Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 02

What I thought was the start of some kind of grand adventure involving Chakuro, Ouni, and Lykos turned out to be more of a quick stop. Lykos (which isn’t her real name) shows them the creatures called “Nous” that suck all emotion out of humans, leaving them “heartless.” Chakuro and Ouni only get a brief taste of the experience, but I imagine neither of them wanted to get a longer one, as intriguing an experience as it might’ve been.

They’re brought back to Falaina, where Ouni is thrown in jail, Lykos returns to the custody of the elders, and Chakuro is freed after “cooling his head”—just in time for the extraordinary periodic phenomenon involving swarms of glowing star locusts. Chakuro breaks Lykos out of confinement so she can see the event with him, and jealous vibes immediately emanate from Sami.

Having been away from…whatever it was she was doing on that other island, Lykos is definitely starting to show more emotion, and when she remembers the time her father gave her a piggyback ride (out of practicality, not love or any other emotion) she can’t help but cry. Chakuro thinks it’s normal, and it proves she has a heart. And anyone’s heart would be stirred by the light show they get.

But that night, Lykos almost told Chakuro something very important, and the next day, really really wants to tell that something to the council of Elders. She best she gets is Suou…but by then, any warning she might’ve given is too late: another island sidles up to Falaina and an attack is launched by its highly-prepared and more technologically advanced occupants.

Those we see are wearing clown makeup (not a great first impression), and Chakuro and Sami stare up at their airship in Miyazakian awe…right until they open fire, Sami jumps in front of Chakuro, and gets riddled with bullets. I was not expecting that! Poor Sami!

It’s a bold, dark new turn for what had been an pleasant Utopian slice-of-life. That’s not quite right: the introduction of Lykos and her lethal magic last week marked the beginning of the end of the “good times”, while the locust swarm was the punctuation mark for the Mud Whale as a place of peace and contentment, and even that peace may have been artificially maintained, as the elders likely knew something like this was possible and/or coming, and have kept all of the Marked in the dark.

It would seem our protagonist and his society are viewed as “sinners” in the outside world, perhaps because they still possess the emotions the Nous feed on and make no effort to purge them. Thus ends Chakuro’s official archive of the Mud Whale, and the beginning of his personal diary.

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Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 01 (First Impressions)

Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau, or Children of the Whales, begins with a funeral of a much-loved and admired 29-year-old teacher. She didn’t live a long live because she’s “Marked”, like 90 percent of the inhabitants of the Mud Whale. The Marked can use Thymia (magic), but are cursed with those short lives. The Unmarked, who live much longer, serve as the Mud Whale’s leaders.

It’s an efficient introduction to all the necessary whats and wherefores of this world that avoids being dry, and indeed is suffused with quite a bit of emotion due to the funeral of someone who went too soon. It’s also clear that as 90 percent of the population is doomed to die young, this mini-civilization travelling the shifting seas of sand aboard the Mud Whale may not have much of a future…unless there’s a change in the status quo.

Our window to this world is Chakuro, the teenage archivist of the Mud Whale who is not only Marked, but also “cursed” with the compulsion to record all he sees and hears, while trying to keep his own personal emotions out of it; a kind of Mud Whaleipædia. Other introductions include his sister Sami (also Marked), the chieftain Taisha (Unmarked), and her heir apparent Suou (also Unmarked).

One day, Chakuro looks out onto the usually empty horizon and spots a “Driftland”, a rare island full of supplies for the Mud Whale. He and Sami join a scouting party, who use their Thymia to keep their boats from sinking into the sand.

Chakuro finds a sword, and when he wanders off to look for Sami, he finds an injured Marked girl with a tan and light blue hair, surrounded by swords and holding a bloody one. The ruins, the swords, the tuna cans suggest a completely different culture at work on this island than the Mud Whale, a self-contained miniature world that has diverged due to isolation.

I for one feared the worst for Sami, but thanks to his Thymia Chakuro deflects the girl’s sword strike, she passes out, and he carries her to the rest of the party, where Sami is safe and sound. He also picks up a strange, intelligent furry mammal who tags along.

They take the girl, whose shit tag reads “Lykos”, back to the Mud Whale, and she is brought before the elders, who clearly fear she’s an unstable element that will shake up the status quo, flawed as it is by the short lives of the Marked. She is also deemed “emotionless”, and likes saying “I/we lack that.”

She simply doesn’t belong here, but the fact that she’s proof of an outside world beyond the Whale is a kind of infection that instantly takes root there, thanks to the fact Suou happens to be releasing a gang of rebellious Whale-dwellers from the “Bowels” or dungeon, led by Ouni, who happens to have the most powerful Thymia on the Whale.

As soon as Ouni hears there’s someone from the outside world, he acts quickly to pluck her from the elders, as well as Chakuro, who was spying on them.

Ouni and his gang aren’t interested in living out their short lives on the pathetically small Mud Whale; they want to explore and find what else is out there. Since Lykos is from out there, he takes her and Chakuro accompany him back to the Drifland to find more clues.

Thus the lines of conflict are drawn: the faction who wishes to maintain the Utopian society, studying to find a cure for the short lives of the Marked; and the upstarts who reject the Mud Whale as the one and only world they need concern themselves with, even if contamination with the outside world could doom the Whale much faster. Chakuro finds himself in the middle, but if there’s one thing he’s sure of, whatever happens, he’ll record everything he sees, hears, and experiences along the way.

CotW is a lush fantasy yarn in the spirit of Nagi-Asu or Gargantia with attractive character design, a warm pastelly-watercolor aesthetic, and an appropriately robust score. While it lacks the immediate visceral punch and grandeur of Made in Abyss, it has a lot of potential, especially once the small world of the Mud Whale starts to expand at Ouni’s behest.

Kakegurui – 12 (Fin)

Jamabi Yumeko’s charisma and obsession with her craft has netted her loyal friends in Suzui Ryouta, Sumeragi Itsuki, and Saotome Mary. Suzui isn’t even going to oppose her decision to challenge the President; he’ll stay by her side. So will the girls, but when they present a variety of ways to cheat in the upcoming gamble, Yumeko is grateful, but declines any shenanigans, which will only ruin the fun.

All she wants is to gamble with Momobami, and all Momobami wants is to gamble with her. They both decide to leave things up to fate—literally: the scoring in their game will be determined by the values on various cards in a Tarot deck. Momobami will pick for the past, Yumeko for the present, and Ryouta for the future.

But just one card, The Fool, could determine Momobami and Yumeko’s fates. Whomever loses must leave the academy forever.

This is pretty simple stuff, and it’s basically a means of determining if either gambler has the “stars aligned”, as it were, in their favor; considering the success both have found in past gambles, they’re both pretty “lucky” gamblers, but it’s their drive to make greater and riskier bets that enables them to access that luck, where more timid players may shrink.

I will say that the overseer of the game, the lolipop-sucking, fang-bearing Yomozuki Runa, is a frequent and grating distraction; it was never explained why she’s so tiny or why she wears an animal costume or how and why she’s so good at gambling that she’s on the student council, so it’s hard to care about her that much. But at least she’s not a direct participant in the game, just the ref.

When Yumeko draws a +1 card and Kirari draws a -21, putting Yumeko in a 20-point hole, one person who is a participant and ultimately does not shrink before his duty is Ryouta. While initially clearly scared of all the responsibility foisted upon him to the point of being overwhelmed, Yumeko calms him by assuring him that the responsibility is hers and hers alone; she chose this game, and will accept whatever outcome.

But Ryouta says she’s wrong: he is responsible for the card he chooses, and how it will affect both Yumeko’s future and his own. He doesn’t want her to leave the academy; he wants to remain by her side, either supporting her or playing against her.

His speech voicing his commitment causes Yumeko to have one of her patented gambling-gasms, the last of the season, and he avoids the card almost too obviously marked as potentially The Fool (the card that will cause Yumeko to automatically win) and instead draws Judgment, which nets Yumeko 20 points for a total of +21 to Kirari’s -21. It’s a draw – no one has to leave the academy.

With this result, essentially everyone wins: Momobami stays on as president, but seems open to dissolving the council in light of someone like Yumeko blowing up her “aquarium” for the better; Ryouta, Mary, and Itsuki don’t lose their crazy new friend; and Yumeko remains at the academy, and is able to continue doing what she loves best.

Despite the stakes, Kirari and Yumeko’s final gamble can’t really touch some of the previous gambles that had more time to marinate. As for the reveal that Runa is in contact with “Momobami Ririka”, the mask-wearing council member Kirari disguised herself as last week, elicited little more than a shrug from me.

But the stage is set for a possible second season down the road, perhaps with a fresh set of new, distorted faces, new alliances, and new gambles. If this episiode didn’t mark the end of Kakegurui, I’ll probably take a peek at its continuation.

Owarimonogatari S2 – 03

The first two 40-odd-minute episodes of this second “season” of Owarimonogatari, were good, but seemed to be lacking in something very crucial to an “Endstory” – an ending. So it’s just as well I was mistaken that there would only be two episodes, because this, the third episode, provides that ending.

And what a frikkin’ ending it is! Few series have been so painstakingly fastidious in their careful preparation of a nearly all-encompassing conclusion to the story of its protagonist than Monogatari has been with Araragi Koyomi. It’s only fitting that if indeed his story is over—a story in which he’s helped save so many cute young women, one after another—that the last person left for him to save is…himself.

At Shirahebi Park, formerly the site of Shirahebi Shrine and the town’s god, which was obliterated along with the lake by Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade landing there 400 years ago—a site of so many conversations between Koyomi and those girls—Izuko lays out the minimum requirements of victory.

First, that Hachikuji Mayoi be enshrined a the new god of North Shirahebi shrine, so that she has a purpose in the material world and won’t be swallowed by “the darkness”. Second: that Oshino Ougi be eliminated. Mind you, Izuko isn’t certain who or what Ougi is, only what she isn’t (i.e. Meme’s niece.)

That Ougi is a near-total unknown makes her a threat to the spiritual and physical health of the town, so she has to go, just as any of the other harmful apparitions that have cropped up.

As Itsuko convinces Koyomi (and me) of Ougi’s need to go, Ougi picks up Tsukihi (who is actually a phoenix in human disguise) from Nadeko’s house, where it was being underscored how much Nadeko thinks about and is working towards a finite future, whereas Tsukihi is content to simply live with others in an everlasting present.

I must admit, it felt for all the world like Ougi was either taking Tsukihi hostage (out of an abundance of caution in case Araragi didn’t join her side) or attempting to recruit the phoenix as a kind of last-ditch ally. In any case, the person Ougi is with quickly transitions from Tsukihi to Koyomi in that iconic ruined cram school classroom, who tells Ougi he’s ascertained her identity.

Ougi is, and always has been, him. She is he.

Eager to clearly explain everything, Owarimonogatari steps back a bit to the original meeting between Itsuko, Koyomi, Kiss-Shot, Mayoi, and Ononoki, and explains to Koyomi how Ougi is really him (all while everyone plays cricket in the park, after having played baseball earlier).

Ougi, originally introduced to Koyomi as a “fan” of Kanbaru, explains her name Ougi. Itsuko’s older sister (Kanbaru’s mother) faced a similar “unknown”, the “Rainy Devil”, who was the materialization of her self-control, and the left arm of which was passed to Suruga, her daughter.

When that arm came in contact with the First Minion’s energy drain, it connected the Devil, Koyomi, and Kiss-Shot, and by that route Koyomi’s desire to criticize himself for his actions were materialized into Oshino Ougi, or “Dark Koyomi.”

It’s a complex yet surprisingly elegant and satisfying explanation that ties together so many threads of the Monogatari mythos. Ougi is a fundamental product of all of Koyomi’s victories saving the girls in his life; victories that didn’t come without a great deal of self-doubt about the rightness or wrongness of the methods he used.

Itsuko used the immortal Tsukihi as a lure to draw Ougi out so Koyomi could do the same thing he’s done all along: “killing himself for the sake of others.” Ougi represents Koyomi’s adolescence, and it’s time to end it, and her.

It’s no coincidence that Koyomi is faced with having to “kill” his adolescence on the eve of graduation from high school and entry into college and adulthood. But when the true “darkness” opens up and is about to swallow Ougi, Koyomi finally goes against the grain and saves himself. 

He loses his right arm (and isn’t a vampire at the moment, so that’s a big deal), but Ougi is saved, and with it his adolescence (both his doubt, unfair self-critique, and love of young ladies)—even if it makes him “the worst” to put himself first.

Ougi is tickled, but saving Ougi only means he’ll be swallowed along with her by the “darkness”—until, that is, Hanekawa finally comes through, bringing Meme to the ruined classroom with only moments to spare, to declare that Oshino Ougi is his niece, and Koyomi has pushed her down and may not have the most honorable intentions with her.

These are lies, but the acknowledgement, like the words in a spell, are what were needed to legitimize Ougi’s existence in the world, and close the darkness. From that moment on, Ougi is no longer Dark Koyomi, or any part of him.

His adolescence is gone, replaced by nothing more or less than Meme’s ‘niece’. His lesson, all along, was that love isn’t forsaking yourself for the sake of others. He’s gotta think about number one from time to time.

But, as the epilogue illustrates, it’s not the end of Koyomi as we know him. He’s still him, which means if a young woman needs help, he’ll come to her aid and do anything he can. The difference is, that “anything” will now have a limit; “anything” is no longer “everything.” Koyomi can save and protect without sacrificing himself.

This is why the new god of North Shirahebi Shrine in Hachikuji Mayoi bows to him rather than the other way ’round; why an otherworldly powerful, fully-restored vampire in Kiss-Shot decides to return to the form of a far less strong young girl in his shadow; and before the graduation ceremony, Hitagi and Tsubasa let him go do his thing when he spots another young woman in distress.

And that’s it for Owarimonogatari! As I said, quite an epic ending; and one that covered a lot more than previous, “smaller” arcs. Chronologically speaking, Ougi Dark covers the second-latest Monogatari events adapted to TV, with only the already-released Hanamonogatari taking place later on the timeline.

I’ve yet to watch last year’s Koyomimonogatari ONA side-story, or the Shinobu-centric Kizumonogatari film trilogy that takes place at the very beginning of the chronological spectrum. Once I do, I’ll have watched everything Monogatari has to offer; a total span of 97 episodes. Of course, there are many novels that have yet to be adapted, so this remarkable run is most likely not quite finished.

Koi to Uso – 05

The potentially infamous Love Quadrangle Camping Trip from Hell is upon us, and things start out expectedly bumpy, with Ririna protesting Yukari’s choice to invite Nisaka along and Nisaka and Misaki exchanging looks that to us clearly look like two rivals in love, but to Yukari like they’re into each other.

Inevitably, Yukari ends up catching the girls playing in the river in their swimsuits, but neither accuses him of being a pervert. Indeed, Ririna thinks nothing of calling him over to play with them, only to twist her ankle and require he princess-carry her back to camp (since she considers piggyback to be too lewd).

Ririna is a bit of a tsundere for most of this trip where Yukari is concerned, but there’s a good reason for that: she’s increasingly unable to hold back her own feelings for Yukari for her good friend Misaki’s sake. Her face even blushes when she finds herself admiring Yukari as he talks so passionately about researching burial mounds.

Then there’s Nisaka, who Yukari has the exact wrong idea about. Nisaka isn’t into Misaki; he’s into Yukari. But despite having a golden opportunity to do so, Nisaka is unable to come out and confess this. But to be fair, this is a guy who likes guys in a society where guys are matched up with girls by the government and told in no uncertain terms (a la Adama) to “make babies.” Also he values his friendship with Yukari and doesn’t want to ruin it.

Despite the conflicting feelings floating around her head, Ririna is still committed to getting true lovers together as often as she can, even to the point of pairing herself with Nisaka, whom she has a very low opinion of, so Yukari and Misaki can be alone together.

Again, things turn out how one would expect: while chasing a firefly, Misaki slips and starts to fall down a hill. Yukari can’t catch her, but she grabs his arm and takes him down with her. They then spend a good long time on the ground, in each others’ arms, simply listening to their hearts pound against each other.

Nisaka is aware of Ririna’s gambit and straight-up questions what she hopes to get out of it. If Misaki and Yukari marry, it’s not like there’ll be some kind of ménage à trois situation, like the creator of Wonder Woman. Ririna could fall by the wayside…or would she?

And while we finally learn there are no overt criminal penalties, it’s made clear by Nisaka that those who reject their matches are marked for life, and will find it tougher to realize their futures. Nisaka minces no words in accusing Ririna of courting disaster. (I say if you’re as desperately in love as Misaki and Yukari seem to be, I’d say it’s worth it. You can’t put a price on happiness, be it fines or lost wages.)

But Ririna…just wants two people in love to be together. When the two pairs reunite and find the clearing where a cloud of fireflies pepper the night, she defiantly takes the hands of both Misaki and Yukari. Yukari then inadvertently twists her intention by taking Nisaka’s hand as well.

Whatever labels society wants to put on his relationships, Yukari just wants to exist in that beautiful place with people he likes. The camping trip ends with him still thinking Nisaka likes Misaki, but I’ll allow him his blissful ignorance a little longer. A new notice in the mail suggests this love quadrangle’s trials have only just begun.

Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name.)

Simply diving into a review immediately after watching a film as devastatingly gorgeous and emotionally affecting as Kimi no Na wa is probably not a great idea, but this is an anime review blog, so here goes.

Kimi no Na wa isn’t just a charming body-swap rom-com, or a time-travelling odyssey, or a disaster prevention caper, or a tale of impossibly cruel temporal and physical distance between two soul mates, or a reflection on the fragility and impermanence of everything from memories to cities, or a tissue-depleting tearjerker.

It’s all of those things and more. And it’s also one of, if not the best, movies I’ve ever seen, anime or otherwise.

After a cryptic prologue, Kimi no Na wa starts out modestly: Miyamizu Mitsuha, Shinto shrine maiden and daughter of a mayor, has grown restless in her small town world, so one night, shouts out tot he night that she wants to be reborn as a boy in Tokyo.

This, mind you, happens after an odd incident in which Mitsuha essentially lost a day, during which all her family and friends say she was acting very strange and non-Mitsuha-y…like a different person.

That’s because she was. She and a boy from Tokyo, Tachibana Taki, randomly swap bodies every so often when they’re dreaming. As such, they end up in the middle of their couldn’t-be-any-different lives; the only similarity being that both of them yearn for more.

Despite just meeting these characters, watching Mitsuha and Taki stumble through each other’s lives is immensely fun. And because this is a Shinkai film, that enjoyment is augmented by the master director’s preternatural visual sumptuousness and realism. Every frame of Mitsuha’s town and the grand vastness of Tokyo is so full of detail I found myself wanting to linger in all of them.

As the body-swapping continues, the two decide to lay down “ground rules” when in one another’s bodies—albeit rules both either bend or break with impunity—and make intricate reports in one another’s phone diaries detailing their activities during the swaps.

Interestingly, Mitsuha makes more progress with Taki’s restaurant co-worker crush Okudera than Taki (she like’s Taki’s “feminine side”), while the more assertive Taki proves more popular with boys and girls when Taki’s in her body.

Taki happens to be in Mitsuha’s body when her grandmother and sister Yotsuha make the long, epic trek from their home to the resting place of the “body” of their Shinto shrine’s god, an otherworldly place in more ways than one, to make an offering of kuchikamisake (sake made from saliva-fermented rice).

While the three admire the sunset, Mitsuha’s granny takes a good look at her and asks if he, Taki, is dreaming. Just then he wakes up back in his own body to learn Mitsuha has arranged a date with him and Okudera—one she genuinely wanted to attend.

Okudera seems to notice the change in Taki from the one Mitsuha inhabited; she can tell his mind is elsewhere, and even presumes he’s come to like someone else. Taki tries to call that someone else on his phone, but he gets an automated message.

Then, just like that, the body-swapping stops.

After having cut her hair, her red ribbon gone, Mitsuha attends the Autumn Festival with her friends Sayaka and Teshi. They’re treated to a glorious display in the night sky, as the comet Tiamat makes its once-every-1,200-years visit.

Taki decides if he can’t visit Mitsuha’s world in his dreams anymore, he’ll simply have to visit Mitsuha. Only problem is, he doesn’t know exactly what village she lives in. Okudera and one of his high school friends, who are worried about him, decide to tag along on his wild goose chase.

After a day of fruitless searching, Taki’s about to throw in the towel, when one of the proprietors of a restaurant notices his detailed sketch of Mitsuha’s town, recognizing it instantly as Itomori. Itomori…a town made famous when it was utterly destroyed three years ago by a meteor created from a fragment of the comet that fell to earth.

The grim reality that Taki and Mitsuha’s worlds were not in the same timeline is a horrendous gut punch, as is the bleak scenery of the site of the former town. Every lovingly-depicted detail of the town, and all of its unique culture, were blasted into oblivion.

Taki is incredulous (and freaked out), checking his phone for Mitsuha’s reports, but they disappear one by one, like the details of a dream slipping away from one’s memory. Later, Taki checks the register of 500 people who lost their lives in the disaster, and the punches only grow deeper: among the lost are Teshi, Sayaka…and Miyamizu Mitsuha.

After the initial levity of the body-swapping, this realization was a bitter pill to swallow, but would ultimately elevate the film to something far more epic and profound, especially when Taki doesn’t give up trying to somehow go back to the past, get back into Mitsuha’s body, and prevent all those people from getting killed, including her.

The thing that reminds him is the braided cord ribbon around his wrist, given to him at some point in the past by someone he doesn’t remember. He returns to the site where the offering was made to the shrine’s god, drinks the sake made by Mitsuha, stumbles and falls on his back, and sees a depiction of a meteor shower drawn on the cave ceiling.

I haven’t provided stills of the sequence that follows, but suffice it to say it looked and felt different from anything we’d seen and heard prior in the film, and evoked emotion on the same level as the famous flashback in Pixar’s Up. If you can stay dry-eyed during this sequence, good for you; consider a career being a Vulcan.

Taki then wakes up, miraculously back in Mitsuha’s body, and sets to work. The same hustle we saw in Taki’s restaurant job is put to a far more important end: preventing a horrific disaster. The town itself may be doomed—there’s no stopping that comet—but the people don’t have to be.

Convincing anyone that “we’re all going to die unless” is a tall order, but Taki doesn’t waver, formulating a plan with Teshi and Sayaka, and even trying (in vain) to convince Mitsuha’s father, the mayor, to evacuate.

While the stakes couldn’t be higher and the potential devastation still clear in the mind, it’s good to see some fun return. Sayaka’s “we have to save the town” to the shopkeep is a keeper.

Meanwhile, Mitsuha wakes up in the cave in Taki’s body, and is horrified by the results of the meteor strike. She recalls her quick day trip to Tokyo, when she encountered Taki on a subway train, but he didn’t remember her, because it would be three more years before their first swap.

Even so, he can’t help but ask her her name, and she gives it to him, as well as something to remember her by later: her hair ribbon, which he would keep around his wrist from that point on.

Both Taki-as-Mitsuha and Mitsuha-as-Taki finally meet face-to-face, in their proper bodies, thanks to the mysterious power of kataware-doki or twilight. It’s a gloriously-staged, momentous, and hugely gratifying moment…

…But it’s all too brief. Taki is able to write on Mitsuha’s hand, but she only gets one stoke on his when twilight ends, and Taki finds himself back in his body, in his time, still staring down that awful crater where Itomori used to be. And again, like a dream, the more moments pass, the harder it gets for him to remember her.

Back on the night of the Autumn Festival, Mitsuha, back in her time and body, takes over Taki’s evacuation plan. Teshi blows up a power substation with contractor explosives and hacks the town-wide broadcast system, and Sayaka sounds the evacuation. The townsfolk are mostly confused, however, and before long Sayaka is apprehended by authorities, who tell everyone to stay where they are, and Teshi is nabbed by his dad.

With her team out of commission, it’s all up to Mitsuha, who races to her father to make a final plea. On the way, she gets tripped up and takes a nasty spill. In the same timeline, a three-years-younger Taki, her ribbon around his wrist, watches the impossibly gorgeous display in the Tokyo sky as the comet breaks up. Mitsuha looks at her hand and finds that Taki didn’t write his name: he wrote “I love you.”

The meteor falls and unleashes a vast swath of destruction across the landscape, not sparing the horrors of seeing Itomori wiped off the face of the earth—another gut punch. Game Over, too, it would seem. After spending a cold lonely night up atop the former site of the town, he returns to Tokyo and moves on with his life, gradually forgetting all about Mitsuha, but still feeling for all the world like he should be remembering something, that he should be looking for someplace or someone.

Bit by bit, those unknowns start to appear before him; a grown Sayaka and Teshi in a Starbucks; a  passing woman with a red ribbon in her hair that makes him pause, just as his walking by makes her pause. But alas, it’s another missed connection; another classic Shinkai move: they may be on the same bridge in Shinjuku, but the distance between them in time and memory remains formidable.

Mitsuha goes job-hunting, enduring one failed interview after another, getting negative feedback about his suit from everyone, including Okudera, now married and hopeful Taki will one day find happiness.

While giving his spiel about why he wants to be an architect, he waxes poetic about building landscapes that leave heartwarming memories, since you’ll never know when such a landscape will suddenly not be there.

A sequence of Winter scenes of Tokyo flash by, and in light of what happened to Itomori quite by chance, that sequence makes a powerful and solemn statement: this is Tokyo, it is massive and complex and full of structures and people and culture found nowhere else in the world, but it is not permanent.

Nothing built by men can stand against the forces of nature and the heavens. All we can do is live among, appreciate, and preseve our works while we can. We’re only human, after all.

And yet, for all that harsh celestial certainty, there is one other thing that isn’t permanent in this film: Taki and Mitsuha’s separation. Eventually, the two find each other through the windows of separate trains, and race to a spot where they experience that odd feeling of knowing each other, while also being reasonably certain they’re strangers.

Taki almost walks away, but turns back and asks if they’ve met before. Mitsuha feels the exact same way, and as tears fill their eyes, they ask for each others names. Hey, what do you know, a happy ending that feels earned! And a meteor doesn’t fall on Tokyo, which is a huge bonus.

Last August this film was released, and gradually I started to hear rumblings of its quality, and of how it could very well be Shinkai’s Magnum Opus. I went in expecting a lot, and was not disappointed; if anything, I was bowled over by just how good this was.

Many millions of words have been written about Kimi no Na wa long before I finally gave it a watch, but I nevertheless submit this modest, ill-organized collection words and thoughts as a humble tribute to the greatness I’ve just witnessed. I’ll be seeing it again soon.

And if for some reason you haven’t seen it yourself…what are you doing reading this drivel? Find it and watch it at your nearest convenience. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll pump your fist in elation.

Koi to Uso – 04

Lilina comes over to Yukari’s for dinner, much to the joy of his giddy parents, who openly talk of how quickly they became intimate. Strange how the imminent threat of cultural extinction changes what is and isn’t proper dinnertime conversation!

Lilina also cleans up Yukari’s room, which is a bad look for Yukari, though in his defense he became engrossed in a book about burial mounds (as you do). I half-expected Lilina to discover his porn stash, only to find it’s all just burial mound magazines.

Lilina happily help cleans up though, not just because she can’t stand to sit around in squalor, but because the cleanup is an opportunity to dig up some more details on her new BFF Misaki, as well as get more out of Yukari about when he fell in love and how it felt.

Yukari’s pretty good at expressing this, especially how the very scenery in one’s everyday life changed after he fell for her.

Then two suits from “The Ministry of Love” show up to basically ask how the soon-to-be-happy couple is getting on, then giving them a speech about how great the Yukari Law is and how it’s way more precise and less prone to failed pairings than the arrange marriage laws of yore.

And while such a system might be admirable in theory, its complete and total disregard for actual love between non-paired people almost makes the medicine worse than the disease…if the disease weren’t the death of Japan due to no one making babies.

But the spooks say the same things others (including Misaki herself later!) have said, and something on which I agree: Yukari and Lilina do seem to make a good couple. Obviously that came down to the science determining that these two peoples’ personalities would be compatible, and there’s a slight temptation to say “well, what would be so wrong with them just getting married?”

Wellsir, that would be fine except for the fact Yukari loves someone else…and she loves him back. Lilina not only remains totally okay with Yukari kissing Misaki daily, she basically orders him to, not for his sake, but for that of Misaki’s happiness.


When Yukari tells Lilina he thinks it’s “weird” his assigned wife is telling him to kiss another girl, she promptly returns his volley with deadly accuracy: “it’s even weirder that the world forbids you from kissing the person you like.” Amen, sister!

So Yukari has his orders: he’s not to give up so soon, even though he believes Misaki has received her marriage notice. Which is odd, because I thought she already received it, and her assigned husband is Nisaka, and has been keeping it a big secret.

But even her odd little argument with Nisaka that Yukari gets a glimpse of could be anything. It could be Nisaka told her how he feels about Yukari, but Misaki remains firm that he’s her’s. When Yukari works with Misaki after school, he congratulates her, but he’s off base: she didn’t receive her notice.

Another titular lie? If not, why did the suits visit? And was it sheer coincidence such a science-y ministry asked Yukari where Misaki lives? Do they not have Google Maps? In any case, Misaki adds that no matter who was chosen to be her husband, Yukari will be “the only person who’ll ever be special to me,” before leaning in to kiss him.

Lilina, it would seem, was right: Misaki isn’t giving up, so neither should Yukari. Lilina doesn’t feel she has adequate skin in the game, and so doesn’t want to be yet another impediment to Real Love in a world that’s already turned against it. That’s noble, but I do hope, as seems to be the case, that she starts to grow closer to Yukari despite that.

For now, she’s still far more focused on Yukari and Misaki, to the point she invites Misaki to their two families’ camping trip, and she says yes. Not sure he’d be able to deal with the stress being in a triangle during the trip, he invites (and eventually bribes) Nisaki to come along too.

And so there you have it: an arranged couple on a camping trip, each bringing along a person in love with Yukari. Should be interesting!

Koi to Uso – 03

As Yukari continues to be pushed and pulled hither and thither by Lilina, it’s worth mentioning he wasn’t always so passive. Nisaka remembers being hassled by a bigger guy, and Yukari called the cops. Overreaction? Certainly, but it still took guts. He didn’t do nothing.

Meanwhile Lilina’s romantic experimentation continues apace; inviting both her betrothed and Misaki to her house; Misaki, who still utterly ignores him at school.

Misaki and Lilina get along swell, to the point the skittish Yukari simply fades until the background…but it isn’t long before Lilina asks to watch the two kiss—and they come very close to doing so, because Misaki (and not Yukari) leans into his lips.

At the last second, Yukari, flustered beyond belief, bails out, which Misaki thinks is “so cute.” Lilina can’t help but agree. But later, taking Lilina’s hands ever-so-tenderly into her own, Misaki tells her she wants her to fall in love with her future husband…because she doesn’t think she’s “the right girl” for him.

Lilina maintains that two people already in love—Misaki and Yukari—should kiss at least once a day, every day. As she walks part of the way with Yukari when he heads home, who should appear but Nisaka, who quickly labels Lilina (hiding behind Yukari) “well-tamed” and “still a virgin,” both very rude remarks Yukari should have been stronger to condemn.

Back at school, Yukari notices Misaki and Nisaka staring daggers into each other, and he immediately thinks the two most attractive people in his class (by his reckoning) look so perfect together that’s it’s likely, as unpleasant a prospect as it would be, that there’s something going on between them.

But while thinking and overthinking about it while changing after PE, Yukari finds himself behind the bell, and runs into Misaki in the hall, apparently waiting for him. He tells her about the kiss-a-day order from Lilina, but before Misaki can tell him what she told Lilina, a teacher walks past, forcing him to take her hand and move them behind a pillar.

There the two start making out, leaving Yukari to wonder how this could be “wrong” or “taboo” and why it’s so hard to lie and pretend they’re not something that they are; namely, in love.

While the teacher didn’t spot the two kissing, Nisaka does walk right by them, and his reaction is cryptic. I was thinking right until he leaned over to a dozing Yukari to give him a kiss that the big secret the show wanted to reveal is that Nisaka and Misaki have been selected to marry one another by the government.

And hey, that could still be true, but just as Lilina maintains she doesn’t love Yukari (at least not yet; that seems well on its way to changing), Nisaka certainly isn’t into Misaki, and vice-versa. Rather, Nisaka is into Yukari, and Yukari is simply oblivious.

So now we have a love quadrangle. And that reveals another wrinkle this whole Yukari Law mess: no same-sex marriage. You got me, show: I had no idea Nisaka would kiss Yukari. And I still think he’s Misaki’s still-secret arranged husband.

Koi to Uso – 02

Now that’s more bloody like it! After a frustratingly messy first episode, Koi to Uso gets back on track thanks to the introduction of Yukari’s future wife, the fair Sanada Lilina. The unrelenting enthusiasm of both kids’ parents really made me feel bad for them; it’s like some cruel joke being delivered with an easy smile.

But before Yukari and Lilina’s first meeting, Yukari comes to school (despite his mother calling him out for the meeting) to see and hear from Misaki…who has already put up a wall. She coldly tells Yukari she meant for them to remain pleasant memories, meaning “they” are now a thing of the past.

It puts an already nervous, frustrated, and above all scared Yukari in an even worse mood for the meeting with Lilina, who is both smart, gorgeous, and above all doesn’t take any shit from Yukari. She storms out when she’s fed up with his apathy, but he finds her in a linen closet, apologizes, and explains himself.

When he talks of his love for Misaki, Lilina responds in the opposite way Yukari expected: rather than jealous or angry, she’s intrigued, and only wants to hear more. She also wants to know the truth of his and Misaki’s love, which means she needs to know her side. But from what she can tell, Misaki is lying about being done with him.

So Yukari and Lilina return to their folks holding hands, and take a nice pic of each other to show their friends, and Misaki continues to pretend she doesn’t care. Then Yukari meets Lilina at her school, and like their first encounter alone, end up in a compromising position because Lilina has trouble realizing when, say, her shirt is unbuttoned, or she’s not wearing pants.

Rom-com cliche aside, the two end up having an earnest conversation. Lilina is nicknamed “Sanadamushi” or “tapeworm” by her peers because she was once very sickly, often absent from school, and as a result has always had trouble making friends; in fact, she has precisely zero!

Okay…that’s also a cliche. But her social awkwardness and open-bookness works in Yukari’s favor. If she was super-popular, or more like normal girls, Yukari would have a lot more trouble talking with her. She probably also wouldn’t do something as rash as confront Misaki the moment she sees her walking past her school.

The trick is, Yukari is out of sight for their confrontation and McDonalds meeting, so Misaki feels free to lift the wall and be earnest about her feelings for Yukari, not skimpin on details, which sound petty (or pathetic) to Misaki at first, but simply watching and hearing a glowing Misaki talk about her love has a strong effect on Lilina.

Misaki likewise is having fun, finally able to open up about her feelings to someone after hiding how she felt for years. She even gets Misaki to admit that while he lacks any composure, Yukari is at least “nice.” The two girls part for the time being, but Misaki promises to text Lilina; this is far from their last meeting.

The realization, soon confirmed by Yukari, that she made her first friend brings tears to Lilina’s eyes. She even questions if she likes Misaki, but it isn’t as if she wants to kiss her, a question that leads to Lilina asking Yukari if he ever kissed her.

His answer—”all the memories between us just kinda exploded”—is pretty much a perfect encapsulation of their turbo tryst. But again, rather than act upset, Lilina has a plan in mind for him and her new friend Misaki: she instructs him to kiss her one more time. That should go well!

In the meantime, it’s safe to say that while they’re hardly lovers, the fact Yukari and Lilina can speak so easily to one another about themselves proves that Misaki wan’t Lilina’s first friend after all—Yukari was.

Of course, the law dictates that they’ll have to be a whole lot more one day, and we still don’t know the identity Misaki’s betrothed (Yuusuke, perhaps, judging from their pointed interaction this week?), but one thing’s for certain: thanks in large part to Lilina, I’m now far more invested in this story.

Koi to Uso – 01 (First Impressions)

To combat its low birth rate, the Japanese government institutes a system of arranged marriage, selecting partners for its citizens when they turn sixteen. Romance between unassigned partners is FORBIDDEN. This…is a comically ludicrous system, but in Koi to Uso (Love and Lies) it’s the law of the land, and apparently it’s not only okay with most of the population, but has actually stabilized the population.

But c’mon, what the heck is up with that system? That’s straight-up eugenics right there. And when you dabble in that, you invariably end up with evil warlords like Khan. Thankfully, our two protagonists, Nejima Yukari (who has the same damn name as the system) and Takasaki Misaki (Hanazawa Kana), are among those who don’t subscribe to a system that coldly forbids them from being with the one they love; namely each other.

Unfortunately, the “romance” of Takasaki Misaki and Nejima Yukari is almost as big a farce as the Yukari Law. Consider: one day, years ago, after four class periods of hesitation, Yukari lends Misaki half of his eraser. She whispers “thank you” in his ear and smiles, and he falls deeply in love. Okay, he’s a little boy; she’s a pretty girl; fine.

But…But…that’s the extent of their contact together…for years, until he approaches her in the hall and asks her to meet up with him after school. After waiting about four hours, Yukari gets up to leave (after building sand burial mounds [??????]), but Misaki shows up at the last second.

When Yukari confesses, Misaki not only quickly returns his feelings, but the two embrace, have their first kiss, and then start french kissing in the space of a couple of minutes. After watching the slow development of a first romance in Tsuki ga Kirei, this development is waaay too fast and unearned. I don’t know either of these jokers! They barely know each other! I’m usually the one who thinks it takes too long to get to first-name basis or hand-holding or kissing…but this didn’t take enough time by half.

As if that wasn’t enough ludicrousness, right in the middle of making out, Yukari gets his government notice, but his phone is on the fritz like a TV, and he thinks he sees Misaki’s name before it cuts out completely.  Moments later, government officials appear in the park, at midnight, to personally deliver Yukari’s notice, which does not name Misaki, but someone named Sanada Lilina.

Did they use his GPS to find him? Couldn’t it wait till morning? Would a system as strict as this really allow such loose language about never marrying in its schools, like the kind we heard earlier in the episode. Devastated by the fake-out, Yukari then finds himself having to chase a distraught Misaki, and because she’s not on the track team, he catches her and they embrace once more.

So there you go: really bizarre authoritarian breeding system in an otherwise normal Japanese society; forbidden love that’s extremely fast-paced in its development, leaving no room for suspension of disbelief…and REALLY BIG EYES. Interested? No lying!

Tsuki ga Kirei – 12 (Fin)

Going into the finale, I held out a glimmer of hope that Kotarou would be able eke out a high enough score to get into Akane’s school, and even if he wasn’t accepted, they’d figure something out.

Well, the finale wastes no time giving us the answer, dropping the news that Kotarou was not accepted in the first minute. It’s a crushing blow, especially knowing how many “first loves” like this are ended by long distance.

Still, if he had passed and been able to attend high school with Akane, where would the drama be? Kotarou’s mentor tells him that nothing an author goes through is for naught; one could say the same of lovers.

One person who hopes long distance will change things is Akane’s sister, who reasonably asks Akane if she’ll take the move as an opportunity to break up with Kotarou and turn the page rather than endure the pain of the distance. Akane is adamant that that’s not what she wants…and that her sister is a jerk.

Another is Chinatsu, who is ecstatic when Kotarou is accepted to the municipal school and takes it to mean fate has worked out in her favor. She decides the time is right to confess to Kotarou; to tell him she’s always like him, and ask if she’s good enough.

And she’s just…not. Everything worked out in her favor except the most important thing: that Kotarou is able to return her feelings. He’s not. She accepts the loss (again) and tries to look forward to the next year with Kotarou as just a friend.

Chinatsu tells Akane about her confession attempt, but Kotarou doesn’t, which makes their last date together before her move more fraught. When Kotarou tells her all the ways HE will make this work—getting a job to afford train fare to Chiba as many times a week as he can manage—she becomes overwhelmed by the burden she believes she’s putting on him.

This is another case of these two being in uncharted territory with no map compass, or experience. Kotarou’s a great guy who loves Akane, but she needs more than for him to say HE’s got this; she has to be a participant in making their relationship survive, and because she’s anxious by nature (doubly so when it comes to him), his unceasing niceness actually works against him as she becomes overwhelmed, cries, kisses him, and runs off.

That meeting on the river is the last time they see each other…before the move, but Kotarou decides to take the advice of friends and start writing as a way to process his feelings. He posts the stories of his first tender love to an online board, where they resonate because everyone has been there, and many even wish they could go back to a time when love was so simple.

Ironically, he’s posting these stories at the end of those simple times. From here on out, things will get more complicated by all of the things in life that interfere or threaten what we want most: to simply be with the person we love.

Yet even though he’s too late to say goodbye to Akane in person either at her now-vacant house or at the train station, Kotarou’s feelings, and the fact they’ll never change, manage to get through to her, and they’re the same feelings she has for him: a deep, warm love that is poised to endure the challenges of growing into adulthood.

And so ends the first stage of the romance between Kotarou and Akane. It turns out not to be fleeting, as thanks to the magic of LINE they stay in touch almost constantly, and also meet up quite a bit once Kotarou makes enough money.

As the credits roll, we see the couple enjoying more firsts like movie night alone (with the parents coming home too early); their first trip together alone; missing out on chatting when Akane gets home too late; Kotarou having drinks with Akane’s parents; Akane being fitted for a wedding dress.

It may seem like jumping ahead, but Tsuki ga Kirei isn’t about these moments and days and nights years…it was the story of how these two found each other, fell in love, and never stopped loving. It was a foundation, and it was a damned strong one.

By the end, after the challenges of long distance and high school and entering the workplace and more hard work and more distance, Kotarou and Akane come out of it wonderfully, get married, and have a child.

It’s the happy ending I hoped for, but with the added bonus of having been earned due to the challenges endured and sacrifices made. And brothers and sisters, if any of you came out of this episode—and that beautiful closing montage in particular—with totally dry eyes, you may want to check your pulse!

Tsuki ga Kirei – 11

Sooo…this episode was just about perfect, which doesn’t really surprise me at this point. Kotarou and Akane are on splendid terms, so Kotarou faces two new conflicts this week, which prove more complex and challenging than winning Akane’s heart. Gaining the approval of his parents, and being accepted into Koumei.

We know Akane’s grades are great and her family is the reason she’s changing schools, so there’s not much tension on her end; just whether or not Kotarou will like her hand-knit scarf (which…DUH of course he will).  So instead we delve deep into Kotarou’s small, quiet family, and navigate the treacherous waters with him.

Like Kotarou and Akane’s romance, Kotarou’s problems with his folks are portrayed with a heightened sense of realism and equilibrium. His mom may sound worse than nails on a chalkboard when nagging Kotarou, but she’s only nagging because she cares so fiercely about her son’s future.

That being said, I don’t decry Kotarou pushing back against the path she’s already laid out in her head for him. It is HIS future, after all. But just as Kotarou was initially so bad at communicating his feelings (or anything else) with Akane, he’s equally bad at explaining why he’s so hellbent on attending Koumei.

Hell, he never even seems to try, which works against him early on as his mother quickly dismisses his intention to follow a “girl he likes” as teenage caprice. We know better—Kotarou near-as-makes-no-difference loves Akane, and she loves him, but his folks have no choice but to work with the information they have, which is scanty.

Rather than hearing it from him, Kotarou’s mother comes to gather more information on her own, as she watches her son furiously studying late into the night. She can tell he’s working hard for something he believes in, so obviously she’s not going to come in and crush his dreams by forcing him into a municipal school. Instead, she adopts a wait-and-see approach, putting her faith in her son by letting him hold the keys to his future.

The constant studying wears Kotarou down, and his mock exams are, uh, nothing special, so it’s great to see Akane spearhead a Christmas meetup that serves as a much-needed break for both of them, as well as an opportunity to exchange presents.

It’s lovely to watch the couple so comfortable and warm around each other, especially the lack of hesitation when they lean in for another kiss. You really get the feeling, both here and after all we’ve seen, that this isn’t mere puppy love; these kids have a future together…even if they don’t end up in the same school.

One night, Kotarou’s father lays it out: they’ll let him apply for Koumei, but if he fails, he’s going to a public school. Kotarou accepts the fair conditions, then stands slack-jawed when his dad tells him when his homeroom teacher told his mom Koumei wasn’t a realistic choice for Kotarou, she fought back, leading to an awesome thunderbolt of a quintessential Dad Line: “She can be naggy, but…Well, there you have it.”

Sure enough, when heading downstairs at 1 am for a snack, Kotarou finds his mother there, making some fresh onigiri; forming the balls with love, care, and gentleness before heading off to bed. His mom is no longer an impediment to his dreams of attending school with Akane. She never was. She saw the effort he was putting in, and decided to support and even fight for him.

The morning of his big, decisive exam—the last true impediment to his happiness (though not really since as I said their love seems likely to endure the lengthy but non-permanent distance)—both Kotarou’s mom and dad are up to make sure he has everything he needs, to wish him luck, and to see him off. And Kotarou does something he hadn’t done all episode, but sorely needed to do: he thanks his mom.

These family interactions are so understated and relatable, and really form a nice little arc within the episode as understanding is achieved between the parties and the conflict is revealed only as a measure of concern. Kotarou puts in the work to assure them they needn’t worry, and they show him that they are and always will be on his side.

Now he just needs to pass that goddamn exam!

Tsuki ga Kirei – 10

Akane’s text about moving is such a shock to Kotarou, he actually calls her on the phone (!) in what is known as a “phone call” for all of you born after the iPhone. Both seem terribly down about the idea of being apart, but also agree that they’ll make it work somehow.

That, despite the dubious success of long-distance relationships throughout history they can’t and shouldn’t think about, lest they get way too depressed. Kotarou also considers applying for the same school in Chiba she’ll be transferring to, which would obviously allow them to see each other regularly.

The festival that follows their talk will be the last one Akane attends as a resident of Kawagoe, so it too has a pall of sadness over it, even though the presence of Kotarou in full fox regalia performing the Hayashi dance on the mobile stage in the streets combines that sadness with a sense of awe and venerability.

But since Akane attends the festival with the track team, she inevitably ends up alone with Hira again, and at the worst possible time – when Akane is about to meet Kotarou on his break. Worse still, Kotarou happens to see the two together. Hira confesses to Akane, who promptly turns him down, but when she sees Kotarou, he can’t hide his annoyance and, yes, his anger; he can deny it all he wants!

While one could say he’s been over-possessive here (especially since Hira has no chance against him), let’s not forget how young and inexperienced in the relationship arts this kid is. He’s never been in a true “fight” with Akane until now; with “fight” meaning a failure to properly communicate at the proper time and place.

Both are miserable and still unable to talk to one another the next day, but by the time that day is at an end and Akane and Kotarou are done cram school, Akane notices a book on Koumei high schools was requested at the municipal-office-thingy-place, and Akane uses her mad running skillz to track down Kotarou.

He’s not coy; he was the one who requested the book. He’s seriously applying to her school, and was going to tell her once he told his parents (who still don’t know and at least one of whom, his mother, will be hard to convince).

Their silly row at the festival quickly fades away as a rush of happiness comes over Akane, after hearing Kotarou tell her whatever shape his future takes, he wants them to be together in it. That’s what Akane wants too, and after rushing into Kotarou’s arms, crying tears not of frustration, but joy, she quickly dries her raw eyes and leans in to kiss him.

Their road ahead will have more bumps, but I’m pretty dang confident in the staying power of this couple’s love…and confident the show isn’t about to break their—and our—hearts in the home stretch. They’re going to be just fine. I take comfort in that.