Sonny Boy – 11 – Excelsior

I would have been content with episode 8 being Peak Sonny Boy, but I knew it probably had at least one more ten or Lister in it. So we come to the Achingly sad, joyful, empty, bursting, whimsical, utilitarian, lonely, warm, humdrum and epic episode yet. It begins with two humans, a dog, and three cats celebrating the life of Nozomi—the episode confirming what I’d feared without using words (though the explicit words come later).

After preparing the funeral venue with the kind of mirth Nozomi would have totally gotten down with, the sun eventually goes down, no one comes to mourn her, and Mizuho and Nagara set her shrine into the sea to be carried away to parts unknown. Mizuho starts to cry, but Nagara is both too awkward to comfort her and a steady emotional rock sitting beside her.

When live takes away a Nozomi in This World, it gives you a Rajdhani, and while I missed Nozomi more than I thought I could miss a fictional character, it’s to Sonny Boys credit that it softens the blow by bringing back the smartest and one of the kindest and most empathetic characters in the show. He’s been on his own for over 2,000 years, but he’s still Rajdhani. You could say he’s mellowed out a bit.

Mizuho, Nagara, Rajdhani embark upon the most ambitious project to date: Project Robinson, an Apollo-like program with just the three of them, Yamabiko and Nyamazon as the people involved (meanwhile Apollo involved 400,000 people, or more than the population of Iceland). Robinson is Mizuho and Nagara’s ticket out of This World and back to their own, where they figure about two years have passed, but they’re ready to go home anyway…because it’s home.

As work progresses on the Vehicle Assembly Building (an exact copy of the one in Florida), Rajdhani regales both Mizuho and Nagara with some of his more memorable travels to far-flung worlds. In one, a guy refused to accept reality and became trapped in a world of his own embellishment, starting with the depiction of the one he loved.

In another, the entire population of students ate neither plants nor animals but simply fasted—something you can do when you can’t starve—until challenged by a meat-eating devil. And then there was an inventor who invented “death”—or at least as close to death in the world they came from as you can get in This World—which is pretty similar.

The inventor who invented “death” had become “Buddha-like” in Rajdhani’s words, a “well-adjusted person” who was content with what was in front of him. And yet, that was the literal end of his life, for even the most complacent or enlightened humans still age and die.

This World is inhumanly, inhumanely static, which means there comes a point when existence…well, isn’t necessarily a curse, but simply doesn’t matter. Rajdhani admits that he feels like he’s being drained away by time. He calls life “an endless exercise in vain effort”, yet it’s that very meaninglessness that makes every moment in life so precious and brilliant, because each one of those moments is the only one that was, is, or will ever be.

That brings us to a flashback on the beach with Nagara and Nozomi, before her ill-fated trip to War. He’s showing her an earlier version of Project Robinson, which he’d been working on in Rajdhani’s absence. Nozomi ponders the ramifications of suddenly returning home after two years, how they may be different people than who they were, and how she may even be dead.

But one thing Nozomi the Compass knows for sure: the first thing she’ll do when she’s back in their “original” world (that doesn’t involve eating something) will be to seek Nagara out and re-befriend him without delay. It’s after remembering this moment with Nozomi, who promised they’d be friends in any world, that Nagara finally breaks down. And even after over 2,000 years of absorbing knowledge and wisdom, Rajdhani still can’t do anything but sit next to him…and that’s okay.

The completed heart of Project Robinson is revealed as the Saturn V rocket that propelled human beings to the moon, something that remains such a staggeringly awesome achievement, especially considering how long ago it happened. The Saturn V is perhaps the most awesome thing humanity has ever built, and it worked…more than once, is something of a miracle.

And while there were certainly political considerations to be made—the Soviets beat the U.S. to space, so apparently the U.S. had to beat them to the moon—so much labor was put into a mission of pure peaceful exploration and discovery. That the fruit of all that labor brought science closer to the cusp of the unknowable and infinite that our simple carbon-based bi-pedal species had ever come before or since.

It was a simply glorious achievement that makes me misty eyed just thinking about it…so it’s especially fun to see three high schoolers pull if off with a dog and three cats. The Robinson rocket is a 363-foot-tall metaphor for spreading one’s tender, untested new wings and leaving the nest, which is what Mizuho does by leaving her three cats behind. They can’t come back with her to where she belongs, but that’s okay. They did their job. She’ll be okay on her own.

Well, not entirely on her own; she has Nagara. And for an episode in which he mourned the loss of his first friend Nozomi, he smiled and laughed more in this episode than any previous ones. He wouldn’t be the person he is without Nozomi, which is why on the spaceflight up into the infinite, near the boundary between This World and That, he still has a compass watch with arrows that never move, representing Nozomi’s inspiring, indomitable will.

We don’t know what awaits Nagara and Mizuho on the other side any more than they do, but that’s entirely okay. I haven’t had the slightest idea what Sonny Boy will throw our way from one week to the next; I highly doubt it will try for predictable, obvious, or boring in its (assumed) finale next week.

As Rajdhani said, Nothing matters in This World…but once in a while, cool things do happen. Sonny Boy shows us that experiencing those cool things alongside people you love can make what shouldn’t matter…matter.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

The aquatope on white sand – 12 – Everything becomes the ocean

It’s the last day of Gama Gama, and admission is free. The place is packed with people, which has Kukuru asking why they didn’t come earlier. But even so, she understands that Gama Gama has gotten too old to properly care for its sea life. The logic doesn’t make the last day any less melancholy, but there’s a hint of hope, as Kukuru is offered a job at Tingaara when she’s done school.

Once the last visitors head home and the doors close for the last time, the staff plus Karin and Udon-chan have a little party celebrating 48 glorious years. When everyone learns Kukuru has a job at Tingaara if she wants it, and that Umi-yan and Kuuya are also taking jobs there, a tipsy Karin urges Kukuru to go for it. But Kukuru just isn’t sure, and that’s understandable: the offer came on the day she believes her dream to have ended.

Gramps makes a very awesome and tearjerking speech, and then Kukuru and Fuuka spend some time on the moonlit beach. After the emotional roller coaster of the typhoon, they’ve fully made up. In fact, Kukuru believes it’s now her turn to support Fuuka’s dream, by urging her to take the lead actress job in Tokyo. Fuuka books a flight there for tomorrow.

The next day, Gama Gama is “hollowed out”, as all of the sea creatures are placed in portable tanks bound for either Tingaara or other aquariums that requested them. Kukuru is shook by just how lonely it is with the lights on and the tanks empty…until she goes into the room where all the visitors left notes on the wall.

It’s a room full of warm gratitude, and Kukuru can’t help but smile and feel grateful for everyone who came to Gama Gama and were changed forever. Then, while walking past one of the empty tanks, Kukuru experiences another illusion, once again involving someone who looks like her sister, who gives her a loving pat on the head as if to say “you’ll be alright.”

Back home, during Kukuru and Fuuka’s last meal together for some time, Kukuru mentions the illusion she experienced, believing she’d met her “doppelganger”. This is when Gran finally decides to tell Kukuru something they were going to tell her when she grew up.

As she’s already been an aquarium director for a summer and then lost that aquarium, Gran decides she’s grown up enough. Kukuru had a twin sister…but only Kukuru was born.

I understand Gran not wanting to keep Kukuru in the dark any longer, but the timing couldn’t be worse when it comes to Kukuru and Fuuka having to say goodbye so soon. At the airport, Kukuru tries to put on a brave face, as she feels she owes it to Fuuka, who supported her dream for so long.

Airport goodbyes always get me, and Aquatope really nails it, from the awkwardly formal handshake to watching from Kukuru’s POV until Fuuka disappears into the terminal.

But that is not goodbye, because before she boards her plane, Fuuka thinks about how she only cried when she was alone after her dream ended. She thinks about how Kukuru must be crying alone right then, and decides she can’t board the plane; not now. She runs dramatically through the airport, calls Kukuru and asks where she is, and meets her out on a patio where she is, indeed crying alone.

The bottom line is, making sure Kukuru didn’t have to cry alone was far more important to Fuuka than a movie role in Tokyo. She had to be in the position where she had to choose to learn that the job wasn’t really a new dream. You could say she’s torpedoing her career simply because Kukuru’s gran got talkative about things past at the worst possible time.

Still, Fuuka simply couldn’t let the person who helped her find strength and happiness after losing everything cry by herself. After sharing some big ol’ sobby hugs like two close friends should (seriously, WTF was with that handshake earlier guys!) Kukuru decides she’ll work at Tingaara after all.

The aquarium and its fragile micro-ecosystems taught Kukuru over the years that life can be difficult, and being alive isn’t a given. It was basically a coin toss that Kukuru got to live and her sister didn’t, so she now feels doubly motivated to make those who love her proud; that includes Fuuka.

Fuuka ends up on a plane back home to Iwate as planned, but as she settles into the cozy night flight she reads the poem Gramps read during his farewell speech, about how everything eventually becomes the ocean, which is probably why whenever someone peers into “the ocean within”, they find peace. Kukuru joins in, and they finish the poem in one voice, telling each other see you tomorrow.

It’s a bold and gorgeous way to end the first half of Aquatope, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what new innovative ways the show will cause me to bawl my eyes out when the second half comes around.

Sonny Boy – 10 – The Girl Who Knew Too Much

This week’s Sonny Boy experience comes from the POV of Tsubasa, AKA Sarah Plain and Tall With Broken Arm. We learn her power is “Monologue”—the ability to hear everyone’s inner voices. In order to not be ostracized, she’s kept the power a secret from everyone. She listens, but she doesn’t act in a way that would arouse suspicion.

Tsubasa likes Asakaze. She knows he’s kind of an ill-natured prick, but it doesn’t matter; she still likes him. But as she can read minds, she knows it’s unrequited; she also knows Asakaze likes Nozomi. He doesn’t like how close Nozomi is with Nagara. All the while, he’s unconsciously closer to Tsubasa than anyone; only she can hear his inner voice.

Tsubasa can’t help but like Asakaze, but while you’d think she’d try to use her power to try to make him feel the same way, all she does is quietly admire him from a distance. She hears all his thoughts about Nozomi, all the while dreaming of the day all his other romantic options will be exhausted and he’ll “land at her feet.” But between Nozomi (who doesn’t return his feelings) and Aki-sense (who is only wielding Asakaze like a tool), there’s too much competition.

Tsubasa and Nozomi end up accompanying Asakaze and Aki-sensei on the “grand task” he wishes to complete: defeating “War” before he can cause undue destruction. Tsubasa can’t fault Asakaze for liking Nozomi, because she knows that Inner Nozomi is just as wholesome and noble and honest as Outer Nozomi. Everyone practices some degree of deceit…except Nozomi. On the treacherous hike in “War’s” strange ceramic world, it’s Nozomi who comes to Tsubasa’s aid when she twists her ankle.

When they encounter “War” while falling down an endless gorge with a blood red bottom they never reach, he’s a student constantly falling and buffeted by the wind like the Maxell guy. Tsubasa can’t hear his thoughts; the guy is totally empty. Kinda like warD’YOU GET IT?!?!! Ahem…anyway, Aki-sensei (and apparently God AKA Dr. Strangelove) wants Asakaze to eliminate “War” from this world by creating “Death”, leading Nozomi to take him to task for trying to play God.

This causes Aki-sensei to retreat with Asakaze somewhere where she can bury him in her bust and keep him under her thumb. But as Tsubasa always knew since the drifting began, the only person who could truly change Asakaze was Nozomi. Nozomi won’t pretend to pander to him. Asakaze can probably sense that there’s never any deceit with her.

So when Nozomi says “Even if I’m dead, I can accept my own fate,” she means it. Maybe that’s why, after he turns “War” into a gun and the red into white, when the cliff crumbles and she falls, Asakaze doesn’t use his power to save her. Or maybe he can’t.

Meanwhile, Nagara picks up the mantle of island researcher from the long-departed Rajdhani, and continues to experiment with Mizuho’s powers. When he orders a chicken with Nyamazon and then kills it, it stays dead. When Mizuho orders one and he kills it…it comes back. Between having three wise talking cats protecting her and the potential power over life and death, I’m starting to wonder if Mizuho is the true God around these surreal parts.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 09 – 3 Cats and a Kotatsu

I’m still thinking about Episode 8, so I knew it would be hard to top it…for anything to top it anytime soon. Episode 9 doesn’t come close…but it does begin with the three Nyamazon cats shooting the shit like three wise old farts under a kotatsu. It’s just the latest reminder that predicting what Sonny Boy will throw at you from one week to the next is like trying to predict every move in a chess game when you’re not in the same room.

The cats, famous lovers of warmth, are under the kotatsu because outside the kotatsu is a frozen, snowy world. Nozomi, Nagara, Yamabiko, and their human Mizuho have traveled there to try to settle a thousands-of-years-old battle between two twins over who has the most hairs on their head (one claims to have one more). But it’s also a look back at Mizuho, and how the white cat Sakura believes she can’t survive without the three of them.

Honestly, the twin story is a bit dull, but it at least ties into the concept of duplication, which we learn is to be Mizuho’s true power. Everything the cats deliver to Mizuho and the others is a copy of products from the original world they came from. While Mizuho’s inner circle certainly wouldn’t hold it against her, the cats, who have been with Mizuho since she was a kid and still believe her to be one, are determined to keep it under wraps.

It’s Yamabiko who approaches Sakura with his suspicion that everything the cats deliver is copies. Sakura then admits that Rajdhani had previously figured out that Mizuho had copied everyone from the world, and now they’re drifting as copies of the people they once were, both the same and different, like the twins. Mind you, this dawned on Rajdhani when two copies of a tick dating Game Boy game(!) arrived, even though he knows there was only ever one in existence.

Yet Rajdhani didn’t tell a soul, proving to the cats he had “a fine character, for being so hairless”. Two copies were made of Sou Seiji, like someone accidentally ordering two of something on Amazon by clicking twice.

Sakura is caught in a bear trap to be a sacrifice of one of the twins, but Mizuho and Yamabiko save her. When armed with a gold ray gun by the shit-stirrer Aki-sensei, the other twin ends up with another ray gun, resulting in a duel that ends with only one twin standing, only for that surviving twin to take his own life.

Mixed in with this is how Asakaze seems to be making a habit of lashing out at Nozomi for not liking him romantically, leading to her spending the night outside sulking. One of the cats keeps her company all night, and in the blood red morning Nagara joins them, thanking her for “showing him the light”, leading him to change.

In a world full of copies and sheep, Nozomi, Nagara, Mizuho and Yamabiko (not to mention Rajdhani) stand out as one-of-a-kind souls who all thank the likes of Aki-sensei or Asakaze to let them pick their own places.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 08 – Canis Dei

What if you befriended God? Yamabiko pretty much did, as he tells the tale of how he became a dog to Nagara and Mizuho as they sit beside campfires in wastelands and traverse various gorgeous landscapes. Kodama was special. She could “direct” all things, and so quickly became worshipped by all her classmates. She became their “whole world.”

Then, out of nowhere, their world became something else: a pandemic struck the class. Horrible red tumors grew on their bodies, including Kodama’s. But Yamabiko, ever her loyal subject, refused to say she was ugly. In fact, he felt very much the opposite: she was hard to look at because she had become too brilliant. When one of her tumors burst and her blood flowed, he lapped it up, and transformed into a dog.

Yamabiko never thought he did much with his human form, an ill-natured youth wandering the worlds alone and bitter. But one night he was pulled out of the literal muck by Kodama. He found himself in a “peaceful, easy world” where she and the others lived contentedly. But she admits it’s dull, as living their cut them off from new information.

Yamabiko couldn’t understand why anyone, much less someone akin to a god as Kodama, would be kind to him. It disturbed him, so he attempted to flee. Remind you of anyone Yamabiko is currently traveling with? Naga-er, Yamabiko tried to sail a raft across the sea, only for Kodama to catch up to him with a hot meal. When he tosses it over the side, she dives in and makes a giant goddamn soup fountain that Yamabiko couldn’t help but lap up.

The more time he spent with Kodama, the more he thought he had come to the end of his once endless wandering, to his destination. But then the pandemic struck, and a man appeared who seemed to fare worse than any of them. This man was the first and only person to call Kodama “ugly”. It both shocked and pleased her, that someone would tell her the truth. That was the whole point.

This mysterious man, named “War” (which…okay) indicated he was not the sole cause of the pandemic, but a side effect of the otherworld in which everyone dwelled. In this world, mental wounds became physical tumors. As for who made this world, well…when Yamabiko was pulled out of that muck, he was being pulled into a world of his own making, which is why Kodama’s godlike powers could not stop the pandemic.

Yamabiko learns to late that had he “changed” himself and flown voluntarily out of the shell he had created around himself, he could have saved Kodama and everyone else; even met them on the other side, in another world where the pandemic didn’t exist. But he couldn’t. Even when Kodama was the last one alive and all but consumed by the red crystal-like tumors, he stayed by her side like the dog he was…loyal to a fault.

Then Kodama died, and Yamabiko finally fulfilled his promise to Kodama by flying out. He’d stayed there till the end because he feared losing the light that she represented. As for actually flying out, it took him five thousand years to do so.

As Yamabiko completes his tale, he, Nagara, and Mizuho reunite with Nozomi, and learn that while they believe they arrived precisely on the day agreed upon, time moves two weeks faster for her. No matter; Nagara takes her phone and re-syncs their times.

That night, beside another fire, Nozomi catches up on what Yamabiko has told the others. He also tells them that this “War” fellow was trying to kill God. Nagara wonders whether it would make a difference even if such a thing could be done while roasting a marshmallow.

So yeah…Yamabiko’s been through some shit. Kodama immediatley asserted herself as one of the most impactful characters of the series in just one episode, and much of that is due to Taketatsu Ayana’s virtuoso performance.

Combined with Tsuda Kenjirou’s dulcet tones, a lush, moody futuristic soundtrack, all those gorgeous, painterly vistas, and some truly gut-wrenching moments, this Sonny Boy stands as the most raw, unrelenting, and personal outing yet. I’ll be watching this many more times in the future, no doubt gleaning new insights or noticing new details each time.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

Sonny Boy – 07 – Nagara Inverted

Sonny Boy loves starting episodes in media res, and this week is no different, as we sit in on the 601,344th meeting of the Drift Victims Society. If it’s a weekly meeting, that means it’s been going on for 11,564 years, give or take a decade. Needless to say, the majority of those assembled are looking for someone to blame for this predicament.

Now they know it’s Nagara, and they condemn him and promise justice, whipping the enraged mob into a bitter froth.

Meanwhile on the island, the Mizuho, Pony, and Yamada watch Hoshi’s faction loads up the Ark with supplies in preparation for a journey from which they won’t be returning. Yamada, who’s been around as long at least half of those meetings, describes the thousands of other castaways, and how it’s taken thousands of years for them to figure out how to travel between worlds.

That this newest class was able to do it in a matter of weeks or months means whatever this “culling” is that God is doing, it’s breeding more capable students with each generation.

When Nagara liberates Rajdhani’s ant farm before he lets the ants start eating each other, he comes upon an exercise bar, and when he decides to flip himself on it. That’s when the episode goes full Patema Inverted, as his world is flipped upside down. A strange student who is completely covered by a giant folded umbrella greets him before he starts falling…up.

Nagara wakes up in the middle of a shift, with helmeted students working tirelessly like worker ants building an endlessly tall tower (but oddly enough, carrying the building blocks downward). Nagara being Nagara, he tries to keep his head down and roll with the punches. He’s bailed out and befriended by the kindhearted Futatsubushi…who’s been at this for over two centuries.

Futatsubushi is charmed by Nagara’s “new guy” aura. Everyone in this world were students of the same school, but now all they’re doing is building the tower…and eating gross invertebrates and insects during their breaks. Hakuna Matata, I guess. Futatsubushi makes it feel like a simple, honest life, even if its seemingly dead-end one.

That night, Nagara is ready to return home, only to find he can’t use his powers. That’s because the “Host” or boss of this world—a guy with glasses who wears a tall sock on his head and is umbrella guy’s associate in an elite group of castaways called Beatnik—is able to nullify those powers. The two hang out atop Babel, basically waiting to see if and when Nagara can figure his way out of this place.

While striking out with Futatsubushi to discover the urban legend of shooting stars, Nagara instead discovers a macro version of the predatory luminescent bugs Rajdhani once showed him. We don’t watch his gruesome “end”—only his screams—but before that he has a very bittersweet monologue about how it’s important to believe in nonsense or continuing to go after a hope, even if it’s false…because otherwise, what is there?

The question of “if not this, than what?” seems foremost in the mind of Nozomi as she watches the cubic Ark carrying Nozomi and most of the rest of the class off to parts unknown grow smaller and smaller in the sky before disappearing altogether. It’s such a simple image as presented, but so haunting and lonely. Meanwhile, the prickly but loyal Mizuho searches diligently for her friend Nagara.

Futatsubushi probably inspired our guy to keep going forward and putting in an effort, even if Hoshi has said many times before that getting home is not in the cards. After remembering when he’d try to flip on the exercise bar as a child while another kid nicknamed “Koumori” (“Bat”) flipped with ease.

Once he’s up at the top of Babel, he walks straight out the railing-less balcony…and re-inverts to his original orientation. Since he figured things out, both Sockhead and Koumori (the same kid he saw that day in his youth) let him go.

No sooner does Nagara return, having been found by Mizuho and Yamada, is it revealed that Rajdhani is also off on his own personal voyage of discover and wonder. Nozomi, a tearful Mizuho, and Nagara all give him big hugs, and I have to admit this completely unexpected goodbye scene really made the air in my room dusty.

With Rajdhani gone, apparently the only ones still on the island are Nagara, Nozomi, Mizuho, Yamada, Asakaze, and possibly the members of Aki-sensei’s faction that didn’t leave on the Ark (Aki-sensei, it’s revealed, is just another student). I almost wish it’s just the five of them left. While the ideas and allegories are growing bigger and more complex, I’m excited at the prospect of the cast getting drastically stripped down to the basics.

Sonny Boy – 06 – Director’s Cut

When it comes to anime, or any television or film, really, I’d rather not quite know what’s going on and be entertained than know what’s going on and be bored. Sonny Boy is definitely the former variety, and this is its trippiest episode yet.

I honestly had no idea what was coming from one scene to the next, but was thoroughly enjoying the ride the whole time. Heck, it starts by revealing that the voice in Hoshi’s head that knows the future is none other than Dr. Strangelove, timeless avatar of contradiction and inscrutability.

It becomes apparent that Dr. Strangelove of Sonny Boy is this universe’s God, or at least one of them, and likely the God of whom Aki-sensei speaks and acts on behalf of. Heck, by manipulating Asakaze, she’s built something of an army on the island complete with barracks and barbed wire for the express purpose of tracking down Nagara and his co-conspirators before they bring about the end of the world. Shit got serious in a hurry.

Still, even in its creepiest or most reality-bending moments, Sonny Boy has never put the lives of its students in mortal danger. No one has died. The “penalties”, while essentially torture, did not result in permanent damage. There isn’t even a shortage of food or supplies, the usual problems with your students marooned on an island.

But then Mizuho encounters a big black dog named Yamada Kunihiko in the Costco where she’s grabbing lunch for Nagara and Rajdhani. Yamada was not only once a human, but a student at their school. Yet despite being three years younger than them, he’s been trapped in This World for five millennia. In that time he’s taken on the velvety lilt of Tsuda Kenjirou—who I’m a little surprised wasn’t chosen to voice God.

Yamada is certain it’s too late for him, but Nagara and the others still have a chance to get home. It’s not impossible; just improbable. That hope proves feasible when the gang stumbles upon a world full of film reels, including reels of the original world where they came from.

After fiddling around with the projectors and reels in this world, Nagara and Rajdhani figure out how to edit the reels and splice and layer them together to create a “director’s cut”. This is the latest and best hope of returning to the world: building it from the myriad parts at their disposal, along with Nagara’s ability.

They only have one, no, two…actually three problems: the three other factions. There’s Hoshi and the StuCo; Aki-sensei and Asakaze, and then Ace and his group of no-longer-it-people. Hoshi, who again has heard the future will be and that it doesn’t involve going home, has instead built an “ark” that will protect his faction from the coming “storm”.

Here’s when things get a little nutty, in the episode’s version of a “battle scene”, as Aki-sensei and Asakaze battle Nagara and Rajdhani’s adventurous director’s cut, all the while traveling aboard Hoshi’s cubic ark. The visuals become downright kooky as groups of people simultaneously stand around statically and fly through wildly undulating landscapes and psychedelic patterns.

By the time reality “settles” back into the world and the school they know, it soon becomes clear that it’s not actually their world; or at least not anymore. Time has gone on and their class is graduating, but there are changes, chief among them that Nozomi died. While other students observe their alternate future selves, no one can see or hear Nozomi, and she phases right through people. It’s a nightmare.

Dr. Strangelove eventually confronts Nagara (while standing, oddly enough), telling him he didn’t create any worlds, but only observed them, thereby opening a “box of possibilities.” The alternate world where Nozomi is dead exists because the Nozomi who lives is on the island, along with Nagara and Mizuho and everyone else. They have been sequestered, and judging from Yamada’s fate, that sequestration is meant to be permanent.

They are unneeded copies, not chosen to continue in the world they used to inhabit. This is just the luck of the draw, mind you; just like being born with natural talent or into money. They got the short end of the stick…or did they? The world they caught a glimpse of didn’t seem “all that great”, to borrow Nagara’s words when questioning Hoshi’s ability to read the future.

It’s certainly not a world Nozomi liked, considering she was dead, but it also might explain why she and no one else can see a light up in the sky; it’s the same light her other self must’ve already stepped into when she passed away.

While others may contemplate whether their lives are better or worse—Nozomi now knows that this life here is all she has. Then again, it’s all any of her classmates have too. They may have split into multiple facets, but they’re still on the same island, in the same boat, with identical status of not being chosen.

If that sounds like a huge bummer, I’m still not convinced it is, especially when I think of the friendships Nagara has forged and the exciting adventures exploring new realms with them. If there’s a set limit to how far they can travel before bouncing off the boundaries of the island, well…how is that any different than the bounds that, with vanishingly few exceptions, keep us fundamentally tethered to our world?

The aquatope on white sand – 08 – Attack of the xanthid crab

Thanks to tireless work on the phones from Karin, Gama Gama finally gets to go on the road. Specifically, they’re bringing a little bit of the aquarium to Nanjo General Clinic’s pediatric ward. The ward’s kabourophobic director, Dr. Kinjou, has only one non-negotiable condition: no crabs.

So as chance should have it, one of the Gama Gama’s Xanthid crabs stows away in one of the traveling aquarium’s tank, and is discovered by Fuuka, who is left alone to set things up the common room when Kukuru, Karin, and Umi-yam are busy with other matters. Predictably, one of Fuuka’s fingers gets snapped and the crab is free to roam the hospital.

Meanwhile, Kukuru presents Dr. Kinjou with some stuffed sea life for the kids and goes off on a tangent about eels, and the doctor ends up making a comment about how nice it is they’re keeping busy before Gama Gama closes.

Karin later tells Kukuru that due to her job with the Tourism Association, she hears things, like that the new aquarium being built at the civic center will sap Gama Gama of what little tourist traffic it enjoys, spelling its doom. Kukuru doesn’t want to hear it, a skulks away to the roof.

She’s eventually joined by Umi-yan, who primarily came to the clinic to visit his young friend Airi, who was a regular visitor to Gama Gama before her hospitalization. Airi gives Umi-yan and sea life the cold shoulder.

She’s drawn back into the world beneath the waves when the xanthid crab climbs Dr. Kinjou and threatens to snap at her neck! Airi, the only one close enough to help the paralyzed-with-fear Kinjou, reaches out and carefully grabs the crab, marveling at how it’s alive.

Newly charmed by the sea, Airi joins the other kids in the common room, and the crab is safely stowed in a bucket for the return trip. Airi finally gets to interact with the theraputic doctorfish Umi-yan promised, and a huge smile returns to her face. Like the other kids, the aquarium is a welcome distraction from their health issues.

Dr. Kinjou initially seems ready to lodge formal complaints left and right, but lets the crab incident slide out of appreciation for the sparkly eyes and smiles the traveling aquarium gave the kids.

On the elevator ride down to the exit, Karin confesses that it was once her dream to be an aquarium attendant like Kukuru, but had to choose more stable employment due to her family situation.

When she watches Kukuru rush headlong towards her dream, Karin can’t help but feel a little envious. This makes me wonder if there’s a potential future where Karin makes her dream come true at a revitalized Gama Gama. But with news of a shiny new rival aquarium and a new face who has come to train at Gama Gama for that aquarium, Kukuru faces a very uphill climb.

It’s here where I must admit I found this to be the weakest episode of Aquatope yet, even though I still enjoyed it. Some of its strongest moments felt like variations on very similar, stronger moments from past episodes. It wavered between a Karin-centric episode, keeping the pressure on Kukuru, and Umi-yan being the nicest big guy in the world.

Most importantly, it had precious little Kukuru-Fuuka interaction. Whether you see their relationship as sisterly or romantic, it’s the beating heart of this show, and without it the episode felt underweight and hollow—like a crab you caught that’s too small to eat.

Sonny Boy – 05 – The Creator

If you thought Sonny Boy was going to pick up right where it left off with the Bond Girl-like arrival of a teacher (like ahem me) well…you haven’t been paying proper attention. Sonny Boy, you see, picks up where and when it feels like it: in this case, a 2D Pac-Man-like world that Nagara, Nozomi, Asakaze and Mizuho manipulate in order to “liberate” all of the digital mice.

Their “reward” for “conquering” (i.e. clearing) this world is a corded desktop mouse with the power to unravel things, from computer code to sweaters. Turns out each time a world is conquered, a new power is “unlocked”. Back at Rajdhani’s lab on the beach, he’s recording and cataloguing all of the team’s successes and failures, gradually narrowing down what can and can’t be done…slowly unraveling the big tangle that is their predicament.

The rest of the class probably would have tolerated this as long as they were kept fed and busy, but along came that Aki-sensei, who claims to have been sent by “God” and only seems to be their to stir up some shit. She immediately plays favorites with Asakaze, and encourages him to take up the mantle of the class’s savior. With him, she’s less Swiss Family Robinson and more Mrs. Robinson.

She also insists that no matter what they do, none of the students will ever be able to return home. She also assigns a scapegoat in Nagara, cultivating the idea that the only one of them with the power to teleport was trying to escape the world they came from, and happened to drag them all along with him. The StuCo brings Nagara before the class, but due to his social anxiety and ineloquence, his answers only make them more suspicious and angry, and even Hoshi can’t sway them to take it easy.

Happily, Nagara at least gets a small respite from all the finger-pointing when he joins Nozomi for some nighttime fishing. When she spots “guardian angels” in the otherwise inky black water, she dives in without hesitation, and pulls Nagara in with her. Under the water they soon become surrounded by a shimmering silver school of minnows, a wondrous and beautiful moment in an episode full of bleak cynicism. Nagara is glad he jumped in. He’s also glad he met Nozomi.

Things go south when Nagara is again confronted by the class, with Aki-sensei apparently trying to get everyone to turn against him as the one villain on whom they can pin all their blames. One student even shoves Nagara to the ground, causing him to run away once again. As she pulls Nagara down she builds Asakaze up, as he demonstrates he can cut through the world Nagara teleported them to and return to the island.

But that’s the first clue that Nagara’s power isn’t actually teleportation. He ends up escaping to a burned version of the island from before they set up a barter system that obeyed the world’s rules of fair exchange. Nozomi, Mizuho, and Rajdhani end up being able to travel to this burned island where they find Nagara. Mizuho in particular masks her genuine concern for him by being super prickly with him upon their reunion.

But the fact that the burned island wasn’t healed, but a second island created, seals one of the many theories Rajdhani’s simmering in his head: Nagara isn’t a teleporter…he’s a creator. Each and every one of the worlds they’ve visited was made from his power.

With Aki-sensei grooming Asakaze into Nagara’s nemesis, destroyer of those worlds, and savior of the class, all while painting Nagara as the devil, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before things boil over into something ugly.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 08 – The Lord’s Eternal Blade

When they’re in the royal castle where the Queen herself dwells as a guest of Lord Ruthven, Noé is like a giddy kid, while Vanitas is all business. Indeed, he wears out their welcome right fast when he insinuates that Her Majesty could be the cause of the curse-bearers. He even goes so far as to question why she’s become a hermit, and even ask if she yet lives!

This almost gets him killed by Ruthven—with Noé and Jeanne almost dying simply by being in the same room as Ruthven’s wrath—but Lucius, whom we learn is one of the highest ranking members of the court, is the only vamp who doesn’t become overly enraged. Indeed, Luca acts as though Vanitas stumbled upon the truth…because he kinda did: the Queen is not doing so hot!

Vanitas and Noé are kicked out of Altus and suddenly we’re back in Paris, with Vanitas wrapping up his report to Count Orlok and his servants (who also lose it when they learn how rude he was to Her Majesty). It’s a neat way to transition to the Next Case, which involves missing vampires.

Noé’s dhampir (half-vampire) associates Dante, Johanna and Riche report that it’s the doing of the church’s anti-vampire army, the Chasseurs. They all take a trip into the famous and haunting Paris catacombs hoping to find the captured vamps, but they find nothing but a tourist trap. We also meet one of those chasseurs, who seems to have a soft spot for Vanitas, considering him a victim being hounded by the vile vampires.

However, the only vamp hounding Vanitas is Noé, who decides of his own volition to accompany him on his investigation. Noé is amazed that Vanitas knows his way around the super-secret catacombs beneath the Cathedral of Notre Dame. This is a wonderful adventure deep into the bowels of the ancient city, eventually ending up in a special fancy ossuary containing the remains of slewn vampires.

It’s there where they meet Sixth Paladin Roland Fortis, who is initially a big dumb happy puppy, like the male version of Sarasa in Kageki Shoujo!! He takes Vanita’s quickly improvised story about getting lost, and Roland says he himself is lost, adding to his dopey cred. I myself was fooled until Roland very emphatically asks Vanitas to come over and take a look at something.

Roland ends up shoving him into a cell, then unleashes a flash grenade that renders Noé blind and nauseous. He declares that no vampire who walks through these hallowed halls can leave alive. Will Roland stand down when he learns he’s in the presence of Vanitas, and hear him out regarding not killing Noé? We’ll have wait until next week to find out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 07 – Going halfsies

In the first week of August Gama Gama Aquarium is on pace for a goal of 2,000 visitors thanks to the touch pools and shaved ice. But that first week took everything the staff had, plus Udon-chan working for free (and the shaved ice stall still lost money). Kukuru’s gramps orders the youngins to take a day off and spend some time neither working nor thinking about work.

This would, at first glance, seem like the perfect time to show everyone off in their swimsuits, but Aquatope is regionally accurate in the locals of Okinawa not being all that big on swimsuits. Indeed, only Fuuka wears one —the same one in which she had a photo shoot in Tokyo. This makes her very self-conscious, but Kukuru tells her not to worry about it. After all, she does look ridiculously cute.

The ladies meet up with Kai and Kuuya, who have set up a barbecue by the beach, though a little too close to the aquarium than they’d like, considering the goal is to forget about work. We meet Kai’s little sister Maho, who is super polite and formal and takes an instant liking to Fuuka, while hating Kukuru’s (fish) guts.

While I enjoyed Maho’s precocious rivalry with Kukuru, her voice sounded a little bit too much like the other, older women. This was definitely a case where an Ogura Yui or Kuno Misaki would have been a better choice. In any case, only children Kukuru and Udon-chan lament having not had siblings to liven things up.

Ultimately, the pull of Gama Gama proves too strong for Kukuru, who decides to peek in and see how things are going in her absence. She finds Yuuya had the same idea, and overhears him talking with her Gramps about what happens after Gama; namely the very capable and knowledgeable Yuuya taking a job at another aquarium.

The article in the paper is one thing, but hearing her own grandfather talk about the end of Gama Gama like it’s a foregone conclusion when she’s doing everything she possibly can to stave off closure, is understandably (fish) gutting.

In the episode’s finest scene, Kukuru is off on her own on the breakwater when Fuuka finds her. Kukuru breaks down in Fuuka’s lap, saying she’s not sure if she’s “going to be okay.” But without a moment’s hesitation, Fuuka embraces Kukuru and assures her that no matter what happens, she’ll be there with her.

Just when Kukuru was lamenting not having a sibling (and it being heavily implied in flashbacks that she could have had one), Fuuka plays the role of reliable big sister to a T. It’s really great to see how Fuuka has grown since moving to Okinawa, to the point she can be an emotional rock to Kukuru in her more vulnerable moments.

After some nonsense involving Maho’s would-be grade-school boyfriend Rui and Kuuya having a race on the beach, the little kids go home, the older kids break out the booze, and the kids in between wish they could have a beer or lemon highball or three to close out a day of leisure.

We also learn a lot more about Kuuya’s past as a popular and athletic high schooler (and Karin’s classmate) who was sabotaged by the queen bee after he rejected her and was taken in by Kukuru’s gramps. His story is somewhat inelegantly exposited in one go, but it’s still good to learn more about him, why he distrusts women, and how he’s a much looser, more laid back guy when he’s drunk…which tends to be the case with most people.

Speaking of loose and laid back, this is definitely the kind of episode a show can indulge in when it has two cours to work with instead of just one. Even so, this episode wasn’t completely devoid of the burdens Kukuru bears as she must go against virtually everyone’s expectations that Gama Gama is doomed. In fact, this episode hinted that it may just be doomed, and Kukuru is tilting at underwater windmills. But even if that’s so, it’ll be okay…because she’s not alone.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Magia Record – 16 – Will the Real Iroha Please Wake Up?

Shortly after entering the Eternal Sakura, Yachiyo finds herself being woken up in her bed in Mikazuki Villa by Felicia, Sana, and Tsuruno. As soon as they mention Iroha, Yachiyo rushes to her room and finds her sleeping there. But something, of course, is off: for a split-second, Iroha’s face turns into that of her Doppel.

Yachiyo and Kuroe have been absorbed by Iroha’s Doppel, who is holding Iroha hostage after a fashion by keeping her happy and at piece in an ideal fantasy version of her life. In this fantasy, Iroha’s Mikazuki friends all know Kuroe even though they’ve never met IRL. As for “Iroha” herself, she’s clearly under the spell of her Doppel.

When Yachiyo mentions Ui, she and Kuroe are transported first to a train, and then to Ui’s hospital, where Kuroe learns Iroha’s sister shared a room with Nemu and Touka, and where Kuroe tells Yachiyo that Nemu created all the Rumors in Kamihama City. But when Ui is finally presented, she’s not human, but a stuffed animal. Yachiyo determines that this fantasy is neither Nemu’s nor a Rumor’s doing.

Yachiyo goes through an Alice in Wonderland-style tiny door to another part of the dream, ordering Kuroe to stay behind where it’s “safe,” but is really not willing to accept help from a member of Magius. Kuroe learns when Yachiyo isn’t around, Iroha’s Doppel creates one, and sees the appeal of such a peaceful, pleasant dream, which matches the gentle, cheerful nature of the Iroha she knows.

Meanwhile, in a lush flower-strewn meadow, Yachiyo locates the Ui stuffed animal, by far the most suspicious thing in the dream. When another Iroha arrives, it’s clear the Doppel, and not Iroha, is talking to Yachiyo, warning her not to ruin the perfect dream world she created. Meanwhile, Iroha’s Soul Gem continues to darken.

When Kuroe breaks the reality of the dream by asking Iroha why Ui is a stuffed animal, Iroha transforms into a Doppel and restrains Kuroe. The Doppel explains that when Iroha fell to the bottom of a Uwasa, she was filled with fear for her sister as well as despair over knowing the truth of the magical girls, so the Doppel overwrote her nightmares with new and happier dreams.

Yachiyo rescues Kuroe, but despite urging her to stay out of the fight, Kuroe transforms and the two connect their powers to bring the Doppel down. Yachiyo doesn’t care how much work went into this fantasy world; she’s taking Iroha back so they can take back her real sister, the real Mikazuki Villa, and their real friendship.

She and Kuroe succeed in suppressing the Doppel and freeing the real Iroha, who falls to the soft grass at the base of the Eternal Sakura where an elated Yachiyo is waiting for her. The two embrace, join hands, and celebrate their reunion. Iroha mentions that she promised she wouldn’t die, and she didn’t…she just needed to be rescued from a dream prison created by her Doppel to protect her from anger, fear, and sorrow.

Magia Record’s second season’s third episode is by far the most straightforward, as Yachiyo and Kuroe are basically on a simple rescue mission. There’s a wonderful dreamlike atmosphere distinct from either the “real life” of the show or the more textured witch realms, and it’s a clever way to check in with the other members of the villa, even if they were only dream versions.

With Iroha back, could she and Yachiyo help bring the others back from Magius? Will Kuroe’s loyalties to Magius conflict with her friendship with Iroha and now Yachiyo, whom she fought beside to save their mutual friend? And what’s up with that post-credits appearance of Madoka? For now, I’ll do as Yachiyo does and simply revel in the unbridled joy of having the real Iroha back.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 07 – What Is Love? Oh Domi Don’t Hurt Me…

While not a lot happens from a plot perspective this week, quite a bit of the steadily simmering love rhombus that is Jeanne, Vanitas, Domi and Noé comes into focus. This rude, selfish, annoying human has caused quite a stir in these three vampires’ hearts.

When Luca treats Noé and the others to tarte tatin at a fancy restaurant Vanitas reveals that Jeanne has “marked” him—imbuing him with some of her power while also leaving a literal rose-shaped mark on his neck. While he initially jokes that she couldn’t contain her lust for him, he then admits that the screams of the curse-bearers caused her to lose control.

Jeanne lifts him up and jumps out the window with him, landing in a dark alley demanding to know why he lied. The reality is that she is a curse-bearer who keeps herself under control with a medicine. She begs Vanitas not to tell anyone, and he gives her two conditions that underscore his genuine affection for her.

First, he insists that henceforth she drink no one’s blood but his. Second, he insists she stop calling him “Human” and start calling him by his name. Pulling his collar open to reveal her mark, she says his name as she digs her fangs back into his neck, unable to resist his sweet, sweet blood—even if the vessel of that blood’s a complete cad.

Noé, who felt compelled to chase after them, watches Jeanne bicker with Vanitas from the rooftops; it’s quite evident that he’s jealous of her closeness to him, even if he himself is to inexperienced in such things to realize this. One person who does realize it is Domi, who catches up to her Mon Chéri, but is clearly distressed when he mentions how troubled he was to hear that Jeanne sucked Vanitas’ blood.

He later elaborates that he just wanted to taste that sweet blood first, and Domi works out her frustration with him by gnawing on him, but their embrace gradually becomes more intimate when she drinks from his neck, only for him to gently slip off her glove and drink from her hand, noting that her blood is delectable. So is this scene, gorgeously lit as it is by the setting sun.

Since both guy-gal pairs had their steamy scenes, it’s only fair that the two pairs switch off for the final act, in which the dashing Domi leads Jeanne in a courtyard dance while Noé leads Vanitas in another. It’s here where Noé asks Vanitas “what in the devil is love”, to which Vanitas replies he has no idea.

All Vanitas knows is that when he thinks of Jeanne, his heart races and his body trembles. He lists all the reasons he believes those bodily reactions mean love, and none of them are more important than the fact that Jeanne will never love him, as he has “zero interest” in the sort of person who would love him. I guess that doesn’t bode well for Noé then, huh?!

As it stands, Vanitas loves Jeanne, Noé is growing to love Vanitas, Domi loves Noé, and Jeanne is strangely drawn to Vanitas. All these beautiful sexy people are all stirred up in a big romantic goulash. It’s sublime. It’s even enough for me to not particularly care how the plot progresses—except insofar as how it affects these four characters’ relationships.

Rating: 4/5 Stars