Noragami Aragoto – 06

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Usually a bad guy just wants more power, for reasons. But once Kugaha truly gets into why he wanted to “start over” with Bishamon, it wasn’t just to become her new exemplar. He truly believed this was what needed to be done. Bishamon had, after all, forsaken her war god legacy and horded “worthless” regalia, dragged them into her centuries-old grudge against Yato (based on a misunderstanding no less), and got them and herself corrupted.

But in his “selfless crusade” to rid the universe of this “selfish, detestable” Bishamon, he forgot one thing: his place, in the order of things. As Yato remarks when he diagnoses Kugaha’s plan as an elaborate cry for mommy’s attention, gods can do no wrong. They are above the morals of humans, Kugaha included. Her will reflects the will of the universe, and cannot be questioned just because Kugaha doesn’t like it.

More importantly, Kugaha deeply underestimated Yato’s power, especially now that Sekki is two swords, sharper than ever, and no longer conflicted about using deadly force. When Kugaha plays his trump card: his skeletal dragon phantom, Yato and Yukine dispatch it with ease.

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Yato prepares to dispatch Kugaha as well, but Bishamon stands up and shields him, refusing to let Yato touch her treasured regalia. Never again, it seems. The War God who had escalated matters so far so recently is the voice of peace here, recalling how she and Kazuma first met Kugaha, and how he became a valued member of her family. Her words and her apologies cut Kugaha to the quick; I might have even detected a glimmer of shame.

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But once word comes that another dragon Kugaha loosed in the mansion is responsible for killing so many of her regalia, Bishamon knows what must be done; she’s just more merciful than Yato would have been, releasing and exiling him rather than taking his life outright. It’s an act that doesn’t forgive what he did, but acknowledges he believed he was doing right by her as well as himself. But he’s not a god, and he wasn’t right.

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Yato, Hiyori and Yukine then fade out to let Bishamon deal with the second phantom, which carries the lost and still-vocal souls of her regalia. She arrives in the nick of time to save the group of survivors, calls the name of the oldest, a rusty swordstick (in a return to her humble roots), and brings the monster down as her lost children cry out for her.

This is the war Bishamon fights. Not some glorious bout on a barren hill that will be recorded in the annals of history, like Kugaha might have wanted. Instead, Bishamon is constantly fighting a war against neglect and cruelty of the near shore. She adopts those who had nowhere else to go because no one else will, and because she alone has the strength to bear so many.

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When the Ma clan was wiped out, Bishamon lost a battle, but not the war, as she and Kurama started over not by killing herself and resurrecting, but taking the ruins of what remained form her defeat and turning it into a fresh victory, her current Ha clan. And standing beside her during that resurgent win was her trusty exemplar Kurama.

When Kurama awakes to find a healed Bishamon smiling over her, he is ashamed for twice disgracing her, and asks her to release him. But like Kugaha, he’s wrong, and Bishamon can do no wrong. She still needs him in the ongoing war to help as many lost ones as she can. It’s a neverending war, but she is timeless.

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And one reason she needs him so badly is because she is unaccustomed to not holding in the manifest pain of her regalia. This is something she’ll work on no longer doing, so something like Kugaha never happens again. To that end, she’s begun an exchange journal with her regalia that she asks Kurama to add to, after she lifts his exile and asks him to return to being her exemplar. And if the War God can forgive him, it would be the highest insolence to not forgive himself.

This was a gorgeous and moving conclusion to the Kugaha vs. Bishamon arc. It managed to give Kugaha a little more dimension before shipping him off, and succeeded in bringing Bishamon and her family to the forefront as a larger-scale analog to Yato’s little but loving family. And it just may have ended Bishamon’s grudge, which dates back to the show’s last season, which is huge, because maybe henceforth she and Yato can interact civilly!

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Noragami Aragoto – 05

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Last week, it was all coming up Kugaha: everyone was playing the roles he’d laid out for them, and everyone was tied up in a knot, culminating in the shattering of Yukine by Bishamon’s untempered-by-Kazuma hand. But Yukine is fine, in fact, he’s better than fine: his act of sacrifice to save his master led to his evolution and transformation from mere regalia to blessed vessel, the same thing that happened with Kuzama.

Now Yukine is two blades instead of one, and they’re both much sharper; all the better to protect his master. Let there be no more doubt about the depth of their bond not just as master and weapon, but family.

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Does the quick resolution of last week’s cliffhanger kill the tension? Not by a long shot. In fact, Yukine’s transformation still plays into Kugaha’s hands, because Yato is now in a far better position to take out Bishamon, who is riddled with blight once Kugaha’s medicine wears off. But if the corruption is weakening her, it’s sure hard to tell; she fights as hard as ever, and her regalia suffer, sharing every blotch of blight she’s enduring.

This won’t end well until someone acts outside of the chain of command and saves Bishamon and everyone else from herself.

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That someone is Aiha, who tells Kuraha, who was just wishing Kazuma was there, where Kugaha stashed Kazuma and Hiyori. As Kugaha lays waste to scores of Bishamon’s lesser regalia with a giant dragonlike phantom, the old lion conveys the two former captives to Bishamon and Yato.

Notably, Hiyori refuses to return to the living world and her body until Yato has seen her; just as Kazuma may be the only one to stop Bishamon, Hiyori is the only one who can stop Yato.

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As Bishamon endures the pain of losing more and more regalia, she refuses to give up the fight, and seeing who’s fighting her, doubles down on her belief Yato is the one behind all this, and is again trying to take everything from her. At the same time, Yato hears the voice of Nora imploring him to cut Bishamon’s regalia down before she entangles him with her scourge. Nora drowns out Yukine’s voice, Yato’s eyes go dead, and he aims for Bishamon’s throat…

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But Hiyori’s voice, now stronger than Nora’s ancient influence, and the reason he’s come, stops him. She shows she’s fine, and explains Bishamon didn’t kidnap her. But it’s too late; if he doesn’t kill her, she’ll kill everyone in a massive atom bomb of corruption. Again going exactly according to Kugaha’s plans, he plans to kill her, saying it’s “not such a big deal” as she’ll be instantly reborn. But it will be a big deal, because she won’t be quite the same Bishamon.

Fortunately, perhaps, Yato’s cut doesn’t kill her, and when she counters, Kazuma comes between the two and takes the full brunt of the attack, then embraces Bishamon and confesses what he deems his sins. He was always going to tell her that he ordered the killing of the Ma clan, but he was the only one left she could turn to, he simply couldn’t say it, and never did, until now.

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Still, I think Kazuma is being too hard on himself. He did what he thought he had to to save his master, and bearing that terrible secret also protected her. Having only Kazuma as a basis for starting over was more important than revealing the truth, which back then would have been the final nail in her coffin. Instead, he became an earring and her exemplar, and she became a better, kinder god.

As with Yukine last week, I can’t definitively speak to the status of Kazuma (though I doubt he’s a goner), but that was some intense catharsis right there, and it had the effect of calming Bishamon and prompting her to release all the regalia she was pushing to their limits.

Most importantly: Aiha’s turnabout, Kazuma’s intervention, Kuraha’s independence, and Bishamon’s catharsis were all events that weren’t part of Kugaha’s plan. He managed to kill a lot of regalia, but his primary goal was thwarted (for now), and now Yato is resolved to go after “the guy behind all of this.” Finally, a break for the good guys.

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Ushio to Tora – 13

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Ushio gets a much-needed breather at the bread shop of the old man he saved from the youkai, but the youkai hordes are still out there, and once they find him, he’s thrown right back into a battle where the youkai have all the numbers, and Beast Spear or no, Ushio is getting worn down. Enter Kagari and Raishin, who are not only there to help him, but are willing to die by his side.

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The kamaitachi are nothing if not loyal to those who helped and empathized with their plight. I find myself liking them more and more. Yet even with them around, the youkai keep coming. It’s ultimately Tora who saves the three of them from the hordes, deciding not to sit on the sidelines after all. Sure, that puts him in Hitotsuki’s crosshairs, but he couldn’t care less; in fact, he wouldn’t mind fighting his old associate, for no other reason that he keeps calling him Nagatobimaru!

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Ushio finds himself deposited before a large traditional Japanese estate wreathed in fog, and he is welcomed to come in, calm down, sit, and listen. The Zashiki Warashi is there, along with the leader of the youkai who have been attacking him; Hitotsuki’s long-nosed boss. He tells Ushio a little more about who her mother is, and the nine-tailed Hakumen no Mono she protects from the youkai with a powerful barrier, as her predecessors have done for the last thousand years. What the youkai boss can’t tell Ushio is why, but he suspects Ushio can ask her himself when he finds her.

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Ushio also learns the reason the boss is being so nice to him: he’s the old man he saved in the forest, who he hung out with at the bread shop. Like Kagari and Raishin, if one is kind to youkai, chances are they’ll be kind to you as well; they’re not wholly evil or anti-human under all circumstances.

As for Hitotsuki, the boss is miffed for him disobeying orders, but allows him to duel Tora to decide whether he gets to have his way. As I said, Tora is fine fighting him, considering they have history, but twists himself in knots explaining to Ushio that he’s not doing this for his sake (even though he really kinda is.)

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At first Hitotsuki mops the floor with Tora, slapping him around and biting him with his many serpent-head digits and goring him with his giant horn. But Tora eventually takes the gloves off, breaths fire on his opponent, then zaps him and smacks him around until he’s declared the winner (though Tora doesn’t kill him, again showing his new, slightly softer side). The boss shows his true form—a magnificent Tengu—and promises Ushio none of his youkai will harm him ever again, as per the terms of the duel.

With that, Kagari patches up Tora (I like the deference the kamaitachi now show to who is essentially their “senpai”), and he and Ushio head into the misty woods on the next leg of their eventful journey to find Ushio’s mom. Turns out it will take a lot more than bumping into an old acquaintance like Hitotsuki to break his complex bond with Ushio.

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Ushio to Tora – 12

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No Gate or Food Wars for Hannah tonight, as every other Summer show seems to want to take a week off at some point in its run, but at least I’ve got Ushio to Tora, which after this week has just one final episode until its second cour. And while there was a pretty good amount of action and fighting this week, there was also a lot of standing around talking and infodumping, indicating this was an episode to pause, take stock, and bring Ushio and Tora up to speed as to the youkai situation.

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And here is that situation: the youkai are pissed. They know who Ushio is, and more importantly whose son he is, and while we still don’t know a whole lot about what his mother has done (or continues to do), it’s enough to unite a whole mess of low-to-mid-level youkai into a marauding confederacy of sorts. If they can’t hurt his mom, they’ll sure as hell try to hurt him. Thing is, it doesn’t seem like they really can. They have the numbers, but like Tora, none of them can stand up against the power of the Beast Spear, which acts on its own to save Ushio when he’s bum-rushed.

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He gets away from the crowd and comes upon a swamp where a helpful kappa (who doesn’t share the youkais’ vendetta) heals his wounds and tells/sings him the story of Hakumen no Mono, a monster who wanted to do away with all other monsters and have all of humanity to itself to torment. Meanwhile, Tora is separated from Ushio and ends up getting the lowdown from his old youkai pal Hitotsuki, while the kamaitachi, now firm friends of Ushio, if not other humans, refuse to join the youkai lynch mob.

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It could well be that the power Ushio’s mom wields, and has apparently inherited as the lastest “tasked woman”, is a blight to youkai and a threat to the yin-yang balance of the universe. But this episode only goes so far in revealing who and what she really is, even to Ushio, who till the end thinks the welcoming committee is being a bit rough on him. But these are ancient monsters he’s dealing with, who have no qualms about hurting a woman who hurt them but can’t hurt her back by hurting her son.

As for Tora, Hitotsuki tells him he’s free to join in the hunt, but otherwise had better stay on the sidelines. Tora, for his part, seems to acknowledge he’s gone a bit soft, lacking the cruelty for humans he once possessed. He says he possesses Ushio so that he can one day kill and eat, but he has nothing to show for it, except an increasingly dull edge. I’d say he’s due for some kind of fresh betrayal of Ushio, but there’s the persistent issue of that Beast Spear, and the fear of 500 more years trapped in a cellar. So we’ll see which side he ends up on.

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Sora no Method – 05

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With help from Koharu and Noel, Nonoka starts to implement her plan to bring everyone back together and apologize for breaking her promise, by making a new promise to Yuzuki: that they’ll launch fireworks from the lake in a week’s time.

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Yuzuki is dubious and quick to run away from Nonoka, Koharu, and Souta, an action that’s grown somewhat repetitive these last two episodes, to the point that if you took a shot every time she ran away in a huff, you’d be pretty boiled. But Nonoka and Koharu’s concerted efforts to make the fireworks happen ultimately manage to draw out what’s been eating Yuzuki all along.

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Even Shione agrees to come in a week…if Nonoka can make the fireworks happen, which she doubts, meaning she thinks Nonoka is lying again, because she’s a liar. Shione has been feeling lied to an abandoned for so long, it’s formed a cold, hard, cynical crust. But we learn her and Yuzuki are not angry for the same reasons at all.

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Yuzuki has really been angry at herself, ever since she ran away from home with fireworks and Souta rode off, desperately looking for her. In the process, he crashes his bike and badly hurts his leg, ending up in the hospital. Yet when their parents ask what he was doing, he protects Yuzuki and shoulders the blame himself.

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Even before that, when the five friends were to meet at the pier for fireworks, nobody was able to make it. Yuzuki and Souta got separated at the festival, while Shione and Koharu stayed home. The only one who actually got to the pier was Nonoka, who was at the waterfront with her mom. When Yuzuki sees the dated photo proving she was there, she’s compelled to apologize to her too.

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I for one am glad Yuzuki figured stuff out and there was finally a cathartic reunion. Even more significant, the four friends together (minus Shione, who’s still loitering around nearby, ever at a distance) actually get to see fireworks courtesy of Noel, who projects them off the saucer. This time, Nonoka was able to keep her promise. She’s made up with Yuzuki; but is that enough to move Shione?

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Sora no Method – 04

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Having everyone back together in the spot where they once played doesn’t have quite the effect Noel was expecting, and Nonoka suddenly remembering calling the saucer with everyone and leaving without saying goodbye doesn’t suddenly make Shione or Yuzuki. In fact, Yuzuki is so pissed off, she slaps Nonoka in the face and storms off.

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But this episode isn’t primarily about Nonoka, our ostensible protagonist. It’s mostly about Yuzuki, with a hearty helping of Koharu, whom hasn’t had much to do until now. The truth that Nonoka is that Nonoka sends her into a bitter rage, suggesting her problem with the Saucer is about far more than fireworks. It’s about something more painful…something in a hospital.

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We don’t know the details, nor does Nonoka. But whatever the saucer did to Yuzuki, it’s haunted her incessantly ever since. She’s worked tirelessly to try to dissuade tourists from visiting the saucer — and in vain. And since every other business has banned her, her last outpost of Quixotic anti-saucer protest is Koharu’s family’s store. When customers complain, Koharu has no choice to shut her friend down.

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Meanwhile, mindful that she’ll need to learn more before approaching Yuzuki again, Nonoka meets with her very different twin brother Souta, to try to get some perspective. If he knows what’s really eating away at Yuzuki, he doesn’t let on, but he tells Nonoka not to worry about her; it’ll only cause her trouble.

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He said practically the same exact thing to Koharu, who tried for a long time to stand beside Yuzuki and support her as she tilted at windmills. Yuzuki was in earshot when Koharu couldn’t say with certainty that she didn’t think Yuzuki’s efforts were pointless. Since then, Yuzuki has harbored that non-answer as evidence Koharu may only be on her side to be nice and avoid confrontation.

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After Yuzuki happens to spot Nonoka talking with Souta, she races back to the tourist area and physically blocks a road full of buses, and Koharu is again forced to choose between her friend and the reality of the situation. Yuzuki brings up Koharu’s talk with Souta, and Koharu finally admits to her face that her actions serve no purpose. Yuzuki declares her hate and storms off again. It’s rough.

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Yuzuki hates Nonoka Koharu, and Souta; while Shione hates Nonoka and she and Souta would rather not be wrangled back into this hot mess; they’ve moved on with life. That leaves the two subjects of the others’ hate: Nonoka and Koharu. Neither of them want things to stay the way they are, but neither is strong enough to change anything alone. Maybe working together they can make something happen.

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Sora no Method – 03

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Loved this long-distance relay conversation between the scattered group members.

Everyone in this circle of past friends is missing a piece of the puzzle, which informs how they treat Nonoka. When they’re all brought together again for a sprawling orienteering trip, those pieces start to match and fall into place, resulting in a different kind of re-orienting: that of their immediate attitudes towards the transfer student. At the same time, Man, was this a gorgeous episode, packed camerawork that really accentuates the scale grandeur of the surroundings.

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Our first perspective comes from Togawa Shione, who’d been glaring in the background till now. Komatsu Mikako is one of the best in the business when it comes to coldness and barely restrained contempt in an otherwise sweet and innocent voice, and she’s perfect as the bitter Shione, who is convinced Nonoka is trying to play her and the others for fools.

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“Here’s a ‘promise’ for ya!”

So convinced is she that Nonoka is being glib and coy, it doesn’t take much interaction with her at all to make her slap her in the face. Shione is upset because seven years ago, it was Nonoka’s idea to “call for the saucer,” and yet after they called it, she split for Tokyo without a word, abandoning her friends and the responsibility for the Saucer they all shared. Shione’s missing piece? Nonoka genuinely doesn’t remember those days…be that only makes Shione feel even more devalued.

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Next up is Yuzuki, who we learn is twins with her bro Souta, as he was also in the group (the guy is notably not the focus in a group of mostly girls). She hates the saucer, in part, because it’s the constant reminder of Nonoka’s betrayal. She’s just as angry at Nonoka as Shione, but is nice to Present Nonoka because of her missing piece: she didn’t know this was the same Nonoka, a position also shared by Koharu and Souta, until Nonoka gets separated from them and Shione educates them.

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This is, again, the first time we see the friends talking about seven years ago, so none of them have failed to remember, but have dealt with it in different ways. There’s a interesting bit of intrigue in this scene devoid of Nonoka, who is the one who is bringing everyone back together…some without knowing it, some against their will!

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Even if Yuzuki isn’t entirely convinced yet, now that she’s aware of the possibility, it’s going to change her interactions with Nonoka. That’s made even more abundant in Nonoka’s ultimately very fruitful lone journey to a decaying and abandoned Kindergarten, most likely the very one the circle of friends attended. It’s a quiet, sadly beautiful, wordless scene where Nonoka simply sits by herself and starts to hum, and is joined by Noel.

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Here, in this place, her missing piece comes back to her: her friendships with the others and the wish they made seven years ago. This happens sooner than I thought it would, which is a good thing, but it’s only the beginning. The flashback shows how similar or different the friends are now, and underlines just how blindsided they all were by her moving away. But she just…couldn’t find the time or place to tell them.

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Up to this point, Nonoka had the most missing pieces, not even knowing how the Saucer got up there, let alone the fact her present peers were not only already her friends in the past, but didn’t appreciate her sudden departure.

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But that’s all changed now: Nonoka remembers now, and she still has what she had ever since she returned to town: Noel, who tells her she’s not just from the Saucer or of the Saucer; she IS the Saucer. Without knowing it, Nonoka got what she wanted seven years ago. So…what now?

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Sankarea – 14

With Dan’ichiro away, Rea’s stepmother Aria live alone in the house, eating little, drinking much, getting driven to Rea’s school where she is headmistress, and generally being bored out of her mind. Meanwhile, Mero finds an unconscious girl under the temple and brings her in. The girl won’t talk but seems to have it in for Rea, and proceeds to stealthily harass and terrorize her. Once the jig is up and the others confront her, she runs out to the graveyard, where she reveals she’s Aria. Furuya lectures her on being nicer to her daughter, and she fumes and unleashes a torrent of glowing rain. She then wakes up in her bathtub. It was only a dream, but Rea and Furuya had it to.

Bored, miserable, and under-, nay, non-sexed, and always deep into a bottle of Vitamin XO, Aria tries to take her frustrations out on the only person she has control over besides her mocking household staff: her stepdaughter. When she starts touching herself in the tub and goes underwater, and the episode then cuts to the Furuya residence, we thought that would pretty much all we’d see of Aria. How wrong we were! The entirety of the episode after that only took place in a dream, albeit a dream that she, Rea, and Furuya had at the same time. It’s a clever little device, but we have to admit, when the girl reveals she’s Aria (with her beauty spot), we were a little lost for a moment. How is a little girl Rea’s mom???

Happily, the episode explains itself soon thereafter, and everything ends up making sense…more or less. And hey, the dream even ends up changing Aria’s tune; she ultimately decides the petty punishment she was forcing the school to mete out to Rea simply out of spite didn’t catch her fancy anymore. What’s funny is that Furuya’s rejection of the dream-Aria was an interaction between the two that actually happened and wasn’t just a dream. That makes this more interesting, because the typical “never happened” or “reset button” aspects of dream episodes don’t apply here.


Rating: 8 (Great)