Happy Sugar Life – 09 – Eliminating All Risks

In exchange for the change to see and be purified by Shio, Taiyo follows through with Satou’s instructions, giving Asahi Shio’s sock and telling a tale about it being found at a station some distance away. A cordial exchange quickly devolves into nastiness when Asahi smells some kind of trickery afoot, and then triggers Taiyo into a rage by calling him a “dirty adult”; pretty much the worst insult you can throw his way.

Still, Asahi regrets how things ended, and decides to take Taiyos advice and travel afar for more clues. The night before he leaves he meets Shouko in the park once more. Shouko thinks everything about Asahi is amazing, and while he’s not manly or her type at all, a part of her is jealous of Shio for having such a gallant prince willing to move forward no matter how much it may hurt or how scared he is. She bids him farewell with an exchange of contact info, and a kiss.

Satou is at the station to make sure Asahi is on his way, then returns home to 1208 to spend the whole day with Shio. It just happens to be the “anniversary” of the day she first kidnapped her. Satou celebrates by buying a bunch of fancy sweets which the two share together, and when Shio brings up the future, and securing said future together with the bonds of marriage, Satou is ready with two rings.

Both she and Shio are happy beyond words; giddy, even. And in a moment of particularly intense giddiness, Shio pounces on Satou as she’s exiting the front door…

…Where Shouko is waiting there with her cameraphone, and snaps a picture of Shio with Satou. It’s a devastating needle scratch but also a welcome glass of cold ice water on Satou’s frankly impossible (and ridiculously amoral) fantasy dream world. Her Happy Sugar Life is a sham; a mere house of cards that falls all too easily once a sliver of reality peeks in.

And yet, as evil as Satou’s actions are, Shouko comes with at least a veneer of non-judgment, acceptance, and love of and for Satou, no matter what she’s become, what she’s done. No matter how far she’s sunk into the muck, Shouko wants to pull her out and back into the light—the real light. But Shouko is doomed the moment Satou saw her on the balcony; before she even snapped that picture.

In a thoroughly unpleasant, sickeningly brutal scene, Satou grabs Shouko from behind as she’s leaving, sticks a knife in her throat, and suffocates her with her hand as she bleeds out. Another risk eliminated. She used soft power on Asahi, but had to go hard with Shouko, who kept persisting and interfering.

But Shouko’s death wasn’t in vain. The photo of Shio with Satou reaches Asahi. Will he be prudent enough to report Shio’s kidnapping to trained authorities and let them deal with Satou, or will he try to go after her alone? How will Satou deal with Shouko’s body, and will her murder spark a purge of more “risks”?

Most importantly, how will Shio respond to this once the initial shock wears off? Perhaps Shio herself could end up dealing the decisive blow to Satou’s delusional,  impossible world of sugar and happiness. The foundations of that world are as rotten as her aunt’s apartment; they’re sinking ever deeper into the earth made soft by spilled blood.

Happy Sugar Life – 08 – How We Got Here, Where We’re Going

Now the picture of Matsuzaka Satou is that much more complete. Room 1208, the cage in which she now keeps Shio, was once the apartment where a loner artist resided. He didn’t want anything from Satou except for her to pose, and let her talk about whatever she wanted.

In the minimalist first half, it’s just Hanazawa Kana as Satou talking. The artist responds, but we only hear static, and never get a good look at him. It doesn’t really matter who he is, but what he wanted. He wanted Satou to remain incomplete and unsatisfied, so he could keep drawing her.

That changed when, one day, for reasons unexplained, Satou brought Shio to 1208. Before long, she started to feel something around her she felt for no one else; she became complete; satisfied. In other words, everything the artist didn’t want.

So he tried to get rid of Shio in the most reckless fumbling way: trying to choke her to death when Satou was out of the room. Of course, she enters, and the atelier becomes a violent murder scene.

Since Shio was a witness to it—albeit likely dazed/disoriented by the choking—it sure looks like the creepy figure she’s drawn in the closet is Satou herself. Shio carries the trauma every day, and it occasionally surfaces. That’s a problem!

Taiyo comes to a kind of revelation: he needs to give up on Shio and try to become a normal guy again. He’s content to keep the wanted poster in his pocket as he puts the pieces of his past life back together, not letting the trauma of the abuse he endured further mire him.

Unfortunately, his resolve to reform is brittle, and Satou finds him at the perfect time to shatter it, offering Shio’s still-warm sock to prove she’s serious about letting the “knight” meet the “angel” and let her “purify” him. All he has to do is get rid of the person trying to take Shio away from her.

I first thought Satou wanted Taiyo to get rid of the teacher, but I rethought that conclusion when Asahi gets a call from someone offering him a clue as to Shio’s whereabouts. I immediately thought that this was the first step in the plan Taiyo is carrying out for Satou.

Complicating matters is that Asahi is the one who finds Shouko at her lowest point, cursing herself for rejecting Satou when Satou needed her most and wanting to “disappear.” Asahi assures her she’s a kind and good person—the type of person prone to always laming themselves.

Asahi comforts Shouko and cheers her up, and they now seem to be friends, since she’s still by his side when he gets that phone call. If Asahi is Satou’s target via Taiyo, I doubt Shouko will escape uninvolved.

Happy Sugar Life – 06 – Losing the Moon

Shouko, who is consistently the most normal of characters in this show full of loons, encounters Asahi, and she isn’t one to just keep walking. At her heart she’s a “good girl”, even as she once made a habit of staying out late at night to fool around with men.

She’s also good enough friends with Satou that she knows when she’s hiding something. She’s just not ready to believe Taiyo’s accusations. Meanwhile, Satou tries to hem in Taiyo from further interference by offering to let him meet Shio, while the masochistic teacher is dedicated to finding proof Satou murdered her aunt.

Satou’s far-too-together demeanor at work continuies to elicit suspicion in Shoko, who walks the same shopping district she and Satou used to hang out looking for guys. Only this time, she goes to the park to find Asahi sleeping under a bench, and gives him more food. She has no ulterior motives, she has no hidden neurosis; she’s just helping someone in need.

She wants to know how Asahi got into this state, and he tells her the story of how his mother and Shio escaped the house where her drunk husband was beating her. Asahi stayed behind so “the devil” wouldn’t go looking for his mom and Chio.

Staying meant enduring beatings and KGB-style fingernail torture, but Asahi it was worth it; he’d take the abuse so Mom and Chio could be safe and free. He had his moments of despair, but ultimately endured until his father drank himself to death.

The unbridled joy of discovering this fact is quickly marred when Asahi goes to his mom’s house to find Chio has been kidnapped. His Mom, who from the look of the place was not coping well with living and caring for her kid on her own (even though the alternative would’ve obviously been worse; at least she’s not being beaten) simply tells Asahi it was “too late.”

Shouko scores a day out with Satou, their first time hanging out as friends in a good long time. They have a lot of fun, but Shouko has a mission in mind: she wants to know the truth. Satou is initially totally unwilling to tell her, since it’s something she doesn’t want a good girl like Shouko getting mixed up in.

Shouko forces the issue by telling Satou that she wants nothing else but to know what she’s involved in, because she loves her friend more than anyone else. These words seem to move Satou, and she invites Shouko to come to her house to learn what secret she’s been hiding with a non-existent boyfriend.

Even so, I’m not convinced Satou is capable of trusting Shouko with all of the dark things she’s done that even she herself has compartmentalized. Then again, I find it hard to believe Satou would do anything to Shouko in the presence of Shio—which calls to mind how exactly Shio’s kidnapping went down. More concerning is the fact the masochistic teacher is tailing Satou. I can’t see any of this ending well.

Hinamatsuri – 11 – Just a Regular Nice Guy

TV journalist Seta Daisuke looking for an exciting, violent, and profane yakuza story and thinks he’s found one in Yoshifumi Nitta, who, after all, is known to have taken down an entire rival group single-handedly. Seta steels himself for a tough assignment, even writing his will.

As we know from watching Nitta, that might’ve been, ah, a bit premature. While Seta initially believes Nitta is just putting up a calm front to hide the unhinged savage within, Nitta’s daily life leads to Seta coming to the crushing conclusion that his vicious yakuza is just…a regular nice guy.

His mom and sister all but confirm it when they burst into rude laughter upon being asked whether there are any “exciting” stories about their son and brother. My friends, there are not. Nitta is as cool a cucumber as one can get in his business.

Mind you, we the audience know that he’s actually had some pretty spectacular moments that any journalist would sell non-vital organ to cover, but most to all of those involve Hina in some way, and Nitta has no intention of revealing anything about her besides the fact she has no one else so he takes care of her.

Seta resorts to staging a scene where Nitta loses his temper and brains Sabu with an ashtray. While it’s true he went a bit to far, Sabu kinda had it coming considering he almost got Nitta killed during the group’s now amicably-resolved succession crisis. That’s some good unspoken continuity!

When Seta surveys his amassed footage and concludes that he will be fired the moment he shows this to his boss at the station, he decides to abandon his journalistic integrity and resort to clever editing, narration, and flat-out fake news.

Nitta and Hina watch the farce of a yakuza profile, in which a pixel-faced Nitta’s completely tepid responses are made to sound like he’s the monster Seta’s voiceover claims him to be. Ironically, he ends his piece by lamenting the end of the decent, respectable yakuza in favor of “monsters” like Nitta (or the completely phony Nitta he created); despite the fact Nitta actually is that guy.

And not just him. His yakuza associates don’t hesitate to tease him with memorized lines from the show they knew was a bunch of bologna. Combined with Hina doing the same (and asking, bemused, who exactly was the subject of the profile they watched, ’cause it wasn’t him!), Nitta ends up running away, barely holding back tears. I guess it’s for the best the yakuza aren’t portrayed exactly like him…

 

In the second part of this episode, Nitta hosts Anzu while her parents are away at a hot spring. With Hina away on her middle school’s ski-training trip(?), it’s just him and Anzu, and in Anzu he finds a girl much better suited for his life than Hina, in terms of her ability, and enthusiastic willingness, to help out with domestic chores.

She doesn’t subtly mock or shade Nitta (as Hina is wont to do) either! Anzu is such a consistently, relentlessly good girl throughout her visit, Nitta has to run into another room to scream and curse the chinese restaurant owners for getting the good girl-in-a-metal-egg, while he’s stuck with…with Hina.

In fact, Nitta experiences a bit of what Seta did during the interview in the first segment. All of Anzu’s pleasantries and smiles sound fake to him after the ruthless “realness” of life with Hina, whom he regards as the typical spoiled brat of a kid who is a pain in the ass to their parent or guardian just ’cause.

But he’s wrong; just as Seta was wrong. This Anzu is the real Anzu. She may have been a lot more like Hina in the past, but her experiences and environment since have changed her, for the better.

Eventually, Anzu unconsciously manages to wear Nitta down until he dissolves into a cloud of sand, re-coalesces in mid-air, and flies away in formation with several Anzu-angels, leaving the Hina-demons crawling along the ground far behind.

After an incredible night in the “Ideal Father’s World”, the day arrives when Anzu’s folks return and she returns home, and the dream is over. Nitta decries that fact that “Reality is coming home.”

All the time he was shitting on Hina, something in the back of my head was telling me the show was going to teach him a lesson about not knowing what he’s lost until he lost it…even though it kinda already did that. My intuition turned out to be correct.

He gets an ominous call from the school ski trip informing him that Hina has been “lost in the mountains.” Now, you, me, and Nitta know that with her telekinetic abilities she’ll probably be just fine, and could easily deal with any threat she might come across.

That’s perhaps why Nitta responds so nonchalantly. But it’s still upsetting to hear that she’s lost, just when Nitta was dreading her return. Here’s hoping the final episode is devoted to his search for her and their reunion, perhaps with some assists from his various friends.

Darling in the FranXX – 11 – As Partners Swap, Dread Looms

We’ve had Hiro episodes, Ichigo episodes, a Gorou and a Zorome episode, and now, before the halfway-point of DFX arrives, we get an episode centered on three of the “secondary” parasites: chiefly Mitsuru, but also Ikuno, Kokoro, and Futoshi, elevating them beyond the one/two notes they each played: Cool & Distant (Mitsuru) Passive & Doubful (Ikuno), Kind & Gentle (Kokoro), and Always Eating (Futoshi).

Mitsuru is having issues again. His performance scores are dipping. He dreams of when he and Hiro were kids, when he looked up to him. But at some point Hiro “betrayed” him, leaving him to adopt his “no one needs anyone” attitude that is now getting him in trouble, since he actually does need others, and others need him.

Meanwhile, Futoshi x Kokoro are adorably lovey-dovey as usual, but ever since finding the pamphlet on child-rearing, Kokoro has been less enthusiastic by their routine. Still, when Futoshi asks if she’ll promise to be his partner forever, she agrees all too causally for it to not bite her in the ass later.

Eventually Mitsuru hits his breaking point, and we learn his troubles may also be a result of the fact he received an “Elixir Injection” when he was little to enhance his parasite abilities. He was the only child to survive such an injection. However, some drugs and bed rest get him out of the woods, and he immediately wants to get back in a FranXX.

Hachi and Nana gather everyone to propose an elective partner shuffle, and those who volunteer shock everyone. First, Ikuno requests a pistil-pistil partnership with Ichigo, to determine if it’s viable in case they lose a stamen in battle. She no doubt also wants to prove to herself that she’s not bogging down Chlorophytum.

Even more surprising is Kokoro, who requests Mitsuru as her stamen. When Futoshi protests and reaches out to her, Kokoro’s look is all you need to know to conclude his clinginess has clearly lost its luster with her. He’s just…too much. Zorome’s idea of why she left mirrors that…and he also says Futoshi could stand to lose some weight.

The results of the initial partner shuffle tests are interesting: Ichigo and Ikuno’s connection times out without any success, confirming Ichigo’s belief a boy is needed…but Ikuno isn’t so sure Ichigo’s attitude and unwillingness to embrace a pistil as her stamen didn’t affect the test. Mitsuru and Kokoro fare much better, reaching the minimum acceptable parasite level and keeping it stable in Genista.

Futoshi acts the way you’d expect someone like him to act after getting dumped by his dream girl: like a whiny little bitch. Mitsurudoesn’t like the hassle Kokoro’s “betrayal” caused, but Hiro, at least, can appreciate Futoshi’s feelings, which he describes as a tightness in the heart that’s now started to hurt.

Mitsuruand Kokoro bump into each other in the conservatory once more, with Kokoro wondering why humans stopped having children, and Mitsuru offering his usual “we don’t need others to live.” Before Kokoro can challenge Mitsuru’s attitude, an alert sounds: a Gutenberg-class Klaxosaur is approaching.

Zero Two charges in but her assault only demonstrates that this is a modular Klaxosaur, and any pieces cut off will turn into smaller Klaxosaurs, with the remaining mass closing any gaps. Hiro tugs on the reins and defers to Ichigo for a plan, but it’s Kokoro who suggests close-range projectile fire.

She and Mitsuru take Genista in, but when Hiro offers encouragement, Mitsuru shuts down. Just when Genista is about to get stomped on, Futoshi and Ikuno fly to their aid in Chlorophytum.

Still, Mitsuru doesn’t see the point in continuing. He’ll never measure up, after all. He placed his hopes in Hiro, getting him to promise to pilot a FranXX with him, only for Hiro to later completely forget that promise. In turn, Mitsuru doesn’t see himself as anyone to be relied on; he’ll only let everyone down.

Kokoro hears him, but to dwell on something like that for so long isn’t any way to live. People hurt each other all the time, but that doesn’t cause them to stop interacting with each other. Kokoro admits she’s not the kind, gentle girl everyone sees her as; after all, she betrayed Futoshi and broke a promise in the blink of an eye.

“These things happen”, she states, and complaining, blaming, and searing hatred can only go so far until they consume someone. With that, she attempts a solo connect with the FranXX, almost going into fatal Rampage Mode before Mitsuru pulls her out of her seat. In that moment, Kokoro needed someone, and Mitsuru was the only person who could save her.

Reckless as it was, it snapes Mitsuru out of it. The two reach maximum parasite level and blast a hole in the Klaxosaur big enough for Strelizia to access and pierce the core. The partner shuffle would seem to have been a success.

When Mitsuru emerges from Genista with Kokoro, he stands and takes Futoshi’s punch without complaint, promising he’ll take care of Kokoro from now on. Futoshi is enraged and distraught…but he’ll live.

As all that carrying-on as a result of partner-shuffling takes place, Zero Two, who continues to be mum on what’s troubling her, hugs Hiro from behind, assuring him they’ll always be together “until the day we die”, adding a touch more fuel to my theory that Zero Two might buy it before Hiro does.

Attack on Titan – 30

In true Attack on Titan momentum-killing fashion, we cut away from Titan-Ymir’s impending brawl with the other Titans to the fateful night Krista and Ymir shared back during Winter Training. There, it wasn’t Titans that threatened their lives, but the freezing cold of the blizzard they found themselves caught in.

Krista is determined to drag their injured comrade Daz back with them, but he’s half-dead already, and he’s slowing them down so much they may all freeze before returning to base. No, Ymir doesn’t think Krista is trying to save Daz. She thinks she’s trying to end her own life and pass it off as heroism.

In a flashback within the flashback, we learn why, and the root of Ymir’s interest in Krista: she learned that Krista was the illegitimate child of a noble, and thus ineligible to succeed him. Rather than just killing her, they changed her name and forced her into the cadets. Considering Krista a kind of kindred spirit, Ymir doesn’t think Krista should make the people who cast her aside happy by dying just yet.

As the flash indicates, Ymir transforms into a Titan to carry Daz back to base, having conveniently buried Krista in the snow. By the time Krista returns to base on her own, she’s stunned to find Ymir and an alive Daz beat her there. She asks Ymir how the hell it’s possible, and Ymir tells her…but only if she keeps an important promise.

Back in the present, it would seem that Krista either Ymir’s secret, after being plied with wine by Ymir shortly after learning the news. As it happens, Reiner and Bertholdt’s friend was killed by Titan-Ymir, so for a moment Reiner takes his blind rage out on Krista’s slender leg, before pleading ignorance of Ymir’s secret form.

Meanwhile, Titan-Ymir is kicking ass, but in her efforts to keep the tower from falling, is at a distinct disadvantage. You can’t play offense and defense at the same time, and noticing Ymir’s attempted heroics, insists that Ymir not die here, and instead tear the dang tower down, which she does. After that, everyone grabs Ymir’s hair and she flies them to safety.

“Safety” being out of range of the crumbling tower, but once all the stunned Titans get back up, they find themselves sitting ducks. There’s a horrifying oment when a Titan confronts Krista and goes for her head, but just then, Mikasa blazes in to take the beast down.

The cavalry has arrived, and their arrival brings a huge jolt of adrenaline to what had become an increasingly hopeless scenario. Eren even manages to sneak in “his first kill”, though I assume he’s talking “as a scout”, as he’s killed plenty as a Titan.

Once the remaining Titans are mopped up, everyone turns to Ymir, who has returned to human form, but is in rough shape. Krista talks hold of her and fulfills her promise, telling Ymir her true name: Historia. Then Ymir closes her eyes and smiles.

While I’m not left 100% sure this means Ymir is dead, with missing limbs, and a chest wound, she’s certainly not fighting anytime soon. Still, it was another emotional journey that deepens two more scouts, even as it seemingly takes one of them away.

Ymir clearly isn’t a saint (from the looks of what she did to Reiner’s village) but she’s not quite the devil, either. She decided long ago she’d go her own way, and that way included supporting Krista whenever she could, even at the cost of her life.

And Krista, who never made that deep of an impression in the first season (though I briefly mistook her, not Annie, being the Female Titan) really comes to life, both through her backstory and the passion she exudes. That character work makes this a solid outing, despite not touching on any of the show’s other, arguably larger extant mysteries.

Hibike! Euphonium – 11

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I’m not good. I just love it.

Those are the words Yuko remembered Kaori saying when she first told her senpai how good she was at trumpet. They’re words she tried to put out of her mind in the midst of her crusade to elevate Kaori to the soloist’s chair, but nothing she can do can change the fact that Reina is better than Kaori. Even she can’t deny it anymore.

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On the eve of the second chance she nabbed Kaori—by besmirching Taki-sensei and devaluing Reina—and Kaori’s inevitable defeat, Yuko starts to realize she’s made a mistake. As Natsuki tells her, Kaori is the one who’s going to feel the worst when she loses to Reina a second time. Asuka, always businesslike in matter of music, can’t and won’t humor Kaori.

Kumiko, just as obsessed with Reina as Yuko is with Kaori, happens to be on the right side of objectivity as well. She sees Shuu practicing hard by the water on a part Taki warned him to get right tomorrow, only increasing her desire to get better herself. But notably, she doesn’t approach him, and not just because she doesn’t want to disturb him.

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For all the trouble she’s stirred up, Yuko isn’t quite done this week, as she tries to persuade Reina to take a fall in the audition for Kaori’s sake, reciting to her all the arguments for why Kaori should get the part, and is even willing to throw herself under the bus, telling Reina she can accuse her of bullying her, and she won’t deny it.

Kaori puts up a metered front: none of Yuko’s arguments have anything to do with her, and refuses her begging. Channeling Asuka, another no-nonsense musician, Reina assures Yuko that Taki will choose the trumpeter who plays best, even though she knows Yuko knows that, and is why she’s exploring…other options.

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The day arrives, with the two would-be soloists excused from set-up duty in their rented hall to practice and get in the zone for their auditions. Tension mounts, and their respective cornerwomen pay them visits. Notably, Asuka doesn’t visit Kaori, as she probably finds this whole exercise distasteful. Haruka does wish her luck, and even asks why Kaori is so obsessed with Asuka.

Kaori’s answer is clear: she feels like Asuka can see right through her and knows what she’s thinking, so she wants nothing more than to surprise her. This second audition affords her just that chance, but having heard Reina’s playing, it’s practically certain she’ll come up a bit short.

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That brings us to Reina, sitting alone in the gorgeously lit lobby of the concert hall when Kumiko approaches her. Reina’s had time to think about all of the things Yuko said about Kaori, and all of the things that will happen to her if she destroys her. She asks Kumiko if she’ll be upset if she loses, and Kumiko tells her she would: she is better than Kaori.

When Reina counters that winning would make her a villain, Kumiko promises to be a villain with her. Reina draws so very close to Kumiko, asking if she’ll really stay with her, and Kumiko tells her she can kill her if she doesn’t, stating her resolve as a confession of love, echoing Reina’s own confession up on the mountaintop.

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Reassured with Kumiko beyond doubt, Reina assures her that she never had any intention of losing anyway. But it certainly didn’t hurt to hear the strongest words yet of affection and solidarity from her dear friend. All Kumiko did was speak from the heart, but she said exactly what Reina needed to hear to take the stage with the utmost confidence.

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The tension builds again when the two trumpeters take that stage before the rest of the band, dwarfed by the massive music hall that still isn’t as big as the venue for the competition. Taki sets the rules: Kaori will play, then Reina, and the students will vote with applause.

Kaori really seems to rise to the occasion and plays beautifully, but when it’s Reina’s turn, the difference between them is considerable, even for these relatively untrained ears. Reina is crisper, louder, and seems far more in command of the instrument. Her solo fills the entire hall and resonates. It should be plain to any of the band members assembled that she’s the better soloist. It’s stirring stuff to boot; not even having to rely on weird trippy visuals like Violin Girl.

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Yet when it comes time to applaud, only Yuko and Haruka clap for Kaori, while only Kumiko and Hazuki clap for Reina: a tie. Taki, ostensibly the tiebreaker, calls Kaori’s name, asking if she’ll be the soloist for the competition. After a few moment’s introspection, Kaori herself refuses, saying it should be Reina.

Really, how could she not? As both Kumiko and I have remarked, Kaori is a good person. She’s taken things as far as she can, and knows when she’s been beaten. Even if a hysterical Yuko still can’t quite accept it, she must, as Kaori does. As for Taki-sensei, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he knew this was exactly how the audition would go down.

While no one other than Kumiko and later Hazuki volunteered to clap for Reina, nor did they clap for Kaori after hearing how good Reina is, choosing to abstain. I’m sure both Reina and Taki would have preferred not being accused of being the recipient and doler-outer of favoritism, but in the end merit and talent triumphed over sentiment and pity.

If Kitauji’s going to have a chance at the Nationals, this is how it has to be.

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Hibike! Euphonium – 10

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Not that it wasn’t going to anyway, Hibike! got on my good side early this week by elaborating on that dark flashback Kumiko keeps thinking of. Turns out she beat one of her senpais in auditions, and the senpai chewed her out, saying she’d be in the competition if only Kumiko…didn’t exist.

That’s a harsh thing for someone like Kumiko to hear, and it’s clearly stayed with her, because when Natsuki asks to talk, she’s worried she’s going to get it again.

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It’s not that Kumiko doesn’t believe she deserves her spot, it’s that she can’t help but feel in the way of a senpai. She deals with her objective supriority by recoiling almost apologeticaly before the one she beat. Fortunately, Natsuki is, as Kumiko aptly puts it, “a nice person.”

That is, she doesn’t hold it against Kumiko for winning the seat. On the contrary, she’s only been playing a year and didn’t expect to win, and knew she wouldn’t be able to hide either fact from Taki-sensei. So while she’s her senpai in age, Kumiko is her senpai in Euph experience, by six years!

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While I believe Natsuki when she says she didn’t have high hopes, Kaori is another story entirely. She really wanted the solo part in her final year, and while it’s clear she hasn’t made her peace with the fact she didn’t get it, she’s willing to accept the decision out of respect both for Taki-sensei, Reina, and the system.

But then rumors spread of Taki and Reina knowing each other, introducing suspicions of favoritism. Yuko relays these rumors second-hand to Kaori, and while I know she’s just trying to be a loyal and caring friend, she only made things worse in terms of Kaori getting over things, because things may not be on the straight and narrow.

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What’s disappointing is how indelicately Yuko brings the issue before Taki-sensei, in front of everyone. He doesn’t deny knowing Reina, but insists he showed no favoritism. When Yuko presses, Reina can no longer hold her tongue. Both she and Taki make things worse by refusing to to anything about it.

Reina storms out, followed closely by Kumiko, but rather than find Reina depressed or crying, Reina is simply frikkin’ PISSED OFF, unable to stand Yuko’s presence any longer. She gathers Kumiko in a big warm hug, seeking assurance that she’s right about being the best trumpeter for the soloist part. Kumiko gives it to her, not just because they’re friends, but because she believes it herself.

And because these two are so close and open now, Reina also informs Kumiko that she attended this school because she knew Taki would be directing the band. She probably knew rumors would surface, but they’d come from what amounts to sore losers, and she’d simply barrel through them and press forward. (Does this confirmation of her love for Taki mean Reina and Kumiko don’t have a yuri future? I guess we’ll see.)

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But that’s going to be tricky. As good as Reina is, the controversy has had a profound effect on band cohesion, with people taking sides all over again, and talking about everything behind Taki’s back. The bassists send Kumiko to try to get Asuka’s opinion on the matter, but off the record (and in confidence) Asuka admits she doesn’t care either way; insinuating she’s focused on her own path. Kumiko can’t tell if she’s putting up a facade; neither can we. Asuka remains wonderfully enigmatic.

Less enigmatic but still wonderful is Haruka, who can’t rely on Kaori again (since Kaori is mired in the middle of this) nor the ever-neutral Asuka. She knows that she, the president, needs to get the band back on track. So before Taki arrives, she addresses them, and gets a show of hands for those with problems with the auditions.

She gets a number of hands, but can’t do anything with them as Taki-sensei enters, having just gotten a brief talk with the faculty adviser, who also happened to know his father. She knows that he can’t help but be honest and only care about music when it’s good enough. But in this situation, he has to be more than a greatness detector: he has to regain his band’s trust, even if it means screwing over those who already won.

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To this end, he too breaks the silence about the controversy, and offers a second audition to anyone who wants one, only this time it will be held in the concert hall he rented, in front of the whole band. The first to raise her hand is Kaori, which we know has nothing to do with her thinking she’s better than Reina or believing Taki played favorites. I don’t think she believes either.

This is, as her friend said, about accepting herself, something she won’t be able to do if she doesn’t take this opportunity. Reina’s disappointment is clear and justified, but knowing her, she’ll take this as a fresh challenge on her path to become truly special. Even if she doesn’t care what others think of her, she can’t get to the nationals without the rest of the band.

I don’t think she’ll ever win the love Yuko and others have for Kaori, and it’s possible she’ll beat Kaori so badly they’ll still be against her. But who knows, perhaps this time, out in the open, she can convince them beyond doubt she deserves the solo part. It isn’t something she should have to do, but she has to all the same.

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Hibike! Euphonium – 09

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Kowai…

Last week was a beautiful and highly memorable episode oozing with romance, love, heart-swells and heartbreaks and confessions and rejections, and ASUKA DON’T GIVE A SHIT. She is the voice of the episode that brings us back down to earth from those indelible images of a sore-footed, one-piece-dressed Reina lugging a Euph up a mountain, or the perfect duet played high above the shimmering festival. Fun Time is over. Gotta practice!

While Asuka’s objection to “issues” getting in the way of her practice time is presented in a semi-comedic tone, it’s nice how her very objection and complete lack of patience on such a subject is also an indication of her issues, which remain internal so far.

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The distracted girl Asuka all but kicks out of the room is Midori, who still feels bad and possibly guilty about Hazuki getting rejected, believing she played a part in her failure. Her depressed mood is translating to noticeably poor play.

Hazuki keeps her frown upside-down, even though we know she feels bad too, she wants to be happy, and is taking the well-worn path of acting happy first. Her strategic (and very graceful) change of direction when Shuu enters the train is proof she wants to move on.

Kumiko, meanwhile, is still wrestling with the fact that people are telling her she likes Shuu, when she’s never given much thought about it, and can neither confirm or deny it. She can craft a defense against such allegations—”I didn’t want to lose a friend”; “we go way back.”—but they don’t tell the whole story of her true feelings, because that story hasn’t been written in a language in her head she can understand yet; it’s all out of focus.

This show does a fine job emphasizing how different Kumiko, Midori, and Hazuki are, which is I think why Kumiko has accepted them as friends. They’re not all trying to be the same, like the rhetorical sheep Reina blasts; rather, they’re embracing their differences to gain new insight.

Midori is probably a little surprised when Kumiko says they should just act normally, since that’s where she believes Hazuki is trying to get. But she respects and goes along with that idea.

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Real nice slow-rain

Of course, things aren’t normal for anyone right now, and not due to any love triangles, but because there are only 55 seats and more than 55 tushes, which means even those who have played beside one another have suddenly become their rivals for those limited seats.

It’s something that weighs on Kaori, who gets more screen time this week. I love how Haruka reassures her the way Kaori reassured her during her crisis of confidence. Kaori wants to become better so she can keep the peace in the band and prevent another incident like last year. There’s also considerable pressure on her from her peers, particularly those junior to her who idolize her as the band’s madonna.

It’s interesting that our first good look at Reina since her big breakout episode is crossing paths with her fellow soloist, the clearly intimidated Kaori.

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I also love how in so many animes, we always hear horns practicing somewhere on the grounds, and Hibike! finally focuses in on those musicians. Kumiko looks particularly isolated—by choice—in her little corner of the schoolyard as she practices her piece. When she hears another Euph playing the piece very well, she runs over and is surprised to find it’s Natsuki, who earlier in the show was dozing during practice.

Seeing Natsuki there, giving it her all, Kumiko suddenly snaps out of her complacence: her seat on the band is not assured; no one’s is. And she’s not the only one working hard to become better, so she’d better get back to it!

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Those nerves won’t do her any good in the audition (it might have been better, if less dramatic, had she not heard Natsuki prior to her audition), but she can’t shake them. At least, not until Reina enters the storage room, ignores whatever Kumiko mutters to her, and takes hold of her cheeks, so her their faces and eyes are locked into each other.

I’m going to do my best, so you have to, as well.

She doesn’t let go of Kumiko’s cheeks as she parry’s her “buts” with a repeat of that mantra-like line. Suddenly, Kumiko calms down, then puts her hands on Reina’s cheeks and agrees. It’s great to see the camera cut to their feet as Kumiko’s weight pushes against Reina’s.

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Zero hour: Kumiko’s audition. The atmosphere is so deliciously tense. I loved how Taki’s impressed reaction to learning how long she’s played one instrument made her worry she set the bar even higher for herself.

I found my breathing patterns change as I listened to each note of the first bars she’s told to play. And she plays it well. Not perfectly, but not badly, either. Then Taki asks her to play a bar she hasn’t practiced as much.

It’s a bar we don’t get to hear (the show is as great at knowing when to withhold music as when to use it for dramatic effect), but I knew she played it well, too; because while she initially panics a little, she remember’s Reina’s words, and the feeling of her hands on her cheeks, and does what she has to do.

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That being said, the announcements of the parts was as nerve-wracking as the audition, especially the seemingly cruel way their advisor lists the names of those who got seats, then simply saying the total afterwards.

At the sound of those totals we always see someone suddenly burst into tears, one by one; it’s like a battle, and they were unlucky enough to get hit by enemy fire; only they’re all friends and, in a way, family. The discomfort of that scene, and the lack of visible celebrations from the winners out of respect for their comrades, is all perfectly pitched.

That goes for when Kumiko is announced right after Asuka, as the only two Euphs who got seats. Kumiko seems almost guilty she snatched the second seat from Natsuki, after watching her transformation from apathy to devotion. It even reminds her of when that girl in the past asked her “Do you think this is funny?” which now sounds like a rebuke to Kumiko’s own apathy about music at the time. But the true meaning of those words, and the identity of the person who said them, remain elusive.

Midori gets a seat as the contrabass, but Hazuki fails, but takes it rather well, at least on the outside. Reina makes it too, then surprises the entire band (except for herself and probably Kumiko) when it’s also decided she, and not her senpai Kaori, will play all the solos.

But whatever social fallout such a decision has on Reina, I’m certain she’ll keep moving forward…will want Kumiko to keep walking beside her.

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P.S. MAL remains noncommittal about the episode total of this show. I don’t wish this often, but I truly hope this gets the second cour it deserves. Anyone know for sure?

Hibike! Euphonium – 08

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Now THAT, ladies and gentleman, is how it’s done. All hail KyoAni. Nagato Who-ki?

You’ll have to forgive all the incoming gushing, as I’m still a little overcome with ALL THE FEELS from this latest, greatest episode of Hibike! Euphonium, which also happens to be the best thing I’ve seen all Spring; maybe all year.

This episode was every bit a carefully, lovingly composed masterpiece with nary a note out of place, starting with not letting Kumiko off the hook. We’re right back at those desks with Hazuki, having dredged up the courage (and you can see her nervousness in the way her feet shift below that desks).

Kumiko has no clue what’s going on, but she’s about to. Surprising candidate for class yenta Sapphire takes Kumiko’s noncommittal attitude as tacit approval for Hazuki to ask Shuu out for the upcoming Agata Festival, a traditional ceremony of pairing-off for her peers.

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But as we’ve seen, Shuu isn’t interested in any other girls. He asks Kumiko out, and she again acts like a deer in the headlights. As she makes the transition from dark winter to more cheery summer uniform, the sky is appropriately as cloudy as her muddle of racing thoughts. He told her to think about it, but she’s having trouble thinking about anything. This state of mind is totally new for her, and it seems equal parts frightening and exhilarating.

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Kumiko didn’t ask to be thrown into a love triangle, which she literally draws out in her notebook just so she can behold it in a space other than the inside of her reeling head. Nor did she want to be put in a position where her chipper friend Hazuki gets hurt. But the aggressive Sapphire literally pushes Hazuki into doing what she wants to do and would probably regret not doing.

In a sign that Shuu simply isn’t on the same wavelength as her, he misjudges Kumiko’s efforts to slink away from him as a signal for him to follow her. Literally cornered, she grabs the arm of the first person to exit the practice room, who as fate would have it, is Reina! Hazuki also comes out, and asks Shuu for a moment; Shuu asks Kumiko if it’s really “okay”, and she tells him it is.

But it isn’t. Of course it isn’t. It’s almost not fair!

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I say almost, because Kumiko’s “consolation” prize is no consolation at all; but the jackpot; she just doesn’t know it yet. She may have grabbed Reina at random, but Reina considers the act a binding contract, and Kumiko’s in no position to argue. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kumiko was looking more forward to going with Reina, who’s telling her they’re going, than Shuu, whom she would’ve had to say “yes” to— something she’s apparently not ready for.

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I liked the episode’s inclusion of the normal couple Riko and Gotou as a sign that not everyone is locked in fraught triangles at school. But I also like how the show doesn’t play favorites for any particular vertex of the triangle we think is in play. Because of that, I was still rooting for the super-cute Hazuki, who eschews a yukata for a miniskirt and short-crop tee.

As for Reina, well…what is there to say? She’s hauntingly gorgeous, so much so that a more slapsticky show would have almost certainly gone inside an SD Kumiko’s head as she gulps comically loudly. Kumiko is also dressed decidedly boyishly compared to Reina’s ethereal snow-white one piece. But on this date, it’s Reina who leads: up a mountain and into another entirely new world for Kumiko; one she never saw coming.

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Like I said, I wanted to root for Hazuki and Shuu, but as cute as she is, the spark just isn’t there. At least Hazuki has the good sense to be quick and efficient about things, so that when Shuu does gently but firmly reject her, it doesn’t feel quite as sudden when she’s suddenly resolving to get him and Kumiko together, despite his claim there’s nothing there. Still, that shot of Hazuki from behind, gazing at the shimmering moonlit water that may as well be her tears, is a powerful image.

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This must be how it feels to lose your life, drawn to a beautiful thing, despite your fears.

As good as Hazuki’s failed confession was, it is quickly overshadowed by Kumiko’s date with Reina, as they trudge up the mountain, periodically switching instruments so they share the load.

Seeing you in that white one-piece, holding my euphonium, seems so wrong.

On this trek, far from all the other festival-goers Reina fearlessly lays her feelings for Kumiko bare.

—Don’t your feet hurt?
—They hurt. But I don’t hate pain.
—What? That’s kind of hot.
—Freak.

It would have been easy for Shuu to accept Hazuki’s confession and go out with her, having been spurned by Kumiko in a golden opportunity passed by. But the true love triangle doesn’t involve Hazuki at all; we now know it’s between Shuu, Kumiko, and Reina.

It’s like you put on a kind, good-girl face, but inside, you’re actually really distant. It makes me want to peel that good-girl skin off of you.

Bandmate Natsuki also remarked that Kumiko “is kind of distant like that”, and it’s true. It’s why we hear Kumiko narrating to us all the time: not just to explain how the concert band works, but she’s observing and reporting on her life, all the while keeping it at arm’s length.

It’s a side she didn’t know anyone noticed—heck, it might be a side she didn’t even know she had. But Reina has seen it. Reina stays away from people who “don’t interest her”, and believes fitting in, and being relieved about being the same as someone else is “stupid.”

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It was pretty ingenious how effortlessly Reina scooped Reina up and put her under her spell. I must say I did not expect a confession of romantic love, nor was there an indication the show would take a yuri turn so soon, but hey, it is Springtime, and by the time they’d finally reached the summit and seen the entire town and festival at their feet, as if they were standing in heaven, I wasn’t ruling out a kiss. Reina’s “not the same as the others” line seems to underline the fact that no guy in her life interests her as much as Kumiko does.

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On the one hand I couldn’t help but think Reina seems awfully happy to have found a kind of kindred spirit in Kumiko, which some might say makes her a hypocrite, only with different taste than most. But on the other, I really like her belief a life without pain or struggle isn’t a life at all. One only needs to see Hazuki’s struggles this week to understand that. She’s all smiles when she meets back up with Sapphire…until she isn’t. But she tried; she put her heart on the line. That matters.

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Kumiko’s life isn’t made any simpler by Reina’s confession—she’s still in a love triangle, just not the one she drew—but that hardly matters right now. On this particular night, she and Reina play the same song they played in middle school—because Reina likes it—and they play beautifully and in perfect harmony. As Sapphire said, all music begins with love, and Reina’s desire to be “special”, even more special than she already is, is also fueled by love.

In her narration, Kumiko admits to being “sucked in” by this “snow maiden”, and feeling like she wouldn’t mind “losing her life” to her. Only Reina isn’t a yuki-onna; she’s a girl who just confessed to her. Kumiko’s lack of a good reaction makes Reina repeat her assertion that Kumiko has a “terrible personality”, but she means it as a compliment; Reina doesn’t want perfect. And reaction or no, Kumiko now knows what it feels like to want or need to go out on a limb; take a risk; lay one’s heart bare, even if it might hurt or not work out. I daresay Kumiko lost her innocence this week. So…what will she do now?

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Blood Lad – 07

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Braz and Liz meet Fuyumi and Staz’s crew. Staz drinks Fuyumi’s last bottle of magical essence, so she has to drink his blood, which overwhelms her. After Staz takes a magical sample from her, he returns to the Acropolis to work his lab, but Liz stays behind. Staz learns she stayed to keep an eye on him, but after sampling Staz’s earth collection and hanging out with Fuyumi, Liz starts to warm to the place. The next morning Fuyumi has disappeared. Staz orders a search, suspecting she was abducted.

Liz is an emotionally damaged little girl. With both parents out of the picture and Staz quick to leave home, she ended up stuck with her big brother, who never paid any attention to her, but is constantly trying to attract it by being a good girl, which means serving as his henchman. She never experienced a normal childhood or love, for that matter. Fuyumi steps in to act as a big sis, feeding, bathing and generally doting upon her like the cute little kid she actually is (she also enjoys watching Castle in the Sky. Who doesn’t? Nobody, that’s who.)

Meanwhile, Staz oozes “up to something” from every pore in his body, stripping Fuyumi to take her magic sample, planting Liz as his spy, and planning to extract Staz’s magic from Fuyumi’s for lord-knows-what experiment, but it can’t be good. On top of that, some random blonde guy (who looks a little like Bell) abducts Fuyumi, which is bad because she needs Staz’s blood a regular intervals to stop from fading away. Perhaps in future Staz will consider implementing security measures, like, say, something…anything.


Rating: 6 (Good)