Fune wo Amu – 11 (Fin)

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Last week restored my faith in Fune wo Amu’s ability to engage and pull its audience in with an up-against-the-wall crisis that requires a tremendous group effort to pull off. But that same goodwill didn’t quite carry over in the show’s eleventh and final episode, which only reinforced a problem I’ve had since the eighth episode pushed us forward so many years without warning.

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I understand how the show basically needed to show us the ultimate payoff of a published Great Passage, but I maintain that it didn’t have enough time to tell that story, nor would extending the effort across, say, a full 26-episode series would have been possible before getting stale, monotonous, or over-contrived in an effort to stoke up some drama.

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Before the dictionary officially goes on sale, Matsumoto suddenly succombs to esophageal cancer he only told his comrades a day or so before his death. His death has been telegraphed so much, it didn’t elicit a shock in me so much as a shrug. Again, his death only underlines the problematic nature of leaping so far ahead in the dictionary’s timeline to a point where most people only look slightly different, but suddenly Matsumoto is at death’s door.

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The missing words episode was a temporary diversion from the fact the development of the dictionary didn’t feel as epic as it should have because the show skipped too much time.  Ditto Matsumoto’s death. He seemed like a nice guy and all, but he was a character with a tendency to spout flowery philosophy and little else. Post time-jump, it was hard to get a handle on the characters were; spending so much time with the new hire didn’t help matters.

So yeah, Fune wo Amu was, to me, the definition of “watchable,” but I won’t lie: I’m glad there’s no twelfth episode, because I’ve been mostly checked out since episode 6, when Majime’s attainment of Kaguya was sold as the Most Important Thing going on in the show, without ever really getting into why the two liked, let alone loved, each other.

The show had glimmers of greatness, but couldn’t help but feel either too drawn-out (earlier in the story) or too rushed (after the time jump). And there’s only so many ways you can present the metaphor of a ship lighting the way.

Considering how carefully the dictionary at the heart of its story was planned and prepared, Fune wo Amu too often felt unsure of itself and random in where it chose to focus its attention. That made it hard to stay involved.

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Fune wo Amu – 10

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There’s a missing word in The Great Passage. The ship has a hole in the hull before it’s been launched. That’s actually a good thing; better now than when it was on sale. But Majime can’t let this one word go.

There could be others, so he mobilizes a small army of temps, and together with Kishibe and Araki, sets to work re-checking each and every one of the Passage’s 240,000 words.

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It’s a massive undertaking due to the limited time frame — which is never actually stated, but must limited, or else everyone wouldn’t work almost around the clock and not leave the editorial office. Fatigue inevitable sets in, and like it did in “33”, the first (and best) episode of Battlestar Galactica, it’s engrossing to behold.

Not necessarily Majime’s too-on-the-nose dreams of words escaping through a tear in his “construct“, but in the way people start to get slower and more tired, but still have a job to do, and struggle through. It adds a welcome touch of adventure to the proceedings.

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Of course, eventually Majime has to send everyone home to get some real sleep (no Cylons chasing them, thankfully), and he comes home to a Kaguya who is nothing but warm, loving, and caring, feeding Majime a home-cooked meal before sending him back out to fight the good fight.

Kaguya understands pride in one’s work; she’s an accomplished restaurateur. She knows it’s pride that drives her husband to ensure without a shadow of a doubt that the ship he’s building is as perfect as he can make it.

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Marking time throughout the episode (in addition to the changes in people as they tire) is a huge table where each section completed is marked in red. For much of the episode less than half of it is marked, but it eventually becomes fully red.

In the surprisingly thrilling final minutes, Kishibe, Araki, and lastly Majime officially finish the checking, immediately after which the legion of temps, all of them having just shared a life-changing experience they won’t soon forget, either cheer in exultation or breathe deep sighs of relief it’s finally over.

Only it isn’t. The book still must be printed, bound, put on sale, marketed, and most importantly, it must sell, or everyone involved will likely have to fall on their swords, Majime most of all.

As for Matsumoto, he’s seemed ill since the time-shift (which the show somewhat cheekily nearly admits was pretty abrupt, as hardly anyone’s appearance has changed), and the episode’s final shot in his empty house seems to suggest he may not live to see The Great Passage leave port.

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Fune wo Amu – 09

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Kishibe is a lover of words – but also, apparently, of alcohol, and is a bit of a lightweight. Still, she powers through hangovers to work hard under Majime, and The Great Passage starts its final phases of construction. It’s about this time Kishibe tries, through Nishioka, to understand her chief a little better.

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Nishioka sets her on a little mini treasure hunt that leads her to Majime’s love letter to Kaguya, which Nishioka (somewhat creepily) photocopied and hid in a book in the stacks. Still, it gets the job done: Kishibe sees how carefully (if variably successfully) Majime chooses words from the many many words he knows, and is amused, heartened, and inspired by his efforts to woo his future wife.

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The overwhelmed feeling Kishibe had is replaced by stalwart optimism, which she successfully transfers to the paper guy, Miyamoto, even as Majime rejects paper after paper. But since the editors like Kishibe are working so hard, Miaymoto keeps at it, until he finally gets the right balance of strength and stickiness.

Unfortunately, with The Great Passage set to be launched (i.e. published), Kishibe spots a leak, and all of a sudden Majime wonders in horror what other words may be missing. Will the great ship sink on its maiden voyage, or is this just a problem all of those who dared to make great dictionaries were faced with in the final stages?

This was another *okay* episode, but ever since Majime finally made his feelings known to Kaguya, the show has frankly felt a bit sedate (well, more sedate than usual). The time jump of many years still seems like an awkward move, as the characters look pretty much the same.

As for characters continuing to wax philosophical about the power of dictionaries and words, well…everything’s pretty much been said already, so it’s getting rather repetitive.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 07

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And endless succession of episodes in which Rei wanders around alone with the wind in his face, wallowing in despair and self-pity over everything he’s been through and all the choices he’s made, was going to get old fast. That would be too dark and brooding, and keep us at a distance.

I wanted in, so to speak, and I got in, thanks in part to a jauntier, more playful week of 3GL, and in part to Hina’s crush Takahashi. While Rei is initially intimidated, Takahashi is actually a great admirer of Rei, and comes to him for serious advice about where to steer his life.

That Takahashi essentially comes out of nowhere to have such a profound effect on Rei and how he looks at the world is of no consequence. I like how a childhood friend of Hina, whom Rei often looks to for comfort, peace, and perspective, is inadvertently responsible for showing Rei “the light.”

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Takahashi’s seriousness, forceful determination, and earnest attentiveness to any and all Rei has to say, gets Rei to open up despite himself, breaking through a barrier he’d never crossed before, letting someone in to his inner thoughts and doubts, and receiving gratitude and further admiration in return.

Even when Takahashi, invited to dinner (much to Hina’s exasperation; however she delivers a sumptuous repast), shows Rei a video of his loss in shogi (a video that exposes Rei’s “secret”/omission to the younger sisters that he and Nikaido are pros), Takahashi does it not out of malice, but to hear from the person who made the move why he made it, and what he thinks about such a move now.

Even when Rei says it was a bad move, and Nikaido almost seems to come through the TV and yell at him directly, over and over, that he needs to “take better care of his shogi and himself”, Takahashi doesn’t dismiss his father and grandfather’s assertion the move wasn’t bad, but was even “aggressive and manly,” qualities Takahashi can relate to on the road to a baseball career; a road that requires similarly bold moves.

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Nikaido’s on-video obnoxious commentary gets Rei so riled up he raises his voice for the first time, yelling at the TV as if Nikaido was there. Rei is amazed to find Hina smiling wider than ever at his outburst, as if it was a privilege to witness. And maybe it was: seeing him display so much passion, even to protest his “best friend” saying far too much to the camera, spurs Hina to ask Rei to teach her how to play shogi.

That’s when Nikaido actually comes out of the TV and appears in person at the Kawamoto household to add some humor and humanity to Rei’s stiff explanation of the game. He even presents a book he presumably wrote and illustrated in which all the shogi pieces are realized as cats, charming not only Hina but Momo too (who already regards Nikaido AKA Bodoro as a kind of demigod).

Rei has finally tasted what it’s like not only to have his thoughts and feelings listened to and validated, but what it’s like to lose it in front of people he cares about, and to share his amassed wisdom to an eager audience. All in all, its a pretty good week for the kid. Here’s hoping he keeps it going.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 06

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We continue an in-depth journey and the running self-commentary of Rei’s life, including the recent slump that has kept him from advancing, even though as one of five players ever to become pros in middle school, he’s expected to become a master like the other four at some point.

Because Rei is still so young, his childhood was disrupted by such tragedy and trauma, the bad times always seemed to overshadow the good, and his “stepsister” Kyouko dug into him so deeply with hurtful words that sounded like the truth, Rei is left unable to process why he’s so unhappy and unable to move forward in life.

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Shogi, so far, hasn’t been the answer. Sure, he threw himself into it with all he had and has been celebrated as a prodigy, but when he’s not playing or training, he has a tendency to shut down. He doesn’t have friends (who aren’t also shogi players).

He barely goes to school, and keeps to himself when he does (I can’t recall even seeing one of his classmates). He admires master Touji Souya, who despite being as old as his teacher still has the face of a teenager; as if his distinguished, decorated career has caused time to stop.

Touji is the titular “God Child”, but I wonder if Rei looks up at him as an ideal to follow, or something he can never attain. Then again, he doesn’t know of Touji delved into shogi not out of love, but out of necessity, as he did. Maybe time stopping isn’t a good thing.

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After nearly a whole episode of navel-gazing and listing all of his problems, Rei and we get a welcome respite, as he runs into Hina in town and treats her to a McDonalds shake. It doesn’t take long for the kind and lovable Hina to notice Rei is feeling gloomy, and invites him to dinner back home.

Hina makes Rei feel ashamed and pathetic for worrying so much about his own issues when Hina is sitting there, a middle schooler worrying about a high schooler, putting his feelings before her own (then crashing and burning when her crush the baseball ace shows up).

If Rei’s going to move—if he wants to move—in life, hanging out more with the Kawamotos seems the way to go.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 05

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For the last four episodes we’ve watched Rei in a really nice situation with caring loving people, and he still seems a bit uncomfortable, like he’s out of place. We’ve also seen glimpses of his Dark Past, but they come fully to the surface this week, as having to pick up Momo (and then tend to her kid wounds) triggers a memory that haunts and will always haunt him.

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Rei’s whole goddamn immediate family went and died instantly when a drunk driver killed them. They left the world, and left him with the rest of his blood relatives, who are portrayed as almost comically awful.

Despite having the means to adopt him, one of his aunts suggests an orphanage, far more concerned about her husband, the younger brother, taking control of the hospital with Rei’s dad out of the way. They’re a real great bunch, I tellya!

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Rei is saved by his dad’s old shogi rival, Kouda, and by a lie: he tells Kouda he loves shogi and wants to pursue a life of shogi, even though he only played shogi as a way to bond with his busy father. Kouda is kinder than any of Rei’s surviving family, but his kids, who are also trying to enter the world of shogi, are not.

Well, at least Kyouko does; the girl from that violent-looking flashback last week. She and her little brother Ayumu are quickly surpassed by Rei, who rises fast in a field he felt he had to pretend to be interested in to be adopted.

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Rei also blames himself for being a “cuckoo chick”, edging out the rightful offspring of the parent out of the nest; tearing a family apart after his was taken from him, like some kind of unconscious revenge/paying backward. Did I mention this is all very horrifically depressing?

I’m glad we’re finally getting Rei’s story of why he is the way he is in the present, but it kinda smothers you in a dark grey cloud of awfulness. The one bright spot is Momo in the first half, being her adorable Momo self. The fact we can understand what the cats and dogs are saying also lighten things up a bit.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 04

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Hina’s longtime crush, a baseball ace, has a Big Game coming up, and she wants to be there cheering him on, with a big, fancy bento in hand for when he’s done. She becomes so consumed with what to make she doesn’t realize she has no cash.

Rei buys her the food, but despite waking up early, Hina has problems with the tricky dishes she’s making for the first time, forgets to pick out what to wear, and is ultimately late.

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The previous night, and at the Big Game, Rei sees a side of Hina he’s never seen before: a side that seems to be in love. “Love” seems to be a triggering word for Rei, because he suddenly gets a black-and-white flashback to a very unsettling scene where a woman—his mom?—removes his glasses and gets on top of him. Clearly Rei’s concept of “love” is distorted in some way, but there are no details beyond this glimpse.

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As for Hina, as happy as she looks during the game, when it comes time to deliver her bento, the object of her affection is surrounded by teammates and other girls, and they all go off to eat dinner. He doesn’t even notice Hina’s there.

I’m not sure if Rei has just been hanging out watching Hina this whole time, but when she tries to throw out the bento, he stops her, and suggests they go home and eat it together. Once there, Akari, who Hina believes doesn’t know what she’s going through because she’s so beautiful and good at cooking.

But the truth is, the very same thing happened to Akari once, which is why she gave advice to cook something simple. It’s the same advice their mom gave her. Basically, fellas: after a ball game, make sure to look around for girls with handmade bentos, and accept them before letting yourself get whisked away to other things.

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Part Two of this week’s episode dispenses with any other hints as to what that black-and-white flashback was all about (aside form what I saw it as, which was some kind of abuse), and takes a much lighter tone as Nikaido  and Rei run into the sisters while in town grabbing lunch.

Nikaido proves to be a popular guy with Momo and Akari. Momo likens him to Boboro, a popular children’s character who is big, fat, soft, and intelligent; a comparison Nikaido gratefully accepts. Rei also laments that Momo seems happier with Nikaido than she ever did with him :(

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As for Akari, we learn that she harbors an unreasonable adoration for “soft fluffy things” as much as Working!!’s Takanashi loves small cute things. It’s the reason she brings in animals, and Reis, who are skin and bones, and fills them up until they’re her preferred soft and fluffy.

Nikaido is the pre-done deal, and when he asks for a less salty, fattening menu, she takes it upon herself to pull out all the stops for his sake, ignoring Rei, the cats, and Rina (the only Kawamoto not enchanted by Nikaido’s presence).

This episode makes Nikaido more likable, as it shows he’s a decent, kind lad who knows how to go with the flow. Sure, he can be a little pushy with Rei, but his insistence that he and Rei are best friends is in no way insincere or mocking. He’s a nice guy. A nice guy under constant surveillance from his butler!

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ReLIFE – 08

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From the preview, I suspected for some reason that Tamarai Honoka would become interested in Kaizaki, but I was mistaken because I got his room confused with Inukai Akira’s, her childhood friend’s. That being said, Honoka does bond with Kaizaki a bit this week, as he becomes someone she’s comfortable confiding in on matters of volleyball, Kariu, and whether Onoya likes Oga (she doesn’t!).

And while ReLIFE continues its recent trend of focusing on a different character each week, this time Honoka, Kaizaki still gets a key scene in with Hishino, who expresses her envy of Honoka and Kariu’s close friendship. She also seems happy to walk to the station with Kaizaki, indicating her feelings for him are on a steady simmer in the background.

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The foreground this week, however, is all Tamarai Honoka, Volleyball Ace. She’s painted as a victim of her own immense athletic talent, as her coach tells her she’s pivotal to the team (and worries she lacks “appetite”), and her teammates talk about her behind her back like she doesn’t have to actually work to be as good as she is.

Honoka is disheartened when she overhears those teammates, but when Kariu hears them, she storms into the locker room and sets them straight, as Honoka listens around the corner, so happy she has such a good friend, she can’t help but cry. Kariu is absolutely honest about her feelings toward Honoka, including occasional envy and frustration, but she still loves the girl.

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Unlike Kariu, Honoka also has to deal with make-up tests after failing most of her midterms (which is how she comes to befriend Kaizaki), but her ever-loyal childhood friend Inukai Akira (whose older sister is the school nurse, as it happens) helps her study through the night.

Kaizaki is also studying, on his own, even, when Yoake calls to encourage him. An is with Yoake, causing Kaizaki to think the same thing I thought last week: Yoake and An like each other…right?

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The intense studying results in Honoka passing her make-ups (Kaizaki, alas, does not), but she’s exhausted and pale, and even blacks out during practice. Not long after getting back up, Kariu has a spill of her own, trying to avoid a ball that wouldn’t have gone her way had Honoka not blacked out.

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This episode is called “Rift”, and I assumed it meant some kind of rift between Kaizaki and someone else, but it turns out to be one between Honoka and Kariu, sparked by Kariu’s sprained ankle. Nurse Inukai estimates she’l need 2-3 weeks to fully heal, which Kariu takes to mean she’ll miss the last tournament they’ll play in high school. It’s a crushing blow.

But Honoka tries to be optimistic: if the ankle heals in two weeks, Kariu can play! Kariu rebukes her; even if it did, she can’t play without practice. And that’s when it comes out: Kariu says she’s not a “genius” like Honoka; she can’t just run out onto the court and ball like it’s nothing.

In this moment, Kariu is vulnerable and devastated and pissed off, and ends up saying the same things Honoka has heard from other teammates and friends—former teammates and friends—in the past, but never thought she’d her from Kariu, who made volleyball fun for her again.

And so the rift is open. Honoka has Inukai’s and Asaji’s shoulders to cry on, but that rift ain’t gonna repair itself. I’d say Kaizaki could moderate some kind of detente as he did with Hishiro and Kariu, but with Hishiro seemingly growing ever more enamored of him, he may have his own fish to fry.

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Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 12 (Fin)

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Tanaka-kun ends pretty much the way it began: quietly, with neither too much flash or too much kookiness. Sure, we’ve never seen Tanaka more focused, intense, or quick on his feet, but when his precious classroom seat is being threatened, he makes sure he puts in the effort to preserve his ability to be listless in class.

Opportunities open up for him, but switching with Miyano (trapped behind the Great Wall of Ohta) means he’s also next to Shiraishi, who sees the switch as fate, and this week she turns on the effort afterburners to get Tanaka’s attention.

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Predictably, none of the classic girl moves work, save opening her shirt, and even then she’d get any teenage guy’s attention; she wan’ts Tanaka’s. But cracking the nut that is Tanaka isn’t something you can learn in a magazine, nor is it even something that can be achieve the way his cushy new seat was acquired, and how Shiraishi has accomplished so much to reinvent her image: hard work.

Indeed, all her hard work trying to get closer to Tanaka results in him very nearly crushing her dreams by telling her he prefers to be alone, even if it’s less about her specifically (which is its own problem) and more about him not wanting to trouble people other than Ohta.

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In the end, Shiraishi comes to an understanding and a way forward—basically, stop rushing and take your time—when her monologue in what she thought was an empty classroom at sundown is interrupted by Tanaka, who just so happened to be sleeping in there.

Tanaka isn’t sure what Shiraishi is up to, but he won’t let her accept failure as the end-all-be-all; to him, failure is a fact of life, and leads to lessons learned that can be used to overturn that failure. All it takes is time. If Shiraishi is meant to be with Tanaka, it will happen eventually, just not in this final episode. And that’s okay.

Of course, Shiraishi and Tanaka end up in a bit of a quandary when the latter’s friends see him walking home with her in glasses-and-braids mode, assuming she’s a different girl and his secret girlfriend. This leads to lots of teasing and unwanted attention, and Tanaka reacts by pushing everyone away.

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Despite Echizen’s desire for Ohta to sweep her off her feet, his offer to platonically carry her Tanaka-kun elicits only a swift punch to the gut. Just as there’s a proper, specific way to Tanaka’s heart, there’s a proper, specific way to Echizen’s, and that ain’t it.

As for Tanaka, while walking home alone he runs into all kinds of obstacles he wouldn’t have had to deal with had Ohta or another friend been with him. The whole system depends on the kindness of and proximity to others, a lesson he relays to a Rino who’d rather he only rely on her.

Just to drive that point home, the next morning all is cleared up thanks to Shiraishi talking with Ohta and creating a new, more plausible story for everyone that still preserves her secret alternate look. And while the ordeal has only made Tanaka dread having a real girlfriend, to Shiraishi’s dismay, I imagine given enough time that position will also soften.

Tanaka-kun was a hoot, and it did it by staying understated and consistent. It was head-and-shoulders above any other shows I watched this season, and the school-based rom-coms and slice-of-lifes that are coming this Summer have big shoes to fill. Naturally, I also wouldn’t mind another twelve episodes of this some day. But there’s no rush.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 07

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Ayatsuji Ayase is lost. To her, reaching and winning the Seven Stars Battle has become everything. In order to beat Ikki, she must cast away her pride, which she deems useless as it has not garnered any positive results. So in a stunning trick, she throws herself off the roof, forcing Ikki to use Itto Shura to save her. Because their battle is in just ten hours, Ikki won’t be able to use his trump card against her.

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Ikki stumbles home and wakes up in the nurse’s office, where we learn why Ayase’s sudden but inevitable betrayal isn’t totally unjustified or evil, but simply misguided. When Karaudo fought her legendary father, he took his ability to hold a sword and left him bedridden for the last two years, while he took everything the Ayatsujis for everything they were worth.

Alone, broke, and harboring that “worthless pride”, Ayatsuji is no longer a swordswoman so much as a wounded, desperate beast who has been backed into a corner. It doesn’t excuse her actions, but it does make them understandable. But Ikki won’t let her reach the point of no return. He’ll face her in the selection match, Shura or no Shura.

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Ayase is incredibly confident, but there’s the sense that her hardscrabble “evil” armor is as delicate as an eggshell, just waiting to be cracked so a redemption omelette can be made. But her battle with Ikki is nothing short of thrilling and brutal. She certainly has the weapon of a villain, as her Hizume ignoble art is able to recreated every previous sword slash on the field of battle, as well as open small wounds on Ikki wider for maximum blood loss and pain.

And while this Ayase character is extremely different from the one we met last week, that’s just because she hadn’t born her wounded, desperate, relentless side. She makes it clear she harbors no particular ill will toward Ikki, but he’s an obstacle she must cut down.

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The color commentary clashes with the serious tone of the battle, but there’s no levity in the reactions of Alice, Shizuku, or Stella. Stella in particular looks troubled that her lover is getting so torn up, but there’s also the sense she knows something the others don’t; a plan of Ikki’s she hopes goes smoothly. That plan is revealed in the turning point of the battle, when Ayase’s coup-de-grace is barely blocked by Ikki’s “irregular guarding” technique.

Ikki tells Ayase she’s not fighting like the girl he sparred with. She’s ignoring his instructions and even what she already knew. Her mind is so consumed with convincing herself and everyone else that she’s a revenge-seeking dark angel of evil, she can’t actually fight properly. Her conflicted mind is at odds with her pure soul, where the love and pride of her father and his sword school endures.

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Before the battle, Ikki reported Ayase’s foul play, which was enough to disqualify Ayase and hand victory to Ikki without stepping foot in the arena. But Ikki doesn’t want that, because he wants to prove to himself and to Ayase that Ayase isn’t completely lost, and that there’s another way to get what she wants.

He cracks her evil armor by forcing her into submission, using the Fourth Secret Sword, Shinkiro to create an illusion of himself that she cuts, then drains her energy so she can no longer fight. His latest lesson to his pupil is that if those with nothing lose the pride in their swords, their swords will disappear. No sword, no win. She concedes defeat.

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But that’s not the end. She may feel the damage she did to her friendship is too severe to repair, but she clearly doesn’t know Ikki well enough. He offers not only forgiveness to someone who lost her way but was able to come back, but offers to help her get back what she lost, without sacrificing friends or pride.

Free of her evil villain act, when Ayase sees the callouses on Ikki’s hand, she sees her father’s hand reaching out. She asks Ikki for help, and Ikki is glad to offer it. Ideals that don’t produce results aren’t meaningless, as results ill-gained by casting them away will crumble to dust, leaving nothing.

Things might have gone far worse had Ayase not reached out to her swordsman brethren last week, but she did, and it made all the difference in the world.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 06

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Perhaps energized by their new status as lovers, Stella and Ikki dispatch their opponents with ease in their respective selection matches. Stella still has to deal with Shizuku glomming onto Ikki, and Ikki has yet to set his sister straight (perhaps because he doesn’t realize the extent to which she likes him), but there’s a new problem: Ikki has a stalker girl!

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Thankfully, she’s not a stalker, she’s just bad at looking at or talking to men. She’s Ayatsuji Ayase, the daughter of a famous swordsman who Ikki worships and whos style he knows of. Ayase has a good reason for coming to Ikki: having seen what he can do in the matches, she wants to train with him to get her out of her rut. If this sounds a lot like Kirin and Ayato training in Gakusen Toshi Asterisk, well, I’m with you in my continued astonishment by how often the shows echo one another.

In this case, since Ayase is older and a third-year, she’s not the Little Sister-type like Kirin, but rather the (slightly) Older Woman-type. Despite her mentioning her discomfort with men, Ikki gets right down to business putting his hands up and down her legs in order to adjust her stance. Stella and Shizuku are mortified, Ayase is embarrased and beet-red, but Ikki is very clinical about the whole thing, and doesn’t once express arousal by what he’s doing.

And dagnabbit, his adjustments pay instant dividends for Ayase’s fighting style. Her attempts to exactly copy her father, someone of the opposite sex, was what was holding her back. She needs to capitalize on the strengths her female body to improve.

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Ayase is amazed by her improvement and ebullient in her gratitude, to the point of possibly coming off as romantically interested in Ikki, despite him having no idea or desire for such a thing. Stella asks Shizuku if she’s okay with this, but it’s a question that could just as easily be asked of her. That’s when Shizuku states that as long as the person Ikki is with makes him happy and never betrays him, she’ll be okay with it.

Of course, Shizuku’s not talking about Ayase, but Stella. Only problem is, Shizuku still thinks she’s the best woman for the job, despite being his sister. Ikki, however, is a lot more certain. He touched Ayase as a doctor or therapist would; that’s it. Stella is the only girl he likes. And if she wants his hand and a kiss in the middle of the night, she—and only she—gets them. And she’d probably get more, if she asked.

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With that fact reiterated, Stella joins Ikki in training Ayase, who treats them to dinner to thank them. That’s when the subject of why she needs to get stronger and become a Seven Star finalist. One big reason might be the guy who walks into the restaurant (Wagnaria?) with his entourage of floozies and toadies: Karaudo, who picks on Ayase, then bashes Ikki’s head with a bottle and spits in his face when Ikki comes to her defense.

Stella wants to jack Karaudo up, but Ikki stops her, and does nothing to retaliate himself, leaving Karaudo free to take off with his posse in a cloud of insults at what a cowardly punk he is. But even if Ikki wanted to fight back, to do so would probably get him expelled, so he endures. I mean, his life isn’t all that bad; he has a badass live-in girlfriend, a cute sister, and a beautiful training partner. And Alice! Enduring a little bullying is a small price to pay, right?

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A couple of student council members were watching the whole thing, just waiting for Ikki to make a move, then commending him for not. The whole incident leads Ikki and Stella to want to know what’s going on with Ayase and those douchebags. But before she can tell them, she and Ikki get simultaneous texts: they’ll be fighting each other in the next selection match. That’s…unlucky.

Now Ikki is in a tough spot: he promised he’d help Ayase become stronger, but Ayase only wants to become stronger to progress in the Seven Star Battle; if he beats her, it will ruin her. But he also promised Stella they’d be the last two fighters standing, and that promise must take precedence.

After briefly consulting with Alice (a nice scene between the two that shows how good an adviser Alice is with everyone, not just Shizuku), Ikki decides to accept Ayase’s ominous rooftop invitation, where she stands wearing a kimono and an enigmatic grin. If her goals are as important as they seem to be, and Ikki is in her way, this could be the beginning of the end of their friendship, which despite having just begun this week, still feels like a loss I’d lament.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 05

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RKC is full of surprises. I never thought I’d be awarding two nines in a row to it, but it showed this week, categorically, that the excellent handling of Stella and Ikki’s confession wasn’t a fluke; that wonderful romance is here to stay, and there’s lots of room to grow.

But there were sure to be bumps in the road, and the first is that they’ve been lovers for two weeks…but haven’t done anything. That seems to bother Stella more than Ikki, but as we eventually find out, that’s not the case at all. It’s another common romantic convention: both lovers waiting for the other to start something and getting frustrated by it. Yet it’s another convention RKC picks up and runs with, showing how potent and relatable idea it can be.

While they’ve been lovers doing nothing for two weeks, Ikki has only risen in school standing, no longer the Worst One, but “Another One” (that’s not really his nickname, is it?). The girls swarm around him wanting lessons in swordsmanship; a group of guys gets jealous, but he beats them so easily they become his loyal students, a nice change of pace from the typical “you’ll regret this!” storming off that even the reporter mentions.

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The group of students he’s teaching keep growing along with his popularity, and while Stella is probably proud of him and admiring of his generosity, there’s no doubt she’s getting nudged out of chunks of time he could be with her.

Also Shizuku, as it turns out, hasn’t quite given up on him, or at least intends to make life difficult for Stella if she fails to assert herself. I particularly liked Shizuku’s ear-to-ear grin as Stella must follow through and chug her two bottles of Pocari Sweat.

Another great moment was when Alice lent Stell a game whose protagonist looks and sounds very similar, if not identical, minus the glasses, to Ikki. Her “illicit” vicarious play hearkens back to that great scene where she can’t help but touch Ikki’s chest while he’s sleeping.

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When Ikki takes his class to the pool, he invites Stella along. When she angrily wonders why he doesn’t want to teach her, he gives a very good explanation that not only appeases but flatters her: her ability is beyond anything can teach her, that his style would undermine her strengths, and he wants her, over any other, to continue to go beyond his imagination.

But the fact of the matter is, nothing continues to happen, and Stella is forced into the background as he teaches the others. The reporter puts two and two together, threatens to ask Ikki out, then gets Stella to let slip they’re lovers going nowhere. The reporter’s advice is simple: be forceful and tell him what you want. But of course, it’s not that simple.

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The reporter’s talk with Stella mirrors Alice’s talk with Shizuku, and in this case Alice has valuable insight into the male mind, since he shares their biology, if not that identity. The episode cleverly cuts between the two discussions, Archer-style. It’s also notable that Alice, hardly a conservative, doesn’t think Shizuku’s love for her brother is necessarily wrong, and that she shouldn’t accept defeat just yet.

Still, that’s because Alice is rooting for her beloved friend and roommate. In reality, Ikki is very much in love with Stella, and vice-versa. When the two come together, Ikki starts to talk in a way that Stella interprets as a break-up. The two have their first lovers’ quarrel, and it’s a damn fine one, with the two of them belting out increasingly reasonable things even as they get unreasonably upset with one another.

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Brass tacks: Ikki didn’t make the first move because he was worried she’d think he was a dirty man; Stella didn’t because she was worried he’d think she was a slut. They’re both wrong; both want the other to make a move. So they agree to say the thing they want to do right there and then, and it’s the same thing: kiss. Ikki makes it clear he wants her to ask him for a kiss when she wants one; Stella lets him know she only likes it when one guy looks at her in a naughty way: him.

Having cleared a common hurdle at the start of relationships when the two parties are still feeling each other’s patterns and ways of doing things out, they confidently hold hands on the bus ride home, each knowing a lot more what the other expects, and likely feeling foolish for ever worrying about it. Some tough battles with the Evil Student Council executives lay ahead for both of these lovers, but they won’t have to worry about what the other wants anymore.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 04

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Stella’s first battle is over before it begins, when her lower-ranked opponent forfeits out of a desire not to be hurt too badly. When she checks in on Ikki, he’s studying tape on his opponent, Kirihara Shizuya, and his “Area Invisible” technique that’s such a mismatch against Ikki’s swords skills. He seems focused and committed, and promises her he won’t lose. And Stella, having come off an easy victory, having lost to him herself, and used to Ikki acting tough and cool, believes him, without suspecting anything amiss.

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Alice is different. Her woman’s intuition, if you will, senses something is off with Ikki on this particular momentous, high-pressure occasion. She learns about how years ago there was a conspiracy to get Ikki expelled for some petty infraction, and how Shizuya attacked him brutally, but Ikki wouldn’t fight back no matter what, worried (rightly so) that he’d be kicked out for it.

Alice comes to the conclusion Ikki is so used to being downtrodden, both physically and mentally, by those who see themselves as better than him, that he’s developed a hard skin that prevents him from hearing the “screaming in his heart”—that release valve everyone has.

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Now that he has to either win the Seven Star Battle or be expelled, that pent-up anguish has a profound effect on Ikki, such that he does not strike the moment that gives him the best chance at victory: before Shizuya activates Area Invisible. He can’t, says Alice: he’s too damned nervous down there.

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And so, Shizuya, who is perfectly confident in his ability to hide and attack from the shadows like a hunter or assassin, has his way with Ikki, riddling him full of arrows. Ikki collapses in a pool of his own bloood, Shizuya mocks him, the crowd starts laughing and mocking and chanting “Worst One” and it’s almost a nightmare come true for Ikki, until a fed-up Stella stands up and tells the crowd to shut the hell up, and tells Ikki to stop looking pathetic and get up.

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So he gets up. He puts his cool face back on. He can, because Stella’s loud public words of encouragement wash away the nerves. He calms down, then uses his trump card and steals the “logic” of Shizuya’s ability, so he can see right through it every time. Shizuya is able to switch from tactic to tactic, but ultimately they’re all part-and-parcel of his ability, leaving nothing with which he can hold Ikki back other than cowering and crying “uncle.” Ikki spares his life (by one millimeter!) and wins. Then he passes out.

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When he comes to, he’s in the hospital, a dozing, drooling Stella by his bedside, his sister crying into Alice’s shoulder outside because it’s not to be for her. And since he has her alone, Ikki, who won his battle thanks to Stella, confesses to her, and expresses how important she is to him.

Her lovely dere response includes a closed-eyes first kiss and a small nod indicating she feels the same way about him. Then Ikki draws her into a big warm hug (bawww) and promises he’ll one she’ll face in the Seven Star final. You don’t get that a lot in anime these days: a couple working towards facing off against each other in the final battle. I like it!

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