Made in Abyss – 07

Just as Habo is telling Nat and Siggy about the badass White Whistles (who kinda remind me of the Espada) and wondering if he should have gone against Riko’s wishes and accompanied her and Reg after all, Riko and Reg face their toughest challenge yet: An Ozen the Immovable as their enemy.

But while both kids get beaten within an inch of their lives, it isn’t physical punishment that cuts the deepest—it’s Ozen’s utterly curel and tactless presentation of the giant white cube, which turns out not to be merely a vessel that repels curses. Ozen reveals to Riko that she was stillborn, and upon being placed in the vessel, she was brought back to life.

Ozen further explains that she put some of the meat she uses for dinner in the vessel, and it came back to life as well: that weird, threatening-looking but also bumbling and pitiable thing that made Riko wet the bed. The final twist of the knife? Before long, the thing turned back into lifeless meat, and Ozen wonders when Riko’s time will come to turn back into a corpse.

This is harsh, merciless stuff, but Ozen is just getting started. When she threatens to hurt Riko, Reg intervenes with his arms and ties her up, but she frees herself effortlessly, noting how the arm cables are made of extremely tough stuff. She then proceeds to try to pound Reg into dust, and when Riko tries to stop the madness, a light flick of Ozen’s finger sends her flying across the room, knocked out and bloodied.

Goddamn was this shit hard to watch. Reg tries to break out his Incinerator, but while trying to narrow the focus his beam so he doesn’t blow up the whole camp, the bitch grabs his still-charging cannon and points it at the out-cold Riko.

Where it not for a last-second kick of his own arm out of harm’s way, Riko would be gone. Fortunately, she’s not, and the hole his arm blasts in the ceiling doesn’t cause any serious structural damage. But using his cannon makes him pass out, and when Riko comes to, she sees Reg bruised and bloodied, the result of Ozen continuing to beat his unconscious body.

And yet, after three-quarters of an episode of the most heinous, villainous, evil-ass conduct one could imagine, the other shoe drops: Ozen was TESTING Reg’s strength, as well as Riko’s resolve. And let me tell you, she got me, just as she got them.

I never thought for a moment that she wasn’t simply being the evil monster the build-up to her appearance portended. Marulk ‘saved’ Reg and Riko by calling Ozen’s band of cave-raiders to her in…something Ozen both thanks her apprentice for and promises to string her(?) up for.

Frankly, I didn’t know what she was thinking. It’s another way she’s “immovable”…as in unable to be “moved” by anything … except, perhaps, by the prospect of learning more about the Abyss. Riko on her own would never, ever have gotten this far, let alone any further, without becoming, as Ozen says, “poor meals, little seedbeds, or a stain on the ground or some wall.”

And yet while her approach underscores how far from her humanity Ozen has strayed, it also makes perfect practical sense: the Abyss is fundamentally not a place for little kids. Beasts far tougher, crueler, and more cunning await them in the lower layers.

And as flashbacks prove, Ozen isn’t as emotionally “unmovable” as she appears, as she recalls the first day a Red-Whistled Lyza asked to become her apprentice. In virtually no time, Lyza had earned her Black Whistle, and credits her quick success to Ozen, who may have an “irredeemable” personality, but is still the “best mentor ever.”

Does Ozen truly “despise” Riko? Could it be because she sees Riko as Riko saw that meat? Is she, dare I say…scared of what Riko is and might become as she draws nearer to the bottom? With Ozen, deep questions abound.

One thing’s for certain: as much as she has changed (her armor and the 120 or so implants in her body make her cut quite the menacing figure), there’s still some humanity in there; the humanity that lets Riko know the grave she found was empty; Lyza could well still alive and waiting for her daughter.

In the meantime Reg might might might just be tough enough to protect Riko as she continues her descent, but Ozen isn’t willing to send them on their way yet, she needs to gather more ‘data’. She takes the kids out to the far edge of the layer, far from camp or anyone else, and tells them to survive with the supplies they have for ten days.

Furthermore, Reg is forbidden from using his cannon, as the hours she’s determined he shuts down for would likely be fatal to Riko…unless, of course, he manages to bring down whatever threatens them. It’s the toughest of tough love, but in a world where kids are regularly punished by being strung up naked, I guess it’s par for the course.

Made in Abyss – 06

After a tense moment when Reg’s arms are thrown away by Ozen, she eventually has the gondola lowered for them. Even this relatively short ascent causes deep discomfort to Riko, who has to hurl. She doesn’t make a great impression with Ozen, who chides the kids for going where they’re not allowed, then handing them off to her apprentice Marulk, claiming she has “other matters to attend to.”

Ozen may be a cool, even cruel customer—repeatedly telling Riko how she thought about abandoning her as a baby years ago, and how she probably should have—but hey, she doesn’t kill Riko or Reg, so she can’t be that bad!

Also, Marulk is downright lovely person, proof that even someone who has spent virtually all her life so far from the surface in near-solitude, can not only be reasonably well-adjusted, but friendly and affable as well. I guess it’s ’cause she’s still a kid. It’s too late for Ozen.

The question of whether Marulk is a boy or girl is left unanswered, though Marulk and Reg express identical bashfulness when Riko once again demonstrates no modesty whatsoever after bathing.

No matter: Marulk is genuinely happy to have Riko and Reg in her care, and enjoys talking with them. She also notes the difference between relics that are sent up to Orth and more complex “grade-4 relics” that stay there. These egg-shaped relics remind me of the Precursor Orbs you had to collect in Jak & Dakster.

After a meal, Marulk even suggests Riko and Reg stay at the camp a while longer to cave raid for relics of their own finding. Riko initially excited by the offer, but turns it down, as she’s not sure whether she should be in a hurry to go see her mom, so she has to be in a hurry. I felt bad for poor kind, meek Marulk, for whom Riko and Reg are the only children her age she’s seen or may ever see.

When Riko has to go pee late in the night, she can’t find the bathroom, but does encounter something else: some kind of strange creature that may or may not be threatening, but also seemed a bit clumsy. While a part we saw resembled a face, it also looked like a headless torso with a spine sticking out. I immediately thought of Reg, and wondered whether this was another android…in a less advanced state of completion.

The next morning, while drying Reg’s sheets (she hid in his bed and wet it), Reg and Marulk are present when Ozen drops the hammer on Riko: Lyza is dead; her journey ends there; she found her White Whistle at a grave on the Fourth Layer. Ozen seems to take a kind of sick joy in telling Riko this, but to her credit Riko doesn’t get upset like she did with Nat back in Orth.

Instead, she and the other two follow Ozen to her “chamber”, a foreboding place where we see books, what looks like a second Ozen body, and most perplexing, a very smooth, white, somewhat iridescent cube, which reminded me of the monolith in 2001. The episode ends there, with what exactly this chamber and cube are left unanswered until next week.

My educated guess (which probably isn’t anything special) is that Ozen has been researching and developing robots like Reg, and possibly using that same technology to make her “immovable”, i.e. give her superhuman strength.

I’m far less certain whether I should believe her when she says Lyza’s dead, but then again I realize Riko’s been operating on some pretty large assumptions with paltry evidence to back them up. You know, as kids do. Yet even a bit of Riko probably knew there was a possibility her mother isn’t waiting for her much much further below ground. But like her, I’d want to see for myself nonetheless.

Sagrada Reset – 13

After seeing the monster, and being told the monster is a monster by Dream Haruki, Kei wakes up…and that’s it for the monster this week. After a new, jauntier OP with a latin-inspired beat (replacing the old whispery one), the story jumps from place to place and opaque, metaphor-laded conversation to conversation seemingly involving everything and anything but the monster.

Kei talks with the revived Sumire about how he’s happy in the current situation (what with her being alive), but due mostly to his retained memories of the process by which she returned, it still doesn’t feel real to him, and he doesn’t see how he can stay living in that kind of world forever. Sumire reads it as a kind of rejection.

There’s also precious little Michiru in this episode, as Sumire visits her in the dream world and talks about things she’s not that interested in, and which Chiruchiru (in blue bird form) warns Sumire not to bring up around her. Chiru wants to protect Michiru by not upsetting her with things like the fact there’s a way to save her from her present state.

Rather than Michiru or the monster, Kei, Haruki, and Nonoo investigate the “Stray Cat House Man” (SCHM) who, the way he’s described, is nothing less than one of the most powerful beings in the world, as his ability is to write “The Script”, which governs all people, things and events in the world, even resets and predictions of the future.

He’s even ahead of the Witch or Sumire in that their ability is governed by his. There’s also the fact he’s more of a humble vessel for the ability than an arrogant braggart; after all, the pen in his hand moves on its own, filling books. His physical body has deteriorated to the point he can no longer write, so starting with Book No. 852, he’s worked in the dream world exclusively.

Nonoo remembers him (and he her) from their interactions about five years ago, when she was the only visitor to his house, and whom he tried in his own small way to guide her on how to exist, live, and be happy in the world. In the present she tells him he “saved” her, because now she has people like Kei and Haruki she can call friends.

Kei goes through the manuscripts for The Script, but can find nothing before No. 852, while Sumire instructed him to find and carefully read No. 407. That, and all manuscripts before SCHM entered the dream world, are in the possession of the Bureau, members of which arrive to basically cordially kick Kei out of the SCHM’s house.

Once Kei leaves, the leader of the Bureau members there isn’t coy about his true feelings about Kei: he thinks his ability is a nuisance, especially when used in concert with Haruki or others, and he’s generally an eyesore he’d like to “snuff out” if necessary. Who knows what that entails (he joked about stabbing him in the heart, but was that just a joke), but it’s clear this cour has a more reliable villain than Oka Eri.

Like many earlier episodes of the first cour and a few there in the middle, I only really understood a little more than half of everything that was said and done, but as I refuse to let my enjoyment of this deeply intriguing and offbeat show be governed by my level of understanding, that’s not really of great concern.

Still, moments like Kei calmly pointing out to Haruki and Nonoo that they should pay more attention to the fact they’re wearing skirts while crawling through a drain to get into the SCHM’s house, or Sumire’s apparent displeasure with how things are with Kei (hinted at in the new ED as well), are easier to understand and appreciated.

With all the different players and agendas in play, combined with the new dream world setting, Sagrada Reset is poised to have an even more ambitious, and possibly more baffling, second cour. I’ll be here to attempt to make some kind of sense of it.

Sagrada Reset – 12

Last week was seemingly an indication that Sagrada Reset was content with a quiet end to its first cour, as it has an entire second cour with which to work. It slowed things way down to allow us to spend some more quality, non-perilous time with Haruki—as well as inside her head.

There was no indication in the episode that “Something Big” was looming in the shadows or lurking around the corner…that was just Mirai stalking Haruki. The question is, would the twelfth and final Spring episode of Reset maintain that casual tone, or would that Something Big turn up after all?

Ah…well…Something Big it is! Let’s get right to it, shall we?

The episode sure does, having more of a connection to the tenth than the eleventh with its Souma-heavy opening. Now that Kei has brought Souma back, he wants her to live a normal life as a normal girl…in the normal world. That is, he means to send her away from Sakurada. Only then, he believes, will her death disappear, both from the world and from her memories.

It is then Souma, not Haruki, who primarily drives Kei’s latest mission. That mission is a little nebulous at first, as we start off with that mission in progress. Sakuin has instructed Kei to investigate Katagiri Honoka, a girl who has been asleep for nine years, but whose ability has created a dream world in which she now resides.

Because it’s a dream world, and thus not “real”, Kei believes it’s the perfect “test facility” to experiment with his theory about sending Souma away. After all, there are no do-overs in the real world; in Katagiri’s world, he can simply wake up, Reset, and try something else the next time. And it just so happens Kei goes on a long date with Haruki on the day they reset.

Before starting off on this journey to the dream world, Kei receives an unexpected visitor, Nonoo, who was sent by Souma to make contact with…someone who may well be…another Souma. But before that, she, Kei and Haruki go to the hospital and fall asleep in a room adjacent to Katagiri’s. It’s notable that we never see her in the real world.

There’s a Wizard of Oz-like quality to the trio nodding off then awakening in another world…a world where left and right, east and west are reversed. Kei is actually the last to arrive, while Nonoo doesn’t appear to have come along for the ride. Along with Haruki, there’s a new person in the room: a girl who goes by Michiru, with a bluebird on her shoulder.

 

Ebulliently voiced by Uchida Maaya (this show has great casting), Michiru insists she’s Michiru and not Katagiri Honoka, and asks Kei and Haruki if there’s anything they wish they could have. She’ll contact “Chiruchiru” who will then grant that wish. It’s a case of Katagiri, a god of her own world, abdicated her power to a surrogate, so that she could feel the joy of having her dreams granted by a god.

The bureau doesn’t approve of the “fake” happiness such a “closed eden” provides, perhaps fearing its grip would cause people to lose their grip on reality. That certainly seems to be the case with Katagiri. After Kei and Haruki leave the hospital to explore this mirror image of the real world, they discover a wall of fog that surrounds this version of Sakurada, ostensibly preventing Kei from performing his experiment.

As for Souma, she shows up in the hospital to read Chiruchiru’s future, which looks the same as always. “Michiru” never changes (this is an Eden, after all). Chiruchiru voices his frustration with the apparent pointlessness of his efforts, but Souma tells him they’ll be rewarded—but it’s up to Kei, not her.

Kei and Haruki encounter Ukawa, sent by the bureau for an initial report, who states ominously that, depending on the circumstances, she’s supposed to “crush” the dream world. While having dinner with Haruki in a restaurant the reverse of the one in the real world (like everything else), Kei gets a call from Chiruchiru, warning them not to go out at night.

Since they’re already out, Chiruchiru teleports them to Kei’s bedroom. Kei manages to get him to answer two questions: the white wall is an “isolated birdcage” for the “blue bird”, and Michiru is definitely Katagiri Honoka, only she’s forgotten that fact.

With that, Kei and Haruki start yawning and rubbing their eyes, meaning it’s getting to be time to wake up in the real world. After Kei frets a bit over the proper sleeping arrangements (he offers Haruki the bed and takes the floor, but Haruki wants to be on the floor too), Haruki dozes off before him, just as she did in the real world.

But she’s not asleep long, as a tremendous racket emanates from outside. Kei watches with quiet awe as a colossal, grotesque, slimy monster emerges from the white wall and starts wreaking havoc in the town. A suddenly awake Haruki calls the monster a monster, which appears at night to “destroy the world”.

Reset’s second cour starts off an episode early, with style…and in Top Bizarro form. With an ability user apparently trapped in such a world, does it fall to Kei to free her and restore the memory of who she was, even if it means destroying the Eden she created? Is Chiruchiru the monster? How will this mission further his desire to “finish saving” Souma?

It seems we’ve got three more episodes of this arc to sort through it all. I don’t doubt things will get stranger before they get…less strange.

Sagrada Reset – 11

As we approach the halfway point of Sagrada Reset, the show does something different, something far more low key. For one thing, Haruki doesn’t reset once this week. Indeed, no abilities at all are used. There’s no peril, no Souma Sumire, no Asai Kei.

The only things that take place are two extended conversations: one between Haruki and the lazy cat girl Nonoo Seika, and one with Haruki by herself.

The first is in aid of Haruki’s mission to make friends, which was suggested by Kei in an earlier episode. Haruki proves adorably inept at this at first, but thanks to Nonoo’s patience, manages to muddle through and is officially made an acquaintance of the raven-haired truant, with the promise of friendship if they stay in touch.

Haruki also learns about such things as “small talk”, or silly little conversations with no real meaning except to pass the time and hasten fatigue. In this, Nonoo praises Haruki as a natural, and the two commemorate their encounter with an exchange of cute pictures they took of one another.

That was nice, but if I’m as honest as Haruki, it dragged a bit. Somehow more exciting and entertaining was Haruki’s inner monologue in the second segment, where her mission, spurred on by Minami Mirai, is make a house visit to Kei, who is absent from school with a cold.

Haruki makes it a point to be extremely prepared for this visit, constantly listing the items she needs to bring to make him rice porridge, then adding to that list when she finds herself “off-balance”, both due to the weight of the items and the fact Kei isn’t walking beside her.

Pretty much anyone, including Minami, sees Haruki’s dilemma for what it is: a deep desire to see Kei, tempered by her reluctance to put him out. Which is why when she gets cold feet and heads home, and gets a text from Kei that’s clearly not his writing, and Minami springs out from around the corner to own up to the subterfuge and convince Haruki to visit him after all, because he’ll be glad to see her.

And because this episode is more about the journey than the destination, we never see how Haruki’s visit to Kei’s goes. The episode ends on the tantalizing moment before she rings his doorbell. But we can assume it goes fine. Let’s just hope Kei doesn’t order her to reset after she kisses (or attempts to kiss) him!

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.

Kuzu no Honkai – 10

Mugi may have been able to sleep with Akane while Hanabi was rejected, but Mugi isn’t under any illusions the reason is anything other than Akane “just felt like it today”; that she’s role-playing, student-and-teacher; because it seemed like a lark. His connection with her matches the episode’s title: “Fragile and Empty.”

The thing is, Mugi does know Akane better than most, if far from as well as she knows herself. He knows from watching her all these years how she jumps from man to man. In her inner thoughts, she tells us how it was always like that since her first: taking all of a man’s love and giving nothing back; taking all the jealousy of the other women and wrapping herself in it. This is the process by which she assigns worth to herself, and it’s the only process she’s ever known.

She executes the same process with Mugi, “shattering his world” so that she can keep standing. But unlike other men, Mugi knows her game, and wants to change the rules. But he also knows changing her is no mean feat, as she isn’t someone who’s ever fallen for anyone, only had others fall for her.

After scores of random, inconsequential men who simply played the game her way, Akane now finds herself afoul of not one but two very different men. Even though Mugi knows what kind of person Akane is, and even when another man tells Kanai, neither of them flinch in their devotion to her. The difference is, Kanai doesn’t care, and wants her to be herself. Mugi, on the other hand, still wants to change her.

During their aquarium date, Akane racked her brain about what exactly Kanai’s deal was. She felt like she was the one pursuing him by committing so much of her thoughts to him, and didn’t like how it felt, so tried to make the date their last. She thought if she told him enough about who she is (or at least the perception of that person that had been crafted both within and without), but Kanai still stopped her from leaving.

Akane has been unique in Kuzu no Honkai as the only character not “in love” with another. Indeed, Akane may not even know what it is to love someone. She’s been loved by men many times before, and every time she shattered their worlds and danced on the ashes. Now things are different.

Neither Kanai nor Mugi will back down. Both know who and what she is, yet still yearn for something she’s never experienced: a relationship that endures, a prospect that doubtless terrifies all parties involved. But Mugi knows the only way he can change someone else is by starting with himself. That’s advice he got from his pact-mate, Hanabi.

Can Mugi actually succeed, and if he does, where does that leave Kanai? Hanabi, Ecchan, and Moca are in pretty good places emotionally right now, but it feels like Mugi’s still operating deep in that murky soup they once inhabited. Who, if not himself or Akane, will be able to help him out?

Kuzu no Honkai – 09

When this week’s Scum’s Wish starts, Hanabi is alone, and wants to die. When it ends, she still feels alone, but realizes she isn’t, and doesn’t want to die. But first thing’s first: Both Narumi and Mugi reject her on the same day (poor girl!) a trip to a forest getaway with Ecchan is a welcome distraction. Any time her mind is busy is better than not.

Ecchan is looking forward to having Hanabi all to herself, but they find her cousin Atsuya is at the cabin. Atsuya feels like an interloper the whole time, but he’s not just there to mark his territory. In his opinion, Hanabi is a dead end for Ecchan: she’ll never get her to feel how she feels about her. And he doesn’t want Hanabi continuing to string her along.

But this trip was never about “making Hanabi hers”, but about saying goodbye for good. Atsuya in the next room or no, Ecchan still gets one last night of bliss with Hanabi. But after that, she vows to be alone. Hanabi wakes up early, and on a walk with Atsuya he tells her Ecchan can’t be used as a replacement.

After they spend one last day out on the town, as the couple Ecchan had at some point hoped they could be, Ecchan expresses her pride in Hanabi for “going for it” with Kanai-sensei, even though she knew how much the rejection would hurt. She did, in effect, what Ecchan had already done, only Hanabi has been “too nice” to reject her, so she has to break it off herself.

With a heartfelt, genuine display of affection and an intense desire to keep knowing Ecchan and learning more about her, Hanabi manages to secure consideration that Ecchan may come back to her, but it may take a long time. Forgetting how to love someone after loving them for so long, takes time, if it happens at all.

Now down Narumi, Mugi, and Ecchan, Hanabi returns to school in a haze of loneliness and despair. She wouldn’t be out of place in Zetsubou-sensei‘s class. Neko spots her looking forlorn and at first appears eager to gloat about how now, finally, Hanabi is getting her comeuppance; a taste of the bitter medicine Neko’s been tasting for years.

But doesn’t gloat; not really. She also has an earnest nugget of recently-earned wisdom to deliver: being rejected is a kind of liberation. Once one starts doing things for themselves—even something as small as buying and wolfing down a danish—you can start to feel better. And having heard these words from Neko, Hanabi realizes she isn’t alone. Her pain isn’t unique, and it’s not implacable.

The episode closes with Akane at Mugi’s for a “teacher home meeting”, only with the parents not home, it’s actually a booty call. And despite Mugi’s clear discomfort with the premise, she is very insistent that he acknowledge that it is an official teacher meeting, and that he call her “teacher.” Yikes.

On the one hand, Mugi is getting something he’s wanted for years. But there’s no indication he’s succeeding in “changing” her as he vowed to do last week. Instead, he seems to be falling deeper under her control, with no discernible way out as of yet. Hanabi thinks Mugi’s being “tricked.” Akane (at least the one in her head) agrees, but adds that he wants to be tricked; that all men do.

Maybe Mugi will go on like this, content with what he has. Or maybe, in time, he’ll come to see the real Akane as nothing but a replacement for the Akane of his dreams…and that he can’t go on like this.

Kuzu no Honkai – 08

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Nice hat!

This episode was so strong throughout, and its ending had so much impact, I nearly forgot that it started with Ecchan and her cousin Atsuya, automatically the weakest of all the pairings simply because we’ve never met Atsuya before.

Aside from being tall, long-haired, and a bit shy, we don’t learn much, except that he’s certain he still has a chance with Ecchan (despite most evidence to the contrary). Ecchan, interestingly, doesn’t seem so certain he doesn’t either.

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Now, on to the Big Event(s): the Dual Confession of Hanabi and Mugi to their respective crushes. I like how they make sure they do all their Summer homework first. Not only are they being proactive, responsible honor students, but they’re operating under the assumption that they’ll be in no state to study later.

Naturally, they don’t study the whole time, but fool around a bit, and that’s when Mugi tells her he’s had trouble imagining her as Akane. Which is interesting because she hasn’t been thinking of him as Narumi either.

From what I gather from their pre-confession interactions is that Hanabi and Mugi are gradually falling for one another, and starting to become aware of it.

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Of course, they still believe (and are probably correct) that their lingering hope of being with their crushes is an impediment that must be extinguished. Whether they move on as a couple together, to them, moving forward means confronting those crushes and getting rejected.

They’re both scared, but in another sign of how her feelings for Mugi have evolved, when he hugs her, his intent doesn’t matter: the hug calms her and stops her hands from shaking. No one but Narumi ever excited Hanabi, and yet here’s Mugi, doing just that.

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Hanabi and Mugi agree to meet back up at 10pm the evening of the Sunday they’ll confess, but I didn’t believe for a second that they would actually meet up at 10pm. Mugi meets with Akane during the day, and she immediately takes command.

When Mugi manages to quickly get out an “I love you”, Akane doesn’t react, because she knew. Mugi, we know, knew she knew. But she didn’t know that he knew she knew, so the knowing stopped at two levels.

And if Akane ever had anything resembling a match, it would be the person who has watched her and knows the person behind the mask. Mugi only liked her because he couldn’t have her.

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Just as Hanabi is meeting up with Narumi, Mugi finds himself in a hotel room, in bed with Akane, removing her clothes. As the RPG shot above shows, he knows he’s outmatched against such a tough boss, but doesn’t care. Akane may be a “horrible, promiscuous, broken narcissist”, but he wants to believe she can change, and that he can be the one to change her.

Can Mugi be her “first”, as in the first person she actually cared about? Mugi assumes she’s incapable of caring about him, but we don’t get in Akane’s head, so he may be wrong about that. We certainly see expressions from Akane we never have before, and they appear genuine, as if the sheer audacity of Mugi’s gambit threw her off balance.

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Of the two confessions, I always assumed Mugi’s would get messier, because of the object of his desire would make it messy with her masks and manipulations. What I didn’t expect is that Mugi was well aware of what he was getting into, but that he still had hope Akane could be redeemed in some way (and if the one who knows her and how she’s lived her life the most believes that, there could well be hope).

Because Narumi is so guileless and kind—basically the opposite of the Akane—it was a good bet that, pending a sudden unrealistic shift in his character, he’d make his rejection of Hanabi as clean and gentle as possible.

That doesn’t make it any easier or less painful for Hanabi, but once it’s all over—and it’s over pretty fast—she feels like a weight has been lifted, because this impediment to her future happiness had been extinguished. Call it a ripping off of a band-aid.

But part of why she’s relatively fine with how things go down with Narumi is because of how she’s started to feel towards Mugi. She believes she’s not alone because both he and she have unrequited loves, but Akane’s love didn’t out-and-out reject him.

Instead, he rejected the awful person she is and vowed to make her a better one. And now he’s in bed with her, and Hanabi is alone.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 07

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Moca startin’ the day of ACCA-style!

The morning of her date with Mugi, Moca is on cloud nine, but she doesn’t have any illusions about suddenly winning his heart. Having an elegant breakfast and getting all dolled up is as much or more for her than for Mugi’s sake. Still, she has to try today, for she, a student of fairy tales, doesn’t think people should settle for replacements.

This week Moca accomplishes something neither Hanabi nor Mugi have been unable to in seven: confront her unrequited love head-on, face the object of that love, and, through a clean-ish rejection, be able to move forward. By doing so, she becomes, by default, the bravest of those three people.

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While Mugi is off on a date with Moca (unbeknownst to her, obv) Hanabi continues her half-cocked mission to seduce Takeya, but soon learns it isn’t so easy to elicit love in someone. All Takeya wants from her is sex right now, Hanabi doesn’t give it to him, so he leaves her to go bang some other chick.

That’s where Takeya is at at this point. It looks pretty hopeless for Hanabi, and I must have mistaken all the confidence she seemed to exude at the end of last week when getting her “project” off the ground.

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Moca, meanwhile, is always on the verge of tears, she’s both so happy about the dream-like date with Mugi, and devastated that the happiness is tempered and sullied by the fact Mugi feels obligated to take his childhood friend on a date.

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Since we’re in Moca’s head most of this week, we learn a lot, like how she’s always loved Mugi, since they were little kids, and how with waterworks, she knew precisely how to get him to do her bidding and acknowledge their special bond.

Mugi and Moca got used to this cycle of behavior for years, and the nature of their past is ultimately what stops things from going too far in the present.

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Moca is cute. She knows she’s cute, and while in Mugi’s bed, she thinks it might be enough to hear it from Mugi to allow her to keep on living (just as his not recoiling when she held his hand did). Mugi curses himself as a pathetic coward who is going straight to hell, because there’s something deep within him that is screaming this is Moca; this is wrong, and things go no further than the removal of clothes.

For too long she was, as she says, a sacred ornament to be admired, and he can’t sully her, even though he tries his darnedest. At the same time, now that things have gotten so real with Mugi, the “dream” of the two living happily ever seems to shatter for Moca. This is the way she and Mugi are; she’s “important” and “special” to him, but that only goes so far. They can’t be a man and a woman.

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Moca really put herself out there, and by the end, there’s a kind of release of pressure. And she also becomes a kind of catalyst, as Mugi’s night with her has the same general effect as Hanabi’s lonely, aimless night, and one fine day on a hill overlooking the town, the two agree that they’ll tell Akane and Onii-san how they truly feel, before the end of Summer vacation.

They are cowards, they admit that. But Moca showed them they don’t have to stay cowards. And if they’re both rejected, Hanabi wonders what will happen next; whether she and Mugi will start to date for real; whether they’ll both be able to say goodbye to their respective loves forever and accept what life has given them…or another path is needed.

Playing the Moca Card this late in the game turned out to be another good move. She’d been the weakest, least developed character in the love polygon to this point, but this week really fleshed her out nicely. More to the point, both by staying on Mugi and keeping him from Hanabi, she inadvertently showed them the only way forward.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 06

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Hanabi is tired of feeling empty, or that she’s being hollowed out. She wonders more what it’s like to play with peoples emotions; whether it feels as good as Akane makes it seem. She wants to claim everyone who likes her for her own – no mean feat, but she feels like she can’t not try.

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Because Akane doesn’t want Ecchan, Hanabi tries to cut her loose as quickly as possible to avoid complications and ruining their friendship. But Hanabi and Ecchan have already slept together, so their relationship is irrevocably changed.

Not only that, Ecchan won’t let go; she’s not simply giving Hanabi leave to use her, she’s insisting. And because of their bond, she knows Hanabi won’t resist. Indeed, Hanabi considers it just punishment for what she did to Ecchan.

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After recovering from a fever (likely brought on in part from the stress of dealing with all this shit) Hanabi goes into town and bumps into Takeya, the guy she and Mugi saw with Akane. As soon as I realized who it was, I knew some trouble was going to ensue. After all, Hanabi is on a mission to beat Akane at her own game.

I’ll allow the coincidence, because it results in some of the best inner monologue by Hanabi yet; a sometimes disturbing, sometimes hilarious play-by-play commentary of her interactions with Takeya. She starts out with Don’t touch me, don’t get near me, then the light bulb goes off.

Before our eyes and ears, she starts to put in play what Ecchan says Hanabi naturally has: a knack for nabbing guys. It rarely occurs to her that she’s an attractive being, since she doesn’t really trust anyone other than Onii-chan, and her own inner voice despises her.

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When she learns he knows he’s one of many and will “never have [Akane]” to himself, his value to her drops considerably, but not completely. Taking something of Akane’s – particularly someone so into her, is one of her goals, so even though she almost caves and sends Takuya away, she manages to salvage the situation.

Takuya is, for the most part, respectful and keeps his ears open to what Hanabi does and does not want, and agrees they’ll take things slow, and not go all the way their first time.

Hanabi’s closing inner remarks regarding their date are suitably devastating in their frankness, and indicate she might just be getting the hang of this: I’ll pretend with you as much as you want. Then you can fall for a fake version of me.

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Another thing Ecchan said to Hanabi is that there’s nothing wrong with having oneself be the only one who knows one’s true self. Akane doesn’t seem to let anyone else know. After that bit of advice, Hanabi considers whether Akane truly is happy, or is lonely and sad as she, just better at hiding it. There are no true answers to be had, as it should be.

As for Ecchan, she acts against Hanabi x Mugi, planting in his head the possibility that Hanabi is still “cheating” on him with another guy. Hanabi never told Mugi who she slept with, and actually is popular with the guys, so Mugi has no problem letting that seed sprout suspicion in his head. Ecchan is still very much gunning for Hanabi.

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Well now, that’s a pretty apt subtitle there! I was beginning to think Kuzu had forgotten about Moca. But then, Kuzu doesn’t do anything by accident. After a slightly jarring introduction in which we kind of had our fill of her, the show wisely kept her away, knowing her extended absence would be noted, and increasing the drama when she suddenly shows up at the end of this episode.

Moca gets to the point, with honesty and forthrightness that seems to tick Mugi off, calling it “unexciting” in his head. Moca probably doesn’t even know who Ecchan is, but inadvertently benefits from the doubt she planted in Mugi’s head, adding water and fertilizer to the sprout by telling him Hanabi doesn’t really want him.

Then fruit is borne: Mugi asks Moca on a date. If Hanabi can have her something on the side, why can’t he?

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The episode closes with Hanabi stringing Takeya along via text (I love her fireworks avatar, as that’s what her name means), continuing to play the field, her bedroom window open to the Summer night, the night before vacation starts.

It’s a long way from being feverish, under the covers, and completely at a loss for what to do or who she is. Hanabi is now on a mission, and her date with Takuya gave her confidence. She just looks more with it, even if she still very little to no idea what she’s doing, but I think that’s part of what she’s learning: you’re only as weak as you look to others.

Like Moca with Mugi or Ecchan with her, she also seems to understand that persistence is necessary to achieve her goal of beating Akane. She can’t stop; if she does, she’s back in bed, back in her head; empty, hollowed out, alone again. She’s only lost if she stops and thinks about where she is or isn’t.

She’s still certainly no match for Akane yet, but good God, imagine if she becomes a match…or even surpasses Miss Minagawa? As Ecchan says (and Mugi agrees), what makes Hanabi great is her “danger.” It should be an interesting Summer.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 05

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Hana believes Kanai has abandoned her, so seeks her “safe space”—or at least a space where she feels she belongs and doesn’t feel the weight of life crushing her—elsewhere. When Ecchan turns to face her in bed, Hana sees Akane for a moment. Akane seems to enjoy taking advantage of men.

Hana doesn’t seem to enjoy what transpired with her and Ecchan. Hana doesn’t seem to be sure what she likes or wants, which must make Akane’s apparent certainty and staunch confidence all the more vexing.

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Last week was light on Mugi, but he returns to the forefront with the revelation he’s known about Akane’s dalliances since he was dating senpai, who he only realizes now might’ve bitten his ear out of jealousy.

He still has her number; she shows up for a booty call, from his perspective almost out of obligation, as she was the one who popped his cherry. According to her, it’s the first time they did it when he wanted to, but she still doesn’t spend the night at the love hotel with him, considering them even.

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Like Hana with Ecchan, Mugi seems unfulfilled and insufficiently stimulated by his encounter with his senpai. After a period of him and Hana drifitng apart, one day on the roof they come back together. Hana can tell Mugi slept with someone else, and he can tell she did too.

They did it for the same reason: to test if they really needed each other, or if they could get what they needed elsewhere. The results weren’t as conclusive as either had likely hoped. Hana’s thoughts say they’re both terrible. I just think they’re both profoundly lonely and unhappy.

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Shift to Akane’s POV, as she grudgingly asks Kanai out, despite the fact he’s super-boring to her. That boring-ness continues throughout most of their date, until she drinks too many to compensate and he catches her before she falls in the street, accidentally calling her “Hana-chan.”…“-chan.”

Those words, not the catch, are the first things that get Akane interested. When she gets him in a room, and he asks permission, she brings up Hana as an object of envy, and he responds by kissing her and getting things started. Too easy says Akane. Indeed. The implication is, when things are too easy for Akane, watch out.

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Hana decides she wants to have sex with Mugi at his place. He has reservations, but he can’t deny her beauty, her honesty, the directness of her gaze, and her “hysteric, fickle, recklessly egocentric remarks.” So the two of them decide to break the rules of their arrangement and do something that could upset the uneasy balance that had been maintained.

But it’s Hana’s first time, and it hurts, so they stop. She’s not into it at all, but is still frustrated they can’t do it. Mugi thinks it’s because she doesn’t really love him. Just saying she loves him doesn’t work, and then Mugi insults her. The mood ruined, she gets dressed and leaves.

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Mugi sleeps alone, frustrated and depressed. Hana sleeps alone, frustrated and depressed. She wants to sleep with someone. She wants to fill the void of loneliness, but nothing is currently working, and it’s becoming unbearable.

Akane almost seems to sense her frustration, because the next day at school she walks past Hana to twist the knife, reporting on her conquest of Kanai. Ice. Cold.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 04

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Whew…well that was a properly intense episode. In it, we finally enter the head of Minagawa Akane and find out what makes her tick and what she says gives her joy in life: being desired by men. She started back when she was in school, stealing away her best friend’s crush even though she didn’t even like the guy.

Indeed, she’s only interested in guys other girls desire; it’s how she gauges their value. It’s as if she only derides pleasure from her contact with men if she knows it’s pleasure being taken from other women; depriving them of it.

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Her latest victim is Hanabi, but what’s so insidious is that like her best friend’s crush, Akane wouldn’t even care about Kanai if Hanabi didn’t love him. Hanabi is unknowingly fueling her own despair by making it so clear to Akane that she’s into Onii-san. It makes Akane the villain – if you’re rooting for Hanabi. On the other hand, if you’re rooting for the one person who seems to be confident in what they’re doing, Akane’s your girl.

Akane believes it’s Hanabi’s own fault she’s in her predicament, but not because Hanabi has never gathered the stones to confess to Kanai, but because Hanabi should be on same side of this game. She kinda already is; Moca essentially feels for Mugi (whom Hanabi has) what Hanabi feels for Onii-san (whom Akane has). Akane’s become quite adept at taking full advantage of the situation, but Hanabi seems to lack the will.

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We’re then thrust out of Akane’s head and into Kanai’s for the first time, and while I didn’t quite fathom the scope of Akane’s true personality before it was unveiled to us, Kanai is pretty much what I expected.

Kanai is normal, boring, and enough of a romantic to throw caution to the wind when someone like Akane appears in his life, even though a part of him knows (and is correct that) she’s too good to be true.

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Demonstrating how experienced she is at this kind of thing, Akane executes a perfect reenactment of the way she hurt her friend when she separately tells both Kanai and Hanabi to be in the music room after school, then lets Kanai do the rest, confessing to an utterly disinterested Akane as Hanabi watches helplessly.

Akane’s eyes narrow and turn to see Hanabi, and then the episode fades to black in a spine-chilling close to Akane’s half of the episode. This show excels at many things, but it’s particularly good at transitioning from one “soliloquy” to another and keeping the flow moving. The fantastic score and cinematography pulls you into its dark soup of an atmosphere and makes it impossible to break free.

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And we’re only halfway through! Good lord, the first half felt like a complete, and amazing, episode. Thankfully, it isn’t all downhill from here. In fact, Akane’s actions drive those of Hanabi, the main POV of the second half. They drive her to finally emulate the one who hurt her.

I’m not talking about getting hot and heavy with Mugi again, to Moca’s dismay. Seeking comfort from Mugi wouldn’t be possible without telling him what she knows about Akane (the poor bastard). So she heads home alone, in tatters, then realizes she’s been followed…by Ecchan.

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Ecchan still wants Hanabi…very much so. So when Hanabi, in tatters, impulsively embraces Ecchan, then worries how it will feel to her, Ecchan assures her it’s all good. Hanabi this way is better than no Hanabi at all. Besides, Ecchan, makes no apologies for taking what she can when the opportunity arises, almost as payment for the pain Hanabi’s caused her to that point.

As they start having sex, Hanabi finds herself in an Onii-chan fantasy, but it’s soon broken by her waking senses making her see, smell, taste and touch Ecchan, and only Ecchan. Ecchan is ready to stop at any time, but Hanabi won’t tell her to, so she doesn’t. Ecchan wants Hanabi to be filled with her, and Hanabi lets her fill her void.

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The experience, however, leaves Hanabi cold and alone, walking home in the rain, with only her force ghost as company, taunting her for destroying a friendship, notifying her that she’s actively taken advantage of someone’s feelings for the first time, and congratulating her for being scum just like Akane.

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Her force ghost doesn’t tell her anything she doesn’t already know, it is her who is talking to her, after all. She’s having a conversation in her head, and the fact this part of her is mocking her means that she is no match whatsoever for Akane right now. But she wants to be a match, and she’s going to work towards it with everything she’s got. Dark shoujo.

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In one last scene, Hanabi confronts Akane openly about being loved by people she doesn’t even like, and how it can be so fun for her. Akane’s response? There is no greater feeling than being desired by men. Whether she likes them or not is irrelevant, as long as they’re liked, preferably loved, by someone.

It’s a “get with the program” kind of line; one suspects if Hanabi somehow fell out of love with Kanai there’d be nothing left of him to interest Akane. You can have it like i have it, she seems to be telling Hanabi, as long as you’re able to redirect your energies.

Indeed, Hanabi already started with Ecchan, but if she’s serious about wanting to be a match for Akane, she’s got her work cut out for her. And I’m not saying she should! Shit’s already pretty damn heavy. Everyone has their limits. She may just not be cut out for it.

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