Sarazanmai – 09 – Only the Bad Ones Survive

Things go from bad to worse in the Azumi Sara comedy of errors. While trying to free Prince Keppi from ice, he slides out into the street, where he’s shattered by a passing otter-aligned Dekotora truck. Not a great start! Still, with all the comedic musical stabs, it was clear Keppi was probably going to be fine in the end. After all, he’s a magical creature!

Enta, on the other hand? Not a magical creature, just a boy who was shot by the police. Since Mabo and Reo brainwashed all the other cops, they won’t listen to his story, and instead place all the blame on Chikai. Tao sees Enta on the news, he leaves Enta in Kazaki’s care. Tao, meanwhile, is the only one who can stand with his big brother. As expected, through extremely whimsical means Sara manages to reassemble and thaw Keppi.

Enta’s sister Otone eventually convinces Kazaki to finally face Enta and try to talk to him, and to his surprise, Enta is alive and well…only in Kappa form, thanks to the newly-built Keppi springing into action right away. There’s a catch, however: there’s a ticking clock on Enta’s kappa cap, indicating when he’ll die. If they’re going to save him, they’ll need dishes fast. Time is of the essence.

Once off the ferry, Chikai meets up Masa with a former little bro in his gang who knows the truth about Tao killing the boss years ago. After hanging around with him for a while, before they depart Chikai kills him because he was “to good to survive,” and when he’s confronted by another gangster, Chikai is surprised to find Tao has a pistol of his own, and is providing covering fire for his escape.

To drive home the fact that Mabo and Reo are not your conventional two-dimentional villains, the latter is excited to have been reunited with the former until he catches him being worked over by a desirous doppelganger; a mirror of the desires within Reo. The real Reo resolves to take back the real Mabu with his own strength, suggesting he’s not in lockstep with his otter kin.

When Kazaki collects a dish from his room, Haruka is awake, and asks him if he’s leaving again. Kazaki doesn’t sugar-coat things; he may be going into danger, but it’s to help Enta, whom Haruka recognizes is someone more than deserving of help from his brother for everything he did for both of them. Haruka also produces a drawing of Kazaki playing soccer that he drew with Enta, and Kazaki suddenly remembers meeting Tao when he was little.

Tao, meanwhile, follows his brother as far as he can, before he realizes that even he isn’t safe from being offed once his usefulness is at an end. That time seems to arrive when Tao catches up with Chikai, only for Chikai to pull a gun on him. Before he can kill Tao, he’s shot by the other gangster from long range, who is, in turn, shot by Chikai before he collapses.

Turns out Chikai was wrong; it’s not always the bad ones who survive. Or is he? As he lies dying and Tao weeps on the roof of the suddenly very funereal-looking ferry, memories of their brotherhood flash by, showing a loving Chikai and Tao who were always there for one another, even as Chikai grew darker and more troubled, Tao never ceased to stay beside him.

In Chikai’s pocket is a photo of their family with everyone scratched out by Sharpie except for Tao. As terrible a person as he was, Kuji Chikai wasn’t always that way, and he never stopped loving Tao. But now he’s gone, and Tao has a choice.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 06 – One Big Weapons Project

Now that Asuna has revealed herself, Kikuoka must answer some questions for her. It turns out he wasn’t lying when he said Kirito was receiving treatment he couldn’t receive anywhere else. They have him in a full-spec STL that is gradually rebuilding his damaged brain, though they still don’t know if he’ll ever wake up.

However, Kikuoka didn’t bring Kirito to Rath HQ out of the kindness of his heart. As an SDF official, he has always sought new ways to fight wars ever since the NerveGear came out. When fully copying the souls of fully-formed real-world adults failed (none will ever accept they are copies), they had to use the copies of infant souls, and raise them in a controlled virtual environment where they’d accept their existence—bottom-up AI.

While that in and of itself was a major achievement, it caused problems for Kikuoka vis-a-vis his ultimate goal: to develop a new weapon for the defense of Japan. The AIs followed the law—the Taboo Index—precisely and without exception. The Underworld was a utopia with no crime…until Alice crossed that border as a result of her dealings with Kirito, whom they placed into the world after wiping his memory.

In effect, Kirito was the chaotic element they needed in order to “teach” their homegrown bottom-up AIs to break the law; even to murder. Alice, or A.L.I.C.E. (a rather tortured acronym I will not repeat), was the first product of introducing Kirito to the project: the first AI to dissent and resist the Taboo Index (even if it was accidental).

That, Kikuoka hopes, is the first step towards building an army of artificial fluctlights capable of killing an enemy, which will mean no longer having to sacrifice real-world soldiers in conflicts—a huge strategic advantage that could elevate real-world Japan to the highest echelons of global power.

Of course, this opens up a tremendous ethical and philosophical can of worms; one so large Kikuoka himself isn’t interested in pondering it beyond the limited scope of what is essentially a weapon R&D project. But having experienced about as much virtual life as Kirito, Asuna is not okay with exploiting souls that are the cognitive equal to real-world humans as, well, cannon fodder. Perhaps they’re not real humans, but they’re close enough for it to be wrong.

Nevertheless, in the imperfect human world, two or more wrongs often make a right, and while Kikuoka is definitely putting out some serious supervillain vibes with his secret base and yukata, his intentions to eliminate the human cost of war are noble. But he execution has yielded the creation of a new race of beings that aren’t necessarily his to do with as he pleases.

Project Alicization is, in a way, one massive crime against virtual humanity. While she loved Kayaba too much to kill him, Koujirou Rinko is still aware of the role she played in his crimes.  But when she confesses that role to Asuna, Asuna is forgiving, because she doesn’t feel she’s in any position to forgive.

Asuna and Kirito, like Rinko and Kayaba, have also committed crimes in their various virtual dealings. But all they can do is accept that and move forward, learning the lessons that had to be learned. And right now those lessons are telling Asuna that Kikuoka is doing is wrong, even if it is saving Kirigaya Kazuto.

I imagine at some point Asuna is going to plug into one of those unused STLs, to reunite with Kirito and, if he ends up remembering her, confer with him on how they should deal with Kikuoka and his monstrously advanced experiment.

Even assuming Kikuoka had free reign to do as he pleased, there are so many complex variables in his system that something unexpected is sure to arise. If and when it all blows up in his face, he’ll need people like Asuna and Kirito to clean up his mess.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 05 – Returning the Favor

After spending four episodes in the Underworld with Kirito, we finally return to the real world, picking up right where we left it, when Kazuto got injected while protecting Asuna.

Asuna meets Suguha and Kazuto’s mother at the hospital, where they’re informed that he may never regain consciousness after suffering untold damage when his heart was stopped for five minutes.

Then everyone’s favorite morally ambiguous suit Kikuoka Seijirou shows up, telling Kaz’s family that there’s only one place that can treat him properly.

They concur, and Kazuto is transferred to another facility, but when Asuna and Suguha try to visit him the same evening, they aren’t allowed. Further, Asuna’s monitor of Kaz’s heart rate is out of range; he’s just gone, and so is Kikuoka.

Asuna and Suguha meet with their friends in ALO to bring them up to speed, and with help from Yui they begin to assess the places he’s been and the places he could be now. The group splits up, with Klein driving Asuna and Suguha to a nondescript warehouse and helipad…but there’s no Kazuto, at least not anymore.

Apparently at a dead end, Yui tells “Mama” Asuna not to give up, as “Papa” Kirito never gave up looking for Asuna in ALfheim. Agreeing, Asuna asks Suguha if she remembers anything her bro said about his job; she remembers that the machine he used was based on the Medicuboid, designed by Kayaba Akihiro, AKA Heathcliff, inventor of NerveGear and Game Master of SAO.

Asuna recalls someone watched over Kayaba while he was diving, then recalls her name: Koujirou Rinko. Yui finds Rinko at a lab in California. She, along with Kayaba, was a member of the Shigemura Lab, which developed the Augma headset. It stands to reason she might know about STL and Kazuto’s wherabouts, so Asuna sends her an email.

Turns out Dr. Koujirou Rinko has already been hounded by Kikuoka to join him on a new project, and so she travels to his location via helicopter, which turns out to be a Totally Awesome Top Secret Floating Base called “Ocean Turtle.” Rinko is accompanied by her blonde English-speaking, somewhat shifty assistant Mayumi Reynolds.

After going through a veritable gauntlet of security checkpoints, Rinko and Mayumi enter a command room that oversees the Underworld Kirito is currently living in. It would seem to be an actual physical environment, which explains why those crossing its boundaries into the “Land of Darkness” are so harshly punished.

In the control room they meet Kikuoka, donning yukata and geta as if he were at a seaside retreat. That’s when Rinko reveals why she finally agreed to come: her assistant “Mayumi” is really Asuna in disguise. When Rinko heard from Asuna that Kazuto—whom she met following the death of her lover Kayaba, and who chose not to destroy the World Seed—she decided she’d help Asuna any way she can.

And so now Asuna has managed to slip by a number of layers of carefully laid security and is in the very heart of Rath’s operation. And she’s PISSED. She wants to know where Kirito is, pronto. Considering everything she’s been through thus far, including one would hope Kikuoka would be amenable to her request. Now things are starting to get interesting.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 19 – Storytime for the Kiddies

Sakura’s a wonderfully kind person, and so it comes as no surprise she’d go to the pediatric ward to read to children. I also think she intrinsically understands she has a tremendously entertaining voice, and it would be a shame not to show it off once in a while!

Tomoyo is coming to film the event (of course), and Sakura manages to recruit both Akiho to help her read and Syaoran to accompany them with piano. She achieves this by knocking both their HP levels to zero with her thoroughly persuasive glare.

Syaoran checks in with Wei for help with scoring the book (and denies his four doting sisters’ request to see him on video mode), while Akiho studies the storybook and marks in a notepad all the places she’ll have to be careful (Japanese not being her first language an all).

After being given simple yet elegant tunics and caps, the two read the story of the Fox and the Mittens to the assembled children, all while Syaoran plays the organ, an upgrade from the piano.

It’s a delicate and beautiful presentation, an interesting departure from the usual formula of the show. This is also an episode in which Sakura doesn’t capture a card, and doesn’t even say her trademark “Hoe” once!

When the crowd gets riled up at a perilous point in the story, he quiets them with a flourishing solo, allowing the girls to get back on track. All in all it’s a tremendous success, and the group of kids come away not only entertained but impressed with the skills of the storytellers and organist.

Tomoyo caught everything on tape, but Sakura managed to stealthily release her Record card. Unfortunately, the footage it took is from over thirty years in the past! Sakura is disappointed; she must’ve “done it wrong.”

Upon seeing this, Kero-chan finds an excuse to rush to Yue’s place and inform him of what she did. Sakura has become far more powerful than either of them could have imagined, to the point it has become imperative they inform Eriol, of whom we’ve only gotten the slightest glimpses so far.

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Yuzu doesn’t understand why she has such a crush on Mei, just that she does, but she knows the only way to move forward is to make those feelings known. To do that, she needs to be on better terms with her, and the universe provides. When the chairman collapses in his office, the first person to find him and call an ambulance isn’t Mei, it’s Yuzu.

Mei is grateful, and lets Yuzu call her by her first name (even if she doesn’t reciprocate), and Gramps even reverses his decision to expel Yuzu. His health scare has made him re-evaluate a lot of things he’d taken hard lines on, be it the new granddaughter he never asked for in Yuzu, or the decision to make Mei live with him.

Mei then returns to Yuzu and her mom’s house, but it couldn’t come at a worse time, considering Yuzu’s feelings for her aren’t very sisterly. Yuzu seeks clarity in a yuri manga (which Harumin sees and jokingly pretends to reinact the action within its pages), while Yuzu’s mom makes things worse by buying a double bed for the sisters.

Obviously, living with one’s (presumably unrequited) crush is not easy, and I can’t help but feel for Yuzu here.

That’s not the end of her torment, as when bedtime comes and she finds herself unable to sleep, she tries to steal a touch of Mei’s hair or skin, and Mei gets out of bed and unrolls a futon, claiming it’s too hot with both of them under the covers.

When Yuzu brings up Mei kissing her, Mei coldly dismisses it as merely a tactic to shut her up, demonstrating its effectiveness by coming in oh-so-close only to withhold a kiss. She states she has “no interest” in Yuzu, or in getting closer, hence her unwillingness to call her by her first name. Yuzu goes to sleep in the bed alone, angry, and in tears.

Adding insult to injury, since Mei is the rule-obsessed class president, Yuzu is unable to hang out with Harumi after school without both of them getting punished by having to clean the bathroom. When that’s done, Yuzu finds a note from Mei calling her to the chairman’s office.

Yuzu is excited by the note, but when she arrives, Mei has her yuri manga, and warns her to dispose of it lest rumors crop up. Yuzu snaps, pushes Mei onto the desk, kisses her, then breaks into tears.

If Mei is uncomfortable here, but the fact is she kissed Yuzu first, and that’s how Yuzu’s crush on her developed; they wouldn’t be on that desk without Mei’s earlier antics. Yuzu knows she can’t go back now that what’s done has been done, but gets off Mei, apologizes for being such a bad sister, and runs off.

Her running off, and Mei lingering in the office, doesn’t go unnoticed by Mei’s friend, right-hand woman, and enforcer Himeko, who immediately suspects something is very amiss. Just as Yuzu and Mei are trying to sort things out, Himeko will no doubt insinuate herself into the situation.

Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – 03

Just after daydreaming about that horrible day Michella went blind, an out-of-it Leo bumps into a big bully who takes his wallet containing Michella’s allowance. Chain witnesses Leo in a bind, but apparently has other matters to attend to.

Steven and his maid Veded prepare a super-classy dinner soiree, while Zapp is recruited by Tracy to find her oriental shorthair cat Mizaria…or she’ll cut his dick off with magic.

So yeah…lot’s going on this week! But hey, it’s not Hellsalem’s Lot if every day that ends in “-day” if a lot’s not going on. Did I mention Count Gigagigafutmassif is on the move…and that he’s taller than any skyscraper in the city?

What has always enhanced the already lush texture of KS&B’s great variety of stories is how they intertwine in interesting ways, much like Durarara!!. The fortunes of the various Libra POV characters this week also vary wildly as the episode progresses.

Zapp immediately runs into problems trying to find Tracy’s cat, and while Leo arms himself with a stun baton to get his wallet back, the bully just slugs him and uses his own baton on him. Of course, Leo can defeat him at any time with his eyes, he just doesn’t feel right using them for self-serving purposes…even when failure means Michella going without.

As for Steve, his snobby dinner party goes positively swimmingly…until he goes into the kitchen alone, turns around, and every one of his guests is pointing a biological gun at him. Fortunately, Steve is not one to get so easily ambushed, and took steps to ensure he could use his ice magic to get the upper hand anytime he wanted.

Steve also doesn’t bother handing his guests over to Libra, instead relying on his own special squad to “take care” of them in ways of which Libra’s leader wouldn’t necessarily approve. Bottom line: You come at Starphase, you best come correct.

These amateurs did not. Steve also rethinks whether he’s been enjoying ordinary life too much, considering his duties and the nasty enemies those duties can sometimes create.

Chain clearly saw Leo getting tossed by the bully, but takes a backdoor approach to getting Leo’s wallet back: she turns on her charm (wonderful stuff from Kobayashi Yuu here), promises a good time if the brute can beat her in shots, then drinks him under the table with ease, grabbing not just Leo’s wallet, but the bully’s toady.

It was nice to see a baddie put in his place with something other than brute force, even though Chain could have obviously dropped the guy anytime she wanted. This way was more fun for her!

Alas, Chain did Leo’s work for him, which means he never managed to get one over on his bully. It’s just as well; considering the handicap he demands of himself (no use of the eyes), he’s just not a fighter, nor should he be.

Since his toady was robbed by Chain, the two have to pay their bar bills with…their bodies, leaving them as nothing but heads hopping about in glass bulbs, to be attacked by…Mizaria!…who is then picked up by…Veded!, who finds her way back to Steve just as a united Leo and Zapp pass by.

Speaking of fortunes, we never see Zapp actually retrieve the cat and return it to Tracy, leaving the status of his manhood in tongue-in-cheek doubt. The closing shot—of Chain paying for her big night with a long prayer to the porcelain god—was pitch perfect way to close this fun, diverse outing.

Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – 02

Zapp is gravely injured and Leo is beside him on the helicopter, and suddenly a strange hospital comes into view. They land on the helipad and a pint-size doctor with a team of burly assistants take care of Zapp.

Klaus and Steven fill Leo in on the significance of this place: Bradbury Hospital was where both of them were three years ago during the Great Collapse. Back then the pint-sized doctor, Luciana Estevez, was normal-sized.

When a baddie shows up at the hospital and looses a blood breed “dog” to feed on Estevez’ patients, Klaus and Steven must split up, not an easy proposition considering the strength of their opponent.

The dog gets in, Estevez and her patients are attacked, and a giant building is about to fall on Steve, Klaus and the enemy, but is suddenly stopped by the Casters’ magic. When Klaus and Steve wake up, they’re in Hellsalem’s Lot, and the hospital has vanished.

Now Bradbury Hospital is back, but everything in it, like New York, has been partially transformed. The hospital is for humans and non-humans alike, while Estevez has gained her tiny appearance in exchange for the ability to clone herself and perform tasks with terrific speed.

Klaus and Luciana recognize each other, and are ready for round two with the Blood Breed and his “owner,” still threatening all of the patients Estevez placed in medically-induced comas to protect them.

After slicing and dicing the dog with her clones, Estevez is challenged by its owner, but Klaus steps in to shield her. While their battle three years ago had an uncertain result, he’s able to hold out the 133 seconds needed for Leo to text him the baddie’s true name, and seal him in a prison.

The threat to the hospital and its patients ended, Klaus and Dr. Estevez pick right back up on the friendship they started in the middle of a crisis three years ago, both of them having fared well in that time.

Kekkai Sensen continues to deliver compelling stories large and small with indelible images and fast-paced, creative combat, and an eclectic musical sense. It may be tough to check back in on her with so many other stories to tell in HL, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Dr. Estevez again.

Masamune-kun no Revenge – 09

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Whether due to her suspicions about him going to Neko’s place, or the fact that Neko being missing takes precedence, Aki completely ignores the fact Masamune said he “chose” her and rejected Neko. The girls (and Kojuurou) pile into the car to go look for Neko, and there isn’t room for him.

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And yet, after nothing comes of searching the immediate vicinity of Neko’s apartment, Masamune and Aki both end up at school. There, Aki tells Masamune she doesn’t want Neko wallowing in despair. She feels bad that he rejected her…which is pretty rich, considering she did the same thing to Masamune years back, which leads him to bring up “pig’s foot” to her.

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That conversation is curtailed by the re-enactment of a scene in the manga Masamune owns which Neko also started reading, in which a girl turns her unrequited love letters into paper airplanes. Only when they finds her on the roof, it isn’t long before she collapses from exhaustion. Clearly Neko is frailer than Masamune ever imagined.

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While recovering in hospital, Neko asks to speak to Aki alone. After that, she has Masamune brought in to talk to him alone, and reveals her plan to him to fall in love before undergoing a risky operation that could improve her condition (or not).

She says he was chosen at random to be her suitor, but a later flashback indicates the two did meet little kids, and were thought by his family to be a good match. Alas, Masamune only ever had feelings for Aki. She thanks him for giving her “lovely memories,” then excuses him.

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Neko’s talk with Masamune about not walking the “same path” as her through an uncertain fog, and he redoubles his efforts to block out “unnecessary thoughts” and recommit himself to his goal: to make Aki fall for him and then “throw her away in the best way possible.” He’s not thinking about what happens after.

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We thankfully also get Neko’s frank talk with Aki. Neko was soundly rejected, so now she sees no good reason why Aki should keep acting tough and denying the love Masamune has for her.

Neko is conceding defeat, and Aki can’t dance around the fact that she feels something…but interestingly, she thinks back to the fat Masamune of her childhood as her ideal of love. After all, Masamune has only showed us his version of their relationship. It’s not a great leap to assume she teased him because she liked him…he was just to thick to realize that.

As for what happens in the end, with a fat little guy who looks like Masamune showing up in Aki’s garden…I don’t know what to think. Did she fall asleep beside the fountain and is simply dreaming? Or is she mistaking this random kid for the real Masamune?

It was a very bizarre and confusing—if mildly intriguing—way to end another solid, earnest, emotional episode.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 17

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Like Roku and Benio, I was tired after last week’s battle, hoping there’d be a respite…and then Ijika Yuto had to show up…again. I know he’s pretty much the big bad of this show so far, but I’ve been on record since he showed up that I simply do not care for the singsongy little twerp, because unlike other well-worn elements of SnO, he hasn’t been able to expand or subvert his generic smirking villain nature. I don’t like how he talks, and I don’t like how he holds back for dramatic effect.

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Seigen looks more than capable of overpowering Yuto, and Yuto’s expressions suggest the same. However, Yuto’s just messing around; in reality, he’s far more powerful than Seigen. But he’s just too in love with foreplay and dragging a battle out. In addition to Yuto, I also don’t like it when the show spends extended periods in Magano—it’s cool-looking, but too abstract and fantastical to carry much weight as a setting.

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Seigen is down, but not out, so after taking another hit for Roku and boxing up Roku, Benio, and Mayura in a protective barrier, he launches an apparent suicide attack in order to stop Yuto from harming the future parents of the Miko. I do like how Seigen, for all his bad attitude, has become a believer in the Twin Stars, which I guess is why he felt confident that the end of his life wouldn’t mean the end of the cause.

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Naturally, his near-suicide attack has little to no effect on Yuto, meaning Yuto is clearly strong enough to have already done everything he could want to do—including kill everyone here in the first minute of the episode. But he doesn’t, because he still wants to see Roku unleash the full potential he sees in him…if only to turn him into a corruption as he did the Hinatsuki dorm kids and Mayura.

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One more gripe against this episode: it pretty much sidelined our Twin Stars, who for most of the running time can only react to Yuto and Seigen, and in Rokuro’s case yell and scream far too much for one episode. However, when they finally get some time at the end, they don’t waste it.

Jiisan gives Roku what Seigen prepared for him—a special elite exorcist armor that’s hella cool-looking—which Roku quickly puts on and tells Benio (still grieving over what’s become of her brother) he’s not going to wait for a four guardian task force to arrive and deal with Yuto. It’s something “he has to do himself.” Hopefully, he actually means himself and Benio.

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Charlotte – 13 (Fin)

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As we open on the Charlotte finale, the situation is dire and the task ahead for Yuu—locate and steal the ability of every person in the world—seems impossible. But the show wisely infuses dark comedy into the mix, like Yuu fumbling with his English flash cards, and the task starts to get easier with every ability he steals, including mind-reading and the ability to speak any language early on.

Yuu becomes even more of superhero badass as he travels the world, getting in, plundering, and getting out. He even earns a nickname: “The One-Eyed Grim Reaper (Shinigami)”, which he’s a bit embarrassed about.

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But he’s not just stealing powers from criminals or people like he used to be who only use them for selfish purposes. He also has to steal from the likes of a Peruvian girl with healing powers, helping her village stay healthy. He pillages her power without hesitation, then realizes he can heal his eye, go back in time, and bring Kumagami back. But remembering how far he’s come, and the primary goal of his mission, he abandons such a move as mission creep.

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As he moves around the world gathering tens of thousands of abilities, he becomes stronger and better at it, but at a steep cost: his memories short and long term, along with his very sanity. The episode follows him in a similar manner to when Ayumi died and he started falling. This time his intentions are honorable, and he’s literally saving the world and thousands of young people from horrible fates, but the toll on his individuality and soul are no less severe.

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The one thing that seems to anchor him to the past he can’t see anymore are Nao’s flash cards. Even though he doesn’t remember who gave them to him or why he treasures them so much, a part of him always wakes up when he focuses on them. Nao isn’t watching over him this time, but by giving him those cards, she is the sole reason he doesn’t totally lose himself or, while in the Arizona desert at the end of his tether, doesn’t give up completely.

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While a single episode could never do the scale of his mission justice, and the speed with which Yuu reaches his final target, a girl in Beijing, the efficiency, excitement, humor, and breathlessness of his journey that takes place this week and only this week can’t be overstated.

He’s literally limping on a walking stick when a lowlife seeking a bounty and an easy life starts firing crossbow bolts into his back, but the very girl Yuu is after is able to save Yuu by stalling his attacker. Yuu suspects her ability is immense courage, but even after he steals it, she still requires convincing that it’s alright to leave him. After all, he’s not as weak as he looks.

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The minute his mission is finally accomplished, he’s picked up by Shun & Co. in a police helicopter and brought home. When he wakes up in the hospital, he’s told he’ll survive his injuries. He’s told this by a pretty silver-haired girl with blue eyes sitting by his bed. Someone who, to him, in that moment, is a total stranger.

Nao introduces herself as his lover, and goes over their history together, right up until his promise to come home. Because he was successful, Nao holds up her end of the bargain, and while she’s truly hurt he doesn’t remember her, she’s just happy he came back in one piece and of otherwise sound mind, something that was by no means certain after the stress of absorbing so many powers.

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The show doesn’t make it clear whether Yuu’s memories are gone for good, or whether they’ll return once his body and mind get enough rest. Not plundering any more powers will certainly be good. But regardless, Yuu lets himself fit right back into the family he left behind, and Nao keeps her camcorder going. If his old memories won’t come back, then he’ll just have to make new ones with Ayumi, Yusa, Takajou, and Ayumi.

And there you have it! All in all, a very solid ending, if not quite Charlotte’s absolute best. All I asked was that Yuu and/or Nao survive the series, and they do, and the ambiguity of Yuu’s memory loss and the fact he’s happy to be back and start having fun again lends the right amount of hope that things are going to be just fine. Not a perfect ending, but a happy and satisfying one. And another faith-reinforcing triumph by Maeda Jun and P.A. Works.

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Durarara!!x2 Ten – 11 (23)

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The Dollars supposedly doesn’t have a hierarchy or a “symbol”, just as it doesn’t have a color, but as far as Shinra is concerned, the unofficial twin chief deterrents of the Dollars are Shizuo (armed) and Kodata (psychological). And I can’t really argue with him that things could crumble quickly now that one is in a coma and the other is arrested, even if Celty believes things won’t be that different.

Meanwhile, Anri is with Erika as the two wait for Dotachin to wake up; one because of everything he’s done for her, and the other for the same reason, but also so that she can tell Walker and Sabura as soon as Kodata awakes, hoping to stop them from doing something rash, like, say, toss a molotov into a karaoke bar.

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Just the Dollars lose two very visible, well-known and feared pillars, Kida is back in town, re-mustering the Yellow Scarves to “save” Mikado from himself, even if he has to “kick his butt.” As far as Kida’s concerned, Mikado is in the wrong pool and out of his depth, and he’s going to pull him out, whether he wants out or not.

As Aoba leads Mikado and Blue Square to a new hideout (the same one where there was the yakuza dust-up) Mikado doesn’t seem interested in quitting. In fact, he seems both shocked and a little excited that Aoba invited Celty to join them, proposing she fill one of the void left by Kodata; and after meeting with Izaya, Akabayashi shows up, wanting to join and possibly fill the void left by Shizuo.

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Seemingly more peripheral to the apparently imminent showdown between the Dollars and Yellow Scarves (with the Dragon Zombies possibly involved as well), Namie is abducted by her uncle Seitaro, who also plans to capture Seiji and use him to get her to cooperate. It’s Yadogiri Jinnai’s secretary Kujiraji Kusane who subdues her.

And again floating above it all, though not aware of everything yet (such as who is using one of his screen aliases in the chat room) is Izaya, Namie’s former employer. That mysterious chatter is spreading rumors of the Yellow Scarves using Kodata to declare war on the Dollars.

Ikebukuro is a tinderbox once again, and there are a variety of potential sparks that could set it ablaze. We’ll see who ends up setting the fire, and how much damage it will do next week, in the final episode of the Ten cour.

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Charlotte – 12

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The harrowing events of last week, which resulted in the rescue of Nao and the capture of anti-wielder actors, along with Pooh’s heroic sacrifice, eventually bring Yuu around to Shun’s big-picture way of thinking. It’s not enough to keep those he loves safe; in order to ensure their safety, he has to save everyone.

But at first, this week, he’s unsure of how to do that. In the beginning, all he can do is heal from the injuries he sustained, accept he’ll probably never see out of his right eye (or time leap), and allow himself to be spoon fed delicious meals provided by Takajou (school beef tongue curry), Yusa (cream stew) and Ayumi (omelette rice that has never tasted so good).

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I enjoyed the rhythm of the very people he cares about and wants to help the most visiting his room one after the other, helping him build up his strength with food they made with love. And having almost died, he makes sure to tell Misa to see her parents before Yusa loses her ability and she passes on for good.

Yusa rather ingeniously uses her job on a TV show to visit her parents, and Misa has a cathartic moment in which she actually possesses Yusa on camera to describe the love she tastes in her parents’ otherwise run-of-the-mill soba set. Combined with Yuu’s newfound love of Ayumi’s cooking, there’s some lovely blood family beats to be had this week.

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Despite being back on his feet, the one person Yuu can’t get himself to see is Nao, but as her injuries weren’t as bad as is (and let’s face it, she’s a tough one to boot), she’s discharged before him, and ends up visiting him. He asks her what he should do, and she says it’s technically possible, if extraordinarily difficult and dangeous, for him to simply end the entire crisis by plundering the abilities of every wielder in the world.

She almost seems to be shrugging it off as she proposes it, but Yuu agrees that’s exactly what he’ll do: travel the world, find every wielder, steal their abilities, and trusts he won’t turn into a world-ending monster. When Nao asks why, Yuu is upfront: it’s his turn to save her, because he loves her. The reaction of a Nao who didn’t actually save him in this timeline is dubiousness and confusion, which frustrates Yuu unti they’re literally growling at each other, seemingly proving to Nao they have the worst chemistry possible.

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But Nao’s rather aggressive inability to instantly accept Yuu’s confession doesn’t sway him; he still loves her, and he’ll still save everyone, including her, in order to repay the debt of her alternate self. She rather perceptively points out that other Nao may have just been taking responsibility, as she brought Yuu into all this to begin with, but she can’t deny Yuu has become someone dear to him that she knows she can believe in.

So she makes a deal they pinkie-swear on: they’ll settle down as lovers. Yuu warns her she may be putting too much faith in the one-time “cheating fiend”, but to Nao that’s the point of the deal: if he can pull off this final mission, she’s convinced she’d be in a position to fall for him. Before they part, Nao has Yuu plunder her power first, thus officially setting him on his path.

Once it happens, Nao looks lighter, relieved, and grateful. I want to believe these two didn’t just exchange death flags by mapping out their ideal future together. That is, I’m hoping Maeda Jun doesn’t rip my heart out again; I’m tired of putting it back in my chest!

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Having already started his mission, Yuu visits his brother on the hospital roof, who is still mourning Pooh and fills him in. He gets the blessing of Shun, who tells him to go overseas while he and the Syndicate handle Japan. Yuu also takes Takajou and Yusa’s powers, which in the latter means the end of Misa, who writes a tearjerking farewell letter to her sister thanking her for letting her borrow her now and then.

Finally, while packing to leave on a trip to do something he must do because only he can, Nao pops by to wish him Godspeed, and they exchange tokens of their commitment to meeting again. Nao gives him English conversation notes, and Yuu gives her the media player she gave to him. Hopefully this isn’t ZHIEND for these two, because they’ve emerged as one of the better romantic pairings of the year, in one of the finest shows.

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Charlotte – 09

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Judging from the amount of time he spends figuring out what to wear, Yuu is not only looking forward to his concert date with Nao, but also seems to be developing some feelings for her. When they meet, he encounters a much more pleasant and bubbly and less surly Nao who is genuinely excited to see ZHIEND live (and collect their very practical smartphone case!)

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As the concert progresses, Yuu’s mind-splinter like nagging feeling of deja vu keeps building until it finally explodes when Sala starts singing a song caled “Trigger”, which just happens to be the trigger that sends Yuu…somewhere, somewhen else. Here, he and and a very alive Ayumi are patients/inmates at the very kind of government facility Nao always warned about, where ability users are rounded up and monitored, while those more powerful (and thus dangerous) are restrained, dissected, and/or disposed of.

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Is this a flashback, or an alternate reality? The show doesn’t say for sure, nor does it need to. Suffice it to say this is an awesome new direction for a show featuring characters with all sorts of crazy powers, so the ability to travel through time (Yuu’s “big brother” Shunsuke’s ability) isn’t that far out there.

The episode fully commits to this new, harsh, dystopian setting with abandon, along with the efforts by other users to free Shun with Yuu’s true power, “plunder”, or the ability to steal other abilities. That power makes him uniquely suited when the time comes to race through the corridors of the facility to release Shun. In the process, many of his associates fall to the security forces. The time between 13:55 and 17:30 is a thrilling masterpiece in and of itself.

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Everything seems to be worth it though, as Shun is released, his eyes uncovered, and…well, something happens. Yuu wakes up in the hospital with Nao by his side, as if it was all a dream, but the timing of Shun using his powers suggests it’s because of Shun that Yuu is here, and was here in this world living peacefully with Ayumi.

Nao is confused by Yuu’s thinking out loud, until a dry Kumagami (who was in the facility with Yuu and Ayumi) enters the room, offering to take Yuu and Nao somewhere where they’ll learn everything they’ve missed out on so far, including reuniting with Shunsuke, who Yuu learns was the one who set Nao on her path of finding and protecting users, thus helping the overall cause. Kumagami also says he can help Yuu rescue Ayumi, as if she wasn’t dead (and indeed, we never saw a body.)

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From post-rock concert to dystopian government facility to comfy hospital room, Yuu then finds himself following Kumagami with Nao to another top-secret underground facility, though in this case, it’s the well-funded but time-deficient headquarters and last stronghold of the “resistance” of ability users against the government, an organization led by Shunsuke, who is now blind.

This is little more than a reveal, with Shuu exchanging pleasantries and preparing to tell Yuu and Nao Everything, but this episode had done more than enough already, completely changing the complexion and expanding the scope, stakes, and very reality of the show. This is no longer just about a school club that rescues kids one at a time. This is about saving them all, including Ayumi. I’m always suspicious of un-killing characters, but in this case I’m very intrigued to see how they do it.

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