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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 07 – Donut Unto Others

Ever since digging into Hanako-kun’s past, Nene has felt awkward and uncomfortable around him, to the point Hanako starts to notice. She wants to learn still more but isn’t sure how to broach such sensitive topics, or even if she should. It’s not about anything Hanako has done, just about what she now knows.

Enter Kou, who despite being a great cook asks Nene to help him bake some donuts for his “little sister.” Turns out the donuts are for Hanako, and making them with Nene was meant to give her some space and time away from the bathroom to think things through.

Nene is appreciative of Kou’s friendship, and the donuts work great…until a black crane appears and transforms into…Hanako’s twin brother, whom he murdered. Nene manages to shoo him away (he doesn’t seem to be the most powerful as far as spirits go).

Still, after that things are right back to being awkward between Nene and Hanako. Even though she didn’t actually pry, circumstances exposed still more elements of a past Hanako would clearly not get into, even with a friend like Nene.

Hanako’s brother, meanwhile, seems to be in cahoots with the doll-like Sakura, who along with her lackey Natsuhiko’s help and the use of the broadcast club room seems to be responsible for a lot of the rumors that are causing problems around the school.

We’re not yet sure why she’s doing this, mind you, which is a little frustrating as we’re now past the halfway point of this season. Withholding secrets is fine, but with Hanako and Nene’s story basically going in a circle (donut?) this week, hopefully they’ll confront Sakua’s plot sooner rather than later.

Then there’s the cute ghost of a dead student Kou finds, which just kinda comes out of left field at the end. Kou’s mission to extract the ghost’s “regrets” is way too rushed and to make much of an impact, though the ghost’s protestations of Kou being a pervert bent on doing things “just like in porn” was amusing enough.

For now, there’s a lot of pieces now on the board, with parties of varying interests observing one another and sizing each other up, and Nene’s complicated bond with Hanako stewing in the middle. It’s anyone’s guess how those pieces will be move and interact with one another in the final five episodes.

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 05 – Love is In the Air

…Or at least it seems that way, with Nene and Aoi’s class suddenly chock full of new couples. Rumor has it when you confess to someone under a certain tree on school grounds, you’re assured to become a couple. When Aoi’s childhood friend who likes her practices on his male friend, the next day they’re a lovey-dovey couple.

When Hanako-kun suddenly asks Nene to meet him under the tree, she begins to consider if he likes her, rather than wonder what apparition he’s trying to rein in. The source of the successful confessions turns out to be a kodama, or tree spirit. Hanako does indeed confess to Nene, but compels her to reject him, rendering her bait for the kodama, which he then defeats.

Afterwards, Hanako teases Nene for hoping it would be a real confession, only to make her cry genuine tears. Realizing he was reckless with her feelings, Hanako chases after her, takes her hand, removes his hat, and offers a sincere apology, and insisting she stay with him until her tears stop. It’s a very moving scene, aided in no small part by Ogata Megumi’s excellent voice acting.

Seeing Hanako-kun without his hat sparks a newfound interest in learning more about the mysterious ghost boy, including what crime he committed and how he died. Hanako is suspicious of her prying, however, and places Kou between them as a buffer. When Minamoto-senpai is brought up, Nene sings his praises in an admiring, flowery tone, unaware the subject of her praise is not only right behind her, but Kou’s big brother.

As it happens, Teru has come to take Kou aside and admonish him for his lack of progress. His duty is to defeat the Seven Wonders, including Hanako, and Teru is not pleased with the fact Kou seems to have become chums with him. “There are no good apparitions,” warns Teru, who decides if Kou can’t do the job, he will, setting up a major confrontation with Hanako in the near future.

Nene, meanwhile, just wants to learn more about Hanako, and having limited success in the school library. Then a gorgeous, doll-like green-haired girl approaches her, and suggests she visit the Fifth Wonder, the 4 O’clock Library, for more info. Later Aoi warns that while white and black books are fine, one must never read a red book. Three guesses what color Hanako’s book is…

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 04 – Foxy Lady

When a beautiful woman appears she’s initially delighted to find that Nene, Kou and Hanako have constructed a human-ish body. But when she makes it move, it crumbles into a pile of parts; another “failure”she’ll add to the growing heap behind her, where Aoi and all the others who fell into her stairs lie, neither dead nor alive.

However, her scissors have the ability to turn a human (or a part of them) into a doll, so Hanako reiterates their goal of finding Misaki’s Yorishiro (or weakness). If the highest spot isn’t the deepest, then perhaps the lowest spot is…so he shoves Nene off the edge, and she falls, falls, and falls some more.

When she comes to she’s lying near the gate to a temple, surrounded by concerned Mokke. She finds a desk, an old photo, and a notebook that contains a kind of dialogue between a girl and her handwriting teacher. The handwriting gets better as the pages go on, but one day the teacher, named Misaki, doesn’t return.

Misaki, then, isn’t the woman in the kimono trying to turn everyone into dolls, but the teacher who abandoned her, likely when he died, or simply moved away. In any case, Nene now knows the woman’s weakness: a pair of haircutting scissors gifted to her by Misaki.

When the lady finds Nene and attacks her, Hanako intervenes, protecting Nene and giving her cover to make a run for the shrine containing the scissors. While the woman’s story is a sad one of unfulfilled love, she’s gone too far and way beyond her duties as a School Wonder. With her Yorishiro broken, Hanako strips her of her power.

Back in the realm of the living, Nene is safe and sound, while both a doll-ified Aoi, Kou, and all the other victims will be restored to their humanity. They were never dead, just trapped in between worlds. Then Hanako reveals the true form of the woman: an Inari statue in the form of a kitsune, or fox spirit.

In the past, Misaki-sensei befriended the ghost who inhabited the kitsune statue, name turns out to be Yako, and even included her when a photo was taken of him and his class. Yako grudingly agrees not to continue her mischief, but isn’t in a hurry to befriend Nene nor anyone else.

This latest School Wonder case thus solved, the black crane, really a black Haku-joudai  hiding in Nene’s hair, returns to its master, who then returns it to his master, a green-haired girl wearing the same uniform as Nene. She seems pleased things worked out. I assume at she’ll reveal herself and her intentions to Nene and/or Hanako at some point.

No Guns Life – 12 – Believing a Man with a Gun for a Head

This episode oddly re-introduces who Inui Juuzou is and what does, as if we hadn’t watched the previous eleven episodes. That’s even stranger considering this case was introduced at the tail end of last week’s offering, even though there wasn’t really any reason to do so other than to pad out that episode. Thankfully, what we get here is a self-contained, efficient and clever little mystery that underscores the dangers not of Extended, but prejudice towards them.

It starts in one direction, with Juuzou being hired by Danny Yoe to protect Rosa McMahon, the daughter of his DoD colleague. Both her parents were recently killed in a car accident. Rosa lost a leg and believes not only that an Extended was responsible for their deaths, but that the Extended reponsible is still haunting her. As such, she is terrified of Juuzou, not even considering him a human.

As it turns out, the creepy Extended “hands” that are floating through the mansion aren’t the enemy—they’re protecting her—but Danny very well could be. Because it’s Juuzou telling her this, Rosa doesn’t believe him until it’s too late and Danny has abducted her. He eventually reveals what he’s after: a mysterious metal locket Rosa’s father gave her.

Rosa is shrewd enough to take Danny’s sidearm, but he gets it back when he swerves the car. All he wanted was the locket, so he prepares to put a bullet in her head (it takes him a long time to load the gun), only one of the “Phantom Hands” arrives in time to take the bullet, saving Rosa.

Meanwhile Mary and Juuzou catch up thanks to a ridiculously overpowered motorcycle that belonged to Rosa’s dad. Juuzou takes Danny down while Mary tends to Rosa, and suddenly Rosa has a lot to reconsider about her feelings towards Extendeds. Mary offers to help her out should she ever need a new leg.

As for the locket, Mary determines it’s a kind of puzzle, that opens when solved. Inside is an antique memory medium that Juuzou makes a big deal about taking as payment for the job, but he really just wanted to get it away from Rosa so Berühren wouldn’t harass her anymore.

All in all this was a fun standalone episode that gave Mary a larger role in the field, introduced Rosa and the weird Hand Extended we see in the OP and ED, and was a cautionary tale about keeping your prejudices in check.

No Guns Life – 11 – An Arm Poorer, A Case Richer

Juuzou enters his office to find the Hands/GunSlave duo of Pepper and Seven, (perhaps not coincidentally named after sodas). Minase Inori does a baddie for once, giving Pepper a sultry, irreverent voice that actually sounds quite close to Mary’s Numakura Manami.

Pepper has a simple request: for Juuzou to let her kill him and his handler, whoever they are. Obviously, Juuzou has no intention of taking this”job.”

Seven may seem younger and less experienced than Juuzou, but he’s faster, and manages to shear off Juuzou’s left arm. Unfortunately, Pepper didn’t bother researching her target and his associates very carefully, or she’d know by now that Tetsuro is able to stop any Extended in its tracks with his Harmony (though doing so causes great strain to his sub-brain).

Pepper doesn’t want anything to do with Tetsuro, and so withdraws with Seven, and the fight ends in a stalemate—though not before licking Juuzou’s face and calling dibs (to Mary’s outrage).

While Tetsuro wallows in guilt and regret for starting all of this, Juuzou is confused and suspicious about why Berühren is suddenly targeting him and quietly dropped their search for the kid.

Whatever Berühren’s reasons (if any) for continuing to antagonize Juuzou, Mary invites a new client, who takes the two of them to a mansion where a kid is being “haunted” by some kind of Extended “ghost.” The episode ends just when they arrive at the gates of the mansion, so this felt more like a bridge between two unresolved stories than a standalone episode in its own right.

Kabukichou Sherlock – 10 – The War They Left for Us

John Watson is haunted by the death of Irene Adler. He’s constantly looking at his forearm which she grasped with her blood-soaked hand. The blood was washed away, but he can still feel it on his skin. She tried to tell him something, but all we heard was “Jack.”

Ever since then, Watson is visited upon by a ghost—the ghost of Irene. We see her body in the morgue, so the show is pretty insistent that she is, in fact, dead. Her ghost seems to imply Moriarty did it, and Sherlock is next, but Sherlock just wants to be alone.

We spend the whole episode all swept up in Watson’s suspicions, which might just curdle into paranoia by the time he’s openly accusing Moriarty of being Jack the Ripper. Moriarty laughs it off and then shares the joke with the whole gang, but we share Watson’s continued gut feeling that something is not quite right about Moriarty.

Even when Watson chases Moriarty, who is following Sherlock and even pulls a knife menacingly, it’s Watson whom Sherlock begins to suspect. He told Moriarty about Irene’s hideout, because he believed and still believes the kid can be trusted. Compared to him, Watson is a stranger. Still raw from the loss of Irene, Sherlock banishes Watson from his sight..

While sharing another drink at the bar (Watson drinks a lot this week, adding to his unreliability), Kyougoku Fuyuto proposes a way for Watson to get back into Holmes’ good graces: unlock the USB drive and find the proof about Jack’s identity. The first warning sign is that Fuyuto “knows someone” who can crack the password, so all Watson has to do is steal it from Sherlock and give it to him.

Perhaps sobering up a bit in the process of finding the drive (Sherlock hid it in a baggie in a can of peaches), Watson also gets cold feet about handing over the drive, but Fuyuto insists…with a knife. Turns out Fuyuto is obsessed with being the one to catch Jack, perhaps out of a need to prove to Maki that he’s worth marrying? In any case, a struggle ensues, interrupted by Moriarty and Sherlock, the latter of whom thanks Watson.

Was the whole plan to expose Fuyuto’s true colors? Is Irene really dead, or was her death faked to draw out Jack? Like Watson this week, I thought I was on to something about Moriarty, but now…I’m not so sure about anything!

Steins;Gate 0 – 04 – Another Girl Lost in Time

Okabe experiences a number of strange flashes in various world lines before waking up in bed, only to eventually return to the roof of the lab with Maho. They include running from enemy forces (likely in the bad future) and answering a mysterious phone call. He wonders if he somehow experienced Reading Steiner, and fears for the worst.

Thankfully, both Mayushii and everyone else are fine, so if there was a world line change, it was a subtle one, at least in terms of how it affected his life. Later, Amakurisu suggests Okabe give his mismatched present (a sexy red dress) to Maho, saying she’d likely be “surprisingly happy.”

Okabe doesn’t do that, but both Maho and Leskinen can tell he’s gotten close to Amadeus in not much time at all, feeding Leskinen’s hope that the AI will be able to fall in love, which would obviously be a huge breakthrough.

It seems like fate that they’d find the person who just happened to be in love with the real Kurisu. Maho just wants to know more about the side of her good friend and colleague that she never knew, lamenting that she “knows nothing”, despite the fact she is not Jon Snow.

Meanwhile, as Suzuha tries to get her eventual dad to go on a date with her eventual mother, Daru senses Suzu is hiding something, and isn’t thrown off by Suzu’s weak “it’s nothing.” What Daru learns is that Suzu did not board the Time Machine alone, but took Future Mayushii’s adopted war orphan daughter, Kagari.

In 1998, Suzuha and the 11-year-old Kagari were separated in Akiba, meaning in the present she’s a 22-year-old woman. Suzuha has been busy searching for her, with no success. Daru relays this information to Okabe, along with a request to help with the search.

Okabe quickly agrees, and when Amakurisu gets word of his task, she offers to search the vast networks she has access to in order to assist him. He pockets that offer for now, not wanting himself or Amakurisu to get into any unnecessary trouble (doing what she proposed may not be legal, strictly speaking).

After a flashback to 1998 when Kagari pulled a gun on Suzu in order to stop her from changing the future (the one in which her mother Mayushii lived), we’re back in the present, where Okabe asks Rukako and Feyris (who both grew up in Akiba) to put feelers out about a girl.

Feyris gets back to him about a “ghost with braids” asking people about a lost little girl (obviously Suzuha), but nothing concrete about Kagari. As Okabe is receiving Feyris’ call, he spots Dr. Leskinen turning a corner, but when he follows him he hits a dead end of boxes. Weird.

When Okabe returns to the lab, Daru has called someone he apparently knows who may have information for them. While waiting for this person to arrive, Okabe gets a call from Rukako with an urgent request to come meet him at his house, and no other time will do.

Then there’s a knock on the door, and who should be on the other end but Kiryuu Moeka, the sight of whom triggers all of the awful dealings Okabe had with her in other world lines. Oddly, I knew with some certainty that it would be her, partly because there was just something off about the suddenness of Daru’s connection.

Of course, this may not be a Killer Kiryuu…but from the glimpse of the hair of Rukako’s guest, it’s pretty clear her assistance isn’t needed to find Kagari…Kagari is that guest. All Okabe has to do is go to Rukako’s and he’s found her. The question is, will he be able to?

Steins;Gate 0 – 03 – Easy to Be Deluded

As Mayushii organizes a huge Christmas bash to cheer up Suzuha, Okabe is finding Amakurisu’s constant calls a nuisance. But she insists he keep his promises to her by showing her the lab. While her first impression is that it’s a dump, she admits she always yearned to share a room with people, with “forks and spoons and stuff.” She already feels so much like Kurisu, it’s almost as if Okabe’s Facetiming the real thing.

As Suzuha is visited by her benefactor Feyris to try to convince her to come to the party, all Suzu can think about is how to convince Okabe to accompany her to the Steins Gate.

At the Brain Institute, Leskinen is excited to see what comes of Okabe convering with Amakurisu, while Hiyajou is more weary, thinking of displacement behavior and knowing firsthand how easy it is to replace the Kurisu she lost with Amakurisu in her mind.  Leskinen has an answer for that as well: go out with Okabe for Christmas Eve.

The next day Leskinen and Hiyajou meet with Okabe, but before they do, Okabe and Amakurisu have a crucial conversation on her true nature as an “incomplete AI” due to the fact everything she sees and hears is logged, meaning she can never “forget” by anything resembling the same methods real humans forget, which is not so much about missing information as information that slowly changes over days, months…or decades.

Along those lines, Okabe and Hiyajou are at the mercy of their memories of Kurisu, which are constantly meshing with Amakurisu, to the point she feels more and more real.

Hiyajou looks the tiniest bit disappointed when Okabe says he has plans for the Eve (even if she likely wasn’t going to take Amakurisu or Leskinen’s advice and ask him out), but Okabe presents a third way: he invites them both to the party.

Everyone ends up turning up—even Suzu, whom Daru fooled and who nearly killed her mother when they all surprised her—and it’s a jolly good time, bringing back life and vitality to the lab. They even get in another “Hiyajou is kid-sized” gag when Nao asks her what grade she’s in, while Leskinen mistakes Ruka for a girl (though he’s dead sexy regardless).

Okabe’s participation in the party is interrupted by a call from Amakurisu, which he goes to the roof to answer. When he takes a while, Mayushii follows him up there, and after overhearing him talking with someone (whether she knows it’s Kurisu), heads back to the lab. Poor Mayushii, who had to tell her cosplay buddies that despite how close they are, Okabe likes someone else…without mentioning that someone else is dead, of course.

One thing Amakurisu will never forget is that Okabe called her Christina when they first met, and one of her three theories is spot on: it’s the name he used to call the real Kurisu (whom she calls “Original Me”). She didn’t think that theory was likely because of the way she knew she’d react, and says the exact same words she always said to him, and in the same way. He confesses he used to call Kurisu that because he was too embarrassed to use her real name.

The problem is, he’s talking to Amakurisu as if she were Kurisu. Escaping a Santa costume photo shoot, Hiyajou, who came to the roof to check on Okabe right after Mayushii, snatches his phone from him and turns off the app. The Amadeus app. Not a Facetime call with Makise Kurisu, whom she tells Okabe “isn’t here anymore.”

This upsets Okabe greatly, as if suddenly lifted from some kind of spell, and triggers a torrent of muddled memories from other world lines. Hiyajou may have thought Okabe was just another good friend of Kurisu’s who’d be all-too-easily deluded by Amadeus, but there’s a lot more going on than she knows or would quickly believe.

Like, say, the fact that Suzuha is from the future and her father is inventing a time machine.

Steins;Gate 0 – 02 – Okabe Chooses Not to Run While He Still Can

When Dr. Leskinen (through Hiyajou Maho) announces he’s about to demonstrate an AI developed from memories stored as data, and there’s a bit of a delay before the Amadeus program starts up, a skeptic stands up and deems such a venture “insanity,” calling into question the research of a 17-year-old like the late Makise Kurisu.

He’s quickly rebuffed, not by Leskinen or Hiyajou, but by Okabe, who won’t stand by silently and let such slander pass. All scientific advances are borne from a desire to make the impossible possible, after all. With his outburst he gains the attention and applause of Leskinen.

Then the Amadeus demonstration proceeds, with an AI version of Hiyajou using her memories from four days ago splashes across the screen, making discreet observations about the room around her and also forgetting certain information. It really is Hiyajou from four days in the past…sort of.

At the social event that follows the seminar, Okabe and Hiyajou both end up in an isolate corner together, neither very good at such functions…and they find an easy, casual chemistry together. Hiyajou is an adult, and thus able to overlook Okabe’s initial misunderstanding about her age due to her stature.

When she discusses some of the problems she and Leskinen are still having with Amadeus, Okabe is reminded of Kurisu’s lecture about Top-down memory search signals, impressing Hiyajou. He then admits he can converse about such things because he was a friend of Kurisu’s.

She was more of a kohai to Hiyajou, but when they discuss her at length she can’t help but tear up, as it’s clear she cherished her kohai deeply; Okabe doesn’t look far behind with the tears, but manages to maintain his composure.

Leskinen then cuts into the conversation, and when he learns Okabe was a friend of Kurisu, he suggests to Hiyajou that they should introduce him to another Amadeus AI program they’re working on…using the eight month-old memories and taking the form of none other than Makise Kurisu.

Okabe thought he’d never see or hear Kurisu ever again, but after seeing how closely Hiyajou’s version of Amadeus emulated her living counterpart, it’s a stunning proposition. Hiyajou warns that the closer he was to Kurisu, the crueler meeting her Amadeus version will be.

Still, Okabe can’t resist accepting the invitation to the Brain Science Institute, where Hiyajou is waiting outside for him and guides him inside, all the while continuing to warn him that he may be in for a thoroughly heartbreaking experience—especially if he knew her better than Hiyajou.

The venue in which Okabe is poised to meet the digital “ghost” of Kurisu couldn’t be more spartan: a drab room empty save for an unassuming PC station with a single shortcut on the desktop. Hiyajou clicks on the application and steps aside for Okabe to behold.

Okabe reacts how one expected him to, and how anyone who’d just seen a ghost of a loved one might react. Part shock and despair, but also part wonder and relief. Leskinen and Hiyajou really did make the impossible possible; at least what Okabe had concluded would be impossible.

However, this Kurisu of the Beta World Line of eight months ago does not remember Okabe. Considering Miyajou’s Amadeus counterpart couldn’t remember the pajamas she wore a week ago, perhaps that’s part of the human flaws inherent in the program? Then again, perhaps not; it’s likelier the Kurisu whose data they used simply hadn’t met him yet—to say nothing of falling in love.

Speaking of love, “Amakurisu” is sharp enough to sense the nice vibes coming off of Hiyajou and Okabe, and briefly takes Hiyajou aside to address that observation, much to Hiyajou’s chagrin. Her blushing at the party and here suggest she has at least a passing affinity for the former Mad Scientist, something Amakurisu picked up on almost immediately; a testament to the program’s sophistication.

Amakurisu’s response to Okabe’s first question put to her—about what she thinks about the possibility of constructing a time machine—is actually different from the answer he got from the real Kurisu. The late Kurisu dismissed such machines as impossible, but Amakurisu adds the caveat that her belief in their impossibility doesn’t mean they actually are impossible, just that the crucial discovery that would make them possible has yet to be found.

Were she willing to dismiss the possibility of such a discovery, she’d be scarcely better than the skeptic Okabe took down back at the seminar. Okabe wonders if the difference in views is a matter of the difference between world lines, but it could also be a product of Amadeus having learned through conversations with Leskinen and Hiyajou, thus making her a being distinct from the person whose memories form her foundation.

When Leskinen makes an appearance and greets Okabe in English, Okabe’s attempt to respond in English nets him criticism from Amakurisu, causing him to instinctively call her “Christina”, something he does a couple more times, confusing everyone around them but also piquing their curiosity.

Ultimately, Leskinen wants Okabe to be a “tester”, talking with Amadeus on a semi-regular basis so they can collect more data than if just he and Hiyajou continued chatting with her (plus they’re running out of things to talk about, so “fresh blood” is crucial to the program). To that end, they give him an app that not only allows him to contact Amakurisu, but allows her to call him whenever “she” likes.

And she does just that…calling him eight times; the last few attempts occurring while Okabe is on a walk with Mayushii, who is planning a Christmas party to cheer Suzuha up and thinks Okabe should attend so he and Suzuha can make up. Mayushii notices someone calling him repeatedly and steps aside to let him address it.

When Okabe finally answers her call, Amakurisu is not pleased, and Okabe can’t help but admit that she really is Makise Kurisu, all stubborn and moody and spunky and wonderful. Sure, it’s not really her, but it’s most definitely a version of her, and having lived the last few months with a grey cloud over his head, there’s surely overwhelming comfort in the “next best thing”.

I’m frankly bowled over by the amount of material just the first two episodes of Steins;Gate 0 has managed to cover, and how deeply involved and invested I already am in this very bittersweet story. Yahagi Sayuri does some really fine work as Hiyajou, and just hearing Imai Asami’s voice again nearly brought tears to my eyes. We’re off to a stirring start.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 13 (Fin) – Ten Thousand Times More Beautiful

With no more conflicts or catharses left to have, the girls enjoy their final days in Antarctica. They’ve settled into such a routine and gotten so used to the astonishing environment, one adult jokes they won’t be able to reintegrate into society, presenting Shirase and the other Mahjong junkies as evidence.

Their final journey to the frozen sea affords them the opportunity to taste snowcones made from ice with thousand-year-old air pockets, which Mari attests to be delicious. They also learn that much of the winter team’s activities will include sleeping, drinking, and games to pass the time.

Shirase finally gets her wish to be surrounded by adorable penguins, but she’s locked in a cycle of being disgusted by the smell and delighted by being in their presence while asking for some unspecified form of help. I imagine many of us would feel the same way.

Mari is getting cold feet about leaving, and wonders out loud to the others why they can’t just stay. Hinata flicks her forehead and doles out reality; they have to get back to their homes, their families, and their school. But all four promise that they’ll come back together someday.

They then present their final request to the rest of the team: that they play a game of snow softball. Captain Toudou is, naturally, the ace, but just like Takako, Shirase is not only able to hit her pitch, but drive it out of the “park.”

On the eve of departing, Shirase decides to have her hair cut short—her heart wasn’t broken by a guy, but such a change makes sense after her catharsis with the laptop (she also wisely chooses Hinata to cut it, not Mari). The whole team musters for the girls’ farewell ceremony, and after a heartfelt speech by Gin that starts everyone crying, Shirase confidently delivers and even more heartfelt, tear-jerking speech.

In it, she expresses the understanding she reached in this place beyond the universe, and why both her mother and her love it so much: It’s a place that strips everything bare, with nothing to protect you and nowhere to hide. It’s a place where someone can come face-to-face with who they really are…and she did that.

Before embarking for home, Shirase hands Gin her mom’s laptop, stating she no longer needs it. Later, Gin discovers there’s still a message from Takako in the outbox; the last she ever composed. The quartet waves goodbye to their Antarctic summer home where they experienced and learned so much about the world, each other, and themselves.

Yuzu wonders if maybe they all got a little stronger during the journey. A ‘little’? I think she sells herself and the others short here. They were the first high school-age students to explore Antarctica, and they made it. Now, all of a sudden, they’re headed back to the normal world. Even if and when they come back, it will never be the same as their first time.

When night falls, Mari finally gets to experience the one thing they couldn’t due to the laughably short Antarctic nights: view the aurora. Just when they do, Gin sends the last email Takako wrote to Shirase, stating how the real thing is “ten thousand times more beautiful”—something of which, in that moment, Shirase and the others are all to aware.

The four friends, having forged their bonds in the coldest and harshest crucible on the planet, go their separate ways with confidence and return to their lives that were with a serious sense of accomplishment, self-awareness, and maturity.

They discovered as much about themselves in Antarctica as they discovered about the place itself, like how there are no “nothing” days but there’s still more to discover upon returning, like the smell of one’s house.

And in a perfect capper to a marvelous series, Mari texts Megumi that she’s home, and gets a near-immediate response, along with a photo of her posing with the aurora: “Too bad. Right now, I’m in the Arctic.” Well played, Megu-chan; well played.

 

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 12

Shirase vividly remembers the day she was suddenly pulled out of class and informed of her mother’s death. How can she not? We all carry days like that in our memories. For her, it was the end of life feeling as it had before, and the beginning of a dream; an awful dream from which she hoped every day to wake up from.

She’s worked so hard, endured mockery, made and fought with friends, and arrived at the place where she lost her mother. Yet she still doesn’t feel like the dream is over. Now Gin has invited her and the other girls to join the team that will press inland, to the observatory site from which Takako never returned.

Shirase tells her friends it’s not so much that she’s depressed to stressed out about her mother. Rather, she’s weary that if and when she gets to the end of the road, there will be nowhere left to go. If nothing changes, the way it hasn’t thus far, what if she keeps feeling the way she does the rest of her life? What if she can’t wake up?

The girls decide to give Shirase space, proof, according to an adult colleague, that they’re truly good friends. Shirase sits with Gin, who tells her that neither of them know what Takako felt, or whether she wanted them to return to Antarctica, where she’d be waiting in some form.

All Gin can say for certain is that she came because she wanted to come: “At the end of the day, those ideas we latch on to aren’t enough to motivate us. But when we run around on the injustices of reality, they’re the only things that can break through, make the impossible possible, and allow us to proceed on.”

After laying out all of her cash and listing all the ways she made it, Shirase regains the idea that brought her to Antarcica, and joins Gin and the other girls on the inland trip…because her mother is waiting there.

Along the slow, cold slog of a trip, Shirase and he girls experience the harshest conditions so far, but still have to work in them, because there’s no other choice. They also experience some of the most otherworldly sights, like a sun pillar.

When Shirase asks Gin if her mother saw the same thing, Gin answers in the affirmative. Later, Gin has Shirase check in with Syowa Station. From then on, as Shirase realizes she’s following in her mother’s last footsteps, the journey adopts an increasingly melancholy mood.

When a punishing blizzard arrives identical to the one that suddenly claimed Takako, Gin remembers Takako’s last call on the radio, saying “it’s beautiful” but not telling Gin where she was, because if Gin went out to attempt rescue, nature would likely have claimed her as well.

The girls are snug in their sleeping bags as the winds lash against the snowcat, and Shirase sees a vision of her mother sitting nearby, working on her laptop. Mari wakes up to thank Shirase for taking her for allowing her to get the most out of her youth.

It doesn’t matter to her whether they went to Antartica or the Arctic or anywhere else; what made the trip special was that they took it together, as friends. Shirase then tells her mother that she, who thought she’d be fine alone forever, now has friends: slightly weird, frustrating, and broken friends, but friends who were willing to come this far with her.

Now, there’s only a little further to go, and once the snowcats arrive at the observatory site, those same friends rush into the underground complex to try to find something, anything that serves as proof Shirase’s mother was there. And boy do they ever find it: Takako’s laptop, with a photo of Takako and Shirase taped to the back.

Again Shirase’s friends recede to the hallway as Shirase fires up the laptop. She gets the password right on the second try, and when Takako’s inbox opens, it immediately starts updating, with a dozen, then a hundred, then a thousand emails gradually pouring in…and Shirase loses it. Her friends hear her anguish and then they start crying.

In a show that’s had no shortage of episode climaxes that tug at the heartstrings, no scene to date has tugged quite this far (I pretty much lost it too!). It truly feels like Shirase has finally awakened from her hazy three-year-long dream, having experienced a profound measure of closure from this. In any case, her fear of not feeling anything once she came to the end of her journey didn’t come to pass. She didn’t just feel something; she felt everything.