and we need a full musical performance, dangit! And we get one: perhaps the most powerful one since he first accompanied Kaori.

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It was a much, much better performance than that train wreck, too. This time, none of the commentators are making deductions in their minds or clucking disapproval with his handling of the sheet music. Everyone is simply in awe of the richness and gravitas and intense color and pure heart-exploding sorrow of his rendition of Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23. And I was one of them.

Considering what he’s going through, nay, because of what he’s going through, this was the performance of his life. The fact no flaws were mentioned makes me confident about his chances to win this thing. In this performance he proved Hiroko right about the worst experiences in his life bringing out the best in his music.

But he also may have finally realized that even if he has to say goodbye to Kaori, he won’t suddenly be alone, nor will he suddenly stop being a pianist. And that as long as he’s alive, he’s gotta play.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 20

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Tsubaki’s grades continue to improve, thanks to her desire to study hard enough to get into whatever school she wants to, as long as it’s close to her Kousei. Just like years ago when her classmates were amazed the “gorilla” who wore shorts year-round was capable of catching a cold, they’re similarly intrigued that she’s capable of falling in love.

And hey, good for her; she’s not giving up on what she wants, even if she hasn’t figured quite out how to get his attention, or to get him to see her as a girl.

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Uso is capable of some seriously powerhouse heartstring-pulling when it wants to, but it also seems committed to drilling certain things into our heads through endless repetition. For instance, how are Watari and Kaori still a thing, while Kousei is the third wheel? How can Kousei look back on all his experiences with Kaori and not think she has some kind of feelings for him? I called Kousei practically everyone’s hero last week, but he seems tragically incapable of saving himself, even though it’s been a long time since Watari’s been anything resembling a threat.

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The flashbacks also tend to repeat themselves, though in different ways. Tsubaki always “looked out” for Kousei, but Kousei also looked out for her. It was a reciprocating kinda deal with them, in that whenever one of them was down the other would be ready with lemonade and solace.

Mind you, it’s tough enough believing these middle schoolers are capable of so much emotional complexity and eloquence in the description of their feelings in the present; some of what their grade school versions say to one another strains credulity even more.

Simply put, they’re too young to be talking and thinking like this. It’s more like writers in their twenties and thirties talking through young people, and it can feel hollow and…off.

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Uso mitigates those persistent issues with some good old-fashioned bombshells this week; two of ’em. First, Tsubaki finally works up the courage to confess…sorta…by insisting to Kousei that Kaori likes Watari, so he has “no choice” but to love her. Then she kicks him as hard as she can in the leg—maybe hoping to literally kickstart him—and runs off at top speed.

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Her intention with the love me remark is to make him not only see her as a girl, but to “suffer” just as she has, stuck in her limbo between family, friendship, and romance. For a second there, Kousei seems to react, but he later wonders if she was merely messing around, even if that’s not usually how Tsubaki messes around.

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In any case, Kousei is preoccupied with two other things; the upcoming finals that will determine his future, and Kaori, who he’s thinking about not visiting anymore, since she has Watari and all. She calls him to say he doesn’t need to visit, preferring if he’d focus on his music. This pisses him off, but he feels like he may finally have a legitimate way to walk away.

Then she calls him about a plane flying low at night—a plane he can see too, connecting them through the sky. He likens her to a cat; one of which sidles up to him just as Kaori calls him back. Kousei cancels his retreat. He’ll come to visit, because he wants to see her. Kaori, ever the enigma (to him at least), doesn’t respond to that.

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So here we are…again: Watari has known Kousei likes Kaori for quite a while now; Tsubaki knows Kousei likes Kaori for quite a while now; We’ve known Kousei has liked Kaori for quite a while now. Even so, Kousei feels the need to make it official by telling Watari what he and everyone else already knows.

Then Watari looks forward to duking it out with Kousei for Kaori’s heart…which, again, I thought had already taken place, and Watari had pretty much lost because he has nothing in common with Kaori besides good looks.

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And oh yeah, because The World Is Horrible, just as they’re joking about the fight for Kaori’s heart, they find Kaori fighting for her life among a phalanx of nurses, apparently having some kind of seizure. Kousei sees her hand go limp and fears the worst, but the boys are shooed away so the professionals can work on her.

With just two episodes left, no doubt Kaori will be in an even worse way next time Kousei sees her…if he sees her again at all. In any case, the chances of her performing with him have never looked bleaker.

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Oh, wait, and also because The World Is Even More Horrible-er Than All Thatthe black cat representing Kaori is hit by a car right in front of Kousei. Heck, it could’ve even been his cat Chelsea whom his mom threw out, still prowling the streets as a stray, somehow remembering her old friend. He rushes her to a vet, but there’s nothing they can do. And the tears flowed, because Dead Cat=Possibly Dead Kaori. Did I mention Where I Don’t Want To Live Anymore?

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Yikes. This is a lot for a bunch of eighth graders to go through, isn’t it? This Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso shit’s gettin’ way too dark. When is this show going to let someone be happy for more than a couple minutes before something croaks? We’ll see if the ultimate lesson of Uso will be “Whenever you spot a skinny blonde playing the recorder in a playground, run the other way and marry your childhood friend.”

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 19

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Don’t let that petulant mug staring down a phone fool you: Arima is in one way or another a hero to many in this episode, which makes us realize he’s been that hero to many all along.

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This week is full of optimism in the face of doom. Nobody is moping in the corner feeling sorry for themselves; they’re doing something about it; moving forward to attain what they desire. Yes, even Tsubaki! Her love for and devotion to her next-door-neighbor pianist is driving the career jock to excel at her studies for the first time in her scholastic career, and the hard work and determination look good on her.

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With her negative prognosis and deteriorating frame, Kaori was in an even worse way. But Kousei manages to pay her back for rousing him from his deep sea slumber with his love and devotion, bringing color to her greyed heart and shaking her out of her bed of only-half-joking suicide threats and into the rehabilitation room.

She also asks for a risky surgery that may give her a little more time, because every little bit of time on this earth, with Kousei, will be worth it. Kousei makes her remember how bright and sparkling she was on that stage. Now she’s working to get back on it with him.

I’ll just say both Kousei’s interactions with Kaori’s parents and Kaori’s speech to the surgeon were both tearjerking moments, which I’m enough of a katsudon-eating real man to admit!

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Tsubaki still has problems asserting herself within Kousei’s life as an object of romance, but that doesn’t stop her from taking Kashiwagi’s advice and visiting Kousei, both to support him during his fierce all-night practicing for the upcoming compeition (which is, for him, as important as acing final exams).

For all the people he’s able to inspire, including Tsubaki, Kousei remains someone who needs caring for. Tsubaki whips out some scissors and cuts his disheveled hair, something we have to thank her for. And while it doesn’t look much different the next day, the fact that Tsubaki is there, in a way, “marking her man”, is definite progress, which I hope will continue.

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When the day of the preliminaries arrive, Kousei is able to disarm both a ravenous Emi and and a post-vomiting Takeshi with delicious free-range egg salad sandwiches, which he happens to have three of. Seeing these three rivals sitting together shooting the breeze is an unexpected delight, and a show of their splendid chemsitry.

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Flashbacks show that these three really have a lot of history sitting together, eating, and waiting to see which one of them will be best that day. It was always Kousei before, but his unrelenting competency drove both of his rivals to become the major talents they are today, and did so again by training Takeshi’s sister, provoking him to come out of “retirement.” We also see that Emi always enjoyed sitting beside Kousei. In a show without Kaori or Tsubaki, they’d have made a great pianist power couple themselves.

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Most of the second half is about Takeshi’s comeback, and about how enemies in music not only benefit from the support of one another, but require it. Takeshi and Emi wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for Kousei, and one another, while Kousei wouldn’t be there without Kaori.

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But today, Takeshi takes the first step towards leaving his hero Kousei’s shadow and starting on his own path; beyond replicating or surpassing him is not needing him anymore, like a fledgling finally flying off from the nest. As such, his Chopin performance is so stirring, there were moments when I wished all the various parties watching, along with his internal monologue, would cease so I could listen in peace!

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It’s only the first of two pieces Takeshi is scheduled to play in the preliminaries; but Takeshi plays like his life depends on, and ends up “making Chopin smile” along with bringing down the house. He’s back from his self-imposed exile; a musician among musicians; among enemys who are also his friends and his fuel, who fully intend to respond to his brilliant performances with some of their own. I can’t wait to hear ’em.

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