Spy x Family – 03 – A Grand Ooting

Yor arrives at her new home and the Forger family is complete. Loid is surprised by how little luggage she has and how quickly and efficiently she puts it away; Yor is surprised by how clean the place is and how good a cook Loid is. Anya almost opens up Yor’s box of death, but is warned by Yor’s own thoughts not to.

While the three get along just fine to start, once they actually have to start practicing the Eden interview, things go sideways fast. Anya’s answers are too honest (she’s ordered to stay home and watch TV all day) while Yor’s are all over the place (and strangely bloody). Loid begins to doubt if this mission can work.

That said, they all go out for the kind of outing (mispronounced “ooting” by Anya) that upper class families go on. They certainly look the part. First up is the opera, then a museum (where Anya gets a kick out of the classical nudity while Yor digs the guillotine). In the kids section Anya scribbles her parents’ true identities (which, again, they don’t know she knows), but since they’re just that—kid’s scribbles—Loid and Yor chalk it up to her vivid imagination.

When a political rally turns out to be too much for Anya (she’s overwhelmed by the combined negative thoughts of the hundreds of people assembled)  the three head to a café for some lunch. There, Loid’s doubts about the viability of the mission resurface, as Anya has terrible table manners for a purported upper class child, and Yor is again way too blissed out on cutlery.

Yor suggests they have a nice after-lunch rest at a quiet park with a great view of the city (I got a kick out of Anya saying the people look like “tiny bits of trash”—now that’s upper class thinking). But when one of those people turns out to be a thief stealing a purse from an elderly woman, Yor springs into action, though quickly loses the culprit in the crowds.

Anya scans those crowds for the thoughts of the thief, and when she finds him, rather than expose her power she simply points at a restaurant near to where the thief is, and Loid does the rest. Yor watches Anya while he chases him down and retrieves the wallet. Then they take the grandma, who has quite a strong handshake to the hospital to be checked out.

When the three start interacting naturally in front of the granny, she remarks what a lovely family they are. That’s when Loid starts to think that maybe, just maybe they can pull off this academy admission plan. That, and after a day full of upper-class activities (and one citizen’s arrest), Anya’s answers in the next mock interview are a lot more convincing.

They may be an odd family who are keeping profound secrets from one another (with only Anya knowing the truth about everyone), but they also happen to be adorable, and their interactions throughout this episode were a pure joy to watch unfold as they take their first tentative steps to being a family.

86 – 23 (FIN) – Something New

Having dealt with the potentially civilization-ending Morpho and lived to tell the tale, the five Spearheads return “home” to their adoptive father Ernst’s home just in time for the Giad equivalent of Christmas. As Frederica finishes her homework, they open their gifts, all of which could aid in their most difficult mission yet: living civilian lives.

Like the first time they were brought to Giad and given the freedom to choose, the kids all find their respective niches and genuinely enjoy the time they spend in those niches, as well as sharing various first-time experiences together. But the Legion are merely down, not out, and the battlefield beckons. When informally asked to join an independent unit, the five don’t hesitate to take up the call.

It’s there where we learn their unit will be led by a “foreign officer”, and where I once again started to get my hopes up about Shin & Co. meeting Lena—despite knowing how 86 loves to operate. As he visits Eugene’s grave, apologizes to Marcel and Nina, and finally places his brother’s shard of metal in the memorial with the others, Shin wants to find “something new” with his four comrades. He wants to take them to the end, and he doesn’t want that end to be a battlefield.

In a return to the first season formula of splitting the episodes between Shin and Lena, we see her visiting her father’s grave, walking around the ruined first district, and asking her departed uncle for more time before her “hopes are crushed”. Her white-haired brethren throwing racial slurs at the Giadian solders feeding them shows that it could be generations before the state-sanctioned bigotry fades…if ever. 

But just as Shin found peace with Eugene, Marcel, and his brother, Lena comes to a détente with Annette, who is now no longer of the mind that nothing she does matters. She’s also curious about the Giadian’s Para-RAID resembling her own so closely, and has decided to accompany Lena as a tech officer. Lena, who already found a stray cat to keep her company, is elated at the news. Annette knows that the more she stays by Lena’s side, the more surprises she’ll see.

But the biggest and most pleasant surprise of all is that 86 doesn’t go out without letting Lena come face-to-face with Shin, Anju, Kurena, Raiden, and Theo for the first time. Even when she sees these five soldiers, she doesn’t know who they are, having just paid her respects to the five soldiers she believed to have died. Her reaction to Shin introducing himself was priceless, and so earned by everything that had preceded it.

While I worry about their trials in the battles to come, it fills my heart with joy and glee to see Lena triumphantly standing shoulder to shoulder with her  comrades. These are the final moments that made the long wait more than worth it. This final episode provided both closure and enduring hope for the future of these crazy kids.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 18 – The Most Important Thing

After a brief scene showing a seasick Rudy and Eris (and a very unseasick Ruijerd) headed to the Central Continent by ship, the rest of the episode belongs to Roxy, who is always either a step ahead or behind her apprentice. We learn she was once in a party with Bojack…er, Nokopara, who has cleaned up his ways since getting burned by Rudy two years ago.

Nokopara, who is a bit older than Roxy, tells her to go visit her damn family already, citing his own family he built since they last met as evidence that family is the most important thing. He would do anything for his wife and three kids, and suspects Roxy’s parents would do the same for her. I must say I appreciate the softening of the initially assholeish horseman.

When Roxy arrives at her home village, she’s immediately given a painful reminder of the main reason she left: in this village, she is “deaf”, i.e. unable to hear the telepathic communication of the other villagers. When they try to greet her, she’s just hit with a static-y feedback accompanied by pops of light—which to the show’s credit is almost as unpleasant for us as it is for Roxy.

Even when she makes a connection with three kids by healing one of them, when they try to thank her telepathically and she doesn’t respond, then a parent shows up and tries to do the same, everything goes pear-shaped. This is a place where Roxy has always felt oppressed by her difference, and the reluctance of anyone there to accommodate it.

It’s a bad start to her return, made worse by a stilted reunion with her parents. Clearly still off from her previous interactions before arriving at her old home, Roxy is noncommittal about how long she’ll stay. When her parents tell her she can stay as long as she likes, then immediately settle into their usual telepathic banter, they unintentionally exclude her out of force of habit.

At this point Roxy has had about enough, and as much as I want her to reconnect with her folks, whom we know to be so loving and kind and caring of her from when Rudy visited, I can’t blame her for wanting to go. She feels like an interloper, an outsider, and always has.

But then her mother starts to cry, after Roxy agrees to visit once in the next fifty years. Even that extremely loose promise is enough to bring tears to her mother’s eyes. Then Roxy catches in the corner of her eye the doll her mother made for her, which she’d clutch while she taught her to read and write, all the while speaking verbally.

One day, lil’ Roxy encountered some kids who she would have been able to befriend, if only she could hear what they were saying telepathically. When they don’t answer her, she understandably feels like she did something wrong, that she was somehow wrong herself, and didn’t belong. That’s why she ran away: so she wouldn’t cause problems for her parents.

But remembering what Nokopara said about parents (good ones anyway) doing anything for their children, and seeing her mother weeping and her doll on the shelf, Roxy can’t help but start crying herself. Oh, she tries to stave off the tears, but that just makes them fall in a great sobbing torrent all at once, in a wonderfully beautiful moment where the camera simply rests on her contorting face.

Roxy gathers her mother into a hug, they both apologize, her dad, getting misty-eyed himself, joins that hug. You have to hand it to Mushoku Tensei, because two straight episodes with these kinds of tearful, cathartic embraces might’ve come off as repetitive and even emotionally manipulative. Instead, I felt right there in that hug, where Roxy suddenly realized this place is still her home, because the people she loves and who love her, are there.

She also learns that Rudy had visited with Eris and a Superd, which enables her to finally connect the dots: Rudy’s the one who revived the Dead End name, and if a Superd is in his party, he must be doing just fine. Roxy rejoins her own party and continues the search for the missing, buoyued by the strides she made with her family and relieved that her apprentice is fine, wherever he is.

Sonny Boy – 12 (Fin) – Don’t Say Goodbye…

Sonny Boy’s finale begins boldly, with what amounts to a stirring five-minute music video. We follow Nagara, who has slipped right back into his usual existence. Things are so normal, he sometimes wonders if he was ever really adrift in the first place.

Notably absent from Nagara’s high school is Mizuho, whom Nagara looks up and waits outside her school’s gates, only for her to not have any idea who he is. You and I know how much Nagara grew while adrift with Mizuho, Nozomi, and Asakaze, and yet this world seems almost cruelly intent on keeping him isolated and alone.

His present existence back in his original world lies in stark contrast to the surreal, beautiful, and fantastical journey he and Mizuho undertake to get back to a world they’re certain hasn’t changed, even if they have. They tie themselves together, run out of the space elevator, and keep running, even when God tries to stop them. Asakaze bids them farewell, unable to follow even though there’s nothing left for him there.

The flashback to Nagara and Mizuho’s escape serves as a bridge between Nagara’s post-return life and Mizuho’s. Mizuho notes that “everything is gone” from the two-years-plus they were drifting. While Nagara has a part-time job, Mizuho spends her evenings sneaking into their old school and breaking a glass. But a cat doesn’t come delivering a new one; it just stays broken. That’s as it should be…so why is it so sad?

At least we learn that Mizuho was simply messing with Nagara when she pretended not to know him; maybe it was just that seeing him again got her old defenses up. And yet these two people who suddenly find themselves strangers in a simultaneously recognizable and unrecognizable world can’t help but spend time together, basking in both that contradiction and in the knowledge that the two of them are different from everyone else in terms of where they’ve been and what they’ve seen.

There’s a elegiac quality to their interaction, like they were the last surviving members of their unit in some long-finished war. Yet Nagara can’t help but worry that one day he’ll forget what he and Mizuho are feeling right now, and go adrift all over again. Before they part, possibly for good, Mizuho tells him as long as a part of him is still on that island, he’ll be fine. They’ll both be fine.

The episode ends with a third music video, focusing on Nozomi, but wordlessly, until we cut to Nagara preparing to inspect a bird’s nest at the station, only to find Nozomi has already rescued a surviving chick. Nozomi recognizes Nagara from middle school, but unlike him and Mizuho seems to have no other memories of their time in those other dimensions.

Ultimately, Nagara seems fine with that, and fine with the fact Nozomi quickly runs to another guy who I believe is Asakaze. It would seem that by dying in that world, Nozomi’s existence transferred to this one…or something. No matter; I too am glad she’s still alive, bringing light and energy to dark and sullen places.

What I’m not glad about is that this spells the end of Sonny Boy…or at least it should. This just felt like such a wonderfully self-contained and authoritative twelve episodes, my urge for a sequel is tempered. Like Nagara back in his home dimension, everything that should happen will happen.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 12 (Fin) – Sending Odin to Bed Without Supper

Looking our live Big Board, Assault Lily narrowly beats Sigrdrifa as the higher-rated of the two Top Cute Girls Doing Military Stuff shows I watched this Winter. Both shows had their flaws, and while combining the best bits of both into one show would result in a superior product, I won’t pretend either was groundbreaking or life-changing.

That said, Siggy has always been more interesting and consistent than Lily with its character work, and it also happens to deliver a more satisfying and beautifully animated finale. Our four Valkyries have never been closer or more comfortable in their own skins and cockpits, and once their sights were set on victory, their dad Odin never had a chance.

Odin’s heel turn was sudden, but actually made sense when you consider he was declaring war on a world that had forgotten him and everyone he ever loved. Odin gets the second Ragnarök he wanted, but he ends up on the losing side. Claudia may remember the words to the song of Valhalla, but she doesn’t sing it for him, or for the past.

She sings it for her friends and for herself, and this week we hear a new arrangement of the song with full orchestration that makes for some absolutely kick-ass final boss music, in addition to Claudy’s singing ending the interference and revealing the location of the Pillar’s core. She destroys Odin’s illusory ideal of the attentive daughter who will stay by his side forever.

Odin is lonely and miserable in this post-mythology era, and it’s no coincidence he’s taken the form of a small child. Letting his grief pour into the human world and wreak destruction is pure petulance; a divine temper tantrum from a petulant kid in desperate need of a time-out.

In one of the best-animated scenes of the series, Azuzu is the first to crash into his god cave. He’s able to overpower her and knock her gun out of her hand, but it was never the plan for him to shoot him, only to distract him until “her hero” Miyako arrived to cleave the Pillar’s core in two with her katana. This is after Miko had already splashed Thor with her Ultra Hero Cannon. She was busy this week!

With the core—sorry, the Vandrande destroyed, the Pillar disappears, giving the Takayama command crew an unmarred view of Fujiyama for the first time in a long while. Moe and Kurumi tow Sono (who awesomely jettisoned her floats to destroy a Dark Valkyrie), Azuzu gives Miko a lift in her Wing, and Claudia joins them in a loose formation as they head home victorious.

The battle wasn’t without cost, as the Shield Squadron sacrificed themselves to ensure Miko could take out Thor. The four Valks pay their respects after the eager younger Shield Squadron successors vow to carry on their legacy for being loud, somewhat inappropriate bros. Moe and Kurumi are subjected to Satomi’s toenail clipping (it’s been a while!) and then get an official tour from their four Valkyrie senpais.

The six young women then take flight once more, dedicated to taking out the last secondary and tertiary Pillars that still threaten humanity, but armed with the knowledge that they’ve prevailed over the worst of it. All’s well that ends well in a well-executed, action-packed, and thoroughly satisfying finale.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 11 – Once More Unto the Breach

A haunting dream in a field with Odin transitions to Claudia waking in the morning with a gorgeous smash cut of her outstretched arm. Her eyes are full of tears, and then the camera jumps to each of the other Valkyries: Miko doing her morning dojo routine, Azu not being a morning person, and Sono watering her sunflowers as the sun that nourishes them rises like a beacon of hope for the day.

All this pure and lovely imagery is somewhat marred by some blatantly shameless fan service of the girls disrobing and changing into their flight outfits, but the mood is salvaged when the quartet proudly marches onto the tarmac, high-five their mechanics, jump into their cockpits and take flight for a parade sortie.

Like the Valkyries, the rookies, the old farts, Satomi and his CIC staff haven’t won anything yet, but they are intent on starting off the day as confident in victory as possible. For one thing, they trust in the cute genius that is Komagome Azuzu. For another, humanity is putting everything they’ve got left into this battle. This is their second shot at the Fuji Pillar, but there won’t be a third.

Odin is similarly smug in his woody god cave, sitting on his Yggdrasil La-Z-Boy while watching the battle unfold on his waterfall TV. Visiting Claudy again in a waking dream, he offers her and her alone a chance to come over to his side. She answers this offer by thrusting her katana into his throat, and he laments his beloved daughter’s foolishness.

Part of Azuzu’s strategy is to keep humanity’s most powerful weapon—the four of them—out of the fighting for as long as possible, saving them for when things get serious. Everything goes according to plan, with the rookies and fogies reaching beyond Point C before the Valkyries relieve them.

Despite the progress, and the fact his secondary pillars are being engaged all over Japan in a coordinated attack, Odin is unconcerned. He still has his wing of Zombie Valkyries and Thor and his hammer. The first hammer attack misses the base, but they can’t let it get off too many more if they want to come out of this alive.

Azuzu has been able to predict all of Odin’s moves thus far, which only inflates her ego further. Miko trusts “her Azu” from head to toe. Sono is embracing her tough side. Claudia has embraced the other three as her sisters and Tateyama as her home, and you can bet your ass she’ll fight with her last breath to protect those people and that place she’s come to love.

And while Sigrdrifa has broken our hearts a couple of times during its run, I highly doubt it will be so cruel as to withhold a victory for humanity. Especially in his gaudy new getup, Odin is a villain specially engineered to be brought low by the heroes and done in by his own smug arrogance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Astra Lost in Space – 12 (Fin) – Lost No Longer

We’re blessed with a double-length Astra finale, which really gives the show time and space to breathe and finish telling the story it’s apparent it always wanted to tell, and more importantly treated a loyal audience to a proper sendoff of the characters we’ve gradually come to love—and who have grown to love one another—one by one.

The first half, itself the length of a normal episode, is devoted to the return trip home. With Charce’s suicide plan foiled and Kanata down an arm but otherwise fine, the work of restocking the ship for the journey back to Astra. Kanata has to rest while the others work outside, but Aries quells his loneliness and FOMO by keeping him company.

Once they’re off Planet Galem, there’s ample time for the crew to assemble and hear Charce’s story of the history of their world—the real history, corroborating and continuing the story begun by Polina. Turns out the plan to relocate humanity’s population was so fraught with conflict, half of that population was killed in bitter wars for land on the new planet before the migration even took place.

The survivors of the conflict vowed never to let anything like that occur again, and so abolished nations and religions on Astra. Furthermore, the first generation to move and live there was the last to know about the true history of Earth; an alternate history of WWIII was fabricated, and the very timeline of humanity turned back 100 years.

All this time, the crew thought they were living in the year 2063, when it has actually been 2163; over one hundred years since the migration was successfully completed. It also means Polina wasn’t asleep for twelve years, but one hundred and twelve—yet doesn’t look a day over 29!

The crew decides that the world can’t go on living with a false history, but understands that telling the world the wrong way could be disastrous, not just to them but to the world.

Ulgar suggests they contact a trustworthy police lieutenant, and an detailed message is sent to him through Aries’ mom, including photos and videos of the still very much alive crew of Camp B5 and the log Aries has been making throughout the show (a nice touch).

By the time the Astra reaches orbit of Planet Astra, Lt. Grace is already at work arresting the King of Vixia, as well as his successor for his role in Princess Seira’s murder. Nothing a cop likes more than a bonanza of hard evidence. Very satisfying to watch these jerk-ass crooks made to pay for their heinous crimes.

The kids are met by an armed fleet in orbit, but after a few tense moments, contact is made and they identify themselves as friendly escorts, reporting that their originals have been apprehended and they are free to land. This is one of those instances where the extra length really counts, as we get to savor the crew’s arrival home and their ship’s final landing.

Once they arrive, and they get to tell their story to every media outlet on the planet, the crew become instant celebrities. Kanata and Charce tell the higher authorities about the need to spread the truth, something the higher-ups ultimately go with.

That bitter pill of truth is washed down without excessive unrest due in no small part to the charm of the crew, including the humanizing memoir about their five-month odyssey written by Kanata…not to mention the modelling chops of Quitterie and King Charce.

The length of the episode not only means it gets to take its time with a happy ending, but jumps seven years into the future, when the bulk of the crew is now 24. Everyone has changed their look a bit, but remain themselves and more importantly, remain good friends with one another, as you’d expect from what they went through. Yunhua sings a song inspired by those experiences, which essentially plays the series out.

Quitterie is married to Zack, while Funi is in high school and looks just like Quitterie (and has Polina as a teacher). Ulgar is now a serious journalist, while Kanata has achieved his goal of becoming a captain in seven years. His new ship is his old ship; buying the over 100-year-old Astra with funds earned from his book and fame.

With his past and present trusty mates Zack and Charce, they take off to chart the exit points of the wormholes and beyond, but they’ll be back. After all, Charce has kingly duties to get back to; Zack has a wife to get back to, and Kanata has to get back to Aries so they can marry and have a daughter they can name Seira.

And there you have it: Kanata no Astra, not just an epic survival story of a group of extraordinary kids, but herald to a bold new truth for humanity. One could say almost too much befell these kids; that they’re too special. But to that I say…what do you expect? They are, after all, the clones of people rich and powerful and ambitious enough to, well, clone themselves.

They were always destined for greatness, but it wasn’t going to be given to them; they were literally left for dead. But their originals made one critical blunder, forgetting about the presence of one last ship in old Earth’s orbit, the chariot of their downfall and their clones’ salvation. In the end, the clones surpassed their originals to become entirely different people—better people.

People who, rather than lying and cheating and stealing their way through life, scratched and tore and screamed to break the bonds of their origins, united together in love and fellowship, and changed the goddamned world. Hell of a story if you ask me.

Fruits Basket – 22 – An Answered Prayer

Or: Why Kids Are Total and Complete Trash, Volume #3,692

Present-day Hanejima Saki’s “Waves” aren’t just a rumor about her, or some kind of occult quality she happens to believe in. They are an actual power, like ESP. I shouldn’t be surprised—this is a world where people turn into adorable animals when hugged by the opposite sex—and seeing how much a younger Saki suffered from the inability to control those powers really puts the person she now is into perspective.

But here’s the thing: she didn’t become a different person. She’s always been the same person: quiet, kind and gentle, and loyal to those who love her. Her problem in the past was, she feared her powers, and when human laws couldn’t be employed against her, she decided that whatever horrible bullying she received was punishment she was due.

Kids bullied the hell out of Saki, and it wasn’t until two shitty boys were holding her down to make her eat a live newt that she finally thought I want this boy to die that her ability had a physical effect, knocking the kid out for hours.

While its understandable for her to fear her power and even hate herself for it, that position totally ignores the fact that the little shit instigated things, and bears most of the responsibility. If he’d simply treated her with kindness, he wouldn’t have been hurt.

This week we also learn the extent to which Hanejima’s family loves her. It would be all too realistic for her mom and dad to one day reach their breaking point, but that never happens, and their love, protection, and desire for her to be happy never fades for an instant, even when she starts considering herself nothing but a burden to be discarded.

When the environment at school gets too bad—she has to sit and be burned and fight with everything she’s got not to fight back lest she hurt her bullies—the entire family moves, and urge her not to give up. Her devoted little brother Megumi wears all black in solidarity, and prays that one day someone will come who will love Saki as he does and end her crushing loneliness.

That day comes at her new school, where there’s no black in the uniforms, so she paints her nails black as a “mark of sin”, that original sin of harming the boy that she’ll never forget or forgive herself for. While in line for lunch, Honda Tooru chats her up. Little does Saki know that Megumi’s prayer has been answered in the form of this odd, ditzy, extremely polite and upbeat girl.

Of course, back then Tooru and Arisa were already hella tight, so they invite Saki to lunch with them, and won’t hear any objections based on her low self-worth. They make it clear to her that no matter how strange she may think herself to be, they’re just as strange, and welcome her company.

For the first time, a peer tells Saki “see you tomorrow,” and to her delight, they say “good morning” to her the next day, another first. As much as Saki tries to stick with her M.O. of staying away from people, she finds herself with Tooru and Arisa all the time, until even the once-oppressive sun seems to take on a gentler color.

All her progress with her new friends is suddenly threatened when two classmates ask her about her old school, having heard nasty rumors. But while Saki isn’t the one who burned a girl’s arm, she does own up to almost killing that boy, and for that reason, she believes Tooru and Arisa should distance themselves from her before they get hurt.

Needless to say, Tooru and Arisa..don’t do that. Not two minutes go by after Saki flees that Tooru catches up and declares that no matter what she does or doesn’t know about Saki, she loves her, and doesn’t want to stay away. Arisa joins them and asks simply: Does Saki want them to stay away? Of course, she doesn’t, and so they won’t.

The rest is history! In time, and probably in large part to emotional support not just from her family and two BFFs, Saki learns how to control her power, and the voices vanish. Now, as we know, she only uses it “a bit” to teach shitty people a lesson, but isn’t in any more danger of losing control.

But even if she’s more or less cured from a malady that was as life-debilitating as it was mysterious, she still wears all black, as it keeps her calm, while Megumi keeps wearing black for the same reason. His prayer was answered, but more importantly, Saki never gave up.

Fruits Basket – 21 – Prince Yuki, The Witch, and The Demon Queen

The cold open was so different from what I’m used to with Fruits BasketI momentarily thought my fansub might be a mislabeled episode of some dark mystery or maho shoujo anime. That is, until the appearance of Hanajima Saki, just before Minagawa Motoko wakes up from her nightmare in her hair bonnet.

Motoko is the third-year rep for the Souma Yuki fan club, Prince Yuki, of which we haven’t seen much since much earlier episodes. But along with her first- and second-year counterparts Yamagishi Mio and Kinoshita Minami, Motoko is committed to “getting rid” of the vile “witch” Honda Tooru.

They believe she has stolen their beloved Yuki’s heart with an evil spell, but she’s under the protection of the “demon queen” Hanajima Saki, whom they must defeat in order to get to Tooru.

If it sounds like these three girls have a case of chuunibyou, well…it kinda is, what with the specialized jargon, military-like procedures, and serial pose-strikin’! But mostly, they’re simply jealous of Tooru and Yuki’s relationship, despite knowing next to nothing about it, and believe their numbers give them the right to determine what’s best for Yuki.

While Motoko, Minami and Mio all have the same idea of Saki’s home (a haunted western mansion surrounded by graves), they’re surprised to find it’s…just a normal house. Her room is normal too, aside from the persistent black-and-purple theme (she even has some of the same shoujo series as they do!).

They’re looking for a weakness…anything they can use. Instead, they find Saki’s little brother, Megumi, who was hiding in the closet and only comes out when Saki tells him to.

Megumi: New friends of yours?
Saki: No. They’re strangers that happen to go to the same school and be the same gender as me.

I love how Saki and Megumi never for a moment stop being the people they always are, but by doing so keep the three Prince Yuki reps in a perpetual state of unease and dread. Saki warned them not to say their names in the house, and later Megumi explains why that is: all he needs is someone’s name to put a curse on them…or to counter-curse their counter-curse.

When the youngest of the reps starts wanting to leave immediately, the three finally come out with it: they want Saki to tell Tooru to stop being so close to Yuki. Megumi immediately takes their position for what it is—jealousy—and in trying to explain that it’s not jealousy, just being mad about someone having something they don’t have, she just ends up…describing jealousy.

Both Megumi and the musical score turn serious when he gravely warns them not to assume they can do what they want just because they like someone, and that pushing such intense love as theirs on someone can burden or hurt them, not loving them back. He asks them to consider how Yuki feels and respect those feelings, before they end up making him hate them.

Then he gravely says their names, one after the other, which sends them bolting out of the house, passing by the youngest (and most normal) Hanajima sibling in the process. They clearly forgot that Megumi could hear them using their names while he was hiding.

Hopefully, Motoko, Minami and Mio learned something from their visit to Saki’s house about taking such strong and unyielding positions about things they know so little about…but I’m not going to hold my breath, because the next day they’ll still have their huge fan club with its book of rules, and their two simultaneous, contradictory believes Yuki shouldn’t belong to anyone, but also should secretly belong to each of them.

Saki, on the other hand, took Megumi’s words to heart about jealousy, because she admits that’s what she’s felt ever since Tooru started living with Yuki, Kyou, and Shigure and had many adventures with them and the other Soumas. She tells herself she mustn’t let those feelings of loneliness make her selfishly think her needs and desires vis-a-vis Tooru are any more important than those of others.

With that, her loneliness is extinguished when Arisa and Tooru arrive at her front door; turns out Tooru doesn’t have to work until later, so she can hang out with Arisa and Saki. That brings a big, bright, very ungothic smile to Saki’s face.

The next morning, Motoko again awakes from a nightmare involving the “demon queen” Saki and hell, let’s call him Saki’s “death squire” Megumi. Minami and Mio also had nightmares, even though Saki teases them that the “curse” won’t take effect for three days.

But like their vilification of Saki and Tooru, perhaps those dreams are nothing more than a manifestation of their ugly jealousy, which starts as less ugly loneliness. After all, not a single member of Prince Yuki can possibly be happy, since they all love him, yet cannot be with him.

*  *  *

After twenty-one episodes, who is my favorite Fruits Basket character? Uotani Arisa. NEXT QUESTION. Who is my second-favorite? Hanajima Saki. NO MORE QUESTIONS. 

Both women are as strong as they are because they are able to be upfront and honest about their “weaknesses,” and while they have no time for childish challenges thrown their way by their would-be, so-called “adversaries,” they’re not above putting a good ol’ scare into them—and not below delivering wise advice when it’s called for. Tooru is as blessed to have them as they are blessed to have her in their lives.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how goshdarn funny this episode was…I was laughing from start to finish at the Prince Yuki reps’ petty machinations and while watching their absolute drubbing at the hands of a young woman (and little brother) they never had any business trifling with.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 20

The no-longer-captive dragon escapes its binds and tears up the auction house, giving Chise and Elias a thrilling ride into the London night sky. Once again, Chise puts another life before her own—in this case the dragon’s—and ends up paying for it like never before.

The cost of her sacrifice this time is a dragon’s curse, which infects her left arm, now huge, gray, and scaly. Shannon is able to stabilize Chise, but the curse will quickly tear through that Sleigh Beggy body (already weakened by two additional curses that Chise can think of), killing her.

This time, there’s nothing that can be done. Chise can choose to live on the Fae Side where she won’t have to hide the curse, and she seriously ponders it. Back when she didn’t want to live, Elias saved her. Now that she wants to live, death has her in its grip.

Unable to help her himself, the mage Elias invites a witch, Mariel, to his home for “alternative treatment.” Mariel, who wants to get her hands on dragon blood, considers Chise the next best thing, and urges her to join her coven. If she does, the witches might be able to help her.

That’s a big might, but with Chise, among other things, not wanting to die by Spring and Stella wanting to throw a birthday party for her next year, even Elias agrees their only course is to join the witch’s gathering.

It would seem Cartiphilus orchestrated this whole thing, reasonably certain that Chise would try to help the dragon at the cost of her own health in the scenario that unfolded. He used her own good nature in order to slap her with a curse that has the opposite effect as his. To what end? Is he trying to die?

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