Cardcaptor Sakura – 37 – The Voice

We begin this episode with the demonstration of a new Daidouji Brand prototype portable karaoke mic, perfect for picnics like the one Sakura and her friends are having. While ostensibly there to view the cherry blossoms, Syaoran is viewing Sakura the human girl, and when she looks back he can’t help but blush and turn away. Every episode it seems there’s a little reminder that his feelings for her are slowly but surely growing.

The star of the karaoke demonstration is the daughter of the woman whose company made the mic, but when Tomoyo is practicing for a chorus recital, a Clow Card overhears her and steals her voice! Suddenly the school’s best singer can’t even talk, and Sakura blames herself for not finding and sealing the card before it could cause trouble.

Tomoyo goes home and ends up taking a sick day, and her mom Sonomi also takes the next day off to spend time with her daughter. Tomoyo puts a brave face on this incident but she’s no doubt frightened of never being able to speak or sing again, and her mom knows the power of simply being there for a hug. Back at school, Sakura is down in the dumps and wondering what to do, and Syaoran is worried about her, and volunteers to help her search for the Voice card.

They go to Tomoyo’s house, but his compass doesn’t turn anything up; once Voice has a voice it likes, it goes into hiding. Hours pass without progress, and Sakura voices her frustration and guilt, seeing as how this is the second time Tomoyo has fallen victim to a Clow Card; the first being when Song copied her voice.

That gives Syaoran an idea: lure Voice out with Song, who still has that copy. Sure enough, Voice can’t resist Song’s Tomoyo-like singing. Syaoran traps it inside with magical talismans, and Sakura returns it into its rightful guise.

Tomoyo’s voice is restored, and Sakura embraces her, tearful with relief. All that’s left is to sit back and listen to Tomoyo’s delicately gorgeous voice at the recital as she knocks her performance out of the park.

While there are many friends in Sakura’s orbit she holds dear, there’s no one more important to her than Tomoyo, who in turn loves Sakua so much even without a voice she was urging her to cheer up. When Sakura is happy, Tomoyo is happy, and vice versa.

Hamefura – 09 – Anna Bakanina

Ever since bonking her head, Catarina has been possessed by the soul of a middle-class modern Japanese high school student, which means she’s a lot more likely to befriend her maid than the originally “programmed” Catarina. So it’s no surprise Catarina has befriended her maid, Anna.

Most of this episode is told from the perspective of Anna, who may not be a member of Catarina’s harem per se, but does owe her present life and happiness to Catarina’s kindness and strength.

This show is about more than Catarina unwittingly making all of her friends fall madly in love with her. It’s also about her intentionally trying to better the lives of others. When she successfully advances to the second year at magic academy, Catarina throws a pajama party for her girlfriends, and even suggests a boys-only party for the guys.

When talk turns to romance and the girls (taking a page from Catarina) ask Anna about her prospects for marriage, Catarina discretely deflects the question, saving Anna much awkwardness. It’s a gesture that indicates that while she’s too dense to sense the infatuation wafting off her friends, she’s not too dense to detect discomfort in her other friend, Anna, and has her back.

Anna needed someone’s back. The bastard daughter of a rich baron and his maid, when her mom died in a fire and her own arm was burned, the baron basically disowned her, as she no longer had any value as a marriage pawn. That’s when the distantly-related Claes family hired Anna as a maid, and she met Catarina.

Catarina was your typical willful spoiled haughty child of rich people, until she hit her head and…changed. Before she knew it, Catarina was inspiring Anna to start standing up for herself rather than acting so meek and submissive, and Lil’ Catarina has her back when it comes time to refuse her arranged marriage.

If it weren’t for Catarina being a good person and friend to Anna, there’s no telling what awful husband she would have ended up with. In any case, being apart from Catarina wasn’t a viable option for Anna, who had never even celebrated her birthday before she befriended Catarina.

To this day, she keeps Catarina’s little gifts in a wooden box she got from her the first time they celebrated. Anna’s story seemingly comes out of nowhere, but we knew Catarina was all about treating everyone equally regardless of their station in life, and despite it’s sudden inclusion in the story, I still admit to tearing up when Anna told her story. Now we know the first person to fall for her!

As Catarina and Alan had a romantic segment at the end of last week’s outing, it was looking like it would be Gerald’s turn at the end of this week’s, as he gets a fancy handwritten invitation from Catarina. With a sudden hop in his step, he devises the perfect gift for her: a new pair of gardening shears. He was listening, and he knows she’s not like other girls!

Alas, when Gerald arrives, he finds everyone else has not only been invited, but gave Catarina the same gift (they were all listening, and know she’s not like other girls)! She’s gathered them there not to confess her love, but because it’s her Harvest Day and she wants everyone to help out. To that end, she’s had matching olive-green gardening uniforms for everyone…which is an awesome sight to behold! The Cult of Catarina is officially militarized.

Yup, things couldn’t be going any better for Catarina, and it’s frankly been refreshing and heartwarming to see. Unfortunately, nothing ever lasts, and Catarina seems poised for some kind of reckoning, as an anti-Catarina group has been formed from those she stopped from bullying Maria.

They vow to “expose all of the evil deeds” she has committed, which confuses Catarina…as well as myself! What “evil deeds” could these be? Are these girls simply running on older otome code from back when Catarina was programmed to be the chief villainess? Regardless, there’s trouble in paradise…unless she can make this posse fall for her, of course…

Oh…my…GOD she’s in an eggplant costume…

Hamefura – 05 – A Town Where She Lives

Catarina is on great terms with Maria—better even than any of the conquerable guys—and yet the heroine still feels…distant. Cat’s inner council determines the best way to keep the doom flags at bay is to spend even more time with Maria outside of the StuCo offices.

This leads to Cat encountering Maria once again being bullied, by characters who in the game are working under Catarina herself! Cat shifting from chief tormentor to chief defender of Maria has left these bullies leaderless, and they’re easily dealt with.

Little does Catarina know that she just stole another event from a conquerable guy; in this case her own brother Keith, who in the game was the one who saved Maria from Cat and the bullies. The council determines this is no big deal, since only bad things can happen to her if Maria falls for any of the guys.

As things stand, it’s not only Maria who likes Catarina best, but Mary and Sophia feel the same way. In her relentless quest to eliminate any and all death flags, Cat still seems reluctant to rest on her laurels, despite how safe and favorable a situation she’s created for herself.

Cat’s relationship with Maria shifts into overdrive when, after spending the day in the fields learning more about farming (something else Game Cat would never ever do) she pays an impromptu visit to Maria’s hometown and house with Keith in tow. It should be an encouraging sign to her that she can bring one of the main love interests along without worrying about him and Maria falling for each other.

While Catarina makes use of her farming skills to shape up Maria’s family’s little field, Maria starts to bake more sweets to fill her stomach. All the while, Maria’s mother is dumbfounded by the sudden and dramatic positive change in her daughter’s demeanor.

You see, when Maria’s light power awakened (she used it to heal a friend’s leg injury), her fellow commoners in her hometown started to spread rumors that she was the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman. Even if it wasn’t true, it tore through her family until her father left and she became a pariah at school.

Remembering how happy she and her mom and dad were when making sweets, she decides to learn how to bake for herself. But when she presents the product of her hard work, her classmates turn their backs in unison and leave her alone, refusing to even look at her.

With Catarina in her life, Maria seems to have left that pain in the past. Her mother is so surprised because Maria stopped baking after being rejected at school. Cat may have done a lot for Maria to get her to like her, but it was enough for Maria just to be seen, not as a bastard daughter or bad news, but as a normal, kind, and generous girl who deserves all the friends in the world.

Her mother realizes how cruel she was to get lost in her own troubles and stop looking at Maria. So she dusts off the old cookie cutters and bakes with her daughter, and starts to feel better herself. It’s a beautiful moment of catharsis when Cat and Keith depart and Maria and her mom exchange gazes. It’s like they’re looking at one another for the first time, recalling the warmth of better times, and realizing they can get that warmth back.

All thanks to Catarina, who has now gone way past preserving her own life and staving off potential exile. She’s making the lives of everyone around her better day by day. Now all she has to worry about is her sinister dirt-hating mother!

Hamefura – 04 – Breaking Flags and Taking Names

Now that Catarina is a teen attending magic academy, the game as it unfolded in Fortune Lover truly begins. Yet as the Inner Claes Council reports, she’s made progress changing some of the characters. Nevertheless, Gerald still meets the heroine Maria Campbell by chance, making Catarina nervous about the doom flags that will sprout should the wrong love triangle form.

Keith is no longer a affection-starved playboy, which means he’s turned into a “nice young man” (AKA goody-goody), so when he tells Catarina he picked up Maria’s handkerchief, he doesn’t use it to hit on the heroine. Still, Catarina is worried about inadvertently coming between Keith and Maria should he fall for her, and assures a very confused Keith that such a thing won’t occur.

With both Gerald and Keith encounter Maria before Catarina, and first steps on conquest routes may have been officially started, her inner council decides that she should continue developing her farming skills so in any scenario in which she’s exiled she’ll have a marketable skill (and won’t go hungry). But when she finally does meet Maria at the Student Council office, she proceeds to have a far more consequential first encounter than either of the boys.

It all comes down to Catarina’s sweet tooth, and the fact the otaku within makes no distinction between commoner or noble when it comes to tasty treats. She kindly asks Maria if she’ll bake something for her, but while Maria is on her way with said treats, she’s intercepted by three bullies. Catarina leaps out of the bushes to rescue Maria, then eats her delicious sweets even though they’d fallen on the ground.

While Catarina was just trying to be nice, her actions resulted in her stealing an event from Gerald. In the game, Catarina was one of the bullies, and she was run off by Gerald. Without that opportunity for Gerald and Maria to get closer, Catarina successfully broke a doom flag. Nice!

Also, most importantly, while there was no possible Catarina X Maria route, that looks to have already gotten started. Gerald catches a glimpse of that route when he sees the two hand-in-hand. It’s definitely a route I’d like to see explored, even if it ends up creating new doom flags!

Hamefura – 03 – Catarina Claes and the Cursed Child

Lil’ Catarina has just discovered the romance novels of her world and has become hooked, just as she was hooked on manga and otome in her world. All she hopes for is someone she can converse with on these books, and she finds that someone quite by chance at the Stuarts’ tea party. Her name is Sophia Ascart, and due to her white hair and red eyes she’s a pariah among most of their peers. Obviously, Catarina sees things differently.

After rescuing her from verbal barbs of other nobles, Catarina becomes fast friends with Sophia, and they geek out on romance novels. Catarina could see her and Sophia being friends in the other world too. She also learns that befriending Sophia won’t throw up any additional doom flags, though Sophia’s taciturn older brother Nicol is quite the looker, attracting women and men alike.

I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop with her friendship to Sophia, but…it never happens. In this manner, Hamefura subverts expectations by playing things straight. They become good friends without any problems, and all of a sudden seven years have passed and Catarina is now fifteen years old. Now all the characters look like they do in the otome.

That means the prologue is officially over. The time jump was abrupt but well-timed: watching lil’ Catarina dart from party to party was growing stale. She’s done her best to avoid the things that kill or exile her in the game, from remaining close and kind to Keith to honing her combat skills.

She also remains good friends with Sophia and Mary, with no messy love triangles with the guys (so far). Gerald is still committed to marrying her (and plants a hickey on her neck, demonstrating his covert sadism). We’ll see how things unfold as she pursues the route of survival in earnest!

Hamefura – 02 – Friend of the Dregs

There’s an undeniable pattern emerging in this new-and-improved Catarina Claes: more and more, she’s siding with and befriending those in the “game” who got the short end of the stick. First Keith, in whom she cultivates trust and affection rather than bullying and disdain. Yet as a result of her “erratic” behavior her parents would prefer if her younger brother accompany her to a fancy tea party to keep her on brand. Sure enough, Catarina trades pleasantries for pastries.

After eating to much she ends up rushing to the lavatory, but afterwards meets another trod-upon character in Mary Hunt. Due to her mother being her father’s second wife, her three older stepsisters rain contempt down upon her, making her shy and skittish. And while Catarina’s brashness might seem like anathema to such a fragile soul, she ends up bonding with Mary through gardening. Mary does it as an escape, while Catarina does it because she’s not the kind of woman to be cooped up indoors all day!

Third on Catarina’s list of underdog friends is her fiancee’s twin brother Alan Stuart, who as it happens is engaged to Mary. Catarina’s inner council worries about her befriending the girl engaged to Alan considering how he’s a conquerable route in the otome. She also resents the fact that only Catarina is considered a villainess and monster while Mary, who also loved Alan but lost to the heroine, is merely a good-natured rival.

Still, Alan is not happy about Catarina’s attempts to “seduce” Mary, even using the same line about a green thumb as he was going to use (since she remembered it from the game). Alan challenges her to a number of tree climbing challenges, all of which he loses handily. But in the process of all those challenges and losses, something happens: the two become fast friends.

It gets to the point where Gerald intervenes by visiting Catarina before Alan shows up, basically claiming fiancee’s prerogative. Catarina suggests a piano recital, and Alan proves much better than her at playing, but senses she and Gerald are patronizing him and runs off. Catarina tracks him down and rejects Alan’s insistence he’s just the “dregs” left over form all of Gerald’s good qualities.

To demonstrate that everyone has good and bad qualities, Catarina reveals Gerald’s weakness: a fear of snakes! Even Alan, who had just challenged her to dozens of tree-climbing duels, notes how that’s a pretty childish weakness to dredge up.

But as far as Catarina’s concerned, having a snake on hand could make the difference between life and death should Gerald raise a sword to her. Considering he tattled to her parents about both the toy snake and the tree-climbing, she has every reason to suspect he might turn on her one day!

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 10 – Goodbye, Dolly

When Misaki and Mikoto hit a major traffic jam, Misaki summons the power of the “Exterior” to brainwash every driver in their path to pull aside, thus clearing a path. It’s clearly a significant effort for Misaki, pushing Mental Out to its limits. From there, we learn about how her ability was developed at the same facility as Prototype, perhaps the first Mikoto clone. Her nickname, “Dolly” is a reference to the first successfully cloned sheep.

Dolly ‘s handlers have been unable to make progress with her ever since her friend “Mi-chan” (heavily implied to have been Kozaku Mitori) went away. The white coats (who distressingly see both Dolly and Misaki as merely test samples to be used and disposed of as needed) conscript Misaki to be Dolly’s new lab-issued friend.

Misaki uses Mental Out to brainwash Dolly into believing she’s Mi-chan. Misaki was just as haughty back then, so she’s initialy feels his whole enterprise to be a hassle…until she becomes fast friends with Dolly. Like the girl who was cloned to create her, Dolly is far more athletic than Misaki, as evidenced by her far superior garbage can aim.

At the same time, Misaki tries to impress upon Dolly the importance of growing into a refined lady—a losing battle she picks up with Mikoto, to a degree. Without even intending to go along with the white coats, Misaki ends up restoring Dolly’s “inner peace”, allowing research on her to continue without emotional anomalies.

More than that, Misaki forms a real emotional bond with Dolly, blushing when Dolly suddenly hugs her—and pointedly smells out the deception. The two are simply playing around until Dolly suddenly collapses, her clone body shutting down.

It’s then, when she reaches her hand out for a distraught Misaki, that Dolly asks her her name. It dawns on Misaki that Dolly knew she wasn’t Mi-chan, but kept the fiction going because she was happy to have a new friend, and grateful to Misaki for being one. Dolly’s death is a gut punch.

The white coats are then frustrated when Misaki is the one in emotional turmoil, as if it never occurred to them she’d have these things called feelings. Call it professional detachment from one’s scientific subjects…but Misaki is human, for chrissakes! Showing no deference to them, Misaki uses her Mental Out on all of them and learns the truth: once they’re done tinkering with her, she’ll meet the same fate as Dolly.

The Exterior project continues, with part of Misaki’s brain removed and cultivated into a huge brain, which serves as a booster for her powers—and which is what she used to part traffic back in the present. It’s also the “DNA Computer” the urban legends site mentioned. By the time she and Mikoto arrive at Exterior, Kihara Gensei’s forces have already infiltrated, forcing Misaki’s associate Keitz to flee to the roof with 10032.

But Misaki is too late: Kihara tunes the giant brain to his own brainwaves, bypassing the need for length registration and enabling him to use Mental Out. He uses it to freeze Keitz, takes his phone, and uses it to trash talk Misaki, revealing that it was he who instructed Kiyama Harumi on how to use Level Upper.

He then removes all of the protection placed on MISAKA 10032, something First Order immediately notices while playing cards with Accelerator in a hospital room. Then Kihara injects a kind of mental virus into 10032, which is instantaneously transmitted to all other Sisters in the network, knocking them all out.

Mikoto arrives on the rooftop just in time for Kihara to trigger her dormant esper powers. She’s revealed to be his main target all along, as he hopes she’ll be the first to achieve a stable Level 6. Several floors below, Misaki no longer has access to Exterior, while Touma manages to track down Saten as she’s exiting the factory with Xochitl.

The main pair of powerful lasses, then, will need some outside help if they’re going to have a chance of escaping Kihara’s clutches. Mikoto looks completely out of control—half-Akira, half-Little Prince—or worse, under Kihara’s control. Will spirited, virtuous youth win out over the greed and contempt of an old man with a Gorbachev birthmark? We shall see…

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! – 11 – Ripples of Peace

With 45 days until their deadline, the Eizouken creatives are working furiously while Sayaka conducts business in the same space, giving her the idea for partitions in the future. Things get even more lively when their studio hosts a raid by the Security Club.

The StuCo arrives and expels the president of the Transcription Club for “arranging deals using school funds without permission.” Eizouken is not affected, but the Secretary warns Sayaka not to let something like this happen to her. Sayaka responds with a bill for the property damage. Touche!

While working on the weekend—as they must for all weekends—the trio finally notices their adviser is supervising them at all times, even without overtime. As their adviser, he advises them not to work so long and have some fun from time to time, for “the best work comes from a sense of play.”

This permission to goof off is his highly inconvenient for Sayaka, who is just barely keeping Midori and Tsubame on schedule, but the three go on a fun trip anyway. An underground tunnel leads to a sheer cliff, and the promise of a tire swing leads them to an abandoned, flooded “Solar City” that gives Midori all kinds of ideas about underwater civilizations.

One day, Midori and Tsubame arrive to find a sign posted on the studio entrance strongly warning against acquisition of outside-of-school funds. Sayaka is home sick(!) so Midori and Tsubame catch a train to visit her. We learn how Sayaka and Midori met: they were the only two loners in middle school P.E.

Having endured partnering up with a stranger, Midori follows Sayaka around and even makes money collecting special leaves for a restaurant that serves grilled fish on them (a very Kanamori Sayaka hustle), and even rides a train for the first time. Sayaka’s thoughts about how people temporarily allying for mutual benefit doesn’t automatically denote friendship.

It’s probably why Midori to this day considers both Sayaka and Tsubame “comrades”, not “friends” (or, in Japanese, nakama, not tomodachi). More importantly, it gets to the heart about how people see things in different ways. Where once she saw leaves, Midori now she sees cash, thanks to Sayaka.

When Midori and Tsubame show Sayaka the threatening sign, she tells them not to worry about it; she’s secured another checkmate against the commerce-ruining adults of the school in the form of widespread and overwhelmingly supportive publicity for their Shibahama film project. They’re now virtually bulletproof against the school’s retaliation.

That again underscores the concept of people seeing things in different ways; the school sees the Eizouken’s activities as “anti-educational”; Sayaka considers them the exact opposite. Then, when asked about her progress with the story and ending, Midori is ready with a full rundown of the film, which she gives in a gorgeous illustrative scene.

In the process, Midori utilizes the concept of different perspectives by having the human and kappa societies be a mirror of one another. She also integrates all of the weird and seemingly unrelated ideas she came up with during their adventures! Ironically, the skeptical vice principal planting Cosmos (a symbol of peace) may have been the spark Midori needed to tie everything together.

It looks like an exciting film with no shortage of action and battles, but the central theme of peaceful coexistence and understanding will certainly play well with the city officials. Making the humans and kappa so visually alike is both thematically on-point and a time-saver, indicating the creatives have gotten better at managing their creative ambitions and embracing shortcuts when appropriate.

Armed with a strong story and all the leeway they’ll need to execute, the Eizouken gets to work, and even manages to complete the animation with time to spare (though not much). That’s when they hit an unexpected snag: the music track they acquired for the film’s score is nothing like the demo they heard, and doesn’t match the animation at all.

Assuming there’s no time to draw anything new, they’ll need a musical miracle. Maybe one of them knows someone who knows someone who could bail them out…

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 08 – Turning Nothing into Something

As Steve Zissou said: “That was a goddamn tearjerker.” I had no idea that would happen. The opening minutes of Mitsuba Sousuke were horribly grating, with the ghost spewing endless random insults as Kou intermittently shocked him with his exorcist’s staff. But then we learn a little more about Mitsuba…and a little more. And before I knew it, I cared about this girly, cocky, moody guy.

And you know what? So did Kou. It’s almost as if Kou was my emotional surrogate in this episode: initially super-irritated with this ghost, but then extremely empathetic of his plight. Even Kou wasn’t prepared to hear that Sousuke was in his class and had introduced himself. Alas, worried about being bullied for being too much of one thing or not enough of another, Sousuke became neither…and was forgotten altogether.

Kou gradually warming up to Sousuke and vice versa has some lovely yaoi undertones, and it’s a testament to the writing, voice acting, and direction that such a close and meaningful bond is formed in such a short period of time. All Sousuke wanted was a friend, so Kou offers to be his first, encouraging Sousuke to simply be himself. It starts to feel like there could be something to Kou’s less adversarial approach to the family business.

And then Hanako’s dark twin Tsukasa ruins everything, plunging his arm through Mitsuba’s chest, and everything turns to shit. Just as Hanako-kun grants wishes to the living, Tsukasa does the same to the dead, and in befriending Sousuke, Kou inadvertently provided Tsukasa with the answer he needed to grant Kou’s wish, something he was duty-bound to do. To quote the Oracle: “We’re all here to do what we’re all here to do.”

With an assist from Sakura on the school radio, a new rumor is formed before Kou’s eyes, of the broken-necked kid in the entrance who reaches out and tries to befriend people. Sousuke adopts a Picasso-esque grosteque, Picasso-esque form and can no longer talk, but sheds a tear as he is forced to attack Kou. He comes within an inch of killing him when Hanako-kun intervenes. (Throughout this sequence I was practically yelling “Where the fuck is Hanako-kun??”)

Unfortunately, all Hanako can do is stop Sousuke from killing Kou. Before disappearing, Tsukasa twists the knife by telling Hanako “it was great” to be killed by him. A visibly shaken Hanako then gravely informs Kou that there’s no bringing Sousuke back. Dead is dead, and the living shouldn’t be too kind, because there’s no future for the dead. “Nothing new begins.” Their only salvation is “annihilation”. Kou can’t believe it. He doesn’t want to. He’s sure there’s more he could have done…can do.

When Kou repeats all of his insults at Sousuke before telling him he’s his friend, I thought for a moment that the kid would actually come back; Kou has supernatural powers, after all. But he doesn’t. He’s gone, and all that’s left his his camera and the photos he took, including a candid one of his friend Kou.

Late into the night Kou stays up, remembering the friend everyone else forgot, grieving for that friend but not disheartened in his belief exorcists like him can do a little more than nothing about The Way Things Are regarding life and death.

Nene didn’t utter a single line and all we see of her is from behind for a couple seconds, but it doesn’t matter. This was the best, most affecting, most devastatingly beautiful episode of Hanako-kun to date.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 08 – Two Hearts at a Time

Thanks to Praline’s library guide and the Head Librarian’s own voice, Golem and Somali are able to locate Isolde Nebsolv, who not only was the last person to check out Chronicles of Haraiso, but actually wrote it. One of her head guards, Leigle, is suspicious of the intruders, but Isolde is glad to see them and all too happy to tell them the story from the now-destroyed book, the events of which took place many centuries ago.

Isolde’s ancestor Feodora was flying on her broom and got caught by dragon twister winds that blew her off course and wrecked her on an island. She’d later learn that Haraiso is not only the name of the island, but its “god”, a skinless golem. The rest of the island’s population are humans, who distrust all other “grotesques” except Haraiso.

Knowing this, and knowing of humans’ nature to fear the unknown and exterminate anything that is too different, Haraiso assures them the witch Feodora is actually a human and they have nothing to fear. Feodora quickly befriends Miya, the little girl who rescued her, and the rest of the villagers, as she slides into a pleasant, idyllic daily life.

The golem Haraiso eventually determines that Feodora will be able to fly home by riding the dragon twisters as they circle north to her home, but she’s hesitant to leave such a lovely place full of such kind people, and Miya doesn’t want her to go either. That’s when a “grotesque” appears: a large, two-headed beast that insists he has no quarrel with them.

The humans don’t believe or listen to their pleas for mercy, and they tie up, stone, beat, and cut the beast to death without mercy as Feodora watches. Even Miya tosses a stone. It’s clear now that her secret is a knife at her throat; she has to get out of here before she ends up like the beast.

But the morning of the day she’s to cast off, the villagers go looking for her, and Miya knows she’ll be at their spot: the bluff under the tree. When the winds pick up and toss Miya off the cliff and into some brittle branches, Feodora has no choice but to use her broom to swoop down and save her before she’s dashed on the rocks below.

All this happens in full sight of the villagers, who quickly ignore her heroics and start to call for her execution. Haraiso intervenes in time, pardoning Feodora for saving Miya but banishing her from the island. Feodora flies off, and only Miya bids her farewell. In the end, Feodora got through to Miya, and the friendship they shared overwrote her prejudice and fear.

Feodora shared her story with others, but considering how starkly it laid out how far apart humans and other clans were, it was decided not to write about it for a thousand years. Isolde wrote the book earlier than that, and for that, blames herself for the humans being wiped out. Still, Golem only sees it as a string of coincidences. Bottom line; humans and monsters were going to clash with or without this tale as ammo for the latter.

Before Isolde passes away in a cloud of butterflies, she considers herself fortunate to have not only met a human in Somali, but one who has friends among non-humans. It means perhaps she wasn’t wrong to write a book that, for all of the ways it depicted the humans as utterly incompatible, was at its core about two people: Feodora and Miya, who were able to reach an understanding and a bond.

There’s still hope for Somali, even after Golem dies, because of the friends she’s made. But it looks like Golem is still determined to find her fellow humans at the ends of the earth…just in case.

Chihayafuru 3 – 19 – Hollow Man

I don’t like Master Suo.

I don’t like his creepily soft voice, or his obsession with sweets, or the way he macks on Chihaya, or the way he plays karuta, or the way he’s clogging up a throne I’d rather see Arata in sooner rather than later. The show hasn’t gone out of its way to make him a likable character, as it has so many others whose backstories we only get at a crucial point in a match, but at least this week it makes the attempt.

Suo has always seen himself as “hollow,” taken away from deadbeat parents to live in the main family’s house full of relations young and old. One of his aunts took him under her wing, insisting that he one day “make something of himself.” We learn that he has the same affliction she has that narrows the field of vision and may one day blind him.

He doesn’t learn of this prognosis until he’s already attempted several different paths and, not feeling passion for any of them, moved on to another. It’s a pretty lady at college who first attracts him to karuta, and like everything else he picks it up quickly.

That young woman gets a boyfriend who’s not him, but he still becomes so good at karuta he scares opponents away, leading to the adoption of a playing style in which he intentionally narrows his margin of victory and forces opponents to fault. He feeds on the passion of others because he has none himself.

Sympathy for Suo can be found for those looking hard enough, in his unenviable parentage, his loyalty and devotion to his aunt and her wish for him to make something of himself, and the two ticking clocks in his eye sockets. Backed into a corner with no more room for slacking off, Suo then feeds off Dr. Harada’s passion in order to turn an eight-card deficit into a one-card advantage.

Dr. Harada has passion to spare, but after three games and change his knee is starting to howl, as he knew it would, hurting his focus. That knee makes him a little less surer of his form and speed, and a refocused Suo capitalizes. Kitano, well aware of Harada’s discomfort, looks past their decades of fierce rivalry, sees how close one of them is to beating him to the throne, and tosses his friend a cushion to ease the agony.

Over on the women’s side, it’s becoming clear to Shinobu that the cards have become fickle, and that some of them like Inokuma too. Shinobu makes it a point not to get into a luck-of-the-draw scenario, no longer sure the remaining cards will side with her.

In the end, Inokuma double-faults at the worst possible time, while Shinobu uses her left hand to reach confidently across the field. Inokuma is devastated and tearful by her loss, but Queen Wakamiya shows her kind side by asking Inokuma to count the cards, assuring her they still like her despite the loss.

That result gets Arata out of his sickbed and onto the subway, hoping to catch the end of the Master tournament in person. However, he probably should have stayed put, as there’s no guarantee he’ll get there in time, and the internet signal on his tablet cuts out every time his train goes into a tunnel (which, in tunnel-filled Japan, is often).

In between service interruptions, he manages to hear the word “luck”—Harada and Suo are in the luck-of-the-draw Shinobu managed to avoid. While I’m still not a big fan of Suo, and will be disappointed if after coming so close Dr. Harada comes up short, I at least understand the four-time Master a little better now. I just hope his musings this episode don’t set him up to not only win, but to decide not to retire.

After all, he’s still Master Suo…whom I dislike.

Chihayafuru 3 – 18 – Right Now is Everything

As her grandmother surfs her regular TV in vain, (somehow) unaware the tournament is streaming online, Shinobu loses her focus. She can’t hear the cards, and loses to Haruka, tying them at one game apiece.

It’s the first game in Queen tournament play she’s ever lost, and everyone is shocked. A lethargic Suo drops the second game in a row to Dr. Harada, meaning both Master and Queen are in check: one more loss means losing their titles.

During the two-hour break for the women, Haruka experiences acute morning sickness. The timing sucks, but she’s hoping this means her third child will be a daughter. As she tells Rion, this may be her last chance, but she’s not going to let a little nausea keep her from making the very most of it.

Shinobu tears off her gaudy kimono and rushes to the shrine to pray. Chihaya, sensing Shinobu is out of whack, follows her without a coat, leading Shiobu to lend her her Snowmaru scarf. Later, before the match, Chihaya insists upon fitting tatsuki to improve the Queen’s movement.

Shinobu may have gotten to where she is in part due to abject loneliness, and she doesn’t resent that trade-off, as she proceeds to win the third game with relative ease, restoring her focus. But it must nevertheless be heartening to have a so-called rival/maybe friend in Chihaya by her side when she needed someone, anyone.

Suo feels a solidarity with Shinobu, but only because of their statuses at the top of the karuta food chain (and possibly due to their shared social awkwardness and eccentricity). But there’s nothing he can really do to help Shinobu. In the third game, he trounces Harada by 17 cards, but Harada essentially threw the game.

Indeed, drawing from Chihaya’s final intel report, Harada is pulling out all the stops to attack and confuse the defending Master at every turn. This presents itself to the crowd as showing complete and utter contempt for one’s opponent, but considering the gap between their age and raw talent, and the ticking time bomb that is his leg, Harada can’t afford to play nice.

Unlike Suo, he has a wife, and he wants to make her proud. I’d be surprised if this doesn’t go to the fifth game, but hopefully he can.

Magia Record – 05 – The Ones They Lost

Unsurprisingly, the Seance Shrine isn’t so much a means of reuniting with someone you’ve lost as it is a magical girl trap. “Ui” looks like Ui, but the moment she starts talking the illusion is broken for Iroha, as the girl can only string together a few words in various combinations over and over again: “If you want to change your fate, come to Kamihama City.” Iroha is understandably disappointed; her search has hit a dead end.

Meanwhile, “Mifuyu” is far more convincing to Yachiyo, to the point Yachiyo is entranced. But while Mifuyu can draw from the memories they share, she is singlemindedly dedicated to making sure Yachiyo stays put right there, assuring her she’ll perfectly fit the hole in her heart. The whole time both Iroha and Yachiyo convene with their lost people, the chaotic visual cues of witches dance on the margins.

Iroha is able to break Yachiyo from Mifuyu’s hold, but when a witch arrives and neither they nor Tsuruno can easily defeat it, Iroha fights too hard, her soul gem becomes murky, and she transforms into a second witch and fight viciously attacks the first. This felt like a huge deal when it happened, and like the protagonist of the show was going to die in the first five episodes.

Iroha is “rescued” by none other than Mami, marking the first time characters from the two shows meet. Only Mami had no intention of saving Iroha, but to finish her off, assuming she’s a witch in human form. Yachiyo is able to get Mami to stand down and take her leave without further harm to the unconscious but unharmed Iroha, but not before warning Yachiyo and Tsuruno not to trust Iroha, as she’s still “hiding something.”

Iroha comes to at Yachiyo’s house. It’s too late for her to catch a train home so Yachiyo suggests she spend the night. Iroha take her up on the offer and returns to bed to rest, grateful for the hospitality (it’s apparently been a while since anyone has cooked for Iroha—I guess her own folks are too busy).

When Yachiyo checks in, she notices Iroha has been crying, and has a short vision of Mifuyu, whose room this likely once was. I imagine that despite her initially cold attitude towards Iroha, Yachiyo is happy to be hosting someone in that big lonely house.

That brings us to a post-credit sequence that is all over the map, with Kaede encountering both Momoko and Rena passed out while she takes the form of a witch. She isn’t any more sure what’s going on than I was, which is comforting, but it’s clear trouble is brewing for this magical girl trio.