Fruits Basket – 02 – Sodium in Water

When Kyou, Yuki and Shigure all transform into animals, Tooru panics, right up until the dog signs for a package with his seal, and they start talking with human speech. Turns out each member of the Souma clan is possessed by an animal of the Zodiac, and when hugged by the opposite sex, they transform into those animals for a time, eventually changing back to (buck naked) humans.

To call Yuki and Kyou like oil and water would be inaccurate: oil kinda just sits on top of water. Yuki’s more like sodium and Kyou water; it always ends up with an unpleasantly violent explosion. Once’s everyone’s dressed they go at it again, and Kyou breaks a table in his rage, accidentally injuring Tooru’s forehead. Yuki has had enough, and decides to show why sparring with Kyou is never fun for him: he always wins handily.

At school, suspicions from Yuki’s fan club persist, but he doesn’t pay them any mind, and meets with Tooru in an empty classroom, asking if she told anyone about “them.” Tooru takes this to mean the Souma family secret of animal transformation, but it could just as easily be asking if Tooru told her friends she was now friends with Yuki and living in his house.

Regardless, Yuki informs Tooru that Shigure has to report to the Souma family head, Akito, who will determine what if anything is to be done about Tooru knowing, up to and including memory-suppressing hypnosis. Tooru accidentally bumps into him, turning him into a rat, but once the shock of that is over, Tooru expresses her wish that even if her memories do have to be altered, she’d like to still be friends with Yuki afterwards.

Back home, Kyou is making preliminary repairs on Tooru’s ceiling, and is about to offer some kind of apology when Shigure returns home with good news: as long as Tooru keeps their secret, she’s free to live there without any memory modification. Tooru celebrates by putting her well-honed cleaning and cooking skills to use. That night, she learns Shigure has arranged for Kyou to transfer to Yuki and Tooru’s school.

The reason for this is because he essentially dropped out of the school he was attending to train his body and mind to defeat Yuki, and he could use a fresh start to learn more about interacting with people in ways other than confrontation and combat. True to his Zodiac sign, this is better said than done.

He causes an instant sensation at school, as the girls flock to his desk to chat with him. Not used to so much attention, he tries to get away, but one of the girls clings to him, and he puts her in a painful arm lock before jumping out a high window (and landing on his feet, natch). In other words, not a good start!

Outside, Yuki tracks Kyou down and scolds him, and their two diametrically opposed goals are made plain: Kyou wants to work to become a full-fledged member of the Souma clan, something Yuki considers a cage he’d rather escape.

The fight gets heated, and Tooru intervenes, resulting in Kyou transforming into a cat. The enraged Kyou snaps at Tooru once more, and she slinks away, believing Kyou truly hates him. Yuki doesn’t even bother punching him.

Back home, Shigure tells Kyou it’s simply not going to be easy, but he has to keep going to school, and consider it training. That means hurting, being hurt, and developing empathy that informs his future words and actions, not just going with his impulses.

As Tooru walks home from work later that night, she remembers her vow to her mom to cease being a Dog and become a Cat in solidarity for the way the Cat was treated in the Zodiac legend, but now that she’s met the Cat, he seems to hate her. Of course, that’s not strictly true; Kyou simply isn’t sure how to act around Tooru yet, and takes Yuki’s place as her escort home as an olive branch.

He snaps at her again once or twice, but takes the advice from Shigure—not every strike, verbal or physical, needs to be carried through. He can stop short; hold his tongue or fist; consider a less extreme response. He tells her she can call his name even if she doesn’t need anything, can hang around where he can see her, and she’s welcome to hit him if she says or does something she doesn’t like. It’s his way of apologizing, and it lifts Tooru’s spirits considerably. She tells Kyou about her love of the Cat, and her desire to be friends with its vessel.

Kyou reacts somewhat like a tsundere would, and Tooru feels she finally understands Kyou has a gentle heart under the rough exterior. Having thus made peace with Cat and having official permission from the family head to live with Yuki and Shigure, Tooru is looking forward to fun-filled days ahead. Here’s hoping she gets them; she’s already experienced enough of the other kind.

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The Rising of the Shield Hero – 12 – The True Battle Of The Wave

Glass dismisses three of the four heroes as nothing but “servants”, and her appraisal isn’t off-base, as their best meteor attacks fail to put a scratch on her, and all three go down with one strike, no doubt wounding their egos as well as their bodies.

That leaves Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo to deal with her, and while she’s somewhat impressed by his stout defense (as befits the Shield Hero), nothing offensive he can throw at her is any more effective than his beaten fellow heroes.

She breaks out of the Shield Prison immediately. Filo’s kicks are fast but still can’t touch her. Poor Raph’s swordsmanship isn’t even “worth mentioning.” She even calmly basks in the enveloping flames of Naofumi’s Rage Shield like it’s a sauna; “too cold” to burn her. This Glass lady is tough, and if the first Wave seemed to easy, it’s clear the difficulty level has risen exponentially.

That brings us to Naofumi’s final trump card, the Iron Maiden, so effective against the soul eater. Turns out it’s just as useless on Glass as Shield Prison. Glass’ withering criticism of her opponents’ attacks almost grows tiresome—we get it, Naofumi can’t beat you at his present level—but just as she’s ready to take him out, a countdown starts on his HUD, which indicates the Wave “period” is about to end.

Rather than give Glass the last word, Naofumi has Raph cast Fast Light, and the two of them jump on Filo who gets them the hell out of there. She doesn’t chase, and her attacks aren’t effective at long range, so she calls it a draw, this time. But when the next Wave arrives, she promises to kill them unless they grow stronger. Much stronger.

The second Wave disperses, and Naofumi is quickly summoned back to King Melromarc’s court for some backhanded thanks and demand that he explain how he gained so much power—more than “befits a Shield Hero.” Naofumi, no longer having any more shit from this royal family, tells the king he’ll talk…if he bows down and grovels.

This act of disrespect leads the king to call in his guards, but Naofumi is quite right when he says he can take them all out and walk out the front door without any difficulty, and the guards waver. When the king says he’ll punish Naofumi’s “slaves” in his stead, that really rankles him, and he promises him if anything happens to his underlings on account of more dirty tricks, the king will “wish he had never been born,” then stalks out unopposed, like a boss.

Princess Melty later hears of the “hostile” exchange between her daddy and Naofumi, and tells her father that their country will be put at risk until they reconcile. Her older sister Malty intervenes and tries to make a stink of matters, but Melty shuts her down almost immediately, and with good reason: she’s the one who was trusted with the title of crown princess.

Naofumi shakes off his unpleasant experience at the palace and gets re-outfitted by Elhart, who fills the wagon back up and throws in some gifts for good measure: a new sword for Raphtalia, along with a bladeless mana sword, a shield scanner thingy for Naofumi, and gloves that will increase Filo’s strength.

Naofumi is looking forward to being nowhere near the royal city, royal family, or the other hero jerks. Unfortunately, the peace doesn’t last long, as Melty and her retinue track his party down and urges him to return and make peace with her father. Naofumi is as stubborn as the king, and his strong passes ignite Melty’s secret weapon: the Entitled Person’s Tantrum.

But as she protests his obstinance, Naofumi senses something’s UP—set-up to be precise. Of what kind, he soon finds out: one of the knights who escorted Melty rushes at her, sword drawn, and Naofumi draws her back and shields her…with his shield.

Obviously, these knights are in Malty’s pocket (I doubt the king is awful enough to off his own heir). Honestly, it kinda just makes her look foolish and pathetic—why try to assassinate her sister in front of the Shield Hero, who could easily protect her? In any case, if Melty doesn’t re-join the party next week (or whenever the next episode airs), I’ll be shocked.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 11 – This Wasn’t In The Game…Because This Isn’t One

With his wagon bursting with medicines, spare weapons, and other supplies, Naofumi and his suddenly larger party teleport to the site of the second Wave, teleporting us from the safe, familiar capital to another chaotic and brutal magenta-skied war zone.

The rapid transition and immediate dive into the battle is effective, and now that they have more numbers, Naofumi’s team can more quickly and effectively evacuate and defend the village closest to the Wave. Naofumi, Raph and Filo handle the tougher baddies while the others handle the small fry.

Once the village is cleared out, the underlings stay behind with the ex-adventurer Granny who Naofumi once saved, enabling the core trio to join the other three heroes, two of which are already locked in a heated battle aboard a flying pirate ship with a kraken attached to its keel. And immediately, there’s a problem: nobody’s working together.

When Naofumi arrives, Kawasumi is on the ground, while Motoyasu and Amaki are bickering over whether to defeat the Skull Captain or Kraken bosses. Naofumi attempts to bring order to the chaotic situation, and determines that the bosses themselves aren’t the proper targets; their shadows are.

Once Raph and Amaki have stabbed those shadows, numerous soul eaters emerge and combine to form one big nasty one that’s immune to the Shield, Bow and Sword Heroes’ fire-based attacks. Naofumi orders Filo to use wind and speed magic to attack the boss, but between her and Raph, there simply isn’t enough damage being done.

They’ll be there all day and there’s no telling how much destruction will occur in that time, so Naofumi reluctantly whips out his Rage Shield, knowing full well how hard it is to control. Raphtalia offers her moral support, and Naofumi ends up back in that “in-between space,” where this time he’s confronted by the enraged soul of the zombie dragon he defeated.

Once he has his Dragon Zombie Shield, Naofumi begins to press his attack on the soul eater, all while the other heroes and their parties are standing around twiddling their thumbs. Raphtalia reprimands them, basically shaming them into finally finally assisting Naofumi—and in a support role, no less.

With help from Raphtalia, Naofumi doesn’t allow himself to be consumed by the dragon’s hatred, and regains his composure, rebuking Malty’s comparison of him to nothing but a wild beast. He summons Iron Maiden, a titanic prison of spikes that closes in on the boss and crushes it.

The other heroes can only look on in awe at Naofumi’s power, as they don’t have anything like what he just demonstrated. Motoyasu backs down from his sore loserdom when Filo transforms into the cute little girl he loves so much, but the Waves are curiously not going away.

Turns out that mega-soul eater wasn’t the final boss for this particular Wave. Instead, it’s another maiden—a raven-haired on with two fans who introduces herself as Glass. She was watching the four heroes and only deems Naofumi to be worthy of going against her.

This was not only a return to the high-stakes, high-intensity atmosphere of a Wave (accompanied all the excellent Kevin Penkin music), but some decent development in the relationship betweeen the heroes. For the first time, they’re all fighting in the same place, and it’s clear they’ll need each other to defeat some of the tougher foes the Waves throw their way.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 10 – Growing The Party

Naofumi has been scarred by the injustices he has suffered throughout his time in this world. And since a large quantity of those injustices were perpetrated by the Melromarc royal family, he’s instinctively distrustful of any Melromarcs, even Melty, who has shown him nothing but kindness.

As a result, he turns Melty away, despite the fact the Queen sent her to him explicitly to reconcile and undo the harm the King and Malty have done to him. It’s in Naofumi’s best interests to actually trust Melty and allow her to help him, but he just can’t, due to his history and stewing resentment.

But as the next Wave approaches, Naofumi still manages to run into a bit of good karma, as three warriors and two mages whose families he saved in Lute Village offer to join his party and fight beside him. He’ll only trust them if they cough up 150 silver pieces; hardly chump change.

He’s not the only one stiffing people: the cathedral charges fifteen gold pieces per person for the “class upgrades” he, Raphtalia and Filo will require in order to continue efficiently leveling up. When he produces enough for just Raph to be upgraded, an elder sister steps in presenting a decree from the king prohibiting them from providing any upgrades at any price.

If only Naofumi had heard Melty out rather than turn her away, he might’ve found an easier way around the king’s decree. Instead, he has to seek an upgrade through the slave dealer, who doesn’t provide that service but does offer to relieve Naofumi of five gold pieces in exchange for wyvern talons for Filo’s feet.

Filo’s new talons, combined with Raphtalia’s sharp new sword, make quick work of a job request to defeat a monster in the capital’s sewers. That night, as Naofumi dresses Raph’s wounds with holy water, Raphtalia worries about Naofumi’s vow that once all of the Waves are dealt with, he’ll return to his world, leaving her and Filo alone. The discussion is sidetracked when Filo wakes up and accuses Raph of getting “lovey-dovey.”

The next day they head out, encountering a village whose scant inhabitants are starving to death thanks in no small part to the actions of the Bow Hero Kawasumi Itsuki. Once again, the supposed heroic actions of a hero who isn’t Naofumi has appalling side effects.

Naofumi gets to finally confront both Kawasumi for what he did to the starving village, and Amaki Ren for the plague he caused by slaying the dragon. For their part, neither of them stuck around those places long enough to witness the consequences of their actions, and while Ren believes Naofumi, Itsuki doesn’t.

Naofumi’s distrust for everybody that isn’t Raph or Filo is matched only by the other heros’ continued animosity towards him. It’s a vicious cycle, and so far only Ren has taken a logical approach resembling reconciliation. The other two seem like lost causes in terms of ever seeing Naofumi as anything other than bad news.

We’ll see if despite that there will be any improved collaboration between the four heroes when the second Wave appears, which it does by episode’s end. By this time, the five Lute villagers scounge together the silver for Naofumi, who gives them the accessory they thought they were buying without taking their silver.

He tells them instead to use the cash to buy better equipment. They’ll need it in the battles to come. Naofumi doesn’t even trust these people, who owe their lives and those of their families to his heroics. But maybe, in time, he can, and that will lead to him trusting others who mean him no harm, like Melty and her mother the Queen.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 09 – In Need Of A Good Heart-Melting

As Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo continue mopping up the beasts and healing all the villagers, they come across a nobleborn-looking girl among a pack of lesser filolials (which Filo thinks look tasty, the cannibalistic little imp). The girl, who introduces herself as “Melty”,  falls in love with the far larger and talking filolial, and the two become fast friends.

That night, she comes to Naofumi’s inn, requesting an escort back to the capital. As she’s nobleborn, Naofumi assumes he’ll get a handsome reward for returning her to safety, and so accepts.

But one of the queen’s spies is watching. While there’s more to Melty than meets the eye, she ends up loving riding in the Filo-drawn carriage, and at night strips down so she can sleep within Filo’s dense, thick, luxuriously soft feathers (great Foley work on those feathers).

When they reach the capital, Filo escorts Melty home, while Naofumi and Raph make a beeline to the cathedral, where they meet a particularly haughty and patronizing Pope.

He (or rather one of his nuns) tries to sell Naofumi a bottle of crude holy water for the exorbitant price of one gold coin, but his HUD detects its cheapness, and he ends up with a bottle of the pure stuff. So mission accomplished: Raphtalia should be good as new in no time.

Unfortunately, since they’re in the capital, Naofumi is naturally uneasy about anyone approaching him. When a young, flustered guard does so, he and Raphtalia run away, eventually splitting up to lose him.

In the process, Motoyasu and Malty find Naofumi, and challenge him to yet another duel, since Motoyasu has fallen in love with the girl with angel wings following Naofumi around. He assumes she’s another slave and demands he free her.

This results in a huge dust-up, in which the many city bystanders not only have to dodge Motoyasu’s deadly attacks (he causes quite a bit of collateral damage, the bastard) but end up fighting each other over whether it’s cool for the two heroes to go at it in such a crowded public space.

Ultimately it’s Melty who breaks up the fight, and in the process reveals she’s not only Malty’s younger sister, but heir to the throne, as Malty is a problem child deemed unworthy to succeed the king.

She seems poised to join Naofumi’s party…right up until Naofumi tells her to get lost. He presumes that anyone related to Malty and the king cannot be trusted, and is trying to lull him into a false sense of security so she can stab in the back later.

There’s absolutely no evidence or indication Melty’s intentions are anything other than earnest and good, but I guess Malty did quite the number on Naofumi. There’s really no one he trusts other than Raph and Filo…which could well end up being detrimental to him.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 08 – Don’t Let The Hate Flow Through You

Fresh off of cleaning up the Spear Hero’s mess (carelessly introducing an invasive plant species), Naofumi, Raphtalia and Filo come upon yet another village suffering unintended consequences of a hero’s actions. This time it was the Sword Hero Amaki Ren, slaying a dragon in the mountains but leaving its massive corpse behind to rot.

That rot causes a plague in the village that has already claimed many lives. Naofumi treats those still living with his potions for 50 silvers, then agrees to deal with the root cause of the problem (the dragon corpse) for ten times that amount. When the village doctor’s nurse questions whether he’s really a savior, he remarks that he never said he was.

By the time they reach the dragon, the rot has set in to the point the corpse rises again as a zombie dragon with a nasty poison breath. Naofumi is immune, but Raphtalia is not, and his shield can’t fully protect her. Worse, Filo can’t help herself from charging the dragon on her own, since filolials apparently hate dragons just that much.

While Naofumi is struggling to minimize Raph’s exposure to the toxins, Filo is distracted for a moment, and in that moment, she gets gobbled up in a spray of blood. Just like that, barely a month into her life, it would seem the Heavenly Fowl was no more.

Naofumi retreats into his dark brooding corner of his mind, fearing he’s about to lose everything once more, when he’s suddenly visited by something best described as a curse of pure, unadulterated hatred. He’s quickly consumed by his hatred for this world, everyone in it who loathes and distrusts him, and of course, Malty.

The hatred imbues him with formidable power—enough to stop the dragon’s arm when it tries to crush him, then lops off its tail, setting the stump on fire. But it’s too much power for Naofumi to handle. Fortunately, Raphtalia is there to pull him out of his hate-trance, though she bears the brunt of the curse emanating from his person.

As for the dragon, it suddenly keels over, and Filo bursts out of its stomach, having eaten the crystal core that gave it live. The “spray of blood” was merely Filo puking up all the red fruit she ate earlier; the dragon swallowed her whole.

But while Filo is fine and the dragon defeated, Raph is in a bad way, and Naofumi’s quick heals only offer temporary relief. Naofumi offers all the silver the doctor just gave him in exchange for healing her, but the village lacks holy water pure enough to dispel the curse. Still, Raphtalia doesn’t regret doing what she did; she didn’t want the curse to take her Naofumi away.

As she and Filo rest, Naofumi resolves to continue growing stronger—for one thing, his level is too low to unlock the shield he gained from absorbing the dragon’s crystal. They’ll also need to head to a larger city with a larger church that will possess stronger holy water. But more than anything, Naofumi seems relieved his family wasn’t taken from him…not when he had just fashioned accessories for them using the crafting hammer they gave him.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 09 – The Emperor’s Soliloquy

The “film” the female Kishinami Hakuno shows her male counterpart is of her own quest with Saber as her Servant, and a more noble, loyal and true servant, no one could possibly have.

Like the current Hakuno, the female Hakuno learns that she’s neither wizard nor Master, but a “recreation of the data of someone who once existed”; an “NPC”. But Saber tells her that’s of no consequence, either to her value as an individual or her role as prospective victor of the Grail War.

It is in She-Hakuno’s moment of deepest despair and crisis of identity that Saber reveals her True Name: Nero Claudius, fifth emperor of the Roman Empire and one history condemns as a raving despot and dictator. Naturally, Nero herself has a more nuanced life story to tell, and that story is told through what appears to be the work of Ueda Hajime, a frequent collaborator with Shinbo Akiyuki who also animated all Monogatari EDs.

Saber makes no attempt to sugar-coat her tale or excuse the life she led, only to lay it all out to provide Hakuno with context in which to consider her sage advice. Nero loved strangers and commoners more than the royal family to which she belonged. She’s proud of bringing the Great Fire of Rome under control, but as her reign went on she became seen as a moody, unstable dictator.

The Senate could not depose her as long as she had the loyalty of the common people, but when push came to shove no one came to her aid when she was brought down, and she died alone, in despair, with the love of no one. Both in its flamboyantly unconventional presentation, themes of adoration and fall from grace, and truly epic scope, Saber’s story parallels that of the vampire later known as Oshino Shinobu in Monogatari.

And now that we finally have the whole picture of who Saber is, and was, we can appreciate just how much weight there is behind her words of encouragement, for both past and present Kishinami Hakunos. She is at peace with her demise, and will set her life ablaze for the sake of those who wish to believe she is beautiful. In other words, who will love her.

Whatever love she had in her lifetime—of family or people—was either nonexistent or fleeting, so it stands to reason she’s not picky about where she gets her love now. Both Hakunos may deem themselves pale imitations unworthy of having a Servant as excellent and wise and kind as Saber.

They are utterly mistaken for thinking that way. Saber doesn’t care from whom she gets her love. In fact, she would prefer if those people did not “mind every little thing” about themselves.

Call it the extension of her affinity in life for those deemed “less than” in the society in which she lived. Commoners. Bastards, cripples, and broken things. And yes, even NPCs who have been killing and hating for a millenium.

Saber’s been dead three millenia, but doesn’t let it get her down for a second. To her, Hakuno isn’t beholden to the person or people he was before. As far as she’s concerned, he’s is a new person, who deserves a fresh start without prejudice. But he has to take it.

Reinvigorated and healed thanks to the ministrations of Rani (or, at least, her ghost), Hakuno and Saber head back out. Saber faces off against Berserker once more.

After copying and countering his martial arts moves with Royal Privilege, she unleashes her Noble Phantasm: Kingdom of Heaven and Hell,  the Golden Theater of the Deranged, and Veil of Petals, ending Berseker without any difficulty. It’s a short but gorgeous battle.

That leaves Hakuno to deal with Julius, who no longer has any backup. Julius tries his usual spiel denigrating Hakuno for not being alive or having a wish or any business fighting him. This time, the words don’t hurt Hakuno. Saber has opened his eyes. Julius isn’t talking about him; those were other people, and he’s not interested in hearing about their pasts.

After a trippy zero-gravity battle in which the two Dead Faces fight in midair as their surroundings rotate and reorganize around them, Hakuno delivers a decisive blow. Yet even in his dying breath, Julius assures him that he’ll end up like him eventually.

Hakuno doesn’t worry about those words; he’s recommitted to being the best Master he can be for the best Servant one could ask for, who is waiting for him at the ladder to the sixth level.

Rani and Rin seem poised to remain behind having accomplished their shared goal of getting a “decent Master” to the sixth level. But citing the increased difficulty at that level, Rin changes her mind and follows the pair after all, while Rani vanishes in a cloud of digital code.

Thinking back on this episode, I’m astounded at how much it achieved in 25 scant minutes. It felt like a feature film, without ever feeling overstuffed, while cementing my undying love for this version of Saber, whose story was so vividly and painfully told. My head is still spinning. That was truly awesome.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 08

The fourth level was apparently so uneventful the series skips it altogether, and we end up on the very rainy and somber fifth level, which takes the form of a enormous jumbled mass of skyscrapers. While the ladder to Level Six is in sight (and just an ordinary physical ladder) and there’s no Floor Master, there is a “homicidal maniac” lurking the floor; Julius Harwey, whom Rin remarks was defeated by Saber and her former master.

All of the hope Hakuno seemed to carry with him from the third floor seems to have faded away, and the more Saber discusses her former master (who was a girl), the harder Hakuno is on himself.

Saber, in another one of her warm, caring monologues, tells Hakuno not to worry about doing anything other than what he’s capable of.

True genius, Saber believes, lies not in one’s talents, but by their ability to bear the cruel truth that not everyone is equal; that everyone has their roles and weaknesses. Basically, she wants Hakuno to buck up and keep doing his best.

But once Julius shows up (with either a Berserker or Assassin Servant), Hakuno and Saber are quickly separated, and Saber needs an emergency save by Lancer-Rin. Saber leaves the Servant to Rin so she can return to Hakuno’s side.

Hakuno, meanwhile, is goaded into summoning his Dead Face, but learns that Julius is also a Dead Face…”unable to save anything or save anyone,” beings whose purposes were torn away long ago.

While taking what would be a fatal blow to the midsection were he actually a living human named Kishitani Hakuno, Hakuno enters a dreamlike state where he’s told exactly what he is: an amalgamation of the massive number of  dead, defeated, and failed souls bearing grudges…a mass of hatred brought about by SE.RA.PH.’s long decline.

He is told he ascends “only to kill”, and was born “only to die.” If Hakuno were to take these words at face value and do as Saber recommended, dying would seem to be the only thing he is capable of doing, so he should do that, no?

Regaining consciousness just as Saber and Rin arrive, the battle is lost almost as soon as it resumes, as Julius reveals his Servant kills with a single blow, and Saber received that blow. Hakuno crawls towards the apparently defeated Saber (Julius and the Servant only flee when a giant arm breaks up the battle that was). He’s sure that she’d have been able to win had he been a real Master…even if there aren’t any of those left.

He descends into darkness, accepting everything he was told in his dream about being born from hatred. He allows himself to think for a moment that he might have been Saber’s former Master reincarnated before dismissing it as folly. But he hears Saber’s encouraging voice once more, asking if he really wants to simply give up at this point.

A door appears, and Hakuno walks through it, into a classroom with projector running. Seated beside it is a girl wearing the same uniform as him, who asks him (in Ishikawa Yui’s voice) to take a seat…because “it’s starting.” Very intriguing.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 07

The fourth level’s part two starts with a flashback—I think—to an Alice wondering where Hakuno went, and in the process of absorbing various objects around her to replenish resources, transforms into a grotesque monster that forces the Masters to flee to lower floors, and killing and eating those that don’t. None of this seems to be anything Alice the Master intended.

Back in the “present”—whatever that even is—Hakuno, Saber, and Rin make their way back to the castle. The phenomenon that sent them back was only a “respawn”, not a time loop; and all parties involved retain their memories of the first attempt.

Rin (flashing an epic Shaft head-tilt) continues to drop hints to Hakuno about Dead Face without coming right out and saying that’s what he is, DFs being humans “rebooted by their grudges”, and Hakuno not knowing what beyond hatred propels him upward.

When Hakuno starts daydreaming of hanging out with Alice, reading to her and playing tag, Amari is also there in some form. When he comes back to reality, he, Saber and Rin face the monster they’re assuming is the Floor Master’s Servant.

Rin puts up a barrier, but the monster sends a hail of scissors at it, shattering it and her. Hakuno manages to spend another command seal, but before the monster is destroyed and the “game” reset, he ends up back in the dream.

There, Hakuno meets Alice in her true form, covered in bandages, lying in a bed, hooked up to all manner of IVs…and dead. The living, walking, talking Alice Hakuno has been interacting with is no more than a dream that dead Alice is watching, and is herself dreaming in Alice’s place, even able to take Amari’s form.

Back at the starting point, after Hakuno washes up and Rin apparently had a bath, they set out once more with Saber, for what Rin hopes will be the third and final time. As they walk through the forest, Hakuno ponders what and where he is: a man with no past and a place where the past has piled up to the point of near-madness.

Hakuno feels of a piece with the place because the hatred that drives him is essentially an obsession with the past; an inability to let something go. Saber tells Hakuno a story of a Master she once had “much like him”, with neither memories nor a wish, aiming to ascend only out of a desire to live on. At Angelica Cage, the highest level, the Master was defeated by “Twice Pieceman.”

Saber’s point, I believe, is that there are no guarantees. If you get to Angelica Cage, you have to beat Twice. If you beat Twice, Moon Cell has to decide to grant your wish. She wants to know if Hakuno will still ascend despite all that uncertainty.

In the dream (and a repeat of last week’s cold open), Hakuno has already won the third round, as Alice conceded the fight by not showing up. He leaves her with the promise he’ll be back once he’s won the Grail. And it certainly seems to be the case that he did return even after failing to win it.

Once back with Saber and Rin, Hakuno acknowledges that he’s no one special; just a fake who made it this far in someone else’s place. But even as a fake, he wants his feelings to be true. His time with Alice in his dreams have spurred him to want to ascend not just with hatred, but with hope.

In the present, however, the Servant still needs to be dealt with, and between Rin seemingly unleashing her trump card—transforming into Lancer, complete with Gae Bolg—and Saber’s coup-de-grace, it feels as much like putting a wretched creature (or ghost, as it were) out of its misery as defeating the floor boss.

It also carries on the Monogatari tradition of lots of discussion punctuated by short, intense bursts of decisive action. On to the fifth level.

Koe no Katachi – (Film Review)

Koe no Katachi isn’t just the redemption story of a guy who bullied a deaf girl in elementary school, got caught, became ostracized, and came a hair’s length from offing himself. It’s more than just the tale of a deaf girl trying to do the best she can to fit into a world in which everyone else can hear. It isn’t just the story of a little sister being so worried about her big sister that she neglects her own life.

It’s all of those things, and far more. It’s really a story about all of us, because we all have flaws. We can’t always fix those flaws, either due to lack of understanding or guidance. All of us have at some point or another hurt others, or been selfish, just as others have hurt us or been selfish themselves. These are not unique qualities to have, they are the things that make us human.

Can people truly love themselves, or anyone else, completely unconditionally? Rarely. There are always conditions and compromises, and transactions. Words fly and are heard or not heard, but actions are felt, and ultimately they define us. Not one action or two, but all of the actions in one’s life, good or bad. And the sequence of those actions are crucial.

Ishida Shouya WAS a colossal dick in elementary school. He DID bully Nishimiya Shouko mercilessly until she had to transfer out. When confronted with his crimes, he DID lash out at his friends, who then turned on him one by one. But he’s trying to make things right; he’s trying to make amends. And he’s lucky; Shouko is as kind and forgiving in the present as she was in the past; almost to a fault.

And yet meeting Shouko again, seeing that she harbored no ill will, and even seemed interested in being friends with him aftrer all that happened, changes everything for Shouya. One by one, he makes friends again, through acts of kindness, forgiveness, and selflessness. Yet he learns that friendship isn’t a right attained by fulfilling qualifications or conditions, but about the simple gesture of reaching out and grasping someone else’s hand.

Of course, friendships can and almost always do get a lot more complicated. Back in elementary school, Shouya likely did what he did not just for personal amusement, but for approval and acceptance. When those things suddenly didn’t work, and in fact had the opposite effect, he was suddenly un-moored, and left with nothing but his own regret for all of the pain he caused.

But as long as there are other people in the world who will even consider sharing the same space or breathing the same air, recognizing pain and sharing it is the best way to go. We are social creatures. We may hurt each other sometimes, but we need each other to survive; to help each other live.

Whew…that’s probably enough pretentious babbling like I’m some kind of expert in psychology or sociology for one sitting! It’s just that Koe no Kotachi, as I said, is far more than the sum of its parts, and even those parts are phenomenal in their construction and presentation, be it its fully-realized and complex characters, KyoAni’s seemingly more obsessive-than-usual attention to human and environmental detail, marvelous dialogue, voice acting, music, etc.

Koe no Kotachi is BIG, and it’s often messy, much like life. There are moments of despair and disgust, but also moments of grace and astonishing beauty. Scenes filled with hate and loathing mixed with scenes of love, understanding, and camaraderie.

It’s immensely though-provoking and impeccably performed. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry (probably more than you’ll laugh) but mostly it will tear your heart to pieces and then meticulously reconstruct it, bigger and better than ever. Mostly it’s just really really good. I highly recommend it!

Ushio to Tora – 38

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Despite the title “The End”, this week is not the end; just the beginning of it for Hakumen. The united counterattack is now in full swing, with supernatural and military forces working in concert to make Hakumen’s life increasingly difficult. Even better, the battle is being broadcast to Japan from a news chopper, lessening the fear of those who didn’t evacuate (like Asako and her fam).

I must say, after so much darkness and dread, I was glad to see the mood of the show brightening along with the skies around the battle. The irreverent chatter between Ushio and Tora flies as furiously as the cameos, which, to be honest, are a bit out of control; but are to be expected, as the end, titles aside, is very quickly approaching.

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Hakumen is a little slow on the uptake, and in assessing exactly why things are going so bad, determines that Ushio and Tora are the cause. If they can be smitten once and for all, Hakumen can crush everyone else’s spirits and get back to wreaking havoc. So Hakumen unleashes a Malboro-esque poison cloud, isolating and trapping the duo.

All everyone else can do, from Asako to Mayuko to Hinowa and the Moritsuna siblings, is keep fighing; keep doing their part; and trust Ushio and Tora will be okay.

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And they do do okay. Ushio’s armor is shattered and he comes close to his soul shattering as well, but he’s not like the other wielders who turned into azafuse, and both he and the spear are able to calm themselves, buoyed by the knowledge, and Tora’s confirmation, that Hakumen is not only terrified of his adversaries (for their ability to unite humans and youkai, among other things)—he’s also insanely jealous.

Hatred, pain, fear, and death are the only things Hakumen has ever known, and perhaps believes they’re the only things in the world. But seeing what Ushio and Tora have been able to accomplish; watching all the assembled friends and allies fight with everything they have for their sake; even watching the beast spear reassemble itself to fight again; it’s no surprise the increasingly puny bastard would be a bit envious.

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Ushio to Tora – 37

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This week we check in with a thoroughly defeated and battered Tora who is basically ready to throw in the towel; a Tora we’ve never really seen before. So who better to cheer him up and remind him of the work that must still be done than Mayuko, via her her “spiritual form”.

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I’ll be honest, I never thought all that much about Mayuko’s feelings for Tora, and when she comes out and confesses here, it’s not that surprising, but the tears she sheds when she realizes she can’t turn Tora back into a human no matter how much she loves him (or combs him) was pretty damn moving. I too want to see Human Tora and Mayuko double-dating it up post-Hakumen with Ushio and Asako!

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Mayuko takes some solace in the fact that Tora gets his fighting spirit back, and she also heals him, ending what had been a precipitous drop ever since he killed Nagare. His revival couldn’t have come at a better time: even with all the myriad barriers of various parties in play, Hakumen is not returning to the spot in the ocean where he was originally locked away without a fight, and those barriers are weakening.

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The earlier scene with Mayuko and Tora and dozens of other instances before are ample evidence Ushio to Tora isn’t able getting a little emotional, which sometimes can’t escape stiltedness or maudlin. I wanted to like the half-hearted insult-slinging reunion of Ushio and Tora more than I actually did.

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Cutaways to Kagari and Raishin helping out some human soldiers, or the HAMMR guys making a valiant last stand, felt like curtain calls of a kind for these characters as we wind down to the finale.

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Thanks to all their friends and allies, Ushio to Tora manage to back Hakumen back into his pen, where he’s none to happy to be, no sir! He promises to kill the ones erecting all the barriers through his minions, but something tells me he’s not going to find a whole lot more success.

He’s had his day in the sun; now it’s time to put him away for good so we can bask in the glow of a victory hard-earned by enduring all this hardship and emotional stress and strain.

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Ushio to Tora – 36

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The last three weeks have been rough and the ratings have suffered because everything’s so dark and brooding and hopeless and INTENSE GRRRRR, but glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel have been gathering.

Take Saya. She’s through sitting on the sidelines, and adds her own lights to the battle, in the form of summoned dead she brings back in order to help bind Hakumen. She’s totally badass, even though she’s all on her own.

Now that everyone else has their memories back, everyone is working towards the same end, which means Hakumen finally, thankfully has his ass righteously kicked by their combined efforts.

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Nothing like hearing all about your monster friend’s appallingly tragic past to forgive that friend for his recent transgressions. Tora doesn’t come out of his unconsciousness this week, but he does become the forge into which the millions of shards of the Beast Spear accumulate and bring forth a new spear, one far more powerful than the first.

As all his friends and allies prepare to launch fresh attacks on the Big Bad, Ushio takes a moment to thank Tora for everything he’s done, and even gives him some blood from his arm, though if I’m honest, that was a lot of blood; Ushio should probably be a little woozy at this point!

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No matter. Hakumen sets up the underbosses at the tips of his tails, and Ushio knocks ’em down. Combined with the HAMMR scientists’ TRUMP weapon, Ushio’s Mom and Mayuko, a ghostly Oyakume, Saya, and the Kouhamei sects on nearby islands, Ushio’s new spear packs a whollop, and Hakumen gets the beating he’s so sorely deserved all season.

Up against the wall and moving in another direction against his will, Hakumen calls for help…from uber-Tora Guren. But Guren is occupied with Hyou, who we find, of all things, in the yard of an alcoholic, Academy Award-winning starlet. HWAHHH?

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Yeah, it’s pretty random, and the actress is kinda a dick to her seven-year-old daughter, but when Hyou repeatedly saves them from Guren, at the cost of numerous parts of his body and quite a bit of blood, the woman undergoes a swift transformation. It’s almost too perfect that Hyou should make his last stand not dying alone for no reason, but to save a mother and daughter, after he couldn’t save his own so long ago.

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Letting the gluttonous gasbag Guren eat his eye and arm are certainly last-ditch tactics, but hey, they work, and Guren goes up with n immensely satisfying big blue BANG; Guren was almost as annoying as that whiny Hakumen, and I’m glad he’s gone, and essentially by his own dumbassery.

As for Hyou, well, he achieved the revenge he sought his whole life, and saved a couple of people in the process. One can be forgiven for getting a little glassy-eyed at his farewell, when he joins his family in the afterlife. It certainly seems to have an effect on the previously disaffected mother, who isn’t as quick to swat her little girl away when Hyou passes away.

The cherry on top?  Hakumen can whine and scream all he wants, Guren ain’t coming. You’re on your own, chump!

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