Mieruko-chan – 11 – Meowruko-chan

While last week seemingly confirmed that Toono Zen was a Bad Dude who was behind the local cat abuse, all the episode really did was confirm that he’s an odd, lonely young man; it didn’t explicitly show him actually doing anything. Now we learn that both we and Miko judged him too quickly.

First we flash back to Zen’s childhood, which was strictly controlled by his mother, who wouldn’t let him for relationships with anyone or anything other than her without accusing him of “betraying her like his father,” and punished him by squeezing his head if he kept secrets from her.

Fast-forward to the present, when Miko has decided she can no longer stand by and do nothing while Hana is basically starved by the spirits surrounding Zen-sensei. She carefully follows Zen down mostly empty and isolated streets, until he comes across a mangy stray kitten in a tunnel.

Miko had planned to call the police and catch Zen red-handed abusing a cat, but couldn’t let the act actually happen, and cries out when it looks like he’s about to crush the little kitty’s head…which we already saw was a similar gesture her mother performed on him many times.

Zen asks Miko if she followed him and what she’s doing, and the huge ghoul seemingly protecting him pops out and threatens her. Miko runs with the kitten in hand, but trips and falls, though the kitten is unharmed. Startled, it jumps out of her hands and runs right into the street.

Right on cue, Car-kun races down that street at breakneck speed, threatening to flatten the poor kitty. But then Zen leaps out in front of the car to save the kitten, and suddenly Miko has no idea what is going on. Why would he want to save a cat…then kill it?

Turns out Zen wanted to do nothing of the sort. At the hospital, he tells Miko not to blame herself for what happened; he chose to leap in front of the car. He further explains that someone in his area—not him—has been abusing animals, and he was patrolling the area like usual.

Because of the odd way Miko had interacted with him when he answered the message about adopting another stray cat, as well as her odd demeanor at school, Zen assumed she might be the animal-abusing culprit, proving that both of these people simply needed more information before forming assumptions.

Miko gets more context on the hospital’s roof from Satoru, Zen’s friend since grade school, learning about his strict—nay, fucking psycho mother, who killed his pet cat when she found out about it, which…goddamn. Satoru, a vet, is the one Zen brings all the cats he finds so that he can secure new homes for them.

Lately, with the animal abuser, Zen has only found cats who are either already dead or close to it, which explains last week’s suspicious scene. As for why Satoru helps Zen, well…for the same reason Miko wants to help Hana: if your friend is in trouble, you do what you can to help them!

Now that Miko knows that the cat spirits are the result of Zen encountering the victims of the animal abuser, and the ghoul was once his horrible mother, she decides to help Zen out, for his sake, for Hana’s sake, and hell, for her own sake. She addresses Zen’s mother-ghoul directly, asking her to set him free, and she charges after her into the corridor.

I’m not sure if Miko intended for the fox spirits to arrive and destroy the mother-ghoul, but I’m not sure what else she expected, considering she put herself in harm’s way. It’s supposedly the third and final time they’ll help her, but at least it was for a good cause, and will end up helping both Hana and Zen. But who knows; maybe this is only the beginning of Miko taking a more active role in helping people with her ability.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mieruko-chan – 06 – Aw, No…Hana!

While there’s equal or greater Miko at either end, the middle of this episode is All Hana, All The Time, starting with her waking up to find her clock stopped, eating a giant stack of pancakes for breakfast, and lights flickering and going out around her. This is because one of the bigger and more grotesque ghouls to appear in Mieruko-chan is following Hana around, even using her dazzling aura as a kind of grill to sear smaller ghouls to snack on!

I love that as sinister and deadly as this monster looks, the only thing we know for sure is that he loves barbecue…that could be the only reason he’s haunting Hana! For while he gets awfully close to Hana and messes with lights and clocks around her, he doesn’t seem capable of actually hurting Hana, even when she braves a haunted abandoned building to retrieve a crying boy’s dog.

Once both boy and dog are happily home, Hana swears she’ll never put herself through something that terrifying again. And Hana didn’t actually see any ghosts! Like most people, she was simply scared of the unknown in the darkness. It’s probably for the best she can’t see what’s actually there, like Miko.

This proves especially true when Miko takes Hana to a shrine with an ulterior motive: pray to the local deity to do something about the monster still haunting Hana’s steps. While Hana soaks in the Ghibli vibes (even humming a bit of a tune from Nausicaa), Miko watches all paranormal hell break loose…or is it heaven?

Why not both? The black shadowy monster seemingly bests the two golden fox deities, only to be destroyed by what seems to be their big, big brother.

After the shadow monster is pulverized, the golden monsters converse in a strange language neither we nor Miko understand, then the larger of the three does…something to Miko while saying the one thing we do understand: “Three times,” then vanishing with a gust of wind.

Did this deity protect Miko from three future hauntings? Both we and Miko will have to wait to find out what, if anything, these deities did. All the while, Hana grabbed some sweet Insta pics that don’t even need filters!

Mieruko-chan – 05 – Of Moms and Manjuu

Mieruko-chan sticks to two main stories, one in which Niguredou Yuria is finally introduced as a third character who can see ghosts and ghouls—more clearly than the old fortune-teller but less clearly than Miko. As we’ve seen on the margins of past episodes, she’s been watching Miko, convinced she can see what she sees.

The thing is, Mieruko is still committed to not disclosing that she can see them, especially when a much larger and spookier ghoul is in the gym storage room that Yuria can’t even see. Her solution for not discussing it is to use a signature submission move of her favorite wrestler, Badger: a serpent drop. It’s not surprising Yuria thinks Miko is threatening her in the nurse’s office later, but it’s just a bit of miscommunication.

Meanwhile, Miko is now seeing so much that others can’t that sometimes she can’t tell ghouls from humans, as she mistakes a tiny, ancient, but very much still alive granny on some steps. She carries the lady to her house, where her daughter proceeds to thank her by going in the house to grab some manjuu. That’s when a creepy business suit-wearing ghoul approaches Miko and she just wants to leave.

The thing is, the ghoul keeps repeating the same four-digit number, which Miko finally types into her smartphone and shows the old lady. Suddenly, like a switch flipped, the granny, whose daughter said had serious dementia, is lucid again. She uses the code to open her safe, use the comb within her departed husband gave her to put her hair up, and prepares to make some pork miso soup.

The granny invites Miko to join them, but seeing what amounts to a mother-daughter reunion (with the ghoul of the father thanking Miko before shambling off), Miko is eager to get home to her family. She makes sure to text her mom she’s on the way home, and when her mom sends a goofy sticker back, Miko can’t help but smile.

Once again, in a very real and meaningful way, Miko’s ability has allowed her to help improve the lives of others. Even if it wasn’t entirely intentional, she helped that lady home and typed that code into her phone. Yuria may want to be a spiritualist, but Miko seems to already be a kind of saint—an individual performing unexplainable deeds for the betterment of others.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 12 (S2 E01) – New Home, New Hope

86 is back…and there are some changes. San Magnolia’s awful system hasn’t changed, and Lena is still stuck in it (for now), but she’s adjusted the way she operates within it. Demoted to captain, she wears a streak of blood red in her hair and wears a black uniform to set herself apart from her drunken peers. She has a new squadron of Eighty-Six led by Iida Shiden, AKA Cyclops.

She handles them as she handled Shin’s squad; with as much compassion and care as she can. She learned their names from the start and has built a good rapport with Cyclops, who calls her “My Queen”. Most importantly, Lena is doing what she promised Shin and the others she would do: live on; survive. For her, that means preparing for the massive Legion offensive she senses is coming, even if her superiors are doing nothing.

Lena is maintaining and biding her time. As for her old friends Shin, Raiden, Anju, Kurena, and Theo? Amazingly, they’re all still alive, which is tremendous news. 86 really ripped my heart out, but it went a long way towards repairing that emotional damage by bringing them back without it feeling contrived or out of left field. Shin and the others are now honored guests of Giad, which is no longer the empire that created the Legion, but a diverse inclusive federacy.

That said, they should consider themselves lucky Giad’s President Ernst Zimmerman is, at least on the surface, a man of conscience and compassion, who wants only to give these found children, cast out of their homeland after fighting so long and hard, a measure of peace. Of course, Zimmerman is also a politician, and while I don’t know what his ultimate plan for the five is, I’m certain there is a plan, and his smiles and politeness are probably hiding darker intentions.

That said, it’s hard to argue that Giad is far better adjusted nation than San Magnolia, what with there not being apartheid and battlefield slavery of non-Alba citizens. Alba and non-Alba share the same streets and have families together. Zimmerman also wants his five new guests to be as comfortable as possible, and so arranges for them to live in his presidential mansion. That mansion also happens to be occupied by a haughty little spitfire of a girl named Frederica Rosenfort (Kuno Misaki).

Her hair and eye color suggest some kind of connection to Shin, while it’s clear Zimmerman is hiding the fact she is the last surviving Giadian Empress from the general public; officially, she’s his adopted daughter, as are Shin and the others. You can tell after their ordeal the five are simply tired, but they also look uncomfortable and awkward in such plush surroundings.

Between their new situation and Lena’s maintaining, there’s going to be a lot of adjusting and adapting in store for them. The new OP also indicates it’s only a matter of time before the five are back in the cockpits of war machines, but the president is right about one thing: that’s probably where they want to be because it’s all they know.

Giad is battling the Legion the same as San Magnolia. It’s obvious that if the two nations worked together, and San Magnolia, say, was run by Lena and not opportunists and drunks, that nation would be far better off. Shin & Co. certainly seem better off, while Lena has at developed a thicker armor.  We’ll see if it all pays off.

The aquatope on white sand – 04 – The girl with the red boots

Aquatope continues to meld stories of personal pain and growth, hints of romance, and slice of life in a unique setting with aplomb. This week we meet another employee of the aquarium, the gentle giant Umi-yan. He’s the first to realize that Fuuka is the Fuuka formerly of Yona Pro, and soon spreads the word to Udon-chan and Karin.

After work when Kukuru stops by Udon’s, she and Karin tell Kukuru while Fuuka sits in awkward silence with Kai, who just happens to flip to a channel on TV showing Yona Pro at an event. Just seeing the girl she let usurp her causes a visceral reaction in Fuuka, and Kai, also in on the big secret, quickly changes the channel.

The next morning, three old ladies are drawn into the aquarium before opening time to bask in Fuuka’s youthful beauty. The next day is a big one; the “Touch Pool” where kids get to touch sea creatures rather than just look at them.

Kukuru decides to give Fuuka more responsibility by being an attendant to the pools. While gathering creatures for the pool, Kai asks Kukuru whether Fuuka, who entered their lives so suddenly, will leave it just as suddenly some day.

Fuuka takes to her new job like a fish to water, taking voracious notes and adding her own cute little touches to make it a more colorful and fun experience. She even upgrades to bright red boots, surprising the rest of the staff. But considering they all knew she was an idol, should they be surprised?

When the day comes, things go swimmingly…at first. The kids love Fuuka and she crammed enough knowledge of the creatures to back her charm up with helpful knowledge. But then some older kids spot her, recognize her as the fallen idol, and prepare to snap pictures. Karin steps into their shot just in time, asking that they please not take non-consensual photos of the staff.

Umi-yan takes over the pool while a visibly shaken Fuuka, who tried so hard to buck up, is taken to the back by Kukuru to calm down. Kukuru apologizes profusely for getting so caught up in making the touch pool a success that she didn’t consider how Fuuka would feel.

But Fuuka doesn’t want her to apologize. She chose to be an attendant, and was happy when Kukuru put her to work and praised her. It’s here when Fuuka realizes that she wants to do a good job because she wanted to get to know Kukuru better and get closer to her.

Kukuru, in turn, realizes she wanted to give Fuuka more work so she’d fall in love with Gama Gama even more, so she could become closer to her. Pracicing what they preach to the kids about how touching a sea creature is worth a hundred words about it, Fuuka takes Kukuru’s hand and places it on her face, and Kukuru does the same with Fuuka’s hand.

Like Karin and Udon, I was absolutely slain by this scene, as it was surpassingly adorable and heartwarming in equal measure. It’s also to date the most overt expression of the show’s shoujo-ai overtones. Kai seems to have a thing for Kukuru but they’re old old friends; it’s different. Fuuka, on the other hand, inspires passion in Kukuru, and the feeling is mutual. They make each other better while helping each other heal from their wounds.

Fuuka returns to the touch pools with heightened confidence and poise, looking the older kids head-on and welcoming them to ask her anything…provided it’s about sea creatures. They look suitably chastened…how would they like it if someone took pictures of them when they were working?

After a long, exhausting, but ultimately successful and immensely fun day, Kukuru and Fuuka ride home, and before hitting the hay exhibit a far closer and more comfortable rapport, with lots of smiles and laughs. No doubt due to the exertions of the day, they end up oversleeping, but don’t sweat it. In fact, Kukuru decides to start the day by pouncing on Fuuka.

Naturally, someone had to piss in this blissful bowl of Cheerios, but thankfully the dread I felt as they approached the aquarium that those loan sharks had committed some kind of vandalism was mistaken. Instead, Fuuka’s stern-looking mom has arrived in Okinawa…and she doesn’t look happy.

Considering we’ve got twenty more episodes to work with, would the series dare separate Fuuka and Kukuru just when they’ve gotten so close? I dearly hope not! Instead it’s my wish that, as they pray to Kijimunaa each morning, as long as they keep doing what’s right, everything will work out.


The aquatope on white sand – 03 – First penguin

“Time not important. Only life important.”—Mondoshawan Caretaker, The Fifth Element

Before waking up for another busy day juggling school and thre directorship, Kukuru dreams of when her parents took her to the Gama Gama and she got to name her first penguin, Choko. He’s still with the aquarium fifteen years later, and was the first one in line when Fuuka’s doomed feeding session. Fortunately, she’s a lot better at feeding Choko here.

Besides being a surpassingly good boy, Choko, like the aquarium, is one of the ways Kukuru connects to her folks, who passed away not long after the aquarium visit in her dream. Fuuka learns this from Kukuru’s childhood friend Kai, who genuinely respects how hard Kukuru is working and wants to help in any way he can. Like Choko, Kai is also a good boy.

When Kukuru notices sores on Choko’s legs, she uses her authority as summer director to summon the vet Takeshita (Hanazawa Kana), who is on maternity leave and very pregnant, but also happy to stop by and examine the penguins.

But then, while at the aquarium, her water breaks. Kukuru initially panics, but when Kuuya addresses her by her position as acting director she slaps her cheeks, gets a grip, and makes Takeshita comfortable until a car (Karin’s) can arrive to take her to the maternity home.

While Kukuru and Fuuka are tending to her, Takeshita has a dream, not that dissimilar from the one Fuuka had that led her to want to get a job there. After Kukuru repeats what Takeshita once told her—that Gama Gama is a place where all life is protected, both aquatic and human—the aquarium seems to envelop the vet in its tranquil, watery bosom.

She sees the deity Kujimunaa playing with the image of her about-to-be-born son, who then swims down to hug her and tell her she’s about to meet him. It’s just such a moving, beautiful, and heart-swelling scene; one that demonstrates the true power behind what Kukuru is desperately trying to protect.

In this regard, Kukuru is like Choko: the “First Penguin” to dive into uncertain waters and have a positive effect on those around them. Those who either love the aquarium, or Kukuru, or both can’t help but want to give their all in trying to help Kukuru rescue Gama Gama.

And when Kuuya points out that the penguin keychain that catches Fuuka’s eye in the gift shop was made by Kukuru, she buys one for herself. After the two visit Takeshita and her healthy baby boy, Kukuru notices Fuuka has one of her keychains, it cheers her up after the bittersweet visit when the presence of a new mother in Takeshita reminded Kukuru that hers is gone.

Kukuru’s visit to Takeshita was also instructive, as she learned more about the “maternity handbooks” she found. They’re given to expectant mothers, meaning the ones Kukuru found were her mother’s. One bore her name, but the other was blank. I’m still not sure where this thread is going, as Kukuru confirms she’s never been pregnant, but the theme of maternity is certainly a rare and intriguing one for a slice of life anime.

The aquatope on white sand – 02 – Idol into water

Kukuru accepts Fuuka’s sudden offer to work, but since shes only the summer director of the aquarium, she gives Fuuka a ride to her house on her scooter (not a Super Cub, mind you!) to ask her gramps, who is director the rest of the year.

Kukuru’s gramps not only agrees to take Fuuka on at the aquarium, but will let her stay at their super cozy and comfy house. Kukuru isnt surprised by either, or by her gran accepting Fuuka’s offer to help her make Okinawan doughnuts. These are just really kind, laid back people.

The next morning starts out a little rough when Kukuru notices Fuuka’s painted nails for the first time, and perhaps too harshly demands that she remove it for the sake of the plants and animals there. Then our fish-out-of-water idol ends up in the water when she’s assigned the task of feeding some hungry penguins and makes a total cock-up of it.

While initially played for laughs (the little kids watching were certainly entertained), in the back room Kukuru chews Fuuka out for not considering the safety of the people and animals at all times. She tells Fuuka in no uncertain terms that if any creature is harmed as a result of Fuuka’s lack of care, she’ll never forgive her.

Karin, the tour guide who brought Fuuka to the aquarium in the first place, asks that she cut her friend Kukuru a little slack. The previous night, we saw Kukuru presenting a list of new equipment to Karin and their mutual friend Tsukimi (or “Udon-chan” since her fam runs a noodle diner and tsukimiudon is a thing) totalling over three million yen.

The bottom line is that Kukuru’s gramps intends to shut the long-struggling aquarium down to complete his retirement. But Kukuru is determined to stake her entire summer on breathing life into the flat-lining business. She knows that if such a special place were to close down, it would probably never come back.

When two unsavory loan sharks (heh heh) roll in and try to swindle Kukuru into debt she cant repay (or worse) and carelessly knock over the cute wooden sign welcoming guests with letters made from shells, Fuuka, having heard Kukuru’s struggle, finally shows some fire, chewing out the sharks and spraying them with the hose. As her employer, Kukuru is appalled; but as a person, seeing Fuuka go to the plate cheered her up big-time.

Karin arranges a impromptu welcoming party for Fuuka that night, with Udon-chan serving both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and the two boys in the show, Kuuya and Kai, also making an appearance. While Kuuya isn’t so good around girls, Kai seems to have a think for Kukuru, and the feeling isn’t necessarily not mutual. When he hears Kukuru could use another strong back, he’s not about to hide in the corner.

These scenes of people just kicking back and relaxing after a stressful day and welcoming their new gorgeous, mysterious friend, are just so lovely to behold. They emanate comfort warmth in smooth waves, like the gentle breakers on the beach. Ditto when Kukuru and Fuuka walk home in the serene darkness. You can really feel the quietude of the sleepy countryside they inhabit.

After hearing from Karin about Kukuru’s predicament with the aquarium, a fire was lit under Fuuka, resulting in her going off on those goofy loan sharks. Hearing Kukuru’s story also inspires her to open up to Kukuru about how she ended up there, living and working with her. If Kukuru’s dream is to protect her “home”—the aquarium—then Fuuka’s dream was to become a successful and beloved idol, making people happy with her singing…like Diva!

But then, quite suddenly, without warning, and without any fanfare or rancor…her dream simply ended. She heard a younger member wanted to be center for her ailing gran’s sake. She was a true idol, honorable and kind, but it was career suicide, and she was eventually cashiered out of the industry altogether.

But even if her dream ended, she still has what it takes to help support someone else’s dream; in this case Kukuru’s. At first she would have been fine ending up anywhere but back home where she’d have to face something worse than the scorn of her family and friends for her failure—but their love and understanding. Fuuka may be ready for that some day, but for now she’s fine being in a new place with new people.

And she definitely considers Kukuru a kindred spirit. The two even sigh at the same time, and the episode ends with them staring longingly into their big shimmering eyes. While their friendship has been steadily building up since the low of the penguin incident and the high of the shark-soaking, it is well and truly made official on that beach.

Fuuka is committed to helping Kukuru keep her dream alive, and her arrival has put a fresh, optimistic wind in Kukuru’s sails. I’m sure there will be more bumps (icebergs) down the road (sea?)—after all, this is a twenty-four episode series—but I’m looking forward to it more than anything else this summer.

86 – 11 (Fin) – All Over but the Crying

We arrive at October 30th, the day the five remaining members of Spearhead get into a scrap with the Legion and lose Fido as well as all but Shin’s Juggernaut. Things are getting desperate and they’re running low on ammo, fuel, and food, which means soon their recon mission will be at an end. All of them know what that means, but rather than dwell on that, they simply keep living their lives until the time fate decides to take them.

This means taking shifts piloting the ‘naut while the others rest or watch the rear from the remaining cargo bot. Thanks to Shin’s instincts and a rainstorm they manage to evade another Legion patrol, but the Legion become more legion by the day. The group finds an abandoned town and decide to take shelter in a school—the first school Kurena’s ever been to. They take a final roll call, and “graduate” the next day.

When they hit a literal wall of sheer rock, Shin suddenly asks to switch with Anju, who is piloting, claiming he’s bored. Once they switch, he cuts the tether to split off from the others and uses his grappler to bring down some rocks so they won’t follow. He sensed more Legion were coming; Legion they wouldn’t escape unless he lured them away. The others aren’t okay with this. Raiden, Anju, Kurena and Theo all agree to go after him.

With no Juggernauts, they have to go on foot, and arrive just as Shin’s ride is trashed and a Legion prepares to crack it open like a tin of sardines and claim his head. Only the weakest of the charging Legion are susceptible to their small arms, and even then only headshots, and there are too many of them. First Theo, then everyone else goes down fighting. The light of the Legion prepares to take Shin’s head—but he has his sidearm. Does it succeed?

We finally check in on Lena, who is under house arrest for her little stunt with the mortars. Even so, she pays a visit to the front lines, and to Spearhead’s HQ. A new group of 86 are being processed. The cycle continues.

Lena is greeted by Lt. Albrecht, who reveals he’s an Alba like her whose wife and daughter were 86 and died in battle. Thanks to Shin, he was given a measure of solace in knowing they didn’t become Legion, as Shin never heard them call Albrecht’s name.

Lena then walks through the now abandoned living space like a ghost looking so out of place after having been in essentially another world the whole time. It’s just so heartbreaking that by the time she was finally able to make it here, everyone she spoke to over the Para-RAID was already gone.

While the cycle of using 86 as cannon fodder continues, there was at least a crucial change. Lena and Shin forged a genuine connection, and it rubbed off on the others too, as they left her a memento: Theo’s drawing of her with handwritten notes from him, Shin, Raiden, Kurena, and Anju. More importantly, they left a Polaroid of the whole group, helpfully labelled by Theo “so she wouldn’t cry” about not being able to tell who was who.

In the end, as a practical matter, all Lena was able to do by breaking protocol and getting in trouble was extend the five’s lives by a few more days. Instead of dying on one battlefield, they died on another. But with Fido gone and his records destroyed, Lena now holds some of the last remaining artifacts of their existence—other than the wrecks and bodies they left behind somewhere out there, after reaching their final destinations.

Lena will surely treasure these things, as well as the cat left in her care, but they’re also primed to fuel her continued rebellion against the broken evil system she’s blindly served for too long. She couldn’t end the injustice for Shin and the others, but perhaps with enough allies and some luck, she can end it for others. Or maybe not. But like them, she’ll fight until fate comes for her.

Maybe then they’ll all get to finally reunite…for the first time.

So ends the first cour of 86. What a powerful show. We’ve known since the start there would definitely be a second one, but now we know there will be a “Special Episode” in between the two. What I’m a little fuzzy on is what exactly became of Shin.

I’d like to hope he managed to shoot himself in the head, and that seems to be supported by the fact he reunites with his brother, whom we know he freed from the Legion. We also see Shin’s headless body. But nothing is certain, which is why I’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

86 – 10 – We’ve Come This Far

86 eschews dialogue and even diagetic sound, sticking with visuals and music to tell the story of Spearhead’s newfound freedom. Followed by their ever-trusty robot porter Fido, Raiden, Theo, Kurena, Anju and a far happier, less haunted Shin continue their “deep recon” mission by heading further and further from their Republic minders, camping out and keeping a low profile as columns of Legion pass by in the night.

It’s so nice to finally see these good kids get to live like the kids they are, not always having to worry about going into battle or being killed or being turned into a Legion. Being in the vivid blues, greens, and purples of nature make for a nice change of pace from their usual gunmetal grays and blood reds. They wash their uniforms, and trip to an old Imperial town nets them a boiler in which to heat a much-appreciated bath.

Shin is smiling and laughing the whole time, but still seems distracted by something, though it’s no longer his brother, whom he’s satisfied is now at rest. Like the others, I feared the worst when they woke up to find him gone, but Raiden remembered the tunnel in the town Shin took a good look at, and it leads them to a zoo where he’s found an immobile Legion with the brain of an 86, which Shin puts out of its misery.

The five stare for a long time at the skeleton of an elephant and other beasts who died locked behind bars, and wonder if they’ll end up the same way. It’s Fido, of all of them, who tells them to stop talking about such things and keep moving forward. While Raiden withdraws his question of whether Shin will be going across the water by himself—and possibly to the good Major, who doesn’t appear this week—he probably already knows the answer.

After the credits roll with almost ten minutes left, we get a retrospective of sorts of the life of Fido, starting with him finding and befriending Shin. He’s been there since this most recent cycle of Spearhead began, and probably before that, and all this time has been capturing all of these small moments of joy and grief. Shots of characters long gone smiling and playing are shown, then immediately juxtaposed of images from the day they died.

The most foreboding and indeed deeply upsetting moment we see happens at the very end, with Fido, and all of the memories he contained that for many of the 86 represented their only record of having existed on this earth, is blown up, most likely by Legion, on October 30, the latest date we’ve seen so far.

On one level, I have to think Shin and the others will be alright, even if Fido very clearly isn’t. And even with Fido’s stored “memories” have gone up in smoke, those five still carry memories of the fallen—all 576 of them, including Shin’s brother. The question is, assuming they’re alright, what will become of them? Will Shin find a way to get to Lena? I suspect next week’s season one finale will focus exclusively on her, and what progress if any she’s made in her one-woman crusade to save the soul of her nation.

86 – 09 – No Signal

“If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled…for you are in Elysium, and you are already dead!”—Maximus

This week, Spearhead, whose living members now consist only of Kurena, Raiden, Theo, Anju, and Shin, ride out into a vast, dark, and bleak battlefield, where the five of them must face hundreds if not thousands of Legion, because they were never even meant to make it thisfar in their military “careers”.

Of course, Shin has something else in mind: he’s singularly invested in finding his brother and putting him out of his misery. He orders Raiden to take over the unit and find cover in the nearby forest, but his four comrades aren’t about to leave him. Instead, they do what they can to give Shin a clear shot at Shourei.

As it turns out, Lena has a surprise in store for all of them: she managed to get access to the republic mortars, while also being able to swap vision in one of her eyes with Raiden so she can target more precisely. In that split second, Raiden—and only Raiden—catches a glimpse of their “pig princess” Handler.

When Lena prepares to launch a massive mortar attack on Shourei Legion’s position—which is also where Shin is, dodging and grappling—the others are apprehensive: doe she mean to kill Shin too? Far from it; instead, she’s giving Shin the opening he needs.

The impacting mortars are represented in Shourei’s mind by the young Lena slapping him into something resembling coherence, and acceptance that Shin no longer needs his brother to look after him. Instead, his brother needs to know that he’ll be at rest.

The opening is created, and Shin takes his shot, saying goodbye to his brother and then sobbing his eyes out both in grief over his brother’s loss and relief that he’s no longer a technological abomination who wasn’t allowed to die naturally.

From here we shift to Lena’s little control room, and she heeds Raiden’s call to shut off the link for now, as Shin wouldn’t want anyone hearing him cry. She then turns to a sullen-looking Annette sitting in the corner with laptops. We go back a bit to before the battle, when Lena visits Annette despite Annette saying she didn’t want to see her again.

Lena tells Annette that her old neighbor Shin is none other than Undertaker of the Spearhead unit, that she speaks to him every day, and that this is now Annette’s third chance to save him, the first two times having run away. While at first apathetic, knowing it’s Shin forces Annette’s hand. She calls Lena “the devil” for pulling such a stunt, but Lena simply says “that’s right; I am…and so are you.” Better to be devils who care.

With what was supposed to be the battle that should have wiped out Spearhead once and for all ending in unlikely victory thanks in large part to Annette’s hacking, Shin and the others give their heartfelt thanks to Lena, as well as tease her for having turned into a “bad girl” by breaking the rules to save them.

But after that, the group continues their advance without further input from Lena. In fact, all she can say as they head closer and closer to a foreboding “UNKNOWN” area is “please don’t leave me!” It occurs to her that while she made little drawings of them, her only connection to them is the Para-RAID, and soon the distance between them will grow too great to maintain that connection.

Lena bolts out of her control room and runs out of the headquarters, out into the streets, and just keeps running, all while Kurena, Raiden, Anju, Theo, and Shin describe their surroundings, mentioning a “cathedral” the same time we see the one in Lena’s capital, and describing flowers that fall when you touch them carpeting the ground.

As they approach at the barrier of District 86 and the limits of the Republic’s control area, Lena’s desperate dash to maintain reception ends with her losing a heel and ending up collapsed on a lonely cobblestone bridge, suddenly, heartbreakingly alone. Her Para-RAID blinks out, and back at HQ the signals of the five remaining members of Spearhead are lost.

Losing  Spearhead is just one of many burdens Lena will have to bear if she’s truly serious about helping all Eighty Six—not just the ones with which she cultivated a quasi-friendship. Her resolute insistence on Doing What’s Right despite being a devil demands she keep doing what she can—as long as she is able—to end the unjust suffering of the oppressed.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 09

You’d hope Nishikata getting a cell phone would be a chance for him to grow up a little, but he only sees it as the trump card in his futile quest to successfully tease Takagi.

Perhaps he grew up a bit in spite of his intentions, since it doesn’t take long for him to cave and spout his whole plan to Takagi, who saw it coming from miles away. In any case, Takagi wants his contact info anyway, so they exchange it, and she promises to use it.

For calling him out on his attempted tease, Takagi appeals to Nishikata’s general honor by telling him he should make it up to her by helping her with classroom day duty; Nishikata does not resist. He’s tired because he couldn’t sleep after watching a scary video on his phone.

When he sends it to Takagi, she first teases him by showing him a picture of a woman in a bikini, asking if that’s what he sent, then watches the video, only to not be that scared at all because it’s not nighttime (and because let’s face it, it’s a dumb video).

That night, at the same time Nishikata is about to send her another scary video, she calls him to head it off, again correctly predicting his behavior (though that isn’t that hard at this point).

What results is what she wanted all along: to simply talk on the phone with Nishikata, for the first time at night, even saying it makes her heart flutter. Because of that, Nishikata can’t sleep a second straight night, though for a totally different reason!

Nishikata’s efforts to take a phone photo that will beat his friends’ lead him to beg Takagi to do her patented funny face so he can snap it; Takagi’s cost is high: he’ll have to do “whatever she says.” When she finally does the face, Nishikata isn’t ready. Then Takagi pulls out a toy snake and snaps three pictures of his reactions.

While she’s laughing at those pics she’s so happy to have taken, Nishikata tries to take her picture, but she snaps immediately into a normal peace-sign pose. Nishikata proposes they each delete the photos of one another, but Takagi refuses, and tells him not to delete her picture off his phone, though also asks him not to show it to anyone else, as it’s “embarrassing.”

While he may have thought he’d have a new weapon to even the odds in his cell phone, the truth is Takagi is far more adept in its use. It’s a tool, after all; it’s all about the talent of the person wielding it. So he’s merely given her another avenue to “tease” him, though it’s mainly a means for them to get a little closer.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 08

This episode is bookended by instances of Takagi making physical contact with Nishikata and Nishikata having to deal with it. He seems to be mostly fine with her holding onto him while they bike, but it was a long, tough road, and his ribs are ticklish.

Now that they’ve mastered the skill, Takagi says they won’t have to practice anymore, and gets Nishikata to say he’s both relieved and bummed out (though in truth its probably mostly the latter).

The second term starts in a typhoon, and Nishikata stands in the wind and spouts giddy shonen lines like a chuuni. Naturally Takagi spots him doing this, and gives him a chance to win her silence. He fails, yet again because he dismissed his first, correct guess as to why she didn’t have her bike.

The marathon segment is an apparent test of wills, as the two have stakes on winning – having to do what the other says, as usual. When Nishikata’s classmates ask if he’s going out with Takagi, his reaction is Pure Girl-from-100%UL.

He’s also been training extensively in order to be good at long distance, and initially employs a “mind emptying” running mentality, but emptying his mind only makes it easier for him to fill that space up with Takagi.

He gets trapped in a mind game in which he tries to run far enough ahead to spook Takagi, only for her to pull the very same trick on him, only successfully. And again, she gave him an honest chance for him to win (he merely had to touch her) which he simply did not take.

On another trip to/from school, the touching theme continues, with Takagi taking the initiative (of course) by starting a habit of poking Nishikata in the ribs, with the very clear implication that he is welcome to poke her back.

When he doesn’t, she beats him in another match (making a funny face to make him laugh), and rather than forbid him from eating rice or reading 100%UL, she has a simple punishment: all he has to do is poke her ribs.

He gives one half-hearted tap against Takagi’s side after much hemming and hawing, and Takagi reveals that while she’s not ticklish in the ribs, she is ticklish in the armpits. Again, Nishikata is welcome to test her claim, but he’s too embarrassed.

Summer may have given Takagi a few new opportunities to tease Nishikata, but it also brought the two much closer together. We’ll see what the new term will bring.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 07

Nishikata may not be able to fully appreciate it because of all the stress he assigns to his interactions with Takagi, but he’s having the best summer vacation of his life. And he’s simply not being honest with himself if he privately enjoys manga like 100% Unrequited Love but can’t see the requited love right in front of his face. When Takagi leaves her mom’s side at the mall to buy a bathing suit, her first thought is what kind would Nishikata like?

She doesn’t have to see Nishikata buy the latest volume of 100%, since he’s already established he’s a fan of it. She plows through all of his lame obfuscating and happily takes the bet that what she believes he bought is what he actually bought. Not sure what he was going for with his futile bluff; he should know by now he simply can’t fool Takagi. He’s “punished” by being “forced” to pick out a swimsuit with her.

Now I get it; Nishikata’s right in that awkward phase between thinking girls have cooties and actually liking them. Those conflicting feelings are constantly swirling chaotically, while Takagi is an island of tranquility. He can’t hide his embarrassment at the situation, but she lets him call it “being hot”—as long as he helps her pick out a bathing suit she looks good in.

Nishikata is simultaneously thrilled at the prospect that Takagi is a mere few feet away from him removing her clothes, but also terrified of being seen, worried about what his classmates might think. Well, two of his classmates actually do appear, but they’re a couple, and they’re there for the exact same reason he and Takagi are there.

Finally, Takagi takes advantage of Nishikata’s automatic “yeahs” in response to the suits she shows him by slipping in a swimming date proposal, knowing once he says “yeah”, he won’t go back on that “yeah,” because going swimming with her is hardly the end of the world.

After the girl trio heads to the beach, we’re back with Nishikata and Takagi, and the latter proposes they do some of their summer homework together. The most logical place to do it turns out to be Nishikata’s house, and suddenly, like some kind of surreal dream, Takagi is in his house, in his room, and doing homework on his bed.

While watching the lovely Takagi right beside him writing lovely kanji, Nishikata makes a mistake in his book and reaches for the eraser…at the same time she does. Their hands touch and linger.

He’s reminded of an identical scene in 100% where the guy doesn’t let go and draws the girl in for a kiss…but he’s currently incapable of doing such a thing, preferring to live through the guy vicariously…despite the fact he’s far more similar to the girl in that manga than the guy!

In any case, while Takagi’s visit is stressful as all interactions with her are, he doesn’t not enjoy himself, and when she leaves for the day, saying she’ll be back soon, he decides it’s only proper to clean his room for that future occasion. Maybe, just maybe, Nishikata is getting into the swing of things.

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