NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 03 – Taking a Turn

Fresh off their narrow escape from the diner and SWE, Naoto and Naoya  decide to pay a visit to their dear old parents who drugged them and sent them away to the lab when they were kids, because there might not have been any choice considering the powers they possessed. Predictably, not only are the parents gone, but so is the very house they grew up in.

The balance of the episode is focused on a high school, where a circle of friends are apparently suffering the effects of a black magic spell that backfired. They intended to get revenge on someone, but their “spell” seemingly results in a string of gruesome suicides at school, all of which are worth a solid trigger warning.

The SWE squad is dispatched to the school to investigate, with Takuya driving while Kimie rides shotgun and tries to relate to him as a fellow Psychic. They raid the club room and find a treasure trove of fiction and occult contraband, any one item of which carries the death penalty.

I’m sorry, but I don’t understand how this society…works. The SWE can’t be everywhere all the time, so I imagine bastions of lawbreaking are quite prevalent—especially in schools! In any case, Mikie can sense a powerful psychic at work, controlling the minds of people, including Michio and Reika, who shoot wildly at their Kuroki brother comrades like brainwashed zombies.

The one survivng high schooler ends up crossing paths with the Kiriharas at their dad’s old factory, where they also encounter the time-traveling Futami Shouko, who ties her hair…with her hair, which is…unsettling, somehow. I guess that’s the point; she’s an inscrutable person.

Before Shouko blips out (returning to several years in the past), Naoya’s clairvoyance senses a voice telling them to go to a certain place. That place happens to be where the culprit behind the mind control murders lives. He’s just a little boy, but he’s a powerful Psychic whose puppy the high schooler who spearheaded the black magic ritual slaughtered for its blood…hence the desire for revenge.

Mikie and Reika roll in and neutralize the boy, ending the immediate threat, while Naoto uses his psychokinesis to shove the ladies aside so he and his brother can escape. They’re met outside by Takuya and Yuuya and the two pairs of brothers recognize each other from their strange visions. It’s like that Spider-Man pointing at Spider-Man meme.

Thankfully, the Kirihara brothers have an ally in the shadows, who reveals himself to knock out the Kuroki’s and tells them to come with him. He doesn’t add “if they want to live”, Sarah Connor style, however. I can’t say I’m the most engaged with these characters, but it’s a very slick looking show and the music is great, so I can’t complain that much.

The Detective Is Already Dead – 02 – Heart of the Matter

Sometimes I pick up on the mystery at the beginning. From the moment Natsunagi Nagisa told Kimihiko she was the recipient of a heart transplant a year ago—the same year Siesta died—I knew it was Siesta’s heart she had. It’s, as Nagisa later remarks, why she’s so forward with him at first, and also so weird, sticking her hand in his mouth and threatening to touch his uvula before giving him a comforting hug.

It’s partly so he can hear the heart, but also because it’s the closest he can get to Siesta now that she’s gone. Never mind that “memory transference” is pseudoscience. I believe there are documented instances of people suddenly yearning for things or people connected to the donor. There’s a reason for the popular belief the heart is the domain of the soul and not the brain.

The thing is, it didn’t matter that I immediately figured out the “mystery”, because that wasn’t the point. The point was the emotional fallout of such a reunion. Kimihiko had returned to his lukewarm ordinary life of high school and was fine with it, but he later admits he “couldn’t go on” without some form of closure.

Of course, that’s before he himself figures out what the heck is going on. I’m sure he had some suspicions—you’re not a legendary detective’s sidekick for three years without absorbing some deductive wisdom—prior to taking Nagisa to meet the very person who could not cannot under any circumstances harm Siesta, and so cannot harm Nagisa, the new owner of her heart.

While lacking anything in the way of action like the first episode (which feels more like a prologue to this series), the fact this second outing half the length means a more satisfyingly taut story can be told. It doesn’t waste any time, yet doesn’t feel rushed. Your mileage may vary, but I derived a great deal of emotional impact from the reunion of Siesta’s heart and her clearly bored and listless assistant.

A lot of the resonance is due to some particularly decent dialogue towards the end, when Kimihiko realizes that Siesta’s heart (and Nagisa along with it) needs both a hug and reassurance. Taketatsu Ayana, one of the best in the business, voices Nagisa pitch-perfect with a cool effortlessness.

Even if Siesta is no longer in Kimihiko’s life, I hope we get more Nagisa. As for the Chuunibyou-looking girl who shows up at the very end looking for the Legendary Detective, well…we’ll see, won’t we?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Crow’s watching this too! Read his review here.

The Detective Is Already Dead – 01 (First Impressions) – To Have and to Hold

Kimihiko Kimizuka just wants to live a normal dull life. But like Kamijou Touma’s tendency towards misfortune (if being surrounded by poweful cute girls all the time is somehow unfortunate) Kimi is a trouble magnet. It’s how he found himself being forced to carry a mysterious attaché case on a jumbo jet flight carrying 600 passengers.

Then a flight attendant asks not if there’s a doctor on the plane, but a detective, and the blue-eyed, silver-haired young woman sitting next to him not only declares that she’s a detective, but that Kimi (which in Japanese also means “you”) is her sidekick. Her name is Siesta—Spanish for a midday nap—and she’s the best trouble Kimi could as for.

He joins Siesta in the cockpit where a battle of wits with a hijacker ensues. Siesta manages to provoke him into revealing his identity as part-“android” created by the secret organization SPES. She also reveals she was the one who arranged for Kimi to board the plane with an attaché case, which contains a silver rifle loaded with bullets containing her blood. When the hijacker is shot, he can no longer do her any harm.

With their first “case” closed, Siesta suddenly disappears from Kimi’s life as soon as she enters it, only to show back up in his apartment, making herself at home by wearing his leisurewear, ordering pizza, and even walking in on him while bathing. Since Kimi’s dream is to live a life that’s the equivalent of a relaxing warm bath, this is particularly egregious to him.

But Kimi can complain all he wants about Siesta; the fact of the matter is she’s effortlessly capable, charming, beautiful, and assertive. Kimi spends so much of the episode profusely rejecting Siesta’s assertions he is her sidekick, when he should really be asking himself why living a life with her would really be so bad?

His regular life and “Siesta Life” cross over at his cultural festival, the preparations for which he completely missed owing to the many past incidents into which he’s gotten tangled. Siesta shows up in his school’s uniform, and the two proceed to go on a date. All the while, Siesta is also investigating the Toilet-bound Hanako-san case, which she discovers to be a performance-enhancing drug dealing ring using the urban legend (and the festival) as cover.

She solves that case too, though the last we see of it is her jumping out a window carrying Kimi in her arms, both of them in wedding cosplay. She can survive for the same reason she was able to neutralize the hijacker: she possesses seven special items (you could call them magical) that enable her to achieve similarly special feats; in this case shoes with the ability to fly.

Kimi eventually deduces that Siesta doesn’t so much want a sidekick, but someone with his inscrutable ability to attract trouble, which she can then investigate and resolve. But he still gives in and agrees to become her “assistant” when she gives him a forthright pledge to protect him with her life whenever the trouble he attracts threatens him.

From what we’ve seen so far from Siesta, that sounds like a promise she can keep. So it’s both intriguing and a little sad when we learn from a final Kimi voiceover that, as the title goes, the Detective is already dead. Does this mean the Siesta we saw died, and is now a ghost? A vampire or other undead entity?

It’s the kind of WTF twist that was hanging out in plain sight (in the title) the whole time, but even in forty-six minutes, there’s no explicit answer to what that title means…only clues and theories. And after all those affable interactions between Kimi and Siesta, I am fully invested in learning what’s become of her. I’m also hoping this isn’t the last we’ll see her for a while.

At any rate, if you liked In/Spectre, you’ll probably like this too.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Crow’s watching this too! Read his review here.

Those Snow White Notes – 05 – Chemical Reaction

The Tsugaru Shamisen Appreciation Club’s first meeting begins with Koyabu-sensei presenting everyone with rented instruments as well as a flyer for the “Matsugorou Cup” suspiciously funded by Setsu’s mom’s cosmetics company. Of course, his classmates aren’t aware of who his mother is or even that the competition is named after his gramps.

Koyabu also introduces the rest of the club to its fifth member (necessary to compete in the group division): Nagamori Rai, Setsu’s neighbor who was taught by his mother and has already played for his dad’s rakugo performances. Still, as the most experienced shamisen player, Setsu leads the instruction.

Despite Wakana urging him to have patience with novices, watching the others continue to struggle mightily and not sure where to start helping them to improve only adds to his own personal musical frustration. He lashes out by saying he’ll refuse to “lower himself” to their level and it will be impossible to get them in playing shape for the competition. But while he comes off as a haughty jackass here, he’s actually not angry at any of them, but at himself for not being able to help them.

Then Umeko shows up in Setsu’s room unannounced, and while she doesn’t cop to putting him in high school just so she can devise the Matsugoro Cup and make him enter, she’s dead serious about using her authority as his mother to ensure that his talent won’t “smolder in obscurity” like her father’s did. She couldn’t force him into the spotlight he deserved, but she’ll drag her child into it—kicking and screaming if necessary.

When Shuri finds Setsu sulking on the school rooftop, he surprises her by apologizing for being a jerk, admitting he’s more frustrated than anything by being unable to achieve his gramps’ sound. That’s when Shuri passionately defends Setsu’s own sound, as her grandmother described. That gentle sound healed her as well as her gran, and inspired her to try to get a little closer to it by continuing to practice.

Shuri, Setsu, and the whole Shamisen Club is bowled over to find Koyabu-sensei has brought Kamiki Seiryuuu to offer some pointers. She had reached out to him via email with a recording of Setsu playing “Shinbushi” fiercely and wildly with picking all over the place. This second listen is all Kamiki needs to accept Koyabu’s request.

Even if it would create competition for him—maybe because it would—Kamiki is desperate to hear Setsu’s true sound unleashed. So when he arrives, the first thing he asks is that Setsu play “Shinbushi” for him again. Setsu agrees, and his performance is so much softer and more nuanced than the recording that it almost sounds like a different piece to the novice ears.

But Kamiki sees that it’s more than that: Setsu is unable to filter out his mood in the now when he performs, so however he happens to feel, that’s how he’ll sound. That’s why he’s so “all over the place”, and why Kamiki whips out his own shamisen and starts to play—not over Setsu, but with him.

A musical dance ensues, with Kamiki leading with his sprawling sound, letting Setsu dance and skip over it like a rock over water. Setsu’s feeling changes within the performance as he realizes that Kamiki’s sound is supporting his, focusing his emotions and thus his performance. When the two reach an equilibrium playing together, Shuri likens it to a chemical reaction. Considering emotions are chemical signals in the brain, she’s not wrong!

If I could be a little gross for a moment to create a metaphor: Setsu was musically constipated (he calls it “shackled”), while Kamiki’s instructive play was the Metamucil Setsu needed to “loosen things up”. It’s probably a coincidence that after Kamiki leaves, Setsu heads straight to the bathroom, but as he heads there, everyone notices how light Setsu looks as he walks…he even starts to skip!

Setsu knows what Kamiki pulled, and while it “irked” him, it was also a lot of fun, leaving him feeling happier than he’s felt in a good long while. Kamiki’s playing also used the most basic phrasing, meaning the whole club could learn it. So there’s hope for them yet. As for the individual tournament, I imagine he’s not far from committing to that. Umeko, Kamiki, and the Tanuma siblings are only a few of those who’ll be bitterly disappointed if he doesn’t!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Those Snow White Notes – 04 – New Guide, New Goal, New Sound

It’s all thanks to Sakura’s onigiri. When she greets Setsu and he enters the boarding house without responding, she can tell he’s out of sorts, and the only thing for that is food. When she delivers it, he’s on the phone with Wakana, and she gets the idea he’s talking about a girl he likes.

Setsu is terrified of not being able to live up to Shuri’s grandmother’s memory of gramps’ magnum opus, “Shungyou (Spring Dawn)”. But Wakana reminds him that Shuri didn’t know Gramps, and Setsu doesn’t know her grandmother. It’s impossible to try to exactly copy what she heard so many years ago, so he suggests Setsu rewrite her memory, using his own song.

Kamiki calls Mai to tell her he heard Setsu play, and while he clearly couldn’t show him his “sound”, he still heard the dizzying potential Mai always believed to be there, and so desperately wants to do battle with. Setsu gets a recording of “Shungyou”, but it’s on an ancient cassette tape. No problem; Kaito’s a vintage audiophile!

When Kaito asks why they can’t just play the tape for Shuri’s gram, Setsu says there’s no comparison between a taped performance and a live one. That makes it all the more impressive that even a cassette recording of Setsu’s gramps playing is able to fully transport both him and Kaito into the story of the song, ending with the titular and redemptive spring dawn.

Even a layman like Kaito can tell how God-level Setsu’s gramps was, and Setsu acknowledges he simply doesn’t have hands quick enough to match the picking at the climax of the piece. While he tries to play it, a passing young man declares Setsu’s sound “pinched and sharp”, i.e. frustrated and confined. He hands him a handmade Tamapiyo chick: something simple anyone can make, yet still causes peoples’ hearts to skip a beat.

Speaking of skipping a beat, Shuri’s heart does so as she watches the stream of Setsu playing that Yui first saw. When Kaito learns she had been keeping it from Shuri, he gets angry at Yui, provoking her into kicking him, saying “Shuri’s all you think about!” and storming off, blushing and mad. Clearly there’s a love triangle in play here, and the addition of Setsu makes it a rhombus.

Sakura forms still another vertex, as she welcomes the acerbic young man who told Setsu to simplify. He learns his name is Rai, he plays hosozao shamisen, and is the son of a rakugo performer. They’re also neighbors! Setsu followed his advice and thanks Rai for giving it.

The day arrives, and Setsu is clearly nervous because when he first meets Shuri’s grandmother he asks if she’s dead, then warns her not to die before he finishes playing. That’s gotta be nerves! But then he sits down, begins playing a sparser, more stripped down “Shungyou” that he can actually play, thus demonstrating his own new sound based upon his gramps but no longer an attempted perfect facsimile.

The sound transports Shuri’s grandma back to when she was a six-year-old evacuee shunned by those who took her in. She met a poor and starving boy slightly older than her, and she gave him her ration of potato to play something for her. That boy, Setsu’s grandfather, wept after playing, because he ate a starving girl’s potato. When she says it’s okay for her to die because her parent is dead, he said no, you have to keep living.

As Setsu’s streamlined performance moves everyone to tears, especially Shuri, who witnesses her gran smile for the first time in a long while. Setsu and Kaito saw the Spring Dawn over the mountains that turned a new page in the life of the unnamed subject of the piece—who could be anyone.

Gran’s eyes are also dazzled here by the rising sun over deep blue waves and a purple sky, the night dissolving into darkness. The image of her sitting and listening to Setsu’s gramps playing Shamisen is etched in her mind. It’s a cot-damn tearjerker, I tellsya; a new high watermark for the series in terms of emotional impact.


When it’s over, Shuri’s gran says it sounded different. That’s because the sound she heard back in the day was a very humble sound on a shabby shamisen, and yet it gave her the courage to live. She describes Setsu’s sound as a gentle sound that can heal pain, as it healed hers. She declares that she’ll be able to sleep again without becoming lost in colorless, soundless painful memories.

Setsu’s performance was a great success, and Shuri reminds him, Yui, and Kaito that they’re all in her Shamisen Club going forward. Setsu’s mom, being massaged and pampered by an army of servants, gets word from “the unit keeping an eye on Setsu” that he’s joined the club, and she takes the liberty of entering him into the National High School Tsugaru Shamisen Koshien—the Matsugurou Cup! Looks like Mai might just get her wish of going up against Setsu…

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

This is a re-post from last week’s episode. Episode 5 review coming soon.

Those Snow White Notes – 03 – It’s Fine if It’s Different

This week Setsu becomes raveled in the web of the adorable Maeda Shuri and her childhood friends Kaito and Yui. Yui tries in vein to get Setsu to join Shuri’s club, leading him to ask why she won’t join. Then Kaito asks Shuri if Setsu’s bothering her, even though we later learn he’s the one who bullied her when she was little!

Everything chances when Shuri gets lost in a recording of her grandmother’s humming a tune on her phone and misses the bell. She gets reamed out by the teacher, who unplugs her earbud, and the whole class can hears the tune. Setsu recognizes it: his own grandfather’s “Shungyou (Spring Dawn).”

Setsu boldly approaches Shuri in the hall and asks her about it; turns out the whole reason Shuri started the club was that she hoped to meet someone who could tell her what song it was her grandmother heard some decades ago, a memory that no longer has any sound. Kaito who has an unabashed crush on Shuri, grabs Setsu, who says he was mistaken and storms off.

Then it’s Shuri’s turn to be unexpected, as she grabs Setsu’s arm with both of hers. She answered his question, now he has to answer hers: Could she someday play the piece her granny hummed? “Impossible”, he says flatly, drawing the ire of both Kaito and Yui. Koyabu-sensei breaks up the tussle by suggesting all five of them go listen to a live performance by the former owner of the shamisen in Shuri’s care.

Meanwhile in Aomori, Kamiki Seiryuuu, formerly Ogata Kousuke, shamisen player extraordinaire, plays for the Tanuma siblings’ father, who is impressed by his progress but still assures him that his son Souichi will beat him. Kamiki politely replies that that ain’t gonna happen.

While on the way out Kamiki runs into Tanuma Mai, who may be the only one outside the Sawamura family to hear Setsu’s playing. And he was so skilled, his distaste for competition made her mad. She’s been mad ever since, and doesn’t quite buy that it’s “fine” for Setsu to not want to seek recognition.

Speaking of recognition, Koito and Setsu arrive at Kamiki’s performance with Shuri, Yui, and Koyabu-sensei, and a crowd full of adoring ladies. Shuri asks Setsu what he meant by impossible, he says even he wouldn’tbe able to play it, as his “emotions would get in the way”. Yui wonders to herself why he can’t simply try to play it.

Then the lights go out, and a dramatically silhouetted Kamiki begins his performance, pulling the crowd in with a clarity of sound Setsu didn’t think possible from a futozao. As Mai’s dad said, his playing is like a breath of mountain air; crisp, bracing…even a little frightening. Again Snow White Notes delivers another awesome shamisen performance, and due to the performer being Kamiki, it’s unlike any of the previous ones.

Koyabu-sensei gets everyone backstage so Shuri can ask Kamiki about the shamisen he left behind, but Setsu gets uncharacteristically chippy about the fact Kamiki basically abandoned such a kingly instrument to the tender mercies of a school that could have easily thrown it out.

Kamiki says he trusted someone would find it who would be able to ascertain its true value…and that turned out to be true! Then Kamiki hands Setsu his current shamisen and asks him to show him what he’s got. Setsu plays, and Shuri, Koito, and Koyabu-sensei are impressed…but Yui isn’t. Nor is Kamiki.

Yui finds his playing boring. Kamiki had an even meaner word for it in his thoughts…insipid. He recognizes Setsu has some skill, but he was just striking away recklessly.

Setsu runs off. Yui follows him and asked why he phoned it in. She heard him play properly online during the rock show and was blown away despite having zero interest in the shamisen before. But Setsu wasn’t sucking intentionally…he just couldn’t play. Shuri listens in around the corner as he laments not being able to play for Shuri even though she’s so desperate to hear that mystery tune.

A rain-soaked Setsu arrives on his block to find Sakura outside the boarding house, and he asks her upfront what she’d do if someone asked her to do something she thought was impossible for her. Sakura says she’d give it her best shot on her own terms, even if she knew she’d fail. It’s just what Setsu needed to hear to come out of his funk.

The next day, when Shuri is along in some supply room strumming out some basic shamisen notes, Setsu appears from behind and corrects her posture. He asks if it’s okay if the song he plays is different from the one her grandmother remembers, and she says of course it will be fine; like Sakura, she’s more concerned with trying than not trying. If anything, it’s better if it’s different, because that makes it his sound. That’s what he’s scared of, after all: his sound never shaping up to his gramps’.

But his grandfather didn’t want him exactly copying him anyway! Setsu thought his sound didn’t exist at all without gramps around, but by bringing sound to the silent memories of Shuri and her grandmother, he’s one more small step towards discovering that he always had a sound separate from his master’s—everyone does, and everyone should. I’ll close by saying way to go, Setsu, for totally making Shuri’s day!

Those Snow White Notes – 02 – Let Loose and Take Flight

Setsu remembers back when a girl in his class was mad he dropped out of a shamisen competition, calling him a coward who was running away with tears in her eyes. She wanted to beat him, but it was more than that: she clearly admired and respected his play as someone worth working to defeat. When he tactlessly tells her he only cares about his grandfather’s sound, she slaps him.

It’s that same cheek—along with the other one—that Setsu’s mother is grasping when he finally comes to after being gassed. Umeko, would never win Mother of the Year, but she’s at least concerned enough about her son to establish some structure to his new home in Tokyo, setting him up in a boarding house in the vibrant old town (Shitamachi) and enrolling him in school.

When Setsu tells his mom he’s lost his sound, Umeko asks how far it went, and insists he answer with his shamisen. Beside the boarding house room’s open window that overlooks a bustling street, Umeko challenges Setsu to make everyone down there turn and look as he accompanies her singing, warning she won’t tolerate disgraceful play.

It’s then, during his playing and her singing of “Tsugaru Ohara Bushi”, that we learn that while she’s by all appearances a pompous, arrogant, and overbearing force of nature, Sawamura Umeko is perfectly able to offset those traits with her singing talent. Tetsu says he “hates” her, but her voice has always made his heart tremble. You and me both, bud!

Unlike her personality when not singing, Umeko’s voice is more than a force of nature: it’s all four seasons. It’s apropos that her song can be interpreted as the life cycle of an apple tree…and a woman. From the first note she sings, the unyielding power, confidence, and beauty of her voice is plain…and terrifying.

For a bit under four minutes, I was transported to nirvana, experiencing winter, spring, summer, and autumn, feeling the wind blowing, smelling the blossoms and ripening fruit. Every single person in the crowd below stops what they’re doing, turns to the window, and listens. A girl seemingly falls in love before our eyes.

Umeko and Setsu put a spell on everyone, including me…and then Setsu breaks a string before he can finish his big solo, and it’s all over but the ovation below. Umeko admits she did this so Setsu would make a good first impression on the neighborhood, ensuring he could practice whenever he wants.

But that night, all of the praise and promised freebies from his neighbors amounts to nothing in Setsu’s angsty thoughts. All Umeko has done is ensure he can continue drifting along and going with the flow, accomplishing nothing; amounting to nothing. Methinks our boy doth protest too much…I think he’s got a pretty sweet deal here!

The next morning at the boarding house restaurant run by a father-daughter pair, Wakana arrives as promised to see Setsu to his first day at his new school. Umeko gave Setsu a choice: continue his education, or return to Aomori. The brothers’ breakfast and tense discussion is interrupted by their mother in a cosmetic ad on TV.

As they walk to Setsu’s school, Wakana tells him about the competition he just came from, in which he placed third. First Place went to Kamiki School master Ogata Kousuke, while Second Place went to his kohai, third-year high schooler Tanuma Souichi. Setsu recognizes the name Tanuma, as his little sister was in the same year as him, and indeed girl who slapped him in his flashback.

While Setsu gave up on competition to try to pursue his gramps’ sound, Tanuma Mai won in the competition’s women’s division, telling Wakana prior to the performances that he was no match for the Kamiki School…and turned out to be right. With Wakana and Setsu’s master deceased, it’s as if they’ve hit a brick wall and are “stuck in the dark”.

Between his good looks and refreshing accent, Setsu is well-received by his classmates despite his cool introduction. Wakana learns Umeko told some tall tales (and signed a fat check) to get Setsu enrolled so quickly. While in the faculty lounge with his homeroom teacher Kobayu-sensei, Setsu meets Maeda, a girl in his class who also happens to head up the school’s shamisen appreciation club.

She also happens to have a shamisen left at the school by one Ogata Kousuke. Setsu is initially troubled by the idea of a tourist like Maeda handling such a honed instrument, but lowers his hackles when she looks at him forlornly with trembling eyes and asks “Is it wrong for me…to touch it?” Phrasing!

He helps her assemble the shamisen, which has a torn skin as a result of disuse and neglect. But other than that correctable flaw (at the not insignificant cost of ¥40-50k!) he recognizes it as a particularly exquisite specimen. Maeda is smitten with it, and with Setsu, who clearly knows his shamisens. Alas, before she can properly thank him, Setsu has executed a perfect Batman exit.

Wakana meets up with him after school and presents him with the parting gift of a genuine kiri wood case, which Setsu clearly loves. Wakana also says he now understands more why Setsu left home, considering the burdens left for him there. Setsu tells Wakana how, like penguins and seals can recognize the call of their young out of a group of hundreds, he’ll always be able to pick his brother’s sound out of a chorus of shamisens.

Before Wakana takes his leave, Setsu suggests they go somewhere and play something together. They invite the boarding room father and daughter (Sakura) to join them, and they pick out a nearby Inari shrine where Sakura assures them the kitsune won’t mind their music.

Talk about it! Once again a musical number sends me straight to heaven. The two brothers play a piece with no title they came up with when they were younger and “just messing around”. As Sakura and her dad stand absolutely rapt, the brothers’ music summons images of a golden light-soaked Aomori evening. Wakana recounts how Setsu would always follow him. He’d run ahead, or climb a tree, and Setsu would fall behind and cry.

But then Wakana would take Setsu’s hand and bring him along, making sure he didn’t fall too far behind or feel lonely. Back and forth they’d go, just as their dueling shamisens chase each other. The piece gets very quiet for a bit, then they both cut loose and take flight like birds.

Sakura recognizes that this is no idle strumming, but the melody of the two brothers; the vocalization of their love and devotion; a dialogue of souls bound by blood far stronger than words could manage. With fresh strings on Setsu’s shamisen, the piece ends properly with a two-note exclamation point: blang-blang. The duet is the perfect cap to another perfect episode of Those Snow White Notes. Now the wait begins for the third episode, when Maeda will no doubt attempt to recruit Setsu into her club.

Horimiya – 13 (Fin) – Gifting the Sky

Like Yuru Camp, Horimiya ends with an ending, namely high school graduation, and all the bitter-sweetness that comes with such an event. Kyouko and Shuu had been gradually emptying out their lockers day by day, but no one else thought to do so, which means they’re forced by default to help Yuki, Izumi, and Tooru with her much larger loads.

While cleaning up the StuCo office, Remi, Kakeru, Sakura, and Akane all agree to go on a post-graduation trip once one of them gets a driver’s license. Remi momentarily feels a bit lonely about the prospect of her boyfriend being able to drive far away from her, but…he’d never actually do that!

Speaking of hypotheticals, while Kyouko is napping in Izumi’s lap (a cute quiet couple moment I wish there’d been more of), he ponders what might have been were it not for all of the little coincidences—like saving Souta—that led to him not only befriending and falling for Kyouko, but everyone else in their circle of friends.

He imagines an alternate reality in which no one ever approached him or interacted with him, but things simply happened around him. Remi has shorter hair for some reason, Sakura doesn’t know Tooru, while Kyouko and an unnamed friend ogle Akane.

Kyouko wakes up, snaps him out of his daydream, sits in his lap, and says it must be fate that brought them together. But even if fate didn’t exist, Izumi likes to think the world would gradually move in the direction he wanted.

Graduation Day arrives, and as StuCo president and class rep, Kakeru is ready to give his big speech, only for Izumi to sneeze loudly before he can get a full word out, causing the entire class to start snickering. After the speech, Kakeru chases a contrite Izumi, who hides up on the roof.

There, he encounters his old, lonely self, tells him how well things have gone and how happy he is, and then looks at his old self for the first time, promising he won’t look away again. The old Izumi, in turn, decides he’ll “disappear” for him, no longer needed.

A parade of farewells and see-you-laters ensue. Tooru stumbles over a goodbye with Sakura before she holds her hand out for him to shake, and tells him she genuinely had the most fun ever this year, and he was a part of that. Awww. Similarly, Akane tells Yuki how he wants to join everyone on a post-graduation trip, and Yuki preemptively thanks him for doing the driving.

Kyousuke arrives after school to see Izumi, much to Hori’s chagrin, and is momentarily mistaken for Izumi’s dad (as opposed to future dad-in-law). Finally, Motoko gets a taste of Iura’s loud, peppy high school persona, and it’s a shock to say the least, though no doubt she’s happy to see that side of her brother.

Finally, our cozy lovey-dovey titular couple walk together to get some sushi with Kyouko’s fam, hand-in-hand. Izumi remarks how he once feared all the boundaries between him and Kyouko, but no longer. The two are so close, they might as well share the name Horimiya…and that’s fine with him, because wherever she goes, sunny days follow.

The spring sky looks bluer and more beautiful than he’s ever seen—so much so that he wishes he could repay Kyouko for shattering his old reality and wanting a future with him…by gifting her that sky. The vivid colors, soft focus, and dancing sakura petals add to the sense that Kyouko and Izumi are on cloud nine. If this ends up being the last we see them in anime form, I couldn’t ask for a lovelier parting shot!

Horimiya was by no means perfect. I didn’t always agree with some of the narrative choices made after the couple slept together, and there were ultimately a few too many characters to juggle (with Shuu, Akane, and Sawada getting particularly short shrift) but at its best the central romance was as fun and electric as anything I’ve seen in the genre. It certainly won’t be a series I’ll be forgetting anytime soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Those Snow White Notes – 01 (First Impressions) – Challenge Issued

AOTS Alert. Repeat, we have an Early AOTS Alert. Those Snow White Notes is an absolute joy to experience from beginning to end. Its absolute banger of a first episode tells a story of inspiration, loss, loneliness, listlessness, self-worth and self-actualization, jealousy, love, and much more—so much it feels like a little self-contained mini-film.

Oh yeah, did I mention it centers around a shamisen player, so the show’s music is supervised by The Yoshida Brothers, in addition to being directed by the fellow who not only gave us the tone-setting first episode of Rakugo Shinjuu, but both seasons of the excellent Master Teaser Takagi-san, of all things? We’re clearly dealing with some talented folks, so it’s amazing it doesn’t feel nearly as pretentious as it should.

A lot of that has to do with how simply and how efficiently the story is laid out and how easily it is to slide into the lives it follows. We start with Sawamura Setsu and his big brother Wakana listening through a cracked door as their grandfather plays to a transfixed crowd. An aside: I’m probably not alone when I say the sound of a well-played shamisen activates my sense of musical awe in addition to my ASMR, resulting in persistent goosebumps every time I hear it…or even think of it!

That said, as soon as the sweet music is over, the warm scene is replaced by a face-slap of a bitter winter scene, in which the Setsu is leaving home. When his gramps died, his “sound” disappeared too, so he’s going “somewhere loud” in hopes he can get it back. He doesn’t know if Tokyo is that place, but he knows he can’t stay home, saying “there’s nothing here anymore.”

We’re only two minutes in, and we’ve already learned so much while being treated to what is the first but hardly the least shamisen number. (It’s also clear I’m going to end up writing way too many words in this review! If only we had an editor around here…)

SWN’s next efficient-yet-effective character portrait is of Tachiki Yuna, an actress/model who is paying the bills with a hostess club job, having to keep smiling and pretending to be happy to be there even after her agency notifies her that she was passed over for a role. After her shift she’s encouraged by her boyfriend Taketo’s texts, and she considers herself fortunate to “have a man who’s talented.”

Yuna happens to be in the bustling streets of Roppongi when Setsu literally bumps into her after getting temporarily dazed by the sheer brightness of the city lights. The two part ways, but Setsu immediately bumps into some less savory characters who start to beat on him. It’s here we learn that Yuna has a heart of gold, as she comes to the Setsu’s rescue with some karate kicks.

After dreaming about his grandfather essentially telling him to stop playing the shamisen if he dies, Setsu wakes up in girly pajamas in Yuna’s cozy apartment, and she cooks the two of them breakfast. Setsu learns that Yuna is a 22-year-old gravure model. Yuna learns Setsu is a Tsugaru shamisen player, but he can’t play for her because he’s “empty inside”, which just happens to be how she’s been feeling lately.

When Wakana hears from Setsu in a letter, he assumes his little brother just went to Tokyo to get laid. But seeing in Setsu a kind of kindred soul, she proposes he continue living with her and doing the housework until he can get his sound back. Before long, a week passes, the longest he’s ever gone without playing since first picking up a shamisen.

Yuna takes Setsu to a restaurant to meet her great and talented boyfriend Taketo along with his band, and Taketo is revealed to be a preening, self-involved jackass who is far beneath Yuna. Setsu intervenes when he sees Taketo trying to extract some serious cash from Yuna to pay for studio he’s renting. He then tells her he’ll be too busy writing music to hang out later that night.

When Yuna and a bandmate have to hold Taketo back, Setsu peaces out, running through the crush of people and noting just how much noisier Tokyo was than a bumpkin like him could have imagined. He gets caught up on a word his gramps used about his sound—”disgraceful”—not because Setsu sucked at shamisen, but because all he ever did was imitate his gramps.

But right here and now Setsu is mad and wants to express it. He wants to play. So he sits down beside the river and plays. Yuna happens to pass by as he’s starting to play, and while he’d later describe the performance as rough and ugly due to the rust of a mere week, but Yuna and I become entranced.

As someone who can only understand between 1-10% of any given spoken Japanese sentence, the language itself is a kind of music, although I know enough words and phrases to know that it isn’t, so it remains separate from the real thing. But pure music like Setsu’s strumming transcends words as it expresses emotions, ideas, and memories of both player and listener.

In Yuna’s case, she’s transported back to her meeting with her agent, who was trying to get her to audition for racier movies and TV. Rightfully insulted by the insinuation she’s nothing but a pretty face and body, she throws a glass of water in his face, and is warned that she won’t go far if she turns such jobs down.

In the midst of listening to Setsu’s raw and angry performance, Yuna takes comfort in knowing even if her career doesn’t amount to anything, at least she has a good man in Taketo. She stops by the good man’s place to find him with having slept with some other woman, to whom she says “you can have him” and leaves as Setsu’s piece comes to a bitter, final note.

When Setsu comes home, Yuna is still awake, and tells him she heard his music. When she did, she realized they’re not alike at all. Setsu isn’t a “sad person with nothing going” for him like she is, and so she can’t help but feel jealous of him. She says she’ll be going away for a while, and asks him to vacate her apartment while she’s gone.

Another day, Setsu encounters Taketo on the street, who is preparing for a concert with his band. Taketo decides to use Setsu as a hostage, telling Yuna he’ll break his arm if she doesn’t show up. For this shitbaggery, Taketo is promptly punished with a Karma Kick from Yuna, coming to Setsu’s rescue once more.

She apologizes for involving Setsu in her drama, but with the wind kicked out of Taketo, she needs to ask for him to be involved a little bit longer. They need someone to go out there and entertain the crowd until the scumbag recovers. Just like that, Setsu finally gets a stage and a crowd on which to test whether he can get his lost sound back. Three guesses as to whether he manages this.

The ensuing powerhouse of a performance by Setsu calls to mind the best music scenes of Your Lie in April, only in this case the crowd was expecting a rock band, not a Tsugaru shamisen player. As he nervously tells the initially confused crowd, he plays “Jongara Bushi”, and as he does, he recalls in black-and-white memories what his grandfather had to say about the peice.

Gramps described the beginning as passionate and hot-blooded, but it starts to calm, grow progressively sadder and heartrending, weakening and waning. He’s basically describing a life. But, unlike a fiery youth who calms down in middle age and eventually withers and passes away, “Jongara” claws its way back, refusing to be beaten down, issues a challenge with its final furious crescendo.

The crowd watches in dead silence, just as Yuna did, and you can’t help but think of what is flashing through their heads while they listen; while they’re being taken on this roller coaster ride of powerful emotions. Just like April, the stage lights illuminate dust motes to give the simultaneous appearance of snow and magical sparkles. Setsu is casting a spell on everyone in that hall with his sound, and not even Taketo can deny its power.

Not only that, but the performance is being live-streamed on the internet, where even if it doesn’t go viral, it’s being watched from home by someone Setsu is sure to meet at some point; perhaps someone who like him has been around shamisen music enough to know that by their standards his performance was just okay. But I’m with Yuna, Taketo, and rest of the crowd: that was fucking awesome.

Also awesome? Yuna doesn’t take Taketo back. They’re done, and he knows he “lost himself a good woman”, even if Yuna would argue that she’s good at anything. Also, while I’m sad to see her go, Yuna does go on her trip to find her…well, not sound, but I guess to find what it is she can contribute to the world and feel good about it. Modeling and porn were decidedly not those things, but I hope the show won’t lose sight of her journey.

Setsu continues to live in her apartment after she leaves, but Taketo tends to come by a lot, so it’s clear that while he’s an asshole, he and Setsu will probably continue to interact with each other, if not outright befriend each other. While Setsu has the kettle on, he recalls walking Yuna to the train station, gives him a kiss before pushing him away and boarding the train with a final wave goodbye. Assuring him that whatever girl he ends up with “will be very happy”.

Back at her apartment, Taketo says that Setsu seems most alive when he’s playing, but if the shamisen is what gives him life, then sooner or later that world will “drag him in.” Taketo is hitting the nail on the head when their talk is abruptly interrupted by the most ridiculous occurrence in the episode: on the snap of a woman’s fingers, the door to Yuna’s apartment is forced open, a smoke bomb goes off, and two SWAT officers flank a glamorous woman with silver hair, blue eyes, and an April O’Neil jacket.

She’s here for Setsu, whom she calls “Baby-chan”, and Setsu calls her Umeko, but I know from the initial description of the show that this is his mom…who it’s immediately clear is a lot. Looks like however much of his sound Setsu believes he’s found in Tokyo, Umeko will have an unnegotiable say in his life…at least as long as he’s still a kid.

Talk about a mood-changing, enticing record-scratch of an ending! And it’s followed by an end theme that positively slaps: Miliyah Katou’s Kono Yume ga Sameru made, featuring the Yoshida Brothers. This was an opening episode that scratched all of my itches and then some. If you’re tired of my incessant gushing, go give it a watch yourself! I for one am probably going to go watch it again!

Horimiya – 12 – The Mantis

This week it’s Christmas in Horimiyaland, and everyone is figuring out how—and with whom—they want to spend their holiday. It’s just too perfect that Yuki fell in love with Tooru having absolutely no clue that the boy’s family was freakin’ loaded. Money can’t buy you love! If anything, it intimidates a girl of more modest means like Yuki.

At a time when everyone needs Christmas cake, Izumi is scheduled to work through the holidays at the bakery, meaning he won’t be able to join Kyouko and her family. While she’s understanding—her boy’s fam gotta earn, nothing you can do about it—her dad, mom, and Souta are less forgiving. Never mind if it’s Kyouko’s the one technically dating him. They want Izumi!

Shuu and Sengoku were both convinced Tooru and Yuki were already an item, but by saying he only “recently” harbored a crush on Kyouko, Tooru he reveals he’s still in a transitory place: not yet far enough removed from the pain of not having those feelings returned, and thus not quite ready to look for love elsewhere. Compounding matters is that he likely considers Yuki his best mates.

Why else would he so helplessly waver when she asks if she can come to his place to play video games? Or sneak in the house like something elicit is afoot? Or so determined to keep the family’s statuesque personal assistant Yashiro’s nose out of his business? Like his other friends, Tooru likely doesn’t want Yashiro or his family to get the wrong idea in the present—even if it may well turn out to be the right idea in the future.

After they both calm down after tea and cake (from Izumi’s bakery!) and fire up the video games, Tooru lets slip that he’s “happy with the way things are.” And honestly, I really don’t see Yuki disagreeing with that. As they watch that loading screen, they both seem content and comfortable. No need to rush things.

There’s a bit of drama at school when Sengoku doesn’t immediately agree to spend Christmas with Remi at Remi’s, and for a very bizarre reason: her dad is into catching bugs and putting them in boxes. When it’s trifling things like this that come between lovers, you know it’s true love. Sengoku simply has to grow a pair. The bugs are DEAD, dude!

When Kyouko shows her parents her superlative marks (all A’s save gym and art…kinda the opposite of me!) her mom remarks how there will only be one more report card, and then she’ll graduate. As her parents bicker and Souta asks her to look at his marks, Kyouko gets lost in thought: What will her life be like after graduation?

But before that, it’s Christmas, and the episode doesn’t want to leave anyone out as it checks in on just about everyone, starting with a contact-wearing Yanagi and Yuki’s big sister, who have a cute little exchange by a big outdoor Christmas tree. Tanihara and his brother wrestle over a clear view of the TV.

In what is a promising development, Yuki and Tooru are hanging out together for Christmas. I’m rooting for you two tentative bastards….take all the time you need!

Motoko is studying hard even the night before Christmas, but Shuu makes sure she takes a fried chicken and cake break. Sakura urges Sengoku to stop being a goddamn wimp and go hang out with his adorable girlfriend on one of (if not the) most important nights for couples both potential and extant. On the latter front, Shindou asks his girlfriend to wait one more year for him to graduate, and she agrees.

The entire Hori residence—including Souta’s cute friend Yura—is united in their elation when Izumi stops by to drop off their cake. When he says he can’t stay, Kyouko is again understanding, but her family won’t let him leave without a hot drink, eventually stealing a whole hour of his shift at the bakery.

When they finally allow him to leave, Kyouko walks him home, despite not being dressed for the chilly night; she’s in slippers, for goodness sake! But there’s something she wants to say to Izumi, and mercifully it’s not to ask him to berate or hit her; that particular pothole on their relationship road seems to have smoothed out off-camera…and that’s fine.

No, Kyouko tells him the same thing he told her back when they first started going out: she still doesn’t know very much about him. But due in part to that and other factors, she wants to be with him even after they graduate. Izumi goes quite a few steps beyond agreeing, and proposes marriage! Whoa, boy! Immediately embarrassed by blurting out what is surely deep-seated but still premature desire, he shuffles off.

But Kyouko promises she’ll “make him happy”, something Izumi says is usually what the guy is supposed to say in such a situation—which ironically is the kind of cisnormative comment you’d expect from Kyouko! She insists she should be the one to say it, as she admits she’s self-centered and “only good at studying and chores” though she’s selling herself short.

These two lovable dorks then bow to each other, expressing how they’re looking forward to their future together. All I can really say to that is BAAAAAWWWW.

After the credits, we fast-forward to New Year’s, which Kyouko and Izumi are spending together at a festival. They get their fortunes, but they hardly matter, since they both agree that as long as the other person is smiling, it’s all gravy. They grab some amazake and reflect how they were the last people they saw at the end of the previous year and the first people they saw at the beginning of the new one.

Izumi wants every year to be like that. Izumi walks Kyouko home hand-in-hand, assuring her that they can and will indeed be together forever. And damnit, I believe him. And like them, I’m happy just seeing the two smiling together, shrugging off the anxiety around what would happen after high school, laying out their future, and sharing in the warmth, relief, and elation of knowing graduation will only be the end of their beginning.

Horimiya – 11 – It’s Not Easy Being Green

Anyone expecting a segment or two focused on Kyouko and Izumi will be disappointed, but once I accepted that the show wanted to delve into other things, I relaxed and enjoyed the grab bag of character stories we did get.

Randomly enough, we start with talk of everyone’s siblings (or lack thereof), including the little sister of Iura Shuu, a character who has only ever appeared on the margins of the show until now. Shuu’s one character trait is that he’s loud and annoying, so Tooru was surprised how quiet and seemingly distant Shuu’s sister is by comparison.

We then shift from brothers to bros, with Izumi feeling a little threatened by Yanagi Akane’s seamless integration into the group. Yanagi ensures Izumi he won’t steal his buds, but Izumi still calls him a dummy and runs off in a huff like a tsundere. To see them stand side by side asking Sakura who is taller, Yanagi certainly comes off as an “alternate” Izumi.

Sawada Honoka returns, and we learn that thanks to Izumi, with whom she’s not only called a truce but seems quite close to now, she’s gradually attempting to get used to the other guys in Kyouko and Izumi’s circle. But one boy who seems to have no hope of ever getting along with Honoka is Shuu, because she just can’t handle his annoying boisterousness.

When Shuu comes down with a cold (as discovered by Kyouko and Yuki) and it hurts to talk, Honoka is thrown for a loop when, before heading home to rest, Shuu carries a box for her to the science lab without saying a word. She worries that he’s mad at her for being so hostile, but Sakura doubts Shuu can even get mad. Turns out Shuu’s voice has fully recovered, and when he’s a bit too zealous with his greeting Honoka flees once more.

The final segments deal with Shuu and his sister Motoko (voiced by Kanemoto Hisato), who we see in a black-and-white flashback being laughed at by her horrible teacher for saying she wants to try to get into East High, where her friends intend to go. When Motoko says she won’t be eating dinner, Shuu asks why. She tells him, and when he asks if her grades were laughable, she raises her hand to strike him.

Shuu knows from the condition of her textbooks and notebooks and all the hours she spends studying that it’s not a question of effort. Motoko is equally perplexed that despite trying, her grades just don’t improve. Calling her brother “onii-chan”, she tearfully asks Shuu what to do. Shuu starts by asking the name of that teacher so he can punch him in the face for her sake.

Then he says the uniforms at his high school are cuter than East High’s anyway, so she should just do her best—which is really all she can do—and whatever happens happens. He also insists she eats dinner; the brain needs food to work efficiently! He also asks Kyouko to tutor her and determine if she can get into East High, and Kyouko agrees, noting that Shuu “looked like a big brother” when he asked her.

Shuu and Motoko may not have been close before, but her academic troubles so close to transitioning to high school seems to be the catalyst they needed to grow a bit closer. Even so, they still worry that the other sibling hates them, even though the truth is they love and care for each other just fine!

Kyouko is on her very best behavior (and indeed is portrayed in her best light yet) as hostess and tutor, keeping things laid-back by saying they won’t even hit the books for this first session. Instead, she wants Motoko to be comfortable in a new place before they begin in earnest. And if Motoko wants more company, she can always bring in Souta and Izumi!

Meanwhile, Shuu visits a local shrine with Tooru and buys the most expensive charm for “Guaranteed Exam Success” for Motoko, and hoping she’ll accept it. I can’t tell you that I’ve been waiting ten weeks for a story about the loud green-haired kid and his sister, but after getting one, this real-life big brother isn’t complaining! As for Kyouko and Izumi, there are still two episodes left to check in on them.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 22 – Tainted Love

Older Hanyuu lets Satoko basically fumble her way through the first few loops, no doubt trying to determine how far the “child of man” can get in trying to overturn Rika’s will to leave Hinamizawa absent any information. The answer: Not that far! 

First Satoko interrupts Rika’s dream spiel by leaving the bookstore, explaining how things will turn out, and then making Rika choose, right there and then: St. Lucia, or her. When Rika (notably in the voice of her older self) states that she can’t choose, Satoko jumps in front of a passing truck, painting her best friend’s face with her blood.

Having tried the aggressive route to refusing Rika’s dream, Satoko tries a more preemptive method, getting Rika up at the crack of dawn, showing her the beauty of Hinamizawa in hopes of swaying her. It doesn’t work, so Satoko slits her own throat.

In the classroom, she throws Rika’s exam prep book to the floor, then tears it in two, but Rika won’t stop studying, so Rika takes one of her pencils and stabs herself in the neck. Before long she and Rika are simply yelling at each other while wrestling, and both end up drowning in a canal.

All these loops do is frustrate Satoko. While the deity has been quite entertained, she decides to give Satoko the first key clue: Rika has also been living in loops. Not only that, but far, far moe than Satoko; one hundred years’ worth. Now Satoko understands how uphill her battle truly is, because Rika’s will has been reinforced by a century of failure and despair.

After being given a glimpse of one of Rika’s loops (the one in which Keiichi gets H syndrome and beats everyone to death with a bat), she determines that she needs to fully educate herself in order to have any chance of defeating Rika. That means watching all one hundred years of Rika’s loops…and I thought she detested studying!

Those horrific memories eventually go by and Satoko has seen it all. As with any huge and abrupt passage of time longer than the average human life, it’s hard to fully grasp what Satoko endured, but the her that exists in the “in-between” plane seems more mature, focused, resolved, and most importantly, informed.

When she hears that just before the victory over the Mountain Dogs Rika was at the end of her rope and ready to give up, Satoko realizes it is simply a matter of getting Rika to once again lose the will to go on, only this time make it stick. Like the games in their club, there can only be one winner.

It’s here where I take a step back and somewhat shudder at the notion of Satoko treating Rika like the enemy. Rika’s will is who Rika is, and by trying to destroy it, she’s trying to selfishly craft a new, more malleable Rika to her own specs. Rika, in turn, is trying to mold Satoko to fit her future dreams, and has a head start. It just doesn’t seem either of them love each other as much as they love their own wills. At this point, maybe they just…shouldn’t be friends anymore?!

What is missing is Rika’s awareness that Satoko is looping. So she asks the deity to make it so Rika’s memory persist through the loops, so Satoko is always dealing with the “same” Rika. The only thing Rika won’t remember is the cause of her death prior to Satoko’s, which she also intends to use in the battle of wills she intends to win, no matter the cost.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 21 – A Terribly Long Dream

Since Gou is my first foray into the Higurashi saga, I’m as confused as Satoko for much of the cold open, which consists of a Hanyuu-like woman saying various things and Satoko responding with lots of “Huh?”s and “What?”s. Bottom line: Satoko is being given the power to live through loops—whether she understands what that means or not—and told that if she lives through enough of them, her wish may one day come true.

Satoko wakes up back in June of 1983, and decides to shrug off the last five years as one long, awful dream. When she sees Lil’ Rika, she can’t help but run into her arms and start tearing up, she’s so happy they’re back where they belong. It’s only when events in the forest with Takano and Tomitake unfold precisely how they did before that Satoko starts to realize it wasn’t a dream, and she’s in a loop.

As such, one day a year and change later, Rika approaches her for a favor and they go to the bookstore to buy a study guide. This time, Satoko voices her hesitancy to join Rika at St. Lucia, but Rika makes it clear if Satoko doesn’t want to share in her new life-to-be, she’ll simply study on her own. Satoko caves and buys a guide, pleasing Rika.

Since she can’t convince Rika not to try to enroll at St. Lucia, she shifts her strategy to making it impossible for Rika to study enough to actually get in. She does this through various not-so-subtle means, such as physically placing herself between Rika and Chie-sensei, and even getting Rena and Keiichi to guilt-trip Rika into playing games with them.

It’s clear from the get-go this strategy would fail, for the same reason Wile E. Coyote’s schemes never pan out: because like the Road Runner, like Rika’s will, is the ocean: Fight against the waves and you’ll only get beaten up, or worse. Despite both Rika and Satoko being exhausted from club, Rika still gets up in the middle of the night to study. Satoko asks Rika if they can talk.

It’s here when I hoped Satoko would tell Rika precisely what’s happened to her, and how because of that she knows for a certainty how awful attending St. Lucia’s would be for her. Instead, she allows Rika to frame her concerns as rhetorical rather than empirical. Considering Rika is doing this because she’s lived through so many loops in Hinamizawa, you’d think she’d have been receptive if Satoko told her she’s now going through the same damn thing!

Instead, Rika hears what Satoko is saying, acknowledges them as legitimate concerns, but then promises to help Satoko should she struggle at St. Lucia’s. Whether due to Satoko’s love for and trust in her best friend, and/or belief that saying what she’s said to Rika will change the course of events for the better, Satoko takes her at her word.

Never let it be said Higurashi doesn’t possess brutally black comedic timing when it wants to, because just moments after Rika’s promise to Satoko, we fast forward five years and the two of them are right back where they were in the first loop: on opposite sides of the school wall, and on completely opposite social levels.

While the first time around, Satoko could forgive Rika for their drifting apart, but this time is different: Satoko was as explicit as she dared to be in telling Rika her concerns about St. Lucia beforehand. More importantly, Rika made an explicit promise, which Satoko believes she has broken. In Satoko’s view, her suffering in this loop isn’t the unfortunate consequence of miscommunication, it’s betrayal, pure and simple.

This time when Satoko confronts Rika, she calls her out for the “dirty liar” she is, only for Rika to counter her by saying when her grades start to slip, she did indeed keep her promise by offering a helping hand. It was Satoko who slapped that hand away. When Satoko says she didn’t want to be looked down upon, Rika says Satoko’s the one who put herself below her.

Satoko had hoped for a better answer from Rika than placing all the blame at her feet, but she doesn’t get it, so she has no further use of this loop. Embracing Rika tightly, Satoko makes a promise of her own: she won’t let Rika deceive her “next time”. With a dramatic flourish, she says “Good tidings to you, my treacherous Rika”, then snaps her finger. This brings the giant chandelier plummeting down on them, killing them both in a spray of blood, gore, and glass.

Goddamn, Satoko got the hang of this loop thing pretty quickly, didn’t she?! At least, I hope she did, and realized a promise from Rika isn’t enough, nor are further half-measures to keep her from entering St. Lucia. Instead, Satoko needs to take a hard look at either not joining Rika and parting ways, or telling her what’s really going on, and hoping she’ll believe her.

Rating: 4/5 Stars