Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 22 –Nine Angry Hashira

This week we meet the seven remaining Hashira, a most colorful bunch in both appearance and personality. Unfortunately, when they’re all standing in one place they look a bit silly rather than intimidating, and they stand in one place this entire episode. Tanjirou is bound and lying on the ground the whole time, his voice of explanation drowned out by the competing egos of the entitled, arrogant Hashira.

This is an episode where nothing really happens. Everyone stands around, and for over half of the episode, they stand around talking about nothing in particular. This episode is meant to bring the Hashira up to speed about Tanjirou’s unique—and officially sanctioned—situation. We the audience are already up to speed. Thus, the Hashira look even more foolish for dominating the with their opinions despite being completely in the dark.

At the halfway point of this episode where nothing happens and nothing is said we didn’t already know, the venerable “Master of the Mansion” finally arrives. Where the hell were ya, buddy? He calmly explains to his “children” that Tanjirou’s traveling with Nezuko has been sanctioned by the Corps. Urokodaki, Giyuu, and Tanjirou have all vouched for Nezuko with their lives.

Considering the deference the Hashira show to the Master, the matter should be fucking CLOSED. And yet many of the Hashira won’t accept their Master’s decision. These are the same Hashira who only minutes before were barking and whining about Tanjirou and Giyuu “breaking the rules” all Demon Slayers were sworn to follow. Excuse me, but how is contradicting your boss and acting on your own following the rules?

Not all the Hashira are foolish. Giyuu is obviously on Tanjirou’s side. Shinobu is at least willing to hear him out. Kanronji Mitsuri, who seems to love everything and everyone, is fine with her master’s wishes. Tokitou Muichirou is indifferent, going whichever way the wind blows. But Hotheaded Wind Guy, Giant Weeping Monk, Everything Must Be Flamboyant Guy,  Snake Guy, and Hot Rod Guy form a caucus of dudes who have decided their Master’s word isn’t good enough.

Frankly, they are the ones who should be put in their place, for speaking and acting on matters they know nothing about. And yet, the Master gives them leave to make an argument convincing enough to overturn that of three people who have pledged to commit Seppuku if they’re wrong. Hotheaded Wind Guy (Shinazugawa Sanemi, yet another white-haired guy right on the heels of Rui & Co.) decides to make his argument by slicing his arm open and dripping it into Nezuko’s box to tempt her.

Leaving aside the fact Demon Slayer is playing fast-and-loose with these five Hashiras’ devotion to The Rules, as a practical narrative matter, you, I, and everyone else watching know full well that neither Tanjirou or Nezuko are dying anytime soon; they’re the goddamn co-protagonists, and this is not Gurren Lagann. So this is a big ol’ waste of time better spent formulating a plan for dealing with the real villain, Kibutsugi Muzan.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 21 – Tragic Creatures

It’s always best to know about an enemy before they do bad shit and get killed for it, so Demon Slayer’s penchant for having the lives of demons flash before their eyes as their heads turn to ash isn’t the best approach for engendering sympathy.

Don’t get me wrong, Rui’s origin story is a sad one, especially how he misunderstood his parents’ intentions and how Muzan manipulated him, and I like how Tanjirou doesn’t apologize for sympathizing with demons who feel guilt and regret in their final moments, which Rui clearly does.

It’s less a matter of the content of Rui’s backstory and more a matter of timing. Call it Mount Nagatumo fatigue, but when Giyuu hacked Rui’s head off, I was ready to move on to other things. The episode, however wasn’t, and quite a bit of melodrama ensues.

Once Rui is gone, it’s basically cleanup time on the mountain, which is where the Kakushi come in. The unsung heroes of the Demon Slayer Corps, they provide a support role, treating injured frontline slayers like Zenitsu and Inosuke (who may now be facing a crisis of confidence) as well as the near-victims of the demons.

No sooner does Rui burn away than Shinobu swoop in to kill the only other demon in play: Nezuko. Of course, she’s not aware that Nezuko is different, and has been conditioned not to harm humans. She’s simply following her edict to slay demons, and when Giyuu stops her, she sites both the rules and repeatedly tells Giyuu that no one likes him.

Tanjirou and Nezuko makes a run for it, but they’re soon caught by Shinobu’s sister, who was part of the Final Selection and sports a very sweet boot-and-cape ensemble. Nezuko is able to get away and shrink herself to make for a smaller target, while Giyuu catches Shinobu and the pair prepare to fight each other seriously.

Thankfully, Crows from HQ provide fresh orders: they are to take both Tanjirou and Nezuko into custody and deliver them to HQ. That means for the time being, Nezuko lives. When Tanjirou wakes up, he finds himself surrounded by the Hashira (i.e. elite slayers).

Looking at these guys I couldn’t help but think of Soul Society’s Gotei 13 from Bleach, whose captains were a similarly eclectic, eccentric bunch who heavily personalized their shinigami uniforms. I look forward to meeting these weirdos and learning more about the Corps, while sincerely hoping the higher-ups don’t push for Nezuko’s execution or separation from her brother…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 20 – Arachnofamilia

It sure looked like Tanjirou beheaded Rui last week with his Hinokami Kagura Breathing, but alas; in the moment before Tanjirou’s strike hit Rui severed his own head with his threads, and soon reattaches it. He’s mad as hell, and Tanjirou is totally spent, but it’s okay that he can’t lift his hand, because Tomioka Giyuu arrives to finish Rui off with ease, using an eleventh form of Water Breathing.

From there we cut to the lone surviving member of the spider family, the elder sister, and we learn about how Rui built his family. Turns out all his family members were really weak demons with whom he shared his power—which also gave them the same spidery aesthetic. He used their fear to draw them in, an punished and even killed those who didn’t shape up.

The present-day sister once had an older sister who tired of Rui’s pointless charade, and vowed to run away, telling only her sister so she could join her. However, our present-day sister betrayed the other by leading her straight to Rui, who tortured her and strung her up to be burned away by the morning sun.

Back when Tanjirou saw Rui cutting his “sister’s” face, we didn’t know what was going on, but Sister’s face reverted out of fear once Mother and Brother were killed. It’s her first screw-up, but it isn’t her last. That honor goes to when she encases Murata in one of her yarn balls, which fills with digestive fluid that will liquify his clothes and eventually, him.

Murata is saved by one Kochou Shinobu, fresh off of curing Zenitsu. When Sister insists Rui made her kill the scant five people she’s killed, Shinobu has proof she’s lying, as she saw over a dozen of the yarn balls in which Murata is stuck, and estimates the Sister has eaten up to eighty humans. Shinobu agrees to be her “friend”, but only after she’s faced proper punishment for the people she’s killed.

Hayami Saori voices Shinobu like she would any sweet, friendly, kindhearted young woman, only the words she says are anything but sweet. I’d even say Shinobu relishes the chance to show off her unique Insect Breathing ability, whereas Giyuu is much more stoic and businesslike. You can hardly blame her; both her graceful dance-like movements, her delicate blade, and clouds of butterflies make for a hell of a show.

When the Sister realizes she hasn’t been beheaded, that Shinobu lacks the strength to do so, she believes she still has a chance to gain the upper hand. But she’s wrong, because while Shinobu didn’t behead her, she did poison her with Wisteria, resulting in a slower and arguably more gruesome and painful death. She doesn’t burn to ash, either; she’s simply dead, and Shinobu can’t be bothered to do anything but leave her corpse to rot.

With that, we jump back to Rui’s final moments, when he looks back to how he tried to regain memories of his humanity by creating a pretend family. But by now it’s a bit late to engender any sympathy for the guy, nor his treacherous sister who led her sister to a horrible death.

Unlike Nezuko, who has yet to even accidentally kill a human, these demons have long since forfeited any chance of mercy by preying on untold numbers of humans. They were living on borrowed time, and that ran out when they ended up on the wrong end of Giyuu and Shinobu’s blades.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 06 – Love Never Lies

When Uzoi tells Somali what she’s doing and why, Somali doesn’t take it lying down. She screams so hard she hurts Uzoi’s sensitive ears and runs. While fleeing, Somali falls off a cliff into a pond, and Uzoi jumps in and saves her.

As Somali whimpers, soaked and cold, Uzoi extends one of her harpy wings around her, inverting its previous use as the prelude to an attack. When Golem and Haitora arrive, Somali protects Uzoi from her dad, while Uzoi crumbles into her dad’s arms, lamenting that she just couldn’t do it.

As we gathered last week, Haitora is nothing but glad she couldn’t do it, and we learn why when he delves into his past to explain to Golem why he’s not deserving of Uzoi’s love. For he was once in her position, after he and his wife and daughter were forced to flee their small human settlement when it was raided by “grotesques.”

Trapped in a cave with no food or water for days, a desperate Haitora happens upon an adult harpy—Uzoi’s mother. And because he and his family is starving and there’s no other option, he kills the harpy without a moment’s hesitation, then drags the body back to the cave. “We have to be like them” to survive, he gravely tells the family in his failing voice.

They all tuck into the raw harpy meat, and within a few minutes, both his wife and daughter suffer unspeakably agonizing deaths before his eyes. This is the kind of graphic horror I came to expect of Made in Abyss, and it’s just as unsettlingly naturalistic in its depiction here.

As we’ve learned, Uzoi has great hearing, so she hears Haitora’s confession to Golem and learns her whole life with him was based on lies. Even after Somali lazily forgives her friend for trying to kill her and drain her blood, Uzoi (whose name sounds a lot like usoi, Japanese for “lying”) faces existential despair and emptiness in the wake of Haitora’s words.

She’s so depressed, in fact, that when they come across a dragon twister while traversing the desert, and the winds pick her and Somali up, she takes one last pained look at Haitora and lets go, in that moment preferring death to living a terrible lifelong lie any further.

The moment also confirms to Haitora that Uzoi heard him last night. He wants to rush out to save her, but Golem insists they stay put until the storm subsides, using his fancy eye to calculate where the girls are likely to survive grave injury by landing on the soft sand.

When Golem spots the girls later, they’re being attacked by an aggressively territorial canterbird. He quickly formulates a plan wherein he serves as a decoy to allow Haitora to get the girls to safety, but Haitora quickly adopts his own plan, hoping to give what’s left of his wretched life leading the canterbird away. To his surprise, upon being cornered the canterbird is stopped…by Uzoi.

Unwilling to let him die without talking to her, Uzoi would much rather he stay alive with her, proving true Somali’s earlier words that “love doesn’t lie.” Love isn’t always happy, or clean; even Somali is aware of this if she doesn’t know her father is dying. Sometimes those who love each other wound each other, but the scars can’t be ignored, even if they’re deepened by confronting them.

Hayami Saori puts on a clinic performing this scene, which comes as no surprise if you follow her voice work. When you need a character to deliver dramatic dialogue movingly and convincingly, Saori-chan is someone you can always count on. Even so, she never ceases to amaze me with her remarkable vocal talent.

Haitora, realizing he was only trying to take the easy way out, re-commits to living with Uzoi as long as he humanly can. Not out of obligation to atone for his past sins and lying about them, but for a more important reason: he and Uzoi are family, and they love one another, period.

But even if he’d been persuaded to drink Somali’s blood (something he’d never do after what happened with his family) it likely wouldn’t have worked. Harpies are magical creatures, so it’s likely magic is needed to heal him. If you need magic, you’ll need witches, whom we glimpse in the preview.

Bofuri – 05 – Flying Fortress Acquired

Maple and Sally’s new PvP opponent decides discretion is the better part of valor in a two-on-one situation and withdraws her challenge. Sally isn’t hearing of it, and the two engage in a super-speed chase across the desert. Maple eventually catches up with them, but all three are caught in a quicksand whirlpool that deposits them in an underground dungeon.

The three are all bound together by a cursed chain, meaning if one of them dies, all of them die. The girls call a truce, work together, combining their skills to reach an otherwise out-of-reach area, and clear the dungeon, lifting the curse.

Their new friend is Kasumi (voiced by Hayami Saori), and all three teleport out of the dungeon with a medal apiece. That said, Kasumi doesn’t join their party, so Maple and Sally have to hustle to gain the nine silver medals they need to reach the twenty necessary to attain a new skill.

The next couple days are filled with mini-quests and battles. In some of them, Maple’s stats and abilities are key; in others, Sally’s, demonstrating how effective and formidable a pair they are. They defeat an underwater boss and solve a puzzle at some ruins—the location of which are revealed by the neutral Kanade, voiced by the always-welcome Arai Satomi.

With two medals to go and only one day left to get them, the duo concedes that despite it being a last resort, they’re going to have to attack some fellow players. Sally volunteers to carry the burden, no doubt eager to test her swashbuckling skills…and she does, making mincemeat of any and all players she comes across during her moonlit massacre.

That’s not to say Maple simply kicks back. I mean, she does, but her awesome defense allows Sally to fight freer knowing they’re safe with her friend an her awesome defense. Maple passes the time by helping both their familiars level up by defeating minor enemies in a cave.

Sally kills a lot of people, but still only ends up with the two medals she needs. Still, it’s enough to achieve Maple’s goal, and she immediately puts her skill prize to work. She activates Syrup’s Megamorph ability to make him enormous, then uses Telekinesis to make him into a flying vehicle form which she can rain down death and destruction at an even greater scale, much to the nervous exhalations of her two friends!

It’s another lighthearted, fun-filled, entertaining outing of Bofuri, without doubt one of the top comfort food anime of the season. We’ll see how far the cartoonish NWO admins go to hinder Maple’s meteoric rise. Meanwhile, the chat room continues to be astounded by her exploits.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 13 (Fin) – Ten Thousand Times More Beautiful

With no more conflicts or catharses left to have, the girls enjoy their final days in Antarctica. They’ve settled into such a routine and gotten so used to the astonishing environment, one adult jokes they won’t be able to reintegrate into society, presenting Shirase and the other Mahjong junkies as evidence.

Their final journey to the frozen sea affords them the opportunity to taste snowcones made from ice with thousand-year-old air pockets, which Mari attests to be delicious. They also learn that much of the winter team’s activities will include sleeping, drinking, and games to pass the time.

Shirase finally gets her wish to be surrounded by adorable penguins, but she’s locked in a cycle of being disgusted by the smell and delighted by being in their presence while asking for some unspecified form of help. I imagine many of us would feel the same way.

Mari is getting cold feet about leaving, and wonders out loud to the others why they can’t just stay. Hinata flicks her forehead and doles out reality; they have to get back to their homes, their families, and their school. But all four promise that they’ll come back together someday.

They then present their final request to the rest of the team: that they play a game of snow softball. Captain Toudou is, naturally, the ace, but just like Takako, Shirase is not only able to hit her pitch, but drive it out of the “park.”

On the eve of departing, Shirase decides to have her hair cut short—her heart wasn’t broken by a guy, but such a change makes sense after her catharsis with the laptop (she also wisely chooses Hinata to cut it, not Mari). The whole team musters for the girls’ farewell ceremony, and after a heartfelt speech by Gin that starts everyone crying, Shirase confidently delivers and even more heartfelt, tear-jerking speech.

In it, she expresses the understanding she reached in this place beyond the universe, and why both her mother and her love it so much: It’s a place that strips everything bare, with nothing to protect you and nowhere to hide. It’s a place where someone can come face-to-face with who they really are…and she did that.

Before embarking for home, Shirase hands Gin her mom’s laptop, stating she no longer needs it. Later, Gin discovers there’s still a message from Takako in the outbox; the last she ever composed. The quartet waves goodbye to their Antarctic summer home where they experienced and learned so much about the world, each other, and themselves.

Yuzu wonders if maybe they all got a little stronger during the journey. A ‘little’? I think she sells herself and the others short here. They were the first high school-age students to explore Antarctica, and they made it. Now, all of a sudden, they’re headed back to the normal world. Even if and when they come back, it will never be the same as their first time.

When night falls, Mari finally gets to experience the one thing they couldn’t due to the laughably short Antarctic nights: view the aurora. Just when they do, Gin sends the last email Takako wrote to Shirase, stating how the real thing is “ten thousand times more beautiful”—something of which, in that moment, Shirase and the others are all to aware.

The four friends, having forged their bonds in the coldest and harshest crucible on the planet, go their separate ways with confidence and return to their lives that were with a serious sense of accomplishment, self-awareness, and maturity.

They discovered as much about themselves in Antarctica as they discovered about the place itself, like how there are no “nothing” days but there’s still more to discover upon returning, like the smell of one’s house.

And in a perfect capper to a marvelous series, Mari texts Megumi that she’s home, and gets a near-immediate response, along with a photo of her posing with the aurora: “Too bad. Right now, I’m in the Arctic.” Well played, Megu-chan; well played.

 

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 12

Shirase vividly remembers the day she was suddenly pulled out of class and informed of her mother’s death. How can she not? We all carry days like that in our memories. For her, it was the end of life feeling as it had before, and the beginning of a dream; an awful dream from which she hoped every day to wake up from.

She’s worked so hard, endured mockery, made and fought with friends, and arrived at the place where she lost her mother. Yet she still doesn’t feel like the dream is over. Now Gin has invited her and the other girls to join the team that will press inland, to the observatory site from which Takako never returned.

Shirase tells her friends it’s not so much that she’s depressed to stressed out about her mother. Rather, she’s weary that if and when she gets to the end of the road, there will be nowhere left to go. If nothing changes, the way it hasn’t thus far, what if she keeps feeling the way she does the rest of her life? What if she can’t wake up?

The girls decide to give Shirase space, proof, according to an adult colleague, that they’re truly good friends. Shirase sits with Gin, who tells her that neither of them know what Takako felt, or whether she wanted them to return to Antarctica, where she’d be waiting in some form.

All Gin can say for certain is that she came because she wanted to come: “At the end of the day, those ideas we latch on to aren’t enough to motivate us. But when we run around on the injustices of reality, they’re the only things that can break through, make the impossible possible, and allow us to proceed on.”

After laying out all of her cash and listing all the ways she made it, Shirase regains the idea that brought her to Antarcica, and joins Gin and the other girls on the inland trip…because her mother is waiting there.

Along the slow, cold slog of a trip, Shirase and he girls experience the harshest conditions so far, but still have to work in them, because there’s no other choice. They also experience some of the most otherworldly sights, like a sun pillar.

When Shirase asks Gin if her mother saw the same thing, Gin answers in the affirmative. Later, Gin has Shirase check in with Syowa Station. From then on, as Shirase realizes she’s following in her mother’s last footsteps, the journey adopts an increasingly melancholy mood.

When a punishing blizzard arrives identical to the one that suddenly claimed Takako, Gin remembers Takako’s last call on the radio, saying “it’s beautiful” but not telling Gin where she was, because if Gin went out to attempt rescue, nature would likely have claimed her as well.

The girls are snug in their sleeping bags as the winds lash against the snowcat, and Shirase sees a vision of her mother sitting nearby, working on her laptop. Mari wakes up to thank Shirase for taking her for allowing her to get the most out of her youth.

It doesn’t matter to her whether they went to Antartica or the Arctic or anywhere else; what made the trip special was that they took it together, as friends. Shirase then tells her mother that she, who thought she’d be fine alone forever, now has friends: slightly weird, frustrating, and broken friends, but friends who were willing to come this far with her.

Now, there’s only a little further to go, and once the snowcats arrive at the observatory site, those same friends rush into the underground complex to try to find something, anything that serves as proof Shirase’s mother was there. And boy do they ever find it: Takako’s laptop, with a photo of Takako and Shirase taped to the back.

Again Shirase’s friends recede to the hallway as Shirase fires up the laptop. She gets the password right on the second try, and when Takako’s inbox opens, it immediately starts updating, with a dozen, then a hundred, then a thousand emails gradually pouring in…and Shirase loses it. Her friends hear her anguish and then they start crying.

In a show that’s had no shortage of episode climaxes that tug at the heartstrings, no scene to date has tugged quite this far (I pretty much lost it too!). It truly feels like Shirase has finally awakened from her hazy three-year-long dream, having experienced a profound measure of closure from this. In any case, her fear of not feeling anything once she came to the end of her journey didn’t come to pass. She didn’t just feel something; she felt everything.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 11

It’s the year’s end, and the members of the expedition get to communicate with family and/or friends via a satellite feed. This is how Mari’s mom and sister get to laugh at her ski goggle tan, but it’s also how three high school track club members reopen a wound for Hinata; a wound she decided to forget about and move on from in…the furthest place in the universe.

But just the sight of those three girls boils Hinata’s blood to the extent she must run outside and wreck some shit while yelling for them to “piss off!” Shirase witnesses this display, and it only reinforces the concern she felt the minute Hinata covered up the camera lens.

Hinata—and, unwittingly, Mari—conspire to keep Shirase from ever being able to broach the topic with Hinata, almost intuitively senses what Shirase wants to talk about, and wants nothing to do with it. Shirase gets so worked up about what Hinata might be hiding, she crosses a line and opens Hinata’s email.

I was as curious as Shirase to learn why Hinata was acting this way, and truly wanted both her, Mari and Yuzu to find some way to make things better for Hinata. I may have even done what Shirase did…but it doesn’t make it right.

Hinata comes to realize she’s partly to blame for Shirase’s breach of privacy by being so inaccessible. So she tells Shirase and the others her sob story of being too good at running, showing up the upperclassmen, and getting ostracized. Not only does she leave the club, but she quits school due to the fallout.

Now the girls know why she was so put off by seeing her friends on camera: she doesn’t see them as friends. Later, when the girls get to do some expeditionary work in an alien landscape that looks kind of like chocolate cake with white frosting, Hinata reiterates that she doesn’t care about the noise from the past, and came to Antarcitca precisely to get away…not just from petty high school drama, but everything.

Shirase ponders all that Hinata said, and puts herself in Hinata’s shoes. Taking Hinata aside to get some of that pure, crisp Antarctica water (my mouth hadn’t watered over water since Last Exile; good job, show!), Shirase tells her that she wouldn’t be okay with it, or be able to smile with it hanging over her.

Hinata makes the good point that she’s not her; different people get to deal with things in different ways. But she also admits she may still simply be too scared to face those track girls, whether it’s to forgive them, to tell them to eat shit…or both. She thanks Shirase for having her back, but tells her she doesn’t need all the words Shirase wants to say…the warmth of her hands is enough.

When those three girls show back up in the satellite feed, Shirase shows she isn’t done. With Hinata’s emotional well-being at stake, Shirase completely shaks off her usual camera shyness, interrupts the planned schedule of the broadcast, and confronts the track girls directly, telling them to leave Hinata the hell alone.

Shirase goes OFF with an epic tirade that only further expanded my love for both Shirase and Hanazawa Kana. Hinata is doing fine without your lame asses, she basically says. She is taking steps forward, with her real friends:

“Unlike Hinata, I’m a real jerk, so I’ll say it straight: You can’t live your lives in this halfway state forever! You hurt someone and made them suffer! Now you get to live with that! That’s what you get for hurting someone…for hurting my friend! You think you can come crawling back now? PISS OFF!”

Masterful shit right there…that not only brings Hinata, but the other girls and Shirase herself to tears, while Toudou Gin has a glint of pride in her eye, surely seeing the passion of her dearly departed friend burn in her daughter. When they ring in the new year, it may be with a block of wood and an steel drum, but it’s no less triumphant. Time to turn the f’in page. A new year and new experiences await.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 10

Now that they’ve arrived at Antarctica, the expedition weighs anchor and starts to bring supplies ashore using a very badass helicopter. The high school girls take a trip (which Yuzu likes not at all) and get to see the ship from the sky (it’s a thrilling bit of CGI) before being deposited at Syowa Station.

Kanae gives the girls—and by extension us—a tour of the facilities, including seperate bedrooms for all four of them, a luxury after having to share a berth at sea. While spartan, the habitations are also quite cozy and homey, far nicer than what I was expecting.

I really enjoyed the contrast between the cool Antarctic “night” (light-wise it stays dusk at its darkest) and the warm, inviting, lived-in interiors; the perfect place to kick back after a hard day’s work.

As unloading, cleaning, and other duties mount, Yuzu learns she’s been offered a role on a popular Japanese TV drama (there’s cell service at the station), but is worried it would mean, as it’s always meant throughout her career, the end of her time with Mari, Shirase and Hinata.

True to that career, she even comes up with a “friendship contract” for them to sign, causing Mari to cry and hug Yuzu with a distinct “you poor thing” vibe.

There were times when Yuzu seemed almost painfully naive about what friends and friendship are, but then I remembered that these three girls are her first, so naturally she wouldn’t be sure when the threshold of friendship had passed. Of course, no one really knows when that happens; friendships may not be as solid and structured as marriages or parenthood, but that’s what sets them apart as something special.

Mari takes the time to impart some wisdom to Yuzu regarding what she considers friendship (since it can be different for everyone) using Megumi as an example. Mari has been sending her pics, and whether Megu responds right away or as often or not, she always knows when Megumi has seen the message by the notification on the phone. That, in turn, helps Mari imagine what Megumi might be doing or thinking about in that moment.

With that, the other three arrive and unveil what they had been planning for Yuzu all along: a surprise birthday party. Her real birthday passed when they were all horribly seasick, so the Christmas party made her sad.

So the girls prepped some poppers and cake so that she could celebrate her very first birthday with friends. It’s almost too much to handle, as Yuzu starts bawling and can’t even speak clearly because of all the tears and snot.

But the next day, when Mari and Yuzu are off doing different tasks, Yuzu sends Mari a text not apologizing, but thanking her. Just a simple little check-in that lets both Mari and Yuzu know that they’re thinking of one another. Finally, Yuzu seems to get what friendship is, and that one should never overthink it.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 09

Ice is broken on two different fronts this week. Crew member Zaizen Toshio is in love with Team Captain Toudou, and needs all the help he can get, so he seeks intel from Shirase, who has known her for ten years.

While that’s a long time, Shirase claims she and Toudou didn’t ever speak that much on the occasions Shirase’s mom wasn’t around. Speaking with Kanae, Gin backs that up; there’s a distance between them.

The girls’ social media views are tanking, so they decide to use Toshio’s crush as an angle to interview the captain on her love life in order to lure followers back. But you have to think they’re also trying to get Gin and Shirase talking.

Since they haven’t talked, Gin has to assume that Shirase hates her and has never forgiven her for not coming back with her mom. As the girls (sans Shirase) ambush Gin about her love life (with Kanae’s help), they don’t come up with much, but we also get little flashbacks to mundane yet meaningful little moments between Gin and Shirase.

When Shirase’s mom says such encounters were very much planned, it confirms that she always intended for Gin to be on good terms with Shirase if anything ever happened to her, which it did. Even back then, the two eventually break the ice over their mutual love of penguins and jumping rope (at which Shirase is presently very adept).

It’s another simultaneous penguin spotting that draws the two together on the deck, and Gin simply comes out and asks Shirase what’s up. Shirase says all the mature things—she doesn’t hate Gin; her mom often stated the dangers of her job; Gin is not to blame—but when Gin asks if that’s how she really feels, Shirase breaks down.

The truth is, Shirase doesn’t know how she really feels, which is why she didn’t want to discuss it. She spent a long time after her mother’s death waiting for her to come home, until she decided the only way forward was to go where she went, “to the place further than the universe,” to grasp what the hell it was her mom was prepared to die—and did die—to brave.

It’s another marvelous, moving monologue from Hanazawa Kana, rudely interrupted by the icebreaker slamming into a sheet of “fast ice”, which was expected by the crew. We watch as the ship repeatedly backs up and rams the ice until it breaks up, which is what icebreakers do.

The procedure underscores just how uninviting Antarctica is—it won’t let you even get close without a fight—while also serving as a handy metaphor for hard the crew of the Penguin Manju, and Japan itself, has had and has to work to get to where they want to be.

As the ship crunches a path in the ice, Gin regails Shirase about how the rest of the world basically gave postwar Japan the most challenging slice of Antarctica and said “if you want to try, go right ahead.” They did go ahead, and they did try, and were successful, just as the crew of the Penguin Manju does, and just as the four girls do when they touch down on ice for a brief spell.

Shirase tears up upon standing there, and goes into a rant encapsulated by the phrase “in your face!” referring to everyone who mocked her for saying she was going to Antarctica. Not only do the other girls join her in a hearty “in your face”; Gin and the entire crew do so as well. No doubt Shirase’s mom would be proud of them both.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 08

The girls are understandably excited to be shoving off for their great life-changing expedition, but not a one of them, even Shirase, really gave much thought to how life would be aboard an icebreaker at sea.

Of course, none of them have any experience being on ships period, so that’s to be expected. And at first, things don’t seem that bad: sure, they’re four to a room, and they’re almost immediately put to work peeling potatoes and the like, but it’s not that bad!

Then the crew is invited to go topside for exercise, and the girls learn just how much toughening they’ll need to function aboard ship. Between the drudgery below and the training above, wasting even small amounts of time (and they waste a lot in the bath) is like digging a hole of lost time from which they’ll never return.

As if settling into an efficient routine in which not a moment in the day is wasted (or night, as they need good sleep to be ready for the day) wasn’t enough on their plate, their anti-seasickness medicine wears off, and once they’re on the high seas, that becomes a devastating problem for the entire quartet.

Okay, I told myself, now they’re going to start to feel the challenge they set for themselves when they agreed to do this. And they do, the poor wretches…they do. They lie in bed, unable to sleep, unable to keep down the food they have to try to keep down, dealing with the unceasing rolling of the ship as they sail further south, where there’s nothing stopping the currents.

This is all great stuff, both pre- and post-seasickness. It never feels like the girls are being tortured, because the whole time they’re enduring all these problems, the rest of the crew, far more experienced as they are, seem completely unaffected by the changing conditions. They are a constant reminder that while it may be tough now, given enough time and perseverance, the girls will get through this.

Heck, when the ship starts hitting some really serious waves, Gin shows her “old salt” side, like the captains of the age of sail, standing on the deck of their ships, fighting with the ocean as if it were an opponent in the boxing ring. She’s ready to take some licks, but she’s not going to be counted out.

Similar sentiments come to Shirase as the four lie in their bunks, miserable and exhausted. Gin and the crew may seem like a “different kind of organism” as Yuzu puts it, but all the girls can do is their best; they have no choice. Mari corrects them: they did have a choice, and it was to do exactly what they’re doing. (Hinata seems inspired by Mari’s words, but in truth she just has to use the toilet).

Before heading back to their bunks, the four open a hatch to take a look outside…which seemed like an extraordinarly bad and reckless thing to do considering how little experience they have being on the deck of a ship during such severe conditions. But they all manage to hold on, and even revel at getting pummeled by the waves crashing over them.

The experience changes them for the better; the next day when things calm down they have their sea legs and are full of energy. A big part of the transition is a matter of one’s state of mind; one’s attitude. Mari knows that no matter how tough or harrowing things might seem in the moment, she knows they’ll all look back on these times as some of the most fun and exciting of their lives.

And things are only going to get more exciting, and harrowing, and possibly miserable and painful and terrifying, as icebergs start coming into view on the horizon. This episode does something truly clever: depict how hard it is to adjust to life on a boat, all the while implying that a boat is nothing compared to Antarctica.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 07

The girls’ fantastic journey to Antarctica is feeling closer and realer than ever now that they’re in Fremantle, not just looking at the Penguin Manju but boarding her, getting settled into their four-person berth (where there will be fights, LOL) and touring its gigantic-ness.

But the girls are just as united in their suspicion that something…odd is going on on the ship as they are in their awe at being aboard her. There’s a lot of negative press about the expedition not having a chance of actually getting to Antarctica, let alone accomplish anything.

When Kanae will only vaguely tell them that their crew is “determined” to “see the sky”,  the girls take matters into their own hands and stealthily follow the adults around while wearing masks. What they hear and observe confirms their worries that what they thought would be an ironclad operation is threadbare and held together with a lot of hope and not much cash or manpower.

What can the girls do but have faith everything will work out? Perhaps the discovery of the glow-in-the-dark stars on the underside of a bunk is a good omen; the other girls give Shirase that bunk, assuming her mom must’ve painted them.

Walking the deck at night, Shirase runs into Gin, who fills in most of the blanks related to the hardships they’ve encountered, as well as the ill-fated previous trip when they lost Shirase’s mom in the unforgiving cold. Gin says despite their scrappy underdog status, most of the original team has returned in spite of everything.

Gin speaks with such confidence and conviction that she manages to convince the other girls (who were listening off to the side). And on the eve of their departure, Kanae introduces the girls to the rest of the crew (and indicates that they are not legal, repeat, they are not legal) and gives them a chance to introduce themselves.

There, after having failed in front of Hinata’s camera so many times, Shirase gets a pat on the back from Hinata, steps forward, and delivers the most charismatic intro of the four, pledging her commitment to “do catchy, witty, sensational reporting” (we’ll see) and opening the “treasure box” of Antarctica with her own two hands.

The crowd is pumped—all that beer probably helps!—but I think having the older members seeing such passion in a high schooler, particularly the daughter of one of their founders, can’t be anything but inspiring as they prepare to shove off. It isn’t just Shirase; everyone on that boat is out to prove the doubters and the haters wrong. They’re like the Philadelphia Eagles. And they’re going to freakin’ Antarctica.

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!