To Your Eternity – 06 – A Grand Objective

Note: This episode was originally mislabeled as episode 5. It is episode 6.

The original March may be deceased, but she lives on in Fushi, in the same way parents live on in their children…only different, because it’s Fushi, who can take on the physical form of his found mama. Thankfully, it’s not just her climbing ability he’s inherited, but a measure of her profound humanity.

There’s no doubt that March taught him generosity and gratitude, which he pays forward when he reunites with a stranded and hungry Pioran quite by chance. Pioran is her usual sardonic self, but isn’t beneath trying to take a literal bite out of Fushi in his boy form, causing him to switch to his defensive wolf form.

Eventually he becomes March again, climbs a tree, tosses Pioran some fruit, then says “Thank you” in a way that sounds like “This is what you say.” Pioran, in turn, starts to teach him more words, as well as how to write his name, as well as her own, March’s, and Parona’s.

The two make a good traveling team, and Fushi learns more and more, so by the time they arrive at a port town and board a boat to Pioran’s homeland, he’s able to communicate in a more-or-less conversational manner, a far cry from crudely mimicking sounds out of context. The youthful vigor of the late March as well as the seasoned wisdom of Pioran have quickly made Fushi more human than ever.

So it’s terrifying when he’s ambushed one night in the woods by mysterious tree golem-like monster who literally steals Fushi’s boy form, along with most if not all memory of the boy’s life. The narrator arrives and tells Fushi the score: the tree monster is the enemy, and if he wants the boy back, he’ll have to fight…and win.

Fushi transforms into the wolf, but the monster steals the wolf. He transforms into the giant bear, but the monster steals that too. In terms of corporeal forms, he’s down to just March, who while tiny and relatively weak, is quick and agile enough to dodge the monster’s bear form, enter its hollow chest, and grab the core that enables the golem to move.

This is a simply breathtaking action scene, marred only by the low light, which isn’t even that big a deal since it leds a great gloomy atmosphere to Fushi’s building panic at losing his forms. Like the drawings in the boy’s hut (which are updated in the card between the A and B parts), they are Fushi’s family, and he’s clearly distressed about losing them.

Fortunately, his March form is enough to grab the core, give it a good squeeze, and the wolf, boy, and bear flow back into him. He smiles in relief, and the mysterious cloaked narrator introduces himself as Fushi’s creator. He created him with a grand objective in mind: preserve the world before “the coming end”. The tree monster was their enemy, unable to take a true animal form and bent on impeding their objective.

That said, the Creator can tell Fushi can’t quite understand these concepts, and so parts ways with him until later, when he’s lived a little more in the world, and gained a few more forms. Pioran takes him to her hometown and the house of her lover, who is apparently a scholar who might be able to make heads or tails of Fushi. The house is also home to a boy wearing a distinctive mask that hides his face. Pioran rather rudely introduces Fushi as an “immortal freak.”

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – 05 – A Family

Parona frees March, Fushi, and the old lady Pioran, but before they escape the prison, she wants to cut off a chunk of “Oniguma-sama” as proof to Ninnanah he was defeated. She even has a wolf toy ready to placate March, along with the justification that it will save the lives of many girls.

But March, who had just washed the great bear’s wounds and watched him die, won’t allow it. So Parona reconsiders. She’ll convince the villagers some other way—one that doesn’t require another life.

Parona proves as bad a wagon driver as she is an archer, but thanks to her asking March what she wants to do when she becomes a grown-up, it offers March a chance to set a death flag or three. Right on time, the casually relentless Hayase and her Yamone warriors close in on their fleet donkeys.

Hayase assures them she’ll spare their lives if they give up the dog, but Fushi is family, so that ain’t gonna happen. Parona gives a valiant effort to fight them off, but she has to be saved from an arrow by March, who declares “I can do something too” before saving her beloved husband.

Immediately after March is shot, Fushi leaps towards Hayase, transforming in mid-air from wolf to giant bear, wounds and all, and rakes her across the face. Then we take a look back at how Parona and March met. Parona watched from a distance as March played with her fingers in the dirt, imagining them as her kids.

When March approached her wondering why she was always alone, Parona presented her with a doll she made, and March returns the favor with a “thank you meal” that, while inedible, Parona still “eats” and voices how delicious it is. March suggests they become a family; her new doll can be their kid, she’ll be Mommy, and Parona will be Daddy.

Fast-forward back to the wagon, and March is fading fast. Parona finds another “thank-you meal” with which March was going to surprise her. March asks Parona to become a mommy in her place, then asks if Fushi is near, and as he causes a rampage in the city, Parona says that he is. Then March draws her last breath.

Between this and Fruits Basket’s tearjerker earlier today, I’ve gone through half a big box of tissues crying my eyes out. But Parona wears a smile as she approaches Fushi and tells him to stop; there’s no longer any need to fight.  He returns to human form, while Parona finds Hayase lying in a pile of rubble, wounded but alive. She picks up a nearby broken blade, telling March “Let’s go home together.”

In the space between life and death, March envisions returning to her village with Parona and leaping into the arms of her elated parents. She dreams of growing into a beautiful young woman with lots of stuffed “kids” made by Parona. But then March notices this isn’t really happening, and that she’s not really there, or anywhere. She doesn’t want to be nowhere, not when there was so much more she wanted to do.

She sees Parona with the blade, seemingly pointed at Hayase, but Parona, who is unwilling to live in a reality where she outlived March, turns the blade on her throat and prepares to plunge it in, thus “going home together” with her little wife. She can’t hear the spectral March pleading for her to stop…but Fushi does hear her, and stays Parona’s hand, all the while pouting like March. He takes her by the arm and transforms into Oniguma, and the two ride back to Ninnanah.

Once there, Parona approaches March’s parents and presents them with the “letter” containing only March’s handprint, which Parona translates as “March is doing great.” That, along with Parona’s demeanor tells the parents all they need to know. But rather than shun her like her parents did when she dared to live, March’s mother embraces Parona, thanking her for everything she did—and tried to do—for their March.

As the watch announces the Yanome are coming, Parona tells a suddenly far more expressive Fushi to flee before the enemy arrives. After all, life is never merely given, it must be won. He transforms into a wolf and departs.

Using an arrow that’s served her well for more than half a year and a heavy bow borrowed from a watchman, Parona takes aim at Hayase as she aims at Fushi, and her arrow goes right through Hayase’s hand. Even so, Hayase merely smiles, and Parona admits she missed her intended target, which was no doubt meant to be fatal.

As for Fushi, as the narrator says: “In meeting its mother and parting with her, its humanity increased.” Not only that, he can now take March’s form, and does so in order to grab one of the fruits his mommy once so generously fed him. So ends the most moving episode of To Your Eternity yet, in my books surpassing even the sublime first episode.

If I’m honest, I always knew March would be a goner and probably end up another one of Fushi’s forms. And yet the show kept serving up hope she might have a future, right up to her act of self-sacrifice. Parona may not have to live with the loss of March and her sister, but she’ll keep living all the same. It’s what her wife would have wanted.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

To Your Eternity – 04 – Put to Good Use

Parona remembers when her big sister hid her away in a tree hollow, only to learn her sister had taken her place as an offering to Oniguma-sama. Lil’ Parona had to learn when she tripped over her dead and buried sister’s foot. She wakes up in a wagon with March and Fushi, headed to Yanome, bastion of the enemy. Also in the wagon is the shamaness who turns out to be a fake and a captive in her own right, admitting she only chose March because she was the prettiest.

Through the shamaness Parona and March learn that the Yanome are envious of Ninnanah’s lush lands and are using the ritual to exert control. When Fushi wets himself, the wagon stops at a lake for everyone to bathe, and Fushi remembers the boy and re-assumes his form. Hayase treats her captives gently as they enter the bustling Yanome city of which she’s clearly proud. But as soon as March, Parona, and Fushi eat, they’re all knocked out; Hayase drugged their meals.

She then presents Fushi to other Yanome officials, declaring the immortal creature a weapon essential to Yanome’s future. As two prisoners hack at Fushi, who regenerates almost instantly, he learns a new phrase: “It Hurts”, and then attempts to flee by changing back into a wolf. Hayase leaves him in March’s care, while Parona, in the cell above her, plans their escape, not content to spend one more day than necessary in their prison.

Hayase also puts March to work tending to Oniguma-sama, whom she learns is just a really big bear covered in arrows and spears from various attackers throughout its life. Once she’s removed them all, the bear dies in peace.

Once she has sufficient rope, Parona commences her escape plan, but nearly almost slips and falls to her death at least three times before landing in a storage room. There, a Yanome guard threatens to rape her, but she kicks the shit out of him, steals his uniform, and arrives at March and Fushi’s cell to announce they’re getting the hell out of there, vowing to put the life her sister gave her to good use.

Parona basically owns the episode, taking on the mantle of the classic Ghibli heroine who is refreshingly not perfect in everything she does. She’s as charming and lovable as the much-more-perfect Hayase is loathsome and despicable. I really hope she and March, maybe with Fushi’s help(?) are able to come out on top, or at least make a good fight of it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – 03 – Bear Necessities

In last week’s episode, all March wanted was to grow up and become a mother. Hayase and her ilk tried to rob her of that future, but by the end of the episode March has grown in all ways but age and size. Now she has a child under her wing in the boy-shaped baby bird still known as It.

She’s also grown to realize that if she runs, others will die, and she can’t allow that. Being a grownup means nothing is simple anymore. But since she’s It’s surrogate mom, she tries to teach him how to say “thank you” and even gives him a name: Fushi or Fu-chan.

While March is headed back into Hayase’s clutches on purpose, Parona is captured but far from giving up on saving her little sister/wife. Stretching out her leg to produce a bone knife from her shoe which she uses to cut the ropes that bind her. Then Oniguma-sama appears, and it’s a harrowing race against time.

Parona, who is in effect the heroine this week (and that’s not a bad thing!), just manages to escape the lethal paw swipe of the giant spiked bear with bloodied eyes, and while she ends up running off a cliff, her fall is sufficiently cushioned that when she does finally hit the ground, she sustains no serious injuries.

Unfortunately, Parona is just too late to save March from being re-captured by Hayase. Fortunately, March inadvertently left a very clear trail of fruit and fruit remnants, at the end of which is Fushi, whom Parona can’t communicate with but can follow to March’s location.

March has had some great Asirpafaces in these past two episodes, but none better when she’s eating the weird black gelatin thingy Hayase orders her to eat, which eventually knocks her out cold. Hayase then re-applys the ink to her face—Oniguma-sama will only accept an unblemished youth—and carries her to the mountaintop altar.

I was surprised by the log fort that surrounds the altar, as I was expecting something much less grand. It’s instructive that before they reach said altar, Hayase’s underlings who saw the giant bear report that it could only have been Oniguma-sama, and she and the other guards react with disbelief.

That’s right: despite their utter devotion to carrying out this ancient custom, they believe Oniguma-sama is only a legend, and have never seen him actually claim any of the girls they’ve left on that bone-strewn altar. It’s not so much about belief in the actual entity as carrying out the job they were assigned to do.

That changes when Oniguma-sama arrives and busts his way into the log fort. Parona also arrives, and once again has to cut through ropes before the bear kills her and the still-unconscious March. Hayase is more intrigued than terrified by Oniguma-sama, and even tells her guards to stand down: If Parona wants to give the god a second meal, Hayase is going to let her.

When it’s clear that Parona isn’t going to finish cutting March’s ropes in time, it looks like it’s all over…and because this is To Your Eternity, I was fully prepared for both Parona and March to die. But someone…something was still missing from this scene, and that something finally arrives, I couldn’t help but cheer.

Parona is thrown clear of the altar by Fushi, who has come to protect the Giver of Fruits, AKA Mama, AKA March. He initially tries to take Oniguma on in his human form, but is torn to shreds and devolves into his wolf form, which is not only faster and more vicious but quicker to regenerate.

Despite being several dozen times smaller than Oniguma, Wolf!Fushi uses his speed, agility, and fast-healing, and with each attack learns something new about its adversary. Eventually it starts focusing on its soft spot—it’s nose—and eventually brings the great beast down.

Witnessing it all from a safe distance, Hayase wonders if this is just another act of the gods. And I guess there isn’t that much difference between what we’d call a god and a sufficiently advanced alien species.

With Oniguma-sama soundly defeated and nothing to which to offer a sacrifice, Hayase exhibits a slim modicum of humanity and makes a deal with Parona and March: she’ll report that the sacrifice was a success and March is dead, but in return, the two of them will accompany her and her guards back to Yanome. Either that, or they can die right there.

They choose to live (obviously), while Hayase also intends to bring along the very bizarre wolf who first appeared as a boy and was able to kill a deity. Parona is weary of the beast at first, but March offers it a fruit and it eats it in the exact same way as Fu-chan. Even more pointedly, it says “thank you”…as a wolf. It still has a lot to learn about the ways of this world, but it’s in just the right place to learn them.

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 03 – Character Creation, Phase 2

While a plethora of new characters were introduced last week, this episode keeps things simple by narrowing down the ones with whom Fumiya interacts to three: Aoi, Fuuka, and Yuzu. That not only keeps things from getting too scattered but is in keeping with Aoi’s desire to figure out who is best worth Fumiya’s time and effort.

Of course, first thing’s first: making him sufficiently presentable to converse with people. That means a trip to the mall for some new threads, a new haircut, and some lunch conversation practice. Fumiya has learned from the tapes that he has a tendency to mutter; Aoi tells him to use fewer words and rely more on gestures and tone to convey his emotions.

Quite by surprise, Fuuka is a waitress at the restaurant where they have lunch. Refreshingly, Fuuka doesn’t seem necessarily threatened by seeing them together, nor does she assume they’re on a date—she simply hadn’t pegged them as being friends material. Based on little details she noticed during their encounter, Aoi is convinced that Fuuka should be the “first heroine” Fumiya should pursue in his “playthrough.”

At their next meeting, Fumiya proudly reports that one of his small goals was achieved: his sister noticed he was putting more effort into his appearance. While Fumiya feels like he’s relying on “cheats” like dressing like the store mannquin or getting his hair done, Aoi insists that because he’s trusting in her and doing as she says, he deserves at least some of the credit for his success.

That said, Aoi isn’t going to start going easy on him. His next goal is to go somewhere alone with a girl who isn’t her. His related task for the week is to talk to Izumi Yuzu at least twice a day. Why Yuzu and not Fuuka? Because, as Aoi points out, real life isn’t a dating sim. Raising “affection levels” of one girl can raise them for all, along with increasing their innate possessiveness.

Fumiya is still weary that he’s not being “sincere”, but Aoi tells him it’s too early in his progress to worry about that. He’ll cross that bridge when he’s in a more serious relationship. For now, he needs “ins”, however he can get them. Things don’t go too smoothly with Yuzu at first; topics he chooses tend to lead to awkward conversational dead ends. But he keeps at it, and his quota for the week is eventually filled.

While in the library pretending to read a random book while coming up with TackFam strategies, Fumiya is approached by Fuuka, who notices the author he’s pretending to read is her favorite. Fumiya doesn’t correct her, and Fuuka ends up confessing something she’s never told anyone: she’s working on a novel, and would love it if he (and only he) read it sometime.

It’s a lovely little exchange because it’s the first of its kind fo Fuuka as well as Fumiya. Kayano Ai really sells Fuuka’s warmth and quiet enthusiasm, and Fuuka really does seem like a suitable person for Fumiya to pursue, and he has the perfect “in”.

As Aoi reiterates, it’s still too early to worry about “sincerity”; she can tell he’ll use it as an excuse to run away if she lets him. While he filled his quota in talking to Yuzu twice a day for a week, he may feel like he failed, like a battle he loses that results in KO and Game Over.

But unlike games of that kind, in the game of life you gain as much if not more XP by losing than by winning, so you’re better off keeping up the fight than starting over from scratch. That assertion really speaks to the gamer in Fumiya. The losses he tallied against Yuzu weren’t in vain; they got him to at least Level 3, and he can use what he learned from those failures to succeed with Fuuka.

But then life throws him for a loop when he spots Yuzu sitting alone and looking somewhat down. Remembering Aoi’s advice for him to mention something about her clothes or face, Fumiya tactlessly tells Yuzu she looks “gloomy”, but she doesn’t storm off. In fact, she just keeps looking gloomy, and even gets to the point that tears are welling in her eyes when she comes right out and asks him to teach her how to play TackFam.

I don’t believe this is the same kind of “in” as Fuuka’s secret novel reading—it’s possible Yuzu wants to learn to play so she can play with another boy she’s interested in, or maybe she just wants to learn TackFam, period. But the fact Fumiya reached out to her so much in the last week made him a viable person for Yuzu approach with such a request. So it could be an overture for a friendship. We shall see!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wonder Egg Priority – 02 – Poached

Episode one was such a feast of beautiful and weird imagery and sound, twisting time and space, and unblinking glimpses of hard truths that we as the audience necessarily needed a little time to find our footing. This week focuses Ai’s new role as plucky heroine saving “damsels in egg-stress”, but also her efforts to connect with the taciturn Aonuma Neiru.

Unlike the other girls with whom Ai has interacted so far, Neiru is both alive and inhabits the same real world as her. Which means Ai can make a real friend! Trouble is, Neiru is singularly focused on processing as many eggs as possible in order to save her little sister, i.e. her Nagase Koito. So while Neiru gives Ai her number, it’s only so they can arrange not to meet.

Neiru makes it clear that while they have similar roles, they’re different people. For one thing, she “loves” herself, while Ai hates herself. We’re reminded of the struggles Ai faces when she comes home to find a therapist is there, and grudgingly goes through as session with her mom present. While we know she’s out doing good in the world, her mom likely suspects she’s engaged in some kind of self-destructive behavior.

Regardless, Ai continues her work, determined to “save” Koito even though “saving her” may not bring her back physically but rather heal Ai—I’d call it an elaborate means of working through the trauma and not allowing it to consume her life. As with last week’s egg, this newest one contains another girl who is already gone, but thanks to Ai, is able to exorcise her demon, AKA her “Wonder Killer.”

In the case of timid Suzuhara Minami, the Wonder Killer is her abusive gymnastics coach. Minami doesn’t like the situation she’s in, but blames her own weakness, and we witness the psychological power of the coach when she arrives on the roof and places a hand on the submissive Minami’s head.

In a nice visual tough, as this week’s “captured maiden” Minami wears a frilly leotard under her hoodie, emphasizing her status as a princess for Ai the knight to rescue. The resigned Minami urges Ai not to bother with her, but as her head is turned, the coach transforms into a grotesque monster.

Ai looks back to when the bullying of Koito started. Koito’ uniform was torn and thown in the mud, which she calls “classic harassment”. The other girls were jealous of the extra attention she, as a transfer student, got from their teacher. She had Ai hide in a locker and film the bullies physically abusing her, but Ai was too scared and didn’t capture any usable footage.

Even so, Kotio smiles her sad smile and thanks her friend for “doing the best she could.” Disgusted that she didn’t do more when it mattered, Ai resolves to save Minami no matter what she says. She heads to the gym, where the monster coach is holding her by the head and repeatedly slapping her in the face.

Of course, the “tough love” the coach is dishing out is nothing more than abuse, and Ai won’t stand by and watch. That said, her giant rainbow key weapon proves useless against the coach. When Minami tries to stop her from hurting Ai, the coach tosses her aside and her yellow ribbon goes flying.

Ai realizes the ribbon is the weapon she needs to use, and while the coach squirts a thick pink liquid from her teat to blind Ai, Minami serves as her eyes, telling her where the coach is and which way to dodge. She eventually lands a coup-de-grace, and the coach explodes in a spatter of paint-like blood.

In the aftermath, Minami thanks Ai for saving her, and wishes they had met earlier so they could have gone out for burgers together. Instead, she vanishes in a puff of smoke just like the first maiden, after asking Ai to think of her sometimes.

While it’s gutting to watch Ai gain the trust of and befriend someone two weeks in a row, only for them to disappear moments after she saves them, that pain is mitigated by two factors: Ai is working towards saving Koito, and she’s met a real friend and fellow heroine in Neiru.

After Minami vanishes, we find Ai in the hospital with her mom, wearing a neck brace. As with last week, the injuries she sustains in her battles with Wonder Killers remain with her in the real world. No doubt her mom is horribly worried for her daughter, having no idea what’s going on. It could also be that nothing we’ve seen Ai do is actually real, but all in her head.

That said, Neiru fares worse than her, ending up in the ICU after trying to handle too many eggs at once. Ai visits her in the hospital and asks if they can be friends. Once she’s recovered a bit, they head up to the hospital roof and discuss what being friends entails. Ai talks about going out for burgers and fries, as Minami wanted to do.

Over sweet-smelling peach-orange sodas, Neiru texts Ai back a thumbs-up, indicating that she’s willing to give this friend thing a try. In a wonderful little piece of elegant animation her resting neutral face slowly turns upward into a gentle smile, and Ai’s smile subtly widens in response.

Even though  I’m rarely sure what’s real life or not (which is likely the point), the scene of Ai and Neiru on the roof seemed realer than most. We’ll see if the two only hang out in between separate maiden rescues, or if they decide to join forces and aid one another in their respective goals. Now that I better know the structure and rules of those rescues, like Ai I feel a lot more comfortable and optimistic.

Hamefura – 06 – Pax Catarina

As it turns out, there are no negative repercussions resulting from the confrontation with Catarina’s mom. Instead, this episode is all about her Summer Break, split into seven parts and punctuated by the same crude crayon drawing of Cat and her friends. We start with Keith, who seems poised to kiss his half-sister Cat while she’s sleeping under a tree!

Geordo invites Cat out to an intimate day by the lake, but Cat ends up inviting everyone else, including those who consider themselves (and not Geordo) to belong by her side always. This includes Keith, but don’t count out Mary, who wins the Share a Boat with Cat sweepstakes, something she’s very happy about.

Cat goes out on a big shopping trip to town with Sophia for the first time, with Nicole in tow. While the ladies have a lot of fun picking out accessories and books together, Sophia seems to have an ulterior motive: excusing herself so that Cat and Nicole can be alone together.

The Stuarts hold a grand gala recital for Alan, where hordes of fangirls form a mosh pit in front of his piano. After he plays, Mary insists he spend time with his fans, and seems to be worried about Alan “catching on” to something…perhaps her love for Catarina?! Of course, Cat thinks Mary doesn’t like her fiancee being so popular.

It’s basically a continuous string of events in which Catarina is basically new New Maria: everybody loves her and/or wants to be her, they’re all in competition for her time and attention…and she’s oblivious to it all. “Bakarina”, indeed! She’s set things up so nicely for herself, her inner council takes a Summer Break of their own, since there’s no immediate business.

While attempting to do her Summer homework—the night before the first day back to school, of course—Cat has a dream about her life in the real world, discussing Fortune Lover with her friend Acchan. It’s an intriguing look back at a life we’d never seen before, but I wonder what bearing it has on the present, when the game is now her life and has completely changed thanks to her choices.

Hamefura – 05 – A Town Where She Lives

Catarina is on great terms with Maria—better even than any of the conquerable guys—and yet the heroine still feels…distant. Cat’s inner council determines the best way to keep the doom flags at bay is to spend even more time with Maria outside of the StuCo offices.

This leads to Cat encountering Maria once again being bullied, by characters who in the game are working under Catarina herself! Cat shifting from chief tormentor to chief defender of Maria has left these bullies leaderless, and they’re easily dealt with.

Little does Catarina know that she just stole another event from a conquerable guy; in this case her own brother Keith, who in the game was the one who saved Maria from Cat and the bullies. The council determines this is no big deal, since only bad things can happen to her if Maria falls for any of the guys.

As things stand, it’s not only Maria who likes Catarina best, but Mary and Sophia feel the same way. In her relentless quest to eliminate any and all death flags, Cat still seems reluctant to rest on her laurels, despite how safe and favorable a situation she’s created for herself.

Cat’s relationship with Maria shifts into overdrive when, after spending the day in the fields learning more about farming (something else Game Cat would never ever do) she pays an impromptu visit to Maria’s hometown and house with Keith in tow. It should be an encouraging sign to her that she can bring one of the main love interests along without worrying about him and Maria falling for each other.

While Catarina makes use of her farming skills to shape up Maria’s family’s little field, Maria starts to bake more sweets to fill her stomach. All the while, Maria’s mother is dumbfounded by the sudden and dramatic positive change in her daughter’s demeanor.

You see, when Maria’s light power awakened (she used it to heal a friend’s leg injury), her fellow commoners in her hometown started to spread rumors that she was the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman. Even if it wasn’t true, it tore through her family until her father left and she became a pariah at school.

Remembering how happy she and her mom and dad were when making sweets, she decides to learn how to bake for herself. But when she presents the product of her hard work, her classmates turn their backs in unison and leave her alone, refusing to even look at her.

With Catarina in her life, Maria seems to have left that pain in the past. Her mother is so surprised because Maria stopped baking after being rejected at school. Cat may have done a lot for Maria to get her to like her, but it was enough for Maria just to be seen, not as a bastard daughter or bad news, but as a normal, kind, and generous girl who deserves all the friends in the world.

Her mother realizes how cruel she was to get lost in her own troubles and stop looking at Maria. So she dusts off the old cookie cutters and bakes with her daughter, and starts to feel better herself. It’s a beautiful moment of catharsis when Cat and Keith depart and Maria and her mom exchange gazes. It’s like they’re looking at one another for the first time, recalling the warmth of better times, and realizing they can get that warmth back.

All thanks to Catarina, who has now gone way past preserving her own life and staving off potential exile. She’s making the lives of everyone around her better day by day. Now all she has to worry about is her sinister dirt-hating mother!

Hamefura – 04 – Breaking Flags and Taking Names

Now that Catarina is a teen attending magic academy, the game as it unfolded in Fortune Lover truly begins. Yet as the Inner Claes Council reports, she’s made progress changing some of the characters. Nevertheless, Gerald still meets the heroine Maria Campbell by chance, making Catarina nervous about the doom flags that will sprout should the wrong love triangle form.

Keith is no longer a affection-starved playboy, which means he’s turned into a “nice young man” (AKA goody-goody), so when he tells Catarina he picked up Maria’s handkerchief, he doesn’t use it to hit on the heroine. Still, Catarina is worried about inadvertently coming between Keith and Maria should he fall for her, and assures a very confused Keith that such a thing won’t occur.

With both Gerald and Keith encounter Maria before Catarina, and first steps on conquest routes may have been officially started, her inner council decides that she should continue developing her farming skills so in any scenario in which she’s exiled she’ll have a marketable skill (and won’t go hungry). But when she finally does meet Maria at the Student Council office, she proceeds to have a far more consequential first encounter than either of the boys.

It all comes down to Catarina’s sweet tooth, and the fact the otaku within makes no distinction between commoner or noble when it comes to tasty treats. She kindly asks Maria if she’ll bake something for her, but while Maria is on her way with said treats, she’s intercepted by three bullies. Catarina leaps out of the bushes to rescue Maria, then eats her delicious sweets even though they’d fallen on the ground.

While Catarina was just trying to be nice, her actions resulted in her stealing an event from Gerald. In the game, Catarina was one of the bullies, and she was run off by Gerald. Without that opportunity for Gerald and Maria to get closer, Catarina successfully broke a doom flag. Nice!

Also, most importantly, while there was no possible Catarina X Maria route, that looks to have already gotten started. Gerald catches a glimpse of that route when he sees the two hand-in-hand. It’s definitely a route I’d like to see explored, even if it ends up creating new doom flags!

Hamefura – 03 – Catarina Claes and the Cursed Child

Lil’ Catarina has just discovered the romance novels of her world and has become hooked, just as she was hooked on manga and otome in her world. All she hopes for is someone she can converse with on these books, and she finds that someone quite by chance at the Stuarts’ tea party. Her name is Sophia Ascart, and due to her white hair and red eyes she’s a pariah among most of their peers. Obviously, Catarina sees things differently.

After rescuing her from verbal barbs of other nobles, Catarina becomes fast friends with Sophia, and they geek out on romance novels. Catarina could see her and Sophia being friends in the other world too. She also learns that befriending Sophia won’t throw up any additional doom flags, though Sophia’s taciturn older brother Nicol is quite the looker, attracting women and men alike.

I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop with her friendship to Sophia, but…it never happens. In this manner, Hamefura subverts expectations by playing things straight. They become good friends without any problems, and all of a sudden seven years have passed and Catarina is now fifteen years old. Now all the characters look like they do in the otome.

That means the prologue is officially over. The time jump was abrupt but well-timed: watching lil’ Catarina dart from party to party was growing stale. She’s done her best to avoid the things that kill or exile her in the game, from remaining close and kind to Keith to honing her combat skills.

She also remains good friends with Sophia and Mary, with no messy love triangles with the guys (so far). Gerald is still committed to marrying her (and plants a hickey on her neck, demonstrating his covert sadism). We’ll see how things unfold as she pursues the route of survival in earnest!

Hamefura – 02 – Friend of the Dregs

There’s an undeniable pattern emerging in this new-and-improved Catarina Claes: more and more, she’s siding with and befriending those in the “game” who got the short end of the stick. First Keith, in whom she cultivates trust and affection rather than bullying and disdain. Yet as a result of her “erratic” behavior her parents would prefer if her younger brother accompany her to a fancy tea party to keep her on brand. Sure enough, Catarina trades pleasantries for pastries.

After eating to much she ends up rushing to the lavatory, but afterwards meets another trod-upon character in Mary Hunt. Due to her mother being her father’s second wife, her three older stepsisters rain contempt down upon her, making her shy and skittish. And while Catarina’s brashness might seem like anathema to such a fragile soul, she ends up bonding with Mary through gardening. Mary does it as an escape, while Catarina does it because she’s not the kind of woman to be cooped up indoors all day!

Third on Catarina’s list of underdog friends is her fiancee’s twin brother Alan Stuart, who as it happens is engaged to Mary. Catarina’s inner council worries about her befriending the girl engaged to Alan considering how he’s a conquerable route in the otome. She also resents the fact that only Catarina is considered a villainess and monster while Mary, who also loved Alan but lost to the heroine, is merely a good-natured rival.

Still, Alan is not happy about Catarina’s attempts to “seduce” Mary, even using the same line about a green thumb as he was going to use (since she remembered it from the game). Alan challenges her to a number of tree climbing challenges, all of which he loses handily. But in the process of all those challenges and losses, something happens: the two become fast friends.

It gets to the point where Gerald intervenes by visiting Catarina before Alan shows up, basically claiming fiancee’s prerogative. Catarina suggests a piano recital, and Alan proves much better than her at playing, but senses she and Gerald are patronizing him and runs off. Catarina tracks him down and rejects Alan’s insistence he’s just the “dregs” left over form all of Gerald’s good qualities.

To demonstrate that everyone has good and bad qualities, Catarina reveals Gerald’s weakness: a fear of snakes! Even Alan, who had just challenged her to dozens of tree-climbing duels, notes how that’s a pretty childish weakness to dredge up.

But as far as Catarina’s concerned, having a snake on hand could make the difference between life and death should Gerald raise a sword to her. Considering he tattled to her parents about both the toy snake and the tree-climbing, she has every reason to suspect he might turn on her one day!

Hamefura – 01 (First Impressions) – Avoiding the Inevitable

I don’t mind isekai anime, as long as it’s not always the exact same thing. You don’t have to re-invent the genre to hook me, just give it a fresh twist or two. Hamefura easily meets and exceeds that modest bar, as Catarina Claes isn’t the heroine of a fantasy RPG, but the villainess of an dating sim! At least, she’s the villain in the game she played in her previous life, before dying at seventeen.

Catarina is oblivious of her real-world Japan past until she stumbles and hits her head and it all rushes back. That’s when it dawns on her that if her path follows that of the game Catarina, she’ll either be killed or exiled in every route. It’s not a matter of playing and winning the game as normal; she has to break the game to avoid certain doom. One thing in her favor: she’s only eight, the proverbial Phantom Menace Anakin: Far from too far gone, plenty of time to devise a plan.

The question, of course, is how to things from going downhill. Having been an otome otaku in her previous life, Catarina has some ideas, and her inner deliberations are given the form of a “Council of Catarinas”, consisting of four different emotional states and an administrator to gather their votes. It’s another novel idea that adds variety to the story, and lets Uchida Maaya play off five different versions of herself—six, including her standard, “unified” inner voice.

The council’s solution to avoid another early death is to develop her sword and magical skills, so that if anyone comes at her, she’ll be ready to defend herself and survive. The magic will also mean she has something to fall back on for money should she end up exiled. Both her parents, her betrothed Gerald Stuart, and her various servants don’t know quite what to make of Catarina’s suddenly odd behavior.

Before long she’s hacking at dummies with a sword and building a garden to commune with nature (and build up her earth magic). But at the end of the day, Gerald still asks for her hand in marriage and she accepts, which means she could still be on the path to doom!

To make matters worse, her parents introduce her to her new adopted brother Keith, who in the game is bullied mercilessly by Catarina, becomes a playboy to sooth his trauma, and eventually he and the heroine Maria fall in love. When Catarina interferes, she’s either exiled or killed off.

She consults her inner head council, who decides that the best way to keep Keith from falling for Maria is to not bully him or make him feel lonely. Catarina does just that, but ends up persuading Keith to use his advanced earth magic, something he promised their parents he wouldn’t.

Catarina is injured by the giant dirt doll, Keith and their parents blame him, and he ends up isolated and alone. Different cause, same effect. Desperate to take the nearest ramp off this doom-filled route, Catarina literally chops Keith’s door down and apologizes for making him break his promise.

Keith comes into the picture pre-messed up thanks to his immense magical talent but lack of control that has led to accidents. But rather than let him stay isolated (or bully him), Catarina shows him she’s not afraid, and promises him they’ll never be apart. She gets in trouble for the door, but things are looking good on at least one not-getting-killed front! Also, it’s a genuinely sweet and moving scene.

I’m well-sold on Hamefura. It places its protagonist in the rigid structure of an otome and challenges her to forge her own path, even if she has to take an ax to the occasional door! She’s fighting against fate with charisma, panache, knowing this world will offer nothing but ruin unless she works her butt off.

Those around her are straight men witnessing her comic transformation from well-bred noble to tree-climbing gardener. Uchida Maaya lays on the industrious charm the whole way through. Her inner council is wonderful. Just as Cat is finding a way not to end up dead or exiled, this is a show managing to innovate and surprise in an over-saturated genre.

Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 07

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The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki? More like the Disappearance of Plot, best demonstrated in the first minute or so of the episode, carried out in silence but for the sounds of Kyon playing Othello with Koizumi, Yuki tapping away on her PSP, and Haruhi writing noisily on the whiteboard. Kudos to the foley artists who provided the sounds that really brought this slice of the lit club’s life…to life.

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As for the plot, it’s not all that important: Haruhi has organized a Hot Springs trip for the club, under the guise of a “training camp”, for which she has forged detailed trip journals legitimizing what will be far more of a freestyle vacation where the only goal is to have fun. Leave it to Haruhi to put so much effort and energy into something that is by design meant to be unproductive.

It also means Opportunity #468 for Yuki-chan to get closer to Kyon and vice-versa, and while I can certainly see some of the situations Asahina imagines Kyon and Yuki getting into, I can safely say the trip will not consist of the two “crossing any lines,” such is the product of Asahina’s overactive imagination.

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Instead, despite not drawing lots to sit right next to each other on the train, the two end up on either side of the aisle, which is almost as good in terms of snack-sharing. It’s a fine example of things maybe not going perfectly according to plan yet still working out just fine. And I’m sure, to Asahina’s relief, Kyon doesn’t try feeding Yuki again.

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The quiet first scene in the club room set the tone for the episode and the club trip in taking its time and enjoying the moment and the journey more than the destination. The character interactions, both as a whole group of seven or in pairs or trios, keep the episode going, as they kill time waiting for their courtesy van by sightseeing and eating…a lot.

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One such welcome pairing is Koizumi with Haruhi, who are always a reliable duo for comedy simply because as far as Koizumi is concerned, Haruhi is never wrong and he’ll never refuse her whims, no matter how unreasonable or odd. The spinoff even makes another callback to its predecessor when Haruhi mentions “power spots” at the temple that can bestow supernatural powers.

But we know by now it’s just teasing and winking, not really seriously suggesting the show will take any supernatural turns…because it won’t. And that’s fine by me, especially if I can still be subjected to silences as long and awkward as Haruhi and Koizumi’s in response to Kyon’s attempt at “vital point” humor.

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Also, it’s good to see that romance and Kyon aren’t the only things on Yuki’s mind—she’s also very enthusiastic about sampling the local food of the region!—She’s also just basking in the glow of her new circle of friends, including Asahina, and this lovely trip they’re on, making fond memories out of soba and smoke.

Lest we forget she was once the only member of the lit club, about to be shut down, but with its infusion of members and semi-members from within and without her school, the club has never been more vibrant. The wish she writes on her matchmaking amulet is directed at the whole group, but we’ll see next week if her attention turns to a more specific subject at the hot spring…and if any of Asahina’s rom-com scenarios come to pass.

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