Bokutachi no Remake – 09 – The Price of Success

Kyouya has no idea why he’s now in 2018 any more than he knew why he jumped back from 2016 to 2006, but one thing’s certain: it’s not a dream. Aki is his loving wife, Maki is his darling daughter, and he has a job as a troubleshooter for a decent mid-tier game company. He may not want to admit it, but he was successful in remaking his life. He should be happy, and he would be…if only he never found out how he achieved his success.

Despite being suddenly thrust into a new life and job, the details of which he can only guess, Kyouya comports himself well, serving as a troubleshooter and talent whisperer on behalf of Eiko, who is also still in the business. The talent in question is Minori Ayaka, an illustrator with 200k followers, but who has seemed to lost her motivation and passion for drawing. When Kyouya praises a piece of her work that strongly resembles Shinoaki’s style, Ayaka seems to build a new head of steam for her work.

A good day at work, and the realization he’s fortunate to have such a cute wife and daughter, is soured when Kyouya brings up Comiket and asks if Aki will submit anything. The truth is, she hasn’t drawn in years…and the reason is the same as Ayaka: there was “nothing she wanted to draw anymore.” That’s now two members of the Platinum Generation from his original timeline who are now completely out of the creative world.

While having lunch with Eiko, Kyouya realizes she’s much the same, only even she seems to have suffered due to his success: she’s working at a smaller company in a lower-ranking position than his original timeline. He also learns that Nanako’s last song online has less than 2,000 views and she’s decided to retire from singing, stating she “doesn’t know what she’s singing for.” I half-expected Tsurayuki to show up as a doctor on Google, but all Kyouya finds is some blog entries.

Learning that by directing HaruSora with the Platinum Generaion, he inadvertently ruined their futures as creatives by sapping their creativity and passion for a greater commercial good, Kyouya is understandably beside himself. He gets completely boiled, lands in a literal pile of garbage, than stumbles home where his wife and young daughter have to console his tears. Knowing what lives Aki, Nanako, Tsurayuki, and Eiko would have lived without his interference, he can’t accept the lives they live now.

And yet, IMO, that’s exactly what he should do. BnR has not shed one single diode of light on the precise supernatural mechanism that shot Kyouya back ten years or forward eleven. Kyouya did what he thought was best, and while he did get a bit caught up in wanting to make something with the creatives who would end up celebrities in his present, he had absolutely no idea the damage he’d do.

Add on top of that the fact that everyone in this timeline has most likely moved on, and all he does by bringing it up is reopen old and long-healed wounds. While it’s sad that Nanako is quitting singing, she’ll be fine. Tsurayuki, who comes from money, will be fine. Aki, who has Kyouya and Maki, will be fine. In exchange, Kyouya got a second chance with his past, did something admirable with it, and now has a loving family and solid career. Maybe he needs to be fine too.

Bokutachi no Remake – 08 – How It Oughta Be

Team Harusora‘s time grows short as the deadline draws near. Nanako, Tsurayuki, and Shinoaki are falling behind, and encouragement isn’t enough to get them back on track, so Kyouya has to do what all directors have to at some point: unilaterally make the changes necessary to get the product out on schedule.

This means cutting and changing parts of the music, art, and story. Nanako is easy to convince, as she’s open to trying a new method of composing that also happens to be quicker. So is Shinoaki, as she trusts Kyouya (and not without good reason). But Tsurayuki bucks. If Kyouya is changing the story now, what is he even contributing, creatively?

Kyouya manages to get Tsurayuki to fall in line with his silver tongue, and the team sprints towards the finish line with a focus on progress. Compromises had to be made due to the compressed schedule, and since the bottom line is that the game has to make money so Tsurayuki can pay his tuition.

Thanks to help from the art club, Keiko, and Eiko, and many an all-nighter right up to the 10:00 AM deadline for sending the ROM master to the printer, Bokutachi no Remake really ratchets up the tension, urgency, and excitement of bringing a project to completion in the nick of time.

There’s also a wonderful release once Keiko heads to the printer with the master, as everyone but Kyouya literally passes out from exhaustion. When the brand-new shiny newly-printed game arrives, with Shinoaki’s gorgeous, inviting art on the cover, the sense of accomplishment is only heightened.

They made this; all of them. It could not have happened without their individual contributions and without them hanging in there and relying on each other when things got hectic. But Nanako, Shinoaki and Tsurayuki also all agree that there’s absolutely no way Harusora would have seen the light of day without Kyouya’s confident, diligent direction.

Of course, none of them know that one day, in the future Kyouya came from, that they’d be known collectively as the Platinum Generation, three elite creative at the top of their respective fields. And that they were the ones who inspired Kyouya to remake his life when given a chance.

Yet while out on a crisp evening walk with Shinoaki, she stops and asks something she later apologizes for for sounding “weird”: “Is this really how it oughta be?” The team achieved great success, the game manages to sell the event at Tokyo Big Sight (thanks in no small part to Keiko’s doujin group’s clout). Everyone even makes bank!

But no sooner does Tsurayuki have his tuition money he himself made in his hands than he asks Kyouya to take a walk, stopping somewhere random where he has no other memories, good or bad, in order to tell him he’s dropping out of art school after all, and returning home, no doubt to be a doctor and husband this family and Sayuri want him to be.

The entire point of this project for Kyouya was to help Tsurayuki become the Kawagoe Kyouichi he’d become in the future, but he never stopped to think that Tsurayuki—that all of the Platinum Generation—achieved their greatness without Kyouya’s help. Having seen what Kyouya is capable of and how hard it is to make it writing for a living, this project had the opposite intended effect: Tsurayuki decided he can’t make it.

It’s a devastating scene that perhaps doesn’t need the gathering clouds, thunderstorm, or Kyouya on his hands and knees shouting his lament into the ground. But the added melodrama doesn’t really take away from the fact Kyouya’s entire life-remaking exercise ended up building him up, while erasing the future of one of the Platinum Generation.

The person who encounters him on the ground isn’t Nanako or Aki, but Keiko, who has this knowing tone and look that suggests she’s aware of what has been going on with Kyouya…and could even have a part in it. She smiles softly and asks what the future would be like after all that’s happened in this version of his past.

And then, just like that, Kyouya wakes up back in 2018, his present. Before he knows where or when he is, a tiny Shinoaki runs in and jumps on the bed; her kid’s drawings scattered on the wall behind him. It’s not Shino Aki at all, but Hashiba Maki, his daughter, and Shino Aki is her mother and his wife.

This is the life Kyouya remade. Is Aki even an artist anymore, or is she a housewife and mom full-time? There’s not enough evidence to see, but I wouldn’t be surprised if another member of the Platinum Generation never was due to Kyouya basically interfering in her past. No doubt Tsurayuki is a doctor in this future, while Nanako could well still be a singer.

Whatever their circumstances, and whether this is a future Kyouya is able or willing to correct once more, this is a tremendous time-shattering cliffhanger for next week, breaking the easy slice-of-life nature of the past art school episodes and launching us into the home stretch of the cour with panache.

Meikyuu Black Company – 07 – Operation Eternal Capital

Just as Preston seems to be enjoying Moonlight Fantasy more for the interaction of its endearing cast and not necessarily its world-building or plot, I too prefer when MBC keeps things simple.

That didn’t happen this week, as the meeting with the Demon Lord—who is Rimu’s twin sister—sits on her throne and delivers one long and convoluted infodump about What’s Going On, What’s At Stake, and Ninomiya’s crucial role in Saving the World.

The Demon Lord’s exposition is actually accompanied by actual imagery of a temporal war between the forces of natural order in the world and the corrupting expansion of Raiza’ha that left unchecked will render the planet incapble of supporting life.

But that conceptual ambition isn’t matched by sufficiently impressive visuals. Also, the bottom linie is Ninomiya is standing around either nodding his head or adding his two cents here and there.

Ninomiya, Rimu and Ranga actually arrive at the Demon Lord’s castle as Raiza’ha of the future is about to bring about the end of the world, so at the end of her spiel it’s time for the three to return to the past from whence they came.

Well, Ranga comes from the future, but he’s all in on going back in time with Ninomiya and Rimu. The DL does give Ninomiya a Matrix-like blue-or-red choice, but rather tan return safely to Japan, Ninomiya accepts the challenge of the mantle of savior of this world.

Upon returning, Ninomiya learns he and Rimu were gone a month, and not only is he penalized for the unapproved time off by his boss Belza, but his accommodations were assigned to another employee.

Since he arrives just in time to save Shia and Wanibe in the Dungeon, he, Rimu and Ranga take it upon himself to crash at Shia’s (admittedly pretty nice) apartment until further notice. She’s not particularly thrilled—and is perplexed by the sudden appearance of the extremely cute Ranga—but she’s also a nice person, and so accepts the freeloaders.

That night, the gang avails themselves of a rare instance of Raiza’ha footing the bill at a traditional business dinner and drinks, though Ninomiya must foot the bill for Rimu and Ranga as they are not Raiza’ha employees.

Ninomiya wants to be above socializing with the “rabble” but he knows the consequences of letting Rimu go hungry for too long, and so accepts the additional debt on top of the cost of being AWOL for a month.

In a show as irreverent towards The System as MBC, it’s not surprising that Ninomiya would be sent back to the past as the world’s only hope of salvation only to be treated like a problem employee by the very company that will be responsible for the worlds destruction in 300 years if he didn’t come back.

He also faces a rude awakening as he commences Operation Eternal Capital, as the difficulty of the Dungeon that leads to the ancient ruins has increased quite a bit since he last tackled it. That said, with the power of Rimu, Shia, Ranga, on his side (and Wanibe too, I guess), his Meikyuu Black Company is putting its best foot forward in this quest to save the world.

I just wish the production values were doing the same, but this was a distractingly janky-looking episode, especially when contrasted with the smooth CGI go-go-dancing of Rimu and the Demon Lord in the new ED.

NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 02 – Diner of Illusion

In addition to showing us a lot of cool stuff, NH2K41 can add another feather to its cyberpunk cap: it’s able to cover a lot of narrative ground in these two episodes. There’s a lot of information to convey, and while it isn’t always the most elegant or subtle (we learn the Kuroki brothers were abandoned because…they mention it while looking at a photo) it’s all easy to digest. And Takuya’s whiskey on the rocks looks frikkin’ epic.

The show also wastes no time connecting our two pairs of brothers, as Yuuya has a momentary vision of the Kirihara brothers, who are once again just trying to fill their stomachs in an unassuming diner. Unfortunately for them, the fugitive Miracle Mick is there, along with a Harley Quinn-style femme fatale, who uses Mick’s celebrity to bilk a 2D three-man band out of all their cash. She, not Mick, is the one with the psychic power: the power of mind control.

It isn’t long before the Thought Police (Takuya and Yuuya’s squad) show up, but they’re just there for Mick and the woman using him and manipulating the musicians, whom she sics on the cops like brainwashed dogs. The order comes down to arrest everyone in the diner, even the cute waitress, but when they start getting rough Naoto gets pissed off and uses his psychokinesis to fight back, stopping all the bullets Neo-style. In the process, Yuuya learns he has a skill: psychic shields.

Naoto, Naoya, and the waitress are able to flee, while Mick and the band are arrested as scapegoats. Then the mischievous woman, Kobayashi Kimie, reveals she’s a cop who was working undercover to bring Mick down. She also demonstrates her powers of illusion in one of the coolest manners possible: by “stabbing” the four squad members with glass spikes. It’s as pretty as it is gruesome.

That’s when Takuya, Yuuya, Reika and Michio learn that it isn’t that the supernatural doesn’t exist, but that the government wants the public to think it doesn’t exist. Psychics, like the four cops are about to awaken to be come, are the exclusive purview of the government. If they have to use supernatural powers to root the civilian world of the supernatural, so be it.

The waitress Naoto saves isn’t particularly thankful, as now the cops will be after her since she’s a Psychic too (though not, as she says, a “monster” like the brothers). She thanks them before shuffling off, warning them to keep a low profile. That may be tough in what is clearly a police and surveillance state where everything that has a microchip could be watching or listening.

The fact that when the Kirihara brothers escaped from the lab where they spend fifteen years, only to find themselves ten years further into the future than they expected, doesn’t help matters. Naoto thought they were going somewhere where their own kind were accepted and coexisted with regular humans. Instead, the opposite has happened.

Clearly the girl in the school uniform is a part of the experiments at the lab, as she’s returned unconscious and with a weak pulse, but alive after an apparent trip to the future. The question is, is there any way to prevent the awful post-WWIII dystopia that exists in 2041?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 01 (First Impressions) – It’s That Kind of Night

I’ll give NIGHT HEAD 2041 this: it gives you bang for the buck. There’s a metric fuckton of stuff to look at in its 22 minutes, and a pulsing, pounding score by Yamada Yukata (Vinland Saga, Great Pretender) adds weight and dignity to every one of those minutes. The CGI modeling of most characters is akin to Knights of Sidonia, a show I enjoyed quite a bit, and like that show’s sci-fi setting, the sometimes off-putting style fits the cyberpunk milieu like a glove.

The thing is, it’s not just visuals and sound that NH2K41 has in spades; it’s characters, factions, and ideas. It’s not lacking in ambition, but it often feels scattered, like it’s trying to say too much to fast. I’m reminded of the 2004 live-action Casshern film, which my friends and I love, but also joke that it’s about “absolutely everything, all the time, only louder and faster”.

Perhaps that’s a side effect of having to introduce us to this world, its pair of protagonist brothers on opposite sides of a post-WWIII conflict between the hyper-atheist, rationalist powers that be and anyone and everyone who believes in higher powers, the supernatural or the occult, or any kind of fiction. That last part is a bit hard to chew; but fine.

I can totally believe that society has put all of its eggs in the pseudo-military police industrial complex that is Special Weapons Enforcement, to which the Kuroki brothers belong. There’s a distinct vibe to both them and their two comrades that made me think they were criminals going after other criminals a la PSYCHO-PASS. But the less this is compared to that, the better; at least for now.

P-P could go off the rails at times, at least had some focus to its bold brash ruminations on society. It was also anchored by my avatar of many years, Tsunemori Akane, one of my all-time favorite anime characters. Night Head has a lot of characters, including the aforementioned pair of brothers, but they’re not exactly brimming with personality or originality.

One thing I did like was how the episode suddenly changed gears after one of the Kuroki Takuya accidentally conjured an EMP to save his little brother Yuuya, basically committing a crime by doing something that shouldn’t be possible. That segues smoothly to the Kirihara brothers, Naoto and Naoya, a psychokinetic and a clairvoyant, respectively.

Freshly sprung from some kind of lab where they’d spend an untold portion of their lives and with a fast car and a stack of cash in their possession, Naoto continually assures his adorable little brother that the time is now, as in, for people like them to step out of the shadows and join the world community without fear of ostracization or oppression.

Unfortunately, when you and your brother are essentially X-Men, it’s hard not to make ordinary humans fearful, angry, or a combination of both simply by existing. That’s what happens when the brothers dare to grab a bite to eat—though it’s at least partially their fault for waltzing into a bar where there’s an obvious shit-starter lounging on a couch with his honey.

Weirdly enough, these two are rendered in the anime-standard two dimensions instead of the three of our superpowered brothers. I’d normally cry foul but it makes sense thematically, so I’m going to allow this. Still the interaction is awfully pat, and drags on a bit too long, such that I left the scene less worried about backlash for the brothers, and more upset that what was probably a pretty good pizza went to waste.

After the Kiriharas’ pub crawl, we return to the thought police in the aftermath of the EMP, which erased all records of what happened during the raid to capture “Miracle Mick”, who may just be a money-grubbing charlatan or could actually have powers. Heck, Takuya clearly has the power to create an EMP—a super useful ability if you don’t want anyone to know you have an ability, owing to the overreliance on electronic tech.

While it’s usually a good idea not to expect every episode to look as good at the first, both Sidonia and the more recent Akudama Drive are exceptions to that rule. But it’s not consistent production quality I’m worried about. I know Night Head 2041 is probably going to look and sound awesome every week. But will it ever get around to organizing its myriad ideas and scenarios?

Learning that the girl only the Kuroki bros saw during the raid astral projected into the future is the kind of hook that ensures I’ll be back next week and probably the week after that. I just hope there’s more in store than eye an ear candy…but some head meat and potatoes, too.

Higehiro – 13 (Fin) – Not the Last Time

With Yoshida having said his piece and even kinda-sorta getting through to Sayu’s awful mom, it’s Sayu’s turn to talk to her. She takes a page out of Yoshida’s playbook by prostrating herself, and once again, her mom almost loses it over not wanting to apologize for anything. But she does at least finally understand that he’s the only parent Sayu has, and it really helps Sayu to hear that from her.

Having taken the first step towards détente with her mom, Sayu slips into Yoshida’s bed one more time in the night, asking if he wants to do it just once so they won’t forget each other. As always, Yoshida’s answer is the same; “no”, and “knock it off!” At the airport, after receiving thanks and refusing cash from her brother, Sayu confesses her love to him, and vows to visit him again when she’s an adult. This isn’t goodbye.

That said, when it finally hits Yoshida that Sayu is gone and with her the entirety of the cozy found family they built together, he can’t help but tear up. Even if he followed her easy recipe, his miso soup just can’t measure up to her’s. That said, as time passes, Yoshida settles back into a life without Sayu, which still contains Mishima and Gotou, who continue to battle for his heart at work.

It seems neither has a shot, as Yoshida has become close to Asami, who is apparently now an adult and no longer has a tan or bleached hair. He’s ready to meet her at the stargazing spot when he arrives home to behold a familiar sight: a young woman sitting by his entrance. It’s Sayu, now a high school graduate and evidently an adult.

The two go through the same exchange as when they first met. It looks like whatever Yoshida’s got going on with Asami (if anything), Sayu didn’t waste any time getting back to the guy she fell for—the man she’s glad she ran away and met.

This is all fine—really, it’s fine—but I’ll admit to suffering a bit of Higehiro fatigue. Considering how these last three episodes languished, a thirteenth episode felt like one too many.

Fruits Basket – 63 (Fin) – A New Banquet

Tooru and Kyou go to a petting zoo for their first official date—a bit on the nose, but also adorable! Also adorable? Uo and Hana tag along as chaperones and mess with Kyou the whole time. But at the end of the day, both of them admit they like him and give him their blessing with their beloved Tooru, who is both friend and family to them.

Yuki makes clear to Kakeru that Machi knows he’s going off to college somewhat far away, and Kakeru is proud the two of them are now “full-fledged adults.” After graduation, Tooru and Kyou clean out their rooms in Shigure’s house, and Tooru admits to treasuring all the fun and happy days she had with everyone like jewels, and is sad they’re at an end.

Kyou hugs her and assures her that everyone loves her more than she thinks, and she’ll see them all again. The old Zodiac banquet is over, but now a new one can begin: one in which the members’ bonds were chosen, not forced. Yuki gives Machi the key to his new place and says she can visit any time. Kagura and Ritsu share a moment as the only two members who are still single.

Did I say only? There’s also Momiji, who lose the Tooru sweepstakes but not for lack for trying. As he hangs with Haru and Rin, he vows to find an even more magnificent significant other with whom he’ll show off next time he sees Tooru and Kyou.

Uo and Kureno make plans to see each other. Hatori and Mayu make plans to go on vacation together. Akito is out in the world with Shigure wearing modern women’s clothing. Everyone gets their curtain call, and everyone gets either a happy or hopeful ending.

That leaves us with Tooru and Yuki, who were originally set up as a potential couple back in the beginning. All this time, Yuki hasn’t been able to properly express his feelings for her or thank her, but here and now he finally can, and does.

He loves Tooru, but as a mother figure; someone who raised him into the confident and capable man he now clearly is. He also assures her, as Kyou did, that everyone loves her. Tooru may never feel like she deserves that love, but she does, so she’d better darn well get used to it!

Fast forward several decades, and we see Tooru now have both children and grandchildren, all of whom resemble and seem to take after them. The old couple are given some space by their family to be lovey-dovey together among the hydrangeas. Don’t think I didn’t get some tearful Up vibes from that!

Now, we’ve finally come to the end of Fruits Basket, consistently one of the most beautiful and heartwarming series I’ve ever encountered. It certainly had its dark times, but those were countered by brighter times bursting with love, understanding, and growth, none brighter than these closing episodes where nearly everyone has found their soul mate and are happy as clams—but in no danger of transforming into clams!

Higehiro – 12 – We Have to Talk

So yeah, things are not off to a great start when the first thing Sayu’s mom does upon laying eyes on her for the first time in half a year is slap her in the face. It’s super awkward, and continues to be so, because they’ve entered Sayu’s mom’s castle and she’s in charge. Issa, as much of an independent and successful adult as he may be, still shuts up when his mom tells him to, which is often.

The discussion moves to the dining room, where it becomes clear Sayu’s mom isn’t interested in empathizing with Sayu as the young woman she is, let alone see her as a daughter to unconditionally love. Instead, she immediately airs her grievances, citing all the rumors that have cropped up since she disappeared.

She’s not glad her little girl is home, but still angry she left, because of how it affected her. It’s also clear she suspects Yoshida of taking advantage of her. Sayu does her best to state her case and demonstrate how she’s grown, but her mom has long since developed cloth ears to anything she says, no matter how true or perceptive it may be.

Once she inevitably declares that she wishes she had never given birth to Sayu, which, just fuck you, you despicable c-word—Yoshida, who had been sitting calmly and quietly the whole time, almost picks up his glass of iced tea and throws it in the bitch’s face. But rightly realizing that would accomplish nothing and possibly even hurt Sayu more, he does the opposite.

He calmly speaks from the heart about how just as a parent can’t choose the child they have, the child can’t pick the parent either. The difference is, a parent is (usually) an adult, and thus responsible for their life. Children aren’t. They need to be cared about and for by parents, or they can’t become proper adults themselves. If Sayu’s mom doesn’t want that responsibility, Yoshida would happily take it from her, adopting Sayu and raising her until she’s a real adult.

But he can’t do that, because Sayu has a mom, and she will never not be her mom. So he prostrates himself and begs her to take care of Sayu. Issa follows his lead and does the same. Faced with this unexpected groveling, Sayu’s mom simply freaks out, and Yoshida and Sayu have to leave the house while Issa tries to calm her down.

As Sayu and Yoshida sit outside and wait, Yoshida can’t fight back tears, lamenting just how much worse the situation between Sayu and her mom turned out to be. Sayu is surprised, but also can’t stop herself from crying once she sees him doing it. But it’s a good cleansing cry that transitions into looking up at the beautiful night sky and holding hands in solidarity.

Even though things are not great, they’re going to be alright. Sayu feels forgiven after Yoshida’s groveling, and after making her piece with her friend on the rooftop last week, feels confident in being able to stand for herself. She also admits that things aren’t going to get better with her mom overnight, but neither of them have even given it a try, so that’s really the first step.

Issa comes out, telling Yoshida that bowing before their mom seemed to do the trick. She’ll insist Sayu live there until graduation, and as long as she doesn’t cause problems for her, she’ll “leave her alone.” It sounds like more selfishness and an inability to see Sayu as anything other than a burden and a hassle, but again, we’re at the start of something. Sayu and her mom will have to adopt and entirely new way of interacting with each other, and that will take time.

What’s important is that not only Sayu is willing to put in the work to give it a try, but Sayu’s mom is too. After Yoshida meets with her again to apologize for lecturing her before, she asks if nothing really went on, he answers truthfully, and she seems to believe him. What puzzles her is why he’d go so far for her daughter, to which he can only say “because I met her that night, in that moment.”

Surely Sayu’s mom must understand how something like that might work; she was, after all, presumably in love with Sayu’s father. She simply didn’t know of any way to keep him around other than the hail mary of having Sayu. When it didn’t work and he left anyway, she put all of her scorn into her.

But she seems to finally understand that it can’t go on like that anymore. Sayu ran away to get away from her, but now she’s back, and she’s grown a little more. It’s up to her, the parent, to ensure that growing up is completed. So she’ll talk with Sayu about their future together, however much of it there ends up being, and go from there. And Yoshida will go back to Tokyo in the morning. But it’s a good thing he came.

 

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 13 (Fin) – Mission Accomplished

The finale to Vivy, entitled simply Fluorite Eye’s Song, hits all the right notes, as our titlar AI diva gets her second and final chance and doesn’t waste it. I’m a big fan of going back and redoing things, whether it’s Back to the Future or Steins;Gate, and Vivy doesn’t disappoint in switching up the actions she took last time, culminating in saving Toak and Yui before Elizabeth can even arrive on the scene.

Armed with data, footage of the imminent satellite disaster, and the means to shut down the Archive, Vivy asks Toak to believe and stand with her as she accomplishes her mission as she’s always seen it ever since she and Matsumoto met: make people happy with her singing by first keeping those people alive. Yui concurs, and Beth helps inspire the troops.

Toak will be heading to Arayashiki as before, but as Vivy is armed with the knowledge from their first ill-fated raid, they’re able to avoid the mistakes that resulted in all their deaths. Vivy, meanwhile, is headed to the only stage appropriate to sing her song to shut down the AIs: the Main Stage at NiaLand.

After Matsumoto mentions he’s never actually heard his longtime companion sing on the stage, Vivy snaps her fingers like Diva, but she’s got the wrong idea. Matsumoto wants to hear her song. Vivy tells a joke, then psychs herself up by playing with Matsumoto before taking her leave.

As we see from Archive’s core, a new branch is forged on the timeline tree of the Singularity Project. Archive knows she’s coming, but as promised is giving Vivy a chance to prove that humanity shouldn’t be annihilated.

On her way to the stage she encounters another old friend, beside her first stage: Navi, once her one and only friend. Navi doesn’t want Vivy to go to the Main Stage, even summoning a hologram of Momoka to try to keep her there. She rejects Vivy’s expanding of her mission, which used to be just to make people happy with her singing and nothing else.

Navi gets one crucial detail wrong: Momoka would never have called her “Diva”—she’s the one who gave her the name Vivy. She knows her first song in decades may end up being her last, and she’s already prepared for that. But her mission has changed since it was just her and Navi, and she’s a different person, too.

As Vivy walks up to the half-ruined stage and sings the proper, beautiful, major-key “Fluorite Eye’s Song”, Toak and Matsumoto infiltrate Arayashiki, outmaneuver the AI guards, shut down the power, and get to the Archive’s core faster and with fewer (but still not zero) casualties.

As for “singing with all her heart”, Vivy finally learned what that meant: she surrounds herself with images from all the memories she’s amassed. Those memories, and the people and events that changed and shaped her into the Vivy she is, comprise her heart.

And she indeed sings with all of it, which proves too much for her century-old body, which slowly begins to deteriorate as the song gains power. Matsumoto sacrifices all of his cubes but one to take out his dark counterparts, interfaces with the core, and shuts the satellite drop countdown…with just two seconds to spare.

With Armageddon from the sky averted, Vivy’s song reaches its apex and takes care of the robot apocalypse on the ground. Every AI shuts down, a whole bunch of them just one more moment from killing a human. The program Matsumoto inputted into the core fails to stop one satellite from falling—and right towards NiaLand, but he sacrifices his last cube to detonate it before it destroys the stage.

With the Singularity Projec and Vivy’s mission accomplished, Matsumoto’s wrecked cubes lie dormant while Vivy shuts down, her own fluorite eyes going dark after thanking her audience for their kind attention one last time. Or it would be one last time, if either Matsumoto or Vivy were flesh and blood beings.

As it happens, at some point in the future, Vivy wakes up in a different chair in a different building, sporting a new short hairstyle. She’s woken up by Matsumoto, who directs her to the windows where an adoring crowd is waiting to hear her sing. She doesn’t remember her name or Matsumoto at first, but her face brightens up when she’s asked to sing. The mission continues.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a fan of epic anime series that air across years—Attack on Titan, for instance—but there’s something to be said for a tight, compact, self-contained tale (which nevertheless spanned centuries and pitted all of humanity against AI-gone-wild. Wit Studio didn’t just flex its visual muscle with Song, but its considerable character and storytelling chops as well—all in one tidy cour; no sequels or prequels necessary. It was a fun ride, and very pleasant surprise.

Higehiro – 11 – Someday Is Here

This week begins with Sayu saying goodbye to Asami and Tokyo and taking a plane to Hokkaido with her brother and Yoshida, and ends with her returning home after more than a half a year of running away. If that sounds to you like not enough material to fill a whole episode, well, that’s when I must bring up one of the major cons of this penultimate outing: it’s padded within an inch of its life.

Whether its on the oddly-proportioned plane and its odd-looking seats, or during the two to three hours when Issa is off doing business and Yoshida and Sayu hang out in a café, scenes just feel artificially far longer than they either need to be or should. Granted, it’s Sayu’s first time on a plane or in a café with a friend, but when she held up an hourglass, I couldn’t help but think Can we maybe get a move on?

While a detriment early on, I’ll fully admit that Sayu’s trip to her school, which neither Yoshida nor Issa knew she’d request, is actually very effectively paced, as we feel with her the precise and growing dread of drawing closer and closer to the spot on that damned rooftop where her only friend’s life ended—and her life changed forever.

Honestly, I don’t know if or how she’d have been able to do this without Yoshida, so it’s very much a good thing he came along. Even an adult would have a hard time returning to the spot where their friend died for any reason. Add to that the fact Sayu witnessed Yuuko jump and blames herself for it, and you have yourself a brutal veritable trifecta of trauma.

When Sayu blames herself for Yuuko jumping, Yoshida had to be there to tell her she was wrong, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t that she didn’t really care about Yuuko, but cared too much. Her desire to help her fight the bullies wasn’t a bad instinct, even though things went terribly wrong. And frankly, Sayu wasn’t Yuuko’s entire life and can’t be expected to be such…she had her own life, and problems.

Thanks to Yoshida’s support, Sayu is able to wail with grief, letting it all out, until a stiff wind reveals the nearly-full moon and seemingly blows away the ghost of Yuuko that was haunting her. On their way back to the car, Yoshida asks if she’s okay now, and she answers quite correctly “not at all”…but she will be. She’s going to work towards the time when she can remember Yuuko and smile, rather than cry.

After such an emotionally draining experience at school, it almost seems cruel to then drive Sayu back home, even though she says she’s ready to go. After all, nothing in that house is worse than what happened on that rooftop, except for her mother’s last words to her before she ran away, which was to ask if Sayu killed her friend.

For all of the learning and growing up Sayu has done in the last few months, at least at first blush it looks like her mother has learned absolutely nothing. Issa tries to stand purposefully in front of both Sayu and Yoshida, but their mom pushes him out of the way to give Sayu a vicious slap to the face. That’s how she chooses to greet her. Not a great start!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 12 – Asking a Friend for a Favor

Once the Archive completes its redesign of the Archive from schoolroom to nightscape, it appears before Vivy as a not-creepy-at-all face. It tells her that everything leading up to this final countdown was no malfunction, but merely the painstakingly calculated judgment of Archive, as well as the completion of its mission to assist the evolution of the human race.

It was determined the only way to do this was by wiping out the existing human race, so AIs could become the new one. As Vivy and Matsumoto made their changes, the Archive was watching for over a century, making sure their events did not change the main timeline appreciably. Obviously, the Archive also witnessed Vivy become the first AI to create something of their own free will.

Because of this, the Archive says something to Vivy that is inaudible to us and left unknown to us. Instead, we only see how Vivy reacts to it, and both Matsumoto and Beth also notice something’s on her mind. Meanwhile, it’s determined that by using the virus eliminated Vivy’s alter-ego Diva, which Matsumoto continued researching in the ensuing years, they may be able to shut down the Archive.

The problem is it can’t be sent wirelessly, but must be directly, physically injected into the Arayashiki core. The tower should be the most secure facility on the planet, but when Vivy and the Toak team they arrive by boat, the power is out and there are only a smattering of guards. There’s some great final-dungeon vibes coming from their assault, right up to the time the lights come up and the walls begin literally closing in.

Yui and the boat are assaulted by waves of guards, and in her final moments, Yui doesn’t order Beth to keep going: she asks her for a favor like a friend would ask another. That’s because she wanted the world to see that she and Beth, and AI, could stand and walk together. Her death, combined with all of the Toak soldiers getting smashed, means it’s all up to the Diva Sisters.

…Them and Matsumoto, who transforms into Flyer Mode. Vivy and Beth hop aboard and they punch through into the tower’s interior, but there, a “Dark” copy of Matsumoto is waiting for them, and is able to match every one of “Light” Matsumoto’s maneuvers. Eventually Beth sacrifices herself to ensure Vivy and Matsumoto can continue the mission.

This is when we start to learn what the Archive told Vivy back at the beginning that gave her so much pause: it had decided to entrust “one future” to Vivy, leaving open the infinitessimal possibility that the calculations that led to them wiping out the human race were in error. As she’s surrounded by expectant AIs, it seems all Vivy has to do to realize that one future…is to sing, the one thing she cannot do, because she still doesn’t know what it means to pour one’s heart into something.

Because she doesn’t sing her song, the bots sing the twisted minor-key version, the countdown expires, and Archive doesn’t just bring down one big satellite, but one third of the roughly one million satellites in Earth’s orbit, most of them coming down on cities and no doubt completing much of the work the berserk AI armies began. The moment the satellites streak through the sky in symmetrical unison is beautiful in its horror, resembling pipes of a grand organ in the sky.

Vivy could not bring herself to sing, even though Archive gave her the opportunity to use it to shut down the AIs. When Vivy laments her utter failure and again asks the heart question, he tells her about all the times he almost ruined his plans, went rogue, and almost got destroyed due to all of her unnecessary computations.

Just then, when all hope seems lost and there’s nothing to do but commisserate, Osamu comes in over the radio. He’s preparing to send Vivy and Matsumoto back one more time, to just after the AI attack first occurred, which is naturally, for dramatic purposes, the furthest back in time he’s able to send them.

Osamu succeeds in sending them back just before being killed, and instead of going with Osamu, Vivy and Matsumoto race to Toak’s aid in the warehouse. No doubt their assault plan may well end up doomed and everyone may end up sacrificed except for Vivy.

But if it’s all in the aid of getting her where she needs to be in order to sing her song, it will be worth it. Hopefully, when that moment comes again, Vivy will understand what it is to sing with all her heart, because only she can sing the song, and only her song can stop the end of humanity. We’ll see how it goes!

Higehiro – 10 – A Warm Place

While Yoshida does his level best to hide it, Mishima and Hashimoto can tell he’s devastated by Sayu’s imminent departure, and how he’s mitigating it by trying to bury himself in his work. While he has many reasons to worry about the welcome Sayu will received from her mother upon returning to Hokkaido, her big brother Issa isn’t one of them.

Issa meets with Yoshida after work to bow in apology for the rude things he said the other day, while also asking him earnestly to continue taking care of Sayu in the time they have left together. He reveals how Sayu was their mother’s last best chance to keep their womanizing dad around, refusing to get an abortion. Alas, the asshole left them anyway.

Sayu’s mom wasn’t equipped to love a girl who was the symbol of her failure to keep the man she loved in her life, and so Sayu received no parental love whatsoever, something Issa believes every child needs. Honestly, it’s a wonder Sayu isn’t a lot more scarred.

While it’s nice to be reminded that Sayu’s brother is a legit good guy, if what he’s said is true, Sayu’s mom may simply be incapable of loving Sayu—or if she does love her on a fundamental/biological level, has never been able to express it. Why would that change when she returns home?

Later, Sayu presents Yoshida with a parting gift: a hand-written and illustrated cookbook with all of his favorite dishes she’s made for him over time. I couldn’t help but let out a loud awwwwwww that a roommate must’ve thought was me reacting to a cute puppy video. It’s such a cute, warm gift, and filled with love.

Sayu’s next parting gift is to share with Yoshida the view Asami shared with her, along with the wisdom she imparted about how even the tiniest stares have pasts and futures. Asami accepted Sayu and became her first real girl friend, just as Yoshida took her in with only the best intentions when everyone before had the worst.

Sayu doesn’t see Yoshida as simply “some guy who shared his apartment with her” for a while. That she met him when she did may well have saved her life, and she’ll never forget that, looking back fondly on the time she stopped running away, settled down, and found a way back.

Sayu admits that she’s tried to leave a few times while Yoshida wasn’t home, but has been unable to do so. Ultimately, he means enough to her not to want to leave without saying a proper goodbye. Because in all honesty, she kinda wants to stay with him forever. But she can’t settle her past unless she goes home.

Ichinose Kana does some really lovely voice work here, and has indeed done much of the heavy lifting in a show that doesn’t have the best production values. She even moves Yoshida to tears, because a part of him doesn’t want her to leave, both because he fears what might go down in Hokkaido, and because he’s become so accustomed to her living with him. He’d no doubt say she saved him just as he saved her.

Back at work, the ever-practical Mishima, independent of her individual crusade to win Yoshida’s heart, says if it’s so unbearable to say goodbye to and part with Sayu, then mabe he shouldn’t, and should instead follow her to Hokkaido. Sure, it would mean leaving his job, but both Mishima and Hashimoto doubt he considers his job or whatever project he’s working on to be anywhere near as important to him as Sayu.

In fact, it pisses Hashimoto off to no end that Yoshida tries—badly—to pretend otherwise, like when Asami calls him saying Sayu has disappeared and isn’t answering her phone. It takes Hashimoto telling Airi that Yoshida are feeling sick and going home early, and Mishima taking over Yoshida’s work for the day, to get him out of there.

While giving him a ride, Hashimoto expresses to Yoshida how it pisses him off that his best friend knows what to care about the most, but pretending he doesn’t. As his best friend, Hashimoto knows what Yoshida won’t admit: wanting what’s best for Sayu, or wanting whatever will make her happy, and his own fear of being apart from her aren’t mutually exclusive.

Sayu is fine (don’t scare me like that, show!); her phone simply died while she was waiting outside Yoshida’s office to surprise him and see where he worked; he and Hashimoto must’ve just missed crossing paths with her. Airi and Asami are there with her, and Yoshida acts like a worried dad when he sees her. This marks the first time Hashimoto lays eyes on Sayu, and seeing her makes him immediately understand why Yoshida is scared of losing her.

That night, the very last night together in Yoshida’s apartment, Sayu asks if she can climb into bed with him. Not for anything weird, but just for some warmth and human contact between two people who have come to mean much more to each other than they’d initially expected.

Sayu asks if she’d have grown up into a “normal girl” if Yoshida had been her dad. Yoshida should’ve answered by saying there’s nothing abnormal about her, she’s a lovely person who has admirably hung in there under abnormal and suboptimal circumstances. Okay, maybe that’s a little too wonky for the mood of that scene.

But whether he had decided earlier that evening, or right there in that bed, Yoshida tells Sayu he’ll come to Hokkaido with her, to keep an eye on her and see her mom with her. Sayu can’t contain her elation upon hearing those words. There’s nothing wrong with going back home to settle your past, but there’s nothing saying you have to do it alone…particularly if you’re someone who’s experienced enough loneliness for a lifetime.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 09 – The Things She Carried

Like Sayu, I was dreading the day someone from her family finally found her and forced her to come home…but that isn’t what happens. It turns out Issa is just as decent and kind a person as Yoshida, and doesn’t jump to conclusions even when Yoshida and Sayu greet him at the door in their PJs.

Instead, he’s the latest in a long line of refreshingly reasonable, level-headed human beings that populate Higehiro and make it feel more real. He’s not simply doing their mother’s bidding; he wanted to be the one who found Sayu, because he loves her and is worried about her.

Issa is greatly relieved Sayu managed to find a good soul who took her in without asking for anything inappropriate, and takes both of them at their word when they say nothing’s happened. As a high-achieving corporate type, I imagine Issa trusts his instincts when it comes to reading people.

But that’s not all: Issa can also tell, even if Sayu can’t, that she’s taken some important steps forward as a person. He notes how she’s more able to speak her mind, as she explains why she needs a few more days to think about things. He’s proud and caring n a way only a big brother can be, and grants her one more week.

I have to say, I never imagined in a million years that Issa would be such a good guy, especially considering the uncomfortable way the series has handled the bastard who took her in for sex and ended up her co-worker. But it’s not the show’s fault I automatically expect the worst…it’s because men, and especially anime men, are so often just that…the worst.

Of course, women are the worst too, as we learn when Sayu invites Asami over and sits her and Yoshida down to finally tell them about everything that’s happened that led her to run away. In effect, she’s unloading all of the burdens she’s carried before two friends who are all too happy to help share that load. Her first step in getting ready to go back is telling the people important to her about where she came from.

Sayu and her mother never got along. Her mother put all of her hopes and aspirations into her firstborn son Issa, and never had a kind word for Sayu. Because she never received love, Sayu didn’t bother putting any effort into anything, be it academics or socializing. She was alone, emanated a “stay away” aura, and came to prefer it that way.

But along came another outcast in Yuuko, for whom Sayu’s repelling aura had the opposite effect. Yuuko always told Sayu she was pretty and cool—as pretty and cool as Yuuko claimed not to be—and the two became fast, close friends. But Sayu’s looks and unimpeachable “goodness” kept the other girls from bullying her directly when she turned down a guy one of them liked, so they started bullying Yuuko instead.

Yuuko always said Sayu looked best when she was smiling and happy. But as the bullying intensified and Sayu dug in her heels, determined to stand beside Yuuko and fight for her, she stopped smiling and laughing, and was always depressed, because she felt responsible for her friend’s suffering and felt powerless to stop it.

Yuuko, however, felt differently. When Sayu told her she’d support her and fight for her against the bullying, it hurt Yuuko more than anything, as she believed she was ruining Sayu’s happiness by deigning to become friends with her in the first place.

So one day, Sayu found Yuuko standing on the wrong side of the balcony, waiting for her. Yuuko told her what happened was her fault, but it would be better if she were no longer in her life. Before leaping to her death, Yuuko asked Sayu to keep smiling, obviously in no mental state to realize how hard that would be if she killed herself.

Witnessing her first and only friend commit suicide for her sake would have been plenty of trauma for any teenager or adult to bear, but that wassn’t the end of Sayu’s suffering. As the Ogiwara household became besieged with press and stories and rumors of the true cause of Yuuko’s death, her mother did all the exact wrong things, only exacerbating Sayu’s despair.

Rather than support her daughter and help her grief, she blamed her for their predicament, and even went so far as to ask, seriously, if Sayu really did kill Yuuko. That despicable question is the last straw for Sayu, and you really can’t blame her for not wanting to spend one more second inside that house with that despicable woman. Instead, it’s Issa who offers Sayu a shoulder to cry on as she prepares to run away on foot.

Demonstrating he was just as empathetic and kind back then as he is in the present, he actually helps his sister get the distance and time she needs, giving her $3000 for a decent hotel and food for two weeks, if she promises to call him if she ever gets into trouble. If there’s a right way to run away, this was it: acknowledging and respecting what Sayu needed, but building checks into the arrangement.

But even with those measures in place, Issa would still need Sayu to actualy call him if she got in trouble, and she never does that. As she burns through her cash, she continues to be crushed by isolation and self-loathing, with no one there to help pull her out of her downward spiral. Issa’s mistake wasn’t getting Sayu away from their mom, it was sending Sayu away all by herself when she was in no condition to be entirely alone.

The episode includes a scene we previously saw only a flash of, in which Sayu masturbates and looks down at her hand afterwards. As this happens before she first sleeps with a man, I’m not sure why such a graphic scene was included, except to underscore that there was really not much for Sayu to do during this time but sleep, eat, and pleasure herself, and none of it was helping.

When Issa calls Sayu to check on her, her battery dies, and she tosses her phone out, believing in that moment that his kindness was merely pity she didn’t want or deserve. She wanders the streets, bumps into a man, and when she explains her situation he offers her a place to stay. He eventually asks for sex in return, and Sayu gives in, though doesn’t even remember the name of her first. She then went from guy to guy, trading sex for shelter, until ending up on Yoshida’s doorstep. The rest, we know.

The first to speak after her tale of woe is Asami, who gives Sayu the affection she needs and tells her just how hard she hung in there all this time. Having gotten all of this out, Sayu breaks down, having a much-needed cathartic cry. Once she’s calmed down and in bed, Asami asks Yoshida on the balcony what he’s going to do about her.

Yoshida says it’s up to Sayu’s family to figure this out and it’s not his place to interfere. Asami points out that’s not what she asked, idiot, and again asks: what does he want to do? He may say he’s a stranger, but he’s not; he and Asami are as much family to Sayu as Issa, and certainly more than Sayu’s mom.

What they want matters too, especially if it aligns with what Sayu herself wants. But first those things must be said, just as the things Sayu carried needed to be said to fully understand where she’s been, and determine what she should do. It’s not just Sayu who needs to think about things in the week she has left.