The Quintessential Quintuplets – 23 – Give and Take Five

Yotsuba walks in on Itsuki just as she’s hiding the photo of Fuu with “Rena”. Commenting on how things aren’t so hot among the sisters, Yotsuba invites Itsuki out shopping, where they run into Fuu and Raiha, who is imparting on Fuu the importance of buying belated birthday gifts for the quints. Raiha also mentions “the photo”, and Yotsuba demands to know details. Raiha goes on to say the girl in the photo was her bro’s first love.

On the Shinkansen to Kyoto, Ichika, Nino, and Miku continue their war through spirited card games, while Itsuki joins in just for the card competition, while Yotsuba is a little intimidated by how heated things have gotten. She’s hoping this trip can be an opportunity for the five of them to make up…but also an opportunity for Miku to give Fuu her clandestinely-made baked goods.

Nino unilaterally decides to follow Fuutarou’s group up the temple steps, and while the others don’t have any objections, Yotsuba brandishes her card game victory on the train to insist that she and Miku go up the right steps while Ichika, Nino and Itsuki will go up the left steps. Some mild sniping between Ichika and Nino ensues, while Itsuki is left bemused.

When Itsuki and Nino use the restroom, Ichika abandons them and continues her descent, determined to see Fuu first and calculating she can beat the faster Yotsuba as Miku is surely slowing her down. Unwilling to take back the lie she’s already told Fuu, all Ichika thinks she can do to stay in the fighting is continue to lie and block Miku by posing as her.

But while she’s the first to reach the top, Fuu isn’t there. The next to arrive is Yotsuba, with Miku on her back, and they both see that Ichika is impersonating Miku. When asked for an explanation, Yotsuba says Ichika is trying to get in the way of Miku’s confession to Fuu. She says this just as Fuu makes it to the top, and hears what she said.

Miku runs off in tears as Nino and Itsuki arrive, and Nino has had it with Ichika’s bullshit now that she’s made someone cry. But Ichika doesn’t want to hear about it, considering how cutthroat Nino has been. It’s here where Nino admits she was being overly harsh, and that in reality she’d want to celebrate with whoever ended up “winning” because the bond between the five of them was just as important to her as Fuu.

Speaking of Fuu, he tries to lower the temperature, but it’s too late; Nino is already also crying, and orders him to chase after Miku. He’s unsuccessful, but Itsuki ran after her earlier and saw her get on a bus back to the hotel, so Fuu gets on the next bus, and Yotsuba joins him. She blames herself for making Miku cry, and may have created a monster by encouraging Ichika.

Fuu assures Yotsuba that he was already pretty sure of Miku’s feelings, such that the Fake Miku seemed fake even to him, “Uesugi the Dense.” He tells her she worries about the others too much, but Yotsuba still feels she owes them for making them follow her to another school when she was the only one to flunk out.

She wants to know how everyone can be happy, but Fuu tells her there’s only so far you can go; ultimately someone’s happiness must be gained by taking it from someone else. Like, say, when many girls like the same boy.

Back at the hotel during dinner, Nino informs Yotsuba and Itsuki that there’s a creep sneaking photos of them (as evidenced by the shutter sounds she’s heard behind her several times). When the three decide to go check on Miku and Ichika, Miku doesn’t answer the door, but they all hear another shutter and freak out.

Ichika, meanwhile, manages to bump into Fuu in the hall, and asks if he’s free tomorrow, because she needs to talk to him about something. Hopefully to come clean about impersonating Miku…but probably not! Meanwhile, Nino calls Miku to ask if she’s free to talk tomorrow.

The next day, Fuu ends up running into Itsuki and Yotsuba again, this time from the top of Kiyomizu Temple. Itsuki all of a sudden adopts a super-affectionate and clingy attitude, having Yotsuba snap a picture of them with the view as a backdrop. She’s hoping to jog his memory about another certain photo from six years ago.

Nino gets to stay at the hotel by impersonating Miku (which is apparently all the rage these days) and when Miku asks her what she wants, Nino jumps on top of her in order to rattle her cage. She says her rival “backed down by herself” on this class trip that should have been a golden opportunity for her to make progress. Now all she needs to do is defeat Ichika, that “sly fox”. Long story short: Nino is taking Fuu.

Miku may have fallen for him first, but as far as Nino’s concerned she loves him the most, even if it’s her first time in love and she’s not sure what’s right or wrong. To this, Miku voices her protest, insisting she’s not done fighting for him yet. It’s just…she’s scared. Scared that she’s not good enough; scared of fighting fair and square; more scared than she thought she’d be. But even if it’s scary, she’s not going to quit…not yet.

That’s good, because Itsuki knows for a fact that the sister who posed with Fuu in that six-year-old photo is none other than Yotsuba!

Episode Eleven Quintuplet Ranking:

  1. Nino: Nino was busy this week! She was the sister who decided they were following Fuutarou’s group, setting some potentially cathartic scenes in motion. Calls out Ichika’s scheming, but also admits that she’s just as ruthless in trying to get what she wants. Most importantly, when Miku runs away crying, Nino puts the war on hold and sends Fuu after her. Finally, is the one to rattle Miku’s cage. Total Points: 43 (1st)
  2. Yotsuba: Turns in another strong showing by hanging with Fuu at the mall, serving as Miku’s emotional support, winning the card game so the sisters were forced to split up the way she dictated, literally carries Miku on her back, and has a solemn and frank convo with Fuu on the bus about the limits of happiness for all. Oh, and she’s the damn girl in the photo! Total Points: 34 (2nd)
  3. Ichika: Love or hate her, there’s no denying Ichika is a woman on a mission, and it’s take-no-prisoners. Her second use of the Miku disguise compounds the throne of lies upon which she sits, but when it backfires she doesn’t want to hear Nino scold her when Nino said she’d step over anyone who got between her and her man.  Total Points: 29 (Tied for 4th)
  4. Itsuki: There’s actual signs life in Camp Itsuki this week, as she plays big sister to Raiha at the mall. However, her cute photo moment with Fuu at the temple wasn’t self-serving so much as designed to get him to remember the Kyoto trip years ago. Total Points: 30 (3rd)
  5. Miku: While Ichika’s Fake Miku act didn’t work on Fuu, the fact Yotsuba blurted out her desire to confess sent her into a spiral of inadequacy, and she remained confined to her hotel room far too much to do anything. That said, she has nowhere to go but up! Total Points: 29 (4th)

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 20 – Hard Time

Rika continues to bask in the spotlight of adoration at St. Lucia, to the point Satoko feels compelled to confront her in the main hall. Rika’s cronies come to her defense first, but Rika herself doesn’t suffer Satoko’s rudeness, and promises to “make time for her” later. When those cronies badmouth Satoko behind her back, Rika at least defends her friend, saying she’s in a foul mood because her grades have dropped and she’s doubting herself.

Rika believes Satoko will eventually pull out of her nosedive on her own, but that doesn’t happen. Satoko thinks implementing her metal pan prank on a grander scale will help Rika remember the past and their bond, but it all goes pear-shaped one of the pans bloodies a crony. Rika doesn’t rat Satoko out, but one of the cronies does, and Satoko is put in a orange jumpsuit and placed in solitary confinement. Yikes!

While there, all Satoko does is curse the fact she didn’t say “no” when Rika asked her to join her in attending St. Luica. She simply doesn’t fit there, and that’s reinforced when, upon being released, Satoko begins her second year in the “special class”, from which she knows there is no escape.

There’s finally a bright spot in Satoko’s dreary life when she gets a letter from Mion about having a Hinamizawa Country School Game Club Founders’ Reunion. Mion comes to pick Satoko and Rika up in a van, but if she senses the rift between them, she doesn’t mention it, nor do they.

Instead of using the trip to address or resolve that rift, Satoko uses it to forget about St. Lucia altogether. Perhaps she believes there’s no use in speaking to Rika at this point. When Rika finally lets out her trademark “Nipaaa!”, Satoko is both heartened and disheartened, as after everything that’s happened, it almost sounds mocking or patronizing.

Keiichi, Rena, and Mion seem to be exactly the same people, having simply moved their club from Hinamizawa to college they attend together. It’s clear that Satoko would have probably been much happier if she’d gone to high school with them, as she can’t be any less suited for St. Lucia.

After having fun with a card game that includes traps and pranks and penalties, the group heads to the cosplay cafe for a bite, but Satoko tells them to go ahead of her; she wants to have a walk alone in Hinamizawa. It may look pretty much the same, but so much has changed. The more she walks around, the more apparent it is that this is not quite her home anymore either.

Then Satoko comes upon the storeroom, and recalls sneaking in once and wondering if Oyashiro is still angry at her. A strange resonance starts to emanate from within, and when she touches the statue, it crumbles to reveal a broken horn, the source of the resonance.

When Satoko touches that, she’s transported to the same bizarre interdimensional plane where Rika ended up so often. She’s met by someone who looks to be a fully grown-up version of Hanyuu, who addresses Satoko as “child of man.” After punching the walls of her literal prison at St. Lucia wishing she could turn back time and do everything over, now she’ll have that chance!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 19 – A Dream that Cleaves

At the bookstore, Rika declares her dream of experiencing a new way of life she’s never known, specifically high society at the fancy St. Lucia’s Academy. She wants to live that dream with Satoko, who thinks it’s way too soon to be worried about entrance exams. But Rika is committed, and when Satoko sees how serious she is, she agrees to start studying with her at once.

Rika and Satoko inform Keiichi and Rena of their plans to attend St. Lucia’s for high school, and the two senpais help them with their studying. But even that’s not enough for Rika, who stays up late into the night working on problems. Because Rika is everything to her and she wants Rika’s dream to come true, Satoko can’t help but get swept up in Rika’s wake.

Two an a half years of vigorous studying ensues, after which both Rika and Satoko are accepted to the academy. There’s a little bit of suspense in whether their numbers appear on the board of accepted applicants, and in that brief limbo, Satoko seems to consider the unthinkable: that she and Rika would end up going their separate ways.

Instead, Satoko follows Rika to St. Lucia’s…and fucking hates it. She hates the stuffy atmosphere, the formality and strictness inherent not only the way classes are held but in how students interact. It’s just not Satoko’s scene, while Rika takes to the school and its intricate social structure like a fish to water. Before long Rika is surrounded by new admiring friends, and Satoko is left out.

When Satoko laughs her signature laugh when insisting she’s too busy to hang out with Rika and her fancy new friends, those friends call the laugh “unbecoming” and wonder how someone like Satoko was even accepted. Satoko’s grades drop, and she’s given a choice: attend an interminable study hall, or resign from the academy.

The study hall is full of girls from well-off families who are trapped: they cannot leave the school, but they can’t keep their grades up without constant study, allowing them no free time. A second-year tells Satoko “it’s not too late” for her to escape the study hall purgatory, but it’s clear Satoko has already been working as hard as she can.

As Rika glides along in her perfect fancy life, pointedly not tiring of it as Satoko predicted, Satoko begins to resent Rika dragging her along. Her precious dream has become a nightmare for Satoko. Rika wanted to experience this new life together, but they’ve never been further apart. Something’s gotta give!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 18 – Oyashiro Sleeps

At an undetermined point in time, the usual gang plus Hanyuu in the flesh witness Takano about to be arrested by commandos in the forest after firing a shot at them that misses. Tomitake arrives to order them to take her to the Irie Clinic for treatment, as she’s in the late stages of Hinamizawa Syndrome.

Shift to early June 1984: a year has passed since the many unpleasant Watanagashi loops and murders. It’s a new year at school, and the absence of Mion, who is now attending high school in Okinomiya, is deeply felt by the gang, to the point Rika and Satoko duck out of club activities because it’s just not the same.

Still, the fact is, June 1983 came and went without the town descending into chaos and destruction…which is good! The question is how, and can the peace last? Rika accompanies Satoko to the clinic, where Dr. Irie not only makes an inappropriate comment about what Satoko should be wearing, but declares that after a year of treatment, she has been fully cured of Hinamizawa Syndrome (there’s no mention of Satoshi).

When Rika asks why he said before that sufferers could never be healed after a certain stage, he believes that changed because the root cause of the syndrome somehow changed somewhere along the way. Rika knows what changed: after a millennium, Oyashiro stopped mistrusting humans.

Rika intends to make a new era of peace in Hinamizawa official, so after she performs her offertory dance, she has Kimiyoshi and Oryou join her on the stage. She’d met with the other two main family heads the previous night, and they all agreed to make a joint announcement that the Dam War is over and Oyashiro’s curse wasn’t, like, a thing.

According to Rika, Oyashiro is happy with the town and returned to his slumber. With the weight of the priestess, Kimiyoshi and Oryou behind them, the words reach the people of Hinamizawa. Confident that new wind has lifted the town’s sails, Rika has Satoko join her at an Okinomiya book store, where she buys St. Lucia Academy study guides for the both of them.

It’s been Rika’s dream to attend the academy longer than Satoko knows, and now she wants to make that dream a reality for the both of them. Surely nothing bad can come of that in an arc called the “Village-Destroying Chapter”, eh?

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 17 – The Dice Roll for Thee

After a cold open in which Takano shoots Rika and her friends, we cut to a different version of the scenario in which Takano tells her she was going to kill everyone, but didn’t, and was leaving town with Jirou. What follows is a lot of stuff that comes out of the blue, but may have been happening off-camera for many loops.

The Tokyo Bloodhounds and Mountain Dogs are rival elite tactical groups, with Jirou being a member of the former. With Dr. Irie’s cooperation, the underground research lab is shut down, even though he has yet to find a cure for Satoko’s brother Satoshi’s “Hinamizawa Syndrome.

Honestly, I was pretty confused by most of this, and assume that’s because stuff similar to this went down in the original Higurashi. But whatever all these events mean, the bottom line is there have still been no demon-ing away or gruesome murders on this loop, days after the festival. So why is Rika so uneasy?

It’s simple: the events of the present loop are so far out of the usual norm, her only conclusion is that “someone else” is rolling the dice of fate. She considers killing herself with the blade shard, but decides to stay put for now. Satoko can tell she’s down about something, but urges her not to look gift horses in the mouth and simply enjoy these moments of happiness while they last.

Rika ends up taking everyone’s money in a game of poker at school, and her “punishment” for them all is to arrange a party for Satoko’s birthday, which falls on June 24 (usually once the shit has hit the fan). Satoko seems a little uneasy about being the center of attention, but still accepts gifts from Keiichi, Rena and Mion.

When it comes time for Rika to present her gift to her, Satoko instinctively ducks and covers, apparently knowing it was a gag gift containing a boxing glove on a spring. Rika lifts the box to reveal it’s just a teddy bear (not unlike, if not the same bear Satoshi sought to give his sis), and asks how Satoko knew. Satoko’s eyes turn red and she pulls a gun on Rika with an evil smirk. I guess we know who’s “rolling the dice”, but why, and to what end?

Re: Zero – 42 – Memory Spring

Echidna accompanies Emilia into her recently unsealed memories, ever ready for stinging vitriol (she really is notably more hostile to Emilia than Subaru…but that would be Envy, not Greed!). After a literally cold open in which a naked young Emilia first meets Puck, Emilia and Echidna begin the journey in earlier, warmer, happier, and distinctly more fairy tale-ish times. Lil’ Lia, we find, is often cooped up in the “Princess Room” within a tree, but is otherwise lovingly cared for by Mother Fortuna (Tomatsu Haruka).

Fortuna is not her actual mother but her aunt; her brother’s younger sister. One day, while particularly bored, a lesser spirit—Lia actually refers to it as a “fairy”—leads her to a loose stone in the room. Takahashi Rie does a masterful job making her sound not just like a higher-pitched Emilia, but adopting the speech patterns and weird little sounds of an actual little kid. No one does that better than Kuno Misaki, but Takahashi is pretty damn good here.

The space behind the stone leads out of the tree, and the spring Lia revels in being able to stretch her legs. It’s while she’s sneaking around the margins of the elf village that we non LN readers receive the first genuine shock of this flashback: our boy Petelgeuse Romanee-Conti, back then a humble bishop, not only looked normal, but seemed like a pretty nice guy!

“Geuse” and Fortuna go back decades, and you can sense that long history in their effortless chemistry and gentle flirtation. Whether of the Witch’s Cult or some other order, Geuse and a group acolytes apparently make regular visits to the village in Elior Forest, both to deliver supplies and so Geuse can receive confirmation from Fortuna that “the seal is intact.”

Lil’ Lia knows she’s not supposed to be out and about, so even after the fairies help clean her up a little, she spills blue ink on her outfit to hide the dirt and grass stains. If Fortuna doesn’t buy it, she doesn’t tell Lia, instead hugging her and telling her she missed her even in the brief time they were apart. Lia, even back then someone quick to comfort others, places her little hand on Fortuna’s head.

While this is a helpful introduction to the places and players of the past, this initial stirng of memories isn’t yet enough for present-day Emilia. Fortuna and Geuse mentioned a seal, so Lia needs to keep soaking up these memories. They include the elf Archi giving Lia some nuts to snack on, and another visit from Geuse, who inadvertently flirts more with Fortuna. They really do make a cute couple.

Geuse also mentions that affairs outside the forest are “dubious at the moment”, so it’s more vital than ever the seal remain intact. He mentions Emilia, but also “the two of them”—her mother and father, perhaps. Emilia and Echidna follow Lil’ Lia to the famous seal itself, an ornate black door in a glade carpeted with snow all year long. Lia pushes the door, but it won’t budge…which is probably for the best at that point!

Outside, Subie cries about Gar having seen his supportive etchings for Emilia before she did, but both Gar and Otto tell him to buck up. As they wait outside the Graveyard for Lia to return, Ram comes by to tell Subie that Ryuzu Shima wants to talk to him about “a subject that is unavoidable if you wish to liberate the sanctuary”. Wait, Lia passing the trial won’t be enough to do that? What am I saying; of course it won’t be…

Back in the flashback, Lil’ Lia is sneaking around the woods when she’s spotted by Geuse, who I thought was about to say something that would reveal that he’s actually evil, but nothing ever comes of that. Instead, he acts more “Geuseian” (at least as we know him) than he had to that point when he spots Lia and realizes who she is.

His face contorts just a bit as he sheds tears of joy for being granted “salvation like never before.” Is this because of Lia’s resemblance to more than one Witch of his cult, his regard for Lia’s importance to the seal, or both? In any case, Lil’ Lia learns from him that people can cry out of happiness too, and because she’s such a good girl, she gives him a hug and strokes his head, telling him it will be okay.

It’s at this point Echidna tells Emilia she’s quickly approaching the end of the “warm-up round” and the beginning of the part of the trial that utterly broke her before. While Emilia knows Subaru wouldn’t think any less of her for depending on him, and she’s scared of what’s to come, she won’t cower any longer.

She’s going to take this as far as she can. Rather than voice her esteem for Emilia’s determination, Echidna tells her she’ll “find satisfaction” in her “suffering”. Looking every bit like a dreamlike fairy tale for its entire runtime, the warm pastoral greens of the beginning shift to a cooler, moodier, more foreboding purples and blues.

Emilia insists that Fortuna and Geuse play chase with her. Geuse is out of breath, so Fortuna snatches her up and imparts in her the importance of making and keeping promises. Emilia then summons her fairy friends, which identifies her as a future spirit user. Geuse tells her they’ll be her strength when no one is by her side, but Fortuna would just as soon not think about such scenarios, promising she’ll always be there for Lia.

When Geuse accidentally lets slip something about Lia’s parents (mentioning the days they were “well”, implying they aren’t well now), Fortuna has Lia run back home to the Princess Room…but before she can go, someone approaches, wearing a fancy white cloak. He gets pissy and verbose about Fortuna asking who he is before introducing herself, but he eventually tells her.

He’s an Archbishop of the Witch’s Cult, representing Greed: Regulus Corneas. This marks his second appearance in the anime, but his first since he attacked Rem and Crusch’s wagon back in this season’s first episode. As Echidna warned, the tough portion of this stroll down memory lane has arrived in earnest.

Re: Zero – 41 – The Purrfect Loser

Years ago, Garfiel attempted and failed the trial, and smashed his head against a column, causing the scar he wears to this day. He is the final obstacle to Emilia continuing her trial, and has come to the Graveyard to smash the entrance, isolating the Sanctuary forever.

Only Emilia and Subaru stand in Gar’s way, and it’s the former who makes a barrier of herself before him. She has lived in fear all her life until today, and knows the pain of being separated from a parent. All this time, Gar has maintained that he and his sister were obstacles to his mother’s happiness, which is why she abandoned them. But then the memory surfaces…of Gar finding his mother’s carriage, wrecked by a landslide.

She wasn’t even able to reach the outside world that lured her, that was to be the place where she’d find happiness, away from him. Gar has washed his hands of the outside, and will stand, as a wall in and of himself, to protect everyone else in the sanctuary who feel, like him, that things changing won’t make them happy. Nothing will ever get better, so you might as well stay frozen in place.

Having heard and been unmoved by either Emilia or Subaru, Gar transforms into Beast Mode and charges them. Subaru uses Shamac to halt time so he can stab Gar with the crystal Frederica gave him, which seems to be imbued with some of Puck’s spirit. This transforms him back into a man, but it hasn’t sapped Gar’s will to fight.

Subie stands firm and takes a vicious shot to the face, but he’s able to counterattack with a supernatural punch from the Sloth Witch Factor within his body, which he inherited from Betelgeuse and learned about from Echidna.

Gar is down, but not yet out. The knockout blow is delivered by someone who owed Gar such a blow: Subaru’s ever-dutiful earth dragon, Patrasche. Her charge finally gets the job done. Even if Gar hasn’t been proven wrong, he can no longer fight. Both he and Subie pass out in short order.

When Subie wakes up, it’s once again in Emilia’s lap. He thanks her, punches then shakes hands with Otto for his help and for being alright, and of course thanks Patrasche for her loyalty and love. Ram allows Gar to lay in her lap, but only until he wakes up and barely a second more.

Rem proceeds to give him the third degree, telling him to fight with an empty head next time and to stop yammering on in front of “the woman he loves” and accept his loss, and move forward. She then urges him to take the trial one more time, in order to confront and accept the past.

The Graveyard transports him back to that golden-lit day his mother left him and Fred in Ryuzu’s care. She kisses her infant son right on the place where he would create an ugly scar years later. Then his mother says something he didn’t remember: “I promise I’ll bring your father back.” That means not only did she not leave them to find her happiness, but she always intended to return, and with his dad.

The memory fades away until it’s just him and young Fred, who asks him straight up what he wants to do. He answers that he wants to do what he’s expected to do, by all of the people who need him. With his past confronted and resolved, he leaves the trial exchanging sharp toothy smiles with his little big sister.

Just as Emilia emerged from the graveyard a new and stronger person last week, the young man who would stop her and anyone from completing the trial emerges in much the same manner. He can’t claim he gained much that can be seen, but he did gain vital closure, and can even thank Subaru for being the one to give him the push he needed.

It’s then when Subie learns Gar is not only younger than him, but at fourteen is just an eighth grader…which actually explains a lot! With no further obstructions, Emilia can re-enter the graveyard and continue the trial with a full head of steam. Some of that steam is produced when she asks Subie if they can talk about the kiss they shared when all this is over.

Subie states that would be happy to, and is delighted by Emilia’s confidence, betting another date with her that she’ll prevail this time. When Emilia enters the inner chamber, she finds out what Subaru was doing when he abandoned her bedside that night: etching words of cheer and encouragement with Puck on the chamber walls.

Once Emilia is in the trial, she’s immediately met in the forest by Echidna, who unloads with a string of biting insults that would certainly cause distress to the Emilia of yore. But this Emilia is made of sterner stuff.

Taking a page out of Subie’s book on theatricality, she points dramatically up into the air, then directly at the Witch of Greed,  and introduces herself as Emilia, the Frozen Witch, born in Elinor Forest. She won’t give in to the “malice of a fellow witch”, and further warns that she too is “quite an insufferable woman, after all!”

Accompanied by a defiant orchestral score to match the occasion, this was a pitch-perfect way to end the episode and begin the trial of Emilia’s life. While I still can’t quite rule out things going badly for her and Subaru from this point on, I also never thought we’d see Emilia and Subaru kiss, or Garfield both thanking and apologizing to Subaru. But we’re in uncharted Re:Zero territory, and we have a brand-spankin’ new old president, so I’m in a hopeful mood!

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 03 – A Flower’s Fangs and the Cruelty of Kindness

This week chronicles two separate stories of Elaina’s travels, neither of which end remotely happily, indicating Wandering Witch won’t be content to ply us with bromides about the beauty of the world. It’s going to show us the good and the bad, and how the bad often wears a good cloak.

On the lighter side: This is the second straight ep that starts with Elaina asking the audience some version of “Who is that elegant stunning girl?…Why, it’s ME!!!” Later in the episode, a character praises her, and replies “You can praise me more if you like!” Our wandering witch is brimming with confidence, and I am here for it!

On to the meat of the story: Elaina first comes across a young woman in vast and gorgeous flower field. When asked if she tends the field, the woman says “no one can tend it”, which in hindsight was the first sign something was off. She asks Elaina to give a bouquet of flowers to someone in the next town—doesn’t matter who.

Elaina doesn’t get past the gate when she’s stopped, first by a hot-headed guard, then his superior, both of whom are wearing masks and demand she hand over the flowers. While they may be harmless to a witch, the blooms are poisonous and drive ordinary folk insane.

The younger guard recognizes the shawl the flowers were wrapped as belonging to his missing sister. When Elaina returns to the now dark and stormy field, she finds the brother there, covered in vines and being slowly digested beside his sister, who has already fully morphed into a plant.

Elaina wisely peaces the fuck out, but misses the worst of this story. The smoke from the burned bouquet apparently spreads to other townsfolk, who in turn become thralls to the predatory plant and spread the “gift” of lovely flower bouquets throughout the land.

There’s a harsh German children’s tale quality to this segment, warning one to beware of outward beauty, as it could one day enslave and kill you. Life-affirming this is not—but it is surprisingly powerful.

In the next segment, a young lad flags Elaina down to say hello. His name is Emil, who himself has been traveling about collecting scenes of happiness and converting them to magic he’s keeping in a bottle. He intends to give it as a gift to the girl he likes. First red flag? The girl in question is his servant.

Emil, the village chief’s son, invites Elaina to lunch, after which he’ll present the gift to the shy, gloomy Nino. But from the start it seems quite unlikely his gift will raise Nino’s spirits. During a painfully awkward few minutes with the father, Elaina learns she’s a slave he bought because she could do housework and would grow up to be a beauty.

The lunch is far larger and better than Elaina expected, but the village chief shows his true colors, and the typical dynamic of the household, when Emil surprises Nino and she drops a pitcher of water. The dad verbally abuses Nino and shoves her to the ground, and Nino adopts a desperate contriteness.

Elaina is able to deescalate the situation by magically repairing the pitcher (a very neat bit of CGI), but it’s long since time she was on her way. When Emil presents Nino with the bottle of happiness and they open it together, images of truly happy people wash over her vision, moving her to tears.

But they’re not tears of joy, and Nino certainly doesn’t cheer up afterwards. It isn’t until Elaina is back in the sky that she remembers the end of a similar story: when a man traveled the world capturing beautiful images to share with his bedridden wife, they only made her more depressed, and compelled her to eventually take her own life.

Neither we nor Elaina know if Nino will turn out that way, but she pointedly remarks that she doesn’t want to know. As with the flower siblings, she saw and heard all she needed to, and it was time to move on. This isn’t The Heroic Crusade of Elaina, it’s The Journey of Elaina.

That means accepting that the world is sometimes ugly and cruel and dark, there’s nothing you can do about it but move on and try to find something brighter over the horizon. While this episode was hardly comfort food, I applaud the show’s guts to “go there”, i.e. not make all of Elaina’s experiences whimsically wonderful…or even remotely pleasant.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s thoughts on the episode here.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 54 – The Calendar Watchers

Every so often a CCS episode comes around that focuses on the Kinomoto family, a family full of almost impossibly warm, kind, talented, charming overachievers. They are almost always happy and always look out for each other. Touya may seem moody at times and tease his little sister, but he also adores her, and she him. They’re truly an ideal to aspire to.

They’re also an absolute treat to watch whenever they’re in the spotlight, as they are this week. Sakura is given her mother’s calendar, complete with handwritten notes regarding birthdays. There’s Sonomi’s (which just passed), Touya’s (February 29!), her own (April 1!). Seeing her name in her mom’s handwriting brings her closer to her mom.

Sakura discovers another birthday—November 1, which is tomorrow—she hadn’t noticed earlier: that of her mom’s grandfather; her great-grandfather. While she just missed Sonomi’s birthday, Sakura is determined to give him a gift just as her mother did every year.

She’s given more motivation when she learns her great-grandfather and dad only ever met once, and her dad describes himself as “the bad guy who stole his granddaughter”. Sakura won’t take that sitting down; she wants her great-grandfather to know just how happy and we’ll she and everyone else is.

After sewing a handmade gift late into the night and converting Flower to a Sakura Card so she can conjure a bouquet of flowers (the need in her heart was legitimate, so the card cooperated; plus Flower is a mild-mannered card), her dad contacts someone who will be able to make a same-day delivery so the gift arrives in time for the old man’s birthday.

That someone is Tomoyo’s sister, Daidouji Sonomi. While she’s always harbored a one-sided enmity towards the man she still calls sensei, because it’s for Sakura’s sake she’ll gladly deliver the gift to her gramps in time. The next day her dad gets a call, and for a moment my heart sank—will he have to tell Sakura her great-grandfather passed away the day she sent him a gift?

Thankfully, no…this is not usually that kind of show! Great-gramps is fine. He just wanted to meet with his estranged grandson-in-law. Sakura’s dad is shocked to see the old man’s hands shaking and tears forming in his eyes. Through the love he felt from Sakura’s letter and gifts, her great-gramps felt compelled to reach out to her dad in order to thank him for marrying him and apologize for taking so long to meet with him again.

He also has gifts for Touya and Sakura, the latter of which is a blue dress and bonnet no doubt worn by Nadeshiko when she was around Sakura’s age. Just as a larger-than-life fairy-like version of Nadeshiko watched over her dad and great-gramps as they finally formed an emotional connection, she also watches over Sakura’s family from her portrait on the table.

In effect a spiritual sequel to episode 16, Sakura ends up connecting with thebold man she’d actually already met and bonded with while on vacation, but it was never revealed to her that they were actually related, due mostly to her dad’s reluctance to open old wounds. Turns out the greater wound was the distance between them, which Sakura helped heal with her love-infused gifts.

Kakushigoto – 12 (Fin) – Lifting the Veil

Kakushigoto’s finale is truly a crowd-pleaser, and I mean that in the best way. It spends its entire runtime in the “future” and painstakingly reveals all of the mysteries and answered all of the questions we might’ve gathered from the slow trickle of information throughout the season. It expertly released and justified all that built-up anticipation to deliver one satisfying reveal after another—including several secrets we didn’t consider!

For one thing, neither we nor Hime had any idea Kakushi was the love child of a kabuki actor and his mistress (though it explains a lot!). We didn’t know he had a half-sister, who had a son the same age as Hime, who visits her at the Kamakura house.

Among the other blanks of Kakushi’s story are also filled in, we learn that for ten years after his wife was lost at sea he spent a significant amount of his income on continued searches, not believing she was gone. When Hime was in middle school the tabloid article came out that killed his confidence in ever being able to make readers laugh again.

After finishing Tights and putting his pen down for good, Kakushi took on a number of menial labor jobs, culminating in perhaps the most ironic and symbolic accident imaginable: in a forklift accident he was crushed by a palate full of the very manga publication he quit drawing for.

Kakushi has been in a coma for over a year, but he same day Hime’s cousin visits her, he regains consciousness, and Ichiko and the Detective Agency escort Hime to the hospital, where they learn that he has amnesia—specifically,  he has no memories of the last seven years.

For Hime to finally see her father awake only for him to not recognize her seems almost too cruel, but I was confident Kakushigoto would find a clever way for things to eventually work out. Sure enough, the key to restoring Kakushi’s memories is the thing he loved doing for a living, despite keeping it secret from Hime.

Kakushi’s seven-year gap means he’s stuck in the time when Hime was ten (i.e. all those episodes that felt like the present at the time but are now the past). As such, he believes Tights in the Wind is still in publication…and he’s eager to get back to work.

His old team of assistants (including Rasuna, who is now an accomplished mangaka in her own right, with Tomaruin as her editor) gets back together, and turn the hospital room into a studio. Assuming Hime is a new assistant, he asks her to go to his house and make sure his daughter isn’t lonely. Of course, her daughter will always be least lonely when she’s with her dad.

Seeing her dad working for the first time is momentous for Hime; so much so that seeing him so happy doing what he loves makes her hesitant to continue efforts to restore his memories. He’ll get back the good times in the last seven years, but also all the heartbreak and despair.

What ultimately sways her is when she asks him if he’s happiest being able to continue drawing his manga, and he says no; the one thing that makes him happier than anything would be Hime growing up big and healthy. Hime rushes back to Kamakura, the Detective Agency in tow, and returns to the room with all of his manuscripts of the last seven years.

As Kakushi looks them over and remembers drawing them, he also remembers moments of Hime’s life that took place when he drew them. As the veil on those seven years of memories is pulled back, he watches Hime grow into the 18-year-old woman before him and finally recognizes his daughter. His first instinct, of course, is to try to hide the manga from her; to maintain the secret.

Now, as Kakushi prepares a comeback (perhaps with a story very similar to what we just watched…very meta!), we see the tables have turned: Hime has secrets of her own, like the fact that while she’s an accomplished and award-winning painter following her mother’s father’s footsteps, she also has a passion for drawing manga, something she’ll keep secret from her dad for a while. It’s only fair!

Kakushigoto was a beautiful blending of the clever, sometimes goofy, sometimes artfully intricate “miscommunication” humor of author Kumeta Kouji with genuine and powerful emotional stakes. It never felt too melodramatic or goofy because the drama and levity were always so well balanced. Indeed, that made it feel more real, despite how convoluted some of the mysteries and secrets turned out to be. The wit was sharp, while the heart was always warmed.

No matter how many walls or veils or feints Kakushi put up to keep his precious daughter from the truth of his livelihood, he couldn’t hide his true passion from her forever. Nor could the truth that whether he could feed that passion for a living or not was immaterial in the face of his overarching priority: ensuring Hime had a stable, happy childhood full of laughter and fun.

Hime is as stunningly awesome and beautiful an adult as she was an adorable, air-headed kid, and she has a bright future whether she pursues painting, manga, both, or neither. It can be said without reservation: Papa did good.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 03 – When Their Journey is Over

It’s clear Golem has been made more human by having Somali around. Heck, he only got her near the very end of his millenium-long life, meaning he’s already been bestowed the limited mortality of a human. He’s been good at keeping her safe and her true identity hidden, but he still has a long way to go when it comes to maintaining her emotional welfare.

This is evidenced by the sudden speed and urgency of their journey, which leads to the gorgeous, fantastical Anthole City. Golem learns the meager loot he carries fetches only a modest price. To keep Somali fed and to gather the supplies needed to continue the journey, he needs more money.

He finds a source when Kokilila, the owner of a cafe, needs a waiter. Golem institutes a strict agreement with Somali: she’s to stay within the cafe, under his supervision, at all times while he’s working. Even with Kokilila’s son Kikila as a fluffy playmate, she gradually grows bored and restless (as does Kikila).

However, for Golem the need to make as much money as possible overrides Somali’s need for recreation stimulation. He knows it’s not ideal for her to be cooped up in the cafe all day, but as he doesn’t trust anyone else to watch her and isn’t certain others will be okay at all with the fact she’s a human, there’s no choice.

Even when Golem isn’t working, his tendency to count his earnings is not lost on Somali either, and absent any explanation for her dad’s haste, she begins to believe he wants to end their journey and part ways with her as soon as possible. Sure, it might well trouble her more to learn he’ll be dead in less than two years, but at least she’d know it wasn’t because he didn’t want her around.

Because that’s what she gleans from his behavior, when Golem finally allows her to join Kikila on a simple errand, Somali grasps onto the city legend about yozame flowers and their ability to grant a wish. That leads the two kids (and fast friends finally sprung from their cafe prison by their guardians) to the city’s majestic but perilous subterranean caverns.

Of course, the moment Somali left Golem’s supervision, a knot formed in my stomach. This early in the show I’m still not sure how far it will stray to the dark side and present situations in which Somali is in true peril (like, say, Abyss, which was merciless to its young characters). We get a slightly clearer picture here, as Somali’s innocent plucking of a flower awakens an toothed eyeball mushroom monster.

She is rescued from said monster not by Golem or Kikila—who let us just say truly failed in his mission to keep her safe—but by a big, gruff, crossbow-wielding wolf-man who may be able to tell she’s a human from her smell. He could even be a member of the clan that originally put her in chains before she got separated and found by Golem.

In any case, Somali is now in serious danger. I just hope Kikila can keep the wolf at bay until Golem can find them.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 02 – An Unusual Golem, A Contented Child

While chasing a horned rabbit who stole her mushrooms, Somali falls and skins her knee. Golem is low on medicine, but they’re fortunate to have caught the attention of Shizuno, a Dwarf Oni healer who is happy to dispense first aid. Two neat points: Golem can converse with any animal or plant, while the black-eyed Shizuno is depicted as kind and friendly despite being a “demon”.

Shizuno even invites Golem and Somali to his house in the forest (I want to go to there) where they meet his assistant and skilled baker Yabashira. Indulging a curious request from Shizuno, Golem agrees to part with a small piece of his crumbling “skin” in exchange for lessons on how to make medicines.

Somali, meanwhile, keeps busy helping Yabashira with daily chores; to the assistant’s surprised. This can-do attitude has a darker side. When we first saw Somali she was in chains; perhaps humankind are more servile in this particular world.

Still, Somali’s love for Golem is plain to see for Yabashira, while Golem basically decribes to Shizuno a similar affection, as he never wants to see her in pain again. Not addressed? Whether either of the oni would change their tune if they knew Somali wasn’t really a minotaur child.

That could be tough, following the revelation that explains Golem’s deterioration: he has precisely one year and 112 days left before his life functions cease. His goal is to return Somali to her parents within that time frame, but with no leads whatsoever—and the high likelihood her parents are dead—that is a tall, probably impossible task.

Thankfully, he hasn’t told Somali about this, and Shizuno and Yabashira both admit that she seems pretty content without her parents whom she most likely never knew. With that in mind, they likely see Golem’s frantic journey to be a futile one that will only take time away from the two of them enjoying what time they have left.

Still, it’s Golem’s journey to make, and Somali will follow no matter where he takes them. She’s almost certainly too young to be taught everything needed to survive in just a year and change, so we’ll see whether he makes any progress tracking down her folks, for if he devises a Plan B, such as leaving her with trustworthy friend like Shizuno.

Oresuki – 06 – Effort Is Not Always Rewarded

A week has passed since “the breakup” between Joro and his friends, and the day of the Flower Dance has arrived. During that week Joro has had one and only one companion: Asunaro. That means when they learn of a new problem—the PTA is bristling at the idea of two boys dancing together—she’s all too happy to step in as the substitute. She doesn’t even have to ask; Joro asks her.

Turns out President—or should I say Detective—Cosmos has been On The Case all week, and finally has her conclusions to share with Asunaro, who insists on Joro being present. In the impromptu hearing within the StuCo office, Cosmos lays out the scenario that we had suspected: Asunaro spread false rumors about Joro so she could isolate him, and furthermore worked to get Sun kicked off the dance so she could take his place…and be the girl Joro would eventually marry.

Joro stays silent for the majority of this hearing, and all we hear are his reactions, including what even he deems may be a tonally inappropriate aside about how yet another girl fell in love at that damnable baseball game. In Asunaro’s case, she fell for Joro when he protected her from a foul ball. In reality, he was in the right place at the right time because he was trying to get a better view of the girl he’d learn was Pansy.

But once Cosmos is finished revealing all the underhanded things Asunaro did, and Asunaro’s first impulse is to beg him to be with her more than anyone else, Joro finally speaks up, and it’s in the voice of Dark Joro. He’s cruel and unyielding in his complete and utter rejection of her not just as a romantic interest, but a friend.

Of course, both Cosmos and I see through his act: in truth, he’s rattling her cage. There can’t be any doubt of his rejection of her if she’s to move forward, starting with recanting the libelious story in the next newspaper issue.

Cosmos’ closing lesson to Asunaro before Joro rejects her is that hard work alone isn’t enough to get rewarded with the desired results: in her case, Joro all to herself. As was explored in Fruits Basket more recently and many a romance before, a zero-sum game of love rarely succeeds. Even if Joro did love her, he’s going to hang out with other people and have his own life; that’s only healthy for both parties in a relationship.

With Asunaro’s plot revealed (but only to Cosmos, Joro, and Sun), the Flower Dance continues unabated, and it was worth the wait. Himawari and Cosmos are positively resplendent in their gowns as they twirl across the stage with a tuxedo-ed Joro. His third dance partner is of course Pansy, and even cold-hearted Joro can’t help but be charmed by her ethereal beauty, as well of her reciting the meanings three of the many colors of pansies.

When the dance concludes, Asunaro is hard at work on her retraction, while Pansy is officially welcomed into the circle of friends Joro had been working to get her into all this time, whether intentionally or subconsciously. It’s also become clear that Cosmos has something of a thing for Joro, and isn’t nearly ready to surrender him to Pansy. Still, considering her lecture to Asunaro, she’ll go about it the right way.