The aquatope on white sand – 04 – The girl with the red boots

Aquatope continues to meld stories of personal pain and growth, hints of romance, and slice of life in a unique setting with aplomb. This week we meet another employee of the aquarium, the gentle giant Umi-yan. He’s the first to realize that Fuuka is the Fuuka formerly of Yona Pro, and soon spreads the word to Udon-chan and Karin.

After work when Kukuru stops by Udon’s, she and Karin tell Kukuru while Fuuka sits in awkward silence with Kai, who just happens to flip to a channel on TV showing Yona Pro at an event. Just seeing the girl she let usurp her causes a visceral reaction in Fuuka, and Kai, also in on the big secret, quickly changes the channel.

The next morning, three old ladies are drawn into the aquarium before opening time to bask in Fuuka’s youthful beauty. The next day is a big one; the “Touch Pool” where kids get to touch sea creatures rather than just look at them.

Kukuru decides to give Fuuka more responsibility by being an attendant to the pools. While gathering creatures for the pool, Kai asks Kukuru whether Fuuka, who entered their lives so suddenly, will leave it just as suddenly some day.

Fuuka takes to her new job like a fish to water, taking voracious notes and adding her own cute little touches to make it a more colorful and fun experience. She even upgrades to bright red boots, surprising the rest of the staff. But considering they all knew she was an idol, should they be surprised?

When the day comes, things go swimmingly…at first. The kids love Fuuka and she crammed enough knowledge of the creatures to back her charm up with helpful knowledge. But then some older kids spot her, recognize her as the fallen idol, and prepare to snap pictures. Karin steps into their shot just in time, asking that they please not take non-consensual photos of the staff.

Umi-yan takes over the pool while a visibly shaken Fuuka, who tried so hard to buck up, is taken to the back by Kukuru to calm down. Kukuru apologizes profusely for getting so caught up in making the touch pool a success that she didn’t consider how Fuuka would feel.

But Fuuka doesn’t want her to apologize. She chose to be an attendant, and was happy when Kukuru put her to work and praised her. It’s here when Fuuka realizes that she wants to do a good job because she wanted to get to know Kukuru better and get closer to her.

Kukuru, in turn, realizes she wanted to give Fuuka more work so she’d fall in love with Gama Gama even more, so she could become closer to her. Pracicing what they preach to the kids about how touching a sea creature is worth a hundred words about it, Fuuka takes Kukuru’s hand and places it on her face, and Kukuru does the same with Fuuka’s hand.

Like Karin and Udon, I was absolutely slain by this scene, as it was surpassingly adorable and heartwarming in equal measure. It’s also to date the most overt expression of the show’s shoujo-ai overtones. Kai seems to have a thing for Kukuru but they’re old old friends; it’s different. Fuuka, on the other hand, inspires passion in Kukuru, and the feeling is mutual. They make each other better while helping each other heal from their wounds.

Fuuka returns to the touch pools with heightened confidence and poise, looking the older kids head-on and welcoming them to ask her anything…provided it’s about sea creatures. They look suitably chastened…how would they like it if someone took pictures of them when they were working?

After a long, exhausting, but ultimately successful and immensely fun day, Kukuru and Fuuka ride home, and before hitting the hay exhibit a far closer and more comfortable rapport, with lots of smiles and laughs. No doubt due to the exertions of the day, they end up oversleeping, but don’t sweat it. In fact, Kukuru decides to start the day by pouncing on Fuuka.

Naturally, someone had to piss in this blissful bowl of Cheerios, but thankfully the dread I felt as they approached the aquarium that those loan sharks had committed some kind of vandalism was mistaken. Instead, Fuuka’s stern-looking mom has arrived in Okinawa…and she doesn’t look happy.

Considering we’ve got twenty more episodes to work with, would the series dare separate Fuuka and Kukuru just when they’ve gotten so close? I dearly hope not! Instead it’s my wish that, as they pray to Kijimunaa each morning, as long as they keep doing what’s right, everything will work out.


Yuru Camp△ 2 – 08 – Wabi-Sabi Worrywart

Chiaki, Aoi, and Ena take the episode off this week, as aside from a sprinkling of Sakura it’s a totally Nadeshiko & Rin show, and every moment of it is superbly sublime. It may be my imagination, but this is also an episode that gets a little more creative with camera angles and techniques.

We start with a very cinematic opening shot of Nadeshiko walking through a tunnel. It almost appears like Nadeshiko is walking down the tunnel to enter a Space Shuttle, but the drama is nicely subverted by her singing to herself about towns and the foods they’re known for.

In the middle of her uphill trudge, she stops to soak up the gorgeous view, only to stop herself lest she spoil the view from the campsite. Once she’s arrives, she revels in the wide open space, inspects the clean facilities, and says hi to a camping dad and his two kids.

Nadeshiko gets swept off her feet while laying out her ground cover, and bends one of her tent pegs (just like Rin did once), but is otherwise able to get her tent up without any trouble. She then breaks out all the groceries she bought and prepares for some culinary experimentation. The older of the two camping kids is bemused by this “loner girl”.

Meanwhile, Rin fakes out the audience by first lamenting another path closed for the winter (with another cool camera angle), but it’s a tunnel she already knew would be closed, which coincidentally leads to the Yashajin Pass, where she met the tea shop lady. After arriving in famously scenic Hayakawa and attempting to cross the suspension bridge over the lake, she continues on the Rindou Ikawa Amehata Line to the hot springs.

This also marks the first time a character in the show has uttered the term wabi-sabi, an aesthetic philosophy centered around the “acceptance of and appreciation for transience, imperfection, and incompletion”. In its depictions of Japan’s infrastructure and nature, Yuru Camp and its characters have been uniformly enthusiastic devotees of this worldview.

We get a Sakura sighting as she’s at a store that sells wild game considering whether to buy some deer or some bear paw, but after a quick Googling reveals a far-too-laborious process for cooking said paws, she goes for the easier deer. The final shot in the store is a novel fish-eye surveillance camera filming her from behind and at a distance.

After soaking in the pleasantly not-too-hot spring, Rin enjoys a spell in a massage chair, which must feel especially heavenly after all those hours in the moped saddle. She notices that Nadeshiko hasn’t texted her anything since the photo of her at the Tomato Mart, and decides to give her a call, only to get an automated “phone turned off or out of range” message.

That would be that, except that Rin is both a caring friend and feels responsible for Nadeshiko’s safety after getting her so interested in solo camping. Try as she might to put worries out of her mind, she instead envisions how she’d worry about her at various stages of her own camping trip.

She decides the only way to allay those fears is to take a slight detour and go check on her. Sakura seems to be on the same wavelength as Rin, as she uses the Find My Family app to discern Nadeshiko’s precise location.

Nadeshiko is actually doing just fine, having wrapped all of her veggies in foil and roasted them in a campfire she made inside the cooking pavilion. But when the two camping kids go to the pavilion to heat up their konbini dinners, again the older sister is bemused and a bit weary. Nadeshiko breaks out a little old country granny, further adding to the witch-like aura.

The little brother is the first to approach her, and learns that if she is a witch, she’s a good and kind witch, and one that’s great at outdoor cooking! She roasts a little bit of everything, with the tomato, potato, eggplant and sweet potatoes being particularly successful, the avocado less so, and the carrot gets over-charred.

Nadeshiko not only makes friends of the family, but also inspires the kids to cook next time they go camping, after finding out how easy it can be—literally just wrap a cheap sweet potato in foil, toss it into the flame, and wait! As they part ways, Rin arrives at the campsite to find that Nadeshiko is find, and cell phones just get spotty reception.

When she returns to the parking lot she encounters two glowing eyes and is scared shitless, but it’s just fellow worrywart Sakura, secretly checking in on her sister. The two decide, while they’re there, they might as well go up to the top to see the famously awesome nightscape. I mean, it’s a nightscape!

They do so—and the view is indeed awesome—but are almost caught but for the fact they could hear Nadeshiko coming from her singing to herself. They dash into the tall grass as Nadeshiko beholds the nightscape, takes a selfie, and then wanders around the area trying to find a bar with which to send it.

Rin and Sakura make it out of there without being seen, and as they drive off together, Sakura gets the selfie from Nadeshiko and has Rin stop so she can see it too, then offers to buy her dinner in town. As for Nadeshiko, she sets herself up in her cozy, toasty caterpillar-like sleeping bag on a bench overlooking the nightscape.

I for one am glad she didn’t spot Rin or Sakura, as it preserves the spirit, if not the letter, of the “solo-ness” of her trip, since she didn’t actually ask anyone to stop by and check on her, and there was no need to do so as she was perfectly fine on her own. That said, I’m sure she would have felt good knowing her friend and sister wouldn’t hesitate to do so, even if it diverted them from their own plans. That’s love, baby!

Yuru Camp△ – 12 (Fin) – Campvengers: Tentgame

The final episode of Yuru Camp’s first season ends somewhat confusingly with flash-forward that starts exactly how the previous episode ended: with Rin on a bike. Only this time instead of a moped it’s a motorcycle (possibly her grandpa’s), and ten years have passed. Rin meets up with Chiaki, Aoi, and Ena at Asagiri campground, which has presumably become a Christmas tradition ever since the first time.

It’s mentioned that Nadeshiko founded a camping equipment company that really took off, and just when I’m expecting her to arrive by helicopter, she arrives instead by rocket-powered tent instead—like the one in the OP! Turns out Nadeshiko of the present is merely musing about what the future might hold. Then Rin returns with the gas, ginger, and no alcohol for Toba-sensei, and she’s welcomed home.

While Aoi, Ena, and Chiaki take their baths first, Rin and Nadeshiko wonder why Toba-sensei isn’t with her boyfriend for Christmas, referring to the capable young lad who helped them start their fire on Lake Shibire. Turns out that wasn’t her boyfriend or her brother, but her kid sister, who is often mistaken for a boy. Their father instilled in them a love of camping, just as Rin’s gramps did for her.

Then it’s Rin, Nadeshiko and Toba-sensei’s turn to bathe, and upon returning find that everyone is sporting a “Shimarin Bun” courtesy of Ena, hairstylin’ extraordinaire. Nadeshiko wants the same treatment, and then agrees to take a group picture without realizing that Ena actually gave her more of a Cactuar-esque bun.

It’s a bit too early to turn in, so on Chiaki’s suggestion, they avail themselves of the streaming service she signed up for prior to the trip so they could watch media to their hearts’ content. While I’d normally object to breaking out the technology when they’re supposed to be enjoying the untouched wilderness, it’s a cold night, and they’re basically running out the clock until they’re sleepy enough to retire, so I’m fine with it.

Rin and Nadeshiko officially share a tent for the first time here, first lying outside and watching the starry sky. They talk about Moped Journey, and how part of it took place where Nadeshiko is from. Rin thinks she’ll be working for new years, while Nadeshiko isn’t having luck finding a job. Before Nadeshiko nods off while smiling, she says they should go camping lots more next year. Rin in turn smiles and agrees. It’s one of many lovely, quite moments of friendship this series has so excelled at.

Rin wakes up to a 5:00 AM alarm, and wakes Nadeshiko, who is still so out of it she wishes Rin a Happy New Year a week too early. Before the sun rises over a very blue Fuji-san, Rin helps out as Nadeshiko prepares a traditional Japanese breakfast, using leftover meat and broth from the sukiyaki and the ginger Rin bought to make Yamato stew to go with grilled salmon and Rin’s veggie and natto miso soup.

Everyone gets up to break their fast together, and suddenly the sun emerges from behind Fuji-san. It’s as beautiful a sight as you will ever see—whether in this episode or in real life—as all sunrises call to mind rebirth, redemption, and new beginnings in general. And this Christmas Camping trip was certainly the beginning of friendships which could last well past Nadeshiko’s ten-year look forward.

After breakfast, the six young women break camp, Sakura arrives to take Nadeshiko and Ena home, Toba-sensei drives Aoi and Chiaki home, and Rin rides home herself. A bit later, while Rin is working at the bookstore, she’s approached by Ena to buy a camping book, having liked her first experience camping in cold weather.

Meanwhile, Chiaki tells Aoi and Nadeshiko that she tried to recruit Ena while they were camping, but Ena isn’t quite ready to quit the “Going Home Club”.  And so, expecting to remain in their mail slot of a club room for the foreseeable future the trio gives it a top-to-bottom cleaning.

While walking home, Nadeshiko’s worries about seeking employment are allayed by a text from Rin, who puts her in contact with Ena, who has a temp job writing New Years cards and tells Nadeshiko there’s a position for her. This…This is how Nadeshiko’s ground-up camping supply empire gets started! Roll credits.

After the credits, Nadeshiko makes a solitary journey by bike to the same seaside campsite where Rin soloed back in the first episode, when I all but immediately fell in love with this series. As soon as she’s all set up (complete with her retro gas lamp), she gets a text from Rin asking what she’s up to.

Nadeshiko says she’s soloing; so is Rin. Rin asks where; Nadeshiko decides to make it a guessing game based on the photos. Rin sends back a photo fo the exact same place, only with Nadeshiko in the shot—they went to the same place! It’s such a beautiful moment of friendship I’m not ashamed to say I teared up a bit!

It’s pretty much the perfect epilogue, and while viewers of Yuru Camp would have to wait three excruciating years for more Rin and Nadeshiko (including 2020, which was more like ten years), All I need to do is hit “Next Episode” to continue following their story in Yuru Camp Season 2!

Yuru Camp△ – 11 – Campvengers: Sukiyaki War

Yuru Camp gets right down to the “final battle” of the season: the big unified Christmas Camping trip. After ten episodes of “forming a new team”, we finally get to watch them together in action, much like the Avengers was the culmination of numerous smaller stories. But first the team must meet at the appointed place and time: Asagiri Plateau Campgrounds, 2 PM.

There’s nothing like the beginning of these kinds of trips…so exciting and full of promise! Chiaki and Aoi are the first to arrive, having gotten a ride from Toba-sensei in her rugged-yet-cute Suzuki Hustler. They assure her not to worry about hiding her drinking, as she should enjoy the trip too. The next time they turn around, she’s tucking into her bacon and beer. It’s only noon, so they head to a nearby ice cream parlor.

Next to arrive is Rin via moped, who is also early. Even though she sees Aoi and Chiaki checked her in, they’re nowhere to be found (she fails to notice the sleeping Toba-sensei), so she sets her tent up where she feels is best, looking on her completed work with hands on her hips and a quietly spirited “Yosh!” A little later, “the hyper one” arrives, dropped off by her big sis.

Rather than join Aoi and Chiaki at the ice cream place, Rin whips up a tasty s’more-adjacent treat by placing stove-toasted marshmallows within chocolate sandwich cookies. Nadeshiko approves. When Aoi and Chiaki see that firewood is available for cheap, Rin takes her moped to their location to load it up…leaving one bundle for Chiaki to lug on her own.

Rin then gets a cryptic text from Saitou, saying she’s sent an “assassin” to the campsite. Turns out it’s just her fluffy Chihuahua Chikuwa, whom both Nadeshiko and Rin beckon to, only to be passed by in favor of the warm space beneath the sleeping Toba-sensei’s chair.

Everyone marvels at Saitou’s wonderful (and expensive!) down sleeping bag, then wander over to Rin’s spot to marvel at her setup. Rin isn’t used to the attention, but she doesn’t dislike it. Then the girls break out a frisbee and run around with the little kids, having fun and making the most of Asagiri’s wide open spaces.

As the sun starts to drop and the kids and their parents take off, the group has some hot cocoa—which of course Toba-sensei laces with rum. The group sits back and watch Fujiyama turn red, and then Aoi gets dinner started. Following the advice of her granny who told her to keep things simple when it comes to high quality beef (always good advice), she whips up a big pot of Kansai-style A5 beef sukiyaki.

When the sun is gone and it drops to freezing, Nadeshiko shows everyone her patent-pending “Blankiemonster” method of preserving body heat. Aoi delights in the different ways each girl reacts to the deliciousness of the dish, from Saitou and Rin’s quiet appreciation to Nadeshiko and Chiaki’s “full-body expressionism.” Toba-sensei cries because she forgot to bring sake, the perfect companion to sukiyaki.

Saitou then breaks out the Christmas trappings, including a little tree and Santa costumes for everyone and a reindeer headband for her pup. But Aoi isn’t done, using the leftover broth and onions and garlic fried in Chiaki’s skillet to make tomato sukiyaki, an altogether different experience.

When that’s done, she prepares for a third round of food, this time with cheese pasta. Only she and Nadeshiko seem game, but everyone else commits to no more than a bite or two, stuffed as they are. But disaster strikes: the stove runs out of gas, and Toba-sensei’s cylinder also runs out. Not only can they not use the range to make the pasta, but Nadeshiko won’t be able to make breakfast in the morning!

Nadeshiko starts to weep with despair, but Rin’s got this, changing back into her street clothes and heading out on her moped to a convenience store to buy more gas. Nadeshiko also asks her to buy a tube of ginger. Toba-sensei wants booze, but Rin’s too young to buy it, so tough.

As she heads out into the bitter cold night on her trusty steed, primed to return the hero of the group, a smile comes to Rin’s face: just as Saitou had said, it’s an entirely different vibe camping with a group, and especially so with this group of colorful characters. Rin admits that while it’s different fun, it’s still fun as hell—just as it’s ridiculously fun for the viewer to vicariously share in all their experiences.

The Day I Became a God – 08 – The Temporary Luster of a Miracle

Hina cries as she dreams of her late, beloved grandfather once again, but the next day—only the fifth left in the whole world—she’s her usual cheerful self as Sora shoots footage for the “making of” movie. Watching Hina interact with the others, he can’t help but want to know more about her.

If the world is to end as she says, he feels they’d be parting far too soon for his taste. So he asks his parents, and they’re refreshingly open with him. Hina isn’t a relation, but the granddaughter of a teacher and mentor to both of them. Her mother passed away, her father abandoned her, so gramps is all she had.

When he died, he made sure arrangements were made, dressing her up in conspicuous clothes so Youta’s parents would know it was her. They gladly took their mentor’s granddaughter in, but it’s up to Hina—and Youta—how long her stay lasts. It’s interesting to note that at no point do Youta’s parents mention the countdown to the end of the world.

The next day, Hina is ready for video games when Youta tells her he wants to find her real father. Hina is not nearly as enthusiastic about this, but if Youta thinks it will help him learn more about her, she’s game, and helps him locate his current residence. It just happens to be by the ocean, which Hina has never seen, so there’s a built-in incentive for her to come.

Youta comments that it almost feels like they’re eloping, but for the bento boxes his mom prepared for them. After a train ride, a bus ride, and a bit of a walk, they finally arrive at what looks like a dream house. Hina’s father guardedly welcomes them in. For a moment Youta believes neither her dad nor his wife can see Hina, but she merely requested a different kind of tea.

In truth they can see her just fine; they just have no idea the girl with lilac hair in nun cosplay is Hina. When Youta clarifies that it is indeed her, her father reacts as if he’s seen a ghost, while his wife drops her royal milk tea and completely loses it.

Hina’s dad moves their conversation to the beach and has Hina play with the family dog while he explains his shock to Youta. You see, he only knew Hina until age 7. All her life to that point, she suffered from the hereditary condition known as Logos Syndrome, which negatively affected both the brain and the muscles.

The last time he saw her she could barely stand or speak. As he tries to sort through his swirling emotions, part of him feels he should be angry, telling Youta how cruel it is to show him a healthy, happy Hina he had, to be perfectly frank, left for dead, and replaced with a new wife and kids. When Youta asks if there’s any way the father and Hina can reunite, he says it’s impossible.

Hina’s father already cut that bond, and every time an increasingly agitated Youta tries to take him to task for that—Your daughter is right there!, and such—he responds with “You’re young; you wouldn’t understand.” Youta admits he doesn’t, but Hina’s father says the time will come when he will. There is no cure or treatment for Logos, and he considers the luster of the miracle of a healthy Hina to be fleeting.

Hina has nothing to say to her biological father, so she and Youta take their leave. On the bus to the hotel where they’ll spend the night before returning home, Youta wonders what the point of the trip was. He’s pretty sure he would have preferred to remain ignorant of the existence of Hina’s father, just as he probably would have preferred not to know Hina still lived.

As for Hina, she’s her usual joyous, laughing self, playing with her food then getting excited about vintage Space Invaders in the rec room. When she notes Youta’s constant glum expression, she reminds him the world is about to end, which should be cause not to panic or despair, but to not worry about what one cannot control.

Youta has come to love Hina, as I have, but it sure looks like she’ll be a goner in four days. The rest of the world won’t end; Hina’s father and his happy family, Youta, Sora, their parents, Ashura, Kyouko, Kakou…they’ll all live on. Only Hina, who “became a god” 335 days ago, won’t be around in four more. But like Youta, I don’t want that, and I don’t want to believe her father.

Perhaps whatever treatment her grandfather administered allowed her to live for 339 days and no more. Or maybe Youta, possibly aided by Suzuki (who visits Hina’s dad that same night) and others, could end up saving her, delaying the end of her world indefinitely. One can hope…

The Day I Became a God – 07 – ‘Tis a Great Luxury

Seven days remain till the “end of the world”, whatever that entails (more on that later), so why spend them studying? Youta has the perfect out in the form of Sora completing her new script. Hina decides she’ll be the heroinc, but as Sora’s, like, the only member of the film club and her friends are, like, busy, it’s up to Youta to assemble a crew to shoot the flick.

Due to all of the good deeds Youta has done and lives he’s touched so far this summer, Hina assures him that all he needs to do is make some calls and he’ll get his crew. Sure enough, he gets the same group who showed up for the festival, plus Jinguugi’s ex-loan shark who mended his ways and Tengan Kakou’s, er…let’s call him her valet!

Like the festival, the film shoot enables these colorful characters to bounce off one another, particularly Hina and Kakou, who act like members of warring street gangs in their rivalry of one another. As Sora draws up some storyboards, Kakou and Kyouko watch Hina and Youta playing video games and are sticklers for the game’s lack of intelligent enemies.

Once the shooting starts, Youta quickly learns he must deal with Hina’s usual imperious old-timey way of talking even as she portrays a clumsy girl, since her character will eventually become the world’s savior. Kakou does the best she can do portraying an old man, while Hina and Youta share a surprisingly tender moment after she ruins a dozen eggs.

After Hina messes around with free CGI software to spice up the scenery of the footage, Director Sora wraps shooting for the day, and everyone goes their separate ways once more. Kyouko had so much fun she can’t help but smile and laugh to herself, and was particularly happy to see Youta and Hina get along so well.

Indeed, she even confesses to feeling a little jealous about their rapport. Back home, Youta wonders out loud if it’s really okay to be having so much fun when he should be studying…or preparing for the end of the world. Hina acknowledges that what they’re doing is a luxury, but one that is both called for…and earned.

Cut to Suzuki…Remember him; the hacker boy? In the final five minutes we follow him breathlessly from the back of a Lexus to infiltrating a lab where Dr. Korogi is believed to have spent time. Once in the server room, he digs up some research on “natural immune systems”.

Korogi’s old house is being demolished, so he and his handler Oguma must race to a junkyard to recover more clues. Suzuki saves some books and a frame picture from the chipper, and Oguma saves him from that same chipper. As for the photo, it’s of Dr. Korogi and…our girl Hina. With six days left, Suzuki and Youta’s worlds have finally merged.

Hina was the person Youta spent the most time with this week; before, during, and after the shoot. The reveal Hina is Dr. Korogi’s subject/creation gives their time together greater weight, and also contextualizes Hina’s belief in the imminent world’s end. More than ever, I’m convinced the “world” she speaks of is her own life, with the expectation that she will die having showed Youta a better way to live. Sounds pretty Maeda Jun-y to me!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 08 – The Dollmaker

I already adored Elaina, but now I have one more reason to love her: she’s as creeped out by dolls as I am! And, I imagine, most people? Who really wants dozens of tiny figures staring at you from a shelf? To each their own; I just feel like that’s a bit odd!

Despite the propensity of creepy dolls in this nation, Elaina sticks around, and learns from a fellow Witch, Sheila, that someone known as the “Ripper” has been going along “taking the lives” of women. Elaina also enters a store run by a kooky, sleep-deprived dollmaker who is also the world’s worst ventriloquist. Even though she’s giving the dolls away, Elaina would rather not take one.

She asks Elaina to look out, and Elaina being Elaina, she doesn’t commit to anything; you gotta admire her devotion to her independence. However, after stowing the doll in her hotel room in a closet so it won’t stare at her in the night, Elaina wakes up to find she’s the latest victim of the Ripper. Going by the adage “hair is a woman’s life”, the Ripper took her “life!”

A furious Elaina brings in Sheila, who is the second statuesque woman in as many weeks to declare Elaina “thin”, adding insult to injury. They discover the hotel room doll is gone and only its hair remains in the closet. Makee no mistake: Elaina is pissed that her ashen locks have been chopped, and she openly wishes the death penalty on whomever’s responsible!

After Shiela interrogates the innkeeper, she and Elaina learn that high-quality dolls with human hair are often sold at a late night “secret auction” in the city. The two dress the part, complete with masks, to indicate that they belong among those who “look like they’re doing something they shouldn’t”.

The auction turns out to be full of what I would call hardcore dolltakus—people harboring an obsession for dolls Elaina simply doesn’t get, even though she herself is pretty doll-like and she’s pretty in love with herself! That’s not a bad thing at all, mind you; just an observation!

When the lot comes up in which a doll looking like the one in her hotel is sporting her ashen hair, Elaina puts an end to the auction…with her wand. She takes the stage, rips it’s head off and stomps on it, demanding the Ripper to show themselves. She’s not fuckin’ around.

The Ripper turns out to be…the kooky dollmaker, because DUH. She also proves to be far kookier than I imagined, as she seems to basically get off on strong facial expressions, be they happiness, sadness, or anger. Yes, she makes a profit with the auction, but she gives all the money to charity.

That’s nice, but it doesn’t move Elaina in the least, so she conjures a giant golden birdcage with which Sheila can deliver her to the Magic Association. Also, as I suspected, Elaina doesn’t stick with her new bob cut, as she’s able to use magic to restore her hair to its original length. She also still maintains the Ripper deserved the death penalty.

When Sheila arrives at the UMA branch with her prisoner, she’s approached by Saya, and that’s when we learn Sheila has been Saya’s mentor all this time. When Sheila describes the traveling witch she met as having ashen hair and a dolphin brooch, Saya unilaterally takes over the Ripper’s interrogation, inadvertently making a face that causes the dollmaker to cry out in ecstasy. Alrighty then!

Read Crow’s review of episode 8 here!

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 07 – Walls Were Meant to Fall

Elaina fondly remembers a story from the Travels of Niké about a country separated into two halves by a wall. She shows the chiefs on both sides how to market themselves as the superior side: by having tourists and visitors etch their praise into the wall with blades.

Seeing Niké in this flashback resembles Elaina, I’m inclined to consider it further evidence her mom and Niké were one and the same, especially as her mom encourages Elaina to visit the country to find out who won the contest.

The thing is, over a decade later it’s Saya who makes it to this split country before Elaina. By then the outer coating of the wall has been weathered away by tourist praise, but the chiefs want to shake things up. Saya ends up etching her undying love for Elaina into the wall, and suggests that the townsfolk on both sides should do the same…it’s their wall, after all!

A little later, Elaina finally arrives, eager to see the wall and the results of the ongoing contest of the two sides…only to find a giant heap of rubble where the wall was. Turns out all that etching and erasing of messages by the townsfolk on both sides eventually causes the two sides to break through and meet each other.

By then no one remembered the source of enmity, and so decided to finish demolishing the wall.. This is great, right? Witches of two different generations (Niké and Saya) ended up being the catalyst for reunifying the country. The wall may be in ruins, but everyone looks happy. The sole exception is Elaina, who is disappointed she never got to see the wall, and also that the final score was an exact tie.

In a way, you could say Saya ruined Elaina’s childhood dreams. And in a final mark that the two are fated to reunite someday, the piece of rubble Elaina claims as a souvenir just happens to be a piece Saya etched “ELAINA” into!

A community separated by enmity is the basis of the second story, though instead of tracing history back to Niké, Elaina’s story is being told by a village chief who met her to his young son, while his wife stomps grapes in the background. Back when Elaina visited, the village was split into two: This and That. A bit on the nose, but fine!

Now of legal age, Elaina visited to sample the area’s famously delicious wine, but learns that That has begun dominating sales with a new label featuring Rosemary, a beautiful, buxom Grape-Stomping Maiden, and declaring the wine in the bottle to be made from grapes “lovingly stomped” by her.

Simply put, the villagers (or rather the male villagers) of This wish to recruit Elaina as a rival Grape-Stomping Maiden. Why don’t they just pick one of their own maidens? That’s never explained, though the women of the village are always in the background stewing ruefully (I imagine if they all agreed to withhold sex from their men, this childish nonsense would stop pretty quick!)

Elaina is given a charming red outfit to counter the green of Rosemary’s, but when she stops by the This side with a retinue of loyal That men carrying her on a litter, she most heartily laughs at Elaina’s “childish”, “thin” figure, deeming her unsuitable to lovingly stomp on grapes. That’s when Elaina’s confidence and competitive spirit kick into gear.

Technically, Rosemary is right: Elaina doesn’t lovingly stomp on the grapes…she hatefully stomps on them while screaming “DIE!”, as if she were stomping on Rosemary’s head. After a whole day of stomping, Elaina’s legs and feet are a wreck, but she only stomped enough grapes for maybe half a cask.

That’s when she becomes Witch Detective Elaina, thinking it fishy that That’s wine sells in so much higher numbers. Even if Rosemary stomped all day, every day (and she clearly doesn’t, since she had time to stop by This and trash talk them) she wouldn’t be able to stomp enough grapes. Elaina and the This Chief discover she’s sitting back and relaxing while all the men stomp the grapes at factory scale.

With Rosemary’s verbal barbs still stinging in Elaina’s side, she has a little revenge by tying up Rosemary and exposing the scam. But as she samples That’s wine for the first time, she admits it is indeed delicious. Then has another glass…then another, and before long, she’s drunk.

By this point the villagers of This and That have begun a grape-tossing fight, and when she’s hit in the grapey crossfire, she responds by launching a magical counterattack. Surely there are regulations against witching-while-intoxicated, but thankfully Elaina’s “grape bullets” only knock everyone out; no one is killed!

The morning after the grape fight, Elaina is gone, but the villagers of This and That eventually reconcile. The chief of This and Rosemary fall in love and marry. In the present-day where he’s telling the story to a kid, Rosemary is still stomping grapes, as beautiful as ever, and the grape-tossing festival is a tradition.

While Saya ended up essentially tearing down walls with her intense and heavy love, Elaina does so by getting lit and escalating an epic food fight. The grape maiden fetishism aspect is pretty gross all round, but both tales are lightweight, fun, and the visuals, as always, were beautifully executed, earning the episode an extra half-star.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Crow’s Episode 7 review is here!

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 06 – Truth is the Sword, Lies the Scabbard

Elaina’s next destination is an island city-state whose name has recently been changed to “Land of Truth-Tellers”. Their king has initiated a barrier around the whole of his domain in which no one can lie, either verbally or by writing. Elaina is weary of entering such a place but deems it worth the risk if it makes for a good story.

This being our ever-confident Elaina, she first tests the truth-telling effect by trying to say “I am not beautiful,” and later tries to write “I have a twisted personality”. Instead she ends up saying she is beautiful and writes that she’s pure of heart—both of which are the unvarnished truth.

Despite the seeming benefits of a society without lies, she finds the town quiet and oddly tense. She’s also approached by an unwashed young woman who asks non-verbally via a notepad if she’s the witch dispatched the United Magic Association. Again Elaina tells her the truth: she isn’t.

It’s when Elaina witnesses two young men fighting in the streets while others do nothing and watch that the problems with a lie-free society become clear: if everyone always says the truth, it’s much easier to end up in fights, which is why most people simply stay quiet. If you don’t have anything nice to say, etc.

But one witch decides to break up the lads’ fight mid-punch—Saya “the Charcoal Witch”, who is the UMA witch dispatched to the town! She’s so elated to see her beloved Elaina that her time-freezing spell dissipates and the lads punch each other square in the jaws. Elaina tries to take Saya’s extremely heavy feelings in stride.

Another effect of the truth barrier is that Saya, who is naturally quite the chatty person, will and does say everything rattling around in her mind, including all the things she wants to do with Elaina. But duty calls: she meets with the notepad woman, Eihemia the Quicksand Witch, who gives them the full situation.

When the King (with whom Eihemia was secretly infatuated) demanded she make his kingdom free of lies, she went all out to do so, locating a sword (which he’d later truthfully declare “lame”) powerful enough to serve as a vessel for the truth barrier’s magic. Unfortunately, in doing so Eihemia loses all of her magic and even her voice.

That means even though she did exactly what the king wanted, she ended up losing all the things that made her a useful member of his court, and she was banished from the palace. Had the episode wanted to go darker it could have explored what Eihemia has been forced to do to survive on the streets in a town with no lies, but it does not go there, which is probably for the best!

Her solution is clear: destroy the sword, and her magic and voice will be returned—as will the ability of the kingdom’s people to lie. Elaina and Saya get around having to write the truth by cleverly piecing together separate sentences then putting them together to gain access to the palace.

Once inside, they soon end up fighting off magical attacks from the king and his sword, one of which hits Saya square in the back and hurts like a bitch. When the king’s guards arrive, Elaina has Saya take care of them in the background while she reasons with the king.

The crux of her argument for destroying the sword: good people sometimes lie, while bad people will always find ways to bend the truth through the various loopholes in the barrier magic. To keep people from the little white lies we tell each other to get along every day will eventually be the kingdom’s undoing.

If truth is a sword, Elaina puts succinctly, lies are the scabbard that keep us from swinging that sword recklessly. Of course, scabbard in Japanese is apparently Saya, so Saya momentarily thinks Elaina called her name. Elaina then uses her broom to disarm the king and conjures a hammer to smash the sword to bits, thus lifting the curse of unchecked truth from his kingdom.

Eihemia’s voice and magic are restored, and she and the king reconcile when he agrees that some degree of lying and being lied to is necessary in any society. She returns to the court, and the king apologizes to his people. All’s well that ends well, and Saya gets paid for her trouble!

That turns out to be a good thing, since she had recently spend all of her money on matching dolphin necklaces for her and Elaina for when they crossed paths. Before heading back to UMA HQ, Saya takes her time tenderly putting the necklace on Elaina. Then the two pinky-swear to meet again someday.

This week was Elaina very nearly at its best. I for one don’t mind the darker stories like the one with the princess and dragon, but this was also great stuff; a feel-good fable-like high concept adventure that’s balanced by solid comedy. And of course, it is improved immeasurably by the return of the delightful Saya, voiced by Kurosawa Tomoyo, who brings so much effervescent vim and vigor to her characters.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 05 – A Familiar Face in a New Place

The show’s commitment to depicting all the facets of Elaina’s world, not just the pleasant ones, is admirable, but after three straight unsettling or cautionary tales, I imagine the primary refrain of viewers this week was “Could we get segment that’s not, like, a total bummer?”

Elaina wastes no time abiding: look, a town full of living people! The beautiful land of Royal Celesteria is just what the witch doctor ordered, but Elaina’s curiosity with the city’s Royal Magic Academy seems to get her in trouble, as she ends up being chased by a pack of magic students.

As a full-fledged Witch, Elaina is able to easily avoid capture and exhaust her pursuers, whose professor turns out to be Elaina’s own magical mentor, Fran, whom she hasn’t seen in a few years. Once she heard the Ashen Witch was in town, Fran thought it would be both good training and good fun for her students to go up against catch such a talented witch—tooting her own horn as well as Elaina’s!

Back in her academy chambers, Fran tells Elaina she should stop by home, as her mother is worried about her. Fran assumes Elaina’s mom was the reason she became a traveler, but Elaina tells her it was more the stories of Nike. Turns out the two share the same favorite story: of Nike passing the torch to her apprentice Foula.

I’m not sure how heavily we’re supposed to read into this, but it’s definitely hinted at that Nike and Elaina’s mom were the same person, and Fran was her “Foula”. Once she taught Fran everything she could, she became an “ordinary woman” and lived out her days at home.

Fran also tells Elaina about her own attempts to write a book about her journeys. While she wasn’t proud of her manuscript and lost it when she sold the bag it was in, Fran encourages Elaina to make full use of her diary, so that she too can hear about her apprentice’s fun memories someday (of course, we know they’re not always fun.)

The next day, Elaina joins Fran as a guest lecturer and assistant. After deftly handling silly questions about her (no, she doesn’t have a boyfriend!),  Elaina has a ton of fun helping to teach the young students how to calmly manipulate balls of water. It’s the first time she’s passing on the knowledge and wisdom passed to her from Fran, and she clearly finds passing it to the kids uniquely rewarding.

The evening before the day Elaina plans to leave, Fran takes her to her favorite view of Celesteria. When Elaina asks what will become of the students when they graduate, Fran says they’ll work in various jobs around the city, which we saw as Elaina explored earlier. But whether they deliver packages or taxiing people about, or performing magic tricks in the square, they’re all doing what they like, just as Fran is teaching—and Elaina is traveling—because they like it.

When asked what else Elaina likes, Fran gets her to say that butterflies are “okay” and that she likes flowers too. The next morning, Fran is late to see Elaina off, but Elaina is worried that if they have an extended goodbye she’ll have sad feelings about it later. Before she leaves, Fran appears with her students and gives her a shower of flowers, some of them flying like butterflies. It’s a fitting farewell to the wandering witch, who will surely have fond memories of her time in Celesteria.

I mean, considering where else she’s been and what she’s witnessed, I’m sure she was as eager for a joyful destination as we were! That leaves the framing device of the episode: Elaina finding Fran’s book in published form six months later, in a town not only full of Fran merchandise, but a prominent statue of the her in what Elaina thinks might be too cool a pose! In any case, next time she sees Fran—and she fully plans to—she’ll have a fun story to tell.

Some words on the episode from Crow here.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 10 – Flowers and Family

It’s Sports Day, which means it’s truly Sakura’s time to shine. She wows classmates and parents alike with her running speed, and while she accidentally lets a baton land on her head, she looks positively adorable while doing so.

When the time comes for the obstacle course race, Sakura and Syaoran find themselves beside each other in the starting blocks, and both are equally excited that Yukito is cheering them on. But while Sakura stays focused on winning, Syaoran looks over at Yukito one too many times and trips over his feet, letting Sakura win.

No sore winner, Sakura invites Syaoran to join her, Tomoyo, Touya, and Yukito for lunch, and Syaoran accepts when he hears Yukito is there and then marvels at the amount of food the kid can put away. Then Sakura’s dad arrives, as does Tomoyo’s mother Sonomi, who was his wife Nadeshiko’s cousin and protector.

She’s never forgiven him for stealing her away and then allowing her two die so young (sadly she was in the 27 Club). When Sonomi demands to know why he’s so cool about it, he tells her he promised his wife not to cry. Instead, he’s raised two great kids in an environment of love and happiness.

Even so, Sonomi won’t pass up another opportunity to challenge Sakura’s dad, so they both enter the parent’s 100m race. But as he’s mopping the floor with her, what had been a light dusting of flower petals becomes a veritable torrent, forming an increasingly thick carpet in the school’s main quad. Sakura and Syaoran simultaneously suspect a Clow Card, but the latter can’t leave the medical station in case there are injured.

Thankfully, this is not the toughest Clow Card. Sakura and Tomoyo learn from Kero-chan via Daidouji-brand cell phone that Flower is a fun-loving but gentle card who tends to show up around celebrations or other fun events, like sports days. When Sakura first approaches her, Flower pulls her into a joyful dance, but Sakura is eventually able to return her to card form before everyone in the quad is completely buried.

Sakura immediately puts Flower into use by giving both her father and Sonomi, who were in the midst of a quarrel, nadeshiko flowers. Nadeshiko Yamato is a Japanese term meaning “the epitome of pure, feminine beauty”; a floral metaphor for the ideal woman, whom Nadeshiko clearly was. Even Tomoyo’s long hair is a tribute to Nadeshiko’s flowing locks.

The two adults end up bonding over their shared love of her, while Sakura and Tomoyo profess their love for each other in turn. It’s all so wonderfully warm and fuzzy, there were moments I thought my heart might burst! Brimming with beautiful moments between family and friends, this was one of the most purely joyful CCS episodes yet.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 06 – Bye-Bye Loneliness

After Karyl returns “30% better” (and a certain additional % traumatized) the Gourmet Guild departs from the big city for their first real quest. They’re headed to a village called Targum to harvest a treasured spice of the same name. There’s a palpable sense of adventure and occasion to leaving the walls of the city thanks to the heroic direction and stirring overworld score.

When they make camp for the night and Karyl is unsuccessful in catching any fish in the “useless” lake, she dreads a supper of bugs or frogs. Pecorine comes to the rescue with a plump fowl she caught in the forest, and slow-cooks in a pit for maximum juiciness. She also found some sweet ripe fruits, one of which Kokkoro is about to eat when the other three start acting drunk. Unsurprisingly, Pecorine isn’t that different drunk, while Karyl is sloppier and more sentimental.

The next day while everyone’s guard is down, Yuuki is suddenly captured by a mischievous behemoth, but he’s rescued by a forest elf archer named Aoi, who is a self-professed “lonely soul” so desperate for friends she made one out of a small log. Hanazawa Kana provides the voice for both Aoi and her woody friend, whose bizarre antics and monologuing even make Yuuki a little weirded out.

The others eventually find Yuuki, and Aoi leads the guild to Targum, where they meet Misato, who along with her sister and Hatsune form the group called Forestier. She’s glad for the spice harvesting help, and announces that a third group, Elizabeth Park (to which llama-girl Rima belongs) is also on their way to the village. The Gourmets eventually encounter the eccentric Hatsune sleep-flying…a term I didn’t know I needed in my life until I witnessed it!

Unfortunately, Elizabeth Park encounters a lot more trouble than a Yuuki-glomping behemoth. Rima and her three comrades (including Hatsune’s ill sister Shiori) encounter strange “dark doppelgangers” of themselves (just like a woodsman did earlier in the episode). Liz-Park proceeds to fight them to a stalemate until a powerful warrior named Christina blasts the foes away and challenges them to a fight.

Shiori is separated from the others, and her dark double returns and appears to consume her in a ball of dark energy, leaving no trace. Even though I’ve just met Shiori (and her very extra sister), her fate represents the most genuine unknown peril we’ve seen befall someone. I imagine spice harvesting won’t be at the top of Forestier’s list of priorities next week…they’ve got a sister to save!

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 05 – Hospital of Horrors

This week Yuuki has a bad fever, so the girls take him to the hospital. At least, they think it’s a hospital. The eccentrically dressed (even for this world apparently) Doctor Mitsuki and her nurse Nanaka assure them that they’ll have Yuuki feeling “30% better” in no time, and to leave him in their care.

Turns out Mitsuki and Nanaka are part of a guild of dark mages called Twilight Caravan who bring in the injured to use for their experiments. Their third member Eriko, possibly the most unhinged of the three, is the very person Yuuki “rescued” with an onigiri, and is convinced he’s her “soulmate.” What she intends to do with him is left shrouded in mystery…but it can’t be good, right?

What had been a “make sure Yuuki gets the medical care needs” mission turns into a “rescue Yuuki from the demonic hospital full of loons”—note neither has anything to do with cooking or food. Kokkoro creates a diversion with her stinky backwater ritual while Karyl and Pecorine grab Yuuki and sneak him out of the hospital. But Karyl realizes if the others are going to get away successfully, she must offer herself as bait to distract the doctor and nurse.

While Yuuki is rescued, the party simply swapped his captivity for Karyl’s, who appears in the sky with her thumb up in a less-than-convincing sign she’s okay. However, when they visit another doctor in town, he confirms that Dr. Mitsuki is legit and that the lad will be on the mend in a couple of days. That means Karyl will probably be fine when—and if—she’s released.

While I usually don’t give much thought to source material of anime I watch, the fact that this is based on a game with lots of colorful players was not lost on me when a bunch of new characters were introduced. This week there’s no sign of those, but instead we get yet another set of introductions, and while they are indeed colorful there’s not much else to them, and their antics rob time from the core quartet and their culinary mandate.