The aquatope on white sand – 11 – The storm

All the color and light of previous episodes is sapped from this one, both fitting Kukuru’s mood and due to a nasty typhoon rolling into Okinawa. It’s in this dim, gray, gloomy soup that we watch Kukuru go through the Five Stages of Grief. First up is Denial and Isolation. The handmade sign says it all—NO CLOSING!as Kukuru shuts herself in Gama Gama.

Ironically, this means closing the aquarium, but due to the typhoon there won’t be any visitors anyway. Gramps decides to let Kukuru be and give everyone the day off. Fuuka goes home with him, but during lunch, decides she’s not going to leave Kukuru to endure the coming storm alone—either the literal one or the emotional one. Just as she gets up to leave, Grams has bento ready for Fuuka to take to Kukuru.

From there, Kukuru goes into the Anger stage, though to her credit she puts the energy that comes with the anger to good use, going about the daily business of feeding, maintaining, and checklisting. She enters a kind of utilitarian trance, losing herself in the work, until suddenly snapped out of it by Fuuka rapping on the door.

Not long after Fuuka arrives at Gama Gama, the typhoon arrives in force, totally blocking out the sun, and bringing sheets of diagonal rain and vicious winds to the battened-down island. These establishing shots—and the white noise of the storm—really capture how dark and spooky a really bad storm gets. Day becomes night, and the outdoors themselves become a threat to life and limb.

Kukuru’s anger re-surfaces at the arrival of Fuuka, as she’d prefer to do all of this herself. But Fuuka is as obstinate as she is, and wants to stay by Kukuru’s side to help her with her dream like she promised. Her movie role doesn’t matter right now. Before they can get deeper into their discussion, the power goes out, leaving the aquarium with only seven hours of generator power before the more sensitive sea life starts to die en masse.

Just as Kukuru can’t turn Fuuka away when the storm is at its worst, she can’t turn down her help when there’s so much to do to save the fish and creatures they can. With two pairs of hands, they can do double the work. When the wind breaks a window, Kukuru’s Bargaining stage officially begins. If she can just bar the window, just Do What’s Right, everything will work out, as her daily prayer to Kijimunaa goes.

But it’s not enough. She can’t hold back the storm from causing the power to go out, the roof to leak, the windows and pipes to break, and the sea life to gradually die in the suddenly unfavorable water conditions. Her only memory of her mom and dad was here at Gama Gama, but now, just as they were taken from her, so too is the aquarium, in slow and deliberate fashion, piece by piece.

When Fuuka sees Kukuru giving up on bargaining and entering the Depression stage, she runs over and holds her tight, telling her that even if it’s the end of Gama Gama, and of her dream, it’s not the end of the future. And if they get back to work, there’s still a future for the marine life. Only they can protect them and save them from oblivion.

Kukuru snaps out of it just as Gramps, Kai, Kuuya, and Umi-yan arrive onces the winds die down. Gramps goes into Legendary Aquarium Keeper Mode (if only whatsername was here to see it!), as he knows exactly what to do in what is clearly not his first (or fiftieth!) typhoon. Now six strong, there’s enough manpower to do what needs to be done to buy time until the power comes back on. As far as we know, they don’t lose a single fish.

That said, Gama Gama took a beating, and really showed its age. Gramps promised the man who build the aquarium that he’d close it if it ever got too old, and that time has surely arrived. Having gone through the emotional and meteorological wringer, even Kukuru realizes that it’s probably beyond token repairs or improvements, and can’t keep the precious marine life safe anymore. It’s time has simply come, as it does for all things. Thus she arrives at the final stage: acceptance.

There are few skies more beautiful than those you see after a bad storm. For one thing, you’re relieved the sun is back, while the swirling remnants of clouds and other various optical effects  give the sky a more dramatic look. The color and light slowly returns by the end of the episode. In this light, Fuuka comes to realize she wasn’t just helping Kukuru achieve her dream. By letting Fuuka help her, Kukuru was giving Fuuka strength.

Fuuka doesn’t hate working hard for someone else…especially Kukuru. So when Kukuru turns to Gama Gama’s façade, again admits it is closing, and then bursts into tears, Fuuka is all too happy to be her shoulder to cry on. What comes after acceptance? Catharsis, adaptation, struggle…and maybe—Kijimunaa willing—new dreams, and happiness.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

The aquatope on white sand – 10 – You can’t go home

Only a damn week left in August. A week of Summer Break. Until reopens, the aquarium closes, and Fuuka goes back to Iwate, among other things. After staring at the downtown monstrosity that reminded me of the Olympic Stadium in AKIRA, Kukuru is staring at that damn calendar with only seven days left.

Kai, whose first memory of Kukuru is watching her back tremble as she wept in her front yard, sees that back again. It’s not trembling, but he knows it’s troubled. But he can’t, because he’s just a little too slow and Kukuru is so distracted by her problems she doesn’t even notice Kai is there, and certainly doesn’t see him as a potential source of healing.

Kukuru isn’t really seeing Fuuka either. Fuuka did commit to supporting Kukuru’s dream when her own dream ended, but thanks to the call from Ruka, that dream is suddenly alive again if she wants it: a goddamn starring movie role. Of course she can’t share this news with Kukuru, who has no time or headspace for anything but her beloved Gama Gama. Seeing how Kukuru flails near the finish line really accentuates just how grown up and mature Chiyu was by comparison last week.

Chiyu can see her future and she’s lunging forward and grasping at it with everything she has. Kukuru is trying to keep her past her present and future. She’s so desperate, she resorts to asking Udon-chan’s mom to see if there’s a way to exploit the inscrutable magical realism moments she, Fuuka, and others have experienced. She thinks if she can put it out there on social media that Gama Gama is a “place of miracles” and a “healing power spot”, she can save it.

But just look at everyone’s faces. Kukuru’s desperation is clear to see. Udon-chan is the only one humoring her with a half-hearted, almost patronizing smile. Fuuka is quietly neutral. Karin is like this girl is going off the deep end.

During what was without doubt the most depressing watermelon-eating scene I’ve ever seen committed to the screen, Fuuka can’t hold in what’s bothering her anymore, even if it only adds to Kukuru’s problems. When Fuuka doesn’t enthusiastically say she’ll turning the movie role down, Kukuru cant stomach any more watermelon, or Fuuka’s presence.

In a way, it’s not fair. Fuuka has pretty much had to couch all of her issues while August has worn on and Kukuru’s various ideas to save Gama Gama have come and gone with the same middling success. But Fuuka isn’t sure what she’s doing anymore, which means she’s not committed to helping Kukuru salvage her dream. There’s no point in lying, and I’m glad Fuuka doesn’t, nor does Kukuru hide her disappointment.

Kai, who it’s clear has been working himself way too hard just so Kukuru has an extra strong back at the aquarium, finally gets a chance to spend some time alone with Kukuru, but it’s strictly business: she needs him to be her guinea pig to see if the “illusions” will occur for him. Kukuru’s obsession with saving Gama Gama is flattening all of her relationships. She only noticed Kai when she needed him.

Why she thinks sitting three feet away and leaning towards him with a notebook will put him in the right state to see said illusions…but like I said, Kukuru is desperate…almost as desperate as Kai is to help and console and comfort her. But once again, he’s a little to slow to call her name and reach out, as she buzzes off on her motorbike after their failed illusion session. He keeps getting so close! 

Back home, Kukuru’s Gramps gives her a talking-to about how it was wrong to try to lure supernatural otaku to the aquarium with promises of miracles and illusions. In effect, this week is when Kukuru’s illusory world finally comes into focus. Everyone but her isn’t saying Gama Gama is doomed because they’re being assholes. It’s because Gama Gama is doomed. Barring some serious Kijimunaa divine intervention, of course.

I don’t know of Kijimunaa is directly responsible for the illusions, but the reason for them is made plain (if it wasn’t already) when Kai, distraught over his inability to reach present-day Kukuru, finds himself behind the shoulder of his younger self when he first met her. Audio is added to this scene and it’s brought into context as one of countless times young Kukuru ran out of her grandparents’ house declaring through tears that she’s going home to “mommy and daddy.”

This was, predictably, the point at which I broke down in tears, and basically unconditionally forgave Kukuru for all of her transgressions both this week and in previous episodes. Kukuru lost her parents at a tender age, but not so tender that she was shielded from the weight of the loss. She was old enough to know, but wasn’t ready to accept, that they were gone. The home she knew and loved was gone too.

Past Kai hesitates just like Present Kai did three times prior, but Present Kai is there to give Past Kai a push towards Kukuru. He whips out a big, gorgeous fish he just caught, and Kukuru’s tears stop almost immediately.

Kai comes out of his illusion to a Kukuru hopeful she just witnessed him experiencing what she experienced. But to both her dejection and my own, Kai softly shakes his head. It was a beautiful memory, but just a memory. It was the past, and just the illusion of it. He doesn’t want to feed her any more illusions. Instead, rather than gathering her into a big hug, he puts up his hands so she can punch them and yells “Come!”

Kukuru cries as she punches, but Kai tells her to keep punching, as hard as she can, into his palms. I’m sure if he had a big beautiful freshly caught fish, he’d give her one to cheer her up. We later see that Kukuru posted a retraction on social media, so even that last-ditch plan ended in failure.

If I were her, I’d also be grateful for a friend willing to absorb my punches, my failures, my despair—all of it, for my sake. And when my fists (and their palms) were sufficiently red and stinging, I’d feel better, and maybe even be ready to take a step forward.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 12 (Fin) – Not Leaving It Up to God

ZSR’s totally epic saga of a finale starts out very stodgily, at the Saga Prefectural Office’s Special Task Force HQ. There’s a wonky procedural flavor to the proceedings reminiscent of the underrated Shin Godzilla, in that it mirrors the real life Japanese collective spirit of 1.) This Is The Problem; 2.) This Is What We Do About It; and 3.) We’ve All Got Matching Jumpsuits. Honestly I think it’s ultra badass that in dire times, even the government officials start dressing like a bike gang. Or is it t’other way ’round?

It is into this disaster CIC that Tatsumi Koutarou insinuates himself, and despite being held back by police, makes sure Saga’s governor hears his pleas to prioritize restoring the infrastructure around the Tosu area—where EFS happens to be located. Koutarou knows what Saga needs is a pure, uncut injeciton of reassurance into the hearts of every Saga resident. Something to unify them so they can all defeat this horrible disaster together.

That something is, obviously Franchouchou, who are enjoying a well-deserved bath prior to the biggest show of their lives that they’re still not even sure will happen due to the ongoing calamity.

While they rest up and make sure they’re prepared come what may, Koutarou is risking imprisonment to plead his case to the people who decide what happens in Saga, while Ookoba uses all of his media connections not for Koutarou’s sake, but for those girls who give everything their all, no matter how dead they are.

Sakura may get the day of the week wrong—and there were a good eight to ten months during Covid when I lost track too!—fate smiles on the group over at Saga FM, which is not only operational and on the air, but in dire need of personalities to fill that air time. Saki then proceeds to give a vulnerable and impassioned pep talk—one of the best monologues of the whole show—and Tano Asami absolutely nails it.

The next morning, Franchouchou, the Legendary Seven, strike out from the mall shelter they’ve called home the past few days and make the trek to EFS on foot. This offers them and us an opportunity to view both the devastation and the enduring beauty of their home.

When they arrive at EFS, it again seems to mock them with its cavernous emptiness. But instead of oppressive, I saw the venue as brimming with potential. Sure enough, people who love Franchouchou and whose lives they’ve touched start to trickle in, starting with their two first and most loyal fans, the metalheads.

Maria and the delinquents past and present file in, followed by Maimai and her classmates, Iron Frill and their followers, Oozora Light and his encourage, Hisanaka Pharmaceuticals, NHBK Fukuoka news chopper who has followed the group’s story since discovering them at the mall shelter, White Ryuu and a contingent of American troops, possibly from Yokozuka. Even the Dancing Chicken Man shows up!

It’s a beautiful and heartwarming reunion of everyone from Zombieland Saga, and their numerous powerful allies and fans combined with the might of both print, TV, and social media, ensure that this time—even in the midst of what could possibly be Saga’s worst disaster in its history—a packed and positively rocking Ekimae Fudosan Stadium.

The governor’s chief of staff reminds Koutarou that all they did was “choose to prioritize the most effective strategy, after logical consideration”, which is politicspeak for “the people need this right now and we’re going to do everything in our power to see that they get it”—”it” being nothing less than the biggest and best Franchouchou show yet.

No, the zombie idols aren’t coursing with electricity and crazy laser lightshows. Their outfits aren’t over-the-top, but call to mind seven angelic figures dedicated with every fiber of their undead being to make the people of Saga not simply forget their troubles, but to give them the courage to face and defeat them through surpassingly catchy song and dance.

This is not an episode satisfied with one climactic song. It opens with a big-league build-up to the energetic first song, then some call-and-response with the Legendary Yamada Tae (whose gibberish eventually coalesces into a franchouchou chant), which transitions into a slower and more contemplative piece.

Sakura, Saki, Ai, Junko, Yuugiri, Lily, and Tae are all at the top of their games, and the crowd—no doubt still traumatized by current events—are well and truly into it. And while not as important as the revitalizing impact they have on the people of Saga, the group gets their revenge and then some.

Not only is every seat and the entire field packed this time, but while the piddling crowd of their first disastrous EFS show didn’t call for any encores because they thought it would be just too cruel, this time there’s nothing that can stop Franchouchou from heading back out onto the stage after a quick breather.

Before they do, Koutarou prostrates himself before them and despite being a “grown-ass man” starts tearing up at the sheer restorative power of the zombie idols. Silly, Koutarou, being open with your emotions is what makes men grown-ass! As they head back out to hit the crowd with their collective soul, Koutarou tries to scrub out his blood from the floor; a truly ill omen.

Franchouchou’s final song is interspersed with scenes of Saga rebuilding and people overcoming adversity together, echoing their own personal struggles as well as their struggles as a group. Let it be said that both Franchouchou and Zombieland Saga as a series left absolutely everything on the stage in its finale.

In fact, if Saga were to, say, be destroyed utterly by an alien warship reminiscent of the City Destroyers from the 1997 blockbuster Independence Day, immediately after the concert wrapped, I don’t think a single person on or off EFS’s stage who’d deny that they went out on a good note.

That’s a good thing, because immediately after the concert wraps, Saga is in fact apparently destroyed utterly by an alien warship reminiscent of the City Destroyers from the 1997 blockbuster Independence Day. It’s kind of a downer, but it’s also the kind of irreverence and absurdity I’ve come to know and love from Zombieland Saga, and why I will miss it and each and every member of Franchouchou so damn much. What a frikkin’ ending!

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Head over to Crow’s World of Anime for the latest discussion on our beloved zombie idols with Irina from I Drink and Watch Anime. Always a great read!

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 11 – Mall Zombies

Sakura wakes up in the morning to find she’s not feeling quite right, but it’s not due to her deteriorating zombie body, it’s because the mansion is literally adrift at sea. Yuugiri, master of understatement, declares things seem to have “taken a turn for the troublesome”.

Ookoba, who was about to publish an exposé that could have potentially shut Franchouchou down, is among those Saga residents wandering the muddy flooded streets in a daze. The goofiness of the floating mansion aside, this week takes a frank look at an all-too-realistic disaster befalling a part of Japan.

But when disaster hits, people tend to come together. After the mansion beaches itself and collapses (as flashes of their fun life there flash heartbreakingly by), Ai’s factory co-worker Machiko invites the girls to the Kaiton Mall, which has been set up as an emergency shelter. She finds a quiet spot for the girls to stay at the top of the stairs.

But the girls have no intention of sitting around idly. Even without Kotarou’s masterful human makeup at their disposal, they don’t shirk from pitching in wherever they’re needed, from helping out with cooking and distributing meals, to assisting with the sandbagging, to keeping the kids’ minds off their situation by having fun with them.

When night falls, many of the kids are scared and want to go home, but their tears dry up fast when Lily starts up her infectious scat-singing and dancing routine. The way Lily likes up the kids’ faces, even Saki can’t help but be wowed by Shrimpy’s idoly power.

The next day Ookoba finds himself at the mall, where NBK is interviewing the families who lost their homes and likely everything in them. To a person everyone keeps their chin up and stays upbeat and positive, both for their own sakes and for their children’s. That’s when Ookoba overhears a man being interviewed mention “the girls” who have been doing so much for the shelter.

On a makeshift stage lit by car headlamps, Franchouchou put on a show every night both to entertain the hell out of the kiddies (who are unassailably adorable) and soothe the adults’ hearts. There was more than one occasion when I teared up, their good works were so heartwarming.

The Grinch-like Ookoba was all gung-ho about exposing Koutarou’s “exploitation” of the idols for profit, but being in that dark mall full of people trying to avoid letting their minds stray to dark places, and seeing the light and joy Franchouchou give both on and off the stage, and he finally starts to understand why Koutarou brought them back to life.

And whither Koutarou, you might ask? Like the girls were initially on the S.S. Mansion, he’s in a somewhat ridiculous situation: the underground bar is completely flooded and both he and an ailing Gramps are just barely keeping their noses and mouths above water. Fortunately Policeman A finds them, making the first time Policeman A has done something useful!

Koutarou is freed from Davy Jones’ Locker none too soon, as the girls’ hastily applied makeup finally begins to chip, flake, and crumble. Before long all of them are in full zombie mode, and with a show to put on that night, their options are limited. An eavesdropping Ookoba spots them all with their natural looks, astonished more than anything else.

Koutarou is on his way to reunite with Franchouchou (thanks to a ride from Misa, using her boat to transport releif supplies) but won’t make it in time to help them. No matter; Junko comes up with a rather ingenious solution, using the materials she brought to make Ozaki dolls to make masks for everyone.

Unfortunately, while they’re able to sell the masks to the kids, who notice their resemblance to the dolls, as soon as the idols leap into the air and come back down, the masks crumble and fall away, and the crowd gets a good hard look at their dead gray skin, scars and bandages.

But here’s the thing: the kids are more confused than anything else. When the idols come clean and say they’re zombies, the kids dispute this. They define zombies as being scary. Franchouchou aren’t scary to them, they’re fun and cool and cute. Ergo, they’re not zombies, they’re Franchouchou.

Ai and the others go for it, hardly able to believe their luck. But in a way, it’s only appropriate that their hours of tireless, selfless hard work at the shelter, doing what they can taking care of others because it’s the right thing to do, be rewarded with a pass on their zombie “disguises.”

Ookoba can also hardly believe how lucky the girls are, but now appreciates how many risks they take every day of their existence. Koutarou sidles up to him and declares, simply, that Franchouchou are the [dis]”embodiment of pure idols”, and Ookoba is in no position to disagree.

As he lovingly reapplies each of the girls’ proper makeup to make them look alive again, Koutarou declares that their revenge concert at EFS will go on as planned in sixteen days, with little or no practice. It has to go on, especially now. Saga was hit by catastrophe, but came out all the stronger and closer for it.

As he takes his leave, Sakura tracks him down and thanks him for making her in idol from the bottom of her no-longer-beating heart. Sakura’s words cause Koutarou to recall flashes of his own failed past trying to make it big  when he attended Sakura’s funeral and held her battered, un-mailed audition package. While he knew he couldn’t save Saga on his own, he reached out to Gramps to bring back Sakura and the rest of the best of Saga throughout history.

For what I believe is the first time ever, he fully acknowledges Sakura, telling her she has “it”. She and the others have the potential to become “eternal idols loved around the globe, and being Franchouchou’s manager, he’ll eternally have “it”, too. It all starts with their revenge!

Irina and Crow talk episode 11 here. Check it out!

Super Cub – 07 – La Vita in Moto

Koguma has owned her Cub for half a year, while Reiko bought a new Hunter Cub. Not only do they carry themselves like the motorbiking equivalent of old salts, they  come off as old, close friends. They hang out a lot more, their earlier clipped greetings replaced by more consistent banter. Koguma even messes with Reiko, fining her for saying it’s cold, then accepting a ginkgo leaf plucked from her hair.

Everyone is saying its cold because autumn has arrived, and with it the school’s cultural festival. Koguma and Reiko’s tiny classmate Shii leads the executive committee, who have decided on an Italian-style coffee bar. Reiko knows Shii since her family runs a bakery she frequents, but when Shii asks for after school volunteers, Koguma puts Reiko’s dire need for new riding gloves first.

Why Reiko’s wealthy parents would let her go around with holes in her gloves, I can hazard a guess: they don’t know what shes up to and are too busy with their own stuff to ask. I love how Koguma keeps their shopping trip focused by taking Reiko by the arm; it’s so nice to see her being so assertive!

Koguma’s dry but fertile sense of humor continues when the two head to Reiko’s cabin to hang out, as Koguma has little patience for Reiko’s waxing poetic about non-slip work gloves. The next day, quite by accident, Koguma and Reiko end up drawn into Shii’s café plan.

When the teacher flakes out on transporting the equipment they need from the Kofu school, and Koguma overhears the committee pooh-pooh a motorbike’s cargo-carrying abilities, she steps in and volunteers to assist: partly to uphold her Cub Pride, but also because she and Reiko have the means to help.

Those means include a trailer from the gym and a frankly ingenious damped rig for carrying delicate cargo (including soba in breakable bowls!) The bike wives don their jackets in the autumn chill and get to wrenching on each others’ rides, until they have themselves a pair of pack Cubs.

When Shii comes out to see them off, Koguma and Reiko give her some percolators and tell her where she can find everything else she needs for an “classic American saloon”-themed café, in case they fail to get the equipment back in one piece. Showing her true biker-girl colors, she says you should always have a backup plan.

The resulting ride is all too familiar to Koguma, who rode to and from Kofu dozens of times for her summer job. Her teacher friend greets her with a handshake, and when she sees the girls’ bikes, she’s impressed and even inspired to procure a relative’s used Cub. When Koguma says she should get a new one and Reiko adds that old ones are “nothing but trouble”, the teacher says she “wouldn’t mind that kind of trouble.”

Thanks to Koguma and Reiko’s motorized heroics, Shii and the class’s Italian cafe is a resounding success. More importantly, a great weight of anxiety has been lifted from Shii’s slight shoulders as she pulls off her plan with aplomb. As she switches on the espresso machine and it starts to make those satisfying brewing sounds, she unleashes a beautiful smile very similar to those Koguma flashes when things go her way.

Koguma and Reiko are ready to make an Irish exit when Shii comes out and offers them some Italian coffees, a humble token of her gratitude for everything they did for her. The biker wives chortle together and gladly accept the warm drinks. Then Shii compliments their bikes as “terrific”—an adjective Koguma had never thought to assign to them.

Shii says she wants to right one someday, but is afraid she’d fall off like she often does on her regular bike. Koguma tells her Cubs are made so that “you have to want to ride them, or they won’t let you,” saying a spooked rider will spook the Cub. I don’t doubt her, as she’s logged a good many kilometers.

Still, I hope that Shii, this “delicate young lady” of whom Koguma once had a “washed-out light blue” impression, but now sees in her the bright sunny azure of a summer sky, comes to befriend our Cub Girls…She couldn’t ask for cooler people to befriend, and maybe she’ll muster the courage to join the club!

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 10 – Don’t Be a Memory Just Yet

Odin makes it official via hacked video feed at an international summit: he’s provided humanity with weapons to use, a motive to fight, and now enemies to fight. Now it’s up to them to resist their destruction. As far as he’s concerned, Ragnarök isn’t over—it’s still nigh.

Miko notes that Sono has seemingly become stronger following the loss of Yayoi, and also proposes they carry on with Tateyama’s summer festival in spite of the ongoing crisis. After all, if not now, when? Claudia accompanies Satomi on various PR gigs to shore up support for the next battle.

As for Azuzu, she’s extra-burdened by the weight on her shoulders, believing she’s the only one around her “smart” enough to comprehend that if they lose the next battle, it’s curtains for humanity. When Miko wakes her up and presents a yukata for the festival, Azu is furious: how can you think of festivals now?

She lashes out at Miko and runs off because she’s scared, and Miko knows it, so she runs around trying to locate her. Sono hides Azu, but maks it known that pretty much everyone agrees with Miko that this isn’t just an appropriate time to celebrate and make memories, but the only time. After the next battle, memories may be all remains of them.

After a brief chat with Claudia, who is as happy and at home in Takeyama as ever, Miko realizes where Azu has gone: the same vantage point where she used to gaze out at the sea when she first arrived. Azu is scared, and apologizes for being weak; Miko tells her she’s scared too, and tells her not to confuse being a crybaby with being weak.

The two lean closer, acknowledging that they may die very soon, but Miko assures her that if one of them dies, both of them will, leading to the most haunting lines of the series: “I’ll wake you in heaven for breakfast.” Now that they’ve made up, they join Claudy and Sono for the festival.

It’s a big success, as they and the townsfolk have a ton of fun doing standard festival stuff. Miko has Azu cram into her Hero Wing to apply the finishing touch: a fireworks display during the casting of water lanterns, meant to console the living as much as guide the dead.

Claudia takes it all in, as it confirms her feeling of home in this place where she one felt so out of place, and adds her song to Miko and Azu’s display, tearing up in the process. When Satomi and the head mechanic see her cry, that settles it: they, and everyone beneath them will do everything they can to protect those tears. The calm has now come and gone, and now it’s time for the decisive storm.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 09 – Don’t Be a Baby

In the opening moments of this episode, Sonoka gingerly approaches her Hero Wing as if it were a vicious wild animal about to strike, and finally collapses into a quivering heap from fear and anxiety. My breath was short just watching her, because I knew she really really shouldn’t get in that cockpit. Thankfully she doesn’t, and the guys take off in their modern fighters to join the battle, telling her they’ve got this.

The battle itself isn’t going well, as whatever Miko blows up, whether it’s the Tertiary Pillars or the Secondary’s core, regenerate almost immediately, rendering all their hard work moot. It’s like they’re caught in a time loop. And in Odin’s extradimensional “temple”, Claudia fights of the golems, one of their escorts is seriously injured, and Azusu realizes something and…freezes.

That injured soldier ends up sacrificing himself to buy the others time to flee, and Claudy has to slap Azusu to snap her out of her brain feedback loop. All that matters is that Azusu gets back to Tateyama with the knowledge she’s learned. Back at the base, the Pillars are approaching, but the pregnant civilian woman has already gone into labor.

The doctors tending her won’t abandon her, but try to think of a way to move her out of harm’s way. Sono witnesses these “ordinary heroes” and remembers her big sis Yayoi telling her to look in her charm if things get to be “too much”. Inside the charm, Sono finds a handwritten note with the words Yayoi said to her many times: “Don’t be a baby, idiot!”

Tough love to be sure, but Sono is able to laugh at the words, and recovers her nerve. I’m no psychiatrist, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t how PTSD works—there’s no cure for it in reality, though it can be successfully treated, managed, and minimized—but it works enough for Sono to confidently and heroically stride back into the hangar, hop into her Hero Wing, and join the battle.

Miko is elated to find Sono by her side (better late than never) since she’s almost out of ammo. Sono’s fully loaded, and helps plow the road so Miko can make the most of her remaining ordinance. The thousands of spinning gears around them have been a clue for how to defeat the Pillar all along: they are a clockwork that enable it to turn back time and repair itself.

Once some of the gears are jammed with Tertiary Pillars and Miko splashes the Secondary’s core, the whole intricate Rube Goldberg machine falls apart. The Pillar is destroyed, leaving a big ‘ol tree, and the 909th have their first victory in a long time, and it feels so good.

Claudy, Azuzu, and the surviving escorts make it out of Odinville and Claudy successfully closes the portal; Azuzu saves her from being pulled back in by one of the golems. The four Valkyries reunite to join the celebration of the new birth, which brings light to an otherwise dark and death-filled time.

Their celebrations don’t last long, as Azuzu presents imagery of the murals they found in Odin’s temple, which suggest that while they’ve seemingly been fighting to prevent Ragnarök, the fact Norse mythology doesn’t exist anymore suggests Ragnarök already happened. That means Odin has been lying to them at best. The episode ends with him in the temple, insisting “we have not yet fallen.”

Following a recap, this episode offered a welcome glimmer of hope for our four air maidens and their cause, but their patron god has yet to reveal his true intentions for them. I also can’t help but feel like things were resolved too neatly and easily, particularly Sono recovering from her PTSD enough to fly again…just from reading a note.

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 08 – Hard Truths and Soft Landings

The stinger for this week is only a few moments long: a toddler playing with a toy plane falls off a balcony and lands in a bush. He’s fine, but his single mother Ohnuki Yui, age 22, is massacred in the papers and online for letting it happen. Kyouichi and Inogai stop by Majima Produce to give Makoto an unusual job: check in on Yui and ensure she’s okay. When asked why Kyouichi cares, he says it’s because Yui is a fan, and “you have to take care of your fans.”

The day he fell, Yui decided to leave her 3-year-old son Kazushi unattended so she could more closely watch Kyouichi’s ballet in the park, and the fall was the result. It was a stupid, reckless mistake from a young mother, and she’s lucky he wasn’t seriously hurt. But his fall mirrors her own: she works all night, every night at a konbini bento factory to make ends barely meet, and hardly has any time for anything else, including Kazushi…to say nothing of self-care.

As the son of a single mother, Makoto can relate to Yui and Kazushi’s troubles. But he doesn’t know as well as his mother. One meeting with the mother and son and she knows Yui isn’t just on the edge of a cliff; she’s already falling, and if “something isn’t done” she’ll be in trouble.

Sure enough, that trouble arrives in the form of the kind of predator that is common in a big city: men who scout women at the edge of cliffs, and ensuring they land not on their feet, but in the sex industry. The scout appears to Yui to be a new man who is interested in her, and lavishes her with luxurious gifts. As Yui’s mood brightens, Kazushi’s darkens. Both Makoto and his mom notice, and Detective Yoshioka confirms what is  going on with her.

However, scouts like the one working Yui are hard to catch, so he recruits Makoto to follow Yui and gather evidence the scouting is taking place. Makoto hesitates, and rightly notes that the sex industry is not automatically a shameful means of paying the bills, but that ignores the manner in which Yui is being preyed upon. His mom rightfully smacks him on the ass and tells him to get going.

The more Makoto watches from afar as the sex industry scout, Shinji, plays Yui like a cat plays with a mouse, he gets angrier and angrier. But unlike Kyouichi (who would line up and shoot all the internet people denigrating Yui and even wishing death on her) or even his mother (who would walk in and chew Shinji out), Makoto uses his people skills to become fast friends with the guy, starting with complimenting his fancy shoes.

Once Shinji believes Makoto is connected to the Hidaka Group, he’s all too eager to spill the beans about his operation, in hopes one of Hidaka’s clubs or brothels could be a landing spot for his latest catch. As Shinji coldly describes Yui as “the type that can’t get by unless someone looks after her”, Makoto can barely contain his rage, but he remains cheery and enthusiastic about working with the scum.

This pays off when the next time they meet, Makoto doesn’t come alone, but with his mother, Yui, and Kazushi. Makoto plays back the recording of Shinji incriminating himself, and then Yoshioka and the cops come in and arrest him. But while Yui is now free from a predator’s net, she’s still falling. Like the bush that saved Kazushi, she’s in dire need of a soft landing.

Makoto and his mom take Yui and Kazushi to the park, Makoto discovers why Kazushi’s mood had darkened so much since Yui met Shinji: she had been harming him. The bruises on his arms aren’t marks of malice or cruelty; she clearly loves her son, but a desperate, despairing woman grasping for a way to stop her fall.

Despite that love, she cannot help but think of the better job she could get and better life she could live, if only she didn’t have the child of a man she didn’t love. As her tears fall in the heavy rain, Kazushi notices and rushes to her, giving her a hug and telling her it’s “not your fault”. Hearing this out of the literal “mouth of a babe” only makes her tears fall harder.

Makoto’s mother is frank: Yui has pushed as hard as she can, but it hasn’t been enough, and probably won’t be; if she pushes harder still, she may end up killing the child she loves. But there is one option to explore: giving Kazushi up, as in having someone look after him long enough for Yui to get her life in order.

Then Makoto’s mom admits something he never knew: after his dad died shortly after he was born, she was falling off a cliff too, as a single mother with a mound of debt running the produce shop alone. So she placed Makoto in someone else’s custody for two years, worked her ass off, paid off her debt, and only then reunited with her son.

Makoto turned out to be a good boy, and she believes Kazushi can too, if Yui speaks to a caseworker she knows. It’s a drastic and awful choice for a mother to make, but even Yui realizes it’s now time for drastic measures. In order to help her usher in this new difficult but necessary reality, Kyouichi performs his ballet in the rain just for her and Kazushi, appearing to the boy to fly through the air, like his beloved toy airplane.

We then learn from Isogai the true reason Kyouichi cares: like Makoto’s dad, both his parents were killed in an accident when he was young, and he had to live, make a living, and learn ballet in Chicago on his own. As such, he can’t look the other way when he sees a family in turmoil. Kazushi has a mom, and this way he gets to keep her. The next we see Yui, she’s wearing a business suit and pounding the pavement for a full-time job. Her falling has stopped and her landing was soft.

This is the best IWGP yet, and not because it was always easy to watch. Seeing Shinji get collared was righteous fun, but the ep is also unblinkingly frank in the fact that Yui is no saint, yet still doesn’t deserve unrelenting online scorn, nor the dark fate that awaited her on the other end of Shinji’s self predatory machinations. It also makes clear that as long as someone is making their own choices, entering the sex industry isn’t automatically bad.

In addition to the extensive nuance and complexity with which real-world issues are tackled this week is the portrayal of the importance of community, and shared concern for one’s neighbors. If something bad happens to someone and you and others can help, you fucking do it, and good outcomes are the result.

My only two marks against this outing: We still haven’t caught so much of a glimpse of Shungui since she was adopted (seriously…where is she?), and we still don’t know Makoto’s mother’s actual name. Considering her crucial role this week, that’s a pretty big oversight. But these are minor nitpicks in an otherwise strong and compelling episode.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 08 – Valhalla’s Gate

We open with Miyako, Satomi, the Shield Squadron, and the maintenance crew breaking through a barrier to reach a secret stash of equipment with which to continue the fight. Twelve hours earlier at Shimofusa Base, Satomi tells the Valkyries about this stash, located under Mt. Nokogiri in case of dire need.

Once again Azu is both frustrated and smitten with Miko’s determination to keep fighting despite the increasingly desperate odds. As for poor Sono, her last sortie and the loss of her Big Sis has rendered her too traumatized and distraught to get out of bed, let alone climb into a cockpit.

Satomi takes Azu aside to have her listen to a recording of General Okita’s last moments, during which Odin refers to such odd terms as “Valhalla” and “Asgard”. Azu isn’t familiar, but their resident Norther European Valkyrie and Odin’s favorite just might. Claudy, meanwhile, visits Lizbet, who recovers quickly, something she attributes to the blessing of Odin enduring even if his body was destroyed in the attack.

The bottom falls out of Lizbet’s heart when she hears Lily is dead, but tells Claudy that Yayoi’s last message to her was that Odin is hiding something and Claudy holds the key. Sure enough, when Azu asks her about it, Claudy recites something Odin once said about “Valhalla’s Gate” always being open to her. Sure enough, such a gate appears right there in the corridor.

The question now is should they move forward with trying to retake Takeyama with the Nokogiri stash, or go through the gate and explore Valhalla. The answer is, Why Not Both? Miko, backed up by her devoted Shield Squadron, volunteers to take Takeyama back on their own, while Azu and three escorts will accompany Claudy through the gate.

Just as they walk through it and it closes behind them, Sono appears, on her feet for the first time. At the sight of Miko she bolts but Miko chases her down. Sono is worried that every time she sees someone off it’s bad luck, but Miko takes hold of her and tells her not to think such things, and that there are ways for Valkyries to help even if they can’t fly.

As Claudy and Azu explore a grand, ornate and otherworldly corridor and Miko and the Shields prepare to sortie, Sono aids the civilian evac by helping out at the outdoor canteen. There, she’s approached by the two young pilots (lower-class Valkyries I imagine) from last week, who thank her profusely for, well, their lives, which they’re certain they wouldn’t have if not for her heroics. They vow to become “strong like her”, even though Sono breaks down after they leave, asserting she’s “not strong at all”.

Despite pushing back against the praise and gratitude of those pilots, hopefully it nevertheless helps nudge Sono closer to again stepping into a cockpit. It’s probably not a great idea at this point, but it may be necessary very soon, judging from what happens to her comrades. First, Claudy touches some rotating runes and starts to sing, then a nasty-looking golem appears, poised to attack.

As for Miko, she and her Shield take out a number of tertiary Pillars on their way to Takeyama, but there are simply Too Many Of Them, and they eventually clump together and coalesce into a secondary Pillar that totally envelops Miko’s Hero Wing. She’d flying through an otherwordly plane consisting of giant gears and strange eddies.

When the Gjallarhorn sounds, indicating the Pillars are heading towards Shimofusa, Sono urges the evacuees to remain calm, but one civilian woman collapses, having suddenly gone into labor. While the others have uphill battles with uncertain outcomes, Sono will have to do her best to help deliver the woman’s child. In other words, everyone is officially too busy to grief.

Oregairu 3 – 04 – Gradually Becoming Useless

Hikki and Yui are asked to take a look at the practice prom pictures and choose which to use on social media. Hikki leaves it to Yui, who makes sure to pick a couple of nice shots of her and Hikki dancing. After that, when they ask what’s next, Yukino tells them that’s all for now; the StuCo will handle the remainder of prom preparations, but she’ll reach out to them again if she needs any additional help.

Since neither Hikki nor Yui are busy, they decide to hang out together, with the ostensible mission of buying a gift for Komachi. Hikki geeks out at the new coffee vending machine, and the two end up in an IKEA showroom, which is a repository of various living spaces meant to inspire and entice customers. It’s apropos that Yui mentions the future and the dreams they both had as kids in such a place, where it’s never entirely possible to forget that the places aren’t real—only life-size dioramas.

That said, things seem to be going well with the prom plans until they’re not, by no fault of Yukino or Iroha. Yukino and Haruno’s mom represents members of the PTO (this schools version of the PTA) who are bristling at the idea of a prom after seeing the pictures, believing it to be “unbecoming” of high schoolers (clearly they’ve never been to an American high school dance!).

They want to cancel the prom, and Iroha’s impertinence in protesting that position and splitting hairs with the “initial consent” doesn’t help their case. Hikki can tell that Yukino’s mom is no joke, but he still reflexively tries to help by getting the school’s more positive opinion from Shizuka, and Haruno accuses him of being the “big brother” again. Yukino herself wears a defeated smile, telling Hikki if she accepts help whenever he offers it, she’ll eventually become “useless”.

Haruno later tells Hikki that his self-described “love triangle” with Yukino and Yui is really a triangle of codependency, but she’s letting her deep pessimism overlook the progress the three made. Yukino’s main issue is that she’s decided to shut Hikki (and Yui) entirely out of the prom, believing it the only way to demonstrate to her mom (and herself) that she can do it On Her Own.

That’s pretty damn harsh, if you ask me. People, be they high schoolers or adults, help their friends out when they need help! While I understand the moral objectives of a few parents (without agreeing with them), I find this absolutely-no-help, hands-off edict regarding Yukino…distasteful. No one person can organize a prom on their own, period!

What it comes down to is the reason Hikki wants to help, which is that he truly cares about Yukino, not because he needs or seeks anything in return. He and Yui are about to make some homemade cake for Komachi, but Hikki is drawn away by a text from Iroha indicating the PTO has gone forward with cancelling the prom outright.

Hikki calls Shizuka for the skinny, but she makes sure to ask him the reason he wants and needs to get involved, and after briefly clamming up, he tells her: because he “promised to save her someday” (which he did in season 2, episode 9). It’s as simple as that. When Yui hears that, and Hikki prepares to head back to school, a couple of tears fall, then stop; she claims they’re out of relief.

As Hikki runs away from her and towards Yukino, the tears start falling again, and they won’t stop. Part of her wishes they hadn’t stopped when they did, since Hikki might’ve stayed. But between Hikki running off like he did and the photo she found in Yukino’s room, the love triangle Hikki mentioned is looking more and more like a straight line.

Oregairu 3 – 03 – Prommin’ It Up Like “Yay!”

Before Yukino and Yui and Iroha, there was Totsuka Saika and Hiratsuka-sensei. Oregairu finally gets around to having some sustained scenes between these two and Hikki, but the fact they’re in the margins is proof that Hiratsuka-sensei’s gambit paid off, and Hikki has truly branched out socially. To that end, Hiratsuka-sensei seems poised to leave the school, while Hikki is disappointed Saika can’t find an opening in his schedule for a long-belated date.

Their chat is interrupted by Saki suddenly running out, and the two boys run after her. As expected, Komachi has passed her entry exam, and she collapses into her big bro’s bosom with tears of joy and relief. Saki is also pleased that Taichi passed, though she initially acts like she can’t believe it. When Taichi (re-)introduces himself, Hikki promptly tells him not to call him “onii-chan.”

The subject being a big brother (and having little sisters) is something on which Hikki has very strong and unwavering opinions. When Iroha comes to him hoping to get him to help her out with the prom preparations, he warns Iroha not to rely on Yukino, who doesn’t have the stamina for her workaholic pretensions.

Iroha labels Hikki as overprotective, like a big bro or even dad would be, but notes that no girl is “happy being treated like a little sister.” To Hikki, there is only one woman for whom he is a big brother, and that’s Komachi, because she literally is his little sister. Anyone who uses those terms for anything else needs to “repent”.

Hikki dispenses with Iroha’s notion that he’d one day try to flirt with her by stating “I can’t think of you as a little sister anymore”, and Iroha acknowledges it, albeit not with a little bit of her usual “polite-rejection” act. Iroha gets Hikki to help her out, but not because she’s his little sister.

It’s clear Hikki kept his distance from prom prep in part because Yukino really wanted to pull this off on her own, but there’s another more practical reason: he was out of the comms loop due to his virtual non-participation in social media. No matter; if he’s not clear what a “prom” is, Yukino, Yui, and Iroha are fully prepared to show him.

Yukino wants to film some marketing materials for the prom to be used both on social and the official school website. To that end, she’s fitted out the gym/auditorium in full prom regalia, while various boys and girls have been recruited to portray prom-goers dancing and having fun.

This also means dressing the part, and Yukino, not wanting to tax a potential prom king, decides to portray the king herself, in an a suit and tailcoat that’s dapper all get out! I LOL’d at Hikki describing his reflection as a washed-up pianist, but Yukino’s adjustments of his cufflinks and handkerchief make a big difference.

And then there’s Yui, whose gorgeous black-and-white dress is being adjusted by Saki and who does her makeup like this is the real thing. She even feels too self-conscious when Hikki is staring at her intently, but once they’re out on the floor, the lights go down and the music comes up, Yui gets some genuine giddy joy out of this dry-run practice prom, because at least for a few lovely moments, she’s in the arms of the man she likes.

As for Hikki, when the lights turn from blue to red, the music bpms go up and the dancing get more playful and primal, he stands off from the crowd. Now he gets the gist of the prom…and that it’s just not his thing at all! I don’t know how or even if the real prom will resolve the Hikki-Yukino-Yui triangle, but on the matter of Yukino Gettin’ Shit Done, it’s mission accomplished so far!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 22 – Enter Sandcard

It’s probably for the best that CCS decided to take a break from Meiling and Syaoran to return the focus to the impressive Kinomoto family. When Touya and Sakura’s dad has to work long nights on a tight deadline for a manuscript, the siblings put aside their petty squabbling and do all of their dad’s share of chores, without him having to even ask! If that doesn’t show you he raised some good kids, I don’t know what does.

Sakura wants to extend her helping hand, so she visits her dad at university with Tomoyo, and his lab assistants let her peek in on one of his inspiring and sought-after history lectures. It’s great to see Sakura beam with pride over her father’s work, and wants to do everything she can to make his life easier. Unfortunately, there’s a Sleep Clow Card determined to render her dad and his team unconscious!

Sleep is another one of those mischievous “catch me if you can” cards that wreaks as much havoc as possible before being caught—it even manages to knock Kero-chan out! But thanks to a combination of Jump and Windy, Sakura is able to dodge the magic sleeping dust and disorient the card enough to seal it. However, in the process Sakura causes a lot of damage in her father’s office—and breaks his laptop!

Sakura is beside herself with guilt, but by now we know her father would much rather miss a deadline than watch his only daughter cry, so he forgives her on the spot and urges her not to worry about it. Of course, since Sakura is such a good girl, she can’t help but lose sleep over the accident.

Her dad finds a way to cheer Sakura up the next day: by enlisting her and Touya as his final night assistants. By the time morning comes, Sakura has nodded off but the manuscript is complete. He even has time to make Sakura a lunch with a note urging her to do her best, mirroring the lunch and note she made for him. What a beautiful, love-filled episode!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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