Fruits Basket – 40 – Daring to Meddle

It’s parent-teacher conference time, which means the inevitable re-reunion of Mayuko and Shigure. Tooru doesn’t know what the deal is with the “diamond dust”, but Mayuko impresses upon her the importance of not bearing everything by herself.

With Tooru’s folks passed she’s believed for a long time that her only path is to immediately join the workforce without further education. But she shouldn’t feel trapped on that path; there are still other possibilities.

After the conference, Tooru can’t fool Saki, who can detect her turbulent “waves”. Still, Tooru dismisses it as general anxiety they’re all feeling about the future. Arisa could model, but hasn’t really thought anything through, while Saki is taking baby steps: first she has to graduate, then she’ll go from there!

Meanwhile Kyou has his conference with Kazuma, and it’s notable for the fact that we never actually see it. Kazuma simply came to support Kyou, not to dictate to him what path he should choose. And while I’m confident Tooru, Kazuma, and others will be able to foil Akito’s plans to confine him, Kyou should still savor the peaceful present while it still exists.

That results in Tooru, Arisa, Hana, and Kyou having a somen party, but Yuki can’t have fun, because he’s on the phone with his mom asking if she could, ya know, actually show up. The next day he might wish he hadn’t urged her and simply had Shigure come for him, but the growth that comes out of their confrontation makes it worthwhile.

“Worthwhile” is not a word I’d used to describe Yuki’s mom. She embodies the soul of Gordon Gekko: “greed is good”, and sentiment is for losers. Yuki has always been a tool, and when Akito took a liking to him, his mom was all too happy to toss him into the abyss. I simply cannot stress enough how unforgivable this was, considering the psychological damage done to Yuki in that accursed estate.

Just hearing his mom on the phone or being in her presence is enough to not only return him to the dark and lonely, hopeless room of his childhood, but darken and sap of color the very room in which the conference is taking place. When Mayuko tries to interject, Yuki’s mom is ready with barbs about her unmarried status and silly school.

Then Ayame bursts through the door, resplendent in one of his handmade suits and bearing a huge bouquet of roses for his pal Hattori’s new squeeze. But more than anything, he’s there for his beloved little brother, who gave him a second chance even though he didn’t deserve it. He also blames his own failure to meet mom’s expectations, which made her shift them all to Yuki.

Yuki is shocked to see that their mother has no idea how to deal with Ayame, and eventually storms out in full retreat. Yuki decides not to squander the chance Ayame gave him, and proceeds to chase his mom down in the hall. It’s then that he notices, for the first time, how small and thin she is. Of course, his most vivid memory is of her towering over him, utterly ignoring his pleas for help with a placid, complacent smile.

Furuba doesn’t pretend that Yuki’s mom’s hardships weren’t real and considerable, but it doesn’t excuse what she did either. Yuki uses the simplest terms he can: he wants to live in the world, which requires effort he wants to put in.

Even if he fails, he’ll take pride in the effort. But to him, letting her decide what his life will be is no better than ending it altogether. Considering what she’s done to his life thus far, that’s not an exaggeration!

His mom leaves without responding, but perhaps maybe finally she heard his words. That’s the first step towards exploring what other times she hadn’t heard them, and the price he paid.

As with Ayame, she won’t get anywhere if she doesn’t reckon with what she did and didn’t do for Yuki when he needed love and protection her most. Unlike Ayame, she may ultimately be beyond saving. But hey, Yuki made the damn effort!

For that effort, Yuki gets to see Tooru in the hall just as the sun peeks back out of the clouds. Sakuragi grabs him for a StuCo emergency (Ayame has invaded the office and is considering re-taking command) but as he passes Tooru he smiles and they exchange the same words as family when leaving for the day: I’m off. Take Care.

Tooru’s “meddling” against Akito has barely begun, but it starts with little things that mean everything, like telling Yuki earlier in the episode that his path and future are his to choose, no matter what anyone else says, and being in that hall later, just when he needed her smile.

Read Crow’s episode 40/15 review here!

Kakushigoto – 12 (Fin) – Lifting the Veil

Kakushigoto’s finale is truly a crowd-pleaser, and I mean that in the best way. It spends its entire runtime in the “future” and painstakingly reveals all of the mysteries and answered all of the questions we might’ve gathered from the slow trickle of information throughout the season. It expertly released and justified all that built-up anticipation to deliver one satisfying reveal after another—including several secrets we didn’t consider!

For one thing, neither we nor Hime had any idea Kakushi was the love child of a kabuki actor and his mistress (though it explains a lot!). We didn’t know he had a half-sister, who had a son the same age as Hime, who visits her at the Kamakura house.

Among the other blanks of Kakushi’s story are also filled in, we learn that for ten years after his wife was lost at sea he spent a significant amount of his income on continued searches, not believing she was gone. When Hime was in middle school the tabloid article came out that killed his confidence in ever being able to make readers laugh again.

After finishing Tights and putting his pen down for good, Kakushi took on a number of menial labor jobs, culminating in perhaps the most ironic and symbolic accident imaginable: in a forklift accident he was crushed by a palate full of the very manga publication he quit drawing for.

Kakushi has been in a coma for over a year, but he same day Hime’s cousin visits her, he regains consciousness, and Ichiko and the Detective Agency escort Hime to the hospital, where they learn that he has amnesia—specifically,  he has no memories of the last seven years.

For Hime to finally see her father awake only for him to not recognize her seems almost too cruel, but I was confident Kakushigoto would find a clever way for things to eventually work out. Sure enough, the key to restoring Kakushi’s memories is the thing he loved doing for a living, despite keeping it secret from Hime.

Kakushi’s seven-year gap means he’s stuck in the time when Hime was ten (i.e. all those episodes that felt like the present at the time but are now the past). As such, he believes Tights in the Wind is still in publication…and he’s eager to get back to work.

His old team of assistants (including Rasuna, who is now an accomplished mangaka in her own right, with Tomaruin as her editor) gets back together, and turn the hospital room into a studio. Assuming Hime is a new assistant, he asks her to go to his house and make sure his daughter isn’t lonely. Of course, her daughter will always be least lonely when she’s with her dad.

Seeing her dad working for the first time is momentous for Hime; so much so that seeing him so happy doing what he loves makes her hesitant to continue efforts to restore his memories. He’ll get back the good times in the last seven years, but also all the heartbreak and despair.

What ultimately sways her is when she asks him if he’s happiest being able to continue drawing his manga, and he says no; the one thing that makes him happier than anything would be Hime growing up big and healthy. Hime rushes back to Kamakura, the Detective Agency in tow, and returns to the room with all of his manuscripts of the last seven years.

As Kakushi looks them over and remembers drawing them, he also remembers moments of Hime’s life that took place when he drew them. As the veil on those seven years of memories is pulled back, he watches Hime grow into the 18-year-old woman before him and finally recognizes his daughter. His first instinct, of course, is to try to hide the manga from her; to maintain the secret.

Now, as Kakushi prepares a comeback (perhaps with a story very similar to what we just watched…very meta!), we see the tables have turned: Hime has secrets of her own, like the fact that while she’s an accomplished and award-winning painter following her mother’s father’s footsteps, she also has a passion for drawing manga, something she’ll keep secret from her dad for a while. It’s only fair!

Kakushigoto was a beautiful blending of the clever, sometimes goofy, sometimes artfully intricate “miscommunication” humor of author Kumeta Kouji with genuine and powerful emotional stakes. It never felt too melodramatic or goofy because the drama and levity were always so well balanced. Indeed, that made it feel more real, despite how convoluted some of the mysteries and secrets turned out to be. The wit was sharp, while the heart was always warmed.

No matter how many walls or veils or feints Kakushi put up to keep his precious daughter from the truth of his livelihood, he couldn’t hide his true passion from her forever. Nor could the truth that whether he could feed that passion for a living or not was immaterial in the face of his overarching priority: ensuring Hime had a stable, happy childhood full of laughter and fun.

Hime is as stunningly awesome and beautiful an adult as she was an adorable, air-headed kid, and she has a bright future whether she pursues painting, manga, both, or neither. It can be said without reservation: Papa did good.

Fruits Basket – 36 (S2 11) – Don’t Pity Me

While their beach vacation had its good times and bad, it must feel good regardless when Shigure, Yuki, Kyou and Tooru arrive home. Their return is only marred by the unexpected presence of Ayame, who was housesitting came in the unlocked back door and made himself at home.

Ayame sets Yuki off a bit (though not as earlier visits might) which in turn leads to Yuki and Kyou fighting. But Tooru separates herself from the bickering to make a phone call.

Since she’s now resolved to break the curse, Tooru needs to gather information, so she starts by visiting Kazuma (in secret!) and telling him what Akito told her. He’s frank in warning her that Kyou’s confinement and the Zodiac members returning to the estate is without doubt one “potential future”—though he for one won’t let it happen without “resistance.”

Akito and the Zodiac members exist in a “world” impenetrable to outsiders, and the bond of their very blood may be the curse. Tooru thinks of bonds as precious things, but she’ll break them if she must. Kazuma urges Tooru to continuing being who she is and smiling around the Soumas as much as possible. Because when she does, “the world feels gentler” and the curse a bit less heavy.

Tooru leaves, runs briefly into Rin (hostile as always) who is also seeking Kazuma’s counsel. Then gears then shift to what was for me a long-awaited reunion of Kyou and Kagura.

In past encounters Kyou was a very different person, and Kagura knows he’s changed when the usual things she says that would Kyou him to yell at her are dealt with far differently. Kyou tells her he has something to say, but before she’ll hear him, she wants to go on one last date.

Kagura’s thoughts linger on their first encounter, when Kyou was a lonely boy drawing fried eggs in the dirt. Before she met him, Kagura thought she was being a burden to her family, but Kyou showed her that there are people truly suffering and deserving of pity; what true misfortune was In doing so, she was looking down at Kyou to build herself up, and while she’d come to feel awful about it, she kept doing it for years.

Then the incident occurred where she removed his rosary, saw his true form, and ran away screaming. Kyou was punished by not being allowed out as much, and Kagura decided the only way to purify her selfish, “unclean” self was to rationalize her feelings for him into unconditional love and devotion. Through all her dealings with him, she never thought about Kyou’s feelings, only her own.

Kyou’s reaction to all this is to tell Kagura was he’d meant to tell her the other day: he’s not in love with her, and he never will be. It’s a devastating hammerfall, but one he needed to say as much as Kagura needed to hear it, for it to be real. But Kyou makes clear it’s not because of her looking down on him, and that her hanging out with him in the past really did make him happy. She was, for a time, the provider of light and hope that Tooru is for him today.

Before going their separate ways, Kagura turns and declares her love for him over and over again until there are tears in her eyes, and Kyou again surprises her not by ignoring her or yelling, but tenderly embracing her and letting her cry into his chest until the tears have fully dried. When she comes home and her mother sees her puffy-eyed, Kagura rejects her pity.

Kagura accepts that it was time to hear what Kyou said, and to reflect on how selfish she’d been to that point. She’ll own that, and won’t share it with anyone; not her mother, and surely not Akito. Same with the gentle warmth and kindness of Kyou holding her until she’d cried it out. It’s all hers to cherish, and to one day move beyond.

Both Kazuma and Kagura (not to mention Ayame) represent people Tooru may be able to rely on as allies in her fight to save Kyou from confinement, though in Kagura’s case her blood bond could limit how much she can defy Akito (it remains to be seen where Rin stands). Even if Tooru has to do most of the bond-breaking and curse-lifting herself, she’ll need any and all the assistance she can get.

Read Crow’s write-up of episode 11 here.

Kakushigoto – 11 – Out With a Bang

When Hime calls for a “family meeting”, the fact there’s no dedicated meeting room in their house becomes an issue. As Kakushi goes on a walk to ruminate about it, he encounters two others dreading their own meetings in Tomaruin and Ichiko.

Of course, when all three converge at a disused well (the ancient equivalent of a water cooler), they each assume the other two are talking about their own meeting, and come away with heightened opinions of each other. Tomaruin’s editor’s meeting results in him securing a fancy dinner for himself, Kakushi, and the Editor-in-Chief.

Kakushi interprets this as a signal that his manga is about to get the axe. The conversation remains vague and never gets to a point where Kakushi’s misunderstanding is resolved. When it does enter details, such as the EIC mentioning “colored pages”, Kakushi believes that’s finally being offered as a way for him to “go out with a bang”; in reality the EIC just thinks Kakushi wants colored pages after a long time without.

Kakushi then relays this misunderstanding to his assistance, and they not only take it well, they all believe the timing is perfect for them to travel, finish school, or work on their own thing. Because everyone thinks this is it for the manga and there’s nothing to lose, Kakushi goes all out, and both editors and readers respond favorably.

It isn’t until Hime’s friends’ detective agency locates a suitable spot for a meeting with her dad (i.e. another well) that Kakushi learns the manga isn’t going anywhere, and never was. Tomaruin loses the manuscript pages down a well, and when he’s counting them as he retrieves them, he sounds for all the world like a ghost.

This freaks out both Hime and Kakushi, postponing their meeting, and Kakushi has Roku pull Hime to safety before discovering it’s just his editor. Once he has the right of things, he informs the assistants, who were all gung-ho about moving on, and a dark cloud settles over their heads.

Ultimately the meeting Hime wanted was about learning to make karaage to bring to a friend’s birthday. Since she’s too young to deep-fry, she wants her dad’s help, and Kakushi warmly accepts. Fast-forward six months, and the eleventh episode portrays not one but two parties for Hime’s eleventh birthday.

The first one is a cookout with both Hime’s and Kakushi’s friends and associates, and a good time is had by all. The second is just for Hime, Kakushi, and Roku, with a cake and a gift of a music box. Hime looks forward to spending more years with her dad, thinking these good times will never end.

But at some point, we know they did, and Hime and Kakushi became separated…somehow. The show is still coy about the particulars, but the day Hime turns eighteen is decidedly grey and morose.  With a big old Roku beside her, Hime wistfully flips through the album of good times past and secures her music box.

Then there’s a sound at the door, and when she answers, a key and a map were left behind, along with a note stating “secrets lie here”, referring to the marked location on the map. With just one episode left, we’re sure to get the last pieces to make the clearest picture yet of What Exactly Happened between her eleventh and eighteenth birthdays, and—hopefully—What Will Happen Next.

Kakushigoto – 10 – Prayers, Secrets, and Ghosts

Kakushi gets his team to aim for completion of a new issue in order to score a longer period off, but he only becomes truly motivated when Hime wins an Izu hot springs trip for the period he was aiming for. We get a glimpse at the class division between artists (who can only manage “cheap, close, and short” vacations) and editors (who can go overseas, like Tomaruin to Hawaii). Kakushi ends up working so hard for Hime’s sake, he comes down with a fever, something not at all uncommon among artists who put their work before their health.

When Hime wrote the kanji for “crab” a hundred times and then won a vacation that includes all-you-can-eat crab, Kakushi’s friends decide to draw up some sutras, choosing to believe in the power of prayer. Mind you, Hime wasn’t trying to write a prayer, but punish herself for eating all the chocolate butter biscuits (which, for the record, never last long in my house). But the crab connection was too enticing to ignore particularly for Kakushi’s three suitresses, whose sutras are marriage themed.

Once the Gotou party of three arrives at the Izu onsen (the inn graciously allows pets, so Roku gets to come), the dog starts growling at the adjacent room, which has a suspicious “under renovation” sign and strange aura. Kakushi is also anxious about Hime going to the woman’s side of the baths all alone, and so recruits Rasuna and Ami to accompany her. Only when they’re about to go in, Hime comes out, having already enjoyed a nice bath, and showing that she’s a more responsible girl than her dad gives her credit.

Kakushi observes that inns such as this that once hosted classical Japanese writers and other people of note must have its share of secrets. However, while in the restaurant he watches as everyone starts confessing their secrets one by one, from revealing they’re older or have had work done or that a dog is a mutt and not a Chihuahua. Peer pressure starts building around Kakushi, but he’s saved by a scream from Rasuna, who saw a creepy shadow in the empty room where the famous writer died.

Both the shadow and Roku’s interest turn out to be an ordinary civet peeking in the window. In the morning, Hime learns of the ghost sighting, and while she maintains she’s scared of ghosts, she’s also glad they’re around. She then muses on the reason ghosts are rarely seen and can’t be touched, one of the possible reasons being there are so many ghosts of those who died the world would simply be too crowded for their corporeal forms. It’s Hime’s usual childish whimsy combined with a wisdom and a poetry beyond her years.

Speaking of beyond years…Future Hime remembers all the times her dad came through the veranda trying to put up a brave front, but her being able to sense that he was anxious or depressed about something. Now that she knows of his manga, she assumes that was the job he quit. Then we return to Future Tomaruin and Rasuna. Tomaruin mentions the book that said Kakushi quit because he wasn’t popular, but in reality, he put his pen down willingly.

Why? Simple: his wife was lost at sea in a highly-publicized accident. Rasuna posits that such a horrific tragedy was anathema to a gag manga artist’s mystique, and Kakushi came to believe he couldn’t make anyone laugh anymore due to the tremendous grief in his heart from the incident in his private life. Yet, as we see in the present day, he kept creating gag manga after his wife’s death, hid his grief from his readers (which obviously tracks with both his name and the show’s title).

So did the public reveal of his wife’s loss not come until the period between the present and future timelines? And if he’s not dead in the future, could he be searching for her? With two episodes remaining, some key connecting pieces of this bittersweet puzzle have yet to be revealed.

Kakushigoto – 09 – The Time Traveling Virtuoso

We’re nearing the end of June IRL, but in the world of Hidden Things December has come. That means the harrowing end-of-year grind when editors crack the whip on the creatives. So why is Kakushi’s team so upbeat? Because they’re expecting the reward of a fancy hotel Christmas party at the end of the tunnel. Kakushi was originally not going to go, but will use whatever methods of motivation are needed to get through the grind.

Leave it to Tomaruin to pop everyone’s balloon of motivation by informing them that due to the publishing recession the company will only be holding a modest bar-and-karaoke gathering. Still, Rasuna scrounges up an invite from a rival publisher Kakushi worked for a while ago, and they are having a fancy party they can attend. Kakushi can even bring Hime, since it’s unlikely anyone there will recognize him as a mangaka.

Throughout this talk of parties is a discussion on the use of titles like “sensei” or “virtuoso” to describe mangakas. Those on the rungs below a manga artist use them as terms of respect; editors use them mockingly or as an expression of resentment. Naturally, Tomaruin calls Kakushi both, and for both reasons!

Kakushi likes the idea of showing Hime the “dignity” of his fake office job through a fancy party, and to correct her misapplication of the word “chandelier” to more lowly disco balls. He even digs himself a bit of a hole by calling December by its old Japanese name, Shiwasu, describing it as a time “when all the senseis are running” (due to the end-of-year grind).

Hime’s penchant for misinterpreting words means she starts to believe that all runners she sees are senseis, even though all senseis are runners—including her dad when he runs to get her after a misunderstanding regarding party invitations.

Tomaruin (perpetual thorn in Kakushi’s side, him!) invites Nadila to the lame party, so she take Hime there instead of the fancy hotel. Having already seen a “chandelier” at the karaoke, Hime assigns the term “Cinderella” to the real chandelier at the hotel, since it resembles that character’s flowing dress.

Kakushi learns he’s safe in his suit (no higher-ups at the rival publisher will suspect a mangaka of wearing one), but he has a different problem: that’s right, Tomaruin. He crashes the party hoping to poach an artist, and looks for one based on their outward appearance. In this case, since female artists are popular, a girl in a frilly dress flanked by a man in a suit.

The first such person to match that description…is Hime. She thankfully doesn’t recognize Tomaruin, but by taking back the business card given to her, Kakushi learns that it’s not the first Hime has gotten. Despite Hime’s misgivings, she actually attracts a lot of attention as a child magazine model.

When word spreads that there’s a poacher from a rival publisher, the exits are blocked. Tomaruin is dressed up dingily by Kakushi and the assistants in order to escape safely, but Kakushi himself is briefly suspected as the poacher—he’s wearing a suit, after all!

The misunderstanding is cleared up when a higher-up recognizes him. He’s reimbursed for his destroyed suit, but the bare-chested Kakushi needs some covering to leave, and must settle for the same embarrassing loli shirt Tomaruin wore to pose as a mangaka.

It’s a night of books incorrectly judged by their covers, but Hime still had a lot of fun, and Kakushi’s true profession remains a secret, so we’ll call it a win for him. Before heading home, the father and daughter encounter the “virtuoso” of chandeliers: a dazzling LED stylized Christmas tree Hime calls a “Super Cinderella.” Kakushi wisely doesn’t try to correct her…let her have her own adorable terms for things!

The ever-so-brief obligatory flash forward provides one more clue about Kakushi’s future status in the form of another incorrect term: “disappeared”. His former assistant Shiji, now working at a bookstore, sells a book to a customer about three mangakas who disappeared, one of whom is Kakushi, before quietly declaring that a lie. My first thought? He kept drawing, but merely changed pen names. In any case, I’m fearing the worst about this future less and less.

Kakushigoto – 08 – Surpassing the Rough Draft

This episode’s first half concerns rough drafts of all kinds, starting with the rough draft of Hime’s new Puppy, whose name is still accompanied by (Tentative). Hime wants the puppy’s name to be perfect, but if she waits too long, it won’t know what name to answer to.

Hime’s own name wasn’t chosen by Kakushi—it was unveiled in a calligraphy ceremony to which he was just another spectator. Still, he can’t deny it’s a damn good name, regardless of where it came from. Similarly, Hime picks “Gotou Roku” after misunderstanding the pet registrar.

Kakushi has actually attached (Tentative) to the title of all his manga, only for the (Tentative) to be eventually dropped in the absence of a better name. Once a name is chosen, even a tentative one, it becomes harder to justify changing it as time goes on.

This phenomenon also applies to rough drafts, in which Kakushi can never quite match in ink the full essence of the original pencil-drawn line. This, despite the fact that finished manga requires ink, leading him to attempt to submit the rough drafts—a submission quickly rejected by the brass.

While on a visit to the storage house in Kamakura to return the painting of his wife and her dog, Kakushi stumbles across another painting by his father-in-law: a portrait of him, his wife, and Hime enjoying a meal in that very house. It’s titled “Ordinary Future Plans (Tentative)”, but the title isn’t what’s tentative, the future is.

It’s a beautiful, idealized initial vision Kakushi feels he’s not yet been able to surpass, and  may never be able to do so. But simply returning home to Hime to find she’s made a friend, Kayo, who claims Hime “saved her” by reaching out with a hand of friendship, helps puts things in perspective for Kakushi.

The second half of the episode is about anniversaries, be they weird random ones like the 38th anniversary of the comic book in which Kakushi’s manga appears (which can sometimes spell desperation and trouble ahead), to something more round and substantial, like the 100th chapter of his manga. The former has a fancy crest and heavy promotion; the latter goes largely un-celebrated, but for a “flash mob” frame Rasuna snuck in.

When Hime hides something she’s reading from Kakushi when he comes home, he suspects she may have received a love letter, and tells her to politely decline while following her to see what swine would try to ask his Hime out. It turns out to be an invite to a birthday party, which Hime actually wants to go to. She only wavers because she’s worried about all the extra work Pops would have to do for her birthday party.

Doing his best to realign her priorities from “not troubling daddy” to “celebrating milestones while she still can”, Kakushi assures her that not only will he be honored to work his butt off throwing an awesome party to which she can invite anyone and everyone she wants, but they’ll also have a party that’s just the two of them (plus Roku).

That last bit is important, because as soon as Hime sees Kakushi with the pretty cooking tutor in the kitchen, she becomes weary of losing her very important and exclusive father-daughter bond. That bond may not have been planned, nor did Kakushi plan on “being saved” by Hime like her new friend Kayo. But before he knew it, the (Tentative) became the final.

As Hime learns upon discovering a house in Kamakura just like the one she grew up in Nakameguro, which has a stained glass window depicting a happy family of three, a great deal was planned out prior to her awareness, from methods of upbringing to clothing and celebration guides. But it dawns on her that this house, which was initially meant to be her home, was abandoned in favor of the other house.

An older Tomaruin and Rasuna muse over the practicalities of Kakushi moving to an identical house closer to the city, in part so his assistants wouldn’t have to travel so far to work on manga with him. But despite not growing up in that first draft house in Kamakura, it’s clear Hime still had a happy childhood in its second draft in Nakameguro.

Vinland Saga – 24 (Fin) – The Prelude Hath Ended

I tell you, gentle reader, I was not ready for the epic-ness this episode dished out, nor the way it completely exploded my idea of where I thought this show might be headed in a rhetorical second season. But I don’t watch shows to have my feeble theories proven right; I watch to be entertained and surprised, which I very much was. Though in hindsight, it was folly not to expect absolutely anything from Askeladd.

Last week we saw Askeladd dreading the corner into which he’d been pushed. On one hand, he must make nice with King Sweyn in order to keep the longer-term plans for Canute’s ascent viable. On the other, Sweyn seems to have deduced Askeladd’s Kryptonite to be Wales, and aims to mercilessly exploit that weakness.

Sweyn entertains Askeladd’s boldness after he attempts to dissuade the king with logic: Wales just isn’t worth it. But in exchange for his lenience, he draws in close to Askeladd and gives him a choice: Canute or Wales. He can only save one. Sweyn twists the knife by telling Askeladd the only good export from Wales is slaves.

Out at the port, Thorfinn boards Leif’s ship—the very same ship he dreamed of boarding as a boy so he could join Erikson on his adventures hither and thither. Finally he’s been given permission to embark, but Thorfinn’s attention is captured by a seabird preening then taking flight into the bright blue sky.

It almost looks like a metaphor for Thorfinn’s present state of freedom and potential for more, but it turns out to be an omen. The bird isn’t his freedom, but the lodestar to which he’s hitched his wagon these past eleven years, about to take off without him. Thorfinn suddenly vanishes from the ship, to Leif’s unyielding dismay.

Let it be said that Askeladd is, as Thorkell puts it, “good with words.” It’s why he had his own loyal army for so long, and why he’s able to openly question the king’s judgment.  But he’s always had deep thoughts to match behind those words, as well as decisive action to back them up. But had thought long and hard for a scenario in which Sweyn would make him choose between his homeland and his chosen heir to the throne?

Hard, perhaps; long, hard to say. “Plan B” happens in a hurry, because Askeladd would never get as good a chance as he had in that moment. So he draws his sword and beheads Sweyn with one swipe before the guards can come near. If he and Sweyn were playing chess, this is Ashy flipping the board and letting the pieces clatter on the ground in chaos. He also reveals his true birth name, Lucius Artorius Castus, offering it as proof he is the rightful King of England.

Askeladd, to most in the hall, appears to have gone quite mad, and the extremity of his rambling continues as he carves through the guards, who it is notable to mention follow orders from Prince Canute. Askeladd isn’t really mad at all; he simply surveyed the board and knew he wouldn’t win without sacrifice. When Canute tells Thorkell of Askeladd’s “act”, Thorkell makes it clear that it must be Canute who executes his father’s murderer.

Canute manages to do so, plunging his sword into Askeladd’s heart, impressing the old man with the precision of his first killing strike. Thorfinn is too late to stop it. The plans surrounding who will rule the Danes and England proved too large and important to pay any bother to his personal vendetta, something that had gone on so long it had soured into a pathetic futility; a source of pathos, not fear.

When a stunned Thorfinn suddenly lashes out at Canute, cutting his perfect cheek, the new king’s loyal subjects line up to kill his would-be assassin. But Canute interrupts their attempts to win favor with the new boss; Thorfinn still isn’t that important. Canute immediately cancels any incursions into Wales, and as everyone assembled bends the knee, he orders his armies to prepare for English revolts in the wake of his father’s death.

The conquered must be made to understand that the new king has no intention of giving up what has been taken. Thorfinn could potentially have a part in that, thanks only to Canute’s surpassing charity, which saved his life. It would be too easy to say Canute did a disservice to Thorfinn, even if the kid’s life has never looked bleaker.

There he sits, beside the fresh corpse of his surrogate father and nemesis, unable and even possibly incapable of even considering how he’ll live the next five minutes, let alone the remaining years of his life. Before he dies, Askeladd begged Thorfinn not to let himself get stuck in “such a boring place” as he currently inhabits.

As he’s carried away, Thors’ dagger falls out of his son’s hand, the past twenty-four episodes of Vinland Saga thus far rapidly unfold, reflected in the blade. Then we’re teased with new locations and new characters, but no explicit announcement of a second season. While it seems highly likely one is coming, questions abound: Will Thorfinn be a part of it, or will his story conclude in an upcoming film?

Whatever the case, this finale was a brilliant culmination of the events that have unfolded thus far, with the stories of old players like Sweyn and Askeladd coming to a close and the stories of young players like Thorfinn and Canute still up in the air. More than anything, it left me wanting more, and hoping to get it as soon as possible. After all, if such a tremendous work was merely the prologue, how does that bode for the story proper?

No Guns Life – 10 – Tomorrow Never Knows

From the moment he prepares to leave on his job, which turns out to be blowing up a train full of Berühren officials for Spitzbergen, Colt is prepared for this to be his final day. He’s not thinking about tomorrow for himself, only his bedridden mother and his two little sisters.

They’re slowly starving, looking as if they’ve come straight out of Grave of the Fireflies. The life in their eyes is fading, but Colt hopes to give them a future in the form of money, even if he won’t be around to enjoy it with them. It’s a simple yet powerful look into the marginalized lives Berühren grinds under its boots every day to further its own ambitions.

When Tetsuro comes to the arranged place and time, he and Mary soon learn what Colt is about to do. When Mary is almost arrested by a security bot, Tetsuro takes it over, and when they find Colt about to carry out his plan, he initially mistakes the bot as an enemy until realizing it’s Tetsuro.

Regardless, as much as Tetsuro (lawful good in this case) pleads with Colt (chaotic good) not to commit a crime that will hurt people (even lawful evil people), Colt sees this as the only option left to him that will secure a tomorrow for his family. He’s committed to being the means to and end—the end of their suffering—and nothing more.

Colt’s plan is turned on its head when a higher-level Berühren heavy shows up and tells him there are no targets on the train he means to bomb: only innocent protesters and children. Now not only will Colt not get paid, but Spitzbergen will be tagged as mindless terrorists who’ll just kill anyone.

Not about to let that happen, Colt leaps to the car where the bomb is and extracts it, but before he can toss it away, his meds give out and he can no longer move. That’s when Tetsuro ups his Harmony, giving his security bot a second wind, and tosses the bomb away, saving Colt and the innocents.

Colt took quite a bit of damage to both his cybernetic and organic parts, and all Tetsuro can do is use Harmony to help get him home. Alas, he dies of his injuries right outside that home, before he can say goodbye to his family. We also learn it’s doubtful he’ll even be paid, as the Spitzbergen contact is arrested by Juuzou and handed over to the Security Bureau’s Chief Rosso.

I worry for Colt’s mom and kids, especially as they’re only three in a city of thousands in such a hopeless situation. Will Mary, who never found out anything about Victor, bring them into Juuzou’s place? There’s only so much they can do, especially when a new danger in Pepper is waiting for Juuzou as soon as he returns to his office. It’s just one thing after another, and any one of those things could mean no more tomorrows.

BokuBen 2 – 10 – Naming A New Star

Nariyuki wakes to find he and Fumino have the house all to themselves. Fumino is by the sink preparing breakfast like an idyllic wive. It turns out she’s terrible at cooking (and cleaning), but Nariyuki doesn’t care, and neither would I. As with her studies, Fumino is working hard at something she’s not great at, and her energy and enthusiasm are contagious.

But while Nariyuki appreciates Fumino’s heartfelt efforts to be a good guest (and quasi-housewife), he’s still worried about the rift between her and her dad. She’s working so hard to pay back his family’s kindness, she comes into the bathroom to wash Nariyuki’s back—and falls asleep on it! When she wakes up, and won’t go back to sleep, Nariyuki suggests they go on a date.

He takes her to a spot with a great view of the stars, and reminds her how inspired he was when he heard her talk profusely about them when they spent that night in the hotel. She may think all hope of reconciling with her father is lost, but he suggests that if she conveys her passion for the stars to her dad the way she did with him, she might reach him.

He also takes her hand (after she almost slips and falls) and, in a kind of quasi-confession, assures her that he’ll always support her with everything he has. It’s definitely one of the more beautiful and touching moments between these two…I just wished it was more explicitly romantic. I mean it looks and sounds romantic, I just don’t know if Nariyuki’s is thinking that way in the moment—that this is the woman for him. That’s a shame, because she so is.

Fumino confronts her father, who opens their conversation with another harsh barb about her lack of resolve, but Nariyuki’s pledge of support keeps Fumino strong and on point. After telling him why she loves astronomy so much and wants to keep at it, he still won’t budge…so she suggests they ask mom.

She produces the laptop, the password to which turned out to be her father’s name, “Reiji.”  There’s no golden thesis on its hard drive, just a single video file of their wife and mother. On it, she apologizes to Reiji for the lack of a thesis, but as it turns out, she was as bad at math when she was young as Fumino is. Her love for Reiji that helped drive her to work hard enough to succeed.

Furthermore, she makes it clear that she wants Fumino to do what she loves, not what she might be naturally good at. Reiji learns the password is his name because Fumino wanted to discover a new star with her mother and name it after someone they both loved more than anyone else: “Reiji.”

Fumino’s mom’s third apology is to her daughter, since she knows due to her ill health she may one day make her very lonely. But the urges Fumino not to despair, for one day someone wonderful will come around who will support and inspire and drive her to excel at her passions, just like she did with Reiji.

For Fumino, we know that person is Nariyuki…obviously. Sure enough, he’s loitering outside her house, too eager to see how things went to wait for her to return to his place. They sit on a bench together, and she tells him everything that went down, and she simply lets herself have a few moments gently leaning against him. He thinks she’s nodded off again, until she says, perfectly, “I’m awake.”

Reiji ends up attending the parent-teacher conference with Fumino, and agrees to her future plan to become an astronomer. We also learn from Nariyuki that Reiji was in contact with Nariyuki’s mom, both to apologize for letting his family business spill out into her home and to ask earnestly how Fumino is doing. He brings up the one and only time he struck her, and felt ashamed and perplexed ever since.

Nariyuki’s mom, a widow herself, basically gives Reiji advice similar to what her son gave Fumino: confront her, and convey to her the truth: that he’s terribly worried about her, and that his objections come from a place of love. Only by knowing each others intentions and emotions behind their words and actions can the two come to a mutual understanding.

Speaking of which, Nariyuki and Fumino sadly remain in denial about the state of their relationship, at least when Reiji directly confronts Nariyuki about it. It’s still the case that Fumino doesn’t want to rock the boat for Rizu or Urara, but she’s proven she not them, could be the best match for Nariyuki. She’s more than earned a little selfishness.

BokuBen “Best Girl” Power Rankings
As of Episode 10

  1. Fumino
  2. Uruka
  3. Rizu
  4. Kirisu
  5. Asumi
  6. Sawako
  7. Mizuki

BokuBen 2 – 09 – She Can Go Her Own Way

It’s bad enough that Fumino’s father fails to show up for parent-teacher conferences. It’s quite a bit worse when he does come to her school to court Rizu for her mathematical prowess, since he’s the professor at the open campus.

We learn he’s very much against Fumino’s dream to enter the sciences, calling it “the ignorant fantasy of an incompetent person” and saying she’s free to leave his house if she wants to pursue it. That’s when Nariyuki, already physically in the middle of this family squabble, says he’ll take Fumino into his house for now.

If Uruka was the protagonist last week, Fumi obviously fills that role here. She’s always worked to steer Nariyuki towards the two girls who have the strongest feelings for him (Uruka and Rizu) while undervaluing her own. Now we know why: since her mom died, she’s never felt like she’s measured up.

That’s why I’m so glad to see that circumstances conspired to bring her closer to Nariyuki than anyone else, almost as a challenge to her insistence on putting herself third (or worse) in the running. The two once had to share a hotel room together, which led to one of the more poignant moments of the series.

Now, with the endorsement of his mom (who adores Fumi) and the disapproval of his little sis (who may only ever consider herself worthy of him), Fumi becomes a temporary member of the Nariyuki household. That warmth and familiarity is echoed in a scene where the two are brushing their teeth together, and both note (Fumi in her head, Nariyuki aloud) that it’s like they’re newlyweds.

Despite Uruka being his childhood friend, her feelings are so intense that situations like the ones he shares with Fumi could never be possible without her quickly overheating. Fumino, who always tries to keep Nariyuki at a romantic remove, slips into domestic bliss as easily as Uruka swims a lap.

While studying together as the rest of the family sleeps, Fumino tells Nariyuki that her mother was a famous mathematician whom her father placed on the highest of pedestals. When she suddenly died, his grief was so great that he’d sooner slap Fumi across the face—and stop even looking directly at her—rather than properly deal with the fact his wife was gone.

Instead, Fumi’s face was a constant reminder of what he lost, and her attempts to “do math” in her stead only made him more bitter and angry. Sorry you lost your wife, dude, but that’s no excuse to be a complete and utter SHITHEAD to your precious only daughter!

While hiding (in very close quarters) from her dad after he came home unexpectedly (they were there to pick up *some* of her clothes), Fumino finds her mother’s laptop, which contains her password-encrypted thesis. I’d bet the password is “FUMINO” but because it’s that, her father never managed to unlock it.

But Fumino’s done feeling bad for her father for shit that wasn’t her fault. If she can only pursue her dream by leaving him and her home, so be it. It may not be the safest or most practical route, and all too easily dismissed as impulsive youthful rebelliousness, but…let’s not forget: her dad is a diiiiick.

Astra Lost in Space – 12 (Fin) – Lost No Longer

We’re blessed with a double-length Astra finale, which really gives the show time and space to breathe and finish telling the story it’s apparent it always wanted to tell, and more importantly treated a loyal audience to a proper sendoff of the characters we’ve gradually come to love—and who have grown to love one another—one by one.

The first half, itself the length of a normal episode, is devoted to the return trip home. With Charce’s suicide plan foiled and Kanata down an arm but otherwise fine, the work of restocking the ship for the journey back to Astra. Kanata has to rest while the others work outside, but Aries quells his loneliness and FOMO by keeping him company.

Once they’re off Planet Galem, there’s ample time for the crew to assemble and hear Charce’s story of the history of their world—the real history, corroborating and continuing the story begun by Polina. Turns out the plan to relocate humanity’s population was so fraught with conflict, half of that population was killed in bitter wars for land on the new planet before the migration even took place.

The survivors of the conflict vowed never to let anything like that occur again, and so abolished nations and religions on Astra. Furthermore, the first generation to move and live there was the last to know about the true history of Earth; an alternate history of WWIII was fabricated, and the very timeline of humanity turned back 100 years.

All this time, the crew thought they were living in the year 2063, when it has actually been 2163; over one hundred years since the migration was successfully completed. It also means Polina wasn’t asleep for twelve years, but one hundred and twelve—yet doesn’t look a day over 29!

The crew decides that the world can’t go on living with a false history, but understands that telling the world the wrong way could be disastrous, not just to them but to the world.

Ulgar suggests they contact a trustworthy police lieutenant, and an detailed message is sent to him through Aries’ mom, including photos and videos of the still very much alive crew of Camp B5 and the log Aries has been making throughout the show (a nice touch).

By the time the Astra reaches orbit of Planet Astra, Lt. Grace is already at work arresting the King of Vixia, as well as his successor for his role in Princess Seira’s murder. Nothing a cop likes more than a bonanza of hard evidence. Very satisfying to watch these jerk-ass crooks made to pay for their heinous crimes.

The kids are met by an armed fleet in orbit, but after a few tense moments, contact is made and they identify themselves as friendly escorts, reporting that their originals have been apprehended and they are free to land. This is one of those instances where the extra length really counts, as we get to savor the crew’s arrival home and their ship’s final landing.

Once they arrive, and they get to tell their story to every media outlet on the planet, the crew become instant celebrities. Kanata and Charce tell the higher authorities about the need to spread the truth, something the higher-ups ultimately go with.

That bitter pill of truth is washed down without excessive unrest due in no small part to the charm of the crew, including the humanizing memoir about their five-month odyssey written by Kanata…not to mention the modelling chops of Quitterie and King Charce.

The length of the episode not only means it gets to take its time with a happy ending, but jumps seven years into the future, when the bulk of the crew is now 24. Everyone has changed their look a bit, but remain themselves and more importantly, remain good friends with one another, as you’d expect from what they went through. Yunhua sings a song inspired by those experiences, which essentially plays the series out.

Quitterie is married to Zack, while Funi is in high school and looks just like Quitterie (and has Polina as a teacher). Ulgar is now a serious journalist, while Kanata has achieved his goal of becoming a captain in seven years. His new ship is his old ship; buying the over 100-year-old Astra with funds earned from his book and fame.

With his past and present trusty mates Zack and Charce, they take off to chart the exit points of the wormholes and beyond, but they’ll be back. After all, Charce has kingly duties to get back to; Zack has a wife to get back to, and Kanata has to get back to Aries so they can marry and have a daughter they can name Seira.

And there you have it: Kanata no Astra, not just an epic survival story of a group of extraordinary kids, but herald to a bold new truth for humanity. One could say almost too much befell these kids; that they’re too special. But to that I say…what do you expect? They are, after all, the clones of people rich and powerful and ambitious enough to, well, clone themselves.

They were always destined for greatness, but it wasn’t going to be given to them; they were literally left for dead. But their originals made one critical blunder, forgetting about the presence of one last ship in old Earth’s orbit, the chariot of their downfall and their clones’ salvation. In the end, the clones surpassed their originals to become entirely different people—better people.

People who, rather than lying and cheating and stealing their way through life, scratched and tore and screamed to break the bonds of their origins, united together in love and fellowship, and changed the goddamned world. Hell of a story if you ask me.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 07 – Wandering Stars

Nishikata has big plans for teasing Takagi on the camping trip, no doubt hoping a change of scenery will restore some of his mojo. During the class photo, he plans to make a half-peace sign that will look like a creepy hand behind her back. Alas, no matter where the two are, Takagi is always a step ahead, flashing a face funny enough that not only does Nishikata miss his chance, but he’s in the midst of laugher camera shutter clicks.

The show pulls out of the photo, presumably into the future, to a grown-up, smiling Takagi. Something tells me that isn’t the smile of someone who didn’t end up getting her man when all was said and done and the teasing and games turned to straight-up love.

Takagi and Nishikata end up paired up again when Mano needs a rest and they both make sure Nakai stays with her. It starts to rain suddenly (they’re in the mountains, where weather actually is that fickle) and end up alone in a small shelter together, watching that rain (not, as Nishikata points out, for the first time).

He decides to challenge Takagi to another game, involving blind tasting of the snacks they’ve brought. Clearly he didn’t think this through, because Takagi all-too-easily exploits his opening to make him feed her, his hand to her mouth. Even when the rain stops, Takagi wants one more game…so she can feed him.

After that, it’s time for the old Japanese school camping trip standby of homemade curry. Yukari cuts her finger, so Mina and Sanae have to do all the cooking among them. Nishikata, meanwhile, is too preoccupied with how he can stem what is so far a complete rout of him by Takagi in the teasing department.

When she approaches him, correctly observing he’s thinking of a way to get back at her, she presents him with game that all too easy to win: all he has to do is hold her hand. Nishikata bristles at such a potentially embarrassing gesture, but then remembers that hand-holding between sexes is all too normal during the folk dance ’round the bonfire that night.

To make things a little more difficult for Nishikata, Takagi is arranged in such a way that it takes a good long time for them to come around to each other. As Nishikata sees Takagi holding hands with other boys and smiling, I couldn’t help but notice a tinge of jealousy in his face, along with the thought that Takagi actually wants to hold hands with him.

Both are shocked when the music stops just when they’re about to pair up; their hands remaining an inch apart as the other kids disperse. “That’s too bad, Nishikata” she says to him before joining the other girls for a bath. “Just a bit more and we would have fallen in love,” referring to the school legend.

The thing is, Takagi and Nishikata don’t need any help from bonfires or folk dances to enjoy spending time together. Fate seems to already paired them up; all Nishikata needs to do is grow up a bit more. After lights out, when Nishikata can’t sleep, he encounters her making a wishing on the stars. When the patrolling teacher approaches, they have to hide in a very small cave, huddled closely together.

When the teacher finally leaves, they stay put for a little while, ostensibly in case he comes back, but also because it’s just frikkin’ nice. As they gaze up at the stars together, Nishikata asks what she was wishing for earlier. She tells him she wished for exactly what she ended up getting: to go stargazing with him.

While he may consider that more teasing, one look at Takagi’s face makes it clear she was being completely honest. My wish is that Nishikata will realize that one day.