In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki – 01 (First Impressions) – The Art of Perturbability

What if Takagi-san had a kunoichi ancestor…and instead of sitting next to the boy she likes in class, the ancestor lives in an all-female village where girls are raised to fear and avoid men? Even though said men are just on the other side of the mountain…and the ancestor really wants to meet one?

That’s In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki in a nutshell. The titular Tsubaki is the best kunoichi student in her village, but she’s also growing up and starting to think about boys, even though she’s never met or even seen one. But hey, sometimes it’s the unknown that drives us.

Most if not all of the other girls harbor a similar curiosity, but mixed with a hatred and prejudice for the gender, often to the tune of repeating the same jokes about them (they’re monkeys, their crotches are weak, they stink). Two of her own kohai, Sazanka and Ahegao, even go off on their own to try to meet and then beat up the men when reports come in that they’re nearby.

Tsubaki striking out into the night to bring the two younger girls home provides much of the episode’s action, and the chase is beautifully storyboarded, directed, and animated. These wee ninja are quick as darts and twice as sharp. They can also breath fire and change their forms, you get the feeling any men out there would be at a disadvantage.

Tsubaki very nearly lets her own curiosity about men (which again, is different and less hostile than that of the other girls) lead to contact with the men, as she concedes that no harm can come from simply watching them from afar.

However, when one of those men appears behind them, Tsubaki freaks out and they escape. The tiny Sazanka wanted to fight them (she wants to fight everyone), but Tsubaki had more than enough unknown for the night, having walked right up to the edge only to retreat in the end.

Whether the near-encounter with a man was real or just Tsubaki’s dream, what becomes clear that morning is that the Akane clan’s village is a lot like Takagi-san’s school (again, if it were all women), with a colorful array of characters at different stages of adolescence.

The Takagi-san style art with larger heads can make it hard to nail down how old everyone’s supposed to be, but judging by the character designs of both elementary and middle school students in Takagi, it’s a similar mix here, with some girls making more kiddy jokes like boys are some kind of beast, while others closer to Tsubaki in age seeming to share a more complex curiosity about them.

One thing is certain: Tsubaki’s recent preoccupation with men is distracting her from her training, both in class and out in on the grounds. Asagao Sazanka soon puts two and two together and notices her big sis seems to get flustered when she hears the word man. This is unfortunate development as a lot of people say “man” a lot in this episode.

Sazanka thus issues a challenge to Tsubaki: if she can use her flame jutsu to evaporate a large puddle of water while she whispers “man” in her ear, it will prove to her that Tsubaki isn’t afraid of men. Tsubaki ends up creating enough flames to make a huge crater, thus putting Sazanka’s concerns to rest.

Nevertheless, Tsubaki wants to meet a guy. She doesn’t know why, or even what she’d say or do if she did, she just knows she wants to meet one really bad. This, despite the fact her elders and peers have all been conditioned to believe men are brutal savages.

Leaving aside a more specific desire for romance, a part of Tsubaki is telling her there is more to this world than her village, and that it may just prove beneficial to learn more about what lies beyond its borders.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 07 – Thinker, Baker, Ogler, Guy

It’s an old axiom that absence makes the heart grow fonder—after a week off for “quality control” purposes, Tokyo 24th Ward fields my favorite episode to date; an episode that could only work now that all the myriad characters in this community have been introduced and fleshed out.

It’s a brisk, pleasant, stripped down episode that mostly dispenses with the Big Picture plotlines and sci-fi, focusing almost entirely on Aoi Shuuta, the biggest, dumbest, and to date least explored member of RGB. That means lots of good honest slice-of-life that really brings the 24th Ward setting to life.

Shuuta’s hulking dad Louis is away in Paris, so it’s up to him to bake the family’s signature “Golden Sunrise” bread for the regularly scheduled food bank drive in Shantytown—where the KANAE bandwagon onto which Kouki has so enthusiastically hopped serves as a boot gradually pushing down.

In an instance of her husband not doing her any favors by naming an Orwellian technological abomination after her, it was Suidou Kanae who first came up with the idea of combining a hero show and the baked goods of Aoi bakery to fill the bellies of Shantytown’s at-risk youth. That’s also how Shuuta met Asumi, and the idea of blending heroism and bakery came about.

But it’s not the same as it was. Kanae and Asumi have passed away; the hero show fizzled out; and one pint-sized Shantytown gourmand can tell something is lacking in Shuuta’s version of his dad’s Golden Sunrise. He decides to ask his dad for some pointers, and only gets one word in response: Chest.

Shuuta, never the sharpest knife in the drawer, becomes fixated on the word and what it might mean, focusing first on the literal interpretation: how a chest feels. This leads to some hilariously awkward moments between him and, in order of instance, Mari, Tsuzuragawa, and Kozue—all of whom agree something’s off about him when they all meet at the bathhouse.

That bathhouse is also where Kinako is back to work, having essentially been jettisoned from DoRed since the authorities don’t suspect her as a member. Two months have passed since the Kunai incident resulted in the implementation of KANAE, and in that time Shuuta hasn’t been able to reach either Ran or Kouki.

Instead he must try getting to them through secondary channels: Kinako for Ran; Tsuzuragawa for Kouki. In Kinako’s case, she’s as in the dark as he is vis-a-vis Ran, no doubt for her own good. That said, I really enjoyed watching Shuuta’s interactions with both Kinako and Tsuzuragawa, who get a little more fleshed out in the absence of the other two RGB members.

In the absence of his colorful old comrades, Shuuta takes it upon himself to investigate Carneades, who seems to have begun a campaign of painting over DoRed’s works, in particular those depicting Kozue’s late father.

Sherlock or Poirot may not have to worry about Shuuta in the investigative department, but I’m amazed how each and every person in the 24th Shuuta interacts with this week lends him a piece of the puzzle he’s trying to solve—not just the Carneades puzzle, but the Shuuta Aoi puzzle.

As Shuuta sees it, Ran with his now-underground mobile guerrilla art movement and Kouki with his dad’s creepy Orwellian nightmare, have transcended childhood and entered adulthood. They each chose a side and committed to it; as Chikuwa tells him, becoming an adult is “getting rid of possibilities”—a subtractive process.

It isn’t until the exhaustion he’s built up nearly results in his drowning that Shuuta realizes that Chikuwa is wrong: being an adult can also be a process of addition. And might I say, in addition to Kinako’s laid back after hours look being absolute fire, her asking forgiveness of both Mari and Ran before going in for the kiss of life, then being bailed out by Shuuta’s dad, was a breathtaking sequence both awesome and side-splitting in nature.

Shuuta’s dad revives him with a very precise thump to the chest. That’s when it dawns on Shuuta: “chest” meant the gradual working of his own pecs kneading the dough. Golden Sunrise is as good as it is because of the strength required to knead it; strength that only comes with years of kneading…of baking.

If baking is going to make you swole, well shit, you might as well be a hero while you’re at it, right? It was Asumi who first told Shuuta he could be both, and in fact being both would be more awesome than being either. He didn’t, and doesn’t have to limit himself. He can talk to everyone, laugh with everyone, feed everyone…and save everyone. Chest.

Then, almost regrettably, considering what a wonderful portrait of Shuuta and love story to the Ward I just experienced, we get back to the meat of the plot. That said, I love how it required being buff enough to make bread the Shantytown kid who’s a food critic would acknowledge resulted in said kid showing Shuuta the studio of the guy covering up the Kaba murals.

That guy turns out to be Zeroth (or 0th, if you’re into that whole brevity thing), who I imagine is being set up not necessarily as a big bad (that’s Mayor Suido, obviously) but as a kind of Extreme Ran, back from the shadows vowing to “set the 24th Ward right”. Carneades has by far been the weakest part of this story, so hopefully connecting it with Ran’s mentor will spark some interest.

The World’s Finest Assassin – 06 – The Merchant’s Daughter

Warning: This episode deals with some upsetting and potentially triggering themes, including rape and sexual assault, physical, mental, emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse, child abuse/pedophilia, and self-injurious behavior. 

Our cold open features Lugh and Tarte donning their new threads as they prepare to live their new lives as Illig Balor and his servant. But after the credits, we pivot to the much-anticipated story of third member of Lugh’s assassination team from the first episode: Maha. Herself the daughter of merchants but now an orphan on the streets, she and five other girls survive by giving sightseeing tours to travelers.

They’re close to making enough money for better clothes, and one day Maha dreams of them making enough to buy a house in which to live together. But one stormy day that dream is stamped out when all six girls are captured by men hired to round up kids for his lord’s “orphanage.” I knew shit was going to get bad, but had no idea how bad.

Ironically, Maha and the others get what they were dreaming of: a roof under their heads, food to cook and eat together at a table. But it happens to come at the price of their own freedom. They are essentially slaves, doing whatever is asked of them and being beaten when their captors feel like it. It gradually wears their once enterprising spirits down into the dirt.

Then the captors start getting rapey, pimping the girls out one by one to those with the coin to purchase them for the night. The oldest of them, Ifa, is the first to go through this, and Maha is forced to bathe, dress, and apply makeup to her, essentially making her the involuntary preparer of the lamb to the slaughter.

The sequence of this preparation is plenty disheartening, but then the episode’s absolutely brutal transitions have Ifa being doused three times in a row, succinctly indicating how many times she’s endured hell; the light in her eyes fading more each time.

For anyone still thinking it wouldn’t simply get worse from there, the episode is ready to change your minds in a hurry. At first Ifa is the only one sent away, until one day one of the other girls asks why they never get to go.

Then they go, one by one, each being subjected to the same pre-hell ritual of washing and dressing up as Ifa was. One of Maha’s friends decides the only way to protect herself from further torment is to cut up her face with a sickle; Maha is too late to stop her. It doesn’t matter; her torment doesn’t end.

One day, Maha overhears her captors talking about her being next, despite her having only just turned twelve. Having witnessed the aftermath of what all the other girls went thorough, Maha rushes to the barn, and is ready to cut her face when she’s stopped by a familiar figure, at least to us: “Illig Balor”.

Illig has come to purchase one of the girls—not for a night, but for good. He chooses Maha, and gives her captor more than enough gold. Even so, the captor asks for and is granted three days, during which he intends to pimp Maha out to make some extra money on top of what Illig paid, then rape her himself.

At first, on her way to one of those clients, Maha is trying to put on a brave face; she’ll only have to endure three days of hell, and then she’ll be in heaven with her “prince”. Then her captor has his hands all over her, and she can’t do it. She uses her mana to escape the wagon, but is quickly caught by the captor’s henchman, who also uses mana.

The henchman seems intent on being the first to rape her, but he is incapacitated by Illig, who tells the captor he saw Maha calling for help with her eyes when he bought her. When the captor and his ilk try to take Illig out, Illig has no trouble at all taking them out.

Meanwhile, Tarte sets up a honey trap to get the pervert Viscount arrested, and the hellish orphanage is shut down. The girl who scarred her face even gets it healed by Illig. Maha then joins Illig, her “Prince’s” party, and all’s well that ends well, tempered of course by all of the other mental and physical scars the girls still carry.

Maha had by far the most intense and fucked-up backstory of the trio. Lugh came from another world where he was the finest assassin; Tarte suffered and endured, but for a briefer time. Maha saw and went through some shit.

I left the episode exhausted by the horrors Maha and her friends endured, but also happy relieved they’re now free and safe. The two-plus years that passed in this episode were the crucible in which a future Maha—an assassin Maha—was first forged.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The World’s Finest Assassin – 05 – Making a Name, then Taking a New One

When Lugh goes into town with Tarte by his side, he’s practically mobbed by townsfolk eager to give him free stuff as thanks for all the kind assistance he’s given them. Whether it’s developing a fertilizer for the grocer’s onions, replenished a water supply, or mended the leg of a cow, he demonstrates every day that being a noble is more about power and strength, but winning hearts. And he’s not shy about one of those heart’s being Tarte’s.

One night Cian summons his son to the dark room where he usually examines his growth. Instead, he does so in another manner, by asking Lugh “how Tarte is.” After reporting how in two years Tarte has become the equal of any member of the branch families, he also assuages his pops’ suspicion that Tarte was a spy meant to steal Tuatha Dé techniques.

Lugh admits it was incredibly fortuitous for him to just happen to run into someone like Tarte, but he can’t very well say the Goddess drew him to her she’s too busy watching the other hundreds of “finest” fighters not doing as well as Lugh.

Cian eventually invites Lugh to a special training center where they go up against each other. Lugh is impressed by his dad’s ability to mask his true movements and intents with traps and feints, but at the end of the day Lugh is faster, stronger, and if I’m guessing right, possesses at least a decade more experience in assassination that Cian, and wins the day. Huis dad couldn’t be prouder.

From there, we get a glorious montage of Lugh accompanying his father on jobs, which begs the question, just how many people need assassinating in this kingdom that Cian is so damn busy? That said, I’m willing to table that question since it’s fun watching the two slink around, Lugh dying his hair black so he doesn’t stand out, and just offing dudes in all manner of ways.

Cian and Esri hold a grand banquet to celebrate the next step in their son’s progression: moving on his own to Milteu to pose as the son of a wealthy and powerful merchant, the better to gain access to the fortresses of nobles in need of killin’. It seems like an awfully public party with lots of opportunities for agents of those nobles to infiltrate. Then again, it might just be Tuatha Dé and its branch families who are invited.

One branch son who is not ready to accept Lugh as the future main family head is Ronah…until literally moments later when his throat is nicked and his arm broken with ease by Lugh, proving on the spot who the “stronger” person is.

But to the show’s credit, Ronah isn’t just cast aside as an upstart punk who got taught a lesson by the protagonist. Instead, he accepts his loss and is determined to improve. Lugh encourages this, and even offers to make Ronah his subordinate and knight, gifting him a superlight sword of his own design. Ronah is all for it, and wishes Lugh well on his next journey.

While Lugh is “leaving the nest” and his parents, Tarte naturally tags along…who would dress him? Apparently Esri taught Tarte…something that she’d rather not elaborate on when they’re about to depart. But once in the wagon on the way to Milteu, Lugh reminds Tarte that he’s not Lugh anymore, and won’t be for two years. He’ll be Illig Balor, son of the head of the Balor Trading Company.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The World’s Finest Assassin – 04 – Nice to Be Needed

Ansatsu Kizoku is by no means the best-looking or most original anime of the Fall, but it just might have the best structure, or rather most interesting structure to its narrative. I love the way it darts and weaves back and forth through time. Macro-wise, we’ve already seen Tarte in action, but this is the episode that truly introduces her as a character, not merely an ass-kicking machine.

We begin with Tarte in pretty much the most dire situation someone can be in. Winter is coming, so the family decided to cast her out so there’d be enough food (it’s implied their lord overtaxes, which caused families to make impossible choices). Starving and running out of strength, she’s set upon by a pack of wolves.

Here’s what immediately made Tarte interesting: she smiles moments before her death. She neither fears nor blames the hungry wolves; hell, she respects them. If this is how she goes, at least she’ll be put to good use keeping other living things alive. When her family abandoned her, she felt she had lost all reason to exist. Then our friend Lugh arrives, and uses the wolves to practice his killing skills while Tarte watches.

Mind you, Lugh doesn’t arrive to save her until after we get an extended scene of him at the harvest market, watching the townsfolk prepare for the winter by preserving and rationing. There’s even a brief little aside of comic relief when the Goddess checks in on another person like Lugh who isn’t faring so well. It’s when Lugh goes hunting so his family will have meat in the winter that he comes across Tarte.

Tarte happens to be backing a huge amount of mana—more than he’s seen in anyone in town—and the grizzled assassin in him knows it can’t be a coincidence; the Goddess must have sent her to him. The thing is, that seemingly throwaway gag of her watching The World’s Finest Special Ops Guy become a NEET over four decades proves she’s not always watching Lugh and making things happen. Sometimes…things just happen, like meeting Tarte.

Lugh’s initial interactions with Tarte are seemingly kind, if somewhat emotionally distant and logical. It’s only after he’s struck a deal for her to bind herself to him mind body and soul that he reveals he manipulated this font of mana into someone who would never betray him; someone who owes their existence to him and so exists only for him.

Two years pass, and Lugh has been training Tarte into the fellow assassin he’ll need to take on the Hero. He hasn’t told her why he’s training her, nor is she curious. When he performs the same examination of Tarte that his father performed on him, it’s super clinical, medical…professional. Lugh may have the body of a twelve-year-old, but he’s no Lewd Rudy.

When I think about how Lugh interacted with Tarte with such precision calculation, I remember what his father said: they are people, not tools. A tool would not have been able to get Tarte to trust him or devote herself to him so easily, but Lugh has been raised to be empathetic and curious, and so is a much better judge of character than your stock killing machine.

The same can be said of Tarte. Takada Yuki does such a fine job initially voicing the starving Tarte and then imbuing her voice with more strength and confidence once two years pass. Tarte may be really really good with a spear (collapsible or otherwise), but she’s also a good person…or as she once said of Lugh, a good person “as far as I’m concerned”.

How we treat others matters. Tarte witnessed Lugh slaughter the wolves with the deftness of a surgeon, and hears how he’s killed people and will go on killing people as part of his duties. But he’s still a good person to her, because he and he alone saved her when he didn’t have to.

Now that both Dia and Tarte have been properly introduced (and are both exceedingly charming, rootable characters to complement Lugh’s aloofness) I imagine the cool beauty Maha’s story is next up. I’m looking forward to more taut, confidently structured storytelling.

The World’s Finest Assassin – 03 – Wonderful First Time

Lugh’s very first magic lesson with his new mentor Dia goes awry when Dia, unaware of just how much goddamn mana her student possesses, tells him to put as much as he can in one of her family’s Materia-like Fahr Stones. He does so, and it quickly turns into a magical bomb that shatters every window in the Tuatha De mansion. Even so, his parents aren’t angry, they’re proud and excited.

If this were the soul of Rudeus Greyrat, not an old grizzled assassin in Lugh’s body, there might be ample potential for pervy unpleasantness (especially considering Lugh is seven and Dia ten). Fortunately, there’s none of that; even when Dia decides to sleep with Lugh, it’s no big deal. When she teaches him mana conversion for his “first time”, it’s oddly intimate, but ultimately pure.

Another common pitfall for a dynamic like this is to assume that in addition to the young callow student being attracted to his pretty older teacher, the two always have to be bickering or competing. Instead, Lugh and Dia collaborate equally, with Dia bringing her knowledge of the spells of this world to the table and Lugh applying his ability to synthesize his own spells. Together, the two literally make gold out of thin air.

Two weeks pass, and Dia is feeling sad about having to leave, as there’s nothing more she can teach him. So in addition to gifting her with an impossibly sharp beta titanium knife, Lugh earnestly promises her that if she even needs him, he’ll go to where she is without fail. Two weeks may not seem like a long time, but lest we forget, they’re probably share a father, and kids always bond faster than adults.

With the pure, charming innocence of Dia departed for her home, Lugh’s dad admits that despite only being seven, Lugh is ready to learn more about the family business. To whit: Lugh takes him to a prison full of death row inmates from around the kingdom who are there for the purposes of experimentation in the service of further honing their assassination skills.

When Lugh asks why his parents didn’t simply raise him to be an unfeeling killing machine, Cian’s answer is both profound and obvious: because while they are assassins (and damned good ones), they’re people, not tools. In contrast to his previous life, Lugh must use his own humanity in addition to knives and guns to optimize his assassination skills.

The final three minutes turn the chipper magical training nature of the epiode to that point on its head, as Cian orders Lugh to make his first kill. The convict is seemingly scared out of her mind and tearfully begs Lugh not to kill her, but Lugh doesn’t shrink from his duty, lopping off a hand with his own titanium blade and telling her she’ll die a relatively peaceful death.

This draws out the true criminal, who is not scared of dying and curses Lugh to be sent to a hell full of demons. To this, Lugh responds that that might be a nice change of pace next time he dies. This is dark, good stuff. Its consistent, sincere, and serious tone (matching our protagonist’s demeanor without his adult voice intruding upon his new world) more than makes up for its merely adequate visuals.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The World’s Finest Assassin – 02 – New World, Same Calling

This episode does away with both OP and ED to shove in as much material as possible about this new world and how our antihero will be living it. He agrees to the goddess’s proposal to kill the Hero before he goes insane and destroys the world, then picks out his five skills and elemental affinities. It’s honestly a bit pedestrian, as this lengthy first act of preparation can’t hide the fact it’s primarily exposition.

Our grizzled assassin is then transported to the womb of Esri Tuatha Dé, born, named Lugh by his father Cian, and declared the heir to the Tuatha Dé legacy…which just happens to be assassination. Seven years pass in this second act, which is just as well, as scenes of Lugh as a baby and toddler were going to be tedious. We see scenes of Lugh’s family of three’s happy life, including an extremely detailed explanation the nutritional benefits of rabbit stew.

We then get a look into the family’s seedy underbelly. Turns out that the public face of the Tuatha Dé clan is not of assassination, but medicine—they control both life and death, keeping the royals healthy while eliminating their enemies in the shadows. Lugh’s father doesn’t just teach him combat, but chemistry. He also performs ocular surgery that gives him Mystic Eyes, allowing him to see great distances clearly as well as visualize the mana emanating from every soul.

Lugh, no stranger to the field in which he is straining, only a stranger to the particular methods of this new world, impresses his parents to the point they hire someone to teach him how to wield magic far earlier than most children would. His instructor is someone we met last week: Dia, from a prominent family of mages. She may be tiny, but she’s no child, and one of the strongest five mages in the land. In other words, a perfect tutor for Lugh’s continued development.

ReLIFE – 15

In this outing the Aoba Fest, with its maid/butler cafe and stalls and bonfire, comes and goes fairly briskly. Kaizaki and Hishiro alike try to make the most of their second chance at a pivotal time in high school life, but it’s a decidedly bittersweet experience.

It’s obvious why it’s sweet: the festival looks like a lot of fun, especially when much of it has Kaizaki, Hishiro, and their friends dressed to the nines. After Hishiro tried to get Yoake to slip up and tell her Kaizaki is also a subject, she tries to find out for herself by grabbing Kaizaki’s arm and drawing close to him, as if they were dating…with inconclusive results.

She could interpret him as being uncomfortable because he’s really an adult, or he could just be flustered because she’s acting out of the ordinary, which she kinda is. The bitter part comes when the festival ends, when Kaizaki laments that he’ll “vanish” when his ReLife ends.

Yoake corrects him by saying he has to take solace in knowing he left his “mark” with these high schoolers; things happened in their lives that wouldn’t have happened without Kaizaki.

Onoya has a similar chat with Hishiro, telling her to take pride in the fact she’s taken a “lovely step forward” by taking an interest in someone like Kaizaki. Whether it’s true love or not, that’s something the pre-ReLife Hishiro couldn’t do.

Yoake’s attempt to cheer Kaizaki doesn’t last when his class undergoes college counseling. Both he and Hishiro choose to go to Aoba U like Kariu and Oga, even though they know it’s “pointless” since in reality their ReLifes will end and they won’t be joining their friends, nor will their friends remember them.

Any way you look at it, that stings. That stings hard enough to wonder if it was a bad idea to do a ReLife in the first place, even when one considers how socially and emotionally improved it made them.

It stings enough for Kaizaki to ask Yoake if he really has to go back to his old life, and has to let all the friends he’s made forget about them. Yoake reminds him that Kaizaki didn’t become someone new in his ReLife, he regained the friendly straightforward person he was.

But that restoration couldn’t have happened if Kaizaki hadn’t lived his life as he had before ReLife, which he’s now asking to discard. Yoake tells him not to give up on “Original” Kaizaki; “High School” Kaizaki is, after all, only an illusion.

Onoya, having only just started becoming Hishiro’s support, has nevertheless been engaged with the whole crew for some time now, and unlike Yoake, hasn’t quite accepted what they’re doing and sees the end result as cruel, sad, and scary.

Continuing his role as comforter-in-chief, Yoake tells her ReLife isn’t about enjoying every moment to the fullest in a life that is fleeting by design, and all they can do in their capacity as ReLife staff is support them with everything they’ve got, without regrets.

That night, Hishiro resigns herself to the fact there’s really no way to find out for sure whether Kaizaki is a fellow test subject, and there’s no point in thinking about it…yet she can’t stop thinking about it. Could that mean it’s not so pointless after all?

The next day is class photo day, and Kaizaki and Hishiro both know that it’s a photo in which no one else in the shot, not even the good friends they’ve made, will remember them.

They’ll be like “ghosts” in such a photo. And yet, just as the shot is taken, they look in each others‘ directions, holding out hope that a fragment of a memory will still remain in someone’s mind when they look at this photo.

Must all of the dream-crushing things the vile Yoake says really come to pass according to plan? Must these two people really forget one another? I, like them, certainly hope not!

ReLIFE – 14

Well, this is a nice surprise on the second day of Spring when there’s a Nor’easter pummeling my coast: a bonus episode of one of my favorite shows of 2016, ReLIFE! These four new reviews won’t make much sense without watching the 13 that came before, which I highly recommend. You can catch up by reading my reviews here.

When we left the main couple of Hishiro and Kaizaki, we knew they were both subjects, but they didn’t know that they were, and so maintained a distance that was not bridged, since they both assume they’ll lose contact with the other forever because of the nature of ReLIFE.

Still, both have benefited tremendously from their experiences as high schoolers, and continue to do so. Meanwhile, real high schoolers Kariu and Oga are now an item, while Yoake is transferring Hishiro to his junior Onoya now that she’s entering an “unprecedented” second year.

Hishiro now rather strongly suspects that Kaizaki is a test subject like her, but Yoake will neither confirm or deny it, while warning her that if she learned that he was a subject, it would spell the end of his experiment and an immediate severance, and Hishiro would never see him again.

With that in mind, Hishiro treads carefully, but is still eager to learn the truth. To that end, when Kaizaki is made the class boys’ cultural festival officer, she volunteers to be the girls’ officer. They work tremendously well together and the paperwork flies off the proverbial desk.

Their work is momentarily interrupted by a problem Oga is having. He got in a fight with Kariu for shooting down the idea of her coming over to his place after a date, because he didn’t want to hurt his older shut-in brother and feared Kariu wouldn’t “approve” of him.

Kaizaki and Hishiro put on a veritable friend-cheering-up and advise clinic, with Kaizaki assuring Oga that the best way to act around family is naturally, without hiding anything, while Hishiro assures him if he just tells Kariu what’s up, she’ll accept it; in fact, she’s probably mad because he didn’t in the first place.

Afterwards, Kaizaki and Hishiro exchange words of mutual respect. Kaizaki, unaware that Hishiro is a fellow adult, continues to be astounded by her maturity and wisdom beyond her years, while Kaizaki’s very accurate suspicions persist.

The two continue festival prep, and Oga and Kairu make an appearance to show they made up nicely, but later in the day, when Kaizaki returns to the classroom to find Hishiro worn out and asleep at her desk, he resists the urge to touch her head in affection, while in his head admitting he’s fallen for her.

So, we’ve come a little further from the fireworks festival episode, in that Hishiro is on to Kaizaki (the level of her surety is up for debate, but the fact she’s right is indisputable) and Oga and Kariu are doing nicely as a couple. But both Kaizaki’s ignorance of Hishiro’s true age and Oga’s veiled threat prevented all the truth from coming out. We’ll see if that happens in the next bonus episode.

ReLIFE – 13 (Fin)

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Something’s definitely up with Hishiro as the final episode opens. You’d have to be Oga not to see it. All the LIME texts flying around about feelings and confessions, taking closeness for granted and fearing long separations.

Hishiro wonders, very logically, why one would put oneself through the “pointless” hassle of falling in love or confessing that love to someone you know you’ll be separated from.

Well, as the saying goes, better to have loved and lost, etc. And then there’s always a chance one’s assumption of being separated…turns out to be wrong, even if she doesn’t know that yet.

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Hishiro arrives to her first festival late and flustered; bold and resplendent in her deep red yukata (a color she asked Kaizaki if he liked in the preview for this ep). Due to the crush of people and unfortunate positioning, it’s Yoake, not Kaizaki, who is by her side when she needs an arm for support, whil An clings annoyingly to Kaizaki.

Sure, knowing what we know in this moment, An’s the better bet, as she won’t lose her memory of him when his year is up. But things are about to get more complicated in that arena.

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But first things first: Kariu intends to tell Oga how she feels about him, and Oga intends to tell Kariu how he feels about her. Their friends do a masterful job quickly ditching them, putting them both on the spot, having no idea of the each others’ intentions.

Oga takes the initiative, simply blurting out “Hey Kariu. I, uh…love you,” surprising both me and Kariu. Way to go, sport! The words hit Kariu like a ton of bricks, and as her mind races about all the ideas she had to confess to him, she gets shoved by a passerby.

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Oga grabs her hand and draws her near, and that’s when Kariu confesses she’s loved him for years now, bowling him over with equal elation. He adds that he’s probably loved her for a similar period of time, but needed Kaizaki to help him spell it out. They then hold hands and watch the fireworks together, on cloud nine…just eight minutes in, and we get a big win, making me wonder what else is in store for us in the finale.

Tama notices Kaizaki and Hishiro aren’t around, but Yoake and An shrug it off, having set Kaizaki up to be along with Hishiro. She asks him pointedly about Yoake, but not as someone interested in Yoake. Rather, she voices her admiration for Kaizaki’s ability to so quickly amass good friends, inspiring her to try harder.

Kaizaki counters that she’s surrounded by friends too, and she’s “tried plenty hard”, but she still gives most of the credit to him, adding she’s really glad she met him…which really confuses Kaizaki!

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He goes over in his head what she meant, but settles as he’s settled all along; happy she feels that way, and grateful for his ReLIFE, brief as it is. Hishiro then points out how lovely the fireworks are, and Kaizaki adds that they’re a little sad too, since they’re so fleeting and then fade in the darkness.

As the fireworks flash and bang about, a flurry of thoughts and memories fly by, going in backwards chronological order. It’s a concentrated retrospective of everything Hishiro’s been through these past thirteen episodes, ending with her telling Kaizaki he’s in her seat…and then a cut to black.

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Yoake introduces himself to an older Hishiro Chizuru. That’s right, she was Subject #001, the one Yoake failed. Not that big of a surprise, I know—all the clues have been there all along—but still good to see it confirmed here and now, during those fireworks.

Hishiro’s whole problem all this time has been the same as Kaizaki’s: she’s afraid of having too much fun or being too happy or falling too much in love, lest it hurt that much more when they part ways. “You’re like the fireworks,” she says to Kaizaki, while the fireworks are too loud for him to hear. She doesn’t repeat herself.

The two return to the others, and after celebration of Kariu and Oga confessing to one another, find themselves alone together again. It’s here when Hishiro states that her position from the beginning of the episode has softened in light of Kariu and Oga coming together. Now she knows worrying about the future at the cost of happiness in the present is a waste.

There’s no dual confession here, no matter how close either Hishiro or Kaizaki come, they always stay on that precipice, because they both believe the other will definitely forget them. But since they’re both ReLIFE subjects, I doubt that will happen. It’s just a tremendous shame they don’t know that right here and now, you know? They’re both content with less than they should have, all due to a gross misconception.

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This is a tough pill to swallow (heehee), particularly becaue unlike Kariu and Oga, it’s a plot device, and not merely emotional obstacles, keeping these two apart. But I understand. Practically speaking, the manga isn’t over, and this show covered most of what’s already been published.

Basically, ReLIFE gave us something we wanted—Oga and Kariu together—but left everything else up in the air, as if to say “Don’t get greedy!” I wasn’t a fan of Kazaki saying again and again that he’d be forgotten when this show has proven optimistic enough for me to think there’s a realistic hope of him and Hishiro becoming an item.

I hope they do, in a future second season down the road, which I would watch the shit out of, no matter how much they dragged it out (after all, it took three seasons of Working!!! for the main couple to finally confess, and I watched every episode).

Until then, this was a very nicely done high school dramedy, and I especially appreciated being able to watch it at my own pace, instead of still being stuck on episode two!

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ReLIFE – 12

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It’s the end of the term and time for Summer Break – or in Kaizaki’s case, more lessons and make-up exams. There’s talk of the future. Oga mentions taking a look at universities other than the one Aoba High is affiliated with. Kariu gets restless.

Spring is classically when a young man’s fancy turns to love, but in Oga’s case, it’s Summer, and not without a considerable push from his de facto best mate Kaizaki, who has denied and is apparently content to continue to deny himself romance, since none of his high school friends will remember him at the end of the year.

At an impromptu adult celebration (i.e., with beer), Yoake and An mock his academic troubles, but also want the skinny on the Oga + Kariu impasse. Yoake also lauds his ReLIFE time as a “one year, limited edition of youth” he’s not taking full advantage of.

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Kaizaki simply groans at that, but the next day when he has Oga alone, he really presses him on who he likes. When he says “everyone”, he forces him to narrow it down based on certain criteria. Once those criteria enter Oga’s head, he visualizes who else but Kariu.

One hot Summer evening while Kaizaki and Oga are walking home proves to be the clincher as far as Oga realizing how he feels about Kariu. He spots her talking to a man in a suit who seems to be trying to get her into his car. Then she gets woozy and the man has to catch her.

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This is very confusing and not at all okay for Oga, who springs out to get to the bottom of it. Turns out, the man is Kaizaki’s kohai from last week (small world!) who saw that Kariu had heat stroke and didn’t want to leave her alone.

Oga offers to take her home, and because of Kariu’s state of mind, she lets her sincere, grateful side show, which Oga remarks at flippantly and gets punched for. “We’re always like this,” Oga says with a laugh. “It’s fun!”

He has no idea how much Kariu’s heart skipped upon hearing that, but on their silent walk home and late into the night, all Oga can think about is wanting to hold her hand.

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Officially in love with Kariu, like he always was without knowing it, Oga reports the revelation to Kaizaki, who is appropriately obnoxious, but also privately proud of both Oga and himself for giving him that little nudge (though Kaizaki’s kohai deserves a smidgen of credit too).

Yoake, An, and Hishiro join in the discussion of what the next steps should be, and when Oga mentions how much experience with girls Kaizaki’s had, Hishiro flashes her first forced smile in a while, clearly miffed by the implication (just as she was miffed her pleasant walk to school with Kaizaki was interrupted by An).

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Oga rises above all the chatter and bickering and makes the decision to invite Kariu to the Summer Fireworks Festival, in a text that bowls her over and has her wondering if he sent it in error (though he invites her by name, so that’s impossible).

She reaches out to the other girls, who also got invites, and realizes Oga invited everyone. She laments getting worked up for nothing, but agrees to go anyway. Inviting everyone is “just like Oga”, after all.

By the way, I really loved the energetic song that was played before, during, and after the credits: “Summer Festival” by Whiteberry, a super catchy, boisterous ode to life and youth featuring vocals that are just the right amount of off-key. Interestingly, it was released as a single in 2000, when Kaizaki (28 in 2016) was only 12. I figure it’s a song from his MD collection…

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ReLIFE – 11

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Well, I guess even ReLIFE can have an off-day.

Perhaps it’s unfair to watch this episode on the heels of a terrific episode of Orange—or indeed, the momentous previous episode of ReLIFE—but I just wasn’t feeling this one. Which is a shame, because for all its momentum-killing flashbacks, it marked a significant leap forward for Kaizaki by the end.

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This week Kaizaki asks Yoake for another pill to make him 28 again, so he can properly visit his senpai Saiki Michiru’s grave. She committed suicide after continued harassment from her peers, which only intensified when Kaizaki ignored her wish for him to “grow up” and not to involve himself.

I guess my main problem with this storyline—important as it is for how Kaizaki ended up with ReLIFE to begin with—is that I don’t buy that an office would be that awful. I’m not saying office jobs can’t be that awful, just that I didn’t feel that scenario was portrayed carefully, convincingly, or realistically enough here.

This show’s always better when working with shades of gray—everyone has selfish desires; that sort of thing—but Kaizaki’s former job seems like a ridiculously cartoonish hell; a “black company” not just full of sexist pricks, but borderline sociopaths.

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Then there’s the two kohais from his company, who Yoake and An arrange to bump into Kaizaki. It’s good there are people who feel as he does, even if they didn’t have the courage to quit as soon as he did, and their admiration of what he did certainly lessens his regret somewhat and convinces him quitting was the right thing to do.

That’s all fine and dandy, but I’m still not sure why Yoake chose the anniversary of Saiki’s death to do this. It means for four months he kept information from Kaizaki that could have helped him deal with his trauma. But why so long? Was he simply waiting until a time when he knew Kaizaki would ask for a re-aging pill?

Finally, Kaizaki says he wants the pill so he won’t run into trouble if someone he knows shows up at Saiki’s grave. But that begs the question: how has he been able to avoid being spotted people he knows for four months? It’s a can of worms the episode presents that’s best left closed for the purposes of suspension of belief.

At any rate I’m glad Kaizaki is feeling better about the choices he made that led to his joining ReLIFE. Now I’d like to see him get back to that ReLIFE.

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Glasslip – 13 (Fin)

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MAL has been decidedly hard on Glasslip, with its score plummeting to 6 as I write this, and now that the show is over, I’m starting to finally understand why: Glasslip is stingy. It shows you an awful lot of stuff, but most of it could be seen as idle, even lazy slice-of-life. What it doesn’t do is clearly lay out to you what’s going on beneath or parallel to these goings-on. To a casual viewer; especially one who is watching a lot of other, more direct stuff, seeking Glasslip’s subtle deeper meaning can feel like …work.

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Further occluding that meaning is the fact we have three couplles of nearly equal stature, but for the fact the main one, that of Kakeru and Touka, includes all this “future fragments” business. At a crucial point in this finale, Touka’s mom confesses to seeing such fragments after flashes of light, when she was younger, and thought they were the future. This is actually a case of Glasslip being generous in its hintage as to what’s going on with Touka, and it’s surprisingly simple: her mom was merely growing up, just as Touka is.

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Glasslip isn’t just about a “slice-of-life”, although it excels at that admirably. It’s about the transition from childhood (middle school) to adulthood (high school and beyond). Kakeru’s dad makes the point to Kakeru that it’s his life to live and his shots to call. Touka was seeing possible futures in her head out of weariness of the future and all the change it entailed that would disrupt the nice thing she’s had going thus far.

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Shiny stuff just happened to stimulate the flashes, and during the fireworks at the beginning of the show when she and Kakeru share that moment wasn’t just pure chance, it was their wills at work: he wanted to see her and she him. Kakeru’s fears about hurting Touka with the fragments were just his fears about being with her hurting her in another form, and by the end it seems both of them are on the same page, not only about what the fragments could have meant and, obviously, how they feel about each other.

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The fruits of the summer were as follows: Yuki and Yana started to run together, suggesting they may have become a couple in the background. Hiro and Sachi are still the cutest item in the world, with Hiro so excited to see her he gets up early for school. Touka walks to school alone, and Kakeru isn’t there when she turns her back, but she doesn’t seem troubled. The tent in his yard is gone, but he’ll be back to see those winter fireworks with her.

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