TenSura – 31 – Bad News First

I never want to hear the good news first. The positive effects of hearing it would be nullified by the bad news, and who wants that? So here it is, a bad news-packed episode of the usually light and fancy-free TenSura with the title “Despair.” Subtle it ain’t, but the more serious shift in tone and heightened stakes are just the shot this show needed after a sputtering start.

First, kudos for presenting an opponent in Hinata so tough she not only makes Rimuru resort to the last trick up his slimy sleeve, but she seemingly obliterates him even in his final form with an apocalyptic Ultima-like spell. For a second there it looked like Rimuru had been taken off the board. While that was only a second, it was a wonderfully tense one!

We learn that when he summoned Ifrit, Rimuru made a doppelganger of himself to take the punishment, deeming retreat to be the better part of valor and turning out to be exactly right: had it been him under that Desintegration, he estimateshe’d have been toast, Holy Field or not. Ranga pops out of his shadow and greets his master like the good dog he is.

One detail we’ll just have to live with is the fact that someone as otherwise shrewd as Hinata simply left the scene without inspecting the crater where Rimuru apparently met his end for possible remains. Then again, she only told Rimuru she sold him short, not that he was anything to worry about. That arrogance led to her getting sloppy in this instance.

Rimuru and Ranga are perplexed when they can’t teleport to Tempest because the “destination doesn’t exist” due to the barrier. Instead they teleport to the nearby caverns, where he meets with Souei and his scouts, Gabiru, and Vesta, who explain the situation as they see it; Souei, bless him, immediately calls out Falmuth as one of the culprits.

We learn that the enemies have taken off, leaving the barriers in place, and while Gabiru’s men managed to save the young children, the city is wrecked and filled with casualties. Rimuru passes through the barriers without a problem, and is shocked by the sights he’s seen, which we must note he’s never seen…not against his capital, his nation, or his people.

Everyone seems to want to keep him away from something horrific in the central plaza, but before he can check it out he hears Benimaru’s attack. He rushes to the ally to find that Beni was attempting to capture Mjurran, but she was being protected by Grucius and Youm. Rimuru ends the confrontation before Beni can do any permanent harm, and when he’s told of Mjurran’s role, he asks to tell him exactly what she did.

She shows him instead, leading him to the plaza, strewn with dozens of dead goblins. Mjurran’s guilt over conjuring the barrier pales in comparison to the guilt Rimuru feels after having given standing orders to the Goblins not to attack humans. Mjurran seems to want to be the fall girl for everything, but Rimuru knows and the Great Sage confirms that there’s plenty of blame to spread around.

This Mjolmire guy from Blumund…he just puts off a very suspicious vibe, doesn’t he? The episode seems to go out of its way to make him far more prominent than he’d otherwise be. Sure, his task to send word to Blumund of Tempest’s situation is an important one; Rimuru should also contact Dwargon. But yeah…I wouldn’t be surprised if he betrays Rimuru at some point.

In an emergency meeting, Rimuru gets the remaining details about the situation, including the fact that the Knight Commander from Falmuth declared the capital “contaminated by monsters”, and that he’ll return accompanied by King Edomalis himself in seven day’s time to accept their surrender and dispersal from the city, or else be “eradicated.”

After his interactions with Hinata, it’s clear now to Rimuru that Falmuth and the anti-monster Western Holy Church have been conspiring to bring his nation down. Mjolmire points out the economic reasons Falmuth is determined to eliminate Tempest. Judging from that knight’s ultimatum, there could already be far too much distance between the two sides for anything other than all-out war.

But what of Mjurran? Rimuru demands to know everything she knows, and she’s happy to tell him, starting by telling him she serves the Demon Lord Clayman. As the ultimate puppet-master swirls his wine and smirks as he glances out the window of his gaudy castle, all the bad news has been laid out on the table and spilled over the edges.

It’s a long, hard road ahead for Rimuru & Co., but knowing they’re in a mess was the first step to getting them out of it. Soon it will be time to start making some good news, and it will be all the more satisfying thanks to the depths of despair plumbed here.

Wonder Egg Priority – 05 – Scrambled

We hadn’t been privy to Aonuma Neiru’s Egg missions until this week; only the interludes between recovering from battles and purchasing new Eggs to protect. Her dream-battlefield is a majestic suspension bridge with a huge city nightscape as the backdrop; as bold and dramatic as Neiru herself is modest and unflappable.

Her egg this time is a runaway dealing with an abused, but Neiru has it covered, darting around the bridge like she’s in FLCL and defeating it with her compass-turned-gun with action movie fluorish, complete with the catchphrase “I’m going to blow your mind.” She means the words literally.

The runaway thanks her savior, but Neiru remains businesslike and aloof. She’s not doing this for her. She’s merely completing objectives, like a good operative. In a thematic transition only a eclectic show like WEP can pull off, we shift to real life, with Ai welcoming Neiru, Rika, and Momoe to her home.

Ai can’t contain how happy she is to have friends over, and neither can her adorable mom, who recognizes Momoe as Sawaki-sensei’s niece. Ai mentions that Koito seemed to have a thing for Sawaki. Rika, in true Rika form, stirs up a conspiracy that’s plausible enough to give Ai pause: What if Koito was dating Sawaki? What if she got pregnant? What if Sawaki only visits Ai regularly because he suspects she has proof of the affair?

The talk of Koito and Sawaki leads Ai to remember when Sawaki was sketching her for a portrait as his means of entry to a life of painting. In the memories Koito seems to be projecting envy in the way she tells Ai that if her heart isn’t in being Sawaki’s subject, she’d better bow out, as his “future is on the line”…as if an adult man’s future should be anyone’s responsibility but his own!

The messy can of worms Rika opens and stirs threatens to curdle the vibe of Ai’s friends’ visit. It also reinforces the fact that a great deal of mystery surrounds Koito’s death. When Rika asks why she doesn’t just ask her mom, who seems to be close to Sawaki, Ai voices her reluctance to make her mom worry more than she clearly already is about her string of recent unexplained injuries, which…fair enough!

Rika gets that. So do the other girls. No matter how nice and understanding her mom is, nothing good can come of Ai telling her she sneaks out at night to fight monsters in her sleep on behalf of youth suicides…it will only worry her more! That’s what re-knits the tentative bonds Rika’s speculation briefly frayed and lightens a conversation that had turned dark: the four of them can’t tell anyone.

It’s their story that no one else knows about. While before they were toiling alone, not even sure what the fuck was going on, now they have context through each others’ shared burden. They are seen by one another; they recognize the pain, guilt, and curiosity in one another. Then Rika and Ai compare mothers: Rika took one look after being born and thought “this lady wants to stay a woman her whole life and never be a parent.” Ai wonders if her perfect, imminently capable mom drove her dad away.

There’s an excellent exchange in which Rika looks Neiru’s way after stating that capable women can spoil men, both because she sees Neiru as capable, and because it’s her turn. They’re playing Jenga, and the way Rika steers the convo throughout makes the group dynamic almost feel like a Jenga game in and of itself: gradually removing blocks while maintaining integrity. In a similar fashion, Rika pounces on Neiru and tickles her. She doesn’t get the right spot at first, but when she finds it, Neiru can’t help but burst into laughter, while Ai and Momoe note how well the two opposites get along.

We can’t be sure if her battles on the bridge take place before or after the friends meet at Ai’s, but her latest egg is a real piece of work, criticizing Neiru’s hair while going off unbidden about the ephemeral nature of a girl’s beauty, and how dying while at one’s most beautiful is preferable to becoming an “ugly hag” in a pointless adult life.

The four girls meet up and break into a shuttered bowling alley and arcade. Acca tells them to get out of there and buy some damned eggs already, but they push back, declaring what they’re doing to be necessary “group therapy”. Ura-Acca lets them have a little fun, declaring that “soldiers” need R&R.

For a few blissful hours, four girls who have been battling monsters in their dreams get to live their lives as ordinary girls. Momoe talks about how at least six people have confessed to her—all girls—but only Haruka saw her as a girl. Remembering how she handled Haruka stripping before her, she wonders if she could have done things differently.

While Rika and Ai are off playing a different game, Momoe and Neiru have a chat while playing a racing game. Neiru points out that Momoe doesn’t necessarily hate being popular, even with girls. Neiru concedes that, adding that “sometimes you end up enjoying something even though you didn’t mean to.” That’s something Neiru needs to hear, especially as she’s enjoying hanging out with the others despite herself.

Later, in Acca and Ura-Acca’s garden, the four exchange contact info for future hangouts together, and Rika lies on her back, looks up at the sky, and asks a very fair question: Why don’t they stop buying eggs? Rika admits she got caught up in her mission, but at the end of the day Chiemi “died on her own”, and dying isn’t “playing fair”, so why should she bear responsibility? She asks the same questions of Ai, as Koito died without ever talking to her, and may not even want to come back to life.

What if their egg-protecting missions led to them meeting each other in real life, and now that they have new friends, they can ditch the eggs and dreams, move forward together, and live their lives? Again, this is all fair, and I’m glad Rika goes with her instinct to probe and prod and bring up hard truths regardless of how she’ll be seen by the group. It means she feels safe enough with them to to do.

The problem is, this isn’t just about bringing their respective friends back to life. That was never the case with Neiru, because her statue is of her sister. Her sister ran away and jumped off a bridge, but only after stabbing Neiru in the back, quite literally. To this day, the scar aches and keeps her awake, especially when she tries to forget her. It’s like a curse she’s trying to exorcise from her body. As she tells the eggs she protects, she’s not doing it for them…she’s doing it for herself.

In a similar way, Ai’s desire to keep going isn’t only couched in saving Koito or righting any wrong she might have done. It’s to crack the mystery; to feed her insatiable curiosity, like a splinter in her brain that won’t let up until she has the answers. As Ura-Acca puts it to the stricter Acca, the girls are in a state of teenage rebellion: they’ll stop if told not to stop, and will keep pushing boundaries to build up their own identities.

Back in the battle protecting the girl obsessed with the pure, inimitable beauty of youth, Neiru realizes the three pompom-like monsters aren’t the Wonder Killer’s true form, it’s the girl’s hair. After shooting it, Neiru notes that her sister (whose statue stands on the edge of the bridge) “tempted” her to die by stabbing her, before ending her own life.

Was her sister’s rejection of reaching adulthood an ultimate act of rebellion against What Is and What Should Be? As with Ai’s inquiries into Koito, it’s a question that may only be answered if they keep fighting—egged on by the Accas all the way. I just hope that the fact the four girls are not alone in this business will make their struggles a little easier to bear.

Great Pretender – 22 – PRETENCEPTION

The preparations for the 100-billion-yen swindle are complete; all that’s left is to execute. Everyone on the team who isn’t Laurent or Makoto are wise to assume that one of them—if not both of them—are going to pull something unexpected that could throw the whole job in to chaos. Laurent has his vendetta against Liu, while Makoto may have found a new mom in Suzaku.

The thing we the audience need to watch out for is what twists the episode is going to throw our way, and the clues that precede those twists. Those don’t just include Chekhov’s Poison Ring and Chair Sword, but the very tight framing as everyone travels to the meeting…or the fact the hallway smells like fresh paint.

As these things tend to go, the meeting, while initially extremely tense, goes quite well. Suzaku doesn’t shake Liu’s hand, her survivalist instincts sensing the ring, while Liu seems to sense the concealed sword. Unfortunately, those instincts don’t serve either of them when they both realize something must have been lost in translation, because they’ve both brought 100 billion with them…

That’s when the fake SWAT unit bursts in—Laurent and Makoto’s co-conspirators in disguise—and confiscate both the check and the briefcase of cash (or stock certificates, it would seem). Suzaku and Liu are at the mercy of their interpreters who have suddenly clammed up. Suzaku smells something rotten: the timing of the police arriving is too perfect.

It would seem our crew have the baddies right where they want them, but then Laurent seemingly takes his revenge by sticking Liu with the poison ring. Liu panics, but notably does not die; either he was simply freaked out about being pricked or it contained some other drug that made him wig out.

When “Officer” Kudou tries to arrest Suzaku, Makoto whips out the sword and stops him, and orders the check and briefcase returned to the desk. Then an entirely new group of guys with automatic weapons (real ones, in their case) bust in, led by none other than American gangster Eddie Cassano.

Makoto apparently made a side deal with Cassano, with the sole purpose of finally getting one over on Laurent. He rants about everyone working together to avenge Dorothy while his mom rots in her grave, then points the sword at his dad and starts to stab him with it. Laurent tries to stop him, urging Edamame to stop “screwing up.”

Then something else unexpected happens, that shouldn’t have been unexpected: after Laurent disarms Makoto with a kick, Oz grabs the sword out of mid-air and slashes his son across the chest, creating a fountain of blood that makes Suzaku freak out. Did she just witness the demise of her beloved new surrogate son? Hard to tell; we’ve already been taught by the show not to accept any “death” at face value.

And all this is before things get truly weird. After Makoto is slashed, Cassano’s men open fire. Ishigami gets Suzaku the heck out of there, while Chen grabs Liu (who is okay after all). They wait in the hall for an elevator that never comes, and there’s curiously no cell reception. Then the sounds of the shootout abruptly end, and they carefully peek back inside the meeting room.

There, Suzaku spots a lever located where the windows were, and when she pulls it, the entire room begins to descend like one big elevator. Once it reaches the bottom, two large metal doors open on their own to reveal…the sea. The entire multi-story building was just an artifice, and soon crumbles into a pile of debris. The camera pulls back to reveal Suzaku and Liu’s crews are stranded on a small remote island.

W, T, and—I can’t stress this enough—F? This is the weirdest, wackiest development yet. Was Makoto’s ranting just an act, and his death faked via a fake sword and blood pack in his suit? Where did he, and Laurent, and Cassano, and Cynhia, and Abby, and everyone else who was in that room go? And why bring back Eddie at all?

Those are only a couple of the several dozen questions I have; I’m just glad the particulars of the job-within-the-job weren’t explained before it was pulled off. I’m sure the final episode will at least partially explain what the hell just happened and how, but one thing I’m confident of is that the job was a success for our con artists.

Great Pretender – 21 – Language Barrier

After learning how his last princess-trafficking job went south and cost Laurent the love of his life, we return to Cynthia’s island, probably not long after Makoto returned to Japan. There, Laurent informs Kim, Cynthia and Abby of the next job—perhaps their most dangerous yet—and introduces them to Oz the Wizard.

Naturally, no one elects to back out, and we watch what unfolds after Cynthia, Abby, and Oz are shot off Suzaku’s boat. All three were wearing bulletproof vests with squibs, and were retrieved from the sea by Kim apparently a diving expert even in her old age.

Why not simply tell Makoto about the whole plan? Easy; because he’s Makoto. They all know him from their previous jobs. The less he knows, the less chance of him accidentally messing up the job. And even then, he can be unpredictable.

Laurent heads to Shanghai to reunite with his old boss, Liu. Liu is happy his old Mahjongg opponent is back, while Chen believes the fortune teller was spot-on about an interpreter falling into their lap after the loss of Oz. Oz, meanwhile, visits Makoto, alive and well, and tries to explain that he abandoned him and his mom for their own safety. Makoto isn’t convinced.

While alone in his hotel room, Laurent is fiddling with Dorothy’s good luck ring when he’s suddenly visited by her ghost. This is the one job in which Laurent has the most personal stakes. Its success determines whether Dorothy is properly avenged. It’s akin to Worf & Co. trying to get Jadzia Dax into Sto-vo-Kor.

Makoto plays his role well, and as was the case with his father, the role he’s playing and the person truly he is have started to blur. Makoto seems to harbor legitimate affection for Suzaku, and as a son who lost her mother connecting with a mother who lost her son, there’s good reason for that.

The logic and legitimacy of their bond makes the con that much more convincing, but ultimately the entire job leans on the inability of Suzaku and Ishigami to understand Chinese, and the inability of Liu and Chen to understand Japanese.

In their remote video meeting, Makoto and Laurent are the interpreters, and they invent a fictional dialogue their bosses can only assume is an accurate interpretation of their adversaries’ words. As such, both bosses believe the other is about to pay them ¥100 billion in cash.

This is right on the edge of what either side can afford (especially Suzaku’s side), and if Laurent’s crew ends up handling that ¥200 billion, it won’t just be their biggest score ever and a worthy victory for Dorothy’s memory, but ruin both Suzaku and Liu’s organizations.

What definitely seems to not be part of Laurent’s plan is the fact that both Liu and Suzaku intend to murder each other when they meet in person. Ishigami had a sword concealed in Suzaku’s chair, while Chen has a ring that can inject poison into whomever’s hand is shaken.

Laurent probably included the potential for treachery on both sides in his calculations, considering both Suzaku and Liu have no qualms about selling kids (As Sloan once said to Dr. Bashir: “These are not nice people we’re dealing with here.”). If everyone plays their roles as expected, the job will succeed where it failed last time.

But will Makoto play the proper role? At the onsen in Japan where the rest of the crew is lying low, Abby worries he’ll go off-script as he has in the past—only this time it might cost him his life. One key question is whether Makoto is merely pretending to care about Suzaku or has come to truly care about her? She did gift him an adorable kitty tie (continuing this arc’s synergy with the end credits), after all.

Unlike his father, Suzaku is there for him, and has always been upfront about who she is. Meanwhile, Oz once told his son to “always be lawful”, “contribute to the world”, and “be a respectable person” while doing none of those things. We also see him making a mysterious phone call from his moonlit apartment. So we’ll see!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Great Pretender – 20 – One Mistake and You’re Gone

The fake princess job turns out to be the last job, but not in the way Dorothy’s crew had hoped. Of course, at first things unfold exactly as planned: a few doctored pictures are sufficient to convince Liu to part with $10 million for the Ethiopian princess.

Chen accompanies Kim and Oz to Osaka to abduct her while she’s being driven home from college classes. Laurent visits Dorothy, who is sleeping soundly in her tawdry cell despite the rats and foreign insects. They share a kiss before they part for the night. It turns out to be their last kiss.

The next morning, the worst thing that can happen to con artists dealing princesses-in-exile happens: pure dumb coincidence. There’s a prominent story in the paper about an Ethiopean princess-in-exile—the real one. Dorothy ends up on a boat anchored offshore.

Laurent is helpless to save Dorothy, but Dorothy doesn’t sweat matters, sticking to her code till the end by repeating “make a mistake and you’re gone.” Liu’s men go after Kim, who is apparently killed in a car chase, while Oz gives up the location of the cash in hopes of currying favor with Liu.

All Laurent can do is interpret between Liu and Dorothy…until Dorothy tells Liu to go fuck himself in his native tongue. He has an underling shoot her, and she falls overboard. The bullet just happens to break the chain holding her good luck ring, which lands on the deck at Laurent’s feet.

In the aftermath, Laurent can’t hide his pain, and envisions stabbing Liu right there in the middle of their game. He lies to Liu about his mother in France falling ill, and Liu gives him leave to visit her. The moment he’s in the air, however, he regrets not killing Liu.

Back at Paris HQ, Laurent goes down a spiral of guilt and grief when Dorothy doesn’t magically reappear. Despite watching her get shot and fall off the boat, he still held a small hope it was an expertly faked death, but while Kim did manage to pull that off, Dorothy did not.

In her last moments, she knew the time had finally come when she made a mistake, and that was it; she just wished it hadn’t been their very last job. Laurent hears a pot breaking outside and rushes out to the patio. For a moment he spots Dorothy, alive and well…but it’s just one of the cats from the end credits.

Fast forward a few years. Laurent meets Cynthia when she tries to scam him. Ozaki, who intentionally got himself arrested and put in jail for his mafia activities, is now out of jail, and we see how close he comes to bumping into his son when he visits the hospital. Laurent meets Abby right after she’s beaten up three would-be rapists. And, of course, Makoto approaches Laurent with his wallet con, which brings us back to the beginning.

I imagine those first episodes (and indeed first arcs) where his background remains so opaque would have quite a different vibe to them, now that we’ve learned so much more him. Building the team he has in the present was an effort to create a con job that would make Dorothy proud and honor her unwavering adherence to their noble thieves’ code.

And now we know why $10 million is a plenty large score this time. It was never about the money—It was about the people they were taking it from.

Great Pretender – 13 – Same As They Used to Be

When a hungry Makoto finds a toffee tin in the fridge, Cynthia quickly snatches it away, declaring that the toffees aren’t on the menu. Back in the past, Coleman makes a deal with Thomas: all he wants are ten forgeries he can pass off as “miraculous discoveries” of masterworks, and in return he’ll make Thomas a Big Deal.

The Faustian deal gives Thomas what he always wanted—financial stability and a measure of luxury—but he knows it’s wrong, and whenever Cynthia mentions that it’s wrong, it shatters the veneer of success he’s trying to maintain, thus straining their relationship. Back in the present, Abby reports her findings on her investigation of Laurent, and shows she’s not above using her “vivaciousness” to gain the older man’s confidence.

Makoto eventually makes contact with present-day Thomas Mayer, whose life took a turn after breaking up with Cynthia. That said, his two million pounds in debt isn’t due to gambling or addiction problems, but a pure and just heart. When he saw a kid sketching one of his forgeries in a museum, he vowed to quit painting forever and borrowed heavily in order to buy back the three paintings he’d forged.

This us why he initially turned down Cynthia: why would he paint a forgery to make back the money he spent removing his forgeries from the art world? But then Makoto remembers the toffee tin and presents it to Thomas. It contains a detailed drawing of a wedding ring he drew for Cynthia in better days. That she kept it all these years means she must still feel something for him.

That proves to be the spark Thomas needs to come out of retirement—that, and Makoto telling him she needs his talent in order to settle the score with Coleman. It probably takes more than one all-nighter, but he manages to pull off a very impressive forgery of Snow of London.

When Cynthia stops by to inspect the work, Thomas is asleep in bed, but Makoto tells her that he was only able to create the forgery because of her. Trying to play matchmaker, he thinks that despite everything that’s happened, the two of them still bring out the best in each other, and that deep down they’re both the same people they were back then.

Fruits Basket – 34 (S2 09) – A Too-Perfect Monster

Rin’s story is placed on hold as this episode is entirely given over to the fated rematch between Kyou and Akito. On the way in, Kyou castigates Yuki and the others for letting Tooru be all alone at the beach house, two which Yuki throws a “what about you?” back in his face. As much as they might hate Akito, obeying him is “how it’s supposed to be.” And yet how unusual is it for Akito to give the Cat another audience? Akito’s looking to head off any further intrusions from Tooru by appealing directly to Kyou.

For what it’s worth, Tooru is ecstatic that Kyou was finally invited in. Little does she know all Akito wants is to stamp out the beautiful thing she and Kyou have, and turn him against her. The visit goes about as well as you’d expect, considering how little experience Kyou has dealing with Akito. He tries his best to keep his temper in check, but Akito knows exactly how to push his buttons and make him erupt into a scattered emotional mess.

This is in sharp contrast to Yuki’s last couple meetings with Akito, in which he proved to himself that Akito’s taunts and mind games are of little utility. When Kyou’s eyes widen and he trembles as Akito’s proverbial tentacles surround and restrain him, it’s in large part because Akito is tapping into Kyou’s long-held guilt that his mother committed suicide because of him, and thus is undeserving of love, happiness, or hope.

But what really pushes Kyou into the deep end from which he may never return is when Akito starts insulting Tooru as a fellow “monster”, an angel far too perfect to be normal or real. Kyou sets the record straight, telling Akito just how scared Tooru was when she saw his true form, yet still held onto his hand lest she lose him forever. Akito derides Tooru as a monster, while Kyou’s Shisho made him think of her as a little flower in the dirt.

No matter how many times one might trample that flower—that hope—it always blooms anew after periods of nurturing sun and rain. As we see in a flashback involving Lil’ Kyou meeting Kyouko, Tooru became that little flower for him.

In their previous meeting Akito and Kyou made a bet: if he defeated Yuki by graduation, Akito would stop calling him a monster and welcome him into the Zodiac. But if he failed, Akito would confine Kyou just as he did previous Cats. It’s a terrible bet; one Akito can far too easily rig in her favor by poisoning Kyou’s all-too-fragile mind. Just bring up the guilt about his mother, and he starts wondering why he was even kept alive this long.

And yet, when he reunites with Tooru on the beach, the little flower he loves so much he can’t let her get any more involved with him, he resolves to stay with her until “the end”, when he’ll go quietly into confinement and save her from being trampled.

Of course, there’s no way in hell Tooru would want him to do something like that for her sake or anyone else’s. And I predict the more we learn about what she’s keeping under the still-closed lids in her heart, the more we’ll find she harbors very similar guilt about the fate of her parents as Kyou does, which will only draw her closer to him as he plans for a gradual separation.

In any case, quietly making such choices without consulting her is just plain bad form and walking backwards by Kyou. Hopefully Tooru will learn about what he has planned for himself before it’s too late to change anything, and find a way to help reconcile the guilt over the past that continues to press upon both of them.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 18 (Fin) – No Time To Worry About Getting Lonely

Just when Habara is about to open the Moon Temple, he’s stopped—by the real King of Distortion, in the flesh, inhabiting the body of Tanaka Shirou, who was beside him all along. The King “collaborated” with the late Teratsuki for the purposes of a grand experiment in healing the distortion in peoples’ hearts, by first drawing it out and giving it form.

In Kei’s case, the distortion is Saotome Masami, but it’s her unrequited feelings for Takeda Keiji that caused the distortion. To be more precise, it was the embarrassment from having those feelings, then creating a personality that would uphold the fiction that it didn’t matter, when all that did was bottle up her pain and facilitate the distortion.

But Kei isn’t embarrassed by her feelings anymore, and she’s done running and hiding from them. She is able to walk away from the King, who applauds her effort, and she ends up with Shirou—and Boogiepop—in the control room.

There, Boogiepop deduces that the King of Distortion has been imprecise with his abilities (see: Zooragi) because he was only recently “born” when Shirou came to the Moon Temple that morning. He was born from Shirou’s guilt over not knowing what the late Kamikishirou Naoko, whom he used to date (and who died in the Manticore incident).

Kei can attest to Shirou’s guilt and pain, but not just for not knowing what Naoko thought. Boogiepop antagonizes the King into transporting the three of them into a suspended state several hundred feet above the city, warning him that, like other possibilities that took form in the human world, if he becomes a threat she’ll deal with it.

Kei, ever the disciplinary committee president (AKA “Natural Police“) plays peacemaker, and Boogiepop follows her lead. They don’t want to fight him; they still aren’t even sure he is a threat, just a possible one. But Kei manages to “free” Shirou from the King by getting to the root of his guilt: it’s less about knowing Naoko’s heart and more about his own.

The truth is, Shirou didn’t know how he felt about Naoko, even in the end. She then tells him what she thinks Naoko would say if she were there: “Before you start worrying about other people, you need to take care of yourself!” The King suddenly plummets to the ground, and suddenly Kei is back in the control room with the code to unlock the Temple.

People start waking up and exiting the Temple, all of them with some kind of great weight they once bore having been lifted. It could be said that even though it was cut short sooner than originally desired, the King of Distortion’s experiment was a success. Sakiko bids goodbye to Boogiepop, asking what they’d do if she became an “enemy” (Boogie wouldn’t hold back, natch).

While Keiji is scouring the Temple looking for Touka, he runs into Kei, who tells him she followed someone she was worried about, but that person wasn’t Keiji. With her distortion healed, she can smile and shake hands and remain friends with Keiji without any trouble.

Keiji and Touka eventually reunite, and Touka falls asleep on Keiji’s shoulder as they take the train home. In a dream, or something else, back on that ruined earth of the distant future, Keiji climbs up a hill to meet Boogiepop, who asks “how did you know it was me?”, to which he replies that he wouldn’t mistake “a friend’s face.” Like the King with Shirou, Touka is Boogie’s vessel in the human world, and Keiji is dating Touka. That’s never not going to be an interesting experience.

And that’s all for Boogiepop wa Warawanai, a bizarre, ambitious, and intriguing show that asked big questions and wasn’t afraid to philosophize at great length in between spurts of action. It was a pleasantly offbeat show in the same vein as Sakurada Reset, Subete ga F ni Naru,  or ACCA, other shows that are comfortable and confident spinning dense tapestries of their own quirky reality.

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 12 – The Firework Called Love

Yuito and Hitomi’s embrace late last week felt like a turning point in their romantic development—as scenes  in which two sides of a couple run towards each other in the middle of the night tend to feel. But the aftermath of that embrace is tempered by two factors this week.

The first is the looming dread of Hitomi having to return to her time, despite not wanting to. The second, and possibly most unfortunate, is that as romantic pairings go, Hitomi and Yuito are just a bit dull. The flame of last week’s dramatic gesture was fizzled out rather quickly and anti-climactically, without so much of a hint of the ever-important confession.

But maybe that was the point. After all, what’s the point of confessing your love to someone you may never see again…though considering Kohaku is still around in the future there’s a good chance Yuito could be too—more on that later.

The club has a festival to execute, and despite her issues, Hitomi puts on a brave face and gives it her all. The result is some of her most impressive magic to date; Kokahu notes after the immensely successful first day that it’s the result of Hitomi’s training, not to mention being around people she wants to make happy with her magic, something she didn’t have in the future.

Back home, Kohaku’s folks have prepared a lavish feast to send Hitomi off, but some of their practical logistical talk initially harms the mood until they drop the subject and just let Kohaku enjoy her last night there, while preparing for her last day.

Festival-wise, the second day goes as well as the first; so well that Asagi, having made a mint off her bunny postcards, decides to kick Hitomi and Yuito out of the clubroom to explore the festival together, a sweet gesture on her part that shows how far she’s come.

Asagi later tells Shou people shouldn’t apologize for having liked someone (in his case Hitomi). She respects how Shou was able to put himself out there, and hopes one day she’ll have the courage to do the same. Naturally, she doesn’t specify whom she’d muster the courage to confess to, and even if she did, Shou still might not quite get it.

As for Hitomi and Yuito, they have fun running around the festival, culminating in a visit to what frankly seemed like a pretty lame haunted house—only one thing jumped out at them. Still, the darkness is an opportunity for the oh-so-timid couple to hold hands some more.

When they exit, Hitomi decides to cut their break short, perhaps satisfied with the moments they shared, but possibly also because she doesn’t want to get too deep into anything so close to ZHIEND.

During the festival wrap party, Kohaku and Hitomi join forces once more to create magical fireworks. While watching them burst in the sky, Hitomi describes how she feels, and Kohaku remarks that it sure sounds like it’s “happiness.” In that moment, Hitomi sees color in the fireworks—a huge improvement from when she saw them in black and white back in the future.

Unfortunately, the fireworks are the only thing she sees in color, and when they’re gone, her vision is back to monochrome. Perhaps there’s one thing she needs to do to make the colors permanent: tell Yuito how (I presume) she feels.

Whether she can do that in the past, or track him down in the future (when I imagine he’d recognize and remember her, as would the others), who can say. Maybe she’ll never confess openly at all, or maybe the magic ritual with the clock won’t work. However happily or bittersweetly it’s likely to end, I’m eager to see how this story resolves.

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 11 – Suddenly, Out of Time

The club is putting the finishing touches on their photography, art, and magic exhibition (I love how the principal asks Kohaku to define “event”) as the day of the festival approaches, but the impending joy of sharing their gifts with classmates, friends and family is suddenly, jarringly preempted by a new and bizarre development: Hitomi is starting to experience “time gaps” as a result of the future Kohaku’s magic wearing off.

At first, Asagi thinks she was just mistaken in not noticing Hitomi in the room into which she’d just walked. But it only takes us one look from Kohaku to realize that something very wrong is occurring, and it can spiral out of control fast if not dealt with immediately. All of a sudden, all of the interpersonal problems that have occurred among the club so far pale in comparison to the very real threat of Hitomi permanently vanishing into oblivion.

Kohaku contacts a scholar and expert in time magic, as well as a fellow mage at a bookstore, to confirm her suspicions: whatever time magic she used sixty years in the future, it must be used again to return Hitomi to her proper place in the timeline, lest the universe excise her by force. For as much as she’s fit in and become comfortable, the fact is she is the kind of space-time abnormality the universe abhors.

There is no easy way to break this to Hitomi, and as a result of the suddenness and finality of the news (You gotta go, ASAP, The End) she’s just not sure how to process it, what to do or what to say. It’s sobering to know there doesn’t seem to be any time magic Kohaku of the present could perform on Hitomi to stabilize her presence in the past.

The next day’s weather reflects Kokahu and Hitomi’s moods, but the rain reminds Hitomi of the night Yuito offered her an umbrella, and she takes comfort in the belief it’s a memory she’ll always recall whenever it rains. Unfortunately, she also disappears right before Yuito’s eyes, and her umbrella depressingly falls to the ground.

When Yuito reports the incident to the others, Kohaku comes clean about the extent of the danger Hitomi’s in. She and Yuito find Hitomi where she vanished, sleeping in a bed of flowers in a disturbingly funereal scene that shakes Kohaku to the core. Back home, she sits vigil for her granddaughter, but her own grandmother tells her to get some rest herself. After all, Kohaku’s future self tacitly trusted her past self to pull off the time magic that will bring Hitomi back…but she won’t be able to do it if she’s exhausted.

Hitomi wakes up the next morning literally tied to Kohaku with a string, and  ends up staying in for the day. Still, she gets up and leaves the house and ends up finding Kohaku on the beach with the others, gathering star sand for use in the spell that will return her to her time. A lot more sand than usual is washed up due to the typhoon that just blew by.

While no one is happy about the prospect of Hitomi having to go, and so soon (especially Asagi and Yuito), when Kohaku asks for help, they help, for Hitomi’s sake. They collect enough sand and she gets it to her acquaintance, who assures her they’ll have it ready to go by tomorrow.

Meanwhile, back at home, Hitomi finally finds a way to reach out to Yuito from across the town: a magical homing paper airplane, which taps on his window. He flashes his lights on and off, as does Hitomi. When her second airplane seems to go off course, she jumps into her shoes and chases after it.

Turns out it’s still en route to Yuito; he’s just not at home anymore: he’s racing towards her just as she’s racing towards him, and they meet in the middle, under the almost-new moon, and embrace. It took the urgency of impending oblivion for it to happen, but the two have finally come together and are on the same wavelength. It’s just too bad the time they’ll have after reaching this state looks to be all too painfully short…

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 10 – Diving In

As a result of Shou confessing to Hitomi, she and Asagi find themselves “at odds”, as he puts it (naturally he has no idea why, the big dolt). But neither of them want to keep not talking to each other. So Hitomi doesn’t give up trying to reach out to Asagi, and the two end up making up pretty quickly and easily once Asagi works through her frustrations as more her own fault that Hitomi’s.

After all, someone who’s known Shou as long as she has should know full well how direct and clear she has to be, and she hasn’t been, leading to him seeking love elsewhere. No matter how obvious it may seem to her that she’s in love with Shou, it’s ultimately up to her to make it known to him beyond doubt. Besties once more, Asagi and Hitomi scarf down some healing parfaits and then partake in therapeutic karaoke with Kurumi and Kohaku.

The next day, Kohaku announces the magical presentation which will be her contribution to the club for the festival. She intends, with Hitomi’s help, to transport visitors into a drawing; specifically, one of Yuito’s fantastical pastels. But Kohaku makes it clear to Hitomi she can’t do it without her. Hitomi has a special ability to reach into the heart of the artist (in this case Yuito’s), and has faith she’ll be able to do it. All it will take is dedication to the goal, discipline, and practice, practice, practice.

First she sends one paper airplane into a Seurat painting on the computer. Then two, then five, then one for every member of the club, in under three minutes. Kohaku may have asked a lot of Hitomi, but she knows how powerful Hitomi’s magic is, as well as how it’s been dormant much of her life. It’s time to let it out to stretch its legs, and once Hitomi gets it, it’s as invigorating for her as it is exciting for her granny.

Yuito completes his drawing—one with a theme park aesthetic that combines all of the club members’ disparate requests—and Hitomi and Kohaku successfully transport everyone inside. For the first time, Hitomi and her friends can see the same colors at the same time.

It’s a glorious sequence, diving into the drawing, and reminded me more and more of the similarly trippy What Dreams May Come, which starts out all vivid and lush and slowly grows more dark and menacing as its protagonist descends into the bowels of the hereafter.

Hitomi and Yuito are enjoying a lovely stroll in the forest when he spots his neon fish and follows it into a dark corner of the painting. Before long, he finds a stone statue of a seated, forlorn Hitomi, then gets shut into an even deeper darker chamber where he finds a young and even more forlorn Hitomi drawing sad monochromatic pictures of a princess and queen seemingly perpetually separated by a deep black boundary.

No matter how hard Yuito tries to cheer up this illusory ‘lil Hitomi, she rejects his attempts as unwanted and futile. Nothing can cross that black boundary. She doesn’t know why; she just knows you…just can’t. When Yuito snaps back into reality with everyone else outside the picture, Hitomi finds herself suddenly crying.

Clearly, just as Hitomi was able to reach into Yuito’s heart and bring his drawing to life for everyone to share in, Yuito’s drawing drew out a part of Hitomi. Now that he’s seen it, he’s not just going to pretend he didn’t.

She and Yuito go to their vantage point and talk through it. Yuito brings uncomfortable things up Hitomi would rather be left unsaid, right up until she’s shouting for him to stop already, but she realizes he’s trying to help and so she talks, for the first time, about how things were.

Hitomi’s mother was the first Tsukishiro woman in a long, long time who had no magical ability, but Hitomi had plenty. She believes her having magic is the reason her mother suddenly left, and blames and curses herself for not calling out to her. Yuito rightly assures her that Hitomi shouldn’t feel responsible just because she had magic and her mother didn’t, and rather than shoulder all the blame, it’s okay for her to be angry.

Hitomi’s guilt over the abilities she was born with led to her hatred of, and turning of her back on, magic. Until now, of course. Even without her mother around, she’s not alone. She has friends who care about her and are amazed and moved and made happier by the magical gifts Kohaku is helping her hone. And perhaps that’s why her grandmother sent her to the past to begin with: to show her that her magic is a blessing, not a burden.

Steins;Gate 0 – 11 – WWIII Averted…For Now

The shadowy guy whom Maho hired to analyze Makise’s laptop turns out to be…Daru, working out of the back room of a cosplay store. He still needs three days to complete his work, but after telling her the whole story about the time machine and the horrors the secrets within the computer may unleash, Rintarou manages to convince Maho to destroy it.

Before they can, the “wrong hands” in which it would be so dangerous arrive in force. Daru has an escape route worked out, but they’re still cornered in a dark alley and Maho is nabbed and has a knife placed against her throat. That they were able to find Daru’s hideout so soon, or were watching listening for just the right time to move in, is disconcerting, to say the least.

However, they must not have been listening in, because after some negotiations they’re willing to let Maho, and Daru walk away unharmed in exchange for the laptop. Rintarou briefly switches places with Maho as their hostage, but then another masked group arrives and opens fire, making sure the laptop is destroyed.

It’s doubtless a harrowing ordeal for Maho; she may have been held up along with the others at the lab, but no shots were fired. Here, had Rintarou not pushed her flat to the ground, she might’ve died. Back at the lab, she’s so out of it she doesn’t notice she’s clutching one remaining shard from the laptop in her hand so tightly it’s drawing blood.

Rintarou takes Maho to Feyris’ to clean up, but the trauma from the shootout has a more pronounced effect than she thought, and after all that tension, every muscle in her body goes limp, making her practically a helpless doll. And just as Rintarou once walked in on Kurisu, he ends up facing Maho just as her towel falls off. The universe is keen to make him suffer, but also to make him accidentally see his love interests in the nude.

That night, Maho asks Rintarou to stay by her bedside a little longer, and he happily obliges. Returning to her Mozart-Salieri narrative, after hearing from Rintarou about the possibility she might “disgrace the dead” by unlocking Kurisu’s laptop’s secrets, Maho admits to herself that it wasn’t just a matter of honoring her friend’s legacy, but trying to subconsciously exorcise the frustration she felt.

Not just frustration over not being able to achieve the things Kurisu did, mind you, but frustration over the mere fact she’s so concerned about her as a rival; Mozart, she says, never wasted a moment concerned with Salieri; he only made great music (and drank and gambled…it’s all in the movie).

Rintarou disputes the similarities between the two pairs of gifted people from vastly different times. He’s convinced that Maho loved Kurisu and would never disgrace her. It’s why she agreed to break the laptop, it’s why she shed tears and apologized, and it’s why she clutched the fragment so tightly.

It’s such a quiet, tender scene filled with mutual respect and affection, with Mamoru Miyano wonderfully modulating Rintarou’s voice to a caring hush, matching the vulnerability of Yahagi Sayuri’s Maho. Very nice work here.

After Rintarou and Maho’s lovely night together, she and Leskinen head back to America, but not before inviting him to Viktor Chrondria University whenever he can make it. So it’s not goodbye, merely see ya later for the couple. That probably makes both Leskinen and Amakurisu happy; Ama also fully intends to see and hear from Rintarou again, expressing Kurisu’s tsundere mode.

Rintarou is also able to convince Suzuha that they’ve avoided a potentially WWIII-starting clash between America and Russia (the two powers he suspected he and Maho were caught between), though Suzu remains skeptical that they’ve eliminated the only cause of the war, only one of them. And she’s most likely right.

One of the last scenes is of Maho’s colleague Judy Reyes aboard a flight, hiding…something in her lap. Was she one of the masked people in black? Could it be salvageable remnants of the laptop? Whatever it is, it’s clear Rintarou’s work is far from done. Meanwhile Mayushii seems to harbor some conflicting feelings about Okarin leaving for America to join Leskinen, Maho, and the digital Kurisu.

Steins;Gate 0 – 10 – Kurisu’s Salieri

Amadeus is a fantastic movie with a good old-fashioned fatal flaw in its co-protagonist: caring too much. Salieri could hear God through Mozart’s music but not in his own, and it drove the guy mad, especially since he worked and prayed so hard, while everything seemed to come all to easily and naturally to Mozart (or at least it seemed that way to him).

I like how Steins;Gate 0 references that film, and the historical figures behind it, as a kind of loose parallel for Kurisu and Hiyajou Maho. Maho doesn’t claim to have anywhere near the obsession Salieri had, but can’t deny she’s always measured her life and accomplishments against her departed kohai.

She’s also a grinder, which explains how terrible a mess she makes at Feyris’ place (though she has a bodyguard in Kiryu contributing to the mess). When Mayushii is invited over, she brings “Sergeant Clean” Nae with her along with Daru to whip the place into shape.

Maho is asked to leave the apartment so they can clean more efficiency, and that’s when she’s able to present the newly-rebooted Amakurisu to Rintarou, who for his part is ready to “move forward” and regard her as a distinct AI and not Kurisu Reborn.

After that, Feyris hosts a sleepover with Maho and Kiryuu, and Maho learns Kiryuu is writing a novel, and also believes she’s “not special in any way” and imminently replaceable. Maho tells her none of that is true; that she shouldn’t belittle herself so easily; or compare herself to others and go through life feeling inferior and…oops, that’s exactly what she’s done with Kurisu. She backs off.

That night, Maho seems to resolve herself to moving forward, just as Rintarou said he wanted to do. They go on a date by any other name to Akiba, where she geeks out both on obscure computer parts (the district’s original function) and racing games (part of its newer identity). Rintarou even wins her an @channel plushie.

The fun day takes a turn for the solemn when Maho says it’s her intention to visit the Radio Building where Kurisu died, perhaps to find some kind of closure. Rintarou accompanies her, and when Maho laments that humans can move around the axes of space, they’re prisoners of time. If only we could move through time’s axes as well, she wonders, but Rintarou, speaking from experience, tells her they still wouldn’t be able to change anything.

Maho is no dummy, and can tell there are a lot of things about Rintarou and his relationship with Kurisu he’s not telling her. Even so, she can sense he’s somehow working to protect her (and Mayushii) and seeing him struggling alone makes her want to support him in some way. To that end, she informs him she has “Kurisu’s legacy”—her notebook, likely containing all of her time machine research. She doesn’t know the login password, so she hasn’t been able to access it yet, but has reached out to a “trusted” party to analyze it.

This news makes Rintarou turn white as a sheet and adopt his “extremely freaked out” face. He calls that notebook a Pandora’s Box that should never be opened, and could well lead to World War III. Considering her lab was ransacked and she was present for an attack by people they still haven’t identified, Rintarou’s words don’t seem to sound like the ravings of a madman to Maho. They shouldn’t—he knows what he’s talking about.