Sarazanmai – 06 – Inside the Circle

As a dejected Haruka watches the real Sara pull the same fortune as yesterday (“sachet”, due to the zombie not being beaten), Kazuki resigns himself to being a kappa for the rest of his miserable existence, unable to be seen by anyone.

But Enta and Toi aren’t ready to let him give up on himself for Haruka, and Keppi seems game to assist where he can. As Kazuki laments being “outside the circle”, he’s really in the middle of two of them: his family and his kappa crew.

Then Reo, one of the cops who is currently separated from Mabo, his partner, encounters Haruka feeding Nyaranko. Haruka assumes he’s to be arrested for theft of Kazuki’s smile; Reo decides to roll the dice and extract his desire, if it is indeed desire and not love, tossing the cat aside.

The cat lands on Enta as he’s pleading with Kazuki, and Keppi reports that Haruka has been kidnapped by the Imperial Army of the Otters, long-time enemies of the Kappa, and of which Reo and Mabo are soldiers. Kazuki resolves to rescue Haruka at any cost.

After a brief history lesson from Keppi (including use of a modified Alexander Mosaic), he and the lads descend into the Otters’ vast industrial facilities dedicated to extracting desire from humans (now that there are no Kappas left other than Keppi) and creating Zombie Kappas.

Kazuki locates the box in which Haruka has been stashed, but it’s already part of the production line, and keeping up with it on its unrelenting path to oblivion is tough, even with help from Keppi.

Ultimately, Kazuki comes up a little bit short, and Haruka’s box begins its long drop into the matrix that will turn him into a Zombie Kappa. This means the end of Haruka, and the lads learn for the first time that the Zombies they’ve previously defeated are not only gone, but ceased to ever exist (hence their disappearance from photos and memories).

Keppi presents one last chance to save Haruka: a Shirikodama transplant, with Kazuki as the donor. That will mean the brothers will swap fates, and Kazuki is fine with that, since he feels he was always “outside the circle” anyway.

Obviously, neither Enta nor Toi will allow him to make that kind of sacrifice. Toi uses his gun to reverse the winch sending him down, and Enta shows him the miçanga Haruka never threw away, because he never gave up on his big bro.

As a confirmation Haruka never gave up, his box is blocked from conversion to a Zombie Kappa because it reads as “love”, not “desire”; Otters are only interested in the latter, so he’s marked for return. The bad news is, he’s headed straight for a giant shredder (evoking memories of the “Child Broiler” in Penguindrum).

Keppi rolls up into a soccer-sized ball, and Toi and Enta pass it to Kazuki, who uses a bicycle kick to knock Haruka’s box off its fatal course. A sleeping Haruka pops out of the box, and Kazuki is there to catch him.

We learn that Haruka had the sachet because he encountered Kazuki’s real mom shortly after Kazuki took his leave of her, and noticed the sachet had been left behind. He pleaded with her not to take Kazuki away, and she assured him he didn’t need to worry about that.

With that, the Sachet Zombie Kappa is defeated, and the lads regain their human form. No mention of a Dish of Hope, nor any tearful reunion with a newly-awake Haruka, just the three lads in the small Kappa plaza, and Kazuki suddenly feeling different than the last time he had his human body, no doubt because now he knows he’s not outside the circle, but in the center of it.

The Otter Cops don’t seem too perturbed about their latest defeat, and will certainly have their eyes on the Kappa boys henceforth. The episode closes with a flashback to long ago when the two of them stormed the Kappa castle to kill Keppi, only for Mabo to be gravely wounded, which may explain why his heart is clockwork?

Who knows…lots of blanks left to fill, but at least now we know for sure this is a war between the very well-supplied Otters and the last surviving Kappa. This was an episode that effectively departed from the usual monster-o-f-the-week formulae of earlier episodes, and was a thrilling adventure to boot. With Kazuki in a much better place emotionally, the Kappa triad looks better equipped to handle the next challenge thrown their way.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 20

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If it’s wrong to be immersed in this particular slice of formulaic shounen entertainment, I don’t want to be right. This episode put wasn’t perfect, but it got use through the epic battle between Yuto and the twins with a decent variety of twists, then capitalized on all of the good work it’s done with Roku and Benio to bring the arc to a close.

I’ve been clear about my dislike of the one-dimensional Yuto, but he’s made much more interesting by Benio’s assertion he’s hiding how much damage they actually did to him—without lessoning the threat he still poses as long as he remains on his two feet.

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I was hoping Benio could have ended things with Yuto with her new awesome Kegare legs, but she blasts through all her power too quickly, and Roku has to step in and save her. When Roku just can’t watch Yuto beat Benio anymore, the episode turns his power knob up to 11.

He can fight on the same level as Yuto, and he’s healed when Yuto blasts a hole in him. Furthermore, since they’re in Magano, all of the spirits of Roku’s friends whom Yuto turned into Kegare literally have his back, and he gains the final boost he needs to blow Yuto away.

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Blow him away he does, with a big ‘ol authoritative energy beam…but Yuto isn’t dead. C’mon now, there are 30 episodes left! Also, he merely “fell into darkness.” He’ll be back, but he’s gone for now, and Roku and Benio really can go home and have that ohagi. So I’m happy.

Could I have been happier? Sure. Why didn’t Yuto ever think to break Roku’s legs, or broken his instead of Benio’s? If he had, Benio would have had to save Roku, not the other way around. But I’ll let it go; both of them saved each other; who got the last lick in is not of much consequence.

What mattered was that SnO get the aftermath right after the battle ended. And what had been a nominal 8 up to the end of the battle rose to a 9, thanks to doing just that.

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Roku wakes to a smiling Benio. They meet with Arima and the 12 Guardians, the latter of which threaten discipline. But Benio helps reinforce the facts: the guardians wouldn’t have gotten there in time, their friends and family were threatened, and Seigen failed. So no punishment.

However, Arima’s nice-guy mask cracks more than once in this meeting, as he reiterates Roku’s true mission, which isn’t to train or become stronger or even fight or exorcise anyone or anything; it’s to marry Benio and conceive the Miko.

Roku turns the issue around by first going up to Benio and proposing to her, but then asking what exactly a newborn baby is going to be able to do about calamities that will arrive before he’s a glimmer in Roku’s eye? He isn’t going to wait and put such a burden on an infant. He’s going to keep getting stronger and make sure the Miko has as little left to do in the world-saving department as possible.

Benio are of the same mind on this, so Arima indulges them: they have two years to become stronger than the 12 Guardians. The consequences if they can’t? Marriage and babymakin’.

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Make no mistake: neither Roku nor Benio are ready for those things yet. But right here and now, they are a couple, and both have gotten more and more comfortable with that after everything they’ve been through and how they’ve come through for one another.

After all of that, and then enjoying a festival together, and after Roku buys Benio a new pair of sakura-themed hairpins, Plan B looks less like something they’ve always want to avoid, and more like something they’ll want anyway, when they’re ready.

Oh, and Mayura is going to be an exorcist, so she can stand and fight beside her friends. Good to hear; someone with such inventive expressions shouldn’t be kept on the sidelines.

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Owarimonogatari – 02

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As Ougi pointedly remarks toward the end of this normal-length episode, This Is Different. Not only the fact that Owarimonogatari shifts the focus from her in the first episode (essentially an hour-long prologue) to Oikura Sodachi, who is suddenly back at school and asking Tsubasa all kinds of questions. Araragi is confident he can clear the air with Sodachi before Tsubasa gets back from the teacher’s lounge, but that doesn’t happen, because Sodachi, like Ougi before her, is different from every other woman he’s dealt with.

Different, because Sodachi hates Araragi. She despises him, and people like him with the heat of a thousand suns, as if he’d killed her parents (assuming she loved them, of course). So the smooth, easy reunion Araragi expected crashes and burns with equal force, as he can feel the hate suffusing every surface of the classroom, pushing all the desks and chairs back. No water under the bridge here. More like Sodachi wants to throw Araragi off a bridge, into that water, then burn his wretched corpse to ashes.

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So why does she despise Araragi so much? We can hazard a guess from last week, but according to her, it’s because he’s ungrateful for the life of smooth sailing he’s enjoyed, because he’s happy without knowing why he’s happy; because he “doesn’t know what he’s made up of” in ranting that evokes chemistry more than mathematics, though the former requires quite a bit of the latter (which is why I got a “D-” in chemistry :P):

“I despise water that thinks it boiled itself on its own.”

Araragi’s usual charms and ability to take control of an encounter are utterly overthrown in Sodachi’s seething atmosphere of hate. When he tries to calm her by putting his hands on her shoulders, she quickly reaches for a mechanical pencil and stabs him in the hand. She won’t be calm. Within her is a storm that has been brewing for years. But how many, exactly—two, five, or more—is one of the mysteries this episode posits.

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Sodachi’s stabbing of Araragi brings a new element to the equation: a highly displeased Senjougahara, comically dragging a diplomatic Tsubasa behind her, who arrives with a line that’s both eloquent, hilarious, and wink-ily meta-referential:

“I’ll kill you. I’m the only one who can stab Araragi with stationery. Even though I’ve gotten rid of that character trait, I can’t stand having it reused.”

Sodachi greets Senjougahara by lamenting “how far she’s fallen” since the time she was a sickly girl she often took care of, since she’s now dating Araragi, a man who will never credit anyone other than himself for his happiness. But both of Sodachi’s barbs imply a desire in Senjougahara for some kind of repayment for her affections or efforts, where no such desire exists.

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Senjougahara concedes that Sodachi may be right about Araragi’s ungratefulness, but she doesn’t care. She likes Araragi and wants to go to college with him. She’s not looking for anything in return, nor is she keeping score; two more traits on which she and Sodachi differ. Sodachi applies math to all, and in the equations that express Araragi’s wonderful life, sees herself and others as crucial variables. For that, she demands recognition and renumeration, yet Araragi, she believes, pretends those variables don’t exist; that only the sum—his happiness—matters.

Sodachi’s comeback to Senjougahara’s admittedly condescending response to her protests is to slap her in the face (doing a scant 15 Damage), which only incurs a brutal counter-punch from Senjougahara (1479 Damage + KO). Proving she is The Best, Senjougahara then passes out herself and tells Araragi to handle the rest. If this cameo is her only appearance in Owari, she sure made the most of it!

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From there, Ougi’s role returns to the foreground, as she accompanies Araragi to his middle school and finds three envelopes marked “A”, “B”, and “C” in his shoe locker (why they end up in that particular place is explained by the Loki-like Ougi using gorgeous Escher-style imagery with SD versions of her and Araragi).

Araragi recognizes these envelopes as a “Monty Hall problem“-type quiz: Three doors, behind one of which is a car; you choose Door 1; you’re shown what’s behind Door 3 (a goat), and you’re asked if you want to switch your choice to Door 2. Switching to Door 2 gives you a 2/3 chance of getting the car, compared to 1/3 sticking with Door 1.

I liken Ougi to Loki because she’s very much a trickster, neither good nor evil, who has revealed next to nothing about herself while having an intense power to draw out quite a bit from Araragi. She’s also a lot like Monty Hall, a game show host (note the flashing checkered lockers), not only nudging Araragi to choose which way to go next, but also hosting a kind of This Is Your Life for him.

(I’ll also note, Ougi takes a good long look at Nadeko’s shoe locker, both a callback to Nadeko’s arc, and another reason why Ougi is so hard to figure out).

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I say Ougi nudges him, but really, she’s pretty actively leading him deeper into his past, opening rusty gates and kicking in doors. That past is somewhere they both agree is the only place they have a chance of learning for sure why exactly Sodachi despises him so deeply. Ougi rules out the class assembly, as the exact timing of Sodachi’s return to school suggests she knew Komichi-sensei was the true culprit, not Araragi.

Ougi surmises it may be more the fact that Araragi has “forgotten his roots”, though she admits a lot of people do that and aren’t automatically despised for it. Her comments about who she was in grade school and middle school being “far beyond the boundaries of oblivion” and the feeling she was “born very recently”, which Araragi likens to the five-minute hypothesis, are both enticing nuggets about her, but don’t come close to painting a full picture.

But it is the further exploration of that cloudy past, when Araragi’s childhood thought process and actions were strange, mysterious, suspicious, and scary all at once, where he and Ougi hope to excavate some answers and avoid future stabbings.

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The World God Only Knows II 12 (Fin)

I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, and I was expecting just an isolated, mostly irrelevant slice-of-life episode that drove home Keima’s ideals once more (like last season’s finale), and I shouldn’t have expected the series to resolve itself in just one episode, but I was still pretty disappointed with this final week. Last season’s finale was more unhinged. This one was kind of recycling ideas, and the presentation of his ideal dating sim was a major let-down. It just felt kinda lame, and the horribly-drawn character just seemed like an excuse to…horribly draw something.

There’s a semi-serious mention of the show “continuing” for yet another season, which explains the filler-like nature of this episode. After all, Keima and Elcie still have collars that bind them together until a certain number of souls are caught. Now, considering the number 50,000 has been tossed around, perhaps their contract will never be fulfilled, and Keima is simply doomed for life to make girls fall in love with him and then lose them.

And that’s the flaw of this season: for all the girls whose lives he’s changed by releasing them from loose souls, Keima remains stubbornly static. He just goes through the motions. He hasn’t changed one bit. This season resolved nothing. At the end of every arc, he seems to dump whatever emotional investment. I can’t help but wish he’d develop a little more beyond discovering new schemes for conquering. But he doesn’t care about reality, and so none of the relationships he forms ever have any lasting emotional effect on him.

It’s a shame, and if another season is just going to continue the by-now tired formula, it’s going to be very hard to watch.
Ah, screw it. It’s just good, dumb, light entertainment. I’m actually glad that something deeper and more serious isn’t being attempted; I can go elsewhere for that…and I will. Whether I watch next season totally depends on how much is airing that’s better than this. Rating: 2.5