Astra Lost in Space – 12 (Fin) – Lost No Longer

We’re blessed with a double-length Astra finale, which really gives the show time and space to breathe and finish telling the story it’s apparent it always wanted to tell, and more importantly treated a loyal audience to a proper sendoff of the characters we’ve gradually come to love—and who have grown to love one another—one by one.

The first half, itself the length of a normal episode, is devoted to the return trip home. With Charce’s suicide plan foiled and Kanata down an arm but otherwise fine, the work of restocking the ship for the journey back to Astra. Kanata has to rest while the others work outside, but Aries quells his loneliness and FOMO by keeping him company.

Once they’re off Planet Galem, there’s ample time for the crew to assemble and hear Charce’s story of the history of their world—the real history, corroborating and continuing the story begun by Polina. Turns out the plan to relocate humanity’s population was so fraught with conflict, half of that population was killed in bitter wars for land on the new planet before the migration even took place.

The survivors of the conflict vowed never to let anything like that occur again, and so abolished nations and religions on Astra. Furthermore, the first generation to move and live there was the last to know about the true history of Earth; an alternate history of WWIII was fabricated, and the very timeline of humanity turned back 100 years.

All this time, the crew thought they were living in the year 2063, when it has actually been 2163; over one hundred years since the migration was successfully completed. It also means Polina wasn’t asleep for twelve years, but one hundred and twelve—yet doesn’t look a day over 29!

The crew decides that the world can’t go on living with a false history, but understands that telling the world the wrong way could be disastrous, not just to them but to the world.

Ulgar suggests they contact a trustworthy police lieutenant, and an detailed message is sent to him through Aries’ mom, including photos and videos of the still very much alive crew of Camp B5 and the log Aries has been making throughout the show (a nice touch).

By the time the Astra reaches orbit of Planet Astra, Lt. Grace is already at work arresting the King of Vixia, as well as his successor for his role in Princess Seira’s murder. Nothing a cop likes more than a bonanza of hard evidence. Very satisfying to watch these jerk-ass crooks made to pay for their heinous crimes.

The kids are met by an armed fleet in orbit, but after a few tense moments, contact is made and they identify themselves as friendly escorts, reporting that their originals have been apprehended and they are free to land. This is one of those instances where the extra length really counts, as we get to savor the crew’s arrival home and their ship’s final landing.

Once they arrive, and they get to tell their story to every media outlet on the planet, the crew become instant celebrities. Kanata and Charce tell the higher authorities about the need to spread the truth, something the higher-ups ultimately go with.

That bitter pill of truth is washed down without excessive unrest due in no small part to the charm of the crew, including the humanizing memoir about their five-month odyssey written by Kanata…not to mention the modelling chops of Quitterie and King Charce.

The length of the episode not only means it gets to take its time with a happy ending, but jumps seven years into the future, when the bulk of the crew is now 24. Everyone has changed their look a bit, but remain themselves and more importantly, remain good friends with one another, as you’d expect from what they went through. Yunhua sings a song inspired by those experiences, which essentially plays the series out.

Quitterie is married to Zack, while Funi is in high school and looks just like Quitterie (and has Polina as a teacher). Ulgar is now a serious journalist, while Kanata has achieved his goal of becoming a captain in seven years. His new ship is his old ship; buying the over 100-year-old Astra with funds earned from his book and fame.

With his past and present trusty mates Zack and Charce, they take off to chart the exit points of the wormholes and beyond, but they’ll be back. After all, Charce has kingly duties to get back to; Zack has a wife to get back to, and Kanata has to get back to Aries so they can marry and have a daughter they can name Seira.

And there you have it: Kanata no Astra, not just an epic survival story of a group of extraordinary kids, but herald to a bold new truth for humanity. One could say almost too much befell these kids; that they’re too special. But to that I say…what do you expect? They are, after all, the clones of people rich and powerful and ambitious enough to, well, clone themselves.

They were always destined for greatness, but it wasn’t going to be given to them; they were literally left for dead. But their originals made one critical blunder, forgetting about the presence of one last ship in old Earth’s orbit, the chariot of their downfall and their clones’ salvation. In the end, the clones surpassed their originals to become entirely different people—better people.

People who, rather than lying and cheating and stealing their way through life, scratched and tore and screamed to break the bonds of their origins, united together in love and fellowship, and changed the goddamned world. Hell of a story if you ask me.

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Owarimonogatari S2 – 03 (Fin)

The first two 40-odd-minute episodes of this second “season” of Owarimonogatari, were good, but seemed to be lacking in something very crucial to an “Endstory” – an ending. So it’s just as well I was mistaken that there would only be two episodes, because this, the third episode, provides that ending.

And what a frikkin’ ending it is! Few series have been so painstakingly fastidious in their careful preparation of a nearly all-encompassing conclusion to the story of its protagonist than Monogatari has been with Araragi Koyomi. It’s only fitting that if indeed his story is over—a story in which he’s helped save so many cute young women, one after another—that the last person left for him to save is…himself.

At Shirahebi Park, formerly the site of Shirahebi Shrine and the town’s god, which was obliterated along with the lake by Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade landing there 400 years ago—a site of so many conversations between Koyomi and those girls—Izuko lays out the minimum requirements of victory.

First, that Hachikuji Mayoi be enshrined a the new god of North Shirahebi shrine, so that she has a purpose in the material world and won’t be swallowed by “the darkness”. Second: that Oshino Ougi be eliminated. Mind you, Izuko isn’t certain who or what Ougi is, only what she isn’t (i.e. Meme’s niece.)

That Ougi is a near-total unknown makes her a threat to the spiritual and physical health of the town, so she has to go, just as any of the other harmful apparitions that have cropped up.

As Itsuko convinces Koyomi (and me) of Ougi’s need to go, Ougi picks up Tsukihi (who is actually a phoenix in human disguise) from Nadeko’s house, where it was being underscored how much Nadeko thinks about and is working towards a finite future, whereas Tsukihi is content to simply live with others in an everlasting present.

I must admit, it felt for all the world like Ougi was either taking Tsukihi hostage (out of an abundance of caution in case Araragi didn’t join her side) or attempting to recruit the phoenix as a kind of last-ditch ally. In any case, the person Ougi is with quickly transitions from Tsukihi to Koyomi in that iconic ruined cram school classroom, who tells Ougi he’s ascertained her identity.

Ougi is, and always has been, him. She is he.

Eager to clearly explain everything, Owarimonogatari steps back a bit to the original meeting between Itsuko, Koyomi, Kiss-Shot, Mayoi, and Ononoki, and explains to Koyomi how Ougi is really him (all while everyone plays cricket in the park, after having played baseball earlier).

Ougi, originally introduced to Koyomi as a “fan” of Kanbaru, explains her name Ougi. Itsuko’s older sister (Kanbaru’s mother) faced a similar “unknown”, the “Rainy Devil”, who was the materialization of her self-control, and the left arm of which was passed to Suruga, her daughter.

When that arm came in contact with the First Minion’s energy drain, it connected the Devil, Koyomi, and Kiss-Shot, and by that route Koyomi’s desire to criticize himself for his actions were materialized into Oshino Ougi, or “Dark Koyomi.”

It’s a complex yet surprisingly elegant and satisfying explanation that ties together so many threads of the Monogatari mythos. Ougi is a fundamental product of all of Koyomi’s victories saving the girls in his life; victories that didn’t come without a great deal of self-doubt about the rightness or wrongness of the methods he used.

Itsuko used the immortal Tsukihi as a lure to draw Ougi out so Koyomi could do the same thing he’s done all along: “killing himself for the sake of others.” Ougi represents Koyomi’s adolescence, and it’s time to end it, and her.

It’s no coincidence that Koyomi is faced with having to “kill” his adolescence on the eve of graduation from high school and entry into college and adulthood. But when the true “darkness” opens up and is about to swallow Ougi, Koyomi finally goes against the grain and saves himself. 

He loses his right arm (and isn’t a vampire at the moment, so that’s a big deal), but Ougi is saved, and with it his adolescence (both his doubt, unfair self-critique, and love of young ladies)—even if it makes him “the worst” to put himself first.

Ougi is tickled, but saving Ougi only means he’ll be swallowed along with her by the “darkness”—until, that is, Hanekawa finally comes through, bringing Meme to the ruined classroom with only moments to spare, to declare that Oshino Ougi is his niece, and Koyomi has pushed her down and may not have the most honorable intentions with her.

These are lies, but the acknowledgement, like the words in a spell, are what were needed to legitimize Ougi’s existence in the world, and close the darkness. From that moment on, Ougi is no longer Dark Koyomi, or any part of him.

His adolescence is gone, replaced by nothing more or less than Meme’s ‘niece’. His lesson, all along, was that love isn’t forsaking yourself for the sake of others. He’s gotta think about number one from time to time.

But, as the epilogue illustrates, it’s not the end of Koyomi as we know him. He’s still him, which means if a young woman needs help, he’ll come to her aid and do anything he can. The difference is, that “anything” will now have a limit; “anything” is no longer “everything.” Koyomi can save and protect without sacrificing himself.

This is why the new god of North Shirahebi Shrine in Hachikuji Mayoi bows to him rather than the other way ’round; why an otherworldly powerful, fully-restored vampire in Kiss-Shot decides to return to the form of a far less strong young girl in his shadow; and before the graduation ceremony, Hitagi and Tsubasa let him go do his thing when he spots another young woman in distress.

And that’s it for Owarimonogatari! As I said, quite an epic ending; and one that covered a lot more than previous, “smaller” arcs. Chronologically speaking, Ougi Dark covers the second-latest Monogatari events adapted to TV, with only the already-released Hanamonogatari taking place later on the timeline.

I’ve yet to watch last year’s Koyomimonogatari ONA side-story (Update: now I have), or the Shinobu-centric Kizumonogatari film trilogy that takes place at the very beginning of the chronological spectrum (Update: that too). Once I do, I’ll have watched everything Monogatari has to offer; a span of 97 (Update: 103) total episodes. Of course, there are many novels that have yet to be adapted, so this remarkable run is most likely not quite finished.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 12 (Fin)

Going into the finale, I held out a glimmer of hope that Kotarou would be able eke out a high enough score to get into Akane’s school, and even if he wasn’t accepted, they’d figure something out.

Well, the finale wastes no time giving us the answer, dropping the news that Kotarou was not accepted in the first minute. It’s a crushing blow, especially knowing how many “first loves” like this are ended by long distance.

Still, if he had passed and been able to attend high school with Akane, where would the drama be? Kotarou’s mentor tells him that nothing an author goes through is for naught; one could say the same of lovers.

One person who hopes long distance will change things is Akane’s sister, who reasonably asks Akane if she’ll take the move as an opportunity to break up with Kotarou and turn the page rather than endure the pain of the distance. Akane is adamant that that’s not what she wants…and that her sister is a jerk.

Another is Chinatsu, who is ecstatic when Kotarou is accepted to the municipal school and takes it to mean fate has worked out in her favor. She decides the time is right to confess to Kotarou; to tell him she’s always like him, and ask if she’s good enough.

And she’s just…not. Everything worked out in her favor except the most important thing: that Kotarou is able to return her feelings. He’s not. She accepts the loss (again) and tries to look forward to the next year with Kotarou as just a friend.

Chinatsu tells Akane about her confession attempt, but Kotarou doesn’t, which makes their last date together before her move more fraught. When Kotarou tells her all the ways HE will make this work—getting a job to afford train fare to Chiba as many times a week as he can manage—she becomes overwhelmed by the burden she believes she’s putting on him.

This is another case of these two being in uncharted territory with no map compass, or experience. Kotarou’s a great guy who loves Akane, but she needs more than for him to say HE’s got this; she has to be a participant in making their relationship survive, and because she’s anxious by nature (doubly so when it comes to him), his unceasing niceness actually works against him as she becomes overwhelmed, cries, kisses him, and runs off.

That meeting on the river is the last time they see each other…before the move, but Kotarou decides to take the advice of friends and start writing as a way to process his feelings. He posts the stories of his first tender love to an online board, where they resonate because everyone has been there, and many even wish they could go back to a time when love was so simple.

Ironically, he’s posting these stories at the end of those simple times. From here on out, things will get more complicated by all of the things in life that interfere or threaten what we want most: to simply be with the person we love.

Yet even though he’s too late to say goodbye to Akane in person either at her now-vacant house or at the train station, Kotarou’s feelings, and the fact they’ll never change, manage to get through to her, and they’re the same feelings she has for him: a deep, warm love that is poised to endure the challenges of growing into adulthood.

And so ends the first stage of the romance between Kotarou and Akane. It turns out not to be fleeting, as thanks to the magic of LINE they stay in touch almost constantly, and also meet up quite a bit once Kotarou makes enough money.

As the credits roll, we see the couple enjoying more firsts like movie night alone (with the parents coming home too early); their first trip together alone; missing out on chatting when Akane gets home too late; Kotarou having drinks with Akane’s parents; Akane being fitted for a wedding dress.

It may seem like jumping ahead, but Tsuki ga Kirei isn’t about these moments and days and nights years…it was the story of how these two found each other, fell in love, and never stopped loving. It was a foundation, and it was a damned strong one.

By the end, after the challenges of long distance and high school and entering the workplace and more hard work and more distance, Kotarou and Akane come out of it wonderfully, get married, and have a child.

It’s the happy ending I hoped for, but with the added bonus of having been earned due to the challenges endured and sacrifices made. And brothers and sisters, if any of you came out of this episode—and that beautiful closing montage in particular—with totally dry eyes, you may want to check your pulse!

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 12 (Fin)

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Now that he’s killed the Daddy who never loved him, and is well on the way to destroying the capital with the sister he turned into a monster, there’s not much for Biba to do but sit on the throne and…wait. Wait to be defeated by Ikoma, that is.

There wasn’t really much doubt of that, as this show has typically stuck to tried-and-true plot developments. That being said, Ikoma and Kurusu storming the city, going to town, and leaving piles of bodies in their wake is a sight to behold, as is the latter’s understanding that he’s to waste no time ending the former should he go Full Kabane. (Never go Full Kabane; the audience can’t connect.)

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While on the outside Mumei is at the core of a grotesque yet also oddly beautiful fused colony, in her mind she’s fighting memories of being weak and stamping them out. It’s as much a prison for her mind as her body.

As for Ayame, she’s able to break some locals out of a prison of fear and rigid lashing-out simply by getting in their face. Not sure that wouldn’t have resulted in someone accidentally pulling a trigger on her, but she’s always had relatively good luck.

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With Kurusu by his side, Ikoma continues to carve his way to Mumei, leading to a minor boss fight with one of Biba’s lieutenants, who tries to run a train into Ikoma but is thwarted when Ikoma’s super-Kabaneri power allows him to blast the train straight off the rails and into mid air. He then kills the guy himself with his arm-gun, justifying the killing by saying the guy kill too many. No arguments here.

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There’s just one last obstacle before he can save Mumei: Biba himself, who takes the stage excited to “hunt” a rare, fearless foe such as Ikoma. In her fever dream prison, Mumei sees Ikoma as the one blue butterfly in a cloud of red ones, because butterflies have never been used in this way in anime before.

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In all seriousness, as we’ve seen, Biba is highly skilled at combat, but when you don’t seem to be fighting for much anymore, but when up against a singularly motivated and nigh unkillable Kabaneri, it was only a matter of time before he took a hard lick that took him down.

Biba doesn’t stay down, however, even after Ikoma downs him and gives Mumei the magical white blood, reviving her and bringing her back to normal. It isn’t Ikoma who delivers the killing blow to Biba; he’s unconscious. It’s Mumei, who repeatedly implored Biba to stop hurting Ikoma, and stabbed him through the heart when he didn’t.

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With Biba dead and Mumei back to normal, she and Kurusu (with Ikoma on his back) race back to the Kotetsujou, which seems like a rather manufactured final hurdle, even though I did like how happy she looked when she saw the whole gang ready to catch her with a big fabric net.

The only real problem is that Ikoma won’t wake up…until he does, on Mumei’s insistence. When he does, she embraces him closely, her shield returned to her by white blood Biba must have injected before being killed, a last act of selflessness and compassion in a life full of violence and hatred.

With Mumei and Ikoma both alive and relatively unhurt (amazingly), the Kotetsujou steams off into the sunset, ending a very dark show on a very bright—if awfully tidy—parting note.

Kabaneri initially grabbed my attention with superior visuals (and audio) and thrilling action. But once the novelty of that quality wore off, the shows shortcomings grew more conspicuous, keeping this show rather far from greatness. Still, it was a hell of a rousing watch…most of the time.

If a second season comes one day, I will definitely give it a look—I’d like to see Mumei’s humanity restored, for one thing—but if it’s all the same to Wit Studio, I’d prefer a second season of Attack on Titan first.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 12 (Fin)

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Well, have egg on my face. Just when I thought the show had already reached its main resolution, just when I wasn’t in love with the direction I thought it was taking with Satoru’s new future, and just when I was a little impatient that last week seemingly ended in the same place as the week before, ERASED didn’t just ignore and then subvert my expectations; it pushed them off a school roof with gusto.

It all starts with a little necessary backtracking. Satoru isn’t calm and cool up on that roof alone with Yashiro because he’s content with the life he’s lived and the good he’s done for those around him. It’s because he has a plan. It’s a plan that we can only speculate about until it happens, but it was made with the help of Kenta and Hiromi, who are committed to helping Satoru again, if that’s what he wants.

They feel that way because when he, the superhero, needed help, he believed in them, and so they believed right back. Without that mutual belief in one another, the amazing things he achieved wouldn’t have happened…and Satoru would have likely been murdered up on the roof.

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Call it “One Last Job” for Satoru & Friends: the job that even their nemesis doesn’t see coming, because he’s so consumed with putting Satoru in a box with either jail or death as the escape routes, like a rat in a maze. He uses a fatal muscle relaxant IV on Kumi (with Satoru’s fingerprints on the bag) to create that awful choice, and keeps grinning with glee about finally besting the one who ruined all his plans.

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This is as superhero-y as you can get: the Villain thinking he has the Hero, his Nemesis, in his clutches and at his mercy, and just when victory as he sees it is in sight, the hero wiggles out. The hero wins, with a move way out of left field and yet deliciously awesome in its precision and timing.

Satoru says Yashiro the one who has lost, not only because he was able to save all those victims from him (including his mother in the future) and thwart all his attempts to frame him (including this one), but because for fifteen years—only an instant for him, but an agonizing crawl for Yashiro—while he slept, Yashiro didn’t kill him.

He couldn’t, because Satoru was the only one who knew who he was; that something that fills the void everyone has and needs to have filled. He can’t kill him because of that.

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And Satoru means that quite literally. Sure, Yashiro could let go, which he does, but if Satoru dies then, so does the one thing in his life that’s made him feel anything. The void returns. But Yashiro doesn’t die even when Yashiro decides to let go, because his friends arranged a cushion for him to land safely on, and they also serve as witnesses for Yashiro’s attempted murder.

Yashiro lost because he was alone; because the only person that could fill his void was someone he was committed to ruining; tormenting; erasing. And yet, Yashiro, who truly took fifteen years of Satoru’s life away from him, may have actually been doing him a favor, for the life Satoru lived when we met him was one of dark repressed memories, dead classmates and friends, and most importantly, a life where he had ceased “taking the bull by the horns”.

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It took more struggle to get there, but Satoru was, with his mom and his buddies, finally able to bring Yashiro to true justice. He was able to live on once his deep sleep had ended, and both his memories of heroic deeds, and the dramatic one he performed on the roof to put Yashiro away, filled a void in him that was present in the original timeline, before any Revivals.

This older Satoru keeps taking the bull by the horns. After being a real hero, he became able to write about heroes, compellingly enough to have anime made about them. He’s by all rights a great success, but when he returns back to the city after visiting all his old friends in Hokkaido (and I liked how they teased Misato as a possible love interest), a void still remains in him: one shaped like Kitagiri Airi, the wonderful soul who got lost in all the time-shifting…

…Or so we and Satoru thought. Or maybe he didn’t think that. Why else would he return to the bridge where he and Airi parted, with him in handcuffs and she in tears? Kayo was never meant to be the girl Satoru ended up with after all. When Airi appears, asking brightly if she could share some shelter from the snow with him, everything comes full circle.

It’s a bit cliche, but it’s true: believing in people leads them to believe in you; that’s how you gain allies and friends. It’s one big loop of believing and void-filling. And there you have it: a very nifty and moving ending to my favorite anime of the Winter! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 09

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Things move fast this week, but most of the things that occur are basically foregone conclusions. Kikuhiko and Sukeroku both become Shin’uchi, but in his debut, Sukeroku sticks it to the association president by performing his specialty, “Inokori”, in which he must embody multiple sides of one character, Saheiji, depending on who else he’s talking to. It’s a challenging story, but Sukeroku pulls it off and gets the only approval he needs: that of the crowd.

Now a Shin’uchi, Kikuhiko is committed to shedding a woman he feels someone of his stature can no longer be with. It’s not pride so much as obligation to the structures he was raised into, which demand that a man put things above his own personal feelings. His breakup with Miyokichi had been telegraphed for some time, but that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking when the hammer comes down.

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Miyokichi, as it happens, isn’t the only one who gets dumped: as a result of his insolence in his debut, Sukeroku is taken aside by his master, who informs him Kiku, not he, will be the Eighth Generation Yakumo. Again, the writing was on the wall. As well-intending as Sukeroku is, and no matter how much practical sense it makes, he was never going to be able to successfully convince the old guard of his “change or die” views of rakugo.

For the elders, including his master, change is death; there is no difference. Oral tradition cannot truly survive if it becomes a game of Telephone. Tweaking tradition is a slippery slope, one that the elders would rather fall to their death by clinging to rather than allow it to be propped up with new ideas.

Furthermore, Sukeroku was always hampered by his modest origin; he was always an interloper, a “stray dog” who clawed his way into this world. There’s no way the master would allow such a person to succeed him, no matter how unassailable his talent. There may be TVs now, but castes still matter.

When Sukeroku argues too forcefully, Yakumo expels him, throwing him out of his house. And that’s how our two dumped and dejected people find and comfort each other.

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Speaking of comfort, Kikuhiko isn’t experiencing it just because everything seems to be going his way. In his mind, Sukeroku is still better at rakugo than him, no matter how many elders or syncophants say otherwise. He’s particularly irritated when a dilettante-ish rakugo critic tears down Sukeroku in an apparent effort to curry favor. Kiku ends the interview right there.

Then Master Yakumo’s wife dies, and with mortality on his mind, he informs Kikuhiko that he intends to give him his name. Kiku’s initial reaction is that it’s a mistake; Sukeroku should get the name; he’s more skilled; he doesn’t have any skill compared to that raw talent. But Yakumo reproaches his apprentice.

It’s not Kiku’s place to tell him who he should give his name to, nor to say whether he’s better or worse than Sukeroku. Just like his brother, Kiku spoke out of place, but out of humility and inferiority, not arrogance and outsize obligation to take rakugo upon his shoulders and “save” it, as Sukeroku wants to do. There’s more to being Eighth Generation than being The Best At Rakugo. 

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As Kiku continues to thrive but derive no joy from anything other than doing rakugo, Sukeroku and the scorned Miyokichi quickly shack up together and become an item. Just as Sukeroku and Kikuhiko must embody different people to perform their stories to suit their audiences, so too does Miyo, a skilled and experienced geisha, know how to be exactly the woman a particular man wants. She could be classy and prudish for Kiku, whom she loved, but knows Sukeroku less propriety.

I’m glad Miyo doesn’t waste any more time than she needs to worrying about Kiku; what’s done is done, and she’s moving on with someone who actually wants to be with her. Sukeroku doesn’t know if he’s quite that person yet…but he does like boobies. There’s something sad and close-looped about the two being depressed about the same person—Kikuhiko—but they must make do with each other.

Also, she doesn’t have time to wait around or worry; she has a baby on the way, and wants to raise it in the countryside. Her geisha house is shut down, so she steals the till with the intention of running off with Sukeroku.

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He stops by Kiku’s not for money or a place to stay, but to say goodbye, even as Kiku urges him to make peace with the master so he can give him his name. Sukeroku knows what he has to do to get back in the good graces of their master, and he can’t do it. He tells Kiku about Miyo and the baby and the country, and Kiku is not happy.

What is Kiku going to do without Sukeroku around annoying him and challenging him to be his best? What is he going to do with Yakumo’s name when he’s certain his drunk, uncouth, stray dog of a brother deserves it more? Someone he wants to punch and embrace in the same moment?

These unanswerable questions (which must attempt to be answered anyway, one day at a time) sow the seeds of a bitterness and regret that will stay with Kiku for years, then made worse one day when Sukeroku loses his life in his prime. That bitterness will come to define the man telling this story to Yotarou and Konatsu in the present.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 25 (Fin)

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UBW’s epilogue drops us in London two years after the end of the Holy Grail War, with Shirou tagging alongside Rin as her pupil at a Hogwarts-like magical college. It would also seem they’re living together, and are quite happy about it.

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After we’re shown some glimpses of their new life—home-cooked breakfast for Rin (still not a fan of the morning), an English love rival who spars with Rin in a kind of magical MMA bout; Shirou nursing Rin’s wounds after her defeat.

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The couple takes a day trip to Glastonbury to visit King Arthur’s tomb, a trip Rin plans so Shirou can properly say goodbye to Saber. It’s a nice touch, and the English countryside and ruins are lushly rendered.

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While on the bus ride home, with Rin asleep on his shoulder, Shirou reflects on the events that got him here to this point, by her side. A month after the war, Rin tells him of her plans to move to London and attend the mage’s university, inviting him to come along; an invitation he gladly accepts. Rin’s primary postwar goal is to make the man she loves happy, which means keeping him by her side.

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Back in the present, in an encounter I’m sure had more resonance for those more familiar with the franchise, a tall, stern man questions why Shirou is there, and remarks that it’s a “small world” when he hears of Shirou’s desire to be a HoJ. My guess is this guy knew Kiritsugu.

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Shirou has been invited to join the Mages Association and eventually Clock Tower, but he declines. Rin isn’t particularly surprised, but is more than willing to follow him as they see the world they saved. Lots of great loving smiles from Rin in this epilogue.

Shirou and Rin’s indications, along with the post-credits sequence, suggest Shirou will never be able to escape the same path as Archer, but until then, he and Rin are going to have as many good times as they can. When the time comes, she hopes her positive influence in his life will enable him to move a little further forward and get “the right ending.”

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Steins Gate – 24 (Fin)

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Look at the void in this frame…it’s not really a void, but infinite possibility

I traveled more than three years into the past to watch Steins;Gate, eager to find out if it really was as great ad many had led on. I had no idea what I was getting into, but because I was told to expect greatness, it gave the show a greater burden to overcome than simply pulling something off the shelf and watching it with absolutely no knowledge of its standing in anime history.

I guess what I’m blathering about is that despite knowing so little and expecting so much, I entered Steins;Gate extremely confident it would meet and exceed any expectations I may have harbored. It also felt like an old friend, like something I had watched before and forgotten, as hard as that is to believe (the forgetting part, that is).

For all I know, in another universe, I have seen it, along with many other shows I’ve never watched in this one. And because memories can transcend the boundaries between universes (because I said so, okay?) I knew I was in good hands; that there’d be no way this show would disappoint. Maybe I have Watching Steiner; who knows. All I know is, I have a new favorite anime.

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A show so earnest and confident and masterful in its layering and weaving of stories wasn’t going to mess up it’s ending. More to the point, it knew after twenty-three episodes, many of them putting us in the emotional spin cycle, that its audience would want a “Good Ending” after the “Bad Ending” of Okabe having to sacrifice Kurisu, and the “Worse Ending” of Okabe killing Kurisu.

It’s also great to see Okabe in high spirits again, even if he is partially putting up a brave front. Everyone’s stoked that the Okarin they know and love is back yukking it up and spouting nonsense. His high tide lifts all boats. And when Mayushii manages to get Okabe to admit he and Kurisu love each other, she gives him her full support in saving her no matter what.

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The fact that Mayushii, like Feyris, is able to remember bits and pieces of other timelines, gives both Okabe and me optimism that if Kurisu is saved, she’ll remember the three weeks she spent with Okarin and the rest of the Future Gadget Lab. It’s not so much Reading Steiner as love crossing the boundaries of world lines, and the stronger the love, the more they can recall. Why else would Kurisu have believed Okabe so quickly so often while he was trying to save Mayushii?

Armed with the Cyalume Saber (powered by stuff that looks like fake blood) a stun gun (to knock out Kurisu and lay in said fake blood) and most importantly, the knowledge of who’s going to be where and when, Okabe goes back with Suzu. He buys the Metal Upa so when Mayushii buys one, it’s not metal and doesn’t end up on Nakabachi. Kinda awesome a 100-yen toy is the key to preventing a temporal arms race and Third World War, but that’s the infinite possibility of time for ya.

I want to point out, the music throughout this episode is fantastic. I has the perfect balance of urgency, occasion, an impending end (one way or another), and ambient casualness, making for a stirring “final dungeon” soundtrack.

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Meanwhile, in his exuberance to get on with the mission, Okabe neglected to check if the liquid in the Saber was still liquid. If he’d discovered it had dried up before going back in time, he’d have had time to procure some fake blood from a nearby store (it IS Akiba). Alas, he only finds out he has no fake blood when he’s about to use it. Just as a little metal toy can lead to the decimation the human population, a little slip-up like this can place his last chance to save Kurisu in jeopardy.

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No matter: I knew as soon as I saw that dried-up liquid, before he looked at his own hand, that the mission was still alive; he’d simply have to use real blood; his own. When he interrupts the pleasant father-daughter discussion, this time he has a cool head and even uses his usual theatricality to throw Nakabachi off.

Okabe is front and center, with Kurisu in a much better position in the room to avoid knife charges. Nakabachi has no choice but to pay attention to him and only him. Greatest of all about Okabe’s entrance is that this isn’t Chuunibyou or delusional behavior on display: Okabe really has come to save Kurisu and rearrange the world order.

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He’s also a true hero, who literally takes a knife to the gut to complete his mission. Whatever questionable stuff one can accuse him of doing to get to where he is now, this act absolves him of most if not all of it. Getting stabbed fucking sucks. I’m not speaking from experience, mind you, but even in animated form it’s obvious that it does. And S;G’s sound effects make that even more clear.

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Nakabachi gets Okabe pretty good, but Okabe is able to stay concious long enough to scare the shit of of Nakabachi, forcing him to flee, and then zapping Kurisu with the stun gun. You can see the fates conspiring with Okabe in the depths of Nakabachi’s eyes, willing him to GTFO. Nakabachi is no mastermind villain, just another variable that has to be manipulated at the right time and place, like a Metal Upa.

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Okabe arranges Kurisu face down in his own blood, creating a scene identical to the one he himself saw those same three weeks ago. This scene overwrites the one in which he accidentally stabbed Kurisu, so the horrifying death scene Past Okabe and we witness/witnessed in the very first episode was really the other Okabe’s art project. We know that because we witness it again with Okabe, just before Suzu hauls helps him back into the time machine. MISSION COMPLETE…and it feels so good.

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So what is the Steins Gate World Line like? Well, it’s everything you’d expect from jumping through every hoop, choosing the right dialogue for each character, and collecting every hidden secret crystal: the previously stated “Good Ending.” In it, Okabe recovers from his wound and proceeds to give every Lab Member he’d appointed in the previous world lines a pin, making their membership official in this one.

It’s a beautiful little gesture that reminds us that before it became all about saving people he loved from being killed off by time, and even during those times, this was a show about a bunch of strange, unique, interesting people coming together to collectively do great things. Okabe needed every single Lab Member to accomplish what he did, and his warmth and charisma and crazy ideas, made that coming together happen.

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He, and we, are finally rewarded by not only getting Kurisu back, but having them meet by chance on the (very!) busy streets of Akiba, home to the Culture of Cute as it should be. And not only do they meet; Kurisu remembers him, because they share a bond only Mayushii’s can compare to, one in which two people who love each other deeply don’t forget that love just because the world line has changed.

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There’s a lovely understated elegance to Okabe and Kurisu’s pre-curtain reunion. No big dramatic music calculated to rend the heart just so; no sudden change in the world’s palette; just two people suddenly realizing they just crossed paths with the one they love, and affirming it with a few simple, in-character words as the sound of the bustling city around them fades. Kurisu being alive may have been enough for Okabe, but not me. Her being alive and back in his life is a far better outcome.

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P.S. Whew…now that was a good show, wasn’t it? But I know; these 24 episodes aren’t all there is. I’ll get to episode 25 soon enough, along with the film. Looking forward to both. Thanks for reading!

Golden Time – 24 (Fin)

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Here’s what we knew going in—or at least what we assumed: the restoration of “Old Banri” would be permanent, but while he’d forget all about Koko and the others, Koko wouldn’t forget about him, and would re-introduce herself and start all over with him, hopeful the Banri who loved her was still in there, hiding, in a larval state. Just waiting for a time to hatch out.

But that theory did not allow for an all-but-PERFECT VICTORY, which is what we get, much to our surprise and frankly, our delight. We here at RABUJOI aren’t shy about the fact that we often cultivate a transactional relationship with the anime we watch: if we are to suffer through hardship, pain, we wouldn’t mind being rewarded for that commitment in some way. In the case of Golden Time, we wanted a happy ending, but didn’t see how it was going to happen.

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Golden Time found a way, and really, it was something it had been planning all along. In the last couple episodes, Banri had become, like, super-resigned to his cruel fate of losing everything he had become as the result of his peculiar neurological trauma. And we followed him down that pit of despair, forgetting along with him that a way back was possible. A wealth of resources were at his disposal this week, starting with the notes he wrote himself. They have no immediate effect, but provide the building blocks for his recovery, further aided by his friends.

Add to that Koko’s mirror (the unbroken one which is hers, not the broken one he left behind in Tokyo), and the strange string of obsessive emails someone who hacked his account is sending to Koko. We initially thought were being sent by Koko herself as a cryptic message to Banri, but they turned out to be from 2D-kun. That’s right, 2D-kun turns out to be the architect of Banri’s recovery, by sending those emails and also rattling Koko’s cage (when she finds out it was him) and moving her to action.d

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That’s how Koko ends up at Banri’s front door. At first things aren’t going so well—Banri thinks she’s Chinami because she’s returning a DVD—but his broken mirror is also in the bag, and the memories start flowing back. It’s fitting that everything comes together on the bridge where everything fell apart. It’s a little silly seeing all the different Banri’s milling around in a fog (including drag Banri, one of our faves), but in the end it works, as Linda (very belatedly) finally gives the original Past Banri the “Yes” he had been hoping for for so long.

That’s apparently all the closure he needs, as present Banri gets his memories back, including his love for Koko, and we get an extended scene of the two embracing passionately and reveling in pure joy…and relief! Frankly, we’re relieved too it wasn’t a downer of an ending. Like we said, we’d sat patiently through the awful fights and disasters and misunderstandings, and Golden Time rewarded us with a good old fashioned happy ending.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)
Average Rating: 8.417 (episodes 13-24), 8.458 (total)
MyAnimeList Score: 7.97

 

Mirai Nikki Redial – OVA

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Ridley Scott intended for his cyberpunk/future noir film Blade Runner to have an ambiguous, non cut-and-dry ending, but the original American theatrical release in 1982, the studio insisted on a cheesy voiceover by Harrison Ford at the end, essentially pulling a “perfect happy ending” out of nowhere. The 2007 Final Cut, which we were lucky enough to experience on the big screen, ditched that voiceover and restored the open ending.

Why are we bringing up Blade Runner’s alternate endings? Because for us, this Future Diary OVA was that voiceover ending: tacked-on, cheesy, and unnecessary. We didn’t have a powerful need for a happy ending; the original one was fine. We were fine with Yuno and all of the others involved in the game returning to their normal lives, and the ambiguity of Yuno kinda sorta remembering someone. We were fine with Yukiteru brooding in the void for millennia with only Murmur and his brain for company.

Okay, so maybe we’re being a bit harsh. It’s been over two years since Mirai Nikki wrapped, and for many it was probably a thrill to see all the characters alive and well simply enjoying regular life. There were probably quite a few who relished Yuno picking at the scab in her brain until she finally ended up in the position to get her memories fully restored, enabling her to find Yukkii and reunite with him. And that’s fine. We’re just saying it wasn’t really our thing.

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Rating: 4
 (Fair)

Stray Observation: The strange realm in which Yuno races to the Murmur holding her memories looks a bit like Orphan’s Cradle, the final dungeon in FFXIII…only less pretty.